Friday, July 3, 2020
Format: TCM on DVR
Director: Gregory La Cava
This movie got a scad of Oscar nominations and was very big upon its release. It's a comedy about class, wealth, those who have money and those who don't in a contemporary picture released in the thick of the Great Depression.
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Format: TCM on DVR
Director: William Wyler
Y'all should know by now I like me some Bette Davis, and one of her early-career films you hear name-dropped a bit is Jezebel (1938). In all honesty, all I knew about the movie before hitting Play was that it starred Davis, was a period piece of some sort, a melodrama of some sort, and featured cinematography was by Ernest Haller. I figured on a big studio budget as Davis was, by 1938, a force. But I didn't think much else about the production.
Given the year, I assume this was Warner Bros. pre-emptive answer to Gone With the Wind, which would arrive soon after and took so long in all phases of production, Warner Bros. had an opportunity to catch up and did so by adapting a screenplay with very similar themes. Maybe I'm wrong, but the parallels of a romance about a spitfire of a girl in the antebellum south longing after a man she can't have and playing with a bit of a cad and it all ending badly has a certain echo to it.
Sunday, April 12, 2020
Format: TCM on DVR
Viewing: Ha ha ha ha
Director: Victor Fleming
It's hard to think of a film more universal in the American imagination than The Wizard of Oz (1939). Watching the film is as much a right of passage as Kindergarten, organized sports or name-your-item for a good chunk of America, and has been for 80 years.
We refer to it in popular culture and literature, make allusion to the film (for surely the books would now be mostly forgotten without the movie) as often as Biblical reference, Superman, and, maybe Star Wars. It's weirdly universal for a fantasy movie about a girl who has no idea what's going on, her three goofy friends and a witch who just wants a new pair of shoes. The songs are all familiar as Christmas carols. People on the street will automatically know Dorothy, rainbows, little dogs, tin men, flying monkeys...
And the weird thing is how the movie really doesn't get old. And it holds up.
It's a technical marvel, and even in 2020 and an era with CG and everything in color, that door opening on Oz still works. It doesn't matter how many times you've seen it. Flying monkeys remain flying monkeys, and Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West remains a revelation. As is Frank Morgan in about 20 different roles.
But the kaleidoscope vision of the movie, the dialog that has become part of the American venacular (ex: "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain", "we're not in Kansas anymore", "and your little dog, too!"), is just now part and parcel of how we've taken the movie in and refract it back out onto the world. Similar stories may get lots of nods - Alice in Wonderland, for example - but it's hard to say the movie is more popular than the book, and perhaps it's Englishness and sheer nonsense has kept it from having exactly the same impact. As familiar a film as Gone with the Wind has aged(... poorly) it's simply not considered something everyone should have to see at least once. Star Wars stands a chance of retaining the same level of cultural integration if Disney doesn't accidentally kill the golden goose and gives it another 40 years.
I have seen the movie run up against Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and it is pretty crazy. But I really do think it's a coincidence. And, of course, we can endlessly debate whether or not Baum meant the story as an allegory for the Gold Standard v Silver Standard v Greenbacks that the liberty the studios took with the story kind of annihilates. Still: Flying monkeys!
Anyway, it's The Wizard of Oz, and it's a sort of singular thing that is, really, everyone's favorite movie about hallucinations induced by head trauma. But I will fight anyone who says anything negative about this movie.
Sunday, December 29, 2019
Format: Criterion Channel
Look, it's possible Bette Davis is one of 5 or so finest actors to have graced the screen, at least in Hollywood films. Yeah, she is "of the era" on some things, but - man, even in not-great films she's a power house, and then in something that plays to her range and strengths?
Thursday, December 26, 2019
Format: BluRay (Warner Archive)
I finally got around to watching my new Thin Man (1934) bluray from Warner Archive. I won't talk about the movie's plot, because I've done that a few times. Also, it's one of the most famous movies that ever was, so if you don't know about it or haven't seen it - well, you're bad at movies. No, I'm not kidding or taking that back.
So why did I buy this movie? Again? Well, I'd heard the transfer and restoration were really good - and even if you enjoy the hell out of The Thin Man, sometimes the print or transfer could look a bit rough. The movie is 85 years old. That's gonna happen. But, dang, this BluRay looked phenomenal. And who doesn't want to see Myrna Loy kinda glow even more? See her in even more detail?
We could or should have easily covered this movie for our "Holiday Adjacent" podcasts, but did not. Maybe next year? It'd be fun to talk about this movie for a long time while Day Drinking.
Saturday, November 2, 2019
Watched: F - 10/30/2019, BoF - 10/31/2019
Viewing: Ha ha ha...
Every Halloween I now watch both of these films. They're literally two of my favorite movies - the sort of which I'd include if there was a Signal Watch Five Film Marathon in which to partake.
Next year we're scheduled to talk about them during Halloween, so I want to hold off til then to say much more - and I have plenty of prior posts on these two films.
Here's to James Whale and Gods and Monsters.
Saturday, October 19, 2019
It's been years since I watched James Whale's Universal Monsters classic The Invisible Man (1933), but it's not because I don't like the film, I just don't always make time for it the way I do Dracula and the Frankenstein films.
James Whale most famously directed Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) with The Old Dark House (1932) released prior to this entry. I'm unsure if most folks know the impact of Whale on horror, even if they've seen the terrific Gods and Monsters, but he, Tod Browning and a few others were busily defining a genre for decades to come, interleaving their horror work with more traditional films.
Tuesday, September 3, 2019
Format: TCM on DVR
This is, apparently, the second version of the same story. Just this weekend Jamie and I were discussing reboots and relaunches, and I made some noise about "well, they've always remade popular stuff" and this is a pretty good example. The first version of The Dawn Patrol from 1930, I have not seen. This remake comes from just eight years later with a shift in casting as Elynn, Niven and Rathbone step in front of the lens.
The Dawn Patrol has curious timing - released in 1938 as the US was watching Germany roll over Europe. It's an anti-war film, and I found the Wikipedia entry on the film a bit odd, shrugging it's shoulders and saying they were romanticizing combat aviation because of high numbers of deaths, etc... that were part of the genre but gave it kudos for showing the scars of the commanders sending out the untrained pilots.
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Format: Alamo S. Lamar
Say what you will about Austin, but I just got home from a Tuesday 9:30 PM showing of a 1933 horror movie almost no one has seen who is currently alive, and the place was hopping. I know this is true in other cities, but this one is mine.
For whatever reason I enjoy what the studios were up to with horror in the pre-Atomic Age films, a mix of the occult, mythical beasts, ghost stories and sometimes just creepy old houses with a Boris Karloff in them. Supernatural (1933) would have come out on the heels of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) in the era where not just Universal, but other studios, were getting in on the horror genre and the Hayes office wasn't yet really enforcing any codes.
Sunday, June 30, 2019
Format: TCM on DVR
Well, this was a bit of fun.
The Marx. Bros had been in Hollywood a full decade by the time (Marx Bros.) At the Circus (1939) was released. It''s basically not all that different from A Night at the Opera or other Marx Bros. outings, at least in format. There's a Groucho song, Harpo plays the harp, Margaret Dumont (bless her) plays the wealthy dowager. There's a couple in love who have a song or two that would have gone to Zeppo and someone else back in the day. And an antagonist in need of a good come-uppance.
But if you're watching ta Marx Bros. film for structure or plot, something has gone terribly wrong.
All in all, the circus is a terrific setting for the Marx Bros, animals and acrobats and all, setting up an ideal finale under the big top. There's stunts and great visual gags, a flying Margaret Dumont, and a gorilla. How can you not like it?
It doesn't hit the levels of absurdity that Duck Soup reaches, but nothing does.
One thing I find curious about the Marx Bros. movies is that some, such as this one, contain scenes with all-Black casts plus a Marx Bros or three. It's not unheard of for this in other movies, but clearly they were trying to bring people to the screen who weren't always there. You always cringe a little when you're not sure we're not going to wind up in Blackface (they do in at least one picture), but not here.
The movie also has a terrific scene with Groucho and a very young Eve Arden that now has one of my favorite "breaking the fourth wall" moments in a movie as he bemoans how he doesn't know how to do the scene without trouble from the Hayes Office.
Anyway - we were going back and forth about what makes comedy work, what makes it feel like a movie versus comic actors just doing their thing as the camera rolls, and I'd argue, come back to a Marx Bros movie for what's possible on the screen.
Saturday, June 29, 2019
Format: TCM on DVR
Viewing: 4th or 5th
Flat out, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is one of the most influential and best adventure films ever made.
Everything that came before it led up to it, and everything after stands in its shadow. If you think superhero movies pitting quippy rogues in brightly colored outfits standing up against despotic thugs grasping for power is a new thing, my friend, have I got a movie for you.
Even by modern standards the film is a marvel - maybe especially so. There's no wires, no wire removal, no CGI versions of Errol Flynn leaping onto a horse with his hands tied behind his back. That's just dudes in tights doing some crazy stunts for your entertainment. And it's far from just Flynn - it's an army of actors and performers jumping out of trees, swinging on ropes, and buckling swashes. The pacing is rapid, especially for 1938, and sets the standard for today's adventure movies, but the dialog is 95% better than most films of its type - intentionally cheesy in many parts, lots of "look, we're pretending to be Ye Olde British People", but - at its heart - the movie will always resonate, as will the story of Robin Hood, of standing up for a nation and all people over the avarice and cruelty of those who would crush others to live with more than they can ever use.
As you can guess, the silent era figured out that you could get in audiences with wild stunts - actions speaking louder than title cards, after all. Douglas Fairbanks was one the great stars of the era, his Zorro and other characters bouncing all over the screen, jumping off and on horses, swinging from anything that could bear their weight. It's a hell of a thing to watch, and still absolutely thrilling. 1938 is only a decade into the sound era, and here you can see that the language of sound film has found its form. Add in the fact this is in technicolor, popping off the screen, and that Flynn is the definition of "handsome fellow", and it's a movie that takes advantage of everything it's got.
One of those things is Olivia deHaviland, who plays the role of the Maid Marian. This Marian isn't already charmed by the rogue-ish Robin, but is won over by realizing his true loyalty to England, the same which he's inspired in his men, and how he is true to his mission. He's not just robbing to gather a ransom to free his King, he's also caring for the injured and battered who can't fight alongside him. She has her moments of action within the confines of the story and era, and while she'll be given a side-eye perhaps by modern audiences, man, for the time, it's a cheeky role.
We also get Claude Rains as Prince John (just perfectly foppish), Basil Rathbone as utter dirtbag Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and the always wonderful Una O'Connor as Bess - Maid Marian's lady in waiting. And, of course, dozens more.
If you've never seen the movie, I can't recommend it enough. It'll genuinely make you wonder why, between this and the Disney version, the past thirty years we've been handed somber, depressing versions of the story. Part of the joy of the movie is Robin Hood's joy and good humor in the face of danger. He's not an anti-hero out for vengeance, he's a hero in search of justice. And Maid Marian.
So get ready for sword battles, archery, skullduggery and men in tights leaping from trees.
I give it five thumbs up.
Monday, October 29, 2018
Sunday, October 28, 2018
Viewing: Unknown. well into double digits
I'm a Frankenstein fan. Maybe not as much as other people, and I got a late start. I didn't watch the movie until 1997 when I rented it during a blitz into Universal's horror offerings that, if you know me a little, you know had a deep impact that resonates to this day.
Growing up in the wake of the 70's monster-craze, the Frankenstein monster's image was everywhere, from kid's cartoons (including the Flintstones for some reason), but I don't remember ever seeing Frankenstein offered on TV, nor do I remember tapes available at the local video store. Austin and Houston didn't have latenight monster movie hosts, so... the availability was pretty low.
So, yeah, I rented it from the I Love Video near my apartment and gave the 1930's movie a spin, genuinely concerned that after all the hype, I might not like it (I'd seen Dracula in high school at a local cinema, but that's a different story). While the movie only borrowed from the book, the movie was so much it's own thing, and so weird and creepy and heart breaking, what wouldn't I like about it?
I've written plenty on this movie, and every time I watch it, I'm stunned by the storytelling, the design of sets, creature and sound. It "transports" me, and I genuinely find the movie electric, so to speak. There's so much to love in Whale's picture.
I won't belabor it all here - this is a checkmark on my 2018 Halloween movie watching, and I'm on to The Bride of.
Thursday, September 6, 2018
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Saturday, August 4, 2018
Format: TCM on DVR
Well, it's not often that even the most telegraphed of movies puts the twist finale in the title of the movie, but with Double Wedding (1937), we have the equivalent of "He Was a Ghost the Whole Time: The Movie".
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
After completing the two Maigret mystery movies, I decided to check out some actual Inspector Maigret novels. Not as big of a deal here in the states, but in Europe, they appear to be quite popular. I found a set on deep discount and after waiting for a month for them to make their way from a shop in the UK to my doorstep (amazing world we live in, what one mouse click sets in motion), I got to crack the set for my plane ride to San Jose.
After reading Hammett and Chandler, it seemed fair to see what was going on with mystery books across the ocean.
Georges Simenon was a Belgian writing in French about a Parisian detective circa 1930 when this book appeared. I am unclear when the translation occurred or how much was changed in meaning - I would expect that after 80 years, everyone is satisfied with what's on the page. It seems reasonable to trust Penguin to do right by these books.
Friday, October 6, 2017
I didn't mean to watch all of The Mummy (1932), but as so often happens, I did.
This Universal monster movie was one that, the first time I watched it, I loved the first ten minutes and then felt waning interest in everything but Zita Johann. But, the past two or three times I've given those first few minutes a shot (because I love the opening), I've really changed my tune. And, in fact, have to retract initial statements made about dull camera-work in comparison to the grand, gothic guignol of Dracula or the surrealist landscapes of the first three Frankenstein films.
The lighting, sets, and FX employed are far more deft than I'd originally wanted to give credit, and leave you in a murky place where you know Bey is employing mystical shenanigans, but it's hard to put a finger on what and how. Add in Karloff's performance, as well as that of Johann, and you've got something that's been aped more in vampire movies than anywhere else the past 85 years.
Karloff is actually terrific as Imhotep/ Ardath Bey, and the overall effect of the picture is not so much horrifying as it is eerie and uncanny. Unraveling the machinations of what he's up to (ripped off for the past thirty or forty years of Dracula movies), and it's good stuff.
Weirdly, TCM rated the movie TV-14, and for the life of me, I have no idea why. This is one I'd watch with a kid aged 10 or up. There's no blood, minimal on-screen violence, a lack of nudity or sexual innuendo... But Mummies are scary, I guess.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Everyone has the idea of the 1930's big, splashy movie musical in their head thanks to clips used in other movies and television, and I'd argue that Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) is the platonic ideal of this sort of film. I really don't know much about what was going on at the real Ziegfield Follies or on Broadway in the 1930's, but it seems that what Hollywood was doing at this point was bringing over the basic template of fluffy stories about two young lovers trying to make it work as the excuse for a lot of song and dance. But with the ability to put the camera wherever they wanted, visionaries like Busby Berkeley would redefine what audiences could expect in regards to cinematic spectacle.
Produced at Warner Bros. (I know, I had to triple check it wasn't from MGM), the movie stars a lot of those names you hear about from Hollywood's Golden Age, but who I haven't seen in that many movies. Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler... and certainly other players who were the "that guy" actors of their day.
All in all, the movie is a bit of fun and nothing too challenging to the audience, storywise. Light comedy interspersed with those unbelievable visuals of dozens of dancers creating geometric patterns or almost surreal visuals (20 cops on rollerskates chasing a baby).