June 2014 Blind Spot Film: REBECCA (1940)

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As with a lot of the BlindSpot viewings this year, there are a lot of firsts in regards to REBECCA. No, it’s not the first Hitchcock film I saw, but it’s the first Laurence Olivier AND Joan Fontaine film I ever saw. I didn’t know David O. Selznick produced this, which was interesting given that I first saw Fontaine’s sister Olivia deHavilland in Selznick’s epic drama Gone With The Wind just the year before.

This was billed as a dramatic thriller, as well as a gothic romance, which immediately made me think of Jane Eyre. Interestingly enough, I noticed a few similarities with Charlotte Brontë’s classic tale (and not only because Fontaine did play Jane Eyre in 1943 with Orson Welles). Both of the protagonists in Jane Eyre and Rebecca are still haunted by his first wife. A wealthy man named Maxim de Winter (Olivier) meets a young, naive girl who accompanies her employer on a trip to Monte Carlo. Their first meeting wasn’t exactly a ‘meet cute,’ in fact he was rather rude towards her [yet another similarity to Jane Eyre‘s Rochester] but after a whirlwind romance, the two got married and he took her to his estate, Manderley.

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Now by the time the film starts, Rebecca is no longer in the picture, but no doubt her presence is felt throughout the film. Rebecca is definitely an overwhelming force despite the character never being shown on screen, not even in flashback. And that’s definitely what the filmmaker wanted Fontaine’s character to feel throughout the movie, that she’s overwhelmed by this unseen force who clearly still has a strange hold on everyone in Manderley.

The real suspense starts to build as soon as the couple get to Manderley. The big, expansive mansion looks and feel eerie, not unlike the ominous Thornfield Hall with a strange woman locked in the attic. The house is almost a character in itself, and it definitely plays a big role in the story. Manderley’s domineering, creepy housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) definitely gives me the hibijibis. I really feel for Fontaine’s character and what she had to go through, not only did she have to endure her husband’s coldness, she also has to deal with a deranged, obsessive housekeeper who wanted to be rid of her. I kept wondering though why they couldn’t just fire Mrs. Danvers, I mean she is after all an employee at the estate. Right from the very moment she’s introduced in the movie, Mrs. Danvers is one of the most spine-chilling characters that really gets under my skin. I think the most terrifying scenes in the movie is when she gives Fontaine’s character a tour to Rebecca’s room, reminiscing on her former master and her obsession with her.

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Mrs. Danvers: [just as the second Mrs. de Winter reaches for the door] You wouldn’t think she’d been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step, I couldn’t mistake it anywhere. It’s not only in this room, it’s in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now.

Mrs. Danvers: Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?

The Second Mrs. de Winter: [sobbing] N-no, I don’t believe it.

Mrs. Danvers: Sometimes, I wonder if she doesn’t come back here to Manderley, to watch you and Mr. de Winter together. You look tired. Why don’t you stay here a while and rest, and listen to the sea? It’s so soothing. Listen to it.

[turning away towards the window as the second Mrs. de Winter slips out the door]
Mrs. Danvers: Listen. Listen to the sea.

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You could say Judith was quite the scene-stealer in this film as you simply can’t shake her for some time after you’ve seen this film. She’s THAT creepy. The rest of the cast is equally excellent in their Oscar-nominated performances. I’m quite impressed by the luminous Joan Fontaine who’s the heart of the film whomI sympathize with right away. She went from being this frail, nervous and self-conscious young bride in the beginning, to a woman who’s able to hold her own by the end. Her character definitely *grew up* as the film progressed and her transformation is very believable. Sir Olivier is perfectly suited as the wealthy tortured soul type, hardened and enigmatic. The British thespian has played another Bronte’s dark hero, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights just the year before, sounds like the type of roles he could play in his sleep. There’s not much chemistry between him and Fontaine but given the plot of the story it sort of make sense. Based on the documentary included in the disc, apparently Olivier was keen on having his then-girlfriend Vivien Leigh to play Fontaine’s role, but I personally don’t think Leigh would suit the role as well.  George Sanders plays this weasel character who’s trying to frame Maxim, I’ve seen him play a similar character in All About Eve not too long ago. His character seems too lively to be really sinister or threatening however, I think out of all the characters, I feel that his performance is the least convincing to me.

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As to be expected from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock truly delivered the goods with this one. This is his second feature adaptation from Daphne Du Maurier novel and clearly the material suits his style. The gothic story lends itself to the eerie, bone-chilling atmosphere, and Hitchcock is the master at building up the suspense and that dreaded sense of impending doom. Every frame, sound, ambiance is carefully crafted, coupled with Franz Waxman‘s ominous score for a total immersive experience. I didn’t see the twist coming which is always nice when that happens. Yet Rebecca isn’t reliant on that twist for you to truly appreciate the film because it’s more than just a gimmick. The story is rich, with a deep, layered symbolism that stays with you long after the credits. It’s also a beautifully-shot film with the lush setting, gorgeous costumes, and evocative lighting that brings out its supernatural quality.

This is definitely one of those films that lives up to the hype. The heightened suspense and tension is what I expect from Hitchcock — he brought Du Marier’s story alive and kept me engrossed from start to finish. Just like the literary work it’s based on, this film has that timeless quality that would stand the test of time. I am surprised that this is the only Hitchcock film that ever won Best Picture Oscar. I definitely think it’s Oscar-worthy but I haven’t seen his later works such as Vertigo and Rear Window that’s far more popular than this one. I definitely have a lot of Hitchcock to catch up on and I’m looking forward to it!

4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the fifth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .


What do you think of  REBECCA? I’d love to hear what you think!

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May 2014 Blind Spot Film: The Apartment (1960)

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The Apartment was supposed to be my April Blindspot movie, but I mistakenly thought I had Some Like It Hot on my list instead. Surely it wasn’t at all a waste that I got to watch another Billy Wilder movie, but I have to admit I was not as enamored with that one as most do. The Apartment however, lives up to all the praises and then some. It’s definitely my favorite out of the three Wilder movies I’ve seen so far (Sabrina 1954 was the first one).

I’ve always wondered why the movie was called The Apartment, but within a few minutes I found out why. I like the opening sequence with Jack Lemmon’s narration. He played the protagonist, C.C. Baxter, who works as an insurance agent for Consolidated Life, one of the top five companies in the country with 31,259 employees. He works on the 19th floor in this giant office with rows upon rows of desks. By the end of the day, Baxter is the only one left. No, not because he’s a workaholic or anything, but he can’t come home to his apartment whenever he likes because he lets the executives of the company use his apartment for trysts. I seriously don’t know how he gets ANY work done as every day he’s so busy booking up his executives’ dates at his apartment and make sure they dates don’t get mixed up. At first I feel bad for him, especially when he gets a call in the middle of the night and have to clear out for one of the execs’ booty call. But you know what, Baxter brought this upon himself, he’s doing this favors to the execs to move up quickly to the top.

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Though it’s obviously a major inconvenience for Baxter, he tolerates this whole charade because of his ambition. That is until he met this cute elevator girl Fran Kubelik. Shirley MacClaine is so cute here with her pixie haircut, this is the first time I saw her in her earlier films as the first movie I saw her in was Guarding Tess (1994) with Nic Cage. This is also the first time I saw Fred McMurray. He’s quite memorable here as the top exec who makes life complicated for Baxter. I’m not going to spoil it for you in case you have not seen the film, though the plot is not entirely unpredictable. What did surprise me was how dark the film got, especially in regards to MacClaine’s character. I think those who’ve seen this know what I’m talking about. Even the whole cheating execs thing is not exactly a wholesome subject matter. But of course, given this is set in the 60s, it’s still a very demure film nary of any risque scene.

At times the storyline reminds me a bit of Roman Holiday in that the protagonist was initially an ambitious go-getter, someone ruthless enough to get ahead in their career. But when they fall in love, their perspective completely changes. I love how Baxter becomes the sweetest, most caring man even after he realizes his chances to be with the girl he loves is slim to none. Jack Lemmon is absolutely endearing in the way he dotes on Fran, taking care of her when she needs it most.

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This film won five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Film Editing. Both Lemmon and MacClaine were nominated in the acting categories, too. I’d have been ok if Lemmon had won Best Actor but then again I don’t know who else was nominated that year. Baxter is the heart and soul of this film, and the transformation of his character as the film progresses is very believable.

I love so many things about this movie. The sharp script by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, lovely music by Adolph Deutsch, and the perfect balance of drama and comedy. I love the hilarious way Baxter made spaghetti, straining the pasta through the grid of a tennis racket. It’s quite an iconic scene that’s cute and heartwarming.

Fran Kubelik: What’s a tennis racket doing in the kitchen?
C.C. Baxter: Tennis racket? Oh, I remember, I was cooking myself an Italian dinner.
[Fran looks confused]
C.C. Baxter: I use it to strain the spaghetti.

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Of course the performances are great all around, I quite like the chemistry between Lemmon and MacClaine, and it’s the kind of romance that’s rarely seen today as their love develops with barely any physical contact! There’s not even a single kissing scene between the two actors, but you definitely felt the connection between the them.

The ending is one of those that made me go up and cheer… especially when Baxter finally stands up for himself and decides to become a *human being* (or a mensch as his doctor neighbor told him to be it just the night before). It turns out having the career he’s always wanted is not all that’s cracked up to be, meanwhile Fran too has an epiphany moment of her own. The finale is definitely one of the most memorable New Year’s Eve moments in movies. I feel that this ending is pretty typical for rom-coms, complete with the girl running to catch the guy she *finally* realizes to be the love of her life + a bit of panic happening that she could be too late. Yet, it doesn’t feel clichéd or hackneyed here, and that’s the beauty of this movie.

I’m glad I finally caught The Apartment, it’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Now that I’ve seen two Billy Wilder movies, I definitely see why people love his work so much. I look forward to catching up on more of his films in the future, especially Sunset Blvd. that’s been recommended to me ages ago.

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4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the fourth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

As I missed April’s BlindSpot, there’ll be a Double Entry next month.


What do you think of  The Apartment? I’d love to hear what you think!

February 2014 Blind Spot: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

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I didn’t realize that I’m doing another Frank Capra film back to back in the BlindSpot series! Well, I had initially wanted to do a James Stewart marathon after the Gregory Peck one, but I never got around to it. Well, I finally got to see it on President’s Day last weekend, what a fitting time it was and this film certainly lived up to its classic icon status. According to IMDb trivia, it’s ranked #5 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time (2006), and #26 Greatest Movie of All Time (2007) also by AFI.

It’s always wonderful to see when ‘the actor and the role meets,’ that is when a role seems to be tailor-made for an actor that it’s as he disappears into that character. I felt that was the case with Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and here, Stewart seemed to have become Jefferson Smith despite not being the first choice for the role. The role was for Gary Cooper who’s supposed to reprise a similar one he did in Mr Deeds Goes To Town (also by Capra), but he was unavailable. Having seen this film, I can’t picture anybody else but Stewart in the role.

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What’s interesting about this film is that even though the subject matter is about American politics, it doesn’t concern a specific party, we’re never told if Jefferson Smith was a Republican or Democrat. The state that he and Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) come from was never mentioned, either. It’s a classic David vs Goliath story as Smith was a nobody in the grand political scheme when a governor of the unnamed western state picked him to replace a deceased senator. He’s picked because of his wholesome Boy Scout (or Boy Rangers in the film) image, the corrupt political boss Jim Taylor and his minions think Smith’s lack of experience think he’d be easy to manipulate. Of course things don’t go exactly to their plan.

The word ‘filibuster’ seems to have become a dirty word in Capitol Hill. Frankly I don’t know much about the intricate and twisted world of politics, so it was fascinating to see Smith getting lectured from his own secretary Clarissa Saunders on how to get a bill passed. It’s certainly one of my fave scenes from the entire film:


This is the first time I saw Jean Arthur in anything and her portrayal of Saunders is brilliant. Nice to see a smart and sassy female character, not unlike another heroine in another famous 1939 film, which took the Best Picture that year, Gone With The Wind. Now, Saunders is nowhere near as manipulative as Scarlett O’Hara of course, but she’s also beautiful and knows her way around a man’s world.

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The whole conflict revolves around building of a dam by the Willett Creek, which is the same area of land where Smith wants to build his national boys camp. Naturally Smith is no match for the Taylor Machine in terms of money and clout, and the political Goliath is determined to crush David by any means possible. Having been *crucified* (that’s the exact word used by Rains’ character) by the Taylor Machine, Smith was ready to give it all up when Saunders persuaded him not to. That propels him to launch a filibuster to clear his name just before he’s kicked out of the Senate.

I was totally engrossed in the story from start to finish, and the third act is certainly the most rousing part. It’s certainly an inspiring story told with an unapologetic sense of virtue. A dissenting voice against this film is perhaps that it lacks subtlety. At times perhaps the audience, especially those on the cynical side might feel they’re being hit over the head with the morality lesson. But you know what, I happen to think it’s great to see a film that celebrates goodness and everything we should aspire to as a human being. I wrote in this post that people may find a hero that stands for truth, justice and the American way so darn boring. I beg to differ on that front. Smith is no superhero, he has no superpower of any kind, but he certainly has the power to inspire others to stand up for what’s right no matter what the cost. In essence, that’s what a true hero is all about.

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As I mentioned before, Stewart is perfectly cast as Smith and he certainly makes for a protagonist worth rooting for. The supporting cast is superb all around. Speaking of GWTW earlier, well, it’s fun to see Pa O’Hara here, aka Thomas Mitchell as journalist Diz Moore who’s in love with Saunders. My favorite is Claude Rains as the Senator whom Smith looks up to but ends up betraying him. His emotional struggle throughout the film is palpable and fascinating to behold and Rains has the charisma and gravitas to own a scene. I’ve only seen him in Casablanca before this, so I’m hoping to catch more of his films.

This film is full of rousing scenes as well as humorous moments. Smith’s obvious naivete is amusing and endearing but never ludicrous. There’s a hint of romance between Saunders and Smith, but yet it never took over the story which I thought was refreshing.

The ending doesn’t end with a neat little bow as our protagonist collapsed in exhaustion after talking non-stop for 24 hours, but he remains defiant and even hopeful to the end.

Jefferson Smith: I guess this is just another lost cause Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for and he fought for them once. For the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule. Love thy neighbor. And in this world today of great hatred a man who knows that rule has a great trust. You know that rule Mr. Paine and I loved you for it just as my father did. And you know that you fight harder for the lost causes than for any others. Yes you’d even die for them. Like a man we both knew Mr. Paine. You think I’m licked. You all think I’m licked. Well I’m not licked. And I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies like these. And the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me.

The change of heart of the antagonist may seem abrupt here but I think Mr. Paine have been convicted that what he did was wrong long before he finally had the courage to confess it.

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Cap·ra·esque

[kap-ruh-esk] relating to or in the style of the movies of Frank Capra, focusing on courage and its positive effects and the triumph of the underdog.


Well, this is the third film from Frank Capra and I definitely see a definite pattern in his films. There’s a timeless quality about it, as his film seems to be relatable for any era because its message and its ideals are not confined by a specific time frame. No matter what year it is, greed, oppression and exploitation are never a good thing, and we’ll always root for someone who perseveres to rise above improbably odds.

I’m so glad I finally caught Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It’s definitely enjoyable and thought-provoking. A true classic that I certainly don’t mind watching again.

four and a half stars out of five
4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the first entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

Here’s my full Blindspot List.


What do you think of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? I’d love to hear what you think!

January 2014 Blind Spot: It Happened One Night (1934)

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Ok, it’s my first Blind Spot Film of the year. I don’t know why it took me so long to finally see this one, as it came highly recommended by so many people. The main draw for me here is to see Clark Gable in something other than Gone With the Wind as that’s the only film I’ve seen him in. It’s also the second Frank Capra film since It’s A Wonderful Life.

Now that I’ve seen the film, I noticed how similar the storyline is to Roman Holiday, but instead of a princess, the female protagonist is a spoiled heiress who’s running away from her father (Walter Connolly) who disapproves  her nuptial to a society aviator. Claudette Colbert has quite a spunk as Ellie Andrews, though I have to admit it took me a while to warm up to her as her character is such a brat. At one point her dad slaps her and she certainly had it coming. Ellie promptly jumps off her dad’s yacht and later catches a bus to New York City to return to her husband. And that’s where the ‘meet cute’ happens.

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Gable’s Peter Warne is an out-of-work newspaper reporter. He’s made quite an effort to secure the last seat on the bus, only to have it ‘stolen’ by Ellie. The bantering between these two are pretty amusing, though it’s obvious they’re attracted to one another. When Warne recognizes who she is, he offers her two choices, one of which is that he’d blow the whistle on her whereabouts to her father. Needless to say, Ellie is stuck with Peter until he can help her get to NYC. Seriously, there are worse things than being stuck with Clark Gable!

One of the main highlights is when Peter rents a small motel for the two of them. It’s quite risque for those days to show a man being shirtless, which apparently happens because Gable kept having trouble removing his undershirt whilst keeping the dialog going, so Capra decided to forgo it. Apparently the undergarment industry was largely affected by this when people stopped buying undershirt as it was deemed cool to not to wear one. That’s mind-boggling how much power Hollywood had back in the day.

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With a set of clothesline and a blanket, Peter builds the ‘walls of Jericho’ between the two beds, which was also Capra’s idea because Colbert refused to undress in front of the camera. The two also puts on quite a show in the morning when two detectives knocked on their door looking for Ellie. Pretending to be a bickering married couple, it was the perfect bonding experience as their adventure is just beginning. Though it’s a completely different role from Rhett Butler, Gable’s certainly got the swagger and charm intact.

Interesting how this film’s success undoubtedly brings about the rom-com trend. We’ve become tired of that genre these days, as most of them are neither romantic nor comedic. I think You’ve Got Mail is a wonderful contemporary rom-com that adhere to a similar pattern, with the characters start out disliking each other. The key I think is in the chemistry of the two actors, and the wit in the dialog. So even if everything else about the film seems out of date, the story still holds up and the dialog still brings a smile to one’s face.

[after Ellie stops a car by showing her leg]
Ellie: Aren’t you going to give me a little credit?
Peter: What for?
Ellie: I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb.
Peter: Why didn’t you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.
Ellie: Well, ooo, I’ll remember that when we need forty cars.

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The story itself is pretty predictable. I knew at the end Ellie and Peter are going to be together, but I was still surprised by how they finally got reunited. Ellie’s father played a huge role in bringing them together, which is interesting in and of itself to see a parental figure having such a big part in the love story. In the finale, ‘walls of Jericho’ shows up again but only from the outside of the motel where presumably Ellie and Peter are now married. The sound of trumpet is heard as the walls is coming down. There are plenty of innuendos throughout, some are less subtle than others, but in this day and age where borderline pornographic content becomes ‘normal’ at the movies, it’s nice to see something THIS wholesome for a change.

ItHappenedOneNight_GableColbertWhat strikes me about this movie is the lack of any kissing scene between the two leads. I’d think the Hayes Code allowed kissing scene at the time, as Colbert did kiss Jameson Thomas who played her husband King Westley, so it made me wonder if it’s because Gable and Colbert didn’t get along during filming. All of the promos like the image on the right that suggest any kind of kissing scenes between these two are so misleading, there’s an almost kiss when the were at a barn, but that’s about it. According to IMDb Trivia, seems that neither of them were fond of making the film and didn’t think much about it. So I guess its massive success (both artistically and financially) was as huge a surprise to them as to everyone else.

So did I love this movie? Yes I did, and I’m glad I finally watched it. At the same time, I’m not as enamored with it as I did with say, Roman Holiday and Casablanca. It’s interesting that both of those films didn’t quite have a happy ending, which actually makes it even more romantic. There is something so beguiling and heart-wrenching to see unrequited love played out on screen. Another thing for me is the character Ellie itself, which is not entirely sympathetic. I mean, her rich dad worships her and she pretty much gets everything she wants. Even Roman Holiday‘s Princess Ann is far less spoiled than Ellie. Yes, Colbert makes her character fun to watch, but she’s not exactly my favorite classic characters.

Overall though, this one deserves the ‘essential classic’ status. It’s the first screwball romantic comedy that no doubt becomes the template for ‘opposites attract’ types of storyline. Of course, very few have such staying power like this one.

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This is the first entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

Here’s my full Blindspot List.


What do you think of It Happened One Night? I’d love to hear what you think!

Sidney Pollack Blogathon: Castle Keep (1969)

This post is part of the Sydney Pollack Blogathon spearheaded by Ratnakar of Seetimaar – Diary of a Movie Lover Blog. Check out his blog for more posts on the acclaimed director.


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Greetings, all and sundry!

After a brief, enjoyable respite between guest posts. I’ve been asked by our hostess, Ruth to add my unique perspective to the collected works and Mythos of one of the more memorable directors of the last half of the 20th century. One of the great triad of distinctly American cinema that includes John Frankenheimer and William Friedkin. Who first displayed their skill in live television and with the aid of solid reputations, moved seamlessly into film.

A director who gave equal credence and importance to words, comedic and otherwise. As to costumes, sets, locations and action. And more importantly, reaction.

With that said. Allow me a few moments of your time to wax poetic and lyric about the director and one of his early efforts.

Sydney Pollack: Castle Keep (1969) – “Something Memorable out of Nothing”

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A film that was received with mixed reviews when first released. Also one the later dearth of WWII films shot in Yugoslavia. Kelly’s Heroes among them. Pollack’s film centers around the chaotic effect of The Battle of the Bulge had on American troops involved. And a ragtag, polyglot assembly of soldiers recovering from and staying ahead of its icy chilled and ill wind.

Led by a stoic and eye patched Burt Lancaster as Infantry Major Abraham Falconer. In charge of officers who run the gamut of by the book, art historian, Patrick O’Neal as Captain Lionel Beckman. To extremely flaky Lt. Billy Byron Bix. Offset by religious, wide eyed dreamer, Tony Bill’s Lt. Amberjack. And a mix of veteran NCOs From old time tough Sgt. DeVaca (Michael Conrad) to Peter Falk‘s survivor and perpetual baker, Sgt. Rossi and Scott Wilson’s laid back, good old boy, Corporal Clearboy riding herd over a clutch of enlisted men from across the Army’s spectrum of specialties. Chief among them, Private Alistair Piersall Benjamin (Al Freeman Jr.). An engineer and narrator of the tale.

Some had retreated from the initial German assault and regrouped under Falconer. Other are fresh from far off “Repple Depples” or Replacement Depots. With orders to find, occupy, defend and keep a secluded 10th century castle and village of Maldorais. Which sits on the cross point of several roads leading to Bastogne.

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Prime real estate for Allies and Germans alike. Though the Germans have tanks and infantry to help stake their claim. And the American G.I.s have whatever they carry or can get their hands on. The land is pristine, layered in snow. Forested and hilly before becoming mountainous miles away. Possessing a foggy, fairy tale look and feel. Untouched by the ravages of war as Falconer leads his ragtag brigade. While the castle itself is sturdy, shrouded in mist. With tall battlements, thick stone walls, a deep moat and ancient drawbridge. A huge courtyard, stables, well and accoutrements of a bygone age.

The interior of the castle is resplendent in every degree. Full of art treasures and antiquities. And an infertile Count of Maldorais (Jean-Pierre Aumont) who wants nothing more than a son from his wife, Therese, the Countess (voluptuous Astrid Heeren) to continue the family lineage. And for the Americans leave as soon (kind of) as possible.

Falconer sends his underlings to scout out possible defensive positions. And in the process discover the village’s brothel run by the Red Queen (Catarina Borrato) and her clowder of fetishy women. Sgt. Rossi finds a bakery run by an attractive widow and begins to fall in love with both. Lt. Bixby and Lt. Amberjack begin to gather a following of pacifists. Corporal Clearboy discovers the wonders of Greman Volkswagen engineering, And the Major comes under the attentions of the Countess.

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In other words. Unit cohesion and integrity are going to Hell. While Captain Beckman wants to gather up as many art treasures a possible and beat feet elsewhere as the German get ever closer. Sending out white caped and snow camouflaged patrols and an occasional spotter aircraft.

It is then that Major Falconer devises a strategy of hit and run. With the village being the battle field in winnowing down German troops and tanks, Fighting a strategic withdrawal with Castle Maladorais being its last stand. The troops aren’t thrilled to hear this, but know there’s no other choice.

The Red Queen’s girls are brought into the action as tanks roll down the village’s curved, narrow cobbled streets. The girls occupy various balconies in varying stages of undress. Smiling, waving and flaunting their wares to the Germans below. Before tossing flaming wicked cognac bottles of gasoline downward upon the would be occupiers and their armored machines…

I’ll leave the tale right here for Spoilers sake.

Now. What Makes This Movie Good?

Sydney Pollack at the reins of an often visually beautiful, sometimes dream like and cohesive piece of film. Clocking in at 105 minutes with very few to waste. Especially when stacked against other bigger named and budgeted, (Catch-22 leaps to mind!) yet smaller, more garbled messaged films of that time.

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Working within a very rarified and refined winter world created by William Westlake in his novel of the same name. And tweaked just a bit here and there with a screenplay by Daniel Taradash and David Rayfiel. Mr. Pollack and company tread a fine line between one of the better late 1960s War Films while weaving an attractively seductive, yet surreal Anti-War Film. Mr. Pollack proves that he can stage, arrange and choreograph action sequences with the best of them. And his cast of stage, television and film stars from both sides of the ocean deliver.

What Makes This Film Great?

Mr. Pollack’s deft touch at allowing plenty of time and exposition to let the castle and village work its fairy tale magic on his cast through off beat and kind of quirky dialogue that would later become one of his trademarks. There hasn’t been a G.I. born who hasn’t thought of the possibility of “sitting out’ a war”. And the enclosed world of Maladorais offers those opportunities and distractions in abundance. Whether it is sex, a simple task like baking, which can easily become a life’s work. Or tinkering with the wonders of a first production VW. Each character is slowly seduced while Major Falconer watches from a safe distance with his diversions. Until it’s time to put childish things aside and get serious when the need arises.

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Cinematography from Henri Decae is more than one could ask for. Sharp and defined inside Castle Maladorais. Then offering extremely wide span and often misted exterior shots in the village and surrounding woods. Tailor made for Major Falconer sit astride a white stallion which becomes his personal form of conveyance.

Original music by Michel Legrand shows early signs of greatness. As it buttresses the visual and enhances emotion from lighthearted to treacherous. Art Direction by Jacque Douy and Mort Rabinowitz is lush and plush in the extreme inside the castle. And spartan and rustic inside and around the village. While Malcolm Cooke’s masterful editing saves momets and increases intensity when the Germans finally arrive.


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Thoughts on this film and/or Sidney Pollack? Let it be known in the comments.

Classic Double Feature: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) & Compulsion (1959)

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Greetings, all and sundry!

Allow me a few moments of your time in indulge the nostalgia of my youth. And broach a topic very close to my some may say, misspent early years.

The Classic Double Feature.

Usually reserved for Saturday matinees in the more austere theaters of the day. More often than not, theme or actor based. And superior quality. Genres of films selected was seasonal. With westerns and action popular in the summer. While offerings in Film Noir, horror, mystery and science fiction slated for fall through spring.

There is a method to the madness in the films I’ve selected. Both are films worthy of note and curiosities to our hostess, Ruth. Who desires to learn more of the works of master craftsman, Alfred Hitchcock and perpetual actor, Dean Stockwell. While the choice of which film leads is one which has plagued theater managers since the invention of celluloid. To that end. Allow me to introduce an early work from the British master. With equal parts drama and suspense layered over idyllic, quaint, rural life in a small west coast town.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

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A film that begins in sunny, always fair weather Santa Rosa, California. Home to many families who keep the banks, shops and stores busy. One family in particular, the Newtons; father, Joseph (Henry Travers). Mother, Emma (Patricia Coolidge). Youngest son, Roger (Charles Bates). Middle daughter, Ann (Edna Mae Wonacott). And eldest, approaching awkward teen daughter, Charlotte (Teresa Wright) or “Charlie”. Go through their daily routine of work, school, keeping house, while Charlie eloquently wishes that something, anything would happen.

That occurs when a telegram arrives announcing that Mother’s younger brother, Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten). All calm, placid charm and deeply buried malevolence. Will be arriving on the Thursday evening train. Uncle Charles arrives. Dinner is had. Gifts are given and the first inklings of psychological thriller starts making itself known. Where most of the family see Charles as a welcome guest. Young Charlie sees her uncle as something more. Someone worldly and romantic  A man of mystery who says little about and is trying to stay ahead of his past. For good reason.

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Life continues near serenely. Until two detectives drop by to talk to the family. One detective, Jack Graham, (Macdonald Carey) tells Charlie that her uncle may be one of two men known suspected of being “The Merry Widow Murderer”. Who court older women, marries them. Then collects their insurance money and any other expensive things after their untimely, often strange, questionable deaths.

Charlie doesn’t want to believe, at first. But Uncle Charles makes a few awkward, almost embarrassing mistakes that turn heads and focuses attention in public places. And Charlie, being female and just slightly less curious than a cat. Finds small clues and evidence that lends credence to Jack Graham’s cautionary words. Topped off when Uncle Charles, perhaps a bit drunk and full of himself goes on tear about the rich in general, Rich widows in particular. And his contempt for them.

The cat is let out of the bag later, when Charles confronts his niece. Accusations are tossed around and Charles admits that he is the man the police are after. And then begs Charlie for her help. She concedes, but only on the condition that Uncle Charles
leave as soon as possible. Ironically, Uncle Charles is cut a break and some breathing room to pursue his latest mark. When the other suspect is killed in a running gunfight in Portland, Maine.

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Young Charlie becomes a loose end that needs attention. In the form of a few odd “accidents” involving stair cases and the faulty lock on a garage door. Keeping young Charlie inside while the sheltered car is left with its engine running. The laws of probability are catching up to Uncle Charles. Who announces that he is leaving by train to San Francisco. In the company of a young widow. Uncle Charles schemes to have a final showdown with young Charlie between cars. As the train starts to move and begin its journey.

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers sakes….

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Alfred Hitchcock just getting familiar with the idea of playing with new, near perfect settings. Then playfully tweaking and twisting the American small town ideas, dreams and families. By infusing an often charming dose of “Something wicked this way comes!” in the shape of Charles Oakley. A cypher upon which any story can be painted. Until he becomes too comfortable. And projects his disdain for others upon his brother in law, Joseph. Hinting that Joseph could not possibly be averse to embezzling funds from the bank where he works. Inside the bank and within earshot of others!

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Just one of many soliloquies. Delivered with the same wide eyed, calm innocence Mr. Cotten tapped into earlier as best friend and conscience, Jedidiah Leland, in “Citizen Kane”. Only this time it works to his character’s benefit and is a little creepy to take in. Verbal wedged planted between friends that misdirect and distract and create slack for Uncle Charlie to play with.

While Teresa Wright is the personification of budding teenage womanhood. Too smart by half. Driven by emotions that run deep and wild beneath the surface. Who lets her words pull her into the intrigue. While not knowing what is on the other end. Her
younger siblings, Roger and Ann form a sort of Greek Chorus when the family is gathered together. Though Ann is also far too smart for her young age. Young Charlie’s mother and father are content to get by and preserve the American Dream. Even as Emma starts to see her beloved younger brother as someone she doesn’t really know.

What Makes This Film Great?

The town of Santa Rosa, California. That is just big enough and prosperous enough to illustrate small town America. With its tree-lined streets. large houses, well cared for lawns. Slightly out of era cars and tracks and smiling traffic cops. Which would be used again in “Pollyanna” and “Some Came Running”.

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Here. it represents the perfect summer weather Petri Dish to reveal cracks in its characters and secrets revealed with the addition of Mr. Cotten’s often too arrogant Charles Oakley. Given more emphasis through Thornton Wilder’s written words and Joseph A. Valentine’s often shadowy indoor and tight, razor sharp B&W outdoor cinematography. Aided by Dimitri Tiomkin‘s suspenseful score and music direction by Charles Previn. Set and art direction by Russell Gausman and John B. Goodman. Plus gowns and ensembles that are neither too frumpy or too elegant by Vera West and Adrian add to both story telling and an almost time capsule feel and effect.

Then there is Hitchcock. Gently tugging at the edges. Keeping the canvas of the tale and town taut. While slyly nicking there and slicing there. Letting nature do its thing and follow the path of least resistance. As the myth of rural solitude and serenity bares its all too human weaknesses. Perhaps, not a date film. But certainly one to indulge in to see the first confident steps of a sly, masterful director hinting at greater things to come!

Notes: Nominated and accepted into the National Film Registry in 1991.
Available for viewing on You Tube


Compulsion (1959)

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As is traditional with film distribution. The second film of a Double Bill or Feature should be of lesser stature and lower budget. Hence the phrase “B-Movie”. And this offering from 20th Century has that writ large. Though wisely and frugally spent in telling the tale of the infamous Loeb & Leopold “Perfect Crime’ kidnap and murder case of 1924. With the help of Meyer Levin, who had written the best selling novel of the same name the film is based on. And aided by Richard Murphy‘s faithful screenplay.

Centered around two Chicago law students with off the scale IQs and a completely less than healthy reverence for the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and his “Man and Superman” hypothesis. The Alpha of the pair is Arthur Strauss. Played with snide, very spoiled, well connected arrogance by Bradford Dillman. Who doesn’t have any friends. And not much use for people in general as he constantly looks for ways to show his elite superiority to others. Their perceived inferiority and uselessness of their laws that are beneath his contempt.

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Artie’s partner in crime is Judd Steiner. Masterfully under and occasionally overplayed by a young Dean Stockwell. A self-imposed outcast who enjoys Ornithology, Taxidermy and deep down inside wants badly to be part of something. Oddly gravitating towards Dillman’s Strauss with near gleeful, sometimes clumsy subservient abandon.

Their first “perfect crime” which begins the sharply rendered film sets the stage for future events. With the breaking into a campus Fraternity house and taking sixty seven dollars, odd jewelry and a second hand manual Underwood typewriter with a
broken letter key. Fleeing in Judd’s Stutz Bearcat convertible, Judd starts hitting his flask while Artie drives off and nearly sideswipes a drunken pedestrian on a lonely stretch of road. Artie chides Judd for drinking and continues to needle Judd. Very
much like a married couple with an abusive husband. Until Judd nearly breaks down into tears. Swearing that he would do any thing to make things right. Artie smiles and tells Judd to turn around, drive and hit the drunk. Artie tries, but swerves at the last
second. Giving Artie an ever bigger, subtle psychological weapon with which to bludgeon Judd. As the two continue into the night.

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Comes the morning and Judd is in class arguing Nietzsche with his law professor as another player enters the fray, Sid Brooks. (Young, fresh faced and freckled, Martin Milner) A middle class student who pays his freight as a reporter on the Bulldog (late) edition of the local Chicago paper. Who stumbles across Artie and Judd as they set up an alibi with a group of other students and girlfriends to cover the next step in their “cold, dispassionate experiment”. The alibi is a get together at a speak easy that Artie found earlier. The time, nine o’clock.

Sid begs off, due to his job. And several unique and tragic events fall into place between that afternoon and night. Sid clocks in and finds that’s there is a drowned boy in the city morgue. And that a ransom note has arrives at the Kessler home. Demanding ten thousand dollars in old fifty and twenty dollar bills. Sid’s boss, Tom Daley (Edward Binns) sends Sid to the morgue. Where the child, later identified as Paul Kessler had been beaten and mutilated before being stuffed in a drainage culvert. Sid also finds a pair of round lenses reading glasses with the body. The glasses fit neither Sid or the boy. So Sid calls his boss and the wheels start coming off the “dispassionate experiment”.

The body is identified by the boy’s father. Sid’s boss, Mr. Daley shows up at the morgue and is brought up to speed by Sid. The glasses are put in safe keeping before being turned over to the police. All the makings of a wonderful night of celebration for Sid. Even if his girlfriend, Ruth Evan (Diane Varsi) is in Judd’s company. Sid mentions the glasses and Judd’s hand immediately goes to his suit coat’s empty breast pocket. Artie asks for more details and nearly explodes when Sid mentions the ransom note’s broken, offset letter.

Made even worse as Artie discovers that Judd still has the typewriter! After three days of trying to misdirect the Chicago cops assigned to the case. Which causes a cascade of accusations and weak counter arguments from Judd. Another experiment is agreed upon to prove Judd’s dispassion for others. And Sid in particular. Artie would get rid of the typewriter and clean up Judd’s mess. If Judd sets up a date with Ruth and sexually assaults her at a secluded aviary. Artie holds up his end of the bargain, but Judd doesn’t know what to do with Ruth. Or how. And falls miserably.

The local District Attorney, Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall in fine form!) under pressure from above tells the local cops to bring Judd in for some questioning the next afternoon. And the real came of Cat & Mouse begins. With many questions as to Judd’s whereabouts on April 17th, the day of young Kessler’s disappearance, kidnap and murder. Judd starts out arrogantly and obliquely. Believing he has the upper hand until Horn brings out the reading glasses. A style of which over four thousand were sold in Chicago alone. But only a few with a new type of hinge. And one of those was sold to Judd months ago.

Judd talks into the evening as Artie is brought in to corroborate Judd’s story. Artie is well prepared. A much better liar. And mentions a family dinner and a guest who is a Federal judge an hour hence. Yet, Horn is not impressed. Politely, sometimes slyly asking questions about a rented black sedan and more details about the two women he and Judd supposedly picked up the night in question. Artie counters well and Horn is about to let them go when Judd’s chauffeur shows up. With toiletries and a change of clothes for Judd. Offhandedly mentioning that Judd’s Stutz Bearcat never left the estate’s garage that day, April 17th. Since he has changed the car’s worn brake shoes.

Round Two arrives without preamble as Horn goes after Judd with a vengeance! Shredding Judd’s many innocuous points of interest (Hot dog stand, park, chance meetings) before going after Artie. Unaware that Judd’s father has called famed attorney, Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles doing his best Clarence Darrow) in the interim. Horn and his assistant, Mr. Padua (Gavin McLeod) go over each detail as Artie rebuts. Then decides to roll over on Judd in a classic “He said… He said” conundrum. Which only makes Judd’s loud and sometimes pitiful meltdown all the sweeter when informed of Artie’s cowardly treachery.

Judd and Artie are charged, arraigned and kept separate in County Lock Up as family retained psychologists and psychiatrists are called in. As Wilks prepares to go up against a city who wants to see his clients swinging beneath a gallows…

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Watching a fresh on again, off again young talent in Mr. Stockwell mix so well with solidly ensconced contemporaries, Dillman, Milner and Varsi. Being confident and comfortable enough in their own skins to portray two spoiled and coddled, seriously sick puppies (Regarding Dillman and Stockwell) who would be right at home commanding a company of Hitler Youth in 1939 Germany. Both are near childishly juvenile in their assured arrogance that they are above the law and are righteous in their beliefs. Until they realize that the law does not give Brownie Points for genius.

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While Martin Milner stoically, reliably delivers the goods as Sid Brooks. With all the makings of a great reporter and newshound. Whose world is upended when someone he admires and envies a bit in Artie and his “odd duck” friend, Judd are revealed for
what they are. Offset by his girlfriend, Ruth’s perhaps tainted innocence. Ms. Varsi’s take on Ruth is odd to behold. In her moments with Judd, Sid. And later on the witness stand. Held far too tightly by her emotional naivete. In a very pivotal role for a
veteran of  “Peyton Place” and  “Ten North Frederick”.

High marks over all for director Richard Fleischer and his nearly standardized method of scenes averaging 11 to 14 seconds. Long enough to introduce a character, record an argument, move the plot along by planting a seed. Then watching it grow and expand to fruition later in the film.

What Makes This Film Great?

With just over an hour’s worth of build up through Judd’s sloppy performances in these “experiment”. Arguments and kind of creepy cat fights with his “superior”, Artie. The first glimmers of the paired serial killers of today (The Green River Killer(s), Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, Aileen Wuormos, etc) start making themselves known. With one Alpha (Artie) controlling the discussion and later situations. And a subservient (Judd) doing his best to please and be part of something bigger. A dynamic writ large while less than subtly hinting at a homosexual relationship. Heightened by Lionel Newman‘s horn heavy soundtrack.

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The film’s remaining thirty plus minutes belong to Orson Welles and his soft spoken, mumbled take on Clarence Darrow. His size and near Waltz gait command every shot as he fights small skirmishes with D.A Horn. Resists or ignores intimidation and a random cross burning by the Klan. Never ceding an inch as the drab, oddly homogenous and uniform looking jury hold Artie and Judd’s fate in the balance. Thanks to Mark-Lee Kirk’s moody lighting and William C. Mellor’s superb B&W cinematography.

The usual loud chest thumping one would expect from a Lee J. Cobb is deftly, emotionally eschewed. For up close and personal words when needed to cajole the jury. Or whisper close, perhaps veiled threats are directed Horn’s way. Mr. Welles’ Wilk is perhaps the most un-Darrow like performance on film. But it works quite well in baring Darrow’s zeal in fighting the death penalty. Kudos for Mr. Welles’ bravery and for his offered and agreed upon, deft direction of the courtroom scenes.

Note: Available to view on You Tube.


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Thoughts on either one of these films? Let it be known in the comments.

Classic List: The Women of Howard Hawks

Greetings, all and sundry. After finishing my three post ‘arc’ highlighting the career of Jack Lemmon, I’ve decided to delve and poke around a bit in the arena of Classics. And cast some light upon the easily known and often unsung heroines. Who plied their beauty, moxie and craft to make their often secondary roles in films more memorable. Almost always opposite a strong leading man. And under the deft and knowing touch of a director who knew how to get the best and more from his leads and entire casts.

The director in question is Howard Hawks. To whom action and comedy were second nature. And often front and center. Tools to used to misdirect, while weaving a slow smoldering romance in the bargain. With the women in question being just as strong, witty and clever as their leading men.

To that end, allow me to introduce:

The Women of Howard Hawks


Katharine Hepburn: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

This is the film where I like to think that Mr. Hawks began developing his ear for rapid fire dialogue from both ends of the spectrum. With Cary Grant as a harried, engaged Paleontologist, David. Who wants nothing more than to assemble the skeleton of his Brontosaurus with the aid of the Inter-Costal Clavicle. Secure a huge donation to his museum. Marry the monied, not so girl of his dreams and live happily ever after.

That is, until David happens across Katharine Hepburn‘s Susan. Who’s a bit scatter-brained and irresponsible and rarely explains anything directly. Preferring to go the long way around while trading tee shots at a local golf course. Leaving David completely flummoxed and unprepared for another chance meeting later that night. At a very glamorous party. Where Susan accrues a tear in her gown and a hasty escape to madcap, screwball situations. A pet leopard named ‘Baby’. A wily fox terrier named George, (Asta from ‘The Thin Man‘ series) who steals and buries the Inter-Costal Clavicle. Chance encounters with Susan’s eccentric relations and friends. And a late run in with the local constabulary, while a second leopard escapes from a traveling carnival and makes itself known.

Overall Consensus:

Yes, there is a lot going on in this comedic gem. A given, as the film clocks in at just 102 minutes. The trick is to just sit back and let the magic happen under the deft touch of a proven master. Playing in the sandboxes of visual and aural humor. Using Ms. Hepburn’s elegant delivery and speeding things up, just a skosh, in a verbal game of Ping Pong. Where the serve, meter of the near musical volley and the out of left field slammed finish is under Ms. Hepburn’s control. With an unusually flustered Mr. Grant trying to keep up. It may take a while to find the rhythm between pratfalls and flawlessly timed sight gags. But it is definitely worth the effort!

Jean Arthur: Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Here’s a great plot idea. Take a half dozen men flying for a fledgling, just scraping to get by mail service that flies over and around the Andes across Bolivia. In sometimes less than airworthy craft. Plying their craft from a close to inaccessible base called Barranca to other shanty towns just as desperate and desolate. Have the motley crew led by self assured, sometimes scruffy, leather flying jacketed and hip holstered Cary Grant and feel the Testosterone swirl and flow.

Into this boys’ club insert not one, but two women. The first, Bonnie Lee. A stranded cabaret singer. Magnificently and wisely brought to life by Jean Arthur. Who is first intrigued by Grant’s mysterious Geoff Carter and his daredevil band of merry men. Then slowly grows to understand who Grant is. What he does and why he does it. And more importantly, how Geoff gets his subordinates to do what they do. Like taking a Ford Tri-Motor up beyond 20,000 feet to test a new Oxygen system while finding a less dangerous path through mountain peaks.

In other word, business as usual. Maintaining an even strain in less that spartan conditions that would send other lesser mortals screaming back home to mother. Yet, Bonnie toughs it out. Trading quips and barbs with Geoff as more is revealed. Even when Barnstorming pilot, Bat Mac Phearson shows up. Evading a checkered past that involved the death of Geoff’s best friend. Seeking a job and acceptance with his wife, Judy (Rita Hayworth) in tow. A bad omen if there ever was one. Since Judy was once an old flame of Geoff’s. All the pilots refuse to fly with Bat. So Judy begs Geoff for a chance. Geoff cedes that Bat can fly, but only the most dangerous flights.

Bat starts to make good. Building some cred until fate intervenes. On a flight in the Tri~Motor, Bat tries to clear the Andes but needs to find another route. Right into a flock of birds that flies through the forward propeller and windshield and paralyzes the Co~pilot. The brother of the man that Bat had abandoned and killed. Bat hangs tough and brings the crippled plane back. At the cost of his co~pilot’s life, but redeeming himself in the eyes of his peers.

Overall Consensus:

One of the earliest and best of the type of film I like to describe as ‘Guy Flicks’. Focusing on the male cast members.Their abilities, faults and foibles. What makes them tick. Usually presented with a Herculean task where a woman may be either a help or a hindrance. In this film, the former is writ large. With Jean Arthur remaining completely feminine and beguiling while never coming close to taking on the ‘Mother’ or ‘Big Sister’ roles so predominant in films of this kind today. Also notable for a distinct lack of a cat fight between Bonnie and Judy. When more than a few key scenes could easily facilitate it.

Rosalind Russell: His Girl Friday (1940)

Hawks shifts gears upwards again in a fast paced, tatta-tat-tat of typewriter keys delivered ‘Battle of the Sexes’ comedy That pits its master of rapid patter, Cary Grant as editor, Walter Burns. Trying to keep up with events of the day amidst many inter office squabbles of The Morning Post. When freshly chapeaued Rosalind Russell shows up as his recently-divorced wife and best reporter, Hildy Johnson. Ready to turn in her resignation. Generally rub Walter’s face in her new found freedom and status with fiance and insurance man Bruce Baldwin. Steadfastly played by Ralph Bellamy.

A natural born schemer and conniver, Walter sees a situation that is tailor made for Hildy’s talents and nose for news. After weathering several machine gun delivered volleys. Walter dangles the bait ever so subtly. Convicted murderer, Earl Williams is due for execution and Walter wants Hildy to cover one last story. Hildy hesitates and Walter slyly slips away to have Bruce arrested over and over again. Keeping him out of the picture as he gives up and goes back to Albany and Hildy does what she does best. Asks rapid fire questions that leave many men flustered and stumbling and well in her dust.

Soon it is discovered that the Governor has issued a reprieve for Williams. But the local Mayor and Sheriff covet this execution for re-election and bribe the delivery man to go away until after the deed is done. Hildy and Walter follow leads and find the reprieve and an escaped Williams inside a roll-top desk in the press room of a local police precinct. Just in time to bring the curtain down on the crooked Mayor and Sheriff. And avoid a kidnapping charge for Walter.

All wrapped up in a Happy Ending. Almost. Walter asks Hildy to remarry him and spend their Honeymoon at Niagara Falls. On the way, they can cover a story about a strike in Albany.

Overall Consensus:

Not exactly a screwball comedy. More of a ‘What can possibly go wrong?’ comedy. Delivered by proven master, Grant. With the aid and assistance of Ms. Russell. Who had read the lines of Hildy Johnson for Mr. Hawks. Who liked her meter and quick delivery. Which created a re-write and made Hildy female, instead of male. Thus, a Classic was born.

This is another instance of Hawks heightening femininity. Near a wasted effort in Ms. Russell’s more than competent hands. Delivered in an opening salvo within seconds of her entrance in the Post’s City Desk and her first interdiction with Walter. Ms. Russell’s lines are lilting at first. Evolving quickly into a stepped on, verbal firefight. That ends with Walter easily ducking Hildy’s angrily thrown purse as his back is turned. A splendid bit of cinema well worth the price of admission.

The story just gets better once Hildy takes the bait and pursues the story. Looking like a million dollars in a different ensemble and hat as she quickly asks a second and third follow up question. When those she asks are stumbling with the first. Not only great examples of writing, timing and delivery, but superb glimpses into determined, yet subtle feminine wiles. Of a class and with style not seen in decades.

Barbara Stanwyck: Ball of Fire (1941)

Mr. Hawks takes a turn for the whimsical with an egg headed adaptation of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’. Led by tall, stiff and often stoic Gary Cooper as Professor Bertram Potts. Who, with the aid of his seven learned colleagues desires to assemble an Encyclopedia of Human Knowledge. With a special addendum to contemporary slang to be penned by Potts.

At a loss for where to begin, Potts ventured off to a local Burlesque and becomes enamored of Miss ‘Sugarpuss O’Shea, a dancer of notable talent brought saucily to life by Ms. Stanwyck. On again, off again girlfriend of crime boss, Joe Lilac. Played with an inflated ego and a touch of slime by Dana Andrews. Who uses the Burlesque as a front for his various nefarious enterprises.

It seems that Sugarpuss is just as intrigued by Professor Potts as he is smitten with her. As events quickly unfold, there is a falling out between Sugarpuss and Joe. And she winds up on the Professor’s doorstep looking for a place to lay low. Potts objects at first. Slightly less than Kathleen Howard’s very set in her ways, Miss Bragg, the Housekeeper. But sees what a breath of fresh air and wonderment she is for his mainly bachelor, content to be cloistered colleagues. Teaching them the latest colloquialisms between impromptu Conga lines. While Potts starts to fall in love and soon proposes to Sugarpuss.

Sugarpuss says yes. But as luck would have it. Joe finds out about Sugarpuss being AWOL and sends some of his boys to find her and bring her home. Seems that Joe has marriage on his mind as well, but more to keep his activities quiet than marital bliss. With Sugarpuss on her way. A few of Joes’ hired help keep the Professor and his merry men in check and at gunpoint until the nuptials are over.

Determined to find a solution, Professor Potts begins a roundabout lecture with his colleagues to distract their keepers. That involves scientific theory, a bit of double talk, a reflecting magnifying glass and the slender cord holding a large painting above the head of pistol wielding, Duke Pastrami (Dan Duryea). Science wins the day and the Professor and his gang is off to save the day. Kind of, but yes.

Overall Consensus:

Ms. Stanwyck rules the day and the roost once she becomes the focus of attention. Easily taking Pott’s and his clowder of collegiate professors’ breath away with her insouciance and bold for its day, sexuality. Sugarpuss wows from a distance and close up. Turning a gaggle of aged egg heads into if not wide eyed boys, then not so clumsy teenagers.

A rare treat to watch, considering the treasure trove supporting Seven Dwarves. Familiar faces, shapes and sizes. With distinct, unique dictions and deliveries. From Oskar Homolka and S.Z. Sakall. To Richard Haydn and Aubrey Mather. All add something innocent and memorable. And Ms. Stanwyck has them all. Including Potts, wrapped around her little finger without even knowing it.

Joanne Dru: Red River (1948)

Take an iconic John Wayne Chisholm Trail Western. Add a quick on the trigger youngster who’s anxious to prove himself and put him under the Duke’s wing. Teach him everything there is to know about cattle, riding, horses and shooting. Send him off to college to return as Montgomery Clift. Just in time for the first major cattle drive from Texas to Kansas.

Fill out the hired hands for the drive with Walter Brennan, Noah Beery Jr., John Ireland and Harry Carey and his son. Add a thousand head of cattle, give or take. A few roving bands of Indians. A hand who has more than a sweet tooth for sugar. A cattle stampede. A cause for a flogging and a break up between John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. Who takes what cattle has been rounded up and head towards Abilene.

En route, a wagon train full of settlers in ambushed by Indians and Clift rides to the rescue. Staving off a second wave attack and then aiding Tess Millay (Joanne Dru). Gorgeous, worldly, with a spine of steel. Who doesn’t scream or panic when an arrow pierces her shoulder. Instantly intrigued by this handsome hero who removes the arrow and patches her up as the Indians retreat. Then using her discreet wiles, finds out more about Clift’s troubled Matt Garth. His life, dreams and tenuous relationship with his adoptive father, John Wayne’s Thomas Dunson.

Not even raising an eyebrow as Matt and the drive leaves and Dunson crosses her path a short time later. Going out her way to feed Dunson and pour some drinks. While secreting a derringer in the sling supporting her left arm. Dunson sees it and remains unimpressed as the ice is broken and Tess learns so much more.

Overall Consensus:

Red River is one of the rare films by Howard Hawks whose ending I thought was rather weak and could have stood some re-write and several more takes. That said, everything else is an expansive and wondrously executed example of what one should expect from a master.

The men are men. Sins, secrets, shortcomings and all. The few women in attendance are tough, because the environment demands it, but much more so in Tess Millay. Who can see through the rough exteriors of men and read them within moments of first meeting them. Where Tess is calm, curious and a bit demure with Matt Garth. As she looks through and weighs Matt’s unseen baggage and finds him worth her time.

Then turns the coin to cold, succinct and somewhat callous for her tete a tete with Wayne’s Tom Dunson. With a demeanor better suited for a saloon or brothel as she deals Black Jack single handed for Dunson as she decides whether or not to shoot him. Though it is there for only a few brief moments. It is great talent rising to the moment and pulling it off flawlessly!

Which leaves room for Dessert and….

Honorable Mention:

Margaret Sheridan: The Thing from Another World (1951)

In order to create a round half dozen in chronological order. I’ve tacked on this actress and film. Even if Mr. Hawks is noted as its producers. There’s too much of his trade craft and trademark fingerprints all over this offering to think that was all he added.

The story circles around a group of Quonset Hut bound scientists who discover something has crashed to Earth near their station at the North Pole. A cargo plane and its crew arrive to explore further and bring back another something frozen in a long block of ice. That thaws and releases the Thing inside. Who has a taste for human blood and sprouts seed pods that can create more Things.

Nearly invisible in this pond of Testosterone and superior gray matter is Ms. Sheridan‘s Science Assistant and stenographer, Nikki. For whom there are few secrets. An extremely good listener who occasionally offers off-hand comments and advice that are bankable. As well as taking note of details that others quickly miss.

Easily holding her own amongst the Brainiacs and Poindexters of Polar Expedition-6. While never dallying in the realm of panic and ‘Scream Queen’.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews



Well, what do you think of the women of Howark Hawks? Do share your thoughts about this list in the comments.

What a glorious feeling! Musings on Singin’ in the Rain

Woo hoo!! I’m so glad there’s such a thing as a TCM anniversary events that allow people like me who miss out on soooo many classic films to actually enjoy them the way it’s meant to be… on the big screen!

Thanks to my pal Michael of It Rains… You Get Wet blog who first told me about this TCM event a few months ago, hence I got to see Casablanca at the cinema too and it was marvelous. My appreciation post for it is overdue I know, but it will happen, so stay tuned :D

I have seen this iconic shot soooo many times, and as a fan of scenes in the rain, surely this one would’ve made it to that list had I seen it before. But the truth is, I don’t know hardly anything about this movie, I didn’t even know that Gene Kelly not only starred in it but he co-directed it with Stanley Donen! I also didn’t know that Debbie Reynolds was only 19 when she made this film. The premise about transition in Hollywood from silent to ‘talkie’ films is a bit reminiscent of The Artist. It’s one of those topics that always fascinates me, and making it a musical parody is just brilliant!

One major complaint I have with these TCM screenings is that they assume everyone has seen the movie! So they put the very revealing interviews, clips, etc. IN FRONT of the film instead of after! They did that with Casablanca too, but I noticed on IMDb’s page forum that someone had the exact same complaint about spoiling the movie to those who haven’t seen it! I hope TCM would fix that for future screenings and run the interview segments afterward!

So does it live up to being American Film Institute (AFI)’s #1 Movie Musical of all time?

I’d say so. The song and dance sequences were absolutely wonderful to watch! I quite like musicals and have seen a number of them, from classics like My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music, to contemporary ones like Moulin Rouge! and Chicago. I could see why this tops them all. Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor were superb, I mean they were truly the best in the business, the whole time I saw them dance I kept thinking, ‘how in the heck did they do that??’ It’s mind-boggling the kind of energy they put into these sequences and of course, the technical aspects such as footwork, doing somersault, etc. are spectacular. Gene Kelly’s jubilant singin’ in the rain sequence is marvelously iconic, definitely deserves a spot on my favorite scenes in the rain list!

I’m also impressed with Debbie Reynolds who did not know how to dance before the film began, but wow her gymnastic background certainly helped pulled it off as I thought she was brilliant. Read on below as to who helped her with dancing tips, no it’s not really her co-star.

Some of my favorite dance sequences

Now, story-wise it’s pretty cute. It’s predictable really, but then you don’t watch these movies for the plot. There were some really cheesy sequences and some went on way too long, I cringed during the scene where Don wooed Kathy in that empty stage, complete with fake moonlight and giant fan for wind-blown effect, ahah. It was just too corny and silly, but I guess it’s a small quibble in the grand scheme of things.

Oh I have to mention the wonderful Jean Hagen as the diva with the high-pitched voice Lina Lamont! She’s such a great comic relief in this movie, the way she was pining for Don because she believed the tabloid stories is hilarious. But the funniest part was the whole mic fiasco as the filmmaker and cast attempt to film their first talking sequence. I was in stitches throughout that whole scene seeing the frustrated director responding to the dumb but defiant actress simply unable to take his direction! I call her Lina Lament as she made everybody suffer, ahah.

“Well I can’t make love to a bush!”

Anyway, I read up about the movie shortly before going to see it, and there were some fascinating trivia. Here are some of them from Wikipedia and IMDb:

• In the famous dance routine in which Gene Kelly sings the title song while twirling an umbrella, splashing through puddles and getting soaked to the skin, Kelly was sick with a 103 °F (39 °C) fever at the time. The rain in the scene caused Kelly’s wool suit to shrink during filming. A common myth is that Kelly managed to perform the entire song in one take, thanks to cameras placed at predetermined locations. However this was not the case as the filming of the sequence took place over 2–3 days.

• Debbie Reynolds was not a dancer at the time she made Singin’ in the Rain — her background was as a gymnast. Kelly apparently insulted her for her lack of dance experience, upsetting her. Fred Astaire was hanging around the studio and found Reynolds crying under a piano. Hearing what had happened, Astaire volunteered to help her with her dancing. Kelly later admitted that he had not been kind to Reynolds and was surprised that she was still willing to talk to him afterwards.

• For the Make Em Laugh number, Gene Kelly asked Donald O’Connor to revive a trick he had done as a young dancer, running up a wall and completing a somersault. The number was so physically taxing that O’Connor, who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day at the time, went to bed (or may have been hospitalized, depending on the source) for a week after its completion, suffering from exhaustion and painful carpet burns. Unfortunately, an accident ruined all of the initial footage, so after a brief rest, O’Connor, ever the professional, agreed to do the difficult number all over again.

This scene is just fabulous and sure to bring a smile to your face no matter how bad your day goes. Bravo Mr. O’Connor!


I’m certainly glad I saw this iconic classic musical on the big screen! I’m hoping to see more of these TCM presents, hopefully they’ll present Roman Holiday soon :D


What did you think of this movie folks? Anybody else seeing this on the first time on the big screen?

Classic Actor Spotlight: Jack Lemmon Part II… Something Old, Something New

Greetings, all and sundry! After a rather fun first look at Jack Lemmon’s early career. I’ve decided to go a bit into those films of the 1960s that defined and reenforced the actor’s standing as a solid comedic talent. And slowly opened the door into an arena where he would stun and excel. To that end, allow me to introduce you to the next stage of of an astound career.

Jack Lemmon: Something Old… Something New.

After his winning an Oscar for his performance in The Apartment, Mr Lemmon took a brief sabbatical to hone his skills on the stage before taking on the lead in a 1960 service comedy that was received well enough for NBC television to spin the film off into a series five years later.

The Wackiest Ship in the Army (1960)

Under the direction of Richard Murphy from his screenplay. Mr. Lemmon find himself as Lt. Rip Crandall. Who is sent to Queensland, Australia without an assignment. In the middle of  the tide slowly turning towards the Allies in 1943. Little is known about Crandall, except that he was something of a yachtsman before the war. Which suits the Army Air Corps and later, the Navy just fine. Coast watchers are in short supply due to attrition. And a few are on hand with places to go, but no viable form of transportation to get them to their shallow, coral reefed islands and atolls.

Enter the ‘Echo’. An aged two masted schooner that has a crew, sort of. Who don’t know a Main Mast from a Cleat. All that’s needed is a Captain and an eager beaver Ensign as an XO. Nicely played by Rick Nelson. The guy who holds all the card is John Lund, as grandfatherly Lt. Commander Vanderwater. Who gives Crandall a week to get his ship and crew into shape. Done mostly by repetition, with the aid of always dependable Mike Kellin.

A week suddenly becomes two days with the possible substitution for Crandall in Richard Anderson’s Lt. Dennis Foster. The two do not get along to begin with and Crandall takes the Echo and his crew out of the harbor and on to Port Moresby. About three weeks before The Battle of the Bismark Sea…

Overall Consensus:

This is the film where Mr. Lemmon starts to refine and polish his trademark rapid fire delivery of lines. With changes in inflection, metering and tone. While getting used to large sets, rear projection and not a few long, on site scenes aboard the Echo while being dwarfed by larger Naval destroyers and cruisers in port. More a lesson in the bread and butter movie magic of the time. Though very well delivered by the lead actor and his crew of reliable misfits. Who would be seen in countless other service comedies and dramas and NBC’s later television re-make.

Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

Fresh off his win with Breakfast At Tiffany’s , Blake Edwards decided to collaborate with J. P. Miller and adapt his television screenplay from two years earlier for the big screen. Placing Mr. Lemmon solidly in the role of Joe Clay. A mediocre PR man in a San Francisco firm. Joe likes to have a drink and have a good time. When he does, his work suffers, but he doesn’t understand why. After one less than stellar day, Joe happens across secretary, Kirsten Armesen, magnificently played by Lee Remick. A teetotaler, she has some ambition and sparks do begin to catch. A date is agreed to and Joe introduces Kirsten to Brandy Alexanders, which she likes. More and more as time passes. They marry and have a baby girl, Debbie.

Joe tries hard to gather more clients and gets to more than like Two Martini Lunches. So much so that Joe is sent out of town more and more. While Joe is away,  Kirsten drinks. One afternoon, she passes out and their apartment catches fire. Thankfully, she and the baby survive, but Joe is fired for poor performance. Joe tries to find work, but his reputation precedes him. With nowhere left to go, Kirsten asks if she and her family can work for her father’s plant and flower nursery. The father, Charles Bickford reprising his role from earlier is cautious, but agrees. Life is good as the two dry out. Until Joe secrets a few pints of bourbon in flowerpots in the Green House. Joe and Kirsten get a buzz on during a thunderstorm and Joe goes in search of the other bottles. In a panic for not finding the buried treasure, Joe tears the Green House apart.

Joe winds up institutionalized in time for a record case of the DTs. Dries out, hits bottom and then finally goes to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Joe’s sponsor, Jim Hungerford, quietly played by Jack Klugman has been down Joe’s path and helps Joe gets his life slowly back together. Through Joe falling off the wagon, twice. Once, deliberately. To try to get Kirsten to give up drinking, but she likes it too much…

Overall Consensus:

This is the film where Mr. Lemmon taps deep into his talent for drama. Grasps the reins firmly, rides and delivers in ways never imagined. From his too quick excuses to the sadness in his face early on when passing a store window on the way home. And seeing a shabby bum looking back. To the drunken panic and rage at not being able to find the other hiding bottles in the Green House. Mr Lemmon goes places inside that few would have the ability to do today. Yet, his Joe is a oddly sympathetic character. Who has to see his own image staring back from the abyss before admitting his problem and seeking help.

Where Lee Remick’s Kirsten quickly adapts to her relationship, the marriage to Joe as a ‘Threesome’. She, Joe and booze. She likes it. Wants to keep it. And knows what buttons to push and what to say to keep Joe close by. Then lets her tongue become razor sharp, acidic and scathing as Joe pulls away to seek salvation. It’s not pretty, but it is mesmerizing to watch!

In a complete break from what everyone thinks a Blake Edwards movie should be. Certainly not lighthearted or in need of a happy ending. Sometimes raw and in your face. The B&W cinematography by Phil Lathrop is superb. Both indoors and along the steep streets of San Francisco. Art and Set Direction by Joseph Wright and George Hopkins seems to get grainier and shabbier. Aided by Henry Mancini’s bittersweet soundtrack as Joe slowly spirals downward. Hitting the bottom during the final scenes of the film.

Well worth seeking out for Mr. Lemmon’s and Ms. Remick’s Oscar nominated performances. And Henry Mancini’s win for Best Music and Original Score.

How to Murder Your Wife (1965)

This is the film that puts Mr. Lemmon at the top of the Pyramid of smartly written, adult, not quite screwball, farcical comedy. Once again under the adept touch of Richard Quine and shot for a large part in Manhattan.
Mr. Lemmon makes the absolute most of playing cartoonist, Stanley Ford. A bon vivant bachelor with an aversion to marriage. A more or less open door policy for many lovely women to his rather plush Brownstone apartment on 75th, between Lexington and Third. And a penchant to test out all of the adventurous journeys and predicaments he puts his cartoon character, super-spy, ‘Bash’ Brannigan finds himself in. All dutifully photographed by Ford’s butler, Charles. Wondrously played by Terry Thomas.

To say that Ford’s character isn’t popular in the newspapers would be anathema. His strip is responsible for a sizable chunk of his paper’s profits. So, his comic strip character can be as licentious and daring do as he wants in the swinging 60s. Until Ford attends a bachelor party for his friend, Tobey Rawlins. Has a few too many and in a very out of character moment, proposes to Virna Lisi. The stunning Italian girl who pops out of the celebratory cake clad in a very revealing bikini. A judge, also very drunk, performs an impromptu wedding ceremony and Stanley awakens the next morning, hung over, feeling miserable and… Married!

This can’t be! Stanley calls his lawyer, Harold Lamson. Stuffy and somewhat hen pecked. Played to scene stealing perfection by Eddie Mayehoff, to arrange a divorce, but legal justification is needed. And there is none. Virna Lisi’s Mrs. Ford is gorgeous, cheerful, affectionate, loving and outside of her not knowing a word of English, is as close to perfect as man can hope for. Things change and Stanley adapts. Badly. As Charles leaves to work for the jilted Tobey. Mrs. Ford starts hanging out with Harold’s near shrewish wife, Edna, who speaks Italian. Then stays up late at night to watch television and learn a new language. And Ford’s once glorious Man Cave is introduced to feminine finery and damp stockings and lingerie hanging on the bathroom’s shower curtain rod.

Something’s got to give! Stanley’s kept up by the television and the constantly churning cement mixer (The ‘Gloppitta~Glopitta Machine’) just outside and stories below his drawing room window. Some surcease is found in real life. Changing his comic strip’s tone from daring do and dames to domestic comedy, but a more solid solution must be found!

A theoretical, sub rosa one is tossed about in the steam room of an all male health club. Whose attendants are married and share to some extent, Harold’s less than Alpha male life. A doctor (Jack Albertson) with access to ‘goofballs’ describes their effect and the nugget of a plan is hatched. Sadly. Stanley lays out his scheme in his daily comic strip.  Charles returns to photograph Stanley as the host of a cocktail party after Mrs. Ford has seen it. Stanley excuses himself for a few moments. Drugs Mrs. Ford and replaces her with a department store mannequin, which he buries under an ocean of glop from the Glopitta~Glopitta Machine. As Mrs. Ford comes to and splits for parts unknown. Needless to say, the NYPD have been reading the comic strip. Put two and two together. Arrest Stanley for murder and the real fun begins!

Overall Consensus:

One of the last and possibly greatest Battle of the Sexes comedies of the 20th century. Where the buildup is exquisitely detailed and meticulous under director Quine’s less than gentle touch and George Axelrod’s deft screenplay. Where the real payoff is in the trial. Mr. Lemmon’s Stanley Ford sits patiently as witnesses testify and unwittingly paint Stanley into a corner. Until Stanley calls his lawyer, Harold to the stand and unleashes a whirlwind defense after drawing a chalk circle. A Button. On the rail of the all male witness box. Pulling every trick out of his rapid fire delivery to get Harold to “Push the button!”

An adult comedy that lays bare all the Add ons and Apps that come with marriage. Mortgages, kids, the slow cessation of power to the wife, viciously, deliciously personified in Claire Trevor’s cunning Edna. Opposite a Rogues Gallery of male character actors doing some of their best work. Especially, Alan Hewitt as the D.A. between episodes of My Favorite Martian on CBS. Eddie Mayehoff as hen peck lawyer, Harold. And Jack
Albertson’s kindly, very hip Dr.Bently. But it’s Mr. Lemmon who rules the roost, since all things circle around him. Surrounded by some superb on location photography by Harold Stradling Sr. and William Kieman’s Set Design. Most notable in the courtroom and Stanley’s lush digs. Where the only thing missing is Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ being played on a constant loop.

The Fortune Cookie (1966)

The first and one of the best team ups with Mr. Lemmon opposite Walter Matthau. Under the assured eye and guidance of Billy Wilder in and around Municipal Stadium in Cleavland, Ohio. In glorious, washed out B&W during the fading, glory days when the city was still hog butcher to the world.

Mr. Lemmon finds himself as sports camera man, Harry Hinkle. Divorced in a marriage that hit rocky shoals. Harry covers a football game between the Browns and the Vikings. Harry is on the sidelines getting some film of Luther ‘Boom Boom’ Jackson as he closes on another player. Harry is hit and is knocked to tumble on his back. The game is stopped as medics put a cervical collar around Harry’s neck and take him off the field on a stretcher. Between the time Harry leaves the stadium in an ambulance and arrives at what is to be St. Vincent’s Charity Hospital, sleazy ambulance chaser and personal damages lawyer par excellence, Willie ‘Whiplash’ Gingrich is called. Ready to make whatever injuries Harry has suffered magnify ten fold. To apply pressure in his search of the mother of all out of court settlements.

Harry has some bruises, but that’s nowhere good enough. Harry soon finds himself in a neck brace and feigning paralysis as Willie prepares to do battle with the stadium, and perhaps later, NFL lawyers. And just as slimy insurance investigator, Chester Purkey. Deftly played by Cliff Osmond. Who sets up camera surveillance across from Harry’s room and wants desperately to plant some microphones. Harry goes along with all this. In hopes of getting his less than congenial wife, Sandi back. The gauntlet is thrown down and a game of wits ensues as Willie more or less scripts Harry’s life. How to behave. What to say. Between bouts for settlement figures and making Purkey look silly.

In the interim, Luther shows up and looks after Harry. As the monetary sword rattling continues and looks to pull Luther into its vortex. The situations become more and more silly as Harry learns that Sandi’s new and sudden affections are based on greed, not genuine. Which gently coaxes Harry over the edge to do the right thing.

Overall Consensus:

An unabashed, though comical look at the lengths some will go to seek a financial boon.Told in terse scenes that average 17 seconds. With the sublime aid of Wilder’s and I.A.L. Diamond’s screenplay. Allowing just enough time for Mr.s Lemmon and Matthau to trade quips and have Matthau come out on top. Even more so for Matthau’s gamesmanship with the stadium’s and higher lawyers. Well worth the effort of seeking out and savoring. For the teaming of two masters. And Matthau’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar winning performance and Joseph LaShelle’s subdued, shabby, Oscar nominated cinematography.

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The Odd Couple (1968)

The second teaming of Mr.s Lemmon and Matthau is far more subtle and somewhat bittersweet. With Mr. Lemmon’s divorced  fastidious, hypochondriac Felix Ungar moving into the with fellow divorcee, uber slob and sports writer, Oscar Madison. What could possibly go wrong: Under the direction of Gene Saks and a screenplay by Neil Simon and his Broadway play…. Everything!

Felix is a neat freak with what would later be called Obsessive Compulsive Behavior. Who worries far too much and to the distraction of Oscar. Who’s fun loving, easy going and lives for sports. Particularly the Mets. And football. The two do not get along, but Felix has plenty to do in upgrading Oscar’s apartment from ‘Pig Sty’ to ‘Livable’. Arguments crop up over Oscar’s cigar smoking to the difference between ‘Spaghetti’, ‘Linguine’ and ‘Garbage’. To whatever indoor sports like pool or bowling, Oscar can best Felix at. Though they oddly call a truce when it comes to their new English neighbors, the Pigeon Sisters. Monica Evans as widower Cecily and Carole Shelley as divorcee, Gwendolyn.

Overall Consensus:

A well rounded, written execution of Simon’s famous, long running Broadway play. That could have had Walter Matthau playing Felix after so many months of playing Oscar. Even though Simon’s sights were set on Mr. Lemmon for the role. With Mr. Lemmon reacting more than acting to Oscar’s harangues and Felix rarely having the last word. It’s fun to watch during the second half of the film as some of Felix’s less annoying attributes seem to rub off on Oscar. And Felix dares to open up around the Pigeon Sisters. Before thinking of his ex wife and bursting into tears.

Progress, of sorts is made. And would be more deeply explored two years later. When ABC would make a long running series of the play and film two years later. With Tony Randall playing Felix and Jack Klugman fitting snugly into the role of Oscar. With occasional visits from the original Pigeon Sisters.


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Thoughs on Mr. Jack Lemmon and these films? Do share ‘em in the comments.

Classic Flix Review: The Purple Plain (1954)

Quite early on in The Purple Plain, I realized the main character was going to be a different Gregory Peck role than any other I had seen. Pilot Bill Forrester (Peck), a Canadian serving in the Royal Air Force during World War II, is suffering from suicidal tendencies and what we today call post-traumatic stress disorder (you’ll see why in a couple of seamlessly done flashbacks). He’s rude and reckless, having spent his RAF career trying to get killed. “You’d think that would be easy in a war,” he says, “but I just keep getting medals instead.” Despite being considered “a loony” by the rest of the squadron, he’s been promoted to squadron leader. They are stationed in Burma, fighting the Japanese, and the squadron physician Dr. Harris (Bernard Lee, familiar to millions as M in the James Bond films) has been ordered to gauge Forrester’s sanity and suitability for continued duty. But instead of conducting a physical or psychological exam, Harris takes Forrester to the home of an English missionary, Miss McNab (Brenda Banzie), where he meets Anna (Win Min Than), a quiet, beautiful Burmese girl.

It’s pretty much a given that if you watch movies, particularly classic movies, you either believe in love at nearly first sight or you are able to suspend whatever disbelief you may have. In this case, Peck and Than make it plausible that Anna would be calming to Forrester’s troubled soul, and vice versa. Anna also suffers from PTSD, as she, like many of the Burmese in the story, is a refugee from the Japanese destruction of Rangoon [per Wiki].

Forrester now has something, someone, to live for, and rather quickly, he begins to return to what was apparently his former, more genial, self. If Plain were a different kind of movie, it would just stop there. But Forrester and his new navigator Carrington (Lyndon Brook) are sent on what’s supposed to be a routine flight, with another RAF man, Blore (Maurice Denham), as a passenger. One of their plane’s engines begins to leak oil and bursts into flame; they crash land in the Japanese-controlled wilderness, with barely any water and limited everything else. Carrington is horribly burnt and can’t walk, and Forrester and Blore are at odds and can’t agree on how to survive — should they stay with the wreckage and hope to be rescued, or save themselves by walking toward the river miles away?

In short, after spending the first half of the film chasing death, Forrester now wants to live, only to find himself in the perfect position to die.

I am always reluctant to use biography to explain someone’s excellence (or lack thereof) in a particular role, because there’s no way to really know what was going on in their minds. But Peck was going through a tough divorce at the time this film was made and I wonder if he wasn’t able to use that experience. However he did it, he makes Forrester’s angst and recovery very real. When he first sees Anna, he slowly begins to relax. By the time the plane has crashed, his entire bearing has  changed and he is no longer troubled, even when angry.

Director Robert Parrish uses visual motifs, subjective camera, and triangle setups to subtly suggest mood, imply alliances between characters, and foreshadow events. Parrish and cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth particularly distinguish themselves when depicting the oppressive heat and light, and the gorgeous scenery of Burma (actually Sri Lanka). (The saturation of the color reminds me of another film set in South Asia, Black Narcissus, though that film incredibly was not shot on location.) There’s one pan shot about an hour in that shows both the beauty of the surroundings and the enormity of what the men are up against if they want to survive. The score serves to build the tension and hint at Forrester’s mood. There’s big Hans-Zimmer-style staccato horns in the wilderness and a serene theme reinforcing the stability that Anna represents.

The film invites contemplation on a few themes. A scene with a child and a lizard is a comment on the savage side of human nature that is made explicit elsewhere in the film. “To kill or not to kill…. Strange how fascinating death can be, isn’t it?” Forrester says. “The purple plain” is apparently a British nickname for Burma, but given the setting of the film around Easter, I also think it has religious significance as well. There is certainly some exploration of the role of faith — “God will provide” vs. “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”

Check out this amusing scene of the dinner scene with miss McNab and singing the Easter hym:

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At any rate, none of the themes are heavy-handed. One person who watches may think the film is saying that God works in mysterious ways (that would be me); another may see it as a comment on the transitory nature of life; and yet another sees an anti-war statement; and the fact that all are correct, along with its excellent overall quality and really perfect ending, indicates to me that The Purple Plain, though under-appreciated, deserves a place in the “timeless classic” category.

– review by Paula G.


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Leave me your thoughts on The Purple Plain below.