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Classic Film Criticism Vol. 2

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*THE HARDER THEY FALL (1956)*

 

Humphrey Bogart, in his last motion picture, turns in a brave performance as a cynical press agent who seeks to expose corrupt conditions in the world of boxing. The story is scripted by Budd Schulman and directed by Mark Robson. I suspect that had he lived, the actor would have done more of these kinds of social message dramas. It's a refreshing change after a career of playing countless gangsters and other assorted thugs. Of course, it would've been nice to see him in a few more comedies like SABRINA or westerns (he was interesting as a creepy bandit in VIRGINIA CITY). At least he went out on top. He didn't have to play second leads and supporting parts or even do television.

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*MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946)*

 

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE is good, but not great. The problems are not director John Ford's doing, but rather the fault of producer Darryl F. Zanuck, who has used the picture to promote Linda Darnell. So shamelessly over-exposed, in fact, is she that her character often gets in the way of the plot.

 

Although he is not as visually appealing as Miss Darnell, Walter Brennan should have had more screen time, since he essentially plays the lead villain of the piece. Stretches of the film go by without Brennan's character present or even mentioned, so in a way there is no looming threat over the town's law and order to increase dramatic tension and make the story truly exciting.

 

One issue, though, does seem to stem from Ford's direction. That is the way the film loses sight of its hero. About halfway into the picture, Victor Mature's Doc Holliday takes over and Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp becomes a supporting character. This is a film about Earp, where Fonda should remain front and center. As a result, we have a decentralized protagonist and the story shifts into one that focuses more on Doc Holliday-- that is, when the camera is not lingering on Darnell.

 

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*PAROLE GIRL (1933)*

 

Mae Clarke and Ralph Bellamy have excellent chemistry in PAROLE GIRL. But what really puts this film on the map is its ability to take a theme like revenge and make a routine prison film into something more. Here, it becomes an unlikely romance.

 

The supporting characters enliven the proceedings. There's the friend from stir who throws the apple out the window on the train, and the boss who comes to dinner but enjoys sitting in the kitchen. But the most interesting bit occurs earlier in the picture. It's a dramatic prison fire scene, and it is one of the best-staged action scenes this writer has viewed in a long time.

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*99 RIVER STREET (1953)*

 

This film noir from United Artists is a bit slow in the beginning, but don't let that discourage you. And intermittent spells of boredom may set in, but pay it no mind. Eventually, you will start wondering how two unique storylines involving John Payne with two separate dames connect. Until suddenly, like an explosion, the movie takes off and never looks back.

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*A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948)*

 

Billy Wilder's great comedy resonates well and is fascinating to watch. Perhaps no other film has such a unique mishmash of acting styles. Jean Arthur has an unnatural way of delivering a natural performance; and Marlene Dietrich has a natural way of delivering a very unnatural performance.

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*THE MATING GAME (1959)*

 

The delinquent tax plot in THE MATING GAME is a bit far-fetched but produces amusing results. Mostly, it provides an opportunity for Tony Randall and Debbie Reynolds to have fun frolicking down on the farm. And though Miss Reynolds does not sing in this picture, it has other compensations. The movie is full of spectacular physical comedy?especially a wild and boisterous brawl that takes place in the barn. Handling the acting chores of the supporting roles are Una Merkel and Paul Douglas who cover territory familiar to Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride in the Ma and Pa Kettle series.

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*THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS (1936)*

 

Carole Lombard impersonates Greta Garbo all the way through this picture. It's hard to tell whether it's a cheeky spoof, or if Lombard is seriously paying respects to an actress that inspires her. Maybe both.

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*LIBEL (1959)*

*Part 1 of 2*

 

In LIBEL, Olivia de Havilland and Dirk Bogarde are paired as a married couple whose perfect yet vulnerable world is on display for all to see. The lavishly mounted production was filmed at MGM's studio in Britain.

 

The use of close-ups by director Anthony Asquith to give us clues about the emotional states of the characters during trial testimony is very well done-- especially with de Havilland who does not have much dialogue in these scenes before she is finally put on the stand. She conveys as much with her eyes as a silent film actress would: the surprise, anguish, horror, confusion and conviction of her character.

 

When Number 15 enters the courtroom, Asquith is using a moving camera to get the reaction shots of the key players. He keeps us close, up on the characters' faces, as they react...and that is the emotional turning point of the whole film.

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*LIBEL (1959)*

*Part 2 of 2*

 

Dirk Bogarde performs multiple roles in LIBEL. The trick photography is very good, especially a scene in flashback, when he is in the hut during the war. As one of his characters walks past the other, the shadow that is cast over the face of the other Bogarde is perfectly timed and indicates the double was exactly the right height. Therefore, it did seem like there were two actors instead of one doing two characters.

 

Of course, an astute viewer knows the medallion would be the item that saves Mark (Bogarde's good guy character) in the end. But having it come after de Havilland denounces him in court and rails against him at home carries a great deal more impact.

 

This is a deliciously plotted potboiler, even if a bit contrived in some places. Though it could easily have veered from a psychological study into horror claptrap, the fairly restrained performances of the actors keep it in check.

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*MONTE CARLO (1930)*

 

In Ernst Lubitsch's MONTE CARLO, Jeanette MacDonald is paired with Jack Buchanan, instead of her usual partner Maurice Chevalier. But her acting is not as sharp as Marlene Dietrich's might have been. The picture needs a more vixen diva, and Jeanette is too sweet, too soft to play such a role. The rest of the film is fine and has the typical Lubitsch trademark humor.

 

The story is about an aristocratic woman (MacDonald) who browbeats and abuses her personal stylist, a male, at every turn (Buchanan). She fires and hires him back countless times, and gradually realizes that she loves him. The irony is that he is a moneyed aristocrat himself, in hiding from his wealthy family. The highly implausible story is rescued by songs and plenty of merriment.

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*HARVEY (1950)*

 

HARVEY is certainly not a Cinerama epic. The play's dialogue can become a bit cumbersome and overwhelming. It is best when we see those moments where Jimmy Stewart walks around and interacts with the scenery, or when we see Josephine Hull, as the overly concerned older sister, reacting to him. The production receives a boost from Jesse White whose work in this picture is quite good; don't miss the barroom scene.

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*PINKY (1949)*

 

PINKY is a thought-provoking film. The characters are all carefully presented and the story is simple yet complex. But while Jeanne Crain is a fabulous actress, she is perhaps wrong for this part. Her Irish heritage cannot be concealed by the black-and-white cinematography, because her bone structure and eyes are very distinctly non-African in appearance.

 

Apparently, Gene Tierney was first considered for the part, and so was Linda Darnell. But again, both of those actresses are Caucasian, and this role requires a real-life mulatto actress. Perhaps having a white actress in the lead helped Fox tell the story without a black, or partially black woman kissing a white man-- in the film, Pinky kisses her fianc?, played by William Lundigan. Despite the uneven casting of the lead, the rest of the players are well selected. Improving on the supporting actresses would not be necessary. The two Ethels are perfect: Ethel Waters as the grandmother; and Ethel Barrymore as the old southern belle.

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By any chance, would you happen to know when 99 RIVER STREET (1953) will be shown on TCM?

 

Looks like an awesome movie....

 

Thank You :)

 

Twink

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*THE BAD SEED (1956)*

 

The filmed play boasts excellent performances, most notably by Patty McCormack as the homicidal child. As good as the overall production may be, it still comes across a little too stagey. Some of the dialogue about psychoanalysis is rather heavy-handed. A few scenes should have been trimmed to avoid prolonging the inevitable: the title character's comeuppance. Interestingly, she does not get her just desserts in the play the way she does in the movie.

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*EDWARD, MY SON (1949)*

 

The production code mars the end of EDWARD, MY SON. In the final moments, Spencer Tracy's character is punished for a crime that occurred at the very beginning of the film. He committed much worse acts throughout the rest of the film. The point is that he gets away with many of his crimes and creates his own misery. An otherwise excellent film, it contains solid performances by Mr. Tracy and his costar Deborah Kerr.

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*TWO OF A KIND (1951)*

 

Someone apparently thought a hit picture could be made by pairing Lizabeth Scott with Edmond O'Brien. While TWO OF A KIND is not a smash hit, it does have its moments. These moments are helped by Alexander Knox and Terry Moore in supporting roles. This film is perhaps best described as a comedy-noir. In other words, it's a black comedy.

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*LOVE IS A HEADACHE (1938)*

 

LOVE IS A HEADACHE is a high-concept programmer from MGM about a fading actress (Gladys George) who adopts two street urchins as a publicity stunt. The urchins are portrayed by Mickey Rooney and Virginia Weidler, who they give the movies one of its better sibling relationships. Franchot Tone is in on the set-up. It's nice to see him in more of a 'family'-type comedy.

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*A HATFUL OF RAIN (1957)*

*Part 1 of 2*

 

The plot is almost razor-thin (a couple is haunted by his nightmarish drug addiction) and focuses more on the relationships that involve the main characters and those in their orbit. But Michael Gazzo's story is very engagingly done, because although it feels slow in the first thirty minutes, you become gradually absorbed into their problems (which cover more than just the drug use).

 

What impressed me most was the casting of Lloyd Nolan as the ineffectual father. The casting works very nicely, because Nolan uses more of an 'old-school' style of Hollywood film acting; and this, juxtaposed against the hardline method turn by Don Murray and Anthony Franciosa who play his embittered sons makes the contrast and generational gap between them all the more noticeable.

 

Eva Marie Saint is on hand as the only female in this melee of simmering emotions, taking over from Shelley Winters who did the stage version (Winters was married to Franciosa). As much as I like Saint and can see how Fox would have considered her more glamorous movie star material, I think it might have been edgier with Winters who probably nailed the character's working class origins.

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*A HATFUL OF RAIN (1957)*

*Part 2 of 2*

 

I have not seen the stage version or read the play, but I think anyone seeing the film for the first time can guess where director Fred Zinnemann has taken a few cinematic liberties with the story. There are some brief moments where we cut away to Don Murray's character wandering the street, struggling with the thought of robbing a kind old woman so he can afford a quick fix from his dope dealers. The way these exterior scenes are filmed at night provide a sense of foreboding and increase the film's overall moodiness.

 

The best scenes occur at the end when Murray comes out of the closet about his addiction. There is a memorable dinner scene where he admits he's a junkie to the father, and for the first time, dear old pop realizes that the brother (Franciosa) has been in on the secret the whole time. I don't think the wife's reactions are exactly right-- she was supposed to have been in the dark about the root of her crumbling marriage, thinking there was another woman, but Saint plays it almost too reassuringly, as if it's no big deal and would you please pass the stew.

 

The ending, where they do a group intervention is truly riveting drama. I can only imagine what it was like on stage, where the intimacy of the theatre brings the audience and performers that much closer together. It's harrowing to say the least. But there is a sense of satisfaction (and relief) that Nolan's deadbeat dad has finally taken some responsibility about the mess he has created. The film does not end with any easy answer, just the idea that the problem has now been addressed and they can all begin to move forward.

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*CALL HER SAVAGE (1932)*

 

CALL HER SAVAGE is produced by Fox in epic style. It covers two generations and many years in the life of Clara Bow's character, despite the fact the film is only ninety minutes in length. Miss Bow delivers a sharp performance and proves that she is more than up to the task of having a serious career in sound pictures.

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LOVE IS A HEADACHE is a high-concept programmer from MGM about a fading actress (Gladys George) who adopts two street urchins as a publicity stunt. The urchins are portrayed by Mickey Rooney and Virginia Weidler, who they give the movies one of its better sibling relationships. Franchot Tone is in on the set-up. It's nice to see him in more of a 'family'-type comedy.

 

Sorry to be commenting days after the post. I saw this film once about five or six years ago on TCM and thought it to be a bit of a hidden gem. The entire cast was good, it was a good first full time MGM effort for Weidler and gave a strong hint as to the chemistry she and Rooney would have together. It is a pity that Gladys George was as fading as her character at this point, for she was quite good as well.

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>It is a pity that Gladys George was as fading as her character at this point, for she was quite good as well.

 

She would continue to act in prestigious A-quality films and a decent array of studio programmers throughout the 1940s, but usually in supporting roles. Her days as a lead actress were numbered after this production.

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*THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS (1956)*

 

Raoul Walsh directs Clark Gable in this western comedy, which boasts above-average performances and stunning cinematography. In the picture, a con man (Gable) goes to the old homestead of an outlaw gang that has been killed. Supposedly, their ma and widows (hence, the four ladies in the title) know where a stash of gold is buried. Of course, Gable gets drawn into impossible romantic situations with the gals, including one that is played to a tee by Eleanor Parker. But he also has to deal with gun-toting, bible-thumping ma (Jo Van Fleet), who tries to force him off their property.

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*HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943)*

 

In Hollywood they sort of discretely hide the ages of older characters. When you think about it, many films do have quite a few older performers (usually playing much younger than can be believed). HEAVEN CAN WAIT employs a slew of older character actors and lets them act their age. Charles Coburn even happens to play a character older than himself! And the movie is much richer for it.

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