I am far behind in writing about the films I’ve seen in the past few weeks. Life can get busy and usually what we do in our leisure time is what has to give. So instead of heading to the gym or doing the dreaded task of cleaning, I’d rather write about the films I’ve been watching.
The first was The Mask of Diijon (1946) directed by Lew Landers. I chose this film because I was in the mood to see something with von Stroheim. Was I disappointed? Well, yes and no. Erich von Stroheim played his typical hateful and miserable character, claiming to be much younger than his 61 years. Here he’s married to the lovely Jeanne Bates, 33 years his junior. Why did she marry him, you may ask? Well, he’s the great magician, Diijon, world-famous, and I suppose this was part of the attraction and incentive for her.
Diijon–whose name constantly reminded me of the mustard–is a sour and bitter old man who suffers from paranoia. He no longer performs, doesn’t think much of his wife’s illusionist creations, although she’s created a rather good one which the film opens up with, and has meandered down a new avenue of study, hypnotism, in the hopes of using it towards ends that you know will not be used for altruistic purposes.
His wife’s two friends, a couple that performs together, are very badly treated by Diijon. Nasty, nasty, nasty! The only “good deed” he does is when he first tries out whether he’s mastered hypnotism or not while grumbling over his coffee in a diner. You’re quite shocked to think that he may have turned over a new leaf, but don’t worry, he hasn’t. By the way, the diner is manned by familiar-faced George Chandler who you’ve had the opportunity to see in over 460 films and TV shows.
There’s a brief return to performing as a magician in a corny act that fails miserably. That’s just a good cornerstone to feed his need for further revenge. And of course, there’s an old younger friend of his wife’s–once more than a friend–who has popped back onto the scene. Something more to stoke the flames of jealousy in a paranoid.
Is this a good film? Not really. But if you haven’t seen it and feel the need to watch the man we all love to hate, then you should enjoy this for a lark.
The next film I chose was a film that I had wanted to see again since I first saw it at the drive-in with my parents and sister (my youngest sister wasn’t even born then) back in 1964. Goodbye Charlie directed by Vincente Minnelli, with Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, Pat Boone, Walter Matthau and Ellen McRae. Ellen McRae? Who’s that? Well, around late 1969, Ms. McRae, who was born Edna Rae Gilloolly, and her husband, both changed their last name to Burstyn. Yup, it was Ellen Burstyn. A nice little surprise perk!
Okay, back to Goodbye Charlie. Here’s what I remembered about the film: that it was about a womanizer who gets shot in the tush by a jealous husband and comes back as Debbie Reynolds. That was it. I fell asleep before the film ended, and so even though I doubt I would remember the ending, I didn’t even see it first time ’round.
The opening is such, such fun! There’s a groovy party happening on a private cruise ship owned by millionaire film producer Sir Leopold Sartori (Matthau) who has the most hilarious accent I have ever heard! Although Sartori is an Italian name, his accent was way off. One tiny example is how he said the word “alone”: “a-loon”. So entertaining and so ridiculously not Italian.
But back to the opening party scene. There’s a beautiful, voluptuous woman dancing in a shimmering gold go-go dress and everyone is in admiration of her many gifts. I liked the pan of the other party-goers, especially the one who brought her knitting along because I get that you never know when there might be some downtime. (Heck, I’ve done it myself!) While Sir Leo is playing cards with his cronies, he’s noticed in the mirror hanging strategically over the table that his wife Rusty (Laura Devon) is getting very cozy with Charlie Sorel (Harry Madden). So, no surprise or much of a giveaway, as it comes quickly; Sartori follows his wife and lover into the bedroom and, yes, it’s true! He shoots Charlie in the behind as he attempts to escape through the porthole. Chances are he didn’t die from the bullet wound, but rather from drowning. And since the body is never retrieved, we, and his best friend George Tracy (Tony Curtis) who’s come back to perform the eulogy at Charlie’s funeral, meet up with Charlie in Debbie Reynolds form.
Having travelled from his home which is now in Paris, George is staying in Charlie’s swinging singles flat by the ocean for the duration of his visit. When the doorbell rings, he opens it to find rich mama’s boy Bruce Minton III (Pat Boone) escorting home a naked, dripping wet woman, chivalrously cloaked in his coat whom he found wandering on the highway. George is totally confused as to why she directed Minton to this address, but full memory of who she is comes with a piercing scream which awakens a groggy, always drinking George.
What makes this film so interesting is that it’s the story of a man who falls in love with his best friend when he comes back from the dead in the guise of a woman. Further, this character, who, as far as we know, identified as a heterosexual man, but seems to have no qualms about using his now feminine sexuality and guiles to get what she/he wants from others, which is mostly riches. What makes this a typical Hollywood movie is how the female Charlie treats the pathetic Bruce Minton III or that Charlie never goes as far as having sex with any of her male conquests.
Equally of interest is that Vincente Minnelli is the director. Judy Garland was and still is an icon for gay men, and in real life she was married to one where they produced the equally iconic Liza. It’s suggested that Minnelli chose to become bisexual after leaving New York and arriving in Hollywood, but I question whether we can ever intellectually “choose” our sexual orientation. Still, whatever the case, I kept the thought of the director’s experience with his sexuality in the back of my mind while watching him direct Reynolds in her portrayal of a man trapped in a beautiful woman’s body.
Another thought on this film was the casting of Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds who came from the same era of moviedom of course. However, the biggest parallel to me was that even though by 1964 they were both divorced from their first spouses, Tony Curtis had been married to Janet Leigh and their daughter was Jamie Lee Curtis while Debbie had been married to Eddie Fisher and their daughter was Carrie Fisher. I kept having to keep that straight in my head, sometimes forgetting and thinking the two of them were actually married and had produced some other offspring that was equally as famous. And of course, neither of these two separate marriages fared well, and for me, after reading his autobiography, Eddie Fisher personally was the least likable of the four.
But lastly, back to Walter Matthau. His character was probably the most corrupt of them all. He’s a knighted, famous producer, out on bail for murder, while committing the same “crime” of infidelity he punished his wife for. He’s completely callous but such a buffoon that it’s almost impossible to take his character seriously on almost any account.
A film not often seen, it appears, but certainly leaves a lot of food for thought with regard to the time period and the storyline.
The last two films I saw were at a Toronto Film Society screening. Both probably equally rare, I enjoyed the first film, Rhubarb (1951) more. A comedy directed by Arthur Lubin, starring Ray Milland and Jan Sterling. If featured a very entertaining Gene Lockhart in a short but standout role while Orangey, the cat who played the title character, was equally as entertaining.
I like Ray Milland and I feel he gave the plot and his character that extra bit of realism that pulled the film together. Otherwise, why would a grown man take on the task of taking care of a cat who was bequeathed the ownership of a baseball team when he could, fairly easily at least, walk away and probably find another job just as lucrative? Plus his fiancee, Polly Sickles (Sterling) is allergic to cats, making Sterling one of the best sneezers I had the joy of witnessing on the screen. I wondered at her ability to be so convincing especially in the moments of a long take with no cut for a closeup.
Well, there’s more to the story, with a court case smack-dab in the middle of it all because Thaddeus J. Banner’s (Lockhart) daughter doesn’t like, for the most part, being left out of her father’s will. But can you blame Myra (Elsie Holmes) for feeling murderous towards Rhubarb when you think about it? I think that they made a less emotive, less feminine daughter easier to dislike than an only son. Even though Myra was sports-minded, she wasn’t the daughter her father wanted her to be. Putting myself in her shoes, I kind of felt sorry for her. Of course, a parent has a right not to leave their children any inheritance, but there was no true evidence that Myra deserved such a paltry sum in the bequest left to her.
I had heard that Leonard Nimoy had a bit part in the film, and kept that in mind, looking for a shot of him. Although he may have been in more than one scene, I finally was able to spot him close to the end during a baseball game where he played on the team we were cheering for. There was his cute little Spok-like face, smiling upwards sitting on the bench in a group shot all happy to see Rhubarb at the top of a wall!
The last film was the British 1938 film I See Ice! directed by Anthony Kimmins and one in a series of films by comic George Formby. I am not a fan and although the print was beautiful, I have no understanding of the attraction that this man had. He’s, of course goofy looking (yes, he’s supposed to be funny), yet lovely young women are always attracted to him. I suppose that’s because Judy Gaye (Kay Walsh) only seems to have had two choices, the other being Paul Martine (Cyril Ritchard) who’s jealous, possessive and really not too nice of a person.
Besides having a small head that doesn’t look like a normal size brain fits into it sitting on a rather large but lean body, Formby is also a rather good ukelele player. He demonstrates this skill in pretty well all of his films, with this one being no exception.
What struck me about Kay Walsh was that in profile I had to remind myself that she wasn’t Bette Davis in this film. Although I’ve seen her in many others, she’s not an actress I initially recognize without doing a bit of research.
See this film if you have an interest in early UK comedy by a much-loved British comedian, who apparently, never learned to read or write! He obviously had a very good memory though, despite his small head, as he learned his lines by rehearsing them with his wife and manager, Beryl. With a memory like that, I wonder why he didn’t take the trouble to learn how to read for himself? Maybe a different part of the brain is used for those two types of memory tasks?
So, I realize, other than the first film (and, actually, it may just depend on how you view it) three out of the four films reviewed this week were comedies. Nice for the holiday season coming up, I suppose!