Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Swan

Year 9, Day 52 - 2/21/17 - Movie #2,552

BEFORE: Grace Kelly carries over from "High Society" - she can also be seen in "Rear Window", airing on TCM tonight at 12:45 am.  Here's a look at tomorrow's "31 Days of Oscar" line-up on TCM:
6:45 AM Rhapsody in Blue (1945)
9:15 AM Rich, Young and Pretty (1951)
11:00 AM The Richest Girl in the World (1934)
12:30 AM The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960)
2:15 AM Road to Morocco (1942)
3:45 AM Roberta (1935)
5:45 PM Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)
8:00 PM Roman Holiday (1953)
10:15 PM A Room With a View (1986)
12:15 AM The Ruling Class (1972)
3:00 AM Running on Empty (1988)
5:00 AM Sadie Thompson (1928)

It feels like we're sort of on the same page again, TCM and me.  I'm about to watch a film about European royalty, and they're airing a bunch of films about rich people, a Moroccan princess, Audrey Hepburn as a runaway Princess, chic Paris fashion, a nobleman inheriting a fortune, and a love triangle among nobles.  If you count "Roberta" (a film coming up in my Fred Astaire chain next week) then I get to claim another 4 of these 12 - including "Robin and the 7 Hoods", "Roman Holiday" and "A Room With a View", bringing me up to 91 seen out of 244.

THE PLOT: Princess Alexandra must make a good impression on a distant cousin when he pays a surprise visit to their palace.  Prince Albert has searched all over Europe for a bride and he's bored by the courtship routine.  Princess Beatrice tells Alexandra to invite her brothers' tutor to the ball that night and dance with him to catch the attention of Prince Albert.
AFTER: OK, we're back to the traditional love triangle, with a bit of a twist, since it's a manufactured one, and it's set among royalty.  The goal is for Alexandra to catch the eye of her cousin (umm, ewww...) by dancing with the palace tutor, who's a commoner.  After all, it worked for her mother, who flirted with the stable boy in order to land her husband.  WTF is up with kings and other male members of royalty, why do they all have to be tricked into proposing to women?  Plus, what happened to arranged marriages, weren't all the pairings among royals worked out to coincide with international treaties and such, in order to make both countries stronger?

I'm sorry, but I have to call NITPICK POINT on this plotline - how come they can arrange for Prince Albert's visit, set up the opportunity for him to meet Princess Alexandra, but nobody told the Prince himself (or his mother, the Queen) the reason for the visit?  Was there some other reason, not mentioned, for him to come to the estate?  All this confusion and awkwardness could have been easily avoided if someone had just told the Prince the reason for his visit, no?

This is where I think there's something going on that the storyline didn't (or couldn't mention).  Something quite obvious to a modern onlooker, but wouldn't have been discussed in 1910 (when the film is set) or even 1956 (when the film was made).  The prince shows up late for things, he just wants to play sports with young boys, and he's very catty with his insults.  Alexandra, honey, I think he's playing for the other team, and you're wasting your efforts.

And he's played by Alec Guinness.  Look, I figured out a long time ago that this actor I admired for being in "Star Wars" was (probably) gay.  He's British (I know, by itself that's not proof, but look up "buggering" when you have the time - it's ingrained into the British school system...) and although he was married and had a son, a BBC news article after his death claimed, right or wrong, that he was bisexual.  I'm cool with it, obviously he's from a different era that was still recovering from Victorian morality, and it's hard to tell those that were and didn't talk about it from those that weren't.

Honestly, the first third of this film was extremely boring, because it was just "rich people doing stuff", at least when the Prince came on to the scene, things got more exciting.  The efforts to get the Prince interested in Alexandra all fall flat, and I think you can see an incredible sexual subtext in Albert asking her about her "rose garden".  "Do you tend it yourself?" he asks (or words to that effect...) Come on, we all know what he's really asking her...  And he says that she needs to watch out for thorns?  Oooh, so telling - he thinks that the female "flower" has thorns, and he doesn't want to touch it - his advice to her is to make sure she wears very thick gloves when she touches her "flower".

Then there's this attempt to make Albert jealous by making him think she's interested in her brothers' tutor.  This sort of reminds me of the trick employed by Mr. Dexter-Haven in "High Society", to destroy Tracy Lord's wedding by making her fiancĂ© think that she fooled around with the magazine reporter.  Here Alexandra's mother thinks that Albert will be more interested in her if he sees her dancing with the tutor - it doesn't really work, plus it backfires when Alexandra starts to fall in love with the tutor for real, and the tutor reveals that he's been attracted to her for a long time, too!

When the Queen arrives, Albert tries to explain everything by using more metaphors - Alexandra was made of ice, and he himself was a "fish" - would that be a cold (gay) fish?  And this of course leads to more metaphors about bait and hooks and so forth - but it seems that the fish just wouldn't take the bait.  (Probably because it was the wrong gender for him...)

If this film had been made more recently, the ending would, no doubt, have been different.  Since I understand that every film is a product of its time, I understand why the story had to end the way it did, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

"The Swan" and "High Society" were the last two films that Grace Kelly made before becoming a princess in real life - Princess Grace of Monaco.  And she then had a son, who was a prince named Albert.  Bearing an heir to Prince Rainier meant that his kingdom would not revert to becoming part of France, which seems like the situation encountered by the royals seen in this film.  Very curious.

Also starring Alec Guinness (last seen in "Doctor Zhivago") Louis Jourdan (last seen in "Made in Paris"), Jessie Royce Landis (last seen in "North by Northwest"), Brian Ahern (last seen in "I Confess"), Agnes Moorehead (last seen in "The Magnificent Ambersons"), Leo G. Carroll (last seen in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"), Estelle Winwood (last seen in "The Misfits"), Van Dyke Parks, Christopher Cook, Robert Coote, Doris Lloyd.

RATING: 4 out of 10 butlers and maids

Monday, February 20, 2017

High Society

Year 9, Day 51 - 2/20/17 - Movie #2,551

BEFORE: Well, TCM is running "The Philadelphia Story" today, and we're sort of on the same page, because my film tonight is a remake of that film.  Frank Sinatra carries over from "The Tender Trap", and I've got three more Sinatra films coming up this week.

And here's what they're running tomorrow, 2/21:
6:45 AM Pride of the Marines (1945)
8:45 AM Primrose Path (1940)
10:30 AM Princess O'Rourke (1943)
12:30 PM The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
2:15 PM The Private Life of Henry VIII (1937)
4:00 PM The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
6:00 PM The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933)
8:00 PM The Quiet Man (1952)
10:15 PM The Razor's Edge (1946)
12:45 AM Rear Window (1954)
2:45 AM Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
4:45 AM The Red Danube (1955)

I've only seen 2 out of tomorrow's 12 - "Rear Window" (another Grace Kelly film) and "Rebel Without a Cause", so I'm dropping to 87 seen out of 232.

THE PLOT: C.K. Dexter-Haven, a successful jazz musician, lives in a mansion near his ex-wife Tracy Lord's family estate.  She's on the verge of marrying a blander and safer man, but Dex wants to win Tracy's heart again.  Mike Connor, a tabloid reporter, also falls for Tracy while covering the nuptials, and Tracy must choose between the three men.

AFTER: Well, if "The Tender Trap" represented a love quadrangle, this one takes things a step further, with sort of a love pentangle (pentagon?) as there are 5 people involved.  There's the bride and her fiancĂ©, plus her ex-husband, that's a triangle, but then there's the reporter that also falls for her, and his long-suffering not-girlfriend.  How many times did Celeste Holm play the girl who unsuccessfully chased after Frank Sinatra's character?  I must check on that.

Now I wish they had clarified the geography of the Newport mansions - I got confused because it seemed like Dexter-Haven was living in the same house as his ex-wife, not one just down the road, then his ex said something about "Don't let Dexter get near this house", but it seemed like he was already there.  Anyway, when he did show up, he had no trouble getting in, so what was the point of trying to keep him out?  OK, so Tracy takes Mike Connor out for a driving tour of the mansions, but it's not much help, because only one of those is owned by a main character.

But it turns out that this takes place during the time of the annual Newport Jazz Fest, and Louis Armstrong and his band just happen to be in town, so we get to see Bing Crosby perform with them.  But it's too bad that this involves Bing mansplaining what jazz is, and the names of the instruments involved.  But didn't most people already know what jazz was by 1956, hadn't it been around for like 30 years?  Why treat the audience like idiots who don't know what the various instruments are called?

That's just one of the ways I found this film to be quite tedious - of course, part of that comes from knowing what took place in "The Philadelphia Story", and wondering why a remake was necessary to begin with.  They pulled that same confusion over which man is Mr. Lord and which is Uncle Willie, but there doesn't seem to be as much point to continue with that charade this time - what was the point of it, anyway?

I also didn't understand when Tracy and her sister met with the two magazine reporters, and the young sister spoke in French and danced ballet, then Tracy came in and just acted super-fake and overly expressive.  Why?  What was she trying to prove?  It seemed in the scene before this like she was going to pull some kind of trick on them, but I just didn't get the gag.

This film is on that list of "1,001 Movies to See Before You Die", and since I was just three movies away from having seen 400 of those - it's not easy because they keep changing the list every two years, and I end up making negative progress - any movie I can cross off that list at this point is helpful, but I can't really understand why this film needs to be on that list - especially if "The Philadelphia Story" is also on it.  It's basically the same movie, just with different actors, right?  OK, so they added songs, big whoop.

Also starring Bing Crosby (last seen in "Robin and the 7 Hoods"), Grace Kelly (last seen in "To Catch a Thief"), Celeste Holm (also carrying over from "The Tender Trap"), John Lund, Louis Calhern (last seen in "Julius Caesar"), Sidney Blackmer, Louis Armstrong, Margalo Gillmore, Lydia Reed.

RATING: 3 out of 10 glasses of champagne

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Tender Trap

Year 9, Day 50 - 2/19/17 - Movie #2,550

BEFORE: It's the end of the Debbie Reynolds chain, at least for now, and it coincides neatly with the start of a (mostly) Frank Sinatra chain.  And somehow I'm 50 movies into the year already - geez, it feels like New Year's was last week, though I know it wasn't, and already the year is 1/6 over.  Time flies when you watch a movie a day, I guess.

Here's what's on tap for TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" line-up for tomorrow, 2/20:
7:45 AM Penny Serenade (1941)
10:00 AM The Perils of Pauline (1947)
12:00 PM Period of Adjustment (1962)
2:00 PM The Philadelphia Story (1940)
4:00 PM The Pink Panther (1964)
6:00 PM The Pirate (1948)
8:00 PM A Place in the Sun (1951)
10:15 PM Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
12:45 AM Poltergeist (1982)
2:45 AM Possessed (1947)
4:45 AM Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Chalk up another four films for me: "Penny Serenade", "The Philadelphia Story", "The Pink Panther" and "Poltergeist".  I watched "Poltergeist" in the theater when I was 14 and it scared the bejeezus out of me.  Never again.  But another 4 out of 11 brings me up to 85 seen out of 220.  I think I know now what my final tally will be, but I'm not sure about the percentage - I'm hovering now at about 38%.

THE PLOT: Charlie Reader, a successful theater agent, is also successful with young ladies.  One day he is visited by his old friend Joe, who is married with three children.  Joe falls in love with Charlie's girl Sylvia while Charlie spends his time with young actress Julie.

AFTER: And what great insights about romance do we get from this film from 1955?  Oh, just that any eligible bachelor in New York City, provided he's a good dresser, has a high-profile, well-paying job and knows his way around the city's clubs and restaurants will simply have women calling him ALL DAY long to spend time with him.  He never even has to walk his own dog, clean his apartment or buy his own cheese or whitefish - various dames will do all that for him.  See, if you find a girl whose father owns a deli, and take her out to dinner once in a while, you'll have all the whitefish you want, if you know what I mean.

Sinatra's Charlie has so many dames interested that he doesn't even has time to date them all - there are women calling who he "hasn't even gotten to yet".  Only in the movies, right?  I'm not encouraged by what this says about 1950's urban women, namely that they're all desperate, or slutty, or enterprising, too sophisticated to get married, or some combination of those things.  It's funny that they all have their reasons for dating this guy non-exclusively, and just too much of a coincidence, if you ask me.  Because for them ALL to have the same plan, which is to not HAVE a plan, then that suggests they're all working together, or they all read the same book on relationships or something, or they formed an organized movement to game the system and collectively get men to buy them dinner every night, and we all know that wasn't the case.  You see, if each one focused on just one man, then the game would be up too soon, but if they all SHARE the eligible bachelors in NYC, they can keep this gravy train running indefinitely.

It's a little easier to break this down and assume that all of the single people want to get married, and all of the married people miss being single, but that doesn't really tell the whole story, but some women like Sylvia have relegated themselves to the fact that marriage probably isn't in the cards for them, so they should just juggle a certain number of men with casual relationships, and that will serve as a fair substitute, as long as they can provide a service in return, whether that's walking dogs or cleaning apartments or bringing cheeses.  You don't expect a single man in 1955 to do his own grocery shopping, right?  That would be ridiculous, because it was considered "women's work" at the time.  (Their words, not mine...)

But Charlie's new client, Julie, throws his world into chaos when she won't play the game and have dinner with him.  She also won't sign a long-term contract for a Broadway show, because her personal schedule demands that she be married by March 12, even though she hasn't met the right man yet.  Charlie thinks she's a lunatic, but since she's also the one girl who won't go out with him, a story contrivance demands that he only wants what he can't have.  But unlike his other girlfriends, she wants to know how many other girls are in the rotation, and then demands to be the only one.

This is all background material for setting up a standard love quadrangle - and as you may remember from geometry class, a quadrilateral can be divided into two triangles.  Here we have the love triangle where both Charlie and Joe are interested in Sylvia, and both Sylvia and Julie are interested in Charlie.  Joe is married, which complicates things, and Julie is demanding, which does the same.   And thus do writers paint themselves into a corner, the love quadrangle is established with no way of getting out of it, other than to wait for the paint to dry.  (Sure, you can metaphorically cut a hole in the wall, but the waiting is safer, it just takes longer.).

It seems that all four Debbie Reynolds films this week tried to wrap things up with either a party, or a brawl, or a combination of both.  "How Sweet It Is!" ended with a big confusing scene in a Paris brothel, "The Mating Game" had a big fight on the farm between the taxman, the family and the three rapey farmhands, and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" had a big party in Denver that introduced European royals to the locals, which quickly turned into a dance-off and food fight.  Tonight there's an engagement party for Charlie and Sylvia, which apparently was a big blow-out filled with theater people and musicians, only we never see it, just the aftermath of the wrecked apartment, and people with hangovers.  Seems like a missed opportunity.

But it turns out you can't be engaged to two women at once, as Charlie eventually finds out, when the women find out about each other then that forces a resolution of some kind, even if it's not to anyone's liking.  And as with Molly Brown, Charlie spends some time in Europe, because sometimes the best way to fix a problem is to run away from it for a year or so.  Come to think of it, that's a horrible moral lesson.  Anyway, I don't buy it, because after a louse like Charlie two-times a woman, I doubt that disappearing for a year is going to change her opinion of him.

Also starring Frank Sinatra (last heard singing in "What Women Want"), David Wayne (last seen in "How to Marry a Millionaire"), Celeste Holm, Carolyn Jones (last seen in "The Man Who Knew Too Much"), Lola Albright, Jarma Lewis, Tom Helmore, Howard St. John, Joey Faye.

RATING: 4 out of 10 pearl onions

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Year 9, Day 49 - 2/18/17 - Movie #2,549

BEFORE: Day 3 of the Debbie Reynolds chain, tonight we're headed for 1964, but really the story takes place in the late 1800's, and then up on to 1912.

Here's the TCM "31 Days of Oscar" line-up for tomorrow, 2/19, covering the letters N-P:
6:30 AM North by Northwest (1959)
9:00 AM Now, Voyager (1942)
11:00 AM The Nun's Story (1959)
2:00 PM Of Mice and Men (1939)
4:00 PM Oh, God! (1977)
6:00 PM On the Town (1949)
8:00 PM The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
10:30 PM Papillon (1973)
1:15 AM Pat and Mike (1952)
3:00 AM A Patch of Blue (1965)
5:00 AM The Patent Leather Kid (1927)

I'm back on top with this line-up, having seen 6 of them ("North by Northwest", "Now, Voyager", "Oh, God!", "On the Town", "Papillon" and "Pat and Mike") plus I'm going to record "The Outlaw Josey Wales" to pair with "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" from a couple days ago.  So 7 out of 11 brings me up to 81 seen out of 209.  12 more days to go (and 8 days until the Oscars...)

THE PLOT: A poor, uneducated mountain girl leaves her cabin in search of respect, a wealthy husband, and a better life.

AFTER: Surprisingly, this film is NOT part of TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" line-up, despite getting 6 Oscar nominations.  Geez, you'd think they would have needed more films beginning with the later "U", right?

The only thing I really knew about Molly Brown - the real person, anyway - was that she survived the sinking of the Titanic.  (Kathy Bates played her in the 1997 "Titanic" movie.). So I spent most of this movie wondering when she was going to set sail for America on that ship - turns out it doesn't happen until the very end.  

But if you look up the real Molly Brown, and compare her life to the one depicted in the musical, this film's story starts to fall apart.  For starters, when the real Molly moved to Leadville, Colorado, she didn't do so alone, she moved into a log cabin with her brother and his wife.  Then she did marry J.J. Brown (not a rich man at the time, which her father had instructed her to find) and had 2 children, who are not even mentioned in this movie.  And then J.J. did have success with a mining claim, and they did buy a big house and try to become part of Denver's high society, as depicted in the film, but this led to them pursuing different interests.  The film has Molly spending more time in Europe, and J.J. returning to Leadville alone, before they reconciled after Molly's Titanic trip.

The sad truth is that Molly and J.J. never got back together in real life, despite what Broadway and Hollywood had to say about their relationship.  This just seems to make more sense, considering how difficult it probably is for couples to get back together after separations.  Like, if Molly took up with that European Count, and I'm not saying she did (but come on...) would J.J. really want her back after that?  How is she going to be happy, living back in Denver, after time spent in France and Italy?

This is also a film about a married man and woman who just never seem to be on the same page - she's supposed to be finding herself a rich man, but she settles for love with a poor man.  So, she encourages him to work in his mine and BECOME a rich man.  He builds her a better cabin, with everything she said she wanted, and suddenly she wants to move to Denver.  Make up your mind, woman!  J.J. strikes it rich, and they move to a bigger house in Denver, then she gets it in her head that they've got to travel in Europe for a few months and get cultured.

Some people are just never satisfied.  I guess some people would say that Molly Brown was eager and driven, but to me she just seemed like a big pain in the ass.  Because if you can't be satisfied with what you have, getting more is never going to be the answer, because then you won't be satisfied with THAT.  And then where does it end?  Why can't people be more like J.J., who never wanted anything except a simple cabin, a good woman, and a bunch of mountains that he could sing to.  Otherwise, one day you might find yourself on a sinking ship, even if that's just a metaphor for your relationship.  

Also starring Harve Presnell (last seen in "Patch Adams"), Ed Begley (last seen in "12 Angry Men"), Jack Kruschen (last seen in "The Ladies Man"), Hermione Baddeley (last heard in "The Aristocats"), Vassili Lambrinos, Martita Hunt, Audrey Christie (last seen in "Splendor in the Grass"), Hayden Rorke (last seen in "An American in Paris"), Maria Karnilova, Harvey Lembeck, Herb Vigran (last seen in "Support Your Local Gunfighter").

RATING: 4 out of 10 picture postcards

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Mating Game

Year 9, Day 48 - 2/17/17 - Movie #2,548

BEFORE: There's a thing that happened while we were in Atlantic City, I've been sort of sitting on the story, telling it only to co-workers and such, but it may relate to this film, in that we realize there are a lot of different people in the world, and some of them are hard to understand.  Monday night we went out to a restaurant in the Borgata Casino, owned by a very famous celebrity chef. (No plugs here, let's just call him "Schmolfgang Schmuck")  We had an 8 pm reservation, but after a medium-sized win on the slots she wanted to stop gambling, so we hit the restaurant at 7 and asked if they could move our reservation up.  No problem, except it meant we'd need to sit in the front seating area, instead of the back.

After a short time reading our menus, a man was seated at the table next to us.  A normal enough guy, except that he seemed very agitated, and was the kind of guy who never stopped talking, to himself or to everyone around him.  Since this was our pre-Valentine's Day dinner, we didn't really want to talk to any strangers, just to each other.  But this guy, let's call him "Twitchy" for the sake of the story, kept trying to talk to us, and his actions made him difficult to ignore.  He kept saying things like "I have to leave in 5 minutes..." (which seemed like an odd thing to say in a fancy sit-down restaurant) and kept trying to get the attention of every waiter that passed by, so he could place an order for a pizza, because again, he had to leave in 5 minutes, a fact he established several times.

After placing his order, and another few nonsensical attempts to engage both us and the folks sitting on his other side in casually awkward conversation, Twitchy decided he needed to bring some of his bags to his car, since he needed to leave in 5 minutes.  Well, if you've ever been to a casino, you may know that the restaurants are usually located far away from the parking garage, and to get from one to the other, you'll have to walk through the casino.  Actually, to get from any point to another in these places, you have to walk through the casino, it's part of the plan.  So I wondered why, if he had to leave in 5 minutes, Twitchy was going to bring some bags to the car, since that walk alone would probably take 10 minutes.  Why didn't he just get in the car and GO already, if he had to leave?  For that matter, why not grab a slice of pizza in the Food Court, which would take less than 5 minutes, instead waiting for a pizza from the fancy restaurant, which would probably take 15 minutes?

But Twitchy got up, filled with nervous energy, looked down at our table and said, "You guys are going to be here for a while, right?"  Neither my wife and I answered him or even looked at him, because we didn't want to be responsible for his jacket and backpack.  Then he set out for the parking garage, presumably to bring some of his luggage there, leaving the backpack on the chair next to me. By this point, my wife had recognized him as someone she'd seen earlier in the day, similarly talking to strangers in the smoking section while she was having a cigarette.  She had avoided making eye contact then as well, I stress again that there was just something OFF about this guy, you could just feel it.

So now I'm sitting next to a stranger's backpack in a crowded restaurant, and I'm trying not to think about what happened in the Paris bombings, or the 2013 Boston Marathon for that matter, or Manhattan last fall.  What did I really know about Twitchy, apart from the fact that he had to leave in 5 minutes, and was acting erratically?  Did he have some kind of vendetta against the celebrity chef?  Our waiter informed us that Twitchy had seemed weird to him too, and that he hadn't put in his pizza order, and a few minutes later, a security guard came by to take away Twitchy's backpack and jacket.  So we thought we'd never see him again, and figured he'd been caught for something, but we weren't sure what.

But maybe 10 minutes later (I told you it was a long walk to the parking garage), Twitchy showed up again, and the waiter told him he had to go to security to get back the stuff he left unattended in the restaurant.  Amazingly, he persisted (I hope security searched the hell out of that bag...) and he came back to the restaurant, sat down again, saying things like "Can you believe security took my stuff?  I had to go show my ID to get it back..." to no one and everyone around him.  After bothering the waiters again to find out where his pizza was (remember, he's got to leave in 5 minutes...) Twitchy suddenly realized he didn't have his cigarettes, and started checking his pockets, his jacket, his backpack, his fanny pack - nope, they're not anywhere.  Now he's wondering aloud, "Who took my cigarettes?  What did I do with my cigarettes?  They're not ANYwhere!"  Me, I just figured that his smokes were in the bags he took to his car, but I kept my silence.

After some wandering around the restaurant, looking for his smokes, and I think arguing with the restaurant manager, our waiter brought Twitchy a pizza - where it came from, I don't know or care - and Twitchy was finally out of our hair.  But the whole encounter was very strange, and also annoying to the extreme.  It only became funny in retrospect, after we didn't die in a restaurant bombing.  I mean, who leaves a bag unattended, in this day and age?  OK, maybe I did exactly that in San Diego last July, but it was an accident.  We'll never know what Twitchy's deal was, but maybe we'll make something up.

Now here's the TCM "31 Days of Oscar" line-up for tomorrow, 2/18:
7:30 AM The Moon Is Blue (1973)
9:30 AM Morning Glory (1933)
11:00 AM Mourning Becomes Electra (1947)
2:00 PM Mrs. Miniver (1942)
4:30 PM The Music Box (1932)
5:15 PM The Music Man (1962)
8:00 PM Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
10:30 PM Network (1976)
12:45 AM The New Land (1973)
4:30 AM Ninotchka (1939)

TCM is more than halfway through the alphabet - makes sense, we're more than halfway through the 31 days.  I've seen 4 of these 10 films - "Mrs. Miniver", "The Music Man", "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Network", bringing me up to 74 seen out of 198.

And even though the end of February is coming up in just 11 more days, I've got a long way to go before I'm finished with the romance chain - I'm really just hitting my stride.  Debbie Reynolds carries over from "How Sweet It Is!" and we're leaving the swinging 60's, I've set the WABAC machine for 1959 tonight.

THE PLOT: Tax collector Lorenzo Charlton comes to the Larkins' farm to ask why Pop hasn't paid his back taxes.  Charlton has to stay for a day to estimate the income from the farm, but it isn't easy when the farmer has such a lovely daughter, Mariette.

AFTER: And when you travel back to 1959, or at least watch a film from that era, the values and ideology of that time come along with it.  Don't you know that everyone back in that time didn't have sex until they were married (yeah, right...).  That's why it was so important to court and find the right partner, because everyone got married only once, and it was forever (again, as if...).  But Hollywood would have you believe in their version of true love, and marrying for life, and not fooling around before-hand.  It's quite silly in retrospect.

It also strains the bounds of credulity to believe that someone, anyone, who lived in the U.S. in 1959 was unaware that they had a responsibility to pay taxes, or at least to file a tax return.  Our country's first income tax was in 1862, after all - and even if you allow for protests and challenges and temporary suspensions, the U.S. income tax became permanent in 1913.  So no one in this farming family in Maryland bothered to read a newspaper in the last 46 years?  I find that hard to believe.  OK, so maybe the kids were home-schooled, and they lived like hermits, but now essentially I'm writing the story, when the screenwriter should have found a better explanation for this.

Pop Larkin seems to prefer the "barter system", trading things even-steven (or a little bit better) and even borrowing his neighbor's prize boar when he wants to get his sow pregnant.  It's this borrowing (and the comical attempt to return said boar, right through the middle of a fancy dinner party) that tips the neighbor's hand - he alerts the IRS about Larkin's folksy, non-taxpaying ways, in a attempt to get rid of the farming family and buy up the land.

The first time we see the Larkins, and lovely Mariette, she's being chased around the farm, in and out of the barn and hayloft, by three young men.  Sure, it seems playful for young kids to be doing this, but since they appear to be in their early 20's, it seems to swing a little too close to gang rape, in my opinion.  Ma and Pop Larkin determine that their daughter is "ripe" (ugh, that's also a little icky) and determine that the next clean-cut professional man that comes their way should be a good candidate for their daughter's husband.

Enter the clean-cut, professional man from the IRS, right on cue.  But Pop Larkin is so overly friendly and folksy (to a disgusting fault) that I swear the introduction of the tax-man, and the reason for his visit, took up a full 15 minutes of screen time.  It's a bad sign when a character has one simple piece of information to deliver, and circumstances keep conspiring against said delivery.  Just getting the Larkins to understand what taxes ARE took much, much too long.

But what's worse is attempting to ply the tax agent with alcohol (it takes several attempts, again, I can't understand why he can't simply say, "None for me, I'm working."). And then they tell their daughter to go upstairs, put on her prettiest dress and a lot of perfume, to catch the tax-man's eye.  So, you'll pimp your daughter out to distract the man valuing your property - extremely shameful.   It's every bad joke about "the farmer's daughter" manifesting itself in a movie plot.

But the tax-man DOES end up cutting loose - he probably really needed something like this in his life - and the relationship between him and the farmer's daughter seems genuine enough, but that doesn't excuse the intent to distract him with their daughter's virtue, and the vagaries of the barter system.  Once again, I can almost guarantee that very little research was done to determine what the IRS will and won't do when they go after a tax evader.

It almost cribs from "It's a Wonderful Life" at the ending, but to the film's credit, it resists going down that route.  But to come with another solution to the tax problem, the plot has to bend over backwards and allow for one of the greatest plot contrivances ever, one that spans nearly a century.  Come to think of it, the tax-evasion plot seems a lot like it was borrowed from "You Can't Take It With You", which I happened to watch last year.

NITPICK POINT: Why did the twin girls call their father "Mr. Larkin"?  Even in the late 1950's, that seems somewhat out of place.  Why didn't they call him "Pop" or "Dad"?  I mean, this wasn't Victorian England...

Also starring Tony Randall (last heard in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Paul Douglas, Una Merkel, Fred Clark (last seen in "The Caddy"), Philip Ober, Philip Coolidge, Charles Lane (last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), Trevor Barette, Rickey Murray, Donald Losby (also carrying over from "How Sweet It Is!").

RATING: 4 out of 10 haystacks

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How Sweet It Is!

Year 9, Day 47 - 2/16/17 - Movie #2,547

BEFORE: Italian actor Gino Conforti, the voice of Jacquimo the swallow in "Thumbelina", carries over to tonight's film, which allows me to kick off my 4-film tribute to Debbie Reynolds, about one month after TCM ran their tribute to her.  (Those copycats - and they had the nerve to beat me to the punch!)  For a while it looked like I'd have to watch these in December, after "Star Wars: Episode 8", and then link to them via the documentary "Bright Lights", but I found a way to work them in to the February romance chain, which is really where they belong.

Before I get to Debbie, here's the TCM "31 Days of Oscar" line-up for tomorrow, 2/17:
7:00 AM The Merry Widow (1935)
8:45 AM A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
11:15 AM Mighty Joe Young (1949)
1:00 PM Mildred Pierce (1945)
3:00 PM Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)
5:00 PM Min and Bill (1930)
6:15 PM The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952)
8:00 PM The Miracle Worker (1962)
10:00 PM Mister Roberts (1955)
12:15 AM Mogambo (1953)
2:30 AM Mon Oncle D'Amerique (1980)
5:00 AM Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

It seems like a day for some strange creatures, like Shakespearean fairies (one day after I watched "Thumbelina"...), a giant ape and a mermaid (of sorts).  Plus a couple of miracles, one religious and one with Helen Keller.  I've seen two of these, "Mildred Pierce" and "Mister Roberts", so that brings me up to 70 seen out of 188.  I fear I'm headed from 50% down closer to 33%.

THE PLOT: A photographer is assigned to a photo shoot in Paris.  He decides to take his wife and his hippie son with him on the shoot.  Everything gets mucked up when she rents a house that belongs to a French lawyer, and must fend off his charms and stay true to her husband.

AFTER:  TCM is also running "Mogambo" tomorrow, a film about an African safari, and two films with French titles.  Coincidentally, this film is about a photographer who's just been on safari, and then for his next assignment, goes to France with his wife, son and a bunch of teenage girls.  What could possibly go wrong?  Though the IMDB description isn't really accurate, Grif Henderson doesn't "take" his wife and son with him - his son wants to travel in Europe to follow his girlfriend on a tour, and he's all for letting his son travel alone and "become a man", but his wife Jenny is so over-protective that she pulls some strings with her husband's boss's wife to get him assigned to take photos, then works herself into the plan also.

This is something of a contrivance - it just so happens that their son Davey is dating Bootsy, the daughter of his editor/boss, and it just so happens that Jenny is friends with the mother of her son's girlfriend, who is also her husband's boss's wife.  I'm probably making it sound more unlikely than it is, but since the plot can't move ahead without this coincidence, I'm forced to allow it.

Things start to go wrong when they all take a 10-day boat trip to get to Europe - why they didn't fly there, I have no idea.  The boat is sort of a no-frills cruise, and husband and wife get separated, because the men's cabins and ladies' cabins are separated.  And the women all snore, and the men all burp to entertain themselves.  Let's call that a "push" in the depiction of the different genders.  Still, there appears to be a lot of bed-hopping on the cruise, and the Hendersons try to fool around in a lifeboat, so the comical purser has good reason to think that all teens are "animals" and older married people are "sex maniacs".  I'm not sure why this married couple thought that being the oldest people on this ship would be a good idea - my wife and I prefer to cruise on the line with the most senior citizens, because that helps us feel young.

ASIDE: There used to be a show called "The Love Boat", where each week a bunch of sitcom stars and older movie stars would guest star as people going on a cruise, and it was essentially a bedroom farce on the ocean - the single character would end up married, the married characters would have their relationship tested, but ultimately stay together.  As a kid I probably learned a lot about relationships from this show, but in retrospect I now think that the scripts were probably approved by some conservative marriage-oriented coalition or something.  I'm probably only thinking about it because last night's film had the voice talents of Charo and Carol Channing, two frequent guest stars on that show, and tonight's film has Paul Lynde and Penny Marshall, two other sitcom stars from the same era.

After their time sleeping apart on the cruise, the Hendersons' world is further rocked when Jenny finds out that the man who rented them a villa on the Riviera had no right to do so, but fortunately the lawyer who lives there is willing to let her stay - unfortunately, he's a horny playboy who only does that so he can hit on her for a week.  Hey, at least he's honest about his intentions.  At the same time, Grif is bonding with the female chaperone on the girls' tour, so both are tempted and have to find their way back to each other.

To really understand this film, though, you have to consider the year it was released - 1968.  The world was changing, gender roles were being re-defined, and there were probably thousands of families like this, with "old guard" fathers, neurotic over-protective mothers, and teen sons and daughters who were talking about radical concepts like peace and free love.  And it seems the filmmakers here really wanted to tap into some of that hippie energy, but they just didn't really understand it yet.  For example, the high-school students seen here are protesting - not the war, or for civil rights - they're protesting gym class.  Did someone just want to avoid a real controversial topic? Or are we meant to believe that the students meant to protest for their right to exercise free speech, but accidentally ended up protesting exercise?

And what does this film say about men who go on long work trips, and bring home kinky African fetish-wear for their wives?  Or what can we deduce about French and Italian men, who all lose their self-control when they see Debbie Reynolds in a bikini?  (Of course, this was the generation before mine, the men of MY generation lost self-control when they saw her daughter in a metal bikini...)

This romp all comes to a farcical conclusion in a French whorehouse, which no doubt led to some great family stories to tell when they got home.  But again, it seems like the filmmakers didn't really understand what goes on in a brothel - so by all means, just make some weird stuff up (people wearing baseball equipment?)

Also starring Debbie Reynolds (last seen in "The Catered Affair"), James Garner (last seen in "Maverick"), Maurice Ronet, Terry-Thomas, Paul Lynde (last seen in "Under the Yum Yum Tree"), Marcel Dalio (last seen in "Catch-22'"), Donald Losby, Hilary Thompson, Walter Brooke, Elena Verdugo (last seen in "House of Frankenstein"), with cameos from Vito Scotti (last seen in "Made in Paris"), Larry Hankin (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Penny Marshall (ditto), Jack Colvin (last seen in "Jeremiah Johnson"), Erin Moran, and the voice of Garry Marshall.

RATING: 5 out of 10 bunk beds

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Year 9, Day 46 - 2/15/17 - Movie #2,546

BEFORE: From a dystopian future fascist story to an animated fairy-tale romance - it seems I'm all over the place thematically, I know.  But this film allows John Hurt to carry over from "1984" - he provides the voice of the Mole character tonight - and this film links to a Debbie Reynolds film tomorrow, which allows me to start the 2nd half of my February chain, featuring classic films with not only Debbie, but also Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Fred Astaire, in that order.  I promise this chain will start to make some more sense tomorrow.

I had this film positioned next to a few other fairy-tale based films, some animated and some live-action, but this film just refused to link to any of them, because it has such an eclectic cast.  It's got the same lead voice actress as "The Little Mermaid", so that was probably my best chance to link to it thematically as well, but that chance came and went.  When I saw Kenneth Mars pop up earlier this year in 2 films I had another shot, but dropping a fairy-tale film in the middle of a political chain felt like too much of an interruption.  Fairy-tale films are mostly about love and romance, right?  So this can totally be part of the Valentine's Day chain, and I'll deal with the other fantasy/fairy-tale films later on. 

I was almost on the same page as TCM, they've got a couple films about fairies and mermaids, but that's on Friday.  Here's their "31 Days of Oscar" schedule for tomorrow, 2/16:
6:30 AM Madame Curie (1943)
8:45 AM Madame X (1929)
10:30 AM The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
12:15 PM Magnificent Obsession (1954)
2:15 PM The Magnificent Yankee (1950)
3:45 PM A Majority of One (1961)
6:15 PM The Maltese Falcon (1941)
8:00 PM The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
10:15 PM The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
12:30 AM McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
3:00 AM Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
5:00 AM Merrily We Live (1938)

Since I hit with Warren Beatty three times already this year, I'm going to record "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" - I can probably pair it on a DVD with "The Outlaw Josey Wales", coming up on Sunday.  If I count that one, I'm good for 5 of these films, including "The Magnificent Ambersons", "The Maltese Falcon", "The Man Who Knew too Much" and "Meet Me in St. Louis".  I almost hit for 50% today, and another 5 out of 12 brings me up to 68 seen out of 176. 

THE PLOT: A tiny girl meets a fairy prince who saves her from the creatures of the woods.

AFTER: I kind of don't know what to think about animator Don Bluth - I mean, he's directed some popular films, like "Anastasia", "An American Tail" and "The Land Before Time".  Those were the hits, but his resume is studded with just as many misses - "The Pebble and the Penguin", "A Troll in Central Park" and "Rock-a-Doodle", for example.  And every time I read about him, I find out that he had some dispute with this studio or that distributor, or he quit some film halfway through, and that makes him sound like a difficult person to work with, plus his studios were always shutting down due to bankruptcy or some studio pulling their financing.

The most popular things he ever animated weren't even movies, they were the console video-games "Dragon's Lair" and "Space Ace", which represented a unique interaction between animation and gamers, where the gamers controlled the animation (or was it the other way around?) and anyone with a roll of quarters and about a week to spare could eventually get to the end of the games, if they could memorize all of the moves.

But somewhere between "All Dogs Go to Heaven" and "Anastasia", Bluth animated "Thumbelina", based on Hans Christian Andersen's story of a girl who's very small, and that's about the only notable thing about her.  Well, she was grown from a flower seed, but it's not really clear how that's possible - and like her adult female counterparts of the time, she longed for a fairy prince to come and rescue her from the drudgery of her life.  After all, do you realize how hard it is to work on a farm when you're only a few inches tall?

I suppose her singing voice also helps her stand out - that's what gets her noticed when the fairy prince does ride by on his bumblebee.  His parents, the fairy king and queen, are responsible for turning the season to winter - but I'm not sure what role the prince plays in all of that.  Despite falling in love with the prince, Thumbelina gets kidnapped by a female toad that runs a traveling show, so that she can marry one of her toad sons.  Despite her constant complaining that she needs to return home, she sure seems like she would rather go out on tour with the toads, so there feels like there's some inconsistency there.

Meanwhile, Cornelius, the prince, gets frozen in ice, which keeps him from searching for Thumbelina, who escapes from the toads and then gets drafted by Mr. Beetle to sings at the Beetle Ball (it seems every forest creature wants something from her...) and Jacquimo the swallow isn't much help, because he'll say things like "Come on, I'll help you get home!" but then fly up above the treetops to get a better view, and then not return.  How frustrating.

And when Thumbelina takes refuge from the winter in the home of Mrs. Fieldmouse, she's further waylaid when the mouse brings her to see Mr. Mole, so that she can become the Mole's wife.  Can she find her way back to her home, can the prince get unfrozen and find her, and will the toad find someone else to marry her son?  Well, it's a fairy tale, so what do you think?

Also starring the voices of Jodi Benson (last heard in "The Little Mermaid"), Gary Imhoff, Gino Conforti (last seen in "Angels & Demons"), Kenneth Mars (last seen in "Night Moves"), June Foray (last heard in "Mulan"), Charo (last seen in "Moon Over Parador"), Barbara Cook, Will Ryan (last heard in "The Pebble and the Penguin"), Gilbert Gottfried (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Carol Channing, Joe Lynch, Danny Mann, Loren Lester, Tony Jay.

RATING: 4 out of 10 jitterbugs