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Ziegfeld Follies (1945)
The Hollywood Revue of 1946
The premise of this film is that Ziegfeld (with William Powell reprising his role) is in heaven thinking of his dream revue, with the rest of the movie just a playing out of that dream revue. I rather wonder about the direction, because this film managed to do what I've never seen done before - make William Powell appear hammy and amateurish in the opening moments as he plays Ziegfeld once again and then disappears for the rest of the film. Believe me, I say this as a huge fan of William Powell.
Thus there is no plot. It involves the big musical and comedy stars of MGM putting on a show of their various capabilities, and for all intents and purposes could be renamed "The Hollywood Revue of 1946" for those familiar with the original from 1929 which basically had the same purpose. Of course, technology has advanced considerably over the ensuing 17 years, but there are still some missteps. Basically, the musical numbers are good, but the comedy skits that punctuate them fall very flat and detract from the entire film. The highlight for me was seeing Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly perform together in a number. The musical numbers make this an above average film, but just barely.
It is most valuable because it shows MGM just as it begins to lose its grip as a leader in the film industry in the post-war era, and also because it reinforces what Buster Keaton always said - that MGM never "got" comedy.
I'm glad I had no preconceived notions about film in 1970...
...or else I might just have passed on something hawked as "Scrooge, the Musical!". I actually had to used my allowance to go see this with a friend (I was 12) and I actually scraped some of my money together to go see it a second time. Unlike so many experiences from childhood that seem larger than life and are disappointing as an adult, I still love this film and think it is the best of the film renditions of "A Christmas Carol".
I am putting a spoiler warning on this just in case there is somebody on earth who has never heard of the story of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". Believe me, the joy is in the experience, not knowing every little plot point.
Albert Finney was at just the right age that he could strike a handsome impressive pose as Scrooge the shy young man, yet look realistic with the right makeup (and trust me the makeup jobs here are great) as a bitter dried up old man who finds comfort in nothing, not even his money. He simply holds fast to it because he thinks everyone sane is as self involved as he is and if not, that they are fools.
Alec Guinness is terrific as Marley, Scrooge's long dead partner now in hell. He is terrifying yet he plays the part somewhat tongue in cheek almost to the point that you feel he isn't too upset that Scrooge is headed to where he is in the afterlife, he just enjoys scaring the daylights out of him.
Never being particularly religious as a child, the vision of hell conjured up when Scrooge confronts his future is very terrifying.
And then there is the music - the songs actually work and add to the enjoyment of the film, "Thank You Very Much" being the most rousing.
There is just ONE tiny thing that occurs to me now when I watch this 44 years later that did not occur to me as a child. Would everybody have been so welcoming to a redeemed generous Scrooge the day after his epiphany if he hadn't had the money to buy things for them? Just a thought.
The story is just OK but the atmosphere is fantastic
This is an odd case of a film having the same title as a film from twenty years before with absolutely no relation between the two. 1930's "Undertow" was about a lifeguard who marries a selfish party girl and then moves her to a lighthouse where things go downhill from there for both of them. This film has nothing to do with that forgotten but still surviving early sound film by the same studio and has nothing to do with an undertow, but I digress.
Tony Reagan used to be in the rackets, but after two stints in the military he is ready to go straight. He wants to buy and run a hunting and fishing lodge in the Rocky mountains and marry his girl, the daughter of an old rival of his back in his racketeering days. The movie starts in Reno where Tony runs into one of his old friends who is running a casino. While there he helps a schoolteacher on vacation (Peggy Dow as Ann McKnight) win 120 dollars rolling dice. You see, Tony still knows some of the tricks of the house. They share a plane ride home, and you can tell Ann thinks this might be headed some place romantic, something Tony does not pick up on. When he mentions his fiancée to her you can see her facial expression sink along with her hopes.
When they arrive in Chicago, Tony is met at the airport by the police. They take him to headquarters and say that the word is on the street that he is there to murder "big Jim", his fiancée's father, and tell him to leave town. Tony says to book him or leave him be. They leave him be, but soon he'll wish they had put him in jail because he would have been safer. That night he is knocked unconscious and when he comes to he is sitting in a parking lot in the car he rented earlier with a gunshot wound to his right hand and a gun sitting in the seat next to him. Then he learns on the radio that "Big Jim" has been killed that very night and that he is suspect number one. He tries all of his old friends looking for a hideout - the police have them all covered.
Then it hits him - the cops don't know about Ann, the girl he met in Reno. He dials her up and she helps him, even though she knows that he is a hunted murder suspect. So together this street smart fellow and naïve schoolteacher have to figure out who has framed him before the police can catch him. The suspense never lets up and there is some great photography and camera work involved here. I'll let you watch and find out what happens. Highly recommended.
Husband's Holiday (1931)
The grass is always greener
This is a forgotten precode from Paramount that is very good. Clive Brook plays a man (George Boyd) with a good career, lovely wife (Vivienne Osborne as Mary Boyd), and two great kids. He enters into an affair and decides he wants a divorce. Mary won't give him one, assuming that he'll have his "husband's holiday", tire of the affair, and come back. She doesn't want to wind up like her mother who divorced her dad over an affair and has ended up bitter and alone.
George seems to be settling into life as it is - living with the mistress and visiting his kids whenever he wants. His wife has made it easy for him, much to the chagrin of the mistress, who wants marriage. You have to wonder, why do all of these precode homewreckers want marriage as security when they got the husband by home wrecking in the first place? If it was easy for the guy to stray the first time it will be all the easier the second time. But I digress.
So the mistress goes to the wife (Mary) and tells her "the big lie" that she is going to have a baby. No dice. Mary stands firm and says that she doesn't see why she and her two children should have their lives disrupted over the mistress or her baby, and orders her out of the house. What changes her mind? When she discovers her own sister is in love with a married man, she begins to have compassion for the alternative point of view and tells George he can have his divorce. Now George is generous in his terms, but not so generous in his heart when one of his best friends comes to him and tells him that he intends to court and marry Mary after the divorce is final. How does this all work out? Watch and find out.
It was interesting to see Vivienne Osborne in the role of a normal person for once, after watching "Two Seconds" and "Supernatural". Charles Ruggles is great here as Mary's brother-in-law who does not play the drunk here for a change - Paramount should have let him play it sober more often! Clive Brook was always good in his silent and sound roles. I just don't think audiences were prepared to deal with that aristocratic British voice of his after seeing him in so many silent film roles.
Unfinished Business (1941)
"All women have unfinished business"
This was an odd little piece of filmmaking from Universal back in 1941. Irene Dunne plays a never married woman, Nancy Andrews, probably in her mid to late 20's, who has spent her life raising her younger sister who is now marrying. In 1941 in Ohio, where this movie starts, Nancy would be considered a spinster. Sis and her new husband have a surprise for her - she can come live with them! Nancy doesn't want to be treated to life in a rocking chair just yet and decides to leave and go off to the big city (New York) and "do things". However, she doesn't really have a plan, and it seems that is part of the attraction for her - for once in her life, having no plan.
On the train to New York she meets rich playboy Steve Duncan (Preston Foster). He makes a bet with his companion on who can pick up the most attractive woman and bring her back to their compartment first. Nancy is not wise in the ways of the world and does not see this obvious fellow for what he is, and is charmed by him and believes his pick up lines as sincerity. Steve wins the bet but decides to go for the gold and seduces Nancy. Now this is where things get murky - probably deliberately. As the train whistles, Steve, with an expression that screams "date rape" in modern times, comes closer and closer to Nancy and they wind up kissing - it is mutual. The camera then moves to the outside of the train with that train still whistling. The insinuation is that they sleep together.
They arrive in New York, and Steve says he will call her. He has no such intention. She is just the latest conquest among many and he is engaged - something he never told her - to someone he probably doesn't love any more than the rest of his conquests. However, his intended is old money like himself and that is what matters. Slowly Nancy comes to the realization that she's been used like yesterday's newspapers, and through luck and coincidence winds up a novelty "singing operator" at a nightspot run by the always fascinating to watch Walter Catlett. So who winds up at the nightspot one night but slimy Steve, his fiancée, and Steve's brother Tommy (Robert Montgomery), who shares Steve's worst characteristics PLUS he is a drunk. However, Tommy takes a genuine shine to Nancy and they begin dating. Primarily Tommy is "Steve by proxy" in Nancy's life - she still carries a torch. However Tommy is so drunk most of the time he can't see this. They marry on a lark - Tommy is drunk, Nancy is trying to put Steve behind her. The next day Tommy doesn't even remember that he got married and Nancy doesn't seem to care. How will this all work out? I'll let you watch and find out.
I'll just say that a busy boarding house, a little accident, the United States Army, and the opera are all involved. Oh, and one of those girls from Tommy's past that meant no more to Tommy than Nancy did to brother Steve is pivotal in a small but important role.
I liked this movie because it dealt with an issue that was seldom brought up in the production code era - that a woman can have a past involving some man that she loved and even made a fool of herself over, but didn't get and always carries a torch for, and not wind up the object lesson in some Victorian morality play. Life goes on. This one is very much worth your time exactly because it doesn't go where you think it is going and with a talented cast to boot.
It's Always Fair Weather (1955)
The weather begins to turn for the big MGM musicals
The age of the big MGM musical production was beginning to wind down by the time this film was made. It has more story to it than most MGM musicals, revolving around three G.I. buddies and their vow in 1945 to meet in a particular bar ten years later. They all keep their word and keep the date, but each is vastly disappointed in how the other two have turned out and initially have nothing much to say to each other. There's some interesting commentary here on life in the 50's and in particular the early days of TV and advertising's place in it. Gene Kelly is entertaining as always, but I was really surprised by Dan Dailey's talent as the ad executive that comes to a startling self-realization at an inopportune time and does quite a performance dancing and singing about his plight.
This film was a product of the famed Arthur Freed unit, which made many lavish musicals in their time. Its fate parallels the fate of this film, due to the managerial chaos at MGM and changing audience tastes. Betty Comden of the Arthur Freed unit said that the staff was accustomed to seeing their musicals open at the best movie theaters, and were surprised when "It's Always Fair Weather" opened at numerous drive-ins! That's when they knew they were nearing the end of an era.
The Blonde Bandit (1950)
Satisfying little crime drama that is completely mistitled...
because the only thing the "Blonde Bandit" steals is the heart of a gangster. Dorothy Patrick plays Gloria Dell, a girl who comes to the big city from Kansas to be married to a guy she's never met before, but has been corresponding with for quite some time. He never shows up at the train depot, so she heads off to his return address on his letters, armed with a photo. She gets there and discovers the guy is a con artist who has been marrying and bilking women for quite some time. Fortunately, he was picked up by the cops that morning. Not so fortunately, she doesn't have the money for a return ticket home. The owner of the bar, Joe Sapelli (Gerald Mohr), tells her about a jeweler who will buy her ring from her and thus she can get the return money home. What she doesn't know is that the jeweler owes a big gambling debt to Sapelli, and after the transaction he claims the jewelry store was robbed by Gloria, hoping for an insurance pay-off that will cover his gambling debt.
The police pick up Gloria and jail her, not buying her story. Who comes to her aid? The gambling mastermind Sapelli who gets her out on bail and gives her his own attorney, believing her story and feeling partially responsible for sending her to the jeweler in the first place. He also gives her a job as his assistant while she is awaiting trial and the two begin to fall for each other. It turns out Sapelli is not such a bad guy - he has old fashioned notions about marriage, loves his mother, and just seems to be providing a service - gambling - that people would do anyways.
The whole thing made me wonder - Where was head censor Joe Breen when this script crossed the censors' desk? It pretty much busts the production code wide open - not in a sexual way, but in the way criminals and law enforcement were portrayed during the code. Here Sapelli is practically Sir Lancelot in his nobility in sacrificing for Gloria. It is law enforcement that you want to hiss at because they are determined to get Sapelli, even though he is kingpin of a victimless crime and seems to treat his employees - the bookies - quite well. The bookies even get bonuses if they get picked up by the police while in the service of Sapelli.
In contrast, D.A. James Deveron is completely unconcerned with Gloria's guilt or innocence. He just seems to be happy to have someone who is up against it (Gloria) and in Sapelli's good graces whom he can strong-arm into ratting Sapelli out so he can get a case against him. He doesn't seem to care about what might happen to Gloria if she was found out, and Deveron threatens her with the news of her arrest getting back home to Kansas where her sister is about to marry into a prominent family. Like Oz's Tin Man, Deveron really needs to wish for a heart.
I highly recommend this little B film with B players who all acquit themselves marvelously in a rather complex little crime drama that will keep you guessing up to the end. It's an interesting little code buster that hits all of the right notes.
Where ER jumped the shark...
...although the episode itself is very good, even daring. It takes courage to come up with a plot point straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon.
I mean, really, Dr. Romano's arm has already been amputated due to an accident with a helicopter some time before, and he has just run downstairs due to a panic attack to get away from the roof top helicopter due to a flashback from the original accident and the helicopter crashes and falls on him anyways? And it takes the emergency responders trying to remove the twisted wreck of the helicopter for anybody to notice he is missing AND dead in the first place? That was a heck of a way to spend Thanksgiving 2003 and a heck of a way for the colorful yet completely unlikeable Dr. Romano to exit the show.
After this episode, ER just seemed to lose its direction, IMHO.
"The Secret" is we're all a little grumpy...
... and little "Tardar Sauce" AKA Grumpy Cat wears an expression that really symbolizes what most of us feel at least some of the time. Come on, wouldn't you just love to scowl at someone - in-laws, your boss, annoying coworker, etc. and tell them just once that they are "Just awful"? Now two hours of this minus commercials would get tedious, so a cute little contrived "sappy melodrama" - in the words of Grumpy Cat - is constructed complete with bumbling thieves and a cute kid from the Home Alone formula so that you don't get too much of a good thing. The gimmick - the little girl can hear Grumpy talk and becomes her only friend as they both battle the thieves in a mall after hours to retrieve a valuable dog whose sale will save Grumpy Cat's home, the mall pet store. The fact that this movie continuously makes fun of itself and Grumpy Cat's fame to boot is what keeps it from being corny and adds to the humor.
I don't understand all of the haters of this film. It was hawked as what it is - a cute little family film with a big dose of Grumpy Cat that is suitable for kids and the holidays. Some of these folks hating on this film probably think Pacific Rim is brilliant - at least it might be better if it had not taken itself seriously, which is what this movie did.
You Never Can Tell (1951)
Dick Powell is terrific in this old Universal fantasy
If you buy only one of those overpriced Universal Vault MODs, buy this one! If you buy two, then buy "If I Were King" starring Ronald Colman, but that is another story.
I'd like to think that Dick Powell was wealthy enough by 1951 that he could largely pick his projects, because this one is a gem of Dick Powell parodying the Dick Powell PI persona of the noirs. He plays a German Shepherd dog, King, who inherits a large fortune from an eccentric owner and then is murdered by poison. When he arrives in Animal Heaven (Beastatory) he says he knows who his murderer is and wants time back on earth to bring that murderer to justice. It's not just his untimely death that requires his attention, his kindly keeper was next in line for the estate, and down on earth she is suspect number one, so he also wants to clear her name in the process.
King is given that chance, but he must return to Animal Heaven by the new moon or forever remain a "Humanimal" - human in form, animal in nature. To become a humanimal and return to earth not knowing that you are one is the punishment of bad animals. King will return knowing his state and his mission with all of the memories of his previous existence. He is given a deceased Kentucky race horse as his companion and helper on his mission.
It's just hilarious seeing Dick Powell returned to earth as "Rex Shepherd, PI" sitting in a spartan office talking like Philip Marlowe and nibbling on dog kibble instead of peanuts and cowering in doorways whenever the dog catcher appears, forgetting he is in human form. Goldie, his human-horse companion, has hat styles that are pure palomino. The murderer is no mystery - you learn the identity pretty much up front. The trick is catching the perpetrator. Also, as a humanimal, Rex finds he is having new rather confusing feelings for the beautiful young lady who was his keeper during his life as a dog. How can this all work out and not bust the production code wide open? Watch and find out.
Let me also say that the transfer is outstanding on the Universal Vault DVD. All I have seen in the past are poor VHS transfers from past TV airings. This one is worth going back to again and again for the hilarity and the magic of it all. A great family film, a great holiday film, a great film anytime you need cheering up.
Forgive me for mentioning specific products in this review, but this one DVD transfer is the only way I know to see a good copy of the film.