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Copper Sky (1957)
How Not to Edit a Film
I think there is a real problem here with what could have been a real 'sleeper' - a modest, but potentially good, film. That problem is the continuity. This movie has a thrown together look, with scenes that don't match, and with dialog that is sometimes spoken as if some climax is about to happen, but never does.
I loved Jeff Morrow in this - he seems to be in a completely different (and better) picture than most of the rest of the cast. Colleen Gray is very pretty, but why is she all dolled up and coiffed in a 1950s beehive-type hairdo if she's out in the Wild West? In typical Hollywood style, no matter what befalls her, her lipstick never smears.
The actors are called upon to suffer many hardships, and one minute they are walking in the desert, and the next they are walking next to a stream near some woods, and how they got there is never accounted for. I couldn't keep track of when they had a wagon and horse, and when they didn't. Events sometimes seem to unfold backwards.
That isn't the actors fault. It's annoying, but it shouldn't detract from the performances, and the kernel of a good story that just never develops properly. It should lead the viewer to speculate about how this movie could have been a bit better. Maybe someone will remake it some day.
Little Fugitive (1953)
It's All There For Me
If you want to know the plot of this excellent little film, read all of the other very well put comments. All I want to say is: I was just a little younger than the Joey of this film when it was made. I lived in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn where he lived. I took the same train he took to get to Coney Island. At Coney Island, I did all the things he and his brother did (except ride the Parachute Jump - too scary, and anyway they stopped allowing small children on it soon afterwards -- too dangerous), including collecting empty bottles to return to food stands to get a little pocket change. I rode those very same ponies. I waded through those same Coney Island streets that got flooded every time it rained. It always makes my heart jump a little when Lenny is in the candy store and says "Give me a chocolate pop." He doesn't mean soda - in Brooklyn, a "pop" was ice cream on a stick (that's why a Popsicle is called a "Pop"sicle).
That is how we looked, that is how we talked, those are the games we played (BB guns were like forbidden fruit to city boys).
This film gets everything exactly right, in the most charming way, and I love it.
Sky High (2005)
This movie was a very pleasant surprise, and is an excellent example of what a family movie is supposed to be. It uses the clever metaphor of having to train to be a superhero to represent the trials and tribulations of getting through high school and growing up. Elements of Harry Potter and various comic books situations are very well incorporated.
The best part of this movie, in addition to the really good performances, especially by Michael Angarano, a very poised and skillful young actor, is the fact that it has enough in it to please viewers of all ages. The dialog is witty, and the family situations are realistic enough to please adults, there are enough teenage triumph, setbacks and romance to appeal to teens, and there is plenty of comic book style slapstick to delight children. I also liked the fact that the supporting players, notably Dave Foley and Kevin MacDonald, are silly, but actually very funny. Usually such roles are presented as 'throw-aways' for an easy laugh, but these two use their Kids in the Hall talents to make their scenes as significant as those of the lead actors.
This movie didn't get nearly enough publicity. It really is very, very good, and should be given enough support to become the classic it deserves to be.
Paris - When It Sizzles (1964)
You Had to Be There
This film seems to want to cash in on the genre that was so popular in the 1960s. Before the James Bond movies, anything to do with contemporary Europe in American films was either a musical or a noirish spy film. This movie reflects the big-screen, brightly colored and chock full of designer clothing look that was typical of the 60s. This was a time when movies were struggling to compete with color television, and the films got bigger, splashier, and took us to more and more exotic locations.
Paris When It Sizzles is very typical of the movies I remember from that time. It looks very much like the Pink Panther franchise, but it strives to be more sophisticated. I frankly think the direction and editing of the movie drag it down. There are is some very witty dialog ("how funny that we both kept giraffes!"), lots of in-jokes about the movie-making process, two very attractive stars (three if you count Tony Curtis in a supporting role), but it still drags more than it should. Except for Curtis, who is really funny and gets the tongue-in-cheek slant of the film just right, the rest seem to be laboring much too hard. The physical jokes (chase scenes, etc.) are overblown and generally go on too long. The whole look of the film seems heavy-handed when it should have been light and breezy. I have the impression this film was intended as farce, but it's more like that proverbial lead balloon. It's too bad, really. This could have been a lot funnier than it is. Nevertheless, Hepburn looks beautiful and soldiers on gamely, as she always did. Even if she did not enjoy making this movie, as has been reported, you wouldn't suspect it from her performance. She was the right choice for this role, but an actor never knows until she sees the final cut of a movie what it's going to look like. And yeah, I agree, that Dracula thing was pretty awful. Curtis' "Method" actor performance almost makes up for it. And what just what was Noel Coward doing in this picture, anyway? He's about as much of a Hollywood producer as Audrey Hepburn is Xena the Warrior Princess.
To really see how surreal farce was done right in the 1960s, I recommend the Beatles' "Help."
Clash by Night (1952)
Strong Situation, But Too Much Talk
Clifford Odets is one of our greatest playwrights, but this screenplay could have used some judicious editing. The dialog goes on and on, and in some scenes it sounds so stilted and unnatural, even though the characters are supposed to be 'real' people. Clash By Night was a Broadway play with Tallulah Bankhead in the lead - the action in that play took place in the fishing community of Staten Island, NY, rather than in California, as in this film.
Nevertheless, this is a good movie, and an adult one. A local woman who has broken off her romance with a married man comes home to the small fishing town in California to collect herself. She gets a really decent, simple guy to fall for her, marries him, and then regrets it. She starts an affair with the local slacker, who is an attractive, 'dangerous to know' type. Her intense agonizing over whether or not to leave her husband and their baby daughter is an indication that maybe she isn't as tough as she thought she was and, in the end she returns to her husband. That's basically the plot, but there is so much more to this film, most notably, the performances.
I think the fact this this movie was directed by Fritz Lang makes it a lot better than if it had been directed by some studio contract director. Although the dialog is so rambling, there is still the appropriate tension among the characters and the movie moves along pretty well. The extreme darkness of the look of the film is appropriate to its title and to the action, even though so much of that action takes place out of doors.
Stanwyck is just right as the tough woman with a conscience she didn't know she had. Ryan plays the character of doubtful morality he was so good at. Keith Andes, as Stanwyck's brother, was seen much more in TV roles, and he doesn't have much to do here but take his shirt off once in a while. Monroe is very sweet as the small town girl who just wants to be happy and be with her man, and is eager to have Stanwyck, who she admires, as her older sister. She is a contrast to Stanwyck's character, who was ambitious and grasping before she came home, and didn't really think she would be able to change. Paul Douglas is positively heart-breaking as the poor, clueless schnook who loves Stanwyck and who hero worships Ryan. The adoration in his face every time he looks at her, and the pride he takes in his friendship with Ryan's character, will make you cry. And when he finally pulls himself together and deals with the fact of his wife's adultery, you will cheer for him.
You can say that Stanwyck and her brother represent two kinds of couples, one who gets together for the wrong reasons, and one where the individuals are right for each other and know it.
"Let us be true to one another," says the Matthew Arnold poem from which the phrase Clash By Night is taken. It also helps, as Stanwyck's character learns, to be true to yourself.
Julius Caesar (1953)
They Did the Bard Proud
I think this is the best filming of a Shakespeare play, in terms of overall success. The filming is straightforward, with a minimum of distractions, cuts were made to the script to keep things moving, the dialog is clearly spoken, and the performances are terrific all around.
As just about every other comment here notes, if you only know Brando from The Godfather and some of his later, and sorrier films, you will be amazed and impressed by his Marc Antony. This is the Brando that I remember, buff, gorgeous and so talented that we were sure he could play just about any part and blow us away. His performance of the famous "Friends, Romans, countrymen" speech is a marvel of clarity, and is the linchpin that makes all of the other action of the play make sense.
James Mason is, I think, perfect as Brutus. He is very much like Shakespeare's Hamlet - mulling over every possible facet of every problem he faces, and agonizing to reach a decision. He was a master at portraying a person's ability, or inability, to reach a painful decision. The awesomeness of his responsibility and the consequences of his actions (after all, they are plotting to kill a king) are beautifully shown in his performance.
John Gielgud is my favorite Shakepearean actor. If you had ever had the privilege of seeing him on stage, you would have gotten the full force of his ability to control the character, the language, and to reach out and hold the audience all at the same time. It doesn't quite come across in this film, but I still think he shows that underneath Cassius' treason there is definitely an element of self-doubt and possibly shame at what he is about to do.
I have to disagree with most of the comments about Louis Calhern's Caesar. Several people have said that he didn't capture the majesty and military bearing that Julius Caesar would have had, but we have to remember that Shakespeare intended this as drama, not history. The whole point of the Roman senators' wish to get rid of Caesar is that he is no longer the Caesar they remember: he has become a smug, self-satisfied politician who thinks he is a king, while Rome is still a republic. I think Calhern captures this smarmy, oily, arrogant quality very well. Rome wanted a general, and this Caesar gave them a high-priced car salesman.
I own a copy of this film, and I watch it often. I think it would serve perfectly as an introduction to Shakespeare. By the way, I remember an anecdote related in the memoirs of John Houseman (the producer of this film). He said someone of importance in British theater (I now forget who - possibly it was Geilgud) had observed Brando's performance in the making of the film, and asked him to come to London to star in a Shakespeare festival. Brando said sorry, I can't. I have to get back to Nebraska to help my father get the crop in. Imagine if he had said yes.
About Mrs. Leslie (1954)
Booth Was a Great Actress
This is a silly, tear-jerker of a story, but interesting in spite of itself, the kind to help you pass a rainy day when you're feeling kind of blue.
However . . . . if anyone wants to know who was one of America's greatest actresses, they have only to watch Shirley Booth in this film. She was a very low-key, actually kind of dumpy-looking woman, with a not very pretty speaking voice, but she will keep your attention, amaze you, and break your heart. Even though she looks sort of like she could be Robert Ryan's mother, or at least his older sister, you don't have a moment's doubt that this tall, handsome leading man could fall for her and maintain a long-term relationship with her. She is luminous in her quiet way.
Booth did many stage plays, and to give you an idea of the heft of her acting abilities, several of the parts she played on the stage were subsequently played on screen by Katharine Hepburn. Booth unfortunately lacked what Hollywood considered glamor, but she was chock full of talent and charisma. If you know her only from re-runs of the sitcom "Hazel," you are in for a big surprise if you see her in this film, or in the even better "Come Back Little Sheba."
Dead End (1937)
Oh, Those Kids!
This is a great film about which much has been written, and there are many such thoughtful comments included on this website. I don't really need to add any comments about what a true American classic it is.
Instead, I will comment on the character actors, always my favorite part of a Hollywood movie. Once I've seen the picture, and appreciated the stars and understood the plot, I like to watch it for the supporting players --I don't think there were ever any better character actors than those in the Hollywood studio system in the 1930s through 1950s.
In this case, I am thinking of the young men who were known as the Dead End Kids. I grew up in New York City with just such kids. They are portraying the real thing, and they do it so well. It's unfortunate that they devolved into those silly characters called the Bowery Boys (still true to life as the neighborhood slackers) in those silly movies made in the 1940s and 1950s. They deserved better, although I suppose it was a living.
My particular favorite kid in Dead End is Leo Gorcey. That Spit -- what a little punk. I think he plays the part with just the right mix of teenage bravado, danger and insecurity, and I think he is actually pretty sexy. I could see him playing smooth, urban (not necessarily urbane) villains in other films, but that never happened. Too bad. He would have been very interesting.
Remember Last Night? (1935)
Better Than You'd Expect
When I saw the opening credits announcing "A James Whale Production," I thought - yes, there will probably be outsized and grotesque sets, just like in Frankenstein. I wasn't mistaken. The weird decor of the house and restaurant where the action takes place is a movie in itself. The entire film plays like one big in-joke, like the sorts of things film studios put together to show to employees at Christmas parties.
But that doesn't mean this movie isn't funny, and enjoyable. The two lead characters are the boozy, over the top kind that you know are going to get into more trouble than they can handle. To me, they were sort of a combination of Nick and Nora Charles, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Their wild party was one of the wildest you'll ever see on film, and no nudity or foul language, either. Of course, there is the matter of that really tasteless, racist bit at the party. I suppose in 1935 some would have considered that funny, but it is painful to watch.
I really liked Constance Cummings. The only other thing I've seen her in is Blythe Spirit. She was very good here in a screwball mode, and she was cute and perky without being obnoxious about it. Robert Young was winning as her not very much more sober and serious husband. The whole mystery with all the suspects in one house thing was pretty silly, but I really think it was supposed to be. This film is to be viewed with tongue in cheek. It's a joke, and a funny one. It has all the stock characters you would expect to find in such an old-fashioned mystery - the rich and careless, the hardbitten law, the ex-con and suspicious (but innocent) servants, and that great, supercilious, snooty butler. Arthur Treacher was the master of that genre. I thought it was hilarious the way he made all those snide comments whenever he turned his head from his employers. The dialog is really very funny, and goes by fast, but not too fast.
I thought the funniest scene by far was where the hero is racing his car to get home, and he almost collides with a truck at a road construction site. The truck driver lets loose a stream of curses, without actually uttering any four-letter words. And listen carefully for the very last thing he says -- well, I won't give it away -- it caps the whole scene and makes it even funnier.
The Glass Menagerie (1973)
To my mind, anything with Hepburn in it is worth seeing. She brings an intelligence to every role she plays, and often brings out facets of a character we might not have seen in the performance of someone else. In this case, Hepburn is not the usual broken, defeated Blanche DuBois-type woman that is usually associated with interpretations of Amanda Wingfield. I have seen the Gertrude Lawrence version, in which she is very good, but brings to mind a downtrodden Auntie Mame. I also saw Maureen Stapleton play Amanda on Broadway. It was a sad and compelling performance, but that Amanda was lost before the action of the play commenced - there was no hope for her.
In this version, however, Amanda is definitely a fighter, and I think the performances of the other three actors have been taken up a notch or two more than usual to accommodate Hepburn's dominance. The arguments that Tom and Amanda have are truly terrifying, and it is evident why Tom feels that his creativity is being stifled - this Amanda drives him crazy.
Here is how I see Hepburn's Amanda: she was a very successful Southern belle, who is not imagining or augmenting her reminiscences. She really was the star of the show back home, but she made a grave error in falling for and marrying a completely unsuitable man. You can imagine that Amanda and her husband had the same kind of screaming fights that she now has with her son. Amanda regrets her mistake, and she sees her flawed and needy children as a sort of karmic result of her bad marriage. However, she refuses to give up, and she hounds them relentlessly to do something "better" with their lives. She is especially hard on her son because she fears that his wanting to be a writer will lead him to become the shiftless dreamer his father was. Additionally, there is a mild inference that Tom's nightly trips 'to the movies' may have some darker ulterior motive (perhaps gay sex?), and that Amanda suspects this.
Sam Waterston is a very strong Tom Wingfield. This Tom is conflicted in his feelings for his mother, and he is very guilty about his inability to do anything for his sister. In addition, there is an element of selfishness in this Tom, which he certainly inherited from his mother as well as from his absent father. Undoubtedly, Amanda's upbringing was of the sort that produces a vain and self-centered woman. As in the case in many families, Tom and his mother are very much alike, and that makes for a lot of friction. The last scene of the play, where Tom is anguished at his self-imposed isolation as well as his guilt in abandoning his sister and his mother, is beautifully played by Waterston. The play, certainly autobiographical, is also something of a metaphor, which Tennessee Williams used over and over, the acting out of his guilt at being unable to prevent his own sister from being lobotomized. It isn't likely he could have done very much as a young man to help her, but he never got over sharing her feeling of helplessness.
Michael Moriarity's performance as the Gentleman Caller is very interesting. He is a perfectly nice guy who gets caught in the mind games that the Wingfields play. It makes his ultimate rejection of Laura that much more poignant: he isn't the fast-talking, possibly dishonest guy that would be all wrong for her, but rather a decent young man who might have made a difference in her life, if he weren't faithful to his existing girlfriend. Then again, if Laura had really wanted him, she could have used all of the techniques she learned from her mother's tales of gentlemen callers to win him over. What we have in the Wingfields are three characters who don't like where they are, but who, because of weakness or psychological dependency, can't find a way out.
Joanna Miles' portrayal of Laura is especially interesting. In the first place, this actress was rather tall and robust looking, not the usual broken blossom associated with this role. But because of this, she very much looks like she could be Hepburn's daughter. Laura's fears and insecurities are shown very subtly by Miles. In this family relationship, the mother reads the cues of helplessness given by the daughter and lets her remain outside of society. However, for all of Laura's weaknesses and inability to cope, you sense a steely center. She does not do what she does not want to do, even though her brother does bend to Amanda's will to a degree. It was a common ploy in earlier days for women to pretend to be incapacitated so that they didn't have to participate in everyday life, and more particularly, so that they wouldn't be considered marriage material. After Tom leaves his family, you can imagine that the battle of wills in the Wingfield home will continue, but this those battles will be between Amanda and Laura.
With four outstanding performances, this version of The Glass Menagerie is a must-see. When I was a girl, such great American (and other) plays were broadcast every week, and not just on 'educational' channels. I am very glad that many of these performances are available on DVD, now that I am old enough to understand what I am seeing. Unfortunately, many of these transfers are not wonderful, and the video may not be of the best quality. Nevertheless, they are worth seeing to study and to enjoy. We were blessed to have a talent like Hepburn perform for us. I hope that each succeeding generation will view her work, which we are lucky to have preserved.