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Lady from Shanghai from 1947 with Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles and Everett Sloan

What do you do after your directorial debut is a film-industry-defining classic? You reach for greater heights and end up making artistic, crazy, confusing, interesting, but not necessarily good, movies like Lady from Shanghai.

The TCM Noir-Alley host Eddie Muller sums this one up pretty well when he calls it a "hot mess." It tries too hard to be what? Noir, groundbreaking, moving, alluring - all of those, I don't know.

The plot, while confusing, doesn't rise to the confusing heights of, say, The Big Sleep, as you kinda get it even before it's ploddingly explained at the end.

Hayworth married an older and partially crippled wealthy criminal attorney (Sloan) who resents his wife for marrying him for, we and he guess, his money.

On a long cruise aboard his yacht, where he has hired a young sailor (Welles) to join the crew, Sloan cruelly needles both Hayworth and Welles (and anyone else in his surround), which serves to drive those two together. And, yes, Welles sporting an intermittent Irish brogue and Hayworth with cropped platinum blonde hair and an "are you kidding me" body are attracted to each other.

However, it's hard to take Welles seriously in this one as he takes himself waaaaay-too seriously. And while Hayworth looks beautiful, her aloofness combined with Welles' character's pretentiousness leave you all but disinterested in Welles-and-Hayworth's struggle to get together and out of her husband's clutches.

Thrown into the mix is a confusing-for-confusing-sake plot about Sloan's law partner wanting Welles to help him fake his murder (for insurance money and to get away from Sloan). It goes horribly wrong (no surprise there) leading to a trial followed by a Hitchcock-on-steroids final chase scene in a house of mirrors and Lady From Shanghai staggers to a close.

We all know the Welles story: the boy-genius director of Citizen Kane spends the rest of his career running from or trying to top Kane with neither effort often leading to good results. Lady From Shanghai seems to be a "top Kane" effort that spun horribly out of control. It's worth the watch for some good or, at least, interesting parts, but also simply because it's another piece of the more-interesting Welles' life saga.
 

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The Gentlemen from 2019 with Mathew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnan, Hugh Grant, Jeremy Strong, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding and Michelle Dockery

Sometimes the most-important question about a movie is did you enjoy it? For The Gentlemen, my answer is an emphatic "yes."

Director Guy Richie has a somewhat-lighter, somewhat-more-stylish view of the world than Quentin Tarantino, but they both live in the same zip code of Crazytown.

Richie's world is one of insanely dapper and chess-master-smart gangsters, drug dealers and thugs who completely understand how their criminal world works and co-exists with the regular world of, comparatively, more law and order. They don't view themselves so much as criminals, but as men and women who've chosen an alternative path.

Here, the plot - surprisingly less confusing to follow than most Richie movies - is about a current London drug kingpin (Mathew McConaughey) trying to "get out" by selling his business to another kingpin (Jeremy Strong), which sets off a crazy serious of machinations including violent raids attempting to drive the price of McConaughey business down, shifting criminal alliances, generational mob coups, blackmail and extensive murder and mayhem. It's fun, over the top and ridiculously engaging. You know it's all beyond the pale and you don't care.

And that's in part because Richie knows what he wants and how to get it. The sequences are seamless when that's what he needs or effectively jarring when that's his intent. He also knows how to make good actors great and great actors greater. Here, Mathew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnan, Hugh Grant, Jeremy Strong, Colin Farrell and Henry Golding put in the best or nearly the best performances of their careers.

Michelle Dockery as McConaughey's wife, too, would have given a career performance, but her part was too small. However in her one main scene - outwitting and, eventually, out shooting her husband's rival drug kingpin and his thugs - she gives you a hint of what Mary from Downton Abbey would have been like had she grown up on the streets and not in a manor house.

Guy Richie, similar to Tarantino, creates a captivatingly fictitious world of super-intelligent, super-violent, super-Machiavellian and super-well-dressed criminals. To be sure, while that world is no longer new to us - the Godfather movies introduced it and Tarantino reinvented it a few decades later - Richie knows how to amp up the roller-coaster ride while also, somehow, lightening its tone just enough so that you're laughing as the insanity unfolds. And the best part, because the dialogue is so smart and rapid fire, the movie will still be enjoyable - maybe even more so - the second and third time you see it.
 

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Honeymoon for Three from 1941 starring Ann Sheridan, George Brent, Charles Ruggles and Osa Massen

Let's get the unimportant stuff out of the way. The plot is weak. A novelist (Brent) engaged to his secretary (Sheridan) meets an old girlfriend (Massen) on a book tour and has an all but harmless flirtation - no sex, no deep connection.

Sheridan, the secretary/fiance, pretty much doesn't care as she doesn't believe much is going on, but the old-flame's husband (Ruggles) wants to unload his annoying wife on Brent, so he tries to sue for divorce. Throw in a few lawyers looking to profit from the affair and potential divorce and, that's it. That's the plot and it descends, from time to time, into screwballness. But...

Tick, tick, tick, BOOM!

I've always liked Ann Sheridan in a blasé way, but this is the movie where Ann Sheridan went BOOM! for me. And it wasn't her Oomph Girl-ness (not that there's anything wrong with her Oomph), but her humor, lilted cynicism and sarcastic wit is what won me over here.

Right out of the gate, she's firing off one liners as when she taps on Brent's train compartment door early in the morning.

Sheridan: "Got anything on?"
Brent: "Yeh."
Sheridan: "I never do get a break, do I?"

How Sheridan's asking for a morning "quicky," in the movie's opening line, made it by the censors in 1940 is a separate issue, but in doing so, she announces that this is her movie.

And it is. Basically, she's surrounded by idiots, knows she's surrounded by idiots and lets us in on the joke, but she does love one of the idiots, Brent, c'est la vie. So she struts through the movie firing off one-liners, giving dead stares, rolling her eyes and delivering deprecating looks to Brent and everyone else who's an idiot, which is, almost, everyone else.

But it's not mean spirited; she's having fun, knows that most of the idiocy around her is harmless and, since she's in love with Brent, she protects him as much as she elbows him. He's lucky to have her. Pro tip: Marry someone smart.

Spendthrift and broke, Brent is a big tipper which causes pragmatic Sheridan, every time he over tips, to lower her head, show a slight smirk and make a small "give me" wave of her hand to retrieve his excessive tips from bellboys, waiters, etc., which she takes back and replaces with an appropriate tip. By the end, the bellhops are so familiar with this game, that after Brent tips them, they immediately and unprovoked make the "exchange" with Sheridan behind Brent's back.

The other fun in this movie is Brent's old-flame's husband, Charles Ruggles, who wants to peddle his wife off on Brent. He has a bit of a brain and he also has an agenda - to get rid of said wife - so he's working hard to advance his goal while Sheridan has the luxury of sitting back and watching everyone else make fools of themselves.

When these two meet up, it's movie-relationship fun as Ruggles' little machinations are uncovered and smirked at by Sheridan. And when he takes her for drinks and dinner and then tries to split the check with her, you know she's more amused than annoyed as she calls him on every gambit he throws at her. He's smart enough (smarter than everyone else but her) to know when he's outmatched, so he just picks himself up from each Sheridan roundhouse as his only goal is to get rid of his wife (as any man married to his wife would).

Since it's a Code-era movie, there's too much avoiding sex and screwball stuff going on, but this one is all about Sheridan and she's up to the challenge. It's hard to recommend a silly movie with an addled plot, but if you enjoy seeing a smart - and darn good looking - woman tweak everyone else in a movie with wit, spirit and eye rolls, it's well worth the seventy-five-minute investment.
 

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The Private Lives of Pippa Lee from 2009 with Robin Wright, Alan Arkin, Blake Lively and Keanu Reeves (and a bunch more names you know)
  • An oddball movie about a middle-aged woman (Wright) married to an old, and now, dying man (Arkin) who reflects on her life (through flashbacks) to make sense of the present uncertainty she's feeling

  • Years earlier, Pippa's mom, a manic-depressive pill popper, provided an exciting but chaotic childhood for Pippa, resulting in Pippa (young Pippa is portrayed by Lively) leaving home at an early age to join the counterculture-world of Greenwich Village

  • There she meets her now-dying husband who was, even then, married to a young, pretty woman who had replaced his earlier wife. He leaves this second wife and marries Pippa who proceeds to morph into a kinda traditional wife and mom (right down to, years later, having the de rigueur young-adult daughter who hates her)

  • As all this looking back is happening, Pippa's dying husband (true to form) has an affair with one of Pippa's friends pushing Pippa, who was thinking about it anyway, to have an affair of her own with lost-in-life-himself Keanu Reeves

  • There's more - sleepwalking, a quirky son, jealous friends, some kinky photography, a (seriously) crazy ex-wife - basically, it's a darker, much-less-kibitzy Woody-Allen-style movie

  • And a shout out is deserved for both Robin Wright's and Blake Lively's engaging performances
 

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Night and the City from 1950 with Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers and Francis L. Sullivan

This is a noir morality tale bordering on Greek Tragedy. London-based petty grifter Widmark tries to break into big-time wrestling promotion, after much scheming and a bit of luck, by signing a famous wrestler.

But London wrestling is mob controlled meaning Widmark really needs connections, money and muscle to succeed and he has none of the three. The entire movie is, basically, watching this small-timer with big aspirations desperately run around London trying to get the three things he needs and, ultimately, failing at each turn. The mob didn't get to be the mob by letting street detritus muscle in on its territory.

This turf battle takes place against a backdrop of outstanding noir style centering on Widmark who - in a fancy light-colored suit, collar pin, tie and white shoes - looks like a low-rent bounder versus all the dark suits, dark alleys and dark clubs he haunts. And when the action shifts outside at night, London's overly lit club and theater streets make an always-scrambling Widmark look like a pinball getting smacked around by the flippers.

In typical noir fashion, Widmark wrecks a bunch of lives along the way - an older, respected wrestler dies owing to a Widmark scheme, Widmark steals from his ridiculously devoted girlfriend (Tierney) and he destroys the marriage of his business partners leading one to suicide. Not bad for a day's work in noirland.

Sadly, the few decent people in this seedy world suffer the most. Widmark's girlfriend's unconditional love is repaid with neglect, abuse, (the aforementioned) theft of her property and one-last desperately humbling attempt to save Widmark.

Meanwhile, the marriage Widmark destroys is between an older heavy nightclub owner (Sullivan) and his younger-ish shrew wife (Withers) whom he nonetheless loves unconditionally and treats incredibly well. Widmark needs to pit these two against each other to raise funds for his promotion. The wife seeing an out to her marriage lets lose an invective on her husband when she leaves that breaks him, in part, because he knows he still completely and stupidly loves her and would take her back.

So, while Widmark's tale is a basic noir one - a second-rate grifter reaches too high and gets smacked down hard by the criminals with more skills and brains - the real lesson here is a Greek Tragedy one. It painfully exposes how life destroying unconditional love for the wrong person can be. Peters is a broken woman at the end while (spoiler alert) the nightclub owner takes his own life when his wife leaves. It's rough justice and rough morality in Night and the City.

It's not always easy to watch Widmark get bounced around this seedy corner of London, but it's an outstanding British entry into the noir genre propelled higher by the incredibly stylish directing of Jules Dassin, its classic black-and-white cinematography and its meta-tale of unconditional love getting punished unconditionally.
 
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Guest
Bob le flambeur ("Bob the Gambler" or "Bob the High Roller") is a 1956 French gangster film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. The film stars Roger Duchesne as Bob. Oceans 11 was loosely based on this movie. In French, with subtitles.

Le Cercle Rouge (French pronunciation: [lə sɛʁkl ʁuʒ], "The Red Circle") is a 1970 Franco-Italian crime film set mostly in Paris. It was directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and stars Alain Delon, Andre Bourvil, Gian Maria Volonté, François Périer and Yves Montand. It is known for its climactic heist sequence which is about half an hour in length and has almost no dialogue.
 

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The Long Night from 1947 with Henry Fonda, Barbara Bel Geddes, Vincent Price and Ann Dvorak

  • This A-movie with an A-movie cast was given a good B-movie script, but nothing more, so you get a lot of acting and a long movie with a story that would have been better told in sixty or seventy, not a hundred, minutes

  • A WWII vet and, now, factory worker (Fonda) - a salt of the earth guy - falls in love with a pretty, innocent young woman (Bel Geddes), but he has a rival for her affections in an older magician/showman/grifter (Price) who appears more "worldly" to Bel Geddes

  • Also amping up the tension in this love triangle is Price's sometimes assistant, a life-weary showgirl (Dvorak), who makes a play for Fonda when Bel Geddes tilts toward Price

  • The thing about Dvorak is not only that she always looks ready for a roll in the hay (which she does), but also that she always looks like she just had one

  • Unnecessarily told through flashbacks, we are given the climax in the opening scene: Fonda shoots and kills Price as he can't stand the thought of - as Price mercilessly taunts Fonda - that he, Price, "deflowered" Fonda's girlfriend, Bel Geddes

  • Since the ending is told at the beginning, the only real suspense comes from watching the police try to capture Fonda who, with a gun, is barricaded in his apartment. It's overwrought and forced as a straight-timeline story would have been less complicated and made for a better movie
 

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Taste of Honey from 1961 with Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan, Paul Danquah and Murray Melvin

How the heck did this movie get made in 1961? It's like the Brits snuck a pre-code movie from the early 1930s into the movie houses of the early 1960s.

A white, negligent single mother, who had a daughter out of wedlock and who still sleeps around, all but abandons her, now, teenage daughter when she marries a man ten years her junior. Odder still, she's no cougar and he's a decent catch.

The daughter, now simply struggling to survive, moves into a horrible dump, takes a job in a shoe store and - think about the era - has a love affair with a young black merchant sailor about to ship out (he tells her this upfront). Of course, after he's gone, she discovers she's pregnant, but fortunately, an all but openly gay young man (did I mention this movie was made in 1961) moves in with her to help with the rent and, after she gives birth, the baby.

And if the plot isn't enough real life for you, each character is flawed, complex, inconsistent and emotional - you know, like real people. Even as bad as the mother is, she still has some love and kindness for (and, occasionally, feels guilty about her treatment toward) her daughter.

The daughter - a truly damaged person as anyone with her upbringing would be - is alternately kind and angry. However, in a haphazard fashion, she is also trying to build a better life for herself and her unborn child. It's painful to watch this much-nicer-than-her-mother young woman try to find a path to a decent life without having a positive past framework or normal upbringing to guide her.

And before shipping out, we see that her sailor paramour is a good and kind man, but he also seems emotionally lost as he tries to make more of his brief relationship with the daughter than she wants. Finally, in the most heartbreaking of all performances, the young gay man that the daughter befriends is caring and gentle, but adrift, as he hasn't come to terms with his sexuality or found his place in a society that views his feelings as a sin and a crime.

Sadly, but true to life, all of these characters in anger and frustration periodically lash out at each other, themselves and society causing everyone pain. Watching people make emotional decisions that hurt themselves and others, while also showing bursts of kindness and humanity, can be tough, but it is also engaging viewing as it's real life.

The climax pivots around which family structure the daughter will choose. First, the mother returns to the daughter after sabotaging her advantageous marriage. Her mother is struggling and poor because she makes bad decisions and not because of a cruel or greedy society. So, the question is will the daughter let her returning mother help her raise the baby or will she stay with her gay friend who treats her well and who is excited to be a father to her child?

But the climax is less important than the journey in this one. And it's an amazing journey for 1961, which, in addition to all the above taboos it breaks, also includes a frank discussion of an abortion with nuance and honesty that one hears little of in today's brittle debate. It also gives lie to today's period books and movies that have characters in the early '60s spouting abortion arguments perfectly aligned with today's thinking.

We'll close where we opened, which is how did a movie about an negligent mother abandoning her born-out-of-wedlock white teenage daughter who, shortly after that, becomes pregnant as the result of a brief affair with a black man but, then, moves in with a gay man get made in 1961? But thankfully it did as it's well worth the watch because, like its 1930s pre-code progenitors, it powerfully asserts that life and people were much more complex - and similar to us today - than most of the movies of that time showed.
 

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I Wake Up Screaming from 1941 with Victor Mature, Carole Landis, Betty Grable, Laird Cregar and Elisha Cook Jr.
  • An early, solid if slightly quirky noir effort with overtones of the better-noir Laura to come

  • A sports and celebrity promoter (Mature), on a bet, tries to take "nobody" waitress Landis (still sporting her tight One Million B.C., body, but with more clothes on here) and turn her into a "hot property" by dressing her up and bringing her around to NYC's social spots, of-the-moment nightclubs and marquee sporting events

  • It works so well that Hollywood comes knocking, but before graspy Landis can leave, she is killed, thus, turning the rest of the movie into who-done-it

  • In addition to lead-suspect Mature, a creepy but dogged detective (Cregar), a few other of Landis' new society friends and her apartment building's odd switchboard operator (Cook) are suspects

  • Amping up the sexual tension is foil-to-her-sister, good-girl Grable who has a crush on Mature even while suspecting him of killing her sister

  • The rest is good, standard noir stuff: a wrongly accused man, rough police interrogations, chase scenes through dark, wet city streets and plenty of snarky lines and creepy shadows, all topped off with a sexual deviant who turned his apartment into an altar to Landis

  • And finally, there's this, Over the Rainbow, the least-noir song ever, is the leitmotif of the movie - you hear it in the background all the time. It maybe, kinda works in the way the happy sound of an ice-cream truck heightens tension in a harrowing situation. Still, it's a crazy choice for a noir-movie theme song
 

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Torrid Zone from 1940 with James Cagney, Ann Sheridan and Pat O'Brien

Yes it's an A-movie with an A-cast and A-quality special effects, and all those things help, but it's basically a very good formulaic movie of the week with a bigger budget.

A large banana company's Caribbean plantation foreman, O'Brien, tries to both cajole and bully his top man, Cagney, into coming back to work for him as Cagney is about to leave for a cushy job in the States. Simultaneously, O'Brien, trying to keep order in the nearby town where he acts like a dictatorial mayor, wants to ship out recently arrived for unknown-but-suspected-untoward reasons nightclub-singer and card-shark Sheridan.

No surprise, Sheridan and Cagney meet, rub each other the wrong way, but while they won't admit it, they really like each other. Cagney, with a month to spare before his new job, agrees to a two-week stint for a big paycheck to help O'Brien "get the fruit moving again." Thrown into the mix is a local rebel leader who keeps stealing the plantation's workers away and another plantation manager whose wife is having an all but open affair with Cagney.

From here, the movie warps through a lot of plot and action with Cagney and O'Brien spitting out dialogue in machine-gun fashion at everyone (the best part of the movie). Also, the rebel leader is captured, escapes, is hunted down and captured by Cagney anew, and then, kinda, escapes anew; meanwhile, the bananas sometimes get on the train and sometimes don't.

And while he's dealing with all that, Cagney engages in a lot of verbal fighting and foreplay with both Sheridan and the manager's wife. It's another movie where Cagney has several job issues and women all up in the air at once with him spinning like a top to keep everything from crashing down. Basically, it's Cagney being Cagney in a Cagney movie and that's a very good thing especially when he has equally talented O'Brien as a verbal sparring partner.

It's fun, it's entertaining and fast moving. Warner Brothers knew the movie gold it had in Cagney, O'Brien and Sheridan and it let its horses run. Why is Sheridan stuck on a Carribean plantation with an extensive wardrobe of Cafe Society outfits? Who knows and who cares. She's there for, sorry gotta say it, the oomph (with Cagney parodying her famous sexual sobriquet by referring to her as "fourteen carrot oomph").

Also, what is it with Ann Sheridan having to beg for sex - how is that possible? In Honeymoon for Three, the movie opens with Sheridan asking for a "quicky" from George Brent and lamenting his rejection. Here, when a female rival says Cagney's no longer interested in her, Sheridan complains that Cagney never showed enough sexual interest in her in the first place, "You can't be jilted when you haven't been given a tumble." Something is wrong with a world where Ann Sheridan is always begging for sex.

It's a quick and by-the-numbers movie that works because Cagney, O'Brien and Sheridan are insanely enjoyable to watch, especially as they fire off one-liners at each other. The story is off the shelf, but the movie is worth the watch for the talented acting and star power alone.
 

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Tender Comrade from 1943 with Ginger Rogers, Robert Ryan, Ruth Hussey and Patricia Collinge

Let's get this out of the way up front. This film was used as part of the evidence by the House Un-American Activities Committee when it accused the movie's writer Dalton Trumbo of spreading communist propaganda. Eventually, Trumbo was blacklisted.

As a libertarian-leaning, raised-in-the-Cold-War-era anti-communist, clear blips appear on my radar for even small communist propaganda, but other than a ghost image here or there, I didn't see much agitprop nonsense in Tender Comrade.

To be sure, there are a few Marxist-ish lines about a bunch female factory workers sharing and sharing alike to save expenses and some other lines about the "fairness" of "having enough," but the latter weren't far off from the government's view, at the time, of war rationing and "pulling together" on the home front.

And, yes, Trumbo has some muddled thinking about democracy and economics that sometimes sounds faintly pink, but his thoughts, overall, struck me as more stupid than dangerous. If there was a crime committed by author Trumbo in this one, it was more for immature dialogue and pompous-but-trite speeches than any great subversive effort.

That's why the movie fails to be anything more than a "B effort" as a WWII "home front" movie that is clearly not in the same class with The Best Years of our Lives or The More the Merrier. In Tender Comrades, the characters often spew out rote lines that are just not that believable.

The simple plot here is four female factory workers, with husbands away at war and wanting to improve their living conditions, rent a home together. Of course, they all have their personality quirks and preferences that lead to them sharply bumping into each other now and then, but you know all along that they'll pull together when someone takes a war-related body blow.

So we see the obligatory arguments over rationing, volunteering, keeping one's lips sealed about their factory work, husbands and even sharing household chores. However, when someone learns that her husband has been taken prisoner or, on a positive note, a husband on leave is coming home, they all support each other and "pitch in." There's even the stock character (Hussey) who doesn't buy the "pitch in" stuff at first, but of course, she sees the light by the end as we learn her cynicism was, yawn, just a cover for her fears.

The only real bright spot in this flick is Ginger Rogers and her husband Robert Ryan as this not-obvious pairing has some real movie chemistry. You want to look for the scene where a calm Ryan nonchalantly asks Rogers to marry him and she immediately starts yelling at him for being "a wolf" and stringing her along.

He's more amused than angered because, as we soon learn, she's mad that he's kept his feelings so close to his vest that she didn't even know if he cared for her. To cut off her non-stop verbal pummeling, he gives her a much-deserved ultimatum - "say yes or no, not another word -" that brings the proposal to a happy conclusion.

And, heck, it doesn't hurt that Rogers has a rockin'-tight body on display throughout the proposal scene. Even in 1943, code and all, Hollywood knew how to fire up the prurience when it had the raw material to work with.

The movie needed more scenes like the proposal one and less pontification masquerading as dialogue. In this one, Trumbo's writing is ineffectual and obvious around the propaganda, but sometimes touching and astute when limning human foibles like Roger's insecurity in her relationship.

Finally, since we had to endure a bunch of cliches and way-too-much moralizing as dialogue, at least this bit of philosophy from Rogers, to a grumbling-about-America Hussey, landed a good blow: "Mistakes, sure we [America] make mistakes, plenty of them, You want a country where they won't stand for mistakes, go to Germany, go to Japan." Oh but for that wisdom today.
 

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The Journey from 1959 with Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner and Jason Robards
  • Taking place in Hungary in 1956 as the USSR was crushing the Hungarian rebellion, several foreigners (mainly English) trying to get out of Hungary are held up in a hotel by a Russian Major (Brynner) suspicious that they are smuggling out Hungarian resistance fighters

  • The foreigners, overall, aren't doing so, but one, Kerr, is trying to smuggle one resistance fighter out - a wounded Robards - which sets up a battle of wits and sexual tension between Kerr and Brynner

  • A bunch of other stuff takes place around the core story - pockets of Hungarian resistance attack Brynner's Soviet headquarters, we see the Hungarian locals conflicted over joining the resistance and several of the British being held are forced to choose between exposing Kerr and Robards or helping them and, thus, risking imprisonment or death for themselves

  • But most of the two-plus hours are spent with Kerr and Brynner not sleeping with each other as he continues to suspect Robards is not English (Robards' cover story), but a Hungarian resistance fighter (which we know he is)

  • Not that it's bad in a melodramatic way, but it's hard to believe that Brynner wouldn't have figured out who Robards was in ten minutes and it's harder still to believe he'd risk his career and life by not immediately arresting him and Kerr

  • Brynner is presented as a man conflicted with the moral issues of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarians - so much so, that he's willing to risk it all to let one Hungarian go, in truth, mainly because, let's just say it, he wants to bang Kerr - eh, not that believable

  • All this is made harder still because Deborah Kerr, while pretty, has an expression and body English that read as if she'd shattered into little pieces if a man touched her, but I guess the subtext and country metaphor is the fiery Russian wanting to conquer the aloof Englishwoman - yawn

  • Lastly, there's so much Russian and Hungarian spoken (without subtitles) that you feel left out of a third of the movie - maybe done to give the audience a sense of how the English captives felt, but still, you don't go to a movie to not know what the characters are saying
 

Peak and Pine

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The Journey from 1959 with Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner and Jason Robards
  • Taking place in Hungary in 1956 as the USSR was crushing the Hungarian rebellion, several foreigners (mainly English) trying to get out of Hungary are held up in a hotel by a Russian Major (Brynner) suspicious that they are smuggling out Hungarian resistance fighters

  • The foreigners, overall, aren't doing so, but one, Kerr, is trying to smuggle one resistance fighter out - a wounded Robards - which sets up a battle of wits and sexual tension between Kerr and Brynner

  • A bunch of other stuff takes place around the core story - pockets of Hungarian resistance attack Brynner's Soviet headquarters, we see the Hungarian locals conflicted over joining the resistance and several of the British being held are forced to choose between exposing Kerr and Robards or helping them and, thus, risking imprisonment or death for themselves

  • But most of the two-plus hours are spent with Kerr and Brynner not sleeping with each other as he continues to suspect Robards is not English (Robards' cover story), but a Hungarian resistance fighter (which we know he is)

  • Not that it's bad in a melodramatic way, but it's hard to believe that Brynner wouldn't have figured out who Robards was in ten minutes and it's harder still to believe he'd risk his career and life by not immediately arresting him and Kerr

  • Brynner is presented as a man conflicted with the moral issues of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarians - so much so, that he's willing to risk it all to let one Hungarian go, in truth, mainly because, let's just say it, he wants to bang Kerr - eh, not that believable

  • All this is made harder still because Deborah Kerr, while pretty, has an expression and body English that read as if she'd shattered into little pieces if a man touched her, but I guess the subtext and country metaphor is the fiery Russian wanting to conquer the aloof Englishwoman - yawn

  • Lastly, there's so much Russian and Hungarian spoken (without subtitles) that you feel left out of a third of the movie - maybe done to give the audience a sense of how the English captives felt, but still, you don't go to a movie to not know what the characters are saying
Unfamiliar with the film, but may be interesting to note that this was the second pairing of Brynner and Kerr, the first three years earlier in one of the most famous films of all times, The King and I (from Anna and the King of Siam* which I read as a little boy.) King made Brynner famous and gave him the Oscar for Best Actor. Kerr was already a big deal. Kerr pronounced her name Carr, for no discernable reason, especially since it wasn't her real name..

*Of course the book wasn't a musical so I had to make up my own tunes. Siam is present day Tailand. Or Denmark, I get the two confused.
 
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eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 47777
The Journey from 1959 with Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner and Jason Robards
  • Taking place in Hungary in 1956 as the USSR was crushing the Hungarian rebellion, several foreigners (mainly English) trying to get out of Hungary are held up in a hotel by a Russian Major (Brynner) suspicious that they are smuggling out Hungarian resistance fighters

  • The foreigners, overall, aren't doing so, but one, Kerr, is trying to smuggle one resistance fighter out - a wounded Robards - which sets up a battle of wits and sexual tension between Kerr and Brynner

  • A bunch of other stuff takes place around the core story - pockets of Hungarian resistance attack Brynner's Soviet headquarters, we see the Hungarian locals conflicted over joining the resistance and several of the British being held are forced to choose between exposing Kerr and Robards or helping them and, thus, risking imprisonment or death for themselves

  • But most of the two-plus hours are spent with Kerr and Brynner not sleeping with each other as he continues to suspect Robards is not English (Robards' cover story), but a Hungarian resistance fighter (which we know he is)

  • Not that it's bad in a melodramatic way, but it's hard to believe that Brynner wouldn't have figured out who Robards was in ten minutes and it's harder still to believe he'd risk his career and life by not immediately arresting him and Kerr

  • Brynner is presented as a man conflicted with the moral issues of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarians - so much so, that he's willing to risk it all to let one Hungarian go, in truth, mainly because, let's just say it, he wants to bang Kerr - eh, not that believable

  • All this is made harder still because Deborah Kerr, while pretty, has an expression and body English that read as if she'd shattered into little pieces if a man touched her, but I guess the subtext and country metaphor is the fiery Russian wanting to conquer the aloof Englishwoman - yawn

  • Lastly, there's so much Russian and Hungarian spoken (without subtitles) that you feel left out of a third of the movie - maybe done to give the audience a sense of how the English captives felt, but still, you don't go to a movie to not know what the characters are saying
I find myself consistently amazed at the clarity and level of detail reflected in your book and movie reviews you share with us. When you read a book or watch a movie you don't miss a thing and your reviews very effectively allow us to benefit from your experience. I must admit, I do wish you had written this present review a quarter of a century past so that I might have saved the two hours of my life that I spent watching "The Journey" way back then! LOL. Thank you my friend for another outstanding review. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
I find myself consistently amazed at the clarity and level of detail reflected in your book and movie reviews you share with us. When you read a book or watch a movie you don't miss a thing and your reviews very effectively allow us to benefit from your experience. I must admit, I do wish you had written this present review a quarter of a century past so that I might have saved the two hours of my life that I spent watching "The Journey" way back then! LOL. Thank you my friend for another outstanding review. ;)
Thank you, I very much appreciate your kind comments - that's very nice of you.

Basically, that movie was a swing and a miss. I'm glad I didn't have to sit in a movie theater to see it. Watching a bad movie at home is much easier.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Hide-Out from 1934 with Robert Montgomery, Maureen O'Sullivan, Edward Arnold and Mickey Rooney
  • Montgomery plays a New York City mob guy - an urbane "protection" racketeer - who runs away to a farm in upstate New York to hide out until a recent "issue" with the police can be "fixed"

  • There, by movie-magic happenstance, he winds up living with a honest, hard-working American farm family who also happens to have a preternaturally beautiful daughter - O'Sullivan of Jane-from-Tarzan fame who proves here that she looks gorgeous even with her clothes on

  • Since the family doesn't know he's a mobster hiding out, they think he's just recovering from an injury, there are a lot of jokes around and contretemps that occur from him concealing his true "career" from them - about half of the jokes/situations work

  • Being a code-enforced movie, all goes as planned: Montgomery transforms from cynical mobster to enlightened man who sees the good in honest, hard work and decent living (especially when a pretty girl sits like a cherry on top of it)

  • All that's left is for him to come clean to the family (and see if they reject him) and to pay his debt to society

  • It's harmless fun - nothing great, but Montgomery and O'Sullivan, with an assist from Edward Arnold as the doggedly pursuing NYC detective, make it interesting enough
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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George Washington Slept Here from 1942 with Ann Sheridan, Jack Benny and Charles Coburn
  • It turns out, 1948's well-known Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House was first made in 1942 as George Washington Slept Here. Not really, but the two movies all but share the same story

  • An upper-middle-class New York City family, living in a cramped apartment (a typical New York story), on the wife's (Sheridan) whim and unbeknownst to the husband (Benny), buy an in-complete-disrepair Pennsylvania farmhouse

  • After decamping to their "new" home and intent on "fixing it up," the story follows the usual arc of many fish-out-of-water stories as the local contractors and real estate agents take advantage of the "city slickers" as they spend all their money trying to make a run-down two-hundred-plus-year-old shack into a home

  • The one-liners - the reason for the movie's existence - are good, but not great with Benny trying hard to make average material funnier than it is as he both needles his wife for buying this white elephant and all the locals for fleecing them

  • Along the way, as troubles mount - no water from the always-being-drilled well, loss of the house's only access road, insanely leaky roofs, and on and on - the family also, naturally, fall in the love with the slowly-being-restored house and the warming-to-them locals

  • The climax comes as the money runs out, the bank is about to foreclose and their rich uncle (Coburn) turns out not to be rich, necessitating a deus ex machina to save the day

  • As noted, if this all sounds familiar to Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House, it's because it's, pretty much, the same story. Overall, the Blandings' version is a bit slicker, and Grant's more-subtle humor is more to my taste than Benny's "yak-yak" style, but both are reasonably enjoyable movie cognates
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Sweet Bird of Youth from 1962 starring Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Shirley Knight and Ed Begley

You enter a Tennessee Williams world at your own risk as despair, shattered dreams, broken lives and crushed souls await. The only real differences from play to play are the particular human afflictions on display.

Compared to your run-of-the-mill movie, Sweet Bird of Youth is pretty good stuff, but in the Williams' plays-turned-into-movies oeuvre, Bird feels like a poor man's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Most of the same dysfunctional family pieces are there, just arranged a bit differently, but it's not as impactful (read, soul crushing) as Cat is.

In Sweet Bird of Youth, Newman plays an aging pretty boy returning to his home town with a "patroness" in tow. He claims he's on the brink of a movie career, but he's really a gigolo / gofer for this aging Hollywood star [Page] whose career is in a downturn. Newman has returned to "get his girl back -" the daughter (Knight) of the town's corrupt political boss (Begley) who, pretty much, forced Newman out of town when no-prospects Newman tried to marry his daughter some years ago.

Making things worse - as they always are in a Williams world - Newman's patroness is an alcoholic and drug user (smoking marijuana is surprisingly shown) who is alternately kind and viciously mean to Newman who returns the favor. The majority of the movie is watching these two - secluded in a suffocating hotel suite in town - tear each other down and, then, somewhat make up when they realize that all they have is each other. It's honest, but exhausting.

When we do get out of that oppressive hotel room, we see Newman trying to get in touch with his former girlfriend, whose father, the aforementioned political boss, is doing everything he can to thwart a reunion, even unleashing his mentally unstable son (that Williams' touch again) to threaten and rough up Newman. Newman and the former girlfriend meet a few times, old sparks fly, but old baggage weighs (spoiler alert) as their last pairing and parting resulted in an abortion, whose public revelation is now threatening her father's political career.

And on the dysfunction goes: Town-boss Begley mentally and physically abuses his tucked-away-at-the-hotel mistress, while playing the wholesome family man in public. And sitting in the middle of the simmering abortion scandal is the young doctor who performed the illegal procedure on Knight when Newman left town. He's been promoted, before his time, to head of surgery at the local hospital owing to Begley's influence. Furthermore, the doctor is now engaged to Knight who, by now, is all but numb to everything being thrown at her.

Okay, that might be a lot to follow in a brief summary, but it is a bit easier to keep up with all the human wreckage as it unfolds on screen in over two hours. The conclusion (no spoiler alert, you'll have to watch the movie) was, according to TCM, watered down from the play owing to the remaining influence of the movie production code. But the conclusion, ugly and unpleasant as it is, is not that important as Tennessee Williams' goal, as always, is to show broken people breaking some more. Mission accomplished.
 
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