Thursday, April 6, 2017
I'm not entirely certain what to make of The Blue Gardenia (1953), and possibly talking about it right after watching it is a mistake. It was this week's pick on TCM's "Noir Alley", introduced by the great Eddie Muller.
My current take on the film is that I like a huge amount of the pieces that made up the movie, but wasn't a raging fan of the movie itself. I mean, it stars Richard Conte, Raymond Burr and Anne Baxter (who does some kind of edgy stuff for 1953 - but that's noir all over). It's got a scenario as treacherous as many or most in noir, pulling the world down a normal person's ears because she made a bad decision or two. And it's one of the more straightforward "no means no" messages you're going to see in a movie, but baked into the social standards of the era - which makes it all the more challenging.
And did I mention Fritz Lang is the director? And Nicholas Musuraca (Out of the Past) was DP?
AND it had George Reeves in a supporting role as a wiseguy of a cop?
Yeah, I don't quite get why the movie felt a little flat.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
We're watching the new FX series, Feud: Bette and Joan (highly recommended), and it reminded me I'd been meaning to watch Sudden Fear (1952), a noirish potboiler starring Ms. Crawford, Jack Palance and Gloria Grahame.
Just the casting alone was enough to raise an eyebrow. Of course I've seen a number of Grahame's pictures, a handful of Crawford's, but when it comes to Jack Palance, I've seen Batman, Shane and, sigh, his pair of 80's City Slickers comedies.* And to see him in a movie where he has to act like a basically normal, functioning human was almost bizarre. Because by the time I was a kid, even in real life Jack Palance was acting like a cartoon weirdo.
It's a strong, taught thriller with some great cinematography, tremendous use of sound and Crawford putting it all out there as she does a large amount of her acting completely alone.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Lili (1953) is a mid-20th Century movie I'd never heard of before I started watching it on TCM this week. Probably best described as an all-ages musical with fantasy elements (and puppets!), I have no doubt that the sweet-spot for finding an audience for this movie is young girls, but, hey, I'm a 41 year-old dude, and I liked it just fine.
As with all-ages movies pre-1990 or so, there are plenty of elements no one thought twice about including in a story for kids (which explains why - now in command of online content, Millennials have made a cottage industry of getting the vapors writing about pre 1990 family entertainment and why its "secretly dark"). And it's hard to say that Lili is exactly a light-hearted movie. It's not. The main character is definitely going through a crisis during the entire run-time of the movie, there's the spectre of marital infidelity, suicide, acknowledgement of the costs of WWII...
But it's got puppets!
Saturday, December 31, 2016
Before the year (and my break) ended, I wanted to watch a couple of films as we say good-bye to a pair of women we're all going to miss.
No write up. It was actually great seeing them both in their pivotal roles again. We'll have these films forever, even if we've lost the women who made them.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Back when I was a little kid, Jason and I had a few books on movie monsters, and among them was the book Super-Monsters by Daniel Cohen.
On the cover of the book was a really pissed-off looking monster that I kind of assumed was an off-brand Godzilla-type thing (I didn't know the word "Kaiju" until college), and didn't think much about it except that I wasn't sure what movie this monster was actually associated with. Also, I don't know why my folks were like "hey, look, a snarling hell beast! The kids'll love it!", but this was the 1970's and back then we were still raising our kids to be ready for anything.
The book had short entries about the plots of various monster movies, and I can trace my interest in those strange creatures to this book. Even if this same book led me to believe Young Frankenstein was a very odd, badly made Frankenstein movie until I finally saw it and clued into the Mel Brooks canon.
But I had no idea who the monster was on the cover of this book until about 5-10 years ago when I stumbled across some information about the British horror film, alternately titled Curse of the Demon and Night of the Demon (1957). Last year I tried to watch this movie on or around Halloween, but realized I was exhausted and didn't pull it off. And then my DVR went crazy and I lost the recording.
But this year, SimonUK brought it over, and with Steanso in tow, we all gave the movie a whirl.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Some forms of comedy just don't work for me, and it's safe to say that I'm not a huge fan of Red Skelton. I know the guy was huge in his day, but whatever he's up to always feels a bit like he's opted for the obvious, crowd-pleasing, least offensive choice. If we were active today he'd be on a sitcom with an improbably good looking wife who would always be putting her hands on her hips and saying, "Oh, Red!"
I watched the movie for two reasons. (1) It took place in Texas in the 1950's, and I wanted to see what Hollywood thought Texas was like in 1951. (2) Ann Miller is in a smaller role in the movie as a girl with showbiz dreams and also ready to marry the first idiot who comes along.
The marquee names are Red Skelton and Esther Williams, the bathing beauty famous for her aquatic acrobatics and perfect make-up at 10 feet below sea-level. Which is an odd fit for the deserty Texas where the action occurs.
Look, I basically wanted to see what numbers they'd give Ann Miller, which was one song and dance number you can already find on YouTube. The rest of the movie, including an effects sequence with Esther Williams superimposed "swimming" around a bar as Howard Keel thinks about how much he's in love with her, is barely memorable.
There's an element or two that requires the movie take place in Texas, but 90% of the movie takes place anywhere but the titular carnival.
So. You got that going for you.
What was kind of funny was that i gave up on the movie, thinking it had about ten minutes of denouement left to work through and I'd catch it later. So I turned it back on this evening and it had literally 30 seconds left to go. I guess that tells you how much I felt invested in the movie.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Show Boat (1951) is one of those movies you see classic movie buffs referencing a lot, but which I'd never seen and didn't know anything about. Except that it stars Ava Gardner (bonus!) who doesn't do her own singing (...yeah...).
It is, indeed, about a big paddle-wheel steamer on the Mississippi that acts as stage and home to a troop of river-bound performers in a sort of vaudeville show, and the story of the Hawks family that runs the show.
Familiar faces include the aforementioned Ava Gardner, Agnes Moorehead playing a tightly wound matronly figure (shocking, I know), Joe E. Brown as the ship's owner and stage producer, and Kathryn Grayson as the daughter of Moorehead and Brown, who wants to be a performer herself.
Saturday, July 9, 2016
I've seen this movie a few times thanks to the power of MST3K. And if you're ever curious to see one of the movies covered in the Tim Burton film Ed Wood, I strongly recommend this one.
But I am not spending time writing up this movie. We all have lives.
Friday, July 8, 2016
The first time I saw Oklahoma! (1955) was in Spring of 1994. I was sitting on my bed/ couch (it's hard to explain, but anyone who ever lived in Jester at UT understands), when my roommate, Peabo, burst in through the door.
"Oklahoma! is on TV! Right now!"
And we turned it on and watched the whole thing, complete with commercial breaks.
I don't know that I saw it again for a few years, but I saw a rendition of the stage play at the Paramount in Austin circa 2000, and we own the DVD and have seen it at least twice.
Jamie's actually from Oklahoma (the state, not the musical), and her mom was a big fan of the show, so when Jamie arrived, part of the package was a baked-in enthusiasm for the music from the Rodgers & Hammerstein production.
Tuesday night Jamie and I hit The Paramount Film Series for the first time this summer (along with Cousin Sue) to see the movie on the big screen.
Whether you've seen Oklahoma! or not, it's a bit like Westside Story or other big musicals - you've heard the big hits whether you know that's where they came from or not. And in the case of Oklahoma!, the big hits are nigh every song in the show. So, even as bits in a commercial or co-opted elsewhere, you've heard 'em. The album has been a #1 record in both the US and the UK (circa 1957), certified multi-platinum and is consistently in production. If you don't know the music, I assure you - your parents do.
A lot of it's pretty damn catchy.
What's weirdest to me about Oklahoma! is the utter disparity between the sunshiney image of the movie - complete with upbeat music, sweetly naive bumpkin characters, hokey imagery - and the really pretty dark story at the middle of the play, as well as some pretty adult content. In short, you absolutely could not perform this play in a middle school without a lot of cutting.
Saturday, April 2, 2016
I hadn't watched Shane (1953) in more than a decade. Even the DVD I have is clearly a relic from the beginning of the DVD era. If I hadn't watched the movie in a while, it seems that Jamie does not care for Shane, and that's one of those things that you're going to have to endure if you want to stay married.
For my dollar, Shane is one of the great westerns, one of those stories of the expansion into the west and foretelling other great Western stories that explore the nature and fate of the gun-fighter like The Unforgiven, Beyond the loose definition of the Western genre, it's also, simply, a great film. Beautifully shot, well-acted, nuanced and better than you likely remember.
Contextually, the book the movie was based on and faithfully adapted from (and which JAL and I read in class in 7th grade if memory serves) was released in 1949, four years after the closing of WWII. That the book was told in a first-person perspective from the eyes of a child and the movie mostly retains that POV, makes sense. At it's heart, the story speaks to the naivete of what we see when we look at violence as an heroic act, of putting the gunman on a pedestal - as both writers of Western novels and Hollywood have always done. In 1949 and 1953, one can imagine all the GI's returning from WWII who had to endure the questions of both the folks who had seen the war from newsreels and kids who saw it as a comic-book adventure against cartoonish Japs and Krauts.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
I was actually planning to let this movie be a product of its time period and discuss the film's more problematic elements further down the post, but in looking for a copy of the movie's poster, I see I'm just going to need to deal with this movie's issues as the focus.
Back in high school I had exactly one "girly" poster up on my wall, a poster cropped from this image:
|This poster was okay. I got in trouble for a Sid Vicious poster, instead.|
Friday, March 11, 2016
A year ago I likely would have watched this movie, enjoyed it immensely without a passing thought, recognized the brilliance of John Huston's direction in yet another movie, saluted Bogart and Hepburn for their genius, summed up the plot to about the 1/2 way mark, and called it a day. Fair enough.
Nothing traumatic happened in the past several months, but a pal from high school watched the movie with his wife - a smart guy, highly educated, a guy with whom its a pleasure to have a beer or two - and commented on facebook about how ridiculous they found the acting in the movie.
In 1952, when the Academy Awards were handed out for 1951, Humphrey Bogart took home the Oscar for Best Actor while Katherine Hepburn was nominated for Best Actress and John Huston was nominated for Best Director. Of course, I'm not one to take the Oscars seriously as so much goes into both nominations and voting then and now, but it's a sign of something that all three were nominated and Bogart took home the statue.
But I'm also not saying this guy and his wife (or the myriad facebook friends who piled on about "old movies") were wrong. It's a fascinating bit of insight into (a) how acting styles change vis-a-vis what we'd expect and (b) a modern audience's ability - or lack thereof- to shake loose of the moorings of what they might consider "good" acting to see a dated performance - or one even reflective of speech and mannerisms of years past - and not find the whole thing a bit ridiculous. It creates a high barrier to entry for the mass audience, I guess.
I wonder, in sixty years, what Leonardo DiCaprio will look like to space-suburbanites watching The Revenant on their Holo-Wall or projected directly into their optic nerve. Someone's going to find all that grunting and shrieking just hilarious. That's the nature of the beast.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
I've lost track of how many times I've seen Gun Crazy (1950). And, in fact, over the past ten years its easily become one of my favorite movies. Tuesday night JAL and I met up at the Alamo to catch a screening which was, it turned out, part of a series the Alamo was doing about social issues in movies. And, of course, Gun Crazy is as good an example of how a good gun owner gets sucked into the issues of a bad gun owner as you're like to see.
The screening was either sold out or nearly so, which, even in a small theater at The Alamo on a Tuesday at 7:30 - for a movie that's now 66 years old - is a pretty good thing. What was truly surprising was that the screening was of a 35mm print struck in the 1960's, as near as I could tell.
Monday, February 29, 2016
This one has been on my hit list for a couple of years now. I recorded it off TCM way back in December and finally pulled the trigger and watched it.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is one of those movies like Sunset Boulevard, The Hustler or On the Waterfront that came out during a certain window of moviemaking that I think people associate with Eisenhower-era positivity, thanks to TV re-runs and a deluge of Disney movies in their youth. Of course, Noir sort of blows the doors off all that. But a lot of Noir gets caught up in incredible situations, with dames on the make, gangsters, long-game scams. But sometimes something like this - stylized though it may be - gets at something a bit beyond the grift or the crime.
Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a press agent for live acts in the Big Apple. Things are falling apart for him as he can't seem to place a story with any of the major columnists, especially J.J. Hunsecker - played with menace usually reserved for dictators and ganglords by Burt Lancaster in a pair of horn-rimmed specs. J.J. wanted Falco to break up a brewing romance between his sister, Susan, and a jazz guitarist, Steve Dallas. With the two planning an engagement, Falco sees doom for his own business and begins wheeling and dealing, going to Hunsecker with his problem and the two pair, their styles different but need to manipulate people and situations spinning into darker and darker territory.
This was one hell of a movie.