A Patch of Blue (1965)

I hope my analogy does not get misconstrued, but A Patch of Blue plays like a sublime fairy tale. It’s set in New York, a city that often feels as much of a visual fabrication made out of magic and myth as it is a real place anchored in time and space. Here is the very same world that exists in the Breakfast at Tiffany’s or other such pictures.

Shelley Winters is at her nastiest and most acerbic as a street tramp Rose-Ann. An evil “stepmother” if you will, because she and her daughter are on a first-name basis. Aside from that, you’d hardly realize they’re kith and kin. Because you see our cinematic cinderella, Selina D’Arcey (Elizabeth Hartman), is blind thanks to a violent altercation in her childhood and is now resigned to spending most of their time locked up in the shabby apartment.

Wallace Ford, bless his soul, is Ole Pal and though his heart might be in the right place, he’s not much used to the world because he spends most of his waking days home from work griping at the insufferable Rose-Ann or going out on the town to get royally plastered. 

When Selina’s not slaving away at chores, she’s stringing beads together for mere pennies. Otherwise, she’s considered useless. She’s blind after all. It’s hardly a life at all. At least, that’s what the world around her seems to suggest and any minor pleasure like an afternoon in the park feels more precious to her than gold. 

It’s in this said park where she first meets Gordon Ralfe (Sidney Poitier). If we wished to describe him, you could highlight any number of salient characteristics. He’s tall, handsome, and intelligent. He works the night shift and he has a brother (Ivan Dixon) who’s training to be a doctor. He’s also black…

But Selina cannot recognize or know any of this during their first encounter. Instead, she learns about him through his actions and words. Rather than being an impediment to their connection, somehow it provides the most sincere indications of human affection. She finds him to be kind and patient in a manner she has rarely experienced.

In this first encounter, she’s dumped her precious beads all over. She can’t possibly gather them together again and so we have an effortless meet-cute. For all we know, Gordon appears at her tree, but whatever the means — fate or happenstance — the film is never the same again. The metaphor of this movie is evident even for those who’ve never seen it. The cliche that “love is blind” is made quite literal because, for young Selina, that’s what happens. She falls in love for the first time. 

Guy Green does not employ altogether flashy filmmaking notwithstanding some fitting match cuts, but this leaves ample space for his narrative focal points. There’s something undeniable blooming between Hartman and Poitier making this movie a tender slice of romance brimming with sincerity. 

Poitier empowers her in a way no one has bothered to before, and it’s an awakening of the world around her even as her sense remain attuned to everything. Though Poitier isn’t necessarily stretched beyond his limits — he’s perfectly at ease being a benevolent guide — his customary affability and charm feel infallible at this point. 

True to form, he comes back in subsequent days to check in on Selina, providing her sunglasses to cover the scars on her face. Another day he offers her a can of pineapple juice, which she takes with relish. He broadens her horizons further by traveling together on the crosswalk for pastrami at the local delicatessen and then to pick up his groceries.

To us, these seem like mundane tasks, and yet for Selina, these are such generous acts because someone has taken the time for her. And though she is mostly unawares, there is a sense that in 1965, just there being together, existing in the world, and taking part in life together, is a meaningful act of solidarity if not total rebellion against prejudicial behavior. At its most fundamental level, it courts these ongoing themes of friendship and tolerance.

 Most importantly, it is Gordon who rescues her from the pit of despair and the vengeful jowls of Rose-Ann once and for all. Remember, it is a fairy tale — Poitier acts as the fairy godmother whose job never has enough contours for us to really know what he does; he appears when he is needed most. His performance is matched by the agreeable whimsy of Jerry Goldsmith’s score dancing softly in the background. It can end no other way even as this adolescent girl’s life still hangs in the air partially unresolved. 

Although the words have been echoed many a time, it does seem like Selina comprehends Dr. King’s incomparable words in their totality. Because in her mind’s eye and in their day-to-day actions, she has no difficulty judging Gordon, not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.

It’s another sentimental picture and you can rail against it, although I’m predisposed to enjoy its quiet bounties. Even compared to a more high-profile option like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, there’s something unostentatious and rather attractive about this movie. It has Poitier’s sense of decency and there’s a message of tolerance, but the scale feels wonderfully mundane. So, perhaps it’s a realist fairytale. 

4/5 Stars

Our Daily Bread (1934) in The Age of FDR

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The title, of course, comes from the Lord’s Prayer evoking images of contrite men and women thankful for the bounties they’re provided on God’s green earth. Director King Vidor took an immediate interest in the project because it was a timely piece in the age of FDR’s public work programs about individual humans looking for ways to eke out an honest living.

Our Daily Bread is based on one such project with a host of men utilizing some vacant, barren land for sustenance. There is a sense the topic was too down to earth for a big studio — at least in the midst of the depression — so Vidor took on the expenses himself because he felt strongly enough about the material.

It’s a  story of hope burgeoning out of the pits of the depression. This is the key. We are used to stories of degradation and hardship in the throes of the 1930s because this was human reality. But King Vidor promotes a story that while acknowledging the headlines, hones in on a nugget of encouragement — a reminder of the indefatigable flame of the human spirit.

John and Mary Sims (Tom Keene and Karen Morley) are like so many other folks, they’re falling behind on rent, work is scarce, and they barely survive by hocking their possessions.

It might be easy to forget that the names of our two protagonists in this picture are plucked out of The Crowd — King Vidor’s magnum opus about the American way of life. The fact that two new actors don the roles feels mostly inconsequential because they are only symbols of the human experience — stand-ins for us all — and thus anyone who is genuine and honest is fit to play them. Surely we can relate.

It’s true Tom Keene and Karen Morley are not altogether well-remembered today. They aren’t electric talents, but she is wholesome (consider this interview), and he is exuberant bursting with new ideas. They set up camp in the dilapidated home on the fallow ground armed with their eagerness. By itself, it seems foolhardy.

However, John is soon joined by a passerby — a Swedish farmer (John Qualen) who knows how to raise crops and more men soon follow from all sorts of trades and backgrounds. They too want a second chance and an opportunity to prove their usefulness.

Although a stirring speech about John Smith and the Mayflower doesn’t play as compelling now, nevertheless, their de facto leader urges them to help themselves by helping others, and they need no further encouragement.

In the ensuing days, the able-bodied men hitch plows up to every conceivable contraption imaginable as they get to work. They become a bustling colony of industry made up of idyllic shanty houses. Best of all, they’re in it together.

As they gain traction, the movie is pregnant with these heart-rendering vignettes leaping to mind one after another. Upon the first sign of a harvest, they celebrate with hands raised aloft and knees bowed as the preacher among them thanks the good Lord for this bounty.

Then, the most formidable and brusque member of the commune — a wanted criminal, nevertheless is beholden to a higher form of justice, sticking out for his fellow man. He goes so far as to turn himself in so the reward money can be used to stock up on much-needed provisions until the first crop can be harvested. He’s yet another noble man who has the good of the whole in mind.

If it’s not apparent already, Our Daily Bread blends its religious sentiment with deeply socialist themes. It was, after all, the age of FDR’s New Deal sentiment effectively retrofitting how American society operated and was perceived. Still, Vidor utilizes an ongoing visual methodology Eisenstein might have appreciated. By 1950, a film as blatant as Our Daily Bread would have probably been excised from the cultural conversation.

However, although the socialist proclivities are quite apparent, for me, it’s never a political film, nor does it bludgeon us over the head with the idealogy completely. It’s very much an exercise in promoting this same dogma of the group over a single individual.

Because the story starts out with a couple — we can relate with them and appreciate them — but even as they pool together into this cooperative community, they only become two elements in a broader social amoeba. This hardly seems like an accident, especially as the narrative progresses.

If there are seasons of rejoicing and dance, then there must also be tribulation. Such is life. Tom’s indomitable vision is ultimately soured by drought and the temptation of another woman.

When Barbara Peppers shows up in the rain — we’re wary of her — what purpose could she possibly serve? With her batting eyes and saucy come-on attitude, she becomes a new love interest. And the cinema archetypes suggest Mary in all her devotedness doesn’t stand a chance. Surely, Vidor and his audience have seen Sunrise. I for one took a deepening relish in Peppers part due to her later credit as Doris Ziffel in Green Acres. She’s well nigh unrecognizable as a slender teenager, but if nothing else, it feels like an unknowing if uncanny parallel.

Vidor’s greatest triumph comes in the finale. The men band together to create irrigation to salvage their perishing corn crop before it’s too late. We have this heave-ho as rows of men pickaxe their way in unison, lumbering along to remove all the boulders from their path. They’re like a machine of manpower.

If the Grapes of Wrath is about the unstoppable tractors rolling over the land and taking it over, then these moments feel like a counterargument of frenetic human industry and solidarity. It’s not that there’s a lack of reliance on tools and the like. It only works when the humans who are behind them — living and breathing — are working together and building up a head of steam.

As they forge onward with their work night and day — everyone doing their part and investing wholeheartedly in this group utility — you see the message once more in stark relief. They are cheered onto the finish line by the women and children — their crops in sight and the goal on hand.

What an earnest climax it is! Swelling with angel song, everyone jumping with joy, doing black flips in the muddied ground. And as we watch them wading around in the mud, we know it is a signifier of life and a renewed future.

Here Our Daily Bread ceases to be a mere articulation or mimesis of the struggle to cow the depression. It’s a full-fledged metaphor for the enduring fortitude of the American spirit. Whether or not it’s a myth, King Vidor makes us want to believe in it all the more fervently. Likewise, the swelling angel songs might be too much for some — if you don’t believe in Providence. For these folks, Providence goes hand in hand with hard work.  And that flow of living water, notwithstanding the spiritual undertones, represents their daily bread.

4/5 Stars

Street Scene (1931): King Vidor and Sylvia Sidney

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Film at its finest is able to use images to leave an indelible impression on an audience. King Vidor’s Street Scene opens with a telling montage. Kids being sprayed by a hose in a street. A slab of ice being carried off by a worker. A man swatting gnats away from his horse. A dog sprawled out on the pavement. There’s more, but we already get the idea: it’s a blisteringly hot day in a New York neighborhood.

The foreknowledge that this is a stage-bound studio street corner makes the “scene” no less engaging. There would be later pictures to channel the same intimacy and sense of a world — some of the Warner Bros. Cagney pictures or Dead End spring to mind. However, here we also get a sense of a myriad of voices — even immigrant stories — and plenty of people chewing the fat all across the city.

While it’s faux reality, it does feel like a wonderful piece of world-building. We get to know the whole row of people for minutes at a time. What Vidor has done is pluck out a moment in time for us to just sit in and relish. People shuffle by in and out of frame, down the sidewalk, poking heads out of second-story windows, or lounging on the front steps.

Beulah Bondi, in her debut (God bless her soul), is one of the first we get to know. When she’s not out walking her dog or bemoaning the weather, she’s gossipin’ about other folks. Namely, Mrs. Marraunt (Estelle Taylor), who is rumored to have a male suitor. She’s married of course. The busybodies love to titter on about this juicy piece of scandal. They fail to recognize how lonely she is with a husband (David Landau) who is totally absent from her life.

Sylvia Sidney doesn’t show up until 20 minutes into the movie although she could be considered the star of the picture. Recently, she’s been accompanying a local boss (Walter Miller) who has the hots for her. It’s possible he can get her out of her humble community. It’s not the nicest place. Her father is the same absent, aloof breadwinner and her mother is constantly agitated and beside herself with nerves. Their home life is hardly stable, and it’s quite public given the close-knit existence with folks window to window in the tenement.

In one of the intermittent visual montages, Vidor captures daily life in the community adding some lovely touches you couldn’t get any other way. With the very focused framework of this individual housing complex, the story builds out from here, layering in the moments on top of one another.

When Sidney asks her Jewish neighbor and childhood friend Sam (William Collier Jr.) how you’re supposed to act in the synagogue — she has a funeral to go to — the very pointed question feels genuine.  She’s hardly interrogating him. Instead, she’s curious and surprised he has no spiritual beliefs.

All his knowledge and truth come out of the many books he consumes. She holds the sentiment “You gotta believe in something to be a little happy.” We hear little more about such matters but the hope might as well color her entire outlook on life even in the midst of tragedy. Their Romeo and Juliet friendship feels like a minor caveat underlying entirely different familial issues.

In one particular scene, Vidor instantly mobilizes what feels like the whole mass of humanity to overwhelm the movie. At its apex, New York comes alive. In fact, a moment must be taken to make a stunning acknowledgment. There’s an uncanny resemblance to Spike Lee’s incisive tour de force Do The Right Thing.

Surely as such a prominent cinephile, Spike Lee has seen the picture or somehow imbibed it. The cursory similarities begin with the heatwave and the cross-section of humanity, and then come down to the same inherent eye for human drama as well as intercultural relationships. Both directors feel fully engaged even immersed in their worlds.

For his part, King Vidor intuitively understands the material coaxing a great deal more depth out of it than what initially meets the eye. Part of what differentiates this picture is its lead. Sidney is the picture of stoic beauty going on bravely in the face of unimaginable tragedy. There’s a strength and assurance present in her being but also a quiet dignity. We watch her actions and responses and each and everyone feels enriched with candor.

It’s the contemporary world distilled into a moment — the street bustling with people of all sorts of backgrounds, beliefs, and fears. The picture is 90 years old, and yet I look at it rather incredulously. Not because of what doesn’t translate, but because so much still resonates within its frames.

There are gossips, lonely people, bullies, and young dreamers trying to figure out what to do with their lives. The world is still made up of all sorts, and when we’re thrown together, we very rarely agree. We have to learn how to live with one another each and every day. Sometimes we fail miserably.

In its closing moments, the world returns to the same shorthand of children playing in the street. Sidney walks off determined to move forward with her life by getting away from the street that has represented her entire existence thus far.

At the same time, it has so many memories attached to it and also instigated the greatest traumas she’s ever had to endure. For such a short, stagy endeavor, Street Scene is deceptively rendered. Vidor somehow makes it chockful of what can only be described as human pathos. From the days of The Crowd, he still gets it and puts it to good use. Sidney does the rest.

Alfred Newman’s theme would take on a life of its own as a motif recurring again and again in numerous of the studio’s movies.  Here it plays almost as ironic counterpoint. A straightforward score would have brimmed with some kind of dramatic crescendo. Newman’s work, which I have heard referred to as Gershwinesque, is far more playful. I would stop short of saying it’s unfitting. More so, it accentuates a different kind of tone altogether.

3.5/5 Stars

Casablanca (1942): 75th Anniversary Review

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When someone inquires if I consider Casablanca one of my favorite movies, I don’t quite know how to respond. Yes, I do love this film passionately but I feel as if Casablanca is more deeply America’s favorite classic movie. It is not for me to call my own and I will gladly share a joint appreciation for it. Because it’s a film for all of us. As it should be. It’s the perfect articulation and expression of that former Hollywood that existed during the studio age as brought to us by Michael Curtiz.

When we are finally allowed to enter into Rick’s Cafe Americain, it almost feels like hallowed ground. It’s a mythical place that never existed in reality and yet feels so immersive to us as an audience. Curtiz moves through the space with such intent that it makes us completely involved with every person his camera settles on. This is a picture for romantics and sentimentalists to be sure but it caters to those with a cynical edge too. It suggests a deceitful world of pickpockets, unscrupulous officials, and of course, Nazis.

The political tides of the times are reflected in that cinematic bastion of a man Rick Blaine (Bogart). His foreign policy is that he sticks his neck out for no one. But that’s only on the surface. That’s the beauty of the character. There’s a sensitivity and a sacrificial nature that wells up deep inside him, hidden from view. Tortured and embittered as he is, that is not the last word.

There’s also an undeniable undercurrent to the film. Yes, this is not reality. As enveloping as it is, this is wholly a Warner Bros. aesthetic but moreover there’s a sense that the emotions that deluge over Casablanca are very real.

Aside from Bogart and the lovely, incomparable Ingrid Bergman, our cast is made up of a plethora of emigres, men and women, who fled the Nazis for this reason or that. Whether they were Jewish or had different political affiliations or just couldn’t bear to live under such an oppressive regime.

Director Michael Curtiz was originally from Hungary and in him, we find someone who totally understood the plight of those fleeing and the context of the moment where Casablanca was only a pitstop for America. Because take the picture out of its context and something would be lost. Firmly plant it in the era and you have blessed the production with something enduringly special.

Furthermore, in the scene where Lazlo (Paul Henreid) calls on the band to play “La Marseillaise” to drown out the German’s proud merrimaking it ceases to be a mere scene in a film but becomes an event that swells with real emotions. You can see it in the very body language, the tears in the eyes, and the fervor that comes over everyone. Madeleine Lebeau (the film’s last surviving cast member who passed away last year) singing defiantly, with the tears freely flowing. No longer acting but pure feelings incarnate.

When so many other minority characters make me cringe in pictures of the 30s and 40s, Sam, the piano man (Dooley Wilson), remarkably rarely does. That’s because he’s endowed with a certain autonomy attributed to him in part by Blaine. They are partners, friends, and they watch out for each other.

His singing holds the love story together. Like many of the film’s greatest faces, he’s not a mere sideshow attraction. There’s a necessity to his characterization that adds another dimension to the world that has been conjured up on the Warner Bros. lot. What would Casablanca be without Dooley Wilson, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, S. Z. Sazall, Curt Bois, Leonid Kinskey, Marcel Dalio, John Qualen, etc.? It would lose so much color — so much definition.

Another joy of the picture after you see it too many times to count is the continued relish of the script, waiting for your favorite lines only to be taken with new quips that you never picked up on before. For me, most lines of this nature come from the wonderfully amoral and yet completely personable Captain Renault (Claude Rains). But there’s also so much going on around the edges of the frame. One of my favorites involves the young woman who fled from Bulgaria with her husband. The young lady is played by Jack Warner’s step-daughter Joy Page.

Here we see a relationship that mirrors that of Rick and Elsa in a way that only becomes apparent later on. Because she is a woman desperate to get to America with her impoverished husband. He is trying to win money gambling but it’s a desperate even futile situation.

She loves him so much, she is willing to try and use her own beauty and the influence of another man, Inspector Renault to help the man she truly loves. There’s so much subtext to the scene written with the production codes in mind and the sincerity is immediately evident even if some of the import can be lost on us. The same can be said for the foreshadowing.

Part of what makes the picture’s final act work is the fact that Lazlo is such a decent human being. He loves his wife so much, he’s willing to have Blaine take her to safety by using the Letters of Transit if need be. Thus, this dichotomy is set up and Rick must make a decision. He must do the thinking for both of them but that request from Lazlo saves Rick’s reputation no matter the decision that he makes. We know that either might be right. Even though deep in our hearts, there’s only one denouement we want.

Did I even need to write this review? Certainly not but it’s more for my sake than anyone else’s. Casablanca is a dear friend of mine and after 75 years it still comes up smelling like roses. Its themes are timeless in the sense that it allows romance to be its guiding light while still tempering it with the disillusionment and licentiousness that often is so prevalent in this world of ours. That makes its bittersweet interludes ring with a certain deep-seated truth that never comes off as fake. It’s as evocative and witty now as it was in 1942. Perhaps even more so.

5/5 Stars

Review: The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Grapes_of_Wrath,_The_-_(Original_Trailer)_-_01The Grapes of Wrath is in special company with a number of literary adaptations where film and source material are both so highly regarded and culturally significant. A few other names spring to mind such as Gone with the Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

However, even more so than all of those stories John Steinbeck’s novel of exodus during the Dust Bowl has a universal ring reverberating for the common man. The Joads are a humble, simplistic Oklahoma clan, but they are only one family out of many who are forced to make the migration out to California. The Dust Bowl and big business push them off their homes and their only hope is the distant promise land of California. They cling to that hope which keeps them going resolutely onward toward the Orange Groves.

Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) who has just gotten out on parole is the figure from which we see the story through. He’s the focal point certainly, but he is defined by all those around him. Ma Joad (Jane Darwell) is the rock of the family, keeping them together, civil, and spirited even when the worst hardships of life hit.

Grandpa dies on the land that he called home. Grandma dies without the company of her lifelong partner. Rosasharn’s husband cuts out when prospects look bad. The family is slowly drained of money, food, gasoline, and hope when they see that the prospects in California are far from good. The book has so much to say politically and socially, using the Joads as a universal parable to reflect the reality of a great many people.

Obviously, John Ford’s film cannot contain all the exposition and commentary of the novel, but he uses the visual medium brilliantly and the Nunnally Johnson’s script fills the screen with all sorts of folks. There are no true villains and the only heroes are those who maintain their humanity and treat others well on a day to day basis. Ma Joad is one, offering food to starving children because it’s the right thing to do. A roadside waitress comes off brusque at first before extending a true act of kindness. You have the genial caretaker (Grant Mitchell) of the Wheat Patch Camp, who is angelic in comparison to so many of the other gruff people the Joads come in contact with.

There’s the scum of the earth. People just doing what they’re told, men just worried about profit, and crooked cops looking to run Okies out. There are those who just grin and bear it to feed their families. They’re part of the problem too and finally, you have Jim Casy and then Tom following in his footsteps.

Former preacher Jim Casy (John Carradine) is a critical figure because he, like so many of the other characters, has lost himself and yet over the course of the film he finds his purpose again. He’s the film’s Christ-like figure (with the initials JC), and yet he seems counter-intuitive to what we expect. But he has the most important things down. He fights for justice and lays down his life for his friends.

Rather like an extensive Dorothea Lange exhibition, cinematographer Gregg Toland shoots the film in beautifully austere and gritty black and white, which feels like a test run for Citizen Kane. However, it remains iconic in its own right with the ways in which it makes the plain, simple, and ordinary cinematic. It’s truly a visual snapshot of Americana with Henry Fonda as our All-American poster boy.

Speaking of Fonda, how could I have lost sight of his character here? Fonda in many ways synonymous with Tom Joad, and I always equate him being a kindly, true blue American. But that’s only part of him. That’s how he acts around his family, but he’s a young man disillusioned by the world. He speaks his mind and is not opposed to fighting back against the injustice. Because that’s what he sees around him. That’s why he kills the man who beats Casy and that’s why he goes out on the road; to be a champion of justice where there isn’t any. It’s an ending more suited for Hollywood at the time than Steinbeck’s original denouement, but it no less poignant or powerful. It doesn’t just stop with the Depression, but it ends up being a whole lot bigger and more universal than that. This is one of the great tales about the human condition, courtesy of one of America’s greatest directors starring one of America’s most legendary actors.

4.5/5 Stars

“I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build, I’ll be there, too.” – Tom Joad

Review: His Girl Friday (1940)

25148-hisgirl1It all happened in the “Dark Ages” of the newspaper game — When to a reporter “Getting that story” justified anything short of murder. Incidentally you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press of today.”

Hildy Johnson (aka His Girl Friday) is making her return to the Morning Post but not to get her old job back. She came to pay a visit to her former husband (and paper editor) who she divorced because she is newly engaged and wants to break everything off for good. It means she can go off into the sunset with her new beau, but it also means no more paper. She drops the news and it turns out the wedding is set for the next day so Walter has very little time to go to work. He soon begins a sly barrage of subtle and not so subtle jabs, ridicules, and put downs aimed at the easy target Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). Walter cuts him off, plays dumb, and is in general condescending and conniving. Hildy sees it all unfolding and half watches with bemusement, while also trying to stop Walter from causing any major trouble.

You see he’s a wonderful fellow in a loathsome sort of way, but you cannot help but like him. Because as Hildy notes he comes by charm naturally since “his grandfather was a snake.” These are the kinds of barbs and witty put downs we deal with the entire film. Besides being good fun, it also is quite extraordinary, since they never stop coming. It’s also fascinating to simply watch the many expressions of Cary Grant, whether it is a smirk or straight face, it always has a tinge of mischief which suits his character just fine. He seems more like a little boy at times, trying to win back his girl, and in many ways, that’s what he’s trying to do. But back to the action.

Hildy unwittingly falls into Walter’s trap, and from that point on there’s no stopping her, or Walter’s scheme for that matter. When the wheels of journalism start turning there’s no stopping someone like Hildy with newsprint in her blood. Walter lets her catch wind of a man who pleads innocence though he is to be hung for shooting a black policeman. Hildy puts up a fight, but she doesn’t last very long.

Soon she’s gotten into talk to the nervous prisoner Earl and gets his point of view on the whole messy ordeal. The other newsboys are callous to the world, and as the gallows goes up outside their window, all they can do is play cards and think about the best scoop. Hildy is a little different but she’s still leaving…or is she?

Next, Williams escapes and the mad search for the fugitive is on as the newsroom goes into an uproar. The mayor and sheriff are in a tizzy and then a reprieve for Williams comes, but they ignore it because they need this hanging in order to get re-elected. By a stroke of luck, Hildy finds Williams and stashes him away in a desk. Now she is hooked, and when Walter hears about her stroke of luck, everything begins again like old times. Bruce and his mother are soon disregarded as Hildy types feverishly, and Walter wheels and deals on the telephone. Then, the sheriff and mayor burst in with the rest of the boys. Williams’ hiding place is uncovered and the two reconciled lovebirds look like they might wind up with a jail sentence. But the honorable air-head Mr. Pettibone saves the day. All that’s left to do is depart on a two-week honeymoon to Niagara Falls or maybe a workers riot in Albany. All is right with the world again. Walter’s got His Girl Friday, and she’s got her lovable wiseguy husband back.

I’m not quite sure why I am so often drawn to this movie because it is more than it being readily available in the public domain. The dynamic of Grant and Russell is certainly superb. Walter can be an absolute cad, but Grant’s charm makes him bearable to the end. Russell is the true star of this film and she deals the punches with the rest of the boys. It really is the perfect role for her. The film is blessed with the great supporting cast including Porter Hall, Roscoe Karns, Gene Lockhart, Billy Gilbert and a host of others who populate the film with colorful faces and voices.

After seeing Nothing Sacred (1937) it was also interesting to see another script from Ben Hecht about journalism. Again, it might be a screwball comedy but there are also political undertones. Most blatantly about journalism itself, but also about corrupt leaders (like the mayor and sheriff), the Red Scare, gender roles, capital punishment, and even WWII.

Of course, it must also be noted that this is a film directed by the great Howard Hawks. I have always had difficulty pinpointing his trademarks, because the reality is, he was so versatile, trying his hand at so many different genres. All I know is that I more often than not enjoy his work behind the camera because it is seamless and it feels quintessentially American. His Girl Friday is no different. Although, this one is just a tad faster than most. It’s sure to raise your blood pressure so be warned.

5/5 Stars

 

Review: Casablanca (1942)

It was over 70 years ago that Casablanca hit the silver screen for the first time. All the main players are dead and gone now. The Golden Age of Hollywood, where pictures were being churned out with factory-like efficiency, has given way to a modern era of blockbusters. To borrow a quote from the movie, it doesn’t seem that one little film would “amount to a hill of beans” in our present world. Still, somehow Casablanca is beloved to this day, despite the numerous other films that have undoubtedly entered the black hole of film oblivion. It seemingly will not die and for good reason.

Considered one of the greatest films of all-time, this well-loved classic deserves to be here. It is the hallmark of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s careers. It also has one of the greatest scripts of all time, and it has achieved legendary status over the years. Many consider it purely the best film ever made and in all honesty, I would never try to refute that.
The film opens quickly and we are immersed in a world that is at the height of the Nazi terror, and many people are fleeing Europe by way of Casablanca. It is a treacherous place full of pickpockets, corrupt authorities, refugees, and naive tourists as well. Two German couriers have been murdered and some invaluable letters of transit have been stolen. That’s when we are first introduced to Rick’s Café Americain and its cynical proprietor Rick Blaine (Bogart).
A shady fellow named Ugarte (Peter Lorre) comes to Rick with the letters and asks Blaine to keep them for him. However, later that night Ugarte is taken into custody, and things begin to get even more complicated. Wanted resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) is now in Casablanca, however, a Major Strasser has arrived from Germany to take him in. To top it off, Laszlo’s wife Ilsa (Bergman) was Blaine’s old flame in Paris and, needless to say, it didn’t end well.
Laszlo desperately needs the letters of transit to escape, and he inquires about them. Soon he is led to Blaine, but as Rick often admits he sticks his neck out for nobody. Knowing all too well that he is in danger, Laszlo still shows his defiance against his enemies by leading the people in a round of “La Marseillaise” and as a result, Rick’s is shut down.
All the memories of Paris begin flooding back, and then Ilsa confronts Rick in order to get the letters. This is possibly the most critical point in the film because this tense altercation ultimately renews the relationship between Rick and Ilsa. Rick asks her to trust him, and he begins to take things into his own hands. The results of his actions created one of the great romantic and cinematic moments in the history of film. The whole film leading up to this point hints at it, but Rick truly is a sentimentalist at heart. He can live with the notion that they will always have Paris and that leads him to commit a selfless act of love.
This film holds such a tremendous presence in movie history, and upon seeing the movie it makes complete sense what all the hype is about. What more could you want than Bogey, Bergman, Casablanca, and some of the greatest quotes ever uttered? Do not forget the corrupt, but nevertheless lovable French Captain Louis (Claude Rains), who delivers some terribly witty lines. Honestly, he may be my favorite character in the whole film, and that’s saying a lot!  Then, of course, there is the immortal tune of “As Time Goes By,” sung by Dooley Wilson which will forever be ingrained in film lore.
However, you also gain an appreciation for the other interesting characters of Casablanca, some comical, some sympathetic, and others despicable. We have a rogue gallery of everybody under the sun from Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, German soldiers, various guests, and all the staff at Rick’s Place. This movie has conflict and the uncertainty of war in practically every scene because at the time World War II was in full force. There are a broken romance and a forlorn hero who shows his courage in the end. As an audience, we come to realize the transformation of Rick into a truly great man. Ilsa on her part has the most radiant face I have ever seen.
 It is wonderful that Casablanca succeeds as entertainment despite the fact that it is not modern. In fact, part of its charm is the black and white cinematography that helps make Rick’s Café so atmospheric. It effectively makes each interior shot moodi34 and every romantic scene even more striking. I am very doubtful that they would ever be able to pull this film off in color. It just wouldn’t work.
You do not need explosions and violence either, only great characters and a story with both drama and humor to reel the audience in. Up until the final moments of the movie you are captivated the entire time. Then, fittingly, you are left with the two men walking off into the night with the words, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
In fact, with this film, my thoughts always go back to the script. Lines like “Here’s looking at you kid,” “We’ll always have Paris,” and “Round up the usual suspects” are so rampant that you cannot possibly remember them all, and I doubt there will ever be another film that is so immersed in American cultural lexicon. Still, many of my favorite lines in the film are those that get overshadowed by the more famous ones. That is the sign of an amazing film that never grows old. Even those who have not seen this classic film like to think they have, because the influence of Casablanca reaches everywhere. I guess I’m rather an idealist myself so I would like to think that even if 70 more years pass, we’ll always have Casablanca.

Casablanca (1942)

 

Considered one of the greatest films of all-time, this well-loved classic deserves to be here. It is the hallmark of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s careers. It has one of the greatest scripts of all time, and it has achieved legendary status over the years. Many consider it purely the best film ever made and in all honesty, I would never try to refute that.
The film opens quickly, and we are immersed in a world that is at the height of the Nazi terror, and many people are fleeing Europe by way of Casablanca. It is a treacherous place full of pickpockets, corrupt authorities, refugees, and some tourists as well. Two German couriers have been murdered, and some invaluable letters of transit have been stolen. That’s when we are first introduced to Rick’s Café Americain along with its cynical proprietor Rick Blaine (Bogart). A shady fellow named Ugarte (Peter Lorre) comes to him with the letters and asks Blaine to keep them for him. However, later that night Ugarte is taken into custody and things get even more complicated. 

Wanted resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) is now in Casablanca, however, a Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) has arrived from Germany to take him in. To top it off Laszlo’s wife Ilsa (Bergman) was Blaine’s old flame in Paris and it didn’t end well. Laszlo desperately needs the letters of transit to escape and he inquires about them. Soon he is led to Blaine but as he often admits Rick sticks his neck out for nobody. Laszlo shows his defiance against his enemies by leading the people in a round of “La Marseillaise” and as a result, Rick’s is shut down. 

All the memories of Paris begin flooding back, and then Ilsa confronts Rick in order to get the letters. This is possibly the most critical point in the film because the tense altercation ultimately renews the relationship between Rick and Ilsa. Rick asks her to trust him and he begins to take things into his own hands. The results of his actions created one of the great romantic and cinematic moments in the history of film. The whole film leading up to this point hints at it, but Rick truly is a sentimentalist at heart. He can live with the notion that they will always have Paris and that leads him to commit a selfless act of love.
This film holds such a tremendous presence in movie history it is quite extraordinary. Upon seeing the movie it made complete sense what all the hype was about. What more could you want than Bogey, Bergman, Casablanca, and some of the greatest quotes ever said? Do not forget the French Captain Louis played by Claude Rains or the immortal tune of As Time Goes By sung by Dooley Wilson. However, you also gain an appreciation for the other interesting characters of Casablanca, some comical, some sympathetic, and others mysterious. We have a rogue gallery of everybody under the sun from Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, German soldiers, various guests, and all the staff at Rick’s place. 

This movie has conflict and the uncertainty of war practically in every scene because at the time World War II was in full force. There are a broken romance and a forlorn hero who shows his courage in the end. As an audience, we realize the transformation of Rick into a truly great man. Ilsa, on her part, has the most radiant face I have ever seen! If you take into consideration when this movie was made, it truly is wonderful to watch. You do not need explosions and violence, only great characters and a story with both drama and humor. Up until the final moments of the movie you are captivated the entire time. Then, fittingly you are left with the two men walking off into the night with the words, “Louis I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

 In fact, with this film, my thoughts always go back to the script. Lines like “Here’s looking at you kid,” “We’ll always have Paris,” and “Round up the usual suspects” are so rampant that you cannot possibly remember them all, and I doubt there will ever be another film that is so entrenched in American culture. Many of my favorite lines in the film are those that get overshadowed by the more famous ones. That is the sign of an amazing film that never grows old. Even those who have not seen this classic film like to think they have because the influence of Casablanca reaches everywhere.

5/5 Stars