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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Past Lives (2023)

A Korean immigrant (Greta Lee) now lives in New York and is a budding playwright. Through the internet, she reconnects with a childhood friend (Teo Yoo), still living in South Korea. They haven't seen each other since they were 12 years old. Their lives are so different that despite their attachment, she suggests they take a break from communicating with each other. Jump 12 years later. Written and directed by playwright Celine Song in her film directorial debut. This lovely simple film is a small treasure. Song's fluid direction is near remarkable for someone who's never directed a movie before. Her nuanced screenplay is full of surprises, you might think you know where it's going to go but Song keeps you on your toes. The three main performances (John Magaro as Lee's husband is the third protagonist) are wonderful with Greta Lee especially notable. Last week, I registered my disappointment with David Lean's stodgy BRIEF ENCOUNTER. Now this is a romantic drama that had me riveted! Well worth seeking it out.

Friday, September 29, 2023

The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)

An irate but very wealthy father (Eugene Pallette) objects to his daughter (Bette Davis) marrying a publicity seeking musician (Jack Carson) she's only known four days. When she announces she's eloping with the groom immediately in spite of her father's objections, the father hires a freight pilot (James Cagney) to kidnap her and fly her to Texas where he'll be paid $1,150 (the exact amount of the pilot's final payment on his plane). But when the plane crashes in the desert, events take a surprising turn. Directed by William Keighley (MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER), this is a riff (some might say rip off) on IT HAPPENED ON NIGHT. One doesn't think of Cagney and Davis as screwball comedy material but they do quite well and I enjoyed the movie very much. Sure, it's not the most original material (Davis wasn't fond of the movie) but director Keighley keeps a quick pace and his two leads rattle off their quips at a machine gun gallop (not to mention major star presence). The film wasn't popular with critics but audiences liked it enough to make it a hit at the box office. With Stuart Erwin, Harry Davenport, George Tobias and William Frawley.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1984)

When a vain and evil Queen (Vanessa Redgrave) is told by her mirror (Vincent Price) on the wall that she is no longer the most beautiful woman in her kingdom but that her stepdaughter (Elizabeth McGovern) is, she orders her huntsman (Michael Preston) to take her deep into the woods and kill her. Based on the 1812 fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm and directed by Peter Medak (THE RULING CLASS). Originally shown as part of the Showtime series FAERIE TALE THEATRE, this oft filmed fairy tale (the most notable being the 1937 animated Disney version) gets a fresh twist. There's an impudent sense of humor prevailing throughout. It's not to be taken too seriously yet the cast (who seem to be having a good time) don't condescend to the material either. Indeed, Vanessa Redgrave as the wicked Queen gives a delicious performance as both the haughty Queen and the old witch without camping it up. With Rex Smith as Prince Charming, Shelley Duvall as Snow White's mother and as the seven dwarfs: Lou Cary, Tony Cox, Billy Curtis, Phil Fondacaro, Daniel Frishman, Peter Risch and Kevin Thompson.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Frankie And Johnny (1966)

A performer (Elvis Presley) on a Mississippi riverboat is addicted to gambling which infuriates his girlfriend (Donna Douglas) because he constantly loses. But things get worse when a beautiful redhead (Nancy Kovack) enters the picture. She brings him luck at the gambling tables. Directed by Frederick De Cordova (BEDTIME FOR BONZO), this is one of Presley's weaker vehicles though far from his worst. The thin plot is saddled with a bunch of mediocre songs (11 of them) and the acting is too broad, even for Elvis movies standards. After several films in the late fifties and very early sixties that pushed his acting ability and showed promise, Presley (no doubt at the behest of his mentor Colonel Parker) settled for lightweight mindless and formulaic musicals. Most of them were money making hits and satisfied his fans but as cinema, they were zeroes. As a production number, the movie makes a mess of the title song. Check out MEET ME IN LAS VEGAS (1956) to see it done properly as a production number. For Presley fans only. With Harry Morgan, Audrey Christie, Sue Ane Langdon, Anthony Eisley and Joyce Jameson.

Father's Little Dividend (1951)

Having gone through the tribulations of a big wedding for his daughter (Elizabeth Taylor), a father (Spencer Tracy) is looking forward to some peace and quiet and perhaps a vacation with his wife (Joan Bennett). But when the daughter announces she's going to have a baby, the hysteria begins all over again! A sequel to the hit film FATHER OF THE BRIDE which came out the previous year and again directed by Vincente Minnelli (MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS). As sequels go, this one isn't bad at all but still not as good as the first movie. Expecting mothers just aren't as interesting as brides. Tracy received an Oscar nomination for the first film and he's in top form here. His frustration and slow burns are cooked to perfection! Audiences lapped it up and the sequel was a huge success. The cast from the first edition returns: Don Taylor, Billie Burke, Russ Tamblyn, Moroni Olsen and Marietta Canty.

Cold Heaven (1991)

A young wife (Theresa Russell) plans on leaving her doctor husband (Mark Harmon) for her lover (James Russo). But a serious boating accident in Mexico leaves him dead. When his body goes missing from the morgue, the question arises ..... is he dead? Based on the novel by Brian Moore (LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE) and directed by Nicolas Roeg (WALKABOUT). Although there's a supernatural atmosphere not unlike Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW (1973) and for awhile, you think he might be headed in that direction, it has a religious bent to it. It's as if Roeg had become a born again Christian and wanted to share his newfound faith. The film's finale is right out of 1940s Hollywood but the movie lacks the sincerity of a simpler religious film like THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943) (both Jennifer Jones and Theresa Russell have visions of the Virgin Mary). I have to confess that it did hold my interest until that wonky ending. With Talia Shire, Richard Bradford, Julie Carmen, Will Patton, Seymour Cassel and Diana Douglas.

Stop The World I Want To Get Off! (1966)

Set against a circus backdrop, the musical follows an average bloke called Littlechap (Tony Tanner) as he climbs the ladder to success starting with marrying the boss's daughter (Millicent Martin). Based on the hit musical by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse and directed by Philip Saville (BEST HOUSE IN LONDON). The film makes some inexplicable changes to the stage musical (like making the German mistress in the play to a Japanese mistress for the film version) but on the whole is faithful to the original source material. It was filmed both on a Pinewood soundstage and in front of a live audience in London's West End. Anthony Newley created the role of Littlechap in both the London and Broadway productions and is replaced here by Tony Tanner who took over for him in the London cast. Unfortunately, Tanner doesn't have much of a stage presence or Newley's distinct vocal delivery as both singer and actor. Why Newley didn't do the movie is a mystery. If you dislike mimes as much as I do, much of the staging is intolerable. It's not really a movie but filmed theatre and doesn't translate well to cinema. What saves the film is the excellent score including such songs as What Kind Of Fool Am I?, Gonna Build A Mountain and Once In A Lifetime. With Leila Croft, Valerie Croft and Neil Hawley.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Loose Ankles (1930)

A young heiress (Loretta Young) inherits a large sum of money from her grandmother but there's a stipulation in the will. She will get the money only after she marries pending the approval of her two prudish spinster aunts (Louise Fazenda, Ethel Wales). Furious at not being able to marry who she pleases, she intends to create a scandal by hiring a gigolo (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) to compromise her. Based on the play by Sam Janney and directed by Ted Wilde (an Oscar nominee for SPEEDY). This being a pre-code film, Loretta Young is livelier than usual and dare I say it ... sexy! As far as pre-code comedies go, this one is rather tame. The comedic highlight of the movie is when the spinster aunts (Fazenda, Wales) go to a prohibition speakeasy in the company of two gigolos (Edward Nugent, Norman Selby) and get drunk on "punch". This was a remake of the 1926 silent film LADIES AT PLAY with Louise Fazenda recreating her spinster aunt role here. Maybe not the best example of pre code comedy but it moves along quickly. With Inez Courtney and Raymond Keane. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

Carousel (2013)

A carousel barker (Nathan Gunn) romances a millworker (Kelli O'Hara) at the cost of both their jobs. Married and without work and a baby on the way, he decides to join a friend Shuler Hensley) in a robbery in order to get some money. Based the 1945 musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein (by way of the 1909 play LILIOM by Ferenc Molnar) and directed by Glenn Weiss. While there's no denying that the Rodgers & Hammerstein score is one of the most beautiful ever written for the Broadway theatre, I've never been fond of its problematic book. Today, one has to overlook its backward viewpoint on domestic violence to enjoy it but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The performers are all around excellent, both as singers and actors and it's nice to have a complete representation of the original Broadway show (the 1956 film, good in its own way, isn't it). Accompanied by the full force of the New York Philharmonic conducted by Rob Fisher, you couldn't ask for a better production musically. Warren Carlyle stays faithful to the original Agnes DeMille choreography. With fine supporting work from Jessie Mueller, Jason Danieley, Stephanie Blythe, Kate Burton and John Cullum. 

Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Devil's Brigade (1968)

A Lieutenant Colonel (William Holden) has the daunting task of melding a renegade group of American and Canadian recruits into a crack team of commando warriors. Based on the novel by Rober H. Adleman and Col. George Walton (a member of the original Devil's Brigade) and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen (SHENANDOAH). Based on the creation of the 1st Special Service Force, a joint American-Canadian commando unit (it's Hollywood, so it's historically inaccurate). The effort seems like two different movies. The first half which I found terrible is a by the numbers story of misfits (the Americans) and a disciplined troop of soldiers (the Canadians) fighting each other before coming together as a team. It's crammed with ghastly cliches and dialogue. The second half which is set in Italy is much better. It's an exciting story of soldiers overcoming the impossible odds and taking over key strongholds from the Germans. The film came out shortly after the similar themed THE DIRTY DOZEN which was a big hit, so it suffered at the box office as an also ran. The massive cast includes Cliff Robertson, Vince Edwards, Dana Andrews, Michael Rennie, Carroll O'Connor, Richard Jaeckel, Patrick Knowles, James Craig, Richard Dawson, Jeremy Slate, Claude Akins, Gretchen Wyler and Alix Talton.