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A Movie Everyone Else Loves But You Just Don't It.


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Growing up in the early nineties, I had an eccentric art teacher (who at the time was in her sixties) and who had been a high-fashion model in NYC, and with whom I shared a love of classic movies, songs and actors.

 

I will never forget her telling me a story about when she was a young girl, she and some friends saw MARGARET SULLAVAN at a table at a beachside cafe. They approached her for an autograph, and she promptly summoned a waiter and told him to "get these kids the hell away from me."

 

Did it really happen? Was my teacher's memory maybe confused and it was really Constance Bennett? Did they catch her at  bad time? I dunno, but combined with what I've read about Sullavan being a neurotic, frosty, volatile personality (being married to Henry Fonda didn't help) whose daughter killed herself and who later took her own life, it's a little hard for me to buy the perpetual "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" routine Miss Sullavan seems to be putting on in all of her films, some of which (LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? comes immediately to mind) have not aged well at all.

 

Thank you, and I appreciate your allowing my to ruin Margaret Sullavan for those of you remaining in her corner.

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THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER. Maybe two and a half stars out of four, to be generous, because the acting is good and I like Margaret Sullavan.

 

 

Margaret Sullavan leaves me cold. She was quite a good actress, I suppose, but I find her personality frosty and unengaging. Therefore, I have a bit of a difficult time understanding why Jimmy Stewart (or anyone else) would be attracted to her in THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER.

 

Having said that, the film itself is rife with charm for me. The cast is a marvel, including virtually all the supporting players. (Even Sullavan, I admit, is quite good in the film). The art direction and costumes are perfection, adding tremendously to the atmosphere of this turn-of-the-century nostalgic look at a fantasy Budapest, as handsomely presented in the Hollywood studio system days.

 

And any film that has so touching a performance as that of Frank Morgan as the shop proprietor cannot be dismissed as a minor effort. Morgan deviated from his usual befuddlement schtick (which I love watching) to give a serious deeping moving characterization as a middle aged man fearful of losing his young wife, and being alone. Yet he's a man of pride and keeps his fears to himself, causing misunderstanding among his staff. It's a lovely performance, and one that I cherish watching whenever I view this Lubitsch delight. It was one of Morgan's truly shining moments on the screen.

 

frank-morgan-the-shop-around-the-corner1

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I never really thought about it, but this may be the reason I don't really care for The Shop Around the Corner, too. I do like some films that Sullavan made, but she's a cold fish most of the time. It really doesn't matter who her leading man is. I kind of feel the same way about our current SOTM, Susan Hayward. She seems like she's fiery and passionate, but it works better when she's not trying to do it with a love interest.

Maybe Hayward comes across best when she is her own love interest.

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Oh yeah, I can't watch Lawrence of Arabia all the way through. Maybe it's the fact that the film seems as long and as onerous to traverse as that desert they're always riding around  in. Or maybe it's that grandiose sweeping theme music, with Peter O'Toole looking all noble and conflicted as he stares into the sunset or the desert sands or his horse's eyes or something.

 

Yet just about everyone else seems to love it.

 

I kinda, sorta like it... in the same way I like Gandhi. There is a certain appeal about updated "British Colonial Epics" with noisy trains (a David Lean specialty) and armies running all over the place... and stuffy English gents lost in deserts and among crowded streets.

 

Nonetheless... if Lawrence, with its all-male cast, had SOME "romance", it would be more "humanized" and less pretty pictures and action sequences. I think the camels are having more fun with each other between camera takes. Unfortunately, mainstream Hollywood/British films of that era couldn't show the "real" Lawrence, who was hardly "in the closet" in his private life. You can't help but wonder what all he and the young lad did in the desert before they got their post-Sahara lemonade.

 

Despite its repetitive music that drives TCM viewers bonkers, Dr. Zhivago is a more entertaining Lean epic from start to finish. If nothing else, it is fun seeing the "heat" between Omar Shariff and Julie Christie increase as Rod Steiger gets increasingly frustrated because he ain't gettin' any. Sort of like Gone With The Wind... Rhett wants Scarlet but Scarlet wants Ashley and Ashley wants his wife Melanie until everybody winds up with nobody in the end, thanks to Melanie dying, Ashley staying a widower and Rhett bugging out. The longer the epic, the more sexually frustrated the main characters... and watching them all squirm over three hours makes the time go by fast.

 

On another note, Peter O'Toole is a good actor who should have gotten Oscar attention, but he is a ham. Mind you, he is an entertaining ham, but still a ham. My favorite Lawrence moment is when Peter dances on the train... simply because it looks absolutely ridiculous (whether or not the real Lawrence ever did that). In The Lion In Winter, Katharine Hepburn and Anthony Hopkins were a believable Eleanor and Richard, while Peter looked less like a Henry and more like a struggling Shakespearean actor gesturing and bouncing all over the place.

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I like SOME LIKE IT HOT, but Wilder has done better------THE APARTMENT, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, THE LOST WEEKEND, SABRINA, but I'm sure I don't like SUNSET BLVD. as much as many of you. 

 

FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO and ONE, TWO, THREE up there with his very best. They don't get mentioned often enough. ACE IN THE HOLE too.

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