Sunday, August 31, 2008

Holiday Romance

After viewing Roman Holiday several times (and posting about it a lot) I started thinking about how it touched off a whole wave of films of people meeting, and falling in love while on vacation in an exotic locale. Love Affair (1939) pre-dates it, but is a sparse studio filmed production that doesn't have the same big-budget travelogue quality. The year after Roman Holiday, the city was given a full technicolor treatment by Twentieth Century Fox in Three Coins in a Fountain. The story was all-around bigger and brighter than Roman Holiday following the romantic adventures of three young American women (Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters and Maggie McNamara) and a prince (Louis Jordan), a poor but handsome translator (Rossano Brazzi) and an ex-pat American writer (Clifton Web). Despite a fair amount of drama, this film doesn't quite follow the pattern of the genre in that it doesn't have that bittersweet feeling that inevitably the lovers must part and return home from vacation. Perhaps Fox thought the color and the happy ending could improve on Roman Holiday, but I ask, can you improve on perfection?

In 1955 two big budget travelogue romances were on offer: Alfred Hitchcock's slight To Catch a Thief which paired Grace Kelly and Cary Grant and David Lean's Summertime with Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi. For To Catch a Thief, the setting wasn't Italy, but the French Riviera and Grant played the unlikely part of a jewel thief whose gone straight but needs to catch a "copy cat" burglar. The movie is one of the most romantic that Hitchcock ever made and whole sequences are simply elaborate excuses to show the Riviera to best advantage. Whether Francine and John Robie are casing a villa or running from the law down the twisting roads in Monaco (one of which was the very road on which Grace Kelly died in a car crash years later) the whole movie seems like a wonderful excuse to show us pretty scenery. Though it's not one of Hitchcock's best and does lack much in the way of tension and suspense, it has always been a favorite for the unique pairing of Grant and Kelly and the breezy fun. Of course there is the fireworks scene which is just out and out hot.

Curiously enough Summertime also uses a fireworks display to great symbolic and romantic advantage as well. Summertime is the only one of this group of Roman Holiday spin-offs that I would say is as good as that original film. David Lean's camera is in love with Venice and every scene is just beautifully shot and arranged. He makes the heroine an photography enthusiast who spends most of her time trying to capture the perfect moment when the clockwork magi on the piazza San Marco tip their hats to one another. Fans of this film (which apparently include Woody Allen, since a number of scenes in Everyone Says I Love You were filmed in the exact locations as scenes from Summertime) make pilgrimages to Venice in the same way that fans of Roman Holiday visit the locations of that movie. I think that Summertime is the more sophisticated of the two films. It's not nearly as plot-driven and actually reminds me a lot more of the post-modern Before Sunrise/Before Sunset films. Katharine Hepburn is Jane Hudson, a woman who travels alone to Venice and gets involved with a married man (Brazzi). Though the treatment of the subject matter may seem a bit old-fashioned, I think it's dealt with in a way that honest to the time and location. I also was really drawn to the portrait of loneliness that Hepburn creates in the film. I've traveled pretty extensively on my own in Europe and I could definitely relate to many of the situations and feelings she goes through. Jane Hudson gravitates to Renato de Rossi but she is shy and comically awkward around him as well and most of the tension in the film comes from her inability to make up her mind about him. I think my favorite thing about the movie is that they seem like real people in a believable situation. Instead of the typical "meet cute" formula we are given no easy answers. When de Rossi first notices Hudson in the Piazza San Marco he gives her ankles a look of pure carnal desire that I can't remember ever having been directed at Katharine Hepburn before in a movie. She's usually the plucky gal who wins the guy with her moxie and energy, not her legs. That this is a nearly fifty year old Hepburn, makes me even happier somehow. Brazzi made his American acting debut playing opposite June Allyson as Jo March in Little Women, a role that Hepburn had played decades earlier. He has an ageless quality though and when he says he is not a young man, you believe him because he manages to look a bit world weary in much of the movie. He made something of a mini career out of these films appearing in Three Coins in a Fountain, Summertime, Light in the Piazza (1962) and Rome Adventure (1962).

Hollywood continued it's love affair with the Holiday Romance with An Affair to Remember (1957) a remake of Love Affair (1939) which added color, music and more riviera scenery to the melodramatic love story. Though, It's never been my favorite Cary Grant movie, over the years I've come to appreciate the light comedy early in the film and enjoy that bittersweet feeling of parting when the vacation ends and real life begins.

The genre held out into the 1960s getting a further update with MGM's clever The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964) that manages to cram in more travel and more romance simply by making the story take place over different decades with the car as the constant. While I find the middle Italian adventure between Shirley McClain and her gigilo lover to be maddeningly annoying, it is book-ended by Rex Harrison/Jeane Moreau and Omar Shariff/Ingrid Bergman stories. The latter is particularly delightful as it features Yugoslavia and Shariff in a huge sheepskin coat. There's just something about a guy in fur. On vacation. In a yellow rolls royce.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Eye Candy of the Day: Clark Do-over

Well, I was being slightly cheeky by posting the most unattractive picture ever of Clark Gable yesterday. So for all you Gable fans out there, here's a proper one for you. I love this scene in It Happened One Night (1934), my favorite Gable movie. I'm not certain, but I think this is "day for night" photography, but it gives everything an ethereal moonlit glow.

The thing I love about this movie is the combination of the heavily romantic atmosphere and the world-weary cynicism of Gable's Peter Warne who is pre-occupied with the idea that he never "be taken for a buggy ride" or played for a fool. His time with the runaway heiress, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), shows him that toughness is causing him to miss out on life and that what he really wants is a girl who jump in the surf and love it is as much as he does. The balance between the romance and the comedy is just perfect and sets the formula for the entire genre. It also has a stellar supporting cast including Walter Connolly as Ellen crotchety but lovable dad and Roscoe Karns as Shapely, the slimy traveling salesman who starts every conversation with "Shapeley's the name and that's the way I like 'em!"

It Happened One Night marked a real transition for Gable away from tough-guy who slaps women around type roles to more humane characters and it also proved that he could do comedy. The movie cleaned up at the Oscars and allowed Columbia Pictures to go from a small-time "B-movie" studio to join the ranks of Paramount and MGM.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Eye Candy of the Day: Precode Clark

Mick LaSalle in his book Dangerous Men, captioned this photo "Clark Gable suffering a rare attack of innocuous- ness, circa 1931." In this photo Gable was exhibiting the qualities that were considered appealing in a leading man in the twenties: a big grin, a sort of slumping deference and jaunty elegance. It's hard to believe that he played the screen dominating villain, Nick the Chauffer in Night Nurse, the very same year he took this picture. Luckily for film history Gable fits so poorly into the affable hero mold and he didn't quite take off as a villain either. He was forced to put his screen presence to good use making a hybrid of these two types: the lovable rogue.

I've added three new items, to the media room: Dangerous Men, Ten Cents a Dance and Ever in My Heart.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tonto and friends take on Little Ceasar

Tonto: Tonto and Friends sick of chick flick so ask Jenny Nipper to review Caddy Shack. She say, go ahead. But Caddy Shack review no go so well. Tonto and Tarzan smoke too much peace pipe. Tonto fall asleep half way through movie. Tarzan get up to find Baby Ruth, no come back till end of movie. Frankenstein get contact high and Kenny Loggin's music send him run amuck through village. He return with pitchfork in back and hair slightly singed.

Frankenstein: Gaaaaah. Fire bad. Villagers mean!.

Tonto: Jenny Nipper say Tonto and Friends--

Tarzan: Why now we Tonto and friends? Used to be Tarzan, Tonto, Frankenstein. That correct billing. Me most famous. Me film star. You side kick and monster.

Frankenstein: Tarzan ego baaaad!

Tonto: Tonto agree. Tarzan ego out of control. If Tarzan want top billing. He do more work. Besides, Frankenstein biggest star of group. Everyone know Frankenstein. He even have own trailer.

Tarzan: Me ask Jenny Nipper. She settle this.

Jenny the Nipper: Tonto and friends is most expedient. It stays. Besides, Tonto is building a real following. I don't want him to quit and start his own blog.

Tonto: Me never start own blog. Me have to be free out west beyond horizon. Beyond wireless internet.

Jenny: Can you just review Little Ceasar already?!

Tonto: Little Ceasar is gangster masterpiece. Is early high water mark for genre. All other gangster movie compared to Little Ceas---

Tarzan: Me find Little Ceasar overrated. All just gangster meeting with other gangsters. Talk, talk, talk. Me no like Olga either. Little Ceasar right. She make Joe go soft.

Tonto: For once Tonto agree with Tarzan. If Tarzan no interrupt he find out Tonto say same thing. Though famous gangster classic, Little Ceasar surprisingly talkie.

Frankenstein: Edward G. Robinson greeaaaaat!

Tonto: Frankenstein have great point as usual. Edward G. is reason to watch Little Ceasar. Camera on other people, Tonto bored. Camera on Edward G. , Tonto riveted. What Little Ceasar do? Will spray room with bullets or laugh crazy Edward G. laugh, make Tonto nervous.

Tarzan: Little Ceasar make me nervous too. Me think him like Joe little too much.

Tonto: Tarzan raise question of Little Ceasar's love for Joe. Is Little Ceasar sentimental or repressed homosexual?

Frankenstein: Gah! Joe friend.

Tonto: What about pretty boy sidekick? He seem like replacement for Joe. He seem like more than friend.

Frankenstein: Gaaaaaah!

Tonto: OK. Maybe we move on to less controversial topic. Version Jenny Nipper supply Tonto and Friends have post-code prologue about badness of gangsters. Little Ceasar one pre-code movie revived many times in theaters. Why Little Ceasar never go away from pop culture?

Tarzan: Me think it ending. Ending is best part of Little Ceasar.

Tonto: Tonto agree. Everyone like ending. Censor like bad man die. People like that gangster have higher thought, "Is this end of Rico?" Rico is poet. Rico come out of hiding just to clear him name. Just to say not coward. Police cowardly to trick him with telephone tap.

Tarzan: Me no think that. If Little Ceasar so smart he no fall for trick.

Tonto: Trick remind me of Godfather. When Carlo beat up Connie to trick Sonny into going to city alone.

Frankenstein: Look what they did to my booooy! (Begins to weep.)

Tarzan: Why you bring up Godfather? Always make Frankenstein cry at undertaker scene.

Tonto: It is great scene. Is no shame, Frankenstein. Tonto also think of Godfather scene when Tom Hagen say no one ever gun down New York City police officer. Ha! Little Ceasar shoot police commissioner! He no care! He so tough. He most badass gangster. More than Michael Corleone.

Tarzan: What about Scarface? He toughest of all? Say hello to my leetle friend!

Frankenstein: Paul Muuuuni!

Tonto: Frankenstein right. Paul Muni Scarface most badass of all. He shoot innocent bystanders any time. Al Pacino Scarface get killed because he no take out journalist family. Paul Muni never be so sentimental.

Jenny the Nipper: Guys. Little Ceasar remember?

Tonto: So Little Ceasar say "Is this the end of Rico" and he die under poster of Joe and Olga dancing. Funny how important where Gangster die. Like Scarface die in front of poster "The World is Yours."

Tarzan: Al pacino Scarface same thing.

Jenny the Nipper: And as I mentioned in my blog recently, real-life gangster John Dillinger died in front of a movie theater showing a gangster movie.

(Sound of crickets chirping....)

Jenny the Nipper: Well, thanks, I think that wraps things up for now. Tonto and Friends will be back next week talking about one of our favorite movies, Gunga Din.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pre-code Stanwyck and the opening of the Media Room

Barbara Stanwyck in Frank Capra's Forbidden (1932).

In addition to talking about Barbara Stanwyck's pre-code career, I'd also like to announce the opening of the Cinema OCD Media Room. I decided to start a second blog for shorter reviews of films and books about films. It is getting to the point where I feel like my posts are too long and I don't have enough time to get into the particulars if I'm talking about more than a couple of movies. So after you finish reading about Stanwyck's pre-code career, please check out the Media Room.

I first came to love Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire. She was tough talking, funny, sexy and not afraid to make a straight forward play for the guy she wants. What I didn't realize that dance hall girl Sugar Puss O'Shea, from Ball of Fire was a comic parody of the types of roles Stanwyck was first famous for in her pre-code career. Barbara Stanwyck was one of the many stage actors recruited to act in the newly developed talking pictures. She went west with her husband a vaudeville actor who was testing at Columbia Pictures. Barbara tested as well and got a non-exclusive deal with the studio. She made her first talkie The Locked Room (1929). She played a woman who tries to take her fall for her husband on a murder charge. She played a working class girl, who marries well. This would be a pattern for Barbara over the next five years. She almost always played a character from a humble background who rises either through her own wits and talents, through marriage or by hooking up with the right men. Her characters were almost always street wise and tough-talking, a bit like Sugar Puss but perhaps not quite as funny.

Check out reviews of The Locked Door, Illicit, Night Nurse, Forbidden, Shopworn, The Bitter Tea of General Yen and Baby Face in the media room. There will be at least two more reviews in the days to come so stay tuned.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Vera Cruz: too much spaghetti can be a bad thing

Grinning Burt lancaster and Gary Cooper man a machine gun in Vera Cruz.

Let's get this straight. I'm not a big fan of spaghetti westerns. I don't much like Eastwood or Bronson, their ultra-violence and their bleak outlooks. A little Ennio Morricone goes a long way for me. My late father's all-time favorite film was the Spaghetti Western masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West directed by Sergio Leone. Personally I find it a bit of a trial to get through, though I do highly recommend a video on Youtube which cuts together most of the best footage with Arcade Fire's haunting "My Body is Cage." So when the chance to watch films by Robert Aldrich, whose cynical, violent westerns of the 1950s were a pre-cursor of the spaghetti style, (Morricone worked as an assistant to Aldrich) let's just say, I left it in my tivo queue for a long time.

On the surface Vera Cruz starring Gary Cooper in bold technicolor is a piece of 50s cinemascope travelogue bombast. It's got spectacle, spectacle and more spectacle. My two year old loved it because their are horses charging in almost every single scene. This is before CGI people, so there must have been a lot of flies following that filmcrew around out in the Mexican dessert. Yet for every sweeping vista of Mayan pyramids, there is an act of brutality that undercuts the proceedings and leaves the viewer with a purposefully bad taste.

Look just a bit deeper and Vera Cruz is an attack on the status quo. The "hero" Ben Trane (Cooper) starts off by shooting his lame horse, reveals he's a former confederate soldier, refuses to fight for the revolutionaries because they won't pay enough and instead throws his lot in with a dubious bunch of thugs led by black-clad gunslinger Joe Erin (Lancaster). Right off we have a hero who was unapologetically on the wrong side of the civil war, doesn't care about the fight for Mexican independence and who has at least as much passion for the oppulent mansions of Emporer Maximillians court as he does for his love interest in the film. This just doesn't quite sit right and the Cooper fan waits for him to reveal himself to be more like what we expect. At least he's not as sadistic as Erin, who grins maniacally into the camera every time he guns someone down, which is quite a lot actually. The inevitable does come and Cooper turns out to be a good guy after all. It's such a sudden last minute reversal that you wonder if coop didn't have something in his contract that required him to always be a hero, and that clause kicked in at the last minute. I usually love the movies where Cooper plays with his image as unassailable western hero, but Vera Cruz just doesn't do it for me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Contest winner! Quiz Answers

The winner of the pre-code quiz was faithful blog commenter, kda! (Sorry this is several days late. I forgot.)

Please send me your snail mail (jenny at physics.umn.edu) and I'll send you your prize, a copy of the pre-code version of Holiday co-starring Edward Everett Horton.

Here are the answers to the quiz (with rationalizations):

1) What do we mean by Pre-code? Which of the following is considered a pre-code film:

  1. Flesh and the Devil (1927)
  2. Shopworn (1932)
  3. The Shopworn Angel (1938)
  4. Pack up your Troubles (1932)

Answer is Shopworn: Though a0 is racy and before code enforcement, it is a silent, which is not part of the pre-code era (1929-1934). C came after code enforcement and though d fits within the code era, it has no typical “pre-code” content as it’s a Laurel and Hardy film.

2) Which of the following Cary Grant co-stars had a bigger career before the code than after.

  1. Myrna Loy
  2. Jean Crain
  3. Rosalind Russell
  4. Kay Francis

Answer is Kay Francis. Francis played a lot of smart sophisticated women in movies like Doctor Monica and Mandalay. After the code, she had fewer parts and went back to playing supporting roles, as she does in In Name Only with Cary Grant. Myrna Loy had a career before the code but she was a much bigger star after the Thin Man which came out just weeks before code enforcement. Rosalind Russell made only one pre-code film and Jean Crain made none.

3) Which of the following following pre-code films deals with the risqué subject of manage a trois

a) Three on a Match (1932)

b) Too many Husbands (1940)

c) Design for living (1933)

d) Love is racket (1932)

Three on a match has nothing to do with ménage a trios, it’s about three women reminiscing about their lives. Too many husbands would qualify, but its post-code and Love is a Racket is about a love triangle, but it’s certainly not a mutually satisfying agreement for all parties.

4) Powell and Loy starred in three pre-code films together. Which of the following is NOT one of them.

  1. The Thin Man
  2. I Love You Again
  3. Evelyn Prentice
  4. Manhattan Melodrama

Answer is : I love you again was 1940.

5) Norma Shearer starred in which of the following pre-code films:

  1. The Gay Divorcee
  2. Let Us Be Gay
  3. The Gay Deception
  4. Children of Divorce

Answer is Let Us Be Gay. She wasn’t in any of the other movies, two of which are not even pre-code.

6) Greta Garbo and John Gilbert were off screen lovers whose passion was captured onscreen as well. Which pre-code film of theirs prompted a morality in the movies campaign by the Catholic Church?

  1. A Woman of Affairs (1928)
  2. Mata Hari (1931)
  3. Inspiration (1931)
  4. Queen Christina (1933)

Answer is d. B and C do not have John Gilbert, and A is just a hair too early to be pre-code. Queen Christina was the only film they made together in the pre-code era and it was a dozy.

7) Which Cary Grant pre-code, co –starring Sylvia Sydney is about a woman who gets even with her cheating husband?

a) Merrily We Go To Hell

b) Thirty Day Princess

c) The Divorcee

d) Hot Saturday

Answer is a. Though Thirty Day Princess is a Grant /Sydney film it is not about divorce and is very tame by this era’s standards. Hot Saturday is a fairly racy Grant film from this era, but Sylvia Sydney isn’t in it and though the Divorcee is about a woman getting even with her cheating ex, it doesn’t have Cary Grant or Sylvia Sydney. Also I should say this question was somewhat tricky because mostly Merrily We Go to Hell is a Frederick march film.

8) The prostitute film was a staple of the pre-code era. Which of the following was not a prostitute film.

a) Rain

b) The Yellow Ticket

c) Anna Kerinina

d) Anna Christie

Answer is Anna Kerinina.

9) The Following well-known “golden age” of Hollywood films had pre-code predecessors. Which of these films had at least one actor who appeared in both films.

  1. Holiday
  2. Love Affair
  3. Anna Kerinina/Love
  4. Beau Geste

Answer is Holiday! Coincidently the 1930 version of this film which co-stars Edward Everett Horton (who is also in the ’38 version as well) is the prize for the quiz winner!


10) Appearing on screen in scanty or in see-through costumes was a pre-requisite for many female stars. (And if you count Tarzan, then men, too, were expected to show a bit of flesh!) Which of the following women complained about the clothes she was asked to wear in the pre-code era:

  1. Tallulah Bankhead
  2. Norma Shearer
  3. Greta Garbo
  4. Ginger Rogers

Answer is d, Ginger Rogers. She often wore very skimpy dancing costumes and in her autobiography she said she never felt comfortable in them. She was relived when the code came in and she had to wear more clothes on screen. Tallulah Bankhead and Norma Shearer were infamous for going without underwear in public, so they hardly count and though Greta Garbo famously protested the types of roles she played, she never had a problem with the costumes, which were almost always Adrian gowns. Adrian and Garbo had a close relationship and he so worshiped the star that he would never have put her in anything she didn’t like.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

He tasks me, people, he heaps me

Gregory Peck attempting to look unattractive as Captain Ahab in John Huston's Moby Dick.

Those of you who've been following along since the beginning can trace the dawn of a new obsession in my film viewing life: Gregory Peck. I can't figure out if it's the face, the VOICE or that over-eager quality he has in the love scenes, but I'm gaga for Gregory. And this just happened in the past month or so, while watching Spellbound for the umpteenth time.

Today I'm going to talk about two Peck movies, both adaptations of novels, the underrated Valley of Decision (1945) and the impossible to overrate Moby Dick (1956). Valley of Decision is on the surface a Cinderella romance between the scion of a Pittsburgh mill owner (Peck) and the family's loyal a Irish maid (Greer Garson). Midway through this simple romantic drama gets a lot more complicated and begins to take on a grander topics such as class and the moral duty of industry to its workers. Imagine a combination of "Jane Eyre" and Elizabeth Gaskell's "North and South" and you might have the film version of Valley of Decision. I've not read the novel, but I understand it to be much broader in scope, taking place over 60 years.

The romance between Garson and Peck is slow to build, but their chemistry is such that the audience is left in little suspense when Jessica Tandy is introduced as a rival for Paul Scott's affections. The pacing of the film feels like a novel, taking time to flesh out minor characters and lay out the simmering plot conflicts. There are good performances here from Donald Crisp, Lionel Barrymore and Gladys Cooper as the elder generation who can't change the way things are whether they want to or not. I wonder if this movie had been made ten years earlier if it would have had an entirely different set of sympathies. As it is, the Scott's are portrayed as honest and hardworking people who want the best for their workers and the unions and strikes are shown as not entirely the root of all evil, but close enough to it. As in "North and South," a high value is placed on the power of individuals and friendships across classes to save the day. The most interesting thing about Valley of Decision is its ending, which twists away from all expected paths and leads to a complicated, somewhat ambiguous denouement.

No such worries about ambiguity when viewing John Huston's colossal Moby Dick. You pretty much know where you're headed from the first ten minutes when Ismael (Richard Baseheart) ducks in to a pub on a stormy night and meets his future shipmates from the Pequod. Melville's novel was fairly stuffed with foreshadowing and Huston (with script help from science fiction master, Ray Bradbury) doesn't leave out any of it.

The studio insisted that a "name" be cast as Ahab (apparently John Huston wasn't enough of a "name" for movie posters, since many involved in the production felt that the director should also star) and Peck was chosen. Not only do Huston and Bradbury produce an Ahab for a movie star, they create an Ahab who IS a movie star. I don't remember Ahab from the book being so charismatic, but when Peck offers up a round of grog in "the manner of my sea-faring forefathers" for his men and makes them swear death to Moby Dick you can feel why the motley crew of the Pequod are willing to follow him into doom against all reason. Later as things get much worse for the men, Ahab repeats the ceremony in a frightening spectacle of demagoguery. Though the whale gets top billing as the monster in the film, it is really Ahab who chills, and the filmmakers wisely use him sparingly, saving the revelation of his character for the end of the first act.

Watching Moby Dick, I was mentally daring Gregory Peck to be attractive. After all he was literally hobbled with a peg leg, bushy beard, nasty 8 inch facial scar and no love story in sight. Could he do it? About half way through his speech "He tasks me. He heaps me." I found myself involuntarily kicking my feet in delight. Shortly afterward when he hears that the whale is within a day's sail of the Pequod the unabashed joy and anticipation is something quite close to that "over eager" quality I mentioned early.

I was expecting Moby Dick to look dated, but I was surprised at how good the water sequences are and at no point are the whales in the movie, comically fake. I think the effects actually were better than the 1998 mini series version with Patrick Stewart, which had a terrible CGI Moby that drew snorts from everyone at my house. Actually Peck's cameo as Father Mapple is probably the best thing in that movie. I much prefer Stewart's few Ahab moments in Star Trek the Next Generation to going the whole distance with him.

Huston's movie is at its best when its in adventure mode and has a surprisingly light touch with the friendship between Ismael and Queequeg. Still, it's Peck performance that convinces the audience that sensible Starbuck who earlier in the film suggest mutiny, would succumb to Ahabmania. The words "Captain Ahab" are almost synonymous with unhealthy obsession, and I would not be so flip as to suggest that the unhappy mariner could be cured by writing a blog about whale migrations. But given the love look on Ahab's face when he gets within 10 sea miles of Moby Dick, might I suggest a dalliance with a saucy Irish chambermaid?

Loving Design for Living

I just saw Design for Living (1933) for the first time and I'm going to gush a bit. Ernest Lubitsch and Ben Hecht, the best director and writer of this type of material adapt a Noel Coward play with Frederick March, Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins. The result is one of the wittiest, sexiest comedies in a decade jam packed with such gems. George Curtis (Gary Cooper) a starving painter and Tom Chambers (Frederick March) an unpublished playwright, meet a commercial artist, Miss Glinda Ferrell(Miriam Hopkins) on a train to Paris. Unable to choose between the two, Glinda enters into a "gentleman's agreement" to live together with them with "no sex." In return, she offers them hard nosed criticism and their art greatly improves. As one can imagine this "no sex" thing doesn't last very long. As soon as Tom goes out of town, Glinda makes a move on George, attacking a lower button on his coat with an offer to sew it back on. George attempts to resist her seductive seemstressing by insisting she go take in the new Tarzan movie. "Glinda, please, Tarzan" he says helplessly. Moments later Glinda is sprawled across the sofa saying "we had a gentleman's agreement. Fortunately, I am no gentleman."

George and Glinda make a go of it for a while as his career takes off. Meanwhile in London, Tom is heartbroken, but his play "Goodnight Mr. Basington" is a massive hit. I love the play within a play which somehow involves a mandolin, a love triangle and the immortal line, "it may be fun, but not more fun than 100% morality and three squares a day." After meeting a mutual friend, Max Plunkett (the always brilliant Edward Everett Horton) in London, Tom decides to go back to Paris to find Glinda. While Tom is away painting a commission, Tom seduces Glinda by going over the finer points of typewriter mechanics. If ever a movie needed the slightest pretenses for a love scene, it was Design for Living. George arrives home early and punching ensues. Again, unable to choose, Glinda leaves them both for Max Plunkett who wastes no time in marrying her. Much of the plot of the movie is delivered through dictated letters and telegrams and one of the most delightful is the one Max writes to his mother telling him of his upcoming nuptials. We learn among other things that Max has no romance in his soul and that Glinda is originally from Fargo, North Dakota. As a fellow North Dakotan, I have to thank Noel Coward (or perhaps Ben Hecht?) for that one!

The comedy really gets cooking when George and Tom join forces to retrieve Glinda. I think Gary Cooper struggles a bit in other parts of the movie, trying to find his feet as George. The minute he and March get genuinely wacky he really starts to come alive. The last 15 minutes of the movie are out and out screwball comedy and certainly do add greatly to the argument that the Production Code was not a necessary element in that genre. Of all the pre-code movies I've watched in the last few weeks, Design for Living is far and away the most entertaining. I don't mind telling you, I'm loving Design for Living.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The best actor you've never heard of: Jeremy Northam

Only one actor currently making films could get me to pay full price to see such tripe as Bobby Jones Strokes of Genius or The Invasion in a theater. Only one actor could get me to sit through Showtime's soft core and gore fest The Tudors. And that actor is Jeremy Northam. What's that you say, you've never even heard of the guy?

If you've seen Gosford Park, The Net or Happy, Texas, then you've seen Jeremy. You may not remember his name, but if I say, the guy who sings "What a Duke Should Be" in Gosford Park, maybe then you'll remember his handsome face and lovely voice.

Jeremy's first American hit was The Net starring Sandra Bullock. Unfortunately Jeremy played the bad guy (as part of the noble tradition of making really excellent English actors play the baddie in piss-poor action films. See Rickman, Alan and Mason, James....) who seduces then tries to murder the heroine. Let's forget about the murder part for a minute. Although the seduction is ripped off blatantly from Notorious, this is one case in which my outrage turns to awe. Northam ties a hankerchief around Bullock's waist with his own style and a nod to Cary Grant. He has that fatal charm that Grant had in Hitchcok's Suspicion. You know he's going to murder you, but he's so hot, you just don't care.

After that, Northam got a big break starring opposite Gweneth Paltrow in the big screen adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma (1995). Jeremy's Mr. Knightley completely blew me away. I was like many Jane Austen fans who felt him too young and handsome to play the older, and taken-for granted Mr. Knightley. It took only his first few seconds in the film, to change my mind. He appears framed in a window. He smiles and says, "How was the wedding. Who cried most?" in that dulcet voice. My reaction was exactly that of Emma, a beaming smile. As Emma says, "not one in a hundred men have "gentleman" so plainly written on him" and that is true of Jeremy as well. His modest success in Emma (which truth be told got a bit lost in all the other Austen adaptations that came out around that time) got him a dozen parts in period dramas. He played in the Golden Bowl, The Winslow Boy, The Ideal Husband, Possession and Gosford Park among others. All of these were good movies, by the way. I am particularly fond of The Winslow Boy and Possession as they best showcase Northam's acting.

He appeared so often in high collared shirts that he started to complain about his neck. He wanted to branch out and so he did something completely off the wall: he shed his accent and took second billing to Mira Sorvino in a piss-poor action film, Mimic. When that failed he co-starred in the low-budget comedy Happy Texas. Even if you've seen the movie, you may not remember Northam because Steve Zahn just owns it with his performance as chain gang escapee turned little Miss pageant director. But Northam was great as the straight man many of those scenes. He gets his own chance to shine comically when he dances uncomfortably with William H. Macy, who is unabashedly smitten with him.

Northam did more comedy, the disastrous Misadventures of Margaret, a misguided remake of The Awful Truth. Northam was good in it, but the script and his co-star Parker Posey were so dreadful that I was almost grateful that the film went straight to video. Another one of his films, Cypher or Company Man, also had release troubles. The movie is excellent and has finally been released on DVD in the U.S. (I had to order it from Amazon in France. You see the trouble, I will go to for Jer?!)

Northam has had some luck with television, landing the role of Dean Martin in the made for TV biopic Martin and Lewis. Northam transformed into the famous crooner so completely that even as a Northam fanatic, I barely recognized him. Most recently he played Sir Thomas More in a season and a half of The Tudors.

I fear the window of opportunity for him to be a matinee idol may have shut. And years of being shortlisted as Pierce Brosnan's replacement in the Bond series came to nothing. Too many of his big parts have been in small movies, (he played the cop who tracks down ex-nazi Michael Caine in the Statement) and he has been forced to turn again to playing the bad guy in piss poor action films, such as The Invasion and the handsome English rival to an American golfer in Bobby Jones: Strokes of Genius. You never know. I think about actors like Michael Redgrave who had almost two careers in movies, first as the leading man in English movies like The Lady Vanishes and then as the quintessential disaffected man in middle age (The Browning Version, Time without Pity and The Quiet American). The quality of his acting insured him that he could appear in a small part in almost any movie that required a bit of gravitas. I think Showtime has already cottoned on to that quality in Northam and I hope he is at least around playing grumpy generals and crooked cops for years to come. To see Northam on the big screen for me is to know a bit of what it must have been like to have seen the greats like Cary Grant on the big screen back in the day even if I have to suffer a bit through a golf movie for the privilege.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Virginia Weidler: wise old teen

Virginia Weidler yo-yos her way into my heart as Dinah Lord in The Philadelphia Story.

I suppose if one needs to have a favorite child actor mine would be Virginia Weidler. Most of the time, it's enough if they don't ruin the movie, but every once in a while a young actor comes along whose performance is one of the highlights of a film. Virginia Weidler's role as Dinah the precocious younger sister in The Philadelphia Story is one such performance. Perhaps Weidler would stand out even more in a movie acting with mere mortals, but as such she was unlucky enough to give her best performance with gods and goddesses and about half a dozen of the best darn character actors the movies had on offer in their golden age. That she held her own with the likes of Hepburn, Stewart and Grant is one thing, but that she stands out as being memorably funny and stealing scenes from them is another thing entirely. I think her cracked vision of a young society deb is one of the funniest things in the movie. After pirouetting around the room and babbling in French she plunks herself down at the piano and bangs out a lusty version of" Lydia the Tattoed Lady."

Weidler was at her best portraying wisecracking youngsters, a type that can annoy as easily as it amuses. In Philly Story, she also showed off another side of her comic persona, that of the terribly earnest pre-teen trying to understand and fit into the adult world. Dinah's version of the events on the evening of Tracy's wedding are that of a child who doesn't quite understand what she's witnessed except to know that it was something grown up and important.

I recently saw one of Weidler's last movies, her only starring role, "The Youngest Profession (1943). Just three years after Philly Story she had to carry a movie all by herself, though she had the help of half a dozen cameos by major MGM stars. She plays a comically earnest teen whose attempts to enter the adult world cause nothing but trouble for her family. The topic is star chasing and autograph hounding. Weidler's Joan Lyon is so obsessed with movie stars that she takes the realization that she is "in love with" William Powell almost as seriously as the possibility that her parents marriage maybe in jeopardy. As a fellow William Powell fanatic, I can relate, Joan. There are a number of similarities between The Youngest Profession and Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, which came out several years later. Had they worked the stars into bigger parts as with the latter film, The Youngest Profession would have been a much bigger hit.

Weidler failed to make the leap to stardom. After one more supporting role in a Lucille Ball musical, "Best Foot Forward" she lost her contract at MGM and retired from showbusiness at the wise old age of 17. I've read theories as varying as Louis B. Mayer being unhappy with her chest development to MGM neglecting her in favor of the far more popular Judy Garland. I think it was just a case of teens being perfectly happy with watching movies with grown-ups at the time, as the character in The Youngest Profession proves by being in love with Robert Taylor one minute and William Powell, the next. I recently read an interview with Gary Cooper in the early forties in which he complained that the movie scripts were too skewed toward the young market. Kids write fan letters but grown-ups go to see movies, too Coop said, but was too polite to mention that grown-ups have to act in them as well. If grownups were making movies for teens, then teens could really only be supporting characters. It seems that MGM had that figured out later in the decade, too late for Virginia Weidler. In today's youth driven movie market, a good actress like Virginia Weidler would be a household name like Hanna Montana. She would be churning out Disney films and her wise teen characters would have a lot of fans, I think.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Beyond the Thin Man: Powell and Loy

How is that I've had this blog for a month and I haven't talked about Powell and Loy? They are my favorite screen couple of all-time. He was so dashing yet wacky. She was so funny in a cool way. Together they were dynamite and crazy sexy to boot. Best known as Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man movies, Powell and Loy were such a popular pairing that appeared in eight other films outside that series.

Manhattan Melodrama and Evelyn Prentice were released in 1934, the same year as The Thin Man. This accounts in part, I think for their ease of portraying a married couple in The Thin Man. They'd already spent a fair time together on screen. I was so excited the first time I watched Manhattan Melodrama. Here was a Powell and Loy movie with Clark Gable in it as well. I should have known what with the word "melodrama" actually in the title that it wasn't going to be funny. I guess I was hoping it was ironic. Well the only irony I could find in Manhattan Melodrama was that it was the movie that bank robber John Dillinger went to go see on the night he was killed, though it is debatable whether he was there for the instructive anti-crime story or the air-conditioning. (Dillinger was shot in Chicago in mid-July.) It's not a bad movie and on second viewing I liked it better because I wasn't disappointed with the lack of comedy. Powell plays a lawyer and politician who defends his childhood friend from his orphan days (Clark Gable) on a murder charge and falls in love with his girlfriend (Myrna Loy). Of course, that's a gross over-simplification of the plot. A lot is packed into this movie including a ferry boat accident and a riot started by Bolsheviks.

In Evelyn Prentice, Powell plays a defense attorney again, and this movie isn't funny either. It is a decent romantic drama with Rosalind Russell, in her first screen performance as John Prentice's seductive client who causes a rift between he and his wife, Evelyn (Loy). Evelyn goes out and gets even. Since this movie was made just after the enforcement of the code it is very careful to show that both John Prentice and his wife's cheating were mere flirtations that were unwise and indiscreet but nothing more. Evelyn's mild flirtation really comes back to bite her. I guess taking tea with someone other than your husband is really a gateway to murder. The other man, Kennard, sets her up for blackmail as he's well aware she's the wife of a prominent attorney. After trying numerous times to give him the brush off, Evelyn naively goes to his apartment to try to convince him to leave her alone and witnesses his murder by his long-suffering and abused girlfriend, Judith (Isabell Jewell). Evelyn's bad luck keeps getting worse as her husband takes on the Judith's case. Loy is excellent as a woman in a difficult moral position and Isabell Jewell is very compelling in her part.

Powell and Loy's next non-Thin Man outing was the Great Ziefeld (1936). This is not at all what I expected from one of their movies. It is a huge production musical with long, intricate musical numbers interrupted by anecdotal vignettes about Ziegfeld's (Powell) life. Myrna Loy doesn't come in until the very end as Ziegfeld's second wife, actress Billie Burke. The musical numbers are entertaining in the same way as watching large set-ups of dominoes. It looks cool and you appreciate that a lot of work went into it.

Libeled Lady came next with it's star packed cast that also includes Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy. Harlow and Powell were an off-screen couple and they wanted the story fitted so that might end up together on screen. MGM wasn't about to let that happen and they insisted that it remain a Powell and Loy vehicle. Libeled Lady has some of Powell and Loy's most romantic scenes as he plays playboy sent to seduce her out out of a lawsuit. This is a not to be missed outing from the couple, and one that stands with the best of the Thin Man films.

The next thee films, Double Wedding, I love You Again and Love Crazy are among the best the pair ever made. The Thin Man formula was starting to wear a bit thin, at this point and it seems that the duo could get by at the box-office without the Nick and Nora moniker. Double Wedding( 1940) is about a bohemian artist (Powell) who falls in love with a controlled society lady (Loy) and goes to crazy lengths to win her hand. Double Wedding is a heady cocktail of romance and screwball comedy. Some of their best love scenes and funniest antics are in this film. I Love You Again (1940) is about a failing marriage saved by amnesia. The improbable plot is buoyed along by an improbable series of complications that end with Powell dressed in a boy scout uniform leading troops of kids through a swamp. That sequence alone makes it worth a rental. Love Crazy (1941)is my personal favorite Powell and Loy movie. It pushes the boundaries of what they had done in a comedy, especially Powell who is in drag for a good deal of the movie. The plot involves a nosy mother-in-law, an anniversary misunderstanding and a husband who tries to prevent a divorce by getting himself declared legally insane. There's nothing William Powell won't do for love including throwing all the top hats at a swanky party into the pool and declaring them emancipated.

Powell and Loy reunited for one final film after the The Thin Man series ended in 1947, The Senator was Indiscreet (1947). Though it wasn't a true Powell and Loy film, in that Loy only appears in a surprise cameo at the end, I include it here for the sake of completion. By the mid forties, times had changed and the emphasis on family comedy and film noir. The Thin Man movies adapted by giving the Charles' a kid as well as a dog, but part of the escapist fun of a wealthy gentleman who solves crime in spare time was lost when added domestic comedy. Myrna Loy and William Powell continued to make films without one another for the next two decades, Loy continuing to act on television until the early 1980s.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cinema OCD's Pre Code Quiz

Take the quiz and win a prize! The lucky winner will get a copy of one of the wonderful pre-code films in the quiz. (As of now, you have to log into Quizilla, to take the quiz. I'm working on fixing this!)

Contest ends Sunday at 11:00 p.m. Central time. A winner will be announced in Monday's blog entry. Good luck!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Joe's Apartment: 51 Via Margutta

The spot where Joe gave the princess cab fare inside the gates at 51 Via Margutta.

Well my guest bloggers rebelled a bit on Roman Holiday, but I can't stop thinking about it. Last night I dreamed about Joe's Apartment. I dreamed I had a huge panoramic picture of it that I made interactive so that when you'd click on say Joe's desk it would pop a little factoid about it. How I wish I could provide the world with such a useful thing, but alas, it is not to be since panoramic pictures of 56 year old movie sets are nowhere to be had. Hoping for the next best thing, I googled 51 Via Margutta and looked at some pictures of the real life street where the movie was filmed. It's even prettier in color.

Speaking of which I was arguing with my mom last night about whether Roman Holiday was in color or not. Turns out she was thinking of Three Coins in a Fountain, a movie that came along the next year that tried to capitalize on the successful formula. (An american woman meets a European Prince in Rome. See TOTALLY different, idea.) She's never actually seen Roman Holiday which seems crazy to me since she could have actually watched it in the theater when it came out. Why wouldn't you? It's funny how when you are obsessed with something you expect everyone else to give the same level of importance to some obscure thing as you do. To her, Three Coins in a Fountain was just as good. As if.

Also while looking for pictures of Via Margutta, I found this blog entry. I direct your attention to the comments which rapidly degenerate into an argument about who would win in a fist fight Cary Grant or Gregory Peck. I think most people under estimate Cary's capacity to give a beat down.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tonto, Tarzan and Frankenstein vs. Roman Holiday

Back by popular demand, (theirs, not my readers') guest bloggers Tonto, Tarzan and Frankenstein take on one of the most romantic movies of all time, Roman Holiday.

Tonto and Friends think Princess Audrey most pretty movie star, ever. She make much hand shake and tall shoes hurt feet. She say "I'm so happy," but she no seem happy. She seem bored and little sad too. She dance with many ugly old men. Short old men. This no help her mood. She get ready for bed. She want to wear pajamas, "just the top half" and she make talk of people who no wear clothes to bed. Now Tonto confess he no wear clothes to bed. He say to Princess Audrey, you should try sometime.

Princess Audrey no want to eat crackers and milk before bed.

Frankenstein: Guh. Me like crackers.

Aunt start to read schedule. She make much talk and Princess Audrey look angry. Finally she scream. Tonto have to turn down volume cause Princess Audrey scream too loud. Aunt think Princess maybe crazy. She call doctor and he give her shot to make her sleep. They leave. Look up at ceiling and statues watch Princess Audrey. Tonto no like to sleep in that room either. He no blame her when she escape from palace to find fun.

Mr. Bradley play poker with Irving and reporter men. They have Italian wampum with much numbers and little value. Look funny, long and skinny like piece of toilet paper this wampum. Mr. Bradley lose so he walk home. He see Princess Audrey asleep on park bench. He stop to help her. She talk funny poetry and she follow him home in taxi. She no tell Mr. Bradley she is princess. Princess Audrey very sleepy from shot but Mr. Bradley think she drink too much fire water. She start to take off her dress in front of him. "I've never been alone with a man before so being alone with one without my dress is highly unusual." Tonto think this is perhaps most awkwardly-worded pick up of all time.

Tarzan: Mr. Bradley is man or is mouse? Tarzan see Jane take off dress. Tarzan jump bones. End of movie.

Tonto: Tonto respectfully ask Tarzan to shut hell up. He raised by apes. No excuse. He walk upright and he have brain of human. Mr. Bradley is gentleman. He no pull funny stuff with girl who drink too much firewater. That why he in movie with Princess Audrey and Tarzan not.

Mr. Bradley tell Princess to sleep on sofa. He leave apartment while she put on pajamas. Tonto wonder if just top half but hard to tell because she covered up and sleeping in Mr. Bradley's bed when he come back. He get mad and he have funny scene where he roll her onto couch without waking her up. Mr. Bradley oversleep and wake up at noon. He supposed to interview Princess, same one sleeping in room, but he no know that. He go to work and pretend he did interview. Boss yell at him because interview was no go. Princess Audrey is "sick," but we know she in Mr. Bradley's room on couch. Then Mr. Bradley see picture of Princess. He call landlord and tell him to make sure she no leave. Then he tell boss he have big story.

Mr. Bradley go home. Landlord is standing guard with gun. Tonto like landlord for being prepared, but wonder if he not draw more attention than necessary. Princess Audrey still asleep. Mr Bradley put her in his bed, this time he carry like romantic Princess, until he look like he going to drop her. Gregory Peck not get much credit as comic actor, but he make Tonto much laugh.

Princess Audrey start to talk to Mr. Bradley in sleep. She tell him "I dreamed I met a strong, handsome man on the street. But he was so mean to me. It was wonderful." Tonto think that best line in whole movie. Tonto think that sum up all romantic comedy movie plot.

Then Princess Audrey wake up and meet Mr. Bradley. She very confused. He no let on he knows who she is. He try very hard to keep her in apartment. He tell her take bath and he leave again to phone Irving. Irving have much fun take picture of sexy Italian lady. Irving no want to go but he say he be at restaurant later. Meanwhile maid go to Mr. Bradley's apartment to clean. Tonto wonder how man with no kitchen has maid. Maid open bathroom door and scare princess Audrey. Then yell in Italian. Tonto no understand Italian but think maybe word "tramp" involved.

Princess Audrey leave but she have no wampum. Mr. Bradley give his last wampum to her. He follow her as she walk around Rome. She buy gladiator sandals because as saying goes, When in Rome... She get all hair cut off. Tonto sometime tired of long hair too so can understand her feeling. Barber is reluctant but he do. Then he ask Princess Audrey on date. She say no, but he ask her to come meet him with much friends at dance on barge.

Tarzan: Me like barber. He best man in movie. He see what he want. He no take "no" for answer, like mouse man.

Tonto agree. Barber is secret hero of movie. Princess Audrey say maybe she meet him later and go. Then Mr. Bradley follow her and she buy gelato.

Frankenstein: Gelato gooood. Me prefer it to ice creaaaaaaam!

He pretend he just bump into her. Tonto think Princess Audrey pretty gullible at this point. Mr. Bradley offer to take her to all things she always wanted. Princess Audrey tell Mr. Bradley she ran away from school and that her name is Anya Smith. He pretend to believe her. Mr. Bradley take her Colliseum and they ride on Vespa. Then they meet Irving at restaurant. Irving start to say that she look like Princess but Mr. Bradley keep spill drink on him to shut him up. This running gag, but Tonto no think so funny. Irving reaction always same --make joke tedious.

They take princess Audrey to wishing wall and she make wish. She look at Mr. Bradley and say wish not likely to come true. Then they take her mouth of truth. Mr. Bradley scare her and she scream again. Again, Tonto have to turn down volume. Princess Audrey have healthy lungs. She try drive Vespa and they have crazy time. Police arrest Mr. Bradley and Princess. He tell them they newly weds and they let him go. Then people in police station kiss Princess Audrey because they think she is bride. One fat sweaty man even kiss Mr. Bradley but he only shake Irving's hand. Poor Irving. Why no love from fat, sweaty guy?

Then Mr. Bradley send Irving home to develop film. They go to dance on barge. Princess Audrey rest head on Mr. Bradley's chin. She look much more happy then when she dance with old men at beginning of movie. Tonto wonder why Mr. Bradley no kiss her? (Squaw put face on Tonto's chin, you be sure Tonto kiss. ) Then they meet barber and he dance with Princess.

Tarzan: Ha! You snooze. You lose, mouse man!

Tonto think Tarzan right. Mr. Bradley maybe think so too. He look jealous and he go to bar to drink fire water. He see Irving and they drink fire water together. Then police detectives spot Princess Audrey and one make dance with her. She scream again, "Mr. Bradley!" and then big fight start. Princess Audrey hit policeman with guitar.

Frankenstein: Gaaaah. Hitting funny.

Mr. Bradley and Princess run away from barge. One last police hide and he punch Mr. Bradley who fall in water. Princess Audrey jump in water and they swim away. Now Tonto know why Mr. Bradley no kiss her before because now both wet and is dark. Tonto notice in movies when people get wet they kiss. Is like rule or something.

They go back to Mr. Bradley's apartment and she put on him robe. She offer to cook and clean for him and he say he no have kitchen but that he move to place that does. She say "yes" in meaningful way. Tonto wonder if this count as marriage proposal. If brave move tipi and squaw cook and clean for him then that is marriage to Tonto. Instead they hug and then she go to change clothes to go home.

Tarzan: Me hate Roman Holiday. Why mouse man need engraved invitation? She wearing him robe. She said she cook and clean for him. Why he no jump bones?

Tonto no understand either, Tarzan. Tonto think maybe he not able to give her life of princess so he scared.

Frankenstein: She does duty. Duuuuuuuty, stupid.

Tonto think Frankenstein have point. She chief of her tribe. She can no run off and marry Mr. Bradley.

Tarzan:Me say she just disgusted with mouse man. She go home. Later, marry prince with balls.

Tonto think Tarzan have no soul. Maybe die lonely, bitter ape man.

Tarzan: Me think Tonto get soft watching chic flick. Best watch Caddyshack with Tarzan to be man again.

Frankenstein: Baaaaaby Ruuuuuuuth.

Tonto finish review then he smoke peace pipe with Tarzan. Watch funny Bill Murray movie.

Mr. Bradley drive Princess Audrey to palace. They kiss. He watch her walk away he cry. Tonto sad for Mr. Bradley. Princess Audrey face Aunt and Uncle. They say she neglect duty. Audrey get mad say them not say word to her again. "If I were not completely aware of my duty to my throne and my country I would not have come back tonight. Or indeed ever again. " She start to crack voice like she cry. Tonto think Frankenstein right about duty.

Mr. Bradley go home and boss is at apartment. He want story but Mr. Bradley say no. Irving come and Mr. Bradley tell him they no do story. Irving remind Mr. Bradley of money. Then Irving see Mr. Bradley upset about princess leaving so he no push issue. Tonto think Irving very good friend. Then Irving show pictures to Mr. Bradley and they make up funny captions for them. This make them happy again. They no care if get in paper and they make money. They just want make funny captions. Then they say they go next day to press conference of Princess.

Princess Audrey look different at press conference. She look like real chief of tribe. She all grown up now, just from day with Mr. Bradly. She notice him in crowd and she understand he reporter. He say that her faith in relations between people is not misplaced. This code for him not print story. Some reporter ask her about favorite city. She start to say all the same but then she say, "Rome. Without a doubt Rome. I shall treasure my visit here as long as I live." Then Mr. Bradley know she never forget him. Then she shake much hands and say "I'm so happy." When she take Mr. Bradley hand she no show emotion. She like iceberg. He hold together pretty good too. Not like Tonto and friends who cry like squaws.

Frankenstein: I had something in my eye!!!!!!

Irving give her pictures and she sneak one little look back at Mr. Bradley. Then she ends the press conference and Bradley walks down much big hallway. He look back once but he keep going. The end.

Tarzan think mouse man get what mouse man deserve. He no get girl. He no get money. He get Irving.

Frankenstein: Irrrrrrving.

Tonto think Caddyshack look better and better. No more chick flick for Tonto, Jenny Nipper.

Tarzan: Me want Caddyshack. Or Three Stooges.

Frankenstein: Hitting goood.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Essentials Toddler

I will pretty much do anything to distract my toddler from watching Cars. Don't get me wrong, Cars is a fine Pixar movie if you're into that sort of thing. It's just that Robert would watch it twice a day every day if he could. He doesn't get moderation. I've watched it so many times that while having a rational conversation with a rational adult the other day I compared Barack Obama to Lightning McQueen.

TCM is running a series called Essentials Jr. The movies are supposed to be good ones for introducing classic film to youngsters. I've tried a few of these out on my kid. He skews a little young, I think at 2 and half. Still he really liked The Man Who Knew Too Much. He fell asleep during Roman Holiday, though. He liked the scooter part. "Motorcycle fall over," was his review. He also really liked the haircut scene. All week he's been asking when he's going to get a hair cut like the lady in the "other movie." (Any movie that isn't Cars, I geuss is "other movie.") And his falling asleep may be no reflection on the film. It was his nap time anyway.

We watched Meet Me in St. Louis. His response was "I want Superwhy. I want Cars. I want Neighborhood. (Mr. Roger's Neighborhood)." With Turner's selection striking out big time, I decided to take the DVDs into my own hands. I tried Notorious. He liked the part where Cary and Ingrid ride in the car. He also liked the airplane that took them to Brazil and the horseback riding when they got there. Transportation is a big theme with him. He fell asleep around the time that Sebastian proposed to Alicia. It's too bad he missed the champagne because he always says "daddy's wine! " when he sees a champagne bottle.

Thinking about transportation again, we watched The Lady Vanishes with our neighbor who is ten. Both boys stayed awake through the whole movie. Robert liked the train, of course. He got lots of chances to say, "train, like Thomas." He also really liked the folk music in the movie. Every time Michael Redgrave played his clarinet Robert was up and dancing. It's funny that he didn't like Meet Me in St. Louis. I can dig that, though. Judy Garland isn't for everyone.

I trotted out the technicolor spectacular Vera Cruz which despite being kind of too violent for Robert, is amazingly good because it has horses in almost every sequence. It really makes you appreciate the amount of work that went into filming those epic westerns, when you have someone saying "horses!" every ten seconds. He did fall asleep, but truth be told, so did I. Vera Cruz is noisy and spectacular, but it's kind of mind-numbingly repetitive. Too many horses can be a bad thing, I guess.

By far the most successful effort was Ghostbusters. Both Robert and the neighbor boy loved it. Robert loved it when they shot the toilet paper (that is pretty funny actually) and he really got into the Ghostbuster mobile which he calls "scary ghost fire truck." As soon as the movie was over he wanted to see it again, and again. And again. Finally, I've got a replacement for Cars. As much as I love Ghostbusters, though, I will press on, attempting to find more classic movie selections for Essentials Toddler.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Eye Candy of the Day: Nevada

Thelma Todd, Gary Cooper and Ernie Adams in Nevada (1927). The film also co-stars William Powell who plays a villainous ranch foreman who sells out his boss to cattle rustlers.

Young Gary Cooper in one of his first lead roles plays, Jim Lacey, A.K.A. Nevada, a gunfighter who goes straight and takes on an army of cattle rustlers. This is slight fare but it is well made and entertaining from start to finish. The pace is quick with few inter-titles, and is easy to follow. Cooper looks gorgeous and is quite effective especially in a few dramatic moments later in the movie. Thelma Todd plays an English woman who starts out as the typical damsel in distress but surprises as she dons gauchos and a cowboy hat and rides out to help save her brother's ranch. In one memorable scene, Nevada ties her to a tree to prevent her from joining the battle. Shortly after that she decides he's the love of her life and picks him over his rival, William Powell. Powell's part is small but memorable. In a few scenes he exhibits a mix of dastardly and charming that is hard to forget. He has that Powell panache at the end when he's arrested and he reaches for a cigar instead of his gun. There is a touch of the cool style that would be his meal ticket in decades to come.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Garbo: let the obsession begin

I was never a Garbo fan until this past Thursday. What a day. 24 hours of Garbo (on TCM) and I'm still walking around on a cloud. I'd only ever seen her in Grand Hotel and clips of the end of Camille. From those two performances I had a very skewed vision of her as a grandiose, operatic actress, a throwback to the days of silents when actors didn't trust the camera to pick up their actions so they made them a bit bigger than life.

One movie, changed my mind about all this: Queen Christina. Wow. She gets it. She just lets her face do all the work, and it's subtle, but perfect in the way that Gary Cooper could be perfect in a scene, breaking your heart with just an expression. Very few actors have the ability to be still, almost immobile and portray complex emotion.

Garbo dressed as a man sharing a bed for three days with John Gilbert. Much is implied at the end of the movie when Garbo goes around the room touching up tapestries and bed posts, hungrily. She looks to the camera and says that she is memorizing this room because in her future life she will live many hours their in her imagination. This scene caused a scandal because its frankly sexual nature. So much so that the baddie of the Hays Code office, Joseph Breen took it as a personal crusade to destroy the film. He started a very specific campaign against it in the Catholic church that ended in the enforcement of the production code. He never managed to suppress the film, though. It's there still in all its brazen glory. I usually laugh at movies where insanely beautiful women put on men's clothing and fool everyone. Queen Christina has a hint that maybe everyone knows she's a girl. In one scene a maid at the hotel comes on to her and John Gilbert says with a leering smirk, "she prefers you to me."

Another revelation was Camille. The thing that most surprised me about it was how funny and light-hearted about half of the movie is. I'd only ever seen the ending and just thought of it as a weepie. There is so much life there, in the caricatures of the Parisian courtesans and their hangers-on. I want to go to that party where the ladies wear outrageous dresses, smoke cigars and practice the can-can till they literally fall on the floor. What a hoot. And all the while Garbo is collapsing with consumption, but she wouldn't have it any other way. That's just how she rolls.

If you watch Garbo in Camille you see her acting with her whole body. She manages to portray vitality, contentment, health, depression, exhaustion and illness very well with just her body language. She look 10 or t20 pounds lighter in the final scenes compared to the beginning just by the way she angles her body toward the camera. I never expected that kind of acting from Garbo. When Margeurite breathes her last, she leaves with a little eye roll. I might be reading way more into it than really exists, but something about it seems to undercut the nobility of her sacrifice. It says, I shouldn't have to die. It's too soon to go away. And that was the secret of Garbo's mystique and a big part of her enduring popularity. It is the essence of showmanship, really. Leave the audience crying for more.

Bonus: Camille Wallpaper. Thanks to Simply Classics and Doctor Macro for images.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Eye candy of the day: Let Us Be Gay

Norma in the "after" pictures from one of the most stunning make-overs in movie history. Do click on the high res on this one to see the amazing detail on that Adrian gown from Let Us Be Gay.

Norma Shearer may not have been the best actress in Hollywood in the early thirties, but she was certainly the bravest. It wasn't enough that she appeared occasionally in translucent gowns or that she made movies about women who dared to be as opportunistic and promiscuous as men. No, Norma did something Garbo, Harlow or Dietrich would have never dared. She appeared on screen for ten minutes without make-up, in frumpy clothes and glasses. I didn't even recognize her. I though she was the maid for the first two minutes of the movie--until she went downstairs and started giving orders to the maid that is. Kitty Brown is a woman who tries very hard to please her husband and treat him right, but he still runs around on her anyway. Confronted with the awful truth she throws him out. When next we see her she is transformed into Norma Shearer with bobbed hair, make up and sporty, sexy clothes. Mick La Salle wrote about the transformation saying that Shearer was suggesting to all women that they could be beautiful and glamorous and that her own beauty was somewhat manufactured. Nowadays when actresses ugly themselves up, they get Oscar nominations. Back then it was viewed as Norma competing against herself, her only real competition. She had to top the last movie she did, The Divorcee.

After Kitty Brown is transformed to Katharine Courtland Brown fashion designer, returning after three years in Paris, she finds herself at a week-end house party with her ex-husband. In one scene he asks to know what she's been up to and she says "like you I've been amusing myself with anything and everything. I know a man feels about those things now." Shearer plays the scene so that you don't know whether she is serious or winding him up. He clearly doesn't believe her and it takes finding two men in her bedroom to convince him that she hasn't been home knitting those clever cloche hats that she wears. Yet, by the end of the movie you are still are unclear whether Kitty is truly as worldly as she'd have her ex believe. She flirts so fast and continuously its almost as if she were inventing speed dating and she is just as deft at playing suitors so that they feel as if they are making progress without getting so much as a kiss from her.

Shearer's performance is a bit uneven and I'm inclined to think that's partly down to the varying quality of the other cast members. With an old pro like Marie Dressler she's fabulous and funny. With Rod La Rocque who plays her husband she struggles to find a rhythm. There are strange pauses and it feel like you are watching a play where people are late on their cues. And in a sense you are since since the screenplay was adapted from a stage play by Rachel Crothers.

Classics on the big screen: a possible solution?

Two years ago the Oak Street Cinema closed its door and a little piece of me died. The Oak Street had been a local independent theater which ran classic film repertory and new independent and foreign films for ten years. They also helped me host the Caryvention in 2003 by allowing our group to watch Holiday, a movie they had rented for the upcoming week ,at Midnight for the price of renting the theater. Sitting in a real theater with only the Warbrides in attendance watching one of my favorite films was one of the highlights of the convention for me and one of the things that made all the work worthwhile (besides the awesomeness of all Warbrides, of course!) One brave Warbride returned to Minnesota the following January for the retrospective for Cary's 100th birthday at the Oak Street.
Despite Turner Classic Movies and Netflix, I still miss going to see the old movies in a theater. At Oak Street on a Tuesday night I might catch an awesome double feature (Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gunga Din was one of my favorite pairings) for $5-$6. The same regulars came to the theater almost every night and there would always be a discussion, nay lecture, going on in the back of the theater about one of the supporting actors and what other films he had done. It goes without saying that this was a huge loss to the cultural landscape of the Twin Cities. It was one of the things that made us a real city, like New York or San Francisco. We could go chuckle our way through the "The Sorrow and the Pity" any old day, just like Woody Allen in Annie Hall.

It's getting difficult to find classic movies to rent since video stores are being killed off by internet rental. Netflix is great, but their classic selection is pretty weak. They only have what is currently in print on DVD. That is really not much, when you get down to it. A lot of cinephiles I know have resorted to simply purchasing used movies on Amazon and then reselling them when they are done. It's a hassle but it's the best you're going to do if you want to see vast numbers of movies that simply aren't available anywhere else. Even with my obscure Gary Cooper pre-code western in hand, it's kind of hard to find the time to watch it. Having a movie showing in a public place forced me to get up and go and, of course, stay for the discussion afterwards.

I stumbled across a very long article in the City Pages about the death of Oak Street and the commercial inviability of revival houses. It was a discussion with local film people including Prof. Rob Silberman, who attended CVV (he was such a trooper that he stayed to the end of the infamously long memorabilia auction and he went home with a Walk Down Run lobby card.) The gist of it is that classic film has a hard time competing by itself in the movie marketplace. The only way to make it viable is to either raise a lot of private money to offset the losses or to combine it with some more lucrative type of film events such as independent film premieres, directors evenings, etc. This is why I've always said that if I win the lottery (an unlikely possibility since I never play) that I will open an old neighborhood theater and just show classic movies. Then I thought, no, there is another way out of this. What if you had a movie theater that showed classic movies from 5-11 and Gay porn from 11-1. You could show Casablanca and Assablanca and the latter would pay the rent.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tarzan, Tonto and Frankenstein review Moonstruck

To help snap me out of my mediocre movie doldrums, I have invited three guest bloggers to review one of my all-time favorite movies, Moonstruck:

Summary by Tonto: Cher pretty widow. Pretty middle-aged accountant widow. (Why you bounce check at liquor store, Cher, you accountant!?) Johnny Camerari not so pretty middle-aged guy. Scalp not get enough blood sometimes. Johnny ask Cher to marry. She say yes. Johnny so happy when say "Bobo, the Check!"

Cher take Johnny to airport. He go fly away on iron bird make peace with dying mother. In airport old lady say she put curse on plane. Cher say she no believe in curse and old lady say she not either.

Cher have dad name Cosmo. Cosmo is sad old guy who listen Vicki Carr. Cher tell dad about wedding. He not happy. Won't pay for wedding. Say, "it don't work out for you, Loretta." Cher's have mom name Rose. Rose sad because Cosmo listen Vicki Carr and no have sex. Rose happy about wedding. She ask Cher if she love Johnny. She say no. Rose say good. "If you love 'em they'll drive ya crazy. Cause they know they can," Rose say and look at Cosmo.

Cher visit Johnny's brother Ronny. Ronny pretty baker man. He bakes bread, bread, bread.

Frankenstein: Bread good. Fire bad.

Ronny is sad. He lost hand in slicer. He get mad when Cher say not fault of Johnny. "I don't care! I ain't no freakin' monument to justice." Cher and Ronny go upstairs, listen to La Bohemme. Have sex. Much good sex.

Rose and Cosmo have dinner with Uncle and Aunt. Grandpa feed dog Rose's food. Rose gets mad and is disrespectful to elder in way Tonto no like. Aunt and Uncle no like either. Then Uncle tell story about moon. Uncle say long time ago Cosmo so in love with Rose he bring moon. Cosmo say you dreaming.

Cher wake up in night see moon as big as house. Looks like giant snowball, Ronny say. Ronny is poet, too. Kind of.

At night Aunt and Uncle see big moon. Uncle say is Cosmo's moon. He and aunt have much good sex. Aunt say he like Orlando Furiouso.

Cher wake up again. This time day. Day bad. Very bad to have sex with brother of fiance one hour after meeting. Cher say we take this to our coffins and Ronny say no, I'm in love with you. Cher hit Ronny. "Snap out of it." Ronny ask Cher to opera.

Cher go home. Rose mad at Cher for not coming home at night. She say Cher go to church and make prayers. Cher goes to church and see mom again. Mom is sad because Cosmo is cheating on her. A wife knows. Cosmo is plumber. Sad, old plumber guy. He tells yuppies, "There are three kinds of pipe" and they no understand him. Then Cosmo tell story to girlfriend, Moana. She some piece of cheap goods. But she like Cosmo's pipe story. She seem kind of sweet. Cosmo gives her yellow bracelet. She smile.

Cher gets new hair color for opera. Pretty, pretty Cher. She buys new red dress. She goes opera and Ronny say "thank you for your hair and your beautiful dress." She not kiss Ronny. They go watch La Bohemme. Cher is very sad. Cries at end. She sees Cosmo and Moana and she very upset. Cher and Ronny go bar and drink much fire water. They go back to Ronny's place but she no want to go up. He tell's her "the stars are perfect. The snow flakes are perfect." Ronny is poet, see. Cher take Ronny's wooden hand and go up.

Frankenstein: Puttin on the Riiiiiiiiitz!

Rose sad with no Cosmo and no Cher. She go to Bobo for minestrone and much martini. She see Frasier's dad with girl. Girl dumps water on Frasier's dad. He is sad. Then he sit with Rose and he happy. They drink much fire water and then walk home. He wants to go to her house for much good sex. She say "you can't come in because I know who I am." Me think Rose poet, like Ronny.

Johnny come home. No Cher. Rose not say. She only ask Johnny why men chase women. Johnny say it because they fear death and Rose say that's it! Then Cosmo comes home and Rose tells him he die no matter what. He say thank you with much sarcasm and go to bed.

Frankenstein: Gaaaauh. Gauuuuuuuug! Sarcasm bad.

Next day Cher walk home. See two towers in background and pretty music and she kick can. So pretty. Pretty, pretty Cher. She make dance in kitchen. Rose say you drink too much firewater but Cher say no. Then Rose say she have hangover. Cher find out Johnny home she gets scared. Hide in cupboard and change clothes. Why clothes in kitchen cupboard, Cher? Knock on door is Aunt and Uncle. Rose forgot make much money deposit. Rose sorry. Aunt and Uncle sorry. Knock come again at door. Is Ronny, not Johnny! Ronny have love bite on neck like Cher. Rose make oatmeal.

Frankenstein: Gaaaaauh. Oatmeal. Goood.

Ronny stay to eat much oatmeal. Knock on door is finally Johnny. He walk in whole family there. He say wedding off. His mother will die if he get married. ronny call him Mama's boy. Cher say he break agreement. She mad. She go to funeral in red dress. She throw ring. Ronny take ring propose to Cher. Grandpa cry. He confused. Cher say yes Ronny! So happy. Cher and Ronny sit down and eat oatmeal. Rose say to Cosmo "I want you to stop seeing her." Cosmo mad. He bang table but he agree. Then he say he wasted his life. Rose say you no waste life. I love you. He say "I love you too. " People cry a little so happy. They drink fire water with bubbles say "ala familia!" The end.

Review by Tarzan: Me Tarzan. You Cher. Me like Cher. Cher look good in animal skins and no pants. She look good at Oscars with no pants. Moonstruck she wear pants. Not as good. But still would not kick her out of tree if know what I mean. Awwwwwwwwwww a-a-a-a awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!