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Weekly Mishmash: August 3-9

Man’s Castle (1933). Having this rarely-screened Frank Borzage gem show up on TCM recently came as an unexpected treat. In it, Spencer Tracy plays a ne’er do well who barely attempts to make things work with penniless Loretta Young in their shantytown shack. Borzage’s films are almost always about love triumphing over adverse circumstances, and this one is no exception — it’s both despairing and starry-eyed in equal parts. In the beginning, Tracy’s character comes off as an unlikeable jerk, and Young is miscast (I would have loved to have seen Barbara Stanwyck play that part). Eventually, however, both actors overcome their faults and deliver memorable performances. A brisk pace and intelligent script make this one of the best Depression-era movies I’ve ever seen, actually. Is it too “hopeless romantic” of me to wish Sony/Columbia puts this out on DVD?
Panic in the Streets (1950). When Christopher and I were at the local library to check out some DVDs this week, this Elia Kazan noir was among our choices. I don’t know if I had heard of this before, but I guess it flew under my radar before now. It’s a good, solid movie with a compelling plot about keeping a super-contagious virus bacteria under control, with New Orleans on-location filming and a lot of non-actors in smaller roles lending a gritty realism to the proceedings. The enigmatic Richard Widmark plays the hero, Jack Palance (in his first film) plays the heavy, and Zero Mostel is around to remind us of the horrible comb-over hairstyle he had.
The Puppetoons Movie (1987). Another library find. I remember hearing about this upon the film’s original release (I recall Leonard Maltin doing an Entertainment Tonight segment on it) and being intrigued by the stylized stop motion animation done by George Pal in the ’30s and ’40s. This is a basic compilation of vintage shorts, bookended with corny segments with Gumby and Pokey dealing with a timid dinosaur (the last role for legendary voice actor Paul Frees) who appears to have prefigured the Toy Story dinosaur by a few years. The shorts themselves, although dated and filled with groan-inducing stereotypes, are colorful delights brimming with amazing (and painstaking) animation. But there’s also an added weirdness about them that reminds me of the Max Fleischer Color Classics shorts — the DVD extra Jasper and the Haunted House is a good example. Overall I’d say the movie is pretty much for animation buffs only, but personally I had a ball.
Stray Dog (1949)Stray Dog (1949). After Scrubbles reader Tim recommended this as one of the better Akira Kurosawa films (thanks, Tim!), we snatched this DVD up from the library bins. Indeed, it does rank as one of his better films — which surprises me since it’s not as well-known as some of his other stuff. This was an unusual-for-its-time contemporary police drama starring a young and thin Toshiro Mifune as a cop who sets off on an arduous investigation after his gun gets stolen. Although overlong and slow at times, I found this interesting because of the postwar Japan setting and Kurosawa’s creative work with framing and camera angles. The acting was very good, too, and Criterion’s DVD has a good segment on the making of the film.
The Ugly Dachshund (1966). Another step in my exploration of Disney’s live action movies from the ’60s and ’70s. With Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette essaying a straightforward plot filled with contrived mishaps and such, I often forgot I was watching a Disney movie (Jones seems like a very “Disney” actor; Pleshette does not). Often the film plays like the kind of undemanding fluff comedy that one is likely to forget as soon as the end credits roll. Still, the dogs were all incredibly cute… and isn’t that what really counts here?

2 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: August 3-9

  1. Toshiro Mifune is one of the best. I finally got to see Youjimbo, and thought he was great in that. I’ve still yet to see Throne of Blood (right title?). I even saw The Hidden Fortress, but as many have said, it’s a bit disapointing. Still, you can see the influences on Star Wars.

    And let’s not forget 1941. Or that he is the namesake of Go Mifune/Speed Racer.

  2. When Suzanne Pleshette passed away earlier this year I decided to check out THE UGLY DACHSHUND. The dogs weren’t the only cuties in that movie.

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