Archive | May, 2013

A Hasty Looking Forward Post: Second Looks & more

31 May

Y’all:

I’m swamped. The ol’ theatre company is opening a weekend concert thing tonight and I have six or seven instruments to tune. So I have no excuse to be writing Upcoming Movie posts for an as-yet-undetermined audience. So this will be brief & unadorned.

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I need not mention that Second Looks begins at 8:00 p.m. on TCM tonight. But I just did. Tonight: three I’ve been looking forward to (Elaine May’s A New Leaf; Those Lips, Those Eyes; Absolute Beginners) and one I loved as a kid (1941). Watch them. They all sound worthy of inclusion.

phantom-tollbooth1Also, Saturday, June 1 at 9:00 a.m., another neglected full-length Chuck Jones animated feature, The Phantom Tollbooth, based on the Norton Juster book (allegedly for kids). Don’t say there’s nothing to do in the Doldrums…

the-court-jester-basil-rathbone-danny-kaye-glynis-johns-1956While I’m at it, I should note that the perfect double feature that is The Court Jester and The Adventures of Robin Hood will begin at 8:00 p.m. Sunday, June 2. There is no reason not to watch that. Unless you’re playing ukulele in a variety show jumpsuit for a confused crowd of theatregoers…

Cheers!

Sunday in New York (1963)

31 May

Sunday in New York (airing on TCM Sunday, June 2 at 6:00 p.m.) is another of my beloved Bachelor Pad movies.

(Digression 1: I’m struggling to remember the other movie in which we saw this particular Pad either reused or knocked off, but we did. End Digression 1.)

(Digression 2: some part of me believes Rod Taylor fled the situation he was left in at the end of The Birds – which went unnoticed in NYC having happened west of Teaneck – changed his name and started a normal life on a Philly newspaper. It colors his behavior here for me. End Digression 2.)

Sunday in New York (1963)

Let’s be clear, now: this is not a longing for days of pre-feminism or rampant indoor cigar smoking or what have you. And the general Paleness of even the crowd scenes is always disconcerting. (Though I’ll admit that I find appealing in non-movie photos of the day the waning of that era in which people of all walks did seem to make rather more an effort when leaving the house.) But I have an already-remarked-upon affinity for movies that, even if they don’t feature Peter Nero literally, feature him figuratively. If that makes sense. Also, wicker-cozied barware. What can one do?

And while I believe the sexual revolution was a good thing for the world, it was in the long run a bad thing for comedy. Something to do with removed restrictions and a splintering of decorums, I guess. (Don’t give me that red squiggle, spellcheck – “decorums” is perfectly acceptable. I just looked it up.)

Still, the pleasure of this little period piece is more than surface. There’s a real and charming chemistry between Fonda and Taylor that makes a difference; in other hands (I suppose this is true of anything) this might creak, but there’s a sense that their concerns are real.

Libeled Lady (1936)

28 May

I write with my frequent assumption that you have not seen the movie in question, in this instance Libeled Lady, particularly because if you have seen Libeled Lady, you don’t need me to weigh in.

Bless you, if you have not. My envy must be palpable – you have the chance (on TCM on Thursday, May 30 at 12:30 p.m. and again on Saturday, June 1 at 8:00 p.m.) to see for the first time this shiny little charmer starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow.

Libeled Lady (1936)

…these people, irrespectively…

I don’t know what to add beyond that except perhaps to suggest putting some M&M’s in the freezer so they’re good and cold, popping some popcorn, and putting a little bit of the hot popcorn and cold M&M’s in your mouth simultaneously. It’s the only thing I can think of that could improve your viewing experience, barring dietary concerns. Enjoy!

Announcement of New Feature: After the Silents

26 May

This promises to fascinate. Stay tuned!

Movies Silently

Movies Silently News Banner

I am very excited to announce a new feature for the site: After the Silents.

What is it? It will involve brief reviews covering sound movies that feature silent era performers and directors.

I got the idea for this feature in two parts. First, I noticed as I was doing research using sites like IMDB and Wikipedia that one phrase kept cropping up: “One of the few silent era performers to make it into talkies.” I read the phrase in dozens of articles in a row! Now anyone familiar with silent movies and early talkies knows that lots of silent era performers made the jump, albeit sometimes with diminished prestige. This “one of the few” talk may seem like a small issue but it bugged me all the same.

The second part of the idea came when Joey over at The Last Drive In asked me to join her William…

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Looking Backward: TCM Second Looks, Friday, May 24

26 May

It’s difficult, I find, to write specifics about Second Look movies after indulging in the pleasures of participating in the massively-attended live Twitter Wingdings Illeana Douglas hosts during these programming blocks.

Inside Daisy Clover (1965)

She carries that hat off almost as well as Jerry Biffle.

#TCMparty has been around much, much longer than Second Looks, but I must say there’s a lot of life in these Friday nights; I think it’s in the nature of the Second Looks idea that there’s a uniformly fun attitude about these movies – they’re unfamiliar to most, beloved by a cult, and if ever a crowd was willing to accept a proposed movie as sometimes-touch-and-go but worth the attention, it’s the #TCMparty-ers. Which makes for lively chatter. (There was even some time in Twitter Jail for Douglas last night because of the crazy amount of activity. A badge of honor.) But precious little of the Internet’s usual polarizing diatribe style of discourse.

I have to collapse after the third movie (usually around 2 a.m. here), so I missed out on the end of the conversation, but I recommend the experience highly. It’s the best party on the Internet.

Anyway, in brief:

Inside Daisy Clover would probably have worked really well if it had been made in 1970 instead – the waning days of the studio system were barely willing to take on the subject matter the film danced around, and the temporal distance from the era it dealt with was awkward  – but there were still some stunning visuals and tremendous performances from Christopher Plummer (same year as Sound of Music!), Ruth Gordon, Katharine Bard, Robert Redford and, of course, Natalie Wood, who I still think does better silent than verbal work (the breakdown and the self-imposed muteness after) but has ample face time here for the former;

The Loved One (1965)

Who is Aimee wearing? Chanel’s Leia Boleyn collecton.

The Loved One, as noted, I’ve seen and loved already, but it was really nice to watch it with some other Misfit Toys of its age (all the movies were from 1965 except The Arrangement from 1969);

Mickey One (1965)

Yes!

Mickey One was a grand surprise, a movie I’d probably never have run across and was really into. The Getz/Sauter score, the Chicago locations, the general Frenchness, frisky but not cloying, a bunch of incredible faces among the day players, and a terrific not-depending-on-his-looks Warren Beatty bein’ all paranoid and freaked out (and a surprisingly effective lounge entertainer);

The Arrangement (1969)

(Season 7 Mad Men spoiler)

The Arrangement lagged for me in its final half hour, but overall it was kept exciting by Kazan’s direction and Kirk Douglas’s face which, young and old (cf. Ace in the Hole on a previous Second Looks), is un-unwatchable (the breakdown and the self-imposed muteness after…hmm), and the cast is impressive top to bottom. I was surprised by how little Kazan’s late 60s gimmickry bothered me – I guess the context of Guy Losing It forgives a lot of trickery (and I forgave this more than I was willing to forgive Fight Club by the end. Maybe that’s just me.) Think like the doorknob Foley when Charles doesn’t enter Gwen’s bedroom and the lights and shadows in the little room where Flo & Eddie have their final knockdown (my Wife as we watched noted that the married couple at its center are named Flo & Eddie; coincidence).

The Arrangement also really drove home Inside Daisy Clover’s lessons that sisters named Gloria are a handful, and breakdown-based real estate decisions are invariably flammable. (Sidenote: I just happen to be in the middle of Walker Percy’s Lancelot, which…nevermind. I’m beset on all sides here.)

Another Second Look worth every minute of lost sleep.

Link

An Unsullied Shield

24 May

An Unsullied Shield

Thanks to Movies, Silently.

Quickie: Jack Carson & Andie MacDowell

22 May

So, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) was on yesterday, and suddenly, after twenty solid minutes of Lombard and Montgomery screwballity, there he was. Jack Carson.

Jack Carson

Nope. Not funny.

I have observed in the first month of this darkling whistle solo a strict policy to follow the teachings of Thumper’s Father, and if nothing nice could be said, nothing was said at all. There’s enough of that floating around this web of ours.

But I must confess that I’ve never laughed once at Jack Carson and yet he is always presented in a context that implies I’m supposed to. The man had a string of third rate Not-Road movies with Dennis Morgan; someone thought he was funny. It has not been properly explained to me thus far.

And yet there he is in Mr. & Mrs. Smith; Destry Ride Again; Stage Door; Love Crazy; The Male Animal (the quintessential Carson role); Arsenic & Old Lace; Dangerous When Wet; The Strawberry Blonde. Movies I either love or at least like a heap in insomnia-/comfort- based viewing situations. And surrounded by the some of the finest casts casts ever assembled.

Then I remembered Andie MacDowell.

Andie MacDowell and Jack Lemmon

Andie MacDowell, somehow with Jack Lemmon

Groundhog Day; Short Cuts; Four Weddings and a Funeral; St. Elmo’s Fire; Green Card (well, maybe not Green Card).

And it hit me…

Andie MacDowell is to the 90s what Jack Carson was to the 40s: A harbinger of a terrific cast that will act as a reminder of how good the rest of that cast is.

Except mercifully no one ever gave Mac Dowell a series of third rate Not-Road movies.

I apologize profusely for this (I assure you) temporary but unavoidable detour into negativity. I will be steadfast in my attempts to avoid any such cheap shots in the future.

Looking Forward: TCM Second Looks, Friday May 24

22 May

This week’s lineup: Inside Daisy Clover (1965) (1965); The Loved One (1965) (1965); Mickey One (1965) (1965); and The Arrangement (1969) (1969).

This time around I can speak only for The Loved One, a gleefully messed-up adaptation of a gleefully messed-up Evelyn Waugh novel with a ridiculous cast including the recently-late Jonathan Winters in arguably his best harnessed role(s), the recently-revisited Liberace…

The Loved One (1965)

“…our Mr. Starker will counsel you as to your loved one’s additional needs.”

…not to mention Robert Morse (in a role Bert Cooper probably didn’t go see him in), John Gielgud, and Rod Steiger in (and please appreciate this statement) his most unsettling role. Which is also hilarious.

The rest I am blissfully unaware of, except for Inside Daisy Clover, which I’ve seen little chunks of and which my wife “loved as a child but was less excited by as an adult,” which begs the question, “what were those people letting her watch?” But in the 7os, kiddos, we were strong of will and could handle things that lived in that land between Saw and the straight-to-video Tinker Bell movies. Strong of will were we…

LLooking Forward: Llots of Lloyd on TCM, Thursday, May 23

21 May

A long block of Harold Lloyd begins on TCM at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 23 with Safety Last! and ends with Hot Water, which starts at 5:00 the following a.m.

So here’s where I stand on the controversial question: I don’t believe it’s necessary to take sides, per se, regarding the Holy Trinity; each was a fine mime, a fine director/gag constructor (within their respective partnerships and stock companies) and each was a terrific actor in ways that were separate from  pantomime skill. But each has superstrengths.

 

Hot Water (1924)

Hot Water (1924)

Chaplin was the finest mime: his wrists, his elbows, his upper lip. Magic. Keaton the finest director: the construction and the execution. Man.

And Lloyd was, I think, the best actor in a more modern sense: or let’s say that the stories he chose to tell with his bespectacled persona allowed for more chance to feature this skill. There are always a couple of reminder gags to begin a Chaplin or Keaton tale, but not character development per se.

Perhaps this is the way to put it, that I may avoid vehement fans of one or the other or of a silent clown not included (and I’ll out myself as none of the above, swayed entirely by mood, though statistically Keaton fits my mood more often): all three made films about relationships. Chaplin’s tended toward the Little Tramp’s relationship with Society, Keaton’s were inevitably about that flat-Stetsoned man’s relationship with machine and nature. Lloyd’s, despite his reputation for large-scale stunt work,  were most often about much smaller sets of relationships – family and individuals. Which leaned into what would become romantic comedy, which he didn’t invent or anything, but was certainly doing it before that’s what they were calling it.

To me, he’s the beginning of the modern romantic comedy star. Often in Keaton and Chaplin, the boy-girl romance element is either taken for Girl-In-The-Picture granted or hurled headlong into melodrama of a 19th Century mold. In most mature Lloyd I believe that he’s developing some kind of mutual entanglement with The Girl In Question. Which, in comedy of the era is not something one can count on, is all.

Harold Lloyd is the first silent comedy I forced on my nephews, last summer (Safety Last). It’s easy to convince a couple of boys in the 10-12 range to watch Lloyd: tell them about his missing fingers and remind them if necessary. Then they freak out when he climbs around on buildings. (I also once made an adult friend, a lover of violent Hong Kong action and Tarantino stuff, watch this and when the climb got tense she screamed more than once and was very upset with me for making her suffer. It was pretty great.) That kind of life/death stuff draws them in nicely, and they’re more able to take the difference in pacing in stride.

Some of the shorts from the teens TCM is showing will be new to me, but well-beloved are the features: Safety Last (the one with the clock), The Freshman (“Folks call me Speedy!” (insert footwork)), Hot Water (which I need to see again – it’s been quite a while), and The Kid Brother (one of my favorite Lloyds of all, which…).

The Kid Brother (1927)

The Kid Brother (1927)

Jobyna bouncing on the basket, and the subsequent tears vs. rain confusion; the fight(s) with his cretin of a neighbor; the pointless humiliations of the medicine show charlatans; the joy the whole movie finds in hiding information from us just out of frame and then revealing it as if by accident (not a new trick in silent comedy, but it’s practically a theme in The Kid Brother); the Tree Climb, good lord, the Tree Climb, a mini-object lesson in how to incorporating stunts into actual character/plot development.

I had the pleasure of being part of a trio of musicians improvising a score to The Kid Brother a couple of years ago, which made me appreciate its rhythmic changeups all the more. It’s just a lovely, pleasing thing, and while I wouldn’t call it Lloyd’s best, it’s my sentimental favorite. Today.

Looking Backward: Never Too Late (1965)

19 May
Never Too Late (1965)

Mercifully, Paul Ford does NOT say “Not one poop out of you” in this one.

Let me commence by saying I’m a lover of the froth of decades not my own, not because it’s particularly entertaining to me on the level it’s asking for, but because what played as comedy in an age is, I think, an underappreciated…not bellwether, exactly – they seldom lead the flock – but certainly a gauge of the times. Enjoy the surfboard silliness of Gidget and Where The Boys Are if you like, but please let me love them for their awkward attempts to both report a youth culture and dictate a morality for it at the same time. With groovy Connie Francis songs.

Never Too Late skews much older (hence the name) but is still hitting the same notes, sans Connie Francis. Connie Stevens will have to suffice (and lovely though she was, the peignoir she tries to seduce Jim Hutton in is a little…Norma Zimmer). I’m not going to pretend this is some lost gem ripe for reconsideration. You can find the jokes intellectually (that sounds condescending and implies I never laughed, and I did), but many of them probably landed fairly well in their day but are now a little quaint (“people have sex!” is a major and repeated theme here. It’s not quite as saucy now.) My pleasure comes less from the jokes and more from the details.

"Two more Pink Ladies."

“Two more Pink Ladies.”

Pink Ladies, for example. By 1965, they were already an unmanly punchline. I should say in their defense that they used to be a noble drink. The original recipe, I have it on good authority (Dr. Cocktail), was pretty sturdy: gin, applejack, lemon, egg white and grenadine. When did it slip into disrepute and lose its power? Well, before 1965, anyway. Maybe no one else was wondering, but I ‘m always looking for clues.

The reason I was intrigued to begin with, the reason I wanted to see this, was Paul Ford, he of Bilko and River City. I now reiterate my fascination with secondary character actors in primary roles. Paul Ford isn’t any different here than he is in smaller parts, but he’s a solid hitter in his range. It’s a pleasure to see a non-traditional romantic focus, too (cf. yesterday’s post on The Solid Gold Cadillac, another community theatre staple of yore).

This would, it occurs to me, make a fine double feature with a popular film from the following year: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? An older couple, a younger couple, much fooferah about the former’s kid…maybe after enough Pink Ladies this will happen some night…