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Tag Archives: Claudette Colbert

Flick Clique: September 18-21

Amer (2009). A lot of raves have been filed on this recent, stylized take on Italian Gallo horror films of the ’70s from filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. The film is divided into three impressionistic segments featuring the same character as a young girl, an adolescent and an adult woman. I don’t want to get into too much detail here (my DVDTalk take should be filed soon), but it’s certainly a unique film. Actually, the lack of dialogue and overly stylized photography (lots of closeups, especially of eyes, lips and other body parts) makes it more reminiscent of abstract, experimental filmmakers like Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger than anything else. There are a few frightening/bizarre moments, but the film is mostly a hollow exercise in style over substance. I wasn’t too impressed, and I will be articulating my feelings more in the actual review (which will hopefully be done by Friday).
The Asphalt Jungle (1950). A film noir classic that, surprisingly, I haven’t caught until this past week. A complex story, hard to get into at first, becomes absorbing over a tense 90 minutes thanks to vivid characters and John Huston’s crackling dialogue. The story concerns a brilliant, recently sprung criminal mastermind (Sam Jaffee) who wants to pull of one last heist before retiring. He employs a colorful array of men to abscond with some valuable jewels in a vault — burly tough guy Sterling Hayden, safe cracker Anthony Caruso and lookout James Whitmore. The heist is generally a success, but complications arise when Jaffe and crew take the jewels to Louis Calhern as the wealthy lawyer who agreed to buy them. Calhern is short on cash, and the men are left scrambling to basically fend for themselves. Most of what people know of The Asphalt Jungle is that it’s one of Marilyn Monroe’s earliest roles, and she’s pretty good as Calhern’s opportunistic mistress. The other performers are just as good if not better, however — Sterling Hayden rocks, and Jean Hagen contributes a vulnerable turn as Hayden’s boozy girlfriend. Jaffee, Calhern and Whitmore are also excellent. The story unfolds in a great way to a terrific ending, too.
Eating Out: Drama Camp (2011). This was among the first batch of DVDs I selected from DVDTalk. The Eating Out films, of which Drama Camp is #4, are bawdy gay comedies which tend to show up on the Logo channel. I’d previously seen the first one (which sucked), but none of the sequels. Surprisingly the film turned out enjoyable in its own cheesy way. The full review is here.
The Egg and I (1947). As an introduction to the Ma & Pa Kettle Complete Comedy Collection, one can’t get any better than the Kettle’s first outing as supporting players in this breezy laugh getter. The film has a typical “city slickers go country” theme with Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray as newlyweds who get more than they bargained for when MacMurray impulsively decides to start an egg farm in the woods of Washington state. Most of the humor revolves around fetching Colbert attempting to adjust to farm animals, primitive kitchen appliances and loopy neighbors. Awfully cute, but not too cute. Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as Ma & Pa Kettle are a delight. I’m going to be seeing a lot more of them as I run through the nine (!) films they starred in (actually, Kilbride bowed out for the final two, which are making their DVD debut on this set). My full, Kettle-riffic writeup will be appearing soon.
Howl (2010). Netflix streaming view (Christopher’s choice). Howl details Allen Ginsberg in the fifties, how he came to write his gritty, poetic tour-de-force Howl and the subsequent obscenity trial for the book, in which Ginsberg was not involved. The film shifts between James Franco as Ginsberg, emoting in a fake beard, colorful and visually striking sequences in which Franco narrates Howl to animation, and the trial itself with Jon Hamm as the defense attorney and David Strathairn representing the prosecution. This film was a mess, really. Franco is too stylized and actor-y as Ginsberg and his readings are unbelievably pretentious. Ginsberg’s language is unsparingly tough and ahead of its time, spitting in the face of ’50s conformity, so there’s definitely a movie to be had in that. Although the Franco scenes fail, I somewhat enjoyed the trial section and found the animation interesting (I’m a sucker for good, weird animation). All in all, a well-intentioned, ponderous bore.
Lost Empires (1986). This miniseries follows the goings-on in a British music hall performing troupe in the years prior to World War I, with a young/dashing Colin Firth as the protagonist. I will have a detailed review of this up shortly at DVDTalk, but in a nutshell I really enjoyed this. The series is in seven parts, with the longer first part being the least satisfying. It is necessary, however, in detailing the evocative characters and stage milieu that Firth enters. After his last surviving parent dies, Firth as regular bloke Richard comes under the employ of his Uncle Nick (a wonderful, menacing turn by John Castle), who does an exotic magic act under the stage name Ganga Dun. The cynical Nick introduces Richard to the world of jugglers, comedians, singers and dancers — performers who are at the lower strata of English society and yet have a social hierarchy of their own. The concept shares some similarity with the recent Downton Abbey, which even takes place in the same time period. The reissued DVD edition is coming out Tuesday; hopefully I will have my more comprehensive review ready by then!
One Night in the Tropics (1940). The film that introduced Abbott & Costello to moviedom was shown one recent afternoon on ThisTV, so I recorded it and watched it in bits and pieces over a week or two. Not the best way to take in a movie, I’m sure, which might explain why I found it so disjointed and horrible. A&C pop in at inopportune moments, doing their stage bits (including the “Who’s On First” routine). They have little to do with the main plot of the film, a trifle about buddies Allan Jones and Robert Cummings, who hatch a plan to take out an insurance policy on Cummings’ upcoming marriage to socialite Nancy Kelly. The policy is financed by nightclub owner William Frawley, who hires Bud Abbott and Lou Costello to make sure the couple marries and he doesn’t have to pay up. A herky-jerky comedy with forgettable musical interludes and a dumb script. I always found Cummings an unappealing, ultra-smarmy character and he’s no different here. Allen Jones was an interesting figure from this era, an appealing opera singer with a jazzy, current image; his character is almost as bad as Cummings’. Blecch.

Weekly Mishmash: December 19-25

book_bobbedhairBobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the 1920s by Marian Meade. Brisk read examines four female writers — Dorothy Parker, Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edna Ferber — as they came to find their voices over the course of the 1920s. The book takes on a novel structure, with chapters organized by year detailing what each woman was up to from 1920 through the close of 1930. It throws the reader right into the action, dispensing with the usual (boring) background details in the subjects’ lives. It’s a rather superficial approach to take, but I enjoyed it and Meade’s breezy writing style sweeps you right along. Although the ladies all had their unique voices as writers, it’s interesting to note how many scenes and people (mostly Manhattan-based) overlapped with each person’s narrative. They all dealt with being writerly and intelligent in an era when women were grappling with having careers vs. more traditional roles. After reading this book, I’d say Edna Ferber is the one I’d most want to sit down for a chat with coffee. Dorothy Parker is a towering figure, quite modern and ahead of her time. Edna St. Vincent Millay was a bundle of contradictions and quirks (who knew of her obsession with bowel movements?), and poor Zelda Fitzgerald seemed like a fragile if shallow soul. Bland title aside, this was a thrilling read. I could easily enjoy something similar on writers in the ’30s, ’40s and beyond.
Fog Island (1945). Junky b-movie about eccentric millionaire George Zucco, who gathers all the people he believed helped kill his wife for a rendezvous at his island castle (built by pirates, no less!). Soggy revenge tale with a confusing mystery and tacked-on “young love” subplot. This film seems awfully familiar to anyone who has seen the contemporary version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The only spark in the cast came from character actress Jacqueline deWit, playing a clairvoyant. She was a lot more memorable opposite Joan Crawford in The Damned Don’t Cry and Jane Wyman in All That Heaven Allows, however.
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Frogs (1972). Another timeless classic recorded on our local This TV affiliate. I came to this one believing it was about a bunch of giant frogs taking revenge on people. I must have had it confused with the giant rabbit opus Night of the Lepus, however, since this film shows a horde of normally proportioned frogs wreaking havoc on a Southern mansion — along with lizards, spiders, alligators and other creepy things. No, the only grossly proportioned thing here is Ray Milland’s mugging as a plantation owner whose decision to pollute the local waters is what triggers this whole mess. A tight-pantsed Sam Elliott and Joan Van Ark are the main protagonists in a cast that includes every Southern sterotype known to humankind, including the Sexy Black Chick. The animal attacks themselves are laughably lame, of course, but you might want to give this a peek just to witness how common lizards actually know which chemicals combine to form lethal gasses. Lesson learned — don’t piss off a lizard.
Miami Blues (1990). Slipped this on my Netflix queue after having a yen to explore some early ’90s thrillers I missed out on. This particular one is a sleeper of the genre since it was made by ailing Orion Films and dumped into release in early 1990 with little notice. Alec Baldwin is well-known as a comedic performer, but I was surprised at how funny, charming and sexy he is this early on as an ex-con who goes on a one man crime wave, wooing a naive prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and even stealing the identity of the cop (Fred Ward) who is pursuing him throughout sun-baked Miami. Filled with tons of quirky touches, this film heaps up the comedy and jarring violence in equal measure. The script is very smart, but mostly what makes it sing are Baldwin and Leigh (who oughta have gotten an Oscar nom for this role).
Sleep, My Love (1948). This one was a bit of a surprise when it showed up on Netflix’s Watch Instantly offerings, since it stars Claudette Colbert and I’d never heard of it. An independent production from a company headed by Mary Pickford and Charles “Buddy” Rogers, this shadowy thriller opens coolly with a disoriented Colbert on a passenger train wondering how she got there. Reunited with husband Don Ameche, she’s informed that she accidentally shot the man in his arm and needs to be under constant surveillance by the protective husband. It’s only through the efforts of sympathetic friend Robert Cummings that we find out what’s really going on. Since the contrived Gaslight-style plot is nothing special, one can see why director Douglas Sirk disdained this effort — but it is enjoyable in its own hokey “woman in danger” way. Colbert plays the melodrama to the hilt, and I enjoyed voluptuous Hazel Brooks in the classic femme fatale role of Ameche’s secret lover. There’s also a young Raymond Burr and Keye Luke, who participates in the film’s most unusual scene depicting a traditional Chinese wedding. No great shakes, but worthwhile watching for the ’40s film junkie with a Netflix account.
The Social Network (2010). We decided to make this our Christmas Eve special viewing before the film left the theaters. No need to go into detail about the plot or anything, but this was an excellent film. How could it go wrong with David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin involved? Not to diminish Fincher’s contributions, but it is Sorkin’s literary, intelligent (if weirdly mannered and not very true-to-life) dialogue that makes this film. And the casting is fantastic, starting with Jesse Eisenberg’s note-perfect blend of genius and misfit as Mark Zuckerberg, a man who (according to this film) co-founded a website that thrives on personal interaction based on an appalling lack of basic face-to-face people skills. The film has a lot of atmosphere, and the storytelling is so strong that, as C. put it, the film could go on for another hour or two and still remain enthralling.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). Another in my endeavor to watch all the Trek films in the order they came out. In the words of Comic Book Guy, “Worst Star Trek movie ever.” But it’s not due to William Shatner (who directed and co-scripted), as many believe. This lazy effort begins with Spock’s half-brother Sylock as he goes to a dusty, Mad Maxesque planet and takes three ambassadors hostage in an effort to meet the Supreme Being. The paunchy, aging Captain Kirk and crew must save the besieged planet, all the while dealing with Klingons who are completely in awe of Kirk’s fighting ability and all-around awesomeness. The film moves pretty quickly and the old Enterprise gang has a wonderful camaraderie that goes well beyond the roles the actors are playing. Those are about the only good things in a film which stumbles through one implausibility after another in a series of bad calls. Probably the low point came when 50ish actress Nichelle Nichols did an undignified “sexy” fan dance — no, Uhura, no! Next in line will be Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which I actually remember seeing in the movie theater with my parents.