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"Decline and (definitely a) Fall..."
I'd missed this when it was given a U.S. theatrical release and, considering its cast, thought I'd give it a whirl when it was shown today on the FOX Movie Channel. But, as it unreeled, the recollection of its lukewarm-to-poor reviews came vividly to mind. It's a thorough disappointment in lots of ways, beginning with a script that has barely a hint of what was, no doubt, a good example of novelist Evelyn Waugh's acerbic social satire. The production design, typical of most films then, British and American, is colorfully garish. And the waste of the acting talent of a phalanx of the best British character actors is awesomely prodigious, attributable, I'm sure, to the slack direction of one John Krish, whose meager filmography is testament to his utter mediocrity. I should have been forewarned by the psychedelic colors swirling under the main credits (Well, the year of production WAS 1968, after all.) and the soupy music of Ron Goodwin, whose syrupy strains inappropriately underline most of the film's unfolding. Worst of all was the misuse of the elegant Genevieve Page, an actress perfectly capable of playing a lady of privilege and breeding, who seems, in this one, to be an inexperienced amateur attempting a role for which she is almost entirely unsuited. What a pity!
Scandal at Scourie (1953)
Perhaps too gentle and charming for today's sensation-seekers.
This was the sort of film my parents could confidently send me off to see, knowing that there would be nothing scandalous about it. I saw it just after we'd moved to a southern California suburb from a town near Boston, Massachusetts, and I recall being envious of young Donna Corcoran (who was also billed as Noreen, and whose sibling, Kevin, aka: "Moochie," also enjoyed a career as a child actor, mostly at Disney) getting to emote with such charming people as the leads, Greer Garson and Walter Pigeon, one of M-G-M's favorite pairings, once again playing a loving married couple. (By the way, no matter how I try, IMDb keeps deleting the "d" in Walter's last name in this comment when I try to post it. What's going on?!?)
I haven't seen it since but I do remember that I was aware then that it was an example of Hollywood's backlot artistry, something which, were it to be remade today for TV, for example, might benefit from some location shooting in the actual locale of the story. It's a gentle film made with the care one would expect from the professionals listed in its credits, one of those relics unlikely to be made available on video, and that's really a loss that many of us do regret, however mildly. Turner Classic Movies unearths it from their treasure trove occasionally. Worth keeping an eye out for.
A rather sad farewell for Twentieth's famous CinemaScope logo.
The talents of Frank Tashlin and Doris Day would seem to be a Hollywood combination made in heaven but, with "The Glass Bottom Boat" (made at M-G-M a year earlier than "Caprice') and this one, their fans were doomed to a certain degree of disappointment. The main trouble with this film is its impossibly convoluted and ridiculous script, giving little opportunity for anyone to shine, except, perhaps, the set and clothes designers, though one must appreciate that their efforts look very, VERY much of the dreaded "Mod" period when this one was conceived.
Technical credits are, for the most part, top-notch, especially that old pro Leon Shamroy's lush cinematography (although I do recall that the back projections were very obvious when I saw this on a 40-foot wide CinemaScope screen when it was first released).
I've never been a particular fan of Richard Harris and he was most definitely miscast opposite Doris. His too-clipped delivery of some of his lines can be attributed, I suspect, to Mr. Tashlin's rather slack direction (unusual for that comic master).
All in all, when one considers that producer Martin Melcher, Doris's husband, was, at the time, squandering her hefty paychecks in unwise investments, it's easy to understand why Ms. Day has since been content to retire form the screen and allow us to remember her better, earlier efforts.
The Unsuspected (1947)
The mystery of Ted/Michael North
WARNING - Mini-spoilers may ensue: The sympathetic male lead in this glossy, slickly directed murder (non)mystery is played by Ted North (billed by his first name, as Michael North). He has a rather ingratiating presence and that old Hollywood pro, director Michael Curtz, coaxes a fairly convincing performance out of him. He was perhaps the first of the blonde 'bombshell' Mary Beth Hughes's several husbands, and disappeared from the Hollywood radar quite promptly after this, his final film. His IMDb biographical site lists just twenty previous film appearances (some uncredited). Wonder what happened.
Claude Rains and Audrey Totter chew the scenery with their customary relish in this one and Hurd Hatfield's visage is almost as frozen as it was when he played the title character in M-G-M's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" in 1945. Constance Bennett, looking very glamorous, is given too little to do and Joan Caulfield does about as well as can be expected with the ill-conceived role of an uncomprehending young woman in deadly peril.
Warner Brothers lavished some expense on the sets (by Anton Grot) and costuming (by Milo Anderson) and it's all very professionally photographed by Woody (Elwood) Bredell and slickly edited by Frederick Richards. Franz Waxman does his best imitation of Max Steiner with his lushly orchestrated score, but doesn't lay it on too thickly, as was frequently Steiner's wont.
One little thing stuck out, for me, is how a car that goes careening off a cliff and burns as it crashes is a cheaper model than the one seen speeding down a winding road in the immediately preceding shots. Back then the studios didn't destroy Detroit sheet metal with the profligate abandon which they do now, that's for sure!
The Valley of Decision (1945)
A dissenting opinion...
Finally caught up with this one via a recent Turner Classic Movies broadcast and have to regretfully admit that I'm in the minority (i.e., negative) opinion here. I found it awfully disappointing in lots of ways, from the miscasting of the too-old-for-the-part and rather patrician Greer Garson (obviously photographed through the softest focus possible in several closeups), to the surprisingly paltry production values. The skimpy backlot work and the really wretched art direction (at least for a prestige M-G-M picture) were appalling. Only the women's costumes (by Irene) seem to be up to the standard that the other Metro artisans (cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg, composer Herbert Stothart, et al.) usually achieve. And as for Tay Garnett's direction, oh my goodness! Gregory Peck, in what was only his second lead role in a major production, given too little to do; Dan Duryea managing little more than a reprise of his role as the family spoiler as in 1941's "The Little Foxes"; Lionel Barrymore totally, shamelessly out of control; Preston Foster, usually a stalwart asset, quite wooden and ineffective; the usually wonderful Jessica Tandy much too shrill; the very young Dean Stockwell allowed to be more than annoying; and only the peerless Gladys Cooper acquitting herself without dishonor. All in all not one of M-G-M's best examples of its glory days as Hollywood's preeminent major studio.
The White Cliffs of Dover (1944)
Holds up quite well, in almost every respect.
Finally caught up with this one on a recent Turner Classic Movies broadcast and found it quite enthralling, despite its rather protracted length and of-its-era WWII wartime propagandizing. It's exceptionally smoothly directed by Clarence Brown and mounted in the very plushest M-G-M manner. It's impossible to imagine a story like this being as lavishly produced today. The cast is attractive and capable, with Irene Dunne (beautifully gowned and coiffed throughout) more than holding her own amidst a virtual platoon of marvelous British actors and actresses. The ubiquitous Frank Morgan manages to be minimally irritating; in fact he's quite credibly effective as Dunne's irascible American father. And even Herbert Stothart, whose scores often sound rather syrupy and intrusive to these ears, provides one of his best accompaniments to a story that spans decades and quite a gamut of emotions. Those whose attention spans haven't been stunted by the fragmented way we receive so much information and entertainment today should find this a rewarding example of how cinema audiences of several decades ago were respectfully treated by the Hollywood studio system at its professional best.
It Started with a Kiss (1959)
Stunning concept car outshines the usual dull Hollywood clichés.
I missed this one when it was released, being warned away by mostly negative reviews and the objections of the Catholic censorship body of the time. (I believe some facsimile had replaced the dreaded Legion of Decency by 1959, the year of its release.) The prudes objected to the generally "suggestive" tone of the proceedings and, after watching it on a Turner Classic Movies broadcast recently, I can see why their knickers got into a twist. Even by today's much more relaxed standards, its situations and its treatment of marriage are pretty sleazy.
It's a rather lame "bedroom farce" that makes poor use of the talents of nearly everyone involved and its main redeeming assets are the location shots of several Spanish cities and its countryside and the gorgeous Lincoln Futura concept car (which lost its eye-popping fire engine red paint job when it was transformed into the Batmobile for the campy Batman TV series).
For some reason M-G-M brass at the time thought that the chemistry between Glenn Ford (dull as dishwater, as usual, and sporting one of the worst and greasiest-looking haircuts on a leading man ever) and a very pert and pretty Debbie Reynolds was worth exploiting. Their second co-starring vehicle, "The Gazebo," was rushed into production and released just four months after this one. Debbie was soon free of her M-G-M contract and went on to appear in somewhat worthier enterprises at virtually all the other major Hollywood studios, with an occasional return to her launching pad at Metro.
Mario Cantone: Laugh Whore (2005)
Prepare to be blown away - and then some!
Just saw Mario Cantone frenetically fill very close to ninety minutes with his manic one-man Broadway show (on a Showtime cable TV broadcast) and, while I personally enjoyed it all, I can well imagine he'd be more than a bit too much for some. This is one performer whose energy is close to exhausting, although he himself seems to have a limitless well of the stuff. He's a shamelessly funny comic genius who can be foul-mouthed and genuinely sentimental at one and the same time (talking about his extended Italian-American family, for instance) and he's pretty close to the male equal of Tracey Ullman in his ability to mimic famous personalities and others, with an amazingly flexible countenance and a vocal instrument that's frequently uncanny. He can sing pretty well, too, and his last act impersonation of Judy Garland is one of the best I've ever seen. He's quite merciless with his incarnations of some (his Julia Child had me in stitches), but one comes away with the feeling that he has a deep affection for all that is worthwhile in people and for the joy of living, as well.
Be forewarned, if you haven't ever been exposed to him before, you may find him more than over-the-top, but if you like an entertainer who has never heard of such a thing as an inhibition, then you might just be fabulously entertained.
The Heat's On (1943)
They Done Her Wrong!
Turner Classic Movies just unearthed this turkey from their vaults and, being a fan of Mae West (though not an avid one), I thought I'd give it a whirl. Big mistake! (i.e., Big disaster!) After it had unspooled, TCM's host, Robert Osborne, revealed that producer-director Gregory Ratoff had somehow obtained Mae's signature on a contract to appear in this film without her seeing a completed script. When she did get an astonished look at what she was supposed to headline, she was "furious" according to Osborne, and promptly went to work rewriting most of her scenes, adding a few (but not enough) of her trademark witticisms.
The story is more than silly and takes little advantage of Miss West's star power, and, except for Hazel Scott's interpolated production numbers, there's almost no one else in the cast to match Mae's wattage. But she looks great, slinking around in Walter Plunkett's fancifully fantastic creations and Franz Planer's glossy black-and-white cinematography makes the most of the second-tier production values typical of a Columbia Pictures programmer.
Poor Victor Moore is required to portray a pathetic boob, intimidated by a battleaxe of a sister, quite effectively embodied by one Almira Sessions. The ingénue, played by Mary Roche, probably didn't elicit many wolf whistles when this dud was shown to the troops during WW II; Lloyd Bridges has a really small role as her swain (in uniform, of course); and there's an actor named Lester Allen, playing a character appropriately called Mouse Beller, who could only be cast in a role with that moniker.
Mae West quit performing before the cameras (going back to the stage and touring with her fabled nightclub act) and didn't make another picture until "Myra Breckenridge" in 1970 (and she was arguably the best thing in that crazy curiosity). This one is only for those fans who want to get a look at what Hollywood thought it could get away with during the wartime years.
Come to the Stable (1949)
When nuns wore habits - and makeup!
I saw this charming, slickly produced film as a young parochial grammar school kid at a theater in downtown Boston (near where my family lived at the time) and remember being tremendously amused at the scene where the two sisters, played by Loretta and Celeste (saddled with having to approximate a French accent), blithely tore up a parking ticket, placed on the windshield of their borrowed open WW II-era Jeep, thinking it was just an advertisement. Sister Celeste tosses the pieces into the air as they drive off from in front of New York's St. Patrick Cathedral where they'd illegally parked. (I doubt that she felt obliged to confess that little venial sin, do you?) There's a lot more to be amused and entertained by, of course, and the behind-the-camera artisans, as well as the well-chosen actors, especially Hugh Marlowe and Elsa Lanchester as well as Misses Young and Holm, all contributed some very professional work. Henry Koster, the director, was an old hand at keeping a project such as this from slipping entirely into a bath of over-the-top sentimentality.
So much has changed since those somewhat more innocent times and a gentle story such as this, with two ladies encased in those heavy, enveloping habits (with only their perfectly made-up faces visible to the world, by the way), is almost inconceivable today. See it and be transported back to a time when goodness, sincerity, and religious beliefs that don't descend into fanaticism were the order of the day, at least in Hollywood movies aimed at the family trade.
One interesting little tidbit: in one scene Hugh Marlowe's character (a song writer) sings the Academy Award-nominated song, "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" (which didn't win - and you'll hear why), and his singing voice was dubbed by Ken Darby, who was chiefly responsible for directing most of the choral work in many of Twentieth's films for many years. I have a suspicion that Mr. Darby probably rejected quite a few male candidates who wanted to join the Fox studio's choir if they didn't sound any better than he did!
I'd probably never have known about "Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story" had a friend not told me about it, nor would I have been inclined to watch it were it not for my being able to consistently trust his recommendations.
Despite its subject matter (which I would normally find less-than-intriguing), I thought it was extraordinarily well-done. The contemporary music selections and newsreel clips were well chosen and added immeasurably to the mise en scene. And that final reconciliation scene between Griffith and the son of the boxer who died after fighting Griffith packed a well-earned emotional wallop.
Griffith is a sad case - certainly not meant for the career that ultimately pretty much destroyed his life. He seems a person of genuine charm and a certain gentleness - not what many might associate with the personality of a champion professional boxer. I was surprised how, in the final sequences, the makers didn't shrink from discussing the gay aspect of the story, even while Griffith seems to still be disavowing that he's actually gay.
The widow of Benny "The Kid" Paret was quite a camera subject, very expressive, and Sadie Griffith, Emile's left-behind wife, is still quite a dazzler - what a smile! (Though that close-cropped hairdo wasn't very flattering.)
Previously I knew nothing about Griffith and his story and was certainly grateful that the USA Network chose to show it uninterrupted, since I suspect that I may not have stayed with it had it been constantly cut into for the usual number of commercials.
I have a complaint about the title, though. "Ring of Fire" has been used a number of times, including for an Andrew and Virginia Stone potboiler from 1961, released by M-G-M. (IMDb erroneously says the aspect ratio is 2.35:1, but I saw it in a theater and it was not a widescreen movie). It starred the then-popular David Janssen and was filmed in Metrocolor in and around Vernonia, Oregon, not too far from where I now live. I thought the documentary makers ought to have come up with something more original and, perhaps, a trifle more appropriate to Griffith's sad story.
I understand, from the Message Boards on this film's IMDb title site that the story may be filmed by Paramount (in conjunction with the USA Network) as a major motion picture. They should leave well enough alone, especially since I can imagine the rap "star" or some other currently "hot" black personality who'll probably get the title role. Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, perhaps. Puh-LEEZ!
The Catherine Tate Show (2004)
This woman is a comic genius!
I beg to differ with the other IMDb-er who finds this show, and Catherine Tate, unfunny, trite, and so forth.
Her show comes through on BBC America on my TV cable service and I only recently discovered it. It might help if I had a slightly sharper ear for British accents, especially those of the "lower classes" (no offense intended), but I have no doubt that this lady is an extremely gifted comic actress, a virtual chameleon (assisted by some extraordinarily talented makeup artists), who has provided some of the most solid laughs I've enjoyed in some time.
In my book she's right up there with her fellow Brits, Mollie Sugden, Paricia Routledge, et al. and her Canadian counterparts, Andrea Martin and Catherine O'Hara. And let's not forget an American, the inimitable Joan Cusack, who deserves her place right alongside her peers from outside our borders. My enthusiastic compliments to you all, ladies!
Young Bess (1953)
Hollywood gloss triumphs - as usual.
Its historical inaccuracies aside (including its scrubbed and polished depiction of a far less sanitary time, even, most probably, amidst the pomp and pageantry of the royal court), this costume romance is typical of the very carefully produced and handsomely mounted style of M-G-M in the waning days of its preeminence among the major Hollywood studios. Its well-chosen cast performs most satisfactorily under George Sidney's assured direction and the artistic and technical credits are impeccable, notably the art direction and the almost absurdly luxurious costuming. This film was nominated in the color categories for those two contributions and, most unjustly in my opinion, lost out to Twentieth's first CinemaScope blockbuster, "The Robe," in both cases. The prolific Miklos Rozsa provides one of his more sprightly scores, deftly enhancing the script's focus on the romantic entanglements of the principals. Still, enough attention is paid to the great peril of being close to the apogee of power in England at the time. Throughout a sense of dread pervades the audience's hope that Young Bess might actually survive to realize her dream of a love fulfilled.
Yolanda and the Thief (1945)
Technicolor steals the show!
I'd always been curious about this one, especially considering its rather unhappy reputation as a major disappointment in the Fred Astaire/Vincente Minnelli canon, and it's fairly easy to see why. Turner Classic Movies scheduled it recently and I tuned in to watch something that certainly made me glad Technicolor was invented but which fell somewhat short of its intended mark.
The story is absolute piffle, almost redeemed by Mildred Natwick's genuinely funny portrayal of a dotty aunt. (Check out the sequence where she welcomes Yolanda home from her years at a convent school.) M-G-M stalwarts Leon Ames and Frank Morgan (Was he in every single class "A" Metro production from the late Thirties through the early Fifties?) lend reliable support with the little they're given to do. And Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer get (only) two opportunities to display their dancing compatibility. Astaire, of course, managed to complement all of his dancing partners with his patented style and grace (even the miscast Joan Fontaine in "A Damsel in Distress") but, as a matter of personal opinion, I think that Ms. Bremer runs a very close second to the gorgeous Cyd Charisse as one of his most elegant and beautiful co-stars. She's too old for her role in this one, admittedly, but she's nevertheless quite charming and a prime object for the luscious Technicolor cinematography of Charles Rosher.
The real star of this misbegotten show, however, is the opulence of the very artificial art direction, set decoration, and costuming. It's Hollywood at its most baroque and Minnelli keeps his cameras gliding through it all as if on angels' wings. If you're not looking for one of the Arthur Freed's unit's bona fide musical classics, this one will provide a phantasmagoria of color and motion that's rarely been equaled.
Dear Heart (1964)
Time for a DVD release, please!
I note that a DVD version of this charming film is available in Great Britain, but not here . (Our VHS version is not in stock from one major source and one wonders if the British DVD is also out-of-stock.) This title boasts two truly fine actresses, Geraldine Page and Angela Lansbury (although the latter has little more than a cameo, of which she makes the most, as always), plus a wonderful supporting cast as well. Ordinarily I've found Glenn Ford to be rather dull in several of his big screen performances but in this one I recall finding him well-suited to his role and giving an entirely sympathetic and amusing account of himself opposite Ms. Page in a role she obviously relished.
With a well-remembered theme song and a nice music score by the prolific Henry Mancini, there's probably no danger of this one being remade, I suspect, and, since it's close to perfect in this original telling, let's just hope that a DVD release will eventually allow us to revisit the qualities that made it genuinely appealing for mature audiences forty years ago and, I feel sure, still would today.
All Fall Down (1962)
Definitely worth a look (with minor reservations)
I saw this one when it was first released, responding to some justly deserved positive reviews. Recently Turner Classic Movies showed it and my memories were confirmed: terrific cast beautifully responding to John Frankenheimer's astute direction; impeccable black-and-white cinematography by Lionel Lindon, especially that opening on-location sequence in Key West, Florida; one of Alex North's most apposite scores, not at all too florid (Was any Hollywood composer better at enhancing a story filled with neuroses in full bloom?); and a story whose downward spiral seems inevitable, despite some slight excesses on the part of the scriptwriter.
Minor reservations: Karl Malden's being required to vociferously refer to his son, Berry-Berry, as "The Big Rhinoceros" and as other assorted wildlife creatures (Why? Never really explained and seemingly inappropriate, given Warren Beatty's rather sleek appearance); the given names of the characters played by both Warren Beatty (Berry-Berry) and Eva Marie Saint (Echo O'Brien) - pure flights of fancy on the part of the writer(s), when compared to the more down-to-earth names given the other Midwesterners in the story; the frustration of seeing the doomed character, Echo, often expressing her affection for the younger brother, Clinton, while pathetically succumbing to the brutish abuse of his older brother, Berry-Berry.
But the interplay of all the cast (including some excellent supporting players) makes this somewhat forgotten gem a real must-see. It's one time when Angela Lansbury, running on all cylinders, is easily and compatibly matched by her fellow actors. This one's a keeper!
Texas Carnival (1951)
Not one of Esther's more lavish aquacades!
This brash and often noisy Technicolor trifle is definitely not for those expecting to enjoy a series of Esther's more elaborate water ballets. She spends a minimal amount of time in the water in this one and there's only one trademark production number, a dream sequence in which she floats sinuously about in Howard Keel's darkened hotel room, trailing yards of diaphanous white veiling, that comes close to what her fans might have lined up at the box-office hoping to enjoy.
Esther, however, looks wondrously healthy and pretty throughout, the very picture of an All-American Girl, acting with her usual pert insouciance. Howard gets to unleash his rich bass-baritone in two or three forgettable songs, though he certainly looks convincing as a lanky ranch foreman. Red Skelton contributes his usual shtick, at some tedious length here and there, and even manages to amuse today's audiences with a skillfully executed pratfall or two. Ann Miller, ever the most energetic in the cast, seems to come out on top in this pastiche, tossing off a couple of her patented leg-tossing, tippy-tapping dance amazements, choreographed by the reliable Hermes Pan.
M-G-M touted this as 'Another Big MGM Musical' but it appears to have been rather thriftily produced, with some minimal location work that looks notably cobbled together, especially in a concluding and very extended chuck wagon race, which involves some dangerously risky stunt work, by the way.
Keenan Wynn lends some very sour support, as a Texas millionaire, overly fond of his bourbon. Skelton also is supposed to imbibe a prodigious amount in one drawn-out sequence, and we're meant to find it riotously funny, something that may have been acceptable back in the early 1950s but which fails to amuse as easily today, with our greater awareness of the very deleterious effects of excessive alcohol intake.
It's also amusing to note how very much inflation has devalued the American dollar in the more than half-century since this film was released. A multi-room hotel suite large enough to fill one of M-G-M's average soundstages is quoted as costing what would be the usual price in today's dollars for a single, modest hotel room in a smaller U.S. city. A doctor makes a house call, to tend a briefly ailing Ms. Williams (She's fainted from hunger, poor thing!), for a fee that wouldn't cover the charge for administering an aspirin anywhere in a U. S. health facility today. A beautiful Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertible is smashed into a tree (mercifully, off-camera) and the quoted estimated tariff for its repairs (supposedly including a ruined dashboard) is so laughably minuscule that the total wouldn't cover a six months' insurance premium assessed for an ultra-safe contemporary driver with no traffic citations on his/her record over many prior years of accident-free mileage. What price progress?!?
Love Affair (1939)
A technical comment (mostly)...
I'd always been curious about this original version of the romantic 1957 hit, "An Affair to Remember" which was a bona fide box-office success, made so memorable by the classy pairing of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. That CinemaScope remake in Color by DeLuxe, of this black-and-white original, was also co-written and directed by Leo McCarey, a man who wasn't afraid to regularly mix genuine sentiment with some fairly gloppy sentimentality in the same (admittedly tasty) cinematic dish.
I join those who prefer the original, thanks mostly to the restrained and very professional performances of a quite young-looking Charles Boyer and Miss Irene Dunne, who looks quite ravishing throughout (modelling some gowns that are as chic today as the first time this film was shown). And what a set of pearly whites she had... the better to charm the stuffing out of us with that glowing smile!
Anyway, Turner Classic Movies showed it the other evening and I couldn't believe the terrible condition of the print. Scratches, skips, muddiness, sound problems, every possible defect seemed to be in appalling evidence! Apparently the DVD now in circulation is every bit as bad. Hey! Come on guys! This film is considered one of the better ones during a year (1939) when Hollywood studios unleashed a cornucopia of goodies. How about giving us a version worth watching, for heaven's sake!
Presenting Lily Mars (1943)
Stuffed full of dated clichés, but Judy (almost) conquers all!
Finally caught up with this one on Turner Classic Movies, in a pristine video transfer, doing full justice to Joseph Ruttenberg's glowing black-and-white cinematography.
Opinions on this one among other IMDb-ers seem, not surprisingly, rather mixed, since the clichés that form the basis for this script are not quite sufficiently redeemed by a generally excellent supporting cast, as well as very deluxe art and set decoration, including a stunning nightclub set. (It almost makes one want to exclaim, "Who needs Technicolor?!?")
But Judy, looking really lovely, performs her heart out and more than holds her own amidst the sort of sentimental claptrap that Louis B. Mayer insisted be fashioned around her maturing femininity. It's also said that Mayer dictated that the final overblown production number should be tacked on to conclude the picture, with Charles Walters, later to be one of Garland's most congenial directors (after the bloom was off the rose of Vincente Minnelli's Svengali-like love affair with Judy), dancing up a storm with her, making one wish that he'd done quite a bit more performing in front of the camera .
Any film, by the way, that gives the wonderful Connie Gilchrist a chance to appear for even only a few minutes of its running time is simply not to be missed. What a treasure she was!
Mother India (1957)
For the average Western viewer, a grueling experience.
Turner Classic Movies just played this nearly three-hour Indian epic and I decided to give it a try, despite TCM host Robert Osborne's caveat that its length might seem a daunting viewing challenge, but one that would prove rewarding by its eventual conclusion. Alas! I failed to make it past the midway point. My capacity for submitting to movie masochism had reached the full-to-satiation level. In fact it had long since overflowed, much like the farms after a terrific monsoon during one of the film's earlier episodes.
The video transfer of the original Gevacolor negative (apparently an unstable single-strip process), with prints by Technicolor, looked pretty good on Turner's presentation, with some ravishing shots during the opening wedding sequence and the occasional insert of glowing sunsets, etc. But, oh! the tedium of the endless travails of the central protagonists, bedevilled by the almost cartoonish evil of Sukhilala (played by an energetic actor named Kanhaiyalal), a villain so heartless he makes Simon Legree look like the endlessly compassionate Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
The actress Nargis, playing Radha, the matriarch around whom this mostly sad tale revolves, is a standout in a cast most of whom seem to have been encouraged to overact to an almost absurd histrionic intensity. With some contrasting subtlety, she more than holds her own and appears to have been subjected to some extraordinarily difficult torments in order to realistically depict her character's many agonies.
But this early example of what has become known as the Bollywood school of international cinema is definitely an acquired taste. If you like screen exotica, liberally spiced with production numbers sung in Hindi that frequently seem to exceed the length of an entire Hollywood film from the Golden Age of Movie Musicals, then this just may be your dish of curry. But for this viewer it seems less a "classic" and more a prime example of how Indian audiences have been traditionally willing to submit to films that are routinely as long as those blockbusters that bombarded our roadshow houses back in the late Fifties through the 1960s. I can still watch one of those English-language spectacles with a degree of satisfaction, but I confess, this epic from the Indian subcontinent was more than I could digest.
Any Number Can Play (1949)
Curiously dark-toned throughout.
This is one of the prolific Mervyn LeRoy's less-distinguished directorial efforts, in my opinion. The story seems cobbled together, everything takes place indoors or at night on studio streets (sometimes rainswept), and none of the actors, including the leads, seem entirely comfortable in their roles. Possibly because of his wartime experiences, Clark Gable returned to the screen, after the end of World War II, looking quite a bit older than his chronological age and he doesn't appear to be well-matched here with the elegant, twenty years younger Alexis Smith, on loan from her home studio, Warner Brothers.
Ms. Smith was not very well-served by the M-G-M artisans assigned to this film. She looks rather grim and is not nearly as flatteringly photographed as was the case in her Warner Brothers films. (On a recent Turner Classic Movies broadcast, host Robert Osborne commented that Alexis was not happy working at M-G-M and was anxious to return to the "less pretentious" atmosphere of her home at Warner Brothers. She may have looked at the rushes for this one and decided that she'd been given short shrift at Hollywood's preeminent glamour factory.)
The story revolves around a gambling house whose boss is a hard-edged guy (not anything that Gable couldn't make sympathetic) whose family and employees, as well as his patrons, all seem to be not always on his team. A showdown in the final reel attempts to make everything right, of course, but I listened to the swell of the end title's music without much of a feeling of satisfaction.
Defines the meaning of "overripe"!
On a recent Turner Classic Movies broadcast, I finally caught up with all of this one, having seen only snippets of it before. Everybody involved was obviously given free rein, from the lead actors all the way through to every behind-the-scenes artisan, the best that Warner Brothers could muster at the time. Claude Rains and Bette Davis spar in magnificent style, with Rains, stroking the fur of his pet Siamese cat, winning by default, since he was given a role which is so over-the-top that, in the hands of a lesser actor, it would have verged on outrageous camp. (Check out the rococo New York brownstone mansion in which he's ensconced, more magnificent than anything a lesser studio could provide for a monarch in a story involving royalty!)
Poor Paul Henreid has a particularly thankless role to play, swinging like an erratic pendulum between jealous tantrums and thoroughly deceived naïveté, but his simulations of the movements of a top-flight cello musician are convincing enough to allow all to be forgiven.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold's music is probably the film's chief asset and it probably sounded superb over the monophonic sound systems when this film was released, since Warners' sound technicians were the best in Hollywood back then. (Unfortunately the soundtrack during the telecast I heard was very wobbly - a real disappointment. Wonder what the problem was, since this certainly isn't the case with many films dating even further into the past.)
While it may not be a delicacy fit for a cinematic gourmet, it's more than passably entertaining for its nearly two-hours running time.
Three Daring Daughters (1948)
Four cooks didn't manage to spoil this bubbly broth!
There are four writers credited for the script of this Technicolored concoction and somehow its froth still manages to fizz in a quite entertaining way. That's thanks in large part to an attractive cast and the delightful surprise of José Iturbi's charm as a very convincing actor. Plus, it almost goes without saying, some eminently listenable singing from Jeanette MacDonald and her young up-and-coming counterpart, Miss Jane Powell.
- Mini-Spoilers May Ensue -
Of course the manipulations of the rather simple plot are spun out almost to the point of frustration as a mother keeps her daughters in the dark about why their father and she divorced, the daughters plot to bring their father back from a distant work assignment, their mother meets and marries a charming man whom she truly loves, the daughters resist his introduction into their happy home, etc., etc., etc. Aaarrgh! It could have been utterly annoying, but Jeanette MacDonald, looking lovely, and Señor Iturbi, understandably falling head over heels for her, make for two adults who deserve their final happy song (with the three little vixens joining in) at one of the pianos that seem to be in every room of this film's many luxuriously appointed sets.
A few things of note: Someone (the set decorators, the hairdressers, the color consultants, the cinematographer, whomever) had a liking for the color orange and its many gradations from pale peach to burnished bronze. There's some note of it somewhere in virtually every shot of every scene in this film!
Young Miss Ann E. Todd (not to be confused with the English actress, Ann Todd) seems to have been forced to play almost every one of her scenes with a rather unbecoming scowl on her pretty, brown-eyed face. Its not out of character for the part she's playing, but it does seem a bit excessive.
And, wouldn't you know it? (I did without even checking the IMDb Trivia on this title.) The Roman Catholic Legion of Decency found this film "Objectionable In Part For All" because it appears to "condone" divorce, an absolute no-no as far as that censorious body was concerned when it held such influential sway.
But don't be deterred. Next time Turner Classic Movies unearths this bon-bon from their vaults, give it a whirl. It's fun to see how the better half lived and loved in simpler times, and when a major studio could make going to Cuba and back (without ever leaving Culver City, California - The story happens to involve a vacation cruise on a ship with the most impossibly large public rooms and private suites, enough to make a Greek tycoon's yacht look like a rowboat!) a visual treat every mile of the way.
Flamingo Road (1949)
Perhaps, an acquired taste, but...
Like a dry Martini with just a tad too much vermouth, garnished with an olive that hasn't been washed of its brine, this one can leave a nasty taste if you're looking for something that goes down smoothly. But if you're not too fastidious, this Crawford star vehicle is almost ridiculously entertaining. Joan might have been just a little long in the tooth to be playing a hoochy-coochy carnival girl in the film's opening sequence but it isn't long before she's on her way up, constantly being tripped on that inexorable climb by one of the slimiest villains that Sydney Greenstreet ever played. Warners trowels on the class "A" production values (except for some glaring back projections at a construction site) and Michael Curtiz's direction is, as usual, briskly efficient, getting the best from everyone in the cast, principal and supporting players alike, except perhaps for Greenstreet who really doesn't look well at all and seems to be struggling against imminent collapse in some scenes. (He made only one picture after this one and died from complications of diabetes about five years later.)
Max Steiner contributes his usual melodically overwrought score (with heavy reliance on the popular song, "If I Could Be One Hour With You [Tonight]"), lushly orchestrated by Murray Cutter, under the musical direction of that Warners stalwart, Ray Heindorf. It's almost too distracting but the frequently crackling dialogue keeps the audience's attention focused on the pulpy proceedings. Ted McCord's black-and-white cinematography is an outstanding example of why not every picture should be in color and I suspect that it was Travilla who was given the task of gowning Crawford once she'd finally crossed over to the right side of the tracks. (Sheila O'Brien, also credited, probably ran up those nifty waitress uniforms and the prison garb Crawford gets to wear not once, but twice!)
They really, REALLY don't make 'em like this anymore, and thank goodness Turner Classic Movies, for instance, trundles a tasty morsel like this out of their archives every once in a while for us to savor once again.
Madame X (1937)
Turner Classic Movies showed this a few days ago and, curious to see how it differed from the glossy Lana Turner/Ross Hunter-produced Technicolor version of almost thirty years later, I tuned in. There were a few differences, of course, in the way the familiar plot was developed, but, oh my goodness! Gladys George just blew me away! She towered above the proceedings with a performance that is just amazing.
TCM's host, Robert Osborne, in some concluding remarks after the film's closing scene faded from the tube, advised that Tyrone Power was to have been loaned to appear as Ms. George's son in this version, in a complex deal with 20th Century Fox that involved Clark Gable and Jean Harlow (from the M-G-M side of the ledger) and Shirley Temple and Tyrone from 20th. But Harlow's sudden death caused the deal to fall through (thus permitting posterity to be graced with Judy Garland as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" rather than Shirley, whom M-G-M had really wanted for their extravaganza) and Tyrone didn't come to M-G-M until the following year for his relatively small role in "Marie Antoinette."
The result, as far as the 1937 version of this oft-filmed weepie is concerned, was that M-G-M gave it a little less than "A" production values, but the performance of Ms. George in the title role makes that of small consequence, indeed. She's utterly believable, especially as she slides into slatternly alcoholism during the latter half of the picture. Osborne also revealed that, as the years wore on, Gladys became a bit too fond of the bottle in real life, accounting for her relegation to supporting roles. But there's no way she was under the influence when her inebriated scenes were filmed during this production's abbreviated shooting schedule. She's a professional here, at the peak of her powers, and they're close to tremendous, especially in the final, over-wrought courtroom scenes. Lana wasn't half-bad in the remake, but she benefited from the passage of nearly three decades since Ms. George had made the role her own. What a star!