Monday, September 5, 2011

Bell Book and Candle (1958)

When watching a classic movie marathon, it may be advisable for me to stop when the movies switch from black and white to color. Or maybe just to skip overly dramatic movies involving witches.
Gillian (Kim Novak) is a bored witch who longs to experience "normal" life.  Especially after running into her neighbor Shep (James Stewart).  Despite her aunt's attempts to persuade her to use magic to make Shep hers, Gillian is adamant that she will not mess with his life.  She holds strong only until she realizes that he is about to marry her college nemesis.  A little humming to her cat, and Shep falls madly in love with Gillian.  Drama ensues.  Would he really love her without tricks?  Is he really going to publish a book that exposes witches as real?  Is her warlock brother (played by Jack Lemmon) really providing the author of the book with information?  Will anyone forgive her for stopping the book from being published?  Will Shep still love her if she tells him the truth about herself?  Will she ever learn to cry?  And the drama goes on...

One star. I'm not sorry I watched it, but it did not quite help me to forget that I was running a 99.9 degree fever, and I really don't need to see this again. I did learn that after making this movie James Stewart asked not to be paired with young starlets as romantic interests anymore.  It was starting to feel creepy.  Good for him.  This is a lesson that Cary Grant never learned. The movie also made me reminisce about Veronica Lake's funny I Married a Witch (1942). I would definitely see that again.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

The Shop Around the Corner is wonderful enough as a funny romance about two people who fall in love through their anonymous pen pal letters to each other while unable to stand each other in person. What makes it more than wonderful is that it is also a story about the shop in which they work.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the scenes that had nothing to do with the question of "when will they get together?"  While rooting for Klara Novak and Alfred Kralik (Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart) to realize what is happening to them, we also get to follow Kralik's friendships and the ups and downs of Mr. Matuschek's (Frank Morgan's) store. 
This is a movie of great dialogue:

Alfred Kralik: [asking co-worker Pirovitch about cost of living for a married couple] Suppose a fellow gets an apartment with three rooms. Dining room, bedroom, living room.
Pirovitch: What do you need three rooms for? You live in the bedroom.
Alfred Kralik: Where do you eat?
Pirovitch: In the kitchen. You get a nice big kitchen.
Alfred Kralik: Where do you entertain?
Pirovitch: Entertain? What are you, an embassador? Who do you want to entertain? Listen listen, if someone is really your friend, he comes after dinner.
And then of course there is the dialogue between Klara and Alfred, who are just so stubborn and determined to be mean to each other.
Alfred Kralik: Are you disappointed?
Klara Novak : Psychologically, I'm very confused... But personally, I don't feel bad at all.

Four really big stars. To be watched again.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Vivacious Lady (1938)

Some reasons I love this movie:
1. When Professor Peter Morgan (Jimmy Stewart) falls in love at first sight with night club singer/dancer Francey (Ginger Rogers), I believe it.
2. So many crazy scenarios are made possible by Peter's decision to wait before telling his very conservative university president father that he has married the unknown Francey during a trip to New York. Unfortunately, Peter doesn't manage to tell his family about Francey for a long long time.

3. Although Peter's cousin Keith shows early signs of wanting Francey for himself, when Peter and Francey are forced to spend their first night apart, Keith brings them each one of the toppers from their wedding cake to keep them company.

4. Ginger Rogers is tough. As Francey, she takes the woman who wants to be Peter's fiance and flips her right over her shoulder. She was provoked. A very funny scene.
5. The dance scene...
Three stars because the acting was great and the plot was really very funny. It think it lost that fourth star just for being a little too long. There were just a few too many crazy hijinks keeping the couple apart. Apparently TCM agrees. They called it "everlong." But I would definitely see this again.

Friday, August 12, 2011

It's a Wonderful World (1939)

Turner Classic Movies is really a wonderful thing... So many movies not available on Netflix or from the library... Like this one with Jimmy Stewart. Stewart is detective Guy Johnson, arrested for hiding a client who has been framed for murder. While in a train en route to prison, Johnson notices a newspaper ad that may just be the clue he needs to lead him to the real killer. Johnson's dramatic escape from the train is witnessed by poetess Edwina Corday, played by Claudette Colbert. The rest of the movie is one crazy hijink after another.
There is the kidnapping of the poetess,
The handcuffing of the poetess to himself,
The poetess's realization that Johnson is not a dangerous escaped convict, but a noble detective trying to save his client from death row... a realization that leads to many misguided attempts to help him,
And a stolen disguise.
Apparently Claudette Colbert was unhappy with the bickering road trip similarities between this movie and It Happened One Night, but I didn't mind. Three stars just for reminding me that Jimmy Stewart can be good in laugh-out-loud comedy. I would be happy to see this again. "I swear by my eyes."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Man Godfrey (1936)

Eccentric rich people can be very funny. Especially if one of them is played by Carole Lombard, who is wonderful at appearing effortlessly nutty in a variety of situations. In this situation, Lombard plays Irene Bullock, one of two Bullock sisters in a family in which each member is insanely eccentric in their own special way. Irene is an expert at throwing fits, sobbing, fainting, and overdramatizing. She is very good at getting her way, even if it takes drawing out her fits over months. Irene's sister Cornelia is more sinisterly eccentric. She is good at making biting comments and scheming up ways to destroy the lives of others. Mrs. Bullock is just dotty. She sees pixies when she's hung over, and she keeps a protege named Carlo, who spends his days eating the family's food and pretending to practice his music. He also can do an intensely accurate gorilla impression to try to cheer up Irene when she's having a fit. Mr. Bullock, the apparent long-suffereing man in a family of loopy women, is only slightly less eccentric than the rest of his family. His eccentricity seems to be that he is incapable of keeping the rest of his family in check. Enter into this crazy family the dignified butler Godfrey (William Powell), and you have My Man Godfrey.
Of course even Godfrey has his eccentricities, though. Before becoming the butler for the Bullocks, he was a living in a New York City dump. How did he end up working for the Bullocks? He was picked up in a scavenger hunt. Mrs. Bullock earned points by finding a goat... Irene Bullock managed to get the catch of the evening, a "forgotten man." After Godfrey helps Irene win the scavenger hunt, she impulsively hires him as the family's new butler, and he enters their crazy home...

...Irene falls almost immediately in love: "Oh, you're more than a butler. You're the first protege I've ever had."

...Mr. Bullock loses all semblance of control over the family finances: "Why should the government get more money than your own flesh and blood?"

...Cornelia seethes over the fact that Godfrey did not help her in the scavenger hunt and plots revenge: "Godfrey knows I'm not being personal, but after all, none of us would like to wake up some morning stabbed to death."

...and Mrs. Bullock demonstrates her crazy thinking about the world: "[Godfrey's] the first thing [Irene's] shown any affection for since her Pomeranian died last summer."

Godfrey calmly goes with the flow, intervening only when Irene is a little too amorous:
G: "Hasn't anyone every told you about certain proprieties?"
I: "Oh you use such lovely big words. I like big words. What does it mean?"
G: "Well, I'll try to simplify it. Hasn't your mother ever explained to you that some things are proper and some things are not?"
I: "No she hasn't. She rambles on quite a bit, but then she never says anything.
I would watch this again. Three stars. One for Carole Lombard, who is always entertaining, one for making me laugh even when there were holes in the plot, and one for William Powell's Godfrey, who is keeping an eccentric secret of his own.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Rebecca (1940)

I love this movie. Joan Fontaine plays the second Mrs. de Winter, never given a first name in either the book by Daphne Du Maurier or the movie. While working as a companion to an elderly rich woman, the second Mrs. de Winter meets Mr. de Winter at a resort in Monte Carlo. He is moody and mysterious from the moment she meets him, an encounter during which he appears to be about to jump off of a cliff. She is completely unsure of what to make of him or if he even likes her. She is taken by surprise when he proposes marriage to her rather than lose her, when her companion packs up to sail off to New York.
When the second Mrs. de Winter arrives at the luxurious Manderley with her new husband, we find out why it is that she has no name of her own. She is living in the shadow of the first Mrs. de Winter... Rebecca. She is also at the whim of the creepy Mrs. Danvers, who came to Manderley with Rebecca and has remained devoted to her even after her assumed death in a boating accident. Mrs. Danvers is not so happy to see a new Mrs. de Winter taking Rebecca's place. And Mr. de Winter is too moody and busy to notice what is happening to his new wife. Or does he regret having married her at all?
Really the only thing that annoys me in Rebecca is the way Mr. de Winter treats his new wife from the moment he meets her. I know he is supposed to be a damaged, grief-stricken man, but being damaged and grief-stricken are more handy for explaining away intense moodiness than for explaining away why he thinks his new bride is a little child.
(1)"I'm not hungry."
"Eat up like a good little girl."
(2)He hides her tennis racket behind a plant after declaring they should go for a drive.
(3)"Stop biting your nails."
(4)"I'm asking you to marry me you little fool!"
But the future Mrs. deWinter does not seem to mind any of this. It seems to be what she expects. It is only the intense moodiness that seems to get her down. I suppose I should just be happy to be a young woman in the 21st century. Three stars, and I want Joan Fontaine's wardrobe from the movie. I would definitely see this again someday. It also makes me want to reread the book.

Monday, July 25, 2011

I'm No Angel (1933)

Well that was confusing... It is definitely a one star movie, but I just clapped at the ending. And not because it was over, but because I was laughing hysterically.

This movie raised a lot of questions for me:

Why was it not a bigger deal that when Tira (Mae West) was caught entertaining a rich man, her jealous co-worker showed up, hit the guy over the head, and the two of them left the man for dead in the hallway? It seems this was just a minor little mishap that created a need for Tira to make some more money.
"I think he's croaked."
"Where am I gonna put a stiff in this joint?"
"Put him out in the hall."

What did Tira's fortune teller think of her plan to make more money in the circus (she's in the circus!) by sticking her head in the lion's mouth during her lion act? She carries around an astrology booklet and seems to read it every morning, yet the new act seemed pretty impulsive.
"I'll even stick my head in the big cat's mouth!"
"Say, if them lions don't show some sense, I'm goin' down there and bite her myself."

Was Mae West really sticking her head in a lion's mouth? It sure looked like it. Where did the movie studio get all of those lions? And why can't I find a picture of them?

Why does Mae West include "Mmm-mm" at the end of almost everything she says? Character or actress? I suppose it goes well with phrases such as:
"When I was born with this face, it was the same as striking oil."
"Crazy for me, the guy's a pushover for me."
"I'll tell you this much. You're gonna like what I have in mind."
It also does go quite well with spritzing perfume all over one's self while singing, "No One Loves Me Like That Dallas Man..."

When on earth did Jack Clayton (Cary Grant) fall in love with Tira, and how did I miss it?
Jack arrived 49 minutes into the movie, and then 1 minute later they were talking marriage. The entirely unbelievable romance makes it impossible for me to give this movie more than one star, no matter how many ridiculous scenes made me laugh. The unbelievable romance and the cringe-inducing scenes with her black maids, that is.

Very important question: If David had been watching the final court scenes of the movie, in which Mae West saunters around the court room "Mmm-mm-ing" and cross-examining witnesses, would it have been more useful than the studying he was doing on his own for the bar?

And why did I not wear a crown at my wedding?

I will only see this movie again if Amy watches it with me. I'm not sure I would laugh as much seeing it a second time alone. Story and screenplay by Mae West.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Life With Father (1947)

About 20 mintues into the movie, Clarence (William Powell) storms into an agency that hires out maids demanding, "Where do you keep 'em?" You see, just a few minutes earlier Clarence had scared away the most recent maid in a long line of scared maids. The woman manning the agency desk tries to prevent Clarence from rushing into the room with the maids. When she fails, and he picks which maid he wants, the woman explains that she needs to know the character of the house to which the maid will be going before she can allow her to go anywhere with him. The reply: "Madam, I am the character of my home!" And here we have the main source of comedy and conflict in the movie. Clarence is a character.
It is currently somewhere between 90 and 100 degrees outside and probably close to that in my apartment. I cannot think. I can barely move. I needed a funny movie to distract me. Unfortunately, this movie did not distract me. There is perhaps a reason I had not heard of it before I found it in Netflix's instant watch list. Many jokes were made, but they were often just too corny to laugh at. Two masters of witty dialogue and comic timing wasted.

Once Elizabeth Taylor, as a wide-eyed, bonnet-wearing young maiden, started asking Clarence Jr. if he believes in girls going to college, I decided never mind the temperature, I needed to at least be knitting so I could handle the rest of the movie. Then, during the whole to-do about how Elizabeth Taylor's character is a Methodist and the members of Clarence's family are Episcopalian and the ensuing drama about the discovery that Clarence was never actually baptized as a child, I started to pay more attention to my knitting than to the movie. But then I started to think, if only this movie ends with William Powell in a long frilly white gown getting baptized, maybe I will laugh.

To be fair, though, I did chuckle a few times throughout the movie:

*"You know your father doesn't like electricity!" (There were a lot of things Father (Clarence) didn't like, from kneeling in church to rubber plants.)

*"Do you ever play duets?"
"No, not till now."
"Neither have I, not till now." (Was this exchange between Elizabeth Taylor and Clarence Jr. meant to be funny? I'm really not sure.)

*Clarence discussing his pew and its falling property values with the minister and his wondering when it might be best to unload it.

*Clarence Jr. believing he is possessed by his father's old suit and not being able to do anything his father wouldn't do while he wears it. Elizabeth Taylor cannot sit on his lap, because it would be like she is sitting on Father's pants.

I cannot forget William Powell in this movie after puzzling over his bright red Technicolor hair for almost two hours, but from this moment on, I will do my best to forget Irene Dunn's part as his wife. In other words, one star, and I don't plan to see this again. I need a funny and GOOD movie!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Three Loves Has Nancy (1938)

Robert Montgomery is a distinct improvement over Robert Young. I'm sorry, but I just don't get that funny feeling in the pit of my tummy for poor little Robert Young that Robert Montgomery can give me.

Janet Gaynor's a cutie, too and it's her routine that carries this movie.
So the premise here is that Nancy's fiance goes missing on her wedding day, so, naturally, she goes to New York to fetch him. Nancy is a small-town girl from the south and has never traveled. On the train she meets Mr. Niles (Montgomery), who is returning to New York because he's heard that Vivian, the pest of a girl who is trying to corner him and wring a proposal out of him, has finally left for Europe.
Nancy is a complete bumpkin and gets herself into trouble at every turn. Mr. Niles first helps her, then helping her turns into a disaster and he never wants to see her again.
When she can't find George, however, she turns up on Niles' doorstep with perfect timing - he uses her to convince Vivian he is engaged to someone else.
Now ensconced in his life, Nancy turns his world and the world of his publisher, next door neighbor, and best friend, Mr. Hanson, upside-down - just by being herself.
It's a tour-de-force performance by Gaynor who is perfectly convincing with the help of her neat but completely unfashionable outfits. Bustling around innocently, she's actually quite clever. At one point Mr. Niles is interrupted by the telephone for the third time in a row and says "who invented those things, anyway?" and she replies with crisp precision: "Alexander Graham Bell," and adds, "in 1865." She'll teach you a thing or two, MISTER Niles.
Margo and I were actually laughing out loud at some of the slapstick scenes and there were a lot of great one-liners.
Still searching for the missing fiance, Nancy finds his ukele at a shop where he used to work. She bursts into tears, "George's ukele!" The store clerk just looks at her with stony indifference and quips "You'd cry more over it if you had to hear him play!"
After a long evening of monologues from Joan Crawford and earnest expressions of virtue from gamblers, it was really nice just to laugh.
Margo and I both proclaimed this a buried gem that we put in a category with Bringing Up Baby and we would definitely watch it again. Four stars.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Bride Wore Red (1937)

Margo must have tivo'ed a whole Robert Young marathon at some point. Because here he is again.

This time with Joan Crawford. Margo and I were joking that this was when she got started stealing other women's husbands, warming up for The Women (two years later 1939). She plays a kind of Eliza Dolittle character: she is working as a cabaret girl when a rich Count pays her way to a fancy resort in Turano where she will trick his young friend into believing she is a Lady, thus proving the young man, who insists there is a difference between society ladies and cabaret girls, wrong.
The TWIST is that she is much better as a peasant than a lady, and she enjoys it more.

Look how much she is enjoying being a peasant!
There is an assumption the movie makes that a peasant and a cabaret girl are from equivalent social classes, but that's about as ridiculous as her authentic peasant costume. So the whole premise that you have a "place" and you just have to find it is kind of a way of saying stay in your own class, but not because we're making you, just because you'll be happier there!
Anyhow, all that aside, the movie has a lot to recommend it -
1. There are the costumes, which are awesome and a big part of the story.
2. Rags to riches, gotta love it.
3. Scam - gotta love her pulling off the act.
4. There's something very Maria Von Trapp about her love of the outdoors.
5. The old friend who just happens to turn up as a maid at the hotel, Maria, is just great.
The other thing is the love story - the peasant Postman that she falls for is actually so lovable I really got attached to him and was rooting for him whole-heartedly at the end when she had to choose - the life of a rich fraud or a simple, wholesome life in the country with her Postman lover. If you would have told me an hour and eighteen minutes ago that I would really enjoy a Postman as a romantic hero, I might have doubted you, but no longer. Giulio has won my heart.

Towards the beginning and the end, the script gets a little speechy with lots of dramatic monologues...therefore I conclude it must have been adapted from a successful stage play - and I just checked and yes, it was adapted from a play. You can just tell when someone has been trying to make Art. It's a shame because it messes with what is otherwise great entertainment (this is my problem with Holiday, too).

Still, for the costumes, the romance, the fun of the maid's lines - and for making a key dramatic line out of the truly prosaic "A well-organized telegraph office always keeps copies!" - I have to give this four stars.
I would totally watch it again.

Gambling Lady (1934)

You've just gotta love Barbara Stanwyck!

So she's supposed to be a tough girl, but honest. Her father is a gambler who always plays it straight, even when his luck fails him.

Working for a gambling ring called "The Syndicate", he falls on hard times, and a bookie friend named Charlie looks out for them. (SIDE NOTE: The Syndicate is somewhat sinister and in an early seen is shown to be multi-racial. I think this was meant to be ominous at the time, but to a modern audience it looks like a meeting of the UN).

Later, she goes into business for herself as a gambler and does pretty well - but always honestly. When a nice young man from a rich family falls for her at first she thinks it will never work, but she won't take a bribe to jilt him.
Her sense of honesty, loyalty and honor ends up serving her well when someone close to her is framed for a crime and only her reputation can save her from ruin.

She's kind of like a Golden Age version of Goody Proctor, if you really think about it, only with a happy ending. Stanwyck is excellent.

Three stars, would definitely watch again (Margo wasn't as much of a fan).

Bridal Suite (1939)

Margo likes movies from the 30s, so get ready for some extra-old classics!

We watched this a few months ago so my memory is a little rusty but it also wasn't all that great...Robert Young plays an irresponsible playboy who forgets his own wedding day...TWICE. I mean, it's kind of hard to get behind the marriage at that point no matter how invested you may be in a happy ending.
His father is quite properly disgusted with him and cuts him off. His mother, indulgent to a fault, decides he needs a doctor's note from her favorite psychiatrist and drags him to Switzerland where the hapless doctor is vacationing in his chalet.
I'll tell you that this photo is of the happy young playboy and his innocent mountain maiden. And I'll tell you that there is a happy ending. But I will be damned if I'm going to explain the intricacies of the strudel-making, glockspiel-playing, antics in pajamas and avalanche-inducing yodeling that we will have to endure in order to arrive at that happy ending.
Margo looked up the starring actress, Annabella, and learned that she was all the rage in France and was imported with great fanfare to America, to no great success. You can see why. Though she comes across as sincere and sweet and Robert Young is affable as always, there is nothing to really excite you about their chemistry.
Ultimately, it's a silly movie.
Will not watch again. Two stars.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

We're watching a legal movie so David can "study" for finals... Anatomy of a Murder.
Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is defending Lt. Frederick Manion, after Manion shoots and kills the man who raped his wife. Believe it or not, there are many funny moments in this film.

Lessons I learned:
*Lawyers have pretty books.
*Lawyers drink.
*There is no unwritten law. (Remember the pretty books.)
*Lap dogs like beer. It makes them sleepy.
*Always insist that your client and all related parties wear girdles. Attractive jiggling is not for the public.
*Everything goes in the docket.
*A jury can't really disregard what it's already heard.
*It's the role of the attorneys to provide the wisecracks in a trial.
*The prosecution will always object to "flagrant sneaking subterfuge" on the part of the defense.
*"People aren't just good or bad, they're many things."
*Cute furry animals can help your case, especially if they are smart enough to turn on and carry a flashlight.
*Research is important... You have to know your precedent.
*Buttering up the judge never hurts.
But David would point out that not everything in this movie was entirely proper. I think he's ready for finals. Three stars, and I would probably see this again. Maybe in preparation for the Bar.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

A World War II comedy set in Poland complete with a play about Nazis, real invading Nazis, and actors in their Nazi costumes trying to get the real Nazis to think that they are Nazis, too. Funny movie. The acting troupe at the center of this movie is about to have their first performance of a play about Nazi Germany, despite some disputes amongst the actors. For example, "Heil myself," while deemed great for a laugh by the actor playing Hitler, is believed by the director to be un-Hilter-like. Unfortunately, the play is shut down, because the Polish war board is afraid the play will offend Hitler. When the Nazis invade, though, the costumes and sets of the canceled play come in handy in unexpected ways.
When the Nazis invade Poland, the acting troupe is in the middle of its own drama. It is performing Hamlet with husband and wife stars Maria and Joseph Tura (Carole Lombard and Jack Benny) in the lead roles. Maria has been recently introduced to a young aviator who has been to see all her shows. He's been sneaking back to her dressing room to talk with her every night when her husband goes into his "To be or not to be..." soliloquy. Joseph has noticed the audience getting up to let someone out, but has not yet put the pieces together. He just thinks he has experienced "What every actor dreads... Someone walked out on me." Joseph is spared from finding out about his wife's admirer by the announcement of war. The young aviator goes of to war...
The real hilarity begins when the young aviator discovers that a German spy is on his way to Poland to give the names of important resistance leaders to the Gestapo. The aviator returns to Poland (by plane and parachute) and enlists the help of Maria in foiling the spy. With Joseph's permission of course:

Josef Tura: Wait a minute. I'll decide with whom my wife is going to have dinner and whom she's going to kill.
Maria Tura: Don't you realize Poland's at stake?
Lieutenant Sobinski: Have you no patriotism?
Josef Tura: Now listen, you... first you walk out on my soliloquy and then you walk into my slippers. And now you question my patriotism. I'm a good Pole and I love my country and I love my slippers.

Enter many mistaken identities and rescue attempts. One of the best scenes involves a dead man and a false beard. I would definitely see this movie again, but it's probably only a two star movie... But who cares. One star for Carole Lombard, who was a funny funny lady, one star for the false beard scene, and one more for being so quotable. Three stars! "You can't have your cake and shoot it too."

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Lady Eve (1941)

I think Barbara Stanwyck is fantastic. She really makes this movie. Stanwyck plays Jean, a con artist who works with her father to woo men into losing lots of money to them at cards. On a cruise back to New York from South America, Jean and her father set their sights on the handsome yet bumbling herpetologist Charles (Henry Ford). I knew I was going to enjoy the movie, no matter how silly the plot, from the moment Jean started her narration of what all the other women she watched trying to pick up Charles must be saying. Jean, though, does not need a pick-up line. She very suavely trips Charles as he walks past her table, convinces him to walk her back to her cabin so she can change into new and undamaged shoes, and seduces him by suggesting he put the new shoes on her. From the moment Charles starts handling her feet, his eyes go all swimmy, and he is ready to follow her anywhere.
He follows her back to the dinner table, where Jean's father starts to set him up to lose a lot of money. And the courtship begins, with Charles bumbling over his words, and Jean delivering great lines like:
"I know what you meant, I was just flirting with you." and
"You're not going to faint, are you?"

The plot takes a quick turn when Jean announces that she is actually in love with Charles. She convinces her father not to take any of Charles's money, and she accepts Charles's marriage proposal. Unfortunately for Jean, though, the very morning after Charles proposes, someone tips Charles off to the scam. Charles won't believe that Jean is reformed or that she really does love him, and they part ways.

The rest of the movie involves a very complexly nutty scheme to get back at Charles. For as Jean says, "I need him like the axe needs the turkey." Jean goes to some pretty crazy lengths to get her revenge. I spent a lot of time wondering why she was bothering... and then everything made sense at the end of the movie. It will be a lot more fun if you don't try to predict what is going to happen!

Only two stars due to many tedious moments and the stupidity of the male lead (Barbara Stanwyck's great line delivery just isn't enough to make me believe that her character Jean actually cares anything for Charles), but I would see this again. It also really makes me want to investigate more Barbara Stanwyck movies.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Indiscreet (1958)

Cary Grant... Ingrid Bergman... "romantic comedy." Sounds like what I need right now. All in all, it was silly and not the best work by either of them, but it turned out to be an entertaining movie to watch while packing and doing school work. Really, the last part of the movie is where most of the comedy enters the picture. I chuckled at the ending line.
Anna Kalman (Bergman) has given up on finding the right man. Her most recent find, "the one who looked like a Greek statue," has turned out to be rather silly. Or in Anna's words, "He talked like a Greek statue. I don't think he knew more than a dozen words." Anna's sister doesn't seem to have a very good opinion of men herself, telling Anna, "I don't know what you expect from a man. You know there's a limit to how entertaining they can be." But Anna believes "they ought to be able to talk a little, simple sentences."

And then Philip (Grant) enters the room, and it's love at first sight for Anna. Philip is dashing, speaks clearly and intelligently about monetary policy while wearing enormous glasses, and is an excellent dinner date. Unfortunately, after their first dinner together, Philip admits, "I'm a married man, Miss Kalman." And thus begins the tortured staring at each other set to music, the long phone calls, and the secret dinners and late night drinks.
But, spoiler:
Philip, it turns out, has developed an insane way of dating without raising any expectations. "I don't care to be married," he says. "On the other hand, I have no intention of giving up women." Anna has found herself a catch. Hilarity and revenge ensue.

Two stars. If it weren't for the fact I own this movie as part of a box set, I probably wouldn't be tempted to see it again. For great Grant and Bergman, watch Notorious.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

"Oh Dexter, I'll be yar now... I promise I'll be yar." And with statement, the independent, smart, and funny Tracy Lord (played by Katherine Hepburn) gives in to her ex-husband (Cary Grant) and admits that women should be sweet and manageable and that she has been wrong to be so strong in the past. Warning: Although I do love some things about this movie, I'm not feeling very generous toward it at the moment. I forgot between viewings just how many painfully obnoxious moments there are.

The movie begins with Tracy preparing for her marriage to a second husband. The first marriage, we learn, ended because of Dex's (Grant's) drinking problem. A paper wants to do a story on the wedding (Tracy is high society), but Tracy is too private to allow photos. The paper's head honcho happens to have a story on Tracy's dad, who happens to be having an affair. He blackmails Dex into bringing a reporter and a photographer into Tracy's family home, promising to sit on the story on Mr. Lord as long as there's a story on the wedding. James Stewart plays the wonderfully sarcastic reporter who falls for Tracy. Much hilarity ensues, involving swimming, champagne, crooning, and huge hangovers.
My problem with the plot, is that we are later shown that Dex's drinking wasn't really the worst of things in Dex and Tracy's marriage. The worst of things was that Tracy was a "distant goddess," unable to accept frailty in others or to offer womanly warmth and support. First Dex tells Tracy this. Then James Stewart makes some statements confirming it...only he doesn't mind. He's new enough to like putting her up on a pedestal as a "queen." Then... final straw... Tracy's somewhat-estranged father returns from his affair with a young dancer in NYC and essentially blames Tracy for the fact that he had an affair.

And here it is, the most annoying part of the movie:
Mr. Lord: What most wives fail to realize is that their husband's philandering has nothing whatsoever to do with them.
Tracy: Oh? Then what has it to do with?
Mr. Lord: A reluctance to grow old, I think. I suppose the best mainstay a man can have as he gets along in years is a daughter - the right kind of daughter.

And then he goes on to explain. You see, Mr. Lord just needed a way to hold on to some of his youth, but instead of being blessed with a sweet young daughter to help him, he ended up with a harsh, shall we say "shrew," of a daughter who had a "prejudice against weakness." Seems she didn't like putting up with a constantly drunk husband or a dad who was off very publicly cheating on her mom.

Another way of looking at this movie is that it is in the "divorced, but will they find their way back together?" category of films. Cary Grant seems to be in a bunch of these. I believe the lesson in this film is that if you let yourself be tamed, yes, you can have a second chance. Despite my rants, I'm still giving this three stars, because the acting was fantastic, and I'm willing to put some blame on the time period in which it was made. And Dex does at least tell Tracy, "Be whatever you like, you're my redhead," and he has given up his drinking when he returns. Anyways, I know I'll see this and rant and laugh many more times.

P.S. - Something enjoyable that does not come with a rant:
With 12 movies on this blog already tagged with "odd precocious little girl," I can't believe one of them was not this movie. Virginia Weidler, as usual, plays the perfect "odd precocious little girl," from her early comment about the papers being "full of innundo" to her dramatic interpretation of a spoiled little rich girl, when she and Tracy try to mess with the reporters sent to do the story on Tracy's wedding.
And of course there's her comment about the fancy dress she wears to the wedding...
Mrs. Lord: I think that dress hikes up a little behind.
Dinah: No... I do.
I am a huge fan of Virginia Weidler.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fiesta (1947)

Another Esther Williams film that doesn't even feature swimming? What does she do?
Bullfighting of course! My friend Yvonne and I sat down to watch this movie even after all of my warnings that a non-swimming movie in the Esther Williams box set volume 2 was bound to be scary. And we did have fun...

The story begins in a town in Mexico, when former star bullfighter Antonio Moralas meets his new baby daughter. He does very little to hide his disappointment that she is a girl. Even his assurance of, "Don't think I'm disappointed because she is a girl," is negated by his elation when a twin baby boy appears minutes later. "Gracias!" he tells his wife, and the whole staff is invited to drink to the baby boy. Even when the little girl grows up to be Esther Williams (playing Maria Morales), Mr Moralas only has eyes for his son, who he expects to become a great bullfighter like himself. Sadly for Mr. Moralas, though, his son Mario (Ricardo Montalban) is busy writing concertos that are "as beautiful as a hundred butterflies." Maria is the one who's interested in bulls.
The plot thickens when Maria sends Mario's concerto to a famous composer, the composer shows up to meet Mario the genius, and Mr. Moralas hides the visit from Mario so as not to distract him from bullfighting. When Mario learns of his father's deceit he runs off. Of course the only way Maria can think of to bring him back is to dress herself as her twin brother and enter bullfights in his name. Of course.

Questions raised:
Does a bullfight really end when you tap a bull on the head? And does that really make the bull just lie down and act pleasant? Or does that just work for Esther Williams? I assume the real thing ends with something more gruesome... Perhaps that's why the camera swings away right before she taps the bull on the head...

Two stars, because I'm feeling generous, and someone was doing a nice job working with the animals in the bull ring, but once was enough.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Every once in a while it's nice just to watch a movie I already know I like. Enter To Catch a Thief, a Hitchcock film with great acting, great dialogue, and fascinating wardrobe choices. And of course Cary Grant is Cary Grant, looking suave even in a crazy red with white polka dots silk scarf wrapped around his neck.
But of course he is suave, not only is he Cary Grant, he is playing John Robie, a former jewel thief turned hero of the French resistance. Robie comes under suspicion after a string of jewel thefts, all bearing his famous mark. With the police on his tail, he escapes by boat to Cannes, where he makes his first costume change. And yes, he continues to look suave floating to shore in his new plaid bathing trunks.
A worried jewelry insurance agent convinces Robie to try to clear his own name by catching the copycat burglar. Robie is equipped with a list of the insured and any personal details that could help him to keep a good watch on then, prompting the well delivered, "I wish I'd known someone in the insurance racket when I went into the burglary business." Robie quickly settles into the Ritz Carlton Hotel under a fake name in order to befriend and keep an eye on the heavily jeweled Jessie Stevens. And there he meets her daughter Frances, played by Grace Kelly. Grace Kelly's dresses are honestly reason enough to watch this movie. Leaving aside whether or not I could pull any of them off, I want them. Especially this one:
In fact, the only outfit of hers in which I have no interest is the "bathing costume" below:
Robie is not put off by the bathing costume, though. What puts him off about Frances Stevens is when she reveals that not only does she know he's really Robie "the cat," but she believes he is in fact guilty of the current crime spree and... wants to join him. Robie just isn't interested in "women who need weird excitement."

Cary Grant climbing around on rooftops, Grace Kelly's dresses, a Hitchcock mystery to solve...I love this movie.
One more great line I couldn't work in above...
Jesse about her daughter Frances: "Sorry I ever sent her to that finishing school. I think they finished her there." Four stars, and I will definitely watch this again.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Song of the Thin Man (1947)

But first, a Thin Man marathon...
9:50 - The Thin Man
"a manhattan, you shake to a foxtrot..."
"Waiter, will you serve the nuts... I mean, will you serve the guests the nuts."


*a long walk to a coffee shop and back...*

"I wish my old lady were bats that way."
Asta acrobatics!

"Daddy, drink milk!"
"But Daddy doesn't like milk."

"Why did he herd us into the room like this?"
"...this is the way he always works."

and the finale... 9:04 - Song of the Thin Man
I waited so long to finish this series of films. I think I was worried I would be sad when there were no more "new" Thin Man movies left to see. (And maybe a little worried that I would be disappointed in the later films.) Not sad, though, because I am perfectly happy re-watching. Not disappointed, either. The Asta actors do more cutesy tricks in each film, now there is a child to provide occasional silly kid quotes, and maybe there's less drinking, but Nick and Nora are still Nick and Nora. And Nora even gets to participate more in this mystery. Nick doesn't shove her in any falsely directed cabs or lock her in any rooms to prevent her from helping. Good for him. So, while the first film is definitely my favorite, I will still give this movie three stars, and I'm sure I will see it again sometime. Not sure there will ever be another marathon, though.