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Tag Archives: James Mason

Flick Clique: August 19-25

Hey, do you think I should continue with the Flick Clique? It’s starting to feel redundant to me, since I’m repeating a lot of the stuff here that get a more in-depth analysis on DVD Talk. I dunno, I’m just getting into one of those moods where I feel that in general has run its course (nobody’s linked here in ages) and I need to take time off, regroup and start anew with something else.
Child’s Play (1972). Disappointing, draggy drama set at a boy’s Catholic school that stars Robert Preston, James Mason and Beau Bridges. This was a new release from Olive Films that I reviewed for DVD Talk; full review here.
For Pete’s Sake (1974). Fluffy, halfway entertaining Barbra Streisand comedy with Babs as a cash-strapped housewife who resorts to ever-more-drastic measures to secure money for the pork belly enterprise that her husband (the very ’70s Michael Sarrazin) has invested in. Although saddled with a ridiculous climax (shot on the Warner Bros. backlot!), I was surprised at how cute and entertaining this film was. Barbra was quite appealing, and (on a shallow note) I loved the funky brown-and-white decor in the living room of the couple’s apartment (the horrific lavender-walled bedroom was a different story). The animated title sequence in this film sets the scene nicely, with a bouncy song from Barbra that unfortunately isn’t on any of her music collections:

Mimic (1997). I used to get this “insects gone horribly wrong” opus confused with the “revitalized ancient lizard god run amok” opus The Relic, since they both came out around the same time. We actually saw The Relic when it was originally released, but I didn’t get to catch Mimic until casually perusing the Netflix instant offerings last weekend. Mimic has director Guillermo del Toro’s atmospheric, slimy visual stamp all over, which makes it the clear winner of the two. When a virus carried by cockroaches ravages New York City, sexy etymologist Mira Sorvino and hunky fellow scientist boyfriend Jeremy Northam develop a mutated roach that was bred to kill the offending roaches then die off. A few years later, they are shocked to find that the new roaches adapted themselves into giant-sized roaches with a taste for human blood – and they’re breeding! Silly but a whole lot of fun, although I can see why del Toro has (sort of) disowned it. Some of the characters are too cut-‘n-dry and the ending smacks of studio interference, sure, but for an hour of so I was totally drawn into this world and its terrifying creatures.
The Music Room (1958). I picked this blu-ray out to buy at a local chain store which thankfully stocks the Criterion Collection discs. Since I’ve never seen a film from the acclaimed Indian director Satyajit Ray, this was a good place to dive in – the blu includes both the feature film and a long documentary about Ray’s life and career. The Music Room concerns a prideful landlord named Biswambhar Roy (played with poignancy by actor Chhabi Biswas) who flaunts his wealth and status via concerts in his beloved music room. He gets too complacent, however, and when a neighbor seizes the rights to the river that flows near Roy’s home, Roy is eventually forced to sell off jewelry and furniture to keep his lifestyle going. Despite tragedy and dwindling assets, he summons up his remaining staff to prepare one last gala concert. This was excellent, beautifully acted, and it has some unique musical segments which are notable in that they don’t look like stylized Bollywood numbers. I can’t wait to check out they Satyajit Ray documentary as well.
The Suffragette (1913) and The Eskimo Baby (1918). These two German silents were part of Four Films with Asta Nielsen, a DVD set that I’m currently reviewing for DVD Talk. They actually give a good indication of the versatility of this tall, intense looking but naturalistic actress who was one of the biggest film stars of her day. In The Suffragette, she plays a crusading feminist who has a crisis of conscience after placing a bomb in a despised politician’s home. After discovering that the politician is the man she once loved, can she stop the ticking bomb and save the man’s life in time? The Eskimo Baby is a complete turnaround with Nielsen as a simple native girl from Greenland who is brought to Germany as the “souvenir” of a scientist-explorer. The man’s family is rather perplexed by this new visitor, but what becomes truly upsetting to them is when she starts showing romantic feelings towards the guy. The story might be a little too condescending for modern viewers, but Nielsen is fascinating to watch. She approaches the character like a curious child, completely uninhibited with Western modes of behavior. It’s quite a remarkable and funny performance. Although her work in The Suffragette is more typical of melodramas from that era, I enjoyed her work in that film as well.

Flick Clique: January 15-21

Aftershock (2010). China’s Great Tangshan Earthquake of 1976 is the catalyst for this ambitious family drama that we checked out on Netflix streaming this week (it was also one of the DVDs available for review at DVD Talk, but one of the other reviewers got to it first). It opens with vignettes showing a simple but loving family with two kids, a boy and a girl, in a semi-urban setting. While the parents are outside their modest apartment one night, a terrifying earthquake strikes. The quake instantly kills the father and levels the family’s apartment, leaving the frantic mother digging through the debris to find her children. With the help of rescue workers, the kids are found, alive but injured. The mom is relieved, but her devastation reaches a new low when the rescue workers tell her that they must kill one child to save the other. She tearfully chooses to save her son. While the daughter is left for dead with the other quake victims, she is actually alive and eventually ends up being adopted by a married pair of Maoist soldiers. How the family lives apart over the next thirty years makes up the bulk of the film, made in a more typically soapy (but still engrossing) way. The film is sparked by searing performances, especially from Fan Xu as the mother and Jingchu Xhang as the adult daughter. The direction and CGI effects in the earthquake scenes are exciting, but it’s the emotional resonance of the later scenes that affected me the most.
All Over Town (1937). I decided to check out another offering from the Comedy Kings 50 Movie Pack this week. Going in chronological order, my next flick wound up being this plodding backstage yarn starring the team of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson. Olsen & Johnson were best known for their Broadway and film success Hellzapoppin’, a supposedly hilarious and ground-breaking work (the film has been out of circulation for several decades). The considerably more low-profile All Over Town has them as a pair of luckless vaudevillians who, mistaken for millionaires, end up getting involved in mounting a variety show at a theater where a murder occurred. Like the other O&J film I’ve seen (Country Gentlemen, co-starring Joyce Compton), the plot is a paper-thin excuse for Olsen’s mugging and Johnson’s annoying, never-ending giggle. The film is a pretty dreadful affair, overall, but it does rebound somewhat with a frenetic finale that has Olsen giving a play-by-play rundown of the cops attempting to catch a killer running loose in the theater while the other actors, musicians and playgoers scramble to get out of the way.
Bigger Than Life (1956). I’ve always wanted to check out this Nicholas Ray-directed, James Mason domestic drama of prescription pill taking gone awry, going all the way back to my regular American Movie Classics (r.i.p.) watching days. Diehard movie buffs have a soft spot for Bigger Than Life, insisting it’s an overlooked treasure on par with Ray’s better known films like Rebel Without A Cause and They Live By Night. I finally got to see the Criterion edition and, well … it’s a pretty good (if overwrought) drama with some cool production design and camerawork. Scenery-chewing, miscast Mason plays a typical American schoolteacher who, stressed with two jobs and a family to support, ends up taking the experimental drug Cortisone to calm his nerves. The medication has deadly effects when not taken correctly, however, and sure enough Mason is scheming, lying and abusing his terrified wife (Barbara Rush) and son (Christopher Olsen) in the claustrophobic home-turned-sanitarium they share. The film is interesting, more campy than good (but not quite the screaming camp-o-rama that is Ray’s Johnny Guitar). What I liked most about the film is the design of the house set itself with its moody shadows and travel posters/maps on the walls that mock the closed-in, mounting dread the family undergoes. It also has some neat touches, like the bright red living room couch and the foyer rug with a chaotic stripe pattern. Mason (who also produced) is frankly awful, however – and the passivity of Rush’s character would drive anyone up a wall. It’s a watchable enough drama, but in terms of coded social commentary it doesn’t live up to something like Douglas Sirk’s glossy family dramas. All that Heaven Allows could kick this movie’s butt any time.
Private Hell 36 (1954). Like Aftershock, this was another Netflix stream that we caught this past week — and, triumpantly, it’s another winner! The grittyPrivate Hell 36 deals with a common theme in noir, what happens when men in authority are tempted into doing something they’re not supposed to (in this case, stealing laundered money). Howard Duff and Steve Cochran play cops who bust up a drugstore robbery and find that it involved a counterfeit fifty dollar bill. Tracking the bill to a seedy bar where Ida Lupino sings, they enlist Lupino’s help to find the man who trafficked the money. That man is eventually found, but the officers run his auto off the road, killing the driver. Finding a boxful of stolen money at the scene, Cochran (who has fallen for the manipulative Lupino) decides to steal some of the cash. Cochran convinces the straight-laced Duff into sharing the loot and hiding it in a trailer — could they get away with it? This was a nifty little crime drama that benefits from excellent casting and an absorbing storyline. Lupino and the shifty, swarthy Cochran have a dynamic repartee in this.

Flick Clique: January 23-29

poster_dontbotherDon’t Bother To Knock (1952). Another film I quickly watched before it got unceremoniously yanked off Netflix streaming. This gritty Fox b-movie is best remembered as the first evidence that Marilyn Monroe could act and carry a vehicle of her own. She plays Nell Forbes, a fragile beauty who is employed for one night to babysit a young girl in the hotel where her friend Elisha Cook, Jr. works. As the girl’s parents (Jim Backus and Lurene Tuttle) party downstairs, Marilyn attracts the attention of caddish Richard Widmark just as he’s stewing from a breakup with nightclub singer Anne Bancroft. This was an interesting little film, mostly due to the hotel setting (with radios wired into the walls!) and not the routine plot/cast. Monroe did a nice enough job, even if she merely plays a mentally challenged variant on the breathy child-women she normally does. Actually, the most impressive cast member was Bancroft. She’s terrific in her scenes with Widmark. Not only that, but she has a nice singing voice previously unknown to this fan.
poster_mrbugMr. Bug Goes To Town (1941). Our second Max and Dave Fleischer animated feature film of the month was also the brothers’ last, before Paramount pictures took over their Florida-based studio and renamed it Famous Pictures. This was considered a failure in 1941 and has since fallen into public domain disrepute, but I found it fun, beautifully rendered, and refreshingly original in ways that the Fleischer’s first feature Gulliver’s Travels couldn’t begin to touch. Like that earlier effort, this film deals with a tiny world trying to adjust to forces beyond their control. This time, it’s a community of bugs who are in danger of getting trampled into oblivion by the faceless urbanites who tramp through the yard where they live. Enterprising grasshopper Hoppity comes along to help, all the while romancing lovely bee Honey and keeping her from the clutches of the dastardly C. Bagley Beetle. An episodic plot and unmemorable songs hobble the proceedings and make this comparable to lesser Disney efforts of the era, but overall I found this one quite enjoyable. The character development and animation is appreciably better than what was found in Gulliver’s, and some of the backgrounds and scenes contrasting the tiny bugs with ominous, oblivious humans are truly jaw-dropping. This was also the first animated feature film with a completely original story, enough to make it worthy of a look by animation and classic film fans alike.
poster_queenofbloodQueen of Blood (1966). Another cinematic goodie that we saw on Netflix instant streaming. Well, “goodie” might be a strong way of putting it, but it certainly was an interesting and colorful example of ’60s sci-fi/horrorploitation. In the year 1990, scientist Basil Rathbone sends a group of astronauts headed by square-jawed John Saxon to a corner of Mars where some alien communiques originated. The astronauts find some impressive set pieces, and a lone alien survivor. They excitedly bring the shapely, green-skinned female martian on board. On route back to Earth, however, they find that she is a predator who uses hypnotism to get nourishment — from human blood! This AIP quickie is a rather sloppy and threadbare production, especially when the cardboard sets are contrasted with spliced-in footage from a wild Russian sci-fi epic containing huge, beautifully rendered spacecraft and telescopes. Those details are enough to elevate it from the humdrum, however, along with the alien herself. As played by Florence Marly, she is an intense creature with glowing eyes and a hairdo worthy of Eero Saarinen’s most fanciful structures. She also appears to be a big influence on Tim Burton’s curvy alien-in-disguise from Mars Attacks!.
The Seventh Veil (1945). Another film I hastily decided to check out on our local This TV affiliate. This British suspenser was a cool surprise with some great, Hitchcock-like touches. The story deals with Ann Todd’s beautiful yet mentally unbalanced concert pianist. After attempting to kill herself, she is hypnotized and via flashbacks tells of being under the spell of her controlling guardian (played with intensity by James Mason) and the battles that ensue when she falls in love with an American bandleader and a portrait painter. The film feels a bit like a Brit version of Spellbound, mingled with a bit of the melodramatic musical hokum reminiscent of Bette Davis and Claude Rains in Deception. Like the latter film, it is an overstuffed treat. Solid performances from Mason and Todd (who mimes the piano very well). I’ve never seen an Ann Todd film before, but based upon her enigmatic, Garbo-esque presence here, I will be seeking out more of her soon.
Tootsie (1982). Decided to finally give this one another peek after getting the 25th Anniversary DVD edition for my birthday. I remember watching this with my family in a packed cinema, where we could only find spots in the front row. Even from that weird angle with all the actors’ hips twice as wide as their heads, it was hilarious. I was afraid it would come across as too sitcommy for this recent viewing, but in all honesty the film still holds up fabulously well, mostly due to the casting and the energy director Sidney Pollack brings througout. Dustin Hoffman is excellent, of course, but I also enjoyed the lovely Jessica Lange, Teri Garr and Charles Durning. Best of all is Bill Murray, absolutely deapdan and probably more appealing here than in any of his leading roles. Interesting that Pollack helmed both this and Out Of Africa within a short time, and he’s also great as Hoffman’s agent. Their scenes together really crackle. As for Dustin as Dorothy Michaels, it seemed glaringly obvious to me now that it was a man in drag and I’m surprised none of the characters caught on to the charade. Then again, she does look a lot like typical middle-aged women of that time with the helmet hair, demure working lady blouses and weird plastic eyewear camouflaging their femininity. It could happen!