Thursday, June 28, 2012

Strangers When We Meet (5 stars)

In less than a month, I have another addition to my 5-star film discoveries of the year, and shock of shocks, it is another Kirk Douglas film.  (Detective Story, reviewed HERE, just landed on that list about three weeks ago.)  The latest 5-star film discovery is Strangers When We Meet, a 1960 romantic drama starring Mr. Douglas, Kim Novak, Ernie Kovacs, Barbara Rush, and Walter Matthau.  Featuring a beautiful George Duning score, this very passionate film was one Net Flix recommended because of my interest in similar films. Wow, I am so glad for that recommendation, because I had never heard of this film prior to then.

While delivering his son to the bus stop one morning, architect Larry Coe (Kirk Douglas) takes notice of Margaret Gault (Kim Novak), a newcomer to the neighborhood, also dropping her son at the bus stop.  After running into her again at the local market, Larry is definitely attracted to the beautiful woman, and he sets out to make her acquaintance by inviting her to accompany him to a a fancy new home he is building.  At first reluctant, Margaret (who Larry has decided to call Maggie) eventually agrees, and the two form a friendship, as she helps him take measurements at the property.

On the homefront, Maggie and her mother have an icy relationship, the result of her mother's infidelity during her marriage to Maggie's father.  Though her mother says that what happened to her could happen to anyone and that she hopes Maggie will really fall in love someday, Maggie insists that she is in love with her husband.  Husband Ken (John Bryant), however, has no romantic interest in his wife.  Even when Maggie goes to him seductively, Ken is more interested in washing and changing than in being intimate with his wife.

Feeling unloved and undesirable, Maggie ultimately ends up seeing Larry again.  Telling Ken she's going out with friends, she meets Larry at an out-of-the-way restaurant, where he soon tells her that he wants to make love to her.  Guilty and frightened, Maggie attempts to stop things before they start, but because she wants Larry as much as he wants her, she surrenders to him, and they embark on a passionate affair, eventually falling deeply in love with one another.

Although the lovers meet at the house Larry is building, it turns out that their relationship has begun to be suspected.  Not only does a mutual friend have suspicions, but Larry's wife is about to get wise too.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

This is a very interesting, passionate, well-acted film.  Kirk Douglas is completely super in this role.  I know very little of him, having seen (I think) only one of his films (Detective Story, in which I thought he was sensational), but I have to admit that I am very impressed with his acting abilities. Kim Novak does a terrific job as well.  Her performance here is even better than her performance in Middle of the Night (reviewed HERE).  I could so feel her longing to be faithful to her marriage vows, yet wanting so much to be loved and desired.  She was a wife in torment, and she played the part beautifully.  The icing on the cake was the incredibly gorgeous musical score.

Out on DVD, Strangers When We Meet should be fairly easy to track down.  Kirk Douglas, Kim Novak, or romantic drama fans ought to love this.

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happy Birthday, Eleanor Parker!!

Happy 90th birthday to the talented and beautiful Miss Eleanor Parker.  (June 26, 1922)  Miss Parker is one of the few stars from the "golden era" who is still alive, so I most definitely want to celebrate her.

This lovely, gentle-voiced lady resides near the very top of my favorite actress list---at #4!  I completely love her and am definitely on a quest to see as much of her filmography as I can.  She was a terrific actress, receiving a Best Actress Academy Award nomination three times.  (I go on record as saying that I think she ought to have won in 1950, for her performance in Caged. Though I adore Judy Holliday [who did win], Bette Davis [who was also nominated], and Sunset Boulevard [for which Gloria Swanson was nominated], I definitely feel that Miss Parker's performance was the most brilliant of them all and ought to have garnered her the Oscar.)

It was my search for Robert Taylor films which brought Eleanor to my attention.  The two of them made three movies together (Above and Beyond, Valley of the Kings, and Many Rivers to Cross), and when I watched Above and Beyond for the first time, I was surprised to see a name I recognized from The Sound of Music.  I had no idea that the Eleanor Parker of Sound of Music had been part of Hollywood's "golden era" or even that she had made other films.  (Of course, since I wasn't a classic movie enthusiast through decades of my Sound of Music years, my ignorance of Miss Parker is understandable.)  At any rate, I loved her in Above and Beyond, so in addition to tracking down the other two films she had made with the handsome Mr. Taylor, I sought out several of her other works---and the more I saw of her, the more impressed I became.  She very quickly rose to near the very top of my favorite actress list.

My absolute favorite of Eleanor Parker's films is The Sound of Music, in which she had the role of the woman I disliked---that competitor for Georg's affections, the Baroness Schrader.  This wonderful movie, which has been a part of my life since I was a mere child, is very beloved to me and remains firmly on my "25 favorite movies of all-time list."

Rounding out my list of five favorite Eleanor Parker films are:

2.  Caged  (with Agnes Moorehead)

3.  The Man with the Golden Arm  (with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak---reviewed HERE)

4.  Detective Story  (a very recent discovery, with Kirk Douglas---reviewed HERE)

5.  Pride of the Marines  (with John Garfield---reviewed HERE)

So, Miss Eleanor Parker, happy 90th birthday to you!!  I hope your birthday finds you in good health and surrounded by family and friends.  You will always be one of my very favorite actresses.  Thank you for bringing so much enjoyment to my life through so many wonderful movies!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Gun Runners (4 stars)

The third film adaption of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not is 1958's The Gun Runners, starring Audie Murphy and Eddie Albert, with Patricia Owens and Gita Hall taking on supporting roles.  This film, which I watched in honor of Mr. Murphy's June 20th birthday, is my second favorite adaption of the Hemingway story.  As discussed HERE, John Garfield's The Breaking Point is my absolute favorite version (and the most faithful to Mr. Hemingway's work).  The Gun Runners, though, is easily my second favorite (and very close to being a "love it," 5-star film), leaving the Bogey/Bacall adaption as the one I like the least (and a 2-star film for me).

Living in Key West, where he runs a charter fishing service with his boat The Lucy M, is former Navy man, Sam Martin (Audie Murphy), a good guy who doesn't have it in him to do wrong.  Though finances are a constant struggle, he and his wife Lucy (Patricia Owens) are happy and very much in love.

After failing to be paid close to $1,000 for a job, Sam hits a local casino, where his financial burden comes to the awareness of craps player Hannigan (Eddie Albert), who hires Sam to take him fishing.  Accompanying Hannigan on the excursion is Eva (Gita Hall), and though she puts a bit of a move on him, Sam has no intention of cheating on his wife.  (The lines he uses to decline her advances are the exact same ones John Garfield uses to turn down Patricia Neal in The Breaking Point.)

Using the fishing excursion only as a ploy, Hannigan's real destination is Havana, where he has arranged a meeting with a band of Cuban revolutionaries.  After an eventful night--in which Hannigan shoots a man---Sam returns to Key West, completely determined to avoid any future contact with his lawbreaking passenger.

However, when the mortgage on The Lucy M is bought by Hannigan, Sam has no choice but to do the man's bidding.  Behind on his payments, Sam finds his boat in foreclosure, and the only way he will be able to get her back is to deliver Hannigan---and the guns he is supplying the revolutionaries---to Cuba...something he absolutely does not want to do.

Will this man, who doesn't have it in him to go bad, go bad after all?  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

As stated in my review for The Breaking Point, I don't care for the Bogey/Bacall version of To Have and Have Not at all, so for that reason, I very nearly didn't even give the other two adaptions a try.  Wow, would I have been missing out!  The Breaking Point usurped Dust Be My Destiny's status as my favorite John Garfield film, and The Gun Runners has become my favorite Audie Murphy film.  I completely adore Audie in this film.  Besides loving his character, I am in love with his look.  In his early 30's here, his face has matured from his earlier Westerns, and he is looking incredibly handsome here.  The storyline is interesting and exciting, and the playful, romantic interaction between Murphy and his wife is very sweet.  (The same playful interaction occurred between John Garfield and wife Phyllis Thaxter in The Breaking Point, and I quite enjoyed it there as well.)

The Gun Runners is out on DVD, plus it is available in its entirety on YouTube and through instant viewing on Net Flix .  If you are a fan of Audie Murphy, you will definitely want to see this.  Also, if you've read the Hemingway novel, you might want to catch this and see how it compares.

Happy viewing!!

NOTE:  Repeated viewings of this film have taken it from 4-star to 5-star status for me, and I have updated and expanded this review on June 12, 2013 (HERE).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, Judy Holliday!!

Happy 91st birthday to one of my top 10 favorite actresses---the lovely and talented Judy Holliday (June 21, 1921-June 7, 1965).

Born Judith Ann Tuvim, this delightful lady first found success on the stage.  Her first major role was in Born Yesterday, a role which she would reprise in film in 1950 and which would garner her a Best Actress Academy Award.  In addition to an Academy Award, Miss Holliday also won a Tony Award for her work in Bells Are Ringing.

My first experience with Judy was in Born Yesterday---a film which I obtained solely because of my love for William Holden.  I had never even heard of Judy before that.  To my surprise, I not only enjoyed her...I loved her.  What's more, her character in Born Yesterday---Billie Dawn---became one of my three all-time favorite female film characters.  Judy's portrayal of Billie (which The Academy deemed Oscar worthy) was completely delightful.  (Actually, "delightful" is THE adjective which comes to mind when describing the lovely Judy.)

Sadly, Miss Holliday succumbed to cancer at a very young age...just two weeks before her 44th birthday.  She left behind a son...and a handful of wonderful films.

My all-time favorite Judy Holliday film is that first one I ever watched---Born Yesterday (reviewed HERE).  I can't get enough of Billie Dawn and her amazing transformation from a dumb blonde, ex-chorus girl to an intelligent, "don't try to pull the wool over my eyes" woman of culture.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that William Holden was there to assist Billie in her transformation.  In addition to William Holden, Broderick Crawford also stars in this film.

Rounding out my list of five favorite Judy Holliday films are:

2.  Bells Are Ringing  (with Dean Martin---reviewed HERE)

3.  It Should Happen to You  (with Jack Lemmon and Peter Lawford)

4.  Full of Life (with Richard Conte)

5.  The Solid Gold Cadillac (with Paul Douglas)

So, Miss Judy Holliday, I am remembering you on your 91st birthday.  I'm sad that you departed this world at such a young age, but I love that you left us with your completely delightful presence through your wonderful films.

(For more information about Judy, visit the Judy Holliday Resource Center HERE.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Audie Murphy!!

Happy 87th birthday to Mr. Audie Murphy---a man worthy of honor, respect, and thanks.   (June 20, 1925*-May 28, 1971)

While Mr. Murphy is not one of my absolute favorite actors, as a man and as an American, Audie IS one of my favorites; therefore, it is important to me to remember and honor him on his birthday.

A few years ago, when my son was in high school and doing an in-depth study of World War II, he discovered Audie Murphy...the man who received over two dozen military medals, including the Congressional Medal of Honor, making him the most decorated soldier of the second world war.  Intrigued and wanting to learn more about the young man, my son read Murphy's war memoirs, To Hell and Back.  Not long afterwards, we discovered the 1955 movie of the same name, starring  none other than Audie himself.

Even those who are not fans of Murphy's Westerns ought to see To Hell and Back. Whether you think he was a good actor or not, there's no denying the fact that he was one very courageous young man, who willingly and wholeheartedly served his country. To my shame, I must admit that I never heard the name Audie Murphy until well into adulthood. When I was going to school, they didn't talk much about these kinds of heroic I never heard of this very brave, highly decorated soldier until my son brought him to my attention a few years ago.  That is sad and shameful...and it definitely ought not to be.  In a day and age when we need men of courage and honor as role models, Audie Murphy ought to be a name mentioned in every American history classroom!

Despite the fact that Westerns are not among my favorite genre, I do like Murphy as an actor.  No, he's not an absolute fave, but he definitely makes my top-20 list.  I've watched several of Audie's films, and I really like him in every single one.  There is a kind of softspokenness and gentlemanliness about him, even when he's playing a scoundrel.

It was a plane crash which took Mr. Murphy's life.  While on a business trip, on May 28, 1971, the private plane in which Murphy was traveling crashed into a mountain in Virginia. Interestingly, that happened to be Memorial Day Weekend.   His final resting place, quite fittingly, is in Arlington National Cemetery.  See his gravestone HERE.

So, Mr. Audie Murphy, I am remembering you on your 87th birthday. (HERE is my longer, more in-depth 88th birthday tribute) Thank you for all the entertaining films you made, but more importantly, thank you for your courageous service to our country and to the cause of freedom!  We are forever in debt to men like you!  (Though Mr. Murphy's bravery on the battlefield earned him numerous medals and brought him home as a hero and the most highly-decorated soldier of the war, the horrors he had witnessed in combat had scarred him for life; he would battle the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for the remainder of his too-short life. You can read my post about his battle with PTSD HERE.)

* Both IMDB and the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website (HERE), list 1925 as Audie's year of birth; other sites (and even his gravestone) list it as 1924.  The discrepancy is due to the fact that Mr. Murphy filed a falsified birth certificate at the Hunt County, Texas Courthouse, in order to join the military before he was of legal age.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Middle of the Night (5 stars)

Last night, I had an evening to myself, so I poured a glass of merlot and sat down to enjoy one of my absolute favorite romantic dramas---Middle of the Night, starring Fredric March and Kim Novak. Based on Paddy Chayefsky's play and directed by Delbert Mann, this touching 1959 film, which is actually one of my 10 favorite movies of all time, explores a very controversial subject---that of a middle-aged man's romantic involvement with a woman less than half his age.  Although I reviewed this film here last July, I am so crazy about it that I felt it was time to re-work that post and thereby, hopefully, bring this lovely film to the attention of many others.

Jerry Kingsley (Fredric March) is a 56 year-old widower, with two 25+ year-old married children and two grandchildren.  Early on, we find that he has attempted to date again and, in fact, even asked the woman to marry him, but she turned him down and ended up getting engaged to someone else.  The pain and loneliness Jerry feels over her rejection is agonizing (especially to this viewer).

Betty Preisser (Kim Novak), a 24 year-old divorcee who works as a receptionist at Jerry's company, has some papers which Jerry is in need of, so he stops by her apartment to get them.  While there, he senses that Betty is distraught about something, and he offers the shoulder she needs as she grieves her recent divorce.  Although Jerry initially offers fatherly advice to Betty, he quite soon becomes interested in her romantically and asks her out to dinner.

Initially concerned about the 30+ year age difference and fearful that one of them will be hurt, Betty is hesitant to continue seeing Jerry; however, he pushes her anxieties aside and suggests they get married.  At that point, their love is put to the test, for Betty's mother, sister, and friends think she's insane to marry an old man, and Jerry's family thinks he is making a total fool of himself, something he begins to believe as well.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

This controversial-themed movie is handled very tastefully.  I think it is an incredibly beautiful film, with completely spectacular performances by both Miss Novak and Mr. March.  Actually, I think this could possibly be the performance of Fredric March's career.  I am a huge March fan, and although The Best Years of Our Lives, which is one of the films for which he won a Best Actor Academy Award, may be slightly more beloved to me than this film, I think his performance in Middle of the Night is even more superior.  He is totally brilliant here!!  I could SO feel his pain as he struggled with the passionless existence expected of men his age.  Kim Novak is equally wonderful in her role.  If anyone wonders why I really didn't like her in her Marilyn Monroe-ish dumb blonde role in Phffft (reviewed last week HERE), this film will show why.  She was capable of so much more than that.  Miss Novak and Mr. March definitely click in this film.  Their chemistry is spot-on!

Bottom line---I think this film is totally awesome, and I highly recommend it.  Out on DVD as part of the Kim Novak Collection, it should be fairly easy to track it down.  Fans of Fredric March, Kim Novak, or May-December romances will not want to miss this one.

Happy viewing!!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Rawhide (3 stars)

Rawhide, from 1951, is a Western drama starring Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward. Directed by Henry Hathaway, the film features Hugh Marlowe, Edgar Buchanan, Dean Jagger, Jack Elam, and George Tobias in supporting roles.  Since Ty Power was one of the guys of the month last month, I had been looking through his filmography for "new to me" films I wanted to see; when I discovered that he did two films with my #2 gal (this one and Untamed), I went on a mission to obtain at least one of them.  I finally tracked Rawhide down...and in time to be included as part of Susan Hayward month.

On its way from San Francisco to St. Louis, a stagecoach makes a stop at Rawhide Station, a remote post attended by Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan) and Tom Owens (Tyrone Power). Disembarking the stage for a meal at the station are, among others, Vinnie Holt (Susan Hayward), and the small child she carries with her.  Before the passengers can depart the station, a soldier informs the stage driver that condemned prisoner Rafe Zimmerman (Hugh Marlowe) has escaped. In the interest of safety, Vinnie and little Callie are left behind at Rawhide, while the remainder of the passengers continue on their journey.

Posing as a lawman, the escaped prisoner soon makes his appearance at Rawhide Station, and in short order, his three gang members arrive as well.  After shooting Sam, the four men take over the station---their target is the next Eastbound stage and all the gold it is carrying.  Before that stage arrives, though, the Westbound stage will be passing through, and Tom is to act as though all things are normal, not giving any clue that Zimmerman and his men are lying in wait.  Though Tom would like to alert the stage driver to what is going on, he is kept in line through threats to harm Vinnie and Callie, whom the outlaw gang has mistakenly taken to be Tom's wife and daughter.

Locked in a room with Vinnie most of the time, will Tom be able to warn the stage driver of the impending danger?  And once the robbery is accomplished, is there any hope for Tom, Vinnie, and Callie to escape?  These are the questions which play out in this film.

While Rawhide is not a spectacular film, it is definitely entertaining and exciting.  I found the storyline interesting and the acting quite good.  Susan Hayward was her usual exceptional self.  She was appropriately strong and hard---traits she always exhibited perfectly.  Ty Power---in what I think was an unusual role for him---was quite believable here.  Hugh Marlowe---who I've only seen as a "good guy"---did great in his role as well.  Jack Elam was quite terrific too.  If I was more into Westerns, I probably would be rating this one 4 stars.  So, 3 stars, from a non-Western fan means this is a very solid film.

Rawhide is out on DVD; however, I tracked it down through a site called "Westerns on the Web" (HERE).  If you like Westerns, definitely stop by that site.  They have dozens of movies, all available for free viewing on their site.  Additionally, the film is available in its entirety on YouTube.

Happy viewing!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Kings Go Forth (4 stars)

Kings Go Forth, from 1958, is a World War II romantic drama starring Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood.  Directed by Delmer Daves, this film, which flips back and forth between romantic drama and wartime action, is tender and touching and very bittersweet.  It's one of many Frank Sinatra films our family owns, and since there is enough action in it to keep a 20-year old boy entertained, my son recently put in a request that we watch this one.

While Paris is being liberated in 1944, Allied troops are marching through Southern France as they prepare to drive the German troops from the nearby mountains.  One of the soldiers being welcomed by the grateful French people is Lt. Sam Loggins (Sinatra).

Sam's outfit has just received a new recruit---communications man Brit Harris (Tony Curtis).  A fun-loving, womanizing show-off, Brit is described by Sam as a smooth operator, who knows all the angles.

While on a weekend trip to Nice, Sam meets a beautiful young woman, Monique Blair (Natalie Wood), and he is soon quite smitten with her.

Although Monique at first declines Sam's request for another date, she ends up seeing him again and introducing him to her mother as well.  Frank begins to live for his weekend visits to Nice, and he becomes quite close to both Monique and her mother.

Much to Sam's surprise, he learns that Monique is, in fact, an American, but that she has lived in France all her life.  Monique's conversations are liberally peppered with references to her late father, and Sam remarks that her father must have been a very wise man; however, when Monique reveals that her father was a black man, Sam is quite taken aback. Without even acknowledging Monique's words, he leaves her home and heads back to his base, where in addition to the war he is fighting with the Germans, he begins fighting a personal war as well.

Having grown up detesting black people, Sam has a hard time coming to terms with the fact that the woman he loves has black blood in her.  Eventually, though, he realizes that Monique's race doesn't matter to him, nor does it change his love for her.

While out on the town, Sam and Monique run into Brit, and in short order, Monique---who has already told Sam she thinks of him as nothing more than a friend---and Brit have eyes for only each other, leaving Sam odd man out.  Brit asks Monique to marry him, and she happily says yes, but how will Brit, who is not nearly the man Sam is, react when he discovers the truth of Monique's parentage?   The answer to that question, as well as the resolution to the battle taking place in the mountains, will play out in the balance of the film.

Kings Go Forth is a very bold (for its time) film.  While today we (most of us anyway) would think nothing of Monique's revelation, in 1958, that storyline had to be quite unsettling to audiences, especially when the film's lead character ended up not having a problem with it.  I applaud every person involved in this film for pursuing this very worthwhile story. Without question, Kings Go Forth is another of the many films which clearly shows that Frank Sinatra, indeed, could act.  He's wonderful here.  I completely love his character and the way in which Frank brought him to life.  My heart was breaking for Sam as he dealt with the pain of unrequited love.  I'm not overly familiar with Tony Curtis, but I thought he was super in his role as well.  Natalie Wood was beautiful and sweet, and she did a great job with the French accent.  She played her part perfectly, as did Leora Dana, who portrayed Monique's mother.

The Elmer Bernstein score of the film is lovely.  It includes a portion called "Monique's Theme," and while the film features only an instrumental version of that beautiful piece of music, lyrics were written for it, and the song, entitled "Monique" was a hit for the velvet-voiced Sinatra.

In addition to the romantic storyline, there is the war side as well.  The film is liberally interspersed with battle scenes, all of which are realistic and quite tense.  All these things combine to make an extremely solid, 4-star film, which I highly recommend.

The film is out on DVD, plus it's also on the TCM schedule for Saturday, June 23rd, at 4:15 a.m. (ET).    I hope you are able to catch it.

Happy viewing!!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Phffft (3 stars)

Phffft, from 1954, is a romantic comedy starring Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon, with Kim Novak and Jack Carson taking on supporting roles.  Probably the strangest-named film I have ever heard of, Phffft, which features Miss Holliday and Mr. Lemmon in their second pairing, was part of my Judy Holliday birthday celebration.  While it's not one of my favorite of Judy's films, it is enjoyable and quite funny in parts.

After eight years of marriage, Robert and Nina Tracey (Lemmon and Holliday) are bored with each other and have decided to call it quits.  When Nina announces that she wants a divorce, Bob agrees that it's a good idea; in fact, he tells her, he's been wanting to suggest that very thing for six months.  In agreement that they need to end their marriage, Nina flies off to Reno.

Newly single, Bob moves in with his Navy buddy, Charlie (Jack Carson).  Quite the playboy, Charlie immediately suggests that Bob begin seeing other women; Bob, however, isn't interested at first and ends up reminiscing about how he and Nina met.  Soon, though, Charlie fixes Bob up with a friend, Janice (Kim Novak), but since Bob still thinks of himself as a married man, the date doesn't go well.

Nina, also, is attempting to move into a new season of life.  Besides dating an overly aggressive colleague, she seeks to bone up on her "culture" by taking French lessons and dance classes.  Bob, too, enrolls in dance lessons, and now hot on their feet, the two of them happen to meet up on the dance floor while on dates with others.

In due time, both Bob and Nina feel like giving their relationship another chance; however, when Nina informs Bob that with his newly-acquired mustache and 3-piece suit, he resembles either Graucho Marx or a gigolo, and Bob counters that Nina is looking like a middle-aged woman, all hopes for a reconciliation are off...that is until Charlie moves in on Nina himself.

What will Nina do when Charlie puts his playboy moves on her?  What will Bob do when he discovers his best friend is moving in on "his wife?"  These are the questions which play out in the balance of this film.

While Phffft is an enjoyable film, it is definitely only so-so in my book.  Miss Holliday and Mr. Lemmon were paired earlier in 1954 in It Should Happen to You---a film which I find vastly superior to this one.  That said, here in Phffft, Judy is her usual delightful self, and Jack (Lemmon) is completely wonderful as well.  Quite honestly, I think Mr. Lemmon stole the show.  While I don't see Jack Carson as the playboy type, he actually worked quite well in this role.  Kim Novak, though---at least for me---was definitely miscast.  While I think she's wonderful in several dramatic films (Middle of the Night, Picnic, The Man with the Golden Arm, The Eddy Duchin Story), I don't think she fits in a comedic role.  I didn't find her funny at all; in fact, because I'm used to her in dramatic roles and, therefore, see her as much more than the "dumb blonde" she portrays here, I found her character annoying rather than funny.

At any rate, I adore Judy Holliday (which is quite surprising since most of her works are comedic and I'm not a huge comedy fan), so I do view this film occasionally...I just happen to enjoy several of her other films more than this one.  However, it is a very solid, 3-star film (4 stars according to my husband and kids), and fans of Miss Holliday, Mr. Lemmon, or Miss Novak won't want to miss it.  The film is out on DVD, so it should be easy to track down.  Additionally, it is on the TCM schedule for Wednesday, August 22nd, at 6:00 a.m. (ET).

Happy viewing!!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Back from Eternity (4 stars)

Back from Eternity, from 1956, is a suspenseful drama starring Robert Ryan, Rod Steiger, and Anita Ekberg.  Directed by John Farrow, this film is a remake of Farrow's 1939 film Five Came Back.  Taking on supporting roles here are, among others, Gene Barry, Beulah Bondi, Jesse White, Keith Andes, and Fred Clark.  As I have enough fear of flying, I don't often watch plane crash films, so for that reason, I've never seen the original.  I will watch this one solely for my beloved Robert Ryan, and since I was in desperate need of a "Ryan fix," I decided to pop this on the other night; thankfully, my daughter and I have both recently returned from our vacations, so I won't have visions of Back from Eternity in my mind to cause me any anxiety.

The story revolves around three crew members and nine passengers aboard a U.S.-to-South America airplane, which, due to inclement weather, is forced to crash land in the middle of the Amazon jungle.  While the plane is repairable, repairing it will take time, but because the local cannibalistic tribe is on the warpath, time is a luxury not available to the stranded people.  Even after the plane is repaired, due to the damage incurred in the landing, its occupancy limit will be five people.  The others will have to remain in the jungle, where the natives are moving in for the kill. Among those on board are:

Pilot Bill Larnegan (Robert Ryan)---a widower whose grief has brought him into some downtimes, he now has a penchant for drink.

Prostitute Rena (Anita Ekberg), who, without legitimate transport papers, is on her way to a new establishment in South America.

Co-pilot Joe Brooks (Keith Andes)--Flying with Larnegan for the first time, he has taken an interest in one of the passengers.

Jud Ellis (Gene Barry), an arrogant, unkind man who seems to find fault with everyone and everything.  He is traveling with his fiance, Louise (Phyllis Kirk).

Professor and Mrs. Spangler (Cameron Prud'Homme and Beulah Bondi)---a loving couple who have been married 42 years.

Pete (Jesse White), a mobster traveling with the young son (Jon Provost) of his boss.

Vasquel (Rod Steiger), a condemned murderer, on his way to his execution, in the company of Crimp (Fred Clark)

How will these men and women survive for days in the jungle?  Which five of them will make the flight back home?  These are the questions which will play out in the remainder of the film.

This is a very interesting, thought-provoking film, with good performances by all.  (Of course, my beloved Robert Ryan couldn't give anything but a good---or great---performance).  I have to admit, though...the film's ending greatly unsettles me.  While I wholeheartedly believe that "there is no greater love than giving one's life for another," I felt the film very subtly projected the message that certain elements of the population are expendable, and I completely disagree with that.  Whereas in the days of "women and children first" (which I completely believe in), that was due to the code of chivalry, to the belief that the stronger were to protect the weaker.  In this film, though, it isn't about protecting the weaker; rather, it's about certain people groups being more worthy of saving than others.  (Can't say more without giving away who is left behind.)  One thing is for sure...I would never want to be put in the position of having to choose which people live and which ones die!

Back from Eternity is definitely a very solid 4-star film, which I highly recommend.  While it's not out on DVD nor currently on the TCM schedule, TCM does show it fairly regularly. You could probably catch it there before the end of the year.  (NOTE:  Two of my commenters have made me aware that this film has recently been released on DVD.  HERE is the link to where you may obtain it.)

Happy viewing!!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Ada (4 stars)

Ada, from 1961, is a political drama starring Susan Hayward and Dean Martin, with Wilfrid Hyde-White, Ralph Meeker, Martin Balsam, and Frank Maxwell taking on supporting roles.  In many ways, this film is an early 60's version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, as the "puppet elected official," who isn't as dumb as the big guys think, seeks to stand against political corruption.

The "puppet" elected official in this case is Bo Gillis (Dean Martin), a friendly, easy-going man of little education.  As his campaign for governor enters its final weeks, Bo and his entourage make a stop in one of the small towns of their Southern state.  A visit to a local establishment provides Bo with an introduction to call girl, Ada (Susan Hayward).  Although his campaign manager warns him "no girls," Bo spends the night with Ada and ends up falling in love with her, and much to the chagrin of his people, he decides to marry her.

Sylvester Marin (Wilfrid Hyde-White) is the kingpin behind Bo's campaign, and he is furious about the inappropriate marriage.  Though he suggests an annulment, Bo is adamant that he loves Ada and will not end his marriage to her.  Unable to get Ada out of the picture, Marin and his people develop an "acceptable" biography for Ada, and then they (without Bo's knowledge) seek to discredit the opponent by digging up dirt on his wife.  In Sylvester's words, "If you want to grow a beautiful rose, there's nothing like a little manure."

After Bo wins the election, he and Ada move into the governor's mansion; however, Bo soon discovers that the only job he has is affixing his signature to documents Mr. Marin prepares.  When his Lieutenant Governor (Frank Maxwell) makes him aware that the bills he is signing are filled with graft, Bo is furious, and with Ada's encouragement, he determines he'll stand up to Sylvester.  Marin, however, who has no intention of giving up his power, retaliates by forcing the Lieutenant Governor to resign, appointing Ada to that position, and then keeping her in line by threatening to expose her less-than-savory past.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.  (And  both Susan Hayward and Dean Martin have the opportunity to deliver Jimmy Stewartesque anti-political corruption lines.)

In comparing Ada to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ada, of course, falls far short; however, it is still an interesting film, with a great message.  The acting is extremely good.  Wilfrid Hyde-White, who I only know as a good guy, is great as the political "heavy."  It was actually kind of hard seeing him in this kind of role.  He is and always will be the kindly Colonel Pickering of My Fair Lady to me.  Dean Martin did a wonderful job in this dramatic role.  Since his character is a guitar-playing, down-to-earth man, the role seemed a great fit for Martin.  He even did a good job with the Southern accent!  And Susan!  She was terrific!  She had an incredible talent for portraying feisty, determined, hard-boiled women, and she played the part of Ada beautifully.  In fact, it really is her acting which took this film from 3 to 4 stars for me.

The film is not out on DVD, nor does TCM air it very often.  Do keep your eyes peeled for it, though.  I think it's a very good, very relevant film.

Happy viewing!!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Bells Are Ringing (5 stars)

Bells Are Ringing, from 1960, is an adorable musical romantic comedy starring the totally delightful Judy Holliday and Dean Martin.  Directed by Vincente Minnelli, this film, which features the wonderful supporting cast of Jean Stapleton, Eddie Foy, Jr., Fred Clark, Frank Gorshin, and Bernard West, first appeared as a Broadway musical in 1956.  Both Miss Holliday and Miss Stapleton portrayed their same characters in each venue, and for Miss Holliday, her Broadway performance garnered her a Lead Actress Tony Award.

Kind, compassionate Ella Peterson (Judy) works as a phone operator at Susanswerphone, her cousin Sue's (Jean Stapleton) answering service.  Far more than just a job to Ella, her position gives her access to the lives of people she has come to care about.  Though Sue continually warns Ella not to get involved in their clients' lives, lest the service be shut down for law violations, Ella simply can't help herself; she loves people too much to not do everything in her power to make their lives happy.

Ella is especially attached to Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin), a playboy playwright who is struggling with his latest script.  Wanting to do more than just give and take messages for Mr. Moss, Ella, using an old lady voice, has developed a phone relationship with him. Thinking that his message taker is a motherly old woman, Jeffrey calls Ella "mom" and feels very comfortable sharing his troubles with her.

When Jeffrey's agent leaves a message indicating that he is down to his final chance, Ella wants to encourage him to do the writing she knows is in him.  However, with his phone unplugged and her call not getting through, drastic measures are necessary.  Only a trip to his apartment will work, and when Ella manages to get inside and she sets eyes on her client for the first time, she finds that he is "Better Than a Dream."

As the kindhearted woman encourages him along, Jeffrey writes...and his agent loves it. Before long, Jeffrey has fallen in love with Ella...only thing is, Ella has never told him her true identity, and now, not wanting him to know that she deceived him, she is afraid to do so.

In addition to helping Mr. Moss write his play, Ella has gotten involved in the life of a dentist who aspires to write music (Bernard West) and a down-on-his-luck actor (Frank Gorshin). How those men's dreams entwine with Jeffrey's, all the while two detectives are investigating Susanswerphone as a possible escort service, makes for a very sweet, heartwarming film.

Judy Holliday is, as always, pure delight.  From beginning to end, she is a total joy.  Her character is the kind of person we need more of in this world; she's caring, compassionate, unselfish, friendly, warm, and kind.  I love the way Judy brought Ella to life.  I love her wardrobe too---the blue dress, the pink one, the white, the red...they were all gorgeous, and as I often do, I found myself wondering why women threw away that kind of a wardrobe.  The scene in which she dresses in grubs and dons a Marlon Brando-type voice is quite of the funniest in the whole film.  Sadly, Bells Are Ringing would be Judy's final film performance.

Dean Martin is terrific in his role.  I have to admit, when I first saw this film about four years ago, I was lamenting that Frank Sinatra wasn't cast in the part.  As a huge Ol' Blue Eyes fan and a lover of his musicals, I thought he would have been the icing on the cake here in Bells Are Ringing.  However, the more I've seen this film (4 or 5 times now), the more Dean grows on me, and now, I've come to the place of not only thinking he was perfect, but of being interested in listening to more of his music and discovering more of his works.  I really love him here, and when he broke into "Just in Time," I was thrilled.

Nominated for the Best Music Academy Award, Bells Are Ringing features ten lovely songs, and I loved every one of them, which is often not the case (for me) with musicals. Usually, there are two or three songs I don't care for, but here, I loved them all.

Finally, my whole family loves this film.  When I said we were watching a Judy Holliday film for her birthday month, both my kids made the same request..."Bells Are Ringing" please.  While Born Yesterday is my favorite Judy film, this one is definitely my family's favorite...and a 5-star second favorite for me.  Those who enjoy fun, lighthearted musicals, Judy Holliday, or Dean Martin, ought to completely love this.  Out on DVD, this film should be very easy to track down.

Happy viewing!! 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

They Won't Believe Me (3 stars)

They Won't Believe Me, from 1947, is a mildly suspenseful film noir starring Robert Young, Susan Hayward, and Jane Greer.  Directed by Irving Pichel, this film is one which had been on my radar for quite some time, and about a month ago, TCM finally aired it, so I DVR'd it and saved it to watch during my Susan Hayward birthday month celebration.

The story, which is told in flashback, begins as Larry Balantine (Robert Young) takes the stand at his own murder trial.  Mr. Balantine reveals a story which clearly portrays him as a philandering husband...but does that necessarily equate to being a cold-blooded murderer?

A married man, Larry has been seeing Janice (Jane Greer) for several months.  Janice, however, realizing that she's not "a Saturday afternoon girl," nor a home-wrecker, breaks things off with him and leaves town.  Although Larry would like to run off with Janice, the fact is, he's quite attached to his wife Greta's money; therefore, leaving her is not an option.

Despite Larry's unfaithfulness, Greta (Rita Johnson) wants to save their marriage and suggests that a change of scenery would be good for them, so they move off to California, where Greta's influence buys Larry a job at an investment brokerage.

A young lady named Verna Carlson (Susan Hayward) works in Larry's firm, and in short order, the two of them begin seeing one another.  When Greta discovers that Larry is, once again, being unfaithful to her, she sells his investment in the firm and then gives him an ultimatum---go with her to the mountain ranch she has bought or stay in the city with his girlfriend.  Since he has no intention of living without Greta's money, Larry has no choice in the matter...he breaks things off with Verna and heads out to the isolation of the mountains.

When, a short while later, a building project on the ranch leads Larry back to Los Angeles, he re-connects with Verna; in love with her, he determines that he will leave Greta---no matter how hard it will be, his and Verna's love will see them through.  After slipping a cheap drugstore ring on Verna's finger, the two lovebirds happily head off to Reno, where Larry intends to obtain a divorce and then marry Verna.  Things don't go as planned, however, and ultimately, Larry finds himself charged with the murder of the woman he loves.  (I can't reveal anymore without giving away too many of the surprise twists.)

Now on the witness stand for his life, Larry has revealed the whole ugly, sordid story...but will the jury believe him?  Will the jury really believe that while he is certainly a cheating husband, he is not a murderer? Or will they deem Larry's story a complete fabrication and convict him? These are the questions which will play out in the balance of the film.

They Won't Believe Me is definitely an interesting, exciting film.  However, to be honest, I have to say that  it occurred to me several times, that the role of Larry was exceedingly out of character for Robert Young.  I have never seen him portray anything but an honorable, upright man, and in fact, in his own life, he was decent and honorable, having been married (apparently faithfully) to one woman for over 60 years.  It just seemed so odd to see him as a lying philanderer.  He played the part well and was very credible---it just didn't seem like his kind of role.  Jane Greer's part in the film is fairly small, but she does a great job with it. Susan Hayward is a fantastic femme fatale---I always love seeing her in meaty roles like this.  The film's ending is rather shocking.  While I kind of expected one aspect of it, I definitely never saw the other aspect happening.

All in all, They Won't Believe Me is a solid, enjoyable, 3-star viewing experience, and it's very close to being 4 stars.  Although not out on DVD, it is on the TCM schedule for next Tuesday, June 12th, at 10:00 p.m. (ET), so perhaps you can catch it then.

Happy viewing!!