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That's Life! (1986)
Self-indulgent drama ...
... written and directed by Blake Edwards. Jack Lemmon stars as a man having a late mid-life crisis of sorts, while his stoic wife, played by Julie Andrews, waits for the results of a biopsy. The whole film takes place over one fraught weekend as their grown children come to visit for Lemmon's impending birthday celebration.
Jack Lemmon really grated on my nerves in this one, with all of his late-career mannerisms and vocal inflections ratcheted up to the top. Andrews is good in a thankless role, although I kept hoping she would kick Lemmon in the face. Upper-class malaise and fear of mortality are decent subjects better explored in other films. Lemmon himself even seems to be repeating his earlier turn in Save the Tiger, although this time with less restraint. There are a couple of humorous touches, but few enough to leave comedy off of the film's description.
This is the only Jack Lemmon movie I can think of that I have not enjoyed, and that is quite a feat.
Take Dallas, add two heaping cups of camp and take away the ten gallon hats...
.. and you have Dynasty! If you want to see a show that is very much about the excesses of the 80s, look no further. The show begins with wealthy but older Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) marrying his younger secretary Krystle (Linda Evans). The love in this marriage (initially) goes in one direction, but Krystle is not marrying for money. Instead she is trying to forget her married lover who is permanently tied to the mentally troubled Claudia.
Blake's grown daughter Fallon is a promiscuous schemer. Blake's grown son Steven is sincere and gay. Remember, this is 1981 when this all starts, and twelve years later "Don't ask don't tell" is still considered controversial. The first season is rather a blah Dallas clone. But then at the end of the first season Blake kills Steven's lover - accidentally - and goes on trial for murder. Krystle discovers she is pregnant. And most of all "mama" shows up - Blake's long lost first wife, Alexis,who he divorced years ago - as a witness for the prosecution. This is no other than Joan Collins, and 25 years after her films at Fox she still can't sing, can't act, and can't dance, but wow can she can do evil camp with the best of them. She spends the next eight years being a thorn in Blake and Krystle's side, and this is the main conflict that dominates the rest of the series. Unlike Dallas, siblings Fallon and Steven get along just great and are mutually supportive - no feuding there.
There are mysterious disappearances, mysterious reappearances, weird alliances and odd affairs, many of which are one way romances, and of course the occasional hair-pulling cat fight between Krystle and Alexis is always rewarding, but eventually Dynasty works its way into a corner with just too many characters. How do they get out of this and hold on a few more years? For Dallas it was to say that life was but a dream, but for Dynasty it took a massacre! I'll let you watch and see the rest. I have always wondered how formerly dignified actor John Forsythe could keep a straight face and utter some of those corny lines he was given such as "You killed my child!", but it's all part of the fun. And probably nobody would remember Joan Collins fondly today if not for this role that fit her like a glove. Instead she would be remembered as the actress whose box set of awful 20th Century Fox films from the 50s on DVD pretty much killed off classic film on DVD for all time.
An OK B programmer with an oddly stellar cast
At 54 minutes in length, this little film was obviously a B film made to precede the feature picture of the evening, back when the movies were an evening's entertainment. It for sure has plenty of atmosphere and plenty of promise when you look at the synopsis, but it plods along so slowly it really is work to pay attention throughout.
Fay Wray is Mary, a taxi dancer at a port dive, where the proprietor, Tony (Paul Porcasi), is not particular as to how his girls are treated. They often get mauled by the customers, and one night in comes first mate Groder, who actually tears Mary's dress. She slaps him and goes back into the dressing room. Tony blames her for the altercation, charges her for the damaged dress, and fires her, refusing to give her any of the back wages he owes her. Out on the foggy streets and penniless, another man accosts her thinking she is a prostitute, but is scared away by a cop. The cop thinks Mary is a prostitute too and is going to arrest her but she runs away. He makes chase on foot, and she hides on board one of the cargo ships nearby and gets away.
The good news is this ship is going to San Francisco, where she has a good job waiting if she can get there. More good news is that when Mary screams in the cargo hold as bales of hay are lunged at her by a conveyor belt, it is second mate Tommy (Leon Ames) who finds her, frees her from the hay, and is sympathetic to her story, agreeing to help her hide. He gives her shelter in his room.
The bad news is that Groder the groper's ship is the one Mary is hiding on. More bad news is that Tommy's door - for some unknown maritime architectural reason - has a round glass portal in it where anybody could look inside and see what is going on. But Groder has his problems too. A sailor on the ship (Lee Moran) keeps accosting him and demanding "his share of the loot" for the sale of some unknown contraband. Meanwhile there is a new steward on board (Roscoe Karns) who keeps creeping around the ship and showing up whenever Groder and the sailor are arguing.
Where is all of this leading? In spite of its potential, no place really all of that interesting. The film might just be a cure for insomnia if not for the stellar cast - Faye Wray, Leon Ames, and Roscoe Karns as they are getting started in talking film. Then there is Montague Love (that was his real name folks), a holdover from the silents but still a respectable actor in the talkies although he tends to chew the scenery here. Finally there is Lee Moran who was doing well over at RKO in supporting parts that remind me a great deal of Ned Sparks. Unfortunately for Lee Moran, Ned Sparks arrived on the scene.
I'd give the plot a 3/10 for being so slow in spots and not taking advantage of several opportunities for some mystery and action. I'd give the cast a 7/10 for making the best of a mediocre situation. That gives me my final rating of 5/10. Probably only for completists of the actors involved and students of film history.
The Wild Horse Stampede (1926)
WHO is that billed above Fay Wray?
...That would be Jack Hoxie, a true Western star if there ever was one, and star of dozens of silent westerns, ending his silent career at Universal which was known for its Western films in the silent era.
This is a pretty short film. Hoxie plays Jack Tanner, who enters a competition to capture ten thousand wild horses for a cash prize. He then plans to ask Jessie Hayden (Fay Wray) for her hand in marriage. However, hissable villain Charlie Champion beats him to the proposal. Meanwhile a woman looking for the husband that abandoned her finds refuge in Tanner's house. When Jessie goes to Tanner's house and sees the woman in a bathrobe tending to Jack's laundry she draws all of the wrong conclusions and decides to marry Champion on the rebound. An aside here- Honestly Jessie, that woman looks like she is just shy of 40. You are less than half her age. She might be his aunt there for a visit! Lighten up! Meanwhile, Champion's men decide to let the wild horses go from Tanner's make shift corral just as Champion and Jesse are making their way into town. The key is that these are "wild" horses. They are not just going to amble out of the corral at a normal gait, they are going to stampede! And right into the path of Jesse and Champion's buggy! Tanner rides like the wind to explain about the woman at his house to Jessie if she will let him, to save her from the "wild horse stampede", and deliver one other piece of vital information that up until now all of the parties involved were not privy to.
This was a great little western with lots of action, the film moves along nicely, and special honors have to go to Bunk the Dog, who really knew how to act.
Hoxie's story is rather sad. He had great talent in roping, riding, and stunts, but westerns could not be made because of the camera's need to be static for about the first three years after and during the transition to sound. Hoxie made only one film between the end of 1927 and 1932 as a result. Plus, Hoxie's looks were those of a silent star not those of the Gables and Gary Coopers that rose up in the 1930s. If you have never seen him, Hoxie greatly resembled John Travolta in pancake makeup. Besides his style, Hoxie was illiterate, which made the transition to sound and scripted roles impossible. He died in obscurity in the 1960s, sadly forgotten with many of his films destroyed by neglect and decomposition.
White Lies (1935)
Takes some interesting twists and turns but reaches a conclusion I disagree with completely
John Mitchell (Walter Connolly) runs a newspaper that doubles as a scandal sheet. He prints everything that is true even if it ruins lives. William Demarest, although he makes the big entrance, actually has a minor role as a reporter who has just talked to a bank officer who embezzled a great deal of money, Dan Oliver (Leslie Fenton). Demarest says maybe they should not print the story, that Oliver shows remorse and has actually returned most of the money and plans to return the rest. Mitchell says no go, Oliver is responsible for his actions, and the bank depositors deserve to know the truth.
Later, in a totally separate incident, Mitchell gets pulled over for speeding by motorcycle cop Terry Condon (Victor Jory). Condon will not let Mitchell off the hook for this. Furious, Mitchell returns to his office determined to use his influence to bust Condon off of the force. Mitchell's daughter Joan (Fay Wray) convinces her dad that he should get Condon promoted instead, and write an article about the honesty of the cops that are protecting the city. Dad relents.
Later, Dan Oliver shows up at Mitchell's office ready to shoot Mitchell if he prints the story about his embezzlement. Coming to thank Mitchell, the now promoted Condon shows up and manages to disarm Oliver. Again, Condon is promoted.
As a side plot, Joan and Condon are starting to fall for one another, but things are interrupted when, at Oliver's trial, he is found guilty and escapes, but not before pulling a gun (again) and shooting Condon, who is not seriously wounded.
Oliver's best girl comes to visit Joan and tell her how if it wasn't for her father printing that story, Dan would still be a law abiding citizen, that everything is all of their fault. Joan has pity on the girl, who has lost her job and her apartment, and agrees to help her get a job and a new apartment so she can get on her feet.
But Oliver is still hanging around, watching. He thinks Joan helping his girl is a trick, kills the total stranger that is with her in the apartment they found for his fiancée, after knocking Joan unconscious. Then, like the whining coward he is, he puts the gun in Joan's hand who is then arrested for the murder of a man with whom she had no quarrel. He grabs his fiancée and goes into hiding.
Now the movie gets a bit ridiculous at this point. Joan is put on trial for murdering a suitor who understood he was not first choice, and happy just to be a friend. But for some reason, because they were in an apartment alone together and might be "playing house", there is a shot at conviction, not because Joan looks guilty but because she might be of low morals and therefore a killer??? Hey, who voir dired this jury anyways? Oh well, if I'm going to watch the films of 1935 I'd better be prepared to deal with the values of 1935.
Meanwhile, the officer who arrested Joan but believes her innocent, Condon, resigns from the force and is trying to find Oliver and his girl even though both seemed to disappear off of the face of the earth. Oh, and in case you are wondering, Oliver is just hunky dory with Joan going to the chair in his place. How will this all work out? Watch and find out.
The conclusion this film reaches that I disagree with, based on an impassioned speech on the witness stand by Joan's dad during her trial, it is that he should have left Oliver alone after he found out he was returning the money, that if he did none of this would have happened. Maybe so, but Oliver was a sociopath waiting to hurt someone. Ordinary people that impulsively steal once don't grab a gun and threaten to shoot people, then graduate to actually shooting them, and then graduate to murdering total strangers and framing people for revenge. Too bad, because that was great acting on the witness stand by Walter Connolly, who seldom got a chance at such a big role at Columbia, but was one of their stalwart supporting actors throughout the 1930s. Another plus - it was great to see Victor Jory play a protagonist for once and do a good job of it, playing the role of Condon with great likability.
Cheer Up and Smile (1930)
The main road of the plot is thin, but it is full of interesting sidetracks...
...For example, if you've always wanted to see a young John Wayne in a modern dress role being handed some flowers from Franklin Pangborn and the Duke not then punch him in the nose, this is your film! "Cheer Up and Smile" has the always whiney Arthur Lake whine some more as underclassman Eddie Fripp being hazed by a fraternity to which he is trying to gain admittance. Two of the stunts he must perform get him in bad trouble. Kicking a professor gets him kicked out of college, and kissing a random girl on the street gets him in trouble with his girl Margie, played by Dixie Lee.
So a despondent Eddie leaves college even though the fraternity wants to explain things to the dean and his girl, and he gets a job as a musician in a nightclub. In this part of the film you get to see Whispering Jack Smith sing in a contraption that appears to be a china closet. Olga Baclanova as the wife of the hot tempered jealous owner of the night club plays a Russian who only speaks a little French and thus does not have to talk at all (Her English was awful, and when she was originally recruited as a silent star by Paramount, that didn't matter). However, for some reason she just can't keep her hands off Eddie, with the night club owner always walking in on what looks like a mutually compromising situation.
Then some gangsters decide to rob the nightclub, knock out Whispering Jack Smith who is supposed to sing on the radio from the nightclub, and Eddie has to sing in his place, with the robbers' guns at his head. Why they just didn't scram with the loot is anybody's guess. Well Eddie's nervous stammering singing style is a huge hit, although he gave a fake name when he went on the air - Eric Dare - because he couldn't remember his own name due to his extreme fright.
Does this sudden fame and fortune lead to Eddie squaring things with his girl? If so how? Watch and find out.
Innocents of Paris (1929)
Early talkie Chevalier is delightful
Innocents of Paris was a delight with Maurice Chevalier in his first talking film and his first in English. He comes on stage at first and explains that he is doing this film in English because of the trouble that he has caused before when he has spoken French to an American girl. He asked her if a guy she waved at was her father and in reply she kissed him. Phonetically what he said sounded in English to be "Come on and kiss your papa"!".
What follows is a rather predictable melodrama with Chevalier as a junk man who rescues a boy from the Seine, but cannot manage to rescue his mother. A suicide note she left behind tells her father that he was right about the man she married, that he deserted them, and suicide was the only way out. When Chevalier delivers the note and the boy to the grandfather's home he discovers the boy and his interest in his other daughter Louise are unwanted because he is "just a junkman". Maurice takes the boy home with him and decides to pursue a career as a singer to win the approval of Louise's father.
Of course he is a success, and of course he attracts the interest of the wife of the owner of the bistro in which he works. Louise misunderstands that the attraction is not reciprocated. Louise's father misunderstands Maurice's intentions and plans to shoot him. Paramount can't let a Maurice Chevalier film end in tragedy! So how does this all work out? Watch and find out. And while you are watching and finding out, see just how charming and likable Maurice Chevalier's screen presence was. He sings quite a few songs in the film, but his humor, smile, and charm serve him well beyond the musical acts. I'd really recommend this one.
Naughty Baby (1928)
A delightful comedy, saved from the flames
I was surprised to see the 1928 silent "Naughty Baby", a Mervyn Le Roy directed film starring Alice White from First National, at Capitolfest. The 2017 Capitolfest team managed to assemble enough of the Vitaphone score to give the organist something to go on in composing the accompaniment.
For years this film has been listed as lost, and "Broadway Babies" was long considered the earliest existing Mervyn Le Roy directed film. This was better than White's talking films and there are quite a few funny moments.
Alice plays hat check girl Rosalind at a fancy hotel when she spots wealthy young Terry Vandeveer (Jack Mulhall). She sets her cap for him, but that means he can't know she's a hat check girl, and her attempts to not let him know get her fired. She makes him think she is a society girl by getting her three actual suitors humorously played by Benny Rubin, George E. Stone and Andy Devine to supply her with gowns, fancy bathing suits, furs, jewels, and elegant transportation, purloined from their own places of business. However, it could be that Terry has some problems of his own, as his checks begin to bounce.
Thelma Todd plays a gold digger, but it's not like Alice's motives are pure as the driven snow either. I guess the difference is Thelma intends to use blackmail to get Terry and Alice's character is actually trying to get him to fall in love with her.
Best moment: Alice's character and Terry "accidentally" run into each other at the beach and decide to take a swim. What Alice doesn't know is that the suit that Benny Rubin got for her is not really meant to swim in, and it comes off completely in the middle of their swim.
It's really a cute way to pass an hour and go back to those roaring 20s. I'd give it a whirl if it ever comes your way.
Hail the Woman (1921)
The spirit of Christ is a loving one not a judgmental one...
...seems to be the lesson of this film from almost a century ago. However, there were several themes woven into the script besides this including the virtues of the emancipation of women.
The film involves a family (the Berefords) descended from the Puritans whose joyless father rules the roost with an iron fist so absolutely that his wife has become a frightened shadow of her original self, the son, David, is bullied into becoming a minister just to keep dad happy, and the daughter, Judith, is forced to drop out of high school because dad figures she is going to get married anyways and that more education will just make her a bad wife. And besides, dad has picked out a husband for her anyways, self-righteous buffoon Joe Herd (Vernon Dent), who looks like he has it in him to be every bit the bully Judith's dad is and then some. If you don't remember Vernon Dent, he is probably best known as the exasperated straight man for the Three Stooges in the Columbia shorts that they made.
But all is not as it seems. David has secretly married the town handyman's daughter, Nan. Judith visits the home of an author who shows Judith that woman is on the verge of emancipation in the U.S. and that many doors are open to her. When Joe catches her at the author's house he believes the worst, quickly runs to her dad, and dad has her ejected from their home for being alone with a man and smoking! Oh the horror!. She willingly goes. Meanwhile, though Nan and David had wanted to keep their marriage secret, Nan becomes pregnant, her stepdad finds out, and David's dad pays off the stepdad to send Nan away. David's dad assumes the worst, figures the girl is "a wanton", and David does not dare tell dad about the marriage. Don't get the wrong idea about David. He badly wants to do the right thing, but he is a coward.
In the meantime, years pass, Judith becomes a successful fashion designer, but even when she was just a poor shop girl she'd skip lunches to buy presents for the orphans at "Settlement House". She also runs into Nan in the city, by chance, as she is dying of malnutrition and neglect, and Nan entrusts her baby by David to her, the child's aunt. Judith and a wealthy fellow who doubles for Santa at the orphanage fall in love, and it looks like Judith's happy path will never cross the path of the dysfunctional family she left behind. Well life is what happens when you're making plans. I'll let you see if and how this all works out.
It has some tried and true melodramatic moments in it, but it is an original too. Like I said, I don't think I've ever seen female emancipation and a message on the true spirit of Christ worked into the same film in quite this way before.
Best line: Before Judith leaves home she runs into the author and asks him "What has God got against women?". The author's response: "Maybe it is because they filled the earth with men!". Priceless.
One Hysterical Night (1929)
Great concept but could have been better paced
This was Reginald Denny's first talking picture and one that he co-wrote as well. It has a great idea - A domineering woman is angry that her two sons will not inherit a relative's three million dollar estate, and that it instead will go to a nephew (Reginald Denny as William Judd). But there is an insanity clause in the will - if Judd is deemed of unsound mind the money goes to her family.
So she cooks up a scheme to make Judd think there are no hard feelings and has her sons ask him to a "fancy dress ball" that is happening that night at one of their friend's homes. They tell Judd that first prize goes to the person who stays in character the best and have Judd dress up as Napoleon. Meanwhile, the scheming aunt goes to "The Home for the Historical" - a sanitarium - lamenting that her nephew believes he is Napoleon, she wants to have him committed, and she will bring him there that night to prove he is insane.
The reason the insane asylum is called "The Home for the Historical" is that all of the inmates believe they are historical characters - Salome, William Tell, Robin Hood, etc. Judd, knowing none of this, shows up at the sanitarium thinking it is a private home and that the inmates are the other party goers. The head doctor is convinced that Judd is insane and Judd's relatives leave believing they are in the money.
How will Judd ever get out of this? Watch and find out. Denny gives a good performance, but the part at the sanitarium with the interaction of the inmates goes on for about 15 minutes more than necessary. This was a film that has a story that would have been too much to stuff into a two reel short and is really to thin to stretch into a feature. Still I think it is worth a look for its original idea and very natural acting considering it is a very early talkie.