Category Archives: classic movies

Remembering…

My Uncle Ray passed away last week. It was not unexpected, but that does’n’t change anything really. He’s gonna be missed. More than anything (ok, really good food ran a close second), Uncle Ray loved movies.  And I think it’s from him  partly that I learned to love them too.

He loved anecdotes about classic movie actors. He loved really well done movies, but he liked the corny and the campy stuff too. He’d retell the scenes and  his enthusiasm and passion always showed. One of his favorites comes from Tales of Terror. He really loved Peter Lorre. So Uncle Ray, this one’s for you:

A really bad bedside manner

I was battling insomnia last night (would fall asleep, wake up, fall asleep) . I finally gave up the fight and turned on the TV. TVLand has started on the downward slide to mediocrity and now does paid programming in the wee hours so I flipped to TCM which was airing No Sad Songs for Me,

There is Margaret Sullavan at the doctor’s to see if she and Wendell Corey will ever be able to give Natalie Wood a little brother or sister. The doctor (played rather coldly by John McIntire) informs her bluntly that “you will never be able to have any more children.” No explanations, no sympathy, just straight out nope, no kids. ever. End of consultation. She leaves and then after she regains some gumption, goes back up to the office to get some kind of clarification. The receptionist is trying to reach husband Wendell Corey because the doctor wants to speak to him.

After some begging the doctor says “you’re going to die.” Turns out that Mary (Sullavan) has some kind of inoperable cancer. He wasn’t going to tell her, but he was going to call her husband. Made worse is the fact that we learn that the doctor and his wife are good friends of theirs.

Now I realize this is 1950 and an era when it was not considered polite to share the details of your recent colostomy at the dinner table with acquaintances; when cancer wasn’t something you talked about, etc. but already I’m horrified.

Mary decides not to tell her husband and for the rest of the film tries to live her remaining months as best she can. It gets tragic and sad. Corey is finding himself drawn to Viveca Lindfors who works side by side with him at his architectural job site (they’re off in the mountains measuring stuff or something). But that’s not the point.

As the film continues I’m still left floored by the deplorable attitudes and behavior of the doctor. Not only does he lie to the patient initially, but he delivers the false diagnosis with appalling brutality. He’s planning on telling the patient’s husband (without her consent or knowledge) the truth. When pressured, he does tell her the truth, but again with utterly no compassion. She’s the one who asks the questions about treatment and he dismisses them with a wave of the hand.

I thought perhaps it was a conscious choice to help portray Mary as being isolated, but given how the rest of the film proceeds and the depth of Sullavan’s performance, that seems like overkill. Margaret Sullavan did not need help when it came to acting and by the time of this film she had a large body of work to prove that.

What I’m left with is the feeling that the scriptwriter didn’t think there was anything wrong with this kind of doctor/patient interaction or with the violation of the patient’s rights. And that is utterly appalling to me.

Netflix amnesia

I adore Netflix. I really do, but my queue is a million miles long. I’ll be bored one night and I start looking at my friends’ queues or whatever and I add a bunch of stuff. Sometimes I remember why. Many times I don’t. This is a bad bad thing and it’s called Netflix Amnesia. Here is my cautionary tale.

Reap the Wild Wind came in the mail this weekend.

I don’t remember adding this to my queue, but it’s there and in my hands and I really want to veg out in front of the TV. The blurb on the dvd sleeve is not promising. It’s a Cecil B. DeMille picture with John Wayne, Paulette Goddard, Susan Hayward, and Ray Milland . John Wayne is hit or miss for me. I really don’t care for Paulette Goddard, and while I like Susan Hayward and Ray Milland, I can’t see myself adding this film for them either. I should mention that I really have an intense dislike for the films of the late Mr. DeMille.

The credits are rolling and I feel a little bit better. Raymond Massey is in it and also Charles Bickford. Okay. This is why it’s there. I love Charles Bickford, absolutely love him. This makes some sense. I have yet to see a bad performance of his. He was started out as a leading man, but had some injuries and ended up doing character and supporting work. He was superb in Days of Wine and Roses as Lee Remick’s father.

After about five minutes, I’m really doubtful about this movie. Seriously 5 minutes. I hit pause and go check it out on IMDB. User reviews are all pretty much positive. I decide to give it some more time. In retrospect it occurs to me that the reviewers were all clearly high when they posted those.

Okay, so here’s the plot. It’s the 1840s in the Florida keys and ships keep getting cracked up on the reefs. There are a bunch of salvage operations. Paulette Goddard’s family owns one. Miss Goddard evidently saw this as her chance to play Scarlett O’Hara (and omg, are we lucky she missed out on that part). So we have a poor man’s Scarlett O’Hara in Florida. Raymond Massey and his brother Robert Preston also run a salvage operation, but they are bad, bad men. Evidently what they do is actually wreck the ships rather than wait for it to happen accidentally. Susan Hayward is Paulette’s girly cousin who’s sneaking out on the sly to make out with Preston. Enter John Wayne as a sea captain. Paulette and he hook up and she’s all about him. Wayne wants to be the captain of a steam operated ship more than anything. So Paulette goes off to Charleston to stay with her Aunt Hedda Hopper (yes, she acted too). She starts making time with the foppish Ray Milland who works at the same shipping company; he also has some pull with which captain gets assigned to which ship. Milland’s character has a lap dog and he does really bad ventrioloquism act with it.

Yes, you read that right.

The guy who owns the shipping company is understandably annoyed that none of his ships are making it to port. He sends Milland and the lap dog off to the Keys to put a stop to Raymond Massey and his crew. There’s also some stuff about the triangle between Goddard, Milland, and Wayne.

It gets worse from there and way more plot intensive. John Wayne strays down the primrose path to hell. Susan Hayward picks the wrong ship to go see Robert Preston on. Paulette Goddard overacts wildly. By this point, I’m invested in seeing if it can get any worse. Charles Bickford does show up and is very good for his 7 minutes of screen time.

And then it happens. There is a giant squid. Yes, that’s right a giant squid. Ray Milland and John Wayne must dive down to the wreck to see if they can find Susan Hayward’s body so that Raymond Massey can pay for his crimes. Paulette Goddard’s heart (and body) are kind of on the line too. So they go down there and there it is. A giant squid.

A giant squid. Stunned disbelief takes over at this point. I can’t look away. I mean, how can you? Will John Wayne let Ray Milland be eaten by the giant squid so he can get Paulette Goddard to himself? Will he redeem his damaged character by saving Ray Milland? And it’s a giant squid.

John Wayne battles giant squid. Bad bad thing.

Netflix amnesia should be avoided. Don’t let this happen to you.

Whatever happened to that cute kid from the movies?

I was at home early yesterday waiting for the cable company to come and install my high speed connection. TCM aired a Private Screenings interview with Dickie Moore, Margaret O’Brien, Darryl Hickman, and Jane Withers.

The Private Screenings usually make for an entertaining and informative program; this was no exception. Moore, O’Brien, Withers, and Hickman were child actors from the 30s and 40s with an impressive number of credits to each of their names. The first three were bonafide stars in their own right, but even Hickman had some great roles. Like a lot of child actors, they struggled with adolescence and adulthood.

Some of them had horribly spotty education. All of them felt like they missed out on a childhood. Both O’Brien and Withers evidently had a bit of an easier time in that they both wanted to act and had supportive parents who helped with the transition. That said, what kind of a life is that for a kid? And how much of it is fulfilling their parents dreams? I’m actually reminded of someone from the reality show, Showbiz Moms and Dads (I watch crap, deal with it). There was a little girl about 5 or 6 who was doing beauty pageants galore. The mother and grandmother kept insisting it was because the child wanted to do it. But honestly, does the kid want to do it? How much of her saying yes, it’s okay is because she wants to please her mom.

At one point, Darryl Hickman related an anecdote. As an adult he asked his mother why she’d had him doing the acting. She replied “well you always wanted to do it.” He laughed. She didn’t. As he went on to say: what three-year old decides to go on auditions and find themselves an agent?

Says a lot, doesn’t it?

Wonderfully miscast soaper

So I had recorded Not as a Stranger under the mistaken idea that it was a thriller. Last time I rely on the TCM schedule for a film description: ” A medical student will stop at nothing to become a top surgeon.”

Robert Mitchum is a medical student– poor medical student (Lon Chaney, Jr. has a cameo as his drunken father). His best friend, privileged rich kid, Frank Sinatra, is in med school because it’s expected of him and also for the cash. So’s Lee Marvin. Yeah, that’s right. Lee Marvin. Broderick Crawford and Whit Bissell are profs. It’s a strange strange class. And the writer at TCM had the same thought. Last time I saw Whit Bissell and Lee Marvin together was in the godawful, but oddly engrossing Shack Out on 101.

After Dad drinks up Mitchum’s tuition money, he looks to alternative sources. While dropping out for a semester (Broderick Crawford’s suggestion) and getting a job to get the money is too heinous to be considered, marrying Swedish nurse Olivia de Havilland for her money is not. That’s okay. Sure, Mitchum doesn’t love her. Sure he looks down on her, even though she seems to be a very competent nurse. Sure she has goofy relatives–okay that I buy–Harry Morgan (Colonel Potter of M*A*S*H) playing a Swede would turn me off too. But hey, Mitchum was meant to be a doctor.

And he becomes a doctor. He heads out for one of those small towns that manages to appear to be a small city (gotta love Hollywood) where he works under crusty Charles Bickford’s supervision. Okay, I love Charles Bickford. It was worth sitting through the first half of the movie just to see him do his stuff. He’s working round the clock, helping people, being the noble doctor, pretending to love his long-suffering wife, when into his life slinks Gloria Grahame; she takes one look at hunky Mitchum and makes the expected play for him.

You can see why I thought this was a thriller with noirish influences (Mitchum, Grahame, Bickford, Sinatra). This was Stanley Kramer’s first directorial effort. I’m not sure who did the casting, but evidently they were either insane or intoxicated. It’s an odd, odd, mess of a film. Unless you have a burning desire to see Olivia de Havilland and Harry Morgan as Swedes, I’d suggest giving this one a miss.

Baby Face

TCM was airing a pre-code gem the other night: Baby Face. Barbara Stanwyck plays Lilly, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who will do anything to get on the right side of the tracks. In true, pre-code fashion, it is made explicitly clear that she sleeps her way to the top of an office building–literally. It’s a hoot to watch. George Brent plays the male protagonist and is well, George Brent. Early George Brent. I think he became more memorable as he aged and started playing more character roles. Here he’s totally outmatched by Stanwyck.

One thing I really love about this film is how very unrepentant Lilly is. She doesn’t give two hoots about any of the men she uses or what befalls her. She is loyal to her friend (played ably by in Theresa Harris). There’s a tacked-on ending that reportedly was added to shut up the Hayes Office (the Production Code given teeth by then and 1934 was the start of the new regime’s reign of terror er…power), but it doesn’t negate the rest of the film’s impact.

The accidental touch of the remote

I hit the wrong channel button on my remote last night and tumbled onto the most haunting, emotionally wrenching film I have ever seen in my life.

Grave of the Fireflies is from Studio Ghibli, the same studio that made Spirited Away (another amazing film). It’s directed by Isao Takahata who I just realized was the director on Only Yesterday, which I also loved.

Grave of the Fireflies is set in Japan during World War II. It’s about the increasingly doomed attempts of 14-year-old Seita and his little 4-year-old sister Setsuko to survive. It’s also about how a surfeit of pride and what the horrors of war can do to civilians.

It is undoubtedly one of the best if not the best animated film I’ve ever seen and I don’t know that I have ever been so moved by a movie–live action or animated–in my entire life…

Tough guys

Amazon had a special on Born to Kill so I broke down and bought it. Lawrence Tierney is a psychotic tough guy who ends up killing his girlfriend and the guy she was stepping out with. Claire Trevor plays a newly minted divorcee who happens to be boarding at the house in Reno where the aforementioned victims buy it. We know she’s morally ambiguous because she can’t be bothered to report finding the bodies (she has a train to catch on her way back to hook Wealthy Husband #2). Tierney and Trevor meet and there’s an instant and fatal attraction. Add in Trevor’s wealthy sister Audrey Long and you have the makings of a nice little noir.

The DVD transfer is quite nice. The only extra of note is the commentary track, which turned out to be well worth my time. Generally speaking I haven’t enjoyed the commentaries on classic films. Either the principal actors are dead or they can’t really remember all the details. Usually, they get some film historian and the results are dull. Not so with this one. First of all, the expert, a man named Eddie Muller knows his stuff. Secondly, he’s got some great stories about his experiences with Tierney–an actor who was as tough off screen as the men he portrayed on screen.

Also finally had the chance to see all of Written on the Wind. I have seen the last half of it about a dozen times. It’s one of Douglas Sirk’s best films. Very melodramatic, but so worth watching. Based loosely on the Reynolds/Libby Holman scandal, it’s about two rather damaged wealthy siblings (Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone) and the people they love (Lauren Bacall and Rock Hudson).

Robert Stack has money to burn and falls quickly for Lauren Bacall, who falls quickly for him. He drinks an awful lot, but goes on the wagon because he’s so happy. Of course, that can’t last (or we’d have no picture). Meanwhile, Malone is running around wild, but what she really really wants is Rock Hudson, who in turn wants Lauren Bacall. It all goes sour very quickly and there’s lots and lots of drama. I have to say Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone steal the film. I’ve never been terribly impressed with Stack’s acting; normally for me it falls into the category of “pleasant.” Here, though, he portrays a positively tortured man in a rather believable manner. And Malone is just fun. She won an Oscar for her role and it was well deserved.

Collection Development Goes to the Movies

You know you’re a librarian when you’re watching Return to Peyton Place and spend your time thinking about its connection to collection development. Allison Mackenzie, the heroine of Peyton Place (albeit played by another actress–practically all the roles were recast), has written a tell-all potboiler about her not-so-innocent home town. Her stepfather happens to be the principal at the local high school. And he decides “wow, what a fine work of literature! Let’s buy it for the high school library!” Unfortunately for the principal, the amazing and underrated Mary Astor happens to think the book is smut and vigorously campaigns to have it banned. So now Carol Lynley (Allison MacKenzie) and Jeff Chandler (Allison’s publisher) have to defend the book. There are all sorts of trashy subplots (Mary Astor totally rocks) and for a sequel, the film is kind of fun.

But I digress. Not that you expect the fine folks in Hollywood to care about the accurate portrayal of librarians–remember Mary’s “fate worse than death” in It’s a Wonderful Life?, but why exactly is the high school principal doing selection? Does he do this for all the books? Am I seriously supposed to believe that in addition to his administrative duties and smooching with Eleanor Parker he spends his time building up the library collection? Do they not have a school library media specialist in Peyton Place? They have a fancy dress shop. They’ve got about 4 churches. They also have some kind of mill or factory, alcoholics, venereal disease-ridden whackos, a number of folks from the wrong side of the tracks, and some really, really messed-up citizenry. But no librarian.

They also have no collection development policy. The principal has nothing with which to back up his purchase except righteous indignation and the fact that he’s married to the author’s mother.

So I tried explaining to my friend who was watching this dreck with me that all of this could have been prevented or mitigated with a good collection development policy.

My friend didn’t get it. In fact, the reaction was pretty much identical to the one I got when I denounced the behavior and skill level of the archivist character in Attack of the Clones. “It’s only a movie,” is what I was told…

Interesting little film

I happened on Killer’s Kiss this weekend. It’s a very early Stanley Kubrick film, very much in the film noir school. I didn’t recognize anyone in the cast, but in a way it made it a more interesting film–no screen personae to get in the way. Boxer who’s past his prime gets involved with a dance hall “hostess.” Unfortunately, her boss (who according to IMDB was African American and who sounds like he had an interesting career) has a thing for her and doesn’t take too well to being pushed aside. Can’t say I’m the biggest Kubrick fan, but I liked this a lot. Really interesting direction.