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?"

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Seamen on the Black Sea battleship Prince Tavricheskiy (known to the girls downtown as Old Man Potemkin) are angered by poor treatment and rotten mean. When the Captain decides to execute most of his crew because they wouldn’t eat their borscht (as all good boys should!), they mutiny. When the good people of Odessa openly support the sailors, the evil Cossacks brutally shoot them down. You know, down the steps. The Odessa steps.

Battleship Potemkin is an unflinching propaganda piece, make no mistake, but it’s a very innovative one. In here Sergei Eisenstein developed techniques every Scooby Doo episode owes a debt of gratitude to. Well, kinda. Anyhow, I found it curious how when the crowd declares the revolution for all Russians, and one Odessa citizen yells down with Jews, he is ostracized from the group. A very noble moment, if in striking contrast with the reality of the subject.

But propaganda by its very nature plays fast and loose with the facts. The mutiny of the Potemkin took place twelve years before the Russian revolution and the events transpired quite differently. Or so Wikipedia tells me. I’m no historian.

There is no arguing how important Potemkin is. Eisenstein used non actors to heighten authenticity. I found the nuts and bolts activities of sailors very interesting. But even for an under 70 minute film, parts did seem tedious. Particularly the buildups to the stairs sequence as well as the finale. Really, this is a film school film. A document of early film making innovations. But still, it’s a good watch even for us non film students. AMRU 3.5.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Scrooge (1970)

Grumpy old man, ghosts, Christmas spirit … and now featuring SONGS!

Ah, A Christmas Carol, we meet again. Let’s see how you stack up, shall we? Most of what I love of the Dickens story is here, but not without issues. I don’t mind additions to the original story so long as the intent is kept. The obvious example here are the songs, which, even though they didn’t charm me,  I give them a pass. The acting is good for the most part and it’s an accurate retelling. The tone, however, seemed inconsistent. Sometimes serious, sometimes goofy.

In Stave IV Scrooge doesn’t just fall on his grave, but travels to a hell resembling a bad Star Trek TOS set. Silliness ensues. Also, not a fan of Alec Guinness’ (Jacob Marley) performance. Trying to be ethereal and mysterious by moving in a stylized slow motion manner, he looked like he was cruising the strip in the Castro. Hate to say that about an actor I really respect. Forgive me Obi Wan.

Not a lot interesting to say about the film either. Scrooge’s Albert Finney was twelve years younger than the man playing his little sister's son. They called Belle ‘Isabel’ (which beats the hell out of Alice!) and made her the daughter of Old Fezziwig Himself. Alec Guinness’ musical number was cut. Should have cut a couple more.

Attractive sets, the acting good for the most part, and the musical numbers were ok, if you are into that sort of thing. The tonal inconsistency and tedious length keep Scrooge from excelling. And it needed some tightening. Fifteen minutes shorter … AMRU 3.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

A destroyer is sunk and two seaman are adrift for weeks. When rescued the nurse refuses to give one a satisfying meal, so he flirts with her to get fed. Now he’s “engaged”, and she thinks he is hesitant to get married because he never had a real home. SO she convinces a magazine publisher to have the famous cooking writer Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) invite him over for Christmas to show him what a home is like. Only, Lane a complete fraud. She doesn’t live in Connecticut, and can’t cook, and doesn’t have the husband and baby she wrote about. Also, the publisher Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet), who believes everything in his magazines is truthful, will be joining them as well. Wow, what a convoluted setup for a generic Rom Com.

So, pretty Elizabeth agrees to marry a doofus architect (Reginald Gardiner), have the bartender from Rick’s Cafe American handle the cooking, and try to sneak in a marriage ceremony to make it all legit. All the while she falls in love with a man she thinks is engaged, and thinks she is married. Will these two love birds ever get together?

Let’s spend some time chatting about Sydney Greenstreet. Very recognizable due to his great size and because of the quality of his films. Past 60 when he debuted in The Maltese Falcon, he’d be retired before he reached 70. I give him credit for outliving his two frequent costars Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre (by 17 and 14 years respectively), he didn’t exactly avoid health issues. His cause of death is listed as the effects of diabetes and nephritis, clearly brought on by his weight. But his work was outstanding and his library of films (24 in eight years) stands as a testament to his talent.

Una O’Connor has a somewhat similar story. She started in films at almost 50 and appeared in about 65 films, many of them classics. If you needed a comically shrill housekeeper, Una was your lady. She moved to television in the late 1940s but came out of retirement to finish her career with Witness for the Prosecution (1957). I am amazed how often her face turns up.

The success of a Rom Com relies entirely on the chemistry of the lovers (where have I heard this before?) and despite its flaws, Christmas in Connecticut succeeds. While fifteen minutes shorter would have been fifteen minutes better (now, I know I heard that before!), the story got us where it needed to. Safe, predictable holiday fare. AMRU 3.
“Having babies to boost your circulation takes time.”

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

A wealthy man dies and the search for an heir turns up eccentric small town man, Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper). Unfamiliar to big city ways, he is taken in by reporter Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur), wise in the ways of city life, and becomes the target of the popular press and those who get rich handling rich people’s money. When his folksy home-spun wisdom interferes with their plans, they use the bad press to question his sanity.

Jean Arthur could have been a bigger star. She was the female lead in plenty of pictures, some of them good, and was liked by her directors, but she never rose to A level stardom. Maybe because she was slightly older than her female contemporaries, hitting the big 3-0 when talkies became standard. Maybe she just managed to miss that one big roll. She turned down the Donna Reed roll in It’s a Wonderful Life because she didn’t want to work with Jimmy Stewart again. She retired fairly young. Her Columbia contract ended when she was 44 and she appeared in only two more films. Whatever the reason, she was always charming in the films I’ve seen, even the one I don’t care for much.

Here also is character actor Lionel Stander. His voice and looks are very distinctive and I remembered him as Max from Cheesy TV Hart to Hart four decades later. I noticed something Cooper would do. He’d make quirky facial expressions from time to time. I also Harrison Ford from Raiders doing something similar. I found it peculiar.

Here is Frank Capra at his Capriest. Pretty standard Rom Com format. I wasn’t charmed this time around. The principal reason was I didn’t find Deeds all that likeable. He was rude, quick to fight, and acted like a buffoon. Normally a Rom Com’s success relies solely on the chemistry of the two loves, and little else. Here, Deeds likability interferes. Overall not too bad, but (and I will say this again), it was too long. Fifteen minutes shorter would have been fifteen minutes better. AMRU 3.
“When the servant comes in, Mr. Hallor, I'm going to ask him to show you to the door. Many people don't know where it is.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Reformed cat burglar John Robie (Cary Grant) is under suspicion when jewels go missing in a manner identical to his old M.O. Rather than cooperate with the police and provide an alibi, like a crazy person, he goes on the lam and tries to expose the real burglar. He convinces an insurance agent (John Williams) to hand over private details of clients with insured valuable jewels, you know, for research. Sign me up for that insurance company.

The real mystery here is, is Robie the Robber, and if not, who is? It could be just about nobody. Back story: Robie was convicted, served in the French underground during the war, and became a hero. He doesn’t want new allegations to besmirch his name and risk his lucrative career of living in a luxurious villa on the French Riviera and doing nothing. His first victim … I mean, research participant is a his mom from North by Northwest and her hot hot hot hot way-too-young-for-him daughter (Grace Kelly). Guess which one he falls in love with.

John Williams (no relationship to John Williams) was an interesting man. Basically he played only formal British types, but he did it well. He didn’t appear an huge number of films (27 not including TV, uncredited, and shorts) but they included Dial M for Murder (1954), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Sabrina (1954), and this, just to name a few. A favorite of Hitchcock, he also did ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Grant had decided to retire, annoyed by the growing popularity of method acting. He was lured back to play the elderly love interest to Kelly, who had a reputation of having a reputation. He would continue to play the dashing young man well into his 60's. Grace would film on a stretch of road she would die on twenty eight years later. So it goes.

A teensy bit sloppy by Hitchcock standards. There is a scene early on between Grant and a French man who was clearly not saying anything actually heard by audience. More than simply taking me out of the story, I found it klunky and confusing. Thankfully he didn’t prove to be a major character. Overall it was a good, if not up to its reputation. AMRU 3.5.
“A child? Shall we stand in shallower water and discuss that?”

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Egg and I (1947)

On her wedding night Betty (Claudette Colbert) discovers her urban professional husband (Fred MacMurray) has quit his job and bought a chicken farm. Adjusting to the rustic lifestyle is difficult and fraught with challenges.

This Fish Out Of Water story, based on but not closely resembling a memoir by Betty MacDonald, inspired a short lived TV series, ten Ma & Pa Kettle movies, and Green Acres which I watched in syndication. It is anecdotal in nature, moving from one minor catastrophe to another. The movie was a success but its real legacy are the Kettle’s, our Ozarkian noble savages.

Maybe you will recall Billy (big as a) House from Bedlam. Yea, I know, fat shaming. Here is plays an annoying travelling salesman. He was replaced in the Kettle films with Emory Parnell. Richard Long looked much younger than he would just two years later. You may remember him in Big Valley, or as the Professor in The Nanny And. He would die before reaching my great age.

Competently made, predictable comedy, and kinda boring. Not much else to say here. It didn’t hurt to watch and everything made sense (with the possible exception of the ending), but fairly unspectacular. My mom enjoyed the Kettle films in her youth but we both agreed that there were few laughs to be found here. AMRU 3.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Cat People (1982)

Irena (Nastassja Kinski) comes to New Orleans to stay with her creepy brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell). He disappears for a few days and she manages to get herself a job at the zoo, mostly because the curator has the hots for her, and why not. The curator is also dealing with a leopard that unexpectedly showed up in town mauling people.

I requested this from the library intending on rewatching the 1942 classic. Instead, I received the 1982 remake and decided to give it a try. Wow, what a stinker. Poor camera work, sloppy editing, terrible script, and bad acting. And the score is among the worst I’ve ever heard. The whole production seems to have a crappy-as-an-artistic-statement appeal that simply did not work.

This film offers a passing resemblance with the Val Lewton classic. Irena from the original was from a mysterious eastern European village that was somehow cursed. Nastassja’s Irena came from a bizarro dessert on the Dune planet where leopards became human by eating sacrificial children, because, you know, science. If they have sex, they revert to animal form and must kill to become human again. That’s kind of a spoiler, but trust me. The film makes much more sense knowing that up front. Also, the incestuous brother angle was all new. Delightful.

Also, the pool scene (Lewton bus included) was ripped straight from the original, presented after the credits should have rolled. Cute Annette O’Toole played Alice the love rival.

Don’t get me wrong. Nastassja Kinski looked fantastic. I cannot emphasize this enough. O'Toole as well. But that's the only thing keeping this movie from a lower score. The only other thing this film has going for it is style, such as it is. Maybe it was trying for a french new wave vibe. The story wasn’t much and the acting and dialog were mind-numbingly terrible. Again, as if it was intentional. AMRU 2.

Rest in Peace Lupita Tovar.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Cat and the Canary (1939)

Per instructions, a rich man’s last will and testament is to be read in his spooky old mansion, at midnight, ten years after he died. Standard operating procedures, really. The will states that if the sole heir dies or is proven crazy within 30 days, the estate will go to a person named in a second envelope. Also, pretty boilerplate. After the hot, hot heir is named, everyone is forced to stay the night. Oh yea, and there might be a deranged murderer on the loose.

Taken from the same source as the silent classic (as were a couple others), this version was reformulated to showcase budding starlet and Chaplin main squeeze Paulette Goddard, and Bob Hope. It’s success prompted the studio to star the same pair in another comic horror The Ghost Breakers, rushed to theaters just seven months later. Despite how that sounds, that feature was also successful.

The tropes so associated with haunted house movies are in full force here. Secret passages, scary hands from behind things, real eyes watching from paintings, plus all that stuff described in the premise. This all may have been invented either by the source play or the silent version.

Hope was witty, Goddard was charming, and the story holds up. At it’s heart it is a comedy, but it is still faithful to the horror genre: a plausible element of the supernatural and a sense of fear for both the characters and audience. Amusing, interesting, creepy to a point, and an enjoyable watch. AMRU 3.5. The 'cat' was the escaped lunatic.
Cicily: Don't big empty houses scare you?
Wally Campbell: Not me, I used to be in vaudeville.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Dead of Night (1945)

An architect is asked stay the weekend in a country estate to plan renovations. He is introduced to other guests and realizes he knows them from a recurring dream he can’t quite remember. A skeptical psychologist offers scientific explanations for everything, but coincidental happenings makes his story harder to explain away. The other guests relate strange stories they too cannot explain.

English movies are kinda weird. The cinematography is stage-like, the dialog matter-of-fact, and the score, if there is one, understated. In other words, very non-Hollywood. This makes it hard to create the dreamlike setting the story requires. This takes some getting used to, but for now I can’t help but notice it.

Here is Ealing Studio's only attempt at horror. Apparently taken from an H.G. Wells story, it's strange that the movie does not take place, as one would expect, in the dead of night. I'll track down the original story sometime.

Anyhow, the movie features Michael Redgrave (The Lady Vanishes, The Innocents) but apparently only in one flashback sequence, a creepy ventriloquist story. Another story, about two golfer friends competing for the affections of a lady young enough to be their granddaughter, was interesting for two reasons. First, it was silly and light-hearted, and thus broke the tone of the rest of the film, and secondly because I recognized them from The Lady Vanishes. They played fanatical cricket fans anxious to get back to London to see a match. Essentially they played the same characters with different names.

This is a better than fair film. The side stories were interesting, if mostly unrelated to the principle narrative. It could have used more atmosphere, but the story was unique and the ending did not disappoint. It even inspired a Twilight Zone episode. AMRU 3.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Spiral Staircase (1945)

Someone is murdering women with afflictions, and hot mute Helen is cautioned to stay inside the spooky mansion where she tends to a crazy old invalid. Soon, the audience learns that the serial killer may be inside. Quickly this becomes a whodunnit with a small number of suspects.

I can’t say enough of Elsa Lanchester. She had a fairly small character role and was delightful. She makes me what to take up drinking brandy. Also here, as the crazy old invalid, is Barrymore sister Ethel. Not a famous as brothers John and Lionel, but she outlived them and worked right up to the end. Aging leading man George Brent was showing his age and longtime readers will remember Kent Smith as Doctor Hunky love-interest from such works as Cat People and to a lesser extent Curse of the Cat People.

Dorothy McGuire shined as the pretty mute. Did some great face acting, as they would say. She used her “I suspect him” face when looking at a suspect that she suspects with great effect. A forty year old Joan Crawford wanted the role but I think we’re better off that she didn’t get it.

Not a lot to say about this one. Spooky mansion, questionable characters, murderer on the loose, we’ve seen these tropes before. The Spiral Staircase wasn’t an amazing mystery, but it did keep you guessing and the reveal didn’t cheat. The overall film making was good as was the acting for the most part (Kent Smith notwithstanding). I would have preferred one or two more legitimate suspects, and it was a little melodramatic at times, but it all worked in the end. AMRU 3.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Unholy Three (1925)

A circus is closed down after a brawl, so some of the performers … you know what. Just go back and read the first paragraph I wrote for the 1930 remake. I’ll wait.

Ok, so we’re back. Yea. that, almost exactly. Same story. Same scenes, same pacing, some of the same stars. Even the sets looked alike. The courtroom scene in the third act was someone different, but the end result was the same. Oh, yea, and the ape was different. But the biggest difference was the tone. There was a certain goofiness in the remake, while the original was a serious drama.

Suddenly one day all movies had to be talkies, Just about no exceptions would be tolerated. What’s a studio to do? I know, remake recent successful silent films. London After Midnight (1927) became Mark of the Vampire (1935), West of Zanzibar (1928) became Kongo (1932). There’s a whole wiki article on the subject. Hollywood loves doing the same crap over again, but here the motivation here was to take advantage of the gimmick of sound rather than to reinterpret it for a newer audience. A similar thing happened again with the gimmick of color, but to a lesser extent.

Let’s talk about the ape, shall we? While the remake used veteran gorilla Charles Gemora in a suit, the original used an actual ape. A chimp, to be exact. While chimps are amazingly strong (tear your arms off, they will!), they aren’t large and imposing for screen purposes. So, director Tod Browning was resourceful. He filmed the chimp in scaled down sets for the tight shots and used a dwarf dressed as Chaney with his back turned in others. The illusion wasn’t always successful but the attempt was appreciated.

For two movies that are almost duplicates, the difference in tone was startling. Despite being silent certain elements of the story were clearer, specifically  Echo and the pickpocket’s relationship. Also, this was more believable. Mae Busch was five years older than Lila Lee at the time of filming, and Chaney aged a ton in the five years since. All in all, The Unholy Three adds credibility to the argument that Tod Browning excelled at silent direction. Sound direction, not so much. AMRU 3.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Phantom of the Opera (1943)

Claudin (Claude) is a veteran violinist infatuated with a hot young starlet. He pays for her singing lessons without her knowledge. But when he is dismissed from the orchestra he tries to sell his concerto. Believing his work is being stolen, he goes on a murderous rampage and has acid thrown in his face. Thus he becomes The Phantom!

I love The Phantom of the Opera. That is, the 1925 Lon Chaney silent horror film. I don’t know from the source material, but a key element for me is the fear and mystery of the Phantom character. He is both menacing and heroic. In Claude Rains’ version, however, there is little mystery (the authorities know who he is and are just searching for him), and he comes off as something of a weenie. He just likes Christine so much but can’t bring himself to tell her.

Eighteen year old Susanna Foster played Christine, the love interest and object of the Phantom’s obsession. Her career would last barely a year longer when she quit to take care of her siblings. I would think Hollywood money would be invaluable in that end, but I’ll withhold judgement until I see her True Hollywood Story episode. Later in life she was discovered living in a car. Maybe it was a nice car, who knows.

Hume Cronyn (Lifeboat) had a small roll and I totally missed him in it. Had he affected a terrible cockney accent maybe I would have spotted him. Nelson Eddy was one of the dashing men vying for Christine’s affection. Some twenty five or so years later the Rhode Island local would die of a stroke during a concert performance. And so it goes.

Phantom of the Opera (no The on this one) is a well made and very good looking film. As much of the action takes place during performances, music lovers have that. However I prefer Chaney’s menacingly iconic villain over Rains’ mousy nice guy who just snaps. AMRU 3.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bell Book and Candle (1958)

Hot witch Gillian (Kim Novak) is bored and wants to meet her elderly neighbor Shep (James Stewart). When she learns that he is soon to marry a hot mortal, she uses magic to intervene.

Lovers meet, lovers love, lovers part with hard feelings, lovers reunite through grand gesture. Roll credits. The Rom Com formula is like clockwork. You can set your watch by it. The key to its success is how much we believe in the romance, and how much we like the characters. While Novak’s Gillian is mostly emotionless (witches can’t cry, you understand) and her interest in twice-her-age Stewart is somewhat confounding, we do become invested in their story.

Jack Lemmon was at his prime as Gil’s somewhat mischievous brother. Elsa Lanchester was great as her batty aunt. Hermione Granger .. I mean Gringots ...I MEAN GINGOLD was also delightful. Janice Rule played the young woman Gil had to steal Shep away from. I remembered her from a Twilight Zone episode.

One functional complaint of the movie is that we aren’t to sympathize with the undeserving girlfriend. See Susan Hayward’s shrewish and tragic bride-to-be in I Married a Witch. She was both beautiful and wonderfully unsympathetic. Here we are told why Rule’s character isn’t nice, but we don’t actually see it. I felt sorry for her.

Enigmatic comedian Ernie Kovacs was understated as an author of books on witchcraft. His unconventional and sometimes controversial comedic style made him a legend with comedians, but because much of his television work was lost, he is all but forgotten by audiences today. He died in a car accident less than four years later, and ten days before his 43rd birthday.

Beautifully filmed, well acted, visually stunning, very charming, and amusing when it needed to be, Bell Book and Candle (no commas!) is delightful. It was, along with I Married a Witch, a principle inspiration for Bewitched. AMRU 4. Elizabeth Montgomery was hot. Ask your dad.
“Shep, you just never learned to spell.”

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Big Heat (1953)

Detective Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is a cop that doesn’t play by the rules. When investigating the suicide of a fellow cop, he is told to back off. Not Dave Bannion. Back off isn’t in his vocabulary.

Big fan of Fritz Lang. M (1931) and Metropolis (1927) are wonderful films. Always liked Glenn Ford, too. And Gloria Grahame is one of my favorite Marilyn Monroe knockoffs. IMdb and Rotten Tomatoes both give The Big Heat very high rating, and I am more than a little confused by this. The story itself is fine. Cop investigates, gets too nosey, is burned, then the story is revealed. Been done a million times, and sometimes not as well. But oh, but the acting, it’s brutal. The dialog seems like it was written as a group project in a film-noir 101 class, and the over the top score beats us over our heads with the message. It's pretty cheesy.

A young Lee Marvin played the heavy. Blink and you'll miss a very young Carolyn Jones (Morticia in The Addams Family). Here, she’s a blond. Marlon Brando’s sister is also here. But let’s talk about Gloria, shall we?

Longtime readers may remember Grahame from such hits as The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), and small parts in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Song of the Thin Man (1947). Eventually I will see her in a Lonely Place (1950) and maybe never in Oklahoma! (1955). She got this job as the babydoll floozy because Marilyn was too expensive. She didn’t get along too well in Hollywood, perhaps bristling over the stream of shallow sexpot roles she was offered, and quality work dried up.

Her personal life wasn’t much better. Her marriage to second husband Nicholas Ray may have been doomed when he found her in bed with his thirteen year old son. But don’t get the wrong idea, she made an honest man of the younger Ray when he later became her fourth husband. She ended up doing a lot of stage and TV work then died young of cancer. Cancer is a bitch.

The Big Heat isn’t terrible, but I am mystified by its reputation. It is over stylized in a bad way, almost laughable. When Bannion is having a touching moment with his family I don’t need the score to smother me with sentiment. I get it. Never-the-less, I won’t punish it for high expectations. AMRU 3.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pandora’s Box (1929)

Lulu (Louise Brooks) is a promiscuous young woman in a relationship with an older, respected man. He must break off the scandalous relationship when he decides to marry his respectable fiancee. Lulu doesn’t play nicely and sabotages her lover’s respectable engagement. Things don’t go well for either.

Brooks was a nothing actress who walked out of her contract with Paramount to star in this Weimar silent film and became a huge star. The role of Lulu almost went to Marlene Dietrich, who had to settle on the role of Lola Lola to launch her career. Unlike Dietrich, who disingratiated herself with Hollywood over the next two decades, Brooks got it all done before the end of the 30s.

Lulu’s character is never in question. She’s a golddigger, woman of easy virtue, maybe prostitute. But she isn’t a bad person. But what strikes me most is her disconnect between her actions and their consequences to herself and others. Her friends, enchanted by her, follow the path to ruin to help her out. It’s all very tragic, but Lulu is the most tragic of all.

Had Pandora’s Box been a talkie, (like The Blue Angel), and had Brooks played nice a little better, she may be remembered as well as Dietrich is today. Maybe more. She had beauty and charisma and was set to explode in Hollywood’s golden era. Instead, she is principally known for this movie. But it’s quite a movie. She could have been so much more. AMRU 4.
“It's strange how you can get booze on credit but not bread.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is a lawyer who lost his drive when he lost his District Attorney position, so he spends his time mostly fishing and chatting with his alcoholic lawyer friend (Arthur O’Connell). He is urged to take the case of a young Army officer who murdered the man that raped his hot hot wife (Lee Remick). Urged mostly by his assistant (Eve Arden) who would like to be paid again.

Courtroom dramas can be problematic. Procedures and even the law itself is thrown out the window for the sake of drama. Quite a bit of that goes on here. Stewart’s Paulie must struggle to have the (alleged) rape admitted in the defense of his (allegedly) temporarily insane client. Things said in open court that should have been said in sidebar, and don’t get me started with the surprise witnesses.

All that aside, we wonder if the defendant was insane, or if the hot hot wife was actually raped, and what plot twist will come next. What the verdict will be, and what it should be, is always in question.

Older readers may recognize Eve Arden from Our Miss Brooks. I recognize her as Principal McGee from Grease (1978), and to a lesser extent, Grease 2 (1982). Murray Hamilton, the mayor of Amity (and Mr. to the adultering Mrs. Robinson), played the prosecuting district attorney. A youngish George C. Scott had a sizable role.

But the real story is the hot young Remick. She played the questionable victim in a very Lolita-esque manner. She flirts with Stewart’s Paulie and hangs out with strange men while the husband waits in lockup. Stewart again is excellent, having fully graduated from Rom-Com roles. Remick didn’t do many feature films, then died young of cancer.

Anatomy of a Murder, despite its court procedure shenanigans, is quite entertaining. Otto Preminger (you know, Mr. Freeze) was a master filmmaker, this being one of his best. Not one to shy from controversial issues (his next project was Exodus, openly written by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo), Anatomy is unflinching with its discussion of the (alleged) rape. To the point that Stewart’s father urged people not to see it. No big whoops by today’s standard, but you can see how Hollywood was slowly evolving from the provincial palace it was once. A very entertaining watch. AMRU 3.5.
“Now, Mr. Dancer, get off the panties. You've done enough damage.”

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Harvey (1950)

Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) is something of an embarrassment to his aunt and cousin. He is pleasant enough, but he keeps introducing people to Harvey, a 6’ 3 ½” invisible rabbit. This won’t do in polite society. Especially since his slightly younger cousin is trying to catch a man. So, they decide to have him committed. Things don't go according to plan.

I've never been impressed by Jimmy Stewart. Not that I have a problem with him, he always puts in a fine performance. But I am never amazed by him. Many of his characters are alike and his affable stammering becomes irritating at times. In Harvey, however, I have found his best performance so far. He comes off as something of a simpleton, having an invisible friend and all, but there is more to him than that. His behavior is explained by the shock of his mother dying, or alcoholism, yet he has found a good place with his Pooka. You’ll have to look that one up.

Maybe you remember Elwood’s aunt Veta (Josephine Hull) as Aunt Abby from Arsenic and Old Lace. She’s just the batty Auntie type, I suppose. If you blink (or even if you don’t) you will miss Fess Parker’s first movie role. He’s the man singly responsible for causing Americans to confuse Davy Crockett with Daniel Boone.

It's chatty, as plays-turned-movies tend to be, clever, and charming. There is a magnificent serenity with Stewart’s Elwood. He enjoys his life, enjoys his company, and never gets too upset at anything. He truly believes in Harvey's existence and by the end, you will too. Stewart often referred to it as his favorite role, and it's my favorite of his, so far. AMRU 4.
“Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Cheap Detective (1978)

Private dick Lou Peckinpaugh (Peter Falk) is suspected of his partner’s murder, and people stream in trying to find lost treasure, then his old flame returns with her husband looking to escape the Nazis, and … well, following the plot isn’t really the point.

This Maltese Falcon/Casablanca mashup and parody is something of a sequel in spirit of Murder by Death (1976), with the same writer, director, producer, and several actors. It showed up on a basic cable movie channel and my mom recorded it.

This film works on three levels: nostalgic references to the two source movies, seeing the parade of celebrity cameos, and watching the characters behave foolishly. While the cameos and references were amusing (and extensive), the comedy fell somewhat flat. Frequently they were obvious, unfunny, or downright dumb. And that presents a problem because there is no coherent story to tie the humor to. The jokes had to stand on their own, and for the most part, they didn’t.

Highlights were Madeline Kahn as the Mary Astor character and hottie Ann-Margret as, well, I don't know who. Odd to see the unappealing Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched or Kai Winn, depending on your predilection) in the Ingrid Bergman role. I found that downright distasteful. I am glad I watched it, as I’m a huge fan of Murder by Death, but it should have been funnier. Time for me to rewatch Murder by Death. AMRU 3.
“I'm using rented bullets for my gun. We all got problems.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Calamity Jane (1953)

When a saloon in Deadwood discovers the pretty Francis Fryer of New York they booked isn’t actually a pretty woman, but in fact a dude (and not a very pretty one), the boastful Calamity Jane (Doris Day) promises to bring in the famous Adelaid Adams. She travels to Chicagie but mistakenly brings back Adelaid’s assistant instead.

The story is really just a framework for the music and Rom-Com story. Howard Keel played Wild Bill Hickok as one possible romantic partner. Of course the cute-as-a-button Doris Day plays the butch Calamity Jane, because a real tomboy would have been out of the question.

This is the first Day picture I’ve done for this project, not because of any disrespect, but because her typical uptempo fluff falls outside of my typical interest. That said, I do find myself appreciating fluff for what it is. And what it is isn’t too bad. Day’s numbers are rather good and she is downright charming.

So, who was Calamity Jane in real life? First, let’s begin with Buffalo Bill. William Cody spent time in the old west and in later years profited by exploiting the public’s fascination with the subject. One of his acts was Martha Jane Cannary, a woman whose claim to fame was exaggerating her association with Wild Bill Hickok, a man who was genuinely famous for exaggerated his life stories. Anyhow, Martha called herself Calamity Jane and told stories, before dying in a drunken stupor at fifty one.

You cannot fault Calamity Jane for being historically inaccurate. Martha Jane herself made up everything she didn't exaggerate, and the film even played up her exaggerations. This here is nothing more than yet another fanciful retelling of a decidedly invented story. And not too bad of one. AMRU 3.5.
“Oh, that’s female thinkin’. And nothing’ll get you into more trouble.”

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Lifeboat (1944)

A ship is sunk by a German U-Boat and survivors assemble onto a remaining lifeboat. A torpedo also downs the U-Boat and one of the survivors is a Nazi. How can this crazy, mixed up family learn to get along?

Here we have an eclectic cast in a very confined space. Americans, Brits, and a Nazi. Engine room grunts, a socialite, a negro, a millionaire, a crazy person, Gilligan, the Skipper, and a Nazi. A few conflicts, mysteries, and deaths. I will give nothing away. Did I mention there was a Nazi? Well, that’s kinda a spoiler, I guess.

Socialite reporter Tallulah Bankhead lived an interesting life. She started in Hollywood but didn’t get far. So she became a hit on the London stage. Tried and failed again at Hollywood, then took Broadway and the New York social scene by storm, She returned to Hollywood at forty and made Lifeboat. Her unconventional style and open sexuality earned her fans and detractors. Her Hollywood career didn’t last and her last role was as Batman villain Black Widow.

The set for Lifeboat was tall to make room for the water, and actors had to climb a ladder to get into the boat. It was noted that Tallulah did not wear underpants, Hitchcock reportedly remarked "I don't know if this is a matter for the costume department, makeup, or hairdressing." Maybe apocryphal but amusing nevertheless.

Longtime readers may remember William Bendix from Blue Dahlia, or Henry Hull from Werewolf of London, or Walter Slezak from The Inspector General, or maybe Hume Cronyn from,well I guess nothing I’ve seen so far. He was in several films on my must-see list. He effected a terrible cockney accent hard to forget. Amazing cast of character actors, reminiscent of 12 Angry Men. And written by John Steinbeck to boot!

Lifeboat is a survival story and a character study. I find early Hitchcock to be inspired but somehow flawed. An exaggerated ending or otherwise unpolished. Lifeboat is Hitch at the prime of his career, on the verge of greatness. Thrilling throughout and way better than I expected. AMRU 4.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Unholy Three (1930)

A circus is closed down after a brawl, so some of the performers go into business for themselves. Echo (Lon Chaney), a ventriloquist, Hercules, a strong man, and Tweedledee, a midget open a pet store as a front. Echo, disguised as an old woman, makes his birds talk. When the customer complains that they don’t anymore, our heroes visit and case the joint for robbing later. The heat is on when a burglary goes bad leaving one dead. Our bumbling crew frame nice guy Hector then lay low. Also in the gang is Rosie, a pickpocket apparently in a relationship with Echo, and a Gorilla, because, of course.

The Unholy Three (1930) is a remake of a silent film of the same name from five years earlier. The older is considered the better film but this stands as Chaney’s only spoken role. Adding voice to his transformative skills, he not only did two voices (normal and old lady) but also performed all of the ventriloquism in the film. He would die six weeks after the film’s release robbing Hollywood of a true acting genius.

A long while back I wondered what was up with all the gorillas in early talkie horrors. Mostly, that was Charles Gemora. Not the gorilla, the guy in the suit. He played similar roles in The Island of Lost Souls and the terrible Ghost Parade, as well as dozens of others. He was a makeup artist by trade.

There are many parallels between this film (and its predecessor) with Freaks (1932). Dwarf Harry Earles appeared in all three films, Tod Browning directed the silent Unholy and Freaks, all three have a character named Hercules, and the Circus setting, a favorite of Browning. Browning did excellent silent films and earned some acclaim with Freaks and Dracula (1931) but let’s face it. His sound films were a mess. Maybe he couldn’t adapt with the radically new style of storytelling that sound ushered in, or maybe it was all the drinking. He never did a retrospective interview about his career.

As the silent 1925 version is largely considered superior, it’s the one I normally come across. I was happy that TCM ran this version so I could finally hear Chaney speak. Not a terrible film but little to recommend it otherwise. As a Chaney fan I was glad to see it, but to be fair, it deserves a slightly lower grade. AMRU 2.5.
“The way you look at me. You and that horrible little midge. You give me the creeps!”

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Cameraman (1928)

Poor Buster (Buster Keaton) sells tintypes for a dime. When a pretty reporter for the fictitious newsreel company MGM crosses his path, he decides he will make a name for himself by selling them some photos. Yea, all silent comedies are alike. Down on his luck everyman falls for pretty girl, and he must show his worth. And this one is pretty much by the books.

This was Buster’s first film with MGM. Assuming he was also the director, he started off behaving as such. When real director Edward Sedgwick told him not to, he took a back seat. But when Sedgwick had trouble getting the actors to understand what he wanted, he asked Buster for assistance.

The move from independent filmmaker to MGM lackie has largely been seen as a terrible move for Keaton. He wanted the financial stability of a large studio, but lost the freedom to create the film he wanted. But Keaton knew cinema was changing. Sound cinema required resources. More equipment, more technicians, quieter sets. And it ushered forth a new form of storytelling at odds with his established style. Buster’s transition to sound and big studios could have gone better for him and the studio as well, but his drinking and lifestyle ruffled feathers enough to keep him at odds with the industry. When the box office dried up, there was little reason to listen to his concerns, and Buster would fade into a forgotten genius.

But, back to the movie at hand. Although the trend would not continue, Buster did manage to produce a film worth of his reputation. AMRU 3.5.
“What are you doin ‘.... givin’ me a sleigh-ride?”

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Holiday (1938)

Johnny Case (Cary Grant) and Julia Seton meet, fall in love, and decide to marry while on vacation. Then the movie begins and they get to know each other. Turns out Julia is rich. Like Seton family rich, and she has ideas of poor Johnny Case following in old dad’s footsteps in business. But Johnny is a bit of a non-conformist and wants to play things his own way. Sorda like Julia’s non-conformist sister (Katharine Hepburn).

I wrote recently that I had grown tired of Rom-Coms, and wanted to avoid them for a while. But Holiday was already on the DVR so I knew it would be watched at some point. Lucky for me, George Cukor did Rom-Coms better than most and Holiday is a winner.

This was the beginning of the “Katharine Hepburn is Box Office Poison” era that started with Bringing Up Baby earlier in the year, and studio execs were concerned. The studio boss wanted to preemptively take out an ad in Variety asking “What is wrong with Katharine Hepburn?” but she warned that people might tell him. The movie didn’t fare well financially, likely because Johnny wanting to be a vagabond didn’t play well during the depression.

Holiday is a delightful film mostly because how likable the characters are. Not just Cary and Kate, but also Kate’s brother and Johnny’s friends, the Potters. Johnny’s plan didn’t make much sense to me but that didn’t matter. I liked him, and his friends. And in a Rom-Com, that’s all we can hope for.
“Johnny, when two people love each other as much as you do, anything that keeps them apart must be wrong.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

Clumsy and awkward, even Hitch himself said it was the work of a talented amateur. The 1956 remake is much more polished and Hollywood-ized causing many to prefer the original. You’ll hear my opinion after I see the remake. And you read it out loud. Because, you know, voices. Like many films that fall into the public domain, the audio and video quality suffers. I turned the sound all the way up and tolerated the pop and hisses. Also, I had some difficulty following which character was which. It became easier once that person was shot. Oh, spoiler alert.

The story, in a nutshell, is a family is on vacation and befriend a man who turns out to be a spy. He is shot and quickly tells mom about some super secret information in his hotel room. Dad finds it but British intelligence and bad guys are wise. M5 pressures mom and dad to give up the info but they won’t because the baddies have kidnapped their annoying little girl. So, Dad becomes an amateur sleuth to save the day.

Man, a little over the top with the British politeness thing. Lot’s of “Terribly Sorry” and “Not quite”’s of pre-WWII England. Not a mystery, exactly, because we pretty much know who the bad guys are. We don’t know their plan, but I must admit I’m not sure I recall what it was even now. This was Peter Lorre’s first English speaking role. When he met with Hitch he smiled and nodded through the meeting because he didn’t understand English. He learned his lines phonetically.

When comparing this film with his own 1956 remake he said this was “the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional." Clearly rough but somewhat charming and definitely British, the second was a Hollywood production through and through. The Man Who Knew Too Much was likable but forgettable and sometimes hard to follow. Unless you find a copy of a fully restored version, consider skipping it. AMRU 2.5.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Rope (1948)

Two college friends, Brandon and Philip, kill a third because they feel he is inferior. It seems they had an old prep school headmaster (James Stewart) that put it into their heads that the rich elite have the right to do this. Then they invite said headmaster, dead David’s fiance and family, and others to an awkward dinner party to prove how clever they are. Turns out, not so clever.


Rope was an experiment for Hitchcock. Could he make the movie appear as if it was done in one 80 minute take? Turns out, he could. The cameras could hold just over ten minutes of film, so the movie is made up of ten takes between four and a half and ten minutes and carefully spliced together, the joints cleverly camouflaged. See Birdman. As the source material was a stage play and the dialog and acting style reflects this. After getting used to it, the movie flows rather well. But seriously, see Birdman.


Stewart was cast against type, being a sardonic academic with a suspicious mind. This bothered him, this being the era when actors complained about NOT being typecast. Joan Chandler was adorable as the dead boy’s best girl. Philip’s Farley Granger would later play a tennis pro in Strangers on a Train. Criss cross.


Hitch later dismissed his film as a stunt. He would cement his reputation for building tension using editing (see Psycho), and here he essentially didn’t edit at all. As each take was several minutes in length, any mistake or problem meant the whole piece had to be reshot. This makes for an exhausting and tense shoot. But seriously, see Psycho.


The movie was met with some controversy, not because of the murder, but because Philip and Brandon were totally gay! Not overtly, of course, but they totally were! Hitchcock always put together a complete, entertaining film. Not a masterpiece, but Rope is a very interesting watch. The ending was rather abrupt, and the side stories didn’t go anywhere, but definitely an entertaining watch. AMRU 3.5.

“You're quite a good chicken strangler as I recall.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Awful Truth (1937)

Jerry (Cary Grant) returns from a business trip in “Florida”, only he wasn’t really in Florida. With friends in attendance, he discovers that his wife Lucy (Irene Dunne) isn’t home. It seems her car broke down and she had to spend the night at her swarthy singing instructor’s house. All perfectly innocent, except neither are too sure. After an argument, they agree to get a divorce, because that’s what you do. During the required waiting period, Lucy starts a relationship with big lunk Daniel (Ralph Bellamy) but Jerry can’t seem to stop bumping into them.


Classic Hollywood screwball comedy. Nobody does anything untoward but it’s hinted at quite a bit. I can complain and say The Awful Truth was overly formulaic. The ending was forced and it bore more than a passing resemblance to My Favorite Wife, made three years later with Randolph Scott in the Ralph Bellamy role. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they used many of the same sets. But I think I’m experiencing rom-com fatigue.


There were some amusing scenes and overall it did its job, and this was the era when directors won Oscars for such films. It’s no coincidence that the earlier rom-coms I saw are rated higher and I may need to back off of them for a while. Unfortunately, I have one more sitting on the DVR. I’ll find something refreshing to watch before I see it. AMRU 3.

“They forgot to touch second.”

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Lost Weekend (1945)

Don Birnam (Ray Milland) is an alcoholic. His brother and his pretty girlfriend (Jane Wyman) try to help him, but when he is left to his own devices with a ten-spot, things go bad.

What does an alcoholic look like? Well, if you are in most movies of the 30’s to the 50’s, they were funny, harmless, frequently wore top hats, hiccuped a lot, and occasionally saw pink elephants. In The Lost Weekend, as in real life, they are well-intentioned, self destructive, rationalizing, and tragic. Also, not nearly as amusing as you’ve been led to believe.

This is my first film starring Jane Wyman I’ve seen. She was Mrs. Ronald Reagan at this time, but that wouldn’t last long. Ray Milland, having done a string of light comedies, wasn’t considered by many to be star material for an A picture, but the studio insisted. Milland, doubting himself, prepared by spending a night inside Bellevue Hospital. He would earn an Oscar. I was certain I had seen him in something else, but I don’t know what. Billy Wilder wrote the screenplay as an exploration of the life of Raymond Chandler after working with him on Double Indemnity. Chandler had an interesting relationship with the spirits.

The Lost Weekend is something of a departure for Billy Wilder. Not a comedy, and while it’s billed as Film-Noir, I don’t see it. It is a fascinating exploration of a tragic personality. Don means well but his demons intervene. If alcoholism has touched your family then this story will ring true. AMRU 4.
“We're both trying, Don. You're trying not to drink, and I'm trying not to love you.”