Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936, Directed by Frank Capra) English 9

Starring Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, George Bancroft

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(9-Great Film)

Charming. Wonderful. Classic.

That Gary Cooper, a million leagues away from actually being an “everyman,” could so effortlessly and movingly play one in this film deserves much applause. He plays Longfellow Deeds, a noble average Joe, who inherits a massive fortune from a distant relative. Jean Arthur, one of my favorite movie stars, plays Babe Bennett, a cynical reporter out to get the big scoop, on Deeds. She, of course, begins to fall for him. Douglas Dumbrille plays John Cedar, a greedy lawyer, posing as Deeds’ financial advisor. A true classic. One of Capra’s greats and he made several.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(433)

The Leopard Man (1943, Directed by Jacques Tourneur) English 6

Starring Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks, Isabell Jewell

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(6-Good Film)

Effective. Striking. Limited.

Jerry (O’Keefe), a promoter, gets a leopard to bolster his girlfriend’s act, but when it gets loose and women are killed, Jerry’s not sure if he’s after a rogue leopard or a human killer. A fairly obvious mystery plot with a running time of 66 minutes and no character development, the film is reduced to a series of drawn-out suspense sequences, with three, in particular, standing out. A terrifying scene in a graveyard, blood pouring in under the door, and the character, Margo’s cigarette lighting up the dark alley. Three great scenes are enough to recommend any movie, and the amount of creativity and inventiveness that transformed a shoe-string budget into a memorable horror classic is staggering.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(423)

Jungle Book (1942, Directed by Zoltan Korda) English 9

Starring Sabu, Rosemary DeCamp, Joseph Calleia, John Qualen

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(9-Great Film)

Stunning. Classic. Exciting.

Though made in Hollywood during the war years, this production of Rudyard Kipling’s classic feels very British. Former servant turned star, Sabu, gives his greatest star turn as Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves and coerced into leading a group of greedy men to a lost treasure. This version was filmed in a studio, but the incredible set design and live animals more than make up for the artificial surroundings. It’s a fantasy, but also a strong morality play. Among the best works produced under the Korda brothers.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(421)

Nightfall (1957, Directed by Jacques Tourneur) English 8

Starring Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft, Brian Keith, Rudy Bond, Frank Albertson, Jocelyn Brando, James Gregory

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Taut. Spare. Expert.

Average Joe James Vanning (Ray) might know where some money is hidden; money stolen from a bank. An insurance investigator, Ben Fraser’s (Gregory), been following him for months now, and things escalate when two men from Vanning’s past catch up to him-the two men who actually robbed the bank, John (Keith) and Red (Bond). Anne Bancroft plays the femme fatale turned angel who takes it on the lam with Vanning. This is a terrific film. The plot, structure, characterizations, acting are all first-rate in what I think was considered a B-film. Aldo Ray, who I was previously unfamiliar with, has a very easy going demeanor that belies the situations he’s put in throughout this film, and it doesn’t seem forced. He’s a natural. The villains-the two criminals on Vanning’s tale-are excellent; cold-blooded and menacing, sadistic at times. At roughly 80 minutes, Nightfall is a masterclass on economy of time and gripping from start to finish.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(417)

Woman’s World (1954, Directed by Jean Negulesco) English 7

Starring Van Heflin, Clifton Webb, Lauren Bacall, June Allyson, Arlene Dahl, Fred MacMurray, Cornel Wilde

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(7-Very Good Film)

Involving. Plush. Attractive.

Ernest Gifford (Webb) runs the biggest auto company in 1950’s America. Needing a new General Manager, he invites three potential candidates to New York in order to examine them…and their wives. There’s the Talbots (Heflin and Dahl), a working-class husband with a gorgeous, ambitious wife, the Baxters (Wilde and Allyson), down to earth with the wife being a bit of a klutz, and the Burns (MacMurray and Bacall), estranged and on the verge of divorce. Each character is distinct and interesting and the story is slight but involving. The director, Negulesco (How to Marry a Millionaire, Three Coins in the Fountain), excelled at the so-called “women pictures.” His vibrant, technicolor, character-based dramas are always compelling.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(407)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946, Directed by Lewis Milestone) English 8

Starring Van Heflin, Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott, Judith Anderson, Roman Bohnen

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Surprising. Dramatic. Suspenseful.

How many classic Hollywood films can you say that you didn’t know where it was going by the end of the first scene? The Strange Love of Martha Ivers kept me guessing all the way through. Not because of any great mystery or some revelatory plot twist, but by its unique structure, its host of compelling characters, each flawed, and its blending of genres and styles. Part film noir, part melodrama, the film begins with its main characters as unhappy children. Martha is a young, orphaned girl raised by her cruel but wealthy Aunt Ivers (Anderson made a rich career out of perfecting these ice queen roles). Martha has a crush on the town delinquent, Sam Masterson, and asks him to take her away, far from their small, claustrophobic town lorded over by her Aunt. While Martha pines for Sam, another young boy, the meek Walter O’Neil pines for Martha. Loyal and infatuated, Walter covers for Martha as often is required. As the first act plays out, Walter’s loyalty is pushed to the limit but doesn’t break, as he witnesses Martha striking her Aunt, causing her to tumble down some stairs and die. Martha claims innocence, Walter corroborates, and Sam makes his way out of town by himself.

The film picks up some twenty years later. Sam, now played by Van Heflin, is a drifter and a gambler with an extensive criminal and war record; a classic antihero. Like the movie itself, Sam is capable of surprising you, whether that means rising to an occasion or letting you down. He arrives back in his hometown by accident and hopes to leave as soon as possible. Waiting on a car repair, he meets a troubled young woman, Toni Marachek (played by the film producer, Hal Wallis’ infatuation, Lizabeth Scott). She shows an interest in him, and Sam, being only human, reciprocates. Toni is gorgeous and is set up as the film’s femme fatale (trouble). She, too, has a criminal record and is soon hauled off to jail for violating parole. Sam finds out that old, meek Walter O’Neil (played by Kirk Douglas) is now the town’s D.A, and sets out to persuade his “old friend” to help. He also finds out that Walter ended up marrying Martha (played by Barbara Stanwyck). The rest of the drama unfolds in a surprising, bold, exclamatory fashion. The femme fatales, blackmail, murder, and antiheroes mark the film as noir, and the over-done performances, alcoholic tantrums, thunderous musical score, and family secrets point towards melodrama.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers works as a tribute to both styles. It’s also a big, elaborate production (A-list stars, director, and producer) as opposed to many of the noirs of its era. Its best quality, however, is its distinct characters, each tremendously flawed and inconsistent. Sam is a brute and a cad, Walter is insecure and a drunk, and as for the women, it’s best just to watch the movie and find out for yourself. Kirk Douglas makes his entrance into film with a bang, leaving the biggest impression out of the cast. Lizabeth Scott was a highly criticized actress in her day, and, to be fair, you could reasonably call her performances inanimate; wooden. I enjoy her presence and what she brings to the screen, especially in the role of “dream girl,” which she is usually given. It’s a fantasy, an unrealistic role in the first place, and her one-dimensional, distant performances make her presence seem out of place, out of time, and timeless. She doesn’t seem real, and I say it adds something to the roles. It’s a pleasure to watch rather than being awkward.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(400)

 

The Doctor Takes a Wife (1940, Directed by Alexander Hall) English 6

Starring Loretta Young, Ray Milland, Reginald Gardiner, Edmund Gwenn, Gail Patrick, Frank Sully

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(6-Good Film)

Light. Witty. Solid.

A misunderstanding leads to two strangers, influential writer, June Cameron (Young), and neurosurgeon, Dr. Timothy Sterling (Milland), pretending to be married. They could set the record straight, but both benefit from the misunderstanding and decide to play it out just until they can come up with a plan to end the charade. By the time their opportunity comes, both are hesitant to leave. Typical romantic screwball comedy in many ways, the female protagonist stands out, however, as a fairly progressive, strong, intelligent character. The amount of time spent between the leads isn’t convincing enough for them to fall in love, and neither character is crazy enough (say like Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby) to help me suspend disbelief, but The Doctor Takes a Wife is a solid, enjoyable film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(390)