Monday, August 04, 2003


THE DARK MIRROR (1946)--This would seem to be an early entry in the psychological thriller genre that thrived after WWII; it also has a film noir atmosphere, though not many other trappings of that kind of movie. A man is murdered and a woman is seen leaving the scene. The problem is that the suspect who matches the description of the woman is Olivia De Havilland, who plays identical twins: Ruth, who seems sweet and mild, and Terry, a little on the bitchy and edgy side. De Havilland does a nice job distinguishing subtly between the two, so much so that I had some trouble keeping track of which twin was which (an intentional problem, I imagine). It develops that one of the sisters is trying to "gaslight" the other, which throws a monkey wrench into the whole situation. Thomas Mitchell is the investigating cop and Lew Ayres is a psychiatrist who does some investigating of his own and winds up falling for Ruth. The picture is drably shot, but the twin effects are good, and the story builds to an exciting climax.

BACKGROUND TO DANGER (1943)--A bland attempt to produce another CASABLANCA without Bogart. George Raft, who had once been in the running for the part of Rick Blaine, plays an American on a train to Turkey during WWII. He gets involved with a shady woman (Osa Massen) who is trying to pass secret plans along to someone; she is killed and Raft winds up with the plans, a German forgery that claims that Russia is about to invade neutral Turkey. The Nazis, led by Sidney Greenstreet, want to leak the plans to the press to force Turkey to take up with the Germans. Peter Lorre and Brenda Marshall are also trying to get their hands on the documents, but Raft can't tell what their intentions are. Turhan Bey has a thankless role as a protector of Raft's who winds up dead. Raft himself is deadly dull, but he does get to do his somewhat famous coin-flipping routine. Lorre has a buzz cut which suits him and makes him less slimy than usual. For me, the high point of all these tedious proceedings was watching Greenstreet get to do one of his trademarked belly laughs.

THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (1931)--A Lubitsch operetta, fluffy but of little consequence. Maurice Chevalier plays a soldier who has the hots for violinist Claudette Colbert, but while he's flirting with her one day, a visiting princess (Miriam Hopkins) assumes his winks are meant for her. To save face and avoid a diplomatic scandal, he woos and marries the princess. She's rather plain and inexperienced in the ways of love, so Colbert ends up teaching her how to sex up her relationship. Though Colbert is more likeable, conventional morality wins out; Chevalier and Hopkins wind up happy together, and Colbert gracefully bows out. There are some nice Lubitsch touches, but overall not a terribly memorable film (bear in mind that I'm not a Chevalier fan, though I do usually like Lubitsch and Colbert). There is a very funny breakfast song with a line about invading the marmalade. The song where Colbert gives advice to Hopkins, "Spice Up Your Lingerie," is also fun. Charles Ruggles is in the cast, in a too-small role.

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