Written on the Wind (1956, Directed by Douglas Sirk) English 6

Starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone, Robert Stack, Robert Keith

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(6-Good Film)

Lurid. Heavy-Handed. Torrid.

Mitch Wayne (Hudson) is in love with his best friend’s wife,  Lucy (Bacall). His best friend, Kyle Hadley (Stack), heir to a multi-million dollar oil business, believes his wife is in love with Mitch, and spends his time drinking himself to death. His sister, Marylee (Malone) is obsessed with Mitch, has been her whole life, and when she can’t have him, settles for whatever man is nearest to her. It’s a highly explosive melodrama cooked up by master Douglas Sirk, who films in beautiful, striking technicolor, and again uses star Rock Hudson. Written on the Wind, considered by some to be his masterpiece, isn’t as entertaining as its trumped up familial strife sounds. It bogs down at times into unpleasant and sometimes over-acted fluff. Malone gets the juiciest role as the nymphomaniac but sympathetic sister, and won an Oscar for it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(71)

Monkey Business (1952, Directed by Howard Hawks) English 5

Starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Marlowe

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(5-Okay Film)

Star-studded. Free-wheeling. Unsuccessful.

Monkey Business is an earnest attempt at recreating the screwball style of comedy which was popular in the late ’30s, early ’40s, but had already gone out of style long before 1952, when this film was released. Starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, and Marilyn Monroe, you couldn’t find a better cast. Directed by Howard Hawks, who made a couple of the finest screwball comedies in His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby, Monkey Business doesn’t quite work. The zany antics and energy that were so wonderful and amusing in Bringing Up Baby strike me as juvenile here. Perhaps that’s a strange complaint to make about a film in which the characters take a formula that causes them to revert back to their youth. At the comedy’s center is a lovely, loving marriage between Grant and Roger’s characters, and this works, but the stakes aren’t high enough; there’s not a serious enough threat to their inevitable happiness. Too bad.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(26)

Interlude (1957, Directed by Douglas Sirk) English 6

Starring June Allyson, Rossano Brazzi, Marianne Koch, Jane Wyatt, Keith Andes, Françoise Rosay

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(6-Good Film)

Opulent. Superficial. Slight.

A timid American woman, Helen Banning (Allyson), moves to Germany for a new job. She reconnects with an old friend, Dr. Dwyer (Andes), who offers her marriage and security for life. It’s a good offer, she knows, but she’s recently met a moody symphony conductor, Antonio Fischer (Brazzi), and can’t help but be drawn to him, though he’s a married man. Rich, lush color bring out the passion in this melodrama, which curious enough seems under-cooked, or too restrained, at least until the climax. The film’s director, Sirk, is an auteur, and as such, each and every picture he made deserves to be seen. Interlude just happens to be one of his more modest efforts. It lacks the undercurrent themes, subtext, or sly tone of his greatest works.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(3)

Paris Holiday (1958, Directed by Gerd Oswald) English 5

Starring Bob Hope, Fernandel, Anita Ekberg, Martha Hyer, Preston Sturges, Alan Gifford

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(5-Neutral Film)

Overlong. Scattershot. Unfocused.

Bob Hope and Fernandel in the same movie is a great idea. Having them play thinly veiled versions of themselves named Bob Hunter and Fernydel is also a great idea. The writers and filmmakers stopped there. They gave no attention to plot or pacing, and offer too few jokes. The stars themselves are entertaining enough to carry this clumsy espionage spoof to the point of watchability at least, but no further. The story revolves around Bob unwittingly stumbling into a criminal plot by purchasing a script that has the names of counterfeiters written in it in code. I honestly could barely follow that thread throughout the film, and, instead, settled for watching Fernandel, who steals the show.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(44)

Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952, Directed by Douglas Sirk) English 8

Starring Charles Coburn, Piper Laurie, Rock Hudson, Lynn Bari, Gigi Perreau, Larry Gates

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Striking. Sly. Satirical.

Set in the 1920s, an extremely wealthy businessman, Samuel Fulton (Coburn), with no family, reminisces about the girl who got away many years before. Fulton is prepared to leave her family, the Blaisdells, everything, but his lawyer and executor suggests meeting them first. Fulton heads to small town Vermont under a false name and moves in with the family, undercover, to see if the Blaisdells are worthy of his millions. Directed by Douglas Sirk, noted for his subversive melodramas, particularly the ones he made in the 1950s, Has Anybody Seen My Gal? is one of his overlooked classics. Subtly sardonic at times, surprising, and a glorious example of how beautiful technicolor can be, this film, eventually, provides the obligatory happy Hollywood ending, but not the one you’d expect, and not before twisting its narrative through several turns that amount to a scathing cautionary tale of how money changes people. If that sounds grim, know that this is actually a completely charming and funny film, and that the brilliance of Sirk is that he can have it both ways; satire and light-hearted Hollywood fable, depending on how much thinking you feel like doing.  Also gently pokes fun at many of the fads and slang of the 1920s.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(14)

 

Spellbound (1944, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 7

Starring Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming, Michael Chekhov

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(7-Very Good Film)

Hammy. Intriguing. Interesting.

The great Alfred Hitchcock fashions a mystery thriller out of cheesy movie psychology; an excellent one at that. Overwrought to the point that it sometimes resembles a B-movie science fiction film (the type that were popular a decade later), Spellbound stars Ingrid Bergman as a prim psychologist, Dr. Peterson, working at an elite mental hospital. Her male coworkers note that she’s like a robot, the way she works coldly without emotion. One day, the hospital director, Dr. Murchison (Carroll), is asked to step down and retire, making way for a younger outsider, Dr. Edwards (Peck), to replace him. Edwards seems strange on arrival, morel like a patient than a doctor at times, but that doesn’t keep Dr. Peterson from falling in love with him. Soon, the doctors at the hospital find out that the new doctor is not Dr. Edwards at all, and that the real doctor is missing. Peterson is the only one that believes in the imposter’s innocence, perhaps blinded by love, and discovers that he’s suffering from amnesia. The two go on the run, and try to get to the bottom of the fake Doctor Edwards’ psychological problems. Kooky science aside, sentimental romance and all, Spellbound is a thrilling film, with beautiful stars, and a gripping mystery.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(15)

 

My Man Godfrey: Of Its Time and Still Timeless (1936, Directed by Gregory La Cava) English 10

Starring William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Eugene Pallette, Mischa Auer, Gail Patrick, Alan Mowbray

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(10-Masterpiece)

Funny. Zany. Clever.

“All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people.”

Zany gal. Dysfunctional family. Straight guy. Classic screwball comedy. Director Gregory La Cava made a handful of them in the 1930s. In My Man Godfrey, two rich and spoiled sisters, Irene (Lombard) and Cornelia (Patrick), compete in a callous scavenger hunt to find the last thing on their list: a “forgotten man,” code for vagrant or hobo apparently. Cornelia comes upon shabby Godfrey Smith (Powell), a derelict with dignity, in a junkyard, who shoves her in a pile of nearby ashes when she offers to pay him to attend a society function with her, and help her win the scavenger hunt. Flighty Irene gets a kick out of seeing her domineering sister and rival knocked down a notch, and introduces herself to Godfrey. She’s an odd one, but harmless and kind, so Godfrey offers to help win the scavenger hunt, appearing at the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel with her. Smitten with her forgotten man, Irene offers a job to him, and Godfrey Smith’s life as a butler begins. He soon finds himself a butler to, “the craziest family ever,” as he puts it. The two daughters, he already knows. Cornelia’s out to get him back for rebuffing her in the junkyard, and Irene is head over heels in love with him. The mom, Angelica (Brady), is a vain, demonstrative, loud, chatty, woman with a live-in boy-toy in Carlo (Auer). The dad, Alexander (Pallette), is a long-suffering, over-worked man running low in money, thanks to his wild family. These are all wonderful, unforgettable characters played beautifully by the cast. Alan Mowbray as Tommy Gray, a man who knows Godfrey under a different name, and Jean Dixon as Molly round it out.

Screwball comedies are said to be subversions of traditional romantic comedies. Like many of the best, My Man Godfrey offers a man in over his head, and a woman taking the lead role in the courtship. Carole Lombard, who died a few years after this film in the prime of her career, walks the right side of the line between kooky and crazy, charming and annoying, adorable and childish. Made during the Great Depression, she provides the greatest push towards delightful romantic fantasy, making My Man Godfrey splendid escapism. Rather than pursuing a beautiful woman, the man, Godfrey, fends her off for most of the runtime, before ultimately giving up and giving in during the final glorious sequence of the film. “Stand still Godfrey. It will all be over in a minute,” Irene says to him as she surprises him in his home with a minister ready to perform their marriage. To this day, most romantic comedies end with the man giving a big romantic speech.

My Man Godfrey, made over 80 years ago, is a timeless treasure to me. I love movies in general, but Hollywood classics above all, and My Man Godfrey is perhaps the best. Broken down piece by piece, each line of dialogue is witty, the black and white photography is shimmering, the performances perfectly modulated. At its center stands, of course, William Powell, the gold standard straight man. Straight men are so often overshadowed by their eccentric costars, but not Powell. His reactions to the antics of the Bullock family are as funny as the antics themselves. Finally, if you look at My Man Godfrey, or any classic film, as not just a film, but as a time capsule, you’ll glimpse what was considered attractive 80 years ago, what was funny, what was clever, what felt fresh. That My Man Godfrey is still attractive, funny, clever, and fresh is astounding.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-