Reviews written by registered user
|25 reviews in total|
This definitely is one of Shirley's three or four best, mostly because she is not required to perform a tearful treacly scene as in some other films, those which tug at your heart but later seem somewhat embarrassing. This is one in which she comes across as a young actress, and not simply as a personality. The musical numbers are unusually effective; probably because they are shared with Alice Faye and Jack Haley and not strictly solo. (You have to smile over the final number, when the military band number, well done though it is, is done with full costumes and choreography, even though the performance is taking place over a radio hookup.) Shirley conveys an innocence and trustfulness and joy in life which is a universe removed from portrayals of children in contemporary film and TV. One more remark: I was truly surprised to see the appearance of a pedophile in a film of that era, and to see Jack Haley confronting and fighting him as he is about to lead Shirley away from the apartment house.
If you can accept the premise: that an out-of-work crooner can be nominated for governor of a state on the basis of a single speech, there are some attractive moments in this film. Dick Powell moves beyond his ingenuous Warner Brothers musical style, and seems on his way to becoming the actor he later showed himself to be. Fred Allen replicates his sharp-tongued radio persona, and is able to provide most of the humor, even though he clearly did not have a charismatic screen presence even as real as that of Jack Benny or Eddie Cantor. The satirical treatment of small-state politics is rather heavy-handed, suggesting that there is nothing but self-interest involved. The songs are nothing special, but Powell delivers them in his usual off-hand yet convincing manner. For me, the most interesting and surprising episodes in the film were the two song and dance numbers by Ann Dvorak and Patsy Kelly. Having known Dvorak only as a performer in melodrama, from Scarface to Rebel Without a Cause, I looked closely, to see whether there was a double; but there were enough close-up shots to let one see that her dancing wasn't faked.(Whether the singing was dubbed is another matter). She was always an actress whose work I found compelling, though she never achieved top stardom at Warners; perhaps because Bette Davis was slated for some roles Dvorak might have played. Probably not a "gem", but a film many will enjoy.
I was prepared by Maltin's comments not to expect very much, yet decided it would be interesting to see some star performers of the 1940s and 1950s in their relatively advanced age. I suppose did expect too much, since some first-rate actors, including the iconic Katherine Hepburn,my all time favorite, were submerged by a leaden script, which made them seem as though they were swimming against the tide in a river of mud. When I saw the original Broadway production, starring Martita Hunt, which as I recall took place exclusively in the madwoman's basement, I was taken by how delicately the author Giraudoux balanced a serious theme with the humor generated by a group of eccentrics and street people. The film takes the serious theme, beats it over the head until it becomes at the very least repetitive; with very few touches of humor, save perhaps the scenes in which the madwoman inveigles the conspirators to walk into her net, when a touch of the old Hepburn edginess appears. If you are looking to see some old favorites at career's end, DON'T; you will almost certainly be disappointed.
Last night I watched this film for the first time in several years, though it has always been a favorite. Why did it suddenly come to my mind? Because I knew that it would be a great remedy for cynicism and could lift my spirits. It worked: this minor masterpiece is heart-warming without being sappy-sentimental, primarily because so much of the actions and portrayals is hilarious; especially the early scenes in Paris, when the tradition-bound valet Ruggles learns that he has been the stakes in a poker game and that his "master" has lost him to a rugged millionaire from far-west America and his social-climbing wife (both parts played to perfection). What had never impressed me quite so much before is the subtlety of Laughton's portrayal. He could convey more humor with a simple twist of his lips or lowering of his eyelids than a Jerry Lewis or Jim Carrey can with their overdone mugging. Brilliant! And of course he had one of the great recital voices of all time; he was called on to repeat his recitation of the Gettysburg Address over radio many times, especially during World War II. Anyone who wants to take a course in acting would be advised to view Laughton's performances in a wide range of roles over a 20 year period. He even pulled off a potentially weepy "It's a Wonderful Life" type ending, simply by standing before the "He's a Jolly Good Fellow"-singing crowd with a broad smile that radiates joy, then reverting to his innate reserve and heading back into the kitchen of his restaurant. No pretty wife and cute kids to hug: only a former servant who realizes he has come into his own as a man in a new country where (ideally) class structures do not exist and a man is valued for what he is, not who.
The overall achievement of this what was once (but not now)called "the "last black and white" film to win Best Picture), is so well established, for instance in most viewer comments, that I have little to add there.One feature of director Wilder that has fascinated me is his ability to cast stars against type; certainly seeing some possibilities that had escaped others. He must have seen in Fred MacMurray's earlier light romantic comedy portrayals the sinister potential demonstrated first in Double Indemnity and (in a somewhat less corrupt vein) in The Apartment. Similarly, William Holden's traditional "boy-next-door" charm was manipulated and put to new use in Sunset Boulevard and Stalag 17. Only viewers who recall the earlier, and mostly forgotten, films of these two actors from the 1930s and 1940s can fully appreciate either Wilder's acumen in looking below the surface or his skill as a director, or both. For Holden it meant virtually a new career. Unfortunately (except financially) for MacMurray what followed was Disney and My Three Sons. (Not bad, but not in a class with his Wilder performances)
A look at the medical profession today will convince anyone that this narrative of the conflict a sensitive young physician experiences: whether to serve the not-especially-appreciative poor or the hypocond- riac and over-appreciative wealthy, if he caters to their whims. (At the end one wonders how great a difference there is between these two constituencies.) How many medical school graduates today choose to into small-town or rural general practice, as opposed to pursuing lucrative specialist careers? Robert Donat's effective performance is, as usual, understated; while Rosalind Russell easily matches him in a portrayal that makes one regret that she later became typed in comic roles as a result of superb performances in that genre. A supporting cast that includes the youthful Rex Harrison, Emlyn Williams and Ralph Richardson, all early in their careers and all with perfectly formed characteriza- tions, gives the film depth that one might not have anticipated. This is one of those films that makes one regret the loss of the old studio system, which enabled MGM, with its guaranteed bookings, to make a prestige film on a serious social issue with relatively few melodramatic excesses; and to offset probable box office losses by the studio's many box office bonanza romantic, comic or musical star vehicles. And today??
Having read some earlier user comments and Maltin review, I wasn't expecting Citizen Kane; rather, that this was one of those "so bad it's good" films. I would comment rather: "so bad it's incredible". It makes Reefer Madness and its like appear as cinematic art. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen, since I was sure that matters could not get worse. The futuristic earth scenes from 1980 (!) were not bad despite a trite story, since the sets must have seemed impressive at the time, and are about as good as those in the British film Things to Come. El Brendel was not as poor a performer elsewhere as he was here, given the poor material he had to work with. His hat sequence, probably perfected over years in vaudeville, is the most entertaining moment in the film. Who thought up the Mars sequence? A number of silent filmmakers had already done the alien or primitive world with much more sophistication, and not unbalanced between comedy (Brendel) and adventure (the heroes). To do justice to the cast: they were attractive performers doing their best.
Maltin's assessment hits the target exactly: if anything, this tops the entertaining first outing of Buzz and Woody. The first had as its focus a rather contrived rivalry and reconciliation between the two, which seldom made one forget these were only inanimate toys; this one somehow makes one almost suspend disbelief in the stronger characterizations of the two "leads" and the supporting cast; and in the development of the symbiotic relationship between toys and their owners, much like that of pets and owners. The rapid alternation of the toys between movement/speech and stasis whenever a human looks their way was very impressive. The garage sale signs and the box dumped behind the Goodwill type truck I found very touching. A particular "kick" for me was "Guide Barbie" in the toy store and the chorus line of Barbies behind the penguin in the last number. Perhaps it's my male bias, but I found it rewarding to note the Barbie shallowness as compared with the lifelike personalities of the other toys.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of the more true-to-life college films of the early film era. I can say, as a 40 year college teacher, that some it it still rings true. Tensions in the relationships between the hero and others are real. The father who rejects the son who does not live up to his hopes, while the anxious nurturing mother is torn between them. The rivalry between the hero athlete and his roommate/competitor in football and in dating, which culminates in true meanness. His diversion by the campus flirt, and the evolution of their more serious and mixed feelings. Of course, the last fifteen minutes or so provide the happy ending: he scores the winning touchdown, the couple drive off together; yet even after he and his roomie forgive,forget and hug his rival shows a final attitude of resentment. It is easy to see why viewers rate this one high. By the way, don't expect to get a very good look at Clark Gable; you'll probably miss him altogether unless you re-run the lcoker room sequence. (And I'm not sure I really spotted the right man.)
Disregard the plot and enjoy Fred Astaire doing A Foggy Day and several other dances, one a duo with a hapless Joan Fontaine. Here we see Astaire doing what are essentially "stage" dances in a purer form than in his films with Ginger Rogers, and before he learned how to take full advantage of the potential of film. Best of all: the fact that we see Burns and Allen before their radio/TV husband-wife comedy career, doing the kind of dancing they must have done in vaudeville and did not have a chance to do in their Paramount college films from the 30s. (George was once a tap dance instructor). Their two numbers with Fred are high points of the film, and worth waiting for. The first soft shoe trio is a warm-up for the "Chin up" exhilarating carnival number, in which the three of them sing and dance through the rides and other attractions. It almost seems spontaneous. Fan of Fred Astaire and Burns & Allen will find it worth bearing up under the "plot". I've seen this one 4 or 5 times, and find the fast forward button helpful.
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