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Tag Archives: Wallace Beery

Flick Clique: July 1-7

The Big House (1930). Early talkie from MGM is famous for being the first “prison flick” with all the clichés that go with it (the naive newcomer con, the grizzled vet con, the suave player con). It actually holds up very well with fluid direction very unusual for an early sound film and good performances from the three leads, Chester Morris, Robert Montgomery and an unforgettable Wallace Beery. Frances Marion’s script details Morris and Beery’s attempts to break out of the prison life, and the weak-willed Montgomery’s trying to fit in. It’s gritty, bracing stuff – a lot of the material set up here was also explored in films like Brute Force (since we recently saw this, it was an interesting compare-and-contrast). I wonder if films like this and I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang were responsible for prison reform in the U.S.? This Warner Archive DVD was available for check-out at my local library; I will definitely get more W.A. discs from them just to give them my support.
The Makioka Sisters (1983). Idyllic, involving chronicle of four Japanese sisters in the ’30s who find themselves in a family crisis after their widower father dies. The man’s dying wish was for his second youngest daughter to have a husband so that she could acquire the dowry he set up. The sister in question, a sweet yet passive type, allows for her older, comfortably married sisters to find her a suitable mate – not easy, since there aren’t too many eligible bachelors of good social and financial standing available. Meanwhile, the more modern youngest sister sets her sights on starting a doll-making business while getting involved with the ne’er-do-well son of a department store magnate. Once I got past the initial confusion (at first I thought the two oldest sisters were the mother and aunt of the younger sisters), this was a fascinating drama that somewhat reminded me of the upper-class tribulations in Downton Abbey with the family fussing over the daughters’ marriageability while the coming world war will soon render those concerns quaint and obsolete. Both projects also have the more enlightened younger sibling who is sorta the rebel of the family. Although The Makioka Sisters is statically filmed and ponderous at times, it’s beautifully crafted and contains several notable performances (apparently all four of the actresses who play the sisters are legendary in Japan).
The Saphead (1920). This early Buster Keaton film (his first feature film role, as a matter of fact) has recently gotten a good re-release by Kino. I’m reviewing the DVD edition for DVD Talk. This one isn’t quite the same as other Keaton vehicles, since it was a stage success first – a florid family melodrama, no less – and Keaton was suggested for the film by Douglas Fairbanks, who originated Buster’s part of sad-sack rich boy Bertie on stage. The story revolves around Keaton’s character trying to prove himself with his uncle (William H. Crane), a successful industrialist, so that he can marry Agnes (Beulah Booker), the orphan girl whom the uncle raised from childhood. But wait! The man’s no-good son-in-law (Irving Cummings) receives news from his illegitimate daughter that his former flame, now dying, is threatening to expose their affair. Will he pin it on poor Bertie? Like many earlier silents, the film is pretty stagy and inert, and Keaton doesn’t have much opportunity to do the highly physical comedy he’s known for. Basically, it’s worth a peek for fans but not an especially noteworthy film for anyone else. I will have my full write-up posted this next week, hopefully in time for the DVD’s release this Tuesday.

Weekly Mishmash: February 7-13

Julia (1977). I’ve been wanting to see this one for years — Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman and Vanessa Redgrave as the title character, Hellman’s childhood friend, who takes a different path that leads both to intrigue in wartime Europe. The film certainly has the polish of an Oscar-winning drama, but all in all I was somewhat disappointed. Redgrave did a great job, but Fonda is too mannered and fussy, and I really don’t know why Jason Robards Jr. netted an Oscar for his few scenes as Hellman’s lover Dashiell Hammett. I also wish the film concentrated more on Hellman’s writing career (we see her busily working on something, but frustratingly don’t know what), and less on the standard WWII spying angle. In her first film, Meryl Streep has an amusing, brief scene here as Fonda’s fair weather friend.
poster_moonriseMoonrise (1948). Generally I find much of what TCM offers in its yearly 31 Days of Oscar boring as all get out, but I made an exception for a rare showing Frank Borzage’s moody noir Moonrise (which only got one nomination the year it came out — for sound mixing). This one stars underrated Dane Clark as a young man who is ostracized in his small Southern town for his dad going to the gallows. Convinced he has bad blood, he accidentally kills one of his tormentors (Lloyd Bridges) and takes refuge with a sweet schoolteacher (Gail Russell) who counts among the few who see the good in him. This was a pretty nice film, hokey at times but beautifully acted and photographed. I always liked Dane Clark and his “average joe” appeal, and he’s well matched with the ethereal Russell (contrary to the poster art, the two do not resemble Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh!). At times I felt like Borzage was laying the romantic atmosphere on a bit thick, perhaps to make up for the script’s shortcomings. There are, however, a lot of effective cloaked with Southern gothic atmosphere. Much of the film takes place outdoors, on artfully lit sets that highlight the characters’ unspoken yearnings. Highlight: ferris wheel scene.
9 (2009). A post apocalyptic animated opus that disappeared from theaters faster than Heidi Montag’s barely perceptible crows feet. I found it a moderate success with stunning visuals making up for its myriad shortcomings. With a cast of doll-like creatures trying to save themselves in a battle-scarred landscape full of the machines that destroyed humanity, this premise is bleaker than bleak. Even the hopeful ending isn’t all that hopeful, and the fact that this feels like a short film (over) expanded to feature-length doesn’t help things. Still, I loved the fully realized steampunk/industrial ’40s setting, and the variations between the creatures was fascinating. Although this does bear the imprimatur of co-producer Tim Burton, even Burton himself rarely goes to the bleak places that creator Shane Acker journeys to here — which is somewhat admirable for a kiddie film.
Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America (VH1). Excellent documentary which almost — almost — makes up for the rest of the crap being played on VH1. Seek it out if you can and get down with yo’ bad self. Or at the very least, check out this clip of the famed Soul Train line dancers in action:

Viva Villa! (1934). Another TCM 31 Days of Oscar viewing, this historical biopic traces the life of Pancho Villa and his conquest of Mexico with an utterly caucasian cast headed by burly Wallace Beery. Yes, Beery seems about as Mexican as a Taco Bell Chalupa, but I’d enjoy him in just about anything and this rip roaring actioner is no exception to the rule. Despite some well-reported behind the scenes turmoil, this is a smooth and nicely paced film that defies its nearly two hour length. I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy on display, but as far as mid-’30s MGM extravaganzas go it holds up pretty well. It kind of makes me wonder what Mexicans think of the film (is it stereotypical or true to life?).
The Wedding Banquet (1993). Uh huh… yet another movie that I’d waited years to see. This one proves that writer-director Ang Lee had the terrific domestic drama thing going on almost right off the bat (I haven’t seen his debut feature, 1992’s Pushing Hands — and from what Lee says apparently he doesn’t want anyone else seeing it, either). About an assimilated Chinese-American who hastily marries to hide his gayness from his traditional parents, this boasts a lot of funny true-to-life scenes and even more warmth and soul. I’d hasten to truly call it a gay film, since the clash of cultures between the traditional and modern Chinese is a bigger theme here than the gay thing. The atmosphere throughout is very early ’90s indie-ish, but all that knowing dialogue (mostly not English) helps make it a timeless film.