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This charming film easily proves that Charlie Chaplin could do serious drama if only the public would have allowed him.
TCM announcer Ben Manciewicz notes that "A Woman of Paris" bombed at the box office but that couldn't have been due to the performances, which were uniformly wonderful.
Edna Purviance seems an unlikely heroine -- not dazzlingly gorgeous but convincingly expressive as a woman who'd like to give herself to a troubled artist who lacks the backbone to stand up to his mother and commit.
Carl Miller does well as the conflicted painter but Adolphe Menjou is wonderful as a shallow bon vivant who is more entertained by than enamored with the lovely Marie.
Lydia Knott is very good in the unglamorous role of Jean's doting mother.
I liked the way this film ended on an inspiring note by citing the redemptive value of giving to others -- an ageless message.
Coda: Music is used to wonderful effect in this film, as in sequences in which Pierre picks up a miniature saxophone and gives it a tootle. Amazingly, it was Chaplin who composed the score.
The Other Woman (2008)
Interesting, despite sloppiness
This TV movie is marred by a hackneyed plot, too many side characters sometimes looking too much alike, and distracting side stories, but it's saved by the solid performance of Josie Bissett.
She plays Jill, who gave up a reporting career to become a teacher and settle down as the second wife of high-powered defense attorney Derek (Ted Whittall).
Casting problems result in too close a resemblance between Derek's rebellious daughter and a lascivious new co-worker of his who sets out to steal him from Jill.
Despite the many flaws in this film, Bissett's part is written well. She never stoops to stereotype in interacting with Derek's seductress. And her conversations with Derek's daughter are compelling -- surprises in a production like this.
This film is damaged by a number of red herrings that are never well-explained. For example, glass shows up in a bowl of pasta clearly intended for Jill. But how could the sexy vixen have gotten into the restaurant kitchen? Derek's boss gets murdered and suddenly we plunge into a domestic-violence subplot. Why?
In sum, here's a decent example of LMN as guilty pleasure...tasty, but not terribly nutritious.
Beware of Pity (1946)
...and of trying to force oneself to care
Interesting depiction of deeply dysfunctional relationships.
Wheelchair-bound Edith (Lilli Palmer), like a character from a Chekhov play, is in mourning for her life. Though stunning, she feels like a lowly "fly without wings." When dashing, socially inept Lt. Marek (Albert Lieven) visits the palatial family home one evening, he asks her to dance, later making up for the faux pas by engaging Edith in a little conversation.
Further visits erroneously lead Edith to believe that Marek is more than just "fond" of her. However, he one day admits he's only making pity visits.
Wistful Edith believes that if only she could be cured (which is impossible), Marek might one day walk her down the aisle. Despite showing a tin ear to Edith's admissions of love, he gets taken seriously by the girl -- to the point she threatens to throw herself off a cliff if he doesn't commit!
First Marek agrees to marriage, then he relents, then he agrees again, when a local blind woman -- who lost her sight at the hands of a bungling surgeon whom she subsequently wed -- tugs on his heartstrings.
"Don't throw away something precious because the world laughs at something it can't understand," she pleads. "The unlovely -- they alone know how to love as one should love!"
This film is quite dated but excels in showing the misfortune that can result from a lack of psychological self-awareness.
The Picasso Summer (1969)
"In France, they call that an American kiss..."
I love the idea of this movie -- when life gets dull, drop everything and take a plane that very night to the one place on Earth that calls out to you.
"The Picasso Summer" stars beautiful people and stunning locales, and the score by Michel LeGrand is seductive. I'd remembered this film, released when I was 13, as incredibly romantic. Now that my 58th birthday is rolling around, I see it as somewhat less of a gift but still pretty good.
Handsome George (Albert Finney) is a self-absorbed elitist, agreeing to take a picture for a pair of more conventional tourists but purposely aiming in the wrong direction. He never stops to consider whether "Pic-ass-o" would ever want to meet HIM. (I liked the character who gently advises George, "If you want to know him, you can see him every place in his art.") George's adoring wife, Alice (Yvette Mimieux), would seem to bring little to the relationship but a winning smile and a body born for a bikini.
Way too much time is devoted to the animation of Picasso-esque art, leaving the viewer sensing padding was needed to justify a feature-length film. And while we do get to hear some wonderful flamenco music, we also have to endure a bloody, totally unnecessary bullfight.
This film makes an interesting point in showing that some of the better parts of a vacation can occur when travelers set out alone. There's the time Alice happens upon a buoyant, blind painter, whose latest work isn't dry before he hands it over to her. ("The joy is in doing it -- not finishing it.")
Despite some of its problems, this movie has an incredible ending that comes about as close to perfection as anything else I can remember in a film!
Crimes of Passion (2005)
Very well-acted and suspenseful story that heaps on the surprises and is full of suspense.
Dina Meyer is superb as a sexy, back-stabbing ice queen who has made a career of filing sexual-harassment suits. Awww.....She can't help it she's so gorgeous!
Jonathan Higgins is very entertaining as Jerry, an emotionally unstable, alcoholic philanderer who erroneously thinks he's smarter than everyone else.
Amy Sloan does well as Jerry's beleaguered wife, despite being saddled with the familiar role of the Lifetime heroine who triumphs in the end.
John H. Brennan, looking like a perfectly coiffed and manicured soap-opera star, is a little too handsome to have been cast as a venal investigator but he excels in the slimy part.
I loved Harry Standjofski and Can Anvar as dueling lawyers. Their acerbic back-and-forth made for some exceptionally sparkling dialogue.
Vlasta Vrana also maintained interest in the small but interesting role of a businessman reluctant to get screwed by his subordinates.
In addition to the interesting if sometimes superficial characterizations here, this film features several truly creepy, suspenseful sequences. I am not too proud to admit they had me hiding my eyes!
In all, this was much, much better than I expected for a Lifetime film.
Belle of the Nineties (1934)
Though I'd certainly heard of Mae West, I had never seen her in a film before, so this silly star vehicle was quite enjoyable to watch.
I was surprised to find an almost hermaphroditic persona here -- masculine in dusky voice and swagger but all-woman in her hour-glass figure draped in feathers, flounces, and sequins. With her slight overbite, West is an enchanting mix of wit and self-assurance.
She wrote this story that centers on a blues singer for whom men swoon. It's really just window dressing for West as she struts through her awe-struck social world.
The film is fun for the minor suspense it provides: What will Mae say next?
Sometimes it's a song, like "My Old Flame."
Then there are her little aphorisms:
"I'm in the habit of picking my own men..."
"It's better to be looked over than overlooked..."
"The man who hesitates...is late..."
I think I'd like to see more of this screen siren, though I'm not sure how MUCH. Does this sort of thing get old? I'm game to see...
Open Water (2003)
The vagaries of fate, or, Nature's indifference to Man
Stunningly horrifying film about how life can go irrevocably wrong when you least expect it.
Susan and Daniel expect an idyllic vacation in the Caribbean -- "We'll just do our own thing" -- but through reasons that are unclear -- perhaps they stray too far from their dive boat, spend a little too much time admiring fish -- and accidents of fate (a crew member takes a faulty head count), they find themselves stranded in a hell zone full of sharks and jellyfish, too small in the vast expanse of ocean to be seen by boats or helicopters.
Seeing this nightmarish vision again, years after it came out, remains a very satisfying experience. One poignantly observes the final look back at a suburban home, the casual stowage of a dive bag under a bench on the boat.
I had remembered that the guy (Richard Roeper-lookalike Daniel Travis) dies, but had missed the subtlety in the girl's (Blanchard Ryan) final moments.
The beautiful Ms. Ryan, who bears a resemblance to Cameron Diaz, creates a fascinating persona here. (Not sure her nude scene was necessary.) I read on Wikipedia that she has done little film ever since this came out. Another puzzler....
The Pawnbroker (1964)
Man as predator
When TCM host Robert Osbourne introduces this film as a "dark drama," he is seriously understating the case.
This stark tale told in black-and-white, evocatively set in early-60s Harlem, introduces a character who is tormented by devastating memories and losses from the Holocaust.
As a pawnbroker, Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger) embodies the same role his Nazi overseers once did -- he's approached by supplicants who live or die (though only economically) at his pleasure. Just like the Nazis who bashed in his head and violated his wife, Nazerman couldn't care less how other people feel, no matter how desperate their circumstances. It's as if, after what he has endured, no one else's pain has any significance.
"You take a dream and give a dollar," says Ortez, a young street thug trying to reform, whom one-time professor Nazerman ambivalently teaches the pawn trade.
Nazerman is tortured by survivor's guilt. Who was more courageous -- the suicidal friend, who ran up against a barbed-wire fence at Auschwitz, or he -- who managed to keep on living after losing the people he loved? When Nazerman seeks a little respite in the bed of his dead friend's wife, her father chides him as a coward. And when the old man finally expires, Nazerman has no word of comfort for his consort. ("To hell with your crying!")
When local do-gooder Marilyn Birchfield tries to offer Nazerman a sympathetic ear, he dismissively stereotypes her.
"All I ask is for peace and quiet!" he says. "People like you will not let me! Please, stay out of my life!"
Despite Nazerman's commute from the Long Island suburbs, he has traded one world he can't control for another. The litter-strewn environs of his pawnshop are rife with danger, threat, and coercion. Admist the squalor, Nazerman doesn't discriminate -- he sees everyone as "scum, rejects."
"You's a hard man," says one customer. "God pity you."
Nazerman is tortured by memories and it is only in these moments that he can show a little tenderness, giving someone a few dollars more than she asks at the pawn counter.
As the anniversary of some grim event of his past rolls around, Naderman wishes to mark the date.
"I didn't die," he tells Miss Birchfield. "Everything that I loved was taken away from me and I did not die. There was nothing I could do."
So bitter is Nazerman's self-recrimination that he cannot take the hand extended by Miss Birchfield, the one person on earth who wants to listen and understand.
When he rejects Ortez, who so appreciates him as a mentor -- "You're nothing to me!" -- it's as if he plants the seeds of his own destruction. Maybe Nazerman can take the route of the suicidal friend and force the system to end his life once and for all.
Yet the whole thing backfires and it's Ortez who sacrifices for Nazerman. Is the old man's look of agony a sign of sympathy for Ortez or just more agony over having been betrayed?
In the end we see Nazerman in the Jesus-like role when he makes a crucifying gesture.
Man crucifies himself when he does not share or speak. So much around him cannot be controlled but he makes things worse when he pulls away from others and becomes embittered.
End note: This powerful film is based on a novel by Edward Lewis Wallant, who, I read on Wikipedia, died at age 36 of an aneurism. Wallant had lived in New Haven, CT, and often taken the train in to New York to visit jazz clubs, perhaps inspiring the great score in this film by Quincy Jones. Wallant had been drawing comparisons to other great Jewish writers like Roth and Bellow and had won a Guggenheim Fellowship earlier in the year he died.
Unconventional horror tale
A compelling portrait of emotional alienation that is reminiscent of Polanski's "Repulsion."
Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) seems a domestic goddess -- carefully planning each well-balanced meal, doting on her only child, and keeping a pin-neat apartment.
But she's robotic with people -- seemingly just tolerating their invitations and chatter and never saying much more to her son than "Did you wash your hands?" before breakfast.
Despite appearances, the perfectly put-together widow ekes out a living by turning tricks each afternoon in her bedroom, and then scrupulously scrubbing herself after each encounter. With each successive john, we see a little more of how Jeanne feels about her hidden occupation, till after a third encounter we are left with no illusions at all.
Does Sylvain suspect how his mother earns a franc? As the 3.5-hour film inches along, seemingly in real time, one's theory on this question may evolve.
In all, this film drives home the psychological truth that the more perfect a person may look, the more disorder she may be hiding below the surface.
This is a devastating portrait of the high cost of keeping up appearances.
(I was saddened to read on Wikipedia that Mlle. Seyrig, who played the opalesque heroine, died some 15 years after the film came out, of lung disease. This was one bravura performance.)
Stolen Face (1952)
Very entertaining till lame ending
Paul Henreid plays an odd duck here. His crush on an ill pianist falls through, so he uses his plastic-surgery skills to transform a career criminal with a disfigured face into a replica of his lost love. Who even contemplates such a thing?
Dr. Phillip is presented as highly ethical before embarking on his bizarre scheme. He has a theory that looking good will transform his Cockney honey into a delightful life companion. (Didn't he ever hear that "all that glistens isn't gold"?)
There is some wonderful tension in the film when it turns out that pianist Alice doesn't want to marry her manager after all. It is fascinating to watch Alice return to Dr. Phillip -- with a photograph of his look-a-like wife just sitting there on a table.
I was disappointed by the facile ending and unbelievably snide remark that concludes the film. I'd felt sure that Phil, crazed by unhappiness, would take more assertive action to escape his desperate predicament.
Still, I'm glad I saw this er, unique production.