Saturday, June 29, 2002


This screwball comedy, with ill-fitting musical elements, is a close relation thematically to HOLIDAY, with overtones of Jean Harlow's BOMBSHELL. Irene Dunne is a Broadway singing star who lives with and supports her crazy family. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is a carefree guy with money (they all were back then!) who has the same philosophy that Cary Grant does in HOLIDAY, to be free of obligations so as to live life to its fullest. He thinks Dunne could benefit from some attention to her "fun" needs, so he spends the whole movie trying to win her over to his way of thinking, which also means getting her away from her leeching family. This isn't as much fun as DOUBLE WEDDING, in which William Powell performs a similar function for Myrna Loy (and nowhere near as fun as HOLIDAY), but the supporting cast includes Eric Blore, Alice Brady, Franklin Pangborn, and Lucille Ball. I especially liked Jean Dixon, who played the maid in MY MAN GODFREY and Edward Everett Horton's wife in HOLIDAY. She plays Dunne's maid, who is the first to realize that Fairbanks, despite getting on Dunne's nerves (actually, today we'd call him a stalker), might be good for Dunne. This one could also stood to have been a bit shorter toward the end, and Dunne's songs are bland, but overall, not bad.

Thursday, June 27, 2002


Quite a movie. I've heard a lot, good and bad, about this film, directed by Samuel Fuller; it's not exactly a "classic," but as B-movie surprises go, it ranks fairly high in my book. Danny Peary, in GUIDE FOR THE FILM FANATIC, says that, more than any other movie does, this one "treads the line between art and trash," and that's true. In fact, at times, it's downright sleazy. Peter Breck (who later played Nick on "The Big Valley") plays a reporter who goes undercover at an asylum to solve the murder of an inmate. Rather than trying to get the cooperation of either the police or the asylum staff, he fakes a mental illness with the help of his girlfriend. Here comes the sleazy part: she (a stripper who hangs out with hookers) pretends to be his sister and she has him brought up on charges of attempted incest--if that's not enough, he also pretends to have a fetish for her braided hair!! There are plot holes galore throughout, the biggest one being the strange assumption that living with the insane will inevitably bring on insanity,as though it were passed along like the common cold. A couple of subplots about fellow patients involve some interesting attempts at social commentary. A young man (Hari Rhodes of "Daktari") who was the only black student at a Southern university is a patient, made schizophrenic by the racism he encounters--a theory that has some proponents today. Other inmates include a white man driven nuts by the prejudices instilled in him by his parents (today, he might be branded "dysfunctional"), and a scientist who helped create atomic weapons. The implication seems to be that the social ills of the modern world can drive people insane.

Sometimes, the film feels downright amateurish--bad dialogue, weak plotting, spotty acting, especially Breck's which veers all over the map. But the stark noirish black & white cinematography is stunning, with great use of light and shadow; it turns the liability of cheap sets into an asset (although even here, the photography can go from moody to half-assed in a few seconds flat). Breck's fake hysteria and real hysteria are played exactly the same, and he often winds up shrieking in a bizarrely feminine, almost childlike way that was creepily amusing. I guess I admire him for throwing himself into the strange part with such gusto, but sometimes he feels like a really good community theater actor who is in over his head. The "mystery" plot is silly and quite lazily plotted. It's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend this, but I *did* enjoy it in a kind of guilty pleasure way, and it's certainly a unique viewing experience. The Criterion DVD print is, for the most part, clear and sharp, accenting the movie's best feature: its look.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002


My love/hate affair with screwball comedies continues with this one which William Powell and Myrna Loy make quite enjoyable. Powell is a bohemian artist and would-be playwright who pals around with Loy's sister and her fiance. Loy is a businesswoman whose life is too regimented to allow for romance, at least until she meets Powell. It's love at first sight but neither wants to admit it (especially the uptight Loy) and they spend the rest of the movie fulfilling the screwball comedy convention of seeming to hate one another and doing everything they can to piss each other off until they finally fall into each other's arms (almost literally in this case). The supporting cast is rather bland, although John Beal does a nice job as the mild-mannered fiance. Sidney Toler, who later played Charlie Chan, is a guy who spies on Powell for Loy (and later, on Loy for Powell). The last half hour goes on a bit too long with one too many subterfuges going on--the sister pretends to be in love with Powell, the fiance tries to pretend to be a tough and jealous lover. It all leads up to the inevitable happy ending, but it was mostly enjoyable and, of course, Loy and Powell are as charming as ever.

Monday, June 24, 2002


The second good western I've seen recently, after THE SEARCHERS. It's about a lynch mob in a small Old West town as they go after the people they think are responsible for a cattle rustling and murder. The story is viewed through the eyes of two outsiders, Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan, who mostly remain passive observers. The opening scene sets up the characters and the basic situation in the town. The bulk of the film follows the mob through the night as they track down the assumed criminals. Most of the movie was shot on artificial sets, which for some critics ruined the atmosphere, but which for others helped increase the claustrophobia and bleakness (the town itself, an exterior set, is already mighty bleak indeed). For me, the atmosphere is practically perfect all the way through. Dana Andrews gives the best performance I've seen from him as one of the men about to be lynched. Jane Darwell plays against type as a bloodthristy mob member and also gives one of her best performances. Some actors I'm not familiar with, like William Eythe, Frank Conroy, and Marc Lawrence, are also quite good, as is Anthony Quinn in a small but crucial role. Although it's classified as a western, it only feels like a tradional one in the first ten minutes. Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 22, 2002


I grew up in a family that loved the Perry Mason TV show, and its theme music can still make my pulse race a little. This is one of six Mason films made in the 30's and it's nothing like the show. Warren William plays Mason in a completely different fashion than Raymond Burr did. Actually, William plays him a lot like he played the Sam Spade character in SATAN MET A LADY: light, frivolous, a little loopy at times, leading to a generally fizzy atmosphere which is 180 degrees away from the TV series. Allen Jenkins is Paul Drake, here called Spudsy, and again quite unlike William Hopper. (Claire Dodd, as Della Street, isn't that far from Barbara Hale, except that she's blonde.)

The plot involves Mason helping an ex-girlfriend who is in some sort of trouble apparently involving an ex-spouse who was thought to be dead, but wasn't, but now is again. Errol Flynn, in a very small part, plays the ex-husband. Some movie guides say he plays a corpse, but strictly speaking, we never actually see him as a dead body, just as the husband in a flashback with no dialogue. Mason pulls a couple of quite illegal and even unethical shenanigans in order to get to the bottom of the case. Two very funny scenes: the opening, where William (accompanied by his cronies) takes his own seafood into a fancy restaurant to cook it his own way, and a later scene where William and Jenkins, sitting on a fire escape, are trying to have a conversation while crying due to some residue tear gas. The climax, unlike the TV show, doesn't happen in court (in fact, I don't think we ever see the inside of a courtroom) but is instead one of those Agatha Christie-like collections of suspects, at a cocktail party. Margaret Lindsay, whom I've seen quite a bit of lately, is bland in her role as the damsel in distress, but everything else about this movie was great fun.

Friday, June 21, 2002

CRY HAVOC (1943)

I find the narrative propaganda films (as opposed to documentary propaganda) of WWII quite interesting, both in terms of the messages being delivered and the dramatic devices used. This film, made specifically to address the American loss at Bataan, is an interesting variation on the typical WWII battleground theme. It's about a group of women who volunteer to serve with the Army as nurses at Bataan. The situation, bad at the beginning with the Japanese having the upper hand in the area, gets worse until the last attempt at evacuation--the movie assumes its viewers know all about what happened at Bataan and the military story isn't fleshed out. The propaganda message has to do with countering the perception that Bataan was an unnecessary loss--what could be seen as ignominious defeat is instead presented as necessary sacrifice for the greater good. The real focus, like most WWII battleground films, is on the ways in which a disparate group of people learn to get along despite conflicts (in this case, the main conflict is romantic).

The cast is practically all female except for a handful of wounded or dying soliders who are mostly consigned to the background (Robert Mitchum has a bit part as one of them). Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, and Joan Blondell are the stars and they are all very good, especially Sothern--I don't think of her as having much range or subtlety, but she's quite fine here doing a version of her usual brassy, tough-talking, big city dame. Sullavan is secretly married to Lt. Holt (who we never see) but Sothern comes in and makes a play (in her splashy way) for the guy. This plot feels a bit tacked on, given the other human dramas occurring, but it does supply a satisfying emotional climax. The film is based on a play and its stage origins are clear but not a liability. The sense of approaching and inevitable doom is built up nicely without being overdone. Connie Gilchrist, little Patrick's guardian in AUNTIE MAME, does her "kindly cook" part here, and other cast members include Heather Angel, Fay Bainter, and Ella Raines.

Thursday, June 20, 2002


This movie has many fans, but I can't number myself among them. It is undeniably a lovely looking film and I like the performances of Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan, but overall, it struck me as just an average romantic melodrama where all the characters needed a couple of good slaps across their faces. Fontaine is a woman who has spent her entire life in love with a man she barely knows, Jourdan. When she's a teenager, he, a struggling but very promising musician, moves into her building and she develops a crush on him that never goes away. Although he barely knows she's alive, she fixates on him and turns away other, more realistically promising suitors. Many years later, they do meet up and have what amounts to a one-night stand which results in a child that he never knows about. She marries someone else and, a few more years later, meets up with him once again, when they are both older but not wiser, with more sadness in store all around.

The movie does eventually work up some power in its last 15 minutes, but the lack of strong supporting characters and lack of self-awareness on Fontaine's part cripple the picture. I actually feel worse for Jourdan's character, who squanders away his talent in playboy living. There are a few other characters in the movie, but none are fleshed out or given much screen time, so the two leads have to carry the whole narrative. It's always interesting to watch, due not just to stunning sets (both lush interiors and evocative Viennese exteriors) and costumes, but also to Max Ophuls' fluid directing style. Perhaps I've lost my sympathy for stories of tragic, unrequited love; I might have liked this more if I'd seen it when I was younger. Oddly, Jourdan in his older make-up reminded me of George Hamilton, which was comically distracting at times.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002


This is a highly regarded Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger film which one reviewer has said is basically IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT set in Scotland--although, despite the humor and light tone, this one is definitely not a screwball comedy. Wendy Hiller plays a young middle-class woman who goes off to an isolated Scotish island to marry a rich industrialist (whom, we are told, is old enough to be her father). However, forces of nature (fog, wind, storms) conspire to trap her in a small village across from the island and she falls in love with a handsome but poor Navy officer. With movies like L.A. STORY and SERENDIPITY in my recent memory, the effect of the magical nature/fate theme is a bit blunted, but this is still a charming movie with absolutely beautiful photography of the Scottish land and some interesting and fun special effects, including a climactic whirlpool at sea. There is a wonderful scene early on, when her father, not terribly impressed that she's marrying the head of a large corporation, asks if she's marrying a company. This leads to a dream sequence which shows her exchanging vows with a large piece of factory equipment!

The movie never quite makes the leap into fantasy or magical realism, but the sense of the possibility of the supernatural is always present; one major plot point, though ultimately a bit awkwardly handled in the end, involves an old crumbling castle and a family curse. Hiller is great, Roger Livesey as the Navy officer only a bit less so. An actress named Pamela Brown, who fell in love with Powell and later lived with him, is very good in an important supporting part. A very young Petula Clark is also present. The DVD had commentary and featurettes which all had interesting insights into the movie and the making of it. It winds up being essentially a gussied-up British version of a Hollywood romantic comedy, which is not a genre I associate with Powell and Pressburger, but it's great fun.

Sunday, June 16, 2002


This seems to be one of James Whale's lesser known movies. It was great fun, and possibly ripe for a remake. In atmosphere, it feels like a stage farce opened up for the screen. The great British actor David Garrick goes off to Paris to act with the Comedie Francaise, but due to some conceited remarks he makes during his London stage farewell, the French troupe takes over a wayside inn he's staying at en route to Paris and attempts to stage a hoax designed to teach him a thing or two. However, he gets wind of their plans and so manages to one-up the troupe. It's filled with lots of door-slamming and disguises. Most of the cast, including Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill, and Edward Everett Horton, are great; I was especially pleased to see Melville Cooper, a good British supporting player who is usually relegated to playing butlers, in a major role as the president of the French troupe. The only real problem is the lead, Brian Aherne. He's OK but nothing special. I think Cary Grant or even Robert Montgomery (or perhaps, if it had been made three or four years earlier, John Barrymore) would have been much better. The ending is rushed and a little unsatsifying. Whale didn't direct that many movies and some, such as JOURNEY'S END and the 1931 WATERLOO BRIDGE, are quite hard to find, so I was especially pleased to be able to see this change of pace for the man best known for his horror movies.

Saturday, June 15, 2002


Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell are both actors who I'm rather picky about. I'll watch almost any Gable film from the early 30's to WWII, but I don't much like him in his post-war movies. I dearly love Russell in AUNTIE MAME, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, and THE WOMEN, but other times, she gets on my nerves. They star together here and I was approaching this with some trepidation. I ended up enjoying it, for the most part, although Maltin and the IMDb reviewers don't care for it. It breaks down quite neatly into thirds. The first part, set in a Bombay hotel, is the best and feels like a cross between TROUBLE IN PARADISE and CASABLANCA. Russell and Gable are jewel thieves, both out to steal a duchess's million dollar necklace. They tangle, then decide it would be best to join forces. Of course, they also fall in love. The middle section takes place as they flee Bombay on a cargo ship bound for Hong Kong. Peter Lorre is the greedy captain who betrays them to the authorities, but they escape and the last part of the film is set in Hong Kong where Gable poses as an army officer to pull a scam (delightfully brought off), but then is mistaken for a real officer and is pressed into duty against the invading Japanese. The code forces a "moral" ending that spoils the frothy atmosphere just a bit, but surprisingly, the censors didn't seem to catch the fact that the two live together for several weeks in a small basement apartment in Hong Kong. Russell and Gable have a nice chemistry, and as usual, Reginald Owen is good in a supporting part, as is Lorre, in full Oriental make-up. Jessie Ralph is fun in her few scenes as the duchess. The Bombay hotel set is quite nice, and the movie would have been better off if Gable and Russell had stayed where they met, in Bombay.

Thursday, June 13, 2002


I guess I'm in a 30's French mood. The day after I watched L'ATALANTE, I watched this. The print on the tape was in bad shape--lots of cuts and murky images, and hard-to-read subtitles; on top of that, almost half of the dialogue wasn't even translated. Halliwell's reference book lists the movie at 115 minutes, but the tape was just 90 minutes, so I assume there was quite a bit missing. Still, the story was easy to follow and I enjoyed this film. In 17th century Flanders, a Spanish Duke and his entourage are about to pass through a small Flemish town. The menfolk, afraid of the possiblity of invasion, hide, pretending to be dead or gravely ill. The women decide to take matters in their own hands and they welcome the "invaders" by holding a carnival (with food, music, and drink), and being very friendly (including, in some instances, sleeping with the Spanish men).

In the late 30's, some people saw this movie as being about occupation and collaboration, and it became controversial, especially since it is difficult to take away a clearcut message from the movie about those topics. However, the Spanish troops can hardly be said to stand in for the Nazis; they are never seen as seriously dangerous to anyone--they obviously just want to rest and go on their way. The Duke himself is the most sympathetic male character, except for the character who is based on the real-life painter Jan Brueghel. His plotline, involving wanting to marry the mayor's daughter against the mayor's wishes (but with the blessings of the mayor's wife), is the most satisfying part of the film. Many of the sets and costumes are based on paintings of the Dutch Masters, and I'm sure I would have been more impressed by the detail if the print had been cleaner. According to Amazon, there are only two VHS versions of this movie and, though the other one may be in better shape, both are listed at around 90 minutes. Even more so than L'ATALANTE, this cries out for restoration. CARNIVAL IN FLANDERS is clever, subversive, and quite funny, and ahead of its time in its sexual politics.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002


This was the only feature length film ever made by Jean Vigo, who died of TB just after the film was released. The plot is simple: a young bride and her husband get used to each other. He works and lives on a river barge and she is a sheltered girl from a rural village who wants to taste life in the big city. Also living on the barge are an old salt with an interesting past and a young cabin boy. After a while, they all begin getting along but when they dock in Paris, she's irritated that her husband doesn't want to spend more time there. He does end up taking her to a Parisian cafe, but he gets jealous of another man's attentions toward his wife and takes her back to the barge. She leaves to have an adventure of her own. He takes off without her and soon regrets it. Will they find each other, and be able to live together?

This is a very sensuous film; it's not explicit, but it does have some rather erotic moments, most notably one night when the two are separated, he on the barge and she in a motel, and they both lie in bed, caressing their own arms and chests and thinking of each other. There are also some intimate moments that play out much more realistically than any Hollywood scenes of the time. I don't know much about 30's foreign cinema, but L'ATALANTE feels like a precursor of the neorealist movement, except for a couple of scenes involving some striking dream-like images (surreal, according to some critics, but not really). It looks like it was filmed on a real barge going down a real river. According to IMDb, the actress who played the bride, Dita Parlo, and her performance in the movie were the inspirations for Madonna's SEX book. As much as I enjoyed it, I think this is the kind of film that will be even better with repeated viewings. Although the print on the tape I saw was in pretty good condition, a digital restoration would be wonderful.

Monday, June 10, 2002


I was anxious to see this since it has three of my favorite Warners supporting players of the 30's: Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, and Joan Blondell, and McHugh has the lead, a rare occurrance as far as I know. It was fairly funny, but had a few too many lulls to be a total success. It's based on a very popular stage comedy of the time and it does remain rather stagebound. You can sense the cast trying a little too hard to be farcical. McHugh is a henpecked husband who writes greeting card verses and who, in his free time, picks horse race winners for fun--and all of his picks really do win. He happens to fall in with some small-time hoods who want to use his infallible sixth sense to haul in some big bucks. He winds up in trouble with his wife, his brother-in-law (the only completely despicable character in the movie), his boss (Guy Kibbee) and the hoods. Blondell does a great Brooklyn accent and shines whenever she's on screen, which isn't often enough. Sam Levene is the main gambler and he's OK--I mostly remember him playing cops in a couple of THIN MAN movies and in MAD MISS MANTON. The funniest running gags involve the reactions the hoods have when they read McHugh's Mother's Day verses--they practically think he's Shakespeare! Pleasant but not a neglected gem.

Saturday, June 08, 2002


An interesting example of a British WWII propaganada movie, designed largely to make Americans more sympathetic to the idea of fighting the Nazis. It's episodic and a bit long, but mostly quite good, and it also made me think about the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. I've seen several of their collaborations, such as THE RED SHOES, STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN, LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING, and BLACK NARCISSUS, and aside from the fact that they all have lovely cinematography, I can't come up with any other connecting threads between the movies. I can see thematic or other stylistic connections in the bodies of work by people like Altman, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Scorsese, and John Ford, but not in Powell and Pressburger's films. Anyone out there have any clues?

In this film, a group of German soldiers is stranded in Canada when their submarine is blasted in Hudson Bay. The movie follows them as they trek through Canada, from an isolated fur-trapping post, to a rural settlement of German Hutterites (a religious sect that seems comparable to the Amish), to Vancouver, to a mountain camp, and finally to a train headed to the U.S. at Niagara Falls. Along the way, there is danger (the number of Germans decreases one by one, through death or capture, at each locale) and much discussion of Nazism, democracy, and freedom. As far as the plot goes, this could have been done as a stage play since the political and philospohical debates seem to be the heart of the film. But the stunning location backgrounds add immensely to the atmosphere and action. Eric Portman, who I just saw recently in CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS, is exceptional as the Nazi soldier who manages to stay on the run until the end. He is commanding, a bit scary, but also occasionally sympathetic; he is a stranger in a strange land who truly does not understand the viewpoints of the Canadians, especially the German Hutterites, who he assumes will be converted easily to Nazism (of course, they aren't, and the debate between Portman and the Hutterite leader, Anton Walbrook, is a high point of the film).

Leslie Howard is good as an effete author doing research on Indian folklore in the mountains, who is moved from indifference to heroic action by Portman. Raymond Massey is a similarly indifferent Canadian soldier who musters up some cleverness to one-up Portman through brains rather than brawn. Glynis Johns has a small part as a young Hutterite (one of the Nazis decides to stay at the settlement, with tragic results). The one truly bad performance comes from Laurence Olivier as a trapper--he wildly overdoes his French-Canadian accent, sounding rather like Terry Jones taunting King Arthur in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, even though he is surrounded by actors who don't really bother with accents at all (I don't think any of the British actors who play the Nazis even attempt a German accent). The version I saw is the full 2 hour cut, instead of the 104 minute cut released in the states under the title THE INVADERS (and nominated for a best picture Oscar). The movie has its lulls, and its episodic nature makes it a bit predictable, but the scenery is always beautiful and most of the acting is top-drawer.

Friday, June 07, 2002


This was not at all what I was expecting it to be. Because it sometimes gets lumped in with EASY RIDER, I assumed it would be about hippie youth. Then when I brought it home from the library, the box made it look like it was going to be about the oil industry. Neither is the case. Jack Nicholson, who would get his first best actor nomination for this (the year after getting a supporting nomination for EASY RIDER), plays a man who essentially feels out of place wherever he is. First, we see him working on an oil rig and he seems to fit right in with his redneckish friends and neighbors. Karen Black is great (and was nominated for supporting actress) as his uneducated and somewhat trashy girlfriend who constantly plays (and sings) Tammy Wynette songs--this made me think of her part in NASHVILLE a few years later where she would play a country star. It slowly becomes clear that Nicholson has a strong musical background that he seems to have buried; one of the best scenes has him jumping up on the back of a truck and playing a piano during a traffic jam.

During a fit of angst, he makes contact with his sister (Lois Smith), a classical pianist, and she tells him to come home to see his dying father. It turns out that Nicholson comes from an upper-middle class family, all of whom have some musical training, and he has deliberately left and his family behind him, or tried to. Ralph Waite, who I only knew from THE WALTONS, is very good as Nicholson's older brother. Susan Anspach is Waite's fiancee, and she and Nicholson begin flirting. Karen Black, who Nicholson has left in a nearby motel for more than a week because he's embarrassed by her, shows up and the already tense family situation gets worse. The ambigious ending (which I won't reveal) is right in line with the movie's time and themes. This is basically a small movie, a character study, which, if made at all these days, would certainly be an indie film. We don't get a strong sense of what is at the heart of Nicholsons's feelings of rootlessness, although metaphorically he seems to be reflecting the 60's generation as a whole: feelings of disconnection from parents and from mainstream society in general; a desire to rebel, though not always for reasons that could be clearly articulated; a sense that the past didn't matter and that old standards for what made up a fulfilling life no longer applied; a rejection of traditional responsibilities). Nicholson's famous scene where he tries to get a waitress to bring him a chicken salad sandwich on toast still works after all these years. Toni Basil has a small part, as does Sally Struthers (who has a topless sex scene with Nicholson). An actor named Billy Green Bush is great as Nicholson's oil rig buddy; he went on to do a few more roles, but his twin daughters (who are in this movie as infants) went on to be regulars in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

A MAN AND A WOMAN (1966) and WEEKEND (1967)

These are both French films from the 60's that were art-house sensations here in the States. I remember hearing about them when I was a kid but I never saw either one until this month. From todays' vantage point, both are rather baffling in very different ways.

A MAN AND A WOMAN is about a widow with a daughter who meets a widower with a son; they flirt, fall in love, and face some romantic obstacles. That really is about all there is to the plot. It's not very different from the typical Hollywood romantic melodrama, except for a nude love scene (although we don't see anything much lower than their shoulders). The particulars are moderately interesting: the Man is a race car driver whose wife killed herself when she thought--erroneously--that he had been seriously injured; the Woman is a script girl whose stunt man husband died doing a stunt. The style is interesting, with some lovely compositions and odd shifts in color and angles. The characters' backgrounds are presented in flashbacks that are mostly without dialogue. The twists and turns of their affair come off as unmotivated soap opera plot developments . And there's way too much footage of racing cars. I'm glad I saw it, but after all these years, it was a bit of a letdown--and there's no subtitled version available on video in the U.S., so the dubbing didn't help matters.

Describing WEEKEND as a 60's movie directed by Jean-Luc Godard might tell you everything you need to know. I'm not a Godard fan and this didn't change my opinion. A married couple (both of whom are carrying on affairs and wishing death on in-laws) head off for a weekend trip and wind up caught in what seems to be the total collapse of middle-class society. It's a satire, not meant, on the level of narrative, to be taken seriously--at several points, characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera, and occasionally comment about being in such a ridiculous film. The much talked-about setpiece, a 10-minute tracking shot of a horrendous traffic jam, complete with cars on fire, llamas, and dead bodies, comes very early in the film and is definitely the highlight. All the critics say the scene is one uninterrupted shot, but I swear I saw at least one break about halfway through. Eventually, the action of the movie (such as it is) gets bogged down in endless political harangues from various characters, often delivered in monotonous voiceover. I wish it had been about 20 minutes shorter, although the last shot is worth seeing. But overall, it feels too much like a 60's time capsule movie, interesting in context, but tedious and lifeless on its own.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002


I caught this far-fetched but enjoyable little comedy during TCM's salute to Edward G.Robinson. This was apparently Robinson's first comedic role after playing a lot of tough guys, mostly gangsters. In this, he still plays a tough guy, but he gets to make fun of his gangster image. He's a bootlegging "beer baron" from Chicago who gets out of the business as Prohibition comes to an end and heads out to California to live the high life. Most of the comedy comes from his attempts to blend in with the snooty L.A. types that he wants to run with. He falls for heiress Helen Vinson and she schemes to use him to get her family out of potential financial ruin. Along the way, Mary Astor, a woman who family was ruined by Vinson's family's doings, becomes his "buddy," and she eventually falls for Robinson. It's very light in tone and fast-paced, not quite a screwball, although there is a bumpy romance and lots of deception engaged in by everyone concerned (Astor and Robinson both hide their backgrounds and Vinson only pretends to be romantically interested in Robinson).

There are a couple of amusing pre-Code lines: an associate of Robinson, appraising a work of abstract art, says he hasn't seen anything like that since he quit cocaine. Later, Robinson refers to the California partiers as "a bunch of fags with handkerchiefs up their sleeves." Astor and Robinson don't really have much chemistry; she always seems more like a friend than a potential lover. An actor named Russell Hopton, who I had never heard of before, does a nice supporting turn as Robinson's "companion" from back East, a part that normally would be filled by someone like Allen Jenkins.

Saturday, June 01, 2002

DARLING (1965)

I liked this swingin' 60's relic quite a bit, even though its critical repuation has gone downhill since Julie Christie won the Oscar for her performance. Christie plays a model, living in London, whose career skyrockets as she moves up the "boyfriend" ladder. She leaves her husband (a teenage marriage she felt stuck in) to shack up with Dirk Bogarde (who wouldn't?), an intellectual and somewhat older TV journalist, then leaves him for a powerful and decadent PR man (Lawrence Harvey). Next, she spends some time with her gay photographer friend (a truly ahead-of-its-time portrayal of such a friendship), and winds up married to an older (and very rich) Italian man. One of the messages, of course, is that money can't buy you love (in the words of a Beatles song that came out the year before this movie). By the end of the movie, she seems even more trapped than she ever was with her first husband. Even her career success doesn't seem to make her happy. As a satire of a time, a place and a class, it feels a bit obvious almost 40 years later, but the style of the film makes it always interesting to watch. Christie and Bogarde are wonderful, bringing life to what could have been cardboard roles. The "orgy" scene in here, like a similar scene in SECONDS, just goes to show that decadence on the big screen usually winds up looking a bit pitiful and silly.