Sunday, January 31, 2010

87. The Thin Man (1934)

Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: W.S. Van Dyke
Written By: Albert Hackett, from novel by Dashiell Hammett
Main Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Edward Ellis, Minna Gombell

POWELL AND LOY ARE GREAT, THE REST OF THE FILM...NOT SO MUCH

With this being the first time that I saw "The Thin Man", I must say that I was wildly impressed with the performances of both William Powell and Myrna Loy, two actors who I've had my first cup of tea with, in "The Thin Man" and two actors who's chemistry together was so good, that to realize that they're not actually married, is a hard pill to swallow.

Before Powell and Loy get their screen time, we're first introduced to Clyde Wynant, an inventor who's about to embark on a very secretive journey and no one else knows where he's headed. Prior to leaving on his trip, Wynant meets his daughter's new fiance and approves of him quickly and decides to give them an early wedding present of some $50,000 in bonds. When Wynant goes to his sage to retrieve the bonds, he finds out quickly, that they're missing and right away he suspects his secretary, Julia Wolf. Wynant arrives at her apartment, they spat a little over the whereabouts of the bonds and then Wynant is off on his trip.

Several months later, Wolf is found dead by Wynant's ex-wife Mimi, clutching the watch chain of one Clyde Wynant. With Mr. Wynant still out of town, he's still the one clear suspect of the murder of Julia Wolf. Powell and Loy are then brought into the picture, as a former detective and his very cute wife, respectively. Powell plays a cool character, a very likeable guy, who despite constantly raising a glass to his lips, seems like the type that could easily be gotten along with. His wife (Loy) is just as likeable, crinkling her nose at her humorous hubby and looking adorable in the meantime. Nick Charles (Powell) is a former detective who wants nothing more than to spend a nice Christmas with his wife, Nora and their dog Asta and certainly wants nothing to do with the case of Julia Wolf. Eventually, after much coaxing from his wife, he folds, and gets right into the thick of the "whodunit" plot.

Speaking of that "whodunit" plot, it really didn't do a whole lot for me. Despite a few more dead bodies turning up, we're really not given a whole lot of new information, as the plot unravels and we're left for big chunks of the film, with really not a whole lot going on, outside of the witty banter between Nick and Nora. Speaking of Nick and Nora, they were great and I've been told that Powell and Loy starred in some other pictures together (including Thin Man sequels), which I wouldn't mind taking a look at, at all, because they just meshed together so well and really made you believe that they were a very much in love married couple. Besides Powell and Loy, which were the only good things about this movie, I'd have to give it the big thumbs down, as it just didn't hit me the way some of these classics have been and somewhere in between the movie and me, something was getting lost.

RATING: 5/10 Powell and Loy are enough to get this movie to an average rating, but without them, this would've been a disaster.

NEXT UP: Captain Blood...Errol Flynn makes his way into my DVD player and he should be there later tonight. Check back then.

January 31, 2010 6:11pm

Saturday, January 30, 2010

86. It Happened One Night (1934)

Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: Frank Capra
Written By: Samuel Hopkins Adams, Robert Riskin
Main Cast: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A MAN NAMED 'CLARK'

After already viewing and liking on Frank Capra film from the "1001" book, so far, this time, I'm given an even better one, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. "It Happened One Night" was the first of only three films to win the "big five" awards at the Oscars (including: Best Picture, Best Actor and Actress, Best Director and Best Writing), and it's not hard to see why.

Ellie Andrews is a spoiled heiress who, against the wishes of her extremely wealthy father, marries King Westley. Mr. Andrews is irate about that fact and plans to have the marriage annuled. Ellie, however, escapes her father's clutches and runs away from him, boarding the first bus she can get to New York City, where her newlywed husband awaits her. While en route to New York, Ellie stumbles across smooth talking, freshly fired newspaperman, Peter Warne (Gable) and the two detest each other right from the start, as Ellie steals the former newspaperman's bus seat. Although, Peter does go out of his way to try and charm Mrs. Andrews, even allowing her to sleep on him, after they decide to share the bus seat.

Eventually, Peter realizes who he's been spatting with the whole time and cuts a deal with her: If she'll help him get an exclusive newspaper story, regarding the whole Westley affair, then he'll help her get back to New York City. She agrees. Mr. Andrews has her picture put into all the papers, hires detectives to track her down and even goes so far as to offer a reward for any information leading to her retrieval. Peter helps her out though, pretending to be her husband, to outwit the detectives and scaring off one of the bus passengers who is out to collect the reward money. Eventually the pair are forced to leave the bus behind and take to footing it. They end up hitchhiking and as the pair journey through the U.S. together, they become fast friends and the romantic tension lingers in the air.

Without putting too much thought into it, I'll go out on a limb and say that the character of Peter Warne, may be my favorite character out of the "1001" book, thus far. He was such a likeable character and anytime he wasn't on the screen, I yearned for scenes involving him. Claudette Colbert was a great compliment to Clark Gable to, and the pair were good for countless, very memorable scenes, such as; the hitchhiking discussion, where Peter explains the three variations of the thumb, the piggyback ride discussion, the scene where Peter expalins that no man ever undresses the same way and the scene where they fool the detectives and pretend to be an old married couple. There are so many lovely scenes between the pair, that I couldn't list them all here and I wouldn't want to, as they're scenes that you need to experience first hand for yourself. Like I said in the beginning, it is not hard at all to see why this film swept the Academy Awards way back when, as it's pretty darn near flawless, in every aspect.

RATING: 10/10 There really was nothing wrong at all with "It Happened One Night", great acting, writing, situations, direction and plot make this a must see.

NEXT UP: The Thin Man...I was really hoping to get this one watched today, but it doesn't look like it's gonna' happen, so the review for "The Thin Man" should be up tomorrow afternoon.

January 30, 2010 6:35pm

Friday, January 29, 2010

85. Judge Priest (1934)

Running Time: 80 minutes
Directed By: John Ford
Written By: Irvin S. Cobb, Dudley Nichols
Main Cast: Will Rogers, Tom Brown, David Landau, Anita Louise, Stepin Fetchit,

JOHN FORD BURSTS ONTO THE SCENE...AND BRINGS WILL ROGERS WITH HIM

Despite not even being able to find a poster for this lesser known John Ford film, "Judge Priest" is still a very good example of early Ford work and a precursor to what the western directing legend, would go on to do.

Judge William Priest (Rogers) is a level headed and sometimes stubborn judge, who resides over his courtroom, while reading the funny pages. His nephew Jerome (Brown) has just returned home from New York with a law degree and soon falls back into the embrace of his former love, Ellie May (Louise). Judge Priest couldn't be happier about this fact, as he is quite fond of the happy couple and wants nothing more than for them to be married. However, Jerome's mother wants no part of Ellie May and discourages her son for associating with her, the reason being, that she doesn't have a known father. When Judge Priest is out one evening at the cemetery, having a little chat with his deceased wife, he notices a man, Bob Gillis, placing flowers on the tombstone of Ellie May's mother. Well, Judge Priest puts two and two together and realizes that Mr. Gillis is Ellie's long lost father.

Upon confronting Mr. Gillis, Judge Priest finds a hard man, who keeps to himself and only speaks the necessary words required to give an appropriate response. One day at the barber shop, when the barber is taking verbal liberties with Ellie May, as she walks by the front of the shop, Mr. Gillis, who is waiting for a shave, takes the opportunity to punch out the big mouth barber and be on his way. Later that evening at the saloon, while the previously punched barber and his barber buddies are playing a little pool, and Gillis is at the bar having a drink, they decide to jump Gillis with pool cues in tow. Gillis gains the upper hand, ultimately pulling a knife and minorly stabbing the barber that he punched out earlier that day. The film ends with the trial of Bob Gillis and Jerome taking him on as his very first client. However, due to the objections of the prosecuting attorney, Judge Priest won't be presiding over this court case.

The character of Judge Priest was the type of man that would make you wanna move down south and find one just like him, befriend him and sit on the back porch with him as he told stories and you listened to the whippoorwills singing their peaceful song. The character is an everyday man, someone that we've probably all come across at one point in our life. An gentleman of increasing age, who is wise and stubborn, yet always speaks for the right and just cause. Will Rogers wasn't just an old name that you heard of, but he was also able to bring the acting chops to the table and he MADE this film, and he made it a great one. I thoroughly enjoyed "Judge Priest" and really enjoyed the portrayl of him by the great Will Rogers. This film is home to some touching moments, like when the Judge talks to his deceased wife and you just want to leap through the screen and give the old man some company. The ending is also a very touching scene, which I'll let you experience for yourself.

RATING: 8.5/10 Honestly, I wasn't expecting much from this movie, but you'd think I'd learn by now to always be surprised and always be ready for a really great film.

NEXT UP: It Happened One Night...More Frank Capra, and Clark Gable bursts into the picture. It's on Netflix to watch instantly, but I'll more than likely save it for tomorrow.

January 29, 2010 6:56pm

84. The Black Cat (1934)

Running Time: 64 minutes
Directed By: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written By: Edgar G. Ulmer, from the story House of Doom by Edgar Allan Poe
Main Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Julie Bishop

MONSTER MASH-UP

I have to say, after enjoying "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" as much as I did, I figured this would be a no brainer for an enjoyable film for me, but it turned out to be a very tedious and dull sixty minutes, that unfortunately, I'll never get back.

Mr. and Mrs. Peter Alison are vacationing in Hungary and while riding by train, they're informed of a mix-up in the reservations and that they must share a train compartment with Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi). While on the train ride, Werdegast informs them that he's spent the last fifteen years in a prison camp and that he has become one of very few to walk away from the camp alive. Once exiting the train, the three share a bus into the nearest town, but it ends up crashing and Mrs. Alison is slightly injured. Dr. Werdegast, is on his way to visit Hjalmar Poelzig, am Austrian architect, with whom Werdergast has some unfinished business. Upon arriving at the home the doctor treats Mrs. Alison's injuries and then confronts Poelzig, revealing that he believes Poelzig has captured his wife and daughter, while he was in prison, and that he wants them returned to him. Poelzig informs Werdegast that they've both died.

The rest of the movie revolves around Poelzig's desire to keep Mr. and Mrs. Alison at his home, and that he particularly wants Mrs. Alison so that he may sacrifice her on the night of the Dark Moon, to comply with his satanic rituals. Werdegast, however, wants them to be set free and the two play a game of chess to make the final decision regarding the fate of Mr. and Mrs. Alison. The title of the film refers to the heightened phobia that Werdegast has of black cat's, but that's only addressed a couple of times in the film and never really becomes much of a plot point.

Despite the silly title of the picture, a lot of things actually go unexplained in the film, which lead to my eventual dislike of the movie altogether. The fear of black cat's seems to be something they just threw in for no reason, and it's never fully explained or played off of. They also fail to explain the reasoning behind why Poelzig keeps his former lovers dead bodies encased in glass, other than the fact to make the man seem a little more creepy. There's also a scene where Mrs. Alison, rises from her slumber, right after she's been in the bus crash. She comes into the room and is acting very peculiar, and it's even mentioned, as Mr. Alison asks why she was acting that way and Werdegast makes up some phony excuse, but that ends up being yet another point of the film that's never fully explained. Karloff and Lugosi aren't bad, but even their talents can't save this terrible picture. This was a very sad attempt at a horror movie and honestly, I wouldn't even clasify it as such. Lots of plot holes and unexplained details, make "The Black Cat" a bust.

RATING: 1.5/10 Despite better than average ratings for "Frankenstein" and "Dracula", this film couldn't even muster a '2'.

NEXT UP: Judge Priest...My first John Ford film...from the "1001" book, that is and the review should be up later on this afternoon.

January 29, 2010 1:34pm

Thursday, January 28, 2010

82. Triumph des Willens/Triumph of the Will (1934)

Running Time: 114 minutes
Directed By: Leni Riefenstahl
Written By: Leni Riefenstahl, Walter Ruttmann
Main Cast: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Fritz Todt

...AND SUDDENLY, THINGS GOT SERIOUS

I am certainly no history buff, nor have I ever claimed to be. Of course, I know the basics of the Hitler regime, the Holocaust and all of the tagic details that go along with it. But I know no more than the average man. So it was certainly an eerie feeling to be so up close and personal with this evil and terrible man, by the name of Adolf Hitler and to see the power that he held over his followers.

"Triumph of the Will" is a chronicle of the Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, in the year 1934. Adolf arrives by plane and is given epic sized ovations upon showing his face. Some of the scenes of this film are so amazing, to realize just how many people worshipped the ground that Hitler walked on. Nazi's and Nazi sympathizers would line the streets and salute their "Fuhrer". It's quite interesting to see Hitler speak on behalf of peace, and harp that he'll bring just that to the German people. In fact, that is one of the common themes of the film, along with the potential to return Germany as a great power in the world.

Some of the rallies are attended by thousands of spectators and they hear speeches from prominent Third Reich memebers, such as: Joseph Goebbels, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Todt, Hans Frank, Robert Ley, Julius Streicher and of course, Hitler.

To say that "Triumph of the Will" was a great film, is something I'm not so sure I agree with. While I will admit, it was interesting to be so up close and personal, with such an evil man and to hear the things that he'd say to his followers. This film really made me think about all the devastation that this man would go on to create and all of the lives that he'd put an end to. You say to yourself, as you're watching "Triumph of the Will"; "Well there he is, there's Hitler" and you're almost in awe of how terrible a man he is and the types of things you're feeling as he's overtaking your screen. At almost two hours, this film was able to hold my interest pretty well, but in good conscience I cannot say that I enjoyed any part of it.

RATING: 5.5/10 I feel that's a fairly decent rating for something filled with drawn out speeches, marching soldiers and celebration for the treacherous Hitler.

NEXT UP: L' Atalante...My second Jean Vigo film and the second Jean Vigo film I'll be skipping, as I cannot find it.

January 28, 2010 4:47pm

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

81. It's a Gift (1934)

Running Time: 71 minutes
Directed By: Norman Z. McLeod
Written By: Jack Cunnigham, W.C. Fields
Main Cast: W.C. Fields, Kathleen Howard, Jean Rouverol, Tom Bupp, Baby LeRoy

'IT'S A GIFT' IS A TRUE COMEDIC GIFT...IT'S TRUE, IT'S TRUE!

I know I start out a lot of my posts like this, but here it goes again: I'm sure I had heard the name W.C. Fields, prior to purchasing the "1001" book, but unfortunately, up until today, I had never seen one of his pictures or short films for that matter. W.C. Fields is yet another reason, that I'm so glad I decided to begin this journey, because otherwise I would have never realized what a comedic genius he was.

The plot to "It's A Gift" really isn't much. It's a very simple premise, supported by a series of segements and skits and yet, with such a lack of story, the whole movie turns out to be a real romp and something that's a whole lot of fun to spend an hour with. Harold Bissonete (played by Fields and pronounced Bis - O - Nay, when his wife's present) is a Jersey general store owner, with dreams of owning his own orange grove in California. When his beloved Uncle Bean passes away, his dreams are realized and Harold finally purchases the orange grove, despite the objections from his family. Upon arriving in California, and with plenty of laughter to settle us in along the way, Harold finds that the grove is nothing like he imagined it, and seemingly all his money is down the tubes. That's it, that's the entire story of "It's a Gift" and really it doesn't sound like much, but let me let you in on some of the hilarity that ensues throughout the film.

All the fun starts in the bathroom, as Harold's daughter interrupts his morning shave and Harold tries aimlessly to get the hair removed from his face. Then we're taken inside Harold's general store, where a man desperately needs ten pounds of cumquats and Harold tries his best to take the man's order, while he tries to keep his store in order, as a treacherous, clumsy and quite moody blind man, Mr. Muckle, wreaks havoc on his store. Later, after a hard day's work Harold tries his best to get to sleep, but his wife's constant bickering about the reckless purchase of the orange grove, sends Harold to the front porch, which proves to be an even more difficult place to sleep, as he has to deal with; noisy neighbors, an insurance salesman, a broken hammock, a rickety clothesline, Baby LeRoy and his icepick of death and a coconut rolling down the stairs. I'll let you experience the rest of the funnies for yourself, but Fields obviously had a knack for humor and it's obvious with "It's a Gift".

Some of the funniest bits of the film came from Fields muttering under his breath, and sometimes I'd even miss what he said, or not realize that it was coming ("That's the fella' that wanted the cumquats"). Fields seemed to be able to make comedy out of the smallest of things, such as those mutterings. W.C. was able to turn the ordinary things that we all deal with on a day to day basis and turn them into comedy gold. It's amazing how many fantastic comedies and comedians I've discovered from watching the films from the "1001" book, and W.C. ranks right up there with Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd and Laurel & Hardy.

RATING: 9/10 I deducted one point, just because this film didn't 100% feel like a '10', at least not today. I'm sure once it's had a few days to settle in with me, that I'll boost it. But, that's okay, because the ratings you see here are my knee jerk ratings and what I think of a movie right after I finish it.

NEXT UP: Triumph of the Will...and things suddenly get serious, as we turn from humor to Hitler. Review comes later tonight.

January 27, 2010 3:50pm

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

80. Sons of the Desert (1933)

Running Time: 68 minutes
Directed By: William A. Seiter
Written By: Frank Craven
Main Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Mae Busch, Dorothy Christy, Charley Chase

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A MAN NAMED 'STAN' AND A MAN NAMED 'OLIVER'

Prior to watching "Sons of the Desert", I was quite excited about my first Laurel & Hardy film. I remember watching an old episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" years ago and seeing Dick Van Dyke and another man do a spoof of Laurel & Hardy and so I had certainly heard of the duo. My first L & H experience was a fantastic one and one that I won't soon forget.

Laurel & Hardy play themselves (at least as far as their names go) and are members of an elite fraternity in southern California, known as the "Sons of the Desert". When a convention comes up, taking place in Chicago and the boys take an oath to be there, it's the wives of the men who stand in the way of their fun. When Oliver arrives home that evening and asks his wife, she out and out says "NO!" and his plans are immediately spoiled. Stan's wife later goes on to say "no" too and so the boys are left with plan B. Oliver pretends to be sick and has Stan hire a doctor to say that the only way he'll get better is if he spends some time in a tropical climate like Honolulu. Oliver's wife insists that Oliver go to Honolulu and take Stan with him, so that he'll get better. When the boys take off, however, it's Chicago they're headed for, not Hawaii.

The boys arrive at the convention and have a good time, but upon arriving home they notice that the newspaper tells of the tragic wreck of a ship on it's way in from Honolulu, the ship that the boys were supposed to be on, had they gone to Hawaii. The boys immediately spring into action, planning to sneak back out of the house before their wives arrive home and come in the next day with their shipwreck stories straight. However, before they can get out of the house, the girls arrive home and they're forced to take cover in the attic, until it's safe to come down. But the girls are so upset about the possible demise of their husbands, that they decide to go to the movies and it's the old newsreel footage at the beginning of the film that tips the girls off about the true whereabouts of the boys.

This movie was like a big, long sitcom, that was made into a movie and at times you had to stop and realize that you were watching a film and not just a hilarious television program. Oliver and Hardy were great together and it's easy to tell that just from this one picture. Olly with his grunt of a demeanor and his Ralph Kramden like attitude, before there was a Ralph Kramden and Stan with his innocence and dimwitedness, they were a perfect compliment to each other and their physical comedy was great, as Stan could turn a simple thing like exiting a door, into a hilarious piece of comedy. The whole bit at the beginning when Oliver is ringing the doorbell and Stan keeps opening up the opposite door is great and there's so many classic lines, such as Stan grabbing a barometer instead of a thermometer to take Olly's temperature:

"What's it say?" Olly asks of Stan as he removes the thermometer
"Wet and Windy" Stan replies
Olly grabs the thermometer from Stan "That ain't a thermometer, that's a barometer"

RATING: 10/10 I was all prepared to give it a '9' but I just couldn't resist going ahead and giving it the full monty, as I am positive that this will become a favorite of mine

NEXT UP: It's A Gift...More comedy with W.C. Fields...It'll be here tomorrow from Netflix and I hope to watch and review it early, so I can get it sent back.

January 26, 2010 4:10pm

79. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)

Running Time: 88 minutes
Directed By: Frank Capra
Written By: Edward E. Paramore Jr., Grace Zaring Stone
Main Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Nils Asther, Toshia Mori, Walter Connolly

Sidenote: I managed to come across "Zero de Conduite" yesterday on the Internet Archive website and at only forty minutes, I was able to knock it out pretty quickly, yesterday afternoon. So...if you go back to the "Zero de Conduite" post, from earlier this month, you'll be able to read my thoughts on the movie. Quick warning, the review is quite short, as is the movie, and probably the shortest review I've ever done for the blog.

WHY MR. YEN...WHAT EXACTLY IS IN THIS TEA OF YOURS?

Going along on our journey, we come to our first Frank Capra film. A man that would go on to make such classics as: "It's A Wonderful Life", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and one that I'll be seeing for the first time probably next week, "It Happened One Night". However, one that I had never heard of, prior to purchasing the "1001" book is, "The Bitter Tea of General Yen" which has a very simple plot, but is very good and one of Capra's films that deserves the accolades that it doesn't receive.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Megan Davis, an american missionary working in China, who is about to be married to her high school sweetheart. Just as they are to be wed, her fiance is called away to rescue a group of orphans caught in a war zone, during China's Civil War. Upon arrival at the war zone, the couple become seperated and Megan is captured by the nefarious General Yen (Asther). While aboard a train, General Yen informs Megan that he rescued her from certain death and that he is taking her back to his summer palace. From here the movie sets it's sights on Yen's palace and Yen's infatuation with the beautiful Ms. Davis. General Yen goes out of his way to make sure that Megan is comfortable and over time becomes quite smitten with her, eventhough she's still commited to her fiance.

While captured, Megan tries making friends with Mah-Li, one of General Yen's assistant's. While the rest of the public believes Megan to be dead, General Yen knows that he can keep her at his palace for as long as he likes. Yen constantly invites Megan to dinner and after many declines of his invitations, she eventually warms to him and accepts. Megan even dreams of the General, as they become closer, during their talks of love, art and beauty. Eventually, it is revealed that Mah-Li is spying for the enemy and she is sentenced to death by Yen. That is, until Megan sacrifices herself, in the form of becoming a hostage, to save her friend. The ending is quite the sad affair, which I won't spoil for you here.

The acting talents of Nils Asther were my favorite thing about "The Bitter Tea of General Yen", as he delivers his dialogue very pure and has a nonchalant way about him. Stanwyck is good too, as the innocent Megan Davis and quite beautiful, as she applys makeup in preparation for her dinner with the General. The film is very sweet and although it has a simple little plot, it's something that you can certainly get lost in and a very enjoyable affair all around. Walter Connoly plays the General's financial advisor and his speech at the very end of the film is quite touching and something that I had to rewind and hear again. This is a really a great romance story, with the reason being that the romance really never takes shape and is only hinted at. A romance story where you really have to concentrate to spot the subtleties that bring General Yen and Megan Davis closer together as the film goes on.

RATING: 7.5/10 My first Frank Capra film is a hit with me, and Nils Asther is another new actor to keep my eye out for.

NEXT UP: Sons of the Desert...My first ever Laurel & Hardy movie. I recorded it off of Turner Classic Movies about three months ago and have been waiting to watch. Review should be up later this afternoon.

January 26, 2010 8:40am

Monday, January 25, 2010

78. KING KONG (1933)

Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written By: James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose, Edgar Wallace
Main Cast: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot

"TWAS BEAUTY KILLED THE BEAST"

Going into "King Kong" I didn't have high hopes whatsoever. I'll chalk the lack of enthusiasm up to the horrid remake put out by Peter Jackson several years ago, a remake that bored me to tears and turned me off of monkey movies for quite sometime. However, I'm taught a valuable lesson by watching the original, which is, never let a current Hollywood remake, mar the reputation of a classic Hollywod original.

Carl Denham (Armstrong) is a big time movie director, who made most of his fame going into the wild and shooting things that other director's didn't have the guts to film. Our adventure opens on a ship and Denham and his crew are about to embark on a mission to Skull Island, an island that they know virtually nothing about, except that there is something mysterious hidden there, behind a giant wall and Denham wants nothing more than to capture it on film and present it to the world. The boat ride is halted for a short time, while Denham takes off to find his leading lady, as his philosophy is: Every great picture must have a gorgeous leading woman, to give the crowd something to look at. He stumbles upon Ann Darrow (Wray) and after a cup of coffee, convinces her to join him on his expedition.

Six weeks later Denham, Darrow and the rest of the crew land at Skull Island and Darrow arrives with a new love in her life, first mate Jack Driscoll. Upon approaching the natives of the island, the crew immediately finds that they are not welcome and more so, they want Ann as their own so that they can sacrifice her to 'Kong', the primate beast who lives behind the great wall and who they fear and worship as a God of sorts. The crew break away from the natives and make their way back to the ship, but in the night the natives kidnap Ann and take her back to the island, tying her to a pedestal and offering her up to the mighty 'King Kong'. The reveal of 'Kong' himself is one of the coolest movie moments I've ever been privy to and what follows is much more exciting and awesome, in every sense of the word. The crew eventually realize that Ann is missing and make their way back to Skull Island to rescue the gorgeous Ms. Darrow. The rest of the film is nothing short of extraordinary, with the crew pursuing 'Kong' on foot through the jungle, that lies behind the great wall of the island, losing many men as Kong's wrath proves fatal and finally a dazzling rescue by the lone first mate Driscoll. But that's not the end, and if you've never seen it, I wouldn't think of spoiling it.

If I had to conjure up anything negative to say about "King Kong", it's this, and mind you, this is merely nitpicking: I believe there should have been more conflict between Denham and the rest of the crew, upon twelve members of the crew being killed by 'Kong' and one of them (Ann) being kidnapped. We're told at the beginning of the film that Denham is a bit psychotic, when it comes to these missions and that he'll do anything to get what he wants on camera. Instead of conflict, the crew squabbles a very little bit, but ultimately continues throughout the movie to follow Denham's lead, no matter what. Also, if I may nitpick about another thing, I would've loved to see more of Kong in New York City. I believe there's approximately fifteen minutes left of the movie, when Kong gets loose in the city and that's just not enough time, for what could've been an absolutely stellar scene of destruction, eventhough what follows is quite stellar in it's own right. Other than that, this movie is great and filled with countless moments of excitement, suspense and pure grandiose. I personally found myself yelling Fay Wray to "MOVE!" or "ROLL OUT OF THE WAY!!!" at certain points in the film and really everything about 'Kong' is awe inspiring. The sets are brilliant and while the 1930's certainly weren't the boom time for effects, this film makes the most of its resources and puts on a show, that even Carl Denham, would have to call spectacular.

RATING: 8.5/10 I deducted a point or so for the few small things that I said, but don't let that fool 'ya, this is still a great film and one that any film fan should definitely see.

NEXT UP: The Bitter Tea of General Yen...My first Frank Capra film in the "1001" book and one that I'll be watching via YouTube, and probably tomorrow.

January 25, 2010 1:15am

Sunday, January 24, 2010

76. Queen Christina (1933)

Running Time: 99 minutes
Directed By: Rouben Mamoulian
Written By: S.N. Behrman, H.M. Harwood
Main Cast: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Ian Keith, Lewis Stone, C. Aubrey Smith

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A WOMAN NAMED 'GRETA'

I had certainly heard the name Greta Garbo before, but had yet to see any of her films. That is, until today when I viewed my first Garbo picture, "Queen Christina", an account of the life of Queen Christina of Sweden, and a movie that really didn't do a whole lot for me.

The movie begins with the death of Christina's father, King Gustavus Adolphus, as he's killed on the battlefield in the midst of the Thirty Years War. The King's only heir to the throne at the time of his death, is his six year old daughter Christina, who is sworn in and named the new Queen of Sweden. After a small speech from the newly appointed six year old Queen, the movie flashes forward a bit and Garbo is revealed in a grand way, as the grown up Queen Christina. Walking into the room, lead by two very large Great Dane's, she is immediately portrayed as a woman of great power. The first half of the film focusses on the pressures of Christina, as she is constantly egged on by her royal court to marry and produce an heir. Christina has no time for this marriage talk, however, as she is more dedicated to governing and in her spare time, reading poetry and educating herself on the ways of the world, outside of Sweden.

One day when Christina decides she needs to get away from everything, she rides away on her horse, but ends up snowbound at an inn. It is here where she meets the Spaniard, Antonio (Gilbert) and at first everyone, including Antonio, mistake the Queen for a man. Why they mistake her for a man, I have no idea, because all that she has on as a "disguise" is a hat and Garbo is far too beautiful to be mistaken for a man. Anyway, they mistake her for a man and she pays for a room, but eventually is presuaded into sharing her room with Antonio, as it's the only room left and Antonio is willing to pay big for the accomodations. So the two share a room and once in their quarters, alone, Christina reveals herself to be the woman that she obviously is. They spend the next three days snowed in and making love to one another and Christina never reveals her true status as Queen of Sweden. When they must part each other, the Queen promises Antonio that she will meet him again, and in fact she knows that she will see him again, because she is aware of his plans to present his embassy to the Queen (her).

The entire portion of the film where Christina is being mistaken for a man, really took me out of the movie, as Garbo looked absolutely nothing like a man and to even hint that she had the similarities of a man are absurd. The rest of the film is quite boring and I really didn't expect much out of it, as I usually don't go for historical movies, set in the 17th century...just not my cup of tea. There are a few touching scenes, such as the end of the film, which is quite a sad affair and the scene where Christina speaks to the masses as they have just busted down the palace doors and confronted her for falling in love with a Spaniard. There are also several good glamour shots of Garbo, up close and in all her beauty, but for the most part I would have to give this movie a thumbs down.

RATING: 2/10 I gave it a few points for the good segments of the film that I mentioned above, but even those parts weren't enough to get this film a passable rating.

NEXT UP: Las Hurdes...or Land without Bread...I cannot find this one, at the moment, so look for the "Unfound Files" entry to follow this one directly.

January 24, 2010 2:16pm

Saturday, January 23, 2010

75. Duck Soup (1933)

Running Time: 68 minutes
Directed By: Leo McCarey
Written By: Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby
Main Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern

ON MY JOURNEY I MET THE BROTHERS 'MARX'

"Groucho Marx was the best comedian this country ever produced. [...] He is simply unique in the same way that Picasso or Stravinsky are." —Woody Allen

As soon as I finished watching "Duck Soup", I immediately found myself on Amazon.com looking at Marx Brothers collections. That should tell you something of how much I enjoyed it and how much I especially enjoyed watching Groucho Marx on the sceen.

Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, who has just been appointed leader of the small nation of Freedonia, on the insistence of Mrs. Teasdale. After much fanfare, Groucho finally makes his big debut as the new leader and immediately starts in with some classic one-liners, mainly insulting Mrs. Teasdale. Meanwhile, as Rufus is adjusting as the new leader, Ambassador Trentino of the neighboring country of Sylvania is plotting to take over Freedonia and all he needs, is to dig up a little bit of dirt on Rufus. He hires two spies to keep watch on Rufus, Pinky and Chicolini (played by Harpo and Chico respectively). Pinky doesn't talk and instead uses horns that he keeps tucked in his waist band, to communicate. He also seems to have some sort of scissor fetish, as he cuts anything that is dangled in front of him, such as Trentino's coattails or the end of his cigar.

The spies are basically hopeless in tracking Rufus, but deliver the funny, especially with the peanut vendor and the great "three-hat routine". Rufus eventually hires them for himself and they play both sides, constantly getting more and more confused and not knowing who they're working for. The climax sees the two countries initially go to war, as Rufus and Trentino insult each other to the point of battle.

The only bad thing that I can say about "Duck Soup", is that it ends way too soon. I wish this had gone on for another hour, as I could've listened to Groucho insult people for that much longer. The "three-hat routine" and the mirror scene are both classics and I've actually seen the mirror scene imitated before on an old episode of "I Love Lucy", but never realized that this was it's origin. The timing of the brothers was impecable and there was just something about Groucho that made my ears perk up whenever he was on, as I just didn't want to miss anything he had to say, because 99% of it was probably going to be something to laugh at. Harpo and Chico were great too, and the expressions on Harpo's face were classic and the ongoing cutting gag was hilarious. A lot of times when you watch older comedies, they same stuff that worked back then and was funny back then, just doesn't hold up today. That is not the case with "Duck Soup", as everything still holds up and is still really funny.

RATING: 10/10 I'm starting the countdown right now to "A Night at the Opera" which is my next Marx brothers movie and one that I cannot wait to see now.

NEXT UP: Queen Christina...My first Greta Garbo film and one that should be watched and reviewed later tonight.

January 23, 2010 4:19pm

Friday, January 22, 2010

74. She Done Him Wrong (1933)

Running Time: 64 minutes
Directed By: Lowell Sherman
Written By: Mae West, Harry Thew, John Bright, from the play "Diamond Lil" by Mae West
Main Cast: Mae West, Cary Grant, Noah Beery Sr., David Landau, Owen Moore

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A GUY NAMED 'CARY' AND A GIRL NAMED 'MAE'

With the musicals behind us, we move onward and get an adaptation of Mae West's stage show "Diamond Lil", in the form of "She Done Him Wrong", which includes a young Cary Grant, an unforgettable performace from West, yet still just average in all other aspects.

Mae West plays Lady Lou, a singer in a saloon, owned by her boyfriend and benefactor, Gus Jordan. Lou is a lady who loved diamonds and loves men and doesn't hide either of those facts, often inviting men up to her room, unbeknownst to Gus. When a young girl tries to commit suicide in the bathroom of Gus' place, she is stopped and tended to by Lou, and later when she's handed off to Gus for safekeeping, he and his two nefarious associates send her to work, seemingly as a prostitute, although this is never said, only hinted at.

Meanwhile, Lou's former lover Chick Clark is in the big house, and while Lou promised to wait for him on the outside, she's certainly done less than that. When the saloon bodyguard/bouncer convinces her to go and visit Clark, she abides and when she does, he tells her that if he ever finds out she's fooling around on him, he won't hesitate to murder her. She informs him that everything is just peachy and leaves him to the rest of his sentence. Clark snaps once he sees Lou and can't stand the bars that he's stuck behind any longer, and eventually escapes from jail and heads straight for Lou.

Also in the meanwhile, Cary Grant is playing Captain Cummings, the operator of the local mission, which is housed next door to the saloon, and our heroine, Lady Lou has eyes for him. He visits from time to time, but shows no interest in Lou, as he seems to have other things up his sleeve. When his mission is in danger of being closed, due to lack of rent payment, Lou foots the bill behind Cummings' back, so that he won't be forced to relocate. With all of these combustible elements in play, you'd think we'd be in line for a raging climax, when really, it's not all that raging and in my opinion, fails to impress.

First of all, before I get into the bad, let me talk about the good and the good can be summed up in two words: Mae West! She was an absolute seductress on the screen and her performance is one that I won't soon forget. She even had me wrapped up in her spell at times and she really knew how to bring on the sexy and the sultry. While we're on the subject of performances, Cary Grant's wasn't too bad either, but I've certainly seen better Grant flicks and I'd call his performance somewhere right around in the average neighborhood. The bad, is really something that I can't 100% put my finger on, there just, to me, wasn't a whole lot going on, despite how my review makes it sound. Yes, there were a lot of side plots and storylines, but they were really small potatoes and really didn't have enough "oomph" to keep me interested. I'll chalk this one up as something that I'm really glad I saw, as otherwise I wouldn't have been exposed to the great Mae West.

RATING: 4.5/10 Mae West's performance gets a '10', but averaged in with everything else, it comes out to about a '4.5'.

NEXT UP: Duck Soup...I have really high hopes for my first ever Marx Brothers movie, which should be watched and reviewed before night's end.

January 22, 2010 4:53pm

Thursday, January 21, 2010

73. Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Running Time: 96 minutes
Directed By: Mervyn LeRoy
Written By: David Boehm, Erwin S. Gelsey
Main Cast: Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, Warren William, Aline MacMahon

A MUSICAL HAT TRICK: PART THREE OF THREE

Well the three film long musical tribute has come to an end with the "Gold Diggers of 1933", and I must say it was a pretty good ending, as this film didn't fail to please and had a couple of really fun musical numbers.

The film opens with it's most ironic moment, when Ginger Rogers sings her rendition of "We're In the Money", even going as far as to sing one verse in pig latin, a moment that I thought was incredible. While Ginger is going on and on about having more money than she knows what to do with and lighting up the screen, she is interrupted by a group of I.R.S. agents who are there to shut down the show, due to lack of payment by the producer, Barney Hopkins. The Depression is hitting everyone hard and that doesn't exclude the lavish showgirls and big name producers of musical stage shows. Everyone in show business is basically put out of work and we focus in on our three main girls.

Polly, Carol and Trixie, the movies three main female leads, share an apartment and are flat broke. They even have to resort to stealing their daily milk from their neighbors and getting by on whatever food they have around the house. Then the news breaks that Barney is putting on a show, and the three girls see their big opportunity. Barney, later comes to the apartment to inform them that they'll all be needed, and that all he needs is at least $15,000 to put the show into production. Across the way, in the next apartment, he overhears Brad playing the piano and demands to see him front and center. Brad (played innocently by Powell) comes over to inform Mr. Hopkins that he writes his own songs and lyrics. Barney wants them in the show, as he feels they directly symbolize man's struggle in today's society and that they'll go great with that theme. Brad also tell Barney that he'll advance him the cash to put the show into production, as long as his main squeeze, Polly, has a feature role.

The show goes into production and Brad is hounded day in and day out, to play the lead male role in the show. He refuses, never giving any excuses, just flat out saying "NO!". When showtime comes, and the lead male can't go on, due to back injury, it's up to Brad to save the show and the livelihood of everyone involved. He agrees and the show is a hit. It comes out the next day, however, that the reason he didn't want to do the show (despite silent accusations from Trixie that he may be a bank robber) that he's a member of a blueblood family, who would out and out disaprove of his part in the show...and they do. He goes to visit them the next day, and while the newspaper has already informed them that he was in the show, he adds to it, by informing them that he'll be marrying Polly. His brother and the family lawyer, Fanuel H. Peabody, decide they must put a stop to all this business, declaring that showgirls are nothing but parasites and gold diggers. What follows, is a series of hilarious bits, where the girls play the rich men for suckers, sapping them of lots of dough.

While this wasn't my favorite musical of the three that I watched, it sits firmly at second place. I'd have to give the first place honors to "42nd Street". "Gold Diggers of 1933" had two really alluring musical numbers, in: "We're In the Money", which I thought was priceless, no pun intended and "Pettin' in the Park", a very catchy number performed by Powell and Keeler. There were a few down times of the film, but for the most part it was a good flick and one that I'd definitely see again, down the road. I should mention, before I totally wrap up this musical portion of the book, the choreographer, Busby Berkeley, who banged out an impressive three musicals in one year and all that included some marvelous routines. If nothing else, I'll certainly remember the name of the man behind all of those dance steps and set pieces that gave these films even more life than they already had. I also want to mention some fine actors/actresses who appeared in two or three of the flicks: Dick Powell, who was in all three and certainly a fine man to watch on the screen, Joan Blondell, who was in "Gold Diggers" and "Footlight Parade" and who I thought was fantastic in both roles and Ruby Keeler, who also did some amazing tap dancing and was a pretty good little actress back in the day. There were others, but those were the three that really caught my eye.

RATING: 6.5/10 Like I said there were a few down points, but all in all this more than just your average musical, it also had some good storyline points to go with it.

NEXT UP: She Done Him Wrong...With the musicals behind us...for now, we take a look at our first Cry Grant film. Review should be up later tonight, or tomorrow.

January 21, 2010 8:19pm

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

72. Footlight Parade (1933)

Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Lloyd Bacon
Written By: Manuel Seff, James Seymour
Main Cast: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Claire Dodd, Frank McHugh

A MUSICAL HAT TRICK: PART TWO OF THREE

This one really didn't grab a hold of me until the final thirty minutes or so, where the musical acts are put to the screen and they are simply dazzling, and any points that this film gets in the end, will all be due to those final musical numbers.

Chester Kent (Cagney) is an out of work Broadway director and the reason he's out of work is because the talk of Hollywood is talking pictures and that's all that anyone wants to see. When he meets with his two producers, they inform him of this and take him to the local movie theatre to show him the proof in person. When Kent arrives at the theatre, he's surprised to see a short live musical number presented in the movie theatre before the main attraction is shown. Upon inquiring, he's told that they're referred to as prologues and that his producers can't afford to develop them for the pictures that they show in their movie theatres. Later, Kent gets the idea for the producers to buy up a bunch of theatres all around the country, and that way they'll be able to gets sets, costumes, etc... for the prologues, they'll make money and so will he and most importantly, he'll be back in business. So that's just what the producers do and "Chester Kent Prologues" are off to a rampant start.

We flash forward a bit, and take a peek inside Kent's offices and the madness that is his career. Life around the stuido is pure bonkers, as Kent is responsible for sending different companies of musical troops all over the country to perform his prologues and meanwhile he has to think up new ideas for prologues and find performers to be in them. His two main attractions end up being Bea Thorn, a former secretary in his office and Scotty Blair. Also in the meanwhile, Kent is forced to worry about a mole working for his outfit and taking his ideas to the rival prologue producer, Gladstone. Kent's secretary is the one who helps him keep his head on straight and sort everything out and secretly she'd like to be more than just his secretary, but it's her friend who speaks up before her and it's her friend that he becomes engaged to.

Kent's producers later reveal that they have a big deal pending with the Apollo Theatres, and if they can impress Mr. Apollo then they'll all be rolling in the dough. So Kent locks up his entire crew for three days, to ensure that the mole doesn't leak his ideas, and it's his mission to bang out three of the greatest prologues that he's ever created. This of course leads to the climax that I referred to in the beginning of this post, and what a climax it is. Despite the lackluster first half of this film, it's certainly something that should be sat through, just to get to the end.

So we've obviously covered what I liked about the film, let's talk about what I didn't like. For starters the dialogue was too fast and snappy for a musical. James Cagney was great, but after witnessing his performance in "The Public Enemy" and hearing his dialogue in "Footlight Parade", the dialogue in the latter sounded like it belonged in the former. Cagney's delivery on his lines is so fast, that it's something more suited for a gangster film, rather than a musical. There were also too many menail side plots that took away from the big picture. If the whole movie had been Kent's mission to create these three big prologues then it would have been a marvelous film, but instead we have to wade through engagements, divorces, love triangle and people cheating other people out of money, and by the time you get to that marvelous ending, you're just spent from having to get through the rest of the film. Cagney delivers a great performance, but one that didn't fit in with the musical genre and the ending is spectacular, with the three prologues: "Honeymoon Hotel", "By a Waterfall" and "Shanghai Lil", with "By the Waterfall" being the best, in my opinion.

RATING: 5/10 All five of those points go to the ending and what an ending it is. See this movie for the ending alone and you won't be disapointed.

NEXT UP: Gold Diggers of 1933...The third and final part of our musical hat trick, which should arrive from Netflix on Thursday, so tune in then.

January 19, 2010 5:21am

Monday, January 18, 2010

71. 42nd Street (1933)

Running Time: 89 minutes
Directed By: Lloyd Bacon
Written By: Rian James, James Seymour, from novel by Bradford Ropes
Main Cast: Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, Bebe Daniels, George Brent

A MUSICAL HAT TRICK: PART ONE OF THREE

If I were to add up all the musicals I've seen in my life, I could probably use my fingers to count them on. However, with my next three entries in the "1001" book (including this one), I may have to start using my toes to count them on, because their all musicals and the first one was a pretty good one, if I do say so myself.

Julian Marsh (Baxter) is a broke and ill theatre director, who hasn't had a hit in years and is out of cash due to the Depression. However, he's the best theatre director there is and when Jones and Barry, two Broadway producers decide to put on a show called Pretty Lady they immediately go to Marsh for the directing honors. Marsh eagerly takes the job, despite orders from his doctors that he's on the cusp of another nervous breakdown, but he needs the cash and can't pass up the opportunity to turn out another hit.

During the casting process for Pretty Lady, we are introduced to most of the rest of the main cast, including Dorothy Brock, the shows leading lady and the reason that the show's financial backer, Abner Dillion, is even putting up the money. You see, Dorothy is leading Abner along and he's playing the role of "sugar daddy" for Ms. Brock, while she is really in love with Pat Denning, her old vaudeville partner. Anyway, back to the casting process, as we meet the rest of the faces that will round out the supporting cast and the chorus line girls, including Peggy Sawyer, a rookie to the stage, who hopes to land her first role on Pretty Lady. We're also introduced to "Anytime" Annie Lowell (played by Ginger Rogers, in her pre-Astaire days) and Lorrain Fleming, two very catty and gossipy women, who are very enjoyable to watch.

So the rehearsals start, and Marsh is a slave driver of a director, pushing the cast to work days, nights and any other time, as long as they get the routine down pat and are ready to put the show on to a live audience in five weeks. While chain smoking, Marsh barks out the orders and Baxter plays him to perfection, always looking as though he's about to have that nervous breakdown that was mentioned. Marsh and the producers are also constantly trying to ensure that Abner Dillion doesn't find out about Dorothy's other beau, as he would surely pull his dough out of the project if he knew that she was two-timing him. The night before the show is to make it's grand opening in Philadelphia, Baxter fractures her ankle and the shows leading lady and star is put on the sidelines. Now the entire production rests on the shoulders of the young rookie Peggy Sawyer, as she's chosen to replace Baxter as the lead.

The first thing about this movie that really appealed to me is, that I think it does a good job of showing what it's like to work on a stage show. Not that I've ever been on a stage show, but if I had to imagine what it's like, this is definitely it. The hard work, the constant pressure to get everything right on cue and right down to every word and every dance step. The acting was mediocre, except for that of Warner Baxter, who plays the stage director Marsh brilliantly. The songs are also quite catchy, with renditions of: "Shuffle Off to Buffalo", "Young and Healthy", "You're Beginning To Be a Habit with Me" and of course, the title song "42nd Street". I'm really no expert on musicals, or what the great ones are and aren't, but I'd have to believe that this is one of the greats and I certainly had a fun time watching it. This flick was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture back in it's day and it's not hard to see why.

RATING: 7.5/10 It didn't get the full '10' but for a musical of which I really didn't have any high hopes for, it certainly made a more than decent impression.

NEXT UP: Footlight Parade...The second part of our musical hat trick is here and waiting to be watched. I don't have anything else due in from Netflix, however, until Thursday, so I may end up saving it for tomorrow.

January 18, 2010 10:59am

Thursday, January 14, 2010

70. Zero de Conduite/Zero for Conduct (1933)

Running Time: 41 minutes
Directed By: Jean Vigo
Written By: Jean Vigo
Main Cast: Jean Daste, Robert le Flon, Du Verron, Delphin, Leon Larive

MY FIRST JEAN VIGO FILM AND UNFORTUNATELY I WASN'T IMPRESSED

This one was originally a part of the unfound files, until just this morning when I stumbled across it over at the Internet Archive. I had heard of Jean Vigo before, but had never seen one of his films and I have to say that my first impression was not a good one.

The holidays have just ended and the students of this short film are headed back to the opressive boarding school, where all but one of the house masters are very strict and very much disliked by the boys. The film focusses mainly on a small group of students: Caussat, Bruel, Tabard and Colin, a group of friends who plan on staging a rebellion during the school's annual Commemoration Day festivities. The group of students are constantly being detained on their free Sunday's in detention and are fed up with the constant verbal abuse that they're given by their teachers.

There's really not a whole lot else to say regarding "Zero for Conduct", as the film is quite short at forty one minutes and I've basically sumarized the entire plot. The setting, in the boarding school, was a likeable one for me, but somehow it went in a direction that I didn't expect it to go and thus lost my interest early. I wish it had shown more of what life is like in a boarding school, instead of relying on the rebellion that the students were staging, as that would've been far more entertaining and something I really could've gotten in to. Bottom line, I'll have to call this one something that just missed me entirely, but the reasons as to why, I really can't put my finger on. There were some scenes that were charming, but in the end I wasn't impressed.

RATING: 3.5/10 That's a fairly generous rating for a film that I just couldn't get into, but with a few scenes that peaked my interest.


NEXT UP: 42nd Street...A very famous musical that I've definitely heard of. It'll be interesting to finally see it.

January 14, 2010 2:46am
REVISED on: January 25, 2010 2:12pm


68. FREAKS (1932)

Running Time: 62 minutes
Directed By: Tod Browning
Written By: Clarence Aaron "Tod" Robbins, from his novel Spurs
Main Cast: Wallace Ford, Olga Baclanova, Harry Earles, Henry Victor, Daisy Earles, Leila Hyams

Sidenote: Just wanted to take a moment and make mention of the fact that the entry for "Freaks" appears on page 100 of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book. With 942 pages of movies to watch, I'm approximately 1/9 of the way complete, which may not be anything to boast about, but I felt it was somewhat of a menial accomplishment.

CAN A FULL GROWN WOMAN TRULY LOVE A MIDGET?

Tod Browning's final film in the "1001" book, "Freaks" was a really good movie, but I think it may have fell below my expectations and not lived up to the hype, as it is Browning's most famous film, yet in my opinion, not his best.

The movie takes place in a circus, much like Browning's previous and better film, "The Unknown", and the first characters that we're introduced to are Hans and Frieda, two midgets who are very happily engaged. At least they're very happy until Hans lays his eyes on one of the few non-freaks in the film, Cleopatra, the trapeze artist. Hans quickly becomes smitten with the goreous Cleopatra and before you can say "oddity" he's head over heels for her, and has forgotten all about his fiance. Meanwhile, Cleopatra's real intentions are purely monetary, as she goes gaga for all of the gifts and cash that Hans presents her with. In actuality, Cleopatra is really having an affair with the circus strong man, Hercules, a very rude, obnoxious, brute of a man who gets his jollies making fun of the physically less fortunate circus acts.

When Cleopatra learns that Hans has come into an inheritance and that he's loaded with cash, she gets the idea to marry him and then "dispose" of him, so that the inheritance will be hers, and so she can be with Hercules. Cleopatra and Hercules devise the scheme and the tall woman and the short man are soon married, in a very festive ceremony. When the freaks decide to make her one of their own, by passing a large goblet of wine around a table and chanting, she "freaks" out and throws the wine into one of their faces. She shortly thereafter apologizes to Hans for insulting his friends, blames it on the wine and continues forward with her plan to get rid of him, by poisoning him.

The freaks in the picture are really kind of a side element, as they don't play any real part in furthering the plot and are seemingly just put on camera for shock value. There's also a small side plot involving Phroso the Clown and Venus, a normal woman who travels with the circus and the romance that develops between the two. There are a few other very small plots involving the freaks, that really don't take up much of the short sixty-two minute film and are really just playing sexond fiddle to the Cleopatra/Hans stuff.

I was really disapointed in this film and the main reason I was, was because I really expected more out of it. That's not to say it wasn't enjoyable, but it certainly wasn't as good as "The Unknown", another one of Browning's films and a lesser known one at that, that is actually much better than this. This film did have it's moments and really, in the end, it wasn't bad at all and it's a movie that I could definitely see growing on me in time, and something that I wouldn't mind seeing again down the road. The acting was mediocre, the plot was better than average and everything else was good, so I call that a good day at the office and it could've been way worse.

RATING: 7/10 Before I watched it, I was really expecting this one to go all the way and snag a '10' rating, but it'll have to settle for a '7'

NEXT UP: Me and My Gal...My first Spencer Tracy movie and unfortunately I'm going to have to skip it.

January 14, 2010 2:42am

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

67. Shanghai Express (1932)

Running Time: 80 minutes
Directed By: Josef von Sternberg
Written By: Jules Furthman
Main Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Warner Oland, Anna May Wong, Eugene Pallette

ALL ABOARD THE 'SHANGHAI EXPRESS'

This one was dangerously close to being just another entry in the "unfound files", until I stumbled upon it over on YouTube. While my second look at a Josef von Sternberg film, was not as good as my first one (see "The Blue Angel"), this was still an enjoyable film.

We're introduced right off the bat to an eclectic group of characters, headed up by Shanghai Lily, a high class prostitute, or "coaster" as she's referred to here (played, in all her ravishing glory, by Dietrich) and Captain Donald Harvey, a member of the British Armed Forces. Among others we have: an Asian "coaster", Hui Fei, a habitual gambler Sam Salt, a cranky German invalid Eric Baum, boarding house keeper Mrs. Haggerty and the mysterious half Chinese, half white Henry Chang. We also learn quite quickly that Shanghai Lily and Capt. Harvey are former lovers and we're given bits and pieces of their backstory and apparently it ended quite badly, with both parties regretting the split. So when all these conflicting personalities are thrown together on the Shanghai Express, as it makes it's way from Peking to Shanghai, we the viewer, are certainly in for a bumpy, yet interesting ride.

With all those elements in play, add on top of that, that China is in the middle of a civil war and when government soldiers halt the train and inspect everyone's passport's, they seize a rebel informant. Immediately after this happens, Chang sends a coded telegram to his fellow rebels and soon after that the train is taken over by the leader of the rebellion, who turns out to be Chang. Chang questions all of the passengers in a search to see if any of them are acquainted with anyone of importance, as he needs a hostage to threaten the government with, so that they'll return his previously captured informant. Chang gets what he wants, as Capt. Harvey is on his way to Shanghai to perform brain surgery on the Governor of Shanghai.

Eventually Chang's man is released and while he was met with cooperation by Capt. Harvey, he has no plans to let him go, despite prearranged plans to do just that. Instead, he plans to deprive Capt. Harvey of his eyesight and when his former lover, Shanghai Lily hears of this plan, she offers herself to Chang, in exchange for the release of Harvey. The Captain is let go and Shanghai Lily finds herself in a sticky situation, until Hui Fei, who was forced to spend the night with Chang, decides to kill him and Harvey overpowers the rest of Chang's officers and breaks Lily out.

I've got to say that Marlene Dietrich is extremely ravishing in this picture and it's the cinematographer who does her justice, using her face to make some of the movie's most memorable visuals. Whether her face is shaded by a black veil or framed in feathers, Shaghai Lily is always made to look stunning, mysterious and sexy and Dietrich plays her so cool. While this film really wasn't something that I'd normally go for, with all of the spies, war and etc., I have to give credit to von Sternberg an Dietrich for pulling me in and holding my interest for eighty minutes. Besides Dietrich's great performance, it's the supporting cast who I enjoyed, for the most part. The character of Sam Salt was a riot, constantly offering bets to his fellow passengers of anything and everything that is able to be bet upon. All in all I would call "Shanghai Express" a moderately enjoyable flick and would certainly recommend it for Dietrich's performance alone.

RATING: 6/10 Better than your average flick and if I remember my previous ratings, most of my recent views have lingered in and around the '6' range.

NEXT UP: Freaks...Another movie that I have high hopes for and Tod Browning's last film in the "1001" book. Should be ready for review sometime tomorrow.

January 13, 2010 1:59am

Monday, January 11, 2010

66. Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932)

Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: Howard Hawks
Written By: Ben Hecht, Fred Pasley, Seton I. Miller, John Lee Mahin, W.R. Burnett, from novel by Armitage Trail
Main Cast: Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, George Raft, Osgood Perkins, Boris Karloff

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A MAN NAMED 'HAWKS'

The first of eleven Howard Hawks pictures in the "1001" book, Scarface offers up an outstanding performance by Paul Muni and a gritty look at the crime world in the Prohibition days of Chicago.

Muni plays the title role of Tony "Scarface" Camonte, a gangster on the rise in the underworld and destined to make it big. The film starts out with Tony knocking off big time gangster and leader of all wrong doing, Lou Costillo. This opens up the door for Tony's current employer, Johnny Lovo, to take control of all Costillo's operations and with Tony as his muscle, he can't lose. Muni plays Scarface so well, with his "I'll get whatever I want" attitude and you really believe that this guy could kick an ass or two, if need be.

Johnny Lovo eventually takes full control of the bootlegging racket and adamantly shoots down all of Tony's risky suggestions, such as moving in on the Northside and taking over the bootlegging in that region. When Tony gets fed up with his boss' lack of backbone, he and his sidekick, Guino Rinaldo, take matters into their own hands, moving in on the Northside racket, killing the Northside king and all the while, taking his inspiration from a sign outside his apartment window that reads, "The World Is Yours". Tony even, throughout the movie, constantly flirts with Lovo's main squeeze, until eventually she cracks to his charm and leaves Lovo in the dust. Another constant storyline throughout the picture, is the over protecting attitude that Tony shows toward his sister, first paying her off to stay away from other men, and then eventually resulting to physical violence to teach her a lesson.

As I've said in the past, gangster flicks really aren't my specialty, but with a few really good ones coming up in the book recently, I've really been able to enjoy this genre in a whole new light. First Cagney swings in with his portrayl of Tom Powers and now Muni takes the screen and makes it his with his portrayl as Tony Camonte. While I just saw Muni in "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang", I kept watching this movie and saying "That is not the same guy!", eventhough I knew very well that it was. It's not that Muni looks any different physically, it's that he's playing a totally different character and his acting is so top notch, that he gives the illusion of looking physically different. He's truly an amazing actor and I really hope I haven't seen my last Muni movie in the "1001" book. Everyone else turned in great performances too (as that seems to be the latest trend, as I've watched some really steallar casts recently), the two main female leads, Tony's sister, Cesca and Tony's love interest, Poppy are both great and I have to mention Angelo played by Vince Barnett who provides us with a little bit of comedy throughout the movie. While, in my opinion, there are still a few dull spots throughout the film, all in all, with the great acting and everything that's going on plot-wise, Scarface is a really good flick.

RATING: 7/10 Howard Hawks starts off with a bang and I can't wait to see more films, from a director that I've heard so much about, yet haven't seen enough from.

NEXT UP: Shanghai Express...Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich team up once again and hopefully "Shanghai Express" is as good as "The Blue Angel"...Review should be up around this time tomorrow.

January 11, 2010 2:31am


Saturday, January 9, 2010

65. Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Running Time: 82 minutes
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch
Written By: Grover Jones, from the play The Honest Finder by Aladar Laszlo
Main Cast: Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis

A PICKPOCKET'S LOVE STORY

To say that "Trouble in Paradise" was a great movie and deserved to be in the "1001" book, would be a bit much. While it was, in my opinion, a relatively mediocre film, it certainly had certain characteristics that were great.

Gaston Monescu (played delightfully by Herbert Marshall) is a thief who one night has a romantic dinner with Lily (Hopkins) and the sexual tension is so thick in the air, that it could easily be severed with a knife. After a few sweet nothings that the couple trade back and forth, it is immediately brought to the table (literally) that they are both thiefs. While Gaston has stolen Lily's broach and her garter and Lily has stolen Gaston's previously pickpocketed wallet, they both soon realize that they have stolen each other's hearts and that they were meant to be together. It's an oddly touching scene to see these two flirt, as they graciously return the goods that they've lifted from one another.

Fast forward a year later and Gaston and Lily are living happily ever after, still in love, but utterly broke. They're out of money and despite still making their living as thieves, they need to find a big target and fast. One evening, while at the opera, Gaston lifts a $125,000 bag from the heiress to the Colet Perfume Co. and makes off with it. A few days later an ad is published in the newspaper, offering a $20,000 reward for the return of the bag. Gaston and Lily know that they'll never make that much by selling the bag, so the decide to return it and collect the reward dough. Upon meeting the heiress, Madame Mariette Colet, the sexual tension is once again lighting up the screen and these two play it perfectly grabbing you by the neck and making you hang on every single word that is spoken.

Madame Colet eventually convinces Gaston to become her personal assistant, but not before Gaston recognizes a safe in the Madame's bedroom and sees another chance to grab a lot of cash. So Gaston becomes Madame Colet's personal secretary and the two end up falling head over heels for each other, only never saying that straight forward, but instead using signals to flash it to the audience. Throw in Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton as two hopeful suitors for the Madame and the comedy light is turned on.

While I wasn't totally blown away by this picture, there were definitely some aspects of it that I really fell in love with. The main thing was the performance of Herbert Marshall who graces the screen with a very debonair and delightful way about him and his dialogue flows right out of his mouth and captivates the viewer. I hate to throw out the word delightful when describing Marshall's performance, but after careful consideration, that's exactly what he is. The two female leads are also quite elegant in their performace, but I leaned more toward Kay Francis and the scene with her and Marshall when she's just about to leave for an engagement is absolutely brilliant and the inuendos are flowing heavily. Everything else I'd clasify as mediocre. Charles Ruggles, who I watched in "Love Me Tonight" was, again, very good in this film and the plot overall was also something I'd simply clasify as right in that middle ground.

RATING: 6.5/10 I could easily see this rating going higher as some time passes and I think about it, but first reaction gets "Trouble in Paradise" a '6.5'

NEXT UP: Scarface: The Shame of a Nation...Really looking forward to this one and seeing Paul Muni portray a heel this time around.

January 9, 2010 7:08pm


Friday, January 8, 2010

64. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: Mervyn LeRoy
Written By: Howard J. Green, from the memoir by Robert E. Burns
Main Cast: Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson, Edward Ellis

THE GRANDPAPPY OF ALL PRISON MOVIES DOESN'T DISAPOINT

I had heard of, so many times, this film with the very long title, but in all my days of watching movies I had never seen it, that is, until today. I had high hopes for this one going in, and I wasn't wrong, as "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" delivered the goods in more ways than one.

Paul Muni plays James Allen, who's just returning home from World War I with aspirations of being a construction worker. His dreams of wanting to build and create things are quickly dashed as he gives in to his old supervisor and goes back to work at the local factory. However, when his mother realizes how important his dreams are to him, she gives him her blessing to go and pursue his desired occupation. Allen travels all around the country looking for work as a construction worker, getting laid off from several jobs and flat out being told "NO" when asking for work at others. Eventually, he's reduced to a tramp, wandering the streets, without foor or money.

Eventually, Allen meets up with Pete, a man who promises he can get him a hamburger, a very welcome suggestion to Allen's ears. Upon arriving at the hamburger stand, Pete coaxes the proprietor to give him a couple of burgers and when Pete gets a load of the cash register, he can't resist holding the place up. Allen, of course wants nothing to do with this, but when a gun is stuck in his face and he's told to empty the register, he has no choice and when the cops arrive and he's left holding the loot, he's sentenced to ten years in prison, working on the chain gang.

It only takes Allen about a year to devise a scheme to bust out of the joint and when he convinces another inmate to bend his ankle shackles with a sledgehammer, he sees an opportunity to get away. So that's just what he does and despite a hot pursuit complete with guards and their dogs, Allen is home free. Reversing his name to Allen James, so as to give himself a little bit of cover, Allen takes a job in the construction business and moves up the ladder of success pretty rapidly. When he takes an apartment from a woman named Marie, who is immediately attracted to Allen, he makes his first mistake. When Allen doesn't return Marie's affection and feelings, Marie blackmails him with the information that she knows he's an escaped convict and unless he marries her, she'll turn him in.

Basically, for me, this was a no brainer. I love prison flicks and so I knew I'd love this movie. This movie does a really good job of showing the viewer just how difficult it was to be a prisoner on a chain gang and this movie really has a little bit of everything. The suspense that is created when Allen slips off his shackles and takes off running through the southern woods, the romantic scene as Allen and his new gal Helen, sit in his car on a moonlit night and flirt like crazy. The car chase scene, which for it's time was quite elaborate. You can really connect to this character, and you really get a feel for how desperate he gets at certain times in the movie and how badly he wants to be free of his shackles so that he can continue to pursue his dreams. Paul Muni turns in a fantastic performance and makes me quite excited for his upcoming role in "Scarface: The Shame of A Nation", which I'll be reviewing in just a few days. Great movie, and although I haven't seen the other films nominated that year, "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" is rightly deserving of the Best Picture Oscar that it received.

RATING: 10/10 What can I say I'm a sucker for a good prison movie and this one is top notch.

NEXT UP: Trouble In Paradise...I got it from Netflix today, but I'll more than likely save it for tomorrow, so check back then for the review of that one.

January 8, 2010 5:35pm

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

63. Boudu Sauve des eaux/Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932)

Running Time: 83 minutes
Directed By: Jean Renoir
Written By: Jean Renoir, Albert Valentin, from the play Boudu Sauve des eaux by Rene Fauchois
Main Cast: Michel Simon, Charles Granval, Marcelle Hainia, Severine Lerczinska

BOUDU SAVES ME FROM HAVING TO WATCH A BAD FILM

With eighty-three minutes to kill this evening, I decided to watch my next film in the "1001" book and Jean Renoir's eleventh film, "Boudu Saved from Drowning". I was actually quite surprised by how good this film was, as I really didn't have high hopes for it after seeing the first five minutes and despite the grainy quality of the picture and the hard to read subtitles, it was actually very good.

Boudu is a homeless man, or a tramp, as he is referred to in the film, who keeps to himself and enjoys spending his days playing with his dog. One day when his dog goes off by himself, and Boudu cannot find him, Boudu becomes very distraught and after walking around the town, decides to throw himself into the river. When a nearby bourgeois apartment dweller and bookstore owner sees him plunging into the river, he immediately races down his steps, out the door and into the river to save Boudu. We learn that the bourgeois man is named Edouard Lestingois and has a heart of gold.

Lestingois revives Boudu and invites him into his home, where he quickly provides him with a meal, some new clothes and giving him one of two lottery tickets that belonged to a recently deceased friend of Lestingois. Boudu, however, is not grateful. He wishes that Lestingois had never pulled him from the river and let him die, as he planned to do.

We quickly learn that Boudu's character is not an intelligent man, nor is he a man of manners, as he shows this by totally wrecking the kitchen, just by trying to shine his shoes. Lestingois eventually gets fed up with Boudu's behavior of spitting on the floor, and hitting on the women of the house, and decides that he must go. But will the man with the heart of gold have the heart to kick the man that he gave life to, back out on to the streets and what about the lottery ticket, will that come into play at all?

Really not a bad film at all, as the dialogue flows together really well and the characters are very easy to connect with, Lestingois most all, in my opinion. However, the subtitles were very difficult to read and the picture was very grainy and old looking. even for a 1932 film. The plot is very simple and not a whole lot happens, but sometimes that's just how I like my films and sometimes, just sometimes, less is definitely more, as is the case with "Boudu Saved from Drowning". Michel Simon does a fantastic job portraying the unintelligent Boudu and Granval turns out a good performance as the good hearted Lestingois.

RATING: 6.5/10 Jean Renoir's second of six films in the "1001" book and this one was quite pleasurable.

NEXT UP: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang...Not expecting anything else from Netflix until Thursday, so look for the review then.

January 5, 2010 11:11pm

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

62. Love Me Tonight (1932)

Running Time: 89 minutes
Directed By: Rouben Mamoulian
Written By: Samuel Hoffenstein, Waldemar Young, George Marion Jr. from the play Tailor In the Chateau by Paul Armont and Lepold Marchand
Main Cast: Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charles Ruggles, Charles Butterworth, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith

MY FIRST MUSICAL...ON THIS JOURNEY

Despite not being able to come up with any examples at the moment, I'm sure the basic premise of "Love Me Tonight" would go on to be imitated and parodied for years to come, following it's release in 1932. A common man meets and falls in love with a princess. It's as simple as that and "Love Me Tonight" was not a bad flick...not a bad flick at all.

Maurice Chevalier plays Maurice Courtelin, your average common man, who makes his living as a tailor in the city of love, Paris, France. He is the self proclaimed "best at what he does", however business is down. That is, until Viscount Gilbert de Vareze comes to him with an outraegous order of nearly a dozen suits. Promising to pay Maurice when he returns to town the following day, the Viscount exits Maurice's shop, with no intention of returning. When Maurice is tipped off by another bill collector who's looking to collect from the snake-like Viscount, Courtelin goes after his money directly.

In the meanwhile, at the chateau, where the Viscount's uncle, the Duke, takes up residency, Princess Jeanette (MacDonald) desperately seeks and wants a groom and despite the best efforts of Count de Savignac, a suitor who would like nothing more than to wed her, The Princess goes unmarried.

On his way to the chateau, Maurice the tailor breaks down and while waiting for his driver to fix the problem with car, he spots the Princess while out for a stroll on her horse drawn carriage. As she nearly wrecks the carriage and falls into a ditch on the side of the road, Maurice quickly rushes to the rescue, helping her out of the ditch and almost immediately falling in love with her, as he serenades her with a song called "Mimi". Eventually the Princess writes off Maurice as utterly mad, and speeds away from the "lunatic". Eventually Maurice finds his way to the chateau, finds the Viscount and demands his payment for the suits. The Viscount, however, needs time to retrieve the cash, so he offers the tailor a place to stay for a few days and tells him that he will eventually be paid. Once Maurice realizes that he's in the chateau of the Princess and the new love of his life, he quickly accepts the invitation. But, so he'll fit in and be welcome, he is introduced as Baron Courtelin and thus our tale is in full motion for a raging climax.

While nothing stood out as absolutely brilliant about "Love Me Tonight", nothing stood out as absolutely terrible either. If I were to sum up "Love Me Tonight" with one word it would simply be...average. Despite a couple of very memorable scenes, for instance, the opening of the film and the rendition of "Isn't It Romantic?", which stretches from Maurice's shop, into the streets and eventually all over the city of Paris. Perhaps it's the performances that I liked the most. Maurice Chevalier plays the lead role very effectively, as the very charming, dapper and loveable Maurice Courtelin. One of the performances that stood out for me, and probably the thing I'll most remember about this picture as time goes by, is the role of Count de Savignac played brilliantly by Charles Butterworth. One of my very favorite lines from the film, right after Count de Savignac tries to serenade the Princess with his flute:

Savignac: (After falling off of a ladder) "Oh I'll never use it again!"
Princess: (Yelling down from the balcony) "Is it your leg?!"
Savignac: "NO...I fell flat on my flute!"

RATING: 5.5/10 Nothing great, nothing terrible, so a "5.5" seemed the right way to go. Butterworth and Chevalier were brilliant and I'll be on the look out for them in the films to come.

NEXT UP: Boudu Saved from Drowning...It's available instantly on Netflix, so the review should be up sometime tomorrow.

January 5, 2010 5:00am