A Month of Media: February Movies and DVDs
February 29, 2012

My, the month went by fast!


The Best of Everything (1959) — aka, in my mind, Where the Boys Are meets Mad Men. (Spoilers) Three secretaries at a publishing firm search for love, with the sensible (college-educated) one working to become an editor; the one who wants to become an actress (supermodel Suzy Parker, whom I’d previously seen in Funny Face) going crazy after getting both dumped and cut from the play by her director; and the nice naive girl (deep breath) seduced by a sleaze (Robert Evans) who informs her, once they’re in his car heading to what she thinks is a justice of the peace, that he’s taking her for an abortion. She jumps out, knocks herself unconscious, loses the baby, and falls in love (mutually) with the doctor who patches her up, having learned her lesson. (Movies used to be much more blatant about their punishments for fooling around.)

Joan Crawford has a supporting role as an older single woman, a cautionary tale of how you’ll end up alone if you put career before love when you’re young and pretty. Even with all this, the most striking part of the movie for me is seeing all the girls at all the rows of desks that make up the secretarial pool, all starting and ending at the same time. It’s an image of the kind of human capital that isn’t necessary for a company any more.

The Apartment (1960) — A much more adult treatment of similar topics in a dark comedy, as Jack Lemmon is a clerk at an insurance company (with over 31,000 employees in this giant skyscraper!) who finds himself in over his head. He’s been loaning out his apartment to executives who want a place to take their bits on the side. Fred MacMurray uses the room to hit on Shirley MacLaine, an elevator operator whom Lemmon also has a crush on, but when she realizes (at a drunken Christmas party, thanks to MacMurray’s secretary, who was a previous edition) he’s never going to leave his wife, she tries to commit suicide. Interesting how formally hierarchical office jobs used to be. I’m probably naive in saying that, assuming it’s changed.

Born to Be Bad (1950) — Another one of those “how can they be evil when they look so blonde and innocent?” type of movies from this era (the most famous of which is The Bad Seed), with Joan Fontaine stealing a friend’s fiance because he’s rich. Most interesting to me in seeing the clothes and house furnishings of the time.

The Hard Way (1943) — Ida Lupino pushes sister Joan Leslie into show business. The kind of tough, nuanced female role you don’t see after the 40s, although it doesn’t turn out very well for anyone.

Holy Matrimony (1943) — Monty Woolley in a softer role than many know him for. He plays a famous painter, long gone from England, who returns only to get his identity mixed up with his soon-dead valet. He welcomes the chance to start a simpler life, only to have it complicated by charges of bigamy.

The Invisible Woman (1940) — Virginia Bruce stars, with John Barrymore as a crazy scientist who makes her, yes, invisible, which she uses to take revenge on a miserable boss. Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch) is Barrymore’s housekeeper, while Charlie Ruggles is the scientist’s patron’s butler. I imagine the allusions to her nudity were considered quite risque at the time.

The Perfect Score (2004) — A movie less than 50 years old! It’s a disposable teen comedy from MTV Films, The Breakfast Club meets Ocean’s 11. The mixed-race-and-gender gang tries to steal the SAT answers. I watched it because the nice-guy leader is Chris Evans. Other people watch it because the snarky tech girl is Scarlett Johansson. I was surprised at how much I wound up liking the stoner, played by Leonardo Nam with a lot of charm.

Remember Last Night? (1935) — A wannabe Thin Man where a bunch of fancy couples get so drunk they can’t recall their party, which confuses things when they find the host dead the next morning. Weird because it’s directed by James Whale, much more famous for his classic horror work (The Bride of Frankenstein). That influence is most obvious during the hypnotism scene, when a scary-looking quack shows up to help them find out what happened. The police officer on scene, meanwhile, spends his time taking drinks out of his suspects’ hands instead of solving the crime. Some of the content — such as the way none of them worry about the risk of drunk driving — will be shocking in unintended ways to today’s viewer. Amazing sets of huge rooms, some funny wisecracks, but marred by a horrendous blackface scene.

Song of the South (1946) — Racism aside — and that’s tough to do, since it permeates the film — this is not a very good movie. Excellent performance by James Baskett (Uncle Remus), but everything else is played too broadly and ham-handedly. I still wish it was available on DVD, because the animation is nice and the movie is historically important.


… All The Marbles — Predictable women’s wrestling movie about underdogs struggling to be recognized. The movie works on several levels, though, since I thought the actresses’ story, exploited by the filmmakers into topless shots, reflected the struggles of the characters within the film. I’m also told that the wrestling is some of the best available on film.

Bring It On: Fight to the Finish — The fifth (and last so far) in the series. These cheerleading movies are silly and disposable, but they do feature lots of different girls working together to accomplish something. It’s a pleasure to see such active women caring about something other than getting a guy (although there’s romance, too); plus, the movies consider various cultural viewpoints (even in broad terms). This one’s about an East LA Latina (Christina Millian) who moves to a more affluent Malibu suburb when her mother remarries. Her team of leftovers competes with the rich kids and their white cheer captain.

Catwoman — Well, now I can say I’ve seen it. I bought this one for our collection of superhero movies on DVD, but I was surprised to find lots of intriguing ideas here, with Sharon Stone resenting her husband for forcing her out as their beauty product’s model due to age. Why does Catwoman always have to die to become a hero, though? I was also glad to get the half-hour history of Catwoman featurette hosted by Eartha Kitt featuring Julie Newmar, Adam West, Lee Meriwether, and Adrienne Barbeau (voice of the Animated Series version).

Chicken Run — I love Aardman’s movies. Their characters are so cute and funny, even when there’s an odd undertone. Here, it’s how the chickens trying to escape from a factory farm are compared to the POWs in The Great Escape.

Cougar Town Season 2 — I hadn’t realized how much I missed these characters, so I’m glad they’re back on TV. This and Chuck are the best evidence that the idea that your show will be ruined if you get the main couple together is just plain wrong (and an excuse for lazy writing). With the development of the romance between Jules (Courtney Cox) and Grayson (Josh Hopkins, whom I’ve enjoyed watching since Swingtown), the show has only continued to improve.

Cruel Intentions 2 — I watched it because it has Amy Adams (in her third film, playing the Sarah Michelle Gellar role) and Keri Lynn Pratt in it. Reworked version of the Manchester Prep spinoff of the original movie, intended as a TV series until the networks realized that level of sex and perversion wasn’t going to fly on network TV.

D.E.B.S. — Love is harder than crime, as we’re told early on in this cute story about love and redemption, all with girls in short plaid skirts. (I kept thinking of how different it was from Sucker Punch, because it truly respected its characters and understood what made a woman powerful.) The part where someone slides into a giant pile of money bags, all with $ symbols on them, is great, as is the lip-sync scene to “A Little Respect”.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun — Love this cheesy “but I just want to DANCE!” flick. The music’s still infectious, and the young “screw the rules, I’ll do what I want” Helen Hunt character is a joy to watch, even if she does wear plastic dinosaurs in her hair. Funny when she’s bragging about the big “25” inch TV” the rich family she babysits has. Really young Shannen Doherty, too.

Mean Girls and Heathers — After reading Teen Dreams: Reading Teen Film and Television from ‘Heathers’ to ‘Veronica Mars’, a great book analyzing this particular genre, I needed to rewatch these to note some of the many clever observations Roz Kaveney points out.

Ninotchka — I finally own an official DVD release of this, because I found it reasonably priced used. I had my own copy, made from TCM, which was perfectly serviceable, and since there are no extras on the disc (only the trailer), it didn’t make sense to spend a lot of money to upgrade. But I felt like I should support releases of classic films — only I guess the studio has no idea, since I didn’t get it through them or their distributors. Oh well. $8 is a lot better for a classic movie than $20.

Rewatching it, I didn’t remember that Bela Lugosi plays one of the Russians, as does Felix Bressart, who’s so memorable in another Lubitsch movie, The Shop Around the Corner. Great text screen opening, too, considering that this movie is set in Europe and was made in 1939. It says: “This picture takes place in Paris in those wonderful days when a siren was a brunette and not an alarm … and if a Frenchman turned out the light, it was not on account of an air raid!”

The Phantom Tollbooth — Now I understand what characterizes Chuck Jones’ style, after comparing this to his Tom and Jerry and Pepe Le Pew. This seems simpler, in story, than the book I love so much, but still imaginative. I never envisioned it as a musical, though. The tunes are catchy and earwormish. And there’s one segment about time that combines both Road Runner-like cliff-filled country with Dali’s melting clocks used as elevators. It has to be seen to be believed. The voice talent is astounding: Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Hans Conreid, and June Foray.

Some Like It Hot — Not my favorite screwball, because it makes the sex more explicit than most, and it’s painful to think about how messed up Marilyn Monroe was filming this, but I guess the sacrifices were worth it, since people are still watching and enjoying this 50 years later.

Underdog — It was free, and KC likes the character. This is a live-action origin story for Underdog, and I appreciate that it seems to respect the source material. It opens with the cartoon to explain the back story, for instance. The dog talks a lot, so cute if that’s what you want, and he’s not a little human in a fuzzy suit. I’m pretty amazed they trained animals to do some of the stunts, but I’m probably underestimating the amount of CGI involved.

The movie stars Jason Lee as the voice of Underdog, Peter Dinklage as Dr. Simon Barsinister, Patrick Warburton as his evil assistant, Jim Belushi in family guy mode, Alex Neuberger as his son and Underdog’s new owner, and Taylor Momsen (Jenny on Gossip Girl before she went all skanky and strung out) as the kid’s friend (and owner of Polly, voiced by Amy Adams). This has a worse reputation than it deserves, I think because people who like talking dog movies don’t like superheroes and vice versa.

7 Responses  
Mitchell Craig writes:  

Another lesson from The Best of Everything: if you’re like Joan Crawford, you’ll end up starring in a series of increasingly cheesy horror movies, then when you die, your embittered adopted daughter writes a nasty tell-all “biography” which is turned into a cheesy pseudo-horror movie starring Faye Dunaway.

Barney writes:  

The Apartment is one of my favorites. Have you ever seen the Broadway musical based on it, Promises Promises? Neil Simon wrote the book and Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote the songs.

Johanna writes:  

No, I’ve never seen that show. I was surprised to hear that that movie was the inspiration. I have a hard time reconciling “dark comedy” and Neil Simon, but I imagine the songs are good.

gdwcomics writes:  

I saw TBOE was on TCM but older Crawford is scary. I mean, have you seen her in Johnny Guitar? (shiver).

The Hard Way is one of my all time favorite films and, IMHO, Ida Lupino’s best role. What I like about the movie is that Lupino isn’t really a villain. When Leslie confronts her about all her dirty dealing, Lupino says “well what about you?” and confronts her with all her behavior as well. Lupino is more smart and intimidating than villainous. Also, interesting side note, this was based on the early life of Ginger Rogers and her mother who was a notorious “stage mom” and it was well known throughout Hollywood who this movie was about. Rogers was even offered this role first but turned it down. Of course none of this was acknowledged publicly until decades later.

My friend was the first person to make a bootleg of Song of the South. No lie. My mom wanted to see it but it wasn’t available so my friend got the Japanese laser disc from a video store in San Francisco and made a vhs tape for her. Then he sold a bunch at the conventions in the mid 80s and that thing took off like wildfire in cons across the country. I still see people selling it at conventions today with that same dust jacket that my friend made from the disc sleeve.

Catwoman. Dreadful.

I love All The Marbles. One of the first movies we rented when we got our first vhs player. What was that flip called again? The sunset flip, sunny side up flip? Something like that…

My wife recently got me into Cougar Town. Really funny. I had no idea it was basically Scrubs without the hospital. They even have tons of Scrubs references. Hilarious!

Johanna writes:  

I think how people interpret Lupino in the The Hard Way says a lot about how they think about show business and women’s roles. Nowadays, we see plenty of “behind the scenes” Hollywood exposes, but then, I imagine it was quite shocking.

Ha! Love the bootleg story. That’s the thing about piracy — it only takes one copy.

Cougar Town should be more widely viewed. It’s a great show about being a suburban adult. (Goes well with Suburgatory, about being a suburban kid.) I call it Friends: Phase 2 myself. Have you seen the eps with the guy who used to be the chief of the hospital in Scrubs? He plays Courtney’s dad.

Barney writes:  

Promises Promises has a great score, it’s so incredibly 60s, including “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”! Oh and this number seen here in a clip from the 1969 Tony Awards telecast:

argo plummer writes:  

Did you enjoy season 3 of Cougar catch? I missed the 1st half, but really enjoyed the last 7 or 8 episodes I did catch.


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