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Cinerama Holiday (1955)
Fun trip across the USA and Europe ala 1950s sensibilities
This second feature in the Cinerama process is the first to be produced by Louis de Rochemont and to be scored by Morton Gould. The two would collaborate again on the Norwegian WINDJAMMER, in the identical process of Cinemiracle.
This is thankfully not narrated by Lowell Thomas (he provided narration on three of the five Cinerama travelogue films, THIS IS CINERAMA, SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD and SEARCH FOR PARADISE). The general narrator here is unidentified. Each husband of the two couples, John Marsh and Fred Troller, provide the narration for their segments of the film and embarrassingly bad they are at it.
This is the only one of the five Cinerama travelogues to have a main title at the feature's start. A short prologue in black and white explains the process and the idea behind taking two couples, one from the mid-West USA and one from Europe, and having them trade places for second honeymoon vacations. It isn't until almost 11 minutes into the film that the screen widens and turns to color for an aerial tour of the Swiss mountains.
Act One is really the best of the two, containing the two great "you are there" segments of the film, the hair-raising bobsled ride (1:45 minutes in length and occurring at the 15:45 minute mark), and the truly breathtaking finale skiing sequence (1:00:00 to 1:04:45 totaling 4:45 minutes.)
At St. Moritz the bobsled run is contrasted with a boring 8 minute Holiday On Ice performance outside the hotel at its ice rink. The contrasting Las Vegas and Arizona segments are short and trivial. The San Francisco segment, lasting about 3-1/2 minutes, tries to cram too much in and gives short shrift to most areas covered. Not even identified is Odetta performing a folk ballad in a jazz club.
A train ride across country provides a brief amount of footage with the camera speeding along the track at the head of the train (perhaps this gave MGM the idea for their thrilling train chase climax to HOW THE WEST WAS WON, the final Cinerama feature).
Off to Hanover, NH for a brief tour of Dartmouth College and a visit to the Deerfield State Fair, which provides a very brief, but fun, ride on a Ferris wheel.
To the South and some jazz with a cemetery band, and a jazz club with Oscar Celestin doing a distasteful and incredibly boring performance of Hold That Tiger (let it go, please!).
Act One ends with the exciting skiing sequence and some yodeling at a local beer garden.
Act Two is almost entirely set in Paris (42 minutes of it). We get to ride in a taxi, see Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Lido, attend a Montmarte ball and a Rameau ballet, a Jacques Fath fashion exhibition and ride some bicycles.
The obligatory tribute to soldiers who fought in WWII is provided by a visit with a local Parisian family and a visit to the Eternal Flame.
For some odd reason columnist Art Buchwald makes two brief appearances in this segment.
After the thrills in Act One, Act Two is a let down with no "you are there" moments until the concluding segment of jet planes landing on a carrier, and that is not of much interest.
Just prior to this the couples reunite in New York City to attend the original THIS IS CINERAMA, still playing, which tries to indicate both couples went through this unaware of the significance of the process they were volunteering for.
To sum up, this is truly a dated, but fun look at the early 1950s, both in the USA and abroad. It was far more successful than the original THIS IS CINERAMA. When one remembers that the vast majority of Americans had never ridden in a plane or been to Europe, it satisfied curiosities and did its bit to engender the wanderlust that made travel the industry it is today.
Not a great film, the historically significant, and worth at least a look. The bobsled and skiing sequences are worth the price of admission alone.
Excellent biographical melodrama despite falsification of facts
This second 1965 film based on the expose biography, HARLOW, is the classier of the two, produced in Panavision and Technicolor, and with a far more talented cast and production values than the Electronovision black and white film on the same subject.
Once again, the film would probably have been better received had it been based on an anonymous starlet. Most of the criticism of the two films was due to their inability to evoke the personality of the late comedienne as well as stick to the facts of her life.
All of the performers here do an excellent job. Carroll Baker is superb as Harlow and Red Buttons equally fine as her agent. Both deserved Oscar nominations in my opinion, in the lead and support categories, respectively. Likewise the art direction and costume design deserved Oscar nominations.
Other supporting work: Raf Vallone as Harlow's stepfather, Angela Lansbury as her mother, Martin Balsam as the Louis B. Mayer character, Everett Redman was equally excellent.
Most of the stupidity involved changing the facts: Harlow never appeared in more than a few silent comedies, here it seems she plays in dozens; she is shown dancing in a film, but never did dance in any of them; all of the feature films bearing her name have fictitious titles (Yukon Fever, Luscious Lady, Blonde Virgin, Love Me Forever, Wild Journey, The Allegheny Trail, Sin City, etc.). Even MGM is fictitiously identified as Majestic Studios and Mayer himself given the name of Everett Redman. Why? I can only assume some great fear of law suits against the film by living people and MGM itself. Harlow, her husband Paul Bern and her mother and stepfather are all portrayed under their real names, but of course this quartet were all deceased at the time of filming, so could not sue Paramount.
The identity of William Powell is changed to Jack Harrison.
The script by John Michael Hayes, who did an excellent job translating PEYTON PLACE to the screen, is equally excellent, with many insightful jabs at Tinsel Town and the false life of Hollywood excess.
One wonders why the film flopped so badly and is hated by most reviewers. I found it to be very well done. Baker creates a believable and many-faceted character. True, she has little to do with the real Harlow, but neither did Lynley's portrayal in the other HARLOW film. Blame the director and make-up artists, not the actresses.
A film I would recommend to anyone who loves glossy romantic melodrama. Baker is one of true great acting treasures. She and Buttons do stellar work here. See for yourself.
Average as a TV movie - has its good points, but over all cheaply done
The Carol Lynley HARLOW has the feel of a 1950s Playhouse 90 production. The black and white Electronovision technique is not that far removed from the old television kinescopes. The year after this was released proved to be the last year Hollywood would make black and white feature films. The entire industry moved to color only in 1967.
Lynley is actually not that bad. She does create a character, even if that character hardly resembles Jean Harlow. She would be judged much more fairly on the performance alone were it not for the inevitable comparisons. Her character may not be educated, but she is smart and wiley.
Ginger Rogers does not do well in this her last film role. Luckily, there are character actors galore, who do give fine performances. Audrey Christie as a kindly make-up artist is as usual warm and professional. Hermione Baddeley as Marie Dressler may have only two scenes, but she makes the most of them and does an excellent job.
Barry Sullivan is excellent as the gigolo stepfather, Marino, as is Hurd Hatfield as the emasculated Paul Bern. Zimbalist plays the stand-in for William Powell and they have given him the first name of "Bill" to make it easier for us to relate to him.
The script has an excellent twist in that Mama Jean is warned about Bern's impotence before the wedding, but keeps the news deliberately from Harlow as the marriage would be a further money ticket for her.
The constant reference to "the baby" is right out of the script of GYPSY, made as a film in 1962.
The script has Harlow deliberately cruel to Bern, which seems somehow out of character and it is this unforgiving cruelty that leads to his suicide.
Did Harlow really study with Ouspenskaya? Odd since she was not under contract to MGM and it is doubtful either Mayer or Ouspenskaya's studio would have permitted it.
The production is fair as a drama. Entertaining, professionally done, although on the cheap. It is not awful, just not very good. Taken as a TV drama, it can be judged much more gently than as a studio release. Worth a watch. It's on Youtube in its entirety.
Die Büchse der Pandora (1929)
The amoral vs. the societally repressed. Involving dark drama - one of the best.
Pandora's Box is one of the most internationally highly regarded silent films of the era. Pabst only equaled this success with his The Love of Jeanne Ney. His direction is solid, certain, full of details, and his actors are uniformly superb. The cinematography is sharp, atmospheric, and well framed. The editing is excellent, although the film suffers a bit by being over long at two hours and thirteen minutes. It could certainly have been tightened by fifteen to twenty minutes with judicial cuts.
Francis Lederer as Alwa, the equally ruined son of Dr. Schon, is extremely handsome and a superb actor just beginning his career. Fritz Kortner as Schon is Emil Jannings-like in his depressed and rage-filled introspection at his helplessness to give up Lulu. Alice Roberts as the lesbian Countess Geschwitz, also hopelessly in love with Lulu, gives a restrained and riveting performance, reminding one of Lotte Lenya, but far more attractive. Carl Goetz as Lulu's father is always present and equally reminds one of character actor, George Marion. One can only imagine Jannings, Lenya and Marion in the roles.
Michael Newlinsky plays a blackmailing marquis and Gustav Diessl is terrifying as Jack.
The most amazing work is delivered by Louise Brooks in the only real performance she ever gave. I have seen almost a dozen of her films and found her only a personality with little dramatic talent. Here as the totally immoral Lulu, who leaves a wake of ruined men behind her, she is full of life, facial expression, and revealing body movement. Brooks herself has been described by someone who knew her as a hedonist, so perhaps she was most at home in this role of all she attempted.
It is hard to imagine Garbo in the role. Her characters, who played with and discarded men, did so with a purpose, usually revenge. It is hard to imagine her as being completely immoral and amoral. Dietrich may have well pulled it off and justified the script's irresistibility of the character.
The film is divided into eight sections, numbered acts with title cards to announce the beginning and end of each one. They range from 9 minutes to 24 minutes.
Although Pabst's films as a rule have no point of view or if they do, it is heavy handed and slammed down at the last minute, he was a successful director of actors, who by reputation adored him.
All in all, this is a solid and interesting film of societal conventions and repressions versus an amoral love object, out to enjoy life without a care in the world. The drama comes from the clash between possession and freedom of a free soul. Worth a look.
Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (1929)
Melodrama of depravity amongst the German society of the late 1920s.
I have never been an admirer of Pabst. I find his films to be studies of depraved Germans and their feasting on the innocent. His men are weaklings, rapists, schemers, or all three. His women are either brothel madams or sadistic, repressed victimizers. Against these he plays an innocent ingénue, who eventually falls into the traps laid for her and either does or does not escape.
SPOILERS AHEAD: Diary Of A Lost Girl, one of two silent films he made with American personality Louise Brooks, and her last silent film, pits the naïve Brooks as a daughter of a pharmacist, who is a lecher, and who stands by and permits his assistant to deflower her. He then forces her into a reform dormitory, run by a sadistic pair Dickens would have gloried in, and gives her illegitimate baby up for adoption. At the reformatory, from which she eventually escapes, she falls in with other "lost" people, who become her friends.
The last half of the film becomes somewhat unbelievable in its sudden coincidences and turns for the better. She enters a brothel and is successful there until her father's death leaves her an heiress. From there it is a series of escapes from her "past," concluding with redemption for one of her "lost" compatriots.
Brooks is no actress. She never was. I have seen a number of her films and am amazed she became a star at all. She so resembled both Clara Bow (a far better actress) and Colleen Moore (a better romantic tragedian), I wonder she got a foothold in the door. Her face, no matter what happens to her, is blank and wistful. It is a beautiful face and at times she shows some facial expression, but it is rare. She does have "presence" on screen. I will grant her that. I kept wondering what the performance might have been like had Pabst retained and nurtured Garbo (she came to the US after filming The Joyless Street for Pabst) for the role.
Pabst use of other actors and actresses who range from plain to ugly does emphasize Brook's beauty and the casting may have been deliberate. The cinematography and editing are perfunctory. None of the sumptuousness of his later The Love of Jeanne Ney is present here. Two remarkably homely performers, Fritz Rasp as Meinert, the assistant who ruins her, and Valeska Gert, the sadistic matron of the reformatory, are creepily evil and repellent. He later used Rasp in Jeanne Ney and had used Gert earlier as the madam in Joyless Street.
Two scenes stand out visually: the mechanically synchronized reformatory eating scene (right out of Oliver Twist); the girls' tossing of the diary from bed to bed and eventually converging on the matron with fists.
The film is mildly interesting to modern audiences, primarily as an example of Brooks' work and of Pabst's subject matter, but ultimately fails in my opinion from our inability to empathize with the somnolent leading lady.
It's the Old Army Game (1926)
Amusing but vastly overlong Fields outing with Brooks pert and pretty.
At nearly 1 and 3/4 hours, this is far too long a silent comedy. The plot is very thin and so much of it is padded with "routines," that have no or little relation to the plot. Furthermore, the routines go on forever and forever, wearing out the audience with tedium and boredom. The film could have easily shaved half an hour off its running time and been the better for it. There are some prints that run 70 minutes and I have a suspicion that they play better than the original.
Fields is quite slim and performs his many trademark routines with original aplomb. One screen title announces his mantra, "Never Give A Sucker An Even Break."
Brooks has only a few scenes with Fields and as the romantic subplot heroine she could have been in an entirely different film and just wandered onto Fields' set. She is pert and pretty and shows a good grasp of romantic and comedic acting. Her resemblance to Clara Bow and Colleen Moore must have worked against her getting a foothold in silent cinema. She only appears on screen for perhaps 20-30 minutes of the film, all totaled, and is perfectly adequate. This was her fourth film and at this writing the second and third are still lost with the first missing a reel.
This is one for Fields and Brooks fans, not for the general comedy audience. The best sequence in the film is the next to last one with fields running down a street, pursued by (he thinks) angry townspeople, shedding bits of clothing and possessions as he runs, presumably to lighten himself.
Do watch it but don't expect to be blown away by it.
The Canary Murder Case (1929)
Slow early talkie murder mystery with Powell at his best
Well, this is the first of four Philo Vance detective stories and it plays like a photographed stage play, excruciatingly slow and turgid. One has to "know" poker to understand Philo's technique of unmasking the murderer and the lengths the true murderer goes to to commit the crime are completely implausible, and impossible to achieve as explained here.
All the actors speak and move in slow motion, as was the standard in early talkies, yet Powell is assured and urbane throughout, rightfully making him the star of the film.
Louise Brooks had a further peg in her coffin as a Hollywood star by refusing to re-film her scenes, once the talkie version went into production. She appears only in the first 14 minutes. She is seen only in non-dialogue close ups and mid shots, derived from the silent version. To cover we have a stand-in in shadow or back-to, with her lines spoken by another actress, or her entirely out of the shot with the editor staying on her fellow actor while her dubber's lines are spoken.
Well-done, but obvious. Again, I must say I just don't comprehend the fascination with Brooks. Any actress want-to-be off the Hollywood streets could have played this role and as well. No talent here at all.
A Girl in Every Port (1928)
Typical buddy movie (almost gay by modern standards)
The only reason this fllm seems to garner attention is due to Louise Brooks in the final segment. She is attractive enough but displaying little dramatic talent, just a show piece that any woman, actress or not, could have provided the film makers.
I am among those who just 'don't get" Louise Brooks, and I guess I will die unchanged. Nothing special at all in my book. She just had a "look," but no talent.
A buddy movie, that could be termed gay "but without any sex," just camaraderie devoid of the influence of the female.
How the West Was Won (1962)
Grand epic and swansong for the Cinerama process
HOW THE WEST WAS WON was the 8th and final Cinerama film. Six travelogues preceded it, as well as MGM's only other feature in the process, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM (1962), released the year prior.
MGM had taken a chance on the process to be able to satisfy the widescreen and stereophonic craze for epic films, but abandoned it due to its unsatisfactory performance next to its rival, Ultra Panavision 70, in which MGM produced MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, also in 1962. The use of one camera, one strip of film and no curvature, and the ability to bring back close ups and medium shots sealed Cinerama's fate.
This was a grand way to go out though. Five periods of the taming of the West: The River, The Plains, The Civil War, The Railroad, and The Law, and a roster of stars (13 leading, 10 supporting, plus a narrator). It had everything; story, cohesion, thrills and all in enormous curved screen and Technicolor glory. At two hours and 44 minutes, it was the longest of the 8 Cinerama films and with its final shots (taken from or re-taken as a tribute to the America The Beautiful sequence ending THIS IS CINERAMA (the initial film in the process), it brought the Cinerama story full circle.
Sad though that Cinerma cameras had a tendency to be covered with splotches of dirt in its aerial shots. This is rampant throughout the travelogues and here we can see it during Spencer Tracy's initial narration and at the end montage. How digital clean-up for Smilebox DVD presentation could have ignored these obvious defects is beyond my imagination.
The image still needs some color correction and the images need sharpening, but the Smilebox DVD release is the best we have so far. The superlative score by Alfred Newman (one of his very best) is in turns stirring and sentimentally moving.
Probably the most wrenching scene is Zeb's departure for the war, in which direction, score and the subdued performances of Carroll Baker and George Peppard bring tears.
It is recommended to every lover of western films and to those in love with wide screen photography. The locations are gorgeous and always there to look at if one gets bored with the acting, direction or story line. All the actors do a creditable job, with the exception of Debbie Reynold's "old Lilith" at the end of the film. She did go on the next year to earn her only Oscar nom for THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN (which used the same mansion exterior as her San Francisco house in WEST, by the way).
It is interesting also to note upon reading these almost 150 reviews on the IMDb pages, that there seems to be no middle ground. Either reviewers loved the film or hated it. It's up to you to decide for yourself, but you must not miss it.
Charming antiquated Cinerama production
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) was the seventh of the eight films made in the Cinerama process and the first to be released since the last of the travelogues in 1958, a gap of four years.
The travelogue motif had been used up: there were no more places in the world to visit worthy of a two hour running time. So MGM took a chance and set up the process for two all-star, narrative films, one released in 1962 (Grimm), the other (How The West Was Won) the following year in 1963.
As back-up MGM filmed Mutiny On The Bounty in a competitive process, Ultra Panavision 70, a single strip process that was comparable in height and width to Cinerama, but lacking the overlapping seam problems and curved screen effects of the latter. Mutiny was released in 1962, the same year as Grimm.
Eventually, MGM and the industry went with the Panavision process due to a number of advantages. It was less bulky, way less costly, theaters could more easily adapt to a single projector replacement than an elaborate three projector system that also required a specific curved screen to be installed. Most importantly close-ups and medium shots could return to the screen and actors could communicate facially with each other again (the Cinerama curved screen required actors to look up and to one side of the camera to be seen in the theater as looking at the audience and/or fellow actors).
Grimm is a minor film, endearing and charming, but of no great importance. The performances all seem either wooden or theatrically exaggerated. One exception is Laurence Harvey, giving one of his most sympathetic and warmest interpretations as Wilhelm Grimm. He also gives a wonderful character performance as The Cobbler in The Cobbler and the Elves sequence. Special note is to be taken of Jim Backus, hilarious as the King in The Dancing Princess episode; Terry-Thomas, equally amusing as the evil knight in The Singing Bone episode, and the charming dancing of Russ Tamblyn and Yvette Mimieux in The Dancing Princess.
The score is charming with a jaunty main theme and a catchy up beat number, Ah Oom!, for the elves to sing while making shoes.
While the invisibility special effects (The Dancing Princess) are expertly done, the George Pal Puppetoon stop action effects for the elves in The Cobbler and the Elves and the dragon in The Singing Bone are dreadfully out of date and amateurish. Once we had digital visual effects in Jurassic Park, all the old stop action dinosaur films were antiquated, and such is the effect here. As such, these sequences will seem uninteresting to modern children after the age of seven or eight, thus limiting the appeal to a modern audience.
There is only one thrill sequence for the Cinerama cameras, with a speeding coach towards the end of The Dancing Princess sequence. The opening scenes of Napoleonic battle seem to be an homage to Abel Gance, whose 1926 Napoleon used a three camera projection process for the final battle montage.
The film has never been released on DVD in this country. As of this writing it is the only one of the Cinerama eight that has not. An old VHS manufacture was a scan and pan full screen version. Today your only chance to see this in its wide screen composition is a TCM broadcast. That print is fuzzy and the colors are washed out. This is badly in need of a digital clean up and restoration if it is to be released on DVD eventually.
All in all, this is a charming film for parents with children up to the ages of eight years old. However, its lasting value is as an antique and as a Cinerama production.
Although officially given a 135 minute running time, with Overture and Intermission music, the full print times out at 2 hours, 21 minutes, 25 seconds.
It received four Oscar nominations: Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes and Score, and won the Oscar for Costumes.
Russ Tamblyn has the distinction of appearing in both MGM Cinerama films, the only actor in the MGM roster to have done so.