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57 reviews in total 
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The Letter (1940)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Great Film Wrong Music, 3 February 2011

A superb film that is damaged a bit by a mediocre score (it's Detective Movie Music, and it's all wrong for this movie) and the ending. Davis headlines for Wyler again but Stephenson is the standout as the lawyer at the center of the trouble. Underplaying all the way, he conveys beautifully the mounting hidden strain of an honest man caught between honor and friends. But Davis is also in fine form, and even looks a little sexy. Marshall is as good as he was playing another part (the lover) in the 1929 Jeanne Eagels version, which is also worth seeing. Despite the score and the ending the film is one of the pleasures of the period. The sets and photography are excellent as an atmosphere of Old Malaya is conjured up better than in a hundred color films. The writing carries just the right weight-- it doesn't feel like the adapted play it is. Director and cast all understand what they are doing. Sondergaard is a bit much, but she's not in the movie for long.

Apollo 13 (1995)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Actors save trite screenplay once again, 4 September 2010

Screenplay: tripe Direction: competent FX: good Acting: excellent

A great true story is...made into a Football Movie in space? Harris is the coach, and Hanks the QB. Kevin Bacon? He's the RB who fumbled the ball in the 1st Quarter and must now redeem himself. Paxton? The Tight End who sprained his knee in the 3rd Quarter but somehow pulls through the pain anyway. The man in the simulator? He's the benched chap who is dying to be out there on the field with the boys. You know from Frame 1 that the Hail Mary will be caught. And the dialogue is not simply shopworn, it's so manipulative you can almost feel the heartstrings being tugged at.

And yet...Harris, Hanks, Bacon, and Paxton, play it with the sort of conviction that would be better applied to the last production ever of HAMLET. The last three are shot in close-up, just like M. Falconetti, for almost the entire film. If any one of them doubted for one second what he was doing, the movie would fail.

The 1930s (Rest In Peace) were the Golden Age of screen writing. But right now, right under your nose, is the Golden Age of screen acting, and no one will realize it until it's gone.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Inadvertently fascinating, 22 May 2010

A consistently watchable and fascinating peek at the anxieties of assimilated American Jews. Imagine a 1940s movie shot in the style of a shampoo ad, peopled with models, dressed in mail-order catalog furniture and clothes, and tracked with a lot of anxious, booksy verbal exchanges. You'd have this tale of a family of Jewish small businesspeople that marries into Goy-land-- a den of vixens with "foreign" names like TIFFANY and CARLA. LILY's otherness is downplayed throughout the series. This was presumably done to broaden the show's appeal, a detail almost as fascinating than the details of the writing. All the clichés of the Assimilation Genre turn up: the Evil Nordic Boss, the Repressed Wasp Wife, the Funny Jewish Doctor, the Crazy Shiksa, and so on. You can almost tell what the characters are going to say before they open their mouths. But not even Grace shows an iota of curiosity about what lives outside the snug little bubble.

There's even a casting joke: just like the sexy fantasy wives in DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, the sexy Jewish Girls are played by Gentiles-- one of them from Mississippi, no less!

The Outlaw (1943)
6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Broke Bra Mountain, 17 December 2009

Made with big talent and deep pockets, this movie is almost as poorly made as an amateur film made by a rookie. The camera never moves and the actors don't move either. It is also surely the most flagrantly flaming movie of the Code Era, with the possible exception of COBRA WOMAN. Let's see, there's the triangle of a literally limp-wristed Doc (Hughes shows us this about five times to make sure everyone gets it), an sputtering old rejected Pat, and an energetic hot young buck (Billy) who also has time for Jane Russell. The three men do a lot of glaring at one another while they read innuendo-ridden lines in innuendo-laden blockings. The wah-wah-wah kicks in on the soundtrack whenever there's a really smoldery glare or argument. And so on. They do everything but hold hands. Russell isn't exactly beautiful by '40s movie standards, but she certainly is ripe. Hughes had the money to ignore the Censor, and watching it you can't help but wonder if all this wasn't meant as a joke on Mr. Breen himself. This movie is a little funnier if you see THE AVIATOR first.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Fascinating Banality, 8 November 2009

There is no point in trying to see this movie as anything other than what it is: a feature-length fantasy. Nothing in it could have happened, been said, been lived in or around, etc., but in the film's terms that doesn't matter. Everything, including the dog and the maid, looks like it still has the price tag on. That doesn't matter either. Even the stupid script doesn't matter:

Big Sister. It's Communism, that's what it is.

Baby Sister. Oh, pooh!

It is easy to see what mattered: in 1944 there were a lot of home-front wives to sell tickets to. What is harder to understand is why a film set in Anytown, USA got made in the Gothic-romantic style of REBECCA. Maybe Selznick was ahead of everyone else (again) in grasping that, in 1944, this glossy banality really was the audience's dream rather than its nightmare. The movie made money.

A characteristic moment: that dazzling smile and sisterly kiss the wife (Colbert) lays on her bachelor admirer (Cotten) as he ships out for danger without his reward. The humane alternative, of course, would have been to make herself unattractive to him-- and then explain why after the armistice. The film being what it is-- a talking issue of a women's magazine-- this was clearly impossible, and the dramatic instincts of both Colbert and Cotton in this scene feel right: "If that chump's got to die for our country," you can almost hear the wife thinking, "at least he'll do it with me on his mind!"

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Let's put on a show at an army camp, 23 August 2009

Not a great movie, but it has a few high spots. The first half is a mediocre patriotic musical. The second half is a cobbled-together "variety show" performed for an army camp. Grayson sings sweetly, if you like that sort of thing (opera style + show tunes). As for Jose Iturbe's jazz piano, the less said the better. But Lena Horne sings "Honeysuckle Rose" beautifully, Judy Garland does her number well, and Eleanor Powell does a fun boogie-woogie routine. In the first half, there's a rarely seen Gene Kelly dance that's pretty good. The rest is modestly diverting, and MC Mickey Rooney's impression of Lionel Barrymore (in the variety show) is pretty funny.

Masquerade (1988)
6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Nice little Hamptons thriller, 3 July 2009

I liked it. Setting and script are interesting, though not always especially original-- some of the plot twists seem to be thrown in because the story starts to lag. There is one fairly steamy sex scene between Lowe and Tilly, from the days when audiences liked sex scenes that didn't look like rape scenes.

As in so many films since the 1960s, the acting is so technically skilled and low-key it can fool an audience into thinking it's not acting at all...until they see the same actors playing totally different roles in other movies. Tilly is just superb; you don't see her at all, you just see the shy heiress. Even pretty-boy Lowe is believable in an absurd role that must have been hard to play (among other things, in his opening love scene, he hides the family jewels behind a door with a slick little move). Cattrall, in a small part, is excellent-- her sloppy character just seems to have turned up. And Glover (with messed-up Caesar hairdo) is his usual effectively spooky self as the villain. Delaney doesn't have a lot to do but she's loose and convincing whenever she's on.

You can tell this one was written for the screen by the name the writer chose for the heiress: "Olivia Lawrence".

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Great Jannings, 23 June 2009

This expressionist early talkie, known mainly as a tale of degradation like Jannings' previous roles, is often hilariously funny. Jannings, one of the best actors of his day, is straight man here, and he's the funniest thing in the movie. This film is remembered mainly for Dietrich, because of Jannings' and Dietrich's subsequent political lives; it basically gave Dietrich the role she'd lost out to Louise Brooks in PANDORA'S BOX. At face value, though, the movie ought to be remembered mostly for Jannings. His hapless high-school teacher is brilliantly underplayed-- pathetic and hilarious in the same moments, even in the final scene. What's special about this movie is how Von Sternberg and Jannings keep the black comedy in the air all the way through, even in the scenes of tearjerking pathos.

Most of the cast in the English version are obviously reading their lines phonetically. However, this version is not really so bad as is sometimes claimed. Dietrich and Jannings both spoke English well. The cast's Bad English actually adds to the comedy in some scenes. And Lola Lola is English, so the club would have picked up the slang from her.

This Dietrich is somehow more appealing than the more stylized, streamlined one of her Hollywood films, where she got turned into another Exotic Foreigner-- a tramp version of Garbo. Here she's less serious and more fun. She can't sing, can't dance, and can barely even act (e.g., her reaction shots in the final fracas). Yet when she had a good role, like Frenchy in DESTRY RIDES AGAIN or this one, her nonchalant screen personality could make her more appealing than the usual glamour puss. How she became famous as a singer does remain a mystery. Maybe it's the unique poses-- the way she puts one ankle over one knee for "Falling in Love Again". No one else would sing it quite that way-- not even a man.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Underproduced Producers, 16 June 2009

All of Brooks' movies are basically one joke. The joke in this first film was arguably his best one to date: no wonder it got adapted and then remade. Unfortunately the execution here is often subpar. It isn't like an early Woody Allen, where the bad jokes just fly by with the good. It's slow-moving schtick, and it's often overplayed as if the actors weren't even sure what kind of shot they were supposed to be in. There are some flat spots and an a-w-f-u-l lot of setup before the heart of the joke, the play itself. After staging this hilarious topper (and it's even cleverer than you expect) there's not much for Brooks to do except try to find an even funnier way to get out of the movie, which he doesn't quite do. A few scenes, like the one with the secretary, also run on and on long after you've got the joke. Was this because the newcomer deferred too much to his actors, especially Mostel? Brooks' later films are cut faster and are often funnier. But overall this was still a pretty impressive debut and worth seeing once. Hewitt and Voutsinas were funny, I didn't care as much for Mars though I don't see how else the part could have been played. Mostel is all over the place. Wilder's underplaying saves the day.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Gypsy Rose, 13 June 2009

This movie shows how much the director matters in ensemble pieces. Wellman was one of those guys who seemed incapable of making a bad movie, even when stuck with limited resources and censorship, as in this case. This is basically a one-set film and it was shot under more or less double censorship (Code and wartime). But it's highly entertaining, considering what they couldn't show. (If I had been stuck in North Africa or the South Pacific in 1943 I would much sooner have seen this than those dreadful patriotic movies like THOUSANDS CHEER and SO PROUDLY WE HAIL or even CASABLANCA.) It's full of watchable funny girls of the kind that all but vanished (into the kitchen) after Pearl Harbor.

The murder-mystery element is played the right way-- completely unseriously. Stanwyck is totally appealing, and Stephanie Bachelor ("Only tramps work in Toledo!") is one bombshell of a funny girl. Iris Adrian, Marion Martin, and Victoria Faust all make a big impression. Pinky Lee gets to do his schtick, including some tricky dancing, and O'Shea is good as the baggy-pants comic who's after Stanwyck. Both the writing (by Gunn) and editing are snappy (and witty: I love that quick cutaway to 'the Princess' reading her fan mail) and nobody just shows up and reads lines. I doubt anyone could have filmed this better in 1943.

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