I went for a long weekend to Cleveland, Ohio and that’s where I did my film viewing.
The movie weekend started off with my friend and I going to a regular movie house to see the new film, Motherless Brooklyn (2019). Two people mentioned how much they liked this film and although I had been given a free double pass to see it in my home town, I missed out, not getting a chance to see it until I was on vacation. It is directed by and stars Ed Norton, and features actors Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis and Cherry Jones.
“Eh”, was my initial reaction. It’s a long, somewhat convoluted story. Okay, everything mostly makes sense, but when you discover the puzzle of why everything happened, you know you’ve seen this kind of story before, probably told more succinctly–or interestingly (think Chinatown  or even Ruth Rendell’s Asta’s Book, written under her pseudonym Barbara Vine.) And when I say long, it runs just under 2 and a 1/2 hours. I’ve never been a huge Norton fan although I did like him and the films Fight Club (1999) and The Painted Veil (2006). Here, he plays a private detective cursed with Tourette’s Syndrome and I wondered if I really believed the character was afflicted. I actually knew two people who had Tourette’s. One was a friend of the brother of someone I knew when I was in Junior High who typically swore due to his affliction. Even as an adult, I knew when Joe was nearby when I would suddenly hear the f-word escaping helplessly from his lips. The other person I knew was a friend of my sister’s, also when she was a teen. Interestingly, he was one of the true-life patients seen right at the beginning of the film Awakenings (1990), when the camera moves down the hospital corridor (if I’m remembering correctly). Anyway, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t quite believe the Tourette’s was real at first, but eventually, I got used to Norton’s portrayal and accepted that he did.
I’m rather shallow since I stopped really enjoying Alec Baldwin once his beautiful handsomeness faded. I was also influenced by two of the people I know who saw the film, not quite believing Baldwin was not acting like a bulldozer. But I do like Bruce Willis and Willem Defoe. Bruce Willis played “Bruce Willis” and I sometimes wondered if the script called for him to be amused by Norton’s character or if Willis just was. Willem Defoe, well, it was just hard to believe (spoiler alert) that he was Baldwin’s brother. Are the other real-life Baldwin brother’s no longer acting? Maybe one of them should have been cast in this thankless role. Still, I never say any film is not worth seeing, so if it turns up on Netflix or some other streaming network, see what you think. I’m sure Norton put a lot of his heart and soul into making this film.
While we were in Cleveland, we explored used book stores which is something we like to do when visiting new cities. Those shops typically sell CDs and DVDs and my friend came upon the find Dark Waters (1944) which we decided to watch later that night.
Directed by André De Toth (who was to marry Veronica Lake the month following the film’s release), it featured a strong cast including Merle Oberon, Franchot Tone, Thomas Mitchell, Fay Bainter, Elisha Cook Jr., and John Qualen.
It first came off as traumatic, mysterious and sinister, but fell just a wee bit short with some long silent scenes. But maybe it was due to sipping whiskey since even though it wasn’t that long ago that we watched it, I am a bit foggy with regard to the details. It did occur to me that Franchot Tone, who was two films past playing the mentally deranged killer in Phantom Lady, could have gone either way in this one until you were sure.
One thing that I did notice was that there was a sweet little girl in it and I came to realize it was Gigi Perreau, who I met at Cinecon back in August/September. Here she was just three-years-old, her sixth film appearance.
The last film I saw while in Cleveland was All Mine To Give (1957), which we went to see at the Cinematheque: Cleveland Institute of Art. A small turnout with around ten people, this lovely theatre reminded me of the Wexner in Columbus, Ohio and, in a way, our own Toronto Film Society screenings back home.
I’ve had a copy of this film on my shelf for a decade or more and had never gotten around to watching it. I had no idea it was considered a “Christmas” movie, but apparently it is. And an odd Christmas selection it is. The film, with the creepyish alternative title of The Day They Gave Babies Away, was directed by Allen Reisner and shot in beautiful Technicolor. I hate spoiling a movie for any readers who haven’t yet viewed a film, but I guess there’s no explaining the original title without saying that the six children who make up a family have to find new homes by the end of this film. They actually aren’t “babies”, with Robbie (Rex Thompson) being the oldest at twelve and the one giving his younger siblings away. He’s not yet old enough to take care of them on his own, yet he chooses not to fulfill his mother’s wishes by continuing with his education but rather heads off to work in the logging field. I’m sure he could have found a home for himself since he cleverly chose to attend to this chore on Christmas Day when people’s generosity would have been at its peak, and any inclination to not be charitable would have caused them to feel guilt-ridden.
The cast features Glynis Johns, best known twice as a sexy mermaid, the suffragette mother in Mary Poppins, and the daughter of Welsh-born actor Mervyn Johns, who played in what is probably the most famous Christmas film ever, A Christmas Carol aka Scrooge (1951). Here she plays the mother, Jo Eunson, of a brood of children which include Annabelle played by Patty McCormack, the child actress who had played the infamous monster in The Bad Seed the previous year. I have most probably never seen McCormack in anything else, but despite her getting these two roles and enjoying her films, I really don’t think much of her as an actress. Maybe like wine, she improved with age.
Cameron Mitchell played the father, Robert Eunson, a handsome man who played in many films including How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and TV shows. Here he has a good rough and tumble fight with Alan Hale Jr. who played his boss Tom Cullen. Hale was the son of the famous film actor of the same name and was only seven years away from becoming the character he would best be remembered as, The Skipper, on TV’s Gilligan’s Island. In All Mine to Give, he actually played a good-looking, charming sort of fellow whose role disappeared once the family went through its crisis.
There’s always a villain and she came in the form of Reta Shaw who played Mrs. Runyon. Since this was a small, rural town in the mid-1880s, she was mostly stereotypically intolerable rather than outright demonic.
Last but not least, there was Mrs. Pugmeister played by the indomitable Hope Emerson. Especially due to her height and girth, she is probably best known as Olympia La Pere in Adam’s Rib (1949) and the corrupt prison guard in Caged (1950).
You can watch this film any time of course, but if you’re still looking for a film specifically geared towards the holiday season, take a gander at All Mine to Give.