Fading Fast

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Bright Young Things from 2003 with Fenella Wooglar, Emily Mortimer, Michael Sheen, Dan Aykroyd, Peter O'Toole, Stockard Channing and James McAvoy

Start with the excellent capture-the-moment Evelyn Waugh novel, Vile Bodies, add in a strong cast and smart directing by Stephen Fry and, right out of the shoot, you're on a exhilarating and exhausting romp with England's young, idle and aimlessly rich 1930s party set - the Bright Young Things.

The first three-quarters of Bright Young Things is mainly a phantasmagoria of one party after another - masquerade balls, hunts, car races, enough cocaine to supply the 1980s, charlatan spiritualists, endless boozing, gambling, casual sex, gay sex (when that was a felony) and general debauchery.

It's all smartly filmed in the wonderfully brassy, cheering and blithe style of the society newsreels of the era. Had the movie been shot in black and white, you would be wondering if director Fry had interspersed vintage clips.

After seeing these Bright Young Things partying, seemingly, without a care in the world, we meet several of them and learn, not surprisingly, that their real lives are much-less gay and easy than their public personas project.

Attractive young lovers Michael Sheen and Emily Mortimer have upper-class pedigree but not its money, which frustrates their efforts to marry. This leads to a fury of get-rich-quick efforts and a quirky hunt for an allusive colonel who, maybe, is holding a huge race-track payoff for Sheen.

Fenella Wooglar, the putative party-girl leader of the clique, uses partying, booze and cocaine to escape real life. Some of the group's gay men are able to somewhat "come out" at parties as their cross dressing and exaggerated mannerisms are seen as part of their set's "crazy" and not the "abnormality" homosexuality was perceived to be at the time.

Hovering over all of this is Dan Aykroyd as the wealthy, immoral and brash American publisher who is insensitive to England's cultural nuances. He hires "spies" (mainly society hanger-ons who need money) from within the Bright Young Things to obtain copy and pictures for his British tabloid.

It, much like any tabloid reporting on the rich and famous, creates a reinforcing feedback loop between the public hungry to read about the antics of the Bright Young Things and the Bright Young Things themselves, feigning disinterest in the attention, but really enjoying it.

All parties must end, as this one does when WWII begins and the bills come due. Pretty, flighty Emily Mortimer breaks her engagement to (and the heart of) Michael Sheen when she becomes engaged to a wealthy man because "It's all very well to look down on money, but a girl's got to look after herself these days." There's a wonderful twist and payoff to this specific story thread, but you want to see in the movie how the reality of WWII forces maturity and perspective on these two former Bright Young Things.

Others Bright Young Things don't make out as well as a trip to a mental asylum for one and flight from England to avoid arrest under the sodomy laws for a few of the others turn out the final lights on this decade-long party.

The Bright Young Things had the money and verve to play outrageously during the Depression, which seemed to both pique and fascinate the struggling-to-get-by British public. But the real story here, as always, is the complex lives behind the happy facades - the tears of the clown.

If Bright Young Things has a flaw, it could have shown a little less partying and a little more of the behind-the-scenes tears and post-party reconciliations. Yet Director Stephen Fry more than admirably translated Waugh's insightful novel into an enjoyable and poignant commentary on England's young upper class taking its last grasp at excess before WWII would provide its life-or-death test for the Empire.


N.B. For those looking to do further "research" on the Bright Young Things, I recommend Bright Young People by J. D. Taylor. Unrelated to the movie, I remember this 2010 book as an entertaining read about this quirky nook of pre-war British history. Plus, you get to meet one of the perfectly named leaders of the young partying English set, Elizabeth Ponsonby.


And finally, a hat-tip to @TKI67 for this enjoyable recommendation and request for a review - thank you.
 

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Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone from 1950 with James Whitmore, Marjorie Main, Fred Clark and (bad girl of the pre-code 1930s) Ann Dvorak

B-Movies, as often noted, were the antecedents to the formulaic TV shows of the '60s through the '90s. Usually, at around an hour or so in length, they had simple, repeatable stories and were produced on a small budget with familiar actors but not major stars. In an era of limited competition, they contained just-enough mindless entertainment value to keep you watching (you know, like much of the first forty-or-so years of TV).

Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone is nothing more or less than this, with the talents of James Whitmore, Marjorie Main, Fred Clark and Ann Dvorak boosting it a bit higher than most of its B-Movie peers. Whitmore, a successful and roguish defense attorney who spends twice his huge income on booze and babes, hops a train from his hometown of Chicago to New York in pursuit of a former client who owes him a ten-grand fee (the client stole a hundred grand).

Also on the train is pragmatic middle-aged Midwest farmer Marjorie Main who won a radio contest that's bringing her to New York City (just go with it), a Chicago District Attorney, Fred Clark, Whitmore's antagonist who is also after the thief and his money (but he'd love to lock Whitmore up too) and the thief's wife, Ann Dvorak, who wants the money as well.

In classic Hitchcock MacGuffin mode, you don't really care about the thief or the hundred grand. The modest fun in this one is watching no-nonsense Marjorie Main team up with her opposite, irrepressible and irresponsible Whitmore, to find the money. Meanwhile, the district attorney and the thief's wife nip at Main and Whitmore's heels all in the claustrophobic setting of a Chicago-to-New York City overnight train.

This one only works because all four main characters have a wonderfully fun chemistry where you feel they are letting you in on the jokes and pranks, which include a dead body that keeps inconveniently popping up in different rooms, Whitmore's futilely obvious womanizing and the DA's exasperation at knowing Whitmore will, once again, get the best of him.

I didn't want to like it, but kinda sorta did as, heck, the actors seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves and, at about an hour in length, it's over before you can get too annoyed with it. Plus, it's incredible time travel as you feel that you're on an overnight train to New York. It's as if they extended the length of the cool train scene in North by Northwest to an hour.
 

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Two-Faced Woman from 1941 with Greta Garbo, Melvin Douglas, Roland Young and Ruth Gordon

The Motion Picture Production Code forced much silliness into movies, especially in the second half of the '30s and the '40s when Hollywood worked overtime coming up with scenarios where married people could almost, but not really, have affairs.

Sometimes it turned out well as in The Philadelphia Story, which, if you cut through the code, basically has Katherine Hepburn sleeping with all three male leads. But sometimes too much is asked of the code's scaffolding and the entire plot just collapses in on itself.

After a wobbly but okay start, Two-Faced Woman collapses in on itself. Melvin Douglas (an odd male lead at best with his squeaky voice and receding hairline) plays a New York City publishing tycoon on vacation who, in a week, meets, falls in love with and marries a carefree ski instructor, Greta Garbo. But when the vacation is over, he obnoxiously renegades on his pre-marriage promises of a laid-back life that he made to Garbo and "orders" her to come back to New York City with him so that he can return to his business.

I respect that cultural norms were different throughout history and we can't just arrogantly and arrantly judge every period by today's unforgiving political pieties, but even by 1940 standards, Douglas comes across as an imperious jerk. You don't promise your fiancee one life and, then, break that promise an hour after you're married and get mad at her for complaining.

But he is mad and goes back to New York by himself. At least up till now, Two-Faced Woman is a real movie, but then much nonsense ensues. Garbo, attempting to get her husband back (why? who knows), shows up in New York and comes up with the crazy plan to act as her (made up) philandering twin sister to, and this makes no sense, attract Douglas to somehow save their marriage.

She doesn't even seem really upset when Douglas tries to sleep with, what he believes is, his wife's sister - I wanted to punch the guy through the screen. But, I guess, the censors were happy as the affair wasn't really an affair because he was cheating on his wife with his wife (heavy sigh).

More nonsense follows, but somehow we are to believe it all works out as Douglas falls in love with Garbo again and she, now, agrees to move to New York. I stuck around till the end because this is Garbo's last film appearance, she looks great and did the best she could with awful material. Roland Young as Douglas' friend and Ruth Gordon as his secretary and Garbo confidant also deserve credit for bringing some credibility to this ridiculousness

There is one fun scene where teetotaler Garbo gets drunk on champagne for the first time in her life - the woman was an actress - but it is nowhere near enough to save this hot mess of a plot. It's a shame Garbo couldn't have gone out on a high note, but the problem here is the material not her. Sometimes the Motion Picture Production Code's limitations drove creativity and nuance, unfortunately, Two-Faced Woman is not one of those times.
 

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Harper from 1966 with Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris and Janet Leigh

Harper is a bit of a hot mess, but a strong performance by Paul Newman holds this 1960s version of the classic 1940s noir-detective movie together. While there's, thankfully, all but no 1960s camp here, some of the decade's later new-age and hippie stuff seeps in to muddle the noir visuals, but that was reality in the second half of the decade.

Newman is a torn-and-frayed private detective - he's Bogey in The Maltese Falcon adjusted to 1960s cultural norms. Like Bogey, he's got a moral code that isn't Boy-Scout approved, but still, it's not bad and Newman, as did Bogey, tries to honor it.

Kicking off with an inside-Hollywood echo of The Big Sleep, Lauren Bacall hires Newman to find her missing, wealthy husband. Bacall, and almost everyone who knows her husband - his lascivious teenage daughter, his pilot and his former mistress - seem to be hoping Newman will find a corpse at the end of his search.

When that search reveals that Bacall's husband has been kidnapped, Newman drives his cool beat-up Porsche, which like him, seems held together by Bondo, all over the greater LA area trying to put the pieces together.

This leads him to a complicated-as-heck kidnapping strategy that includes a spiritual cult with a shady leader (do cults have any other kind of leaders?), a jazz clubs with a strung-out junkie singer (Julie Harris), oil fields used by the mob to "hide the bodies" and, in some kind of tangential connection, an illegal immigrant labor scheme.

It all somewhat comes together at the end if you think real hard, but for most of the movie you're just trying to catch up to Newman in figuring this one out. Even he seems to be throwing a lot of punches in the dark; still, he's several steps ahead of the plodding police.

The good in this one is not the Rube-Goldberg plot, but Newman doing the cool, disaffected private-investigator thing. This includes getting beat up a few times, aggressively tweaking the police and unenthusiastically shooting some of the bad guys. It also includes a wonderfully real, late-night booty call to his divorcing-him wife, Janet Leigh (stuffed into her jeans), who clearly still wants Newman in her...umm, life.

In a perfect mashup of film noir and later-sixties' zeitgeist, the end is, literally and philosophically, an amoral shrug of the shoulders that (minor spoiler alert) lets one of the bad guys go free, but it kinda makes sense.

Had a half hour of Harper's two hours of run time been left on the cutting-room floor, nothing much would have been lost. But despite its shortcomings, it's still good to see the iconic noir-detective torch picked up in the 1960s by Newman to later be handed off to Jack Nicholson in the 1970s classic Chinatown.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
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Harper from 1966 with Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris and Janet Leigh

Harper is a bit of a hot mess, but a strong performance by Paul Newman holds this 1960s version of the classic 1940s noir-detective movie together. While there's, thankfully, all but no 1960s camp here, some of the decade's later new-age and hippie stuff seeps in to muddle the noir visuals, but that was reality in the second half of the decade.

Newman is a torn-and-frayed private detective - he's Bogey in The Maltese Falcon adjusted to 1960s cultural norms. Like Bogey, he's got a moral code that isn't Boy-Scout approved, but still, it's not bad and Newman, as did Bogey, tries to honor it.

Kicking off with an inside-Hollywood echo of The Big Sleep, Lauren Bacall hires Newman to find her missing, wealthy husband. Bacall, and almost everyone who knows her husband - his lascivious teenage daughter, his pilot and his former mistress - seem to be hoping Newman will find a corpse at the end of his search.

When that search reveals that Bacall's husband has been kidnapped, Newman drives his cool beat-up Porsche, which like him, seems held together by Bondo, all over the greater LA area trying to put the pieces together.

This leads him to a complicated-as-heck kidnapping strategy that includes a spiritual cult with a shady leader (do cults have any other kind of leaders?), a jazz clubs with a strung-out junkie singer (Julie Harris), oil fields used by the mob to "hide the bodies" and, in some kind of tangential connection, an illegal immigrant labor scheme.

It all somewhat comes together at the end if you think real hard, but for most of the movie you're just trying to catch up to Newman in figuring this one out. Even he seems to be throwing a lot of punches in the dark; still, he's several steps ahead of the plodding police.

The good in this one is not the Rube-Goldberg plot, but Newman doing the cool, disaffected private-investigator thing. This includes getting beat up a few times, aggressively tweaking the police and unenthusiastically shooting some of the bad guys. It also includes a wonderfully real, late-night booty call to his divorcing-him wife, Janet Leigh (stuffed into her jeans), who clearly still wants Newman in her...umm, life.

In a perfect mashup of film noir and later-sixties' zeitgeist, the end is, literally and philosophically, an amoral shrug of the shoulders that (minor spoiler alert) lets one of the bad guys go free, but it kinda makes sense.

Had a half hour of Harper's two hours of run time been left on the cutting-room floor, nothing much would have been lost. But despite its shortcomings, it's still good to see the iconic noir-detective torch picked up in the 1960s by Newman to later be handed off to Jack Nicholson in the 1970s classic Chinatown.
I've watched Harper a couple of times in my past and suspect if I run into a showing in my future, I would watch it again. The wife has always liked Paul Newman...movies. Perhaps I'm just one of those guys that likes to keep an eye on the potential competition...LOL! ;)
 

Fading Fast

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I've watched Harper a couple of times in my past and suspect if I run into a showing in my future, I would watch it again. The wife has always liked Paul Newman...movies. Perhaps I'm just one of those guys that likes to keep an eye on the potential competition...LOL! ;)
My girlfriend loves Paul Newman too. But he's no competition as I have no doubt she'd leave me for him if she could and wouldn't even stop to say goodbye on the way out. :)
 

Fading Fast

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Kidding aside, the guy had an insane career with decades of outstanding movies. But in the second half of the '50s and the '60s, he was spitting out good movies seemingly almost every year.
 

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The Old Maid from 1939 with Bette Davis, Mariam Hopkins and Donald Crisp

A young man from a "good" family is too poor to marry his society girlfriend. When she marries another man for money, he, in frustration, has an affair with his former society girlfriend's cousin (odder things have happened).

Out of this comes a secret birth (the cousin went out west "for her health" for several months), followed by a cover-up involving the cousin running an orphanage when she returns.

Years later, in an elaborate ruse, the baby, now a young girl, is adopted by her biological mother's cousin (the society girlfriend of many years ago), so as to give the girl a "proper" name.

This entire kit and caboodle required two decades of lies, feints and evasions that embittered the cousins and left a young woman, the "bastard" baby, ignorant of her own parentage.

Ah, the good old days. Today, we, pretty much, don't care about any of these former social conventions. Instead, we often celebrate the same behaviours that were once so disgraceful. Whatever your view of our new standards (overall, I'm in the camp they are better, but still, we could use more respect for self restraint and personal responsibility today), the old rules and norms made for much better storytelling.

Golden Era Hollywood milked the heck out this opportunity. Since the social rules seemed more elaborate and restrictive in the "Old South," many movies were set in some sort of "generic South" of the 1800s where a woman showing too much ankle would be horsewhipped in the public square (of course she wouldn't, but you get the point).

The above is pretty much the story and context of The Old Maid where Bette Davis is the biological mother who gives up her "bastard" baby to be adopted by wealthy and socially respectable cousin Mariam Hopkins as Davis becomes "auntie" to her own daughter. Davis then watches her child grow closer to her now legal mother, Hopkins, over the years, leading the two cousins to spend the next couple of decades living under one roof in mutual hate.

There are a bunch of other small twists and turns to the story all adding up to fantastic melodrama on steroids. Seriously, the writers have no shame in this one, but if you go with it, it's got some great jaw-dropping moments and it's got Bette Davis.

Davis can pretty much do anything on screen (but hold an accent). Here, she's at the top of her game showing a range of emotions with a flash of those famous eyes, nuanced facial expressions and her withering voice - it is a tour de force performance despite the saponaceous material. While Mariam Hopkins holds her own as the cousin who all but takes Davis' baby form her, this is Davis' movie from beginning to end.

Warner Bros., in particular, loved these "Old South" melodramas, The Old Maid, Jezebel, Little Foxes, etc., knowing that Davis could bring gravitas to even the most salaciously juicy of plots. Warner Bros. was right. In the hands of a lesser actress, The Old Maid might crumble under the weight of its own histrionics, but Davis' talent more than holds it together.
 

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The Age of Consent from 1932 with Dorothy Wilson, Richard Cromwell and John Haliday

This is what pre-code movies are all about. Set in a generic Midwest college, The Age of Consent is no rah-rah college musical or happy sorority-house-party movie like Hollywood's assembly line would stamp out with regularity in the second half of the decade. Instead, it's an honest look at the taut sexual relations at college in the early thirties.

Dorothy Wilson and Richard Cromwell are the young college lovers who fight out of frustration as they, simply put, want to have sex but believe, based on the conventions of the day, they shouldn't. So they continue to see other people and only end up making themselves jealous and unhappy.

They debate quitting school and getting married, but realize leaving college without a degree isn't a smart move either. One night, while they're on the outs, Richard walks a waitress friend home, they get drunk and have sex - yup, that's exactly what happens.

The girl's father walks in afterwards (thank God, not sooner) and has Richard arrested as his daughter is a minor (she's seventeen). The father wants Richard to "do the right thing" and marry his daughter or he wants him prosecuted and sent to jail. Holy smokes - right? This is no "are we going to win the 'big game'" or "will he ask me to the 'spring dance'" college movie.

The conclusion, involving a car accident and hospital scene, forces everyone to reflect hard on his or her beliefs. The waitress begins to buck her father; the father reexamines his religious views; Richard and Dorothy consider anew the value of their love and a few of the older faculty members see relationships, life and conventions in a fresh light.

Sure, the style of the movie is old fashioned and some of the moral issues seem outdated to us today as we've settled most of these questions (with the help of movies like Age of Consent), but you can feel the intensity of the contradictions and distress these young men and women faced back then.

With the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code by the end of 1934, issues like these would be stripped out of or highly palliated in movies for the next several decades. This only makes these pre-code movies, clunky as they can sometimes be, more valuable for their realistic look at the moral and social issues of the thirties.


The waitress friend Richard turns to when he's on the outs with Dorothy. All goes horribly wrong from here.
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High Fidelity from 2000 with John Cusack, Iben Hjejle (pronounce "Eebin blah, blah, blah") and Jack Black

Having recently read the book High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (comments here: #856 ), I was on the outlook for the movie, which I had seen before, but I wanted to watch it anew now having read the book.

The book is good in a fluffy, capturing-a-cultural-moment way. The movie also captures the period, the 1990s, pretty well, but the lead actor, John Cusack, misses the mark.

Cusack's character in the book, Rob, is a bag of neuroses and insecurities that cripple him emotionally. As a result, he has an inability to form stable and lasting relationships with women. One bad breakup even leads to his dropping out of college. He agonizes over decades-old minor mistakes and slights that most of us would quickly forget while he covers up his self-doubt with erratic outbursts of anger and ego.

Rob is not a strong, confident man. But Cusack, in the movie, comes across as a big, good-looking guy who is more annoyed with life than insecure about it. His physical presence and demeanor speak conviction not self-doubt. Even when he's saying the diffident words of the book's character, you don't believe it.

A man whose entire being reads confidence playing an insecure man just doesn't work, which is a shame as the rest of the movie is reasonably enjoyable and captures the book pretty well.

The plot (using that word generously) is Rob reflecting on all his failed relationships and, now, in his thirties trying to take stock of his life as the owner of a just-getting-by record shop. He is also deciding if he wants to commit to his girlfriend that just left him, but isn't really gone.

The fun here is the 1990s cultural representation, like Rob's "indie" record shop, which perfectly captures that type of store. It's in an old and dilapidated building and has a disheveled and dusty atmosphere with vinyl records displayed in beat-up wood bins. Its staff of slightly disaffected young men are condescending to even their customers about their musical tastes.

Rob's former girlfriends, whom we meet when he does a self-help tour of his past dating life, are also a 1990s mix of women in their thirties from that time. Some are as messed up as Rob and some have their act together, seemingly, like normal people who have all but forgotten a guy they had a relationship with five, ten or twenty years ago.

The climax determines if Rob will continue to surf through his days more as an observer than a participant in his own life or will commit to a career he cares about (being a DJ) and a woman he loves (and who is way too good for him).

Lopping off a half hour from its nearly two-hour run time would have helped as stories need more heft and plot to last that long. If you were in your thirties in the 1990s (my hand's raised), then you'll enjoy the cultural touchpoints and the relationship foibles and angst well captured by High Fidelity. However, when a lead actor's mien and physicality refute the words of his character, the movie is going to struggle to find its center as High Fidelity does.


N.B. There's a scene toward the end (minor spoiler alert) where self-absorbed Rob's proposal to his girlfriend is egotistically all about him. Yet, proving to be, possibly, the only (gorgeous) woman on earth who would bother to understand this man, his girlfriend Iben Hjejle, in a wonderful bit of subtle acting, turns the scene around by exposing his self-centeredness without undermining his confidence. He should marry this woman if she's stupid enough to have him.

Here's the scene:
 
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Oscar Wilde from 1960 with Robert Morley, John Neville and Alexander Knox

I have nothing more than a Cliff Notes knowledge of Oscar Wilde's life: a talented playwright, poet and novelist (I enjoyed The Picture of Dorian Gray), gay or bi-sexual, convicted under the sodomy laws and has a cool picture that shows up on a lot of T-shirts and coffee mugs. I know there's much more, but that's what I got.

With that thumbnail of knowledge, I don't know how true this movie is, but assuming a modicum of accuracy as it aligns with my Cliff Notes version of Wilde's life, it does a good job with its two-dollar-and-fifty-cent budget.

A heavy, successful, middle-aged Oscar Wilde played by Robert Morley is publicly accused of "posing as a sodomite," which his incredibly understanding wife, kind friends and wise lawyer advise him to ignore, but he presses a libel suit and all goes horribly wrong from there.

After the above thirty or so minutes of set up, which leaves little doubt that Mr. Wilde was, by the standards of the day, guilty of, in the terminology of the day, "the love that dare not speak its name," the trial and fireworks begin.

Wilde proves his famous wit almost equal to the relentless opposing attorney, Alexander Knox, as the ripostes fly back and forth with entertaining verve and bite during Wilde's testimony. But Wilde makes the mistake of playing his game on another man's field as, eventually, Wilde stumbles and experienced Knox hammers away mercilessly in the movie's money moment.

It is all sad denouement for Wilde from there. A subsequent sodomy trial leads to a few years in prison. A broken Wilde is released, but with nothing left in his emotional tank or his bank account, he dies a few years later at the age of forty six.

The small message in the movie is one of pride before a fall as Wilde pushed a fight he didn't have to, but his power and ego - he was incredibly successful and held in high esteem by society at that moment - had him believe, despite much good advice to the contrary, that he would succeed.

Wilde, whatever the popular perception of him is today, was not fighting the good fight for gay rights back then, but to clear his reputation as his defense, effectively, was to deny his sexual involvement with other men.

The big message in the movie - note this is 1960 - is the injustice of a man being persecuted for consensual sex with other adult men (although, one was sixteen, which wouldn't fly today, but that's treated as tomayto, tomahto in the sweep of this movie). It's easy to cheer for the good guys now, but kudos to the producers for making this tiny-budgeted effort back then.

Oscar Wilde, the movie, proves, again, that a good story tops special effects and expensive sets. When Wilde and Knox are exchanging retorts and you feel the momentum shift from Wilde to Knox - and you can see it all going terribly wrong for Wilde - the cheap sets, costumes and toupees of this movie don't mean a thing because real and raw human tragedy is on display.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
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Oscar Wilde from 1960 with Robert Morley, John Neville and Alexander Knox

I have nothing more than a Cliff Notes knowledge of Oscar Wilde's life: a talented playwright, poet and novelist (I enjoyed The Picture of Dorian Gray), gay or bi-sexual, convicted under the sodomy laws and has a cool picture that shows up on a lot of T-shirts and coffee mugs. I know there's much more, but that's what I got.

With that thumbnail of knowledge, I don't know how true this movie is, but assuming a modicum of accuracy as it aligns with my Cliff Notes version of Wilde's life, it does a good job with its two-dollar-and-fifty-cent budget.

A heavy, successful, middle-aged Oscar Wilde played by Robert Morley is publicly accused of "posing as a sodomite," which his incredibly understanding wife, kind friends and wise lawyer advise him to ignore, but he presses a libel suit and all goes horribly wrong from there.

After the above thirty or so minutes of set up, which leaves little doubt that Mr. Wilde was, by the standards of the day, guilty of, in the terminology of the day, "the love that dare not speak its name," the trial and fireworks begin.

Wilde proves his famous wit almost equal to the relentless opposing attorney, Alexander Knox, as the ripostes fly back and forth with entertaining verve and bite during Wilde's testimony. But Wilde makes the mistake of playing his game on another man's field as, eventually, Wilde stumbles and experienced Knox hammers away mercilessly in the movie's money moment.

It is all sad denouement for Wilde from there. A subsequent sodomy trial leads to a few years in prison. A broken Wilde is released, but with nothing left in his emotional tank or his bank account, he dies a few years later at the age of forty six.

The small message in the movie is one of pride before a fall as Wilde pushed a fight he didn't have to, but his power and ego - he was incredibly successful and held in high esteem by society at that moment - had him believe, despite much good advice to the contrary, that he would succeed.

Wilde, whatever the popular perception of him is today, was not fighting the good fight for gay rights back then, but to clear his reputation as his defense, effectively, was to deny his sexual involvement with other men.

The big message in the movie - note this is 1960 - is the injustice of a man being persecuted for consensual sex with other adult men (although, one was sixteen, which wouldn't fly today, but that's treated as tomayto, tomahto in the sweep of this movie). It's easy to cheer for the good guys now, but kudos to the producers for making this tiny-budgeted effort back then.

Oscar Wilde, the movie, proves, again, that a good story tops special effects and expensive sets. When Wilde and Knox are exchanging retorts and you feel the momentum shift from Wilde to Knox - and you can see it all going terribly wrong for Wilde - the cheap sets, costumes and toupees of this movie don't mean a thing because real and raw human tragedy is on display.
A very difficult subject artfully and well handled. I think I have seen the movie, but my memory of the subject is admittedly sketchy and I would be well served to see the movie again. This seems a subject with which society continues to struggle mightily. It is a subject which requires our best and most ardent efforts to achieve a higher and more fair understanding! Thanks for a very worthwhile review. ;)
 

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Smart Woman from 1931 with Mary Astor, Robert Aims and John Halliday

Smart Woman is an early talkie that feels like they simply filmed the play it is based on with a few exterior shots thrown in to make it look a bit more like a movie. It's also another 1930s movie about rich people living in big houses, driving luxury cars and taking exotic vacations all while cheating on their spouses. Depression-era audiences, struggling to find jobs and food, seemed to enjoy these films about rich people's peccadilloes, as Hollywood made a ton of them.

Young wife Mary Astor returns from a trip abroad visiting her ailing mother to find her husband, Robert Aims, has stepped out on her and now wants a divorce so that he can marry his very blonde girlfriend. Astor, truly in love with her husband and unaware he was straying, buckles at first and then decides to be gracious to her husband's girlfriend so as to buy time to find a way to win him back.

After inviting the girlfriend and her mother to spend a few days with her and her husband at a weekend house party (another popular Depression-era rich-people thing), Astor stumbles on a plan to make Aims jealous. She pretends an English Barron, John Halliday, that she befriended on her trip home, is really her boyfriend. [Writer's note, my girlfriend of twenty-plus years would not invite my new girlfriend and her mother over for the weekend other than to have them pick up my now dead body.]

The rest of the movie plays out as expected as Aims becomes less enthusiastic about getting a divorce when he sees his wife is interested in another man - and another man is interested in her. A bunch of small twists have to happen first before the inevitable, but you know where it is going almost from the beginning.

It's neither good nor bad because the story is fine but obvious, while Hollywood's skills at making talkies were yet to be perfected. Plus, the movie is in need of a restoration (and a soundtrack). It also doesn't help that the wrong people get together at the end as (mild spoiler alert) Astor should have let her self-absorbed bore of a husband leave when she had the chance.

But you don't watch this one for the story; you watch it for Mary Astor. It's a young as heck Ms. Astor before the next ten years of enduring horribly greedy parents, horribly greedy husbands (three) and too much booze, casual sex and exposure (her private sex diary became public in a salacious divorce trial) turned this twenty-five-year-old, lithe, pretty young thing into the tough-as-nail, almost-manly, thirty-five-year-old Brigid O'Shaughnessy of 1941's The Maltese Falcon.


N.B. Talented and enjoyable John Halliday puts in his typical strong-and-understated performance as the English Barron who should have wound up with pretty Mary.
 

TKI67

Advanced Member
View attachment 56422
High Fidelity from 2000 with John Cusack, Iben Hjejle (pronounce "Eebin blah, blah, blah") and Jack Black

Having recently read the book High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (comments here: #856 ), I was on the outlook for the movie, which I had seen before, but I wanted to watch it anew now having read the book.

The book is good in a fluffy, capturing-a-cultural-moment way. The movie also captures the period, the 1990s, pretty well, but the lead actor, John Cusack, misses the mark.

Cusack's character in the book, Rob, is a bag of neuroses and insecurities that cripple him emotionally. As a result, he has an inability to form stable and lasting relationships with women. One bad breakup even leads to his dropping out of college. He agonizes over decades-old minor mistakes and slights that most of us would quickly forget while he covers up his self-doubt with erratic outbursts of anger and ego.

Rob is not a strong, confident man. But Cusack, in the movie, comes across as a big, good-looking guy who is more annoyed with life than insecure about it. His physical presence and demeanor speak conviction not self-doubt. Even when he's saying the diffident words of the book's character, you don't believe it.

A man whose entire being reads confidence playing an insecure man just doesn't work, which is a shame as the rest of the movie is reasonably enjoyable and captures the book pretty well.

The plot (using that word generously) is Rob reflecting on all his failed relationships and, now, in his thirties trying to take stock of his life as the owner of a just-getting-by record shop. He is also deciding if he wants to commit to his girlfriend that just left him, but isn't really gone.

The fun here is the 1990s cultural representation, like Rob's "indie" record shop, which perfectly captures that type of store. It's in an old and dilapidated building and has a disheveled and dusty atmosphere with vinyl records displayed in beat-up wood bins. Its staff of slightly disaffected young men are condescending to even their customers about their musical tastes.

Rob's former girlfriends, whom we meet when he does a self-help tour of his past dating life, are also a 1990s mix of women in their thirties from that time. Some are as messed up as Rob and some have their act together, seemingly, like normal people who have all but forgotten a guy they had a relationship with five, ten or twenty years ago.

The climax determines if Rob will continue to surf through his days more as an observer than a participant in his own life or will commit to a career he cares about (being a DJ) and a woman he loves (and who is way too good for him).

Lopping off a half hour from its nearly two-hour run time would have helped as stories need more heft and plot to last that long. If you were in your thirties in the 1990s (my hand's raised), then you'll enjoy the cultural touchpoints and the relationship foibles and angst well captured by High Fidelity. However, when a lead actor's mien and physicality refute the words of his character, the movie is going to struggle to find its center as High Fidelity does.


N.B. There's a scene toward the end (minor spoiler alert) where self-absorbed Rob's proposal to his girlfriend is egotistically all about him. Yet, proving to be, possibly, the only (gorgeous) woman on earth who would bother to understand this man, his girlfriend Iben Hjejle, in a wonderful bit of subtle acting, turns the scene around by exposing his self-centeredness without undermining his confidence. He should marry this woman if she's stupid enough to have him.

Here's the scene:
The movie that taught me to dislike Jack Black. Probably Cusack at the peak of his "being John Cusack" phase.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
killers_kiss02.jpg

Killer's Kiss from 1955 with Jamie Smith, Irene Kane and Frank Silvera

According to TCM's Noir Alley host Eddie Muller, Killer's Kiss, director Stanley Kubrick's first movie effort, was done on less than a shoe-string budget. He notes the future famous director, working with a thin story and no Hollywood help or experience, was learning as he filmed and edited.

If you go in expecting a complex and expensive Hollywood effort, you'll probably be disappointed, but if you go in open to seeing what would come to be known as an "indie" film, you're in for a treat.

Shot in black and white on the street of New York City with, seemingly, whatever was going on in the background often captured on film, the movie is, first, a stunning time capsule of the City in 1955.

From the chaotic lights, hustle and energy of Times Square to the desolate cobblestone avenues of the Lower East Side, you feel as if you're on the streets with the actors.

Kubrick might have been learning, but he understood how to frame a shot. Look for the scene toward the end where female lead Irene Kane walks up the long flights of steps to the taxi dance hall. It's a poignant moment of "less is more" cinematography.

I'm not in agreement with Muller's criticism of the story as its "thinness" comes across as Hemingwayesque in a stripped-to-its-essentials way (think, A Clean Well-Lighted Place). At just over an hour, the movie feels like a smartly filmed short story that gives you only what you need to care about the characters and their plight and leaves it up to you to fill in the rest.

Heading-to-Palookaville boxer Jamie Smith spies an attractive, young blonde woman, Irene Kane, in the apartment across the alley from his depressing one-room rental. Later, he comes to her aid when she's being attacked by her manager and somewhat boyfriend, low-level mob boss Frank Silvera.

From here, the story is an awful, kinda, love triangle as Smith and Kane, a dispirited taxi-dancer, begin to fall for each other in a two-broken-people-coming-together way. None of this sits well with Silvera who susses out that the young lovers are planning to leave the city together.

He then employs his connections and henchmen to try to break them up in a fast-moving last half hour that includes a mistaken rubout, a tense chase through desolate early morning streets, a violent axe fight in a creepy and empty mannequin factory and a pathetic attempt by Silvera to win Kane back, at gunpoint mind you, with alternating threats and pleas.

Kubrick uses the architectural marvel of Penn Station - beautiful yet filthy, like its home city was becoming at that time - to bookend this little gem of a movie that wonderfully captures the gritty side of New York.

With the classic resonating voice of a train conductor announcing arrivals and departures, we wait with Smith, right to the last minute, to see if Kane will join him or not in the escape: to see if this modern day Romeo and Juliet will have a more-propitious ending than their literary progenitors.


N.B. As noted by Muller, long-time TCM fans will recognize several scenes in Killer's Kiss from TCM's promo clip Open All Night. I always wondered if several of those incredible noir moments - a bored ticket-booth operator, a fatigued blonde undressing, dispirited taxi-dancers at work - were even from movies, as I'd never seen them in one. Little did I know, all this time, they were "hiding" in Kubrick's wonderful noir curio.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
TSHforptaaacfl.jpg

The Shining Hour from 1938 with Joan Crawford, Melvin Douglas, Robert Young and Margaret Sullivan

At an hour-and-fifteen-minutes long, this A-list MGM production rips along at a Warner Bros. pace, while packing a lot of melodrama into its short runtime.

New York City nightclub dancer Joan Crawford (just starting her looks' transition from pretty ingenue to lived-life-hard middle-aged woman), disgusted with her cynical Cafe Society world, agrees to marry a wealthy Midwesterner, Melvin Douglass. Despite telling Douglass she likes but doesn't love him, he pushes for marriage and a life with his family on their expansive farm.

Once there, Crawford and her husband's married brother, Robert Young, immediately develop sparks. However, the brothers' sister, and family matriarch, takes an instant dislike to Crawford, firing off put-downs her way at every chance. Meanwhile, Young's wife, the cute-as-all-heck Margaret Sullivan, slowly realizes she's losing her husband to Crawford.

Before TV shows like Dallas and Dynasty, they had movies like The Shining Hour where wealthy families, for no logical reason, all live under one roof enduring daily familial hate and machinations.

Heck, with all the cheating, subterfuge, mean comments and cocktails, The Shining Hour could have been a "lost" episode from either one of those TV shows. Upping the soap-opera quotient, like in those shows, are several financial entanglements and much sexual intrigue between the family and its employees.

The two most impressive things in The Shining Hour are the number of sub stories they fit into this seventy-five-minute effort and that they somehow, kinda sorta, stayed within the borders of the Motion Picture Production Code.

It's nothing more than a serviceable and quick soap opera lifted up by top-tier acting talent, but it's enjoyable enough for its modest aspirations and short time commitment.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 56746
The Shining Hour from 1938 with Joan Crawford, Melvin Douglas, Robert Young and Margaret Sullivan

At an hour-and-fifteen-minutes long, this A-list MGM production rips along at a Warner Bros. pace, while packing a lot of melodrama into its short runtime.

New York City nightclub dancer Joan Crawford (just starting her looks' transition from pretty ingenue to lived-life-hard middle-aged woman), disgusted with her cynical Cafe Society world, agrees to marry a wealthy Midwesterner, Melvin Douglass. Despite telling Douglass she likes but doesn't love him, he pushes for marriage and a life with his family on their expansive farm.

Once there, Crawford and her husband's married brother, Robert Young, immediately develop sparks. However, the brothers' sister, and family matriarch, takes an instant dislike to Crawford, firing off put-downs her way at every chance. Meanwhile, Young's wife, the cute-as-all-heck Margaret Sullivan, slowly realizes she's losing her husband to Crawford.

Before TV shows like Dallas and Dynasty, they had movies like The Shining Hour where wealthy families, for no logical reason, all live under one roof enduring daily familial hate and machinations.

Heck, with all the cheating, subterfuge, mean comments and cocktails, The Shining Hour could have been a "lost" episode from either one of those TV shows. Upping the soap-opera quotient, like in those shows, are several financial entanglements and much sexual intrigue between the family and its employees.

The two most impressive things in The Shining Hour are the number of sub stories they fit into this seventy-five-minute effort and that they somehow, kinda sorta, stayed within the borders of the Motion Picture Production Code.

It's nothing more than a serviceable and quick soap opera lifted up by top-tier acting talent, but it's enjoyable enough for its modest aspirations and short time commitment.
Your perfectly nuanced analogies have convinced me...I must see that movie. After all JR Ewing was my spiritual business management mentor and Bobby was my social mentor.....or perhaps I just had the hots for Victoria Principle. Now I'm off to find a copy of The Shining Hour! The promise of 75 minutes of family stye internecine warfare is too darned rich to resist. It just might prove the perfect instrument for honing my emotional sword to an ever finer edge in preparation for the next family reunion. Bwahahaha! What evil lurks in the heart(s) of men,,,,and women? The Shadow knows.

Seriously, thanks for another great review. ;)

PS: Is Joan Crawford using a small fishing creel for a purse? :icon_scratch:
 
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