Classic Films on Review

Sep 18

Modern Times (1936)

“What’s the use of trying?”
“Buck up - never say die. We’ll get along.” 
            Modern Times is a beautiful film. I found myself yet again incredibly moved by a Charlie Chaplin film. This is a film that still rings true even today in our twenty-first century modern times. It is full of ups and downs and optimism and love and hope.
            Chaplin plays a man simply known as a Factory Worker (FW). At the beginning of the film the man has a job in a factory here he and his coworkers are watched on monitors by the owner of the place. His job is to screw bolts down on pieces of metal that come his way. He is part of a line of men that each play a part in putting together this certain piece of metal. Of course this being a Charlie Chaplin film his character is clumsy and hilariously gets caught in the gears of the machine. When he is let on break his body twitches in the motion of he was doing for hours on end. As he is taking his break and smoking in the bathroom the boss comes on the monitor and tells him he has been taking too long and to get back to work even though he has only been on a break for a minute. From being over worked FW has a nervous breakdown and makes the machines malfunction and blow up.

 After a while recovering FW leaves the hospital only to be put in jail because he innocently waves a red flag that a truck had dropped off its back and the people on the street think he is a communist. In jail he proves himself to be a good man with only good intentions. The warden gives him a note to give to employers saying that he is a good and honest man and to give him a job. He manages to find a job but it does not last long.
            We are introduced to the Gamin as she is stealing bananas for her poor family. Her father is unemployed so she does whatever she can to feed her family. Her father unfortunately dies during a protest and she and her sisters are left to the state as orphans but she runs away. She meets FW in a police wagon when they have both been arrested. They manage to get away from the police and are very happy together.
            They plan a life together when they can find a job. They want a house to be comfortable in and plenty of food. Gamin finds them a house by the water where the highway and factories can be seen. For what it is and what they have they love their little shack and are very happy together.

They each manage to find jobs but the jobs never last due to misunderstandings or the law coming in. In the end Gamin is ready to give up but FW tells her to smile and that things will work out for them eventually.
            I can go on and on just gushing about how amazing Modern Times is. I love what Chaplin did in giving hope and laughter to so many people in a time when America was at its lowest. Just from seeing this film and The Great Dictator Chaplin was amazing at not really exploiting what was going on in the world but giving light to dark situations and showing how ridiculous some things really were like how the crowd jumped on his poor character just because he was innocently waving a red flag. For this film Chaplin was labeled a communist by the House Un-American Activities which was so wrong, they clearly did not see the message.
            The factory scene at the beginning is genius. The only time we hear spoken words in the film is when they come from the machines like the boss talking on the monitor or a record explaining a new product. One of Chaplin’s most famous scenes from his films comes when his character is chosen to test out a new machine that will limit the amount of time it takes for the workers to eat. Chaplin shows (somewhat seriously) what factories were like where men were on assembly lines for hours on end with barely any break while the bosses did nothing but sit in their office want things to be done faster.

What really touched me was Chaplin and Goddard’s relationship in the film. Their characters had nothing in world to call their own except for their will to live and belief that there are better things waiting for them. They were just adorable together I had a smile on my face the whole time whenever they were in a scene together. My favorite scene of the whole film is when Chaplin is working in a department store as a night watchman and he takes Goddard into the toy department. She is all excited over seeing the toys and being able to play with them it was just so cute. Their relationship was not romantic it was more of a loving companionship shared by their hardships. In a world full of people they are the lowest on the social ladder which probably leads to them not having any names yet they are the happiest and are full of life and their own ideas and a great will to live.

 To really get what Modern Times is about and its message I suggest researching it. If I were to write all the things I have learned about the film this post would be incredibly too long and I would just be repeating what has already been written.
            Modern Times is a wonderful heartfelt film. Even though it was made over seventy-five years ago it still has a strong message that can be felt today. We all have our money troubles and employment problems but there is always a bright side to the trouble no matter how horrible it is to be going through them. Things do get better eventually. I have always believed that if you surround yourself with those who care about you there is nothing to be worried about in life. Even back in 1936 people (or should I say America) were very materialistic. We want things, the things define us. But Chaplin’s message is beautiful with this poor characters living on the streets but happy about life because of each other. Yes they dream about a house and having nice clothes but they would be lost without the other.
            We watch Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard struggle in a modern world full of machines and seemingly uncaring people and we feel sympathy for them. But as the end clearly shows there is hope. Chaplin provides so much with his wonderful story telling and his incredible comedy. I believe if more people were to watch Modern Times they would be a lot happier. 

“That’s what happens when a smart lawyer gets mixed up with a dumb blonde”

I usually do not really care for films about lawyers or courtroom dramas of any kind but I really liked Lawyer Man especially because William Powell is the lawyer man and Joan Blondell plays his lovely secretary.

            Anton Adams (Powell) at the beginning of the film has his law office in a poor neighborhood in New York City. Helping Anton out is his faithful secretary Olga (Blondell) who loves her boss. He is a good man who helps out those who cannot afford the very top lawyers. He successfully prosecutes a racketeer named Gilmurray and is asked to become a partner in a law firm.

            Anton always has his eyes on the women around him much to the jealousy of Olga. He gets drawn into a case of blackmail by a very attractive actress who is working with Gilmurray. The whole case was based on letters that the actress gave him but she gave him but Gilmurray has them stolen and Anton is sued for breach of promise. He loses the case and it sets his career back two years. In those years he becomes a shyster and ruthless with his clients.

Gilmurray comes to him and ask Anton to join his organization. Anton agrees when the racketeer promises him he can get him into the DA’s office. Anton jumps at the chance and the first thing he does he brings a case up against a doctor who was involved with Gilmurray’s blackmail. The doctor is corrupt he steals the city’s money at his clinic writing up broken arms when the case was really a cut on a finger and other things such as those. Gilmurray is none too pleased  but Anton goes through with the case and brings down a part of the organization.

            In the end Anton realizes that being at the top is so great so he goes back to his old office and the people he can help out the most. Olga is happy because he finally realized she was the only one who stuck with him through all his troubles and that she loved him.

            William Powell is just amazing he was such a brilliant actor. I adore the man to no end he was so good in this film. He was amazing at going from being a funny lady’s man staring at their legs to a serious lawyer looking to get even the best way he knew how. This was made when Powell was signed to Warner Bros. in the early 1930s. The more I see of Joan Blondell the more I love her. She was so good as Olga. I loved it when she got pissed off that Anton brought another woman into his office that she slammed her magazine on the table gave him such a look. She was the level headed on while Anton was all over the place. One line was really funny when Anton called Olga drunk after being out with a woman and asks “Olga, is there anything wrong with me?” and she replies “I wouldn’t be surprised.” In the next scene the look of hurt on her face adorable.

  Lawyer Man is a very good Pre-Code film. I like seeing William Powell in a Pre-Code even though he was not a typical rough Pre-Code guy. Lawyer Man is excellently fast paced and gets right to the point. Powell and Joan Blondell are greatly paired along with a good story

Emma (1932)

I am still on a never ending quest to watch as many Myrna Loy films as I can possibly find. Emma is one of a handful of films of Loy’s that are available on DVD… but it is more for the fact that Marie Dressler is the star. The story is a bit soapy but I have to admit it is one that touches my heart.

            Emma (Dressler) has been working for the Smith family for many, many years. After the death of the children’s mother when the youngest son Ronnie was born she has taken care of the children like they were her own. As much as she loves all of them her favorite one is Ronnie. He shows her the most affection and always plays little, caring games with her.

            The father Fred Smith becomes a famous inventor and makes a lot of money. All the children except for Ronnie have become bitter and spoiled. They all take advantage of Emma and treat her not very nicely. In the thirty-two years she has worked for the family Emma has never taken a vacation so she finally decides to take one. Fred takes her to the station. She is nervous about going but once Fred mixes up his pills he has to take she wants to throw away her whole plan. To calm her down Fred goes with her and on the train he proposes. The vacation turns into a honeymoon but quickly turns when Fred’s heart gets worse and he dies.

            Fred does not trust his children so he gives all his money and his home to Emma telling her that if the children ever need money they are to go to her. Ronnie of course has no issue with this and neither does the lawyer but the three other children do. They get their own lawyer and they make it seem as if Emma killed their father by giving him an overdose of his medication.    

            Emma beats the murder charges and even after all the three children have put her through she still loves them. With their tails between their legs they cry as she leaves the house and they beg her to stay but she tells them it is time for her to move on.

            At the end she finds a family with very little money to pay her but there are a lot of little kids and a brand new baby to take care of. Emma could not have asked for anything better.

            I liked the story even though it was sad. I felt terrible that after so many years of lovingly taking care of the children like they were her own that three of them could be so selfish and cruel to accuse Emma of murder. I could never imagine myself taking advantage of someone I love so much, I never would do that because I would never want someone to do that to me. I guess because I have a very loving family I could never hurt anyone of them. That aspect of the story with the three older children turning their backs on their surrogate mother like that made me so upset but at the same time that is what is supposed to make you sympathize with Emma and the fact that no matter how cruel they were she still loved and defended them without question.

            I have never seen Marie Dressler in a film before and I liked her. She was a good actress. She had some really funny parts in the film that she was fantastic in. Myrna Loy wrote in her autobiography about Dressler: “Emma was fun because of her. she was a delight, a lovely woman, high-spirited and caring. I was crazy about her. She inspired awe, too, with her robust presence and extraordinary achievements.”

Myrna Loy plays Isabelle the oldest of the Smith children. She marries a French aristocrat and pretty much demands that Emma be more like the French servants that her husband is used to. Emma comes back and says she will be doing nothing of the sort which makes Isabelle mad. In one scene Loy has her back to Dressler and Dressler is speaking to her; you can see the evilness in Loy’s eyes and face to the point where it gives you chills. Her character was just so nasty that if I did not adore Loy as much as I do or know who she was I would have hated her so much. She tells an interesting story in her autobiography that Emma saved her from having to do the film Freaks. At this point in her career she was still trying to shake off the vamp/Asian image that she had been playing and she says that Irving Thalberg brought her over to the studio to be in Freaks. But again she was cast as a snotty, spoiled brat that she had also played before. Knowing her mostly as Nora Charles and “the perfect wife” it is always a bit unsettling seeing Loy play a mean character. But at the end when the children are saying goodbye to Emma you can see her great dramatic talent and feel sympathy for her.

 Emma is a very nice film. I do not have one bad thing to say about this film it was funny and heart breaking and the acting by the entire cast was great. 

The Blood of a Poet (1930)

I am sure you have never seen Le sang d’un poète or The Blood of a Poet or even heard of it unless you like the Surrealist or know who Jean Cocteau or Lee Miller are. It is not a film you will find anywhere unless you are looking for it. There are many branches of Surrealism including many artists not just Salvador Dali and his melting paintings. The first time I watched this film I thought I had just smoked something it is so…. I do not want to say out there it is different from what we generally see as a film.

            I do not even know where to begin to explain this film. First of all it is in French and unfortunately every copy I have been able to find online does not have subtitles unless it is just a short clip. I understand some of it and I recognize words but for the life of me cannot remember what they mean (I almost got a D in French a few semesters ago, thank God my professor was nice and she gave me a C-).

            I do know that the film is broken down into four parts. The first part is my favorite because to me if you want to know what Surrealism is all about and what the members believe in this is the part. It is about an artist who has painted a woman when all the sudden the mouth comes to life and begins to move. The artist wipes away the mouth in shock but when he looks down at his hand the mouth has now gone to his hand. After experimenting with the mouth all night (the Surrealist had some sexual issues/things going on in their works so you can take a guess what “experiments” he did) he puts his hand on a statue he was working on.

Part two is the statue coming alive and speaking to him. She talks him into passing through a mirror that takes him into another place in time. The mirror transports him to a hotel- a hotel of “dramatic follies”- where he looks into the keyholes of several rooms. The first room shows shadows of someone smoking weed, the second shows a Mexican man getting shot by a firing squad over and over. The third room has some kind of kid who can climb walls while wearing sleigh bells. The fourth room shows a hermaphrodite. The fourth room was really interesting it is hard to explain how. Drums role and different sections of the person come up through holes in a chalkboard and the whole body is drawn. The artist is given a gun to shoot himself which he does but he does not die. He has enough of what he has seen and goes back to his world through the mirror. We do not see the actual man go through the mirror we see a wire cutout of him. When he gets back to his room he smashes the statue.

  Part three shows boys having a violent snowball fight. Some boys run for cover and one even gets his knee cut. One unfortunate boy gets pelted with a chunk of marble and dies from being hit in the chest.

            The final part shows the boy lying dead on the ground with a woman (the statue) and a card shark (the artist) playing a game on a table. While they play a game two groups of people sit in box seats of a theater watching them. The card shark takes an Ace of spades out of the boys pocket. The camera cuts to a doorway where an angel comes down the stairs. The angel is the boy’s guardian angel and absorbs the boy. The angel takes away the card from the card shark and the man realizing he now lost the game shoots himself. The spectators applaud after the man shoots himself. The woman then turns into the smashed statue and walks away. In the end she looks like a real statue with symbols of art around her.

Yeah, I know I know just explaining it to you sounds so friggin weird. And I am sure you are asking yourself how could anyone watch this. Let me just say I am not one of those stupid art majors who is a hipster and only likes modern art like dog shit on canvas that represents a soul in torture. I like art until 1960 and then Andy Warhol comes in and all the other weird hippy artists and art goes to shit. I adore old films and I have since learned a little more about Surrealism and the artists so I can honestly say I like this film for artistic and historic reasons and not look like a hipster idiot (are you getting the feeling that I hate hipsters?). There is a lot of meaning in art and in this film there is a ton of meaning.

            I first found out about The Blood of a Poet when I read a biography on Lee Miller. I was in the gift shop of the Tate Modern last summer and I saw the cover with Miller’s picture on it and I was so taken with it. When I got back to my room that night I looked her up and a few days later I bought the book. Miller was originally from Poughkeepsie, NY. She moved to NYC where she was founded by Condé Nast (the man whose company owns Vanity Fair and Vogue) and she became a model and was most famously photographed by Edward Steichen. Later on she moved to Paris and became the lover of the famous Surrealist artist Man Ray. At the time she filmed The Blood of a Poet she and Ray were not getting along very and Ray was very upset that “his” muse was being used by another artist; he felt Miller and her body were his. Ray said “You don’t lend out your mistress, do you?” If you ever want to read a great biography read Lee Miller: A Life (or On Both Sides of the Camera if you live in the UK) by Carolyn Burke. Miller’s life was so fascinating and incredibly lived.

Cocteau said that The Blood of a Poet is not a Surrealist film because it did not exist at the time he made it. But he did use many of the motifs- chance, dreams, life and death- the Surrealists highly regarded. Looking at it today from an artistic and historical aspect it is one of the greatest cinematic works. Charlie Chaplin claimed that this film showed him that “the cinema could exist in Europe.” No matter how odd the film may be it really does hold your attention. I cannot turn the film off whenever I play it and I marvel at the film making. Cocteau pretty much stated that the film is like allegory of the things the mind can conjure when it is asleep, it is not about symbols and dreams but memories that move around and express themselves.

            This must all sound like crazy artistic ramblings. I am sure you have very little understanding of the things I have written but to me it is genius. I will not lie when I say that Surrealism is a bit confusing especially because it has to do so much with psychology but the things that I can understand like their views of the world and their symbolism is so interesting.

            Le sang d’un poète is considered Jean Cocteau’s best known and best made film. It deals with an artist’s obsession with creation and his views of the world in which he creates. Throughout the history of art artists have been driven mad by their creativeness and need to create perfection. This film is one of great artistic perfection and obsession both literally and figuratively. I can sit through The Blood of a Poet any time of day and be bewildered, confused, and shocked all the time.

            “Poets … shed not only the red blood of their hearts but the white blood of their souls,” 

                                                - Jean Cocteau

Aug 11

Anthony Adverse (1936)

“Those who are destined to live during times of war and social upheaval are victims of cruel fate ~~ unable to find comfort in the past or peace in the present. They are the spiritual orphans of the world.”
            Can I just say how much I hate it when a movie gets off to an interesting start and then one thing gets screwed up for the characters and the movie becomes boring and ridiculously long? What I really cannot stand is when a couple gets pulled apart because of miscommunication or another person… that drives me up a damn wall!!! Then one person in the couple becomes moody and mean and annoying and gives up hope of many things in several ways. This happened in the fourth season of CSI: NY with Danny and Lindsay and I wanted to scream!!! It is such an overused plot and it is so boring and frustrating (thankfully, Danny and Lindsay worked their crap out by the following season but mostly out of necessity). I was all psyched to watchAnthony Adverse because it stars a twenty year old Olivia de Havilland and I want to see some more films with Fredric March. The film started out so well for like the first forty-five – fifty minutes and then just went down the drain and my attention was lost.
            It starts out with a man named Marquis Don Luis (Claude Rains) marrying a woman named Maria. Maria cheats on Don while his foot is healing with a man named Denis. Don finds out about the affair and takes his wife away. Denis finds them all at an inn but he dies in a sword fight with Don. A few months later at an inn in the Alps Maria has Denis’s baby but she unfortunately dies. The Don drops the baby off at a home for children where nuns will take care of him. Don tells Maria’s father, John Bonnyfeather, that his daughter died but lies that the baby died.

Ten years later, Anthony (as the boy is named) is handed over to Bonnyfeather as an apprentice. Neither boy nor man know they are related but John sees a shocking resemblance to his daughter in the boy. He cannot give Anthony his last name since his illegitimacy would ruin his business and family name. As Anthony grows up he comes to love the cook’s daughter Angela (Olivia de Havilland). He wants to eventually marry her but one night her father wins the lottery and the family moves away. She tells Anthony that one day they will find each other.

 A few years on Anthony and a friend go to the opera and it happens that Angela is in the opera as one of the singers. They marry but the next day Anthony is held up while Angela is waiting to tell him what city to go to meet her. They do not meet again for five years.
            In those five years Anthony has traveled all over the place. He travelled to Africa to work off debts for Bonnyfeather and he became a whole other person one who was greedy and nasty to people. Of course he gets a change of heart and moves back to Europe. He finds Angela again, along with their son, in Paris but she has changed: she is well known as Mademoiselle Georges a mistress of Napoleon’s. Anthony can no longer be with Angela and she knows that so she tells him to take their son with him on business- and a new life- to America.
Seriously, I just saved you two hours and fourteen minutes of your life by writing out most of the plot.
            When Anthony goes on to Havana and then to Africa the film just gets so slow. Also slowing down the film and being a nuisance is Claude Rains as Don Luis and his evil girlfriend and former helper to Bonnyfeather , Faith. Ugh when those two came on screen I wanted to scream!! Faith was an annoying character from the start and Claude Rains was too fruity and flamboyant for me here.

Fredric March was very good I have no complaints about him or the character for that matter. Olivia de Havilland was beyond adorable. Right from the moment she comes on screen her character is very light splashing water on a bunch of little kids and she just had a big smile on her face. She was such a good actress even at twenty years old she just had immense talent.
            Milo Anderson, who would two years later design the costumes forThe Adventures of Robin Hood, designed the costumes for this film. I loved all his costumes for the women they were gorgeous. I love the Empire style from art to furniture to fashion. Olivia de Havilland looked amazing in all her costumes looking stunning in the Empire waist dresses and hairstyle. Even the men’s costumes were excellent even though I am not a fan of men’s fashion from that time period. After seeing his costumes in Robin Hood in brilliant color I was wondering what colors he made the costumes for this film and how nice they would have looked. (As well as studying Art History and classic films I love fashion history it can teach you so much about so many things).

 Anthony Adverse is a pretty long dragged out film. The whole thing could have been cut down but I can see where cutting it would have disrupted the story and the flow. I guess in a way I watched it more for Olivia de Havilland and I was let down because her character was barely in it. I also felt let down with the ending after wanting Anthony and Angela to be together again after so many years apart and Angela turns out to be an infamous whore. If you want to see Anthony Adverse go ahead but I warn you you may become bored.  

The Birds (1963)

“Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this? They said when you got here the whole thing started. Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from! I think you’re evil. EVIL!” 
            Just like Psycho many people are very familiar with The Birds rather than Alfred Hitchcock’s earlier works. I can remember my brother Joe always renting this film when we were younger (though he claims not to remember but I clearly remember seeing the scene where Melanie gets attacked in the phone booth over and over again) and I thought it was so stupid. Of course I was younger at the time and thought old films were crap and really silly so I just laughed whenever Joe would rent it. I think he thought it funny as well because people were hysterically being attacked by birds. A few years ago when I became interested in Hitchcock and his films I found The Birds used on DVD for a reasonable price that I could not pass up and totally forgetting that my brother used to rent it over and over. When I watched the film again I had a better appreciation for it and for old films and I understood the premise of the stories. I still find The Birds totally hysterical and laugh whenever someone says it is a scary film. I am sure it was when it was first released but today it is silly.
            The film is based off a short story of the same title by Daphne du Maurier. The only things the novel and the film have in common are the location in a small seaside town (du Maurier’s location was Cornwall while the film’s was in California), the idea of birds attacking people, and an explosion.

 To quickly sum up the story of the film the main character is a woman named Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren). She is a play girl who has gotten into a little bit of trouble but now she is looking for something more meaningful in her life. While in a pet shop a man named Mitch (Rod Taylor) comes in. He plays a trick on her and lets her know that he is a lawyer and does not really care for her. Melanie decides to get back at him by bringing two lovebirds to his house in the small town of Bodega Bay. As soon as she gets there the birds in the town begin acting strange beginning with a gull attacking Melanie. The more she stays there the more aggressive the birds become and their attacks more violent.

  As he did with all his films Hitchcock masterfully created a great psychological thriller out of something that surrounds us every day. The director put it perfectly himself when he explained to Truffaut “…if the story had involved vultures, or birds of prey, I might not have wanted it. The basic appeal to me is that it had to do with ordinary, everyday birds.” The birds that were attacking Bodega bay were crows and gulls birds that would never bother anyone and are not known for violence or death. Knowing this bit of trivia it does make you think of birds when you see them. The film is nature turning on humans and that is scary since we know that forces of nature can be violent. Truffaut tells the director “I’m glad you didn’t give a specific reason for the attacks. It is clearly a speculation, a fantasy” to which Hitchcock replied “That’s the way I saw it.” So again he is mixing a fantasy with a reality to create great suspense and entertainment. He also said once that what is not seen or implied is scarier than what is seen because it allows for the viewer to make up their own scary thoughts and ideas of what happened.
            “[The viewers] come to the theater and they sit down and say ‘All right. Now, show me!’             And they want to be one jump ahead of the action: ‘I know what’s going to happen.’ So, I   have to take up the challenged. ‘Oh you know what’s going to happen. Well, we’ll just see about that.’ With The Birds I made sure that the public would not be able to anticipate from one scene to another.”
As the directors go on to say during the beginning of the film the audience expects the birds are going to attack there are clues and hints but all we know is that the animals are potentially menacing and will cause havoc.
            One thing I really liked reading about The Birds was Hitchcock’s little touches of irony: the beginning when Melanie and Mitch first meet in the pet shop he says the her “I’m putting you back in a gilded cage” adding to her characterization of a playgirl. Then later when the gulls attack she is not in a gilded cage but a cage like place all the same in a phone booth of misery. The director said it was a reversal of man being a cage and the birds on the outside. His other touch of irony comes at the end when Mitch’s little sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) asks if she can take her lovebirds with her lending “an optimistic note to the theme.”

e also adds his little bit of dark humor when Melanie and Mitch are in the café before the large attack on the town. Here he gives the audience a breather from all the drama and tension. Truffaut said it was a bit too long but Hitchcock counters that when an audience is absorbed in a story the scene is short and if they are bored the scene is long.
            The four main characters are ok which I think comes from the fact that I am a fan of Hitchcock’s films from the ‘40s and ‘50s when he had all the great classic actors and actresses in them. Tippi Hedren is not horrendous but she was not the greatest. She was definitely one of his prettiest blondes he used in his films. Rod Taylor is not the typical leading male from his earlier film but in this new era he fits. I got a kick out of seeing a thirteen year old Veronica Cartwright as Mitch’s sister Cathy because I am so used to seeing her as the batty lady from the Witches of Eastwick throwing up all the cherry pits and yelling out “whores!” during a church service. Haha. Jessica Tandy played Mitch’s overbearing mother Lydia. I was not impressed with her because I was not sympathetic or impressed with the character. I did however like Hitchcock’s explanation in the scene where the sparrows fly in through the chimney and attack them that he filmed it from Melanie’s point of view which he meant as the audience’s point of view looking at Lydia cracking up.
 There are many more interesting behind the scenes stories and reasons for Hitchcock’s direction of The Birds in the book Hitchcock/Truffaut which I highly recommend reading. There were so many interesting things about the film that I could have added but why spoil a good book by giving away all its details.
            As I said at the beginning The Birds is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s films along with Psycho that are his most well known and one that everyone has either seen or heard of. It is not one of my favorites of his in the slightest but I appreciate it a little bit more after doing some research on it and learning some of the techniques and ideas he wanted to and did put across to the audience.The Birds is a film to see a few times (and separated by a stretch of time) just because it is a Hitchcock film and because the more you watch it the more you can appreciate it. 

Dead End (1937)

Dead End is one of those films where I was not too thrilled with the story but there were moments of really good acting by the main actors. It is a typical 1930s story about the rich versus the poor: how the poor live in not the greatest of conditions and do not know where or when their next meal is going to be and the rich living in beautiful homes and getting whatever they want whenever they want. The film even opens with a few paragraphs how the tenements were built along the river and the rich once they realized the river side was nice property built their complexes right on top of the tenements.
            The film has three stories running through it that are brought together. A young woman named Drina (Sylvia Sidney) and her brother Tommy live in a tenement section of a neighborhood. Tommy is constantly getting into trouble with a group of boys (The Dead End Kids) and one day gets into serious trouble where the police are called after him and he has to evade them. Drina knows an architect named Dave (Joel McCrea), he went to college for six year to be an architect but he has not gotten a decent job. The two grew up together and she has had a little thing for him ever since. Dave has been seeing a woman named Fay who once used to live in poverty but got out of it and now lives in the expensive complex. Dave knew a man now called “Baby Face” Martin (Humphrey Bogart). Martin is no good he wanted by the police in several cities. He comes back to his old neighborhood and the boys flock around him in admiration. Dave warns Martin to get out of the neighborhood and leave the boys along. Martin does not listen and towards the end of the film the two men battle it out in a gun fight.

Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, and Humphrey Bogart give great performances. I never saw Sidney in a film when she was younger I am so used to only seeing her as the old lady in Beetle Juice who tells Barbara and Adam they are dead. She was excellent her performance was very moving. Also I found her to be not really pretty but adorable. For some reason I really liked Sidney’s eyes they were pretty. McCrea was just an awesome actor I like anything he is in. His character was supposed to be nice and caring and wanted a better like and you can believe that looking at him… the same can be said for Sidney she was very believable in her role. This was one of Bogart’s early gangster roles which he would become known for. I think I can say this is one of my favorite roles I have seen him in. His character was a bit tragic and I felt so bad for him when he saw his mother he went to her all excited but she did not want to see him. Bogart was amazing in that scene you just feel so bad for him with the incredibly sad face he puts on. You also feel bad for him because he came back to get his girl he loved when he lived in the neighborhood but she does not want to go with him. 

 To me what brings this film down are all the scenes with The Dead Ends Kids. I mean I understand they were integral to story but I think there was too much time devoted to them. They were in the original stage play so when MGM was making the film they brought the boys on in their stage roles. Had it not been for their too many scenes I would have liked the film a lot more.
            Dead End is a film to definitely see once. The story bored me but I did like how all the characters’ stories come together. Joel McCrea, Sylvia Sidney, and Humphrey Bogart’s performances are worth the viewing. 

The Animal Kingdom (1932)

“Behold, the bridegroom cometh. And no oil for my lamp, as usual. A foolish virgin me. Oh, foolish anyway.”
            The Animal Kingdom is a Pre-Code film I sat through because Myrna Loy is in it. I always look for as many films I can with an actor or actress I like either from the Golden Age or today. Sometimes I find myself liking the films even if the person I like is only in it for five minutes the whole time and sometimes I do not. I found myself in the middle with The Animal Kingdom- on one hand it is very risqué with great dialogue and on the other hand it is boring and many of the actors are boring and too over the top.        
            Tom Collier (Leslie Howard) is a free spirited book publisher. He has lived his like the way he likes much to his father’s dismay. His father says that he sent Tom to Harvard and he was only there for two years. He then sent his son to Oxford and he traveled to the school from Paris. To top his free spirited living off for many years he lived with a woman named Daisy Sage (Ann Harding) whom he was not married to.

    Daisy was gone for three months without notice and in the meantime Tom met a woman named Cecelia “Cee” Henry (Loy) and is now engaged to her. Tom’s father approves of Cee very much because he believes that she can ground his son and get him to settle down to what he sees a proper life. Tom travels into the city to let Daisy know about his engagement. Not knowing that Tom is about to marry Daisy suggests she and him get married and travel down to Mexico where she can paint. Upset and wanting to save them from doing something they will regret Daisy leaves again for another few months.
When Daisy comes back she holds a showing of her work at a gallery. Tom and Cee are invited but she does not really want to go and tempts her husband to stay. When Tom finally sees the show he tells Daisy that her work is not that good to be shown her talent needs more time.
Cee holds a surprise party for Tom and invites Daisy and his other bohemian friends. She does this not out of good feelings and intentions but to show her husband what outcasts his friends are compared to her socially acceptable friends. The friends do not mingle they mainly stick to themselves. Daisy reads Tom’s latest work and lets him know that his work is not good and he is selling out and not writing what he is capable of. During the party Cee talks to her friend Owen about buying Tom’s publishing company. Daisy walks by them and sees the two of them kissing. She cannot take anymore and she and the two other friends leave.
  Tom’s receives a huge check from his father. He tells Cee about the check and her true money hungry self comes out. While they are eating dinner in her room he tells her how much the room reminds him of a London brothel meaning that Cee is acting like a prostitute willing to do anything he wants for his money. She promises him anything wants now even unlocking her door and telling him not to take long.

 When Tom leaves the room and goes downstairs he tells his butler/friend to take him to the train station to go into the city.
            This is a pretty racy film. The two scenes I found the raciest were the ones with Myrna Loy in them (and not just because I am so used to her as the nice “perfect wife”). Tempting Tom to not go to the gallery opening Cee comes down in a negligee. He comments she barely has anything on to which she says he should come and help her dress. He starts kissing her on the chest and says he better not because they will be late. Cee recalls the story of how she found it one time and he liked it. This temptation is what leads Tom not to go to the opening.  The last scene with Tom and Cee as I mentioned is really racy especially when he says how much her room reminds him of a brothel. I cannot even tell you how gorgeous and sexy Loy looked when Cee tells Tom as she closes the doors to her room to not take long. 
  I was not impressed with the acting in this film. Leslie Howard and Ann Harding had been in the stage version of the story. You can definitely tell they were stage actors by the way they spoke their lines and dramatically acted. On the other hand you can totally see that Myrna Loy was strictly a film actress. Howard I am never really impressed with if I see him in a film. Loy had been loaned out to RKO for Cee since apparently Selznick saw her as the only one who could really pull off the role. They were going to go with another actress but the producer felt Loy was prettier and could pull off the role of a seductress. She carried it off flawlessly you can see it in her eyes that her character was money hungry and had a great sexuality underneath. She had those eyes that could either be really sexy or could be really warm and caring in her films.
            The Animal Kingdom is an alright film. The story is interesting especially in the aspect that the wife acts more like a mistress than the other woman does. That is a great angle and one I would like to see explored in a film today. The acting is not the greatest but that can be over looked. WatchThe Animal Kingdom for the dialogue alone because for a 1930s Pre-Code film it is some of the raciest I have ever heard from that period.

Jun 13

Bullets or Ballots (1936)

“Well, it’s time you got wise to yourself. Around this town the only reason friends pat you on the back is to find an easy place to break it.”
            Bullets or Ballots is a plot that we would now only see on crime shows not movies. For the entire run it felt like I was watching a longer episode of Alias(watered down) or some cop show. This does not mean that I did not like Bullets or Ballots I did but I found it a little slow.
            Johnny Blake (Edward G Robinson) is a tough cop. He takes down criminals before they can even look at him mostly because he is very quick and hard with his fists. Johnny is well respected and like by all his fellow cops. He is friends with a woman named Lee Morgan (Joan Blondell) who runs a “numbers game” and a night club.

    The police commissioner is killed by a gangster named “Bugs” Fenner (Humphrey Bogart) after he showed a film clip of him and his partner Al Kruger at the movies. The commissioner was a crusader in the fight against crime and the men who Bugs and Al work for did not like that too much. A commissioner, McLaren, takes over but he does not give out any information on how is to take down the gangsters and moral corruptors because he feels that is how they get away with things when they know what the police are doing. Johnny unexpectedly finds himself pushed out of his job.
            Since Robinson is the main character and this is after the Production Code was enforced at this time he is a good guy he was only pushed out of his job so he can go undercover and find who is really running the show. Kruger does not suspect anything because Johnny has been giving them rackets to run but Bugs does not trust Johnny. He gives the men the idea to be partners with Lee in her numbers game but they want to push her out and take it over.
    Johnny and the police eventually find out who is behind the racket and bring down Bugs in the process. The men who were behind the racket is pretty interesting, not too surprising if you have seen stories like this before but the way they operated was good and how they pulled the strings is good. I also liked how everything Johnny set in motion to happen like Kruger being taken out and he himself getting the top job over Bugs happened.

 

            Alright so not the best review of a film I have ever written but I cannot give too much away and I will admit I was not paying too much attention to it because as I said I feel like I have seen something like this on TV way too many times.
            I am not a big fan of Edward G. Robinson, I guess he is part of the reason I really did not pay attention too much. His character I felt would have been more interesting if it had been someone else in the role. Humphrey Bogart and Joan Blondell stole the entire film in one scene they had together. Thank god I found aVIDEO of it because it is hard to explain. To me it is actually kind of sexy and the only “romantic” scene I have seen with Bogart that I feel he is not awkward in. (to to the 1:51 mark to see).
I cannot complain in any way about the direction by William Keighley he did a great job. I can remember liking several scenes because of the way they were filmed. 
            Bullets or Ballots is an alright film; it was a major hit for Warner Bros when it was first released. I do like the way the studio got around the Code a little bit by making Johnny go undercover as a gangster but still be the good guy. Robinson had played the bad guy and the Code did not like that anymore they wanted him to be nice. As I said I wish someone else played the role of Johnny Blake I feel they would have been more believable and the character would not have been so boring. The film is a worth a viewing for Joan Blondell and Humphrey Bogart. 

Jun 01

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

“Men, if you’re willing to fight for our people, I want you!” 
            The Adventures of Robin Hood was my first Errol Flynn film and my first Olivia de Havilland film. I had heard of this famous classic acting duo but I have never seen them in their own films let alone together. I watched this last year in a Music in Film class I took and I loved it when it was over I considered it one of my favorite films and still do.
            The legends of Robin Hood are hundreds of years old originating in the thirteen hundreds. Robin Hood and his Merry Men take from the rich and give to the poor. The main story that everyone knows takes place during the Crusades when King Richard the Lion Hearted left England to fight in the Holy Land. His brother Prince John takes over but he is cruel and corrupt and taxes the English people until they have nothing left. Robin Hood creates much havoc for the prince and his group of Norman friends he is constantly playing tricks on them and capturing their knights.

The Adventures of Robin Hood was written from several stories and variations of Robin Hood. On the Blu Ray special features a literary historian explains how Robin Hood started out as a trickster and how he used to coax people into duels and fights to see if they were worthy enough for his group. This was put into the film in three scenes. The historian also explains how the story of the character changed with the times such as when he needed to be a brave man and stand up to tyranny he was made to do and when he needed to be romantic and in love he was. Maid Marion was introduced during the Romantic Period in the eighteen hundreds she was never in the original stories. I love literature and I find it fascinating how stories are suited to their times so I found this very interesting.
            So pretty much in the film Robin Hood is a trickster and he is very smart. He and his men are fiercely loyal to King Richard and want to get rid of Prince John. His arch nemesis in the film is a character named Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone). Robin and Sir Guy are the perfect foils because they are both smart and keep one step ahead of the other but no for very long.
            Robin falls in love with Maid Marian after he kidnaps her as she was riding with Sir Guy and the Sheriff of Nottingham (who here is the comic relief). At first she is not happy with being the rogue’s prisoner but he shows her what her Norman friends have been doing to the people and she feels awful. They are  taken with each other and both fall in love quickly. When Robin is captured and sentenced to death Marian with the help of the Merry Men help him escape.

We all know that King Richard returns and order is returned to Nottingham and England and that Marian and Robin live happily ever after.
            From start to finish this film is so enjoyable. I was left feeling to happy and so entertained after seeing this. A commentator on the special features perfectly described the film as a fairytale in Technicolor. There is no way the film would have worked so well had it not been filmed in Technicolor it is what makes the film so much more fantastic.
            Also on the special features much is made of the cast. Leonard Maltin says that if you break down the cast and their talents then look at them as a whole it is the perfect movie cast. Many of the supporting cast members were stock character actors who had been in the film industry since the silent era so they were seasoned pros at what they did. Every one of their qualities greatly added to the film they were all so fantastic. He was so cute but I barely recognized him without his pencil thin mustache.  

 The four man cast members- Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, and Claude Rains- deserve so much credit they were flawless in their roles. This was Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s second film together. What always made them work and what made them work especially well in the film was that they were such good actors and they were so beautiful that you could believe Robin Hood and Maid Marian could love each other like they did. As I watched this film the other night I just gushed like an idiot over how adorable de Havilland was and I could not get over the fact that she was twenty-two when she made this film. Errol Flynn was his usual devilishly handsome self and was the personification of Robin Hood. The moment I saw him I thought he was handsome even though he was wearing tights and an awful wig. The guy really did light up the screen and had such a magnetic and charming screen personality. The first time I saw Claude Rains I died laughing he looked so awful and so silly with his wig, fake beard and colorful costumes. I kept thinking of the guy inCasablanca and just laughed so hard. Basil Rathbone was incredible he was such a perfect bad guy. He had the best evil stares and just carried that air of meanness so well.

 I still cannot get over the flamboyant costumes designed by Milo Anderson. The first time sitting through this I laughed so hard over the clothing but now watching it they pop out so well and make the film that much more amazing and colorful. Olivia de Havilland worked with Anderson on her costumes she did a lot of research and would then bring her ideas back to him. Anderson liked working with her because she was very nice and helpful. The costumes have a bit of a contemporary feel to them not only with the coloring but the way they were made you can see the little bit of Art Deco influence in them. Also de Havilland’s eyebrows and makeup are contemporary in style.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold created an amazing score and one that is greatly revered today. Korngold did not accept the job at first but once Hitler took over in Eastern Europe he took the job. The story of Robin Hood’s fight against tyranny paralleled the fight in Europe. Korngold’s score is a symphony with a film accompanying it, it is so strong and so full it almost takes on a life of its own. The score is so complex and strong that this complexion and strength even extends into the filler music. The score is also a perfect example of music syncing with the movements of the characters especially in the fight at the end between Robin and Sir Guy it follows their every movement.
            There are two directors for this film. William Kieghley was the first director but Warner Bros felt that he was not creating enough action so they turned to Michael Curtiz who was known for making some action film. Flynn got along great Keighley whom he had worked with before but he did not get along with Curtiz whom he also worked with but did not like. Curtiz is one of my favorite directors I like what he did with the film.
            The Adventures of Robin Hood is such a great film. It is one of those perfect light happy films that just make my day. There seriously are no flaws with this film it is just utter classic Hollywood perfection. I am so happy that this was both my first Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn film and my first film I had seen of their pairings now. They were so adorable together. I have seen just about every one of their films together and this one is the best. The Adventures of Robin Hood is a classic film definitely not to be missed and should be seen no matter if you love classic films or not