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Weekly Mishmash: July 5-11

Mae Clarke Cinlandia Cover 1932Final Edition (1932). One of the thousand reasons to cherish Turner Classic Movies: they quietly played a trio of pre-Code Mae Clarke vehicles last Friday. Mae who? The lady best known for being at the receiving end of James Cagney’s breakfast in The Public Enemy, that’s who. With her sharp nose and inky dark eyes, she wasn’t a great beauty (strangely, she looks a lot like current actress Laura Dern). As evidenced by the snappy newspaper yarn Final Edition, however, she was an interesting enough presence in her own right. At first this feels like a Front Page ripoff, with Pat O’Brien repeating his amazing motor mouth skills as Clarke’s editor. Then the story detours into crime drama territory with Clarke’s perky reporter getting in over her head with the pencil-mustachioed crime syndicate bigwig she’s trailing. Although there’s nothing particularly outstanding about this spartan little thing, it’s a brisk and fun way to spend slightly more than an hour.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981). Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep as actors whose illicit affair mirrors the star-crossed 19th century couple they are playing in a film-within-a-film. This movie was like a luxurious, exquisitely wrapped package with nothing inside. The cross-generational back and forth only points out the weaknesses in both the boring contemporary scenes and the airless period scenes (which play like Merchant Ivory without the social commentary). Jeremy Irons’ excellent performance is the best reason to see this. Meryl Steep, although looking sensational, seemed disoriented in a role that was beyond her abilities at this stage in her career. A big “blah” for me.
Knowing (2009). Oh dear. Nicolas Cage figures out the end of the world with the help of a few telepathic kiddies. Christopher enjoyed this one, I didn’t. I don’t know if it was Cage’s laconic line recitations (the guy seems like he just learned his lines the night before filming) or plot holes big enough to drive through, but I gave up on this long before the hokey, Left Behind-style Christian parable at windup. The only parts I liked were the spectacular plane and subway crashes seen in the film’s trailer. Advanced CGI and mass destruction are an unbeatable combination, but two good scenes do not a decent movie make.
Mahogany (1975). “Do you know where you’re going to?” Somebody should have asked Diana Ross and Berry Gordy that very question before they decided to undertake this massive ego-fest cum romance movie. I always heard this was a camp classic, but mostly it’s trash — badly directed (what gave Gordy the idea that he could direct?) and with no redeeming characters whatsoever. As a fashion designer turned world famous model, Diana Ross does nada as an actress to give her role any humanity or balance. The woman starts off the film as a selfish brat and winds up a selfish brat at the end. And she delivers her climactic scene covered in candle wax. In the middle, we’re treated to Billy Dee Williams as her earnest, grounded suitor and a typecast Anthony Perkins as the smarmy photographer who makes her a star. Adding to the stench is the fact that the Oriental-meets-Glam-Rock fashions (designed by Ross herself!) are hideous creations that must have taken the applauding extras all their esophageal muscle control not to vomit over. There’s only one scene that I absolutely loved (and it’s not on YouTube, drat) — that’s the montage with Perkins photographing Ross in various exotic looks while Michael Masser’s wonderfully drippy score plays in the background. Oozing with fabulousness, it is the scene that must’ve launched a thousand drag queens.

6 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: July 5-11

  1. graham on July 14, 2009 at 12:45 pm said:

    diana ross is a great actress,you are a ignoramous to call her acting in mahoganey bad,get a life you loser.

  2. For what it’s worth, I’m a big fan of Diana Ross. She’s one of my favorite singers. As an actress, she was great in “Lady Sings The Blues” and she delivered an underrated performance in “The Wiz”. I stand by my opinion that she was lousy in that movie.

    Oh, and no need to fear the Shift key on your keyboard.

  3. Christopher on July 14, 2009 at 1:39 pm said:

    I totally agree with Matt. Perhaps Graham would benefit from broadening his horizons and seeing a few cinematic performances by actors other than Ms. Ross. Then he would have something with which to contrast to the wooden posturing that passes for “acting” in this film. Calling her a “great” actress is like calling Bush a “great” president.

  4. Oh come on now – Mahogany – a classic and Miss Ross gorgeous and she did the best she could with what she had at the time, I guess you love her or hate her completely — I adore her, she has said and done things during my life that lifted me up, she is one of God’s angels.

  5. Mahogany is definitely a classic and has inspired many famous women like Tyra Banks, Beyonce and many black supermodels and entertainers. Diana Ross’ acting was great in my and many other people’s opinion. I never heard anyone say otherwise. She was nominated for a People’s Choice award for the role. I believed her as the character and got into the story. Both her and Billy Dee Williams had great chemistry. The film is beyond a cult classic in the African American community and is a cult classic in the gay community. I think that says something about her acting and the movie itself, but I can respect the fact that you and maybe others might see things differently. But for the record, I never heard anyone in all the years the movie has been out say that Diana Ross wasn’t a good actress in Mahogany or any other movie she has starred in.

  6. I didn’t think Mahogany was a terrible movie, but I do think there were things about the story that could have been better. I can’t remember how long he DID direct the film, but Tony Richardson was the original director (and I believe some of his work did wind up in the final cut), so Berry Gordy didn’t direct the entire film. Still, I think it’s been fairly well documented (see “Call Her Miss Ross”) that Berry was in way over his head with directing the film and was already “too close” to his star to effectively get the best performance from her.

    Overall, I thought Diana was pretty natural in the film, though it was not as interesting to watch as her performances were in the films “Lady Sings The Blues” or “Out Of Darkness” (the latter from TV). I think that what may have always held Miss Ross back from success in films was that her persona tends to overshadow whatever character she is playing. Whether intentional or not, there is often a little too much Diana in her characters–sometimes it’s subtle (like the use of a Supremes-era photograph of Diana utilized as a character photograph in the early part of “Out Of Darkness”) and sometimes it’s heavy-handed (as it often seemed in watching “Mahogany”). She may be natural in front of the camera, but I don’t think Ross is/was trained and instinctive enough as an actress to lose herself in her roles.

    I like watching “Mahogany.” It’s like having a big, gooey dessert. Sure, it’s a little much at times, but it goes down quite easily and leaves you feeling good for a little while.

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