Recently Watched & Favorite Movies: Personal Reviews & More

Vecchio Vespa

(aka TKI67)
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Butterfield 8 from 1960 with Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, Dina Merrill, Mildred Dunnock and Eddie Fisher


Every period has its take on "the fallen woman," which is closely associated with the always fun and overwrought Madonna-whore complex, both of which drive Butterfield 8.

In the lightly censored movies of the pre-code early 1930s, "the fallen woman" could often stand herself back up and go on living because, sometimes, that's what happens in real life. But once the Motion Picture Production Code was enforced in the mid-1930s, "the fallen woman" needed to be punished to have any shot at redemption, but usually, it was easier to just kill her off.

Butterfield 8 was made at a time when the code was wobbling but still holding on, so its quasi prostitute, Elizabeth Taylor, is kinda, sorta sympathetic, yet still, punishment must be meted out.

Taylor plays a darker cognate to Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's. She's a model slash partygirl slash early social media "influencer" (she gets paid to wear designer dresses to hot night spots so they will be noted in the next day's newspapers) who also, (the movie elides this a bit) sleeps with men for money.

Darker than Golightly how? When we first meet Ms. Taylor, she's waking up after having been railed by some guy who left in the early morning. So, disheveled and still wearing last night's makeup, she stumbles out of his bed wrapped in nothing but a sheet, looks for a cigarette, throws an empty pack on the carpet, finds a loose cigarette, lights up, inhales, starts coughing, pours herself a good-sized shot of whiskey and has the first drink of the day. Good morning.

Today, we take a more understanding and sympathetic approach to almost all human failings (except for the ones current day has deemed unacceptable). Yet back then, the heavy moral disapproval of "the fallen woman" (with a prostitute being about as far as you could fall) meant something, even if it all floated on a narrative of hypocrisy and inconsistency, just as a lot of what we believe today also floats on shaky narratives.

So, when upstanding businessman, Laurence Harvey, married to social-registry wife, Dina Merrill (the blonde Madonna in our story), falls in love with his girl-on-the-side Taylor (the brunette whore), all sorts of things get smashed up, starting with poor Dina Merrill.

Beyond being ridiculously attractive, Merrill is an unbelievably understanding wife who tries to give Harvey "space" to find his way back to her. Most women's definition of "space" in this case would be a bullet with their husband's name on it, but Merrill loves her husband and wants to save the marriage.

She believes marrying into her wealthy family - which gave Harvey instant status, wealth and a job with a fancy title at her family's firm - destroyed his self esteem. Harvey plays the "victim" role to the hilt. He angrily mopes his way through the movie as the aggrieved party because, well, his wife made his life too easy for him. We now have a winner in the "rich people's problem" contest.

Maybe Harvey really loves Taylor or maybe he just wants to spit in his wife's face, but Taylor believes she loves Harvey and sees him as the moral lustration she needs to scrub clean her past life of sin and debauchery.

Just as Harvey is about to ask his wife for a divorce so that he can marry Taylor - a do-I-leave-the-Madonna-for-a-whore moment - he comes face to face with Taylor's past. He knew about it, but to this point, had done his best to make believe it didn't exist. Yet he can't ignore, when in a bar, several men casually joke with him about his new "girlfriend" Taylor by saying, "welcome to the fraternity, we meet once a year in Yankee Stadium." Ouch.

Harvey, it turns out, belongs to that odd niche of men who knowingly fall in love with prostitutes - nothing wrong with that, everyone should find love where they can - but then begin to hate the object of their affections because she's slept with a whole lot of men. In logic, that's called a "category error," as Harvey is angry at something for being exactly what it is. It's like hating a top for spinning.

As the movie climaxes, Harvey, even when he breaks with Taylor, wrecks his marriage to Merrill. Taylor, meanwhile, leaves New York to start afresh with wholesome intent, this time, in Boston. But don't forget the Motion Picture Production Code which, basically, (spoiler alert) says, "The Whore Must Die!"

So, at the end of a silly and forced car-chase scene, where Harvey pursues Taylor in an attempt to get her back, she is killed as her very cute two-seater Sunbeam Alpine flies off the road. Taylor is dead; the Code is satisfied; Harvey is crushed and, unbelievably, wife Merrill is willing to take him back.

It's saponaceous melodrama on steroids with an overlay of fire and brimstone condemnation. But tucked inside and countering the "bad whore" narrative are Taylor's mother, the wonderful Mildred Dunnock, and Taylor's childhood best friend, Eddie Fisher, who provide a sympathetic view of Taylor's life.

The Code was buckling a bit in 1960, but it was not yet ready to let the whore live. However, in about a decade, the 1970s would bring a new and forgiving perspective to the prostitute.


N.B. Butterfield 8 is wonderful time travel to early 1960s New York City from the Village to the fancy apartments of Fifth Avenue, including many of the bars, restaurants and nightclubs in between. There's even a neat moment where, in the background of super-lit-up-at-night Times Square, you can see a movie marquee advertising Ben-Hur.
How terribly sad to have crashed a Sunbeam.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
How terribly sad to have crashed a Sunbeam.

Agree completely, it's a cute as heck car.

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The crash scene itself:
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Agree completely, it's a cute as heck car.

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The crash scene itself:

Adding the audio visual support to you review is a nice touch, but while I can understand the motion picture production edict the that "the whore must die," I gotta tell ya, that vehicle crash was an extreme way to go! I'll add Butterfield 8 to my list of movies to be watched. ;)
 

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Connoisseur
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Hard to Handle from 1933 with James Cagney, Ruth Donnelly, Mary Brian and Claire Dodd


You just have to love the pre-codes. Cagney is a likable scammer in love with the daughter, Mary Brian, of fellow scammer Ruth Donnelly. Donnelly wants her pretty daughter to marry money, so Donnelly and Cagney butt heads all movie long, but at some level, they kinda like each other as only two scammers can.

Cagney is in full flower in this one, running one scam after another, but talking so fast even he's not sure half the time what he's saying. Matching him scam for scam and flimflam for flimflam is Donnelly who, literally, sells the furniture from her furnished rental apartment and then skips town.

Stuck in the middle of these two whirling dervishes of deceit is honest daughter Brian who wants to marry Cagney when he's down and out, but mother Donnelly will have none of that.

Then, when Cagney's on top, Brian is hesitant to marry him as she thinks money will change him, but Donnelly is shamelessly now all for the marriage. Cagney and Donnelly are probably the ones who should get married, but if these two hucksters did, quite possibly, a black hole would open up and swallow the earth.

After our two matchstick men move from West to East Coast, with daughter in tow - you have to "relocate" from time to time when you're in the "scamming" business - Cagney hits it big as a promoter of a Florida land deal. There is nothing more period-scam perfect than a Florida land deal. To be fair, Cagney, at first, isn't aware it's a scam, but he probably wouldn't have cared if he did.

Thrown into the mix at this point is pretty-as-all-heck Claire Dodd, the daughter of Cagney's land-deal partner, who seems to want Cagney mainly to prevent Brian from getting him.

With maybe fifteen minutes to go, everything rips to a head: Cagney is caught cheating with Dodd (he tried not to, but come on, when a pretty woman with an agenda comes to your hotel room at night with a bottle of liquor, things are going to happen), the land deal blows up, Cagney is arrested and Donnelly sets daughter Brian up to marry someone else.

But fear not as 1930s Warner Bros. never saw a hopelessly tangled plot it couldn't fix in ten minutes max, which is exactly what happens here in this it-all-turns-out-good movie. It's fun; it's fast; it's silly and there's this pre-code wonder to ponder: Cagney and Donnelly run a bunch of scams, they are never really punished and they are the heroes of the story.

One year later, with the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, that wouldn't be allowed. Darn it, though, movies are more fun (and more like real life) when you find yourself occasionally liking rapscallions like Cagney and Donnelly even though you know you shouldn't.


N.B., 1941's His Girl Friday is often noted as being the first movie to have overlapping speed dialogue, but Hard To Handle, and many other pre-codes were doing it a decade earlier.
 

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Connoisseur
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Father of the Bride from 1950 with Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett, Billie Burke and Leo G. Carroll


Father of the Bride is fluff that shamelessly plays to cliches and emotions, but if you're in the right mood, an A-list cast, fast-paced directing by Vincent Minnelli and a serviceable script moves it along seamlessly and entertainingly.

Spencer Tracy is the typical 1950s upper-middle-class father who's kinda clueless as to what's really going on with his kids. He is shocked into focus when daughter Elizabeth Taylor (the young, lithe version before hard living intervened in the next decade) casually announces she's engaged to a boy the family hardly knows.

From here, the script all but writes itself. After initial elation mixed with a little "what do we know about this boy" concern - mollified by meeting his family, who is exactly like Tracy's family - it's full speed ahead to the wedding planning.

Tracy assumes it will be a small, simple wedding. Hah! While daughter Taylor seems okay with this, mother Joan Bennett, who is still smarting a bit from her no-frills Justice-of-the-Peace elopement to Tracy twenty-plus years ago, is having none of this "small-wedding nonsense."

Now it's all Tracy worrying about the cost, Bennett ordering every wedding adornment under the sun, Taylor pinging back and forth between excitement and despair, upset either by her parents' bickering over the cost or some minor kerfuffle with her fiance.

Right on schedule, Tracy meets the snooty caterer/wedding planner, wonderfully played by Leo G. Carroll, who condescendingly explains why every cost save Tracy suggests is, yes, doable, if you want "that" kind of affair.

Shamelessly playing to all the over-priced wedding tropes, Tracy sees dollar signs next to every discussion or appearance of dresses, bridesmaid's gifts, champagne orders, guest lists, chauffeured cars, orchestras, invitations and on and on.

There's even the last-minute pre-wedding bride and groom fight with the heartwarming moment of Dad consoling his daughter (paraphrasing): "forget the cost, if you don't want to go through with this, Dad will make it all okay." But naturally, they do go through with it and, other than a few Hollywood-forced pratfalls, all goes well on wedding day.

It's one cliche after another, but it also works in a silly-movie way mostly because Tracy knows his role here - bluster a bit on the surface, but have a heart of gold underneath. If you do see it, look for the scene where he basically tries to pay his daughter off to elope and, then, shifts the blame for that idea to daughter Taylor when his wife catches wind of it. A husband's gotta do, what a husband's gotta do.


N.B. Father of the Bride is lighthearted fun about a family that can afford to waste money on a fancy wedding even if "Pops" doesn't want to. For a serious look at a family being, literally, torn apart over paying for a wedding it can't afford, see 1956's A Catered Affair. It's Father of the Bride's real-world working-class cognate, and a much better movie.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Last evening the wife and I popped a DVD of The Deer Hunter, starring Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken, into the DVD player. It was in the theaters back in 1978 It is the story of three friends, working in a Pittsburgh, PA, steel mill, who go off to (the Vietnam) war engaging in rather intense combat situations and surviving the combat and periods of captivity as POW's. Steve, Savages character, loses his legs and the use of his left arm; Nick, Walken's character, loses his mind and eventually his life, and Michael, De Niro's character, spends the final hour of the movie struggling to bring his friends back to "the World!" Nicky dies playing a final game of Russian Roulette, Steve deals with the reality that his young wife, whom he married just one day before leaving for the war, struggles to just look at his mangled body and Michael works to accept the reality that life will be forever different. It's a three hour movie that almost demands one take an intermission to recharge the snacking bowls and hit the head, but it is also an important one that has an important story to share with the viewer.. The Deer Hunter is a movie well worth watching! ;)
 

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Connoisseur
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Vertigo from 1958 with Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes


Let's get "The Greatest Movie Ever" thing out of the way first, since, for many years, Vertigo held that title according to one popular ranking. But that phrase means all but nothing as there is no linear, definitive movie meter or scale.

I'm happy to talk about my favorite movies, but that, like all this ranking stuff, is mainly opinion. I don't even think Vertigo is Hitchcock's best movie, but it is a heck of a picture.

I've enjoyed it more the last few times I've seen it since I no longer have the weight of thinking I'm watching "The Greatest Movie Ever" pressing on me. (That's the same reason why I now enjoy Citizen Kane.)

It's almost all spoiler alerts from here. At its core, Vertigo is a good-husband-kills-his-rich-wife story in a very creative way, but talk about a MacGuffin as, half the time during the movie, you forget that's the ostensible plot.

Instead, you have retired middle-aged detective Jimmy Stewart, retired because he suffers from vertigo, obsessing over his friend's rich wife, Kim Novak, in an almost creepy way. But then, Novak, with her odd preoccupation with a lookalike ancestor from a hundred years ago, is a bit creepy too.

These two are only thrown together when Stewart is hired by his old school buddy, Novak's husband, to find out what is going on with Novak. The husband claims he's worried that his wife's mania with her ancestor, who committed suicide at Novak's present age, is becoming a danger to herself.

For at least half the movie, you really don't quite know what is going on as the camera watches Stewart watching Novak who, oftentimes, sits watching a portrait of her ancestor before she goes off and does something crazy, like jumping into San Francisco Bay.

It's only after you know why this is happening that it truly holds your interest, which is why the movie is better on subsequent viewing. Because of the confusion, you don't even fully notice how casually Stewart begins an affair with Novak. This means he's having an affair with his friend and client's wife. The censors were probably as confused as everyone else when they let that slip by.

The only voice of reason in this one is Stewart's gal pal Barbara Bel Geddes whose unrequited love for Stewart goes from harmless and cute to painful and heartbreaking when she sees Stewart is obsessed with younger and prettier Novak.

Bel Geddes' unspoken plan seems to have been to get Stewart simply by being the last [wo]man standing in his life, but then Novak sweeps in and crushes Bel Geddes' hopes. It's clearly a theme Hitchcock enjoyed exploring as he tucked unrequited love into several of his movies.

But back in Vertigo's crazy town and after a big chunk of time spent on all the aforementioned watching, the movie's two threads - Novak's mystical-like fascination with her ancestor and her husband's pragmatic hiring of Stewart - come together.

Here, Stewart's vertigo - it's the title of the movie for a reason - prevents him from stopping Novak when she finally commits (or does she?) the suicide she's been toying with all along.

After that, Hitchcock whips up another round of suspense when Stewart, who is spiraling into depression with Novak gone, meets and begins dating a Novak lookalike.

He then obsessively and disturbingly starts making this woman dress and do her hair like Novak. The final Hitchcock twist, which does a good job of tying up a lot of still dangling threads, doesn't disappoint, but let's leave that unsaid if you haven't seen it.

The real plot and theme in this one - the only thing that is truly going on - is a man obsessing over a beautiful blonde woman. Everything else exists to advance or explore this thread.

Based on Hitchcock biographies, this is probably his most personal movie as obsessing over blonde women seemed to be his thing. If so, the master director took something close to his heart and covertly made it into a cinematic masterpiece.


N.B. I love black and white movies, but Hitchcock brilliantly uses color in Vertigo to advance its theme and deliver a ridiculously stylish movie. It's, thankfully, not the amped-up Technicolor of the day, but, at times, a slightly muted one that echoes the confused dream-like state of much of the picture. Yet, when needed, the color becomes crisp and sharp but never garish. Hitchcock was in complete control of every aspect of his movie-making efforts.

Black and white on blonde, this look doesn't happen by accident:
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eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 61591
Vertigo from 1958 with Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes


Let's get "The Greatest Movie Ever" thing out of the way first, since, for many years, Vertigo held that title according to one popular ranking. But that phrase means all but nothing as there is no linear, definitive movie meter or scale.

I'm happy to talk about my favorite movies, but that, like all this ranking stuff, is mainly opinion. I don't even think Vertigo is Hitchcock's best movie, but it is a heck of a picture.

I've enjoyed it more the last few times I've seen it since I no longer have the weight of thinking I'm watching "The Greatest Movie Ever" pressing on me. (That's the same reason why I now enjoy Citizen Kane.)

It's almost all spoiler alerts from here. At its core, Vertigo is a good-husband-kills-his-rich-wife story in a very creative way, but talk about a MacGuffin as, half the time during the movie, you forget that's the ostensible plot.

Instead, you have retired middle-aged detective Jimmy Stewart, retired because he suffers from vertigo, obsessing over his friend's rich wife, Kim Novak, in an almost creepy way. But then, Novak, with her odd preoccupation with a lookalike ancestor from a hundred years ago, is a bit creepy too.

These two are only thrown together when Stewart is hired by his old school buddy, Novak's husband, to find out what is going on with Novak. The husband claims he's worried that his wife's mania with her ancestor, who committed suicide at Novak's present age, is becoming a danger to herself.

For at least half the movie, you really don't quite know what is going on as the camera watches Stewart watching Novak who, oftentimes, sits watching a portrait of her ancestor before she goes off and does something crazy, like jumping into San Francisco Bay.

It's only after you know why this is happening that it truly holds your interest, which is why the movie is better on subsequent viewing. Because of the confusion, you don't even fully notice how casually Stewart begins an affair with Novak. This means he's having an affair with his friend and client's wife. The censors were probably as confused as everyone else when they let that slip by.

The only voice of reason in this one is Stewart's gal pal Barbara Bel Geddes whose unrequited love for Stewart goes from harmless and cute to painful and heartbreaking when she sees Stewart is obsessed with younger and prettier Novak.

Bel Geddes' unspoken plan seems to have been to get Stewart simply by being the last [wo]man standing in his life, but then Novak sweeps in and crushes Bel Geddes' hopes. It's clearly a theme Hitchcock enjoyed exploring as he tucked unrequited love into several of his movies.

But back in Vertigo's crazy town and after a big chunk of time spent on all the aforementioned watching, the movie's two threads - Novak's mystical-like fascination with her ancestor and her husband's pragmatic hiring of Stewart - come together.

Here, Stewart's vertigo - it's the title of the movie for a reason - prevents him from stopping Novak when she finally commits (or does she?) the suicide she's been toying with all along.

After that, Hitchcock whips up another round of suspense when Stewart, who is spiraling into depression with Novak gone, meets and begins dating a Novak lookalike.

He then obsessively and disturbingly starts making this woman dress and do her hair like Novak. The final Hitchcock twist, which does a good job of tying up a lot of still dangling threads, doesn't disappoint, but let's leave that unsaid if you haven't seen it.

The real plot and theme in this one - the only thing that is truly going on - is a man obsessing over a beautiful blonde woman. Everything else exists to advance or explore this thread.

Based on Hitchcock biographies, this is probably his most personal movie as obsessing over blonde women seemed to be his thing. If so, the master director took something close to his heart and covertly made it into a cinematic masterpiece.


N.B. I love black and white movies, but Hitchcock brilliantly uses color in Vertigo to advance its theme and deliver a ridiculously stylish movie. It's, thankfully, not the amped-up Technicolor of the day, but, at times, a slightly muted one that echoes the confused dream-like state of much of the picture. Yet, when needed, the color becomes crisp and sharp but never garish. Hitchcock was in complete control of every aspect of his movie-making efforts.

Black and white on blonde, this look doesn't happen by accident:
View attachment 61592

Kim Novak is a natural understated beauty who quite consistently shaded the other blond beauties with whom she might be compared, but alas, she abdicated that natural beauty to the misguided scalpels of plastic surgeons. Sadly, she looks a bit of a freak these days! I've enjoyed watching Vertigo on at least two occasions, but never quite understood it as well as I did after reading your review. I think I may have to watch it a third time looking through the lens of understanding provided by your review. Thank you for another great review. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
Kim Nova is a natural understated beauty who quite consistently shaded the other blond beauties with whom she might be compared, but alas, she abdicated that natural beauty to the misguided scalpels of plastic surgeons. Sadly, she looks a bit of a freak these days! I've enjoyed watching Vertigo on at least two occasions, but never quite understood it as well as I did after reading your review. I think I may have to watch it a third time looking through the lens of understanding provided by your review. Thank you for another great review. ;)

Thank you for your kind comments. I didn't understand it after two viewings either. I'm guessing this is my fourth or fifth time through and it took that many for me to finally "get it." It's also the first time I really enjoyed it as, at last, I knew what the heck was going on.
 

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Connoisseur
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The Selloutfrom 1952 with Walter Pidgeon, John Hodiak, Karl Malden and Thomas Gomez


The Sellout starts out as a solid entry in the early 1950s crime-drama genre. A crusading newspaper editor initiates an investigation into a corrupt local sheriff who runs his district like a shakedown fiefdom (think of the mob with policing power). While The Sellout is enjoyable overall, by the last quarter or so, it loses most of its grit as it becomes a two-dimensional good-guys-vs-bad-guys story.

Even so, its strong start combined with its impressive cast make it worth the watch. When newspaper editor Walter Pidgeon and a co-worker are hauled off to jail after a very minor traffic incident in sheriff Thomas Gomez' county, Pidgeon doesn't reveal his identity. He and his friend are roughed up in jail, face trumped up charges, and then ridiculously high bail is set for Pidgeon while his co-worker is sent to a work farm until his trial date.

Once out, Pidgeon starts the aforementioned newspaper campaign to expose the graft, extortion and malfeasance in Gomez's county. After Pidgeon accumulates an extensive dossier of corruption, the state's attorney general's office sends assistant AG John Hodiak down to pursue a criminal prosecution.

All of a sudden, though, Pidgeon disappears as do his records, while Hodiak struggles to get anyone to talk out of fear of reprisal from the sheriff. With the help of an honest local cop, a very young Karl Maulden, Hodiak keeps pushing hard, but struggles to get anyone who will speak on the record.

Up until now, about three quarters in, The Sellout is a solid B movie, but the last quarter is too black and white where bad guys like Gomez become cardboard versions of themselves, while the good guys start spouting aphorisms about justice and the constitution.

(Spoiler alert) The climatic courtroom scene - with Pidgeon returning to save the day - is too neatly wrapped up as a morality tale with the guys in the white hats winning and the guys in the black hats getting theirs.

Considering the number of similar movies produced in the postwar era (see 1951's The Racket or 1952's The Captive City) exposing local government and mob corruption, usually the two were mutual enablers, it had to be a big problem in the country.

A country that had just lost nearly three hundred thousand of its young men to free the world from megalomaniacal dictators bent on world domination, probably didn't have a lot of patients with local quasi-dictators who degraded freedom via graft and corruption protected by a government on the take.

Movies like The Sellout, imperfect as they are, still provide a neat window into postwar America. Plus the clothes, cars and architecture on display in crisp black and white is wonderful time travel for us today.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Another one of those great reviews. I began reading thinking "boy, I really like those old black and white films" and by the time I'd reached the end of your review, had concluded, "I'm really going to have to watch this one." As you suggest, perhaps The Sellout does just that and sells out, becoming a two dimensional showcase of good vs evil. However, isn't that what life is all about, whether we take our ques from reading and studying The Bible or from our life experiences and the evening news broadcasts? Life itself is all about good vs evil and that's ok. It maintains an essential tension that adds dimension and significance to our lives. That's my "windbag" way of saying I'll be looking for the movie, popping the popcorn and getting ready to watch another good movie. Thanks for another great review. ;)
 

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Connoisseur
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Dancing Lady from 1933 with Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Franchot Tone


The three most-common movies in the 1930s were a mobster's rise and fall, a newspaper's rise and fall and a Broadway show's difficult rise and probable fall.

A subgenre of the Broadway-show movie is the desperate-to-break-into-showbiz-ingenue story. Heck, it's hard to name a 1930s female star who wasn't in a I-want-to-break-into-showbiz movie (Katherine Hepburn alone did two, Stage Door and Morning Glory).

Dancing Lady is a serviceable pre-code version of the will-the-show-rise-or-fall movie mashed up with the young-dancer-desperately-trying-to-break-into-Broadway story.

Crawford is the ingenue pursued by nice playboy Franchot Tone who secretly funds a show to give Crawford her Broadway break. The director of the show, cranky and demanding Clark Gable, begins to fall for Crawford, and she, him, which sets up a by-the-numbers love triangle to spice up the standard 1930s plot.

Crawford likes Tone, but worries her humble background won't fly in his Park Avenue world. She wonderfully summarizes her self-believed inferior status to Tone via a diction distinction: I'm a "dems," not "those" girl.

Once she meets Gable, her passion for Tone wanes, but not only does Tone keep trying, Crawford plays along as she's smart and calculating enough to know that he could provide a financial lifeboat if her career fizzles.

Her real passion is reserved for bull-in-a-china-shop Gable who, in a typical can-we-keep-the-show-afloat move, plows all his personal money in to sustain it when Tone, trying to convince Crawford to marry him, covertly pulls his money out so her career will fail. If you've never seen one of these movies before, the conclusion might surprise you, but it's pretty standard stuff.

MGM threw almost everything it had at this pre-code. In addition to the three big-name leads, there are plenty of scantily clad women, plenty of sexual innuendo, plenty of expensive sets and plenty of elaborately choreographed numbers.

Pulling out all the stops, MGM also has The Three Stooges in here as stagehands doing, well, Three-Stooges-as-stagehands stuff. Finally, song-and-dance man Fred Astaire pops up to sing and, more importantly, dance with Crawford as she prepares for her big Broadway debut. Watching Crawford dance, even to this untrained eye, makes clear it's a good thing she can act.

Despite all the firepower and budget, the movie feels okay, but surprisingly "small," as if it was a B movie mistakenly given A-movie treatment. Heck, tight-fisted Warner Bros. would have taken out most of the frills, tossed in a few more plot twists (Warners loved more plot) and produced a better movie for half the money.

Still, it's fun to see Crawford and Gable being all youth and beauty especially since, in Dancing Lady, they are clearly having fun being all youth and beauty with each other.
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The Americanization of Emily from 1964 with James Garner, Julie Andrews, James Coburn and Melvyn Douglas


"The first dead man on Omaha Beach must be a sailor."

"The first dead man on Omaha Beach is alive!"


This movie gets more enjoyable with every viewing. While the book is better (comments here: #8119), the movie stands nicely on its own.

It works well because it's a fun story about two American Naval officers, colloquially known as "dog robbers," who "take care" of their admirals by procuring food, liquor, luxury goods and, yes, women for their parties and pleasure. Yet tucked inside this movie about a superficial corner of the war is a complex morality tale about militarism, patriotism and the insanity of battle.

James Garner and Charles Coburn are the dog robbers for their Admiral, wonderfully portrayed by Melvin Douglas. These two officers are having a nice, safe and comfortable WWII in a luxurious London hotel redoubt (after the Blitz). They are surrounded by well-stocked storerooms and plenty of young English lasses happy to "be with" these handsome officers with access to all the things England has been doing without for several years now.

Garner, an actor with a great talent for playing likable rogues, meets war widow and military chauffeur Julie Andrews, looking ridiculously cute while proving she can act in a movie without singing. Andrews is prim, proper and, initially, as disgusted by good-time Garner as he is with "stuck up" her.

She sees his military featherbedding and proudly admitted cowardliness as morally contemptible. He sees her devotion to duty and pride in the military deaths of her husband, brother and father as ignorant sentimentality perpetuating a rah-rah view of war.

I've read the book once and have seen the movie, probably, half a dozen times and still am not sure of Garner's and, one assumes, the book's author, William Bradford Huie's philosophy. It seems to be denouncing the romanticizing and propagandizing of war, but is not really against war itself. Especially if the war is necessary, as it was in WWII, to, well, save the world.

Garner gives long speeches about how if the men who die fighting would ignore the "hero stuff" and push back against war, war would be hard to wage. It's less of a sincere blueprint to stop war than a cri de coeur against its glorification.

While Garner and Andrews fall in love arguing over the purpose of war, Garner's Admiral, the slowly cracking-up Douglas, hatches a crazy scheme to have a film made of the first man, a sailor, dying on the beach on D-Day. It's all part of his coldly calculating strategy to increase the Navy's standing when post-war budget cuts begin.

The sheer cynicism of his plan all but drives a usually fawning Garner to confront his Admiral, but he figures why risk his comfy situation for a principal. Yet when the spiralling into crazytown Admiral assigns Gardner to lead the filming on D-Day, Garner is now faced with being the cannon fodder he deplores or being hauled off to the brig.

From here, it's Garner looking for every angle to get out of his assignment, while Andrews, now confronted with losing another man she loves, deeply questions her previous views of honor and duty.

The end is hokey, but a ton of fun with everyone's morality getting spun in the centrifuge one more time. Garner and Andrews are so appealing that you can just enjoy the boy-chases-girl-then-girl-chases-boy story and let all the multi-layered morality slide by. At least that's becoming my preferred method for watching The Americanization of Emily.


N.B. The first line of the quote at the top is the genesis of the crazy plan of the Admiral's to glorify the Navy. The second line reflects the brass' chagrin when, with a publicity-driven memorial service all set, they discover their dead sailor is actually alive - don't you hate it when that happens?
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
A great movie and I really enjoyed your review. I can't claim to have read the book or to having seen the movie as often as you have experienced, but I have seen it twice and perhaps even three times. As I have observed in the past, I will have to see the movie at least one more time so as to view it through the lens of your review. Thanks again. ;)
 
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