Sunday, March 22, 2015

Strangers on a Train (1951)

Two Strangers meet on a Train. One is a semi-famous tennis player, the other a semi-famous lunatic. Lunatic Bruno knows that tennis boy Guy Haines wants to divorce his troublesome wife so he can wed a senator's hottie daughter. And he himself would like to lose his overbearing father, what with him only partially funding his loonie playboy lifestyle. So Bruno hatches a plan and pitches it to Guy. Not realizing exactly how crazy he is, Guy kinda plays along. Next thing, bad wife turns up dead and Bruno feels a return favor is in order. Criss-cross.

Robert Walker (Bruno) led a troubled life himself involving erratic behavior and substance abuse. He had a bad reaction to a prescription drug when it was administered after heavy drinking, and stopped breathing. Two months after the movie's premiere, he would be dead. He was 32. And so it goes.

An important component of any film is suspension of disbelief. Everything you see (and this hold true for documentaries as well) is fake. But if you can suspend your disbelief, this does not matter. On this point I had an issue. I couldn't believe the protagonists action and the final scene at the carousel was patently ridiculous. This is a shame because it slightly spoils an otherwise excellent movie.

That said, Strangers is full of wonderful moments. One in particular features a cigarette lighter and a familiar pair of eye glasses. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it better had I not very high expectations. It is classic Hitchcock. AMRU 3.5.
"So, this is a rip off of Throw Momma from the Train?" - the wife

Sunday, March 15, 2015

One Million BC (1940)

Hikers lost in a storm stumble on a cave being investigated by an anthropologist. He tells the group a story about the ancient people who once lived there.

One upon a time there were two tribes. The Rock tribe was brutal. The men take what they want from the weaker. The women and children eat after the men's dogs, and the old are lucky if they eat at all. The Shell tribe, however, share their food. They eat vegetables, sing, laugh, and enjoy life.

One fateful day, after his meat is taken a young rock tribesman (Victor Mature) makes the mistake of striking the chief (Lon Chaney Jr). After a fight, our young hero is banished from the Rock tribe and limps away. He happens upon the Shell tribe, who take him in. At first he is confused by all this sharing and caring, but there's a hot blond (Carole Landis), so he wasn't complaining.

Our hero saves a child from what looks to be a poor man's sleestak. I think he killed it less out of fear and more out of pity. As someone who studied Anthro for a bit, I need to divorce myself from the terrible science here. Some films seem not try to get the science right, but BC appear to have tried and failed miserably. I choose to suspend disbelieve on this point, so no more from the nerd.

Legendary director D.W. Griffith apparently walked away while making this project because of a disagreement with Little Rascal's producer Hal Roach. D.W. thought there aught to be character development somewhere in there. Silly directors, am I right people? Hal and Hal Jr finish the direction.

About a year and a half ago I saw Valley of the Dragons, which I liked. I understood it lifted some of the giant lizard scenes from One Million BC. What I didn't realize is that it lifted virtually the entire story from it as well. Two tribes, misfits, love interest, dino attack, volcano, bigger dino attack, happily ever after (except for the people who died). Valley focused the story more on the conflict between male leads and making them modernish (and blaming Jules Verne), but at best you can call it a slight reimagining.

One brief note about pretty Carole Landis. Lovely and charming, her career never really took off. She ran through a series of failed marriages when she decided to off herself at the ripe old age of 29. In keeping with the tragic figures theme, she had taken her first name after Lombard.

The sets looked good and the silly dino sequences were ambitious for the day (sleestak-man not-with-standing), and the scene of a woman being swallowed by lava was quite effective. The story, however, was dull. Not bad, I suppose, from a director accustomed to producing silly one-reelers, but it's hard to develop story when characters don't talk. D.W. was right. I suppose I need to see the Raquel Welch version now. AMRU 3.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Charade (1963)

Pretty wife of luxury (Audrey Hepburn) announces she will divorce her husband, but he turns up dead before she can. His former business partners arrive demanding their share of his loot, putting her life in danger. Dashing Peter (Cary Grant) turns up to "help out". She doesn't know if she can trust him but does anyway.

Something about Charade reads like a Hitchcock film. Many people (myself included) have confused it for one. After a few minutes, however, it's clearly not. Charade has this 60's-Euro-Cheesy Music vibe to it that Hitch would never have done. Sorry, Henry. The music was kinda cheesy.

Not the most mysterious of mysteries. Not the most comedic of comedies. Not the most romantic of, well, whatever. It's no Hitchcock movie, but not bad overall. Audrey Hepburn was adorable and Cary Grant was Cary Grant, even when on the cusp of 60. AMRU 3.
Alexander Dyle: All right, get set for the story of my life.
Reggie Lampert: Fiction or non-fiction?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Society gal Tracy (Katharine Hepburn) is getting remarried. Serious writer Macaulay (James Stewart) and his lady-friend photographer (Ruth Hussey) is forced to cover the story (the PHILADEPHIA story, as it were) for Spy magazine. The man to get the reporters inside is Tracy's estranged ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant). They cooperate in exchange for keeping a story about her father's dancing girl affair quite.

Hepburn left Hollywood after a string of bombs, which combined with not playing the Hollywood game, left her with no option. She landed on Broadway and starred in the play this movie is based on. She convinced her (boy?)friend Howard Hughes to buy the rights to the play and sell it to Hollywood for her to star in. It was a huge success and Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar.

The more I watch Grant the more impressed I become. He did mainly lighter fare (and for the most part the same character - the fast talking charmer), but he did it surprisingly well. He was nominated only twice for an academy award and never won. This I understand as he shied away from roles the academy likes to recognize. Eventually he did receive an Honorary ("oops, we missed you") Oscar, While he would never do a movie like Philadelphia, he certainly would never do The Philadelphia Experiment either.

Clearly, Hepburn knew her character well and George Cukor knew how to use the talent. Quick witted, smart, well acted, and well made. Very strong performances all around. The Philadelphia Story is among the best in the Romantic Comedy genre. AMRU 4.
"C'malong, Dexter, I know a formula that's said to pop the pennies off the eyelids of dead Irishmen."

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Our Hospitality (1923)

The Hatfield's and McCoy's are at it again in the Ozarks. Did I say Hatfield's and McCoy's? I meant the Canfield and McKay's, somewhere in Appalachia. After the feud heats up again, the Canfields vow to wipe the McKay's off the map. Maw McKay sends her young son to New York so he never has to learn of this feud. Twenty years later he returns to claim the family homestead. Things heat up when the Canfields discover a new McKay in town.

One year old Buster Keaton Jr played Keaton's character at one year old. His love interest was his then wife Natalie Talmadge. Theirs was a stormy marriage, if memory serves. They divorced about the same time as his career went south. His hard luck father also had a bit part. There is one amusing joke where they depict 1830's New York as no more urban than the Appalachia. That one took a second to sink in.

Amusing, watchable, short, Our Hospitality is a pleasant diversion. Not a masterpiece, but well worth watching. AMRU 3.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Suspicion (1941)

Lina (Joan Fontaine) is a pretty bookworm. A spinster in training, really. When she crosses paths with the fast talking charmer Johnnie (Cary Grant), she isn't sure what to make of him. After she discovers her parents have given up on her ever catching a man, she decides to return Johnnie's advances. They elope.

Soon Lina realizes that Johnnie is broke. Instead of working he is at the races. She catches him in lie after lie. She first suspects he married her for her money (not as grand as once thought), then to kill her for the insurance.

Suspicion plays heavy on the melodrama, and if the storyline doesn't lend on, just listen to the overbearing soundtrack. Like many Hitchcock films, the focus is square on the pretty young woman. Nothing happens without her on screen. Grant is playing mostly against type here, much to the dismay of RKO who wanted all scenes where he appeared menacing cut. This wasn't going to work.

This is really a story about two people, but the supporting cast is excellent. Dame May Whitty, whom old friends may remember her in The Lady Vanishes and the Hollywood version of Gaslight, plays Lina's mom. Longtime Dr. Watson Nigel Bruce plays Johnnie's friend Beaky. He was in She that should have been filmed in color. Both he and she were in a lot of movies I should have seen by now were I not overly focused on genre films. Leo G. Carroll had a small role. He has been in quite a few Hitchcock films. He was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills, but that's another story.

Before I am finished with this blog, I will have seen all of Hitch's available films. My appreciation grows with each one I watch. Suspicion is by no means a masterpiece, but it's a satisfying mystery and well crafted film. Even if the ending is somewhat lacking. AMRU 3.5.
"Well, well. You're the first woman I've ever met who said yes when she meant yes."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Horse Feathers (1932)

New college president Wagstaff (Groucho) is convinced by his undergrad son Frank (dull brother Zeppo) that what the school needs is a winning football team, and he sends him to a local speakeasy where a few top players hang out. Instead of recruiting ringers, he signs up the speakeasy thug and the dog catcher (Chico and Harpo). Marx style antics ensue.

Story really doesn't matter in a Marx Brothers movie. It's just a framework for them to perform their vaudeville. If you take anything here seriously, then you are missing the point.

Comedy footnote Thelma Todd plays the sizable role. Her career was cut shot because someone murdered her. Interesting to note that TCM presenter Ben Mankiewicz mentioned that his grandfather said he'd rather have their teeth drilled out before working with the brothers again. The Buster Keaton documentary I mentioned before had unkind words about their professionalism as well.

All Marx Brother films are alike, as far as I can tell. They don't fail to entertain, however. Would be nice if the musical numbers were shorter. AMRU 3.5.
"Are you suggesting that I, the president of Huxley College, go into a speakeasy without even giving me the address?"