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A Thousand Clowns (1965)
Gene Saks was brilliant!
Thoroughly enjoyed the film but the highlight for me was Gene Saks' performance. Seems most of the other reviewers hated him. I thought he was the best part of it all. His part was just too short!
Supremely gifted at comic timing. A total understanding of the complexity of the character. And despite what you might think he is a complex character.
The character is completely over the top, totally lacking in sensitivity, loud, insulting, and unbelievably insecure. Sachs plays him on several levels at once. He managed to make me hate him and feel sorry for him at the same time. Wildly funny in his insecurity, deeply touching in his need for an audience. His takes and wild flights of ego are constantly surprising and delightful.
Very memorable part, played by a bold and very creative actor. The best part of the whole dame thing.
The Washington Masquerade (1932)
Early Work of Cinematographer Greg Toland
The most interesting part of this film for me was watching the early work of cinematographer Greg Toland. Years later Toland would photograph Citizen Kane. It is hardly a tour de force of his talents but it does have some of his touches on display. His use of composition in the foreground and background is here. So is his use of semi-deep focus and stark black and white contrasts. Toland was clearly ahead of his time when this was made in 1932. A film as a whole has the look of classic cinema. Very unusual for 1932.
The script is very wordy and tends to advance at a snails pace but Toland's interesting compositions kept it moving along for me.
Also interesting to me is the way this film foreshadows Mr Smith Goes To Washington. In Mr Smith, a young, naive senator goes to Washington and absolutely refuses to be drawn into a world of corruption. In Washington Masquerade just the opposite happens. The hero succumbs to first sexual and then monetary corruption. In that respect, I found it a more interesting idea than Mr Smith.
Naked City (1958)
A Great Show From a Different Time...
Not every great actor gets to be recognized for great work. Most of the good actors working today have names most of us will never know. But there was a time when TV was THE place to showcase you talents as an actor. The 1950's and 1960's provided tons of actors chances to show what they could do, and many went on to become well known names. But most of them , for reasons that were not their fault, practiced their art in relative obscurity.
That's why I love watching shows like The Naked City. Yes Virginia, there was a golden time when great writing and really fine acting made TV such a pleasure to watch.
Back then producers had much more time to develop characters and situations because an hour show like The Naked City had far fewer interruptions for commercials. An hour show really was pretty close to an hour.
Every time I watch an episode of this fine program I am reminded of just how much change has not been kind to TV. Now a days it's really hard to find good writing and good acting on prime time TV. Constant interruptions for commercials and flashy graphics have distracted us from developing plot lines that people can relate to. The stories in The Naked City were about real people in situations that almost anyone could relate to.
I Just finished watching a fine episode that featured Jack Warden and Carol O'Connor. O'Connor would go on to star in All In The Family but he was doing fine dramatic work in TV and movies long before that. And sadly, Jack Warden is still a name most people draw a blank on.
I love those dramatic shows from the 50s and 60s. You just don't see those kind of lovingly crafted shows anymore. Too bad....
The Party (1968)
Edwards Love Letter to Laurel and Hardy
It was well known that Blake Edwards was an enormous Laurel and Hardy fan. You can see it in the Pink Panther films. And no where in his work is that more evident than in The Party. The L & H influences and touches are everywhere. The running gag of the drunken waiter who speaks only one or two words in the entire film. The careful building of gag upon gag, each one funnier than the one before it. The reaction shots that top all the gags. The comedy of embarrassment. (Babe Hardy would be proud!) There are some funny lines for sure but the biggest laughs come from moments that feature no dialog at all. There is very little slapstick until the end. But the humor is visual and based on character just as the best stuff in Laurel and Hardy was. In my opinion the boys invented situation comedy. Television comedy owes a big debt to Laurel and Hardy. They probably don't even know it.
Today We Live (1933)
Glossy Train Wreck
Looks like MGM threw a lot of money and big stars at this and hoped for the best, thinking that the William Faulkner book would give it a prestige flavor.
It's possible that with some major script revisions and a different cast it might have worked. But in it's current state it more resembles a train wreck that you just can't turn your head away from. With it's stars and it's director, expectations are high. Just does not deliver.
My major problem with it is that 3 actors in the lead are supposed to be British. Looks like only a half-hearted effort was made by Crawford, Tone and Young to adopt an English accent. The result is some sort of hybrid that not only sounds unauthentic but succeeds in making their dialog almost impossible to understand.
One curious thing is that through almost all of it's running time there is no background music. Then towards the end at an emotional high point the sound of a solo piano is heard. Being a high class production you would expect to hear the legendary MGM orchestra. The score for the solo piano is so wrong for this scene that it makes me wonder "what were they thinking?"
Crawford does her best over-the-top emoting from start to finish trying desperately to breath some life into this, all for naught.
Cooper gives his characteristic laconic reading. Just about right for this part.
Tone is not given much chance to show what he can do here. He fools with his pipe a lot and sort of mumbles. (Pipes are a visual cue that shows the character to be British, right?)
Young never was much of an actor and never seemed to rise above the level of acting here through the rest of his career. He is just plain wrong here.
Maybe Howard Hawks knew early on that this one was going to be a railroad disaster and just sort of punched the clock to it's finish.
Waste your time on this one if you insist but in my opinion it is NOT an undiscovered jewel.
Men of the North (1930)
Gilbert Roland is hilarious!
I can only think of one reason to watch this. I had a ball watching Gilbert Roland in the role of a Frenchman. Roland was one of the silent screen's most well known Latin lovers. He does not even TRY to sound like a French speaking character. His strong accent is pure south of the border. Pretty funny stuff. Otherwise embarrassing to all concerned. Moves at a snails pace and once it gets there it just sort of lays down and dies. Directed by Laurel and Hardy's boss Hal Roach for MGM.
Early sound effort that just keeps on talking and talking and talking. The dialog is astoundingly stupid, even for it's day. Good luck with this one.
Quick Change (1990)
A comedy gem that should have been much more widely seen
This one is absolutely chocked full of accomplished writing, unforgettably comic performances, unexpectedly clever situations, and hilarious slapstick comedy.
It only slows when the script turns to unnecessary melodrama. Otherwise it's combination of witty dialog, drool understated delivery by Murray and fast pacing keep this a fascinating wild farce that surprises in almost every scene. Check out Philip Bosco as the anal retentive bus driver, Tony Shalhoub as the whacked out cab driver who because he cant speak a word of English must communicate in wild pantomime. There are so many fine comic performances that I tend to lose track of them.
Too bad it did not do better at the box office. Maybe it was ahead of it's time. Were it released today it might have had a better chance..
Don't debate, rent it on DVD and watch it over and over!
Strictly Dishonorable (1931)
Now Available On DVD and quite funny!
It's a real treat to watch Lewis Stone, who made a career out of playing fine upstanding men, play a drunken judge. He has the lion's share of very funny lines and takes. Sidney Fox is quite good, although I had a hard time understanding her lines from time to time. But overlooking everything a surprisingly memorable performance from Paul Lukas is turned in here. Lukas was playing against type here as a genial cultured gentleman who finally meets his match with women as he falls hopelessly in love with Sidney Fox. Is it love or is it lust? He does a great turn as a man whose old world charm, courtliness, and politeness collides with his sexual desire. He makes the most out of his part and is genuinely funny. For a man who played heavies and Nazi officers most of his career he must have really enjoyed this stretch.
The humor in this film holds up surprisingly well to this day. It was made at a time when sound technology was still finding it's way, I found myself laughing out loud. Wonderful writing by Preston Sturges!
Now available on DVD.
Dance Hall (1929)
Insight into sync problems...
Despite what is written in the trivia section, this film was not post dubbed. Picture and sound were recorded at the same time. Here is my theory on the reason for the out of sync sound and picture.
It was made at RKO which used the photophone system. Sync should not ordinarily be a problem. It probably was released in two versions: sound on film, and sound on disk. It was common practice at this time to do that because not every theater had sound on film projectors. The first system to be used was sound on disc. All of the Warner Bros releases until about 1930 to 1931 were made available to theaters on sound on disc first and latter on sound on film. My guess is that the print used for this video transfer was one that had no sound recorded on the film. The sound was probably only available on disc. Somehow during the transfer the disc and picture got out of sync. Or a disc may have been made from the original sound on film print. That process could have been very tricky in the early days of sound.
The recorded sound track was recorded very badly anyway. It is almost completely unintelligible. THis was also common at the time. The sync problems can be corrected by anyone with some editing software on a computer, but it is such a terrible film that I can't imagine anyone wanting to do the job!
The Rains Came (1939)
Way ahead of it's time, beautiful cinematography
Much of what I have to say about this film has already been said, so I will not repeat it. Here are some (I think) original thoughts.
If this film were released a year before or a year after 1939 I am guessing it would have swept the Oscars. Being released the same year as "Gone With The Wind" kept that from happening. The one Oscar it won (for best special effects) was richly deserved. In fact, the effects in GWTW during the burning of Atlanta are no where near as good. Way ahead of it's time.
In fact, I think the entire film was ahead of it's time by at least 20 years. The black and white cinematography made a major contribution to the overall emotional impact. Very creative use of lighting, and each frame is like a painting. It should have gotten the Oscar for that.
The direction and the acting was subtle and very layered. I was especially impressed by the staging of the Myrna Loy's character's death. Most of the Hollywood death scenes at that time involve the character closing his eyes and turning his head. Very heavy handed and not very realistic. I will not spoil it for you but watch how understated it is. Occasionally the acting is over the top, but as a whole it is restrained and totally right for the material.
Music is used sparingly unlike GWTW where it is wall to wall. Don't get me wrong, I love the music in that film and it is just right for it. But in The Rains Came a lighter touch is called for. And it gets it.
It seemed that everyone involved in this was aware that it would be released the same year as GWTW and knew that this film had to be on a par with it. GWTW was pretty much of it's time but The Rains Came was a preview of how great films would be made in the 1950's and 1960's.
The only thing that did not ring true for me was the casting of Tyrone Power as an Indian native. Even with the dark make-up he is just plain wrong. Add to that that he does not even attempt an accent! Everyone else seems just right. Newcomer Brenda Joyce is particularly good and stunningly beautiful as well.
The idea of casting a love story (2 love stories really) against significant events in history was not original even in 1939, but I can think of only a few films that did it better. One of those was A Passage to India, a film that echos the style and setting of The Rains Came.
I wish someone would do a remake of this. I think the material begs for it.
A very unusual production for it's time and well worth a look. I could even see it as being made in say 1963. Very modern and polished.