Our friend Cindy has a swell LitKids DVD giveaway in April that ends today. Simply like my Etsy shop, like LitKids on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter or Pinterest to enter. The prize is the 3-disc Craft In America DVD set which I reviewed at DVD Talk last March.
The Docks Of New York (1929). The last film we saw from the Criterion Collection’s Three Silent Classics by Josef Von Sterberg set. This one has the formidable star of Underworld, George Bancroft, as a steamship worker who is on shore leave when he sees a sad, attractive blonde (Betty Compson) throwing herself off the dock, a suicide attempt. He’s captivated by the woman, who hangs out suspiciously at the local dive with her unhappily married friend (Olga Baclanova of Freaks). As Bancroft and the cynical Compson strike up a relationship, they impulsively decide to marry. The lure of the sea is too great for Bancroft, however, and Compson harbors a secret that may destroy their brief union. Athough the simple story in this one isn’t quite as compelling as Underworld or The Last Command, the film is still a great example of silent filmmaking at its zenith. I loved the photography; Compson is given some beatific close-ups that are comparable to the lovingly crafted shots Von Sternberg would later do with Marlene Dietrich. There’s also a lot of subtle dynamics going on between Bancroft and Compson and the other characters. They really did speak volumes in gestures and glances to make up for the absence of dialogue – then sound had to come along and ruin it (temporarily, at least).
Hit! (1973). Overlooked, gritty drama from many of the same people who worked on Lady Sings the Blues. This one has Billy Dee Williams as a crusading DEA agent who takes things to the next level when his daughter dies from taking a bad hit of heroin. Hit! was a recent disc that I picked to write on from the DVD Talk screener pool; my review was just published here.
The Kids Are All Right (2010). Another film that was on my Netflix queue forever before it arrived here at Chez Scrubbles this week. This is the one with Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a pair of long-together lesbian moms whose cushy world is upturned when their kids decide to contact the man who donated his sperm to the couple. Even though the dialogue was a little too stagy and the film was hobbled by a California-liberal sensibility that was hard to relate to, I enjoyed it a lot. Mostly for the outstanding performances of Moore and Bening, although Mark Ruffalo (as the long-absent dad) and Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson (as the kids) contributed good work as well. This is one of the few films I’ve seen where the main characters’ gayness is just taken as a fact of life, and that was refreshing to see. Not so refreshing was the way the story panned out with the Moore character (minor spoiler) having an affair with Ruffalo. Not to matter, however – the film has a lot of fresh and funny dialogue and it kept me absorbed all the way through the (sappy) ending.
The Second Woman (1950). Intriguing little psychological drama, borrowing heavily from films like Rebecca but entertaining all the same. The story concerns Betsy Drake as Ellen Foster, a mousy but intelligent woman who is visiting her aunt (Florence Bates) in a coastal California town that looks a lot like Monterey. Ellen is captivated by local architect Jeff Cohalan (Robert Young), a withdrawn man whose fiancee died under mysterious circumstances in an auto accident. Ellen befriends Jeff and becomes the first woman invited into his luxe modern home perched on a rocky outpost since the tragedy. As she gets closer to him and prompts the locals’ tongues wagging, strange things start happening that indicate he was responsible for his fiancee’s death. Can he be reformed, or is he not as dangerous as people think? This was an interesting little flick from my Mystery Classics DVD set (Christopher picked it – good choice, C!). I enjoyed the warm performances of Drake (an offbeat casting choice) and Young, who didn’t get these kind of multi-layered roles too often. Most fascinating was the modern design of Young’s home. Midcentury modern furnishings were surprisingly not used very often in classic films. Whenever they were employed, it was used with characters who were shady or (in this case) impenetrable. Although the film is sometimes derivative, The Second Woman is worth seeking out.
When I was a wee tyke, I loved TV commercial jingles (still love them, don’t kill me). This fact came to mind recently when I was listening to a internet radio station for vintage music and Eddie Cantor singing “Charley My Boy” came on. Although the song was originally recorded in the 1920s, Phoenix residents may recall that it was constantly used as the jingle for a series of cheeseball ads from local tire merchant Charlie Case in the ’70s. The ads I recall employed a male barbershop quartet, but the one below has a lady quartet introducing Charlie. Dig those lush production values, one small step higher than a Tex & Edna Boil SCTV skit:
Watching TV commercials must have warped my brain. Entire conversations I’ve had are lost to me, but I could easily sing all of the local car lot jingles from ’70s-’80s Phoenix. That includes Bell Ford, which if I’m not mistaken is still in use to this day:
Speaking of jingles, the one used at the end of Sun Valley Waterbed was nearly forgotten by me, especially considering that their ads with the perky “Carolyn” were on locally all the time. Blonde Carolyn looked a lot like local newscaster Mary Jo West, so in the back of my kiddie mind I imagined that the two were friends. Whether that was true or not is open to speculation, but I did just learn that Carolyn was once the keyboard player in The Brooklyn Bridge (“The Worst That Could Happen”). I guess tickling the ivories didn’t bring in the same cash that waterbeds later did. All three of these ads come from YouTube user DaddySinister.
Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952). This week, we saw three fluffy comedies. The colorful Rock Hudson musical Has Anybody Seen My Gal? was the most enjoyable of them, by a hair-thin margin. This nostalgic piece of corn has Charles Coburn as a dying self-made millionaire who bequeaths his estate to the descendants of the woman who spurned him several decades earlier, prompting him to acquire his fortune. Before that can happen, however, Coburn disguises himself as a humble painter and rooms with the family who will benefit from the smaller but still substantial check he anonymously sends them – to see how the money changes their lives. The household includes the now-deceased woman’s son (Larry Gates), his stuck-up wife (Lynn Bari), their hunky co-ed son (William Reynolds), precocious younger daughter (Gigi Perreau), and worldly older daughter (Piper Laurie). The Piper Laurie character is dating the earnest soda jerk (Hudson) at the drug store her father runs, a relationship that runs afoul once the family becomes part of the town’s jet-set. Pure hokum with awkwardly placed musical sequences and an odd sense of 1920s small-town life, but I was entertained by it all the same. Douglas Sirk directed this one – although it lacks the caustic commentary of his later melodramas, he does a good job keeping things light and lively. I also dug the little bit with James Dean as a soda fountain customer!
Peck’s Bad Boy with the Circus (1938). Fluffy yuk-yuk #2 was this kiddie circus flick from my Comedy Kings: 50 Movie Pack DVD set. Bill Peck was a literary boy-scamp, similar to Tom Sawyer, who was popular early in the 20th century. The character was played by young actors Jackie Coogan and Jackie Cooper; At the Circus was a revival with freckled Tommy Kelly in the role. In this film, Bill Peck gets involved in a traveling circus where jealousy involving a lady lion tamer (Benita Hume) causes the popular young bareback rider (Ann Gillis) to lose the top spot in the ring. In scheming to get her back in the troupe, Peck winds up taking the girl’s place. All this is happening while Peck furiously gets back to the nearby boys’ camp to win the relay race trophy! Silly nonsense, but I actually enjoyed watching it. The capable supporting cast includes Edgar Kennedy (slow-burning policeman in all those Hal Roach comedy shorts), William Demarest, and one of my fave movie maids, Louise Beavers.
The Rage of Paris (1938). Fluffy yuk-yuk #3 also came from the Comedy Kings, and with it I am finished with all of the 1930s films on that set (thus far, I’ve seen probably two-thirds of its fifty features). The breezy Rage of Paris attempted to do for French actress Danielle Darrieux what Three Smart Girls did for Deanna Durbin. Both are glossy, lightweight Universal productions, although this particular film isn’t nearly as memorable. The story concerns Darrieux’s Nicole, a poor but pretty young French girl struggling in New York. One of her neighbors, played by a wonderful Helen Broderick, sees an opportunity to mold Nicole into a fetching beauty who could nab a rich husband. She and budding restauranteur Mischa Auer decide to invest in the girl, and sure enough she attracts the attention of millionaire Louis Hayward. Their plan may fall apart, however, since Hayward’s best friend, wealthy businessman Douglas Fairbanks Jr., knows that Darrieux isn’t the Parisian socialite she’s pretending to be. Kind of a fun frolic, highlighted with Darrieux’s scene where she performs a coin trick. I enjoyed her (despite a performance that verges onto the cutesy), and she has a nice interplay with Broderick and Auer. Hayward is merely okay, however, and I always thought the debonair Fairbanks seemed too refined to be a truly believable leading man (okay, he seems a bit gay to me). It’s interesting to see Darrieux, a lady who is still active in films, in an American production.
Shockproof (1949). Overlooked film noir, directed by Douglas Sirk (again), takes place in several actual Los Angeles locales during its best period (yes, there’s a reason why an entire videogame has been made around it). This sordid tale follows a cynical woman named Jenny (Patricia Knight), recently released from prison for killing a man in defense of her shady boyfriend Harry (John Baragey). Her parole officer, Griff (Cornel Wilde), arranges a job and room and board for her, but circumstances prompt her to wind up living in Griff’s home with his blind mother and prissy little brother. In his efforts to keep Jenny away from Harry and his bad influence, Griff and the lady con form a bond and end up falling for each other. When Harry finds out about the affair, his jealousy gets him on the wrong side of a fatal bullet. Intriguing, well-crafted film that turns somewhat ludicrous when the lovers take it on the lam. Loved the location shooting (of course), and the previously-unknown-to-me Knight makes for an alluring femme fatale. She and Wilde were married at the time, which might account for Wilde being more layered and not nearly as bland as he usually is. The other characters were somewhat cut-and-dried, but it’s a fun film. Douglas Sirk was quite a versatile director, doing this and the escapist Has Anybody Seen My Gal? within the span of a few short years.
Smash His Camera (2009). Absorbing, lively, not entirely convincing documentary on celeb photographer Ron Galella and his notorious run-ins with Jacqueline Onassis and the like in the ’70s. I vaguely remember hearing about the Jackie case in the ’80s (when she re-sued him!), so it was interesting to see how this film treated those events through the eye of the older, mellower but still feisty Galella. The film also delves into the current life of the photographer as he gamely tramps out to celeb speaking engagements and premieres, observing how the scene has changed since the man’s ’70s peak. I can’t help but compare this with Bill Cunningham New York. That film was much more inspiring and watchable than this one, but both have their charms driven from the colorfulness of their main subjects. Although a pleasant fellow, Galella mostly comes across in the film as a classless hack with an inflated sense of self-worth. He also apparently had a dangerous, stalker-like attachment to Onassis. The re-hashing of the celebrated trial he had against Jackie O. made the actual circumstances of their conflict seem quite tame, actually.
Recently I had the privilege of reviewing the 3-disc UPA Jolly Frolics DVD set put out by Turner Classic Movies over at DVDTalk. Although the copy I reviewed was pre-release screeners and not the final retail set, I could definitely tell the set was put together with a lot of TLC. The cartoons, dating from 1948-59, all look fantastically restored. I included some screen shots with the DVD Talk review, including this gem from the 1955 cartoon The Jaywalker. This image says “UPA Style” better than most anything:
As much as UPA is identified with a modernist look, they also did several more traditional-type cartoons. The background below is stitched together from a Disney-esque 1950 effort called The Popcorn Story (it makes sense, since the film was co-directed by Disney vet Art Babbitt). I love the colors!
We’ve been watching Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen’s 2003 video essay on that metropolis and how the city’s image has been reflected on films shot on location there. Because it uses dozens of clips from movies ranging from Double Indemnity to Night of the Comet, the documentary has never gotten a home video release (and never will, apparently). It’s on YouTube, however, in 12 parts. Despite Andersen’s sometimes pretentious script and dry narration, it’s very fascinating. Here’s an excerpt: