Recently Watched & Favorite Movies: Personal Reviews & More

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Penthouse from 1933 with Warren Baxter, Myrna Loy, Charles Butterworth and Nat Pendleton

This pre-code-on-steroids story is a bit sloppy and obvious in its plotting, but makes up for it in its aggressive reveal of the grey areas of life that, in only a year, with the coming enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, would be mostly hidden from view in movies for several decades.

But before that window closed, in Penthouse, Warren Baxter played a white-shoe lawyer who gets a mob boss, Pendleton, off on a murder rap, but is then dropped by both his law firm and society fiance who disapproved of Baxter's "association" with criminals. Baxter, bored with writing wills for wealthy old ladies, continues in his new career path, even socializing with Pendleton.

When he tells Pendleton of his romantic travails, Pendleton offers him one of the young women, in this case, Myrna Loy, who are, effectively, kept mistresses of the racketeers or other wealthy men. Loy, clearly loving the role of a wanton woman, is more than happy to "entertain" Baxter and is shocked when, after a late evening that winds up at his penthouse, he lets her sleep over without making any advances - advances that she encouraged (you got to love the pre-codes).

Heck, taking it a step further, we see that Loy's pride is hurt by his behavior, as, the next morning, when he tells her she's alluring, she responds, "Alluring? I doubted it last night as I didn't exactly have to fight for my honor. A few more weeks of this and I'll be out a position." I guess you have to respect that she takes pride in her work. Kidding aside, it is a stark reveal of a woman who understands her role and what is expected of her. It's a shame that, in only a year, we'd no longer meet women like her in movies for several decades.

But with that set up, the movie ramps up all the tension and conflict when a young society man is charged with murdering his mistress. He was trying to break up with her - get ready for it - to marry the society woman who broke off her engagement with Baxter when he became a lawyer for the mob. So now, Baxter's ex-fiance comes to Baxter asking him to defend her new fiance. Are there no other good lawyers in Manhattan?

Thrown into this mix are rival gangs, one of which is using the society boy as a fall guy for, what was, a mob hit on his former mistress. From here, the rest of this short, fast movie is watching Baxter reveal the frame-up of the society boy while avoiding being killed by one of the gangs. Along the way, both his former society girlfriend and Loy try to help him, which shows that Loy is the one of the two women with character, grit and loyalty despite being, as she describes herself, not someone you can take into proper society.

The wrap up is fast and clean (spoiler alerts) as the society boy is proven innocent by Baxter, Baxter's mob-boss friend is killed (in a surprisingly bloody way - blood also being something that will disappear from the screen in only a year) and Baxter refuses Loy's offer to be his mistress, instead, asking her to be his wife. The message here is a good one that denounces "society's" hypocrisy and the underworld's crime and violence, while advocating for each individual - like former society lawyer Baxter and high-price call-girl Loy - to be judged on their character, not on their "social standing."


N.B. Look for Charles Butterworth in the role of Baxter's butler. While we cringe a bit today at the thought of a butler, it was honest employment that, as shown here, could oftentimes evolve into a friendship based on respect and affection. In Penthouse, Butterworth delivers a wonderfully understated performance as the guy on the sideline who sees all the nonsense while firing off the occasional subtle putdown, but he will also defend the good guys - Baxter and Loy - when necessary.
 

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Finger of Guilt from 1956 with Richard Basehart, Mary Murphy, Roger Livesey and Faith Brook

This modest-budget UK production feels more like a long-play The Twilight Zone TV episode than a major studio release. That's both a good and not-so-good thing as, at times, it feels more intimate and real, while, at other times, the low budget shows.

As the story opens, we see a hard-charging American, Basehart, running a thriving British movie studio, but he's knocked back on his heels when he receives a vaguely worded letter from a woman, Mary Murphy, he claims not to know implying she wants to resume the affair they'd been having.

We then learn that he's received several of these letters and has even shown them to the chairman of the studio, his mentor and father-in-law, Livesey - yes Basehart married the boss' daughter. We also learned that Basehart had to leave America under a cloud of suspicion that "another woman" led to his divorce and dismissal from a Hollywood studio.

While all that looks bad for Basehart, that he shares the letters with Livesey and vociferously denies any knowledge of this woman, leaves us unsure of his guilt. He also, on the advice of Livesey, tells his wife all about these letters. If Basehart is guilty, he's playing an aggressive bluffing game, which has the viewer leaning to believing him.

At this point, the movie is in full-on The Twilight Zone mode as Basehart begins to question his own mental sanity as the letters keep coming and he sees his entire world - a good marriage and job - at risk. In an effort to get to the bottom of the letters and clear his name, he and his wife (yup, he's either innocent or still bluffing hard) take a trip, based on the letters' return address, to confront the woman.

Things get even more The Twilight Zone like as the woman has some physical evidence that seems to show that she knows Basehart. Further supporting her claims, her diary lists days and times of their meeting that coincide with periods when he was traveling on business. However, even confronted with all this, Basehart continues to profess his innocence in a kind of believable way.

After that confrontation, his life spirals out of control as his wife leaves him and the studio suspends him. With all these bad things happening, he shifts into full "am I nuts" mode, even seeking psychiatric help. From here, it's quickly onto the conclusion, which we'll leave unstated, but climaxes with a violent confrontation involving all the key parties.

It's a good story for a TV episode, but a little thin for a full-length movie. And as with those old The Twilight Zone shows, because of its small budget, most scenes lack the necessary extras to give them verisimilitude. In a way, that works to emphasize the otherworldliness of these types of stories, but at times, they just look like cheap and shabby productions. Yet overall, it's got enough good to make it worth the effort, especially if you like The Twilight Zone type stories.
 

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The Seventh Victim from 1943 with Kim Hunter, Tom Conway and Jean Brooks
  • TCM film-noir host Eddie Muller (whom I enjoy as a commentator) had a lot of positive things to say about this one - subtle acting, early psychological thriller where the horror is implied but not shown (true), effectively an antecedent to Rosemary's Baby and a haunting closing scene

  • Um, sure, yeah, it has some faint echo of Rosemary's Baby as both have a group of NYC elites who are devil worshipers, but that's about it for parallels

  • As to all the rest of his praise, maybe his professional eye is seeing things I'm not, as the movie moves at a slow and disjointed pace with uneven directing where several scenes felt independent from the rest of the movie

  • Overall, the story is confusing and boring: a sister, looking for her missing sister in NYC, discovers that her sister, who has weird suicidal tendencies, is/was a member of the aforementioned devil-worshiping cult. And with everyone's motives hidden for so long, you all but don't care when they are finally revealed

  • Lead Kim Hunter's acting, which Mr. Mueller saw as subtle and reactive, struck me as somnambulant to the point that I thought she might have been on some sort of prescribed sedative during the filming

  • I'm not a horror-film guy, so maybe this is an early entry in the genre that has all these subtly brilliant features that will later become part of the horror-film canon, but I just saw an awkward movie, unevenly directed, with a mishmash of a story and mediocre acting - and almost none of it was scary.
 

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Winter Meeting from 1948 with Bette Davis, Jim Davis and John Hoyt.

At some point, actors become too old for certain roles, but usually, stars overstay their welcome in the type of character that has propelled them to fame. Also, movies need to be about something, which is usually a conflict between ideas, people or events.

In Winter Meeting, we see Bette Davis having overstayed her welcome in the role of the young, smart, pretty socialite, in this case, with an aversion to marriage. The young-socialite role is one she played many, many times in her twenties and thirties, but now, in her early forties, it's forced and not believable.

Here she plays a wealthy Manhattan dilettante poetess (it's nice to have a substantial trust fund behind you) who, at the end of the war, meets a moody and aloof WWII naval hero, Jim Davis. Instead of acknowledging their age difference, we are just supposed to accept Ms. Davis as a woman in her twenties. She might be the best movie actress ever, but even she can't act twenty years off her real age.

Even putting that aside, we are left with a movie without much story or conflict. Moody Jim Davis and hesitant-to-love Bette Davis, in theory, are too angsty soles who find comfort in each other, but their love affair struggles to take flight owing to some unknown internal conflict each has.

The bulk of the movie is watching each lead try to draw the past secrets out of the other so that they can overcome their inner demons and embrace their new love affair. That effort takes way too long - extended kitchen conversations, a trip to a country house, exhausting fireside chats - and then offers up challenges that are not dramatic.

(Spoiler alerts) Bette Davis' wealthy, socially proper minister father married a working-class Irish Catholic girl, Davis' mother, who proceeds to have affairs and finally abandons him and Davis - the shame! Meanwhile, Jim Davis has struggled since he was a teenager with a desire to become a priest (I know, what!?, it comes out of nowhere), but an uncertainty if it is the right path for him. Additionally, he dislikes that his heroic war efforts are being used by the media and Washington for propaganda reasons. That's it, those are the two big secrets that torture these struggling lovers.

Sure, there's a bit of a connection between Bette Davis' embarrassment over her Catholic mother's behavior and Jim Davis' desire to become a priest and, yes, he helps to minister her through her guilt and anger, but by now the movie has gone on for almost an hour and a half. And even then, the angst kinda continues and the resolution, I'll leave that for those who want to see it, is pat and unsatisfying.

But there are two bright spots. One is the 1940's version of east-coast elitism on display throughout as Bette Davis and her snarky sophisticated friend, businessman John Hoyt, look down on all things not east-coast establishment and money, like the Midwest roots of war-hero Jim Davis. It's only hinted at here, but Hoyt's character, today, would loudly proclaim his homosexuality as he is, and there's no other word for it, bitchier than Davis is when looking down his elitist nose at everything from how someone holds a fork to who their parents are. Bette Davis and he have a friendship chemistry that, unfortunately, never develops between her and Jim Davis.

The other bright spot, and it's a very inside-baseball thing is Davis' voice and delivery. By this point in her career, she had perfected her acting voice: a subtler but as distinct a voice as Cary Grant's. Her diction and inflection are all her own as she constantly varies her speaking pace and cadence, from long pauses to rapid-fire delivery, all the while bringing her idiosyncratic pronunciation as words and vowels seem to go through some sort of high-brow nasal filter before coming out. The result is an incredible ability to project complex emotions - and condescension - with nothing more than the delivery of a few words and a look to match.

Unfortunately, neither Hoyt's performance nor Davis's voice are enough to wake up this sleepy effort where Bette Davis is too old for the role and the conflicts too mild to carry nearly two hours of movie.
 

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The Racket from 1951 with Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, Lizabeth Scott and Ray Collins

This crime-drama film noir offers, for the early '50s, a surprisingly frank and nuanced look at political corruption via mob influence in local politics and policing. To be sure, it's wrapped up neatly and nicely, but audiences, then and now, can see past the code-approved packaging.

That frankness and nuance start with local mob boss, Robert Ryan - an old school rough-'em-up-or-kill-'em boss - who is somehow now part of a national mob syndicate that has influence at the highest level of the (never named) city's political leadership. And it's presented here not as a-bad-apple-or-two type of corruption, but a web of crookedness - graft, fraud, bribery, shady land deals - going up to the mayor and, maybe, state governor where even judgeships are handed out as political favors and crimes swept under the rug when necessary.

Fighting the good fight is incorruptible police captain Robert Mitchum and his small band of honest officers who have been banished to a marginal precinct. The real-world nuance here is that, while the powers that be don't like Mitchum, they know that, with the press watching, they have to deal with him in a somewhat above-board manner. Similarly, Mitchum notes that the district attorney is far from honest, but he "sometimes wants to be a good guy," so Mitchum compromises and tries to work with him. It's real world stuff where heroes and villains aren't all good or bad and principles have to bend a bit to reality to get anything done.

With those pieces in place, Mitchum goes about trying to bring down mob-boss Ryan and, maybe, expose the larger web of corruption. Meanwhile, Ryan, who hates Mitchum on principle (Mitchum can't be bought), is also angry that the new mob syndicate wants him to rein in his violent ways and compromise more with the local politicians.

From here, the story pivots around a trumped-up gun-possession charge against Ryan's brother - a stupid young man who gets involved with a nightclub singer, Lizabeth Scott - and a naive reporter being played by Mitchum. In response to the charge against his brother, Ryan loses his cool by trying to use both his political connections and bullying personality to free his sibling. In another example of the movie's moral ambiguity, Mitchum steps over the line of legal actions to expose Ryan - writs get torn up, people are held on false charges and lawyers are kept at bay while suspects are aggressively interrogated.

It's a film noir world where even the good guys need to get some dirt on them to get the job done. In the end, Ryan does get his, but the larger political corruption is left unexposed. Mitchum explains all this to a demoralized newbie officer as being a fight that is never over. He avers, you don't win it all on one day, but, in a closing code-approved speech, Mitchum says that (paraphrasing) "while the machine of justice often gets some sand in it, it still grinds on to eventually right itself."

Maybe, but audiences probably saw that his speech is at odds with the movie's real message of a more difficult battle against both a national crime syndicate and a corrupt political organization. For 1951, it's a pretty frank look at big-city politics and mob activity. And it's all inside a solid noir with plenty of action - bombs, car chases, gun fights, a high body count and everybody throwing punches. Finally, it has a lot of star power and is all filmed in beautiful and crisp black and white.


N.B., I'm a fan of film-noir regular Lizabeth Scott, however, here, she seems a bit unsure of herself in the role of a nightclub singer trying to do the right thing - help Mitchum - perhaps because she's used to doing the wrong thing of just going along with all the corruption.
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Three from TCM's Sean Connery Day.


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Thunderball from 1965

While still a decent Bond effort, the "cartoonification" of Bond advanced a lot with this one (the jetpack was painfully forced and the quips seemed cheesier). Of course, Bond was always an adult cartoon, but the first three movies had an intimacy and scale that almost made them kinda sorta believable.

Also, the pace was a touch slower in those early ones, which made them feel more like a story and less like a series of scenes as Thunderball does. And while this is not a fault of the later ones, we were still being introduced to 007 in those first three, which felt fresh, but by this one, it's all pretty much old hat.

Oddly, this is also the first one where Connery's toupee, to my eye, was clearly visible in every scene, which all but kills Bond's "cool" factor. It's hard to look super-spy suave wearing a hair hat.

I did like the theme song to Thunderball more than I remember, but the story left me indifferent. Again, it's a good effort, just not up there with the first three.


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You Only Live Twice from 1967

I'd repeat most of my comments from above for this one as well, but I did enjoy its view of mid-'60s Japan a lot. Also, Bond's relationship with both of the Japanese women was more mature and equal - for a Bond movie - than I had remembered from my long-ago viewing of this one.

Both women held their own intellectually and in physical skill with Bond, more so than some of the Bond women from the earlier or later ones. These women gave as good as they got from the super spy.

More broadly, considering how supine Japan was in 1945, what it had accomplished in twenty years was quite obvious and impressive. But the story felt like a retread of Goldfinger, just in Japan and with space capsules not a precious metal.

I get it, you can only do so much with a spy story and the first three had a newness that later ones simply couldn't match. That said, give it five or more years and I'll happily watch this one and Thunderball again.


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Marnie from 1964

If you learn nothing else from this overwrought psychological Hitchcock drama, it is this: Rule number one when meeting a deeply psychologically damaged person is to try to get them professional help and rule number two is to not marry them. That's it; it's not hard, but Connery's character ignores both of those simple rules and spends the next two hours in a whirlwind of crazy.

After wealthy publishing magnate and amateur sociologist Connery marries a thieving and aloof Tippi Hedren in the worst case of wounded-bird-rescue syndrome ever, he tries to "fix" her. For no apparent reason, he's decided that she is really a good person who will make a loving wife, despite her kleptomania and being repulsed by a man's touch, if he can just figure out the root cause of her psychological problem.

This beautifully stylized Hitchcock effort didn't do as well at the boxoffice as several of his other films as most viewers were probably just annoyed that Connery had taken on this completely unnecessary effort. It's hard to root for the hero when you think he's an idiot.

Heck, initially, you think Connery's sister-in-law, Diana Baker, (Connery's a widower in this one) is just a conniving little witch, who wants Connery for his money. But after watching Hedren twist Connery into knots in their sexless marriage and seeing that Baker is a just a garden-variety tribalist - she'll lie, cheat and steal to get her way, but if you are part of her tribe, she'll fight ferociously to protect you - you wish he had just married her. She has her morality issues, but he could have managed through those. And she made it clear to him that she's not frigid.

As to all the Freud and dream stuff that, no surprise, is behind Hedren's psychosis, it seemed pretty by the numbers if a bit dated by 1964. Despite the movie's serious issues, it is, as noted, Hitchcock beautiful and has enough of the master's touch to make it well worth the watch. And, thankfully, the good toupee was still being used on Connery in this one.
 

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Brother Orchid from 1940 with Edward G. Robinson, Anne Sothern, Humphrey Bogart and Donald Crisp

This quirky movie mashup of a mob story morphing into a Christian redemption story is uneven and clumsy at times, but lead Edward G. Robinson holds it all together with his incredible talent and screen presence.

Rackets boss Robinson retires from the mob at the top of his game to go out in the legitimate world and buy his idea of "class" for himself - luxury goods, artwork, culture, etc. Five years later, after being fleeced by the purveyors of class and culture, he tries to return to his former position only to be turned away by his old gang, now run by Humphrey Bogart.

Also, while away, Robinson's girlfriend, Ann Sothern, has moved on to a wealthy Texan. Robinson then sets out on a mission to build a rival gang and to get his girl back. All of this is handled in an almost lighthearted away, which leaves us somewhat sympathetic to mobster Robinson.

After some initial success, Robinson is captured by his old gang and taken out to the woods to be shot, but he escapes and, injured, stumbles into a pleasantly run monastery. Here, the monks nurse him back to health and offer him a home for as long as he wants it, as long as he'll do his share of the work.

This is where the movie shines as Robinson keeps looking for the Monks' angle - are they featherbedding for the free room and board, running an illegal business or working some other scam - as he can't accept that their humble and charitable worldview is real. It is a perfect fish-out-of-water moment as every assumption a mobster has about human nature fails in an atmosphere of Christian charity.

After trying his own minor scam on the Monks, getting caught and being forgiven, Robinson begins to see the light in their charity and forgiveness. While still leaning to the view that they are "suckers," their Christian goodness is worming its way into Robinson's heart. So much so, that when he sees the Monks' business - selling flowers to support themselves and their charitable efforts - is threatened by his old mob's protection racket, he leaves the monastery to break the mob's control of the flower market.

After defeating the mob and getting his old girl back, Robinson has his, literal, come-to-Jesus moment: it's all his for the taking as he can go back to running the mob with his old girlfriend at his side or has he seen the light? You can probably guess, but let's leave it there for those who want to see the ending for themselves.

Is it a great movie, no. But it has two things that you can't get in a modern Hollywood production. One, a leading man who looks like a dented garbage can, but who has such outsized talent that he carries the entire movie and, two, an unabashed belief in the redemptive powers of Christianity.
 

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Mank from 2020 on Netflix

Mank is an inside-baseball look at deep-state Hollywood in the 1930s, so much so that this Turner Classic Movies uber-fan and consumer of many Golden-Era Hollywood books only recognized some of the references and parts of the story: a story that reveals how an all but washed-up alcoholic-screenwriter, Herman Mankiewicz, struggled to complete the screenplay for, what would become, the cinematic masterpiece Citizen Kane.

It's 1940 and Mankiewicz is in bed recovering from an auto accident while writing Kane at a much slower pace than his contract and the film's young phenom director, Orson Welles, demand. And even though he is in desperate need for this screenplay to be a career Hail Mary, instead of putting his nose to the grindstone, a convalescing Mankiewicz boozes away, banters with his whip-smart English secretary and wallows in reminiscences.

So to save his skin, he pens a scathing roman à clef of the life of media baron William Randolph Hearst and his young wife, screen-star Marion Davies. In flashbacks, which make up half the movie, we see that Mankiewicz was an intimate friend of both Hearst and Davies throughout the 1930s when Hearst was at the peak of his power as lord of his personal Xanadu, San Simeon.

Mankiewicz betrays that former friendship for ego, he wants a capstone to his screenwriting career, and money, he's a spendthrift alcoholic gambler with an ignored family to support. It's a betrayal he both boldly defends and, in weaker moments, guiltily agonizes over. But Mank's director, David Fincher, doesn't make any of this story easy for the viewer as the relevance of characters, events and flashbacks only partially reveal themselves over time and only if you are, at least, reasonably familiar with 1930's movie-studio history.

For everyone else, the movie is more like a roller-coaster ride through 1930s Hollywood where famous and not-so-famous names pop up, while stories about Mankiewicz's career path, his rivalry and friendship with his brother Joe, the mendacity and crudeness of MGM studio-head Louis B. Mayer, the socialist promulgations and political aspirations of Upton Sinclair and other Golden-Era-Hollywood ephemera are all presented in a phantasmagoria of confusing but engaging scenes and stories.

And kind of framing it all is Mankiewicz's relationship with Marion Davies, wonderfully portrayed by Amanda Seyfried. During Mankiewicz's visits to San Simeon, the two bond over their insecurities, owing to humble roots, amidst the epic opulence of Hearst's mise en scène and the outsized egos of the noted guests. This makes Mankiewicz's later betrayal all the more treacherous and poignant.

While that's most of the story, the movie's beautiful style, meant to echo Citizen Kane's groundbreaking cinematography, competes for your attention. Shot in black and white and using many of Kane's unconventional camera angles and fast, but sometimes jarring, scene transitions, in Mank, you are visually reminded of Welles' masterpiece, while seeing how Kane's screenplay itself was birthed. That said, there is something about Mank's particular black and white cinematography that, while usually crisp and clear, occasionally lacks focus.

Mank's final notable feature is a surprising amount of humorous dialogue, often seen in asides, as when Mankiewicz's wife is spelling out her long and annoying-to-her marital name to a maitre d and, after reciting all the letters in "Mankiewicz" but the last one, notes with a blend of mirth and exhaustion, "and out of nowhere at the end, a Z."

Much like Citizen Kane, Mank is a wonderful ball of too-muchness that asks a lot of its audience, but does hold up its end of the bargain. Perhaps director Fincher could have connected a few more dots and contextualized more of Mank's Hollywood references for its audience, but to absorb everything, most really good movies require multiple viewings. That's why Mank will be even more enjoyable the second and third time through.


N.B. Kudos not only to Amanda Seyfried (below) for her Oscar-worthy performance, but also to Gary Oldman as Mankiewicz, Lily Collins as Mankiewicz's conscience and secretary and Tom Burke who must have studied hundreds of hours of tape to have nearly perfectly captured Orson Welles' singular voice.
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The Lost Squadron from 1932 with Richard Dix, Mary Astor, Joel McCrea and Eric von Stroheim

It's an early and in-need-of-restoration talkie that packs a lot of jumbled-up plot into its seventy-nine minutes. Three WWI pilots from the same squadron, along with their dedicated mechanic, swear a life-long allegiance to each other at the end of the war.

But when they return to the states and find that their jobs or money or girlfriends have been taken or stolen from them during the war, starting over is hard and they scatter a bit. Then, it's a decade later and two of the pilots are riding the rails in the depression where, after arriving in California, they see that the third pilot from their group is a successful stunt flier for the movies.

He immediately gets the other two jobs as stunt pilots and gets their old mechanic hired on to work on the planes. While that is all good, old girlfriends, a love-triangle involving a pilot's sister and a tyrannical director turn their lives into soap operas amped up by the stress of daily life-and-death movie stunt flying.

For 1932, the flight sequences have held up very well. In a move-inside-a-movie moment, the filming of the risky flights - a reenactment of a WWI battle - are gripping and realistic. Naturally, reenacting a dog fight from the war is emotionally disturbing to these former WWI pilots.

But it all comes to a boil - remember, it's a soap opera at this point - when the tyrannical director, jealous of one of the pilots because he used to date his current girlfriend, sabotages that pilot's plane before a stunt. From here, with only fifteen or so minutes to go, the movie morphs into two, yes two, murder mysteries complete with a hidden body and police inspectors.

Being a pre-code, the justice that is meted out is harsh and only somewhat fair, but isn't that life? Director George Archainbaum lost a bit of control of his multifaceted story a few times, but still put out a pretty good tale with some outstanding action sequences all in an insanely fast effort. If you can deal with early '30s movie-making clunkiness, it's worth the watch.


N.B. If you do watch it, look for Eric von Stroheim as the tyrannical director - a role not far from real life as this double-threat director/actor had a reputation as being a difficult director to work for. As an actor, I can never decide if he's a ham or just an early method-actor. That said, when he's in a scene, you can't help watching him.
 

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Woman of the Year from 1942 with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy

This is a better, more-nuanced, more-serious and more-relevant-to-today movie than I remember it being from a long-ago viewing.

The general premise is one that's been around since they've been making movies: a male sportswriter, Tracy, and a more-successful female international journalist, Hepburn, meet, flirt, fall in love, marry and, then, the problems set in. He's a down-to-earth man of the people who drinks beer and kinda knows a bit about the world; she's an East Coast elite, highly educated, international traveler who is on a first name basis with heads of state.

After they marry, Hepburn just carries on with her very busy life blithely expecting Tracy to fit into her world, even her apartment. While he's willing to meet her more than half way, Hepburn sees him as just another something she picked up along the way, like the many journalist and humanitarian awards she's won or, worse, the immigrant child she selfishly adopts (without telling Tracy) because, in truth, doing so fits her public image.

While that is some harsh behavior, there is also easy humor to be milked from this opposites-attract story. Tracy takes newbie baseball-fan Hepburn to a game and, after he simplifies and explains the rules throughout, she asks, "Aren't we leaving, you said there were only nine innings?" "Uh, well, um, except when the score is tied." But this is not really a comedy as their marriage is failing in a real and painful way as Hepburn's genuinely unlikable character is gratingly self absorbed.

After repeatedly being ignored and watching Hepburn ignore their adopted child all for her career and public adulation, Tracy leaves by simply walking out. It's quietly powerful and raw as he didn't want a big row; he simply had had enough. Then, after an epiphany moment where Hepburn sees how empty a public life without someone to share it with can be, she tries to win Tracy back.

A lot has been written about the final scene where Hepburn attempts to make breakfast for Tracy - she's clearly never cracked an egg before in her life - as it triggers anaphylactic shock in some who see it as a metaphor for the "barefoot and pregnant woman in the kitchen" trope.

But watch and listen closely as Tracy is bemused by her kitchen bumbling - he never expected her, nor wants her, to be a traditional housewife. He tells her he doesn't want her to give up being who she is, but to become a real partner in their marriage.

Sure, the code and norms of the time obscure it a bit, but the message clearly isn't that Hepburn should renounce her career to bring Tracy his slippers every night, but that in a marriage of two successful, career-driven people, each has to re-oriented themselves to a shared life of compromise and support. Advice that's at least as relevant today as when Woman of the Year came out.


N.B. This is the first and one of the more-famous pairing of Tracy and Hepburn who went on to make a total of nine films together. My favorite, less talked about of their efforts is a modest Christmas movie, Desk Set, where you see these two, now middle-aged stars, verbally parry and thrust their way into love.
 

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Connoisseur
shag222-movie.jpg .jpg

Shag from 1989 with (L to R) Page Hannah, Bridget Fonda, Phoebe Cates and Annabeth Gish

This was part of TCM's "Women Make Film" series - a series TCM noted required it to reach outside of its usual type of movie to find enough offerings.

The 1980s were chockablock with silly movies about teenagers in high school or college trying to figure life out - school, sex, romance, future career, parents, you know, all the typical-teenage-angsty stuff. Some were pretty good, like The Breakfast Club, but many were not.

Despite TCM's efforts to make Shag into a significant or, at least, standout movie in its genre because it was directed by a woman, Zelda Barron, and about four young women, it's simply a mediocre effort in a crowded field. Set in 1963, it's the story of four southern girlfriends going on a not-parent-approved, kinda-bachelorette weekend to Myrtle Beach to dance (shag), party, meet boys - have fun.

As per the genre, each girl has her own issue - the engaged one is getting married to the "right" boy because her parents want her to; another one, the "rebel," is busting to get out of her claustrophobic-to-her town; a third one, the shy one, just wants to experience more of life and I never really figured out the fourth one's issue. And while the movie's secondary theme is that young girls like these in 1963 had less opportunities, or had to push harder to get those opportunities, this is no suffragette-cum-60s-feminist movie.

It's all by the numbers and you have it pretty much figured out no later than the first half of the movie. The engaged one meets a not-safe boy that she truly connects with and now is scared to tell her fiance and parents that she wants to break the engagement. The "rebel," in movie-world silliness, meets a talent agent and convinces him to take her to Hollywood (uh-huh) and the shy one meets a boy and learns to break out of her shell by dancing (see Footloose for a full exploration of this theme).

And while there are some nice moments and fun scenes, overall, the movie is more silly than poignant with a lot of sophomoric humor - like house trashing parties and scatological jokes - that, even by 1989, had been exhausted. While I yearn for a world where we don't care about the race or sex of the director, or anyone else, if TCM wants to highlight films made by women, that's its choice, but it should pick better ones than Shag.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
TrialStill2.jpg

Trial from 1955 with Glenn Ford, Dorothy McGuire, Author Kennedy and Juano Hernandez

A movie that starts out as a progressive-for-the-era look at racial prejudice through the common device of the trial of a young minority - a Mexican boy, in this case - accused of murdering a young white girl morphs pretty aggressively into a story about the communist party in America cynically using the trial as a fundraiser and moral cause celebre to advance its objective of a global communist revolution.

Holy cow, but yes, that's the plot and while overwrought, it does a darn good job of showing almost everyone in a mendacious light. That list starts with many of the "good" white townspeople who want the "Mex" lynched - "hey, we all know he's guilty, so let's just do it." Thwarting them are an idealistic law professor, Ford, "summering" as a practicing lawyer, the firm's senior partner, Kennedy, and their paralegal, McGuire.

At this point, it's a pretty by-the-numbers legal drama challenging America's justice system to live up to its own ideals when everyone knows the outcome they want ahead of time. And because the senior partner wants to travel across the country to raise funds for the trial, he turns the courtroom defense over to the newbie law professor.

Initially, this move kinda makes sense as the Mexican boy's family has no money and robust defense cases are expensive. But when Ford is called away from his case preparation by Kennedy as Kennedy "needs" him to speak at a fundraiser, Ford is all but tricked into speaking at a communist rally - yes, to raise money for the defense, but also in support of "the communist cause."

He's no communist, so disgusted, Ford returns to his case preparations, but is issued a subpoena by The House Un-American Activities Committee. Now, paralegal McGuire, who we learn once dabbled in communism in college and helped Kennedy in his radical efforts for years, explains the real game to Ford: Kennedy is a true-believer communist who is using the Mexican boy's plight as a massive fundraiser for communism (with only a small amount of the proceeds going to the defense).

At this point, you need to regulate your breathing just to keep up with all the big-issue bombshells falling, but you don't get a chance as the trial begins in this white town itching for a conviction presided over by, hold on, a black trial judge, Juano Hernandez. Seriously, writer Don Mankiewicz and director Mark Robson somehow decided they could boil a full ocean of social issues in an hour and forty-five minutes.

After the usual trial machinations - juror bias (against the Mexican boy) exposed, tendentious testimony (against the Mexican boy) debunked, "objection" screamed a million times - Ford is about to rest for the defense in a case that looks good, at this point, for his client, the young Mexican boy. But in swoops Kennedy (he's still the lead defense attorney) who, sensing the Mexican boy will be found innocent, overrules Ford and puts the kid on the stand - wait, what? Why is Kennedy undermining his own case?

Once again, it is McGuire who explains that Kennedy wants the kid convicted as he can then milk the boy's "martyr" status for more money for the communist party - the kid be damned. (Spoiler alert) After the boy is overwhelmed on the stand by the prosecuting attorney (the exact reason why Ford didn't want to put the boy on the stand), a guilty verdict is handed down and the movie ramps up again.

(More spoiler alerts) Ford, now fuming with indignation, pulls some post-conviction-but-pre-sentencing legal machination to get the boy, a minor, off with, effectively, a slap on the wrist, which will undermine Kennedy's fund-raising-martyr strategy. This move pits Kennedy against the judge where Kennedy viciously tries to goad the black judge to overreact by accusing him of racial bias. Kennedy is angling for a mistrial - as noted, Mankiewicz and Robson have no fear that they can't manage every explosive social issue in America, at this time, in one movie.

(And even more spoilers - a lot happens in this movie) Judge Hernandez (see the postscript) doesn't take the bait and hands down a light sentence. Now victorious and clearly no communist stooge, the chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, effectively, drops his subpoena of Ford as, it's explained, the smarmy Chairman only wants easy targets he can use to advance his political career.

Okay, so let's go to the scoreboard. The "good" white people of the town wanted to lynch a Mexican boy. The liberal lawyer who took the case pro-bono turns out to be a communist cynically using the trial to advance the party's objectives in America. He and the party actually want the boy given the death sentence so that they can use his death as a cause celebre for fundraising. And the chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee is revealed to be a cynical political opportunist wrapping himself in the flag only for his own career gain.

One the plus side, though, an idealistic law professor and a black trial judge (in 1950s America) were able to leverage the philosophical ideals of justice embedded in the American legal system to prevent a complete travesty. There is, believe it or not, more - a love triangle between Kennedy, Ford and McGuire, cohabitation without marriage (again, in the '50s) and the Mexican boy's mother's complex motives - but you now have the big picture in this insanely ambitious movie.


P.S., Juano Hernandez is possibly the most-talented "unknown" actor of the era. As a black man, he sadly wasn't given the opportunity to be the leading man he should have been, but his performances have such nuance and integrity that each Hernandez effort leaves an impression. Beside his incredible work in this movie, see him elevate every scene he's in, in Young Man with a Horn and The Breaking Point.
33.JPG
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 52394
Shag from 1989 with (L to R) Page Hannah, Bridget Fonda, Phoebe Cates and Annabeth Gish

This was part of TCM's "Women Make Film" series - a series TCM noted required it to reach outside of its usual type of movie to find enough offerings.

The 1980s were chockablock with silly movies about teenagers in high school or college trying to figure life out - school, sex, romance, future career, parents, you know, all the typical-teenage-angsty stuff. Some were pretty good, like The Breakfast Club, but many were not.

Despite TCM's efforts to make Shag into a significant or, at least, standout movie in its genre because it was directed by a woman, Zelda Barron, and about four young women, it's simply a mediocre effort in a crowded field. Set in 1963, it's the story of four southern girlfriends going on a not-parent-approved, kinda-bachelorette weekend to Myrtle Beach to dance (shag), party, meet boys - have fun.

As per the genre, each girl has her own issue - the engaged one is getting married to the "right" boy because her parents want her to; another one, the "rebel," is busting to get out of her claustrophobic-to-her town; a third one, the shy one, just wants to experience more of life and I never really figured out the fourth one's issue. And while the movie's secondary theme is that young girls like these in 1963 had less opportunities, or had to push harder to get those opportunities, this is no suffragette-cum-60s-feminist movie.

It's all by the numbers and you have it pretty much figured out no later than the first half of the movie. The engaged one meets a not-safe boy that she truly connects with and now is scared to tell her fiance and parents that she wants to break the engagement. The "rebel," in movie-world silliness, meets a talent agent and convinces him to take her to Hollywood (uh-huh) and the shy one meets a boy and learns to break out of her shell by dancing (see Footloose for a full exploration of this theme).

And while there are some nice moments and fun scenes, overall, the movie is more silly than poignant with a lot of sophomoric humor - like house trashing parties and scatological jokes - that, even by 1989, had been exhausted. While I yearn for a world where we don't care about the race or sex of the director, or anyone else, if TCM wants to highlight films made by women, that's its choice, but it should pick better ones than Shag.

A well written and very helpful review. Based on your recommendations, I will avoid this one. Thanks for the heads up! ;)
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 52453
Trial from 1955 with Glenn Ford, Dorothy McGuire, Author Kennedy and Juano Hernandez

A movie that starts out as a progressive-for-the-era look at racial prejudice through the common device of the trial of a young minority - a Mexican boy, in this case - accused of murdering a young white girl morphs pretty aggressively into a story about the communist party in America cynically using the trial as a fundraiser and moral cause celebre to advance its objective of a global communist revolution.

Holy cow, but yes, that's the plot and while overwrought, it does a darn good job of showing almost everyone in a mendacious light. That list starts with many of the "good" white townspeople who want the "Mex" lynched - "hey, we all know he's guilty, so let's just do it." Thwarting them are an idealistic law professor, Ford, "summering" as a practicing lawyer, the firm's senior partner, Kennedy, and their paralegal, McGuire.

At this point, it's a pretty by-the-numbers legal drama challenging America's justice system to live up to its own ideals when everyone knows the outcome they want ahead of time. And because the senior partner wants to travel across the country to raise funds for the trial, he turns the courtroom defense over to the newbie law professor.

Initially, this move kinda makes sense as the Mexican boy's family has no money and robust defense cases are expensive. But when Ford is called away from his case preparation by Kennedy as Kennedy "needs" him to speak at a fundraiser, Ford is all but tricked into speaking at a communist rally - yes, to raise money for the defense, but also in support of "the communist cause."

He's no communist, so disgusted, Ford returns to his case preparations, but is issued a subpoena by The House Un-American Activities Committee. Now, paralegal McGuire, who we learn once dabbled in communism in college and helped Kennedy in his radical efforts for years, explains the real game to Ford: Kennedy is a true-believer communist who is using the Mexican boy's plight as a massive fundraiser for communism (with only a small amount of the proceeds going to the defense).

At this point, you need to regulate your breathing just to keep up with all the big-issue bombshells falling, but you don't get a chance as the trial begins in this white town itching for a conviction presided over by, hold on, a black trial judge, Juano Hernandez. Seriously, writer Don Mankiewicz and director Mark Robson somehow decided they could boil a full ocean of social issues in an hour and forty-five minutes.

After the usual trial machinations - juror bias (against the Mexican boy) exposed, tendentious testimony (against the Mexican boy) debunked, "objection" screamed a million times - Ford is about to rest for the defense in a case that looks good, at this point, for his client, the young Mexican boy. But in swoops Kennedy (he's still the lead defense attorney) who, sensing the Mexican boy will be found innocent, overrules Ford and puts the kid on the stand - wait, what? Why is Kennedy undermining his own case?

Once again, it is McGuire who explains that Kennedy wants the kid convicted as he can then milk the boy's "martyr" status for more money for the communist party - the kid be damned. (Spoiler alert) After the boy is overwhelmed on the stand by the prosecuting attorney (the exact reason why Ford didn't want to put the boy on the stand), a guilty verdict is handed down and the movie ramps up again.

(More spoiler alerts) Ford, now fuming with indignation, pulls some post-conviction-but-pre-sentencing legal machination to get the boy, a minor, off with, effectively, a slap on the wrist, which will undermine Kennedy's fund-raising-martyr strategy. This move pits Kennedy against the judge where Kennedy viciously tries to goad the black judge to overreact by accusing him of racial bias. Kennedy is angling for a mistrial - as noted, Mankiewicz and Robson have no fear that they can't manage every explosive social issue in America, at this time, in one movie.

(And even more spoilers - a lot happens in this movie) Judge Hernandez (see the postscript) doesn't take the bait and hands down a light sentence. Now victorious and clearly no communist stooge, the chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, effectively, drops his subpoena of Ford as, it's explained, the smarmy Chairman only wants easy targets he can use to advance his political career.

Okay, so let's go to the scoreboard. The "good" white people of the town wanted to lynch a Mexican boy. The liberal lawyer who took the case pro-bono turns out to be a communist cynically using the trial to advance the party's objectives in America. He and the party actually want the boy given the death sentence so that they can use his death as a cause celebre for fundraising. And the chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee is revealed to be a cynical political opportunist wrapping himself in the flag only for his own career gain.

One the plus side, though, an idealistic law professor and a black trial judge (in 1950s America) were able to leverage the philosophical ideals of justice embedded in the American legal system to prevent a complete travesty. There is, believe it or not, more - a love triangle between Kennedy, Ford and McGuire, cohabitation without marriage (again, in the '50s) and the Mexican boy's mother's complex motives - but you now have the big picture in this insanely ambitious movie.


P.S., Juano Hernandez is possibly the most-talented "unknown" actor of the era. As a black man, he sadly wasn't given the opportunity to be the leading man he should have been, but his performances have such nuance and integrity that each Hernandez effort leaves an impression. Beside his incredible work in this movie, see him elevate every scene he's in, in Young Man with a Horn and The Breaking Point.
View attachment 52455

Trial is on my list, to be watched! ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
WhiletheCitySleeps_1956_MBDWHTH_EC012_H.jpg

While the City Sleeps from 1956 with Dana Andrews, George Sanders, Ida Lupino, Vincent Price, Sally Forrest, James Craig and Thomas Mitchel

Billed as a film-noir crime drama, it's really a soap-opera crime drama with a splash of noir.

When media mogul Amos Kyne dies, his son, smarmy playboy Vincent Price takes over and puts Kyne Media's top three men in competition to be his executive director. With a serial killer currently stalking New York City, the one who can bring him "the scoop," will get the new position.

Cagey head of Kyne Media Newswires, George Sanders, gruff editor, Thomas Mitchel and polished executive lackey, James Craig, are the contenders, with golden-boy reporter Dana Andrews helping Mitchel, the real "newsman" of the three.

And while the movie opens with a chilling murder of a single woman in her apartment by the serial killer, the picture, overall, devotes more time to the drinking, bed hopping, gossiping and backstabbing of the newsroom men and women than solving the mystery.

You'll need a scorecard to keep track of the sexual and political betrayals as, for example, women's features writer Ida Lupino makes and breaks alliances frequently, while she seems to proposition Andrews for a one-night stand mainly to dynamite his engagement to younger and prettier Nancy Forrest just for the sport or perverted principal of it. (While the Motion Picture Production Code forced Andrews, afterwards, to say they "only kissed" on the night he more than canoodled with Lupino, the audience got what really happened.)

When these newspaper men and women aren't hopping in and out of bed or plotting to undermine each other, they head over - day and night - to the nearby bar to fire back a lot of booze. While the Picture Code was strict about wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am, it seemed fine with endless rounds of drinks being guzzled by everyone, all the time.

Playing on in the background of this alcoholic and sexual haze is a ferocious fight for the executive job as everyone scrambles to find the killer. Unfortunately, director Fritz Lang or the writers never settled on which story they wanted to tell - the hunt for a serial killer or the newsroom shenanigans - so the tone of the movie keeps pinging back and forth from serious crime drama to salaciously fun soap opera.

The predictable Code-driven end (spoiler alert) - hero-reporter Andrews captures the killer and gets his waits-till-she's-married good girl back - is inconsistent with the more real-to-life tawdriness of the rest of the movie. And while the Kyne newsroom is clearly a set, it still provides a time-capsule peek at how the 1950s news business was awkwardly adjusting to TV while trying to keep its newspapers and wire-services relevant. The movie's a bit of a mess, but overall, still has enough good to make it worth the watch.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
81731a9830eb9ee621f44804268145d2.jpg

The Front Page from 1974 with Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Susan Sarandon and a ton of sitcom and movie character actors from the '50s-'70s

This is Hollywood's third go at the same story as the movie was made in 1931 as The Front Page with Pat O'Brien and Adolphe Menjou and in 1940 as His Girl Friday with Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. The '31 version is very good if you can deal with its early talky clunkiness, but the '40 version is, IMHO, one of the top-five- or ten-best movies ever made.

The basic story is the same in all three: an unscrupulous, hard-driving editor tries to prevent his best reporter from quitting to get married right in the middle of a sensational death-row hanging story he (or she) is covering. The '40 movie flipped the star reporter's sex from male to female, amping up this key reporter-editor relationship with sexual tension, which Grant and Russell - with rapid-fire dialogue and incredible chemistry - exploit to its fullest.

But for some reason, this 1974 version flips the reporter's sex back to male, which took much of the spark out of the leads' relationship. A remake should do one of two things: one, simply be a superior movie to the first as the '40 version of The Front Page is to the very good '31 version or, two, doing something interesting or fun with the remake as High Society does as a star-studded musical remake of The Philadelphia Story.

But nothing is better or more interesting in this 1974 version of The Front Page. Director Billy Wilder seemed to be channeling his inner Woody Allen as the movie's imbued with a New York shtick (despite being set in late 1920s Chicago) that takes itself even less seriously than the other two reasonably lighthearted versions. At points, its slapstick felt almost like intentional parody.

Too often, Wilder also takes the focus off of the editor and reporter's relationship to spend time on the mundane death-row-hanging story with its red-scare overtones. Hitchcock knew that movies like this should use the MacGuffin (the thing advancing the plot) to draw attention to the characters human foibles and challenges and not vice versa.

Leads Jack Lemmon as the reporter and Walter Mathou as the unscrupulous editor do have some good exchanges, but they never rise to a Russell-Grant level of brilliance. Heck, of the three versions, the exchange of dialogue is the slowest in this one - a real surprise as machine-gun repartee is the other versions' stylistic raison d'être.

If those two earlier versions hadn't been made, 1974's would be an okay movie on its own. But with two better cognates already out there, '74's feels hollow and tired. Not helping things was an awful performance by Carol Burnett in the role of the condemned man's hooker friend. Conversely, for a 1970s movie set in the '20s, the period details were above average. There are worse movies, but one's time would be better spent watching either of the two earlier versions.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
Christmas-movie roundup, part one (we usually continue watching Christmas movies through New Years):


thecheaters1945.70721.jpg

The Cheaters from 1945. This was a new one to me and, while not a tier-one or even two Christmas movie, it does have its moments (the carolers scene), strong acting (Eugene Pallette and Joseph Schildkraut) and a generally fun vibe. A stronger director could have smoothed some of the clunky transitions and known how to pull off the Christmas moments better, but still, in a few years, I'll be ready to see it again.


Screen shot 2010-11-28 at 10.55.23 AM.png

Holiday Affair from 1949. This one still gets my vote as the most underrated of all the Christmas movies as, beneath the fun Christmas story, there is a lot of real life: a war widow struggling with her grief, a veteran struggling to restart his civilian life, a man asking the wrong-for-him woman to marry and almost everyone struggling with money problems. Despite this, the general vibe is still uplifting, the dialogue is, overall, smart and funny and the just-post-war-period details are time-travel heaven. Plus, there's a cool model electric train right at the center of the story.


achristmascarol1938.70898.jpg

A Christmas Carol from 1938. One year, I watched four versions of this movie and discovered that I liked them all - it's a wonderful story with, in the versions I saw, outstanding actors. I only watched this one version, this year, as it was the one TCM ran, but I have no complaints. Reginald Owens is an outstanding Scrooge, the movie rips through its story in sixty-nine minutes and I've had the wonderful Fred-Scrooge exchange of "Uncle!," "Nephew!" piquantly suck in my head since.


unnamed-23.jpg

The Holly and the Ivy from 1952. For all those who complain that Christmas movies are too treacly, this is the one for you (with the exception of the too-easy solutions at the end - hey, it is a Christmas movie). It has a surprising amount of real dysfunction - alcoholism, out-of-wedlock children (when that was a big deal) and a middle-aged daughter having to decide between taking care of her aging father or grabbing her, probably, last chance at marriage. The general Christmas trappings are here - decorations, turkey, carolers and snow - but this one brings some real grit and an outstanding cast headed by the always-excellent Celia Johnson.


1341118586.jpg

Desk Set from 1957. To be sure, Hollywood exaggerates, but if this one and The Apartment from 1960 are to be, even somewhat, believed (and from what I saw in the '80s before the PC police took over) big-city office Christmas parties used to truly be drunken, sexual bacchanalia. That alone makes this a time-capsule must-see movie, but the best part is watching Hepburn and Tracy exchange some fantastically smart and funny dialogue while falling in love at Christmas time.


Bette Davis + Man Who Came to Dinner + train 2.jpg

The Man Who Came to Dinner from 1942. It's only a Christmas movie in that it takes place during the Christmas holiday, but the whip-smart dialogue and tour-de-force performances by Monty Woolley, Bette Davis and the obviously braless-throughout Ann Sheridan (how did that get past the censors?) makes this an always fun one to see. Plus, heck, with all the snow, skating, fireplaces and presents, it does feel sorta Christmasy, despite the real story in this one being elsewhere.

Ms. Sheridan in The Man Who Came to Dinner:
621full-ann-sheridan.jpg
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Christmas-movie roundup, part one (we usually continue watching Christmas movies through New Years):


View attachment 52686
The Cheaters from 1945. This was a new one to me and, while not a tier-one or even two Christmas movie, it does have its moments (the carolers scene), strong acting (Eugene Pallette and Joseph Schildkraut) and a generally fun vibe. A stronger director could have smoothed some of the clunky transitions and known how to pull off the Christmas moments better, but still, in a few years, I'll be ready to see it again.


View attachment 52684
Holiday Affair from 1949. This one still gets my vote as the most underrated of all the Christmas movies as, beneath the fun Christmas story, there is a lot of real life: a war widow struggling with her grief, a veteran struggling to restart his civilian life, a man asking the wrong-for-him woman to marry and almost everyone struggling with money problems. Despite this, the general vibe is still uplifting, the dialogue is, overall, smart and funny and the just-post-war-period details are time-travel heaven. Plus, there's a cool model electric train right at the center of the story.


View attachment 52687
A Christmas Carol from 1938. One year, I watched four versions of this movie and discovered that I liked them all - it's a wonderful story with, in the versions I saw, outstanding actors. I only watched this one version, this year, as it was the one TCM ran, but I have no complaints. Reginald Owens is an outstanding Scrooge, the movie rips through its story in sixty-nine minutes and I've had the wonderful Fred-Scrooge exchange of "Uncle!," "Nephew!" piquantly suck in my head since.


View attachment 52682
The Holly and the Ivy from 1952. For all those who complain that Christmas movies are too treacly, this is the one for you (with the exception of the too-easy solutions at the end - hey, it is a Christmas movie). It has a surprising amount of real dysfunction - alcoholism, out-of-wedlock children (when that was a big deal) and a middle-aged daughter having to decide between taking care of her aging father or grabbing her, probably, last chance at marriage. The general Christmas trappings are here - decorations, turkey, carolers and snow - but this one brings some real grit and an outstanding cast headed by the always-excellent Celia Johnson.


View attachment 52689
Desk Set from 1957. To be sure, Hollywood exaggerates, but if this one and The Apartment from 1960 are to be, even somewhat, believed (and from what I saw in the '80s before the PC police took over) big-city office Christmas parties used to truly be drunken, sexual bacchanalia. That alone makes this a time-capsule must-see movie, but the best part is watching Hepburn and Tracy exchange some fantastically smart and funny dialogue while falling in love at Christmas time.


View attachment 52679
The Man Who Came to Dinner from 1942. It's only a Christmas movie in that it takes place during the Christmas holiday, but the whip-smart dialogue and tour-de-force performances by Monty Woolley, Bette Davis and the obviously braless-throughout Ann Sheridan (how did that get past the censors?) makes this an always fun one to see. Plus, heck, with all the snow, skating, fireplaces and presents, it does feel sorta Christmasy, despite the real story in this one being elsewhere.

Ms. Sheridan in The Man Who Came to Dinner:
View attachment 52677

My friend, you seem to have a full dance card for the rest of 2020. Enjoy! ;)
 

Faust

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
proxy-image

The Man Who Would be King is one of my all time favorites. Sean Connery and Michael Caine were real life friends and you can see that relationship on screen. Great style, adventure and a nice reminder of the importance of Masonry as an international institution.
 
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