Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kitty Foyle (1940)

Kitty Foyle, the story of a woman torn between two men as well as featuring Ginger Rogers playing the most unconvincing teenager ever put to film.

The film starts with Kitty (Ginger Rogers)'s doctor boyfriend Mark (James Craig) proposing, upon which she returns to her hotel room only to find her former flame, the wealthy Wyn Strafford (Dennis Morgan) waiting for her, hoping to resume their relationship (despite Wyn being married and refusing to divorce). Kitty says yes and packs her bags to leave with Wyn, when her demonic mirror (Well, her reflection) begins talking to her, forcing her to look back at what led her to this point. Basically, the film follows Kitty's on-and-off again relationship with Wyn (who looks like he's had a stroke whenever he moves his mouth).

It must be said that Ginger Rogers is very good in the title role, for which she actually won the Oscar (though, try watching Bette Davis in The Letter and agreeing with that choice), she gives Kitty a vulnerability as well as a fighting spirit, which makes it a pity that we almost never see her without a man. I'm not trying to scream sexism or anything, but Kitty is always alternating between Wyn and Mark, which kind of undoes that film's efforts to portray Kitty as this strong independent woman.

That's where the positives of this film ends. It's not a horrible film by any means, but both men are such bores that I personally didn't care who she stuck with. Wyn is an overly-charming and spoiled playboy (and it doesn't read well for him that he is willing to abandon his wife and child at the drop of a hat) and Mark is creepy (he negotiates a date out of Kitty by threatening to inject her with a syringe and once they have the date he insist on playing double solitaire for 3 hours as some sort of "test").

Plus, the fact that the film is essentially a flashback really hurts any sort of suspense about the film. We know that Kitty and Mark end up together and that Wyn marries another woman, there's also a major plot development that fails to illicit any sort of interest because we already know how it is going to work out. Not to mention that the flashbacks don't really offer any real insight that would make Kitty make the decision that she does at the end of the film.

I know it sounds like I hated this film, because I didn't. Ginger Rogers is good enough to recommend this film alone, but without her the film is a big soap opera. There are interesting moments, but there's too much of "Wyn is here and I am in love!" to "Wyn is gone, and I am sad. I guess I'll play with the affections of this creepy-ass doctor for a while". The film really could have been trimmed a bit, but it's still a decent enough film.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mourning Become Electra (1947)

Incest, Murder and Suicide! That pretty much sums up Mourning Become Electra, one of the most messed up movies I've ever seen.

The film stars the way-too-old-for-this-part Rosalind Russell as Lavinia Mannon, the daughter of the wealthy Ezra Mannon (Raymond Massey). She is completely devoted to her father (freakishly so), so she becomes quite upset when her mother Christine (Katina Paxinou) poisons him so that she may leave to be with her much younger lover. Enraged, Lavinia teams up with her Oedipus complex-ridden brother Orin (Michael Redgrave) to kill Christine's lover. The resulting break in the family could potential damage Lavinia's relationship with her love Peter (Kirk Douglas) as well as drive her mother and brother to extremes.

Ok, I want to get this out of the way, this is not going to be a film that is easy to recommend. I happen to love it, but it's VERY long (173 minutes) and the acting could turn some people off due to appearing overly theatrical. Rosalind Russell is absolutely fantastic as the conniving Lavinia who seeks to avenge her father's murder and Michael Redgrave is just as good playing her brother Orin who could be torn apart by aiding his sister in her revenge.

The film has a very heavy suggestion of incest. Not necessarily of the actual act, but of inappropriate relationships between parent and child. In fact, Orin is not out to avenge is murdered father, he instead wants to have his mother all for himself again. It can make for a very uncomfortable viewing experience. There's also a lot of weird mysticism in the film, with the presence of long-deceased Mannons in their family estate become more and more prevalent as the film goes on and the sins stack up.

This is not going to be a film for everyone, the acting can be seen as over-the-top and as I already said, the film is VERY, VERY long, but if it you still wish to give the film a show, you'll find a very layered, very tragic film.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

She Done Him Wrong (1933)

I can't believe that I've been doing this blog for a while (and by a while I mean a week or two, with as far as I know, no readers) and I've yet to write up a Mae West movie. Shame on me.

Mae West's movie are essentially male harem movies, there's minimal plot and it basically involves Mae West cavorting around with several different men. But that's not really a knock to the movie, because Mae West may be one of the greatest entertainers ever, despite not being a very good actress or singer. She just embodied this character of a wise-cracking, seen-it-all, man eater, as well as writing a great deal of her films and stage plays. The actual plot of She Done Him Wrong revolves around Lady Lou (Mae West) who is a nightclub entertainer who used to date a dangerous criminal who is now in prison. She promised to remain faithful to him, and being Mae West, she didn't. So he's out to get her. In addition to this, she has to deal with shady goings on in her night club as well as the local missionary Captain Cummings (Cary Grant).

The great thing about this film is that it knows what it is, it's a breezy, fun film about Mae West using man after man, and it doesn't wear out it's welcome, since it's only around 66 minutes (the shortest film ever nominated for Best Picture). It's filled with Mae West's double entendres and sexual suggestion. The plot is a bit ridiculous, involving the already mention vengeful lover as well as some sort of white slavery ring, but it doesn't bog itself down in such details, instead focusing on Mae West walking around and being fabulous.

I know I haven't said much in terms of substance about the film, probably because the film itself is light on substance, which is probably why its such a fun movie, one that should definitely be checked out. And even if you don't like it, it's only 66 minutes.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bordertown (1935)

Bordertown is one one of the few older films I've seen that actually deals with issues with the Mexican-American community, however, the film's progressive views quickly lose their power due to an incredibly racist ending, as we shall soon see.

Bordertown stars Paul Muni as Johnny Ramirez, a Mexican American who recently graduated from law school. However, he quickly loses his license during his first case involving a socialite (Margaret Lindsay) who runs into a local man's car and totals it. Johnny is unprepared and quickly loses his case, and when Dale, the socialite offers to pay for the car, her boyfriend (who is also her lawyer) does not allow her and insults Johnny, causing Johnny to strike him, leading to his disbarment.

Embarrassed and determined to make some real money, he ends up as a bouncer in a night club run by Charlie Roark (Eugene Pallette), the two become friends and Charlie quickly realizes that he can use Johnny's intellect to his gain and uses Johnny as an adviser of sorts.

This all ends when Marie Roark (Bette Davis) enters the picture. One look at Johnny and she wants some red hot Latino Lovin so much so that she kills her husband and makes it look like an accident. Inheriting her husband's money, she and Johnny become partners in building a better, classier night club, at the opening of this night club, Johnny meets Dale and falls in love with her, which upsets Marie greatly.

The plot of the film is a bit iffy in its pacing, as what would usually be several major plot points are gone through very quickly and without much fanfare, such as the investigation in Charlie's death, or Marie's descent into insanity.

On that point, it brings me to the biggest issue with the film, the character of Marie Roark. I have no idea why she suddenly become to possessive of Johhny, the film really doesn't give any reason at all. We know she dislikes her husband, but Johnny didn't really show an interest in her, so I don't understand her killing her husband and then her sudden insanity. I guess you could argue that she is haunted by her crime, or you could even say that she's faking it, but regardless, the film moves her from possessive to out and out batsh*t crazy that it's baffling. It's not really the fault of Bette Davis, because the character is written that way, and it allows for Bette Davis to give a very over-the-top, neurotic (always clutching her hair or biting her fingernails) performance, but the character's motivation are far too murky.

Paul Muni is good as well, he plays a Mexican American without getting into offensive stereotype, but the character is fairly shallow. He's a decent guy out to make some money, other than that, there isn't much personality to his character.

And this brings me to the racism of the film. At first, it gives well-rounded portrayals of Mexican Americans are kind, but simple and poor, and it shows that Johnny meets a lot of prejudice because of his ethnicity, but (SPOILER ALERT) the film ends on such a horrible note where Johnny forsakes the life he has made for himself and returns to "his people", which according to him, is where he belongs after losing Dale due to his ethnicity. I suppose you could make the argument that he feels defeated and it's shown more as a tragedy that his character takes that view, and that the film itself isn't trying to say that about the Mexican community, but I'm not sure if I really buy it (END SPOILER ALERT)

Overall, it's hard to recommend this movie, because of the issues I mentioned. It's not offensively bad, but it's not terribly good either. If you like Bette Davis or Paul Muni or are interested in the portrayal of Mexican Americans, then maybe it's worth a look, but the uneven pacing, odd character development, and racist overtones take this film away from being truly good.

Friday, May 22, 2009

It Happened One Night (1934)

The first film to win the Oscar grand slam (Actor, Actress, Director, Picture, and Screenplay), It Happened One Night is probably one of the more recognizable films that I've chosen to blog about, so if you've never heard of some of my choices, I hope you've heard of this one.

Anyway, if you read my entry on The Bride Came C.O.D. you know that that film is essentially a rip-off of this film, so the plots are very similar. Claudette Colbert plays Ellen "Ellie" Andrews, a pampered socialite who marries a fortune-hunter. But before the two can consummate the marriage, her father whisks her away onto the family yacht to keep her away from her beloved. Well, Ellie will have none of that, so she dives off the boat and swims to shore. Once on land, she decides to take buses to New York, since her father will most likely be able to find her if she tried an airport. On the way, she meets down-on-his-luck reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable). He instantly recognizes her, and they make a deal. He will help her get to New York if she will give him exclusive rights to her story, otherwise he will call her father and collect the reward. She agrees and the two set out on a road trip to New York, bickering along the way, and of course, falling in love.

The story is fairly predictable, it follows the expected trajectory of any other film of its kind, but as you probably expect, it doesn't really matter. The acting is on such a high level and the script is so sharp that you're fully willing to commit to the ride.

Clark Cable is incredibly charming and he plays his frustrations with Ellie to great effect. Throughout the film he is trying to teach her things, how to dunk a donut, or how to hitchhike and is consistently amazed at how sheltered and spoiled she is. But he plays to perfection, never become mean or overbearing. Claudette Colbert is equally as good, playing a character that has to be both tough, vulnerable, and naive, and she makes it entirely believable. Ellie will not put up with crap from anyone, but she's just afraid enough of traveling on her own that she'll accept help from Peter, despite not wanting to.

The romance itself is handled very well, because it doesn't come about as sudden proclamations of love, instead the two become more and more comfortable around each other, working well together and eventually realizing that they do have feelings for each other. But they are both aware of how sudden and unlikely it is, which adds to be naturalness and believability of the situation. In fact, Peter at one point talks about how he's crazy to be in love with her.

This really is a movie that deserves to be seen, because it's such a great film as well as having an place in film history as one of the best romantic comedies of all time and some argue that it invented the "Screwball" comedy genre. So watch it, please.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In This Our Life (1942)

This is easily one of the soapiest films that Bette Davis ever made, which is really saying something if you know anything about Bette Davis movies.

The film stars Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland as the unfortunately named sisters Stanley and Roy Timberlake. And the plot goes as follows (Be sure to pay attention, it can be quite confusing). Stanley is engaged to lawyer Craig Fleming (George Brent), but she decides to steal Roy's husband Peter Kingsmill (Dennis Morgan) and run off. While they are gone, Roy and Craig fall in love. Stanley is so horrible that she drives Peter to commit suicide, so she returns home and plans on stealing Craig, her former beau away from her sister, who is his current beau. If read as is, it sounds like a tangled gay drama.

There is also a plot involving Stanley having a hit and run accident that kills a woman, and instead of fessing up to it, she blames the local black man who is studying to become a doctor or something, but since he's black they arrest him anyway. Of course, Stanley's story comes unraveled and she turns into a neurotic mess and ends up in a high speed chase with the cops.

Really, if you like your movies campy and soapy, then this in the film for you. Bette Davis gets to be nasty, mean, and selfish as well as over-the-top and neurotic while Olivia de Havilland gets to be sweet, virginal and innocent.

There really isn't much left to say about this movie, it's certainly not one of Bette Davis' best movies, but it's far from her worst. The acting is good enough to keep you entertained and the story is a big melodrama, which can be said for a lot of Bette Davis' films. If you're in the mood for something a bit trashy, then give this movies a watch.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Baby Face (1933)

Baby Face is probably the most sexually explicit film that I've seen when exploring older film. It features a lot of scenes that obviously lead to sex in addition to a lot of suggestion as to sexual activity. It's kinda crazy, and if I were a 40 year old woman in the 1930's, this movie would certainly make me cover my mouth in shock and horror.

Also, I should note that this entry is based on the uncut version of the film. There is a butchered censored version out there, but I have not seen it. Both are available in the Forbidden Hollywood collection from TCM.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Lily Powers, a waitress in her father's speakeasy. When she's not serving rowdy men, her father is pimping her out to city officials so that they will allow him to keep his illegal hooch house running. This changes one night when her father's still explodes, killing him. Encouraged by a Nietzsche-reading friend to use her sexuality to use men as opposed to allowing them to use her, she sets off to the city to make her living.

What follows is basically a string of sexual conquests within a corporation. She starts on one man, only to dump him when she meets his superior. This results in the ruining of a few lives, but Lily doesn't care, she's in it for the money, like any good whore should.

This changes when she meets Courtland Trenholm (Played by Bette Davis' leading man George Brent), the son of the owner of the business. He instantly takes a liking to her and they begin a relationship. However, is Lily using him for his money? Or has her steel-exterior cracked to allow her to feel love for a man?

This leads to the main flaw of the film, it's ending (which was added due to censor intervention). We have a general idea of Lily's goals and her personality, but the ending kind of throws that out to give us a happy ending that doesn't ring true to the tone of the rest of the film. People have died because of Lily and she didn't bat an eyelash, so for some of the events to occur that occur in the end just feels forced.

But the film should be watched alone for Barbara Stanwyck's performance. As demonstrated in Double Indemnity, she can play a great cold-hearted b*tch, and she plays Lily as a woman with laser focused intensity upon setting herself on easy street.

George Brent is charming, but as someone who has seen him in countless Bette Davis movies, he isn't the best actor in the world, and he has an awkwardness about him whenever he is on screen.

Really, this film deserved to be seen for the wonderful central performance from Barbara Stanwyck as well as its place as being one of the most controversial films of its day, plus it's a pretty good movie to boot.

Anna Christie (1930)

Just so you know, if you watch this movie, prepare to have the volume up and the subtitles on, because the sound quality isn't that great and with the thick accents that every single character seems to possess, it can become difficult to understand what exactly is being said.

Anyway, this is my second Garbo film, and this is actually Garbo's first talkie, so with this movie, her deep husky voice was introduced to the world. Before that she was the queen of silent pictures.

In this film, Garbo plays Anna, a former prostitute who tries to give up that life by finding and living with a father that she has not seen since she was a little girl (though she keeps her past profession a secret). Anna has had a hard life, she had to work with her mother's side of the family once her mother died and they treated her like a slave, which culminated in a her being raped by one of her cousins. Her father, Old Chris, is a fairly simple sailor, played by George F. Marion, who attributes all of his misfortunes to "The Old Devil", the sea. He has forsaken the sailing lifestyle (despite living on a houseboat) and wants Anna to marry a nice, city man. Unfortunately for him, Anna meets Matt (Charles Bickford), a sailor who she saves once his boat wrecks. They fall madly in love, and Anna must decide whether or not to share her life story with a deeply Catholic Matt.

The acting is a bit hard to judge, since it was made in the days when silent films were transitioning to talking pictures, so the acting is almost like a silent film, and by that, I mean over the top. I don't want to bash Greta Garbo, but she's very overdramatic here, constantly clutching her hair and making every emotion play obviously on her face. She's still fascinating to watch, but she is still obviously using her bag of acting tricks from her silent movie days. And the character of Anna is written to be almost borderline bipolar. She'll be happy with her father in one scene and suddenly she's angry with him and yelling at him in another. It's very odd. Other than that, the acting is good, but the characters are not really given much depth. Matt is a boisterous Irishman, Old Chris is sad and doting. There's another character named Marthy who is Old Chris live-in girlfriend who moves out, but she isn't really given enough screentime to warrant much of a mention.

One issue I have is with the ending (which is fairly predictable) of the film, which (SPOILER ALERT) ends on way too of a happy note. Given everything we've learned up until now, the resolution of Matt suddenly forgiving Anna and he and Old Chris going to work on the same boat while Anna stays home seems a bit too much. I know that Anna is a strong character, but for her to settle for that sort of situation seems a bit weird. (END SPOILER ALERT)

Overall, the film is good enough to warrant a recommendation. Greta Garbo is an actress that I would really like to see more films from (I own Ninotchka, but I've yet to watch it), and this is probably a good introduction into more of her work. If you can forgive the acting issues, then you should be able to enjoy this film.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Ok, this is my first post about a silent film. While it's only the second silent feature film I've seen (I watched a ton of shorts when I had a American Film History Class), I've noticed a trend. I've walked away from both with the impression "Well, they didn't really need sound", which is odd.

It makes more sense with the other silent film I've seen, The General which is a Buster Keaton comedy that relies on physicality, but I had the same impression with Sunrise. I don't know why I haven't noticed it before, but just the visual aspects of film are able to convey so much. It's a no brainer, but it didn't dawn on me until watching the adorable Janet Gaynor convey a myriad of emotions simply using her face.

Anyway, Sunrise is the story of Man and Wife (as far as I know, they don't really give their names). Man is having an affair with The Woman from the City, who begs him to leave her and come to the city. Unfortunately, Man has Wife as well as a child, so he is hesitant, so The Women From the City suggests that Man take his wife out on a boat, drown her and make it look like an accident so they can be together (why the baby is not considered in this plot, I have no clue). What follows is a renewal of their love and a day spent in the city enjoying eachother and having fun, but some events occur that could threaten the newfound love that the two have discovered.

The acting in the film is wonderful, especially Janet Gaynor who is so adorable (And the first ever Best Actress Winner), and is able to appear so sad and wounded and then wonderfully happy with so many naturalness that it is astounding. George O'Brian as The Man is just as good, realistically conveying a sense of overwhelming guilt as well as happiness as finding love with his wife again. The characters themselves are not particularly in-depth, but they don't really need to be, given the story this film hopes to tell.

While the rest of great, with some wonderful cinematography and some of the greatest atmospheres I've ever seen in a film, it falters a bit when it comes it's pacing. It's clearly a three act film, and the second act feels very bloated. Granted, this is the "newfound love" part of the film, but it kind of de-evolves into The Man and The Wife having adventures in the city, which is fun for a little bit, but it begins to grow a bit tired.

Besides the second act, there are some issues with the 1st and 3rd act, mainly that they feel a bit rushed. Within the first 10 minutes, it's established that The Man is having an affair and his mistress suggests he kill his wife. So it's somewhat jarring and begins to advance the plot before you're totally invested in these characters. The last 20 minutes of the film introduces a brand new conflict and resolves it fairly quickly. These are not as nearly a big an issue has the 2nd half being too long, but it's worth mentioning.

Still, regardless of these complaints, Sunrise is still a movie that should be seen, if anything for it's place in film history, but it's still an amazing movie taken on its own merits.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Women (1939)

The Women is about a bunch of rich women who are all, for the most part, catty, b*tchy, and two-faced. It's because of this that it is in my top movies ever.

The film follows Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) the wife of a rich New Yorker who discovered that her husband is having an affair with perfume counter girl Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). She divorces him, despite still being in love. Is there a way for her to win her man back? Will she cling to her pride and forsake him? Tune in an find out!

Ok, that's really only a bare-bones view of the plot, because the film isn't that heavy on it. Instead it really focuses on a bunch of Mary's "friends" consisting of Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell), Peggy (Joan Fontaine), and Edith (Phyllis Povah). And of course, a single male does not appear in the film.

But the only one you need to care about is Rosalind Russell as Sylvia, because she gives, in my opinion, one of the greatest performances of all time. Sure it's not emotionally demanding, and it's over-the-top (intentionally, though), but she's so catty, spiteful, and just plain nasty that you anticipate her every appearance. She's like a b*tchy version of Lucy Ricardo, she looks down on everyone, and the only difference between her friends and everyone else is that she doesn't let loose her venom on her friends (if they're in the room, that is).

The rest of the cast is good as well, but they all pale in comparison to Miss Russell, especially the leads. As effective as Shearer and Crawford are, they're still the "Good Girl" and the "Bad Girl" and there isn't much variation from that formula, but there really doesn't need to be.

Besides Rosalind Russell, the film's greatest strength is its script, which pops and crackles with wit and biting satire of the wealthy. It's also a script you have to put some effort in to savor, because every line is delivered at a rapid-fire pace.

For a serious moment, I think it needs to be brought up on whether or not this particular film is sexist, which is something I've heard a lot of when reading about the film. I personally don't find the film to be terribly sexist. You could make the point that men are used in this film as much as the women are. Crystal is basically using Mary's husband Stephen as a way to push herself up the social ladder and into a life of wealth. Yes there are two moments when women take their husbands back, but they do so because they still love their husbands as opposed to some sort of social force making them do so. In fact, Mary divorces Stephen despite her mother basically saying "Hey, it happens, put up with it. That's how men are".

If you really want to look at the theme of the film, it's really a critical look at the wealthy as well as looking at Pride Vs. Happiness, which Mary deals with as the film goes on. She can divorce Stephen out of a wounded sense of pride, but he loves her, is a good husband and father, and she loves him. And if that is the case, wouldn't it be best for all to stay? Mary's last line in the film is "Pride is a luxury a woman in love can't afford" (or something like that), is that true? It's really up for us to decide, but I think the film presents an argument that anyone, man or woman, should do that will ultimately provide them with the most happiness.

Friday, May 15, 2009

That Certain Woman (1937)

Behold, the absolute WORST Bette Davis movie I've ever seen (And as someone who has seen 36 or 37, I can't remember, Bette Davis movies, that's quite a statement). Seriously, this film has no idea what it wants to be and what story it wants to tell.

Bette Davis plays Mary Donnell, a secretary to attorney Lloyd Rogers (Ian Hunter) who is in love with her. Unfortunately for Mary, she has a secret. Though, it's not that secret because it's revealed at the beginning of the film. Mary used to be married to a bootlegger who was killed in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Since then, she's been a minor notorious figure in the news as a murdered mobster's wife so she changed her name and has taken her job as a secretary (which is where the film starts).

Mary is in love with the wealthy Jack Merrick Jr. (Henry Fonda) and they elope. However, since Mary is "common", Jack's father shows up and forces his pussy of a son to annul the marriage. Unfortunately, Mary is pregnant with his child, but decides to keep the baby and wait for him to return.

Suddenly, Mary's boss is sick and comes over to her house and dies, it's all quite sudden and the death puts Mary back into the spotlight as a notorious figure. Jack tracks her down, bringing his sickly wife in tow and proclaims that he will leave her for Mary, but Mary says no. Now knowing that Jack has a son, Jack's father tried to have marry declared an unfit mother and take the child from her. Since she knows that she cannot win, she gives the child up.

The last 5 minutes of this movie are so bizarre, and so odd that my head almost imploded. So, as Mary gives up the child, she tearfully tells her best friend to tell that child that she never existed, that he didn't have a mother. So, I feel sad, knowing that Mary is about to kill herself, because that's what the scene is suggesting.


Mary instead takes off to some sort of exotic locale, wearing one of those huge hats that they wear in old movies and living it up, only to be told that Jack's wife had died and he wants her back. HAPPY ENDING.

Really, this movie is like three different Bette Davis films frankensteined together to form this cinematic abortion. Is it about her boss' unrequited love for her or her having to deal with being a single mother, or about her being famous, or about trying to get back with Jack? It can't seem to decide so it just throws them all together with glue and a prayer. Storylines pop up only to disappear minutes later and so on and so forth, it just feels so sloppy.

You don't care about any of the relationships because Mary's boss is too creepy and won't leave his wife, and Jack is just a wimp who left the woman he really loves because Daddy said too.

Bette Davis is watchable (as she always is) and interesting to watch, but she's surrounded by garbage, like a blind kid dancing in a burning house. It's kinda funny, but also kinda sad because you know the blind kid gets torched.

Don't watch this movie.

Rain (1932)

(Doesn't Joan look like the biggest drag queen in the world in that picture?)

Here we have another film featuring a member of the world's oldest profession. Only this time, she partners up with a wise-cracking priest to take down a magical pimp and save a bunch of her captive hooker friends.

Ok, not really.

Rain is the story of Sadie Thompson (Joan Crawford), a prostitute on a boat trip that is forced to stop in Pago Pago, a Samoan village, due to a possible outbreak of Cholera. So, Sadie and the other passengers are forced to stay in the local inn. Unfortunately for Sadie, the other passengers consist of a missionary group headed by Alfred Davidson (Walter Huston), a very devout, very stern man. Needless to say, they look down upon Sadie for her rough talk and her habits of partying and drinking with sailors. Because of her tainted soul, they wish to either save Sadie or to force her to go back to America, where she is in some sort of trouble with the law.

Rain, is actually a very strong look at religious hypocrisy, which is surprising given when it was made. But while Alfred makes it known that Sadie's soul is in danger and that she needs to allow herself to be saved, he is secretly lusting after her, and what follows is a complete slap in the face to those who consider themselves morally high and mighty.

Joan Crawford is actually very good in the role, which surprised me. I watch watching a Bio of her on TV and they showed a clip from the film and I thought she looked wooden, but when I actually saw the film, I thought she was amazing. She makes Sadie a very well-rounded human being. She isn't a hardened, f*ck the world type of woman, but she's not a total pushover either. When she's mad, she'll speak out, but she expresses remorse over it, which makes all the more realistic and sympathetic.

The group of missionaries is the complete opposite. They come across as very repressed and wooden, which allows for a sharp contrast between the saints and the sinners of the film. Walter Huston is very much the same way, but we get the feeling that he is holding back something great and powerful, and we only get to see glimpses of that as the film goes on.

Rain is a great little film that's been lost in time, and I don't hear that much about it, but it features some brilliant acting and a message that still rings true to today and it is definitely worth a look.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Waterloo Bridge (1931)

I selected this film because I decided to do one that didn't have Bette Davis in it, because I don't want you people (though as of now I haven't had any confirmation that anyone other than myself is reading these posts) to think that I'm one note. Well apparently I am, because I forgot that Bette Davis IS in this movie. Granted, it's one of her earliest films and it's a very small part, but Miss Davis does grace the screen during the course of this film. But who cares? You can never have enough Bette Davis.

But anyway, Waterloo Bridge! Hookers and the Army Virgins who love them! Old British Hookers and the Men who Don't! Rich Upper-Crust families who are *Gasp* not judgmental douches?

Yes, Waterloo Bridge has it all and more!

It also has Mae Clark as Myra, a former-chorus girl turned hooker. One day while trolling her usual spots, she meets a naive young (19 years old, wow) army virgin named Roy (Douglass Montgomery). Thinking that he wants a role in the hay, she takes his back to her place, only to discover that he is sensitive and stupid enough to suddenly fall in love with her.

Myra wants none of it and tries to throw him out. Shocked that a man is willing to love her for free, she feels conflicted, she wants to be with him, but it would destroy him to find out that his lady love has been strutting the street for coin so she tries to push him away. Unfortunately for her, as previously stated, he is naive and stupid and will not leave her alone, going as far to trick her into visiting his family. Myra feels worse because his family is well-to-do, but they accept her with open arms, which is kinda surprising. One day, in a fit of guilt, she tells Roy's mother who basically accepts it, knowing that Myra will break off the relationship because she doesn't want to hurt Roy.

Myra takes off and Roy follows, goaded into pursuing her by Myra's older hooker friend Kitty (That can't be her real name) since Kitty believes that Roy could take Myra away from her life of hookery and provide for her.

The plot progresses from there, but I don't really want to spoil any more than I have already. And though I treat the film lightly, it's really a great film. Mae Clark is great as a character who hates herself and assumes that everyone else in the world will too if they got to know her, yet she is conflicted because she sees Roy as a chance for love and some sort of redemption from the lifestyle she is currently living.

Douglass Montgomery is good as well, though his character is much more two-dimension than Clark's role. Roy is, as I said, naive and stupid, he's like a little kid who has his first crush. But it works, because it allows for all the conflict to come from Myra's struggle with her profession, as opposed to some sort of issue between the two. We get the sense that Roy won't really care about Myra being a prostitute, so it's really a matter of Myra coming to terms with it herself than a fear of Roy suddenly going crazy and leaving her (If you want a movie like that, see Bette Davis' Deception or Greta Garbo's Anna Christie which has a very similar plot).

The film is well worth watching, especially since it's pre-code which makes it somewhat shocking to see full-blown prostitutes sulking around London in search of some money, in addition you actually see Mae Clark's nipples through a bra that she's wearing, which is crazy-shocking, especially if you watch a lot of classic film and are used to films being sexless. But even without trolling whores and nipples, the film is strong enough on its own. So watch it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Storm Center (1956)

Bette Davis as an old librarian striking a blow against censorship while simultaneously sending a small town into a panic of the Red Menace and disturbing a young boy into having some seriously f*cked up dreams! Amazing but true!

Storm Center is probably one of the oddest entries in Bette Davis' filmography, simply because it's so outrageous and farfetched. Davis plays Alicia Hull, a older lady who played a pivotal role in the creation of the town library and the new wing that is being made as the film begins. One of the frequent visitors to the library is young Kevin, a bookish boy who is, of course, bullied by his father. That plot alone is worthy of a Disney Channel original movie, but things are thrown out of whack when Alicia refuses to remove "The Communist Dream" from the library shelves when asked to by the city council. Of course, Alicia denounces the book, claiming it to be garbage, but she respects the right for citizens to be able to read the book, should they want to. Well, this little town goes apesh*t and suddenly Alicia is public enemy #1, because apparently she is communist. There's a small sub-plot about a fellow librarian dating an ambitious politician, but seriously, no one really cares. But I do care about is when the movie takes a severe turn into the bizarre.

(SPOILERS) What happens is, this apparent betrayal to poor Kevin that his spinster mentor is a flag-waving, card-carrying Comrade (or so he hears) sends the little kid off the f*cking rocker. At the opening of the new Library Wing, Alicia is asked by the one councilman who thinks that the town may be overreacting to come and cut the red ribbon. Well, Kevin will have none of that and begins yelling at Alicia, something like "Get out of here! We don't want you! You're a communist! Communist! Communist!" Well, Bette has had ENOUGH, so she beats the ever-loving sh*t out of this little kid. I kid you not, she smacks him around until she realizes the kid's mother is there and stops. Kevin runs off and the combination of a beating about the head and some truly messed up dreams about Alicia opening up books and snakes coming out of them (Seriously, the kid has become afraid of BOOKS), leads to the kid sneaking into the library and setting that Sh*t on fire. Unfortunately for him, he trips and is knocked out and is saved from burning to death at the last minute (though he could die of smoke inhalation, we never know). The townspeople realize what they've done and Alicia promises to rebuild the library.

The film itself is kind of hard to evaluate, because it does turn into such a bizarre little tale. Bette Davis is, of course, great in the role, but the film is way too heavy-handed in how it deals with the whole Black-Listing Red Scare topic. It goes way out of control especially given such a minor start. Maybe that in itself serves some lesson, but a librarian keeping a book on the shelves and then escalating to a child essentially losing his grip on reality and becoming a little pyromaniac seems laughable.

But the film is relatively short, and it's just so odd that it's worth a watch.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Bride Came C.O,D (1941)

I loved It Happened One Night, which could explain why I enjoyed The Bride Came C.O.D, which is essentially a rip-off of the Oscar-winning film. While it's nowhere near as good as the film is aspires to be, it's still somewhat enjoyable.

Bette Davis plays Joan Winfield, an oil heiress who hopes to run off and marry her bandleader beau, despite knowing him for only a few days, so she hires Steve Collins (James Cagney) a down-on-his-luck pilot who is on the verge of losing his plane to his debts to fly her and her hubby-to-be to Las Vegas for a quickie marriage. Unfortunately for Joan, her father offers Steve an even better deal, instead of taking her to Las Vegas, take her to his house and he will pay him enough money to save his plane. Of course, things do not work out and they end up stranded in the desert. Eventually they are found and Steve has to think fast when a minister, Joan's boyfriend, and a cop show up hoping to see Joan married and Steve put behind bars for kidnapping.

If you read my blog post dedicated to Bette Davis, then you'll know that Bette Davis tends to over-act (which she admits to), and while you would think that she would be yukking it up all over the place in a comedy, she actually plays it straight, which really works well. She seems so earnest and serious that much more humor can be taken from it as opposed to a "Wink-Wink, I'm being funny" kind of performance that tries way too hard to get a laugh.

Sadly, I cannot say the same for James Cagney. Not having seen any of his other films (I own The Public Enemy which I need to watch someday), I can't make any really statements as to his talent, though I am well aware that he is a legend. But in this film, he really isn't given anything to do besides scheme to get his money.

Of course, this film being a copy of It Happened One Night, you'll know well ahread of time that both Steve and Joan will end up head over heels in love with eachother, the problem with this is that it's far too rushed and not really even given much screentime in the film. There is essentially one scene to suggest that there are now in love with Joan regretting living such a high-society, shallow live (though it ends with Joan become angry at Steve) and then we get a serious of attempts by Steve to stall the wedding only for Joan to end up jumping out of an airplane to get back to Steve. It doesn't seem all that believable. And it leads to an incredibly creepy scene at a hotel where Joan's father sits in the lobby, talking to Steve as Steve makes his way to his room so he can ravish his new bride. It's just weird, especially that Joan's father approves of Steve, when Joan has known him even less than she knew the bandleader.

There is also an element of missed opportuniy. Joan's father is a Rootin'-Tootin' style Texan, and we learn that Joan herself is fairly dumb (almost flunking out of high school) and that her father only struck oil a few years prior to the film. It would have been interesting to see this backstory expanded beyond a mere mention, with some of this rowdy Texas girl coming out of Joan as opposed to her being entirely spoiled and coming across entirely sheltered throughout the film. It also makes her emotional scene where she talks about how her life has been very shallow (She's supposed to be in her early 20's, despite Bette being in her 30's at the time) lose a bit of its impact, because we know that that's not really the case, since she's only had money for the last 3-5 years.

That said, the film is still fairly enjoyable, Davis and Cagney work well together, and their love-hate relationship is much more hate than love which is really what makes the film interesting. The script is also good (No surprise since it was written by the Epstein brothers, who wrote Casablanca) and has enough banter between the two stars to warrant a recommendation.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Chicago (2002)

I am well aware that it is a bit odd for me to do my first "review" on a recent film, given that I typically skew older in my film choices, but I cannot help it. Chicago is one of the most fun movies I've ever seen, and it definitely one of my favorites.

For those who don't know, Chicago is based on Bob Fosse's broadway hit about aspiring singer/dance Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), a dumb blond who murders her lover only to end up in prison and using the tricks of greasy lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to turn her into a star that no jury on earth would convict. But she has to compete with Billy's other client, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), one half of a duo of dancing sisters who's doing time for killing her dancing partner as well as her husband. In addition to those three, we have Matron "Mama" Morton, played by Queen Latifah who operates on the system "If you're good to Mama, Mama's good to you" and Amos, played by John C. Reilly who is Roxie's simpleton mechanic of a husband.

The plot itself is fairly straightfoward, and it's not hard to see where it's going. But that's not really an issue at all, because the real appeal of Chicago (The Razzle-Dazzle, if I may be so bold) is in the musical numbers, which are vibrant and brimming with creativity and are accompanied by some truly great songs. It also helps that the cast is uniformly good at singing (at least, good enough for the songs used in the film), except for maybe Richard Gere, who's voice suddenly becomes a higher pitched and nasally so he almost starts sounding like Fran Drescher.

The real star of the film though, is Catherine Zeta-Jones who takes Velma Kelly to the heights of uber-b*tchy Diva-ness with great joy and enthusiasm. She doesn't really care what she has to do, she just wants out of prison so she can cash in on her fame and make some money. Not to say that Velma is the "villain" of the story, since pretty much every character in this film is crooked and horrible in some way or another (Roxy, you could argue, is the worst person in the whole film), except for poor Amos who is played to puppy-dog perfection by John C. Reilly. But that's really where a lot of the humor from the film comes from, these horrible people trying to outdo and screw over eachother just so they can get ahead. It also manages to sneak in some social commentary about sensationalism and how we turn horrible criminals into celebrities.

Another bright spot is Queen Latifah as Mama Morton. Queen Latifah already has a great likability to her already, and she capitalizes on it to create a truly corrupt woman who you still love (In addition to channeling Mae West). Not to mention that she OWNS the screen in her one musical number, and it's almost brave for a woman who is hardly thin (by Hollywood standards) to perform a very sexual musical routine and have such a confidence about herself, especially since at the time her boobs were enormous and capable of doing great harm if used for evil.

I know that the "real" star of the film Renee, Zellweger is largely being ignored, but that doesn't mean that I disliked her in the film. In fact, she gives her role a Marilyn Monroe-esque edge that makes her appear dumb enough to get herself in trouble, but smart enough to know how to get herself out and is incredibly entertaining throughout the entire film.

Chicago is a film that probably received a huge amount of backlash for winning Best Picture, especially up against more serious films like Gangs of New York, The Pianist, or The Hours, but it's such a fun movie (And for a comedy to win Best Picture is a big deal) that is so well-made that I hope more people check it out, because it's definately in my top 10 of all-time.

Tribute to Miss Davis

Since this is a movie blog (in name only, not so much in practice), I should probably take a moment to introduce my absolute favorite actress, Bette Davis. Especially since a lot of my film viewing is of her films.

Now to say that I have to "introduce" her is probably the wrong phrase to use, since she's pretty much established as one of the greatest actresses ever, something with which I completely agree, but I feel the need to elaborate as to why. Maybe because if I'm going to be bombarding you with Bette Davis movie after Bette Davis movie, I should give you some understanding as to why I find her so interesting.

Part of the reason Bette Davis is so legendary is because she was such an unconventional choice to become a movie star. Now, I know many feel that Bette was beautiful, but at the time you had stars like Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and Jean Harlow who had a completely different look from Bette Davis. Another reason was that her method of acting was so much different than what was considered the norm of the time. For her time period, her acting was seen as very raw and explosive. Just take her famous scene in Of Human Bondage where she lets loose on Leslie Howard. It's like dynamite. By today's standards, she possibly comes across as melodramatic and over-the-top, but I would go as far to say that she was Marlon Brando before Marlon Brando in terms of bringing a sort of naturalness to her screen performances (Compare Of Human Bondage to Garbo's Anna Christie and you'll see what I mean). That's not saying that they were all this way, she was rightly criticized for her sometimes mannered and neurotic performances (like the constant hand-wringing in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex), but when she was good, she was very good.

This leads to another reason I love Bette Davis, yes she is good when she's good, but she's just as entertaining when she's bad. If you've seen her 1971 interview on the Dick Cavett show, she expresses that she feels like it should look like actors are putting in a little effort into acting, to make it a little over the top. Now some people disagree with that (My brother, for example), but she always makes you watch her. Even if the film isn't that great, like That Certain Woman, she still forces herself up above the picture and entertains you. In a book I read about Bette Davis (I think it was Dark Victory, the biography not the movie), the author comments that the worse a movie was, the harder Bette Davis worked against it to try and make it watchable to show that she's trying. And that really is the case. I've seen 36 Bette Davis movies as of now, and I would go as far to say that I've liked her in every single one of them. Sometimes the films themselves weren't very good, but she's always the best part about her films, and there are not many people you can say that in regards to.

She was also very versatile. I know that can be seen as an odd thing to say about Bette Davis, since roles in Of Human Bondage, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and Jezebel have led to her being viewed as the screen's ultimate bitch, but she could do so much more. Just take a look at Now, Voyager where she played a character that was so insecure, and so wounded and anything but a cold-hearted woman, or in The Corn is Green where she played a controlled and dignified schoolteacher who made sacrifices to help save a young man's brilliant mind from a lifetime of being trapped as a coal miner. While she did play some wonderfully evil women (My all-time favorite Davis performance is The Little Foxes), she had the depth to play so many different characters that I find it sad that she has been pigeon-holed in such as way.

That said, Bette Davis had the kind of life that could make a brilliant movie in of itself. A life-time feud with Joan Crawford (I happen to believe they did hate eachother, contrary to what others may say), a husband where some rumors suggest she had a hand in his death, and a Mommy Dearest-style tell-all book while she was alive. Not to mention breast cancer, a stroke, her Miriam Hopkins feud, and some wonderously mean tricks that she played on people (and one horrible trick played on her). It's just fascinating in of itself.

And that ends my gushing on behalf of Bette Davis (as well as the end of my first real blog entry). Hopefully if you're a fan already you'll agree with me and if you aren't then hopefully I gave to some incentive to give her films a look.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Bit of an Introduction

Hello, readers (though at the moment I'm making the assumption that I have none). I figured my first entry would be a little introduction of myself as well as what I plan on doing with this particular blog, which obviously focuses on movies.

First of all, my name is Russell, I live in Ohio and I am a 20 year old college student. I just finished my classes yesterday, and I figured I would create a blog to kill time during the summer as well as give me additional motivation to watch the growing stack of movies that I need to watch.

And when it comes to the movie talk, I'm not planning on writing uber-serious commentary on the movies because I simply don't have the know-how of the movie making process to speak with any sort of authority in addition to lacking any sort of confidence in writing a "serious" review of a film or analyzing a particular movement in film.

My tastes in film typically skew older, typically 30's and 40's, but I still watch the occasional newer film, so I'm not going to be completely dated.

Hopefully I'll actually stick with this and maybe gain a few readers (hopefully) and generally just have fun with this whole thing.