Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Many Mini Reviews

Without Reservations (1946)
A fun little film about a writer, Christopher Matthews (Claudette Colbert) who has written a book that takes the world by storm. Set to become a movie that will star Cary Grant (who makes a candid appearance in the film), Matthews boards a train set for Hollywood. Upon hearing that Grant cannot commit to the movie, Matthews sets about sending a wire to her agent insisting he must play the part, that is, until she meets Rusty Thomas, a Marine pilot who, with his friend Dink Watson, is heading to San Fernando. Matthews thinks he’s spitting image of her main character in the book and sets about winning him over. After a few hiccups and mishaps, Rusty and Kit (as Matthews calls herself when she realizes Rusty has read her book and thinks it’s all hogwash) fall for one another. But what will happen when he finds out who she really is? Am I the only one that wishes Claudette Colbert did something different with her hair?

It’s A Great Feeling (1949)
Jack Carson, playing himself, is a conceited actor suddenly experiencing the heat of his comeuppance. With no director willing to direct his latest picture, Jack is forced to do it all himself or lose it all. After losing his co-star Dennis Morgan (played by himself), Jack uses wannabe star Judy Adams (Doris Day) to win him back. Despite cameo appearances by such stars as Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Edward G. Robinson, Sydney Greenstreet and Danny Kaye, It’s A Great Feeling, runs too long and is full of moments where the comedy falls flat. However, it is a delight to see a young Doris Day in her third film roll and this picture was the first to show Joan Crawford in Technicolor.

Brother Orchid (1940)
Little John Sarto is tired of the gang violence associated with his racketeering business. Having acquired enough dough to buy himself the culture and class he’s always desired, he quits the business and goes to Europe where his fortune is soon depleted by European swindlers. Deciding to return to his old ways and old flame Flo Addams (Ann Sothern), he returns to his old mob; but new boss Jack Burns (Humphrey Bogart) is having none of it. Narrowly escaping being rubbed out, Sarto recovers at the monastery of the "Little Brothers of the Flower." Here he learns humility and hard work without cutting corners. Using his unique talents, Sarto is able to solve the monastery’s monetary issues by getting rid of Jack Burns who demands a cut of what the Brothers make and sacrifices his own heart so that his girl Flo can be with the better man. Sarto gets class after all.

Bonjour Tristesse (1958)
Raymond (David Niven), a widowed man, and his seventeen-year old daughter Cecile (Jean Seberg), do not share the typical father-daughter relationship. Cecile calls her father Raymond and Raymond in turn treats her as an adult, more specifically his confidant and a willing playmate to the young conquests who strike his fancy. Currently on vacation on the French Riviera their life is about to change irrevocably by the arrival of Anne (Deborah Kerr), Cecile's mother's best friend. When Raymond falls in love with Anne and asks her to marry him, Cecile, who is initially happy for the couple, soon feels threatened by the structure and discipline Anne encourages. With the help of one of Raymond’s former lovers and Cecile's latest beau, Cecile devises a plan to break up the couple. Unfortunately, she does not foresee how this plan will ultimately affect her life.
A nicely executed film that dabbles slightly in the Electra complex, Bonjour Tristesse is a must see. This is also my first Deborah Kerr film and I think she was the perfect woman to convince a philanderer like Raymond to turn over a new leaf. She’s an absolute knock out!

Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
A fun musical about theater producers Farnsworth (Edward Everett Horton) and Dr. Schlenna (S. Z. Sakall) who are staging a wartime charity program- the Cavalcade of Stars. They would like Dinah Shore to be involved but to get her, they would also have to take on egotistical star Eddie Cantor, playing himself. However, the desire to have Shore in the show is almost worth the risk until Cantor begins to take over the production. Meanwhile, an aspiring singer Tommy Randolph (DennisMorgan -whose singing I had plenty of in It’s a Great Feeling) and songwriter Pat Dixon (Joan Leslie) conspire to get into the charity program by replacing Cantor with their look-alike friend, tour bus driver Joe Simpson (also played by Cantor).
The real stars of the show however are the…er…stars. The musical numbers are fantastic! Specifically Hattie Daniel’s “Ice Cold Katie”, Errol Flynn’s "That's What You Jolly Well Get" , and "The Dreamer" featuring George Tobias, Olivia DeHavilland and Ida Lupino.
I love movies that have stars that play themselves! With a cast that also includes Bette Davis (who sings) Humphrey Bogart (whose bit part is hilarious), Ann Sheridan, John Garfield, Jack Carson, Alan Hale, Spike Jones, and alongside other great stars like Edward Everett Horton and S. Z. Sakall, Thank Your Lucky Stars is quite a treat! I only wish Cagney could have made a cameo, maybe raised an eyebrow at Joan Leslie’s impersonation of him.

One, Two, Three (1961) Speaking of Cagney...
In his last starring role, James Cagney plays MacNamara, a managing director for Coca Cola place in West Berlin just before the Wall is put up. His scheme to impress his boss and get a top position in the London office is shot down when his boss flatly refuses to expand the Coca Cola line beyond the Iron Curtain. However, MacNamara has an opportunity to impress again when his boss’s daughter Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin) comes to West Berlin for a visit. MacNamara has been charged to look after her, but this turns out to be a difficult task as Scarlett is quite impressionable, repressed, and boy crazy- a terrible combination. When MacNamara finds out that Scarlett has married an East German communist named Otto (Horst Buchholz), he goes to extreme lengths trying to conceal this from the girl's father in order to save his job. All through this he receives limited support form his hilariously satirical and long-suffering wife, Phyllis (played admirably by Arlene Francis).
This comedy can best be described as explosive. Cagney, naturally a fast talker, was instructed to speak even faster. “This piece must be played molto furioso". Suggested speed: 110 miles an hour - on the curves - 140 miles an hour in the straightaways.” And Cagney delivers! Peppered with innuendo and insults at a speed that would give His Girl Friday a run for it’s money, One, Two, Three is a must see! Look out for a cameo by Red Buttons who impersonates Cagney right in front of him!

Joan Crawford (then on the board of PepsiCo) telephoned director Billy Wilder to protest the movie's Coca-Cola connection. Wilder then added a final scene in which James Cagney buys four bottles of Coke from a vending machine. The last bottle out of the machine isn't Coke - but another brand... of Pepsi.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
A caravan of motorists (including Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar, and Mickey Rooney) witness Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) literally kick the bucket on a California highway. Before dying, Grogan reveals that he has hidden a fortune of stolen cash. After several attempts at trying to explain how to split the loot if and when they find it, greed sets in and it’s every man for himself. Unbeknownst to the motorists, they are being secretly tailed by the police (which allows them the liberty of doing outrageous things like flying planes too low to the ground, speeding down busy highways, and blowing up buildings) headed by Captain Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) who has been trying to solve the Smiler Grogan case for years. With cameo appearances from Jerry Lewis, Buster Keaton, Leo Gorcey, and Don Knotts, this movie is two hours of mayhem! The real star of the show for me was Ethel Merman who plays the world’s worst mother-in-law.
Here’s a wonderful little site dedicated to the movie: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Thirteen Women (1932)
Twelve women who were members of the same sorority at St. Alban's Seminary have remained friends long after their school days. Another girl- unlucky number thirteen is half-caste Hindu Ursula Georgi (Myrna Loy) whose stay at St. Albans was cut short due to the other girls and their racist cruelty. Determined to make them pay, Ursula has managed to get the women, through a series of round-robin letters, to ask the renowned astrologist Swami Yogadachi (C. Henry Gordon) whom Ursula has under her spell, for their fortunes. Regardless of the Swami's horoscope for each, Ursula instead sends them one of doom, often predicting their death or that of a loved one. Through the power of suggestion, the false prophesies begin to come true prompting Laura Stanhope (Irene Dunne) single mother, society matron to gather the remaining women and talk some sense into them. Despite being worried about her own prophesy which predicts the death of her young son Bobby.
Knowing Laura to be the strongest of the group, Ursula must take more direct measures to cause Bobby’s death. Fortunately Sergeant Barry Clive (Ricardo Cortez), who investigated another death among the group, takes it upon himself to find out what's going on and is on to Ursula’s tricks.
The only good thing about this movie, which was a bad thing for Myrna Loy at the time as she kept getting typecast as the exotic vamp, is seeing Loy as an exotic vamp. The plotline is weak, we only have a vague idea of why Ursula wants revenge and though Laura is supposed to be a good friend, she too is weak in how she handles a frightened and then resigned Grace Coombs (Florence Eldridge aka Lucky Mrs. March).

Shortly after filming Thirteen Women, Peg Entwistle (who played Hazel in the film) told her friends and family she was going to the drugstore but instead walked to the nearby Hollywood sign "H," took off her coat and shoes, and climbed up the workman's ladder behind the sign. She then took the plunge, falling into the 100-foot ravine below the sign and breaking her pelvis. Her body was discovered two days later. In her purse was a note that read, "I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E."

To Be or Not to Be (1942)
It’s 1939 and Poland has become occupied by the Nazi’s. Effected by this turn of events, a troupe of stage actors including the famous Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) and his wife Maria (Carole Lombard) unwittingly become involved in a Nazi plot. A spy with information that could be very damaging to the Polish resistance must be stopped before he delivers it to the Germans.
Unfortunately, at its release, Pearl Harbor had been attacked, Germany was eating up Europe, and Carole Lombard had been killed in a plane crash while on a war-bond selling tour. Despite the Lubitsch touch and the film’s obvious satire, the public didn’t respond positively, finding To Be or Not To Be more callous than comical. However, watching it from today’s perspective, I enjoyed very much. Lombard, who said she had more fun on this film than any she had ever done, was a perfect mixture of minx, comedian, and saint while Jack Benny is the funniest I’ve seen him yet. If there are any Caddyshack fans in the house, you may want to take a gander at a very young-looking Robert Stack.

Tonight on TCM!
Get your Steve McQueen on!


  1. Thirteen Women is also famous for being the only film credit of poor tragic Peg Entwhistle.

  2. Great reviews! I've added "Without Reservations" to my Netflix queue. I confess that I watched "Thank Your Lucky Stars" because I wanted to see Errol Flynn in it. "To Be Or Not To Be" is on my shelf and on my to-watch list. I'll have to get around to it one of these days.

  3. I love the Joan Crawford Cameo in "It's a Great Feeling".. It is a nice movie to watch in the morning.. ;")

  4. great review for Thirteen Women. i really liked the film i thought it was very different and very well acted. Myrna Loy as a vamp although not great for her was great to see. you can just tell she was such a good actress b/c you can see the wheels in her head as the character turning.
    To Be or Not to Be is also a very good film. i like the satire very much and Carole Lombard was wonderful.