Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

GOING MY WAY (1944)
Also known as that movie that's on every Christmas that I always mean to watch but never get around to. I guess I was in the right mood for a nice, warm movie from the 1940s, so I sat and was completely charmed and enveloped by this movie. Bing Crosby stars as a priest who comes to help renew a church that's failing and in debt. He brings the community closer together and saves the church and generally what you'd expect in a movie like this, but it's very well-made and easy to like. Crosby's quite good. I think I'll watch it again this Christmas along with the sequel, The Bells of St. Mary's, which I've never seen. ****

SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL (1964)
Toothless, oddly spiteful, overlong sex farce with confused sexual attitudes that ultimately reinforces that even progressive women just really want the safe and wise domination of a man? Must be the 1960s. This adaptation of Helen Gurley Brown's book (bizarrely adapted for the screen by Joseph Heller, of all people) is too broad to be satirical and too sexist to be revolutionary; this is another one of those flicks that seems to say "Sure, girls, we'll let you have a little fun being independent and career-minded, but the end game is still the same." Smarmy as hell, though Natalie Wood is quite good as the sex therapist whom everyone wants to prove is a virgin who knows nothing about sex because they feel threatened by her radical ideas that, like, chicks are people. Tony Curtis plays the sleazy men's magazine reporter trying to expose her. No points for guessing whether he falls in love with her. This movie somehow magnanimously allows that there are smart women who want to have their own agency while still asserting that those women still must want men to take care of them and make the big decisions; just try to be a little grateful about it, huh? ** Criminal waste of Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall.

FORBIDDEN (1932)
Barbara Stanwyck stars as a mousy librarian who spends all her money on a life-changing trip to Havana. There, she meets and falls in love with an ambitious lawyer played by Adolphe Menjou. This is the kind of movie that could only have been made before the Code, because it deals with complex things like ethics and personal motivations instead of giving every decision over to uptight morality. Menjou is married, but Stanwyck offers to be his mistress. Menjou's sense of morality is actually shown to be detrimental to everyone's happiness and incompatible with what he really wants, which is to be with Stanwyck. He has a child with her, adopts the child legally, and keeps her on as his mistress while she works at a newspaper for Ralph Bellamy, whose crusade in life is to expose Menjou as a corrupt politician using his wife's fortune to further himself. Again and again, Stanwyck makes destructive decisions to protect Menjou, sacrificing everything to save him and rejecting every offer to end the charade once and for all. It's surprisingly complex, especially compared to some of director Frank Capra's more popular work. Well-acted, especially in the playful scenes where the two are falling in love, without that post-Code formality, before the melodrama sets in. The makeup, however, is terrible. This is one of those flicks that takes place over decades and yet somehow always seems like it's 1932; the old age make-up starts to get ghoulish, especially on Ralph Bellamy; by the time his hair turns white and he reaches old age, the heavy make-up on his cheekbones makes him look like he should be standing in for Karloff. ***

THE LEOPARD (1963)
A masterpiece. I'm not even going to try to do better than Roger Ebert on this one. He says everything I wanted to say about this film, and much more eloquently. Go read his entry on it. ****

AFRICAN CATS (2011)
Excellent, beautifully-shot DisneyNature film about a pride of lions and a family of cheetahs and what it takes for them to survive. I found it wonderfully absorbing and just amazing to look at. I know there's always debate over whether filmmakers take reality and shape it into a narrative rather than just showing us what happens, to which the answer of course is "no fucking shit." I don't really care about that; we understand most things as narratives, and if they want to put up dramatic music every time the rival lion comes on the screen, well, we're rooting for the ones we've already gotten to know, anyway, aren't we? It's easily as manipulative as your average propaganda movie. It's also entertaining and captures some amazing imagery. ****

5 comments:

Tallulah Morehead said...

I've never seen Going My Way, and highly doubt I ever shall. As kids, my mother refused to allow us to watch it or the TV series based on it. Her reasoning was simple and sound: "It's just a full-length commercial for the Catholic Church," she always said. The sequel Bells of St. Mary's was also verbotten!

Sex and the Single Girl is certainly not Joe Heller's best work. Imagine being the type of studio mind who could read Catch-22 and then decide that the best way to use this talent was to assign him to a smarmy, smirky, sexist rom-com with very little "rom" and even less "com".

For people familiar with the Los Angeles Freeway System, like lifelong native Angelino me, the climactic chase is bizarre and confusing. Most of it is shot on the 405 Freeway, and Sepulveda Blvd., which runs parallel to it, in "The Sepulveda Pass," but all confused. Basically, they are heading south towards the airport, but sometimes, though heading south, in the next shot, they're heading north, or still heading south but are now two miles north of where they were in the first place, or on Sepulveda when they were on the freeway in the immediately prior shot, or vice versa. They cut interchangeably from the freeway to Sepulveda Blvd., despite the fact that the driving rules and layout of each are quite different, they play havok with the geography, and also, about 10,000 cars are missing. This stretch of freeway, even then, was HEAVILY trafficked from 5 AM to around 8 PM every day.

When the movie first came out I saw it, and was most puzzled by that chase. The fact that at that time, I drove that stretch of freeway to and from work every day made it all the more disorienting.

For folks who've never visited L.A., it should be okay. But if you've been here, then it's like one of those movies set in London where in a single drive or chase they go by every London landmark even though it means a course around London which is confused at best, impossible at worst.

You wanna nice comedy with Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood? Watch The Great Race. (And no, Hitler, it's not about Aryans.)

SamuraiFrog said...

I forgot to mention that there were moments where that long, long chase scene felt sometimes longer than the entirety of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Unknown said...

have you seen Love With the Proper Stranger? Highlight for Natalie and Steve McQueen

Shawn said...

As a HUGE fan of Bing (I'm also a Bing collector), Going My Way is such a wonderful film! I am also ANTI-RELIGION, so before anyone gets all huffy (see above), it's a beautiful story that could just have well been in a Lutheran, Methodist, Jewish, etc. setting. The Bells of St. Marys is also wonderful, but a bit of teh same premise. What makes the reason for watching is the beautiful performance from Ingrid Bergman. Funny, quaint, beautiful, natural. Enjoy it!

Shawn said...

More BING suggestions:
Blue Skies
Holiday Inn (with Fred Astair)
Welcome Stranger
The Emperor Waltz
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Riding High (a personal fave)
Mr. Music
Little Boy Lost (a VERY dramatic movie and role)
White Christmas (duh!)
Man On Fire (another high drama)