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Jennie Gerhardt (1933)
Fine Vehicle for Sylvia Sidney
This Paramount adaptation of a Theodore Dreiser novel (whose "An American Tragedy" Sylvia Sidney had starred in two years previously) gives Sidney another juicy role in a well filmed melodrama, a classic "women's film". Donald Cook is also excellent as Jennie's life-long love and Edward Arnold too, in a smaller but key role. My only disappointment was that Mary Astor, who makes a vivid impression, has a relatively nothing part to play and her screen time is limited. Rarely seen, like many early Paramount films, try to catch this if you see it, especially if you are a fan of big, weepy 1930's female star vehicles, ala "Stella Dallas" or "Back Street".
Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
Evocative Weimar-era study of Prussian all-girl school, relations
Although it would have been nice to see a well-restored and cleaned-up print of this, which was not the case, it still seems an exceptionally well made film for its era. The camera work was fluid and the sound was decent. It is a rich, provocative study with much to think about. While famously seen as a lesbian story, and that is part of it to be sure, it also concerns the rigid authoritarianism of its particular time and place, which soon led to so much sorrow and tragedy and sends out a strong feminist and tolerant message. The story is never boring and easily holds one's interest these many years later. It is strongly atmospheric and immerses one in the hothouse environs of the strictly disciplined, all-female world, where the girls develop close and intimate relationships and passionate crushes on their favorite teacher, Dorothea Wieck. She is fine here, and so is Hertha Thiele as Manuela, the primary focus of the story, but then the entire cast performs well, including Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas Mann and wife of W.H. Auden, as a bespectacled, tattle-tale instructor always running to the head of the school. The ending sent out a strong message and worked well, though you are left on your own to wonder how things resolved themselves as per the two lead characters. Well worthwhile to see if you can find it!
Though entertaining enough, "Ada" does not belong in the top tier of Susan Hayward showcases. She's terrific as always, in a role that suits her, but too much in this stretches credibility and lacks proper transitioning. I blame the script, plus Susan and Dean Martin don't especially click together. The film is set in the South and, even though it says Ada comes from Alabama originally, its never made clear which state the action occurs in. The period is also not spelled out, though at the beginning, as Martin is campaigning, he passes a movie theater showing "Escapade", a 1935 William Powell vehicle. Yet, the clothing and hairstyles are definitely not 30's style. Two fine character actors, Martin Balsam and Ralph Meeker, are not given enough to do in support, while Wilfred Hyde-White never seems quite right as wily power-behind-the-scenes Sylvester Marin, his British accent out of place even with a layer of Southern drawl superimposed over it. All in all, you'll be entertained by this combination of "All the King's Men" and "A Face in the Crowd" with sudsy soap opera, but don't expect greatness.
You Again (2010)
Hollywood strikes out again with this flat,uninspired meant-to-be comedy. It wastes a stellar cast on lifeless "shenanigans" that we've all seen played to better effect elsewhere. Kristen Bell is cute, but that's about all I can say for her efforts: she's really not quite there when it comes to carrying a movie on her shoulders. Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis, pros that they are, fare much better. Sigourney still looks great for her age when made up well - in the pool scene, though, she looks much older. Betty White is, of course, very funny - but I'm starting to feel if she takes one or two more uninspired roles like this she's going to wear out her welcome. The ending scene with a certain former co-star of hers is the single funniest moment in the whole film. As for Kristen Chenowith - I guess she is best on stage, because she really doesn't seem to work well in any film I've ever seen her in - her character here is super-annoying and unbelievable.
In Search of Gregory (1970)
In Search of Meaning
I can only echo what the other reviewers have said of this curious film. I watched it to see one of my favorite stars, Julie Christie, in one of her most obscure films. It is very much a product of its time, rather like a third-rate imitation of Antonioni, but more light and whimsical, or should I say pointless and inconsequential? Its very hard to see what drove Christie to make this, other than I think I remember reading that she owed producer Joseph Janni a last film under a contract...maybe he needed a tax write-off? Oh well, if you feel nostalgic for the sixties its a lulling time-waster, with the always lovely Julie. I enjoyed the last scenes at the Geneva airport, whose look reminded me of something out of Jacques Tati's "Playtime". Plus, you get a look at Michael Sarrazin's butt, but not, unfortunately, Julie's.
The French Line (1953)
Time hasn't been too kind
"The French Line" was a Howard Hughes-produced opus in 3-D, designed to showcase star Jane Russell (you can make your own guesses what the purpose of putting this innocuous musical in 3-D was...I'll give you two!). To be kind, its no "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", to which it has some similarities.
Jane plays a Texas girl who is a reluctant millionairess - she has inherited her late father's ranch, which happens to be sitting on copious oil fields. But poor Jane only wants a man who will love her for who she is, not her money. She bewails her lot to her friend and guardian, ranch hand Arthur Hunnicutt, when her latest beau, Craig Stevens, jilts her before heading to the altar because he, like all the others, can't handle having a rich wife. Hunnicutt talks her into not canceling her planned wedding cruise to Paris on the French line, the Liberte (as pronounced by Jane, the Li-burr-tay), only she decides to go incognito so she can catch a man who knows nothing about her money.
Well, first of all, do you really think a millionairess who happens to look like Jane Russell would have such problems? This is purely a confection of a film and not worth worrying about plot lines, but its all just pretty damn silly. And unfortunately, someone decided it should be a musical except all the blah numbers are staged very awkwardly. Jane is beautiful, but hasn't much to work with here and leading man Gilbert Roland seems both a bit too mature as a match for her and definitely too Spanish to play a Frenchman (they try to pawn it off by giving him a Spanish mother). It all ends with a fashion show which just may be the most ludicrous of many far-fetched Hollywood fashion shows. And by now, all the naughtiness which got this opus condemned by the League of Decency and denied a Production seal (Jane's skimpy costumes and bumps & grinds) seem fit for a toddler to watch.
Raw Wind in Eden (1958)
Colorful scenery, Poor film
This is a meandering, rather oddball film which hopefully gave its stars a nice vacation in Italy (at a time when production was booming there), but did nothing for their careers. Esther plays a successful model working in Rome, but involved with a wealthy American tycoon back home. He sends word to her via his sleazy European partner and friend Carlos Thompson that his wife will not give him a divorce to marry her. Dejected Esther immediately agrees to go with Thompson on a yachting party thrown by another millionaire off Majorca. Thompson, however, crashes his private plane carrying them in a storm onto a tiny island near Sardinia.
This island is populated only by Eduardo de Filippo, his nubile and soon-to-be of age daughter Rosanna Podesta, and Jeff Chandler, a mysterious beachcomber who is betrothed to Podesta and helps out de Filippo. Rik Battaglia plays a date farmer from the mainland who is Chandler's rival for Podesta's affections. The rest of the film, which keeps a fairly light tone while throwing in bits of melodrama and a badly done attempt at action at the end, involves Williams' and Thompson's efforts to get off of the island while unraveling the mystery of who Chandler is and what he is doing there.
The only real interest the film has is the pretty Mediterranean scenery and the only teaming of Williams and Chandler, who were engaged for a time. Williams later did her best to posthumously trash Chandler's reputation in her autobiography by describing him as a cross-dresser! Not a very gallant thing for her to do, but whether or not it was true at least it might have livened things up a bit if Jeff had modeled some of Esther's frocks in this pointless exercise.
Sincerely Yours (1955)
You can't say it isn't entertaining
While, by any legitimate standard of criticism, "Sincerely Yours" may be a terrible film, I have to say I had a good time watching it. That may have been for all the wrong reasons, but nevertheless...
Maybe no other performer in the history of show business fit the description of "love him or hate him" as well as Liberace. He had a huge and devoted following from the 1950's till his death, while all the rest of humanity either laughed or groaned at the mere mention of his name. This was the one and only film ever built around him, though he made appearances in others. It is, not surprisingly, a campy schmalzfest which makes plenty of room for Liberace's piano playing. The look and decor of the film is really the epitome of 50's kitsch. I won't go into the plot and all the lines and situations which bring a raised eyebrow because it would turn this review into the length of "War and Peace". I must say a word about the hilarious hospital scene at the end, though, where our hero learns whether or not he can hear again after a delicate operation. While William Demerest (Uncle Charlie from "My Three Sons") smokes a cigar in the hospital room, the doctor, played by Edward Platt, the Chief from "Get Smart" (fitting to have these situation comedy stars in this opus) cuts Liberace's bandages off to test his hearing. The sight of his chubby-cheeked, smooth face against the pillow offset by his famous wavy silver hair in disarray brought to mind nothing less than the Bride of Frankenstein!
In all fairness, this is a professionally made film, with that stylized, glossy, sanitized look that most Hollywood films of the 50's had. The supporting cast does the best they can under the circumstances. You'll either gush tears if you typically fall under Liberace's spell or be laughing and groaning your way all through the film, but one way or the other you'll be entertained!
Romance in the Dark (1938)
Fluffy musical comedy
"Romance in the Dark" is a rather suggestive title for such an innocuous bit of fluff like this musical comedy. It seems to have been one of many attempts in the 1930's to find another Jeanette MacDonald, when studios were placing in front of the cameras Lily Pons, Grace Moore, Miliza Korjus and seemingly every diva under 250 pounds whose face would not fracture the camera lens. In this case, it was Gladys Swarthout who made four or five films before she left Hollywood.
Here, she plays a young Hungarian music student who receives a prize for outstanding graduate from her conservatory from John Boles and John Barrymore, respectively the leading opera singer and leading impresario in Budapest. She follows Boles to the capital and when he doesn't remember her, takes a job as his maid to insinuate herself into a singing career. He eventually takes note of her talent and hits upon a scheme to pass her off as a mysterious Persian prodigy to lure Barrymore into signing her while leaving the coast clear for him to woo Claire Dodds as a snooty countess both men are pursuing. Complications ensue.
The plot is foolish piffle, not to be taken seriously. Swarthout sings admirably and is attractive enough, but merely gets by as an actress. Boles gets to sing here and is livelier than in his straight acting roles, while Barrymore coasts along in support, not hamming it up as much as in some of his other later roles, with a few amusing moments. Many of the more pleasurable moments come via veteran supporting actors Fritz Feld and Curt Bois (who late in life had a role in Wim Wenders classic "Wings of Desire"). I guess what this really could have used was an Ernst Lubitsch behind the camera instead of H.C. Potter!
"Probation" is a pre-Code B movie put out by the apparently Poverty Row Chesterfield Motion Picture Company. Its barely over an hour long and its only real claim to any attention nowadays is that it offers supporting roles to former silent-movie queen Clara Kimball Young and future pin-up girl and box-office queen Betty Grable.
Grable is hardly recognizable here as her future glammed-up persona. She plays the barely 17-year-old jailbait sister of John Darrow, who is out of work but doing his best to look after her. He comes home one day, hoping to surprise her on her birthday with a cake, but is told by Clara Kimball Young, his landlady, that she has had the little tramp sent to juvenile detention after watching her make a date with wealthy playboy Eddie Phillips. (By the way, even though she was only 42 and this only a decade after her biggest success, "Eyes of Youth", Kimball Young is middle-aged and positively matronly here). Darrow then stumbles on Wells, who has come by to pick up Grable for their date, and gives him a thrashing, for which he is arrested. It so happens that J. Farrell MacDonald is his judge and Sally Blane (Loretta Young's sister) is the judge's niece. The judge takes pity on Darrow and in lieu of jail, puts him on probation for three months, serving as Blane's chauffeur.
Its best not to even think about the plot: its all very silly and unrealistic and dated. Unless you are an admirer of Kimball Young's silents and curious what happened to her or wondering what the very young Betty Grable looked like or if Loretta Young's sister was as talented or pretty as she was (no), then there's really no reason to watch this programmer. Richard Thorpe, the director, went on to become one of MGM's house directors and later did such big budget hits as "Ivanhoe" and the Stewart Granger "Prisoner of Zenda", but he certainly brought no distinction to this dud. And just because this was pre-Code, don't think there's any real naughtiness on display, other than Grable being an overactive 17 year-old who is quickly and unrealistically reformed by film's end.