Monday, May 30, 2005

Happy Memorial Day

Since I had a fun-filled, activity packed holiday weekend, I only got to watch one film. I know, I must be slipping. It was Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, part of TCM's weekend-long war-movie-palooza. Spencer Tracy is okay, not one of my favorites, just a guy. I liked his performance as Doolittle. Van Johnson was also good. I enjoyed watching this one, but I'm not sure I'd go back and rent it to see it again. For war movies, my two favorites are Destination Tokyo and Objective, Burma! (Movies with exclamation points in the title are usually good! Or terribly bad!)

On a completely different topic, have you ever noticed how people are listed on IMDB with a url like this: I always wondered who was number 0000001. I found out by accident the other day: Fred Astaire. Now I wonder which movie title would have a URL ending in 0000001? Anyone?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

50's Musicals and Queens of England

In that order. It was a triple feature this weekend...first up was The Band Wagon, something I bumped to the top of my Netflix queue when I got a hankering for some Fred Astaire, after watching Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer. I know, go figure. I also bumped Singin' in the Rain to the top, so that was my Saturday double feature, a pair of 50's musicals.

I like musicals, as a general rule, although I'm not really one of those people who's nuts about them. I'll pick a good weepy 30's drama first. And I prefer my classics in black and white; once the studios went Technicolor, boy, did they go color. Hot pink and neon green and electric blue and that day-glo yellow "Casino number" set from Rain...pass me the sunglasses. Some of the color combos on the costumes, sane human wears those combinations. I prefer a nice, silvery-toned black and white film, thanks. Plus, the dancing they do in some of these musicals is too avant grade for my taste. Give me Astaire and Powell doing a tap to "Begin the Beguine" rather than Gene Kelly slinging Cyd Charisse around while the brass blares. Not that there's anything wrong with that kind of movie, it's just not my first choice.

So, with that in mind, I sat down to watch The Band Wagon and, finally, Singin' in the Rain, one of those movies people always talk about: "You haven't seen it? Ever? What is wrong with you?" I very much enjoyed the premise of Rain, with the story being about the transition from silent movies to sound (although that did make the Casino number seem even more out of place). Fred's starting to look a little creased around the edges in Wagon, but he still can dance, and how. Gene's character of Don Lockwood reminded me of Harry Palmer from For Me and My Gal, one of my all-time favorite movies, ever. And, of course, Gene is extremely easy on the eyes. Especially mine. ;)

Today it was one of the movies from the Errol Flynn box set, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. I've been especially looking forward to this one because I have a great interest in Tudor history, I have a whole shelf of books in my library on the subject. I was impressed by how Bette Davis looked, and also her acting, although I thought there was a bit too much begging for a queen in the scene where she sees Essex for the last time before his execution. Errol Flynn, always good in tights, and an all-around wonderful job as Earl of Essex. I can already tell this is one I'll be watching over again quite often. As in Warner's release of The Adventures of Robin Hood, they put together on the DVD a "Warner night at the movies," with a cartoon, newsreel, preview (of Dark Victory), and a short subject. It really sets the atmosphere of going to the movies, and having it be a whole event, which to me is a part of what watching classic movies is all about.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Playing catch-up

So much for my resolve to update this blog every day, or at least several times a week. I’ve watched a boatload of movies since I last wrote, but I’ve been too lazy to sit down and actually write about them, preferring instead to continue stuffing my gaping maw with popcorn. Well, I have a list, so here goes.

Queen Christina -- Greta, for the love of little apples, stop mumbling. I had the volume on my TV turned way up, and still spent most of the movie thinking, "huh?" A good performance, though, and I liked the story so much I went out and bought a biography of Queen Christina, which is on top of my huge "books to read" pile. (I buy way faster than I could possibly read.) I had never seen John Gilbert in a movie before, and after awhile I could understand why he didn’t make it in talkies; his voice is just a little too high and nasal to be pleasing. All that heavy "Spanish" makeup didn’t help, either. Whether Louis B. Mayer purposely tinkered with the treble on the sound board to purposely ruin Gilbert’s career is a debate for another day.

Romance -- second movie on my Garbo hit parade. The video box made much of the fact that this was Gavin Gordon’s first and only film role! Which turned out to be not true; according to the IMDB, he appeared in 70 movies. Maybe that was his only starring role, which I would be more inclined to believe as his other roles include the likes of "Frisbie the Butler" and "Geoffrey Miles, Costume Director." Anyhow, it was a very nice little love story. Garbo is beautiful, of course. Gordon does much bugging of the eyes and flaring of the nostrils as an aspiring minister who can’t quite believe he’s fallen for this scandalous woman. A very sad and touching ending, without being too gooey.

Mata Hari -- last of the Garbos for now, and also good. Some of those outfits, tight glittery leggings attached to boots, worn under a dress/cape? Okay, I get that Hollywood is trying to glam it up, but come on. The hats were kind of cool, though. I had never seen Ramon Navarro, and I thought he was great. The scene at the end, after he’s been blinded, when they bring him to the prison to say goodbye to her but tell him it’s a hospital? Ah, so sad. And it’s always good to see Lionel Barrymore.

Strike Up the Band -- after all that gloom and failed romance I needed a peppy movie, and you can’t do better than Mickey and Judy. (And by the way, on the subject of Judy, every time I go to IMDB I'm always surprised again to see that she was only in 35 movies. Doesn't it seem like a lot more?) I own Babes in Arms and have wanted to see the sort-of sequel Babes on Broadway, but this was all TLA had, so it had to suffice. Your usual "let’s put on a show, kids!" movie, with the added bonus of June Preisser, cute little blond rival for Mickey’s affections and a nifty acrobat to boot. It’s such a typical Judy & Mickey musical that I can’t think of anything else distinctive to say about it.

The Adventures of Errol Flynn -- a documentary/biography of the man himself, part of the fabulous box set that was released recently. Comments from Flynn’s daughter Deirdre and Olivia de Havilland (who is beautiful as ever) lend it credibility that many print biographies of Flynn have lacked. Voiceover comments from Flynn himself, culled from radio interviews, are another good addition. I thought this was a very well done biography; the ones produced by TCM always are, in my experience.

In Name Only -- Carole Lombard plays not a screwball, but a widowed young mother who falls in love with "in name only" married Cary Grant in this great romance. Lombard and Grant go together quite well, and she more than proves she can handle drama as well as comedy. She has an earnestness about her that is really quite appealing. You’re totally rooting for them to overcome their obstacles, and when Carole cries that she can’t take it anymore, or Grant ties one on and catches pneumonia in the process, it’s what a good weepy story is all about. Charles Coburn as Grant’s father and Peggy Ann Garner (who played "young Jane" in Jane Eyre) as Carole’s daughter are so much "character actor" gravy.

Stella Dallas -- I caught this during TCM’s Mother Day extravaganza (which featured the mother of all mother movies, Mildred Pierce); I usually don’t stay with movies if I’ve missed the opening (I came in about 15 minutes into the movie) but Alan Hale carousing around caught my eye, and I was hooked from there. It was the first time I’d seen Barbara Stanwyck (a lot of firsts in my recent movies) and I thought she was amazing. I rented the movie from Netflix the next week to see the beginning and find out how Stella and Stephen (John Boles) ended up getting married, because I just didn’t get it. I had the feeling the actress playing Helen Morrison looked familiar, and found out during the end credits that I was right -- hi, Mrs. O’Hara! Now there is an underrated beauty, Barbara O’Neil.

There’s No Business Like Show Business -- which has no business being billed as a Marilyn Monroe movie (it’s part of one of her Diamond collections) because she didn’t show up until about an hour into it. Ethel Merman, though...wowza. I watched it with a friend and we ended up talking like her the rest of the day. And singing the song as we marched to the kitchen for more snacks. I love me some vaudeville, so I was happy.

Arsenic and Old Lace -- last week’s "Essential" on TCM; they rerun the Saturday show on Sunday nights at 6:00, so it’s becoming a tradition for my dad and I to watch it over Sunday dinner. I love Cary Grant (just started reading the Marc Eliot biography) and he is HI-larious in this movie. His multiple takes when he finds the first body in the window seat are too funny. Nobody does comedy like him. I was disappointed to read, in the biography, that this was one of Grant's least favorite performances. Jean Adair and Josephine Hull are just darling as the murderous aunts. Too bad they couldn’t actually get Boris Karloff.

Thank Your Lucky Stars -- I bought a used copy of this, never having seen it before, after seeing a clip of Jack Carson and Alan Hale doing a tap dance together. That was good enough for me; musical numbers by Errol Flynn and Bette Davis were also a big incentive. It wasn’t exactly what I expected; I didn’t anticipate so much of a back story involving Dinah Shore, Eddie Cantor (in a double role -- that’s a lot of Eddie) and a couple of unknown hopefuls. I was hoping we’d cut right to the musical numbers. When they finally did arrive, though, they were worth waiting for. Some of it is not so much singing as "talking to music" (Bette Davis; although she was a good sport to let herself get swung around in that dance step), and some numbers showcased previously unexpected talents (Errol Flynn, who can really sing and dance). Then again, some people were misused to the point of being unrecognizable. During one number, I pointed to the gingham-clad, gum-chomping, tap-dancing, curly-haired, scat-singing gal on the left. "Guess who that is," I said to my dad. He had no idea. "Olivia de Havilland," I said. I don’t think he believed me until he put on his glasses and double-checked for himself. Not the best use of Miss de H, but she seemed to be enjoying herself, and after all, it was for the war effort.

The Broadway Melody (1929) -- the first musical to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, I’d seen this before and rented it from Netflix again to see if I liked it enough to buy it, since I saw it at Borders when I bought Broadway Melody of 1940 (Astaire and Powell, that one was a no-brainer). The verdict: eh, I’ll rent it if I ever want to see it again. Bessie Love was cute if a little hyper, everyone else was okay. The dancing numbers were good, typical for the day. It's memorable if for no other reason than that the sisters are named Hank and Queenie.

Funny Girl -- I include this on the list not because I consider it a classic movie (my definition of "classic movie" stops around 1960 or so -- I’m referring to an era rather than a film’s endurance or popularity), but because it’s about someone I would consider a classic performer, Fanny Brice. Actually, it’s supposed to be about Fanny, but it’s really yet another movie that proves Barbara Streisand loves no one so much as herself. Not for one second did I get any feeling that I was seeing Fanny Brice up on the screen -- it was always Fanny heavily diluted by Barbara. And I’m not a big Babs fan in the first place, so you know I was watching the DVD player count down the minutes until the movie was over. I’ll be skipping the sequel, Funny Lady, thanks very much.