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Juno and the Paycock (1930)
There's no poor and miserable like Irish poor and miserable
Gee, maybe that's not fair. Maybe it's just that the Irish have a better heritage of articulating hard times. "Juno and The Paycock" is the epitome of tales of woe and suffering from the Irish urban poor during The Troubles of the early 20th century. The family has all the stereotypical travails: Joblessness due to alcoholism, joblessness due to labor union strikes, involvement with the Republican Army, and all these problems fall across the shoulders of the long-suffering mother, Juno.
If such a thing can be imagined, it gets worse. The family believes they will fall into some money, so they (foolishly) run up debts. This begins the 'comic' part of the film's tragi-comedy structure. When hopes prove to be false the family is devastated.
A relentlessly downbeat story that sees an interlude of clearly false hopes followed by a tragic ending, is considered a chestnut of the Irish playwright Sean O'Casey. For viewers, anyone who can't understand the thick Irish brogues on the equipment used in an early talkie will have no chance to understand the dialogue.
Worst of all the nature of the story really doesn't suit the talents of even a young Alfred Hitchcock. Even by that point in his career, he had begun to make compelling suspense pictures and this film is not in his wheelhouse. Even taking exception for budget and circumstances that would have obligated him to take on this film as an early sound project, "Juno and The Paycock" does little to distinguish the work of Sean O'Casey and even less for Hitchcock. It should be avoided, even by Hitchcock completists.
Here We Go Again (1942)
Weaker than the first of the series
The first movie with Fibber McGee & Molly, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, and The Great Gildersleeve was "Look Who's Laughing". It was a cute little outing set in the FM & M hometown of Wistful Vista. This one is one too many. The plot is a little too contrived and the scenes uninspired, even by the relaxed standards of a cheap movie inspired by a radio sitcom.
The early scene as Fibber McGee and Molly try to enjoy a second honeymoon at a shabby lakeside resort and the scenes as Bergen & McCarthy try to camp out in the country are good. Other than that, the rest is "strictly from hunger" as the saying used to go. It's a brisk tale about how the McGees want to take the rest of their second honeymoon at a nicer resort than they can afford, so they run up a bill they can't pay. Then Molly's ex-boyfriend offers a way out: help him sell an investment in a synthetic gasoline concoction to Edgar Bergen.
Above all, the pacing of the film is way too harsh. Beyond that, the musical sequences are lame and the closing chase is perfunctory. This is clearly a cheap cash-in sequel.
That said, some will enjoy it. It's wholesome entertainment and will be well-received by most of those who are into the original radio characters. But those who like "Look Who's Laughing" will probably find this to be a weak follow-up.
I'm of two minds about this movie...
Basically it's about several different strippers that are gearing up to participate in a competition at a stripper convention in Las Vegas. The documentary filmmakers follow the girls, get their back story, and watch how things turn out for them at the big show.
In many ways, it prefigures a lot of the "reality" TV stuff that would come out twenty years later. The hook is to develop rooting interests in each of the contestants and see how it all unfolds.
To that end, "Stripper" has both good points and bad points. The good is that the production values are high and it is moderately entertaining to get invested in the dancers' ambitions. It could have been much more exploitative but tries gamely to be, well, a documentary. To a point, it succeeds. The bad is that, like much reality-based drama, many of the scenes feel manufactured and staged for the cameras. The final competition might just as well have been assembled for the purpose of making this film.
A fair amount is superficial and can't be taken seriously. It's the softest of the soft core porn, so those looking for arousal should look elsewhere. But there's more than a glimmer of entertainment and human insight to be had, especially considering that this was done a generation before every empty-souled schnook looking for attention went on reality shows and both producer and viewer alike knew what to expect.
This film does it well back before people started doing it poorly.
Bits and Bytes (1983)
There was a time when people didn't fully understand the potential of computers, or the potential for everyday people (not electrical engineers) to get something out of them. I oughta know, I remember watching this show on PBS in Chicago in about 1984.
Parts of it were dumbed down, but I guess that could be considered 'user-friendly'. The animated sections of the shows spelled out some of the processes and how it all worked in greater detail, while the live-action sections were structured as "teacher" Luba Goy told middle-aged layman Billy Van what computers did and how to get the most out of them. Suffice it to say, Billy Van's initial diffidence always changed to wonderment and enthusiasm over the course of each show.
It would be hopelessly dated from a technological standpoint today but some parts illustrate basics that still haven't changed, and it was excellent viewing for the generation that shaped what computing is today.
Love Happy (1949)
A sad outing
"Love Happy" is the last film to feature appearances from Groucho, Chico, and Harpo Marx, but it hardly stands as a Marx Brothers film. It was originally conceived as a vehicle for Harpo alone, and Groucho's contribution is basically tacked-on, a series of voice overs and a few isolated scenes. In earlier Marx Brothers films, the juvenile love interests had more going for them, but in "Love Happy" they come across as downbeat losers. The young lovers are trying to mount an off-Broadway play but don't have the money they need. But Harpo stumbles across the priceless diamond necklace that an exotic femme fatale has sought, and he gets caught up in the intrigue that follows.
The film was very cheaply made and it shows. There are a few signs of life but the brothers all look terribly over-the-hill and none of the other actors are suitable distractions. (Raymond Burr isn't bad as hired goon for the exotic broad) Except, of course, for the very young Marilyn Monroe who had little more than a cameo but lights up the screen for the little time she's involved. It's the only reason to really consider watching "Love Happy".
Murder on the Blackboard (1934)
A gem of a programmer
This is a quintessential 'Late Show' movie, a low-key murder mystery with charming character actors in service to a mild plot. Edna May Oliver is the keystone of the picture, an elementary school teacher with a taste for adventure in murder mysteries. "Murder On The Blackboard" is a sequel to another Edna May Oliver-James Gleason picture so the characters are already well established. The pacing is brisk and the plot is well assembled, making for an enjoyable film.
One problem for viewers might be the C&C Movietime version of this film. That version has the first half-hour cut out, which saves time but butchers the narrative. Those who pick up the thread with Oliver's character searching for the body are missing about thirty minutes of important exposition.
Regardless of the editing, this is an amusing comic murder mystery deserving of your attention.
Free and Easy (1930)
Better as a historical curio rather than straight entertainment
This was basically the beginning of the end for Keaton. The end of the silent era meant an end to Keaton's ability to make pictures with his own production company. He was more or less obligated to sign a contract with Hollywood's deep-pocketed assembly line, Metro Goldwyn Mayer.
They had little idea of how to handle his style of film-making and certainly weren't about give him wide latitude to do as he pleased. He got pressed into a facile, 'utility-infielder of comedy' series of roles. "Free and Easy" was the archetype for what would follow: Buster plays a naive and wimpy country bumpkin on the loose in the big city (in this case, Hollywood) with hilarity expected to ensue in slapstick mixups. The film is undistinguished solely as entertainment.
MGM's low regard for the project -- evinced by low production values -- makes a virtue of necessity. A not inconsiderable number of studio contract players and directors (Fred Niblo, Lionel Barrymore) are pressed into service, leaving several scenes to feel almost like a behind the scenes home movie. A toothless jape authorized by studio executives.
"Free & Easy" was successful enough to give MGM brass the excuse they wanted to believe they had found Keaton's wheelhouse as a talkie comedian. Keaton responded passive-aggressively with a level of effort befitting the quality of the productions. His personal problems, a bad marriage contributing to increasing alcoholism, only made things worse.
On the upside, 'Free and Easy' has some nice elements; Late-career appearances by Karl Dane and William Haines, Lionel Barrymore directing, a lovely Dorothy Sebastian, and Trixie Friganza as her evil stagemother.
A truly underrated classic
This is a show that I would have loved to see find a wider audience here in the U.S.. There's definitely an audience for it; it covers a lot of the same ground that 'Frasier' did. But 'Agony' has more drama to it, and emphasis on the kind of real-life heartache that doesn't come from grand, tragic events but from the slow drifting apart caused by a relationship that just isn't enough.
Jane Lucas, advice columnist, is supposed to have the answers. Then one day, her husband announces he's leaving. Now she's at a loss. Over the next few seasons, she grows and learns more about herself coping with the job of being the one people turn to for advice while proceeding the best way she knows how, with help from friends and family.
The final episode and the resolution between Jane and her on-again-off-again estranged husband Laurence is a true gem. Had it been a U.S. production it would have stood as one of the great finales of its decade. It had, in just a few seasons, much more wit, insight, and real understanding about adult relationships than you'd ever find in trash like 'Sex & The City'. Perhaps some clever executives at BBC or wherever will find this show a rightful home on DVD.
Strangers All (1935)
I had low expectations for this one -- It looked like another garden variety 'suffering mother' weeper. Indeed it was but it was a rather well done 'suffering mother' weeper. May Robson, who has a history of hit or miss projects, acquits herself well as the beleaguered mother in question, Anna. She's got four grown kids: Murray, the eldest, is hardworking and responsible. He and his fiancée Frances run a clothing store to support the family. Dick, the aspiring actor, is immature, selfish, and petulant. The third son Lewis is a socialist crank. And the daughter Lily was seeing a local lawyer, but is away at school and not responding to her boyfriend's letters.
This movie rises on the strength of good emotional performances from Robson as the eternally sacrificing mother and William Bakewell's turn as the frankly loathsome heel of a son, Dick. Robson can go from pathetic to raging in the blink of an eye, always authentic as the mother who loves and maybe loves too much. Bakewell's sniveling manipulator does a great job of making the audience hate him.
I won't spoil the story except to say that all three sons have lives that need attention from Anna and lead into conflict with one another. The writing that leaves the path to the outcome in doubt and taut pacing makes this one engaging. Final word: Dated, and with low production values, but worth seeking out.
Down to Their Last Yacht (1934)
Interesting but not so bizarre as other comments would indicate
As noted in other comments for this film, this one starts out looking like a typical 1930s screwball comedy about high society but changes course quickly. The story takes several sharp left turns into becoming a musical farce set in a Polynesian island kingdom. Of particular delight is Mary Boland's shabby-glamorous queen and her manservant in tattered livery. The two romantic leads are undistinguished, particularly the male. But any film with Ned Sparks deserves some credit, and the musical numbers aren't as tedious as many others of the period were. It's a curious affair, made all the more startling by the film's rapid pacing, but I feel I must say that other comments make "Down To Their Last Yacht" sound like something from the avant-garde. In truth it's no more 'out there' than W.C. Fields' "Million Dollar Legs" or some of Wheeler & Woolsey's more absurdist work. Not a classic, but certainly worth watching if you come across it.