Monday, March 30, 2009

The Lost World (1925)

In 1925 stop motion photography was cutting edge stuff. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story of an island where dinosaurs still lived provided the perfect setting to exploit this technique. Moviegoers never saw anything like it.

Professor Challenger, a respected scientist, tries to convince his colleagues of this island and is ridiculed. His BFF Maple White (Maple White?) was lost on a previous expedition so circumstances have the bombastic Prof, a newspaper reporter, Maple's supposedly attractive daughter, and a cast of racial stereotypes go a-huntin'.

I have to be perfectly honest. I fell asleep during the movie. I seem to have little tolerance for silent movies what with the overacting and smack-you-in-the-head storyline. One must respect this film for it's groundbreaking special effects, and that's hard to do in an age where people say the dinos in Jurassic Park "look fake".

But it's interesting to compare this film with King Kong, made just eight years later. Arguably the addition of sound made a larger impact than any visual effect. One is a film for the ages, the other a snooze-fest. Incidentally, the only connection between these two films are the dinosaur models and technique used in both. I thought the same person did the special effects. Not true.

The copy I watched was bad VCR tape. Maybe I will see this movie again, if a quality copy lands in my hands, but I won't be going out of my way to find it. A very generous AMRU 3.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

King Kong (1933)

Forth movie mentioned in the song Science Fiction/Double Feature. The classic gorilla finds girl, gorilla loses girl, girl's friends drug and kidnap gorilla to use in a New York side show story. It's the classic tale.

Robert Armstrong plays Carl Denham, a risk-taking movie director who learns of an uncharted island off Africa's coast (Google Earth was in pre-beta back then). He needs a lead actress so at the last minute he nabs the homeless waif Ann Darrow (Fay Wray). Every damsel needs a hero, and Fay's is Seaman John Driscol, played by Bruce Cabot, who apparently was a robot in real life. Oh, and by the way, Fay Wray was HOT!

Many of the models of the dinosaurs and the animation techniques came from the 1925 silent film The Lost World, taken from the Arthur Conan Doyle story. Guess which movie I do next. Silent films are weird.

But, let's touch on the silly, shall we? All this has been pointed out before, but what the hell. If you are going to build a giant wall to keep giant monsters out, WHY BUILD A GIANT DOOR FOR THEM TO GET THROUGH? If a giant ape can scale the Empire State Building, WHY CAN'T IT SCALE A WALL BARELY TALLER THAN ITSELF? And while we are bringing logic into the conversation, why live on a tiny part of a giant island populated by monsters? That was fun, wasn't it? Seriously, it wasn't? Not even a little? Oh, bother.

This movie is great. I watched it on an old VCR tape and I'm dying to see it fully restored in high-def. The action is intense, the story interesting, the pacing great, and Fay Wray's wardrobe pre-code.

King Kong held the record at the time for the biggest opening in history and is credited with saving RKO from bankruptcy. AFI lists it as the forth best film in the category of Fantasy and it's ranked 11th in IMDB's list in the category of Horror. In my ranking, it's higher. I love this movie. AMRU 5.0.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Adam's Rib (1949)

Adam (Spencer Tracy) and Amanda (Katharine Hepburn) are married attorneys who find themselves on the opposite side of a headline grabbing court case. It seems a man was fooling around on his wife, she found out, found him with his lady-friend, and shot him.

Tracy, sensing familiarity, takes his case. Hepburn, sensing irony, takes hers. Now, I love these two actors, really I do, but what must have been going through their minds? Imagine Tracy's wife going to this movie and saying to their two children "That's your bum of a father and the trollop he flashes around town. Today she is apparently AGAINST philandering husbands!" Unbelievable.

I don't want to blow the story, but suffice it to say little in this court case played out vaguely the same as it would in a world that resembled reality. Also, I saw little chemistry between the two leads. Tracy at one point becomes so enraged at Hepburn that the movie loses what little humor it had.

I liked their songwriter neighbor who is unabashedly woo'ing Hepburn right in front of Tracy. What a douche. He was wonderful. Also, I had a moment when Tracy and Hepburn were going about their daily life and one of them lit their stove. I thought for a moment, two high-powered lawyers and that's the only stove they can afford?, before I realized that in 1949, that WAS a good stove.

Judy Holliday was great in a small role as the accused and abused wife but this wasn't Tracy or Hepburn's best work. AFI called this the seventh best romantic comedy ever. It's not a bad film by any means, but if I see this movie again it would be to figure out why others are so high on it. AMRU 3.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

A rich widow is dead and the dashing ne're-do-well Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), who had been showing her a lot of attention lately, is accused of the murder. Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton), against the advice of his nursemaid (Elsa Lanchester, the Bride in Bride of Frankenstein and Laughton's real-life wife), takes Vole's case.

Like all Agatha Christie stories, there are many characters, details, and plot twists. Marlene Dietrich plays Power's none too helpful wife, some 12 years his senior (and looking every minute of it). Una O'Connor (the maid in Bride of Frankenstein) plays the maid, the last role of her life. Great performances, all.

I had never seen a Dietrich movie and I now understand what Madeline Kahn was doing in Blazing Saddles. I also never saw Tyrone Power before, who died at 44 the same year the movie was released. I'm curious to see more from them.

Through the film we learn more about Vole's relationship with the widow French (Norma Varden), and more about his relation ship with the Mrs. Vole. This movie was a pleasure. The complex plot kept me guessing and the dialog and acting were great. Definitely worth a second viewing. The AFI called it the 6th best cortroom drama and I give it an AMRU of 4.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

After the Thin Man (1936)

This is the first sequel to The Thin Man (1934). Nick and Nora return home to San Francisco to find trouble in her family, and in need of a good detective. The husband of Nora's cousin has disappeared and once again she urges Nick to take up the case. Nick is irreverent and urbane once again, and Nora is charming and witty once more.

First off, the Thin Man from the first movie was the murder victim, not good 'ol Nick, though the description does fit. Here we are talking about stuff AFTER the Thin Man case. I'm curious at what point did Powell become his title character.

One odd scene has to do with their dog, Asta. Asta is also returning home. Here we meet Mrs. Asta. And, she has puppies! Lots of them. If this wasn't enough of a shock for poor Asta, one of them (gasp!) is ... BLACK! It was that damn black terrier! Ya let one in the neighborhood ...

Hollywood racism? I can't tell. I'm a baloney sandwich on white with mayo, myself. But it makes you think. And feel sorry for Asta. Everything is resolved for the humans in the story, but with poor Asta's marital troubles, we are left hanging.

Did I mention that a young Jimmy Stewart is in the film? I saw him in a slightly later movie I haven't written on yet. Even though he was pushing 30 he could have played a teen. Not quite ready for leading man status.

Sequels almost never live up to the original. In this case, it has less to do with what we see onscreen and more with the fact that we already know what Nick and Nora are all about. The script is funny, the story surprisingly complex, and the chemistry is still there. But I suppose nothing could live up to the original.
This was a nice, funny movie I may see again. AMRU 3.5.

It (1927)

This is the Clara Bow silent film. Let's not confuse It with the Stephen King work or the 1966 Roddy McDowall horror film. The title does lend Itself to the horror genre, ala Them! and The Thing. In this case, It's a story of a poor salesgirl with "that special something".

And she does. Clara Bow is hot. Elinor Glyn wrote a book called "It", where she describes this special quality some people posses. This story is not an adaptation of the book. It's a story about people who read the book and then go mad for Clara. Glyn actually appears as herself.

Silent movies are weird, what with the exaggerated reactions and all. The story isn't much. Business upper-muck reads about "It", identifies the quality in Clara (and, mistakenly, himself), and tries to woo her. His dashing friend is too preoccupied to notice, falls for her, hard feelings, comic mischief, misunderstandings, bla bla bla, you know the drill.

I long knew that Clara Bow was the "It" girl long before I knew what the hell that meant. It's good to see the film that started It all off, but I don't need to see It again. AMRU 3.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

McQueen is the Kid, a young hot-shot poker player ready to take on Mr. Big. Mr. Big is Lacey Howard (Edward G. Robinson). The story is about The Kid's life, the events leading up to the big game, and the game itself.

McQueen's girlfriend is played by Tuesday Weld, so life isn't TOO bad for him. His best friend is by-the-books, strictly percentages Karl Malden. Karl (in his pre-gigantic nose days) is comically paired with Ann-Margaret. Could two people, actors or characters, be more ill-fit for each other? The tension plays into the plot.

I love poker, so I had a hook into this film, but I think non players would also dig it. Tense drama, great acting, great story telling, and, oh yea ...

Ann-Margaret was NASTY HOT!

This woman stole every scene she was in. She could be in the background and out of focus and draw the eye. She had this intense-malicious-sexy look on her face the entire time. Man, was she smokin'! She could do more in a turtleneck and coveralls than most woman could in the buff! Add to that fact she was married to Mister Straight-Lace Malden and hanging around with the church mouse (and hot) Tuesday Weld, the tension was palpable.

Robinson impressed me. He was perfect in the role. I always thought of him as a two-dimensional actor. Must rethink that now. Rip Torn was great (only knew him from Men in Black) as a slimy manipulator. The background characters included Jack Westin, Joan Blondell, Dub Taylor, and oddly, Cab Calloway. Too bad he didn't sing. Joan was awesome as a dealer. A small role, but she shined.

While I enjoy seeing Steve McQueen on screen, I can't say I'm impressed by his acting. He seems to play one character: Steve McQueen. I know people who know more about acting will strongly disagree, but they can say so on THEIR movie blog.

As a poker player, the lingo and depiction was fairly good. They announce that there will be no string raises, and of course they string raise throughout. Stuff like that aside, it was fine. They should have played with chips, but I guess having wads of cash on the table was more dramatic. I haven't looked into this, but I got the impression that Rounders (1998) was sort of a sequel. It seems to start where The Cincinnati Kid ends. I hope that's not a spoiler.

I've waffled back and forth whether to give this film a 4 or 4.5. It's not really the kind of movie you can watch over and over again. In the end I'll settle on an AMRU of 4.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

It Happened One Night (1934)

Clark Gable was loaned out to 'Poverty Row' studio Columbia as punishment for being difficult. Myrna Loy turned down the lead because she didn't want to be in another movie set on a bus. Lead actress Claudette Colbert called it the worst movie of her career and refused to go to the premiere. Then this low budget picture won Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, and Actress (Claudette Colbert). The first film ever to win all five big awards. Columbia was Poverty Row no longer.

Colbert runs away from her rich daddy to be with sugar-daddy husband in New York (Daddy is trying to get it annulled), Gable is a fired newspaper reporter looking to get work again. They meet up in a bus station. She (the prodigal Babe-in-the-Woods) is helped getting to New York and he gets his story. They agree to help each other, sorda.

Claudette Colbert was cute as a spoiled heiress, but after seeing Myrna Loy in The Thin Man, I wonder if Loy could have been even better. Remembered as being the first "screwball comedy", I'd classify it as a romantic comedy by today's standards. Friz Freleng is said to have pattern some of Warner Brother's cartoon characters after Gable and others.

Clever, witty, fun, this movie is a treat. I must see it again, and in fact, I did. I returned it late just so that my wife could watch it. She liked it as well. 4 AMRU's.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Thin Man (1934)

Myrna Loy, William Powell, Maureen O'Sullivan, and a very young Cesar Romero (Ya know, the Joker ...)

I knew of this film, but little about it. Witty, urbane, this movie was quite a surprise. Nick Charles (Powell) is recently married to Nora (Loy) and they stumble upon a mystery when visiting New York. Nick did detective work prior to meeting Nora, so she urges him to help. She thinks it'll be fun. And fun it was.

A poster on IMDB (I just love IMDB!) called it the booziest movie in Hollywood, and they just may be right. Like some old movies feature a ton of smoking (Maltese Falcon, anybody?), this was a non-stop drink-fest. Not just the main characters, but many of the background characters as well. It makes me thirsty just thinking about it.

But the success to this film lies in the great dialog (Nick: I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune. Nora: I read where you were shot 5 times in the tabloids. Nick: It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.) and the chemistry between Powell and Loy. So fun and charming they were on screen together, it spawned five sequels. I can't wait to see the rest!

I give it 4.5 AMRU's!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Searchers (1956)

Rated the best western by AFI's 10 Top 10 list. I chose this movie based entirely on that fact. I'm not a fan of westerns, but I keep seeing pieces of Clint Eastwood movies and my interest was piqued.

John Wayne returns from the civil war, three years late. The indians lead a diversion to bring our hero away from the homestead, then attack Wayne's brother and his family. Wayne's (Ethan, actually) family is slaughtered, except for his two nieces (a young Natalie Wood playing one), who are captured. Ethan becomes obsessed with rescuing them.

The scenery is great. The plot is surprisingly complex. Ethan's motivation is a mystery at first. There are details that only the most careful viewer will pick up on. I watched this with my 12 year old son. He had the same reaction I had. Interesting, but this is the best western? Ever? Wayne, while being the "hero", isn't really a hero character. Some of the acting was fairly poor (I'm looking at you, Jeffrey Hunter!)

Still, it was worth watching. 3 AMRUs.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Forbidden Planet (1956)

 Anne Francis was HOT!

Movie seven mentioned in the song Science Fiction/Double Feature.

It has been said that Gene Roddenberry modeled Star Trek after this movie, and if it isn't true, it sure seems like it. Star Trek look and feel, Star Trek plot, Star Trek "love" story, Star Trek conclusion. A Federation of Planets ship is sent to check in on a scientific outpost that they haven't heard from in twenty years (it's about time).

Walter Pidgeon is the marooned survivor, Anne Francis is his hot daughter, Leslie Nielson is the dashing commander, and introducing Robby the Robot. Also, it was cool to see Richard Anderson whom people my age will remember as Oscar Goldman from the Six Million Dollar Man.

The movie was a bit slow to get going, but the sets and effects were amazing considering the era. I give it 3.5 AMRU's.