Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Film Week

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

THE WILDCAT (1921)
This is an odd movie, and I'm not entirely sure what to make of it. Ernst Lubitsch directed this movie, and it's hard to describe, but here goes... There's this German lieutenant who is making his way to a new posting, when he's captured by a group of bandits who live in the snowy mountains. The leader of the bandits has a daughter, Pola Negri, who is... well, she's the wildcat of the title, and she's got this sort of natural, untamed sexuality that's not overt, but it's definitely there. She sort of falls for the cartoonishly suave lieutenant, and when he gets to his new post, she follows with some of the other bandits and tries to rob the place. Meanwhile, the lieutenant's new superior--a buffoon with a frankly amazing mustache--is trying to build a romance between the lieutenant and his daughter. Most of this is played for laughs and directed as though we're watching a children's movie. Some of it is a burlesque, or a child's panto, but there's an undertone of sexual commentary (the lieutenant plays like the ultimate Weimar symbol--handsome, but not manly) and anti-military satire. The sets are amazing. The whole thing looks like it takes place in an elaborate dollhouse, but this movie is honestly worth it just for the art direction and the wonderful sets. I don't think it works entirely, but Pola Negri really holds the attention. It's... it's an odd movie. ***

THE NAVIGATOR (1924)
Buster Keaton and Kathryn McGuire as two spoiled rich kids who end up lost at sea on a drifting steamship and have to fend for themselves. There's a theme here that modern technology has made things worse because we depend on it too much and don't know how to do without it. Hilarious, of course, with my favorite bits being Buster attempting to make breakfast and the underwater scenes with Buster in a deep sea diving suit. **** Co-directed by Donald Crisp, an Oscar-winning actor whom I always love, but who I didn't realize until I saw this was also a director. He started out assisting DW Griffith and between 1914 and 1930 he directed over 70 movies!

THE LAST COMMAND (1928)
Excellent Josef von Sternberg silent picture about a Tsarist Russian general (Swedish actor and future Nazi mouthpiece Emil Jannings, in the performance that won the first Oscar for Best Actor) who escapes the Revolution and becomes an extra in Hollywood... only to find himself cast as a general in a movie about the Revolution by a director (played by William Powell). This is another one of those movies I've always wanted to see and never had before, but that I'm so glad to have finally experienced. Beautifully made. ****

KIKI (1926)
Norma Talmadge is Kiki, a Parisian newspaper seller who wants to be a chorus girl. When she gets her chance, she's a disaster, but manages to worm her way into the home of the show's producer (Ronald Colman), whom she's fallen in love with. More annoying than it is romantic, and the comedy is awkward. Very rooted in a sort of casual misogyny. **1/2

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950)
Wow, what an irritating movie. I kept trying to like it, but to no real avail. It can't overcome the inherent racism and sexism of its time period, and I just sort of hated the story, which I would describe like this: talented girl instantly falls in love with pretty man, shows him up, agrees to mute her talent so he'll take her under his wing, chases him for months, tries to improve herself in every way to live up to his standards so he'll love her, loses the guy when she shows off just how talented she is, sings an uncomfortably racist song about Native Americans, then deliberately loses a contest so that the guy will love her again, somehow lives with herself, the end. It doesn't help that this musical has some of Irving Berlin's most truly annoying songs in it, and that it stars Betty Hutton and Howard Keel. Keel is a block of handsome wood as usual, but I almost like Hutton's energy, even though it's like the sort of overly-smiling yell-acting that showy children tend to do. Very twee about Native Americans and backwoods folk. But very pretty to look at, and I liked Louis Calhern and Keenan Wynn. When have I ever not liked Keenan Wynn? **

2 comments:

Tallulah Morehead said...

The worst thing about Annie Get Your Gun is that it's a lie. When the REAL Frank Butler realized Annie Oakley could outshoot him in her sleep, he retired, married her, and managed her career. They died millionaires. However, I do love the score.

The Navigator is a sublimely great movie. You know how it came to be? The ship used in it was to be decommissioned and sunk, so the studio offered to buy it very, very cheaply. Then, having bought themselves a very cheap ship, they wrote a movie to set on it. It happens they wrote a great movie to set on it.

However, the meaning you attached to it, that it's anti-modern technology, can only be accepted if one ignores Buster Keaton's real off-screen life and self. Buster was IN LOVE with technology and inventions and gadgetry. His movies are full of them, as was his home. His idea of a nice day off was tinkering clever gadgets together. His home was full of gadgetry, mostly built by himself. He even had a 0-Gauge electric train that ran from his outside dining patio to the kitchen and back to send and receive drinks and food, all of it built by Buster. (I saw Buster on live TV back in the 1960s proudly showing off all his home Keaton-built gadgetry, and the train set-up, to an interviewer.) Buster Keaton was deeply, wildly in love with technology. he was as far from being a Luddite as you can get. He'd never have knowingly made a Luddite movie.

SamuraiFrog said...

Good point. I do remember seeing some footage of him tinkering as well as his train in Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, which I haven't seen in too long...