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Oh, Doctor! (1925)
6/10
Very funny at moments, but the whole doesn't equal those parts...
8 November 2019
Watched "Oh, Doctor!" (1925) with Reginald Denny, Mary Astor, Otis Harlan, William V. Mong, Tom Ricketts, Lucille Ward, Mike Donlin, Blanche Payson, Martha Mattox, and a couple of others. Absolutely stunning first fifteen minutes. HILARIOUS! Then downhill from there. It still has many funny, funny moments, but the story becomes just downright stupid. Before the three crazy guys - and, yes, that's how they're labeled in the movie! - and even before the entrance of Mary Astor, the film is off to the races. But with the entrance of these later characters the film is forced. Forced by the writing and the direction. Denny himself is never forced. He's a riot, from beginning to the end. The finale - on a flagpole - will remind most of watching a Keystone Kops sort of slapstick. It almost tries at Harold Lloyd, but it doesn't make it. I'd give the film 2 to 2½ stars out of 4. Some will think it better than that, at least 3. I think I'm generous. The plot revolves around the fact that Denny is a hypochondriac's hypochondriac. He's a wimp's wimp. His body language is nearly perfect in the part. If you're familiar with Denny at all, especially before this film, you'll know that he made the series called "The Leather Pushers" (1922), a set of two-reelers about a boxer. He was anything but a wimp. He was a fine actor who also happened to be a fine comedian. He's wonderful here, and the first part of the film - my version lasts 63 minutes - is supremely funny. It's past the twenty minute mark that the humor begins to be so routinely like filler two-reelers of the period that it lags. Mary Astor is serviceable at best. Best scene: Blanche Payson as the osteopath giving the works to Denny. Denny's body movements are a laugh riot! Payson's workout on Denny has to be seen to be believed. Great comedy! Truly classic stuff. If only the rest of the film could have been like this...
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7/10
Fun, though dated, mystery/comedy
7 November 2019
Re-watched "Inspector Hornleigh" (1939) with Gordon Harker and Alastair Sim. This is the first of three "Inspector Hornleigh" films made 1939-1941. I've seen this one twice before. For modern tastes, may have a tad too much lightness and comedic input simultaneously delivered with dramatic incident. Alastair Sim is the butt of many retorts of Hornleigh (Harker). Many, many of the scenes are ended with a tersely comic, almost satirical bent, and though British films were ubiquitous with such tropes in the early sound period, as were a number of Hollywood films of like character, today's films have definitely gone away from such progression unless they have the light-hearted nature of Roger Moore's Bond films. Those retain a certain similar flavor. This one has a murder, and through the intrepidness of Harker, plus some little help from his partner, Sim, they find their nemesis. However, I must admit, from the first time through to this time, the solution seems like a fix to the whole, a tad too easy, and certainly not the person anyone would suspect. The ending happens as if - oops, we've spent the budget; wrap it up. It's a fun little film, but it's just that: a little film. Great actors in a secondary film. The fact that two sequels were made: well, that just shows you how good the actors are! The film's a lot of fun. Just don't expect "Citizen Kane"...
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One Man Law (1932)
6/10
Fair to Good Jones Western
7 November 2019
Watched "One Man Law" (1932) with Buck Jones, Shirley Grey, Robert Ellis, Murdock MacQuarrie, and many more. Superb story, but told only middling well by director Lambert Hillyer. Usually Buck Jones is a wonderful actor, a gangling, though muscular, and very masculine, no nonsense sort of direct personality. Here he waffles a great deal in a shy manner around Shirley Grey and is nearly embarrassing in his attempts around her to try to show some affection. This occurs mostly in the beginning, and he's better later on. The story would have done better without Jones' love-making in the beginning. The rest is very interesting, and quite gripping. The story actually gets to the point where you see no way out for Jones at all in his predicament. He's a sheriff, but he must enforce a law that would make anyone angry! A land speculator has twice-sold - but only genuinely sold once! - land out west by way of dealers in Chicago. Now the people who bought the land from the Chicago-based baddies have come West to claim the land. Meanwhile, the people out west who are simply waiting for their deeds after having labored like dogs to work the land and own it, are being legally forced off these lands by the "rightful" owners. Jones is the law. He has to enforce this. Great story. Well told. Not always perfectly acted. Could have had better handling by Lambert Hillyer. Too bad. I'm a great fan of Jones in Westerns. This may have been an "A" from Columbia, but it plays more like a "B".
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3/10
You'll not only wish to trim your beard - but cut your throat!
31 October 2019
I watched - yes, I was a glutton for it last night - I watched a documentary (if that's what you call it????) - maybe some of it should be called a docudrama, and that's a genuine fact - called "Bothered by a Beard" (1945), made in England. Trust me, this had to be made there and no where else. I know it's hard to believe, but I'm serious: Tod Slaughter is in this history of the beard. That's because the second half is devoted to shaving through the ages. Tod plays his Sweeney Todd part here and cuts the throat of one of his patrons. Passes him down to his wife for the pork pies. That's wonderful history of shaving, don't ya think? We eventually get to Gillette inventing the razor. I really didn't know that he couldn't perfect the blade, and he had to have someone else do that for him. After 36 minutes - that's how long this thing lasted - I didn't really care if they all cut their throats. I was ready to cut mine and be glad of it.
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The Line-Up (1929)
1/10
So Bad It's Good; er - No, Not Really
31 October 2019
Watched some weird ones last night. Began with "The Line-Up" (1929), with William Black, Joseph Garry, Jack Irvin, Viola Richard, and Charles Slattery. This one makes "Plan 9 From Outer Space" look like "Gone with the Wind"! This one is about 30-35 minutes long, and it's a crime drama. There are a couple of silent scenes and two or three intertitles, but the rest is - well, I'll call it sound. If you've seen "Singin' in the Rain", you're familiar with the actors being told to "speak to the microphones!" This film's why. Sometimes they miss by a mile, and it's like listening to space between Mars and Jupiter coming out of the mouths of anything but babes. Frankly, this film should be shown to all those in college courses wishing to learn about the history of movies. It's so bad it's good. Viola Richard is such an embarrassment as an actress my face is still red this morning from blushing last night. I wish I could say it was because I'm shy and she was that good looking, but I think I heard insects running away in our room last night when she was on the screen. I can't even find a single prokaryotic bacterium under the microscope this morning. I also admit to some strange dreams last night... Wait till you see the actual line-up in the movie! The "hunters" and "the hunted" is how it's labeled on screen. The cops even wear masks...no, I'm not making this up. I did enjoy Jack Irvin's character, "Bum Chiggers": yes, he'll make you scratch for a month after watching him. And that accent... I honestly think they really dug him up to play the part. He WAS alive; about the only one...
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Easy Curves (1927)
3/10
It Only Lasts 15 Minutes; One More Would Have...
23 October 2019
"Easy Curves" (1927), with Billy Dooley, Vera Steadman, William Irving, and a couple of others, is the kind of slapstick that persisted on film from 1900 to the coming of sound. Even then The Stooges and a few others kept at it until TV got even dummer and finally found an appreciative audience that could understand the emptiness of what was being presented. There are moments in the short film of 15 minutes, but they are few and between. Dooley past 15 minutes would make me commit a crime. He'd be found stuffed into a container smaller than he is, and no doubt he wouldn't be breathing. I'd be silenced forever and finally have a smile on my lips.
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5/10
This Probably Wouldn't Open At All Today!
21 October 2019
Watched "Open All Night" (1924) with Viola Dana, Jetta Goudal, Adolphe Menjou, Raymond Griffith, Maurice 'Lefty' Flynn, Gale Henry, and others. You know, when it opens with the intertitle that reads something like "PARIS: city of love and bad marriages" (not exact, but you get the drift), that you're in for a story of something spoiling, if not going rotten. Well, Viola Dana is bored with her marriage to Adolphe Menjou because she thinks he's too soft (!), not tough enough with her, and that he respects her too much (!). He, on the other hand, is no angel. He loves his wife, yes, but... On a night when they plan to go out Dana finally says, "NO!", closes the door to her boudoir, and huffs... Menjou, with his typical nonchalance, goes out the door. Enter Gale Henry - with her new found, ah, companion - drunken Raymond Griffith (he's supposed to be funny) - who are supposed to go out with Dana and Menjou. Henry convinces Dana to go out, and they'll all go to the Parisian Velodrome where the last day of the six day bicycle race is going on. Here, Maurice 'Lefty' Flynn, a muscular man's man's man's man is winning all the heats. "He always wins". Jetta Goudal is in love with him. Meanwhile, Adolphe Menjou has already run into her somewhere else and through oily male maneuvering takes her to the Velodrome. By the night's end and the morning's passing and the race's end and a whole lot of goings on all is supposedly resolved.

Let me just say - if this were shown at a feminist's rally, the person showing the film would be strung up and hanged! It is so un-PC by today's standards that it needs to be seen to be believed. The end, for example, where Menjou has bruised the arm of Dana, and where he tries to assuage the incident by kissing the bruise, but she won't allow it because it's a badge of honor (!) - well, that's just a taste of some of the mentality of the picture. This was directed by Paul Bern, the same director who eventually married Jean Harlow, but under some still mysterious circumstances committed suicide just into the marriage.

Interesting to see another Viola Dana vehicle, though she's not as active in the film as beautiful Jetta Goudal. Menjou and 'Lefty' Flynn get most of the screen time - which wastes the time of Raymond Griffith - but that doesn't leave enough time to Dana, who only gets to react to the intertitles and Menjou. Maybe two and a half stars out of four, but beware from the beginning that the marriage code presented here is not only dated in a number of respects, but is male oriented to the point of feminist rebellion. Margaret woke up half way through this and wondered why I was watching it... I could feel her eyebrows go up even though I wasn't watching her... Thank goodness she was tired enough to fall back to sleep... I finished the film. Even my eyebrows were raised. Innocent, well, maybe the film was, but I'm not sure that's a proper word for this. Gentle, no. By today's standards incredibly dated. I wanted to like it, but I don't really think I did. It lacked the Lubitsch touch, a certain polish. Rather, it tripped over the furniture and bruised itself.
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Smart Alec (II) (1951)
8/10
You'll Not Know What Hit You...
29 September 2019
"Smart Alec" (1951) is truly an oddball, beginning with a Hitchcockian slyness and oiliness that leads us to believe that something grisly is going to happen to Uncle Eddie - uncle to Alec Albion. It looks like its going to be a very, very serious crime drama. But, then... The characters begin to have tendencies that border on comedic. Then a murder occurs. Then the film begins to have a surreal veneer - or is that the core? Is the veneer a crime drama, but the rest...? What IS this film?? I must say that at only 58 minutes the producers have reined in the film enough for a certain tautness that keeps the whole thing together, and rather well at that. It's a lot of fun getting to where we know the film is going to go, but the comedy ends up looking as if it came out of a 1918 Mack Sennett Studio script. Things happen that just - well - shouldn't... But they do. This stars Peter Reynolds. He'll remind viewers who've watched BBC "Masterpiece Theatre" for years of both young Christopher Cazenova and young Anthony Andrews, especially the latter. Reynolds, though named Alec in the show, behaves as any smart alec would, though he thinks he's smart, too. He is, but up to the breaking point... Along for the ride in the show are Leslie Dwyer (who is the most fun to watch), Edward Lexy, Kynaston Reeves (whose credits in Brit films and TV reads like a Who's Who - and long, too, going all the way back to 1931); others, including Peter Bull as a prosecutor, appear in minor rôles. If you're in the mood for slapstick to murder to mystery to class distinction, and more, and more, and more... This is your cup of tea. It's got a bit of Earl Grey mixed with China. India or China? Give me both, with a touch of Scotch tempered by Campari and soda, too. Oh, Kool-Aid, too? Well, why not! Oh, and, yes, there's an ending that looks as if the glue wasn't good enough to hold on...but there it is...oh, yeah, there 'tis...
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10/10
A triumph; it teaches the meaning of pathos!
24 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I've got a pretty nice copy (from a private source) that has all the British intertitles, and I don't remember it being too much out-of-joint because of lacking materials, though there were some. I watched this nearly ten years ago now, and I went back to my notes and found I really, really liked it a lot.

I wrote this review of it back in 2009:

"...I watched something that really makes me excited to talk about. It's "The Three Passions" (1928), directed by Rex Ingram and starring his wife Alice Terry, along with Iván Petrovich, Shayle Gardner (who literally steals the show - he's fantastic!), Clare Eames, and others. Were I a high school teacher, and suddenly I needed to discuss the meaning of 'pathos', I think I could show this film and do a creditable job. I'm not sure I've ever seen a show where pathos is more evocative than in this film. There are moments where, in other films, it would be irony that comes about, but Ingram instead chooses to use front-on pathos to illuminate the idea of what he calls 'the three passions', namely, ambition, greed, and lust for power. What IS ironic is that the passions arose in some of these characters due to lack, such lack that the only way they saw rising above it was with these same passions, but, evidently, the passions took over. It becomes very evident in the wife of the owner of the shipyard, played by Clare Eames, in one of the finest evocations of twenties cabaret decadence I've ever seen portrayed on film. Her scenes constantly reminded me of the same kind of portrayals evident in "Pandora's Box", made the year after this in Germany. Another facet of this film which simply captivates - no matter whether you like the film and its themes or not! - is the stunning photography. The cinematographer was Léonce-Henri Burel, and his vision, no doubt taken at the instance of Rex Ingram, is breathtaking. The visuals in the shipyard capture the early twentieth century's overpowering lust for size in technology, huge revolving piston wheels made of steel and iron, men dwarfed by their own abilty to create driving forces that overshadow the very men who made them, and so forth. Burel's sense of exquisite taste - and large at that - shows in his capturing the home of the shipyard owner, too. It is magnificent in its rich detail and intricate finery. Ingram doesn't miss a trick here. The owner supposedly came from nothing, was once a dock worker, now owns the shipyard, and his home is the finest one could possibly have in England - English taste just post Victorian and Edwardian, and it's really something out of a dream. One other thing that was wholly remarkable was the group of actors chosen to play the characters in a seaman's mission where they go to get food and shelter. They looked like characters out of a Dickens novel, and not one of them was made up. They were for real. Incredible faces; noses; attitudes! Films today just don't have characters like these. The plot is altogether one of the period, too; not altogether realizable, either, one that takes the decadence of the period and tries to shake it off the shoulders of the son of the shipyard owner, a son raised in the full of it, and then turn the son into a priest! Well, this occurs, much to the chagrin - and that's definitely not the genuine word! - of his father, his girl friend and possibly fiance, and his friends at Oxford University, where the son is in his final year. The plot has holes, but it works anyway. In today's jaded world it is not realistic, but the direction and acting make up for all of that in spades. By the way, the scenes in Oxford, England are revelatory, too. Oxford Street without much traffic is nearly comical compared to what it is today. 1928 was definitely another world. Acting honors go to Shayle Gardner who plays the father and owner of the shipyard and to Clare Eames who plays his incredibly lustful, shrewish, and unfaithful wife. Both are so realistic in their portrayals as to make me wish to go back and watch them again. They were truly great. Both Iván Petrovich and Alice Terry are quite wonderful, and they are the driving force for the plot, but their characters are never as strong as the parents of the young man played by Petrovich. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that I never cease to be amazed at the quality inherent in a Rex Ingram directed film. I'm really glad I had this opportunity. It's a rarely found or seen film..."
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6/10
Okay Little Thriller; Over-the-Top But Very Watchable
18 August 2019
Watched "The Roadhouse Murder" (1932) with Eric Linden, Dorothy Jordan, Purnell Pratt, Roscoe Ates, Roscoe Karns, David Landau, Bruce Cabot, Phyllis Clare, Gustav von Seyffertitz, and others. Good little thriller that is beyond the bounds of credulity, but as a piece of watchable entertainment is a great way to kill 73 minutes. Linden works for a newspaper, and when he discovers a murder, he takes the blame to catch the real murderer. Right. Who's gonna do that?? No one. Yet this plays. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Looking at the cast, you can guess who the baddie is by the date the film was made. No, it's not Seyffertitz. This was recently released by Warner Archive Collection. Linden can be on or off for me, the viewer. Here he was on. My wife thought he looked as if he were 12. I'd have put him at least at 17. Nevertheless, he was actually 23, and he was playing a character at least that age or more. Dorothy Jordan, first in the cast line-up, has a nice part, but it could have been more incisive line-wise yet added-to dimension-wise. The writing's good, but not great. Directed by J. Walter Ruben. These RKO Radio Picture films like this one were a dime a dozen in the early 30's, and though the plots are over the top, they're fun watching even now. At least I think so.
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Not Guilty (1910)
Decent for 1910, but ending is so impossible as to make one re-think 'decent'...
26 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
*SPOILERS*

I watched "Not Guilty" (1910), a somewhat gripping 14 minute short about a man who becomes inadvertently involved in a robbery of a man's wallet and accused of the crime, found guilty, sent to jail where he's made to work on a road-gang, escapes, but is finally found not guilty and freed. It's all told very straightforwardly, but well acted except for some overly histrionic attitudes at the young man's house where his blind mother lives and where his fiancé comes to visit apparently constantly (one scene has her awakening on the floor next to the mother who's still in her chair, the implication being that they've spent the night there in one place without moving). From the story-telling viewpoint, it looks as if the young man will never get out of his jam. When that does happen at the end, it just - happens! We don't see anything except a newspaper announcing that the guilty man has confessed. That was a disappointment because it was absolutely ridiculous. Otherwise, a pretty good film. For 1910 this is decent, yes, but Griffith was doing them better. He was a better story teller by far. Still, this was fun until the otherwise nearly impossible conclusion. This is on the DVD "Thanhouser Presents Treasures from the Library of Congress", eleven releases preserved by The LOC.
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Midnight (1934)
4/10
An utter misstep by the producer and director
7 November 2016
I was in a Bogart mood last night, so I put in a film I've not watched in twenty-five years, at least. I recently bought "Midnight" (1934) (and the original title!) from Grapevine because it's the original release print and not the re-release under the title "Call It Murder" (1947), a print that has been circulating forever in the market. I'd never seen an original print. Trust me, original or re-release, this All Star Pictures produced/Universal Pictures release needs mouth to mouth resuscitation to be watched today. It's got a really superb cast, but they had to have made this one for the money alone. Why else would any of them - INCLUDING THE DIRECTOR!!!!!! - have allowed the credits to misspell their names?? The director, Chester Erskine, shows up nearly immediately as Chester Erskin; then the cast begins and Lynne Overman has his first name spelled without the final "e", too; next is Moffat Johnston as Moffat Johnson; and lastly the well-known character actor Henry O'Neill shows up missing the final "l" in his last name. I guess 'eetl' cost a tad too much to add... Anyway, the premise for this film is decent, but very, very depressing. In some ways, that's the point. A jury for a crime of passion gives the woman who committed the crime the death sentence instead of letting her off. We watch the clock (and all the events that happen with several characters) tick away until the midnight when the execution happens. The foreman of the jury, played by O. P. Heggie, claimed that it was murder because of a technicality based in a question he himself is allowed to ask the "guilty" woman, played by Helen Flint. A lot of people outside of the court don't agree after the verdict is read in court. We see all of this played out against the time to the execution. O. P. Heggie's daughter, and the first name in the cast, is played by Sidney Fox (an actress who is allowed to be called one because she was allowed to be called one - period). She falls - in the meantime - for small time hoodlum, Gar Boni, played by Humphrey Bogart. Others in this cast include Henry Hull (who plays a really sneaky newspaperman), Margaret Wycherly (she was Cagney's "Ma" in "White Heat" - and here she's actually a nice-looking older woman instead of the crone she so often played), Granville Bates, Cora Witherspoon, Katherine Wilson, and actor and future director Richard Whorf. The biggest problem with this film besides direction was a lack of creativity in producing it on film. It's definitely the kind of thing that belongs almost exclusively on stage - or a half-hour TV show during the 1950's, done live. The editing is non-existent. Time back and forth could have been done, rather than the stagnant linear movement forward which drags on and on and on. Thankfully, after a full 76 minutes, the program ends. By the way, Bogie himself has some razzmatazz in his voice, but even he's boring... Molasses that isn't sweet isn't sweet, people. Best thing in the picture is Lynne Overman. That's not surprising. He's always rich in character. Here he's a shiftless, no-good husband of Katherine Wilson who'd rather be rolling dice or the like. I know, who's Katherine Wilson? I don't know, either, so quit asking!
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Saloon Bar (1940)
Simply Great!
24 July 2016
I watched an absolutely charming piece of British ensemble called of all things "Saloon Bar" (1940), with Gordon Harker, Mervyn Johns, Elizabeth Allan, Joyce Barbour, Anna Konstam, Cyril Raymond, Judy Campbell, and others (among whom is a very young pre-teen Roddy McDowall. Taking place basically in a single setting on Christmas Eve or thereabouts, in an evidently pre-war bar, the ostensible idea behind this piece is to save a young man from being hanged in the morning for a murder he didn't commit. But - how to prove it... This began as a play written by Frank Harvey (who also contributed to the screenplay) and then was put on the screen by Angus MacPhail and Jon Dighton. This is one of the four films on Volume 10 of the Ealing Studios Rarities series put out in Britain in the last few years (total of 14 volumes). Mervyn Johns sits on his bar stool during the entire film without moving, drinking, and making wry and sarcastic comments endlessly, deliciously. Elizabeth Allan is Queenie, a bar tending girl the hapless accused was seeing before his sentence. A competing bartendress from another establishment is Judy Campbell. The landlord of the bar where nearly all of the action takes place has an expectant wife upstairs, and it seems that she's been bearing first a boy, then a girl, then a boy, then a girl, in alternate years for some time now. Meanwhile, between endless quaffs of endless Lion ale, Gordon Harker is trying to figure out who really murdered the old lady the young man on death row is accused of killing. If all this sounds, perhaps, somewhat predictable, maybe even stagnant, or boring - trust me, it isn't in the least. It crackles with wit and wonderful acting and direction and atmosphere. It is indelibly British, the definition of it for Americans who think they know what that means, but who really don't. If you're into what pre-World War II Britain was like, this is the essence, a time and a culture that just doesn't exist anymore at all, but which is captured here in a water drop under the spyglass perfectly. Simply great!
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The Devil (1921)
Delicious relic of early twentieth century! Arliss posturing...
14 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Yesterday I watched "The Devil" (1921) with George Arliss, Sylvia Breamer, Lucy Cotton, Edmund Lowe, Roland Bottomley, Florence Arliss, and others. Young Fredric March is in one of the crowd scenes, but I never spotted him. This was George Arliss' first film. The film is based on a satiric play written in 1908 by Ferenc Molnar, and which launched Arliss on Broadway. Arliss was approached about doing film in 1920, and had learned that movement and emoting were exaggerated by the camera on film, so needed to be subtler, and he thought that learning the film craft might make acting on stage a tad tidier, too, without the necessity of exaggerated limb movement. One of the things that really stood out in the film, especially near the beginning of the film, was Arliss' own sense of posturing his body, much like one might on stage, but it was a precision posturing. Nevertheless, it wasn't anywhere near as natural as what one might see today, but not in any way off-putting, either. Arliss seems as natural as anyone in that era, and he has a commanding presence at all times! He has the definition of charisma at any time when the camera is on him.

This one concerns a kind of bet that is made: while viewing a painting called "The Martyr - Truth Crucified by Evil" Lucy Cotton (playing Marie) says that that title is an impossibility, that Truth cannot be crucified by Evil; Arliss (playing a man called Dr. Müller, though we know he is really the devil himself!), walking with Cotton, says she's probably correct, but he then goes about trying to prove that, yes, Evil can indeed make a martyr out of Truth! The essence of the plot is that Roland Bottomley (playing Georges), who is engaged to Marie, and whose best friend, artist Edmund Lowe (playing Paul de Veaux), who is loved by Sylvia Breamer (playing Mimi, the model), are connived by Arliss into near infidelity. In the end, a prayer leads to the devil being consumed by flames. All of this must have been quite fascinating to watch in 1921, because it is still a fascinating relic of what the stage must have been like at the turn of the twentieth century. The camera does a very nice job of moving the personalities around on film, but the story is rather stage bound. The sets are gorgeous, however, and they still play well to a modern audience. Today's audiences will have difficulty with the satiric content, and possibly the content in general, but the film graphically illustrates the differences in taste between generations that are one hundred years apart and more.

I enjoyed the film, I must admit, as much because George Arliss is one of my favorite actors, and every one of his films has a certain kind of dénouement that points, not so much a moral, rather a kind of necessary axiomatic goodness that needs to come from human beings towards each other - and which WILL come, even in the face of evil or stupidity. A live and let live kind of plot never exists in Arliss. Even his historical pieces are loaded with plot that leads us on to a certain kind of conclusion. I think that's why I find Arliss truly interesting, never dull. He's never plebeian, either, but magisterial (even in films like "Old English" or "The Guv'nor"), and his movies represent a kind of film, if not genre, that I think is nearly unique in the English speaking film.

My copy of the film is from Alpha. You never know what you're going to get for the $5-$8 Alpha films. This one is B-. The picture quality is okay, never perfect, but certainly very, very watchable! It's not blurry or white, but the sharpness is never as good as many. The score used is just okay. It's classical music that sort of fits, but... Would love to see this pristinely released with a new music score. The film was thought lost for decades, then re-discovered in the late 1990's, then shown in 2000 at a film festival. Nearly everybody seems to be releasing this film on the grey market, but it was made the year before 1922, so it shouldn't have any copyright problems.
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1/10
A movement of the bowels
30 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD: Based on a preview trailer my wife and I saw at a theater recently, and based on reviews and other small things we'd seen in the interim, both of us went to the theater yesterday to see "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (2014). Evidently, it is so popular it is showing in three different parts of the theater we attended! Well, within five minutes - I literally mean five minutes - of the beginning, the 'humor' had dropped to a sophomoric level. Within ten minutes the attempt had dropped to freshman level. By fifteen minutes of the show, the scene had shifted from the Grand Budapest Hotel to another place and I was beginning to wonder where this - this thing - was going. We were now at an eighth grade level, and all was looking as if it were going to skip a few grades - downward - in the very near future. By an hour into this - thing - I was looking how many people I needed to crawl in front of to leave, and I realized it was far too many. Willm Dafoe had turned into a Hannibal Lecter-like nasty without the hunger pangs, just sadistic beyond three-year-old anger fits. Ralph Fiennes' lines had become so cynical - and this was supposed to be funny! - that the humor level had dropped to near unborn - it was far below Kindergarten. Although it is a delicacy in Tuscany, kid veal is illegal in the United States where veal needs to be at least two and a half years of age. Humor should be the same way. Unborn humor should be illegal here, too. I know of no place where it is a delicacy, however. By the time the hour and forty minutes of the film had passed, we both realized that we had witnessed no movement of the stars: rather, the show was more a movement of the bowels. We realized that the characters were possibly not as dysfunctional as the writers themselves had been. We also realized that the film was a function of Dis. Hell hath mo' fury when a man is horned. All's hell that ends in hell. We'd been there, and now we could finally leave and go get a pizza. I wasn't necessarily hungry, but I ate voraciously if only to forget...
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9/10
Simply spectacular period piece for 1922!
18 March 2014
I watched a simply fantastic film last night, "The Glorious Adventure" (1922), a British adventure/history/period piece starring Lady Diana Manners, Cecil Humphreys, Gerald Lawrence, and in his sixth film, young Victor McLaglen, along with many, many more in this J. Stuart Blackton produced-by/directed-by film. The first striking thing is that this was Britain's first all-color feature film, made in a process called Prizma Colour. "The Toll of the Sea", also 1922, is the first surviving feature of the two-strip Technicolor process, and it looks quite good in comparison, frankly, but "The Glorious Adventure", as washed out as it appears in a few places, nevertheless is still stunningly beautiful in many ways, and the costuming alone allows for the full use of fine color photography.

This one is a well-acted piece, too, not prone to the arm-slinging, hand-to-mouth wide gesturing of so many pictures in the 1914-1925 stretch of time. Rather, it captures the feel of thirties American and British adventure films with the likes of Errol Flynn or John Clements. Gerald Lawrence plays the inheritor of a barony who has it stolen out from under him by an underhanded Cecil Humphreys who has Lawrence thrown into the sea and supposedly drowned by Victor McLaglen. Of course, Lawrence doesn't drown, as we find out later. Meanwhile, the lady of the piece, Lady Beatrice Fair, played by Lady Diana Manners, is put through life trial after life trial during this period of Charles II and his Restoration, including by the king himself, played by William Luff. Eventually, all this, taking place in, near, and around London, leads to the great fire of London in 1666. The fire and the events played out during the fire is not only first rate movie making, but for 1922 is spectacular in the first degree! I was not only impressed, but, frankly, surprised how great the scenes were! The film was released 1 January 1922, so it was obviously made during 1921.

I enjoy period pieces very much, especially if they're well done. This one not only incorporates a good amount of genuine history and historical characters in its telling of a fictional story, but does it with aplomb. Just watching Lennox Pawle as Samuel Pepys is a hoot! Kudos to the actors and actresses, the director, the photographer, the editor, but also to the scenario writer, Alma Reville (Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock later).
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8/10
Absolute nonsense!! And I loved every single second of it!! Beautifully preserved film, too...
18 December 2013
I watched "The Belle of Broadway" (1926) with Betty Compson, Herbert Rawlinson, Edith Yorke, Armand Kaliz, Tom Ricketts, and others. Well, talk about stretching credulity to the breaking point - and utterly enjoying it! This is it! First of all, let me congratulate the release of this particular print. It's not only pristine, but it will fool some who may think this is a modern film simply being shot as a silent. It's so clean as to be the single finest example of a restored film I've ever seen. If it's not restored, then the print from which it was taken is as if it were new! This one begins in Paris in 1896. Madame Adele, long the Belle of Broadway, is now the star of Paris, and is doing her most famous play, "Madame Du Barry". It's a smash hit. But - there's the Count Raoul de Palma in the audience. He throws her a bouquet of flowers - with a bracelet in it - a very expensive bracelet... Instead of making it all the way to Madame on stage at the end of the show, the flowers are interrupted in the orchestra pit by her jealous husband who reaches and catches them. (He sits in the orchestra pit every night, it would seem, simply to halt such proceedings...) The husband suspects something. He goes to her room when he gets home and takes their son. Fast forward thirty years. Son shows up in Paris. It's raining. Friend from NY (in military uniform) comes over and sits down at a bistro table outside with son. All of a sudden a girl nearly stumbles in the rain and gets her shoe caught in the mud. Son and girl meet. He walks her home. She won't give her name. He tells her his, though. She explains to Madame Adele, now long past her prime and too old to get any parts on stage, but living in the same place as the girl, she met a man who brought her home. Of course, Madame Adele hasn't seen her son since he was taken...

Now comes the stretch...

Madame Adele brings out her old costume from "Du Barry". Of course it fits the girl like a glove. Indeed, the girl (Betty Compson) looks EXACTLY like Madame Adele did all those years ago!! Long story short: Betty Compson revives the play "Du Barry" and is a success - but, wait: there's lots more... Compson is claiming she's Adele with lots and lots of plastic surgery!! NOW, the movie begins...

WOW! It's a fun romp. Absolute nonsense, and I couldn't stop watching. Great fun, with fine actors and actresses showing us why they were stars. They still are! By the way, I'll always laugh whenever I see Tom Ricketts. He plays Compson's manager in this one. But he played the old, old, old butler in "After the Thin Man", and he was hilarious. Here he's half-way serious, and he seems like a different person. Fine old character actor.

This was released a couple of weeks ago, and it's available through Amazon. If you want to see the silent age come alive again, here you go!
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7/10
Ever heard of Matheson Lang? Well, well worth the watch!!
7 June 2013
Anybody here ever hear of Matheson Lang? Well, he was the Laurence Olivier/Lon Chaney, Sr. of his day. He was also one of the founders and first directors of The Old Vic in Britain. I bring this to the attention, because it's interesting that this great and famous actor of the beginning of the twentieth century is basically wholly forgotten today. I also bring it to the attention here because last night I watched one of his 32 films, "The Great Defender" (1934), a fine old-fashioned mystery/drama/romance made in Britain by British International Pictures (BIP), starring Matheson, Margaret Bannerman, Arthur Margetson, Richard Bird, Sam Livesey, Robert Horton, J. Fisher White, and others.

Matheson plays Sir Douglas Rolls, a great defense lawyer who is diagnosed as dying of several ailments and told to cut out his career and take it easy, travel, try to preserve himself a tad longer. Instead, he has his former love (played by Margaret Bannerman) come to him asking him to defend her husband against a murder charge. Her husband, an artist, we have watched have an affair with the murdered woman, an artist's model who has been modeling for a fine nude portrait. She also - something not known by all the different men - has been three-timing the artist, her fiancé, and another man. The artist's wife - Bannerman - still loved by Sir Douglas Rolls, gets his attention, and he agrees to defend her husband anyway - and she wishes him to defend her husband whether or not he has been faithful to her... The program then shifts to a Perry Mason like courtroom drama.

Well done, if a tad tedious by modern standards because it is rather too talky, but really interesting and fun to watch. The film harps back to a twenties stage tradition as much as anything. Still, with Matheson - slightly ripe, rather in the Richard Dix talkie tradition - the show plays remarkably well. I'm really glad I had the opportunity to watch a Matheson vehicle.

Matheson made the original "Mr. Wu" in 1919, several years before Lon Chaney, Sr. re-essayed the role. Matheson played Chinese characters several other times, too, for that matter, much like Chaney. His rather famous (in Britain) film, "Little Friend" (1934), made the same year as this one, has 15 year old Nova Pilbeam (in her first film) witnessing a nasty divorce of her parents, Matheson and Bannerman (the latter the same actress who plays his former love in this film). Matheson essayed many, many historical roles, too, from Drake the English privateer to Guy Fawkes, Dick Turpin, Henry, King of Navarre, Henry V of England, and Cardinal Medici. He began in movies in 1916 playing Shylock in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" and played his last role in 1936. Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1879, he died in Barbadoes in 1948.

This is truly worth finding and watching!
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So bad it's fun to watch; really a relic of twenties social mentality
28 May 2013
I watched "Chinatown After Dark" (1931) with Carmel Myers, Barbara Kent, Rex Lease, Edmund Breese, Frank Mayo, and Billy Gilbert. Wow!! Utterly unbelievable! Gilbert as a sneezing cop - in a half-way serious role, although it's a light part - is simply over-the-top for modern audiences. Would possibly have played better 90 years ago. But it's up against a group of Chinese in America (all played by American Caucasians!) who are bad, bad, bad. Except for Lotus, played by beautiful Barbara Kent, who turns out to be white (her father died and only a Chinese man played by Edmund Breese would take her in and raise her - yeah, right...)... Story concerns a dagger that happens to contain a very large and beautiful - and extremely valuable - stone...hidden inside the dagger, of course...

Rex Lease not playing a cowboy is something of a wonder in and of itself. His brother, played by Frank Mayo, has about as much energy as molasses dried on a plate. Carmel Myers, as a Chinese gang leader, is about as realistic as me being Chinese. Edmund Breese played Chinese several times - I've got him in several of these performances - and he's actually fairly good, although his part doesn't last very long.

This not only was shot on the cheap, but it screams the fact to the viewer. In fact, the scream is so loud it may remind someone of insanity where a scream inside the head won't go away!! Some of the acting is so bad as to be laughable. The film, I must admit, however, is still fun to watch. I'm not sure why. But I could actually recommend this to early film lovers of the transition period from silent to sound. This one has most of the technical faults, and it's a good study piece for that reason. Otherwise, be warned. I'll leave it at that.
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Disturbing undercurrent much louder than quiet, nicely done, film
7 January 2013
In 1991 Margaret Stuckley died. She was five months shy of reaching the age of 100. Known as 'Daisy' by the family, she was a sixth cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. When she died a journal and a cache of letters were discovered underneath her bed.

Yesterday (for the fifth time in about three weeks!!) we went to the movies and saw "Hyde Park on Hudson" (2012) with Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel, Olivia Williams, Elizabeth Wilson, Eleanor Bron, Martin McDougall, and Tim Beckmann. The first fourth of the film is the innocence of Daisy meeting up with her cousin, the President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The next quarter is her idyllic relationship as a mistress of the President. The third quarter - and coincidentally this is when the King and Queen of England arrive here in the United States, the first English royalty to ever have appeared on American shores in a diplomatic mission - the bottom drops out of the idyllic relationship. The last quarter of the film is the reality check of it all.

This is a quiet film. But only in the noise from the viewing top. It's the undercurrent that one hears. It never goes away. The director knew exactly what he was doing. This morning I find the movie more disturbing than when I finished yesterday. It's a very disturbing piece of work, really. Extremely well done. Murray is rather astonishing if all one knows him by is his comedic work. He's very subtle here, and, at times, startling like FDR. He's NOT FDR, of course, and he's not as good as Daniel Day Lewis was as Lincoln, but he's still amazingly good. Linney, too, is exceptionally good as Daisy, Roosevelt's cousin, and the actress did a very fine job of making her looks plainer than they really are. That was more of a difficult job for Olivia Williams who played Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor was about as plain-Jane as it gets. Olivia Williams isn't.

Story is told much like a Greek idyll. Settings are made the same way. They're real settings, too. Much as a Greek tragedy, the hubris in people finds a way to eat away the substance of idyllic honey and turn the reality into corrosive matter. The film doesn't end on a corrosive note, but the lesson learned is a lifetime wound.

Not a film for everybody - but a well done film!
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9/10
Loads of rollicking fun that moves like greased lightning!
4 March 2012
I watched a thoroughly enjoyable Richard Dix silent today, "The Lucky Devil" (1925), with Esther Ralston and Edna May Oliver. If one looks at the story of the rise of Dix in pictures, it comes with the death of Wallace Reid, the most popular of all matinée idols of the teens and first couple of years of the twenties. Reid's forte was making fast moving shows usually about fast moving automobiles. These were good comedies usually with a good dollop of drama and adventure and some thrills thrown in for good measure. Dix took over the reins of such films and made several, meanwhile expanding his repertoire to include such silent masterpieces as "The Ten Commandments" (1923), directed by Cecil B. De Mille and "The Vanishing American" (1925). "The Lucky Devil" could almost be a follow-up to Reid's "Excuse My Dust" (1920).

Good show with all the ingredients of gentle comedy mixed with some rough-housing, besides. Dix, a displayer in a department store, enters a raffle and wins the so-called 'hoodoo' bad-luck automobile formerly owned by the store owner's son, a soul seemingly always in trouble with cops and women. Well, suddenly Dix begins to have the same problem, only he also gets mixed up in the life of Esther Ralston and her Aunt Edna May Oliver. Hilarious misunderstandings and undertakings become the fodder for the day! Wonderful show that moves like greased lightning and doesn't let up for a moment from beginning to end! Recommended. Newly available from Grapevine in a very nice print with good score!
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3/10
I've seen much, much better. Flawed by VERY BAD writing!!
10 February 2012
Last night I watched an old film for interest in the history behind it rather than for the film itself. Neither was really worth the effort; in fact, the film's a mess. I watched "The Man Who Came Back" (1931), the seventh of twelve collaborations of Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell of "Seventh Heaven" and "Street Angel" silent fame. Indeed, they made three films together in 1931 alone, of which this is the first.

I watched the film, though, because it just so happens that Humphrey Bogart was Charles Farrell's dialogue coach on the film. Too, it was the same year that Bogart appeared in the Charles Farrell film "Body and Soul", one of only two Bogart films I've never seen. I'm suspicious of the possibility that Bogart got the job because Kenneth MacKenna was a co-star in this film, and he just happened to be Bogart's best friend at that time. Bogart was a fledgling film actor at Fox at the time. Also in this film, by the way, are William Holden (no relation to the later actor of the same name), Mary Forbes, Ullrich Haupt, William Worthington, Peter Gawthorne, and Leslie Fenton.

This one begins with a very fine scene of Farrell, after a very drunken night, awakening in the middle of the afternoon to have breakfast. Meanwhile, downstairs, his very wealthy businessman father is aggravated to the hilt because Farrell's previous night's behavior is in the newspapers on the front page - not only because it must have been a very drunken evening, but because Farrell evidently married a floozy besides and now she'll take $50,000 to get out of the arrangement! I was fascinated by the fact that when father and son meet downstairs to discuss all this, Farrell's voice, which I usually can't even stand in small segments, was half way decent and watchable. This segment lasts for nearly twenty minutes, but then a new segment begins, and one might think that that's going to be the lead up part to the conclusion of the film eventually. No way. This film gets going, then has several more segments, all linked very badly, but what's worse, the film goes haywire with its writing, and the plot becomes absolutely non-sensical! Try to imagine Janet Gaynor becoming hooked on opium in a Shanghai opium den after being a rather naive girl from the Midwest who doesn't even drink! The antics of Farrell for the entire rest of the movie are about as plausible as a dog becoming President of the United States.

Stupid movie. Way too long. Nicely acted by all around, though. Good to hear Farrell's voice actually making a decent transition finally from silent film. His earlier attempts at sound are rather bad, actually. Still, the film is poorly written, in fact, badly done: Janet Gaynor delivers a few lines of metaphor, comparing her love to spring, in one scene, and it's so ridiculous as to be embarrassing to have to listen to! Skip it or watch it for the sake of Farrell and Gaynor. But - they've certainly done much, much better.
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3/10
Definitely a relic, and not a very good one at that!
10 February 2012
Well, there are certain "transition" films - those made in 1928 and released either that year or the next when 'silent' became 'sound' - that just don't quite make the grade today, no matter how hard one may try to appreciate them. I watched "Voice of the City" (1929), one of four "transition" films released last week by Warner Archive Collection, a film made in the latter part of 1928 and released in early 1929. Directed by and starring Willard Mack, the main star is Robert Ames, an actor almost totally forgotten today because he died of acute alcoholism only two years later in 1931. Also appearing with these two are Sylvia Field, Jim Farley, John Miljan, and others.

The opening is exquisite. The camera shots and the marvelous editing are fluid, genuinely dynamic. Then the story begins with one of the most stagnant scenes I've ever witnessed on screen, made worse because the microphone is menacingly visible throughout the entire scene! And the players play to the microphone by their stagnant - unendingly stationary - placement before it - the blocking looking much like a very amateur play done in high school. What's worse, one of the female characters is so awful as to be embarrassing to watch! Indeed, the opening expositionary scene is so stagy that I felt as if I were in a small theater with only ten seats in it for the audience. Really bad. It gets better, but, honestly, not by much. After such a good two minutes of opening...

This is a crime story - and a pretty good one at that. But by the end I was happy it was over. John Miljan has the best part, even better than Robert Ames, but he's not in the show enough, and he always needs great direction to give a good performance. Here he's adequate. Frankly, the best actor in the group is the director, Willard Mack. He ought to be decent: he'd been in films since 1913! He was a writer, director, actor, and producer, and even a dialogue coach on a couple of films. He could do it all, but not necessarily well enough when left all on his own...

Do NOT rush out to buy this disc. It's a curiosity at best. History in the making, but history that - thank the Lord - is past, dead and gone.
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7/10
Old-fashioned entertainment - and loads of fun in an old-fashioned way
10 February 2012
I watched a real rarity last night. One of the typical kinds of Vaudeville acts involved jokes about and between, and even among different ethnic and/or religious groups. One of the very popular Vaudeville acts for over twenty years was that of Charles Murray and Lucien Littlefield playing respectively Clancy the Irishman and MacIntosh the Scotsman. They made a film in 1930 called "Clancy in Wall Street" which showcased their Vaudeville characters. Filled with Depression humor about Wall Street - and funny lines about Wall Street in general! - this is a very appealing little comedy about types and a time that certainly are no more. When this film began appearing at movie festivals in the late 1990's there were comments about its sound track. Well, nothing's changed there. The sound track still has a hiss in it, and it's loud at a few other times. Never so distracting, however, to interrupt the enjoyment.

Grand old fashioned entertainment. Well worth a look see. Lucien Littlefield made over 250 movies in a career that lasted a lifetime. He only lived 65 years, but was a performer from childhood until the day he died. Many will remember him as Ira Lazar in "The Cat and the Canary" (1927) or a foil for Laurel and Hardy, but his career with Charles Murray in Vaudeville was memorable, too. Charles Murray made over 275 movies, many of them shorts, so his filmography today is nearly unknown. How unfortunate! Also in this film are Elliott Nugent, Miriam Seegar, Reed Howes, and Aggie Herring.

My print's from Grapevine, and the quality is what you get, but it's the only print, as far as anyone knows. You get what you get, skips and jumps and hisses, none of which, believe it or not, interferes with the watching much.
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The Iron Lady (2011)
10/10
Not only a film-maker's film, beautifully acted, edited with genius
10 February 2012
Went to the theater yesterday afternoon and watched "The Iron Lady" (2011) with Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. One of the finest biographical films I've ever watched. Streep as Thatcher is simply uncannily great!! She IS Maggie. I once bought a couple of tickets for my wife and me to go listen to Maggie Thatcher speak at a college nearby, but I couldn't go, so I had to let my sister have the ticket. She and my wife went. Well, my wife said that watching the film was much like watching what she saw at the college! Also in this film are Jim Broadbent as Denis, Mrs. Thatcher's husband, Alexandra Roach as young Mrs. Thatcher, Harry Lloyd as young Denis Thatcher, Olivia Colman as Carol Thatcher, Mrs. Thatcher's daughter, and a cast of very, very familiar British actors who you've all seen for years on Masterpiece Theater or in a variety of PBS Mystery shows. Included are Nicholas Farrell, John Sessions, Richard Grant, Iain Glen, and Matthew Marsh as Alexander Haig. The film is beautifully directed by Phyllida Lloyd, the same director who helmed Meryl Streep in "Mamma Mia!" (2008): obviously the two work well together. Lloyd is a noted theater director, especially of opera. Her work in film is only recent.

The hero of the film, though, is Justine Wright. If the name means nothing, that would not be a surprise. She's the editor. This film - "The Iron Lady" - has to be the single finest edited film I've ever watched!! Many are the films I've watched over the years that could have been much, much better had they only been edited in a better fashion. Some films are utterly destroyed by bad editing. Well, this film is made because of it. Well acted, superbly directed, but edited with genius! Much like an emotional roller coaster ride, this film bounces back and forth between the now and the past and in-between and the now again and... Had this been a lateral step by step progressional film it possibly would have had much less impact. Instead, as viewers we are intensely involved with the context because we feel we're inside the head of Mrs. Thatcher as she lives either in the present or the past. Kudos to director and editor.

It is no secret that, when her husband Denis died, Maggie Thatcher began to fall apart. This film, though with moments of dramatic fiction added to give the feelings that must have occurred (and may still be occurring), allows us to witness the incredibly sensitive moments that have come about since Thatcher's husband's death. The entire film is centered around these things, the deterioration and the not so gentle lapse into dementia. The scene where her dead husband goes away from her near the end - no, this is not science fiction - is overwhelmingly moving.

Go see it if you have the chance. Just a side note: the authentic footage of events that occurred during her administration of Prime Minister are not always for the squeamish! I made the comment at an earlier time after having seen "The Help" that two of those actresses deserved the Academy Award for "Best Actress". Each was superlative. Well, Meryl Streep goes a step farther in this film. She gives one of the finest performances I've ever seen, and I think it would be a miscarriage of justice if she doesn't get the award - again - for this performance.
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