Friday, February 01, 2008

Movie Diary January 2008

Movies seen for the first time are in green.

  1. That's Entertainment! III (1994, Bud Friedgen and Michael J. Sheridan). This one is filled with some pretty great outtakes, deleted scenes, and other never-before-shown stuff. The split-screen showing of the two different Fred Astaire takes was amazing -- like he was dancing with himself.
  2. White Heat (1949, Raoul Walsh). I was surprised to learn this film was made so late, because it breathes the spirit of the '30s. Of course, it belongs to James Cagney as Cody Jarrett, everybody's favorite psychopath. But check out Virginia Mayo. I've always had a soft spot for her because my grandfather had a bit of a thing for her back in the day, but she's scorching here as Jarrett's equally amoral, if a tad less dangerous, gun moll wife. It's also incredible that Margaret Wycherley, Jarrett's icy-eyed Ma, is the same gentle, resigned woman who sighed over Gary Cooper in Sergeant York.
  3. Topper (1937, Norman Z. McLeod). Sparkling fun with a top-notch cast, although I do confess to a slight dip of interest when Topper (Roland Young) and Marion (Constance Bennett) are on their own, without George (Cary Grant) or Clara (Billie Burke) around to play off of. Am I the only one who thinks that butler Wilkins (Alan Mowbray) has a thing for Clara?
  4. Topper Takes a Trip (1938, Norman Z. McLeod). Somewhat less sparkling, somewhat less fun, with 95% less Cary Grant. The story annoys me because it depends on completely undoing the happy resolution of the first movie.
  5. I Married a Witch (1942, Rene Clair). A charmer teaming Fredric March, Veronica Lake, and Cecil Kellaway, with support from Robert Benchley. I won't hold it responsible for the horror that was Bewitched. Regarding the epilog: isn't it astonishing that having a 7-year-old daughter turned them both into stuffy 60-year-olds?
  6. Angel and the Badman (1947, James Edward Grant). This is the kind of early role I like John Wayne in, before he became a caricature of himself. As rough hombre Quirt Evans, he's good-humored, relaxed, and quite startlingly sexy in this uncharacteristic Western about the virtues of nonviolence. Gail Russell is dewy fresh as the Quaker girl who gets him to change his ways. There are also great contributions from Olin Howland as the name-dropping telegraph operator and Harry Carey as the patient sheriff (although the attempt to tack on his catchphrase as the film's last word is the single wrong note in the fine script).
  7. Emma (1996, Douglas McGrath). Not the worst Jane Austen adaptation I've ever seen (much less so, now that I've watched Masterpiece Theater's Persuasion and Mansfield Park [see post January 29, 2008]), but not nearly as good as the Kate Beckinsale version. Gwyneth Paltrow is fair as the titled and entitled heroine, although I was continually distracted by her first attempt at an English accent, which seems to consist mainly of drawling the first part of a word and then closing her teeth on the rest of it, and her scrawny collarbones (please! eat a sandwich!). Juliet Stephenson, though, is fabulous as the pushing Mrs. Elton.
  8. The Pink Panther (1963, Blake Edwards). Dated and not as funny as I remembered it. That makes me sad.
  9. The Mayor of Hell (1933, Archie Mayo). Interesting little picture about a gangster (Jimmy Cagey) who becomes head of a reform school. Typical that the nurse (Madge Evans) is the one with all the ideas, which include such modern notions as self-government, but she needs a man as a figurehead. I'm not usually one for Jewish stereotypes in movies, but I did enjoy Sidney Miller as the reformatory shopkeeper. The black stereotypes (Allen "Farina" Hoskins and especially Fred "Snowflake" Toones, as his father), not so much.
  10. The Clock (1945, Vincente Minelli). Sweet and touching romance between an office clerk (Judy Garland) and a soldier heading off to war (Robert Walker). Many memorable parts, including the sequence where they deliver milk and then go home with milkman James Gleason; the wrenching scene where the lovers, who don't even know each others' last names, get separated in the subway; and the lovely scene where they make their vows to each other. Both Garland and Walker are achingly young and vulnerable.
  11. Juno (2007, Jason Reitman). I was pleased and surprised to discover that this movie really is as good as all the hype. The whole cast is top-notch, and I especially appreciated seeing Allison Janney in her first substantive post-West Wing work. The script is tough and tender without being sentimental, and I liked the way it dealt with ambiguities in situations and relationships. My only quibble is I would have liked to know more about Paulie (Michael Cera). And I didn't care much for the music, although my sister loved it.
  12. Footlight Parade (1933, Sidney Bacon). Snappy backstage musical with choreography by Busby Berkeley and banter, crooning, and hoofing by Jimmy Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, and Dick Powell. What more could you really ask for?
  13. Park Row (1952, Samuel Fuller). It's 100 years of newspaper history and cliche compressed into 83 minutes in this tale of crusading editor Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans) struggling to maintain his paper's integrity in the face of his ruthless rival (Mary Welch). But of course, she's only fighting so hard to get his attention, because after all what woman would really care about his silly old newspaper anyway?
  14. The Fighting 69th (1940, William Keighley). Ah, all the old Irish stereotypes (male division), neatly tied together in one patriotic parcel. Tough-talking Jimmy Cagney turns yellow, then redeems himself, under the guidance of saintly Father Duffy (Pat O'Brien). Not my cup of tea.
  15. Four Daughters (1938, Michael Curtiz). Sentimental soaper about Midwest music professor (Claude Rains, looking about 20 years too old to have daughters in their 20s), his four titular girls (real-life sisters Priscilla, Rosemary, and Lola Lane, plus Emma Page), and the men in their lives. Jeffrey Lynn is engaging as Felix, the guy all the sisters fall for, and May Robson fun as formidable Aunt Etta. I have mixed feelings about anti-hero John Garfield: his performance is terrific, but his character Mickey isn't a rebel without a cause, he's a whiny kid who needs to be slapped and sent to bed without supper. I also have problems with Anne, the youngest sister at the center of the story: she marries the wrong guy for the wrong reasons; why are we supposed to find that admirable?
  16. I See a Dark Stranger (1946, Frank Launder). Comic thriller about a naive young Irish girl (lovely Deborah Kerr) who begins working for the Germans during WWII. Trevor Howard is less boring than usual as the English officer who falls for her. Wouldn't seem very promising material for a comedy, but it really works.
  17. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1972, Ronald Wilson). If I got my love of science fiction from my dad, I got the mysteries from my mother. Dorothy Sayers' tales of Lord Peter Wimsey were one of her favorites that also became mine. Mom and I watched this BBC miniseries about a suspicious death in a quintessentially British gentlemen's club during its original airing, and I haven't seen it since. The sound quality of the Acorn Media DVD is abysmal, but that detracts only a little from the pleasure of seeing this witty, engaging, and literate adaptation. Ian Carmichael is not as handsome or young as Lord Peter should be, but he's nonetheless delightful. John Quentin and Vivian Heilbron are quite touching as the shell-shocked George Fentiman and his supportive wife Sheila. Also found it fascinating, in that British way, that the plain and dowdy Ann Dorland (Anna Cropper) wasn't noticeably less attractive or well-dressed than Wimsey's avant garde lover Marjorie Phelps (Phyllida Law). Kudos go especially to the set designers for lavish attention to period details, from the stuffy confines of the Bellona Club to the seedy gentility of the younger Fentimans' flat. Ditto for the costume designers for such articles as Lord Peter's full-skirted Oriental dressing-gown.
  18. Clouds of Witness (1972, Hugh David). The first of the great BBC Wimsey mysteries, this one offers Lord Peter (as he says in a later book) the choice of hanging his brother (David Langton) or his sister (Rachel Herbert). The casting in this one is conspicuously bad in places; in particular, Anthony Ainley and David Hargreaves are all wrong in their small but crucial parts as Lady Mary's fiance and lover, respectively. However, Judith Arthy truly shines as the tragic Mrs. Grimthorpe -- one can see why the Duke would risk the gallows rather than imperil her -- and Georgina Cookson is terrifyingly polished as the chilly Duchess. Once again, the sets and costumes are fabulous.
  19. A Morbid Taste for Bones (1996, Richard Stroud). Not all blasts from the past are happy ones. I gave this series another chance because I thought I might have been too severe on it back in the day. Nope; still hate it. Derek Jacobi is completely miscast as Brother Cadfael, and the screenwriter and director seem to have willfully misinterpreted Ellis Peters' writings. Never again.
  20. Persuasion (2007, Adrian Shergold). See post January 29, 2008.
  21. Mansfield Park (2007, Iain B. MacDonald). See post January 29, 2008.
  22. The Enchanted Cottage (1945, John Cromwell). Precious and predictable film of disfigured (but not really) flyer Robert Young and ugly (but not really) maid Dorothy Maguire. OK, the proposal scene where Maguire tells Young that even the ugly have dreams of being loved made me cry, but other than that this is a boring, rather stupid story.
  23. Portrait of Jennie (1948, William Dieterle). This is another one of those movies I liked better when I was younger and less cynical. This time I was put off by the movie's airy-fairy mysticism and religiosity. And it's not that I ever really dislike Jennifer Jones' performances, but they're all the same, with that breathless thing she does to indicate innocence. I always keep hoping that the gallery owner Miss Spinney (Ethel Barrymore) will turn out to be more important to the plot than she is.

1 comment:

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