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Tag Archives: Paul Newman

Flick Clique: August 7-13

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938). In this screwball comedy, Gary Cooper plays a millionaire having a business trip on the French Riviera. He has a meet-cute with Claudette Colbert in a department store, where he is looking for only a pajama top while she wants the bottom. They fall for each other, but on their wedding day she is dismayed to find that he previously married seven times. It upsets her, but she tries to work out an agreement that will help both herself and her disenfranchised father, a Marquise played by too-young Edward Everett Horton. This was directed by Ernst Lubitsch and screenwritten by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Given the cast and crew, it has the makings of a fun, sparkling soufflé of a movie (like that other Claudette Colbert, Wilder/Brackett collaboration Midnight). In its defense, it is pretty amusing, with a lot of zingy lines and some great, old-style star wattage from Cooper and Colbert. On the whole, however. it’s a disappointment — stagy (with lots of badly done back projection subbing for France), rather forced, and with a story that goes nowhere. I loved looking at the stars and the wonderful Deco interiors, though, so it’s an intriguing diversion if that sorta thing strikes your fancy.
The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story (2009). Watched this Disney-produced documentary on Netflix streaming. The Boys is all about Richard and Robert Sherman, composers of “It’s A Small World,” “A Spoonful Of Sugar,” “The Bear Necessities” and about a zillion other earworms from a host of films both Disney and not (surprisingly enough, the film is heavy on clips from non-Disney kiddie fare like Snoopy, Come Home and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Despite the cheery nature of their songs, the brothers have a far from brotherly relationship — underscored by the fact that the film was directed by two Sherman cousins who barely knew each other as children and only recently reconnected over their dads’ work. The film explores the Shermans’ lives going back to their childhood, early non-success in ’50s L.A. (golden oldie “You’re Sixteen” was a rare hit), the heady Disney years and the strange disconnect between their professional and personal lives. The estrangement of the brothers is the “hook” this film is based on, but the fact that they don’t socialize with each other doesn’t seem so unusual (I have two brothers that I barely socialize with, too). Mostly the film celebrates their careers and legacy, and in that respect it’s a winner. You get a lot of info about the men’s individual style — younger Richard is the gregarious, workaholic spokesman for the duo while the brooding Robert (a WWII vet) seems to channel his passions into a variety of things, including writing and painting. They complement each other nicely, and personality issues aside they left a beautiful legacy of songs. There are even a few tear-jerking moments in the film, including any time “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins plays.
From the Terrace (1960). An astonishingly gorgeous Paul Newman stars in this plush soap as the wayward son of an industrialist (Leon Ames) and an alcoholic (Myrna Loy) who decides to defy his dad by starting up an aircraft business. He meets and marries a lovely, opinionated rich girl (Joanne Woodward), but their marriage fails as she philanders and his ambition soars. A docile brunette played by Ina Balin enters Newman’s life just as he’s ready to give up on Woodward, who clings to Newman for the social status even though she’s openly carrying on with old flame Patrick O’Neal. Overlong but decently staged family soap in the mold of Home from the Hill or Peyton Place (although Newman and Woodward are a step up from Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee). 20th Century Fox mounted a nice production here, making the film very watchable despite a so-so story based on a John O’Hara best seller. The perfect set designs, makeup, fashions and jewels (Woodward even wears a tiara!) make this one a sumptuous guilty pleasure. Hopefully I will get the same trashy/faboo reception from the Suzanne Pleshette vehicle A Rage To Live, also based on an O’Hara book (that one is viewable on Netflix, by the way).
House (1977). I already saw this weirdo Japanese haunted house opus in November 2008, but after it was released as part of the Criterion collection I snapped up the DVD. It’s such a goofy, silly movie, but seeing it a second time allows me to appreciate the creative “try everything” mojo that director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi puts in every scene. This time I really noticed the glossy, TV commercial-like moments (especially the scenes with Gorgeous and her would-be stepmother), the weirdly repetitive music cues, the loveliness of the girl playing Kung Fu, the strange way the girls don’t notice or care when the first friend goes missing, etc. It really is a trip. As revealed in the DVD’s supplemental interview with Ôbayashi, many of House‘s ideas were hatched by the director’s pre-teen daughter. Not too terribly surprising, for a film that features a carnivorous piano.
I Saw the Devil (2010). Chilling, super violent Korean flick about a calculating serial killer (played by Oldboy‘s Choi Min-sik) who tortures and kills young women for fun. After one such crime, the victim’s fiancee (Lee Byung-hun) decides to exact revenge by hunting the man down, forcing him to down an ingestible police tracker, then brutalizing him until he cracks. Overlong by at least an hour, but the killing/torturing scenes are excellently filmed, flowing copiously with blood. The film is pretty straightforward and realistic, which makes the brutality all the more scary to behold. Lee Byung-hun delivers a showy, finely modulated performance that never delves into scenery chewing. He’s just a guy with a sick hobby who wants to indulge for a little bit, is there something wrong with that?
Sing, Sinner, Sing (1933). A rather ordinary pre-Code drama based a the real life fraças between singer Libby Holman and her husband, tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds, who was found shot to death under mysterious circumstances in their apartment. Actress Leila Hyams plays the Holman stand-in, a torch singer who shares a stormy romance with gambling ship captain Paul Lukas. She escapes his clutches with a wealthy playboy (Don Dillaway), but after they marry she finds that her new husband is carrying on with a hotsy-totsy blonde — played by my fave Joyce Compton. Probably the best reason to see this hoary drama would be Leila Hyams, who is attractive and somewhat fragile in a way that reminds me of the slightly later Virginia Bruce. She also sings a few numbers in an agreeable (apparently non-dubbed) low voice. The story is pretty blah, with lousy turns from Lukas and Dillaway. The production is moderately nice for a low-budget picture, indulging in the usual settings of shipboard, nightclub, and penthouse. The film was produced by Majestic, a poverty row studio which rented facilities from the majors. This kind of material has been done much better in several contemporary Warner Bros. potboilers, however — only die-hard Pre Code devotees would glean anything worthwhile from Sing, Sinner, Sing.

Flick Clique: May 1-7

poster_behindthemaskBehind the Mask (1947). One of a series of films that b-movie studio Monogram made to showcase popular radio detective The Shadow — I also queued this up on Netflix Instant because it contains one of Joyce Compton‘s later film appearances. This is a strange, grimy little film that awkwardly injects comedy into an otherwise unremarkable whodunit. The story concerns the murder of a blackmailing newspaper reporter. Witnesses believe it was the Shadow who committed the deed; the Shadow’s alter ego Lamont Cranston (Kane Richmond, sort of a poor guy’s Phillip Terry) must prove otherwise with the help of his daffy girlfriend Margo Lane (Barbara Read). Having never heard a radio ep of The Shadow, I can’t tell how much fidelity this film has to the source material (Christopher assured me that it was never this goofy or superficial). This is an OK time waster whose one (tiny) distinction is Read’s chucking of all demure femininity in a proto-Lucille Ball turn. Joyce appears briefly as a flirty nightclub employee attempting to rope Cranston into a sting operation.
Black Orpheus (1958). Another Netflix Instant offering on my “want to see” list (although the pixelated picture left lots to be desired), Black Orpheus was the lilting Brazilian hit that introduced the sounds of Bossa Nova to the world. It’s actually quite a lovely picture, despite not a lot happening within its 100 minutes. The film cast the myth of Orpheus and Eurypides into current-day Rio de Janero during their festive carnaval. The film has a casual vibe more in tune with the ’60s. The acting, done by a local theatrical troupe and a host of charming villagers as extras, is surprisingly good overall. Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn are both very good as the leads, but I also enjoyed the women who played Mira (Orpheus’ feisty fiancee) and Serafina (Eurypides’ cousin). Of course, the music and scenery is wonderful. The film drags in certain spots, but otherwise it’s a summery delight. Perhaps I should check out the Criterion DVD.
poster_catonahottinroofCat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). After reading J. Randy Taraborelli’s bio on Elizabeth Taylor, I put a bunch of her movies on my Netflix queue. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof finds Liz and co-star Paul Newman at the peak of their beauty, good enough, but it’s also an excellently staged and acted adaptation of the Tennessee Williams stage hit. Taylor plays Maggie, sultry, no-nonsense lady who married into the rich and stereotypically Southern family of Brick (Newman). They’re gathered at the mansion of “Big Daddy” (Burl Ives) after the man finds he hasn’t long to live. Tensions erupt as Maggie and Brick deal with Big Daddy as his oblivious wife (Judith Anderson) as they contrast their childless marriage with that of Brick’s milquetoast brother (Jack Carson) and his gossipy wife (Madeleine Sherwood). Very well played, and an oddly nice fit for the glossy MGM production style of 1958 — all that harsh lighting seems to underscore the harshness of the people onscreen. Taylor and Newman are both dreamy to look at, but they also seem to relish doing something that requires sharp acting teeth to pull off. On a superficial note, I love the cream and white gothic decor in Brick and Maggie’s bedroom set (swoon).
Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards (1963). Another wild and wooly Seijun Suzuki/Jo Shishido collaboration from the ’60s — yeah! Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards follows a similar pattern to the others, including a somewhat incomprehensible story about policemen and the gangsters who love to stalk them outside their place of work, baseball bats at the ready. The main difference here is that Detective Bureau was beautifully filmed in color using a widescreen process known as NikkatsuScope (similar to the TohoScope used in Godzilla flicks of yore). Suzuki really seems to go to town with the photography, especially evident in a couple of musical numbers set in Westernized nightclubs. One even has the charismatic, chipmunk cheeked Shishido dancing along. Fizzy and fun.
Gable and Lombard (1976). I purchased this for three bucks on Oldies.com, mostly out of morbid curiosity to find out how awful it is. I wish I could say that James Brolin and Jill Clayburgh reenacting (as the DVD box says) “the wildest, wackiest love affair Hollywood ever knew” was some kind of misunderstood diamond in the rough, but it is not. Even by trashy ’70s Hollywood biopic standards, it’s pretty noxious, taking liberty upon liberty with basic facts (including moving their first meeting up a few years — and having mischievous Lombard play a prank on the Gone with the Wind set!). The worst aspect of the movie is the casting: Clayburgh’s trash-talking Lombard is way too contemporary (I know the real Lombard was a “just one of the guys” type, but her performance is ridiculous), and Brolin settles into a laconic groove that is more impersonation than characterization. I also have to mention that this film has the de regeur “leads chatting on a backlot while extras dressed as cowboys and indians walk around” scene. Several of them, in fact!
Let Me In (2010). American remake of the Swedish creeper Let the Right One In (see Flick Clique: February 13-19 for my appraisal). This one is slightly more honed than the original, eliminating a few outside characters and strengthening the human bonding theme. The only marked difference I saw here is that the child leads in the U.S. production seem a bit more poised and “Hollywood” (but effective all the same); even the kids playing the bullies seem less menacing. Richard Jenkins, great as always, plays the one prominent adult. I’m glad they kept it an early ’80s period piece, which only seems to up the creepiness of the material. Despite being marketed as a typical scary flick, this is really a story about the human need for companionship, even when one of the characters is something less than human.
A Man for All Seasons (1966). The sixties were an odd time for the Oscars, as exemplified by the beautifully produced but stodgy A Man for All Seasons taking the Best Picture statuette over Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (to be fair, the other three nominees were pretty iffy). A historical drama about Thomas More’s persecution under Henry VIII’s fickle kingdom, this handsome production came off as similar to the contemporary The Lion in Winter but not nearly as soapy (or interesting). Paul Scofield gives a committed performance, alongside a cream of British talent that includes Wendy Hiller, Robert Shaw, Susannah York and a young John Hurt. Orson Welles’ corpulent Cardinal Wolsey is probably the best character, however, and he’s gone in the first 30 minutes. The rest is a lot of inert, high-minded speechifying about staying true to one’s values, etc., best appreciated in high school history class. A shame, since I really wanted to like this.