January 15: The Black Cat
I never knew that Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff starred together in several films until I was schooled one night by Robert Osborne while watching TCM. Dracula and the Mummy together in one film based on an eery Edgar Allan Poe story that takes place in an Art Deco manor? Count me in. I admit to being more than a bit overexcited by the Art Deco manor. I adore that style, I want to bathe in art deco, I want to live always surrounded by the gorgeousness of the 30s. I know that I was born in the wrong era. Anyway, this movie really had nothing to do with Poe’s story besides the similar title and the presence of a black cat. It’s about a vacationing couple that somehow gets messed up with Bela Lugosi’s revenge on Boris Karloff. They’re unaware of that, though. Bela and the couple are on their way to their hotel when a sudden rainstorm washes the road away and the car goes crashing into a ravine. The driver dies, but they remain unscathed. This doesn’t make a bit of sense, but no matter. The wife is unconscious, so they head to Bela Lugosi’s manor and tend to her injuries. The house is fabulous! Watch it just for design alone! The plot, now that it’s rolling, makes little sense, or I just didn’t catch on. I guess Boris married Bela’s wife and then she died and then he married Bela’s daughter and they were going to sacrifice her to something. It was all lovely with a badass soundtrack, but the premise really never captured my imagination. [My Rating: 4/10 (one star of the decorating alone)]
January 16: Suddenly Last Summer
This was one of the very first films I put on our Netflix queue years ago when we subscribed to the service. I had seen the original with Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor and had been intrigued by the oddness, the taboo, the madness of the film. It’s about a young girl, Cathie, who went with her cousin Sebastian for the Summer holidays to a place called Cabeza de Lobo. Sebastian mysteriously dies, but nobody believes Cathie’s story, so they put her in a mental institution. Sebastian’s mother, the overprotective, incestuous-seeming Violet is adamant that Doctor Cukrowicz preform a lobotomy on Cathie to get rid of the story that she thinks is ruining her reputation and that of her dead son. In this version, which I find superior in regards to the plot, is much more concise and comprehensible. The action all takes place within a few hours and is wrapped up neatly unlike the older version, which is much more cinematic but a tad confusing. Nothing can beat the elevator in the original, though, I want one of those in my future abode. It’s a bit slow, but it has an allure that I can’t quite understand. [My Rating: 7/10]
January 17: My Favorite Wife
This movie reminded me an awful lot of Too Many Husbands, starring one of my favorite actresses I just realized I adored a couple of months ago, Jean Arthur. That is one hilarious movie. It’s on the Netflix, go get it. Anyway, this one follows a rather similar premise, only the roles are reversed at the beginning. Nick played by Cary is a widow, his wife, Ellen, died years ago in a tragic boat accident and he is getting remarried. All of a sudden, Ellen isn’t dead anymore and they are reunited in love, but issues abound of course. Nick now has two wives and though he still loves his first wife, he finds himself in an awful pickle, mostly because he has no nerve. It goes on charmingly for a while and then it is revealed that Ellen had a very attractive male companion for the seven years she was on the island. Nick is enraged with jealousy! Now they all have to choose who to be with and the last half hour seems a bit depressing before the happy resolution at the end. [My Rating: 5/10]
January 18: Topper
I have an awful lot of Cary Grant movies on my DVR right now, not that I’m complaining. He’s one of my favorite male actors. In fact, he may be my favorite male actor of the old days of Hollywood. I love his comedic timing and the perfect part in his hair. All men in the 30s seemed to have had the best hair, I can’t make mine do the same. I’ve slathered it in pomade, but I just look greasy and ridiculous. Maybe it’s the black and white? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in greyscale? Everybody looks better that way. This picture is about a married couple named George and Marion Kerby played by Cary and Constance Bennett. George is a rich shareholder in a bank and lives a very fast life filled with myriad ways to amuse himself and his wife. It sounds very unpleasant and almost Wildean, but for these two it is rather charming. One day they are driving far too fast and crash and die. Fortunately for them they come back as ghosts because they have not been good or bad in their lives. They are in limbo until they manage to do a bit of good, so they decide to help their friend Topper out. He is the henpecked president of the bank yearning to live life with a bit more excitement. His wife is having none of that and seems to go out of her way to make his life dull. George and Marion do their best during the rest of the picture to see to it that Topper has a great time causing scandals, marital anguish, and an awful lot of fun. It’s a frivolous and charming picture. [My Rating: 6/10]
January 19: The Great Garrick
When I taped this movie I didn’t expect it to have so many connections to some of my favorite bits of cinema. The female lead is Olivia de Havilland, a woman I have adored ever since I glimpsed her in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Her work has been a major influence on my creative life. Her roles in The Heiress, The Snake Pit, and Light in the Piazza have stuck to me like glue and are easily evident in my writing. She’s just fantastic and I hope that before I no longer have the opportunity I get to meet her. This past Spring I went to her townhouse in Paris and gazed at the windows, aquiver with delight at being near her and her talent. I was within 100 feet of a legend and two Oscar statuettes! It was such a thrill. I have a fantasy of her inviting me up for tea and we chat and chat and become odd friends. I’d write a book about her and then a movie would be made about our unconventional friendship. But back to The Great Garrick, she was effortlessly divine as she always was. The male lead was Brian Aherne, who I thought I was unfamiliar with, but it turns out he was in one of my favorite Joan Crawford pictures, I Live My Life. I love that movie so much. Anyway, The Great Garrick was about an actor played by Aherne who is quite boastful and proud and terribly conceited. He insults the Comédie-Française by claiming that he was going to join them for a time to teach them how to act. The Parisian actors were uproariously offended and decided to teach him a lesson. They devised a complex and convoluted plot to rent a hotel and make Garrick embarrass himself and run back to London. Unfortunately for them, Garrick had been notified of this scheme and played along to their embarrassment. Olivia’s character shows up unexpectedly, and the actors try to get rid of her as she’ll ruin their plan. Garrick assumes she is another actor and continues his own scheme. In the end, he doesn’t believe her when she tells him that he isn’t an actress and he carries on to Paris. In the end, he learns that she wasn’t lying, that she really did love him, and that he loves her, too! A happy ending. [My Rating: 6.5/10]
January 20: Stage Fright
For some reason, I haven’t seen a lot of Alfred Hitchcock films. I don’t understand this phenomenon as I do love a good mystery. The only two I can recall watching are The Birds and To Catch a Thief. They were both good pictures, but they weren’t exactly extraordinary to my tastes. This picture, though, was fabulous. I absolutely adored it. I really don’t want to say too much about it because that would give the whole thing away–sorry! I highly recommend that you watch it. The acting is superb, Marlene Dietrich is divine as always, the ending was unexpected, and the atmosphere catches up up. It’s also beautifully done, the first scene is a curtain raising on a bombed post-war London and that curtain is fantastic. Curtains seem to be a common theme in this movie, which is something that I didn’t hear about in the critical reviews of this picture, so maybe that’s just some irrelevant detail that I noticed. I don’t think so, though, wait for that ending. Good Lord! The entire picture is worth watching for the scene when Marlene sings The Laziest Gal In Town.
I adore everything about it. [My Rating: 9/10]
January 21: King Solomon’s Mines
This is one of the dullest, most painful moves I ever stayed conscious for. The worst film I can recall watching, that I can recall, was some dreadful picture about mutant starfish from outer space. I only made it about twenty minutes into that one before I made my way to dreamland. Anyway, this picture should have been awesome–I can’t understand why they made it so dull–tons of materials were shipped to Africa to capture an authentic feel. It’s evident that care was put into the film, but that does not excuse the plot. It’s about a safari guide who is payed an outrageous sum of money by a widow to help find her husband who had been lost searching for King Solomon’s mines. Great beginning and idea, but Holy God, it drug on and on and on and suddenly cannibals are trying to at them and it’s over. I was so confused and bored and traumatized by the elephant hunting scene. I hated this movie. [My Rating: 1/10]
Film of the Week: Stage Fright. A comic and suspenseful Hitchcock film staring Marlene Dietrich as the ultimate conniving bitch singing one of my favorite movie musical moments. Highly recommended.