Saturday, August 29, 2009

Casablanca (1942)

I've seen this film once or twice before, so I knew I loved it. I got it on DVD last Christmas. Yesterday, I watched it again.

The story is basic. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is the owner of a saloon with a mysterious past. The leader of the Czech underground and Nazi thorn Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) arrives with his unbelievably hot wife, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) trying to find passage to America. The local authorities, Captain Renault (Caude Rains) and the Nazis want to keep them in Casablanca. Rick can help, but will he?

It seems back in Paris (Flashback! - Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo), Ilsa and Rick met up just before the Nazis rolled into town. Ilsa thought Victor was dead, so she made plans to run off with Rick. At the last minute, she learns Victor was only MOSTLY dead, so she leaves Rick at the alter/train station. Poor Rick.

Back in Casablanca, Rick has a choice to make. Help Victor because he sympathizes with his cause or set him up and take his unbelievably hot wife?

Here are a couple of my observations after this viewing:

Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre had very small roles, smaller than I remember. Ingrid Bergman was unbelievably hot. Had I mentioned that before? Claude Rains has many great lines. Clearly a womanizer, but look at these:
"Well, Rick is the kind of man that... well, if I were a woman, and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick."
"She was asking about you earlier in a way that made me very jealous."
I know he was supposed to be French, but come on! What's going on here? Discuss ...

Casablanca is an all time great film. Great acting, writing, and atmosphere. It's even better than it's reputation. And Ingrid Bergman was unbelievably hot. AMRU 5. I hope to convince my sons to watch it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Inherit the Wind (1960)

Inherit the Wind is based on a Robert E. Lee (no kidding) play about the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" trial. The play was also made into a TV movie three times, in 1965, 1988, and 1999. I suppose we are due for a another. Some of the details and all of the names were changed from the historic case, including the name of the town.

The defendant is a young school teacher (Dick "Durwood" York) who makes the mistake of teaching evolution, which is a crime. It town is outraged and fiery lawyer/politician Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March) storms into town to save them from this evil heretic. Liberal lightening rod Henry Drummand (Spencer Tracy), hired by the Baltimore Sun, arrives to defend the "only thinking man in town". Gene Kelly tap dances with his mouth as smart alec reporter E. K. Hornbeck.

Inherit the Wind was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best actor for Tracy. The Apartment won best picture that year, with Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers, The Alamo, and The Sundowners also being nominated. I have not seen any of these films, but I refuse to believe that Inherit the Wind wasn't clearly better than at least two of them. I will have to see for myself.

Like many plays-to-movie conversions, the dialog was very quick, sharp, and witty. The best lines were written for Kelly. "He's the only man I know who can strut while sitting down", "It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable", and many more. Tracy and March, former allies turned political adversaries, have some great scenes together.

Harry "Sherman T." Morgan (still living) plays the judge. A young Norman Fell has a small role. Claude Akins, who has been in an episode of everything, everywhere, is the zealous Reverend Brown. The actor is so very familiar but I can't place what I most remember him from. I watched a lot of TV during the 70's and 80's and he was everywhere. Noah Beery Jr, who was in everything Akins was in +1, has a small role.

At 8 minutes past two hours, I feared that the movie would be tedious. It was not. Every scene was crisp and interesting. An important movie, I would argue (evolution was still a hot-button topic and this was also during the McCarthy trials), but also a very entertaining one. I need to see it again. AMRU 4.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dr. Renault's Secret (1942)

Dashing Young Doctor American (Shepperd Strudwick) goes to a small village in France to visit his young hottie fiancee (Lynne Roberts), who lives with her uncle, the mysterious Dr. Renault (George Zucco). Dr. Renault's manservant, the mysterious Noel, meets him at an inn, where they stay the night because the bridge has washed out. Also in attendance is the mysterious Rogell, Dr. Renault's ex-con gardener. A drunk crashes in dashing American's room, so he swaps with him. That night, drunk man is mysteriously strangled. Mistaken identity? The Police think so. So was it the strange Noel or Rogell, the angry ex-con? Or was is somebody ... no, you can rule out everybody else.

Life goes on at Dr. Renault's house and the plot thickens. What is Rogell up to, and what's up with the strange Noel? Dr. Renault seems charming enough. But he has a secret (apart from making crappy cars). A secret so dark, it's worthy of naming the movie after it. What to know what the secret is? You could watch about three quarters of the film, but if you're in a rush, you can just read the back of the DVD box.

Damn! They totally blew most of the mystery out of this film! They suck. But this film didn't. The acting was good, the sets were beautiful, and the sense of atmosphere was wonderful! Exactly what you want from an old B horror film! It was a real treat. It kept you guessing who the real bad guy was until the very end. I don't want to blow any of the story, but I'll say this:
Dashing Young Doctor American is a wuss in a fight. Also his medical specialty is the frontal lobotomy. That's where you correct a personality disorder by sticking an ice pick into someones eye and scrambling their brain. How charming!

J. Carrol Naish plays a nuanced Noel. We're never sure what to think of him. Fear him or feel sorry for him? Can't be sure. I never heard of this movie before I picked it up, but I'm glad I found it. It's everything you want from an old B horror film! AMRU 3.5.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cavalcade (1933)

Adapted from the popular Noel Coward play, 1933 Best Picture Cavalcade recaps the end of the 19th century up until 1932, through the eyes of a well to do British couple. With them you witness the end of the second Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic, the first world war, and the stock market crash. No, wait. They missed that last one.

20-something Diana Wynyard delightfully overacts as Jane Marryot, earning her a best actress nomination. 40-something Clive Brook is her husband. They have two young sons, and a housekeeper played by Una O'Connor. Perhaps you remember her as the housekeeper in Bride of Frankenstein or the housekeeper in Witness for the Prosecution. Here, at 45, she is believable at the end when she is supposed to be "elderly".

Ed, the level-headed son, meets his true love, gets married, then goes on their honeymoon on the Titanic. That didn't work out so well.

Joey, the other son, thinks the escalating violence in Europe is simply Marvelous, so he enlists. Mustard gas and trench warfare is so absolutely Marvelous. At a USO show he sees childhood friend Fanny (Una's daughter) for the first time in years and thinks she is simply Marvelous. They strike up a relationship and go about thinking how everything is so Marvelous.

Mom learns of her son's relationship with a housekeepers daughter and doesn't think it very marvelous. All is right when later in the conversation she learns that, just prior to armistice, young Joey has died. Queue dramatic speech, then prat fall to the rug.

Cavalcade ends being cautiously optimistic about the future. Huh. Same year Hitler took power. Well, whatdoyaknow ...

This movie had a lot going for it. The cinematography and sets were truly remarkable and the subject matter was captivating to 1933 audiences. But the movie, for modern audiences, has a lot going against it. The story line is a string of world events that simply don't resonate with someone who knows of Auschwitz and Hiroshima. You never truly relate with the characters. And as this film has never come out on DVD (and I get videos from the library), I had to deal with significant tape hiss. Oh, and the OVER ACTING!

Because of the weak story line and no longer inspiring subject matter, Cavalcade is a snoozer. While I'll never watch it again, I think it would hold up to a second viewing. Throughout much of this movie I was thinking of an AMRU score of 2.5, but in the end I give it a 3. Had there been a fully restored DVD version with a song or two clipped to make the play time a little more reasonable, I would have enjoyed it much more.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Scarlet Clue (1945)

Ah, America in the 40's. No racial tension to worry about. Charlie Chan is played by a fat white guy in crappy makeup and black chauffeurs are easily spooked. Times were simple then.

It is easy to look at films like these and point in offense, but it does illustrate how far we have come. Besides, Mantan Moreland was funny. He did two "indefinite talk" routines where he and another character cut each other off mid sentence over and over. If you get past the demeaning "jittery negro" shtick, you have to laugh.

But I'm a white dude, so I'm in no position to be offended.

The story is a mystery, of course. There is a plot to steal secret radar plans (WWII, don't forget). The death of a potential witness is linked to a radio and TV studio that operates on the same floor of the same building. Huh? No, that makes sense. Want to run a TV studio, just grab a couple offices next to a military research laboratory.

There's little mystery in this mystery. Not sure who the bad guy is? Wait a bit and he'll be revealed. The only real mystery is the identity Mr. Big, but since there are no clues presented to lead us to their identity, the guessing game is rather pointless.

Still, it was fun. Moreland and Chan's number three son (played by Benson Fong, an actual Chinese actor!) worked great together. And at 65 minutes, it wasn't a second too long. True to Library DVD form, I got three minutes from the end of the film and it skipped to the end. Some light cleaning allowed me to watch the final chapter uninterrupted.

By the way, the title refers to blood. Someone bleeds, and it's a clue. And you thought it was about a board game, did you? AMRU 3.