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La tendresse (2013)
A Gentle Comedy Full of Tender Moments
From its opening shot tracking two skiers gracefully winding their way down an alpine slope to its gentle, perfect ending, Marion Hansel's lovely gem of a film is a surprisingly affecting portrait of love, both romantic and filial.
The above-mentioned opening shot, breathtaking and disarming, is immediately interrupted by the sound of a crash, as we cut in close to discover that one of the figures has fallen. "It's broken for sure," Jack bluntly tells his companion. "Call for help." This simple opening sets in motion a very poignant and tender tale.
The young man, it turns out, has been working as a ski instructor in Flaine for the past couple of months. Although his injury occurs in France, he is actually from Belgium, where his separated parents Frans and Lisa still live.
Early in the morning, Lisa wakes up to the alarming telephone call informing her that her son is in the hospital. Though the injury does not appear to be too serious, she is naturally concerned, as any parent would be. She relays the news to her ex-husband, and the two decide to make the nine hour drive to Flaine to bring their son home.
The odd couple, at once so different yet at the same time magnificently complimentary, set off at 6:30am and have a journey full of nostalgia, regret and more than their fair share of minor catastrophes. We can see exactly why they were once in love and understand instantly that they very well may still be.
Finally they reunite with their son, meet his girlfriend Alison, enjoy a couple of meals together, and then pack his things into the car and head back to Brussels. It's as simple as that. No major plot twists, no big, emotional scenes and, best of all, no fanciful or unbelievable happy endingsjust a series of everyday conversations between real people, highlighting both their attractive and less-than-savory qualities.
Full of wit and humor, the film is almost picaresque in nature, as little vignettes unfold to show new aspects of each relationship: ex- husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, mother and child, father and son. Hansel finds comedy and poignancy in equal measure in the sometimes awkward, sometimes touching situations in which her characters unexpectedly find themselves.
The cast members all breathe life and truth into their characters, especially the magnificent Marilyne Canto as Lisa and Olivier Gourmet as Frans. In a small cameo, Spanish actor Sergi Lopez also contributes a memorable performance as a hitch hiker.
In the end, it's true, perhaps little has changed in the lives of the characters, but as Bourvil croons the title tune over the closing credits, the lovely, quiet truths of the story resonate to confirm what a special film has just ended. And what a perfect title the author has chosen for her tale.
Dancing Co-Ed (1939)
Unbelievably Beautiful Lana Turner
This is perhaps Lana Turner's finest vehicle. It showcases her unbelievable beauty and vitality, and it also spotlights her generally undiscovered comedic talents. The plot of this film involves a nation-wide search for a "dancing co-ed" to replace a movie-star in a big budget film. Lana's character has been planted at one of the colleges under consideration, however the student-editor of the school newspaper suspects that the company has already chosen its girl. Under the theory that Sherlock Holmes never suspected Watson, Lana becomes his assistant, and successfully evades his search...of course, the two fall in love....
This movie gave me some of the biggest laughs I've ever had. It is simple, yet wonderful, and one of the most enjoyable films. Chalk up Dancing Co-Ed as another of 1939's countless cinema classics.
Each of Chaplin's films showcased in The Chaplin Collection on DVD has a special feature documentary called Chaplin Today. Each of these half-an-hour shorts has well-known filmmakers discussing a particular film's influence on his career.
Chaplin Today: Monsier Verdoux is not up to Chaplin Today: City Lights, but it is one of the best of the Chaplin Today documentaries. The director chosen to speak is French cineaste Claude Chabrol, and he wildly hails Monsieur Verdoux as Chaplin's chef d'vre. He guides us through the film, and discusses the scenes and shots he finds "most brilliant." He also talks a little of Chaplin's shooting style, and how that influences the final product.
This short does a good job of putting the film in its historical context, giving plenty of nice background information on the film and why it is considered today to be a classic. Anybody who watches Monsieur Verdoux should most definitely check out this short afterwards, but be sure not to watch it before because it will ruin the film's many comic surprises.
Chaplin Today: City Lights (2003)
A Perfect Accompaniment to CITY LIGHTS
CITY LIGHTS is easily Charlie Chaplin's most subtle comedy. The blatant humor is missing, and instead the comedy comes from the smallest, most inconspicuous things. In addition to putting the film in its historical context and tracing the history of the production, CHAPLIN TODAY: CITY LIGHTS also guides the viewer through parts of the film and points out the tiny little gems of humor Chaplin works into the film. Then when you watch the film again, you see the inner genius of Chaplin at work, and you begin to appreciate the film much more.
This short documentary is similar to an audio commentary, as it has a noted filmmaker voice-over his views on parts of the film, explaining what is going on. It is an invaluable accompaniment to this gem of a film. Be sure to watch it at least one time AFTER you have seen the full film.
The Rage of Paris (1938)
The Ultimate Screwball Comedy
Although it is rarely cited by critics, The Rage of Paris is one of the breeziest and most charming of all of Hollywood's screwball comedies. It stars the lovely French superstar Danielle Darrieux in her greatest American role and second-generation Hollywood legend Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Screwball films are famous for their attempts to push the censors to the limit. And The Rage of Paris does this amazingly. This type of comedy came about as a result of the Production Code, and the screenwriters and directors tried to go as far towards risqué as possible in them.
This picture begins with a young wanna-be model, Nicole (Darrieux). She is given an assignment to pose for a photographer, but she objects to the clothing (actually the lack of clothing) she is being asked to pose with. So the boss asks another model to come into his office to offer her the job. Nicole overhears the salary the model is going to get, and she changes her mind. While the boss and the new model discuss the job, Nicole sneaks over to the boss' desk and grabs what she thinks is the address of the photographer. But, she grabs the wrong address. Instead, she winds up at the office of Mr. Trevor (Fairbanks). Told by his secretary to "make herself comfortable" until Mr. Trevor arrives, she misconstrues and is in the process of undressing when he enters. It is perhaps the finest "meet-cute" in film history. When she finally realizes she got the wrong address, she leaves the office and returns to her dump-of-a boarding house, where her best friend Gloria lives.
Both desperate for money, Gloria and Nicole enlist the help of a head-waiter, Mike, to help them out. He has been saving some money to open his own restaurant, and he has $3,000 in the bank. Gloria proposes a scheme: use that money to buy Nicole some nice clothes, put her up in the hotel, and try to set her up with a rich husband; then, if they succeed, they will return his $3,000 and throw in the extra $2,000 he needs to open his restaurant. Reluctantly, Mike goes along with it.
The man they decide to "catch" with their beautiful bait is Bill Duncan, who "has ten million dollars and owns half of Canada." In a hilarious meeting, Nicole "accidentally" mistakes Bill for her old next-door neighbor. She runs up to him, kisses him, and talks excitedly in French. He tells her she is mistaken, and, embarrassed, she drops a glove and runs back to her room. Bill picks up the glove and begins to follow Nicole...the scheme has worked, and the next thing they know, Bill takes Nicole to the opera. It looks as though everything is going according to plan.
At the opera, Bill sees his best friend whom he hasn't met in a long time. He brings him back to his box, anxious to introduce him to his French aristocratic girlfriend. But it just so happens that his best friend is James Trevor, the same man Nicole was accidentally stripping for three weeks earlier. Instead of revealing her secret to his friend, James decides to see how the situation plays out.
Eventually, he tries to tell Bill about Nicole, but Bill believes James is lying and only wants the beauty for himself. In haste, Bill agrees to marry the girl. At their engagement-announcement dinner, however, James 'kidnaps' her. He takes her to his secluded country home, and the two fall in love.
She hitch-hikes back to the city, where Bill has found out the truth about her. And since he will no longer marry her, the door is open for James!
The story is typical of the times. Once Nicole is disrobed in front of Mr. Trevor, the audience knows they will fall in love. It's inevitable. But it is also so much fun watching it happen!
Furthermore, the entire cast is sensational. In fact, it is one of the most perfectly cast films of all time. Towering above all is the delectable Danielle Darrieux! She is absolutely ideal, using her continental French personality to drive men mad. The way she dictates to Gloria what she wants to eat for breakfast is lovely. It is such a simple moment, yet the actress manages to turn it into one of the most memorable parts of the film. Still, the highlight is her pouty foibles at the home of James Trevor. Her facial expressions when she sees the two-sided photograph and her experience with the troublesome window are totally captivating.
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is the quintessential debonair leading man. His performance here is one of his finest. His concern for his friend, as well as his slow albeit sure fall into Nicole's charms, make the character quite memorable. As Gloria, Helen Broderick is the cynical sidekick par excellence. And Mischa Auer suits the role of the headwaiter, Mike, so well, that it's hard to imagine another actor doing the part. Louis Hayward, playing Bill Trevor, gives one of the film's finest performances. And Harry Davenport has a part in the funniest portion of the movie, as the eccentric caretaker of James' country house.
The sets are art deco dreams, particularly the hotel rooms and the hotel room doors. Darrieux's magnificent wardrobe accents the star's unbelievable figure, too. Quite honestly, Danielle Darrieux might be the most beautiful woman who has ever lived, and this film, made when she was a young and glorious twenty years old, captures her joie de vivre for all time. The direction is swift and deft, but it's the script that really provides the basis for the film's charm. The writing and scenario are both perfect, and at about 78 minutes, the film is fast and fun.
Go to the ends of the earth to find this film. Buy it, watch it over and over again, and pass it on to everyone you know. It is the one film that will turn just about anybody on to classic films, and it ranks up top with Bringing Up Baby, The Awful Truth, It Happened One Night, and The Lady Eve as one of the five greatest screwball comedies of all time.
The Guardsman (1931)
A Classic in Every Regard
Many people seem to regard this film as important simply because it is a living testament to Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontaine's acting. After all, it is the only preserved sound performance in which they have starring roles. In reality, however, the film is not only historically important because of the legends in it; it is one of the most fresh and funny films to emerge from the pre-Code period. The story is irresistible: a vain acting couple constantly insult and tease one another. In order to test his wife's fidelity after a bout, the Actor (Lunt) disguises himself as a foreign guardsman, goes out of his way to meet his wife in disguise, and furthermore goes on to try and seduce her. After he succeeds, he reveals himself, furious at her perfidious attitude. The Actress (Fontaine) begins laughing, claiming that she knew all along. At first dubious, the Actor is eventually convinced that his wife was playing along with him, and the two romantically embrace. The Actress looks at the camera and gives the most priceless look, letting the audience know that she may not have really known all along... Lunt and Fontanne make this film come to life. There dominating presence creates a satirical and realistic portrait of what an egomaniacal acting couple's life might really be like.
In addition, there are some priceless supporting roles: Maude Ebourne as a sarcastic maid, Zasu Pitts as a strange (to say the least) servant, Roland Young, and always-reliable Herman Bing as "a creditor." Sidney Franklin, perhaps the most unjustly forgotten of all screen directors (his classics include Private Lives, Smilin' Through, The Good Earth, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, and The Dark Angel), adroitly guides the ensemble, allowing the acting to take center-stage but never neglecting the details so important to cinema. In all, this short, fast-paced romp with two bona fide legends of American stage history is an essential lesson in screen comedy and romance. Although the Lunts, when asked to do later film work, replied "We can be bought but we can't be bored!" there is absolutely no sign of unenthusiasm on screen here. Each earned an Oscar nomination for their performance in The Guardsman, and they left their indelible stamp, albeit only for a short eighty some-odd minutes, on American motion picture history.
Romeo and Juliet (1936)
The Best of Cinema's ROMEO AND JULIETs
This is quite simply the best version of Shakespeare's beloved tragic drama that has ever hit the screen. A quintessential problem with the play is that its characters are not at all well-suited to film. The stage allows middle-aged experienced actors to play the parts, for the distance between an audience and actor on the stage can supply all necessary illusion. The intimacy of the camera makes a demand, however: either sacrifice this understanding for youth or sacrifice the youth for understanding. The title characters are supposedly meant to be only in their mid-teens, but to successfully portray them, an experienced mentality is needed, and so it is imperative that the latter sacrifice be made. On film, rarely does the depth the two characters require come forth, instead substituted with this youthful energy. This has allowed plenty of young, age-appropriate actors to deliver perfectly horrible performances as the young lovers. When Franco Zeferelli produced his overrated version of this tale in the 60s, he cast Olivia Hussey and Juliet and Leonard Whitting as Romeo...and the two made Romeo and Juliet teenagers with no sense of real love and instead horny teenage lust. By casting Norma Shearer (around 36) and Leslie Howard (over 40) as the two, M-G-M lost the supreme youth, but gained a near-perfect asset of understanding of the characters. Shearer's delivery is perfect, particularly in the spine-tingling rendition of Juliet's death-contemplation monologue just before she takes the poison. Leslie Howard nearly matches her with his Romeo, throwing some lines at the audience in a totally new, fresh, and unexpected way. Edna May Oliver perfectly captures Shakespeare's Nurse, filling her with both bawdy humor and genuine care for Juliet's well-being. As Tybalt, a role cut down from the original length but nonetheless impressive, Basil Rathbone is astonishing; he earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work here. Also of note is John Barrymore, whom I have read was at times totally ossified while filming his scenes. His age really shows, and he is no longer the leading Baron from Grand Hotel, but his controversial performance is, if not to all minds good, at least totally engrossing. He was at a time the most celebrated of all Shakespearean stage actors, and this film marks his only completely recorded performance in a sound film of the Bard's work; this makes the film further noteworthy. To add to this pedigree cast, M-G-M put their top technical men on the job. Adrian and Cedric Gibbons perfectly capture the look and flavor of the play with their elegant costumes and sets. The art deco, sleek look ingeniously blends modern architecture with what is expected from Shakespeare's day. The camerawork is brilliant also, and Herbert Stothart's blend of Tchaikalvski's haunting Love Theme and original music creates just the perfect musical score. All of these elements combine to create the first truly great Shakespearean film adaptation, and also one of the best films of the era, period. Far superior to Zeferelli's version, and any other one I've seen, George Cukor's Romeo and Juliet is another masterpiece from one of the all-time great directors, who helmed such classic, well-regarded productions as Dinner at Eight, David Copperfield, The Philadelphia Story, and Adam's Rib.
The Moon's Our Home (1936)
A Classic Screwball Comedy
The Moon's Our Home is a fast moving, machine-gun fire paced romantic comedy from 1936. It is the story of the romance of Cherry Chester, a movie star, and Anthony Amberton, a travel writer. Ms. Chester, travelling under her birth name, Sarah Brown, can't stand the writings of Anthony Amberton. Amberton, using pseudonym John Smith, detests "marshmallow-faced" movie stars, most of all Cherry Chester. For better or for worse, however, Cherry and Anthony don't know the real names when they meet, and subsequently are able to fall in love.
The novelty of this film is that the two stars, Margaret Sullavan and Henry Fonda, were married and divorced by the time the production started. The fights (verbal and phsyical) seem wonderfully real and the love and chemistry seem genuine also. There is a bitter-sweet feeling with this bit of trivia, especially when the couple separates (a few times).
The cast, in addition to the leads, are wonderful. Especially Oscar-winner Walter Brennan, as the justice of the peace. In one of the best and funniest marriages ever to take place on the screen, Brennan recites the ceremony and Amberton and Chester have a fight. It just so happens, however, that each time the j.p. asks "do you take..." they just happen to say in their own conversation "I do." It's irresistable.
Although it rarely turns up, get your hands on this film by all means. Besides being a lot of fun, it is also the screwball comedy that has the most innuendo that seemed to sneak by the censors. Fonda's character "has conquered the highest peaks known to travellers." And a personal favorite, the fact that Cherry won't "mind the bumps" on a truck ride... Modern audiences may not get it, but to the keen ear, this film is a delight as well as to the eyes...
The Moon's Our Home is a classic example of Hollywood movie-making of a bygone era.
The Barretts of Wimpole Street is one of the finest play-to-film adaptations of the 1930s. Although its script, photography, and direction are all first-rate, it is still the grand performances that make this film appealing even today. The above-the-title trio had all won Academy Awards in the two or three years prior, and demonstrate their supreme thespian abilities in their roles. Towering above all is Norma Shearer, as bedridden invalid Elizabeth "Ba" Barrett. Although she speaks the lines in that sophisticated voice of hers, the scenes that strike the viewer greatest are ironically those without dialog at all. Take for example the scene immediately following her first visit with Browning. After he leaves her bedroom, the invalid struggles to her feet, and in one take, tries with all her heart to get over to the window so she can see him once more, leaving. In another scene, set a few months later, she is informed that Mr. Browning has come to visit her. Again, overcoming her bedridden state, she not only gets up, but also decides to go to see him downstairs instead of having him come up. Her eyes and hands express so much, and as she descends (without much dialog), her whole self-sense seem to elevate. Only a short while later, however, her domineering father orders her back upstairs. He wishes to carry her, but she insists on walking. In a magnificent William Daniels close-up, the camera stays on her face as her father tells her off camera that she will not succeed. Shearer's genius here lies in the change of facial expressions, as her reactions to her father's criticisms finally take their toll and she collapses. Quite simply, its another of Norma Shearer's brilliant characterizations, and one of the most different roles the actress ever played. March, second-billed as Browning, is a little histrionic. He gave a better performance opposite Shearer in 1932's Smilin' Through, but his performance here does not detract from the film, and his forcefulness seems strangely potent at times. As the glowering father, Laughton is amazing. The infamous "gleam" in his eye is there in many scenes, and when he carries his daughter up the stairs, its almost perverted (albeit brilliant). Maureen O'Sullavan is phenomenal as Elizabeth's young-and-in-love, rebellious sister, and Una O'Connor is in great form as her graceful maid.
A feast for fine acting, The Barretts of Wimpole Street is one of the most appealing of all costume dramas of Hollywood's golden age. It still stands (as it shall for many years to come) as a lasting tribute to two larger-than-life literary icons.
****point of interest****in 1957, Barretts was admirably remade by the same director (Sidney Franklin) at M-G-M (as was this version). Although not nearly as good as the original, fine performances from Jennifer Jones (Elizabeth) and John Gielgud (Papa Barrett) again captured on film Rudolph Besier's classic roles.
Idiot's Delight (1939)
Yet Another Gem from 1939!!!!!!!
Robert E. Sherwood won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for his allegory-like satire Idiot's Delight. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer purchased the film rights to the play, and commissioned Sherwood himself to adapt his play to the screen. The result is this astoundingly poignant classic, which features Norma Shearer and Clark Gable in the third and last of their radiant screen pairings. Harry Van (Gable) is a vaudevillian touring all of Europe with his musical troupe `Les Blondes.' The group is forced to stay in an exclusive Alpine hotel when the European borders are closed due to the possible coming of war. A German doctor (Charles Coburn), a French pacifist (Burgess Meredith), an English honeymoon couple (Peter Willes and Pat Paterson), and an Italian officer (Joseph Schildkraut) are lodging in the hotel as well. And also checking in are munitions manufacturer Achille Weber (Edward Arnold) and a beautiful traveling companion of his named Irene (Shearer). Irene, it seems, reminds Harry of an old girlfriend of his, with whom he had shared a special relationship ten years before in Omaha, Nebraska. But she was a redhead, and spoke with no accent. Irene, however, is a platinum blonde, and has a very clear Russian accent. Still, Harry wonders if it could be the same woman. As Harry pursues Irene, probing her complex web of stories to find out about her past, the war develops rather suddenly. A nearby airfield sends out its bombers, and the garbled radio broadcasts carry the fearful news: war has already been declared. As quickly as the guests assembled, they must depart, as the frontiers are opened for perhaps the last time. But Harry is unwilling to go until he is sure, and Irene is unwilling to divulge One of the countless films from 1939 to help it earn the nickname of `the greatest year in movie history,' Idiot's Delight is both acerbically funny and tragically distressing. Although the original 1936 play and the film version both predate World War II, the threat of war was a very real fear, a sentiment quite powerfully expressed via the disparate, sundry characters. It is startling and even more meaningful all these years after the war, as one can easily see how many of the unfortunate predictions came to glaring truth.
But aside from dramatic poignancy, the two lead performances catapult this film to first-rate status. Shearer is brilliant, quite plainly. She spoofs her number one rival Greta Garbo mercilessly, and uses her accent to its hilarious apex. When she tells her story to Harry, and he just gazes at her, incredulously staring, hilarity reaches its peak! She has turned in so many fine performances, that it is hard to single out any one as her finest (Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, the title role in Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth Barrett Browning in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, her Oscar-winning role in The Divorcée, and Amanda in Private Lives are all strong contenders), but her Irene is certainly amongst the competitors. Gable, in a role that requires quite a lot of singing and dancing, succeeds admirably. He is a perfect Harry Van, complimenting perfectly with Shearer. The two have fantastic chemistry, and this was the last of the three classics they starred in together.
****side note****respected Shearer biographer Gavin Lambert singled this out as his favorite of all of the star's pictures. In one vignette he illustrates in his biography of Norma Shearer, he describes an occasion where the actress herself invited him to a private screening of the film in the 1970s.