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Flick Clique: September 25 – October 2

Caught (1948). I’ve been curious about this film ever since reading about it in Entertainment Weekly 20 (!!) years ago. One of the few American flicks helmed by European Max Ophüls, Caught details the story of good girl Barbara Bel Geddes, who is first seen gathering her meager savings for a charm school class that may someday snag her a rich husband. On her job as a department store model, she meets the associate of a rich industrialist who invites her to an exclusive party on a yacht. She reluctantly agrees to go, but arriving late at a dock she meets ruddy sailor man Robert Ryan — who winds up being the rich, rather eccentric man holding the party. The two date and get married, but Bel Geddes finds herself trapped in a huge home with a workaholic who doesn’t care much for her. She escapes to New York City, finds a little apartment, and gets a menial job as a secretary for two doctors. One of her employers, James Mason, falls for Bel Geddes, who faces the choice of escaping again or exposing her secret. More of a tense melodrama than a true film noir like I hoped, but I found the film fascinating nonetheless. Bel Geddes is wonderfully natural — at least up until her character got maddeningly passive. I loved her relaxed interplay with James Mason (best seen in the nightclub scene below). This also has some cool camera work from Ophüls. Ryan is wonderfully menacing as the husband, a character supposedly based on Howard Hughes. This film is available on Netflix streaming — quite a treat if you have that service.

Climates (2006). I added this Turkish drama to my Netflix queue a few years ago, probably because it was acclaimed at the Cannes film festival that year. It’s a sensitive, deliberately paced drama about an upper middle class Istanbul couple played by director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his real life wife, Ebru Ceylan. The film’s essence is encapsulated early on in a scene that’s an uninterrupted take showing Ms. Ceylan staring off into the distance, a single tear falling down her cheek. We see the couple’s relationship falling apart, the man not comprehending as the woman’s emotions spiral out of control. They separate, then the man (in a creepy scene) forces himself upon an old friend. The woman accepts another job in a smaller town, then the man follows her in a pursuit that is awkward and uncomfortable to watch. This was a beautifully photographed film, but I couldn’t truly get into it because the characters ended up being so vague — and ultimately unappealing. By film’s end, you wish the woman grew a spine much earlier and avoided putting up with this creep.
The Final Destination (2009). Fourth and lamest of the Final Destination films. Like the other F.D. flicks, this one follows a teen who has visions of his friends’ deaths which somehow portend their own early, ever-complicated ends. The lackluster script and lazy dependence on cheap CGI in this one puts it more on the cheesy level of cable TV’s 1,000 Ways To Die — which is about 1,000 times more fun than this sorry mess.
Ma & Pa Kettle (1949), Ma & Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950), Ma & Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952), Ma & Pa Kettle on Vacation (1953) and Ma & Pa Kettle at Home (1954). Seven down, three to go in the Kettle movie-a-thon (I’m reviewing a set of their complete filmography for DVD Talk). Remember, this is the comedy franchise with wonderful Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as the parents of an unruly brood of 15 kids in Washington state (not the deep South, as I previously thought). The Kettle films tend to work better if they stay with the family and their oddball neighbors — whenever they take off to a far-off locale (as in Go to Town or Vacation), the movies tend to get pokey. The original Ma & Pa Kettle is a fun little outing in which the family wins a dream home in a jingle-writing contest that Pa entered — and probably all most casual viewers would want. Digging deeper, I’m finding that I’m enjoying these flicks. Universal Studios didn’t lavish a lot of money on them, but they are efficiently directed, fast paced and breezy affairs that one could consume like potato chips. If there’s a bad one in the bunch, just move on and you will find a good one. My favorites so far are At The Fair, which contains probably the funniest, most sitcom-esque gags in the series, and the first Ma & Pa Kettle. I also found a lot to like with the strangely sedate At Home, a film whose climactic Christmas party scene presents the family as a well-adjusted and even downright normal bunch. Go to Town is routine and On Vacation is entirely skippable, but even those have the marvelous chemistry of Main and Kilbride to recommend. I’m curious to see what the final two entries, minus Kilbride, will be like.
A Rage to Live (1965). This adaptation of a pulpy best seller by John O’Hara held a lot of promise as a campy delight; it ends up being a serious examination of a young woman’s sexuality that generally works thanks to a sensitive performance by Suzanne Pleshette. The gorgeous Pleshette plays Grace Caldwell, an heiress whose out-of-control libido has the people in her town pegging her as a slut (sometimes the truth, sometimes inflated by gossip). She meets nice young man Bradford Dillman at a holiday party and the two hit it off. They marry and have a child, but the tranquil family life is shattered with the reappearance of Ben Gazarra as a construction worker who once had a casual acquaintance with Pleshette. Will they have an affair and start the town talking? A soapy delight that is let down by an unsatisfactory ending, but Pleshette is great. I got a kick out of the scenes with her and Peter Graves as the married newspaper editor who has the hots for her — Emily Hartley and Jim Phelps having a forbidden tryst? No way!

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