Starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Thomas Mitchell
After the death of one of the Senators in an unnamed state, it falls to the governor to pick a replacement. But it’s a corrupt state of affairs, and the governor takes orders from Jim Taylor (Arnold), a man who has his hands in everything. They want a dummy in the Senate. Someone who will look pretty and say nothing. They pick Jefferson Smith (Stewart), and the young idealist proves them wrong, taking on all political corruption in the fight of his life. Classic Capra combination of ideals mixed with comedy and tears. Wonderful movie. James Stewart is in his best role here, and Jean Arthur is the perfect romantic foil as the cynical, intelligent Saunders. The supporting cast is great from the top down.
Starring Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Thompson
When the editor for a top fashion magazine, Quality, announces that she is looking for a new face to freshen up the world of fashion, her most trusted photographer (Astaire) suggests a book-worm girl (Hepburn) he’s fallen for. There’s nothing tremendous at play here, it just hits the mark in every aspect. Great music. Great stars (how can you beat Astaire and Hepburn?). Great costumes. All set in Paris, France.
Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Sam Levene, Donna Reed, Dickie Hall
Nick and Nora Charles return, this time getting wrapped up in a murder case involving a friend on a casual trip to a wrestling match. After the first film which is a great movie, this and the second one compete for the next best. It’s a return to a slightly more serious tone, with an engaging murder mystery and juicy characters. Powell and Loy are always the selling point though. What they bring to this series seems effortless. I also love the return of Lieutenant Abrams, played by Sam Levene, who first appeared in After the Thin Man.
Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Virginia Grey, C. Aubrey Smith
Nick (Powell) and Nora (Loy) Charles visit an old family friend who’s grown paranoid, certain that someone’s out to kill him. He’s proven correct not long after, and pretty soon Nick (a former detective) is asked to come out of retirement, this time with the help of his wife. The gritty, sophisticated edge that the original Thin Man movie had is gone from this, the third entry in the long running series of films. What’s left is Powell and Loy’s charm, light comedy, witty dialogue, and a decent murder mystery. Good enough.
Starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Raymond Burr, Nina Foch, Diana Lynn
Unwittingly involved in a major heist and murder, doofus Wilbur (Lewis) has to take it on the lam, disguising himself as a 12 year old as he hides out at an all-girls school. A promising setup and a bright, colorful disposition, this Lewis-Martin film should have been more fun. They miss opportunities throughout to push the humor or mix in suspense by being over reliant on Jerry Lewis shenanigans. A couple of those land, but there’s no tension making anything more exciting. Martin’s relegated to frown face and wet blanket. There was also an opportunity for an odd romance that the film conveniently drops and does nothing with.
Starring Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracey, Jack Holt
A midwestern girl and pastor’s daughter (MacDonald) moves to the raucous urban sprawl of 1906 San Francisco. There, she falls for the roguish club owner Blackie Norton (Gable) while being pursued by the more reliable and wealthy Jack Burley. Special effects and melodrama. An early example that I believe set the template for later classics such as Titanic. The climactic earthquake sequences are remarkable. While the surrounding drama is at times heavy handed and somewhat hackneyed (perhaps due to age), Gable gives his best performance as the selfish man changed by love. Tracy is excellent in essentially a supporting role (although he was nominated for the Oscar in the lead category). MacDonald is lovely as the fish out of water songstress and rising star.
Starring Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Dan Dailey, Michael Kidd, Dolores Gray
Three GIs back from overseas vow that their friendship will endure as they reenter the civilian world. A wager is made: in ten years, no matter what, they will reunite at their favorite bar. Ten years later, they show up, but find they have nothing in common. It’s an odd subject for the MGM musical treatment, and it’s difficult not to compare the film with Donen and Kelly’s previous collaboration, Singin’ in the Rain, but It’s Always Fair Weather is a fantastic musical in its own right. The dance numbers are unforgettable, especially Kelly’s serenade to Cyd Charisse on roller skates, which is pure joy. It’s satirical moments are probably too slight to make an impression, but the film does a moving job of portraying three men trying to reconnect after years apart.