Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

Make Way for Tomorrowmakewayfortomorrow-2009criteriondvd
Directed by Leo McCarey
1937/USA
Paramount Pictures

#109 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
First Viewing
IMDb users say 8.0/10 I say 9.0/10

 

I watched this as a companion piece to Ozu’s Tokyo Story, with which it is thematically linked.  Both films deal with relations between parents and their adult children.  This film confronts the issue more directly as the children are faced with having to care for their parents in old age.  It is also one of the few films to portray married love in the sunset of life.  Although it is a more sentimental story, it is also an excellent film.

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The children are stunned at the news that the parents have to leave their home in two days.

Lucy and Barkley Cooper have been happily married for 50 years when the bank forecloses on their home. Since none of their five children is willing to take both of them, Lucy (Beulah Bondi) settles with a son in New York City and Bark (Victor Moore) settles with a daughter 300 miles away in the country.  Things don’t work out well for anyone concerned, as the parents disrupt their children’s’ established routines and the couple pine for each other.  They are allowed a second honeymoon in New York City before being again separated, perhaps forever.

Pa: Fifty years go by pretty fast.

Mr. Horton, Hotel manager: Only when you’re happy. How many children have you?

Pa: Five of them.

Mr. Horton, Hotel manager: Really! I’ll bet they’ve brought you a lot of pleasure!

Pa: [Ironically] I bet you haven’t any children.

This is a really heartbreaking film. I think I felt the saddest that the couple, who so clearly loved and needed each other, had to be separated. The children meant well but every one of them put their own needs first. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” again without getting tears in my eyes.  Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore do an excellent job of portraying characters 20 years older than their actual age without once going over the top.

A fond farewll

A fond farewell

I kept thinking about what a difference social security could have made in this couple’s life. After all, these people were basically healthy and able to care for themselves.  They just had no steady income and no prospect of finding employment.  Social Security was enacted in 1935 and implemented in 1937.  The film historian who presented a video essay on the Criterion DVD said that the film makes a powerful argument for old age insurance without ever mentioning it.  I agree.

Trailer

David Holzman’s Diary (1967)

David Holzman’s Diarydavid-holzmans-diary-movie-poster
Directed by Jim McBride
1967/USA
Produced by Jim McBride

#486 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
First viewing

I ran out of 1934 rentals to watch so I picked this at random because it was on Netflix streaming. First, let me say that I was really glad I knew absolutely nothing about this film when I put it on. There are many surprises that shouldn’t be spoiled.

“Le cinéma, c’est vingt-quatre fois la vérité par seconde.” ― Jean-Luc Godard

It is New York City in 1967. A young film maker has just lost his job and received a draft notice.  He decides he will film his life in hopes to understand it better. He has faith in the Godard quote “Film is truth 24 times per second” and thinks that he may be able to connect with objects, events, and people by capturing them on celluloid.

The narrator’s girlfriend is an important part of his life so he keeps filming her at random times, including while she is sleeping nude. She rapidly calls their relationship off but he continues to more or less stalk her for the rest of the film. He also captures the atmosphere of his neighborhood and the people there, spies on a woman in an apartment across the street, follows a random woman leaving the subway, gets propositioned by  a transvestite, etc., etc.
David Holzman's Diary 5

The soundtrack includes a lot of TV and radio news which gives a real flavor of the time.  There is a fantastic sequence of high-speed shots from all the TV shows he watched one night that is like a mini time capsule.  In between the street photography, there are lots of times where the guy just rants to the camera. In the end, he is disappointed that his film did not explain his life.  I think the audience is a lot more able to spot his gradual disintegration than he is.

I’m not able to describe this very well and it may sound boring but I was fascinated throughout. (It helps that the movie is only 74 minutes long.)

David Holzman's Diary 1SPOILER: Well, this film’s claim to fame is that it is a fake documentary/satire but I didn’t know that and I was surprised when the credits started rolling. This made me even more impressed with the film. It is so cleverly done.

“Every edit is a lie.” ― Jean-Luc Godard

Admittedly, there were some parts where I was asking myself a) how did this guy get so much money to buy equipment and live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan?; b) who is filming him? c) did all these unwilling victims of his photography sue him? d) why would somebody release such an unflattering picture of himself? At any rate, the film makers tricked me into believing it was a documentary.  This would make a good companion piece to Buñuel’s Land Without Bread,  I definitely liked this one better than that, though.

This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1991. Must one see this before one dies?   I don’t know if I would go that far but I did enjoy it and I know I’ll think about it.

Clip – opening

Clip – “watching television”

 

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

The Scarlet PimpernelScarlet Pimpernel DVD
Directed by Harold Young
1934/UK
London Film Productions

Second Viewing

 

 Percy Blakeney: They seek him here, they seek him there, / Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. / Is he in heaven? Or is he in hell? / That damned elusive Pimpernel!

During the French Reign of Terror, the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel saves French aristocrats from the guillotine and spirits them away to England. Leslie Howard plays the gallant Pimpernel and his alter ego the foppish Sir Percy Blakeley. Merle Oberon is the French-born Lady Blakeley, who adores the Pimpernel but disdains her husband and is easy prey to the evil French Ambassador Chauvelin (Raymond Massey).

Sir Percey shows Chauvelin how to tie his cravat.

Sir Percy shows Chauvelin how to tie his cravat.

This is my favorite ever performance by Howard. He is just wonderful in both the guises he plays.  I especially like him as the fop.  Raymond Massey is always good and the story is suspenseful and romantic. Recommended.

Sir Percy as a fop

 

 

Dames (1934)

DamesDames_DVD_cover (1)
Directed by Ray Enright and Busby Berkeley
Warner Bros.
1934/USA

First Viewing

 

 

I love the 1933 Busby Berkeley musicals and was really looking forward to finally catching up with this one.  What only a year can do … The Production Code put quite a damper on the sex appeal of the Warner Brothers backstage musical. Although this had its points, it all seems a bit lackluster in comparison to something like Gold Diggers of 1933.

 Barbara Hemingway: I’m free, white, and 21. I love to dance AND I’m going to dance.

Rich Uncle Ezra (Hugh Herbert) wants his money to go to a strictly moral fruit of his family tree and has settled on his cousin Mathilda (Zasu Pitts) and her husband Horace (Guy Kibbee). Ezra has banished his wicked Broadway-show writing cousin Jimmy (Dick Powell). Naturally, Jimmy is in love with Barbara (Ruby Keeler), Horace and Mathilda’s daughter. Somehow a chorus girl (Joan Blondell) is able to blackmail Horace into backing Jimmy’s show and all the hijinks begin.

DamesDick Powell sings some love ballads (including “I Only Have Eyes for You”) toward the beginning of the film but the three main chorus numbers are saved for the end. Of these, the only one that begins to capture the Busby Berkeley magic is the title tune “Dames”. That, however, was worth seeing the movie for.

Clip – “Dames”

Imitation of Life (1934)

Imitation of Lifeimitation of life dvd
Directed by John M. Stahl
1934/USA
Universal Pictures

Second Viewing

 

Delilah Johnson: What’s my baby want?

Peola Johnson, Age 19: I want to be white, like I look.

Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert) is a young widow who carries on her husband’s maple syrup business to support her daughter Jesse.  Delilah Johnson arrives on her doorstep looking for work with her own daughter Peola and proves to be a godsend.  Bea goes on to use Delilah’s secret pancake recipe to climb to success first in the restaurant business and then as a pancake mix queen (under the Aunt Delilah label).  Bea offers Delilah a share in the business but Delilah says she is not interested in money or in having her own home.

Peola (Fredi Washington) easily “passes” as white and struggles against her black identity, eventually disowning her own mother and breaking her heart.  Bea has daughter troubles of her own when Jesse falls for Bea’s beau, Stephen Archer (Warren William), world’s richest fish scientist.

imitation-of-life-3

There is obviously quite a bit of stereotyping in this film.  Poor Delilah seems to downright enjoy getting the short end of the stick in the eyes of the film makers.  On the other hand, this is one of the few films from classic Hollywood to give black characters emotional lives of their own.  And although Delilah is content to serve, Peola, while conflicted and full of self-loathing, is portrayed as a sophisticated complex woman.  The performances of Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington are quite good and Claudette Colbert is sympathetic as Bea.

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This was remade in 1959 with Lana Turner, Juanita Hall, Susan Kohner, Sandra Dee and John Gavin.

Trailer

The 39 Steps (1935)

The 39 Steps39 steps blu-ray
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
1935/UK
Gaumont British Picture Corporation

#91 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Multiple Viewings
IMDb users say 7.9; I say 9.0

 

The 39 Steps showcases Hitchcock as a master craftsman relatively early in his career. If the definition of a classic is a work that remains entertaining and surprising over time and repeated exposure, this film certainly deserves to be called one.

I revisited The Thirty-Nine Steps with the Blu-Ray disc from the Criterion Collection, which can be rented from Netflix.  The film has probably never looked more beautiful and is packaged with a number of extras including a commentary, a documentary on Hitchcock’s British films, a video interview with Hitchcock, a visual essay on the film by Leonard Leff, and audio excerpts about the film from  François Truffaut’s 1962 interviews with Hitchcock.

The story should be familiar to any Hitchcock lover, if not from this film, from many that follow such as Saboteur and North by Northwest.  In this classic plot, a man is falsely accused of a crime and must flee both the police and the true criminals while attempting to clear his name.

Here our story begins when Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) visits a musical hall and catches the act of Mr. Memory, a man with reams of trivia at his disposal.   The way Hitchcock builds suspense by quick cuts between audience members shouting out questions in this scene is stunning.  The scene ends with a scuffle and gunshots.

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Hannay meets a woman as he is exiting the music hall.  She says she needs protection so he takes her to his apartment.  The woman is a spy on the trail of “The 39 Steps” and tells Hannay she has little time to prevent a valuable secret from leaving the country. She is promptly murdered in the apartment and Hannay is the prime suspect. Thus, begins his desperate flight from the police and quest to stop the spy ring.

Richard Hannay: Beautiful, mysterious woman pursued by gunmen. Sounds like a spy story.

Annabella Smith: That’s exactly what it is.

Hannay heads for Scotland based on a map he finds in the woman’s dead hand.  On his way, he spends the night with a crofter and his wife.  This scene is like its own short film about a jealous farmer (John Lurie), his much younger wife (Peggy Ashcroft), and a dashing young traveller.  It is a short scene but Hitchcock manages to pack in quite a bit of pathos and psychological depth to the predicament of a woman trapped in a bad marriage.

39 steps 3

With the police hot on his heels, Hannay meets The Professor and barely escapes with his life.

The 39 Steps

On the run again, Hannay finds himself the main speaker at a political rally and must improvise.  This scene would be copied many times, most notably in The Third Man.  He meets Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) and they are both abducted by bad guys who eventually handcuff them together.

The third act plays as a sort of romantic comedy with the two sparring mightily before they fall in love.  Hitchcock is able to work in some slightly racy material when the two are forced to share a bedroom.  I hate to give away the ending of a 78-year-old movie so I will stop here.  Suffice it to say that the film ends on this shot.

39 steps 5

 

I’ve seen this one many times. The famous set pieces (Mr. Memory, the little finger, the handcuff scene in the inn) are indelibly imprinted in my memory. Yet I was surprised how fresh the story remains.  It is also a pleasure to enjoy the performance of Robert Donat, a consummate movie actor.  He said the secret of his success was his ability to be still and watching him just listen and think is a treat.  I prefer The Lady Vanishes among Hitchcock’s British films (why did that one not make The List?), but this ranks just behind it. It remains a witty and stylish suspense thriller.

Criterion – Three Reasons:  The 39 Steps

Trailer

You’re Telling Me! (1935)

You’re Telling Me!You're Telling Me DVD
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
1934/USA
Paramount Pictures

First viewing

 

Sam Bisbee: Stand clear and keep your eye on the ball!

When he is not drinking liquor out of a jug, Samuel Bisbee (W.C. Fields) is an optometrist and inventor who embarrasses his long-suffering wife no end.  His daughter is in love with the son of a society family (Buster Krabbe) but they are having none of Sam.  Sam’s hopes are further dashed when he screws up the sales presentation of his puncture-proof tire.  Luckily, Sam meets a princess who solves all his problems.

You're Telling Me 1

The plot, such as it is, only gets in the way of the gags.  Chief among these is a reprise of Fields’s golf routine from his 1930 short “The Golf Specialist”.  Fields is hit and miss with me and, unfortunately, this was a miss.  I smiled a few times but I didn’t laugh.

Clip – the golf routine

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

A Trip to the Moon (“Le voyage dans la lune”)  The Movies Begin DVD
Directed by Georges Méliès
1902/France
Star-Film

#1 of 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die
Multiple Viewings
IMDb users say 8.2/10; I say 9.0/10

 

I thought I’d catch up on some past 1001 Movie Blog Club selections.  What more natural place to start than with the first movie on the list?  As an added bonus, I finally got to see the restored hand-colored version with some additional footage I had never seen.  The restoration, music, and added footage only add to the film’s charm.   I had always thought of this movie as a landmark of early cinema but this viewing had me laughing out loud at some of the ridiculous antics Méliès presents.

Our story begins at a meeting of astronomers.  Their president proposes a trip to the moon.  He gets a generally enthusiastic reception but one of the astronomers objects and the president pelts the culprit with books and papers.  Four astronomers are selected to join the president on the voyage.  The group goes to inspect the spacecraft, which is shaped like a giant bullet.  It will be launched from a cannon and we see the gun being casted.  A bevy of beauties in tights serve as gunners for the launch.  (Méliès uses every opportunity to feature shapely ladies throughout.)

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The spaceship is successfully launched.  In one of the most iconic images in film history, it pierces the eye of the moon.

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The astronauts are tired from their journey and stretch out on the moon’s surface for a nap.  They dream that women in the stars are scolding them for violating the moon.  Phoebus in the form of a lady in the crescent moon sends snow to show the displeasure of the cosmos.  The astronauts are cold and foolishly decide to descend into a crater.  There they find a grotto filled with giant mushrooms.  A vengeful group of moon dwellers called Selenites attack our heroes.  Fortunately, these disappear into a puff of smoke when struck by an umbrella.  Nonetheless, the a mob of Selenites chase the astronauts into the presence of their king but he also is despatched with an umbrella.  The president sacrifices his life to save the other astronauts by staying behind to push the spacecraft off the edge of the moon.  The spacecraft lands in the ocean, where it floats, and is rescued by a steamer.

This is where the film ended in previous versions I watched.  The restored version continues on with a couple of very charming scenes showing the heroic welcome greeting the astronauts.  I am crazy about the monument built in their honor.

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The restoration I watched was based on an original hand-colored print of A Trip to the Moon rediscovered in 1993 by the Filmoteca de Catalunya. Technicolor Lab of Los Angeles launched a frame-by-frame restoration of the almost totally decomposed print in 1999 and completed it in 2010.   Afterwards, West Wing Digital Studios replaced missing frames by hand painting frames from a black and white print. The restored version finally premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, with a new soundtrack by the French band Air.  It was released in 2012 by Flicker Alley in a 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD edition, which included  the documentary The Extraordinary Voyage about its restoration.  I’d like to see that DVD edition sometime.  Alas, it is not available for rent on Netflix.  However,  the restoration itself is available on YouTube or on the Wikipedia site for the film.

Hand-colored version

Tarzan and His Mate

Tarzan and His MateTarzan_and_His_Mate Poster
Directed by Cedric Gibbons
1934/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Second viewing

 

 

Tarzan: Good morning, I love you.

Jane Parker: Good morning, I love you. You never forget, do you, Tarzan?

Tarzan: Never forget… I love you.

Jane’s (Maureen O’Sullivan) ex-fiancee Harry Holt returns to Africa in search of a treasure in ivory in the elephant’s graveyard and in hopes of luring her back to England.  She belongs heart and soul to Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller), however.  Tarzan agrees to lead Harry and his no-good partner to the elephant’s graveyard but balks at letting them take any ivory out.

Tarzan and His Mate

I found this sequel far less offensive than the original Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), although it still suffers from some bwana-itis. The relationship between Tarzan and Jane, and theirs with Cheeta, is quite charming. However, the action palls too soon. It is basically Tarzan wrestling a wild animal into submission over and over again.

This film came out in April 1934 before the Production Code began to be enforced. Clearly, we would not have been treated to a fairly lengthy scene of Jane’s nude underwater bathing otherwise! Interestingly, Tarzan does not feel called upon to skinny dip when he is swimming with her.

Trailer

 

The Gay Divorcee

The Gay DivorceeGay Divorcee DVD
Directed by Mark Sandrich
1934/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

Umpteenth viewing

 

 

Aunt Hortense: Be feminine and sweet. If you can blend the two.

Fred Astaire plays Guy Holden, an American dancer returning to London. He meets Mimi (Ginger Rogers) when she suffers a wardrobe malfunction at London customs. He isn’t too helpful and she gives him the brushoff. She meets him again at an English seaside resort where she has gone to sham an adulterous affair so that her husband will discover it and divorcer her.  A misunderstanding leads her to believe that Guy is the hired correspondent.

"The Continental"

“The Continental”

All this is just a good excuse for the dance numbers which are the whole point. The “Night and Day” ballroom dance is so elegant and sublime that this movie would rank high with me even if that was all it contained. However, we have the almost equally delightful “The Continental” number and a nice tap solo for Fred to “A Needle in a Haystack”.

I find Alice Brady annoying but the always reliable Edward Everett Horton is along as Mimi’s lawyer,  Eric Blore shows why he was the most popular comic butler in Hollywood and Erik Rhodes is hilarious as the egotistical family-man correspondent.  I am crazy for Fred and Ginger.  Lately, I have taken to watching Ginger’s face while they dance.  She was quite an actress and puts her whole self into it.

“Night and Day”