Weekly Mishmash: August 9-15
Act of Violence (1948). Taut and efficient noir from that least noir-y studio, MGM. Van Heflin stars as a World War II veteran trying to live a straight life with wife Janet Leigh — only an ex-comrade (Robert Ryan) has entered the picture with a score to settle. This was a very well-made movie with excellent performances from the three leads. I also loved the appearance of Mary Astor, refreshingly free of any vanity whatsoever, playing an over the hill prostitute (this was the same year Astor played the mom in Little Women!). This movie maintains an edgy mood from the very beginning and never lets up until the satisfying conclusion.
Darling (1965). A selection from Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under The Stars” salute to Dirk Bogarde. This film was better known as Julie Christie’s breakthrough film, of course. As a freewheeling and very mod actress-model, she dominates every scene she’s in (and I think that’s the entire film, isn’t it?). I’m not sure if she deserved an Oscar for this (she seems a bit histrionic at times), but she is the compelling center for this interesting if overlong story. Very entertaining, if only for its ’60s time capsule elements. Dirk Bogarde is very good in this film, too.
Operator 13 (1934) and Land of the Pharoahs (1955). a.k.a. Movies To Watch While Deathly Ill With The Flu. Whenever I’m sick, I prefer movies that are slower-paced and not too visually stimulating. Throw in a story that doesn’t require a lot of analysis, and I’m home free. Rule #1: do not watch anything aesthetically ugly or hard to follow (I learned that lesson one year while trying to watch Peter Fonda in The Trip. That is not a sickie movie!). These two movies are not ideal sickie viewing, but I have them listed here because I happened to be down with the flu while attempting to watch them. Operator 13 is a Marion Davies/Gary Cooper melodrama best known for Davies being in disguise as a Creole maid (!!) for much of its running time. Davies overplays the part unconvincingly (but it really is a bizarre performance that has to be seen to be believed). The fact that much of this Civil War spy melodrama takes place outdoors and at night made this into one long cough syrup-induced haze of confusion for me. The one (weak) recommendation I can make here is that Harold Rosson’s photography is gorgeous. Howard Hawks’ opus of ancient Egyptian tomb building Land of the Pharoahs fared a bit better, if only for Joan Collins’ campy scenery chewing as a pharoah-ette. Scenes with dozens of extras hauling rock and stone were too visually stimulating in my weakened state, but that was mitigated with scenes of slaves being thrown into alligator pits and such. I thought it was a fascinating film overall, very overripe but possessing a fun-to-follow storyline that kept me hooked — crazy woman-eating asp and all.
Mystery Street (1950). Competently made procedural thriller that we watched only because it shared the same DVD with the superior Act of Violence. This was actually pretty entertaining in its own modest way, with Richardo Montalban as a Boston private eye investigating the murder of play girl Jan Sterling. Has a few interesting and novel scenes on early forensic investigation techniques. Amongst the supporting cast, Elsa Lanchester is most notable as a fussy landlady.
Roughshod (1949). It’s interesting the kinds of “off the beaten path” things one can come across during Turner Classic Movies’ Summer Under The Stars festival. This 1949 Western was playing in the morning hours of their Gloria Grahame day. I can happily watch Grahame in anything, so I decided to sit there and watch this oater while going through my morning routine (in the end, I ended up watching roughly three quarters). An RKO production that plays more like a scrappy indie, Grahame is all sexiness as a saloon girl who is hitching a ride on the wagon of nice rancher Robert Sterling and his innocent little brother, Claude Jarman, Jr. The story is pretty standard stuff, really, but John Ireland make for a potent heavy and of course Gloria is her usual minxy self. I’m glad I watched this.