Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Movie Diary April 2007

Movies seen for the first time are in green.

  1. Barefoot in the Park (1967), Gene Saks. Typical Neil Simon misogyny masquerading as hijinks. Corie is a spoiled, selfish emotional bully, and I can't believe her husband and mother put up with her for a moment. Hard to believe that a post-consciousness-raising Jane Fonda still thinks fondly of it. That said, Mildred Natwick and Charles Boyer are worth watching.
  2. Double Harness (1933), John Cromwell. Interesting pre-Code picture about a financially ruined socialite who decides to marry a wealthy playboy to help him rebuild his shipping empire. Not exactly a feminist message ("Marriage is a woman's business," we're told explicitly several times), but the heroine has both agency and desire. Ann Harding (previously unknown to me) is lovely and unmannered, and William Powell the definition of suave as always.
  3. Now, Voyager (1942), Irving Rapper. Fabulous sudsy melodrama about the transformation of a sheltered spinster and her love for a married man. Genuinely affecting, with strong underpinning of psychological truth. Bette Davis is at her absolute best, with Gladys Cooper as her soul-destroying mother and a nearly impeccable supporting cast. Paul Henreid makes an unconvincing Californian (?!), but who cares when he's soulfully lighting two cigarettes?
  4. An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), Mike Newell. Was distracted and not really paying attention, but I did note an exceptionally tender and erotic sex scene with Alan Rickman. Yowza.
  5. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), William Wyler. There are criticisms you can make about this movie -- that Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright are too old for their parts, that the script pulls its punches on topics such as Frederic March's incipient alcoholism, that Michael Hall (March's son, Rob) almost single-handedly brings the whole thing to a halt -- but it remains one of the finest movies ever made about the aftermath of war. I defy anyone to make it through the wedding scene without sniffling.
  6. The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Orson Welles. Twisty noir that really provides no clues beyond Rita Hayworth's femme fatale blonde 'do and "nothing good ever comes from Shanghai." Welles's character is almost criminally dumb; he really deserves what happens to him. His Irish accent is iffy, but he brings the sexy in a way he never did even as Rochester.
  7. Cover Girl (1944), Charles Vidor. Stupid musical with virtually no good songs, but Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly are pretty, and Eve Arden gets to look glamorous as well as crack wise.
  8. Stingaree (1934), William Wellman. Irene Dunne was another actress who suffered under the unfortunate delusion that she could sing. Her thin trill is not redeemed by the film's script or the acting. This movie could have stayed lost.
  9. National Treasure (2004), John Turteltaub. National stinker. Was vaguely curious to see it, because I heard Philadelphia looks great, but 5 minutes was more than enough for me.
  10. The Great Dictator (1940), Charlie Chaplin. I always put off seeing this movie for some reason, but I found it pretty funny and the speech at the end genuinely moving.
  11. Moby Dick (1956), John Huston. Mostly boring; relies too heavily on voiceover and Richard Basehart is a nonentity as Ishmael. But some of the visual effects -- the fog, the gulls, St. Elmo's fire -- are stunning, and Ahab's descent into madness and rejection of all right principles in service of his obsession is authentically chilling. Maybe it's time to tackle the book in earnest.
  12. Ray (2004), Taylor Hackford. Can add nothing more to the mountains of praise for Jamie Foxx's uncanny embodiment of Ray Charles. Script is sharply written, except for the gag-inducing treacly ending, but suffers from the usual biopic problem of simplifying the subject's life to provide dramatic direction. Also, never tries to dig very hard beneath the surface; why, like so many artists, did Charles's genius explode as he was sinking deeper into addiction? Also would have appreciated some exploration of how Charles arrived at his ground-breaking soul style, as well as (being somewhat musically illiterate) some explanation of what made his innovations so original.
  13. Oliver Twist (1948), David Lean. Atmospheric, rather brutal version of the Dickens tale. Kay Walsh fabulous as the doomed Nancy. Mixed feelings about Alec Guinness's villainous Fagin: a bravura performance, but monstrously anti-Semitic.
  14. Roman Holiday (1953), William Wyler. Audrey Hepburn at her most gamine and charming, Gregory Peck at his most ornamental and least wooden. Fabulous script and Roman locales.
  15. Princess O'Rourke (1943), Norman Krasna. Slight, overly long tale of American flyer in love with incognito European princess. Horrible fixation on the body of the princess as a vehicle for transmission of succession -- to male heirs, naturally. Did enjoy the idea of FDR playing Cupid. And ah for the days when people handed out the tranquilizers like M&Ms!
  16. State Fair (1945), Walter Lang. See post April 23, 2007.
  17. Fletch (1985), Michael Ritchie. Funny damn movie; also clever, well-crafted mystery, with sharp screenplay by personal favorite Andrew Bergman. Chevy Chase's trademark insouciance is perfect in the role of investigative reporter Irwin Fletcher. Funny to see Geena Davis as the frumpy best friend with an unrequited crush. Badly dated score.
  18. High Sierra (1941), Raoul Walsh. There's no male star I love more than Humphrey Bogart, and here he gives a taut, iconic performance as the aging gangster Roy Earle, adrift in a world that's left him behind. Ida Lupino also shines as the dancehall girl Marie, who turns out to be purer in heart than the supposedly "decent" Joan Leslie. Sharp, sensitive script by John Huston, slightly marred by typical Hollywood '40s racism.
  19. The Hustler (1961), Robert Rossen. This is a movie I thought more highly of when I was younger. Now its atmosphere of cynicism and tawdriness leaves me somewhat cold. George C. Scott gives a standout performance. But if I were Minnesota Fats, I'd be thinking: "Do I really need to be here for this? Can't these guys play out their little psychodrama on their own?"

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