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A Month of Media: March Movies and DVDs
March 31, 2012

Movies

21 Jump Street — I got free passes to this remake, which was just the right way to see it. I had no expectations going in, so I could enjoy the comedy, and ignore the parts — mostly Jonah Hill, whom I really don’t care for — I didn’t like. It was better than I expected, honestly, and I enjoyed staring at Channing Tatum.

Casablanca — I watched the 70th Anniversary edition in theaters, from which I learned:

  • Everyone looks better in a hat.
  • They didn’t really know what a concentration camp was, using it more as a term for “prison”.
  • Sadly, it fails the Bechdel Test.
  • I’d forgotten how clever and witty the dialogue is.
  • I miss the idea of nobility (even the cock-eyed sort) and sacrifice of what you want for the greater good.

Breakfast for Two (1937) — Herbert Marshall is a dissolute playboy; Barbara Stanwyck is the gorgeous heiress who enchants him and then convinces him to grow up by buying his inherited steamship company out from under him. At one point, he yells at her, “You’re the type of woman who wants to wear the pants! All right, mister, wear them! Trip over them! And break your neck!” Another time, the two put on boxing gloves to swing at each other.

The film also features one character explaining the finger movement of air quotes to another. The wonderful Eric Blore is Marshall’s valet, while Glenda Farrell is Marshall’s ex-fiancee. Just another short (67 minutes) B-movie from the 30s, but an entertaining comedy with professionals who knew their craft. Oh, and I think the giant, horse-like dog talks.

The Common Law (1931) — One of those tedious filmed plays that promises to be scandalous but really reinforces the social contract. Constance Bennett is a kept woman who leaves to become an artist’s model (leading to some drawn-out scenes with implied nudity, as she decides whether or not to finally drop her drape). She and the painter (Joel McCrea) fall in love, then he has to introduce her to his stuck-up family (because everyone who’s trying to be an artist or writer or back a Broadway show in these movies is secretly a runaway heir to a well-known name and fortune). The happy ending shows Bennett the virtues of marriage, so she disavows her earlier speeches about “freedom”. Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnist, plays the stuck-up sister before she quit acting — or rather, acting quit her, and you can see why here. She’s not bad, she’s just there, taking up space.

Footloose (2011) — Weirdly faithful — to some of the costumes, the car, the dance numbers — and yet oddly changed. Best update: how diverse the student group is. Worst: how they redid the soundtrack songs in the “wrong” tempos. Runner-up: this is one of those movie where those who made it loved the original so much that they thought “I want to redo it faithfully… but with more explosions”. Still, a fun viewing.

Girl Missing (1933) — The ever-sassy Glenda Farrell is one of two chorus girls (the other the forgotten Mary Brian) looking for millionaires in Palm Beach. One of their former co-workers snubs them, marries a rich guy, and disappears, so the two get involved in the case … mostly for the reward promised for finding the missing bride/golddigger. Ben Lyon, the deserted husband, is so well-off he crashes his car just to set a trap, while Lyle Talbot is another well-heeled guy helping out. It’s rare these days to see a comedy mystery outside of Scooby-Doo, but it’s a fun blend, mostly driven by Farrell’s strong performance. “It’s too bad you’re a woman,” one character says, “you’d make a great copper.”

Havana Widows (1933) — Glenda Farrell again, this time paired with Joan Blondell as two girls digging for gold in Havana. Terrific to see the two together, but the movie is forgettable. Lots of familiar faces, though, if you’ve watched Warner movies from this era before.

History Is Made at Night (1937) — The astounding Jean Arthur has a jealous husband (Colin Clive, better known as Dr. Frankenstein, in his next-to-last film), a steamship magnate who won’t leave her alone, even after she obtains a divorce. Charles Boyer tries to help her by pretending to kidnap her. (There are several weird plots in this movie, most created by her abusive husband.) The two fall in love, during an impressive midnight restaurant scene that’s a microcosm of how a relationship begins. There’s a strange eroticism to Arthur’s barefoot tango with Boyer during dinner; she’s in her night clothes, you see, and her slippers kept coming off.

There’s a matching scene, later in the film, pretending to be a married couple, where both actors are similarly at the top of their game. That’s right before the movie (and the soundtrack) term melodramatic, with much discussion of the Right Thing To Do and the husband’s crazy plan involving one of his ships that the couple is on. I wish the movie was available on DVD, but in the meantime, you can watch it at Hulu.com.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) — More Jean Arthur, this time as a hard-boiled reporter making fun of, then falling in love with, the hick turned rich guy (Gary Cooper). It’s hard to believe today how different regional and class distinctions used to be. Now, everyone would be sucking up to him just because of the money, without bothering to get stuffy about his quaint hobbies.

Smart Woman (1948) — Constance Bennett in her “later years”, 10 years after the peak of her career. She’s carefully dressed, lit, and shot (usually from the exact same angle) playing a criminal defense lawyer who falls in love with the new prosecutor. The story is nothing special, just something to fill an evening before we had TV to do that.

The Temptress (1926) — Greta Garbo in a silent film about a Parisian who loves her husband’s best friend. Then they all wind up in Argentina, where the friend and a local outlaw fight with whips. Crazy melodrama, but you can see where the idea that “they had faces then” came from. Gorgeous closeups.

I also finally got a chance to watch several of the Buster Keaton movies from the TCM festival dedicated to him in October. Doughboys (1930) features him in the Army. He plays a nebbishy rich man who can’t get the attention of the girl he likes until he mistakenly enlists. Then, he has to compete with his sergeant, who also wants her. The role is surprisingly good for Keaton, since it’s easy to forget just how handsome and well-spoken he was. The ukelele-driven musical numbers include one with Keaton in drag.

Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931) puts him in the opposite role; he’s a sign tacker (who tacks signs on telegraph poles) who’s thought to be a high-society playboy. It seems that the younger sister won’t get married until her flighty older sister does, so the younger sister’s fiance, after he hits Keaton with his car, sets him up as a worldly man of mystery to intrigue the older sister. I found it interesting because they filmed in Keaton’s own mansion at the time, and because I hadn’t seen Keaton in this kind of social farce before. The second half of the film, featuring a setup at a hotel on a rainy night, is when Keaton’s physical comedy comes to the forefront.

Sidewalks of New York (1931) is one of those urban poverty films involving a gang of boys Keaton tries to reform. I couldn’t finish it, giving up after the first ten minutes.

What! No Beer? (1933) co-stars Keaton with Jimmy Durante as two idiots who start a brewery during Prohibition, which gets them involved with bootleggers. (I call them idiots because they don’t actually know how to make beer, and what they wind up with has no alcohol.) Great title, but not much of a movie. I’d like it better if I didn’t find Durante a walking caricature. Although it is interesting to see the call for people to vote to end Prohibition at the finale of the picture.

Then I rewatched So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton and MGM, which can be found on the TCM Archives Buster Keaton Collection. Among many other insights, it points out how much of his work was later reused by other comedians who were more pliable to the studio’s wishes. That documentary, about Keaton’s time at MGM, uses clips from many of the above that put them in new context for me.

DVDs

Friends With Benefits (2011) — I really liked this romantic comedy, in large part because Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are great at the comedy part. It’s an adult-aimed R movie, but without being gross. I bought the Blu-ray when it came out, but I finally felt like watching it again.

Hiding Out (1987) — I like this movie. I never bought Jon Cryer as the “adult” stock trader that the bad guy was trying to kill, but he makes a great college-ish-age kid. I also wonder what happened to Keith Coogan after being in this and Adventures in Babysitting and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. (OMG! He’s Jackie Coogan’s grandson!)

Mad Men Season 4 — I had given up watching the show, but with it finally returning, I thought I’d try it again, picking up from where the gang goes out on their own.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) — Not sure I ever saw this Frank Capra classic before, but I wanted to continue my Jean Arthur kick. Unfortunately, both this and Deeds read today as a bit naive. I do wish we lived in a world where villains could be redeemed just by seeing ethical men do the right thing, but clearly, our political system has given up on anything close to doing the right things.

It would be nice to see a remake of this, though, as Ms. Smith and have her take on the nasty old white men who think they can control women’s bodies through regressive law-making. It would just give the right-wing media machine more to raise money on, though.

Thor — I had a lovely time tweeting about it when we watched it for a superhero Saturday, but now all I remember are small bits, funny lines, and how good Chris H looks. We were disappointed that there wasn’t a special feature on the comics that inspired the film, but the Avengers movie looks much cooler to me now that I know the character.

UHF – Nice commentary that Weird Al clearly studied for. As a listener, I appreciate hearing substantial information about the movie, the actors, and so on instead of meaningless “wow, that was fun, wasn’t it?”

8 Responses  
Mentor's Camper writes:  

I really enjoyed Girl Missing. I like Glenda Farrell quite a bit. Wasn’t impressed with Havana Widows either although it has a promising start. Have you seen Heat Lightening? Great film with Glenda in a fun supporting role.

I am curious as to why you thought to single out Casablanca as not passing the Bechdel test while not saying if any of the other films you watched did or not. Especially since the odds of a film from the 40s passing the test are virtually nill. You’d probably find more from the early 30s pre code era that pass than you would in nearly any film made during the war years when husbands were, you know, at war. ;)

 
Johanna writes:  

I noticed it in reference to Casablanca particularly because it’s such a classic, and because I’d forgotten how there are only three women with significant speaking scenes, none of whom interact with each other. (Ilsa, the bar girl the bartender takes home, and the young refugee Bogie helps escape from Renaud’s clutches.) It’s a great film, but it’s still a product of its times in how the women exist just to show us something about the men, mostly Rick.

 
David Oakes writes:  

Do any of the characters exist in any way except to inform us about Rick?

(Not that I still wouldn’t be surprised if any film passed the Bechdel test prior to 1970. But “Casablanca” is Bogie’s world, and we’re just living in it.)

 
Mentor's Camper writes:  

“I noticed it in reference to Casablanca particularly because it’s such a classic, and because I’d forgotten how there are only three women with significant speaking scenes, none of whom interact with each other”

Right, but it’s worth noting that none of those women actually know each other in the story. Why would Ilsa get into a conversation with the woman that Bogie helped? Also, the story is about a love triangle, no? The only thing any of them are talking about at any given moment are each other and the letters of transit.

The criticism itself seems almost anachronistic. It’s like saying I was disappointed that there were no progressive portrayals of LGBT’s in Gone With The Wind. Or saying that I was surprised that there were no non stereotypical portrayals of African Americans in Birth of a Nation. Saying it’s a product of it’s time is a fair criticism if “of the time” is refering to WW2 era films. But you can find plenty of pre code era films with women that pass the Bechdel test. I can think of half a dozen early thirties Norma Shearer films just off the top of my head that meet that challenge. I just thought that applying the test to a WW2 era film seemed a bit odd and unfair, IMHO. ;)

Oh, almost forgot, you’re right, History Is Made At Night is such a fun romantic film. Arthur is one of my favorite actors of classic film. My favorite scene is of Boyer giving her her jewels back in the cab on the way to the cafe. And when she orders scrambled eggs and they’re all aghast. So much fun.

Another great Arthur vehicle is “Arizona”, watched it recently and it quickly became my favorite Arthur film. She is such a badass in that. Check it out if you see it on tcm. It’s also on youtube. Even if the genre isn’t up your alley, it’s worth watching it to see that kind of leading lady role.

 
Johanna writes:  

Yes, it’s true, 40s films are more regressive in several ways than the pre-codes are, especially when it comes to roles for and portrayals of women. I’m not sure what you think we’re disagreeing about here?

I haven’t heard of Arizona before, thanks for the tip!

 
Thom writes:  

I also really enjoyed Friends With Benefits…I was a bit…uncertain if it would just be another fantasy…but both Timberlake and Kunis really sold me n the sincerity of the characters. The plot also really did a good job of explaining why both were so closed off. They did a solid job of working with a traditional rom-com setting and still making it work.

 
This Week on TCM: Constance Bennett Month Begins » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] occupation at the time. The movie opens with her walking out on her live-in boyfriend. As I said before, the film “promises to be scandalous but really reinforces the social contract” once [...]

 
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