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

Movies

Diabolique (1955) — A man’s wife and mistress plot to drown him, finally fed up with his cruelty, only for the body to disappear. There’s a lot more to it than that, though, in this French thriller. Very moody and psychological as you watch the wife slowly go crazy, consumed with guilt, until a later twist resets all your expectations. Note that the preferred version is subtitled, since the film is French (and very much so, in some ways, including the blatant presence of the mistress).

It Happened in Hollywood (1937) — A star of silent Westerns (Richard Dix) has trouble adapting to sound. He’s a gosh-golly authentic cowboy, and he’s not willing to let down his fans by playing a bad guy. Fay Wray is his co-star/love interest, and there’s a sick orphan boy, just to emphasize how good to his kid fans the rider is. The most interesting scene involves a party they throw for the boy, featuring a number of then-celebrity look-alikes, stand-ins, and doubles. It’s a real stretch for the film fan to identify everyone, although IMDB (see link) has a list.

A Lady of Chance (1928) — Norma Shearer, in her last silent film, plays con artist Dolly, aka “Angel Face”, who’s trying to snag herself a rich husband while avoiding a couple of old acquaintances who keep trying to horn in on her schemes. Then she falls in love with a cement inventor. I was surprised to see how much the plot turned on dialogue; this film seemed to have a lot more title cards than the earlier silents I’ve seen. She does a great job acting her emotions, but because of the several disgusting references to neighboring “darkies on the plantation”, I can’t recommend it.

The Most Dangerous Game (1932) — The first adaptation of the famous short story is still an effective thriller. Joel McCrea is the shipwrecked hunter, with Leslie Banks as Count Zaroff and Fay Wray as another victim. She’s not the only thing this island adventure has in common with King Kong; the same producers made this one, using some of the same sets, and Wray’s drunken brother is played by Robert Armstrong (Denham in Kong). It’s a suspenseful adventure, even knowing the plot, with the hunter becoming the hunted. Dynamite last image, too, as we look through an open window to see a boat fleeing in the background to the sound of barking hounds.

Murphy’s Romance (1985) — I remember seeing this on HBO back in the day. Sally Field and James Garner fall in love, after she moves to his small Western town after her divorce. Not an impressive or important movie, just one with some great performances and atmosphere. I was a bit shocked at how they blatantly turn her down for a loan while admitting a guy would likely have gotten it. Nowadays, they’d probably do the same thing, but they’d know not to say it as such. Field’s son is played by Corey Haim, back when he was acting, before he was celebritized.

One More Tomorrow (1946) — Dennis Morgan, playboy, falls in love with Ann Sheridan, photojournalist, but winds up married to a remarkably hard-looking Alexis Smith when Ann turns him down because they’re from two different worlds. The supposedly beautiful Alexis accepts because she just wants his money. He comes to regret choosing a woman who lies to him about wanting kids and badgers him into firing his long-time butler/buddy (Jack Carson). I mostly enjoyed watching the outfits. It’s a remake of:

The Animal Kingdom (1932) — This version is more stagey in execution, full of talk, but the incomparable Myrna Loy is the wife and the underrated Ann Harding the love, an illustrator this time. It’s more frank in its treatment of the complications among love and friendship and “proper” behavior, with Leslie Howard as the well-off Tom who’s been living with (!) Ann’s artist Daisy. Daisy didn’t want to marry him, preferring their freedom, until she realized she wanted kids, but he’s already planned to settle down with Loy’s character Cecilia. She represents the young, the new, the beautiful, the thrill of the unfamiliar. She can’t offer Howard the friendship and understanding Harding’s woman can, but she does promise sex, even if she uses it to manipulate him. A late scene in the film makes the offering explicit, with Tom comparing her bedroom to a bordello, where she’s for sale.

Neil Hamilton, whom you may know as the 60s Batman’s Commissioner Gordon, shows up as a friend of the couple. I found it interesting to compare the changes between the two films. In the first movie, Tom is a book publisher who is tempted into putting out popular trash; the second has him putting out a small paper where the conflict is whether to publish an expose that might include his father and his business cronies. The first is much more about him and his choices, the second about how he fits into society. Both movies were based on a play written by Philip Barry (The Philadelphia Story and my favorite Holiday). The later one is more conventional and somewhat boring, while this one surprisingly feels more modern, even if Howard’s effete gentleman is an acquired taste. Overall, the performances in the first are so much stronger.

These Three (1936) — Based on the play “The Children’s Hour”, about a malicious brat who spreads gossip that the two teachers at her boarding school are lesbians. In this movie version (also written by playwright Lillian Hellman), the rumor is heterosexual, involving a love triangle among Merle Oberon, Miriam Hopkins, and Joel McCrea (the star of the month on TCM, in case you wondered why I was watching so many of his movies). They all provide wonderful performances, as does Bonita Granville as the girl, and you can see the strong bones of the original underneath. Regardless of the subject of the lie, the point — that it only takes a few words from the selfish to play into the evil minds of the credulous and destroy lives — shines through, even with the tacked-on happy ending.

Woman Chases Man (1937) — Miriam Hopkins is an architect who wants a millionaire to build her proposed housing development. Joel McCrea is his son, who controls the money. They will, of course, fall in love. This should have been better than it was, what with dad’s propensity for losing money on funding crazy gadgets and various con schemes.

DVDs

Broadcast News (1987) — My gracious, I can’t believe this movie was out 25 years ago, and now here it is in a Criterion edition. Petite Holly Hunter plays a TV news producer, the kind of person who tells cab drivers which routes to take to get there most efficiently. William Hurt is the dumb pretty boy being groomed as anchor who succeeds because of her behind-the-scenes coaching. Albert Brooks is the smart journalist who can’t make it on TV because of his looks and behavior; he just can’t project the attractive authority needed. Plus, Jack Nicholson plays Dan Rather, basically.

The hoo-hah about the superficiality of what network news was becoming and how horrible it was that appearance was replacing information didn’t make sense to me then, because I didn’t know what news used to be. All I knew growing up was the pretty boys on the nightly news. Now, it all seems so long ago, since so many generations haven’t ever seen news treated as anything other than entertainment.

Plus, the technology! Portable alarm clocks. Hard-wired telephones. Typewriters. Videotapes rewinding and replaying. All those print newspapers. The layoff scenes, on the other hand, are completely relevant to today. The classic lines are still poignant, such as:

“I am beginning to repel people I am trying to seduce.”
“Wouldn’t this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?”
“I’ll meet you at the place near the thing where we went that time.”

and this favorite exchange:
“It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you’re the smartest person in the room.”
“No, it’s awful.”

Edward Scissorhands (1990) — Interesting watching this after recently seeing Dark Shadows. Johnny Depp was SO young, and he barely speaks. I don’t remember Winona Ryder being so stiff in the role when I watched it before, but the images are still striking. I almost fell asleep by the end, which I’m attributing to it feeling like a fairy tale being told as a bedtime story, as the framing elements suggest. The only extras on the DVD, beyond separate commentaries by Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, are old electronic press kit elements, with the various actors spending half a minute telling us about their characters and a promotional making-of that repeats some of the same info. I miss Vincent Price.

Spirited Away (2002) — I understand this movie more than I did — although not completely — now that I know that Miyazaki made it in reaction to meeting a spoiled 10-year-old. All the weirdness teaches her to to work hard and think of others, although what she’s asked to do seems like a lot to me. Gorgeous images, as expected from Studio Ghibli.

TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Volume 3 (1932-1933) — Of the six films here, all directed by William Wellman, I was most interested in the female-centered ones. I watched

  • The Purchase Price, in which Barbara Stanwyck’s showgirl, to escape her racketeer boyfriend, becomes a mail-order farm bride and learns the virtue of hard work and arranged marriages.
  • Frisco Jenny, one of those self-sacrificing mother movies. Ruth Chatterton survives the San Francisco earthquake to become a successful brothel owner. Her love was killed, so she gives their child to a proper family. Later in life, he becomes the DA and prosecutes her for murder when she kills a criminal associate who was going to reveal her son’s true parentage. It’s Stella Dallas with more sleaze.
  • Midnight Mary, in which Loretta Young is a good girl who keeps having bad things happen to her. She’s sent to jail for shoplifting when she didn’t do it, and she falls in with a criminal gang because the other choice is starving. She’s also put on trial for murder for shooting her gangster boyfriend when he was going to kill the rich guy who was nice to her, funding her attempt to go straight and be a secretary. The tacked-on happy ending is unbelievable, but the appeal of the film comes from the numerous scenes of Young’s luminous eyes, full of emotion.

One thing about pre-Code movies is that they were full of women ready to shoot men, often to protect other men they loved. There are three other films in this set, but they’re more political, social consciousness tales of struggling life under the Depression, and who needs to see that these days? The set also contains two specials about “Wild Bill” Wellman, he-man movie director. I don’t think he’s all that skilled, based on these pieces, which zoom abruptly from scene to scene before simply stopping, but his life as a pilot and daredevil fascinates many.

One Response  
Steve B. writes:  

Speaking of forgotten movies from the 80’s featuring young Corey Haim, keep an eye out for the new DVD/Blu-ray release of Firstborn (due out this summer). I loved that movie as a kid. Peter Weller plays a great slimy a-hole (every single moms’ kid’s nightmare), and Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr. are there too (because it was the 80’s, and that was their job)

 
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