Flick Clique: April 22-28

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.

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