Thursday, January 27, 2011

Film Review: Running Wild

"Running Wild" *** (out of ****)

"Running Wild" (1927) directed by Gregory La Cava and starring W.C. Fields is an often neglected silent comedy in the Fields cannon of films.

The only reason for its absence has to be due to the fact it is a silent comedy. As of the date of this review the film has not been put on DVD however a majority (if not all) of Fields' talking comedies have been.

When we think of W.C. Fields and his style of comedy it is admittedly hard to picture his character silent. So much of Fields' humor was verbal. The way he would mumble insults to himself, the snarly remarks he had for his family and society. Plus, the simple sound of his voice was funny and the way he would place an emphasis on certain words. Put him in a silent setting and naturally you lose all of that. Now Fields has to succeed on his physical talents alone.

I've only seen Fields in two other silent comedies. One is called "Pool Sharks" (1915). It was Fields' screen debut. In it he plays a pool shark. I personally don't find the piece particularly funny. The other comedy was the D.W. Griffith film "Sally of the Sawdust" (1925, which I have reviewed). While, overall a watchable movie, Fields seems restricted. You get the feeling Griffith is holding him back to remain within the confines of the story. Perhaps Griffith didn't realize what a treasure he had in Fields.

In "Running Wild" Fields plays Elmer Finch, a character which bears some small resemblance to the character we would see Fields play in "It's A Gift" (1934, my favorite of his films), "You're Telling Me" (1934) or "The Bank Dick" (1940). He is a disgruntled family man who feels his family doesn't appreciate him. In later films his family's disapproval had to do with his drinking and lack of employment. Here the family simply doesn't respect him. He feels unwelcome in his own home. His wife (Marie Shotwell) keeps a photo up of her first husband and constantly compares Elmer to him. She dotes over her son, whom she calls Junior (Barnett Raskin), who is one of those overweight, spoiled mama's boys. The only person in Elmer's corner is his daughter, Elizabeth (Mary Brian), who was a product of his first marriage.

Elmer has worked at the same toy factory for 20 years, in the same position, a clerk, at the same pay. He is simply too timid to ask for a raise, even while his daughter has caught the eye of Dave (Claude Buchanan) whose father is Elmer's boss.

The film, while a satirical look at domestic life, is also a commentary on masculinity. What does it mean to be a man? How should men act? The humor from the film comes when Elmer starts to "man up". This happens when a hypnotist puts Elmer in a trance and tells him he is a lion, as part of the hypnotist's act. Now Elmer has strength and won't be bullied around.

The only problem I have with this set-up is it paints a pretty ugly picture. It suggest a man should act like a brute and be violent. What if Elmer went to a hypnotist who put him under a trance and simply made him assertive. You could still have plenty of comedic situations arise. Elmer could complain about home cooking and tell his wife, yes, she does look fat in that dress. Instead to play to the stereotype that all men are cavemen and secretly that is what a woman wants. After Elmer goes on his physical tirade his wife look adoringly at him. All he had to do was use force to put his wife straight.

I have a sense of humor, believe it or not. I don't mean to read into the movie so much, but, clearly that is the message. I can appreciate the slapstick humor and did laugh. But, it is not something I'd want my daughter to watch (when I have one) and feel that is an appropriate message.

Gregory La Cava was a twice Oscar nominated director for the films "Stage Door" (1937), that great, nearly all female cast movie and "My Man Godfrey" (1936). He also directed "5th Avenue Girl" (1938, which I have reviewed) with Ginger Rogers. It is hard to say how much he actually directed Fields. I can't imagine a personality like Fields taking direction. But, this was early in his career, so who knows.

"Running Wild" is a funny movie and maybe the best silent film I've seen Fields in. Still I think his talking comedies show him at his best. If you enjoy this, track down 'It's A Gift", "You Can't Cheat An Honest Man" (1939) and "Never Give A Sucker An Even Break" (1941).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nominations

It is going to be a "royal" engagement at the 83rd annual Academy Awards, as the British film "The King's Speech" (2010) led in Oscar nominations with a total of 12.

The "Best Picture" nominees are; "127 Hours", "Black Swan", "The Fighter", "Inception", "The Kids Are All Right", "The King's Speech", "The Social Network", "Toy Story 3", "True Grit" and "Winter's Bone".

As is the case every year, this year's announcement of Oscar nominations offered a few surprises. One of them is how well the Coen Brothers' "True Grit" did, winning a total of 10 nominations, especially when you considered it was shut out at the Golden Globes. The film is nominated for, in addition to "Best Picture", "Best Director", "Best Adapted Screenplay", "Best Actor" (Jeff Bridges) and "Best Supporting Actress" (Hailee Steinfeld).

Other surprises included Javier Bardem winning a nomination for "Best Actor" for his work in the Mexican film "Biutiful" (which still hasn't opened in Chicago!). Did Julia Roberts push help him? Many people are shocked Nicole Kidman won a nomination for "Rabbit Hole". I'm not. I'm glad she is nominated. In my review for the film I expressed my support. What personally surprised me was no nomination for co-Oscar host Anne Hathaway for her performance in "Love & Other Drugs". I wasn't a big fan of the film but Hathaway's performance was being thrown around as a possibility.

Amazingly Leonardo DiCaprio was shut out for both "Inception" and "Shutter Island", which I think is a big mistake. I still am unable to understand why Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" has been snubbed this award season. Some viewed it merely as a routine genre picture, but, with Scorsese at the helm, it became a little more than that. The overwhelming support for the indie film "Winter's Bone" has caught me off guard. Several critics have placed it on their top ten list and the film has scored a few nominations. Also support for "The Kids Are All Right" I find more disappointing than surprising. I felt the film played off as more as a sit-com than an actual motion picture.

The animated film category was disappointing to me. Only three films have been nominated this year; "How To Train Your Dragon", "The Illusionist" and "Toy Story 3". No nomination for "Tangled", "Megamind", or "Shrek Forever After". It would seem "Toy Story 3" is the favorite (especially when you consider it is nominated in the "best picture" category as well). But in all honesty "The Illusionist" is actually the better film.

The awards favorite "The Social Network" scored a total of 8 nominations including "Best Picture", "Best Director", "Best Actor" and "Best Adapted Screenplay". It has won nearly every major award for "best picture". It has to be the odds on favorite going into the Oscars. It has been slightly over-hyped in my opinion however with the comparisons to "Citizen Kane" (1941).

The 83rd Academy Awards will air February 27th and will be hosted by Anne Hathaway and James Franco.

For a full list of Oscar nominees click here:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Film Review: The Illusionist

"The Illusionist" **** (out of ****)

I've always felt I had something in common with Jacques Tati's alter-ego, Monsieur Hulot. Both of us are men who simply don't belong in the world we occupy. We find it hard to fit in. The world keeps moving forward while we are stuck in the past. We can't keep up. Worst of all, we don't want to keep up. We are content and look at the world in confusion. What are the rest of you doing? Why all these contraptions?

There is an element of that in the new animated film by Sylvain Chomet, best known for "The Triplets of Belleville" (2003), based on a screenplay by Mr. Tati himself.

"The Illusionist" is as much a Tati film as it is a Chomet film. Jacques Tati's undeniable comic style and themes are present throughout the film. In fact, the lead character, an aging illusionist, is not only named Tatischeff, but is drawn to look like Tati's Mr. Hulot character.

Jacques Tati was a brilliant mime, who even in the modern world of 1950, was making homages to silent slapstick comedy. His character, Hulot, never spoke. The people around him did, but he was always silent. Always trying to adjust to the world around him. Trying to keep up with technology. A world which has lost its traditional values. Watch "Play Time" (1967), "Mon Oncle" (1958) and "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" (1953) as examples. If you are in the mood for good slapstick comedy, check out Tati's debut feature length film, "Jour de Fete" (1949) as well.

In "The Illusionist" we are taken back to a time which resembles the 1960s, though it is not directly referenced. Tatischeff (voice of Jean-Claude Donda, though there is very little dialogue) is a good magician. He knows his trade. However he is a small time act. He performs mostly for empty theatres and venues. His chance at fame has passed. But, what else can he do? This is what he knows and it is what he does well. In order to make a living he must stick with it.

One humorous moment deals with Tatischeff being booked at a theatre where a very popular rock band will be performing before him (whom strangely reminded me of the Beatles). The audience, primarily young girls, pack the theatre, and scream and swoon over the band. The band is so popular they do several encores. Meanwhile Tatischeff is never sure when he is suppose to go on. This actually reminded me of a joke in the Billy Crystal comedy "Mr. Saturday Night" (1992). If you remember in that movie there is a scene where Crystal's character is booked on the Ed Sullivan show on the same day the Beatles are. He must perform after them but the audience is still yelling for them while Crystal is on stage.

The scene also helps re-enforce the theme that Tatischeff is a by-gone taste. Young people don't want to see his tricks. His innocent brand of entertainment is boring to modern audiences, who are looking for something more cutting edge.

Tatischeff finds himself in Scotland, performing at a local pub. This audience actually turns out to be his most receptive. Mostly because they are older and lets face it, all the alcohol helps. But it is at this pub Tatischeff meets a young girl, whom we suspect has no family. She is amazed by Tatischeff's tricks. She thinks they are real. It is not an illusion. Tatischeff has a special gift. So, when he heads to Edinburgh, without being asked, the young girl follows him.

Tatischeff now takes on a parental role. Looking after the girl, while also trying to keep her innocence alive and not reveal the fact that he is an illusionist. The young girl doesn't know the way the real world works. She thinks everything in life is free. All Tatischeff has to do is wave his hand and things suddenly appear. So Tatischeff has to work doubly hard to support the girl, who has rather expensive taste.

I have been reading on-line and have come across some people who say the relationship between these characters is one-sided and the girl is not as nice as she seems. Yes, the young girl accepts Tatischeff's gifts and never once says thank you but she repays him in other ways. Companionship for one. You can't put a price on that. She also cooks and cleans for him. And shows a kind heart to others as well.

"The Illusionist", in many ways, resembles the work of Charlie Chaplin. Because we are dealing with a man and a child, you simply have to think of "The Kid" (1921). You also have to think of "City Lights" (1931). In that movie Chaplin tries to help a poor blind girl. Here of course Tatischeff provides for a young orphan. And finally Chaplin's "Limelight" (1952) about a music hall performer who now must face he is a has-been and helps restore a young dancer. It is "Limelight" that "The Illusionist" resembles most. Both deal with characters whom have lost that special ability to connect with and engage an audience.

But perhaps the most special aspect of "The Illusionist" is it gives us one more chance to see the Hulot character. The way Chomet has drawn this character and his ability to truly flesh him out is remarkable. All of Hulot's mannerisms are on display. I could have seen how Tati would have made this into a live action film, which was his intention.

The other great thing about "The Illusionist" is it is hand-drawn. Nowadays all we get are CGI animated films, not that I'm complaining, but, there is something magical about hand-drawn animation. Especially since it has become a rarity. But don't fool yourself. Yes, "The Illusionist" is an animated film, but, I wouldn't describe it as a children's film. When I attended the theatre a few people decided to bring their children. Big mistake. As I left the theatre I heard the disappointment of all the children. "The Illusionist" deals with adult themes and has an adult sensibility. This is nothing like "Tangled" (2010) or "Toy Story 3" (2010), which are fine pieces of entertainment, but, more geared towards a younger audience.

The film has went on to earn much acclaim. It was nominated for a Golden Globe (best animated feature) and won a National Board of Review award. The critics have also thrown much praise at it. The film opened in a few cities late last year, just so it would be eligible for awards but has only now went into wide release. I consider it a 2011 picture and even though we are only roughly 2 weeks into the new year, I'm pretty confident in saying this is one of the year's best films and a film I am almost certain will make my top ten list at the end of the year.

However much I may praise the animation, or the humor or themes in the film, it has also caused some mild controversy. It appears one of the grandchildren does not approve of this film because he believes Sylvain Chomet has mis-represented Tati's work and his true intentions. It is the family's belief that Tati was going to make "The Illusionist" as a semi-autobiographical film. The movie addresses Tati's decision to abandon his eldest daughter, for whom Tati would have dedicated this film to. "The Illusionist" was suppose to be a very personal movie. A movie which would help clear Tati's conscience for his deplorable behavior. Read Roger Ebert's review for more details.

Be that as it may, I don't feel "The Illusionist" should be avoided. This is a truly remarkable film which honestly touched me. It made me happy to see the Hulot character again. Just think of all the fun Tati could have had now, in a world with cell phones smaller than the size of your hand, the internet, i-pods, mp3 players, text messaging. I'm smiling just thinking about it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Film Review: Tin Pan Alley

"Tin Pan Alley" ** (out of ****)

I grew up in a household where Betty Grable and Alice Faye were considered major stars. To this very day I will talk about their movies with my grandparents. I always make sure to tell them when one of their movies will be played on TV.

I've never hidden my appreciation for the musical. A lot of great musicals were made in the 1930s. I find watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to be movie Heaven. I can honestly sit and watch them for hours. I also love the Warner Brothers musicals with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. And finally, I adore the 20th Century Fox musicals with Faye and Grable.

Both Alice Faye and Betty Grable were considered to be the "queens" of the Fox musicals. Faye reigned supreme on the Fox lot in the 1930s in musicals such as "George White's 1935 Scandals" (1935), "King of Burlesque" (1936), "Hollywood Cavalcade" (1939) and "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1938). She was all set to star in another Fox musical, "Down Argentine Way" (1940) but was replaced, last minute, by Betty Grable. That was the movie that turned Grable into a star (I have reviewed it) and made her a box-office champ. Her films were either number one or near the top spot for a decade. Many of you know during WW2 she was considered perhaps the most popular pin-up girl during the era.

I mention all of this because "Tin Pan Alley" (1940) is the only movie these two lovely ladies made together. I haven't seen the movie in years (I'd say around 20) and greatly looked forward to watching it again when it aired on TV recently. Sadly I was extremely disappointed.

In "Tin Pan Alley" Harry Calhoun (Jack Oakie) and "Skeets" Harrigan (John Panye) are a couple of struggling music publishers. In order to make some extra money Harrigan actually boxes and is considered to be pretty good. Maybe even championship material. Calhoun is a gambler and skirt-chaser. The two men consider closing down shop but when Calhoun notices a sister act, the Blane sisters, are in town, he thinks he can get them to plug one of their songs, since he knew them back in his vaudeville days. The sisters are Katie (Faye) and Lily (Grable).

The normal romantic set-up is used as Harrigan instantly falls for Katie and she for him. Harrigan thinks she is a great singer and wants to use her to plug all of his material. Meanwhile, sister Lily wants to find a nice sugar daddy in the music business to give her a break.

The complications become rather predictable. Harrigan is displayed as being power driven. He doesn't show Katie enough attention. All he thinks about is music and how to become famous. Katie would secretly like to quit the entertain game and settle down and start a family. She wants to fall in love.

This was quite a popular sentiment in movies. The majority of audiences who watched these movies back then probably weren't going to become famous, so Hollywood gives us a bit of the "Prince & the Pauper" story. Hollywood people secretly envy us as we long to be like them. Fame and money aren't everything. Better to lead a good life, fall in love and raise a family. Notice in movies when the women has to choose between the wealthy man, whom she really doesn't love, or the poor man, whom she does love, she always chooses the poor man. It is the same principle.

Though this story-line was also done before in another Alice Faye movie, "Hollywood Cavalcade" with Don Ameche (some suggest the film is based on comedy producer Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand). That film had the same set-up of a young man preoccupied with becoming famous and not paying enough attention to the woman who loves him. And in my opinion "Hollywood Cavalcade" does a better job. "Tin Pan Alley" doesn't go anywhere with the story. We don't believe these two people are really in love. Surprisingly Faye and Panye have little chemistry together, they fare much better in "Week-End in Havana" (1941) which I have also reviewed.

One interesting thing about "Tin Pan Alley" is the way Betty Grable is treated in this movie. By the time this film was made Grable had appeared in "Down Argentine Way", which was a hit. Here Grable has nothing to work with. She is really a supporting character, despite getting second billing behind Faye (!). Huge chunks of the film have nothing to do with her. She is not given a romantic interest and has only one song which showcases her properly. Alice Faye on the other hand is given much more screen time. The movie really wants to be a love story between her character and John Panye's. This is very telling about 20th Century Fox. It would appear, at this point in time, if they had to choose between Faye or Grable, they would have slided with Faye. I have to believe if this movie were made lets just say a year later Grable would have been given a love interest, possibly the Jack Oakie character and been allowed to sing more songs.

I also have a problem with the characters in this film. No one is really fleshed out. These characters are not real people, merely stereotypes and cliches. The film also doesn't have any feeling for the times, pre-WW1. It has neither a romantic sentiment towards the era or a celebratory one. I felt every performance comes off as bland. I'm not use to feeling that way about these actors. Alice Faye and Betty Grable had great star appeal. Other films took advantage of their beauty and their girl-next-door persona. They were beautiful but approachable. This time around I didn't feel that way.

Jack Oakie, whom was a popular comedian during the 30s and 40s, he is probably best known for his role in Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" (1940) for which he received his only Academy Award nomination (it was in the supporting actor category), isn't even funny in this movie. There is very little for him to do as well.

The film was directed by Walter Lang, a Fox studio director who made a career merely out of directing Betty Grable and Alice Faye musicals. His credits include "Moon Over Miami" (1941), "Song of the Islands" (1942), "Coney Island" (1943), "Greenwich Village" (1944) and "Week-End in Havana". I find all of those films slightly more entertaining than this film. They all do much more with their stars and have better writing.

That last remark is kind of an odd one because the writers were Robert Ellis and Helen Logan, who also wrote a good many Fox musicals such as "Sun Valley Serenade" (1941) which I have also reviewed and starred another popular Fox studio musical star; Sonja Henie. They were behind "Pin-Up Girl" (1944, which I have also reviewed), "Hello Frisco, Hello" (1943) and several Charlie Chan mysteries.

The film has a good supporting cast; Allen Jenkins, best known for his roles in Warner Brother musicals, the Nicholas Brothers, who appeared in several Fox musicals, Elisha Cook Jr., whom usually played thugs and gangsters and Billy Gilbert, who any fan of 1930s comedy will recognize.

The music on the other hand is so-so. Heard are "Moonlight Bay", "Goodbye Broadway, Hello France", "K-K-K-Katy" and two songs which historically don't belong in the movie, because they weren't written in the time period when the movie takes place, "Honeysuckle Rose" (Grable's only decent dance piece) and "The Sheik of Araby", which was written after Rudolph Valentino appeared in the film "The Sheik" (1921, which I have reviewed).

I'm usually a sucker for these type of films. I love Grable and Faye, honest I do. I have reviewed several of their films in the past and there is a good chance I will review more in the future but "Tin Pan Alley" just strikes me as a bit of a let down. Too bad. There was so much potential here with these two ladies in a film together.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Film Review: Shrek 2

"Shrek 2" *** (out of ****)

Most movie fans know one of the golden rules of cinema; sequels are never better than the original. But, "Shrek 2" (2004) is an exception to the rule. I had a much better time watching "Shrek 2" than I did "Shrek" (2001).

My problem with the original "Shrek" was I've always felt it was inappropriate for children. The gimmick was suppose to be to take the fairytale genre, which is seen as pure and innocent, and add a certain element of adult humor. That within itself was suppose to be funny. But I've always felt that "Shrek" wasn't as clever as it thought it was. And, yes, I know "Shrek" has gone on to achieve great fame and Dreamworks Animation had a major box-office hit with the series. Though "Shrek", while I admit, at times humorous (I love the gingerbread man "torture" scene when he is threatened with a glass of milk) just didn't gel in my opinion.

So it was to my great surprise to find how much I enjoyed "Shrek 2". This film retains much of the original's sassy attitude but is much more kid friendly and smart enough to entertain the adults.

This time around Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (voice of Cameron Diaz) are married and now Shrek must meet the parents; King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews). They are the rulers of "a land far, far away" and want to throw their daughter a party in honor of her wedding. What Fiona's parents don't know is how Fiona now looks and that she married an ogre.

If you remember from the first film, Princess Fiona had a curse put on her. Every night she would turn into an ogre herself, losing her beauty. So her parents thought the only logical thing to do was to lock her in a tower and wait for a prince to come, kiss her and break the curse. But Shrek rescued her instead.

These scenes and this situation is one any adult can relate to. We all hate the idea of meeting our in-laws or future in-laws for the first time. We are uncomfortable, afraid we will be judged and won't make a good first impression. For this reason adults will find themselves laughing while children will also be laughing but for different reasons. I noticed children like to see Shrek yell and scream no matter what.

Now what viewers don't know, is that during the first film, as Shrek was attempting to rescue Princess Fiona, there was another also attempting the same thing; Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). He makes it all the way to the tower only to find Fiona is gone, instead the Bad Bad Wolf is laying in her bed and informs him Fiona married. This makes Prince Charming mad. Rescuing the princess was his job.

Meanwhile King Harold and Shrek get off to a very bad start. King Harold doesn't want his daughter married to an ogre. How can Fiona live happily ever after with an ogre. Orge's aren't part of the happy ending in fairy tales. King Harold would rather Fiona marry Prince Charming. While Queen Lillian takes the usual mother position that she only wants what is best for Fiona. Shrek's appearance doesn't bother her at all.

But King Harold has made a deal with Fiona's Fairy Godmother (voice of Jennifer Saunders), who happens to be the mother of Prince Charming. They both agreed Charming would be Fiona's husband. Now King Harold must come up with a plan to get rid of Shrek and make Fiona fall in love with Prince Charming.

As I said "Shrek 2" has the original's sass and makes just as many spoof references. One montage has Fiona and Shrek being lovey-dovey as they are positioned in scenes from famous movies. Examples are the beach scene in "From Here To Eternity" (1954), the upside down kiss in "Spider-Man" (2002) and there is even room for a "Lord of the Rings" (2001) reference.

All of this gives "Shrek 2" that edge that most Dreamworks animated films have. These characters are sharp and have attitude. They can get in your face. Sometimes they think the way we think.

"Shrek 2" also does something most people feel is Dreamworks weak spot. It has emotional scenes and some heart. I honestly felt after an hour or so "Shrek 2" got boggled down in trying to have too much heart. The jokes started to fall a little flat for me and I was starting to get restless. "Shrek 2" could have used some trimming.

Two of my favorite new characters in "Shrek 2" is a Douglas Fairbanks, Erroll Flynn type swashbuckler pussycat, Puss-in-boots (voice of Antonio Banderas). The other is a saloon owner, the Ugly Stepsister (voice of Larry King, a funny, unexpected choice). Puss-in-boots is a very funny character who engages in a rivalry with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) over who should be Shrek's talking animal sidekick.

"Shrek 2" was directed once again by Andrew Adamson, who also went on to direct the first two "Chronicle of Narnia" movies. The film was, for many years, the highest grossing animated film ever grossing nearly a billion dollars worldwide and domestically taking in more than $436 million. Eventually "Toy Story 3" (2010) out grossed it. And once again "Shrek 2" was nominated for the palm d'or at the Cannes Film Festival.

I'd honestly skip over the first "Shrek", though the Broadway stage play is quite good, and just show the kids "Shrek 2" instead. This one is much more kid friendly, they will get a big kick out of Puss-in-boots and parents won't have to worry about that very broad, adult humor that the first "Shrek" film had.

"Shrek 2" was nominated for 2 Oscars. One for "Best Animated Feature", but lost to Pixar's "The Incredibles" (2004) which was probably the right decision and was nominated for "Best Song" (Accidentally in Love).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Film Review: Clash By Night

"Clash By Night" *** (out of ****)

Fritz Lang's "Clash By Night" (1952) opens with a shot of a violent sea storm. We see waves clashing against the shore repeatedly. The shots serves two purposes. One, the film takes place in a fishing community and secondly, it foreshadows the violent nature of the characters and their eventual "clash" with each other.

We see this shot again, later in the picture, only this time, one of the characters, Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) is watching the storm from her window. At that moment, the storm is symbolic of the rage inside her, her own emotional storm if you will.

Mae Doyle returns home to her brother Joe (Keith Andes) after a ten year absence. Mae Doyle had big plans in life. Plans which the small fishing community would be unable to make come true. She wanted to marry money and live the easy life. She was in fact the mistress of a New York politician. After he died she was left with nothing. With no place to go, she heads back home.

The only fishermen we meet in the film is Jerry D'Amato (Paul Douglas). He lives with his aging father, (Silvio Minciotti) and his alcoholic, loafer Uncle Vince (J. Carrol Naisn). Mae's brother Joe works for Jerry.

After a two week period we learn Mae mostly keeps to herself, she doesn't even leave the house. The nightlife in this town is much different than the one in New York. At Joe's insistence, Jerry asks Mae out. She accepts. Dinner and a movie.

But why does Mae accept? We suspect Jerry isn't really Mae's type. Jerry is a decent guy. A loyal, reliable person. He has a job, looks after his father, allows his uncle to take advantage of him. Mae, we suspect, is looking for more adventure. She's a tough cookie. The type of person that doesn't let out her feelings. She doesn't like to stay in one place too long.

Mae and Jerry see a lot of each other. Then, one day, Jerry introduces Mae to his friend, Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan), a projectionist at the local movie theatre. Earl is similar to Mae. At first Mae doesn't hide her dislike for Earl. Could it be because she realizes they are alike? She doesn't want to fall back into her old habits?

I really don't feel I have to write too much more as most readers can probably guess where all of this is going to go. Mae and Jerry end up getting married, they have a child. Mae feels Jerry can offer her some comfort and a place to settle down. Notice love never enters the picture. But soon after the birth of their child Mae starts to get the itch. She can't stay married to Jerry. She has to move on. She feels confined.

"Clash By Night" felt like a Tennessee Williams play to me. It was based on a stage play by Clifford Odets who wrote such works as "Humoresque" (1946), "The Sweet Smell of Success" (1957) and "The Country Girl" (1954). It was adapted by Alfred Hayes who worked with Fritz Lang on another picture, "Human Desire" (1954). He also wrote the drug addiction film "A Hatful of Rain" (1957) and was nominated twice for an Oscar; "Paisan" (though made in 1946, it wasn't released in America until 1950) and "Teresa" (1951).

One of the problems I have with "Clash By Night", and it might be the only problem I have with it, is it takes forever to reach its predictable conflict. The viewer knows where this is all headed but the movie delays the action in the name of creating atmosphere and establishing the character's personality. That is all very important no question, but, I believe it could have done all of these things and still move events along.

One of the things which makes "Clash By Night" interesting however is the portrayal of women in the film. The two main female characters are Mae and Peggy (a young Marilyn Monroe), she is engaged to Joe. Both women are attracted to wild men. Dominate men who will control them. Peggy says she doesn't want to be bossed around, yet, she still remains with Joe and accepts his marriage proposal, after she says they had a major fight and he broke down the door to ask for her hand.

It suggest women like the "bad boy" type but don't want any of the drama associated with them. Which I suppose is true in real life as well. But then there is the issue of Mae and her child. Mae doesn't want to leave her baby behind. This would suggest a baby changes everything. Responsibility changes a person. Compare and contrast Jerry and Earl in the course of the film and what each man represents. Compare and contrast Mae at the beginning of the film and who she becomes at the end.

Marilyn Monroe fans should know she is not the star of this picture and the usual glam we associate with her is not on display here. Her looks are downplayed. She was still a young actresses at this point who may have been best known for her brief role in films such as "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950) and "All About Eve" (1950). The following year would prove much more successful for Monroe. She would appear in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953) and "How To Marry A Millionaire" (1953) and still ahead would be "The Seven Year Itch" (1955).

Barbara Stanwyck is the playing the bad girl we saw her play in "Double Indemnity" (1944) and "Baby Face" (1931) and for laughs in "The Lady Eve" (1941). She creates a character which at times is not sympathetic at all. Her hard shell makes it difficult for people to get to know her. She doesn't treat her husband with the kindness you would expect a couple in love to.

As I said, compare and contrast Jerry and Earl. I suppose on some level there is a comment about what makes a man. Jerry has to prove himself as more than a nice man who would never hurt anyone. That simply is not attractive to Mae and makes him appear less masculine. Earl is a man. But Earl isn't stable. Does it matter?

Director Fritz Lang was good at making semi film noir stories with strong psychological undertones. I prefer "The Woman in the Window" (1944) and "Scarlet Street" (1945) which are also about masculinity. Both star Edward G. Robinson and I have reviewed both. At this period in Lang's career many would argue his work suffered in comparison to his earlier films. Lang had hit hard times and wasn't as critically respected as he was back in the days of "M" (1931), "Metropolis" (1927) and his first American film "Fury" (1936).

For whatever reason, once in America Lang didn't command the respect he deserved. He made films on a cheaper budget and lack the grand scope of his earlier films. He was also, unfairly in my opinion, snubbed by the Academy Awards. Lang never received as Oscar nomination for his directing. He hasn't even been given an honorary Oscar as the Academy does often when it realizes many times it has wrongfully neglected to celebrate a great artist.

"Clash By Night" is not one of Lang's great films. I admit that. It isn't a bad film however. There are interesting social themes floating around throughout the picture. And the acting for the most part is very good. Lang was something of a perfectionist, so he was going to demand a lot from his actors (though actors often claimed they hated working for him).

This doesn't make for a good introduction into Lang's work. For that I'd suggest "Metropolis", "M" or "Fury". "Clash By Night" is good for those familiar with his work already.