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Weekly Mishmash: July 13-19

Craig’s Wife (1936). I’ve been wanting to see this Dorothy Arzner directed melodrama for years now, and was delighted when it turned up recently on the TCM schedule as part of their Rosalind Russell film fest. Mostly I was interested in seeing how it compared to the 1950 remake with Joan Crawford in the same role as the possessive Harriet Craig, a wealthy woman who alienates her family and servants with her smothering perfectionism. Both are hugely entertaining, biting commentaries; not exactly the most feminist premise ever, but Russell and Crawford both skillfully interpret the role with distictiveness. I read someone on the TCM boards comparing Crawford with a lion (shredding her enemies with gusto), while Russell approaches Harriet in the subtle manner of a python (slowly strangling her victims to death). Craig’s Wife‘s plot seems rushed, as if everything happened in a day or two. With that in mind, I’d give Harriet a slight edge (the remake also replaces an implausibly random murder subplot with a better one in which Harriet sabotages her husband’s promotion). Good fun.
The Citadel (1938). Russell again, as the dutiful wife of Robert Donat. This veddy British tale follows an idealistic young doctor as he progresses from poor miners to rich hypochondriacs, losing a bit of his soul in the process. It’s a bit too pokey and episodic, but I enjoyed the lead performers. Donat ages realistically as his character goes from idealistic 20s to world-weary 30s (Russell, of course, looks exactly the same). Although not as transforming, it’s similar to what he goes through in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
Little Children (2006). Kate Winslet as a desperate housewife — pretty brilliant. The film portrayed an insular little world with frightening accuracy, I thought. American suburbia is full of people, many contented with what they have but many others stuck up on petty nonsense and imposing their own morals on everyone else. Some viewers complained about the open-ended nature of the ending, but by that time the more observant among us know the characters of Sarah (Winslet) and Brad (Patrick Wilson) well enough to know how things would eventually pan out.
The Sorrow and the Pity (1969). Christopher rented this famed WWII documentary, which I’d previously known only as a punchline in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Supposedly it’s one of the best docs ever made, well worth enduring its four hour length — but we couldn’t get through it (embarrassed shrug). After 90 minutes, the endless b&w parade of middle-aged talking heads got to us. Should we have stuck it out?
Warning Shadows (1923). This early silent is much admired by fans of German Expressionist cinema — or masochists, depending on whom you ask. I’d side with the latter. Man oh man, this was one dreadful slog of a movie! From what little I could make out, the Napoleon-era plot revolves around a jealous husband who invites his flirty wife and her admirers to a lavish dinner, then entraps and tortures the party with shadow plays and lots of bug-eyed gestures. It’s certainly an unusual film, with no dialogue cards and a sporadically interesting usage of light and shadow — but it’s also really, really boring.

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