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Ignore the story, just look at the stars, the sky, the animals........
Mogambo is the remake of Gable's old film "Red Dust" (1932)), with pretty much the same plot, new ladies to fall at the hem of his khaki shorts, and a new backdrop - the dark continent.
This is a "silent" MGM movie, other than the native African chanting and songs, there are no soundtracks. A very welcoming surprise for me, as I sometimes find MGM soundtracks just about as attractive as Wagner blasting away on bad stereo when you are trying to sleep - they DO overkill so....
John Ford did a beautiful job presenting Africa in the 50's. His cinematography of the landscape/animals and take on the locals are broad and quite superficial if you compare it to "Out of Africa". But then - these are just backdrops to the stars - Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly.
Ava Gardner did one of her best acting in this film. The street-wise "Honey Bear", with an ambiguous past and acid sense of humour, fits her to the T. Clark Gable is just his usual self - adequate, but I was expecting something more as this is his second time. I must say I was disappointed.
Another disappointment comes from the unbalanced love triangle - one simply cannot see why Victor would be attracted to Linda, much less the opposite. And with the script heavily in favour of Eloise, why Grace Kelly would agree to play Linda Nordley is completely beyond me. Compare to Gardener's feisty, friendly Eloise, Kelly's Linda is uptight, neurotic, and a perfect snub. Linda's high-pitched voice and prim-and-proper mannerism looked oddly out of place in a safari camp. And the fact that she made little effort to disguise her lack of interest in her husband's work shows lack of affection for the man she is married to - thus making her "instant love" for a man she had thought of as vulgar couple days ago rather inconceivable.
On the other hand, Eloise is shown helping the natives with chores, goofing around with the animals, socialising with Victor's crew and learning to live his safari life with a nomad's ease. One cannot help by wonder what could Victor possibly see in Linda and couldn't wait for him to break the affair off.
Mogambo's script is the perfect example of studio "factory" work, with good bits by good writers, bad bits by bad ones. It is painfully obvious the writer who wrote that the Eloise/Victor scenes is better than the one who wrote the ending. Yes, it's not just any man, it's Gable.......but it is just out of character for Eloise to agree to marry Victor knowing that he's still in love with Linda. No woman is THAT open-minded, no even for Gable!
These Glamour Girls (1939)
A little gem, but all the same, A GEM!
In MGM standard, this is not a big budget film - lots of unknown contract actors, standard sets where most of the scene were shot in the studio. But this is a good film if you want to get a glimpse of how Lara Turner went from the sweater girl to the deadly housewife in "Postman Always Rings Twice". Personally, I like Lara Turner at this stage, she's alluring enough that you can't take your eyes off her; yet still looked fresh and innocent enough that you would settle for just dancing with her in your arms.
This ensemble cast includes quite a few familiar faces: Lew Ayres, Katherine Hepburn's show-stealing brother from "Holiday", plays the male lead Phil Griswold. Jane Bryan plays Carol, Phil's fiancée. This is also one of the few films where Anita Louise plays a fulling developed character. This platinum beauty wasn't much of an actress, limited both by her talent and her looks; but was famous for her parties in her times.
Chain Lightning (1950)
Boggie with Money Trouble?
I thought I had seen the worst when watching Errol Flynn in "Escape Me Never" right after "The Adventures of Robin Hood". Apparently it could get worse, I'm almost sorry I didn't see "The Big Sleep" before this, I would have died laughing.
"Chain Lightning" is another story about test pilots and new air plains, lot of air stunt footage, men talking men talk, sing war songs and the typical boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl-back routine.
And I really wonder why Boggie made this movie - I thought he was a Hollywood royalty and commended top salary? Surely Lauren Becall's dresses and his cigars don't cost THAT much for him to agree to do this film?!
In the Shadow of the Past
At first glance, never mind if you've heard anything about the movie, the scenery on the poster and the cast list that floats in front of it are impressive enough!
I think it would be fair to say that these actresses rescued the script. It is not a bad story, and the novel was a nice read. But women struggling with life's choices is a worn-out theme by this year of our lord, two thousand and seven - and being "nice" is just not enough anymore. Had this film came out around the time of "Sofia's Choice" or "Kramer vs. Kramer", the Oscar committee would probably have problem deciding on who to give the statuette to - since all of the nominees on the best actress and best supporting actress lists came from the same movie.
The part about the life-changing weekend back in the 50's is obviously done better than the present day sub-plot on Ann's two daughters. One can see that as talented as Natasha Richardson and Toni Collette are, they are limited by their lines, and the screen time allocated to the present. The director spent too much time showing Vanessa Redgrave drifting in and out of consciousness; these screen time should have been used on the sisters to make their characters more substantial.
The women from the 50's, on the other hand, were great. One can always rely on Glenn Close and Claire Danes to deliver (and I still can't get over how much Mamie Gummer resembles mummy Meryl Streep!); and the men are, refreshingly, not treated like accessories (ie Joy Luck Club). Close-ups on Harris smiling at Ann make your heart melt, their instant attraction believable, and you get the impulse to stick out your hand and drab that champagne bottle from Buddy before Ann did it in the film. Both Patrick Wilson and Hugh Dancy were given enough screen time and good lines (especially Hugh Dancy) to solidify their characters.
One thing I am glad to see is that we have evolved and improved since the times of "8 Women". A "women's film" no longer need to downplay the male characters to give the storyline substance.
Se, jie (2007)
For Love and the Tony Leung
I saw the full, uncut version in Taipei and was not, still am not, sure if I like this film; but Lost, Caution certainly is one of best Ang Lee has ever done.
The espionage part of the story is very naive, you'd think it idiotic almost. And yet it worked, not really because of the wisdom and training provided by Kuang Yu Min and Wu; but because of Wang Jiazhi. This is where my dislike of the film comes in, Tang Wei was good, but her Wang Jiazhi was completed overshadowed by Tony Leung's Mr. Yee, there is a feeling of lost balance about all of their scenese together.
Ang Lee did do a wonderful piece of storytelling by having Yu Min appear out of nowhere to recruit Jiazhi, sometime after she went to see Penny Serenade. Unfortunately, that is - if you get it.
Jiazhi went to see a movie after she received a letter from her father, informing her that he will no longer attempt to get her out of China; and she chose to see Penny Serenade - the story about a couple and their beloved adopted daughter Penny, and how devastated they became after her death.
The contrast is brilliant and direct, you can feel your heart wrought and the despair Jiazhi must have felt - ONLY if you are familiar with old movies! For those who are not, they would have been misled by the Chinese title, which translates into "Moonlight Love Song", and thought that she just wanted to find a place to cry her heart out.
This scene is small but significant, it shows that Jiazhi's resolution to go back into the espionage world is not really derived from patriotism; but from her desperate need to escape from feeling lonely and abandoned, that she will do just about anything to give her life a purpose.
And then she looked up from the Mahjong tiles at the equally lonely Mr. Yee (I need not comment on Tony Leung, his acting speaks for itself), and the rest is history.....
Until They Sail (1957)
Four Sisters for Four Soldiers
This is not the most spectacular "women in war" movie ever made, but Robert Wise didn't disappoint either.
The focus of this film is on Jean Simmons, which was a little disappointing for me because I watched it for Joan Fontaine. Her screen time is pretty much focused into a 20 minutes sequence showing Anne falling in love in Dick (Richard Bates), him shipping off to Tawara, ending with the despair on her face when Paul Newman told her that causality list is still top-secret. To top it off, the script annoyingly turned Anne's tragedy into a happy ending - having Anne receiving telegram and a large sum of money from her mother-in-law, a congressman writing to the Marines demanding that she be sent back as royalties. The audience is led to believe that Dick was from a good, wealthy family and Anne and her little boy will live happily ever after. If you want to see a more realistic look on how the foreign war brides adjust to their American life without their husbands, I recommend Oliver Stone's "Heaven and Earth".
The best developed story line is of course the relationship between Paul Newman's Jack and Jean Simmons's Barbara. It's a gentle but thoughtful criticism of the war marriages of 1940's, which Hollywood was beginning to examine during the 50's. And the film took its time bring them together, which makes the feelings Jack and Barbara have for each other more believable than that of Anne and Dick's. Again, I would have liked it better if they didn't end up together. But then, these four girls have been through so much.....and it never hurts to look into those blue eyes of Mr. Newman's as he says "I don't love you" (yeah right!)