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The Murder of Mary Phagan (1988)
A More Thorough Study of the Mary Phagan Story
Jack Lemmon stars in this TV telling of a true incident in our history. When a young lady is killed, her employer (Peter Gallagher) is accused, because of circumstantial evidence, supposedly true testimony of others implicating him, his ladies man reputation, but mostly because he is a Yankee and a Jew in the South. He is given a trial, which isn't quite a fair one. When the sentence is hanging until death and a pardon from the Governor is possible, Governor Jack Lemmon feels the prisoner was given a bum deal, considering the community's prejudice and has qualms about letting the man hang. He goes on his own crusade and investigation to delve deeper into the story. Jack Lemmon has never given a bad performance, and in fact, everyone was very good in their role, especially Dutton in his memorable role. This was a very educational, involved and thoughtful film. "They Won't Forget" with Claude Rains and Lana Turner was another film about this, but that was a loose telling of the story, as it took place in a school setting instead a workplace. I've seen it, and it stands on its own as a good example of hard-hitting drama and movie-making if not totally accurate to the basic facts. After seeing this version though, you may not want to see the older version, as this puts the characters and their feelings first rather than serving their problems up for your entertainment.
Dress Gray (1986)
Dress Gray - A Unique 1980s Experience
Alec Baldwin stars in this TV miniseries about the murder of a gay cadet in a military academy, and he stands accused and has to clear his name. I didn't know what to expect, but this played out more like a political thriller than a drama, especially Part 2, with the investigation and dealing with the people who were tailing Alec and his girlfriend. A lot of older celebrities star in this and are good, but some like Alexis Smith were given literally nothing to do. Hal Holbrook is very memorable, and Eddie Albert was given a rare dramatic role as the victim's father who didn't know he was gay. Some reviewers say there was too much talking and that this could have been much shorter. Maybe. But on the whole, this seemed to be an exceptional miniseries with outstanding, full-force performances by all.
Witches' Brew (1980)
Lana Turner, Teri Garr and Richard Benjamin Fans Beware!
Being a fan of Lana Turner, I had mixed feelings of seeing this film, "Witches' Brew," which is a remake of a Lon Chaney film, "Weird Woman," which I think I liked. Another remake of Lon's movie, 1962's "Burn, Witch, Burn!") I have not seen. As the film begins, three women use witchcraft! to help their professor husbands further their careers. Only one can take a new position in the university, and the wives plot against other! I've always liked Teri Garr; she can be eccentric and somewhat needy but is sweetly endearing at the same time and her pairing with Richard Benjamin is inspired casting, as he seems to act sinister yet strait-laced and down-to-earth at the same time. His expressions are too much and worth the price of admission alone. Having said all that, they are the best thing about the film. Lana isn't bad in the film, but seems to be trying too hard not to overact or embellish, as she simply speaks her lines with hardly any flair. This was her last film, and sadly it is not even campy enough (or as they say bad enough) to be good. What begins as an interesting and distinctive film really goes downhill. The scenes between Teri and Richard add some life, but by the end there's no reason to care about what's happening. Inferior material for stars who deserve better!
Marion Davies at Her Best! Oui! Oui!
Marion Davies stars in her first talkie after having a prolific silent movie career with this film, "Marianne." Here she is as a simple French lass in love with a French soldier during World War I. But when American soldiers see her they fall all over themselves trying to be the one first in line, particularly Lawrence Gray and Cliff Edwards. But Cliff Edwards (and Benny Rubin) primarily provide comic relief and some great songs. Cliff Edwards was a very talented singer and entertainer of his day, and sang the classic song "When You Wish upon a Star" and was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in "Pinocchio." Lawrence Gray has a nice voice too, but Cliff had that pep and comic flair thrown in his numbers. In fact, I saw this years ago, but had forgotten how funny this was. All the songs (sung by the soldiers!) were very good, considering how most of the early musicals, once talking pictures were made, were very dated and corny. The funniest part of the movie is when Marion masquerades as an officer to get Lawrence out of jail for taking her pig! Yes, I said, her pig! This was a fun and enjoyable showcase for the talented and underrated Marion Davies who was too many times dismissed as only William Randolph Hearst's mistress, therefore being under scrutiny in Orson Welles' classic, "Citizen Kane." Forget what you may think or know about her, and enjoy her as "Marianne."
How to Fall in Love (2012)
Eric Likes Brooke!
Eric Mabius liked Brooke D'Orsay in high school but she never knew how much. Present day: He has no girl and no style. Feeling insecure, he's now shy and has nobody to love. A friend of his tells him about a dating coach, but that experience was terrible. He meets Brooke, when she's waitressing, but who's really an event planner and without a job currently. Long story short, you know what happens. She helps him with his approach to women and insecurity, all the while she's.... This may be predictable fluff, but it's so sweet, special, and real, that it spoke to me and I really, really enjoyed it. Katky Najimy gives great support as another waitress and friend to Brooke. And, the rivalries and feelings between Brooke and sister were handled very well. This is the kind of film you watch sick in bed, a feelgood movie for all romantics, or just anyone who likes sweet films.
Funny Valentines (1999)
My Special Valentines!
Alfre Woodard and Loretta Divine are excellent in "Funny Valentines," in which Alfre comes back to her small town home and reconnects with her cousin, with whom she shared her childhood. We see flashbacks of a disturbing trauma that still has present-day consequences. The scenes with Alfre and Loretta are electric, with Loretta being especially sweet and vulnerable. But we feel such strength from their love for each other. We care so much for Loretta, with her mother being sick in the hospital and yet also being hard to manage. I can't believe this isn't out on DVD! This is one the best TV movies I've seen! It makes you feel so good. You feel like these people are your family, your friends. Watch "Funny Valentines" for a story rich in love and full of hope with the under-appreciated Loretta Devine and Alfre Woodard.
All about Love, Mature Love of Two Lonely People
Timothy Bottoms is a lost and shy young man with no apparent direction or aspirations, not liking college or getting along with or even being understood by his father. He is forced to go on a biking tour across Europe, with a friend of the family being the teacher/chaperone for the trip, but Timothy abruptly leaves the tour and jumps on a bus full of people on their own tour excursion. He befriends Maggie Smith, who has her own problems. They make quite a couple with their own insecurities, but they form an alliance, slowly, very slowly. When one gets closer, the other draws back. Both give very sincere and thoughtful performances. The ending is rather unexpected, but then again what I did expect to happen, realistically? A viewer's appreciation of this film will develop more, with each viewing, as we see a mature look at love, loneliness and real life and shows Maggie Smith and Timothy Bottoms at their restrained best.
Rare Romanticism of 1980s Television
Cheryl Ladd takes the Orient Express with a girlfriend, as she remembers her past and a past love. OR is he, a past love? This must have been shown on British TV in 1985, because it doesn't look like anything that was ever on CBS, ABC or NBC in the 1980s. The locales, Sir John Gielgud and the romantic aura it has all come together to make a very rare television film, and one I think will be a favorite for true romantics. In her thoughts and the flashback, we see her and her girlfriend traveling through Europe and meeting Alex and his friend. Cheryl as Lily and Alex have an interlude but are separated. 10 years pass until present day when Cheryl and another girlfriend (who of course plays up the "where are the men on this train?" attitude and who looks a lot like Vicki Lawrence) are on the Orient Express and Alex has found her and tries to make up for what he did. Some dialogue and somewhat awkward scenes could be found unintentionally funny, but on the whole this is a very deeply felt and sincere little film for the true romantic at heart.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
The Dorian Gray in All of Us!
Oscar Wilde's bizarre story is brought vividly to life in this film of the same name, "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Hurd Hatfield is the man in question who wishes to retain his young looks while his portrait ages. While making his wish in the artist's house, a small statue of an ancient Egyptian cat with supposed supernatural powers close by him grants his wish. The forthcoming plot shows how Hurd goes through life affecting those around him negatively and how it changes his inner soul, all the while it is being reflected in the portrait. George Sanders is an acquaintance of Dorian's and the artist and is there while the wish is granted. George is all the time making generalizations about life, love, and women (witticisms when George Sanders say them) and in doing so displays his brusque cynicism; in short, he's a cad, and Sanders is in his element, stealing all the scenes he's in. But this film is exquisite in style, storytelling, and in capturing the time and place. Angela Lansbury costars and gives a very moving and memorable performance. Peter Lawford and Donna Reed also star, but they are given very little to do. No matter, because this is another example of how they just don't make movies like they used to. Winner of a cinematography Oscar, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" is an involved, intricate and intelligent film movie experience. Not to be dismissed as just a horror classic, this is a film classic for all those who enjoy good old-fashioned films.
Peter Lorre's Tour de Force in Fritz Lang's Film Classic, M
"M" is just one of Fritz Lang's many film classics and concerns a child molester, played by Peter Lorre. He gives both a very simple yet gut-wrenching performance that made him an international star. He is possessed and evil one minute and childlike the next, changing from vicious to fragile. (His babyface smile is the most sinister, deceptive thing about him.) The film sets the tone with a group of girls chanting a very foreboding and disturbing song, which a mother tells them to stop and the shadow and sight of Peter really gets you stirred up. The tables are turned on him when he is trapped not by the law but by a combination of the town's crooked element (who want him out of their hair, due to the police's tighter rein on them) and the poor tramps who are enlisted in the quest to find him. The film's use of silence was so, so quiet that the viewer feels something's wrong with the audio of the TV, the DVD, or something - only to hear all of a sudden a mother's yell to her children! The silence heightens the viewer's tension and Peter's desperation. The ending may be the eeriest thing of all! If you've never seen "M," this unsettling experience is one to put on your list and is one film you'll remember forever.