Movies have a funny way of getting to me. This is my way of getting back at them.
This is just a random Classic Film review site. No spoilers are posted and the ideas are all idiotic and mine.
I thought it would be a fun thing to try. Here goes nothing.
To see a list of all movies reviewed so far, please click the "Movie Reviews" link on the right hand side of the screen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I bet you write beautiful letters

Desk Set (1957)

Seen before                   Not seen before

Brought in by the boss to install electric brain EMERAC, Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) is taken aback by the extensive knowledge of the Resource Department, whose job it is to take calls and inform the public of anything they want to know. Especially impressive is Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn), the smartest and quickest girl in the office. Watson, along with her coworkers Peg, Silvia, and Ruthie, must fight for their jobs when Sumner's machine threatens to take their places. As Sumner spends more time in the Research Department, he, and the girls of the department, finds that maybe a machine can't replace humans after all.

Bunny, the girls, and EMERAC
Wow it has been months since I did a review! So that being said, I think we all know how horrible and rusty this review is going to be. So let me just get back into the swing of things, and it's probably best to ignore this one and try another one. Here we go.

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, besides having a special relationship off-screen, made nine very successful films together. This is the eighth of their films, and unlike what I've said before about movies with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Trace and Hepburn plots varied, and one movie isn't necessarily like another, other than the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) they end up together in the end. Desk Set is totally different than say, Adam's Rib, or State of the Union. That's probably what I like most about their movies, other than their obvious chemistry. 
Even though it is totally different, it's probably more overlooked than some of their other ones. As I looked through the collection of KHep (that's my personal nickname for her so don't judge me) photos that I've gathered on my laptop, I couldn't find a single one that was from the set, or a promotional photo of, Desk Set. That's a shame. It really is really good! (Trust me, my review won't do it justice, you should just watch it). 

Overall, Desk Set is one of my favorite Tracy/Hepburn films as far as comedies go (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is by far their best ever, but it is definitely not a comedy...the tears flow in that one). The dialogue is fun and witty and we get to watch what I consider actual emotional development, more than the idea of "I've only known you for a day and I can't explain it but I'm in love with you forever." Granted, it takes place over the course of about a month, and a month isn't exactly a long enough time to be in love (well, for some people it is), but Richard and Bunny spend a lot of time together and we see subtle changes in Bunny as we go through the movie, so their relationship by the end is not that unbelievable. Interestingly, however, I think the best exchanges are not between Bunny and Richard, but between Bunny and Peg. Peg is played by Joan Blondell (most famous 20 years later, and 20 years older, in Grease) and Blondell is great at quick and snappy dialogue, which Hepburn, even with her ridiculous accent, can snap right back (I know that's her trademark but sometimes it is just a little much and I can't help but just laugh at it). That's not to say, of course, that Tracy and Hepburn aren't snappy and witty. The picnic on the rooftop is far and away the best scene because you get to see Katharine Hepburn outwit a smug Spencer Tracy and you get to work them off each other, and you can see straight through the acting to their palpable chemistry. I am a fan of that. It's a very fun script that allows for good performances from the cast.

Though I obviously didn't know Katharine Hepburn personally, based on extensive research I've done, I feel like Bunny Watson was one of the characters that was closest to her actual personality. From what I can tell, she was incredibly smart and believed strongly in the importance of education and correct information, but was kind of about having certain situations under her control. And obviously, she loved Spencer Tracy. As this film was made in 1957, KHep was nearing her true acting prime, which, in my opinion, came in the 60s. There is definitely evidence of her dramatic potential as she is playfully reciting "Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight" (by Rose Harwick Thorpe) as EMERAC, and Richard's assistant, is having a meltdown. She's very dramatic while still retaining a sense of comedy and comedic timing. Kate is Great. As usual. I also love her as drunk Bunny. It's not very often she gets to play drunk and she's straight up hilarious. Katharine Hepburn is just good in everything she does (except Dragon Seed, but we will get there with time). That's why she has 4 Oscars. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Kate the Great
In 2015, it's so interesting to see the innovation that EMERAC was in 1957 compared to the technology we enjoy 60 years later. First of all, we always hear about how early computers in the 60s and 70s took up an entire room. EMERAC does that, and to our modern brains, we just look at that and think how?? Second of all, the technology we know today can completely ruin the magic of what that 1957 computer could do. I bet to the people in the 1950s, a computer like EMERAC was the singular coolest thing, and maybe to them it represented the future. Now we just laugh, and it's a real shame that people of our generation cannot put things into context (sorry, I'll get off my history soapbox now). As 21st-centurians (not a word but deal with it), all EMERAC can really do is retrieve information that it was fed and print it out. Compared to what we are used to nowadays, it's almost not even fair to the cool technology of the 1950s. I mean, actually, technically in a way, EMERAC can do exactly what the internet does, it just does it slower and in a mere old fashioned way. So maybe now that I think about it, we ought to give EMERAC some credit. 

To me, this is a high standard romantic comedy. It's standard in that it is a romantic comedy, but high in that it reached in the end in kind of a non-standard way. By no means is this Tracy, Hepburn, or Tracy/Hepburn's best film, but it is a fun one that is definitely worth the watch. My recommendation for Desk Set:

Don't recommend                                Recommend                      Strongly recommend

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our fine four fendered friend

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

Seen before                   Not seen before

When Jeremy and Jemima Potts take interest in an old race car that was once a three-time Grand Prix Champion, they ask their inventor father Caracatus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) buy it in the hopes of fixing it up. Using his inventing skills, Caracatus successfully fixes it up, and rechristens it Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The three of them, on a picnic with Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes), the daughter of the Confection King around town, imagine the kind of adventures Chitty could take them on, including a trip to a made up land of Vulgaria to rescue their grandfather (Lionel Jeffries) from the menace Baron Bomburst. 

This film is so integrated into my childhood that I might have a hard time being objective about it. Or even saying anything of real know how biased you are when something has been in your life for so long. Having come out in 1968, this film is toward the very end of my self-imposed cut off date of classic films, but since it came out before 1969, then this is one of the first classic films that I ever saw. And it is SO GOOD. 
My dad and I used to watch this movie a lot together. I have my father to thank for my love for classic films, I suppose. Thanks Dad!

So first of all, let's start this review off by some fun classic movie facts: The screenplay was written by Roald Dohl (author of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, lots of other), his screenplay based on a novel written by Ian Fleming, who came to fame by writing all of the James Bond novels. So it's basically a James Bond movie. Just kidding. But who knew?? That is great!
Another fun fact, and then we'll get to the real review: Julie Andrews was originally offered the role of Truly Scrumptious. She turned it down, so Sally Ann Howes, who took Julie Andrews' place as Eliza Doolittle on the stage production of My Fair Lady, was offered the part. And as great as Julie Andrews would have been, I think Sally Ann Howes is perfect, and I'm not sure if Julie could have done any better. 

Okay, onto the (hopefully) real review. I think what makes this movie so magical and beloved is that it blurs the line between the real and the imagined. The movie merges into the fantasy so smoothly that you don't really realize that it's just make believe until the fantasy part is over, and all four of them are sitting in the car on the beach again. When I was young (and believe it or not, this was meant to be a children's movie), everything of this film was so real to me. That, I think, is what makes the film so effective. Only since I've gotten older can I separate the fantasy part from the "real" part. But part of me doesn't want to. My logical brain has kicked in too much, and I almost want to go back to when I believed the whole movie was one plot. It's so fun, and such stimulation for a child, especially a child with an imagination as active as mine.

The music in this movie is great. Despite what many people think, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is not a Disney movie, even though you had Dick Van Dyke and the Sherman Brothers (both Van Dyke and the Sherman Brothers had success with Mary Poppins four years earlier), both parties synonymous with Disney. If I remember correctly, this is the first film the Sherman Brothers took part in away from Disney, and I think it's proof that they were two very talented men. The title "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" is incredibly catchy, and I'll probably be singing it for the next week and a half. In fact, every song in the movie is so memorable that, even after 5+ years of not having watched it, I still know almost every word. Occasionally, out of nowhere, I'll find myself singing "Truly Scrumptious" or "P O S H Posh." I can't imagine the kind of work those two men put into these timeless songs, but to me, it was totally worth it. For whatever reason, the soundtrack hasn't been released on Itunes or Spotify, but copies of the physical CD can be found on Amazon and probably other media vendors. I plan on buying it. You probably should too. 

The film is just so rich in plot that I honestly cannot find anything wrong with it. Again, I'm biased. But once the fantasy part of the movie begins, I become so engrossed in it because it is just SO FUN. With the exception of the forever terrifying child catcher, there is humor and music and the general plot line that make this movie a joy to watch. I mean, what's the deal with the Baron hating his wife, and what's the deal with the Baroness's fear of children? And what about the singular toymaker who makes toys ONLY for the king? But to me, one of the most entertaining and visually pleasing moments comes when Caracatus and Truly are pretending to be toys. Sally Ann Howes pretending to be a wind-up musical doll has gone down in my personal film history books as one of my favorite performances of all time. I remember I always thought it was amazing that she could move so precisely while moving, and hold so still when she wasn't spinning around. That was, and probably will continue to be, a magical scene for me.

And Dick Van Dyke brings in his typical physical humor to that scene as well. A lot of this movie is missing that from him, because he was very physical in getting a laugh out of people, as is evidence by his long running Dick Van Dyke Show. But we see glimpses of it, mostly at the beach and during the doll scene. There's also a little bit of it when he's running through the fair and he does the "Me Ol' Bamboo" number with the other dances, but that, in my opinion, is just classic Van Dyke charm. Dick Van Dyke is really good in this movie. According to IMDB, he only made this film after he was promised that he wouldn't have to do an English accent after he totally failed on that front in Mary Poppins. Don't worry Dick Van Dyke, we still love you. 

I never realized that most of the comedy in this movie is straight up slapstick comedy. You have the two henchmen, who you never really see after Chitty heads for Vulgaria, but they are the typically comedic bad guys. One seems to be smarter than the other but they are both bumbling idiots. One of my favorite of their parts is when the smarter one calls the Baron on the portable telephone and he's like "This is X," and the Baron replies "Schmex?" 
"No, X!" 
"No! X as in..."
And the dumber henchman pipes in "Egxs and bacon!"
"Egxs and ba...."
But honestly, slapstick, farcical humor is MY kind of humor. I think it's HILARIOUS. My dear father can't seem to stomach much of it, so I don't know why he loved this movie so much. So if you like that kind of humor, you'll really like the humor in this film. Or, at least I think so. 
Basically anything that happens with the Baron is just a giant farce. During the "Chu-Chi Face" number, when he's trying to get all these terrible things to happen to his wife is TOTALLY a farce and I LOVE it! His birthday party is a giant farce party. Seriously. This movie is THE GREATEST. It's so funny, and I think it has humor that both kids and adults can enjoy and appreciate. 

I do also just want to give a quick section to Sally Ann Howes. She was a stage veteran (having taken on Eliza in My Fair Lady as well as some other prestigious stage credits), and though she made her appearance in a good number of films prior to Chitty, this I think one of her first starring roles and obviously the one that solidified her in the public eye. And I think she is SO GOOD. She is so gorgeous (which for me is kind of a big deal), and so British, and her voice is really lovely. And her character, so unlikable at the beginning, quickly redeems herself. By no means was this an Academy winning performance or anything, but I really loved her. And even though she replaced Julie Andrews, as I said earlier, I'm not sure I would have liked Julie Andrews any more than I liked Howes. There are better performances from other actresses, but in this case, it is not a competition. I loved her. 

I don't know of very many people who haven't seen this movie. But if you haven't seen it, WHY HAVEN'T YOU SEEN IT??? Though it wasn't very popular when it first came out (in fact, it lost money on its opening run), it has since become one of the most beloved family friendly films of all time. So get your family together on Monday night for FHE and rent this movie and sit down and watch it. I seriously love it. I want this movie to be a part of my children's lives as much as it was part of my own life, so this will certainly be one shown around my home many times in the future. My recommendation for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: 

Don't recommend                        Recommend                       Strongly recommend

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Line up, you tramps. This ain't no upstairs delicatessen

Caged (1950)

Seen before                   Not seen before

At nineteen and charged as an accessory to armed robbery, Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker) enters the State Women's Prison naive and scared. Though the matron of the prison (Agnes Moorehead) is sympathetic to her plight, Marie, #98350, quickly learns how tough and unfair life is inside the cage. 

That is honestly the shortest plot summary I've ever written, but if I write anymore, I'll give everything away! Besides, this is really like pretty much exactly what happens.

This, in my opinion, is an incredibly underrated film. Though it's actually pretty popular with aficionados today, most people have never heard of it. And it's a shame! Because to me, it basically captures the essence of human nature. We come into a situation one way and we have to adapt or die, whether that is for good or for bad. Eleanor Parker does a wonderful, wonderful job of portraying that, and the entire time I was watching it I just kept thinking, "I can totally understand how and why this is happening." It's not unbelievable really in any way. I just think it's so good!

Okay so first of all, you've got Eleanor Parker. Who is great, once you get past the "that's Baronness Von Schrader" feeling every time you see her on screen. This is 15 years prior to The Sound of Music so she's young but she doesn't change much. Anyway, Parker did mostly B movies, but this should not be counted as one of them. When we first meet Marie, she is this 19 year old who is just so scared out of her wits that she can hardly function. The beginning of the film we see every fundamental right, or what we as civilians perceive to be rights, stripped away. She doesn't get to keep her wedding ring, she's lost her husband, and she doesn't even get the right to a comb. Any comfort or pleasure or little advantages we take for granted are taken away from her, and Parker does a great job of showing how terrifying each little change, though little indeed, is HUGE to a small naive girl like her. I can relate to her, because I'm basically a small naive girl myself.  I cannot imagine going through that. But then we get to see Marie and Parker get hardened by every day that passes and every experience she goes through, and by the end Marie is an entire different girl. And yet at the same time, you watch her still actively try to resist the evil and corruption that surrounds her. She basically watches herself morph and change, and tries to hang onto any glimpse of humanity that she can get--as is personified in the kitten that she tries to sneak into the prison. The kitten is a metaphor. I don't want to give anything way, but I think it represents the last piece of humanity that Marie tries to hold onto in the prison. The kitten is a breaking point. That can't be an easy thing to play, and so I think all the credit for the success of this film belongs to Eleanor Parker. She's SUCH an underrated actress guys!

Her face here is so terrified and naive and REAL. 
I love Agnes Moorehead! This another experience where I see her and I can only think of one her case, Pollyanna. But anyway, Moorehead herself was great, but her character was just a little too moral. Moorehead is Ruth Benton, the prison matron who takes Marie under her wing and does her best to protect her. There is no flaw in this character. None to be found. And I get it that she's supposed to be the inverse of the entirely corrupt Evelyn Harper and be some good in the bleak horizon, but it just bothered me a little bit that she was so moral.
On the other hand, Evelyn Harper was so nasty and corrupt...I mean, granted, that's kind of how the prison system is...or how the media portrays it to be (Mama Morton in Chicago, anybody?). Just as there is nothing bad to be found in Benton, there is nothing good to be found in Harper.
Both of these characters, I think, serve to help us understand and sympathize with the two directions Marie is being pulled in. On the one hand in Ruth Benton, you have the kindness and morality and innocence that Marie came from, and that she hopes to go back to. And on the other hand, you have Harper, who represents the truly corrupt world that Marie has been blind to, and yet the comfort she could have should she decide to join them.

Agnes Moorehead (Ruth Benton) and Eleanor Parker (Marie Allen)
The film presents a different perspective. Not only were prison films not exactly a common occurrence (not that they are today, but they are less shocking now than I think they would have been then), but films about women's prisons were practically taboo subjects. I think they were still a society that believed in the innate goodness of women. Ha! A film like this had to be shocking and unnerving and eye-opening. It is based on a book called "Women Without Men," by Virginia Kellog, an LA Times writer, who actually lived a women's prison in order to gather her research. I only imagine that some members of the public watching the film couldn't believe that sort of stuff was real.
And not only does it depict the unnerving subject of incarceration, but, as is presented in Marie, women prisoners presented a whole new problem that men never had issues with--pregnancy. First, this is one of the few films from this era that showed a woman physically pregnant. Usually, the pregnancy would be alluded to but we would never see it on screen. I'm not really sure why...maybe the Hays Code thought pregnant women would too obviously allude to the reason for the pregnancy...I don't know. Anyway, not only is this a physical issue that men didn't have to deal with, but it was an emotional problem for the female inmates. And especially, and understandably, a huge emotional problem for the naive Marie Allen. Again, I don't want to give anything away, but something happens with the baby once it is born, and this is probably the major tipping point for Marie. Before the baby was born, there was hope and faith that she could get out and make a better life. After...well, after the baby is born, her whole perspective changes. After the birth is when we see real changes begin to happen.
This film is bloody brilliant, I'm serious.

The screenplay won an Oscar. All of the above reasons are part of why.

The movie is full of fear and uncertainty and coldness and hope and isolation and humanity and the loss of it. It's interesting to follow Marie on this journey she goes, and at the end you have so much hope that she'll turn out the way she was in the beginning, but you realize how it just isn't possible because prison changes a person. It's cliche to say so, but in this film, you literally WATCH it happen. And the whole time you just sympathize with her and hope that even through all the horrors she is dragged through, the early optimism will be there.
The final, poignant line belongs to Ruth Benton. As Marie is released, the matron's secretary asks, "What do we do with her file?"
"Keep it open," Benton says. "She'll be back."

I hope I didn't give anything away. I feel like even if you didn't know anything about the film, you could make a pretty good guess based on the subject material. I really think this is a really good film. I don't think you need to go out and watch it right away, but definitely put it on your lists. If just for Agnes Moorehead and Eleanor Parker. My recommendation for Caged: 

Don't recommend                                 Recommend                            Strongly recommend

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I'll give you until the rains break

Black Narcissus (1947)

Seen before                   Not seen before

Accepting an assignment from the Mother Superior, Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) and four other sisters begin to establish a convent in the Himalayas. With doubt of success on nearly every side, including from an agent of the local General, English Mr. Dean (David Farrar), the Sisters begin their work with vigor, setting up a girls' school, a dispensary and a chapel. However, soon the location, environment, and climate begins to get to them and tensions build--both from the local Indian community, and within their own sisterhood. 

This isn't a typical niche thriller/horror film. And in fact, I refuse to watch horror/scary films. But this...this is what my nightmares are made of. I mean, just look at the poster above. That is kinda creepy, but I actually kind of love it and may or may not want it hanging on my wall. Sister Ruth (which if you've seen the movie, you'll know I'm not really giving anything away) is the very definition of descent into madness, and the stuff that haunts me at night. 

I'll start with Sister Ruth, played by Kathleen Byron. If you look up her on IMDB, her profile picture is her from this movie. She doesn't have very many other notable roles, and I don't know if this role haunted her like it haunts me, but this may or may not have been the pinnacle of her career. But she really does a brilliant job at being terrifying and crazy and perhaps simply misunderstood. According to the IMDB trivia section (I read those after every film I watch), she has stated a few times that she wanted to play the role differently than the director saw it, but ultimately, the end product is so good. 

You know, the funny thing about this film is that it sort of tricks you into this false sense of security, and halfway through, you aren't totally sure what exactly this film is about. Like, you understand that the convent and the air is beginning to get to them, but you aren't really sure where it's leading. And then...well...Sister Ruth happens. I think the writing is really quite good, and I gain so much more from it every time I watch it. 
There are major senses of ambiguity in every stage in the movie. As I said, you aren't ever sure exactly of what's going on. There are quick shots of facial expressions, of little happenings and experiences that are obviously important, but you aren't exactly sure why. It's actually a film of relatively few words (RELATIVELY), and every word is important...if you miss a scene, you'll come back into the film wondering what the heck is happening. British films are excellent at this...American films, less so. Things need to be spelled out, and very obvious...Americans don't really seem to like to think that much (and that's what I attribute to all the action movies that are made today). Stay alert and awake while watching this one. It is IMPORTANT. 

Fear is a constant theme in this movie. Fear from the locals, fear in the eyes of the sisters, fear from Sister Clodagh, fear from you as you watched madness unfold in Sister Ruth. It's a gorgeous theme. I just...I can't even think of anything to say. I just love this film. 

This is the last film that Deborah Kerr made before coming to America and making her very first MGM film with Clark Gable. And this surely has to be a reason for it. She's young, but she's really quite good. One thing I noticed this time around, for the probably the first time in the 5+ times I've seen it, is that there are constant references to her character being "superior." She is assigned by the Mother Superior as the Sister Superior in the Himalayan convent, and people will call her the "Superior Sister," and it's subtle, but it's such an important detail and an insight on her character, and the way Kerr plays her. She's stiff and cold, and only shows real emotion, which is mostly fear, until the end when shiz starts to go down with Sister Ruth. 
What I love most from her are the few and brief flashbacks that we see of Clodagh before (and probably the reason) why she becomes a nun. And I love it because it's so different, and helps you understand why Sister Clodagh is the "Superior Sister" rather than the "Sister Superior." It's so important in character development, and it's a subtle bit that I really love. 

A young Jean Simmons has an important role in the movie. Interestingly enough, she does not say a single word in the entire film. But her character seems to represent the failure of the convent and the Sisters. She is young and very pretty, and the first few times I watched the movie I didn't understand the point of Kanchi. But this time around, I think I finally understood it. Not a word does she speak, but she definitely plays an important part in the film. 

The backgrounds are GORGEOUS. And if I remember correctly from the IMDB trivia page, they were all mostly handpainted. I've said before, with the CGI-riddled film world that we live in today, they would just CGI that stuff and leave it. But special effects in classic films are so impressive because, even though they're less "realistic" than what CGI can make, but don't you tell me that they are not beautiful, and that they didn't pave the way for realism. The best realism comes when any sister stands on the edge of the side of the mountain, ringing the bell, and there is nothing stopping them from just falling off the sheer side of the cliff. To me, the angle of that shot is so much more realistic than any CGI cliff they can create today. 
But I'm also a special effects snob. I think classic special effects are severely underrated. 
Not are just the backgrounds gorgeous, but the art in the convent/old palace have an important role to play, and the writing itself is an art to be admired. Black Narcissus is a beautiful film that is I think is a crucial movie in film history. I think this opinion is backed up by the fact that it was released by the Criterion Collection. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT FILM. 

Overall, I think this movie gets overlooked quite a bit. Mostly because it's hard to find, so it's kind of unavailable to the average movie fan. I wish it could be more widely known, because there are so many wonderful things that should be gleaned from it. If you have a chance to find it, please, find it and watch it. And then tell me that you aren't terrified in the most real way ever.
I will probably never not be terrified by Sister Ruth. 
My recommendation for Black Narcissus:

Don't recommend                            Recommend                     Strongly recommend

No, no, they can't take that away from me

The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)

Seen before                   Not seen before

Husband and wife musical comedy team Josh and Dinah Barkley have another hit on their hands...and another fight too. Dinah (Ginger Rogers) is told that she could be a truly dramatic actress, while Josh (Fred Astaire) not only doesn't believe her, but takes credit for her stage presence, calling himself her "Svengali." After one last major fight, the couple go their separate ways, with friend Ezra Millar (Oscar Levant) trying every trick he knows to keep them together. 

I've said before that if you've seen one Astaire/Rogers movie, you've seen them all. This is the only one of their ten films that does not apply to this statement. Made a decade after what I have termed the Fred/Ginger Era (1933-1939), this is almost an entirely different film from one of the most classic movie couples of all time. 
Never mind the fact that they just look older, but it's just a more mature film from them. And by that I mean that it wasn't just a plot that was a series of silly misunderstandings in which they spend time falling in love. It's not just the same characters over and over, the same Fred Astaire going after the same Ginger Rogers. It's a more mature plot which leads to growth and understanding in the characters. I think that's so important for the two actors in their careers, and it's a great film for these two to finish up their films as an onscreen couple.
You can see how developed each of them are as actors, having 10 years between their last one and this one. I feel that they try to get more emotion and acting in this film, versus just pure singing and dancing and farcical humor. Ginger gets a whole dramatic scene as young Sarah Bernhardt (which she overplays a bit with the French, but I'll forgive her for it). I really think the timing of the movie allowed for much greater development for both characters and plot. In my opinion, it's much better acting, and much more enjoyable from that standpoint than their golden era movies. 
An interesting side note is that this is actually their only film where they began the film married, and the plot was not about them falling in's about them staying in love (The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle featured them as a married couple for most of the film, but they did not start the movie married). 
Both Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers would each go on to make only a handful of films after wrapping The Barkleys of Broadway and I think this film was just a pinnacle of both of their careers, and I think it was a good choice of film for both of them.

But if it's the farcical and overdramatic kind of comedy that you loved in their golden area movies, don't fear; there is still plenty of that to be found in this film, too. 

Now at this point, I've made it seem that it's just this great dramatic platform for Fred and Ginger. But trust me, the music and songs and dances are still the star of the show. 
The dance numbers...oh be still, my heart, the dance numbers. There is a point in Ginger Roger's autobiography where she discusses making this film, and she says something to the effect "People talk about how happy we look during our dance numbers. We aren't acting. We genuinely had fun together." If you haven't read her auto, you should. Anyway, they really do look like they've having a fantastic time when they're doing their dance numbers. The one that I love the most is a tap dance they do together somewhere in the middle of the movie. Both of them just look like they're having the time of their lives, dancing together. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers have chemistry when acting, but they have even more, greater chemistry when they're dancing.
Look how happy they are!
And Fred Astaire has a solo dance that pushes the boundaries of special effects...he dances with magic pairs of shoes next to him. In our CGI-ridden world, it's a very primitive special effects, but for 1949, are you kidding me? This is great stuff! And Fred Astaire is classicly classic, as usual. 
The music itself is good fun. Lyrics written by Ira Gershwin for most of them, and the nice sentimental return of "They Can't Take That Away From Me," first sung by Fred to Ginger in Shall We Dance. They had never danced to it, and so supposedly Fred proposed that they use it again and dance to it...which they did, and if that's true, he was totally right to propose it. It worked. It worked really well. 
No they can't take that away from me
Oscar Levant is crazy great. He has this wonderful hilarious, dry humor that adds a wonderful dimension to the farcical situation that is classically Fred and Ginger. Not to mention his crazy piano skills. The first I had seen his piano playing was in An American in Paris, and I wasn't sure that it was real. But he does the same exact thing in this film, with not one but two piano solos that I'm still not sure is real...but it is real. He is crazy skilled. It's true madness, and a pretty, pretty thing to watch. I think I like his role in this film more than his role in An American in Paris. 

This is a winning movie. The first time I watched it, I knew I had to own it, and I bought it right away. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is always a winning combination, but older, more mature Fred and Ginger is a gold medal combination. When you add some top notch music and the crazy skilled Oscar Levant, this is a bloody brilliant film. If you love films from Fred and Ginger's golden era, you will probably love this one too. My recommendation for The Barkleys of Broadway:

Don't recommend                               Recommend                          Strongly recommend

Saturday, February 28, 2015

What Balloon?

The Americanization of Emily (1964)

Seen before                 Not seen before 

Toward the end of World War II, American dog-robber Charlie Madison (James Garner) supplies two-star Admiral William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) with nothing but the finest--bourbon, oranges, steak, Hershey chocolate bars. Patriotic Englishwoman Emily Barham (Julie Andrews) detests his excessive practice, but despite her better judgment, she falls for him, claiming that his most attractive quality is his cowardice. When Admiral Jessup decides that a movie needs to be made documenting the first dead man on Omaha Beach to develop the Navy's public reputation, Charlie gets assigned to make it. Both he and Emily are furious.    

I have a list of movies from the 60s that I believe are totally fantastic. I definitely include this film in that list. Because it's so patriotic and hilarious and just everything. Julie Andrews and James Garner nail their performances, and Arthur Hiller directs in top form. I seriously love it. 

The film is about war. And it's about cowardice and sacrifice and love and patriotism. And in a world on the brink of the Vietnam War, this was exactly the political statement that defined the Vietnam conflict--it's not war that people like, it's the way war makes people do noble things. As Charlie says, "It's not war that's insane, you see. It's the morality of it. It's not greed or ambition that makes war: it's goodness." In war films before this time, war was about spreading patriotism, like For Me and My Gal or Mrs. Miniver, and ensuring that the public was responding positively to the war effort. Though this film was about World War II, I think it was more apt in making a statement about the Vietnam War. You can see the morality and intent of films changing from movies from the 40s and 50s. That's one of the things I love about this movie.

The next thing I love about this movie is bloody Julie Andrews. Smack dab in the middle of her virginal, family friendly roles (Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music), she makes this film about questionable morality and including the line "Oh Lord, I hope I don't get pregnant." Yes. The first time I heard that line I about laughed my head off. Julie Andrews, what are you doing??
Making a fantastic film, that's what. And maybe it's because it is so much different than her famous roles. I love Julie Andrews because other than Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, nearly the rest of her career was defying her stereotype. I'm always thrown off when she plays roles like this BUT I LOVE HER IN THEM. We all know Julie Andrews is a fine actress because she is so beloved but no she really is a fine, wonderful actress. She's adorable in The Americanization of Emily. Her acting in Hawaii is better, but she is great here. 
Also, please note that this is her only black and white film, and she looks stunning in black and white. Oh, and she doesn't sing. Be aware of that as well.

James Garner is great. Like, so great. You probably know James Garner from The Notebook but you should really watch some of his older stuff, aka this film. He is both a great anti-morality teacher, and just plain hilarious. His best line comes anytime someone says "the balloon is going up any day now!" and he always replies, "what balloon?" It's probably my favorite line in the whole movie and he says it like 3 times. Anyway, he's also stunning in black and white with his charming smile and his immorality and the way he calls her a bitch in the rain. And when he gets outraged, and when he gets drunk, and when he nonchalantly walks in on his best friend while his best friend is trying to get some. I love James Garner. I really do. I love him in this film. 

I also LOVE the writing. So many great lines that I live by come from this film. That's probably why I like it so much, is because I can relate to it ("I fall in love too easily, and I shatter too easily." "As I said, I'm grotesquely sentimental") I guess the writing might not be that good, I just think it's that good because I find it incredibly relatable. I would not be surprised if that were the case. But as I've mentioned before, I think the political commentary about war is proof of excellent writing and directing. The tone of the film is simultaneously funny and yet very serious because this is war and war is serious business. Every shot is gorgeous, and Arthur Hiller uses black and white to major advantage--it's totally gorgeous. And by 1964, it was much less common to see a film in black and white and a film in color. 

There's also a great supporting cast, headlined by classic Hollywood icon Melvyn Douglas. He's great and funny and crazy and great. Sorry, I'm struggling here.

It's taken me about a week to write this review. It's terrible and I know it. I apologize. Apparently, I have nothing more to say about it than it is a fantastic film and worth your time because 1. Julie Andrews in a sultry, sexy, adult role 2. James Garner 3. brilliant commentary about war in a humorous but still effective way. My recommendation for The Americanization of Emily:

Don't recommend                         Recommend                        Strongly recommend

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Empire State Building is the closest thing to heaven in this city

An Affair to Remember (1957)

Seen before                   Not seen before

Famous play Nicky Ferrante (Cary Grant) meets plain Jane singer Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) on an ocean voyage to New York. Despite the fact that both of them are in committed relationships, they fall in love with each other, agreeing to meet each other at the top of the Empire State Building in six months. However, tragedy strikes that makes their plans much more difficult. 

THIS. FILM. IS. FANTASTIC. Seriously. I've seen this movie probably a dozen or more times, and every time it just kind of blows my mind because it's so beautiful and tragic. It's definitely one of my favorite classic films, so keep reading to find out why.

Leo McCarey directs. And I think he's super great. He is very good at creating a visually pleasing scene, and I think there is a plain consistency of gorgeous shots throughout the film. He finds ways to combine images that really give power to that shot. For example, the scene where Terry tells her boyfriend that she is in love with Nicky (not really spoiler alert), she leans against an open, swinging glass door that swings open to reflect what she is seeing--the Empire State Building. It's this gorgeous, unspoken statement of the inner turmoil of Terry McKay. In this film, there is just scene after scene of beautiful composition. The colors through the film are rich (especially Deborah Kerr's red hair!) and I think there is a nice mirroring of the plot of the film and the composition of the film. They are both stupendous. A + to Leo McCarey.

As usual, the leading actors really make the film. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr (and I feel that I should pause here and clarify that is it's pronounced "Karr" and not "Kerr") work really well off each other, a fact which they would exploit 3 years later in Stanley Donen's The Grass is Greener. There is both romantic chemistry and just overall professional chemistry between them, and it's all very apparent. It makes the love and the sadness and the bitterness between the characters all that more real and significant.

Cary Grant's performance is really quite good, but in my opinion, Deborah Kerr's was even better. I sort of get the feeling that the audiences loved Cary Grant for Cary Grant, and so there wasn't too much of a need to prove himself as an actor (that's not to say that he didn't prove himself an actor in this movie, he just didn't need to). Deborah Kerr, who was just hitting her stride after an incredibly successful performance in a musical (maybe you've heard of it...The King and I), so I don't think she necessarily needed to prove herself either, but she didn't did. She was sharp and quick and witty and sad and tragic and beautiful...overall, just a pure joy to watch. I've always thought this was one of her best films, and not because I was in love with the overall movie, either.

The real piece de resistance of the film is the very last scene. Sure, it's long (my roommate, watching it with me, said "I like this scene, but seriously it's so long!"), but every minute, every second of that scene serves a purpose. It serves to explained what happened off camera; all of the emotions bubbling under the surface, all the things we couldn't see happen; the pain of both of them from every moment they suffered through. Everything that they cannot say in words is said through Nicky and Terry's eyes.
Every time I watch that scene is a new, similarly simultaneously painful and beautiful feeling. I've seen it a dozen and one times, and it never changes. And THAT is why it's the greatest scene. That is what makes the entire film worth watching.

Well, everything about this film makes it worth watching. Seriously, if you haven't seen this film, you need to watch it. Your life is not complete until you do. My recommendation for An Affair to Remember: 

Don't recommend                                  Recommend                           Strongly recommend