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Weekly Mishmash: December 21-27

The Cheaters (1945). We gave this a cursory viewing when it showed up on Turner Classic Movies — twice — on Christmas night. From Robert Osborne’s glowing introduction, you’d think we were in for an undiscovered Yuletide cinematic gem. Instead, what we got was a dismal screwball comedy that tried way too hard to please. The plot revolved around a rich, dimwitted family who adopt a down-on-his-luck actor (shades of My Man Godfrey), all the while attempting to thwart a family inhertance. In the process, they learn What Life Is Really About and the viewer tries to suppress an upchuck. True, Billie Burke and Eugene Pallette are their usual, delightfully stereotypical selves as the parents, but this one only proved that Republic Pictures was better off sticking to Westerns.
I’ll See You in My Dreams (1951). This musical biopic was very competently directed by that powerhouse of Warner Bros., Michael Curtiz. Danny Thomas was an odd choice to star as lyricist Gus Kahn, but he’s surprisingly good and Doris Day is her usual perky self as Kahn’s supportive wife, Grace. This is the usual sort of malarkey in which songs seemingly spring up out of thin air, but (aside from being too long) it was fun and sweet without being too sickeningly sentimental.
Mamma Mia! (2008) and ABBA — Voulez-Vous. What to say about the film version of Mamma Mia!? I’m a true blue ABBA fan, but I’ve never seen the stage version before — something about it (the estrogen-heavy cast?) just seems so unappealing to me. The film version confirms those suspicions. First off, this exists as a plea to Hollywood to please stop casting non-singing actors in musicals. Meryl Streep has a thin but decent singing voice (even turning in a lovely performance with “Slipping Through My Fingers”), but these tunes are way out of her range. To compensate for what she lacks in voice, she overplays everything else to an embarrassing degree. This applies to the rest of the cast as well. The music is fun (if unimaginatively arranged) and having it filmed on a real, picturesque Greek island was an excellent idea — but those are about the only positives going for this lousily directed thing. Having sat through the movie, I downloaded ABBA’s 1979 LP Voulez Vous and now it is my second favorite album of theirs (after The Visitors). Fans call this one their “disco album,” but in actuality its the usual ABBA brilliance adapted to the disco sound, impeccably arranged and sung with an almost creepy perfection. Except for the drippy ballad “I Have A Dream” (that and “Thank You For The Music” are the only two ABBA tunes that I really can’t stomach), it’s a perfect album. “Does Your Mother Know” and “Kisses Of Fire” elicit strong deja vu feelings, since my dad actually bought that single for me when it first came out nearly thirty years ago. Why bother dealing with Mamma Mia! when the real thing is so easily available?
Model Shop (1969). This intriguing but ultimately disappointing film served as the only American venture from famed French director Jacques Demy. It follows an aimless young man as he deals with the possibility of being drafted and breaking up with his wannabe actress girlfriend in sun baked late ’60s L.A. Eventually he meets a mysterious French woman who works in a place where pervy guys can rent cameras and take photos of models in private rooms. Demy has a unique visual flair and I enjoyed his views of tacky California streetscapes (in that respect, this is of a piece with Point Blank and Targets), but the script is endlessly dull and they couldn’t have had a more charisma-free leading actor than Gary Lockwood. Anouk Aimée is fetching as the object of Lockwood’s fascination, but even she is wasted. There’s a fine line between conveying moods of cool detachment and utter boredom — this movie crossed that line too many times to count.

Mildred Pierce Italian Poster

Mildred Pierce (1945). Shortly after we met, Christopher and I bonded over our mutual love of Joan Crawford and everything else about this particular film. Yeah, it is pretty much the apex of studio film making in its Golden Age — but how does it hold up when shown to friends who only have a casual interest in old movies? We had some company over yesterday and decided to show them this DVD as denouement to a savory ham meal at our place. Although they generally enjoyed it, they also found the film overlong and filled with too many unlikable characters. Can ya believe that? We might need to find some new friends.

One Thought on “Weekly Mishmash: December 21-27

  1. I can’t believe the reaction you two received re: Mildred Pierce. I’m no Crawford disciple but even I’ll acknowledge that movie is fun with a capital F-U-N.

    Thanks for the heads-up on The Cheaters. I had planned to check it out (I’m a big fan of Joseph Schildkraut) but I got home too late in time to see it and my DVD recording situation is still in limbo until my recorder arrives from Best Buy.

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