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Our Wife (1941)
Disappointing and tedious
This movie is a real bait-and-switch frustration. it starts out as a wonderful, light comedy and then becomes an all-too-earnest match of wits between Susan (Ruth Hussey) and Babe (Ellen Drew) vying for the affections of Jerry (Melvyn Douglas).
After the promising start, this film comes crashing down when Babe tumbles down they stairs. The film becomes literally confined to a bedroom, and a ruse that should be pretty easy to expose turns into an impossible scam and an interminable mental chess match between Babe and Susan. It is simply not believable that Babe can avoid reacting to being stuck with pins and can fool two doctors. Neither Babe nor Susan is a very credible character, and all the scheming fails to generate much of a chuckle. All semblance of comedy has already gone up in smoke long before the stupid, unfunny climax of the house burning. All in all, a frustrating, schizophrenic film.
Holiday in Mexico (1946)
First a Concert followed by a Movie
This movie is burdened mostly by poor pacing. The first half of the film is a long string of diverse musical numbers connected by a few lines of dialog. Then the director seemed to realize that some kind of plot development was necessary, so the musical numbers are few and far between in the second half of the movie, which is dedicated to getting the flimsy plot moving. Then there's the grand finale with Jane Powell delivering a beautiful rendition of "Ave Maria."
Not once did I feel like I was in Mexico City. Believe it or not, you will see more keffiyehs than sombreros in this movie! Maybe the director thought it was Holiday in Morocco. However, some of the costumes are beautiful - especially some of Jane Powell's dresses.
Walter Pidgeon, who I usually like, is only fair in his role as the US Ambassador to Mexico and an all-wise, empathetic and loving, but somewhat condescending father. Jane Powell has a beautiful voice, but her acting is erratic and bordering on manic in some of the early scenes. Jose Iturbi never was an actor, but had a film career based solely on his being an excellent pianist. Ilona Massey is, likewise, not a great actress, but she is beautiful and hot. Roddy MacDowell has such a high-pitched, soft voice, it is hard for me to ever find him very convincing as a serious love-interest, even as a teenager. At the end of the day, every minute of this film seems like it is populated not by real people, but by actors playing roles.
If you like a fairly wide range of music, then the first part of this movie will delight you. I personally wanted to come up for more air between musical numbers. The two best scenes are in the second half. The funniest scene is between Pidgeon and the parents of one of his daughter's girlfriends. It is the cleverest plot device in a plot riddled with every cinematic cliché of the era, and it is quite ironic, with Pidgeon discovering he is the object of the affections of the young daughter of one of his ambassadorial colleagues.
The penultimate scene in which Pidgeon talks frankly with Powell, his daughter, about facing up to life after you've made a fool of yourself is worth wading through the trite plot, clichés and front-loaded music. And her response, as depicted in the climactic scene is suitably uplifting.
Spreading the musical numbers more evenly throughout the film, and developing the plot in a more even manner, too, would have improved this film quite a bit. As it is, it is more like sitting through two performances - first, a short concert, followed by a short film.
Pseudo-happy ending blights fine film
I am absolutely smitten with Paulette Goddard. She is incredibly beautiful and such an immensely gifted actress. Yet I have seen so few of her films. Why is that? Here she is a sheer delight as the Duchess of Malmuster. She made me laugh. She tugged at my heart. She mesmerized me with her beauty. And she made me root for her.
I am not such a fan of Ray Milland. In this film his character, Sir Hugh Marcy, is a gold- digging, self-absorbed schemer. In one particular scene, he refuses to leave the Lady's residence, ordering around her servants as if they were his own and forcing his way into her dressing room in some misguided cinematic display of "love." In truth, Marcy is a domineering manipulator. In this entire film he has two scenes in which he is sympathetic. Sandwiched between those two scenes, he executes a plan to expose Lady Malmuster, dragging her back into her "Houndsditch" gutter and sabotaging her engagement to his supposed friend, Lord Carstairs. In reality, this little ploy likely would have been very hurtful to both the Lord and Lady. However, in the unreal realm of Hollywood filmdom, the Lady throws over the fine Lord Carstairs to take back the foul Marcy, and the audience is supposed to believe she lives happily ever after with this lout.
The film kept me guessing whether it would end happily or unhappily for the lovely heroine. I had been hoping for an ending worthy of her. What a terrible disappointment that she should end up with the likes of Lord Marcy. She deserved so much better. This film would have been an 8 or 9 with a better ending.
The Law and the Lady (1951)
So-So Fluffy Re-make
The good stuff: The writing in this remake makes the motivations of the characters much clearer in the climactic scenes. Wilding is very good as the gentleman thief, Lamas is full of Latin brio and charm without being over the top, and Main is delightfully (and typically) over the top. Also, this version is not burdened by the turgid Joan Crawford, whose self-important acting style weighs down every film - even the heavy weepers and noirs for which she is best suited.
The not-so-good stuff: Garson is, indeed, a bit too mature and sophisticated for her role. I once considered her to be lovely, with exotic eyes. In this role, however, her eyes just looked puffy. Worse, her make-up accentuates her puffy eyes, rather large nose and weak chin. She looked like a caricature of herself. And her hair was not the soft, radiant red with which I am enamored, but very dark brunette, providing a stark contrast with her pale complexion and bad make-up. I could have suspended my disbelief enough to accept her as a working class woman, but her appearance was simply jarring. A real pity. The story is pure contrivance, the worst part being that despite the ease with which it could be done, nobody except Lamas' grandmother, the "princess," has the sense to actually check out Garson's story. I have a feeling that passing one's self off as a member of the nobility would take a little more effort and preparation than simply inventing a title and surname at a fancy restaurant.
I was immobilized at home after surgery when I saw this movie. It passed the time.
Hold Your Man (1933)
Con Couple Shifts into Sap Mode
This movie down-shifts from 4th into 1st without bothering with 3rd or 2nd, grinding gears all the way to the sappy, b-movie finish-line. The con at the beginning is easily the best and cleverest part of the movie. That is worth seeing. The scene with Harlow in the bathtub occurs so fast, you may miss it. Definitely not worth all the ballyhoo provided by Robert Osborne in his TCM intro to this bad-to-mediocre confusion. There is no real conflict, and all of the characters in this supposed fringe society turn out to be saints - especially the unbelievable character, Al. I wonder if he's got a job for me in Cincinnati?
The Outcast (1954)
Beautiful Scenery and Superior Cinematography
...are the strengths of this muddled movie. And the soundtrack is reasonably good, too. The gunfight between the cattle rustlers and Jet and two of the Polson boys provides some dandy footage of cowboys ridin' and shootin' - not to mention the nice stunt work during the horseback tussle between Jet and Dude. Otherwise you should avoid it.
The plot is a variation on the old Hatfields and McCoys feud. In this variant, however, one of the families is, itself, also split into two factions, and the pater familias of the other family buggy whips and banishes his daughter. Oddly, the Polsons even call themselves "hill people," reflecting a social milieu and jargon straight out of Appalachia and foreign to the Old West. The dialog is full of other, similar oddities and apparent anachronisms. Most of the characters are not well-defined or well-portrayed. Derek's character is especially unsympathetic, and his acting is pure wooden bravado without any nuance. When he tells Judy that he has just been making a play for Alice in order to embarrass his uncle, it comes as a totally incredible fabrication.
As one commentator already noted, the anticipated gunfight between Jet and The Major is at first delayed by some pseudo-romantic exposition and then finished with other anti- climactic interruptions from a hired gun and a raving lawyer.
Easily the best scene is apparently unscripted. The sight of Jet wheeling his horse into Dude, whacking him on the head with the horse's mouth is just about the only thing in this movie that seems genuine.
Heaven with a Gun (1969)
Glen Ford, Gunslingin' Preacher
Slightly better than formulaic script never really explores the moral tension inherent in the central character: a gunslingin' preacher played by Glen Ford with his usual professionalism. The moral/spiritual dilemma is pretty well ignored until Carolyn Jones directly confronts Ford and compels him to make a choice: gunslinger or preacher.
The acting is always good. I like Glen Ford and Carolyn Jones. This is actually one of David Carradine's better performances. He is a very good sadistic old-west punk. Barbara Hershey is easy to look at. I guess she turns in a fair performance as a half-breed speaking stereotypical pidgin English.
The most interesting scene is the gunfight in the saloon between a nasty hired gun and Ford while they are SEATED opposite one another at a poker table. The movie earned more originality points for that twist than for the paradoxical plot revolving around the gunslingin' preacher character.
Play Girl (1941)
Fluffy, but not particularly funny
I think Kay Francis is an acquired taste that I am still acquiring. This film is not a great vehicle, but oddly, I liked Kay in this role better than I do most of her films. Her character is usually very long- suffering. But here she plays "Grace." She is an aging gold-digger rapidly reaching the point of no-return, and she realizes it. Yet she doesn't respond with melodrama, but with a plan to sponsor a protégé, passing on her "wisdom" in exchange for a share of the young woman's "earnings." Despite the rather seamy subject matter, however, this film and Francis' role are both much lighter than most of her vehicles.
It provides a very predictable, formulaic plot and very few laughs. But the two best scenes are humorous, even if not hilarious, and make this film worth seeing. Early in the film, Grace is coaching her protégé, Ellen, before her first date with her first "mark," Nigel Bruce. It is as if they are rehearsing a play, with Kay assuming Nigel's role. In her coaching, she not only anticipates every line, verbatim, that he later uses for real, but she gives a very funny imitation of Bruce's very distinctive British accent.
In a later scene in a steam bath, Bruce assumes Kay's persona in describing to another intended "mark" how the two women fleeced him in Chicago. Straight into the camera, he quotes Kay as she had addressed him: "If you want to make her vewy, vewy happy, get her a mink coat." I wondered whether it was an ad lib or it was scripted. But what I really wondered was how Kay, herself, took the spoof. Her difficulty pronouncing the letter, "R," was legendary. Yet she seems so upbeat in this movie that it leaves the impression that she must have been a good sport about it.
I fault the ending not because it was a fairy-tale wrap-up, but because it was abrupt and rather disjointed. The central focus of the movie is the romance between Tom and Ellen, but the central character is Grace. When the movie ended with the off-screen reconciliation of Tom and Ellen, and Grace's anticipating a happy ending with a completely unknown man, I felt like I had been deprived of seeing the resolution of either the film's central story or its central character.
The character of Tom's uncle should have been a larger role, bringing him into a slowly growing relationship with Kay. After all, she spends most of her time lounging around in a negligee while Ellen and her beaus are out on the town. Giving the uncle a larger, continuous presence would have provided greater continuity and a nice sub-plot. As it is, Kay's presumptive happy ending is diminished, since it is with a virtual non-entity. We have seen him only once in the early part of the film, riding in a boxcar with Tom and some horses to Chicago. I don't recall whether he even has any lines. In the end, we never see him. He's in the lobby of Kay's apartment while she delightedly prepares to meet her "last" man. Neither one is apparently even on the other's radar screen. I would have liked that relationship to have been developed for the fairy-tale. I also wanted to see Tom and Ellen reconciled in person. These changes might have resulted in a non-musical romantic comedy in the mode of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers/Edward Everett Horton-Helen Broderick foursome in some of the Astaire-Rogers films. It would have been far more satisfying and really improved this film.
A Good Woman (2004)
Why would a filmmaker make a period film, but alter the period by 30 years? What was gained by placing the story in the 1930's instead of the 1900's? Did it seem like audiences would swarm to a film placed in the 30's, but snub a film set at the turn of the century? I just don't get it.
Why would a filmmaker adapt a story by a quintessentially British playwright about a quintessentially British milieu to place it in Italy rather than Britain and populate it with people who are Americans and Italians instead of British? Part of the point of Wilde's satire is, thus, completely lost.
Having been enchanted by 2 adaptations of "The Importance of Being Earnest" and another adaptation of "The Ideal Husband," I eagerly anticipated "A Good Woman." I was very disappointed. The reconciliation of Tuppy and Mrs. Erlynne in the end improved my rating a point or two. The great costumes and sets are another saving grace - despite the fact that they, too, betray Wilde's original setting.
The main problem is that all of the actors are portraying characters that are totally foreign to Oscar Wilde (in more ways than one). None of them is true to the roles conceived by Wilde, and essential to the creation of the comic satire he wrote! In particular, 4 of the 5 principals are waaaay too consistently earnest! No nuance. However, this doesn't seem like a problem with the acting, per se, but with the direction.
I fault Helen Hunt no more than the other cast members. Her fault lies primarily in the fact that the director has misinterpreted her character and also made her an American. That's not her fault; it is the director's for changing the character. Scarlett Johansson is not terrible, either. Like Hunt, she is wrong mostly because her role is all wrong.
Even the other British actors seem to be slightly off-key. Darlington is about as far off as the miscast American actors. Cecil, Dumby and Lady Plymdale come closest to capturing Wilde's spirit. But the audio and staging of many scenes makes much of their dialog difficult for an American audience to understand clearly. Among the actors, Tom Wilkinson alone impressed me.
The blame for this disappointing movie can be laid squarely in the lap of the director. Beyond the poor decision to relocate the story in place and time, and beyond the decision to alter nationalities, he has completely misinterpreted Oscar Wilde. He has directed a light drama, rather than the light, comic satire written by Wilde. In Wilde's plays, all of the fun revolves around a combination of characters who take themselves too seriously, characters who are supercilious and characters who verbally amuse themselves at the expense of the others. One of Wilde's primary purposes is to satirize a certain milieu of turn-of-the-last-century British society. When the nationality of many of the characters is inexplicably altered, the satire is utterly lost. Moreover, everybody is waaaaay too serious in this film. As a result, the entire tone of the movie has nothing to do with Oscar Wilde. The soundtrack also makes this a drama rather than a comedy. The music, like the characters, is waaaaay too serious. Not a light note or a hint of comedy anywhere in the music. What a pity, I do so like Wilde's work. With the production values of this movie, it could have been really great.
Either the director was attempting to transform Wilde into something he is not, or he is clueless about Wilde in the first place. I tend to believe the latter.
Vanishing Point (1971)
3 Perspectives from 1 Reviewer
This is the most difficult film of the dozens that I have rated on IMDb.
First Perspective: I first saw this film on its initial release when I was an incipient hippie- wannabe of 17. My first car had been a Chevelle SS 396, and my second was a Firebird 400. I was accustomed to driving long distances across the arid southwest at high rates of speed. Just something you did... So, on first viewing, I loved this film and its celebration of the anti- violent, anti-racist, anti-establishment milieu of the 60's counter-culture. I loved the soundtrack. I loved the familiar scenery. I loved the car and the adrenaline rush that it provided. I loved the anti-hero, Kowalski, and I expected Barry Newman to become a big star. (He starred in a short-lived TV drama, "Petrocelli," but portrayed minor characters for most of his film career.) No doubt, I also loved the rather extensive nudity.
Years later, I still remembered Newman, the title of the film, and the basic theme of pursuit, but beyond that I could not recall why I had such a fond memory of this film.
Second Perspective: I watched it for only the second time last night when I stumbled across it on one of the movie channels. So, I sat down and became a passenger on a personal road-trip of nostalgic curiosity. Mostly, I thought, "I don't really get it, but it is kind of interesting" - primarily for making me aware of a personal milieu that I had so internalized that I had long since stopped regarding it as very distinctive in any way. The anti-racism and anti-violence themes seemed pretty stereotypical and obligatory in a film of this kind. It was never clear to me why so many (mostly impassive) people would gather around the radio station and continue to hang out for a couple of days. I sat through the whole movie with a sense of how preposterous it was that Super Soul just turned the radio station into his own personal CB to talk to Kowalski. When it ended, I thought, "I wonder what the point was - an extended car chase movie? If a point had ever been in mind, surely it had vanished... Oh, I get it... Boy, a long way to go to make a non-point!"
Third Perspective: A day after seeing the movie for the second time, I turned to IMDb to see what others thought. I was quite surprised by the high rating and the number of reviews. I began to read them. Many of the positive comments I read, drug me out of my middle-aged literalistic perspective and restored my appreciation for this film and the kind of film-making it represents. It is a quest movie - the quest for freedom - and we see that in multiple characters. It is not literal, but metaphorical - symbolic to some degree, stereotypical to some degree. (But, one man's stereotype is another man's symbol.) In the context of surrealism, a car radio that talks to its driver is actually rather interesting. During the era of "Vanishing Point," Hollywood made a number of very self-conscious, pseudo-intellectual attempts at depicting the contemporary culture. Most of these attempts that I have revisited in recent years are at best, laughable, and at worst, painful to watch. But this one is neither. It avoids striking that pretentious, consciously "hip" tone that caused its contemporaries to age so poorly.
In the end, the movie achieves a curious balance. Did I like Kowalski? Yes. Was I saddened when he crashed? No. Despite the character-developing flash-backs, Kowalski was transformed from a real person with whom I might identify into some metaphor or symbol about whom I was quite dispassionate. I was merely along for an exciting ride, the end of which did not cause me the slightest bit of anticipation or suspense. Kind of like a carnival ride...
My values have changed a lot since I first saw this film. I cannot accept the existentialism and nihilism that are the film's main themes. Despite the fact that these are the themes of the film, however, Vanishing Point never seems really dark or oppressive or depressing or polemical. The soundtrack is terrific and lively, providing a counterbalance to the dark themes. The racial violence is disturbing. But most of the nudity actually seemed quite "innocent" - even if the nude rider was an obvious symbol of freedom (or the pursuit of freedom). (Interestingly, a kind of denial of existentialism and the ethos of the era comes about when Newman declines the nude rider's implicit invitation to sex and her offer of marijuana.)
Vanishing Point is absolutely remarkable for the almost complete absence of offensive language. None of the commentators I read seem to have grasped that. Almost every Hollywood film that ever portrayed the milieu portrayed in Vanishing Point (or, in fact, any anti-hero film since the release of this film) has relied on heavy doses of profanity. I submit this film as powerful evidence that such language is, indeed, gratuitous and unnecessary.
After my first viewing of this film, I might have rated it higher than a 7. Immediately after my last viewing, I probably would have rated this film somewhat lower. After reading some other comments, I think it's overall rating on IMDb is about right.