Tag Archives: classic film

Seven Chances (1925)

11 Jun
Seven Chances (1925)

A clown in his natural habitat: solitude.

You will, I hope allow me to wax rhapsodic.

I’m always happiest with silents like Seven Chances (to be shown on TCM late, late Thursday, June 13 at 4:30 a.m.) in their dearth of intertitles. The job is done in the camera; not just the effects (ah! the dissolve with the car!), but the telling of the tale and the building of each gag. I’ve heard people speak of Keaton as a master of “composition” of shots, which is a lovely cinematic term and all, but it’s about the gag, which is, I think, vital to remember. He’s not a painter – he’s an engineer. He’s a liner-up of dominoes, then a displayer of domino configurations, and most of all, a flicker of dominoes. (I reserve that phrase for the title of my novel, by the way: A Flicker of Dominoes.)

I think it’s important not to treat Keaton as a traditional artist, but as an instinctual master. Not that he was without an unfathomable amount of craft, but that he seemed to employ it (when he talked about it) with very little traditional terminology. One more damn thing to admire him for. The utter lack of preciousness but still total commitment to his work.

The lawyer is Snitz Edwards (whom I think of as Putty Nose from The Public Enemy). The Wife and I decided that his name sounds rather like the sort of thing a mother might yell at a wayward child in lieu of “Nosey Parker” or “Pinky Lee” or the whatever your mother might have used as circumstances dictated. “Alright, there, Snitz Edwards – where’s the fire?”

While we’re talking about people who aren’t Buster…sigh. Let’s talk about the character called only The Hired Man…or, I don’t know. Maybe let’s not. We know how this is going to go; any aficionado of classic film has to deal with this sort of thing. Of Its Time, etc. It still makes me cringe, but the pleasures are worth cringing through for me. Rather than a) pretending it isn’t happening or b) reiterating needlessly, I highly recommend Black Like You by John Strausbaugh.

Somewhat more than seven

Somewhat more than seven.

I am a fan of women. My closest friends are and always have been women, my favorite relatives are women; I even married one. But I once made the mistake of walking blithely into a packed Filene’s Basement on the day when the previous season’s wedding gowns were put on sale. I felt every neck snap toward me as I entered – I’m pretty sure a few dresses were being purchased on spec – and I have to tell you…I felt what can only by described as Fear. And the famous would-be-brides chase brings that back for me. And all comedy requires a bit of Fear, no?

The bride chase, though, is something to see and love, not discuss – though it’s worth mentioning that for 7 million 1925 dollars, one can hardly blame the bridal posse for its tenacity, locust-like though it be. But let’s talk about those boulders. Man. Those boulders. I know intellectually how it was achieved. The information is out there. But it’s so…I mean, they look like papier-mâché boulders. And yet their motion is impossible, like a W.C. Fields pool shot exponentially increased in scale. It’s so beautiful.

I’m not sure if TCM shows the introductory Technicolor sequence when it airs this – it’s on the Kino blu-ray – but it’s worth seeking out if they don’t.

Looking Backward: Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

9 Jun

Well, to begin with, I was mistaken: Lorre is still in creepy mode for Stranger on the Third Floor. Not a complaint; just observing. Lorre is in fact barely in this at all, despite top billing. My understated response to this relative Lorrelessness was not dissimilar to the following:

StrangerThirdIn fairness, I was indoors.

A little 65-minute potboiler that I’m sure would’ve been a solid episode of a TV anthology fifteen years later or a radio anthology five years before, about a newspaperman who lacks any sense of irony. Also, there are murders. Some fun expressionistic noir shadow work, especially in the sudden, magnificently weird nightmare sequence that may or may not be a plot point (I’m still not sure).

It is, I have discovered, seen as one of the first true noirs, and the shadow work and date would point to that. So there is that curiosity factor, I guess. And Lorre does a fine three minutes of work in the Peter Lorre Role, though it was tough to watch without thinking of this guy…


Clear Your DVR for June 9

8 Jun

Sometimes a full day of TCM programming comes along and it’s too difficult even to try to narrow down which thing you’d watch.

And such a day is June 9.

buster-keaton-the-cameraman-1928Get this:

6:00 a.m. – Dames, with a mess of Busby Berkeley goodness;

8:00 a.m. – Thank Your Lucky Stars, another essentially plotless revue of terrific musical numbers;

10:15 a.m. – The Moon and Sixpence, Maugham’s Gauguin tale with George Sanders;

12:00 m. – Gaslight is on…or is it?;

2:00 p.m. – The Talk of the Town is the movie I set on to write about with this post because while it’s considered a classic, it’s still (despite the title) not high on the list of heavily discussed films – which is unfortunate, I think. It has a sensibility all its own considering it was made in the early 40s;

4:15 p.m. – The Seven Year Itch, one of my least favorite Billy Wilders, is still undeniably fun. And yes, the whole iconic Marilyn thing;

6:15 p.m. – Viva Las Vegas, which I’m not going to defend my love for beyond the glorious weirdo train wreck that is Ann-Margret. Its plausibility makes  Dames look like vérité;

8:00 p.m. – The Lavender Hill Mob, a long-time favorite comedy of mine starring Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway;

9:30 p.m. – A Slight Case of Murder, an Edward G. Robinson crime comedy I don’t think I’ve seen yet. We’ll find out;

11:00 p.m. – A Slight Case of Larceny which  haven’t seen either, still looks like light and cheesy fun;

12:30 a.m. –  And we wind it up with It, the silent classic starring icon Clara Bow as a killer clown who terrorizes small-town Maine, if I’m reading this right.

Seriously. I’m not off that day, but I hope you are.

Looking Forward: The Thief of Paris (1967)

8 Jun

thief of parisThe Thief of Paris (on TCM at 9:45 p.m. Saturday. June 8) is a classic European  crime comedy, a genre it seems I’m inadvertently catching up on in the last few months. Aside from the names of those involved, I know almost nothing and will just ignore anything I find. Going into a movie blind with nothing but hope and a decent recommendation is one of my favorite sensations – somewhere below a sneeze but above Peter Christian’s mustard.

Thrill of a Romance (1945), and Esther Williams

7 Jun

thrill1 estherI have fond memories (though it’s possible they’re semi-fever-based) of being home sick from middle school and watching Thrill of a Romance (which is on TCM late Thursday, June 13, part of a last minute 24 hour Esther-a-thon tribute that begins at 8:00 p.m.).

It was on AMC in the days when its name made sense and there were no commercials, only Bob Dorian (this was pre-Clooney). It’s not the best Esther Williams vehicle – in the sense that there’s precious little water in it, and no Neptune’s Daughter/Million Dollar Mermaid inherent swim-necessity – but you don’t choose the puppy by looking at it’s charts; you just make eye contact with the right one at the right time.

Thrill of a Romance, I’ll remind you (because they’re easy to jumble, except maybe Fiesta), is the one where war hero Van Johnson falls in love with Williams, who has just married this businessman who leaves yet hasn’t even managed to consummate said marriage – one of the least plausible elements in the history of her films, and that’s saying something. “I just married Esther Fah-reaking (it’s a family name) Williams, but actually I’m very busy.”

Also, the surreal elements of Lauritz Melchior, the singing bellboy,Tommy Dorsey, Helene Stanley (later a Disney princess live-action model in the 50s), et alia all meeting up for some reason at a resort (not by the sea – Esther is stuck in a tiny pool) sell it for me in the great tradition of studio system throw-it-at-the-wall vehicles. All that’s missing is Jose Iturbi. These are cultural documents, people!

1944_bathing-beauty_esther-williams-and-carlos-ramc3adrez_1_f30s-3Late last night, after our work was done, The Wife and I put in the Bathing Beauty DVD and talked about something. Within the first couple of minutes, Carlos Ramirez is singing “Magic is the Moonlight” as all up in her face as he can get considering she’s clearly a head taller, and while she was no grand actress, as she was the first to admit (I add here without shame that hers is one of few movie star memoirs I’ve read; Million Dollar Mermaid is fun, honest and incredibly trashy. We Highly Recommend), her silent responses as he sings are very different than the typical being-sung-at starlet’s: she looks not blandly model-smiley but really legitimately annoyed. “I’m trying to get to the diving board, dude, and I don’t want to get this complicated cape I’m wearing wet – If you could just –come on! I don’t even speak Spanish! What are you even singing?” Then, as she finally ascends the ladder to the board, he starts going for his money notes and she gives in at least enough to be appreciative – “Alright, that’s impressive, and kind of sweet. Thank you. Really, I have to dive now, but thank you.”

It’s a little moment in a little film, but it’s illustrative of her whole career – she was never Ethel Barrymore, but she was never dishonest. Which is a lot. Swim on, Esther.

thrill2 esther

Tom, Dick and Harry (1941)

7 Jun

Tom, Dick and Harry (airing on TCM at 12:30 p.m. on June 7) is a really fun, completely implausible little comedy, the ridiculousness of which is sold by Ginger Rogers and Burgess Meredith.  (George Murphy is no Jack Carson, but he’s harmless.) It’s really a pleasure to watch in all its 1940s goofity – directed by Garson Kanin, no less.

Keep an eye out (it’s never particularly difficult) for Phil Silvers in a small but scene-stealing part.

Tom-Dick-and-Harry-30013_1Also, it’s worth noting that in this film, Ginger Rogers plays a telephone operator, a career that pretty much doesn’t exist anymore and disappeared within my lifetime. I’m saving more on this for a later post about another film, but this is the kind of thing I’m always intrigued by.

Looking Forward: Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

6 Jun

Stranger on the Third Floor. Friday, June 7 at 11:15 p.m. on TCM.

Why? Peter Lorre in another rare non-creep role, in this case as a reporter.

Stranger on the Third FloorWell, less of a creep, anyway.

I’m in. See you here sometime after it airs.

The Americanization of Emily (1964) and my wife’s thing for Melvyn Douglas

4 Jun

I admit I’m pretty thrilled that within the entertaining and nostalgic but a trifle jingoistic historical document that is TCM around the Memorial Day/D-Day corridor sits The Americanization of Emily, on June 6 at 11:30 a.m.

americanizationI don’t do synopses, but this is a comedy of the shiny dark anti-war satire variety. The Paddy Chayefsky screenplay gets a little chatty at times, but, as previously noted, it’s a Paddy Chayefsky screenplay, so it’s some of the best chat ever chatted. It also, for an intellectual anti-war satire, has a lot of charm and heart and humanity (which is how Chayefsky even managed to get by with as much as he did creatively over the years, I suspect). Whether or not boy gets girl is technically just a coat hanger for the ideas, but it’s never treated as such.

A lot of the credit for that goes to director Arthur Hiller and co-stars James Garner and Julie Andrews. They’re why you’ll watch (that and a love of the tone and origins of M*A*S*H), and you should. But then you have the bonus of a terrific broken, addled and confused performance by Melvyn Douglas.

douglas-smokes-37My wife has a thing for Melvyn Douglas. Usually she expresses it more when we’re watching, say, Theodora Goes Wild or Third Finger, Left Hand or Ninotchka than when we’re watching Being There or this. Regardless, I take a moment here to note that this falls under the heading of

Approved Old Movie Crush

…by which I mean: no husband can compete with a Gene Kelly or a Cary Grant or a god forbid Gregory Peck. One can strongly admire their artistry but be a little glad they’re dead for this reason. Even in their latter days, they daunt. Douglas is still an appealing and attractive guy, still a romantic lead in his youth, but aged more comfortably into Character Man in a way that doesn’t, you know, make a husband grumble retroactively through his wife’s excessive enjoyment of She Married Her Boss or Annie Oakley. We’ll put him on the William Powell shelf in this regard. I’m pretty sure they also share a moustache hall of fame shelf.

(Full Disclosure: I have been known on occasion to refer to her – my wife, not Annie Oakley – as She Who Must Be Obeyed, but this is based more in Rumpole of the Bailey than Helen Gahagan. Still. Clearly the universe has an order.)

And while we’re objectifying talented people instead of talking about their abilities: gentlemen, if harassed by cries of “Julie Andrews? Mary Poppins?” I recommend this film as an explanatory measure.

andrews emily

I mean, come on.

Quickie: Mask of Dimitrios & Background to Danger

3 Jun

dimitriosThe Mask of Dimitrios and Background to Danger (on TCM late Tuesday, June 4 at 2:15 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., respectively) are not particularly well-known but are a great deal of fun if you enjoy a) convoluted WWII-era espionage and b) the glory that is the Peter Lorre/Sydney Greenstreet teamup. (George Raft is a comically wooden miscast mess in  Background, but even that’s entertaining if you know it’s coming.) In Dimitrios, the two of them aren’t even oily! It can happen! Sad that they never got their own detective duo series. Next to Powell & Loy, I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather see indulge in wry murder investigations. But it was never to be.

Anyway. These are fun.

Quickie: Modern Times/The Great Dictator

2 Jun

I won’t recapitulate my feelings on the Chaplin/Keaton/Lloyd schisms beyond saying again that I love ‘em all.

I do think Lloyd made the most effective transition to talkies, though few mention his post-silent work (Movie Crazy, anyone?), but Chaplin got out of that argument altogether by not really doing it for a dozen or so years. (Yes, a few words are spoken in Modern Times, but it’s really a silent film.) And this option – which none but one with the popularity of a Chaplin could get by with – allowed him to mature in a form everyone else abandoned. Even The Great Dictator is silent in much of its logic, and its language use spends almost as much time on gibberish and double talk than English.

My way of saying that Modern Times is just a lovely thing, one of those films full of images people who haven’t seen it don’t even know they know.


Ditto The Great Dictator.


I’m going to remind my sister to tape these (Modern Times is on TCM Monday June 3 at 6:00 a.m., Dictator at 11:15 a.m.) for the nieces. The four-year-old’s response to The Gold Rush was surprising and vehement and she’s become a Charlie fan. While these two are trickier to comprehend, she doesn’t seem to care.

Nor should anyone. Both have aged superbly (Dictator surprisingly so – I’d even argue that its oft-derided final speech plays better now) and if you’ve missed them somehow, they’re must-sees.