falderal : a moving images blog

Archive for August, 2009

Christmas in July ; 1940

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Director: Preston Sturges
Actors: Dick Powell, Ellen Drew, Raymond Walburn, Alexander Carr, William Demarest, Ernest Truex, Franklin Pangborn
Country: U.S.A.

I finally got my paws on more Preston Sturges films and I was excited to watch them. I watched The Great Moment and was disappointed but I remembered reading that The Great Moment was butchered by Paramount (or one of the major studios) so I decided that I shouldn’t judge Sturges for that film. But then I watched this and wondered what in the world made Sturges make it. The acting was mediocre, although I did like Ellen Drew as Betty. It had some cute moments and I can see some of Sturges’ usual style but this film was so… bland. I wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone unless they want to see all of Sturges’ works; I can’t even come up with one redeeming quality for this film.

IMDb Link: Christmas in July
Where to buy: Amazon.com (DVD – part of “Preston Sturges – The Filmmaker Collection”) ; Amazon.com (VHS)

Waterloo Bridge ; 1931

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Director: James Whale
Actors: Mae Clarke, Douglass Montgomery, Doris Lloyd, Frederick Kerr, Enid Bennett, Bette Davis
Country: U.S.A.

I’ve watched the remake of this film and absolutely fell in love with it the first time I watched it. I forgot what the title was and it took me two years to hunt it down until my mom finally remembered what the title was. When I looked it up, I found out that it was a remake of an earlier film so I became even more curious about this film. Usually I hate remakes, but I adored the remake; that gets me wondering if the mindset that people carry about remakes is what tarnishes their reputation because I didn’t know the later Waterloo Bridge was a remake and liked it. I probably would have liked it nevertheless due to Vivien Leigh and the great story and acting. Anyway going on, at first I was indifferent while watching this (original) version due to the odd pacing and me wondering just where this film was going with the story. On top of that, sometimes Mae Clarke’s face expressions were hard to decipher. I really did like Mae Clarke as Myra and she was gorgeous yet had an air of tragedy, which was perfect for her character. Kent Douglass as the nineteen year old war soldier Roy looks completely innocent and is perfect in this role. I was surprised to see the young Bette Davis but her performance didn’t leave much of an impression on me, which makes me admire her even more for eventually becoming such a big star. It’s a shame that this was my first Davis film but it is still interesting to see her in one of her earlier films.

The editing and special effects in this film is fun to see since it’s obvious but still pretty good for its time. I wonder if they used the Schüfftan process, but it doesn’t look as seamless as it did in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Hmm… *ponders*

My favourite scene has got to be when Myra sees Roy leave and then puts on her hat and gets ready to go out again (ref. Picture 2). From her face expression and her getting ready to go out, somehow you know about her occupation. I thought Mae Clarke’s performance was at its best in this scene although the scene when she yells and cries when Roy comes in through the window is a close second.

Also a weird thing, the ending credits has “A Good Cast is Worth Repeating”; I wonder what the meaning of that is…

The beginning of the film is a bit slow but as the film progresses, it gets better and better. I do recommend this film although I can see how some people might not like it. It’s not as dramatic as it could have been or as tragic, but I think it was good nonetheless. The remake definitely smoothes out the rough edges and heightens the drama and the tragedy. It’s also interesting to watch a film that goes against the stereotype of pre-code films being racy and sexual. I would give this film about a 7.5 or 8 out of 10.

I’ll definitely write about the remake as well once I find my DVD!

IMDb Link:
Waterloo Bridge
Where to buy: Amazon.com (Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 1 DVD set)

Grand Hotel ; 1932

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Director: Edmund Goulding
Actors: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt
Country: U.S.A.

First of all, I would like to say “Happy birthday!” to the “Queen of MGM”, Norma Shearer. I didn’t have any more Shearer films with me so I decided to post about a film that Shearer would have been in except word has it that her fans begged her not to star in it. I wish that Shearer was in it, but I love the cast of Grand Hotel as it is. Nevertheless, happy birthday, and may you rest in peace.

The whole idea of Grand Hotel is stated by the Doctor (Stone) saying, “Grand Hotel. Always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.” Although it seems like it goes against all the drama that does happen in the film, it does show the nature of the hotel. People come in and go out all the time and although there are things happening in the place, in the end the stories that happen there doesn’t matter because it is replaced by the new flood of people that come. The drama that happened one time in Grand Hotel is all forgotten eventually.

Or at least that is my take on it.

I highly enjoyed this film the first time I watched it and when I watched it the second time around, I was more interested in how the hotel functions as a place. There is so much going on but everything is ephemeral there: the food, the music, the romance, nothing ever lasts. People change while they are in this hotel, but the hotel never changes and always does the same thing by serving the people under its roof. The story we see in this film is just a small fraction of what happened at that one period of time in the hotel’s history and it’ll soon just be irrelevant replaced by the new couple who come to the hotel in the end and eventually their presence and actions will be forgotten. I love that the hotel creates the opportunity of mishmashing between all kinds of different people such as a stenographer, an ill man, a ballerina, a baron, and a textiles business man. How the drama unfolds in this film is perfect and the ending is bittersweet. Surprisingly the second time around, I didn’t feel much sadness for Grusinskaya (Garbo) and felt even happier for Flaemmchen (Crawford) and Kringelein (L. Barrymore). I guess Grusinskaya was simply too selfish for me the second time around whereas when I first saw her, my fascination with Garbo and her beauty enraptured me.

Crawford’s performance in this film was spectacular. Even Garbo couldn’t outshine Crawford because Garbo seemed too overdone and almost not genuine. While I thought that she did portray her character well, Crawford’s timing and face expressions were performed so perfectly that I enjoyed every minute of her screen time. Her little talk with the Baron (J. Barrymore) was flawless because her body language and face expressions made it clear what kind of person she was. Crawford has such a presence in each scene that you have to see this film just for her.

Also, I have to point out my amusement of how long it takes for Greta Garbo to appear in a film. And on top of that, her entrance is always dragged out and her glorious face is always obscured by something and then makes a dramatic entrance. It’s almost laughable at times and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when I saw how the bed sheets just happen to cover her face in Grand Hotel and the camera does almost a full circle until it gets to Garbo and her face.

I believe that this film was the first all-star cast film to ever be made in America. I think that MGM succeeded in creating a film that had the star power and a great story to go with it. I highly recommend it and just like how the hotel changes over time, your thoughts about the film and what intrigues you will change every time you watch it as well.

IMDb Link: Grand Hotel
Where to buy: Amazon.com

A Free Soul ; 1931

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Director: Clarence Brown
Actors: Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, Lionel Barrymore, James Gleason, Clark Gable, Lucy Beaumont
Country: U.S.A.

A Free Soul is an amazing pre-code film that I enjoyed from the beginning to end. Norma Shearer as Jan is a free woman who can do whatever she wants. Her father (Lionel Barrymore) has taught her to be independent and that if she ever makes mistakes, it will be no one’s fault but her own because she had the choice to make it or not.

This film also gives the viewers a glimpse of how a “free” woman was perceived by society: Jan is seen by her family as someone who is wild and Ace (Clark Gable) says that he’ll ruin her reputation by telling the truth so that no man would want to marry her. I loved Jan and her wit, charm, intelligence, and her willingness to take responsibility for her actions and to be a strong woman in various situations. What I found to be interesting about this film is that it had both progressive ideas and incredibly conservative and classist ideas portrayed as well. Nevertheless, I highly enjoyed this film.

My favourite scene cinematically is the jail scene with Jan and Dwight (Howard). It gives a sense of closeness through its almost claustrophobic-like framing and to see how they are communicating not only through their voice but through their eyes. It was as if this scene solidified their relationship and they both knew what each other was thinking just by looking at each other. While they are close emotionally and location-wise, the wall between them keeps them away from each other. The wall could be seen as a hurdle that Dwight needs to go over in order to be free and be with Jan, but at the same time, if that wall wasn’t there, Jan’s past actions would be exposed, just as her face would be. I thought that it was an interesting way of filming this scene because so many films from the past go for the plan américain and simple shots that show people’s faces with no obstructions

The acting is superb on everyone’s part. Norma Shearer is FANTASTIC; no words can describe how much I loved her as Jan. From the beginning I couldn’t help but fall in love with her character. And when she is with Clark Gable and does her “come here” arm motions (ref. Picture 1), even I was entranced. Lionel Barrymore’s speech at the end is heart breaking and he definitely has his own charm. Clark Gable, as a gangster, was known as “the man who slapped Norma Shearer” after this role. I was surprised to see him without his trademark moustache! Even though it wasn’t there, I somehow kept thinking that it was. Leslie Howard was absolutely delicious in this film! I couldn’t help but think that he looked like a British version of Gösta Ekman; funny thing is, he played Gösta Ekman’s part in Intermezzo in the American remake of the Swedish film. But of course, my heart will always side with dear Gösta and think that he’s the best.

IMDb Link: A Free Soul
Where to buy: Amazon.com (Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 2 DVD set), Amazon.com (VHS)