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I also write for Influx Magazine--where many of my opinions and reviews are also posted.
The Pretender (1947)
Holden gets exactly what he deserves in this one!
Kenneth Holden (Albert Dekker) is a sleazy banker who has been misusing the funds of an heiress in order to cover his losses in the stock market. He owes nearly $100,000 and his plan is to hide it by marrying the heiress. But Claire informs him that she's already engaged...so Holden arranges for the boyfriend to have an 'accident'. However, Claire unexpectedly changes her mind and insists that Holden marry her. So he does and then tries to cancel the contract...as, after all, the contract was to kill Claire's fiancé...and the killer might just think that's Holden. But this goes amok when the man behind arranging the 'accident' is murdered...and he's unable to stop the contract! Holden is at his wits end...realizing that some unknown killer might just be waiting for him!
This is an exciting and sleazy movie...and I mean sleazy in the best possible way! It has many film noir sensibilities and ends as such a film would end. Very exciting and well made.
The Men in Her Life (1941)
Initially very interesting...and then the film kinda loses its way...just like the main character.
In the first part of this film, ballet impresario Stanislaus Rosing (Conrad Veidt) discovers a circus performer, Lina Varsavina (Loretta Young). She has great talent and tells her she COULD one day be a great dancer. On impulse, she leaves the circus and begs Stanislaus to train her. He agrees and she undergoes two grueling years of work before she is ready to perform in public. She is a sensation and Lina is thrilled when an old boyfriend comes to see her and he asks her to marry him. At the same time, her coach, Stanislaus, asks her to marry him and out of loyalty, she marries the coach...and is quite happy and incredibly successful on the stage. However, at the height of her career, he dies. This portion of the film is really, really well made and exciting.
What follows is Lina's soap opera-like life. Though she is still a brilliant dancer, she is lonely and wants the old boyfriend...but thinks he's married to another. So, out of loneliness, she marries David (Dean Jagger) who is a controlling jerk. Then, out of the blue, the old boyfriend returns...and Lina is caught cohabitating by David...who is now married to him. He is controlled but insistent that their child live with him...and in the 19th century, she was powerless. Yes, she finally has her love...but no child. There's plenty after this...including lots more soapy elements as well as an attempt at a return to the stage. But I don't want to spoil the film by saying more. Suffice to say that the soapy elements AND Lina's incredibly stupid behavior make this final part of the film a major disappointment.
Loretta Young is very good and she does a nice job dancing (when they don't use a double) and it's a nice performance...especially since she DID have to do a reasonable amount of dancing. But the plot bored me after a while. Sorry...this one just didn't do it for me. Average at best despite being a very good looking film.
Carnival Day (1936)
A whole bunch of clips of a carnival...interspersed with vignettes featuring Henry Armetta.
"Carnival Day" isn't the deepest of films but it is enjoyable. It's much like visiting an old carnival in the 1930s complete with little vignettes interspersed through the film of character actor Henry Armetta trying to make us laugh. Even if you love old films, you probably don't recognize Armetta's name, but he was a very familiar character actor of the day--usually playing goofy and very stereotypical Italians.
There really isn't a lot of depth to this one...just some nice clips and Armetta. But its made in lovely color and is quite enjoyable. And, sometimes, that's more than enough.
By the way, one tiny portion might offend some, as it shows some happy black folks singing and dancing...a common and widely accepted image of the day. Incredibly stereotypical but rather benign compared to some portrayals of the day.
Four Minute Fever (1956)
It sure could have been better....
This little short film is about the quest to break the four minute mark in running the mile. It sure could have been a lot better, as what you see are just a few clips of folks running the mile long ago with some commentary. This is fine but the commentary and choices of clips was suspect, as the film does seem to focus a lot on the American efforts-- even though Brit Roger Bannister actually was the first to break this mark. I noticed some review complained and went on a rant about Americans being egocentric. Well, to be fair, most films back in the day would have likely focused on their athletes, though this still is a shortcoming of this film. I do NOT think it's an indictment on the evils of 1940s America...as broad pronouncements based on a few isolated incidents seems unfair. But to notice this problem with the short, well that's fair...and it's fair to say this isn't a particularly good film as well.
Souvenirs of Death (1948)
Well made, though not a film some gun enthusiasts would like to see.
"Souvenirs of Death" is a very strange film in that the narrator of the film is a gun! John Nesbitt provides the voice for a German Mauser handgun and it follows the gun's path from a souvenir picked up by an American G.I. serving in the war. He brings it home and the gun ends up killing an innocent dog! Where it goes from there, you'll just have to see for yourself.
The style of the film is unique. The plot, however, is a bit familiar. "Winchester 73" has a lot of similarity as does the old "Hawaii Five-O" episode "Diary of a Gun" (1975). However, despite familiarity, the story is well written and a convincing argument that folks need to be much, much, much more careful if they're going to own a gun. Keep that thing locked up...with no chance anyone else will be able to get to it!
By the way, Barbara Billingsley is in a small role in the film--long before she starred on "Leave it to Beaver" or learned to speak Jive ("Airplane").
Shoe Shine Boy (1943)
A product of its time
I noticed on reviewer completely hated the film and talked about racism in America. Well, I could understand some of their feelings though to only dismiss the film for racism would also ignore the nice performance by its star, Mel Bryant (who I assume also played the trumpet in the film...and amazingly well).
The film is set during WWII and a young man (Bryant) is trying to guy a bugle...though he doesn't have enough money. So, he sets out begging folks to let him shine their shoes so he can earn the needed $4 before the business closes. He isn't very successful until he gets a chance to play trumpet with a band...and he is amazing. So why does he need a bugle and why now?
Okay...the film does have some offensive content. Calling this man 'boy' throughout the film (as well as in the title) is not right, nor is some of the patronizing style of the film. But, it's a product of its times...and the conclusion especially so. Worth seeing...just understand that in 2017 it is bound to offend, though the film is well made and the trumpet solo is amazing.
Look for the Silver Lining (1949)
According to IMDb, this is a highly sanitized bio-pic.
I was not at all surprised to read that "Look for the Silver Lining" is a highly sanitized bio-pic. After all, Hollywood has a long, long history of making biographies that omit all the wicked stuff in favor of glitz and entertainment. A couple such films that come to mind are "Night and Day" (which bears little similarity to the life of Cole Porter...especially since he was gay) and "Love Me or Leave Me" (which makes Ruth Etting seem almost as sweet as Mary Poppins). To Hollywood, history was just a starting point in 1930s-50s films and a little embellishment (or A LOT) was just part of making the story marketable. Because of this, it's usually bad if the viewer thinks this is a history lesson! In fact, a film of the era that accurately tells the story is the exception rather than the rule. So, if you want to learn about the life of Marilyn Miller, I suggest you read a biography or skim the internet!
This film begins with Marilyn (June Haver) an established star about to do a new stage production. She seems a bit under the weather...and the film soon flashes back to her youth before she became famous. You then see her life unfold...or at least the studio's version of her life. It's all very slick, very entertaining and filled with nice scenes and very nice song and dance numbers...though as I said above, it's terribly sanitized and inoffensive. I also thought a couple scenes were overdone (such as when Mr. Miller had the mumps...talk about overacting!) and the sledgehammer symbolism with the broken elephant was just too much. Still, inoffensive and enjoyable provided you don't care about the many liberties the story took on the true life of Ms. Miller. This is especially true of the final portion--which bore no similarities to Miller's life at all.
Was the East India as corrupt and incompetent as we've been led to believe?!
This episode of "Biggest Fibs" is one that focuses on the common myths associated with British rule of India. Lucy Worsley discusses myths such as the Black Hole of Calcutta as well as why the British press began portraying the East India Company (who had ruled India before the British government officially took control in the mid- 19th century) and why making them look bad was so important. The Sepoy Rebellion and other events are discussed and re-examined using modern sensibilities.
I think this particular episode is one that would interest Brits and Indians much more than Americans, like me. This is NOT a complaint...it's just that British history and India is something less familiar to us than the other subjects covered in the series. And, as such, there is less of an emotional connection with all of this. Still, it IS well made...worth watching and I recommend you see it.
If you love history, you'll love these shows...
Lucy Worsley has brought us a typical British series...of only three episodes! Such short series are often the norm in the UK...and in this case it's a shame, as I really enjoyed her insights into some of the most exaggerated and outright distortions in British history...in essence, fibs.
Episode 1 is about the War of the Roses and the subsequent distortion of the Tudors and Plantagenets for political reasons. Episode 2 about the Glorious Revolution and how it wasn't exactly 'glorious'. And, episode 3 about the Jewel in the Crown...India and how many 'facts' about colonial India are rubbish.
So why did I enjoy these shows enough to give them a 9? Well, there are TONS of documentaries about history but most don't challenge modern assumptions...they just repeat conventional wisdom. But Worsley looks are some of these accepted facts and shows how they are NOT true and were created for propaganda. Challenging and clever, these shows are very watchable though I assume only hard cord history lovers (like me) would watch, care or understand the shows in the first place! Well worth seeing and very well made. Let's just hope they decide to expand on this three episode series!
My favorite in this excellent series...so far.
This latest series from historian Lucy Worsley is only three excellent episodes. This sort of tiny series format is not unusual for the BBC but I sure hope that they bring out more of these shows as they do something other historical documentaries don't--they breathe life into events and re-frame them in a way that gives us new insight. Other shows basically just restate events the same way again and again.
Of the three episodes, this is my favorite for several reasons. First, I like seeing Worsley have more fun in this episode...as she dresses up as a Yeoman Warder, in armor as well as Queen Elizabeth I! Second, as a retired history teacher, I OFTEN told my students how Shakespeare was NOT a historian but a propagandist who wrote historical plays in order to portray the Tudors and Stewarts as the rightful leaders of Britain. His "Richard III" in particular, portrays the king as a monster and therefore Henry killing him seemed, to the audience, like justice. In addition to Shakespeare being a propagandist, Worsley also explains how Henry worked to create a seemingly legitimate claim to the throne...even though he was basically a commoner!
Overall, very fascinating, well presented and unique among historical documentaries..especially since our view of the Wars are Shakespeare's...not history's! And, you learn why one historian refers to Shakespeare as a 'historical magie'! Worth seeing and among the better history shows you can find.