Tuesday, December 31, 2002

2002: My Movie-Watching Year, Part 2

I enjoy all kinds of older movies and I usually adjust my tolerance level based on the kind of film I'm watching (genre, budget, year in which it was made) and the stars involved. I can usually find something I like about most of the "classic" movies I see, even the ones that aren't so classic. I wrote about my favorites yesterday; today, here are the worst of last year's batch, with year of release and the month this year when I reviewed it:

CHRISTMAS EVE (1947/Jan): Though set at Christmas, almost nothing else about this marks it as a holiday movie. It's a boring and episodic melodrama (with some supposedly comic touches here and there) about an old lady who tries to unite her sons at Christmas in order to save her fortune. Ann Harding tries, but she is saddled with the worst old-age makeup I've ever seen.

COLLEEN (1936/Sept): 1936 was clearly a bad year for Warner Brothers' musicals. Like STAGE STRUCK (see below), this is another boring and charmless musical with Dick Powell stuck supporting a cardboard leading lady, in this case, Ruby Keeler. Keeler is OK in 42ND STREET, but not here.

KEEPING COMPANY (1940/July): A low point in Frank Morgan's career, playing a sit-comish dad meddling in his daughter's love life. Even the blandest episode of "Leave It to Beaver" is more watchable than this.

MILLION DOLLAR LEGS (1932/Aug): When W. C. Fields can't make a movie fun, something's very wrong. Its a little like DUCK SOUP except with bad writing, weak acting, and satire that never hits its mark. The presence of the terminally unfunny Jack Oakie is the final nail in the film's coffin.

NAVY BLUES (1941/Dec): Speaking of Jack Oakie (THE GREAT DICTATOR aside, how did this man sustain an acting career?) he helps to sink this terrible near-wartime musical, though Jack Haley and ridiculous plotting are also to blame. Poor Ann Sheridan tries, as does Martha Raye, but it's hopeless. The less said, the better.

PICCADILLY JIM (1936/Feb): Any movie with Robert Montgomery in a starring role is an iffy proposition for me. This is the worst I've seen from him. He is totally unable to pull off the casual charm needed to make the audience see that his obnoxious character is a likeable guy at heart. Eric Blore and Billie Burke are fine, but not enough reason to make me ever sit through this again.

STAGE STRUCK (1936/Apr): Along with COLLEEN (see above), the low point of the Warners musical, a far cry from the Gold Diggers movies. Dick Powell doesn't have enough charisma to save the proceedings, although Joan Blondell and Frank McHugh are fun. Jeanne Madden gives perhaps the worst leading-role peformance in a major studio film that I've ever seen. And despite Busby Berkeley's presence behind the camera, there are no full-fledged production numbers to take our attention away from the dreadfully boring story.

TORRID ZONE (1940/March): Two performers I usually like, James Cagney and Ann Sheridan, are wasted in this boring attempt to cross elements of RED DUST and THE FRONT PAGE. Sheridan is OK, but Cagney seems to be sleepwalking through his part. This doesn't even have the strong supporting cast that can make a weak film like this fun.

This was the year I discoverd that Ann Sheridan alone can't save a movie and that Virginia Weidler's wonderful performance in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY was apparently a fluke (based on KEEPING COMPANY, ROOKIE COP, and THE YOUNGEST PROFESSION). I finally got to see a Mr. Moto movie (so-so), and I found that I like Olivia De Havilland more than I thought I did (THE SNAKE PIT, MY LOVE CAME BACK, and THE DARK MIRROR, a movie I saw but haven't written up yet). I discovered Douglas Sirk and hope to track down more of his films in the coming year. And I continued to be charmed by Chester Morris (RED-HEADED WOMAN, FIVE CAME BACK, THE BIG HOUSE, FLIGHT FROM GLORY).

As far as recent films I saw this year, the less said, the better. GOSFORD PARK, ABOUT A BOY and FAR FROM HEAVEN were the best; SIGNS was the worst (a good first half-hour squandered by a terribly disappointing climax). On video, I caught up with FRAILTY, WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY, COOKIE'S FORTUNE, UNDER THE SAND, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, and FROM HELL, all of which were worth seeing. I'm looking forward to CHICAGO, THE HOURS, THE PIANIST, MAX, and SPIRITED AWAY, none of which I've seen yet. And now, on to 2003!!

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