Transatlantic Tunnel (1935) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

This is such an awful movie that I thought I should start off with a clear statement to that effect.  The script is unbelievably bad.  And with a script this bad it wouldn’t really help if the cast were first rate because even Lawrence Olivier would sound like an idiot saying idiotic things.  But this is not a first-rate cast.

Richard Dix “stars” as Richard McAllan a brilliant engineer who has already built a tunnel under the English Channel.  Not satisfied with that he’s now going to build a tunnel under the Atlantic Ocean from England to the United States.  Well, good for him.  But his wife is unhappy because the daughter of one of the financial backers has the hots for her husband and has blonde hair that’s blonder than hers.  And blondie keeps dragging her husband away to publicity shoots in New York.  So somehow this convinces her to go work in the tunnel as a nurse without her husband knowing.  And she ends up with “tunnel fever” and goes blind.  So, for reasons that don’t make any sense to the audience she leaves her husband and raises their son up alone until he’s old enough to get killed “working in the tunnel.”  Apparently, the tunnel designers picked a route that had an active volcano directly in the path of the drill.  And in order to contain the destruction caused by the raging volcano McAllan is forced to shut the isolation doors trapping McAllan Jr. and sending him to a fiery death.  When McAllan explains this death to his blind wife it sounds like he’s trying to find the bright side of this unfortunate situation.  It’s really quite extraordinary.  It’s as if the dialog were written by someone who had never met humans and had been raised by google-bots.

Finally, when the tunnel is somehow completed the President of the United States and the British Prime Minister announce it to their respective nations as if it were the second coming of the Lord.  Somehow the tunnel would bring on world peace and defense budgets would be slashed to nothing and prosperity would engulf humanity.  I’m really not sure why shipping things from Europe to America somewhat faster would achieve all that.  But there was a lot of cheering.  Go Anglosphere!  Next, I guess a tunnel between Australia and California would really make the world a greater place.  I think I’m really feeling that tunnel fever now.

And there are problems beyond just a bad plot and dialog.  The tunnel sets and the props like the pressure suits they wear are quite silly looking.  And the investors and the public gyrate between giddy elation and stark terror on an almost constant basis.    There’s even a murder plot going on between two of the venture capitalists funding the project.  It all seems to have been strung together from odds and ends out of a bucket of spare ideas for movie plot devices.  I would say, unless you really enjoy bad old sci-fi movies skip this turkey.

Yasujirō Ozu’s Noriko Trilogy – A Movie Review – Part 3 – Tokyo Story

Yasujirō Ozu’s Noriko Trilogy – A Movie Review – Part 1 – Late Spring

Yasujirō Ozu’s Noriko Trilogy – A Movie Review – Part 2 – Early Summer

 

In the third installment of the Noriko trilogy, Tokyo Story (1953), Setsuko Hara, once again, plays a young Japanese woman named Noriko.  But in this story Noriko is less of a central player.  In this tale the main action involves the visit of an elderly mother and father to visit their children living in Tokyo.  Shūkichi and Tomi Hirayama have two sons and daughters and they have a daughter-in-law, Noriko, from their son who was killed in the war.  The youngest daughter lives at home with them in the country.  Their eldest son, Kōichi is a pediatrician in Tokyo and has two sons.  The eldest daughter Shige is married and runs a hairdressing salon there too. Neither Koichi or Shige is anxious for the parents to stay with them.  After tossing them back and forth for several days they split the cost for the two elderly people to stay at a resort spa.  But the wild nightlife disturbs the sleep of Shūkichi and Tomi so they are at last forced to accept Noriko’s hospitality.  She is very gracious and generous with her time and her meager resources.  Both Shūkichi and Tomi express how grateful they are for her generosity and her mother-in-law especially tells her that she is sad that Noriko has not remarried and restarted her life.

Shortly after Shūkichi and Tomi return home to the country Tomi becomes critically ill and the family assembles at her bedside.  When she dies the children attend the funeral but all of them leave hurriedly for home except Noriko.  She remains with Shūkichi for several days during the bereavement.  The youngest daughter, Kyōko complains bitterly to Noriko about the selfishness of her brothers and sister.  But Noriko defends them saying that grown children have their own lives and it is inevitable that they will drift apart from their parents.

On the day that Noriko must return to Tokyo for work Shūkichi speaks to her about his happiness at the treatment she showed to her parents-in-law whereas his own children showed such callous disregard for their parents.  He gives Noriko a pocket watch that belonged to Tomi.  Noriko humbly claims that she showed no such generosity but was actually very selfish.  Then Shūkichi renews his entreaties for her to remarry.  Finally, after repeated inquiries she admits that she has been very lonely and she weeps.  Afterwards we see Noriko deep in thought on the train ride home.

Despite the very sympathetic portrayal of Noriko and the very unflattering picture that we have of Koichi, Shige and their families, we are forced to somewhat believe the opinion that it is inevitable that grown children become so absorbed by their own lives that they appear selfish to their parents.  But admitting that much we are charmed by the respect, affection and generosity that Noriko lavishes on her mother- and father-in-law.  Ozu must be making the point that the modern world was forcing the abandonment of the old culture that lavished respect on elders as a primary virtue and replacing it with the Western cult of commercial success.

It is a well-made film.  The parents and Noriko are sensitively portrayed and even the slightly caricatured siblings are well acted.  Many of the details of the story provide human interest.  One example is the doctor’s sons displaying childish anger at their father reneging on a promised outing on account of a sick patient needing attention.  Their peevishness in the face of an unavoidable disappointment rings true to anyone who has raised a family.

I’ll include a conclusion for the whole series here.  Ozu has shown how the changing world the Japanese found themselves in impacted the roles and behavior of each family member but most especially the younger women whose lives were shunted away from the traditional template that girls typically followed on their way to becoming wives and mothers.  The various versions of “Noriko” act as the barometer to indicate to her family that something very different is happening in their world.

These stories have appeal far beyond the Japanese public they were made for.  The roles of women have radically shifted even again in our most recent times.  And exploring the fallout from this change and noting the value that the traditional roles that women play in family life possess are worthwhile exercises.  I recommend the Noriko trilogy for anyone who sees the value in the stories I have described in these reviews.

Yasujirō Ozu’s Noriko Trilogy – A Movie Review – Part 2 – Early Summer

Yasujirō Ozu’s Noriko Trilogy – A Movie Review – Part 1 – Late Spring

 

In this second installment of the series, “Early Summer” (1951) the Noriko character has several differences from her situation in the first movie.  Here she lives in a house with both her parents and also her older brother’s family.  The older brother is a doctor and has a wife and two young sons.  Noriko has a clerical position in a commercial firm.  She has reached the age where her parents are starting to worry that she has not yet married.  Her employer hears of this and suggests that a friend of his would make a very suitable husband.  The fact that he is about fifteen years older than Noriko and comes from a higher social stratum than Noriko doesn’t strike her family as a problem.  Noriko’s brother and parents apply continuous pressure to get her to agree to the arranged marriage.  Noriko talks to her married and single friends and confides that she has great reservations about this match.

One of her neighbors is a doctor, a friend of her brother’s named Kenkichi Yabe.  Kenkichi is moving to a remote rural area to assume a government medical position.  He is a widower with a child and Noriko has always felt close to him.  Kenkichi’s mother, Tami is also a good friend of Noriko’s.  While she is preparing for the move Tami mentions to Noriko that she had always hoped that her son would have married Noriko.  Impulsively Noriko agrees to marry the widower.  The mother is overjoyed and tells her son who also seems pleased with the idea of marrying Noriko and have her share his new life in the country.

But Noriko’s parents and other family are shocked and distressed.  They feel that Noriko is throwing away a privileged and desirable marriage to raise another woman’s child and live in a less affluent and less interesting environment.  They try to change her mind.  But she is adamant and they eventually become reconciled to her decision.  When she speaks to her family about her sudden choice, she reveals that the idea of marriage wasn’t the thing she was afraid of but rather she feared being in an environment without friendship.  When Tami unexpectedly mentions her wish for Noriko to be her daughter-in-law it provided Noriko with an avenue to combine marriage with a familiar and friendly environment.  She would start out with a mother-in-law who was already on her side.

The movie ends with the family preparing for the various changes that are occurring.  Noriko is preparing for her marriage and move to the country.  And her parents are moving in with an uncle who has a large house that they will stay in from then on.  In this way the son will have more room for his growing family.  All of these things are seen as the natural progression for the time in each of their lives.

“Early Summer” is not fraught with the tragedy of loneliness found in “Late Spring.”  But it plays up the anxieties that young women are prey to as their families barter their lives in the old practice of arranged marriages.  What Noriko wisely and luckily chooses is to combine her natural role as a bride and a mother with the opportunity of holding onto the familiar and proven relationship with the Yabes.  Her chances of living a happy, if less affluent, life are improved immensely.  This is seen as a consequence of a woman’s changing role in post-war Japan.

Early summer is a pleasant film with some engaging characters and much human interest.  I find “Late Spring” a more compelling movie but “Early Summer” makes an interesting variation on the theme of young women in post-war Japan.  I think it is well worth the time to view after the first installment has been watched.

Yasujirō Ozu’s Noriko Trilogy – A Movie Review – Part 1 – Late Spring

Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu has been rated one of the best film directors of all time by his peers.  Toward the end of his career, he produced three films (Late Spring (1949), Early Summer (1951) and Tokyo Story (1953)) that are variations on a theme.  The three stories have as their center a young woman named Noriko.  Actually, the three films are about three different Norikos.  But they are all played by the same actress, Setsuko Hara and all three of the women are each living through the contradictions and confusion of a young woman’s life in post-war Japan.

In “Late Spring” the Noriko character is in her late twenties, the only child of Professor Shukichi Somiya.  Her mother had died sometime earlier and Noriko has been keeping her father’s house.  But her father and her aunt are concerned that she won’t get married and will end up alone once her father dies.  But Noriko feels that she would be happiest caring for her father and rejects the idea of marriage.  But the Professor decides to take away her rationale by claiming he is remarrying.  Noriko is outraged by this development considering the idea almost obscene.  But once she adjusts to this situation she relents and meets the suitor her aunt has picked out for her.  And maybe unsurprisingly she finds herself interested in this man.  The aunt takes this interest as acceptance and sets up the wedding.

Now father and daughter travel for one last holiday together to the cultural center Kyoto.  While there Noriko begs her father to allow her to stay with him regardless of whether he remarries.  She declares that she believes she will be happiest remaining in his home.  But her father corrects her.  He explains that human life has its own structure that cannot be profitably ignored.  He indicates that her marriage is the next step in her life and that his part in her life must end for that to proceed.  And she accepts his argument and agrees to marriage.  But it is clear that she feels great sorrow at leaving him.  The marriage is celebrated and Professor Shukichi returns home and there we end the movie with him grief stricken by the loss of his dear daughter.

Americans will find many conventions in Japanese manners strange especially those of the women which seem quite affected.  And one scene that takes place in a Noh theater with the odd appearance of the actors and the weird chanting seemed absolutely bizarre to me.

But the deep affection of the father and daughter shine through the movie and make the double-sided heartbreak of their separation real for us.  For the Japanese women of that generation the disruptions of traditional life caused by the American Occupation, the economic hardships of their defeat in war and the introduction of western customs and practices like divorce and women in the workplace made their place in society confusing and frightening and losing the stability and familiarity of the family setting was disorienting.  Ozu showcases these new realities throughout the movie in the persons of the supporting cast but Noriko and her father are the center around which these aunts, cousins and friends revolve.

Although Tokyo Story is considered the strongest of the three movies in this series, I confess that I like “Late Spring” best.  I guess I’m a rank sentimentalist.  I find myself approving the old man’s wisdom in explaining to his daughter the necessities that time and biological life place especially on young women.  And at the same time, I can submerge myself in the awful grief that a father could feel at the loss of a daughter, a daughter that has become his only companion in old age.  This paradox is at the heart of what it means to be a mortal.  We each have only a short window to wear the various parts that we can play.  Son or daughter, brother or sister, grandson or granddaughter, husband or wife, father or mother, aunt or uncle, grandfather or grandmother.  And if we hesitate too long the chance is lost.  And even if we are willing to play our part fate can deny us our chance.

I don’t know if this is one of the “greatest films of all time” but I think it’s a thoughtful and moving portrayal of a father and a daughter.  If that might interest you and you are willing to read subtitles you might enjoy this film.  I recommend it.

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 Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) – A Movie Review

“The Friends of Eddie Coyle” is a crime drama that takes place in and around Boston.  Robert Mitchum is Eddie Coyle, a small-time member of an Irish gang who is about to be sentenced for a truck hijacking that he did for another gangster named Dillon who is played by Peter Boyle.  Because Eddie doesn’t want to do anymore time he agrees to act as an informant to ATF agent Dave Foley.  He informs on the gun runner Jackie Brown who has been providing Eddie with pistols for use by a bank robbing gang being run by Eddie’s friend Jimmy Scalise.

At the same time, we discover that Eddie’s associate Dillon is also providing information to Foley too.  Eventually Dillon provides information on Scalise’s operation and the gang gets busted.  When both Jackie Brown and Scalise both get taken down by ATF the head of the gang decides that Eddie is responsible for the leaks and sends his hitman to kill Eddie.  And ironically the hitman is Dillon.

The movie consists of the various crimes, the gun-running and the bank robberies along with Eddie’s and Dillon’s meetings with Dave Foley.  The movie’s strengths are the dialog and the portrayal of these characters.  Listening to them justify the various and contradictory actions they take rings true.  Even Eddie’s relationship with his wife and family demonstrates what a hopeless mess his life is.  And the ending where Dillon takes Eddie to a Bruins hockey game and gets him black out drunk before executing him in a car ride into the suburbs is completely believable and emblematic of the faithless fraternity that these men inhabit.

Living in New England I asked a friend of mine what he thought about the somewhat recent Boston mob movie, “The Departed.”  He said that the legitimate quintessential New England mob movie was the “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”  And I agree with him completely.  This movie feels about right as a representation of Boston corruption.  Whether it’s gangsters or crooked politicians this is what that world looks and feels like.  It’s petty and disloyal and penny-ante and very, very local.  There’s nothing grandiose and nothing heroic.  It’s gritty and believable.

If you like crime movies that reek of small-timer sweat, this is it.

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) – A Movie Review

“The Bad and the Beautiful” is a film about Hollywood.  Kirk Douglas plays Jonathan Shields, the son of a famous Hollywood producer who has his sights set on following in his father’s footsteps.  Starting out as the producer of B movies for a friend of his father’s, Harry Pebbel (played by Walter Pidgeon), Jonathan finds, befriends and ultimately betrays the best director, actress and author that fate sends his way.  The movie is about this destructive mode of living that Jonathan inhabits.  Along the way we see that Jonathan is both tremendously talented and possessed of enormous personal magnetism.  But these positive traits are set against his staggering disregard for the welfare of the people around him.  Basically, he’s a narcissist.  He also suffers from bouts of clinical depression when he finishes each of his film projects.

The set up for the plot is the actress (Lana Turner playing Georgia Lorrison), the director (Barry Sullivan as Fred Amiel) and the author (Dick Powell as James Lee Bartlow) arriving at the office of Harry Pebbel who is trying to get the three of them to agree to star, direct and write Jonathan’s next project.  His last film was a financial disaster and the only way he can get funding is to have a team of celebrated professionals like them involved.

Harry is the narrator introducing the three vignettes that chronicle Jonathan’s disastrous relationships with Georgia, Fred and James Lee.  Each of the stories features Jonathan catalyzing the creative success that each is capable of but also betraying each of them in a way that is unforgivable.

Fred hands Jonathan the script of a great movie with the understanding that Fred will direct it.  Jonathan manages successfully to get the studio to provide a lavish million-dollar budget for the project but then decides to hand the direction to a more experienced man.  This ends Fred’s friendship and partnership with Jonathan but allows Fred to pursue his own career which ends in him becoming a highly successful director for other studios.

Georgia’s story features Jonathan saving this fragile young daughter of a famous actor who has fallen into a self-destructive cycle of drunkenness and loveless affairs.  He realizes that in order to give Georgia the confidence she needs to succeed he will have to pretend to be her great love.  With Jonathan’s help she finds her acting skills and makes the part and the movie a great success.  But after the film wrap Jonathan goes into his typical depression and when Jonathan isn’t at the opening party Georgia returns to Jonathan’s home to cheer him up.  Instead, she finds him entertaining a starlet in a negligee.  But instead of being embarrassed he becomes enraged that she thinks she can own his affections.  She flees into the night in a torrential rainstorm and we see her driving wildly and almost crashing into the oncoming traffic.  This is the weakest scene in the movie.  Her hysterical screaming while braking the car into a spin strikes me as absurdly comical.  The next day she quits her job and even though she was bound by contract Jonathan lets her out of it.  She goes on to become the most acclaimed, in demand and highest paid actress of her time.

James Lee’s story finds him recruited by Jonathan to write the script for a movie being made from his own best-selling book.  It’s actually James Lee’s wife Rosemary (played by Gloria Grahame with an awful Southern accent) who wants him to stay in Hollywood for the movie work.  But at the same time Rosemary is the greatest impediment to James Lee accomplishing much writing.  She interrupted him at every turn and distracts him with chaperoning her to Hollywood parties.

Jonathan is frustrated by this lack of progress so he arranges for James Lee to accompany him to a cabin in the woods where they can work undisturbed.  But to make sure that Rosemary doesn’t intrude Jonathan arranges for his handsome friend “Gaucho” to keep Rosemary company.  Of course, Jonathan knows Gaucho will make a pass at Rosemary and he also believes she will welcome it.

Sure enough, James Lee and Jonathan make enormous progress and finish the script.  But in the meantime, Gaucho and Rosemary take the opportunity to fly to Acapulco for a love tryst.  They are both killed in a plane crash and James Lee is devastated by his wife’s death and by the knowledge of her infidelity.  Jonathan convinces him to stay on in Hollywood to assist in the production of the movie and this lifts James Lee out of his despair.  But Jonathan inadvertently says something that reveals that he knew about Gaucho’s affair with Rosemary.  But instead of apologizing Jonathan goes on the attack and tells James Lee that Rosemary’s death was her own fault and that she was a hindrance to James Lee’s career.  And the outraged widower punches Jonathan in the face and walks out.  Afterward James Lee writes a book about a woman like Rosemary and the book wins the Pulitzer Prize.  We are led to understand by Harry’s remarks that James Lee’s new understanding of his wife’s hidden desires was what made the book the success it became.

After finishing the reminiscences Harry is going to call Jonathan in Paris and tell him whether Fred, Georgia and James Lee will be willing to work with him on his new project.  As the call is connected the three of them tell Harry they refuse and begin to leave the office.  As they walk into the anteroom, we hear Harry talking on his phone to Jonathan as he begins to hear the details of the new movie.

In the last scene Georgia carefully picks up the receiver of an extension phone in the anteroom and starts listening very interestedly in what Jonathan is saying.  Quickly Fred and James Lee huddle around her eavesdropping with her.  Obviously as much as they despise Jonathan for his selfishness they are fascinated by his talent.

This movie is a narcissist’s love letter to itself.  Hollywood almost prided itself on destroying the people it used up to make its products.  Vincent Minelli was the director and his wife Judy Garland could have been the model for the character Georgia.  And any number of other Hollywood actors, producers, directors and writers could probably have been templates for the characters in this movie.  The only difference would be that the betrayals were worse in real life and the talent of the producer would have been much less impressive.

I’m of two minds about this movie.  It is very well made.  It captures the spirit of the industry it portrays.  But the shabbiness of the people on display revolts me.  Jonathan is never apologetic.  He always attacks his victims.  He always justifies his betrayal.  He is a sociopath.  I guess taken as a cautionary tale it would have value.  Maybe it speaks to the selfishness in all of us.

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.

The Cincinnati Kid (1965) – A Movie Review

Here’s a movie that I can’t decide if I love or hate.  Steve McQueen is the too cool to have any facial expression Cincinnati Kid.  He’s a stud poker player in in New Orleans.  His girlfriend is too cute for words farm girl Christian (played by Tuesday Weld) and his mentor is Shooter played by Karl Malden.  Shooter is the man who arranges all the high-end poker matches and acts as the professional dealer.  He’s married to Melba, played way over the top by Ann Margaret as she slinks around in her underwear waiting for the Kid to betray his girlfriend and her husband and join her in bed.

The climax of the movie is a high stakes poker match between the Kid and Lancey Howard played by Edward G. Robinson.  Lancey is “The Man.”  If the Kid can beat him, he becomes the foremost stud poker player in his world and his future becomes assured.  But a rich New Orleans gambler named Slade (played by Rip Torn) is stinging from a poker beating he took from Lancey and he extorts Shooter to throw the game to the Kid.  Halfway through Cincinnati figures out he’s being fed cards and because he wants to win the game himself, he forces Shooter out of the deal.  And for good measure, during one of the breaks from poker, he beds Melba.  Unfortunately, Christian picks exactly that moment to return from a visit to her parents and discovers Melba even less dressed than usual in Cincinnati’s room.

The end of the game comes in a hand that includes an ace high full house and a straight flush.  Oh, come on!  I’ll let you watch the movie to see who ends up on top but I’ll add that the Kid ends up getting the girl back (at least in one version of the movie).

So why can’t I figure out how I feel about the movie?  Well, it’s a construct.  It’s like they put it together by recipe.  Ultra-cool young gambler, Steve McQueen, check.  Impossibly sweet, pretty blonde girl, Tuesday Weld, check.  Cast of familiar, stereotyped character actors, check, check, check.  Voluptuous, half naked girl throwing herself at star, Ann Margaret, check.  Classy, golden age actor to lend some gravitas, Edward G. Robinson, checkmate.  It’s all by the numbers.  They even lay on the New Orleans atmosphere with old time jazz players and even throw Cab Calloway in as one of the gamblers.  It’s just too much.

But for whatever reason if I’m in the mood to watch a spectacle I end up enjoying the movie.  Edward G. Robinson is just too much fun to watch and listen to.  He doesn’t have that much to work with but he fills out the roll with style.  We feel the aches and pains of the old man sitting hour after hour at the table playing against the younger man.  His banter with Joan Blondell as the alternate dealer “Lady Fingers” is amusing.  Even the scene where the Kid meets Christian’s back country family and shows them some card tricks is charming.  What can I say?  I like it.  I know it’s a set up and I’m the mark but it works.  The critics said this was a copycat movie of Paul Newman’s pool room film, “The Hustler.”  They’re probably right.  But this is the less serious, less fraught version and I think it’s more enjoyable.  I’ll recommend it with my remarks above as the qualifier.  It’s a contrived spectacle but that’s what Hollywood makes.