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Tag Archives: Edward G. Robinson

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: June 19-25

poster_amazingdrThe Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938). I remember seeing this, years back when I was first getting into the films of Mr. Edward G. Robinson, and enjoying it. My revisit finds it to be a fun but flawed artifact from the period when Robinson was making a smooth transition from heavies to lighter, comedic roles. Robinson plays the title character, a psychiatric doctor who takes his professional interest in criminals to the next level by becoming one. On a jewel heist, he meets the members of an underworld gang after the same booty. His expertise allows him to become a member of the gang, headed up by hard-bitten dame Claire Trevor and surly Humphrey Bogart, who wants to take Clitterhouse down a peg or two. This was a smoothly directed, very enjoyable movie. I loved the New York atmosphere and the vivid supporting characters (including Allen Jenkins, Max Rosenbloom and Ward Bond). The only off-note here is Robinson, who approaches the part in an effete way and seems somewhat miscast. According to this film’s IMDb page, the producers wanted to cast Ronald Colman — who seems like a much more logical choice as the elegant Clitterhouse. Still, a fun movie with that distinctive Warner Bros. flavor.
Boy A (2007). Intense, beautifully photographed British drama with a fragile, nuanced performance by Andrew Garfield. Garfield plays a young man who as a boy participated in a horrific crime where (eventually revealed via flashbacks) a young girl was murdered. The story opens with Garfield rehabilitated and facing an uneasy transition to civilian life with an assumed name, under the tutelage of a social worker (Peter Mullan). He gets a job and stumbles into an awkward relationship with a co-worker (Katie Lyons), but a predatory British press threatens to blow his cover at any moment. Interesting, if talky and somewhat plodding, film. For some reason, we’ve been seeing several Garfield films lately. He fares much better here than in the pretentious Never Let Me Go or the muddled, showy 1974 edition of the Red Riding trilogy. I still can’t picture him as Spiderman, however.
The Great Ziegfeld (1936). Bloated but fascinating MGM bio on showman Florenz Ziegfield, as played by the dapper William Powell. I found this DVD at Big Lots for three bucks and decided to check it out again. First off, this is one seriously overlong flick. It could even have the last hour chopped off with no apparent loss (okay, Powell’s death scene is so maudlin and morbidly watchable; it can stay). The production numbers, although impressively mounted, are plodding and deserving of a more kinetic touch (where was Busby Berkeley at the time?). Some of the performers — like fluttery Luise Rainer as Ziegfeld’s wife, entertainer Anna Held — are iffy at best. Still, it’s a wonderfully plush film anchored by Powell’s charisma and some fun, nostalgic bits (Fanny Brice’s appearance as herself is a highlight). Modern viewers may take issue with this film’s garnering the 1937 Best Picture Oscar, but I think it’s a great example of what Hollywood found important at the time. Ziegfeld himself seems like a bit of a cypher here, and one often wonders what the fuss was about (apparently Flo’s big thing was “glorifying the American girl,” a phrase that could just as easily apply to all those Girls Gone Wild DVDs). I could also split hairs with the way the film wafts through the early 1900s with little to no reference to specific dates and events. It’s an odd way to tell a story, but the superluxe production (especially Adrian’s eye-popping costumes) and wild musical numbers make it worthwhile. The enormous wedding cake centerpiece of “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” is a good example. Wowza!

Homicide (1991). A flawed but watchable crime thriller from the pen of David Mamet. Having great magnetism in a rare starring role, Joe Mantegna plays Bobby Gold, a Jewish cop who stumbles upon the murder of an elderly shopkeeper on the way to investigating a different crime with his jokey partner, played by William H. Macy. He eventually finds that the dead shopkeeper was part of a shadowy network of Jews who took to desperate, illegal measures to keep their social/economic standing in the city. It’s an interesting premise for a film, and Mantegna is as solid as he’s ever been. Mamet’s observational, profanity filled dialogue is whip-smart, although watching it now it seems awfully affected and stagey. Perhaps this is the kind of property that would work better as a play; I wonder if I’d be thinking the same thing about Aaron Sorkin’s writing in a few years time.
poster_milkywayThe Milky Way (1936). Another offering from my well-worn copy of the Comedy Kings: 50 Movie Pack set! The Milky Way was one of the talking efforts from silent screen legend Harold Lloyd. Here he plays Burleigh Sullivan, a mild-mannered milkman who knocks out boxer William Gargan in a sidewalk brawl. Gargan’s handlers see this as the golden opportunity to set Lloyd up as the next great pugilistic champ. The only problem is that it’s all a big fraud, one that the oblivious Lloyd can’t see even as his sister (Helen Mack) and girlfriend (Dorothy Wilson) catch on. This is a bright, engaging comedy given efficient direction by Mervyn Le Roy. I liked the cast, especially Adolph Menjou and Veree Teasdale as the couple who set up Lloyd as a fake boxing champ. The two were married at the time, and their cheery rapport readily comes across on screen. Lloyd makes for a most affable sap, although his appeal is more ideally suited to silents. Whever he speaks, he sounds like a brain-damaged kid who never adjusted to adulthood, which is an odd thing to watch. It’s really a minor blemish on what is an otherwise sweet and charming film, however.

Flick Clique: February 13-19

The King’s Speech (2010). Christopher had the week off, so we spent it doing day trips (hello, Wickenburg and Queen Creek) and fun excursions — such as seeing this recent Oscar nominee at the local cinema. Going in, I knew what to expect: a genteel period piece with finely wrought performances. The actual film, however, is all that and much more. As history, the story it tells puts a personal spin on an already engrossing Royal sidebar (I had no idea about King George VI’s stuttering problem). The production design and score are both top notch, but what impressed me the most was the acting. Not just Colin Firth (amazing) and Geoffrey Rush (does an accomplished job with what could have been a hammy role), but Helena Bonham Carter (wonderful and every bit as deserving of a statuette) and Guy Pierce, who has been somewhat overlooked as Edward VIII. The more familiar Edward side of the story with him abdicating the throne for Wallis Simpson (slyly played by Eve Best) takes a back seat to the potentially more hackneyed angle of George overcoming a speech impediment to triumph over England. It’s a fabulously made film, and the climactic speech is nicely orchestrated. Alexandre Desplat’s music is subtly invigorating, just the way a great score ought to function (see below). Side note: this movie had the oldest crowd I’ve ever seen at the theater. The median age must’ve been in the 90s!
Let the Right One In (2008). In this Swedish scare flick, a shy, picked-upon boy named Oskar becomes infatuated with Eli, the creepy girl who moved in next door at their icy suburban apartment building. She gradually teaches him to face up to his bullies, while a series of random killings in the area reveal that the girl is a vampire. What a great, unsettling film (remade in the U.S., apparently), one that turns an overdone subject on its head. At first it seems too deliberately paced and talky, but eventually I was sucked in (…) by the storyline and the terrific young actors playing the leads. Director Tomas Alfredson perfectly sets off the odd doings by placing the characters in a remote environment in which everything has a disconnect — chiefly adults and kids. It also takes place in 1982, but the period details are so subtle that it only adds to the off-kilter surroundings (gee, people sure dress clunky in Sweden, I thought). Except for a few dull stretches and some scenes using obvious CGI, this was a thoroughly engrossing film.
poster_littlegiantThe Little Giant (1933). The Little Giant holds a nostalgic place in my heart, since it counted among the handful of nifty, lesser-known early Warner Bros. movies that my local UHF TV station aired late nights circa 1993. The movies (which also included James Cagney in The Mayor of Hell and Bette Davis in Bureau of Missing Persons) served as a nice antidote to the often geriatic American Movie Classics in that pre-TCM era, and even seen with commercial breaks on rotting VHS tapes I am thankful they were around back then. Getting re-acquainted with The Little Giant via the recent DVD edition was an interesting experience. The brief and breezy comedy was a change of pace for Edward G. Robinson, still in Little Caesar mode but seemingly relishing this turn as a Chicago bootlegging kingpin who turns over a new leaf by desperately trying to fit into California high society. He falls for manipulative dame Helen Vinson, whose affection he tries to favor by buying an impressive mansion from realtor-turned personal secretary Mary Astor (elegant Mary also carries a torch for Eddie, somewhat unbelievably). This probably isn’t as good as my nostalgia colored it, but the film is a great example of likable, economic storytelling enacted by an appealing cast. There’s something encouraging about the fact that all the characters are not who they appear to be at first, and only by revealing their true selves does happiness prevail. It must have been a comforting theme for Depression-era audiences; even now, it gives a lift to what would otherwise be a hokey effort. Oh, and Edward G. Robinson (one of my faves) does an excellent job here!
The Untouchables (1987). Another one of those ’80s blockbusters that I’ve never seen (was I living under a rock then?), so it got put on the DVR. Brian DePalma’s romanticized depiction of the prosecution of Al Capone (a hammy Robert DeNiro) by a ragtag team of cops headed by earnest Fed agent Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) was a critical and commercial hit, capped by Sean Connery’s Oscar-winning turn as the crusty mentor on the good guys’ side. This one had a few good moments, but mostly it seemed bombastic and more than a bit choppy to me (perhaps due to ThisTV’s pan-n-scan, profanity dubbed broadcast version?). I enjoyed the oddball teaming of Costner, Connery, Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia as the only cops willing to take on Capone’s stranglehold over Prohibition-era Chicago. It was also neat to see a young Patricia Clarkson as Costner’s wife. The direction came across as ham-handed, though, and Ennio Morricone’s weirdly synchronized, obtrusive score doesn’t help at all. For a period piece, it also seems firmly rooted in ’80s action movie turf. Wonder if Tim Burton’s Batman suffered a similar fate?