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What About Bob? (1991)
A movie about a mental patient that is actually light entertainment!
In fact, it is such light entertainment it is one of the few films that mental hospitals will let their patients watch! And no, I don't know this because I was an inmate.
It's the story of two men - Bob and Dr.Leo Marvin. Bob is a man so tied up in his obsessive compulsions he can barely move. Thus he works at home in NYC and lives a simple life. However, he does see the value of therapy and apparently has been through a number of psychiatrists, all of whom he pesters to the point that they pass him off to someone else and leave town.
The latest doctor to be duped into taking Bob (Bill Murray) as a patient is Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss). He has precisely one session with Bob, gives him a copy of his latest book - "Baby Steps", and tells him he will see him next month because he is going on vacation. This sends Bob into a panic because the one constant in his life has been his tenacious hold on his series of psychiatrists. Bob's decision - he will "baby step" his way to New Hampshire and go on vacation where Dr. Marvin is.
Now you see, Bob is actually quite likable to anybody who is NOT a psychiatrist, and he quickly bonds to Dr. Marvin's family and even helps the Marvins' son with some of his hang-ups in a way that Leo has never been able to do. You also have to realize that, like Bob, Leo is a guy with a lot of rigid rules about everything himself. In many ways he is as hung up as Bob is, but in socially acceptable ways. The result is that Bob violating all of Dr. Marvin's rules slowly drives Dr. Marvin nuts, while basically adopting Dr. Marvin's family makes Bob much better.
I'll let you watch and see how this all turns out. Let me just say that this is not One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - it is a comedy for the entire family and a very good one at that. A ten year old could watch it and not be stressed. Kids much younger than that could watch it, but they just might not get it. Highly recommended.
Charming Sinners (1929)
Well acted with clever dialogue, yet static...
... and for good reason! In 1929, the movie camera post dawn of sound was unable to move at all. So Somerset Maugham's play about a philandering husband who wants to have his cake and eat it too was just perfect film material given the limitations of early sound technology. So don't judge this film too harshly.
The philandering husband, Robert Miles (Clive Brook), is having an affair with Anne-Marie Whitley (Mary Nolan), also married. Robert's wife of ten years, Kathryn (Ruth Chatterton), finds out and plans her clever revenge, which, with surgical precision, manages to teach her husband a lesson, give herself a European vacation, and not ruin either her marriage or that of the Whitleys. William Powell plays the suitor that lost out to Robert ten years before and wants another chance, but it's a small part as Powell is not the big star he will be in just a few more years.
Give it a chance if you ever get the opportunity. The dialogue is very witty since it is the work of a clever playwright, and the acting is quite natural. It is not the stilted stuff of other early talkies where the actors don't seem to know what to do with themselves and the writers are used to writing title cards. Only the lack of motion subtracts from its charm.
Ladies in Love (1936)
Be careful what you ask for...
... because you just might get it! It's rather predictable, yet interesting. Three women combine finances so they can rent a spacious apartment in a wealthy part of Budapest and use that apartment as a jumping off point so that they all can get their individual wishes. Constance Bennett plays Yoli, a woman with sophisticated tastes and ways, but no money. Loretta Young plays Susie Schmidt, a girl in the chorus of a local show, and Janet Gaynor plays Baroness Martha, a woman of noble blood whose family lost everything in WWI, so now she has to live off selling neckties on the street along with a hodgepodge of odd jobs.
One of the first thing the women do is practice an old superstition. They sit down in whatever room of the apartment they happen to be in, count the corners of the room, and then say their wish aloud. Yoli asks for a rich husband who will buy her jewels and furs, Susie asks to be independent of men with a shop of her own. You can detect a trace of bitterness in her voice as she says this, as though she has been burned by romance before and often. Finally, in the bathroom, Martha says she is going to ask for the impossible - a good home, a husband to take care of, and children.
Their first visitor is John Barta, a wealthy man whose work takes him all over the world, but for now he is on vacation in Budapest and keeping company with the seemingly aloof Yoli. Along with Barta is Karl Lanyi (Tyrone Power). One smile from him and it's time for family values for Susie. Her Independence Day spirit evaporates before your eyes. As for Martha, she gets a job to replace all of her part time jobs by being the assistant to an illusionist, Alan Mowbrey as the very amusing Paul Sandor who can't tell when he is performing and when he is having an actual conversation.
By my last paragraph do you think you can tell how this will turn out? I will tell you now you do not! Watch and find out. I will tell you that every girl get's their spoken wish, but not the desires of their heart. Only Martha winds up truly happy. I've always said if you are going to watch the films of 1936 you better be prepared to deal with the values of 1936, so the lesson here seems to be that the only honorable ambition of any girl is for a traditional family. Just wanting a rich man for what he can give you or a career so you don't have to deal with a man in the first place is just not honorable. Not my words or beliefs, but ideas coming from a script written almost 80 years ago that Fox revamped from various angles from time to time over the next three decades.
An interesting aside - Fox's past, present, and future are all here. Loretta Young was brought over from Zanuck's 20th Century films to do this, and she wound up a big star. Don Ameche is fifth billed, but will wind up being one of Fox's biggest stars with that charm that was just so unique to him. Tyrone Power? He's seventh billed and one of the few assets left over from the original Fox Films, but that disarming smile, even playing a pure heel with only a few lines, got so much fan mail that he quickly went up the ladder. As for Janet Gaynor, she had been making money for Fox for over a decade and has probably the best role here, but her time at Fox, and in film for that matter, is just about over.
I'd highly recommend this if you ever get the time. The ghostliest fact to me - these people don't even realize that their wishes may be temporary because another war is about to change everything in just three years time.
The She-Wolf (1931)
The question is WHY is this story noteworthy?
After all, Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan were all actual tycoons who were extremely ruthless with their own employees, who wanted to privatize their gains and socialize their losses, who never failed to kick any debtors when they were down, yet nobody finds their stories remarkable. Could it be Universal found this story film-worthy because Hetty Green (model for the film's protagonist) was a female tycoon at a time (late 19th, early 20th century) when no woman took charge of her own fortunes, especially after marriage, and prevailed? Plus, given her Quaker roots, her stinginess in her personal life was legendary while the aforementioned male tycoons made ostentatious displays of their wealth. I think these two things set Hetty apart. The reason I am talking about all of this is, as other reviews have noted, this film is supposed to be based on the life of Hetty Green, with the main character being Harriet Breen, skillfully played by the wonderful May Robson.
For all but the last 15 minutes or so you are convinced that Harriet cares about nothing but money. She disowns her son when he runs up a gambling debt and uses his inheritance to back the loan given to him by Breen's worst enemy, fellow tycoon William Remington. She fires the right hand man in her finance company when he falls in love with her daughter. Harriet won't let her daughter go out and be young, instead insisting that she study bookkeeping and investing so she can handle her inheritance when the time comes. She also berates the family servant to the point where the poor woman behaves like an often kicked dog. Finally, Harriet dresses in drab black outfits that others make fun of. And then comes the ending....
Surprise! (or not!) Harriet really has a heart of gold! She has been pretending all of these years and being hard on everyone she cares about just so her enemies won't use the love that she hides so well against her! And her real mission in life? To stop Remington from messing with the price of wheat and causing people to starve. It's Harriet to the rescue who has bought up all of that wheat and plans to distribute it to the hungry. Oh, and by the way, all of the villains are ruined financially by her other maneuvers. She takes back the son she really never actually disinherited and gives her blessing on her daughter's romance. The thing that is really crazy here is Harriet reveals all of this "Thin Man" style - with the villains all gathered in a room - and with Harriet wearing a grand evening gown that the actual Hetty Green would not have been caught dead in! So even in the precode era, the heroine MUST be feminine (thus the evening gown when she reveals her true self) and must have a kind heart.
Robson blows away every other performer on screen, as usual. About the only negative thing I can say is May Robson at the time this film was made was 73 years old, much too old to be playing the mother of two people in their early 20s at most. Also, as I've said before, her energy almost makes you forget the improbability of the age differences. I'd recommend it if it ever comes your way.
Sometimes the best revenge...
... is to leave your enemy alive knowing that without his dogs and his guns and his buddies and his notched bullets meant to cause his prey to explode not just die, that this enemy is just a great big sissy. No, the story is more complex than that, but at the climax of the film you can almost detect the trace of a smile on the face of the gigantic Kodiak bear as he roars in the face of the unsuspecting hunter who is left on his knees, hands on his ears begging "please don't kill me". And then the bear just turns around and ambles away.
So how did we get to this point? It is British Columbia 1885, and this story starts out with a momma bear and her cub, digging honeycomb out of the base of a hill. The momma is making such a ruckus digging that she causes a minor rock slide and is killed instantly in the process. This is the very saddest part of the film, as the baby first tries to help mom by removing the rocks, and then snuggles up next to her corpse until hunger makes him leave her behind.
Meanwhile there is the gigantic Kodiak bear I mentioned in the first paragraph, doing what Kodiak bears do - scratching his back on trees until they fall, mating with female bears he comes across, and killing elk for food because, for something this big, some fish and berries are just not going to do the job.
Also there are a pair of hunters, an older one and a younger one. They are obviously after bear pelts, because as we meet them the older hunter is flinging the bear meat into the fire and finishing up the job of skinning his latest kill. Now at the time I am writing this, trophy hunters are in the news, and the news is repellent, people killing wild animals just for the sport. But this is a wilderness and more than likely these hunters need the pelts to sell and to use in the harsh cold winters for themselves. Everything pulls its weight in such an ecosystem or it is deemed as unnecessary and won't last long anyways.
What sets up our story is that the pair of hunters detect our gigantic friend. The younger hunter is inexperienced, though, and shoots too soon. He wounds the bear but does not kill it. The hunters go out looking for the bear and when they don't find it, the older hunter says to let it go. That is, until they realize they are the hunted and see that the bear has doubled back on them and slaughtered their pack horses, including the older hunter's own horse, and probably as close to a pet as you get in this place. The older hunter swears revenge and leaves the younger hunter there while he goes back to town and gets their tracking dogs.
In the end we have the most unlikeliest of scenarios. The male bear takes up with the baby bear feeding it and protecting it in almost a big brother/little brother relationship that provides some precious moments, and we have the young hunter and the old hunter deciding to let the giant bear get away in spite of the fact that he killed the older hunter's horse and the younger hunter's favorite dog in the chase.
Watch this one to see the forgiveness that seems to go both ways in the animal kingdom - human to animal, animal to human, and to see the possibility that sometimes animals can strike up friendships even in the harshest of environments. And might I add that the beautiful Canadian scenery almost steals the show. Highly recommended. Let me also note that there is almost no dialogue in this one, but it is unnecessary to convey the relationship between the hunters and what they are thinking. The acting and direction are that good.
Broadway Gondolier (1935)
A good post production code effort by Powell and Blondell
This film has as silly a storyline as any of the Dick Powell musicals (maybe intentionally so), but its entertaining enough to watch, with some tuneful songs (including one minor standard: Lulu's Back in Town). It's all the more so, owing to the presence of Joan Blondell. She was especially gorgeous in this movie. When speaking of her, most people comment on her sassiness, and rapid-fire patter. But in addition to her fine acting, she was also a beautiful, sexy woman, with huge eyes. She employs here an understated, deadpan delivery she used sometimes to heighten the comic effect of her lines. It shows how deft her ability was with comedy. The movie doesn't have Busby Berkeley's production numbers, so I suppose that's why it isn't so well remembered as other ones. But it does put more focus on Dick Powell's voice. While is it isn't up to the operatic standards required by the role, it's certainly a great voice. It gets overlooked in discussions of him, taken for granted, even, I would say. It may be the nature of his roles, and his later transformation distract people's attention.
The Aviator (2004)
Beautifully photographed yet sometimes hard to watch
I was quite impressed by this portrait of the legendary millionaire eccentric during his Hollywood glamor years, though not shirking the beginning of the darker psychological disintegration that would forever engulf him.. Scorsese directed a dramatic, evocative, beautifully photographed portrait of an eccentric genius, slowly succumbing to his mental demons. As far as his obsessive compulsiveness is concerned, though, I must plead guilt to identifying with him in one scene in the film - that in which he refuses to touch a public washroom door knob. I've been in that position myself any of a number of times.
The opening scene, showing Hughes with his mother, is short but vital in insinuating that Hughes developed his OCD from his mother - either by listening to and remembering her fanatical anti-germ ravings about how he was never safe, or through strict genetics. It was probably a combination of both. Since his mother died young, she did not live to have the disease take over her life as it did with Howard.
The first part of the film is the lightest and the most fun, with Hughes spending three years making "Hell's Angels". He's desperate to succeed here because the last thing he wants is to wind up back in Texas making drill bits, the source of the family fortune. This is where anachronism number one appears - Hughes shows his right hand man, Noah Dietrich, the famous part of "The Jazz Singer" where Al Jolson is ad libbing one of the few talking segments of that film, claiming that sound is what audiences want and using that as an excuse to redo Hell's Angels AGAIN, this time with sound. The Jazz Singer would have been considered a museum piece by the time Hughes finished the silent version of Hell's Angels in 1929.
I thought that Leonardo Di Caprio and Cate Blanchett were both quite splendid in their roles, even thinking that Leo started looking a bit like the real Hughes as the film progressed. Blanchett may not have looked like Kate Hepburn but she certainly captured the actress's manner and vocal mannerisms to an impressive degree, without ever seeming like a caricature. When the new-money unpolitical Hughes meets Hepburn's family, all old-money Democrats living a commune style existence with even Hepburn's ex-husband living on the family compound, Hughes is confounded by their lifestyle. Frances Conroy of "Six Feet Under" does a great job here in a cameo appearance as Hepburn's mother. This section of the film ends with Hepburn leaving Hughes for Spencer Tracy, and is way off base from actual events. Hepburn had been apart from Hughes for several years when she and Tracy actually met.
Since the film told its story in a, more or less, chronological order of events, the film really does seem to be full of anachronisms, as I mentioned earlier. For example, we see Hughes and Hepburn in a nightclub with Errol Flynn at their table, the millionaire talking about shooting a western, The Outlaw, a film that would begin production in 1941. Yet the next scene had Hughes in what was dated across the screen as 1935, clearly long before any thoughts of The Outlaw or any hell raising with Flynn, the latter not becoming a star until the very end of that year.
The highlight of the film for me was the spectacular plane crash during a test flight by Hughes, with the plane wheels scratching along a roof top and one of its wings slicing through the wall of a home. This was viewed from the inside of the home. Great special effects, direction, photography and editing of this knockout sequence. I highly recommend this portrait of a man wrestling with madness who also wanted to be a creator of films and pioneer of aviation, whether he made money or not. If Hughes had just wanted money he would have just stuck with the drill bit business.
Backstager with the chemistry of Rogers and Carroll
Buddy Rogers and Nancy Carroll play Carlee Thorpe and Claire Jernigan, respectively. They are members of a traveling circus/vaudeville troupe, and they obviously have romantic feelings for one another but their pride gets in the way. What also gets in the way is Carlee's desire to be accepted as part of high society. He is good at cards and card tricks due to his place in the circus, so he uses that ability to get into games with the high society audiences that his troupe plays before. As a result, he begins to spark up a romance with débutante Hilda Schmittlap (June Colyer). The thing is, Hilda is a bit of an outsider too since her family is "noveau riche" - her dad is a self made man and started out as a truck driver. Although such things are a source of admiration today, in the 20's and before the older and more tired your blue blood was, the more you were admired. Thus the Schmittlaps are considered a bit of a joke in the society crowd.
Meanwhile, Hilda's brother, Eric, is a loafer and a lady's man, and he has an eye for Claire. Claire at first refuses his offers of dates, but when the head of the circus says that the best way to get Carlee might be to make him think that she has lost interest, she starts going out with Eric.
One of the big acts that the circus has is a firing squad trick in which 5 men are chosen from the audience at random to shoot real bullets at Claire as she stands on the stage. The bullets miss her and wind up on a plate she holds in front of her instead. The act is such a hit that the pair get a big offer from an agent to do their act independently, but Carlee turns the offer down, leaving Claire in the lurch. Carlee wants to spend his time wooing Hilda.
There is a big finale at the Schmittlap home with the circus playing there, Carlee talking matrimony to Hilda, and Claire feeling like she has lost Carlee as she sees him with another woman. And then there is the big firing squad trick finale with Claire and her new partner...What happens? I'd say watch and find out but that is unlikely since the only time I've seen this one anywhere was at Capitolfest 2015.
Why haven't I mentioned Kay Francis? Because although she does show up she has only a few lines. It will be 1930 before Kay reaches star status over at Paramount. For film buffs this is definitely worth your time if it ever comes your way.
Blue Jeans (1917)
Named thus because "Oversized Cover-Alls" is not as dramatic?
I really enjoyed getting a chance to see silent film actress Viola Dana in action in this film at Capitolfest in Rome, NY after hearing so much about her and seeing her spritely interviews in the 1980 documentary "Silent Hollywood". It really is a rather interesting melodrama with Viola Dana in the lead as June. When we first see her she is sitting out in a field wearing a huge pair of cover-alls and the titles tell us she is homeless and hungry. I saw not a pair of blue jeans in sight for the entire film. A flashback shows us she was kicked out of the orphanage for picking flowers on the grounds to put on her mother's grave. A young man, Robert Walker as Perry Bascom, finds her, feeds her, and places her with a couple - The Tutweilers - whose only daughter disappeared years ago when she ran off with a rascal. Perry has come to town to take over the local saw mill.
Now at this point things become as tangled as a later 20th century soap opera. Apparently Bascom is not the name Perry is using because there were some real rascals in the Bascom family in the past and his prospects will be hurt in town if it gets out he is related to them. Not only that, but it turns out that a Bascom is the man that ran off with the Tutweillers' daughter and is thus June's father. Could she and Perry be related? That would be too bad because Perry and June just got married, which is also too bad because Perry was married before to a woman who turned out to have a husband at the time of the marriage, thus Perry's marriage to her was not legal. Yet wife number one shows up in town to claim she is Perry's REAL legal wife. Meanwhile there is a dishonest politician, Ben Boone, who wants to use public office to steal everything in town, including the sawmill. Perry wants to run against Boone and take away his ability to do graft.
I know it sounds confusing, but it is a beautiful little story. And there is a scene at the end where predictably the villain tries to saw someone in half at the saw mill. Who he tries to saw and who comes to the rescue is not so predictable though.
Just a few words about the cast. The actor playing Perry, Robert Walker, was born in 1888. The actor and actress playing the Tutweilers, however, were born in 1877 and 1872,respectively. This is odd because Jacob Tutweiler looks a good thirty years older than Perry, and I thought he looked too old to be playing the husband to the character of Cindy Tutweiller, but she is actually five years older than him! Perhaps it is just a good makeup job, but the ages did surprise me.
Another odd point - When Perry first comes into town he has June on the back of a bicycle. Ben Boone decides he wants to assault the girl and just lifts her off the bicycle in broad daylight! Perry fights him and retrieves June but Ben seems very angry that Perry intervened and threatens to run him out of town. All of Boone's associates saw what happened and acted like it was much ado about nothing. An interesting piece of culture coming to us from 100 years in the past.
The Dixie Flyer (1926)
What a pleasant surprise this one was!
Shown at Capitolfest in Rome,NY yesterday, the curator of the film said that they had found a second print of this film, once considered lost, and the final result was not quite ready. So instead we saw the restored print that has been in circulation for some time, but still is in excellent condition. He also said when he circulated the title to various classic film festivals nobody seemed to want it unless they were running an hour short and needed a filler. I can only assume that this is true because the silent cast is practically anonymous.
The opening scenes had me wondering. It opens in a board room and talks about how the president of a railroad company will lose his position if a new stretch of railroad is not completed on time. At the same time, it is revealed to the audience that a member of the board is conspiring to oust the current president via various back stabbing antics and take over in his place. I sighed. Oh no, not another evil financiers/business intrigue drama! But I couldn't have been further from the truth.
The Dixie Flyer is full of action as the foreman on the job (Cullen Landis as Sunrise Smith) teams up with the railroad president's daughter (Eva Novak as Rose). You see, Rose gets a job on site as telegraph operator using an alias so that nobody - including her father - knows who she is and that she is helping her dad. Together Sunrise and Rose save one action-packed situation after another, since several of the back stabbers and trouble makers are at the work site committing acts of sabotage. Rose isn't your typical 20's heroine, waiting for someone to rescue her. She takes action, jumping from moving railway car to car, helping Sunrise in a fight by jumping from one train to the next to hit the villain on the head with a heavy tool, etc.
The ending is extremely ironic and just and all I can say is I never saw that end coming! Enjoy it if you ever get the chance.