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Let Us be Gay from 1930 with Norma Shearer, Marie Dessler and Rod La Rocque

If you're a fan of pre-codes and Norma Shearer, then this is an okay movie in a curio way, but you will not, if you weren't already, become a fan of pre-codes or Shearer from this clunky, early talkie effort.

The pre-code thirties are chockablock with stagey, drawing-room movies about wealthy society people getting together over a long weekend (at a "house party") to drink, smoke, play tennis and cards, ride horses, swim, have many affairs and make sly references to all those same affairs. The Rich Are Always with Us and Our Betters are two superior examples of this type of effort.

Let Us Be Gay tries hard to be a good one too, but Hollywood - writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, etc. - hadn't learned yet how to make "talkies," so you end up with this clumsy effort with odd moments when no actor is talking or even on screen.

Also, many of the actors over gesture and emote, having not yet learned to tamp down their stage and silent performance techniques for the less demonstrative needs of the "talkies." Within a few years, Hollywood would fix most of these problems; although, Ms. Shearer, despite being a huge star through most of the thirties, never really left her theater/silent-movie-acting mannerisms behind.

The quick and dirty in this one is that Ms. Shearer was a young, devoted but dowdy housewife whose husband had an affair leading to their divorce. Fast forward a few years and Shearer is an attractive, much sought after woman of the world in an early Hollywood version of the ugly duckling discovering that she is really a beautiful swan.

From here, the big moment for the story is when her former husband, three years after their divorce, unexpectedly runs into her at a house party and, and this is only a spoiler alert if you've never been to the movies, falls in love, anew, with his now glamorous ex-wife. There's also a bunch of other rich-people shenanigans going on here, sparking jealousy and cheating, all fueled by too-much drinking.

And a shoutout is owed to the house-party's host, Marrie Dessler, who is sixty eight in this one, looks closer to eighty and shines versus the rest of the cast with her intuitive understanding of how to act in a "talkie." In need of a restoration and, as noted, a hot-mess overall, this one can only be enjoyed as a museum piece from early Hollywood.


N.B., Despite its movie-making techniques being dated as heck, the men's wardrobes look like they come from a modern Ralph Lauren advertisement. Ralph Lauren makes no secret that he was inspired by classic Hollywood, an inspiration on perfect display in Let us Be Gay.
 

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Citizen Kane from 1941 with Orson Welles, Dorothy Comingore, Joseph Cotten and Everett Sloane

After a handful of viewings over several decades, one's relationship with a movie, especially one as noted as Citizen Kane, kinda morphs into a series of impressions that evolve each time you see it.

I watched Kane this time because I had recently seen the Netflix movie Mank (comments here: #528 ), which is a biopic focused on Kane's screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz's struggles to complete Kane's screenplay.

So, for this viewing of Kane, I was looking to see how Mank reflected on Kane. In particular, it had me over-focused on how the Mankiewicz-created fictional characters of Charles Kane and Susan Alexander in the movie aligned with their real-life inspirations, William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies.

Here, I was surprised, as in Mank, Davies is portrayed as a bright, thoughtful woman who truly loved Hearst and stayed with him till he passed. However, her Kane doppelganger, as penned by Mankiewicz, comes off as a manipulative shrew who maybe had some initial affection for Kane, but ended up resentful of him by the time she left and filed for divorce.

That noted, based on Mank anyway, it seems that even with the poetic licence he used, Mankiewicz still cut too close to the bone when portraying his former friends. Okay, but how about Citizen Kane away from Mank?

Before I ever saw Citizen Kane, I "knew" it was "the greatest movie ever made," so I've never been able to see it as just a movie, as I'm always, consciously or subconsciously, waiting for its perfectness to elevate me to a transcendental state of movie watching.

It never does, but it's still a very good movie even if it's a bit of a jumble that could have benefited from more thoughtful scene and story transitions. And I say that even knowing that the "jumble" was part of its groundbreaking technique and approach.

In addition to that, what I noticed on this viewing, more than before, was how good several of the supporting actors were in it as Welles' bravura tends to overwhelm discussion of the others.

Everett Sloan as Kane's unquestioningly loyal employee creates a sympathetic character of a thoughtful man with a lifelong blind spot for, or unconditional love of (you can choose), Charles Foster Kane. Despite his sometimes irritating obsequiousness, you feel for Sloan as he appears a decent and talented man whose life's tragedy is to have spent it all in service to a megalomaniac. But if you asked Sloan's character, you believe - and kudos to Sloan for pulling this off - that he wouldn't have wanted a different life.

Dorothy Comingore as Kane's mistress and second wife, Susan Alexander, delivers a painfully convincing performance as a woman of average intelligence, ambition and morality trying to navigate her way through the massive and emotionally disrupting pull of outsized-planet Kane. Her wonderful ordinariness is an incredible foil to Kane's extraordinariness: he's made smaller as she's made larger by their relationship.

And as the credits rolled, I was thinking, as I do each time I see it, I didn't see "the greatest movie ever made," but I did see something special. Maybe something too ego driven and too all sixes and sevens as Welles had too much Hollywood clout to be reined in, but heck, it's still a captivating picture eighty year later.
 

TKI67

Elite Member
View attachment 54174
Citizen Kane from 1941 with Orson Welles, Dorothy Comingore, Joseph Cotten and Everett Sloane

After a handful of viewings over several decades, one's relationship with a movie, especially one as noted as Citizen Kane, kinda morphs into a series of impressions that evolve each time you see it.

I watched Kane this time because I had recently seen the Netflix movie Mank (comments here: #528 ), which is a biopic focused on Kane's screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz's struggles to complete Kane's screenplay.

So, for this viewing of Kane, I was looking to see how Mank reflected on Kane. In particular, it had me over-focused on how the Mankiewicz-created fictional characters of Charles Kane and Susan Alexander in the movie aligned with their real-life inspirations, William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies.

Here, I was surprised, as in Mank, Davies is portrayed as a bright, thoughtful woman who truly loved Hearst and stayed with him till he passed. However, her Kane doppelganger, as penned by Mankiewicz, comes off as a manipulative shrew who maybe had some initial affection for Kane, but ended up resentful of him by the time she left and filed for divorce.

That noted, based on Mank anyway, it seems that even with the poetic licence he used, Mankiewicz still cut too close to the bone when portraying his former friends. Okay, but how about Citizen Kane away from Mank?

Before I ever saw Citizen Kane, I "knew" it was "the greatest movie ever made," so I've never been able to see it as just a movie, as I'm always, consciously or subconsciously, waiting for its perfectness to elevate me to a transcendental state of movie watching.

It never does, but it's still a very good movie even if it's a bit of a jumble that could have benefited from more thoughtful scene and story transitions. And I say that even knowing that the "jumble" was part of its groundbreaking technique and approach.

In addition to that, what I noticed on this viewing, more than before, was how good several of the supporting actors were in it as Welles' bravura tends to overwhelm discussion of the others.

Everett Sloan as Kane's unquestioningly loyal employee creates a sympathetic character of a thoughtful man with a lifelong blind spot for, or unconditional love of (you can choose), Charles Foster Kane. Despite his sometimes irritating obsequiousness, you feel for Sloan as he appears a decent and talented man whose life's tragedy is to have spent it all in service to a megalomaniac. But if you asked Sloan's character, you believe - and kudos to Sloan for pulling this off - that he wouldn't have wanted a different life.

Dorothy Comingore as Kane's mistress and second wife, Susan Alexander, delivers a painfully convincing performance as a woman of average intelligence, ambition and morality trying to navigate her way through the massive and emotionally disrupting pull of outsized-planet Kane. Her wonderful ordinariness is an incredible foil to Kane's extraordinariness: he's made smaller as she's made larger by their relationship.

And as the credits rolled, I was thinking, as I do each time I see it, I didn't see "the greatest movie ever made," but I did see something special. Maybe something too ego driven and too all sixes and sevens as Welles had too much Hollywood clout to be reined in, but heck, it's still a captivating picture eighty year later.
I agree it is special, has held up well for many years, and is worthy of many viewings. I also agree it is not the greatest film ever made. In fact, but for its reputation among others, it would not be raised by me in a "greatest of all time" discussion.
 

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Dead Reckoning from 1947 with Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott

This outstanding noir sits one level below the great noirs of all time like The Maltese Falcon or Out of the Past: that is a compliment, not a put-down.

All the elements of a top-notch noir are here as we see a regular guy tossed into a noir world of gambling, alcohol, corruption, sex, violence and murder. It is a seedy milieu of smooth and oily nightclub owners, thuggish sadistic bodyguards, femme fatales and weary but smart cops.

Bogart plays a army hero whom Washington sends to (what I think is) a Midwest town to investigate the disappearance and, then, murder of his army friend who was about to receive the Medal of Honor. It's there that he discovers (minor spoiler alert as it comes up early) that his buddy had changed his identity and joined the army to escape a murder rap he was facing just before the war.

After that, the plot and clues go into a cuisinart that has the viewer at least as confused as Bogart is trying to untangle this mess of a story. It involves a pre-war affair between Bogie's friend and then-married nightclub singer / siren Lizabeth Scott, a smooth and creepy gangster, his thug, a casino and a couple of detectives very suspicious of Bogart.

A wary Bogart teams up with Scott to find the killer of Bogie's friend and Scott's boyfriend more out of need than faith in her integrity. Both thoughts prove prescient as Scott, a mix of blond seduction and ruthless self interest, does help Bogie, but also sets him up, surprisingly, several times. Men really will do stupid things for pretty women.

In the end, the story sort of fits together (at least eighty percent of it does), but you're watching this one for its noir vibe of gangsters with wall-safes holding inculpating letters, Scott lipsyching a torch song, charred bodies in morgues, gun fights, car chases on dark and rainy nights and, most importantly, Bogie falling in love with Scott even though he knows he shouldn't.

And much like its better antecedent The Maltese Falcon, the real story here is the love-hate attraction between Bogie and Scott (like Bogie and Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon) that produces the final pivot of whether Bogie will save Scott or let her fry. The chemistry between those two is good, not great, the supporting characters are interesting, but not iconic and the story is a bit too much of a muddle, which is why this very good noir is a notch below the great ones.


N.B., Lizabeth Scott needed more height; there, I said it. IMDB lists her height as 5'5", a number I'd challenge, but whatever it is, she needs more of it. Some women comfortably fit their short frames - Joan Fontaine and Veronica Lake come to mind - but some, like Scott, are tall women stuck inside a short woman's body. Heck, Scott could have been Lauren Bacall - husky voice, straight hair, cool aloofness, gets Bogie to do stupid things for her - if she had just had Bacall's three additional inches.
 

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Meet John Doe from 1941 with Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold and Walter Brennan

I like some Frank Capra directed movies, they just tend to be the ones that aren't too "Capraesque." It's not just because I disagree with many (not all) of the messages in the Capra movies - if I let that bother me, I'd only be able to enjoy about one percent of Hollywood's message movies. Instead, it's both the pie-in-the-sky silliness and the complete kitschiness of them that grate on me while every point is pontificated and every idea heralded loudly.

Also, Capra leaves nothing to chance or shows any faith in the intelligence of his audience; good is pure good and bad is pure evil in a Capra movie, despite real life being full of gray ideas and morally complex people. Perhaps that's an intentional part of his messaging, but it's also why his most famous movies are really just fairy tales for adults.

In Meet John Doe, reporter Barbara Stanwyck, having just been given the heave-ho from her job, pens a spite-driven story that sparks a Depression-era movement for the common man. Rehired owing to the story's success and its ensuing movement, Stanwyck is tasked by the paper's cardboardly mendacious owner, Edward Arnold, to find a real man to fill the role of the made-up leader Stanwyck created.

In walks hobo Gary Cooper who becomes the leader of the movement of, effectively, an idealized collaboration of everyday people banding together to help their neighbors as a rebuke to slimy politicians and political parties. It's a nationwide political-movement (without politicians - uh-huh) version of George Bailey's town's kumbaya moment or the communally perfect joy in the house in You Can't Take it With You.

The bulk of this long movie, which would have benefited greatly from forty-five of its minutes having been left on the cutting-room floor, is the movement growing while Arnold plots to co-opt it for his own political career. Simultaneously, Cooper and Stanwyck, now falling in love, but (of course) denying it, inconsistently fight Arnold's efforts.

There are a ton of speeches in the movie that, boiled down, say "if we could all just get along and be nice to each other" we would solve most of our problems. Concentrated efforts like that can absolutely work for a limited time in very small groups with a narrow and specific goal, but good luck running a country that way. Yet after having the message endlessly drilled into you, the movie climaxes with a crash, burn and resurrection of the movement that takes suspension of belief to, yet, another level.

If you can put the exhausting treacle aside, the performance of Gary Cooper - a man built for the role of a hero - is outstanding (the scene where he plays an imaginary game of baseball is acting talent at its best). Unfortunately, Stanwyck, an immensely talented actress, comes across as a bit lost in this one as she ricochets back and forth between being an intelligent, thoughtful woman and a shrill scatterbrain. Arnold, like Stanwyck, is a talented actor capable of smart nuance in his performances, but here he's stuck saying such cookie-cutter "evil businessman" lines that he comes across as almost campy.

If Meet John Doe is not the most Capraesque of all his movies, it's close. And if Hallmark today hired a top director, screenwriters and actors and had a big Hollywood budget, its movies would be modern Capra efforts. Most of Capra's movies don't work for me as I quickly become bored and irritated watching them, but their long-standing success argues that many feel differently.


N.B., Meet John Doe does have beautiful Art Deco architecture (the skyscraper in the climatic scene is incredible) and some wonderfully picturesque moments in the snow. Capra seems to love snow's visually magical qualities and, perhaps, its symbolic blanketing of the world's soot. And much like snow, Capra ideas have the same depth of thought as a light dusting does to the ground.
 

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Boys' Night Out from 1962 with Kim Novak, James Garner and Tony Randall

This is not a good movie. That doesn't mean some of it isn't enjoyable or that the actors did a bad job, it's just that the story is too silly and forced to keep you engaged throughout.

In the '50s and early '60s, they made a bunch of these "battle of the sexes" movies, basically, romcoms with the slant usually being that the man doesn't want to get married and the woman is too good to do any of the fun stuff unless she is married. Hence, for most of the movie, we watch each plot to accomplish his or her goal: premarital sex for him, marriage before sex for her.

Despite the fact that real movies about real relationships where men and women have sex and live together out of wedlock (see The Apartment or Two for the Seesaw) were being made concomitantly, in these battle-of-the-sexes movies, you just accept that good girls don't do it and good men don't really, truly push (at least, the good) women to do it before marriage.

In Boys' Night Out, three married men and bachelor James Garner, all friends who live in a suburb, rent an apartment together in New York City as a place to have affairs. Kim Novak plays a graduate student who stumbles into the apartment just when they rent it and (and you just have to go with it) agrees to be the paramour of all the men, but she really plans to fend off their advances while studying their behavior for her graduate thesis (uh-huh).

While everything in this movie is silly and safe - with just a little insight, we know from the start that Novak isn't going to sleep with any of them and that she'll end up marrying Garner - there still is something icky about the set up as each man has "his" night of the week with Novak. And since these movies thrive on misunderstandings, the men's wives begin to suspect something is going on with their husbands' staying late in the city, so they combine forces to hire an idiotic private investigator.

Further upping the "conflict," Garner falls hard for Novak (and she for him), but he struggles to accept what he believes is her, umm, career choice, so their relationship moves forward and then stumbles back. She can't tell him the truth (and ruin her research project), while he has a hard time, let's just say it, thinking that his three best friends are all nailing his girlfriend weekly (everyone's got a past, but come on).

As is usual in these movies, massive misunderstandings lead to a climactic scene of chaos, recriminations and threatened breakups, all followed by some sort of last-minute save where everything works out and the couple gets engaged (without having had sex), while the message that marriage is wonderful gets delivered.

Some of these nonsensical movies are fun in a mindless way like Pillow Talk or That Touch of Mink, but this one started with a ridiculous premise, descended into farce and never recovered. And while Garner and Novak have good screen chemistry, it's all but wasted here.


N.B., Sure, it's a dumb movie, but there's no question that Kim Novak was at the top of her game in this one. Yes, her looks are in their prime, but you can also feel her confidence and comfort in front of the camera: Whatever spark this one has, comes from her.
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When You Were Born from 1938 with Anna May Wong, Margaret Lindsay, Charles Wilson and Jeffrey Lynn

Many B movies can best be understood as antecedents to 1960's/70's TV shows before there was TV. They are often about an hour long, have small budgets, are fast moving with wash-rinse-repeat stories and some actors you recognize, but who aren't major stars. While there are all sorts of exceptions - a few B movie elevate themselves to A movie status - usually they are simpler and more transparent efforts. Taken for what they are, they can be fun, quick diversions.

When You Were Born is all that - a fun B movie diversion that whips by with some stars you recognize, a by-the-numbers plot and an enjoyably cheap production quality. Anna May Wong is an astrologist who helps the police solve the murder of a wealthy importer where the main suspects are the importer's butler, his fiancee Margaret Lindsay and his Chinese business partner.

The bulk of the movie takes place in the police station (one assumes, to save budget) as Chief Inspector Charles Wilson brings in suspects and witnesses for questioning as he attempts to solve the murder. The hook in this one, though, is Ms. Wong as her advocacy for astrology as a science that can help the police solve crimes is taken deadly seriously by her, respectfully by the inspector and with skepticism by his sergeant. To be fair, modern-to-the-times police forensics get pretty good advocacy, too, as fingerprints, hair samples and bullet trajectories are all used to aid the investigation.

But at least half the movie is Ms. Wong using astrology to help the police as her predictions of events and exposure of facts and evidence bring almost everyone around to her view. Heck, if astrology worked as effectively and precisely as shown here, we'd all be converted. Whatever your views on it, it's surprising that Warner Bros. put out such a full-throttled promotion of it, even if only in a B movie.

Away form the astrology angle, the movie flows not unlike a Columbo TV episode where a lot of mystery and angles are jammed into an hour with false leads and clues everywhere until it all comes clear in the last ten minutes. Also, like a '60s/'70s TV detective show, a little action adventure gets thrown in at the end for excitement, followed by a quick and friendly wrap up.

If you go into When You Were Born expecting a Hollywood A picture, you'll be disappointed. However, if you go into it recognizing that B movies are the progenitors of early TV, you can enjoyed this one's slapdash but enthusiastic attempt to combine astrology with a regular-old murder mystery. Plus, you get the always-fun-to-see Margaret Lindsay having little to do here, but looking pretty doing it.
 

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The Case of the Curious Bride from 1935 with Warren William, Margaret Lindsay, Claire Dodd, Allen Jenkins and, in one of his first movie roles, Errol Flynn

This early Perry Mason movie adaptation is fun in a very Warner Bros. warp-speed way that packs a ton of plot and characters into eighty minute.

Warren William basically plays one of his stock Warner Bros.' characters, but with the name of Perry Mason, yet it works as William is comfortable in Warner's warp-speed world. He's clearly having a lot of fun as the genius defense attorney and bon vivant who gets to tweak the police, mix it up with mobsters and charm the women while being a step ahead of everyone almost all the time.

He's not really the Mason of the books or of later incarnations, but if you don't take it any more seriously than the actors or director do, it's a fun romp. And while William is the star in command of this effort, Claire Dodd, as his whip-smart, gets-the-joke secretary, Della Street, lights up every scene she's in. She and William are movie-chemistry gold. This helps as William and female lead, Margaret Lindsay - William's falsely accused-of-murder former girlfriend and, now, client - never really click in this movie's one flat note.

The plot is confusing as heck: Lindsay's first husband (Flynn) was supposedly dead, but reappeared to blackmail Lindsay four years later when she remarries a wealthy man. This is a trick Flynn's character seems to have played on more than one woman, which makes for a lot of characters, false clues and dead ends that I stopped trying to follow closely about half-way through and, instead, just enjoyed the ride.

And the ride is fun as this movie's Mason's only scruple, once he decides his client is innocent (a Hollywood add, as, in the book, he doesn't really care if they are innocent or not), is to get him or her off by every honest and dishonest trick he can play. So, with side-kick and wonderful character actor Allen Jenkins doing the scut work, Mason gins up false alibis and evidence without a qualm. While the police work equally hard at exposing these machinations, it's clear no one is really concerned about the morality of it all.

With San Francisco providing a beautiful backdrop, the movie has Mason and company - and the police - running all over the city to "solve the case," but the real joy in this one is watching the actors exchange barbs, have fun, never slow down and look 1930s' cool as heck doing it. It's nothing more than a good, standard Warner Bros. effort of that period with the "Perry Mason" brand stamped on the cover, but that's more than enough to provide eighty minutes of entertainment.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 54666
The Case of the Curious Bride from 1935 with Warren William, Margaret Lindsay, Claire Dodd, Allen Jenkins and, in one of his first movie roles, Errol Flynn

This early Perry Mason movie adaptation is fun in a very Warner Bros. warp-speed way that packs a ton of plot and characters into eighty minute.

Warren William basically plays one of his stock Warner Bros.' characters, but with the name of Perry Mason, yet it works as William is comfortable in Warner's warp-speed world. He's clearly having a lot of fun as the genius defense attorney and bon vivant who gets to tweak the police, mix it up with mobsters and charm the women while being a step ahead of everyone almost all the time.

He's not really the Mason of the books or of later incarnations, but if you don't take it any more seriously than the actors or director do, it's a fun romp. And while William is the star in command of this effort, Claire Dodd, as his whip-smart, gets-the-joke secretary, Della Street, lights up every scene she's in. She and William are movie-chemistry gold. This helps as William and female lead, Margaret Lindsay - William's falsely accused-of-murder former girlfriend and, now, client - never really click in this movie's one flat note.

The plot is confusing as heck: Lindsay's first husband (Flynn) was supposedly dead, but reappeared to blackmail Lindsay four years later when she remarries a wealthy man. This is a trick Flynn's character seems to have played on more than one woman, which makes for a lot of characters, false clues and dead ends that I stopped trying to follow closely about half-way through and, instead, just enjoyed the ride.

And the ride is fun as this movie's Mason's only scruple, once he decides his client is innocent (a Hollywood add, as, in the book, he doesn't really care if they are innocent or not), is to get him or her off by every honest and dishonest trick he can play. So, with side-kick and wonderful character actor Allen Jenkins doing the scut work, Mason gins up false alibis and evidence without a qualm. While the police work equally hard at exposing these machinations, it's clear no one is really concerned about the morality of it all.

With San Francisco providing a beautiful backdrop, the movie has Mason and company - and the police - running all over the city to "solve the case," but the real joy in this one is watching the actors exchange barbs, have fun, never slow down and look 1930s' cool as heck doing it. It's nothing more than a good, standard Warner Bros. effort of that period with the "Perry Mason" brand stamped on the cover, but that's more than enough to provide eighty minutes of entertainment.
Your review convinces the reader that this movie is one worth looking up and watching! Thank you for another great review. ;)
 

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Tonight's the Night from 1954 with David Niven, Yvonne De Carlo and Barry Fitzgerald

An Irish village, that functions on a little graft, even less work, a lot of credit (that's never expected to be paid off) and the largess of the beloved old Squire, is thrown into turmoil when said Squire dies and his young nephew, David Niven, assumes the title and tries to call in all the IOUs.

It's lighthearted at first as this whimsical town could only exist in the mind of a screenwriter. And even Niven's Scrooge-like character is charming in a rakish way as he affably goes around telling all the debtors it's time to pay up. Thrown into the mix is Niven's interest in a local vixen, Yvonne De Carlo, who plays him against her old suitor, the village doctor.

Even when several of the town leaders decide to murder Niven, the general vibe of quirky fun is maintained, but after a reasonably good half hour of the above as setup, the movie slips into screwball comedy. If seeing villagers bumble their bomb making efforts and nearly blow themselves up, shoot each other accidentally instead of Niven and drop the obligatory glass with poison meant for Niven is your thing, then Tonight's the Night should prove entertaining.

But two decades past the peak of screwball comedy in movies, it was just too much slapstick for me. I like David Niven a lot and he is the only thing that kinda holds this effort together, yet even he can't make a Keystone Cops version of a fire brigade - yes, this movie has one - funny in a 1954 movie. Plus the Technicolor - which was almost always a too-much-of-a-good-thing endeavor back then - looks really awful here as it is sorely in need of restoration. And as the credits roll, one is left with just this thought: did Niven really need the money that badly?
 

TKI67

Elite Member
View attachment 54502
Boys' Night Out from 1962 with Kim Novak, James Garner and Tony Randall

This is not a good movie. That doesn't mean some of it isn't enjoyable or that the actors did a bad job, it's just that the story is too silly and forced to keep you engaged throughout.

In the '50s and early '60s, they made a bunch of these "battle of the sexes" movies, basically, romcoms with the slant usually being that the man doesn't want to get married and the woman is too good to do any of the fun stuff unless she is married. Hence, for most of the movie, we watch each plot to accomplish his or her goal: premarital sex for him, marriage before sex for her.

Despite the fact that real movies about real relationships where men and women have sex and live together out of wedlock (see The Apartment or Two for the Seesaw) were being made concomitantly, in these battle-of-the-sexes movies, you just accept that good girls don't do it and good men don't really, truly push (at least, the good) women to do it before marriage.

In Boys' Night Out, three married men and bachelor James Garner, all friends who live in a suburb, rent an apartment together in New York City as a place to have affairs. Kim Novak plays a graduate student who stumbles into the apartment just when they rent it and (and you just have to go with it) agrees to be the paramour of all the men, but she really plans to fend off their advances while studying their behavior for her graduate thesis (uh-huh).

While everything in this movie is silly and safe - with just a little insight, we know from the start that Novak isn't going to sleep with any of them and that she'll end up marrying Garner - there still is something icky about the set up as each man has "his" night of the week with Novak. And since these movies thrive on misunderstandings, the men's wives begin to suspect something is going on with their husbands' staying late in the city, so they combine forces to hire an idiotic private investigator.

Further upping the "conflict," Garner falls hard for Novak (and she for him), but he struggles to accept what he believes is her, umm, career choice, so their relationship moves forward and then stumbles back. She can't tell him the truth (and ruin her research project), while he has a hard time, let's just say it, thinking that his three best friends are all nailing his girlfriend weekly (everyone's got a past, but come on).

As is usual in these movies, massive misunderstandings lead to a climactic scene of chaos, recriminations and threatened breakups, all followed by some sort of last-minute save where everything works out and the couple gets engaged (without having had sex), while the message that marriage is wonderful gets delivered.

Some of these nonsensical movies are fun in a mindless way like Pillow Talk or That Touch of Mink, but this one started with a ridiculous premise, descended into farce and never recovered. And while Garner and Novak have good screen chemistry, it's all but wasted here.


N.B., Sure, it's a dumb movie, but there's no question that Kim Novak was at the top of her game in this one. Yes, her looks are in their prime, but you can also feel her confidence and comfort in front of the camera: Whatever spark this one has, comes from her.
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Good take on Boys' Night Out and Ms. Novak. She has long been one of my very favorites. I loved her in Bell, Book, and Candle.
 

TKI67

Elite Member
The other night Mary and I finally watched Blazing Saddles. Yes, we were likely the last two USA boomers to see it. It may have worked when it was made, but for us, watching it in 2021, it was truly awful.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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The Big Heat from 1953 with Glen Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin and Jocelyn Brando

This movie is further proof that people living in the fifties knew that the fifties weren't the wholesome nirvana that later generations would tag it with as a shorthand.

A political machine, in bed with the mob, controls a city almost as an open and accepted-by-the-police secret. When a senior police officer, living in a pretty-darn-nice house for even a senior officer in those days, commits suicide, the word is sent down to investigate this one "lightly." Basically, "investigate," accept that it's a suicide, close the case quickly and move on.

When honest detective Glenn Ford tries to conduct a real investigation, he uncovers some "unpleasant" information and is all but told from above to stand down. But that's not Ford, so he barrels forward causing both the city's political leaders and local mob to come down hard on him: his wife, Jocelyn Brando, is murdered in a mob hit (Ford was the intended victim) and he is fired from the force.

But in an early cop-as-vigilante-justice-warrior effort, Ford, now off the force, keeps pushing hard and following every clue to avenge his wife's murder. This leads him directly to the mob and indirectly to the mob's political connections.

Eventually aided by an abused top-level gangster's girlfriend, Gloria Graham, he keeps shoving everyone out of the way and turning over every clue while playing by no rulebook but his own. (Spoiler alert) After a lot of fist fights and gun fights, a high body count and a beautiful woman's face (Graham's) horribly scarred - he exposes and brings down the political-mob nexus of corruption.

It's a solid anti-wholesome fifties story that director Fritz Lang tells by mashing the accelerator pedal down early and only letting his foot off a bit now and then. And at that speed, the city's arrant corruption and Ford's revenge-driven passion smash into each other time and again until all that's left is a lot of wreckage. A final scene of a cleaned-up police department feels snapped on to make the censors happy.

Equally impressive and engaging in this one are the performances by Ford, Lee Marvin and Gloria Graham. Ford is intense as the rogue former cop hell bent on revenge and Marvin is frighteningly oleaginous and despicable as the girlfriend-beating, smart-in-a-conniving way, dandily dressed gangster, but Graham is the real treasure in this one.

She is the vain, greedy and stupid (probably because she's never tried to think) girlfriend of Marvin whose unaware-but-provocative personality rolls in and owns scene after scene. But when disfigured by Marvin, Graham begins to think about the world and about right and wrong and, proving a quick study, becomes Ford's ally in his quest for revenge masquerading as justice. It's not an easy transition from idiot gun moll to scarred righteous crusader, but Graham is up for the challenge briefly providing a spark of hope to this grim tale.

Away from the aforementioned forced ending, this is a tight and dispiriting story of political corruption as a way of life where honesty and integrity truckle to malfeasance and graft in the institutions that are suppose to protect us. If an innocent life or two have to get heaved overboard now and then to defend the political machine, so be it. This is not a nostalgic-redolent happy picture of the fifties. But like so many noir movies, The Big Heat argues that the fifties never really looked that happy, especially to many who lived through them.


Gloria Graham rolls into a scene in The Big Heat.
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Old Acquaintance from 1943 with Bette Davis and Mariam Hopkins

You could call it a drama, and it is, but that's just a way to avoid calling it by its real name, a soap opera: a wonderfully over-the-top soap opera rescued by acting talent, directing skill and occasional moments of restraint.

Spread over a twenty-year span, this tale of two female friends (one's a friend, the other's a frenemy) weaves in all the elements of a good soap opera - love, hate, affairs, melodrama, ridiculous coincidences and perfectly timed overheard conversations - that serve, more than anything else, to highlight the acting talents of Bette Davis.

Davis and Mariam Hopkins are life-long friends where Davis is the genuine one and Hopkins the secretly competitive and manipulative one. When the movie opens, Davis is a critically, but only modestly commercially successful writer; whereas, Hopkins is a young housewife envious of her independent friend, despite disingenuously proclaiming her contentment as a wife and mother.

Then, Hopkins turns her closet hobby of writing romance novels into massive commercial success, which brings her much wealth and adulation. However, she still resents Davis' status as a literary talent, while Hopkins' books are viewed as mass-market fluff. From here, the soap opera ramps up as Hopkins ignores her husband and child in pursuit of her new career. Davis then kindly fills in the gaps in Hopkins' domestic efforts, leading Hopkins to eventually and unfairly resent Davis for "stealing" her husband and child.

Years go by and Hopkins' husband leaves her, her daughter grows up and closer to Davis and Hopkins' resentment and anger grows despite ongoing commercial success. More affairs come into the mix, past recriminations are dredged up and Davis, oddly, winds up in a relationship with a much younger man who, then, pursues Hopkins' now-adult daughter (yup, this movie has no shame).

The story is nothing daytime soaps don't recycle regularly, but the fun in this one is Davis battling with and, also, simply out acting Hopkins. Hopkins, perhaps intentionally, acts with theatrical flourishes that exaggerate the melodrama of her character. She's the star in her so-incredibly-interesting-to-her life that she can't imagine everyone around her not finding it equally interesting.

Davis is the grounded one who, finally and literally, shakes some sense into Hopkins in the movie's climatic moment when these two have the confrontation that was coming for years. The actresses were well known to loathe each other in real life, an antipathy that seems to have inspired their acting in this one as you have no trouble feeling their passion.

The story has more zigs and zags, but you watch it for Davis versus Hopkins. And along with Davis' acting talent, director Vincent Sherman deserves a hand for somehow smoothly guiding you through all the plot's twists and turns, while keeping the focus on the two stars. It won't be on any best-of movie lists, but Old Acquaintance is a fun, nearly two hours of saponaceous indulgence.

At the end, Davis' character sums it up nicely, "Darling it's late and I'm very, very tired of youth and love and self sacrifice." By then, viewers are equally exhausted.
 

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It Started with Eve from 1941 with Charles Laughton, Deanna Durbin and Robert Cummings

Q: Why watch a movie with Charles Laughton in it?
A: Because Charles Laughton is in it.

It Started with Eve is a silly little movie with a silly little plot that is elevated to a lighthearted and enjoyable picture because Charles Laughton and Deanna Durbin are just that good individually and even better together.

A sick, wealthy old man, Laughton, seemingly on his deathbed, asks his son, Robert Cummings, to bring his new fiancee to meet him before he dies. As only happens in movies, when the son can't locate his fiancee, and fearing that his father will pass away that night, he pays a shopgirl, Deanna Durbin, to pose as his fiancee to make the old man happy.

When Durbin and Laughton meet, there's an immediate connection between them that seems to revive the old man. A few days later, a recovering Laughton asks to see Durbin again and the son panics as he now has to go on with the charade that Durbin is his fiancee as Laughton's doctor says the shock of the truth would be too much for Laughton.

Adding to the "conflict" (a strong word for the blitheness of this movie) is that Cummings' real fiancee and her mother just arrived in the city to meet his father. This leaves Cummings having to explain to them why another woman is posing as his fiancee. The mother and daughter are understanding at first, but as time drags on, they, not surprisingly, become impatient.

Finally, you have Durbin who genuinely likes Laughton and is both irritated by and attracted to Cummings (you see where this one is going very early on), but who was about to return to her hometown as her singing career, the reason she came to the city, never took off. The rest of the movie is watching Cummings trying to keep all the balls in the air as the old man - who, early on, figures out the switch, but plays dumb - tries to put Durbin and his son together.

You don't watch this one for the dopey story; you watch it to see Laughton and Durbin turn their goofy roles into enjoyable comedy as Durbin proves equal to the immensely talented Laughton. Be it Durbin practicing her smile at Cummings' direction so that she can fool Laughton or Laughton lying straight faced time and again to Durbin just to keep her around, their chemistry brings such mirth to the movie that you don't care about its nonsensical plot.

Stars like Laughton and Durbin make a lot of money for a reason. Sure, in some way the fates just shined on these two as the camera simply loves them (yes, it loves misshaped and craggy Laughton in its own way), but they also are incredibly talented actors. They have a deep understanding of their roles, what is called for in a scene and the little nuances necessary (their facial expressions in this one are spot on time and again) to take a mediocre script like It Started with Eve and turn it into an entertaining hour-and-a-half movie.
 

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The Killers from 1964 with Lee Marvin, Clu Gulager, John Cassavetes, Angie Dickinson and Ronald Reagan

There is so much one could criticize in this movie, but I still liked it a lot.

Despite being on TCM's "Noir Alley," host Eddie Muller acknowledged that this one isn't noir, but something he called "neo-noir," sure, okay, whatever. I guess it was on "Noir Alley" because it's an alternative version of the 1946 noir-classic The Killers. And, heck, if you took out the 1964 version's color cinematography and lighthearted elements, you'd be left with a pretty grim hitman and crime-caper story.

But why would one take out the color and quasi casual vibe as those things work really well here. The visual style is a mashup of Ocean's Eleven and Viva Las Vegas making it as early '60s cool as it could be with the two hitmen, Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager, dressed in what could only be described as Ivy-league-gangster style.

But despite being visually pretty and not noir somber, it is a violent tale of two hit men, Marvin and Gulager, who, after completing a job, realize the target, John Cassavetes, didn't run when he had the chance.

Marvin, being a thinking man's assassin, ponders this for a bit and, then, decides he's going to trace the hit backwards. He believes the one-million dollars Cassavetes supposedly stole from his partners in a mail-truck heist (the reason he was "rubbed out") is still out there for the taking because, if Cassavavetes had the money, he would have tried to escape when he had the chance.

The rest of the movie is watching Marvin and Gulager work up the chain from their hit to find each gang member as they hunt down the money. The joy in this one is watching methodical, weary and focused Marvin partner with the younger and half-nuts Gulager. If ever a hitman should have been on Ritalin, Gulager would be it as he can't stop touching things, twitching, losing his train of thought and, generally, moving around like a gnat.

Yet somehow, instead of irritating each other, Marvin seems to enjoy Gulanger's crazy and, while Gulager will tweak Marvin, you can tell he respects the older man's brains and experience. It's an odd buddy movie, but the chemistry between these two is palpable and immensely enjoyable. And as they hunt down the money, the unusual combination of Marvin's menacing calmness and Gulager's frightening unpredictability throws everyone off his or her game.

As their search takes them up the chain to this film's femme fatale, Angie Dickinson, we see, through flashbacks, that she either played professional race-car driver Cassavetes hard - got him to fall in love with her so that he'd drive the getaway car for the heist - or truly fell in love with him, but had to, maybe, sell him out to survive in the end.

Dickinson is a bit of a stretch as femme fatale, but she gives it her all here with her somewhat tired faced - yes pretty, but not dewy - fitting the character. And despite proving that no woman should ever tease her hair up into a bubble (if it can't work for her, how many can it work for?), she needs no explanation when sporting a pair of capri pants and a T-shirt (see pic below).

From Dickinson, it's only one more dot to the brains behind the heist, future President of the United States Ronald Reagan as the "respectable-businessman" front for the gang, who becomes the last man standing between the team of Marvin and Gulager and the money.

The plot flaws and character inconsistencies are all over the place in this one, but if you just go with it, then the super-cool early '60s style, Marvin and Gulager's Mutt-and-Jeff pairing, Dickinson's good looks but overtaxed acting chops and Reagan's cheesy bad guy portrayal make it a fun, quick hour and half. Also, the film has either been restored or just never aged, as the TCM print was incredibly clear, crisp and vibrant, making this trip to the early '60s a visual treat.


And speaking of visual treats, Ms. Dickinson.
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Forsaking All Others from 1934 with Joan Crawford, Robert Montgomery and Clark Gable

Forsaking All Others starts out as a harsh look at a woman publicly and painfully jilted at the altar. And while it maintains its focus and energy initially, it, unfortunately, loses both in the last third.

As the movie opens, we see childhood sweethearts Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery seemingly ecstatic to be getting married. Also in town for the wedding is the couple's mutual childhood friend, Clark Gable, who is carrying a covert torch for Ms. Crawford.

But the fly in the ointment for this one is Montgomery's ex-girlfriend Frances Drake (I know, even as a stage name, it's a bit of an odd nod to history). Despite being an obvious and manipulative witch-with-a-B, she convinces Montgomery to jilt Crawford and elope with her the night before the planned marriage - ouch.

And while, as was oddly common in Depression-era movies, this is a tale of rich people doing stupid rich-people things, Crawford's pain and humiliation are real. After recuperating from the shock in a very nice cabin in the woods, where Gable comes by to comfort her as a friend, Crawford returns to society and quickly begins having an affair with, now, unhappily married Montgomery.

Here's where the movie, which up till this point is a reasonably poignant and real-to-life tale of a woman left at the alter, gets goofy as we see her and Montgomery "escape" from the city only to have a prank-and-pitfall-filled day in the country resulting in them staying over night, but obviously not having sex (thank you silly Motion Picture Production Code for that nonsense).

After that, we jump forward (I'm guessing) about a year where, once again, Crawford and now-divorced Montgomery are to be married the next day. However, (spoiler alert) this time, at the last moment, Crawford sees that reliable-and-decent Gable and not the nice-but-frivolous Montgomery would make the better husband. Hence, she now returns the jilt of a year ago and leaves Montgomery all but at the altar as she, literally, sails away with Gable.

It's not a bad movie, but the restrictions of the Production Code and a rushed last third addled the effort. Had it been made a year earlier in the pre-code era, instead of a screwball day in the country of not having sex, Crawford and Montgomery, cheating on his wife, would have been shacked up somewhere while the wife stewed. Not nice, but life is often not nice.

Also, instead of a bemused, but cheerful Montgomery waiving Crawford and Gable goodbye at the end, pre-code Montgomery would have been more solemn and reflective about the mess that he's made of his life and relationships. The three leads have enough talent to hold this wobbly toward the end effort together, but one can see the better pre-code movie suffocating inside this code-approved one.


N.B. There is some very real and rapid dialogue early on as Crawford, Montgomery and Gable discuss the fallout from Crawford's jilting. It is refreshingly frank and visceral, but unfortunately, that quality of writing all but disappears by the last third of the movie. Separately, if you do watch it, look for the roadside hamburger shack scene - great time travel to a place you'd love to visit (I tried, but couldn't find a pic of it anywhere).
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
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Forsaking All Others from 1934 with Joan Crawford, Robert Montgomery and Clark Gable

Forsaking All Others starts out as a harsh look at a woman publicly and painfully jilted at the altar. And while it maintains its focus and energy initially, it, unfortunately, loses both in the last third.

As the movie opens, we see childhood sweethearts Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery seemingly ecstatic to be getting married. Also in town for the wedding is the couple's mutual childhood friend, Clark Gable, who is carrying a covert torch for Ms. Crawford.

But the fly in the ointment for this one is Montgomery's ex-girlfriend Frances Drake (I know, even as a stage name, it's a bit of an odd nod to history). Despite being an obvious and manipulative witch-with-a-B, she convinces Montgomery to jilt Crawford and elope with her the night before the planned marriage - ouch.

And while, as was oddly common in Depression-era movies, this is a tale of rich people doing stupid rich-people things, Crawford's pain and humiliation are real. After recuperating from the shock in a very nice cabin in the woods, where Gable comes by to comfort her as a friend, Crawford returns to society and quickly begins having an affair with, now, unhappily married Montgomery.

Here's where the movie, which up till this point is a reasonably poignant and real-to-life tale of a woman left at the alter, gets goofy as we see her and Montgomery "escape" from the city only to have a prank-and-pitfall-filled day in the country resulting in them staying over night, but obviously not having sex (thank you silly Motion Picture Production Code for that nonsense).

After that, we jump forward (I'm guessing) about a year where, once again, Crawford and now-divorced Montgomery are to be married the next day. However, (spoiler alert) this time, at the last moment, Crawford sees that reliable-and-decent Gable and not the nice-but-frivolous Montgomery would make the better husband. Hence, she now returns the jilt of a year ago and leaves Montgomery all but at the altar as she, literally, sails away with Gable.

It's not a bad movie, but the restrictions of the Production Code and a rushed last third addled the effort. Had it been made a year earlier in the pre-code era, instead of a screwball day in the country of not having sex, Crawford and Montgomery, cheating on his wife, would have been shacked up somewhere while the wife stewed. Not nice, but life is often not nice.

Also, instead of a bemused, but cheerful Montgomery waiving Crawford and Gable goodbye at the end, pre-code Montgomery would have been more solemn and reflective about the mess that he's made of his life and relationships. The three leads have enough talent to hold this wobbly toward the end effort together, but one can see the better pre-code movie suffocating inside this code-approved one.


N.B. There is some very real and rapid dialogue early on as Crawford, Montgomery and Gable discuss the fallout from Crawford's jilting. It is refreshingly frank and visceral, but unfortunately, that quality of writing all but disappears by the last third of the movie. Separately, if you do watch it, look for the roadside hamburger shack scene - great time travel to a place you'd love to visit (I tried, but couldn't find a pic of it anywhere).
A great review, as always, well written informative and a great catalyst for causing a reader to sit down and watch the movie. However, if I may also note two things that are valuable life lessons; first, paybacks are always a b....h... well you know what I mean and second, Clark Gable always get's the girl! ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
A great review, as always, well written informative and a great catalyst for causing a reader to sit down and watch the movie. However, if I may also note two things that are valuable life lessons; first, paybacks are always a b....h... well you know what I mean and second, Clark Gable always get's the girl! ;)
Thank you for your kind comments. I agree with you on both points on the movie: What comes around goes around and, yes, Gable was called the King of Hollywood for a reason.

It's such a shame this movie got messed up by the Motion Picture Production Code as it was a good movie until the Code, effectively took over.

And even given a Hollywood gloss, you can still feel the extreme pain and embarrassment of being jilted at the alter. It happened to a friend of mine - the wedding was called off about an hour before it was to start; everybody was at or on their way to the church - it was brutal.
 
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