Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Scrooge (1951)

Grumpy old man ... ghosts ... Let's get on with it, shall we?

This version, wildly considered one of the best, is the most complete I have seen, as well as the most augmented. But more important that that is it's the best acted. Let's cover the augmentation, shall we?

Must we see Scrooge and Marley meet for the first time? See them ruthlessly run Old Fezziwig out of business? Witness the death of Marley? And of Fanny? These scenes, done well as they were, did not distract from the story. However, I don't see what they added. In the end I found them easy to ignore. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but better than what could have been.

Despite the additional material, this was the most faithful and best made adaption. More of the original dialog, more of the intent of the narrative, and the performances paid proper respect. Alastair Sim was both imposing as angry Scrooge and believable as the repentant version. I could quibble with the pointless changes from the source material (why is Belle called Alice?) but if artfully done, it simply doesn't matter. The MGM version was clunky at times, particularly during the added details, and I fault it for that. Here, all right notes were struck on this Christmas classic. AMRU 4.
"There's more gravy than grave about you."

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Carol (1938)

Grumpy old man is grumpy ... blah blah Ghosts blah blah Spirit of Christmas. Ok, one more time.

It's impossible for me to not compare this Hollywood version to the 1935 edition I just finished, so I won't try. Here is a slightly more complete retelling with an apparently larger budget. Still sparse on the effects, but they did manage some green screen and wire work to show Scrooge and Ghost fly. But despite the more details, as well as a few new ones, the run time is just about as short: 69 minutes. This was done by cutting some key dialog. No "boiled in his own pudding", no "more gravy than grave about you", no "Long past? No, your past", some of my favorite lines.

A worse sin still is the actors rushing through the dialog they kept in. Dickens' prose is wonderful, meant to be savored, and doing this for the purpose of limiting the runtime is nothing short of an abomination. They try to build more of a relationship between Bob Cratchit and Nephew Fred. Additionally Cratchit is fired on Christmas Eve, not just grumbled at. Also Scrooge calls in the police when he first sees Marley's ghost. I can't imagine what purpose that scene served.

Scrooge (Reginald Owen) looked like an outcast from Whoville, with a foolish tuft of hair atop his bald head. He is not at all intimidating as the unrepentant miser. Also, The Ghost of Christmas Past (Ann Rutherford) was too hot, not a frequent complaint from me. The GCP is described in the story like an indistinct angel, both male and female, both old and young. The only pronoun used in it's regard is "Him". Casting a very distinct, very attractive young woman was a choice I take issue with. Rufferford would later play Scarlett's sister.

The Cratchit's were a family affair. Bob played by veteran character actor Gene Lockhart, his wife by real-life wife Kathleen, and even a daughter was played by future Lost In Space mom June. Leo G. Carroll played the ghost of Marley. Fans may remember him from Tarantula and a bunch of Hitchcock films.

This version of A Christmas Carol was not terrible, but it could have been so much more. Acting styles and rushed dialog kept the audience from taking the story too seriously. And it really irks me when a certain YouTube lists channel declares it the third best Christmas movie all time when it's not even the third best version of A Christmas Carol! But to give it credit, the sets and dramatic effects were improved from the previous version. And at least they titled the film after the story. AMRU 3.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Scrooge (1935)

Grumpy old man is grumpy until he's haunted and learns the true meaning of Christmas. We all know the story.

This British production is not the very old version you may be familiar with. That would be either the 1938 or 1951 larger budget productions. This is a straight retelling of the Dickens story. No songs, no ducks, and actually set in Victorian London. It also appears to be the first feature length talkie version. There is a lost 9 minute talkie version from 1928 out there someplace.

Scrooge follows the Dickens story well but because it's under 80 minutes, it is significantly compressed. Scrooges trips, particularly with the Ghost of Christmas past, are abbreviated. We see his fiancee leaving him and her once again flush with family and happiness. We see no schoolboy Scrooge, no Old Fezziwig, and little insight how he became the man he was. They did choose to include the quick scene of the Lord Mayor of London leading a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen.

Special effects being what they were, translucent floating ghosts were not in the budget. In fact, Scrooge alone, and not the audience can see Marley. Marley was voiced by Claude Rains, so once again he plays an invisible man. The most effective special effect was superimposing Scrooge's disembodied head over it's larger black shadow. Doesn't sound like much but it functioned quite well.

Scrooge was a lower budget production with sound and video quality issues. It plays more like a melodrama and I get the impression that short scenes were clipped or missing altogether. But it has heart and was well worth my time. AMRU 3.5.
"Mankind was my business!"

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bullitt (1968)

Steve McQueen is Frank Bullitt, a San Francisco cop who doesn't play by the rules! He lives hard, loves hard, and harder still on his car. Seriously, the dude should really calm down.

Steve McQueen had been in several successful films, but this is the role that made him a legend. The story is little more than a framework for him to act cool. He doesn't say much and despite his name, doesn't fire his gun much either.

Frank Bullitt is assigned to protect a valuable mob witness. When that doesn't work out too well, he does battle with hit men as well as the ambitious Senator (Robert Vaughn) who staked his career on the case. Frank has a hot girlfriend (Jacqueline Bisset) who does't understand his life and a Ford Mustang that doesn't understand why it must be punished.

Hey, look at this supporting cast! Robert Duvall in a tiny roll, Normal Fell (you know, Mr. Roper), Simon Oakland (Black Sheep and Kolchak), Vic Tayback (Mel), and just about every heavy in Hollywood.

Sally Fields, who introduced the film with Robert Osborne, took exception to the Bisset character, saying she had nothing to do but look pretty. I understand her concern but I think she missed the point. She served as a foil for McQueen's character. She is young, pretty, and full of life, while he is old, older still for his time, hard, and emotionless. She does not understand his life and he has nothing to say about that. She's an object, but so are the hit men. And in a way, so it McQueen.

There is a little more to the story than I let on, but not a ton. It'll keep your interest, but the real story is how understated McQueen acts. Very subtle for an angry cop. Also interesting are the camera angle choices. No sets were made for Bullitt, so they filmed in real locations, where stuff gets in the way. Director Peter Yates chose to shoot through the obstructions. He did this also when the situation didn't demand it. Frank speaks with someone while his car is washed, so we see the scene through the rear window as water, suds, and brushes obscure the view. Interesting choices.

But people don't watch this film for the camera angles, or to hear McQueen not talk. It's the almost eleven minute car chase that makes it famous. That and it's excessive use of squibs and blood packets. For me, it's an interesting film and worth the watch. AMRU 3.5.
"Come on, now. Don't be naive, Lieutenant. We both know how careers are made. Integrity is something you sell the public."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My Favorite Wife (1940)

Nick (Cary Grant) petitions to declare his missing wife (Irene Dunne) dead just before marrying his new wife (Gail Patrick). When the newlyweds go off for a weekend honeymoon, dead Ellen returns. Nick, still in love with Ellen and not so much with Bianca, turns into a complete wuss and can't manage to tell his new wife the bad news. When it turns out that good old Ellen spent those seven years marooned with the hunky Burkett (Randolph Scott), it's she who got some splainin' to do.

Fairly standard RomCom, later remade as Move Over, Darling (1963) with Doris Day and James Garner. They started Something's Got to Give the year earlier with Marilyn Monroe, but that train went in for her final wreck. Hmmm... Haven't done a Doris Day film yet. Interesting.

Anyhow, Grant and Scott were close friends in real life, having lived together for a dozen years. I'm sure it was purely platonic. Old friend Robert Wise served as editor. It would be a few years more before he would get to sit in the director's chair.

Not much to say. Standard fare for the genre. Grant would mutter under his breath because that stuff is comedy gold. The ending was rather weak. The outcome was in sharp focus fairly early on. There was no point and dragging it out. If there was anything that stood out it was the innuendo. Did Nick pop the pepperoni with the new wife while the old wife waited? Did Ellen make the beast while island bound? Don't be silly. This is classic production code RomCom. AMRU 3.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

Stuffy British types mount an expedition to find the mask and sword of Genghis Khan before the nefarious Doctor Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) does. They fear he will use it to rally his minions to rise up and wipe out the white race.

Before I go on, let me point out that The Mask of Fu Manchu was actually considered racist BY 1932 STANDARDS! In a strange way, that's kinda impressive. The Chinese embassy in Washington filed an official complaint. And not just the Chinese (or Yellow Beasts, as they prefer to be called) are maligned, but also Indians and Africans. Come to think of it, the English don't really come out looking all that smart. More on that later.

Old stuffy British type wants Asian artifact before Asians can get it because they're British, sends second old stuffy British type. But he's kidnapped BEFORE HE CAN EVEN LEAVE THE BUILDING, so hysterical daughter convinces first to all go on a rescue mission. While second is being tortured, our crew of heroes find the loot .. I mean historical artifacts. They hide in a fancy house because Fu Manchu spies are everywhere. Hysterical daughter convinces her beau to take the artifacts to Fu Manchu to bargain for papa's life, but that don't work out too well.

First old stuffy British type find out then decides to ALSO go into Fu Manchu's palace because that worked out so well the first time. First he goes to an opium den for reasons that escape me, then there's a fire, I don't know why. Beau returns, his mind controlled by spider blood and the love of Fu Manchu's hot hot daughter (Myrna Loy) and convinces the rest to ALSO enter the palace (because three times a charm). The decide to go EVEN THOUGH THEY KNOW THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH HIM! Deus ex machina and everyone lives happily ever after.

Sure, Asians are depicted as conniving and treacherous, and his palace is filled with Indian and Black "servants", all shirtless and buff. But the Brits come off as completely stupid! If they didn't posses the magic of random luck they wouldn't have stood a chance. Add to this the scenes of one hero being hung shirtless while large bare chested black men whip him, the group that comes out on top is the BDSM crowd.

Despite itself, there is a lot of fun in The Mask of Fu Manchu. The sets, action, and effects worked well, the story doesn't lull, and the cheesy parts are fun to laugh at. Karloff and Loy agreed the only way to intelligently play their rolls is tongue-in-cheek. Today I am overlooking the racism. Not everyone will. AMRU 3.
"Would you have maidens such as these for your wives? Then conquer and breed... kill the white man... and take his women!"

Monday, December 7, 2015

All About Eve (1950)

Aging theater diva Margo Channing (aging movie diva Bette Davis) is introduced to an obsessed young fan, Eve (Anne Baxter). Margo gives her a job handling her personal affairs, which she does very well. Slowly Eve ingratiates herself into Margo's life to become a professional, and romantic, rival.

All About Eve is a fascinating character study rife with excellent acting performances. It earned five acting Oscar nominations, two best actress, two best supporting actress, and one supporting actor. The dialog is rather dense so people not into chatty movies take note.

Remember George Sanders from Village of the Damned. Here he played a kind of a Waldo Lydecker type character and was amused to learn he played him in a TV version of Laura. He would later commit suicide.

Here also, in a small role, is ingenue Barbara Bates, fresh off her success with The Inspector General. She would later commit suicide. Also featured is a very young Marilyn Monroe playing the Marilyn Monroe-type character. She was quite charming in a very Marilyn Monroian sort of way. She would go on to commit suicide, tin-foil hat conspiracy theories aside.

Old friend Hugh Marlowe was the playwrite. Remember him as the hero in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and the douche from The Day the Earth Stood Still. He didn't commit suicide.

Very well made, well acted character driven story. The story centers on the female characters in a way very uncommon in Hollywood. That said, at no point does it feel like a chick flick. Just an interesting, well crafted movie. With one terribly filmed street sequence. AMRU 4.
"Don't cry. Just score it as an incomplete forward pass."