Monday, January 15, 2018

42nd Street (1933)

Tried and overworked stage director Julian (Warner Baxter) decides, against his doctor’s recommendation, to produce one final show. It is financed by a creepy old rich Guy (Kibbee) on condition that the lead is given to the girl (Bebe Daniels), who has also agreed to touch his wiener for the honor. This is pre-code, mind you. Comedic mayhem ensues.

When sound movies became a thing, studios crammed as many musicals into theaters as possible, regardless of quality. By 1933, the genre was declared dead. Never-the-less, financially struggling Warner Brothers decided to produce 42nd Street, and it turned out to be a critical and financial success. Lucky thing for the Bro’s.

42nd Street resolves around the drama of getting the show on and the complication of our lead, her sugar daddy, and her actual boyfriend. It also featured ingenue Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell in their first pairing. They would go on to star together in a string of light-hearted musical romantic comedies, like Gold Diggers of 1933. Dick would have a fairly long (57 feature films) Hollywood career and fairly short life (58 years). Ruby the opposite (14ish films, 83 years). 

Charming, amusing, and risque for its day, 42nd street is well worth watching. Ginger Rogers is charmingly amusing in a fairly small role. This is just prior to her pairing with Fred Astaire. AMRU 3.5.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2017 Retrospective

Early in 2016 it occurred to me that I should be watching movies with my mom. My dad passed away just over a year prior and I wanted to keep her company. And she, unlike most people in my life, really liked old films. I bought her a blu-ray player and arrived almost every Friday with movie and dinner in hand. This became my favorite ritual. I wish I started a year earlier.

I focused on movies I thought she would like. She had no interest in westerns and war films. Horror was ok so long as they weren’t violent. But mostly she loved mysteries, especially Hitchcock and Sherlock Holmes. We watched many movies new to me and I had the opportunity to introduce her to films I loved. I treasure those times.

On December 30, sometime before noon, Lymphoma finally took my mother. In the almost four years since her (and my father’s) diagnosis, death has been a constant companion. We all know that the time we get is all we ever have, but we kid ourselves it will be a bit longer. I was determined to not leave things unsaid and feelings unexpressed, like I had with my father, but death is a hard thing to stare down. I did my best.

I quickly checked my blog of films we saw together and counted exactly 100. I know I missed a few, but I like that number. The last movie I saw in my childhood home was The Red Shoes (1948), the last new film for the blog was Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and the last overall was A Christmas Carol (1951), which we saw in a rehab facility just prior to going back into the VA. I thought maybe to host old films for residents of her elderly living facility but she wasn’t there long.

Death made his presence very apparent in late 2017. In late October I said goodbye to a childhood neighbor who was very much like an aunt. In November we said goodbye to my father in law’s cousin. And just before Thanksgiving, to my father in law. This holiday season has been very unkind.

I do not know why anyone would want to be a nurse, but thank god they do. I owe a huge thanks to so many people whose names I do not remember or never learned, at the VA and with Hospice. Cancer is a bitch and death leaves little room for dignity, but I have immense gratitude for the people who did their best to ease her and my family through this transition.

My mom led an active and interesting life, especially for someone from a small town in Texas. By her own account, a good life. She was proud of her military service, saw the world, and lived long enough to see her grandchildren grow into fine adults. She said she enjoyed every movie I brought, but I know we both thought Cat People (1982) was a stinker. I will think of her with every movie from this time forward and consider if she would have liked it. And every time I order hot wieners. Every holiday. Really, every day of my life. I will always miss you, mom.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

After discovering her Thanksgivings Day Parade Santa is drunk, pretty Doris (Maureen O’Hara) hires a spectator who looks the part. He does such a good job that he is hired by Macy’s to be their regular store Santa. But rather than talk children into Macy’s overstock product, he refers them to competitors to get the exact toy they want. Initially this goes over poorly with management until it becomes a public relations boon. Things get complicated when they realize that Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) actually believes himself to be Santa. Like, for real!

So, the objects in play are the stern realist Doris with a precocious daughter (Natalie Wood). They have little time for such fantasies like Santa. Also, the neighbor Fred who wants to know Doris a little better, nudge nudge. He also happens to be a lawyer, which will come in handy later. Macy’s has a psychiatrist who thinks Kris Kringle ought to be locked up. Finally there is R.H. Macy himself who wants to keep the goodwill train rolling, and heads will roll if it doesn’t. They couldn’t get the real R.H. Macy to play the part because he’d been dead seventy years before filming began. It’s been another seventy years since so you can see how long the “Christmas is so commercialized nowadays” mantra has been going.

Gene Lockhart, whom I saw most recently as Bob Cratchit, is the judge caught in the position of determining Santa's sanity. Here also is Thelma Ritter’s first role. Also is possibly Jack Albertson’s first screen role. He was Charlie’s granddad but I remember him most from television.

Macy's and Gimbel's department stores play a significant part in the film. They agreed to have their names used only if they liked the finished product. This means if either one vetoed, significant parts would have to be reshot. As such, many of the references to the stores were cut-aways. Fortunately, both parties liked the movie and it was released in time for ... summer solstice? What the hell, people ...

Miracle on 34th Street is a charming film that holds up very well. That is, if you overlook the ‘frigid woman must learn to love so she can catch a man’ angle. Also, the part about the little girl being left in the care of a 30-something stranger living next door. Yea, that wouldn’t fly today. But apart from that, it still hits all the right notes. Edmund Gwenn (remember him from Them!) is the best Santa analog we can hope for, Maureen O’Hara is a wonderfully charming ice queen, and Natalie Wood basically steals the show. Few child actors were as impactful as she was here. AMRU 4.
“The DA's a Republican”

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Onibaba (1964)

A young woman and her mother-in-law, waiting for the return of their husband/son, survive in war-torn medieval Japan by killing soldiers and selling their armor. After learning from a neighbor that he has been killed, the neighbor takes an interest in the young widow. Mother-in-law disapproves.

Onibaba is a film about jealousy and manipulation. It is frequently put into the genres of fantasy and horror, but I feel it defies categorization. It’s a simple story (essentially just three characters) with a strange, fantasy-like tone. A scary mask is involved but I resist giving too much away. The three characters relationship, and that of the dead man, are slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

Interesting tone, abrupt and ambiguous ending, Onibaba (which means Demon Hag or Devil Woman), is simple in story and complex in content. It’s a film that’s difficult to talk too much about, lest we go down a rabbit hole. AMRU 4.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Move Over, Darling (1963)

Five years after the death of Nick’s (James Garner) wife Ellen (Doris Day), he marries Bianca (Polly Bergen). Everything is all well and good until Ellen returns from the dead to foul things up.

This was the studio’s second attempt to remake the 1940 Cary Grant/Irene Dunne film. Notoriously they tried filming with Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, and Cyd Charisse when Monroe’s erratic behavior caused serious delays that the studio could not tolerate. Then she died. They had about a third of the film in the can before shutting everything down. Here is attempt two with a completely new cast, new title, and a modified script.

Lots of studio contract actors to be seen here. First is Thelma Ritter, whom old friends will remember from Rear Window and All About Eve. Our disgruntled hotel manager today is Fred Clark, who I’ve seen in Sunset Blvd and surprisingly nothing else. He also did a lot of television. Also here is John Astin (you know, Sean’s dad), and Don Knotts who was a TV staple for me growing up. Speaking of TV, Schneider had a small role.

There is something about Doris Day’s body language. She is so wonderfully expressive and you can’t take your eyes off of her. Several years older and never the sex kitten Marilyn was, she was nevertheless much more relatable. I did watch the 37 minutes of Something’s Got to Give edited to a final film as much as possible. While it’s impossible to judge what a completed version would have been, it seemed like I was watching an overall crappier version of the exact same movie. While Marilyn certainly had her charm, she was miscast as a loving mother/sexpot and her acting talent could not hold a candle to Day.

Move Over, Darling is a fine romantic comedy. If I were to criticize it, I’d say it could have been funnier. Also, the entire situation could have been resolved if Nick just told Bianca about Ellen’s return. And I didn’t buy that James Garner would be too timid. Not Jim Rockford. Also, the premise that the marriage would not be consummated until the honeymoon may have been plausible back in 1963, but it was head scratching today.

Slightly better than the original but brings nothing new to the table. Pleasant and easy to watch. AMRU 3.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ghost Story (1981)

Four old rich men, friends since college, get together to tell each other ghost stories. When one of their sons dies mysteriously in a horrible green-screen effect, his brother tries to unravel the mystery. Spoiler alert: ghosts are involved.

This film is famous for bringing together four stars of classic Hollywood in what was the final film appearance of three of them. Fred Astaire was a Hollywood legend who revived the musical genre in the 1930’s, Melvyn Douglas has a huge and diverse body of work, John Houseman was famous for being John Houseman, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, was famous for being the son of Douglas Fairbanks.

Legend more to my liking Patricia Neal had a supporting role. Old friends will remember her from The Day the Earth Stood Still and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She didn’t appear in many feature films but I will see her again. Alice Krige, the Borg Queen from First Contact, plays the spoiler alert role. Over the decades she has appeared in a whole pile of stuff that I’m utterly unfamiliar with.

During the climax, with four minutes left on the film, just before the big reveal, the public library DVD failed. Amazon Prime to the rescue. It was free with membership all along.

Ghost Story is a peculiar film. Every scene is a mystery for the viewer to figure out. Awkward dialog, overt sexuality, oppressive score, oddly expressive lighting, and an overall style that had an early-80’s artsy-trippy feel. I found it somewhat reminiscent of the much worse Cat People (1982). Both were films that would make a little more sense on a second viewing, but neither will get that opportunity. AMRU 2.5.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Cape Fear (1962)

After eight years, Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) is released from prison. His first order of business, well his only order of business, is to punish the man responsible for his conviction, Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), an attorney who testified against him.

Peck and Mitchum make for an interesting contrast of styles. About the same age (Peck was 16 months older), started in acting about the same time (1944 and 1943 respectively), both ruggedly handsome leading men. Peck, however, was a more traditional leading man with a slightly more illustrious body of work, if quite a bit shorter. Mitchum, on the other hand, played more morally ambiguous characters in more unconventional films. To me, Peck seemed to be from an earlier era. Maybe because of style, or maybe because Peck’s major film roles ended in the 1970’s while Mitchum continued into the 90’s.

Old friend Martin Balsam is the police chief. There is a scene where cops ascend a staircase that resembles quite closely the one in the Bates’ homestead, but Marty isn’t with them. Kojack himself Telly Savalas has a sizable role. I know he’s been in a fair number of notable movies, but I had never seen him in anything except his TV series. No, who loves YOU, baby.

A couple things annoyed me here. First is how much the cops harassed poor Max. Sam and family are appropriately alarmed by Max’s behavior, but he doesn’t break any laws. So the cops interrogate him at every opportunity and try to run him out of town. Total civil rights violations by the protagonists. Another thing was that nobody closes the goddamn doors. I think a lot of problems could have been easily avoided.

Cape Fear is a better than fair horror film. Max is a smart and unrelenting monster. But maybe because of its reputation I was a little disappointed. Also some of the acting performances were painfully terrible (I’m looking at you, Barrie Chase!) and little about how the story plays out will surprise anyone. Still, it's a good watch. And Mitchum's performance is quite impressive. AMRU 3.5.