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El hechizo del trigal (1939)
Interesting from a historical point of view
I saw this film on Monday 22nd October 2012 at the Cinema of the Centro Cultural "La Moneda" (a Cultural Centre near the Chilean Government Building). The presenter stated that this was the first time in 73 years since the film had premiered (in 1939) that it was screened properly. The film underwent a detailed restoration process. In fact, the presenter said that the newly restored version runs 100 or more minutes and the poor copies extant until the time of its restoration ran seventy something minutes.
The film was the first sound film produced in Chile utilizing sound-on-film as opposed to sound-on-disc. The first Chilean film that used sound on disc was "Norte y Sur" (North and South) (1934) directed by Jorge Délano "Coke".
The film reportedly was cast with non-professional actors, which is quite apparent due to their apparent lack of acting skills. In fact the two principal female players: María Loubet and Adriana Leighton were chosen Beauty Queens of their respective cities during the 1930s. The dialogues are kind of inane and artificial and the pacing is rather dull. There are long scenes showcasing the landscape of the Chilean countryside and musical sequences featuring Chilean "tonadas" and "cuecas".
On the other hand, since the film was shot on location, one gets to see cities and towns like Valparaíso, Santiago, Viña del Mar, Peñablanca et al, as they were in the 1930s, which is utterly interesting.
To sum it up, the film is interesting mainly as a historical document of times-now-gone.
Call of the Flesh (1930)
One of Novarro's best Early talkies
I watched "Call of the Flesh" (1930) a romantic, musical melodrama with touches of comedy, that was a huge surprise for me. Surprise, because after watching "In Gay Madrid" (1930) filmed and released earlier the same year and after re-reading the pertinent passages from André Soares' very good Bio on Novarro "Beyond Paradise" my expectations were low, since Mr. Soares believes "In Gay Madrid" (1930) to be the best film that Novarro made with co-star Dorothy Jordan. (the other one was "Devil-May-Care" (1929)). Well, I am sorry to totally disagree, but for me "Call of the Flesh" is simply one of Novarro's best talkies along with "The Barbarian" (1933), "The Cat and the Fiddle" (1934) and "Daybreak" (1931) - I'm not counting "Mata-Hari" (1931) because it's a Garbo vehicle and not really Ramon's film.
Mr. Soares and some other reviewers felt that Novarro plays an obnoxious, difficult to tolerate character, especially at the beginning of the film, but I found him most amusing and likable in a way. A sort of immature, mischievous, full-of-life young lad -much more appealing than Haines' truly obnoxious characters. Novarro is very charming and natural, in spite that some times he could be perceived by some to be a little bit "too much". For me he's fine.
On the other hand, the chemistry between him and Dorothy Jordan is far more effective here than in the previous film I saw. Ms. Jordan really redeemed herself in my eyes in terms of acting. She's no Duse, but she did fine and she conveys the innocence and charm of a naive convent girl who falls for life outside the convent and for Novarro. The musical interludes, singing and dancing are much better in this film and it has better production values. In terms of cinematography, camera movement, pacing and editing it's "eons" beyond "In Gay Madrid" (1930); definitely Charles Brabin and his crew did a much better job that Bob Z. Leonard and his' in the aforementioned film. "Call of the Flesh" (1930) doesn't look at all stilted, stiff and creaky like "In Gay Madrid" (1930) did. Probably by the time they filmed the former the crew at MGM had already learnt how to overcome those shortcomings.
"Call of the Flesh" also benefits from an overall superior supporting cast, with Ernest Torrence fantastic as Novarro's mentor; ailing, lovely Rénée Adorée very moving as Novarro's fiery lover "Lolita" and Mathilde Comont hilarious as Novarro's landlady in Madrid.
Adorée was gravely ill with TBC and was in very bad condition during the making of the film (and one can see it; she looks very frail and thin). In fact she and Ernest Torrence died a couple of years after this film was finished. I think that it was her final film.
There are two alternate versions of this film: in Spanish and French, which I don't know if they are still extant, but I'd love to see.
I was so surprised by this film (maybe, because I didn't really expect much), I enjoyed the romance, the musical interludes, the comedic touches, even the Operatic Arias (although like Jeanette MacDonald people who know about Opera, say that Novarro hasn't got a voice of a caliber enough to tackle such a challenge) and I was sincerely moved by the scenes towards the ending.
All in all, a rewarding experience.
El muerto falta a la cita (1944)
A smart plot
This crime-mystery film was the second picture that French film director Pierre Chenal ("Le Dernier Tournant" (1939)) directed in Argentina. The print I got to see was poor, but it's a very difficult film to obtain.
The storyline is very absorbing and the high point of this interesting movie is its screenplay, but as most Latin American films from the period, the editing, pacing, production values and performances are not very good.
The plot deals with an architect (Ángel Magaña) who after attending his bachelor party, accidentally runs over a cyclist, but runs away leaving the corpse behind and afterwards his haunted by guilt. Nélida Bilbao plays his rich bride. I was impressed to see that the bachelor party was quite wild for those years. Thilda Thamar (Nora) is an outstanding beauty who plays an old flame of the groom present at the party.
The leading actors succeed in parts of the film, but in some scenes they tend to overact. Sebastián Chiola, who plays the cyclist gives the best performance of the whole film. He's quite outstanding indeed.
Reportedly the plot of this movie inspired Juan Antonio Bardem's Spanish Classic "La Muerte de un Ciclista" (Death of a Cyclist) (1955).
El ídolo (1952)
A good film
During September Chile is celebrating the Bicentenary of its Independence from Spain, and there will be special screenings of Chilean films and documentaries from the 1920s up to the 2000s at the La Moneda Cultural Centre (La Moneda is the name of our Government House).
Last Wednesday I attended the screening of a restored 35 mm print of "El Ídolo" (The Idol), a film directed by the French director Pierre Chenal, who left France before or during WWII and made films in Argentina (4) and Chile (2) during the 1940s and early 1950s. From what I inquired the film apparently was deemed to be lost for years and this print appeared in Buenos Aires, Argentina -if I recall correctly- and is the only existing print of the film. The Cineteca of La Moneda had it restored with the cooperation of the Tolouse Cinemathèque in France. The restoration was OK, but not great. I suspect that the source material was quite poor and that was done with the print was the best that could be achieved. Some portions of the movie had several cuts in the dialogues and "bumps" that affected the film's continuity.
The picture was filmed in Chile Films Studios and several Chilean locations (The Mapocho river, Downtown Santiago, Teatro Municipal, Museo de Bellas Artes, Viña del Mar et al). The sound quality was fair and the script had some incoherences, but all in all, it was a unique and a pleasant experience for me, not being used to this kind of events. I have the feeling that the film was intended to be in one way and it ended being different or was heavily edited. I read some reviews from 1952 that said that there were many changes during the filming and indeed there were many characters and some things did not make much sense. Apparently the screen play was heavily tampered with.
Like in Chenal's "El Muerto Falta a la Cita" (1943-4) "The Corpse breaks a date", which I saw some days ago, there's a death and it was unintentional, at least the first one of this film, because afterwards there are two more deaths which are cold blooded murders.
The title is sort of misleading because the "idol" is the main character (nominally) played by Argentinian actor Alberto Closas, who's a renowned Chilean star of Cinema and Stage (Jorge Arnaud) and leads an enviable life. He's married to a beautiful, voluptuous, sexy, alluring woman (played by Chenal's wife, French actress Florence Marly who starred in such Hollywood films as "Sealed Verdict" (1948) opposite Ray Milland and "Tokyo Joe" with Bogie) named Cristina Arnaud. But the film is not focused completely on the idol's life and career.
Since Marly has a heavy French accent it's kind of strange that her younger sister Elisa - played by Argentinian Elisa Christian Galvé- has in turn a heavy Argentinian accent. Elisa is in love with her sister's husband.
Cristina is dissatisfied with her life and after a quarrel with her husband goes to Viña del Mar (famous city near on the Central Chilean Coast) in order to put her feelings "in order" accompanied by Doctor Enrique Bermúdez, who's a friend of both (Chilean actor Eduardo Naveda). Bermudez's in love with Cristina, but she's still in love with her husband, but temporarily angry with him. Then an attempt of robbery takes place in her hotel room and she's killed accidentally after fighting with the burglar, who we'll discover much later on- is a sensitive out-of-luck artist known as Lemos. After discovering that she's dead, Bermúdez returns to Santiago undercover, fearing that he will be blamed for Cristina's death and the he'll stain her memory if it is discovered that he went with her to Viña del Mar.
Arnaud hires a private eye to find the man who killed her wife and the detective finds out that Bermúdez was the man who went with her to Viña del Mar and thus, he supposes he's the killer. Arnaud confronts Bemúdez and apparently kills him and the tries to commit suicide, but the truth is that the doctor's partner (Doctor Salinas) was the killer, because he wanted to get rid of his associate (they both own a Clinic attended by rich ladies) after he discovered that he was guilty of many patients' deaths due to malpractice. Arnaud survives but is not convicted because he is declared mentally insane and committed to an asylum.
Salinas is finally exposed and is murdered by Lemos who figures out everything quite rapidly without much explanation -plot holes galore here- because he feels responsible for Cristina's accidental death and Arnaud's disgrace. Elisa and Jorge Arnaud (The Idol) face a new life together.
The plot sounds quite confusing and maybe a little bit contrived the script has obvious flaws-, but it was highly amusing for me to get to see a Chilean film from 1951, with decent production values, in good form and a fine cast.
Notwithstanding the foregoing I feel that the script of "El Muerto Falta a la Cita" (1943-4) was superior.
Esposa último modelo (1950)
Quite charming romantic comedy
I found the official Argentinian DVD release of this charming little film by chance in a small store and immediately bought it because I had never seen a comedy with Argentina's legendary Mirtha Legrand, who is still active today at 83, beautiful, classy and youthful as ever. She hosts a TV programs that's been aired on TV over 40 years.
Legrand plays María Fernanda Alcántara, an extremely rich orphaned heiress raised by her grandmother (Felisa Mary) and her governess (Amalia Sánchez Ariño) who have pampered her ever since she lost her parents. The two elderly ladies are always quarreling about their mutual responsibility in relation to the young lady's recklessness and carefree ways.
But one day Alfredo Villegas, a responsible, hard-working lawyer with very high moral values (played by Ángel Magaña) appears in scene and María Fernanda falls for him. The two elderly ladies plot in order to make him propose, trying to convince him that María Fernanda will be the perfect wife and that she was raised to be an efficient housewife, when in fact she doesn't know how to cook an egg! Then trouble ensues.
A rather engaging comedy that shows Ms. Legrand beautifully coiffured and attired throughout the whole picture and her flair for comedic situations. There are some quite funny moments and Mrs. Mary and Sánchez Ariño, as the elderly ladies, are responsible for many of them.
The print I saw is not in very good shape, but then, how many Latin American films from the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s have been properly restored? Not many I bet.
Strangers May Kiss (1931)
Norma Shearer intrigued and interested me (in an uncanny way) ever since I was kid and my fondness for Classic Hollywood Films began. I first read about her in the late 1970s, but there was not much material available of her. Norma's acting ability and beauty were not much praised, she was permanently "accused" of overacting, but the authors weren't able to deny her immense popularity and star appeal during her heyday. Her charisma was huge.
It is true that in certain moments of specific films, especially talking pictures, she tends to overact and dramatize in excess her reactions, using certain mannerisms or posturing unnaturally. A sad example of this is the interesting "Strange Interlude", flawed, in my opinion among other facts, because of Norma's artificial performance in certain pivotal moments. There are other films in which she is uniformly good, like "Private Lives" (the best comedy of her I have seen to date) and "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" and "Smilin' Through" (ditto two of her best dramatic pictures).
"Strangers May Kiss" on the other hand, is the most Pre-Code film of Norma I have ever seen (and I have seen "The Divorcée", "A Free Soul" and "Riptide"). I also feel that Norma's performance has been unfairly criticized by some reviewers at IMDb.com, who accuse her of posturing and overacting. Well, I just watched this film yesterday and I was positively impressed by Norma's natural acting, for once, almost devoid of overacting, even in the dramatic moments.
Norma plays a modern Bostonian girl who (apparently) neglects marriage as something that kills passion and love. She's absolutely infatuated by the character played by Neil Hamilton. Bob Montgomery knows her since childhood and has always been in love with her. After certain events I won't tell about, Norma gets disillusioned of Hamilton and takes a crack at the wild life in Europe, turning into an outrageously promiscuous woman.
This film is one of the most Pre-Code films I have ever seen, specifically in relation to Norma's character. She's simply unashamedly immoral during her European spree (that lasts two years or more); I could not believe that Norma was allowed to play such an openly, in-your-face sexually voracious (for a while at least) lady (she had her reasons though, justified or not). From this film is that oft-quoted line: "I'm in an orgy wallowing and I love it!" Such (unpunished) behavior would have never-ever been allowed during the Code; Unthinkable.
Norma, Neil Hamilton and Bob Montgomery are good and believable in their respective roles. There is a first rate supporting cast lead by Marjorie Rambeau, Irene Rich and Hale Hamilton. Conchita Montenegro (who starred opposite Leslie Howard in "Never the Twain Shall Meet") plays a sexy Spanish dancer. Karen Morley, Ray Milland and Edward J. Nugent (aka Eddie Nugent) play bit roles.
The print I saw was taped off of TCM USA, but is not very good. I'd like to watch a fine print of this film, but I bet a better one does not exist anymore.
In all a fine and interesting precoder that has been unjustly neglected and underrated.
The Wedding Night (1935)
A great film
Yesterday I re-watched "The Wedding Night" (1935), this time with my wife who had never seen it before. For me it was like watching it all over again for the first time. I think that this happens with great pictures, like this one. She also loved the film and I felt so gratified by that, because sadly this type of quiet, sensitive films is not the kind of film which you can watch with anybody and can be fully appreciated as it should be.
I'm a fan of "the Gary Cooper" of the late '20s and 1930s, in my opinion some his best films were made around this time, before his definitive screen persona was established, especially in the early thirties. He gives a sensitive, balanced, nuanced, performance in a film that looks like a slice of life. His character is so unarchetypical, so honestly portrayed by him, that you get immersed totally in this beautiful love story. And this is no by chance, because the film was directed by the masterful King Vidor.
Praise must also go to the two actresses that vividly portray the two women in Cooper's life: the unjustly forgotten and underrated Russian actress Anna Sten and the equally unfairly forgotten actress Helen Vinson. Miss Vinson portrays without falling in the caricature, a shallow, but at the same time likable society woman, who thinks that life is a never-ending party and does not take marriage as seriously as it should be taken, realizing it too late. Miss Sten plays the naïve but strong-willed Polish woman who reluctantly at first, begins to fall for the writer portrayed by Cooper. The scene in which Cooper reads to her the first chapters of the new (autobiographical) book he is writing, is most telling in this aspect; because Miss Sten does not fall for the dashing, tall, handsome Cooper, but for his character's sensitiveness, feelings and emotions which she apprehends by means of this book in progress.
In short, none of the three principals of this story incur in stereotypical portrayals, which helped me to connect with their characters' emotions, with its virtues and flaws.
A wonderful experience, which with no doubt I'll repeat in the future, because this film deserves many viewings and is just my kind of film; a simple love story, unpretentiously directed, that does not aim at over sentimentality and does not fall into the maudlin which can ruin a movie, with superb, unaffected performances by the leads.
Penny Serenade (1941)
An all time Favorite
This wonderful film has been a perennial favorite of mine, ever since I first saw it as a small boy.
It's kind of strange that this film made such an impact on a little kid, because there's either no action or adventure and there are no "showy" melodramatics; it's a sensitive film not a sentimental one, if you know what I mean.
"Penny Serenade" is an utterly touching account of the lives of an average middle-class married couple, showing their longings, dreams and deceptions; their joys and their sad moments; life in itself, poignantly played by the two leads.
The movie depicts in a very real, truthful way, everyday vignettes in the lives of this couple since they first meet, with plenty of dialogue (some viewers may find it kind of "talky"), but nonetheless of a very honest kind.
Irene Dunne and Cary Grant give so much truth to their performances; the situations in which they are involved ring so true and are so real and touching, with no contrivances or artificiality of any kind. The film is devoid of any fake and this makes it much more striking. Their performances are really impressive and only very skilled actors, like Dunne and Grant, can deliver so well in drama as well as in comedy.
George Stevens, one of the best Hollywood directors, demonstrates his huge talent in this wonderful film.
Excellent and touching performances by Edgar Buchanan as a friend of the couple with a heart of gold and dear Beulah Bondi, as a sweet lady who runs an orphanage.
Superior film in all aspects.
Unique Capra film
Unusual, strange, interesting, intriguing, offbeat, surreal, unique film so atypical of Capra's acknowledged style, that one truly regrets that he never made a film of this sort afterwards in his career.
For sure, a product of the more permissive Pre-Code era (1930-1934), it couldn't have been filmed under the Production Code's strict rules; the only suggestion of miscegenation would have risen too many brows during its enforcement.
I must say, though, that I have the impression that I saw an edited or censored version of the official release, since the DVD I watched is of British origin (it's not yet available on DVD in the USA) and apparently the out-of-print VHS American edition, is 5 or 6 minutes longer. Well, it shouldn't surprise me since this film was banned in England for many years (reportedly for its miscegenation subject, a delicate matter for the British Empire in those years).
This fantastic tale of a Chinese Warlord's (Nils Asther) infatuation with an American Woman (Stanwyck), who's engaged to a missionary, is charged with sensuality, erotic imagery and sexual tension (by early 1930s standards) between the two leading players.
Asther gives an intense, credible portrayal and is simply mesmerizing as the Warlord, in spite of the fact that he was actually Swedish. Stanwyck is aptly helpless, confused and vulnerable as the heroine. It's also a pleasure to see Walter Connolly in a different role, as an amoral "entrepreneur". Toshia Mori is deliciously evil as Asther's double-crossing mistress.
This film demonstrates that the Occidentals, at least up to that time, still did not fully appreciate and understand Oriental Cultures, dismissing its people as cruel and savage.
Beautiful sets and décors.
Central Airport (1933)
Good Aviation film
Very good "Precoder" starring Dick Barthelmess, which in a way, kind of reminded me of Hawks' "Only Angels Have Wings" (1939), in which Barthelmess also acted. This film was directed by masterful William Wellman, who was responsible for the landmark aviation Silent picture "Wings".
Barthelmess plays a devil-may-care airplane pilot, who is a blamed for an aviation accident. Afterwards he meets and falls for pretty Sally Eilers, who participates as part of an Act in an itinerant Air Circus; but when Barthelmess' brother appears in scene, a triangular relationship ensues.
"Central Airport" has many thrilling moments and some moving and touching scenes too, thanks to the great chemistry that develops between Barthelmess and Eilers (who, in my opinion, in this film resembles very much actress Dorothy Mackaill). Tom Brown is good as Barthelmess brother, fresh from his success in Wyler's "Tom Brown of Culver".
Great special effects, good flying stunts, swiftly paced film; in all, highly entertaining. Don't miss it when TCM airs it again.