In a Lonely Place (1950) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“In a Lonely Place” is a less well-known film in Humphrey Bogart’s catalog but the plot and character combine to play very well to Bogart’s strengths.  In the story Bogart is a Hollywood screen writer named Dixon “Dix” Steele who has been down on his luck of late.  And in the first scene we also discover that he has an explosive temper that easily leads him into physical altercations.  Steele is at a restaurant where he meets up with some colleagues and other movie making types, producers, agents and actors.  A producer who is somewhat obnoxious makes a crack about an alcoholic actor that happens to be Steele’s friend and Dix physically assaults him and has to be restrained.  During the evening we learn that Dix ix supposed to read a novel for his agent to see if it is suitable for a movie treatment.  Because he is too tired and hung over, he asks the hat check girl, Mildred Atkinson, who has read the book to accompany him back to his apartment and recite a summary of the book for him.  She agrees and we see her enthusiastically summarize the book to Dix who is obviously unimpressed with the plot.  When she finishes, he explains that he is too tired to drive her home and gives her a generous amount of cash to catch a cab around the block on her own.  At one point in the scene Dix is looking out the apartment window and he sees a woman standing on her balcony.  The two of them stare at each other for an extended moment and Dix is obviously interested.  The scene ends with Dix sending Mildred on her way and catching another look at the neighbor woman who is in the apartment courtyard.

The next morning Dix is awakened by a ring at his doorbell.  An old army pal of his Brub Nicolai is calling.  Brub is now a police detective and his boss, Capt. Lochner, wants to talk to Dix.  Dix had been Nicolai’s commanding officer in WW II and their relationship is presented as casually friendly.  At the police station Dix is unemotional and seemingly unconcerned to hear that Mildred was strangled to death after leaving his home the night before.  Lochner is noticeably suspicious of Steele’s seemingly callous disregard for the girl’s murder but when the neighbor woman who had shared the glances with Dix the night before, Laurel Gray, comes into the police station and in front of Dix confirms the fact that Mildred left Steele’s apartment alone, the police let Dix go home.  Interestingly on his way home Dix pays a florist to have two dozen white roses sent to Mildred Atkinson’s home.

The setup after this is two tracks.  Dix and Laurel fall in love and we see the relationship vitalize Dix.  Notably his screen writing work benefits enormously.  He is happier than he has been in years.  The other track is Capt. Lochner pursuing evidence of Steele’s guilt in the Atkinson murder.  He instructs Nicolai to socialize with Dix and Laurel.  Nicolai and his wife invite them to dinner and go out on the town with the couple.  These get togethers serve to only increase suspicion of Dix.  He really does have a violent and slightly disturbed personality.  And finally, Capt. Lochner calls Laurel in to discuss Steele’s long and troubled history of violence.  This plants the seeds of doubt about Dix deep into her mind.  And it is the catalyst that eventually destroys her trust in him.  When Dix and Laurel are at the Nicolais’ home one night it comes out that Laurel had met with Capt. Lochner without telling Dix.  Dix flies into a rage and storms away and Laurel barely catches up with him before he drives off into the night like a madman.  Driving at seventy miles an hour around winding mountain roads he barely avoids numerous accidents but finally sideswipes a car at an intersection.  The driver angrily insults him for damaging his car and Dix pummels him into unconsciousness on the side of the road.  But when he is about to brain the helpless man with a large rock Laurel screams at him and brings him back to his senses.  They drive off and Dix relates how he’s been in a hundred fights like this.  Laurel asks if that makes it better.  He tries to justify himself based on the verbal taunt the other driver made.  She reminds him that all the guy called him was a “blind knuckle-headed squirrel.”  He becomes slightly contrite and lets her drive them home from there.  The next day after reading of the attack in the newspaper Dix goes to the post office and sends three hundred dollars to his victim in the name of Joe Squirrel.

But now Laurel is so shaken by the knowledge of Steele’s murderous temper that she even doubts whether he is innocent of Mildred’s murder.  She cannot sleep and begins taking sleeping pills.  Sensing that things are slipping away Dix tells Laurel that they are going to get engaged that day and married that night in Las Vegas.  Too afraid to refuse him she agrees but secretly makes plans to run off on a flight to New York City.  She confesses to Steele’s agent Mel that she is leaving him.  Mel tells her it will crush Dix and counsels her to give Dix a consolation victory by allowing Mel to have the script approved by the studio before she leaves him as this will soften the blow to his ego.  This sets up a scene at the “engagement party” at their favorite restaurant where a call comes in from the studio revealing that Mel gave the script to the studio without Dix’s permission.  Dix slaps Mel viciously in the face breaking his glasses.  Dix goes into the bathroom to apologize to Mel but by the time he returns to the table Laurel has fled.

Dix confronts Laurel in her apartment and all his suspicions that she is leaving him are on display.  She has taken off his engagement ring and is hiding her preparations to flee the state.  Finally, a call from the travel agent reveals all and as she tries to placate him Dix grabs Laurel and starts to strangle her.  But before it’s too late he comes to his senses, lets her go and starts walking away.  The phone rings again and it is Nicolai and Lochner calling to apologize to Dix and Laurel.  Mildred Atkinson’s boyfriend has confessed to her murder.  Dix lifelessly passes the phone to a still visibly choked and groggy Laurel who listens to Lochner’s apology with vacant eyes.  She mentions before she hangs up that a day earlier this news would have meant a great deal more.  The movie ends with Laurel watching from her open door as Dix walks dazedly away to his apartment.

This movie comes at an interesting point in the transition from the studio system of the golden age of Hollywood to the aftermath with independent production companies struggling to get movies financed and made.  Bogart’s production company was able to capitalize on the talents of the actors, directors and production people available at that point to give the film the polished Hollywood look but he was stepping way from the safe plot devices and social conventions that wouldn’t have allowed a big star like Bogart to steer so far onto the dark side.  But this is what Bogart was looking for.  Earlier in his career he could be the psychotic gangster but after Casablanca and The Big Sleep he would have to be at least nominally a good guy.  This restriction to his choices was against his interests and so he sought out a film noir like this that gave the audience what they wanted.

And it is very effective.  Gloria Grahame as Laurel is very interesting to watch.  She performs the varying stages of her relationship with Dix in a convincing and entertaining way.  The supporting cast is good.  But it is Bogart who performs the tour de force.  He is given a very good script and he plays it to the hilt.  There are nice little touches throughout the movie that actually endear Dix to the audience.  He really is a very personable madman.  All his friends really do like him even after he beats them up.  Bogart’s work in this film compares very favorably to any of his better known and critically praised roles.  And the ending is wonderfully dissatisfying.  If Bogart had been cleared a day earlier none of his crazed actions would have happened and Laurel never would have doubted his innocence or his sanity.  At the same time we see that Steele is a dangerously violent man with the potential to kill in the heat of the moment.  A very nice dilemma for the audience to digest.

Highly recommended.

A Night at the Opera – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The Marx Brothers have the reputation for producing some of the funniest movies of the 1930s and 1940s.  This is in some ways deserved but it is by no means justified for all of their films.  In addition, no one would claim that the entirety of any of the movies is consistently funny.  After all, the number of people who would laugh through a three-minute harp solo is extremely small, probably zero.

But I consider A Night at the Opera their best effort.  For that reason, I’ll start with a review of it and if I decide to tackle any of the others it will involve comparing them to the qualities of A Night at the Opera.

The story starts out in Italy with Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) trying to convince the wealthy widow Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) to donate $200,000 to the New York Opera in order to cement her place in high society.  With the money, the opera company’s director Herman Gottlieb, can sign a famous Italian tenor Rodolfo Lassparri for the upcoming season production of Il Trovatore.  There is a love triangle between the soprano Rosa Castaldi, an unknown but brilliant tenor, Ricardo Baroni and the villainous Lassparri.

Tomasso (Harpo Marx) and Fiorello (Chico Marx) work to get Ricardo Baroni signed by Driftwood to the New York Opera instead of Lassparri but fail and the two of them are forced to stow away along with Baroni on the steam ship heading for New York.  Driftwood hides them in his closet sized stateroom and this gives rise to one of the funniest scenes in the movie when a troop of cleaning, maintenance and wait staff along with other miscellaneous persons end up crowding into the stateroom with the Marx Brothers and eventually explode out into the ship corridor when Mrs. Claypool opens the door.  This scene contains one of Groucho’s trademark wisecracks.  With about ten people already in the room a knock comes on the door and Groucho opens it to discover a young woman.

Groucho – Yes?

Girl – Is my Aunt Minnie in here?

Groucho – You can come in and prowl around if you want to.  If she isn’t in here, you can probably find somebody just as good.

Girl – Could I use your phone?

Groucho – Use the phone?  I’ll lay you even money you can’t get in the room.

The whole plot including the love story is a thin pretext for the Marx Brothers to sow chaos everywhere they go.  The climax of the movie is the opera opening night and the three brothers doing everything imaginable to sabotage Lassparri’s performance and provide Baroni with an opportunity to sing as the lead tenor in his place.  Harpo (or more likely his stunt double) ends up performing swashbuckling acrobatics in the manner of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and eventually kidnaps Lassparri right off the stage to allow the climactic aria duet to be sung by Baroni and Castaldi.

And just as it looks like the brothers will be carted off to jail by the NYPD, Baroni blackmails Gottlieb into hiring himself, Castaldi, Driftwood, Fiorello and Tomasso and calling off the police in exchange for Baroni and Castaldi agreeing to perform an encore that is being thunderously demanded by the overjoyed audience.

This absurd story line is actually one of the tighter Marx Brother movie plots.  Their movies were sort of like a variety show out of vaudeville.  In between dramatic scenes you would get Chico playing the piano or Harpo playing the harp.  And most of the movies had several comic songs sung by Groucho.  In this movie there is also a number of songs and arias sung by the Baroni and Castaldi characters.  So, depending how you feel about songs in a movie will decide whether you can tolerate any Marx Brothers movie at all.

As indicated initially I like this movie.  That is not to say I wouldn’t prefer to cut out the harp solo.  And that is not saying all the comedy routines are equally successful for me.  But taking the whole movie together I would call A Night at the Opera a funny movie.  And I would say, compared to many of the Marx Brothers movies, the personalities of the brothers are much less obnoxious than they typically are.  And it is notable that the production values for this movie produced by MGM are much higher than their previous movies for Paramount.  If you are already a fan of the Marx Brothers and have never seen “A Night at the Opera” then I can unreservedly recommend this movie for you.  For everyone else, especially those born in the 21st century your mileage may vary.

Shakespeare in Film – Part 10 – Richard III – Olivier’s 1955 Version

This is not one of my favorite plays.  Part of that is my allegiance to the House of Lancaster.  Henry IV and Henry V seemed like my kind of guys so I was sorry to see the House of York pry back the crown from their side in Henry VI Parts I, II & III.  But more than that, it’s the spectacle of a monster like Richard crushing the people around him, his family in fact, without any compunction or even much difficulty.  His brothers Edward and George are oblivious to his treachery even as it is being accomplished.  His other enemies are more aware but equally powerless to save themselves from his malice.  He moves from outrage to outrage upping the ante at each stage.  Finally, he assigns a merciless assassin to smother his nine and twelve-year-old nephews with their own pillow to ensure that they never have the chance to revenge themselves on Richard for his usurpation of their father’s crown.  And then there’s the matter of Lady Anne.  She is the widow of the Lancaster heir to the throne, Henry VI’s son Edward.  And it was Richard who killed Edward.  Having Anne agree to wed Richard is the final outrage that just makes the play a bridge too far for me.  I mean, come on! Richard is a hunchbacked, withered armed, monster.  Anne spits in his face and calls him a fiend and then willingly marries him.  This is a tough play to understand.

Anyway, Olivier plays Richard to the hilt.  He is actually comical at certain points in his jocular, two-faced portrayal of the monster.  Olivier has surrounded himself with an all-star cast of Shakespearean professionals.  Cedric Hardwicke is his brother King Edward IV, John Gielgud is his brother George, Duke of Clarence, Ralph Richardson is Duke of Buckingham and Claire Bloom is Lady Anne.  The acting is good.  It’s just that I can’t stomach the plot.  To see evil just dance along while well meaning people are led to the slaughter irks me.  The ending should be consolation enough.  Richard gets his comeuppance and pays the price.  But the play rubs me the wrong way.  It’s the way that good seems to be powerless to resist evil.  It’s almost as if it gives up without a fight.  Oh well.

So, as you can tell I don’t love this play but I recognize that it’s really about me and my way of looking at the world.  I acknowledge that this is a well-acted version of the play and the production is full of nice touches.  The chanting monks, the cinematography of the battle scene, the excellent set design, the skill of the cast.  Olivier’s elocution and mastery of the part demands it be seen.  He gives us a consummate and thoroughgoing villain.  All of it recommends this play to the Shakespeare devotee.  So, I do recommend this version.  It is well done and deserves high praise.

But I’d rather watch Hamlet.  I’d rather watch Henry V.  Richard III rankles me no little bit.

Shakespeare in Film – Part 9 – Henry V – Branagh’s 1989 Version

Sunday, I wrote the review of Olivier’s Henry V.  I watched Branagh’s version that night.  I watched a while ago but I wanted to have it fresh in my mind especially because I would be contrasting it to Olivier’s film.

When Branagh’s movie came out in 1989 it made him a star.  He was a young dynamic character and the world wanted to believe in heroes again.  He was married at the time to Emma Thompson and she played Katherine to his Henry.  They were seen as an exciting couple in Hollywood circles and there was great interest in their films together.  Putting all that aside, people were ready to take a fresh look at Shakespeare.  Branagh adapted the play for the screen and directed himself in the lead.  Branagh was young enough and active enough to make King Harry believable.  The movie was a critical success.

Interestingly, Branagh’s Henry V left in some of the smaller incidents that Olivier omitted.  The three conspirators who planned to assassinate Henry on behalf of the French are duly exposed and condemned.  The hanging of Bardolph, one of Prince Harry’s former companions is a stark reminder that King Henry is a changed man.

But the major thrust of the film of course runs in the same vein as Olivier’s.  And yet there are clear differences in tone and emphasis.  Despite the theme of war Olivier’s play is the more light hearted and optimistic of the two by far.  A good point of comparison is the St Crispin’s Day speech.  When Olivier gives the speech, he exudes confidence and a controlled enthusiasm.  But when Branagh speaks he impresses on the audience the sense of passion and energy he feels.  It’s a rush of adrenaline that he captures in words.

And the action of the play mirrors this same difference.  Olivier’s cinema is typical of what the 1940s would do to portray the late middle ages.  It reminds you of how Hollywood would give us Robin Hood or Ivanhoe.  It was a sunlit world of grassy fields and picturesque castles with banners flapping in the breeze high above the fields.  Branagh gives us explosions, fire, battles in the dead of night and lots and lots of mud.  Mud on the ground, mud on the soldiers and mud on the King.  And he keeps some of the lines on the war that Olivier left out.  When the English besiege the city of Harfleur, Henry harangues the town elders with the horrors that resisting the besiegers would entail if they failed to surrender in advance.  He mentions rape, plunder and the vicious destruction of human life from the youngest infant to the oldest inhabitants.  So, we can see that Branagh has made the more accurate version of the play.  He’s left all the warts in plain sight.

Now in addition to the grittier nature of Branagh’s production it should be said that his handling of the romance between Henry and Katherine is also more naturalistic.  Branagh has an earthier, more openly comical approach to Henry attempting to woo Katherine in terribly halting French.  Olivier’s approach is calmer and more restrained.  So, all in all let’s call Olivier’s a more formal and austere approach to the story and Branagh’s a more naturalistic and emotional version.

How do they compare?  In my opinion they are both excellent films.  And they have different strengths.  I watch the Olivier version when I want to enjoy Olivier’s language.  He is the gold standard, in my book, for what Shakespeare’s dialog should sound like.  No one else makes the text sound real the way he does.

But if I want to see the story of the war, I will watch Branagh’s version.  Branagh and his excellent cast bring the war to life.  By the end of the battle of Agincourt you can feel the exhaustion that the English feel as they struggle to bury their dead.  Even the miraculous victory they’ve won is almost beyond their strength to grasp.  Branagh has done a very fine job of making a Henry V that is faithful to the text and conveys the reality of a King going to war in the Hundred Years War.

Shakespeare in Film – Part 8 – Henry V – Olivier’s 1944 Version

Another Olivier film in which he starred and directed.  He also was one of the producers and had a part in the screenplay.  Shakespeare’s plot revolves around young King Henry (or Harry to his friends) defending his claim to the throne of France.  His Norman ancestors shared lineage with the French kings and here Henry is demanding from the French king that he be named his successor.  But the Dauphin (the king’s son and heir) answers for his father by sending an insulting “gift” to substitute for Henry’s claim.  He sends him a box of tennis balls.  That starts the war.

The action is divided between Henry’s prosecution of the war, scenes among the French leaders and several personal vignettes.  One set of vignettes involve Henry’s former companions; Ancient Pistol, Bardolph, Nim, Mistress Quickly and Sir John Falstaff.  In his youth Henry was an irresponsible wastrel that associated with these disreputable characters.  But these knaves were very popular from two earlier plays, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, and here they are brought back for a final curtain call.  Their actions are for comic relief and as a contrast to the heroics of Henry and his warriors.  Then there are scenes with the three captains Fluellen, MacMorris, and Jamy from respectively Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.  These three men speak in heavily accented dialects reflecting their ethnicities.  They are also provided for comic relief with mockery of MacMorris being the primary focus.  And finally, there is the scene of Princess Katherine and her Duenna talking about King Harry in a scene where the Princess attempts to learn a few words of English seemingly in anticipation of meeting Henry.

The story’s climax is the momentous battle of Agincourt where according to Shakespeare’s reckoning an army of 12,000 Englishmen, mostly infantry and archers, defeated an army of 60,000 Frenchmen that included a large contingent of heavy cavalry.  After the English victory we have a scene where the French King agrees to make Henry his heir in exchange for Henry’s marriage to Princess Katherine.  And this is completed with Henry winning Katherine’s heart in a scene that is meant to signify his passionate and determined nature.

So how does Olivier handle this complicated and fragmented plot?  After all, some scenes take place in a palace, some in an inn but others are in the middle of a pitched battle and others in a bivouac.  In Shakespeare’s day, in his little circular theater, interior scene changes were hard enough but battle scenes could only be handled by suspension of disbelief and by heralds arriving to announce distant action.  Olivier pays homage to this by starting the play in the Globe Theater.  We see the actors behind the scene dressing and preparing to enter the stage.  Even Olivier as Henry is shown first as an actor about to enter his first scene.  The following scene at the inn between Ancient Pistol and company are also handled as scenes in the theater.

But once the action moves afield, we get exterior shots of the English and French countryside (actually Irish, this was shot right before D-Day and England was on a war footing while neutral Ireland was not).  And it’s outdoors that Olivier gets to give the rousing St. Crispin’s Day speech.  And the big battle includes an actual cavalry charge.  After the battle they use a strange combination of exterior shots with painted backgrounds that are sort of picturesque in conjuring up a theater.  And a theater is where the finale happens, right back in the Globe Theater where the Narrator closes the curtain on Henry and Katherine and reads the epilogue.

So, how did I like this mess?  Well, actually, quite a lot.  I can’t help but admire the way Olivier takes the conventions of a Shakespeare play like the exits and entrances of the cast and makes them part of an internal joke by showing the cast as actors going onto a stage.  He even takes the speech that explains his claim to the throne and makes it a comic scene with bishops and clergymen dropping and finally throwing ancient manuscripts at each other in their confusion at trying to prove Henry is the legitimate King of France.  To a modern audience the base and crude friends of ancient Pistol seem strange and exotic but Olivier has his Globe audience filled with Pistol’s spiritual kinsmen who cheer and catcall in approval of their low antics.

By modern standards the battle scenes are somewhat theatrical.  After you’ve seen elves and men mowing down orcs in one of the Lord of the Rings movies the knights on horseback can’t be very convincing.  And Olivier is no Errol Flynn swashbuckling with a sword.  But what Olivier has is the ability to take Shakespeare’s lines and turn them into dramatic speech.  I think the fact that Olivier had done Shakespeare on the stage with the best English actors of his generation was what gave him the ability to give the words the inflection and cadence that turns them from a museum piece into a dramatic scene.  I’ve seen the St. Crispin’s Day speech done by Branagh and Olivier.  Branagh gives it all the intensity and emotion he can.  Olivier is calmer and quieter but he infuses his speech with the storyteller’s charm of what it will be like to look back at a victory from the vantage point of many years.  Maybe my admiration of his skills is idiosyncratic to me.  But even though he is an actor from an earlier time I do not think our modern method actors can compare.  They always reach for emotional affect and seem to overdo it.

Henry V is a special play in Shakespeare’s list.  Everything but the epilogue is a reflection of the will and fortune of a fortunate king.  All his ventures succeed and his reign is fortunate.  Only the epilogue reminds us that the War of the Roses is yet to revive in his son’s time and erase all his glories and end the English sovereignty on the mainland.  But the play gives the audience a chance to hear of victory as a contrast to the tragedies that will follow.  Olivier made his production as a morale boost for the English who were about to join the Americans in the D-Day invasion of France.  The story of an earlier invasion of France by Henry was supposed to provide hope for the nation worn out by years of bombing raids and setbacks in the war.  And so, Olivier omitted the defeats from the epilogue.  Wise decision.

This version is dated in terms of cinematography and stylized in some aspects of the acting but I recommend it to those who enjoy Shakespeare’s plays.

 

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The Best Years of Our Lives – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Nineteen Forty Six was a pivotal year in the American Century.  The United States had won World War II by harnessing the minds and bodies of its people and focusing that output single-mindedly on victory on the battlefield.  It had required all its young men to drop their lives and join the most powerful fighting machine ever assembled.  But equally extreme was the disruption that this mobilization had on the rest of the population.  The industrial capacity of the country was shifted over from producing cars and clothes for the populace to producing battleships, tanks, munitions and supplies needed to maintain millions of men across a far-flung battle field that spanned the globe.

And those industries had to produce this war-time materiel with almost none of their regular workers.  They had to train women and older men to take the places of their husbands, sons and fathers.  Other disruptions existed because of the male deployment.  Marriage and family growth were often postponed until after the war.  But equally disruptive were the last minute marriages and even conceptions that were consummated in defiance of the war’s demands.  Many a young woman had to raise a posthumous child to a father who would never return to his family.

But finally the war was over.  By dint of the effort of millions and with the help of a couple of atomic bombs the war was won and done.  Now these millions of soldiers. sailors, airmen and marines were returning home to their families and friends.  But in many ways, the returning men were strangers in a strange land.  They were changed and so was the country.  Whereas, for the last four years, they had been the focus of all that went on, now they were being deposited back in the country to try and restart their lives where they left off.  But things were not where they left off.  The jobs they had had before their enlistments were either being done by someone else or didn’t even exist anymore.  And the meager but regular paychecks they got from Uncle Sam would soon disappear.

And finally, many of these men were physically or mentally wounded.  In addition to the injured and maimed a great number of them were victims of what today we call PTSD.  The experiences they had lived through had left a mark on their minds that only time might heal.  The ones that had lost limbs had the added physical and psychological difficulties associated with these losses.

The Best Years of Our Lives was a movie that ambitiously attempted to portray and speak to these realities.  And this was an innovation for the times.  Up until this point Hollywood portrayed America’s wartime experience through a patriotic lens that glossed over many of the harsh realities that existed.  But this movie cast a veteran who had lost his hands in the war (Harold Russell) as Sailor Homer Parrish one of the returning servicemen.  The realities of divorces and unemployment and the depression associated with the alienation and various disruptions impacting the former GIs are openly addressed and nothing is glossed over for the sake of sparing the audience.

Frederic March and Dana Andrews along with the above-mentioned Harold Russel are the protagonists.  They meet on the airplane ride back to their home town of Boone City and the three men bond over the relief and anxiety associated with leaving the service and returning to civilian life.  March is a forty-something infantry sergeant named Al Stephenson and Andrews is Army Air Corps Captain Fred Derry.  But whereas Captain Derry was a highly paid officer and a gentleman in the service he returns home with his only civilian work experience being a soda jerk at the local drug store.  Alternatively, Stephenson trades in his infantry grunt existence for the comfortable lifestyle of a bank officer.  Homer Parrish returns home to the pity and awkward glances from friends and family associated with his missing hands.

Al Stephenson reintroduces himself to his wife Milly and his son and daughter.  Milly (played by Myrna Loy) tries to make Al feel at home but they both are ill at ease trying to take up their relationship where it left off.  Finally, nervous about heading to bed early he drags Milly and daughter Peggy off to the local watering holes to drink away his nerves with scotch.

Meanwhile Fred Derry reaches his father’s home to discover that his young wife Marie has moved out into her own apartment downtown and is working as a cocktail waitress in a night club.  He heads out trying to find out what night club Marie is working at.

And finally, Homer is home with his and his girlfriend’s families celebrating his return and talking about his future.  But he becomes so unhappy with the tense and nervous atmosphere that he leaves to hang out at his Uncle Butch’s bar.

And so, all three ex-servicemen coincidentally meet up at Butch’s Place.  And there we see Al and Fred get royally drunk to distract themselves from their domestic issues.  And in this impaired condition Fred flirts mildly with Peggy Stephenson.  Finally, Butch tells Homer his family wants him home and Milly and Peggy manage to drag Al and Fred into the car and after Fred fails to gain entry into Marie’s apartment building, they drive both men back to the Stephenson apartment where the fall-down-drunk men are bedded down.  During the night Peggy hears Fred Derry crying out.  He was reliving a nightmare where some of his comrades were shot out of the air.  The next morning, he apologizes for waking her and she sympathetically assures him that she didn’t mind.  Peggy gives Fred a lift to his wife’s building and this time he gets in.  Now we meet Marie.  Fred married a very beautiful woman (played by Virginia Mayo) whom he had only known for days when he was deployed to Europe.  Now we see that Marie is a selfish, materialistic woman who expects to be supported in the style she has been accustomed to as a night club denizen.  While Fred has a thousand-dollar severance payment from the service they live it up.  But when the money runs out the couple begin to battle over Marie’s dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile Al and Milly reconnect and talk about their children and Al’s future with the bank he left when he enlisted.  Al tells Milly that he feels responsible to help all the other veterans who didn’t come home to a good job and need some help to get their lives back on track.  He uses his position as a loan officer to help fellow veterans who need GI loans to try to catch up with the new world they find themselves in.  This puts him at odds with the bank president but Al perseveres to champion his fellow vets.

At Homer Parrish’s house we meet Homer’s sweetheart Wilma and find that although she is demonstrably in love with Homer, he is withdrawn and morose.  She asks him why he hasn’t asked her to marry him.  But he tells her he doesn’t want to ruin her life by tying her down to a helpless cripple.  Homer is so unhappy that he explodes in frustration when he thinks his little sister and her friends are gawking in a window at his prosthetic hands.  Finally, Wilma tells Homer that her parents want her to leave town to forget him but she wants him to marry her.  Homer decides to let her see just how helpless he is when he removes his prostheses.  But instead of recoiling from his injuries she embraces him and proves to him that she wants to be with him.  They set the date for their wedding.

An additional story line involves a romantic attachment that grows between Fred Derry and Peggy Stephenson.  When Al finds out about his daughter’s romance with the married Fred, he angrily confronts him for involving his daughter in an extra-marital affair and Fred stoically agrees to break it off.  But even with Peggy out of the picture Fred and Marie fall apart and he leaves home while she declares her intention to get a divorce.  When he leaves, he intends to leave town and start his life over somewhere else.  But while waiting for a flight at the airport he roams through the warplane graveyard and climbs into a bomber.  While reliving some disturbing memory from the war he is discovered by a man who is reclaiming the old planes for construction scrap materials and is told to get out of the plane.  Fred asks if he has any jobs available and manages to convince the man that he is a good prospect and so Fred restarts his life again in his home town.

Now the three ex-servicemen meet up at Homer’s wedding where Al, Milly and Peggy are friends of the groom and Fred is the best man.  Now that Fred is no longer married, he and Al no longer have a reason for fighting and at the end of the night Fred and Peggy come back together and decide to marry.

 

Back in 1946 when winning an Academy Award actually meant the movie was good, The Best Years of Our Lives was competing against It’s a Wonderful Life.  And I think The Best Years of Our Lives won because America needed to move beyond the simplified vision of life represented by It’s a Wonderful Life and recognize the harsh realities and ugly side to life that came along with the changes that the war generated such as the liberation of women and the choice of some of them to embrace a life style that did not value a traditional family role.  But acknowledging the problems facing the returning vets made this movie resonate with the American people.

In my opinion it is one of the best films ever made.  The acting by March and Loy is exceptional and Andrews, Russell and several other players are also excellent.  It captures the feeling of the time and who the American people were back then.

After you’ve read enough sexbot articles on Drudge maybe switch to something interesting

Double Indemnity – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Fred MacMurray was a big movie star of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s who transitioned into a beloved TV father figure in his long running series My Three Sons.  In almost all of that long and popular career he was always the kind, mild-mannered and upstanding American man.  There were three exceptions that I can think of.  One was a film I’ve previously reviewed here, “The Caine Mutiny” in which MacMurray was a manipulative naval officer who brings about a mutiny for which he escapes blame but others are court-martialed.  Another was a movie called “The Apartment where he is a philandering corporate executive.  And the third is the present film, Double Indemnity.  MacMurray is insurance salesman, Walter Neff.  Barbara Stanwyck is Phyllis Dietrichson, the wife of one of Neff’s policy holders and Edward G. Robinson is Barton Keyes an insurance investigator and Neff’s good friend.  The story revolves around the plot by MacMurray and Stanwyck to murder her husband and collect on a double indemnity life insurance policy.  The details of the murder are actually kind of ingenious and the story has plenty of interesting twists and minor characters that enliven the action.  All in all, the production is well acted and very well written.  In particular, Edward G Robinson’s character steals the show.  He is clever, likeable and provides the moral anchor against which we can weigh the evil being perpetrated by MacMurray and Stanwyck.

The only real problem with the movie is that MacMurray’s character is supposed to be a fast talking, wise cracking, hard boiled character.  He’s supposed to be the kind of character that George Raft or Humphrey Bogart might have played.  But he’s Fred MacMurray.  So, every time he calls Barbara Stanwyck, “baby,” which by the way he seems to do about a hundred times, all I can think of is him playing absent minded Prof. Ned Brainard in Disney’s movie the “Son of Flubber.”  It just doesn’t work.  He’s too nice a guy to believe as a cold-blooded murderer.

The other hiccough in the plot is the scene where MacMurray and Stanwyck fall out.  At one point, Stanwyck abandons here cold-blooded behavior with an altruistic explanation that must have been based on a Hayes Code requirement but just doesn’t make any theatrical sense.

These two considerations aside the movie is an entertaining story with an engaging plot and good acting by both the primary and secondary characters.  Even with my reservations about MacMurray’s believability as bad guy I can still see this movie over and over and still enjoy it.  The secret I believe is Edward G Robinson.  His character allows us to side with the forces of rationality when they intervene and subdue the chaotic outbreak that Neff and Dietrichson unleash with their clever plan.  And Robinson gets to hammer home his side of the story in the final scene where he confronts his murderous friend and tells him how it all will end.  The only accommodation he makes to their old friendship is lighting a match for Neff when he is too weak to light his own cigarette.  And in a 1940’s movie, if you can’t even light your own cigarette you know you’re as good as dead.

Psycho – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Re-Posted from October 2017 in honor of Halloween.  Boo!

In honor of Halloween I’ve gone through the Universal Classic Monster Movies.  Moving along let’s look at the first modern horror movie.  And let’s start by defining what a modern horror movie is.  Well, what it isn’t is Frankenstein or Dracula or any make-believe monster.  In fact, it isn’t even a more contemporary monster like a zombie in “Night of the Living Dead.”  The generation that had lived through World War II and the Korean War and was living under the threat of nuclear annihilation probably couldn’t pretend to be afraid of rubber-masked monsters.  What they could fear was the monster that might be living behind the eyes of the boy next door.  Insanity was a monster that they knew had broken free before and once loose inflicted real horror on all in its path.  So that’s the modern horror movie monster, a homicidal maniac.  And before there was the Red Dragon, or Hannibal Lector or Saw there was Norman Bates.

Psycho was based on a novel by Robert Bloch, who wrote genre fiction in Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Mystery categories.  It was inspired in part by a truly depraved serial killer named Ed Gein but the details of the story mostly came out of Bloch’s imagination.

But the reason Psycho is the subject of this review is that Alfred Hitchcock wanted to make that movie.  Always an innovator and aware of the need to push the boundaries of what was allowable on screen, he produced a film that fit its time.  The sexual nature of the relationship between Marion Crane and Sam Loomis is highlighted.  The murder scenes although tame by today’s standards are truly frightening.  For audiences of that time (1960) some of the scenes would have been shocking.

But Hitchcock didn’t make just a scream fest.  The movie is a complete story.  Each of the main characters and many of the smaller parts are skillfully crafted with loving detail and come to life on the screen.  And one character who has been dead for ten years and only survives inside the tortured brain of a madman gets several good lines including the closing soliloquy.

And here is one of the strangest twists of the movie.  The monster gets to tell his side of the story.  In the scene where Norman Bates brings Marion a meal, he tells his side of the story and even gives his mother’s side too.  Obviously, it’s couched in self-delusion and the confusion associated with a split personality but he describes his life as being in a self-inflicted trap that he no longer even tried to escape.  And he admitted that he depended on his mother as much as she depended on him.  And the portrait we see is personable, sympathetic and pitiable.  Of course, this just sets us up for what follows.

Norman’s sexual frustration is illustrated in the voyeurism we are shown and of course the maniacal rage is on display in each of the murders and the attempted murder.  When the psychiatrist comes on at the end as a deus-ex-machina, he not only explains the origins of Norman’s psychosis but also reveals that there have been additional women victims of “Norman’s mother.”

And finally, in the soliloquy that ends the dialog, we really get to meet the monster.  Mother tells us how sad it is that Norman must be punished and how innocent she is of all the blood.  But the dishonesty and the cruelty are on display and at the very last image of “her” we see the monster showing.  And the very last image we get is Marion’s car being winched out of the swamp (her coffin being exhumed from her grave).

What do I like about this movie?  Everything.  The actors are excellent.  The dialog is perfect.  Even the music and sound effects reinforce the action on the screen.  I don’t watch this movie often because I don’t want to wear it out.  But it’s the perfect adult horror movie.  The only thing that gives it competition is Silence of the Lambs.  I find it to be the perfect embodiment of the modern monster.  Man.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 6 – Strangers on A Train – A Classic Movie Review

Strangers on a Train is a Hitchcock film from the middle of his Hollywood era.  It has one of Hitchcock’s craziest villains and one of the weirdest finales.  Which with Hitchcock is really saying something.  The premise is that two strangers meet on a train and one of them proposes that each commit a murder that benefits the other.  The idea is since they’re perfect strangers they won’t be suspected in a murder associated with the stranger but not himself.  The one proposing the deal is a very strange man named Bruno Anthony (played by Robert Walker) who hates his father.  The other man is a relatively famous amateur tennis player named Guy Haines (played by Farley Granger) who has an unstable and unfaithful wife Miriam, that he’d like to divorce to marry Anne Morton, the daughter of a US Senator.  But Miriam refuses to allow it because of the monetary benefits marriage provides.  Guy doesn’t even know how to react to this outrageous proposal so he treats it jokingly and gets off the train at his stop.  But he accidentally leaves his very expensive and monogrammed cigarette lighter on the train with Bruno.  Guy may treat this proposition as a joke but Bruno certainly doesn’t.  We get a scene with Bruno and his parents.  Bruno and his mother are both lunatics but she seems relatively harmless.  We hear his father state that he will have Bruno put away.  This activates Bruno and he proceeds to murder Miriam at an amusement park.  He stalks her and flirts with her and chokes the life out of her.  Then he casually walks away.

Bruno  goes immediately to Guy and announces that he has carried out his side of the bargain and expects Guy to kill Bruno’s father.  When Guy threatens to call the police Bruno counters by saying both would be held responsible in the conspiracy.  Most of the rest of the movie involves Bruno hounding Guy even within his circle of friends.  And this is where you realize that Bruno is the most interesting character in the movie.  His insanity does not prevent him from entertaining the minor characters at dinner parties and outside restaurants.  He tells Anne’s father about his theory of interplanetary clairvoyance and he entertains an old lady socialite with his theories on murder.  Unfortunately he gets carried away and almost chokes her to death at a dinner party.  All in all he’s a very spirited fellow.  But eventually all good things come to an end and when guy doesn’t come through with his “criss-cross” side of the murder bargain, Bruno decides to frame him for the original murder using the monogrammed lighter as evidence.

Several additional scenes advance the story to the climax and we return to the scene of the crime, the amusement park.  A very bizarre and cinematically interesting scene with a carousel brings it to a head and Bruno and Guy and the police finally sort things out.

Even though Guy and his friends are the innocent victims, I never felt all that much sympathy for them.  They don’t really evoke much interest.  They’re all kind of flat.  So, despite the fact that he’s a thoroughgoing psychopath, the movie is really the Bruno Anthony show.  And as creepy as he is he definitely keeps my interest.  I like this Hitchcock pretty well but I could see how it might not appeal to all tastes.  Caveat emptor.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 5 – The Thirty Nine Steps – A Classic Movie Review

Continuing on with the British films I’ll review “The Thirty Nine Steps.”  This is another espionage tale where the civilian protagonist is swept up in a confusing web of events that he must navigate or be left holding the bag in a murder manhunt.  Our hero is a Canadian visiting London on a work assignment who meets up with a femme fatale at a London music hall and quickly gets drawn into her attempt to prevent a spy ring from stealing vital British military secrets.  When she ends up in his apartment with a large knife protruding from her back he flees the scene to attempt to clear himself by finding and foiling the espionage ring.

The coincidences, unlikely events and sheer dumb luck that fills the story line makes the suspension of disbelief out of the question.  But Hitchcock replaces it with humor, human interest and a twisting turning plot line that comes full circle and provides the payoff.  Along the way you meet a varied cast of characters each lovingly fleshed out by the dialog and script.  One of my favorites is a milkman delivering to the hero’s building the morning he’s trying to escape from the scene of the murder.  He tries to recruit the milkman to help him escape the scene of the murder but the deliveryman flat out refuses to believe that there’s been a murder and he’s trying to elude the killers.  When the protagonist relents and claims that he’s just spent the night with a married woman and is trying to elude her husband the milkman immediately falls in with the plan and agrees to help without further complaint.  The fleeing man is obviously a brother in arms to the apparently philandering milkman.  Quite a lot of dialog is lavished on this completely ancillary plot device but it’s just this attention to detail that makes the picture memorable and interesting.  And there are several of these types of vignettes sprinkled in the picture.  And there’s a sort of love story although it does involve being handcuffed to a fleeing murder suspect and being gagged and even choked at one point.  But in Hitchcock love will find a way.

The final twist of the story as I mentioned, circles round to the beginning  of the story and is quite clever although there were clues if you were paying attention earlier.  All in all, it is a very well put together plot.

Once again, we have an earlier British Hitchcock that equals or even exceeds the quality of the Hollywood era “classics” that Hitchcock is famous for.  With actors that are complete unknowns to an American audience and immersed in the unfamiliar and idiosyncratic milieu of 1930s Britain, Hitchcock constructs an interesting and highly entertaining story out of a totally improbable premise.

I will dial back my praise with one caveat.  For the younger readers who have been saturated from birth with high definition picture and sound quality, it may be a little off-putting to see an old black and white movie from the 1930s.  This is a restored film where the worst of the sound and visual damage has been repaired.  But it’s picture quality is not even close to 2018 standards.  For those viewers of an older vintage this warning is of course unnecessary.