Weekly Mishmash: July 12-18
Note: out of a lack of good images to use with this week’s Mishmash, I’m going with this poodle playing card from my flickr photo stream. For no good reason, actually, except that it’s colorful and cute.
The Good Bad Girl (1931). My second Mae Clarke pre-Coder from TCM was a disappointment. This was a standard melodrama all the way, with Mae as a former gangster’s moll attempting to go straight with a high society guy. Watching it, I couldn’t help but think this “good girl trying to prove herself” script must have been offered to Barbara Stanwyck first (both Clarke and Stanwyck were Columbia studios contractees at this time, I believe). Unlike last week’s Final Edition, which benefited from snappy Pat O’Brien and the newsroom setting, this one plodded in a manner typical of early talkies. Come to think of it, the only thing I truly enjoyed here was the plump ‘n sassy Marie Prevost as Clarke’s best pal.
The Haunted Strangler (1958). It’s strange that this routine British potboiler was released on a spiffy Criterion DVD, but it is a competently done thriller that generates whatever steam it has from Boris Karloff. As a scientist investigating a long-ago string of murders in not-so merrie olde England, he delivers a subtle and good performance. Karloff seems like one of those workhorse actors whose intelligence elevated whatever tripe came his way, and this was no exception. What we’re dealing with here is strict Jekyll and Hyde territory, but the plotline does pick up nicely in the film’s closing scenes. Amongst a remaining cast of Brit nobodies, I personally enjoyed seeing ’30s MGM contractee Elizabeth Allan making an appearance as Karloff’s wife.
Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm (1951). Over the weekend, Christopher and I stayed at my parents’ secluded cabin in Northern Arizona. Luckily they get TCM at the cabin, otherwise our entertainment options would have been limited. We settled in to watch this entry in the channel’s night-long salute to Ma & Pa Kettle, purely by chance (it happened to come on when we were ready to watch). I’ve never experienced the Kettle comedies before. Although I don’t have any great desire to see another one (rural humor is not my cup of moonshine), I can see why these were some of the most popular movies of their time. This particular entry was jam-packed with gags; smoothly directed to the point of being a bit flat and sitcommy in spots. Although the acting was decent enough all around, the film was dominated by the marvelous Marjorie Main as Ma Kettle. What a gal!
[Rec] (2007). Otherwise known as the Spanish thriller that was given an American shot-for-shot remake as 2008′s Quarantine. Comparing the two is a moot point, but I’ll do it anyway. Quarantine was slicker, better shot, more competently played by a better looking cast (at times, [Rec]‘s histrionic actors feel like telenova outcasts), and somewhat less scary. On the other hand, the actions in [Rec] unspool in a more immediate fashion, the setting (urban apartment building with a textile factory on the ground floor) is more authentically Spanish than American, and the unpolished camera work made the film’s last half appreciatively more terrifying than expected. Overall, I give [Rec] the slight upper hand.
The Wire: Season Five. This it it. We finished watching The Wire. I’ve heard fans call the fifth season slightly less satisfying than the others, but both of us thought it was among the best in an unforgettable series. Since each season vaguely focuses on another aspect of Baltimore’s war on drugs, this particular year brought the news media into the mix. The way this show introduced more and more characters every year without losing focus was a source of wonder for me. And, having worked at a newspaper for a time, I can tell you that the newsroom depicted here was just as desperate and bizarre as it was when I was part of it (albeit 8-12 years ago, in Phoenix). Most news people are arrogant and insecure at the same time, behaving exactly like the Baltimore Sun reporters in this show. Another unrelated thing I admired about The Wire is that they had a lot of gay and lesbian characters whose sexuality wasn’t that big a deal in the great scheme of things. With even the smallest parts heavy with character, I feel like I got to know all these people pretty well. Unfortunately, it’s now all over and I’m feeling the void.