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Flick Clique: May 1-7

poster_behindthemaskBehind the Mask (1947). One of a series of films that b-movie studio Monogram made to showcase popular radio detective The Shadow — I also queued this up on Netflix Instant because it contains one of Joyce Compton‘s later film appearances. This is a strange, grimy little film that awkwardly injects comedy into an otherwise unremarkable whodunit. The story concerns the murder of a blackmailing newspaper reporter. Witnesses believe it was the Shadow who committed the deed; the Shadow’s alter ego Lamont Cranston (Kane Richmond, sort of a poor guy’s Phillip Terry) must prove otherwise with the help of his daffy girlfriend Margo Lane (Barbara Read). Having never heard a radio ep of The Shadow, I can’t tell how much fidelity this film has to the source material (Christopher assured me that it was never this goofy or superficial). This is an OK time waster whose one (tiny) distinction is Read’s chucking of all demure femininity in a proto-Lucille Ball turn. Joyce appears briefly as a flirty nightclub employee attempting to rope Cranston into a sting operation.
Black Orpheus (1958). Another Netflix Instant offering on my “want to see” list (although the pixelated picture left lots to be desired), Black Orpheus was the lilting Brazilian hit that introduced the sounds of Bossa Nova to the world. It’s actually quite a lovely picture, despite not a lot happening within its 100 minutes. The film cast the myth of Orpheus and Eurypides into current-day Rio de Janero during their festive carnaval. The film has a casual vibe more in tune with the ’60s. The acting, done by a local theatrical troupe and a host of charming villagers as extras, is surprisingly good overall. Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn are both very good as the leads, but I also enjoyed the women who played Mira (Orpheus’ feisty fiancee) and Serafina (Eurypides’ cousin). Of course, the music and scenery is wonderful. The film drags in certain spots, but otherwise it’s a summery delight. Perhaps I should check out the Criterion DVD.
poster_catonahottinroofCat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). After reading J. Randy Taraborelli’s bio on Elizabeth Taylor, I put a bunch of her movies on my Netflix queue. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof finds Liz and co-star Paul Newman at the peak of their beauty, good enough, but it’s also an excellently staged and acted adaptation of the Tennessee Williams stage hit. Taylor plays Maggie, sultry, no-nonsense lady who married into the rich and stereotypically Southern family of Brick (Newman). They’re gathered at the mansion of “Big Daddy” (Burl Ives) after the man finds he hasn’t long to live. Tensions erupt as Maggie and Brick deal with Big Daddy as his oblivious wife (Judith Anderson) as they contrast their childless marriage with that of Brick’s milquetoast brother (Jack Carson) and his gossipy wife (Madeleine Sherwood). Very well played, and an oddly nice fit for the glossy MGM production style of 1958 — all that harsh lighting seems to underscore the harshness of the people onscreen. Taylor and Newman are both dreamy to look at, but they also seem to relish doing something that requires sharp acting teeth to pull off. On a superficial note, I love the cream and white gothic decor in Brick and Maggie’s bedroom set (swoon).
Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards (1963). Another wild and wooly Seijun Suzuki/Jo Shishido collaboration from the ’60s — yeah! Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards follows a similar pattern to the others, including a somewhat incomprehensible story about policemen and the gangsters who love to stalk them outside their place of work, baseball bats at the ready. The main difference here is that Detective Bureau was beautifully filmed in color using a widescreen process known as NikkatsuScope (similar to the TohoScope used in Godzilla flicks of yore). Suzuki really seems to go to town with the photography, especially evident in a couple of musical numbers set in Westernized nightclubs. One even has the charismatic, chipmunk cheeked Shishido dancing along. Fizzy and fun.
Gable and Lombard (1976). I purchased this for three bucks on, mostly out of morbid curiosity to find out how awful it is. I wish I could say that James Brolin and Jill Clayburgh reenacting (as the DVD box says) “the wildest, wackiest love affair Hollywood ever knew” was some kind of misunderstood diamond in the rough, but it is not. Even by trashy ’70s Hollywood biopic standards, it’s pretty noxious, taking liberty upon liberty with basic facts (including moving their first meeting up a few years — and having mischievous Lombard play a prank on the Gone with the Wind set!). The worst aspect of the movie is the casting: Clayburgh’s trash-talking Lombard is way too contemporary (I know the real Lombard was a “just one of the guys” type, but her performance is ridiculous), and Brolin settles into a laconic groove that is more impersonation than characterization. I also have to mention that this film has the de regeur “leads chatting on a backlot while extras dressed as cowboys and indians walk around” scene. Several of them, in fact!
Let Me In (2010). American remake of the Swedish creeper Let the Right One In (see Flick Clique: February 13-19 for my appraisal). This one is slightly more honed than the original, eliminating a few outside characters and strengthening the human bonding theme. The only marked difference I saw here is that the child leads in the U.S. production seem a bit more poised and “Hollywood” (but effective all the same); even the kids playing the bullies seem less menacing. Richard Jenkins, great as always, plays the one prominent adult. I’m glad they kept it an early ’80s period piece, which only seems to up the creepiness of the material. Despite being marketed as a typical scary flick, this is really a story about the human need for companionship, even when one of the characters is something less than human.
A Man for All Seasons (1966). The sixties were an odd time for the Oscars, as exemplified by the beautifully produced but stodgy A Man for All Seasons taking the Best Picture statuette over Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (to be fair, the other three nominees were pretty iffy). A historical drama about Thomas More’s persecution under Henry VIII’s fickle kingdom, this handsome production came off as similar to the contemporary The Lion in Winter but not nearly as soapy (or interesting). Paul Scofield gives a committed performance, alongside a cream of British talent that includes Wendy Hiller, Robert Shaw, Susannah York and a young John Hurt. Orson Welles’ corpulent Cardinal Wolsey is probably the best character, however, and he’s gone in the first 30 minutes. The rest is a lot of inert, high-minded speechifying about staying true to one’s values, etc., best appreciated in high school history class. A shame, since I really wanted to like this.

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