TopBilled

TopBilled’s Essentials

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'Mystery Street' ...directed by John Sturges! Wow. That says it all. His early filmography constantly surprises.

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February Focus: Romance Stories

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Special Kinds of Love. I will review a teen romance, a British romance, an adapted romance and a period romance.

FIRST LOVE (1939)
BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945)
ABOUT MRS. LESLIE (1954)
MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE (1990)

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Mighty ambitious! Whew! Is this in consideration of cupid's arrow? Will there be any scintillating personal perspectives? Venturing out onto a shaky branch? '16' and Tiger Beat readers await...

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'Brief Encounter' I must say was a film that had me shaking to my core. Sublime in cinema. I will explain once you get to it...the others, I do not recognize...

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21 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

'Brief Encounter' I must say was a film that had me shaking to my core. Sublime in cinema. I will explain once you get to it...the others, I do not recognize...

Great. I'm looking forward to it!

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There is no worse crime that the information age hath wrought than the slaughter of romance. All the information in the world is not worth an ounce of innocence or imagination.

I suspect that as this roseate episode gets underway you shall see yours truly spouting off on such airs.

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Since no one else has stepped forward to say, I will. That 'Mystery Street' summary was top notch in terms of readability. Appealing to laymen and aficionados alike. Pretty rare on the internet these days. Rare phenomenon.

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Have heard a lot about First Love with Miss Durban getting promoted by Universal for having her "first kiss" on screen. Still have not seen that one in its entirety or About Mrs. Leslie.

Of course, David Lean's Brief Encounter is a classic and I had already discussed it to death on other threads, particularly in comparison and contrast to the director's follow-up of the next decade, Summertime (a.k.a. Summer Madness). Both films inspired many others to come like the gay-male "version-of-sorts" Weekend which director Andrew Haigh also ends at a train station. Like Brief Encounter, it is set in England and not Italy, but like Hepburn in Summertime, Chris New's Glen does the breaking up and goes to America. However the twist is that he does NOT want a boyfriend OR "marriage", while Hepburn doesn't think it is right romancing a married man and Ceclia Johnson is so ashamed of her romance because she is married. The guys in the later film are not so much ashamed as they are discrete, due to the fact that everybody in their sphere is heterosexual... and the scene of them at the station gets jeers from a disapproving audience, something Celia's Laura is particularly fearful of. Glen has a new career opportunity much like Trevor Howard's medical advancement in South Africa. As they say, the more seemingly different individual movies seem on the surface, the more they remain the same.

Both Howard's End and Mr. And Mrs. Bridge are my favorite Merchant-Ivory productions. Sat through both at least four times or so.

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Ugh. Must divert from you here jlewis. Matter of personal taste. I couldnt abide 'Howard's End', 'Maurice', or (by way of expanding) 'A Room with a View' or any film starring Helena Bonham-Carter. Thank heaven TB is not reviewing 'Howard's End' or any of these other ilk!

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12 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Ugh. Must divert from you here jlewis. Matter of personal taste. I couldnt abide 'Howard's End', 'Maurice', or (by way of expanding) 'A Room with a View' or any film starring Helena Bonham-Carter. Thank heaven TB is not reviewing 'Howard's End' or any of these other ilk!

I did not like her in The King's Speech, one of a multitude of over rated Best Picture Oscar winners. I did enjoy her in Howard's End even though Emma Thompson obviously was better. I am much impressed by both Thompson and Anthony Hopkins pulling it off successfully in two films made fairly close together, that one and The Remains Of The Day (which may not be as good, but it is still quite good). This contrasts with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere whose Runaway Bride was a bit of a let-down years after the still excellent (despite its age) Pretty Woman

I kinda enjoy A Room With A View even if the male nudie bathing scene is downright silly and unnecessary. (Yet keep in mind that there was virtually none of THAT on screen outside of porn in the 1980s.) I have watched that film a few times and enjoy parts of it, but it is too talky for its own good.

One could argue that Brief Encounter is all talk and no action as well (and Celia's Laura is so stressed out about being "found out" that she can't really get all that romantic), but I tend to view it on the same plain as I do  When Harry Met Sally, which only had one bedroom scene and the whole point of that was Billy Crystal not being as gung-ho about it as he thought he would be. Both movies prove that The Physical Connection is sometimes less important than the Intellectual and Emotional Connections. Brief Encounter was made during a period with considerable censorship (and the outside of marriage "affair" was still testing waters here), but David Lean's later set-in-Venice companion piece Summertime had Kate and Rosanno getting away with more physical activity ("ooooh... Renato!", the fireworks and the red shoe shot implying quite a bit of activity OFF-screen).

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By the way, Sgt. Markoff, I have a feeling you won't "abide" to Mr. And Mrs. Bridge any more than you do the others, presuming you still haven't seen it. There isn't a whole lot of "story". Like the Lincoln Zephyr stuck in the garage in the final scene, the movie doesn't exactly... go anywhere. It sort of remains stuck in its tracks. Consider it more of a character study of a family during a certain time period: the years leading up to World War II before so much social change took place.

Paul Newman's Walter is outwardly stoic but... but... he supplies money to the oldest daughter so she can become a actress in New York, knows the man who weds his other daughter isn't right for her but doesn't stand in his way once he displays how persistent he is (and isn't too-too judgmental of her after she leaves him) and he is confident in his son Douglas (Robert Sean Leonard). Joanne Woodward's India literally "smothers" everybody to the point of exhaustion, especially with her adult children all eager to fly away from the nest. This is why Douglas refuses to acknowledge her at the Scouts ceremony (and Walter, who sees her grief, tries to compensate by showing her some awkward affection later).

Oh heck, here is a scene I found on YouTube. At least you can appreciate the performances here displayed in facial expressions alone:

 

However TopBilled will discuss that one in more detail later. Getting ahead of myself.

(Useless trivia: Robert Sean Leonard and Joanne Woodward's birthdays are on consecutive days. Like mother, like son.)

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Thanks JLewis. So, 'mr and mrs bridge' isnt even a classic movie? I'll have to skip TB's review entirely, then. Classics only for this native son!

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33 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Thanks JLewis. So, 'mr and mrs bridge' isnt even a classic movie? I'll have to skip TB's review entirely, then. Classics only for this native son!

It's quite a good film, though.

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10 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Thanks JLewis. So, 'mr and mrs bridge' isnt even a classic movie? I'll have to skip TB's review entirely, then. Classics only for this native son!

My, my, my... you are a stubborn one with stubborn opinions about what-makes-a-classic, ain't yah? 😁 There are plenty of critical darlings that make Sight & Sound's Top Ten that I can only stomach watching once, if at all. Mr. And Mrs. Bridge may not be Orson Welles' Magnificent Ambersons but you certainly won't suffer sitting through it.

I just watched Crazy Rich Asians and that one has even less of a "story" than this one, although it benefits from all of its picture postcard scenery, constant close-ups of food (reminding me of Green Fried Tomatoes, Babette's Feast, etc.) and the future mother-in-law of all mother-in-laws. The male love-interest who graces the front cover image and gets more screen time than practically anybody else is even duller than Cinderella's Prince, but I don't think he was cast because somebody thought he would be the next Daniel Day-Lewis. Instead, he and one other featured-but-forgettable male lead both have constant trouble keeping their shirts on.

Depending on your interest in pop culture references in movies, you might really like Mr. And Mrs. Bridge. The "times" are humorously and repeatedly referenced in regards to Paul Newman's Walter and his stuffy personality... and the way his wife just tags along with him. He literally snores when the family watches A Star Is Born in a theater (earliest scene is set in 1937) and it is especially interesting that this occurs during the famous trailer-gets-stuck scene foreshadowing the final scene when India gets stuck in the garage. He refuses to change the radio channel during Nelson Eddy's boring marching song on Chase & Sanborn, broadcast on NBC's Red network, so he and his wife can panic like everybody else who switched channels mid-hour to hear on CBS that Martians are landing in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. Walter does NOT follow what everybody else does and demands that his wife doesn't. When a tornado rocks the Kansas country club... and this is based on a historical event of April 14, 1939 although there are some liberties taken with time-frame here... he insists that they do not follow the others down to cellar and complains that the coffee is cold. He also does not wait around "to see what happens next" when war is declared while they are vacationing in Paris. We end the film on Valentine's Day, probably 1942 although it is hard to be certain since Douglas joined the military rather than waited to be drafted so it could just as well be 1941 many months before Pearl Harbor.

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I wasn't being that serious. Ha ha! You are entitled to be mule-headed.

It is interesting how we define "classics". When I was younger, I tended to take many movie reviews in "movie guide" books like Leonard Maltin's and Leslie Halliwell's seriously. As I got older, I realized that the movies I liked best were ones I could relate to rather than ones that pleased some high-brow being persnickety about how it compared on a technical level with others.

There was a series covering American history of the 20th century that was broadcast on ABC back in 1999 with then still living Peter Jennings. A common theme featured was that history is less about famous figures in power and the major wars, depressions and so forth and more about what everyday people were doing on a day by day basis. There were lots of vintage home movies shown in each episode interspersed with the newsreels and later TV broadcasts covering the major events.

This movie, which won't even be discussed for another three weeks, fits into that logic. It includes vintage black & white home movies of this family and also gives us a what-happened-next over the end credits. It is more about family relations, while the "events" referenced that are more national in scope are merely there to give you a time-frame.

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If I might chime in-- 

First, I love how we're already discussing MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE (1990) when I won't get to it till the end of the month. I was dismayed when TCM did a month-long tribute to Merchant-Ivory a few years ago and they chose almost all their films, except this one. I think it's the best film they made, which is saying a lot, since they made so many classics.

Second, all the wonderful comments by Jlewis suggests he might have written a better review than I have. Last night I completed a rough draft. Usually I let my reviews "sit" a few days, maybe a week, before I re-view them and polish them. I am being much more selective in my analysis, only focusing on a few key scenes...and also I am discussing the original source material. 

Third, there is so much that can be written and discussed about this particular film. Probably a whole graduate level thesis could be written about the acting alone, because it's a piece that contains a lot of excellent performances. A lot can be written about James Ivory's direction. And a lot can be written about how it captures the zeitgeist of the time it aims to depict.

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I myself know nothing about the source material for Mr. And Mrs. Bridge so all of that will be highly educational for me. Go ahead and do your review in your original way.

These discussions allow us each to view these movies with different sets of eyes. Obviously nobody but silly me would link Brief Encounter with Summertime and some-Brit-gay-dude-drama Weekend. (They do have eerily similar themes and all involve a permanent breakup at a train station.)

P.S. I just read up on Evan S. Connell just now. All new information for me. Apparently there were two separate books written about Mrs. and Mr.

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Essential: FIRST LOVE (1939)

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Part 1 of 2:

The pictures Deanna Durbin made at Universal are all special. Though the ones from the beginning of her career are probably the best. FIRST LOVE is a fantastic early vehicle for the actress. It borrows from Charles Perrault's classic fairy tale Cinderella, which means the audience is able to quickly see where the plot's headed. But with Deanna playing Cinderella, nobody's gong to complain.

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In addition to providing a basic romantic storyline, FIRST LOVE features musical numbers that showcase Deanna's vocal skill. More importantly, the script allows her to grow up on camera. She gets her first kiss in this movie, something the studio milked for a lot of publicity when it was originally released in late '39. The prince charming who kisses her is 20 year old Robert Stack in his motion picture debut.

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The story begins with a girl named Connie graduating from an all-girls finishing school. She's an orphaned teen who has no real family of her own. Seeing the other girls' parents at a commencement ceremony causes Connie to have a meltdown at the beginning. But with prodding from Miss Wiggins, a crotchety headmistress (Kathleen Howard), she pulls herself together. She agrees to go to New York City for the summer to spend time with her Uncle Jim (Eugene Pallette) and his family. The uncle had generously paid for her education. If things don't work out, then Miss Wiggins will find Connie a job teaching music at the school to new students in the fall.

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This is the basic scenario, and from here, things progress. The sequence where she arrives at the uncle's posh mansion presents her as a fish out of water, and it also introduces a unique set of supporting characters. Through the servants, we see how household activities are conducted. We learn how the uncle is perceived by his employees, and just as interestingly, how the uncle's wife and two bratty children are viewed.

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Connie does her best to get along with everyone, but she's seen as a nuisance and hanger-on by her female cousin Barbara (Helen Parrish), who's only a year older. Barbara's brother Walter (Lewis Howard) loafs around and seems to derive a sadistic pleasure from the way Barbara treats everyone, especially Connie. Meanwhile Aunt Grace (Leatrice Joy) is an airhead who's into astrology, and there are some good running gags with her. But I'd say the most interesting person at the mansion, aside from Connie, is the uncle. He goes out of his way to avoid his wife and kids, and he hides in the den most of the time when he's there.

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Connie's love interest isn't introduced until the end of the first act. Young Ted Drake (Stack's character) is initially presented as the intended love interest of Barbara. There is a mix-up when Barbara sends Connie to an equestrian club to stop Ted and other young society friends from riding off without her. Connie is almost run over by a horse, gets mud on her face and makes quite an impression. Barbara sends her home when she finally arrives, but Connie is now smitten.

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In true Cinderella fashion, there's to be a ball held at the Drake home the following week. Connie's invited as a courtesy, but of course nobody expects she will want to attend. But she does, as it means she will be able to see that handsome lad again. Soon the household staff has helped Connie come up with a beautiful dress, one that looks more exquisite than cousin Barbara's gown. When Barbara sees it, her jealousy takes hold, and she devises a plan to ensure that Connie stay home and miss the ball. Connie is crushed. She looks on despairingly as the others drive off without her.

Coming up: Fate intervenes...

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Part 2 of 2:

We know that Deanna Durbin's character will make it to the ball, because what's the point of the film if she doesn't go to the dance and get her first kiss. The household staff are upset by Barbara's schemes and determined to help Connie overcome this setback. While lamenting the fact she has been excluded from the dance, there's an interesting scene where Connie talks to herself in the mirror. Her heart wants to be with Ted so much, and she feels quite alone in this huge mansion.

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The home's mausoleum-like quality is conveyed with spacious sets constructed on the Universal soundstage. Production designers have gone to great lengths to show how opulent, yet austere Uncle Jim's place is. The mansion set is spectacular, and it's easy to see why the film was nominated for an Oscar for best art design. Director Henry Koster uses some elaborate tracking shots with characters going up and down the humongous staircase.

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Connie gets to the dance with help from a police escort. This occurs, while Aunt Grace, Walter and Barbara are detained along the road in their car, supposedly driving without proof of ownership. Those three end up going in front of a judge. Meanwhile Connie shows up at the ball, makes new friends and sees Ted again. There's a particularly funny scene where an opera singer, the night's entertainment, is being introduced and Connie thinks they heard she can sing. So she performs an aria, which is beautifully sung, while the temperamental diva storms off.

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After the aria, it's clear that everyone's been charmed by Connie. Ted has definitely fallen for her. This leads to a delightful waltz scene with other couples fading in and out of view. To where it's just our young couple dancing alone.

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Ted says there are too many people around, and he takes Connie outside on the balcony for some air. And of course, that's where he kisses her. It's been a perfect evening. Until she realizes what time it is and how she needs to get home. Of course, she loses a slipper on the way out.

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At the same time Barbara and the others have finally arrived. Barbara glimpses Connie running off and becomes incensed to learn Connie had danced with Ted. She heads to the mansion to confront Connie.

*****

At the mansion Connie learns Uncle Jim arranged for the police escort. He also arranged for his family to be jailed. Though he wishes they hadn't gotten out. Connie stands up to cousin Barbara and admits she went to the ball and that she loves Ted. In anger Barbara fires the staff and Connie leaves the next morning. The whole household has been turned upside down. Astrology-minded Aunt Grace blames everything on a bad constellation. But she believes the stars will be back in alignment soon. Of course the stars will not be properly aligned until Ted finds the girl who lost her slipper.

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Uncle Jim storms into the room where his wife's astrology books and charts are located, and he trashes everything. He's upset Connie left the house and tells his wife to stop obsessing about the stars and get back down to earth, or she'll really be seeing stars! He then gives Barbara a spanking and kicks Walter so hard in the derriere that he flies through a set of French doors. A comeuppance for each one of them. Meanwhile Connie's taken a train to her old school to teach music. Headmistress Miss Wiggins welcomes her back to become a spinster like herself. Miss Wiggins had also lost love.

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Connie then meets some of the new students. She is asked to sing 'One Fine Day' from a Puccini opera. Of course we know Connie can't end up an old maid. Cinderella got her prince in the end, and so will Connie. And in the last scene, while she's singing from Puccini, Ted shows up (with the other slipper). We learn the headmistress arranged for him to find out where Connie had gone. He comes into the room, and Connie sees him while finishing the song. She rushes into his arms. They leave together...

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This sounds like it would be an interesting companion piece to my previously mentioned Crazy Rich Asians, also featuring a "Cinderella" story. I guess Henry Golding may be the next Robert Stack and I should not have been so harsh on him in my previous post. They are equally stiff in their personalities, but even Henry is quite polished in his speaking skills.

As we movie geeks all know already, Durbin and Judy Garland made a competitive musical shortie together, Every Sunday. MGM decided to keep Garland (and torture her with a heavy work schedule) and drop Durbin (who had it much easier at Universal).

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Probably one of the most difficult movies for anyone to review; it's so thoroughly iconic and has so many angles to appreciate it from. I sure wouldn't take it on myself. Setting aside all the very necessary consideration of Noel Coward, his talent and his technique; or David Lean, and Lean's career, and Lean's technique...that's all just for starters!

One's ideas about [Brief Encounter], or what [Brief Encounter] means can overlap with one other and vie for primacy and do so for a long time. One has to do more than just talk about the actors or the performances. You also have to treat 'what you feel about it (now)' vs 'what you felt about it (then)'. And you have to try to talk about how it affected other women and other men, variously as the case might be, as pertains to various aspects of the flick. Is it sexual? Is it romantic? Is it coarse? Is it refined? How to even put it into words.

And its grown many more perspectives one must account for (with the passage of time and the changing of society's perceptions about romance, relationships, morals, and womanhood). What a kaleidoscope to tackle. To write about 'Brief Encounter' is to attempt to write about the history of the 20th century. It's the English equivalent of Jean-Paul Sartre!

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6 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Probably one of the most difficult movies for anyone to review; it's so thoroughly iconic and has so many angles to appreciate it from. I sure wouldn't take it on myself. Setting aside all the very necessary consideration of Noel Coward, his talent and his technique; or David Lean, and Lean's career, and Lean's technique...that's all just for starters!

One's ideas about [Brief Encounter], or what [Brief Encounter] means can overlap with one other and vie for primacy and do so for a long time. One has to do more than just talk about the actors or the performances. You also have to treat 'what you feel about it (now)' vs 'what you felt about it (then)'. And you have to try to talk about how it affected other women and other men, variously as the case might be, as pertains to various aspects of the flick. Is it sexual? Is it romantic? Is it coarse? Is it refined? How to even put it into words.

And its grown many more perspectives one must account for (with the passage of time and the changing of society's perceptions about romance, relationships, morals, and womanhood). What a kaleidoscope to tackle. To write about 'Brief Encounter' is to attempt to write about the history of the 20th century. It's the English equivalent of Jean-Paul Sartre!

I'm not sure a review about BRIEF ENCOUNTER has to be as comprehensive as all that. Sure, it could be. But it can also be covered from more specific angles. 

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Just speaking about an 'ideal case' I reckon...the flick does hold all these avenues open for the reviewer. Few other movies I can name, do. Maybe 'M' by Lang...but there's no romance in that. Maybe 'Sunset Blvd' ...but that's not a normal story about normal people.

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