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Weekly Mishmash: May 9-15

Great Expectations (1946). I remember having Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations assigned in high school Freshman English. Our class was required to read the entire book, then perform scenes from it in five or six sections. My section was first up, so I ended up only reading the opening few chapters. With the kind of logic only a high schooler could comprehend, I felt that reading just the beginning better prepared me to wow my classmates with a flawless performance as the escaped convict (yeah, right). 25 years on, I still haven’t read Great Expectations — but now that we’ve seen the beautifully mounted ’46 David Lean film adaptation, at least I have a better understanding of this quintessentially British tale. This is a nicely photographed film that is compelling in the first half and somewhat dry in the second half, hobbled with an appealing but miscast John Mills as the adult version of the book’s main character Pip. Personally, I love the atmosphere at the beginning with the curious young Pip, creepy Miss Havisham, and her alluring adopted daughter Estella (wonderfully played by Jean Simmons). By the time Pip grows up and attempts to become a refined gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor, the story loses a lot of momentum. The film is still a top notch production, despite the iffy source material. Did I just call Dickens an iffy writer? My English teacher would freak if she heard that.
Legion (2009). With Pandorum and now Legion, my spouse seems intent on unleashing an invasion of bad Dennis Quaid movies on our household. This one is slightly better than Pandorum, but only slightly. It concerns evil angels who descend upon Earth and unleash an apocalyptic virus that turns all humans into zombies. Zombies who can walk up walls, stretch their limbs to weird proportions, or do whatever this movie’s half-assed script requires. Paul Walker plays a rogue good angel who sawed his wings off, intent on helping the ragtag group stranded at a desert diner which includes a girl pregnant with mankind’s savior (or something like that). This film is mostly a bunch of retreaded ideas randomly thrown into a blender, with a few “wow” moments to momentarily impress a jaded teen or three. The nadir comes when the bad angel is revealed to have steel-plated wings, for no apparent reason. Those wings are pretty much the shining symbol of this pointless flick.
Lonely Wives (1931). The latest in Comedy Kings 50 Movie Pack theatre! Lonely Wives is a plodding early talkie, based on a hoary stage property, about a playboy lawyer who meets a lookalike actor who wants to impersonate him in a vaudeville act. To teach their (lonely) wives a lesson, the two arrange to swap places. Hilarity ensues, etc. etc. Edward Everett Horton plays both roles with the aid of some still nifty split screen effects, but the usually reliable character actor disappoints with the similar approach he takes (only glasses and facial hair differentiates the two). Probably the main appeal of this film to contemporary eyes is the opportunity to see three silent-era actresses at their flirty, sexy best. Most enjoyable are Patsy Ruth Miller and Esther Ralston as, respectively, lawyer Horton’s secretary and wife. The true surprise of the cast is Laura La Plante as the frustrated spouse of Horton’s actor lookalike. She was quite the skilled comedienne and a blast to watch, even in a silly forgotten farce such as this.
Match Your Mood (1968). One of the pleasures of Turner Classic Movies is the educational/industrial shorts they show late Friday nights. The latest was this production from Westinghouse and Jam Handy demonstrating how custom decorating your refrigerator doors is, like, the grooviest thing one could possibly do. Look:

There’s Always a Woman (1938). I adore bubbly Joan Blondell, almost as much as I love Joyce Compton. When a Blondell comedy that I’d never heard of popped up on the schedule, I had to give it a looksee. There’s Always a Woman is an unassuming crime caper that might as well have been titled Thin Man Ripoff #323, but the appeal of Blondell and co-star Melvyn Douglas made the so-so story worth it. The two have excellent chemistry as a married couple running a detective agency, a snappy pair who suddenly turn combative when they wind up competing against each other on a hot case involving a rich widow (Mary Astor being as Mary Astorish as possible). All told, a silly and forgettable vehicle, but it’s fascinating to see Blondell cast in a lead role and toning down her usual sauciness. At times she’s quite sophisticated, resembling an earthier Constance Bennett. There’s a few fun scenes here with Blondell and Douglas getting belligerent (violent, even) with each other.

One Thought on “Weekly Mishmash: May 9-15

  1. Cristiane on May 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm said:

    Lonely Wives sounds like the first version of an often-remade (by 20th-Century Fox) story, but the writers don’t match up in IMdB. The other versions are Folies Bergere (1935), with Maurice Chevalier in the dual role, One Night in Rio (1941) with Don Ameche, and On the Riviera (1951) with Danny Kaye. Fox loved this story almost as much as their favorite, “three girls have adventures!” Three Little Girls in Blue, Three Blind Mice, etc.

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