National Classic Movie Day Blogathon: 5 Favorite Films of the 1950s

Thank you Classic Film & TV Cafe for hosting this Blogathon!

Though it’s tantamount to utter absurdity to try and whittle all my personal favorites of the decade down to five choices (I might cheat a little), this is part of the fun of such lists, isn’t it? Each one is highly subjective. No two are the same. They change on whims; different today, tomorrow, and the next. But I will do the best to make a go of it.

If anything this is a humble beacon — a twinkling five-sided star — meant to shine a light upon my profound affinity for classic movies on this aptly conceived National Classic Movie Day. For those in need of gateway films, these are just a few I would recommend without deep analysis, solely following my most guttural feelings. Hopefully that is recommendation enough. Let the adulation begin!

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1. Singing In The Rain (1952):

Many classic film enthusiasts weren’t always so. At least, on many occasions, there was a demarcation point where the scales tipped and they became a little more frenzied in their pursuits. For someone like me, I didn’t always watch many movies. However, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds were household names even from my earliest recollections.

Singin’ in the rain with the giddy abandon of Don and bringing down the house with gags like Cosmo were childhood aspirations. Kathy, the young hopeful, aspired for big dreams, not unlike my own. They were idols because they made life and the movies — even song and dance — so very euphoric. It took me many years to know this was a part of a musical cottage industry or who Cyd Charisse was (because we’d always fast-forward through that risque interlude). Regardless of anything else, the film effects me in the most revelatory way. You can barely put words to it. You need simply to experience it firsthand.

After seeing it so many times it becomes comforting to return again and again. What’s even better is how the magic never dies. We lost Stanley Donen this year but this extraordinary piece of entertainment will live on for generations to come.

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2. Roman Holiday (1953)

I distinctly remember the first time I ever saw Roman Holiday. It was on an international flight to England. I was young and ignorant with not the slightest idea who Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck were. You can determine whether or not I was living under a rock or not. However, what did happen is a young kid was decisively swept off his feet by a film. Those were before the days I gave even a moderate consideration of directors like William Wyler, much less debated or bandied about terms like auteur.

What does become so evident is the chemistry between our stars, hardly manufactured, even as the setting, placed in living, breathing Rome, imbues a certain authentic vitality of its own. Vespa rides are exhilarating. The sites are still ones I want to see and haven’t. And of course, I’ve only grown in my esteem of both Audrey and Mr. Peck as I’ve gotten older.

It’s crazy to imagine my only point of reference for such a picture was Eddie Albert (having been bred on more than a few episodes of Green Acres). Any way you slice it, this is, in my book, the quintessential romantic comedy because it is part fairy tale and it comes with all the necessary trimmings, while still planting itself in the real world. I always exit the halls of the palace feeling rejuvenated. Each time it’s like experiencing wonderful memories anew.

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3. Rear Window (1954)

It’s a weighty task to even begin considering your favorite film but to make it easier on myself whenever the inevitable question is dropped in my lap, I’m quick to reply: Rear Window. The answer is actually quite an easy one. Alfred Hitchcock is as good a reason as any. Add James Stewart and Grace Kelly and you’ve entered the gold standard of movie talent. They don’t come more iconic.

The Master of Suspense’s chilling thriller was another fairly early viewing experience with me and it immediately left an impression. Again, it’s another example of how appreciation can mature over time. Thelma Ritter is always a favorite. The use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound throughout the picture accentuates this artificial but nevertheless meticulous sense of authenticity.

How Hitchcock utilizes the fragments of music and the supporting characters in the courtyard to comment on these secondary themes of romantic love playing against the central mystery is superb. It’s a perfect coalescing of so much quality in one compelling cinematic endeavor. Even down to how the opening and final scenes are cut perfectly, introducing the story and encapsulating the progression of character from beginning to end. It is pure visual cinema.

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4. 12 Angry Men (1957)

I care deeply about interpersonal relationships and as movies have become more a part of my life it has become increasingly more important for them to hold a microscope to how we interact with one another in the world at hand. For me, there are very few films that channel real human relationships in a meaningful way as effectively as Sidney Lumet’s debut 12 Angry Men. Like Rear Window, it is developed in limiting environs and yet rather than such constraints leading to the stagnation of a story, it only serves to ratchet the tension.

Because the ensemble is an impeccable range of stars spearheaded by Henry Fonda and balanced out by a wide array of talent including a pair of friends from my classic sitcom days John Fiedler (The Bob Newhart Show) and Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple). However, all of this is only important because the story has actual consequence. Here we have 12 men battling over the verdict on a young man’s life.

But as any conflict has the habit of doing, it brings out all the prejudices, inconsistencies, and blind spots uncovered and aggravated when people from varying points of views are thrust in a room together. it’s an enlightening and ultimately humbling experience for me every time because it challenges me to actively listen to where others are coming from and empathize with their point of view so we can dialogue on a sincere level. It’s also simultaneously a sobering analysis of the gravity of the American justice system.

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5. Some Like it Hot (1959)

I most recently saw Some Like it Hot as part of a retrospective across the globe from where I usually call home. But what a wonderful viewing experience it was. Again, it’s akin to getting back together with old friends. I personally love Jack Lemmon to death and paired with Tony Curtis and the incomparable Marilyn Monroe, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more hair-brained, raucous comedy coming out of Hollywood.

Billy Wilder is certainly one reason for this and I’ve always come to admire his ability for screwball and often mordant wit. There is arguably no higher watermark than Some Like it Hot and the script is wall-to-wall with hilarious gags and scenarios. Like all the great ones, you wait for a favorite line with expectancy only to be ambushed by another zinger you never found time to catch before.

But there is also a personal element to the picture. Many might know the Hotel Del Coronado in sunny San Diego filled in for the Florida coast and having spent many a lovely day on those very shores, I cannot help but get nostalgic. Not only was this film indicative of a different time — the jazz age by way of the 1950s — it also suggests a very different juncture in my own life. While I cannot have the time back I can look on those memories fondly just as I do with this film…

So there you have it. I gave it my best shot pulling from personal preference and the idealistic leanings of my heart of hearts. I hope you enjoyed my Top 5 from The ’50s!

But wait…


james shigeta and victoria shaw embracing in the crimson kimono

Honorary Inclusion: The Crimson Kimono (1959)

Full disclosure. I know this is cheating but I take any occasion I possibly can to promote Sam Fuller‘s gritty Little Tokyo police procedural. For me, it deserves a special acknowledgment. As a Japanese-American and coming from a multicultural background myself, it was a groundbreaking discovery and an unassuming film with a richness proving very resonant over the recent years. It blends elements so very near and dear to me. Namely, film noir and my own heritage — all wrapped up into one wonderful B-film package. Please give it a watch!

THE END

Clash By Night (1952)

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Clash By Night comes from a stage play by Clifford Odetts and, in one sense, it’s extremely evident. However, being blessed by a still capable director in Fritz Lang and bolstered by quality talent does wonders for this squallish RKO drama. The portentous symbolism of Lang is on full display from crashing waves to billowing clouds in the skies up above.

We spy circling seagulls and seals perking up, creatures obviously hungry for something — in this case the fish being harvested on the trawler right nearby. Here we have our environment, a cannery that sustains an entire community with work. One of the seamen is Jerry (Paul Douglas) a teddy bear of a man who works on a fishing boat as his father did before him. He now supports his senile father along with his idle good-for-nothing uncle.

When Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) comes back to her family home after being away well nigh a decade, the summation of her activities is terse, “Big dreams, small results.” She’s very dismissive and aloof in every interaction; she’s not about to give herself to anyone or fall in love. But when the good-natured Jerry comes to call on her she actually accepts. Maybe she can learn to like a nice guy and have a home and a family. They try on all accounts and get married. Every attempt is made to convince herself that this is what a normal woman is supposed to aspire to.

However, Jerry’s buddy, the local projectionist at the movie theater, the outgoing, slightly patronizing stiff Earl (Robert Ryan) offers an inkling of something else. He has raw even carnal energy and a cynic’s outlook on love. Mae despises his personality type probably because it’s too close to home — too akin to how she sees the world. But his raffishness can easily get contorted into something volcanic, flaming with an attraction that draws in a wife desiring something more.

What’s staged thenceforward is a showing that hits the throttle on several occasions to heated extremes. It’s the utter epitome of ’50s hothouse drama that can feel overwrought and stagy; the emotions at times become heightened to an unbelievable degree. Sweat and manic attacks of rage that lead to blows ensue. Not to mention countless mentions of the rise in temperature.

Even the early dialogue at times feels too cute, manufactured to be read off and yet to their credit the stars come with fury at times heartless and tender and full of self-loathing. Stanwyck is a mess of tortured dissonance subjecting herself to emotional whiplash, never truly contented. However, feeling completely sorry for her proves difficult.

Though Marilyn Monroe received her first prominent billing, she comes off as more of a side note than an integral part of the picture at least in front of the camera. There’s little doubt she was causing her usual media frenzy behind the camera and headaches for her director due to her often temperamental ways. Those would hardly change but superstardom would only continue to descend upon her.

Always the consummate professional, Stanwyck was in the middle of divorce proceedings with Robert Taylor and as art often mirrors life you get the impression that just possibly she might be channeling some of that emotion into her performance. If she is, it’s nearly impossible to tell as she carries herself with the same self-assured composure in every scene, touching every note, regardless, with her accustomary ease.

Even for a black and white piece filmed by Nicolas Musuraca, Clash By Night is not necessarily a typical Lang exhibition in expressionistic, noirish tones but the expression comes boiling up from within his actors. That is enough. The picture could have done well to smolder until the end. Instead, it chooses a more forgiving road. Jerry relents saying, “You gotta trust somebody. There ain’t no other way.” He’s taking a beating and yet his heart is still large. There’s no word on whether it will be torn out again.

3.5/5 Stars

Don’t Bother Knocking (1952)

Don't_bother_to_knockYou’re silk on one side and sandpaper on the other.” – Richard Widmark as Jed Powers

For a film so short, Don’t Bother Knocking is overflowing with wonderful talent from Richard Widmark to Anne Bancroft to a haunting performance from Marilyn Monroe. Then Elisha Cook Jr. shows up as the obliging doorman, Jim Bachus as a young girl’s father, and even the prolific Willis Bouchey takes a turn as the bartender. It’s one of those story’s that revels in the classical age of the Hollywood studio actor. The familiar faces carry with them a certain amount of depth that allows the characters to mean so much in only a few fractions of the time normally required.

Anne Bancroft’s nightclub singing (in her screen debut) sets the background mood for everything going on within the  McKinley Hotel — a seemingly upstanding establishment. It’s precisely this aloof demeanor established by the music that lends itself nicely to the strangely haunting aspects of the film.

All characters seem to lack passion, emotion, and most any type of energy except the bubbly camera gal who goes around trying to sell snapshots to patrons. Widmark is at his morose dirtbag best yet again as Jed Towers, a guy who can’t figure why his girl has dumped him.

It’s a chamber piece, and while not a man on a ledge story like Fourteen Hours, it still uses the corridors and diegetic street sounds to create a mildly intriguing environment for some minor noir thrills. You can see the lust in Widmark’s eyes when he looks out the window at Monroe prancing and swaying about seductively. Little does he know what her deal is. His frustration with life and love is right at the center of this film and he must rectify his situation one way or another.

For her part, she has some telltale signs of psychological distress aside from a constantly glazed expression. Namely, scars on her wrists. Strings of little white lies, compulsive fibs that trickle out and a flustered edge that slowly becomes more and more demented by the minute.Whether it’s Monroe’s best performance is up for interpretation but it’s certainly her most terrifyingly dramatic.

She becomes the lightning rod for all the drama, lashing out against the little girl put in her stead and distressing her uncle (Elisha Cook Jr.) who got her this gig, despite her utter lack of experience. Nell Forbes flutters so quickly between fear and hysteria, at first wary of Towers and fawning all over him the next moment — afraid that he will leave her.

It’s her histrionics that force a reaction out of Jed. He must choose what type of guy he wants to be, whether he chooses the tame or wild side of life. And as it turns out, there’s absolutely no contest in the end. He knows full well which girl is for him.

Unfortunately, the ending is a bit of a cop-out, because it is the relational and psychological dysfunction of the characters that becomes most rewarding and, in the end, most indicative of the noir malaise. A happy resolution, therefore, does not stay true to the heart and soul of this film. Stone cold and depraved. Still, this one’s a winner at 76 minutes.

3.5/5 Stars

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Gentlemen_Prefer_Blondes_(1953)_film_poster“I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.” ~ Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell together. It’s a crackerjack combination and Howard Hawks milks it for all its worth. There’s streetwise Dorothy  (Jane Russell) wooing all the boys from here to kingdom come. She cares about more than just money, especially when it entails having fun. Her other half is the vivacious bubble-headed beauty Lorelei like only Monroe could pull off. She’s the girl looking to get hitched with her bookish millionaire and she’s not afraid to admit that his money sweetens the pot. It certainly doesn’t hurt (Don’t you know that a rich man is like a pretty girl? You don’t marry her just because she’s pretty. But, my goodness, doesn’t it help?).

Time and time again words and bits of dialogue leave her lips that are almost astonishing. She delivers them with such a fluid air of seriousness that they force a double take and each and every time she has the audience in the palm of her hand. We think she’s dumb, but whether it’s the just the persona she puts on or a bit of Marilyn Monroe herself, she is extremely intelligent. If nothing else she knows how to captivate an audience, not letting them soon forget her magnetic performance.

If she had been playing against anything else Jane Russell would have been the primary attraction and she’s always wry and lovely, but with Monroe in the equation, they develop into a dynamic duo, leaving a wake of hapless boys behind them. There’s the old playboy Piggy (Charles Coburn) with a tiara Lorelei has ambitions for, the hired private investigator Ernie Malone (Elliot Reid) who finds himself falling for Dorothy, the diminutive Mr. Spofford and, of course, the hapless Gus (Tommy Noonan).

It can be easy to write Gentlemen Prefer Blondes off as a superficial musical — a provocative color extravaganza aboard an ocean liner. After all, it’s a story complete with pools, water slides, romance and a whole squad of athletes with bulging biceps. But it is a genuinely enjoyable film with Howard Hawks once more showing his aptitude for skirting between genres, this case indulging in musical comedy.

The sparkling and most remembered number is, of course, Monroe’s sultry turn in “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” clothed in velvety pink,  but really for the entire running time of the film, Monroe and her costar are continually strutting and snapping their way into the hearts of everyone they cross paths with. A final comedic twist of an ending, playing off the comedic dynamic of the film’s pair of heroines, gives Jane Russell an equal chance to show off her star power. This truly is a team effort, even if gentlemen circa the 1950s were discriminatory towards all non-blondes.  Obviously, this film and my commentary are not meant to be taken too seriously. Still, they can be enjoyable. At least in the case of this film. My commentary, not so much.

3.5/5 Stars

4 Star Films’ Favorite Movies: 21-25

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One of the reasons film is so engaging and fascinating is the discussion that it evokes from all people. Every person, no matter their age or knowledge, can have their own subjective opinion on a film and why they liked it, or better yet why they hated it so much that they wanted to throw up.

But I’m going to cut the discussion short and put my cinematic life on the line by being completely vulnerable with some of my admittedly subjective picks for my favorite movies. Any agreement is highly encouraged. All dissenting opinions will be disregarded without a thought. Enjoy #21-#25 in this ongoing series:

21. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

This first title was love at first sight. All the things I love about a great comedy. Completely lacking sophistication and full of hilarious insanity. Also, Mad…World has arguably the greatest ensemble every assembled for one film. Everyone shows up for the party and it’s wonderful. Jonathan Winters was my favorite discovery from this film because he truly was a comic gem of a man.

22. Some Like it Hot (1959)

Jack Lemmon will always and forever be one of my favorite actors. Maybe it’s because he reminds me of my Grandpa because my Grandpa is a funny man. But that’s neither here nor there. Some Like it Hot stems from the genius of Billy Wilder, always ready with a funny storyline (two cross-dressing musicians fleeing Chicago gangsters) and a rapier wit. Of course, there’s Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe too, and the Hotel Del Coronado makes a memorable appearance filling in for Florida. Boy, oh boy, am I a boy!

23. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Now this one might seem kind of random. But I quickly fell in love with the fateful whimsy of Jacques Demy. His love of American musicals is evident with the casting of both Gene Kelly and George Chakiris, but this is also undeniably a French production starring sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac. Michel Legrand’s music is surprisingly catchy and the fact that the film’s exposition is all given through song intrigued me from the beginning.

24. Laura

Film-Noir became a favorite genre, movement, style (whatever you want to call it) early on and Laura was one of the reasons why. I think I was smitten with Laura (Gene Tierney) much like our protagonists, and the film’s core mystery was gripping in more ways than one. David Raksin’s haunting score adds yet another layer to the drama as does Otto Preminger’s direction through the film’s interiors.

25. To Kill a Mockingbird

By now Harper Lee’s novel and Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch are almost intertwined in my mind, so much so, it becomes difficult to separate the two. And since I loved the book growing up, it’s only fitting that the film adaption would also hold a special place. Its set of sentiment and moral uprightness is hard for me to disregard, even when I’m at my most cynical. Mary Badham does a wonderful job as does Brock Peters — the perfect foils for Peck’s monumental portrayal.

Niagara (1953)

800px-Marilyn_Monroe_NiagaraRainbows, the soft misting of waterfalls, and honeymooning couples going through the tunnel of love. It hardly feels threatening at all, but that’s what makes film-noir so delicious. As the film style most reflective of the human condition, it proves that the dark proclivities and jealousies of the human heart can crop of anywhere–even a gorgeous tourist trap like Niagara Falls.

Niagara’s frames are composed of grandiose and lush imagery, and the film is greatly aided by on location shooting which develops an even more engaging world for this technicolor noir to take place.

Joseph Cotten takes on a menacing role as the tortured husband, his most notable ominous turn since Shadow of a Doubt, however, a tad more sympathetic. Meanwhile, Marilyn Monroe takes a turn as a seductive siren, the other half of this troubled couple spending a weekend at a Niagara Falls Cabin B.

She’s given plenty of screen time to strut her stuff and though early in her career, she would soon enough be catapulted to stardom forevermore with the likes of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. As they often say, the rest was history and more so than that, she indeed made history.

If you look at her performance as Rose, while not her most enduring, it still catches the eye, due to the way she carries herself–even how she walks down a cobblestone road. You cannot help but be at least moderately mesmerized by her whole image.There was no one before or after, quite like her. She was a singular figure with no true equal.

Jean_Peters_mends_Joseph_Cotten's_hand_in_Niagara_trailer_1Without a question, Jean Peters becomes our favorite character as Polly, and it was an eye-opening for me personally to see her in a role so vastly different than Pickup on South Street. I had pigeon-holed her, rather erroneously as such a character, but Niagara shows a more tempered side to her persona that felt more representative of her as an actress. Max Showalter plays her husband, the genial and oblivious Ray Cutler, who takes his lovely wife on a long overdue honeymoon, only to have it totally ravaged thanks to the Loomises.

Henry Hathaway as per usual is a capable filmmaker, who utilizes his stars and location quite well. Charles Brackett builds this conflict between a vacationing husband and wife with his script, but it really is the visuals that elevate it to the heights of a surprisingly compelling noir. The scenes within the catacombs of the falls and at the very edge of the drop off are of particular note–both beautiful and raging in the same instance. The climactic moments between a lurking husband and his fleeing wife in the clock tower are also remarkably stylish, reflecting how a color film can still style drip with noir sentiment.

It’s a film checkered in shadows and bathed in darkness as much as it is rainbows. In some ways, that makes it all the more harrowing. Colors don’t necessarily make everything bright and cheery, they distract from what is really going on, and in this case, the falls prove to be more than an opportune locale for a honeymoon…and murder. 

3.5/5 Stars

Review: Some Like it Hot (1959)

somelikeithot1Only Billy Wilder would dare to make such a film. Somewhere amidst the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and men dressed in drag, he could find the inspiration for one of the most high-powered, zaniest, even subversive comedies of all times. There’s very little overstatement in that assertion because Some Like it Hot is all that and most importantly it’s just good unadulterated fun.

It finds its genesis in the Jazz Age of Chicago circa 1929 where gangsters like Spats Colombo (George Raft) are running the streets, the crash hasn’t quite hit yet, and the Dodgers are a long way away from leaving Brooklyn. George Raft takes on a parody role hearkening back to the days of Scarface, but this time, there are a lot of laughs in the wake of his destruction.

Small-time musicians, Joe and Jerry, are living paycheck to paycheck and things aren’t going so hot for them when the authorities raid a not so legitimate establishment. Immediately they high tail it, but they’re not safe for long when they unwittingly stumble upon the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. They frantically flee the scene of the crime knowing the mobsters will soon be after them and to make matters worse they have no money. What to do? What any desperate pair of musicians would do, dress up as women and join an all-girl ensemble for three glorious weeks in sunny Florida. Sounds ludicrous when Jerry (Jack Lemmon) first drops the idea half-serious, but after the hot water they find themselves in, Jerry (Tony Curtis) takes him up on the masquerade.

somelikeithot2So they pack their bags, do up their faces, and change their voices an octave or so higher. They wobble to the train station on top of their heels as Josephine and Daphne, just what the band leader Sweet Sue ordered and our two effeminate fugitives get aboard for a wild ride indeed.

They soon meet the other gals including the vivaciously scatterbrained Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), who already has a strike against her for getting caught drinking. It looks like bad news for her during a bouncy rendition of the 20s tune “Runnin’ Wild.” Amid the toot-tooting of Josephine’s sax and the bass twirling of Daphne, Daphne also finds time to bail Sugar out. She’s quick to make friends too during an after-hours get-together in her compartment. It’s one of the uproarious moments where Jerry/Daphne must go through the battle of the sexes. He’s so giddy to have so much female company and yet he must maintain his facade. What’s brilliant about Lemmon is he actually seem to genuinely relish his part. Whether it’s his character or not I’m not sure, but he buys into his role especially when it comes to his budding romance, but that comes later.

All things are bright and cheery when they arrive in Florida with palm trees and bachelors galore, all ready and waiting for a little tete-a-tete. One such bachelor is Osgood Fielding (Joe E. Brown), who immediately has his eyes on Daphne. And let the comedic irony and romantic entanglements begin. What follows are two absolutely preposterous tales of romance that crank up the absurdity.

somelikeithot4Joe swipes a sailor’s cap and a pair of glasses while donning his best/worst Cary Grant impression to woo Sugar as an aloof magnate complete with oil fields and a yacht. It’s all part of his plan to win her love, and Daphne views the whole thing disapprovingly, hoping to catch his buddy in the lie. Thus, now Joe has committed himself to two roles and somehow he’s able to keep the plates spinning by borrowing Osgood’s boat for a romantic night with Sugar and using a bicycle to rush back to the hotel and put on the whole Josephine act.

Meanwhile, Jerry gets more and more invested in the whole Daphne performance dodging Osgood’s playful advances, while finally dancing the night away to a killer tango. It’s the diversion Joe needs in his plan to get with Sugar, and he’s succeeding. But Jerry, or should we say Daphne, isn’t doing so bad either. With a flower between her teeth and when she’s not trying to lead, they make quite the couple. Could there be wedding bells?

All that hilarity goes on halt when Spats Colombo and his gang come to town for a conference and the girls avoid suspicion at first, but their nervousness tips the mobsters off. The chase continues and the boys must finally drop the act if they want to get out alive. But Joe delivers one final gesture to Sugar not wanting to ditch her completely. They plan to catch a ride with Osgood who will elope with Daphne. But in a last-ditch effort, Joe finally lets everything drop and breaks all pretenses. It makes for an awkward situation when he gives Sugar a big kiss in front of a full audience, still dressed in drag.

As they get away in the little motorboat, Joe pleads with Sugar not to stick by him, because he really is a bum. But she doesn’t care, does she? He’s Tony Curtis, a Cary Grant type. Now it’s Jerry’s turns as he tries to cook up excuse after excuse why he cannot marry Osgood, and of course every time he’s rebuffed. Finally, in exasperation, he pulls off the wig, loses the voice, and yells, “I’m a man!” Without missing a beat, his beau shoots back, “Well, Nobody’s Perfect.” The look on Lemmon’s face is priceless and this moment is the perfect capstone on one of the wildest films you could ever imagine.

somelikeithot5It’s absolutely astounding that despite all the headaches and troubles Marilyn Monroe brought to the set, including constantly flubbing lines and being generally difficult, her performance bubbles over with a playfully ditsy sensuality that captivates the screen. I for one can hardly ever see the turmoil going on underneath because the role of Sugar is so vibrantly joyful, innocent, and genuinely funny put up next to her great co-stars. Her numbers like “I Wanna Be Loved by You” exude the friskiness that she was known for and there’s no question that Monroe has a magnetism on the screen that was unequivocally her.

Joe E. Brown plays the giddy playboy with devilish hilarity, the perfect comic companion for Lemmon. While Tony Curtis is great, he plays the straight man in the sense, that it feels like he’s just doing this out of necessity. Lemmon is an absolute riot, taking on this role willingly and bubbling over with enthusiasm that is palpable. He has that cackling laugh that adds an exclamation point too many of his conversations and when he starts dancing around with those maracas, shaking his hips, it’s hard not to crack a big goofy smile.

Billy Wilder always had a gift for films with wonderfully entertaining characters and plot lines that poke holes and find humor in modern sensibilities. He gets away with so much by dancing the fine line of what is acceptable for the 1950s and yet he puts it together in such an engaging and uproarious way that it remains a classic. Not just of comedy but of film in general. I’m not ashamed to say that I do like it hot. Although air conditioning is nice every once and awhile.

5/5 Stars

Review: All About Eve (1950)

“FastEveEveMargotCasswellWitten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night” ~ Margo Channing

It’s cliche, I do admit, but they simply do not make films like this anymore. Stories about people talking where the actors take center stage. In this case, the story from Joseph L. Mankiewicz is about the Broadway stage and all that happens behind the curtains, in the dressing rooms, and behind the closed doors of the royalty of that profession.There is so much that could be dissected, antagonized over, or acknowledged so I will move through it the best way I know how.

A moment must be spent acknowledging that this is the film that revitalized the career of Bette Davis. She was the tops during the 30s and early 40s, but the role of the histrionic stage icon Margo Channing was her comeback and it thoroughly suited Davis. I have actually never been a fan of hers because I always found her rather arrogant and she scares me visually. However, All About Eve plays on my personal sentiments wonderfully. When we’re first introduced to Margo, she’s everything we expect in a Bette Davis character, and truth be told I don’t really like her. But interestingly enough that changes. That’s where Eve and the rest of the cast come in.

The film is book-ended by the wonderfully wry and snooty commentary of theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). He makes it his mission to rake every new play over the coals, and he can be merciless. But he also is a great ally and he proves so for young Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). Because, after all, this film is her story, we just don’t quite understand why at the beginning.

Eve came from humble roots and was the most devoted young fan of Margo Channing. She would attend every one of her performances and wait outside her dressing room timidly, just to get a glimpse of the star. One of Margo’s best friends Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) was accustomed to seeing the girl and in a kindly gesture she invited Eve up to the dressing room. And just like that Eve had her backstage pass into this world rounded out by Margo Channing, Karen, her husband the playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), and the young director Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill) who also happens to be Margo’s suitor.

She begins unassuming enough on the outskirts of their little group. Always seen, not heard. Always thoughtful and ready to be of service. Eve takes on the role of Margo’s personal assistant just like that and an ego like Channing doesn’t mind. In fact, everyone seems to like having her around except the skeptical Birdie (embodied by the always spunky Thelma Ritter).

As time marches on, Eve loses her charm. More and more it feels as if she’s analyzing Margo. Watching her every move. Monitoring her success and slowly moving in. She plants the idea that she can be the next understudy and so it is. One fateful night Karen agrees to stall Margo and Eve gets her big chance as an understudy. She of course politely invites all the major critics to see the performance. It was the conscientious thing to do after all. Ironically, it’s at this point where things turn. Margo becomes the victim and in her great vulnerability, while sharing with Karen, we begin to sympathize with this woman hiding behind the facade of Margo Channing. Meanwhile, Eve continues her ascent using whatever means possible. She alienates Margo and begins driving a wedge between the always amiable working relationship of Lloyd and Bill. Eve even resorts to blackmail and home wrecking sharing her master plot with Addison.

She’s used everybody else and so he seems like the next logical target. However, he’s too much like her. He’s too cynical to fall for her act, and he points out a few chinks in her armor. So like that we end up back at the award ceremony where Eve is about to win her big award. Now we know all the clawing and backstabbing it took for her to get there. Now all that is veiled under her perfectly demure features and charming voice. But we see it on the faces of all the ones who sit there knowingly. Each one knows all too well the damage that this girl has done. She came out of the woodwork, used and abused them because everything was about Eve. Nothing else mattered to her.

But the beauty of the film’s ending is that the cycle continues. Margo is fading away yes, and Eve is taking her place, but that means that there are more Eves where she came from. Young girls obsessed with stardom, fame, and success. It’s a frightening evolution and it proves to be a sharp indictment of the industry as a whole.

The five leads are solid and their performances shift as the Margo-Eve dynamic fluctuates. However, George Sanders is possibly the most enjoyable character, because, despite his cruel wit, he’s the one who is outside of Eve’s influence, or at least he catches her in her charade. There’s something utterly satisfying in that. Also, he has some memorable moments alongside the aspiring Ms. Casswell (none other than the show-stopping Marilyn Monroe in an early role). So really this is a film about the performances and they are well worth it because they suggest that in such a cultured world, so many things lurk under the surface. It might be insecurity, fear, suppressed desire, or savagery. Humanity is most definitely messy, you just have to look behind the curtain sometimes.

5/5 Stars

Monkey Business (1952)

monkeyb5I always was under the assumption that the screwball comedy died off in the 1940s with homages coming out years later. Is there such a thing as neo-screwball comedies? Anyways, after watching Monkey Business I feel it is necessary to reevaluate that general conclusion. Here is a film from Howard Hawks that channels a great deal of the madcap craziness that you see in his earlier works like Bringing up Baby (1938). For lack of a better term, it is very screwy indeed. Right from the opening credits, you have the voice of God (Hawks himself) breaking the fourth wall and calling Cary Grant by his real name.

Then the film actually opens, and we meet the quintessential absent-minded genius Barnaby (Grant) and his loving wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers). They are meant to go to a social gathering and yet he is so caught up in his work that they stay behind. You see he is trying to develop an elixir of youth. His experiments are of interest to the business-minded and much older Oliver Oxly (Charles Coburn), who only sees the positives of such a discovery. Barnaby tries to explain to him that it’s not so cut and dry. In fact, his work could have dire effects if careful precautions are not taken.

Little does Dr. Fulton know that one of his lab chimps got loose in his lab and tampered with some chemicals, dumping them in a water cooler. After this absurd moment, Barnaby unknowingly consumes the rejuvenating concoction and his whole demeanor takes a turn.

Soon he’s out buying flashy clothes, getting a flamboyant car, ice skating, and driving like a speed demon down the thoroughfares with an astonished secretary Ms. Laurel (Marilyn Monroe). Cary Grant even shows off his impressive acrobatic skills, performing a cartwheel and a few other tricks.

monkeyb3Only when the concoction wears off does he figure out what happened, and he resolves to be more careful next time. Except next time turns out to come sooner than he was expecting when Edwina willingly drinks some of the substance so Barnaby can observe her. Just like that, she is a prank-pulling schoolgirl with insatiable energy.

Once more Barnaby takes the elixir while Edwina is sleeping off the effect. However, when she wakes up a misunderstanding leads to more mayhem as she tries to get help from Mr. Oxly. What develops is a spiral into more hilarity. Barnaby and Edwina are reunited, Edwina’s old flame is incensed, Ms. Laurel is petrified, and chimps and man alike are taking part in some Monkey Business. If none of this makes much sense then I did my job!

3.5/5 Stars

Move Over, Darling (1963)

Move_Over_Darling_-_PosterMove Over, Darling is a remake of My Favorite Wife (1940) and the unfinished Something’s Got to Give (1962). Thus, a Marilyn Monroe & Dean Martin vehicle ultimately turned into a Doris Day romantic comedy with James Garner and Polly Bergen. The dynamic feels so different and yet it ends up fitting nicely into the Doris Day canon. James Garner is always a fun actor and he plays an enjoyable role opposite Day.

The third time is still the charm with a plot involving a wife who is thought to be dead and returns after 5 years on a deserted island. Meanwhile her husband has moved on finally with a new wife who he has just recently married. One husband, two wives. That’s frowned upon in American society so he must figure out how to navigate these choppy marital waters. There are plenty of laughs in this screwball type plot line even if it is worn thin by this point.

The cast is full of great character players including Thelma Ritter, a very funny Edgar Buchannan, Don Knotts, John Astin and Chuck Connors. In this regard it is fun to compare and contrast the roles from the previous renditions such as Don Knotts versus Wally Cox as the shoe salesman, and so on.

It’s not a great film but certainly an enjoyable one full of marital mishaps and screwy situations. Not much more you can ask for so move over, darling and enjoy the show! Here’s to Doris Day who is still with us, James Garner who recently left us and a whole host of others.

3.5/5 Stars