Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
This film just gets better with time. I first saw Kind Hearts and Coronets
on television when I was in middle school, at a time when it was still possible to know who Alec Guinness
was before having to endure Star Wars
. At the time the most interesting thing about the movie was watching Guinness play eight different roles — nothing to sneeze at now, of course — but now it's the dialogue, the subtle jokes, the steamy understated romance; all the things an eleven-year-old would not have understood or appreciated.This, for instance, from the executioner who plans to retire after hanging the Duke of Chalfont (our anti-hero) because
,"After using a silken rope, I'll never again be content with hemp."
Claire Trevor + Deborah Kerr =
Or the luscious, provocative purring from Joan Greenwood as Sybella, the middle-class anti-heroine of the story. What I would have given to hear her whisper anything in my ear (a page from the telephone directory, the washing intructions on her blouse, ANYthing) in a stolen embrace
...It's the story of a young man who tries to regain his birthright
from the family who wronged his mother (an heir to the dukedom of Chalfont) for having married beneath her. Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini (Dennis Price
; on whose later work, including this,
I shall not comment) can only inherit the dukedom if eight family members (all Alec Guinness) before him kick the bucket. Suffice it to say that by the end of the picture he is the 10th Duke of Chalfont.As per usual with Ealing Studio films of this era, the audio leaves much to be desired, particularly if you're American with need of a little amplification to decipher the British mumbling.
Happily, Ealing has remastered Kind Hearts
among a number of its classics, so this will no longer be an issue for us colonials.Please do see it if you can. It's one of my favorites; a smart, funny, beautifully told dark comedy.
Such old fashioned customs...
In honor of the 85th Academy Awards, I decided to watch Jezebel
(1938) again. It's the only movie I really like George Brent
in and it's totally worth all the creepy comments about how menfolk should handle they womenfolk to see Bette Davis
do that neat trick of lifting up her skirts with a riding crop.
It's the story of spoiled, headstrong Julie Marsden (Davis), a flower of antebellum southern womanhood who treats men like playthings — particularly her equally headstrong fiance, Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda
). She goes too far one night in her contrariness by wearing a red dress to the most important ball of the season, where all unmarried ladies are expected (naturally) to wear white. This turns out to be the last straw for Preston, who kicks Julie to the curb only to emerge a year later at the beginning of yellow fever season with a surprise Northern wife (Margaret Lindsay
) a fine young lady who finds southern customs beautiful, strange, and slightly savage. The whole gang is reunited at Julie's country place (all right, it's a plantation) above the fever line, including roue Buck Cantrell (Brent), whom Julie decides to flirt with heavily while Preston is in earshot.
Eventually her flirting gets Buck killed in a duel on her behalf ( "We women can start the men quarreling often enough; we can't ever stop 'em."), Preston catches yellow fever, and Julie winds up redeeming her very bad behavior by promising Margaret Lindsay that she (Julie) should nurse Preston at the island of quarantine, for although southern women are treated like delicate flowers, they are strong and ruthless when they need to be... not like northern women with their talk of abolition and such.
As the patient, loving, and occasionally horrified Aunt Belle, Fay Bainter
is truly the best thing in this picture. She's so much more natural an actor than Bette Davis, and thankfully, the Academy thought so too — she took home the Best Supporting Actress statuette that year and Davis won for Actress in a Leading Role. And hats off to the dependable Donald Crisp
another sturdy performance as Dr. Livingstone (I presume).
Oh and it must have been excruciating to be an African-American actor in this era. I hope they were paid well, but something tells me...
The Red Shoes (1948)
Best cinematic ballet sequence ever.
Last night my friend and I went to the American Film Institute (AFI) Silver Theatre and Cultural Center
in Silver Spring, MD, to see a restored 35 mm print of this fantastic movie. I'm not really the type to insist
that a person see a certain movie in a certain environment (I suggest emphatically), but honestly, The Red Shoes
— like most of Michael Powell
and Emeric Pressburger
's creations (Black Narcissus
, A Matter of Life and Death,
— is a big screen experience you musn't
miss if you have the opportunity. It stars Powell & Pressburger
regulars Anton Walbrook
and Marius Goring
, a very young, technicolorific Moira Shearer
, and a bunch of comparatively zaftig ballerinas.The Red Shoes
is a story of artistic ambition, devotion, and performance; about how art is made and the kinds of people who are driven to create, study, and perform it; and is made by one of the most creative film partnerships of all time. The experience is so much better described in this review by Frances Morgan in the Electric Sheep
, February 1, 2010 after the restored print was shown at the BFI Cinema
And yet, on a Saturday night in the only venue of its type in our nation's capital, barely a fifth of the main theater's seats were occupied, and everyone seemed so quiet and disengaged. No one clapped for the director or the restoration (except for my embarrassing first smack of the palms), or laughed or cried, or gasped or anything. I realize that I am spoiled by San Francisco's film-goers, but I've seen pictures at this theater before and not felt such an utter lack of kinship with the audience.
AFI Auditorium Four Minutes Before Curtain:
I see dead people.
* where I bet lots of people showed up.
I'm not as short as I look.
Man in the Dark
opens with armed robber Steve Rawley (Edmond O'Brien
) in custody about to undergo experimental brain surgery to remove the criminal element from his brain. The operation appears to be a success (because he lived?), but Steve cannot remember who he is or what he used to be. Unfortunately, he also can't remember where he hid the $130,000 stolen during the heist that put him in the prison hospital to begin with, which causes him no end of trouble when the old gang comes by to beat it out of him. No one but girlfriend Peg (Audrey Totter
) really believes that he can't remember and tries to help him recover his memory (and the money) before the gang kills him.
Because this is 3-D, there is much chasing up and down stairs, sudden movements in creepy warehouses (look out for that SPIIIIIDERRR!), shots fired in your face, and cars careening toward you. Everyone winds up at the old Santa Monica Pacific Ocean Amusement Park
on a Rooooooollller Coassssterr, where various gang members fall off and we all get dizzy. Especially those of us in the balcony who have been trying to figure out just how far down our noses to position the glasses over our regular
glasses so they don't hit the focal section for reading.
We spent a little too much time with the creepy laughing "fun" lady at the carnival for my taste. But don't take my word for it:
In spite of all things poking in my face, flying at me, or freaking me out (see video), I nodded off once or twice. It looks like everything worked out in the end, because the cops got their money, O'Brien got the girl, and I guess the doctors really did cut the criminal instinct out of his head. Science!
I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't make it all they way through Inferno
, because it was the late show and I was already dizzy from the roller coaster and the scary laughing lady. Sad to grow old.
I did stay long enough to peg it as a superior picture that made better use of 3-D. Plus Rhonda Fleming
Fleming is married to mean, self-made businessman Robert Ryan
, but is secretly having an affair with forgettable mineral surveyor (William Lundigan
). While on a trek in the desert, Ryan gets thrown from his horse, breaks a leg (his, not the horse's) and the two lovers decide it's the perfect opportunity to strand Ryan in the desert to die. It does seem like a pretty good plan, but they haven't reckoned on Ryan's meanness and desire for revenge, or his talent for internal monologue.
Scenes alternated between the husband struggling to make his way out of the arid wilderness and the wife and her lover enjoying a lounge by the pool: Improvised Splint/Piano Bar; Rattlesnake!/Cocktails!; "I'll show those two" /"Do you think he's dead yet?"
I had to leave during the surprise Intermission, so I don't know how it ended and am waiting for my friend Monica
to tell me. I'm hoping Robert Ryan kicked the crap out Lundigan and Rhonda Fleming decided to give him another chance, if only because Ryan made a pretty good crack about Campfire Girls
on the way down the cliff.
The Other Woman (1954)
Beware of thuggy blondes
I suspected as much last year, when I saw Pickup
for the first time and felt like I'd been let in on this great secret. Sure he made the same picture over and over, but he did it so well and with such humor! The Other Woman
is no exception. Hugo Haas
plays a film director who has a reputation for being too "arty" for his audiences, a fault his producer father-in-law reminds him of at every opportunity. Enter Cleo Moore
, playing a vicious blonde with an unspecified DSM personality disorder and an unusually strong jaw, lounging among the extras on his movie set. Haas's character gives her a chance to say a few lines, which she blows convincingly along with the only opportunity we have to feel sorry for her. Moore decides to take revenge on the director (for "deliberately ruining her big chance") by contriving to get him Rufied and compromised in her apartment. Which she does to spectacular effect.It's a great de-escalation of morals all around. Terrific performances, interesting plot, lots of humor, and great fun.
I don't want to ruin it for you, so please do see it if you get a chance.
The Come On (1956)
Oh come *on*
There's a reason no modern audience has seen this picture: it's a real stinkeroo. I mean. Sterling Hayden
in old man bathing trunks trying to exude animal magnetism? Not much. He was only forty, for Pete's sake but he was in the worst possible shape you can imagine; everything about him screamed cirrhosis. Now Robert Ryan
is the kind of gruff he-man with marginal musculature who could pull off the confident swagger required for this common, idiotic, noir meme: man sees beautiful woman he wants and to whom he has not been properly introduced, tells her she's the girl for him, kisses her against her will until she melts in his arms. Sterling Hayden is NOT that guy.
And what the hell is wrong with Anne Baxter
? She does a fairly sexy thing with her eyes and mouth, but it's not really the same as acting, is it? She's so over-the-top at all times that you keep hoping her comeuppance will come up already. In this lemon, she plays a con artist trapped in a relationship with older, meaner conman John Hoyt
, who is a major control freak. Baxter meets Hayden on the beach one day while she's taking a break from the elaborate con in progress. Now, to me
he just seemed like a threatening, gin-soaked tool lumbering toward her, devouring her with his rheumy eyes, and plunking himself down on her beach towel, but it seemed to work on her. The rest of the movie is about Baxter trying to escape Hoyt
to be with Flabby McBigtrunks. She thinks the best way to do this is to blow up Hoyt's yacht with dynamite — you know, to make it look like an accident — but Hayden (to his credit) is aghast at the idea and nixes it.Meanwhile, Hoyt has hired Jesse White (of all people) as a private detective
to follow Baxter, which he does, and uncovers the pre-nixed dynamite plot by snapping pictures of Obviously Anne Baxter disguised in a headscarf and sunglasses carrying a package out of a warehouse with a 40 foot sign on it that says EXPLOSIVES, then another of her creeping out of a building blazing JOE'S ELECTRONICS or some such thing in neon. I kept waiting for the picture of her in front of ACME FUSE & DETONATOR, but no luck. These photos cause many problems.Anyway, even though Baxter and Hayden have decided not to blow up Hoyt, he decides to blow up his own boat, fake his own death, and pin the blame on
the two (you should pardon the expression) lovers. It doesn't work out and everybody but Sterling Hayden dies.
Like I said: p.u.
I loved it.
The Sniper (1952)
Shot mostly in Telegraph Hill, The Sniper
is the story of an ex-convict struggling against his compulsion to shoot dark-haired ladies who remind him of his mother and all other women who have rejected him.
Having seen so many versions of the police psychologist (this time Richard Kiley
) explaining the sex offender's profile to a grizzled lieutenant (Adolph Menjou
sans moustache), it's hard to know how groundbreaking this story was 60 years ago. But all the elements are there:
** Overcrowded penal system releases dangerous man with no resources for follow up treatment;
** Overburdened public hospital releases man with obviously self-inflicted wound to shootin' hand even though he all but begs for psychiatric treatment;
** City lousy with pretty brunettes under thirty; and
** Abundant opportunity to acquire military firearms.Edward Dmytryk
directed this thrilling crime drama with the tortured Arthur Franz
as the killer who stalks the still-familiar streets of North Beach and Telegraph Hill. So familiar, in fact, that we got to see a short slideshow of "then and now" shots from the film provided by the people at Reel SF
, a website devoted to films shot in San Francisco.
Native Son (1951)
Say, isn't supposed to be the 30s?
Very interesting evening at Noir City
last night. We had the rare opportunity to see Richard Wright
(then 43) acting in the role of Bigger Thomas (age 25) in the film version of Wright's 1940 novel Native Son
. Wright took the part because Canada Lee
), who played Bigger on Broadway, declined the role, saying he was too old (he was 44). Apparently, no studio in the United States thought the movie would make any money outside of the larger metropolitan areas and sure as hell wouldn't play in the South, so it was shot in Buenos Aires (standing in for Chicago) and directed by Pierre Chenal
. And I'm sorry to say that the backstory was the best part of the film; there wasn't one decent actor in the bunch. Made me want to see the Matt Dillon/Elizabeth McGovern version
all over again.
Intruder in the Dust (1949)
After hearing how hard it was going to be to show Native Son
in the U.S., I was a little surprised to learn that the adaptation of William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust
was shot entirely in Oxford, Mississippi by MGM, no less. Claude Jarman, Jr
. himself introduced the film, saying Louis B. Mayer did not want to shoot it, but director Clarence Brown
, who had seen a lynching as a young boy, convinced Mayer to make the picture. Jarman told us that many of the townspeople who appear in the film as extras were on hand for the poor optics arounds the integration of Ole Miss two years after this film was shot and that the star, Juano Hernandez
, couldn't (of course) stay at the same hotel as the rest of the cast.
40 feet high and 60 years younger
The story is of a black man arrested for the murder of a noted local racist, who was found shot in the back, said black man found near him with a pistol that had recently been shot. Young Chick (Jarman) has formed an unusual friendship over the years with the accused, Lucas Beauchamp (Hernandez) and happens to be the nephew of the local lawyer, an annoying jackass who doesn't listen to ANYONE, but is presumably the voice of White Reason in this film and who agrees to defend the man. A gorgeous alliance of Chick, his black buddy Aleck, and the elderly white lady Miss Eunice (played by the excellent Elizabeth Patterson
) help vindicate Lucas. The town is all excited by a prospective lynching and make a carnival of it. When said lynching is not forthcoming, they all wander off, kicking the dust, going "Aw, gee." All is tentatively OK by the end, with the local black population feeling safe enough to go back into town and Chick and Uncle Smugly comment on the condition of mankind.
It's a real good picture, actually, and very much worth seeing.
Like church, really.
My favorite kind of flight is generally the kind where no one speaks to me. At all. So I was delighted when I slipped past the nicely-dressed man in the aisle seat who clearly wanted to sleep and set up my social barrier by the window. It wasn't until we began to touch down in San Francisco that he made light chit-chat and I mentioned I was here for Noir City 11
, the annual film noir festival.
Turns out this fellow had caught an old movie on TCM just the other day and saw something so amazing that he grabbed his phone and took a video (of his television), because it was so cool. Then he showed me (on his phone) a portion of the fabulous duet at the "West Indies Club" scene from Another Thin Man
I took it as a good omen for this year's program. My first night (the fourth of the festival) was very early nearly-noir; borderline horror and psycho-drama, billed as a:
Pre-Code Proto-Noir Triple Feature
No more Mr. Nice Guy, Dodsworth?
First up was A House Divided
(1931), a crazy melodrama directed by William Wyler
, set in a fishing town straight out of Popeye — the scary Max Fleischer Popeye — where everyone is singing shantys, mending nets, and every other person has a wooden leg. Walter Huston plays a sociopathic brute who, on the day of his wife's funeral, tries to get his namby-pamby son (Douglass Montgomery
, a.k.a. Kent Douglass) drunk and laid at the local bar...to cheer him up. And that's just the first three minutes.
Enter pretty teenage Helen Chandler
(I forget how or why), who Huston declares he's going to marry even though he's a pig and she's half his age. Namby-Pamby goes along at first, thinking at least if his father has someone, the kid can finally leave that stinkin' town and have a life, but realizes how very yick that would be (for her) and intercedes by getting in a fist fight with his father on the wedding night. During the course of this very brutal fight, Huston goes crashing through the upstairs bannister and winds up paralyzed and even more hateful (while Chandler remains in tact, as it were). There are some very creepy scenes of Huston dragging himself around, useless legs trailing behind, menacing the two young people who have, of course, by now fallen in love.
Anyway, there's a big storm with thunder and raging seas and the girl out on a boat having to be rescued and crippled Walter Huston dragging himself into a dinghy and disappearing. The end.
I don't have much to say about the second feature, The Kiss Before the Mirror
(1933), except that it started out well, then drifted into quasi-psycho drama with much shouting and crazed eyeballs and all from the usually affable Frank Morgan
It's the story of a lawyer who is called to defend a man (Paul Lukas
) who has just shot his wife (Gloria Stuart
) in a jealous rage after finding her naked in the apartment of a Greer-Garson-less Walter Pidgeon
. While crafting the defense, Morgan comes to learn that his own
wife (Nancy Carroll
) is cheating on him
! Will he kill her? Will he not? Will he get the other guy acquitted by reason of insanity? Meh.
The film was directed by James Whale
, who must have been directing it on the weekends and evenings around the time he was working on The Invisible Man
, a much better picture.
Not *that* Jean Dixon
For all the scenery chewing from those around her, it was
very good to see Jean Dixon
in the role of Hilda, Lady Lawyer. Dixon is one of my favorite wise-cracking sophisticates. Watch her playing off Edward Everett Horton
and you'll agree.
I couldn't stay awake for the third of the triple features, sadly. I'd been up for 21 hours at that point and not even something called Laughter in Hell
could give me strength.
L-R: Legs, profile, comeback.
I like WWII home front movies as much as the next girl, but I have to say that Since You Went Away
left me a little cold. I know what you're thinking: Claudette Colbert
, and yeah, meh, but her plus Joseph Cotten
as a relentless masher made me pine for the telegraph boy.
The film starts on the day Colbert has seen her husband off to the war and is the part I like the best; her interior monologue and the interiors of her home are beautifully done. The family decides to take in a boarder to meet the expenses of maintaining a home after the breadwinner has gone. Enter Monty Woolley
, a crotchety retired colonel, whose itinerant grandson (Robert Walker
) becomes the doomed love interest of Colbert's eldest daughter, Jennifer Jones
. For my part, the more sweet and affecting relationship was that between the recently un-retired Shirley Temple
and Monty Woolley
. Woolley is a mean mofo who is inexplicably angry at the feckless Walker for going into the wrong branch of service, which he comes to realize is STUPID, but far too late.
I get how and why this picture would be really moving for a contemporary audience (1944) , honest, but Mrs. Miniver
, for Pete's sake, or The Best Years of Our Lives
(1946), or even The More The Merrier
(1943) convey the sacrifice, pain, and patriotism of the families and friends of servicemen left behind.
Wow. Dumb poster.
I'm writing this before the real
trouble starts in The Mating Season
(1951), showing now on some streaming service I can pause. First of all, I hadn't remembered that it was Jan Sterling
who played the male lead's first girlfriend in this picture, or that (secondly) Gene Tierney
wore shorts at all, but the most interesting thing I just learned from imdb-ing this picture is that the lead is John Lund
, a handsome, blond, blue-eyed, dimpled hunk of a man who ALSO played Johnny Dollar on my favorite radio program Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
right after Edmund O'Brien
left the show. Granted, he's not my favorite
Johnny Dollar (that's Bob Bailey
), but hey.
Of course, the star of this
show is Thelma Ritter
, who also earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress that year (pssst...she's really the lead. Perhaps she was too short?). Ritter plays the hard-working, hamburger-slinging mother of up-and-coming junior manager, Val McNulty, who has met, through a brief but impressive encounter, socialite Maggie Carlton (also the soon-to-be-ex-girfriend of his moneyed, ne-er-do-well boss, Junior) and proposed to same. Val is sheepish about his origins, because Maggie is placed rather high on the social ladder and his mother. Ellen (Thelma Ritter), runs a hamburger stand in New Jersey. As it happens, a few days before Val and Maggie are to be married, said hamburger joint goes bankrupt and Ellen comes to wherever they are (Ohio?) to live with Val, since he's asked her to a bunch of times, but in one of those "I've got something to tell you" moments when Val and his mother meet, he goes first leaving her without the heart to tell him the business is gone and finds a way to back out of attending the wedding, preferring instead to meet her new daughter-in-law under better circumstances.Well
, some months later after Ellen has earned enough to buy a decent enough outfit (including an $18 hat!) to pay her daughter-in-law a visit, she arrives on the exact day the poor young bride is trying to host a party for 20 fancy people (Gene Tierney, shorts, flaming turkey) and the bride mistakes Ellen for the cook the agency sent round to help. Ellen doesn't want to embarrass young Maggie and puts aside the $18 hat, dons an apron and saves the evening.
I'm just at the part where Ellen is moving into the newlyweds' apartment and Val still hasn't spilled the beans. I think this is the part where Maggie's mother (Miriam Hopkins
) comes in and casts aspersions all over the place.
Anyway, I'm going to watch the rest of it.
You should watch all of it.