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.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Night at the Opera (1935)

The setting: a transatlantic voyage, then a New York opera house. The circumstance: Dumont character hires Groucho character to get her into High Society, and he has her donate to the opera. The complicating factor: Arrogant opera star has the hots for leading lady, but she loves unimportant background singer (who's really great if only someone would just give him a chance!). The result: unspectacular.

There is as much point summarizing a Marx Brothers film as there would a stooge short. The story just an excuse for the comedy bits. The ones that stand out are a cop searching through Groucho’s apartment looking for Chico, Harpo, and the background singer (they were stowaways) but they move to the other room in the nick of time. Meh. Another is where Groucho’s tiny state room is crowded by said stowaways, engineers, kitchen people, and a parade of insundry people.

Pretty opera star Rosa was played by a young Kitty Carlisle. From time well spent watching game shows in the 1970’s and 80’s, I was quite familiar with the old Kitty Carlisle. I never knew why she was famous, but she appeared to be popular, if boring. Apparently she did a lot of theater before and after her short, unremarkable Hollywood career. She went on to do a ton of variety TV before making To Tell the Truth a semi-permanent home. I had difficulty seeing the 25 year old Kitty and not seeing the geriatric Kitty I knew so well.

The first Zeppo-free Marx Brothers film and first with MGM, Groucho said it was one of his favorites. For me no gag stands out as particularly amusing. Nothing really wrong here, it's just predictable and seldom amusing. I’ve only six more Marx Brothers films to go and I am wondering if I’ll find any of them particularly interesting. I hope so. AMRU 3.
“I saw Mrs. Claypool first. Of course, her mother really saw her first but there's no point in bringing the Civil War into this.”

Friday, December 16, 2016

Remember the Night (1940)

Shoplifter Lee (Barbara Stanwyck) is on trial and her attorney uses the classic Hypnotism defense. When the prosecuting attorney (Fred MacMurray) realizes the jury is eating that crap up, he calls for Expert Testimony, thus delaying the trial until after the holidays and turning the tables back in his favor. Feeling bad he caused her to spend the holidays in lockup, he arranges for her to be bailed out. Only his man downtown thought he wanted her bailed out and brought around to his place for some nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more. Only he didn’t. At all. I mean, he’s Fred F’ing MacMurray for god sakes!

As luck would have it he’s going home for the holidays, she wants to reconnect up with her loving mother, and would you know it, it’s on the way! So, off on a road trip these love-birds-to-be go. What adventures they will have!

Remember the Night is a charming romantic comedy. It makes a case for nurture over nature without beating you over the head. The two grew up in similar circumstances, but while one steals, the other is a successful lawyer. The difference is Love. Hold a sec, I have to get a tissue. There seems to be something in my eye …

MacMurray and Stanwyck are solid performers. Please watch Double Indemnity if you haven't. Stanwyck’s transformation from streetwise bad girl to sympathetic woman was handled very well. Even more interesting is how the motion picture code is at odds with the Hollywood ending. Now, if I could only figure out which Night we are supposed to Remember. AMRU 3.5.
“Now there's nothing as dangerous as a square shooter. If all men were like you there wouldn't be any nice girls left.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

The lead salesman (James Stewart) of a small shop in Budapest is trading letters with a woman from the personals and falls in love. Turns out, she’s the new sales girl he can’t stand. Oh, spoiler alert! I got that in in time, right?

Actually, that’s just part of the setup, and a lot goes on here besides the romance. What's going on with the owner and Alfred? What's going on with the sales guy who acts like a dick all the time? And the errand boy? The Shop Around the Corner is a character study at it’s heart, and fairly chatty as plays-turned-movies tend to be.

Frank Morgan, aka The Wizard, is the shop owner with personal problems. He’d die before he reached 60. Old friends may remember Felix Bressart as a Russian from Ninotchka, or Greenberg from To Be or Not To Be. He’d die before he gets as old as Frank. Margaret Sullavan played the love interest. She’d die before she got my age. Errand boy William Tracy younger still. So it goes.

The Shop Around the Corner is a Christmas romantic comedy, but don't let that fool you. It’s an interesting, layered story and well acted. There is action outside of the love interest, but it never becomes cluttered. It's clever, witty, and charming. Director Ernst Lubitsch built a world that feels complete and inviting, and the events that transpire inside have weight and meaning. I can’t say I’ve ever not been pleasantly surprised by his films. AMRU 4.
"Doctor, do I call you a pill-peddler?"