Sunday in New York (1963)

Sunday_ny_moviep.jpgIt would appear that a film like Sunday in New York would never exist today. First, it’s obviously rooted in a stage play and it functions with the kind of moments you might expect out of some of Neil Simon’s works around New York though this particular story was crafted from a play by longtime screenwriter Norman Krasna who wrote many a screwball comedy back in the day.

But this is a film of the 1960s and it looks as such by today’s standards because it’s a chaste sex comedy that is charmingly madcap in its romance and numerous mishaps all while dodging around the social mores of the day. It’s never biting, always palatable, and fairly tame fun given its central themes.

New York becomes a lovely place for a pit stop over the weekend. Numerous people are headed there. First on the list is an airline pilot (Cliff Robertson) who is titillated by the prospect of a whole day alone with his best girl. Of course, being on active call near a busy terminal can be very aggravating for your love life and he and Mona constantly find themselves spending more time on the opposite ends of a telephone than actually together eating bagels and doing whatever else they normally do.

Then there’s Eileen (Jane Fonda), Adam’s little sister who is trying to get over a breakup with her beau. As a young, naive 22-year-old, she’s still trying to figure out the conventions of society and she goes to her big brother for advice on life’s most important questions. He’s someone she can trust about this particular issue.

The fact is she’s still a virgin (Gasp!). He does the brotherly thing and commends her as a respectable man will come along sometime for her. Meanwhile, he conveniently equivocates about what his romantic life looks like.

She does meet a man (Rod Taylor) and there is something between them rather odd at first and then strained by sexual tension and finally complicated by the fact that first her beau (Robert Culp) and then her brother Adam both come back and she must explain the presence of her guest. The film has plenty of comings and goings and while the plot is nothing new and noteworthy the cast makes it work rather well.

Jane Fonda gives a delightfully radiant performance opposite the always personable Rod Taylor with a meet-cute that’s so obviously absurd that it’s easy to laugh it off and simply enjoy it. They get thrown together on public transportation, aboard a bus, but the lady’s jacket gets caught on his coat and they must proceed to exit together. One of those awkward rom-com trifles. The film is full of these cute moments. Little do they know they will be spending a great deal more time with one another on a Sunday in New York.

3.5/5 Stars

The Birds (1963)

thebirds1The Birds is about all sort of birds. The ones we are acquainted with initially are actually a pair of humans. Lovebirds you might call them. Except they don’t know it quite yet, but the moment Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) meet in a pet shop, the sparks are already flying — the birds too.

In this way, the film opens with a love story as you might expect between a grounded lawyer and a cultured woman who nevertheless has somewhat of a reputation. She matter of factly plays  “Deux Arabesques” by Claude Debussy on the piano (I had to look that up), but she’s also been involved in an unseemly ordeal at a Roman fountain. Her daddy’s a big shot newspaperman. She’s the kind of gal who elicits whistles from passersby and skeptical looks from protective mothers. The film has both types.

But if The Birds ended as a simple love story it would be a rather tepid affair altogether, not to mention faulty advertising. But Alfred Hitchcock the unequivocal master of suspense could never be accused of such a thing (other things possibly). He injects the storyline with an impending dread and a continual payoff that makes the Birds a tense horror classic even to this day putting the emphasis on his major assets. The first being his antagonistic ornithological forces cycling in and out of the narrative menacingly. The second strength is his impeccable use of panoramic locales.

Much like Douglas Sirk, Hitchcock knows how to use the glossy palette of Hollywood to the nth degree and it becomes one of his main attractions taking his favorite spots in Northern California once again — this time the idyllic Bodega Bay — and developing them into the perfect canvass for the drama he draws up.

A short story from Daphne du Maurier (author of Rebecca) provided the inspiration rather than true source material, however, Ed Mcbain, a reputable writer in his own right,  crafts something that’s still quite compelling. It proceeds like you might expect from a normal romantic drama. There’s the meet-cute, the flirtatious repartee, the woman pursuing the man who catches her fancy. Beautiful skies, sunshine, and love in the air. There’s a younger sister (Angela Cartwright), an old flame (Suzanne Pleshette), and a mother (Jessica Tandy). Each looks at this new woman with an entirely different perspective.

But upending the typical progressions The Birds becomes a grim thriller as the bird populations including crows, seagulls, and even sparrows become belligerent. Invading homes, causing havoc, and terrorizing the general population. Melanie and Mitch become our intrepid heroes but it’s almost easy to lose them amidst this churning force of nature.

In one particular scene inside the iconic Tides restaurant, all the locals trade talk about the current state of affairs. It becomes very obvious that there’s a great deal of fear and confusion. What’s at hand is almost apocalyptic as one drunkard wildly quotes the Bible out of context and a didactic bird expert tries to assuage any concerns. But none of that dialogue can possibly mitigate what happens next. A fire starts. The birds rain down in waves of fury. People are chased hither and thither. Melanie first looks on from the restaurant, fights her way to a telephone booth and somehow reaches safety. Others were not so lucky.

thebirds2Most assuredly, the film benefits from long stretches of wordless action. The most striking example involves a murder of crows gathering on a jungle gym near the schoolhouse. Never before was the name of their posse more applicable.  And while the narrative lacks a true score, the unnerving screeches from the birds is sound enough to send chills down the spine of any audience.

At different times both Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn had the potential to be in this project, but perhaps it’s better that they were not. Although Hitchcock essentially tortured her and ultimately ruined her career, Tippi Hedren gives a sparkling performance here that is nevertheless overshadowed by her many adversaries. After all, it’s not her name in the title. The same goes for Rod Taylor a handsome and adequate actor but he’s not the main attraction either. However, to its credit, the script does at least devote time to several of its supporting characters to develop their contours, namely the schoolteacher Annie (Suzanne Pleshette) and Mitch’s skeptical mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy). But that’s not what keeps us watching or what keeps audiences coming back over 50 years later. No one knew that better than Hitchcock himself.

4.5/5 Stars

101 Dalmatians (1961)

One_Hundred_and_One_Dalmatians_movie_poster.jpgDisney is, by now, a gargantuan media empire of parks, merchandise, and movie magic. It’s easy to forget that there were days when the studio was in desperate need of a hit. 101 Dalmatians proved to be just what the vet ordered.

The film enters the story originated from the Dodie Smith novel, by utilizing the point of view of our protagonist, the Dalmatian  Pongo (Voiced by Rod Taylor). He’s intent to get his faithful “pet” Roger the songwriter hitched, in order to liven up his life a bit. His escapades eventually end in success with Roger landing Anita and Pongo winding up with Perdita. They live in a humble little home perfectly happy with the kindly maid Nanny and a litter of puppies on the way.

In walks one of Disney’s most glorious creations in Cruella De Vil, the witchiest, cruelest, villain you could ever happen to encounter. With billowing furs and long cigarette holder, her presence is hard to avoid and she’s very eager to get some puppies for her nefarious purposes.

15 little bundles of fur arrive, but Roger puts his foot down and won’t give them up. Not about to be foiled, De Vil gets her two hired cronies Jasper and Horace to swipe them. And so begins Pongo and Perdita’s journey across hill and dale to rescue their children. They utilize the “Twilight Bark” to spread the news about the missing pups to try and get any help they can.

The word spreads and they are led to an old mansion in close proximity to a shaggy sheepdog “The Colonel” and his cohorts “Captain”  the horse, and “Sergeant Tibbs” an adroit tabby. Together they begin the operation to extract the pups. Although after doing recon, Tibbs realizes there are a few more hostages than he was expecting. Still, they put the plan into action trying to flee from the two menacing buffoons.  Jasper and Horace look threatening but only succeed in hurting each other. Pongo and Perdita arrive just in time to lead the pilgrimage back to London, but the snow and the adversary are nearly unrelenting. It’s in these moments that the tension is built up because on one side we have 10s upon 10s of these cute puppies fleeing in the snow with Cruella De Vil hot on their cute little tails. It’s enough to make kids young and old get invested in this animated classic. The most important part is that it ends happily ever after — at least until they have to feed all those dogs.

Although the animation is certainly not their most polished effort, Disney once more develops a setting in London and the surrounding countryside that is thoroughly engaging as a visual feast for the eyes. The voice work from the likes of Rod Taylor, J. Pat O’Malley, and Betty Lou Gerson is impeccably spot on. Perhaps most importantly of all, this film gives the dogs and other creatures of interest the perfect balance of reality and anthropomorphism. And of course, the pups like Rolly, Patch, Penny, and Lucky are endearingly cute with their baby British accents. Yet another reason Cruella De Vil is so evil. How could she ever want to harm cute bundles of joy like that?

4/5  Stars

“Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil
If she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will
To see her is to take a sudden chill
Cruella, Cruella De Vil”


The Birds (1963) – Alfred Hitchcock

ebc31-the_birds_original_posterDirected by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, and Suzanne Pleshette, this film follows the journey of a rich woman who travels to Bodega Bay in order to visit a man who intrigues her. This love story is already odd to begin with and then add thousands of berserk birds to create far more chaos. Everything is innocent enough at first but Hedren gets attacked by a seagull. Everyone brushes it off but the next day at a birthday party a wave of birds attack. A couple of deaths and many injuries occur causing tumult all over the bay. The birds keep on attacking in cycles so the citizens must either try and flee or barricade themselves in their homes. Soon the threat of the birds seems overwhelming and Hedren and her new relations must fight to survive. Although this film ends with the family finally escaping in Hedren’s Ashton Martin Coup, the birds still sit there as ominously as ever. With the use of special effects and no score, this film sends shivers down the spine. However do not think it is just a horror flick. Much like Psycho it is also a very well made film.

4.5/5 Stars