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Tag Archives: Loretta Young

Weekly Mishmash: November 7-13

Antichrist (2009). Lars Von Trier’s attempt at a horror movie winds up being what I’d imagine is a typical Von Trier outing — impenetrable, at times creepy and effective, but mostly pointless and just plain gross. The plot concerns a couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who also have the only speaking parts) who cope with the devastating loss of their infant son by escaping to a mountain cabin. Dafoe is a psychologist who uses therapeutic activities to help cure Gainsbourg of her depression. However, he gradually finds that the woman, much like the seemingly tame forestry around them, has a hidden pathological side. The film is beautifully photographed with remarkably fearless performances from Dafoe and Gainsbourg, but Von Trier’s imagery is not very subtle. The film’s graphic sex and violence is also used to random, puzzling effect. The image of homely Gainsbourg pleasuring herself on the forest floor is something I can’t easily escape. Thanks a lot, Lars.
The Edge Of Heaven (2008). Fascinating cross-cultural foreign drama, reminding me of a less ambitious and heavy-handed Babel. A Turkish prostitute living in Germany takes refuge in the home of one of her clients. Before dying in an accident, she confides to the man’s college professor son (Baki Davrak) that she wants to see her daughter again. The younger man journeys to Turkey to find the daughter, not knowing that the woman is living in Germany as an activist in a lesbian relationship with one of his students. The story goes off in different directions with the kind of (contrived, I know) coincidences that have become a staple of films of this ilk. The acting is uniformly good, however, and the film did take off in ways this viewer didn’t expect. Mostly I enjoyed how it offered a peek at the intersection of two different cultures. Writer-director Fatih Akin seems to know the subject well and explores it here in an absorbing way.
Midnight Mary (1933). Part of the Forbidden Hollywood Volume 3 DVD set that my spouse gifted as a birthday present. I’m so jazzed to have this one, since it focuses on the work of one of the better Pre-Code directors, William Wellman. Most of the films in this set are underrated gems (the only one I don’t remember enjoying much was Barbara Stanwyck in The Purchase Price, but even that is worth a revisit), with the crackling “girl gone wrong” drama Midnight Mary being a good example. In a role that seemed tailor made for Joan Crawford, Loretta Young is exceptionally fresh and natural as Mary Martin, a woman who is awaiting her fate in a murder trial as the film opens. In brilliant, kinetic style, the film flashes back to her hardscrabble girlhood through being romanced by a snakelike gangster (Richardo Cortez, typecast but great) and finding refuge in the employ of an industrialist’s son (Franchot Tone). This is brisk and enjoyable as most Pre-Coders are. What makes it unusual, besides the direction, is that it was made by MGM with a production that strikes an odd balance between gritty and luxe. I also enjoyed the lively comedic support of Una Merkel and Andy Devine. This is one brisk corker of a movie. One other noticeable thing was the uncredited extra playing a nightclub hat check man. Who he is remains a mystery, but the wavy-haired gent would certainly fit into an “unknown hotties of 1930s flicks” photo montage.

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Miss London Ltd. (1943). One of the nice suprises of our TiVo Premiere is that we can download videos from Archive Classic Movies, a not-so-frequently updated site that offers clean digital copies of public domain movies and serials. Most of their offerings tend towards the weird/campy, and this wartime British musical is no exception. The plot concerns an American blonde (Evelyn Dall, who looks bizarrely like a glamour puss version of character actress Gladys George) who comes to London to claim ownership of a crumbling escort service run by hyperactive Arthur Askey and goofy Max Bacon. Deciding to kick the business into gear, Dall and the two men go on a hiring binge in an effort to find the loveliest birds in town, all the while singing a number of forgettable tunes. This film mostly has interest to demonstrate how the British approached the musical form. The rapid pacing and overly strident songs are really something to behold, and the UK beauty ideal tended toward the curvy back then — including the downright chubby singer Anne Shelton. Arthur Askey’s mannerisms are a trip (apparently this guy was huge in Britain, land of blood pudding and questionable dental hygiene). A perfectly lousy film, all told, but I’m glad I watched it at least once.

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Somebody Loves Me (1952). Needing some entertainment while Christopher retired to bed early fighting a stomach bug (which he caught from me), I happened upon this Betty Hutton musical on Netflix streaming. This was Hutton’s last starring vehicle, it turns out. Mostly it piqued my interest since Ralph Meeker also appears and I wanted to check him out in an odd non-drama role (he’s pretty decent, even with a horribly mismatched dubbed singing voice). Hutton and Meeker play 1920s vaudeville star Blossom Seely and her husband, Benny Fields in this typical biopic/jaunty period piece. The splashy, brassy production is befitting of Hutton’s screen persona. There’s even an uncomfortable “nostalgia for the Old South” number with all the players strutting around in brown face. Jack Benny pops up as himself in a cameo, making no attempt to appear as a younger version of himself. Also of note is Billie Bird as Hutton’s secretary/gal pal; having mostly known the actress as an older lady in a variety of ’80s movies and sitcoms (the Patty Duke/Richard Crenna show It Takes Two comes to mind), it’s interesting to see her much younger but basically in the same wise cracking mold.

Weekly Mishmash: January 3-9

If I Had A Million (1932). When this Depression-era anthology showed up on the TCM schedule, I was so delighted. For one, it’s one of Joyce Compton‘s earlier films that I’d never seen. For another, I’ve always heard that this was one of the better films of its kind (different directors contributing short bits on a central theme) ever made. I wasn’t disappointed. The film opens with an eccentric dying multi-millionaire (Richard Bennett), fed up with his greedy family, deciding to leave his fortune to a bunch of randomly picked New Yorkers. Several vignettes then explore how a sudden flush of money affects everyone from a henpecked store clerk to a criminal on the lam. While it’s true that some segments were more successfully pulled off than others, overall I felt the film captures the tone of that time better than almost anything else. The segment with W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth as a pair of crusty vaudevillians who take revenge on “road hogs” gets the most attention; mostly I enjoyed that part for the priceless street views of 1932 L.A. The segment with Wynne Gibson as a prostitute with a simple desire to sleep in a plush bed by herself was a marvel of economy. The very best part, however, was the closing segment with May Robson delivering a wonderful performance as a feisty resident in a stifling home for elderly women. It’s a revenge tale like the Fields/Skipworth segment, only twice as sweet.
Jennifer’s Body (2009). Pretty awful teen horror comedy with Megan Fox as a stuck-up girl who gets transformed into a flesh-hungry demon by a touring emo band, much to the dismay of her nerdy best friend (not-bad Amanda Seyfried). This is notable for being Diablo Cody’s first produced screenplay after Juno rocketed her into the a-list. I’ve never seen that film, but based on this one Cody’s slangy, painfully straining-for-hipness screenwriting style is not for me. At one point Megan Fox even says “MoveOn.org, girl!” — something that might look cute in a twitter post, but plays like an incredibly lame joke onscreen. It doesn’t help that her story makes little sense, and Fox further proves that she’s a smokin’ hot chick with little else in the talent department.
The Namesake (2006). Mira Nair’s ambitious feature on cultural clashes within an Indian-American family is earnest and well acted, but ultimately the film winds up an overlong example of biting off more than one can chew. The early scenes, depicting the arranged marriage and awkward early years of a young couple (Irrfan Khan and Tabu, both fine), are nicely done and poignant. I also enjoyed the appealing Kal Penn as the couple’s Americanized son, whose differing views on life from his own father’s form the backbone of the film. As soon as the story detours into soap opera-ish territory in the film’s second half, however, things get dicey. There were a few points at which the movie could have satisfyingly concluded, but then another wrinkle develops and the story continues — and this happens several times! Somewhat worthy if you’re into Indian cuture; otherwise beware.
The Stranger (1946). TCM included this suspenser on a morning-long salute to actress Loretta Young this week. Although Young frets nicely as a small town newlywed who slowly discovers her new hubby is a Nazi, this film really belongs to Orson Welles (in the title role) and Edward G. Robinson (as a government inspector tracking Welles down). Wells also directs, and this film does have a stylistic similarity to Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, albeit in a watered-down fashion. The flourishes are enough to make it stand out over the somewhat routine script, and the three main actors are a joy to watch. Fun viewing that reminds me of how great black and white movies can be (even the silly ones) — and you can’t beat that clock tower climax.
album_tipsybuzzzTipsy — Buzzz. eMusic download. Tipsy is known for seductive instrumental mashups that incorporate tasty samples from weird old easy listening records (or at least that’s what it sounds like to these ears). 2008’s Buzzz was his first album in a few years, a subtle departure from the more overtly kitschy sound he’s known for. Some fans don’t favor this “chillout” approach as much, but as far as swanky background music goes this album is tops. It sets a relaxed mood overall, but there is enough variety in individual tracks to keep things interesting. Some tracks even live up to the very descriptive titles they’ve been given — “Kitty’s Daydream” is a highlight. The only thing missing here is a cocktail festooned with a tiny umbrella.
Wee Willie Winkie (1937). Shirley Temple plays a girl named Priscilla who is sent with her mother to live in a British army outpost in early 1900s India. Unlike many of her other flicks, this film comes with a pedigree — it was based on a Rudyard Kipling story, John Ford directed (I can’t really picture the macho Ford growling “Play this scene cuter, will ya Shirley,” can you?), and co-heading with Shirley was recent Oscar winner Victor McLaglen. All those ingredients make this kiddie adventure a little less grating than usual, even somewhat touching at times. Sure, Shirley seems to be laying on the adorableness a bit thickly here, but that girl had such incredible poise and presence for someone so young. She is really kind of fascinating to watch, and the quality on display throughout makes Winkie one of her better starring efforts (1939’s The Little Princess will always be my fave Temple movie, however).