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.