Posted by: absntmindedariel | October 15, 2012

Born Yesterday (1950)


If you likeLegally Blonde, Miss Congeniality, Clueless

Synopsis– When a low-class tycoon makes a trip to Washington D.C. to buy off a politician, he becomes ashamed of his mistress’s lack of manners and hires her a tutor. Newspaperman Paul Verall (William Holden) begrudgingly accepts the job, but warms up to his new position when he meets his uncouth but beautiful student, Billie Dawn (Judy Holliday). Between lessons, Verall uses the sights of Washington for educational field trips and, as Billie learns more about the ideals of freedom and democracy, she also begins to glimpse her boyfriend’s corruption.

Why it’s better– Alright, you’re going to have to accept that actresses like Judy Holliday and Jean Arthur could get away with these shrill, grating voices because they were drop-dead gorgeous and charming and talented– it’s how the system worked. If you can get past Holliday’s voice, the rest of the movie is a dream.

George Cukor (close friend of Katharine Hepburn, I had to say it) directs beautifully, and William Holden is the perfect choice as mentor, writer, and object of Billie’s affection. Other than that, this movie is ALL about the brilliant performance of Judy Holliday as the classless Billie. She’s so vulnerable, but still strong and capable and a surprisingly quick study! She walks the perfect line between the bawdy, Mae West-esque chorus singer and the doe-eyed farm girl. You always have the feeling that she’s going to cry or take a swing at someone.

Holliday won the Oscar for her performance, but the award was marred by speculation that, had the vote not been split between All About Eve stars Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, the Oscar may have gone home with someone else.

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Posted by: absntmindedariel | June 4, 2012

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

ImageIf you likeThe Help, Crash, Driving Miss Daisy

Synopsis – Carefree Johanna Dreyton couldn’t be more excited to introduce her handsome fiancé John to her parents. Johanna’s plans for an upbeat meet-the-parents dinner go awry, however, when she fails to mention that her future husband is black. Though the liberal-minded Dreytons attempt to be positive, their fears and wishes for their daughter threaten to override their political views. Things only become more complicated when John’s parents fly in for the evening as well, and both sets of parents come together to save their children from a difficult and unlikely marriage.

Why it’s better– Okay, I know I’ve rambled on in SEVERAL posts about my love for Katharine Hepburn, especially when Spencer Tracy is involved. Instead, let’s start my commentary with my rambling love for Sidney Poitier! The man just oozes elegance and calm. He makes it look so easy to keep your composure when your parents AND your girlfriend’s parents are telling you your marriage is doomed. Not an easy task! And, even though the film is undeniably dated, you can’t help but imagine what it must have meant in ’67 for John to say to his father, “You think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.”

Now back to Hepburn and Tracy: it must be pointed out that this film was Spencer Tracy’s last. He died a mere seventeen days after filming wrapped. In his final speech to Joey and John, you can see Katharine Hepburn crying in the background–that wasn’t scripted. In her autobiography, she writes about those final days, and how he stayed in her house so she could wait on him and take care of him. For a woman who never married, was very private and used many of her relationships merely for her own gain, this relationship with Tracy seems truly unselfish. Anyway, all that to say it’s really amazing to be able to watch these actors in their last film, in Tracy’s last days.

Oh, and Hepburn won another Oscar (her tenth nomination, and second of four wins).

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Posted by: absntmindedariel | June 1, 2012

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)

ImageIf you likeJust Friends, Shallow Hal, Someone Like you

Synopsis– Sweet, simple Norval Jones is head-over-heels for Trudy Kockenlocker, the constable’s daughter. Unluckily for Norval, Trudy only has eyes for the boys going off to war, and she is resolved to give them a worthy send-off. However, after she sneaks out to a going away party for the local soldiers, Trudy wakes up with a vague memory of a wedding, no memory of the groom, and a baby on the way! With no other recourse, Trudy puts all her hopes on the ever-loyal Norval to help her out of this *cough* compromising situation.

Why it’s better– I’m a huge fan of Preston Sturges’ work, and his direction is picture-perfect in this wacky war-time romp. Betty Hutton and Eddie Bracken (the stars of the film) are also right on the money with their prat falls, over-the-top facial expressions, and their balance between manic energy and genuine, quiet emotion. The plot line is ridiculous, and was very unusual for it’s time in its cynical view of American wartime hypocrisy. (The release date of the film was actually delayed a year as the studios tried to decide if the movie was TOO irreverent.)

Try saying the name “Ratsky-Watsky” without laughing.

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Posted by: absntmindedariel | May 31, 2012

From Here to Eternity (1953)

If you likePearl Harbor, The English Patient, The Fighter

Synopsis– In 1941, Robert “Prew” Prewitt is transferred to a new unit in Hawaii and refuses to join the unit’s boxing team, despite heavy pressure from his commander. Prew continues to resist, though his commander’s punishments are cruel and intense, and he even finds time to fall in love with a beautiful employee at a local social club. Meanwhile, the commander’s wife finds solace from her troubled marriage in the arms of her husband’s second-in-command, and Prew’s best friend Maggio butts heads with the exceptionally violent stockade sergeant.

Why it’s better– Okay, the boxing story line is great, and I feel for Prew, and I love Frank Sinatra’s endearing turn as the fast-talkin’ Maggio, but OhMyGoodnessDeborahKerr!! Deborah is FAR away from the chaste school teacher we met in The King and I: she is dark and sexy and misunderstood, and she’s rollin’ around in the sand with Burt Lancaster. (Good for you, Deb!) All in all, the cast is incredible. Even sweet little Donna Reed steps out from her pearls and vacuum cleaner to give a performance that was as far from her wheelhouse as Kerr’s.

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Posted by: absntmindedariel | May 31, 2012

My Man Godfrey (1936)

ImageIf you like– Date Night, Roxanne, The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Synopsis– When a high-society scavenger hunt requires participants to find a “forgotten man” (a homeless man), wealthy Cornelia Bullock attempts to recruit Godfrey, the first forgotten man she comes across. When an insulted Godfrey advances on her and causes her to fall in an ash pile and flee, Cordelia’s delighted sister Irene quickly befriends Godfrey and enlists his help in beating Cornelia at the scavenger hunt. Irene is so pleased with Godfrey that the scatterbrained heiress secures a position for him as her family’s new butler, much to Cornelia’s chagrin.

As Godfrey earns the respect of his employers over the next few weeks and months, he also grows in the esteem of their daughters. Godfrey soon finds himself evading the advances of both Bullock heiresses as well as guarding the secret of his own family roots from the entire Bullock clan. But society secrets don’t remain secrets for long…

Why it’s better– William Powell (remember The Thin Man?) is a superb straight-man to Carole Lombard’s exasperating quirks and antics. You may watch the movie for Powell’s Godfrey, but it’s Lombard’s Irene who will win your heart. (Your love for Carole will ALSO make you want to punch Cornelia in the face for much of the film.)

This film also has the honor of introducing me to the existence of 1930’s blooper reels…

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Posted by: absntmindedariel | April 25, 2011

Rear Window (1954)

If you likeDisturbia, The Bone Collector, The Other Side of the Street

Synopsis– L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a renowned news photographer who has recently found himself confined to his apartment due to a broken his leg.  Though his glamorous girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) attempts to distract and amuse the invalid, Jeff becomes engrossed in the lives of his neighbors in the apartment complex across the street– especially when he witnesses what he thinks is a murder.

Why it’s better– Why did Grace Kelly have to go be princess of Monaco? She was so much more fun on screen! Oh well. Anyway, Jimmy Stewart is fantastic (and somehow manages to appear a little disinterested in Grace’s advances– THAT’s acting) in a creepy, neighbor-stalker, “nothing better to do” crotchety way. I think the naming of the different neighbors is the best part of the film (and you’ll still hear other movies refer to people as “Miss Lonelyhearts”, ie: What Women Want). Get ready to dig your nails into the arm-rest towards the end!

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Posted by: absntmindedariel | April 21, 2011

Ninotchka (1939)

If you likeThe Girl Next Door, Revenge of the Nerds, Big

Synopsis– Ninotchka (Greta Garbo), a Russian government official, flies to Paris to see what is keeping her three colleagues from completing their assignment: selling the jewels of the Grand Duchess Swana.  When she arrives she finds the problem: the charming Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas)–the Grand Duchess’ former lover– has distracted the Russians with capitalist notions and extravagance! Such tricks are not for Ninotchka.  This time it’s Leon who is distracted, but can he overcome Ninotchka’s prejudice and professional focus and find her softer side? Oh… probably.

Why it’s better– The caption on the original movie poster said, “Garbo laughs!” Most of her flicks (like Camille) required very dramatic, emotional performances, but Ninotchka gives a peak at a more playful Greta Garbo in her first comedy. The whole movie is pretty fun, but I love when Ninotchka gets drunk and keeps demanding to make a speech to “the masses”.

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Posted by: absntmindedariel | April 20, 2011

The Thin Man (1934)

If you likeThe Other Guys, Naked Gun, Fletch

Synopsis– Nick Charles (William Powell) has retired from his former life as a detective and is happily married to his independently wealthy wife Nora (Myrna Loy).  Retirement, however, is short-lived, and it isn’t long before a beautiful young woman approaches Charles about solving her inventor father’s murder.  Though Nick is hesitant, Nora thinks the prospect of sleuthing terribly exciting and convinces her husband to take the case.  The couple (along with their trusty dog Asta) delve into the world of intrigue and betrayal, culminating in a dinner party with all the suspects. “The murderer is in this room!”

Why it’s better– If this movie’s greatness could be measured, it would be measured in ounces. Namely the ounces of booze Nick and Nora manage to down throughout the film’s ninety minutes. The fact that these people can function— much less solve complicated crimes– when they are this plastered is impressive, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles make it look easy. The Thin Man would spark six films and a television show (and a rumored Jonny Depp remake), making Nick and Nora one of the most successful screen partnerships of all time.  Not gonna lie, though…Asta comes pretty close to stealing the show.

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Posted by: absntmindedariel | April 19, 2011

Dark Passage (1947)

If you likeThe Fugitive, Enough, Bourne Identity,

Synopsis– Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) is a man on the run, falsely accused of killing his wife. When he manages to break out of prison, he catches an even luckier break when he is picked up by Irene Jansen. She’s followed Parry’s trial closely and sympathizes with his plight, as it mirrors her father’s wrongful execution for her mother’s murder.  The two manage to get Vincent to his best friend Harry’s apartment, and Harry sends Vincent to a local plastic surgeon.  But a new face won’t save Vincent when he returns to find Harry murdered. Knowing the police will find his prints at Harry’s apartment, he returns to Irene’s apartment and the two work together to find out who murdered Vincent’s wife and best friend, and what the killer will do next.

Why it’s better– This is the one Bogart-Bacall movie no one seems to talk about. Why?? It’s much less complicated than The Big Sleep and much more of a thriller than To Have and Have Not. Whatever. The first third or so of the movie is shot from Bogey’s point of view (since pre-plastic surgery Vincent would have looked nothing like Humphrey Bogart.)  It’s kind of a cool effect, although you feel a little relieved when you can finally view his interactions with Lauren Bacall as a legitimate observer. Dialogue is a tad corny, but it’s to be expected. And Agnes Moorehead (yes, Endora from Betwitched) is AMAZING!

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Posted by: absntmindedariel | April 18, 2011

The King and I (1956)

If you likeThe American President, Bridges of Madison County, Anna and the King

Synopsis– Anna Leonowens, an English school teacher, sails with her young son Luis to Siam to teach the king’s children. Though she’s been promised her own house, when she arrives the king (Yul Brynner) informs her that she will be living in the palace and will be considered one of the king’s many servants. Feisty Anna, however, will be no one’s servant, and, as each struggles to win the other’s respect and acquiescence, they forge a unique and unlikely friendship.

Why it’s better– Yul Brynner is so frustrating and so charming! One minute you want to punch him (Just give her a house!), and the next you’re swooning (Waltz with ME!) He’s fantastic.  Not that Deborah Kerr is not her usual amazing self– she totally is. I just imagine that it’s easier for her to play a British school teacher than it is for Yul (the son of a Russian miner) to play Siamese royalty. Which is probably why he nabbed the Oscar.

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