Friday, September 3, 2010

That Wonderful Urge (1948)

Knitwear! Amazing sweaters! Oh, yeah, and Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power. And a nifty old airplane, too. By this time (maybe 15 minutes into the movie) I really should have turned it off. Instead, I kept watching, something I don't recommend to anyone else. Let me just give you the gist of it and you can learn from the mistake I made watching this dog, which is: catch the first 15 minutes of beautiful Sun Valley scenery, groovy knitwear and fantastic plane, then go do something else with the rest of your day.

The gist of this film: Tierney plays a rich heiress who is stalked in the papers by Power's character. Power's character tricks her into thinking he's someone else to get a story out of her, she finds out, tells everyone that they were secretly married and then won't recant that story despite his threats to embarrass her in front of her friends as a bumpkin hubby. They go back and forth for the rest of the movie...first he wants out, then she does, but this never happens at the same time. They are so bent on perpetrating on each other the punishment they think they deserve, that by the time it is all over and they are (naturally) in love, you just don't care anymore.

I'm disappointed. I have seen so little of either Tierney or Power and heard such great things about their work.

Aside from a delightful bit from Gene Lockhart (no relation to the leading lady--haha!) as the judge, a role similar to the one he played in Miracle on 34th Street, there's just not much here to give me any kind of "urge" to watch this again.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Private Lives (1931)

It is commonly known that I have a huge, husband-irking crush on Robert Montgomery. I also have more than a passing appreciation for the brilliant work of Norma Shearer. To have them in the same movie is always a treat, and to have them in a movie based on a play by Noel Coward...well, few cinematic treasures can compare.

According to Robert Osborne at TCM, Noel Coward did not like how this movie turned out, and while that might annoy some people, as a fellow writer I totally understand. It's all part of being a genius playwright, I suspect, that one would naturally have high standards that would preclude one from liking a production of your work in which you do not appear. He's one of the best, people. Don't judge.

Private Lives the movie is 30% screwball comedy and 70% clever dialogue, written with so much sophistication that you have to pay attention. And if you watch it with your children, they might think you're a trifle daft because you'll be laughing a lot and they won't know why. Just a hypothetical thought.

Shearer truly shines in this movie, stealing scenes from Montgomery quite ably. Also along for the ride are the always fun to watch Una Merkel and Reginald Denny (who will always be to me the architect in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House).

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Maltese Falcon (1931)

If you're like me, you might not have known off-hand that there was a Falcon that pre-dated the 1941 classic starring Humphrey Bogart. Both are based on the book by Dashielle Hammett and feature the hard-hitting Sam Spade as our hero. A lot of the dialogue is the same in both movies, almost as though, for the second film, director John Huston merely copied the screenplay of the original and then modified it to put his personal stamp on it.

The 1931 version was shown recently on TCM during Thelma Todd day--she played the wife of Spade's partner, much too small a role for her, in my opinion. It was nice, though, to be able to catch this film and, naturally compare it to the later one. Spade was played by Ricardo Cortez, who, despite his name was born in Austria and raised in Brooklyn. His hard-boiled detective was more obviously interested in the ladies than Bogart's, and a lot less, well, hard-boiled. He made it from Point A to Point B, but his character lacked the ominous growl that Bogart had, substituting instead a jaunty air that was a distracting difference. Maybe it's because I've seen the 1941 version so many times, and have an affectionate regard for its stars (Bogart, Greenstreet, Astor, Lorre) that has made me truly appreciative of their performances, but it seems that the stars of the 1931 version lacked sparkle. The pacing of the average movie in that era was a bit slower compared to 10 years later, too.

Of interest though is Cortez, he of the Latin name and jaunty air (pictured here). I have not read the original novel, so I have no insight into whose portrayal of Sam Spade was closer to Hammett's intent, but seeing him as more of a playboy and actually less of an effective investigator was interesting. Cortez also put in a one-time stint as Perry Mason in the 1936 film The Case of the Black Cat, to which I feel justified saying, he's no Raymond Burr. I would like to see Cortez in a role that doesn't already "belong" to someone else, because he isn't a bad actor.

The lovely Una Merkel played Spade's faithful secretary, and this version differs from the 1941 in that it was pretty obvious here that Effie had a definite thing for Spade, who rarely turned away an interested female.

If you're a big fan of film noir and old mystery/crime dramas, this Falcon is worth a look, but be warned: if you've seen the Bogart film, you WILL draw some comparisons, and it might not be the stuff that dreams are made of.