My Week of Films – September 16 to 21, 2019

Lynn Bari and I beg your pardon!

You know when you’re thinking of a list of things and you feel like you’ve left something out but you can’t remember what it is for the life of you.  That’s what I thought when I wrote about the films I saw the previous week; that I left one off the list.  And it was:

Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952), directed by Douglas Sirk, with Piper Laurie, Rock Hudson, Charles Coburn, Lynn Bari and…Gigi Perreau, who I met at Cinecon a couple of weeks ago.  Although it’s not the type of film I usually enjoy watching, the story is fun to tell.  It’s a comedy and the storyline has some relevancy–what would you do if you were given a bucket-full of money.  Well, that’s not the “relevancy”.  The people who receive the money have no idea that it’s a test to see if they will use it wisely or stupidly.  The story takes place in the 1920s, before the Great Depression.  I’m just going by memory that this is the time period (and mine is definitely faulty) because there is a line in the film where Rock Hudson declares to Piper Laurie that he doesn’t have “It”.  I know this refers to Clara Bow as the “It Girl” and “It” refers to having sex appeal, which was a term coined by the rather unsexy Elinor Glyn, who wrote the novel with that title in 1927, and was famous for claiming to know how to spot “it” in others.

Anyway, Charles Coburn–who is the most entertaining of anyone in the film–is a millionaire who never married because the love of his life chose another man.  At her passing, he thinks about who he would leave his fortune to and decides to check out her family, since, logically, her family could have been his if he had married her.  The daughter he never had, Lynn Bari, has a husband who runs a pharmacy and three children.  Rock is the soda jerk/delivery boy and he and the daughter, Piper Laurie, are an item.  But her mother has richer aspirations for her daughter and wants her to marry the wealthy Skip Homeier.

Gigi Perreau and Charles Coburn

Gigi Perreau as the youngest member of the family has the closest relationship with Charles Cobourn, who has infiltrated the family as a lodger and eventual employee of the pharmacy, working in lieu of Hudson when Rock is sent out to deliver medicine.  If you are a James Dean fan, you will get a kick out of seeing him as one of Coburn’s customers explaining to him in detail how he wants his sundae prepared, about 30 minutes into the film.  It’s very short but you will recognize him right away.

James Dean

The most striking thing about the film is that it’s shot in Technicolor and the cinematography is beautiful.

Because I was thinking of Technicolor, and Shelley Winters who I saw last week in He Ran All the Way, I chose next to watch the 1950 Frenchie which she made with just one film in between the two, the famous A Place in the Sun.  In A Place in the Sunshe plays the unattractive, whiny character of the factory girl but in Frenchie she is anything but!  She’s sexy and smart-alecky and just a lot of fun!  It’s a light remake of Destry Rides Again (1939) but with a slightly different outcome.

I like Joel McCrea but he was a bit too old for the role.  He was fifteen years her senior looking handsome but craggy while she looked fresh and younger than her 30 years.  What also made it fun was the supporting cast.  Paul Kelly was bad, Marie Windsor was sad and Elsa Lanchester was a hoot!

Cat-fights are always good entertainment, but this one wasn’t quite as good as the one between Dietrich and Merkel.  Still, it was fun to watch Windsor and Winters brawl even if the fight had less oomph than the original.  Possibly “what” they were fighting over had been altered in the remake.

The costumes were a delight to the eye especially as they were shown off to great advantage by the star of the film, Technicolor.  It was like icing on a colourful birthday cake.  Lush, lush, lush.

My sister and her daughter had been wanting to see the 1954 version of A Star is Born since seeing the latest with Lady Gaga, followed by the one with Barbra Streisand.  They had decided to watch them then from newest to oldest, and since both the newer ones are musicals, this made sense.  It had been a number of years since I had seen the film and we finally got together last Wednesday night for a view.

This was also a Technicolor film but didn’t have quite the power that the first two films had.  Or maybe I was just getting jaded watching three Techs in a row.

The version I had was close to three-hours long.  I don’t love musicals, finding it’s the narrative that keeps me most interested.  When there are too many songs where people just stand there and sing, or too much dancing and singing, I start to get distracted.  This film was full of them but it did help that it was Judy Garland singing and there were numbers that were choreographed in a way to help keep my interest.  I especially liked the one where she comes home after a long day at the studio and then has the energy to entertain her husband (James Mason) with all she had to do there during the day.

I like James Mason as well and while he meets, loses, manages to find Esther (Judy Garland) and then make sure she becomes a star, he has something to do.  But afterward, I felt Mason was lost.  His character Norma Maine is lost, of course, but it felt as if sometimes Mason also didn’t know what to do with himself because Maine had no interests in life other than acting and drinking.

I don’t know much about Mason’s personal life, have never heard of any outlandish behaviour, so I was always conscious of the fact that his and Judy’s roles had been switched.  Judy was only 32 but you could see the substance abuse, stress, and aging on her face.  She was smack dab in the middle of having made The Wizard of Oz and her death.  It felt eerie to realize this.

But by the end, I felt sad and frustrated to see how hard Esther tried to save her husband.  It was equally as upsetting to see someone feel that his best option is to leave this world on his own volition, thinking this will solve other people’s problems with him even more than his own.  It was emotional for me when Esther tells the Academy who she is.  A good last moment.

I’m hoping that my sister and niece will want to next see the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March as it may have even been longer since I’ve seen that film.  I still remember the makeup scene and want to compare it to the one in the 1954 film.  But my favourite version is George Cukor’s 1932 film What Price Hollywood? with Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman so I’m hoping that we’ll be able to work our way down to that screening in the next several months.

I missed the Toronto Film Society‘s screening of Phantom Lady (1944) last month for the good reason that I had gone to Cinecon in California.  Phantom Lady is one of those films, at least for me, that I just don’t remember the details of after some period of time.  I can remember the lady, the hat, and the lovely Ella Raines as the “detective” with the unwavering stare, but, well, that’s it.  So I borrowed the film from a friend and watched it at home.

I noticed that Thomas Gomez was in it, the fourth film noir Toronto Film Society screened this summer with him, the other three being Ride a Pink Horse (1947), Force of Evil (1948), and Johnny O’Clock (1947).  He’s good at whatever role he’s given, from a Mexican peasant to a small-time but good-hearted bookie to a full-blown gangster, and here a law-enforcing but understanding detective.  What I found amusing in Phantom Lady was his scene with Franchot Tone when he describes his idea of an insane person.  I’m not sure he was the world’s greatest detective, certainly not as good a one as we the audience are.  (Or he really knows all along what’s going on but knows he’ll be there before any harm can befall our heroine, possibly?)

Thomas Gomez, Ella Raines and Franchot Tone

Perhaps it was because I had seen the film a couple of times before and subconsciously had remembered which character (not actor) the murderer was before we’re introduced to him; or perhaps it’s just because I’ve seen so many of this type of film, but just the inconsequential mentioning of the words “best friend” brought an immediate suspicion to mind.  Regardless, you learn about halfway through the film who the culprit is.

If you think this is crazy dancing, you should see the drumming!

There are many entertaining moments in the film, but the ones that are the most delightfully distasteful are the ones with Elisha Cook Jr., a frenetic drummer who specializes in late-night jazz jams.  If you’ve never seen this movie and you like crime and noir, you won’t be disappointed by this film directed by Robert Siodmak, based on the book by Cornell Woolrich.

Kanopy, the library’s streaming channel, advertised the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, the 2010 biopic starring Andy Serkis as Ian Dury.  I had been a fan in my younger days and thought it might be fun to see.  But by mistake, I ended up choosing the 2010 documentary Ian Dury: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll by filmmaker Alan Byron and was already interested once I realized I was watching something different.

Ian Dury couldn’t really sing, but he had a quick wit and could come up with snappy and sassy wordplay.  Besides the song with the same title as the film and “Wake Up and Make Love With Me”, it was quite fun to hear some of the other songs that I hadn’t thought of in years.

I’m one of those people who will look up information when watching a film.  I had never known anything about Dury’s personal life and when they mentioned certain things, such as he had polio when he was a child, I wanted to know more.  I opened up Wikipedia and discovered he’d been married, had other lovers, and a few children.  In 1981, he’d also written a song I didn’t know or recall but performed in the documentary, “Spasticus Autisticus” to show his disdain for that year’s International Year of Disabled Persons, which he saw as patronizing and counter-productive.

There was a fair amount of concert footage from when he was a younger man, say mid-30s and it was a bit startling to see his looks change (it really shouldn’t be though) when seeing him close to the end of his life, nearing the age of 58.  There was about a 20-year difference there and Dury looked quite different even if he sounded the same, only perhaps a wee bit more tuneless.

One of the interesting tangents was when he was introducing sax player Gilad Atzmon while I was just reading that he had been chosen to replace musician David Payne, so clicked on his name.  Born in Israel but now living in England, he has written criticisms on Zionism, Jewish identity, and Judaism, and has controversial views on Holocaust denial and Jewish history, leading to allegations of antisemitism and racism from both Zionists and some leading anti-Zionists.  I don’t know what the details of his thoughts are, but if he is a Holocaust denier, that’s always a strange outlook to me, especially from someone who is Jewish.  Do people really believe that all those families conspired to say that dozens of their relatives disappeared and then tattoo numbers on their arms for some cultish reason?

I enjoyed this film but no longer feel the urge to watch the biopic. Andy Serkis is an interesting actor but now that I’ve seen the real thing I’m not sure if I will believe his portrayal of Dury.

But back to a Jewish theme.  Because I had seen the documentary Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, I pulled out my copy of Jewish Luck, the 1925 Russian film made by director Aleksandr Granovsky.  I was especially interested in seeing where the “White Slavery” scene came into the story.  Well, I discovered, it doesn’t.  What I think the writer Shalom Aleichem was trying to depict in this comedy was that arranged marriages are something he doesn’t much approve of.

The main character Menachim Mendel is a poor Jew who is always trying to come up with entrepreneurial schemes to make it rich.  He tries selling insurance, peddles wares, and in the end dabbles in matchmaking by becoming a Shadchan.  There’s the subplot with a rich man’s daughter who is in love with a poor man but her parents are against her marrying him.

Loading the brides

So the scene used in the Fiddler documentary where brides-to-be are being hoisted onto a ship that will set sail to a land where men are waiting to marry them turns out not to be a ship sailing into “White Slavery” oblivion.  But it is an odd scene nevertheless.  Our hero, Menachim, has somehow managed to round up dozens of women, all dressed in wedding gowns, coming off of cattle cars (also a reminder of Jews being put into cattle cars a dozen years later) to be loaded onto a ship setting sail for America.  These women are all excited believing they are all going to find good matches with Jewish men who are longing for wives from the old country.  The rather long scene of Menachim working on his scheme, to when the ship is ready to set sail, turns out not to be what you think it is, which is rather a fun twist to the plot.  And not too long after, the story ends in a happy and comic manner.

This has an epileptic look to it, don’t you think?

My copy was a very nice print but there was no soundtrack.  I don’t have a problem with that as I can either put on some sort of music to accompany the film or, as I did with this one, just watch it in silence.  There were English intertitles, but I felt that there could have been more to explain some aspects of the story in a bit more detail.  But what I came away with was an enjoyable story and a way of life.  Although the majority of the characters were Jewish, they still had to deal with oppression in Tsarist Russia.  And amongst their community, there were likable and not so likable characters, some honest, some not. And what did the title exactly reference? Was the Jewish Luck good, bad or just indifferent?  You’ll just have to watch it to decide for yourself.

The last film I watched was The High and the Mighty (1954), directed by William A. Wellman, with John Wayne and a whole cast of famous actors.  Wayne plays a pilot who has suffered a tremendous loss and still occasionally suffers from PTSD.  It’s an early airplane disaster film where a group of passengers are confronted with danger and we learn what culminated in their lives to bring them to being on this particular plane.  Maybe it was my mood, but I really didn’t much care for it.

I had the opportunity to see this film on the large screen in CinemaScope and in WarnerColor when Toronto Film Society screened it in its Special Events Series.  It featured actors I like such as Claire Trevor, Robert Newton, Paul Kelly, Sidney Blackmer while I especially enjoyed Jan Sterling and Doe Avedon.  I believe the writers felt they were being inclusive and modern while it felt racist and misogynistic.  There was one Korean woman on the plane and she has this conversation with Doe Avedon, the stewardess, where she tells her she (herself) is “stupid”.  The stewardess refutes this, only to tell her that she, and many American women, are “stupid”.  And the rest of the women all appeared to be neurotic, at some point becoming hysterical.

Come to think of it, a majority of the men were mentally ill too.  Of all the characters, I think I enjoyed the insane Sidney Blackmer best, who apparently comes to his senses at the end of the film.

There’s a very small scene with Hedda Hopper’s son, William, near the very end.  There’s a funny moment where he looks at his red shirt, a very good colour for him I might add, and then mentions a green tie.

Who could love this face is one of the many philosophical questions dealt with in this film.

The film notes were very interesting and particularly well written by a friend of mine.  You can find them here.

So that ends my week of movies.  Hope you enjoyed reading about films you have either seen or now would like to see.  You can always let me know.

1 thought on “My Week of Films – September 16 to 21, 2019

  1. Pingback: My Week of Film – October 28 to November 3, 2019 | CarensClassicCinema

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