Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Film Review: Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow

"Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

If you would have told me 10 years ago that a movie like "Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow" (2004) could be made today I would have laughed at you. How would modern Hollywood be able to reproduce the sensibilities and charm of classic Hollywood? Where would the talent come from? It doesn't seem to exist anymore. For the most part that is definitely true but boy, does "Sky Captain" sure give it the good ol' college try!

"Sky Captain" is really a movie for us old timers. Those of us who grew up watching all those classic 1930s and 40s movie serials. If you don't know what a movie serial is, you are probably at a disadvantage. Those of us who remember watching serials like "Flash Gordon" (1936), "The Green Hornet" (1940) or "Batman" (1943) will get a kick out of this. "Sky Captain" will take us back to our childhood. You will sit there and be amazed at the world filmmaker Kerry Conran (making his debut) has created for us.

The plot is pretty goofy, but, it is really just an excuse I believe to show us all the pretty visuals and throw tons of charm and nostalgia our way. We are in 1939 New York. An army of giant robots have been invading New York for the past three years. Sky Captain (Jude Law) has been trying to figure out who is in control of these robots and what do they want. One day ace reporter, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), don't you just love that name, reports on a missing scientist. One of several. Information is given to her about a hit list of scientist who are being rounded up by a Dr. Totenkopf (Lawrence Olivier!), to complete an experiment he first started 20 years ago, during WW1. Now it is up to Polly and Sky Captain to track down Dr. Totenkopf and stop his diabolical plan.

Along the way we discover that Polly and Sky Captain (AKA Joe Sullivan) were once a couple. They have not spoken for years because the Captain suspects Polly sabotaged his plane during a flight. She suspected him of cheating on her with a fellow female pilot, Franky (Angelina Jolie).

Polly and Sky Captain's adventures takes them to Nepal, where they even have time to visit Shangri-La. They encounter a world where prehistoric animals roam. Danger lurks at every corner. You can almost imagine an announcer informing us to tune in next week to find out if our heroes will survive.

You either will go along on this fantasy adventure or reject it. By and large the American public chose to reject it. The film did awful box-office, grossing a little more than $37 million. On the website the film has scored a low grade of six. And the critics didn't respond well to it either. One review I read which ran in USA Today felt the film was too much technology and no enough heart. The film was all style over substance. Maybe. But, that was kind of the point I feel. Funny, you can say the same about several of these latest comic book movies which are released but the fan boys go in droves to see them. Several ignorant "film critics" even try to find social commentaries in them. If we are able to extend such kindness towards Spider-Man and Batman why couldn't we extend it to "Sky Captain"?

Kerry Conran must have loved these old-fashion adventures. The movie recalls several classic films. We think of "Metropolis" (1927) looking at a futuristic city and the architecture. The classic "King Kong" (1933) comes to mind when we see the world where prehistoric animals are alive. When in Shangri-La we think of Frank Capra's classic "Lost Horizon" (1937) and "She" (1935), which I have reviewed. If you can catch on to these references the film will most likely work for you.

And I haven't said a word about the technology. Everything in the film was created digitally. The actors are standing in front of a blue screen. As I understand it, only a few sets where created. But even with all of this modern technology the film still has an old-fashion look to it. It resembles a world us old timers can fondly recall.

As I said yes, the plot is a little goofy. Could it have use some more twist and turns? Sure. Something to raise the stakes a bit. But, this is where charm and likability become a factory. I simply had too much fun watching this to care about a weak plot. The movie was a sentimental journey for me.

If you are able to put yourself under the film's spell, you will be amply rewarded.

p.s. I find the film's tagline "The world will tremble this September" in very poor taste. It reminds us of 9/11. There was no need for that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Film Review: The Joneses

"The Joneses" *** (out of ****)

Given the current economic times and America's spending habits of the last few decades, the new biting satirical comedy\commentary, "The Joneses" (2010) comes at the right time.

"The Joneses" stars Demi Moore and David Duchovny as Kate and Steve Jones. A seemingly happily married couple who move into a very expensive looking suburban home along with their two children; Jenn (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth). The Joneses have every new piece of junk gadget on the market at their disposal. Newest cars, latest fashion designs, furniture, you name it. If it is new and "in" the Joneses have it.

But everything is not what it seems. First time writer/director Derrick Borte has a twist up his sleeve with this family. Shamefully so many pathetic and worthless "film critics" have given away the film's twist. Unfortunately even I knew it in advance. But, I don't want to spoil your fun, so I won't reveal it.

The film takes aim at our lavish and ridiculous need to buy more junk. I was reminded of a famous George Carlin skit about "stuff". It has put us in the down spirial we are in now and the film comes at the right time. Why do people feel the need to buy all these moronic new devices. Ipads, iphones, toilets that talk to you, 50 inch TVs. Who needs this junk? I have none of these things I cannot envision myself ever needing them.

A lot of critics have been beating up on this movie. My only guess is because it has nothing to do with superheroes. Every review I've read said the same thing. How funny. Here is a movie about people being "sheep". Everyone wanting to own the same thing and every critic has said the same thing about this movie, proving they are "sheep" themselves. Ironic I think.

I'd advise people to see "The Joneses". It may not hit people the same way "Up in the Air" (2009) did but the movie is just as intelligent. Both movies I think suffer from weak endings. I would have loved if "The Joneses" had ended differently. It gives us a typical Hollywood ending. Perhaps the ending the director thought the majority would have wanted to see. But I would have liked it if Borte had the guts to give us a dramatically bleaker ending.

I like a lot of the performances, especially Amber Heard as the daughter. Duchovny and Moore had some good chemistry between them and watch out for the beauty queen herself, Lauren Hutton as KC.

I want to put a spotlight on one critic who was smart enough to recommend this movie and had the decency not to reveal the twist, Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Film Review: The Lodger

"The Lodger" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

I've written once before about Alfred Hitchcock, I reviewed "Rear Window" (1954), my favorite of his films, but, I'm sorry to say I have largely neglected his work on this blog.

It's not that I don't like Hitchcock, I do very much, but, I just haven't written about him since this blog began. On I wrote about a few of his films, but, I've just been preoccupied with other filmmakers. An admitted mistake on my part.

Recently I purchased a 20 movie DVD set of Hitchcock's early British movies. As readers should know, before Hitchcock came to America he was making films in his homeland. His work dates back to the silent era. Some movie buffs like to debate in which country Hitchcock made his best films. For me, there's no comparison. His American films are far superior. Better plots, large budgets, better actors and more suspense.

Still there have been some good movies to come out of his British period. I would say his best talking British pictures were "The 39 Steps" (1935) and "The Lady Vanishes" (1938). And I would add "The Lodger" (1927) is his best silent film.

"The Lodger" is generally considered to be Hitchcock's first true picture. A remark Hitchcock himself would make when interviewed by Hitchcock devotee, Francois Truffaut. His films prior to this are considered lost; "Number 13" (1922) which was never even completed and "The Moutain Eagle" (1926) among them. Though there have been bootlegged copies of "The Pleasure Garden" (1925) which have circulated.

In this movie we learn a serial killer, known as "The Avenger", has been going after blond hair women (blonds would remain a staple of Hitchcock's work). A detective (Malcolm Keen) is on the case and vows to capture him. The killer is sticking to one neighborhood. Police feel they are closing in on him.

A Landlady (Marie Ault) and her husband (Arthur Chesney) have a room for rent and take in a lodger (Ivor Novello). A Strange but seemingly harmless man, who has developed a crush on the landlady's daughter, Daisy (June) a blond. Is the lodger really the serial killer?

The film was inspired by tales of Jack the Ripper. And proved to be a box-office success for Hitchcock. Three other adaptations have been made. One of which starred Novello reprising his role. It was made in 1932. Other remakes were made in 1944 and the most recent made in 2009.

The film has touches of Hitchcock's later work. It has brief elements of one of Hitchcock's favorite themes; the innocent man wrongly accused.

There are some good visual moments as well. Pay attention to the opening sequences. I like how Hitchcock shows us the murders making headlines in the newspapers and on radio. The very first image we see is an extreme close-up of a woman's face, screaming, while a neon light flashes on-screen.

The version of the film I saw was released by Mills Creek Entertainment. I'm not sure how many other versions are out there. So I want to make it clear, my comments are in regards to this particular copy. The film does not have a clear and crisp image. Everything looks pale white, as if too lightly filmmed. This may have been the actual way it was photographed however.

I mention this because I would have loved to see Hitchcock come back to this material when movies started to talk. Hitchcock was approached to direct the 1932 remake but declined. And maybe because of that remake and the 1944 remake Hitchcock never went back to this material when he came to America. That would be too bad.

If remade I'm pretty sure Hitchcock could have really turned this into a masterpiece. One of his great films. Surprisingly the film lacks an artistic aesthetic. Hitchcock should have turned to the German expressionist like Paul Leni, F.W. Murnau or even Fritz Lang. I didn't think the film created enough suspense by way of lighting and camera angles. Also missing is a good musical score. I wonder if an original score was ever written specially for the film. The film actually does a poor job creating an eerie mood. Again though, this may have been because of the quality of the copy I saw. Maybe Hitchcock was playing around with lighting. But better camera angles could have been used. Something more inventive to suggest more internal feelings.

But overall I like the movie. I find the storyline interesting, I do like some of the visuals and I think the performances are mostly successful. And the film has a certain historical importance to it which should make film lovers seek it out. Worth seeing if you can find it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Film Reviews: Personal Property & One Heavenly Night

"Personal Property" *** (out of ****)

There seems to be a theme going on lately with the movies I've chosen to review. All of them deal with poor people marrying or trying to marry rich people. All have elements of class warfare. Am I turning into a Marxist? Maybe a Groucho Marx-ist.

"Personal Property" (1937) is yet another example of this kind of film. It stars Robert Taylor and Jean Harlow (in her second to last performance).

These kind of films were quite popular during the 1930s. America was facing hard economic times and these films offered an escape for audiences. They helped people laugh away their problems. On some level I suppose audiences could relate to the struggling characters trying to make ends meat. The idea of marrying for money wasn't so far fetched. Heck, lets not kid ourselves, people still do it today!

Robert Taylor stars as Raymond Dabney, who has recently been released from jail after serving a six month sentence. His crime was nothing too serious. It couldn't be. He's the hero of the movie, so the audience has to root for him. He bought a car, but, before he paid it off, sold it.

His family is in financial trouble. His father (E.E. Clive) and brother, Claude (Reginald Owen) run the family business; women's lingerie. Claude is engaged to Crystal Wetherby (Jean Harlow) whom he suspects is a millionaire. Her money of course will help keep the business going. They want to get Raymond out of the away, since they are afraid his prison term will scare off Crystal. So they want to buy him out of the family.

Without spoiling too much, Raymond meets Crystal, not knowing who she is, and simply finds her beautiful. Desperate to meet her he follows her home (today we call that stalking, or googling). He finds out she has no money. He however is mistaken for a bailiff, sent to collect payment by one of the many bill collectors she owes money to. He is told (by the police) he must stay in the house until she pays the bill.

Comedic tension raises though as Claude and his parents arrive to the house for a dinner party Crystal is throwing. What is Raymond to do? He pretends to be a butler to protect Crystal from having to explain that a bailiff is there to collect money.

I won't reveal anymore but quite frankly there are no big surprises. The film is very similar to "My Man Godfrey" (1936) but doesn't play out as nicely. "Godfrey" was a funnier movie and quite honestly, I preferred the performances in that movie over this one. Not to say this movie doesn't have a good cast, it does!

Jean Harlow is mostly known as a sex symbol of early talkies. And no doubt about it she was. But, Harlow, believe it or not, had a great gift for comedy. I would argue some of her best performances were in comedies. "Personal Property" isn't a great film and I don't think she gives a great comedic performance. The material simply doesn't allow her to really show her stuff. There is one good moment when she is rehearsing with Raymond, pretending to be each guest. The scene allows her to go into different accents and play various personalities. But, I don't think that was Harlow's strong point. Marion Davies could do that not Harlow. If you want to see Harlow in a funny comedy check out "Bombshell" (1933). It is one of her best movies. Also rent "Libeled Lady" (1936) and "Dinner At Eight" (1933).

I've written about Robert Taylor on here already. I reviewed two movies with him; "Remember?" (1939) and "Lucky Night" (1939). Both were comedies. Strangely I've never thought of Taylor as a comedic actor. Maybe that's because the first movie I ever saw him in was "Waterloo Bridge" (1940), which still remains my favorite movie with him. Recently when I was in London I saw the famous bridge and couldn't help but think of that movie.

Taylor I suppose is decent in the film. There really doesn't seem to be too much required of him other than just to stand there and look handsome. There's no physical comedy thrown his way or piercing one-liners to deliver.

The film was based on a play called "The Man in Possession" which was turned into a movie in 1931 starring Robert Montgomery (I have not seen this movie). Some suggest because of the production code "Personal Property" had to tone down a lot of the sexual innuendos which were in "Possession". Again I haven't seen that movie but in theory it makes sense. According to IMDB, Reginald Owen also appeared in that movie playing the same role.

Owen was a good character actor, usually playing the same kind of personality; the stuffy, wealthy Englishmen. Watch him in the Jack Benny comedy "Charley's Aunt" (1941) and one of my grandmother's favorite movies, "A Christmas Carol" (1938).

The film was directed by W.S. Van Dyke. Van Dyke was a very good studio director. He was nominated twice for "Best Director" Oscars for the films "The Thin Man" (1934) and "San Francisco" (1936), which just might be his best movies. You'll find his name on several MGM comedies and musicals from the 30s. He was known for his rapid shooting style. Usually never doing more than one take. Hence why the studio liked him. He always brought his movies in on time and under budget. Other films include "Manhattan Melodrama" (1934), this has become known as the film Dillinger saw before he was shot, but, having actually seen the movie, I must tell you it is a very good movie. You should see it. He also directed a Noel Coward adaptation of his play "Bitter Sweet" starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in 1940.

The script was by Hugh Mills and Hungarian writer Ernest Vajda. Vajda worked often with Ernst Lubitsch writing many of his early musicals; "The Love Parade" (1929) and "Monte Carlo" (1930). Those movies were very adult and playful. So it does seem odd "Personal Property" lacks the social edge those movies had.

"Personal Property" still is worth seeing for Harlow and Taylor, who do display some good chemistry, too bad the script wasn't funnier.

p.s. Robert Taylor's character is suppose to be English. Yet Taylor makes no attempt at all to speak with an English accent. Didn't anyone else notice?

"One Heavenly Night" *** (out of ****)

"One Heavenly Night" (1931) is yet another movie about class and money. Here though the movie is a musical set in Budapest.

Fritzi Vajos (Lilyan Tashman) is a cabaret singer in a Budapest cafe. She is the envy of all the men who enter and a hero to Lilli (Evelyn Laye). Fritizi is known for singing a song called "I Belong To Everyone". But the word "belong" really means something else. And Fritzi has a reputation for being a wild woman of the world. Too wild for Budapest in fact. She is exiled from the city.

But Fritzi won't leave. Her plan. Have Lilli pretend to be her and send her off to the country side and to the town Zuppa where she will be under the supervision of Count Mirko Tibor (John Boles). Accompanying Lilli will be a local cimbalom player, Otto (Leon Errol), who is in love with Lilli.

"One Heavenly Night" is kind of a "Prince & the Pauper" type story with a sexual moral twist. Good girls must always remain pure. Those that aren't will never be treated with respect. Men will always expect one thing from them and one thing only.

Quite frankly I can't figure out why the movie had to be set in Budapest. Though I realize the movie wasn't actually filmmed there, still the setting adds nothing to the story. Though I will admit it was because it was set there that I even decided to watch the movie.

Given that Laye and Boles sing as if they are opera stars, maybe the story should have taken place in Italy and become an American Italian opera. Besides the fact that Otto plays the cimbalom, there is nothing Hungarian about the movie. By the way, Otto is seen walking around with a large square box which is suppose to be his cimbalom. That is impossible. My father plays the cimbalom. It is the national Hungarian instrument. There is no way one person can carry that instrument. Especially the kind we see Otto play in the movie. It is a concert size cimbalom. Only the Incredible Hulk could carry it on its own.

The love story is predictable as is the moral behind it. I'm not a great fan of the stars either. I've never seen Evelyn Laye in anything before. I have seen John Boles in some movies. He was in "Frankenstein" (1931), "Stella Dallas" (1937) and another early musical, "Rio Rita" (1929) with the comedy team Wheeler and Woolsey.

Leon Errol is our comic relief. He has some nice moments where he is suppose to be drunk. He knocks over a lot of priceless art and has a heck of a time putting a stamp on a letter and trying to mail it. I could almost imagine the director and crew laughing hysterically at this stuff but today it comes off as dated. Too corny.

The film was directed by George Fitzmaurice. I have only seen one other movie directed by him, "The Son of the Sheik" (1926) with Rudolph Valentino. I have reviewed it already. The script was by Sidney Howard, best known for writing "Gone With the Wind" (1939). He was also behind "Dodsworth" (1936) another movie with a sexual moral. Only "Dodsworth" is a much more adult and mature film.

"One Heavenly Night" is a silly, light excursion. It is harmless entertainment that may please those who enjoy good old-fashion Hollywood entertainment. It is predictable and the comedy is dated still despite everything I had a good time watching it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Film Review: How To Marry A Millionaire

"How To Marry A Millionaire"
** 1\2 (out of ****)

There's an old belief among movie buffs that remakes are rarely as good or better than their original source. As far as I'm concerned
"How To Marry A Millionaire" (1953) is one more example.

Oh I know what some readers might say. I'm being too hard on this movie. What was I expecting? In a way you are right. Tomorrow I may hate myself for giving this movie a low rating. It's not an offensively bad movie. It's not one of the worst movies I've ever seen. It is "popcorn entertainment". And I like "popcorn entertainment" just as much as the next person. It isn't even hard for me to believe that many people would like this movie. It is a light, breezy piece of entertainment. But for some reason the Devil is in my veins tonight. I don't want to be nice to this movie.

"How To Marry A Millionaire" is a remake of a movie I have recently reviewed, "Three Blind Mice" (1938) with Loretta Young, which itself was a remake. I don't think "Three Blind Mice" is a great movie either, but, it was slightly better than this if only because it creates more comedic situations.

The plot is ripe for good comedic developments. I had a similar complaint about "Mice" but "How To Marry A Millionaire" does an even worst job. This is a movie that is merely interested in the big picture not the small details. That's where it goes wrong. Those small details are where we should be finding the humor.

The movie follows three models; Schatze (Lauren Bacall), Pola (Marilyn Monroe) and Loco (Betty Grable). Schatze, the leader of the group, has hatched a plan for the ladies to marry a millionaire. Having been recently divorced, to a gas pump attendant, Schatze no longer wants to fall in love with poor men. Only marry for money is her new outlook on life. So she and her friends rent out a flashy apartment where they hope to lure wealthy single men into marrying them.

But here's the problem with the script. As soon as Pola finds out Schazte has rented the apartment she calls Loco. Loco comes to the apartment with four bags full on groceries, despite the fact all she had was a quarter. You see, she managed to get Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell) to pay for everything. What's wrong with this sequence is, why not show us how she did it! It those kind of small details I'm talking about. The movie only focuses on the big picture. A poor girl walks into an apartment with bags of food someone else bought her. I guess it is a funny visual gag but imagine all the laughs that could have been found if we could have seen how Loco seduced Tom into buying them.

In another scene the ladies meet a rich older gentlemen, J.D. Hanley (William Powell). He invites them to a party where bankers and oil men will attend. The ladies agree. The next scene shows them each in a restaurant with a man they picked up. Again, why not show us what happened at the party!? How did the ladies manage to attract the men's attention? What happens when the ladies don't understand the business talk? That's where the humor is going to come from, the viewer seeing their plan in action. How they go about it. The details!

For a movie called "How To Marry A Millionaire" we never really see how they plan to do it. Everything is simply too easy. Everything falls into their lap. It would have been much funnier if we see the women work more to make things happen.

But again I should point out I am being unusually harsh. If I had to say something nice about the movie I would say I find the Pola character funny. She wears glasses but is ashamed. Men, she thinks, won't find her attractive. So she walks into a lot of objects. And the fact that Monroe is blond only adds to the cliche of the "ditsy blond".

There are also moments when the movie wants to be "cute". At one point Loco listens to the radio, she thinks it is the band leader Harry James playing "You'll Never Know". Younger viewers might not know this but Grable was married to Harry James. In another scene Schatze makes a reference to that older guy in "The African Queen" (1951). She means Humphrey Bogart. Take a guess to who Bacall was married to.

The movie was a box-office smash. One of the last for Betty Grable. This is now the third time I have written about her. The other times were for "Down Argentine Way" (1940) and "That Lady in Ermine" (1948). Her performance is fine and we do get to see those "million dollar legs" which I suppose is all we can ask for. But because Betty is sharing the screen with two other ladies she has to split screentime. I wouldn't mind seeing more of her.

Marilyn Monroe was already a becoming a star at this point. No longer would she have small roles as in "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950) and the Marx Brothers comedy "Love Happy" (1949). Before this movie she appeared in the Howard Hawks comedy "Monkey Business" (1952) with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers and in the same year as "Millionaire" the movie "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953) was released.

But of the three ladies I must say I think Lauren Bacall is all around the better actresses. I love Betty Grable, but, I think Bacall had a stronger and more diverse acting range. "How To Marry A Millionaire" is actually a step down for her. Consider the films she had appeared in before this movie; "To Have & Have Not" (1944, her debut film), "The Big Sleep" (1946), "Dark Passage" (1947) and "Key Largo" (1948). Each one of those films I would argue is a masterpiece. "How To Marry A Millionaire" is nowhere near the same league as those movies. In fact it's pointless on my part to even bring it up. No one would debate that point.

The men in the film are; Freddie (David Wayne), Eben (Roy Calhoun), Waldo (Fred Clark) and J.D. (Powell). Of all the male performances I must say Powell comes out looking the best. This was his second to last performance but he still had a way of bringing the screen to life. He is one of my favorite actors so I am a bit bias. Still watch him in movies like "I Love You Again" (1940), "Love Crazy" (1941), "Double Wedding" (1937) and "Libeled Lady" (1936) and tell me he wasn't a great actor. His character is the only one which almost feels like a real person. That actually has a decent background story.


Of course the character Tom Brookman could have had an interesting background story if the movie, once again, would have went into more detail. He is actually a millionaire but the ladies don't know it. He wants to keep it a secret. Here's my problem. Why not tell us why. Why not have a scene where Tom complains he can't meet a woman who isn't after his money. Why not play around with what could have been an interesting plot device.


Surprisingly the writer was actually behind some decent scripts. Nunnally Johnson wrote a very wide range of films from "The Dirty Dozen" (1967) to "The Three Faces of Eve" (1957, which he also directed) to "Roxie Hart" (1942), which was based on the play "Chicago".

The director was Jean Negulesco. Born in Romania, lived in America and died in Spain, he too directed a wide range of films. His best in my opinion is "Humoresque" (1946). He also directed "Daddy Long Legs" (1955) and "Johnny Belinda" (1948).

The movie was nominated for one Oscar, "Best Costume Design".

Also worth mentioning is Betty Grable was in another movie based on this same material, the 1941 musical "Moon Over Miami".

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Film Review: Three Blind Mice

Well, this is it, my first video blog review. I may post more of these in the future, but, I have to admit, it was a real pain in the neck.

For my first video review I have chosen a lesser known comedy called "Three Blind Mice" (1938)

Directed by..William A. Seiter

Loretta Young.. Pamela Charters
Joel McCrea... Van Dam Smith
David Niven... Steve Harrington
Majorie Weaver.. Moira
Pauline Moore... Elizabeth
Stuart Erwin.. Mike Brophy

Release by Fox Studios

p.s. anyone know how I can adjust the bandwidth to center this video?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Film Reviews: Remember? & Lucky Night

** 1\2 (out of ****)

I think most people would agree with me when I say I usually show a lot of respect to classic Hollywood movies and to the great filmmakers behind them. Hopefully you can tell from what I chose to write about that I have a great appreciation for film history. On average I would say I like most of the highly celebrated classics the majority enjoys. But, there have been times I go against popular opinion. I don't like to bring it up often. For example I'm not a fan of George Cuckor's "The Women" (1939, which I have reviewed). I also don't like "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935, I have also reviewed it). How people can say that movie is better than the original is beyond me. And to that list we can add "Remember?" (1939). An at times charming romantic comedy starring Robert Taylor and Greer Garson directed by Norman Z. McLeod.

I can't quite put my finger on why the film doesn't work. So much seems to be in the film's favor. It's made in the right time period, good actors, capable director, clever premise, but, I couldn't help but feel the film doesn't explore all of the comic possibilities it could have.

The plot may sound similar to the over-rated Charlie Kaufman comedy, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004). "Remember?" follows Jeff Holland (Robert Taylor) who is an advertising executive. He has recently gotten married to Linda Bronson (Greer Garson). But their love affair is not your typical story. Linda was originally engaged to Jeff's best friend, Sky (Lew Ayres). But, as soon as Sky introduced Jeff to Linda it was love at first sight. They were immediately married.

But as most married couples will tell you marriage changes everything. You may have thought you knew the other person during your courtship but things change. Jeff is always busy at work making Linda feel neglected. Divorce seems to be in their future. Until events take a strange turn.

One of the clients Jeff has been working for has invented a memory lost potion. The idea is to help people forgot traumatic moments in their life. Why should people go around reliving painful memories. With this is mind, Sky decides maybe this is what Jeff and Linda need before they get divorced. What if they can forget the past. Could they fall in love all over again? The problem is though the potion is still in the beginning stages. It is not known how far back one's memory will be lost or for what period of time. There isn't even an antidote yet. Still, Sky thinks it is worth a shot and slips them the potion.

You have to admit on paper this sounds like a pretty good idea. I was reminded of a William Powell/Myrna Loy comedy, "I Love You Again" (1940). I think that is a better film however. Though as I say, it is hard to say what exactly is wrong with this film. One thing I felt was the script takes too long to set-up this premise. The memory lost potion doesn't enter the film until the end. Only the last 20-25 minutes deal with it. Enough isn't done with this great comedy device. But would it have made this a better movie? I don't know.

"Remember?", at first, kind of feels like a typical romance picture. It isn't very funny in general. Maybe that's the problem. If I laughed more I'd be willing to over look any plot structure problems. The film was co-written by Corey Ford. Not a name anyone should remember. He wrote only two films I have seen, both comedies. One was "Zenobia" (1939) best known as one of the few comedies Oliver Hardy appeared in without Stan Laurel. And then there was also "Topper Takes A Trip" (1938, which McLeod also directed). Neither film is one I would particularly recommend. Maybe Ford just wasn't funny.

Norman Z. McLeod was behind many good comedies. He directed my favorite Marx Brothers comedy, "Horse Feathers" (1932), my favorite W.C. Fields comedy, "It's A Gift" (1934) and my favorite Bob Hope picture, "Casanova's Big Night" (1954). Though I suspect the comics probably had more control over the film than McLeod, whom I assume was mostly in charge of keeping everything in frame. Still, he must have known funny when he saw it. Couldn't he tell this wasn't very funny?

The studio, MGM, had a lot riding on this film because of Greer Garson. They thought they had a big hit on their hands. Garson had appeared in "Goodbye Mr. Chips" (1939) that same year and would eventually receive an Oscar nomination for her performance. "Remember?" was advertised as her first film after "Chips" but the audience wasn't buying. And who can blame them? If you wanted to see Garson just watch "Mr. Chips". A few years later Garson would also appear in one of my favorite movies of all time, the best picture Oscar winner, "Mrs. Miniver" (1942).

Another thing I dislike about "Remember?" is the ending. I won't reveal anything here but I will say it was suppose to be one of those punchline endings. Meaning it ends on a funny wise-crack and joke as a result of a last minute twist. Think "Some Like It Hot" (1952) with the "nobody's perfect" line. Here though it raises a lot of questions. I don't know what state of mind the characters are in. What does the final twist here really mean?

Like many MGM films there is a fine supporting cast. In the roles of Linda's parents are Billie Burke and Reginald Owen. Burke plays her usual ditsy social-lite and Owen is his usual wealthy stuff shirt. Also spot Sig Ruman as a doctor who works on the potion.

I suppose "Remember?" will appeal to some viewers. It could be a nice curiosity piece, especially if you liked "Eternal Sunshine". It is a nice reminder to younger people that movies existed before last week. Many films today draw their inspiration from past films. I don't know if Kaufman ever saw this movie, but, if he did, we can see how it inspired him.

"Lucky Night" *** (out of ****)

"Lucky Night" (1939) is one of those movies that makes you feel good watching it. You like the characters, are happy to spend time with them and want good things to happy to them. I felt that way for most of the movie.

The movie stars Myrna Loy as Cora Jordan, daughter of the wealthy H. Calvin Jordan (Henry O' Neill). Cora is bored with her life. She is pursued by men she has no interest in. What is the poor girl to do? What is she looking for? And more importantly, how can she find it? Her father suggest she go out and live. Find an "every man". So Cora abandons her high profile life, tries to get a job, live on her own and meet the man of her dreams.

At this point in the film "Lucky Night" is like another movie I recently reviewed, "5th Avenue Girl" (1939) with Ginger Rogers. Both films involve rich people coming down to the "common man". To a depression era audience I suppose it was an important message. Money can't buy happiness or love.

As Cora goes on her job hunt she meets Bill Overton (Robert Taylor). He is down on his luck. They strike up a conversation on a park bench and decide to become friends. Bill believes Cora is a good luck charm because as soon as they meet, good things happen. Money just pours in. Mostly as a result of gambling. Still, this is another important message point to audiences. Your luck can change at any moment. Just hang in there.

After a wild night of gambling and drinking Bill and Cora get married. Now what? They say they are in love but Cora's father doesn't believe it. Still the two decide the make a go of it. But Cora or Bill doesn't want her father's help. They will get their own place and Bill will get a job. Now Cora will see how ordinary people live.

Up until this point I enjoyed "Lucky Night" quite a bit. It had a good fast paced rhythm to it and I went along with Cora and Bill on their wild adventure of good fortune. I was happy for them. I like to see good things happen to people I like. And Cora and Bill are two likable characters. But once we enter into the second act the film gets boggled down and then we start to wonder, what's next? Now that the couple is married we know there has to be some sort of conflict. And that is one of the things I feel is wrong with "Lucky Night". It waits too long to establish that conflict.

Cora and Bill learn how hard married life is. Cora, surprisingly, wants to save all their money. She doesn't want to be poor. Bill on the other hand thinks life is all about fun. He wants to go out and celebrate every night of the week. These two ideas are going to collide.

On some level "Lucky Night" seems to burrow from "It Happened One Night" (1934). There too a rich girl falls in love with an average joe and learns life lessons from him. But "Lucky Night" is not as entertaining as that movie.

I also disliked the ending of this film. The couple have their inevitable fight but by the end of the film nothing is really resolved. The characters are still going to be faced with the same underlying problems. Unless of the course the film's message is a good wife does whatever she can to make her husband happy. Or could the message be in life we need a balance of responsibility and fun, but, lean more towards the fun.

Like "Remember?" both films can get by due to star power. Taylor and Loy are good actors. They have good chemistry between them. We may know how the film is going to end but we watch anyway because we enjoy the company of these performers. Unlike "Remember?" though, I would say the material is a bit better.

Hollywood at this time I would say was under the star system. A picture would succeed mostly on the star. The majority of audiences were mostly going to see a movie if they liked the cast involved. Most people didn't pay attention to directors. The director of this film, Norman Taurog, isn't a major name. Yes he directed "Boys Town" (1938) with Spencer Tracey, but, it is Tracey who makes the picture. "Lucky Night" works because of the stars. And that is why I think you should it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Good Movie Is Hard To Find

It was only recently I said to myself, many times I review movies which are no longer available on VHS and have not been put on DVD yet. Other times I review movies which are not available in the U.S. then it occured to me. Why review a product which you can't see? What's the point? If I recommend the movie that it sort of an insult to injury. I'm telling you there is a great movie out there but you can't see it. That's unfair, right?

As I result of this I thought, why not sell movies on here. I would say about 90% of what I review on this blog I actually own. Of course if it is a modern movie in theatres I don't have it. But I do own many, many classic Hollywood movies which are very hard to find. I'm not going to list them all here, but you can use my reviews as a guide, just e-mail me a title and I'll let you know if I have it.

Most of these rare movies I have are on VHS. I don't know how to copy them onto a DVD. So hopefully that will be acceptable to many. Naturally, once you have the VHS if you know how to burn it on a DVD, go ahead! It's your movie now.

Prices may vary depending on how much shipping & handling cost.

I have a large collection of Joe E. Brown comedies, Wheeler and Woolsey, Laurel & Hardy (including their 2 reelers), Harry Langdon, Harold Lloyd, Clark Gable, Ingmar Bergman and much more. Again, feel free to ask about any title.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Film Reviews: That Lady in Ermine & He Married His Wife

"That Lady in Ermine" *** (out of ****)

There are moments in "That Lady in Ermine" (1948) that are quite simply magical. The kind of good, decent, old-fashion entertainment I'm usually a sucker for. The film has moments of love, joy, singing and dancing and even room for some comedy. But the screenplay here is just a bit too goofy and hard to follow. It is goofy just enough to the point it is funny and watchable but confusing to the point I can't give it a higher rating, though, I must admit, I'm nearly tempted to.

The film is credited as being directed by Ernst Lubitsch (more on that later) and would be his final film. The script was done by Samson Ralpaelson, a numerous Lubitsch collaborator. The two worked on some of Lubitsch's best known films, "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940), my personal favorite, "Trouble in Paradise" (1932) and the vastly under-rated "Angel" (1937). But despite Ralpaelson talents, the script still leaves something to be desired. Mainly character motivation and set-up.

We focus on a small south eastern European country which is currently run by the Countess Angelina (Betty Grable). She has just married Mario (Cesar Romero). Which had been planned since their childhood. We can subtly tell they are not a good match. He doesn't feel like a "man" in the marriage, since she will actually be the ruler of the country. While she is looking for more romance. It was an arranged marriage after all. One telling moment is when she repeats a legend that when two people are in love they can hear a flute being played. Mario counters by telling her he can do better than that. He can get a whole orchestra. Missing the romantic, sentimental notion of what Angelina was talking about.

As the fates would have it, on the day of their wedding the country and the royal castle are about to be invaded by the Hungarian army (!). This allows the film to go into a lot of playful anti-Hungarian rhetoric. Now Mario, as the new count and head of the army, must flee so he can round up his army and prepare a counter attack, leaving Angelina behind.

So far, I suppose this all makes sense on some level. And if the film had stopped there an audience could probably follow it. But more is added to the story. We have a case of history repeating itself. Many years ago Angelina's great, great, great grandmother, Countess Francesca (also played by Grable) protected the castle from invaders. Her picture and those of many other ancestors hang in the castle, where at the stroke of midnight, they come to life. Now Angelina and perhaps Francesca, will have to save the castle again, only this time from the Hungarians.

I have to admit, since this is kind of a fantasy romantic comedy, on some level I'm willing to go along on this film's ride. But the romance part of the film is quite sloppy and underdeveloped. Rumor has it Francesca was actually in love with the general of the invaders and we are suppose to suspect that Angelina has also fallen in love with the Hungarian Colonel (played by non-Hungarian actor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) who has taken over the castle.

This is however a tricky situation for a 1948 movie. The production code was still in effect. A movie could not promote adultery. Even though an audience might suspect Angelina does not love Mario, she is still nonetheless married to him. And she is aware of this herself. Therefore she cannot pursue a romance with the Colonel. However the script doesn't hint enough that Angelina is falling in love or possible could fall in love with the Colonel. The original screenplay for this film was actually rejected by the censorship board because it presented the Angelina as more blatantly interested in the Colonel. But they toned it down way too much. For my eye I couldn't figure Angelina out.

Another flaw with the film is based more on a personal manner. I would have given a million dollars if Fairbanks would have spoken with a Hungarian accent. I would have given two million if he would have said one word in Hungarian. Not even a sentence, just a word, any word! Yes, no, thank you, good night, anything. You could also say the same about Grable. I believe she is suppose to be Italian. She makes no effort. But, she's Betty Grable, an audience wasn't expecting that to begin with. Again, these are minor, personal complaints. The majority could care less.

But I must add the film doesn't have that famous Lubitsch touch. I told you I'd come back to that. Although Lubitsch is give final directing credit, the great comedy filmmaker died eight days into production. Otto Preminger took over directing responsibilities as he had done on "A Royal Scandal" (1945). That film had more of a Lubitsch feel to it than this one. Preminger is unquestionably a talented and gifted filmmaker. But this isn't his kind of story in my opinion. It is fun to mention however than Preminger did direct "Laura" (1944) prior to this film. That movie deals with a man falling in love with a dead woman. Here in "That Lady in Ermine" the Hungarian colonel falls in love with a picture of Francesca.

I have written once before about Lubitsch on this blog, I reviewed one of his most popular films, "Heaven Can Wait" (1943). Lubitsch is one of my favorite directors. A real inspiration to me. His films were always so adult and playful. "That Lady in Ermine" has nothing on his earlier musicals; "Monte Carlo" (1930), "Love Parade" (1929), "The Smiling Lieutenant" (1931) and "One Hour With You" (1932). The sophistication and wit is missing here.

Betty Grable I would argue had a similar adult playfulness to her. She was picture perfect for musicals. And was Fox Studio's number one girl. A box-office champion for many years. Best known for "Down Argentine Way" (1940), which I have reviewed and "Springtime in the Rockies" (1942), even she is not at her best here. We don't see those "million dollar legs" in all their splendor. Only near the end of the film do we get a brief gander at them. But she does sing a couple of songs. The opening number, "Ooh! What I'd Do (To That Wild Hungarian)" is pretty goofy but in its own way catchy. With silly lyrics like "Ooh/What I'd Do/ To That Wild/Hungarian. Ooh/What I'd Do/To That Wild/Barbarian". It sort of serves as the film's theme song. One of the songs managed to get nominated for an Oscar, "This is the Moment".

I should mention the film has a good supporting cast too. Walter Abel as Major Horvath, Reginald Gardiner as Alberto, Angelina's great, great, great grandfather and Harry Davenport as Luigi, a servant at the castle.

"That Lady in Ermine" was filmed once before as a silent film in 1927. Back then the film involved Austrians. Given that Lubitsch was German and Preminger was Austrian they avoided this. Also, I have a hunch, with the war being over, perhaps they didn't want to remind any one about it with a story of Germans invading a country. Been there, done that!

If the film had made a little more sense I'd been recommending it a bit more. It has some great moments though sprinkled here and there. And it involves Hungarians, what more could you ask for!?

"He Married His Wife" *** (out of ****)

"He Married His Wife" (1940) is a completely forgotten screwball-lite comedy, which as far as I know has not been put on DVD and is no longer in print on VHS. And for a lot of readers, it could remain that way. But when I say I love classic Hollywood films, I'm not kidding. And I take just as much pleasure in watching these forgotten films as I do the celebrated ones.

In case you were wondering why I paired these two films together, the common theme is Cesar Romero is in both (gimme a break! I had to think of something!).

"He Married His Wife" was directed by Roy Del Ruth. He mostly directed gangster films and musicals. He even combined the two in "Kid Millions" (1934) with Eddie Cantor (I have reviewed it ). He also directed a great James Cagney film "Blonde Crazy" (1931) a juicy pre-code film.

In "He Married His Wife" Joel McCrea plays Randy Randall, a race horse track junkie. And before you start to jump ahead of yourself, remember I said this is a comedy, it's not about gambling addiction. He has been divorced from his wife, Valerie (Nancy Kelly) for a year. She was tired of coming in second to the race horses. But Randy is late on his alimony, because he bought a horse. She's not going to stand for it and has him arrested.

Randy is growing tired of this arrangement. He says he can't continue to pay her alimony and play the horses. Clearly, he is going to have to give up the alimony. But how? Valerie has to get married of course! She says she doesn't want to but Randy has a plan. Hook her up with his best friend, Paul (Lyle Talbot) who has loved her from afar for years. Will it work or are Randy and Valerie still in love?

It doesn't take Einstein to figure out where this is all going to go and lets face it, the title gives everything away. It is a funny sounding title, but, seriously, couldn't someone think of something better? "Here Comes The Bride", "There Goes The Groom", "Too Many Husbands", something!

McCrea is good in the role. He is best known for his work with Preston Sturges in classics like "The Palm Beach Story" (1942) and "Sullivan's Travel" (1941). He was, I suppose, a tall good looking man. He could have played straight lead characters, check him out in "Foreign Correspondent" (194) by Hitchcock, but that's what made him funny. Think along the lines of Cary Grant, though Grant was better. This is well suited to what McCrea did. I can understand why he was chosen for the role.

The supporting cast is equally good. Roland Young plays Randy's lawyer, Bill Carter, who hatches the plan up with him. He was in a better picture released that year, "The Philadelphia Story" (1940). And played the lead in "Topper" (1937) and all of its sequels, one of which was directed by Del Ruth, "Topper's Return" (1941). The cast also includes Mary Boland as the man-hungry Ethel, who has her eye on Randy and Cesar Romero as Freddie. A mysterious man who has his sights on Valerie, to Randy's disapproval.

The set-up to the film is funny and typical of this genre of comedy. I didn't think there were any big laughs in the film but it was pleasant enough to keep me going along for the ride. But I felt the ending was kind of poor and rushed. It needed a better final image and a funnier ending. There were a lot of promising situations the story could have created.

But, I do like these kind of stories. "He Married His Wife" is no "The Awful Truth" (1937) but it is worth watching if you can find it. Once in a while it plays on the Fox Movie Channel.