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Tomorrow Is Forever (1946)
Deeply moving, thought-provoking story of love & the past
As a Millennial classic film fan writing from the vantage point of 2019, Tomorrow Is Forever is easily one of the most profoundly moving and rewarding movies I've seen from this era, threaded with themes with deep resonance to this day. Far more than the typical melodrama or "woman's picture" (I wish they still made them like they used to), this film plumbs the depths of the past and how specifically life's romantic experiences inform all else as time passes. Other reviewers do not exaggerate in calling this one of the saddest movies of all. For me in its own way, it stands strong alongside the likes of Brief Encounter, Brokeback Mountain, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Letter From an Unknown Woman & Weekend (2011) as one of the most heartbreakingly human love stories recorded on film.
The film follows Elizabeth Macdonald (Claudette Colbert) as she learns of her husband's (Orson Welles) death in World War I and moves forward with her life, remarrying and raising their child, before he resurfaces in her life years later in Baltimore at the cusp of World War II. Plotwise the film isn't the most original, but it hardly matters with regard to the blunt emotional impact it hits the viewer with, not to mention the unparalled acting, writing, score, direction & production values. The production is typically top-notch for a prestige picture at the height of American cinema's Golden Age. For example, the exterior of the old Macdonald house is meaningful, ominous and evocative, stylistically reminiscent of that of the Amberson mansion in Welles' 1942 masterpiece. The screenplay is not only captivating but downright beautiful and thought-provoking. The score, while at moments intrusive, perfectly captures and facilitates the emotion of the story, totally in sync with the acting and overall picture.
A highlight of mid-40s Hollywood cinema in my experience, the climactic scene toward the end between Colbert and Welles is nothing short of breathtaking, not to mention devastating even by modern standards. I was moved to tears. The scene features some of the most emotionally incisive dialogue I've heard in a while about, as another reviewer so eloquently stated, the "irretrievability of the past" and the emotional & practical consequences of that irretrievability. "You'll never get back what you lost, you'll only lose what you have", Welles says, which is absolutely devastating not only in the context of this story, but of life in general. In its entirety, the film makes clear the at times unbearable personal costs of service to one's country/ideals, as well as the fact of living with one's past decisions, however well-intentioned and thoroughly considered they may be.
Hindsight is 20/20, and listening to Colbert's pleas during that climactic scene you can see the second-guessing and sorrow flowing across Welles' face as she confronts him about how he shouldn't have underestimated her love and dedication to him, despite any physical burden he may have foisted upon her through his return. One of the reasons this sequence strikes so profoundly is that there is/was no way to know how it would have played out had he done so, but the film and the actors make the case that it may have been worth the risk. Anyone can relate to that feeling of wondering what could have been, while being completely unable to verify. It's a devastatingly universal feeling that is relevant 73 years later.
Besides the overall strengths of the film's production elements, it's important to credit the actors as well. Welles' performance is astonishing in its emotional power. While the makeup can be regarded as garish by certain standards, his grimaces and expressionistic facial reactions cut bone deep. You can see how it KILLS him to pretend to NOT be John Macdonald, and it somehow never feels cheap or unbelievable. When Colbert confronts him and he elaborates about "if I were your husband and if I'd come back", it's like a dagger to the heart on par with modern heartbreaks. His internal tug-of-war between his own shame & depression about his physical condition and its effects/burden on those he loves vs. how best to set the love of his life up for her happiest life is palpable, thought-provoking (what if that happened to me?) & profoundly heartbreaking. He navigates the complex emotions of his character with deep feeling, assisted by the stylization of his acting style.
Colbert reinforces herself as one of the most modern-feeling, best-aging actresses of her generation. The underplayed realism she brings to her character is essential to the film's emotional power, nowhere moreso than that climactic scene. She speaks of the old brown chair that Welles had before they married that swore he'd never give up, and it hits so close to home when thinking about the little details and minutae of past relationships that mean so much. She is without a doubt one of the most talented, vibrant and relatable actresses of her time, and her service to the film is immeasurable.
Among the supporting cast, Natalie Wood shines as an 8-year-old Austrian war survivor. Even at her young age, she has a magnetic screen presence that fortifies the emotional stakes of the film. As a bonus, she nails the logistics of the role, namely acing that accent and German dialogue at such a young age. It's no surprise she went on to become one of the first child stars to prosper at the top of her game throughout adolescence and adulthood. Lucile Watson is solid but doesn't rise above her role. I have a hard time rooting against her, but I find her one of the least engaging supporting actresses of the time. Imagine Mary Astor, Fay Bainter. Aline MacMahon or another of those more dynamic actresses in the role, and Watson's adequate performance pales. The same can be said for George Brent, per usual serviceable but cypher-like and nothing more.
Overall, Tomorrow Is Forever is a heartstring-tugging, rewarding movie that has so much food for thought to offer all generations. Not only are the production values pitch perfect in service of the overall message, but the acting brings the proceedings to a new level that hits so close to home emotionally even in this day. This is one of those movies that gives you faith in the transcendence of cinema over time and place. You won't regret taking the time to experience it yourself, highly recommended.
Fascinating, complex, challenging, and ultimately moving
Darren Aronofsky's retelling of the classic biblical story is gripping, moving, and extremely complex. The film is brimming with challenging ideas about religion, morality and faith. It touches on themes of environmental degradation, religious zealotry, and the ultimate fallibility and dangers of human interpretation of the Bible and God's will, in a world where God provides no direct commands or even simple communication to the creatures he supposedly loves above all else.
The film follows Noah (Russell Crowe), his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), his three sons, and their adoptive daughter Ela (Emma Watson) as they prepare for the Great Flood, revealed to Noah in visions. The absorbing, fully realized biblical-era world has been drained of resources by sinful descendants of Cain, leaving Noah and his family as the only virtuous humans left. It chronicles the building of the ark to the aftermath of the flood, ending with the reemergence of land and humanity's new beginning, with the help of some stunning visuals, an intelligent script, and interesting performances. However, the story serves as the vehicle for exploring fundamental questions about faith, religion, and the environment.
Aronofsky adheres faithfully to the Old Testament morality and worldview, which makes for a fascinating and through-provoking story. While the film doesn't judge the characters for their beliefs and actions, which are simply a product of their time, it does emphasize the inherent fallibility of human interpretations of the Bible and God's will at key moments. For example, toward the end when Naameh pleas that God "sent what we need" in the form of twin girls, it falls on Noah's deaf ears, as he is convinced God wants humanity to die off. His stubborn, rigid beliefs call out the absolutist, rigid belief systems of biblical literalists today, as they oppose gay rights and other issues based on their individual interpretations of the Bible and disregard the authentic human experience right in front of them.
Adding to the complexity, the "barbarians" are not wholly evil or unidentifiable. It's not hard to empathize with the antagonist king, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) or other men as they search for food and resources for their decaying and starving cities, earnestly asking God "why won't you converse with me?" Faith in "the Creator" isn't presented in any judgmental way, and it's notable that both the "innocent" and "wicked" men take belief in the Creator as a given. Still, one empathizes with all the characters as they try to find the balance between serving their creator and struggling to survive, seemingly abandoned in this harsh world. There are no cardboard cutout villains, and as the story shifts to the interpersonal drama on the ark, the lines between good and evil become indecipherable.
There are several horrifically grim and darkly heartbreaking moments that cut to the core of our humanity, such as when a girl is horrifically dragged away from her loved one to be eaten by the starving men surrounding her. In another instance, a haunted, abandoned girl, who Noah's son Ham (Logan Lerman) tries to bring to the ark as his wife, steps on a trap and is horrendously trampled in the final push by the men to force their way onto the ark. The final shot of humans being washed away as they desperately cling to the remaining rocks is harrowing, as are their screams heard from inside the ark. These and other moments illustrate the depths of human depravity and offer a truly haunting glimpse into a world depleted of resources. It dovetails with the film's larger statement on the dangers of human environmental degradation, which serves as a cautionary tale for today's science- and climate change-denying politicians and world leaders.
Beyond the fascinating central themes of the film's plot and visuals, the performances are strong as well. Russell Crowe grounds Noah with a fierce integrity, loyalty, and love for his family and Creator. The sheer earnestness of his faith perfectly complicates the film's notions of morality. Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, and Logan Lerman all provide solid support, although with more limited roles. Anthony Hopkins is also a standout, giving a beautifully poignant, nostalgic, and generally touching performance as Noah's grandfather.
In the end, Noah is a film of great power and ambition that everyone, atheists and religious fundamentalists alike, should see for its challenging, thought-provoking themes. It takes a universally recognized fable and mines it for rich ideas and emotions relating to the nature of humanity and our place in the universe, all in the form of a high-budget action film. It challenges religion and faith but affirms the vitality of love and human connections, and for that alone it deserves to be commended.
Bicentennial Man (1999)
A sweeping sci-fi fable, painted in broad strokes but rich with ideas
Bicentennial Man tells the story of Andrew (Robin Williams), an android who begins his existence as a servant for the Martin family in an exurb of San Francisco in 2005. His owner, Richard Martin, or "Sir" (Sam Neill), immediately realizes that Andrew's compassionate personality and creative spirit are something special, and the rest of the film chronicles Andrew's 200-year soul search as he watches times change and loved ones come and go.
The film is essentially constructed as a sci-fi fable about what it means to be human, which is why I think a lot of critics and reviewers are missing the point when they criticize the swift pacing, simplistic plot, and relatively shallow supporting characters. This film is first and foremost about Andrew's journey, and the plot and supporting characters are supposed to take a back seat to its broad, sweeping emotionality. That's how fables operate, and Bicentenntial Man never pretends to aspire to realism.
Another reviewer mentioned that the film explores the "transience of life," and I think that's a perfect way to describe the theme at the heart of the film. It's a theme for which the film's thick, much-maligned sentimentality is a strength, not a weakness, and it does a beautiful job of illustrating the poignancy of human experience and mortality. Watching our friends, acquaintances, and loved ones change and drift away over time is sad and inevitable. So as Andrew watches his family change, age, and pass away, it's profoundly moving.
The film excels most when it taps into deep wells of human emotion in service of Andrew's story. In one scene, he watches Sir and "Ma'am" (Wendy Crewson) enjoy a laugh by the pool, bathed in warm sunlight. In another, Andrew plays back a recording of Little Miss's (Embeth Davidtz) wedding and shares a brief conversation with Sir. At later points, he visits both Sir and Little Miss on their deathbeds. These types of scenes occur throughout the film, and they are so moving because they illustrate the joys and richness of life's relationships and experiences, while at the same time highlighting the pain of losing those things to time and death. Viewing these events at first through a non-human perspective, and then eventually seeing Andrew experience these emotions himself, tugs at the heartstrings in ways movies rarely do.
Robin Williams is wonderful as Andrew. The early scenes of Sir teaching Andrew about the human experience are funny (though not laugh-out-loud) and warm, and Williams' performance showcases Andrew's earnestness, attention to detail, eagerness for learning, and affection toward his family in pure and extremely affecting ways. Embeth Davidtz is solid in the dual roles of Little Miss and her granddaughter, Portia. The roles are limited, but she lends warmth and grace to both roles, while preserving the two distinct personalities of her characters. Sam Neill also gives an excellent, thoughtful, and ruminative performance as Sir.
The production elements of the film are also top-notch. Instead of being cheesy or schmaltzy, James Horner's soaring musical score is beautifully evocative and nostalgic, lending a poignant timelessness to the visuals (in a similar way to the score of Gattaca, another top-notch sci-fi film). The softness of the film's lighting, especially in earlier scenes by the Martins' pool or on the beach, lends an air of nostalgia and emotionality, and the visual power of the film should not be overlooked.
The only flaws I think the movie has are that its script occasionally falls victim to cliché and unoriginality. The changes in tone aren't always seamless, either. But overall, Bicentennial Man is a sweeping sci-fi fable that is both touching and enlightening on multiple levels.
Contrived, transparently crowd-pleasing/tear-jerking fluff
I saw another reviewer mention that this film is 2013's "The King's Speech", and I think that's spot on. I cannot for the love of god understand why either of these films have received the amount of critical acclaim they have. They are both so contrived that it's amazing to me so many people just eat up this kind of fluff. The substance of this film essentially boils down to: Wacky old lady has her son taken away from her as a child. Now laugh and cry at the appropriate moments!
The best things I can say are that it has some genuinely funny moments, although the humor is pretty hit-or-miss. And it should be commended for taking one or two interesting turns where it could have relied on clichés (I didn't expect to learn the fate of Philomena's (Judi Dench) late son about midway through the film).
However, the film as a whole is pretty formulaic and seems unsure of any larger point it would like to make. For example, the nuns are so clearly constructed as one-dimensional villains with something to hide, but then we're supposed to forgive them, even though they're unrepentant? Philomena and Martin (Steve Coogan) discuss God and religion quite a bit. Philomena starts off full of faith, then at one point rushes out of confession in an act seemingly of disavowal, and then later castigates Martin for his atheistic views and his (justified) anger at the nuns. These conflicting messages really don't help a film already on pretty shaky ground plot-wise.
The search itself seems to have consisted of a 5-minute Google search and a few emails, which does no favors for a film that strives so obviously to be a hard-hitting, emotionally deep chronicle "inspired by true events." Several elements of the plot feel half-baked, tacked on, and barely thought out at all. For instance, the odd framing device of the Martin's firing (what was that about?) and his new "human interest piece" contribute nothing to the film. That goes double for the strange flashbacks of Philomena's son Anthony that are interspersed arbitrarily throughout the film. They are made to look like home videos, which creates an awkward effect. Even weirder, we later find out that these are seemingly shots taken from a 1-minute home-video montage of Anthony's entire life. Through watching this video, we learn **SURPRISE!** he's been back to Ireland searching for his mother after all! (Never mind that his sister and former colleague have directly contradicted that idea a few scenes before.) It just doesn't work on any level except to be transparently tear-jerking and crowd-pleasing. And that's a fair summary of the film as a whole.
Dench is sometimes funny (although her character is a walking cliché as a wacky old lady with a heart of gold), and she cries well, but there is no context within her performance. Instead, she comes off as a manufactured prop that is meant to be lovable, hilarious, and empathetic, and that's it. Considering she's based on a real person, there's a stunning lack of specificity or even just creative detail. It's a crowd-pleasing but negligible performance.
Coogan fares much better. Martin's religious cynicism is earnest and refreshing, but not demeaning, in a movie suffocated by religious imagery and overtones. He also carefully blends his fondness for Philomena that develops with his frequent annoyance and frustration with a sheltered, irrational older woman with whom he doesn't have a lot in common. It's complex and empathetic work in a role that could have been one-dimensional.
The always-fantastic Mare Winningham is a standout in the supporting cast. With only one short scene, her performance adds much-needed mystery and complexity to the proceedings. She conveys deep emotional scars from her upbringing that raise interesting questions about Anthony's life, as well as her own. If the entire movie was transfused with the subtlety and depth in Winningham's performance, I imagine I would have liked it a lot more. When she left the screen I couldn't help but want to know more about her.
All in all, it's a pretty jumbled film that seems to exist solely to give Judi Dench a late-career Oscar. Nothing special at all, and the critical reception it's received is quite baffling. If Dench does indeed win Best Actress next year, I'm sure it will go down as one of the lesser wins in the category's history.
The King's Speech (2010)
Unoriginal, contrived, self-satisfied junk
The simple, totally bland film that literally revolves around the speech impediment of a historically unimportant royal (why are we supposed to care?) suffocates under its nonstop "crowd-pleasing" clichés. This film is made up of insufferably self-satisfied acting, direction, and writing (you can just imagine all involved patting themselves on the back for being clever). The one-liners are so manufactured and unoriginal that it should have had a laugh track. The whole thing is so uninspiring and devoid of any real emotion, substance, or originality that I'm honestly stunned at the reception it received upon its release.
None of the performances rise above the ingratiating material; in fact, they are accomplices. It tries to lend gravity to the proceedings by sprinkling historical events (the rise of Hitler, the beginning of WWII) throughout in the most amateurish way possible. All in all, it's an unmemorable, pretentious bundle of shallow clichés.
The Great Meadow (1931)
Predictable, breezy film full of little pleasures
This is an interesting period piece in which an extremely predictable and none-too-deep plot is partially salvaged by compelling history and several captivating sequences, such as when the would-be settlers are nearing their destination and have one final mountain to traverse in a torrential downpour.
There are many small, thoughtful touches throughout that illustrate the trials and tribulations of early American pioneers, a group and era that are not often explored. Whether it's a close- up moving shot of the pioneers' and their animals bare feet and worn-out pants after months of journey or a static, minute-long shot of Diony and Evan trying to close and secure their cabin door during a blizzard, the little touches are treasures. Early scenes that dwell longer than expected on Diony's emotional farewells to her mother and sister, and small moments while parting from her father and brother, are also surprisingly moving and impressive, especially for a little pre-code B-movie.
These little moments counterbalance the film's just-as-frequent formulaic scenes. Most of the performances are overcooked to one degree or another, but the accents seem surprisingly authentic and the cast works really well together, neutralizing any negative effects of overacting.
In the end, it's a welcome, thoroughly enjoyable tribute to frontier families and the brave pioneer spirit of early America.
Worth seeing for Edna May Oliver's final film performance
Intriguing plot about an old woman (Merle Oberon) reflecting on her youth, although the result is imperfect. The dramatics are the film's weak spot, as the plot is a quite contrived, especially concerning the orphanage for blind children.
The camera framing and cinematography display flashes of technical ingenuity at various points throughout the film, such as when Lydia and a local fisherman share a conversation against the backdrop of a fireplace. An early flashback's evocations of the bliss and idyllic nature of memories offer a remarkably fresh take on nostalgia. Sadly, these flashes of creative ingenuity are few and far between, and
Oberon, who I've never been a huge fan of, is very touching and insightful while playing the older Lydia. Ruminative and able to find humor in the way her life has unfolded, she does a great job of reflecting on her life as an extremely successful woman who has sacrificed romance in her path to greatness. Unfortunately, she relapses to her usual shrill gracelessness for much of her performance as the younger Lydia, making her performance a wash on the whole.
Edna May Oliver, in her final film performance, is a joy to behold in a signature tough-as- nails New England spinster role. She's hilarious (as usual) and oftentimes touching. The other supporting actors are uniformly dull and uninspiring, including Joseph Cotten, who I normally love, as one of Lydia's former loves.
Overall, the film isn't as poignant and insightful as it might have been, given the storyline, which is disappointing. It's not exactly memorable outside of Oliver's performance, although it's not the worst movie I've seen and worth a viewing.
The Life of the Party (1930)
Inconsequential but fun, with enjoyable performances
Often-witty dialogue can't quite save a predictable, simplistic plot, but Winnie Lightner and Irene Delroy keep the film quite entertaining. The film as a whole is totally inconsequential, but several of the performances, especially those of the two leads, are enough to recommend it.
Lightner's forceful, abrasive, energetic, and often hilarious performance is a perfect foil for Delroy's sweet, dewy, and relatively languid one. Charles Butterworth's underplayed humor is very welcome in a minor role, while the unfunny slapstick subplot anchored by Charles Judels' almost grotesque performance as Monsieur LeMaire throws the film off pitch whenever it resurfaces throughout.
Overall, simple, predictable, and worth a watch.
Slight but entertaining, although a bit overstuffed
While slight and insignificant, Upperworld's performances keep it interesting, and it entertains throughout its overstuffed 73-minute runtime.
The film follows Warren William, whose society-obsessed and self-absorbed wife Hettie (Mary Astor) leaves him lonely and wanting more. As a result, he meets Linda (Ginger Rogers) and begins to spend more time with her, becoming infatuated. Her "man" (J. Caroroll Naish) wants her to con William for his money, but she loves him and refuses. A confrontation leaves Rogers and Naish dead, with William eventually being acquitted of their murder (he shot Naish but only after Naish killed Rogers).
The plot is a bit overstuffed and tries to cover too much ground, from the murder to the trial to the investigation and it ends up a bit rushed. But William is handsome and solid, without coming off as a selfish rich jerk like he might have. He has great chemistry with Rogers, and you can tell he genuinely cares about her. He illustrates his competing affections well.
Astor is beautiful and funny in her role as his wife. She is undeniably self-absorbed, but Astor puts enough touches of genuine caring and love throughout that we can clearly see she cares for William deeply. This is a woman who is caught up in her own life (her biggest flaw) but she is not mean-spirited or careless, and she genuinely appreciates her husband and son even though she doesn't always treat them well or give them as much attention as she should. Rogers gives a fresh, sensitive, and touching performance of a young woman in over her head and caught between conflicting emotions and motives.
The morality lessons about not straying from marriage ultimately feel a bit rushed and cheesy toward the end, and the film is a bit dated in this respect. But William's scenes with Ginger Rogers are wonderful, and if you love pre-code cinema I'd certainly recommend giving it a watch.
The Member of the Wedding (1952)
Moving film centered around 3 unforgettable characters
Hampered at times by its staginess, The Member of the Wedding is a touching story of three unique, unforgettable characters that often taps into profound, universal feelings of otherness, loneliness, and longing to be part of someone's "we."
Although Harris's performance can occasionally be a bit much, it often serves as a remarkable expression of childhood frustration, greenness, anger, and sadness, however misguided or uninformed. Ethel Waters is the standout, and her performance is rich with humor, compassion, and experience. Brandon de Wilde is wonderful, although with the least fleshed out character. He makes his character captivating nonetheless.
The interactions between these three characters (and actors) really elevate this uneven, sometimes strange film into something more moving and substantial than it might have been.
Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)
Very dated, semi-engaging, occasionally moving
The film's odd combination of staginess and 1950s sexual mores and social conventions makes for a mildly interesting but very dated take on marriage, aging, alcoholism, and sex. The dialogue is talky, overly expository, and not terribly involving, and the Alcoholics Anonymous subplot feels awkward and tacked on.
The absurd prudishness of Burt Lancaster's character, emblematic of 1950s social norms and ideals, is so central to the storyline and his character that it really brings the film down. The hysterical aversion to sex he exhibits makes Lancaster's lifeless, incoherent performance even worse.
Shirley Booth gives a good, if broad, performance as Lola. Her physical and vocal mannerisms are often grating, but her pathetic loneliness and clinginess is moving. The lack of chemistry between her and Lancaster is difficult for the film to overcome, but Booth emphasizes her character's nostalgia and vicarious nature in touching ways.
Terry Moore gives a solid performance. She brims with empathy for the semi-pathetic Delaneys, while at the same time emphasizing the greenness and playful sexuality of her character, the consequences of which startle her when Turk (Richard Jaeckal) goes a little too far late one night. Moore does a great job of balancing the sweetness and respectfulness of her character with her youthful sexuality, serving as a perfect foil to Lola. The role is limited, but it's an admirable performance.
The film is only somewhat interesting overall, although certainly worth seeing at least once for (some of) its performances and for a window into the 1950s.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
A sublime fable of love and humanity
Edward Scissorhands is a film that begins on a seemingly light note and turns into one of the most beautiful, profoundly moving films that I've seen. The production, direction, writing, and acting are all top-notch, and it all comes together perfectly to tell a simple but perfect story that comments on love, humanity, and modern society. The film beautifully distills such elements of isolation, longing, loss, loneliness, and nostalgia of the human experience, as well as the joy, love, compassion, humor, warmth, and kinship that make life so rich.
The story is a simple tale of Edward (Johnny Depp), a man who is less a social outcast than simply a forgotten orphan. He lives alone in a decrepit castle on a hill overlooking a cookie- cutter suburban neighborhood, filled with pastel homes and cars, perfectly manicured lawns, and gossipy housewives. When Peg (Dianne Wiest) pays him a visit and has him move in with her neighborhood, family, and life are affected in both touching and tragic ways.
The entire look of the film contributes to its fable-like feel, and the pastel color palette combines with its simple but vivid characters and plot to create an a unique but universal emotional power. The performances are integral to the film's success. Depp is a wonder as Edward, conveying his loneliness, joy, creative ambition, fear, and confusion with his new world in an incredibly endearing and moving way. Wiest is the other standout in the solid cast. She underscores the utter sincerity at the root of Peg's compassion, understanding, and kindness, and her love and concerns for both Edward and her own family are amplified as a result.
Edward Scissorhands is a wonderful, touching film that explores the complexities of life and human relationships in an insightful, unique, and highly affecting way. It's one of a kind, and probably Tim Burton's best. Great film.
Auntie Mame (1958)
Hardly profound, but an absolute blast
Going into this movie, I had an open mind but expected a stagy, dated comedy. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a snappy, frank, and surprisingly fresh comedy filled with delightful performances and dialogue, colorful costumes and set designs, and a clichéd but solid message about life.
Rosalind Russell plays Mame Dennis, who takes in her nephew Patrick (Jan Handzlik) after her brother unexpectedly dies. What ensues is a very fun romp about the adventures and trials of Mame and Patrick over 9 years as he grows up and they weather the Great Depression. The film is populated by a wide assortment of colorful, entertaining characters and comedic situations. And, for a 54-year-old movie, I actually found it to be hilarious. I laughed out loud several times throughout, for example when Mame at one point tries to mount a horse, and the dialogue is genuinely funny without straining too hard, with jokes rarely falling flat. The film's comedic success is amplified by its enormous heart, which takes center stage during several dramatic, emotional moments. The film wears its heart on its sleeve but never lapses into overdone sentimentality.
As the movie's famous line goes, "Life's a banquet, and some poor suckers are starving to death." The film's message to live your own way and to the fullest no matter what really resonates, even if it is a bit unoriginal. The film takes thinly veiled shots at the norms, prejudices, and judgments of mid-20th century American society. It has a blast shooting down anti-Semitism, socioeconomic elitism, social judgment (involving such topics as unmarried pregnancy), to name a few, and it's 143-minute runtime flies by. The film itself, especially the cast, seems to be having a great time as it progresses, and I couldn't help but to be sucked right in.
The performances are very good across the board. Rosalind Russell is just perfect as Mame, capturing her larger-than-life personality and big heart. She's an ace at spouting out the character's lightning-fast lines with impeccable comic timing. Coral Browne also gives a great comic performance as Vera, although she doesn't have as much depth as Russell. The rest of the supporting cast are all very good as well. Jan Handzlik is endearing and funny as a young Patrick, and Peggy Cass is outstanding in a paper-thin role (she did a good job, but her Oscar nomination is perplexing). I also thought Joanna Barnes was a riot as Gloria, and Lee Patrick and Willard Waterman are excellent as her parents.
Overall, Auntie Mame is a hugely entertaining, even uplifting movie filled with wacky characters, spot-on comedic performances, hilarious writing, and a big heart. It's not the deepest movie you'll ever see, or the least conventional, but it's an absolute delight. Highly recommended.
Stella Dallas (1937)
Generally well-made but ruined by frustrating plot/ending
To start off with the positive aspects of the film, I will say that I really did enjoy watching this film, at least the first half. The story is watchable and captivating from the beginning, and the production values are solid. There are undoubtedly some interesting class dynamics throughout the film. It also provides a very frank and interesting look at a non- traditional family structure, where the parents are separated for a number of years but remain on good terms and are not jealous or possessive. Both parents seem to respect that their love for each other as husband and wife no longer exists, and they are mature enough to understand that being controlling about each other's possible new relationships helps no one. It's refreshing and surprising to see this in a film from 1937. Barbara Stanwyck gives a very good performance as Stella, though her character's actions become somewhat ridiculous toward the end of the film (as I will discuss further below). She nails Stella's genuine desire to better herself and to rise above her low-class roots, but she doesn't overplay her social ambitions so much that the other aspects of her character, like her humor and hedonism, are lost. Later in the film, she portrays her deep love for her daughter well without turning her into a one-dimensional martyr. John Boles is a bit plain as Stephen, but it's appropriate for the role. Barbara O'Neil gives a warm and understated performance as Helen. The weak link of the cast for me is Anne Shirley, who gives a mannered performance of almost no nuance or complexity as Laurel. Hers is one of the lesser Oscar-nominated performances I've seen in her category.
WIth that being said, the one element I could not get past was the plot. I found the film's plot to be extremely frustrating, and it is the film's fundamental weakness in my opinion. As a few other reviewers have commented, there are some extremely illogical and just plain baffling character and plot developments, especially later in the film, that I could not get over, even accounting for the fact that the film was released 75 years ago and social norms were different back then. There is a scene late in the film, a catalyst for the film's conclusion, where Stella parades around a resort wearing the gaudiest outfit imaginable. When she finds out that she's hurting Laurel's social standing or whatever, she decides that she needs to disappear from her life, apparently never to see her again. There is no explanation as to how her self-conscious young lady at the beginning turns into the most oblivious woman possible (how can she not realize how ridiculous she looks, honestly?) She actually gets LESS refined as the movie progresses after marrying into the upper class! So instead of simply toning down her out-of-nowhere garishness and working to understand how it might affect her daughter, she concludes that there is no other option but to mislead her daughter, the love of her life, into thinking that she doesn't love her but just wants to marry her washed up drunk friend, "Uncle Ed" (Alan Hale) and move to South America. She is apparently totally fine with letting her daughter, who seems to be her only reason for living at that point, think that she doesn't love her and doesn't want her. And we're supposed to be touched how noble her self-sacrifice is. By the end, I found myself deeply annoyed at the way things played out.
All of this might seem like nitpicking, but the fundamental point of the film is how Stella loves her daughter so much that she's willing to sacrifice everything for her happiness (including their entire relationship, apparently). In the end, Stella is portrayed as the quintessential self- sacrificing mother, but I couldn't help but wondering, was it really necessary to cut off all ties in order for Laurel to have happiness? I think the answer is no, and that is the film's fatal flaw for me.