Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Thin Man Goes Home (1944)

Thin Man number five, and I am still giving the movie four stars. Although, I just read that this Asta is not the original Asta, and that is making me a little bit sad. This Asta is just as good of an actor as the original, though. He even has a happy dance for when things are going well.

So, in this movie Nick and Nora go off to visit Nick's parents. Nick is prepared for a restful vacation, but of course there is a new murder to solve. Nora is thrilled about the case, hoping that this will be Nick's chance to finally show his dad that he is a great detective and has chosen the right career. Nick being Nick, he works on the case while pretending not to work on the case, driving Nora so crazy she eventually tries to take it on herself.

I think that one of my favorite scenes is near the end of the movie when Nick and Nora attend some kind of charity auction at a hotel. Nick wants to go do some sleuthing, so he hands Nora off to a poor sailor without a dance partner who immediately starts jitterbugging with her. He throws her up in the air, swirls her around on the floor...

Also, the bonus to being at Nick's childhood home, is that when the final scene comes around with all the suspects gathered together in one room, Nick's mom is there to make them "cocoa to calm the nerves."

Only one more movie in the set (unless you count the William Powell and Myrna Loy documentaries). I guess I'll have to start re-watching soon...

Love Affair (1939)

So, not only did I see "An Affair to Remember" first, but until recently (probably because of you) I never even realized that it was based on another movie..."Love Affair." Now I know that it is not really based on "Love Affair," it is "Love Affair." It's been a few years since I saw the 50s movie, but I was actually able to recite a lot of the lines in "Love Affair" right along with the movie and say things like, "Now they're going to meet his grandmother, and she's going to offer Terry her shawl when she dies." Now I have to watch "An Affair to Remember" again before I forget this movie and see how much of it is identical. Although, with Leo McCarey directing and writing both movies, I'm sure the newer one will be as identical as I think it's going to be. But with the addition of an orange Cary Grant.

Do I need to explain the plot? American Terry McKay (Dunne) meets the charming French playboy Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) on a ship from Europe to the US. They are both engaged, but...they fall in love. After a lot of flirting, some painful silences, and the fear of imminent docking, they decide that if what they have is real, in six months they will meet on the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building at 5:00 pm on July 1.

Of course Terry is hit by a car and paralyzed on her way to meet Michel. "I was looking were up there." And of course Michel waits until midnight in a thunderstorm and leaves hurt and furious. And of course Terry is unwilling to call him and tell him what has happened. She's just waiting to learn to walk again so she can run into his arms. Even knowing the plot, it still feels horrible to watch it unfold.

Why Irene Dunne is wonderful:
She really does have perfect timing. Even though this is not at all a comedy, every once in a while you can see how great she is at delivering, for lack of a better word, sassy comebacks. When Michel first meets Terry, he starts trying to butter her up with all sorts of comments about how bored he was before he met her and how he was worried beautiful women didn't travel anymore. Just as my friends were saying, "I'd be throwing him out at this point," Terry shoots back with, "Have you been getting results with a line like that?" She also manages to get in a very nice, "How's your fiancee?"

Random final detail of interest: The creator of Pepe Le Pew modeled the skunk's voice and mannerisms after Charles Boyer.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

When Ladies Meet (1941)


Great premise! Will definitely watch again, four stars.
I got this on Tivo when, after seeing The Women and then No More Ladies, I created a Joan Crawford wish list. This movie begs the question - are all Joan Crawford movies about infidelity and do they all have either the word "women" or "ladies" in the title? Can all problems be solved by inviting the key players to a weekend in the country? So far, the answer is yes!

An idealistic young novelist falls for her publisher, a married man. While writing a book about it, she theorizes what she would say to his wife if they met. Of course, in her book the two women speak to each other respectfully and with calm understanding of each other's position. Both her former boyfriend and the publisher try to tell her that in real life it would never be like that and try to convince her that her book has to be changed to make it more real (i.e. to make the women more selfish and more black and white - one evil and one good).

This movie also reminded me that when I was 19, I found myself canoodling with a guy one night and then the next day being introduced to his girlfriend. I was very proud of myself when I managed to get her alone and tell her the situation. She walked right back into the cafe (which he owned), slapped him in the face, and walked out again. She got in my car, and I drove her home - one of the single most gratifying evenings of my life. (But then again, I _am_ a lesbian, so I guess I'm _bound_ to pick loyalty to a girl over loyalty to some guy I didn't even like.) Anyhow, I was also young and idealistic enough to believe that there was good and there was evil and it was easy to tell the difference. Later, when I met my wife and she was in a relationship, I played the same tune that Crawford plays in this movie "if it's really the love of my life, it's all right" - and the truth is, it's not all right, it's terrible, but sometimes it happens. Very, very rarely do women stick together in this situation, but Joan Crawford and I can be forgiven for dreaming that it might be possible, I think.

But, I digress - back to the plot: in desperation, (desperation to win her back, not desperation to fix the book) the ex-boyfriend befriends the wife and brings about a meeting between her and the novelist in real life. We get to watch the scenario play out, and it's great!

At first, the two women don't know their relationship to each other, and they get along well. You find yourself cursing the evil ex-boyfriend. Then they begin to talk about the book and each woman makes her case for her own perspective...respectfully and with understanding of the other woman's position. You find yourself half rooting for them to be grown-ups and half wanting the other shoe to drop so that they can have their cat-fight.

Of course the truth comes out and then things get heated pretty quickly, but it's really interesting to see a movie that allows characters to have a certain degree of honesty about themselves...and yet each one has a blind spot. By meeting, they are able to point out each other's blind spots and there is a resolution, even if it's not a happy ending, per se.

On Tivo's LiveGuide this movie was billed as a romantic comedy, but the comedy is lightly sprinkled over the movie rather than really a part of it. However, there were some great comic moments, mostly derived from the interactions of the oblivious hostess with her weekend guests. I leave you with the words of the dotty hostess, Bridgie Drake:
"If a woman must make a fool of herself, the least a man can do is to let her be one in her own way."

Suspicion (1941)

Smarmy Cary Grant character... or is he? While watching this, I was trying to think of other smarmy Cary Grant characters. I think that lately I've been watching a lot of the "I would run off with that Cary Grant character" movies, so I'm having trouble remembering other smarmy ones. Anyways, this is not a Cary Grant character I'm planning on running off with. Lina (Joan Fontaine) feels differently, though. She meets and marries Johnnie (Grant) pretty quickly, only to discover that he is completely broke and hasn't worked a day in his life. He's too busy gambling and spending the money he does not have. But he's Johnnie, handsome and lovable, so Lina believes she can change him... until she starts to suspect him of murder.

I think it's worth watching this movie for the shadows. Sometimes when Lina steps into the front hall of her house she looks like she is in a cage. Here's Johnnie coming up the stairs with his mysterious glass of milk for Lina. See the shadows?

What you can't really tell from the picture is that the glass of milk is glowing from within just to show us how suspicious it is. Would you trust Johnnie? Lina doesn't...

She makes Johnnie sleep in his dressing room and leaves the milk on her night stand.

I think I'm giving this movie three stars. I'm sure I'll watch it again someday. Right now it's making me want to watch "Notorious," though.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday (1938)

So, I got a Cary Grant box set for my birthday, and I'm slowly but surely making my way through it. All I remembered about this movie was that Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn walk around on couches and that I really liked it. I still really like it. And it turns out it is somewhat of a tortured love story while also remaining a romantic comedy!

When you look at that picture, can you tell which woman Johnny (Cary Grant) should be with? Is it his fiance Julia with the fantastic hat? Or is it her "black sheep in the family" sister Linda (Hepburn)? Is this even a question? From the moment Johnny and Linda meet they are joking and having the best time of their lives. And I spent the whole movie watching them wanting to climb into the tv and shake Johnny.

Johnny and Linda are confused for so long... Although maybe more Johnny than Linda. Linda is just too good of a sister to try to woo away her sister's fiance. Johnny is the one who can't see that maybe he is not in love Julia who he has known for a week and with whom he does not seem to be able to carry on a meaningful conversation. Johnny wants to quit his job and take an amazing holiday to find himself and discover the world while he's still young. Julia wants him to sit down at a desk and make millions for the rest of his life. Johnny completely misses the fact that not only do he and Linda understand each other completely, but that she is the one he always seeks out when he needs to talk and that she is the one he is head-over-heels happy with. (Is that a phrase?) They do backflips together!!! See how much fun they're having?

Everyone needs someone who makes them want to do backflips.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dark Passage (1947)

I love Humphrey Bogart. I love Lauren Bacall. Their movies together, Big Sleep and Key Largo, rank among my favorites. I'll watch them again and again. However, there is one movie that I constantly pick up at the video store and then put down again.

I don't know why I didn't want to watch it, but it seems that my instinct was good -because this movie SUCKS.

This is one of the things I like about classic movies: they are usually watchable because, to be a classic, a movie has to have something that keeps it from being shelved forever: great costumes, great actors, great lines - anything to keep us interested. Ergo, they are usually watchable, even if not great.

However, there are a few movies that snuck in the back door...once their stars are established as great, some movies become classics just by virtue of the presence of a single actor. This is very definitely a classic based ONLY on the star power of the Bogie/Bacall combination.

Alas, it doesn't even have much of Bogey and Bacall.

Here is the problem: the synopsis tells us that Humphrey is going to be recovering from "underworld plastic surgery" but instead of investing in some make-up or special effects, the director decided to shoot the first half of the movie in first-person perspective.

This is a horrible thing to do to an audience. For the first 30 minutes we get to watch Humphrey Bogart's hairy hands picking up objects, opening doors, shaving and turning shower knobs. There are a few establishing shots, a few shots of him with his face in deliberate, exaggerated shadow, and, mercifully, some of the longest unedited shots in history of Lauren Bacall. Just watching Lauren Bacall is...wonderful. It's kind of a torture, too, partly because her face and her features are just so exquisite that you can clearly see you will never, ever be that beautiful - the flawless skin, the perfect curve of the lips, the bone structure!

But I digress. Back to the badness of this movie. Since we can't see his face, we have to have EVERYTHING explained to us - at least that is what the director thought. From the first scene, the voice over explains EVERYTHING. First, Vincent thinks about how long it will be before the cops find him. "Ten, fifteen minutes." Then he goes on... "Got to start taking risks!" It's like reading the diary of an extremely timid crook.

Even when the VO stops for a while (and it does come back throughout the movie), the dialogue is pretty awful. A lot of long, expository monologues. After the plastic surgeon works on Humphrey he gives him instructions for his recovery, that's the important stuff. Then he goes on to give a little speech, "You'll look ten years older, but you'll always feel ten years younger."

The movie is always telling you what to think: hate her, love her, suspect him, look at's tiresome.

Lauren Bacall's clothes have a few good moments and a few inexplicably awful ones. I know she's supposed to be painting in the first scene, but must leisure clothes be HIDEOUS?

Most of all this movie is SLLLLLOOOOOOWWWWWW. DEATHLY slow. We're an hour and fifteen minutes in and it feels like we've been watching for years.

One star, cannot recommend except for serious Bogie-Bacall fans who are seriously curious.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Four stars - will watch again annually.
I was all excited to watch a classic Christmas movie that didn't include any racially-insensitive musical numbers (see "Mandy" in "White Christmas").

But alas, I had forgotten the horrible cake-walk number in which a "Zulu" sings to his love in broken English under the bamboo tree (huh?). It's not just racially insensitive, it's absurd.

However, you can't toss out the baby with the bath water and in this case the baby is a sweetly ridiculous period piece full of apocryphal Americana. What other movie can boast the ice wagon, homemade ketchup, early Halloween celebrations, trolleys, straw hats, and a "Skip to My Lou" dance number? Not to mention the romantic scene where they turn down the gas lights!

And I haven't even touched on the costumes!! Judy Garland makes her entrance in a blue-striped tennis dress with a white bow that DEFIES DESCRIPTION.

Then she appears for the first party of the movie in a dress that looks so much like it was made from a curtain that I feel certain it was one of the cast-offs in the tryout for Scarlett O'Hara's curtain-dress. I can hear the director, "no, no, it looks too much like a curtain!"

Since I'm so fond of this movie, let me introduce you to the Smith family:
Alonzo Smith, the father who completely misunderstands his own family
Anna Smith, the perfect mother, savvy and sympathetic
Rose Smith, the oldest daughter, a bit prissy
Alonzo Smith Jr, the eldest son
Esther Smith, the impetuous one, not a bit prissy
Agnes Smith, the relatively normal odd, precocious young girl
Tootie Smith, the REALLY odd, precocious young girl
Katie, the tart, matter-of-fact family maid - obviously the inspiration for the Brady Bunch's Alice
Grandpa, the Grandpa

This also contains one of my favorite Christmas carols, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" one of the best sad/happy songs ever!

I leave you with a parting quote:

Anna: "What about Katie and Grandpa and the chickens - not that we have many left."
Alonzo: "Those are minor details that can be worked out later!"
Grandpa: "So I'm a minor detail?"
Alonzo: "Now you all know very well that I was talking about the chickens!"
Anna: "Of course, never mind what happens to your family, at a time like this talk about the chickens!"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

It Happened One Night (1934)

Very funny!
Four stars, will watch it again.

An heiress runs away from home and accidentally falls in with a reporter who is desperate to get her story. Sound familiar? Maybe you saw the more popular Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn? Yeah, very similar.

Clark Gable is very funny and the writing is awesome. They have a hysterical fight about what exactly a piggyback ride is and their non-stop bickering/negotiations as they tour the country trying to get to New York City keeps the movie moving.

I don't have anything else to say that doesn't spoil some other aspect of the movie.

A classic in every sense of the world.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

I wanted to see this movie for a long time, mostly because it's referenced in "When Harry Met Sally." When Sally spots Harry in a bookstore and says she won't say hi because he never remembers her anyways, Carrie Fisher's character tells her that she's probably destined to fall in love with him, it's just like the movie..."you're the most contemptible man..." So I saw it and promptly forgot all about it. This doesn't mean it is not a great movie, though! I just rewatched it, and it definitely deserves four stars.

This movie is great Hitchcock. There are trains, there is intrigue... Iris (Margaret Lockwood) is traveling home to England to be married, and she's not terribly happy about it. While in the hotel by the train station she meets a number of the other passengers who are about to be on her train. There's the couple having the affair and the dopey guys who are obsessed with cricket. And most significantly, there's the charmingly sarcastic musician Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) who threatens to share her room with her -scandal!- when she has him thrown out of his room for playing his music and dancing too loudly. And of course there's the sweet old governess Miss Froy. Iris is mysteriously knocked out by a flower pot before getting on the train, and Miss Froy stays with her and helps her. After spending part of the day with Miss Froy on the train, Iris wakes up to find that not only is Miss Froy gone, but that most of the other passengers deny every having seen her and claim that Iris has been alone the whole time. Gilbert is the only one willing to help her... and the intrigue begins...

The love story between Iris and Gilbert's characters can be summed up with three quotes:

1) When they meet: "You are the most contemptible person I've every met in my life." her
"Confidentially, you're a bit of a stinker, too." him

2) After having spent a number of intense hours together trying to solve the mystery of the missing Miss Froy:
"Do you like me?" him
"Not much." her

3) When things are going the most swimmingly: "You heartless, caddish, swollen-headed beast..." her, of course as she is kissing him

So I love the mystery, and it was probably good that I didn't remember the plot, because that allowed me to enjoy the mystery all over again. The movie also made me think a lot about why I love stories where the characters hate each other before they fall in love. Do we all love these stories? Someone else must, or there wouldn't be so many of them...

Sunday, December 2, 2007

In the Good Old Summertime (1959)

Four stars, will definitely watch again. You know it's good when you see it pop up on your Tivo and you watch it again start to finish, even though you still remember the plot.

The best thing about in the Good Old Summertime is that it's a Christmas movie. It starts out with a voiceover reminiscing about the good old days in Chicago in the summertime and ends on Christmas Eve.

If you have an eerie feeling that you've seen this one before, you may have seen its predecessor, "The Shop Around the Corner" or the Broadway musical "She Loves Me" or the more recent re-write, "You've Got Mail".

I find it strange that I love this move although I hate You've Got Mail. The premise could just be aggravating, really: two people fall in love through the mail while simultaneously meeting and annoying each other in real life.

Luckily, Judy Garland is just so full of emotion for everything that it makes it believable that her character would love her pen pal as passionately as she hated her coworker.

Plus there are the costumes! Judy Garland's first outfit features a parasol, a hat with cherries on it, and a fake bird that perches atop the hat. AWESOME.

Also features Buster Keaton in a supporting role...up till recently I had no idea how long he had survived in the film business - it's really amazing! Of course he does the physical comedy that adds so much to the scenes he's in.

The movie features a violin virtuoso - giving over one whole scene just to her playing - kind of like the operatic orphan in "Here Comes the Groom".

The movie ends with a forgettable Christmas song and an unforgettable line "Psyhologically I'm very confused but personally I feel just wonderful."
And then as a bonus, you get a return to the "Good Old Summertime" and get to see tiny Liza Minelli's screen debut.

My Favorite Wife (1940)

Four stars, will definitely watch again.

A shipwrecked woman returns to her family after seven years on a desert island and finds that she has been declared dead and her husband has just married another woman.

There is no sympathy for the other woman, she is an absolute pill but after a half hour of Cary Grant not being able to figure out how to tell his second wife that his first wife is still alive you do kind of want to just pick him up and shake him.

But he just looks so darn cute in his leopard-print bathrobe.

Anyhow, eventually Grant figures out that his wife wasn't alone on the island, he tries to figure out what happened on the island, she tries to hide it, and hilarity ensues!

It's akin to Bringing Up Baby in the combination of physical comedy and comedy of errors.

Every Girl Should Be Married (1948)

Four plus stars...will definitely watch again

If I were Anabel (Betsy Drake) and ran into Madison Brown (Cary Grant) at the lunch counter and then in the department store where I worked buying baby booties and being charmingly nice to young children, I'm sure that I, too, would see no other course than to stalk him until we were married. The movie was wonderfully hilarious.

One of the most wonderful things about the movie is that Dr. Brown knows what Anabel is up to the entire time. When she stalks him for two weeks to learn all of his habits, interests, and favorite foods, he lets her know he was aware the whole time. During Anabel's first attempt to get Dr. Brown, which goes a little wrong because she does not know yet that he is a "baby doctor," she makes an appointment with him and tells him all about her " might be emotional." Dr. Brown tells her "I’d recommend a little less romantic imagination and more sleep." Annabel has her work cut out for her. She has to find craftier and craftier ways to get Dr. Brown's attention. "I know it’s dreadful," she tells her friend "but it’s the kind of thing men force us to do."