The Devil Is a Woman
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Tagline: Kiss me … and I’ll break your heart!
The film opens with a carnival in turn-of-the-century Spain, all the revelers are masked. Antonio Galvan (Cesar Romero), a fugitive revolutionary, spies the beautiful Concha (Marlene Dietrich) and they make a date for a rendezvous. Before the appointed time he has a chance meeting with his friend Don Pasquale (Lionel Atwill) and tells him about the mysterious beauty. Don Pasquale tells him his long, sad history with this duplicitous vixen to warn Antonio away from her. Alas, Concha’s attractions are too strong for any man to resist … With Edward Everett Horton hiding behind a beard as the governor of the town.
Although Dietrich said this was her favorite picture, I thought it was pretty bad and did her no favors. Although she drives multiple men to their ruin, most of the time she acts like a petulant little girl, stamping her foot when she doesn’t get her way. This is not the aloof Dietrich I love from the earlier films. Her costumes are also very unflattering as far as I am concerned. To add to that Lionel Atwill just wasn’t cut out to be a thwarted lover and Edward Everett Horton is wasted in a part that requires him to be at autocratic bully.
The Spanish government threatened to bar all Paramount films from Spain and its territories unless the film was withdrawn from worldwide circulation. Paramount destroyed the original print after the initial run. New prints were struck after many years from a print Dietrich kept in a bank vault.
Directed by Henry Edwards
Twickenham Film Studios
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
This was the first sound film adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is all business and thinks Christmas is a humbug. His deceased business partner Jacob Marley has learned differently and sends the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future to teach Scrooge a lesson in what Christmas is all about.
It would take a lot to top the 1951 Alistair Sim version of this story in my estimation and this film does not have what it takes. That said, Seymour Hicks makes a very credible Scrooge and this is a pleasant enough entertainment. It does suffer from a bit of over-earnestness in what is already a pretty melodramatic story. It also spends a puzzling amount of time in a 75 minute movie dwelling on atmospheric Christmas scenes that have nothing to do with the story. Not a must but also not unworthy of a viewing.
Werewolf of London
Directed by Stuart Walker
Dr. Yogami: Good day. But remember this Dr. Glendon, the werewolf instinctively seeks to kill the thing it loves best.
The first mainstream Hollywood werewolf movie is pretty good. Botanist Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is searching for a rare flower that blooms only by moonlight in Tibet when he is attacked by a mysterious beast. He manages to return to England with a specimen and devotes himself single-mindedly to experimenting with the plant, thereby further estranging his wife (Valerie Hobson). The mysterious Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland) visits Wilfred and tells him that the flower is the only cure for werewolfery and that there are two werewolves in London. Sure enough, on the first night of the full moon, Wilfred begins to grow hairy palms and discovers that both of his Tibetan flower blossoms have been stolen from his laboratory …
The Wolf Man has never been my favorite Universal monster, largely because of Lon Chaney, Jr’s curious miscasting as an English lord’s son. Henry Hull is much more convincing, as the tormented half-beast. The make-up and transformations, however, are far less impressive than in the 1941 film. It’s fun to see Warner Oland out of his Charlie Chan mode.
Crime and Punishment
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
B.P. Schulberg Productions for Columbia Pictures Corporation
“Do you understand, sir, do you understand what it means when you have absolutely nowhere to turn?” Marmeladov’s question came suddenly into his mind “for every man must have somewhere to turn…” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
I loved this film, a loose adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novel. Raskolnikov (Peter Lorre) graduates with highest honors from university and makes his mother and sister proud. He goes on to write scholarly articles on criminology. He has a sort of Nietzschean theory that ordinary standards cannot be applied to extraordinary men. His articles don’t pay much, however, and he is living in desperate poverty. He goes to a grasping, insulting old pawnbroker to pawn his father’s watch to pay the rent and while there meets a sweet, devout prostitute named Sonya (Marian Marsh).
When he discovers that his sister has lost her position and feels forced to marry a horrible beaurocrat to support herself and their mother, he snaps and murders the pawnbroker for her money. The rest of the story follows the psychological aftermath of the crime on Raskolnikov, the relentless investigation of the murder by Inspector Porfiry, and the redemptive love of Sonya.
According to the commentary track on Mad Love, Peter Lorre agreed to star in that film in exchange for a guarantee that he could make this one. I am glad it worked out because he is simply fantastic in it. It is great to see him exercise a full range of emotion in a complex leading role. My favorite parts were immediately after the crime when the character decided that he no longer feared anything. I laughed out loud several times at the way Lorre delivered the many zingers. He is also pathetic, tender, and hysterical as the moment requires. Marian Marsh is very good and Edward Arnold is almost satanic as the inspector. The film looks quite beautiful despite its low budget thanks to cinematography by Lucien Ballard.
The complete film is currently available at a couple of different obvious online video sources.
To view clips on TCM.com go here: http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/361077/Crime-And-Punishment-Movie-Clip-Contemplating-Life.html
Directed by George Stevens
RKO Radio Pictures
Toby Walker: Well dog my cats!
This well-made romantic biopic exceeded my expectations. Annie Oakley (Barbara Stanwyck) hunts quail to support her family. She is famous for being able to kill them with one shot to the head. When the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show hires world champion sharpshooter Toby Walker (Preston Foster), Toby bets he can beat any comer. Hotel management, which has been buying Annie’s quail, calls on Annie to challenge him. Buffalo Bill talent scout Jeff Hogarth (Melvyn Douglas) is impressed with Annie’s shooting and with Annie and hires her for the show. Annie and Toby become close but an accident enables Jeff to part them. The movie also features several sequences of acts from the show. With Moroni Olsen as Buffalo Bill and Chief Thunderbird as Sitting Bull.
The more movies I see that are directed by George Stevens the more taken with him I am. He seems to bring something to all his films that makes me care about the characters. Barbara Stanwyck’s Annie is far softer and more feminine than the character portrayed in Annie Get Your Gun but still quite believable as a sharpshooter. There is a nice helping of humor thrown in with the romance.
Grave of the Fireflies (“Hotaru no haka”)
Directed by Isao Takahata
Shinchosha Company/Studio Ghibli
#787 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
IMDb users say 8.4/10; I say 9/10
Setsuko: Why must fireflies die so young?
Memorial Day is a fitting time to reflect on all the lives lost to war, including those of the most innocent. Americans should give thanks that civilians have not suffered the horrors of world war on our shores. This animated film poignantly brings home the cost of war to children in other parts of the world.
The date is September 25, 1945. The place is Japan. The narrator informs us that he died today. His name is Seita and he is a young adolescent boy, between about 12 and 14. The film tells his story and that of his pre-school age sister Setsuko.
Their mother is killed at a shelter in a fire bombing; father is away at war. The children head for an aunt’s house. The aunt takes them in but increasingly makes it clear that they are an inconvenience. Furthermore, she constantly nags Seita about his failure to work in the war industry or fight fires during the air raids. Eventually, she starts withholding the best of the food from the children on the ground that they are not pulling their weight.
Disgusted, Seita decides the children will be better off on their own and takes his sister to an abandoned shelter in the country. At first, they live a kind of carefree life but rapidly the struggle for survival takes over. Seita resorts to stealing but even that is not enough.
It is fortunate that this film is animated. A live action film detailing the hardships these poor children must suffer would be just too hard to take. This is sad enough as it is. The animation is extremely beautiful, as is the music. The relationship between the brother and sister is very touching and kind. The film is not totally downbeat. There are many lovely scenes of the children playing together.
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
The Ladd Company through Warner Bros
#673 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Matty: [to Ned] You aren’t too smart, are you? I like that in a man.
It’s 1001 Movie Sunday and the Random Number Generator has come through again, this time with a neo-noir gem from the ’80’s.
Ned Racine (William Hurt) is a womanizing lawyer, with few scruples and less brains, in a small Florida town. During a scorching summer, he meets Mattie (Kathleen Turner), a seductive married lady, and decides he must have her. So begins a plot a bit reminiscent of Double Indemnity with several differences. It would be criminal to give anything away. With Richard Crenna as Mattie’s husband; Ted Danson as Ned’s friend the Assistant D.A.; J.A. Preston as Ned’s friend the police detective; and Micky Rourke as an arsonist.
A modern-day Medusa
This was screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan’s directorial debut and he worked from his own script which perfectly captures the cynicism and irony of classic film noir. He shows a deep understanding of the noir style and sensibility and updates it seamlessly. It is as if the film makers for such classics as Out of the Past were suddenly given a budget to shoot in color and the opportunity to make the sexual hold of the femme fatale over the protagonist explicit instead of implied. Heat permeates the film and a kind of red glow blankets the lovers to replace some of the chiaroscuro lighting of the films noir.
The ingenious story works well on its own but is doubly delicious in the context of the older films to which it refers. The cast is uniformly excellent. I am particularly fond of Kathleen Turner’s Mattie, who must be one of the most thoroughly ruthless vamps in film history. The jazz-inflected score by John Barry adds to the atmosphere.
Directed by Irving Cummings
Fox Film Corporation
Reynolds: My word, miss. You *are* a package.
This is the kind of movie that gives Shirley Temple a bad name in some circles. Elizabeth Blair (Shirley Temple) and her grown-up sister Mary (Rochelle Hudson) are orphans living in an asylum. One day when the trustees are visiting the home, a new, immensely wealthy, handsome young trustee Edward Morgan (John Boles) espies Elizabeth singing “Animal Crackers” to her fellow orphans and it is love at first sight. He brings the sisters to his Southhampton summer home where everyone, including the servants, goes gaga over the little moptop and Morgan falls in love with Mary.
I’m proud to be a Shirley Temple fan but this one is not good. She is almost too cute and nothing rings true. The songs are OK, though Boles has a couple of numbers that I could have lived without as well.
The Wedding Night
Directed by King Vidor
I’m about ten films away from finishing up 1935. Running into a film like this one that I had never heard of makes me glad that I stick with it until the end. This romantic drama really impressed me.
Gary Cooper plays Tony Barrett, a hard-drinking washed-up novelist who can’t even get an advance on his next book. He and his wife Dora move to his family farmhouse in Connecticut where they can live for free. Their neighbors are a community of very traditional Poles. One of these buys some of Tony’s acreage and Dora, who decides she doesn’t like country life, moves back to New York. Tony remains behind and finds inspiration for his next book in Anya (Anna Sten), the daughter of his neighbors. He also gradually falls in love with her. But she has a strict Polish upbringing and is promised in marriage to a local boy. With Ralph Bellamy (complete with Polish accent!) as the loutish fiance.
This is a very mature and realistic sort of romance and the performances are terrific. It’s refreshingly different from the all too familiar plotlines of other films of the period. I think Cooper’s performance equals or betters anything he ever did. The movie is also beautiful to look at with cinematography by Gregg Toland and many Polish folkloric details. Highly recommended.
King Vidor won the award for best director at the 1935 Venice Film Festival for this film, which was nominated for the Mussolini Cup.
To watch clips on TCM: http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/290368/Wedding-Night-The-Movie-Clip-Give-Another-Pig-.html
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Directed by William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt
Puck: Lord, what fools these mortals be!
This big-screen adaptation of the popular Shakespearean comedy has its plusses and minuses. The story takes place on the eve of the marriage of the Duke of Athens to the Queen of the Amazons. Four young lovers congregate in a wood on the same night some rustics are rehearsing for a performance at the wedding feast. The king and queen of the fairies and their minions amuse themselves by playing tricks on the mortals and each other. With an all-star cast, including Olivia de Havilland in her screen debut as Hermia, Dick Powell as Lysander, James Cagney as Bottom, Joe E. Brown as Flute, Mickey Rooney as Puck, and Anita Louise as Titania, Queen of the Fairies.
This film was not a box-office success and I can see why. It takes some getting used to. The production is absolutely beautiful and brilliantly conveys the enchanted world of the fairies. The film is gloriously scored to Mendelssohn’s incidental music for the play, as orchestrated by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The cinematography by Hal Mohr and art direction by Anton Grot are spectacular.
In my opinion, the performances are much less successful. This film was based on a Max Reinhardt production at the Hollywood Bowl and I attribute some of the truly weird acting choices to Reinhardt. For example, the fairy characters, and especially Puck, shriek, laugh, and make strange noises to convey their other-worldliness. It is very odd. Mickey Rooney’s performance was downright irritating, almost embarrassing, for me. Cagney and the other rustics are pretty good. Of the lovers, de Havilland is the standout.
The film won Oscars for editing and cinematography. Hal Mohr had not been nominated and was the first and only recipient to win an award based on a write-in vote. It was also nominated for Best Picture.
General Release Trailer