Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mademoiselle Fifi (1944)

Pretty seamstress Elizabeth (Simone Simon) shares a coach ride with a variety of upper class people during the Franco-Prussian war. When a German officer called Mademoiselle Fifi (yea, the strapping dude played by the dashing Kurt Kreuger had a lady's name - that wasn't properly explained) holds up the coach until she dines with him, the others at first support her defiance. When they realize how much their business interests suffer by her defiance, they convince her to "Dine with" him. She dines with him but the others assume that she "dined with" him, but in reality she just dined with him. They are cold to her when the coach is allowed to continue.

At her destination also arrives the new priest. The old priest would not ring the church bell out of defiance to the Germans. The officers make all the pretty seamstresses wear "lady of quality" dresses so that they can have a party with them. At first Elizabeth defies them but she is convinced by the others that they will lose their jobs if she does not go.

Based on a Guy de Maupassant story (as was the basic premise of Stagecoach), this is a story about people standing up to a threat even though their personal interests are in jeopardy. Something not lost on 1944's France. In the original story Elizabeth was no seamstress and she totally "dined with" Fifi, nudge nudge. Also, the fifi nickname was an implication that he preferred to dine with men.

Hey, look, Batman's Alfred! He was also in Cat People. Also, Jason Robards' father. Lots of contract players here.

This movie hit my radar because it A) was produced by Val Lewton, B) was directed by Robert Wise, and C) starred the adorable Simone Simon. While the sets were excellent and it was wonderfully directed, it was something of a snoozer. Maybe the story resonated better during the war.

Glad I saw it, held my interest, won't see again. AMRU 3.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Character from the previous movie needs guzzaline and is alternately trying to be killed by people or enlisted to help others not to be killed. You see, there's these people in a compound that have fuel. These bad guys want in so that they can take the fuel. Max gets involved because, well, he just can't seem to avoid trouble. He don't say much.

I was rather critical of Mad Max and would have been hard pressed to see this one had two things not happened. 1) Fans of the series urged me to see 2 saying it was by far the best of the original three, and 2) I actually saw Fury Road in the theater. Really. An actual theater experience. Go figure. I immediately requested the Blu Ray from the library, as did everyone else in the state. Two months later, it came in. I skipped Thunderdome, for now.

The Road Warrior stands with the best of the 80's action flicks. The action was well paced and creative enough to keep you from visual overload. The story, while not exactly Doctor Zhivago, served the film very well. It stands on it's own perfectly, as it even changes elements from the first. Excellent visual storytelling. AMRU 4. Max 1 was terrible.
"I'm just here for the gasoline."

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Bank Dick (1940)

Egbert Souse' (pronounced Sau-SAY with the accent grave over the E) is a disappointment to his non-loving family. When a film producer complains about his drunken director while in the bar that Egbert frequents, he talks up himself as having worked in Hollywood. So, the producer offers him the job of finishing the film. You know, because that happens.

When two bank thieves scuffle and Egbert is credited with stopped them, he is offered the job as a bank detective (or "DICK" in the vernacular of the time). Why he drops the lucrative Hollywood gig to work in a bank is a mystery.

The next story element I am obliged to tell you about is when Egbert's daughter's boyfriend invests bank funds on a fraudulent mine, they have to keep the bank auditor away until the money can be replaced. Written by Fields, the screenplay is credited to "Mahatma Kane Jeeves", one of his little jokes. My hat, my cane, Jeeves.

The Bank Dick is not completely without laughs, but it isn't chuck full of them. Not painful to watch, but much of the humor doesn't translate. Shemp Howard was wasted as the bartender, given nothing funny to say or do. AMRU 3.
"I'm very fond of children. Girl children, around eighteen and twenty."

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

Town rich guy has a new steamboat that outclasses the old Stonewall Jackson. The Stonewall's captain, Steamboat Bill, learns that his son (Buster Keaton) is coming to visit. When Bill Jr turns out to be a "dandy", the father tries to toughen him up and teach him the ropes.

Buster Keaton stories are very formulaic, but Keaton's genius is all about his comedic bits and stunts. That's always the love interest, frequently tied to his adversary, that he must prove his worthiness to. He's always the misfit who triumphs in the end (oh, spoiler alert. Sorry about that.) And it's always entertaining because the visual storytelling is excellent.

The stunts more than anything carry Steamboat Bill, Jr. The big one being where the brick facade falls on Buster, positioned perfectly for him to pass unharmed through a second floor window. Real, full weight bricks were used and had he been out of position there would be no second take. Half the crew stayed away not wanting to witness his possible death.

The General still outranks all other Keaton films, but Bill Jr was quite enjoyable. It was the last he did for United Artists, having sold away his soul and creative control for the security of a regular MGM paycheck. That, a worsening alcohol problem, and the radical change brought by sound cinema ended his dominance in Hollywood.

Fun, amusing, and well filmed. AMRU 3.5.
"There's not a jury that would convict you."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Animal Crackers (1930)

A rich socialite (Margaret Dumont) hosts a party for a famous explorer (Graucho). Marx Brothers antics ensue.

This is my fifth Marx Brothers film and they are little more than variations on the same theme. So, I was surprised somewhat that I could be somewhat surprised by this one. Every now and again would be a scene that was more than a bit strange. In one where Graucho is trying to convince Dumont and another woman to both marry him, he stops, says "Pardon me while I have a strange interlude", then steps forward into an intense and dryly comedic monologue while the women appear not to notice. Quite strange.

In another scene between Graucho's Captain Spaulding and Roscoe Chandler, an art expert, Chandler's Louis Sorin flubs his line. Graucho runs with it creating an almost uncomfortable but amazing moment. All done in long takes.

The Brother's second film is very uneven. Some gags were hilarious while some were tedious. Some songs were tolerable, while others weren't. Cut most of the insipid songs, a couple of the bits, and you'll have a first rate two-reeler. As is, simply on the power of a couple great bits, AMRU 3.5.
"I'm sick of these conventional marriages. One woman and one man was good enough for your grandmother, but who wants to marry your grandmother? Nobody, not even your grandfather."

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

At the turn of the century, recent widow Lucy (Gene Tierney) rents a seaside house against the wishes of her in-laws and the realtor. Turns out the house is haunted by the salty sea captain (Rex Harrison) who committed suicide there four years earlier. Soon, love blooms.

The Ghost is a romantic drama period film. A post-war remembrance of a simpler time. Gene and Rex both are wonderfully restrained in their performances. Here the ghost-romantic drama was invented, later to be ruined by Ghost.

Anna Lee, right off her success in Bedlam, has a small role. Her on-screen charisma muted to fit the roll. Lucy's daughter is a young Natalie Wood. The Gaelic word "muir", I learned, means "sea", the only woman a sailor can truly love.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a very well crafted if cloyingly sentimental film. The sets, acting, and dialog is spot on, but there are no mysteries here. If you are surprised where the story leads, then you must hide your own Easter eggs. This movie is exactly what it intends to be. Tone and performances are spot on. Not exactly in my wheelhouse, but enjoyable never-the-less. AMRU 3.5.
"My dear, never let anyone tell you to be ashamed of your figure."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Logan's Run (1976)

Inhabitants of a domed city lead a decadent life of leisure until they turn 30. Then they are "renewed". By which we mean, killed. Some people, not content with this, choose to "run", by which we mean run. That is where the sandmen come in. Their job is to track down and "terminate" the runners. By which we mean kill. Serves them right for not going to Carrousel.

Sandman Logan 5 (Michael York) is placed on a secret mission to find Sanctuary, the place the runners are escaping to, and destroy it. He asks for help from a chick that wouldn't sleep with him. Together they find a wonderful place with trees, grass, sky, and cats! Hey, and they are in America despite everyone having English accents.

Sci Fi great George Pal was set to produce the film, which makes sense. It's high concept, paper-thin acting, blatant morale, and amazing set pieces fits in well his other work. Unknown to his style would be the brief nudity and many scenes of what I like to call "70's jiggle".

I watched Logan's Run on the big screen 40ish years ago. I had forgotten very little of the story. I also watched the short lived TV show which would be cool to find again. My oldest son is a Sci-Fi buff but I never got him to sit through this with me.

This is considered Farrah Fawcett's breakout role, even though her part was small and her performance forgettable. Also, she had already been in a couple low budget films and a steaming pile of television over the previous seven years. It would take her a few more years to learn to act reasonably well.

The color of the crystal in their left hand represents their age group, as well as dictates the color of their 70's toga-gown. Except the Sandmen, who wear only futuristic cop uniforms. So, why do people start searching for Sanctuary only when the crystal starts blinking? Why don't they start when they are, say, 25? Do they think it doesn't apply to them until they are 29 and 11 months old? That is simply poor planning.

Logan's Run is very dated but enjoyable. The city overview shots showing personal transport looks as if it was lifted by Futurama. In fact several plot points seem to have been recycled. It was landmark science fiction in a world before Star Wars existed. Sci Fi fans should take another look. AMRU 3.5.
"Everything made sense... until Box."