Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Movie Diary July 2007

Movies seen for the first time are in green.

  1. The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), Billy Wilder. I used to enjoy this picture more when I knew less about Charles Lindbergh. Jimmy Stewart puts his gee-whiz Americanism to great use here.
  2. Gallant Journey (1946), William Wellman. Glenn Ford = snooze. This movie did nothing to disprove that equation.
  3. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Michael Curtiz. Exhuberant, entertaining biopic of showbiz legend George M. Cohan (Jimmy Cagney) contains a raft of great moments. Corny as it is, the scene of hundreds of soldiers marching and singing "Over There" chokes me up every time.
  4. The Howards of Virginia (1940), Frank Lloyd. Laughably bad story of the Revolutionary War, starring Cary Grant in his most miserably miscast role as a backwoodsman.
  5. Seven Men from Now (1956), Budd Boettiger. Revenge fantasies and vigilantism! Some fun! [/sarcasm] I'm still dopey for Randolph Scott's voice, though. Romance between Scott and Gail Russell seems like Vertigo on his side, Shane on hers.
  6. Little Women (1949), Mervyn LeRoy. Decent but overblown production of Louisa May Alcott's classic; the genuine power and beauty of the material manages to shine through. June Allyson generally sets my teeth on edge, but she's mostly OK here. Margaret O'Brien very affecting as the sweet, doomed Beth. Both the Katharine Hepburn and Winona Ryder versions are better.
  7. The Man in the Saddle (1951), Andre de Toth. Boring, forgettable Western. Mostly notable because Joan Leslie isn't doing that wide-eyed virginal thing she does in every other role I've seen her in.
  8. Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), Anatole Litvak. This is a classic why? The writing is turgid, the characters are horrible, and the actors are chewing up the scenery. Call me when Double Indemnity's on.
  9. Young Frankenstein (1974), Mel Brooks. One of the funniest freaking movies of all time. Genius by all involved.
  10. Towards Zero (2007), Mystery! Geraldine McEwan is certainly the finest Miss Marple to ever fill her sensible shoes, and these Mystery episodes always have lavish production values up the wazoo. Too bad they can't make up for the less than stellar plot in this minor (originally non-Marple) Agatha Christie work. (An old man can instantly recognize an adult who killed as a child because of a long ring finger? Yeah, right.)
  11. Pride and Prejudice (1940), Robert Z. Leonard. Entirely inauthentic, entirely delightful version of Jane Austen's classic. Yes, it gets many, many of the details wrong, but truly captures the spirit of the book. Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier are beautifully matched, and Edna May Oliver adds her customary verve to the proceedings as Lady Catherine.
  12. The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Sam Wood. Gary Cooper's stilted delivery really gets in the way in this sentimental, affecting biopic; he's much better when he doesn't speak, as in the scene where Lou Gehrig is benched for the first time in 14 years. Teresa Wright does her usual sassy/sweet number as Gehrig's wife Elly. The final shot of Cooper walking into the doorway is one of the finest in movie history.
  13. Ride the High Country (1962), Sam Peckinpah. Intelligent, leisurely Western about aging ex-lawmen guarding -- or maybe stealing -- a shipment of gold. Seasoned pros Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott are likeable and moving as old men in a country that doesn't treat old men very well. Peckinpah's vision of the miner's camp is one of the first realistic depictions of the West in film. Mariette Hartley should have sued the hairstylist, but luckily she survived to act again.
  14. Kiss Me Kate (1953), George Sidney. If you can endure Kathryn Grayson's trilling (and her shrieks that could etch glass) and Howard Keel's posturing (although he looks pretty good in Petruchio's beard and tights), you'll be rewarded with terrific Cole Porter songs and Ann Miller's legs.
  15. The Band Wagon (1953), Vincente Minelli. Slightly tired but still fun satire of "significant" theater. Nanette Fabray, Oscar Levant, and some snappy Comden/Green numbers provide most of the life. Cyd Charisse looks terrific; did she have the smallest waist in Hollywood?
  16. A Guy Named Joe (1943), Victor Fleming. I still like this movie, although I'm not exactly sure why. Tracy's character (Pete, not Joe) is the perfect alpha male -- smug, condescending, sexist, withholding, controlling, and off-the-scale macho. Plus, the female lead is my perennial favorite Irene Dunne as Dorinda (yes, she sings again). I think it's mainly the supporting characters -- a very young and fresh Van Johnson as Ted (in a reversal of the usual movie formula, he's 18 years younger than co-star Dunne); a relaxed and genial Ward Bond; and a fatherly Lionel Barrymore. There's also Dorinda's obvious skill and heroism as a pilot (despite Pete's denigrating comments) and some wonderful moments like the scene where the wealthy Ted places a long-distance call to the mother of a homesick soldier.

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