Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)

Okay, this is not really a "classic" movie - but it fits so nicely with the other comic messes from the sixties, I just have to add it.

What a mess!

It's got all the funny moments and the songs are great (although apparently they cut a lot of songs) but the editing makes me want to shake the editors, one by one, until they cry.

Montage, montage, montage - acceleration, slow motion, montage set to music! Please, please please - spare us the latest trick you have just learned! If the costumes don't bowl you over with loud awfulness, the montage at the end of the movie will leave your eyes falling out of your head - just to get away from the never-ending scene.

Based on a funny play, some pretty funny performances, some awesomely awful costumes, adds up to two stars. Spare yourself that last scene, just fast-forward to the end credits.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Miracle Woman (1931)

Here is a movie that is so simple but so good that it will make you regret the invention of color film processing.

Tivo said it was about "a faith-healer who is redeemed by her love for a blind pilot." Redeemed by love? Say no more!

Yes, it's a melodrama, but I couldn't hold that against it. There are moments so simple and sweet that it makes you forget the dramatic moments altogether.

Once again, there is that "and you thought this was modern" element. If you thought big, showy religious figures taking money from people and then being brought down in a scandal was new when Jim and Tammy Bakker were around, boy were you wrong.

I knew I would like this movie when they introduced the sweet young leading man. He's not a swashbuckler or a gangster, not a typical leading man at all, but I was taken in by him completely.

The shyster character is perfectly awful, too - calling the Miracle Woman "sister" and convincing her to use her abilities to get back at the hypocritical parishioners who didn't appreciate her preacher father.

Four stars, am watching again right now.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Another Thin Man (1939)

Asta does tricks! I had to rewind a few times to watch. He gets so excited that he does a full backflip. The backflip alone earns this movie at least four stars. Plus, one of my little first graders had just written a story about her dog Canada who she claims can do a flip, so I got to tell my student I watched a movie that made me think of her story. So Asta's backflip made a first grader very happy, too. And now, as the owner of a Thin Man box set, I can watch this movie as many times as I want. Will I ever review a movie I don't like?

Anyways, this Thin Man movie finds Nick and Nora with a baby, Nick Jr. So of course baby humor becomes an important part of the plot, mixed in with the new murders. Imagine all the cute and zany things one can do with a movie baby, especially when the baby's father knows a lot of crooks. Some of Nick's crook friends even throw a baby party for the Charles family...hilarity ensues (am I allowed to use that phrase, too?)

Mostly, ignoring the plots of the different movies, I just continue to love Nick and Nora and their witty dialogue.

I'm left wondering a few things, though, after this movie: As the series goes on, will the movies really remain good? (Although, Amy, you seem to have seen the later ones and liked them...so maybe I shouldn't be worried.) Will Nick Jr. help solve any crimes? Will Nick Jr. and Asta have to take up drinking? And, do all the Thin Man movies need a scene in which all of the characters are forced to get together so that Nick can work his brilliance in front of them all? I need to keep watching and find out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No More Ladies (1935)

There is another movie like the Women!!

More Joan Crawford!
More Witty lines!
Another wise older relative! (Grandmother instead of mother).
And now with - large shaggy dog! (instead of the oddly precocious child, I suppose).

This seems to have been the prequel to the Women - in it one woman is determined to keep her playboy husband at home. At least in this version of the story the other woman is not an inhuman bitch and the man takes most of the blame for his own behavior.

Also, you have to love the grandmother - clearly she was the inspiration behind several Carol Burnett characters. It makes me very sad that I could not find a picture of her to share with you.

What is it with the 30s and divorce movies? I guess the 30s were pretty hard times for the family values crowd. These movies put the controversy at the center of the story, but the main characters end up not divorcing.

But then again, what movie has a happy divorce? It just doesn't make a good movie. Nope, the prerequisite of a romantic comedy is that it must end in marriage.

Philadelphia Story, The Awful Truth, The Women, His Girl Friday - all of these almost-divorce movies end with happy marriages - and three end with a recently divorced couple getting back together again and, presumably getting re-married to each other.

Joan Crawford's wardrobe could have won a best supporting actor award - except for the one that looks like the dog's post-surgery collar got stuck to her head by accident. They had some pretty out-there ideas in the thirties.

Cousin Edgar and Granny Fanny alone are worth the price of admission. Someday I will go back and transcribe some of the better lines for you.

Four Stars. Will definitely watch again - probably as a double-feature with the women.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Four stars...I have lost track of how many times I've seen it.

This movie is the reason I love Cary Grant. The faces he makes, his comedic timing, the ways he flips over chairs and over himself... I watch every Cary Grant movie I can get my hands on hoping for more of this.

There is also just something wonderful about a dark comedy in which two sweet little spinster aunts poison lonely bachelors with elderberry wine and bury them in the basement just to be nice and helpful. The men are their "charity cases." Mortimer Brewster (Grant) arrives home with his new bride and steps right into the middle of his aunts' latest charity case. At first he thinks his nutty brother Teddy has killed the dead man he discovers in the window seat, but his aunts soon set him straight:

Mortimer: Men don't just get into window seats and die!
Abby: Of course not, dear. He died first.
Mortimer: But how?
Abby: The gentleman died because he drank some wine with poison in it. Now, I don't know why you're making such a big deal over this, Mortimer. Don't you worry about a thing!

Mortimer's brother Teddy believes that he is actually Teddy Roosevelt and spends part of the the movie digging locks in the basement for the Panama Canal... holes that really end up as graves for the lonely bachelors. By the time Mortimer's convict brother Jonathan appears in the house to hide the body of his own murder victim (although the aunts object, because a crook should not be buried next to their nice gentlemen) there is almost too much insanity to keep track of. Poor Mortimer has to try to cover for his aunts and Teddy, try to protect everyone and himself from Jonathan, and worry that he will go insane like the rest of his family. "Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops," says Mortimer. Such a fun movie.

I'm not a cab driver, I'm a coffee pot.

Brigadoon (1954)

This is an interesting entry for me. Regrettably, probably boring for you, dear reader. Let me apologize in advance.

I came home this evening and settled down to relax for a while. I flipped on the TV and my Tivo was recording Brigadoon (or trying to, it's having problems communicating with the digital cable box). In it, two hunters stumble on a quaint Scottish village seemingly undisturbed by modernity.

About 40 minutes into the movie we come to this scene:
Gene Kelly (reading from a large book, apparently the family bible of the lass he's smitten with):
"listen to this! Married - Elizabeth Lange to Andrew Campbell July 2nd, 1719"

He goes on to read that the birth date of his new girlfriend is October 10th, 1732 (a libra!). This was odd for Gene Kelly, but, since I've seen this movie once or twice before, this didn't get me wondering what was up in Brigadoon, it got me thinking about my genealogy project.

For the past month I've been looking up family genealogy online and bothering my relatives and Kimberly's with questions about their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

So, as Gene Kelly and his buddy went racing around the countryside tap-dancing with men in argyle tights and shirts with gigantic balloon sleeves, I went and found a little pamphlet that I received in the mail from my grandmother earlier this week.

The pamphlet was printed in 1901, updated in 1907 (my neighbor didn't think that was possible because it has staples but who knew staples had been invented in the 17th century? God bless Wikipedia). It contains information relating to the genealogy of the Cunningham Family, my maternal grandmother's family.

As Gene Kelly comtemplated life without his beloved Fiona and his buddy got drunker and drunker off a flask of what is presumably some vintage 1764 scotch, I settled down to try to decipher the tiny lines of print full of dates and abbreviations in that hundred-year-old pamphlet that read, in part "Edward, b. 1823; d. 1889; one of the most eminent of the American merchants in China; m. 1858, Fanny Helen, dau. of George B. Cary of Boston" - that, without a doubt, is my great-great-great grandfather and great-great-great grandmother - Ned and Fanny!

Now this little book just goes back from there - so as Gene Kelly, torn between the bucolic life in the Scotch highlands and the life he knows in New York City, decides to make his sacrifice for his wee lass Fiona (played by Cyd Charisse) I started to plot my family tree backwards...to John Adams Cunningham, Andrew C, James C, William C - back to the original Andrew who, it turns out, is Scottish. Back to kilts and Brigadoon!

In fact, evidence suggests that Andrew must have been born in Scotland sometime around 1654, well before Brigadoon was enchanted by the prayers of a lunatic priest to only appear (spoiler alert) once every hundred years.

What does this mean? It means:
a. I am not descended from Gene Kelly
b. Cyd Charisse could be some kind of distant relative
c. I can wear a "kiss me, I'm Scottish" shirt now, if I want to.
d. all of the above.

Now if only my ancestors had handed down Cyd Charisse's dresses to me...that would be really awesome!

Four stars. Will watch again right now.

Correct answer is D.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding! (1967)

Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee - lousy with viginity!

When I was eight years old and learned every word to that song (from the musical Grease if you didn't know - you might also want to come out from under that rock - looks uncomfortable under there) I had no idea who Sandra Dee was. The thing is, now that I have discovered her, I don't find her to be lousy with virginity. In almost every role she plays, she ends up sending off the unmistakable allure of innocent desire. Sure, she's virginal, but her eyes say "take me" - maybe that's the point. That innocence was the one thing Rizzo, dancing around in her underwear, knew she didn't have.

Nevertheless, I think Sandra Dee is MUCH sexier than Olivia Newton-John's Sandy. And in this movie she actually loses it. Then, at the end of the movie, when a man says to her "you ARE a vestal virgin" she gets to utter the sinful line "well, not QUITE" - followed by a camera pan down to her pregnant belly. Touche, Rizzo!

I liked this movie despite the "oh those crazy crazy kids" theme that it had going (same as the other sixties movies) - also, did they discover voice over in the sixties? Or just fail to restrain themselves in the use of voice over?

Sandra Dee plays an unwed mother with three men vying for her hand.
FLASHBACK! How did this come to be?
The young virgin had a stage mother and Sandra was her victim - I mean, star. In her quest for the dream of a famous daughter, her mother (who also is mysteriously single - maybe a war widow?) mortgages the house and overlooks the antics of her daughter's amorous beaus.

Sandra's character fights the young men off like a true virgin but can't help giving it up for one man...landing her in the predicament she's in at the beginning of the movie.

In addition to the flashback with awful voice over, there are two dream sequences, an awful montage, and a round of "special effects" where things pop on and off the screen. It's the kind of movie that "Down with Love" mocks so perfectly. And yet it's not a bad evening after all.

After all, Sandra Dee, like I said, just oozes sex without seeming dirty and who is George Hamilton? He's kinda dreamy:

Ew. Or he was in 1967...do yourself a favor, don't google George Hamilton images...you'll just ruin it for yourself.

Also, there are the costumes! One outfit of a minor player - a secretary, had me mesmerized. And there is a scene where SD dances in a club in high-waisted capri pants and a cropped sweater some little flats and a long bohemian necklace that just made me want to run out and recreate the whole ensemble. (Me to myself: "This is how pants can be so great: they are sexy, sophisticated, relaxed, feminine, modern, and liberated all at once. Also, they make her ass look great.")

Will watch again...just remember to fast forward through the montage of facial expressions that takes the place of an argument in the cab.

Four Stars. Will watch again.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rear Window (1954)

Okay, Anastasia, I watched it. It wasn't that scary! You didn't explain that it was all about a man who seems to have already killed his wife! I thought I was going to spend the whole movie worrying that he was going to kill his wife. But when I watched it last weekend I was only worried that people were going to think Jimmy Stewart was an idiot!

Who knew I cared so much about Jimmy Stewart?

Here is what I love about this movie:

1. The set and the shot that pans across it!

In one long shot you see tons of these little scenes in people's windows! Genius!

2. Grace Kelly's outfits

Mandy Moore is quoted in this month's issue of "Lucky" magazine saying she would like to recreate every one of these outfits - I'm all for it! I was all for this after "Lady in the Lake"! Let's do it, Mandy!

3. A good mystery
There's no picture of clues leading to a conclusion, but it's fun to put clues together...who doesn't like clues?

4. Movie-based-on-a-play
I know this had to have been based on a play - how do I know it? There are four total characters and all the foreground action takes place in one room and all the other action is described in the dialogue - it's a play! Good plays make great movies because the dialog and the characters and the plot have to be strong because there is no music, no scenery, no movie stars, no close-ups and no fast cuts to take your mind off of the script.

Five stars. Will definitely watch again.
In other words, you were right, Anastasia - and Margo. Both of you were right.
Damn it.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Tivo said this was "Action Adventure" and that got me thinking - what is the line between "action adventure" and "drama suspense" or "western". It's definitely a Western...except that it is set in Mexico...so it's not so much "west" as it is "south" so I guess it's a "Southern"?

Anyhow, it's a movie with a lot of plot so I guess it counts as Action Adventure. There are guns, there is treasure, there are bandits, indians and federales (which are like the sheriff and the cavalry and a local posse all rolled into one - they still are, I might add - I've been to Mexico and there is something strange about the local police being the army and riding around in the backs of pick-up trucks with rifles slung casually against their shoulders, makes the LAPD look tame).

And it's the movie that the line "we don't need no stinking badges" comes from, in case you were burning to know that.

The line is uttered by a bandido (that's bandit to you gringos) taunting three American prospectors hunting for gold in the mountains of Mexico.

Although it's full of plot, Treasure is about character (like a western) and it's full of morals and lessons...about greed, honesty, loyalty, and the futility of human effort against the power of nature.

Humphrey Bogart, who most of us think of as the likable underdog with a good heart, (because of Casablanca, of course), plays the likable underdog with a bad heart - or shall we say the likable underdog corrupted by greed?

This is definitely one of those movies that has great characters - you know them so well that you are gratified with every twist of the plot when they behave like themselves...I was happy just to see characters that have integrity and aren't subservient to the studio marketing team.

The plot itself is simple: a rag-tag band of prospectors goes hunting for gold: can they get it and get it back to civilization without being overtaken by bandits, found out by mining companies, or succumbing to greed and killing each other?

It's hard to watch lovable Bogey ravished by one twist of fate after another, but it's a good performance so it's enjoyable, even if kind of awful at the same time.

I love the way the movie builds you up for the discovery of gold, and yet when they find it, true to the prediction of the oldest prospector, it turns out to be a blessing and a curse. Also it's always good when the movie has you waiting for the entrance of the title character for a good half of the movie but you're excited for it...in this case the title character is "treasure". They don't even mention gold for the first half hour, and they don't see it till we are halfway through the film. Excellent.

You're in suspense up to the last ten minutes of the movie but, even after you know the outcome (about 15 minutes before the end of the film), you're waiting to see how the characters react to the conclusion, which is great.

All I can say about Treasure is: why don't they make them like this any more? Do they really think special effects make up for a lack of character and story? Well, okay, maybe they do...but it would still be nice to get some good characters like this now and again.

Four stars. Will watch again someday, but since the bulk of the joy is in the plot twists, probably not till I've had a chance to forget the plot a little....

Trivia: name of the boarding house where the three main characters meet: El Oso Negro. At the beginning of the film Humphrey begs for a meal three times from the same man - he gets mad and to show how mad he is he gives him twice as much money as he did the first two times he begged - huh? The character never reappears. Also, some of the longest un-subtitled scenes in Spanish I've ever seen. I don't really even know what happens in the two scenes at the end with the bandits in the village.

After The Thin Man (1936)

Many many stars...will watch it many more times along with the first movie...am buying the Thin Man box set!

Ever since rewatching the first Thin Man movie this summer, I have been so excited to see more of the series. I was not disappointed. After the Thin Man picks up right where the first movie left off with Nick and Nora on a train to San Francisco. As they prepare to pull into the station Nora asks, "Are you packing?" to which Nick responds, "Yes, dear, I'm putting away this liquor."

They arrive home ready to sleep for a week and recover from their detective work in New York, only to be dropped right into the middle of a new mystery. Nora's cousin's husband has been missing for three days... Is he dead? Is he with another woman? What does young Jimmy Stewart have to do with all of this? Does Nora ever get her middle-of-the-night scrambled eggs? Asta even gets his own storyline in this movie involving Mrs. Asta and a lot of puppies.

I laughed through the whole movie. Now I just have to wait for Another Thin Man to arrive from the library...