It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Directed by Frank Capra) English 10

Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore, Beulah Bondi, Gloria Grahame, Ward Bond

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Classic. Immortal. Moving.

Clarence (Travers), an angel 2nd class, is given an awfully tough assignment: selfless, devoted family man, George Bailey (Stewart) of Bedford Falls, wonders if the world would be a better place if he was never born. Clarence gives George a glimpse of what that would look like. The quintessential Christmas standard, It’s a Wonderful Life is the best of Christmas movies for any lover of classic Hollywoood. James Stewart and Frank Capra were an awesome pair, and I’m not sure any one has looked more beautiful in a film than Donna Reed when she and Stewart huddle around a phone, trying to stay angry at one another. I’ve mentioned before people’s tendency to forgive overt sentimentality in older films. In fact, it’s what people love most about films like It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey’s life isn’t easy, or what he dreamed for himself, but in the end, he’s given the gift of seeing that he has a purpose. Aside: Like any true traditionalist, I prefer this film in black and white.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Penny Serenade (1941, Directed by George Stevens) English 8

Starring Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Edgar Buchanan, Beulah Bondi, Eva Lee Kuney

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Wonderful. Tearful. Sad.

Penny Serenade is a classic weeper. You can see where it’s going, you know that it’s trying to manipulate you into tears, you try to resist, but, ultimately, the film is effective. I think even more than the tragedy that you can’t help to empathize with, the cast of characters are just so wonderful, that you become emotional through the large passage of time depicted in the story. There’s married couple, Roger and Julie Adams, very much in love, but struggling to make money, and left unable to have a child. They turn to adoption, and fall in love with a little girl, Trina, who becomes their daughter. There’s Applejack (Buchanan), loyal family friend, always there for the Adams. Then there’s Miss Oliver (Bondi) working at the adoption agency, who becomes something of a fairy godmother to the Adams. I loved these characters. Full of laughter and tears, Penny Serenade is terrific.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


His Girl Friday (1940, Directed by Howard Hawks) English 7

Starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy,  John Qualen, Gene Lockhart

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(7-Very Good Film)

Intelligent. Witty. Expert.

Perhaps the most famous of screwball comedies, His Girl Friday, directed by Hollywood master, Howard Hawks, stars Cary Grant and a never-better, beauty and brains, Rosalind Russell. She plays Hildy Johnson, an ace reporter giving it all up to marry kind, stable Bruce (Bellamy), an insurance agent. First, she needs to secure a divorce from her husband and former boss, Walter (Grant), the double-dealing editor of a New York newspaper. She knows it won’t be easy. Walter always has something up his sleeve, and he’s not ready to give her up. Similar to an earlier screwball classic, The Awful Truth, in romantic setup and leads (both Grant and Bellamy were great in it), I prefer The Awful Truth. His Girl Friday starts off with a bang, a fantastic Act 1, but loses steam, and drags a bit in the second act. One thing I do love about the film is the background actors, their authentic reactions and interplay. It makes the whole thing seem like a live glimpse at depression era journalism.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Seventh Heaven (1937, Directed by Henry King) English 5

Starring James Stewart, Simone Simon, Jean Hersholt, Gale Sondergaard, Gregory Ratoff, Sig Ruman

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(5-Okay Film)

Overdone. Ham-fisted. Dramatic.

I can forgive a level of corn, especially when it comes to classic Hollywood, but Seventh Heaven overdoes it. James Stewart plays Chico, a lowly sewer cleaner in 1914 Paris and self-proclaimed atheist, burdened with an exploited young woman, Diane (Simon), through his own actions and the work of a kindly priest, Father Chevillon (Hersholt). It’s not difficult to see where the story is heading, and part of the fun in getting there is diluted by the soppy monologues and religious theme that seems to me to be built on questionable theology. In any case, the wonderful stars can’t pull the material off, and the result is only for the hard-core fans of weepies.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


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-


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-


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-