Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Marrying Kind (1952)

Q: What's not to love about Judy Holliday?
A: Nothing!
She's the best part of this picture, I'd say, and she gets to play a lighthearted but not lightheaded blonde. She's not too ambitious for herself, but she believes in things like her husband's crazy invention and radio contests and bright possibilities for her future.

Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray portray a couple who are divorcing. The story of their marriage told in flashbacks is comic and dramatic in turns and probably plays better with a married audience.
The voice over cleverly does not always match the story as the audience can see it so we're lead to understand how both husband and wife are distorting their side of the story as they are telling it to the judge.
It's reminiscent of the Crowd if anyone has seen that silent film - the young couple living the American dream in the city, trying to make ends meet, having a family, eventually encountering hardship.

Through it all there are glimmers of the couple being something a little bit better than they think they can be - enough to make you believe the judge's conclusion that they will not get a divorce after all.
Of course, she's right, they make up and stay together. It IS a romantic comedy after all.
Not a first date movie, though. One to rent to watch with your spouse during a difficult year.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

For Me and My Gal (1942)

I have a new favorite movie, and it is For Me and My Gal. It has a great love story, great dancing and singing, an actual plot that is interesting, and dramatic moments that don't make me cringe. It's black and white and the musical numbers are all performed on the stage so even people who don't like musicals might like this one. Other good points: lots of trains in this movie and it's a movie about show business, which is always awesome.

However, I attribute a lot of the charm to the chemistry between the stars. After seeing Summer Stock I was struck that the chemistry between Garland and Kelly was so good. I was surprised because I had previously thought of Garland usually as very young (you have that impression of her I guess from all those young roles like Dorothy and the Andy Hardy movies). Kelly is always so mature - even when he plays a young man he's so slick - even when he plays awkward it's smooth - so I was sort of surprised that they were playing opposite each other, but it worked.

Then I had to watch the Pirate - not much chance for chemistry there - but when they did have a quiet moment, it seemed like they were trying to be sincere. Most of the time they weren't playing it serious, though, it was pure comic over-the-top nonsense.

But this movie is - - perfect. It's Gene Kelly's film debut, and he's amazing. Judy Garland got him the role after she saw him perform on Broadway so there is some of the reason for their warmth for each other. They had some respect for each other before they even started working on the film.

I read a post on IMDB that described Garland as "fragile" and Kelly as "muscular" but I disagree - Garland is anything but fragile, she seems like she could survive anything, and HAS survived everything. When she talks to her kid brother and talks him out of quitting medical school you get the feeling that they might have been through a lot more together than they say. But she is vulnerable, and that plays so well on screen where movie stars seem so perfect. That was always her genius - ever since "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" she can make us feel that something is missing for her and we want it, too. She can wring the emotion out of any song, which is what makes her so great.

Kelly on the other hand is all slickness and polish with moments of softness thrown in a classic lover-not-a-fighter - when his smooth character reveals a moment of weakness you are touched because he's usually so brash and confident.

It's a great combination, and they are well cast for the roles in this film.

It's really kind of epic following them through a decade or so as they meet, join forces as a vaudeville act, face the war together, split up and eventually reunite.

There are great dancing scenes, some cute vaudeville acts, and I can't even recall a particularly offensive one among them - unless you count the one that acts out a man purchasing a woman-doll and taking her home. But on a scale of one to blackface musical number in White Christmas, it's a one.

Four stars - for great music - all classic American songs from the vaudeville era - great performances in the dramatic roles by all the actors - great costumes - only some of the stage ones are embarrassing, most of the others are great and some I really really want to own - and a great romantic story. Will watch again right away.

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Bette Davis:
and Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth:
No, she was not ancient and at the end of her career when she filmed this movie. She is just wearing scary make-up so that we can tell that her character is much much older than Lord Essex, her not-so-secret lover, with whom she battles throughout the movie. Unfortunately, I found Bette Davis's make-up to be so distracting that I spent a lot of the movie pondering what the real Elizabeth looked like and speaking to the television to tell Elizabeth things like, "Sweetheart, if you just did your make-up like Olivia deHavilland, you wouldn't have to worry about Essex thinking you're old."

One of the DVD features taught me that Bette Davis and Errol Flynn did NOT get along during the filming of this movie. That made perfect sense to me, since my next most frequent comments, after those having to do with the make-up, had to do with the lack of chemistry between Elizabeth and Essex (Flynn), who are supposed to be madly in love. Of course the DVD feature then went on to say that they had great chemistry on screen. I don't agree, and the lack of chemistry made it really hard for me to enjoy this movie, despite loving the actors and having been really excited to see it. Alas.

This movie did spawn an exciting series of Wikipedia searches. Having read The Other Boleyn Girl earlier this year, I wanted to know exactly where all of the action in the movie fit in with the "history" I knew from the book. Much more interesting than remembering exactly how many monarchs came between Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth, however, was learning that there was an Ethelwulf, an Ethelbald, and even an... Ethelred the Unready, my personal favorite. One could really get lost in Wikipedia. Look here for the fascinating list of English monarchs:

One star for Bette Davis, because she is just a great actress, no matter the role. One more star for Olivia deHavilland. And an honorable mention for the amazingly creative and bizarre mechanical staircase leading into Elizabeth's throne room in the tower, through which Essex is led for his last meeting with Elizabeth before his execution. Barbara says, "I don't remember that from the tour." I really don't think I could watch this movie again.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Pirate (1948)

Where to begin?
Judy Garland is Manuela -- a romantic young girl in a strange hat. She has imbibed the legends of a pirate named Macoco and has decided that she would do anything for him if he abducted her, as she dreams he will someday do. Meanwhile she is engaged to fat, boring mayor Don Pedro.

Gene Kelly is Serafin -- a strolling player - a.k.a. actor - who wanders into town and falls in love with Manuela. Not surprisingly, he decides to pretend to be Macoco to seduce her.

Come to think of it - this has a plot not unlike an opera. It's unlikely, silly, and melodramatic and allows for a lot of big dramatic dance scenes and songs.

Cole Porter wrote the music so it's a little surprising that none of the numbers are very memorable, even with Judy Garland singing and Gene Kelly dancing. Well I take that back - the obtuse dance number with J.G. as a donkey and G.K. as a pirate in tight black shorts is memorable - if not in a good way. He cuts her ears off with a sword. It is no less bizarre than the dance in the middle of Singing in the Rain or Oklahoma. And therefore, just as memorable.

Overheard passing between us as we watched:

Jess:“Oh, do you think there will be a long, boring dance sequence?”

Amy: (about JG's plaid basket hat) “I nominate this for worst costume ever. If she put fruit on her head it would match better.”

Jess: “Sorry, I just can’t help laughing whenever I see their clothes.”
Amy: “I was hoping she would have changed.”

Jess: (about Gene Kelly's first outfit) “Amy Amy! Look at Gene Kelly! Look at Gene Kelly! Look at Gene Kelly! Look at Gene Kelly!”

Jess: “Wait, can you go back… I think he just sang, ‘When I arrive in any town, I look the ladies up and down,’ but I’m not sure.”
Amy: "That's what he said."

Jess: “Again with the wrapping paper hats."
Amy: "I’m liking this one, though.”

Jess: “Look at the poles, do you think there will be a stripper dance?
Amy: "I think Gene Kelly is going to dance with the poles. Yep, there he goes, Gene Kelly’s version of a stripper dance.”

Jess: “I do NOT like his hat.”
Amy: “I’m anticipating that his costume will become better when he becomes a pirate.”

Amy: (After commenting that JG's character has a lot in common with Kiera Knightly's haracter in "Pirates of the Caribbean.") “I wonder if they watched this before they wrote that script. I mean, not that that’s a hard plot to come up with.”

Amy: “Why has she got her hair in a sock?”

Amy: “I really like this outfit. It makes up for all the other outfits.”
Amy: “I want her skirt.”
Amy: “Ok, you have to admit, though, the outfit is awesome.”

About the wedding dress:
Jess: “Oh, oh.” (with extreme displeasure)
Amy: “I love it.”

Jess: “How long is this movie?”

Jess: “Here it is! Here’s the obtuse dance sequence… and he’s wearing the best shorts ever.”
Amy: “He has nice legs, though. We never see his legs.”

Jess: "How do you make it show how much time we have left?"
Jess:"Ok, it's almost over."

Jessica gives it one star because she can't give it zero and she "really thought it was a dreadful dreadful movie, anything that was entertaining about it was not intended."

I give it two stars - one half each for Gene Kelly and Judy Garland's charm, without the benefit of a really good part to play. One star for the costumes. There were many charmingly silly costumes that I think were meant to be charmingly silly.

I think it's a movie that must be watched by fans of either big colorful musicals, Judy Garland or Gene Kelly - if only because it is classically bad big Hollywood musical. However, we agree that we will not watch it again.

The Thin Man (1934)

Up until this week, Jess and I had no idea that Myrna Loy was decapitated. As a 16-year-old high school student in Venice, CA, Loy posed for a student-made statue representing the "Spiritual." Her statue was flanked by "Mental" and "Physical." The statue was eventually surrounded by a tall white fence to protect it from graffiti. Most recently it was seen headless, lying in a scrap pile behind the school. Now it is gone and the only way to see it is to watch for a glimpse of it in the movie "Grease," filmed at Venice High. Watch the screen around Danny when he meets back up with his friends after the summer. Sigh.

We went to see a screening of The Thin Man at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood sitting on a picnic blanket with palm trees in the background.

We don't know where to begin with this movie - it represents all the reasons to love classic movies: the costumes are awesome - remarkable without being laughable - all the details and style of another era plus the elegance that we miss these days. Jess wants this dress:

The writing is awesome: witty and quick and dry and calculated to keep the plot moving so that even though the movie is only an hour and a half long, the plot is quite complicated and intriguing.

There are great characters, and plenty of them, and the bit players are every bit as good as the leading actors.

The mystery is great and the clues are dropped in a satisfying way, creating suspense and leaving you lots of room to speculate without giving away the guilty party until the last minute.

Two things that this movie has, though, make it stand out above even other great classic films in its genre: the chemistry between Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) who play a canny, irreverent, affectionate couple who are as likely to elbow each other as they are to embrace and are constantly ribbing each other - and the antics of Asta, their adorable, clever and comical terrier.

Four stars, of course, from each of us. That means eight total. We will both be seeing this movie again.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Invaders from Mars (1953)

Here is a movie that terrified my Dad as a little boy. I wish I had known that before I called him up afterwards and said something along the lines of, "That was one of the funniest movies I've ever seen! What was with the aliens with the zip-up fur?"

At the beginning of the movie, our young hero David sees something land in the hills behind his house. When his dad returns from investigating, it is clear to David that something is wrong. His dad has become grumpy! One by one, adults in the film go up the hill, get sucked into the ground by the aliens that have landed there, and return grumpy, brainwashed, and controlled, ready to do the aliens' bidding. There is also one poor little girl who gets used by the aliens, with a tragic twist. After burning down her own house, her little brain explodes. Apparently when the aliens no longer need you, they pop your brain. David, no longer able to trust his parents, must find new, un-brainwashed adults who believe his story and can help him to fight against the alien invaders, who are of course here to take over the Earth.

One of my favorite moments in the movie was watching the zipped up teletubby-like aliens lumber through underground caves after our heroes. Was I supposed to be worried? Oh, and the head alien...

How could you not love an evil, rubber, many-legged head suspended in a glass globe? Especially if this creature can control its teletubby minions with only the power of its mind?

Sorry Dad, one star, but this movie is definitely worth seeing. And I can definitely make myself see how this could have been a scary movie to a seven-year old in the fifties.

PIllow Talk (1959)

"My pillow and I agree... there must be a boy for me."
And so goes the opening song...

When the movie begins, Jan (Doris Day) and Brad (Rock Hudson) have never met, but they share a party line.  Brad, player that he is, is always on the phone wooing some new girl.  Jan, furious that she never gets to use the phone and horrified by Brad's "sex mania," decides to lodge complaints and chew him out over the phone.  When Brad recognizes Jan's voice in a restaurant, he retaliates by adopting a new name and persona and trying to make her fall in love with him.

Part of the fun of this movie is the use of a split screen for phone calls.  Just as wonderful as the split screen moments are the moments when we get to hear Jan and Brad's thoughts.  "It couldn't be, or could it?"  So dramatic.  Or my favorite dueling thought moment:

in Jan's head: "He definitely respects me... He didn't even try to kiss me."
in Brad's head: "I'd say 5 or 6 dates oughtta do it."

And another great moment in Brad's head: "So that's the other end of your party line."  Hmmm.

Silly and fun.  Fours stars... would definitely watch again.  (And would like to see "Down with Love" again.)