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Tag Archives: Joan Blondell

Flick Clique: January 7-14

Since my server has been having connecting issues, I’m publishing the Flick Clique today. It’s been a crazy week — Two Bunnies & A Duck has published its 100th, and final comic. I enjoyed drawing the bunnies and coming up with gags, but I’ve also realized that I’m not a gag cartoonist and never will be. It was too much work, and there wasn’t much incentive to keep going on (but I am thankful for Christopher’s cheerleading). With Bunnies, there were times when I was disappointed with the drawing but had a good gag, and other times when the drawing/coloring went well on a cartoon where the gag didn’t work. The entire run of Bunnies will be collected in a book, and that will be the end of that.
East Side of Heaven (1939). Fluffy Bing Crosby musical teams him up with pert Joan Blondell as a pair of romantically involved city dwellers who wind up involved in a wealthy family’s spat when he becomes the unwilling guardian of a kidnapped baby. Crosby is a singing taxi driver, Blondell his switchboard operator girlfriend, and Mischa Auer plays the goofy amateur astronomer who rooms with Crosby. The film has a bit of jazzy verve with some tasty production design (dig the Deco café below!) and tuneful if slight songs. The plot swings into action when C. Aubrey Smith’s millionaire wants to take possession of the baby grandchild belonging to his irresponsible son Robert Kent and his daughter-in-law Irene Hervey. Hervey, not wanting to lose her son, decides to abduct the baby and place him in the care of the most trustworthy person she knows, Crosby (who had just been fired for speaking out of turn on her behalf). Quite a cute film, but be warned that it ends up being All About The Baby in the second half! Personally, I have a strong aversion to babies in movies. The baby in question here is quite a happy ‘lil guy, but the filmmakers milk his cuteness to an annoying degree. Universal loved this one enough to star it in several “Baby Sandy” comedies, apparently. Go figure.

Harvest (2011). This understated German indie drama was a film I selected from the reviewers’ pool at DVD Talk. My review was just completed and can be seen here.
In Time (2011). Another disc that arrived from DVD Talk, surprisingly enough (I’ve requested a few mainstream films with them, but haven’t gotten too many as yet). You may recall that In Time was the Justin Timberlake “people with stopwatches on their forearms” sci-fi opus that came and went in theaters last Fall. We kept our expectations dialed a bit low for this one, but actually it’s a thoughtful and well-made film whose interesting premise only gets derailed a few times. In near-future L.A., time is a commodity. Upon their 25th birthday, people are given a certain amount of time for the remainder of their lives until the green stopwatch implanted in their wrists runs out. These stopwatches also have the ability to stop physical aging, so most of the population looks 25. These advances have created a quasi-police state in which the rich are sequestered in safe zones where they live out lives of leisure, while the less fortunate are forced into hard labor, crime and desperation to cling on to their remaining time. Timberlake’s character is part of the latter scene, eking out a living with his mom in a dingy apartment. When he comes across a suicidal rich man who gives him 100 years before offing himself, however, he winds up getting into the forbidden wealthy district with the cops in hot pursuit. He eventually meets bored rich girl Amanda Seyfried and the two go on a crime spree, hoping to unleash the time banks that are controlled by Seyfried’s powerful father (Vincent Kartheiser of Mad Men). Will they bring equilibrium back to society? This was an interesting film, casting-wise, with similarly aged Timberlake (b.1979) and actress Olivia Wilde (b.1981) playing a child and parent, for instance. It doesn’t have a lot of showy CGI like other sci-fi outings, but I think the central concept is strong enough to stand on its own. The only weak link I found was Timberlake, who doesn’t bring a lot of depth to his character. This was written and directed by the un-prolific Andrew Niccol, whose earlier Gattaca shares a lot of similarities with In Time. There are a few flaws with the execution (like, why isn’t there more murder in this place where time is so easily exchanged?), but overall I found it intriguing and not nearly as bad as the reviews suggested.
Stonewall (1996). One of those ’90s gay films that has its adherents, I put this on my Netflix queue mainly because Guillermo Diaz (whom I enjoyed in Weeds) is in it. Diaz plays La Miranda, a fiery drag queen in 1969 New York. He meets Matty Dean (Frederick Weller), an out-and-proud midwesterner on his first foray in the city. The two become boyfriends amidst the turmoil of the emerging gay rights movement. Despite the title, the Stonewall Inn figures primarily as the setting for La Miranda and his drag friends to put on lip-synch shows set to campy girl group records by The Shangri-Las (these scenes, although pretty fun, aren’t too relevant to the story). The riot itself is confined to the final 10 minutes or so, which is disappointing. The film, on the whole, is an okay if disjointed effort with a distinct British feel (it kinda reminded me of gritty UK films from that period like Let Him Have It or Prick Up Your Ears). Most of the cast was all right. For a historical recreation of the Stonewall riots and what led up to them, I’d go for the recent PBS American Experience program on the subject. It’s much more illuminating and a whole lot less drag queeny.

Weekly Mishmash: November 21-27

Belle and Sebastian — Write About Love. Given this album’s mixed reviews, I was leery but decided to give it compulsive download off eMusic (their label was leaving the site). Belle and Sebastian’s fans tend toward two camps: those who love the early, twee indie stuff and those who love the later, more polished sound. This new album seems to have alienated both. On first listen, the album seems pleasant if exceedingly safe and half-baked. Further exploration ought to reveal more depth to the songs, but mostly they come across as throwaways. I totally dug The Life Pursuit (2006) and Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2004), but it’s been nearly five years and I was expecting much more than a formless grab bag of folskiness and jumpy, ’60s tinged pop. This outing is a bit different in allowing guest performers: Norah Jones is her usual scintillating self on “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” but she’s simply too unique to fit into the B&S universe. It’s a jarring presence and the fact that the song is underwhelming doesn’t help at all. At least the chipper singing voice of actress Carey Mulligan is more smoothly integrated on the title cut (one of the better tracks, actually). This isn’t a horrible album — three or four tracks would be a great addition to a “Best of B&S” mix — but it isn’t terribly distinctive or great, either.
Gold Diggers In Paris (1938). My second offering from the Busby Berkely vol. 2 DVD set is the last (and weakest) of the Warner Bros. Gold Digger musicals. Exchanging Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler/Joan Blondell for the considerably lower-wattage Rudy Vallee and Rosemary Lane is the first clue that we’re in for a more grounded, less glitzy time. The slight story opens on a South Seas-themed nightclub run by cash-strapped Vallee and the wonderful Allen Jenkins. When French emissary Hugh Herbert mistakenly visits the club and invites Vallee’s chorus girls to perform at that year’s Paris Exhibition, Vallee and Co. must hurredly get the troupe trained in classical ballet and hope that Herbert doesn’t notice. Meanwhile, Vallee deals with a chiseling ex-wife (Gloria Dickson) and falls for the elegant lady (Lane) who works at the ballet school. Silly nonsense, basically. There’s still some fun to be had, especially in the scenes with Jenkins and stocky Edward Brophy as a dim-witted gangster who tears up at the sight of beautifully performed ballet movements. The film also has goofy faced, mugging blonde Mabel Todd, an odd novelty jazz combo called The Schnickelfritz Band, and a subplot involving a talking dog — signs that this once-elegant series was taking a turn towards the lowest common denominator.
poster_mutiny35Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). Rented this for the simple reason that it was one of the few 1930s Best Picture Oscar winners I had yet to see. I don’t know why it was avoided so long; the picture is a swell maritime adventure and a good example of Hollywood studiocraft in its prime. As for the story, you know it by now — a British shipping vessel bound for Tahiti is commanded by the fierce Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton). As the voyage goes on, his increasingly tyrannical behavior causes first mate Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) and midshipman Byam (Franchot Tone) to stage a revolt and stay on the tropical island. What’s interesting about this film is the pacing — the first and last fifths are dense and plot-heavy, while the middle part takes its time in showing both the escalating tension caused by Laughton and the idyllic paradise once the men land in Tahiti. I liked both that and the acting (especially Laughton, who is a formidable presence). The film also seemed refreshingly non-stagy. The boat scenes are as realistic as possible, and I don’t know where they filmed the tropical scenes but they put the viewer right there with the swaying palms and such. The only cheesiness came in one brief special effects shot when a crewman was dragged underneath the ship (it looked like a doll in an aquarium). As history it’s questionable, too, but when it comes to good old fashioned storytelling the film is tops.
Opening Night (1977). Searing John Cassavetes film about an actress (Gena Rowlands) whose boozy life spirals downward after witnessing the accidental death of one of her fans. This was typical Cassavetes/Rowlands territory, on the unpolished, long and meandering side but engrossing all the same. I had a similar reaction to A Woman Under The Influence in wondering how the actors held up after playing characters who are put through an emotional ringer scene after scene. Unlike Woman, this film spends a lot of time exploring the mechanics of the characters’ workplace — it is interesting (and cool) to watch various play scenes being acted out from both backstage and the audience’s point of view. On the acting side, Rowlands, Cassavetes (who plays a fellow actor) and Ben Gazzara (as Rowlands’ director) are all very good. I also relished seeing an older, matronly Joan Blondell in the cast and acquainting herself well with a casual ’70s indie milieu. This was a good film, with a notably uninhibited lead performance, but with more editing it could have been truly fantastic. One gets the feeling that Cassavetes was too invested in the footage to step back and trim at least a half hour from his own movie.
Suicide Squad (1935). Another poverty row Joyce Compton picture, and one of her worst (having sat through the likes of Escape To Paradise and King Kelly of the U.S.A., that’s saying a lot). This was a routine (boring) and modest (dirt cheap) fire fighting drama in which Compton co-stars with Norman Foster as an overly confident firefighting recruit. I have a more thorough writeup on the Joyce Compton News & Notes weblog.

Weekly Mishmash II: October 31 – November 6

Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936). I’ll say it now: I buy too many cheap DVDs. Another Big Lots! markdown find was the Busby Berkeley vol. 2 set, four 1930s musicals for a cool nine dollars. These honestly aren’t the greatest movies ever made, but they are fun and brimming with fizzy vitality. Gold Diggers of 1937 was a new discovery for me; the film is actually a slight improvement over the mediocre ’35 edition. Although the songs were getting a bit stale and unmemorable at this point, director Lloyd Bacon lends a lively touch and the plot retains a bit of the Depression-era grit that the classic early ’30s flicks had. The plot deals with sassy chorines Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell teaming up with insurance salesman Dick Powell to write a policy on a flighty millionaire (Victor Moore) that will net them the huge landfall they need to mount a Broadway show. The only catch is that the man needs to die to get the money. Somewhat routine overall, but Blondell sparkles in the lead (and she has great chemistry with then-hubby Powell), and Berkeley’s climactic “All Is Fair In Love And War” number is suitably huge and impressive. The DVD also contains two cute Merrie Melodies cartoons based on the film’s tunes and some fascinating early color footage from 1929’s Gold Diggers On Broadway.
Luther: The Life and Longing of Luther Vandross by Craig Seymour. This biography was a cheap find at the grocery store (free with a charity donation). Since it was written just prior to Vandross’ death in 2005, the hopeful note it strikes at the end seems a bit off, but otherwise it was a good examination of one of contemporary R&B’s finest performers. Seymour recounts the singer’s life from his years as a shy and overweight but music crazy kid to being a consummate arranger and backup singer in the ’70s New York music scene to solo stardom and his never fulfilled quest for lasting companionship. The subject of Vandross’ covert gayness is constantly alluded to but never dwelt upon, which oddly comes out in the book’s favor. Even if his writing style tends towards the pat and simple, I liked Seymour’s restraint and his admiration of the subject is obvious. A sense of total professionalism defined Luther’s career, and yet I also found myself identifying with the man consuming himself with work as a way of avoiding personal relationships. Another thing he yearned for and never got was a number one pop hit single, which surprised me at first. After listening to a greatest hits package covering his 1981-94 output, though, clues emerged as to why that chart topper eluded him. Although his voice is smooth and among the best of that era, his arrangements lacked a certain spark. Probably the most valuable part of this book is the discography of not only everything Vandross recorded, but his production, arranging and backup singing duties for other artists as well (this continued well after he found success in his own right).
Splice (2009). Creepy, ultimately unsatisfying sci-fi scare tale with Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as a pair of rogue scientists who create a new lifeform. Brody and Polley work at a firm splicing together animal DNA to make creatures that would aid in medical research; when they secretly decide to make something using their own DNA, a tiny reptilian emerges. The horrified Brody wants to kill it, but Polley sees it as their surrogate child and decides to wait and see how it develops. It rapidly matures into a weird woman/reptile hybrid, and that’s where the fun begins. Director Vincenzo Natali sets up an effectively moody atmosphere at the start, placing the characters in an underlit, grungy world similar to David Fincher’s work. Also working in the film’s favor are the two leads, whom I’ve liked in earlier stuff and are perfectly fine here. Unfortunately, the film takes a bizarre/creepy turn midway through and subsequently bogs down in cliché-ridden dialogue. Not to mention an ending that defines ridiculousness. At least the Brody/Polley apartment had some nice decor:

splice_scene

Weekly Mishmash: May 9-15

Great Expectations (1946). I remember having Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations assigned in high school Freshman English. Our class was required to read the entire book, then perform scenes from it in five or six sections. My section was first up, so I ended up only reading the opening few chapters. With the kind of logic only a high schooler could comprehend, I felt that reading just the beginning better prepared me to wow my classmates with a flawless performance as the escaped convict (yeah, right). 25 years on, I still haven’t read Great Expectations — but now that we’ve seen the beautifully mounted ’46 David Lean film adaptation, at least I have a better understanding of this quintessentially British tale. This is a nicely photographed film that is compelling in the first half and somewhat dry in the second half, hobbled with an appealing but miscast John Mills as the adult version of the book’s main character Pip. Personally, I love the atmosphere at the beginning with the curious young Pip, creepy Miss Havisham, and her alluring adopted daughter Estella (wonderfully played by Jean Simmons). By the time Pip grows up and attempts to become a refined gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor, the story loses a lot of momentum. The film is still a top notch production, despite the iffy source material. Did I just call Dickens an iffy writer? My English teacher would freak if she heard that.
Legion (2009). With Pandorum and now Legion, my spouse seems intent on unleashing an invasion of bad Dennis Quaid movies on our household. This one is slightly better than Pandorum, but only slightly. It concerns evil angels who descend upon Earth and unleash an apocalyptic virus that turns all humans into zombies. Zombies who can walk up walls, stretch their limbs to weird proportions, or do whatever this movie’s half-assed script requires. Paul Walker plays a rogue good angel who sawed his wings off, intent on helping the ragtag group stranded at a desert diner which includes a girl pregnant with mankind’s savior (or something like that). This film is mostly a bunch of retreaded ideas randomly thrown into a blender, with a few “wow” moments to momentarily impress a jaded teen or three. The nadir comes when the bad angel is revealed to have steel-plated wings, for no apparent reason. Those wings are pretty much the shining symbol of this pointless flick.
Lonely Wives (1931). The latest in Comedy Kings 50 Movie Pack theatre! Lonely Wives is a plodding early talkie, based on a hoary stage property, about a playboy lawyer who meets a lookalike actor who wants to impersonate him in a vaudeville act. To teach their (lonely) wives a lesson, the two arrange to swap places. Hilarity ensues, etc. etc. Edward Everett Horton plays both roles with the aid of some still nifty split screen effects, but the usually reliable character actor disappoints with the similar approach he takes (only glasses and facial hair differentiates the two). Probably the main appeal of this film to contemporary eyes is the opportunity to see three silent-era actresses at their flirty, sexy best. Most enjoyable are Patsy Ruth Miller and Esther Ralston as, respectively, lawyer Horton’s secretary and wife. The true surprise of the cast is Laura La Plante as the frustrated spouse of Horton’s actor lookalike. She was quite the skilled comedienne and a blast to watch, even in a silly forgotten farce such as this.
Match Your Mood (1968). One of the pleasures of Turner Classic Movies is the educational/industrial shorts they show late Friday nights. The latest was this production from Westinghouse and Jam Handy demonstrating how custom decorating your refrigerator doors is, like, the grooviest thing one could possibly do. Look:

There’s Always a Woman (1938). I adore bubbly Joan Blondell, almost as much as I love Joyce Compton. When a Blondell comedy that I’d never heard of popped up on the schedule, I had to give it a looksee. There’s Always a Woman is an unassuming crime caper that might as well have been titled Thin Man Ripoff #323, but the appeal of Blondell and co-star Melvyn Douglas made the so-so story worth it. The two have excellent chemistry as a married couple running a detective agency, a snappy pair who suddenly turn combative when they wind up competing against each other on a hot case involving a rich widow (Mary Astor being as Mary Astorish as possible). All told, a silly and forgettable vehicle, but it’s fascinating to see Blondell cast in a lead role and toning down her usual sauciness. At times she’s quite sophisticated, resembling an earthier Constance Bennett. There’s a few fun scenes here with Blondell and Douglas getting belligerent (violent, even) with each other.