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The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933)
An Irene Dunne Tearjerker
Irene Dunne falls in love with a well-bred gentleman, who is not suited for anything but to spend his daddy's money. They marry, but the marriage doesn't last long, when he goes back to his father, played unmercifully well by Lionel Atwill. But after Lionel gives him an ultimatum and feeling put in a no-win situation, his son commits suicide, thereby setting up the stage for pregnant Irene alone in the world, forced to do what she has to. But Lionel quickly has his grandson taken from her and in his sole custody. Fast forward, the son, played by Phillips Holmes, is a soldier who happens to come across her establishment, a bar with rooms to let! You know the rest. Or do you? This is far from dull and does get rather melodramatic before the final fade-out, pulling no punches and no subtlety. While not entirely one of Ms. Dunne's best, this certainly entertains.
The Silver Cord (1933)
Laura Hope Crews at Her Best
Irene Dunne has married Joel McCrea and is going to meet his mother, played by Laura Hope Crews. But what Irene doesn't know is that Laura had her own plans for her son – to live close by her side and visit often. Based on a stage play, this can come across as rather talky and stagy, but I find the subject matter fascinating and most absorbing as we see the mother trying subtly and sometimes not so subtly to manipulate her sons so that they may never leave her. Eric Linden is another son, who is engaged to Frances Dee, unless "poor, pitiful" mother has anything to do with it. I don't know much about the movies and career of Laura Hope Crews, who played "Aunt Pittypat" in "Gone with the Wind," but I would surmise that this is one of her best and meatiest roles. The film belongs to her, as she has tantrums and wraps her sons around her little finger. By the way, costars Joel and Frances would marry in real life. If you happen to discover "The Silver Cord," which I doubt, don't pass this up. You may be looking for the best films of the great Irene Dunne, but instead you will discover the under-appreciated Ms. Laura Hope Crews at the zenith of her career.
Something So Right (1982)
So Perfect is This!
Young Ricky Schroder lives with his divorced mother, after her husband left them, or any male supervision or guidance. He seems to be on the path of a juvenile delinquent, as he's constantly in trouble and has no regard for learning. Patty feels he needs the presence of a "big brother." But when she goes for help, she's told there are more boys that need them than men volunteering for the job. One possible person comes to mind. Enter James Farentino, a middle-aged, hair-thinning character, with a vaudeville sense of humor. With practically nothing in common, James and Ricky try to connect. From beginning to end, this captured and impressed me as one of the most natural, relaxing and down-to-earth television movies I've ever seen. The people were real and relatable. I've never seen James Farentino play such a kooky character, yet endearing. At such a young age, Rick Schroder displays such matureness, and his discipline as an actor using his craft is evident. And, Patty Duke of course was perfect. They played off each other very well, and director Lou Antonio has created a world that feels like it's just down the road a bit from home. "Something So Right" is an excellent movie that enriches all those who see it.
Easter Parade (1948)
Easter Parade, a Movie Musical Essential!
Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Peter Lawford and Ann Miller star in this grand movie musical about a dancing team (Fred and Ann) who break up when Ann Miller decides she has bigger aspirations and leaves the act. Fred then in turn in emotional haste states that she is replaceable and that he can teach anyone to dance as well as she does. Enter Judy Garland. I can't believe I haven't reviewed this film before now, and I don't know if I can contain myself enough to write one. This is absolutely one of my top five musicals of all time, OF ALL TIME! How could I possibly be unbiased! There is not one moment, scene, song or feeling that feels false or weak. Much has been said about the "A Couple of Swells" number in this movie, but every single musical number is great, with "Steppin' Out with My Baby" arguably being the highlight. But even the slow songs that Judy Garland sings are great. There are lots of great crooners and/or vocalists in American music history, but Judy Garland had her distinctive way of reaching her listeners and making you feel in in her place. See the "Better Luck Next Time" number. It goes without saying that Fred is excellent here, and Ann Miller has always been my favorite dancer, who held a record at one time with the most taps in one minute. See her "Shakin' the Blues Away." And, Peter Lawford sings! How can you not like this film! I say it every Easter that this film is too good to only watch once a year. See it right now! See it next month! Watch it for July 4th! See for yourself why this is a great example of MGM movie musicals at their best!!
Another Stand-Out Jack Lemmon Performance
Jack Lemmon learns he is dying and tries to finally connect with his son (played by Robby Benson), whom he pretty much abandoned when he left his ex-wife, Lee Remick. A man who has no real close relationships, he is loved by many acquaintances because of his outrageousness, his carefree attitude, his one-liners and clownish cut-ups; in short, he is "a crowd-pleaser," as someone in the film calls him. For all his love of life (and women) that comes through to the viewer, this is also one of the most depressing films I have ever seen. I have seen hundreds of films and seen a lot of somber, serious, and/or downbeat movies, and this was painstakingly real in its depiction of loneliness, regret, and in facing death. In fact, that night I dreamed of Jack Lemmon, and I never dream of movie stars. Having said that and also that this film may be flawed, I would watch this again, I think. Jack Lemmon gives another great performance and deservedly received an Oscar nomination for it. There is no real plot save for his trying to connect to Robby, whose character is unusually "old" for a boy his age, and truthfully whose mannerisms reminds me of someone I know. There is an array of supporting characters to lighten up the mood, including Kim Cattrall and an unusual nurse. "Tribute" is a special film about real people who are trying to reach out before it's too late.
Lady in a Jam (1942)
Who's in a Jam? Irene or Us!
Irene Dunne is a "Lady in a Jam." She has gone bankrupt and her possessions are being sold in an auction to pay her debts. But she is oblivious to her plight and doesn't take anything serious. Her lawyer or accountant, played by Eugene Palette, has been after her about her inevitable situation. But she has done nothing to help herself, but buy stuff on whims. When Eugene goes to a psychiatrist (Patric Knowles) to get her some help, things get crazy. The situations from then on feel contrived and unrealistic, but at the same time it's bizarre enough to keep you interested, like a car wreck. It's not really that funny, but is only fairly amusing and is a disappointment as one of Irene Dunne's films. She is convinced by Patric to go back home, where her eccentric grandmother and ex-beau (Ralph Bellamy) live. "Lady in a Jam" is only for die-hard Irene Dunne fans, and even those will be only modestly entertained.
Sweet Adeline (1934)
Sweet Adeline is Sweet Time with Ms .Irene!
Irene Dunne is "Sweet Adeline," who sings in a beer garden and has aspirations as a professional singer. Her father is opposed to Donald Woods, who write songs, as a suitor. Hugh Herbert plays an eccentric yet likable character (when did he not), who is trying to catch a spy, who is a famous singer. All this sounds admittedly simple-minded, undemanding and corny, but that's why I found it to be refreshing. Hugh Herbert's scenes with Nydia Westman, as Irene's sister, were very natural and were genuinely amusing/funny. Perhaps the highlights of the film are the outstanding songs written by Kern/Hammerstein, sung to perfection by Ms. Dunne. Despite the old feel of this film, I would watch this again, not expecting much except a good, easy-going time with Irene Dunne and company.
The Murder of Mary Phagan (1988)
A More Thorough Study of the Mary Phagan Story
Jack Lemmon stars in this TV telling of a true incident in our history. When a young lady is killed, her employer (Peter Gallagher) is accused, because of circumstantial evidence, supposedly true testimony of others implicating him, his ladies man reputation, but mostly because he is a Yankee and a Jew in the South. He is given a trial, which isn't quite a fair one. When the sentence is hanging until death and a pardon from the Governor is possible, Governor Jack Lemmon feels the prisoner was given a bum deal, considering the community's prejudice and has qualms about letting the man hang. He goes on his own crusade and investigation to delve deeper into the story. Jack Lemmon has never given a bad performance, and in fact, everyone was very good in their role, especially Dutton in his memorable role. This was a very educational, involved and thoughtful film. "They Won't Forget" with Claude Rains and Lana Turner was another film about this, but that was a loose telling of the story, as it took place in a school setting instead a workplace. I've seen it, and it stands on its own as a good example of hard-hitting drama and movie-making if not totally accurate to the basic facts. After seeing this version though, you may not want to see the older version, as this puts the characters and their feelings first rather than serving their problems up for your entertainment.
Dress Gray (1986)
Dress Gray - A Unique 1980s Experience
Alec Baldwin stars in this TV miniseries about the murder of a gay cadet in a military academy, and he stands accused and has to clear his name. I didn't know what to expect, but this played out more like a political thriller than a drama, especially Part 2, with the investigation and dealing with the people who were tailing Alec and his girlfriend. A lot of older celebrities star in this and are good, but some like Alexis Smith were given literally nothing to do. Hal Holbrook is very memorable, and Eddie Albert was given a rare dramatic role as the victim's father who didn't know he was gay. Some reviewers say there was too much talking and that this could have been much shorter. Maybe. But on the whole, this seemed to be an exceptional miniseries with outstanding, full-force performances by all.
Marion Davies at Her Best! Oui! Oui!
Marion Davies stars in her first talkie after having a prolific silent movie career with this film, "Marianne." Here she is as a simple French lass in love with a French soldier during World War I. But when American soldiers see her they fall all over themselves trying to be the one first in line, particularly Lawrence Gray and Cliff Edwards. But Cliff Edwards (and Benny Rubin) primarily provide comic relief and some great songs. Cliff Edwards was a very talented singer and entertainer of his day, and sang the classic song "When You Wish upon a Star" and was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in "Pinocchio." Lawrence Gray has a nice voice too, but Cliff had that pep and comic flair thrown in his numbers. In fact, I saw this years ago, but had forgotten how funny this was. All the songs (sung by the soldiers!) were very good, considering how most of the early musicals, once talking pictures were made, were very dated and corny. The funniest part of the movie is when Marion masquerades as an officer to get Lawrence out of jail for taking her pig! Yes, I said, her pig! This was a fun and enjoyable showcase for the talented and underrated Marion Davies who was too many times dismissed as only William Randolph Hearst's mistress, therefore being under scrutiny in Orson Welles' classic, "Citizen Kane." Forget what you may think or know about her, and enjoy her as "Marianne."
Funny Valentines (1999)
My Special Valentines!
Alfre Woodard and Loretta Divine are excellent in "Funny Valentines," in which Alfre comes back to her small town home and reconnects with her cousin, with whom she shared her childhood. We see flashbacks of a disturbing trauma that still has present-day consequences. The scenes with Alfre and Loretta are electric, with Loretta being especially sweet and vulnerable. But we feel such strength from their love for each other. We care so much for Loretta, with her mother being sick in the hospital and yet also being hard to manage. I can't believe this isn't out on DVD! This is one the best TV movies I've seen! It makes you feel so good. You feel like these people are your family, your friends. Watch "Funny Valentines" for a story rich in love and full of hope with the under-appreciated Loretta Devine and Alfre Woodard.
How to Fall in Love (2012)
Eric Likes Brooke!
Eric Mabius liked Brooke D'Orsay in high school but she never knew how much. Present day: He has no girl and no style. Feeling insecure, he's now shy and has nobody to love. A friend of his tells him about a dating coach, but that experience was terrible. He meets Brooke, when she's waitressing, but who's really an event planner and without a job currently. Long story short, you know what happens. She helps him with his approach to women and insecurity, all the while she's.... This may be predictable fluff, but it's so sweet, special, and real, that it spoke to me and I really, really enjoyed it. Katky Najimy gives great support as another waitress and friend to Brooke. And, the rivalries and feelings between Brooke and sister were handled very well. This is the kind of film you watch sick in bed, a feelgood movie for all romantics, or just anyone who likes sweet films.
All about Love, Mature Love of Two Lonely People
Timothy Bottoms is a lost and shy young man with no apparent direction or aspirations, not liking college or getting along with or even being understood by his father. He is forced to go on a biking tour across Europe, with a friend of the family being the teacher/chaperone for the trip, but Timothy abruptly leaves the tour and jumps on a bus full of people on their own tour excursion. He befriends Maggie Smith, who has her own problems. They make quite a couple with their own insecurities, but they form an alliance, slowly, very slowly. When one gets closer, the other draws back. Both give very sincere and thoughtful performances. The ending is rather unexpected, but then again what I did expect to happen, realistically? A viewer's appreciation of this film will develop more, with each viewing, as we see a mature look at love, loneliness and real life and shows Maggie Smith and Timothy Bottoms at their restrained best.
Rare Romanticism of 1980s Television
Cheryl Ladd takes the Orient Express with a girlfriend, as she remembers her past and a past love. OR is he, a past love? This must have been shown on British TV in 1985, because it doesn't look like anything that was ever on CBS, ABC or NBC in the 1980s. The locales, Sir John Gielgud and the romantic aura it has all come together to make a very rare television film, and one I think will be a favorite for true romantics. In her thoughts and the flashback, we see her and her girlfriend traveling through Europe and meeting Alex and his friend. Cheryl as Lily and Alex have an interlude but are separated. 10 years pass until present day when Cheryl and another girlfriend (who of course plays up the "where are the men on this train?" attitude and who looks a lot like Vicki Lawrence) are on the Orient Express and Alex has found her and tries to make up for what he did. Some dialogue and somewhat awkward scenes could be found unintentionally funny, but on the whole this is a very deeply felt and sincere little film for the true romantic at heart.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
The Dorian Gray in All of Us!
Oscar Wilde's bizarre story is brought vividly to life in this film of the same name, "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Hurd Hatfield is the man in question who wishes to retain his young looks while his portrait ages. While making his wish in the artist's house, a small statue of an ancient Egyptian cat with supposed supernatural powers close by him grants his wish. The forthcoming plot shows how Hurd goes through life affecting those around him negatively and how it changes his inner soul, all the while it is being reflected in the portrait. George Sanders is an acquaintance of Dorian's and the artist and is there while the wish is granted. George is all the time making generalizations about life, love, and women (witticisms when George Sanders say them) and in doing so displays his brusque cynicism; in short, he's a cad, and Sanders is in his element, stealing all the scenes he's in. But this film is exquisite in style, storytelling, and in capturing the time and place. Angela Lansbury costars and gives a very moving and memorable performance. Peter Lawford and Donna Reed also star, but they are given very little to do. No matter, because this is another example of how they just don't make movies like they used to. Winner of a cinematography Oscar, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" is an involved, intricate and intelligent film movie experience. Not to be dismissed as just a horror classic, this is a film classic for all those who enjoy good old-fashioned films.
Peter Lorre's Tour de Force in Fritz Lang's Film Classic, M
"M" is just one of Fritz Lang's many film classics and concerns a child molester, played by Peter Lorre. He gives both a very simple yet gut-wrenching performance that made him an international star. He is possessed and evil one minute and childlike the next, changing from vicious to fragile. (His babyface smile is the most sinister, deceptive thing about him.) The film sets the tone with a group of girls chanting a very foreboding and disturbing song, which a mother tells them to stop and the shadow and sight of Peter really gets you stirred up. The tables are turned on him when he is trapped not by the law but by a combination of the town's crooked element (who want him out of their hair, due to the police's tighter rein on them) and the poor tramps who are enlisted in the quest to find him. The film's use of silence was so, so quiet that the viewer feels something's wrong with the audio of the TV, the DVD, or something - only to hear all of a sudden a mother's yell to her children! The silence heightens the viewer's tension and Peter's desperation. The ending may be the eeriest thing of all! If you've never seen "M," this unsettling experience is one to put on your list and is one film you'll remember forever.
Street of Women (1932)
A Forgotten But Still Great Kay Francis Film!
In "Street of Women," the love of women inspires men to build. These skyscrapers are testaments or monuments to womankind, so says Roland Young to friend and fashion designer Kay Francis. He keep proposing to her, but she keeps declining. Instead, she finds love in married man Alan Dinehart, but when he presses his wife for a divorce, she won't agree to it. By the way, Kay's brother and Alan's daughter, played by Gloria Stuart, are in love and plan to marry, but the usual complications set in. This is a very enjoyable little film, which is grand in production value and storytelling. Kay has never looked better and/or that much in real love! She has good scenes with actor Alan Dinehart that resonate with the viewer; these are real people we care about. But who will make the sacrifice for others' happiness? Who will live happily ever after? Roland Young, known for his "Topper" movies, is the man to solve the problems, as he seems to be the one with his head on his shoulders. "Street of Women" is a unknown entry in the career of Kay Francis that deserves to be shown on TCM more often.
A Notorious Affair (1930)
Kay Francis Stands Out in Otherwise Wooden Film
Billie Dove, Basil Rathbone and Kay Francis star in this early talkie about "A Notorious Affair." Basil is a concert violinist who, in the beginning of the film, marries Billie and then becomes infatuated with Kay Francis. The film then bogs down into too much talking. The film has its moments of wit and has good supporting characters, such as Laura Hope Crews from "Gone with the Wind." But the film suffers badly from Billie Dove's wooden acting, particularly in scenes that matter most, especially the scenes between Basil and herself, the closing scene included. And, Basil Rathbone must have gotten better as he had more acting experience, because frankly his delivery was rather unaffected. There was no emotion in their words. What gives the film the life it has is owed to Ms. Kay Francis, as she is excellent as the smoldering, exotic and sensual temptress. She is missed so much when she is not in the scene. While "A Notorious Affair" is a must for Kay Francis fans, others need not bother. 6/10 for a memorable Kay Francis performance.
The Keyhole (1933)
Kay and George in Their Element!
Get ready for some Kay Francis melodramatic fun! Kay is married to Henry Kolker, but a past suitor shows up to blackmail her with the fact they're still married. She goes to her much older sister-in-law for her advice. She says that, if Kay can get him out of the country, she can make it so that he can't get back into America. Their plan is that Kay asks for a vacation away from her husband for this purpose, but hubbie is jealous and suspicious. He hires an investigator to follow her and report her movements to him. Similar to Doris Day's "Romance on the High Seas," investigator George Brent then tails Kay and in the process falls for her and she him. Provocatively titled "The Keyhole," this film delivers melodrama with humor and Kay and George have always had great screen chemistry. They made many a film together because of it. Their scenes together are seductive and glamorous fun! Glenda Farrell and Allen Jenkins are part of the dependable supporting cast, and Henry Kolker has a great scene near the end of the film. "The Keyhole" is a great example Pre-Code storytelling! Turn the key and come in - and, lock the door!
The Mystery Train (1931)
Hedda Hopper in Charge in Quickie Entertaining Programmer!
Hedda Hopper, respected and feared Hollywood gossip columnist, began her Hollywood career acting in bit parts. In this pre-Code quickie, she has a rare leading role as a society lady whose estate is dwindling fast and in order to save her "assets," she hatches a plan to inherit money. The train she's on derails and she befriends and uses a young lady who is running from the law. She vouches for her and makes her masquerade as her niece to marry into a wealthy family. Therefore, as the Aunt, she will then come into some very valuable jewelry she has been coveting. This exciting and fast-paced programmer has some predictable complications as the young man/victim and the "niece" fall in love, and she doesn't like lying to him. But Hedda threatens to expose her if she doesn't comply with this temporary deception. Logic flies out the window here. What does Hedda expect to happen – to get away with her shenanigans? But this little film is long on entertainment and has a very exciting finale on a runaway train. Every once in a while, I find a film I love to talk about and recommend to real film lovers; this is my latest one! "Mystery Train" is a long- lost film classic that should be discovered today!
The Hospital (1971)
Another Excellent Paddy Chayefsky Script!
Doctor George C. Scott is having a mid-life crisis, questioning his life, his relationships and his general purpose, while being burnt out from his job, when he is thrust into a bizarre mystery of corpses in his hospital. The staff is being killed or is mysteriously dying one by one. It begins when a hospital bed is free because a patient dies ("Guernsey,") and now a young doctor, thinking he's Don Juan, uses the bed for a rendezvous only to be found dead the next morning. Diana Rigg costars as an Indian whose father has recently been admitted and she instantly forms an attraction for George and begins to tell him her life story: her use of drugs while adjusting to life, her mores, her lack of inhibitions. TMI, right! The acting in this film is excellent and is spot on. And, it's not only Scott and Rigg, but the staff. In the beginning, they keep questioning each other over "What did you just say?" trying to comprehend this unbelievable news that the young doctor is dead. The nurses were hilarious. Much is said about Paddy Chayefsky's "Network" and how great it is, but this dark satire on the health system is perversely perfect. Paddy deservedly won an Oscar for this script, and Barnard Hughes has a brief but pivotal role. We only hope that our own hospital is nothing like this. For an evening of good entertainment for those whose stomach can take it, watch Paddy Chayefsky's "The Hospital" - just not before your own surgery!!!!
Fiction, Pure Fiction that Entertains!
"Queenie" stars Mia Sara as a half-caste young girl in India who leaves her homeland, goes to England to be discovered, and becomes a movie star. This was inspired by the life of actress Merle Oberon, who was half-caste, and in fact, the book this was based was written by her stepson Michael Korda. I have mixed feelings about that, as his book was what is called a roman a clef, a fictional book whose main character is a real person. Her plight was the basis from which all things fictional happen in the book and therefore the movie. I feel like he profited by her private life, though none of the dramatics here really happened. Not knowing or considering the real actress, the movie is a good fast-moving and involving film with Kirk Douglas as the producer who makes her a star and Claire Bloom as her mother with very soap opera-ish melodramatics. Is that redundant? I would recommend this to anyone who didn't know about the life and career of Merle Oberon, but for those who do, it may feel a bit disrespectful of her memory to indulge in Korda's imagination and fantasy.
Murder in Texas (1981)
A Model by which TV-Movies Should Be Measured!!!!
Based on true events, Sam Elliott is a doctor married into a rich prominent Texas family, wife Farrah Fawcett and her father Andy Griffith. He meets Katherine Ross, whose character in real life wrote the book this TV-movie is based. He falls hard for Katharine and tries to have his cake and eat it too. It began too slow for me, as the first hour was about Sam wooing Katherine and as I knew Farrah's demise would be imminent. But when things did happen, they happened. What develops is too disturbing. Father Andy is determined to get justice for his daughter's death, and Andy Griffith gives a truly memorable role as a "Big Daddy" type. He and Sam Elliott's character's vanity and superiority are the whole show. And, the scenes when Katharine is alone in the house were truly scary. You know what I mean, if you've see it. And, the ending will blow you away, if you haven't. A superlative television movie, but is this really how it played out in real life! Are things embellished! This is more than "Murder in Texas;" this will haunt you even months after you see it.
Enjoy Your 1980s Disaster for the Evening!
Barbara Eden and Steve Forrest star in this TV-movie about the citizens living in a "Condominium," whose inevitable fate as rubble is both tragic and perversely fascinating, just like a car wreck. An array of 1970s and 1980s stars have roles here, such as Ana-Alicia, Richard Anderson and Dan Haggerty and many others, and character actor Ralph Bellamy is seen to good advantage. But this rides mostly on the anticipation of the action. The two-dimensional characters and silly dialogue give this a campy feel in the beginning, but, as you feel the calm before the storm, you are swept up in another world with these people and their real important problems. Yeah! Some people just don't listen when told to leave, as the condominium won't withstand the oncoming storm, due to age and a bad foundation. But all in all, I think by the end you'll feel entertained by the whole spectacle and its unashamed simplicity! 8/10!
Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
Love that 1980 Dude!
An out-of-town baseball pitcher has been transferred to a baseball team in Texas in 1980. That's the basic premise, besides the guys trying to get some. Richard Linklater's latest film, "Everybody Wants Some!!" is reminiscent of "Dazed and Confused," a film Richard Linklater made of the 1970s time period. I loved that film and, while this may not quite as great, it is just enjoyable. Linklater knows how to create real people and true characterizations. This film has the perfect balance of respect for its characters and the time and place, while, at the same time, parodying the outrageousness of the time's style, mood, and, of course, music. While looking at these people with fond remembrance as someone you could have known in your youth, the film also relishes their flaws in all their wild and wonderful glory. It's corny and wild. They are who they are. They're themselves. The music was of course awesome. All the actors were great in their roles, especially the guy who hates to lose and the guy with the ego who attacked the bartender. The naturalness and camaraderie of the actors make it all come together to make it a fun-filled, laid-back time with pals.