falderal : a moving images blog

Archive for March, 2011

Playmates ; 1941

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Director: David Butler
Actors: Kay Kyser, John Barrymore, Lupe Velez, Ginny Simms, May Robson, Patsy Kelly
Country: U.S.A.

Playmates gets a bad rep from film buffs and John Barrymore fans alike but I think that if you separate yourself from your admiration for Barrymore and get off your high horse, this film isn’t all that bad! It certainly isn’t a masterpiece but a cute little film to watch if you want a few laughs such as Ish Kabibble’s cute hairdo, Kay Kyser reciting Shakespeare, Patsy Kelly’s hilarious performance as Barrymore’s agent, and Barrymore covering Shakespeare’s ears from Kyser’s humourously awful recitation. There isn’t much to say about the film since it just felt like one of those films without much substance, but I still think it’s fun to see the film in a more positive light rather than boo-hooing and throwing tomatoes at it.

As a Barrymore fan myself, it’s a shame that he had to stoop down to the level of making fun of himself and have that performance as his last rather than some adaptation of Hamlet or Richard III, but this film still shows that Barrymore has his talent intact. Moments of greatness shows when he’s reciting Shakespeare (I could swear that those tears are real when he’s reciting Hamlet’s famous soliloquy) and his comic timing is ALWAYS perfect. I admire actors who are great in comedy and the reason I admire Barrymore so much is that he is AMAZING in comedic roles. I’m not putting down his talents for dramatic acting (he’s very good at that too), but as a fan of comedies, I love Barrymore’s comedic roles. I love how hammy he was in some parts of this film (very Oscar Jaffe-ish) and the way he contorts his face is just adorable. Yes, I called Barrymore adorable.

The film, I think, also shows how much time has passed from the days Barrymore was great to the days when Barrymore was a revered actor from the ye old days. Many Barrymore fans moan about how this film makes fun of Barrymore, but for the most part, I don’t think the jokes are that cruel. When Kyser mentions that Barrymore was a great actor, he didn’t say it with scorn but it sounded sincere. Even though Barrymore has dropped considerably from the top due to his boozing, I don’t think anyone can deny that he was once GREAT (not just good) and that he still had his stuff if he wasn’t drunk. In many ways, I felt like the film portrayed the real Barrymore (ha! How should I know right? I’m just musing from what I’ve read of him) with his reverence for Shakespeare, his occasionally big ego, and the way dramatic way he spoke. His weariness is apparent in his face and when he says sleepily that his life was dedicated to the theatre, it almost seemed like he was a tad bitter about it due to him not wanting to be an actor in the first place and also because that career path has led him to the top but also to the bottom. The cast billing is also proof of how Barrymore was no longer a box office draw. Kyser’s name is what’s presented in big letters and Barrymore comes after the title with the other supporting cast members. That’s not to say that Barrymore’s role is minor, quite on the contrary he’s in the film just as much as Kyser, but he’s no longer the main reason people would come to see this film.

Although it’s a shame that Barrymore passed away so quickly, Playmates isn’t as bad as most people would think it would be. It certainly isn’t painful to watch and isn’t cruel in the way The Great Profile was so if you ever catch it on TV, give it a chance! In all honesty, how can you resist a film where Barrymore wears tights?!

IMDb Link: Playmates
Where to buy: Not available

The Lady Is Willing ; 1942

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Director: Mitchell Leisen
Actors: Marlene Dietrich, Fred MacMurray, Aline MacMahon, Stanley Ridges, Arline Judge
Country: U.S.A.

The Lady Is Willing is a lovely little screwball comedy featuring Marlene Dietrich and Fred MacMurray. For some reason I thought that this was a drama film but I was surprised to see that it was a comedy and was directed by the same director as Midnight. For the most part, the dialogue wasn’t fast paced like most screwballs but there were some really great lines such as “Go sterilize yourself. With all the money you handle and everything…” and the combination of facial expressions, timing, and movement of all the actors were really great! I never really saw Dietrich as a comedic actress but my god, she blew me away with her performance. Even from the beginning, she had me cracking up and the way she talked and her facial expressions were GOLDEN. This is probably my favourite Dietrich film of all time (I guess the von Sternberg x Dietrich OTP that I always supported just went down the drain) because I think it showcased her acting talents on top of her good looks. I’ve admired Dietrich mostly for her presence on the screen (and her crazy life) and for the most part, I saw her acting talents in the shadows except for the few moments when they really came out (e.g. Judgment at Nuremberg and Witness for the Prosecution). In The Lady Is Willing, Dietrich was lovely to look at but the way she acted had me enthralled every moment that she was on the screen. It’s really a shame that she wasn’t in more comedies because I think The Lady Is Willing proved that she’s a capable comedienne who has great timing in regards to the way she delivered her lines and the way she changed her facial expressions. I knew that Dietrich was fluent in English, but the way she delivered some of the lines really shocked me. Even as an American, I don’t think I would be able to say that long speedy ramble she did. It is most definite that Dietrich totally stole the spotlight in this film and it’s hard to even think of anything else about this film except for her.
My favourite scene has to be the beginning when Dietrich’s character, Liza Madden, walks in with a baby. The events that ensue inside her apartment are rather hilarious, but it is Dietrich’s performance that had me in stitches. The AMAZING hat that she wore (which the other characters in the film call “screwy”) added a comedic effect and complimented the way Dietrich moved and talked. The way those feathers swished around when she was calling the doctor (MacMurray) had me laughing so hard that I had to pause the film to laugh.

Do I recommend this film? YES! I recommend it to all fans of comedy and Dietrich. Trust me, dear Marlene will not let you down.

IMDb Link: The Lady Is Willing
Where to buy: Amazon.com