Flick Clique: July 8-14
Body and Soul (1947). Great boxing melodrama-cum-film noir that I am currently reviewing for DVD Talk. I will have more details later, of course. Personal fave John Garfield contributed one of his grittiest performances to this one as Charley Davis, a scrappy boxer who is ultimately undone by people trying to exploit his success. The kind of characters in this story – earnest young guy turned corrupted cynic, level-headed ma, loving girlfriend, gee-whiz buddy – have since become cliché, but durn it I enjoyed it all the same. Garfield is terrific, as are Lilli Palmer, William Conrad, Hazel Brooks (as the sultry femme fatale), and ex-boxer Canada Lee, who contributes an amazing, dignified turn as Garfield’s one-time rival turned coach. It’s fun to watch this and spot all the elements that Martin Scorcese cribbed (stole?) for Raging Bull. Chief among them is the climactic fight scene itself, a flurry of hyper-real shots, documentary-like footage, astonished crowd shots and flashing photo bulbs. Another asset: James Wong Howe’s luminous photography.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969). I originally added this one on Netflix a long time ago out of morbid curiostiy, and maybe because I’m a big Pet Clark fan. The fact that it arrived last week is good timing, however, since Peter O’Toole recently announced his retirement from acting. Surprisingly, the big budget musicalized Mr. Chips isn’t nearly as deadly as I feared (C. hated it, however). Although O’Toole isn’t much of a singer, composer Leslie Bricusse tailors the tunes to his limited voice. The film overall is too long and bloated, saddled with one subplot too many, but I enjoyed the score and the two stars have a nice chemistry (this version emphasizes the Mr. and Mrs. Chipping relationship a lot more than the ’39 classic). Petula’s musical highlight is the song all about how wonderful London is – a not very memorable tune, but it’s fun and energetically performed. Most of the numbers are actually subtly done as inner monologues and such, which almost makes me feel that it could have been better served as straight-up drama. O’Toole’s performance is touching and quite wonderful; Clark matches him in sheer emotional heft. Sure, the film is no classic, but it definitely doesn’t deserve to be tossed in the “bloated musical misfire” trash heap with Star!, Lost Horizon and the like.
The Laramie Project (2002). Made-for-HBO dramatization of what happened when director Moises Kaufman and members of his New York Tectonic Theater Project ventured out to Laramie, Wyoming to interview townspeople and gauge their reactions shortly after the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. I thought it was pretty good, well performed with a commitment to, if not end hatred, at least have an understanding of it. The film often gets bogged down in overly-earnest triteness, however – I kept thinking the property would have worked better on stage as a series of monologues (has anybody seen the stage version?). There were times when the dramatizations came across as preachy and Lifetime TV-movie-ish.
Shag (1988). A sorta teen female American Graffiti which follows four Southern girlfriends – demure Carson (Phoebe Cates), brash Melaina (Bridget Fonda), sweet Pudge (Annabeth Gish) and snippy Luanne (Page Hannah) – as they spend the last of their summer vacation in 1963 Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with dozens of other horny teens. I caught this flick on ThisTV, thinking it was the ’80s-’60s period piece with teens in a dance competition scored to a great “golden oldies” soundtrack (nope, that was 1988′s similar The In Crowd, which I’m now dying to see). This one was a little too frenetically performed from the cast (although Fonda and Gish have some good moments), seemingly to make up for the pallid script. They did do a good job on the period details, including some scenes with dozens of extras in boxy swimwear, crew cuts and poofy hairstyles. This definitely seems like one of those cable-TV staples that one would happen across, vaguely enjoy for a few minutes, then instantly forget. Fun fact: the script was co-written by openly gay ’80s Saturday Night Live cast member Terry Sweeney.