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Flick Clique: July 24-30

A Bride for Henry (1937). Pleasant (and brief) screwball b-comedy stars Anne Nagel as a woman who, jilted at the altar by fiancee Henry Mollison, makes a rash decision to marry her handsome lawyer, played by Warren Hull. They intend to divorce immediately, but the secretly-smitten Hull has other plans. Another cheapie from my 50 Comedies DVD set, of course. This one was nice enough, although just as forgettable as the other poverty row quickies on the set. Mostly it’s notable for the sad fates that awaited Nagel and Mollison in the following years. Nagel went through a short-lived marriage to gay actor Ross Alexander, slipped into b-movies, then died a lonely alcoholic in the ’60s. Mollison became a British p.o.w. in World War II, then died similarly forgotten in the ’60s. At least Warren Hull had a long life, albeit one filled with divorces. This film is viewable online at Archive.org.
Calamity Jane (1953). Colorful Doris Day vehicle was a fun and frothy answer to Annie Get Your Gun with not quite as memorable songs (“Secret Love” notwithstanding), but with a fizz of its own thanks to the charismatic star. Doris Day often gets saddled with a white-bread, wifey image, but watching something like Calamity Jane I was struck by how fearless and gutsy an actress she was in her prime. Here she plays the title character, a rip-roarin’ Indian scout who tussles with Wild Bill Hickock (Howard Keel) in their tiny Dakota town. She is enlisted to bring sexy Chicago entertainer Adelaid Adams back to the town, but unknowingly winds up getting the woman’s stage-struck maid (played by the obscure but talented Allyn Ann McLerie) instead. The women become fast friends and, in a quasi-lesbian moment, even set up house together. They both pine for handsome Calvalry officer Philip Carey, a situation that is resolved after the newly feminized Jane finds that Wild Bill has deep feelings for her. Quite fun and tuneful musical whose assets overcome its iffy message (a lady has to be ladylike to snag a man, eh?). Doris Day is fantastic, keeping a tomboyish spark even after her character transforms. Annie had better source material, but as for comparing Day with Betty Hutton there is no contest.
Potiche (2010). Goofy French comedy revolves around legendary Catherine Deneuve as the title character, a potiche (trophy wife) comfortably married to the owner of an umbrella factory in the 1970s. Despite the protests of liberated daughter Judith Godrèche, she enjoys being a hausfrau and even tolerates the affairs of her husband, played by Fabrice Luchini. Her life turns around, however, when a labor dispute at the factory forces her to assume stewardship of the operation. To settle the fracas, she gets in contact with local politico Gérard Depardieu, a man with whom she shared a secret tryst several years earlier. It’s great to see Deneuve and Depardieu in action, but this film is directed in a self consciously campy style that takes some getting used to (picture something along the lines of That ’70s French Comedy). Somewhere along the middle third, though, it settles into that of a good domestic drama of changing mores. The ending is a puzzler, however. Deneuve is great, well matched with Karin Vigard as the husband’s secretary/mistress. Depardieu also does a good job, although I was surprised and distracted at how enormously fat the man is getting. François Ozon, who directed, also worked with Denueve in the similarly campy 8 Women. I’d say the earlier film worked better overall, but Potiche has a gawky charm of its own.
The Room (2003). A notoriously bad film that might put an end to my curious exploration of “so bad it’s good” cinema. This one was not so much awful as boring and weird. Cut-rate auteur Tommy Wiseau produced, directed and starred in this opus about “stylish” San Francisco businessman Johnny (Wiseau), who only wants to please his “hot” fiancee Lisa (Juliette Danielle). He brings her roses, buys her expensive gifts, and makes sweet love to her. Despite the cautions of her sensible mother, manipulative Lisa only wants to take off with her secret lover (and Johnny’s friend) Mark (Greg Sestero). Cheap and rather plodding movie that plays like porn minus the eroticism. I think what made this a cult hit is Wiseau’s weird onscreen presence. The other cast members are rather generic (although Stockard Channing-like Danielle is bizarrely miscast as a sexy lady), but it’s heavy-lidded, stringy-haired, bizarrely accented Wiseau himself that puts this into the stinkeroo Hall of Fame category. Of course, he seems the opposite of the sterling moral compass type he’s supposedly playing, which makes his own stilted dialogue doubly funny (the only role I could picture him excelling at would be a Eurotrash zombie — maybe). Generally, the film is more boring than awful, with repetitive dialogue (take a shot whenever Danielle says “I don’t want to talk about it.”) and some of the un-sexiest sex scenes ever committed to videotape. Add to that the 1992-ish vibe of the sets and the 1972-ish vibe of the script and you have one seriously strange movie. As far as cheap ‘n lousy auteurist epics go, Birdemic was a lot more inept, and side-splitting.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). This was actually the first Trek film I saw in the cinema when first released; we got to catch up with it again on Netflix streaming this past week. The Undiscovered Country is one of the better remembered films with the original cast. Mostly it plays like a big-budget, extended episode of the Next Generation TV show. This time around, the Klingons are nearly extinct after an explosion on their moon depletes their ozone layer. After mysterious intruders break into their ship and open fire, they are left confronting the Enterprise and Captain Kirk’s long-simmering hatred of the Klingon race. Will they negotiate for their survival? I found this an enjoyable entry, one that makes more sense now that I’ve seen Treks I-V. If the plotting seemed somewhat lackluster, it was redeemed by the great chemistry of a bunch of old pros getting together one last time. The ending was a fittingly elegant send-off and a good entree to Patrick Stewart and the Next Generation era of Trek films.
Tales from the Script (2009). A straightforward yet insightful documentary that looks at the painful world of modern Hollywood screenwriting. Director Peter Hanson simply points his camera at various participants, who tell war stories of scripts that were mishandled by producers, actors and other behind the scenes types. It’s interesting to hear people like Paul Shrader and John Carpenter being so candid about what they do in a field where a writer’s vision constantly gets picked over and compromised. Apparently a lot of screenwriters love what they do; this film, however, has the strange effect of making me want to run from anything vaguely Hollywood. It says a lot about this doc that most of the participants are people I’ve never heard of who consider themselves lucky to have one script produced. That’s the biz, I guess. The interviews are pretty plainly presented, but the clips from movies ranging from Adaptation to In A Lonely Place really help illuminate what it’s like to toil away in this under appreciated field.

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