Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Big Sleep (1946)

Connie: "You're not very tall, are you?"
Marlowe: "Well, I try to be."

And so it begins... I love this movie. I could watch it over and over just for its great lines. As for the plot: When Detective Marlowe (Bogart) is called in to help a very wealthy man try to solve some of his messed up daughter's (the above Connie's) gambling problems, Marlowe becomes involved with deeper intrigue. And with Connie's sister Vivian (Lauren Bacall). Enter more great dialogue.
This movie has everything a great detective film should have, from a long and winding cast of characters who are never quite what they claim to be to a mysterious and sarcastic leading lady. I'm not sure I can say anything else about it without giving away plot twists!
"You begin to interest me, vaguely."
Four stars.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Inspired by a real-live almost filibuster (Bernie Sanders, December 10, 2010), David and I sat down to watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Jessica: So, what do you like about filibusters?
David: Well, I don't like faux filibusters, where it is used a procedural measure to block a vote without anyone actually having to get up and talk. Now a real filibuster, where one person or a group of people engage in a marathon of talking to draw attention to an issue they see as important, that has some appeal. As the announcer in Mr Smith says, free speech at its finest. That's kind of cool.

Jessica: What do you like about Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?
David: It's the classic David and Goliath story. An everyman against a political machine. And we all know Jimmy Stewart is great at playing the everyman. Also, it appeals to the vision of America as a country of ideas where the pen really is mightier than the sword or the pocket book.

Jessica: Tell us a little about Mr. Smith's cause.
David: Jefferson Smith is the head of the boy rangers, an organization clearly based upon the boy scouts. He would like to build a national boys' camp in his home state to be payed for in nickels and pennies sent in by boys all over the country. Unfortunately for Mr. Smith, the site where he would like to build the boys' camp is also the site of a proposed dam. The construction of this dam has been snuck into a bill by Jeff's fellow senator as graft. This of course means that Jeff starts asking inconvenient questions.

Jessica: What is your favorite part of Mr. Smith's filibuster?
David: When the page brings him a note from Saunders (Jean Arthur). I'm a sap. Just wait for it.

May we watch many more political movies together.
David: I suggest The American President, although it's not a classic by the terms of this blog.

Four stars... would watch again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monkey Business (1952)

Despite what the box might make you think, this movie is not about Marilyn Monroe's character at all. This is a movie about Barnaby (Cary Grant), who thinks he has created some magical formula that makes you act and feel much younger than you are, and his wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers). Marilyn Monroe plays a secretary at the chemical lab where Barnaby works, and she goes along with him on his day of feeling 20. They roller skate, go to the pool, crash a car... But Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers are the fun parts of this not-so-wonderful movie.
If I could ignore the fact that the plot is touched off by a chimpanzee getting loose, accidentally creating a brilliant chemical formula, and then dumping the formula in the water cooler so it can begin to confuse and alter everyone, I could concentrate on the fact that I would like to see more of Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. "Tell me, is anyone giving a party tonight we can stay home from?" Grant and Rogers have some good lines together. And she dances, and he even does a cartwheel. And he sings. Just leave out the chimps, and put them in a different movie together. Two stars, because this movie was so much better than Thank Your Lucky Stars, which I also just wrote about, but I am ready to search out other Grant/Rogers films.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)

Browsing in the library and picking up an un-heard of movie... is it a good idea? Not really.
This movie has a lot of big names... most of them play themselves. Despite the fact that the synopsis on the box claimed there was a plot, it took a good 20 minutes before I believed there was one, because I just kept hearing the stars' names in the movie. And nothing was happening. Eddie Cantor (himself) hosts a radio variety show. Edward Everett Horton (not himself) and friend hear Dinah Shore (herself) sing on the show and decide that they must have her for their upcoming star-studded production. Sadly for them, Dinah comes along with allowing Cantor to be on the board, and Cantor has really annoying ideas.

Most of the plot comes from a wanna-be singer who ends up with a contract to sing on Cantor's show, without Cantor's permission. Excited wanna-be singer meets an annoying wanna-be songwriter woman, and the two of them, along with a "homes of the stars" tour guide, stalk Cantor as he throws them out of his sets multiple times. The tour guide, by the way, is played by Eddie Cantor. Much of this might have been at least a little funnier had the name Eddie Cantor meant anything to me before this movie. There is some hilarity (insane asylum, elephant...), but mostly there is just a really boring movie with some awful dialogue and musical acts.

Low points: Bette Davis's (as herself) number in the musical production and Olivia deHavilland's (as herself) number

High point: Errol Flynn's (as himself) musical number... "Oh that voice is so divine... I'm sorry it isn't mine"

Was this movie fun for the people in it? Was it entertaining when it came out? One star, and I really don't want to see this again.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Top Hat (1935)

Ahhhh. This is a four star movie and near perfect Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Zany and fun plot, great lines, lovely (and insane) dresses, and fancy footwork. The only reason I call it "near perfect" and not "perfect" is that Astaire and Rogers kept their feet mostly on the ground in this movie. No unusual dancing up and over furniture or on walls to make it extra exciting. But I can't always expect dancing on walls.

The movie opens beautifully with Jerry Travers (Astaire) trying to silently fold his paper in a "silent" club while waiting for Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton), the producer of a show in which he's about to star. Horace sets Jerry up staying with him in his hotel and then tells Jerry that he wants Jerry to fly to Italy with him after the show to meet up with his wife Madge (Helen Broderick) and some girl Madge wants to fix Jerry up with. Jerry doesn't really want to go.
Jerry: "Is she expecting me for a weekend or a wedding?"
Horace: "You know how wives are..."
Jerry: "No I don't. How are they?"
Horace: "...always have a scheme... It's time you found out for yourself."

Jerry especially doesn't want to go anywhere after he meets the beautiful Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers), another hotel guest. Jerry meets Dale when he tap dances in the room above her while she's trying to sleep, and she has to come upstairs and give him a piece of her mind. Jerry tells Dale that she can help cure him of the dancing with a good hug, to which she replies, "Well I'll call the house detective and tell him to put his arms around you." I'm choosing to think of the whole thing as a meet cute... Jerry woos Dale with flowers and then by paying off a hansom cab driver to give him the cab so that Jerry can drive Dale to the stables the next day. Dale discovers Jerry is her driver only when he starts to tap dance above her.
Dale starts to fall for Jerry at the stables when he dances with her in the rain.
Jerry: "May I rescue you?"
Dale: "...I prefer being in distress."
The thunder drives Dale to seek out Jerry for comfort in the gazebo in which they are both waiting out the storm, and pretty soon they are dancing and in love.

Happiness leads to mistaken identity and anger, though, when it turns out that Dale is Madge's friend. And Dale, never having met Madge's husband, thinks that Jerry is really Horace. She is suddenly horrified by his advances, slaps him, and gives him the motivation he needs to fly off to Italy to continue to woo her. He has no idea what he did to make her so mad.

The rest of the movie is all about mistaken identity and is, in my opinion, hilarious. It also seems to have pretty much the same cast as my other favorite mistaken identity movie, The Gay Divorcee, also a must-see.
Dale tells Madge that Madge's husband is chasing her:
"Really, I didn't know he was capable of that much activity... Did he catch you?"
Jerry wants to propose to the still confused Dale:
"Alright, you go find all about her past, and I'll go find out about her future."
Jerry and Dale dance with a crazy dress Dale is being payed to model:
And Dale receives nutty advice from Madge about how to protect herself from further advances:
"Here or there, as long as you remain a spinster you're fair game for any philandering male... You know um, what you really should have is a husband you can call your own."

Ahhh, what a movie. I will definitely see this again someday.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)

What an annoying movie. My quest to find an old an un-insane Bette David movie led me to this accidental find while browsing in the library. Sometimes there is a reason for not having heard of a movie.

Joan Winfield (Bette Davis) is an heiress about to elope with a band leader she has only known for a few weeks. Her oil rich father does not approve. When Joan and her fiance hire a pilot to fly them to Vegas for a quick wedding, hilarity ensues. Pilot Steve Collins (James Cagney) has just lost his plane to creditors. What to do? Call up Joan's dad of course and offer to fly her to her dad rather than to Vegas. Collins charges $10 per pound, just the right amount to pay his creditors. Joan's father thinks this sounds good because, "She won't weigh so much after an all night trip."

Joan doesn't much appreciate having her fiance tricked out of the plane and then being kidnapped. Her early attempt to jump out of the plane backfires, though, when Steve loses control of the plane trying to stop her and they crash land in the desert. There is a running gag in which Joan and Steve take turns falling on cacti throughout the movie. The cacti get their own dopey music, and Joan, while she still hates Steve, gets to lie across his lap while he picks prickers out of her butt. All while going through his picnic basket of fattening food... Steve is still hoping to get more money upon delivering her.
The dopey cacti music was just one sign that this was a dopey movie. Joan and Steve spend some time with an old hermit living in a ghost town, they cave in an old mine, there is a joke about marriage: "One of you's gettin' married, the other's going to jail. So you really got a lot in common," and eventually the characters don't couple up as originally planned. A slapstick comedy that caused more groaning and cringing than laughing. One star, and I don't really want to see this again. Still in search of entertaining early Bette Davis movies...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (1933)

It is a good thing that the 1933 "live action" movie of Alice in Wonderland opens with paired photographs of the characters and the actors who play them. With all of those masks, how would we ever find Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, and the others?

This is a movie to watch. If you love Alice in Wonderland, watch it. If you are entertained by your favorite actors doing unusual things, watch it. I fall into both categories, and I will admit to watching it mostly for Cary Grant. I am still a far way off from my goal of seeing all of his films.

In this adaptation, Alice takes a nap on a snowy day and wakes up to climb through a looking glass into Looking Glass Land, where we get to see so much perfect Alice:

*Alice is declared to be a volcano when she picks up some chess pieces to move them in an attempt to be helpful.
*"Goodbye dear feet."
*A terrific conversation with Caterpillar, Ed Sparks
*Edward Everett Horton (who I am coming to know as one of my favorite character actors) as the Mad Hatter:
*And Gary Cooper as a charming White Knight, possibly my favorite character (and Alice's) in this adaptation

*And the reason for my watching this movie: "Or shall the mock turtle sing?"
Oh, please!

Four stars for a great story (of course), fun costumes, and actors who seem to be enjoying themselves in their silly costumes. I hope to see this again.

On a side note, I've been thinking a lot about Cary Grant singing. His characters sometimes sing in the shower (Mr. Blandings, Charade, North by Northwest)... now he sings a very silly song as the Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland. Aside from Kiss and Make Up, is his singing always meant to be comedic? Then I found this while searching for Alice photos:
Cary Grant sings FCC Regulations ("Dinosaur Gardens" blog, 2006) Oh, fun!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Great Escape (1963)

Four stars, and I would definitely see this again, even though I don't usually like war movies. I had two reasons for wanting to see The Great Escape: a long-time love of Nick Park's Chicken Run and a recent viewing of The Adventures of Pete and Pete episode "Grounded for Life" (season 2, episode 1). Both drew inspiration from The Great Escape, and I wanted to see it for myself.

The Great Escape is just a really clever movie. It is also almost three hours long, so here are some highlights...

*The Germans have built a brilliant new camp from which they think no captured officers can escape ("we have in effect put all our eggs in one basket"). First day open: 7 unsuccessful attempts, including men under branches in trucks and men trying to join a Russian work line. Hilts (Steve McQueen) tests weaknesses in the guards' line of sight with a baseball, earning him 20 days in semi-isolation.

*Clever ways of working on three tunnels while remaining unnoticed... carrying pouches of dirt in your pant legs to dump in the garden (see also Pete and Pete)... hammering during a singing of the Christmas carol "Oh come all ye faithful..."

*And, oh, the tunnel and the characters...
Recommended viewing order:
1) The Great Escape
2) Chicken Run
3) Pete and Pete's "Grounded for Life"

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

This movie has all the right ingredients for a fun comedy... Judy Holliday, silly plot twists... But the songs almost kill it. I guess when you put Dean Martin in a movie, you have to make him sing something. The songs are ridiculous and often painful, though. They are vehicles for predictable and sometimes nauseating rhymes. So three stars for Judy Holliday and some funny ideas... subtract one star for dreadful songs... Two stars. I might be willing to watch it again.

Ella (Judy Holliday) works for an answering service called "Susanswerphone." She is very good at taking people's messages and making wake-up calls. What she is not good at is dating. Susan keeps setting her up with nice men, and the dates all end up being disastrous - everything short of setting herself on fire. Ella just finds herself unable to talk to men in person. "You know, you're a good listener. That's an art in itself... helps to build the other person's ego," says her clueless date at the beginning of this film. Ella suffers through the date, of course managing to catch her dress on fire on the way out of the restaurant. Ella shines on the phone, though. She manages to get involved in all of her clients' life stories. She even falls in love with one and has to put on lipstick before she calls him. Sadly, though, she speaks to him in an old lady voice, and he calls her Mom. Leading us to the first dreadful song:

*I'm in love with "Plaza 0 double 4 double 3" She muses about whether he's 6'4" or 4'3". Oh, she even sings part of the song to a canary.

*And then the client, Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin) sings to himself in the mirror: "You gotta do it" Seems he's a struggling playwright.

The plot picks back up again when the ladies of Susanswerphone are accused of being a front for a "lonely hearts club." There must be no meeting up with any male clients or "you and the madam are going to be taking calls at the detention home."
It turns out there is something nefarious going on at Susanswerphone, though. A bookie charms Sue into letting him run what she thinks is a record company out of the office. Really, he has developed a code in which different bets are called different composers, pieces, etc. This leads us to the next scary song:

"It's a simple little system," a partially spoken word song in which many sketchy bookies sing about their tricky code.

Jeffrey Moss leaves his phone unplugged one day, missing his wake-up call, and we get to watch Ella crawl around on his floor after she breaks in to wake her up. He wakes up, doesn't know she's "Mom," and a romance begins. How does she know so much about him? "I'm very intuitive." What will come of her having met up with a male client?

*"So that's what he looks like..." Sadly, the comic scene above includes this dreadful song before Jeffrey wakes up.

Ella teaches Jeffrey that you can say hello to strangers on the street. He is so in love after this ("If I couldn't believe in you after everything that's happened to me today, I'd crumble away like an old sponge cake."), that he just has to sing...

*"I got a girl," which includes the lyric, "she's got a lot to recommend her for a girl."

Then we have a song-writing dentist, the "cha cha cha," a dance in the park, a very bizarre song about dropping names, and another scary number called "He's in love with Melisande Scott."

Judy Holliday rescues the movie again near the end, though, with some great physical comedy. I'm upping my verdict to "would definitely watch again," but I will be laughing at, not always with.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

A Hitchcock slapstick comedy... fascinating. Hitchcock's only comedy... I can kind of see why. Having said that, the movie wasn't un-funny, it just didn't live up to my slapstick expectations. It kept falling short. Carole Lombard is fantastic with slapstick (Nothing Sacred), but there wasn't enough for her to do here.

When we meet Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery) they are holed up in their bedroom. One of the rules of their marriage is, "You are not allowed to leave the bedroom after a quarrel unless you've made up," and they had a fight two days ago. While the help watches for them to emerge and Mr. Smith's law firm panics over his absence, Mr. and Mrs. Smith finally reconcile, agreeing that their rules for marriage have once again helped them to trust and love each other. Before Mr. Smith leaves for work, though, Mrs. Smith reminds them of their "no lying" rule, and asks Mr. Smith to honestly tell her whether he would marry her all over again. Mr. Smith very naively answers that although he loves her, if he had it to do all over again, he would hold onto the single life. Oops.

Upon arriving at work, Mr. Smith is then visited by a lawyer come to tell him that, guess what, his marriage license isn't valid. It turns out all people who got married in 1937 in Nevada with an Idaho license are not really married and that "it'd be better if everybody kind of got married be on the safe side." Oops again. Mr. Smith is kind of excited about the idea of dating his wife again and doesn't seem to plan to tell her right away. The lawyer happens to be a family friend of his wife, though, and stops by to see her next. Mrs. Smith's mother is horrified, demanding that her daughter not spend another night with her husband until things are righted. Mrs. Smith is convinced that, despite the morning conversation, of course her "husband" will whisk her off to City Hall that very night after dinner. Otherwise: scandal.
But, the dinner doesn't live up to expectations, and there is no proposal. Instead, Mr. Smith tries to lure his "wife" into the bedroom. Horror! Mrs. Smith tells him what she knows and accuses him of having tried to use her "and then throw me away like a squeezed lemon." Mr. Smith is banished to a room at the men's club, and Mrs. Smith decides that maybe she would like to date other men. Mr. Smith spends the rest of the movie trying to win his wife back. At one point he even tells her, "From now on we're just friends." Her response:"Not necessary."

The favorite scene for both me and David involved Mr. Smith pretending to be deep in conversation with a pretty lady seated near him in a restaurant. Not only is his wife not jealous, but the pretty lady eventually turns around and notices the creep pretending to whisper in her ear. The scene below was pretty funny, too:
So all in all, only two stars, but I would probably watch this again, and I think all Hitchcock fans should be aware of his venture into slapstick.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Swing Time (1936)

To cuff or not to cuff? Another silly, but fun, film. I found it was best not to think too much about the plot.

Lucky (Fred Astaire) is about to get married, but his band members are concerned marriage will get in the way of the band's future. The film opens with Lucky's band members very skillfully tricking him out of getting to his wedding on time just by drawing cuffs onto the pant legs of a man in a magazine and telling Lucky that cuffed pants are in. Lucky has to go off and get his pants cuffed (minutes before the wedding, we are led to believe), discovers his pants are un-cuffable, and misses his wedding. He is then told that he has to raise a whole lot of money before he can be allowed to try to marry his spurned fiance again. So Lucky goes off to New York with the band to play and gamble, and he meets Penny (Ginger Rogers).

Penny is a dance instructor and wants nothing to do with Lucky after he annoys her on the street. Lucky pretends to need dance lessons, though, messes with her for a while, and then before you know it, they are an amazing team.
Lucky starts to think that maybe he doesn't want to raise all that money to marry his old fiance. I appreciated that Astaire and Rogers sang and danced to "A Fine Romance," a song that I love, during a snowy getaway together. Not the most exciting dance ever, but fun. And they got to wear fantastic hats.
Then suddenly, over an hour into the film, blackface? Why? Apparently the scene is some loved tribute to Mr. Bojangles, and we're supposed to be really excited that Astaire can dance with shadow selves. Hmmm... It's just always a bit hard to forgive these moments. I know the film is old, but people still could have had more sense.

Fun film, but two stars. Not my favorite Astaire and Rogers plot.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Follow the Fleet (1936)

Oh, I hope I never run out of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movies. In this movie they play Bake and Sherry. Bake is in the Navy, Sherry is a dancer who once rejected Bake's marriage proposal. When Bake comes into town on shore leave, he runs into Sherry, and they both rethink their separation. Bake messes up Sherry's very important audition, though, and all bets are off. How do you say sorry? Give someone a monkey and screw with their next big audition, not necessarily in that order.
There was also a bizarre side-story involving Bake's friend Bilge, played by Randolph Scott. After having one great date with Sherry's sister Connie, he felt that he was still free to play the field, and she felt that they had made an amazing connection and were getting married. Bilge's thoughts on Connie's thoughts? "She's a swell kid, but she's serious... She's sappy like you [Bake] - she wants to get married." And oddly none of Connie's friends told her that she was being a bit silly fixing up her father's giant boat just for Bilge and waiting for his proposal after just one date. There wasn't even any word from him while he was back at sea, and still she waited. She was told oh, he's just being silly... He'll figure it all out in time. She is told to fight for her man. But she practically imagined him! Nonetheless... do you think she got him in the end?
While watching the movie, my dad was busy looking up information about it. Apparently the dress worn by Ginger Rogers when she and Fred Astaire danced to "Let's Face the Music and Dance" (above) was so heavily weighted that she had to learn how to move while wearing it. And apparently she bonked Fred Astaire in the face. It was weighted so it could then effortlessly do things like this:
...which is of course a very important part of a Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire movie.

Despite my love of the actors, I really want to give this movie one star. But I'm going to give it two stars due to the scene where they navy guys are all practicing for a benefit show on the ship deck, and some of the men have to be "dames." I really don't want to see it again, though. There were entertaining moments, but I think the whole buzz behind this movie is that it has what is considered to be one of Astaire and Rogers's best dance numbers (with the 25 pound dress). But that was not enough for me. I still love them in general, though!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Where the Boys Are (1960)

Four "co-eds" from a fictional university in the midwest head to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break (which is still called spring vacation in 1960).

Apparently a wild spring break time in 1960 meant crowded beaches, public drunkenness, long discussions about sex while fending off the advances of young men, and limbo.
The four girls rent a hotel room and set about finding boys - all except the one who seems to be named Merritt - although that name seems preposterous - who is brainy and wants to study. But of course she ends up meeting someone, it's a silly teen beach movie!
The girls have the cutest outfits, the cutest lines...
MERRITT: Okay, what happened to you?
MELANIE: I've been dining, I've been dancing, I've been drinking! Shh!
MERRITT: (to Tuggle) Put on some coffee, I'll get her things off.
MELANIE: Mair I've been drinking grasshoppers! Mair have you ever tasted a grasshopper?
MERRITT: Not intentionally, no.
MELANIE: No, Mair no, not a grasshopper that hops, Mair, a grasshopper in a glass that's green!
TUGGLE: You'll be green, too, in the morning.

The upbeat story takes a dark turn towards the end that left me kind of green, myself. I started to give it three stars but I think that having date rape be part of a beach movie - with the message that you'll be ruined for life if you don't stay a virgin till you get a ring - is a little harsh, so I'm deducting a star.

Still, it's an entertaining look at what life might have looked like on the cusp of the sexual revolution when good girls were still supposed to be desperately trying to hold on to old-fashioned values against the turning tide and the evening's entertainment might include a live girl in a fish tank. How's a good girl to compete with a soaking wet dime-store version of Marilyn Munroe?
Two stars - might be persuaded to watch again...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mame (1958)

Few things to note right off the bat:
- this version is not the musical
- this is going in my top ten - or at least my top fifteen

Rosalind Russell plays Mame, the flamboyant single aunt into whose care Patrick Dennis is deposited after his father's death. Mame knows how to redecorate her large New York City home; Mame knows how to throw a party; Mame knows how to dress (the costumes in this one are a real treat), but what does Mame know about raising a child?

It turns out that Mame's frank manner and doting affection more than make up for her lack of experience. In a series of scenes from Patrick's life, we see him pulled between the staunchly conservative influence of the trustee of his father's estate "Uncle Dwight" and the flaming liberal influence of Mame.

It's a fun and funny series of incidents with lots of colorful characters and one very cute kid. I also loved the funky decor which almost functioned as an extra character. There are two long-suffering servant characters - a Chinese butler/valet and an Irish maid who are ridiculously and endearingly loyal. How they resisted making them sillier and more offensive I'll never know, but they aren't bad.

I am very fond of zany Aunt Mame and her antics. Four stars and I definitely plan to watch again.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Wings of Eagles (1957)

I could not finish watching this movie about a Navy pilot played by John Wayne. He's a maverick who likes to take risks and drive his wife crazy. There's a lot of stuff about the need to fund the Navy's airplanes and pilots and the politics surrounding that which I didn't care enough about to follow.

I plan to come back and finish it, but I might not. John Wayne is ALWAYS playing John Wayne and I guess I'm not as interested in how the Navy learned to land planes on boats as I thought I might be.
UPDATE: Well I did go back to this and skipped to the end to see what happens. Seems he ends up a big hero (surprise) and retiring with some impressive war wounds. At least I thought they were war wounds until I skipped around and discovered they were caused by a domestic accident. Also his long suffering wife is LONG-suffering.
I guess bio-pics tend to be like this: long and rambling and not making much sense or necessarily paying off the way you think they will.
One star, not planning to watch again.

1776, the Musical (1972)

A musical comedy about the founding of the country? Sign me up for that! At present moment I am watching the decision to debate independence in congress be decided by Rhode Island after returning from the privy.

Ribald jokes, complaints about the plumbing and the flies - this is probably a pretty realistic portrayal of congress, actually. I know history has to be manipulated a little to allow for the right number of characters and things like rhymes in songs - but is that really much worse than the changes that are made in history books?
I was about to say something about this movie making history interesting to young people but since Kimberly just fell asleep I am going to abandon this line of thought.
Two stars for the movie, three stars for making me think about US history on Forth of July weekend.
Will probably try to watch again with the kids next week.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

I think it's time for me to see a really really old Bette Davis movie. Perhaps one where she's not made up to look like a psychopath or acting the part of a psychopath. Because as good as she is at being a psychopath (and I really think she's one of the best), I think she may have done other work. Or has she?
Anyways, I did have to see this movie. It's well-known, and I hadn't seen it yet. And I did enjoy it. It just makes me wonder what else Bette Davis can do. This film is as creepy as the Baby Jane doll in the above photo. For an even creepier photo, search for color shots of Bette Davis's make-up on the internet. Davis plays an aging child star stuck caring for her crippled former grown-up star sister (Joan Crawford). While Joan Crawford's character is entirely dependent on Baby Jane, she is also more than a little afraid of her and is working hard on a plan to sell the house and move, sending the wacky Baby Jane to a place where she can be cared for.
Unfortunately, Baby Jane is not as dumb as she is insane. When she figures out what her sister is trying to do, she doesn't approve. And people start dying.

Three stars, and I would see it again, mostly to help others experience it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Seconds (1966)

Oh, creepy creepy movie...
"The Company" secretly and selectively offers people the chance to have a new life by placing them in new and younger bodies. One of many problems is the fact that once you are a part of The Company, you can never get out alive. Arthur is brought to The Company by a friend he had thought was dead, only to be drugged and then shown a video of himself raping a girl while drugged. The Company threatens to release the video should Arthur not go through with the process of being "reborn." Having no choice, Arthur is reborn as Tony (Rock Hudson) and sent off to California to live as a young and already established artist. A body is burned in a hotel room, and Arthur is declared officially dead.

Tony meets a girl, frolics in a "stomping on grapes in a barrel" orgy, and generally enjoys his youth, until he starts to realize the being reborn comes with psychological trauma. He makes a mess of things, drunkenly talking about his former life and even contacting his/ "Arthur's" wife. Eventually Tony wants to start over again, but will he be allowed? Evil laughter here.

I don't know. Two stars again. Very interesting idea, but very silly movie all in all. Will not watch again.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Shaggy Dog (1959)

The classic Disney tale of a boy changing into a sheepdog and back again at all the wrong times. Boys' dad has always hated dogs, boy wants to get the girl and tries to go to a dance, boy's brother enjoys having a secret new pet, boy would like to know how to break the spell, boy discovers shady plot while in dog form... Hilarity ensues...
Boy feels that when living as a dog, it is still important to continue with normal human hygiene...
Well... maybe because I did not watch this movie more than once as a kid, and I may have been a pretty old kid when that once came around, I'm not feeling very generous with stars. Perhaps two stars, because the special effects must have been exciting to create. I probably won't see this again unless I'm in the presence of little kids who are begging to see it.

Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964)

Frank Sinatra, singing mobsters, Robin hood references... a perfect movie for me, or so I thought. I just can't give this movie more than one star, and I'm not sure I could ever sit through it again. I could definitely sit down with David and make him watch the silliest songs with me:

*The boardroom "one for all" song about how great it is to be a mobster, in which we realize that Guy Gisborne is played by Peter Falk, and that Peter Falk can't sing

*The song about playing pool: when Little John (Dean Martin) runs the table and joins Robbo's (Frank Sinatra's) gang
*Will Scarlet's (Sammy Davis, Jr.'s) song about how much he loves the sound of gun shuts... sung as he and Robbo's gang shoot up Guy Gisborne's gambling den (Barbara: "Tap dancing combined with shooting is just really weird.")

*The song about how bad a dresser Allen A. Dale (Bing Crosby) is, sung by Sinatra, Martin, and Crosby, as Crosby keeps jumping in the walk-in closet to put on funny clothes

*The song about how wonderful Robbo is for giving money to the home for orphaned boys... sung by... Bing Crosby and a troupe of orphans wearing hats like these ladies:
*The song about the evils of "Mr. Booze," sung in order to throw the police off the trail of the hidden gambling/drinking den

*And last but not least, the song sung by Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin dressed in Santa costumes when they have to go into hiding for their connections to a money laundering operation

There was one redeeming feature that made me laugh with and not at the movie: Occasionally the mobsters disappeared someone by putting their dead body in a cornerstone of a new building. This led to funny scenes at building dedications. But, why was this movie made? Has anyone else seen it?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Easy to Love (1953)

Being a prop in a fancy resort is hard work. Julie (Esther Williams) and the other girls at Cypress Gardens perform many shows a day. When they're not in a show, they lounge about the grounds in fancy dresses as part of the scenery, posing for photographs and flirting with guests. As the star swimmer of Cypress Gardens, Julie's schedule is extra grueling... Here she is doing synchronized swimming in a lagoon of flower petals, when all she wants is to go out for a fun evening of her own. Or maybe spend a little time making her hard-working boss Ray (Van Johnson) jealous by going on a date with her flower petal companion.
When Julie threatens to quit because of how overworked she is, Ray offers to take her to New York. Julie thinks she has finally gotten Ray to appreciate and fall in love with her, but it turns out it's just a modeling/PR gig. Luckily for Julie, though, she meets a famous singer in New York who actively pursues her and finally makes Ray start to feel some pangs of jealousy.

Esther Williams. When did someone decide that synchronized swimming movies should be all the rage? Are there other synchronized swimming movie stars out there? In this movie, not only does Esther Williams get to float about in flower petals, but she gets to audition in a tank...
...and she performs in a water-ski extravaganza that I'm convinced defies the laws of physics.
What was possibly my favorite scene didn't even involve Esther Williams, though. It involved Julie's singer suitor singing a song called "That's What a Rainy Day is For" with a whole bunch of old ladies who must have been born in the 1800s to be so old in this movie. Cute song.

Maybe two stars. Some very entertaining stunts, but the love story was so unbelievable. I watched this with Barbara, and we kept turning to each other to say, "I don't understand why he likes her yet," or "Why does she like him?" The love story needs to be believable!!! And I don't appreciate lines like, "So you don't fight nature...You fight your wife." Sorry.

The Bad Seed (1956)

My guitar teacher Sam has been telling me I need to see this movie for the past year. Apparently he and his siblings used to watch it every time it came on TV when they were growing up and tease each other about who was the bad seed. Apparently he thought it would be relevant to my life...

It was a fun movie, complete with ominous music, skipping, and pigtails. Rhoda is perfect. Neat, pretty, smart, charming... and sociopathic. Soon after meeting Rhoda, we learn that although she believes she deserved to win the penmanship medal at school, the medal has been awarded to Claude Daigle instead. And she is VERY angry. No matter how much curtseying and skipping and kissing of cheeks she does, we know she is very angry. Rhoda goes off to a school picnic, and Claude Daigle drowns off of a pier. Hmmm...

It doesn't take Rhoda's mom very long to figure out what Rhoda has done. Rhoda is creepy, and someone has actually died around her before. (Not to mention the mom's repressed memories of having been adopted out of a sociopathic family.) But what will Rhoda's mom do with her bad seed?

Three stars, and I could definitely imagine seeing this again!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Seven Year Itch (1955)

I won't be seeing this movie again. I can say I've seen the famous blowing dress scene and move on.
Richard Sherman's wife and son, along with all the wives and children of the New York businessmen, have left the city for the summer. So what are all the husbands to do? "Drinking, smoking, picking up girls, playing chopsticks..."
Richard Sherman wastes no time in getting to all of this, but it's okay, because he's been married for seven years, and it is a well-known fact that men experience a seven year itch and need to branch out a bit. And anyways, he just spends most of his time thinking about cheating and running around being sneaky... So no worries. Despite Richard's assertion that "no pretty girl wants me. She wants Gregory Peck," he quickly picks up his new upstairs neighbor Marilyn Monroe, known as "The Girl." Does she even have a name? She's ditzy, she wears sexy dresses, and she's willing to kiss him just for fun, because he's married and she doesn't have to worry about him proposing or anything. Richard narrates the whole movie. We hear his every thought. And I don't find him likeable. So can I give the movie zero stars?

Yes, I would have preferred:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Nothing Sacred (1937)

Now I'm a fan of Carole Lombard. She's very funny. All the information that came along with this movie described it as a "screwball comedy," and it very much is, despite the fact that when we first meet Carole Lombard's character, Hazel Flagg, we think she is dying of radium poisoning.

Frederic March plays Wally Cook, a somewhat disgraced newspaper man who goes off to to redeem himself by finding the next big story... the story turns out to be bringing the ailing Hazel to New York City to show her the time of her life before she dies. New York loves Hazel...too bad she's not really sick.
We find out that Hazel isn't really sick pretty early on in the movie. When Wally comes to find her in her small Vermont hometown, Hazel has just learned from her doctor that he made a mistake with her diagnosis. Rather than being overjoyed at not being on her death bed, Hazel is disappointed to have to give up a trip to New York that she had been promised as a last wish. Then comes Wally offering her an amazing chance to be pampered in the city...

The Vermont scenes were a lot of fun. The townspeople do not appreciate a city newspaper man invading their space. He gets a lot of nasty looks, including a nasty look from the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. At one point, while Wally is walking down the street trying to find Hazel, a little boy runs out of his yard, bites Wally on the leg, and runs away again. Biting townspeople?

Just as much hilarity occurs in New York... of course Hazel and Wally fall for each other, and this leads Hazel to feel really guilty about pretending to be dying. So guilty she even tries to fake a suicide so she can remove herself from the situation. The only part of the "screwball comedy" I wasn't so fond of was the punching that went on between Wally and Hazel when Wally found out about the hoax. Don't punch people! Or spank people! "Give me your word of honor you won't try that again, or I'll spank your little..."
Two stars, but I would definitely see this again. Really, it was a very entertaining movie.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Life is grand... Dorothy (Jane Russell) and Lorelei (Marilyn Monroe) are off to Paris, and who happens to be on their ocean liner? The US Olympic team! Dorothy gets to cavort with the Olympians (there is even a gymnastics dance), while Lorelei says goodbye to her trusting fiance who will be staying at home.
Hilarity ensues as Lorelei becomes rather friendly with a rich old owner of a diamond mine (he gives her his wife's prized diamond tiara!), and Dorothy becomes smitten with a private detective hired by the father of Lorelei's fiance to track her every move.
The women have to become very crafty in order to evade jealous fiances, angry wives, incriminating rolls of film, and French prison sentences. "I can be smart when it's important, but most people don't like it." Doesn't that sound just like a Marilyn Monroe line?

Such a fun movie.
"Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend"
So yay! Four stars! Would watch again!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Daisy, Daisy,
Give me your answer do!
I'm half crazy,
All for the love of you!
It won't be a stylish marriage,
I can't afford a carriage
But you'll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle made for two.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Roberta (1935)

Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers... of course I had to see this movie. Huck Haines (Astaire) travels with his band, The Wabash Indianians, and his friend John Kent (Randolph Scott) to Paris for a gig. Unfortunately, almost the second they step off the ocean liner, the owner of the club where they were supposed to play becomes horrified to learn that they are in fact Indianians and not Indians. The band tries to woo the club owner with a bizarre act in which they become a human piano...but to no avail.

With no more gig, John and Huck rush off to find John's aunt Roberta, who just happens to own a fashionable clothing store in Paris. Roberta is delighted to see her favorite nephew and says that she will try to help them find a new gig through her connections. It turns out that the band doesn't need Roberta's direct help, though, because out in the lobby they find the Comtesse Scharwenka (Ginger Rogers) complaining loudly and obnoxiously about a dress that has not come out quite right. The Comtesse is merely pretending to be Polish nobility to make her singing act more intriguing. Really she is from Indiana and happens to be the long lost close friend/next door neighbor of Huck. And she can get the band back into the very night club from which they were tossed for not being Indians. And I haven't even mentioned that Irene Dunne plays Stephanie, who works for Roberta. Stephanie and John fall in love at first sight, complications to follow. One of the largest complications seems to be that John is a "hick" with an attitude about fashion, and Stephanie is a Russian princess in exile. Hmmm.

The dancing was, as usual, exciting, especially a very cool tap dance pictured above and a dance to "I Won't Dance." And then there was the highly entertaining fashion show. My favorite quote from the fashion show is actually from my roommate Barbara: "Oh, a bird died." There were a lot of fur and feathers.
Other good fashion quotes from without the movie include:
"It's more stimulating to the imagination if clothes clothe." (John is VERY against skimpy dresses, and this fact leads to some of the plot twists of the movie.)
"[Women] can pack their own junk." (about a dress with pockets)

The movie also swung towards schmaltzy, though. Stephanie sings mournful songs, Roberta dies, everyone is tragically misunderstood. All except Huck and the Comtesse, that is. Two stars for my favorite dancers. Not sure I could watch again.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

It seems (conversation with Amy) that a classic movie on this blog is a movie made before Amy and I were born. So...A thoroughly fun movie. Four stars, and I would probably watch this again, although it would probably be most fun if I wait forty years and forget who the murderer is. The chances of forgetting, though, are probably not so high, seeing as I (very smugly) guessed what was going on while watching this time (and no, I have not read the book).

Without giving anything away... Poirot is traveling on a train with a number of interesting characters... One fellow traveler confides to Poirot that he has been receiving death threats and wants Poirot to take on his case and protect him... Poirot refuses... A blizzard traps the train in the middle of nowhere... The man is found dead in his cabin... Who did it?

I loved the interrogation scenes and Poirot's helper who yelled, "He/she did it!" after ever interrogation. Murder aside, this movie also made me want to sit in a luxurious dining car and sip tea with my fellow travelers. Not sure about the sleeping cars.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Royal Wedding (1951)

Oh, what a wonderful movie...

Tom and Ellen Bowen (Fred Astaire and Jane Powell) are a famous brother and sister dancing act in New York. Their agent's brother happens to be an agent in London (a very odd running joke in which Keenan Wynn plays the agent twin brothers and has them have odd phone conversations with their vastly different accents and slang). The British agent invites Tom and Ellen to perform in London for the month leading up to Princess Elizabeth's wedding. Before Ellen can leave she has to bid farewell to at least three guys she's dating. Apparently she's quite the player. As her brother says about the newest guy, "This'll probably be one of those long affairs that drags on a whole weekend." While sequentially saying goodbye to each hopeful young man before she boards her ship to England, Ellen overhears a dashing stranger doing the same thing with a string of women.
It turns out they are destined for each other. What begins with, "I surveyed the whole're the most attractive woman on board...I thought, too bad she's married... this is going to be awkward," turns into a relationship that continues in London and causes them both to drop their player ways (but not without some hesitation)...
"I'm in love with you?"
"Well aren't you?"

While Ellen tries out her relationship, Tom falls for an engaged dancer in their show. She makes him so happy he can do this:
Turns out Tom's beloved's fiance has been in Chicago for two years, and she hasn't heard from him the past two months... Hmmm...Could things be looking up for Tom?

Anyways, I truly believe that Fred Astaire could dance on a ceiling if he wanted to. This movie had great dialogue, fun dance numbers, and one of my new favorite actresses.
Four stars! I would watch this again.