Sunday, April 13, 2008

All About Eve (1950)

My dad tells me that my grandmother really liked Bette Davis. But despite being able to sing along with parts of "Bette Davis Eyes," I realized I had never seen one of her movies. It was time to fix that!

Bette Davis plays Margo Channing, a well-known and respected actress who is starting to wonder if she still feels comfortable playing twenty-somethings as a forty year old.  When her friend Karen (Celeste Holm) brings Eve (Anne Baxter), a young fan with an amazingly sad story,  into her dressing room to meet her after a performance, Margo decides to take Eve on as a new friend.  (Margo, Karen, Karen's playwright husband, and Margo's director boyfriend apparently did not find it creepy that Eve had followed them across the country and had seen every single performance of the play, standing in an alley between performances.)  As Eve inserts herself into more and more of Margo's life, meddling with her relationships and using her theater connections, Margo begins to be suspicious of her motives.  Margo's friends, however, continue to adore Eve, and Margo becomes more and more isolated from everyone she trusts, as Eve becomes more and more creepy.

(If you look closely, there's a very young and very minor character Marilyn Monroe in the background of this photo.)

I guess I'm giving this movie four stars.  Bette Davis is amazing.  Many good lines, and a lot of drama.  I worried about her character a lot during the movie, because I kept waiting for disturbing and upsetting things to happen to her... I loved how Margo ended up back with and finally engaged to her director boyfriend after all the craziness she put him through. She finally let him love her, and I'm so glad he was still there. I don't think I could have taken the movie if it had been all downhill! Good things for Eve as well...

                                                             Bette Davis and my lovely grandmother

The song:

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Amy's Must-See List

1. For Heaven's Sake - I watched the first ten minutes or so. About an unborn-child angel who is trying to convince her parents to have a baby so she can be born. I'm dying to see this one!!
2. Dinner at Eight - can't remember if I have seen it before, but all movies centered around dinner parties are for me!

This list got shorter - please suggest anything else!

Friday, April 11, 2008

North by Northwest (1959)

I expected to have respect for this film, to believe that it was a great, well-made film. I did not expect to enjoy it.

I just don't enjoy suspense. I'm tortured by it. And Hitchcock does suspense so WELL that I really almost HATE his films. Even though I really really respect what he's doing, it makes me miserable. So it was a complete surprise to find this film so funny, intriguing, even romantic.

Cary Grant plays a mild-mannered advertising executive who forgets about his mother's bridge game and that one mistake leads him into a plot he has nothing to do's the kind of movie I hate, because the poor guy just keeps getting himself in deeper and deeper and you're yelling at the screen and hitting your forehead with your palm - but, I am here to tell you - I LOVE this movie!

And what is there not to love about lines like this?

"I'm an advertising man not a red herring. I've got a job a secretary a mother two ex wives and several bartenders dependent on me and I don't intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed!"

It's very funny for a suspense movie. And Cary Grant pratfalls his way through it almost as though it was a screwball comedy.

Also, even though I didn't really follow the plot (I was making french toast for the first half and went upstairs to get my house key back from a neighbor for part of the middle), I loved the plot twists.

I think that helped a little, too - being gone for a while. This IS a long movie with a lot of plot twists - I had always assumed that this scene:

was the climax of the movie. So I was very surprised to find out that we were only halfway through the movie when we got there and we still don't really know WHO is behind the plot to kill the main character - argh! But if you don't spend too much time trying to talk Cary Grant to his senses.

Instead, enjoy the great costumes. You always know they are great costumes when you find yourself thinking "where can I get a blouse like that?" And starting an internet search for a billowy white blouse with three-quarter-length sleeves.

Also elucidates the usefulness of monograms and demonstrates how to mountain-climb in heels. Although I think stilettos might be preferable to wooden heels from what I can tell. Also, it's kind of like the first "National Treasure" movie, in a way, since you have to visit national monuments in order to progress in the story.

Need I say more? Four stars, will definitely watch again.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

Confession: I rented the movie for this:

It turns out, though, that this is a really interesting movie, highly deserving of four stars.

Gregory Peck plays a newspaper reporter named Philip Green who moves to New York with his mother and his son in order to take a new job. When his new boss asks him to take on a series of articles about anti-semitism, Green spends days debating whether or not he should take the assignment and wondering how on earth he can approach the subject in a new way that will have an impact on people. He is inspired to keep trying to find an angle by Kathy Lacy (niece of the editor of the paper with whom he is instantly smitten) and by his mom. Ultimately, Green decides to take advantage of his newness to the city and his Jewish-sounding last name and to start telling everyone that he is Jewish so that he can write about anti-semitism first-hand.

Green's first taste of anti-semitism comes very quickly after he adopts his new identity. When he tells Kathy that he is going to tell everyone he's Jewish, her face sinks, and she says something along the lines of, "But you're not really, are you?" She spends a lot of the movie wanting to tell people that Green is just pretending, so that no one really gets the wrong idea.

Green encounters everything from discrimination at work to being denied a hotel room. The movie really targeted the more subtle forms of bigotry as well, though. There was a lot about the role of the bystander in helping anti-semitism along. Green wants Kathy to help a Jewish friend of his (played by John Garfield) get a home in Darien, CT, where Kathy's sister lives, but Kathy refuses, not wanting to upset the community. It's just the way things are, she keeps telling Green. We know there's nothing wrong with being Jewish, but your friend would not be treated well there. At one point, Green's son gets called names for being Jewish. When Kathy tries to comfort him by telling him, "But it isn't true, you're no more Jewish than I am," Green becomes furious with her. He tries to explain to her that the name calling is what is wrong and what she should be fighting against. He tells her that by comforting his son in the way that she did, she confirms that there is something bad about being Jewish.

My friend Yvonne and I, while happy with Kathy's eventual realization that she needed to take an active role against bigotry, wished that Green would end up with the smart and passionate fashion editor at the paper, played by Celeste Holm. Celeste Holm, by the way, won an oscar for her role in this movie:

A sad note is that in later years, many of the people involved with this film were eventually called before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

A more frivolous note is that I accidentally ended up with this movie on Purim. I found watching a movie about anti-semitism to be the most fitting way I've found so far to celebrate Purim (in addition to eating hamantashen). My opinions on the book of Esther belong in a different blog.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Dark Victory (1939)

Starring Bette Davis as a rich playgirl who is diagnosed with a fatal disease that will steal her sight and then her life. She is so interesting to watch - as a self-absorbed, proud, spoiled young woman,

as a brave patient, as a grateful survivor enjoying life,

a spiteful woman, wronged by love and betrayed by her best friend,

as a doomed woman living recklessly without regard for her safety or her reputation,

and as a woman resigned to her fate, determined to live out what is left of her life in dignity.

It's like a full palette of human emotion, and she does it so well!

And yes, there is a Dr. McDreamy, too, and he doesn't have a wife.

Four stars, would watch again now - and yes, I'm becoming a total Bette Davis fan!

Shadow of Doubt (1943)

I always think that I won't like Hitchcock, because Hitchcock does suspense so well, and suspense makes me crazy and anxious. But, I did love this movie.

Small town girl wishes for some excitement, prays for it, gets it, in the form of big-city uncle, begins to suspect uncle of murder, plot twists, suspenseful conclusion.

It's got a smart, spunky young woman, a normal family (note, they play bridge!) a white-picket-fence town and a cute FBI agent for the spunky young woman to meet.

Three stars, will watch again (but not as much as a movie without all the suspense!).

Thirteen Ghosts (1960)

Buck Zorba: Elaine?
Elaine Zacharides: Yes Buck?
Buck Zorba: You really are a witch, aren't you?
Elaine Zacharides: Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies.

This was a very slow horror movie. Not very scary, but pretty funny, if you like old-fashioned special effects. It's in black and white, despite the cover here. It's got an odd, precocious young boy, ghosts, and an evil boyfriend.

What more do you need to know?

Plot synopsis? Poor boy with starving family makes a wish for a house, gets haunted house complete with creepy servants, including a presumptive witch; boy is unafraid of ghosts, but believes. Family is disbelieving, but increasingly suspicious of odd events. Plot twists, happy ending.

Two stars - for the boy and the special effects - might watch again if we have a night of ghosts with this and The Canterville Ghost.

Wizard of Oz (1939)

Of course I've seen the Wizard of Oz before - who hasn't? When we were kids they would broadcast it once a year and my mother would make me take a nap so that I could stay up to watch it. And just as obviously, it gets four stars. Duh.

Let's quickly run through why it rocks: musical, pioneering special effects, black-and-white turns to color gimmick (never fails to amuse me), costumes, costumes, costumes - just the munchkin costumes ALONE are worth watching the whole movie - small dog, camp factor of 10 to the tenth power, and the genuinely beautiful song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow - which incidentally is very easy to play on the piano, but very hard to sing. Oh, and the Wicked Witch - she is AWESOME and STILL scary. In fact, the actress who played her was reluctant to reprise the role because she felt it was too scary. Also it has a chant - Lions and Tigers and Bears OH MY! That you will find yourself using now and then, it's very effective. Much better than whistling,I've found, when you're walking through the woods on a dark night.

But now that I've also been enlightened by Angela Lansbury in the Wizard of Oz documentary I also know the following fun facts:

1. There were a total of three - or was it four? - directors who worked on it, including one of my favorites, George Cukor, who was responsible for several key changes to Dorothy's appearance also Victor Fleming, King Vidor, and Richard Thorpe. Yes, four.

2. Shirley Temple was considered for the part of Dorothy. It's easy to see how that would have been disgustingly cute...makes you appreciate the pathos that Judy Garland brings to the movie. It's almost as though she foresaw her own tragic death from an early age while Shirley Temple knew early on that she was going to wind up as a diplomat outliving everyone she ever starred with.

3. The original Tin Man was poisoned by his aluminum dust make-up and had to give up his role. The WORST part of this is that he had been forced to trade roles with the scarecrow. That scarecrow was damn lucky.

4. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch, was a single mother. I liked that a lot, makes her seem determined and somewhat victorious, in a way - she was going to be a character actor, and she created the ultimate character. Also, she caught on fire while filming!

It seems like a giant undertaking that must have been hell to work on. Also MGM was determined to outsell Disney's Snow White. I can just imagine the lecture they gave the munchkins about beating the dwarves at their own cute game.

I recommend the documentary (The Wonderful World of Oz: 50 Years of Movie Magic - 1990) because trying to find all the same facts to fact-check it seems like there is a lot of misinformation out there.

Go see it, and then, watch the Wizard of Oz again, I know I will.

Tunnel of Love (1958)

A cartoonist and his wife adopt a baby that looks a little too much like the cartoonist.
That's how Tivo described this movie.

It's a little James Thurber-esque with the man imagining himself into trouble.

Doris Day movies are never my favorite, and this one, based on a misunderstanding which the audience can easily comprehend but which takes the characters and hour and a half to figure out.

The premise is that as a couple is trying to adopt a baby they are also fighting. The social worker from the adoption agency asks the would-be father to go with her into town, he does, thinking this is a date and he is cheating. He gets so nervous he gets drunk and passes out, forgetting everything that happened and waking up in a strange hotel.

Later the same unprofessional social worker asks to borrow some money for him, saying she is expecting a baby and needs to go away. He jumps to conclusions, and when he and his wife are suddenly at the top of the list for adopting he develops a paranoid fear that the child is his own illegitimate offspring.

The only entertaining thing about the movie is the couple next door: philandering husband, enduring and fertile wife, they pop out child after child as the poor childless couple watch. No wonder they go crazy.

Anyhow, all's well that ends after 90 excruciating minutes of watching him writhing in fits of anxiety, but I'll never watch this again.

One star.

Torch Song (1953)

I don't know how to sugar-coat this: this one is pretty awful.
Musical. But Joan Crawford does not sing. Every single musical number is awful - especially the one where she plays in - I guess you would call it "brown face"? She's impersonating a Cuban, I think.

It's the supposedly touching story of an arrogant star whose heart is conquered by a blind piano player.

It's maudlin, there are a lot of long speeches - including an interesting one in which the blind piano player explains to a fellow jazz musician that he can never love her because he met her after he became blind and therefore can't picture her face...interesting but, at the end of the day, I really couldn't see why he would want the impossible harpy whose face he can picture as opposed to a really nice girl who he can't see.

If you must watch, I advise you to fast-forward all musical numbers.

One star, for her costumes. Will not watch again.

PS - remind you of anything? Like "The Miracle Woman"? That movie is better.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Captain Blood (1935)

Two stars, and I might never be able to see it again. I'm glad I saw it, though! Despite the fact that it took an hour and five minutes to get to any of the piracy, I have been wanting to see an old pirate movie, and this was definitely an old pirate movie. And really, Errol Flynn is very good at delivering lines.

Here is a semblance of the plot, told in superlatives:

Best Term of Endearment: "My vinegary virgin..." E. Flynn to his landlady(?) at the beginning of the movie before he sees his last patient as a free man

Best Wig: The judge with the Captain Hook wig who tries Flynn as a traitor for having treated a rebel

Best Natural Hair: Errol Flynn after having been locked up for three months waiting for his treason trial (at which he gives a rousing speech)

Best Rudy Giuliani Impersonator: the judge with the C. Hook wig... Maybe it's the pissy looks he's giving Flynn, but really, it's Giuliani!

Strangest Meet Cute: when Olivia deHavilland buys Flynn at the auction block (he has been sent as a slave to Port Royal rather than killed as a traitor)... Flynn is not at all pleased and gives more rousing speeches about dignity and freedom.

Best Cackle: O. deHavilland when she thinks about how mad Flynn will be when she gives him more assistance... see next superlative

Best Patient: "Why don't you bleed me again!" E. Flynn gets to become the governor of Port Royal's personal doctor, because he is so good at treating gout. And the governor is just so cheerful about the help he receives.

Best Aside: "This is what I call a timely interference...though what will come of it the devil himself only knows." Flynn in the stockade... he has been locked up on the night of his planned escape from the island. Luckily for him, Spanish pirates attack, he gets free, and he and his slave friends get to steal the Spanish pirate ship.

Best Monty Python Moment: Flynn and his buddies jump some Spanish pirates.

Best Caption: "And thus Captain Blood began his career of piracy with a ship, a handful of men, and a brain..." enough said

Best Muttering: "Blood...Blood..." Flynn is just such a great pirate that he pisses off the King of England.

Best Accent: Basil Rathbone has a lovely French accent as the French pirate who forms an alliance with Flynn

Prettiest Smiles: Flynn and Rathbone duel after Rathbone has captured deHavilland and plans to keep her... They seem so happy to get to use their swords.

Most Dramatic Death: Rathbone... The ocean water washes over him, he tries not to blink his eyes...

Best Bible Quote: "Love thy neighbor as thyself, Davidicus..." One of the pirates just loves to quote the Bible. I believe this was during a battle on board the ship.

Best Pining Look: Flynn and deHavilland just can't quite get together. She's rich and snooty! And she once bought him! And he's a pirate who has probably done some awful things!

I'll stop here.