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Weekly Mishmash: September 7-13

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. I was inspired to pick this up after reading Slate’s glowing re-evaluation from a couple of months ago. Anne Shirley comes across as a grating goody-goody at times, and the book plods a bit after she matures into a bland teenager. The book is also more episodic than it needs to be, but I do believe that Montgomery has created one of the great, plucky little girls of early 20th-century fiction. It was a delightful read, and now it makes me curious for further exploration. Not for the later Anne of Avonlea books (in his spoiler-filled intro to this 100th anniversary edition, Jack Zipes dismisses all of them and Ms. Montgomery for making Anne a “conformist”), but for the various film adaptations. Coincidentally, Turner Classic Movies will be broadcasting the 1936 film starring the only actress who renamed herself after a character she played (Anne Shirley!) on my birthday, October 8th.
Audition (2000). Scary Asian movie about a middle-aged widower who decides to select a new wife by holding a cattle call audition. This particular one starts off as a rather competent but uninspiring thriller, then it devolves into ugly and misogynistic torture porn. This was another recommendation from Christopher’s Japanese co-worker, but after sitting through it I can confidently say that I’m getting tired of scary Asian movies.
Christmas In July (1940). Every time I get sucked in by a bloated modern movie, I’ll think about this Preston Sturges gem — which conveys everything it needs to say in a brisk and efficient 67 minutes. This one came across as typical Sturges for me, meaning it’s not as great as its reputation suggests. Still, it’s a breezy and enjoyable soufflé which further proves that Sturges was one of the best in using excellent supporting actors. As exhibit A I submit Franklin Pangborn as the radio announcer. One could likely have a good movie with Pangborn and no one else, but here he fits in perfectly with the zany ensemble behind appealing leads Dick Powell and Ellen Drew.
Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962). An underrated French New Wave effort follows a vain singer (Corinne Marchand, who resembles a blonde and curvy Carolyn Jones) over the course of two hours as she awaits the results of a cancer test. Over the course of the film, the heroine learns to cast away the artificial (a silly hat, a wig extension) and learns to enjoy life for the simple pleasures it gives. Languid shots of Marchand walking the streets of early ’60s Paris as city life obliviously bustles about her make for the most memorable parts. This scene was my favorite, when director Agnès Varda moves from candid rehearsal to an intense shot of Marchand against a black background, singing a lovely song. Probably not the greatest French New Wave ever, but damn cool nonetheless.
If You Could Only Cook (1935). When TCM had a Jean Arthur day, I TiVo’d this enjoyable trifle. Miss Arthur plays a woman desperately looking for a job. She convinces Herbert Marshall to apply for a maid/butler position as a couple, unaware that he’s a slumming auto magnate. This was cute, undemanding entertainment. Like Christmas In July, it’s a reminder that (pardon the cliché) they don’t make ’em like they used to.
What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969). Gothic horror produced by Robert Aldrich, who was really milking the What Ever Happened to Baby Jane association by this point. Geraldine Page plays a desperate widow who extorts money from her housekeepers before knocking them off, one by one. That is, until smart cookie Ruth Gordon comes under her employ. Although generally the movie plays like an overlong Night Gallery episode, Page’s spirited performance keeps it fun. I also like how her house was, for no apparent reason, out in the middle of the Arizona desert. The setting adds a bit of weirdness to an otherwise unremarkable story.

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