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Classic Film Criticism Vol. 2


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It's been too long since I've seen this film. I'll have to give it a re-viewing sometime soon. Yes, it certainly is an original. I remember reading a review somewhere that stated that Hepburn was never entirely convincing as either a boy or a girl! :D And I didn't necessarily take that as a criticism of her performance - rather as an acknowledgement of the unique androgyny of her character. I cannot picture any other actress in this role. Others, like Dietrich, certainly played with gender-precepts, but never with this particular flavor and vulnerability.

 

Thanks for your insight.

 

Hey, I just had a revelation. Off to the "Familial Casting" thread . . .

 

 

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I wondered who the guy in the middle was since it clearly wasn't Pat O'Brien. So I Google The Fireball and looked at the list of actor's names. I saw James Brown and clicked on that. I get James Brown but the picture that came up was someone that looked a lot different than the guy in the picture here!

 

So the actor is James Brown but he of course isn't THE James Brown! :)

 

 

Just another Wiki error.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Well it is the least I could do considering all the great contributions you make to this forum.

 

I hope you can imagine my shock when I clicked on the link for actor James Brown and up came a picture of the singer James Brown instead!

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>Well it is the least I could do considering all the great contributions you make to this forum.

 

Thank you. You are most welcome.

 

>I hope you can imagine my shock when I clicked on the link for actor James Brown and up came a picture of the singer James Brown instead!

 

Sometimes this happens when I am typing the name of a character and it goes to some image of a random person in Timbuktu who has the same name! I've been wanting to do a separate thread about it. For instance, this is the real Fred C. Dobbs in Juneau, Alaska or this is the real Scarlett O'Hara in Savannah, Georgia. LOL

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*IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING (1949)*

 

While aiming for the funny bone, this delightful comedy scores a home run. Ray Milland is an absent-minded professor who becomes a hit in the world of baseball thanks to a wood-repellant formula that prevents batters from getting to first base. Jean Peters plays the love interest, and she manages to get to first base in other ways. There's a good turn by veteran character actor Ray Collins, but the one to watch is Paul Douglas. Half-way through the movie, it becomes clear that Douglas is a star in his own right.

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*THE FRENCH LINE (1953)*

 

It is difficult getting past the terrible condition of the RKO Technicolor print for THE FRENCH LINE. Someone, please restore it. Jane Russell is superb as a sassy southern belle on a cruise to Europe. Adding to the fun is character actor Arthur Hunnicutt and leading man Gilbert Roland. The musical numbers are indeed risqu? but the lyrics and choreography are not to be missed. Neither is Miss Russell's costuming which one must see to believe. Aside from a better print, the only way this film could have possibly been better: if Robert Mitchum had been in it.

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*A DATE WITH JUDY (1948)*

 

The film benefits from sincere dialogue in the parent-child scenes. The younger actors (especially Elizabeth Taylor and Scotty Beckett) put real honest emotion into their parts. Jane Powell is appealing, and of course, so are the leads, Wallace Beery and Carmen Miranda (who nearly steals the show with her rumba lessons). But most impressive is Leon Ames, as an out-of-touch dad who realizes before it is too late, that his kids need him.

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*ABOUT FACE (1952)*

 

ABOUT FACE is a musical remake of Warners' earlier comedy BROTHER RAT. The performances are sharp, the music is good, and the energy is infectious. Also, there is a lot of male leg flesh in this one. The guys are dressing and undressing quite a bit. And of course, Gordon MacRae sleeps with his shirt off. If you're a straight woman or a gay male, you will find this an added bonus.

 

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*THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942)*

*Part 1 of 2*

 

The set-up is a comic spin on the romantic longings of older men pining for little girls; and for young boys longing for older women. It's amazing that some of this made it past the censors.

 

The scene where Miss Rogers' character is passionately kissed by an underage boy; and the earlier scene where Mr. Milland's character comforts her in bed on the train and how he begins to admit he is developing feelings for what he believes to be an 11 year old girl, is depraved. The film subverts wholesome values with a story that is heavy on the Freud mumbo jumbo and too clever and too ridiculous for its own good.

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*THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942)*

*Part 2 of 2*

 

How did some of the scenes in THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR make it past the censors? Is it because the elements are presented in the guise of a comedy, and that comedies are not supposed to be taken seriously?

 

THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR is similar to THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK where Betty Hutton's character has sex with all those military men, gets pregnant, then has all those kids-- and we are supposed to buy that as a charming, clever comedy.

 

Comedies may be regarded as the black sheep of the American cinematic family (especially at Oscar time), but they may be the greatest tools used by filmmakers with a certain political point of view to convey. For instance, if one is making a comedy, it's easy to sneak in all sorts of propaganda; audiences may not notice it, since they are so busy laughing. Perhaps Charlie Chaplin understood that loophole better than anyone. But Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder understand it, too.

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*FORT BOWIE (1958)*

 

This is a routine B-western with nice, atmospheric touches. The tension that develops among the characters, confined at a fort that is under attack, seems believable. There Is an interesting scene where natives have captured some white men and nearly get away with torturing them. A native woman prevents the tragedy, since she has fallen for one of the white officers. This is historical fiction, with the emphasis on fiction. And this is Hollywood.

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*THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. (1941)*

 

Bette Davis and James Cagney are professionals and so is director William Keighley. They may have had to brave sweltering temperatures in Death Valley (like Lillian Gish did in THE WIND) but they have focused on the material and turned out an above-average picture. I think the script is very intelligent and has a lot to say about the conditions these characters (and actors) are experiencing.

 

Regarding the actual production of THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D., it is said the stars did not want to do the project, that they did not get along, and that a rewrite was ordered. All of that seems irrelevant when one looks at the finished product; it is clear to see that this is a great screwball comedy and it works better than a lot of other films that attempt to cover similar territory.

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*THE BRIDE WORE RED (1937)*

 

Dorothy Arzner does not direct a lot of films, but she usually makes rather substantial ones. The most appealing aspect of this offering is the chemistry and loveliness of real-life couple Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone. This is not the only film that MGM has costarred them in together, but in this picture, it is easy to see the magic they create. Joan's dazzling dress, referenced in the title, is a worthy costar. So is Billie Burke, who does not play her typical scatterbrained character, but is a real shrew this time.

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It really does take a bit of adjustment to see Ms. Burke without her trademark bubbly-ness, but it's also thought-provoking. I imagine many of our beloved character players had wider acting ranges than they were often given the chance to display.

 

That scarlet dress is quite iconic. I think it may deserve co-star billing. :)

 

It was included in a sprawling Hollywood Costume Exhibition in London late last and earlier this year. I don't want to steal anybody's photos, so here's a nice blogpost with some great pics (including the aforementioned show-stopper):

 

 

http://www.theprimgirl.com/tag/va/

 

 

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I was glad Illeana Douglas selected THE BRIDE WORE RED for the Second Looks series. I just love this film! And like you said, the dress has taken on a life of its own in exhibits. Such is the magic of classic Hollywood.

 

Regarding character actors-- I think a lot of them probably did play more wide-ranging roles on stage. But in films they became more typecast. I have no doubt that Billie Burke had multiple talents that her film work only hints at...!

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*IF I HAD A MILLION (1932)*

 

Perhaps some parts could have been eliminated in IF I HAD A MILLION; namely, those stories where the money did not help. For example, the guy on death row was unable to save himself, and so his million dollars went back to the old man (and the man was trying to give away his money so that his relatives would not inherit it). Then, there was the segment with Gary Cooper who cashes it for ten bucks. Such an action is obviously ironic, but what was the point?

 

The best sequences were the ones in which the characters lives were truly altered and made better by the experience of receiving the unexpected windfall: mainly, the one where Fields and his lady (Alison Skipworth) get to enact revenge on road hogs; the one where Laughton gets to tell his boss off; and (my favorite), the one where May Robson takes over the retirement home. Finally, I think the film could have been enhanced by showing the old man convening with all the recipients at a party they give in his honor. That would show he has something to live for now.

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*THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS (1954)*

 

Despite her fabulous vocals, THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS is nearly bogged down by Ethel Merman's over-the-top acting style. Also, 20th Century Fox seems to be showcasing costar Marilyn Monroe much more favorably in this picture. For instance, scenes with Monroe give a generous amount of close-ups of her. But scenes with the other characters when she is absent from the action are devoid of close-ups. The viewers should have an intimate relationship with all the characters in the story, not just with Marilyn.

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*DECOY (1946)*

 

Originally produced by Pathe/Monogram, DECOY is currently being issued on a disc with CRIME WAVE from Warners. The print has been beautifully restored, and while it was definitely shot on a limited budget, it does not look any cheaper than most film noir from that period.

 

Jean Gillie, the British actress who makes her American film debut in this picture, is sensational as the ultimate femme fatale. Sheldon Leonard is one of the good guys this time, and as she spills her story to him, we are drawn into the action.

 

There are so many little memorable scenes and images in this film. As Dick Cavett says in a featurette interview, the story is about how the dead get the last laugh. It is also about the extreme lengths to which a greedy person will go. Even if you are not a die-hard fan of film noir, Jean Gillie is gorgeous to look at, and she can act. Particularly, there is a scene in which she runs a guy over with the car?and another one where she shoots a man out in the forest then laughs about it. Very few actresses could have succeeded in this off-the-wall role without making it absurd.

 

Often the characters do not have a conscience and cannot be bothered to philosophize about life or death. It seems ironic that the man she has helped resurrect from the gas chamber has a short future. The makers of this picture blur the line between film noir and horror in a most interesting way. And again, Miss Gillie's performance is right on target.

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*BEND OF THE RIVER (1952)*

 

BEND OF THE RIVER may not be as psychological as some of Anthony Mann's other films, but there are some somber themes in this story. James Stewart tends to over-act in a few scenes, but he is well-balanced by the natural, effortless performances of Julie Adams and Arthur Kennedy. The scenery is gorgeous in this Technicolor western. But most eyes are on a young costar named Rock Hudson.

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*BATTLE CIRCUS (1953)*

 

June Allyson and Humphrey Bogart spend a lot of time running through the rain and falling in the mud in BATTLE CIRCUS. Obviously, the characters they play serve as the inspiration for the Hawkeye and Hot Lips characters in Robert Altman's later film, as well as the television series. One thing I realized about the TV version is that the doctors and nurses do not really uproot and move around like they do in this movie. The M in M-A-S-H stands for 'mobile.'

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*ESCAPE ME NEVER (1947)*

 

ESCAPE ME NEVER has all those great elements that make for a splendid Warners-Errol Flynn production. What makes this film stand out is the fact that we get to see Flynn do a bit of parenting with the child of Ida Lupino's character. Usually there is not much time for youngsters in Flynn's movies. The only other kid character I recall before ESCAPE ME NEVER is Bobs Watson in DODGE CITY, who is killed half-way through the picture.

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*VERA CRUZ (1954)*

 

While watching this film, one notices something interesting about the performance styles of the two lead actors, Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster. Mr. Cooper uses a part to convey his own naturalness and ideological beliefs; while Mr. Lancaster uses himself to convey a part. In other words, Cooper is just "being" while Lancaster is "acting." This does make for a good contrast, but not a whole movie. The rest of it is filled up with picturesque scenery, much of it chewed up and spit out by Cesar Romero, and one action sequence after another.

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*SEE HERE, PRIVATE HARGROVE (1945)*

 

Military men seem to have some sort of great adoration for Donna Reed in this kind of movie. It occurs to me that this is made possible because of Robert Walker's performance as Hargrove. Think about how good he is in this role, to be so convincing that real-life soldiers can identify with him to the point they believe his girl in the movie might be their girl, too.

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*A MILLIONAIRE FOR CHRISTY (1951)*

*Part 1 of 2*

 

In the case of screwball comedy and the supernatural, a lot of what happens cannot be explained. Screwball comedies tend to be about transient pleasures, while the horror genre may be dealing with labyrinthine phenomena. That may be frustrating for a more rationally minded viewer, who may give up, if the meaning of a story is constantly in a state of flux.

 

The viewer may also decide to give up if there are too many plot contrivances. Yet, for the most part, a viewer may stick with the story, as far-fetched as it may seem, if there is a sensible pay-off. That means a viewer does not want to feel cheated. Everything has to seem like a logical progression for a character to get from point A to point B and back again.

 

There does not seem to be much logic in A MILLIONAIRE FOR CHRISTY. The main problem one has with Eleanor Parker's character Christobel is that only ten minutes into the film, she is already feigning all sorts of maladies to attract Fred MacMurray's character. Funny? Perhaps. Does it make sense? Not really.

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