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Category Archives: Celluloid

Flick Clique: June 20-26

The American (2010). Meh. George Clooney as an American spy who is trying to elude a gang of Swedish interlopers in a small Italian villa. I rented this because I’ve been a long-time fan of the photography and music videos of Anton Corbijn, and was curious to see how he’d handle a feature-length film (this is his second, after 2007’s Ian Curtis biopic Control). The American doesn’t make any concessions to being a slam-jam action pic, and that’s a commendable idea, but Clooney’s character being so glum and one-dimensional makes it difficult to warm up to him or his situation. I also really couldn’t figure out why the local prostitute Clara (Violante Placido) was so attracted to him. The one positive thing I can say about this is that it has some beautiful photography, including a quietly compelling long shot of Clooney driving a car through a long tunnel under the opening credits.
The Celluloid Salesman: Classic Educational Shorts, Vol. 4 (DVD, 2011). Another campy collection of vintage industrial films from Kino and The A/V Geeks, an ephemeral films collection. I was delighted to find that this disc and another volume, Safe… Not Sorry got added to this series – unfortunately, Netflix didn’t have either for rental (Netflix is starting to suck, notice that?). Kino had a big sale recently, however, so I ended up getting the Salesman one for a good price. These 15 short films, mostly from the ’60s, attempted to sell everything from railroad cars to potato chips in films that were geared towards salespeople, classrooms, home ec groups, mens’ lodges or even a television audience (one short is even craftily disguised as a string of news segments). Many of them come across as a combo of a ’60s-style How It’s Made and the antique equivalent of an infomercial. Although their effectiveness as sales tools are decidedly hit-or-miss, you can find bits of atom-age beauty (like Hamilton Beach’s film extolling the wonders of their top-of-the-line blender) in the most lovingly crafted of these films.
The Net (1995). Sandra Bullock as a hacker in trouble! This was part of the little “early versions of the web” film fest I put on Netflix a few years back. Once you get past the clunky technology, it’s actually an effective thriller with a good performance from Bullock (the others in the cast, not so much). The Bullock character, Angela Bennett, plays a geeky computer analyst with no time for friends. The only family she has is her Alzheimers-afflicted mother (Diane Baker). When she comes across a floppy disc containing a portal into a top-secret government database, a cabal of spies comes after her, reassigning her identity as one Ruth Marx, attempting to kill her and the few people she has left (such as Dennis Miller’s psychotherapist) who could help her out. At first this was fun to watch for the dated technology (Castle Wolfenstein! After Dark’s Satori screen saver!), then I started getting into the story. It became ridiculous when Jeremy Northam’s love interest/secret killer showed up, however – Northam delivers an atrocious performance worthy of a cheesy stalker movie on the Lifetime channel. There’s also a lot of serious lapses in logic when Bullock breaks into the office where her doppelganger is working and takes back her original identity. And that’s before she runs into a computer convention and calmly plants a virus in the government database using a floppy disc and a common PC. At least Bullock makes her character’s plight believable and sympathetic.
Of Giants and Toys (1958). This was a film that I found out about through the book Japanese Cinema by my DVD Talk colleague Stuart Galbraith IV. In this wacked-out satire on commercialism and fame, a pair of office workers in a candy manufacturer’s advertising department transform a goofy young woman into the fabulous spokeswoman for their product. While Hitomi Nozoe as Kyoko enjoys her newfound fame and flirts shamelessly with her chaperone, Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi). Nishi attempts to find info about his employer’s competition through his girlfriend and his ex-college buddy, who both work at rival companies. This was such an interesting film, if only to check out how the Japanese took on the space craze and other Western trends in the atomic ’50s. It also serves as a biting commentary on win-at-all-costs Japanese society at the time. Shot in widescreen color, the film is a bit unruly and all over the place. It also has enough wild, memorable scenes to recommend it – the desperation of the characters trying to maintain their dignity while working themselves sick (literally) comes through loud and clear.

Flick Clique: May 13-19

Battle Royale (2000). The success of The Hunger Games has renewed interest in this controversial Japanese film with a storyline that closely parallels the adventures of Katniss and Peeta. Actually, lots of people must be interested in this – after months of sitting on top of my Netflix queue with the dreaded “Very Long Wait,” I finally decided to check with our local library (which stocks lots of foreign films) to see if they had a copy to check out. Turns out they had four copies in the stacks. Although they were all checked out at the time, I placed a hold and one of them became available within a day or two. Battle Royale takes place in a sensation-starved near-future Japan in which a class of 42 teens are randomly selected to engage in a three-day, nationally televised “battle royale” in which they are placed on a deserted island to kill each other until one survivor is crowned. The kids have a few rules to adhere to (danger zones and potentially lethal electronic collars keep them tracked and on their toes), but are generally set free to fend for themselves with backpacks containing a map and a few supplies. The film is somewhat overdone and its second half pales next to the exciting beginning, but I dug seeing how it played out among the students. Some die accidentally, some commit suicide, most are murdered by the few students who already had killer tendencies. A Japanese friend of ours recently saw Hunger Games and found it to be a convenient Battle Royale rip-off. The two films are different, but their similarities are too striking to ignore. Good performances here by Tatsuya Fujiwara (Death Note) and actor-Japanese TV host Takeshi Kitano (playing the kids’ coach/evil show orchestrator).
The Lawless (1950). Effective MacDonald Carey/Gail Russel b-melodrama of racial strife in a small California town. This was another underrated vintage Paramount production that’s getting the DVD reissue treatment from Olive Films. My complete review of the disc was just published at DVD Talk here – check it out, please and thank you!
The Lost World (1960). Last Christmas, I got Christopher a four-pack DVD set of 20th Century Fox special effects blockbusters as a gift. We watched two of them over this past week, both Irwin Allen widescreen extravaganzas from the early ’60s. His version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic humans-meet-dinosaurs opus The Lost World is the more definite turkey of the two. Granted, the story had a lot of potential in being updated to the campy, colorful ’60s. Allen, however, decided to stick it on the island the entire time (no dino rampaging through present-day London, darn it) with a host of annoying, shallowly drawn characters. Most disappointing of all are the dinosaurs themselves – kimodo dragons, iguanas and baby alligators outfitted with tiny prosthetics. Boring! The stop-motion dinosaurs from the silent version were much more terrifying, and that was thirty-plus years prior to this. Most of the cast (Claude Rains, Michael Rennie, Fernando Lamas) are annoying, although special mention must be made for the character of Jennifer Holmes as played by Jill St. John, a dipsy heiress who is poised as the combo Ginger Grant/Lovey Howell among these castaways. St. John always seemed like a pretty intelligent actress and she looks stunning here, but her character was beyond ridiculous. Happily, her career has recovered from this demeaning start.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961). Flick #2 in our Irwin Allen extravaganza is this submarine opus which was later adapted into a TV series lasting a few seasons. Like The Lost World, this one also sports a ridiculous and campy story (about Earth facing extinction by burning to death, with Walter Pidgeon and his crew racing to save humanity aboard his futuristic sub, the Seaview). Unlike The Lost World, however, it’s watchable and kind of fun at times, playing a bit like a melodramatic version of Disneyland’s old-school Submarine Voyage attraction (I only wish there were scenes where they encounter mermaids and a sea serpent). There’s still a lot of unanswered burning questions, like how does Barbara Eden function as the only woman on a ship full of horny men without getting assaulted on a daily basis? And why did Robert Sterling’s captain escape death with his hand dipped into the pool containing the ravenous shark that just devoured Joan Fontaine (spoiler, sorry!)? I think you just have to turn off your brain and enjoy escapist crap like this.

Flick Clique: May 6-12

We have six items on Flick Clique this week – not including the documentary (Kink Crusaders) which I’m hoping to post at DVD Talk tomorrow. I don’t really feel like going into detail on these, so I will supply a mini writeup along with the star ratings (out of five) that I gave the films.
Despicable Me (2010). **** I was surprisingly charmed by this, considering it’s a CGI animated film not from Pixar. Steve Carrell voices an evil genius who wants to shrink the moon and steal it from the sky, but three adorable orphans get in the way. OK, the “children are the answer to everything” message gets laid on too thickly, but otherwise this was an inventively done, nicely scripted and completely charming kiddie flick. This was animated by French studio Mac Guff, with made-for-3D sequences that are actually fun and not calling attention to themselves (see: How To Train Your Dragon). A lot of it reminded me of The Incredibles with more of a goth edge. Wonder what the sequel that’s due next year will be like?
Eyes in the Night (1941). *** Enjoyable little time-waster about blind detective (!) Edward Arnold, who investigates some suspicious doings in the domicile of his old friend, Ann Harding. Harding’s husband is a scientist who perfected a top-secret formula that is wanted by a cabal of spies. The baddies have wormed their way into the household staff – and the local theatrical company that Harding’s petulant stepdaughter Donna Reed is involved with. Pretty well-made, involving noir thriller from MGM – I wonder if they were trying to make this into a series a la the Thin Man films? Bar none, the best thing about this movie is Edward Arnold’s amazing seeing eye dog, Friday. That pooch does some daring jumps here of the kind not seen since the glory days of Rin Tin Tin.
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). ***** The original “how much crap can one guy take?” movie. This was made to bring to light the deplorable prison conditions in Georgia, and to expose the plight of the “forgotten man” (WWI vets caught up in the misery of the Great Depression). It works as both social commentary and compelling drama. Paul Muni is less hammy than usual as the fugitive in question – as a matter of fact, he should have won the Best Actor Oscar that year. I also liked Glenda Farrell as the trashy blonde who marries the reformed fugitive Muni, then tries to blackmail him. Not so funny, Glenda.
Larceny Inc. (1942). *** I first saw this Edward G. Robinson comedy about 20 years ago, didn’t remember much about it except that somehow it involved a luggage store and a young Jackie Gleason playing an overly attentive soda jerk. It’s a fun, fast-paced little romp with Robinson as an ex-con who hatches a plan with two other cons (Broderick Crawford and Edward Brophy, one of those “hey, I know that guy” actors) to buy up said failing luggage store in order to dig a tunnel into the bank vault conveniently located next door. Also starring Jane Wyman and Jack Carson, this film brims with that Warner Bros. city feel. I especially enjoyed seeing the section of the W.B. backlot which now looks totally familiar to me, used here as the streetscape where a massive subway expansion is creating havoc with Robinson’s fellow business owners. I can see why this movie didn’t retain in my memory, but I enjoyed it (again).
Oceans 11 (2001). **** Avoided this one until now because I initially thought it might be just another mainstream, Hollywood-ized and completely unnecessary remake. I was wrong. It’s actually quite fun, with a story that’s like a jacked-up, more fascinating iteration of the 1960 original. Steven Soderberg has so much flair as a director that I’m willing to overlook the many implausible moments (Brad Pitt lifts his helmet visor in a crowded casino??) and go along for the ride. The cast is generally good with the strong exception of sour-pussed Julia Roberts. Oh, and the little Chinese acrobat dude (Shaobo Qin)? So adorable.
Sneakers (1992). **** I remember adding Sneakers to my Netflix queue as part of a “90s movies featuring dated technology” spree. The film is actually quite an intelligently written and absorbing yarn with Robert Redford as the ringleader of a group of security system experts/hackers who find themselves in the possession of a top-secret decoding box. The box, which can magically break into every computerized security system, is highly sought after by both the government and Redford’s ex-college buddy Ben Kingsley – now the head of a computer firm whose nefarious m.o. is adequately conveyed via its minimalist-chic office decor. There are a few weird scenes (like the usual “blow up a tiny detail on a photo until it’s crystal clear” malarkey), but for the most part the script is impeccably researched and believable. The bright cast (including one of my faves, Mary McDonnell) seems to be having a ball with this elaborate heist caper – which dovetailed nicely from the previous film we saw, Oceans 11. Redford seems too old, but that’s okay. Sadly, if this film were produced today, the Redford character would be closer to 30 in age and the other cast members would be all be the same age as River Phoenix (who was 21 when this was made).

Flick Clique: April 26 – May 2

Exclusive Story (1936). A DVD that I picked from the screener pool at DVD Talk. I was excited to see this one because a) we rarely get Warner Archive discs in the pool and b) vintage movies are especially hard there. Exclusive Story is an efficiently produced little b-drama from MGM starring dapper Franchot Tone as a lawyer who comes to the aid of a pretty lady (the gorgeous Madge Evans) whose father’s business is being hounded by criminals running an underground numbers game. This film packs a lot of action/story into under 75 minutes in an absorbing (if overly complex) and thoroughly fun romp. When the Madge Evans character seeks help at the local newspaper, it prompts a lot of salty dialogue from the reporter who is trying to seek a scoop on the criminal (played with a hammy menace by Joseph Calleia). Although Tone contributes a lot, the main male lead is really Stuart Irwin as the reporter – it’s interesting to see him in a complex, non-comic role as a decent family man who sincerely wants to help Evans and not exploit her situation. The story mixes gangster drama and domestic theatrics, along with an exciting sequence set aboard a cruise liner set afire with passengers desperately trying to escape. Although the film on the whole is somewhat routine, I found it a brisk example of studio-craft and basically worthwhile (having never seen it on TCM, this one is completely new to me).
Mantrap (1926). The other feature film on my spiffy Treasures 5: The West 1898-1938 DVD set is this recently refurbished Clara Bow comedy in which she plays a flirty city gal who falls for an older country bumpkin. Her Alverna impulsively marries dim but earnest shopkeeper Joe (Ernest Torrance) and moves to the lakeside town of Mantrap, Canada (actually California’s Lake Arrowhead). Flapper Alverna becomes perfectly bored with country life until her prospects change when lawyer Ralph Prescott (Percy Marmont) comes to town on vacation. Smoothly directed and shot by Victor Fleming and cinematographer James Wong Howe, this lightweight fluff is mostly carried by Clara and her charms. If you ever wondered why she was called “The It Girl,” get a load of her coquettish, casually sexy performance here and wonder no longer (no surprise that Bow regarded this as the best of her star vehicles). She makes up for the routine story and the fact that other two actors are rather dull – and homely. This film contains that one famous clip of Bow where she winks and does a little “c’mere” motion with her index finger.
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939). Last of the slight yet enjoyable Warner Bros. series of b-movies starring cute ‘n perky Bonita Granville as the iconic teen detective. I believe Hidden Staircase was the only one of the four to be based on one of the books, although apparently very loosely. The story concerns a pair of spinsters, neighbors in Nancy’s little town, living in an old house who are subject to a will that stipulates one of them must stay in the house every night for 20 years to inherit it (yes, this is the stuff that b-movies run on!). People want the property to build a racetrack on, however, so the sisters are subjected to weird stuff happening in the house – including the murder of their chauffeur, a deed which implicates them in the killing. Nancy knows better, so she enlists the help of her skeptical yet game boyfriend Ted (Frankie Thomas) to investigate the mysterious old house. These are silly but film flicks, decently produced and fast paced. It’s kind of amazing, the ballsy stuff that Nancy does in these flicks – lying to the authorities, venturing into weird places alone, etc. I wonder if young girls got into trouble trying to emulate what she did in these films? The Bonita Granville Nancys are all pretty interchangeable; Hidden Staircase ranks as slightly fizzier and more enjoyable than the others.
Showgirls (1996). All-time trash classic? Although I’ve had this one in my queue for a while, we shuttled it to the top after Christopher read the autobiography of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. Whatta trip! This “film” is every bit as lousy as I’ve heard, but it’s also strangely watchable and enjoyable in a way that many bad (boring) films never achieve. That might be due to the direction of Paul Verhoeven, who seems clued in to the script’s ridiculousness and amplifies the campy, gaudy awfulness of it all to a huge, eyeball-straining degree. Poorly cast Elizabeth Berkley plays Nomi, an ambitious if short-fused dancer who hitches her way to Vegas and eventually (after a series of hilarious mishaps) scores a job as a stripper. That oughta be enough to satisfy any burger- and tacky-nails-lovin’ gal, but instead she sets her sights on the very top – being a showgirl at a big time casino! Thanks to help from sleazy impersario Kyle MacLachlan and lesbian-leaning diva Gina Gershon, she makes it to the chorus in a show called “Goddess” – but can she unseat the show’s vain star? Unintentional hilarity ensues, but it’s also scary how everybody in this movie is either predatory, sleazy or incredibly stupid. In the dimwits’ corner is Berkely’s Nomi, who is utterly anti-sexy and untalented despite what other characters say. She’s also a bitter pill, but it must be a tribute to the woman’s talent (?) that I found myself rooting for her in the end. This despite loads of trashy sets, clothing and food (really, what is it with all the junk food?) and choreography that seemed inspired by diabetic seizures. I actually dug the insane ’90s-ness of it all, an aesthetic that really stands out with a decade or so of distance. Can’t believe I haven’t seen this until now, sorta want to watch it again.
W.E. (2011). Madonna’s artsy ode to Wallis Simpson and conspicuous consumption was pretty roundly blasted by the critics, wasn’t it? Suprisingly, I found it interesting if a strangely verging on luxurious object porn (at times, it looked like an auction catalog). W.E. criss-crosses between the real drama of Britain’s Prince Edward (James D’Arcy) falling for commoner divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborogh), and a modern day Manhattanite/Wallis fan (Abbie Cornish) stuck in a dreary marriage. The latter’s story has the well-heeled woman being absorbed by the goods in the 1998 auction of Simpson’s personal effects while a flirty Sotheby’s security guard (Oscar Isaac) takes a special interest in her. I found the acting/drama in this film vaguely interesting if not too absorbing. What I thought was funny were the times when Madonna seemed to be visually referencing her own music videos – like “Cherish” (Edward and Wallis frolicking in the surf) or “Oh Father” (Wallis’ string of pears getting flown off her neck in dramatic slo-mo). There’s also times when she’s basically copying the style of Sofia Coppola part and parcel. Still, I enjoyed Risenborogh’s performance as Wallis (the same can’t be said for the vacant-faced Cornish) – she emerges here as a steel-nerved, no-nonsense chick who won’t take guff from nobody. Also an opportunist and a lady who is hung up on her own celebrity – a lot like Madonna, no?

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.

Flick Clique: April 15-21

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.