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Stage Struck (1958)
4/10
Like Watching a Train Wreck, You Just Can't Turn Away
24 August 2008
Some people are born with talent. Some can acquire it. Others can take all the lessons in the world, and still not grasp that elusive "it". And that's the problem with Susan Strasberg's performance: she clearly understands the nuances and subtleties of acting, but cannot connect that knowledge to the empathy and passion an actor must have to be believable in their role.

When at the party, Eva Lovelace recites the balcony scene from "Romeo & Juliet", and the guests become transfixed, I was never sure if they were staring in awe or horror. Strasberg pauses and reflects on her words perfectly -- at these moments, one could believe she's Juliet watching and waiting for her lover's answers. But when she recites the words -- and a recitation is all it is -- the fire, the passion of Juliet for Romeo is non-existent. She could just as easily have been telling the doorman to call her a cab.

The most interesting aspect of the film was in watching the various methods of acting being presented. Herbert Marshall (who started in silents and early talkies), Henry Fonda (who started in film in the 1930s) and Christopher Plummer (one of the new method actors) are all believable in their roles and mesh seamlessly together. Then there's Strasberg, who is incapable of presenting even a fraction of the range of any of her co-stars. (Frankly, I didn't make the connection between her and her father, and wondered who she knew to have secured the role.) The film is interesting as a curio piece, and Lumet's brilliance in portraying New York's scenery. But as a moving story about the theatre, it can't touch "All About Eve".
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Here's Lucy (1968–1974)
1/10
Keep Your Memories: Don't Watch It
11 August 2008
If you have fond memories of "Here's Lucy" from your childhood, the easiest way to retain them is never to re-watch this series. The plots are trite; the jokes are flat; and the overacting by both Lucille Ball and Gale Gordon is painful to watch.

At one time, Lucy had been the queen of television comedy, but that had been with the benefit of talented writers and a brilliant cast. Without those, Lucy is left to rely only on physical comedy, and that alone cannot carry a show, no matter the laughtrack volume.

I'm convinced that the only reason this series was a ratings success on CBS was that viewers had been watching some version of Lucy on Monday nights since the early '50s, and they were unaware that they could change the channel.
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2/10
Tall on Sugar, Short on Plot
30 May 2008
I purchased this as a gift for a friend, who had raved for the longest time about how enjoyable this film was. She was happy; I was bored.

The good: Bright, bubbly, effervescent Disney cinema. Excellent set design, with colourful sets. Tommy Steele is engaging, although his use of breaking the fourth wall becomes tedious after a while -- Dick Van Dyke he's not. Fred MacMurray surprised me. I'd forgotten that he actually did have a musical background, and while even Dennis Day would never have to fear his singing talent, he did manage to breathe emotion into his songs. (Not an easy task, considering how insipid the lyrics were.)

The bad: It's clear from the opening music that the intention of Walt Disney was to top Mary Poppins. Having set the bar that high to begin with, the film falters, sputters and stalls before it ever leaves the starting gate. The songs are forgettable. While the dancing is energetic, it's clear that the choreographer lifted the Chimney Sweep dance whole cloth from Mary Poppins, so few steps were changed.

The ugly: This is a movie in search of a plot. Whereas Meet Me in St. Louis had a brilliant score and strong direction to make up for its lack of plot, The Happiest Millionaire just drags. It's rather hard to cheer for MacMurray's Mr. Biddle, who is apparently a non-conformist who marches to his own drum, when he seems so white bread and square. (For the role as it should have been played, see Clifton Webb's turn in The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker.) There's also some down home Disney politicization occurring in the film. MacMurray's Mr. Biddle is very much in favour of America's joining England and France in World War I. While no one expects a Disney film to readily acknowledge the horrors of war, at a time when gas attacks and the brutality of trench warfare were known (the film was set in 1916), MacMurray's gung-ho attitude is off-putting. As this film was released in 1967, at a time when US involvement in Vietnam was starting to turn), it's pretty obvious that Uncle Walt was attempting some kind of pro-war message.

The film is safe for children, and they'd likely find it enjoyable. However, you might want to show it in two parts. At nearly three hours, the padding is very visible.
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6/10
Forgotten Childhood Memories
9 March 2008
This movie is a stand out, not as a film but as a distant childhood memory.

Any child from Greenwich Village during the '60s remembers this farm -- the pony rides, the corn growing just steps from the cobblestone streets, the chickens. It was an oasis in the heart of the city. What we didn't know was the story that led to the building of the Mitchell-Lama houses on the site.

Whenever I walk down Greenwich or West Streets, I dream of those innocent days when kids actually believed that we could fight city hall and triumph.
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East Side/West Side (1963–1964)
Two Corrections
28 January 2008
This was not George C. Scott's only television series, as someone stated elsewhere. While "East Side/West Side" is a brilliant drama with intelligent stories and an incredibly talented cast, George C. Scott was the lead in an abysmal FOX Channel series called "Mr. President" (1987). Both Mr. Scott and FOX would have liked to forget this programme.

Also, as far as "Naked City", that series often did not have neatly tied-up endings. Often, the endings were left deliberately ambiguous to make the audience think. While certainly not the poster child for civil rights programming, "Naked City" did show a multi-ethnic NYPD, and there were often Hispanic and African-American characters/actors with sizable parts in individual episodes. I can't say that the episode "The Contract", about Chinese-Americans and the conflict of cultures was the greatest representation of Asians on television -- especially with James Shigata, Khigh Dhiegh and Abraham Sofaer all playing Chinese -- but the characters were treated with respect, and not as stock figures.
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