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The Mysterious Lady (1928)
Hitchcokian -- very Hitchcockian
This is, quite possibly, the silent film to present to those who are resistant to silent films. First, the characters earn our affection from the very beginning -- scenes of the beautiful Garbo crying during an opera, Nagel becoming entranced by her. Within the first five minutes, you are drawn into them. Garbo becomes more beautiful as the years go by -- we see a beauty that is modern; Garbo would be considered beautiful in the 21st century, unlike many stars from the earlier days. (I mean, could Theda Bara cut it in 2009? Mary MIles Minter? Pola Negri?) Conrad Nagel plays the male lead quietly but effectively -- almost all of the acting here is restrained.
Beyond the beauty of Garbo, one has to really credit Fred Niblo for directing this film. The film is essentially Hitchcock before Hitchcock. This film has elements of "North By Northwest," "The Man Who Knew Too Much," "The Thirty-nine Steps," and, most surprisingly, "Notorious." You have the "wrong man" theme, the guilty, obsessive love, the elegant, tricky villain, the conflicted heroine, Hicthcockian camera movements, some unexpected plot twists, some scenes of real suspense, and even a darkly humorous bit toward the end regarding a corpse.
Very nicely done.
The Boy and the Pirates (1960)
another "Family Classics" memory
This is another film that was regularly shown on the Chicago-area television program "Family Classics," remembered fondly on other posted for other films ("Snowfire" and "Journey to the Beginning of Time," to name a couple.) I am certain that re-watching it at my age would be a real mistake; even though it makes the occasional TCM appearance, I think I'll pass on it. But when I was six, boy, what a film! I looked forward to it every year. The old WGN, in it's pre-superstation days, was a haven for fans of movies, classic and otherwise, between Frazier Thomas's "Family Classics," the Saturday night "Creature Features," and the Sunday night "When Movies Were Movies." Those were the days when local programming was important. I am thankful to WGN TV for filling my childhood fantasies with these films. For now, Though, with this particular film, I'll let sleeping dogs lie.
A Raisin in the Sun (2008)
Poitier emoted, Diddy twitched
There is nothing wrong with remaking and recasting the Lorraine Hansberry masterwork; we shouldn't pay undue fealty to the original cast. I'm sure Olivier's, Jacobi's, and Branaugh's Hamlet would suffer in comparison to the original Burbage performance. Plays are meant to be inhabited by different people as the generations pass. Therefore, there is nothing wrong, in theory, to the making of this version.
This rendition is superior to the 1989 "American Playhouse" performance, which was poorly paced and largely overacted. The female parts are perfectly cast and performed. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for the male parts.
P. Diddy, or Sean Combs, or whatever name he is going by these days, simply does not have the acting chops to bring out the complexities of the Walter Younger character. Where Sidney Poitier and, to a lesser extent, Danny Glover, were able to grasp hold of the anger and frustration of the man, Mr. Diddy twitches and frowns. He performs as if a lowered head and furrowed eyebrows are the makings of a great performance. I was reminded of Hayden Christianson taking the complex evil of Darth Vader and turning him into a naughty teenager. Combs plays Walter like a street punk.
Sean Patrick Thomas, as George Murchison, fares a little better. He does what he can with what is essentially a superficial and somewhat stereotyped character.
The greatest error is the miscasting of John Stamos as Lindner. He gives the character a harder, more outwardly racist edge than John Fiedler, who created the role. Stamos drips hatred and prejudice just a little too much -- it is easy to ultimately say no to him just to tick him off. Fiedler, working with Hansberry, had a much better grip on the role -- not a man who is outwardly racist, but as one who is sadly misinformed, ignorant (meaning, simply, not understanding), and afraid. Stamos tries to chew up just a little too much scenery.
David Oyelowo, as Joseph Asagai, is the most well cast male in the film, hitting every note required by the character.
The female cast fares far better. Phylicia Rashad recreates and improves upon the role of Lena Younger, breaking the "Mammy"-isms of the earlier performers. Audra McDonald certainly will not usurp Ruby Dee as the definitive Ruth Younger, but does an excellent job in a part that requires an extreme range of emotion.
The greatest revelation in the film by far is Sanaa Lathan as Beneatha. Beneatha is a key character in the play and is relatively ignored in the original, and not particularly well played in the 1989 version. Playing a character substantially younger than she is in real live, Lathan is able to exhibit the hope, anger, childish "know-it-all" attitude and sadness of a young woman in her position. Unfortunately, the screenwriters chose to omit her lovely, sad second-act monologue about her desire to become a doctor; this section was excised in the original film and restored in the American Playhouse version and should have been present here.
Overall, this is a worthwhile film, but imperfect in many ways.
Certainly not the book
I remember reading the novel as a child and becoming thoroughly entranced by it. Over the years I remembered it fondly; in the Nineties, when similar-themed films like "The Secret Garden", "A Little Princess", and "Little Women" were released, I thought a film version of this book would fit in nicely. I was unaware that a film version had already been produced. When I saw it listed on TCM a couple of weeks ago, I made a point of getting up early and watching it. I was first shocked to see --- gasp --- a car. Modern clothes (by 30s standards)! Although the film was certainly watchable and had its charm, it was clearly not the book I remembered. Someday someone will film the novel accurately.
The Silver Chalice (1954)
The art direction is horrible. The sets are cheaply done. The cinematography could have been done by a three-year-old. And it has Lorne Greene. All of these are the earmarks of a horrible movie, and it is, in fact, horrible. Yet, frankly, there is something fun about all this. Newman's performance really isn't that bad -- at least give him points for effort -- and Virginia Mayo, probably one of the most underrated actresses of her generation, is miscast but not bad. Add this to Jack Palance's always-watchable scenery-chewing histrionics and you have a classically bad film. This could make a fortune on those midnight movie circuits; it deserves legendary bad film status. And, by the way, who ever told Thomas Costain he could write?
2076 Olympiad (1977)
I vaguely remember this
I think I was at the same preview the other poster attended; it seems there was only one, at Columbia College, where Jim Martin was a teacher. Jim had talents and was a terrific guy but this film was a bit of an embarrassment. Still, I'd like to see it again. Some DVD/Video company could make a few bucks off it and I'm sure Jim wouldn't charge an arm and a leg for the rights (if he has anything to say about it.)In the wake of some classically inferior movies, my memories of the film aren't quite as bad as my experience of watching it. Come on -- is there anybody "in the know" who can get a copy? Maybe some local (Chicago) theater could screen it for old times sake. Actually, it did get a pre-release writeup in Playboy.
The Neptune Factor (1973)
Come on, this is horrible!
Undersea disaster! Submarine is sent to save explorers from over-sized iridescent catfish! This was an absolutely horrible film, basically filmed by combining actors with normal, harmless tropical fish. The budget must have been incredible -- hire lackluster actors (of course, Ernest Borgnine is an exception) and buy a fish tank! If you give it a title reminiscent of Kubrick maybe people will think it's great! Plus we can tie it in with aquarium sales and pet shops! Lots of nice colors but the film was one of the worst ever...and not "fun" bad like "Manos" or "Plan Nine" -- I mean truly bad, boring, stupid, inept...the list goes on and on.
Room 222 (1969)
One of the more realistic depictions of educators
OK, it wasn't perfect, and everything tended to get neatly sealed up at the end of each episode, but I remember episodes of "Room 222" now and it seems to capture what it is like to be a teacher(I am one myself, so I know whereof I speak.) The teachers were realistic, the kids didn't look like they hadn't seen the inside of a high school for years (some of the "teens" in "Boston Public" had receding hairlines) Teachers seemed to have a rotating schedule like in real life (unlike, for example, Kotter, who seemed to fill his day with the same 9 students. Even the aforementioned "Boston Public" seemed to have teachers in front of the same kids all day.
This and the first "Cosby" show were probably the best depictions of school life and the lives of teachers; maybe not because they are so accurate in themselves but because the rest are so far removed from reality.
Il Natale che quasi non fu (1966)
You just...had to be there
I have wonderful memories of viewing this film. One of the staples of the Christmas season was the weekend matinées of "The Christmas That Almost Wasn't." I remember seeing it with my mother and brothers; I suspect I have the same nostalgia for it that Whittier expressed for his youth in "Snow-Bound." However, we have to be real: after a 35 year absence, I noticed the film in the TV listings and I practically forced my kids to watch it. It was only then I realized with some disappointment how...well...imperfect...the film was. Part of this was due to a rather awful print and the choppy way the station presented it (the startlingly touching finale involving Prune had been butchered out.) It is a part of our youth; it is probably best it remain there. I still love the film and my memories of the time in which it appeared and the big deal we made out of it; sadly, it just doesn't translate today.
Interesting turn of events
I saw this film in the late '70s at a preview in Oak Brook, Illinois. The movie was pretty well-received and even I was surprised that Billy Jack was a better fit in the old Jimmy Stewart role than I had expected. It wasn't great, but serviceable, and certainly better than THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK. The film, as mentioned here, was never released, but has come out on DVD. Interested in seeing it again after all these years, I picked it up and was shocked. Normally DVDs have Director's Cut-type things -- more footage, deleted scenes, etc.. In this case Laughlin had cut the crap out of the film. Long scenes that helped the flow of the film and made it less --well, "Billy Jack-ish" had been cut. If Laughlin had used the cut I saw nearly thirty years ago, the film would still have worked. Instead it has become a mess. Come on, Tom, give us the original print.