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Weekly Mishmash: March 21-27

Bright Young Things (2003). Stephen Fry’s adaptation of an Evelyn Waugh novel, a thinly disguised memoir of Britain’s “lost generation” of 1930s partygoers, might have been intriguing but mostly it was just “meh.” Fry begins the film with a huge, colorful party scene, his camera whirling around characters as we’re barely introduced to a wide array of outsized personalities. The film then barely lets up until we become acquainted with Stephen Campbell Moore’s earnest writer (and Waugh stand-in) and his devil-may-care fiancée (Emily Mortimer). The film is nicely performed and so well made it practically drips “British,” but the end result is not terribly absorbing. It’s as if Fry kept his camera moving to cover up how shallow the characters onscreen are.
The Day the Sky Exploded (1958). Proto end-of-the-world Italian epic was a recent purchase from Christopher. Unfortunately, Alpha Home Video’s DVD contains a blurry and poorly dubbed print, making an already shoddy film look exponentially worse. I can see the germ of an interesting story here, but mostly it’s a talky bore that falls below even the level of something the MST3K guys would lampoon. The thing that most stood out for me was the liberal use of stock footage. Indeed, this movie contains a veritable who’s-who of notable clips, including a memorable appearance by Stampeding Elephants, a great performance by People Running In City Streets, and an award-worthy turn by Launched Missile.
I’m from Arkansas (1944) and Too Many Women (1942). Ahh — the first two viewings of my 50 comedy DVD pack! If anything, I figure that these movies cost so little to own (roughly 36 cents each) and they’re short enough that if they’re bad, at least it doesn’t hurt that much. Both of these films are intriguing wartime programmers from z-grade studio PRC. In a nutshell, I’m from Arkansas was pretty good and Too Many Women flat out sucked. Arkansas is a corn-pone comedy/musical which has the odd distinction of pairing Iris Adrian (brassy blonde best known for playing obnoxious waitresses and the like) and Bruce Bennett (tall, bland actor who played Mildred Pierce’s boring husband, Bert) as a romantic duo. It’s actually a pretty kicky little movie with several decent musical numbers. And did I mention it’s only an hour long? Special note to Brad: this was a good ‘un. The less said about Too Many Women, the better. A misguided farce with an old (and gay seeming) Neil Hamilton playing a hapless playboy juggling several girlfriends at once, this film is talky, incomprehensible and dull. The only good spot is Joyce Compton being her usual perky self as one of the girlfriends.
poster_madamexMadame X (1966). A lush, somewhat kitschy but at times intense telling of one of the most oft-told stories in filmdom (I think there’s even been a silent Madame X or two). This version has the same producer, leading lady, cinematographer and costume designer as the classic weepie Imitation of Life. Perhaps it may be the older-than-dirt source material, but this overstuffed film seems strangely out of date by ’60s standards — but it still winds up being fast paced, soapy fun. Lana Turner gives a totally committed performance in the title role (I think she’s actually better here than in Imitation), and the supporting cast includes a delightful Constance Bennett as a bejeweled and shellac-haired mother in-law from hell. The movie works surprisingly well as melodrama, making it slightly less campy than other Turner vehicles of the ’60s.
Scandal (1950). Our final Akira Kurosawa film for this month. Strangely enough, I’m finding that I’m enjoying the lesser known, earlier efforts such as this and Drunken Angel more than the classics in his filmography. Like Drunken Angel, this is a contemporary-set drama that comments on the state of postwar Japanese society. In this case, it’s an indictment of the media that revolves around the feather light story of a famous singer (Shirley Yamaguchi, a Japanese Linda Darnell) who becomes part of a scandal when she innocently welcomes a poor artist (Toshiro Mifune) into her hotel room. Sure, the plot is nothing to write home about, but Kurosawa’s gift for vivid characters and settings is on full display here. I especially loved the scene where the principals are singing Christmas characters to their attorney’s crippled daughter. Good one!

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