Sunday, June 27, 2010

135. The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: George Cukor
Written By: Donald Ogden Stewart, from play by Philip Barry
Main Cast: Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Cary Grant, Ruth Hussey, John Howard


In my previous post, at the end, I mentioned that upon a previous viewing of "The Philadelphia Story", I wasn't all that impressed with it. Well, this is why I always say, always give a movie two chances, because upon first viewing you may not be in the mood or you may miss things that you begin to see upon a second viewing. I highly enjoyed "The Philadelphia Story", for the most part thanks to Jimmy Stewart, but Hepburn and Grant didn't do a bad job either.

Two years after Tracy Lord (Hepburn) divorces her husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant), she's set to marry George Kittredge, a high society type, much like Tracy, and someone she feels will give her the life that she always wanted and never got with Dexter. With the high society reputation of Tracy and George, Spy magazine editor Sidney Kidd, is eager to cover the wedding, so he sends his top two agents, reporter Macaulay "Mike" Connor (Stewart) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Hussey), along with Dexter into the home of the Lords' family. With the excuse that Connor and Imbrie are friends of Tracy's brother Julius. However, the ruse is quickly uncovered by the quick witted Tracy and Dexter spills the beans regarding the reporters and the real identities of Connor and Imbrie. To keep her father's name, which has recently been tarnished, out of the pages of Spy magazine, Tracy submits to the presence of the reporters, however her and the rest of the family begin their own ruse, making sure that Connor and Imbrie are none the wiser that they're onto them.

The film progresses and as it does Tracy becomes smitten with Macaulay Connor. It also becomes apparent that Dexter has not totally lost all of his feelings for his ex-wife and that there possibly may still be a spark between them. George is, of course, still in the picture and the wedding is never halted, despite the "quadrangle" that seems to be forming.

I can't for the life of me remember what my initial problems with this movie were, but that really doesn't matter now, as another viewing seems to have done the trick and turned me into a supporter of "The Philadelphia Story". My main reasons for enjoying this movie were Jimmy Stewart, who started out as a someone who seemed to have all the expressions and dialogue of any man who had been thrown into such a slapstick situation with Hepburn, which was mass confusion and bewilderment. But Stewart settles in and the scenes where he has consumed way too much wine are absolutely hilarious. I mean, where else are you going to see good old Eagle scout Mr. Smith drunk off his ass and hiccuping as he tries to exclaim his feelings for Tracy Lord. Priceless. I also loved the small bit of banter between Connor and the librarian, which cracked me up big time. This film also made me realize that maybe I've been a bit tough on Cary Grant. He was actually quite good in this picture and played a role that I loved him in, straight laced and always there to give the good advice or set someone straight. This was unlike many of his previous roles where he played a smarmy character, who always got the last word (ie. His Girl Friday, The Awful Truth). Hepburn was charming too, playing an elegant snob, who you couldn't help but think was as cute as a button. It's the performances by the wonderful cast that give this movie a place in history and a place in the book entitled "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die".

RATING: 8.5/10 I deducted a couple of points, only because a '10' seemed a tad too high. A few days of recollection could change that though.

NEXT UP: The Grapes of Wrath...Did I ever mention that I LOVE Henry Fonda? I've been waiting to watch this one for a long time.

June 27, 2010 5:20pm

Saturday, June 26, 2010

134. FANTASIA (1940)

Running Time: 120 minutes
Directed By: Ben Sharpsteen
Written By: Joe Grant, Dick Huemer
Main Cast: Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor, Julietta Novis


The second of Walt Disney's entries into the "1001" book chimes in as the third movie from the decade of the forties, as a soundtrack of classical music set over seven different segments of animation. I can honestly say that I enjoyed some of the segments very much, while others left me bored and with a bit of a bland feeling.

I'll spare the plot, since there really wasn't one and just outline the different segments and give my opinions on each. The film opens with the narrator, Deems Taylor, a very soothing voiced man, talking about the process of putting classical scores over Walt Disney animation and the different types of pieces that we're about to see. We open with a piece called Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which is basically just a smattering of colorful images, accompanied by the sounds of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and is really nothing to write home about, but still a suitable beginning to the film. Following that we get The Nutcracker Suite, which reminded me of a Busby Berkeley musical segment, which started very simplistic and built and built, until we were dealing with something far more grandiose than which we started. I enjoyed this piece fairly enough and the music and the animation flowed together pretty perfectly.

The third piece was the highly acclaimed and most famous The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which was probably one of my least favorite of the pieces and left me scratching my head and wondering why this was the piece that gets the most praise. Sure it was cute, with Mickey Mouse trying to tame his replicating brooms and the sight of the seemingly giant sorcerer was a bit of a grand sight, but still this piece didn't do a whole lot for me and there are far better segments throughout Fantasia.

The next piece may have been my favorite, however the book writes this one off as a segment that doesn't age well. I'll respectfully disagree with the authors of the book and say that The Rite of Spring provided some truly awesome animations, that consisted of dinosaurs, which moved in an almost lifelike fashion and were given very subtle and realistic mannerisms. I really enjoyed this piece and I really can't put my finger on why. There wasn't really anything truly great about it, but it captivated me and kept me tied to the film.

If The Rite of Spring wasn't my favorite piece then this next one was. It was The Pastoral Symphony conducted by none other than Beethoven and used various pieces of Greek mythology to show off a glorious little tale. Utilizing pegasi, cupids, centaurs, Greek Gods and fauns, this was an extremely colorful tale that grabbed my by the eyeballs and didn't let go until Beethoven struck his last chord and the fade to black was embraced. This was another one that started off light, but built into a glamorous showcase of Walt Disney animation and the music accompanied it brilliantly.

The next to last piece was the Dance of the Hours, and yet another one that left me quite bored. Using some of the most ungraceful members of the animal kingdom (ostriches, elephants, hippos) and throwing them into some very graceful situations and having them dance it out, as they represent different times in a single day. Didn't really do anything for me and like I said, left me feeling quite bored and ready to get to the finale of this film.

The final piece was Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Marie, which had the most eerie feel to it, as we dealt with gargoyles, devils and demons and very intense music and even more intense colors. I neither liked, nor disliked this piece and was quite captivated when the flames of fire transformed into three tiny dancers. The menacing and gigantic gargoyle was a bit of a sight, but by the time this piece was shown, I was honestly ready to send this movie home and finish it off already. Two hours for a Disney movie was a bit much for my twenty-five year old self to endure, and while some of the pieces were quite spectacular, as a whole the movie just seemed to drag a bit, during the segments that weren't as exciting.

RATING: 5/10 We'll go ahead and call it right down the middle, as I enjoyed just as much as I didn't enjoy.

NEXT UP: The Philadelphia Story...Grant, Stewart and Hepburn...Sounds interesting and fun, however I've seen it before and don't remember being that impressed...We'll see if time can change that.

June 26, 2010 2:00pm

Friday, June 25, 2010

133. REBECCA (1940)

Running Time: 130 minutes
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: Philip MacDonald, from novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Main Cast: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, George Sanders


With a grand total of eighteen movies in the "1001" book, Hitchcock chimes in with his fourth, with his adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier novel, "Rebecca" and also his first American film. Rebecca was also the always lauded director's first and only movie to win the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards. While it's certainly not my favorite Hitchcock flick, it's certainly a good one and one that really keeps you entertained right up to the end.

The beautiful Joan Fontaine plays a young woman (who is never named) who meets a wealthy, sophisticated man, Maxim de Winter, while vacationing with her employer in Monte Carlo. Through the weeks that they're in Monte Carlo, they meet up everyday, as the young woman tells her employer day after day that she's going out for a tennis lesson, only to go and continuously meet Mr. de Winter. It is quickly revealed that Mr. de Winter has recently lost his wife, Mrs. Rebecca de Winter, and the loss is painted thick on the face of Mr. de Winter, as it is obviously still something he thinks about often. It seems, however, that the young girl is keeping his mind off of his recent loss and when the young girl's employer decides to head to New York, Mr. de Winter makes a quick and hasty proposal to the young girl and asks for her hand in marriage. The young girl accepts and soon becomes the second Mrs. de Winter.

It isn't long before Maxim takes the young girl back to Manderley, his estate in England (think Tara in Gone with the Wind) and the young girl is quickly encapsulated by the grandeur of the estate, and all of the maids, servants and amenities that come along with it. The young girl, as shy as she is, seems to get along with everyone, that is, except for the head housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. It seems as though Mrs. Danvers was quite close with the late Mrs. de Winter and resents the fact that Mr. de Winter got remarried. While he is often away on business, the current Mrs. de Winter must learn to fend for herself against Mrs. Danvers and adjust alone to all of her new surroundings at the giant, palatial palace. It all leads up to several twists that are thrown into the plot, as only Alfred Hitchcock can deliver them.

While I did mention at the beginning that this wasn't my favorite Hitchcock film, it is a really good one and one that had been in desperate need of a rewatch from me. I hadn't seen it in sometime and had actually totally forgotten about everything past the first ninety minutes, so the surprises were still left intact for me to experience again. The acting is spot on, as Olivier and Fontaine turn in absolutely top notch performances and even Judith Anderson turns in some great work as the seemingly psycho Mrs. Danvers. The sets and camerawork are also pretty flawless and as the book points out, the director does a good job of making a character out of Manderley itself. If I had any complaints, it would be that not a lot seems to take place in the first ninety or so minutes of the film. Mr. de Winter meets the young girl, they get married, and the girl is left to adjust to having her life completely turned upside down and deal with the crazy Mrs. Danvers to boot. Now that's not saying that the first ninety minutes is boring. The actors do a great job and turn in great performances and the story still manages to flow along quite nicely, despite the fact that there aren't constant things happening. All in all, Hitchcock does a fantastic job of injecting some thrills into a movie that would otherwise have none.

RATING: 7.5/10 I still have to go with "Blackmail" as my favorite of the four Hitchcock movies from the book so far, but Rebecca is a definite second.

NEXT UP: Fantasia...More Disney and thankfully I have an old videotape copy of this one, which is otherwise out of print.

June 25, 2010 12:04am

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

132. His Girl Friday (1940)

Running Time: 92 minutes
Directed By: Howard Hawks
Written By: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur
Main Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart


Yes, it's true, I've finally returned to the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" film watching project. When I last left you, I had just finished watching all of the movies from the decade of the thirties and was ready to make a leap into the forties. Today, I had some free time, so I decided to knock out the very first movie from the forties, "His Girl Friday".

The movie stars Cary Grant as cutthroat newspaperman, Walter Burns, a man who will do ANYTHING to get the scoop and get it first. When his ex-wife and former star reporter, Hildy Johnson (Russell), shows up at the office one day, to inform him that she's engaged, she's leaving the newspaper business and she plans to settle down in a nice, quiet life with insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy). Burns immediately schemes up a plan to get Hildy back to what he feels she was born to do, work for the newspaper. Eventually a deal is made between Walter and Hildy, that if Hildy will come back to the paper to write up one last major story, the upcoming execution of Earl Williams, that he'll take out a large insurance policy with Bruce and he and Hildy can go off to Albany with their loot and their new life.

However, once Hildy agrees to the deal, Walter has his own plans and that doesn't include letting Hildy go. Walter puts his best buddy and conman Diamond Louie on the case and through a series of trumped up charges has the tame and slow witted Bruce Baldwin arrested numerous times. While all of these games are going on, the backdrop of the movie sees the final hours of Earl Williams, as he's set to be executed the following morning, unless he receives a reprieve from the Governor. It all leads up to the escape of Earl Williams from custody and the antics really start to fly, with all of the characters getting involved and turning "His Girl Friday" into a true screwball comedy.

Before I get into my likes and dislikes regarding this movie, I want to address something real quick: I used to be one of those people who wouldn't watch old movies, for the simple reason that they were old movies. I just didn't want any part of them and so I stayed away from them and associated myself with newer films. Later in my life, that changed and I eventually started to watch the occasional classic film, and then I started the "1001" book and I saw a lot of old movies and I loved a lot of them. When it came time to restart the project and watch "His Girl Friday", I couldn't wait to get back to watching some classics and when the music started and the Columbia Pictures logo popped up in front of my eyes, I got a big smile on my face, as I was 100% ready for some more old films. Now then....on to the business at hand.

When I last left the project Cary Grant was seemingly becoming a staple in the book, with tons of the movies being Cary Grant films and tons of my opinions expressing the fact that Grant was overrated. However, maybe it was just Cary overload, because I really enjoyed him in this picture. This is probably one of the funniest movies I've watched thus far and Grant is a big part of why this film is so funny. I especially loved the segment where Grant was asked what Bruce Baldwin looked like and he replied "He looks like that fella in the movies...uhh...Ralph Bellamy". It was just so unexpected to hear them refer to Bellamy, who was actually playing the part of Bruce Baldwin, maybe because back then, everything seemed to be very "down to business" when it came to films. Russell played the tough newspaperman brilliantly and really showed some hard nosed personality and stayed right in line with Grant when delivering speedy and concise dialogue. As far as my dislikes go, and I'm sure I'll take some heat for this, but I didn't care for the fast, snappy dialogue, as it seemed to contrived and phony, whereas a slowed down delivery would've given the viewer more time to savor the script and hear the words that were being delivered. That's just a bit of nitpicking though, as all in all this was a good movie.

RATING: 6/10 Not great, but good and something that repeat viewings could definitely do wonders for.

NEXT UP: Rebecca...I take a hiatus from the book and Hitchcock takes a 30+ film hiatus from appearing in the book...but we're both back!

June 23, 2010 2:43pm

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #69: Re-Animator (1985)

Running Time: 105 minutes Directed By: Stuart Gordon Written By: Dennis Paoli, William Norris, Stuart Gordon, based on the story Her...