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Classic Film Criticism Vol. 2


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I had planned to cover HIGH NOON tomorrow. But there is a lot I want to say about this picture, so I am going to spread it out over the next two days.

 

Check back for a Special Two-Part Edition of Classic Film Criticism Vol. 2...

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*HIGH NOON (1952)*

*Part One*

 

HIGH NOON is set in the old American west but is an allegory for contemporary blacklisting and probably not a true western.

 

The pacing of the film is slow and methodical. Some of the visuals are impressive. As for the music selected for this production, one would have preferred silence in the scenes as Gary Cooper's lawman character walks the street.

 

There is no real action until the last ten minutes. Even then, the confrontation between Mr. Cooper and the baddies is played rather quickly. And while there is a moment where Grace Kelly brandishes a gun, the shooting is tidy and neatly wrapped up, with no hint of lingering effects. The sudden, quiet ending is supposed to be thought-provoking, but it all seems too obvious and heavy-handed.

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*HIGH NOON (1952)*

*Part Two*

 

While the screenwriter of HIGH NOON is a blacklisted member of the Hollywood community, most of the actors and technicians seem to be in no danger of the blacklist. Is it prestigious to be part of such a project, but not be too subversive that you do not get blacklisted, too?

 

In many ways, the picture seems like an irresponsible piece of propaganda masquerading as Americana. We must also note that the story is depicted in a very American genre, the western. I am not sure if the reason the message wasn't presented as a horror picture in which the marshal was a policeman trying to deal with scared people and aliens wasn't because only certain films in certain genres better lend themselves to artistic and philosophical statements. And Academy Awards.

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*THAT HAMILTON WOMAN (1941)*

 

The picture emphasizes the fact that Vivien Leigh is not only beautiful but a major talent as well. In some ways, the character of Lady Emma Hamilton does resemble Miss Leigh's earlier role of Scarlet O'Hara, but this is not a stretch when one considers the actress is often typecast as the scheming vixen.

 

In a particularly memorable scene, when the Lady argues with her husband (Alan Mowbray) you do get a sense of Scarlet quarreling with Rhett. But the actress' undeniable chemistry with costar Laurence Olivier, as lover Lord Nelson, is perfect and much more intimate than what she shared on screen with Clark Gable in GONE WITH THE WIND.

 

In fact, we believe that these two sincerely love each other. Both performers are rather eloquent and yet passionate in this film. And Korda's direction is superb. In addition to the great melodramatic moments, we are treated to some very realistic battle scenes that provide a fair amount of adventure amid the realities of war.

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*THE NUN'S STORY (1959)*

 

Director Fred Zinneman and Ms. Hepburn conspire to make a very belabored movie about a young woman entering and leaving the religious life in THE NUN'S STORY. The film has a great premise and could have been a lot better.

 

Some of the scenes drag on interminably. Every moment is so punctuated with purpose that the whole thing seems like a tedious affair. And Hepburn is given very inconsequential dialogue. Mostly she nods and says ?yes? over and over in a flat monotone voice.

 

As a Catholic, the story itself makes me unhappy, but as a cinemaddict, the story makes me even unhappier. The real problem is not that a life with God is one for her, but that the way in which the filmmakers tell it is so lifeless and unentertaining. It's a pensive film about making a long drawn out mistake. The only good thing I can say about it is that Hepburn brings sincerity to the role. But she brought sincerity and good cheer to ROMAN HOLIDAY and less socially conscious films.

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*THE CAT'S PAW (1934)*

 

The social satire of this cinematic diversion shows Harold Lloyd proving he is as funny as he ever was in silent pictures. It does seem as though Mr. Lloyd's Chinese was dubbed in this film.

 

Despite its presentation of ethnic stereotypes that might be offensive to some, THE CAT'S PAW is still charming and rather tongue-in-cheek and not at all malicious. In fact, this writer would rank it among Lloyd's best sound features. Its greatest asset is its potent commentary about simple life values.

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*DRAGONWYCK (1948)*

 

Walter Huston is billed over Vincent Price in DRAGONWYCK, but Mr. Price has much more screen time and prominence in this film. Neither, however, manages to distract our attention from the angelic presence of Gene Tierney or to upstage the saturnine wit of Spring Byington as a domestic.

 

The story has been compromised by the production code, so we do not see the drug addiction of Price's character and what causes his deranged behavior. But the horror is still there, creeping just beneath the surface. Still, too many of the hideous, more dramatic aspects of the narrative are left to the viewers? imaginations, and in this case, we are expected to make quite a few assumptions about the characters and the true nature of their interactions. As a result, visiting a madman's home becomes what it should never have been: a somewhat dull movie.

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*FOOLS FOR SCANDAL (1938)*

 

Carole Lombard made this delightful farce for First National/Warner Brothers, a company not ordinarily known for its lighter comedic fare. This is certainly one of her best, if not least known, films. French actor Fernand Gravet does a Maurice Chevalier imitation and strikes the perfect balance with Lombard. But the highlight for this writer is Ralph Bellamy's performance as the long-suffering beau that loses the girl in the film's final minutes. The dinner scene where they keep getting interrupted is hilarious. So is the scene where all the women come into Lombard's bedroom to find out about the scandal involving her and the cook (Gravet).

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*KIND LADY (1951)*

 

Ethel Barrymore defies Hollywood ageism by taking the lead role in this potboiler from MGM, and quite frankly, with the exception of her work in NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART, it is one of her best on-screen performances.

 

MGM previously filmed this story in 1935 with Aline MacMahon. Miss MacMahon excelled at the role of a recluse whose life is now at the mercy of a group of con artists. But Barrymore imbues it with more authenticity and the right amount of wisdom and shrewdness that comes with being the exact age of the character, not dressing up in old woman's clothes and applying gobs of make-up like a much younger Miss McMahon did in the first filmed production.

 

This remake also benefits from a stellar supporting cast, the likes of which include MGM contract player Angela Lansbury and Lansbury's real-life mother Moyna Macgill in a small role. Miss Barrymore's best is brought out in spades by costar Maurice Evans, the slickest con in the bunch, who dazzles the kind lady as a smooth-talking rogue while avoiding the pitfalls of scene chewing. As a result, we are kept enthralled right up to the story's denouement. The ending certainly does not disappoint and reaffirms our belief in the justice of this world.

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*THE SHINING HOUR (1938)*

 

Where else do you get MGM's Joan Crawford, Robert Young, Melvyn Douglas and Margaret Sullavan together in the same picture? And where else do you get the added bonus of Hattie McDaniel and Fay Bainter in support of these leads? It certainly is a SHINING HOUR for all of them. What a pity, then, that this picture is not more well known, because in this writer's opinion, it certainly deserves to be.

 

And when was the last time that a film made after the production code allowed someone to get away with a major crime? That is exactly what Bainter's character does when she is allowed to go unpunished for arson. Meanwhile, Crawford's vixen will probably take up with one of the farm hands when she gets back from her honeymoon with Douglas. And Young's character will probably never stop lusting after Crawford, even though he is married to Sullavan. Yes, this is grand melodrama from a grand Hollywood studio, performed with zest by a grand cast.

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*THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1958)*

 

Someone thought Hemingway?s book would make a great film. It probably could. But for now the best-laid plans have been set aside for a lack of action and excessive voice-over narration. Thirty-minutes into this belabored affair, one scratches his head and asks: why are the producers paying Spencer Tracy to read us the entire book, when he is a skilled actor? This story deserves more than a stationary old man in a boat submerged in an artificially painted sea.

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Thank You

 

I did watch MONSIEUR VERDOUX the other night and although the movie got off to a slow start, it did pick up once Martha Raye came on the scene.

 

You were right,she did not fail to deliver and practially stole the movie, brought some life to it ! I did expect to see a much younger Martha Raye.

 

Twink

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>I did watch MONSIEUR VERDOUX the other night and although the movie got off to a slow start, it did pick up once Martha Raye came on the scene. You were right,she did not fail to deliver and practially stole the movie, brought some life to it !

 

I am glad you enjoyed watching the movie. LIMELIGHT is coming up soon on the schedule, and it is the one he made after MR. VERDOUX.

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*THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946)*

 

This writer once lived in Norwalk, California, so THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, which was partially filmed there, tends to have special meaning. Of course, stars John Garfield and Lana Turner are sensational and make the film as memorable as it is, but it is those gas station scenes filmed in Norwalk that help bring James M. Cain's otherwise far-fetched crime thriller its much-needed dose of realism.

 

Norwalk is located about twenty-five miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. During the time this production was filmed, the community was much more rural than it is now and comprised mainly of orchards and oil wells. Of course, today it is all part of a massive sprawling suburban landscape.

 

In addition to the scenes in Norwalk, Director Tay Garnett and his crew also make use of real-life locations in East L.A. and Malibu. In important ways, the film stands as historical documentation of greater Los Angeles in the mid-1940s due to its extensive on-location filming.

 

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*MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT (1959)*

 

Paddy Chayefsky has written the story of a couple that embarks on a relationship despite a rather huge age gap. The unlikely romantic pairing is given credibility by stars Fredric March and Kim Novak. They are assisted by Glenda Farrell, a lead actress from the 1930s that does a terrific turn here in a character role as Novak's mom.

 

Maybe because of Farrell's performance, this writer did not get too caught up in the love story angle. Instead, more interesting is the situation itself and how relatives and friends react to the blossoming romance. There are only a few long kisses between March and Novak. In fact, she has a much more sexually charged scene with the ex-husband who returns near the end of the story.

 

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*WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? (1932)*

 

Clever scenes help the tale of a young woman (Constance Bennett) who becomes a success in the film capital. It is less formulaic and there is much less Cinderellla nonsense than one finds in other stories of this nature. Instead, it is a searing look at lives and careers in Hollywood, given David Selznick's sharp production values and the benefit of George Cukor's sure guidance behind the camera.

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*BALL OF FIRE (1941)*

 

Barbara Stanwyck first appears in a sizzling musical number with Gene Krupa at a nightclub visited by straight-laced professor Gary Cooper. From this point forward, we know that two different worlds have consented to collide.

 

The real professor of this venture is the Dean of Improbable Comedy, Billy Wilder, who provides a story that has just as many curves in the road as Stanwyck does. However, there are almost too many points where the viewer must suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the proceedings.

 

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While the chemistry between the leads is undeniable, and the yum-yum scene a true classic, how is it that after receiving his first kiss we find Cooper's character suddenly talking marriage? Portraying him as a sweet innocent is one thing, but having him become all matrimonial moments later seems to change him from na?ve to impulsive, and given his intelligence, it is not likely he would behave so hastily and foolishly, at least not for long.

 

Later, when Stanwyck?s Sugarpuss jilts Cooper?s academician, he sulks considerably. He tells his colleagues that he does not want to be coddled by a bunch of psychological mumbo jumbo. He seems to have come to his senses. But, of course, this does not last, as anyone who has seen the film to its un-logical conclusion will tell you. That must have been some powerful yum-yum.

 

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*THEODORA GOES WILD (1936)*

 

Irene Dunne has signed on at Columbia for some light singing and light comedy. She is very funny and has some fine moments with leading man Melvyn Douglas. But the film does not stay focused on her or on Theodora like it should. It gets too distracted by the other people crowding into her life, and each new character is presented with their own separate subplot. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. But the movie is saved by the growing attraction that develops between the main characters, and after all the other business has been taken care of, the film regains its sense of direction. Ultimately, a charming love story unfolds.

 

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*SATURDAY'S HERO (1951)*

 

John Derek had a supporting role as a football player role in Columbia's earlier production ALL THE KING'S MEN. He heads back on to the field for more action in this highly engaging coming-of-age drama. He plays a young man caught up in a new life, to the point that he nearly betrays his values.

 

If that is not enough to sustain interest, there are plenty of subplots that just might. First, there are the scenes of the team, and the scenes with the literature professor (nicely played by Alexander Knox). Next, our star athlete visits his hometown. Then, there is a storyline about a friend who is being expelled from school. Indeed, the character and the audience get pulled in all sorts of directions, but John Derek's calm, soulful presence makes it enjoyable to watch.

 

Other strong performances bolster the production. Sidney Blackmer is on hand as the somewhat mercurial T.C. McCabe, and Aldo Ray (billed as Aldo DaRe) appears as a team member. The love interest is played by Donna Reed, who in real life is five years older than John Derek. At times, Miss Reed seems almost too mature for her role and certainly too mature for her costar. However, a great many elements coalesce to make SATURDAY'S HERO a decent motion picture; and we can overlook the slight miscasting.

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*FORTY LITTLE MOTHERS (1940)*

 

Judith Anderson appears in a less dramatic film role than one is accustomed to seeing. This time she does a high concept studio comedy for MGM and comes away a winner. She is paired with Eddie Cantor no less, a baby and over three dozen young girls with designs on motherhood. Somehow the premise and the unusual casting work. It works so well, in fact, that one wishes for a sequel.

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*JOHNNY TREMAIN (1957)*

 

Walt Disney's mostly faithful adaptation of Esther Forbes' Newbery Medal-winning children's book. The plot concerns a young apprentice who finds himself befriended by the Sons of Liberty and caught up in events of the American Revolution. Hal Stalmaster, in his one and only motion picture role, stars as Johnny.

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*GEORGE WA$HINGTON $LEPT HERE (1942)*

 

Warner Brother$ has $pared no expen$e when it come$ to adapting the Hart and Kaufman stage hit about a couple that buy$ a new home in the $uburb$. The $tudio has a$$embled the be$t ca$t that money can buy. Not only does Jack Benny get to trade barbs with Charle$ Coburn and Percy Kilbride, he has a few pricele$$ exchange$ with Hattie McDaniel as well. And adding Ann $heridan to the mix increa$e$ the property value more.

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