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This Is the Life (1944)
A man chases a girl till she catches him....
So sang Donald O'Connor in "There's No Business Like Show Business" and here, he chases the girl with no interest (Susannah Foster) who thinks that she's in love with an older man, army officer (Patric Knowles) who is obviously in love with his career driven ex-wife (Louise Albritton). O'Connor is sought after by juvenile entertainer Peggy Ryan whom he considers as fun as a bratty younger sister. What he sees in the spoiled, often temperamental soprano Foster is beyond me as Foster often has "look at me!" style tantrums that often presents her as a shrew in training.
Excruciatingly painful specialty numbers between O'Connor and Ryan proves them not to be the Rooney and Garland of the mid 1940's, and as talented as they are, the numbers are pointlessly dated. The musical highlight is Foster singing "With a Song in My Heart" which was once Knowles and Albritton's favorite song to dance to, so it at least has a point in the plot. A specialty number by the Bobby Brooks quartet is another pleasing moment. I rank this as second rate in spite of those few good songs.
Take It or Leave It (1944)
I'll take leave it for $64.
A series of mostly mediocre clips from 20th Century Fox musicals ties what plot there is in regards to the sailor (Edward Ryan) trying to raise $1000 for his wife (Madge Meredith) to have her baby at an esteemed clinic by becoming a contestent on a ridiculous trivia game show. He pretends that he's got her signed up as the patient for doctor Roy Gordon who has refused to take on any new patients as he's on his way out of town for an extended rest. Show host Phil Baker goes out of his way to use his radio microphone to get Gordon's attention, creating one of the most absurd excuses for a movie musical plot ever.
So yes, it's nice to see footage of Shirley Temple in her polka dot dress in "Stand Up and Cheer", Alice Faye getting a pie in the face in "Hollywood Cavalcade" and doing a big production number as "Lillian Russell" and hear Jolson performing "Toot Toot Tootsie" again, but in the confines of this radio show, it's a silly premise and an overextend time filler. Baker isn't all that likable of a host either, grabbing Ryan constantly in a publicity seeking effort that comes off more eelf serving than helpful. Renee Riano has some amusing moments as a staid contestent in early scenes, and Nana Bryant offers some sympathy as Gordon's nurse, but this just reaks of phoniness from the start. Even a cameo be ly Phil Silvers can't save it.
Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
A mixed bag of songs and dances.
You've got two Eddie Cantor's for the price of one, spoofing his image and being just the opposite of what history has shown him to be. As generous and kind in person as he is egotistical and temperamental here, Cantor is the scourge of radio, and when benefit producers Edward Everett Horton and S.Z. Sakall seek to get his client Dinah Shore for their show, they find that they can't put the show on without his constant interference. So how do you deal with constant issues from a man like that? Find something that distracts his ego as well as a lookalike to step in when a Cantor number is required.
Comic routines, specialties and big production numbers abound, this is a nostalgic look back thqt features a mixture of triumphs and egg laying debacles. Dennis Morgan plays a crooner hoodwinked into thinking that he's got a radio contract with Cantor, the same shyster agent having pulled the same scam woth songwriter Joan Leslie. It's not really a great story (and sort of disturbing), but the plethora of stars is at least a curiosity to keep your attention.
The opportunity to see non musical stars singing is hit or miss, and some of the sing setups are truly poor. But Bette Davis scores singing "They're Either Too Young or Too Old' (jitterbugging!), and Hattie McDaniel proves she really has what it takes with "Ice Cold Katie". Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn manage to save face in weaker numbers. S.Z. Sakall gets to rough up tough guy Humphrey Bogart in a very funny scene. The nadir of this is the"look at what we've accomplished!" finale that reeks of the narcissism that they were trying to make fun of with Cantor.
The Blue Lagoon (1949)
When humanity, or the lack of it, destroys any attempt at paradise.
Fresh off of playing Ophelia in "Hamlet", Jean Simmons was hot stuff in 1949 when she was cast in the original version of this beautiful adventure. of course, this is more well-known for the 1980 sexual coming-of-age story between Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, but there is actually more sensuality and subtlety to be found between Simmons and young Donald Houston who play the shipped wrecked children growing up to fall in love and encounter all sorts of troubles as they create an island home. They lose their protector, a drunken ships made, early on, having a horrific death as he begins to see things in the island mist and falling to his death. Later on, men searching for pearls land on the island and try to exploit the two, with one obviously having lecherous designs on Simmons. Houston battles an octopus, aided by Simmons and a spear to get rid of it, and other seafaring vessels sailing by turn their back on them, thinking that they are savages.
This ends up on a mysterious note that will have the viewer making the conclusion of what happens, but it is obvious that he regardless of what happens, the tropical dreams of these two lovers will not be captured if indeed they are returned to civilization. It is beautifully photographed in Technicolor and sensitively acted by the two stars. This is one that deserves to be seen on a big screen because it does not pretend to be anything more than what it is, a very subtle look at young love, how mankind cruelly interferes even in a situation like this, and how sometimes, the only way out is tragedy.
Blonde Ransom (1945)
Who kidnapped the story?
This is a below average B musical comedy that features mediocre songs, dated unfunny comedy and an unbelievable story involving the scheme of heiress Virginia Grey to get her hands on $63000 from stingy Uncle George Barbier to bail out nightclub owner boyfriend Donald Cook. The comedy provided by Pinky Lee (only known to most people from his name being dropped by Stockard Channing in "Grease" ) and Collette Lyons is like a square egg that just lays there and gets more rotten because it can't be cracked. Minus songs and comedy, its running time is about 35 minutes, and even with appealing second string stars like Cook and Grey in the leads, there's nothing to recommend. A bit of a gangster subplot doesn't even help raise this up a notch. Barbier is pompously funny with Ian Wolfe a delightful foil as his butler, hense a rating above 1.
Blonde Inspiration (1941)
A cast of great comics and character actors badly abused.
Strictly grade D, this MGM programmer is a loud and obnoxious comedy about an ambitious writer (John Shelton) who makes the mistake of signing up with the wrong agency (lead by the Sam Levene like Albert Dekker and Charles Butterworth) and basically being worked to death. With domineering aunt (Alma Kruger) standing by to criticize his every move, it seems that the only ones on his side are his henpecked uncle (Reginald Owen) and Dekker's secretary (Virginia Grey), especially when he finds that his name isn't even on the stories published in the magazine he bought a small interest in.
Out of nowhere comes Donald Meek as a drunken mystery man who keeps breaking into the hotel suite where Shelton is sequestered. Dekker and Butterworth keep standing over Shelton like flies over a corpse, demanding he finish, and never being satisfied with anything he writes, ultimately bringing out a contraption that puts together the most cliched and predictable of stories. A critic's letter to Shelton towards the end is probably one of the few decent details of the script, a unique commentary on what is wrong with a lot of modern writing, something that could be said for dozens of pretentious scripts that ended up being movies like this.
Blonde Fever (1944)
Keeping Astor's Place.
The fabulous Mary Esther is the one saving element of this light romantic comedy that has a week script and story, if not some good character performances, lacking sympathy for the leading man Philip Dorn (aka Mr Joan Crawford 1944) and providing newcomer Gloria Grahame (sans cheek fillers) with an unsympathetic nymphet character that no one will root for. Astor and Dorn own a dude ranch where Graham works as a cigarette girl and when Dorn wins the lottery, she turns her back on dishwasher fiance Marshall Thompson and makes an indiscreet pass at him. it's up to ask her to keep her head to try and make this marriage work, but with an easily philanderer like Dorn, is it really worth it?
This has his charming moments, thanks to the presence of Astor, witty chef Felix Bressart, Astor's lively society matron friend Elisabeth Risdon and cameos by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as a couple arguing at their dining table. Risdon, best known for playing the nagging aunt in the "Mexican Spitfire" series, is very funny, being revealed to be Thompson's passenger on the back of his motorbike, and speaking in hep lingo and offering advice one wouldn't normally expect from a society matron. if it wasn't for these few elements, I would have to rank blonde fever closer to a bomb because it's leading male and antagonist female are just simply too one-dimensional to be likeable.
The Spider's Web (1960)
Many strands of many moods in this delightful mystery comedy.
A sensational comic performance by Glynis Johns will have you completely entranced, and she shares honors with veteran British music hall star Cicely Courtneidge in this version of a lesser known Agatha Christie mystery. Johns and husband John Justin (along with Justin's daughter from a previous marriage, Wendy Turner) have leased a large home where a mysterious intruder is found murdered leading towards all sorts of intrigue (often comical in nature) that has the local police baffled yet has the audience both in stitches and biting their nails.
Sliding panels, secret drawers in desks, choreographed direction (in the tradition of the best stage farce) and frantic performances add to the frazzled characterizations of everyone present. Johns, achieving world wide recognition after "Mary Poppins", was already a huge success on the British stage and in cinema, is letter perfect. She moves around the crowded sets with the grace of a veteran ballerina and doesn't give one false note in her perfect performance. Cicely Courtneidge steals every scene she's in as the caretaker, and it's impossible not to adore her.
Jack Hulbert, Ronald Howard and David Nixon (not Niven as I mistakingly read in the credits) add delightful comic support, and the sets, direction and photography (along with a comical musical score) aide immeasurably to the success of this nearly flawless British comic mystery. This is a gem of British cinema that after discovering that I will delightfully revisit over and over again.
The Spider and the Fly (1949)
Who's the fox, and will he outwit the hound?
Usually, a safe cracker and a police constable won't become allies let alone friends, but in the case of by the books detective Eric Portman and dapper "Raffles" like thief Guy Rolfe, their differences bring them together in this elegant thriller set in Paris prior to World War I. A stretch in prison for Rolfe is interrupted when war strikes and Portman suggests Rolfe for a secret mission. Torn between them is the pretty Nadia Gray who loves Rolfe but is desired by Portman. Superb art direction, some nail biting hijinks (one involving a climb up a tall building) and witty dialog makes this above average with a commaradarie between the two actors guiding the film to a unique and unexpected partnership.
The only screwball of thus comedy is the writer who thought it was funny.
The gold digging Mary Brian and her southern phony of a father, J.M. Keerigan, are probably two of the most obnoxious characters in film history, hideously unlikable with no redeeming qualities. Somehow, Brian traps youmg Henry Fonda in a quicky marriage and proceeds to make his life miserable, nagging him viciously at every turn and harassing his family, friends and household staff whom Brian believes works for him. Poor stablegirl Pat Peterson ends up the most attacked wirh Fonda obviously in love with her and stuck with Brian, that is until the tables turn and he reveals that he isn't nearly as loaded as she thought. In fact, he's dirt poir, and Brian uses this as her opportunity to get out, but not before attempting a little blackmail.
It's amazing how unlikable this is, probably one that Fonda never remembered making. Obviously, no scenes from this would be used in later tributes to his career. The supporting cast includes such able funny men as George Barbier, Edward Brophy and Richard Carle who get a few good moments. But other than how Brian and Kerrigan are taken care of, there's nothing at all in this movie to recommend it.
Women in Bondage (1943)
Sledge hammer anti-Nazi drama delivers corpses but takes no prioners.
This passionate example of mid-war propaganda features an excellent performance by the always riveting Gail Patrick, playing a German woman returning after years when her husband is summoned to enlist in the army and finds herself pushed into a position of authority that she doesnt want. As the commander of a group of young Nazi women, she finds herself objecting to the rigid anti-human rules where old ladies get no respect from her granddaughter (encouraged by the older women in the Nazi party to keep S.S. officers "pleased", priests are arrested for trying to perform Christian baptisms and because of an eye defect, a sensitive young woman is told she can't marry her S.S. officer boyfriend. Foe Patrick, she finds that the return of her injured husband isn't enough to have her marriage dissolved so she can be forced to marry someone else who will father wtrong Nazi sons.
Disturbing on so many levels, this gives hints of the courage of certain women, willing to stand up and fight for human rights and basic dignity, facing death with courage and a sense of hope that evil will be eradicated.
That's Nancy Kelly of "The Bad Seed" as Toni, the young lady afflicted with bad eye site (and ears deemed to be too low), suffering a nervous breakdown and being tortured before she makes the ultimate sacrifice. Gisela Werbisek is heartbreaking as the old lady who is disgusted by her granddaughter's trampy behavior and finds herself jailed for trying to prevent S.S. officers from getting their jollies. H.B. Warner is profound as the seemingly sole surviving priest whose profession seems to have no meaning in modern Germany.
Veteran actress Gertrude Michael is officious, imperious and humorless as Patrick's commanding officer, her voice rough not only around the ages but aging her and making her appwar soulless. This shows how aging generations look on silently (and cowardly) in disgust at the extremism of the flaming youtg manipulated by ecil. It builds up to a great conclusion that had me cheering. Without a doubt, a real triumph for Monogram that could have been longer.
Steel Against the Sky (1941)
It takes men of steel to have gotten us where we're going.
This is a very food programmer that focuses on three Brothers from a family who has spent decades in build bridging, working on a federal project and the obstacles it takes to get the work done. There are the natural obstacles (weather), emotional obstacles (two brothers in love with one girl), personal obstacles (the vengeful drunk who is furious over being fired) and the financial obstacles. A cast of great Warner Brothers contract players give convincing performances with Lloyd Nolan, Craig Stevens and Edward Brophy as the sons of Edward Ellis, long-time pal of construction company owner Gene Lockhart whose daughter (Alexis Smith) has dates both Nolan and Stevens. All of the brothers get along fine but have their usual amounts of ribbing and horseplay. Howard da Silva gives a dark performance as the drunken worker who is fired, returned to try to get his job back, and then takes desperate measures to get revenge on Nolan.
There are two very powerful scenes, one of da Silva stalking Nolan and the very dramatic conclusion where a very eefere ice storm threatens to destroy the bridge thanks to the loose chains banging against what they've already done. It is intense and extremely scary. Walter Catlett provides comic relief along with the unbilled Jackie Gleason who has a great bit as a drunk who keeps putting Nichols into what he thinks is a slot machine ends ends up with a complete surprise.
Singapore Woman (1941)
Good use of standing sets.
It's obvious that the tropical sets used for Warner Brothers' 1940 hits "The Letter" and "Torrid Zone" came in handy for this remake of "Dangerous". While sultry Brenda Marshall may not have the appeal of Betty Davis, she is actually quite good in this B remake that transfers the story to the south seas and as in a lot of tropical storms, eccentric characterizations and even more intrigue that really works in the case of the original story.
Marshall is Vicki Moore, a troubled heiress whose affairs with married men lead to trouble, often to confrontations with jealous wives and eventually in one case suicide. This ruins her father's business and leaves her a shell of herself, a pathetic drunk whose desire for gin ends up starting lots of fights in the various gin joints she is often kicked out of. One noght, she is recognized by her father's old business associate (David Bruce) who witnessed the scandalous event and he takes her in out of pity. But is she ready to be reformed? And can the love of a nice man really age someone who genuinely seems to be cursed?
This is the type of film where you expect to hear "Begin the Beguine" in the background as even the palms seem to be swaying. It is filled with moody performances, notably Connie Leon as Bruce's fragile housekeeper, Virginia Field as Bruce's morally righteous girlfriend, Dorothy Tree as the embittered widow of the man who killed himself because of Marshall, and Richard Ainley as Marshall's vindictive presumed dead husband. Jerome Cowan and Rose Hobart as a married couple in Bruce's circle also are present. As far as B remakes go, this one is pretty decent.
The Ice Follies of 1939 (1939)
Yes, when I think of the great ice skaters, I always include Mommie Dearest and Harvey the Rabbit.
And when I think of ruthless studio heads, I always think of Judge Andrew Hardy, patriarch of Carvel, smalltown U.S.A. who dominated Louis B. Mayer's glamour factory with his wisdom. It is comical that the opening credits of "Mommie Dearest" shows the image of a star preparing for her morning before shooting begins and it ends up being Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in "Ice Follies of 1939". After countless films with Clark Gable, a part of the classic ensemble of "Grand Hotel" and the same year as she went back behind the perfume counter in "The Women", Joan Crawford must have really seen "Ice Follies" as the nadir of her career at MGM. She was able to get out of an embarrassing situation with the unfinished movie musical "Great Day", but by putting on ice skates in this and really not doing much skating, she was unable to escape one studio embarrassment. At least this would be topped by her dark native make-up 14 years later in "Torch Song", but that doesn't make this film any better.
This is another variation of "A Star is Born" without the dramatic impact of success driving a marriage to ruin, and Joan seems justifiably out of sorts playing a star who comes out of nowhere (even though she's obviously 30 something) and becomes the screen's favorite skating star, trying to make the public forget about rival studio 20th Century Fox's Sonia Henie. Upset by her successs, husband James Stewart runs out on her, starts up the Ice Follies, and reconciles with her in time for the movie's elephantine finale which might have worked for a Shirley Temple musical (at Fox!) but looks absolutely ridiculous and pretentious in the way it is presented here. There is a reason why this number has never been included in any of MGM's "That's Entertainment!" series.
Along with Crawford, Stewart and Stone, there is MGM's Dr. Kildare, Lew Ayres, wasted as Crawford and Stewart's taxi driving pal, and gravely voiced Lionel Stander, the one saving grace of this film, making the most with his delightful delivery of moderately amusing lines. The story is slight and the film far too overlong and humorless, with Crawford and Stewart spending much of the time onscreen apart so there really seems to be no real reason to root for them to get back together. It is obvious that Louis B. Mayer's rival, Darryl F. Zanuck, and skating star Sonia Henie had a good chuckle, especially with the blatant obnoxiousness of the MGM publicity team working overtime, whether announcing cars for various MGM stars or the presence of the voice of publicity head Frank Whitbeck who really comes off as a stuffy nuisance in MGM shorts where useful information ended up being just another ticket for MGM to pat itself on the back.
There's art in them there slums.
As directed by Frank Borzage (the veteran of silent pictures who directed Janet Gaynor onto the first every Best Actress Oscar), this view of the New York City tenement life shows Joan Crawford with flawless hair but dreary second hand dresses who is determined to get out of the lower east side and find a better life. She marries long-time sweetheart Alan Curtis whom she thinks has the guts to move onto better things but then realizes that he is as shiftless and lazy as her father (Oscar O'Shea) and brother (Leo Gorcey). Having watched her mother (Elisabeth Risdon) struggle with her strength all these years and end up resigned and tired to a life she hates, Crawford becomes enamored of the ambitious Spencer Tracy, a shipping tycoon of questionable morality and realizes that she can't continue to die a slow death, something she sees her mother heading to. Working hard as a model has hardened Crawford into seeing what she wants through the phony glamour of her occupation.
This is a different take on the type of film that usually cast Sylvia Sidney in such parts as Sidney never compromised her morality and always loved someone from her own world. Crawford isn't an amoral character, just more ambitious than those fragile parts Sylvia played in "Street Scene" and "Dead End". The only pairing of Crawford and Tracy, this shows them in a situation that compromised the censors and screams to have been made in the pre-code where the situations could have been a lot dicier. It's obvious whom Crawford will have the chemistry with. The performance of veteran character actress Elisabeth Risdon is excellent, reminding me of tired mothers played by Marjorie Main and Clara Blandick, yet adding more depth and strength in a scene where she confesses her feelings about the men in the family to Crawford.
There's a glamorous modeling show where Crawford is ogled by Tracy while wearing top notch fashions that isn't quite the fashion show that the ladies would attend in "The Women", but it is typical MGM gloss none the less. People always talk about Tracy and Hepburn, and Gable and Crawford, and while Hepburn and Gable never crossed paths, Tracy and Crawford's one teaming shows them a perfect pair. George Chandler has a good small part as a supposed professional boxer who is intimidated by the short in stature Gorcey, basically playing another variation of Slip from "The Bowery Boys" movies.
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937)
It wasn't the last of Mrs. Cheyney. There was still one to go.
Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Greer Garson. Between the mid 1920's through the mid-1950's, one of these women dominated MGM as their queen of glamour. Each of them also played the sophisticated jewel thief who schemes her way into society with the intention of robbing her hostess and guests of their valuables. Shearer's version came out in 1929, Crawford's 8 years later, and Garson's, called "The Law and the Lady", nearly 15 years after this version. In between, Crawford co-starred with Shearer in "The Women", and with Garson in "When Ladies Meet". this is the only time on screen that Crawford was paired with the suave William Powell who initially seems wasted in this film, but actually ends up having a major part, even if it is somewhat supporting.
The leading man is Robert Montgomery home Crawford had appeared within several films. She maneuvers her way into the home of wealthy duchess Jessie Ralph, a lively matron who has seen everything and probably done even more twice. she has secrets of her own, and as she grows to trust and like Crawford, Ralph (the intended victim of Crawford's latest jewelry theft) gets to see the truth about her pretentious family and finds that she has more in common with Crawford then she realized. Why Ralph was never nominated for an Academy Award for either this (or "San Francisco") is a great mystery to me. She is one of the most lovable dowager types on film, not afraid to play the occasional battle axe as she did opposite WC Fields in "The Bank Dick".
The first half of this film is a mixed bag dealing with Revelations of the people in Ralph's social circle and the mysteries surrounding Crawford's intentions and those who may or may not be in on her scheme. Frank Morgan is initially seen encountering Crawford in his hotel suite, she claiming she has made the mistake of believing that it was her room. That gives her access to his world and from there, she encounters such familiar faces as Nigel Bruce, Melville Cooper and Sara Haden. The film culminates with a delightful comic scene where the family skeletons are threatened to be revealed in an effort for Crawford to stay out of prison and it is the highlight of the film, delightfully funny and extremely well-written.
I wouldn't call this a great film, but it is typical glossy MGM fair with Crawford of course gorgeous, Montgomery and Powell dashing, and Morgan and Bruce delightfully pompous, droll and unknowingly goofy and foolish. it is everything that audiences in the 1930s would want from a Crawford film, but unfortunately this was at a downside in her MGM stay and did not get the box office that it deserved. Perhaps having three directors (of whom only Richard Boleslawski got billing) is at fault, although you can definitely see the influence of Dorothy Arzner in Crawford's glamorous characterization. It all ends as a laugh fest to where the victims come to agree that they've never had a more delightful time in their life, and even with slow moments, the audience will have as much of a delightful time as Ralph and her messed up family did.
No More Ladies (1935)
Granny and Rover are the winners here.
Edna May Oliver is the delightful middle aged character actress whose appearance could help raise the quality of any sort of Hollywood drivel, irregardless of what studio that she was at. Here, she is Joan Crawford's grandmother, a delightful octogenarian who can't stand people of her own age because they are her age, and she has refused to be her age. She has no room for nonsense, and for her granddaughter, she will have to deal with a lot of it. Crawford is tired of being stood up by longtime beau Robert Montgomery and finally is able to push him into marriage. But will he be able to avoid the attention of the other ladies? And will she be able to avoid the charms of Franchot Tone who is willing to wait for Montgomery to screw up? It's more MGM gloss in a standard romantic comedy triangle, and thanks to an adept cast, this rises above just being your average woman's picture.
I could have dealt without the constant drunkenness of the character played by the usually amusing Charlie Ruggles go over the top, overdoing the schtick here. Gail Patrick, Vivienne Osborne and Joan Fontaine (in a don't blink or you'll miss here part) are among those tempted by Montgomery with Arthur Treacher adding droll comedy as Osborne's husband. Rover, the Old English Sheepdog, is adorable. Crawford, Montgomery and Tone could play these parts in their sleep with the two men interchangeable, but it is Edna May Oliver who gets the bulk of the witty lines, stealing the film. Enjoyable for the MGM gloss and witty situations, but there's a feeling that I've seen this done before, and much, much better.
This Modern Age (1931)
And Joan was definitely a modern girl.
This is one of Joan Crawford's very best pre-code films, a satisfying mother pove story that features Pauline Frederick as the woman of scandal who hasn't seen daughter Joan Crawford in years, suddenly reunited with her after Joan's father has died. Frederick fears that her daughter will resent her because of her past, but finds young Joan (said to be 19) very open-minded and anxious to begin a mother / daughter relationship. Pretty soon, young Joan is going along with a fast crowd, hanging out with the drunken Monroe Owsley with whom she barely survives a car accident when she is introduced to the dashing Neil Hamilton who comes along and rescues her. When Hamilton and his family realizes the truth about Joan's mother, they reject her, but the sacrificing Frederick makes a desperate attempt to give her daughter the type of life she feels she deserves.
This is a rare chance to see Joan as a blonde, and in spite of the character's youth, she is 100% lady. Frederick, too, is also 100% lady, although it's obvious that she's not as pure as the driven snow, closer to the driven slush. But she manages to keep her real goings on secret, and while it's not blasted as to how she's made due, it's completely opposite. Crawford and Frederick play wonderfully off of each other, and I easily could have seen Joan playing the Frederick role in the late 40's or early 50's.
Monroe Owsley is excellent as the boozy pal, and Hamilton properly stuffy when he needs to be and forceful and lively at other times. As Hamilton's parents, Emma Dunn (later the mother in the "Dr. Kildare" series) and Hobart Bosworth as Hamilton's parents are graceful on the outside but uppity and judgmental as the truth comes out. I would have loved to have a scene where Hamilton tells his parents off. Albert Conti is appropriately sleezy as Frederick's lover. This truly holds up as evidence as to why Crawford's legendary status has grown, and fortunately, she has the script, great co-stars and a top notch production design.
Montana Moon (1930)
This moon has a huge cloud covering it: its leading man.
The frog that Joan Crawford sees while attempting to sleep outdoors has more chemistry with her than the colorless Johnny Mack Briwn who should have been cast as one of the logs in the cabin Joan and him end up living in after they get married out of the blue. The juvenile script is filled with idiotic dialog and absurd situations that has Crawford and sister Dorothy Sebastian dealing with tyrannical father Lloyd Ingraham determined to keep these two flappers in line. On their way to his country ranch, Crawford gets off the train with the intention of returning to New York and encounters Brown while waiting for the train. When she realizes that he works for her father, she puts the moves on him, raising and lowering her eyes like a searchlight. They finally arrive at her father's cabin where they expect not to be greeted with open arms but find just the opposite. Ingraham thinks that of anybody, it's Brown who can keep her in line, but their social differences threatens the marriage right from the start.
While the ukulele playing and singing of Cliff Edwards adds some amusement, attempts for Crawford to put over a melody fails miserably. Edwards and comic Benny Rubin offer more groans than laughs with their long dated comic routines. Crawford does show some promise, but she's defeated by the wretched script and a massively messed up character. At least there are some nice mountain top views and the luxurious log cabin. But between the script and the monotonous performance of Johnny Mack Brown, this definitely claims the prize as Crawford's worst MGM film.
The World Moves On (1934)
A muddling mess of ideas covered through glorious wrapping paper.
If this film had stuck to its one major plot device (romantic tribulations during the time of Workd War I), it might have been a nice A picture without pretentions or the unnecessary prelude set in 1825 in New Orleans. The goings on of that five minutes of exposition is really only dealt briefly in this John Ford saga which easily could have been cut down to 90 minutes.
The bland Franchot Tone was fine as a second lead but to be the focus completely in a film (going from the 1825 sequences up to the early 1920's makes it difficult to be truly interested. His leading lady in both 1825 and after is the beautiful Madeline Carroll, a regal block of ice. Two stereotypical performances add either unintentional comedy (Sig Ruman as a heavily accented German accent that overaccentuates the rolled r's and other letters) or bad taste disguised as comedy (Stepin Fetchit in an unnecessary role) and damper the film's impact.
Listen for a beautifully sung version of "Ave Maria" where the man singing could easily be referred to as the Mario Lanza of his time. the war sequences are well photographed and the film has a very opulent look about it, but ultimately it is missing the one element in a saga that makes it unforgettable: characters that you care about.
The World Changes (1933)
The earth will keep spinning no matter what.
Warner Brothers created a series of earthy dramas throughout the 1930's that showed the world circling many ways, whether through sagas like this and "Silver Dollar" (1932) which dramatized the ambition of man and how it can aide or destroy. Folksy dramas like "So Big" and "As the Earth Turns" reminded audiences of the real heart of the world, and 90 years later, many of these films are classics. In the case of "The World Changes", it is one of the genuinely best films of 1933, not a classic that everybody knows about, but a brilliant film nonetheless.
The heart and soul of this film starts off at the beginning, with the land, and with the hard-working Henry O'Neill and Aileen MacMahon who move to South Dakota and create a community that bears O'Neill's first name. They are so far away from anything that they don't even know that America has been at war. Surprise encounters with General George "Armstrong" Custer and Buffalo Bill leaves a taste of finding what is out there for their son, Paul Muni, who ends up King of the Chicago Stockyards, defying his mother just as his grown sons will later defy him. as Muni rises, he finds barriers thanks to the jealous elderly businessmen who find his upstart ways extremely threatening.
A great performance by the always terrific Mary Astor highlights of the Chicago scenes, with Astor playing Muni's snobbish wife who is disgusted by the stockyards once ran by her father (Guy Kibbee) that Muni insist on raising their sons around. it all becomes a bit too much and she has a nervous breakdown that leaves her a shell of herself, making her look like a complete mad woman in her big scene. It's rare to see a star of Astor's image without makeup and looking almost like a walkung corpse. Warner Brothers ingenue Jean Muir has a part as Muni's childhood sweetheart who urges him to go and then later her granddaughter who becomes involved with Muni's grandson.
MacMahon is terrific as the matriarch who has basically avoided her son's Chicago distance for years but makes a point of showing up as an aged widow, determined to knock sense back into her son and the family of his that she has never been able to get to know. Hers is a type of performance that some may view as ridiculously dated and over-the-top, but she truly is the heart and soul of the film, even with her limited screen time. This is a saga of a very troubled family full by their own wealth and power, needing w good wake-up slap, and a feisty great-great grandmother is just the one to do it.
Silver Dollar (1932)
All that glitters is not silver.
The fantastic Edward G. Robinson gives another memorable performance in this political drama that shows his rise from shopkeeper moving to Denver from Kansas to political big wig and dramatizes his downfall when his personal life catches up with him. He's been married for years to the loyal, hard-working Aline MacMahon (one of the unsung greats of the 1930's) and she's content to remain in the background as his ambition takes over. Ultimately, he begins seeing the pretty Bebe Daniels on the side and cruelly dumps her in one of the saddest movie scenes ever. As the scandal becomes known, gis reputation suffers, and Robinson must eat crow as his downfall occurs swift and ruthlessly.
This is truly an amazing character study of one man's rise and fall, and Robinson is excellent, giving one of his best performances. Ambition is a killer, and Robinson really must fall into the depths of despair to realize the impact of his change on everybody around him and ultimately what it has made him in his later years. mcmahen character really doesn't deserve her fate here, but it is a very real situation, and she makes the most out of a small part. Daniels is good, but she is overshadowed by the two other actors post characters have more depth. A great Warner Brothers pre-code drama in every aspect that may have you reaching for your Kleenex in the final scene.
Il gigante di Metropolis (1961)
I'll give this one credit. I'll not easily forget it.
The ultra strange sets of this avante garde sword and sandal film adds to the hideous dubbing, generally bad direction and a story that seems like it was written during a hashish smoke-out. Roldano Lupi, in a hideous Satan worshiper like robe and cloak, seems like something that would have popped up in a "Star Trek* episode or was rejected for a Vincent Price AIP horror film. He's the cult like head of Metropolis which we are supposed to accept as the new Atlantis. He has a penchant for torture and enjoys seeing brawny Gordon Mitchell in threatening situations.
Then there is a bizarre dance sequence that is so odd that I had to watch it again to confirm that I was seeing what I was seeing. The homoerotic dance ends with the black dancer placing his hand on the white man's buttocks. This isnt choreography. It's a bunch of seizures played back in slow motion. The nonsensical story just gets more bizarre as it goes along, and the constant slow and loud drum banging and other sounds eccelerated my headache. The color is pretty good, and the sets indeed interesting, but the lack of a decent structure results in this film becoming an incomprehensible mess.
What about the horn of the Trogladite?
At least Joan Crawford doesn't come along with Trog's ball and doll in the final Sinbad entry of the Ray Harryhausen series of adventure films. It's an enjoyable entry where Sinbad (played here by Patrick Wayne) is on another adventure filled journey to find a cure for the spell put on his friend, Prince Kassim, turning him into a baboon like creature by nasty witch Margaret Whiting (not the singer) in her effort to gain power. Whiting and her companion (Kurt Christian, a far cry from his cowardly young sailor in the previous entry, "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad") follow him and his companions to a mysterious land where they encounter the dangerous looking Trogladite who actually has a soft spot for the ladies (princess Jane Seymour and Taryn Power) andexam in finding what they are looking for. They must hurry though because the baboon Prince is becoming more carnivoras which would prevent them from turning back into this princely self.
Delightfully over-the-top, Whiting transform herself self and ends up being caught where she loses of valuable locked it that contains the blood that could help the prince. This blood turns a common mosquito into a giant man killer, a sight to behold. Among the other fabulous creatures are a battling group of human skeletons with praying mantis like eyes and Whiting's deadly minotaur. It is once again filled with delightful set design and interesting special effects, but coming from the same year as the original "Star Wars", it finds itself overshadowed by that.
Only slightly gimmicky with a moderate element of cutesy interactions between the women, the baboon and the kindly Trog, this builds up in suspense to the very dramatic conclusion where the power of evil meets its match. Patrick Troughton has a nice supporting role as the wise man of the group, and Wayje is a dashing hero. This may be the last of the Ray Harryhausen "Sinbad" films, but it is by no means a forgettable one.
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
Seeking the fountain of knowledge comes with a price.
And for evil wizard Tom Baker, that is going to be the road to his demise. But it's a fun road to travel on watching him, Captain Sinbad (a very handsome John Phillip Law) and Sinbad's crew, most notably the cowardly Kurt Christian and the buxom Caroline Munro fulfill their destiny and for some, to learn a major lesson. Did typical exotic Ray harryhausen creatures includes a winged monkey, a ship gargoyles who comes to life, and a six-armed statue who can fight multiple men at one time with swords that appear out of nowhere. There's a Minotaur and other exotic creatures, at certain times, this does indeed to seem to be emulating "The Wizard of Oz" featuring a head that floats above a mysterious well and a bunch of green cavemen who obey Tom Baker's orders when everybody is Dad together in the cave of knowledge were certain fates will be determined.
It had been over a decade since the previous in that movie, and while the creatures are well made, they are perhaps not as well-designed as previous creatures. But how can you surpass perfection? It is enjoyable on many lebels, featuring comedy, romance and a lot of action, and of course, the waiting of how the evil Baker will get his comeuppance. The adorable Christian pretty much steals every moment that he is on, going from a young drunk man left by his father aboard Sinbad's ship chill finally facing courage with lion like aplomb.
Baker is a fabulous villain, Munro is a bit more strong in nature then the usual beleaguered heroin, and there was a mystery surrounding the masked figure who encourages Sinbad at every step to follow his dream. These films remain a lot of fun decades later because there is always something that you may have missed or forgotten, and they can be enjoyed with younger generations open minded to see something different than the CGI effects of today.