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Weekly Mishmash: September 26 – October 2

City for Conquest (1940). Hokey but enjoyable vintage Warner Bros. melodrama with the cracklin’ combo of James Cagney and Ann Sheridan. Viewed (again) this week, I posted a more thorough writeup of the film at the Joyce Compton News & Notes weblog.
It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). Another week trawling the DVD bins at Big Lots (more precisely, Big Lots!), resulted in netting the special edition of this archetypal Giant Monster Flick for only five bucks. For the uninitiated, this is the film in which a gigantic octopus terrorizes San Francisco, one tentacle at a time. Leads Kenneth Tobey and Faith Domergue attempt to quell the oncoming horror (which builds up nicely in the film’s first half), all the while attempting to convince viewers that they are not the bargain basement version of Van Johnson and Hedy Lamarr. Once the creature finally arrives to wreak havoc, it’s impressively rendered via Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion animation.
Soundtrack – Revolutionary Girl Utena. I made another trip to the local Salvation Army this week and was surprised to find a decent amount of used Japanese anime soundtracks in the CD racks. Many of the CDs were swiped (what is it with thrift store shoppers refusing to pay a dollar for a dang CD?), but one intriguing selection with disc intact was this musical adaptation of the popular Revolutionary Girl Utena manga. Going by the “if the cover depicts someone with pink hair, buy it” rule, I plunked down two bucks. It’s actually a nice sounding disc, filled with lushly arranged instrumentals with a classical bent. For all I can divine, this might be the soundtrack for a TV series, feature film or stage show (or all three). The CD is bookended with two cool vocal numbers, Luca Yumi’s “Truth” and Masami Okui’s “Round Dance – Revolution” (video below), both stellar examples of fizzy ’90s J-pop.

poster_streetangelStreet Angel (1928). Late silent was one of three films that helped Janet Gaynor win the first Best Actress Academy Award (from back when they awarded for multiple performances by the same individual in a given year). Gaynor’s sensitive, nuanced performance as an Italian street waif is actually one of the few strong points in this otherwise flawed melodrama. The All-American Gaynor and frequent co-star Charles Farrell are oddly cast as simple Italian folk in a story that goes through a lot of effort to communicate the simple truism that Love Conquers All. Faced with an ailing mother, a desperate Gaynor takes to the streets of Napoli to prostitute herself (in these scenes, Gaynor is somehow both painful and hilarious to watch). Before she can get herself a john, the police take her into custody. She eventually escapes and befriends earnest painter Farrell in a traveling performing troupe. It doesn’t take long before her sordid past catches up with the duo, however. Although the film is sensitively directed by Frank Borzage, this routine romance is easily the lesser of the three award winning Gaynor vehicles (Seventh Heaven and the tremendous Sunrise were the other two). In addition to Gaynor’s performance, I loved the photography and the lavish street set. Farrell is a dull lead, however, and his one dimensionality is matched by the story.
Take Aim at the Police Van (1960). Part of Criterion’s “Nikkatsu Noir” Eclipse box set, this Seijun Suzuki whodunit is a stylish if very confusing venture. Opens impressively with a scene in which two men pull off an intricate heist of a bus transporting prisoners. That even spurs prison guard Michitaro Mizushima to investigate, pulling him into a mess of underworld double-crossers and shady ladies. To be honest, I got lost after the first half hour and didn’t know what the hell was going on. Mizushima and the rest of the cast are rather straightforward actors, so that left me to admire the wide screen photography, jazzy score, and little else.
White Dog (1982). Until Criterion recently released it on DVD, Sam Fuller’s final film was something that was more talked about than actually seen. Like Song of the South, its unsavory reputation tends to overwhelm what is basically a rather benign film. The movie concerns the title creature, a german shepherd adopted by a young woman (Kristy MacNichol) after she accidentally runs it over. After finding the dog is prone to sudden attacks on black people, she takes it to an animal sanctuary run by Burl Ives. There, trainer Paul Scofield Winfield makes an extraordinary effort to make the dog un-learn its horrible affliction. This film has a lot of good things going for it. Fuller creates a nice sense of dread as the film progresses and gets some notable work out of MacNichol and Winfield (not to mention the five or six well-trained white dogs). Ennio Morricone’s subtle and atmospheric score also goes a long way towards setting the mood. Despite all that, the movie on the whole came across like a dour if well-made TV drama. You have to wonder what the fuss was about – as explained in the very informative interviews included on the DVD, the film’s production was hobbled by NAACP protests, then the studio decided to dump it into only one U.S. theater before releasing it overseas (where it was a well regarded success, in France at least). At the very least, the unusual story and the dog itself makes the film worth a peek.

3 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: September 26 – October 2

  1. Re: White Dog. I think you mean Paul Winfield, not Paul “A Man For All Seasons” Scofield.

  2. That’s what I get for attempting to write and prepare dinner at the same time. Thanks.

  3. Cristiane on October 4, 2010 at 5:55 pm said:

    White Dog probably would have been quite a bit more interesting if Paul Scofield had played the trainer.

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