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Getting your derrière stuck in cactus is always funny
30 May 2020
This is really a very good, very funny comedy, thanks largely to James Cagney , who could evidently play any sort of role wonderfully. He's great here as a poor pilot trying to hold on to his plane.

The plot, to the extent that there is one, is yet another variant on *It Happened One NIght*, the story of a spoiled young heiress who is kept from marrying a playboy she doesn't really know well by some Average Joe who hopes to make a few bucks by bringing her back to her wealthy father. Gable is great in that role in the original , but Cagney is every bit as good in this knockoff.

Eugene Pallette gets the Walter Connolly role as the wealthy father, but it isn't developed as well here.

Unlike in *It Happened One NIght*, which was filmed in 1934, we don't get a chance to see the America of its time here, and that is a real loss.

But what we do get are some funny if obvious situations, and a very funny James Cagney. That's definitely worth watching the movie for.
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Song of Love (1947)
Paint by the numbers biopic
28 May 2020
The acting here is fine. The directing is uninspired and droopy. This is an unimaginative, and for my money basically disappointing biopic of a remarkable and potentially very interesting woman.

What we get is the tearful story of a devoted wife who largely gave up a career as a concert pianist to be the faithful wife of composer Robert Schumann, to joyfully raise their eight - not seven, but eight - children. Temptation comes her way and she doesn't even see it, much less agonize about it.

One of my biggest problems with this well-acted movie is the music. On the one hand, there is way too much of it. Most of it is very beautiful, beautifully and sometimes even breathtakingly played. (There is too much Liszt for my money.) But did we need to sit through all of it?

On the other hand, we never get to hear any of Clara Schumann's own music, nor is there any talk about her early aspirations to be a composer as well as a pianist. I wonder why, especially given that the role was played by a strong woman?

If you love Hepburn and have to see everything she did, then certainly watch this. No one embarrasses him/herself. If you want to learn about the three people at the center of the story, the two Schumanns and Brahms, don't watch this, read some books. (The movie starts by saying that liberties have been taken with the biographical facts. They weren't trying to pull a fast one on anyone.) If you want to be told that women should sacrifice themselves for their husbands, go read a book by Gloria Steinem.
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Brittany for Americans who have never been to Brittany
24 May 2020
First, let's start with the very clear purpose of this movie - because, during World War II, when Hollywood made a movie about the war, it had clear reasons for doing so.

When the Germans invaded France (and Belgium and Holland) in May, 1940, it quickly became apparent that the (then) Allies were unprepared for Blitzkrieg, (Why and who was to blame is a story for another day.) By June France was overrun and the French army, what was left of it, was quite simply fleeing before the German invaders. The French government, as unprepared as the French army, turned over power to the very conservative Philippe Pétain, a World War I hero, and he negotiated an armistice with the Germans. The French therefore stopped fighting - except for those who fled to England to continue the fight under Ch De Gaulle. Here in the States, that was depicted in large headlines as "The French Quit."

FDR realized that France could not be written off as a nation of collaborators, because if we were ever to defeat the Germans, we would have to land there. And so, Hollywood was directed to find ways of showing that not all the French were Nazi sympathizers. (On this, see the very useful book Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profit and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies.) This led to movies like *Reunion in France* (1942), *Paris After Dark* (1943), and this movie. Its first purpose was to show that, while there were indeed collaborators among the French, there were also brave anti-Nazis - there is no indication of a real organized Resistance in this movie.

The second purpose of this movie was evidently to appeal to women with a love story and a very handsome leading man, the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, in what was evidently his first American movie. (His English is very good.) I found this love story, with Susan Peters, to be of no interest at all. There's no chemistry between them at all. That's probably why the movie is now forgotten. Aumont was better looking than Bogart, but Peters couldn't hold a candle to Bergman - no woman could - and their scenes together are of no interest.

What I found interesting about this movie, which was probably filmed very quickly - the novel on which it was based came out just the year before, in 1942 - is that, despite the title, it presents a very generic, and indeed non-Breton Brittany. It takes place near St. Lunaire, in the Côtes d'Armor, where I have lived for 20 years, and I can assure you that none of the architecture, and almost none of the costumes, look like what one sees, or would have seen, there. Even the names are not Breton. (I don't know if they are the same as in Helen MacInnes' novel.) Why MGM didn't bother to go for something more authentic I can't guess, since they certainly had the resources to do so. Perhaps it was because they figured that Americans in 1943 and before, even those who had traveled to France, were unlikely to have known Brittany. (That seems to be symbolized by the final image, Mont St. Michel, which American tourists would have visited, but which is in Normandy.) Perhaps it was just because they were in a rush and didn't want to bother.

No one, but no one, who knew Brittany at the time would have believed for one moment that a Frenchman from another part of France - Métard/Aumont is presented as being from NE France - could have passed for a small-town Breton for even 30 seconds once he opened his mouth and started speaking French with a non-Breton accent. Whether that is dealt with in MacInnes' novel I don't know.

So, is there anything to recommend here, since the love story and even the basic premise of Métard passing for a small-town Breton are unconvincing? I found the staging of the attack on the submarine base to be well done. Yes, the torpedo boats are clearly toys floating in something like a bathtub. But other than that, I thought that part of the movie was well done. (The director, Jack Conway, had done some great action movies, like *Vivo Villa* and *A Tale of Two Cities*.)

When you watch this movie - and I hope you will, if you're interested in World War II - I hope you'll try to watch it as Americans would have seen it in 1943, a time when we had just entered the war and no one knew if the Germans would retain control of Europe. That gives it a power that an ahistorical viewing does not have.
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An unforgivable ending tacked on to a ridiculous melodrama
21 May 2020
Most of this movie is a really tenth-rate melodrama. Good woman falls for penniless musician who is of the "wrong class" - he's a foreigner and doesn't know any of the "right" families. Then he cheats on her with another woman, while all the while acting like a hypochondriac. Then, just as it would appear that she has a chance to marry someone of her own class, someone who is "right" for her, that is messed up and ... the movie ends with an unexpected switch that is as infuriating as it is unexpected.

But even before the really terrible end, everything is wrong with this movie. The dialogue is often like a parody of 1930s radio soap opera - and probably was. Basil Rathbone, who had one of the greatest voices in 1930s-40s movies, capable of giving Shakespearean resonance to the dialogues in all those great Eroll Flynn movies, is made to play an Italian immigrant who slides in and out of a bad Italian accent - that ruins his delivery. Everything else is bad too.

I suppose this was meant to be a "woman's picture," something that consoled women trapped in bad marriages engaged in despite their parents' better judgment. Was that still a large audience in the 1930s? I don't know, but this movie really stinks.
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This movie tries so hard to be even handed, but its heart so much wants to defend Jefferson as good
19 May 2020
This documentary about Thomas Jefferson is very poorly subtitled. It really has very little to do with "the view from the mountain" (Monticello), and everything to do with Jefferson's views on slavery and slaves. That's really what the movie should have been subtitled, because that is the focus, indeed the obsession, of this movie, which pays little attention to the rest of Jefferson's life and career.

"Did he have sex with Sally Hemmings??????" That's the question at the heart of this movie. Given that, it's a shame that it does such a poor job of answering the question. Even years ago, when I lived in Charlottesville, Jefferson's home, we knew about the results of the DNA tests on Sally Hemming's descendants. But what this movie doesn't bother to mention is that those descendants were also very likely the descendants of relations between Jefferson's relative Dabney Carr and the Hemmings family, which would have explained the presence of Jefferson's DNA in the Hemmings descendants even if Jefferson himself had not fathered any children with her.

I don't know if Jefferson had sex with Sally Hemmings - and I truly do not care. I also don't know if, if there was a sexual relationship, it resulted in children. And again, I do not care.

What I didn't like about this movie, among other things, is that the makers of this movie were so clearly upset by that possibility, and so clearly intent on apologizing for it.

Hell, if two people want to have consensual - and I stress consensual - sex, that's their business and no one else's. Good for them. But I really don't care.

The makers of this movie should have spent a LOT more time telling us about the rest of Jefferson's life and achievements and, once they presented the possibility of Jefferson's sexual relationship with Sally Hemmings, not spent so much time trying to apologize for it.
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Just brilliant
13 May 2020
This is not a "fun" movie to watch. It is not "enjoyable." But it is certainly devastating, astounding. It is certainly a very great movie.

It won an Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay, and had it not, there would have been something very wrong with the world. The script is flawless genius. It shows, in a terribly believable fashion, how the media can inflate a sad event for its own financial purposes, to the detriment and even loss of human life. Kirk Douglas, as the reporter who inflates this story of a man caught in a mine collapse, gives an astounding performance as a reporter who will sell even life short to get a good story.

And Billy Wilder directs this movie in such a way that it builds and builds and builds, and never lets you go until it takes you to its devastating climax.

It is not fun watching this movie. It reminds you of how rotten some people can be. But once you start you will not stop watching it, in the same way that we cannot stop watching demolition derbies, because we do want to see all those crashes, all those wrecks.

This movie actually turns a mirror on us, and what we see in that mirror is not pretty. But we can't stop watching.
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An ok treatment of the subject
10 May 2020
This movie is an ok, but not better than ok, treatment of the internment of Americans of Japanese descent - let's call them that, rather than Japanese-Americans, because that is what they were and what made their internment so horrendous; they were Americans denied their rights as American citizens.

I've read at least one book devoted just to this topic, and seen Ken Burns' treatment of it in his great *The War* series for PBS. Both did a much better job of presenting what happened. This is not a long movie, and a lot of it focuses on the understandably unhappy emotions of young people evidently of Japanese descent. They're angry that this happened, as well they should be, but their feelings really don't make for an interesting movie. The director should have done more real research, watched Ken Burns' series, and figured out whether they wanted to make a real documentary or just a "my feelings are hurt" movie for teenagers.
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Not the movie you might imagine it to be
10 May 2020
The title of this documentary is very accurate, so it was my fault that I expected it to be entirely about Veit Harlan, the director of the repulsive anti-Semitic movie Jude Suss. In fact, most of it is constructed from interviews with his children and grandchildren, and shows how they deal with having Harlan as their grandfather. That's mildly interesting, perhaps moreso if you're interested in contemporary German studies and how modern Germans come to terms with the Nazi legacy.

If, like me, you didn't pay close enough attention to the title and expected this movie to tell you lots about the director of that one infamous movie - which I have, in fact, sat through - then you, too, might be somewhat disappointed. I would have liked to know a lot more about the movies he made before Jude Suss, why he was chosen to make that movie, and then how he dealt with the fallout of having done so, both during and after the war. Also, I would have liked to have known a lot more about the reception of the movie.

My real criticism, however, has nothing to do with the movie itself. I watched the American version, which comes with subtitles. They were white, with no cartouche around them, which meant that they were often illegible. Couldn't someone redo the subtitles, so that they can be read?
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Good as a movie, not a replacement for a book-length study of the same subject
8 May 2020
I found this enjoyable as a documentary movie study of the question of the Nazi use of cinema as propaganda. There is not much in the way of in-depth analysis of the topic, but for that to be well done you really need a book rather than a movie. People don't go to the movies to be lectured to for 90 minutes. The advantage of a film documentary over a book is that you get to see - and hear - what the German movies of that era were like. Enjoy this movie for that, and don't expect it to be a scholarly study as well.

My criticisms are minor.

1. I wish the movie had examined these movies in two parts: those from 1933-1940, before Germany was really at war and life started to get very hard in Germany, and then 1940-1945, when life got steadily harder for the Germans. I would have been interested to know if UFA's movies changed as life got harder.

2. This is not the fault of the movie as such. I watched the American version, which was well dubbed with a decent English-speaking narrator. However

a. the subtitles for the movie clips were in yellow, with no cartouche around them, so they were often hard to read, and

b. the narration was captioned (for the hard of hearing?), and that captioning was full of typos. I don't envy anyone hard of hearing who had to rely on them.

Both a and b could be corrected.
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An enjoyable and interesting film, with an intelligent script, but it runs too long
4 May 2020
There are lots of things to like in this riff on Cyrano de Bergerac.

Often, it is the new material, the things that differentiate it from Cyrano's plot line, that I found the most interesting. Such as Paul's doubts about his ability to love someone in an intelligent way. Christian, in Rostand's masterpiece, recognizes that he can't speak intelligently to women, but he never doubts his mind or the value of his love for Roxane. Paul in one moving scene doubts the validity of his romantic feelings for Aster because he thinks he's too dumb to really love well. That's a very sad moment, and something no man or woman should ever feel.

The same-sex themes that run through this movie are, in principle, not in Rostand's original, but they're certainly not foreign to it either. When Cyrano first proposes to Christian that they work together to win Roxane's love, it's hard not to suspect that Cyrano also has some sort of interest in Christian as well, though he may be unaware of it.

The performances of the three main roles here are good. I found Daniel Diemer particularly good as the Christian whose mind has not been developed, but who does indeed develop some in the course of the movie. His role could have been a two-dimensional caricature like the fireman Christian in the movie *Roxane*, but Diemer - and Alice Wu's script - make it more nuanced than that. Leah Lewis is also very good as the female Cyrano who, unlike the male original, comes to a realization of her feelings for the Roxane only once she starts to help Paul/Christian express his.

There are definitely weak parts to this movie. Trig's character is over-the-top stereotype/caricature,as are most of the rest of the townfolk. His more or less equivalent in the play, de Guiche, is more interesting for being more complex. Similarly, the way Ellie wins over her sadly xenophobic classmates with an unexceptional performance of an unexceptional song is too fast and complete to be convincing. The turnarounds at the end of the movie, especially Paul's with regard to his own homophobia, also happen too fast and too neatly. They could have been motivated earlier in the movie had they been thought out more. While the script, pace some of the previous reviewers, is generally very intelligent, it is lacking in that respect. It takes too long to work things out, and then the resolution of the conflicts happens too quickly.

It might also have helped if we had seen why Aster allowed herself to be claimed by Trig. That didn't seem convincing to me either.

Still, for only the second movie by the writer-director, Alice Wu, she got a lot right, and sometimes very impressively so.

This is definitely a movie to be watched at home, in my opinion. I can't see most audiences sitting through it in a theater. But watched at home, with perhaps one break to get a snack, it is an interesting and original riff on Rostand's great masterpiece.
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Why did Warner Bros. think they could turn Joan Leslie into a star?
3 May 2020
The previous reviewers have gone over the flaws and the high-points in this movie. There are a lot of fun cameo appearances and musical numbers, and a few that seemed uninspired.

Most complained about Robert Hutton as the soldier who gets to spend the weekend with a movie starlet, Joan Leslie, saying that he couldn't act. I don't know if he could act in other pictures, but he really doesn't seem to here. And that makes him perfect for this role, folks. The movie was meant to convince GIs everywhere that this sort of Hollywood magic could happen to them as a reward for their participation in the war. Hutton looks like a non-actor, a sort of geeky All-American. Pretty much any soldier could have imagined himself in his place. Had the part been played by some glamorous actor, like Erol Flynn (to stick with Warner Brothers), only those with the biggest egos could have imagined themselves in his place. Flynn always got the girl, of course, because he was handsome and had charm to the nth degree. Not all of us men can say the same about ourselves, truth be told. We know what we have to work with. If Robert Hutton could land a movie starlet, then we had a chance as well.

My complaints about this movie are elsewhere.

First, the part devoted to the soldier/starlet story, which is of no interest, goes on WAY too long and takes far too much time. If it had to be there, if this couldn't have been just a variety show, it should have been cut WAY back.

Second, why Joan Leslie???? She was an attractive non-presence on the screen, and left holes in some otherwise very good movies (Yankee Doodle Dandy, Rhapsody in Blue) because she just did not project anything of interest on screen. The role was evidently conceived with Ann Sheridan in mind. She would have been GREAT. But since she turned it down, could no one better have been found to replace her? It always feels as if Warner Brothers is trying to convince us that she was a dreamboat. It doesn't work.

Third, I understand that this was a Warner Brothers movie, and that most actors had exclusive contracts with their studios in those days. I also know that this was not a documentary. But still: was there no way actors from other studios who appeared at the real Hollywood Canteen could have been included? It was not, after, Warner Brothers' Hollywood Canteen.

All that said, there is a lot to enjoy in this movie. Skip the "drama" and just skip from one star-studded scene to the next.
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Speak Easily (1932)
Stick it out through the finale
2 May 2020
This movie is a stitch, but the best part is the finale, by far. So stick through it until the end - or fast forward - and you'll get a mixture of broad farce and clever comedy that will reward your patience.

Buster Keaton's comedy here doesn't much interest me. Jimmy Durante's I find a lot more enjoyable. But it's the disastrous premier of Speak Easily, a Broadway review, that you want to watch. Everything goes wrong, and the results are a stitch.
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Daniel Webster's speech to the jury, as delivered by Edward Arnold, is one of the great moments in American cinema
1 May 2020
Most of this movie is uninteresting filler. It was adapted from Benét's one-act play, which in turn had been adapted from Benét's short story, which may explain why most of the movie seems drawn out, despite the first-rate actors (Edward Arnold, Walter Huston, Jane Darwell).

Once we get to the trial, at the end, everything gets much better very quickly. From there almost to the end of the movie the attention is focused on Huston and Arnold, and they carry it off magnificently.

The high point, without any question, is Arnold's delivery of Daniel Webster's speech to the jury. The content by itself is magnificent. Filmed in 1941, just before Pearl Harbor, it expresses everything that is - was? - good about the United States, as we had to ask ourselves what we would be fighting for in the months and years to come. But every bit as good as the content is Arnold's masterful delivery of it. Every line is "staged", and the whole thing builds to a crescendo of rhetorical brilliance such as one might have expected from one of our nation's great orators. If I were to judge this movie on that speech alone, there wouldn't be enough stars in the heavens to do justice to it.

The first part of this movie is sometimes slow going. You can go make popcorn, or finish the dinner dishes, or whatever and not really miss anything. But sit riveted to your set for the end. It will make you feel good about being human, and about being American.
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Much better than the previous reviewers would have you think
1 May 2020
Warning: Spoilers
This is an above-average, enjoyable romantic comedy from an era when romantic comedies didn't have to be insufferably cute. Pre-Nora Ephron, pre-Meg Ryan, etc. It features Jane Wyman and Dennis Morgan both in their prime, with a mixture of slapstick and verbal wit that is really very enjoyable.

But there are things about this movie that will bother viewers in 2020, and they merit being addressed. Principally, there is the fact that this movie makes it quite clear women should give up careers for marriage. Eve Arden makes that quite clear when she recalls how she gave up a muscular lug of a guy in order to run her own business. Wyman hands her resignation from an important corporate position in just before Morgan takes her in her arms and seals their forthcoming marriage with a kiss. Yes, it's really as blatant as that, and it will quite understandably offend modern women who want more out of life than just cooking and cleaning for hubby.

But remember that 1) such was the generally held view in America until decades after this movie was made, and 2) such was particularly the view in 1949, when women were being eased out of the once-male work roles they had taken on during the war. That doesn't excuse the attitude in this movie, of course, but it does explain it.

If you can bracket that and watch the movie anyway, you'll find an enjoyable romantic comedy with interesting main characters - and, yes, very stereotypical minor characters. Wyman gets to play a woman with a mind and an education in science, and that isn't something you will find much of in American movies for decades yet to come, outside The Story of Marie and Pierre Curie. And there the brilliant scientific female mind belonged to a foreigner, and so was less threatening. Morgan is at his charming best, which was very charming - think a close runner-up to Errol Flynn and Clark Gable.

If you can accept that you will be in for a "blast from the chauvinistic past" before you start it, you might find you really enjoy this movie.
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When in Rome (1952)
Stick with it; you will enjoy this movie
26 April 2020
This is not a great movie, something you would study in a film class. But it is, at its best, a thoroughly enjoyable movie. As I watched it I kept thinking that it could not be made today, because Hollywood no longer seems to know how to make such movies without making them excessively sentimental and siroppy.

For me, the best part was the end - which, of course, I will not spoil for you. Suffice it to say that I could not see it coming, because I kept imagining something warm and fuzzy. Instead, we get something that is very honestly moving. Not a feel-good ending, but one that makes you feel not just good but better.
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Basically a bad movie
26 April 2020
This is basically a bad movie with a few good moments.

It starts with one of the good moments: Powell singing the great song "It's a Most Unusual Day". Then it starts to go downhill.

Wallace Berry, whom I liked in so many earlier movies, looks like he has been brought out of formaldehyde for this movie. He looks terrible, he acts terribly. He is, in short, terrible.

Robert Stack is also ill at ease as the handsome dreamboat. He doesn't look like a dreamboat, and he doesn't look comfortable in this movie. Can you blame him?

Elizabeth Taylor, a truly great actress, is miscast here as a teenage vamp. When she made Cleopatra years later she looked more comfortable in the part, but it was still a bad fit.

Powell plays her usual cheerful teenager. But this time it's poorly written, and she only gets one good song.

I don't understand who went to see these movies. They just aren't very good. They are like poor imitations of Deanna Durbin pictures.
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Marlene (1984)
Not really a documentary of her life
20 April 2020
To say that this is a documentary about the life of Marlene Dietrich, as the subtitle suggests, is misleading. It's 90 minutes spent with an elderly and very cantankerous Dietrich listening to her present a very skewed view of her life and career. It is interesting to hear her views at that age, but they shouldn't be mistaken for a real, researched biography of the actress. That is yet to be made, and would no doubt be a lot more interesting than hearing a sour Dietrich put down almost everything and everyone she encountered during her long career.
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The problem is with the format
14 April 2020
Warner Brothers had a big hit in 1942 with the uneven but, at its best, sensational biopic of George M. Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy. Thereafter, the big studios kept trying to repeat that success with biopics of other composers of Broadway musicals/operettas. The problem was that the real-life composers in question either had uninteresting, dull lives (Romberg, Kerns) or ones that were too complicated to present to audiences of the times (Gershwin). So, Hollywood was left to virtually invent new lives for these pictures, and the results were generally embarrassing.

That's why I say that the problem with these subsequent biopics was the format. They generally present interesting and enjoyable productions of the composers' best tunes, interspersed with dull and even embarrassing fictionalizations of the composer's life, as is the case with this movie. The studios would have done better to come up with some sort of variety format - the composer looks down from heaven, or dreams of great productions of his music, or something like that - and the idea of the biography scrapped altogether.

I find *Deep in my Heart* to be one of the weakest of the lot. A fair number of the production numbers, though filled with talent, aren't very interesting. The Carnegie Hall concert near the end of the movie is badly overblown. Traubel, a great singer, had no business being given Stout Hearted Men, which is very exciting when sung by a male lead against a men's chorus. Here it gets a very soupy arrangement that almost turns it into a hymn. What a waste of talent.

One note about Taubel. She was a truly great singer of Richard Wagner's very serious operas at the Met. It is therefore a delight to see her in the early part of this movie as a rather ungainly but still very funny comedian. There was clearly a comedian in this woman who had been waiting for decades to come out from under her heavy breastplated Met roles.

Basically, this is a weak movie. But watch the first part for Traubel, and then the rest for the musical numbers. And then go back and watch Yankee Doodle Dandy again and see how this sort of movie should be done.
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The Blue Bird (1940)
A disappointment on so many fronts
12 April 2020
It's hard to understand how a major studio, Fox, with so many resources at its command by 1939-40, including the endless talent of Shirley Temple, could have produced such a lackluster movie, but that's what this is. It is, furthermore, a very blatant - but unsuccessful - attempt to copy The Wizard of Oz.

Where to start?

The Wizard of Oz is remarkable for:

1. It's songs, so many of which became classics, starting with "Somewhere over the rainbow." Blue Bird has few songs, and they are instantly forgettable.

2. Its astounding Technicolor. The color in Blue Bird is really cheap looking.

3. The great performances by a host of supporting actors. The supporting roles in Blue Bird are undistinguished, with a few exceptions, like Gale Sondegaard, who is very good. The actor who has the major role of the dog is completely inadequate to his part, and constantly reminds us of how good Bert Lahr was in basically the same part in Wizard. Ditto the actress who plays light, who makes us regret the far more luminous Billie Burke, her model in Wizard.

4. Its rich and imaginative sets. Too often, the sets in Blue Bird are blatantly copied from Wizard, but always in a less imaginative and rich fashion.

5. The clear distinction between good and evil. The Wicked Witch of the West is an unambiguous character. She is wicked, right? Dorothy is a good kid at heart, without being a goody two-shoes. Things are not so clear in Bird. Shirley Temple's character is selfish throughout almost the entire movie, whereas the Cat, who appears to be the villain, is working with the creatures of the forest to protect them against man's depredations. (Very ecological avant la lettre.) Why are we supposed to be rooting for Shirley Temple against nature?

We tend to forget today that Wizard was NOT a big hit when released in 1939. It evidently lost money. Zanuck, at Fox, clearly limited spending on Bird, and that shows.

There are a few nice moments here, such as when the grandparents come to life only when they are remembered on earth. By and large, however, the movie has nothing of interest, and far too many blatant parallels with Wizard to be viewed as anything other than a disappointment.
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Emma. (2020)
I thought it would never end
13 March 2020
This movie is beautiful to look at. The shots of the English countryside, the beautiful homes, the costumes. Some of the actors are even even easy on the eyes, especially Anya Taylor-Joy, the Emma, who is also a fine actress, and really creates a character.

And then there is the plot, such as it is, and the dialogue, which may come directly from Austin's novel. I don't know. Nor do I care. It's supposed to be clever. To me, it was just flat. Perhaps it was the dialogue itself, perhaps it was the way it was delivered.

Go back and watch the Pride and Prejudice from 1940, with Greer Garson et al., directed by Robert Z. Leonard, with a script by Aldous Huxley. That's brilliant. I've watched it I don't know how many times, and it still holds me.

This movie, on the other hand, had me begging for it to be over. I just did not care about any of the characters. Except the husband of the other daughter, Emma's brother-in-law. He suffered mightily, so I understood him.
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Uneven, but at its best very good
9 March 2020
I found this movie very uneven. Most of it - the relation between the main character, the Harvard law student , and the law professor's daughter - did nothing for me. Ditto the dynamics of the study group of largely unpleasant law students.

In fact, the only part of the movie that held me was the relationship between the law prof, Kingsley, played brilliantly by John Housman, and his students. Kingsley is nasty, yes, but also very demanding. He actually expects his students to show up in class having learned the assigned material. Imagine that! And he expects them to think about it.

What we don't get, unfortunately, is any indication of whether such demanding standards produce better lawyers. That, frankly, would go far to justify Kingsley's classroom behavior. But the movie is so caught up in the romance and the frightening comedy of Kingsley's behavior that it never deals with that.

So, for me, this movie was very much a mixed bag. Some great scenes in class, and then a lot of romantic pablum.
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A misleading title
21 February 2020
This movie's (deserved) lack of success may have started with the title, which is misleading. This is not a movie of Oscar Straus' once very-popular operetta *The Chocolate Soldier*. This is a movie of Ferenz Molnar's play *The Guardsman*, made popular in this country by Lunt and Fontaine on Broadway, with musical interludes taken from Straus' operetta. That's a big difference, and a problem. Stevens and, to a lesser extent, Eddy perform the music nicely. (Stevens really does a great job with some of her numbers.) But they are secondary to the play, which comprises most of the movie. In the play, Eddy does a great job as the Russian, but the rest of it just isn't very good.

So it's no wonder the movie didn't delight audiences.

One of the many mistakes I found in the movie was the opening, a beautifully performance by Stevens of the operetta's big hit, "My Hero", followed by a popular chorus from it. In other words, rather than building to the music American audiences knew and wanted, it is performed immediately. So what's left to wait for?

Stevens was an attractive woman, but in this movie, the camera usually does not flatter her.

This movie isn't painful to watch, but both stars did much better elsewhere.
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The Actress (1953)
Who thought this would make a good movie?
1 February 2020
Who convinced the powers that were that this story would make a good movie? There's certainly nothing wrong with the cast, but the script - the story, the characters, etc. - just aren't interesting. Ruth is self-centered and, at least as played by Simmons, without talent. Her father complains constantly about being poor despite the fact that the family lives in a large house. There isn't much to the mother other than stereotypes.

If you want a movie about an aspiring actress, watch Hepburn in *Morning Glory*. The character of young Ruth Gordon here just isn't sympathetic or interesting. I never cared whether she got to go to New York or not, even though I know the real Ruth Gordon was a fine actress.
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Jojo Rabbit (2019)
How this movie got a nomination for Best Picture baffles me
20 January 2020
How this movie got a nomination for Best Picture baffles me. It's not terrible. There's certainly some imagination to it. But it goes nowhere - except to the obvious ending. Ideas introduced early in the picture, like Jojo being told by his invisible friend to develop the characteristics of the rabbit, never get developed. Sometimes there is comedy of anachronism when we hear modern pop music, like the Beatles, while watching a scene from World War II, but that too goes nowhere. Yes, there's certainly a change in Jojo's views on Hitler and anti-semitism, but they come for obvious reasons.

I found myself wishing it would end long before it did.

According to an article I read before writing this, the director/script writer added a great deal of his own material, including the imaginary friend, to this movie, and cut out most of the second half of the novel on which he based it. I don't expect feature movies to reproduce exactly the works on which they are based, but the radical changes made here from the source may explain why this movie doesn't hold together very well.

Catch this at home on streaming or dvd. I was sorry I went to see it in a theater, where I was stuck just watching it for the whole picture.
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The man who wouldn't die
16 January 2020
You don't have to be a Bolshevik to find that this movie gives an historically unjustified positive view of the Romanov family in the last days of the Russian Empire. I suppose that, in 1932 when this was filmed, MGM wanted to make Communists, who were gaining popularity in Depression-era America, look bad. And that this movie does. But turning Nicholas and Alexandra into intelligent and sympathetic characters wasn't really necessary.

What I found most impressive in this movie was Lionel Barrymore's incarnation of Rasputin. Yes, it's very dramatic, and sometimes melodramatic. But so, evidently, was Rasputin. Barrymore presents him as a thoroughly repulsive creature completely devoid of morals, sometimes to the point of turning your stomach. The scene where he makes advances at one of the young daughters of the imperial couple is so well played that it's very hard to watch: you feel a terrible sense of revulsion at the suggestion of what Rasputin is clearly thinking about doing.

The other scene that impressed me was the last one between Rasputin and the Russian noble played by John Barrymore. The latter definitely goes too far near the end, but Lionel B. is magnificent as the man who would not die.

For me, the movie should have ended with that scene, or very shortly afterward. The rest of the movie is devoted to the final days of the imperial family. It is standard-fare bathetic, meant to evoke a lot of tears, and really takes the movie away from its central core, the power of Rasputin over that family and the government.

MGM clearly spared no expense on this movie. It sometimes goes off the track on "production numbers." But it is certainly worth seeing for Lionel Barrymore's Rasputin.
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