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Also included in this list are movie musicals adapted from Broadway musicals which were based on non-musical films or common source material. (It can get pretty complicated.)
Fred Astaire was a genius dancer and Ginger Rogers was his most celebrated onscreen partner. Their films together are great fun, mixing screwball comedy with charming romance and some of the best music ever written.
The Astaire/Rogers films introduced many songs that would become pop standards from well-known composers like Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Dorothy Fields.
Although the storylines sometimes seem recycled (if freshened up), each film is a delight thanks to the stars and the music.
The films in this modest list define what we consider a "prison movie", with the genre's foundations dating back to the gritty Pre-Code era. Each film is a shining example of what makes prison stories so compelling.
Since its strict enforcement starting in 1934, the Production Code sanitized Hollywood movies for decades. Viewers accustomed to the innocent classics of the Golden Age may be surprised at what they find in films released prior to 1934: racy dialogue, gritty violence, indecent exposure, immorality and stories that didn't have a happy ending. And no background music score. This gives movies from the early sound/pre-Code era (1929-1934) a unique flavor that I've learned to like.
This is another grouping of pre-Codes that stood out.
Always a Bride (1940)
Not much of a movie
ALWAYS A BRIDE (1940) stars Rosemary Lane, a couple years removed from her late-1930s musical successes with her sisters, and a little-known George Reeves, early in his Hollywood career and a decade before he'd become famous as television's Superman. They're surrounded by a cast of D-list actors in this third-rate production.
The story is weak and the ending, coming only an hour into the film, caught me off-guard. I was expecting the story to continue a little further and was surprised to see it "conclude" where it did. The film feels more like an episode of a television (or radio) series. It's a short story, not a novel. Not quite enough material for a feature-length movie.
Reeves is charming, though, as a sweet-talking idler who first must win back his sweetheart and then finds himself in the middle of a mayoral race.
Rosemary Lane didn't have the kind of Hollywood success that her sister Priscilla enjoyed, but she's always been a personal favorite of mine. Her movie career didn't go very far without her sisters and I would've liked to see her in more (and better) films.
ALWAYS A BRIDE is pretty inconsequential. A cheap quickie with the minimum allowable entertainment value, buoyed only by George Reeves's charm. The movie is really only of interest to fans of Reeves or Lane.
An excellent primer on the Lumière brothers
I am an amateur student of film history and had heard the Lumière brothers (Louis and Auguste) mentioned as film pioneers. They even get a shout-out in director Martin Scorsese's recent ode to film history HUGO (2011). Yet I had never had the opportunity to see any of their films or learn much about them. Thanks to TCM and its programming tie-in to the STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY (2010) documentary series, I was finally able to sample dozens of the Lumières' films in this half-hour compilation.
LUMIERE'S FIRST PICTURE SHOWS compiles over twenty very short films from the dawn of cinema, only covering about three years' time (1895-1897). Included are a variety of films, mostly documenting real-life in short snippets. Parades, firefighters, trains, pedestrians, etc. There are also some more staged films, including a water hose prank.
In the earliest days of filmmaking, the novelty was the motion captured in the image. So early films were created of mundane subjects like a crowd of people leaving work, parents feeding their child, or a train pulling into a station. Anything that could capture "life", when projected onto a wall, would wow the audience. The film used in the Lumières' patented cinematograph camera only took about a minute of footage, so the Lumière films are quick snippets of life, without room for elaborate storytelling.
The compilation presented here includes several famous Lumière Bros. shorts that are must-see films for film history buffs ("La sortie des usines Lumière", "L'arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat", etc.) as well as more rare or obscure films from the Lumière catalogue. The shorts are presented more or less chronologically and are accompanied by informative intertitle cards that provide historical context. Through the text, the program basically tells the story of the Lumières' early years of filmmaking, with the films serving as relevant examples of their work. The start of the program includes footage (of unidentified origin) that demonstrates the use of the cinematograph, an early motion picture camera that could also copy film and project it.
The works of the Lumière brothers (and their associates) are fascinating looks back in time. Each minute-long film is like a window into history, a glimpse of the world over a hundred years ago. I particularly like the "actuality" films that show, for instance, the streets of New York City circa 1896. Or the footage of old trains or street cars or policemen marching in formation. The film of President McKinley's 1897 inauguration at the Capitol is neat to see.
Other favorites of mine are "La bataille de neige", a snowball fight that captures a sense of joy that is timeless, and "Querelle enfantine", a clip of two young children in high chairs fighting over toys that shows the full spectrum of human emotions. In only about forty-five seconds, the Lumière Bros. are able to capture humanity on a film strip. That's what makes moving pictures so engaging and so fascinating. Life, bottled up.
One frustrating thing about this program is that the titles of the films are not always clearly presented. The text sometimes alludes to certain films or series of films and then shows two or three back-to-back. Sometimes it's not clear what is being shown, for any viewers keeping score.
This is further complicated by the lack of readily available information on such old films. Viewers can't always cross-reference clips they've seen with descriptions online. Some films presented in this lineup didn't even exist on IMDb. Not everyone has a definitive Lumière Bros. reference tome, and I'd wish the experts out there would make it a little easier for the rest of us.
Toward the end there are three films of American soldiers marching in formation in camp-like settings. The films appear after a card that reads "Washington - Review of the National Guard, Review of the Artillery of the District of Columbia". What little information I could scrape up online shows two Lumière films with corresponding titles, though the content does not appear to match the films featured here. Are the clips misidentified in this compilation? If so, which films are these? And what of the third film?
Taken from the Blackhawk Films archive and presented by Turner Classic Movies, this 2013 program also features music by ubiquitous silent film composer Robert Israel. I'm not sure if this is an all-new compilation of archived shorts or a re-packaged presentation of an older program (this "edition" has copyrights for both 1975 and 2013, and the contextual intertitles don't seem "new"). Either way, LUMIERE'S FIRST PICTURE SHOWS is a quick yet informative introduction to the early days of motion pictures. If it turns up on TCM again, it's worth checking out for anyone even casually interested in the history of filmmaking.
The secret origin of Robert Osborne, with footage from his acting career!
This Robert Osborne love fest is a treat for TCM devotees who've seen Osborne on their TV screens night after night, year after year, and would like to know more about the man behind the movie trivia. Robert Osborne has interviewed a couple of dozen classic Hollywood personalities over the years as part of TCM's "Private Screenings" series, but here, in honor of his twentieth anniversary as the face of the network, Turner Classic Movies turns the tables and the interviewer becomes the interviewee.
Alec Baldwin, who'd co-hosted three seasons of TCM's "The Essentials" series with Osborne, steps in as the guest host for this special "Private Screenings" entry. And that's not all. Several of Osborne's showbiz friends pay him tribute in heartfelt "talking head" testimonials. Liza Minnelli, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Wagner, Joel Grey, and others all have such wonderful things to say to and about him. It gets pretty mushy at times, but is about as loving a tribute as you'll ever see to a man who's still alive.
Robert Osborne's story is fascinating. From small-town beginnings in the Pacific Northwest, he made his way to Hollywood as an aspiring actor. Lucille Ball put him under contract and became a sort of mentor to him. She encouraged him to give up acting and put his enthusiasm for movies to good use as a writer. As a Hollywood journalist, Osborne would hang around the stars he'd watched growing up. He was living his dream. After years as an entertainment journalist and television personality, Osborne was in the right place at the right time to join Turner Classic Movies for its launch in 1994. He's been the on-air host and ambassador for the channel ever since.
Robert Osborne was a big-time movie buff from a young age, and what's interesting is that he loved the movies and movie stars of classic Hollywood at a time when there wasn't much of a "film appreciation" movement and a lot of the stars of yesteryear had been largely forgotten. (Osborne recalls Lucille Ball being impressed that the young Osborne knew character actors like Edward Everett Horton.) He spent his free time in college poring over old issues of The New York Times, doing independent movie research. He was a film historian when there were no careers for film historians. There was no TCM in the 1960s or '70s, but Robert Osborne carved out a niche for himself as a classic Hollywood guru and Academy Award expert.
I'd known that Robert Osborne had an acting background, and the real treat of this "Private Screenings" special is the treasure trove of rare footage of Robert Osborne as a young actor. There are clips of his TV work (a 1960s soap opera, the pilot episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies") as well as a handful of vintage commercials. Later clips show Osborne's appearances on talk shows as a movie expert.
Osborne seems to have endeared himself to just about everyone he's met. His likability has made him many friends in Hollywood and helped shape his career path. Jane Darwell took a liking to him in Washington and helped him get situated in Hollywood. There, Lucille Ball took him under her wing. Natalie Wood helped him out as an inexperienced journalist, Olivia de Havilland became a lifelong friend, and all of his showbiz connections led him to his place at TCM.
To a lot of people the name Robert Osborne is synonymous with Turner Classic Movies and it's great to finally shine the light on the man who's spent decades shining the light on others. Osborne's interview is as interesting and entertaining as any movie star's. The man is a legend himself. A must-watch for TCM fans.
The Holiday (2006)
A "chick flick" for sure, with some cool movie references
As a guy, I found THE HOLIDAY (2006) to be a little too girly, which is understandable since the film was written and directed by a woman and primarily deals with two women trying to sort out their personal troubles. It's not my cup of tea and I get that. Still, I'd say the movie's pretty good for what it is. If you're looking for a romantic "chick flick" to watch around Christmastime, you've found it.
Kate Winslet, an English journalist, and Cameron Diaz, a Hollywood movie trailer editor, decide to swap houses for two weeks during the Christmas holiday. Winslet needs to get over an unrequited love and Diaz needs time alone after a breakup. Winslet is like a kid in a candy store in sunny Los Angeles, while Diaz takes more time adjusting to the quiet country life in snowy Surrey, England.
The most sympathetic character for me was Kate Winslet, who gives a winning performance. She plays the comedy well in her early "sad sack" scenes and later becomes a beacon of positivity and joy. Cameron Diaz is Cameron Diaz, I'm just not really a fan. I liked the gimmick where Diaz sees/hears her life as if it were one of her movie trailers. Jude Law is pretty good as Winslet's brother, who meets Diaz unexpectedly in Surrey. Jack Black dials it down a bit as the lovable nice guy Winslet meets in America.
What I will say is that I love old black and white films. I caught THE HOLIDAY on Turner Classic Movies, of all places, and enjoyed the various shout-outs to classic Hollywood. Eli Wallach plays Cameron Diaz's Hollywood neighbor, an ancient screenwriter who befriends Kate Winslet during her stay in L.A. He reminisces about the old days and gives Winslet a list of classic films to check out. We never see the list, but it seems to contain some great screwball comedies including HIS GIRL_FRIDAY (1940) and THE LADY EVE (1941), as well as some Irene Dunne movies (perhaps THEODORA GOES WILD (1936) or my favorite THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937)).
It's great to see Eli Wallach (BABY DOLL (1956), THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)) still doing stuff. He looks about a hundred years old in THE HOLIDAY, but was really only around ninety. His character's connection with Old Hollywood was a pleasant surprise for me and is probably part of the reason this recent film made it onto TCM's schedule.
Jack Black plays a score composer and there's a cool scene in a Blockbuster store where he singles out various films with memorable music scores (CHARIOTS OF FIRE, DRIVING MISS DAISY, GONE WITH THE WIND, JAWS, THE GRADUATE, etc.). As a movie buff I always appreciate nods to the classics and hope they expose modern viewers to some oldies but goodies.
So Proudly We Hail! (1943)
A war movie that's also a "women's film", or a "women's film" that's also a war movie
SO PROUDLY WE HAIL! (1943) has hard-hitting battleground action while telling a story about women (U.S. Army nurses) and women's issues. It's very well-done. The nurses struggle with their duty and their personal lives (romances, etc.) while facing the horrors of war. The special effects are surprisingly effective, rocking the camera with brutal explosions, and the war-zone drama is sure to bring a tear to one's eye.
The setting of the action is the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines, where U.S. forces were hopelessly outnumbered and cut off from relief early in WWII. The film was made in the middle of the war when the outcome was anything but certain. It's a bit unusual in Hollywood films to see the U.S. losing battles. Seeing the Americans routed by the Japanese in the Philippines almost makes one wonder if the U.S. had a chance in the Pacific. The film has a patriotic flavor and seems to say that Americans have the courage and the spirit to overcome the early setbacks and get the job done (in the name of freedom, etc.).
Claudette Colbert is solid as always in the lead, playing the selfless officer looking after the other girls. Paulette Goddard gives a great performance, earning an Oscar nomination. She's all personality. She's funny, but not overly so, and has some touching dramatic moments. Viewers will also see a side to Veronica Lake they'd never expect. Dark and serious.
George Reeves plays the soldier who falls in love with Colbert, giving her someone to worry about while she works to keep the hospital base running despite short supplies and occasional Japanese air raids. Marine Sonny Tufts pairs off with Goddard in a sweet, but more comical relationship.
Directed by Astaire-Rogers musical-comedy veteran Mark Sandrich, SO PROUDLY WE HAIL! is a very effective war drama. Even though it focuses on the nurses and not the soldiers, the depiction of war is gritty and tough. The action scenes pull no punches. Viewers sympathize with the characters in their personal struggles, but also with the greater American forces in the context of the war. It's interesting to see a film like this made during WWII when things could've gone either way for the "good guys". Sonny Tufts can't believe the U.S. is on the losing side of the Battle of Bataan. Claudette Colbert gives a speech about the reality of war, with Americans being killed in places Americans used to think of as exotic and far away. It's a global affair and the U.S. was in it now, for keeps.
Stage Door Canteen (1943)
A special treat for fans of WWII-era entertainment
STAGE DOOR CANTEEN (1943) is a lot of fun for what it is. What it is is a patriotic morale-booster that brings the star-studded experience of New York's Stage Door Canteen to a wartime audience. Canteens were set up by big names in show business to entertain servicemen on their home soil, free of charge.
The film is chock-full of celebrity cameos by dozens of famous stars of the stage, screen, and radio. Most of the celebrities are identified in some way, although big-time classic movie fans should have fun spotting them first.
The movie is a product of its time, and seen many decades removed from its original context it becomes something of a time capsule, showcasing the entertainment of a past generation. Some of the names will be a bit obscure to modern audiences (particularly stage stars who didn't make many movies).* Guest stars include ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, vaudeville comedian Ed Wynn, Oscar-winners Katharine Hepburn and Paul Muni, the jazz bands of Benny Goodman and Count Basie, and various Hollywood supporting players and entertainment personalities.
Where else can you see Franklin Pangborn wash dishes with jungle man Johnny Weissmuller? Other highlights are scenes between married Broadway stars Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, a rousing song by Ethel Merman, and a comic striptease by Gypsy Rose Lee (strictly rated G -- more "tease" than "strip").
Classic movie fans will get more out of this film than the uninitiated, who might not recognize the faces or even the names that go with them. The movie works best when you can appreciate the cameos.
Don't expect much in the way of plot. Comedy bits and musical numbers are strung together by a story of young soldiers visiting the Canteen on leave before being shipped overseas and the girls they meet inside. The young romances reflect the bittersweet reality of wartime relationships.
Cheryl Walker is lovely as the ice queen hostess who comes to the Canteen for all the wrong reasons. She's looking to further her own acting career and isn't particularly interested in showing the soldiers a good time. Marjorie Riordan is cute as one of the other hostesses, who spends time with a soldier who has no sweetheart back home.
STAGE DOOR CANTEEN isn't wartime escapism. Director Frank Borzage doesn't try to distract the audience from the global situation. He keeps the audience constantly reminded, with the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines that populate the Canteen and the alternately upbeat and somber patriotic tunes. Amid all the star-gazing, the film comes out in support of the U.S. servicemen, as well as America's allies in combat from Australia, the U.K., Russia, and even China. It's not hard to imagine the comfort the film must have given audiences at the height of World War II.
*The similarly-themed HOLLYWOOD_CANTEEN (1944) may have more recognizable stars, boasting some of the biggest names from Warner Bros. films (Bette Davis, Joan Leslie, Joan Crawford, John Garfield, S.Z. Sakall, Ida Lupino, Jack Carson, Sydney Greenstreet, Jane Wyman, etc.).
The Oscar (1966)
The rise and fall of a despicable man
THE_OSCAR (1966) is of interest mainly for its large cast of guest stars and cameos. It's an intriguing lineup that includes Milton Berle, Broderick Crawford, Ernest Borgnine, Joseph Cotten, Eleanor Parker, Walter Brennan, Edie Adams, Peter Lawford, Jill St. John, Bob Hope, Elke Sommer, singer Tony Bennett, and legendary costume designer Edith Head.
The star of the film is Stephen Boyd, who plays Frank Fane, a tough guy a***ole who somehow becomes a Hollywood movie star. Fane is a thoroughly unlikable, loathsome character who uses and abuses everyone he comes into contact with. In a rare dramatic appearance Bennett plays Fane's lifelong friend and confidant. Starting at Oscar night, where Frank Fane is nominated for an Academy Award, Bennett's character narrates the story of Fane's career up to that point.
When I saw THE_OSCAR on TCM it was presented in a full-frame aspect ratio, and I wondered if it might've originally been a TV movie. Despite some big names in the cast (including a handful of real Oscar winners) the production feels lacking. The performances tend to be melodramatic and the ridiculously over-the-top nature of many scenes plays as camp.
I didn't know who Stephen Boyd was or why he should get star billing in this film when I started watching, but I found his characterization unbearable. Loud, hot-headed, arrogant. In-your-face, confrontational. There was also something off about his voice, like he had marbles in his mouth or had some kind of strange accent. (It turns out he's Irish.)
Frank Fane is a completely unsympathetic character, which allows the audience to sympathize with practically everyone else in the cast, as they are all victims in some way of Fane's abuse. My favorites were the three redheads: Jill St. John, Eleanor Parker, and Edie Adams.
Everyone knows that Jill St. John is beautiful, but I was still taken aback when she first appeared on-screen. She's gorgeous and her character surely deserves much better than Frank Fane as a boyfriend. I felt bad seeing her so upset after they fight.
Eleanor Parker plays a cultured woman of forty-two who discovers Fane's acting talent and brings him to Hollywood. She has a great melodramatic scene that, again, makes me feel sorry for her and her emotional predicament. Frank Fane is a jerk. If only he wasn't catnip to all the ladies...
The always reliable Edie Adams turns in a solid performance as Ernest Borgnine's (ex-) better-half. She's bright and cheerful at first, but a few drinks exposes the sadness under the surface. There's a good scene where Fane is in a position of vulnerability for a change and she delights in having the upper hand.
Elsewhere in the cast Milton Berle plays Frank Fane's agent, Joseph Cotten plays a studio boss, Ernest Borgnine befriends Fane on a trip south of the border, Peter Lawford plays a washed-up actor, and Broderick Crawford makes an appearance as a crooked sheriff. German import Elke Sommer wrestles with the English language as the only woman Fane almost cares about. Tony Bennett's acting is not polished, but he gives it his best despite some ridiculous material.
In the film, Frank Fane climbs to the top by playing dirty and always looking out for number one. But he overstays his welcome in Hollywood. He's burned too many bridges. A timely Oscar nomination saves Fane from a lesson in humility. An Oscar win is the last hope Fane has to revive his career and maintain his Hollywood lifestyle. He becomes obsessed with winning the award. He must win at any cost and the decisions he makes promise irreparable harm to whatever relationships he has left. But he's come too far to start at the bottom again. It's all or nothing. For Frank Fane his whole career, his whole life, hangs in the balance on that awards night.
The Unfinished Dance (1947)
I watched it for Cyd Charisse
When Cyd Charisse made THE UNFINISHED DANCE (1947) she was still a young starlet in the MGM stable, before her rise to stardom in 1950s Arthur Freed musicals like SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), THE BAND WAGON (1953), BRIGADOON (1954), and SILK STOCKINGS (1957). (You can tell it's from her "early years" by the way her face is made-up.)
Fans and admirers of Charisse will want to check out this film for a chance to see her at home in the world of ballet. Many dancers in Hollywood were tap dancers, but Cyd Charisse came from a ballet background. The ballet influence is evident in her work in things like BRIGADOON, for instance, but in THE UNFINISHED DANCE we get to see Cyd Charisse do some real ballet, in a tutu and everything.
The real focus of the movie, however is Margaret O'Brien, MGM's child actress extraordinaire. THE UNFINISHED DANCE is a Hollywood remake of a fascinating French film LA MORT DU CYGNE (a.k.a. "BALLERINA") (1937). It concerns the girls of a dance academy and a sort of tragic mistake. O'Brien is a young dancer who idolizes ballerina Charisse and perceives a visiting prima ballerina (Karin Booth) as a threat. With her idol's best interests at heart, O'Brien sabotages Booth's performance. Booth suffers a career-altering injury and O'Brien is haunted by her guilt, even as Booth becomes a mentor for her at the academy.
Margaret O'Brien was a major child star in the 1940s and MGM adapted LA MORT DU CYGNE as a vehicle for their young actress. What's impressive is that MGM got ten-year-old Margaret O'Brien to actually learn ballet. O'Brien had never been known as a dancer, but she does her own dancing here and is convincing enough. Karin Booth, too, seems to do her own dancing on camera.
MGM adds Hollywood gloss to the plot from the original French film. The tragedy isn't quite so tragic. The irony not quite so defined. While it's a darker role than some would expect from Margaret O'Brien, it's not *too* dark. Danny Thomas plays O'Brien's gentle, vaguely ethnic, de facto guardian and sings a couple of cutesy tunes. The ballet sequences are staged in glorious Technicolor.
The plot is probably good enough for those who haven't seen the French film, although I personally feel the remake suffers by comparison. I prefer the French film for aesthetic and thematic reasons. I would highly recommend checking out LA MORT DU CYGNE ("BALLERINA") if the opportunity arises. It seems to be rather obscure but I caught it on Turner Classic Movies a few years back.
The Show of Shows (1929)
Warner Bros. players and all their friends put on a show
Two years after the success of THE JAZZ SINGER (1927), Warner Bros. released this all-talking, all-singing, all-star revue to capitalize on the popularity of sound pictures. THE SHOW OF SHOWS (1929) features a wide variety of acts from a roster of famous stars of stage and screen. There are lots of songs and lots of mass choreography, but also comedic bits and a dramatic scene.
The movie is quite a spectacle, though nowadays its value is mostly as a curiosity for hardcore film buffs. The songs generally aren't that great and the performances aren't always polished, though everybody seems to be having fun. Much of the cast is made up of largely forgotten stars of the late silent/early sound era that most modern viewers wouldn't recognize. But it's a real treat for film historians.
I'm a big fan of old movies and classic Hollywood, and many of the featured stars are obscure even to me. Most of the stars are identified at some point in the film, though countless others are mixed into scenes with little fanfare. Without identification I was able to spot Myrna Loy, Ben Turpin, Chester Morris, Richard Barthelmess, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Barrymore, and Monte Blue. And I'm familiar, to varying degrees, with people like Frank Fay, Winnie Lightner, Louise Fazenda, Dolores Costello, Noah Beery, and Tully Marshall.
Frank Fay emcees the proceedings, tying the various acts together and introducing the stars. His verbal comedy shtick is a good fit for talkies and he does a pretty good job.
An early highlight is Winnie Lightner's upbeat comedy song "Ping Pongo". Louise Fazenda, Fay, Lloyd Hamilton, and Beatrice Lillie do a recitation sketch that's pretty funny, though it stretches a little too long. There's a number featuring notable screen villains as pirate versions of themselves (singing pirates, naturally). Another features several pairs of movie star sisters, including Loretta Young and Sally Blane, who look freakishly alike. Lightner also sings "Singin' in the Bathtub", a tune I know from old Looney Tunes cartoons. John Barrymore hams it up with a Shakespeare soliloquy as Richard III.
I was surprised and delighted halfway through to see an exotic number in two-strip Technicolor. Apparently most of the film was shot in color, but the surviving print is in black & white with the exception of this segment.
It's great seeing so many Hollywood personalities doing fun little acts and musical numbers. Everybody seems to be having a good time, putting on a big show. Some names and faces are more recognizable than others, but the film is a fascinating glimpse at the stable of Warner Bros. talent at this transitional point in cinema history.
A musical spectacular from the infancy of the sound era, THE SHOW OF SHOWS is literally presented as a stage production, with fairly static cameras and sometimes clunky framing. Sometimes the closed stage curtain fills the top three-quarters of the frame while a chorus line dances along the bottom edge. In one song voices drop out of range of the microphone as the singers move across the stage. Some of the extended crowd choreography gets tiresome, but the comedy is good for a few laughs. And it's always fun trying to identify the stars in the ensemble scenes.
6/10 for entertainment value, but 7/10 as a historical curiosity.
Soy Cuba (1964)
The island of Cuba shares the story of her oppressed people
Co-produced by the USSR, I AM CUBA (1964) is pretty heavy-handed propaganda for Fidel Castro's communist regime, but it is full of innovative camera-work and other artistic merits.
The storytelling is effective and the scenes are gritty and real, shot on location throughout Cuba. Director Mikhail Kalatozov's floating camera produces some of the most astonishing tracking shots you'll ever see.
Running at nearly two and a half hours, the film is broken up into four segments, each emphasizing a different aspect of Cuba at the time of its political upheaval in the 1950s. The first segment is about the evils of the decadent capitalist lifestyle, the second is about the plight of the poor laborers, the third is about the popular support of the revolutionary ideals (emphasizing the brutality of the current regime), and the fourth focuses on the guerrilla soldiers fighting the good fight for all of Cuba.
The imagery is brilliant and the film presents its historical viewpoint with the emotional charge of, say, Eisenstein's BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925). An interesting watch, although I tend to cringe when I see such unflattering portrayals of Americans in foreign films (though it's amusing in a way to see how we're perceived by others). The island of Cuba is beautiful.