Centennial Summer (1946, Directed by Otto Preminger) English 6

Starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan, Dorothy Gish, Constance Bennett, Cornel Wilde

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(6-Good Film)

Well-crafted. Attractive. Light.

Set in the summer of 1876 in Philadelphia, the life of the Rogers’ clan is chronicled in this lightweight musical. With a particular focus on sisters, Julia (Jeanne Crain) and Edith (Linda Darnell), who vie for the same man, newcomer Frenchman, Philippe Lascalles (Cornel Wilde), Centennial Summer boasts a terrific cast. Aside from the leads, Walter Brennan, Constance Bennett, and Dorothy Gish star, and the talented Otto Preminger directs. Centennial Summer will suffer comparisons from anyone who’s seen the fantastic Meet Me in St. Louis. It’s a handsome, likable film without being as endearing as Vincente Minnelli’s classic which inspired it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Strangers in the Night (1944, Directed by Anthony Mann) English 7

Starring William Terry, Virginia Grey, Helene Thimig, Edith Barrett, Anne O’Neal

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(7-Very Good Film)

Modest. Efficient. Suspenseful.

It’s one of my favorite things in life when I stumble upon an old film that I’ve never even heard of and it turns out to be a gem. It’s the equivalent of a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Strangers in the Night, directed by Anthony Mann early in his career, stands at just 56 minutes long with no recognizable stars, though I’ve seen the lead actress in a pretty unremarkable whodunnit earlier this year. A marine, Johnny Meadows (William Terry) corresponds with a woman he’s never met named Rosemary Blake during his time in the South Pacific for World War II. Upon returning home, he sets out to meet this girl he’s never seen but has fallen in love with through their letters. Instead, he meets Mrs. Hilda Blake (Helene Thimig), a strange and sinister older woman who claims to be Rosemary’s mother. He also meets a beautiful doctor, Leslie Ross (Virginia Grey), complicating his feelings for Rosemary. It’s a rare film that keeps me clueless about where it’s heading, but Strangers in the Night did just that. It’s a really tight, suspenseful story that offered many surprises.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Girl Can’t Help It (1956, Directed by Frank Tashlin) English 7

Starring Tom Ewell, Jayne Mansfield, Edmond O’Brien, Julie London, Juanita Moore, Henry Jones

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(7-Very Good Film)

Sparkling. Amusing. Memorable.

Jayne Mansfield plays Jerri Jordan, a dumb blonde with hidden depths, named by her gangster boyfriend Marty “Fats” Murdock (Edmond O’Brien) who wants her to be a star singer. He hires a washed-up talent agent, Tom Miller (Tom Ewell), to make it happen. Fats hires Tom solely on the down-on-his-luck agent’s reputation for not trying anything with the ladies he represents, but you can guess where the story goes from there. The pleasure’s in the style, the over-the-top characterizations, and most of all, the music. Little Richard, The Platters, Eddie Cochran, and Fats Domino all turn up over the course of the film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Are You With It? (1948, Directed by Jack Hively) English 6

Starring Donald O’Connor, Olga San Juan, Martha Stewart, George O’Hanlon, Jody Gilbert, Julie Gibson, Noel Neill, Lew Parker

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(6-Good Film)

Erratic. Entertaining. Lively.

A talented actuary with his entire life mapped out, Milton Haskins (O’Connor), is thrown off course when he finds he’s made a mistake in his work. The math whiz, once believing himself to be infallible when it comes to numbers, takes the gaffe hard and walks out on his job and his loyal fiancée, Vivian (San Juan). Walking through the park to shake off his troubles, he meets sheisty carnie “Goldy” (Parker), who quickly inveigles Milton into assisting on a host of cons. Are You With It? feels almost directionless as far as story. It’s a series of contrivances to see O’Connor and the supporting cast sing and dance. You could claim that that describes every musical, but here, the results seem especially episodic. Disjointed though it may be, Are You With It? offers plenty to enjoy: lively music and dance numbers, snappy dialogue, engaging cast. On the whole, it’s a solid musical.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Lemon Drop Kid (1951, Directed by Sidney Lanfield, Frank Tashlin) English 7

Starring Bob Hope, Marilyn Maxwell, Lloyd Nolan, Jane Darwell, William Frawley, Fred Clark

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exuberant. Endearing. Manic.

Bob Hope plays the titular character, also known as Sidney Milburn, a con artist who messes up and cons the wrong guy, mob boss Moose Moran (Clark), who gives Sidney until Christmas Eve, just a couple of weeks, to pay the money back ($10,000). Sidney then connives the help of his few remaining friends to pull off his biggest scheme yet: street-corner Santas taking money from the kind-hearted. Of course, this is a Christmas film so the wicked Sidney eventually has a change of heart. The source of the classic Christmas song, “Silver Bells,” The Lemon Drop Kid is a wonderful light comedy and star-vehicle for Hope who delivers his nonstop one-liners and zany buffoonery in highly amusing fashion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Talk of the Town (1942, Directed by George Stevens) English 7

Starring Ronald Coleman, Jean Arthur, Cary Grant, Edgar Buchanan, Glenda Farrell, Charles Dingle, Rex Ingram

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(7-Very Good Film)

Attractive. Well-acted. Serious.

There are films left on the great Cary Grant’s filmography for me to see, but The Talk of the Town is likely the one and only film that I’ll find myself rooting for someone else to end up with the girl. Grant plays Leopold Dilg, a fugitive wrongly accused of arson and murder, holed up in the home of an old friend, Nora Shelley (Arthur). With the whole town looking for him, things become more difficult still when the austere Professor Lightcap (Coleman) appears early to rent a room in the house. A love triangle develops out of this situation, and though the potential is there for comedy, The Talk of the Town is played mostly straight with its trio of stars giving fantastic performances. Not as emotionally resonant as some of Capra’s similarly dramatic-comedies, this film is mostly a testament to classic Hollywood star power.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Enchantment (1948, Directed by Irving Reis) English 7

Starring David Niven, Teresa Wright, Farley Granger, Evelyn Keyes, Jayne Meadows

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(7-Very Good Film)

Engrossing. Sentimental. Romantic.

Based on a novel by Rumer Godden, Enchantment weaves through separate time periods, first recounting the romance of General Roland Dane (Niven) and Lark (Wright), a romance that started with their friendship as children and is tragically never fulfilled. Many decades later, at the height of World War II, the now elderly general meets his grand-niece (Keyes), in love herself, with a wounded soldier, and urges her not to make the same mistake he did. Melodramatic, but beautifully rendered and performed, this is an excellent romance of the old Hollywood style. The special effects to close out the picture are unexpected and spectacular.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-