Saturday, November 28, 2015

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

A struggling writer (George Peppard) with a rich, married girlfriend (Patricia Neal) moves into a fashionable New York apartment. There he meets the confounding Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn).

Here is a story of two damaged people getting involved with each other. Neither know where they are going, or really where they are. Holly lives "paycheck" to "paycheck" with strange arrangements dating older men. And visiting mob bosses in jail. Apparently she was a prostitute but the movie makes this unclear. Peppard's Paul is both supported and stifled by his relationship with Neal, was well as his own indirection. Holly is a breath of fresh air, but also a disturbing element of chaos in his life.

Neal's "much older woman" was only three years older than Hepburn. Ten years earlier she shined in The Day The Earth Stood Still. The Golightly character, according to the source material, was supposed to be 19, which would give a real pervy vibe to 33 year old Peppard. Wait, Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to star? That wouldn't have worked!

Hey, Alan Reed (you know, Fred!) is here in the flesh. Buddy Ebsen, in his early fifties, was looking to retire after this movie. Instead he ended up doing nine seasons of The Beverly Hillbillies and eight more of Barnaby Jones. He was north of 90 when he did an episode of King of the Hill. Side fact: he played Barnaby Jones in the terrible Beverly Hillbillies movie.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is a wonderfully shot, acted, and scripted film. It's looks and sounds charming,while being biting social commentary of the day. The city is gorgeous, Hepburn is absolutely charming, and it's slow burn pacing is just about perfect. It isn't without faults however. Most notably is Mickey Rooney's destruction of Japanese dignity. Also, I didn't care for the tacked on Hollywood ending, but I suppose most people didn't mind. AMRU 4.5.
"I've got a wonderful idea. We can spend the whole day doing things we've never done before. We'll take turns. Something you've never done, then me. Course I can't really think of anything I've never done."

Monday, November 23, 2015

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

The Monty Python comedy troupe do a series of interconnected sketches surrounding King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail. They poke fun of medieval life as subtle commentary on modern life. They forgot to write an ending.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of those films. If you love it, then you love it. It's iconic within its target audience and arguably the most quotable film of all time. It's silly, clumsy, fun, flawed, but the thing that stands out is how every sketch stands up. No soft spots in the bunch.

Here are things you may not know: the face of god was that of a 19th century cricket player. The chain armor was actually wool and the cast was miserably cold during the shoot. The Enchanter's name was Tim because John Cleese forgot his line. The Terry's Jones and Gilliam directed because nobody else wanted to. They didn't get along.

It's the kind of film I should watch once a year. It's been in my personal library for years. AMRU 5.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Great Dictator (1940)

A Jewish barber (Charlie Chaplin) recovers from injuries sustained in a old war to find himself oppressed on the foothills of a new one.

Calling this a thinly veiled take on Hitler isn't quite accurate. Chaplin's Adenoid Hynkel is, directly, Hitler by another name. Just as Napaloni (Dictator of Bacteria) is exactly Musolini. Garbitsch was Joseph Goebbels, and Herring was Hermann Goering.

Chaplin's first proper talkie (his earlier works were sound films, but performed in pantomime), The Great Dictator is both a slapstick comedy and melodrama. The slapstick parts are amusing and quite interesting. We see remnants of the tramp character (retired with Modern Times) as well as notes of the Marx Brothers and Stooges, the big difference being that Chaplin's character is polite and understated.

The change in tone from slapstick to melodrama was jarringly abrupt, making me wonder if Chaplin was undecided which path to take. But when Nazi expansion in Europe is a current event, goofy is a hard sell.

Hollywood did not want this film made and Chaplin had to finance it himself. Why anger a ruthless dictator by calling him out for what he was? Also, the Jewish studio moguls didn't want to call attention to their Jewishness. Considering the climate at the time, this was a very brave act dared by few.

The Great Dictator is a well made, sometimes funny, but important film. It is quoted and referenced more often than you may think. It came out a full year before To Be or Not To Be, which I may give a slight edge to (it certainly balanced the humor element better). and was beat by the Stooge short You Nazty Spy! by less than two months. Consider the years this production required compared to the super tight schedule of a Stooge short.

Chaplin was disappointed that his movie didn't get more respect at the academy awards, nominated five times with no wins. But it could be worse. His hot wife could leave him and marry the Penguin. AMRU 4.

In lieu of a quote, I leave you with a modified version of Chaplin's speech at the finale. Maybe it's a bit of a spoiler, but it's truly inspiring, especially in light of recent events.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Fall of the House of Usher (1949)

Man travels to comfort his troubled friend. There we learn that his family is cursed because dad apparently killed a dude for boning his wife. Wife is now an old hag who stays in the temple where dead dude's head is stored. They try to burn the head, but that doesn't go well. The stone house burns to the ground. Everyone dies, almost.

I skipped a lot of the story, but there's not much to see here. Stilted acting and heavy handed direction, overbearing score and a very made-for-TV feel. The sets were nice but not terribly well photographed. Adapting a Victorian short story to film for a post war audience presents many challenges, and those challenges remained unmet. Sequences that were intended to be dramatic or frightening ended up looking silly. Real MST3K stuff. Short and kinda likable, but clumsy and very skippable. AMRU 2.5.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Fair warning: wall to wall spoilers here.

Hot gypsy (Maureen O'Hara) sneaks into Paris, is chased, hides in church, is creeped on by old, politically connected dude, who orders hunchback (Charles Laughton) to capture her. She is rescued, falls in love with dashing knight, does the naughty-naughty with him, he is killed, she is framed, old creep uses goat to convict her, villagers go mad, deus ex machina, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Heavy on the exposition in parts and preachy throughout, this is Hollywood at it's hollywoodiest. Good characters embrace the printing press and the round Earth theory while the bad worry about being cursed by witches. If you don't get the moral at first, don't worry. Soon you will be bludgeoned to death with it. Before I get to what I liked, here is a big thing I had a problem with.

At the end Esmeralda is hiding out in the Church while creepy old dude tries to rescind the law of sanctuary. The Parisians defend the church from capture, and the thieves guild try to rescue her from the church. Lots of carnage and property damage while everyone is trying to PROTECT her! Why must people resort to violence when inflammatory propaganda fliers solve everything?

Despite itself, there were some good acting performances, and the costumes, makeup, and sets (beautifully photographed) were wonderful. Cedrick Hardwicke was great playing the Alan Rickman character. Maureen O'Hara recently passed and I just happened to have this on the DVR, so it got bumped to the front of the queue. Overbearing in tone at times, but very nice visually. AMRU 3.
"I'm about as shapeless as the man in the moon!"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Hands of Orlac (1924)

The hands of famous pianist Peter Orlac (Conrad Veidt) are crushed in a train accident. Soon he learns that his transplanted hands are from an executed murderer. He becomes destitute because murderer hands cannot play piano.

This Austrian/German production, later remade as Mad Love (1935), was the first adaptation of the source novel. There is at least one more. While Mad Love concentrates on the mad doctor almost to the point of making him the protagonist, The Hands of Orlac focuses on Orlac and the mystery he finds himself in. The movie starts almost with the train accident and dispenses entirely with the creepy doctor's creepy obsession. Instead we see our hero progress quickly into poverty and madness.

Enough overacting and arm waving to make Harold Zoid proud, The Hands are a classic example of German expressionist filmmaking. Director Robert Wiene also directed The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, arguably the first modern horror film. Understanding the visual storytelling of this style of film and pantomime in general, The Hands is an enjoyable watch, assuming you get around the irritatingly atonal score. AMRU 3.5.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

A brilliant surgeon, remorseful for causing the facial disfigurement of his daughter, kidnaps young women to steal their faces. Things don't go well.

The simple story is filmed in long, slow takes that heighten the drama. Adding that to the tedium or reading subtitles, it did begin to seem hard to watch, but one gets over such things. Doctor Genessier is assisted by Louise (Alida Valli), who sparkled in The Third Man eleven years earlier.

Of all the horror I have watched for this blog, in here is the one scene I found hard to watch. Fans of splatter and torture porn won't be impressed, but this was as uncomfortable as I need to be. It wouldn't have worked in color.

Apparently 1960 was a banner year for revolutionary horror films. Eyes Without a Face was a well made, unsettling, and plausible film. The title became a Billy Idol song and young Christine's mask inspired Michael Myers. AMRU 3.5.