Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"The Invisible Man"

Claude Rains, "The Invisible Man," 1933.
I love this movie.  Claude Rains doesn't appear "in the flesh" until the last scene, when he's dying and the potion is draining away.  He spends the bulk of the film wrapped up in bandages to disguise his transparency, or as a disembodied voice, cackling as he causes mayhem.  He still gives a great, mischievous performance that starts out playful but quickly turns deadly.  Any scientist that tries out a potion on himself is mad, right?  This film starts with Rains already invisible, and already on the run, plotting how he will rule the world.  Because he's always running, fleeing, or attacking, it's one of the most action packed early horror films.  It's also one of the best examples of the "man as monster" genre, produced by the great Carl Laemmle Jr. for Universal pictures (which also produced "Frankenstein," "Dracula," "The Mummy," "The Black Cat") and directed by James Whale ( "Frankenstein" and "The Bride of Frankenstein"). 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Three Actresses

Mary Astor, "Dodsworth," 1936.
This is probably my favorite Mary Astor performance.  She plays a wealthy widow (or divorcee? I forget.) living in Italy; she meets wealthy retired auto manufacturer Dodsworth (Walter Huston) and his annoying, social-climbing wife.  Dodsworth eventually sees how Astor is a lovely, caring woman and he leaves his wife (after she comes crawling back to him when she is rejected by a new lover for being too old).  It's a little melodramatic but Astor and Huston make an interesting on-screen couple who really seem to enjoy each others' company. 
Joan Bennett, "Me and My Gal," 1932.
 Joan Bennett is becoming one of my favorite actresses.  In this great film she plays a waitress who falls for a young cop (Spencer Tracy).  The plot is silly; the best moments are the courtship between Bennett and Tracy.  There's a great scene where she makes fun of his bowler hat.  She takes it from him and puts it on, cocking it to one side.  She's adorable.  Later in that scene, reminiscent of a moment in "Annie Hall," we hear how the two would-be lovers really feel as they say one thing but think another.   It's pretty avant garde and a nice touch by director Raoul Walsh.
Ruth Hussey, "Tender Comrade," 1943.
Ruth Hussey first won me over, and probably you too, as the wise cracking photographer in "The Philadelphia Story."  In this film she's one of a group of women dealing with the home front during World War II.  She and her friends work in an airplane factory; they decide to live together to get a bigger house and save on the rent.  Hussey plays a married woman who sees other men while her husband is serving in the Navy.  Her excuse?  He's a heel with a girl in every port.  But she changes her tune when she hears he's missing in action.  This is a funny little movie; it really stresses comradeship among friends living in a household democracy where both chores, and rewards, are shared.  AND there is an interesting "good German" element I need to write in another blog post . . .

Two "Circus" Stories

Philippe Dionnet "Yo Yo" 1965.
The films of French director (and circus clown) Pierre Étaix, made in the1960s, were lost to American audiences until recently; Turner Classic Movies aired a few of his features and early shorts just this month, and soon they will be released on Criterion.  His films are reminiscent, to me, of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and of his contemporary filmmaker Jacques Tati; and there is a touch of his influence, I think, in the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  Surreal little visual gags lead to melancholy, then joy.  "Yo Yo" follows the life of a circus clown from riches, to rags, then back to riches again.  It's beautiful.
Gina Lollobrigida, "Trapeze," 1956.
Another circus film, this one produced by and starring Burt Lancaster as a grizzled veteran of a trapeze act, slightly lame, who sees potential genius in young Tony Curtis.  Tony at first seeks Burt out to teach him the difficult "triple" leap on the flying trapeze at his one ring circus act in France; Burt then sees Tony, and his skill, as his ticket back to the big time with Ringling Brothers.   Gina is the woman who wants in on the act, and is the center of an in interesting love triangle.  After failing to get Burt to love and invite her to join the group, she turns her attention to Tony, who falls for her.  But Burt can't help but fall for her, even if doing so will ruin the act.  It's a fun, melodramatic film with some good period details of 1950s Paris and over-the -top performances appropriate for a film about the circus.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bergman and Romero

Ingrid Bergman, "Spellbound," 1945.
 My favorite Ingrid Bergman film is Hitchcock's "Notorious," but "Spellbound" is right up there.  I love the scene where she and Gregory Peck are on a picnic, before she knows he's really an amnesiac, and he offers her a sandwich.  "Ham or liverwurst," he asks.  "Liverwurst," she answers.  She was never lovelier!
This image is from later in the film where she and Peck are skiing towards the cliff; Peck is about to remember accidentally killing his brother.  She keeps turning from the cliff to look back at Peck.  It's a very intense scene and I hope I captured a little of Ingrid's anxiety.
Cesar Romero, "Orchestra Wives," 1942.

Before he was the Joker on "Batman" in the 1960s, Romero had a long film career, often playing "latin lovers" or other ethnic stereotypes.  In "Orchestra Wives" he plays a supporting role as a bachelor piano player in Glenn Miller's orchestra, most of whose members are married, and the wives travel with them on the road.  Hilarity and hijinks ensue.  He's divorced and is working to pay his alimony.  He has a great line where, when asked why he isn't married anymore, answers "What for? I got a lot of girls that are just pulling their hair waiting for me to call them."  Why not call one of them, he's asked?  "Are you kidding? I'm sick of running around with bald dames." 
It's a silly film but has some great Glenn Miller songs, including "(I've Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo" and "Moonlight Serenade." 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Madonna and Tautou

Madonna, "Desperately Seeking Susan," 1985.
"Desperately Seeking Susan" was part of a "double feature" the other night with "Valley Girl."  Both early 80s films deal with the intersection of the edgy with the mundane, but in different ways.  Punk Nicolas Cage wants to win over suburbanite Deborah Foreman in "Valley Girl."  Conversely suburban Rosanna Arquette wants to meet (and then "become") Madonna's rebellious, counter culture Susan.  Neither a great film, but both interesting; "Valley Girl" has the better soundtrack!

Audrey Tautou, "Amélie," 2001.
"Amélie" is one if those films I can watch, beginning to end, whenever I happen upon it.  It celebrates life and has more wonderful moments than a dozen other films combined.  When I first saw it I was overwhelmed by the little things; breaking the creme brûlée, the "glass man" painting and repainting the Renoir, Amélie returning the children's toys to the middle aged man, and skipping stones . . . now having visited Paris I look for landmarks at different train stations and monuments that seem familiar.  And I'm still learning the different Yann Tiersen accordion melodies.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Brando and Belushi

Marlon Brando, "The Wild One," 1953
Marlon Brando plays Johnny, a perfectly realized misunderstood anti-hero; the bad-ass biker with a heart of gold.  It's an iconic performance, not at all radical in retrospect.  He has his own moral code throughout the film;  it's part biker code (stay true to your tribe), part golden rule.  I was touched by his characters sentimentality, especially the way he offers his racing trophy to a girl he just met, to impress her; and throughout the film he repeatedly stops to protect that trophy when it falls to the ground.  Those little movements say much about his character.
John Belushi, "Animal House," 1978.
 Belushi was in his late twenties in Animal House when he played Bluto, which is about the right age for a character who at one point says "seven years of college down the drain!"  There are so many good performances, all great characterizations of asshole frat guys, the jerky dean, etc, but Belushi became the biggest, most recognizable star.  He only had a few great on screen performances, outside of Saturday Night Live, I'm afraid he'll only be a footnote in the future.  I grew up with him on SNL, but how long will that legacy endure?