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I Wanted Wings (1941)
Just passable air force flick bogged down by script
Mitchell Leisen was drafted in to do this one after shooting had started when it wasn't coming together under the original director. He did a good job of the flying shots but the clichéd, inconsistent script stops this from being any more than passable.
The movie is also long, unusual for Leisen as he liked fast paced movies, and I guess some of this is due to scenes capturing the feel of the air force at work. However by the time you get back to the court martial scenes at the beginning you have almost forgotten what the trial was about.
I liked Brian Donlevy - thought he was convincing. Bill Holden was just starting out. Ray Milland always reminds me of a second rate Cary Grant, except he managed to do something later in his career that Cary was unable to do - win the Oscar for best actor. There is no development at all for his character in the script. Didn't mind Veronica Lake though she was apparently not a lot of fun to work with in this her first movie.
This movie is also referenced in Leisen's next movie "Hold Back the Dawn" as the movie Leisen is making when the Charles Boyer character comes in to tell his story.
Lady in the Dark (1944)
Colourful Lady gets out of the dark?
I found this to be moderately enjoyable and much smoother than I was expecting, after reading of all the problems in making it and the cutting of musical numbers from the original score. Would love to see it as was originally intended (in a restored DVD version).
The psychoanalysis as it unfolds is interesting and makes sense, except to the point of the woman needing to be dominated by the man. I don't know if this was dictated by the culture of the time, but all that was really needed was for Liza to know she needed to give time to gaining fulfillment in a relationship (without the aspect of dominance) and not be so driven work wise (her substitute), and it would have come out without the nasty taste it leaves now (in regards to this aspect of the film).
Director Mitchell Leisen dealt with this sort of theme also (without the psychoanalysis) in Take a Letter Darling which was funnier and sharper, and without the need for the man to have to dominate the woman.
Some of the visual imagery in the dream sequences is a lot of fun and apparently a lot of care was put into their production.
As well the movie seems like it is a 50s product but that could just be the colour.
The Spanish Main (1945)
Enjoyable pirate movie
I thought this movie was a lot of fun, with some memorably witty lines (mostly delivered by Walter Slezak) that are referred to elsewhere on this site. I wonder if these were from Herman J Mankiewicz, who co-contributed to the screenplay - he certainly was talented enough.
All of the criticisms of it that are mentioned in other comments are true - it does have a familiar story line, obvious sets / model shots / backgrounds and some clunky dialogue and acting.
However these criticisms to me they don't really matter - it is a movie designed to entertain and provide enjoyment and it succeeds perfectly well at doing this.
By the way - the 'real' shot of the coastline I'm sure I've seen in other movies. Must have been close to Hollywood.
Love Me Tonight (1932)
A work of magic and genius
Worth seeing alone for having C Aubrey Smith sing "Mimi" (which he does charmingly), this is a great great movie, full of innovation, humour and some memorable songs (Mimi and Is It Romantic in particular).
The obvious career move for Rouben Mamoulian after directing "Dr Jeckyl"? - I don't think so but maybe Mamoulian may have gotten stale if he had directed something similar. He is not stale here, with his touches enhancing and not detracting from the impact of the movie.
Certainly it is slightly flawed and dated in parts as some have commented but there is genius and magic in it that make for an enchanting movie. This is something I desire in movies but only rarely get. This is the best commendation that I can give - and nothing more I need to say.
Arise, My Love (1940)
Then contemporary, now historic war romantic drama
This is a good movie, full of snappy lines, very capable acting and interesting scenes. Mitchell Leisen has an above average script to work with, and when this happens you can be assured of a very watchable movie. Well worth a DVD release (can you hear me Universal!), but this inexplicably has never even made it on to VHS.
It features a strong capable woman (a trademark Leisen feature), but her male counterpart is no weakling is either, Ray Milland matches Claudette Colbert all of the way, helping create dramatic interest. The last section of the movie after the sinking of the Athenia is a bit underwritten and slightly unconvincing, but this is only a minor quibble.
Very well worth watching.
Murder at the Vanities (1934)
Interesting musical but dramatically weak
Mitchell Leisen's fifth feature as director, and he shows his versatility by directing a musical, after his previous movies were heavy dramas. He also plays a cameo as the conductor.
You can tell it is a pre code movie, and nothing like it was made in the US for quite a while afterwards (like 30+ years). Leisen shot the musical numbers so they were like what the audience would see - no widescreen shots or from above ala Busby Berkeley. What I do find funny or interesting is that you never actually see the audience.
As others have mentioned the leads are fairly characterless, and Jack Oakie and Victor McLaghlan play their normal movie personas. Gertrude Michael however provides a bit of spark.
The musical numbers are interesting and some good (the Rape of the Rhapsody in particular is amusing) but the drama unconvincing and faked - three murders is too many and have minimal emotional impact on the characters. This is where this movie could have been a lot better.
The Eagle and the Hawk (1933)
Powerful anti war movie
Powerful anti war movie - the scenes with Frederic March in particular and Cary Grant are quite intense and grim, but there is some relief to counter balance this aspect of the movie in the characters played by Jack Oakie (comic) and Carole Lombard (sympathy).
As another person has noted this was really directed by Mitchell Leisen. who is credited as assistant director. This was his second movie (after Tonight is Ours, also with March in it) and he does a fine job. It shows what a versatile director he was, considering he made him his name later with romance / comedy type movies like Midnight.
It was done pre code but re-released in 1939 with some editing that apparently lessens its impact (I have only seen the edited version). These are referred to in the book Mitchell Leisen Hollywood Director. The scenes with Carole Lombard are longer and imply a sexual relationship afterwards. Cary Grant survives the war but is a broken man.
Would love to see the original (please let me know if anyone has it). If the edited parts are still available this movie would warrant a restoration to its original vision. A DVD release along these lines would be most welcome.
Hands Across the Table (1935)
Enjoyable minor film skillfully directed
Pleased this has been released on DVD as part of the poorly packaged but great value for money Carole Lombard The Glamour Collection. Mitchell Leisen was an extremely talented Hollywood director but as others have commented unfortunately not so many of his movies have made it on to commercially available DVDs (or even VHS).
Enjoyed it thoroughly. Leisen does a great job in keeping the movie moving right along. Seems to be very much of its time with the wealthy and ex wealthy being dominant in the story. The plot is unsurprising but you are drawn into the characters (except there is something oddly unappealing about Fred MacMurray's role). As per usual Carole has a crying scene.
Not sure if you could call it "screwball" as I can't remember it going zany like for instance Easy Living does. It fits in however with Leisen's often use of assertive go getting women (Lombard's character's name is Reggie) and less directional men as a statement on gender and getting away from stereotypes.
Unpretentious, a minor work, but good.
Great movie - one of Mitchell Leisen's best
I can add little more to the other comments that have been made. This is a fantastic movie and well worth a proper DVD release - it is superior to a lot of other stuff that is commercially available. I'm sure its relatively low IMDb rating is because so few people have seen it.
The acting is superb (my favourite being Cecil Kellaway's Gainsborough), the art direction and period recreation exquisite, and Mitchell Leisen keeps the story moving right along. The script has absorbing dramatic moments counterbalanced by humour (especially Kitty's training as a lady). An especially good moment is the Duke of Malmunster's reaction to the birth of his first born and his walk along the corridor/stairs which is inspired direction.
A true 1940s classic.
Practically Yours (1944)
Flat mistaken identity romance comedy
It is hard to describe Practically Yours without giving too much of the plot away. As I am the fist to make comments I don't want to do that. Let's just say it is a mistaken identity romance / comedy between Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, arising from a misunderstanding of Fred's words as he is flying possibly his last mission as a navy pilot.
Directed by Mitchell Leisen, it is not one of his, Fred's or Claudette's better efforts. I would largely blame the script for this - it is not funny, dramatic and ultimately believable enough. Claudette is too old for her role, and Fred is often unlikeable. But not as unlikeable as Gil Lamb who plays Claudette's suitor. Also it seems a lot of the movie is set indoors at night which somehow reduces any sparkle and lightness it might have.
There are however a couple of good moments. One that particularly stands out is in a cinema where Fred gets punched out for making critical remarks about a newsreel showing his own bravery. The scenes with Rosemary DeCamp, whose husband is away at war, are good as well.
Love to know what other people think...............
Tonight Is Ours (1933)
Romance interesting for Mitchell Leisen's unofficial debut as director
This movie is credited as being directed by Stuart Walker, but apparently most of the credit can be given to Mitchell Leisen in what is effectively his debut as director (he is down as assistant director).
Given their respective careers this is not so hard to believe. Leisen had a much more notable career but for the most part is not so well known today with most of his 40+ movies unavailable commercially. A recent release of two of his most well known - Midnight and Easy Living on DVD is most welcome. I'm going to watch all of his movies as chronologically as possible and post a review on each one on this site.
I found the first part of the movie stunning and skillfully directed with some great out of this world fancy dress costumes. In the second part the movie slows down but with some great interior sets borrowed from some earlier Paramount Lubitsch movies. It is also unmistakeably pre-Code - certain scenes would not be possible not too long into the future.
A youngish Claudette Colbert looks ravishing, but unlike the previous commentators I have never quite seen the romantic appeal of Frederic March. Paul Cavanaugh has a role very much against the usual stereotype, and Alison Skipworth is most enjoyable as Grand Duchess Emilie.
Still worth watching, especially the first part.
Married and in Love (1940)
Sensitive and thought provoking look at relationships
Married and in Love is based around the chance meeting of two former lovers Dr Leslie Yates (played by Alan Marshal) and Doris Wilding (Helen Vinson), and the impact of this on their lives and their respective spouses (played by Barbara Read and Patric Knowles).
Though fairly understated dramatically, it is has some interesting insights on love and relationships. At less than one hour long it also does not outstay its welcome. While none of its principals were major stars, they all do a good job, though Barbara Read's so nice character might be a bit grating for modern audiences.
I came across this movie when reading the RKO Story where it was described as "a brittle domestic drama that attracted good critical reports but minimal consumer interest." RKO made some of the more interesting and off beat Hollywood movies during its existence and I have a soft spot for their better efforts (they made their share of unwatchable stuff as well). Of interest also was the director being John Farrow who was behind some good movies such as Alias Nick Beal.
It took a little while to track a copy down (it is not commercial available but has been shown on AMC - I got my copy through ebay) but I found it well worth it.
Beauty for the Asking (1939)
Enjoyable B Movie
I enjoyed this movie. The review of it in "The RKO Story" was not very flattering and I was expecting something fairly dire. But I was surprised when I began to view it and felt compelled to watch it through.
While it does have a conventional story line and predictable ending, the acting is believable, the script is believable and the direction moves the story along. I enjoyed the efforts of the Lucille Ball character in getting to the top, and helping her counterpart in beautifying herself. The Lucille Ball role (and Lucille herself) reminded me of Ginger Rogers for some reason. I thought she was good as a woman struggling between heart and mind. I didn't go much for the Donald Woods character however - too sappy except for at the start.
Remember the Night (1940)
Very good movie, though some shaky characterization
Enjoyed this movie very much - it had many good things in it. My one quibble was the characterization of John - it didn't quite ring true. For a DA his way of resolving the situation both when they are arrested and his dilemma in Lee being tried, saw him veer into dishonesty where he surely could have used his brains to resolve both (and maybe result in a 'happy' ending). He put his whole career at risk prosecuting someone he had a vested interest in letting off. Lee took the reverse path and got more honest as the movie went on, as if she wanted to make a clean start. This was far more believable.
Loved Sturges take on love - he obviously understood the influence of it (not romantic love but true accepting love)and the scene where Lee meets her mother is so powerful, compared with the acceptance and warmth between John and his family. May be this mirrors his relationship with Solomon Sturges his stepfather. The scene rates with the one in Sullivan's Travels where the black church allows the convicts the front seats to watch the cartoon, another example of true love demonstrated. Leisen also shot the scene with Lee and her mother extremal well, especially the using darkness to imply darkness (emotional) and finality.
One commentator says there was no sex in the movie - well not directly but what was that last shot of Niagra Falls saying?