Bette Davis, taking time off from her big dramatic roles, as an eloping heiress in a screwball farce, with James Cagney opposite her. The heiress is about to marry an obnoxious bandleader (Jack Carson) when her father arranges with a pilot (Cagney) to kidnap her and bring her home. The plane makes an emergency landing in Death Valley, and Davis and Cagney battle each other with wisecracks, and her rump hits a bed of cactus. The material is very tired and the production is so unpretentious it suggests financial embarrassment, but Davis shrieks her lines happily, and Cagney sticks out his ample gut and holds his ground. Both of them mug good-naturedly, and it's pleasantly fast. Directed by William Keighley, from a screenplay by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, from a story by Kenneth Earl and M.M. Musselman. With Stuart Erwin, George Tobias, Eugene Pallette, Harry Davenport, William Frawley, Chick Chandler, and Edward Brophy. Warners.
When the sheriff (Robert Preston) brings home a bride (the charming toothy Marjorie Steele), the town drunkard, Scratchy (Minor Watson), the last roaring, gun-toting bad man left in Yellow Sky, takes it as the final encroachment of civilization and goes on a rampage. The tang of James Agee's adaptaion of the Stephen Crane story helps to make this one of the most entertaining American short-story films, despite rather laborious direction by Bretaigne Windust. With Olive Carey and Dan Seymour, and Agee in a small part. Produced by Huntington Hartford, as half the feature FACE TO FACE, along with Joseph Conrad's THE SECRET SHARER. (The script is available in Agee on Film, Vol.II.) Released by RKO.
This caricature by some very knowing people is a macabre comedy classic. The monster (Boris Karloff) is the only sympathetic character. James Whale, who had a good gothic sense of humor, directed, with Elsa Lanchester as Mary Shelley in the prologue, and then as the Bride. A character in Elizabeth Macklin's story "Circle of Friends" describes the Bride's birth, how she is "zapped into life by the lightning coming down the kite wires into the laboratory." And then "she's standing there, the bandages are just off, the bells are ringing, and her hair is flying all around her face and she's actually scintillating, moving her head around in quick jerks, like some kind of electrified bird!" For many of us this scene-and the way she said "Eeeek" in revulsion when she saw her intended-was so satisfyingly silly that whenever we saw Elsa Lanchester in other roles we were likely to break out in a grin of childish pleasure. She won our hearts forever, as Margaret Hamilton did as the wicked witch in THE WIZARD OF OZ. (Who cared about the icky sweet Glinda?) This Bride drives the poor monster to despair. With Colin Clive as Baron Frankenstein, Valerie Hobson as his wife, the deliciously desiccated Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius, Una O'Connor, Dwight Frye, O.P. Heggie, E.E. Clive, Gavin Gordon as Byron, and Douglas Walton as Shelley. Written by John L. Balderston and William Hurlbut. Universal.
Bernhard Wicki directed this brutally cool and lucid account of how German schoolboys were drafted in the last days of the Second World War and insanely and absurdly sacrificed. Oddly, the film has acquired a following among conservatives and militarists who think the massacred innocents died nobly. Adapted from a novel by Manfred Gregor. In German.
David Lean's big and engrossing Academy Award winner, adapted from Pierre Boulle's novel about prisoners of war held in Burma by the Japanese. The film is rather misshapen, particularly in the sections featuring William Holden, and the action that detonates the explosive finish isn't quite clear. However, Alec Guinness is compelling as the English Colonel Nicholson, a stickler for rules who courageously defies the Japanese by legalistic means, and then goes haywire and restores morale among the men in the prison camp by putting them to work building a bridge for their captors-a bridge that will enable the Japanese to bring up troop reinforcements. With Sessue Hayakawa, Jack Hawkins, James Donald, André Morell, and Geoffrey Horne. Produced by Sam Spiegel; cinematography by Jack Hildyard; the screenplay, credited to Boulle, was written by the blacklisted Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, who received their Academy Awards, posthumously, in 1985. Filmed in Ceylon. Columbia. .
David Lean directed this romantic expansion of Noel Coward's one-act play Still Life (from the collection of one-act plays, Tonight at 8:30)-an evocation of the emotions that lie dormant in respectable, middle-class existence. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard play the pair who fall passionately in love but agree not to see each other again and return to their responsibilities. And they do this with such touching restraint that they broke many hearts. A celebrated, craftsmanlike tearjerker, and incredibly neat. There's not a breath of air in it. Noel Coward's material is implicitly condescending even while he's making the two heroic. With Stanley Holloway, Joyce Carey, Cyril Raymond, Irene Handl, and Valentine Dyall. Cinematography by Robert Krasker; adaptation by Coward; the music is Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2.
Vittorio De Sica's final collaboration with the scriptwriter Cesare Zavattini was on this story of Clara (Florinda Bolkan), a Calabrian peasant who is a factory worker in Milan; resentful, beaten down to a morose stupor, she's also oppressed by her husband (Renato Salvatori), who uses her sexually as if she were a farm beast he owned. When she collapses and is sent to a sanatorium in northern Italy to be cured of tuberculosis, the schizoid picture leaves this working-class grimness behind; it's swoony romanticism from then on. Clara discovers art and spirituality, and she finds a frail, dewy-eyed lover (Daniel Quenaud) who drips nobility as only a narcissistic bad actor can. Sedately sentimental, with Adriana Asti playing a feverishly frisky, dying music-hall entertainer in the gallant-waif Piaf style. Cinematography by Ennio Guarnieri. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
MGM was having an economy drive, and this adaptation of Lerner and Loewe's Broadway hit musical fantasy, which was scheduled to be shot on location in Scotland, was instead done in the studio. Also by executive decree, the director, Vincente Minnelli, had to do it in CinemaScope-which, for dance in studio settings, was disastrous. Gene Kelly and Van Johnson play the two Americans hunting in the Scottish Highlands who stumble into Brigadoon, a magical village that went to sleep in 1754 and wakes for a day each century. Kelly falls in love with a local girl (Cyd Charisse), while Johnson maintains a cynical attitude. Probably the material was too precious and fake-lyrical to have worked in natural surroundings, either, but the way it has been done it's hopelessly stagey. The movie has one sensational sequence, when the action gets away from that damned idyllic village and Kelly and Johnson go to a jangly, noisy Manhattan nightclub with Elaine Stewart; you can feel Minnelli's relief at being able to do something funny and bitchy after staging all those wholesome scenes with grinning men in tartans. Arthur Freed produced; Lerner wrote the script; Kelly choreographed. With Hugh Laing, Barry Jones, Eddie Quillan.
The Jay McInerney book came out in 1984, in paperback-and that was right for it, because the story has no heft, no substance. Smart and maudlin, it's a just about perfect pop novel-so pop it's almost nothing. The hero works as a fact checker at a magazine modelled on The New Yorker (McInerney worked at the magazine for a little under six months in 1980) and spends his nights in the coke-snorting high wild life of the disco-party scene. The movie version, directed by James Bridges, from a script he devised with McInerney, follows the novel very closely but drugs and AIDS have created a time warp between the early 80s and the late 80s, and the movie doesn't provide the seductiveness, the kick, the high. And, without that sexy glow, the movie has no vision. As the hero, Michael J. Fox does fine work; onscreen in every scene, he keeps the character from being an obnoxious crybaby, and he suggests some interior life. The sly John Houseman has become a comedian at 85; he gives the standout performance in the brief role of the magazine's imposing editor-in-chief, his shoulders slumped in sorrow over the factual errors that the hero has allowed to creep into the magazine. And Jason Robards gives the movie a flourish: he's a talkative, lonely old swillpot-a onetime writer, now a hanger-on in the fiction department, who guzzles vodka Martinis until his eyes glaze over. The picture isn't terrible, just terribly dull. It feels dated, especially in the scenes that "explain" the hero and show his redemption-the banality comes down on you like drizzle. With Kiefer Sutherland, Dianne Wiest, Frances Sternhagen, Charlie Schlatter, Swoosie Kurtz, Phoebe Cates, William Hickey, and Tracy Pollan. Cinematography by Gordon Willis; the score, which seems buried, is by Donald Fagen. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
The 1982 play-the first in Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical trilogy-was acclaimed as a deepening of Simon's talent, a move beyond wisecracking Broadway entertainment to something true. The film is a faithful version, adapted by Simon himself and directed by Gene Saks, who staged the play for LA and Broadway, and it features such celebrated performers as Blythe Danner, Bob Dishy, and Judith Ivey. They certainly help, but the whole experience of this lower-middle-class-family drama set in 1937 is so drab that even these performers finally fade into the dark wallpaper. The material doesn't have the noisy abrasiveness of many of Simon's earlier plays-into-films; you're not subjected to verbal exchanges that beat a tattoo on your skull. However, it's not exactly an improvement to get near-realistic misery: his life as a horny 15-year-old (Jonathan Silverman), with a closed-minded, suspicious mother (Danner). This woman who kills any possibility of domestic pleasures-it's like living with a hanging judge-would breed rage. But Simon doesn't seem to know what to do with her (or with the boy's responses to her). The film's tone is jokey nostalgia. The boy sees the lunacy in his mother's behavior, but he sees it humorously, as if it gave him no pain. Simon instinctively makes things easy and palatable, and there's a penalty: it's the retrograde, pepless snooziness of the picture. You come out feeling half dead. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Graham Greene's 1938 novel about a man who goes to hell was filmed with the young and chilling Richard Attenborough as the vicious teenage leader of a gang of slashers. In this tense thriller, the suspense is indistinguishable from dread-everything is tinged with evil. With Hermione Baddeley as the blowsy singer, Harcourt Williams as the dilapidated lawyer, and William Hartnell and Carol Marsh. Boulting and Roy Boulting produced and directed; adapted by Greene and Terence Rattigan.
Lunatic comedies of the 30s generally started with an heiress. This one starts with an heiress (Katharine Hepburn) who has a dog, George, and a leopard, Baby. Cary Grant is a paleontologist who has just acquired the bone he needs to complete his dinosaur skeleton. George steals the bone, Grant and Baby chase each other around, the dinosaur collapses-but Grant winds up with Hepburn, and no paleontologist ever got hold of a more beautiful set of bones. The director, Howard Hawks, keeps all this trifling nonsense in such artful balance that it never impinges on the real world; it may be the American movies' closest equivalent to Restoration comedy. With Charles Ruggles as an explorer, Barry Fitzgerald as a drunk, May Robson as a dowager, Walter Catlett as a sheriff, and Fritz Feld as a frenzied psychoanalyst. George is played by Asta, of The Thin Man Series. The screenplay is by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde, from Wilde's story. (This picture was the taking-off point for Peter Bogdanovich's comedy WHAT'S UP, DOC?) RKO.
Ingmar Bergman directed this study of women in a maternity hospital-and a gory, dreary film it is. With Eva Dahlbeck, Ingrid Thulin, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson, and Max von Sydow. Screenplay by Bergman and Ulla Isakssom (from her short story). In Swedish.
The writer-producer-director James L. Brooks puts us inside the world of a network's Washington bureau and sets up an adversarial relationship between the reddish-blond charmer Tom (William Hurt), who represents TV's corruption of the news into entertainment, and dark, broody Aaron (Albert Brooks), a near-genius newsman who, on the surface, at least, represents substance and integrity. The heroine, Jane (Holly Hunter), is a producer, and she and Aaron are supposed to be high-principled professionals, as well as close friends. The satirical, romantic-comedy dilemma is that Jane finds herself falling in love with Tom, who incarnates everything that she despises. It's fun to see a workaday world presented so that it moves and keeps you off balance and looks authentic, and the picture has some witty dialogue. But basically all it's saying is that beautiful, assured people have an edge over the rest of us, no matter how high our I.Q.s are. And it lacks any filmmaking excitement. With all the surface authenticity Jim Brooks gives us, he himself represents the corruption of movies into TV. The actors are vivid; they're like pop-up figures in a child's book, as they often are in sit-coms. (Albert Brooks is the only one who goes beyond that: he gives the picture its bit of soul.) With Joan Cusack, Lois Chiles, Robert Prosky, Peter Hackes, and, as the big cheese, the New York anchorman, Jack Nicholson, who's not listed in the opening credits. Released by 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Danny Rose is a small-time booking agent, a little schmo in loud plaids who nurtures his more promising clients until they're on the brink of stardom, at which point they invariably leave him and sign up with big-time agents. The new Judas in his life is Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), a barrel-chested singer in his forties with a dimply, piggy Vegas smile and a voice to make musicians shudder. Woody Allen, who plays Danny and who also wrote and directed this Damon Runyonesque movie, isn't working with post-Freudian comedy here; he has left out the hostility that made him famous, and the imagination and freak lyricism, too. Danny is Mr. Goodness-and-Poignancy; he's a Chaplinesque moral presence in a world of Catskills comics and Mafia hoods. The movie is about how Lou Canova's ruthless, tough girlfriend Tina (Mia Farrow, disguised with a nasal accent, fright wig, shades, and some padding) learns to appreciate Danny. Shot in grainy black and white, the material is rather unformed. It's dim and larval, like Danny. Allen leaves us in the uncomfortable position of waiting for laugh lines and character developments that aren't there. The picture has a curdled, Diane Arbus bleakness, but it also has some good fast talk and some push. Allen plugs up the holes with gags that still get laughs; he remembers to pull the old Frank Capra, cut-rate Dickens strings, and he keeps things moving along. Orion
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
When talkies were new, this was the musical that everyone went to see. It's the one with "The Wedding of the Painted Doll" and "Broadway Melody," of course, and "You Were Meant for Me," all by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. It's the one with Anita Page and Bessie Love as the sisters from tank-town vaudeville whose hearts are broken in the big city. With Charles King, Kenneth Thomson, Jed Prouty, and Mary Doran. Directed by Harry Beaumont, with ensemble numbers staged by George Cunningham; produced by Harry Rapf. MGM. (.)
An MGM musical with Eleanor Powell (a dynamo, all right, but she manages to be wholesome even in glittering top hat and tails), Robert Taylor, Buddy Ebsen, Jack Benny, Frances Langford, Una Merkel, and June Knight. A good score by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown includes "I Gotta Feelin' You're Foolin'," "You Are My Lucky Star," and "Broadway Rhythm." Roy Del Ruth directed.
The script is something dim about backstage troubles before the opening of a giant musical, and this follow-up to the hit BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936, which had also featured Eleanor Powell, Robert Taylor, and Buddy Ebsen, and been directed by Roy Del Ruth, seems routine. The score, once again by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, doesn't have the same excitement. But something startling and joyful happens when the 15-year-old Judy Garland, in bobby socks, lets out her huge voice on the memorable love letter, "Dear Mr. Gable" (to the tune of "You Made Me Love You"). She had made her feature-film début the year before in PIGSKIN PARADE, but this was her first feature at MGM. In the finale the little bobby-soxer is paired with the tall Ebsen (whose gangly loose dancing was always a high spot of these MGM musicals) and she looks like the most radiantly normal of children. With George Murphy, Sophie Tucker, Binnie Barnes, Billy Gilbert, Raymond Walburn, Charley Grapewin, Willie Howard, Sid Silvers, Igor Gorin, and Robert Benchley. Produced by Jack Cummings; written by Jack McGowan and Silvers.
Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, and George Murphy. That's a lot of tapping. Astaire and Murphy are both hoping to get the Broadway role opposite the dancing star, Powell; by mistake, the producers hire Murphy, but Astaire gets to play it, after all. This is a big, lavish MGM musical, with a Cole Porter score and lots of spectacular dancing; what's missing is romance, sensuousness, magic. The indefatigable, intensely dull Eleanor Powell is better on her own than when she has a partner and is still on her own. With Astaire nearby, you're terribly aware of what long arms she has and what a jolly, good-natured, big, all-American girl she is. (Her costumes always suggest uniforms.) Their dancing together does have vitality and verve, and at times it's good, carefree hoofing, but it seems healthy and impersonal. Even in the finale, when they dance to "Begin the Beguine"-the only song that Porter didn't write specially for the film-it isn't memorable. The new songs include "I Concentrate on You," sung by Douglas McPhail, and "I've Got My Eyes on You," and a real bummer that Astaire and Murphy team up for-it's called "Please Don't Monkey with Broadway." With Frank Morgan, Ian Hunter, Florence Rice, Lynne Carver, Herman Bing, Jack Mulhall, Joe Yule, and Barbara Jo Allen (Vera Vague) as a receptionist. Produced by Jack Cummings; directed by Norman Taurog; script by Leon Gordon and George Oppenheimer, from a story by Dore Schary and Jack McGowan. The choreography is by Astaire and Bobby Connolly.
An MGM musical hodgepodge that enlisted the dubious talents of popular performers from radio, and other lesser luminaries. It starred Ginny Simms, who had a lot of teeth for the camera, and George Murphy, who was always short on charisma. The score is mostly mediocre, but with some big exceptions-"All the Things You Are," "Irresistible You," and "Pretty Baby." The picture has some genuine attractions: Ben Blue, Gloria DeHaven, Kenny Bowers, the very young Nancy Walker, and Lena Horne, singing, of course, and hoofing (with John Thomas and Archie Savage). The seductive Miss Horne is more full-bodied here than in her later streamlined, agelessly beautiful incarnation, and she's bouncier, too. Also with Hazel Scott, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Charles Winninger, Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra. Produced by Jack Cummings; directed by Roy Del Ruth; screenplay by Dorothy Kingsley and Harry Clork; remotely based on the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II show Very Warm for May.
Three generations of a theatrical family, headed by Alice Brady and Frank Morgan; there are song-and-dance interludes, but mostly it's about the domestic loyalties of stupefyingly dull people. With Mickey Rooney, at 10 (it was his first MGM picture), and Jimmy Durante, Madge Evans, Jackie Cooper, Fay Templeton, Eddie Quillan, Russell Hardie, May Robson, Una Merkel, and-in his screen début-Nelson Eddy. Produced by Harry Rapf; directed by Willard Mack, from a script he wrote with Edgar Allan Woolf; lackluster score.
Everybody seems to enjoy this movie. It's full of legend and romance and action. The setting is Arizona in those confused days after the Civil War when renegades from both armies were causing trouble among the Indians. James Stewart plays the ex-Union officer who befriends the Apache Cochise (Jeff Chandler) and marries an Apache princess (Debra Paget). Delmer Daves directed this adaptation of the novel Blood Brother, by Elliott Arnold, and though the picture never won any Academy Awards or brotherhood awards, it has probably done more to soften the hearts of racists than most movies designed to instruct, indict, and inspire. (That Indian princess was no squaw.) Part of the pleasure of the film is that its treatment of the Indians-vs.-settlers theme doesn't violate the conventions of the genre. Though the script was credited to Michael Blankfort, most of it was written by the blacklisted Albert Maltz. 20th Century-Fox.
D.W. Griffith's stylized lyric tragedy-a small-scale film that is one of his most poetic, and one of his finest. With Lillian Gish as the childish waif (the source, possibly, of the Giulietta Masina role in LA STRADA), Donald Crisp as the brutal Zampanò-like prizefighter, and Richard Barthelmess as the lonely Chinese dreamer. (The original prints were tinted and it was first exhibited with additional color-a "Chinese blue" glow thrown from the projection booth onto the screen.) Silent.