Thursday, November 4, 2010

Catching Up...

It's been a few weeks since I've posted anything about any of the fabulous films I have been watching. Just because I haven't been around, does not for a minute mean that my eyes are not still glued to a *new* (to me anyway) classic film. Here are a bunch that have kept me on track:
  • Talk of the Town (1942) with Cary Grant *sigh* and Jean Arthur
  • Camille (1936) with Greta Garbo and the extremely handsome Robert Taylor
  • Lucky Me (1952) with Doris Day - Holy dress lust in this one!
  • Mrs. Miniver (1942) with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon
  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) with Gene Tierney
  • The Innocents (1961) with Deborah Kerr and Peter Wyngarde
  • Son of Fury (1942) with Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney

Reviews to come!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Hands down my favourite actor/tress of all time would have to be Mr. Cary Grant. Not only is he extremely easy on the eyes (no matter what his age ), he was also one of the greatest actors who have ever lived. Every single performance I have seen him in has been exceptional. He puts me at ease (even if he's playing the villian) and makes me feel like a real man is in the room.

I still have yet to see every film he has ever been in, but you can bet that I'm working on it. Today's film is "Only Angels Have Wings", a film from a highly successful (and could be argued one of the best) years in film, 1939 (just think Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dark Victory and Gone with the Wind).

The plot surrounds a small airline out in South America (I believe) who ships the mail from the main city to the small village the planes are situated in. A unique concept, and frankly not one I was expecting after assuming it was another WW2 or any other war themed film. There is, however, danger involved as the planes they use aren't the most reliable and one needs to be a bit of a daring pilot to take on some of the obstacles presented with the unsteady weather.

The fliers are generally young American guys with a deep love of flying. Men who put everything else in life (relationships and family included) second to flying. Grant is the captain/man in charge of the output. He runs a tight ship, each man has their share of flying, he calls the tough shots and tries his best to stay away from the one most bothersome distraction, women! That's where we have our leading lady, the beautiful blonde, Jean Arthur.

Her character Miss. Bonnie Lee gets on famously with the men and seems to fit right in with the environment. She's a guy's girl. Well it's obvious she falls for Grant's character Geoff Carter and vice versa. Grant let's her know that women are a distraction; they cannot cope with the uncertain safety of flying. He had been burned in the past (Rita Hayworth's character Judy).

It's a very worthwhile watch, and not only because of the cast list. The concept and storyline is fairly unique and keeps you deeply involved.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

This wasn't exactly a film I was seeking out to watch, but last night as I was surfing through channels, somehow I natrually landed on Turner Classic Movies. I saw a new film was about to begin and listened to Robert Osborne's description of what it was going to be. His introduction sold me, well it honestly doesn't take too much when it comes to classic films.
Now I think most of us are familiar with the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A scientist and doctor obsessed with separating the two natures of man; the good and the bad. Dr. Jekyll is sucessful in finding a way to separate them through form of a potion. When the handsome, kind and charming Jekyll takes the potion, he transforms into this ugly, mean and quite barbaric looking man he calls Mr. Hyde. Hyde is the opposite of Jekyll in every way.
In film, this was the second portrayl of Jekyll and Hyde. The first was quite successfully done in silent picture with John Barrymore portraying the lead role. Barrymore was praised for this and audiences and critics were skeptical that when they learned it was to be remade with sound and with a new actor.

Fredric March, remembered for his performances in such pictures as "The Best Years of Our Lives" and "A Star is Born", March is the actor who braved bringing a new light to Jekyll/Hyde. His Jekyll is everything you'd want a man to be. Brave, dashing, utterly charming, a true lady's man and above all, a gentleman. His look for Jekyll fits the role to a T. While Hyde, through the use of makeup and clever camera filters turns this same man into a type of a barbaric beast. His teeth protrude; he is hairy, unkept and frankly kind of disgusting. His behaviour mimics the look; he takes what he wants; doesn't hesitate in using violence, and acts like a cave man. The contrast between the times of light and dark as portrayed with the characters is striking!
His acting was so brilliant in this role that he won Best Actor in the 1932 Academy Awards.
The other notible performance comes from Hyde's lady victim (and also the final inspiration that had Jekyll motivated to drink that potion), the character Ivy played by Miriam Hopkins. A lady who lives in the slums and plays men for money. She exuded sexuality and desire; something Jekyll so secretely longed for, but denied himself as it didn't seem right. His alter-ego Hyde made no hesitations in seeking Ivy to assist in fulfilingl his dark desires.

Again, this is a film that pre-dates the Hays Code that made films so "clean" and wholesome. There are some risque scenes in this film, but all done so very well.

Its a really well done version of this great tale.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tony Curtis

Just wanted to post a little pictorial memoriam to the late, and truly great Mr. Tony Curtis. My favourite performance of his will always always be his role in Some Like it Hot.

RIP :(

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

I finally took the time to sit down and give this film the attention it deserves. Now I'll start out by saying that my expectations were extremely high going into it. Afterall, a film that is listed as The Toronto Film Festival Group's Essential Number 1 film of all time puts the pressure way on. This film to some is one that is absolutely worshipped!

The story of the saint, Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'arc) is one widely known throughout the world by many cultures. Joan was a woman who believed God talked to her and sent her messages to help the French win the 100 Years War over Britian.

Joan changed her appearance to look like a man so she herself could join the army and fight. Her contribution to the French army was quite significant and her tips (from God) helped the French strategically through battle.

Unfortunately Joan (19 years of age at the time) ultimately landed in the arms of the British. She endured a painful trial that scrutinized her appearance, her motives and above all, her association what what she thought to be God.

This film portrays this trial and the final moments of Joan of Arc.

This film is silent and the emotion evoked is achieved through use of camera angles, close-ups and the facial expressions of the acting talent. The title role is so brilliantly portrayed by French actress Maria Falconetti.

The original master copy was accidentally destroyed and luckily another copy of the film was miraculously discovered in a Danish mental instution in the early 1980s. The film was restored as best as they could, adding their own musical score.

Although the film is so amazingly well done for all that it is, I find it is a painful one to watch. There are no notes of happiness, or even hope for we all know what will happen in the end. It is all terribly depressing. I found myself just getting to a point where I would ask myself, "when are they going to torch her?". Terrible, I know. It was just too long and too drawn out. Yes, she is a martyr and yes, her journey ended tragically; however, an hour and half (plus) of a drawn out trial then the glorious death, to me, is too much.

The acting, however, is some of the best that can ever be seen. Falconetti's performance is nothing short of spectacular. You feel every emotion seen on her face; you sympathize with her. She's beautiful and you truly believe she evokes the spirit of Joan.

The ending, however, was my favourite part. The town in chaos, Joan burned alive without resistance. The effects used to achieve this were so very ahead of their time.

Worth watching if you are a true film buff or have any interest in the life of Joan of Arc. Top essential film? That, to me, is questionable.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reading through a comprehensive biography on the life of Judy Garland called "Get Happy". Once in a while I really crave a good and juicy bio, and this one on Garland's life and legacy does not disappoint.
"In the Good Old Summertime" is a film I picked up at random at a recent trip to my local library branch. I saw 3 components that made me reach for it; it's a musical, it's in technicolour AND it stars Garland. Also helps that handsome Van Johnson was in it. Before proceeding to watch it, I flipped to the section of the bio where it describes Judy's state of mind during filming. You see, Judy had countless highs and lows throughout her life, and always in extremes. I felt relieved and excited when finding out that this film was during one of her highs; it is so obvious too in her performance throughout the movie. The director made absolutely certain that Judy was handled very delicately and with good spirits by all cast and crew despite her reputation for being late, not showing up and throwing fits.

The happy/positive atmosphere helps to make everything about this movie sparkle. Inspired by the James Stewart film "Little Shop Around the Corner"; "In the Good Old Summertime" is a story of 2 unknowing coworkers who feud relentlessly during the work day, but communicate to each other through secret love letters during the nights; neither of them knowing it's the other who they are writing to. It's a good, clean and witty family film. The musical numbers are light hearted and fun. The romance and chemistry between Garland and Johnson is just right. Combine that all in the brightness of technicolour and the comfortable, all-American feeling being set at the turn of the century makes this film a pleasant escape. Note little Liza Minelli above starring at the end as the couple's daughter! How adorable.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Imitation of Life (1934)

Oddly enough I stumbled across this film when searching for movies to watch on YouTube. The title was not one that was unfamiliar as I had already been a fan of the 1959 Douglas Sirk version of An Imitation of Life. I was so pleasantly surprised to discover that it was not the only version and that one existed from an earlier time with a favourite actress of mine, Claudette Colbert.

Through watching, I could not help but compare and contrast the two. There are a great deal of similarities, yet also some differences that stand the two apart. The 1934 version, to me, is much more believable and does not try too hard to be melodramatic as all Sirk pictures do.

The story surrounds 2 small families; both single women trying to raise their children, one black and one white. They are joined together through circumstance and a tender bond is formed between the two families. For the 30s this was quite a bold subject matter, for to treat the "help" (the black family) closer than merely servants was something to stand it apart. It held the very beginnings of fighting against racism. While it does show typical stereotypes of the black lead played by Louise Beavers, it mildly tries to defy them...and I do mean mildly.
The friendship between the two women deepens with time and together they go into business. This pulls them from their financial struggles and unites them.

More greatly what is addressed is Delilah's (Beaver) daughter Peola, whom is half white and half black. The struggle of her upbringing and coming to terms with her identity; she does not know where she fits in, is she to "pass for" black? or for white? Peola choses to be seen as white and rejects all notions (even relations to her mother) that she is at all black. In the end this proves to tragically divide mother and daughter.
Imitation of Life makes strides for the time in dramatic content as well as issues of race and bonds of female friendship. It's not one to be missed! Of the 2 verisions of this film, I'd hazard to say this one would be my favourite. The 1959 version, however, is also very moving.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Broadway Melody (1929)

Broadway Melody, or as I call it "the kissing everyone on the lips movie" is a great achievement in the movement of talking pictures. Released just 2 years after the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, it sets great steps forward for musical films.

This film surrounds 2 lovely sisters who find their way to Manhattan to make it big in cabaret with the help of a hometown friend. How typical, right? Seems to be the standard plot-line for the majority of musical pictures of this time; the quest for stardom. However, this film is pre-code Hollywood, a time before censorship reigned supreme. I believe this adds much more of an element of interest than all the broadway/Berkley films post-1934 where everything had to be neat and tidy.

Immediately I noticed more nudity, freedom of expression (the kissing of everyone on the lips, no seriously) and more obvious sexual interactions. This spiced up the content and made, what would otherwise be a bland formulaic broadway musical film into something a little more "fun".

The two female leads, Bessie Love and Anita Page were prominant stars of pre-code Hollywood. While some of the dramatic scenes were a stretch on their acting talents, in ways they made up for it with their quirky musical numbers. The two eventually secure placements with "Mr. Zanfield's" broadway company. Both fall for the lead actor and a division is set between the sisters that threatens to tear their bond apart.

Overall it was a surprisingly enjoyable experience and it's one that is making me seek to see more pre-Hollywood code talking films.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Johnny Guitar (1954)

Let's devote today to another brilliant actress, Joan Crawford. Now I will admit, if I was alive during her time (let's say the 50s) and alone with her in a room, I might be terrified. Perhaps not all the rumours and talk is true, but when I think of Miss Crawford, immediately I am full of images from the film Mommie Dearest. You know, like this one:
Although, I do know and appreciate her work in acting to be superior to most, I cannot think of her and not think "NO MORE WIRE HANGERS". Im sorry Joan Crawford. I admire you, but you are one scary broad!

Moving along...
The movie of the day, a great achievement in both films portraying women and westerns is 1954's Johnny Guitar. Up until this point in film, westerns were a man's game. Men, the buff heros/villians of the gun-slinging wild west. Johnny Guitar came out and changed all of this. While, yes, the film's title is the name of a man, the movie is really about Crawford's character Vienna.

Vienna is a tough, gun totting, manager of a gambling saloon. She is in complete contrast to the helpless damsel in distress so often being the types of women portrayed in westerns. She wears the pants, but at the same time holds this feminine charm over the main men in the movie.

Now if this wasn't enough powerful estrogen, we have another tough lady, Emma Small played by Mercedes McCambridge. Before watching the movie, there was a little introduction done by TCM. Robert Osbourne mentions the tensions and feud that arose between McCambridge and Crawford while filming. Crawford was said to need to be "the queen bee" on all her films. She desired to be the only star and the centre of attention. McCambridge did not like this at all, she even quoted saying how she doesn't like "bees" or "queens". The tension is clearly evident in the character interaction and adds some fire and realism to the end product. It is truly a thing to behold.

The film goes on as most westerns do, there is a town struggle and violence errupts. Confusion about a hold-up and murder of Emma's brother. Vienna being in the centre of this and blamed by Emma and the authorities for something that she had nothing to do with. Her only fault was for having a sort relationship with a man caught in the kafuffle, the Dancin' Kid, whom Emma desires.

Johnny Guitar arrives on the scene, a long-lost lover of Vienna's and too becomes caught in the middle. Will love flourish again? When there is a showdown between the 2 top tough ladies of the town, who will come out on top? The ending is really everything you want it to be.
The most interesting and impressive thing about this film, to me, is how old Crawford is in this film...49! I had to reread that a few times when I calculated it all. It's almost hard to believe that at that time, with the stunts and moves she pulls in this movie that she is that age. While at this point in her career, it's difficult to say she's a "beauty" like in her youth, she is certainly handsome. One has to look very closely for any signs of age in this film because at most, my guess who have been that she looks to be in her mid 30s. Perhaps Crawford's obsession with health and beauty routines truly paid off! I hope to look that great when I almost reach 50!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mr. Skeffington (1944)

Lately I've been on this Betty Davis and Joan Crawford kick! Now even saying those two names in the same sentence seems like a betrayal to each actress because as you see, they both violently hated each other. Their feud was one of the biggest Hollywood has ever known. Reading the quotes that each made of the other, I find to be wildly humourous. So thus begins 2 days, 1 devoted to each actress. Today I begin with Betty Davis and her masterpiece Mr. Skeffington.
I had known nothing of this film prior to watching; I did not know the subject matter or even that it's based on a novel. I always enjoy this; it as if you are going in to see something with a fresh pair of eyes.
The picture starts out just at the break of World War 1. Davis' character Miss. Fanny Trellis is a social belle of the city in which she lives (Manhattan). Being a social butterfly has its great advantages, money and the ever growing interest of elligible men. Fanny isn't truly interested in any of them, in fact Fanny's sole interest is really herself...well that and one for her troubled and complicated brother Trippy. Life for Fanny changes forever once she meets Mr. Skeffington played by the immensely talented Claude Rains. Mr. Skeffington instantly falls in love with the charming and beautiful Fanny.
But does Fanny fall in love with Mr. Skeffington? How can one fall for someone else when they are so intently devoted to another? This of course being Fanny's love, obsession for herself. Fanny is not crudely selfish, just so self-absorbed that her life's employment is one that involves displaying, enhancing and fretting about her youthful looks and beauty. Not even when Fanny gives birth to a young daughter, does she stray from her love for herself.
Time goes by, new decades emerge and we slowly see the transformation of Fanny's looks. Her behaviours change little from her time as a young girl. Her marriage to Skeffington and the relationship she has with her daughter eventually deteriorates because of it, if it was even really there to begin with. Fanny's life as she knows it becomes greatly challenged and what she holds most dear (her looks) is compromised. The way Davis portrays this is simply brilliant; her acting talents shine through and as the viewer, you cannot help but be captivated with her performance in every scene. Now without giving away any more, we see a transformation in Fanny and a new direction taken at the film's conclusion. Its a movie that will stick with me as I grow and age in this world.
The acting overall is so very well done. Rains and Davis have this interesting chemistry that just seems to work. In fact, when asked later on in her life, Davis exclaimed that Claude Rains was her favourite actor she ever worked with. Mr. Skeffington, I believe should be a staple in the collection of any classic film fan.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Picnic (1955)

So here we have a picture based on a highly successul play by William Inge in 1953. Starring some big heavy weights (Rosalind Russell and William Holden), and also highlighting new up and coming stars like Kim Novak.

The picture circles around a small town in Kansas on Labour Day. A stranger (Holden) arrives off a freight train to meet an old school friend. His arrival to this town causes quite a stir; exciting the women, and throwing a wrench into the men's plans. Holden's character thinks of himself as no good, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks and also spending a bit of time in prison.

When he is reunited with the fellow ex-school chum, he seeks employment and a chance for a new start in a new town. What will happen though when he sets his sights on the town's beauty? Who also happens to be practically engaged to his friend? The results, are of course highly dramatic...almost nauseatingly so! Novak is supposed to be the town prize, the most beautiful woman in the county. Well, I tend to disagree. While she is indeed pretty, I think this picture with the costuming and styling does not assist in making her this beauty we are all supposed to see her as being. Her character is also quite whiny and at times, utterly annoying. The men who are drawn to her, after a time, begin to bore and carry on.

There are a few characters that save the picture. One of course being Russell as the "old maid" school teacher. She is spicy, not afraid to be who she is and be bold in the community, no matter the consequences. The other is Novak's character's younger sister played by Susan Strasberg, daughter of the famous acting coach Lee Strasberg. A bit tom-boy, a bit of an intellectual, she is a girl trying to find her place in the adult world learning about boys and vices. Strasberg's portrayl of Millie is one of the more captivating performances in this film.

The most fun to be had in this film is through watching the scenes of the actual picnic. It deeply portrays this sense of Americana and 1950s views and mentalities; purity, and "good clean fun". It has everything from a pie eating contest to an outdoor dance. While the end is not exactly a predictable one, I found overall the film was less than satisfying. I could not get over how much Novak's character annoyed me. Tis a shame too because only a few short years later, her role in Hitchcock's Vertigo is a complete favourite of mine.

Monday, August 23, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different (1971)

I think most of us, in some way or another, have grown up with parents/grandparents/friends who are fans of Monty Python. Let's be honest, you don't have to be British to appreciate the wild and zany sense of humour this comedy troop exudes! While it was a style I didn't exactly "get" when I was younger, now it is all clear to me and whenever I watch a Monty Python film or an episode of "Flying Circus", I am laughing to the point of tears.
I believe that for the majority of us, the first MP film you'd be exposed to is a true classic, that of course being "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". Here's a favourite scene:

It had been some time since I dived back into the world of Monty Python and recently felt the need to change that. I came across And Now for Something Completely Different on my On-Demand and knew it would be the movie to make my night. It really did! This is a film that very much lives up to it's title. For it is similar to Flying Circus in so many ways. It has no clear direction; there is truly a scene to tickle everyone's fancy, and as the content is ever changing, its hard to move your eyes from the screen.

My favourite "bits" would be: the deliquent hooligan grannies who go about the neighbourhood Clockwork Orange "droog" style causing a rukus; the lumberjack song of course, being Canadian, it just has to be a favourite; and the infamous fruit sketch as seen below.

All those combine prove to create anyone a quality few hours full of laughs and guffaws!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bus Stop (1956)

So for years I have owned both Marilyn Monroe DVD Box Sets. I fell in love with her after my very first viewing of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" during a screening in one of my second year film studies classes. Before I had spent years thinking she was some blonde clueless tart, the trouble was I had no basis with which to come to that conclusion. My taste in Hollywood starlets was more focused at the time on Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, especially in her Hitchcock roles. Surprise was mine after watching Blondes, Monroe was whitty, charming and utterly hilarious in her role as Lorelei Lee. After that, it was instant love and I have not turned back since.