Toward the end of his life F. Scott Fitzgerald is writing for Hollywood studios to be able to afford the cost of an asylum for his wife. He is also struggling against alcoholism. Into his life comes the famous gossip columnist.
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Post WWII yarn about a young GI abducted by the Soviets in West Berlin and hauled off to the East. His recovery gets complicated as Colonel Steve Van Dyke (Peck) tries to sort out the ... See full summary »
Mary Rafferty comes from a poor family of steel mill workers in 19th Century Pittsburgh. Her family objects when she goes to work as a maid for the wealthy Scott family which controls the ... See full summary »
After losing his bride in a Luftwaffe air raid, bomber pilot Forrester becomes a solitary killing machine, who doesn't care whether he dies. The reckless Canadian pilot is both admired and ... See full summary »
Roistering sea captain Jonathan Clark, who poaches seal pelts from Russian Alaska, meets and woos Russian countess Marina in 1850 San Francisco. Events separate them, but after an exciting ... See full summary »
When Mike Hagen and Marilla Brown marry after a whirlwind romance on the west coast, they return to New York to find that they don't have much in common. She is a clothing designer who lives in a swanky apartment and whose friends are actors, artists and the like. He is a sports writer who likes to go boxing matches and horse races. They clearly love one another and make every effort to be flexible. When a mobster, whom Mike has been accusing of fixing sports events, decides to go after him he must pretend to be out of town and mayhem ensues. Written by
Playfully frivolous, but also a bit slow and empty despite the attempts at humor
Designing Woman (1957)
I continue to disappoint my own optimism about movies from this period--that decade between the real end of the Old Hollywood and the real start of the New. (Let's say the nether zone of 1956 to 1965). But seeing a movie like "Designing Woman" is a chance to see what exactly these movie makers were up to. After all, the actors, directors, photographers, and writers were the same, almost to the letter, as ten years earlier. They were not idiots or failures in any sense. So...
What has happened here to my eye has to do with style, an intentional shift to a very glossy, very false, very stylized kind of late 1950s mise-en-scene. Sometimes (in other movies) this rises above. Hitchcock's late 50s films come to mind. And exceptions for particular subsets of the audience exist (and blossom) like the Doris Day films and other period comedies. Some dramas that really still have resonance like "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Charade" also show the slick detachment of the movie machinery working out well, though with affectations, too.
So, here's director Vincente Minnelli, who directed the remarkable 1951 romantic critique of the end of Old Hollywood, "The Bad and the Beautiful." And here are the two towering leads. Lauren Bacall is of course a legend linked first of Bogart, and to hard core Old Hollywood dramas. And Gregory Peck is better known for more serious movies like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Cape Fear." Even the great cinematographer John Alton has a resume a mile long. The writer, I admit, is less known, and the story here is thin, for sure, but he won an academy award for it, which shows how time changes perceptions. But, in all, the larger artistic intentions of the writer and director really bring a cool, dry dullness. It's a revelation to see it for what it is.
It's almost like the director and producer know this isn't going to be a serious movie no matter what, that it can't be. Even the gruesome boxing match turns into a lighthearted repartee, and the glitzy high society stuff is generic and oddly lifeless (Billy Wilder does this material better, for example). And be warned, the format is itself uninvolving, with key parts switching to a simple voice-over, explaining what was happening, but not in a moody film noir way, just information.
Is it worthless? Of course not. The scenes are often very complicated visually, with a huge array of extras. The filming really is gorgeous, though more static than it needs to be. There is dancing shoehorned into the plot (though both dancers are fairly dull as people, try as they do). There is a classic kind of clash of cultures that is meant to be the set-up for all the gags, Bacall the rich pampered woman of culture and Peck the working class sportswriter.
Ugh, so the timing is off, the jokes flat, and the progress utterly slow. All these high production values are disposable. I hate the fact that I love all these people and thought the movie a dud. See for yourself.
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