Weekly Mishmash: September 28-October 4
Dr. Monica (1934) and Confession (1937). More Tivo’d Kay Francis. Dr. Monica is the second film in which Kay played a doctor. For this go-round, she’s treating a young woman who has gotten “into trouble” — by Kay’s husband, Warren William! All in all, a typically soapy outing for her that flies by (literally!) in less than an hour. Probably the best thing about this movie is the amazing Verree Teasdale playing Miss Francis’ tart best friend. Teasdale only appeared in 27 films over a career that scarcely lasted a decade, but the woman could do more with an arched eyebrow and sideways glance than most actors could do with their whole bodies. Confession was one of those films that first got me into seeing obscure old b&w films, when it showed up amongst several other Warner Bros. quickies in my local channel’s “Late Show” slot. The story is typical to the extreme (basically Kay avenging an indiscretion by verminlike ex-lover Basil Rathbone), but what really sets this melodrama apart is the stylized German Expressionist direction. The gauzy shots of ceiling fixtures and closed eyes give this film a curiously outdated feel for 1937 — but now that I know the director was making a shot-for-shot remake of an earlier film, the whole thing makes nutty sense. The re-viewing finds that the film holds up nicely, with an excellent performance from Francis. Even Christopher, a die hard Kay-hater, enjoyed this.
The Rape of Europa (2006) and King Corn (2007). Two thought provoking documentaries arrived this week. The stuffily titled Rape of Europa is a fascinating look into the myriad ways the Nazis stole and plundered priceless works of art throughout World War II, and the great lengths those who owned unplundered pieces went through to preserve their holdings. Although it becomes somewhat dull in the second (post-WWII era) half, the film was chock full of excellent interviews from those who were there, along with a host of art/history experts. On a superficial note, I loved all the beautiful tracking shots of paintings in sumptuous widescreen. King Corn deals with the here and now, namely how the mass production of cheap, grainy corn has dominated America’s farmland in the last 25 years or so. In it, two regular guys decide to plant an acre of corn to see how it’s grown and where it goes once harvested. Although a lot of the material was familiar to me, it still had several eye-opening (and sad) moments. Quirky stop-motion animation and lots of lovely, languid shots of Iowa farmland contribute to a thoughtful film that simply illustrates the cost of getting us fed (and, consequently, why we’ve gotten so fat).
Storm Warning (1951). Doris Day and the Klu Klux Klan, who’da thunk it? This was an engrossing melodrama starring Ginger Rogers as a woman who visits her sister (Day) in a small Southern town. Upon arriving, she witnesses a ghastly murder committed by Klansmen, and is shocked to find that one of the men involved is her own brother-in-law (Steve Cochran, slimy yet sexy). As the film unfolds, Rogers finds that the town will go to great lengths to keep her from spilling the beans to the D.A. investigating the crime (Ronald Reagan). This was a very unusual and interesting film which piles on the creepy, sweaty atmosphere effectively. The cast is excellent; even Reagan surprised. One pointy hood up.
You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story (American Masters, PBS). I was totally looking forward to this, since American Masters‘ thoroughness makes even a semi-decent subject worthwhile (personally I enjoy American Experience more, but that’s neither here nor there). But then I got a bit leery when seeing that this six hour opus was the work of Richard Schickel. The guy is the McDonalds of documentary filmmaking — ubiquitous and boring — and I hate how he uses the same experts over and over again (Martin Scorcese, anyone?). On the plus side, there are a lot of great movie clips used througout, and the first hour nicely summarizes Warners’ zippy pre-Code era. Unfortunately, it quickly turns disjointed and at times downright dishonest (from watching this you’d think Warners only did critically acclaimed auteur films in the ’70s). Full disclosure: I never watched the final part, dealing with 1980 to the present, but I can guess how it turned out. The later stuff doesn’t appeal much to me, anyhow.