Here where I live, we are apparently coming out of the pandemic in three steps. Friday the 11th we began Step 1. I am still not allowed to work but the goal is to begin back doing partial work when Step 2 arrives, sometime around July 5th. I want to finish writing about the films I viewed in 2020 before this momentous occasion and have divided what was left roughly in half. Here’s “.1”.
I am a big Alastair Sim fan and I try coming up with films of his that I haven’t yet seen—or have many moons ago. Awhile ago, I tried to watch The Ruling Class on Kanopy, but I wasn’t enjoying it and knew that I had seen it before with much the same feeling. But then I recalled that I had copies of the St. Trinian films and realized I had never seen Blue Murder at St. Trinian’s (1957). He has a very, very tiny role but the film was a lot of insane fun. Terry-Thomas who has the top credit, didn’t come into the film until the 41 minute mark! I started to wonder if they had done a miraculous job at disguising him since he is so definable with his gapped front teeth.
I seem to be watching more and more Launder/Gilliat films, this one being directed by Frank Launder, while both he and Sidney Gilliat wrote the screenplay. The ending was priceless with Sim, reprising his role of Miss Amelia Fritton, just released from prison and back as head mistress along with her four hired butch assistants. I actually laughed out loud. Sim carries ironic humour off so well with that sardonic twisted grimace of his.
On separate occasions, my sister, son and his girlfriend watched the 2017 film The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Although I’ve never seen it, the director Yorgos Lanthimos made the popular 2015 film Lobster. I suppose they are considered surreal. Both my son and sister said they liked The Killing and found it thought provoking. I realize by the end that I don’t really like these types of films as I can’t figure out what the point is. Is it really happening? If it is, is it magical thinking? I wasn’t bored by any means, I just didn’t get the message. I am too much of a realist. I know the world is complicated and there are many shades of grey, but I tend to see some things in black and white (pun intended). It helped that both Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman played central characters.
I watched the documentary RBG (2018) about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life. I had seen the movie made the same year about her early life, On the Basis Of Sex, which I didn’t’ think was all that good, but Ginsburg herself is certainly an impressive person. She was discussed but not seen in the TV show Mrs. America and that reminded me that I was interested in her life story. Watching this documentary just prior to the US election, I particularly noticed that there were quite a few shots of Joe Biden at many of the meetings she attended. She was a trailblazer in her niche with a supportive husband backing her.
Although Toronto Film Society (TFS) had shown Million Dollar Legs (1932) with W.C. Fields, I missed seeing it. Jack Oakie, who is a detriment for me watching a film, was young enough for me to tolerate his silliness. I had been particularly interested in seeing this film for a couple of years now, ever since reading Harpo Marx’s autobiography and discovering he was married to the female lead, Susan Fleming. Until I had read about her in his book, I wasn’t aware of her existence. She wasn’t in many films, and certainly wasn’t a lead in almost any, but just being married to a Marx Brother—and my favourite—piqued my interest. As is usual, I have seen a number of her films such as Arizona (1931) which I specifically watched for her, Ladies of the Jury (1932), I Love That Man, My Weakness and Broadway Thru a Keyhole (all 1933) but had no recollection of seeing her.
In this comedy, I liked her deadpanned seriousness as the daughter of the President (W.C. Fields) of the fictional Republic of Klopstokia (which in itself sounds Marx-ist). The story is by that other less-in-recent-news Mankiewicz, Joseph L.
I watched a little 1932 pre-Code called Attorney for The Defense with Edmund Lowe, Constance Cummings—who wasn’t related to the director of the film, Irving Cummings, since both of them changed their last names, hers from Halverstadt and his from Caminsky —, Evelyn Brent who I never see much of in talking films although she made plenty, Nat Pendleton, and Dwight Frye in a tiny pivotal role in the opening scene.
It was a bit crazy, with Edmund Lowe becoming his own defense lawyer. What struck me most was the non-aging of everyone but the boy who becomes a man, which was something I personally found enviable! With beautiful clothes and art deco sets, it’s the story of a district attorney who wants to make amends for convicting an innocent man to die, first by befriending the man’s wife and son, and eventually protecting the son from what looks like a bad case of murder.
It would have been exactly a year ago when someone recommended the book Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars by Scotty Bowers. I had watched Madame Currie (1943) and was telling a friend my thoughts on Walter Pidgeon, a pleasant actor but one who seems to have a flat vocal range. I was told that he opened this book of sex secrets and I must confess that of all the celebrities mentioned in Bowers’ book, Pidgeon was close to the only one that I truly had no knowledge of being bisexual. Perhaps he was gay but like so many of the stars in that era, he would have had to hide it—which he did with two wives. The other one, which in hindsight made sense to me, was Katharine Hepburn. The relationship between her and Spencer Tracy was fabricated for the screen and fans. If Spencer had moments of being attracted to his own sex, I can only surmise that it must have been only during deep moments of somnolent drunkenness. As for all the other reveals, who knows what is true or isn’t. None of the celebrities Bowers talked about were alive to confirm or deny his truths by the time he wrote this book at the seasoned age of 89.
Why I have brought up this book is because afterwards I found the documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2017) was available on Kanopy. Although the director Matt Trynauer touched on a number of the people Bowers had sex with or arranged sex partners for, the film is more about the author which made it an interesting companion piece. What is covered from a personal point of view in both book and film is his sexual, shall we say, indoctrination when he was just a child. He never acknowledges that he had been sexually abused by male adults; expressing that he received the utmost pleasure by giving these men—family friends, priests, shoeshine customers—what they needed to make their lives happy ones. That was the hardest part to stomach because pedophilia leaves a bad taste and it’s known to be devastating for the individuals who have had it happen to them. One personal trait that Bowers never mentions in his book, which may have grown out of this abuse, was that he was a major hoarder. All I can say is, his poor wife. Not an easy home to live in. In the film we learn that he also suffered from PTSD issues due to serving in WWII as a marine and witnessing other types of horrors.
Also on Kanopy, I watched Schizo (1976) which starred a lovely looking actress I didn’t know, Lynne Frederick. I looked her up and saw that she had been Peter Sellers last wife, and I then vaguely remembered the controversy surrounding the fact that she had been the sole inheritor of his estate and his estranged children were not happy with this arrangement. The basic story, which I hardly remember at this point, is about a young married couple and the wife is being stalked by someone from her past. There is an interested psychiatrist, a girlfriend who may have eyes for her husband and a twist ending.
There’s a bit of good, clean 70s horror along the way.
Again on Kanopy, I watched Murnau’s Phantom (1922) and I found it a lot of fun. Murnau can be hit and miss, and for spectators who don’t normally watch silent film, this would have been a miss. The main reason, to begin with, is that the leading man was just way too old for the role. Alfred Abel was 43 and he plays our young man, Lorenz Lubota, who while afoot, is struck down by a woman in a carriage (played by Lya de Putti) and immediately falls madly in love with her. Chock it up to the consequences of brain damage? Meanwhile, he is loved by Marie (Lil Dagover), the daughter of a man who thinks Lorenz may be a great poet. Lorenz works as a clerk for the government and Marie “knows” there is nobility in his character. To us, or at least to me, really he is kind of a loser. If a younger man, say around 25 (which is around the same age as these two women) had been cast, it would have been more acceptable for him to have appeared more of a dreamer and romantic. By one’s mid-40s, Marie should have expected the man of her dreams to have more convictions and not be such a willy-nilly, easily influenced by others.
But I loved the characters of his mother and sister, as well as the man who is easily able to sway Lorenz into committing fraudulent acts. Again, this makes him appear much weaker than if a younger man had done these things.
Thea von Harbou who had just that year married Fritz Lang, had been hired to adapt the novel to the screen. The photography in the scenes when he takes his dream woman out for the day stands out; particularly as a man in a daze with the odd angles, relaying what’s going on in his mind. I also took notice that the Herman Bing we know and love acted as Murnau’s production manager.
Back to Kanopy, and I watched The Deadly Trap (1971) a film made in France but was mostly in English. The director, René Clément, apparently did not speak any English but Faye Dunaway, who stars in it, did, so she enjoyed honing up on her language skills. I kept the subtitles up on the screen and found it amusing that every time they spoke in French it read “foreign language being spoken” instead of the actual translation. Frank Langella played the leading man and I have to say, even if the story wasn’t great, he and Faye were so amazingly beautiful.
Frank’s good looks did not stay with him as he aged, although he is an amazingly good actor and still continues to act at the age of 83. The last film I saw him in was The Trial of the Chicago 7 and he stood out amongst a cast of notables.
The Deadly Trap is the story of a married couple living in France with their two young children, while dealing with some marital issues. Phillippe (Langella) is a high-tech genius and after a meeting that doesn’t go the way his antagonists wished, the children are kidnapped while under the watch of their mother, Jill (Dunaway). She may, or may not, have mental and emotional problems. When it finally comes to its conclusion, all I can say is that their young son Patrick (Patrick Vincent in his only film) is going to face major psychological issues.
Missing Pilgrimage (1933) at a 2016 TFS screening, I took this film out of a gorgeous John Ford box set I own. It’s the story of a young man (Norman Foster) and his mother (Henrietta Crosman) who work their farm, but the mother is overly possessive of her son, not allowing him to use any of their meagre proceeds to date the daughter (Marian Nixon) of their nearest neighbour, a heavy drinking widower (Charley Grapewin). When her son enlists in the Great War, mostly to escape his mother, he leaves behind a pregnant girlfriend. Although the neighbours are tolerant of her situation, his mother isn’t. She learns the meaning of love and forgiveness when she travels to Europe on a government sponsored trip for mothers of fallen soldiers after peace has been restored. I was taken with the cast, Henrietta Crosman in particular, while Lucille La Verne as Kelly Hatfield was highly entertaining.
In much smaller but memorable roles along with Foster, Nixon and Grapewin were Heather Angel and Hedda Hopper. Bess Flowers is in SO MANY films, but I never recognize her unless I know to look in advance. An emotional film.
Kanopy advertised some of their films in a weekly email and because I like Robin Williams, although not all of his films, I decided to watch World’s Greatest Dad (2009). It’s a black comedy about a divorced, somewhat introverted and lonely high school teacher who has the most awful teenager for a son. So, when the son accidentally dies while performing a sexual asphyxiation act, Williams’ character wants to hide the reason for his death. It was directed by the comedian Bobcat Goldthwait. Not a perfect film, but Williams is good and the son, played by Daryl Sabara, is truly wonderfully horrible.
I went back to the John Ford collection and watched an early film, 1930’s Born Reckless which was basically one of those films where the dialogue sounds quite stunted and unnatural. It featured Edmund Lowe and Warren Hymer but the biggest draw for me was that Lee Tracy was in it, his second credited role. I know some people don’t like him. He’s loud and brash yet for some reason I find it appeals to me in the package of Lee Tracy. Here he plays a reporter who, you may have guessed, likes his drink. I barely remember the story any longer. Something about gangsters who are given the option of jail or fighting in Europe during the war, with a revenge twist near the end.
The sun is shining, summer is here, the lockdown is supposedly soon to be ending. Enjoy your day and I hope these inspire you to watch a film or two.