Sunday, February 28, 2010

121. Babes in Arms (1939)

Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: Busby Berkeley
Written By: Jack McGowan, Kay Van Riper
Main Cast: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Charles Winninger, Guy Kibbee, June Preisser

"THEY CALL US BABES IN ARMS/BUT WE ARE BABES IN ARMOR!"

Yet another Busby Berkeley musical comes up for viewing in the '1001' book, but instead of just choreographing the numbers, this time Berkeley directs, in a film that I didn't find half as good as his previous pictures, the ones that he didn't direct.

When the days of vaudeville and stage shows is reaching it's bitter end and being replaced by talking pictures, this film zooms in on one families struggle to accept the fact that those days are over. The family are the Morans, headed up by the patriarch and famous vaudeville performer, Joe Moran. Joe is married and has two children, Mickey (Rooney) and Molly, two kids who dream of following in their father's footsteps and who want nothing more than to shine on the stage. They're both teenagers, and Mickey actually tastes a bit of success when he sells one of the many songs he's written. This inspires Mickey to make it even more, and when he finds out that the parents of all the kids in town are taking their vaudeville performance out for one last burst of life, Mickey and all the kids are disappointed that they won't be joining in. Mickey tries to persuade his father that all of the kids have got real talent, but to no avail, as the father wants no part of it.

This inspires Mickey even more and when the parents leave for New York, the kids band together and decide to put on a show, so that they can show their parents what they're made of and pull them out of debt in the process. The show is staged with Mickey, his friend/girlfriend Patsy, his sister Molly and another boy Don, as the leads. However, the cast lineup changes when famous child actor, Baby Rosalie enters the picture and decides that she'll put up the money they need to secure the location, sets, etc., as long as she gets to be in the lead. Meanwhile, the whole time, Martha, the town biddy, is trying her best to get the judge to send all the children to a state work school, since the parents are obviously clinging to dreams of stardom, instead of taking care of their responsibilities at home.

The plot is a bit fast, with a whole lot of information and plot points being chucked out and having it chucked out by children, for that matter. I just wasn't able to suspend my imagination enough to take all of this grown up behavior from these teenage kids. The kids go through the picture, caught up in love triangles, fighting it out in court, smoking cigars, going on dinner dates and all with the burden of taking care of their parents financial responsibilities, or trying to anyway. It just wasn't believable for me. Although Mickey Rooney was amazing in this, his performance was full of energy and I don't know if he was just naturally like that, or if they filled the kid full of caffeine before shooting. The character of Mickey and maybe even Patsy, we're believable for me, but the rest was just too much of a stretch for me to go along with. Even the musical numbers, as good as they were, fell a little bit flat, for Berkeley's standards. I was expecting grand numbers, like I saw in "42nd Street", "Gold Diggers of 1933" and "Footlight Parade", but instead the best I got was a silly black face routine and an average rendition of "Where or When".

RATING: 5/10 Mickey Rooney was the life of the party here and his portrayal of Mickey Moran was enough to get this picture to the halfway mark.

NEXT UP: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington...Jimmy Stewart has arrived! My favorite classic actor of all-time (well before I started the book anyway) steps up to bat with his first film from the '1001' book. I'll be back later with the review for this one.

February 28, 2010 4:52pm

120. Zangiku monogatari/The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (1939)

Running Time: 142 minutes
Directed By: Kenji Mizoguchi
Written By: Matsutaro Kawaguchi, Yoshikata Yoda, from novel by Shofu Muramatsu
Main Cast: Shotaro Hanayagi, Kakuko Mori

A FANTASTIC, JAPANESE LOVE STORY

I'll admit that I had my doubts about how this movie would strike me and while my knowledge of Asian cinema isn't that vast, this was a great picture to start adding to that knowledge. "The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums", was a really depressing, heartbreaking love story and it really hits the emotional button with extra force.

Kikunosuke is the son of the legendary Japanese actor named Kikugoro, and is also an actor himself, staging performances in the city of Tokyo. Kiku (his shortened name in the film) eventually comes to the realization, that while his fellow actors and even his father praise him behind his back, when he's not around they complain about how terrible he is. While Kiku suspects this, he is never given a straight answer by anyone, due to the fact that he is the son of Kikugoro. One evening, while riding home after a performance, Kiku runs into Otoku, his baby brother's nursemaid. Otoku tells him that she went to see one of his performances, and while being careful not to offend him, tells it to him straight...that he's just not that good. He praises her for her honesty and tells her that because someone finally laid out the truth to him, that he will use it as inspiration to get better. After Otoku's show of honesty, Kiku becomes very close with the nursemaid, eventhough the rest of the family frowns upon fraternizing with her. When the two are caught alone in the house together, eating watermelon nonchalantly, Otoku is fired.

In rebellion against Otoku being let go, Kiku leaves his father's home, vowing never to return unless Otoku is welcome. Eventually Kiku finds himself on a train to Osaka, and while he tried to take Otoku with him, the families of the two lovers stepped in and kept her from going. Kiku takes a job as an actor in Osaka, and realizes on his own that he hasn't improved, especially without the honest criticisms of Otoku. However, Otoku tracks down Kiku in Osaka and the two are reunited and happy as ever, despite living in squalor. Some time passes and the show that Kiku is working on in Osaka is shut down and Kiku is forced to take an acting job with a traveling troupe of actors. Four years pass and the couple are still together, living in even more poverty, with Otoku's health on the decline. Despite a few slight quarrels, the couple stick together through thick and thin. However, the traveling troupe of actors are soon shut down as well, and the couple are forced to take refuge in a shelter. In a last ditch effort to make everything right for Kiku, Otoku travels to see an old friend and beg him to get Kiku a job in a role in a big stage play that is being put on. If Kiku can impress the audience, then he'll get the chance to return to Tokyo and become a world renowned actor. However, if Kiku does return to Tokyo, Otoku must take a vow to let him go alone, so that he may reconcile his differences with his father.

This movie is really a downer and it's ironic that this great cinematic love story is being played out in such a depressing film. The love that Kiku and Otoku share for one another is a beautiful thing and really highlighted by Mizoguchi. However, every time the couple seem to catch a break, it always ends badly and they find themselves right back at square one. Even the climax is a heartbreaking one and despite all of the sadness that this movie contains, it's still a really beautiful film, both visually and emotionally. I've always loved the setting of the orient in films, as I feel that it's a really photogenic country, that usually seems to give off some fantastic shots and wonderful backdrops. The Japanese culture is always one that I've felt that I could really fit into and having a film set there, really appeals to me. Anyway, I'm getting off on a rant here, but "The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums", despite its depressing tone, is still an enjoyable picture and something that I would really recommend to anyone.

RATING: 7.5/10 That's another rating that I could definitely see climbing as time passes, and don't be surprised if this shows up on the next "TOP" list, with a higher, revised rating.

NEXT UP: Babes in Arms...A Busby Berkeley musical...sounds allright to me. I'll be getting to this one, and the film that follows this one tomorrow, so be on the lookout boys and girls.

February 28, 2010 2:13am



Saturday, February 27, 2010

119. Stagecoach (1939)

Running Time: 96 minutes
Directed By: John Ford
Written By: Ernest Haycox, Dudley Nichols
Main Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, George Bancroft, Louise Platt, Andy Devine, Donald Meek

Sidenote: The review for Stella Dallas is up and can be found by clicking here. On another note; I mentioned the other day that the Dodsworth review would be on the way soon. Well scratch that, as the status of the film on Netflix, has gone from "shipping today" back to a "very long wait", so who really knows when that'll get done. Also, no changing news on the status of Angels with Dirty Faces.

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A MAN CALLED 'THE DUKE'

John Wayne swaggers into the pages of the '1001' book and John Ford follows him, with the director's second entry in the book (following Judge Priest). This was a pretty good western, which really picks up most of it's steam in the final thirty minutes.

The story takes place in the town of Tonto, a town which is going through a high degree of unrest, due to the recent word that Geronimo and the Apache's are afoot and raising cain. When the Marshall, Curly, gets word that the Ringo Kid (Wayne) has busted out of prison and likely headed for Lordsburg to confront Luke Plummer, a man who killed his brother and father, he jumps at the opportunity to bring the Kid back to justice and nab him once more. He summons a stagecoach driver named Buck to take him through Dry Fork, Apache Wells and finally into Lordsburg, despite the threat that the Apache's raise throughout those parts. Along for the ride are several other men and women, all for their own reasons. First off, we have Dr. Boone (Mitchell), the town drunk and a prostitute name Dallas (Trevor), both of whom are being kicked out of the town. Also, we have Mrs. Lucy Mallory (Platt), who plans to meet her cavalry officer husband in Dry Fork. Also along for the trip are Samuel Peacock (Meek), a whiskey salesman, Hatfield (Carradine), the town gambler and Henry Gatewood (Churchill), the banker in Tonto. So the stage is set for a wild ride when these personalities are stuffed into a tiny stagecoach, all for their own reasons and headed through Apache country.

The trip barely gets started when the coach comes across the Ringo Kid and Marshall Curly takes him along for the ride, as they continue their trek. The plot slows down considerably at this point, once all hands are on deck, as the gang arrives at Dry Fork, only to find out that the calvary has moved on to Apache Wells. They continue to Apache Wells, to find that the cavalry has, yet again, moved on to Lordsburg. While staying at Apache Wells, Mrs. Mallory faints and when Doc Boone is urged to sober up and help the young lady, it all ends up with the birth of her child, a baby girl. Also along the way, a romance is sparked between the Ringo Kid and Dallas, as two souls who no one wants, a fugitive and a prostitute, although the Kid doesn't know about her past. Eventually the climax comes and the volume is cranked up to a full blast level, with outstanding stunts and plenty of tension.

This was really a fantastic cast, as everyone involved turned in outstanding performances and played their part to keep the story going, even in the down times of the film. I love films where an random group of strangers are thrown together and forced to coexist. It usually seems to add an element of conflict and tension and keeps you gripped, as you just know at some point, somewhere the shit is going to hit the fan. The chase scene is where this film really turns into a "must see" picture, as it is truly an unbelievable showcase of action and stunts, especially considering the era in which the film was made. It's full of what every chase scene needs to have: great stunts, action, excitement, suspense and just plain awesomeness. From there we're not done, as the suspense and tension are laid on for a second round, as the whole gang reaches Lordsburg and I still realize we got the showdown between Plummer and the Kid to deal with. If they could've kept the excitement up throughout the whole movie, instead of picking it up near the end, then this would've been a blockbuster and a masterpiece. However, the middle segments just seem a bit too dull and "nothing happening" for me.

RATING: 6.5/10 Despite a bit of dullness, the picture was still really enjoyable and fun to watch and I can definitely see this one growing on me, as time passes.

NEXT UP: Zangiku Monogatari...or, The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums...I'll be watching this one on YouTube. I'll be out of town tomorrow, so if I do get to this one tomorrow, it won't be until later at night.

February 26, 2010 11:58pm

Friday, February 26, 2010

118. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Running Time: 102 minutes
Directed By: Howard Hawks
Written By: Hagar Wilde, Dudley Nichols
Main Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charles Ruggles, May Robson, Walter Catlett

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A WOMAN NAMED 'KATHARINE'

This is the definitive Cary Grant picture that I've been waiting for. While I didn't enjoy "She Done Him Wrong" or "The Awful Truth", this film, however, shows off the comedic talents of Grant to the fullest and add to that, the great Katharine Hepburn and director Howard Hawks, and you have got one hilarious film.

David Huxley, a mild-mannered paleontologist, is getting married in twenty-four fours to Alice Swallow. While David spends his final hours as a bachelor putting together the skeleton of a brontosaurus, he's relieved to find out that the final bone, the intercostal clavicle, has just been discovered and his dinosaur is complete. The only other thing that could make David happier on this day, is if his meeting with Alexander Peabody goes well. If the meeting goes well, then Peabody could persuade his client, Elizabeth Random, to donate a sum of $1 million to David's museum. Enter Susan Vance (Hepburn)...

David meets Ms. Susan Vance while playing golf with Peabody. She starts out by stealing his golf ball and playing off of it and then proceeds to drive off in his car, pulling David away from his gold game and putting the $1 million in jeopardy. Later that evening, David plans to meet with Peabody again at a restaurant later that night, but once again finds himself in the middle of a huge mix-up with the scatterbrained Vance. After she rips his coat and he rips her dress (both by accident), David misses his meeting again. The next morning David receives a call from Susan that she needs help in dealing with a leopard that her brother Mark has sent her from South America. The leopard is named, Baby, and is a tame leopard, but Susan will use any excuse in the book to get near David, whom she is rapidly falling for. David comes to her apartment, with his newly arrived intercostal clavicle in tow, and winds up being roped into taking the leopard to Connecticut, to Susan's aunt. Along the way, the information is revealed that Susan's aunt is the millionaire Elizabeth Random, and not only does David want her money for his museum, but Susan wants the dough as well. This is just a portion of the laughs that this movie conjures up and I won't spoil anymore, as the rest must be seen to be believed.

While the plot may sound a bit zany and all over the place, it's actually quite hilarious, as the film ties together all sorts of different plot lines and runs with them, in this mother of screwball comedies. This film still holds up well today, and in fact, was ahead of it's time really, as the film flopped upon release, forcing Hepburn to forfeit her RKO contract and leading to Hawks' firing from RKO. It's the little things in this picture, that really get the laugh out loud moments from me, from David's mild-mannered, fumbling speech, to Susan asking David "What's in the box?" (the delivery of that line just gets to my funny bone for some reason, as Hepburn spits it out in record time), to David's use of the word gay, as he dons a frilly, female bathrobe. Everything just comes together so wonderfully and there's enough content here to keep this picture trekking along right through to the last bit of picture perfect dialogue. Throw Grant and Hepburn together, add one part leopard, one part Asta, the dog and tons of laughs and you have got a serious winner on your hands.

RATING: 8.5/10 Hilarious movie, that is forcing me to take a closer look at the genre of screwball comedy and consume some of it's prime candidates, in my spare time.

NEXT UP: Stagecoach..."The Duke" swaggers into the pages of the "1001" book! This will probably get watched later tonight, so look for the review then.

February 26, 2010 5:20pm

Thursday, February 25, 2010

116. OLYMPIA (1938)

Running Time: 201 minutes
Directed By: Leni Riefenstahl
Written By: Leni Riefenstahl
Main Cast: Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens, Josef Goebbels, Forrest Towns, Glenn Morris

OLYMPIA PART 1: FESTIVAL OF NATIONS

I'm really not quite sure how I'm going to write a proper review for this film, but we'll certainly give it a go, just don't expect it to be very long. But, not because it wasn't good, it was actually a great piece of work and an extremely interesting film.

The reason I state that this will be a hard review to write, is simply because the film merely covers various events from the 1936 Olympic Games, which were held in Berlin, Germany and presided over by Adolf Hitler. The games that year were Hitler's way of showcasing the talents and athletic ability of the Third Reich. However, as much as it would seem that this is just another piece of Nazi propaganda, part one is actually a piece of work that can really evoke American patriotism. Many of the events that are showcased in part one are won by Americans, such as: the long jump, 4x400m relay, 110m hurdles, high jump, pole vault and of course, Jesse Owens totally insane running of the 100m race, where the camera gets a nice look at Owens sprinting like a gazelle and finishing the race in 10.3 seconds. Some of the other events showcased in part one include: the marathon race, hammer throw, women's high jump, hop, skip and jump, men and women's javelin throwing, shot put and discus throwing.

I guess the best way to sum up how much I liked this half of the film, would be to tell you that I have NEVER been interested in the Olympic Games, summer or winter. When I was a kid, the only thing that the Olympics meant to me, was just something that interrupted my regular television programming. However, this film really sucked me in and even, at times, had me cheering for my fellow, American countrymen. This film really sucked me into the whole Olympic whirlwind and actually made me respect these athletes more than I ever have in my life. This is a great film, and despite its simplicity, really drags you in and gives you some hardcore emotions to mull over.

OLYMPIA PART 2: FESTIVAL OF BEAUTY

This installment picks up right where the previous one left off, showcasing an eclectic group of events. While part one really only had three different types of events: throwing, running and jumping, part two gives us a wide range of games to sink our teeth into, such as: diving, polo, the decathalon, cycling, swimming, soccer, hockey, boxing, rowing, boxing, fencing, equestrian, polo and gymnastics. The title "Festival of Beauty" is an apt one, as Riefenstahl does an immaculate job making the athletes look their best, especially with the more graceful events, such as gymnastics and diving. With diving, she points her camera straight to the sky and allows the silhouettes of the athletes to totally mesmerize the viewer, and let us forget for a moment that a competition is being held. I would have to say that part two contained a few more dull moments than part one, with some slow events, such as: boxing and fencing, however, part two totally redeems itself with the decathalon, which is shown in all it's glory and is quite exciting to watch USA take home the gold, silver and bronze in that particular event.

I would really have to dismiss people who say that this is just another piece of Nazi propaganda, as Riefenstahl isn't shy about showing us the triumphs of other countries, especially the United States. When I did a quick Wikipedia search to see what the final medal count was for the 1936 Summer Games, I found that Germany actually held the most, with thirty-three gold medals and eighty-nine in all. The United States came in second overall with a total of twenty-four gold medals and fifty-six total medals. With that being said, it would have been very easy for Riefenstahl to make this into an all German show. There was nowhere near thirty-three events showcased in the entire 3+ hour film, which means she could've easily stacked the deck with all German victories. Anyway, the bottom line is this: This was definitely one of the greatest documentaries I've ever seen. Now I realize the prospect of a 3+ hour documentary doesn't sound all that enthralling, the time is not an issue, as the whole film really has a good flow to it and the time flies while watching "Olympia". Granted, I didn't watch the entire two parts back-to-back, but I could've easily done so, and I could've watched more, as I was even disappointed that there were some events not showcased, such as: greco-roman wrestling, weightlifting, shooting, handball and football. There could've been a part three and I would've been excited to tear through it.

With "Olympia", Riefenstahl shows off her knack for being able to capture some absolutely breathtaking shots. I often found myself questioning whether or not this was ACTUALLY real life taking place in front of me, as the shots are so visually superb and especially for a documentary. The stats are ungodly: 250 hours of film shot, several hundred members of Riefenstahl's crew and the erection of several steel camera towers, just so she could get the most perfect shots, which she did. While "Triumph of the Will" fell short at capturing my attention, Riefenstahl struts her stuff with "Olympia", to produce a sheer masterpiece.

RATING: 10/10 That's for the whole shebang, and I'm even surprised at that rating myself, but there was honestly nothing wrong with this film and it was grossly engaging, interesting and entertaining.

NEXT UP: The Baker's Wife...Can't find this one, so we'll be back with an unfound post for this one.

February 25, 2010 2:08am

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

115. Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Michael Curtiz
Written By: Rowland Brown, John Wexley, Warren Duff
Main Cast: James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, George Bancroft

"LET'S SAY A PRAYER, FOR A BOY WHO COULDN'T RUN AS FAST AS I COULD"

So Netflix finally shipped "Angels with Dirty Faces" and it always turns out that the movies I'm forced to skip over, end up being so good when I finally get to see them. This was a FANTASTIC gangster film, that was more than just a gangster film and one that I really enjoyed.

Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) is a gangster who's been in and out of prison for most of his life, for various reasons, ranging from robbery to assault. The film starts out with Rocky as a young kid, hanging out with his pal Jerry Connolly. They're bumming around one day and decide to pick a lock on a freight train and steal some fountain pens from the cargo. The cops end up busting them and they take off running, Jerry makes a clean getaway, but Rocky is caught. Jerry visits Rocky in the juvenile detention center and tells Rocky that he wants to give himself up too, so they'll go a little lighter on Rocky. Rocky won't hear of it and sends Jerry away. The film flashes through to Rocky's adulthood and he's being let out of prison for the umpteenth time. When he gets out he's planning to receive a large some of money from his lawyer, Frazier, to the sum of $100,000. He goes to see Frazier and get his money, but Frazier tells him that he doesn't have it yet, but he'll have it soon. Rocky then goes to visit Jerry, who he hasn't seen in ages and who is now a catholic priest. Rocky still thinks just as much of Jerry as he did when they were kids and the two are still good friends, despite their different lifestyles.

The movie goes through a phase in the middle, where Rocky tries to help Jerry out a bit, with some of the troubled youth in town. He takes up with a group of kids, a bunch of hoodlums and takes them under his wing. Teaching them the ins and outs of being a good criminal when Jerry's not around and trying to get them involved in Jerry's recreation center program, when Jerry is around. Rocky also takes up with a girl, one that he bullied when he was younger and who, after getting even with him, forgives him. Eventually, it's made known that Frazier has no intention of paying Rocky and Rocky must resort to some of his old street tricks in order to get his dough. Jerry ultimately swindles the money out of Frazier and his new associate, Keefer (Bancroft). The story comes to a climax, with Jerry telling Rocky that he's tired of all the crime and corruption in the city and doesn't want the kids to get wrapped up in the same things Rocky did. Jerry tells Rocky that even if he has to step on him, that he's making a big run at cleaning up the city and the criminals that populate it.

This movie has a great good vs. evil feel to it. Rocky Sullivan is a likable character, so I personally found myself, wanting to root for the bad guy here, in Rocky. However, you also have a very likable character in Jerry, and so you're torn between these two separate sides, that are in the form of two best friends, which makes it all the more interesting. Cagney plays Rocky perfect, not too rough, but very streetwise and I actually ended up liking this picture a lot more than "The Public Enemy" (which I originally gave a '10', but later lowered to a '7.5'). This is one of the definitive James Cagney pictures in my opinion and while I haven't seen a ton of his movies, this is probably my favorite, and it would take something STELLAR to topple this one, as far as Cagney pictures go. The scene of the film is tragic, and while I don't want to give away the ending here, the last line of the picture is sort of bittersweet: "Let's say a prayer, for a man who couldn't run as fast as I could" says Jerry Connolly, referring more than just to that day after they tried to steal the fountain pens, but also to the fact that Rocky couldn't outrun the dreaded hand of crime, and eventually he got wrapped up in it, until it lead to his demise. Fortunately, Jerry was able to outrun, and turned to the side of good.

RATING: 10/10 And that's not a rating that will be changing anytime soon, as this was really one of my favorite movies from the book, out of all of them.

NEXT UP: Olympia Parts 1 and 2...More Nazi propaganda from the mind of Leni Riefenstahl from the 1936 Summer Olympics.

February 23, 2010 11:52am
Revised: March 4, 2010 6:54pm

114. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Running Time: 102 minutes
Directed By: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley
Written By: Norman Reilly Raine, Seton I. Miller
Main Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale, Sr.

IN LIVING COLOR

I actually had no idea going into "The Adventures of Robin Hood" that it was a color film. I just always assumed, that due to it's age, it was presented, as most pictures were in the 1930's, in black & white. However, the color aspect of this film only adds to the greatness that it produces,
as I can't imagine seeing Errol Flynn don the Robin Hood garb and having to imagine it's green color.

When King Richard the Lionheart is captured by Leopold of Austria, his wily brother, Prince John takes over as presiding figure of England. He proceeds to oppress the Saxon people and raise their taxes, telling them that the raise is for King Richard's ransom, but actually not using it for such purposes. Finally, one man has seen enough oppression and decides to take a stand for the Saxon people. That man is Robin, Earl of Locksley a.k.a. Robin Hood. Robin starts by facing Prince John face to face, going to his castle during a large dinner party and crashing it. What proceeds is an exciting scene of escapism, as Robin takes on all comers and gets out of the castle, with his head still promptly on his shoulders, mostly due to his keen archery skills. Prior to being ambushed, Robin informs Prince John that he'll do everything in his power to see King Richard restored to his throne and that Richard is the only King he'll ever bow to.

After the escape, Robin decides that he needs to gather some allies, first recruiting a skilled staffsman and later, Friar Tuck, a skilled swordsman. Eventually Robin's band of merry Saxon's grow to a sizable number and they're able to take down a large party of Norman's on their way back to the castle with the "ransom" money. They take off with the loot and Maid Marian. When they throw a big feast with some of the money they stole and nourish the previously starving Saxons, Maid Marian and Robin take some time to get acquainted and the flame begins to take shape between the two. When Prince John has had enough, he and his court scheme up a plan to trap Robin. They hold an archery tournament, knowing that such a skilled archer as Robin won't be able to resist, especially when he learns that the grand prize will be a solid gold arrow, presented by the gorgeous Maid Marian. Robin, realizing the trap, but thinking that he's smarter than the Norman court, goes to the archer's tournament, wins it, but ends up being held captive in Prince John's chambers. However, that's not the end for a green donning hero, and the climax that follows is sure to put you on the edge of your seat.

Errol Flynn was a great action star, as he was really believable as someone who could pull off all of these daring feats and stunts. When watching this, I really allowed myself to be totally encapsulated by the magic that was being produced and in the scene where Robin is captured, you really want to believe that he'll get away and that he'll continue to raise hell and fight for the underdogs. If you allow yourself to get caught up in the film, then it's a real letdown when he doesn't escape and he's thrown into the dungeon where criminals are held. There were so many exciting and gripping scenes going on here: the scene near the beginning where Robin faces off with Prince John and makes a daring escape, the scene where Robin and his merry men ambush the Normans and take the gold marks, the archers tournament and the climax, it's all fantastic stuff and some of the choreography for the sword fights is right on par with anything today, be it, Pirates of the Caribbean or Lord of the Rings. Bottom line is that I had a whole lot of fun watching Robin run roughshod over the Normans and the ghastly villains of Nottingham.

RATING: 8/10 Errol Flynn is quickly becoming another favorite of mine, as is Michael Curtiz, a favorite director.

NEXT UP: Angles with Dirty Faces...Well that's a gangster title, if I ever heard one...Nothing else is set to arrive until Wednesday boys and girls, so I'll be back then with a set of reviews for 'ya.

February 23, 2010 3:27am

Monday, February 22, 2010

113. JEZEBEL (1938)

Running Time: 103 minutes
Directed By: William Wyler
Written By: Clements Ripley, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Robert Buckner, from play by Owen Davis
Main Cast: Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, George Brent, Donald Crisp, Fay Bainter

201, HERE I COME!

I hope you all enjoyed the Top 20 list that I posted and it was nice being able to reflect on all of the films that I've watched this far, good and bad. I'm ready to tackle the next 100 films in the book and we're kicking it off with "Jezebel", a film that had massive potential, in the form of, William Wyler, John Huston, Bette Davis and Henry Fonda, but seemed to come up a bit short, at least as far as my tastes are concerned.

Bette Davis plays the lead role of Julie Marsden, a spoiled, southern belle who is engaged to banker Pres Dillard (Fonda). When she interrupts him in the middle of a big banking deal and forces him to go with her to shop for a new dress, he refuses. In retaliation for his refusal, she buys a red one, a big no-no at the time, as only white dresses were meant to be worn by unmarried women. Despite his arguments telling her to change the dress, her strong will prevails and she wears the red one to the Olympus Ball. Once at the ball, Julie realizes the mistake she made, as everyone is staring at her, but Pres doesn't budge, forcing her to live with her blunder and dance with him. When they arrive back home, later that night, they break off their engagement. After her embarrassment and her broken engagement, Julie takes shelter in her home, refusing to leave or see visitors.

One year passes and Julie still dwells in her home, regretting her decision to wear the red dress and thus cause arguments between her and her true love, Pres Dillard. Meanwhile, Pres has gone North, and word arrives that he's arriving back in town, to help Dr. Livingstone (Crisp), to convince city authorities to take measures against a recent outbreak of yellow fever. When Julie hears that Pres is returning, she decides that she'll make the best of it, suiting up in her best white dress and planning to beg forgiveness of Pres. Her and her family take refuge in their big plantation house and await the arrival of Pres and other visitors. Julie can't wait to see Pres and reconnect with him, however, when he arrives he unveils his new wife, whom he married in the North. The moment when Julie meets Amy, Pres' new wife, is a absolutely gripping one, where we wait for Julie to go into hysterics, but it never happens. With an outbreak of yellow fever sweeping New Orleans, the love triangle plays out and eventually Pres is sent into the heart of the infected area, possibly never to return.

I am a huge Henry Fonda fan and didn't even know he was in this until the beginning credits rolled. He was fantastic in it, playing the good guy with a stern head about him and Bette Davis was fine too, as the spoiled belle. This was actually my first Bette Davis movie ever and so far, I'm semi-impressed with what I've seen, although I'd have to chalk up most of my disappointments to the plot in general. It just wasn't for me, and I never imagined Henry Fonda as a 19th century, New Orleans banker, although, I'll say it again...he played it well. I just couldn't get into this one as much as I would've liked to and I really have no out and out reasons why. I just wasn't feeling this one at all, and despite some really good performances, I'd have to call this one a fairly average film. There are some really good scenes though, such as, when Julie meets Amy and the duel between Julie's other lover, Buck and Pres' brother, Ted, which Julie eggs on and the scene is carefully constructed and plays out very well.

RATING: 5/10 I'm glad Fonda is on the scene now, as I really love his work and acting and I'll look forward to future Bette Davis roles, that suit my taste better.

NEXT UP: The Adventures of Robin Hood...I've been waiting a long time to see this one and after seeing Flynn in "Captain Blood", I can't wait to see what he does with the story of Robin Hood.

February 22, 2010 5:01pm

Sunday, February 21, 2010

TOP 20...SO FAR

Well since we've made it to the one tenth marker, I figure this'd be a nice time to make a TOP 20 list and put some serious thought into the 101 films that I've watched thus far. Let's not dwaddle, let's jump right into it.

CLICK HERE TO SEE A COMPLETE LIST OF THE 101 MOVIES THAT I'VE WATCHED THUS FAR, INCLUDING MY INITIAL RATINGS OF THOSE FILMS

Also, a quick note: I've revised the ratings for the following 20 films, as some of them needed a bit of tweaking. The ratings that I give out when I review a film are my knee jerk ratings, and often times those change once a few days has gone by. Here we go...

20. Broken Blossoms (1919) dir. D.W. Griffith 7.5/10
This was actually the first movie that I went the full monty on and gave the full ten stars to. With a little thought I've lowered it to a seven and a half, but in my opinion this was the best, by far, D.W. Griffith film I watched and I can still see that closeup of the irate Battling Burrows, one of the great villains of the silent era. Great film, with a real heartfelt tone to it and one of D.W.'s most down to earth productions.

19. M (1931) dir. Fritz Lang 7.5/10
Only had to tweak this one a hair, as far as ratings go. My original review was a pretty accurate portrayl of my feelings on this film. The atmosphere of this one is so bleak and they plop a serial killer right in the middle of it, to give it an even bleaker feeling. There's so much going on in this one and it has plenty to keep a viewer interested and engaged in the picture.

18. The Gold Rush (1925) dir. Charles Chaplin 8/10
My original rating had this one pegged at a seven, but with some hindsight in play, it gets up to an eight. Hilarity ensues when The Little Tramp plays the gold prospector and winds up being reduced to dining on his shoes. I'll also never forget the visual of the cabin teetering on the edge of a mountain, while The Tramp and Big Jim wrestle to find their footing inside.

17. The General (1927) dir. Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman 8/10
I lowered this one a smidge, from eight and a half to eight. It's definitely my least favorite Keaton film, but that's not saying much, as it's still really funny and solid and provides a healthy look at the Civil War in the process. Constant suspense and excitement, piled with comedy...you can't go wrong with this one. But there are better Buster movies...

16. Sherlock Jr. (1924) dir. Buster Keaton 8/10
This one originally was given an nine and a half, but I lowered it to an eight, simply because the others stuck with me more than this one did. The scene where Keaton is cleaning up the movie theatre lobby is something that I'll never forget though, that provided many laughs and Buster just being Buster. I think the length of this one was also something that made me remember some of the other ones better, as this one only sits at around 45 minutes. But still some of the funniest 45 minutes you'll ever spend.

15. GREED (1924) dir. Erich von Stroheim 8.5/10
I remember watching this one and gushing it's praises, but the fact is that it just didn't stick with me the way I thought it would. The fact that I had to watch it on YouTube and watch the re-created version, with all of the production stills and extra material sewn into it, may have played apart in it's drop from a ten to an eight and a half. But we're praising movies today, not bashing them and despite the YouTube viewing and the added stills photos, this is still a top notch film, one that I would DIE to see in complete form, as von Stroheim intended it to be. If I could have seen von Stroheim's original, I'm sure it would be an absolute favorite of mine and a sheer masterpiece.

14. Our Hospitality (1923) dir. Buster Keaton & John G. Blystone 9/10
This one got dropped from a ten to a nine, basically just because I realized it wasn't so good that it deserved the full tenner. However, it was my first Keaton film, and for that it will always hold a special place among the movies I've seen. I'll never forget my first experiences with the great comedy master, laughing and loving every minute of it.

13. Blackmail (1929) dir. Alfred Hitchcock 9/10
The only Hitchcock film to make the cut, and it still boggles my mind that this one is one of Hitchcock's forgotten masterpieces. You NEVER hear tell of this one and it's really a shame, as most people probably walk by the Wal-Mart $5 bin, and pass up the Alfred Hitchcock sets that usually include Blackmail, not even realizing what they're missing out on. Great film, and easily one of my favorite Hitch movies.

12. Captains Courageous (1937) dir. Victor Fleming 9/10
Went into this one thinking the worst and came out of it with the best...well #12 anyway. Spencer Tracy delivers in a big way and with his performance he brands this film into my head. I loved his character of Manuel, a character with traits that everyone loves: kindness, hard-working, gentle, intelligent, witty. Way to go Spence, because without you, this film wouldn't be here. Great movie, that ANYONE can enjoy and everyone should check out.

11. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) dir. Mervyn LeRoy 9/10
Paul Muni burst into the book with his portrayl of an innocent man, framed for a robbery. When you're as much of a sucker for prison movies, as I am and then you throw in the great acting talents of Paul Muni, along with the whole innocent man/fugitive angle, then this was a given for the Top 20.

10. The Crowd (1928) dir. King Vidor 9/10
This proves how fast my ratings change, as only two days ago I short changed The Crowd with an eight and a half and now it's been boosted to a ten. The thing that really appealed to me here, was the everyman concept of the film and how our character deals with the tragedies that all of us face day to day: job loss, child loss, relationship trouble, in-law trouble...It's just a tale that is about average day to day circumstances and it's put together quite brilliantly by Vidor.

09. Le Million (1931) dir. Rene Clair 10/10
Since watching this I've actually bought it on DVD and am glad to give it a home on my DVD shelf. One of the zaniest, yet brilliant films I saw and it all revolves around a missing lottery ticket. The plot is simple and something that has been copied by every successful sitcom since, but it works great and I had a blast watching it.

08. Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) dir. Leo McCarey 10/10
"It would make a stone cry", that's what Orson Welles said of Make Way for Tomorrow and I believe the man had a valid point. The only film of the 101 thus far to bring a lot of tears to my eyes and I'm not ashamed to admit it. The principles do a wonderful job of reeling us in, and then once they have us hooked, we can't help but bawl. Love this movie and am so glad it's getting a DVD release this Tuesday.

07. The Unknown (1927) dir. Tod Browning 10/10
Probably ONE OF my biggest director finds from the book thus far, has been Tod Browning, as he totally delivered the goods on three seperate occasions and delivered ten fold on The Unknown. Lon Chaney delivers too, in a deliciously mad performance as Alonzo the Armless and the script is so good that I believe literally ANYONE could find enjoyment out of this one. This would be the movie that I'd recommend to non-silent people, to get them into silent flicks.

06. It Happened One Night (1934) dir. Frank Capra 10/10
My 'ol pal Peter Warne was the main character here and what a main character he was. Clark Gable showed his true acting chops with this one and THIS is the picture that he should be remembered for, not Gone with the Wind (Although, we're not there yet, so I'll hold off my discussions of that film). This took home the Best Picture Oscar, along with four others, for a reason and EVERYONE owes it to themselves to see this picture. Great, great stuff!

05. Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) dir. Buster Keaton & Charles Reisner 10/10
The second best Keaton film that I had the pleasure of seeing, Steamboat Bill Jr. provides us with the unforgettable hurricane scene, that I personally will NEVER forget. Keaton had a knack for all things comedy, whether it be physical comedy, or subtle comedy, such as when he whistles the tune in the jail and tries to get his father to realize that he's brought him a loaf of bread with a knife in it.

04. Seven Chances (1925) dir. Buster Keaton 10/10
The BEST Buster Keaton movie that I saw. Seven Chances has the most memorable plot, in my opinion and to me, it stands out above all the others. You take The General and Sherlock Jr., I'll be just fine with Seven Chances, which made me laugh my ass off and the prospect of Keaton being forced to find a wife by 7pm, I mean c'mon, that just sounds hilarious. This would be the first movie that I'd recommend to someone who has never seen a Keaton picture.

03. Modern Times (1936) dir. Charles Chaplin 10/10
The more I think about this one, the more I love it and we're into the point now, where I'm talking about movies that make me so glad I set out on this journey through cinema. Modern Times is such a sweet, funny, pitch perfect film and honestly my absolute favorite Chaplin flick, of the three I've seen, and I highly doubt that any of the rest can match up to this one, although I'm certainly not above letting them try.

02. My Man Godfrey (1936) dir. Gregory La Cava 10/10
The top two here flip flopped in my head, back and forth, for quite a while, before I finally decided on their precise order. This one came oh so close though and this is the film that makes me want to see every other William Powell film. If I had to pick a favorite actor, based solely on the films that I've seen from the '1001' book, so far, then I'd pick William Powell, no question. He delivers here big time and this is probably the greatest screwball comedy I've EVER seen. There's nothing bad going on here and every aspect of this film is great.

01. La Roue (1923) dir. Abel Gance 10/10
Regular followers of my blog (if there are any) probably were taken by surprise by my #1 pick. La Roue was a film that I originally rated an eight and a half out of ten and one that I really don't remember going on and on about that much. I can still see the railroad engineer Sisif, climbing the big mountain, bearing a cross on his shoulders. I can see Norma going down to celebrate with the people of the village, as they all sing and dance in a big circle and the mountain takes hold of the screen. This is a silent film that was better for being silent, as only words could've screwed this up. This movie is so beautiful and so touching, that there were no words that would've been right in the mouths of the actors, it was just something that had to play out for itself and speak for itself and it did that. I still see this film in my head and think about it all the time and this was, without question, the BEST movie I've watched from the book, thus far and even one of the best things I've ever seen, book or no book.

Well there you go. I hope you've enjoyed the list and maybe you'll even take a little of my advice and go out and see some of the ones listed here that you haven't. When I hit 201 movies watched, we'll do this again, except we'll up the number to a Top 40. I think that's all that needs to be said and I'll go ahead and let my list speak for itself.

February 20, 2010 10:38pm

Saturday, February 20, 2010

112. Pepe le Moko (1937)

Running Time: 94 minutes
Directed By: Julien Duvivier
Written By: Jacques Constant, Julien Duvivier
Main Cast: Jean Gabin, Mireille Balin, Lucas Gridoux, Gilbert Gil, Fernand Charpin

101!

Finally we've reached our 101st film from the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book, which means that I'm one tenth of the way finished with my entire journey through cinema. "Pepe le Moko" stars Jean Gabin as a street wise, tough guy and turns in a great performance, in an otherwise average film.

Pepe le Moko (Gabin) is a criminal at large, taking refuge in the Casbah, the Arab quarter of Algiers. Resembling a closed in fortress of underground slums, the Casbah has become Pepe's home, knowing that if he ever dares leave he'll be caught by the police for the burglaries and theiving he's comitted. The Casbah has everything that Pepe needs; his friends, his women, food, shelter, his diamonds, except Pepe longs to be back in his hometown of Paris and often dreams of areas such as the Champs-Elysees. When the cops invade the Casbah and try to catch Pepe, they fail, even with the assistance of the Casbah rat, Regis, who is secretly working as an informant for the police.

One day, Pepe's friend Inspector Slimane (who is a police officer, but the two men have respect for each other), brings a friend with him to the Casbah, a gorgeous young lady from Paris named Gaby. Pepe immediately falls for Gaby, as she reminds him of the things that he misses about France. He even resorts to singing on the rooftops and declaring his love for Gaby. However, when she's supposed to meet him in the Casbah one evening, she fails to show up and another informant returns with news that Gaby is under close surveillance by one of her friends. Meanwhile, word was sent to Gaby that Pepe has been killed and that she need not go to the Casbah. When Pepe beats the truth out of the informant, he realizes that if he is ever to find true love and to continue on with his life, that he must leave the Casbah in search of Gaby.

Well we'll start out with Jean Gabin, who I'm rapidly becoming a fan of, as he turns in two great performances, one here and one in "Grand Illusion". He's a very patient actor, who never overacts and who always seems to play it cool and let the actions just ooze out of his body, instead of forcing them. The setting for ninety percent of this film is the Casbah and it really provides a very claustrophobic atmosphere for the viewer, as we're constantly shut-in, in this tiny community, with low ceilings and lack of air and sky. It's ironic that Pepe fears the outside world, because he doesn't want to be put in prison, yet he confines himself to the Casbah, where he must live in a prison-like world. The ending of the film is tragically beautiful and while I won't spoil it here, it is something that really breaks your heart. With all of that being said, this film still only gets to about the average point, as the plot seems to drag in spots and be very anti-climatic, especially for a gangster film.

RATING: 5.5/10 So-so film, with some bright spots, including the ending and the performance of Gabin.

NEXT UP: Jezebel...Bette Davis makes her '1001' debut...But first, I'll be back later with a ranking of the Top 20 Films I've watched thus far from the book.

February 20, 2010 7:41pm

Friday, February 19, 2010

111. The Awful Truth (1937)

Running Time: 90 minutes
Directed By: Leo McCarey
Written By: Vina Delmar, from play by Arthur Richman
Main Cast: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy, Alexander D'Arcy, Cecil Cunningham

Sidenote: I watched "The Crowd" last night (1928 - King Vidor), one that I previously skipped and aired last night on TCM. The review has been posted and can be found here

NUMBER 100 IS A HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT

I'll have to agree with Leo McCarey's sentiments when he accepted his Best Director Oscar for "The Awful Truth", as he said: "Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture", referring to his previous film "Make Way for Tomorrow". This is one of the few films that I've watched thus far in the book, where my high hopes for their greatness fell flat on their face.

When Jerry Warriner (Grant) returns home from, what was supposed to be a trip to Florida, he finds, to his surprise, that his wife is out. In actuality, Jerry never went to Florida and we never find out for sure what he did do or where he did go. When his wife, Lucy (Dunne) returns home, moments after he does, he finds her followed by her music teacher, Armand Duvalle and he immediately smells affair. Their excuse is that they went out the previous night and the car broke down, and they were forced to spend the night at an inn. This is an excuse which Jerry doesn't believe for a minute. However, Lucy soon uncovers that Jerry never went to Florida and the two think the worst of the other one, and accusations of affairs and hidden truths are soon thrown out. The couple decide to divorce, seeing as how their trust in one another has been shattered.

From here, the movie takes a series of pointless turns, as Lucy finds herself being courted by southern boy, Dan (Bellamy, in one of the few great things about this movie). Jerry follows them around and always seems to pop up and be a smart ass toward the couple. At about the halfway mark of the film, Lucy gets sick of Dan and realizes that she still holds a flame for Jerry, who is now courting a gal of his own, a snobby heiress type named Barbara Vance. The tables are now turned with Lucy showing up when she's not wanted and spoiling the plans of Jerry and Barbara. It all winds down to the final thirty minutes, before the couples divorce is to be finalized and they find themselves in a car together, being chased by the police, for a loud radio that won't turn off, due to a broken knob.

This movie has a massive amount of potential and had a great cast all lined up and ready to deliver a fantastic comedy, with Leo McCarey at the helm. It starts out pretty basic, a divorce, one that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, in a scene that plays out as though it was jotted down on a napkin over lunch, but a divorce nonetheless. Then it all begins to go downhill, as nothing happens. I was literally waiting for the proverbial shoe to fall and for the movie to continue it's at an average pacing, but absolutely nothing happens. Dan is introduced, and Bellamy plays him so well, but he's really not needed and the character really feels out of place, like a third wheel, so to speak. It's just a big jumbled mess in my opinion, that didn't come off as particularly funny at all and seemed to be all thrown together on the fly. I was HIGHLY disappointed in this film, as I really thought it'd deliver the goods, but all that it delivered to me was a big mess of a film.

RATING: 4/10 I gave it a few notches for the performances, which were good and seemed to be lost in a bad movie.

NEXT UP: Pepe Le Moko...Number 101 has finally arrived and when this is watched we'll be 1/10 of the way finished with our journey. Review to come tomorrow.

February 19, 2010 5:58pm

Thursday, February 18, 2010

110. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Running Time: 83 minutes
Directed By: David Hand
Written By: Ted Sears, Richard Creedon
Main Cast: (voices): Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Harry Stockwell

ON MY JOURNEY I MET A MAN NAMED 'WALT'

As I trek through the pages of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" text, I come to my first animated film. While this is one of the few animated films, that's a little harder for an adult to enjoy, I think grown-ups will still be able to find some engaging aspects about "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs".

The plot, as you can imagine, is a fairly simple one. Our animated journey starts out with The Queen, sitting high atop a mountain, enclosed in her grand castle. As she poses her daily question to her magic mirror: "Mirror mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?", she does not get the stock answer that is usually given. Instead, this time, the mirror searches the land and finds that young Snow White is actually the fairest one in the land. This, of course, irates The Queen and she sends one of her henchmen out to kill Snow White and put her heart into a small box, as proof that he did his duty. When the henchmen approaches Snow White, as she picks wildflowers in the field, he cannot bring himself to kill her, instead warning her to run as far away as she can and never come back. Snow White obliges, and soon finds solace in the forest, with her new animal pals, including: birds, raccoons, deer, squirrels and a turtle.

The critters lead her to a house, that is later revealed to be the home of the seven dwarfs. However, when Snow White sees the tiny beds, she assumes that the house must be occupied by orphaned children. She cleans up the house for the "children" and hopes that by doing this, they'll let her live with them. We then meet the dwarfs: Happy, Dopey, Sneezy, Sleepy, Doc, Grumpy and Bashful: seven tiny prospecting men, with long white beards, as they sing "Heigh-Ho" when they bell rings for them to go home. The entire bit that follows, shows the dwarfs arriving home and seeing lights on in their house and also seeing a clean house and thinking that a ghost or goblin must've gotten in. Snow White soon reveals herself and all the dwarfs fall in love with her and look up to her as a motherly figure. All of the dwarfs, that is, except for Grumpy, who wants nothing to do with her or her cleanliness. Eventually The Queen learns that the heart, that the henchmen brought back to her, was only the heart of a pig and takes matters into her own hands, disguising herself, with the help of a wicked spell and creating a poison apple to tempt Snow White with, which will lead to her demise.

This certainly isn't the best animated movie I've ever seen, nor is it the worst. There's nothing too terribly exciting going on here, yet nothing horrible either. I think, however, that this is one of the more difficult ones for an adult to really get into and find that most of the material presented is more suited for the youngsters. However, it's quite surprising to hear them talking of cutting out hearts in an animated movie from the 1930's. There's also some other imagery, that I would think would be a little terrifying to a child, such as the entire sequence where The Queen transforms into a witch. The dwarfs sequences do provide some light comedy, especially the bit when they're searching the house, before they know Snow White is there. It must've been something special to see this in the theatres back in the day. The colors in this film pop and to see this in the 1930's, on a big screen, must've been mesmerizing. I can only imagine the awe and wonderment that kids must've went through back in the 1930's in theatres across the country.

RATING: 5.5/10 Like I said, nothing bad, nothing special and just your average kids film, but it set the stage for animation and must get some respect for that fact.

NEXT UP: The Awful Truth...The film that won Leo McCarey his Best Director Oscar. I'll be watching "The Crowd" before this, as I'm gonna' watch it later tonight and post the review on the old "The Crowd" post, so keep an eye out for that one.

February 18, 2010 8:38pm

109. Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

Running Time: 91 minutes
Directed By: Leo McCarey
Written By: Vina Delmar, from the novel The Years Are So Long by Josephine Lawrence
Main Cast: Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi, Thomas Mitchell, Fay Bainter

"IT WOULD MAKE A STONE CRY" - ORSON WELLES on MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW

When Leo McCarey accepted his Oscar for Best Director for "The Awful Truth" he said, and I quote: "Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture", referring to the fact that if he was going to be named Best Director, it should've been for make way for tomorrow.

The plot is quite simple. When Barkley and Lucy Cooper face financial hardships and the bank takes their home away from them, they turn to their five children for a solution. During a meeting, called by the couple of fifty years, they talk over with their children the options of where to go from here. Wanting to divide the responsibility up, the children decide that two of them we'll house one of the parents, with George taking his mother and Cora taking her father. From there we flip flop between the new living conditions of the two elders. Lucy Cooper, who is now living with her son George, his wife Anita and their daughter, Rhoda. The house is forced to undertake a new way of life with Lucy in the picture, as Rhoda now refuses to have her friends over, for fear that her grandmother will talk their legs off. Anita, Lucy's daughter-in-law, is also hesitant to teach her bridge class, for fear that Lucy will get in the way.

On the other side of the fence, Barkley or Bark, as he's referred to in the film, has taken to long chats with the owner of the local general store and does so to get away from his very demanding, very irritable daughter, Cora. When Bark becomes sick with a cold, Cora bosses him around and refuses to put up with his whiny ways, as all Bark wants is his wife by his side, as he's sure that she could cure his illness. When push comes to shove, and things just don't seem to be working out on either end, the two sides both make decisions. George makes the decision to put his mother in a nursing home, while Cora thinks it's best if her father goes to California to live with one of the other siblings. The final thirty minutes of the movie are the parts that Orson Welles was referring to when he talked about the film making a stone cry, as Bark and Lucy say their final goodbyes and I dare any viewer to hold back the tears.

Of course, being a married man, this film made me think a lot of my wife. In fact, I was constantly putting myself in the place of the actors and envisioning what it'd be like to be in these characters' shoes. I think that's what made the water works come on for me so hard when the final moments of the film were taking place. The two primary actors: Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi, do a fine job of creating that special on screen chemistry and use a very natural dialogue to get their characters over as a real married couple. As the two quibble about whether their honeymoon began on a Wednesday or a Thursday, you really get into the spirit of these two characters and it makes it that much more sad when they're torn apart. Few films that I've seen have actually made tears stream down my face, but this one did just that, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. This is quite possibly, and without putting a lot of thought to it, the saddest movie I've ever seen, as it forced me to remember personal experiences and that helped me relate to the characters so well.

RATING: 9/10 Another movie makes a big time bid to get into my Top 20 and with only four films left 'till we hit the 101 mark, who knows what the Top 20 will consist of...not even me, yet.

NEXT UP: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves...My first animated film in the book and Walt Disney's first full length feature film. It should arrive from Netflix tomorrow and I will review it directly.

February 18, 2010 1:54am


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

108. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Running Time: 115 minutes
Directed By: William Dieterle
Written By: Norman Reilly, Raine Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg, from book by Matthew Josephson
Main Cast: Paul Muni, Joseph Schildkraut, Gloria Holden, Gale Sondergaard

1937 BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR

Paul Muni stars as Emile Zola, a french born author and activist and delivers a completely different performance than I've seen him do thus far.

"The Life of Emile Zola" starts out with Emile and his roommate Paul Cezanne, living poorly in a drafty attic and prophecizing their futures, Zola's as a writer and Cezanne's as a painter. Emile gets his first big burst of inspiration in the form of a prostitute named Nana, who he happens upon, running from the police and coincidentally she is saved by Zola, who offers her a quick cover. After interviewing her for the remainder of the night, he sees the pages of a book unraveling in front of him and he eventually gets the book published under the simple title of Nana. The book is a huge hit and Zola is an immediate success, following up his successful Nana with a book entitled The Downfall. The years roll on and book after book is released and Zola continues to grow as a publicly known author. We're then fast forwarded into Zola's golden years, as he is now living happily with his wife and ready toi wind down, finished with his writing career.

However, the inspiration, much like it did with Nana, falls right into his lap, yet again and the movie really starts to pick up a little steam. Captain Alfred Dreyfus of the French Army is wrongfully accused of writing a letter, that threatens to reveal many of the armies most hidden secrets. He is tried and convicted of treason and cast away to Devil's Island where he is held in confinement for the crime he did not commit. Later, some new details arrise that would give Dreyfus his freedom, but the French Army superiors, not wanting to admit that they made a mistake, decide to sweep the new evidence under the rug. Dreyfus' wife goes to Zola and pleads for his help in bringing the new evidence to light and helping to free her husband. The trial begins after Zola gives a famous speech to the papers, entitled "I Accuse", accusing the French Army of their dishonesty.

I've now seen Muni in three films and each role has been entirely different. He kicked it off by playing a fugitive from a chain gang, followed that with his portrayl of Tony Camonte and now slides in with Emile Zola. It's amazing how Muni was able to totally transform himself and become the character that he was playing and I'll remember him as a great actor, who was able to make such transformations. As for the film itself, "The Life of Emile Zola" is quite a slow moving film and really doesn't pick up any speed until we get into the whole Dreyfus affair. However, once the Dreyfus scandal is established, the film has a hard time sustaining that pace and eventually it slows down yet again, providing a countless number of big, overblown speeches that made me want to yawn, instead of cheer. Although, I'll have to admit that I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did, as the idea of watching a biopic about a 19th century french authoir, certainly didn't have me doing cartwheels or anything. I felt the whole first thirty minutes could've been cut down, merely to allow enough time to establish Zola as a prominent figure in the French community and a famous author, which could've been done in less time that they took to do it. The real movie doesn't begin until Dreyfus enters the picture.

RATING: 5/10 We'll cut it straight down the middle, giving some kudos for acting and some for plot, but deducting for some wasted time and some real yawner moments.

NEXT UP: Make Way for Tomorrow...This is being released on DVD this coming Tuesday, but it's also on YouTube, which is where I'll be watching it, later tonight.

February 17, 2010 5:44pm

107. Stella Dallas (1937)

Running Time: 106 minutes
Directed By: King Vidor
Written By: Joe Bigelow, Harry Wagstaff Gribble, Sarah Y. Mason, Gertrude Purcell, Victor Heerman, from novel by Olive Higgins Prouty
Main Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles, Anne Shirley, Barbara O'Neil, Alan Hale

STELLA!!...OOPS, WRONG MOVIE

Well the "short wait" finally ended and "Stella Dallas" was shipped and arrived today, giving me a chance to finally watch it and finally get a review slapped in here. The movie was actually quite good, as most of the unfound movies, coincidentally seem to be, as King Vidor impresses me, yet again.

Stella Dallas (Stanwyck) lives in a Massachusetts factory town with her brother and parents. She lives a fairly simple life, cooking and cleaning and helping to tend the house. She also has quite a time swooning over Mr. Stephen Dallas (Boles), one of the managers at the factory, where her brother and father work. Stephen, at one time, was set to be engaged to Helen Morrison, but when his father committed suicide, Stephen disappeared and relocated, leaving Helen in the dust. One day, when Stella takes lunch to her brother at work, she makes a special point to swing by Stephen's office and strut her stuff. Stella, looking ever so radiant, accomplishes her mission and gets more than a head turn from the shy, considerate Stephen. They hit it off, a few weeks pass, with Stephen courting Stella, until finally one day Stella arrives back at the house with a ring on her finger and news that her and Stephen have been married.

A year passes and the Dallases welcome their first child, a baby girl, whom they name Laurel. When Stella is released from the hospital, after giving birth, she wants nothing more than to go out for a night on the town, despite her husbands urges for her to rest. They go out and Stella takes up dancing with a loud mouth, obnoxious fellow by the name of Ed Munn (Hale). Stephen, being the kind, gentle person that he is, never lacks at delivering politeness, even to the inconsiderate Munn. When a job opportunity arises in New York, Stephen jumps at the chance to take it and wants nothing more than to relocate with his entire family in tact. However, Stella doesn't wish to relocate and thus the Dallases separate, leaving Laurel in the care of her mother, and visiting her father on the weekends. Eventually Laurel grows up, Stephen reconnects with his old flame Helen and Laurel becomes the focal point of the picture, being forced to choose between a swanky lifestyle in New York with her father and Helen or her normal downtrodden lifestyle with her mother, who she's always been with.

King Vidor was excellent at turning everyday situations into brilliant, heartbreaking films. He had a knack for evoking emotions and really playing his characters to their fullest potential. In the span of this movie I went from hating Stella, to feeling sorry for her and all of the emotions in between. The scene at Christmas, when Stephen takes Laurel and Stella is left to spend the holidays by herself is so sad and the end is also heartbreaking. All of the principles turn in marvelous performances, and including Stanwyck, I also really enjoyed the innocent girl that Anne Shirley played, as she was spot on with her delivery and was just a very charming little actress. Boles and Hale were also great male leads, with Boles playing the cool, shy, gentle Stephen and Hale really turning it in as the fool, Ed Munn. All in all this was a great film and I had a very enjoyable time with it.

RATING: 7.5/10 What can I say, I'm a sucker for simple storytelling that is told to the fullest advantage and this is a prime example.

NEXT UP: The Life of Emile Zola...Paul Muni stars in the 1937 Best Picture winner and the review should be up sometime tomorrow.

February 17, 2010 2:30am
Revised: February 26, 2010 12:37am


106. La Grande Illusion/Grand Illusion (1937)

Running Time: 114 minutes
Directed By: Jean Renoir
Written By: Jean Renoir, Charles Spaak
Main Cast: Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Marcel Dalio, Erich von Stroheim, Dita Parlo

POSSIBLY JEAN RENOIR'S GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT

Probably Jean Renoir's most popular movie, "La Grande Illusion" takes a look at a group of soldiers imprisoned in a POW camp, during World War I and the day to day life that they face as prisoners for the enemy.

During a routine flight, pilots: Captain de Boeldieu (Fresnay) and Lieutenant Marechal (Gabin) are shot down by Captain von Rauffenstein (von Stroheim). They aren't seriously injured and after they are recovered they are invited in to have a meal with von Rauffenstein. They are then taken and placed into a POW camp where they meet and befriend several of their fellow frenchmen. At this point the film gets pretty simple, just examining the day to day perils that the men must face while contained in the camp. However, the perils are few and far between and thanks to their new friend Rosenthal, a very wealthy, french, Jewish man, they are kept well fed, by the packages that he receives from home. They're also never really abused or mistreated or even talked down to by the German officers, as they are officers in their military and thus given proper respect for that position. When de Boeldieu and Marechal get extra chummy with their new found friends, they are let in on the fact that the other men have begun work on a tunnel, digging at night underneath their floorboards and exposing of the dirt in the courtyard. They plan an escape, that will bring them up, just outside the fences and allow them to free themselves from the German enslavement.

On the day that the men decide to break loose, they are informed that they will be moved to another camp, and all hopes of escape are dashed in an instant. de Boeldieu and Marechal move from camp to camp, finally settling down at Wintersborn, where they find their old "pal" Rauffenstein in charge, decked out in white gloves and a complete spine brace. Their friend Rosenthal joins them soon after as well, and the three quickly begin to hatch escape plots. Captain de Boeldieu comes up with the idea to cause a commotion, causing all the guards to call for an assembly and at that point the escape will be executed. However, he thinks that the plan will only work for two and insists that Marechal and Rosenthal be the two to make the bust.

This film shows first class how well Renoir was at moving his camera. He had a fine talent for capturing simple things on film and transforming them into gorgeous shots, and capturing gorgeous scenery on film and turning into breathtaking shots. Some of the shots of the mountains and trees and snow banks, are absolutely stunning and you could get lost in this film, by staring at the imagery alone. The plot alone is fine as well, and I myself am a sucker for a good prison flick and this is basically just that. I love seeing how strangers, thrown together and contained in a place, forced to interact with one another, cope with it all and this film is a great example of how all of that plays out. Jean Gabin is great as Marechal and has a soft spoken, subtle element to his character, that makes him that much more fascinating, as his character always seems to be in deep thought. I was surprised to see Erich von Stroheim show back up, as the last time I watched this film, I didn't even really know who von Stroheim was. He played a great role as well, commanding the screen when he was on it and calling power to his character, but still being able to play the politeness card and pulling it all off very nicely.

RATING: 7/10 As I've said before, I'm not big on war movies, but this one is more than a war film and gets my seal of approval, for sure.

NEXT UP: Stella Dallas...I'll be right back with an "unfound entry" for this one.

February 17, 2010 2:23am

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

105. Ye ban ge sheng/Midnight Song (1937)

Running Time: 113 minutes
Directed By: Ma-Xu Weibang
Written By: Ma-Xu Weibang
Main Cast: Menghe Gu, Ping Hu, Shan Jin, Chao Shi

A CHINESE VERSION OF "THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA"

I'm not sure if the title of this film is meant to be written as "Midnight Song" or "Song at Midnight", but the book lists it as the former, so that's what we'll go with. This was a really tedious picture to get through, although it is one of the better film adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera that I've seen.

The film starts out focussing in on an old, dilapidated opera house, that is soon to be occupied by a traveling theatre group. When the crew arrives at the opera house, they soon meet the proprietor and begin their rehearsals. When the lead male actor, Sun, is given a new song to rehearse, he asks the rest of the crew to clear the stage and leave him alone so that he can practice it. When he struggles with the new song, he is coached by a voice that emanates from the rafters. Sun becomes startled, but the proprietor tells him not to worry, that it's just an old ghost and that they've been there comfortably for years and he has never caused any danger. The voice ends up helping him get the song down pat and Sun treks upstairs to thank his unknown coach. Upon arriving in the attic, Sun finds a man, shielding his face with a hood and dressed all in black. He thanks the unknown man for his help and begins to chat with him. The Phantom reveals himself as Song Danping, a former revolutionary who, to avoid being persecuted, changed his name and took up acting in the opera.

He goes on to tell Sun that, approximately ten years earlier, while acting in the very theatre where they stand, he took a romantic interest in a woman named Li Xiaoxia, which angered a local thug who also was interested in her. The thug, out of jealousy, caught Song as he was exiting the opera house and threw nitric acid into his face. He was left wrapped in bandages for months and when the curtain was finally lifted on his face, he was disfigured. He gave orders to tell Li Xiaoxia that he was dead and he went into hiding, into the rafters of the old theatre. For ten years, Song would stand at the theatre windows and sing to Li at midnight, and for ten years Song waited for a worthy prospect to pass through the theatre, someone that he deemed worthy enough to go to Li and pretend to be him, hoping that this will help her recover from the loss of her lover.

I've never seen a great film adaptation of "The Phantom of the Opera", which leads me to believe that this story is just one that simply doesn't appeal to me. "Midnight Song" was no exception, as it was certainly not a great film, in my opinion. It was, however, better than any other version I've seen and created the most emotion than any others as well. When Song reveals his disfigured face to the camera and we see him have a total breakdown, as he faces the realization that he can never allow the love of his life to cast her eyes upon him again, this is a great scene, but one of few and one that couldn't make up for the slow pacing and out and out boring nature of this whole affair. The performances were average and actually very outdated and much to "classic" for my taste. I wouldn't call "Midnight Song" a complete loss, but it certainly wasn't a winner either and if we rated on thumbs, this would be a definite downer.

RATING: 4/10 I'll go with a '4' considering there were a few engaging scenes and the story was atrocious by any standards.

NEXT UP: Grand Illusion...Probably Jean Renoir's most famous film and one that I have seen before and remember really liking a lot. Review should be up late tonight or tomorrow.

February 16, 2010 7:09pm

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #65: Les nuits de la pleine lune/Full Moon in Paris (1984)

Running Time: 100 minutes Directed By: Eric Rohmer Written By: Eric Rohmer Main Cast: Pascale Ogier, Tcheky Karyo, Fabrice Luchini,...