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Sinbad, the Sailor (1947)
I loved this adult comedy!
Don't look for derring-do, monsters, or any of the other usual trappings of the usual swashbuckler. This is not a usual film; rather, it's a very funny satire of the pirate movie and -- if you listen -- is very interesting! Sinbad is forever questioning his heritage until he reaches Dariabar; Shireen doesn't believe anything he says until she realizes that he really is Sinbad; she too has heard the legends of the fabulous sailor with whom she is truly in love. Melik and the Emir are interested only in gold -- as true villains are! The asides are hilarious; the dialogue is very well written. It's beautifully filmed -- the colors are wonderful as are the costumes and settings, and the acting is just right. I thoroughly recommend it!
The Trojan Women (1971)
Classic Tragedy Classically Produced and Performed
You must understand the form of classical tragedy to appreciate truly this film. Then you will see that Cacoyannis does, his four major actresses do, and the rest of his cast do, right down to the boy who plays Redgrave's son.
The four actresses have tragic arias -- there is no better word for it -- that they play magnificently. One always knows what is going on in this film because the text is translated so perfectly; the direction is so clear; and the actors play directly to that text. All are brilliant.
Don't look for special effects; there are none. Greek tragedy needed none. There are no chariot chases, no blowing up of the Parthenon as two smart-assed "detectives" grin and compliment each other, no two heroines outwitting all the police in the district and end up driving their chariot into a handy canyon. Sorry, gang, the play's the thing here -- and what a play and how well it is produced and performed.
If you love classics -- text, acting, and production, don't miss this one for any reason!
The Children's Hour (1961)
The Power of a Lie
This film, "The Children's Hour," stunned me when I first saw it in 1961. Now, 45 years later, it still has that power because of not only the superior performances of all involved but also the power of John Michael Hayes's screenplay, which is equally strong, and William Wyler's fantastic direction.
I am happy for Lillian Hellman's memory that the producers didn't make the same mistake that Paramount Pictures made when they originally filmed it -- a true sellout of an author and her excellent stage play -- as "These Three." Avoid that trinket at all costs!!
Audrey Hepburn is remarkable as she plays one of the most difficult roles of her career. Never has Shirley Maclaine controlled her performance as well as she does in this film. James Garner is superb as a powerless dupe, the kind of role that he never played! Especially applauded also should be Fay Bainter as the wealthy woman whose spoiled, lying granddaughter causes the trouble and who, because she is drawn into the lie, goes through hell as the result of her subsequent actions. The scenery-chewing performance usually given by Miriam Hopkins, who played MacLaine's role in "These Three" and now plays MacLaine's trouble-causing aunt, has been wonderfully curtailed and controlled by director William Wyler. Karen Balkin plays the lying child so completely; the role was created brilliantly in "These Three" by Bonita Granville; Balkin lives up to Granville's standard in this version.
"The Children's Hour" is a magnetic, totally absorbing powerhouse of a film. If you haven't seen it, don't miss it. If you have seen it, renew your acquaintance with it. You will never be disappointed by it.
The Flesh Is Weak (1957)
One or two performances in this story of prostitution and the pimps behind it made this an interesting film. The United States hadn't seen such a blatant tale with such a good cast before; this is why this film caught the attention of the viewers. The writing was terse and pointed; the black-and-white cinematography made the picture riveting in much of its running time. The direction of the film is excellent and always tasteful.
Certainly, nothing in John Derek's film history gave a hint that he even knew what a pimp was, nor had he played a villain before. His performance was slick and believable. Milly Vitale had played completely sympathetic roles in the films for which U.S. audience knew her -- "War and Peace" and "The Seven Little Foys" -- but roles that amounted to nothing, so her performance in this small, dark film was a welcome surprise.
The remainder of the company -- Martin Benson, Freda Jackson, Patricia Jessel, Shirley Ann Field, and others -- were slightly known here at this time, later to make their superior talents known both on stage and screen; in this film, their contributions are very welcome!
A good British film and a better use of these actors' talents than American cinema gave them!
Goodbye, My Fancy (1951)
It Is Not Joan!
While this picture ranks as a pretty heady Joan Crawford fantasy, this picture is NOT Joan! It is, however, Joan as she wanted to be seen -- younger than her peer Clara Bow, glamorous, caring about mothers and constituents and others, and hopelessly romantic. Truth be known, her only care for others was for her fans -- that they continued to write her, to adore her, to idolize what they believed to be her! Only one other reviewer tells the truth about the tawdry life of Joan before she was 18; none tells of the continuance of that life when she embarked on Hollywood and had her three or four careers there.
That same reviewer, incidentally, is the only one who mentions that "Goodbye, My Fancy" was a hit play before it fell into the clutches of La Crawford, so while its premise and material might be heady for behind-the-times Hollywood, Broadway and the "road" had seen and enjoyed the play for a while before Hollywood tackled it! The 6-star rating is for the fact that this Crawford epic is meatier than the films-about-nothing that she usually made!
While Robert Young played the usual stalwart, faceless, and characterless version of Robert Young that he usually played, and while Eve Arden managed to steal every scene in which she appeared -- even if only in the background -- no one mentions the name of the real man in the film, the really masculine character and actor who could more than handle La Crawford: Frank Lovejoy! He waited in the background, as he says, until she stops playing Little Nell from the Country and comes back to Earth! He and Arden are easily the best actors -- and give the best performances -- in the film.
"Goodbye, My Fancy" is better for these two actors, for the rest of the supporting cast, and for the production values than its two stars -- Crawford and Young, in case you forgot -- deserved!
The Long Gray Line (1955)
Beautiful, Offbeat Story!
This beautiful, offbeat story offered Tyrone Power a chance to show new facets of his acting ability -- especially in comedy -- to his audience: He is funny, very warm and tender, a masterful but understanding leader, and a man so embedded in family traditions that fitting into West Point -- which reeks with tradition -- is a natural for him.
He and Maureen O'Hara play off each other as if they'd been doing it for years. O'Hara also, by the way, gets a rare chance at this point in her career to show her comedic talents, and her brilliant performance makes obvious the reason why John Ford adopted her as a favorite and a member of his stock company.
The supporting cast -- for the most part -- measures up to the very high standards set by the leads, especially Donald Crisp, Ward Bond, O'Hara's brother Charles Fitzsimons, and the huge cast of excellent young actors who play so many cadets, well known and otherwise. The only fly in the ointment is the completely wooden but very pretty Robert Francis, whose film career was extremely short and totally undistinguished by any acting at all.
"The Long Gray Line" is a film worth seeing again and again!!!