Movie Review: Rebecca (1940)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

TitleRebecca
Release Date: April 12, 1940
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Selznick International Pictures
Summary/Review:

I watched Rebecca as a teenager and one of the main things I remember about the movie is that I really liked Joan Fontaine’s hair.  Fontaine’s hair is still great, but so is psychological thriller from Alfred Hitchcock.  This is Hitchcock’s first American film the Hitchcock style is compromised by producer David O. Selznick’s Hollywood flair (especially the soundtrack which can overwhelm the film).

Fontaine plays a young woman who unjustly is given no name in this story.  She’s working as a wealthy woman’s companion traveling in the French Riviera when she meets moody and brooding wealthy widower, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier).  They fall in love and marry and he takes her home to his estate in England, Manderly.  The new Mrs. de Winter finds Manderly overwhelmed by the memory of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca. The creepy housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), is especially devoted to Rebecca and strives to make the second Mrs. de Winter feel unworthy, and even suicidal.

Over the course of the movie, secrets of Rebecca and Maxim’s past are revealed with some surprising twists.  Like many Hitchcock movies, when you think about it too hard, the plot doesn’t make too much sense, but you can set that aside because the mood and tension are built up so well.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: The Lady Vanishes (1938)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: The Lady Vanishes
Release Date: 7 October 1938
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Gaumont British | Gainsborough Pictures
Summary/Review:

Set in the fictional European nation of Bandrika, this comical thriller features several British characters being ugly travelers as one of their number mysteriously disappears. The film begins at a snowed-in alpine resort, but the majority of the film takes place on a train. Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) is reluctantly traveling home to England to marry an aristocrat.  Iris is hit on the head by a falling planter box just before boarding the train, and in a disoriented state she’s helped on board by an elderly governess, Miss Froy (May Whitty).

When Iris awakes from a nap, Miss Froy is missing and no one else on the train remembers her ever being on board. Iris gets help from a smart-aleck ethno-musicologist Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), and together they search the train and uncover more and more curiosities. The movie expertly ties together mystery with romance and a comedy of manners. Only in the third act does the movie fall a bit apart with a lengthy gun battle.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: It Happened One Night (1934)


Title: It Happened One Night
Release Date: February 22, 1934
Director: Frank Capra
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

It Happened One Night is Frank Capra’s first big hit as a director and the first movie to sweep the five most prominent Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Actor). It is credit with making interstate bus travel on Greyhound popular while also making undershirts unpopular with men. It’s the template upon which the romantic comedy genre was built. And apparently Clark Gable only appears in this movie because he was being punished by his production company, and nobody involved in making this film had any fun at all (you wouldn’t know from watching this because they’re good actors).

Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is an heiress who is being held captive by her millionaire father Alexander (Walter Connolly) on his yacht after she elopes with a con artist. Ellie jumps ship and boards a bus from Florida to New York, finding herself on her own in the world without her fortune for the first time. She is helped by a fellow traveler, the smart-mouthed Peter Warne (Gable), who is hiding that he is a recently-fired newspaper reporter hoping to regain his job with a story about traveling with the famous heiress.  Traveling by bus, hitchhiking, and eventually stealing a car, the pair fight, escape the law, and naturally fall in love. Despite the title, the movie takes place over several nights and days, allowing their relationship to grow.

Gable and Colbert both play characters who are initially odious but over time reveal their humanity. Colbert is especially good at showing Ellie’s adventurous side as she takes several new experiences in stride. The pair have a great on-screen chemistry especially in a scene where Peter pretends they are a married couple and Ellie jumps in to squabble with him so as to fool the police.  Capra also includes some nice non-plot moments that allow the movie to breathe, such as when passengers on the bus take turns in a sing-a-long (no wonder bus travel looked so attractive!).

Despite what I said in The 39 Steps review, I’ve decided that it wasn’t influenced by It Happened One Night, although both movies feature an autogryo!  It Happened One Night is a worthy classic and still full of laughs 86 years after it was released.

Rating: ****

Blogging A to Z Challenge 2020 Round-up #AtoZChallenge


Well another Blogging A to Z Challenge has come and gone.  I went a little nuts and did two sets of A to Z challenges, both involving watching and reviewing movies, plus some bonus posts so I ended up writing 56 posts!

But before I toot my own horn, the A to Z Challenge is all about visiting other blogs and learning from the great wit and wisdom of our fellow bloggers.  Here are some of my favorite A to Z challenges!

Check out all of these blogs, read them, and leave comments if you didn’t get a chance to do so during the challenge.

And now, and index of my own posts from this years A to Z Challenges:

2020 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Revisiting My All-Time Favorite Movies

2020 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Movies, Part III

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Classic Movie Review: The Apartment (1960)


Title: The Apartment
Release Date: June 30, 1960
Director: Billy Wilder
Production Company: The Mirisch Company
Summary/Review:

C. C. “Bud” Baxter is an insurance clerk in a giant New York City corporation whose Upper West side apartment has become a trysting place for senior executives and their extramarital partners.  Unable to return home, Bud stays late at work and wonders the street at night in hopes that he’ll gain favor and a promotion.

At last he’s called to the office of personnel director, Jeff D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, seeming even slimier than the murderer he played in Double Indemnity), and given a promotion and a private office. The catch is that Sheldrake wants in on using the apartment for his own affair.  Despite having a reputation as a Lothario with his neighbors, Bud doesn’t have a dating life of his own, but does have a crush on the elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).  In a sad twist, Bud learns that Fran is Sheldrake’s mistress.

There’s a shocking incident about halfway through this film that makes it darker than the pure comedy it appears to be.  But it ends up being a transformative event for the lead characters. This movie must’ve been risque in 1960 since Bud’s neighbors all but say “the nonstop fucking in your apartment is too loud!” Today, the movie is shocking in the casual sexism on display as women employees of the company are treated as targets for sexual conquest by the male executives.

Of course, Bud is presented as the “good guy” in contrast to the sleezeball executives.  Nevertheless, he helps prop up the system by covering for their infidelities and even Sheldrake’s lies to Fran.  Thus the conclusion of this movie is terrific when Bud finally chooses to be a mensch. And the final scene – “Shut up and deal!” – is perfect.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Floating Weeds (1959)


Title: Floating Weeds
Release Date: November 17, 1959
Director: Yasujirō Ozu
Production Company: Daiei Film
Summary/Review:

The movie captures a few hot days in a seaside town as a traveling theater troupe visits.  Ozu sets up a visual stunning composition for every shot, never panning or zooming the camera, only cutting the next shot for movement.  It’s the type of movie that you can let marinate over you. Seemingly idle conversations among villagers and actors casually provide key information.

The main plot involves the lead actor, Komajuro (Ganjirō Nakamura), visiting an old lover, Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura) at her cafe.  They have a teenage son, Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), who only knows Komajuro as his uncle.  Komajuro’s current girlfriend, an actor named Sumiko (Machiko Kyō), hires as younger actor, Kayo (Ayako Wakao), to seduce Kiyoshi.  Instead Kayo and Kiyoshi fall in love.

There is a good story of strict social class and changes in the modern world, as the old style kabuki troupe flops, and the respectable Kiyoshi insists upon a relationship with Kayo, despite the scandal.  Unfortunately, the climax of the movie includes considerable brutality toward women that is hard to watch and sours me on the film overall.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)


Title: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Release Date: August 27, 1958
Director: Richard Brooks
Production Company:  Avon Productions
Summary/Review:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a family drama set in a Mississippi mansion adapted from the play by Tennessee Williams. It features loathsome characters being horrible to one another.  I ended up watching it pieces over a period of four days, not because it is a bad movie, but all those bad feelings made it a hard movie to watch.

The action is centered around the birthday party for cotton tycoon Big Daddy Pollitt (Burl Ives).  He has received a clean bill of health, but early in the film his doctor admits to other family members that he as actually dying of cancer and he lied to Big Daddy and Big Mama (Judith Andersen). Big Daddy’s younger son Brick (Paul Newman) has broken his ankle and has isolated himself from the family in a bedroom where he steadily drinks the night away.  His estranged wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor), navigates between the party and Brick’s room.  Meanwhile, Brick’s older brother Gooper (Jack Carson) and his wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) and their awful children are trying to kiss up to Big Daddy in order to ensure a good inheritance.

It’s revealed that Maggie and Brick have not had a sexual relationship for some time and Brick’s alcoholism picked up after the suicide of his best friend from his football playing days, Skipper. Brick’s biggest issue is that he’s repressed his homosexual feelings toward Skipper, but thanks to the Hays Code, you have to read the lines between the lines to get what’s happening. In the final act, Brick and Big Daddy hash out some long-time issues in a cathartic argument.  Ironically, this was the most palatable part of the movie for me although Williams objected to the substantial changes made from his script.

The movie is very much staged like a play with long scenes in a single location.  Brick is often centered in the foreground, quietly drinking while a family member rants in the background.  His silence says more than their wordiness.  Newman, Taylor, and Ives all put in excellent performances.  But, whoa Nelly, I don’t think I’m going to want to watch this one again any time soon.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Wild Strawberries (1957)


Title: Wild Strawberries
Release Date: December 26, 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production Company: AB Svensk Filmindustri
Summary/Review:

The Nordic countries are generally ranked among the happiest nations on Earth, but the movies are depressing AF.  Well, this is actually only the second Ingmar Bergman film I’ve watched (I saw The Seventh Seal long ago), so maybe this is a rush to judgement.

Wild Strawberries is about the elderly and misanthropic physician Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) taking a journey to receive an honorary medal for 50 years of service.  Accompanying him on the road trip is his daughter-in-law Marianne Borg (Ingrid Thulin) who is estranged from her husband and makes it clear early on that she doesn’t like Isak much.  Along the journey they pick up three young hitchhikers, two men and a woman named Sara (Bibi Andersson), whose exuberance is a contrast to Isak and Marianne and others they encounter on their journey.  These include a vitriolic married couple who crash their car and Isak’s cold and unsentimental mother (Naima Wifstrand).

The journey is interspersed with Isak’s dreams and flashbacks to his youth. He’s particularly nostalgic for his childhood sweetheart Sara (also played by  Bibi Andersson), who ended up marrying his brother.  Both the journey and the dreams and visions help Isak confront what he’s lost in his past, his present loneliness, and mortality.  He also forms a bond with Marianne and the hitchhiker Sara. For all the grim realism of the film, it surprisingly has a happy ending. The movie is well-filmed and well-acted and worth a rewatch for a deeper analysis.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)


Title: Singin’ in the Rain
Release Date: April 11, 1952
Director: Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

Following-up on Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ in the Rain continues the early-50s trend of Hollywood grappling with its own history.  Set in the late 1920s, the movie is a comedy musical based on the problems faced by the transition from silent movies to talkies.  Gene Kelly stars as Don Lockwood, an experienced vaudeville performer who becomes one of the top leading men of 1920s silents, paired with the vapid Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen).  The Hollywood publicity machine has convinced most people, including Lina, that their romance extends into real life as well.

On the night of a movie premier, Don escapes Lina and fawning fans and meets Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), who expresses her disfavor for movies compared with theatre. Although it’s soon revealed that Kathy’s theatrical experience is as a chorus girl and that she is fan of Don’s movies, Don is attracted to Kathy’s independent mind (it doesn’t hurt that Debbie Reynolds is cute as a button too).

Don and Lina are set to make their first talkie, but their silent movie formula of success doesn’t translate to talkies, especially because Lina’s New York accent is inappropriate to historical romances.  To avoid becoming a laughingstock, Don works on a plan to make the movie into a musical with Kathy and his long-time friend and partner, Cosmo (Donald O’Connor).  Kathy will secretly overdub Lina’s voice.

The musical contains several notable song and dance numbers including Kelly’s famed performance of the title song, O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh,” and the trio’s “Good Morning.”  The biggest number of all is “Broadway Melody” which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie nor does it make much sense in the movie they’re filming, but it is quite the spectacle, so who cares. If I have one criticism of this movie is that the jokes at the expense of Lina are too many and too harsh.  But, Jean Hagen was (deservedly) nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress while none of the other cast received nominations, so I guess she got the last laugh.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: High Noon (1952)


Title: High Noon
Release Date: July 24, 1952
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Production Company: Stanley Kramer Productions
Summary/Review:

High Noon features a spectacular opening with Tex Ritter’s haunting rendition of the title song playing over the credits followed by scenes of a trio of bad lads riding into town to the shock of the townspeople.  It’s a collection of iconic Western tropes, and yet, as we shall see, this movie is unconventional for the genre. At the same time the outlaws arrive, Hadleyville’s Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is marrying Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly, in her first major role) and then turning in his badge as they plan to move to another town and run a store.

Before they can begin their honeymoon, Will is informed that a notoriously violent criminal he’d captured, Frank Miller (Ian Macdonald), has been released from prison and will be arriving on the noon train, intent on revenge. Will returns for his badge and prepares to protect the town from Miller and his cohort. His efforts to raise up a posse are filmed in real time, with frequent glimpses of clocks to remind the audience of the time left.

Will finds it difficult to get any support.  Amy, a Quaker pacifist, wants no part of the gun battle and prepares to leave him on the same train that Miller is arriving on.  The Deputy Marshall, Harvey Pell (a very young Lloyd Bridges), still sore about not being promoted to replace Will, turns in his badge.  The shopkeeper Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado) – Will’s former lover and Harvey’s current lover – also makes plans to leave town.  The men at the saloon liked it better when Miller was running things and refuse to help, while the men at the church think they’ll be safe if Will just leaves town. Ultimately, Will is left to defend the town alone and this is depicted with a legendary overhead shot of the empty streets as Miller and his men arrive.

As noted earlier, this is not your typical Western.  The gunfight at the conclusion of the film feels obligatory. The rest of the movie has exposed the dark side of human nature in the townspeople that makes one question whether they’re even worth defending.  Then there is a fantastic twist of who does come to Will’s aid in his moment of need.

The movie was created in part as a metaphor for the blacklist in Hollywood of actors and filmmakers accused of Communist sympathies. I don’t think that’s readily apparent 70 years later just from watching the film, but it made the movie controversial at the time.  It’s a powerful character study and feature terrific acting across the board.  Gary Cooper in particular stands out.  Cooper was only 50 years old when the movie was made but he looks much older due to the deeply-etched lines in his face and general weariness. (An aside: it’s been a long time since I’ve watched Pride of the Yankees but I learned he was 41 when it filmed, which is 4 years older than Lou Gehrig at the time of his death).

High Noon is a gripping drama and a genre-redefining Western that I’m glad I had the time to watch it.

Rating: ****