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Grand Central Murder (1942)
Short and sweet.
This little B-movie mystery is a real charmer. It's gives us a clever twist on the traditional who- done-it by telling the story in flashbacks after the murder has taken place. Witty script, great casting and interesting look at train-travel of yore. It provides a preview of the type of roles that several future famed character-actors will fill. Namely: the always entertaining Sam Levene, the near-comic cop of Millard Mitchell, the handsome and dark heavy of Stephen McNally and the usually, and unfortunately under-used Virgina Grey. The main reason for the 10 is because of the aforementioned cigar-smoking maid of Gilchrist's and her brief appearance as a dancing and (yes) singing showgirl. Go Connie! A definite must-see.
Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940)
I was prompted to write this when I read an AOL feature (18 Feb./08)asking for favorite filmed dance sequences. "Broadway Melody of 1940" was not on the list. I couldn't let that stand. The very elaborate "Begin the Beguine" number is one of the greatest dance sequences ever filmed. And dig that black shiny floor. The "Jukebox" number is pretty damn good too. Powell keeps up with Astair's tapping like no one else. She's not as beautiful nor as talented an actress as Rogers, but what a dancer. It was once considered a great compliment when Astair said about Powell: "She can pick em up and lay em down as good as a man." The movie itself doesn't have the charm and wit of the Astair/Rogers collaborations, but if you like dancing, "Broadway Melody" is a definite Must-See. (The version shown in one of the MGM "That's Entertainment" series is heavily edited---skip it. Watch the original. You'll thank me.)
Review RE: Cinderella
Brilliant wit and clever exposition abound in the screenplays of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, and are nowhere more plentiful than in the Cinderella inspired, MIDNIGHT (1938). This often overlooked charmer was the first hit in their long and immensely successful collaboration that ended in 1950 with their Academy Award winning SUNSET BOULEVARD. Among their many other screenplays are such milestones as NINOTCHKA, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE LOST WEEKEND, another Academy Award winner, and BALL OF FIRE, another flirtation with fairy tales, wherein seven eccentric professors protect a far from innocent Snow White, Barbara Stanwyck.
In MIDNIGHT, Claudette Colbert, a down-on-her-luck, but street-smart chorus girl, believes wealth, not love, guarantees happiness. (Brackett and Wilder definitely liked tough gals.) Though attracted to smitten taxi driver, Don Ameche, she rejects his entreaties. Fleeing from him, she meets John Barrymore who convinces her to help end the affair between his chic wife, Mary Astor, and playboy Frances Lederer. To show Astor that her lover is only after money, the wealthy Barrymore, like a fairy godfather, makes Colbert appear as an alluring, even wealthier prey: a Baroness. The wicked sisters are recast in the form of the unfaithful wife, and her friend Rex O'Malley-obviously a fairy of another kind. Barrymore's plan works, and Lederer's attention begins to drift toward Colbert. Angered, Astor enlists O'Malley's aid in finding a way to shatter her lover's idealization of Colbert. Believing they've discovered the truth, the 'girls' get ready to expose Colbert as a phony. At a grand ball, Colbert (looking every inch a Baroness in her very Cinderella-ish gown) expects the worse. However, the wicked plans are foiled when Ameche appears and, going along with the subterfuge, verifies her identity by claiming to be her husband: the Baron. Now, with the entire cast assembled, the disentanglement begins and leads to the fairy tale ending, but without a stroke-of-midnight fall from grace. Instead, the dénouement is a ride of hilarious high style farce involving more deception, misunderstandings, accusations of insanity, and finally a court trial, presided over by a befuddled Monty Woolly; this elaborate finale provides a lot more fun than a simple coach to pumpkin routine would have allowed.
The entire cast performs flawlessly, but Astor and O'Malley (rumored to have been the lover of director Leisen) deserve special mention. As the antagonist, Astor mixes vulnerability with comic bitchiness so well; we never dislike her, and cheer her reconciliation with Barrymore. The number of O'Malley's appearances in film is woefully small, as is the size of the roles; he would more often qualify as a bit-player than a character actor. That's too bad, because his appealing friend-of-the-family homosexual in MIDNIGHT has none of the acrimony or overplaying found in so many of the typical queer-types of the period.
Production values are high. Hans Drier and Robert Usher's art direction and A. E. Freudeman's set décor are about as good as it gets. Frederick Hollander, who later composed the scores for Wilder's A FOREIGN AFFAIR and SABRINA, is in top romantic form for MIDNIGHT. ~ Ed LaMance ~ New York City