Sunday, January 21, 2018

Seems a Bit More Like Hell

Film: All This, and Heaven Too
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

When I first started reviewing films seriously here (at least as seriously as I’ve reviewed any films on this site), I was non-committal about Bette Davis. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. All This, and Heaven Too is my 15th Bette Davis movie, and by now, I’ve gotten it. Davis was a force of nature on the screen. Something of a beauty in her earlier films, Davis, by the time her career truly kicked into high gear, could not be called a classic Hollywood beauty by any real standard. No, Davis’s appeal was how forceful and dynamic she could be on the screen. All This, and Heaven Too falls in that strange middle place in her career, after her temptress roles (as in Jezebel) and before her less glamorous but meatier roles (like in Now, Voyager). What this means is that Davis is playing a romantic character while not having the traditional looks that might be expected.

Mlle. Henriette Deluzy-Desportes (Davis) has just come to America where she is employed at a girls’ school as a French teacher. Sadly for her, scandal has followed her, and the girls in her class are relentless and scandalized by her presence. Convinced to stick it out by young pastor Henry Martyn Field (Jeffrey Lynn), who she met on her crossing from Europe, she goes back to her classroom to tell the story of her life to her students in the hopes that they might better understand and perhaps accept her.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Blacklisted

Film: The Front
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is going to be one of “those” reviews. Had I had the foresight to watch The Front a couple of years ago, I’d have been able to address it as it stands rather than addressing the elephant still in the room, in this case the sexual abuse allegations against Woody Allen. In fact, I’m kind of happy I am addressing it now, because The Front calls up one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed when it comes to the works of accused filmmakers and actors.

That question is the role of the other people in the film. The Front is a film that specifically focuses on the people who were affected and disenfranchised by the Hollywood Blacklist. On the surface, it’s a mild comedic tale. A blacklisted writer (Michael Murphy) goes to his friend, cashier Howard Prince (Woody Allen) to act as his front. Essentially, Howard will put his name on television scripts and take 10% of the pay. Since Howard has a number of debts and needs the money, he agrees, and soon he’s fronting for a trio of blacklisted writers. But there is a deeper issue here. The Front was written by a blacklisted author (Walter Bernstein), directed by a blacklisted director (Martin Ritt) and features blacklisted actors like Zero Mostel in prominent roles. The Front exists to expose the wrongs that were done to these people. Avoiding the film to avoid Allen seems to cost us quite a lot.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Treading the Boards

Film: The Royal Family of Broadway
Format: Internet video on laptop.

While there are still some beloved and frequently seen movies left in my Oscar lists, I am getting to the point where a lot of what I still have to watch are films that are pretty much forgotten. That’s absolutely the case with The Royal Family of Broadway. Honestly, I’m just happy that there was a version of this to watch on YouTube. This film evidently exists in terms of physical media only in a UCLA vault as a 35mm print. That there are versions that appear online is fortunate, because it would be easy for this to be a completely forgotten film.

The Royal Family of Broadway was evidently based on a stage play, which was itself a rough biography of the Barrymore family. We’re going to be spending a good bit of time with our theatrical family and dealing with all of their different foibles. For what it’s worth, there are going to be four main members of the Cavendish family that we will have to deal with. Fanny Cavendish (Henrietta Crosman) is the family matriarch and absolutely convinced that life in the theater is the right life for the whole family. Her daughter Julie (Ina Claire) is a stage actress as well, but is considering getting married to wealthy financier Gilmore Marshall (Frank Conroy). Julie’s daughter Gwen (Mary Brian) wants to marry Perry (Charles Starrett) and give up the life entirely. And then there is Tony Cavendish (Fredric March), the family’s prodigal, who has gone out west to be in movies and, because of his wild ways and wantonness, has been forced to leave the coast, return to New York, and attempt to book passage to Europe on Aquitania.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Pacific Heights

Film: Pacific Heights
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I’ve never been a believer in the talents of Melanie Griffith. I’m not sure what it is. There’s something about her that simply doesn’t work for me. Most of the time, when I see her, I wonder why the film producers didn’t get someone else. Melanie Griffith seems like the poor man’s Meg Ryan, like the actress you get when you can’t really get the actress you want. Honestly, I think that’s an unfair assessment of her; the truth is that I just don’t care for her that much. This fact has kept me from getting to Pacific Heights for some time—this being the final movie on the original Bravo list of 100 Scariest Movie Moments for me to watch. Completing a list certainly seems like it’s worth a little Melanie Griffith.

Like many a good thriller, the set up here is pretty simple. A young, unmarried couple named Patty Palmer (Griffith) and Drake Goodman (Matthew Modine) decide to purchase an old fixer-upper in San Francisco for more than they can really afford. The idea is that they will live on the top floor of the house and rent out the bottom floor as a pair of apartments. This starts out as a “white people issues” movie—they’re charging a combined $2300 rent for their two apartments, and this doesn’t come close to covering their actual mortgage, which, with the apartments filled, is just slightly less than the combined rents of their original apartments.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

She Drinks a Whiskey Drink, She Drinks a Vodka Drink

Film: I’ll Cry Tomorrow
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

It took Susan Hayward five tries to win an Oscar. Four of those five, including her eventual win, were portrayals of women had fallen in some significant and terrible way. That terrible failing might be alcohol (Smash-Up), booze and a bad marriage (My Foolish Heart), or crime (I Want to Live!). With I’ll Cry Tomorrow, it was a return to alcohol, and many of the same places she went in Smash-Up. It’s also a return to what she did in With a Song in My Heart, in that she’s playing a real person and a real life.

I’ll Cry Tomorrow is the story of Lillian Roth (Hayward), an actress and performer in the early days of the movies. Roth was thrust on stage by her mother (Jo Van Fleet) and forced into a life of performance. It’s never really clear that this was something that Lillian wanted for herself. In fact, when she, out in Hollywood, reconnects with David Tredman (Ray Danton), a childhood friend, she’s absolutely ready to ditch the life completely. David, an entertainment lawyer, gets some solid gigs for Lillian as the two prepare to get married. But David suffered from some mysterious (and never defined) malady, and he dies suddenly while Lillian is on stage.