Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Wet Parade

What would be to most people a dull, preachy movie about the evils of alcoholism was enjoyable to me in large part due to the amazing cast the studio managed to put together. Our roster of performers includes Judge Hardy, Commissioner Gordon, Mrs. Nick Charles, Auntie Em, Marcus Welby, The Schnozzola, and Jerry Cohan. Oh, and Wallace Ford.

The movie tells the stories of two families, the southern Chilcotes and the northern Tarletons (they are divided this way in the credits). Both families are plagued with alcoholic fathers: Roger Chilcote, Sr. (played by Lewis Stone dressed like Colonel Sanders) is aware on some level that he has a problem, but despite his best efforts, is unable to get sober. Pow Tarleton (Walter Huston with a curly mustache he can't stop twirling) is in denial up to his eyeballs, steals money from his family's business to support his habit, and is basically a big blowhard.  It's a testament to Huston's excellent acting that I wanted to punch Tarleton in the face for the entire movie, and I was not at all sorry when he met his eventual fate.

Roger Jr. (totally handsome Neil Hamilton) does not learn from his father's example and takes to drink himself, despite the pleas of his sister Maggie May (Dorothy Jordan), who is nicknamed "Persimmon" for reasons not entirely clear. She goes all Carry Nation on everyone, sometimes with too much hysteria. Sharing her sentiments is Kip Tarleton (Robert Young), who tries to support his mother (Clara Bandick) and keep the family's hotel afloat while his father drinks all the profits. The two meet when Roger Jr. moves to New York, and Maggie follows him to keep an eye on him. What eventually happens to Roger Jr., I found to be unexpected (I was sure he'd kick the bucket), and I was pleasantly surprised by how that part of the plot proceeded.

Also appearing are Myrna Loy as Eileen, Roger Jr.'s actress girlfriend, Wallace Ford (rather under used) as Roger and Kip's reporter friend Jerry, and Jimmy Durante as (wait for it) a Prohibition agent with an inordinate penchant for saying "ha cha cha!" The concept is perhaps dated (as far as Prohibition goes; I think the alcoholism is still very relevant today), but it still makes for a compelling story.

See? That costume is finger lickin' good.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Requiem for a Heavyweight

As big a fan as I am of Jackie Gleason, I'd never seen this movie before. I'm not a fan of boxing, I knew Gleason played a bad guy, and I just thought it wasn't for me. Now, I stand corrected.

The opening scene is unique, I think, for the time. The camera shows us the boxer's point of view, starting with the fight, his defeat by knockout, and his skewed vision as he's dragged out of the ring into the locker room. At the end of the shot, the camera pans around to show the boxer, being supported by his manager and cutman, in the mirror, and he's a complete horror show.

It's not an easy movie to watch; Anthony Quinn plays the boxer ("Mountain" Rivera) who, after 17 years in the ring, really should retire yesterday. The make-up is very well done, because he looks like 10 miles of bad road. Mickey Rooney plays Army, Rivera's cutman, the only person who really cares about him, until Miss Miller (Julie Harris) comes along.

Jackie Gleason is Maish Rennick, Rivera's douchebag of a manager. He's in debt to some shady characters, so he wants Rivera to keep working -- one way or another. Since Mountain can't box anymore, Maish guilts him into taking a job as a wrestler. At first, Mountain is offended: he's never taken a dive in his career, and now he'll have lose whenever he's cast as the "heavy" for the evening. Maish assures him it's not that bad, it's just how things are done. After repeatedly reminding Mountain that he owes him, Mountain gives in.

While this is going on, Army takes Mountain to an employment agency, where he meets Grace Miller. At first she's not sure what to make of him, but she comes to like him. Taking a special interest in him, she arranges for him to interview for a job as a sports camp counselor. The night he's supposed to meet the camp owners, Maish sends Army for sandwiches and then slips out with Mountain, getting him drunk. Army eventually finds them and Mountain does try to make the interview, but it's hopeless at this point.

One of my favorite scenes is when Maish runs into Grace on the stairs as she is leaving from visiting Mountain after he misses the interview. He sneers at her efforts to make anything worthwhile out of Mountain's life. "You think when you put clothes on an ape, you make him into a dancing partner," he says, and Grace slaps him.

The movie draws to an end at the wrestling ring, where Mountain almost walks out until "Ma Greevy" and her thugs come in and threaten to kill Maish. Mountain puts his "Indian Chief" costume back on and walks into the ring, as Army looks on, crying. There is one last moment when you think he might still save himself, but then he starts whopping and dancing around the ring in his feather headdress.

I've seen Gleason in serious roles before, but this was the first time I actually found him menacing. Maish is a victim of his own weaknesses, and unfortunately he takes Mountain Rivera down with him, despite Army and Grace's efforts to salvage some kind of life for the boxer.

"You fink. You dirty, stinking fink."

Friday, January 23, 2015

DVR Catch Up

The last few weeks I have been watching and clearing out the movies stored on my DVR. Since I'm too lazy to devote a whole post to each one (plus, I just don't have that much to say about some of them), here's a quick list.

Fritz Lang's M - Considered by many one of the finest German films ever made, with good reason. Peter Lorre, in his first major role, is creepy and gross, in the best way. While the police chase this child murderer all over the city, the criminals band together (they're remarkably well organized) and end up catching him themselves. One of the best parts of the movie, I think, is the mock trial they hold. Lorre gives a long speech, pleading for his life and explaining that he just can't help himself. When he reaches the climax, screaming, "Wird nicht! Mußt! Wird nicht! Mußt!" I always get chills. (Translation: "Will not! Must!" although the subtitles say "Don't want to, but must!.") Check it out here.


And sweet dreams!

Third Finger, Left Hand - More or less your typical "boy meets girl, boy and girl hate each other due to wacky misunderstanding, boy and girl fall in love" comedy of the 40's. Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas are charming, as always.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again - Only my abiding love for Vincent Price got me through this. If the first movie, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, was a B movie (barely), this one was a Z. Plot holes big enough to drive a truck through, continuity errors galore, and just all around cheese. According to IMDB, a remake of Abominable is in development, to which I can only say: dear God, why?

The Emperor's Candlesticks - William Powell and Luise Rainer star as Polish and Russian secret agents, respectively. They are each tasked with smuggling documents to St. Petersberg and end up hiding them in a pair of candlesticks, each one having a secret compartment. There is some suspense as they chase each other across Europe, both trying to snatch the candlesticks from each other and eventually, of course, falling in love. Just when it looks darkest for them both, the czar of Russia pardons them and gives his blessing for them to get married. As often happens, with spies who fail their missions for personal reasons. Powell and Rainer are as usual: he's suave and charming, she's dainty and coquettish.

The Irish In Us - James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, and Frank McHugh play three brothers in a "typical" Irish family, with adorable Mary Gordon as their long-suffering mother. Olivia de Havilland also stars but is underutilized. Not much of a plot, and the love story leaves something to be desired, but it was kind of endearing just the same.

Big Hearted Herbert - A small B flick stuffed with character actors such as Guy Kibbee, Henry O'Neill and Aline MacMahon, this was a funny little movie. Herbert prides himself on being "regular folks," to the extent that when his daughter's fiance brings his upper crust family to dinner for the first time, Herbert huffs and puffs until they're thoroughly offended ("College men! Idlers! Loafers! Wasters! That's all colleges turn out nowadays!") . As payback, his wife Elizabeth and the children put on an exaggerated show of "regular folks" (read: country bumpkins) the next night when Herbert brings his biggest client home for dinner. In the end, of course, Herbert realizes the error of his blustering ways.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Andy Hardy, you can't go home again

I received my copy of "The Andy Hardy Film Collection Volume 2" in the mail yesterday, and I went right to the end, with "Andy Hardy Comes Home" from 1958. Now a lawyer for Gordon Aircraft in Los Angeles, Andy comes home to Carvel, having talked his bosses into building an aircraft plant in town. It will bring jobs to the area and help the town grow.

"I'm totally sure this time that my elaborate plans will not go awry!"
Andy has apparently not learned much since the last movie, because this time his plan ends up alienating most of his home town, mostly thanks to a crooked land owner who turns the town council against him. Of course he plows ahead without thinking ahead, and almost loses his job when not one but two schemes fall to pieces. In the end, of course, Andy prevails, and ends up deciding to move back to Carvel and take a judgeship that has just been offered to him, thus following in his esteemed father's footsteps.

Pictured: possibly best movie dad of all time.
The movie seems to have been a set up for further movies, or possibly a TV series, because the end title card says "To Be Continued..." We never heard from Andy Hardy again, however, and to my mind that's not entirely a bad thing.

How have the Hardy family aged? Well, let's take a look.

"Should I pause to consider the consequences that will entail if my plans go awry? Nah!"
Mother Hardy is just the same, fluttery and sweet and slightly daffy. She's still terrified of telegrams. One hopes she has learned to balance her checkbook better.

Aunt Millie is still living with Mrs. Hardy. Marian shows up only occasionally, usually followed by her son Jim, played by Johnny Weissmuller, Jr., in what I assume was a bit of stunt casting, since he is roughly twice the size of his diminutive Uncle Andy.

The huge gaping hole in the film is the absence of Judge Hardy, played by Lewis Stone, who had passed away in 1953. Rest assured, he is not forgotten, especially since a life size, rather grim looking portrait of him hangs over the fireplace in his study, glaring down at Andy and Andy Jr.(played by Mickey's son Teddy, who is cute as a button) when they have their own "man-to-man talk." I may have choked up a little when Andy goes into the study (the whole house is exactly the same) and his father is not there to greet him.

(Also absent are Polly Benedict, Betsy Booth, and the original Beezy. Although there are some flashback clips.)

The late Judge, Andy's own children, and his nephew's "cool" teeny bopper friends (whom Andy does not "get" at all) all serve to emphasize that Andy is a grown man now. And therein lies the flaw in this movie: Andy Hardy should never have grown up. It's just not right. Instead of getting into silly troubles with girls or his jalopy or some other harmless misunderstanding, Andy now attends town council meetings, negotiates contracts, and worries about how he will support his family if he loses his job. All realistic concerns in a grown up world...but it's not really a world in which Andy belongs.

"Son, don't grow up. It's a trap."

Monday, April 07, 2014

Mickey Rooney 1920-2014

 
 
 
 
 
 
That is all.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Orson Talks (and talks and talks and talks...)

I recently finished reading My Lunches with Orson, a book of conversations between the great Welles and Henry Jaglom, director of such films as "Queen of the Lot," (which I just added to my Netflix queue as it contains the endlessly adorable Noah Wyle). Welles was fond of recording himself for posterity, because there is a nearly identical book called This Is Orson Welles, which transcribes his conversations with Peter Bogdanovich. And while yes, this does make Welles seem incredibly vain, it's also entertaining as hell, because could that man tell a story! The anecdotes fall into one of three categories:
  1. That can't possibly be true.
  2. That might be true.
  3. If that's not true, it should be.
You'll notice there is no "100% true" category, because I just can't get to that place when Welles is telling stories (especially about John Houseman -- meow!). Not that I am saying he's a big liar, although I think sometimes he was. But I think every story is embellished, whether a lot or a little.

I liked "My Lunches" a little bit more, in part because it takes us up to the very end of Welles' life; his last conversation with Jaglom was just a few days before Welles died. In reading them, I came away feeling like I learned something about Hollywood, a lot about film making, and not very much about Welles himself. Which is I'm sure just how he intended it to be.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How this all got started

I was thinking today about how my love of classic movies began. The first classic movie I remember seeing is "Gone With the Wind" in 8th grade. (Well, I saw "The Wizard of Oz" long before that, but GWTW was what started my love.)

We read the book in English class, and everyone loved it (despite the groans that came at first when we were handed the book and realized it was over 1000 pages). I can still remember the day the class geek, who had finished way before any of us, horrified everyone by blurting out the Melanie dies at the end. Anyway, after we finished reading this behemoth, our teacher treated us by showing us the movie in 45 minutes chunks each period for about a week. We were just dazzled. Or at least I was.

Casting: Clark Gable was, of course, the perfect Rhett Butler. Whether Margaret Mitchell had in mind when she wrote the book or not, no one else could have played that role, ever. Olivia de Havilland had that quiet, gentle manner that was just right for Melanie. Had no idea Vivien Leigh was British until years later.

The one cast member that wasn't quite right was Leslie Howard. If you've read the book you'll understand why. The first description of Ashley goes like this:

"...his drowsy grey eyes wide with a smile and the sun so bright on his blond hair that it seemed like a cap of shining silver."

And later, when he comes home on Christmas furlough:

"The Ashley Wilkes in his faded, patched uniform, his blond hair bleached tow by summer suns, was a different man from the easy-going, drowsy-eyed boy she had loved to desperation before the war. And he was a thousand times more thrilling. He was bronzed and lean now, where he had once been fair and slender, and the long golden mustache drooping about his mouth, cavalry style, was the last touch he needed to make him the perfect picture of a soldier."

Somewhere I think it also mentions that Ashley is over six feet tall. So imagine our surprise when we get to the barbecue scene of the movie, Scarlett calls out, "Ashley!", and this guy comes down the stairs:

And he has a British accent.
I am sorry to say that we all burst out laughing. Poor Leslie Howard, who was so great in many other roles, and was shot down by the Germans in 1943, was spectacularly unsuited for this role.

Not long after that, a new video rental place opened, with a much bigger selection than your average Blockbuster, including a great selection of old movies. They were usually shelved by actor/actress, so I began working my way through the Joan Crawford shelf, and the rest is history.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities (1935)

I felt the need to include the year in the title this time, because there are, according to IMDB, fifteen film versions of this Dickens classic, including a 2000 German version titled Eine Erzählung von zwei Städten. I recently saw the David O. Selznick production starring Ronald Colman, Reginald Owen, Edna May Oliver, and Basil Rathbone.

Basil is at his evil best here as Marquis St. Evremonde, your sterotypical (but deliciously so) cruel and unfeeling French aristocrat. After his coach runs over a small boy, his response is to complain about the inconvenience to himself, so you know he's not going to last very long in a movie about the French revolution, and he doesn't. 

"Sure, I seem like a drunken jerk now, but just you wait..."


I don't think I'd ever seen Ronald Colman in a movie before, and he was just great as Sydney Carton, the world-weary, alcoholic lawyer who in the end does a "far, far better thing than [he] has ever done..." The role is tragic, of course, but Colman also managed to find the bits of humor in it, such as the scene when he is writing notes in the courtroom for Stryver to read outloud, sometimes with unintentionally hilarious consequences. He also portrays Sydney as more than just a cad; even when he's at his most obnoxious, he still manages to be sympathetic.

The movie is famous for its scene of the peasants storming the Bastille, and rightly so. It's very well done, considering the only special effects they had were the set and the people. Selznick may have been an obsessive compulsive control freak, but you have to admit he achieved quite the result.

I just bought the book yesterday, and I'm looking forward to seeing if it lives up to the movie, instead of the other way around.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Dispatch from Reuters

I think I have a new favorite classic film sub-genre: biographical films starring Edward G. Robinson. Yesterday I saw A Dispatch from Reuters, the story of Paul Julius Reuter and how he started the famous news wire service with some passenger pigeons. I'm beginning to think I love Eddie G. in these kinds of roles more than the gangster films. Although Johnny Rocco is hard to top. 

The real Julius Reuter, also
well known for his sideburns.
 

Like another Eddie G. biopic I love, Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, Robinson here plays a character completely unlike any of his gangsters: an industrious, hard working man who wants to speed up the dissemination of news not for any profit, but because "the news belongs to everyone." He starts out providing stock prices via carrier pigeons, and just to be as fair as possible, he locks the subscribers in the room while he reads the prices, and then lets them out all at once so no one has an advantage over anyone else. This leads to some hijinks where one banker tries to cheat by tossing the prices out the window to his office boy; Reuter notices this and next time, gives the wrong prices and doesn't correct himself until he sees the office boy run away.

The story reaches its climax when Reuter is the first, by over 7 hours (because he has built his own telegraph line from Ireland to England), to get the news of Lincoln's assassination. He won't hold it back, not even to save his best friend from losing a bundle in the stock market. The news starts a panic, but when no other source can confirm it, the brokers decide Reuter made it up to crash the market, and that leads to a session of Parliament where the members argue about whether Reuter can or should be punished. Right when it gets the most tense, however, a messenger comes in with the news that Lincoln has, in fact, been murdered. All the MPs have egg on their faces, but they do apologize to Reuter, and the movies ends on this great triumph.

Sadly, Robinson did not grow
similar sideburns for the movie.
 
One person I felt was kind of unnecessary to the film was Eddie Albert, who plays Reuter's friend Max. They're in business together from the start (back in the days when the local village children call Reuter "the pigeon fool" and throw rocks at him), but Max is lazy and irresponsible, at one point letting all the pigeons get away. He does provide contrast by making Reuter/Robinson look all that more industrious, but I don't think he brought much else to the film, and Reuter looks hardworking enough on his own.

As always at Warner Bros, there is all kind of character actor goodness to be found in this film, including Otto Kruger (Reuter's father-in-law), Albert Basserman (Reuter's partner Geller), Nigel Bruce (Sir Randolph), Montagu Love (John Delane, head of The Times), and Gene Lockhart (Bauer the banker).



Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sporting Blood

Comcast description of movie: Racetrack yarn with Clark Gable as a gambler who saves a horse from mistreatment.

My description of movie: The life and times of a horse named Tommy Boy. Clark Gable shows up half way through.

I was a little wary of watching this movie during the first couple minutes, because it has animals in it and I know the studios did not treat them well back then, and thus today we have the disclaimer "no animals were harmed..." (dear God, 20th Century Fox, you rode a blindfolded horse off a cliff to its death?).

In the first 10 minutes, Tommy Boy's mother Southern Queen falls down in the mud while trotting back to the stable, and you can see, briefly, that she appears to be tied down by her back leg as she thrashes in the puddle and stuggles to get up. Sadly, her leg is broken, and she has to be shot right there on the spot, leaving our hero, Tommy Boy, an newborn foal without a mother.

The owner of the horse farm, Jim Rellence, (scenes are actually filmed in Kentucky) where Tommy is raised loves him very much, but he eventually has to sell him because he needs the money. The new owner (whose name escapes me) ends up selling Tommy to a spolied rich woman (Marie Prevost) and her husband (Hallam Cooley), who obviously know nothing about taking care of a horse.

"I don't want him anymore. Just shoot him!" (Sadly, an actual quote.)
After Tommy loses a race, they lose interest and sell Tommy to a crooked gambler, Tip Scanlon (Lew Cody) who runs the horse into the ground with doping and too much racing. Before he's killed over a bad bet, he gives the horse to his girlfriend Ruby (Madge Evans) who decides to rehabiliate Tommy, and herself and ends up reforming slightly crooked gambler Rid Riddell (Clark Gable) in the process.

It's one of those feel-good animal movies, and apparently based on a true story of a horse named Sporting Blood and his owner, gangster Arnold Rothstein, who brought us the 1919 Black Sox scandal, so I suppose doping a racehorse and fixing a race should come as no surprise.

Best part of the credits: Tommy Boy played "By Himself." Nothing like starring in the movie of your own inspirational life story. ;)

Cute picture, although this is not actually Tommy Boy.