Posts Tagged ‘joan crawford’

Flick Clique: January 9-15

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

The Damned Don’t Cry (1950). Tasty melodrama with a severe-looking Joan Crawford emoting through the role of Ethel Whitehead, a woman whose journey from hardscrabble housewife to glamour puss gangster’s consort makes Mildred Pierce look like a plate of chopped liver (or perhaps fried chicken). I used to think of this gritty flick as little more than a post-Mildred cash-in for Crawford, but a second viewing reveals a heated, fast paced yarn that showcases the actress at her histrionic best. It really feels like three mini-movies in one. The early scenes with Joan slaving away under a controlling husband (Richard Egan, appropriately menacing) while coddling her little son have the nicest acting. Then the film goes into tawdry, noirish territory when Joan ditches the meddling in-laws and becomes a dress model for a sleazy garment-making outfit. At this point, her character befriends a meek accountant (Kent Smith) and the two become entrenched in the world of crime kingpin David Brian. Things then kick into high gear as Ethel poses as a rich oil heiress and gets into a tangle with a surly rival gangster (Steve Cochran). I think what makes this film work so well is that director Vincent Sherman (he of cult fave The Hard Way) constantly keeps his restless characters in motion — no contemplative moments for these folks, ever. Joan handles her stuff with aplomb, being at the point where she’s just about to go overboard into the heavy-browed kitsch queen she’d shortly become. I also loved the performances by her co-stars: intense, silver-haired David Brian has a strong talent for not blinking for long stretches, and Steve Cochran is the very embodiment of a sexy, brooding gangster.
dvd_gointoyourdanceGo Into Your Dance (1935). Another Warner Archive purchase — by the way, I’ve joined their affiliate program and added a link to their shop along the right side of the weblog. Go Into Your Dance was Al Jolson’s final star vehicle at Warner Brothers, and the only film in which he co-starred with his then-wife Ruby Keeler. As far as Al goes, he delivers a surprisingly subdued performance here (who knew?), and the relative lack of black-faced hamminess makes it a better bet to modern viewers. Here he plays an eccentric former Broadway star who lives exiled in Mexico. Al’s snappy sister (Glenda Farrell, always terrific) persuades him to go back to work, a situation where he is so emboldened he opens a nightclub funded with shady gangster money. At some point, he also deals with a sweet dancer (Keeler) who is stuck on him but doesn’t know quite how to express it. This is a typically predictable yet super-slick outing with a lively cast and a few polished, Busby Berkely-ish numbers (particularly “A Quarter To Nine”). Ruby Keeler is cute as always and rises to the occasion despite her shortcomings in the acting department; singer Helen Morgan actually outshines the leading lady as a salty gangster’s gal. There’s also Patsy Kelly doing her delightful thing as an eager vaudevillian who keeps crossing paths with Jolson. My fave daffy blonde Joyce Compton is supposedly here as well — she has a screen credit and is listed on the IMDb as “Showgirl in cafe,” but I’ll be darned if I ever saw her, even in a bit. Perhaps her role was recast with a different actress?
poster_gulliverGulliver’s Travels (1939). I have vague memories of seeing this film on TV as a kid and wanted to check it out anew. This is the first non-Disney animated feature ever released, coming on the heels of the legendary Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Watching it now, it’s plenty clear that Max and Dave Fleischer tried to emulate that Disney classic for all it was worth, and because of that it remains more of an interesting curio than a great watch, even on its own modest terms. Disney himself supposedly said the film looked as if didn’t even meet the standard of the second-stringers at his own studio. I’d have to agree. The film plays more like an extended, gag-driven short cartoon than a full fledged feature. The dated animation is merely Silly Symphonies quaint rather than mind-blowing, and the decision to give over so much screen time to a shrill little pest named Gabby was a fatal blow (the Fleischers also tried to star Gabby in a series of shorts, to no avail). Gulliver himself is a rotoscoped dullard. Most of the visual excitement here lies in the scale contrast between the normal-sized man and the tiny kingdom he was unwittingly swept into. Still, the filmmakers decided to waste a lot of footage in an already slight story on a cheesy romantic subplot and several segments that take an eternity to accomplish not much (Gulliver’s prone body getting tied down by the Lilliputians, for example). An A for effort, but the Fleischers fared slightly better with follow-up Mr. Bug Goes To Town — which I’m also looking forward to revisiting.
Women In Love (1969). In 1920s England, a pair of free-spirited sisters (Glenda Jackson and Jennie Linden) take on contrasting fates when they fall for two best friends (Alan Bates and Oliver Reed). This was an interesting, not very successful adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel by renegade director Ken Russell. It meanders too much and there are too many segments that seem to scream ’60s (including a love scene shot sideways). Jackson, Bates and Reed are all attractive performers, doing the best they can with the material (only Jennie Linden seems of her time) amidst a sumptuous production. The film kind of lurches from one scene to the next without particular aim, and by the second half it devolves into pointlessness when the leads take a Swiss holiday in the snow. Perhaps the most notable scene is the much discussed nude wrestling match with Bates and Reed. I thought it was very well handled, serving the purpose of affirming the characters’ masculinity while strengthening their bond in a quasi-homo way (others disagree). Despite that one great scene, it’s not a film that I’d want to revisit any time soon. Glenda Jackson won a Best Actress Oscar for this; she’s good, but the competition that year must have been very weak.