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.