Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Sound of Music (1965)

Young Maria (Julie Andrews) is a misfit at a convent, so they convince her to take the job of a governess of seven children (the oldest is sixteen, going on seventeen), of a military disciplinarian. Who hates Nazis.

Loosely based on real life, what actually happened over two decades is depicted over a few months. There are a great many other inaccuracies, but I won’t bore you with Wikipedia stuff. What’s interesting about this movie? If you know it only by pop culture references, you may be surprised by the presence of Nazis. They are actually a foundational part of the story. What shouldn’t be surprising is that Julie Andrews is wonderful and lights up the screen every time she’s on, which is virtually every frame.

Grumpy Christopher Plummer, who hated making the film and hated the end product, called working with Andrews as being hit over the head with a Valentine’s day card every day. He used an old actors technique to get himself through the shoot called drink-yourself-blotto. Maybe his malcontentedness helped him channel his inner jerk. Real father Georg wasn’t the dower soul as he is depicted. The real Maria and Von Trapp children asked to have his character soften, but what fun would that be. Maria was something of a pest on the set.

The Sound of Music is a wonderfully looking film. The combination of fluffy songs with evading the Nazis tied up in a Rom Com format is unexpectedly enjoyable. Robert Wise knows how to shoot a film and is a much underrated director. AMRU 4.
“The poor didn’t want this one.”

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Joanne D’Arc (Maria Falconetti) is tried for her crimes of heresy by the church. Things for her don’t turn out well. Everyone I suppose knows the story of Joan of Arc. Young fifteenth century peasant girl impersonates a boy to fight the English because God told her to. She is tried for heresy and, well, you know what happens when you take god’s word over the church’s.

The story here isn’t about the story, but about the drama. Filmed almost entirely in closeups, with no makeup, against sparse sets, putting the intentions and emotions of the characters on clear display. In case you are curious: Ugly+Old+Man = Evil. An equation that works even today.

Canonized only eight years prior to the films release, the recently published transcripts of the trial were the basis for the script. Falconetti, a stage actress, did not want to cut her hair or be filmed without makeup. By many accounts her treatment by director Carl Theodor Dreyer was tortuous. The end result was one of the most praised films of early cinema.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is a fantastic film because of its simplicity. It’s a simple story, simply shot, and wonderfully done. AMRU 4.
“Joan of Arc with the Lord to guide her … she was a sister who really cooked!”

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Carol for Another Christmas (1964)

Grumpy old man, visits from ghosts, Christmas spirit, everyone lives happily ever after. Only this time, instead of Ebenezer Scrooge: Victorian miser it’s Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden): modern day grieving dad. He’s rich, but money isn’t the problem here. He lost his son seven years ago this very night in the war (Korea, I presume) so now he … what, hates war? After an exchange with his nephew Fred (Ben Gazzara), he sees a reflection of his son, Marley Grudge (Ugh!), passes out, and is then visited by three ghosts. Roll credits. Please.

Written by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, A Carol for Another Christmas is chuck full of his other-worldly sensibility as well as his wordy preaching. What is Grudge’s problem really? Hating war seems perfectly natural. His grief is getting in the way of embracing his extended family? I don’t see how. Who does Grudge hold a grudge against? The message is amazingly muddy.

Christmas Past is hep cat Stevie Lawrence who shows Grudge the history of war being bad, which he already knew. He also shows him his own experience in the Good War, apparently demonstrating that Grudge was always an asshole. No clue what lesson is learned here.

Christmas Present does a little better. Grudge is shown how bad off some people have it, and that we have a responsibility to help. Intervene, we should. That’s his quote down at the bottom. But it’s yet to come where the wheels truly come off. Robert Shaw, the most talkative grim reaper this side of Billy & Mandy, shows Grudge an absurdist post-apocolyptic future let by populist isolationist Imperial Me (Peter Sellers). Don’t trust people outside of the group, only follow him, yadda yadda yadda.

A Carol was a made for TV event intended to be watched once. Written by Serling and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, it is a wordy mess. Is this a pro-Vietnam involvement film? The dialog is so convoluted it’s hard to say what it’s point is. To its credit it refrains from borrowing too much from the supposed source material. Just the names Fred and Marley, plus the convention of Christmas and the three ghosts. Dicken’s dialog didn’t get shoehorned in, and the entire Cratchitt family is blissfully absent. Thank god because It’s unwatchable enough as it is. AMRU 2.
“Mankind, Mr. Grudge, in there. The hungry part of mankind, the anguished part. The dispossessed. If you shared a loaf of bread with them, how would you be relinquishing your freedom? Or if you joined other nations to administer vaccinations to their children, how would you have desecrated your flag? Or if you had offered them solace and hope and comfort, how would you have made yourself susceptible to tyranny?”

Thursday, January 12, 2017

An Affair to Remember (1957)

While solo on a cruise, engaged playboy Nicky (Cary Grant) tries to make the acquaintance of Terry (Deborah Kerr), who is in a long term relationship herself. Despite her rejection and mutual bickering, they fall in love. So, they make a pact. If after returning to their existing paramours they still feel the same way about each other, in six months they will meet at the top of the Empire State Building and live happily ever after. Roll credits, only not really.

An important plot point that had escaped me for a bit was that our romantic leads had no financial means of their own, but were accustomed to the lifestyle afforded them by their respective loves. Guess I wasn't paying that close attention. So, not only did they have to say goodbye to their partners, they had to say goodbye to their way of life. This raises the stakes. They’ll need to get jobs! So, if they can, and they do, then they will. Maybe.

I had some issues with this film, at least initially. I wasn’t entirely buying our hero’s chemistry. Also I didn’t buy Grant as a struggling artist. Not the type. This passed, however, as the story progressed. Super-saturated Technicolor is a bit of a double-edged sword. Something about Kerr’s makeup looked strange, but the set pieces really popped. It was nice to see the elder statesmen of ladies men dogging a woman way past 30. Casualty of 2016 Marni Nixon did Kerr’s singing voice once more. She actually acted in another film I saw last year, but you’ll hear more about that soon.

In the end, I don’t have much to say about An Affair to Remember. Not bad. Parts didn’t click for me, but I liked it in the end. AMRU 3. No wait, I decided to widen my ratings a bit. 3.5.
“Aw, this is just a rip off of Sleepless in Seattle”
“Which was in itself a ripoff of An Affair to Remember”
“Which wasn’t that good of a movie to start with!”

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2016: My Film Blog Year in Review

Fifty eight films. Not too shabby. One year ago I wished for no personal bad news, and there was none. Plenty public bad news, but since this is a FILM blog, I’ll leave it there. Allow me to start off saying I watched some pretty good films. My father, whom you may know passed a couple years ago, was a television addict. He was also a TV hog and my mom didn’t care for war movies and westerns, but she liked the stuff I was watching. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but in February I started bringing DVDs to her house.

Not only did I get to watch with someone who loved old movies, but to also revisit films I loved. I have no count, but I’m sure I watched over a hundred classic films in 2016. She loves Hitchcock, so we watched six. She likes Rom-Coms, and we got twelve in. It’s been great.

Anyhow, the four musicals and seven silents are about on par from last year. I didn’t hate any of them. Something I’ve noticed is how I stick to the 2.5 to 3.5 range for my films. I feel reluctant to not criticize nor praise a movie too much. I will try to be more generous on both sides. Only five horror (by my definition anyhow) and one Sci-Fi. That change was partially a migrating interest, and partially looking for mom-friendly films. This trend will likely continue.

The films that stuck with me the most were 12 Angry Men, Rear Window, Lifeboat, Fiddler on the Roof, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Harvey, and Pandora’s Box, a couple of which in retrospect deserved a half point higher. And there were more. On the stinker side, despite how terrible Cat People was, goes to General Spanky. Not only is it insulting in a “Will you be my massa?” way, but it also serves up nothing remotely interesting visually, comedically, or through narrative. All it does is pair slavery as a joke along with editorializing how bad the Yankees were for trying to stop it. At least Cat People had a topless Nastassja Kinski. One has to admit, thought, that two stinkers out of fifty eight is pretty good.

I have tried to streamline my writing process so I can publish on a more regular schedule, and it’s better, but I do still have two pre-Christmas films (and a third pre-New Year’s) left to do. I cannot dedicate as much time to this project as some, but I suppose I am lucky to find time to watch movies at all. I still have over a hundred and fifty classic films on my watch list, and I seem to add a new one for every two I watch. Certainly I won’t run out of films.

So, looking forward I expect more of the same. I upgraded my mom from an ancient DVD player to Blu Ray, and may convince her still to get TCM. I toyed with the idea of doing films featuring people we lost on 2016, but I decided against that. There were just too many and life is too short to watch many Nancy Davis films. I’ll throw a couple in the mix when appropriate. Here’s to hoping 2017 goes a little better than 2016.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

A young bishop (David Niven) is struggling to get his cathedral built and it’s affecting his marriage. He prays for guidance and in walks Dudley (Cary Grant) claiming to be an angel. But instead of focusing on the cathedral, he concentrates on what really matters.

The movie began production with Grant in the bishop role and Niven as the angel. When the director was replaced, the new director reversed the roles and recast the part of the Wife. Also, the Bishop’s daughter was the daughter in It’s a Wonderful Life. You know the one: “TeaCHER says, evRY time A belLL rings …” But I want to talk about Loretta Young.

Amazingly adorable in her early roles, here she is quite charming. The story of her illegitimate child with Clark Gable frequently comes up. He was married, and she hid the pregnancy from the media. She put the girl into an orphanage for a year, then “adopted” her. I thought this was heartless for quite a while but a few details had escaped me. One, both of their contracts likely would have been terminated had this gotten out, and Loretta would not recover as she traded on her good girl image. Also, she was only 22 when Judy Lewis was born. Gable was 34, the pig! I’ll remember to cut her a little slack from now on.

The Bishop’s Wife is a film likely saved by studio interference. First by changing directors and the role reversal, but also by bringing in Robert Sherwood and Billy Wilder to fix a few scenes after initial filming had wrapped. That couldn’t have hurt. The end result may have gone way over budget, and released two months too late for Christmas, but it is quality Holiday fare. It has humor and heart. Elsa Lanchester was, again, wonderful in a supporting role. Also look for the obvious stunt doubles in the ice skating scene. AMRU 3.5.
“For some time now, every time I pass the cemetery, I feel as though I'm apartment hunting.”

Friday, December 23, 2016

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

When a rich businessman (Charles Ruggles) moves south for the winter, a bum moves into his fifth avenue mansion. He doesn’t eat much or cause harm so that the owner never suspects. A serviceman loses his apartment when a rich businessman (Charles Ruggles) decides to build a monstrous building on the same spot. He has a chance encounter with the a bum, who has moved into a rich businessman’s (Charles Ruggles) house while he’s away. When the daughter of a rich businessman (Charles Ruggles) returns home, the others think she too is homeless. Reluctantly they allow her to stay, and enthusiastically she agrees to play along.

Wow, what a cute little film! No real big names here (excepting Charles Ruggles, of course), just good performances supporting a delightful story. Hey, look! It’s a young Jonas Grumby (Alan Hale Jr)! The others were unknown to me. There was something particularly charming about Victor Moore’s portrayal of the first bum, feeling both noble and authentic.

Romantic comedies are seldom ensemble pieces. Yes, the story does revolve heavily around our prospective love birds, but there is more to the story. It Happened on Fifth Avenue is charming, heartwarming, and satisfying. It had a lot of nice moments. A good holiday find. AMRU 3.5.
“Well, it happened at the movies. Gregory Peck and this blonde were getting married. So I said to Whitey, I said, "Gee, I sure wish that was us." And Whitey said, "Uh-huh." And then I said, "Ain't marriage wonderful?" And Whitey said, "Uh-huh." And then I said, "Why don't we get married?" And Whitey said, "Uh-huh." And, oh, after all, how can you say no to a guy who coaxes you like that.”