Recently Watched & Favorite Movies: Personal Reviews & More

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Primrose Path from 1940 with Ginger Rogers, Joel McCrea, Mamie Adams and Henry Travers


"We live, not as we wish to, but as we can."
- Meander, Greek Poet, 342 - 290 BC


How they somehow snuck this one past the censors is the first question. Ginger Rogers plays the daughter and granddaughter of prostitutes (that "word" is never spoken, but it is clear what they are/were - grandmother is "retired"). Why this very good movie isn't more well known is the second question.

Rogers' mother, Mamie Adams, is a decent woman who does what she has to, to put food on the table for, not only daughter Rogers and herself, but also her ten-year-old daughter, alcoholic husband, Miles Mander, and her complaining mother.

Dad, Miles Mander, is an educated man who can translate Greek, but is now a broken alcoholic. Yet, wife Adams is the philosophical one who understands without resentment that some people are put on this earth to provide for others who can't. It's a thoughtful view of a broken family living in wrong-side-of-the-tracks Primrose Path.

Daughter Rogers (who looks adorable in her tomboy clothes while she's softly grifting to augment the family's modest income) meets nice guy Joel McCrea who owns a diner/gas station with his dad, the wonderful Henry Travers. Later, she tells McCrea she ran away, so as to hide her background from him while she kinda maneuvers him into marrying her.

After they marry, all is going well with the happy young couple. Along with McCrea's Dad, Travers, they run the diner/gas station. But then, Rogers' mother just happens to pop into the station one day. With the cat out of the bag, Rogers then has to take McCrea to meet her family.

There he realizes what Rogers' mom and grandmother do/did for a living and that her dad, instead of being the scholar Rogers implied he was, is a drunk. McCrea feels duped and bolts from the house and Rogers.

Rogers desperately tries to save her marriage, but McCrea's pride is having none of it despite his really wanting to take her back. Here is where real Motion Picture Production Code subversion sets it as the prostitute stuff was just a warm up.

Dad Travers tries to get his son to see that sometimes people lie for reasons that aren't easy to understand nor should you blindly condemn them. Meanwhile, Rodgers' super-cool prostitute mom tells her daughter to denounce the family if it will help her get a truly good-guy husband back.

What? Lying is okay and not just in service to a greater good, but also because, sometimes, decent people are too weak to admit everything in their past? And it's okay to toss your sketchy family overboard if they are more of a hindrance than a help to a better life?

This is a lot of realpolitik family stuff that doesn't fit inside the usually obdurate Motion Picture Production Code, but there it is. Maybe the censors were drunk the night they approved this one. Drinking seems to be one vice the code overseers were pretty much okay with.

For modern audiences, the "shock" value of Primrose Path is tame or not even there anymore. The joy today is Roger's pitch-perfect performance as the girl from the very wrong side of the tracks trying to make something of her life.

Equally impressive is Mamie Adams as the believably not-bitter prostitute just trying to hold her family together. Rounding out the strong cast is McCrea's dad, Henry Travers, who sees what really matters amidst the messiness of everyday life.

Somehow, RKO Radio Pictures studio, in the tightly circumscribed movie world of 1940, got a movie made about a prostitute's daughter marrying a man under false pretense where the prostitute mother is portrayed as a hero and Roger's deception is dismissed as understandable. God only knows how this one made it to the theaters in 1940.
 

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I Want to Live! from 1958 with Susan Hayward, Simon Oakland, Virginia Vincent and Theodore Bikel.

This movie is a fictionalized version of real-world events.

I Want to Live! opens in a smokey jazz club where an old, heavy-set man serves his much younger "girlfriend" a boiler maker and then aggressively puts his arm around her. Okay, got it, this is not Rick's Cafe Americana, nor is this a regular Motion Picture Production Code movie.

Movies were changing by the late fifties as filmmakers kept pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable. Jazz, too, was making its impact helping instill an edgier and more-stylish look and sound to films like I Want to Live!

Susan Hayward plays a party girl prostitute (at least sometimes) and general grifter who is dishonest, immoral and slatternly. She's a female character rarely shown on screen since the Motion Picture Production Code took hold in the mid thirties and almost never shown this graphically (or, as later in the movie, sympathetically).

After she is charged with committing a violent murder, it's breaking with all we've been taught by motion pictures for the past several decades when we are led to believe she is innocent. (My, admittedly, limited internet research into the real-world version of this case brought this claim into question, but for the sake of the movie, we'll just go with it.)

With a long rap sheet, including perjury, and two other criminals she's run with fingering her, Hayward is found guilty and sentenced to death. From here, the cool "jazzy" style of the movie gives way to a quasi-documentary approach as we see Hayward kinda, sorta mature into a fighter to have her death sentence overturned.

Aided by a surprisingly engaged court-appointed attorney, a crusading psychiatrist and a journalist who's switched to her side mid-story, Hayward mounts a series of appeals that gives her hope even as she slowly grinds through the penal system toward the gas chamber.

All movies are propaganda (not my original thought at all) with I Want To Live's! goal being to put you in the place of someone falsely convicted of murder who's now facing the death penalty. Good for it as people have been falsely convicted and put to death by our judicial system, so it should be challenged.

But movies could also be made showing a guilty person found innocent who then kills again. Or a movie could be made about violent, not-remorseful killers who take multiple lives, are rightfully convicted and whose death sentence brings some solace to the victims' families. Maybe their death even deterred others from killing. Or movies could be made showing a guilty murderer sentenced to "life without parole" who kills again in prison or who is later paroled and kills once released (both have happened).

But the propaganda in this one is - as is Hollywood's wont - to show an putatively innocent person unfairly facing the death penalty. Hayward plays her character consistently inconsistent. Quick to temper and regularly irrational, she can also approach a situation thoughtfully and calmly, but usually only after she's tried, several times, yelling and screaming to get her way.

As the movie climaxes, director Robert Wise brilliantly juxtaposes Hayward's all-over-the-map emotional humanity and desperate desire to live against the almost languid but methodical preparations of the gas chamber attendees.

I Want to Live! is effective and chilling, but other than pushing your emotional buttons, it doesn't solve the eternal justice challenge of how to balance not letting the guilty go free versus not convicting the innocent. Real-life justice isn't found in black-and-white absolutes no matter how much a movie impacts us emotionally.


N.B. In addition to I Want to Live's! beautiful fifties black-and-white cinematography and wonderful time travel, the cast of, mainly, second-tier actors is outstanding even if it's made up of faces you know (often from TV shows a decade later), but names you can't quite remember.
 

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Connoisseur
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Of Human Bondage from 1934 with Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, Kay Johnson and Frances Dee

It is painful, truly painful, to watch how horribly cockney waitress Bette Davis treats deeply in love with her and handicapped (club foot) medical student Leslie Howard time and time and time again.

Sure, Howard should have snapped out of it, but the heart sometimes won't stop. Davis, though, isn't using her heart when she continues to twist Howard into knots, sometimes for material gain and, sometimes, more cruelly, just for sport.

When you despise, deeply despise, a character who feels real, something powerful is happening on the screen. Young Bette Davis delivers a tour de force performance as the selfish, merciless, yet also, self-destructive girl from the wrong side of the tracks who almost ruins sensitive and kind medical student Leslie Howard.

Howard's club foot makes him, in the language of the day, a cripple. Shy around women, something clicks in Howard's head and heart when he sees Davis waiting tables.

Her rudeness and indifference to him only fuel his passion more. When she dates another man, it drives him crazy. When she laughs in his face or tells him she has no feelings for him - even mocks him for being a "cripple -" he just absorbs the blows and keeps coming back.

When she goes off with another man, he pines for her even when he finally meets a nice woman who genuinely cares for him. Obsession is not rational.

It gets worse. When the man she went away with impregnates and abandons Davis, Howard ignores his kind girlfriend and supports Davis and her child, despite her still not willing to even date him.

When she, then, leaves him for his best friend and, later, returns discarded, he all but bankrupts himself to help her once again. When she wrecks his apartment and burns the last bonds he has for his medical school tuition (he has to drop out), he seems finally over her, but not really.

Even after all that, and now dating yet another very nice woman, when Davis shows up with tuberculosis, he ignores his new girlfriend to come to Davis' aid once more. It's awful, but oddly believable.

Howard, late in, acknowledges his obsession is without reason, but he can't stop. When his club foot is surgically corrected, it seems like it will be his epiphany moment - he's now no longer a "cripple -" but it isn't.

Based on W. Somerset Maugham novel (good source material doesn't hurt), Of Human Bondage is a brutal portrayal of the destructive power of an unhinge love obsession, especially when the object of that obsession viciously and mercilessly wields that power against its victim. Sure, there's a lesson here: don't become obsessed with a horrible person. Now, tell that to the person who's obsessed and see well it works.


N.B. The scene where Howard is trying to study his medical school book, but all he sees is Bette Davis on the pages is, literally, taken right out of Victor's Hugo 1831's Hunchback of Notre Dame. Almost everything has an antecedent somewhere.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Another detailed and informative review.... a very interesting read, for sure. It kinda reminds me of an amorous quest of my own during my days in high school. As the singer Dion and The Belmonts aptly told us so many years ago, "why must I be a teenager in love?" I was a grappler, wrestling at 123 pounds and had the hots for a cheerleader who only dated football players. Being an average love sick teen, I signed up for football and became a 123 pound tackling dummy for a year. During that year I kept asking the young beauty out and she kept saying no. It turned out she no only dated just football players, but apparently only those players she had the hots for! And there we have it...Betty Davis and her attitude, all over again. Fortunately, unlike Leslie Howard in "Of Human Bondage," my testosterone highs were not that discriminating and I quickly turned my attention a half dozen or more other young wenches who had caught my eye!. Emotionally I healed fairly quickly, but I have been left with a lifelong distaste for 'playing' the game of football. LOL. ;)
 

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The Bachelor Party from 1957 with Don Murray, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden and Carolyn Jones


The Bachelor Party
is a 1950s noir-style film with a kitchen-sink drama overlay, but its characters are average Americans, not gangsters, conmen, molls, corrupt politicians or people on the mental edge. Back then, the country embraced noir with its shady characters, but judging by this film's obscurity, 1950s America wasn't ready to have its regular men's and women's angst and insecurities exposed raw on film.

But that is exactly what happens in The Bachelor Party. Filmed in black and white and shot on location in New York with its gritty and grimy streets, subway and bars, we follow a few "average" young men trying to force fun out of a bachelor party, but instead they begin to offer up their dark thoughts and feelings.

It's not cheery, but it is real. If you've ever been out on a night where a bunch of guys are trying to have a good time, but it just isn't coming together, so it takes a turn toward frustration and introspection, you'll recognize that night in The Bachelor Party.

Five guys from "bookkeeping" at the same company go out after work to have a bachelor party for the one getting married the next day. It starts okay at the first bar - drinks, jokes, camaraderie - but a sort of ennui and sadness sets in after they go back to one guy's apartment to watch porn films (yup, this is not a "wholesome 1950s" movie).

Even though it's early, nine-thirty or so, the party is at risk of breaking up as the married guys talk about getting home to their sick kids or going to their night-school classes, while the one bachelor in the group tries to rally them to the next bar.

He succeeds, but the ongoing dispiriting vibe and additional alcohol bring out more complaints. The guy getting married tells a sad tale about how he was pressured by his family and fiance to propose, but doesn't really, truly want to get married. One of the married guys reveals that his doctor wants him to move to a warm dry climate for his asthma, but he can't as he needs every dollar of his salary to keep his kid in college.

The young married guy going to night school admits he's burned out and resentful of his wife as he feels trapped at twenty five, especially as she just told him she's pregnant. And they all fear that "IBM machines" will replace them (and, in time, they'd be right).

As the night drags on, the gripes and disaffection grow. The groom walks away from, without having touched, his friends-provided prostitute (yup, this is not a "wholesome 1950s" movie). He then admits to one of his buddies he's a virgin, but since his wife is a widow, he's afraid he'll disappoint her sexually.

Later, the one with the newly pregnant wife stops home for additional cash only to get into an argument with his wife about her having an abortion. The word isn't used, but there is no doubt what they are discussing.

Finally, at the last bar at three in the morning, the bachelor who has kept the party going all but admits he goes out so much because he gets painfully lonely at home by himself night after night.

As if all this isn't enough, there's a small side story about an intellectual bohemian, piquantly played by Carolyn Jones. She admits to one of the guys she's just met and agreed to go to bed with that she sleeps around because she can't stand to be alone at night. (No, she and the lonely bachelor don't "find each other." It's definitely not "that" kind of movie.)

No one is a crook, gangster, deranged killer, etc., - your typical noir characters. These are regular people, some of whom you'll recognize, adjusted for 1950s norms, in your co-workers and friends today. It's real; it's raw; it's demoralizing and it's a look at America you didn't often see in a 1950s movie theater.

There is a Motion Picture Production Code happy ending slapped on in the last two minutes, but audiences easily saw through that. The Bachelor Party's real achievement happens in the other ninety minutes when it gives America a not-pretty view of five regular guys in Manhattan.
 

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The Truth about Cats and Dogs from 1996 with Janeane Garofalo, Uma Thurman and Ben Chaplin

This is either a terrible movie or a bad-but-okay movie as, at times, I couldn't stand it, but at other times, I found it mildly amusing. I think I liked it more when I first saw it twenty-plus years ago.

It's an awkward riff on the Cyrano de Bergerac story where Ben Chaplin mistakes ditzy model Uma Thurman for smart-but-plain-looking radio-talk-show-host Janeane Garofalo. He's attracted to Garofalo's brains and Thurman's looks - sigh.

The girls then allow the mistake to continue in a kinda-sorta plan to get Chaplin to fall in love with Garofalo, but of course, he falls in love with Thurman as that is whom he believes he's dating (plus, she's Uma freakin' Thurman). This, naturally, causes a rift between Garofalo and Thurman as, shocker, both girls now want Chaplin.

Yes, that's the story and it is as stupid as it sounds. Most movies ask you to suspend reality to some extent, but The Truth About Cats and Dogs, often, asks you to be an idiot. (I'm ignoring the syllogism about being an idiot and still watching the movie.)

Yet, darn it, just when I was fed up with The Truth About Cats and Dogs and about to shut it off, some cute scene or funny dialogue exchange would keep me watching, despite the movie being a series of cliches.

Thurman is only "dumb" because she's so beautiful she's never had to develop her mind - sigh. Garafalo is a vet because animals don't care what you look like and she's a radio host because your viewers can't see you - sigh again. Thurman's last boyfriend abused her because she has no self esteem. Garafalo lives with a cat and too many candles to avoid having a personal life that she believes will be filled with rejection.

It's ridiculous, but Garafalo, Chapman and Thurman are good in their roles and the movie has its fun parts wrapped inside all its stupidity. Thurman's sincere-but-clueless attempts to improve her mind - as when she struggles, with dictionary in hand, to read just one page of a philosophy book - is a hoot. I'd almost like to say I just hated the movie, but have to admit, irritated as I was at times, I did watch the entire nonsensical thing and chuckled occasionally while doing so.
 

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The Paradine Case from 1947 with Gregory Peck, Alida Valli, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton, Charles Colburn, Ethel Barrymore and Louis Jordan


The pieces of this Hitchcock movie are better than the whole, which might be why it's generally considered one of the master director's middling efforts.

But some of those pieces are outstanding, as is the incredibly talented cast with the one weak choice of Gregory Peck, a fine actor otherwise, in the lead.

Ostensibly, the story is about a young, beautiful woman, Alida Valli, accused of killing her older, blind and wealthy husband with Peck brought in as her brilliant defense attorney.

Yet, it is really about Peck becoming so besotted with Valli he risks his marriage and professional objectivity. This, in turn, means he's risking his personal life and career all over his platonic "affair" with Valli (she's being held in jail the entire time he knows her).

That is also the story's weakness as Peck's "falling in love" with Valli, pretty much at first sight, is never convincing. Valli is just too cold; beautiful, yes, but chilly. Peck, meanwhile, seems more angry with Valli for disturbing his thoughts than in love with her. The entire movie balances on this weak pivot.

If you just go with it, though, you get all these wonderful scenes and relationships. Ann Todd, Peck's arrestingly beautiful and smarter-than-him wife, immediately senses what is going on and tries to give her struggling husband room and time for his dumb mental infidelity to burn itself out. I'm firmly against physical violence, but kept hoping Todd would just punch her stupid husband in his face.

You also get Charles Colburn as Peck's friend and legal mentor having an incredible tête-à-tête with his whip-smart young daughter who sees Peck's descent into idiocy before Colburn.

Equally engaging is the scene where bullying Charles Laughton, the judge in the case, belittles his perceptive but browbeaten wife. She, also, comes across smarter than her "brilliant legal mind" husband. Say what you will of sexism from that era, but almost every woman is smarter than every man in The Paradine Case.

When the movie finally shifts to the climatic courtroom scenes, the drama is solidly engaging. Peck's crafty defense convincingly shows that the butler did it (well almost, the husband's aide, Louis Jordan). But then (spoiler alert), Valli, his client, destroys her own defense by confessing to the murder. This exonerates Jordan, whom she now acknowledges has, all along, been her lover (this is a dagger right through Peck's lovesick heart).

After that, it's all clean-up as Valli is off to the hangman, while Peck assumes his career and marriage is all washed up. But once again, it's his wife, super Ann Todd, to the rescue.

Here's when you know you have received more than you deserve in life. Ann Todd agrees to marry you. Ann Todd is your good loving wife. You then act like a complete *ss to Ann Todd over an infatuation with another woman. But when it's all over, understanding Ann Todd takes you back, not because she's weak, but because she's strong and accepts your weaknesses. Ann Todd deserves better. Roll credits.


N.B. A rule of murder mysteries: never trust the rich woman (pathologically aloof Valli, in this case) who sleeps in an overly ornate room with an elaborate headboard that includes a large narcissistic portrait of herself.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Another rather splendid review in which you clarify the competing logic's and strategies in the film, helping your reader to make an informed decision on whether or not the movie, The Paradine Case is one to be searched out and watched, or perhaps skipped over to accommodate more pressing viewing priorities. Realizing you caution that this is not one of Hitchcock's best efforts, I find myself drawn in by the incredible acting talents of Gregory Peck. Consequently, I found a You Tube presentation of this film and watched the first 17 minutes and 38 seconds (Peck has finished telling the vixen in distress that he will be taking her case and that this will just be a brief skirmish for the Royal Marines!), before returning to AAAC to complete my efforts with the brotherhood. Afterwhich, I will return to You tube and watch the rest of the movie!
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
Another rather splendid review in which you clarify the competing logic's and strategies in the film, helping your reader to make an informed decision on whether or not the movie, The Paradine Case is one to be searched out and watched, or perhaps skipped over to accommodate more pressing viewing priorities. Realizing you caution that this is not one of Hitchcock's best efforts, I find myself drawn in by the incredible acting talents of Gregory Peck. Consequently, I found a You Tube presentation of this film and watched the first 17 minutes and 38 seconds (Peck has finished telling the vixen in distress that he will be taking her case and that this will just be a brief skirmish for the Royal Marines!), before returning to AAAC to complete my efforts with the brotherhood. Afterwhich, I will return to You tube and watch the rest of the movie!

That's great - I'm glad you found it and look forward to your thoughts on it.
 
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