Sunday, January 13, 2019

2018 Retrospective

On the face of things 2018 looked like a lean year for me, blog-wise, and that's not wrong. A new low in entries. I found it hard to be motivated to watch movies alone again. I didn’t fully shake that until Halloween approached.

I had tried to institute Family Movie Night where each family member took turns selecting something they wanted to see. We’d coordinate dinner into the theme. This didn’t last long. When they failed to be charmed by Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Rear Window, I knew I was fighting a losing battle.

So, here is a roundup of the best and worst of the year by category. For this list I included White Christmas (1954).

For me the best Christmas movie was The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942). I knew I was going to like it and I wasn’t disappointed. The worst was Beyond Tomorrow (1940). TCM was pitching an essential Christmas movie book and this was on the list. I found it disappointing. And the fact that It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) was not included in the book added insult to injury. I think mom would have liked best Holiday Affair (1949). She loved Robert Mitchum. She hated Bing Crosby so we never watched one of his together.

The best horror/thriller this year was The Walking Dead (1936). Not a great film, but the best this year. Maybe I should watch great horror films next October. There are quite a few greats I haven’t seen yet. The worse was undoubtedly The Astounding She-Monster (1957). Very little appeal there.

The best noir/mystery I think was The Petrified Forest (1939). I went back and forth here, but I think it just edges out Blade Runner (1982). Maybe because I saw Blade Runner in February, or maybe because I saw it before (in the theaters, voice-over narration and all), but Petrified Forest is my pick today. Mom would have loved Shadow of a Doubt (1943).

My favorite comedy was A Day at the Races (1937). It was the first Marx Brothers film I truly enjoyed. I considered Death Race 2000 (1975) but it’s a little campy for my tastes.

Overall I think The Petrified Forest (1939) was the best movie I saw. Biggest surprise anyhow. If I selected it over Blade Runner in its category, I have to select it here as well. A very enjoyable movie. Way better than I expected. Mom’s favorite would likely have been Shadow of a Doubt (1943). She loved mystery and she loved Hitchcock. I wish we saw it together.

Looking forward, I don’t have any set goals. I have 200+ on my IMDb watch list, so maybe I can chop fifteen off of that. At this rate I’ll run out of films never.

Until next time.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

White Christmas (1954)

After the war, army buddies Bob and Phil (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) start a song and dance act. Ten years on they become quite successful. So successful that Phil wants to marry Bob off to floozy dance girls with poor diction in hopes that it would keep taskmaster Bob occasionally occupied. When another army buddy writes asking them to give career advice to his performing sisters Betty and Judy (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen), Phil gets the idea of matching Bob up with Betty, as her diction is perfect. They land in the non-snowy Vermont inn owned by their old commanding officer, who is struggling financially. Let’s put on a show!

Christmas Musicals are inevitably romantic comedies, this being no different. Boy meets girl, boy and girl like each other, misunderstanding, grand gesture, happy ending. Only variation here is that the grand gesture IS the misunderstanding. Also with Christmas Musicals, the plot is frequently paper-thin. Again, same here.

White Christmas is a slight retooling of Holiday Inn (1942). We have Bing, tried to have Astaire but was unavailable, reused the song, and even reused the country inn set, this time located in Vermont. They even do a minstrel number, but at least had the decency to lose the blackface. Baby steps.

I remember Rosemary Clooney from her old and fat days, wondering why she was famous. Not a classic beauty, she was certainly charming. And at 25 she was definitely good enough for the 50ish Crosby. Oh, and she was George’s aunt. Her little sister was played by the anorexic Vera-Ellen. Anyone who danced next to her was paled by her energy and skill. Clearly it wasn’t food she was getting her energy from. She had to be dubbed for the singing parts.

Except for the benefit of color (and lack of blackface color), we essentially have the same movie as Holiday Inn. Many musical numbers if you’re into that sort of thing, witty and charming dialog, simple story with low-stakes consequences. AMRU 3.5.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Holiday Inn (1942)

A song and dance team breaks up because Jim (Bing Crosby) wants to run a country inn in Connecticut. Lila and Ted (Fred Astaire) decide not to retire along with him because they are in love. Jim’s plan for his inn is to be open only on holidays. Thus, Holiday Inn.

Lila goes off and marries a millionaire so Ted shows up drunk at the Inn and sees his future dance and maybe love partner performing. But sneaky Bing … I mean Jim tries to keep her secret and all to himself, so let the conniving begin.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was written for the movie and fast became the number 1 selling single of all time. Bing would sing it in a Christmas musical two more times. Director Mark Sandrich called it the ABC of American musical comedies: Astaire, Berlin, and Crosby. All three were and would continue to be on quite a tare.

The characters say that there are fifteen holidays but they show only eight or nine. But it’s Lincoln’s Birthday that garnished the most praise. No, praise isn’t the right word. What do you call it when white people sing in black face? Whatever that is, it garnished the most of it. To be fair the intent was to be respectful and it made sense in context. The scene is frequently removed from TV airings but TCM showed it uncut.

The song and dance numbers could be tedious and the story is paper thin, but the charming on-screen chemistry and witty banter pulled it through. If the musical numbers are your thing, then you’ll love it. AMRU 3.5. Oh, and yea. The hotel chain stole their name from this.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Man who Came to Dinner (1942)

Unpleasant lecturer Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) is to have dinner with a rich, industrialist family when he slips on ice and hurts his back. He is forced to stay there for weeks and makes their life miserable. Whiteside’s life becomes complicated when his personal assistant Maggie (Bette Davis) takes a fancy to a local reporter and flirts with the idea of moving on from her thankless job. Let the conniving begin.

Films from plays can occasionally be quite entertaining. Clever, fast paced dialog that sometimes skirts the Code, when done right, they can be a joy. Spoiler alert, this one was.

As the Whiteside character hobnobs with celebrities, there is a large amount of playful name dropping throughout the film. They mention Cary Grant and the Barrymores. John Barrymore and Grant both were considered for the Whiteside role (talk about casting a wide net) but Davis objected to Grant and Barrymore was barely able to function at that time, dying just after the film’s premiere. Jimmy Durante played a vaudeville style movie comedian based mostly on Harpo Marx. I wonder if he approved of the caricature.

Ann Sheridan plays the high maintenance actress Lorraine Sheldon. Apparently she was quite popular in films I don’t care for, as I’ve never seen her in anything. The gossamer dress she wore in the film really, ahem, stood out. Towards the end of a very successful career, cancer would take her at age 51. I used to be 51.

I quibble with aspects of the ending but The Man who Came to Dinner really is a joy to watch. Solid script, tight performances, and a well done production. AMRU 4.
“Nobody's home! The Stanleys have all been arrested for peddling dope! Go away!”

Monday, December 17, 2018

Holiday Affair (1949)

Hot war widow Connie (Janet Leigh) is a ‘comparison shopper’, meaning someone who buys items for examination by a competing department store, and then returns them. She is caught by hunky Steve (Robert Mitchum) who must ban her from the store, effectively costing her the job. But he shows compassion and doesn’t report her, costing him HIS job. They keep accidentally meeting up causing friction with her safe and boring boyfriend/fiance Carl (Wendell Corey). Guess who gets the girl? Good money is on Steal-yo-girl Mitchum.

Good old Corey was Jim/Jeff’s cop buddy from Rear Window. He was ready for a long, successful career in Hollywood, and what’s better than that? Booze, that’s what. Wendell Corey, dead at age 54. His last few films include such gems as Cyborg 2087, The Astro-Zombies, and Women of the Prehistoric Planet. I'm not ashamed to say I kinda want to check them out. Hey, look! It’s Colonel Potter himself, Harry Morgan! As a cop no less!

Hot hot Janet Leigh was charming as the hard working widow trying to do right by her son, although at 22 maybe a little too young for the role. She was fourteen years older than little Timmy. We don’t feel too sorry for poor Carl. He isn’t made out to be a bad person but clearly not right for our Miss Leigh. And he may have been a little too understanding.

Holiday Affair is a decent little Christmas story but otherwise unspectacular. Wasn’t a success upon release but apparently is remembered well thanks to TCM. It was on my list to watch with Mom and I think she would have loved it. AMRU 3.
“Carl isn't the real threat to me. Maybe I'm not to him. This isn't two fellows and a girl, you know. This is two fellows, a girl and her husband. I can't fight a shadow - I tried - competition's too tough. You were even going to play it safe and settle for someone you didn't love so you wouldn't be unfaithful to your husband.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Beyond Tomorrow (1940)

Three wealthy old businessmen, who apparently live together, have no plans for Christmas dinner, so they each decide to throw a wallet into the street containing their business card and ten dollars. Whomever returns the wallets will be invited to stay for dinner. Pretty Jean (Jean) and folksy Jim Houston (Richard Carlson) do the right thing, aw shucks. Jim Houston is from Texas, because of course he is. I sure hope those two fall in love.

Old friends will remember Richard Carlson from Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space (at a deadly pace), and quite a few other films. Pretty young Jean Parker had a minor career playing pretty young women. Also here is enigmatic Maria Ouspenskaya (ten thousand points in scrabble). Need an eastern European gypsy or Russian countess? Maria was your woman.

What started with a fair enough premise degrades into a bit of a mess of a film. Cloyingly saccharine, we see our two love birds drift apart after the rich cronies (ahem) exit the scene. Jimbo becomes a famous singer and is pursued by a soulless harpy. That never ends well. Of course we have a happy enough of an ending thanks to Deus ex Machina, but I had already lost interest. This is another case of accidentally caught the movie at the beginning and decided to sit it out, but with lesser success. The film was touted by TCM because it was included in a book they are hard-selling. When asked what movie didn’t make the cut the author mentions It Happened on Fifth Avenue, which is far superior. That’s just insulting.

Cheap looking sets, mediocre acting, and muddled story, Beyond Tomorrow is skippable. AMRU 2.5.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Two Smart People (1946)

Con artist Ace Connors (John Hodiak) tries to sell a scam wildcat oil well to a rich rube, but is thwarted by pretty art dealer Ricki (Lucille Ball). So he returns the favor by thwarting her attempt to pass off a forgery to the same rube. When Ace’s former partners decide they want the bonds he took, he decides to take a plea deal and spend five years in the slammer. It was a good run. But first he wants to spend his last five days of freedom in style, and along for the ride he brings the retiring cop who had been trying to catch him. But pretty Ricki has been enlisted by the gang to follow him and get hold of those bonds. Will love bloom?

It does. Love blooms. There is never any doubt about that.

We spend much of the time on a train and a couple stops along the way, each of our three leads keeping secrets from the others. Ace appears to have all the angles covered, could he actually intend on going through with turning himself in? Is Ricki following her heart or following orders? And buddy Bob the cop, what’s up his sleeve? Nothing? Are you sure? Oh, you are? Well, you might be right.

John Hodiak is good as the charming con artist character. A couple years earlier he was seen in a Lifeboat. He had a fair career in Hollywood and it would have been longer had he not dropped dead at 41. Hey, look, there’s Elisha Cook Jr. Man, that dude was in everything.

I had never seen Lucy in a feature film and knew her early Hollywood career didn’t pan out well. Two Smart People lost pretty big at the box office and she never proved herself a draw. But better luck and better scripts could have made her a screwball comedy giant. As funny and charming as Barbara Stanwyck and prettier, the right vehicles and promotion could have pushed her over the top. But instead she switched to television and the rest is history.

Lucille Ball film career never took off but Two Smart People is a better than fair comic caper. I expected her to be funnier because, you know, she's Lucy, but the film is was it is. Apparently Lucy couldn’t play pretty (and she was very pretty) and funny at the same time. Still, this film is very much worth watching. AMRU 3.5.