Category Archives: Movie Reviews

MOVIE REVIEW: Devotion

For the Ida Lupino blogathon over at Miss Ida Lupino, I am going to profile Devotion, a film that stars both Ida Lupino and my favorite lady Olivia de Havilland. I first saw the film last year, during TCM’s Olivia de Havilland “Summer Under the Stars” day, a day on which I had been taping every single movie that came on (I am a huge Olivia de Havilland fan). I thought it a travesty that I had never seen Devotion, so I rushed home from my summer class to see it live as it aired.

The film concerns itself with the true story of the Bronte sisters–their lives, loves, and writings. As they compete with each other over the affections of Reverend Arthur Nichols, their brother is struggling desperately with alcohol and they try to save him from its ravages. Ida Lupino plays Emily Bronte, Olivia de Havilland plays Charlotte, and Nancy Coleman plays Anne, in a film that has a magnificent subject–but somehow misses its target.

Despite a brilliant cast that I have just outlined, the film itself could not be totally saved. It runs very slowly, with a plot that doesn’t really seem to know where it’s going, and the very seasoned actors seem to be lost in the material. This is a film that could have been so amazingly done, à la Wuthering Heights, but it seems as though the heart of Warner Brothers wasn’t in this one. However, I think that Lupino and de Havilland can really do no wrong, so the film is worth watching if only to see them.

Devotion is notable in being the final film that Olivia de Havilland made at Warner Brothers before her famous 1943 challenge of the studio over her contract. The film was completed in February 1943, but its release was delayed until April 1946 due to concerns over how it would be received while de Havilland’s lawsuit was pending. She won her landmark suit against the studio in a unanimous decision by the court, allowing her to leave her contract without having to serve the six months probation she had incurred while on suspension. The case is now studied by law students in classes dealing with entertainment law, and it set a precedent in the industry, indicating the first rumblings of the eradication of the studio system.

In all, Devotion is a flawed film, but it is worth seeing because of its relevance in the business and because of the pairing of two of the screen’s most radiant stars.

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4TH OF JULY MOVIE REVIEW: To The Shores of Tripoli (1942)

Well everyone, first off I would like to wish you and yours a very safe and happy holiday today, with lots of good food, good celebration, and warm summer weather! My family is off to Sonoma today for a picnic, but first I would like to post a short movie review of a film related to the U.S. for the holiday.

You guessed it, this movie is about World War II. Endless wartime propaganda films were made during the war, and To The Shores of Tripoli is no exception. It actually began as simply an examination of war, but as the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred during filming, they changed the tone of the movie to reflect the growing need for military enlistment in the face of American participation in the war.

The movie concerns itself with a young soldier (John Payne) who falls in love with a Navy nurse (Maureen O’Hara), but under military non-fraternization policy, they are not allowed to….well, fraternize. He keeps on her though, and it gets him in trouble with his girlfriend back home. He eventually leaves the Marines, but back home he learns of Pearl Harbor and re-enlists. The end.

I would say that this is a pretty typical wartime propaganda movie, though probably better than most. I don’t generally like these movies, I find them rather contrived and silly, and I can’t honestly say that I like To the Shores of Tripoli. I enjoy all the actors in it, and it’s fun to see Maureen O’Hara and John Payne acting together a number of years before their famous pairing in Miracle on 34th Street. The plot is hard to follow and not too well-conceived, but the photography is incredible. This was the first movie Maureen O’Hara shot in Technicolor, and she is absolutely stunning.

Beautiful .gif file from the movie.

Anyway, I’m off to prepare for the picnic, but I hope everyone has a great 4th of July!

DUAL BIRTHDAY SPAMS–#1: Leslie Caron

July 1 produces great Hollywood stars. Tomorrow (or today in France, where both birthday girls reside) is the birthday of two film legends–Leslie Caron (born 1931) and Olivia de Havilland (born a whopping 1916).

As I know I’m going to get carried away about Olivia and basically write an entire novel about how wonderful she is, I’m going to start with Leslie Caron and save my energy for Livvie tomorrow, when I hopefully won’t be so jetlagged.

I find Leslie Caron to be a vastly underrated performer. A trained ballet dancer, I think she was often misused in roles that may not have been correct for her. I am going to wish her a happy birthday by showcasing some of her phenomenal dancing scenes, as well as some roles that I think she fit very well.

Her first film, the brilliant An American in Paris, 1951.

Daddy Long Legs, 1958.

Lili, 1953. One of my all-time favorite movies, and the one that introduced me to classic film at age 4. I will always be grateful to Leslie Caron for that.

Dance sequence in Lili.

I recently finished Leslie Caron’s autobiography, and she seems like a truly great person as well as a marvelous star. I wish I had been able to go to her Bed and Breakfast when I was in France, because how cool would that have been?

Happy birthday Leslie Caron!!

Woody Allen Blogathon–WHAT’S UP TIGER LILY?

For my second installment in the Woody Allen blogathon, I am going to profile one of my all-time favorites–Allen’s first directed film, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

After the success of his script What’s New, Pussycat the previous year, Allen was ready to try his hand at directing. For his next project, he chose to not work so hard, and rely on the very simple comedy that comes from turning off the volume on a video and adding your own dialogue.

This movie is so ridiculous I feel like I can’t even communicate it properly. Basically, the premise is this: a secret agent, Phil Moskowitz, is hired by a king of a strange country (“nonexistent, but real-sounding”) to find the world’s best egg salad recipe that was stolen from him. The catch (as though there had to be more of a catch than that) is that this movie was not filmed or created, per se, by Woody Allen–it is simply a series of clips from a very serious Japanese spy movie, with all the dialogue cut out and replaced with Allen’s own.

The characters traverse all over the globe in search of this egg salad recipe, and in the process they get stuck in a safe, stuck on a boat getting shot at, and other ridiculous circumstances that could only happen in a movie like this.

The plot is so crazy that it’s quite hard to follow, if it was supposed to have been followed at all, which is doubtful. The jokes are silly and often quite dumb, which is part of its charm–to say this film doesn’t take itself seriously is a massive understatement. Actor Tatsuya Mihashi plays Phil Moskowitz (yes, I know), and his character is all over the map all the time. In fact, none of the characters have any sort of development, which makes it markedly different from the previous  Woody Allen film I profiled, Annie Hall, but it gives the movie a feel of improvisation. Given the subject matter, that makes it all the more hilarious.

Interspersed in between scenes are oddly-placed musical numbers performed by The Lovin’ Spoonful:

These were added against Woody Allen’s wishes, and I really don’t know who had the strange idea to have a folk group appear in a movie like this. The songs are catchy and great, but they really don’t fit.  After this experience, Allen sought to have creative approval for the rest of his films, which was probably a smart move.

The end credits may be the best part of What’s Up, Tiger Lily. They have nothing to do with the rest of the movie, but instead feature a striptease:

If the movie has a flaw, it would be that the general insanity of the plot makes it either absolutely fall-down funny, or very puzzling and boring. Especially with the interspersion of the Lovin’ Spoonful numbers, the movie has an air of being unfinished or badly edited, which might be a turnoff to some viewers, but in all honesty, if it had a real structure it would be a completely different film and probably a whole lot less funny.

If you would like to see What’s Up, Tiger Lily and you don’t have Netflix, you might have some trouble finding it. I know it’s available to buy on Amazon.com and to view on Netflix, but I have never found it in any mainstream video stores. I wish it were more widely available, because I think it’s a Woody Allen treasure that not a lot of people are familiar with.

Happy watching!

Woody Allen Blogathon–Annie Hall

And so starts Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s classic examination of love in the modern world.

I consider this to be his masterpiece–a very funny, smart, and often poignant look at modern relationships, from the perspective of a neurotic New Yorker. This movie has been a part of my life for a very long time, lines from it have been appropriated by my family and I know just about every scene by heart. Coming from a rather neurotic Jewish family myself, the main character is essentially a composite of every person in my family. And as such it is very much beloved.

The story concerns itself with Alvie Singer, a comedian who insists that he grew up in Brooklyn underneath the roller coaster, though his analyst says he exaggerates his childhood memories. He recalls being neurotic as a child about the universe expanding:

All this serves to strengthen Alvie’s character for the duration of the movie. Despite his neuroses (or perhaps because of them), Alvie is a VERY strong and well-developed character. In fact, I believe that the character development in this movie, of all the characters, is perhaps one of the best in the history of film. Even the minor characters that only appear in one scene (Annie’s grandmother, for example, who Alvie refers to as a “classic Jew-hater”) have a real biography and history behind them. The scenes with Alvie’s other relationship partners are also wonderful examples of this:

Carol Kane as “Allison Porchnik”

Shelley Duvall as “Pam”

The character of Annie Hall herself is established very skillfully right away, partly due to Allen’s brilliant writing, partly to the masterful direction and I think the majority is due to Diane Keaton’s completely natural ability in the character of Annie. It is said that Annie Hall was based on Keaton herself–she had dated Woody Allen in the early 1970’s, and if one is aware that her original last name was Hall and she was called “Annie” as a child, it certainly seems more than likely.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks, and the flashback sequence where Alvie meets Annie for the first time is a true testament to Keaton’s brilliance in capturing the character:

From this scene, we begin to see the relationship between Annie and Alvie develop, through a series of revelatory scenes that connect the two characters psychologically and develop their characters as they relate to each other. Their relationship is more one of “opposites attract” than a true kinship, and their status as an “unlikely couple” gives the film much of its quirky charm.

Another recurring theme in this movie is intellectualism, with an almost incessant dropping of names and references to major figures in literature, popular culture, and psychology. In a classic scene, at the very beginning of the film, we really see what intellect means to Alvie, for better or for worse:

Alvie, as we are reminded multiple times throughout the film, has been in therapy for 15 years and wants Annie to go, too. He pays for her sessions, and this concept of their both being in therapy paves the way for lots of intellectual discussions about the nature of psychology. Alvie seems very concerned about Annie and her lack of depth, as he perceives it, and he tries to get Annie to expand her intellectual horizons by going to adult education courses. When she does, and begins to crush on her professor, Alvie ridicules intellectualism in general because it interferes with his own intentions with Annie.

The whole film is really a game, playing with the audience in regard to the characters, their insecurities, and their general humanity. It lacks a traditional ending, with Allen preferring, I think, to keep the movie entirely real and more like an examination of characters rather than just a piece of entertainment. It certainly succeeds, and it won Best Actress (Diane Keaton), Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture at the 1977 Oscars.

Here is Diane Keaton giving her Oscar speech:

Annie Hall is a favorite of film fans and is widely available. You might have a tougher time finding it at the huge movie outlets, as it’s still considered an offbeat movie appealing only to certain audiences (because it’s so intellectual), but Netflix has it, and most independent movie outlets have it, and you generally shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it at all. It’s VERY funny, very quirky, the writing is impeccable and it is a truly joyful movie experience.

Thank you to Marya at Diary of a Film Awards Fanatic for hosting this blogathon!

MOVIE REVIEWS–My Man Godfrey

A zany comedy with a script that is so absurd it’s almost surreal, “My Man Godfrey” is one of the films that I think deserves more credit outside the classic film community than it gets. A showcase of the very different comic styles of both Carole Lombard and William Powell, it is, I think, one of the more advanced comedies to come out of the 1930’s.

The story deals with a high society girl, Irene, who plucks a homeless man out of the ash pile to bring to a “scavenger hunt” at a high society party. See what I mean about absurd? The scavenger hunt had as its last requirement the finding of a “forgotten man,” and bringing him to the party, so this girl went down to the ash pile next to the Brooklyn Bridge and found a homeless man.

She wins the prize, much to the chagrin of her sister, who had tried to coerce the homeless man into coming with her first. Irene feels grateful to the homeless man, whose name we have learned is Godfrey, for helping her win the coveted prize, and as thanks, she offers him the position of butler in their house. Neither the sister nor the mother (who is truly nutty, and who had, by the way, had found a goat the scavenger hunt…) approves. He is hired nonetheless by Irene, and begins his work the next morning.

We learn straight away that this family is even more nutty than it seems. The mother has a protégé by the name of Carlo who eats too much and is a drama queen, the mother herself has a tendency to see pixies when she is hungover (which is often), Irene is prone to fake fainting spells when she doesn’t get her way (which Carlo attempts to quell by acting like a gorilla to make her laugh), the older sister is a spoiled brat and the father is on the brink of bankruptcy and bitter about how insane his family is. Godfrey is the only butler who has stayed more than a short period of time, and the father wonders why he decides to stay. His ability to stay with the family makes him suspicious of his actual identity. Irene, naturally, falls in love with him, and this only complicates things for Godfrey.

In fact, we learn that Godfrey is not a homeless man by necessity, but rather by choice. He came from a prominent Boston family, and embittered by society life, he admired the men who lived on nothing and decided to become one of them. The family does not know this, and he does not tell them. That is, until the end, after a series of mishaps ensue (namely the disappearance of the brat sister’s pearl necklace) and…well, I won’t tell you the end.

Carole Lombard is perfect in the role of Irene, with her sweet, eccentric humor, and William Powell plays the straight man very well with most of his humor being in his physical presence. There is one scene where he is simply walking up the stairs, and it is funny as can be. The mother, played by Alice Brady, however, may steal the show away from both of them. Her nuttiness is pretty much the comic center of the movie. Although Alice Brady is perfect, if I were to recast the film with other actors fitting the roles perfectly, I would cast Billie Burke as the mother.

“My Man Godfrey” is brilliantly well-written, on a number of levels. On one level, it is full of zingers and one-liners, many of which are delivered so quickly that it takes a moment to realize what was just said. One of my favorites, between Godfrey and the maid:

GODFREY: May I be frank?

MAID: Is that your name?

GODFREY: I’m Godfrey.

MAID: Oh. Be Frank.

As I mentioned earlier, another aspect of the script is its complete and unapologetic absurdity. When Irene has one of her fake fainting spells, Godfrey puts her in the shower and turns the cold water on to teach her a lesson, and Irene takes this to mean that Godfrey is in love with her. The mother says nothing but things that don’t make any sense, and her reactions to anything negative have to do with how they’re affecting Carlo. Toward the end of the movie, the father finally has enough of Carlo and throws him out the window. If this movie has a fault, it’s that it may be TOO absurd for many people. My personal taste says that nothing is too absurd, but it’s just way over the top and surreal.

The film also ends in a very strange way, leaving the viewer almost feeling like something was intended to be there but never made the final cut. When the film ended the first time I watched it I was very confused–is it really over? It leaves one expecting something more.

My Man Godfrey is not VERY widely available, but you should be able to find it on Netflix. They recently colorized it, and don’t get that version if you can avoid it. The original black and white is always the best option.

Happy watching!

MOVIE REVIEW: Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

As it was raining very hard last night and there was really nothing to do but go to a movie, I decided to go to the classic movie theater and watch the film Leave Her to Heaven, starring one of the most spectacularly beautiful actresses ever onscreen who does not get half the credit she deserves, Gene Tierney. I’ve seen the film a number of times before, but never on the big screen, so this was a treat.

Upon entering the theater, I ran into a woman with whom I had befriended at a screening of “His Girl Friday,” the both of us sharing an undying love with Rosalind Russell, and I almost expected to see her here at this showing of Leave Her to Heaven because at our last meeting she expressed a similar admiration for Gene Tierney. I was not disappointed. There she was, and we spent the time before the film discussing the merits of aforementioned actress, with my using the French phrase “superbelle” to describe her beauty. She insisted that her beauty was not everything, there was a fire and life to her that superseded her immense looks, and I must say that I agree. Her life was not to be envied–her marriage to designer Oleg Cassini produced a daughter born blind and mentally retarded, due to Gene’s acquisition of German measles while pregnant. She developed bipolar disorder, and spent much of her mid-adult life in and out of mental institutions. She wrote about the experience in her autobiography, “Self Portrait,” which was a very brave thing to do. My friend and I discussed all that, until the movie started we were both enamored with it.

The film concerns itself with a woman, Ellen Berendt, who marries a man she meets on a train, and proceeds to become so jealous of everything that comes between them that she will stop at nothing to destroy those things. In a famous scene, she encourages her husband’s teenage, disabled brother to go for a swim in a lake near their house, and *SPOILER ALERT*watches remorselessly as he tires and ultimately drowns. She makes herself fall down a flight of stairs while pregnant so that the unborn child will not come between her and her husband. The film wraps up with an incredible, mind-bending conclusion that you would never expect, so prepare to be surprised.

One of the interesting things about this film is that it is shot in a beautiful Technicolor. In a film that deals with murder, treachery, and revenge, the use of color is something very rare indeed during this time period, with the vast majority of these films being in black and white, as clear representatives of the film noir genre. The film itself is very much a part of the genre in its treatment of its subjects, and it is in fact largely classified as a noir film, despite its unusual use of color photography. For a film such as this, whose plot could be considered part of film noir, the use of such tranquil, almost pastel colors has an unusual effect. It sets a scene of calm and serenity, in the place of the traditional stark black and white photography of the genre, which almost makes you feel like something is bound to happen at any moment. Indeed, many of the horrid things that Ellen does in this movie are approached gradually, with a sense of calm and reserve. The scene with the boy in the lake is played with no background music, just the sounds of the water coupled with Tierney’s heartless gaze through her sunglasses. The fact that she wears sunglasses, too, is something quite remarkable to me. It masks any emotion that may be happening behind her eyes, and instead allows the viewer to imagine exactly what she is feeling behind those glasses.

The scene on the lake.

As the scene ends, she suddenly yanks off her glasses, revealing her bright blue eyes in a piercing gaze.

After the fact.

Intense, right??

The film also stars the lovely and talented Jeanne Crain, who does quite a good job in the thankless role of younger sister Ruth, with not much action to speak of. Chill Wills has a supporting role, but his character does not advance to plot much at all, nor does the character of Ellen’s mother. Ellen’s father, who is never seen in the film (according to the plot, he died shortly before the main action took place), has more of an impact on the story than any of the other supporting characters, and it seems like much of what happens in terms of the supporting characters is simply filler. Many of them could have been cut out, but then again the more characters there are, the more action happens, no matter how tiny, the more evidence we have to think Ellen is a monster. I must say that one of the benefits of this movie is that it is VERY nice to look at–Cornel Wilde plays the husband, Gene Tierney the main character, and Jeanne Crain the supporting role. In all, this is a movie well-worth seeing. There is a recurring theme of eyes speaking emotions rather than words–in addition to the lake scene, there is one scene toward the end that Cornel Wilde plays completely with his eyes, absolutely brilliantly. He says not a word throughout the entire scene, but his eyes speak it all, which I say is a mark of a great actor.

If you would like to see Leave Her to Heaven, it is readily available on Netflix and in movie stores. It also happens to be shown often on public television.

Happy watching!