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.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Broadway Melody (1929)

I watched this with Margo.

Two sisters, Queenie and Harriet, move to New York to make it big in a thinly-disguised Ziegfield's Follies. Harry, the older sister, is the manager of the act and protector of Queenie. Harriet doesn't realize it but she's out of touch with the big city and her temper is much too hot for her own good. But Queenie is pretty enough and knows how to sweet-talk, so she talks them both into the show, but lets it seem like Harriet's doing to protect her pride.

Eddie, Harriet's fiance and a promising songwriter, falls in love with Queenie, and she falls in love with him - but they try to keep it from going anywhere for Harriet's sake. Instead, Queenie lets herself be wooed by a gross older man who just wants her to be his mistress. This drives Harriet crazy with worry but every time Eddie is about to come clean to Harriet he sees how upset she is and he can't do it to her. Things get worse and worse till Harriet catches on and convinces Eddie that she has only been interested in him for his show-biz connections all along and never was in love with him. This is all the more pathetic because her acting is so terrible that only a man desperate for an excuse to get out of his engagement would believe her.

Eddie runs off and rescues Queenie from the evil sugar daddy and they live happily ever after. We see at the end that Queenie knows the truth - that she got both the fame and the man that her sister longed for - but since they both know Eddie doesn't love Harriet, Queenie accepts her sister's generous gift.

It was sooooo slooooow and loooong and the acting was awful and over-done and the sisters have really strange, grating voices and there are a lot of scenes that just don't need to be there, but it was a big showy show so they all probably seemed important at the time.

Three stars for the story, the costumes and the classic show business story. Won't watch again.

The Sound of Music (1965)

When I was three we owned this record and I remember not understanding that I was not Maria. There was no clear separation between me and the movie. I was The Sound of Music and The Sound of Music was me.

We had this record:

And I don't remember a time when I didn't know every word to every song. I'm quite sure that I learned the words "dapper" "naive" and "ken" from 'Sixteen Going on Seventeen' and I'm sure that those three words alone could have been responsible for my reputation as a precocious three-year-old.

I've been to the sing-along Sound of Music but until two years ago I didn't own the movie. I never had. In a weird way it felt redundant. I own this movie in my head. If I'm knocked unconscious and start to ascend a tunnel of light I'll probably wake up singing "Climb ev'ry mountain" - it's that kind of thing for me.

Did I mention that the Mother Abbess is played by Peggy Wood? That's my grandmother's name.

I am going to put a limit on the ways I can love this movie, I am limiting it to ten.
These are a few of my favorite things:

1. The Sound of Music - the music. This movie is full of happy songs. There are a lot of dark, sad moments to this movie - the girl doesn't fit in at the Abbey, where she lives, she doesn't fit in at the place where she's sent to be a governess, but she's always so exuberant! The opening score is played over shots of the Swiss Alps and it's just this feeling of awe you can't help, which is exactly what Maria wants to sing about all the time.

"My heart wants to skip like a brook that trips over stones on its way, to sing through the night, like a lark that is learning to pray!" Put simply, it's a show-tune hymn, and a great one. People should sing it in church.

Because this is essentially a movie about music bringing people together and saving them from Nazis, there are too many other great songs to name and yes a few slow ones that I didn't care for as a child but now appreciate. And then there's Edelweiss - if your heart doesn't break when they sing that song at the end of the movie, I'm revoking it!

2. How do you solve a problem like - Nuns. How can you not love nuns? They are like the opposite of a pin-up poster - they are everything womanly that is not sexual. They're motherly and wise, girlish and innocent, demanding and patient, they nag, they gossip, they whine, and in the end of the movie they are heroic and clever and sneaky and you realize they are made of steel. Nuns! (someone is going to say, clearly I have never gone to Catholic school - clearly I have not).

3. Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes. The kids in uniform! They are great - kids marching in a line and in matching costumes were so appealing when I was a kid. It was like watching a kid review or a kid army. And I still love the matching curtain-clothes - don't put it past me to have my own version for my kids.

Apparently Christopher Plummer was quite the player...

But back to the list:

4. Uncle Max
He's a smooth cat, Uncle Max - the talent agent and perennial mooch. I bet the real Uncle Max moved to Hollywood to escape the Nazis and became someone like Sam Goldwyn. True, he's only out for himself but that makes him somewhat impartial. He cracks mean little jokes with the baroness but ultimately his fondness for a good musical act trumps his friendship with her and her lovely money. And if not for him, how would they ever have escaped at the end? Gotta love Uncle Max.

5. There's a ball. They throw a ball. They're just like - you know what would be fun? A big party in that big ballroom. And then they throw a ball. Complete with formal dinner and wonderful outfits and entertainment and Austrian folk dances.

6. There's a wedding. Any movie with a ball and a wedding is a winner in my book. The wedding is awesome, too - just her train alone is enough to bring a tear to my eye, but the organ playing "how do you solve a problem like maria" - all I can say is - why on earth didn't I think of having that as my processional? Jessica, take note, you still have a chance!

7. Free the children manifesto. Children hanging from trees and overturning rowboats. This is how life was meant to be lived. Up until the turn of the century, children were to be "seen and not heard" - kept apart from their parents in upper-class homes and trained to act like miniature adults. Fraulein Maria is a renegade, she's a local girl who ran around in the woods singing out loud to the mountains like a crazy person and she believes firmly that all children should be allowed to run around acting like crazy people. Children appreciate and respond to this message. They like to be crazy.

8. Love story #1 - star-crossed lovers Franz and Liesl. They meet in secret and fall in love - they have their first kiss during a thunderstorm, for pete's sake! Then he becomes a stupid Nazi - in part because the Austrians see him as a boy but the Nazi's will give him authority to rat people out. So instead of growing into a principled man, he'll become a soldier for the first army that will take him. Liesl can't believe he'd betray her family and her father and almost costs her family their lives because of it. Poor Liesl and, for that matter, poor Franz. He's just a boy being manipulated by a deeply evil regime.

9. Love story #2 - The Captain and Maria - he's her boss, he's handsome and wealthy and authoritative and precise. She's a free-spirited would-be nun who can't stop herself from contradicting anyone, even authority figures. But when they sing, they can't help but see each other as kindred spirits. Most of all, she truly loves his children, even to the point of risking her own job to argue with him on their behalf. She makes him realize that he loves his kids, too, and needs to be a better father to them. And she's just a simple country girl but you realize, he's really not fond of the city anyway - he likes nature and folk songs and traditional Austrian things - including traditional Austrian girls like Maria.

10. Sad/Happy Ending. So the Nazis invade Austria, but the family escapes. The real-life family survived, came to America, made their living performing, were happy and successful. But the Nazis are real, and they go on to do terrible things, and not everyone escaped. Austrians who had to give up their nation and leave their homes were the first victims of Hitler, and their hardships seem minor compared to others - but just the glimpse of the totalitarianism of the Nazi occupation - the flags everywhere, the spies, the insistence on a public show of loyalty and deference...sends a chill down your spine. Europe should have taken notice sooner. The Nazis started out by breaking spirits and banishing families and ended by bringing more evil into the world than many people had ever imagined existed in the human heart. When they sing Edelweiss, a folksong, they get to the "bless my homeland forever" part and you realize it's a secret protest. The voices in the crowd join in and sing and you sense the Nazis are not going to be able to keep these people down. Probably Victor Laszlo was in the crowd. Surreptitious subversion of cultural imperialism, rule-breaking nuns, hiking over the Alps to's inspirational on top of everything else.

How can you not love this movie? I think I watched it once a year when I was little, and I'm sure I could sing you all of the songs if asked.

Four stars. Clearly another movie to watch over and over.

Flying Down to Rio (1933)

Ah, movies from the thirties. This is what I should be watching more of. Roger (Gene Raymond) is the conductor of a band and quite a player. When he spots Belinha (Delores Del Rio) winking at him from her table during a performance, it doesn't take him very long to leave the conducting to Fred (played by Fred Astaire) and sweep her up into his arms for a dance. News travels fast throughout the hotel. When the first comment, that Belinha, the niece of a wealthy Brazilian woman, is dancing with a musician, eventually reaches Belinha's aunt, the comment has run through the rumor mill and turned into "Belinha is dancing with a gigolo." The aunt rushes down to the dining room to put an end to the dance, and a romance/battle of words has begun. I was loving the movie... the first pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, funny banter, amazing hats...
I was so happy... until I got to the spanking and the racism, all of which happened within a span of about five minutes. I will explain:

The spanking: Belinha needs to get home to Brazil fast. Her father needs her. It just so happens that Roger is a pilot, and that he and the band already happen to be going to Rio to play at the opening of a new hotel there. Roger convinces Belinha to fly in his two person plane (although he at first doesn't tell her he is the pilot and disguises himself in his flying gear so her aunt will let her go with him). Belinha is perfectly happy to discover that Roger is the pilot, but when Roger has to make an emergency landing on what they believe to be a remote desert island, all turns sour between them. Roger makes his engine trouble last by purposely losing an essential hose. Then he plays romantic music to get Belinha to make out with him. And then... she says something along the lines of, "No no no...I cannot do this...My family has arranged a marriage for me...I am engaged...We must never see each other again." Roger doesn't take well to Belinha's protest, Belinha slaps him, and then he throws her over his knee and spanks her a whole bunch of times reprimanding her for telling him off. Needless to say, when they have to spend the night on the island, she stays far away from him.

The racism: The morning after the spanking, Belinha looks into the trees and sees four or five black men looking back at her. She runs into Roger's arms screaming about wild men and cannibals. When Roger goes back to investigate, he finds out that she was not seeing cannibals, she was just seeing resort employees. They are in Haiti right next to a golf resort. This was supposed to be a funny joke.

The rest of the movie did have more entertaining moments, though. The hotel happens to be owned by Belinha's father, Roger happens to be friends with the fiance, and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance, all while Roger and Belinha spar and can't take their eyes off of each other.
The best part of the movie was definitely when the band saves the hotel by creating the most spectacular opener ever: scantily clad girls dancing and doing acrobatics on the wings of planes in flight. At one point some of their clothes are even carried off by parachutes. At one point one girl almost plummets to her death and has to be caught by people on the plane below. Video below:
I also love the way in which Belinha's fiance finally gives her up...a parachute is involved. Two stars for silly acrobatics and fun. I could see myself watching this again, despite the horrifying parts.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Easy to Wed (1946)

I can only hope that on the day of my wedding David and I get to perform a long song and dance number for all of our guests. In fabulous technicolor costumes.

This movie is Libeled Lady in color... Or so I think. I got this movie because it was a recommended Esther Williams movie and found out upon reading the DVD sleeve that it is in fact a re-make of Libeled Lady. After watching the trailer for Libeled Lady and reading Amy's blog post, I think it is pretty safe to say that Easy to Wed is just a remake in color...mostly the same dialogue, with a few changes: Lucille Ball for Rita Hayworth, duck hunting for angling, swimming stunts for no swimming stunts... The older movie does have William Powell and Myrna Loy, though, so I am ready to believe that it was a better movie. Now of course I very much need to see Libeled Lady to compare.
The movie starts with a slander suit. Connie Allenbury (Esther Williams) and her wealthy father are suing a newspaper for two million dollars for publishing an article that called Connie a husband stealer. Warren Haggerty comes up with a brilliant plan to save the paper... hire back Bill Chandler (Van Johnson), a reporter he had long ago fired and a man just sleazy enough to be willing to trick Connie Allenbury into actually stealing a husband, thus ruining her lawsuit. For Connie to actually steal a husband, though, Bill needs to be a husband. Haggerty gets his fiance, Gladys (Lucille Ball) to marry Bill so that Gladys can then discover Bill cheating on her with Connie.

Bill goes to great lengths to win the trust of Connie and her father. He even pretends to be an expert duck hunter, a lie which gets him invited for a weekend of hunting at the Allenbury cabin. While he's at the cabin, he realizes that Connie isn't actually the spoiled brat she appeared to be. She just comes across that way to protect herself after years of being harassed by men who want her for her money.
Once Connie trusts Bill, she drops her stuck-up act and...
Now Bill has a problem, though. He is actually in love with Connie and no longer wants to go through with the plan. Much hilarity ensues. Some of it involves Bill and Gladys pretending to be ducks to learn the art of duck hunting. (Long video, but fun!)

So three stars, because it really was a funny movie. One of those stars is for a scene near the beginning of the movie when Esther Williams water skis down a giant slide standing not on water skis, but on a man's back. I'm not sure I'll see it again, though. I will see Libeled Lady.

The Devil's Disciple (1959)

I have a fascination with Revolutionary American history (especially Thomas Jefferson), so I got very excited when one of the blogs I occasionally read ( or I can't find the post again) mentioned a movie set in 1777 in New England. Not only did it have a revolutionary theme, but it starred Burt Lancaster (known to me as an acrobatic pirate), Kirk Douglas, and Laurence Olivier. No Thomas Jefferson in this movie, but it seemed like it might be entertaining. It was, but possibly not in the way intended by the director. It contains lines like, "Stop howling woman!"

The movie is actually based on a play by George Bernard Shaw. Burt Lancaster (the man in the center who looks as though he would be comfortable swinging from mast) plays a minister, Anthony Anderson. Kirk Douglas plays Richard Dudgeon, "the devil's disciple," a man who left town long ago because he was tired of the religious ways of his family. Laurence Olivier is a relatively kindly British officer. Who is that woman under Kirk Douglas's arm? Why, it is Judith Anderson, the wife of the minister... This picture seems to hint at the odd love triangle that makes up part of the movie. Anderson and his wife are dragged into rebellion when the Laurence Olivier character hangs Dudgeon's father and leaves the body on display as a warning to all would-be rebels. Dudgeon returns to town to cut down his father's body and bring it to Anderson for a burial. When the British soldiers eventually realize that there is a new gravestone in the graveyard with the name of the man who was supposed to be hanging on display, they went to the Anderson home to arrest Anderson, whom they believed must have been behind cutting the man down.

Side note: I thought that Kirk Douglas's character was reminiscent of Beetlejuice and other Michael Keaton characters. Barbara felt that he reminded her of Matthew McConaughey.

In any case, when the British soldiers arrive at Anderson's house, Anderson is not home. He has gone to talk with a sick neighbor. Who is home? Dudgeon and Judith Anderson. Anderson thought that Dudgeon would be safe in his house, and instructed Judith to serve Dudgeon tea while he was gone, despite the fact that Judith claims to find him slimy and creepy. Dudgeon pretends to be Anderson and is arrested. It remains unclear throughout the rest of the movie whether Dudgeon has done this to get closer to Judith (about whom he makes many remarks throughout the film) or because he cannot help himself from protecting the life of another man. Long story short, Judith of course becomes infatuated with Dudgeon for what he has done, and Anderson goes into hiding and becomes a rebel, finally becoming the pirate Burt Lancaster that I know and love. But will Dudgeon hang? And will Judith ever love her husband again? Since I am only giving this movie one star and am not recommending it for viewing, I'll tell you. No and yes. All ends well in Revolutionary America.

(The star is for the best part of the movie...little paper action figures that act out marching and battles on top of a map during narrated portions between scenes.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Fly (1958)

Reasons that the original The Fly (1958) is classier than the Jeff Goldblum remake (1986):

1958- The Fly takes place in Montreal, and the characters have names like Francois, Phillippe, and Andre and live in a fancy house.
1986- The Fly takes place in a scary-looking loft, and Jeff Goldblum refers to himself as Brendel-fly.

1958- Classical music plays in the background.
1986- Yelling, screaming...

1958- The female lead wears a bow in her hair and bathrobes that are as fancy as her evening gowns.
1986- Jeff Goldblum picks up a trashy woman in bar who is only interested in him after he rips another man's s arm off with his newfound fly strength.

1958- Again, the clothes are quite fancy... especially when the main characters go to the opera.
1986- Not only are the clothes not as classy, but Jeff Goldblum spends a lot of time out of his clothes. Even while hugging a baboon.

1958- Andre and his wife drink champagne that has been sent through Andre's transporter.
1986- Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum eat transported steak and discuss wanting to eat each other.

1958- After Andre is combined with the fly, he wears a black cloth over his head and conceals his fly leg in his overcoat.
1986- We watch parts of Jeff Goldblum's human body fall off, and he stores the disintegrating parts in the medicine cabinet. He tries to make Geena Davis (and us) look at them.

1958- Underneath his black cloth, Andre has a cute, fluffy fly head.
1986- Jeff Goldblum looks like rotting flesh, even at the end of his transformation.

1958- Andre eats under his black cloth and has his wife go into the other room while he is eating.
1986- Jeff Goldblum throws up on his food to digest it. Geena Davis watches. We watch.

1958- Everyone is cheerful, even in the face of great tragedy.
1986- Geena Davis cries throughout the whole second half of the movie.

1958- A fly with Andre's head and arm is about to be eaten by a spider when it is put out of its misery by the inspecter and Francois.
1986- Geena Davis guns down Jeff Goldblum after failing to abort their possible mutant baby.
So, classy yes. But two stars, and that's it for me.