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When Maltin demeans a classic film


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I found a copy of Paramount's 1942 comedy ARE HUSBANDS NECESSARY? on YouTube this morning. There are only two user reviews for the film on the IMDb, both posted in 2018-- so the picture is not very well known. I had fun watching it.

I had been curious about this one for a long time, ever since I bought a paperback copy of Isabel Rorick's book 'Mr. & Mrs. Cugat, the Record of a Happy Marriage.' For those who don't know, Rorick's book was adapted for this screwball comedy and it also served as the basis for Lucille Ball's radio program My Favorite Husband which led into I Love Lucy

Produced during the early part of the war, it's obvious Paramount was trying to make light entertainment to help audiences (mostly women) get their minds off the war. It was never meant to be a serious think piece. But it has some very funny segments, and I think Betty Field is perfect as the scatterbrained wife, a real departure from her usual dramatic roles. Ray Milland who plays the husband is excellent, and there's a group of distinguished character actors in the cast that are equally charming.

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Anyway, I went to the TCM database page for the film to see if there were any articles or other user reviews (there were none), and I saw Maltin's comment. All he wrote was 'And what about this film?' suggesting the film was not necessary. Maybe his comments are not necessary. I don't get the point of demeaning something. He doesn't have to like the film but can't he respect the fact others might like it and enjoy watching it?

ARE HUSBANDS NECESSARY? made back twice its budget for Paramount in 1942, proving it was a bonafide hit. Audiences of the era certainly loved it. Can't that be enough? It's unrealistic to expect every film to be a classic for the ages. Maybe it was a classic in its own time and that's all it ever needed to be. At any rate, when someone like Maltin publishes such a flippant comment, it tells me he is not really looking at the overall history of film and how each motion picture counts for something in its own way.

Thoughts...?

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7 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Thoughts...?

I never saw that film, I looked it up in my old copy of Maltin's Movie Guide and he gave it a ** rating, which means mediocre but not horrible and that comment was his entire review. Seems pretty harsh for ** movie. 

He gave a BOMB rating to "Hey Let's Twist" (1961) in which he starts with a flippant put down "Let's not." but then goes on to give it a nine line review. 

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7 minutes ago, Det Jim McLeod said:

I never saw that film, I looked it up in my old copy of Maltin's Movie Guide and he gave it a ** rating, which means mediocre but not horrible and that comment was his entire review. Seems pretty harsh for ** movie. 

He gave a BOMB rating to "Hey Let's Twist" (1961) in which he starts with a flippant put down "Let's not." but then goes on to give it a nine line review. 

Yeah, there are movies that are much worse than ARE HUSBANDS NECESSARY...so I don't see the need to disparage it. 

Of course not every screwball comedy is going to be another MY MAN GODFREY, and we wouldn't want all movies to be the same. Sometimes these people like to play up the over-celebrated titles at the expense of the lesser known films.

But as I said the Milland-Field picture was a hit, and I am sure Paramount did not regret making it. The acting is very good in it-- we have character types like Cecil Kellaway, Elisabeth Risdon, Anne Revere, Eugene Pallette, Richard Haydn, Kathleen Lockhart, Charles Dingle, Leif Erickson and Patricia Morison. You don't get a finer supporting cast than that. The fact Maltin overlooks the obvious talent involved, so he can put across a flippant remark, is inexcusable.

I'm sure he wouldn't have appreciated Rorick's book either. And her book was in the top ten of bestsellers in 1941. The wacky misadventures of a banker's wife, based on Rorick's own experiences as a woman who was married to a prominent Toledo banker, captured the public's imagination. Rorick's experiences and Field's interpretation in the film became a template for the Lucy Ricardo character. That means ARE HUSBANDS NECESSARY? was very influential, very significant, and certainly very necessary if you're an I Love Lucy fan. But of course, Maltin doesn't understand any of this.

 

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Bravo. These are all very fine sentiments. They should really be extended --in their basic gist --to all classic movies. Let's allow across the board that "people liked what they liked" and older products which look odd to our eyes, nonetheless must have been acceptable at the time otherwise they simply would not have sold. Let's never 'recriminate' past audiences with the evidence of our own tastes today. Hurrah!

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The flippant part is what turned me away from Maltin's guides and reviews years ago. I like him as a person, especially his enthusiastic intros to the Disney films on TCM, but I found his capsule reviews not particularly helpful. There are any number of reviewers who see a review as their personal opportunity to shine and those mini-reviews seem to fall into that category. A clever turn of phrase sometimes seems more important than getting any real information across. I would think that it would be at least as important to make the reader understand why a film is sub-standard as it would be to make the reader understand its excellence. As shown by your experience, such a perfunctory put-down in a review could have turned you away from a film which you actually enjoyed. I usually choose a film based on the cast and subject matter, just as you did in this case, and refer to reviews only after I've seen the film. That way I don't get misled into not following my instincts.

I think I remember in some previous discussion about Maltin someone saying that he farmed out many of the reviews in his guides to staff, but if they come out under his name he should have to stand behind them.

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12 minutes ago, DougieB said:

The flippant part is what turned me away from Maltin's guides and reviews years ago. I like him as a person, especially his enthusiastic intros to the Disney films on TCM, but I found his capsule reviews not particularly helpful. There are any number of reviewers who see a review as their personal opportunity to shine and those mini-reviews seem to fall into that category. A clever turn of phrase sometimes seems more important than getting any real information across. I would think that it would be at least as important to make the reader understand why a film is sub-standard as it would be to make the reader understand its excellence. As shown by your experience, such a perfunctory put-down in a review could have turned you away from a film which you actually enjoyed. I usually choose a film based on the cast and subject matter, just as you did in this case, and refer to reviews only after I've seen the film. That way I don't get misled into not following my instincts.

I think I remember in some previous discussion about Maltin someone saying that he farmed out many of the reviews in his guides to staff, but if they come out under his name he should have to stand behind them.

He could be more neutral on films he doesn't like. All he had to say for ARE HUSBANDS NECESSARY, if he didn't like it, was: "harmless comedy about banker's wife." It wouldn't have been a ringing endorsement of said film, but it wouldn't have gone out of its way to prevent others from watching it.

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2 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Screen-Shot-2018-12-22-at-7.01.21-AM.jpg

I found a copy of Paramount's 1942 comedy ARE HUSBANDS NECESSARY? on YouTube this morning. There are only two user reviews for the film on the IMDb, both posted in 2018-- so the picture is not very well known. I had fun watching it.

I had been curious about this one for a long time, ever since I bought a paperback copy of Isabel Rorick's book 'Mr. & Mrs. Cugat, the Record of a Happy Marriage.' For those who don't know, Rorick's book was adapted for this screwball comedy and it also served as the basis for Lucille Ball's radio program My Favorite Husband which led into I Love Lucy

Produced during the early part of the war, it's obvious Paramount was trying to make light entertainment to help audiences (mostly women) get their minds off the war. It was never meant to be a serious think piece. But it has some very funny segments, and I think Betty Field is perfect as the scatterbrained wife, a real departure from her usual dramatic roles. Ray Milland who plays the husband is excellent, and there's a group of distinguished character actors in the cast that are equally charming.

***

Screen-Shot-2018-12-22-at-7.00.33-AM.jpg

Anyway, I went to the TCM database page for the film to see if there were any articles or other user reviews (there were none), and I saw Maltin's comment. All he wrote was 'And what about this film?' suggesting the film was not necessary. Maybe his comments are not necessary. I don't get the point of demeaning something. He doesn't have to like the film but can't he respect the fact others might like it and enjoy watching it?

ARE HUSBANDS NECESSARY? made back twice its budget for Paramount in 1942, proving it was a bonafide hit. Audiences of the era certainly loved it. Can't that be enough? It's unrealistic to expect every film to be a classic for the ages. Maybe it was a classic in its own time and that's all it ever needed to be. At any rate, when someone like Maltin publishes such a flippant comment, it tells me he is not really looking at the overall history of film and how each motion picture counts for something in its own way.

Thoughts...?

Maltin is to film criticism what Mother Teresa is to sex appeal. I would probably only use Maltin as a source for going to see the movies he pans.

I was introduced to film criticism early with the works of James Agee. Maltin is no Agee hence I ignore him and his off the top of his head thoughts.

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3 minutes ago, GordonCole said:

Maltin is to film criticism what Mother Teresa is to sex appeal. I would probably only use Maltin as a source for going to see the movies he pans.

I was introduced to film criticism early with the works of James Agee. Maltin is no Agee hence I ignore him and his off the top of his head thoughts.

Agee and Kael are my favorites. I do read some of Bosley Crowther's reviews, but sometimes he's a bit too sour for my tastes. 

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19 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Agee and Kael are my favorites. I do read some of Bosley Crowther's reviews, but sometimes he's a bit too sour for my tastes. 

Agreed. I like all three. I may be hallucinating but wasn't it Crowther who panned the film 2001: A Space Odyssey but then after reflection wrote another review saying he had not grasped Kubrick's concept originally and later realized what a fine film it was that had cross purposes in casting than what was usually done in an A-List fiilm?

I remember reading the original review when it was in theatres and the aftermath.

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7 minutes ago, GordonCole said:

Agreed. I like all three. I may be hallucinating but wasn't it Crowther who panned the film 2001: A Space Odyssey but then after reflection wrote another review saying he had not grasped Kubrick's concept originally and later realized what a fine film it was that had cross purposes in casting than what was usually done in an A-List fiilm?

I remember reading the original review when it was in theatres and the aftermath.

Not sure about 2001, but I know he blasted BONNIE AND CLYDE. He really hated that film! 

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Yes, I remember that also. I don't think he revised his opinion of that one but I think he did on Kubrick's film.

As I recall there was a tendency to deride the two main actors in Kubrick's epic for being, shall we say, a bit boring but later revisionism decided that there may have been method in this madness.

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Don't sugarcoat it, Sgt. Markoff, tell us what you really think of Kael.

Harpy, shrew, shrike yes...but give her credit for not being the movie critic for Entertainment Tonight like Maltin at least. That does take some integrity.

As a famous actor once said "Entertainment Tonight is a waste of videotape."

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True. There's various grades of reviewers and there's various grades of critics; but there's also more genuine film historians and scholars. Names like Don Miller, Will Wright, Laura Mulvey populate these reefs: different types of ichthyology and malacology depending on the height of the coral.

But I have a special distaste for Kael. She was a misguided housewife; her reviews belonged in a supermarket circular or in a koffee-klatch. She wreaked utter havoc.

Maltin is a nice guy I'm sure but right from the start, he was safely encapsulated by the video format; and I think we all knew not to take him very seriously.

One reviewer I miss is Siskel but that's just a personal preference. For cogent content, I'd happily read Sarris; or Molly Haskell...or any number of others. But Kael! A gorgon!

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I named the entertainment gallery above my theater Mordaunt Hall. That's all I have to say about critics.

As for Leonard - an old pal from my earliest days at the Sons of the Desert - I've always thought of him more as an enthusiast and an historian than as a critic. He is seldom dismissive and has always impressed me as a "glass half-full" type of a guy. So if he made an innoccuous comment about a film he possibly disliked it more than he intimated.

I've certaintly got my share of "classics" about which I can say "feh". One is I LOVE YOU AGAIN with Powell and Loy.

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It's my understanding that Maltin does not write all the reviews that are published in his guides. It might be better if the actual reviewers were identified. Sometimes the reviews may be borrowed from or based on other sources; the disparaging review of The Long Night, again based on the title, is very close to the comment on that film in a book about movies from that studio. Basing reviews on jokes about the title is a long tradition of movie reviewers, if not a very useful one.

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50 minutes ago, Ray Faiola said:

As for Leonard - an old pal from my earliest days at the Sons of the Desert - I've always thought of him more as an enthusiast and an historian than as a critic. He is seldom dismissive and has always impressed me as a "glass half-full" type of a guy. 

I think there's a strange dichotomy with Leonard Maltin. He acts like an enthusiast and a glass half-full type, but I think there's a negativity that permeates a lot of his comments. For a so-called enthusiast to disparage any classic film, he crosses the line into hypocrisy and contradiction. As I said earlier he could have made a more neutral comment about ARE HUSBANDS NECESSARY?, or else he could have skipped it and said nothing. There are other films he doesn't comment on. Why single out this particular film that pleased moviegoers when it was released in 1942...?

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Maltin is, at least on some occasions, a critic. His movie guide reviews are obviously not the same

as a long, considered newspaper or magazine review. They are just quick guides to a movie, so

take them in that spirit. It should be obvious that not every studio era flick was good, so not

every one of them will get a good review by Maltin or whoever wrote that review. That in no way

negates the best of the studio era films or shows disrespect for that time. I have a few copies

of his guides. They are interesting to look through, though I would never take the word of Maltin

or any other critic about a movie. There are the occasional short dismissive reviews, but they

are in the minority. 

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40 minutes ago, Vautrin said:

Maltin is, at least on some occasions, a critic. His movie guide reviews are obviously not the same

as a long, considered newspaper or magazine review. They are just quick guides to a movie, so

take them in that spirit. It should be obvious that not every studio era flick was good, so not

every one of them will get a good review by Maltin or whoever wrote that review. That in no way

negates the best of the studio era films or shows disrespect for that time. I have a few copies

of his guides. They are interesting to look through, though I would never take the word of Maltin

or any other critic about a movie. There are the occasional short dismissive reviews, but they

are in the minority. 

The dismissive "reviews" if we can call them that, could easily have been eliminated from his publications. If you're an enthusiast or champion for classic film, then it defeats your purpose to be unenthusiastic about any title. Better to skip the title or give it a neutral comment as opposed to giving it a negative one.

It isn't about deciding which films are best. It is about looking all the output from the studios in a broader, more historical sense. And to see that every film, even the ones not directed by renowned auteurs or written by esteemed screenwriters or performed by the most awarded thespians, still have in their own way some value.

But I don't think Maltin gets that. And as a result he and his views can be just as easily dismissed.

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1 hour ago, TopBilled said:

The dismissive "reviews" if we can call them that, could easily have been eliminated from his publications. If you're an enthusiast or champion for classic film, then it defeats your purpose to be unenthusiastic about any title. Better to skip the title or give it a neutral comment as opposed to giving it a negative one.

It isn't about deciding which films are best. It is about looking all the output from the studios in a broader, more historical sense. And to see that every film, even the ones not directed by renowned auteurs or written by esteemed screenwriters or performed by the most awarded thespians, still have in their own way some value.

But I don't think Maltin gets that. And as a result he and his views can be just as easily dismissed.

Of the thousands of studio era movies it's obvious that quite a number are of only average

interest. Pointing that out doesn't take away from the enjoyment that the best of the lot provide.

So I don't see any contradiction between being enthusiastic about studio era films while also giving

some of them negative reviews. Leslie Halliwell was a champion of studio era movies and disdained

many of the movies that came after, but even he said that quite a bit of the studio era output was

rather mediocre. I've never seen Are Husbands Necessary, but maybe it's not that much of a

picture. Saying so doesn't mean one doesn't appreciate studio era films. 

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He's a source of information, nothing more. And not very stalwart one, at that. Periodicals, newspapers, television, internet--shoddy to begin with. Take it all with a brown bomber and a dose of salts. Maltin's books interest me more than whatever he says as a reviewer. He has one book on vaudeville comedy teams I've been planning to purchase. I just hope its credible.

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7 minutes ago, Vautrin said:

Of the thousands of studio era movies it's obvious that quite a number are of only average

interest. Pointing that out doesn't take away from the enjoyment that the best of the lot provide.

So I don't see any contradiction between being enthusiastic about studio era films while also giving

some of them negative reviews. Leslie Halliwell was a champion of studio era movies and disdained

many of the movies that came after, but even he said that quite a bit of the studio era output was

rather mediocre. I've never seen Are Husbands Necessary, but maybe it's not that much of a

picture. Saying so doesn't mean one doesn't appreciate studio era films. 

Average films do not get negative reviews. It's usually the below-average films that get negative reviews. In this case Maltin gave it two stars. He did not give it one and a half stars, one star or label it a bomb. But yet he felt the need to disparage it?

Anyway, it's fine for there to be plenty of average films. They can't all be perfect. But as I stated previously, this particular film was a crowd pleaser. It did not flop. It was based on a best selling book, a second book was written, a radio series and a TV series came from it. It just happened to be something Maltin didn't like, but instead of resisting the urge to demean it, he kind of shows how petty he is. He went out of his way to be unenthusiastic about ARE HUSBANDS NECESSARY?, and there was no point in doing that. Unless the goal was to make himself look like an ****.

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