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An Early Frost (1985)
Standout Performances and Script Bolster Landmark Film
An Early Frost reflects the underlying principal that love and compassion are stronger than fear. In this respect, the broadcast fueled an operative for the gay community, and world at large, to learn from and build upon.
The acting is uniformly excellent. The script allows the actors excellent opportunities. Aiden Quinn (whose voice and approach is reminiscent of Montgomery Clift) goes through the emotional gamut with grace and believability. As his grandmother, veteran actress Sylvia Sidney's skill easily fuels two tear-inducing scenes that not only provide emotional release for the viewer, but drive the message home. While Michael is hospitalized from a seizure, we see Sidney and her daughter(Gene Rowlands)outside trimming roses. Sidney comments about "an early frost nipping them in the bud." She reflects on how people shunned her husband when he had died of cancer. At a loss for words the two embrace—capturing the heartache that envelops them.
The cast, in true ensemble spirit allow their characters to reach the power point of unconditional love. The film was instructive on the basic ramifications of the AIDS virus, and helped dispel the unnecessary fear and rumors surrounding it. An Early Frost made people think about the senseless vitriol that was being aimed at the gay community.
Lady of Secrets (1936)
Ruth Chatterton's "comeback picture" after 2 years off the screen ...
Early into the telling of Lady of Secrets we discover that Chatterton's character, Celia, has a troubled past that easily surfaces into emotional outbursts. A Fourth of July parade with marching soldiers outside Celia's window sets her off like a firecracker. "Put on your uniforms and beat your drums!" she cries. "Tell the world that war is glorious. Let's have another one!" When she calms down, and wistfully calls out, "Michael ... Michael ... I've got to learn to forget"--we assume that the man she speaks of is among the dear departed.
Celia's younger sister, Joan (Marian Marsh) punishes the young man she loves, by announcing her engagement to a middle-aged millionaire, David (Otto Kruger). Celia is up front with the fiancé and tells him, nicely, "I don't feel this marriage should take place. If I find I'm right, I shall declare war on it." The simpatico between the talented actors, Chatterton and Kruger, is tangible. So far, Lady of Secrets holds the interest.
Halfway into the film, Celia is left alone to reminisce. We have the misfortune of experiencing a flashback which hammers more nails than necessary into the cross she bears, as well as the film's coffin. Any subtlety that Lady of Secrets had quickly vanishes. Instead, we look aghast as Chatterton is asked to portray Celia as a sixteen-year-old. A younger shade of blonde, giddy innocence, and clever lighting cannot disguise the fact that Baby Jane Hudson (Chatterton was 43) is attempting a comeback. 17 minutes of drudging up things we already suspect, deflates any delicacy the film possessed.
Lady of Secrets attempts to regain the charm, tempo and poignancy it had, but it comes too late. The inflated flashback has become a burdensome anchor, dragging its weight and the film with it.
Even so, I recommend this film for the talents of Chatterton and Kruger. Marian Marsh does well as the naive, younger sister. She and Chatterton got along well during the production, sharing a mutual interest in horses, and taking morning rides together in Griffith Park.
Charming Sinners (1929)
Charming Sinners – Engaging Light Comedy – Expert Cast
Charming Sinners is the second dialogue film based on the work of England's Somerset Maugham. The film was something new for the cinema. It was not about action. It was about words—expertly delivered by a well-seasoned cast. Clive Brook, Montague Love, and William Powell had been stage veterans since the 1910's. Ruth Chatterton and Laura Hope Crews (who plays her mother) had worked together for years in the Henry Miller Company. Charming Sinners was perfect turf for Chatterton, who dominates the picture and delivers with poignancy and bite.
Chatterton, as the wife of an errant husband (Clive Brook, appropriately stiff and full of himself), opts for the single standard with the sole purpose of getting him back. Enter the polished William Powell, a former beau who is still in love with her. Together, they have much more chemistry. There is an exquisite musical interlude at the piano. While Chatterton plays and sings a wistful melody, Powell pours his heart out. She dismisses his ardor with an appreciative laugh. The question is: will Ruth take a vacation from marriage and rendezvous with Powell in Italy? Although the film ends differently from the stage production, it is an effective, thoughtful finish for an engaging frolic amongst the upper-crust.
Filmed in early 1929, critics were impressed by the film and its players, but complained about the sound quality. It was shot in the wee hours of the morning (typical of early sound features), and it's a marvel that the players pulled off such an amusing piece of work. Robert Milton and Dorothy Arzner co-directed the film. It must be pointed out that the tragic Mary Nolan, the only non-stage veteran (except the Ziegfeld Follies), is excellent as the pampered schemer with whom Brook is smitten. Always thinking and plotting, she turns her distasteful character into something peculiarly fascinating. She proved that some silent stars didn't need to fear the influx of stage veterans with the advent of sound film.
The Bride Comes Home (1935)
Colbert-MacMurray-Young Can't Save This Turkey
I watched in amazement (and admiration) as three talented stars gave their all to breathe life into Claude Binyon's amateurish script. The dialog in this love-triangle lacks that special ingredient that made screwball comedy such a delight. Elisabeth Holding, who wrote the story, had better luck with such noir classics as the excellent Reckless Moment (1949). There is nothing clever or ingratiating about this movie and I'm amazed that it got any further than the garbage can. Colbert offers her usual pep. MacMurray is excellent and not bad on the eye. Robert Young tries too, but ends up being just plain irritating. I've never seen a Colbert film that I didn't want to watch twice. Now I have.
Double Harness (1933)
Ann Harding & William Powell = Spicy, Intelligent Fun
As I mention in my book Ann Harding-Cinema's Gallant Lady, DOUBLE HARNESS was one of the many wonderful pre-Code films to "bite the dust" after the enforcement of the Production Code. The film was a critical and financial success, but never re-released. The problem was a seduction scene which established that Ann Harding was offering William Powell premarital favors. In the 1950's ... a truncated DOUBLE HARNESS showed up on New York TV where portions of this "offensive" scene were deleted. This DVD contains the restored version.
DOUBLE HARNESS -used here as an idiom for "Marriage" had been a London stage success in 1933 written by an American, Edward Poor Montgomery, who adapted it from a 1904 novel by English author Anthony Hope. Hope had also penned THE PRISONER OF ZENDA. Oddly enough, the director for DOUBLE HARNESS, John Cromwell, would direct Ronald Colman 1937's THE PRISONER OF ZENDA. Cromwell also directed OF HUMAN BONDAGE, with Bette Davis, after Ann Harding turned down the role. Cromwell had actually directed Ann Harding ten years earlier, in 1923, in her first big hit on Broadway, TARNISH.
By the time they teamed for DOUBLE HARNESS in May 1933, both Ann Harding and William Powell were well-established screen stars. Harding had been nominated for Best Actress for HOLIDAY (1930) and Powell was just a year away from THIN MAN triumph at MGM. Powell liked the script for DOUBLE HARNESS and was delighted to be working with Ann, an actress whom he truly admired. On screen their chemistry and rapport is the film's chief asset.
In his 2007 review of Double Harness SF critic/author Mick LaSalle stated, "Double Harness is especially precious because it is one more of a handful of first-rate vehicles for Ann Harding, who was perhaps the best actress of the early 1930s. Don't believe it? See her. Her technique is psychological, extremely modern." As with most Ann Harding films, the ensemble spirit prevails. Cromwell's direction is sleek. Ann's saucy, yet level-headed character targets wealthy San Francisco playboy Powell as if it were her "business" to do so. Powell finds her "coolly virginal, yet exquisitely inviting." He asks if she can be trusted. "Can you?" she replies. "In drinking, yes," he answers. Harding and Powell pull off the superb dialogue with seasoned charm and flair. Watch for the scene where Harding first goes up to Powell's apartment. She's wearing a gardenia corsage that Powell gave her- as they embrace, she exclaims "My Flowers!" She's about to be deflowered, as it were--a great double-entendre.
About the only thing that misses the mark is a slap-stick scene toward the end. A confrontation between Reginald Owen (the butler) and Wong Chung (the cook)comes off as a bit awkward. The finis itself, however, is quite touching. Highly Recommended.
Three Cornered Moon (1933)
This stagy adaptation of the Broadway play tends to drag. If director Nugent and editor Loring had sped things along it might have worked. In spite of such stellar talents as Colbert (in a role originated by Ruth Gordan) and Mary Boland, Three-Cornered Moon is only passable entertainment. The story, about the irresponsible off-spring of a wealthy-widow-now-broke (Boland), has its charm and enough funny moments to make it worthwhile for die-hard Colbert fans. However, it is difficult as to why it was selected to be part of TCM's Claudette Colbert Collection. The rowdy antics of Colbert's on-screen brothers chasing each other around the house border on the ridiculous. Wallace Ford was 35 years-old, William Bakewell 25, but only 20 year-old Tom Brown fits the bill for these kind of shenanigans. And poor Lyda Roberti isn't given much to do -- what a waste. Her part fell flat and should have been re-written for the screen adaptation.
Naked Boys Singing! (2007)
Engaging entertainment with a talented cast
What surprised me the most about this filmed stage production was the splendid variety in the musical numbers. The dancing is professional. Each dance is well choreographed. The vocals are entertaining, and pleasant to listen to. All numbers are done with heart and humor. This was truly a unique experience. I'm surprised at the arrogant remarks posted in other IMDb reviews. I found Naked Boys Singing highly enjoyable and fresh. Just look at the expression on the audiences faces. These talented guys offer a good sock in the jaw to convention. Intelligence and humor are the threads that hold this production together. Cheers and applause to all involved.
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
Real Democracy and Community go Hand in Hand
Michael Moore states that he does not like what has happened to America. And,he is NOT leaving. After watching this film I see that there is only real hope for the U.S. It rests in a future generation that is capable of appreciating the "meat" in his message. They must have what used to be referred to as a conscience. They must not be money-worshipers. We are now witnessing the equation: Freedom = Money. It becomes more and more obvious that this doesn't make for a healthy, nurturing society. Moore's use of vintage footage, news-clips, on-the-scene reports of citizens experiencing the degradation of foreclosure etc., is nicely pieced together. Bravo, Mr.Moore!
Georgia Rule (2007)
Complex Subject .... Absorbingly Told
Fonda, Huffman, and Lohan do some excellent ensemble work in this nicely paced and absorbing screenplay. There is just the right amount of humor to keep the film buoyant and alive. Alcoholism and sexual abuse are uneasy subjects to tackle. Georgia Rules offers the viewer more than just a glimpse into these issues. The film provides strong characters who work their way through their demons with spirit and humanity. Dermot Mulroney does fine work, as the Idahoan doctor/veterinarian, who helps Lohan "find her way home." Huffman is truly touching as a mother torn between truth and lies. Fonda is especially wonderful. Her strength as an actress is something rare these days. She truly gels the film into worthwhile cinema. I hope she many more worthwhile roles ahead of her.
Virginia Bruce Lends A Much Needed Spark
Brazil has some entertaining musical and dance numbers that are worth a look. Tito Guizar is an impressive singer, but as an actor he personifies the word: bland. The only real spark in this film is Virginia Bruce. She has a wonderful screen presence. She's animated, and emotionally on cue as an actress in every scene she's in. Too bad she didn't get to sing -- she's a distinctive and likable vocalist (she introduced the song "I've Got You Under My Skin" in 1936). Bob Livingston would have been a better choice for her love interest -- he is far more charismatic than Guizar. The first fifteen minutes are impressive as they introduce authoress Virginia, who's American book "Why Marry A Latin?" has caused a furor among Latin men. Along comes Guizar, who at one point becomes twin brothers, which is two too many Guizars for one movie.
Alice in Wonderland (1933)
Alice in Blunderland
This is one of those films that I could only sit through once. Charlotte Henry is fine -- in fact, all the actors were fine. The problem was in the script, the dialog, the direction, the editing, the sets and the special effects. Granted, this was 1933, but it really creaked. Part of the problem is that actors like Richard Arlen, Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields and Cary Grant are not recognizable (there faces cried for a recognition that was not forthcoming). The movie just clumped along with no cohesion. Much of Lewis Carrols spirit, humor and continuity are missing. What a pity! It's such a great book. I would recommend Disney's 1951 version.
Finely Etched Portrait by Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow gives a haunting portrayal of a daughter whose devotion to a mentally challenged father draws out her own mental edges. As care-giver for an elderly parent I am well aware of our fragile mental world and Paltrow's performance shines with nothing but truth. Her honesty and the emotional territory she portrayals are "proof" of her integrity as an actress. The film is impressively directed -- the script is paced compellingly and draws the viewer into a life situation that most of us simply refuse to acknowledge and try to avoid. Once the "great mind" of our genius is "gone" -- who are we? Hope Davis as Paltrow's sister does a great job of showing how striving for her "normalacy" is the ultimate lunacy. Great ensemble playing by all. I highly recommend this film.
The Garden of Allah (1936)
The real star of this ridiculous story is glorious technicolor. A visual treat to the eye, the film fails to stimulate the mind and heart. I was intrigued, at first, by the idea of Dietrich and Boyer leaving religion in order to "find" their capacity for love. What follows is a huge disappointment. Boyer is the only real actor in the production and one feels his torment. Dietrich's amazing wardrobe outshines her performance -- at times her face is frightening to look at -- a unfeeling mask. As a monk, Boyer held the formula for the monastery's liquer (which reminds me of the true story of Chartreuse) -- when he leaves his "marriage to god" the reaction by his fellow monks holds the shock and fear that perpetuate organized religion. The viewer feels Boyer was well rid of his past. However, the journey that follows is all too predictable.
The Macomber Affair (1947)
Absorbing Hemingway Drama
This film deserves a DVD release. Excellent script, direction, and editing carry the film into Hemingway's world. The results are excellent. The three leads do very well with their parts. I particularly liked Joan Bennett. Her cynicism and brazen effrontery towards husband Preston held my attention as she carried on an obvious affair with Peck. The dynamic between the three stars smolders across the screen as Preston attempts to "prove" his manhood by killing wild beasts. In true Hemingway style the "big game" adventure turns into one of more human proportions. Pretty bold stuff considering the Production Code was still in full swing. Reginald Denny plays with authority in a minor role.
Highly Entertaining Film by the Talented Bruce Paltrow
This last film by director Bruce Paltrow entertains throughout. It is intelligent, laugh-out-loud-funny, touching, and the viewer is nudged into recognizing his/her humanity while the story unfolds. Three stories weave together until they meld at a Karaoke championship in Omaha. Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow make a strong showing as a reunited father-daughter -- their duet of Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin'" is a delight. Paul Giamatti gives even a better performance than he did in Sideways (and that's saying a lot). Director Paltrow worked 5 years putting this small masterpiece together -- it tackles our society's short-comings with an irreverent and sharp humor -- it's exactly what we need to hear. Bravo to a talented man. His passing was a great loss to the film community.
The Torch (1950)
A Film Classic! Excellent direction by famed Emilio Fernandez
This absorbingly told story is a real tribute to the award-winning director Emilio Fernandez. Fernandez was awarded top prize at the 1946 Cannes festival for Maria Candelaria -- he also was recognized over the years at festivals in Venice, Berlin, Moscow, San Sebastian and in his native Mexico. The photography and editing are stunning - the film is a visual masterpiece from beginning to end. The story couples Fernandez' own "revolutionary" consciousness with a compelling humanitarian outlook. The acting is on cue by the leads -- and the supporting players have fantastic faces and genuine authenticity. This was no "quickie" as other IMDb users claim, but a Class A production throughout. Buy this film. It is out on DVD and well worth every penny. The only real drawback is Paulette Goddard's looks. At 39, she is simply too old for the part (at times she reminded me of "Baby Jane Hudson"). Otherwise, Goddard gives one of her best performances -- her transformation from a temperamental, spoiled, privileged woman to a real human being is well played. This film needs to be re-discovered!!
Latter Days (2003)
Heartwarming Story; Long Overdue
Having grown up a Mormon and grappled with the church's bigotry towards Blacks (they were not allowed to hold the church's priesthood when I was a member) -- I wasn't aware of the organizations policy of excommunicating gay men and women until after I left the church in 1966 -- (I was 20.) I was stunned when I learned that friends who were gay were excommunicated even after serving on missions. LATTER DAYS exposes the Mormon's persecution of gay members. The film is LONG overdue. It does an excellent job of showing how the two lead males come to terms with one another, while managing to grow up and develop more fully as individuals. LATTER DAYS has great heart, wonderful original music and an added touch of class from Jacqueline Bisset. The film brilliantly tells the story of an individual who leaves behind the confines of organized religion and reclaims his very soul.
Allotment Wives (1945)
GREAT NOIR -- GRITTIER THAN MILDRED PIERCE
Many film buffs consider this the best of Kay Francis' "Monogram Trilogy". It's a good companion piece for MILDRED PIERCE (also 1945) -- only ALLOTMENT WIVES has a harder edge -- Kay Francis is tougher, in a more complex role. She looks slim and stylish here as she leads a crime syndicate while fronting with a chic salon. The film is full of surprises and suspense. Excellent support comes from Teala Loring as Kay's troubled daughter who is kept from harms way at a private girls school. Their scenes together have a genuine feeling that allows sympathy for their situation and struggle. Kay's final scene on the staircase is a classic and her exit line is a memorable one. Gertrude Michael does a fine job as Kay's long lost friend out to do her no good. Her character throws more sympathy Kay's way even though Kay herself has a cold-blooded side in a losing "man's" game.
365 Nights in Hollywood (1934)
Early Faye Shows Much Promise
This a quite an enjoyable early Faye effort. At 19, she's quite the trouper and gives a convincing, compelling performance. The big production number of "Yes, To You" is a real show-stopper and I think this is one of Faye's best songs. She gives a playful, comic touch to her impersonations of a Dutch girl, French Chanteuse, and exotic Asian doll. The plot is pure make-believe and everyone seems to be having fun with it. Jimmy Dunn is good and well as such stand-bys as Grant Mitchell. The comic duo Mitchell and Durant are tolerable at best. It's good someone saved this film from obscurity -- it's good entertainment -- now when can they do the same for NOW I'LL TELL? The Faye/ Spencer Tracy Fox film needs the same treatment.
The Desert Song (1955)
BRAVOS TO NELSON EDDY AND GALE SHERWOOD!
I was fortunate to get a good copy of this 1955 broadcast on VHS. I was surprised at the good production values, direction (Max Liebman) and choreography (Rod Alexander) -- for early TV this was quite impressive. Nelson Eddy and and Gale Sherwood have an excellent blend of voices and do great justice to the soaring music of Sigmund Romberg.
The sets are primative, but work and the camera work itself is fluid and enjoyable. This is a real entertainment treat if you're able to locate a copy! My copy is Black and White, but the original was in NBC's early technicolor.
Hollywood Party (1937)
Beautiful Technicolor Hodgepodge
The 3-strip technicolor is the real star of this musical/comedy hodgepodge. The hosts are Elissa Landi and Charlie Chase in an oriental-themed program. We see glimpses of Joan Bennett, Clark Gable, Joe E. Brown and a nice fashion display with Anna May Wong. The real talent is in a quartet of black singers doing a rendition of "Chinatown, My Chinatown". There is a nice scene with a hula-motiff and the song "South Sea Island Magic". Some rather routine dance numbers and so-so Leon Carroll sketch to fill it all out. Watch for it on TCM.
Daring Drama for Post-Code 1935
I sat stunned at the story-line for this film. It goes into emotional-romantic territory usually associated with pre-code films. Miriam Hopkins plays a young woman of great integrity who marries into a family of blue-bloods who's financial resources have all but drained. Joel McCrea, plays the loyal son to Helen Westley's controlling mother. His initial concern with his family's "prestige" puts his and Miriam's dreams and plans at bay. What follows is pretty risky business for a film in 1935. Westley is frightening and compelling as the controlling mother-in-law. All performances are top-notch. The challenges for Hopkins as an actress and the character she plays are believable and "she holds her own." A very unusual film that belongs in any film buffs collection.
Jimmy and Sally (1933)
COMEDY-DRAMA WITH GREAT THEME SONG
The real highlight of this film is the great pop standard "You're My Thrill" by Sidney Clare and Jay Gorney. It's haunting refrain is initially sung by Lya Lys, playing a pampered mistress. Later on the refrain swells in the background while Claire Trevor and Harvey Stephens are night-clubbing. The story and direction are entertaining, but James Dunn's lead character is abrasive and just too cock sure of himself to sit back and enjoy. Although the story roots for Claire and Jimmy's romance -- the prospect of Claire and the charming Harvey Stephens character together is more appealing. Well done, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Dick Powell's Fine Noir Edge Hits Mark
I am always amazed at Dick Powell's transition from bouyant singing star into the shadows and uncertainties of noir classics. He's absolutely delightful in the former -- and gives joy and heart to the songs he's given. Confident, good-looking, he seems to be laughing at life. In PITFALL -- it's as if his bubble has been burst -- the "perfect" home, job, family and friends have become simply routine in his mind. By venturing into the world of beautiful loser (as far as men are concerned) Lizbeth Scott -- Powell's wanderlust is satisfied only to find he's opened a "can of worms". Powell, Wyatt, Scott and Raymond Burr are effective and believable -- and the film is paced, photographed, and scripted with intelligence -- so that the viewer easily goes along for the ride. Powell's talent as an actor is underscored here. As his outlook on things changes he redefines "what he's had all along" with an underplayed, yet genuinely felt appreciation. Burr is especially chilling as the obsessed detective sent to get the goods on Lizbeth Scott. Kudos to de Toth.
Young and Willing (1943)
Fast-paced Nonsense Might Do for High School Play
I found it hard to believe that a studio would waste the talents of William Holden and Susan Hayward on such an embarrasing, sophmoric script. Ms. Swann (screenwriter) capped her career writing for the dreadful TV series DARK SHADOWS. Holden and Hayward and the rest of the players put their heart and souls into this hard-to-watch comedy. They all play it to the hilt, but got no laughs out of me. Eddie Bracken did his usual shtick -- and Robert Brenchley (who I find more irritating than funny) does his usual thing. Breezy, likeable Barbara Britton is nice to watch and we get to see handsome James Brown in his underwear. Martha O'Driscoll is way over-the-top. This MIGHT have worked if the players were kids (17-20)-- instead we have actors in their mid-twenties looking pretty ridiculous. I usually don't like writing negative reviews, but I'm upset that I actually had to sit through this, based on a highly recommended review on IMDB. I actually BOUGHT the video. Yikes!