Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938)

A radio station is looking for a Little Miss America, a girl to sing while pitching bran flakes, and little Rebecca (Shirley Temple) is exactly who they are looking for. But step-dad Uncle Charlie thinks they are passing on her so he deposits her with her dead mom’s sister who will have nothing to do with this show business talk. There she learns to love country life and becomes friends with the neighbor (Randolph Scott!) who is searching for that little girl his incompetent assistant allowed to leave the studio before signing a bran flakes contract.

Our incompetent assistant is played by Jack Haley, whom some may remember as the Tin Man. Haley himself said that if it wasn’t for that role, nobody would remember him at all, and I tend to agree. Gloria Stuart played the ingenue/love interest. She was also Old Rose in Titanic. She lived to be a hundred. Also here is dancer Bill Robinson. Bojangles was a great and innovative tap dancer prior to making films. He was paired with Temple for three movies and eeked out a modicum of Hollywood fame.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is a remake of the Mary Pickford film of the same name. I understand many of Temple’s films were Pickford remakes. Pickford, who frequently played roles much younger than she, was 25 years old when making the original version compared to ten for Temple. Temple was up for the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, but didn’t get it. She remembered that as a lost opportunity to step out of Pickford’s shadow and do her own films. I wonder if Pickford auditioned.

Early in the film there was a sassy receptionist that I thought was going to be a major character. She wasn’t but I found out why all her scenes were sitting down. At 4’11 she was actually shorter than Shirley. I thought step-dad was going to be a gruff but amiable character but they went in the opposite direction with him. I forget that Demarest didn’t play likable much prior to My Three Sons.

I was looking for another film to see and I wasn’t motivated by anything on the DVR or streaming. I popped on TCM just before the beginning of Rebecca and decided to give it a chance. I Hadn’t seen a Shirley Temple film front to back, maybe ever, so I gave it a try. No part of it was terrible so I ended up seeing the whole film.

Maybe sacrilegious to say but little Shirley was charming, kinda cute, but only talented because she was young. Nobody marveled at her skill and as she matured she outgrew her specialness. Hollywood didn’t turn its back on her any more than she had nothing left to offer. In the end Rebecca was upbeat, well composed, and somewhat charming, but I won’t go out of my way to see another. Well made cotton candy is still cotton candy. AMRU 3.
“I never get nervous. I'm very self-reliant.”

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Black Scorpion (1957)

Geologists studying a volcanic eruption in Mexico discover that earthquakes have released giant prehistoric scorpions that were entombed in obsidian (or Dragon Stone). The process of holding a living creature in suspended animation inside a volcanic rock is known to scientists as bull shit (Bovem de Stercore to be scientific about it). Our heroes fight the monsters, find love, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Not many good films begin with voice over narration, and this is no exception. Here we cover all the elements that worked in better giant bug movies (Them!, Tarantula) and do it for a fraction of the cost. What we have is a formulaic, predictable, and reasonably pleasant waste of 81 minutes.

And the lack of a budget is on clear display. Most of the movie appears to be done with rear projection. A train is barrelling down the tracks towards a giant scorpion. The scene is tediously lengthened to increase suspense (spoiler, scorpion eats the train) so we see the train miniature (literally named Lionel Lines) pass by the same rock face at least three times. Another shot of a series of stop motion scorpions crawling out of a cave or crevasse is reused several times throughout the film. But this isn’t the worst of it. Money completely ran out before they could finish the major fight scenes so the scorpions appear as black silhouettes. Downright confounding.

I saw this one as a kid on Creature Double Feature way back when. I didn’t think much of it at the time but at least it wasn’t yet another ‘zilla film they were always throwing at us. With adult eyes I found it likable for what it was. Yet another bug film but with a certain charm. Set in Mexico, gringos got most of the lines, but I felt they were respectful of the culture, at least by 50’s standards. Under the best conditions nobody is frightened by scorpions when they have already been menaced by tarantulas, so don’t go looking for scares.

The Black Scorpion is what it is. Unoriginal, forgettable, and predictable. But I kinda liked it. AMRU 3. I suppose I have to see The Deadly Mantis now.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Eraserhead (1977)

Henry is invited to dinner by a girl to meet her parents. There he discovers that she’s had a baby. She thinks. That is, she thinks it’s a baby. Now they must get married. This is Henry’s nightmare, and maybe yours.

Eraserhead fades between a surreal dream-like half fantasy, into a disturbing total fantasy, then back again. We don’t always know what is sorta real and what isn’t. What we see is a bizarre man living in an unsettling world filled with disturbing images that don’t quite make sense. It’s an anxiety filled dream in a fantasy landscape that only vaguely resembles reality.

What’s the meaning on the Man in the Planet? The worms? The hair? The poodle-girl in the radia-tair? Sorry, mon frere, but I’m not going there. What is clear is that Henry lives in a low rent, disturbing, unsatisfying, sometimes hostile world and is unexpectedly saddled with a special needs child he had with a woman who barely tolerates him. What better food for nightmare could there be than this?

An amazing thing about this film is how consistent the tone is, despite the fact that production took five years to complete. A character sees something gross and disturbing and we look to the characters reaction to judge what we are to think of it. Is it normal is this world or the height of horror? What we see is a reaction halfway between. Jack Nance kept the iconic hair-do for the duration of the shoot. Jack would later die from injuries sustained in a brawl outside a donut shop. And so it goes.

Eraserhead is an enigmatic, bizarre, and fascinating study in world building. I’m certain some of the images are there just to confound, but it completely sets the tone. The viewer is in for a ride. AMRU 4.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Rio Bravo (1959)

While harassing the town drunk (Dean Martin), bad guy Joe shoots a man trying to intervene. Sheriff Chance (John Wayne) locks him up but bad Joe happens to have a rich and influential brother who doesn’t want baby bro to stand trial. Now our Sheriff has to stand down ruthless cutthroats with deputy drunk and grandpa Stumpy (Walter Brennan). Hottie Feathers (Angie Dickinson) shows up because why not.

What the hell is Ricky Nelson doing in this film? For the uninitiated, Ricky Nelson was a pop singer, teen heart throb, and star of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Think a nineteen year old Justin Bieber if he had a smidge of acting talent. The studio pushed him onto Howard Hawks who gave him the fewest lines and fairly little screen time. Guys of the day found it a little bit easier to convince their gals to see a western.

The luster started to diminish on Wayne’s career, his last few films not doing very well. The answer was to fall back on the John Wayne character which he successfully did into the 1970’s. Gone were the days of out of character roles and non-genre pictures. Not a bad trade off, really.

I suppose the point of adding the Dickinson character was to raise the stakes for our hero. Sassy and independent as she was, Feathers was still a woman that needed protection. 24 years her senior, Wayne was uncomfortable with the love scenes. Angie looked plenty comfortable to me.

I never thought of Dean Martin as a serious actor. Comedian and singer, but never an acTOR! But to be fair, this is the first feature I’ve seen him in, maybe ever. And he acted the living crap out of it. The Dude was a complex character with nuance and a real character arc. This was by far the best film he appeared in and I don’t expect that his other performances will match up.

Rio Bravo is a film school staple and a favorite of Quentin Tarantino. It is a very interesting film and the opening shot is quite good, but in the end it is just a hero's tale. Serve justice, save the town, get the girl, and leave the character growth for the people around you. AMRU 4.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Wrong Man (1956)

Broke Musician Manny (Henry Fonda) tries to borrow against his wife’s life insurance policy to pay for her dental work and is mistakenly identified as an armed robber. Other eyewitnesses positively identify him as the assailant and his handwriting matches the notes. His world swirls down the crapper while his hot wife (Vera Miles) goes off the rails.

Manny is an aw shucks nice and honest man. Kind to his mother, patient to his wife and child. We know this because Hitch beats us over the head with it. Repeatedly and to the point that it  longer than the hour forty five run time. Also, have I pointed out that he was THE WRONG MAN? Oh, we did? Good. Sometimes suspense comes at the expense of subtly.

Not one of Hitchcock’s top films, in fact I judge it pretty low on his list. Maybe lowest if his post war work, be he had done so many it’s hard to say. Not that it is tragically flawed. Not compared to Rope and Strangers on a Train, which were less boring. Fonda’s Manny is two dimensional and uninteresting. Also at 50 he was 24 years older than wife Vera Miles. Creepier still, they had an eight year old boy. Maybe the most interesting part is Miles’ performance in the third act. She played the standard dutiful wife up to that point before the stress really takes its toll.

Only Hitchcock film for Fonda but Vera will also star in Psycho. Least interesting of the post-war Hitchcock (so far), but still manages an AMRU 3.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Return of Doctor X (1939)

A reporter scores an interview with beautiful star of the stage Angela, but when he arrives he finds her dead. Stabbed in the heart and everything. Rather than call the police, he runs a sensationalist news story. When she shows up at the newspaper very much alive and threatening to sue, our hero finds himself out of a job. He starts pestering his hunky doctor friend to find out if someone could survive such a wound. Lucky for our heroes, hunky doctor is asked to identify the body of a man who died in exactly the same way. The trail leads to artificial blood and the hunky Doctor’s boss’ creepy assistant (Humphrey Bogart).

Wait, what? Yes, you heard that right. Humphrey Bogart plays the creepy Doctor X. The studio naturally wanted Boris Karloff for the role but couldn’t get him. So instead they enlisted WB bit actor Bogart, who was none too pleased. Still, he did a better than fair job in his only horror role. Ostensibly a sequel to the 1932 film it shares no similarity save for a character called Doctor X. Different backstory, different first name, and, of course, different actor.

Not much horror in this one unless you count the way our hunky doctor practically orders a pretty nurse to go on a date with him, then leaves her in the car while he runs around trying to solve his little mystery. I guess you do what you must to keep your job.

The Return of Doctor X has a fair amount of atmosphere with a little sci-fi thrown in, and Bogie was rather creepy in the role, even if he felt his unfamous self too good to do genre movies. Was being a gangster thug so much better? Nice and short, you may find it worth your time. I did. AMRU 3.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Berlin Express (1948)

An American, a Russian, a German, and an Englishman walk into a bar. I mean a train. Going to Berlin. Post-war Germany is divided by the three main allied powers. Or four, I don’t know. Anyhow a German professor is working to reunite Germany for peace, so he gets blown up. Because the allied authorities are just rounding people up for questioning and nothing else, our band of multi-ethnic heroes investigate. Turns out there are these Germans who aren’t too keen on this whole ‘peace’ idea.

Enigmatic Merle Oberon played the German professor’s faithful helper. She mostly appeared in period costume dramas which is why I haven’t visited her before. Jacques Tourneur is one of those directors who could have been a big name given different circumstances. This is the sixth of his film that I’ve seen and the least interesting.

Berlin Express bares a certain resemblance to The Third Man. Actually filmed in Germany (the first US film to do so after the war) we see the war’s aftermath and the consequences the people must face. But Berlin Express isn’t quite the film. Story, acting, script, and cinematography, it pales in comparison. I don’t mean to imply that it is a bad film. The Third Man is a masterpiece, and this was, well, made by RKO. Berlin Express is quite watchable if you step clear of the comparison. It holds your interest if not your memory.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Having burned his way out of town, Orson Welles focused on the stage. In order to get his stage musical financed he promised to make a traditional, Hollywood, action thriller. What he actually made was a two and a half hour mess. He wanted voice level to be almost too low to hear and blast the audience away with sound effects. Because EvErYboDy lOvEs ThAt! Fortunately, studio meddling turned it into something watchable.

Our hero is poor Michael O’Hara who is actually Orson Welles with an Irish Accent. He earns a job on a rich lawyer’s yacht by hitting on his hot young wife (Rita Hayworth). And by saving her from thugs. There he continues his infatuation with hot Elsa and gets caught up in what we here are referring to as ‘intrigue’.

Hayworth was Welles estranged wife at the time, fun fun. He had her hair cut and bleached, which was a no-no back in the day. Rita’s strawberry blond hair was her trademark and you just don’t go messing with studio property. Were you to film in Fenway park you don’t go and paint the Green Monster blue. Welles was his own worst enemy.

I refrain from spoiling the story but in actuality the viewer has no clue where it's going for the majority of the runtime anyhow. Even Welles' O'Hara seems to have a dumbfounded expression on his face throughout the film. Studio boss Harry Cohen said he'd never hire the same man to produce, direct, and star in a film because he could never fire him. But, you know, Cohen was an ass.

Film purists will defend Welles artistic vision, but that’s not what he promised the studio. Maybe his version would have been a masterpiece, but he hadn't earned the right to make it. Not from Hollywood's perspective, at least. What we got was an interesting, weird as hell, and watchable hour and a half long film. AMRU 3.5.
“George, that’s the first time anyone ever thought enough of you to call you a shark. If you were a good lawyer you’d be flattered.”

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Dial M for Murder (1954)

Tony (Ray Milland) discovers that his rich hot wife (Grace Kelly) is having an affair, so he arranges for a complicated hit on her. When that doesn’t pan out, he tries to frame her for a murder. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Whenever you plot to kill the hot, hot Grace Kelly, you cannot be the protagonist, but Milland almost pulls it off. He gets the bulk of the screen time, is charming almost to a fault, and you can almost see his point of view. Almost. Ex-tennis pro Tony is a manipulator. If the rich Margot divorces him he loses his means to a comfy lifestyle. If she dies, he takes it all. He manipulates the would-be assassin with surgical precision. When things go awry he tries to engineer his way out of things, manipulating Margot in the process. A true master at work.

Ray Milland was a better actor than his reputation. He did a bunch of forgettable light rom-coms but his better work (The Lost Weekend) proves his ability. Dial M for Murder is a better work. Cary Grant was considered for the role but Cary must always play nice guy.

Filmed almost entirely in one room, the studio decided to make it 3D. Hitch had no interest in even making the movie, but he was contractually obligated. Not exactly a recipe for success but this is Hitchcock we are talking about. It was a great stage play and Hitch’s tenacity made it an excellent film. Then he made Rear Window.

Dial M for Murder is a smart, charming story. It is very wordy in a good way and the crime plan is very well thought out. There is no real mystery except to see how it all plays out. It’s Hitchcock at the top of his game. In his top five, for sure. Mom would have loved it. AMRU 4.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Being There (1979)

Chance (Peter Sellers) is a simple man who tends the garden for an old rich man. When the old man dies in his sleep, he is forced to leave the estate for the first time. He is injured by a parking car owned by a rich industrialist and DC power broker. Fearing he will sue, they take him in and mistake his simple speech for deep insights. Simpleton Chance the gardener becomes Chauncy Gardiner, philosophical guru.

Peter Sellers was nuts. He became so engrossed with the characters he play that he didn’t know who he was between projects. Panther director Blake Edwards thought him mentally ill with no real personality of his own. Friends would be confused when they would see him after a significant absence and find him to be a different person. There are so many weird stories about his life that I am surprised a biopic hasn’t been made.

Once inside the fancy Rand estate, Chauncy befriends another sick old man Benjamin (Melvyn Douglas), who is a close friend of the president (Jack Warden). He also attracts the affection of Ben’s wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine). Chauncy likes to watch.

Most of Being There is people interpreting Chance’s words as insightful or clever, filling in the gaps themselves as a sort of conversational Rorschach test. In one scene Chance is in an elevator, sitting in a wheelchair, chatting with the man helping him to his room. Chance says he’s never been in “one of these before”, meaning the elevator and the man assumes he means a wheelchair. They continue conversing without knowing they are talking about different things. It’s a masterful scene.

Being There is a unique film and Sellers was brilliantly understated in his role. Nominated for an Oscar, he very well may have deserved it. He was nuts, but he was also a genius. AMRU 4.
“I have no claim. I don't even know what one looks like.”

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Little Caesar (1931)

The rise and fall of an underworld crime thug (Edward G. Robinson). See The Public Enemy and Scarface. Rinse and repeat.

Little Caesar was a big hit and made Robinson a star and became the gangster stereotype, see? His full name is Caesar Enrico Bandello, or Rico for short. Or Little Caesar because he is short. His buddy is played by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. not to be confused with his far more talented silent screen star father. Well, at least Junior made it past 60. Junior’s Joe wants out because he falls in love with his dancing partner (Glenda Farrell) in one of the most unconvincing and chemistry-less scenes imaginable. Still, the love and dancing makes Rico think Joe is soft, see?

Pre-code films had to play a game. In order to show the sex and violence that audiences craved they pretended to offer a cautionary tale. See the evils if good men are not diligent? Few were fooled but it was enough to keep the censors at bay.

So, was Rico gay? Hear me through. Joe is soft, Rico thinks, because he loves a woman. Rico acts almost jealous, like a spurned lover. And when he is first on the lamb, where does he hold out? A fruit store. Reading too much into this, am I? Of course I am.

Somewhat entertaining and historically significant, Little Caesar codified the sounds and mannerisms of the prohibition gangster. And don’t think that the racketeer Influenced and corrupt organizations act name was just a coincidence. AMRU 3.
“Well, that was white of him alright.”

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Raging Bull (1980)

The life and times of a boxer with an anger management problem (Robert De Niro).

De Niro’s Jake La Motta is neither the protagonist nor an antagonist. He is simply the main character and we see the events of his life based on the autobiography of the same name. The story follows Jake’s successful fighting career and his relationships with his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) and his second wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty). He has ups and downs, flies into fits of paranoid jealousy, and hurts the people around him. No real story arc except for life and age as it happens.

But the real genius here is De Niro’s acting is the outstanding cinematography. Filmed in black and white, many of the ring shots are works of art. While it won the Oscar for editing, it somehow lost out to Tess for cinematography. Somehow, maybe because one of the two cinematographers on Tess had died and the voters heart strings were tugged. (The other passed before the year was out). Or maybe they just loved the sexy scenes of barely legal Nastassja Kinski. Roman Polanski is a creep. Hey look, it’s Nicholas Colasanto! You know, Coach from Cheers. I’ve never seen him in a film before.

The movie is based on the autobiography of the real-life LaMotta whose career spanned the 1940’s until the middle 1950’s. Upon seeing the film he asked his second wife, depicted by Moriarty, if he was really that bad. She responded “You were worse”. He beat his wives (married seven times), was involved with organized crime, and served time for introducing men to an underage girl at his bar. He died in 2017 at age 95.

Raging Bull is a captivating story with excellent acting performances and photography that rises to high art. One has to watch it again simply for the slow motion fight scenes.
“He ain't pretty no more.”

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A Star is Born (1937)

Ingenue farm girl Ester (middle-aged Janet Gaynor) dreams of silver screen quotation, so she goes to La La Land with Grammy’s approval and financing. There she friend-zones an aspiring director and learns that they don’t make you a star just because you ask. When working a party she catches the eye of famous (and famously difficult) actor Norman Maine (Fredric March) and he is smitten. He muscles her into a few gigs and she becomes a big star. They fall in love while Norman’s career circles the drain.

Far from a Hollywood unknown, Janet Gaynor had a decade long career before doing A Star is Born. In fact, hitting the brick wall that is 30, she did two more films before being relegated to the occasional TV guest appearance. More likely it was because of her 1939 marriage, but the first narrative sells better copy. And Fredric March, far from a fading star, went on to an extensive career lasting over thirty years more.

A Star is Born (1937) is best known for having been remade in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, which was remade in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, which was remade in 2018 with the Gaga and Bradley Cooper, but apparently the story bares a closer than casual resemblance to the 1932 film What Price Hollywood? With Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman. When Hollywood sees a good formula, they know to overdo it. I’d also like to point out that at no point here did they actually cast a young unknown in the lead role. Brave.

Maybe the story was lifted from What Price Hollywood? Or maybe it was inspired by rising star Barbara Stanwyck’s marriage to spiraling leading man Frank Fay, or maybe by drunken has-been John Barrymore who has cast in the Maine/March role but couldn’t remember his lines because he was a drunken has-been. Maybe all and more. Anyhow, Star is an amusing melodrama with charming characters and good on-screen chemistry. Let’s see if I can see the other three (or four) before the year is out. AMRU 3.5.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Destination Moon (1950)

American industrialists band together to send a rocket to the moon because he who controls the moon can blow up the earth. You just know the US government aren’t going to bother, so our heroes do it for them. They are denied clearance to test the atomic engine so they just take off to the moon. Seems reasonable. They choose for their astronauts themselves.

Here I have another high concept sci-fi film with fairly little story. The characters are stock, we learn little of their nature, and there is no personal growth. But what we have is a pretty good technical depiction of actual space travel. From lift-off g-forces, to weightlessness, to many technological problems they face. Call the cooperative group NASA and make the rocket fuel liquid hydrogen and Destination Moon would resemble a documentary. Almost.

Despite the lack of real story I enjoyed watching Destination Moon for the space-nerd aspect of it. A modified version of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon shown in the film was actually later used by NASA to explain the realities of space travel. There were no preposterous moon monsters or unexpected meteor showers (ummm … spoiler alert?), just real science. Launch windows, escape velocity, and inertia. It was truly ahead of its time although Hollywood would eventually discover that fantastical foolishness was more marketable. It was the OG of 50’s rocket and saucer genre even though the slapped together and vastly inferior Rocketship X-M beat it to theaters. Destination Moon defined a sub-genre that influenced a generation. AMRU 3.5.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Taxi Driver (1976)

Troubled ‘nam vet Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) drives a taxi at night because he can’t sleep anyhow. He becomes infatuated with a hot blonde way out of his league, becomes interested in politics, and befriends a pre-teen hooker. Stuff happens and they all live happily ever after. Or Do ThEy!!!

Taxi Driver doesn’t fit genre nor narrative conventions. Is Travis a hero, tragic figure, villain, or just a character in a story? Is it a film about racism, desperation, or just graphic violence? Travis rails against the filth and scum but we are not directly led to his racism, but nor are we led away. Take that what you will. This isn’t film criticism, here. I’m not that good. Suffice to say this is the film that earned Martin Scorsese his reputation.

I do want to explore the idea of crossed communications. You’ve seen it, two people holding a conversation thinking they were on the same page but in fact they were not. We see that here between Travis and the other cab drivers, the hot Betsy, and the candidate Palantine. He thinks they understand each other, but they don’t.

Taxi Driver is a fascinating film. The cinematography is fantastic, the ending enigmatic, and it stays with you, almost hauntingly, long after viewing. Interestingly it has the same flaw as Pulp Fiction: The director’s acting performance. Little piece of vanity spoiling the masterpiece. Still, it’s a fantastic film. AMRU 4.
“I got some bad ideas in my head.”

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Westworld (1973)

Delos offers fantasy vacations at three themed destinations: Medieval World, Roman World, and Westworld. Or protagonist chooses the third, where guests can participate in fun activities like bar fights, drinking terrible whiskey, and being threatened with murder. Oh, yea, and there are prostitutes. Can’t forget them. Guess what? Things go haywire. Familiar with the old 'super fancy amusement park for the filthy rich breaks down and people die' trope? Writer/director Michael Crichton sure was.

But give the man credit. In this high concept if somewhat lackluster film are the seeds of Halloween (1978) and The Terminator (1984), not to mention Jurassic Park. This was also the first ever feature to use computer graphics and maybe the first to use a computer virus as a plot point.

Our story follows beta male Peter (Richard Benjamin) as he visits the exclusive resort with his hunky friend John (Josh Brolin’s dad). Recently divorced Peter has a hard time getting into the spirit of things until he tries out Nurse Chapel’s brothel (one night in Westworld makes a hard man humble). Then the attractions begin to malfunction. But before total chaos reigns, the technical team decides to upgrade the nasty gunslinger character (Yul Brynner) with super powers. Seemed reasonable at the time.

Not a bad film overall, but not without flaws. It’s a little slow at times and there are many technical plot holes one must suspend. It’s real legacy are the high concept ideas. There was a short lived TV series called Beyond Westworld that tanked, and Arnold even was in talks to do a remake when governorship saved us from that fate. Never saw the HBO series. Is it any good? AMRU 3.
“I must confess I find it difficult to believe in a disease of machinery”

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.