Thursday, May 31, 2007

Movie Diary May 2007

Movies seen for the first time are in green.

  1. The Break-Up (2006), Peyton Reed. Much better than I thought it would be, with a realistic, potentially optimistic ending. Serendipitous timing; it's set in Chicago, where I happened to be on business.
  2. The Mating Season (1951), Mitchell Leison. Terrific little comedy about young couple from different classes and their mothers. Makes great use of the sassy Thelma Ritter, and even turns Miriam Hopkins' brittle mannerisms to advantage. In fact, only John Lund as the husband drags the operation down.
  3. Stella Dallas (1937), King Vidor. Three-quarters snooze, one-quarter soap. I spent an hour and a half yawning and fidgeting, wondering what all the fuss was about. Then Stella made her big renunciation, and from then on the tears just wouldn't stop. Can't say I enjoyed it, but I understand how it achieved its reputation.
  4. Hamlet (1948), Laurence Olivier. I don't remember this bothering me before, but I had to turn it off when Hamlet was slapping around his mother: too much like spousal abuse, especially since Beatrice seemed much more like Hamlet's age than Ophelia. (According to IMDb, Eileen Herlie was 13 years younger than Olivier; Jean Simmons was 9 years younger than that.) I know this version was considered revolutionary for removing scenes and characters (including my favorites, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern), but it's still basically a slow-moving, stagey, and overly reverential treatment of the play. And Olivier might be a great actor and stuff, but he looks ridiculous in that blond 'do. What genius director came up with that idea?
  5. Ball of Fire (1941), Howard Hawks. Barbara Stanwyck is a genuine breath of life to Gary Cooper and his encyclopedia-writing pack of "eight squirrely cherubs." Hawks capitalized nicely on both Stanwyck's brassiness and Cooper's stiffness. Also featuring an amazing supporting cast, from Henry Travers and Oscar Homolka to Dana Andrews and Dan Duryea, who specialized in giggling psychopaths.
  6. Guys and Dolls (1955), Joseph L. Mankiewicz. My sister really hates this movie, but I kind of love it, despite the fact that Marlon Brando can't sing, Frank Sinatra is horribly miscast as Nathan Detroit, they cut out one of Adelaide's best songs and some of the best lines . . . where was I going with this? Oh, yeah, the love part. I love the mostly terrific music, the snappy Damon Runyon dialog, the stylish opening sequence, the crap game dance, the comic delights of Vivian Blaine as Adelaide, and most especially Sheldon Leonard as Harry the Horse. I can't help it. I'm a fool for the man.
  7. In Harm's Way (1965), Otto Preminger. Bizarrely retro WWII movie, even filmed in B&W; except for the fairly adult sexual content, might have been made in 1945. John Wayne and Patricia O'Neal essentially reprise their roles from earlier war films as the misunderstood hero and the worldly wise, understanding nurse. This is the sort of movie where a rapist (Kirk Douglas) has to die, but we're supposed to sympathize with what led him to it and find his death gallant and heroic; also, Wayne's callow, wrong-headed son (Brandon de Wilde) learns better but still dies so his dad can be proud of him. Only real surprise is that O'Neal is allowed to be the sexual aggressor and not be punished for it.
  8. Heartbeat (1946), Sam Wood. Like In Harm's Way, this movie seems to come from a much earlier time than it does, since it has the awkward, uneven pacing and lapses in mood most often found in early talkies. Ginger Rogers plays an 18-year-old French reform school girl with a dopey innocence that is about as convincing as . . . her portrayal of the teenage Sarah Bernhardt in The Barkleys of Broadway 3 years later. (I like Rogers, but this is not the kind of material she does well.) Film wastes its assets of Basil Rathbone as the Fagin-like proprietor of a school for pickpockets and Adolphe Menjou as a shady ambassador.
  9. The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton (2007), Masterpiece Theater. Odd, shapeless story of the woman who created the most successful domestic manual in history. Can't quite decide what story it wants to tell or what tone it wants to take. Anna Madeley rather charming in the role of Isabella Beaton. I appreciate Masterpiece Theater's reaching out to find fresher material, but their recent efforts have not been terribly successful.
  10. A Soldier's Story (1984), Norman Jewison. Slow-moving but absorbing account of investigation into the murder of a black sergeant at an Army base during WWII. Intense performance from Denzel Washington in an early role.
  11. Stalag 17 (1951), Billy Wilder. See post May 29, 2007.
  12. Quartet (1948), Various directors. Dated and predictable collection of short films based on stories by W. Somerset Maughm. Can't decide which is the most offensive to women; they're all pretty good candidates.

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