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Our Wife (1941)
Disappointing and tedious
This movie is a real bait-and-switch frustration. it starts out as a wonderful, light comedy and then becomes an all-too-earnest match of wits between Susan (Ruth Hussey) and Babe (Ellen Drew) vying for the affections of Jerry (Melvyn Douglas).
After the promising start, this film comes crashing down when Babe tumbles down they stairs. The film becomes literally confined to a bedroom, and a ruse that should be pretty easy to expose turns into an impossible scam and an interminable mental chess match between Babe and Susan. It is simply not believable that Babe can avoid reacting to being stuck with pins and can fool two doctors. Neither Babe nor Susan is a very credible character, and all the scheming fails to generate much of a chuckle. All semblance of comedy has already gone up in smoke long before the stupid, unfunny climax of the house burning. All in all, a frustrating, schizophrenic film.
Holiday in Mexico (1946)
First a Concert followed by a Movie
This movie is burdened mostly by poor pacing. The first half of the film is a long string of diverse musical numbers connected by a few lines of dialog. Then the director seemed to realize that some kind of plot development was necessary, so the musical numbers are few and far between in the second half of the movie, which is dedicated to getting the flimsy plot moving. Then there's the grand finale with Jane Powell delivering a beautiful rendition of "Ave Maria."
Not once did I feel like I was in Mexico City. Believe it or not, you will see more keffiyehs than sombreros in this movie! Maybe the director thought it was Holiday in Morocco. However, some of the costumes are beautiful - especially some of Jane Powell's dresses.
Walter Pidgeon, who I usually like, is only fair in his role as the US Ambassador to Mexico and an all-wise, empathetic and loving, but somewhat condescending father. Jane Powell has a beautiful voice, but her acting is erratic and bordering on manic in some of the early scenes. Jose Iturbi never was an actor, but had a film career based solely on his being an excellent pianist. Ilona Massey is, likewise, not a great actress, but she is beautiful and hot. Roddy MacDowell has such a high-pitched, soft voice, it is hard for me to ever find him very convincing as a serious love-interest, even as a teenager. At the end of the day, every minute of this film seems like it is populated not by real people, but by actors playing roles.
If you like a fairly wide range of music, then the first part of this movie will delight you. I personally wanted to come up for more air between musical numbers. The two best scenes are in the second half. The funniest scene is between Pidgeon and the parents of one of his daughter's girlfriends. It is the cleverest plot device in a plot riddled with every cinematic cliché of the era, and it is quite ironic, with Pidgeon discovering he is the object of the affections of the young daughter of one of his ambassadorial colleagues.
The penultimate scene in which Pidgeon talks frankly with Powell, his daughter, about facing up to life after you've made a fool of yourself is worth wading through the trite plot, clichés and front-loaded music. And her response, as depicted in the climactic scene is suitably uplifting.
Spreading the musical numbers more evenly throughout the film, and developing the plot in a more even manner, too, would have improved this film quite a bit. As it is, it is more like sitting through two performances - first, a short concert, followed by a short film.
Pseudo-happy ending blights fine film
I am absolutely smitten with Paulette Goddard. She is incredibly beautiful and such an immensely gifted actress. Yet I have seen so few of her films. Why is that? Here she is a sheer delight as the Duchess of Malmuster. She made me laugh. She tugged at my heart. She mesmerized me with her beauty. And she made me root for her.
I am not such a fan of Ray Milland. In this film his character, Sir Hugh Marcy, is a gold- digging, self-absorbed schemer. In one particular scene, he refuses to leave the Lady's residence, ordering around her servants as if they were his own and forcing his way into her dressing room in some misguided cinematic display of "love." In truth, Marcy is a domineering manipulator. In this entire film he has two scenes in which he is sympathetic. Sandwiched between those two scenes, he executes a plan to expose Lady Malmuster, dragging her back into her "Houndsditch" gutter and sabotaging her engagement to his supposed friend, Lord Carstairs. In reality, this little ploy likely would have been very hurtful to both the Lord and Lady. However, in the unreal realm of Hollywood filmdom, the Lady throws over the fine Lord Carstairs to take back the foul Marcy, and the audience is supposed to believe she lives happily ever after with this lout.
The film kept me guessing whether it would end happily or unhappily for the lovely heroine. I had been hoping for an ending worthy of her. What a terrible disappointment that she should end up with the likes of Lord Marcy. She deserved so much better. This film would have been an 8 or 9 with a better ending.
The Law and the Lady (1951)
So-So Fluffy Re-make
The good stuff: The writing in this remake makes the motivations of the characters much clearer in the climactic scenes. Wilding is very good as the gentleman thief, Lamas is full of Latin brio and charm without being over the top, and Main is delightfully (and typically) over the top. Also, this version is not burdened by the turgid Joan Crawford, whose self-important acting style weighs down every film - even the heavy weepers and noirs for which she is best suited.
The not-so-good stuff: Garson is, indeed, a bit too mature and sophisticated for her role. I once considered her to be lovely, with exotic eyes. In this role, however, her eyes just looked puffy. Worse, her make-up accentuates her puffy eyes, rather large nose and weak chin. She looked like a caricature of herself. And her hair was not the soft, radiant red with which I am enamored, but very dark brunette, providing a stark contrast with her pale complexion and bad make-up. I could have suspended my disbelief enough to accept her as a working class woman, but her appearance was simply jarring. A real pity. The story is pure contrivance, the worst part being that despite the ease with which it could be done, nobody except Lamas' grandmother, the "princess," has the sense to actually check out Garson's story. I have a feeling that passing one's self off as a member of the nobility would take a little more effort and preparation than simply inventing a title and surname at a fancy restaurant.
I was immobilized at home after surgery when I saw this movie. It passed the time.
Hold Your Man (1933)
Con Couple Shifts into Sap Mode
This movie down-shifts from 4th into 1st without bothering with 3rd or 2nd, grinding gears all the way to the sappy, b-movie finish-line. The con at the beginning is easily the best and cleverest part of the movie. That is worth seeing. The scene with Harlow in the bathtub occurs so fast, you may miss it. Definitely not worth all the ballyhoo provided by Robert Osborne in his TCM intro to this bad-to-mediocre confusion. There is no real conflict, and all of the characters in this supposed fringe society turn out to be saints - especially the unbelievable character, Al. I wonder if he's got a job for me in Cincinnati?
The Outcast (1954)
Beautiful Scenery and Superior Cinematography
...are the strengths of this muddled movie. And the soundtrack is reasonably good, too. The gunfight between the cattle rustlers and Jet and two of the Polson boys provides some dandy footage of cowboys ridin' and shootin' - not to mention the nice stunt work during the horseback tussle between Jet and Dude. Otherwise you should avoid it.
The plot is a variation on the old Hatfields and McCoys feud. In this variant, however, one of the families is, itself, also split into two factions, and the pater familias of the other family buggy whips and banishes his daughter. Oddly, the Polsons even call themselves "hill people," reflecting a social milieu and jargon straight out of Appalachia and foreign to the Old West. The dialog is full of other, similar oddities and apparent anachronisms. Most of the characters are not well-defined or well-portrayed. Derek's character is especially unsympathetic, and his acting is pure wooden bravado without any nuance. When he tells Judy that he has just been making a play for Alice in order to embarrass his uncle, it comes as a totally incredible fabrication.
As one commentator already noted, the anticipated gunfight between Jet and The Major is at first delayed by some pseudo-romantic exposition and then finished with other anti- climactic interruptions from a hired gun and a raving lawyer.
Easily the best scene is apparently unscripted. The sight of Jet wheeling his horse into Dude, whacking him on the head with the horse's mouth is just about the only thing in this movie that seems genuine.
Heaven with a Gun (1969)
Glen Ford, Gunslingin' Preacher
Slightly better than formulaic script never really explores the moral tension inherent in the central character: a gunslingin' preacher played by Glen Ford with his usual professionalism. The moral/spiritual dilemma is pretty well ignored until Carolyn Jones directly confronts Ford and compels him to make a choice: gunslinger or preacher.
The acting is always good. I like Glen Ford and Carolyn Jones. This is actually one of David Carradine's better performances. He is a very good sadistic old-west punk. Barbara Hershey is easy to look at. I guess she turns in a fair performance as a half-breed speaking stereotypical pidgin English.
The most interesting scene is the gunfight in the saloon between a nasty hired gun and Ford while they are SEATED opposite one another at a poker table. The movie earned more originality points for that twist than for the paradoxical plot revolving around the gunslingin' preacher character.
Play Girl (1941)
Fluffy, but not particularly funny
I think Kay Francis is an acquired taste that I am still acquiring. This film is not a great vehicle, but oddly, I liked Kay in this role better than I do most of her films. Her character is usually very long- suffering. But here she plays "Grace." She is an aging gold-digger rapidly reaching the point of no-return, and she realizes it. Yet she doesn't respond with melodrama, but with a plan to sponsor a protégé, passing on her "wisdom" in exchange for a share of the young woman's "earnings." Despite the rather seamy subject matter, however, this film and Francis' role are both much lighter than most of her vehicles.
It provides a very predictable, formulaic plot and very few laughs. But the two best scenes are humorous, even if not hilarious, and make this film worth seeing. Early in the film, Grace is coaching her protégé, Ellen, before her first date with her first "mark," Nigel Bruce. It is as if they are rehearsing a play, with Kay assuming Nigel's role. In her coaching, she not only anticipates every line, verbatim, that he later uses for real, but she gives a very funny imitation of Bruce's very distinctive British accent.
In a later scene in a steam bath, Bruce assumes Kay's persona in describing to another intended "mark" how the two women fleeced him in Chicago. Straight into the camera, he quotes Kay as she had addressed him: "If you want to make her vewy, vewy happy, get her a mink coat." I wondered whether it was an ad lib or it was scripted. But what I really wondered was how Kay, herself, took the spoof. Her difficulty pronouncing the letter, "R," was legendary. Yet she seems so upbeat in this movie that it leaves the impression that she must have been a good sport about it.
I fault the ending not because it was a fairy-tale wrap-up, but because it was abrupt and rather disjointed. The central focus of the movie is the romance between Tom and Ellen, but the central character is Grace. When the movie ended with the off-screen reconciliation of Tom and Ellen, and Grace's anticipating a happy ending with a completely unknown man, I felt like I had been deprived of seeing the resolution of either the film's central story or its central character.
The character of Tom's uncle should have been a larger role, bringing him into a slowly growing relationship with Kay. After all, she spends most of her time lounging around in a negligee while Ellen and her beaus are out on the town. Giving the uncle a larger, continuous presence would have provided greater continuity and a nice sub-plot. As it is, Kay's presumptive happy ending is diminished, since it is with a virtual non-entity. We have seen him only once in the early part of the film, riding in a boxcar with Tom and some horses to Chicago. I don't recall whether he even has any lines. In the end, we never see him. He's in the lobby of Kay's apartment while she delightedly prepares to meet her "last" man. Neither one is apparently even on the other's radar screen. I would have liked that relationship to have been developed for the fairy-tale. I also wanted to see Tom and Ellen reconciled in person. These changes might have resulted in a non-musical romantic comedy in the mode of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers/Edward Everett Horton-Helen Broderick foursome in some of the Astaire-Rogers films. It would have been far more satisfying and really improved this film.
A Good Woman (2004)
Why would a filmmaker make a period film, but alter the period by 30 years? What was gained by placing the story in the 1930's instead of the 1900's? Did it seem like audiences would swarm to a film placed in the 30's, but snub a film set at the turn of the century? I just don't get it.
Why would a filmmaker adapt a story by a quintessentially British playwright about a quintessentially British milieu to place it in Italy rather than Britain and populate it with people who are Americans and Italians instead of British? Part of the point of Wilde's satire is, thus, completely lost.
Having been enchanted by 2 adaptations of "The Importance of Being Earnest" and another adaptation of "The Ideal Husband," I eagerly anticipated "A Good Woman." I was very disappointed. The reconciliation of Tuppy and Mrs. Erlynne in the end improved my rating a point or two. The great costumes and sets are another saving grace - despite the fact that they, too, betray Wilde's original setting.
The main problem is that all of the actors are portraying characters that are totally foreign to Oscar Wilde (in more ways than one). None of them is true to the roles conceived by Wilde, and essential to the creation of the comic satire he wrote! In particular, 4 of the 5 principals are waaaay too consistently earnest! No nuance. However, this doesn't seem like a problem with the acting, per se, but with the direction.
I fault Helen Hunt no more than the other cast members. Her fault lies primarily in the fact that the director has misinterpreted her character and also made her an American. That's not her fault; it is the director's for changing the character. Scarlett Johansson is not terrible, either. Like Hunt, she is wrong mostly because her role is all wrong.
Even the other British actors seem to be slightly off-key. Darlington is about as far off as the miscast American actors. Cecil, Dumby and Lady Plymdale come closest to capturing Wilde's spirit. But the audio and staging of many scenes makes much of their dialog difficult for an American audience to understand clearly. Among the actors, Tom Wilkinson alone impressed me.
The blame for this disappointing movie can be laid squarely in the lap of the director. Beyond the poor decision to relocate the story in place and time, and beyond the decision to alter nationalities, he has completely misinterpreted Oscar Wilde. He has directed a light drama, rather than the light, comic satire written by Wilde. In Wilde's plays, all of the fun revolves around a combination of characters who take themselves too seriously, characters who are supercilious and characters who verbally amuse themselves at the expense of the others. One of Wilde's primary purposes is to satirize a certain milieu of turn-of-the-last-century British society. When the nationality of many of the characters is inexplicably altered, the satire is utterly lost. Moreover, everybody is waaaaay too serious in this film. As a result, the entire tone of the movie has nothing to do with Oscar Wilde. The soundtrack also makes this a drama rather than a comedy. The music, like the characters, is waaaaay too serious. Not a light note or a hint of comedy anywhere in the music. What a pity, I do so like Wilde's work. With the production values of this movie, it could have been really great.
Either the director was attempting to transform Wilde into something he is not, or he is clueless about Wilde in the first place. I tend to believe the latter.
Vanishing Point (1971)
3 Perspectives from 1 Reviewer
This is the most difficult film of the dozens that I have rated on IMDb.
First Perspective: I first saw this film on its initial release when I was an incipient hippie- wannabe of 17. My first car had been a Chevelle SS 396, and my second was a Firebird 400. I was accustomed to driving long distances across the arid southwest at high rates of speed. Just something you did... So, on first viewing, I loved this film and its celebration of the anti- violent, anti-racist, anti-establishment milieu of the 60's counter-culture. I loved the soundtrack. I loved the familiar scenery. I loved the car and the adrenaline rush that it provided. I loved the anti-hero, Kowalski, and I expected Barry Newman to become a big star. (He starred in a short-lived TV drama, "Petrocelli," but portrayed minor characters for most of his film career.) No doubt, I also loved the rather extensive nudity.
Years later, I still remembered Newman, the title of the film, and the basic theme of pursuit, but beyond that I could not recall why I had such a fond memory of this film.
Second Perspective: I watched it for only the second time last night when I stumbled across it on one of the movie channels. So, I sat down and became a passenger on a personal road-trip of nostalgic curiosity. Mostly, I thought, "I don't really get it, but it is kind of interesting" - primarily for making me aware of a personal milieu that I had so internalized that I had long since stopped regarding it as very distinctive in any way. The anti-racism and anti-violence themes seemed pretty stereotypical and obligatory in a film of this kind. It was never clear to me why so many (mostly impassive) people would gather around the radio station and continue to hang out for a couple of days. I sat through the whole movie with a sense of how preposterous it was that Super Soul just turned the radio station into his own personal CB to talk to Kowalski. When it ended, I thought, "I wonder what the point was - an extended car chase movie? If a point had ever been in mind, surely it had vanished... Oh, I get it... Boy, a long way to go to make a non-point!"
Third Perspective: A day after seeing the movie for the second time, I turned to IMDb to see what others thought. I was quite surprised by the high rating and the number of reviews. I began to read them. Many of the positive comments I read, drug me out of my middle-aged literalistic perspective and restored my appreciation for this film and the kind of film-making it represents. It is a quest movie - the quest for freedom - and we see that in multiple characters. It is not literal, but metaphorical - symbolic to some degree, stereotypical to some degree. (But, one man's stereotype is another man's symbol.) In the context of surrealism, a car radio that talks to its driver is actually rather interesting. During the era of "Vanishing Point," Hollywood made a number of very self-conscious, pseudo-intellectual attempts at depicting the contemporary culture. Most of these attempts that I have revisited in recent years are at best, laughable, and at worst, painful to watch. But this one is neither. It avoids striking that pretentious, consciously "hip" tone that caused its contemporaries to age so poorly.
In the end, the movie achieves a curious balance. Did I like Kowalski? Yes. Was I saddened when he crashed? No. Despite the character-developing flash-backs, Kowalski was transformed from a real person with whom I might identify into some metaphor or symbol about whom I was quite dispassionate. I was merely along for an exciting ride, the end of which did not cause me the slightest bit of anticipation or suspense. Kind of like a carnival ride...
My values have changed a lot since I first saw this film. I cannot accept the existentialism and nihilism that are the film's main themes. Despite the fact that these are the themes of the film, however, Vanishing Point never seems really dark or oppressive or depressing or polemical. The soundtrack is terrific and lively, providing a counterbalance to the dark themes. The racial violence is disturbing. But most of the nudity actually seemed quite "innocent" - even if the nude rider was an obvious symbol of freedom (or the pursuit of freedom). (Interestingly, a kind of denial of existentialism and the ethos of the era comes about when Newman declines the nude rider's implicit invitation to sex and her offer of marijuana.)
Vanishing Point is absolutely remarkable for the almost complete absence of offensive language. None of the commentators I read seem to have grasped that. Almost every Hollywood film that ever portrayed the milieu portrayed in Vanishing Point (or, in fact, any anti-hero film since the release of this film) has relied on heavy doses of profanity. I submit this film as powerful evidence that such language is, indeed, gratuitous and unnecessary.
After my first viewing of this film, I might have rated it higher than a 7. Immediately after my last viewing, I probably would have rated this film somewhat lower. After reading some other comments, I think it's overall rating on IMDb is about right.
5 Against the House (1955)
Foolhardy Heist Flick
This film is mediocre at best. Easily the best thing about it is the luscious Kim Novak. The next best thing is Brian Keith, who does a good job with a character that is not drawn quite clearly enough. His back story is simply painted with brush strokes that are too broad to really clarify the ebb and flow of his tormented character's motivations. But both Novak and Keith turn in decent performances in a forgettable film.
The first half of the film is like a fore-runner of Animal House, featuring 4 wisecracking law students. Some of the lines (especially their overtures to the ladies) are really quite entertaining. It is kind of a mystery to me why I didn't find them funnier. Perhaps because the characters take themselves just a little too seriously - not quite tongue-in-cheek? Perhaps the absence of a mood-setting soundtrack? Anyhow, some of the dialog makes this part of the film rather interesting as a light comedy.
Then everything shifts into pseudo-thriller mode for the second half of the movie. All of the repartee is replaced with dialog about the "fool-proof" plan to rob a casino in Reno. This, too is described in the broadest of terms, so that you don't really have any clear idea of this great, "foolproof" plan until it is actually unfolding. After the buildup, I was expecting something pretty slick and elaborate (in fact, the film seems to also vaguely foreshadow Ocean's Eleven). Boy, was I disappointed! The "foolproof" plan is laughable. It isn't foolproof but foolhardy! It is totally incapable of deceiving anybody in the casino - but, of course it does. Casino security men, behind two-way mirrors in the ceiling are oblivious to the fact that their money man on the floor is being escorted everywhere by the same 3 "cowboys." And they fail to notice the introduction of a second money cart while the first is "parked" at a blackjack table and left unattended. The fact that the money man just pushes his cart around, unguarded, in a crowded casino to begin with is just absurd!
This movie would have been much better if it had been a light comedy from beginning to end rather than attempting to switch genres in the middle.
Actually, the absolute best thing about this film is the casino's pick-and-pull car "parking" mechanism. I guess such things actually existed... Truly a thing to behold!
The Stalking Moon (1968)
Terrible and Terribly Disappointing
Where to begin to describe this debacle?? The dialog is sparse and bad. The plot plods. The characters are two-dimensional and poorly developed. Their motivations are never made very clear.
Mostly this film is lacking in emotion. Eva Marie Saint and her son never seem to be mother and child. She is clueless about where to go, and the audience is pretty clueless about whether she is motivated primarily to extricate herself from the clutches of Salvaje (for whom she has no love) or to remove her child from his Apache father and integrate him into the white man's world. She seems emotionless.
The stoic young child utters no more than a handful of words the entire movie - much of which is in the Apache language. His character, though central to the plot, is an enigmatic, undeveloped non-entity.
The only character in the film with less dialog is the hapless after-thought of a character, Ned. Peck has a relationship of such depth and trust with him that he has been sending him money for many years to buy cattle for his ranch. Yet when Peck gets there, he treats Ned like some passing acquaintance. I expected Ned to sit down at the dinner table with the others, but, instead, he is totally excluded and pretty much ignored.
Peck, as usual, is likable enough, but his motives are never clear. Is he merely being a good Samaritan, or does he love her? Even more to the point - on what basis could he possibly love her? When did they form an emotional bond? In fact, none of these characters demonstrate any appreciable affection for one another, except Robert Forrester. His Nick is easily the most accessible and likable and best developed character in the film.
The barely-glimpsed Salvaje is a ruthless, silent assassin. He is so devastatingly stealthy that he repeatedly overwhelms whole groups of victims as if they were the ones outnumbered, not he. Yet when he finally arrives at Peck's modest "ranch," he seems singularly incompetent. Moreover, his actions do not reflect any coherent plan. Why does he abduct Eva Marie Saint and drag her a few hundred yards into the wilderness to then just dump her? Why does he do so much running around instead of just staking out a good spot on the high ground that overlooks the cabin and picking off his victims as they come out into the open - as they repeatedly do! Why does he not keep the cabin under constant surveillance? Why does he not shoot Peck et al as they stand in the windows of the cabin at night, back-lit by a houseful of brightly shining lanterns?
The script was apparently written by somebody who had only recently learned about the American west. Once Peck and Saint arrive at his "ranch" he spends most of his time afoot. Yet he continually wears spurs - ever tried to creep quietly around the house in boots and spurs? Good cinematic pseudo-suspense; bad plot hole.
The plot is one-dimensional in the extreme. The end is never in doubt. The cycles of stalking and chasing become very repetitious. Suspense is completely eroded by inexplicable plot holes and stupidity. I kept looking at my watch, hoping that the end was drawing near.
Beginning with an okay premise, this film fails to live up to any of its promise. A better script and film-maker might have provided some 3-dimensional characters and developed some relationships. This film might have explored the question of whether the stalker was Salvaje or Peck, et al. Had Salvaje been consistently cunning, the film might have been suspenseful. As it is, we know he and his shenanigans are only supposed to provide the semblance of suspense until he is eliminated and Peck and Saint and the wooden Indian boy live happily ever after. Having never seen any affection among the 3 survivors, their happy ending was a matter of indifference to me. I was disappointed that Nick didn't get to live happily ever after; he was the character that I liked best.
Oh yeah, what does the title have to do with anything? There were a couple of scenes at night, but the the stalking and the chasing around occur as often during daylight as they do at night.
For Cameo Spotters Only
If you enjoy identifying actors in cameo roles, this movie might interest you. Spotting the likes of Mickey Rooney, Leon Ames, Allan Jones, Margaret Dumont and Paul Fix saved this movie for me. If it weren't for that little game, I'd have regarded this film as a total waste - of both my time and a deep, talented cast.
The film slowly develops a plot that never seems to gel, and the characters are all very one-dimensional, except Franchot Tone, who delivers a reasonable performance. However, his character's fate comes out of the blue, and is the point at which the tone of the story veers sharply in a bizarre way.
The early, light comedy part of this movie is pretty aimless, and it jumps around a lot. The second half of the movie is like a completely different film spliced onto the first half. It, too, meanders; but unlike the first half, it is maudlin and melodramatic.
The final scene is preposterous. The supposed-to-be climactic speech by Harlow would not come close to turning a hostile audience in her favor. She repeats a few generalized statements that, no doubt, everybody had read many times in the press coverage of the scandal. Talk about rehash!
Oh yeah, there are quite a few discontinuities, too, for those of you who can entertain yourselves by spotting them. There is a shot of Tone's yacht in broad daylight, an intervening interior scene, and then Harlow and Tone go out onto the deck in darkest night, without the slightest suggestion of any time having passed.
I was drawn to this film when I saw the incredible cast. How did Victor Fleming and this impressive cast deliver such a malaise of a film? Chalk it up to the writers, I guess.
No Time for Comedy (1940)
Strange Jimmy Stewart, Strong Rosalind Russell, Odd FIlm
This is a peculiar film. I think that this film suffers for being a little schizophrenic. It starts out as a light romantic comedy, but it morphs into a much darker film. Similarly, Jimmy Stewart starts out much like his Mr. Smith character come to the big city, but he morphs into Smith's boozing, egotistical, dark alter-ego. During this phase of Stewart's career, this is a rather interesting departure from his normal aw-shucks, ingenuous protagonists. It both hearkens back to his role in After the Thin Man and anticipates his roles in the Anthony Mann Westerns. It is interesting, and Jimmy pulls it off well.
The film also suffers because of the script. Some of the dialog is very artificial and wooden - more like prose in an essay than dialog.
For me the strength of this film is Rosalind Russell. She handles a difficult character very admirably. Her character, Linda (Paige) Esterbrook, is so full of wise toleration, restraint and understanding that it is close to unbelievable. At times her dialog is unnatural in the extreme - check out the scene where she goes to the Swift residence and confronts Amanda. I think most actresses would have become wooden delivering such stilted lines. And Genevieve Tobin does very well with her lines, too, although they don't seem to be quite as artificial as Russell's; plus her character is more artificial than Russell's. While Russell's character is making comments full of double meaning that kind of fly over Amanda Swift's head, Swift's remarks are pretty straight forward. Russell's dialog seems similarly difficult in most of her scenes. Yet imbuing them with her own down-to-earth persona, Russell pulls them off about as well as I could imagine.
The scene between Linda Esterbrook (Russell) and Amanda Swift (Tobin) makes it clear that this film had pretty lofty pretensions that are not altogether realized. I think it is supposed to be a film along the lines of All About Eve, but doesn't capture the same satirical tone. This is an interesting film, even if not fully realized or altogether enjoyable.
A Breath of Scandal (1960)
If you are hooked on locations and costumes, this movie is okay...
but if you want a funny romantic comedy to go along with them - look out; you are in trouble with this film. I knew this film was going to be iffy when Sophia Loren was taking pot shots at a bicycling mail carrier in the opening sequences. Subsequent jokes all center on her penchant for shooting people and other inanimate objects around the château where she is in exile. People fear to approach her for fear they will get shot. NOTE she is apparently trying to shoot people! Funny, huh?
Sophia gets better when she contrives to meet John Gavin. After Sophia's mildly humorous overnight attempts to seduce Gavin in the hunting lodge, it's all downhill until the end. After that night, Sophia receives forgiveness from the emperor, and she is able to return to Vienna. Her character is transformed from vamp of the nobility to staid fiancée of the Prussian prince. Thereafter, she and Gavin are acting in some light, romantic drama, while the rest of the cast struggles to maintain the comedy. The comedy all centers on the efforts of Sophia and her parents to hide her indiscreet meeting with Gavin from the emperor's top "morality cop." That aspect of the film is occasionally mildly humorous. But whenever the overly- earnest Gavin and the now staid Sophia intrude, the light drama takes over and the film goes flat. Unfortunately Gavin was never meant to appear in comedies; he has no sense of comic timing or delivery.
I can recommend this film only for die-hard Sophia fans.
Ride Lonesome (1959)
Outstanding! Boetticher and Scott deliver again!
This film is about as good as Boetticher-Scott films (and Westerns, in general) get! The cast is great, and their acting is in that casual, understated style that characterizes Boetticher's westerns.
The script is character-driven and the story is very good. It maintains a very steady pace that builds tension in increments AND simultaneously reflects Scott's deliberate character. The soundtrack is good, and made better by being so unobtrusive. The cinematography is tops for the genre.
Only one aspect of the story troubled me - and that not greatly. When Pernell Roberts tells Randolph Scott that he wants to return the prisoner for an amnesty, and then later offers Scott up to DOUBLE the reward money for allowing him to take in the prisoner, it isn't clear why Scott doesn't agree to it. As far as the film is concerned, it provides another level of tension, but as real motives for real people are concerned, it isn't clear at all what Scott is thinking. Is he just stringing Roberts along, buying more time to observe Roberts to determine if he means what he says? In hindsight, that seems to be what Scott was doing, but Boetticher could have given us a clue or two along the way.
As an aside to funkyfry: Lee Van Cleef's villain is, indeed, heinous BECAUSE he is not portrayed in the stereotypical (i.e. cartoonish) manner of most cinematic villains. Some years earlier, he had lynched an innocent woman who just happened to be the wife of a sheriff (Scott)! When reminded of the lynching, he calmly says, "I had forgotten it." The fact that the character SEEMS like a "regular Joe" but is actually so casually cold-blooded makes him a REAL monster.
For fans of Westerns, it is a sad thing that this film is not better known and more frequently broadcast. It is a sparkling gem!
The Mark of Zorro (1974)
Excellent cast delivers a very strong re-make of the Tyrone Power 1940's film about the legendary swashbuckler in Spanish colonial California. All performances are strong, especially Frank Langella, Gilbert Roland and Ricardo Montalban. It is especially nice to hear Hispanic accented English, and correctly pronounced Spanish words and names. This film will definitely entertain fans of the genre, whether familiar with earlier depictions of Zorro or not. The lack of budget and the fact that the film was made for TV are easy to overlook. These aspects of the movie will only bother those who require lots of special effects in order to enjoy a movie. Another commentator observed that the crowds were small. Yes, they are, but so what? That doesn't detract either. Enjoy!
As a kid, I loved the "Zorro" TV series in the late '50's starring Guy Williams. I have seen the Tyrone Power film a number of times, too. I recommend all of these renditions, as well as "Zorro, the Gay Blade," for a more comedic spin on the legend. It features George Hamilton camping it up a la "Love at First Bite."
Worst Hitchcock Film Ever!
I cannot imagine how people rate this film highly. Have you ever seen the brief bit on Hitchcock between movies on TCM? Andre de Toth lambastes Hitch as a lazy and sloppy film-maker. After seeing Sabotage for the first time, I now understand why.
I don't think Oscar Homolka is intended to be funny in this drama, he's dumb as a box of rocks! (In fact, every character in this movie is conveniently stupid!) In the aquarium scene, Homolka's contact informs him that he won't get paid until he accomplishes his job; Homolka's minor interruption of electric service did not do the trick! But Homolka just says, "Huh? I don't understand?" He is equally slow to catch on to the idea of bombing Picadilly Circus. HELLO! Then he stumbles into the wrong side of the exit turnstile, can't figure it out and struggles there until the next person to exit pulls him into the right side. (Otherwise, I guess he'd still be struggling like a wind-up toy spinning its wheels in futility against a wall!) Then he has to be fed constant reminders about "Saturday at 1:45." He is so incompetent and stupid that it is difficult to see his being used in a spy ring - even as a dupe.
The scene where Homolka goes to the bomb-maker's bird shop is totally inexplicable. In the spy game, contacts among agents are strictly minimized. Yet Homolka's visit serves no purpose. We meet the bomb-maker's family. We see his daughter's toys mixed up in his bomb-makings. We see that he keeps his ingredients in ketchup bottles and jam jars. But Homolka doesn't need to be there when the film-maker shows us these things. He risks going there just to be told that he will receive the bomb in a birdcage??? Why didn't the aquarium contact tell him that?
The undercover Scotland Yard man is equally dumb. We never hear him explain to either Sydney or Homolka who he is or show them any identification. He just launches into his interrogation of Sylvia Sydney in the open theater right under Homolka's nose. Now that's smart and discreet! He ends up revealing more to her than she reveals to him, even though she should logically still be under suspicion. He promptly interrogates Homolka in the same way. He doesn't ever identify himself, but just launches into an interrogation. But he ends up giving Homolka more information than he gets. It's a cinch that Scotland Yard didn't build its reputation on the likes of that agent!
When Sydney learns of her brother's death, things really start to fall apart. Thereafter nobody behaves in a logical way or in a way that I could identify with. Apparently convinced of Homolka's responsibility, Sydney doesn't go immediately to the undercover agent, like any rational person. Instead she exposes herself and invites her doom by directly confronting her husband - who she apparently believes is a ruthless murderer. For his part, Homolka just says,"Sure I was responsible, but, hey, it's no use crying over spilt milk; why can't the cook ever prepare green veggies." THAT whole scene between Sydney and Homolka is surreal - not a syllable of dialog that seems to ring true under the circumstances! Sydney cries, but she never seems to portray either real shock and/or grief or SUPPRESSION of shock and/or grief in order to maintain Homolka's trust. The little boy's death is an emotional footnote in this story. Even when Sydney awakens from fainting and envisions her brother's image among the faces peering at her, or when she stops the child wearing the identical tie during her flight after killing Homolka, there is negligible emotional impact.
When the bomb-maker's wife urges her husband to retrieve the birdcage from Homolka, we are left to ask,"Why???" What is so incriminating about a couple of birds in a cage that Homolka gave the boy? So, she shoves him out the door of their shop with his hat, coat and umbrella. No bomb. No time to make one. Does he just keep 'em lying around ready-made "just in case???" No bomb when he hails the cab. No bomb in the cab. No bomb when he goes up to Homolka's apartment. But - PRESTO, bomb! when he locks himself in the apartment and threatens the detectives banging on the door!
Then after the bomb goes off, the detective in charge just tells Sydney she is free to go. The good inspector knows enough to absolve the wife of a terrorist without any investigation! In fact it is NOT apparent to anybody in the film - ONLY to us the audience - that Sydney is innocent! Unless you assume some uncorroborated statements she has provided the investigator - which the audience didn't hear!
This is just a sampling of the holes in this movie that are so big and so numerous and so glaring that, like Andre de Toth, I am compelled to conclude that Hitchcock was a very sloppy and lazy filmmaker. Could Hitch have imparted missing information to both the audience and the characters in the film? You bet, easily! Could he have imparted it in scenes that were more credible in a supposed spy-story? Absolutely! Could he have created characters who didn't have to be dumb or defy professional standards in Scotland Yard to advance this story. DUH! One commentator characterized this story as "tightly written." He must have gotten this film confused with some other movie. This movie absolutely fails to hang together at all. ALL of Hitchcock's British films are vastly superior to this piece of swiss cheese.
I chuckled at this movie - just not at the parts that were intended to be funny. Mostly I just scratched my head. How could this mess have been directed by one of cinema's greatest?
The Star Packer (1934)
Absolutely Dreadful - Even by the Standards of B-grade Westerns!
I haven't any idea how commentators could regard this as a decent B Western. Or how one commentator said the plot was more cohesive than most. Nothing could be farther from the truth! This movie is one HUGE non-sequitur! It is an affront to the noble B Western films of the '30's. I have seen many of Wayne's early Lone Star and Republic westerns, and this one is easily the worst.
The bad guy is known as The Shadow - for crying out loud! Initially, The Shadow's scheme is holding up open-sided stage coaches. Simultaneously, his gang rustles all of the cattle in the territory. Then they decide to move on to bank robbery. To do this, they need to shoot up the town with a machine gun - no explanation of why that's necessary or how he got that neato little toy!
No single scheme is revealed in enough detail to suggest a plot here. The Shadow is obviously just a generally bad guy with all kinds of generally evil schemes.
He imparts his instructions to his gang through a fake wall-safe. (Knock-knock, who's there?) He is apparently clairvoyant, because whenever his henchmen need to talk to him, they knock on the wall, the safe opens and - PRESTO - he's there. (I can just imagine that he has met them face-to-face and says,"I have some secret, nefarious instructions to give you about our next evil deed - meet me at the wall-safe and I'll give 'em to you.") Just why the Shadow requires the safe to communicate with his army of outlaws is, like most of the elements of this mess, never explained.
He has a nifty tunnel to the ol' hollow stump across the street from which vantage point, various of his baddies perform assassinations. He also has a hidden panel NOT in his secret lair behind the fake safe, but out in the main room.
When not behind the safe, he hangs out on his cow-less ranch, masquerading as rancher Matlock. We learn that he has murdered the true owners of the ranch - two brothers - and assumed the identity of one. The daughter of the dead brother has recently arrived from 1930's NYC (judging by her wardrobe), and she apparently never met her real uncle, because he dupes her, too!
If you thought that bad guys always wore black hats and good guys white hats, you need to see this movie. Here, the good guys all ditch their hats in favor of white head-bands that make them look like they have all suffered head wounds before any shots have been fired! It's like a game of pick-up basketball - only Wayne has them tying bandanas 'round their heads instead of just taking off their shirts.
Perhaps the weirdest of all is the ending. Immediately after subduing the Shadow and his gang, we jump far enough into the future to see Wayne and his wife (the erst-while niece) on the front porch of their home. (Never mind that there has been scant romance.) There, Yak is playing with Wayne's 3-4 year old son, dressed up in Injun garb! (Hiyoo, skookum fun!)
No thanks to this nonsense, Wayne went on to become a screen legend. Only a super-star (packer or not!) could surmount this entry in a film resume. Long live the Duke!
Too Many Husbands (1940)
Great Cast Wasted in Disappointing Comedy
I am a HUGE fan of all 4 of the main actors in this film. They have all made films that are high on my list of favorites. My expectations for this film were, therefore, VERY high. All of these actors are capable of elevating mundane roles and films into something special. Unfortunately none of them can do so in this film.
The comments of rhoda-1 are most illuminating. Changing the motivations of the characters in the original Somerset Maugham play results in a very unsatisfying movie. (I would love to see the original play!)
The situation in this film is the same as My Favorite Wife (and the mediocre remake, Move Over Darling) - except the male and female roles have been reversed. But there the similarity ends. In My Favorite Wife, Cary Grant wants to restore his first marriage to Irene Dunne. Ditto in the remake with Rock Hudson and Doris Day. Both Grant and Hudson are motivated by the desire to let the second wife down easily. By contrast, in Too Many Husbands, the normally lovable Jean Arthur plays a character who at first seems torn between her two husbands, but increasingly seems to just bask in the egocentric pleasure of having two men pursue her. This motivation completely undermines the sympathy I initially had for her. By contrast, I am completely sympathetic with the erstwhile husband and wife in the other two films.
In addition, while there is some clever dialog in Too Many Husbands, it is too scant. Most of the time the characters are just sophomoric. Jean Arthur reverts to a flirty schoolgirl leading-on two schoolboys. Unfortunately both Fred MacMurray and Melyn Douglas behave accordingly. The furniture-jumping scene is painful to watch. Nothing of this juvenile nature happens in My Favorite Wife (or Move Over Darling).
This one trick pony becomes all the more annoying when the end arrives without any resolution. It is as if the viewer has simply been watching the beginning of a perpetual competition between two high school boys pursuing the same girl.
Basically this film is disappointing because Jean Arthur becomes pretty unsympathetic, the 3 characters in the love triangle are all sophomoric in the extreme, and there is no resolution at the end of the film.
I absolutely love both romantic comedies and screwball comedies. Too Many Husbands is an insult to both. It is ANTI-romantic and not screwball but sophomoric, slapstick silliness. What a total waste of incredible talent.
Young at Heart (1954)
Bad Remake, Made Worse By a Revised Ending
The songs, including a couple of Sinatra's best, are easily the best part of this movie. But the rest is nearly unwatchable compared with the original, "Four Daughters."
John Garfield delivered a performance in "Four Daughters" that made him an overnight sensation - and deservedly so. His Mickey is a complex character that Garfield absolutely nails with a superbly nuanced performance. Mickey is a pessimist, but he is no brooder. He mucks through life as a rather detached cynic. But his brand of cynicism is not really bitter. Mickey is more resigned than bitter. His persona is the result of circumstances, NOT his innate character. That is what makes his character sympathetic.
By contrast, Sinatra carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. He is very self absorbed and bitter. He has none of the devil-may-care insouciance of Garfield. While Garfield evokes sympathy, SInatra evokes pity (at best). There is the possibility that Garfield's character could actually fit into the Tuttle family, given a change of luck. But Sinatra's never will; indeed, he never does. Even while tinkling the ivories in the new happy ending, he still seems like a self- absorbed brooder. His persona is the result of his character not his circumstances. So, when his circumstances improve, his persona is unchanged. The happy ending is a terrible contrivance, but it would have worked much better with Garfield's Mickey than with Sinatra's.
Nor did I ever once feel any chemistry between Frank Sinatra and Doris Day that convinced me they truly were a loving couple who I wanted to cheer for. But I did feel that way about John Garfield and Priscilla Lane. There was never such a huge contrast in personality between Garfield and Lane as there was between Sinatra and Day. And I sensed much more chemistry between Garfield and Lane than between Sinatra and Day. The possibilities that seem to be in reach for Garfield and Lane are what makes Mickey's death so tragic. I never sensed those possibilities for Sinatra and Day. Sinatra's death would not have been nearly as tragic. Nor does his survival seem to offer the promise of fulfillment of those possibilities. The gulf between Sinatra's character and Day's character is huge. No mere change of circumstances can change that.
In sum, I didn't dislike the Mickey portrayed by Garfield; I didn't like the Mickey portrayed by Sinatra.
Finally, the Gig Young character in this remake is absolutely superfluous to the new story. Why even bother with him? Just have Sinatra be the guy who comes to stay with the Tuttles in the first place.
Easy Living (1937)
My favorite films are from the '30s to the late '40s. Jean Arthur is one of my favorite actresses. Edward Arnold is one of my favorite character actors. I looked forward to this film with high expectations, but was very disappointed.
The reason this movie disappointed me is difficult to pinpoint. Without more background, some elements of the story just don't seem to add up. There is a whole lot of yelling in this movie; that gets old. Oh yeah, and lots of slapstick. The Automat scene was waaaay too long. But mostly, the characters just don't seem quite on the mark.
In addition to many great dramas, Miss Arthur's resume includes many of my favorite comedies: The Whole Town's Talking (1935), If You Could Only Cook (1935), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936), You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Town (1939), The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), The Talk of the Town (1942), The More the Merrier (1943), A Foreign Affair (1948). I recommend them all over Easy Living. I even prefer A Lady Takes a Chance (1943).
As much as I love Jean Arthur, her character here isn't portrayed quite right. She is just too innocent and unquestioning of everything that happens. Her attitude should have been less naive and more like, "I don't really understand why this windfall has come my way, but I'm going to take advantage of it while I can." She needed to be less ingenuous and more opportunistic. Her idealism and optimism needed to be tempered by a little realistic skepticism.
The character of the Hotelier (Luis Alberni) is an immigrant Italian chef who has learned fluent American slang somewhere, but also has opened a HUGE, opulent hotel for upper crust clientèle. So, he has this great ambition to run an elite hotel, but doesn't see the need to speak to his proposed clientèle any differently than the boys in the Bronx? PLUS, we don't know how he convinced the "Number 3" financier in New York to finance this operation. How much money did this humble chef bring with him when he immigrated from Italy? Moreover, Arnold, the shrewd banker, has extended the guy not 1, not 2, but 3 mortgages! AND the 1st mortgage is overdue by 3 YEARS, the 2nd by 2 YEARS and the 1st by 1 YEAR! Not consistent with Arnold's character at all!
Ray Milland is pretty light weight, and he never infuses his character with more than 1 dimension.
There isn't really a character with whom I could identify. For me, a successful screwball comedy needs one stable character for all of the silliness to revolve around. That gives the audience somebody to identify with and grounds the movie in some kind of reality. William Powell in My Man Godfrey and Brian Aherne in Merrily We Live are the best examples.
I thought this movie was a lot of noise and action that never really drew me into the story. In sum, I felt like an outsider watching a movie. It never really tickled my funny bone or inspired my empathy as better comedies do.
Addicted to Love (1997)
Villainous Romantic Yarn, Lacking Chemistry or Charm
This is a wretched, wrong-headed little waste of celluloid. Do not be deceived by the film's strange sleight of hand, mis-focusing the audience on Broderick and Ryan. This is actually a story about a young woman (Kelly Preston) from America and an immigrant from France (Tcheky Karyo) who meet in New York and fall in love. Preston, raised in a small town, finally spreads her wings and flies away to the big city in pursuit of her dreams. There she meets Karyo, the man of her dreams, who loves America where he has come to achieve his dreams. Sadly the two of them are dogged by their sicko, stalking ex-lovers who conspire to wreak mayhem upon them and turn their dreams into a nightmare.
Broderick and Ryan commit heinous crimes, including invasion of privacy (on multiple levels), stalking, and breaking and entering. They are seriously disturbed voyeurs who generate no chemistry and no sympathy. I was touched only by the steady, true love of Preston and Karyo which even overcomes the sinister machinations of Broderick and Ryan. The film attempts to get the audience to identify with the sickos, instead of the true protagonists of this film. Unfortunately, their characters provide no chemistry and nothing with which I could identify. I just felt compassion for the two objects of their demented malevolence.
In a comment thread on this film, someone suggested the film's ending was too pat - that there was too much neat "resolution." To the contrary, this film provides too LITTLE resolution. After the twin menaces of Broderick and Ryan finally depart, were Preston and Karyo able to reconstruct their lives of love and security and promise? Or were they forever reduced to penury as a result of Broderick's and Ryan's conspiracy?
The acting in this film is pedestrian except for Karyo, who is quite good. Meg Ryan and Matthew Broderick never come close to portraying 3-dimensional characters - much less, likable ones - or achieving any on-screen chemistry. This is a pitiful excuse for a romance or a comedy or a romantic comedy.
Tragically, this film is about two people from disparate backgrounds who, against all odds meet, fall in love and build a dream life only to have it devastated by two contemptuous criminals from their past. There was nothing funny about two deranged, deluded people utterly destroying the lives of two other people who have found love, happiness and success together in the big city. For me, causing misery in the lives of others is a poor basis for comedy.
Epitome of Moronic Hollywood Film-Making
A previous reviewer wrote:
"A complicated narrative set-up (which keeps the star, Robin Williams, off screen for the first half-hour) is followed by an hour of screaming and running around which doesn't develop much of anything. The big problem isn't hard to pinpoint: The movie has no real antagonist _ no villain. The supernatural board game of the title not only doesn't have a personality (it is, after all, only a board game), it doesn't have an intelligible plan. We find out nothing about how or why it exists. It's just a sort of random hazard generator. The four main characters survive the hazards just long enough, the game ends _ end of movie."
I agree in part and disagree in part with that comment. The problem is impossible to pinpoint, because there are PLENTY of "big problems" with this movie!
"Random hazard generator" is the PERFECT description of the ancient board game! Random hazard after random hazard until the game ends is what is supposed to pass for "plot" in this movie. Did anybody count how many times the game board fell out of and back into the players' hands? That, too is supposed to pass for tension.
Ultimately, the film fails because there isn't any development of the back story. What was the origin of the game? Now, that would have been an interesting question to explore! And how does the game work? All we ever see is the game's projection of "random hazards" OUTWARD into the reality of the players, but somehow Alan (Robin Williams) apparently was sucked INTO the game. How did that happen, and why doesn't it happen to any of the current players of the game?
Actually, the guy in the pith helmet is, more or less, the human villain in this movie, but he is never more than an inexplicable, evil cartoon. Was he, too sucked into the game like Alan, or is he the sole human "random hazard" generated by the game? Why is he so determined, not to hunt animals, but to MURDER Alan? The film just glosses over the fact that this sub-plot is actually one of premeditated murder! The hunter guns for Alan simply because the plot demands it. But the movie makes no attempt whatever to explain the character.
Never once did I sense any genuine emotional chemistry among the characters. Just a bunch of actors acting - not INTERACTING. The love story sub-plot felt obligatory, never genuine. Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt never generated enough chemistry to make me care whether Alan and Sarah got together in the predictable end.
All in all, this film has the germ of an interesting idea that is really wasted by focusing on mindless, non-stop "random hazards," poor CGI effects, "lots of screaming and running around" and insufficient character development. Except for the precise nature of each "random hazard," the whole film was disappointingly predictable, including the cliché of the almost-kiss in the midst of peril routine. How many zillion times has that been used? The dialog is a similarly endless stream of clichés.
The issue was never HOW the game would end - but WHEN. The more interesting issues were never even glanced at. This kind of movie can only appeal to people raised on video games. It was generated by that kind of adventure-for-the-sake-of-adventure mentality, and it has that same kind of feel.
One of Holden's Rare Clunkers
Casting Bill Holden in this movie ruins an otherwise interesting story with some terrific performances by the other cast members. He not only looks wrong and too old for the part, his acting is bad. I regret to say that about one of my all-time favorite actors. However, every other performer is cast better and acts better. Rosalind Russell is out-of-this-world. Arthur O'Connell is also quite good. The grossly underrated Kim Novak is tops! Without mentioning every single actor by name, I simply say, "Excellent performances!" I wish the director had used somebody besides Bill Holden to round out this excellent ensemble. Just imagine Brando in this role! He won an Oscar for his portrayal of a young man of similar age one year earlier in the classic,"On the Waterfront."