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The Return of the Native (1994)
I rented this because I couldn't pass up the chance to see pre-Hollywood-fame Clive Owen and Catherine Zeta Jones together, but it definitely wasn't worth it. The only reason I give it two stars instead of one is for the novelty of seeing them before they made it big across the pond.
Zeta Jones, who is usually fun to watch even if she isn't the greatest thesp in the world, is awful. Owen seems really uncomfortable to be in such a turkey, plus he wears a ridiculous, egregiously ill-fitting chin-length wig (at least I hope that's a wig and not his real hair). And the scene where he dances a country jig with Zeta Jones just makes you embarrassed for him. Joan Plowright walks around in a daze the whole movie -- she's probably wondering how she got herself into such a mess.
The actress who plays Clive Owen's wife isn't terrible, but just about everyone else is. Oh, and the writing stinks too.
Crawford & Gable dazzle
*Contains spoilers* This is a great example of a pre-code "Woman's Picture." Although Joan Crawford's character starts out baldly and brazenly out for a rich man (Clark Gable), she ends up with one she loves dearly and begins to chafe at the tramp label. She sacrifices that love, and the money, for Gable's sake. And throughout, she's never cheap or vulgar but has an honesty and kindness about her.
I think it's beside the point to call this picture "dated" -- it is almost 75 years old after all. Rather, it's a movie that came out of a very specific period in cinema. Crawford is fantastic -- as others have noted, you understand why she was such a big star when you see pictures like this. This is well before she descended into melodrama and camp...instead, she is remarkably naturalistic. Gable is virile and charismatic as always. And the ending is romantic, too.
Twentieth Century (1934)
Barrymore's tour de force
John Barrymore is astounding in this picture -- his manic performance and Grade-A "ham"manship is, in my opinion, unparalleled in cinema. He absolutely carries the film and is a delight to watch in every scene. To me his performance is addictive -- I just can't get enough. His eyes, hands, legs, even his untamed hair, all combine to make a remarkable character.
Others have commented on his imitation of a camel, his fake death scene, his impersonation of a Mark Twain-type Southern gentleman in order to escape Chicago -- another standout is the scene when he discovers Mildred/Lily has left him for Hollywood. From screaming "Anathema!...Child of Satan!" to blotting out her name on the play posters with black paint that gets everywhere, the whole thing is unbelievably hilarious. I can't believe he didn't get an Oscar for this.
Lombard is quite good as Mildred/Lily, but she really doesn't have a fine or deft enough comedic touch. That's not to say she's bad, but in comparison to Barrymore I noticed a lack. Barrymore's two partners in crime, Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns, however, are fantastic. Karns is especially good.
The writing, of course, is amazing. And with Howard Hawks directing you can't go wrong.
The Garden of Allah (1936)
I give this movie an A+ for the sheer camp of it! As Dietrich's daughter Maria Riva wrote in the book on her mother, "If one sees The Garden of Allah in the context of high camp, it can be very amusing." And how! I laughed with delight at the overwrought score and the astoundingly, ridiculously, fantastically melodramatic dialogue. Viewers who've read the accounts of Boyer's toupee (it kept coming unstuck in the heat) will snicker every time it makes an appearance.
Dietrich and Boyer rarely look at each other when giving their lines -- instead they gaze dreamily off into the distance, presumably so their faces can be photographed at the best angle and with the most advantageous light (if you're starring in a turkey might as well look good!). Dietrich's costumes are out of this world. As Riva notes in her book, Dietrich managed to steal Paramount's Travis Banton and have him design some of the most divine gowns, such as the chiffon beige dress & cape.
I heartily agree with the other reviewers who rave about the Technicolor. It really is hard to believe the film was done in 1936 -- the color is fantastic.
In short, if you watch The Garden of Allah with a lenient attitude and embrace its silliness, you can't help but enjoy it.
The Locket (1946)
*Warning this contains a small spoiler at the end* Just saw this on TCM -- wow, I'd never heard of this movie and it's excellent! Laraine Day is fabulous in the way she plays "nice" and "perky" without spilling too much into saccharine, but there's always the slight undercurrent of creepiness. Mitchum is fantastic as usual, and Brian Aherne (a one-time lover of Marlene Dietrich, by the way) was excellent as well. The director handled the flashback within flashback within flashback quite well -- I can see how it could've been annoying and tiresome, but for some reason it worked without getting on my nerves. And I loved it when the mean lady who'd accused Nancy of stealing the locket years before stepped into the frame, and you realize she's the mother-in-law-to-be! Zowee. This was a real treat to watch.