Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Road to Singapore (1940)

Two regular guys (Bob Hope and Bing Crosby) are being pressured into marriage. Bing by his captain of industry dad (Charles Coburn) and fairly hot fiancee (Judith Barrett), and Bob by, I don’t know, some thugs because he took liberties with someone’s daughter? We never see her. So anyhow, they escape to Singapore to bachelor freedom and poverty. There they meet a hot dancer (Dorothy Lamour) who is escaping her angry … boss? Boyfriend? (Anthony Quinn).

From what I understand, all of the Road movies follow the same format. Flee to exotic location and compete over cutie Lamour as an excuse for comedy gags and running bits. The trio appeared in seven such films, the first few being the best, if IMdb is to be trusted.

It was originally a vehicle for George Burns and Gracie Allen (not sure how the escaping marriage angle was handled there), then offered to Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie, and finally given to Hope and Crosby because they were clowning around on the Paramount set. Thus a comedy team was born.

I enjoyed Bob Hope in The Cat and the Canary. The horror element was skillfully relieved by solid comedy. But here the laughs were in short supply. The tone was light and the banter playful, and I'll excuse the level of cultural sensitivity you could expect, but I don’t recall snickering, even once. And while Hope was working hard the laughs, Bing’s cucumber cool demeanor was about as interesting as his search engine namesake. The end result was a watchable, mildly interesting, unfunny, and skippable film. AMRU 2.5.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Irma la Douce (1963)

An honest Parisian cop (Jack Lemmon) is fired for calling a raid on street walkers. He then falls in love with one of them (Shirley MacLaine) and becomes her pimp. It’s the classic love story.

What was originally a musical was adapted into a rather strange film. Themes like crime, prostitution, infidelity, domestic violence, and even murder are treated with a bizarre whimsy. Universal Protagonist Jack Lemmon suffers through all of it. He loves Irma and cannot stand it when she serves her customers, so he concocts a bizarre plan to deal with his jealousy, but no spoilers here.

Marilyn Monroe and Charles Laughton both were set to appear but were totally croak-city come production. A Marilyn Irma (or EAR-ma) would have been an interesting change. Surely she would have highlighted the character’s stupid qualities. Laughton would have played bar owner Moustache, and would have been wonderful but I don’t see how he could have improved on Lou Jacobi. Who wasn’t dead yet was Grace Lee Whitney as Kiki the Cossack, whom geeks will recognize as Yeoman Janice Rand. Also interesting is the the film debut of James Caan and an early appearance of Bill Bixby. Look them up, ya damn millennials!

Very bawdy by early 60’s standards. Unlike another Billy Wilder film made a few earlier (which I will soon cover), the sexuality holds up. Many shots of topless women from the back, MacLaine included. It’s a twelve-year old’s dream. Before the internet, that is. It is a good example of how Hollywood changed during these times. What a difference eight years makes.

MacLaine didn’t think much of the script nor the film, but it earned her an Oscar nom none-the-less. The tone is almost off-putting with it’s flip treatment of dark material, but it doesn’t fail to entertain. The dialog is clever and witty like (almost) all Wilder films, and it is visually appealing. But that’s another story. AMRU 3.5.
“It's a hard way to earn an easy living.”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

Maria (Ava Gardner), a beautiful Spanish club performer, is recruited by Hollywood looking for a fresh face. Despite Hollywood, Maria isn’t all keen to go. She likes to keep her feet in the dirt, whatever that means.

The movie begins at Maria’s funeral. The story is about her rise to fame, her struggle with what is truly important to her, the rich and powerful men that court her, and her ultimate fate. It is told from the perspective of the lives she touched, mostly Director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart).

What I was expecting to be a pretty standard rom-com turned out to be something else. There are comedic elements but it is by no means a comedy. And romance is in short supply. That’s right faithful reader. Bogart does not get the girl. Leave it to Mankiewicz to do a regular Hollywood production that doesn’t exactly follow genre conventions. Typically wordy, intelligent, and high quality. Despite much of the film taking place directly in Hollywood, it has a European feel in a way I can’t exactly explain. I also get the feeling that it was a longer film (128 minutes as it is) and cut down. There are characters introduced who seem to have more story in them.

The Barefoot Contessa is an interesting, if not riveting, character study. It’s witty, visually appealing, does not lull, and keeps you invested to the conclusion. The tone was a little unexpected and maybe not Mankiewicz’s best, but it was most certainly interesting. AMRU 3.5.
“I *have* never done a day's work in my life - honest OR dishonest, but neither have you... To make 100 dollars into 110 dollars, this is work. To make 100 million into 110 million, this is inevitable.”

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Sound of Music (1965)

Young Maria (Julie Andrews) is a misfit at a convent, so they convince her to take the job of a governess of seven children (the oldest is sixteen, going on seventeen), of a military disciplinarian. Who hates Nazis.

Loosely based on real life, what actually happened over two decades is depicted over a few months. There are a great many other inaccuracies, but I won’t bore you with Wikipedia stuff. What’s interesting about this movie? If you know it only by pop culture references, you may be surprised by the presence of Nazis. They are actually a foundational part of the story. What shouldn’t be surprising is that Julie Andrews is wonderful and lights up the screen every time she’s on, which is virtually every frame.

Grumpy Christopher Plummer, who hated making the film and hated the end product, called working with Andrews as being hit over the head with a Valentine’s day card every day. He used an old actors technique to get himself through the shoot called drink-yourself-blotto. Maybe his malcontentedness helped him channel his inner jerk. Real father Georg wasn’t the dower soul as he is depicted. The real Maria and Von Trapp children asked to have his character soften, but what fun would that be. Maria was something of a pest on the set.

The Sound of Music is a wonderfully looking film. The combination of fluffy songs with evading the Nazis tied up in a Rom Com format is unexpectedly enjoyable. Robert Wise knows how to shoot a film and is a much underrated director. AMRU 4.
“The poor didn’t want this one.”