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Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
A truly crazy and zany effort by The Beatles
Somehow a print of this film was obtained by a cinema in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, about 1970 or so, just three years after it had been shown on British television. I eagerly went to a midnight showing of it, as "Magical Mystery Tour" had never received a general release in theaters across America or on television. There we were, a sophisticated audience of international university students, laughing hysterically and some were even falling into the aisles unable to get up from the floor. Of course, some of the audience were stoned. I was completely sober, and found the audience reaction to be the funniest thing about the movie. It seemed as if everyone realized The Beatles were deliberately trashing their own circa-1964 wholesome image while making fun of traditional concepts of entertainment. For example, the "Your Mother Should Know" number is a satire of Hollywood musicals and dancing girls. The sillier this movie got, and the poorer the editing and sound quality became, the more the audience roared with laughter. They knew it was complete trash, but the feeling seemed to be that it was honest trash at the same time. The Beatles had always been known for speaking their minds, whether it was discussing Jesus Christ and rock music or complaining about U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam. So young people tended to respect their honesty and odd sense of humor. The movie was like an early version of the Monty Python comedy show ..... utter nonsense, but fun and zany nonetheless. I actually liked the songs in it, even though there was no rhyme or reason for them to be placed where they had been inserted into the picture. It is easy to see why it was misunderstood and panned when shown on British TV during the Christmas holiday season .... it was clearly not what was expected at the time by the general public.
Ship of Fools (1965)
A quality offering from mid-1960's Hollywood
This magnificent picture shows that Hollywood could still produce a story with great depth and sophistication, even though it is not a big-ticket musical, during the era of juvenile beach movies in Technicolor. Important matters are intelligently discussed here, nicely adapted from an acclaimed novel. Superb acting and memorable characters abound. It is poignant to see Oskar Werner's character die from a heart attack, knowing that in real life he would perish from the same ailment. Vivien Leigh is wonderful in her final cinematic performance. Simone Signoret is likewise breathtaking in her usual sublime manner. The black and white cinematography and art direction justly deserved their Oscar wins. Some might say that the film could have been edited down or have a faster pace, but I think it was right to keep the substance and minor details in it. The theme music is haunting. It all adds up to a satisfying whole.
Yellow Submarine (1968)
Fantastic animated film
I consider myself fortunate to have seen "Yellow Submarine" in London right after its world premiere in July 1968. I was a young teenager at the time, and my father had brought my sister, brother, and me to Europe for our first visit. The picture was showing at a large cinema called the London Pavilion in the heart of Piccadilly Circus, and The Beatles themselves had attended the opening just a few days before. It was great to see this movie on a big screen with a good sound system. We loved the music and vivid colors. When we saw it again in Boston a few months later, we were angry that the "Hey Bulldog" number and a few other bits had been cut to reduce viewing time. I think the "Eleanor Rigby" number is best. The animated montage shown during the "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" number was partly taken from the 1933 Hollywood musical "Dancing Lady" and in 2006 I saw this old film on Turner Classic Movies, instantly bringing back memories of "Yellow Submarine." The girl on the merry-go-round horse was none other than the leading actress Joan Crawford .... who was beautiful indeed in 1933, despite becoming a horror much later. No wonder John Lennon's character in the cartoon liked her so much in his psychedelic dream!
Hello, Dolly! (1969)
Somewhat overblown musical, but still excellent and entertaining
This film was certainly beautiful to look at and listen to. I was lucky to see it in 70 mm during its initial roadshow release. It was one of the few movies to have the negative actually filmed in 70 mm, rather than having the standard 35 mm merely blown up to 70 mm for the roadshow. "The Sound of Music" was another picture originally filmed in 70 mm, and we all know how beautiful the cinematography was in that. Sadly, the high cost of 70 mm has essentially ended the use of that type of film format.
"Hello, Dolly!" deserved the Oscars it won, such as musical direction, sound, and art direction-set design. About 15 years ago I stopped in the riverside village of Garrison, New York, to see where it was partially filmed. The real building that was adapted into Vandergelder's Hay & Feed was still there at the time, and "Vandergelder" was etched on the window pane from its use in the film. The bridge over the railway tracks is still there.
As much as I like the film as a whole, it does have some problems that could have been easily corrected. The early scene with Walter Matthau and Tommy Tune arguing over Ermengarde is overly dramatic and simply too theatrical. It might have been fine on Broadway, but the genre of cinema requires a bit of toning down. I blame this purely on Gene Kelly, the director, who should have known better. He is the one who is supposed to sense the pacing and delivery of lines. I get the impression he was trying to speed things up, knowing that there is a lot to fit into the picture. The screenplay was naturally required to closely follow the original material, but it could have been simplified a bit without sacrificing anything important. An example of this is the endless number of times that the audience is reminded that the main characters are going "to New York" by train. Once was enough.
Still, the music and choreography are superb, and carry the picture. Not everyone in it can sing as beautifully as Barbra Streisand, but it succeeds nonetheless. The number "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" is one of Hollywood's golden moments in terms of production quality. I have seen Carol Channing do the stage version and she was great, but I also feel that Barbra Streisand was perfectly adequate here. She can sing better than Ms. Channing and has real star quality.
If you visit the interesting Hudson River area of New York state, you will be warmly reminded of the scenic beauty in "Hello, Dolly!" Drop by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to take the public tour and you will see the magnificent setting where the final wedding scene was done, minus the church of course.
A superb piece of light entertainment
I was 13 when I saw The Beatles in this film, at a downtown theater in Denver, Colorado. It was right after the movie was released in America, in August 1965. I remember the audience loved it, laughing hard. The photography was great. We stayed to see it twice that day. In 1966 I was lucky to attend a live Beatles concert in Boston.
Sure, the plot of Help! is silly. However, compare this British film with an American film during 1965, "Beach Blanket Bingo," starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Both movies were aimed at the same youth market. Beach Blanket Bingo is forgettable, ridiculous tripe whereas Help! is a much more sophisticated and sublime form of humor. The music in Help! is much better as well. The colorful settings keep the action moving. Certainly, this was just another vehicle for The Beatles to showcase their many talents. But it succeeded, more than "Magical Mystery Tour" in 1967.
The Jolson Story (1946)
Very enjoyable and memorable film
I bought the DVD and listened with a pair of high-quality headphones. What I thought was going to be average monaural sound turned out to be fantastic stereo surround sound, with the original singing voice of Al Jolson coming across magnificently ..... and all long before Dolby this and Dolby that. I later read somewhere that the stereo treatment may have resulted from a re-release of the film in the 1950's. All I can say is it sounded great and deserved its Oscar win for Best Sound. The color cinematography also deserved its nomination from the Academy. All in all, great acting and story development, even if not completely accurate as a biography. I had only seen Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer," but Larry Parks seems to have pulled off the mannerisms quite well and exuberantly, too. Watching this interesting film makes it very clear why Al Jolson was so well loved and admired as an entertainer throughout the world. Every young person should see this film in order to appreciate what came before in the world of musical entertainment -- from minstrel shows to vaudeville and the advent of the "talkies."
The superb musical numbers "A Quarter To Nine" and "She's A Latin From Manhattan" were actually in the 1935 film "Go Into Your Dance," in which Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler starred together. To my astonishment that film is not available on DVD yet, but apparently can be seen on cable TV via Turner Classic Movies. It would be really interesting to see how close the musical numbers in "The Jolson Story" copied the original treatments in "Go Into Your Dance."
"The Jolson Story" seems to end suddenly and rather unexpectedly, and I felt the director and screenwriter should have added a bit more emotion and drama to the climax of having Julie Benson (as Ruby Keeler) walking out on Al Jolson. You have the feeling that you want the film to continue at that point, rather than end. This was perhaps planned that way. The sequel, "Jolson Sings Again," is also an excellent film.
The Graduate (1967)
A true classic film for the 1960's generation
What memorable characters and vivid portrayals by all concerned! It was the summer of love and a time for questioning traditional values. 1967 California is perfectly captured in this charming comedy. Who can ever forget Mrs. Robinson or the final hilarious scenes in the church and bus? Many do not realize that the introspective folk rock songs of Simon & Garfunkel had already been established hits before being adapted into this soundtrack.
In 1967 there had been race riots in Detroit and a few other cities, a prelude to worse riots that would come in 1968. At the end of the year the Academy gave the Best Picture Oscar to "In the Heat of the Night." I suspect they felt it was the politically correct thing to do. However, the Best Director award was rightfully given to Mike Nichols of "The Graduate." Usually those two awards go hand in hand, so therefore I think "The Graduate" might have won Best Picture if not for the racial tension in the nation.
Modern Times (1936)
A modern film with the style of a classic silent picture
The most amazing thing to me about this famous film is the way Charlie Chaplin so ably duplicates the style of one of his earlier silent pictures. He knew all too well how fast the future was coming up, and how cinema had changed with the advent of sound recording. Like many, he feared mechanization and modern industry. He knew that his legendary Tramp character had to be put to bed, so he decided to go out in style. The picture is a tribute not only to The Tramp as a cinematic icon, but a showcase for Chaplin's truly varied talents as actor, writer, and director.
To go without sound when you don't have to do so is a mark of true class. Chaplin reminds us of how much we can rely on visual information to understand a story. The quick close-ups, tight edits, and the slightly exaggerated, histrionic scenes with Paulette Goddard are a stunning and pleasurable flashback to the simple melodramatic silent films of earlier years. It is sophisticated and serious despite the hilarious scenes. It was almost as if Chaplin wanted to remind modern film audiences that pictures of the silent era are an entirely separate genre from the "talkies." The closing scene, with the two leads walking off down the road, is elegaic and touching. I simply cannot understand why the Academy did not recognize the artistry that went into so many components of this picture. However, this oversight was made up later by the well-deserved lifetime achievement award for Chaplin.
Interesting postwar British film
I was lucky to see this memorable film in a prominent downtown Boston cinema when it first was released in America. It got good reviews and was much talked about at the time. I happened to be a young student in an all-boys Jesuit private secondary school, so I could relate somewhat to the setting of the film. My school did not have whippings, however. I remember laughing out loud when the big gun was brought out by The Girl at the end for the shooting scene, and of course this was years before the tragic school shootings in both the USA and Europe.
Many New Englanders look up to British society. Anglophiles would frequently compare notes on various social issues between America and the United Kingdom, and find the USA wanting in some respects. That is why it amused me to watch this film and see young people being angry with their state of affairs. It seemed, to an American at least, that Britons should be happy to be growing up in postwar England with all the supposed benefits of the cradle-to-grave welfare state. What did they have to complain about? It seemed then that young Americans had good reasons to fight over the Vietnam War, but I tended to feel that Britain in 1968 was a near-perfect place to live. Now that I am older and have visited Britain many times, I naturally have a better understanding of the complexities and class problems in the UK. Perhaps this film was one of the first to question things considered sacred.
Grease 2 (1982)
Not really that bad a sequel
If this movie seems corny, remember it was deliberately designed to be that way .... this is an example of Hollywood's dumbing down of our collective memories of the 1950's and 1960's. At times the film does not look like it is set in the early 1960's, and some of the musical numbers seem to be more in keeping with the 1980's. However, the Hawaiian luau sequence was perfect for the silly innocence of the times before President Kennedy was assassinated.
I thought Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield were both attractive leads, even if their singing and dancing abilities are limited. As I never was too keen on the original Grease, that is why I was not very disappointed with Grease 2, as many apparently are.