Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Kismet (1955)

A sharp-tongued poet (Howard Keel), who somehow made it to adulthood before learning you can’t make money from poetry, is mistaken for a beggar. He goes along with it. A notorious thief mistakes him for the man who put a curse on him that lost him his son, so he cons his way into being paid to release the curse. Things are going great but soon he is arrested by the Great and Mighty Wazir (Mr. French), his daughter (Ann Blyth) falls in love, and coincidences keep us all so very entertained.

Kismet is the forth and best remembered version of the 1911 play of the same name. Stylistically it falls in line with a great many musicals made around that time. Brightly colored, expansive sets, heavily rehearsed period pieces with family friendly stories that also border on the naughty. See Seven Brides, Kiss me Kate, Brigadoon. Grand spectacles, if you’re into that sort of thing.

If you’re vexed by all the honkies in Arabia remember that this is 1955 and suspension of disbelief rules the day. Particularly out of place is the Grand Caliph and teen heartthrob Vic Damone. Why he wasn’t in more films is wondered by nobody. But don’t judge him too harshly. He’s just a teenager in love.

Old friends Monty Woolley (The Man Who Came to Dinner), Jack Elam (Kansas City Confidential and just about every low budget western imaginable), and Jamie Farr make appearances. This is first film I’ve seen directed by the guy who gave Liza her last name.

Not a bad thing if you’re into the genre. I tolerated it well. I expected an “Oh, that’s where that song comes from” moment but there was none. People who whistle show tunes will be more familiar. But for me, AMRU 3.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Monkey Business (1952)

Absent minded professor Barnaby (Cary Grant) is working on an elixir of youth. He thinks he solves the problem but in reality a chimp (or “monkey”) had escaped its cage, mixed up the concoction, and put it into the water cooler. Hilarity ensues.

I have to give him credit. The 48 year old Grant was more believable as the college aged wildling than as the stodgy old scientist. But screen wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers) was downright convincing (and charming) in both roles. Hugh Marlowe of All About Eve and Day the Earth Stood Still fame gets another paycheck. Marilyn Monroe played the Marilyn Monroe character.

Don’t confuse this with 1931 Marx Brothers vehicle. I liked this one slightly better probably because it's a more conventional screwball comedy but fans of the Bros will disagree. It was pointlessly zany and holds your interest, but don’t look for any classic bits. It is what it is and that’s fine. AMRU 3.5.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

2018 Retrospective

On the face of things 2018 looked like a lean year for me, blog-wise, and that's not wrong. A new low in entries. I found it hard to be motivated to watch movies alone again. I didn’t fully shake that until Halloween approached.

I had tried to institute Family Movie Night where each family member took turns selecting something they wanted to see. We’d coordinate dinner into the theme. This didn’t last long. When they failed to be charmed by Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Rear Window, I knew I was fighting a losing battle.

So, here is a roundup of the best and worst of the year by category. For this list I included White Christmas (1954).

For me the best Christmas movie was The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942). I knew I was going to like it and I wasn’t disappointed. The worst was Beyond Tomorrow (1940). TCM was pitching an essential Christmas movie book and this was on the list. I found it disappointing. And the fact that It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) was not included in the book added insult to injury. I think mom would have liked best Holiday Affair (1949). She loved Robert Mitchum. She hated Bing Crosby so we never watched one of his together.

The best horror/thriller this year was The Walking Dead (1936). Not a great film, but the best this year. Maybe I should watch great horror films next October. There are quite a few greats I haven’t seen yet. The worse was undoubtedly The Astounding She-Monster (1957). Very little appeal there.

The best noir/mystery I think was The Petrified Forest (1939). I went back and forth here, but I think it just edges out Blade Runner (1982). Maybe because I saw Blade Runner in February, or maybe because I saw it before (in the theaters, voice-over narration and all), but Petrified Forest is my pick today. Mom would have loved Shadow of a Doubt (1943).

My favorite comedy was A Day at the Races (1937). It was the first Marx Brothers film I truly enjoyed. I considered Death Race 2000 (1975) but it’s a little campy for my tastes.

Overall I think The Petrified Forest (1939) was the best movie I saw. Biggest surprise anyhow. If I selected it over Blade Runner in its category, I have to select it here as well. A very enjoyable movie. Way better than I expected. Mom’s favorite would likely have been Shadow of a Doubt (1943). She loved mystery and she loved Hitchcock. I wish we saw it together.

Looking forward, I don’t have any set goals. I have 200+ on my IMDb watch list, so maybe I can chop fifteen off of that. At this rate I’ll run out of films never.

Until next time.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

White Christmas (1954)

After the war, army buddies Bob and Phil (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) start a song and dance act. Ten years on they become quite successful. So successful that Phil wants to marry Bob off to floozy dance girls with poor diction in hopes that it would keep taskmaster Bob occasionally occupied. When another army buddy writes asking them to give career advice to his performing sisters Betty and Judy (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen), Phil gets the idea of matching Bob up with Betty, as her diction is perfect. They land in the non-snowy Vermont inn owned by their old commanding officer, who is struggling financially. Let’s put on a show!

Christmas Musicals are inevitably romantic comedies, this being no different. Boy meets girl, boy and girl like each other, misunderstanding, grand gesture, happy ending. Only variation here is that the grand gesture IS the misunderstanding. Also with Christmas Musicals, the plot is frequently paper-thin. Again, same here.

White Christmas is a slight retooling of Holiday Inn (1942). We have Bing, tried to have Astaire but was unavailable, reused the song, and even reused the country inn set, this time located in Vermont. They even do a minstrel number, but at least had the decency to lose the blackface. Baby steps.

I remember Rosemary Clooney from her old and fat days, wondering why she was famous. Not a classic beauty, she was certainly charming. And at 25 she was definitely good enough for the 50ish Crosby. Oh, and she was George’s aunt. Her little sister was played by the anorexic Vera-Ellen. Anyone who danced next to her was paled by her energy and skill. Clearly it wasn’t food she was getting her energy from. She had to be dubbed for the singing parts.

Except for the benefit of color (and lack of blackface color), we essentially have the same movie as Holiday Inn. Many musical numbers if you’re into that sort of thing, witty and charming dialog, simple story with low-stakes consequences. AMRU 3.5.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Holiday Inn (1942)

A song and dance team breaks up because Jim (Bing Crosby) wants to run a country inn in Connecticut. Lila and Ted (Fred Astaire) decide not to retire along with him because they are in love. Jim’s plan for his inn is to be open only on holidays. Thus, Holiday Inn.

Lila goes off and marries a millionaire so Ted shows up drunk at the Inn and sees his future dance and maybe love partner performing. But sneaky Bing … I mean Jim tries to keep her secret and all to himself, so let the conniving begin.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was written for the movie and fast became the number 1 selling single of all time. Bing would sing it in a Christmas musical two more times. Director Mark Sandrich called it the ABC of American musical comedies: Astaire, Berlin, and Crosby. All three were and would continue to be on quite a tare.

The characters say that there are fifteen holidays but they show only eight or nine. But it’s Lincoln’s Birthday that garnished the most praise. No, praise isn’t the right word. What do you call it when white people sing in black face? Whatever that is, it garnished the most of it. To be fair the intent was to be respectful and it made sense in context. The scene is frequently removed from TV airings but TCM showed it uncut.

The song and dance numbers could be tedious and the story is paper thin, but the charming on-screen chemistry and witty banter pulled it through. If the musical numbers are your thing, then you’ll love it. AMRU 3.5. Oh, and yea. The hotel chain stole their name from this.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Man who Came to Dinner (1942)

Unpleasant lecturer Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) is to have dinner with a rich, industrialist family when he slips on ice and hurts his back. He is forced to stay there for weeks and makes their life miserable. Whiteside’s life becomes complicated when his personal assistant Maggie (Bette Davis) takes a fancy to a local reporter and flirts with the idea of moving on from her thankless job. Let the conniving begin.

Films from plays can occasionally be quite entertaining. Clever, fast paced dialog that sometimes skirts the Code, when done right, they can be a joy. Spoiler alert, this one was.

As the Whiteside character hobnobs with celebrities, there is a large amount of playful name dropping throughout the film. They mention Cary Grant and the Barrymores. John Barrymore and Grant both were considered for the Whiteside role (talk about casting a wide net) but Davis objected to Grant and Barrymore was barely able to function at that time, dying just after the film’s premiere. Jimmy Durante played a vaudeville style movie comedian based mostly on Harpo Marx. I wonder if he approved of the caricature.

Ann Sheridan plays the high maintenance actress Lorraine Sheldon. Apparently she was quite popular in films I don’t care for, as I’ve never seen her in anything. The gossamer dress she wore in the film really, ahem, stood out. Towards the end of a very successful career, cancer would take her at age 51. I used to be 51.

I quibble with aspects of the ending but The Man who Came to Dinner really is a joy to watch. Solid script, tight performances, and a well done production. AMRU 4.
“Nobody's home! The Stanleys have all been arrested for peddling dope! Go away!”

Monday, December 17, 2018

Holiday Affair (1949)

Hot war widow Connie (Janet Leigh) is a ‘comparison shopper’, meaning someone who buys items for examination by a competing department store, and then returns them. She is caught by hunky Steve (Robert Mitchum) who must ban her from the store, effectively costing her the job. But he shows compassion and doesn’t report her, costing him HIS job. They keep accidentally meeting up causing friction with her safe and boring boyfriend/fiance Carl (Wendell Corey). Guess who gets the girl? Good money is on Steal-yo-girl Mitchum.

Good old Corey was Jim/Jeff’s cop buddy from Rear Window. He was ready for a long, successful career in Hollywood, and what’s better than that? Booze, that’s what. Wendell Corey, dead at age 54. His last few films include such gems as Cyborg 2087, The Astro-Zombies, and Women of the Prehistoric Planet. I'm not ashamed to say I kinda want to check them out. Hey, look! It’s Colonel Potter himself, Harry Morgan! As a cop no less!

Hot hot Janet Leigh was charming as the hard working widow trying to do right by her son, although at 22 maybe a little too young for the role. She was fourteen years older than little Timmy. We don’t feel too sorry for poor Carl. He isn’t made out to be a bad person but clearly not right for our Miss Leigh. And he may have been a little too understanding.

Holiday Affair is a decent little Christmas story but otherwise unspectacular. Wasn’t a success upon release but apparently is remembered well thanks to TCM. It was on my list to watch with Mom and I think she would have loved it. AMRU 3.
“Carl isn't the real threat to me. Maybe I'm not to him. This isn't two fellows and a girl, you know. This is two fellows, a girl and her husband. I can't fight a shadow - I tried - competition's too tough. You were even going to play it safe and settle for someone you didn't love so you wouldn't be unfaithful to your husband.”