Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Singin’ in the Rainsingin-in-the-rain-film-poster
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden
1952/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Repeat viewing/My DVD collection
#256 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Let the stormy clouds chase/ Everyone from the place/ Come on with the rain/ I’ve a smile on my face – Lyrics by Arthur Freed

By some miracle, a lot of very talented people reached their peak at the same time and created magic.

Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are big silent movie stars, having cranked out one swashbuckler after another.  They are a hot romance according to the fan magazines.  Lina believes her own PR but Don can hardly tolerate her.  Don’s best friend and constant companion is pianist Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), whom he grew up with.  One day, Don meets cute with young Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds).  It is love at fist sight.  Naturally, Lina gets her fired from her job as soon as possible.

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But eventually Don and Kathy reunite and begin dating.  At about this time, The Jazz Singer comes out.  Monumental Productions decides it will rejigger the latest Lockwood and Lamont romance as its first talkie.  This is a disaster on many levels, mostly due to Lina’s horrible speaking voice and inability to take direction.  Don can see his career going through the tubes as well.  Then Cosmo gets the brilliant idea of making the picture over into a musical and getting Kathy to dub Lina’s voice.  With Millard Mitchell as probably the most sympathetic studio head ever put on film and Cyd Charisse as a vamp.

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My plot synopsis does not begin to convey how funny this movie is.  Indeed, I believe that it is so popular among musical haters because it works so well as a comedy – perhaps one of the best ever.  Then there is all that glorious singing and dancing.  To me, Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” number perfectly conveys the essence of giddy new love.  Even the concluding “ballet” works for me.

I have now finally decided that when anyone asks me what my all-time favorite movie is, it will be this one.  Whenever I am looking for a boost I know right where to turn.  It was one of the first movies I saw in a revival theater on the big screen and has not faded over years of repeated viewing.  I saw it on Blu-Ray this time and it looked just gorgeous.

Singin’ in the Rain was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Hagen) and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  I think Hagen was robbed.

Trailer

Les Miserables (1952)

Les Miserableslesmiserables52os
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Written by Richard Murphy from the novel by Victor Hugo
1952/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Etienne Javert: For the police it is never too late. If he’s escaped us tonight then what of tomorrow? Or next week or next year? We are patient men, Robert, and there is no escape.

I wasn’t crazy about this truncated version of the oft-filmed Victor Hugo novel.

Jean Valjean (Michael Rennie) is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a hungry family and is sentenced to ten years of hard labor in the galleys.  The cruel operation is overseen by police official Etienne Javert (Robert Newton).  Javert’s father is serving as a prisoner on the same ship.  His shame at his birth causes Javert to be unbendable where the law in concerned, whatever hardship it may cause.

Valjean finally completes his sentence and is ordered to report to police headquarters in Orleans.  At the same time he is issued documents labelling him as an ex-convict.  These documents and the scars of the collar around his neck insure that common citizens will not associate with him or provide him with food, drink, or lodging.  The increasingly embittered Valjean’s last stop is at the humble home of a cleric.  He is welcomed with open arms.  In response, Valjean disappears with the silverware.  The police catch him but the cleric, who turns out to be a bishop, says he gave the silverware to Valjean and sends him off with it, wishing him a better life.

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Valjean is so moved by this gesture that he reforms.  The proceeds of the silver allow him to buy a pottery and, under an assumed name, he eventually becomes the beloved mayor of the small town he settles in.  Since he never reported to Orleans, he has become a fugitive from justice and would receive a life sentence if caught.

As mayor, he befriends a consumptive streetwalker named Fantine (Sylvia Sidney).  On her deathbed he vows to take care of her child Cosette (Deborah Paget) who is in school.  At the same time, he learns of the trial of a simpleton for being “Jean Valjean” the fugitive.  He goes to the trial to rescue him and is captured by Javert.  Valjean escapes once more and becomes the gardener at the convent where Cosette goes to school.

Since Cosette is already a teenager when Fantine dies, we skip over many hundreds of pages of the novel and are soon in Paris.  There Cosette falls in love with the revolutionary Marius and the fates of both Valjean and Javert are decided with the barricades as backdrop.  With Edmund Gwenn as the bishop and Elsa Lanchester as one of his servants.

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I really can’t imagine any version of Les Miserables that would surpass the 1934 two-part French version by Raymond Bernard and this one doesn’t come anywhere close.  Rennie and Newton are OK but most of the acting is over-earnest.  There is a Hollywood angle to the story that kind of cheapens it.

Trailer

Sudden Fear (1952)

Sudden Fearmasque-arrache-1952-aff-us-01-g
Directed by David Miller
Written by Leonare J. Coffee and Robert Smith from a novel by Edna Sherry
1952/USA
Joseph Kauffmann Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Myra Hudson: I was just wondering what I’d done to deserve you.

A little bit of Joan Crawford goes a long way for me but this is nonetheless a very effective thriller.

Myra Hudson (Joad Crawford) is a celebrated playwright in addition to being an independently wealthy heiress.  She goes to a rehearsal of her latest play and judges that the leading man Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) is not “romantic” enough.   She has the clout to get him fired even though the director and producer think he is wonderful in the role.

The play, naturally, is a smash hit and Myrna heads back to her home town of San Francisco soon after the opening.  She needs to relax so she takes the train.  Lester just happens to be taking the same train.  She spots him in Buffalo and soon they are playing cards and flirting with each other.  By the time they reach San Francisco she has clearly changed her mind as to how “romantic” he is.  They are married soon after.

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After they return from their honeymoon, Myra throws a big party to introduce Lester to her friends.  One of the guests is the son of her lawyer and he brings his latest flame, Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame).  It turns out Lester knew Irene very, very well in the past.  Soon they are seeing each other behind Myra’s back.

Irene happens upon a draft will drawn up by Myra’s lawyer that leaves Lester only $10,000 a year to be withdrawn on his remarriage.  The couple decides that Myra must go before she can sign the will.  But, unbeknownst to them, their conversation has been recorded on Myra’s automatic dictating machine and Myra is on to them.  The rest of the film is a mostly dialogue-free telling of Myra’s heartbreak, revenge plan, and fearful encounter with Lester.  With Mike Connors in his debut as the lawyer’s son.

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The first part of the film is pretty standard melodrama sparked up by the always enjoyable Palance and Grahame.  Then the film goes into high gear and it is one wild ride to the end. Crawford does a lot of acting with her eyebrows, but it seems appropriate this time given the panic she is in.  This is a handsome looking film and well worth seeing at least once.

Sudden Fear was nominated for Oscars in the categories of Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor (Palance), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, and Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.

Re-release Trailer

Clash by Night (1952)

Clash by Nightclash-by-night-movie-poster-1952-1020414114
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Alfred Hayes from a play by Clifford Odets
1952/USA
RKO Radio Pictures; Wald/Krasna Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Peggy: Since when did you start recommending marriage?

Earl Pfeiffer: [Sardonically] Since I got my divorce.

If you did not know, you would never guess that Fritz Lang had directed this melodrama.

Jerry D’Amato (Paul Douglas) captains his Sicilian-American family’s fishing boat and looks after his drunken father and greedy uncle (J. Carroll Naish).  His best friend is the more flamboyant Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan) who is the projectionist at the local movie theater. Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) comes back to the small seaside community after losing one too many times at love in the big city.  She spars with Earl but starts to go out with Jerry.  Eventually they marry and have a little girl.  There is a running subplot of the teenage romance between Mae’s brother Joe and Peggy (Marilyn Monroe).

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Earl gets a divorce (we never see his wife) and starts hanging around Jerry’s house more and more.  Although Mae adores the baby, her relationship with her husband leaves her bored and restless.  The inevitable occurs.

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This movie is relatively highly rated but was not for me.  I had a hard time getting past Paul Douglas as a simple Italian-American fisherman.  Perhaps to compensate for his miscasting, he overacts terribly in the climactic scenes. Stanwyck and Ryan were good as always and this is an opportunity to see Monroe coming into her own .  There is nothing about the story that we haven’t seen before many, many times.

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Clip – Monroe on the beach

Moulin Rouge (1952)

Moulin RougePoster - Moulin Rouge (1952)_02
Directed by John Huston
Written by Huston and Anthony Veiller from a novel by Pierre La Mure
1952/USA
Romulus Films Inc/Moulin Productions Inc.
First viewing/YouTube

Prudish woman: You should be arrested. To hang such a thing on your wall! Look at this woman. She is undressing, with a man looking on! Disgusting!

Henri: Forgive me, madame, the lady is not undressing, she is dressing. The gentleman happens to be her husband. They are celebrating their twenty-seventh wedding anniversary. They are going to have dinner with their oldest son. He is a taxidermist. I am appalled that you should thus malign these good people. It goes to prove what I have always maintained, that evil exists only in the eye of the beholder. I will thank you to stop looking at my pictures.

This biopic of the short, sad life of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is amazing looking but not totally satisfying in some way.

Henri (Jose Ferrer) is born the heir to the ancient aristocratic title of the Count Alfonse de Toulouse-Lautrec (also played by Ferrer) and his gentle religious wife.  Father and mother are first cousins, the latest in a long line of traditional inbreeding.  Henri is born with a number of ailments but with an obvious talent in drawing that is prized by both father and mother.  When he is 13 he falls downstairs and fractures both legs.  The bones refuse to mend properly.  After a number of surgeries and other procedures the doctors conclude there is nothing to be done.  The legs will not grow thereafter.  This leaves Henri with the torso of a man and abnormally short legs.  Rejected by his childhood sweetheart, Henri decides to leave for Paris.

He develops a lifelong alcohol problem.  He spends all his evenings drinking and sketching in the bohemian Moulin Rouge, where can-can dancers and other performers scandalize the City.  Lautrec is a great favorite of both the management and the performers.

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One day, Henri helps a prostitute, Marie Charlette (Colette Marchand) to escape arrest by the police.  She goes home with him and seems not to mind his deformity.  They have a very stormy relationship but she always comes back to the generous Henri.  After she breaks his heart, he eventually becomes a close friend and escort of Myriamme, a couture seamstress and admirer of his art.  This relationship comes to a sad end as well.  Henri basically drinks himself to death but leaves behind much beautiful art.  With Zsa Zsa Gabor as a famous singer.

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Huston, who I don’t think of primarily as a visual filmmaker, really captures the color and texture of Lautrec’s most famous posters and paintings in this film.  I hope someday to see a restored print.  It must be breathtaking.  Anyone who has seen Ferrer as Cyrano de Bergerac will be able to imagine his performance here in a similarly sardonic, tragically romantic character.  Huston was also at least partially responsible for the script but I found it lacked the bite of his best work and dragged.  Worth seeing for the visuals, especially if you can find it in a better print than that currently available on YouTube.

Moulin Rouge won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color and Best Costume Design, Color.  It was nominated in the categories of:  Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actress (Marchand); Best Director; and Best Film Editing.  I don’t see how this missed at least a nomination in the Best Cinematography category.

Trailer

Above and Beyond (1952)

Above and Beyondabove_and_beyond
Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama
Written by Frank, Panama, and Beirne Lay Jr.; story by Lay
1952/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

“The movie ‘Above and Beyond’ starring Robert Taylor didn’t get anything right, … ‘Above and Beyond’ script writers put the words, ‘Oh my God, what have we done?’ into my mouth,’ Tibbets said. ‘I never said that. Bob Lewis (the copilot) wrote ‘my God’ in his journal he was keeping on the flight. That’s how I remember it, anyway.’” — Paul Tibbets

This account of preparation to drop the first atomic bomb seems to have been pretty heavily fictionalized.  There’s also some propaganda.  Nevertheless, it’s quite watchable.

The story is told in flashback from the point of view of Lucey Tibbits (Eleanor Parker), who is nervously awaiting the return of her husband from a bombing mission to Japan.

Maj. Gen. Vernon Brent is looking for a good pilot to head the ultra-secret “Operation Silverplate” that will test the B-29 bomber which is slated to drop the atomic bomb.  He finds his man in Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets (Robert Taylor), who has just been denied promotion for questioning his commanding officer.  Tibbets is cleared within an inch of his life and posted to Wendover Field, Utah.  He is expect to keep strict discipline over his men, who are forbidden at the point of summary shooting to enter restricted areas without a pass.  Few know the actual purpose of the testing.  In all this, Tibbets is assisted, and closely watched, by Security Officer Maj. Bill Uanna (James Whitmore) the only other person who knows the details of the mission.

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Uanna eventually decides that it best to move all the wives of the men to Wendover, where they can be better controlled via confinement to the base.  He discourages Tibbets from bringing Lucey however.  The pregnant Lucey is thus left to give birth on her own in Washington.  Lucey has had very few days with her husband during their entire marriage. After the couple’s second son is born she insists on moving to Wendover.

When she gets there, she finds that the wives and men resent her husband mightily.  They figure their mission could not be anything very serious if it is headed by a mere lieutenant colonel like Tibbets and if the wives are being allowed on base.  They see Tibbets as overly heavy handed and self-important.  Lucey defends her husband and then begins to change her mind.  He refuses to tell her anything about anything he does and keeps ordering her to stay out of his business.  The marriage is strained practically to the breaking point.

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I don’t care much for Robert Taylor in his matinee idol persona, but I do like him when he plays a tough guy.  Here he is definitely a grim, overly controlled tough guy and is very good.  Eleanor Parker has the thankless role of asking many inane questions and refusing to accept anything at face value but she is good at it too.  We are reminded over and over that the bomb’s purpose is to end the war fast and avoid massive additional casualties on both sides but this is not too preachy or heavy handed.  It’s not a bad watch.

Above and Beyond was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Writing, Motion Picture Story and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Hugo Friedhofer).

Trailer

Room for One More (1952)

Room for One MoreRoom-for-One-More-Poster
Directed by Norman Taurog
Written by Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson from the book by Anna Perrot Rose
1952/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Amazon Instant

George ‘Poppy’ Rose: [to the dog after the kids give an anonymous vote] It was anonymous eh? Who did you vote for?

If an utterly predictable heartwarming comedy can be genuinely funny, this is the movie that will prove it.

George Rose (Cary Grant) works as an engineer.  His wife Anna (Betsy Drake) keeps house and looks after their three young children.  One day, Anna goes with her PTA group to visit an orphanage.  The director explains to the ladies how hard it is to place their older charges with families.  They are not signing up in droves to take one home with them.  The director asks Anna to stay behind.  There is a young adolescent girl with emotional problems that she thinks Anna could do wonders with.  Anna promises to bring the matter up with George.  He is unenthusiastic to say the least.  But the director simply shows up with the girl, Jane, and the couple agree to take her for two weeks.  She has a gigantic chip on her shoulder and a sharp tongue to boot.

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It is not going to be a surprise to anyone that Anna ends up breaking through to the girl and she becomes one of the family.  After some time, the family agrees to take a disabled boy with them on their beach vacation.  He is even more of a pain than Jane was.  I could go on but it is unecessary.

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I went into this one with some apprehension and wound up liking it a lot.  Cary Grant makes this movie.  He is playing against type as a family man and I was totally believing it within about five minutes.  He also has great chemistry with Betsy Drake.  I don’t thing I have seen Drake in anything before, a pity since I found her quite appealing.   There are some pretty funny bits here and the kids aren’t too annoying. If you are looking for something light and wholesome, this would fill the bill admirably.

Montage of Clips

Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)

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Directed by Daniel Mann
Written by Ketti Frings from the play by William Inge
1952/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/You Tube

Doc Delaney: Alcoholics are mostly disappointed men.

Lola Delaney: Sure, I know. [pause] You was never disappointed, were you, Doc?

Shirley Booth is so entirely her character that she breaks your heart.

Lola Delaney (Booth) is one of those women that drives people nuts.  She can’t stop talking and aims way too hard to please.  While alone, she lives in a dream world of romance and music and her brief past as a pretty high school girl.  She stays in her nightclothes way into day and never quite gets around to any housekeeping or cooking. Beneath all of this it is clear that Lola is deeply, tragically lonely.  Her only true friend was apparently Sheba, a dog that ran away weeks or months ago that she continues to call.

Lola is married to Doc Delaney (Burt Lancaster), a recovering alcoholic.  He has somehow won back some of his chiropractic patients.  He spends as much time as possible at work or doing Twelfth Step work in AA.  He is always pleasant to Lola but you can tell that he finds it hard to tolerate her prattling.  He is also seething with resentment.  He was going to a prestigious medical school when he impregnated Lola.  Marrying her meant dropping out.  Then they lost the baby. As for Lola, her strict father has not forgiven her to this day.

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Lola decides to rent a room in house.  The first applicant is a pretty young college student, Marie (Terry Moore).  She ends up taking a downstairs room that she can also use as a studio for her art work.  Terry is an incorrigible flirt and has Doc in her power from day one. Although she is engaged to a boy back home, she is dating a star athlete who spends the entire film trying to get into her pants.  Lola sees this as romantic and spies on their trysts. Doc definitely does not approve and finally breaks under the strain.

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This is a movie to watch for the acting.  Lancaster is cast against type, presumably to add star appeal at the box office, but does well in his role.  Booth, who played the part on Broadway, is the soul of the film. Recommended.

A note about the YouTube version I watched: The print quality was very poor and the film was interrupted by ads at least every ten minutes.  The ads could be switched off after five seconds but it was still a distraction.  There is a version in English with Greek subtitles that looks somewhat better and has no ads.

Shirley Booth won the Oscar for Best Actress.  The film was nominated in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Moore) and Best Film Editing.

Trailer

Secrets of Women (1952)

Secrets of Women “Kvinnors väntan”german-poster-for-secrets-of-women-ingmar-bergman-sweden-1952-artist-heinz-edelmann-1385803383_b
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman; story by Gun Grut
1952/Sweden
Svensk Filmindustri
First viewing/Hulu

 

Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory. — Abraham Lincoln

This episodic film is not one of Bergman’s stronger efforts.  It does have its moments, of course.

The wives of four brothers are gathered together in a lakeside cottage where they await the return of their husbands from an event held by their family company.  In the background sits the much younger sister of one of them.  To kill time and share, each of them relates the story of a pivotal moment in her relationship.

The first is very short and is more a complaint of one of the wives about the lack of passion or intimacy in her marriage.  The second one is the tale of a wife’s adultery with a former lover.  In an effort to resolve her guilt and bring them together, she reveals her indiscretion to her husband and has to deal with the consequences.

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The third wife reaches back to a time before her marriage.  She discovers she is pregnant on the same day her boyfriend’s father dies.  He calls it quits before she has a chance to announce her condition.  When he tries to reconcile, she refuses to take him back.  Most of the episode covers the experience of her childbirth, including a dream scene while she is under ether that presages some of Bergman’s later work.

The last and best story deals with the oldest and wealthiest of the wives, Karin (Eva Dahlbeck).  After a night out, she and her husband Fredrik (Birger Malmsten) are stuck all night in an elevator.  It’s a very witty and even sexy look at what can happen when a long-married couple have some alone time to resolve their problems and rekindle their romance. With Anita Björk and Maj-Britt Nilsson.

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I loved the last story with Dahlbeck and Malmsten.  Bergman really should have done more comedy.  I think the rest might have made pretty good full length films.  The vignettes didn’t give us enough time to really know the characters, I thought.  There’s a lot more hope in this than in some of the director’s previous work, which is a plus.

Discussion of the film – spoilers

Macao (1952)

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Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Written by Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Stanley Rubin; story by Robert Creighton Williams
1952/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

Margie: [to Nick Cochran] You’re up early for a loser.

You’d think the combination of Josef von Sternberg, Robert Mitchum, and Gloria Graham might produce a really classic film noir.  Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case.

Nick Cochran (Mitchum), Julie Benson (Jane Russell), and Lawrence C. Trumbell (William Bendix) meet on the boat from Hong Kong to Macao.  Trumbell is a salesman intent on gambling and Julie intends to get work as a singer.  Nick’s intentions are a bit of a mystery.  Julie introduces herself by lifting Nick’s wallet.  All three end up in the same hotel run by gangster Vince Halloran.

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Vince is tipped off by the local police that Nick is undoubtedly an American cop travelling incognito.  He offers to pay Nick’s way back to Hong Kong via the roulette table, presided over by Margie (Grahame). In the meantime, he hires Julie who he clearly had designs on. Nick and Julie mend their differences and in no time they are an item.  Nick is now not going anywhere.

Lawrence asks Nick to play middleman on a deal to sell a valuable diamond necklace to Vince.  The only catch is that Vince would have to travel to Hong Kong and he has an allergy to being in international waters.  Nick bites and ends up in a world of hurt.

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Despite its exotic setting, this came off as a tired retread of every other film noir ever made.  The story clearly bored Mitchum who sleepwalked through his part.  Or maybe I’ve now seen too many of these things.  The DVD did have a commentary which I haven’t listened to yet.  The history of making movies during the Hughes years at RKO is always worth a listen and his meddling may well have had an effect on the final product.

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