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Flick Clique: June 19-25

poster_amazingdrThe Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938). I remember seeing this, years back when I was first getting into the films of Mr. Edward G. Robinson, and enjoying it. My revisit finds it to be a fun but flawed artifact from the period when Robinson was making a smooth transition from heavies to lighter, comedic roles. Robinson plays the title character, a psychiatric doctor who takes his professional interest in criminals to the next level by becoming one. On a jewel heist, he meets the members of an underworld gang after the same booty. His expertise allows him to become a member of the gang, headed up by hard-bitten dame Claire Trevor and surly Humphrey Bogart, who wants to take Clitterhouse down a peg or two. This was a smoothly directed, very enjoyable movie. I loved the New York atmosphere and the vivid supporting characters (including Allen Jenkins, Max Rosenbloom and Ward Bond). The only off-note here is Robinson, who approaches the part in an effete way and seems somewhat miscast. According to this film’s IMDb page, the producers wanted to cast Ronald Colman — who seems like a much more logical choice as the elegant Clitterhouse. Still, a fun movie with that distinctive Warner Bros. flavor.
Boy A (2007). Intense, beautifully photographed British drama with a fragile, nuanced performance by Andrew Garfield. Garfield plays a young man who as a boy participated in a horrific crime where (eventually revealed via flashbacks) a young girl was murdered. The story opens with Garfield rehabilitated and facing an uneasy transition to civilian life with an assumed name, under the tutelage of a social worker (Peter Mullan). He gets a job and stumbles into an awkward relationship with a co-worker (Katie Lyons), but a predatory British press threatens to blow his cover at any moment. Interesting, if talky and somewhat plodding, film. For some reason, we’ve been seeing several Garfield films lately. He fares much better here than in the pretentious Never Let Me Go or the muddled, showy 1974 edition of the Red Riding trilogy. I still can’t picture him as Spiderman, however.
The Great Ziegfeld (1936). Bloated but fascinating MGM bio on showman Florenz Ziegfield, as played by the dapper William Powell. I found this DVD at Big Lots for three bucks and decided to check it out again. First off, this is one seriously overlong flick. It could even have the last hour chopped off with no apparent loss (okay, Powell’s death scene is so maudlin and morbidly watchable; it can stay). The production numbers, although impressively mounted, are plodding and deserving of a more kinetic touch (where was Busby Berkeley at the time?). Some of the performers — like fluttery Luise Rainer as Ziegfeld’s wife, entertainer Anna Held — are iffy at best. Still, it’s a wonderfully plush film anchored by Powell’s charisma and some fun, nostalgic bits (Fanny Brice’s appearance as herself is a highlight). Modern viewers may take issue with this film’s garnering the 1937 Best Picture Oscar, but I think it’s a great example of what Hollywood found important at the time. Ziegfeld himself seems like a bit of a cypher here, and one often wonders what the fuss was about (apparently Flo’s big thing was “glorifying the American girl,” a phrase that could just as easily apply to all those Girls Gone Wild DVDs). I could also split hairs with the way the film wafts through the early 1900s with little to no reference to specific dates and events. It’s an odd way to tell a story, but the superluxe production (especially Adrian’s eye-popping costumes) and wild musical numbers make it worthwhile. The enormous wedding cake centerpiece of “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” is a good example. Wowza!

Homicide (1991). A flawed but watchable crime thriller from the pen of David Mamet. Having great magnetism in a rare starring role, Joe Mantegna plays Bobby Gold, a Jewish cop who stumbles upon the murder of an elderly shopkeeper on the way to investigating a different crime with his jokey partner, played by William H. Macy. He eventually finds that the dead shopkeeper was part of a shadowy network of Jews who took to desperate, illegal measures to keep their social/economic standing in the city. It’s an interesting premise for a film, and Mantegna is as solid as he’s ever been. Mamet’s observational, profanity filled dialogue is whip-smart, although watching it now it seems awfully affected and stagey. Perhaps this is the kind of property that would work better as a play; I wonder if I’d be thinking the same thing about Aaron Sorkin’s writing in a few years time.
poster_milkywayThe Milky Way (1936). Another offering from my well-worn copy of the Comedy Kings: 50 Movie Pack set! The Milky Way was one of the talking efforts from silent screen legend Harold Lloyd. Here he plays Burleigh Sullivan, a mild-mannered milkman who knocks out boxer William Gargan in a sidewalk brawl. Gargan’s handlers see this as the golden opportunity to set Lloyd up as the next great pugilistic champ. The only problem is that it’s all a big fraud, one that the oblivious Lloyd can’t see even as his sister (Helen Mack) and girlfriend (Dorothy Wilson) catch on. This is a bright, engaging comedy given efficient direction by Mervyn Le Roy. I liked the cast, especially Adolph Menjou and Veree Teasdale as the couple who set up Lloyd as a fake boxing champ. The two were married at the time, and their cheery rapport readily comes across on screen. Lloyd makes for a most affable sap, although his appeal is more ideally suited to silents. Whever he speaks, he sounds like a brain-damaged kid who never adjusted to adulthood, which is an odd thing to watch. It’s really a minor blemish on what is an otherwise sweet and charming film, however.

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