My Week of Film – October 6 to 13, 2019

                         

Toronto Film Society’s Fall/Winter Film Buffs 72nd Series began and I attended both the Sunday afternoon and Monday evening screenings.  This meant I began the week with two sets of double bills.

The first film was Armored Car Robbery (1950), directed by Richard Fleischer (son of Betty Boop creator Max), a hard-hitting crime story which decidedly sways anyone who is thinking of planning a heist to not go to the trouble.

A good cast with Charles McGraw on the right side of the law this time, while William Talman, best known as the attorney who always loses to Perry Mason, played a different type of loser.  Adele Jergens is the sexy gold-digger who reminded me of Virginia Mayo.

I was looking forward to seeing this film because, although I couldn’t recall the story, I knew I had previously liked it.  What I found was that I knew what was coming scene by scene, which I found kind of enjoyable since that meant it had been tucked away somewhere in my cerebral matter.

The second film of the afternoon was The Asphalt Jungle (1950), directed by John Huston, (which briefly made me think of him stooping low to be in Candy).  Also staffed with a fine cast, it featured Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen (the more entertaining of the two main actresses in Singing in the Rain), James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe and a brief but memorable stint by the up-and-coming Marilyn Monroe.

I had also seen this film before, but the only thing I had any memory of was of Marilyn lolling on a couch.  The story is also crime-based and this one has a lot of trickery going on between the characters which certainly kept you concentrating.  I thought Sterling Hayden was terrific in his final scene; I could feel the horror of what was happening to him.

Monday night TFS screened the delightful The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939), directed by Peter Godfrey.  It was the first in the Lone Wolf series starring Warren William.  Lone Wolf stories started filming as early as 1917, with the first series starring Bert Lytell in the lead role beginning in 1926.  Melvyn Douglas took over as the Lone Wolf in 1935, Francis Lederer in 1938, followed by William who made nine in total.  I’m a big Warren William fan, and even though I believe I own all of his Lone Wolf films on DVD, I was excited to see his first one on the big screen for my first time.

Ida and Warren

What made it exceptionally exciting was that it featured Ida Lupino and Rita Hayworth in early roles.  Okay, maybe they weren’t early in the sense that they already had a number of other films under their belts, but they still weren’t big stars, each only 20 years old.  Rita played the femme fatale while Ida was adorable and totally entertaining.  She pouted, laughed, cried, shrugged, battered, annoyed and more to keep the Lone Wolf’s interest.  She never stopped persevering to obtain her goal.

Ida, Rita and Warren

Virginia Weidler was also in the film as the Lone Wolf’s young daughter.  Virginia didn’t grow up to be a beauty and unfortunately, her looks probably caused her career to tank at the tender age of 16.  But she was a good little actress, very natural with a fair amount of depth and I enjoy seeing her in her early films.  The earliest role I had the fortune to see her in was when she was around 6 or 7, playing the main character in Freckles (1935).  I didn’t even realize it was her at first but she was truly lovely and realistic.  You’ll especially enjoy her rapport with (I hope I got this right) Leonard Carey who plays the butler in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt.

The last film screened at TFS was The Conspirators (1944), directed by Jean Negulesco, featuring all those Warner actors who we know so well from Casablanca.  There’s Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Paul Henreid, with the new additions of Victor Francen, Joseph Calleia but instead of Ingrid, there’s Hedy Lamarr.

Hedy, in my opinion, had to be the most beautiful of all the female stars that graced Hollywood.  Pity anyone else who’s on the screen with Lamarr; your eyes stay focused on her face and don’t go anywhere else.  Was she a great actress?  No, decidedly not, but decidedly passable.

I’m very interested in films that depict Nazi Germany and The Conspirators is in that category.  I recently read Robert Matzen’s book Dutch Girl which is an in-depth look at what Audrey Hepburn’s early life was like living in the Netherlands during WWII, so it was poignant for me that Henreid was playing a Dutch resistance fighter.  However, there was something really superficial about this film, and some of the dialogue was too “composed” and unrealistic or romantic to my ear.  If the studio expected to have another Casablanca on their hands, they would have been disappointed.  Same cinematographer, Arthur Edeson, and same composer, Max Steiner, good but different director, but that’s how the cookie crumbles most of the time.

There’s a mystery in the story as one in the group of these underground assembled characters is a traitor.  It’s not that hard to figure out who but the suspense of him or her being caught is kept high until the eleventh hour.

I wondered for a minute or two why the actor who played the villainous Dr. Schmitt looked familiar and then I suddenly realized it was Steven Geray who I saw the previous week in So Dark the Night made just two years later.  This time he had a German accent and I was also able to compare his voice side by side with Peter Lorre’s.  I didn’t notice their voices resembling each other, but maybe Geray chose to sound more like Lorre in the latter film–or maybe it was just all in my mind.

What was kind of fun to know about behind the scenes was that Henreid and Lamarr were friends.  A couple of years ago when I was attending a festival where Paul Henreid’s daughter Monika was giving an interview, she mentioned that Hedy was a frequent house guest of theirs and continually brought her laundry over for the Henreid’s housekeeper to wash.  This bothered Paul’s wife Lisl to no end, but she kept quiet on the subject.  Knowing the family had a relationship with Hedy, I kept wondering how much the two enjoyed (or not) their romantic moments on screen.

Next, heading out with a friend, I went to the theatre to see Joker (2019), a film that someone like me shouldn’t watch.  It’s not that it wasn’t a well-made film, superbly acted by Joaquin Phoenix, it’s just that it was way too depressing.  It’s a film that doesn’t have one happy moment in it.

Arthur

It starts off with the main character, Arthur, being beaten by preteens and right from the get-go I thought that if he killed these kids, I wouldn’t care.  And as the story progresses and he does murder some young men on the subway, I didn’t care that they were killed either.  You feel incredibly sorry for Arthur and can’t believe he has the misfortune of everyone he comes into contact with having no empathy for him.  No matter what he does, he’s criticized, made fun of and treated badly.  The world is a horrible place.

I was a fan of Six Feet Under and so it was good to see Frances Conroy in the film, playing Arthur’s mother, although again, not a happy role.

I’m not sure how healthy it is to see films like this.  Other than it being clever to concoct a history for The Joker, what’s the point of making such a miserable story?  The world is not in a good place (was it ever?) and to witness such sadness, depression, mental health issues with nothing to redeem it in the end, I just don’t know what to think about this artistic endeavour.

I was also wondering about the time period of the film.  New York stood in for Gotham City and it looked fairly contemporary.  Yet Batman was created in 1939 and Bruce Wayne would have been a grown man by then.  So when, as a child, he witnessed the murder of his parents, it would have been in the teens or early twenties, depending on how old he was when he became the “Bat-Man”.  So in JokerBruce Wayne is still a child of maybe ten.  Arthur/The Joker appears to be somewhere between 35 to 40.  That means when Wayne becomes Batman, The Joker would be between 55 and 65, kind of old to be the type of villain he becomes.  Okay, let’s forget that.  So what time period does Joker take place in?  It could be contemporary; perhaps it could be the 60s since there were no cell phones and a lot of men had long hair.  But then Bruce Wayne’s parents looked more like they fit into the 30s, which would be a more likely time period since there’s a scene where they’re all in an old-style movie theatre with ushers in uniforms watching Chaplin’s Modern Times.

Then there were actors of colour in unusual roles if the times were the 30s (which it wasn’t) or possibly even the 60s.  If it was the 60s, then it’s unlikely that Arthur would have considered having a relationship with his black or mixed neighbour played by Zazie Beetz.  But this is a film made now and I get that the industry certainly wants to give as many roles as they can to other ethnicities.

My friend commented in an email to me, “What confirmed the year that Joker took place was a movie marquee advertising Blow Out and Zorro, the Gay Blade–both 1981 releases. If I’m not mistaken, this was the theater that the Wayne family was exiting before the parent’s murder. I guess they had just seen the Zorro movie. An odd choice. I agree with your review of the movie: it was pointlessly nihilistic. It also cribbed so much from Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy that I kept being reminded of how powerful those movies are. I would’ve rather rewatched either of those.”

I was comparing my reaction to this film with Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019).  Although I enjoy listening to Tarantino being interviewed, I’m not a huge fan of his films.  However, Once Upon a Time was my favourite film of his of those that I saw.  I liked the time period and history that the story was based on and was quite satisfied with the fantasy ending.  Both Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio were so entertaining and the over-the-top violence wasn’t upsetting because it was so well deserved.

As an aside, recently some young person (I just can’t recall who) said to me that they didn’t understand the point of having “this actress, the blonde one (Sharon Tate), in the film.”  I was quite taken aback that they had no knowledge of what happened 50 years with Charles Manson, understanding obviously that the finale went over their head.

Also, I ran into a couple I know at the theatre prior to going into the film and the husband mentioned that his 21-year-old daughter saw Joker and thought it was so boring that she said she just should have stayed home.  Wow!  My son, who’s the same age, did not feel that way at all when he saw it earlier in the week.

Anyway, I need to be more careful about what few choices of contemporary films I decide to see.

After that, I thought I would try choosing something light, coming up with The Mating of Millie (1948), directed by Henry Levin, featuring someone I quite like, Evelyn Keyes and a young Glenn Ford.  It was a sweet film about a young business-minded woman, Millie, (Evelyn) who, having been an orphan herself, wants to adopt a little boy (Jimmy Hunter) whose mother is killed in an accident.  His father had been killed in WWII so that leaves him without any family, it seems.  Millie is all work, no play, when along comes Doug Andrews (Glenn Ford) who just wants to be friends.  When he learns that she wants to adopt a child, he assists Millie in finding a husband since single people could not adopt children back in 1948.  Both Ron Randell and Willard Parker are in the running, and at first I think that either of those two men, especially Randell, would be better choices than Ford.  But in the end, it all works out the way you suspect it will right from the beginning.

Handsome choices

When Doug calls Millie a “screwball” while being interviewed by her for a potential job, I thought how that wouldn’t go over too well today.  Would it even have then?  Slightly chauvinistic, but nothing you wouldn’t expect from a film made in this time period, and certainly nothing to be concerned about, it’s just something to enjoy.

Okay, this next one is a film that brings back something that happened many years ago.  When I was a teen, my parents took me and one of my sisters to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947).  I remember people were laughing throughout the film and I couldn’t understand why.  I just didn’t find it funny.  Interestingly, I liked Danny Kaye and even thought he was an attractive man.  Still do.  But I didn’t find anything amusing in the film.  Afterward, when I mentioned this to my mother, she said something typical that possibly a lot of mother’s might say, and that was, “That’s because you didn’t understand it.”  Well, that was the wrong thing to say to me and I separated myself from my family and didn’t go home until the next day.  It was a traumatic moment in my life.

So, I thought, maybe it’s time to revisit this film again years later and see if I will “understand” the humour better.  To begin with, I need to let you know that comedy is not my favourite genre of film.  Well, this didn’t disappoint in that I didn’t find it funny, one iota.  Yes, the film is in beautiful Technicolor and Virginia Mayo as the woman of Walter Mitty’s dreams is stunning.  It’s directed by Norman Z. McLeod and along with Kaye and Mayo, it has a nice cast featuring Fay Bainter, Ann Rutherford, Boris Karloff (yay) and an actress I’m always happy to boo, Florence Bates, meaning that she usually plays someone whose traits are more on the nasty side.

But it’s fairly boring, I’m sorry to say.  Some of Kaye’s skits are too long-winded and I just want him to stop being so nebbishy.  If he knocked one more thing over, which he did, I wouldn’t have cared if someone had killed him.  A friend of mine told me she was enjoying watching an array of Danny Kaye films just the other day, so I’ll have to ask her if this was one of them because then I’ll know not to watch another of his comedies ever again–or at least for a couple of years.

So that’s it for this past week.  Yesterday was the Thanksgiving holiday here, so I had a chance to start watching more film to write about for the end of next week.  I hope these offer you a chance to consider what to view, or not, for yourself.

2 thoughts on “My Week of Film – October 6 to 13, 2019

  1. Hi, Caren! You’ve had an interesting movie week! Lots of good picks in it! I saw “The Asphalt Jungle” with an audience too (at the famous Castro Theater in San Francisco) and it was very crowd-pleasing. We all laughed when Marilyn called some cop a “Big Banana Head.” It was so nice to have her doing comic relief in an otherwise effectively serious movie. Other than the couch scene in which she’s being more sexy, I think she’s mostly just funny in the movie. I like how she’s bugging Louis Calhern about going on vacation and worrying about his wife catching them.

    I remember seeing “The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt” on TCM once and thinking it was really fun. I have affection for Warren William too, but felt he deserved better than some of the roles he got. In this movie, I thought he got one that was perfect for him. I’m reluctant to watch other Lone Wolf movies after enjoying William in the role so much. I also liked Ida Lupino in the movie. I’m used to seeing her play more serious parts, so it’s fun to watch her in a lighter one.

    Regarding “Joker”, you’re right that movies featuring Batman characters should take place in the 30s or 40s if they want to be faithful to the original comic books. I believe that in the comics, Batman/Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered while walking home from a screening of Tyrone Power’s “The Mark of Zorro” in 1940 and this detail was actually depicted in the recent “Batman v. Superman” movie from 2016. If you watch that Tyrone Power movie, you can see how the title character acting like a wimpy fop when he’s not in costume would inspire Bruce Wayne to create a similar contrast between his public persona and Batman alter ego.

    I think that with this Joker movie they’re not trying to have fidelity to the comic books and instead going for a “Taxi Driver”/”King of Comedy”/Martin Scorsese vibe. That’s why it feels more like something taking place in the ’70s and ’80s.

    Thanks for these weekly blog entries…I’m liking them!

    • Thank you, D! I’m still thinking about JOKER. Taking your comment about THE MARK OF ZORRO being the film the family had seen, then I suppose this version replaced it with ZORRO, THE GAY BLADE to place it in the early 1980s, as another friend of mine observed. I continued to think about the film and realized that what made it additionally disturbing for me is that Arthur crosses the line from self-defense to willful murder. Once that happens, the person themself and the feeling for that person changes. I remember thinking that in the series BREAKING BAD.

      If you like Warren William and you haven’t already read it, there is a very good biography written about him which includes some history of the place he was born called “Warren William: Magnificent Scoundrel of Pre-Code Hollywood” by John Stangeland.

      I look forward to your future observations!

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