Monday, February 28, 2011

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (5 stars)

Right behind William Holden on my all-time fave list is Gary Cooper, and, easily, my favorite Coop movie is the sweet romantic dramedy, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, from way back in 1936.  This film, which also stars the under-rated Jean Arthur, was directed by Frank Capra, who won an Academy Award for his work here.  Mr. Deeds Goes to Town was nominated for four other Oscars, including Best Picture and a Lead Actor nod for Mr. Cooper.

The story begins when Longfellow Deeds (Coop), an unworldly, down-to-earth man who writes poems for greeting cards, inherits $20 million from an uncle he barely knew. When his uncle's lawyers track him down at his New England home, he is totally unimpressed by the news of his inheritance. After all, he's comfortable and happy as he is, so he has no need of all those millions.

When the lawyers whisk Longfellow off to their New York offices, they see him as a total pushover, one whom they will be able to manipulate to do exactly what they want him to with all his money. Alas, though, Mr. Deeds is NOT as easy to push around as they think he is!! And his plan for the money is MUCH different than the lawyers' plans, for he intends to use it to help out the less fortunate, since he himself is already adequately provided for and quite comfortable. (This movie was released in the middle of the Great Depression and takes place during that time period.)

The local newspaper sees Mr. Deeds' inheritance of his uncle's fortune as a sensational story from which they can benefit.  Therefore, one of the ace reporters, Louise "Babe" Bennett (Jean Arthur), determined to get "the scoop," hatches a scheme of deception. Pretending to be an unemployed woman looking for work, Babe, strolls in front of Longfellows' New York residence, fainting dead away just as Mr. Deeds exits the house. Thinking he has rescued a hungry, down-on-her-luck woman, Mr. Deeds takes her (now calling herself Mary) out to dinner and then spends a sweet evening with her. Feeling that Mary is sincere and kind-hearted, Longfellow talks openly and honestly with her.

The next morning, when the lead story in the newspaper refers to Mr. Deeds as "The Cinderella Man" and recounts stories about him which make him appear to be a simpleton, he is confused as to how they got such information. He has no idea that "Mary" is not what she appears to be, and he continues to see her, eventually falling in love.

Meanwhile, Mr. Deeds has determined that he will use his $20 million to give a helping hand to hundreds of farmers who have lost their farms in The Depression. However, this idea infuriates the lawyers, who see their grip on the money loosening, and they attempt to have Mr. Deeds declared insane, thus allowing his inheritance to fall back into their hands.

Eventually, Longfellow discovers that Mary is really the reporter who has been writing all the negative stories about him, and since he has fallen in love with her, he is quite devastated by her deception, so devastated, in fact, that at his sanity hearing, he refuses to open his mouth in his own defense.

Will Mr. Deeds be declared insane by the court?  Will his inheritance be awarded to another?  Will he ever forgive Mary for deceiving him and making him appear "simple" in her news articles?  Those are the questions which play out in the balance of this charming film.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town really is a sweet movie, directed by none other than Frank Capra, of It's a Wonderful Life fame. This is my favorite Capra film (even more than It's a Wonderful Life) and my favorite Gary Cooper film. It's just a tender and touching story...a little sappy and sentimental, yes, but sweet nonetheless.

FYI...this movie was remade in the early 2000's, under the name of Mr. Deeds, and starring Adam Sandler in the title role. I have not seen the remake, nor do I ever intend to. For me, Adam Sandler cannot hold a candle to Gary Cooper, and I have no desire to see him try. Additionally, the remake is rated PG-13 for "Language including sexual references and some rear nudity." Well, I've seen the original---and loved it---and such things were not necessary for it to be a good movie. I'm not sure why the makers of the newer version felt compelled to add unnecessary junk.

 Out on DVD, this film should be readily available and quite easy to track down.  Hope you get a chance to watch it...and that you enjoy it.

Happy viewing!!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Letter from an Unknown Woman (3 stars)

Letter from an Unknown Woman, from 1948, is a period drama starring Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan.  It begins in Vienna in the early 1900's, but most of the movie is told in flashbacks.  It is the tragic story of a young woman's lifelong love for a self-centered concert pianist.

The story begins with a man (Stefan Brand, played by Louis Jourdan) reading a letter which opens with the words, "By the time you read this letter, I may be dead."  As he continues reading, the years fade away, and we see Lisa Berndle (Joan Fontaine), a somewhat-awkward teenager, standing outside the apartment Mr. Brand is moving into.  Lisa is fascinated by all the beautiful things, including a grand piano, that are being moved into the building.  Soon, Lisa is totally obsessed with all things about Mr. Brand, and after coming face to face with him one day when she opened the apartment door for him, she is totally and completely in love.

For the next few years, everything Lisa does is "for Stefan."  Determined to be graceful and ladylike "for him," she takes dancing lessons, learns manners, and studies the lives of the famous musicians.  She listens to him play the piano, all the while imagining him playing for her.  She also watches the comings and goings of his apartment, always feeling disheartened if he happens to bring a woman home with him.

Eventually, Lisa's mother, a widow, decides to remarry and move to Linz.  Of course, Lisa is devastated to have to leave Stefan behind, but she has no choice and moves with her parents.  Even as the years go by, though, she remains obsessed with Stefan and cannot get him out of her mind.  She even refuses the proposal of another man and decides to return to Vienna, where she keeps a nightly vigil outside Stefan's apartment.  Finally, one evening, Stefan notices Lisa and approaches her.

Has Lisa's dream finally been realized?  Has the man she has loved for years finally returned her love? To find out the answer to those questions, you will have to watch for yourself.  I'm not sure if this movie is out on DVD or not, though it is available on VHS.  I do know that when Turner Classic Movies showed it last spring, Robert Osborne mentioned that it was the very first time they were showing it. What?!!! TCM has been around for over fifteen years and they've never shown Letter from an Unknown Woman before!  I wonder why? Especially because Mr. Osborne also mentioned that it has been the movie for which they've received the most requests.  I would think, since it's such a popular movie, that it would be available on DVD and fairly easy to track down.  I hope so anyway, as I think this is a very solid, 3-star movie that most folks will enjoy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Witness to Murder (3 stars)

Witness to Murder is a crime drama from 1954, starring Barbara Stanwyck, George Sanders, and Gary Merrill.  Barbara Stanwyck is Cheryl Draper, who upon looking out her apartment window in the middle of the night, witnesses the man across the street murdering a woman.  Cheryl immediately calls the police, but when they arrive at the apartment of Albert Richter (George Sanders), there is no body to be seen and absolutely no evidence of a crime having been committed.  In fact, Mr. Richter had been asleep.  The police, therefore, conclude that Cheryl had only dreamed she had witnessed a crime.

Cheryl, however, is not convinced it was a dream, so she finds a way to get inside Richter's apartment to investigate.  She is sure that the earrings she discovers on his desk belong to the dead woman...and she is equally sure that the tear in the drapes was from the struggle that went on.   Mr. Richter, though, is aware that Cheryl had been in his apartment, and he always manages to stay one step ahead of her as far as the police go, even after the body of a woman is discovered in a nearby park.

Eventually, Mr. Richter receives threatening letters, claiming that the writer had seen him commit murder and that the police would soon find him out.  Since the letters appear to have been typed on Cheryl's typewriter, it is determined that she, in fact, is their author, despite the fact that she doesn't recollect having done so.  Her confusion about things lands her in the mental ward of the county hospital.

Policeman Larry Mathews (Gary Merrill) has begun to fall for Cheryl, and he wants to believe her claims about the murder, so he begins to heavily investigate any possible connection between Mr. Richter and the body found in the park.  Cheryl, meanwhile, has been released from the hospital and is more convinced than ever that Richter not only murdered a woman, but that he has been manipulating the whole circumstance to make it look as though she is losing her mind.  She is also sure that he fully intends to silence killing her.

And that is where I will leave off.  Is your curiosity aroused?  Are you wondering whether Cheryl really saw a murder?  Or was it just her imagination?  Is Richter really someone to be feared?  To find out, you will just have to watch this movie for yourself.  I'm not sure if it is out on DVD or not, so I'm not sure how easy it will be to track down.  I discovered it through Net Flix instant viewing, so if you are a Net Flix member, you can see it that way too.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Proud and Profane (4 stars)

The Proud and Profane, from 1956, is a wartime romance starring William Holden and Deborah Kerr.  Holden plays Colonel Colin Black, a gruff, hard Marine officer stationed in the south Pacific during WWII. Deborah Kerr is Lee Ashley, a woman whose Marine husband was killed at Guadalcanal. Wanting to find out about her husband's death, Lee joins the Red Cross efforts in the Pacific, hoping that in time she will be able to travel to Guadalcanal.

Colonel Black is immediately attracted to the beautiful widow and seeks to dominate her time. Lee, however, does not care for the colonel's hard, cynical attitude and really wants nothing to do with him. However, since she is told that Colin knew her husband and was with him shortly before he was killed, she begins spending time with him. Before long, even against her will, Lee falls in love with Colin. One evening, when Lee refuses his physical advances, Colin asks her if it would make any difference if he asked her to marry him. Of course, it does make a difference, and they begin a physical affair. (Nothing is ever just know it happens.)

All is not as it would appear, however. There are secrets between Lee and Colin, and how those secrets are revealed plays out through the rest of the movie. If this sounds interesting, you will have to watch for yourself to see what happens.  (As far as I know, this movie is only available through Net Flix instant viewing, so if you're not a Net Flix member, you might not have a chance to see this one.)

Just some random thoughts (opinions) from me about this movie...William Holden is, as always, fabulous to look at, though I must admit, I really don't care for him with the mustache he was sporting here. Definitely keep that handsome face clean shaven!! Deborah Kerr, though really good in this role, seemed an odd choice for pairing with Holden. I didn't think there was a great deal of chemistry between them. Also, knowing the casual-sex mindset that is so prevalent today, this movie, with its storyline of no physical intimacy without promise of commitment, seems quite dated. (One of many reasons I so appreciate the classics!) Finally, the scene in the cemetery near the end of the movie, where Kerr's character finds the answer she seeks, is extremely profound.

For those into wartime romance flicks, The Proud and Profane will fit the bill nicely. And if you are a die-hard Holden fan, as I am, this is a definite must-see.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Stalag 17 (5 stars)

When it comes to classic movies, I am totally crazy about William Holden and Gary Cooper. They're pretty much neck and neck as my all-time favorite actor, but if I was forced to pick an absolute favorite, it would be William Holden. I think he was FABULOUSLY good-looking...and also a VERY good actor.  Stalag 17, from 1953, garnered him the Best Actor Academy Award.

Stalag 17 is somewhat of a man's movie.  There are almost zero women in the cast, and the storyline deals with prisoner of war camps, attempted escapes, and spies...however, daughter and I, as well as some of her girlfriends, love this movie, so it's definitely not just for men only.

The story begins around Christmas, 1944, at a German prisoner of war camp (Stalag 17). Stalag denoted that it was a prison camp for non-officers; 17 denoted the territory where the camp was located. Two men of barracks 4 are attempting escape from the prison, and as they slide out the trap door, which was hidden beneath the stove in their barracks, the remaining men of the barracks are rooting them on. One man, however...J.J. Sefton (William Holden) cynical and unsupportive. He doesn't think the two men will reach freedom, and he even offers up a bet of cigarettes that they won't be successful. His attitude, of course, doesn't make him very popular with the other men in the barracks. In fact, he basically has only one friend in the barracks.

Within a few minutes of the escape, machine gun fire is heard....the Nazi guards were lying in wait for the men. Sefton was right...their escape attempt was not successful...and he collects his winnings of dozens of cigarettes, adding them to his trunk of "bartering goods." Determined to make life as comfortable as possible for himself, Sefton makes trades with the Nazi guards...another thing that has made his fellow prisoners dislike him.

The day after the attempted escape, the Nazi guards remove the stove from Barracks 4, because they knew the stove was covering the trap door. They also know that a radio has been smuggled into the barracks...and exactly where that radio is kept. The prisoners wonder how the guards knew those things...then it dawns on them that there is a traitor among them, that one of them is a "stool pigeon" and is supplying the guards with information. And, J.J. Sefton is the prime suspect.

Shortly after the two men are killed in the attempted escape, two other prisoners are brought an officer, the other a non-officer. They had been involved in blowing up a German train, and they tell their barracks-mates how they did it. Suddenly, the officer is removed from Barracks 4 and is about to be brought up on sabotage charges. Somehow, someway, the information they shared with the men in the barracks has been passed on to the Nazi prison guards...and since Sefton is the one they deem responsible, the whole barracks join together to beat him up.

Is Sefton really the "stoolie?" Or is there another man in Barracks 4 who is betraying his comrades? Well, to find out, you MUST watch this movie. I must admit here, although I own this movie and have seen it about ten times, it is absolutely BEST the very first time you watch it...when you really don't know who the traitor is. Repeated watchings are enjoyable (especially when you are a die-hard Holden fan), but the suspense aspect isn't there after the first viewing. Also, although the movie is an action/drama, there are several comical moments, mostly because of a few of the prisoners, especially  "Animal,"  who has a HUGE crush on actress Betty Grable.

Stalag 17 is out on DVD, so it should be readily available through Net Flix or your local library.

Happy viewing!!

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Best Years of Our Lives (5 stars)

The Best Years of Our Lives was the Academy Award winner for best picture in 1946. In fact, it won many Oscars that year, including Fredrich March for Best Actor and Harold Russell for Best Supporting Actor. It was this movie that shut-down the beloved It's a Wonderful Life in the Oscars that year.

A bit on the long side (about ten minutes shy of three hours), The Best Years of Our Lives is a wonderful movie that explores a problem that was very much in existence in those early days after the second world war....the plight of the war veterans who were returning home to a country that in many ways had gone on without them while they were away. The movie stars Fredrich March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Harold Russell, and Virginia Mayo.

The movie begins when Al Stevenson (Fredrich March), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), and Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), all war veterans from different branches of the service, attempt to find flights home to the hometown they share in common. Unable to find an available commercial flight, they are routed onto a military craft, and lifelong friendships are born as the men get to know one another.

Al is an Army veteran who has been married to Millie (Myrna Loy) for twenty years and has two upper teenage children. Fred, a bomber pilot, had a whirlwind romance and married Marie (Virginia Mayo) only a few short days before leaving for war. And Homer, who joined the Navy fresh out of high school, has two hooks in place of arms, the result of a shipboard tragedy. (I must digress here and tell y'all that Harold Russell, who plays Homer, was not a professional actor at all. Rather, like his character, he was a real disabled Navy veteran, who had lost his arms at sea...He actually won two Academy Awards for this role...the best supporting actor and some sort of achievement award as well.)

Anyhow, the men's arrival home is difficult, as life has gone on without them. Al barely recognizes his children, so grown they are. Fred's wife has taken a job and moved out of his parents' home and into an apartment of her own. And when he finally tracks her down, she is none too keen on the fact that he is not a man in uniform anymore. And Homer, painfully aware that his two hooks are disturbing for his family and high school sweetheart to look at, withdraws into himself.

The first night home, Al takes his wife and daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) to a local bar, where he unexpectedly meets up with his two new friends, Fred and Homer. When Al and Fred end up totally drunk and completely passed out, Millie and Peggy take them back to the Stevenson apartment so they can sleep it off. Peggy puts Fred in her bed, removes his shoes, and heads to the couch. In the middle of the night, however, she is awakened by Fred screaming, as he has a nightmare about a bombing raid. She soothes him, and then they both go back to sleep. In the morning, she drives him to his wife's apartment, and there is a definite connection between them.

Fred's reunion with his wife does not go well. She doesn't like that he now needs to find a civilian job or the fact that he is a man out of uniform. (The uniform was one of the reasons she had wanted to marry him!!) Add to that, she wants to party and be out all the time, including hanging out with other men. When the only job Fred is able to obtain is as a soda jerker at the drugstore he formerly worked at, Marie belittles him.

Al, who is a bank executive, begins to be unsettled with the bank's treatment of war veterans who are applying for loans. When these men, who have faithfully served their country, are denied loans because of insufficient collateral, Al is angered and often attempts to extend loans anyway.

And Homer, feeling like a freak show with his two hooks, is angry all the time. He no longer wants to marry Wilma and completely withdraws from her...and everyone, except for Al and Fred.

To reveal anything more about this movie would spoil y'all's viewing pleasure, so I'll stop here.  I hope that I've whet your appetite, that I've made y'all interested in the characters so that you want to discover how things turn out. I totally love this's on my top 21 list, and although I am an It's a Wonderful Life fan, I am SO in agreement with all the awards The Best Years of Our Lives racked up.

For our family, The Best Years of Our Lives is a Veteran's Day tradition. It is THE PERFECT Veteran's Day movie, though I must admit, viewing this movie only once a year is a bit of a hardship for me.  I love it so much and could actually watch it more often than we do.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

An Affair to Remember (5 stars)

An Affair to Remember is an incredibly beautiful, romantic movie, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. It is from 1957, which means Cary Grant is aging a bit, and let me just say, like fine wine, he aged well. He looks SO dashing and distinguished with a touch of gray at the temples.

The story is about Nickie Ferrante (Grant) and Terri McKay (Kerr), who meet aboard an ocean cruise. Although they are both engaged to others, they have not yet taken the plunge to marry, and they are immediately drawn to one another. By the time the cruise is over, Nicky and Terri are deeply in love, but they wonder if their romance was strictly a shipboard romance or if there is a future for them.

Upon disembarking, Nicky and Terri decide that they will go their separate ways for six months, and at the end of the six months, if their love for one another is still alive, they will meet at the top of the Empire State Building ("the nearest place to Heaven" in New York City) and begin to plan for their future together.

At the end of the six months, their love is, indeed, alive and well, and as each one is enroute to the rendezvous spot, tragedy strikes, preventing their reconciliation.

I can't reveal anymore than this, for to do so would spoil y'all's viewing pleasure. Suffice to say that this is a beautiful movie, one I consider one of the most romantic of all time, and it always brings me to exactly the same point EVERY time I watch it.

For your information, An Affair to Remember is a remake of the 1939 film  Love Affair, starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. I have seen both versions, and I far prefer the remake. Of course, that is partly because not long before seeing Love Affair, I watched the wonderful 1944 thriller, Gaslight, in which Charles Boyer played a murderous husband. Therefore, every time he uttered a word in Love Affair (in his delightful French accent), I kept seeing the murderous husband in my mind, so I couldn't accept him as a romantic lead. I've since come to the place of getting past that, and I actually enjoyed him in All This and Heaven Too (with Bette Davis), so I'm thinking it's time I gave Love Affair another try. Anyhow, y'all might want to see both versions and see which one you prefer.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Random Harvest (5 stars)

Random Harvest is a sweet, sentimental, heart-tugger from 1942, starring Greer Garson and Ronald Colman. The story takes place in England at the close of World War I. Ronald Colman's character, who was injured during the war, has amnesia and has no idea of his identity...the doctors simply call him "Smith." He is being kept at a psychiatric hospital while the doctors try to locate his family.

In the rejoicing that ensues with the ending of the war, "Smith" wanders away from the hospital and soon meets lovely Paula Ridgeway (Greer Garson), who sings and dances at a little pub nearby. They have an instant bond, and when he can't remember his name and tells her he is called "Smith," she nicknames him "Smithy."

Paula and "Smithy" soon marry and settle into life in a little country cottage.They welcome a son into their family just before "Smithy" journeys to the city on a business venture. While in the city, "Smithy" is involved in an accident...which triggers his memory. Now, he knows who he is...Charles Ranier...but he has no recollection of the two years since his war injury...meaning, he has no memory of "Smithy," or Paula, or the son she bore.

Years go by, and Charles tries to carry on his privileged life. But deep within him is the memory of a love he doesn't really remember, but which he can't get out of his mind. Try as he might, he cannot find happiness...he can't find love. The memory of a real and true love prevents him from finding love with another.

Okay, have I aroused y'all's curiosity? Are y'all wondering if Charles will ever remember Paula? Will they ever get back together? I won't say anymore, as I don't want to spoil your viewing, but suffice to say, that this is another of the movies that always makes me teary-eyed. There are no big huge sobs, but Random Harvest definitely touches my heart and makes me misty-eyed. It's one of my fifteen all-time favorite movies, and I highly recommend it. It is out on DVD and should be readily available through Net Flix or your local library.