Saturday, August 5, 2023

Noir Watch: Shockproof (1949)

Watched:  08/04/2023
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Douglas Sirk

I was a bit relieved to hear Noir Alley host Eddie Muller mention Tomorrow is Another Day, a movie I'd previously seen, because it turns out that movie just decided to borrow the third act of this movie to wrap up their film.  And that's not the only similarity.  Women change hair color, folks are on the run for reasons that are maybe not entirely their fault.  And neither has a satisfactory conclusion.

But, of course, I was well into the film before the thought of similarities crossed my mind, because there is quite a bit different.  

Cornel Wilde plays a probation officer who is put in charge of a woman just released for a murder charge.  It's widely believe she took the murder rap to cover for a fella who has lived as a smooth gambler and shady guy.  Don't you know it, she's a dish, a bit hardboiled, and morally ambiguous.  

Wilde puts her up in his own home to keep her away from the guy, and begins to fall for her.  And, as luck would have it, she realizes she's falling for him.  Though it's against her parole, the two marry.  But that shady guy is about to call the cops and tell them what his ex is up to when she appears, they struggle and a gun goes off.  

Soon, she and Wilde are on the lam as he refuses to give her up and let her go back to prison.  It's a hell of a decision and what takes the film in an exciting direction.

Like a lot of these films, before they figured out they needed to bring them in for a smoother landing to appease the Breen Office, this one clearly was headed in a darker direction.  Prior to studio interference, this was headed for a Gun Crazy ending that feels the inevitable from the mounting tensions of the film. But studio chiefs demand a happy ending for their star players, and it veers into some law-and-order friendly nonsense.   The ending is both too clever for its own good and utterly unsatisfactory.

All in all, it's an entertaining and tense film, it just pivots way too hard in the last ten minutes into a different, cheesier film from Sam Fuller's intended story.  But I think Patricia Knight is a compelling co-lead, and seeing Wilde's descent is good stuff.

This is a Douglas Sirk film, but it's not what I tend to think of as Sirk.  The gorgeous palette is instead lovely black and white, and it's not a female-driven melodrama.  This is pretty well in the wheel house of what would come to be known as noir, with desperate runs for the border, guys making insane decisions for a woman, and misfired guns.  It's very well directed and never feels like less than an A picture, if not a big budget one.  It's ten years after he fled from Germany, and a few films into his American career, but six years prior to All That Heaven Allows.  

I mean, she just looks like noir

I haven't seen all that many Cornel Wilde films, but I like him.  He seems to be doing more than indicating and I buy him in every scene.  His then-wife Patricia Knight is also, honestly, pretty solid in this film, at least as much so as actors who had lengthy careers.  I'm assuming she had some baggage or was an issue in some way I don't know about, because she's great on camera/ gorgeous.  But, she was in like 10 things and then disappeared shortly after splitting from Wilde.*

It's hard to say which I like batter between this and Tomorrow is Another Day.  I guess it's even-steven for me.  Just two takes on same in their own way.  And both would have been better if they'd not let everyone off the hook in the final reel.

*Wilde had tried to leverage his stardom to get Knight into movies before their divorce, to no avail, so we have to assume there was something else at play, not that he got her blackballed

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Jean Hagen at 100

Today marks the 100th birthday for actress Jean Hagen.  She passed in 1977 at only 54.  

Hagen is best known for her role as Lina Lamont in Singin' In the Rain, but she worked in radio before moving to movies and, eventually, television - co-starring in the early hit, Make Room for Daddy with Danny Thomas.

While esophageal cancer would take her life, Hagen was an alcoholic, and it derailed her professionally as well as very personally.  However, after she became gravely ill in 1968, falling into a coma, she managed to stay sober for the remaining years of her life.

Hagen left her mark on the films I've seen her in, and is often a highlight, even in something like Asphalt Jungle where she's one of a dozen memorable performances.  Personally, I think what she was doing was ahead of its time - or maybe would have been best served on the stage in grittier work.  But she also clearly had a knack for comedy - which she managed to parlay into television and numerous other projects.  

But seeing she's in The Big Knife, I really need to get ahold of that movie and watch it through, and I think I will try to for Hagen's centennial.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Mattel Watch: Barbie (2023)

I should start by saying:  I really liked Barbie (2023).  But I am not going to write about everything in this movie.  It's too big.

Our lives have been busy lately and so it was hard to find a minute to go see a movie at all, and right now there's a crazy amount of options, any of which I was equally excited to check out.  But Barbie was something I personally wanted to see heading into the summer, mostly because we live in a fascinating era of massive budgets and writer/directors with excellent credentials being handed the reigns to "franchise" pictures.  Giving Greta Gerwig access to the untouchable Barbie empire seemed bonkers.*

I can make neither heads nor tails of a Mission: Impossible film not meeting expectations at the box office.  I have no idea why people show up for a movie in a world where there's another @#$%ing Troll dolls movie about to hit - that will surely make the GDP of a small country.  But I guess we were ready for Barbie when the movie came, because it's currently at $580 million after a couple of weeks.  Go, Barb!

The movie stars the omnipresent Margot Robbie, and that's a good thing.  She's a talented actor, charismatic and fits the bill, physically, for what's needed here.  She's nailed complicated stuff since I first saw her in Wolf of Wall Street, and I generally think she's just really a star in the best sense.  She's paired with Ryan Gosling, who is just weirdly really good, always underplaying to amazing effect.  I can only imagine what Ken was like in other hands, but as Ken Prime, he's terrific.  But so is everyone.  Issa Rae is just a @#$%ing delight, America.  Oh, and America Ferrera!  Lovely.  Terrific!  

Monday, July 31, 2023

Paul Reubens Merges With the Infinite

Man, this is some sad news I did not expect at all.

Paul Reubens, better known as Pee-Wee Herman, has passed at the age of 70.

Reubens was a member of The Groundlings and became part of the class of breakout stars of his era, alongside Cassandra Peterson and others.  

Reubens created the unique and beloved character of Pee-Wee Herman, a persona who wound up in TV specials, movies, and the excellent Pee-Wee's Playhouse - one of the best things ever on Saturday mornings.  He's responsible for Tim Burton's early big screen success, and co-starred with everyone from Laurence Fishburne to Lynn-Marie Stewart and John Paragon on the Saturday morning show.  

Pee-Wee's run was cut short in the 1990's, but he returned in the age of social media, releasing a final movie, Pee-Wee's Big Holiday, that was as funny as anything he'd done, and maybe freer?

What has surprised me most about Pee-Wee over the years has been that the movies, specials, etc.. get *funnier*.  My first viewing of Pee-Wee Herman content was in elementary school, and every time I watch one of his movies or review clips of any of his work, it doesn't just hold up, it shines a little brighter.  

Reubens also appeared in numerous other projects, playing a wide range of characters.  He's great in Mystery Men, 1991's Blow, and he got the biggest laugh of the movie from me in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  

On social media, he was very plugged into the same sort of cheerful "look at this weirdo thing" stuff I tend to want to forward to Jamie, all of it in fun.  Lots of retro, lots of outlandish goofiness.  The kind of stuff that would look at home beside Mr. T cereal and pterodactyl puppets.

We'll miss Paul Reubens, and we'll miss Pee-Wee Herman.  Taken way too soon.

Happy Birthday, Arnie

Yesterday was the 76th birthday of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I don't know if Arnold is necessarily having a moment right now - he has two top-rated shows on Netflix - so much as Arnie is always having a moment of some sort.  And, here in his 70's, he's taking stock of his life and telling his story.  And, during covid, he became much more active on social media and online, and Arnold being Arnold, is turning that into something.

Arnie has always been an easy mark.  Muscle-bound, never the world's best actor, and with an accent he was never going to shake, his place in Hollywood was always strange, even as audiences lined up for whatever movie he was in, action or comedy (or both).  It made it easy to forget - he was born in the wake of WWII in a defeated Austria, became a bodybuilding champion on a few continents before winning the world/ Mr. Universe.  He made his way into real-estate and movies, and wound up somehow marrying a Kennedy.  Somehow, he found his way to the Governor's mansion in California, and wound up doing a good job.  He's an American success story if ever there was one.

Lately he's been working on Arnold's Pump Club, a fitness app and podcast.  And he's got a newsletter that's... really great?  I mean, it is.  Full of sound advice for taking care of yourself and with a convincing level of positive energy that feels oddly authentic in an era of mangled therapy-speak.  

Poor Jamie has to hear about Imaginary Uncle Arnold now, just as I made her go see Eraser when we started dating.  

Anyway, I did not see myself still caring about Arnold Schwarzenegger here in 2023.  But here we are.  Good ol' Uncle Arnie.