classic film reviews

Released January 19, 1949: CRISS CROSS, starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, and Dan Duryea.  Directed by Robert Siodmak (Phantom Lady, The Killers, The File on Thelma Jordan).  The story pivots around a Los Angeles armored car heist orchestrated by Burt Lancaster and Dan Duryea.  Lancaster works for the armored car company and is the vital “inside man” necessary to pull off the job, while Duryea is the boss of a small criminal outfit who can provide the manpower and resources needed to implement the caper.  But to understand how the robbery plan originated, we are taken back in time to discover that the real story is about Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo.  Several years back, Lancaster was briefly married to De Carlo, but after they divorced, Lancaster left Los Angeles and roamed about the country.  Upon his return, he eventually met up with De Carlo and their passion reignited.  But Lancaster’s friends and family believed De Carlo was bad for him, so they intervened and discouraged her from seeing him.  As a result, she married Duryea, leaving Lancaster heartbroken.  However, circumstances bring the three of them together, and Lancaster ends up pitching the idea of the armored car robbery to Duryea as a way to grab enough money to secretly run off with De Carlo, who is unhappy and eager to escape her marriage to Duryea.  This is a well-made movie with an excellent cast, but after it hooks you in with an exciting opening, the pace slows down considerably and doesn’t pick up again until the story reaches its fateful climax.  This pacing technique can be found in several other classic noir films, such as Kiss the Blood Off My Hands and Born to Kill, both of which follow a similar template.  The problem in Criss Cross is that the story gets a little muddled along the way and loses momentum, but thankfully, it’s the powerful performances by Lancaster and De Carlo that really drive this film.  De Carlo in particular, is simply outstanding.  She’s vibrant, beautiful, and lights up the screen with an intelligent sparkle that all but outshines her legendary costars.  In a sequence that’s over a minute long, no words are spoken as the camera follows De Carlo’s face while she dances in a crowded night club.  Lancaster watches from a distance, mesmerized, and so are we.  (Incidentally, her dance partner is an uncredited Tony Curtis.)  In her scenes with Lancaster, she conveys both inner toughness and warm sensitivity, and it’s easy to see why Lancaster is hopelessly in love with her.  Although his role is disappointingly small, Dan Duryea turns in another deliciously sleazy performance as only he can. Complementing the film’s stars are the minor supporting players, who contribute a wealth of personality to this film. Duryea’s henchmen (John Doucette, Marc Krah, James O'Rear, and John Skins Miller) breathe life into what easily could have been another routine crew of hoodlums.  Joan Miller, who has a tiny part as the bar’s resident alcoholic (the character is billed as “The Lush” in the credits) is simply outstanding.  It’s a small, non-essential part, but the movie wouldn’t have been the same without her. Other familiar faces among the cast include the ever-present Percy Helton and Alan Napier.  Criss Cross features excellent performances by some of our favorite film noir actors, but the story is mired by slow pacing, and is ultimately quite predictable and not that special.  The primary reasons to watch this film are De Carlo’s superb performance, the talented supporting cast, and the many glimpses of old Los Angeles.  We give Criss Cross 3.5 out of 5 fedoras.

Released January 14, 1949: THE ACCUSED, starring Loretta Young, Robert Cummings, and Wendell Corey.  Directed by William Dieterle (Rope of Sand, Dark City, The Turning Point).  Loretta Young is a bookish university professor who meets with one of her less studious pupils (Douglas Dick) after school to discuss his academic future. Dick offers to drive her home, but instead, takes her to a secluded cliff high above the ocean and tries to force himself on her.  In the struggle, Young clubs Dick over the head with a heavy object and kills him. Distraught, she arranges the scene to make it look like Dick slipped off the cliff, hit his head on the rocks below, and drowned, and then makes her way home on foot.  The next day, Dick’s family guardian (Robert Cummings) shows up on Young’s doorstep, and not realizing Dick has been killed, wants to discuss Dick’s academic status.  Cummings is immediately attracted to Young and pretty soon all he’s interested in is spending as much time as possible with her. Meanwhile, much to Young’s relief, Dick’s death is ruled accidental, however, police detective Wendell Corey is convinced foul play was involved, and continues to doggedly pursue the case.  This film has some intriguing moments, but unfortunately, lacks any real suspense.  Even though Corey’s net draws tighter and tighter around Young, the audience knows all along she has a justifiable explanation for her actions.  Not only that, she has Cummings in her corner, who happens to be an adept attorney, and even though he himself comes to suspect Young of murder, falls completely head over heels for her and will do anything to protect her.  The film’s most engaging scenes are those in which Corey analyzes physical evidence or questions Young, but the remainder of the film is primarily devoted to the growing feelings of love between Cummings and Young, which is a rather ho-hum affair. Young’s performance alternates between self-assured professor and helpless damsel in distress on the verge of a fainting spell - an antiquated female stereotype that makes this film feel rather outdated, even by classic film standards.  On the other hand, Wendell Corey puts in a charmingly understated performance as an astute detective with a heart.  The complete opposite of the stereotypical hard-boiled brute, he is instantly likable and a joy to watch.  The Accused is not a bad film, it’s just not a particularly interesting one.  The lack of meaningful suspense, slow pacing, and archaic portrayal of women don’t leave much for viewers to savor.  We give The Accused 2 out of 5 fedoras.

Ingrid Bergman excelled at playing strong-willed, independent-minded women; she herself was one, and she paid a higher price for her artistic ambition and personal freedom than did any other movie star.

Read more from Richard Brody, celebrating Ingrid Bergman’s centenary onscreen.

Photograph by David Seymour / Magnum

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I haven’t forgotten about my monthly movie post!!

For April, I’ve chosen one of the greatest films (well, in my opinion)….”All About Eve,” from 1950, starring Bette Davis and Anne Baxter.

I really love how Rotten Tomatoes opens it’s summary with… “All About Eve is an elegantly bitchy backstage story revolving around aspiring actress Eve Harrington (Baxter)”. An extremely accurate description without giving too much away. I don’t really want to tell you what happens in the picture, because it’s just too good for you not to experience it yourself.

One of the most profound “mean girl” movies I’ve ever seen, the flip-moment is spectacular. A sad story about a woman’s aging, the effect it can have on a successful career, and the perspective we have toward ourselves. Depressed by her 40th birthday, Margo Channing (Davis) says that admitting her age makes her “feel as if I’ve taken all my clothes off.” She looks at Bill and bitterly says: “Bill’s 32. He looks 32. He looked it five years ago. He’ll look it 20 years from now. I hate men.”

We all know how much shit we give mature actresses for their withering looks and diva dispositions. But is it really fair to them? I think not. Why are they not allowed to grow older and wiser, or to know exactly what they want and settle for nothing less? Why are we so obsessed and preoccupied with the virginal, naive, adolescent types who have not experienced very many life changing events. In my opinion, there’s not much to learn from them, not very much depth, and I personally don’t always understand the appeal. Well, you get to see Marilyn Monroe in a small cameo, sort of portraying just this character: the young sexpot that she is so well known for, lol; but she always manages to steal the screen no matter how small or insignificant her role may seem…a true star.

One of my favorite moments in the film is in the broken down car scene when Margo gets very introspective about her own success, not as an actress, but as a woman. It’s a very dark part, for me at least, because in some way I relate to this….in her epic monologue, she states, “That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman.” Like…damn.

You sort of develop a love-hate relationship with all of the main characters….it’s very taxing emotionally lol. The acting of course is top notch. With the legendary Bette Davis giving a sharp, yet heartfelt (at times) performance….honestly she steals the show - and that’s as it should be. 

“Praised by critics at the time of its release, All About Eve was nominated for 14 Academy Awards (a feat unmatched until the 1997 film Titanic) and won six, including Best Picture. As of 2014, All About Eve is still the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations (Davis and Baxter as Best Actress, Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter as Best Supporting Actress).“ - - -taken from Wikipedia

You can find the movie on Netflix if you’ve got an account or watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmga-_c2sCI for a small amount -___-

“She had many lovers. But only one love. Because all the straight men in this are giant douchenozzles.”

So I watched Carrington recently. I found it engrossing and well-acted throughout, with an interesting script that focuses on Carrington’s love life, rather than her artistic life, but still manages to convey a great deal about her and what must have made her interesting as an artist. (It’s on Netflix if you have two hours!) Emma Thompson is great in the title role, all keen intelligence and awkward creative energy, and Jonathan Pryce is wonderful as the object of her lifetime affection, a witty, hypochondriacal, barely-disguised homosexual, who loves her too, in a way. The movie is the story of their unconventional arrangement; lovers traipse in and out of their lives, but over 15 years they stay together, and Carrington commits suicide shortly after Lytton’s death. 

I liked the movie! I really did–but let’s be frank here: it wasn’t hard to see why the film’s Carrington fell in love with a gay man. ALL the straight guys in the movie are giant douchebags. Ok, ok: perhaps this is overstatement, but there is no man in this, other than Lytton, who does not say something balls to the wall horrible to Carrington at some point during the movie. While her husband and Brenan, another lover, are not all bad, both are shown as intermittently possessive, selfish, and venomously spiteful. Other lovers are portrayed as vain, shallow, and uncaring (Penrose) or obsessive, cruel, misogynistic, giant assholes (Mark Gertler.) Lytton is an angel compared to any of them. For all his faults (among them his inability to provide her with erotic love,) he is the only one who treats her as a complete person all the time, never as an accessory or a trophy or an inferior. In the film we see how a woman like Carrington, who we see is a complete, deeply feeling person, is unable go from this kind of love to the kind commonly on offer from the men of early twentieth century England. 

The real Carrington’s story was doubtless more complicated than the one in the film, for one thing, none of her lesbian affairs made the cut, but the message here is a strong and interesting one. Lytton, perhaps because of the tangle of his own sexuality, is shown to be capable of a tolerant, undemanding, supportive affection for someone he clearly sees as his equal. Even when her other lovers aren’t telling her what kind of stockings to wear, or demanding she abandon all else to follow them to other countries, or screaming at her over her desire to lose her virginity on her own terms, they never quite seem capable of this. Watching this in 2012, I never once felt shocked by her “unconventional” decisions. Carrington is an interesting movie about an uncommon breed of love, but one that could stand to be much more common, I think. 

This was SO MUCH FUN. 

Melodrama on top of melodrama! It’s a melodrama sundae. This is another one of those three girl movies, but instead of only one ending badly they pretty much all do. Well, except the main one, but there’s enough sex and drama packed in that it doesn’t seem boring when she does. Seriously though, drugs! porn! sudden and irreversible genetic disease! absolutely everyone having pre-/extra-marital sex! gays! (although the only person accused of being gay is later seen cavorting with a woman–he just didn’t desire his wife anymore because she was acting so unwomanly what with working and all.) It’s sort of amazing to me that something this explicit was made in 1967. It strikes that magical balance wherein all the performers seem to be acting the material with perfect seriousness, but the material is so salaciously sensational that the result can only be camp of the highest order. 

I can’t really give this a good grade…because it’s ridiculous by all the normal standards of drama. So let me say that while the material probably only rates a C, the experience of watching is A+. 

When I first watched Valmont I was in high school. Maybe 15? 16? I loved it. I thought it was tragic. The tragic story of a cad finding true love–but too late! And dying, oh so tragically. Yet living on, sort of! Who couldn’t identify with the overwhelming passion Madame de Tourval comes to feel for 28-year-old and beautiful as the risen sun, Colin Firth, Valmont? That scene where he asks her if she wants him to lie to her! Unf. Unf. Double unf. My dad told me to watch it again in a few years and see if it seemed the same. 

I watched Valmont again this afternoon, and I no longer identify with Madame de Tourval. Well, I do some, but mostly* I identify with Madame de Volanges–Madame de Volanges right in the moment when she sees Valmont come out of the house in the country and is so clearly thinking, “WHO THE FUCK LET MY 15-Y-O DAUGHTER STAY A MINUTE IN A HOUSE WITH THIS ASSHOLE?” Seriously. When I was 16 (and probably more like Cecile than I’d like to admit) these people all seemed terrible–but also beautiful and adult and tragic in an exciting way. Now they mostly just seem terrible. Perhaps I’ve turned into more of a Puritan with age, but no means no, purity will be corrupted soon enough, etc. etc., JESUS, you inveterate libertines, you. 

Yet this process of looking at things differently as you age is clearly something acknowledged by the film. More than once the Marquise asks a character how old they are–because she reads people well and wants to properly frame her response–and practically winks knowingly at the camera when they respond, “15,” or “22,” or “17.” The joke of course, is on her. She’s not so very old either, (at barely 30 Annette Bening is the oldest of the main cast) and her face in the final scene says clearly that she was too inexperienced to realize exactly how much damage her game could inflict. And that the payoff–exactly what she schemed for–is less sweet than she hoped. 

Valmont is a movie about beautiful rich bored people who are too young to realize that the games they play might have consequences. This is what Dangerous Liaisons missed when Stephen Frears cast Glenn Close (41) and John Malkovich (37,) as good as they are in those parts. (Also Fairuza Balk > > > Uma Thurman.) It is not a tragic romance. It is a good movie, and the theme is actually an all-too-realistic one that would be resonant in any century. In fact, I hear there’s this movie called Cruel Intentions that really leans in to the young characters thing? Maybe I’ll watch that next. 

*A tiiiiiiny evil part of me identifies with the Marquise. Shhh. It’s tiny. 

2

It’s Double Feature Classic Movie Review Day at Carpinteria! The theme is rom-coms starring Thelma Ritter as the mother-in-law! This is a lot of exclamation points already, so I’m going to move straight into the reviews….

Move Over Darling has a cute concept, and is occasionally cute in practice, but is mostly rather irritatingly executed. I love Doris Day probably more than the next person, but even I don’t want to watch her nag James Garner into breaking up with his new wife (acquired while Day was presumed dead on a desert island) for 103 minutes. Especially when if you think about it, there would have been plenty of comedy to be mined from having the revelation of Day’s continued vitality earlier in the film. Garner and she have chemistry, but that’s not enough when he spends the majority of the movie evading her and lying implausibly to his new wife, Polly Bergen. Bergen’s character is written as comedically awful, probably to make her eventual ousting by Doris’ more palatable, but she’s still not that funny. Any points gained for having Thelma Ritter as the mother-in-law are lost during the racist scenes between her and the Spanish-speaking housekeeper. Perhaps the earlier version with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne works better? I hope so. C. 

The Mating Season, on the other hand, is actually great! Ritter has a much more prominent role as the hamburger-stand-owning mother of John Lund, who marries up when he falls for ambassador’s daughter Gene Tierney. When married life is a little rough for the newlyweds though, Thelma comes in to save the day and is mistaken for the new maid by her daughter-in-law. The hijinks that ensue are character-driven, thoughtful, and above all pretty funny. I’m a little surprised that I’d never heard of a movie that I enjoyed this much, not to mention one for which Ritter ended up winning a (totally deserved) Oscar. Maybe its unpretentious tone has contributed to its being somewhat lost in the dialogue about classic film? Definitely recommended though, especially for chasing away the blues. A

This might be the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely the worst Cary Grant movie I’ve ever seen. 

Here’s the breaks, and you’ll have to bear with me because I’m going to summarize a lot of the plot, something I usually try not to do: Cary Grant is Dr. Praetorius. He’s the most perfect doctor ever, but another doctor at the university where he teaches has it out for him because…who knows? Maybe he’s jealous? Or maybe he’s just been rubbed the wrong way by Praetorius’ pompous, condescending attitude and constant employment of hollow, untrue platitudes. Perhaps Dr. Elwell (the other awful doctor who doubts our protagonist’s glory) does’t like Praetorius’ high-handed treatment of people who put their trust in him. All of these would be valid concerns, but we don’t really get any explanation for his enmity.

To continue, Jeanne Crain is Debra, a woman who has gotten pregnant out of wedlock. After some preaching by Praetorius about her responsibility to the baby, she attempts suicide rather than carry it. She fucks it up, undoubtedly, the film seems to imply by Praetorius’ continued condescension to her, because she’s a silly little woman. But he decides to lie and tell her there has been an error in her test and that she’s not actually pregnant in order to keep her from doing herself or the fetus further harm. Despicable, in and of itself. However, he then decides to further interfere by telling her father about the pregnancy, or at least in some vague way “winning him over” so that she may tell him. (Unclear how she will do this since she is not aware of the pregnancy herself.) After meeting the father, a gentle waffling sort of poet, whom we are evidently meant to believe is in some way profound, P. realizes that it would be “impossible” to ever reveal Debra’s fall to him. So instead he marries her.

I know, right? WHAT EVEN THE FUCK. In case you were wondering, he certainly doesn’t reveal the secret of her condition before the wedding. Then, when she finally starts feeling pregnant, he lets it drop that he’s been lying to her all along. Maybe this didn’t seem like such a terrible thing in an age when propriety counted for so much more than it does now? But I feel a boundless disgust for this film’s portrayal of so vast an abuse of trust, so thorough a betrayal of a doctor’s responsibility, as something noble.

Debra lets him off the hook of course. She’s just a poor little woman who’s been waiting for some god-like male figure to come and order her affairs, after all. Then we have the secondary plot unfold. The mean old Dr. Elwell, sets up a “trial” of sorts of Dr. P. by the other hospital board members. The accusations are extremely fuzzy, but he wants to know why people back in Goose Creek, where P. got his start, believed him to be a miracle worker, and who is Shunderson, the idiot who follows Praetorius around and does his beck and call. 

It’s not really important why either of these things are. Suffice it to say, they are because Dr. Praetorius is a fucking saint. This really is the message of this film: here is this man who behaves in ways that are contrary to the ways you’d think a decent person would behave. Well, joke’s on you because he’s a fucking saint, and here’s why. They should never have called the film People Will Talk, because it isn’t about people talking! It’s about the goddamned sainthood of the main character, which as far as I’m concerned they go no way towards proving. Grant seems drained of his usual lightness and charm in striving to match the film’s grandiose tone, and when brief flashes of it occur (like the scene where he and Crain fall in love in the barn) it’s almost icky in combination with his actions. Crain and others are fine, she’s even pretty good, but they are saddled with a script that is pompous, convoluted, and that exhibits an impossible, disgusting morality.

To make it clear, I’m not trying to weigh in on abortion here, only on the absolute responsibility of a doctor to tell the truth to his patient. This should not be a rule that can be broken just because the doctor thinks he knows best. What? What even the what? And then the morality that calls it good to marry one’s patient without revealing the secret knowledge about her health as well? I can’t even with this! I know it was a much more common practice at the time to conceal unpleasant truths from dying people, etc. etc., but I would have thought even in 1951 audiences would have revolted from this idea. 

The movie the should have made is the one set in Goose Creek, where Cary is a butcher, who cures people with good sense and a secret medical degree. Then we could have explored the psychology behind this decision and the townsfolk’s reaction when they inevitably find out about it. That might have warmed my heart! Or you could have made a movie about Jeanne Crain having a baby out of wedlock and struggling and having to tell her father and falling in love with her supportive, truthful OB-GYN. That might have been a heartwarming film too, with a thought-provoking moral dilemma something like what this one is aiming for. Instead we get a mess that includes all the worst from these two ideas. Ugh. F.

8 Word Review: I did not think this was very funny. 

To clarify, It may have been funny back in the day, but this millenial had more than one issue with it. For one thing it traffics in very basic gender role reversal, but seems extremely uncomfortable even touching any of the (very obvious) jokes that come to mind when one thinks of two guys living together. “THEY’RE DEFINITELY NOT GAY” the movie seems to be shouting during the second half. I suppose I should probably be grateful that they didn’t go whole hog for homophobia (and I am,) but the option we’re offered–in which Oscar is a total lech who’s happy not to pay his child support and Felix is mocked for possessing every gay stereotype under the sun but redeemed by his willingness to use his “womanliness” as an in to get women–doesn’t work for me either. It’s simplistic and offensive, but more than both of these it’s boring and alienates the audience (or me at least) who ought to sympathize with the protagonists.

The other issue is that all of the scenes are waaay too long. Felix is trying to kill himself for something like the first 30 minutes of the film. And they don’t decide to move in together until halfway through! And THEN we…skip everything? 

We get one scene of the title couple living together, and it’s the scene where everything implodes. In a movie with something like, 5 scenes, maybe this is enough? But I don’t like it. It’s just not very effective storytelling, consisting as it does mainly of the two men whining at each other about all the things that have gone wrong in the intervening time offscreen. Then exit Felix, and a wrap-up with the Poker Night boys. 

It seems that whoever adapted the 1965 play for the screen did very little adapting. This is rapidly becoming a pet peeve of mine. Film is not the same medium as the stage, and I do not go to one expecting to see the same type of storytelling as in the other. I would have liked to see the development of Felix and Oscar’s relationship, and I would have LOVED to have seen either character actually arc. 

That’s the last problem. Oscar and Felix are exactly the same people at the end that they were at the beginning of the film. Even though it’s shown that Felix’s uptight management is good for Oscar, saving him money and helping him be responsible to his child, it is not shown that Oscar’s loose-living is able to mellow Felix and Oscar seems poised to return to stage 1 once Felix moves out. 

So I’m left asking myself, what’s the point? Why did I spend 105 minutes (which felt much longer) with these people who are incapable of change? The problems I have with the film would be easy to fix, and the concept is such a fun one that I wish someone would do it. As it is, C-. 

2

You can’t go wrong with Nick and Nora. Excuse me, I mean Powell and Loy. To test this hypothesis my brother and I purchased this boxset for Christmas–early results are  positive.

I Love You Again is almost an A+ film. It’s not quiteThe Thin Man, but all the wisecracks and the wittiness are there. Plotwise, it’s a comedy of remarriage without the divorce. Powell is cracked over the head and wakes up thinking he’s a con-man, and his wife likes him better that way. There were a couple bits that wore on me after awhile, but they were mainly jokes that started out funny but were allowed to go on too long, like the extended sequence of Powell leading a boy scout troupe with no remembrance of any form of woodsmanship. The scenes with Bill and Myrna are, to borrow a phrase, fucking golden though. They are delightful, all the way through. A. 

Double Wedding would probably only rate a B, but I’m adding a + for the pure humorousness of Loy’s deadpan delivery of lines like, "Do you take dope?“ Powell’s good too, and their chemistry is solid, despite this being the first film they were teamed on. It’s a little more dated than I Love You Again somehow though, as well as being slower paced, and the second male and female leads don’t bring much to their performances. Overall charming however, and had the family laughing out loud more than once. B+