Monday, June 23, 2008

Summer Stock (1950)

None of the songs in this musical are particularly memorable, but the dancing is. Gene Kelly and Judy Garland seem to really be alive when they are dancing and that makes the dancing scenes all the more lively.
There is one long tap-dancing solo by Kelly that's hard to get into if you're not really into tap-dancing, but I'd say that's better than an abstract ballet, any day (no, there is no abstract ballet in this one).

The chemistry between Garland and Kelly might not be sizzling but it seems both real and tender. They enjoy each other and seem to always look for each other in every scene. No-one else really stands out in this film. There are some great comic moments and some great character actors, but Kelly and Garland ARE the movie.

Judy plays the older sister who is determined to hold on to the family farm and make it a success. Her younger sister, meanwhile, is chasing stardom and men in the city. For the summer, JG expects the sister will come home and help out with the farm work - instead she brings an entire theater company to the farm to set up a makeshift theater in the barn.

Hilarity ensues.

Judy Garland is a little plump EXCEPT in this last scene:

But I like her plump and I like that her character is a practical, hard-working, long-suffering older sister.

There is only one offensive musical number, which makes fun of hicks and involves real live howling dogs. Go ahead, imagine it, your imagination would not be as bad as the number itself.

Three stars - will definitely watch again. It would be four stars but it's just a little hard to swallow all the country bumpkin.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Fair Lady (1964)

My problem with this movie has always been that Audrey Hepburn is not believable as a street wretch. She sounds more like she is putting on airs as the street wretch than she does as the fine lady. It's just hard to watch - kind of like the accents in Oklahoma!

I hear that Julie Andrews played the part on Broadway very well, but she didn't get the part in the movie so we'll never know if she would have been better. I'm very fond of JA so I'd like to believe that she would have been better, but, then again, I'm very fond of AH, too, and that doesn't make me like her for this part any more.

Anyhow, I also can't stand the rest of the characters...the whole play just kind of grates on me, only I like some of the music. I could have danced all night, in particular. Actually, maybe that's the only song I like.

Anyhow, one star, I really can't be bothered with this one any more. Will not watch ever again.

The Wild and the Innocent (1959)

This is a pretty corny little movie, yet very watchable. In technicolor or maybe colorized, it's way too bright and yellow-ish.

The gist of the story is this: Yancy, a young man raised by his trapper uncle and the uncle's Native American wife gets his first chance to go to town when his uncle is mauled by a bear. The boy shoots the bear and we learn that he is a great shot. This of course factors in later.

It's one of those pleasant movies when you watch an unaware person encounter dangerous situations but never be overcome by them. Entirely unrealistic - there is a touch of reality in the ending - but it doesn't really interfere with the lovely unreality.

On his way to town, Yancy meets a thief who tries to trade his own daughter to Yancy. Yancy won't take her, but she runs away and convinces him not to send her back to her father. After that she follows him around like a lost puppy. Sandra Dee is an adorable puppy.

Of course when they get to town, they are immediately caught up in the town drama - the saloon keeper, the cooch dancer, the madam, the sheriff - oh wait, the sheriff and the saloon keeper are the same slimy guy.

Anyhow, poor little puppy gets caught up in the evil saloon life and at first Yancy could care less as he chases the cooch dancer. It takes a long time before Yancy learns to appreciate that innocence, once lost, can never be regained. Of course by then it is almost too late for him and the poor little puppy.

It's really a very pleasant corny little movie, although I think I would have enjoyed it more if Yancy wasn't quite such a rube. Puppy is almost smarter than him, except that she can't see past her own affection for him to think for herself.

Anyhow it all comes out all right in the end - it's 1959 after all! Three stars - although I really shouldn't give so many stars to something so corny, there is just something charming about the whole thing. Also, I really should take a star away for Sandra Dee's messy hair, which is very carelessly messed and looks too obviously like it is trying to be messy without cutting any hair.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Harvey Girls (1946)

"When Fred Harvey pushed his chain of restaurants
farther and farther west along the lengthening
tracks of the Santa Fe, he brought with him one of
the first civilizing forces this land had known - - - -

These winsome waitresses conquered the west as
surely as the Davy Crocketts and the Kit Carsons
- - - not with powder horn and rifle,
but with a beefsteak and a cup of coffee.

To these unsung pioneers, whose successors today
still carry on in the same tradition, we sincerely ded-
icate this motion picture."

There is some truth in this grandiose introduction to the film. (The real mystery to me is why they have to run a word off the end of a line on a title card? Was kerning not invented yet?)

I really liked this movie, better than Oklahoma. Maybe it's because Judy Garlands character plays a tough girl who dreams bigs, takes risks, stands up to armed men, and can handle disappointment. Unlike simpering Laury from Oklahoma who has half-hour-long dance-number nightmares. I guess that's not fair to Laury, she does have her fiesty moments. I just like Judy Garland's I guess.

Judy plays a girl who answers an ad for a mail-order bride and on the strength of some beautifully-written letters heads west. On the train she meets a bunch of Harvey Girls - waitresses for a new Harvey Restaurant. After a number or two on the train, she arrives with the girls in bumfu- I mean Sand Rock - only to discover that it's no a humble rancher that has written her letters, but a saloon owner. The probably illiterate and goofy-looking rancher comes clean and they call off the wedding, so Judy becomes a Harvey Girl.

There are a couple of great songs, like the "Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" which is very reminiscent of the Trolley song in "Meet Me in St. Louis" (wild singing romp around a train with Judy Garland? I'm in!)

I like the bit characters. There is the ornery old maid cook who I think was a regular on I Love Lucy, too, because she is very familiar.

Angela Lansbury plays a cooch dancer in love with the saloon owner. She does a number "Oh You Kid" in which she is like Mae West only smoother and slicker. It's awesome. She's a buxom blonde. Kim had to be given a fairly good clue before she guessed that this was the star of "Murder She Wrote". (Me: Guess who that is? Kim: I don't know, Merle Oberon? Me: No Kim: I don't know Me: I'll give you a clue, she plays a detective Kim: Murder She Wrote!)

I'm really fond of this movie. Four stars. I only planned to skim through it since I watched it once last year, but I'm happily watching it again.

Oklahoma (1955)

Until you have seen a troupe of tap-dancing men in chaps, you haven't seen anything - no I take that back - until you have seen an interpretive-ballet gunfight, you haven't seen anything.

I knew almost all the songs from Oklahoma, thanks to my best friend and, well, the whole world. But up till today, I'd never seen the movie. My good friends gave me a Rodgers and Hammerstein collection for my birthday, so I figured it was high time I watched it.

At first I thought that this movie seemed so gay because the song "I'm Just A Girl Who Cain't Say No" seems made for a drag queen to sing. Until the next song...which also seemed so camp it was asking to be remade in drag. That's when it dawned on me: I had seen this movie before - or parts of it. One night in a gay bar, between two pieces of fascinating hard-core gay porn, was this even more fascinating mash-up of electronic dance music and the ballet numbers from Oklahoma. And it's instantly recognizable as Oklahoma - cause what other cowboy musical is there?

Initially, we thought the DVD player was broken, because the volume was turned down and it seemed stuck on a title card. But once we turned the volume up it turned out that the first five minutes of the movie is a title card that says "Oklahoma Overture". This is followed by five minutes of credits and a long slow tracking shot through a cornfield. Obviously they wanted to pay homage to the theatrical score. Also, during intermission, there is a title card that says "Oklahoma Entre' Acte" useful if you need to pee and can't find the pause button on your DVD player's remote. Finally at the end is a card reading "Oklahoma Exit Music" so you have a score as you walk off to bed.

If that is not enough to bore you, there are also two or three very long interpretive ballets. In one of them, the two main characters are replaced by dancers who stand in for them as they act out the entire plot. At this point you could
a) opt to watch only the ballet-within-a-play and skip the rest of the movie
b) skip the ballet because you'd like to watch the rest of the movie
c) skip the ballet and the rest of the movie

I would not recommend option a unless you are a fan of pantomime. A BIG fan. The only reason I would recommend b over c is the closing number, Oklahoma! gives me chills. It is just an awesome musical number. One of the best of all time, I'll wager.

Other than that, there are some fun moments, outrageous costumes, the great character Annie - unprecedented as far as I have seen - a stubbornly silly girl who stubbornly stands up for her right to sleep around.

I like the female lead, but the male lead is one of those full-grown men playing a young man that never seems quite right. Also the leads have a habit of singing "graahnd" as if they were brought up in Boston and then singing "I keer" in a bastardization of an Oklahoma accent. It's awkward, if not outright offensive.

I did enjoy the movie, but less than I had expected, based on the music.

Two stars, one for the costumes, one for the title number.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bedtime Story (1941)

Frederic March plays the leading man in this and I think the movie was hurt just a little by that - he's funny - so funny that I didn't really recognize him from The Best Years of Our Lives (that and no mustache) - and he's not particularly handsome or charming, even when he's supposed to be trying to be.

(This is the only picture I could find that MIGHT be from the movie - it's the female lead, but it's probably NOT from the movie...some movies are not popular enough to make fan sites, I guess)

In this movie a husband and wife get divorced and then end up together again in the end, a favorite theme for movies in this era.

I'm giving this movie one star, despite it being so promising. It had several things that really annoyed me.

1) the husband unilaterally changes plans on the woman and expects her to just go along with him, when she doesn't, he still doesn't come around. So it's basically a movie about how he forces her to compromise on what she wants. In the end he convinces her it's what she really wants, too, but it's pretty aggravating.

2) The wife is always catching on to the husband's tricks, but she never gets to play any tricks of her own.

3) you know what he's up to, so you're always waiting for the character you sympathize to get duped. I hate that.

Two stars, I guess, just because it has its comic moments.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Forsaking All Others (1934)

I have a confession to make: I mostly watch classic movies because I am so often disappointed by the lack of new movies that suit my taste. I seem to like a kind of movie that's no longer being made: witty, clever, fashionable, romantic, funny and with a good, believable happy ending. I faithfully trudge to the video store to pick up the latest releases (I'm too cheap to see them in the theater) and I'm constantly disappointed by the "Along Came Polly" and the "Failure to Launch" of this world. I find some small comfort in a movie like "Two Weeks' Notice" or "50 First Dates" which have a passable combination of humor and romance. But where is the wit? The costumes? The happy ending that doesn't seem glued on but results from the intrinsic natures of the characters themselves? I basically live for Jane Austen novels to be made and re-made as movies...and therefore I must go backward, into the archives, for my "new" movies.

That's why, when I discover a movie like "Forsaking All Others" I feel a sense of triumph equal to an archaeologist stumbling on a Mayan temple - I didn't create it - I didn't exactly "discover" it - I mean, it was there all along - but I have unearthed it again - brought it to light - and now I can share it. These are the moments I live for!

In Forsaking all others you have a classic, perfect love triangle. Mary, Jeff and Dill grew up together and for as long as they can remember, Mary has loved Dill and Jeff has loved Mary - only of course Mary doesn't know that Jeff loves her - and Dill seems to love Mary. Of course, Jeff has gone off to Spain to make his fortune so he can propose to Mary (he doesn't seem to be born to the purple like Mary and Dill seem to have been) - and he comes home, unfortunately for him, on Mary and Dill's wedding night.

Poor Jeffy - they all have nicknames - he takes the news of his beloved's impending marriage well and stands by while all kinds of OTHER hijinks mess it up. He patiently rescues Mary from one scrape after another, cheers her up, puts her back together, chides her - you begin to see how he got the nickname "Uncle Jeff" or why people are constantly referring to him as "like her big brother".

But an interesting thing happens - Jeff continually reveals himself to be competent and resourceful, while Dill just seems more and more childish. Eventually I was yelling at the screen "he's an IDIOT" - and then Kim agreed "yeah, you're right, she IS an idiot." I didn't quibble. You just can't see by the end how Mary ever missed the fact that Jeff has all the same cute punchy playfulness that she loves in Dill but without the helplessness and foolishness.

Okay, I can find no photos to represent this to you, but I MUST say a word about the costumes: there are no words to describe the costumes. I was on the phone with my friend Renea when I got home and I started playing the movie on mute while we were talking. "Oh I wish you could see this outfit," I said, "it's like she's wearing a wedding veil around her neck upside down..." and then I gave up...there just are no words for the wackiness that fashion would tolerate in the 1930s. It was like - hey, prohibition is over and the stock market crashed so we have no actual runway fashion - let's see if we can pull THIS off!

I found a photo, though it hardly does it justice:

It's wild and woolly and in some cases gorgeous - this this is this one weird dress that has all kinds of ropey loops on it that Joan Crawford wears under a sparkly Elvira-like wrap while carrying a similarly ropey evening bag - it's so strange but it's totally flattering - I couldn't take my eyes off it - I sort of missed the importance of the scene she played in it, really, until later.

Apart from the fashion, the entire script is just full of exchanges that boggle the mind, like this one:

(a word of explanation - Paula is some kind of slightly older friend who acts as a sort of mother to Mary - I wonder whether she is a step-mother and the father has passed away, but it's not clear)

Mary: All I know about Spain is that they have bull fights and eat red pepper. What else is there to know?
Jeff: Well that's about all.
[Paula rushes in]
Paula: What have you done with him? Let me look at him! That's what happens the minute you get out of my sight, eating all that native food! Did you wear your rubbers? I understand it rains for months at a time in Spain. And all those poisonous insects.
Jeff: Why darling, I lived in Madrid - it's like Paris.
Paula: Really? I understand it's quite savage. Jungles and things.
Mary: Paula's never read Ernest Hemingway.
Jeff: Evidently not.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mary: Say where IS dinner?
Paula: You'll make it yourself tonight, the only nail I've got left on either hand is on my right thumb and I need that to start with when I get back to town.
Mary: Isn't she difficult? You know, cooks get like that when you're too familiar with them.
Jeff: Yes, well, I have something to confess.
Mary: What?
Jeff: I, um, I'm a very fine cook.
Paula: What?
Mary: Wonderful!
Jeff: All I need's a frying pan, a piece of string and some tinfoil.
Shemp: I'd like to be excused from dinner, I don't feel very well tonight.
Mary: Imagine knowing a man who can cook!
Shemp: You should see some of his hem-stitching!

It doesn't all make a whole lot of sense, but it's awesome.

Also, I am really beginning to be sold on Clark Gable, who I never liked. He's so suave, and he just exudes a kind of easiness that's totally charming - plus he does great things with his eyes whenever Joan Crawford is in the room. You really feel he's pining for her, even though all he's doing is joking and chiding her.

This really is almost a humorous, short version of Gone with the Wind, only Mary does the right thing in the end, unlike Scarlett.