Monday, August 1, 2016
Written (sort of) for the Legends of Western Cinema week, hosted by A Lantern in Her Hand and Meanwhile, in Rivendell. I say sort of because I had planned to write a post on Wanted: Dead or Alive anyway, but this gave me motivation to actually buckle down and do it.
The era of the television western was something to behold. Its recognized beginning was 1949 and the official ending was 1969, so a mere 20 year span of time. Oh, some shows made it past the 1969 cut-off, like The Young Riders in the 1980s and of course, Alias Smith and Jones from the 1970s, but the official best years of the genre was always in the 1950s and the early 1960s.
Shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Have Gun Will Travel, Big Valley, and one of my favorites, The Wild Wild West all ran during that span of time. And while I'd like to focus on each and every one of them, I've chosen instead a western series that only ran for 3 years, from 1958 to 1961, and birthed the beginnings of a radiant career on the big screen.
That's right, I'm talking about Wanted: Dead or Alive starring none other than Steve McQueen.
Would you believe that I've only been a fan of this show, and McQueen, for less than a year? I guess I needed to fall in love with McQueen at the right time in my life, and that time happens to be now. But I especially, ESPECIALLY, love him as Josh Randall, the tough bounty hunter with a heart of gold from Wanted: Dead or Alive.
I think if this show were just another western series than I might not have latched onto it quite so voraciously. The creators took an original approach with the idea, allowing for the idea that not all heroes are good all the time and that bad things happen to good people. Perhaps it's not that original, but I'd never before encountered a western series that permitted, even encouraged, the characters to make mistakes. All with a brilliant, tight humor that never, ever failed to make an appearance in each episode. Sure, be serious, but make sure you give the viewer a break with snatches of hilarity too. These writers understood the need for humor in an otherwise dramatic series.
Josh Randall is terrific, but he's far from perfect. In fact, this is one of his normal looks, that half bewildered, half how-the-heck-did-I-get-myself-into-this-mess look. McQueen perfected that look. Anyway, Randall's a bounty hunter and money is a really strong motivator for what he does and why. I've read reviews that try to soften Randall, that he always gives his money away to people who need it, and it makes me wonder what show they're watching.
Yes, there were a couple of times, random times, when Josh would give money to someone, usually a victim or sometimes a relative of the criminal he hunted (the latter may have happened once), but overall, he kept the money. And his favorite pastimes when he's not chasing a bounty are lounging in saloons and gambling. So I'm pretty sure I know that the money ends up in the hands of gamblers who are slightly more skilled than he at the game.
However, I also said that Josh Randall has a heart of gold. He does. It just doesn't come in the form of giving away his bounty money. Instead, Josh is very wary of the bounties that he hunts. If someone doesn't seem on the up and up, he won't take the job. Plus, whenever possible, he attempts to take the prisoner alive because he believes in the system. It's not his job to kill people and he doesn't have a murderous heart like some bounty hunters.
But he's still spurned and scorned by many a western town because of his occupation. Oh, Josh will make a friend or two out of a sheriff, but when it comes down to your ordinary, everyday citizen, nope, it's not going to happen. The women in the show are especially devious, even cleverer than he is, and there's been many a time that he's had the wool pulled over his eyes by a fainting violet with nerves of steel and an ulterior motive. I guess you could say where women are concerned he's very naive.
This predilection most western towns had for hating bounty hunters crops up quite frequently, in fact. I'll always remember the episode where Josh brings in a bounty, but the criminal gets loose and takes the sheriff hostage. The sheriff's daughter is a town favorite and she cannot stand the idea of her father being left in the hands of a criminal, so the town decides to give the criminal Josh instead. At gunpoint. Sure, that's a nice, friendly little town they've got there. The sheriff's life is of more value to these upstanding citizens than a bounty hunter.
Josh encounters that mentality time and again throughout the series, but he's never vengeful, always resigned to their hatred of him, and he never raises a hand against innocent bystanders. He rolls with the punches most of the time, and there are plenty of punches. It wouldn't be an episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive if Josh didn't get knocked unconscious at least once. McQueen just did it so gracefully!
You know, it's entertaining to see where Steve McQueen got his start in westerns. Of course, westerns aren't all he did, but the roles of western archetype heroes seemed to suit him. As television western series go, there are scads more than would ever have time to watch, and the lesser known ones are lesser known for a reason. But Wanted: Dead or Alive takes its storytelling seriously and acknowledges that not every encounter in the west had a happy ending. In fact, some endings are downright sad, but that's real life.
You can also tell the quality by the types of guest stars who made appearances with such names as Michael Landon, Warren Oates, James Coburn, and even Martin Landau. Do I care that the bullets on Josh's belt could never, in a million years, fit that gun? Nope, I do not, because McQueen sells the character to the audience from the very 1st episode and we don't care that the bullets don't fit. Wanted: Dead or Alive is a brilliant western series with a brilliant lead actor who just captures the heart and the imagination with his glittering eyes, lean body (yes I have a crush, so sue me), and that crazy Mare's Laig of a rifle that he has strapped to his leg. ❤
Friday, July 29, 2016
Up in Arms (1944)
introducing Danny Kaye
and co-starring Dinah Shore, Dana Andrews, and Constance Dowling
I had a fairly decent sum saved up from my credit card rewards, and I couldn't think of a better way to spend it than on a Danny Kaye movie collection!
Apart from Bob Hope, Danny is my favorite funny man. But unlike Bob Hope who is sometimes too ridiculous, Danny always played lovable nut jobs with the right touch of realism to counteract the humor. I can't think of a single Danny Kaye role that I haven't loved so far. But the best thing about this collection is that I hadn't seen any of the 4 movies in it, one of which happens to be Danny's cinematic debut Up in Arms from 1944.
Danny Weems (Danny Kaye) is a lovable hypochondriac who took a job as an elevator man in a suite of doctor's offices just so he could be near medical care whenever he needed it. Patients get on his elevator and get off in worse shape than they were before. But Danny's lucky; he's got his best friend and roommate Joe (Dana Andrews) who supports him in all things. Except one. Joe falls in love with Mary (Constance Dowling), a lovely nurse from the building where Danny works. There's only one problem, Danny's convinced that he and Mary are in love and so he's blind to the growing attraction between Joe and Mary and blind to the romantic inclinations that Virginia (Dinah Shore), another nurse in the building, has towards him.
Everything might have continued in the same vein of awkwardness except that this is 1944 and so Danny and Joe get drafted into the military. And the girls, being the patriotic females that they are, also join up as nurses, the funny thing being that they're also higher ranked than Joe and Danny. Watching Danny, with his cases of medication, try to survive military life is hilarious, and it's a darn good thing that Joe is there to keep some of the thugs off his back. Resplendent with hilarious comedic gags, Up in Arms is a real winner up until the last 20 minutes and a terrific debut for Danny Kaye as a classic American funny man.
Despite it's winning qualities, though, I admit that there are some aspects that may offend modern viewers. Such as the Japanese soldiers at the end of the film that are just so dense I'm shocked they didn't walk off a cliff into the ocean. Danny manages to round all of them up with little trouble. They're caricatures of the Japanese and I caught myself wincing several times.
I'm also not sure about that bizarre dream sequence, also near the end, that merely seemed an excuse to roll out the Goldwyn Girls with their sparkling smiles and gorgeous figures. It felt like that absurd sequence out of Singin' in the Rain which makes sense since the movies were made in the same decade. One of those Goldwyn Girls happened to be Virginia Mayo, the girl who played opposite Danny in 4 pictures including The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (review upcoming at some point), so that bit was fun. But I'm still glad they cast Constance Dowling as Mary since I feel she had the right mixture of loveliness and compassion.
If you don't mind the little oddities, you'll love Up in Arms. It's nowhere near as offensive as the Bing Crosby black face number in Holiday Inn, a movie I LOVE all except for that one musical number. ❤
This poor man's first encounter with Danny leaves him far sicker than he ever was before he stepped into that elevator, much to the fury of the man's doctor.
The lovely Dinah Shore as Virginia, the girl who secretly loves Danny and who was just his practice model for a marriage proposal to Mary. No wonder she's mad.
Danny's first musical number in the film, while waiting for a motion picture to start. He effectively mocked going to the movies in a healthy dose of irony.
And here you have buddy Joe (Dana Andrews) and Danny's flame Mary (Constance Dowling) making eyes after a double-date. Poor Danny, so clueless, especially since Mary never actually led him on. He can't tell when a girl's just being nice.
Danny getting the infamous news that he's been DRAFTED!
While out with the boys and Mary, Virginia sings into a record recorder while a horde of soldiers gather. It's Now I Know and one of those typical songs during the World War II era that just gets you.
In a fit of insanity, Danny smuggles Mary onto the boat by accident just as it ships out, leaving Joe to help Danny figure out how to hide her.
And one last screen cap just for fun. Chaos is about to ensue in this one, in case you couldn't tell. Oh, and Mary's hiding under the bunk.
Monday, July 25, 2016
The Harvey Girls (1946)
starring Judy Garland, John Hodiak, and Angela Lansbury
co-starring Ray Bolger, Marjorie Main, Chill Wills, Kenny Baker, and Cyd Charisse
I remember LOVING The Harvey Girls the first time I saw it, so naturally I was curious to see if that emotion had staying power since I hadn't seen the movie in over a decade. As it happens, yes, I still love it, and with good reason.
I've never minded mail-order bride stories, and that's how this one begins, with young Susan Bradley (Judy Garland) headed west to marry a man who she's only corresponded with, but never met. Full of hope and light, a tad bit hungry, she encounters a group of young women also headed west, known as the Harvey Girls. They are employed by Fred Harvey to open a Harvey House restaurant that brings culture and refinement to western towns. Enthralled with the young ladies in this group, Susan immediately befriends them, especially since her stop and theirs is the same one.
Imagine her horror on getting off the train and meeting her betrothed. Lanky H. H. Hartsey (Chill Wills) is nothing like she imagined, just as she is far younger than he ever dreamed. Together, they are equally relieved to undo the betrothal, except that now Susan has a question. How did this shy, unassuming farmer win Susan's heart with just words on paper?
Let's just say that he didn't. And when Susan finds out that Ned Trent (John Hodiak), the owner of the Ahlambra saloon, is the man who penned the words of love she treasured, she gets her ire up right quick, refuses his offer of funds to take her back to Ohio, and instead joins the Harvey Girls. Ned never intended for the girl to be so lovely and pure as Susan Bradley, although I'll never understand what he thought he was doing writing those letters for his friend! With the Harvey Girls bringing a breath of fresh air to Sandrock, Ned starts wondering if just possibly he wants more out of life than running a saloon and dance hall. An idea that doesn't sit well with his star attraction, Em (Angela Lansbury), who can't control her heart's leaning towards Ned anymore than Ned can control his heart racing full tilt towards the prim Miss Bradley.
Let's just say we have an entertaining train wreck on our hands that includes the dancing comic, Ray Bolger, the forever graceful Cyd Charisse, the memorable Marjorie Main, and dear Kenny Baker who wasn't in nearly enough movies in his day.
One of the things The Harvey Girls really has going for it is its sense of humor. From Garland storming across the street with two colt .45s in her hand preparing to take on the Ahlahmbra to the brawl between the Harvey Girls and the dance hall girls, it's a wild ride of good humor and entertainment. Yep, it's also a musical, but unlike my last review of a Garland musical, In the Good Old Summertime, the songs here seem to work: On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe, The Train Must Be Fed, It's a Great Big World, and The Wild, Wild West just to name a few. Angela Lansbury was, sadly, dubbed, but I guess I'm not surprised since Hollywood loved to dub their stars if their singing voices weren't up to scratch.
I laughed so much in The Harvey Girls it was refreshing. Not the Danny Kaye or Bob Hope comedy kind of laugh, but the kind that says the humor felt authentic and timely for the story.
Plus, I bought Hodiak and Garland as a couple. He actually seemed capable of standing his own against her considerable charm and charisma! I can't say that of very many actors and so I must applaud him for selling me the idea that they were in love. Their first kiss is soooooooooooo cute!
Let me just say one thing: Judy Garland was born for color pictures. The woman had so much pizzazz and sparkle that almost nobody stood a chance against her in a color film, which is probably why MGM continually shot her movies in color. The Harvey Girls is nothing if not lovely, not just because of the bevy of beautiful maidens paying the Harvey Girls, but also because of the gorgeous costuming overseen by a woman credited only as Irene, who also supervised the costuming in the always memorable Meet Me in St. Louis, also with Garland.
If you love Garland, of course you're going to love her in this movie. There is everything to love because she's wonderful in the role of Susan Bradley and I'd say it's my favorite of her roles to date excepting Dorothy.
Cyd Charisse has a bit part as one of the Harvey Girls who falls madly in love with the dance hall piano player, Kenny Baker. They're sickeningly cute almost and naturally, I just loved them.
And now, because most people praise Garland above anyone else in her films, I'm going to focus a little more on Angela Lansbury.
Angela Lansbury, poor dear, was constantly being cast as the other woman, usually portrayed with a vindictive streak. But in The Harvey Girls (she was only 19 in this picture!) I actually felt genuine remorse for her character; it can't have been easy to love a man for so long and then lose him to some fresh, young thing fresh off the farm. So, while Em can be mean-spirited and combative, she also has an ending that made me love her, for it showed that beneath her tough exterior beat a heart of gold.
Plus, look at her style!
The train of this dress is gold feathers . . . GOLD FEATHERS. I mean, come on, and get a load of that headpiece! Angela was so gorgeous in her youth.
I'm loving the curls and she is quite stunning in pink. The gown she's wearing is only knee-length because she's a dance hall girl, but it's still gorgeous.
And her farewell scene with John Hodiak. Dig that hat!
The above scene is when the girls from the Ahlambra crash a Harvey Girls hosted party in an attempt to chase the men back to their own establishment. And here's what I love about The Harvey Girls.
It's a film about society evolving, leaving behind the unhealthy and going for something healthy instead. It's almost an "eat this, not that" mentality. When comparing the dance hall girls with virgin women of upstanding moral character, the men realize that they were dining on chicken bones when they could have had steak instead. This scene ends with only a handful of men returning to the dance hall. The rest of them stay at the Harvey House to finish out the party in good company . . . company that the town minister approves of.
It's a gorgeous scene and it speaks to my heart the belief that when given the chance, men will choose innocence over worldliness.
And now for John Hodiak, my friends. There's a good chance that you've never heard of him, and for good reason, I guess. He was a replacement for all of the leading men who were off serving their country during World War II. Which means that when they returned, he was dumped back into secondary roles again. But he is absolutely marvelous, enough so that I want to watch some of his other movies. I've read from a few other reviewers that some folks felt he didn't fit in The Harvey Girls. He doesn't sing and he doesn't dance, but who cares?! He's a rough and tough guy chasing the next dollar who's drawn up short when he meets Garland's character. By the end of The Harvey Girls, I loved him completely. And I grieve dreadfully that he died at such a young age, only 41 years old. Some things are just wrong.
For good measure, one photo of Marjorie Main simply because I love her shimmering roughness so very much. She's one of those quirky characters that audiences always remember.
Seeeeeee, I don't hate musicals. It just needs to be the right musical with the right story and the right casting. The Harvey Girls was perfect in every way, especially for someone like me who loves to admire historic clothing done right. Well, nearly right. This is still 1940s Hollywood, after all. ❤
Thursday, July 21, 2016
starring Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, and James Mason
co-starring Natalie Schafer
Forever Darling is described by many viewers as a romantic fantasy, and I guess that hits the nail pretty much on the head. It also happens to be the 60th anniversary of this film this year (OH MY GOSH) and so I couldn't go without reviewing it!
Newlyweds Susan and Lorenzo Vega are very much in love after 2 months of marriage. 2 years of marriage find them still in love, but she's not all dolled up in her negligee and makeup when he leaves for work anymore. After 5 years of marriage, Lorenzo has to see himself out the door in the morning while Susan snores away upstairs.
Yah, they're heading downhill fast. Especially after an argument at dinner when Susan's cousin Millie, and her husband Henry Opdyke belittle Lorenzo's desire to test run his mosquito killer himself in an experiment that would take him and Susan out of the country for 2 years. All the years of compressed frustration against Millie's interference in his and Susan's marriage comes spewing out in glorious style. The only problem is that Susan is furious and after the dinner is over, the two of them have a righteous row that ends in him bunking downstairs in the office and her sobbing in the bedroom.
And here's where the fantasy comes in because instead of Susan and Larry working things out on their own, Susan has the help of a guardian angel. But not just any guardian angel. This one appears in the physical form of whatever she most desires, and that would be . . . James Mason. Not that I blame her, but it's darned funny! It is now up to Susan's angel to get her on the right track, meaning she needs to be the one to support her husband's career and go his way because, in the angel's words, there's no other way to go!
Before you get mad, Susan is a housewife. She appears to have very few hobbies outside of being a housewife and so, honestly, her angel is kind of right. There's nothing in Susan's life that Larry could truly be involved in, and so it's up to her to come alongside and support him. Larry's job involves his passion to eradicate mosquitoes from third-world countries which is a pretty awesome endeavor. He's a scientist and so his entire focus is on that end goal, which of course resulted in his not paying enough attention to Susan, and brought them to this point. But really, what Larry wants to do is very noble and self-sacrificing and you have to love him for that, and by the end of the movie, Susan realizes the value of his work too, so her angel turned out to be correct in the way he went about fixing their marriage.
Let's just acknowledge right now that Forever Darling was one massive plug for I Love Lucy. There. The elephant in the room is now out of the way. I even recognized quite a few of Susan's costumes as being ones that Lucy wears, including one of my absolute favorites of he lounging costumes. I didn't picture it in purple, but oh well! All you really would need to do it replace Susan and Larry with Lucy and Ricky and you wouldn't be off the mark at all in how these characters are designed. Then again, this was a shameless plug for the show.
Still, it's fun seeing Mrs. Howell (Natalie Schafer) from Gilligan's Island in a righteously obnoxious role as Susan's cousin, with all of her indignant proclamations of "I could die, I could just die!". Who came up with that Americanism?
And you can't beat James Mason. I've not seen nearly enough of his movies, but every time I do see one, I'm always reminded how much I love him. He's hilarious here in that he's playing an angel who looks like James Mason and that's how Susan perceives him . . as James Mason. Susan and Larry go to the movies one night, a James Mason movie, where he's playing this rough and tumble man in the jungle who's captured a woman to make his own. He's masculine and demanding, and Susan soaked up every moment of it to the point where she imagined herself in the picture. Thank goodness they never actually made that movie because it was TERRIBLE, but that makes it all the more funny . . . that it was made just for Forever Darling. When Susan gets back to their house and Larry has to dash off for something at work, she proceeds to stalk her angel up the stairs. Hilarious!
Susan and Larry take a camping trip at the end of the film to test his mosquito killer. You wouldn't believe the amount of things that can go wrong on a camping trip with those two. Then again, if you've watched enough I Love Lucy, than you can believe it! Zippered in your sleeping bag, a punctured raft, and all sorts of crazy things. I did love seeing her catch a salmon! The movie was filmed partially in Yosemite so I sure hope whatever river runs through there actually has salmon. Unless it was the world's biggest trout, which I guess is possible.
It is inspiring to see a married couple work things out. Because let's be honest, you won't be newlyweds forever. I'm not married, have never been married, but even I know that realism has to set in at some point. It doesn't mean you love any less, it just means you have to be more intentional and less emotional about your love. More head instead of heart as it were. And I think that message gets across really well in this movie, never mind that Desi and Lucy's marriage didn't work out in the end, I'm pretty sure that Larry and Susan made it. And yes, I do love the theme song Forever Darling and Desi sings it beautifully both in English and in Spanish.
In the end, if you don't mind some slapstick comedy and marital bickering, then you'll probably enjoy Forever Darling. Is it as good or as funny as The Long, Long Trailer? Of course not, but I've ended up loving Forever Darling for its own merit. ❤
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Apparently boredom combined with insomnia ends with me watching a really bad 1987 romantic comedy called The Pick-Up Artist and laughing despite its badness. Because, seriously, it's bad. But it has Robert Downey Jr., Molly Ringwald, and Dennis Hopper, so it's not the acting that's terrible, it's just the story.
After all, who really wants to watch a movie about a pick-up artist? That's his goal in life, to pick up chicks. He's like, perpetually horny, which is gross to say, but there it is. So when he meets Ringwald's character, it's surprising that something actually clicks and his brain doesn't immediately go on to try and find the next chick in line. Instead, she's special, probably because, yes she'll sleep with him (in the CAR by the way, and not halfway romantically like in Say Anything), but she wants nothing else to do with him after the intimacy. No name, no phone number, nothing. She'll exchange bodily fluids with a total stranger once but her personal life is off limits. I consider that weird and veeeeeeeeeeeery disturbing, but hey, I guess that's just me.
Turns out Ringwald's daddio, Dennis Hopper, is in debt to some sort of mafia to the tune of $25,000 (never did quite figure out how other than he likes to gamble). RDJ persists in his pursuit of her (which could be considered stalking). He finds out the trouble she's in, and he gets involved to keep her from selling her body to a creep who the mafia guy knows. I guess they're business partners or something.
Anyhow, drama, drama, drama, comedy, comedy, comedy, somehow RDJ takes his students (who hired this guy to be an elementary teacher!?) to a natural science museum WITHOUT the required number of adults or permission slips, then later on he and Ringwald magically win at roulette in Vegas to pay off the bad dudes, and finally everybody lives happily ever after.
Yahhhhh. You're wondering why I thought it funny, right? Well, it has its moments, all on RDJ's part. I had no idea he could run that much! He literally spends the entire film dashing from pillar to post, as it were. Does that saying date me? I love Molly Ringwald, but she and RDJ really weren't clicking and I'm not sure how that could have happened since he has chemistry with a rock.
I thought it was sort of profound that they hadn't kissed, not even during their one sex scene (nothing seen, just a voice over with his parked car in the distance). They only kissed at the end once she decided that she loved him. Kissing really is an intimate act, and this movie in its own stupid way manages to help prove that point. Although it's yet another story about people instantly falling in love. He's in love with her at the end of a few days. If the script had been done differently, I might have bought it, but not like this.
Really, the only reason to ever watch this movie is if you're an RDJ fan and this is the LAST of his films you've never seen. I was bored, that's my only excuse. And I will never watch it again. He does have a surprising gap in his teeth as the above GIF can attest. Not sure when he got that fixed, but he did at some point along his road to fame. It makes him look like he's 12 so I can see why he went in for a new set of choppers.
My hopes for a movie in the vein of the brilliant John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) were for naught. Had the screenplay writer taken a little more care, then The Pick-Up Artist might be considered one of those cult classic 80s films. Instead, it's probably better off just buried. It did give me a few laughs last night, though, so I guess that's something.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
starring Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell
supporting cast: Rudy Vallee, Barbara Lawrence, and Lionel Stander
Have you ever had a single performance color every other movie an actor makes? Welcome to my experience with Rex Harrison. Every movie he made is colored for me by Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady. For some people this might not be such a bad thing, but for me . . . well, I don't like Henry Higgins all that much so I struggle with liking Rex Harrison by default.
HOWEVER, that said, it's almost impossible to dislike a Preston Sturges film since the man was brilliant and Unfaithfully Yours didn't make it into the Criterion Collection without a good reason. Black comedies have their place and this is one of the best, easily ranked up there with Arsenic and Old Lace and The Ladykillers.
Welcome to the story of a man who learns the hard way that lack of sleep and self-imposed starvation result in PARANOIA. Get your 8 hours and eat a healthy diet of calories and you'll likely NOT jump to the same wacky conclusions as our hero, Sir Alfred de Carter (Rex Harrison).
Alfred and his youthful bride Daphne (Linda Darnell) are absolutely drippy with romantic affection for one another. It's almost sickening. But all that changes when Alfred returns from a trip to find that his brother-in-law August Henshler (Rudy Vallee) has had a private detective follow Daphne, completely misconstruing Alfred's request for August to keep an eye on her while he was gone. Being the temperamental artist that he is (he's a maestro for an orchestra), Alfred throws August out on his rear, but the seeds have been planted. It takes only a little sprinkling of water here and there for him to think that Daphne and his young, handsome secretary Anthony Windborn (Kurt Kreuger) are having a riotous love affair. After all, Anthony is much nearer to Daphne's own age than Alfred.
Short on sleep and those calories we talked about, during one of his concerts, his mind wanders down the rabbit hole, imagining all sorts of crazy scenarios that include an elaborate scheme involving a voice recorder and a scene like something out of a slasher flick sans blood, then a scene where he's all forgiving and writes her a check and gives her permission to leave him, and finally a scene where he challenges Anthony to a game of Russian roulette . . . and loses.
Of course, those scenarios are all merely figments of his imagination. Real life is much more fun with its insanity and quirks as he makes foolish attempts at all three before finally realizing his wife is INNOCENT of all wrongdoing and he's been an idiot. Happy ending!
And the only reason why I'm telling everyone a few details about what happens is so you'll actually watch it. Here's where Unfaithfully Yours differs from other black comedies. Nobody actually dies, unlike Arsenic and Old Lace and The Ladykillers. So it's a much more lighthearted experience despite its blackness. Sadly, that very blackness kept this film from being a rousing success upon its debut, but critical response was favorable. I guess it was just slightly too dark for 1940s audiences, a would-be murderer as the main character and all. Never mind that he's a goof and a bungler.
Kudos, once again, to Preston Sturges, this time for the deliciously witty dialogue that is so redolent throughout the film. That man knew how to write dialogue. I drool with envy. And here's where I must also congratulate Rex Harrison. Now that I've seen Unfaithfully Yours at least twice, I can honestly praise him and freely admit that I don't believe anyone else could have played the role with quite so much sarcastic humor and wit. Possibly the only other fit might have been Laurence Olivier, but I believe Olivier was doing Hamlet in 1948 so he was just a tad busy.
As for Linda Darnell, she's such a lovely woman, and while I do feel she overdid it a little bit with her "I'm insanely in love with my husband" routine, she matched Rex Harrison beautifully. Although I do wish she'd pouted less while whispering sweet nothings in his ear. Reminded me far too much of Marilyn Monroe's propensity to do that pooch thing with her lips, which I never found attractive. It was fun watching her play opposite Rex Harrison in his imaginary scenes, and her character in real life is genuinely in love with her husband and has never, would never, cheat on him, so that made her instantly likeable.
Welcome Rudy Vallee and Barbara Lawrence, both stars in their own right. It's always fun when Rudy Vallee pops up in film. I know him mostly as a singer and as a poor, hapless guest star on I Love Lucy. Poor, poor man. And here he gets his jacket torn practically to ribbons by Rex Harrison. Gotta love it! Barbara Lawrence plays Rudy's unhappily married wife, and no wonder since they are so very poorly matched. But I know I've seen her in other films and she always spices things up a bit.
Particularly Funny Bits
"Well, August, what happy updraft wafts you hither?" - Alfred
"I give you my solemn word, August: if I don't regain control of myself in a few minutes, concert or no concert, I'll take this candelabrum and beat that walnut you use for a head into a nutburger, I believe they're called!"- Alfred
"People said "What do you wanna hear that Limey for? What does he know about music? It takes an Eye-talian, a Russian or a Dutchman to bring it out good," but something inside of me said "Give the Limey a chance!" And I did! And am I glad I did!" - Detective Sweeney
"There's nothing wrong with me that a couple of magnums of Champagne won't cure!" - Alfred
Sunday, July 10, 2016
The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)
starring Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck
supporting cast: Alexis Smith and Nigel Bruce
Why in the world are movies like Gaslight, Dial M for Murder, and Midnight Lace so insanely popular? I guess audiences just love to see men plotting to kill their wives, either out of some crazed need for control or simply because they are crazy.
In that vein, the plot for The Two Mrs. Carrolls is really nothing new.
Humphrey Bogart plays a starving artist type of character named Geoffrey Carroll whose wife always serves as his muse. At least until he tires of her, bumps her off kindly with poison, and marries the next in line. Talk about a vicious cycle, and who should get caught up in it but Barbara Stanwyck as the next wife in line, one Sally Morton Carroll. A charming, naive young woman, Sally adores her new husband and his little 10-year-old daughter. She supports Geoffrey in all he does, and things go along cheerfully for awhile in what is known as the honeymoon stage. That is until his inspiration starts to fade, his irritation peaks, and the gal down the street, Cecily Latham (played by Alexis Smith) insists he paint her portrait. Now Geoffrey has his eye on the next Mrs. Carroll and its time to bring out that old bottle of poison again. The bumbling town doctor played by none other than Nigel Bruce (wow, did he lose some weight!) thinks Sally's illness is just an attack of nerves, but pieces start to fall into place and Sally begins to see her beloved husband in a new, and far more suspicious, light. The question is, can she gain back her strength and energy before it's too late? Perhaps not ever her ex-fiance Charles Pennington (Patrick O'Moore), who she calls Penny, can get to her in time.
Most of my Bogie experience stems from the films he made with Lauren Bacall, but I must say I don't understand why the critics though he was miscast in this role. Humphrey Bogart really sent shivers up my spine, probably because I'd never seen him play an outright villain, but still, he was downright scary. It's bad enough when a guy is evil for evil's sake, like Charles Boyer in Gaslight, but Carroll is outright crazy, thinking that he must keep moving through wives in order to keep his muse active. The last portrait he does of his wives is always a grim reaper type of painting that must, apparently, culminate in that wife's death once the painting is complete. Creepy, right!?
I do believe this might be the very first Barbara Stanwyck movie I've ever watched. She's just never really come on my radar before. Oh, no, I did watch A Night to Remember about the sinking of Titanic and I think she was in that. I feel now that I haven't paid her any attention before because she's quite remarkable. Truly, she and Bogie took what easily could have been a B grade film noir and push it up a couple of notches towards A grade.
One of the true gems, though, is little Ann Carter who plays Carroll's daughter, Bea. A serious child, Bea possesses the soul of a woman 5 times her age, and she is as unaware of her father's wrongdoings as Sally, making poor Bea another victim of Geoffrey's insanity. I love child actors of early cinema, and Ann Carter is superb, holding her own against so many established stars. I just wish she'd had a chance to perform in more important roles, but alas, her career fizzled in the early 1950s. I sure hope Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood appreciated their rise to stardom that lasted well beyond their childhood years.
I won't say much about Alexis Smith other than I don't usually like homewreckers and her character fits that description. Except the home was already wrecked before she ever got there and I'm sure that Geoffrey would have murdered her too at some point. He was healthy like that.
Nigel Bruce was fun, essentially reprising his role as the slow-witted Dr. Watson from all those Sherlock Holmes movies England insisted on cranking out in the wrong era. Only here he also drinks too much and couldn't give an accurate diagnosis to save his life. Or her life, as it were.
Overall, The Two Mrs. Carrolls is gripping. And knowing these movies, it could have ended either way. Which is probably why I didn't get bored with it, and was practically glued to the television screen by the end. Not that it's perfect, what with the melodramatic music and the occasional overacting by supporting cast, but still, for the film noir genre, it's a decent addition.
But it's a darn good thing I watched Bogie in a lot of likeable roles first. If I'd started with him here, I doubt I would have given any of his other movies a shot! Still, it was exciting and petrifying to see him embark on a villainous role and do it so well. Not that I should be surprised. I always suspected he had it in him. ❤
Thursday, July 7, 2016
In the Good Old Summertime (1947)
starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson
And here is the 1st remake of The Shop Around the Corner (my review here)!
Once, many, many moons ago when I was quite young, I did watch In the Good Old Summertime and I remember not liking it, but also, I remember not having the intellectual development to discern my exact reasoning.
To be fair, it's a tough act to follow Jimmy Stewart. I wouldn't want to do it, ever, and I don't envy Van Johnson for having to make the attempt. So, I'll try to be kind about what didn't work and be honest about what did work for me.
First, I'm a little shocked at how very close of a remake this is to the original; it has a lot of the same dialogue. I'm not sure what was wrong with the idea of placing the remake in 1949 when it was made, but they chose to plop it into the turn of the century instead, which almost worked, but not quite. More on that later.
The basics of the plot are these: still a little shop, still handwritten letters signed "Dear Friend," still a guy and a gal who can't stand each other in real life, but are writing those letters in private. The differences are that the shop is not in Budapest but Chicago, it's not 1940 but 1900, and the shop owner's wife is not having an affair because he isn't even married yet.
Van Johnson plays Andrew Larkin and Judy Garland plays Veronica Fisher.
It's hard to love a guy who brings Judy to tears. Jimmy Stewart managed to be gruff, but still lovable. Van just ended up off-putting in his scenes with Judy, poor guy. Again, with the not envying him having to remake a Jimmy Stewart classic.
Now for costuming. This is the turn of the century, as in 1900, as in still mostly Victorian. What happened with the costuming for In the Good Old Summertime?! Judy wears skirts that are mid-calf and flowing a lot of the time whereas the women around her have skirts to their ankles. The best and most accurate gown she ever wore was at the very beginning in what was probably the best scene where Van Johnson trips her and proceeds to accidentally destroy her hat, parasol, and ends taking her skirt with him . . . caught in the wheel of his bicycle. It's a hilarious scene and the outfit was Victorian.
Then you have this gown. It's a 1949 red special, honestly, with a full, flowing skirt that only goes mid-calf and would have been absolutely SCANDALOUS at a party in 1900. My goodness, how she would have been shunned for wearing that get-up. It's lovely, don't get me wrong, but in completely the wrong setting.
One of the things that did really work was the casting of Spring Byington and S. Z. Sakall as Nellie and Otto Oberkugen (the owner of the music shop where Veronica and Andy are employed). They added a charmed element to the film that I hadn't anticipated and I ended up investing more in their romantic relationship that had developed over 20 years than I was in the biting, cross give-and-take between Andy and Veronica.
Also, who should show up but Buster Keaton. My only experience with the man is Benny and Joon where Johnny Depp's character styles himself after Buster. So I didn't even know Buster was in this film until the credits came on the screen. He's goofy, crazy, and he planned out the slapstick bits in the film. I guess you could say that he added a bit of levity.
Now comes my question of why a musical?
I don't mind musicals, but I honestly felt that the singing detracted from the plot with this one. On the plus side the singing mostly had to do with Veronica's job, working in a music store and all that, but I do believe that more could have been done without all that singing. And why have Judy sing 2 songs at Otto and Nellie's engagement party? Still, that's my personal preference and nothing more.
I really think In the Good Old Summertime would have been adorable . . . had it been set in 1949. In fact, I would have LOVED seeing it set in the era in which it was filmed. There's even a good chance that Judy and Van might have worked up better romantic synergy had the era been different. As it was, you have him, a traditional fuddy duddy of 1900, and her, a woman who sings "I Don't Care" at the top of her lungs at an engagement party. I realllllly don't see that ever working.
Still, this film was considered a massive box office success by MGM. Fans loved it. This was the era of the nonsensical musical like Singin' in the Rain and others of its ilk, so I can't expect In the Good Old Summertime to be anything different. But it was a bizarre reminder to me why I prefer movies made between 1930 and 1945.
In the end, In the Good Old Summertime doesn't live up to its predecessor, The Shop Around the Corner. But I can still see why people love it.
Although, can anyone tell me why they spend 70% of the film in winter and the movie is called In the Good Old Summertime? I'm pretty sure they could have chosen a different song for the title of the movie!
If you do give it a look-see, isn't little Liza Minnelli ADORABLE at the end (not that the scene advances the plot in any way, but still)? ❤
Monday, July 4, 2016
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan
supporting cast: Frank Morgan
In a fit of boredom, I've begun watching classic films again. I was just fortunate enough to find a James Stewart collection of movies during one of my last trips to the store and it just happened to include The Shop Around the Corner. I vaguely remembered this little title from several years ago,but nothing really stood out to me. So I decided to pay $2.50 for it so I could watch it again, without suffering through the bother of a scratched library disc. Talk about a great purchase!
For fans of classic cinema, The Shop Around the Corner is also known as being the 1st in a line of remakes: In the Good Old Summertime (1949) starring Van Johnson and Judy Garland and, of course, You've Got Mail (1998) starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Based on a Hungarian theatrical play from 1937, The Shop Around the Corner takes place in Budapest and, remarkably, has nothing to do with World War II. Instead, it follows the love lives of two shop employees, Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan). Each of them has been a letter correspondent to an individual who placed an advertisement in the newspaper desiring to correspond about social, literary, and intellectual interests. Naturally, the two are corresponding with one another! A fact made more amusing because in real life they're coworkers and can't stand each other!
The supporting cast includes: Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz), Felix Bressart, Joseph Schildkraut, William Tracy, and Sara Haden. A fine collection of actors offering both additional comic relief and serious drama and the reality of pain involved with infidelity.
There's something so utterly romantic about true love developing through letters. There is so much power in the written word. So much potential to share an intimate part of oneself so completely that the other person knows you fully. That is the love story in The Shop Around the Corner. Alfred and Klara dislike one another, sort of, in the real world, but that's only because the intimacy they've shared on the written page is not the same sort of intimacy one shares in the everyday, with coworkers and acquaintances. It's no wonder that neither of them suspected the other was their letter correspondent. In the day-to-day encounters, all they saw was the external while the letters allowed a glimpse of the internal. Two entirely different things.
Every once in awhile, classic Hollywood really delivered a winner . . . like The Shop Around the Corner. If you're at all familiar with James Stewart than you know he thrives on sharp, snappy dialogue. After all, he was my favorite part of The Philadelphia Story. So if there's one thing Samson Raphaelson is able to deliver it's that snappy dialogue associated with sophisticated romantic comedies of the eras. The pairing of Raphaelson' script and Stewart's acting is supremely brilliant. Frank Morgan remains a long-time favorite of mine, every since I saw him as the wizard in The Wizard of Oz. As for Margaret Sullavan, I've never seen her in any other role, but I liked her performance well enough that I want to test some of her other roles.
I honestly couldn't tell you why I didn't care for The Shop Around the Corner the first time I saw it, but I can say that I love it now. It's one of the most vibrant and delightful films of that transitional period between the 1930s and 1940s, a gem delivered by director Ernst Lubitsch.
While I already know this version is my favorite of the 3 films made from this story, I'll be watching In the Good Old Summertime and You've Got Mail sometime in the next couple of months, so stay tuned.
And if you've never seen The Shop Around the Corner, there's no time like the present! ❤