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So few movies have a woman as the main protagonist, much less an older woman. Marie Dressler is wonderful, as usual, but the script helps a great deal, and the good, unpretentious direction. Old movies really have something special, a sense of compassion and humanity. Richard Cromwell makes a very good impression. It is sad that he lived only 50 years and was forgotten. One wishes Angela would reminisce about him. He had a very pleasant speaking voice. A voice is an instrument, and speech is music.
I enjoyed everything about this movie: camera, pacing, acting, dancing, plot, characters, French language, and historic value. Above all I enjoyed Josephine Baker's incredibly subtle singing, and the beautifully written and orchestrated songs. And the background music is also superb. The whole movie has an atmosphere of generosity and good cheer, and a pleasant absence of Hollywood glitter. They really don't make them like this anymore. Not for those who want blockbusting glamor. This is a modest film, but there is charm in modesty. Less is more.
Mildred Pierce (1945)
Liked it in 1993
I wrote down my impressions ten years ago:
Saw it for the third time and I could keep watching it forever. It is one of the greatest ever made. Visually gorgeous. The dialogue is smart, real. Joan Crawford is priceless. Everything works. This could have been a soap opera, but it is far from it. It is touching, amusing and always interesting. It never sags or lags. The only flaw is the rather pointless death of one of the daughters. The movie has some didactic elements (don't spoil your children), but it is far from being just a sermon. There are no villains. The writer sees everyone as a human being. These are real people, complex, contradictory. Yet the complexity isn't overdone. The movie remains light and never sinks into bathos. I don't know what it is about Joan Crawford that thrills me so much. She is a damn good actress. She knows just the right balance between acting a character and being one. Gone are the days of stylish acting like hers.
My views are not set in concrete. I can't believe I liked Love Story (1970) only a few years ago! In retrospect it seems shockingly classist, with the girl having to conveniently shuffle off her mortal coil to prevent inter-class miscegenation. Hollywood is reactionary when it comes to racial and class miscegenation (and many other things), and one must watch out for these cryptic messages that masquerade as tragedy. Is Mildred Pierce a tragedy, because she is a working woman? Is the message, that working women are up to no good?
The Miracle Woman (1931)
This gorgeous film is a bit too dark and too harsh on sister Aimee, but it is riveting throughout, and the best Stanwyck movie I have seen. Her acting is so much subtler than in later years. In the final scene she is absolutely ravishing. Fascinating characters, plot, cinematography, with just the right dash of nastiness. They really don't make them like this anymore. The big mystery is where, when and how did cinema learn its craft so early, and why did it lose it sometime in the fifties. Today's movies just cannot compare with this artistry. Today's movies don't look like movies at all. They rather look like documentaries about movie-making. Roll camera is the only special effect they seem know.
Great Performances: King Lear (1974)
Beware of old age?
I can never understand Shakespeare. What's he trying to say, if anything? That old age is a misfortune that ruins everyone's life? I can discern no other message in this pretentious jumble. They say the Bard is often quoted. The only thing in this play I've heard quoted is "more sinned against than sinning". Brilliant! Let's quote it again: "more sinned against than sinning"! Once more: "more sinned against than sinning". So good! Bob Hope has more quotable one-liners than the Bard, and I think Henny Youngman is wittier than Bob Hope. I will keep trying to give the Bard a chance to impress me, but this is reputed to be his greatest play.
There are lots of things to like in this movie: glimpses of London, black and white photography, likable young actors, old fogies, fast pace, great music, but one gets the impression that the original play was cut, and there is nothing that would have interested me more than the uncut play, flaws and all. That would have been more interesting than the touches from Max Sennett and Jacques Tati.
The play's central message seems quite conventional: nerd gets the best girl, playboy overwhelmed with his mannequins. For all the mockery of the old folks, the values permeating this plot are old folks' values. The view of women is passive. They don't swing, they are merely "taken advantage of", and the nicest girls is the most virginal, as if sexual activity were incompatible with niceness, and virginity were incompatible with napalm. But that's movies for you: always asserting the unassailable, rocking the cradle instead of the boat.
Tushingam steals the show. She has more screen presence than Garbo.
Gorgeous cinematography and music wasted on a flawed play.
Not only is the writing bad, the plot is shapeless and incoherent and pointless. Hamlet is supposed to embody doubt, yet he kills without compunction. He fatally stabs that old man by mistake, without suffering any legal, social or emotional consequences, and the stabbing isn't even subsequently recalled in any manner. And that old man elicited not a few titters from me, as he constantly moved around, rushing up stars like a man half his age. And he says things that don't fit in the play: "To thine own self be true. Neither a borrower nor a lender be". Here are samples of The Bard's terrible writing:
If it be, why seems it so particular with thee? Then you saw not his face. Courses through the natural gates and alleys of the body.
Take this from this if this be otherwise. Oh cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right.
And why does Hamlet give that peroration to his actors? It is pointless. And why is that peroration so similar to the stilted speech of the old man who says "to thine own self be true"? And why is Hamlet called "sweet prince" after he kills several people? It was interesting only from a historic perspective.
To be is not to be, that is the answer.
¡Ay Jalisco... no te rajes! (1941)
Hats off to Negrete and songwriters
What a great singer! Jorge Negrete's voice is quite thrilling, rich, potent, expressive, just perfect for this type of song. It's hard to believe that he despised this sort of music and preferred opera. These songs are far better than opera, which is stuffy, staid and dull, and lacks that verge and impudence and humor.
This movie is worth seeing mainly for the great singer and songs, but the plot and good old-fashioned cinematography are also appealing.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Liked it in 1989
My diary informs me that I liked this film in 1989, of which I remember nothing today:
Very good movie. I feared it would be just a Robin Williams "vehicle", another story about an unconventional young teacher clashing with the stuffy authorities. As I watched the movie I kept wondering whether it was upholding personality or principle. Was it just a paean to a wonderful teacher, something like "To Sir with Love" or was it upholding some principle? There were moments when I was about to dismiss the movie as a pretentious version of "Beach party bingo", Franky Avalon gone Ivy League. When one of the students, well, no spoilers, I feared the movie was degenerating into soap opera. Then I feared a sudden happy ending that would tilt the balance toward personality and narcissism and away from principle. But at the very end, it becomes clear that it is the other way around. Conventionality and conformity cannot be defeated. However, the ideals of Thoreau and other free-thinkers cannot be either.
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
Capra corn at its sweetest
Let's not give all the credit to Capra. Let's point out that a movie is a collective creation involving directors, writers, cameramen, editors, actors, musicians. And when everything works, as in this movie, it's a miracle, isn't it? How can so many things coalesce? Lionel Stander stands out as a frog with a heart of gold. And where and when did Gary Cooper learn to act so well? One is impressed with all the good acting in this movie, even character parts. Those non-pixilated old ladies are adorable. That stern psychiatrist spouting banalities and doodles. There are too many interesting characters to count. That's what movie making is all about. It's good that the movie is on DVD, but a movie like this must be seen in the theater, together with other people. I find it very sad that the new generations don't get a chance to experience old movies collectively. We humans have a need for collective experiences.
What I didn't like about the movie was the "socking", which at the time was cute, one wonders why. It is transparently there to prove to us that Longfellow with all his poetry and music and no girl is no sissy.
This must be the best Capra movie.