What’s the Definition of a Movie Star?

I’m sure there are movie critics who have their own takes on this question.  I’ve never thought much about who the “real” movie stars were because what I was interested in was which were the good movies.  But recently I’ve been watching some old movies that were not in the top 100 movies of all time.  In fact, some of them were pretty bad.  The plots were hackneyed and the scripts were poorly written and some of the actors and actresses were pretty awful.

You might ask why I would do this.  It’s a combination of things.  Firstly, they were on Turner Classic Movies and I get that channel on my cable television subscription.  But the other reason is that I’ve just seen the good movies so often I need a break.  Even a great movie can be worn out by too frequent viewing.  So, I’ve been watching some stinkers.

I recorded a couple of movies with William Powell that I’d never heard of.  One was called “Lawyer Man” that also starred Joan Blondell.  It’s an early film from 1932 and the plot includes all kinds of stereotypical plot elements, dialog and characters that fairly scream “B” movie.  I wouldn’t recommend this movie highly although it was amusing because of the leads.

But what was obvious to me was that William Powell was a movie star.  And what that means is that regardless of the role or movie William Powell is in, he’s William Powell.  Whether he’s a lawyer or a private detective or a doctor or a stockbroker or a down on his luck everyman, he’s, unmistakably, the same person.  The persona that Powell had created is what the producers and directors wanted from him in all his films.  In one film he might be a hobo, in another a rich nobleman but in both cases, these were just the vicissitudes of life and they didn’t change his character.

This differs from a real actor like Lawrence Olivier.  When he plays Henry V, he’s a gallant hero.  When he plays Richard III, he’s a heartless monster.  And when he’s Hamlet he’s a lost soul.  Olivier becomes what the part requires.  But when we’re looking to spend an hour with a witty, pleasant, intelligent man we’d rather have William Powell.  He’ll work his way through the plot and whenever he’s on the screen we’ll be pleased.  The character William Powell plays is the man you’d wish was sitting next to you on a long train ride.  He’ll have stories to tell and probably has a deck of cards in his coat pocket and when his wife or girlfriend shows up, she’ll be a smart cute funny dame.  And if an armed robber shows up in the railway car Powell will manage to knock him out and tie him up with no apparent effort.

The movie stars I can think of were all of the sort that produced a character.  Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant always played the same part with slight differences to align with the plot and character details.  But they almost never were cast against type.  Of course, these were the pictures they made once they had reached star status.  As journeymen they had to take whatever roles they were given.  You can see this transition in someone like Humphrey Bogart.  When he started out, he had to play a lot of vicious gangsters and there was very little nuance in these roles.  But once he had done the Maltese Falcon, he was allowed to find his “type.”  He became the tough guy with a brain.  And at that point audiences knew what to expect from Bogey.

As I said, I generally am looking for a movie with a good plot and decent acting.  But there is something to be said for trying to match a movie to a mood.  If I need to relax and enjoy a reuben sandwich and a cold drink I’ll probably want a Western with John Wayne or Gary Cooper.  And If I need my spirits lifted, I’ll watch a Jimmy Stewart film or a W.C. Fields farce.  But if I’m ever homesick for the New York City that used to exist, I’ll look for a William Powell movie.  And maybe it never really existed but with William Powell to walk you through it will feel like home.  At least to me.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“The Shop Around the Corner” is an MGM movie starring Jimmy Stewart that combines elements of comedy, drama and romance to tell the story of a retail store in Budapest, Hungary called Matuschek and Company.  Mr. Matuschek, played by Frank Morgan is the owner of a leather goods store that is struggling to survive at the end of the Great Depression.  Matuschek is enthusiastic, self-important and comically hot-headed.

His lead salesman is Alfred Kralik, played by Stewart.  Kralik is intelligent, earnest and falling in love with a woman he’s never met.  He’s in an anonymous pen-pal relationship with a woman that he knows simply as “dear friend.”  As it turns out dear friend also happens to be his co-worker Klara Novak, played by Margaret Sullavan.  But in their real life Kralik and Klara detest each other.  In addition to this comedy of errors love/hate relationship, there are other characters and other sub-plots.  Kralik’s closest friend at the shop is Mr. Pirovitch played in a wonderfully comic turn by Felix Bressart.  Pirovitch is Mr. Matuschek’s favorite whipping boy.  His favorite statement is “Pirovitch you’re an idiot.”  To which the meek Pirovitch replies, “Yes, Mr. Matuschek, I’m an idiot.”

There is Ferencz Vadas, another of the sales clerks, played with enormous pomposity and self-regard by Joseph Schildkraut.  And finally, there is the errand boy Pepi Katona who snipes sarcastically at all his superiors and ends up as the hero of the second plot line.  For along with the romance there is a drama.  Mr. Matuschek has become aware of the fact that his wife is having an affair and he believes it is with one of his employees.  And since Kralik has had the most opportunity to meet Mrs. Matuschek he is the prime suspect.  So, whereas formerly Matuschek treated Kralik almost as a son now he hates and distrusts him.  After goading Kralik into anger, Matuschek discharges him.  But when the private detectives finish their investigation, they name Mr. Vadas as Matuschek’s rival.  With his life in shambles Matuschek attempts to end it all with a pistol.  But in the nick of time Pepi breaks in on his suicide and hands Matuschek over to the hospital for psychiatric observation.

Meanwhile Kralik discovers that on top of being fired his “dear friend” is Klara Novak.  He finds this out when he is supposed to be meeting her at a café with each of them wearing a carnation.  Spying Klara’s carnation from outside he throws away his carnation and pretends that he was just stopping at the café to meet Pirovitch.  Klara accuses him of trying to spoil her prospective date, insults him and finishes by calling him an insignificant clerk.  After this he leaves in complete dejection and misery.

But in the next act Matuschek calls Kralik to his hospital bed to apologize for his terrible treatment and to beg him to come back and manage the store while Matuschek recuperates from his nervous breakdown.  Even Pepi is rewarded for saving Mr. Matuschek by becoming a salesman.  Now with roles reversed Klara is dejected because her date never showed up and on top of that she finds that the man she insulted is now her boss.  But all ends well.  Kralik fires the despicable Vadas in royal fashion.  The store has a stellar Christmas sales total and Mr. Matuschek returns in time to give everyone a wonderful bonus.  And finally, the lovers are re-united.  But first Kralik has some fun with Klara by pretending that he had met her “dear friend” and he was fat, bald, old, and a greedy fraud.  When Klara finally discovers that Kralik is her “dear friend” she is relieved and happy.

This is a relatively silly story.  But the dialogue and the acting are remarkably good.  Even the minor parts are played skillfully and with great comic verve.  There is great heart here.  And the humanity of all the characters, even the villainous Vadas feels very real.  You believe the story.  There is a Dickensian feel to the production.  I highly recommend this story to everyone.  It’s a gem.

The Four Feathers (1939) – A Classic Movie Review

This 1939 British version of the story stars John Clements as Harry Faversham a young Englishman whose family has a centuries old tradition of military service but who himself fears the reality of war.  He is engaged to Ethne Burroughs daughter of retired General Burroughs and sister to Peter Burroughs his best friend and comrade in the Royal North Surrey Regiment of the British Army.  Ralph Richardson plays Captain John Durrance, Faversham’s rival for Ethne’s love and the main cast is rounded out by Jack Allen as Lieutenant Willoughby.

As the marriage approaches the British Army is about to send an expedition from Egypt to Sudan to reconquer Khartoum ten years after the Mahdi had captured it from General Gordon.  The Royal North Surrey Regiment is called up for service but Faversham resigns his commission to avoid fighting.  His three friends send him a package that consists of a box with three white feathers attached to cards with each of their names.  When he arrives at Ethne’s home her father will not even speak to him and because of Ethne’s sorrowful reaction to his actions he takes a white feather from her fan and tells her he will add it as her contribution to his collection of white feathers.

Now feeling himself to be the coward that his friends have declared him he visits his father’s old friend Dr Sutton and works through his feelings with this mentor and decides that he must restore his honor by going to Sudan and proving himself.  But of course, he’s no longer in the British Army so he goes to Egypt and recruits the help of an Egyptian friend of Dr. Sutton who disguises him as a native.  But to hide his lack of knowledge of Arabic he is branded on the forehead to appear as one of the mute Sangali tribe.  In this guise he travels to Sudan and joins the work gang that is helping to transport the British Army under Kitchener to Khartoum.  And he is just in time to save Captain John Durrance from death when his company is surrounded by the Mahdi’s army during a diversionary action that the British planned to allow the bulk of their army to escape a battle at the enemy’s stronghold.

Durrance has suffered a heat stroke and is now blind.  When his position is being overrun Faversham is able to save his life although both of them are wounded and left for dead by the Mahdi’s men.  Burroughs and Willoughby are captured and taken back to Khartoum for imprisonment or worse.

Faversham continues the impersonation of a mute while he transports Durrance across the desert back to the British territory and medical help.  Before escaping from the British Faversham manages to place the feather that Durrance gave him back in Durrance’s wallet.

Now Faversham travels to Khartoum and manages to give his two friends a file that they can use to saw through their shackles in prison.  He ends up being discovered as an Englishman by the Mahdi and tortured for information.  He is thrown into the prison with his friends.  He reveals himself to his friends and tells them his plan.  If the Mahdi is beaten by Kitchener in battle, he is likely to retreat back to Khartoum and kill his prisoners before the British can take the town and free them.  So, Faversham’s plan is to use the file to free as many of the prisoners as possible and wait until the Mahdi’s army sets out for battle then overwhelm the few guards and take possession of the arsenal building that will provide them with the weapons and walls they need to survive until the British take the town.

Things work as Faversham expects until the British army follows the Mahdi’s army and begins bombarding the arsenal.  To save themselves from being blown to bits they manage to find an old British flag from the former regime and raise it over the arsenal just in time to save their lives.

Returning to England with his comrades Faversham finds himself forgiven his former cowardice and indeed a hero.  But most importantly his fiancée revives her plan to marry him.

The movie has several things going for it.  It was filmed on location in the places depicted in the story.  The cinematography is impressive and the production was able to enlist British soldiers in period costumes to film the battle scenes.  Large forces of men on camels and horses also adds drama to these scenes.  The story is highly improbable but the action is enjoyable and the characters are interesting.  One standout is C. Aubrey Smith’s portrayal of General Burroughs.  In several scenes Burrough’s laments the present-day army’s lack of toughness.  In each case he uses food found on a banquet table to reenact the Crimean War, Battle of Balaclava.  By the end of the movie, to the relief of the audience, Faversham is in a position to finally shut up his prospective father-in-law by correcting his mistaken narrative of how Burroughs’s actually began the famous charge.  I like these old tales from the British Empire.  They are filled with adventure and the ethos of the time.  Highly recommended for fans of high adventure.

Gilda (1946) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is considered a film noir.  I’d call it a happy ending in search of a plot.

The movie begins with Glenn Ford as Johnny Farrell, a down on his luck American in Argentina that is rescued from an armed robbery by a mysterious man with a sword cane.  This man, Ballin Mundson, ends up hiring him to run his illegal casino and soon enough he is Mundson’s right hand man and has all the secrets of Mundson’s fabulous wealth and power.  Apparently Mundson was in cahoots with Nazis who gave him fabulous secrets for cornering the market on fabulous tungsten.  Really, tungsten.  We’re told that a monopoly on tungsten will give Mundson control of the world!  So, since this is 1946 there are disgruntled ex-Nazis running around.  Apparently, they gave him the secrets of tungsten.  Plus, Mundson marries Gilda (played by the very beautiful Rita Hayworth) who was heavily involved with Farrell back in the United States.  But although Mundson suspects that they have history neither will admit to it.

For whatever reason that you care to come up with yourself we’re supposed to believe that Johnny and Gilda hate and love each other and all the tricks Gilda plays to make Johnny either jealous, or worried about Mundson becoming jealous, or both, make sense.  But they don’t.  It’s silly and annoying.

But all good things must come to an end.  Both the Argentine police and the Nazis are closing in on Mundson.  Probably a spike in the price of tungsten.  In rapid succession, Mundson kills one of the Nazis, orders a plane to be ready for him at an airfield, sees Gilda and Johnny kissing in her bedroom then flees to the airfield with Johnny and the police in hot pursuit.  They arrive in time to watch Mundson’s plane take off and then explode over the Atlantic Ocean.  But Mundson parachutes out and is picked up by a waiting boat.

If that’s not goofy enough, Johnny then marries Gilda, the heiress to the tungsten cartel and takes the reins of tungsten power.  He then tells Gilda that she will be treated as a prisoner with no conjugal privileges until she admits to all the love affairs she’s had since Johnny left her in their old life.  Huhh?  She runs away to Uruguay (!) but the Tungsten King has his henchmen bring her back.  Gilda and Johnny are very unhappy.

Meanwhile the police want to bust up the tungsten cartel and they close the casino to force Johnny to give them the information.  When he does, the police inspector tells Johnny that Gilda and Johnny are both in love with each other and they should go back to America and be happy.  So, Johnny walks into the casino to ask Gilda to forgive him and return to America with him.

Just then Mundson returns and intends to shoot Johnny and Gilda.  But the bathroom attendant stabs Mundson in the back with his own sword cane.  And the police inspector tells Johnny and the bathroom guy that since Mundson committed suicide months ago he can’t be murdered.  Huhh?

I forgot to tell you about the bathroom attendant.  He’s comic relief that advises both Johnny and Gilda on life.  Plus, he’s a bathroom attendant.

So, Gilda and Johnny live happily ever after unless they screw up again.

Okay, that’s unbelievable isn’t it?  But the guy who plays Mundson is fun to listen to with his German accent and his love of canes and capes and stuff.  Rita Hayworth is fun to look at and she dances sometimes and lip synchs to someone singing “Put the Blame on Mame.”  And even though all this stuff sounds absurd the movie moves right along and, well, before you know it there’s that plane crash and then that happy ending.

This is a silly movie but I think it’s worth watching because Rita Hayworth is very pretty and looks swell dancing.  And there are Nazis and there is that bathroom attendant who is sort of a home-grown philosopher and pretty handy with a sword cane.

So, I recommend this film but if what I wrote doesn’t convince you then give it a pass.

Night Must Fall (1937) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is a very strange movie.  Robert Montgomery plays Danny, a young man working at a hotel when a murder takes place.  The police suspect him but a rich cantankerous old woman, Mrs. Bramson, hires him to be her personal assistant and live in her home on an isolated forested estate.  Supposedly Danny is going to marry Bramson’s maid Dora.  But he seems more interested in Bramson’s niece Olivia played by Rosalind Russell.  To round out the household is the acid-tongued cook Emily.

So that’s the setup.  Mrs. Bramson is a bitter unpleasant woman who even despises her own niece but Danny pretends affection for the old lady and a sensitivity to her problems and becomes her closest companion.  Olivia can see that he is acting but for whatever reason she doesn’t expose him for a phony when she has the chance.

But much more seriously, she begins to suspect that Danny is the murderer and that he has the murdered woman’s head in a locked hatbox that he keeps in his room.  When the police inspector questions Danny about the murder and searches his room, he finds the hatbox and demands that Danny open it but Olivia intervenes and claims the box is hers and the Inspector relents.  Now this seems inexplicable.  She claims that she dislikes and distrusts Danny but for some reason she saves him.  Later on, Danny tells her that she is actually attracted to him because of the excitement he has brought into her life.

And indeed, Olivia is desperate for something to relieve the boredom of her hum-drum existence living with her aunt in this isolated rural environment.  She longs for excitement and for that reason has rejected the marriage proposal of Justin Laurie who is her aunt’s lawyer and an affectionate, dependable if unexciting suitor.

But everything comes to a head and Olivia cracks under the strain of living in the house with the manic Danny and she flees to Justin’s home leaving her aunt alone with Danny.  Danny murders her and empties her safe of a large amount of cash.  He prepares to burn down the house when Olivia returns and confronts him over the murder.  He happily admits it and informs her that she too will be murdered and burned in the fire.  But just then Justin arrives with the police and Danny has a final scene to declare his madness to himself in a hallway mirror before being carted away for justice.

This is a very strange movie.  My read is this is a woman’s movie.  Other than the murderer the main characters are all women.  The lonely house in the woods reinforces this strange dynamic of women isolated with a sociopathic man who preys on women.  But only Olivia has figured it all out.  Mrs. Bramson is completely taken in.  Dora and Emily can’t make up their minds if he is real or not.  But even Olivia is mesmerized by his tour de force.  She knows he’s a liar and she suspects that he’s a murderer but she retains a sympathy for him that’s hard to believe.

I asked Camera Girl about this because she’s a woman.  I said, “You’re a woman, is this possible?”  She said it could be somewhat believable that a woman who was so desperately bored might welcome the distraction of experiencing the weirdness of such a colorful character.  So, we agreed that although the idea of Olivia helping Danny escape detection is sort of hard to believe, the movie was fairly interesting.

Montgomery’s portrayal of Danny and Russell’s Olivia are fairly compelling characters.  And the rest of the cast is very good too.  As much as this movie is odd and the motif of Olivia allowing Danny to escape detection is far-fetched, nevertheless, I will still recommend this movie for people who like psychological dramas.

09APR2021 – OCF Update – Life Imitates Art

On such a beautiful day I naturally decided to spend it extracting thorn brambles and Russian olive trees with a shovel and a 6 foot pry bar.  After a couple of hours of sweat and back ache I remembered a line from the movie “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

Curtin:  What are you going to do with your hard-earned money old timer when you get back and cash in?

Howard:  I’m getting along in years.  Oh, I can still hold up my end when it comes to a hard day’s work but I ain’t the man I was once, and next year, next month, next week I won’t be the man I am today.  Reckon I’ll find me some quiet place to settle down.  Buy a business maybe … a grocery or a hardware store, and spend the better part of my time reading comic strips and adventure stories.  One thing’s for sure … I ain’t going to go prospecting again and waste my time and money trying to find another gold mine.

I certainly know what Howard was talking about in that scene.

Rhapsody in Rivets (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I have stretched the definition of movie to include this Warner Brothers’ Merrie Melodies cartoon.  It consists of a construction crew of humans and animals building the “Umpire State Building.”  The foreman is “conducting”  Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” using the workmen as his orchestra.  Bricklayers, laborers banging in stakes, riveters, carpenters, and cement mixers are all employed to produce the music of the symphony.  It’s extremely entertaining.  Finally it’s almost 5pm so the conductor starts playing at break neck speed and the building shoots up into the sky at ludicrous speed.. And when a cloud gets in the way they build the building laterally to avoid it.  Finally the capstone gets a flag that says Umpire State the crowd applauds and the conductor takes his bow.  Then a little Bassett hound workman slams a door closed and the whole things comes crashing down.

I could only find the entire cartoon on a  russian site for free.  If you remember it and liked it or have never seen it check it out.  Highly recommended.

 

You’re Telling Me! (1934) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Full disclosure, W.C. Fields’ characters as the hen-pecked but thoroughly disreputable husband represents in my opinion one of the pillars of the self-respecting American husband.  Although constantly set upon by his wife and family he refuses to knuckle and become bovinely domesticated.  Sometimes he’ll pretend to bow to convention for the sake of a short period of marital tranquility but we know that at any moment he might use the excuse of his mother-in-law’s spurious death as an excuse to skip work and go to the wrestling matches or throw away an inheritance by buying worthless land while following the dream of becoming an orange rancher.  It is this absurd and quixotic aspect of Fields’s characters that convinces me to excuse some of the infuriatingly boring routines that he loads into his movies.  And several of these routines are on maddening display in “You’re Telling Me!”  I’ll skip over the recurring gag of a drunken Fields getting his head and arms tangled in the ornamental ropes on his living room doorway drapery.  That is a mere couple of minutes of idiocy.  But at the climax of the film there is an eight-minute stretch of Fields attempting to drive a golf ball.  A lesser man would have turned it off after a few minutes.  But I soldiered on.  I had to see how Fields’ invention of bulletproof car tires would bring about the story’s happy ending.

I write this introduction to show the reader that I am aware that “You’re Telling Me!” is not a faultless masterpiece.  On the contrary, it’s a W.C. Fields movie which means it is a combination of awful physical comedy, brilliant verbal quips and tragicomical storytelling.  I am also aware that a taste for W.C. Fields is not a universal trait.  Far from it.  But being a true believer, I feel it’s my duty to advocate for the great man.

The premise of the story is that Fields’ character Sam Bisbee is trying to prove to his long-suffering wife Bessie that in addition to being a drunk he is also a great inventor.  He is on the brink of demonstrating his 1000% puncture-proof automobile tire to the National Tire Company.  At the same time Sam’s daughter, Pauline is in love with Bob, the son of the wealthy Murchison family that live on the other side of the tracks.  Bob’s mother is played by Kathleen Howard who played Fields’ wife in two of his other great movies, “It’s a Gift” and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.”  She comes to visit the Bisbee house to forbid the romance but is delighted to find that Bessie is from an old money family from the Old South.  But immediately afterward Sam shows up and showcases enough boorishness to outrage Mrs. Murchison and in reaction to this rejection Pauline demands that Bob and his mother leave and never come back.  Now that Sam has angered and disappointed both his wife and daughter, he is determined to make good on his promise as an inventor to make the family fortune and thereby restore relations between his daughter and the Murchisons.

We are given a convincing demonstration of his invention in his work shop.  He fires a pistol at the tire and catches the rebounding bullet in a baseball glove.  Now he puts four of these tires on his car and drives into the city to demonstrate it to the Board of the National Tire Company.  Sam parks his car in front of the office building, in a no parking zone, and heads up to the Board room.  The building attendants push his car down the block and apparently called the police to come and take it away.  The police arrive and park in front of the building and exit the scene to meet up with the attendants down the block.

Meanwhile Sam brings the Board down to the front of the office building and apparently not recognizing that the police car isn’t his own he proceeds to shoot out the tires of the police car.  The Board laugh mockingly at his failed demonstration and the police show up and give chase at the sight of their car being used for target practice.  Sam successfully flees as the scene ends.

Next, we see Sam on the train headed back to his home.  He has written a suicide not to Pauline explaining that he can’t endure the humiliation that his failure will spark.  Now we are subjected to another long annoying sequence of Sam attempting to kill himself by drinking a bottle of iodine.  He finally gives it up after seeing a passing graveyard next to the train.

Now we mee the Princess Lescaboura who is travelling on the train in a private room.  Sam wanders into her room accidentally when a servant leaves the door open and he assumes it’s the bathroom.  The princess had just applied iodine to a cut on her hand and seeing the bottle Sam assumes she is about to commit suicide so he recounts his own misfortunes and suicide attempt to dissuade her from the supposed suicide.

She is touched by his mistaken concern for her safety and is also sympathetic to the pathetic personal problems he is in.  He says goodbye to her not knowing that she is royalty, thinking she is a young woman named Marie and invites her to visit his family if she ever stops in his town.

Incidentally while he was talking to the princess a couple of old biddies from his town see him talking to a young woman and spread gossip at home that he is having an affair.  And the story mutates until by the time he reaches home everyone is convinced that he has been involved in a drunken debauch with a stripper.  When Sam reaches town, every woman he meets upbraids him as a masher and every man in town slaps him on the back and wants to hear his story.

When he realizes that his wife will want to kill him when he gets home, he tries to come up with a gift that will assuage her anger.  One of his friends suggests a pet parakeet.  Sam replies that it’ll have to be bigger than that.  In the next scene we see him walking down the main street holding a rope around the neck of an ostrich that doesn’t seem happy about the arrangement.

In the meantime, the princess has arranged for a visit to Sam’s town.  The mayor and all the leading citizens meet her at the train station and she tells them that she wants to go to the home of her friend Sam Bisbee, the man who saved her life “during the war.”  Mrs. Murchison bends over backward to please the princess and the crowd heads for Sam’s house.  Along the way they find Sam and the ostrich and after the princess assures a drunk Sam that he is a hero they head for his home.  Eventually the princess arranges for a party to be given at Sam’s home in her honor and catered by the Murchisons.  The princess provides enough nonsense about how important Sam is back in her country that Mrs. Murchison announces the engagement of her son to Pauline.  And she arranges that Sam will perform the honor of dedicating the new golf course in town by hitting the first drive.  This gives us that agonizing eight-minute dose of torture before the National Tire Company president shows up and offers to buy Sam’s invention for $20,000.  Cutting him off before he can accept, the princess gets into abiding war and the president is forced to offer a million dollars plus a royalty to Sam on each tire sold.  Now the movie ends with Bisbees and Murchisons driving off to a party with the princess and Sam preparing for a two-week drinking bout with his friends.

As you can see, the movie consists of ridiculous events and absurd situations.  But some of the dialog is inspired.  My favorite situation is when Princess Lescaboura meets Sam’s wife.  Bessie is confused and honored by the princess’s friendliness but when the princess exclaims, “You must be the happiest woman in the world.”  All Bessie can confusedly say is, “Is my husband dead?”  And that encapsulates the magic of this movie.  Sam is the quintessence of the American husband.  His refusal to conform to his wife’s opinions on acceptable behavior and the suffering they both experience because of the conflict provides a funhouse mirror version of the real-life war between the sexes.

One small personnel note.  Bob Murchison is played by Buster Crabbe.  Here he is a young and very green actor that would one day thrill us as children when he played Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers.

So, do I recommend this movie?  It’s hard to say.  If you cannot get through the bad physical comedy bits that are ridiculously long then no, you will not enjoy this movie.  But if you can, then you will be rewarded by some truly inspired comedic moments.  Maybe the solution is to fast forward through those bits.  But that is the coward’s way out.  It’s up to you.

The Great McGinty (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Having just lived through a stolen presidential election I thought this was the perfect time to review Preston Sturges’ comical look at crooked politics.

The movie opens up in a bar in a Latin American country.  A young American is getting drunk and becoming more and more depressed.  He had to escape from the United States and leave his family behind because he was a bank teller who got caught stealing money.  The bartender played by Brian Donlevy follows him into the bathroom just in time to stop him from shooting himself.  The bartender tells him not to despair.  He tells the young man that his case is minor compared to his own.  Then he tells his story and the scene changes to the bartender’s story.  We find out his name Dan McGinty.

When we first see him, he is a hobo in tattered clothes wandering the streets of some big eastern city, probably New York.  It’s election day and a political hack (played by William Demerast) collars him and tells him that if he votes for the crooked mayor under an assumed name, he’ll get paid two bucks.  When McGinty asks the fixer, what happens if he can vote twice the guy tells him he’ll get four bucks.  So McGinty goes to every polling station and votes thirty-seven times.  But the fixer doesn’t have enough money to pay McGinty off so he brings him down to headquarters to ask the “Boss” for the cash.  The Boss, played hilariously with an absurd Russian accent by Akim Tamiroff, is so impressed by McGinty’s nerve that he takes him under his wing to make him a successful crook.  First, he makes McGinty a collector for the protection racket that the Boss runs.  When his verbal and pugilistic skills allow him to clean up even the most delinquent customers the Boss realizes that McGinty will rise very high in the Boss’s political machine.  He graduates to squeezing all the city contractors for the kickbacks that the Boss gets for letting them skip the bidding process.  The relationship between McGinty and the Boss is one of fratricidal familiarity.  They are both berserk fighters who enjoy nothing better than brawling with each other at the drop of a hat.  There are several brawls in the course of the movie.

Eventually the Boss decides that the old mayor is too weak and he decides that McGinty will be the new mayor.  But before he can run, he has to get married.  Apparently the newly enfranchised woman vote didn’t cotton to bachelor mayors.  He and his secretary Catherine form a marriage of convenience.  She is a divorcee with two kids and they both agree that a marriage in name only would suit them both.  But as you can guess eventually, they both fall in love and ruin the whole thing.  Catherine is at heart an idealist and she hopes that some day Dan can go straight and get out from under the Boss’s thumb.

Finally, the Boss decides to run McGinty for governor and he wins.  Now McGinty decides he wants Catherine and the kids to respect him so he has it out with the Boss.  And right in the governor’s office he and the Boss get into a colossal fist fight and then the Boss pulls a gun and tries to shoot McGinty for which he is hauled off to jail for attempted murder.

But the Boss gets his revenge and has McGinty arrested for being involved in a crooked contract back when he was mayor.  Now the Boss and McGinty are in adjoining cells and they strike a deal and the Boss arranges for both of them to break out of jail and escape the country.  McGinty just has enough time to call Catherine and tell her where there is a safety deposit box with enough money to take care of her and the kids for life.

In the next scene they’re back in the Latin American bar where McGinty is the bartender and the Boss is the owner.  Just as he finishes the story and calms the young man down, he decides to make the cash register ring.  This is supposed to tip off the Boss that McGinty is stealing from him and they get into one of their habitual fistfights.  Obviously, the fight is the highlight of the day for both of these exiles.

Preston Sturges wrote and directed this comedy and like many of his films it has an originality sadly lacking in most movies.  The characters of McGinty and the Boss are extremely vivid and despite their obvious criminality quite likeable.  The rest of the cast are more than adequate and the dialog is quite good.  Highly recommended.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 14 – Saboteur (1942) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Saboteur is one of Hitchcock’s earlier Hollywood era productions.  It’s the story of Barry Kane, played by Robert Cummings, a wartime factory worker who is mistakenly accused of being a Nazi saboteur.  The story starts out at an airplane manufacturing plant where Barry and his friend Ken Mason are employed.  At lunch they bump into another employee named Frank Fry who acts very suspiciously.  Barry sees an envelope that Fry is sending to a man in another town and finds a large amount of money that Fry drops on the ground.  When he gives the money back to Fry, he becomes very angry.  Suddenly a large fire breaks out and Barry, Ken and Fry head toward it.  Fry gives Ken a fire extinguisher but when Ken directs it at the fire, he becomes engulfed by the inferno and dies.

During the investigation it turns out that there is no employee named Fry and Barry’s story about the whole event is doubted when it turns out the extinguisher was filled with gasoline.  He is blamed for the fire and is being hunted as a Nazi saboteur.  He runs away and hitches a ride with a truck driver heading for the town that Fry’s letter was addressed to.

When he reaches the address, the man living there, Charles Tobin, denies knowing anyone named Fry but Barry accidentally finds a telegram from Fry to Tobin.  Realizing that Tobin is one of the saboteurs and has called the police to arrest him, Barry flees but is quickly captured by the police.  Later he escapes from them by leaping off a bridge into a river.  Eventually he reaches the cabin of a blind man who suspects that he is a fugitive from the law because he can hear Barry’s handcuffs clinking against each other.  The blind man prefers to believe Barry is innocent and agrees to help him get out of his handcuffs.  But the man’s niece, Patricia “Pat” Martin, arrives and wants to turn him into the police because of the news reports branding him as a dangerous saboteur.

Now follows a confusing and slightly ridiculous chain of events that involves circus freaks and an eventual change of heart by Pat toward Barry.  Eventually Barry convinces part of the sabotage gang that he is working for Tobin and is driven to New York City where the next big action is planned.  Pat is captured and also ends up in New York.  The new target is a battleship that has been completed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  The saboteurs manage to sink it and capture both Barry and Pat.  But by a clever ruse she is able to signal the police and all the saboteurs except Fry are captured by the police.  Fry escapes to the Statue of Liberty and there is a climactic fight on the torch of the statue where Fry falls onto the torch arm and is hanging by his fingernails.  Barry manages to grab hold of Fry’s jacket sleeve and is waiting for the police to bring a rope to allow for a rescue.  But before they can arrive the sleeve rips free and Fry falls to his death.  Barry kisses Pat and the movie ends.

Well, you can’t say Hitchcock doesn’t throw everything including the kitchen sink into the plot.  Bearded women, Siamese twins, midgets, trusting blind men, a pretty girl who models for billboards, sunken battleships, the Statue of Liberty, the Hoover Dam, leaps off bridges, Rockefeller Center, Nazi spies, shoot outs in movie theaters, you name it.  And this movie is noticeably a Hollywood product.  There is all of the wartime patriotism there and the tropes that the studios had built up at this point.  The production values are high but the dialog and acting are a bit mediocre.

It’s a pretty good effort but hardly one of Hitchcock’s finest productions.  I’d called it recommended but not highly recommended.  Let’s say it is moderately entertaining but it wouldn’t be something I’d re-watch often.