Movie Resolution: Week 10

March 4: History is Made at Night

In this picture, Jean Arthur delicately teeters between comedy and drama. She deftly switches masks at the drop of a pin. Jean stars as Irene Vail, the wife of wealthy shipbuilder Bruce Vail. Their marriage is not exactly happy as Bruce is insanely jealous and borderline insane. He seems possessed with the belief that his wife is carrying on endless affairs with any number of men. She’s not, but he is convinced of it, and she has had enough, so she she tries to get a divorce and is likely to succeed, but Bruce sets up a trap for Irene. He is going to have her caught in the arms of another man and somehow this will ruin her chances of divorce. His plans go awry, though, a prowler (played by the very handsome Charles Boyer) unexpectedly arrives and kidnaps Irene. Luckily for her, he is not a prowler at all, but rather a good Samaritan. They drive around Paris for a while and he woos her at a fancy restaurant with lobster à la Cesare, salade chiffonade, and pink champagne from 1921. They tango to I Get Ideas, one of my favorite songs, and fall fantastically in love. If anybody ever tangoed that song with me, I’d marry them on the spot. “When we’re dancing and I’m dangerously near you, I get ideas, I get ideas!” Irene breathlessly heads back to her hotel with plans for tomorrow’s romance in mind. Annoyingly, the police are at the hotel waiting for her: her husband’s chauffeur, who she was struggling with earlier, has been killed. The suspect is Paul (the man Irene is in love with) who they believe was a prowler. Irene rushes back to America so that she will not ruin her lover by going to him. Innocent as he is, he does not understand why his darling has left him with no word. He’s tragically depressed and so he and Cesare, the chef, voyage to New York City to find her. They take over a prestigious restaurant and lay in waiting for her to arrive. She is a socialite, so it will be just a matter of time. And soon, she appears, husband in tow. Paul is wounded. He doubts she ever loved him if she has gone back to him. Oh, but she does, she has longed for him and just as soon as she can she rushes back to him. Paul wants to move back to Paris, but Irene says that they never can. She elaborates on the murder case and Paul being the noble man that he is decides to stand trial. They take the Princesse Irene, Irene’s husband’s new ship. They have a melancholically romantic time, eating lobster and listening to their tango. It was a pretty standard romantic dramedy until this point. All of a sudden the picture becomes a shipwreck tragedy very much in the vein of Titanic. (I don’t doubt that some scenes of everybody’s beloved Titanic were directly inspired by this picture.) The Princess Irene plows right into an iceberg. The ship starts going down, the lifeboats come out, Paul valiantly tries to force Irene to save herself, but she refuses. She was so unhappy in life that she’d rather drown with this man that she loves than face life alone. It is so sad! They cling to each other and plan to die, but thankfully the ship stays afloat and they will survive. A macabrely happy twist is that Bruce has shot himself and admitted to the murder of the chaffeur, so distressed he was by the assumed sinking of his new ship, so all charges against Paul are dropped. Quite a bizarre and well-acted, yet underrated film. [My Rating: 9/10]

March 5: The Help

I remember when this book came out and all the hullabaloo surrounding its release. I always intended to read it, but I have such a list of books to read that I fully admit that I’ll never find time for them all. Once this film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, it was my moral obligation to see it. Let me tell you right now that it was better than The Artist. That was a sweet picture with a charming presence, but I feel the Academy was hoodwinked by over-celebration and ignorance of its own past. The Help was not at all the move I anticipated. I was expecting something more along the lines of Downton Abbey. Upstairs downstairs kind of thing–a story revolving around one household. I was wrong, though. It was about a number of maids in Jackson, Mississippi. I’ve been trying to think of a simple way to describe the plot, but the film is so broad that I’m having trouble doing so. Basically it’s about a group of maids who are being tormented and verbally abused by their racist employers. They build horrible toilets inside of their homes–sometimes outside–so that the maids don’t infect the white toilets with their supposed diseases. They accuse them of stealing. They insult them. It’s horribly offensive, but just one of many examples of the atrocious racism that makes up the film. There are a few people who don’t harbor these nasty feelings, but they are sadly outnumbered. Hilly Holbrook, one of these wiser people, has the idea to write a book from the perspective of the help. The main bits of the story show the stories being collected and other horrid things that happen in Jackson. We meet many wonderful characters like Miss Celia (a lovely woman who doesn’t have a mean bone in her body–I love her!) The book is published and is very successful, even though it’s terribly scandalous, then again, that’s probably why. The maids hope that their stories will help shine a light on their sad lives and slowly start changing things for the better. It’s an absolutely beautiful film, but so sad!. If I had to vote for Best Picture, as I assume will be my eventual duty, I would not have chosen it over Midnight in Paris, but surely over The Descendants and definitely over The Artist. I think this film has every chance of becoming a classic. [My Rating: 9/10}

March 6: Della

This is considered a rare film and one I never expected to see. Well, thanks to the miracle of YouTube (you can find ANYTHING on there!) I finally watched this Joan Crawford feature. It was originally shot as a pilot for a television series intended to be called Royal Bay. It was never picked up by a network, and that is probably for the best–it wasn’t all that great. Joan was truly the only redeeming aspect–and she honestly did a kick-ass job. This movie is about Barney Stafford who wants to start some kind of land development. Unfortunately, Della, Joan’s character, owns most of the land in town and she has no interest in selling. Barney is determined, so he goes to her manor to try and convince her. It’s an odd place, they only operate in the evening when there is no sun, curtains are always drawn, there are odd statues devoted to different gods of the moon and the sun, etc. Barney meets Della’s daughter, and is very interested in her. The whole film feels rushed and leaves lots of questions hanging, but seeing that it was intended to go on and on and on, that is forgivable. Anyway, Barney immediately begins trying to save Jenny by getting her away from Della and their fantasy world. He nearly succeeds but the house seems to have some kind of pull on Jenny. Finally Della admits to what Jenny’s issue is–she’s allergic to the sun. I did not expect that. Maybe she’s a vampire, maybe that was to be an eventual plot, I don’t know. Anyway, Jenny can’t take it anymore so she runs out into the sun to her car, she tears out of the driveway and down a ravine. Grace Kelly chic tragique. She’s dead and Della is devastated. The last scene is basically a masterpiece in acting–Joan chews through her lines and sets the bar so high for the actors that I’m sure they thanked the sweet baby Jesus that it was the final scene. She was so good! It was a strange picture, but Joan was great and she had the most beautiful grey hair, so that’s something. And there was a Mommie Dearest-esque slapping scene, so I approve. [My Rating: 5/10]

March 7: The Scapegoat

I have been curious about this picture ever since one day when I was sitting in the dentist’s office reading a biography of Bette Davis entitled The Girl Who Walked Home Alone. Recently, I found a copy of the film on an unsavory Russian website. I feel it is my duty and responsibility to the cinematic arts to see old movies and bring them back to light, so I feel no guilt. This was a strange film that I enjoyed very much. It was adapted from a Daphne de Maurier novel. I’ve tried reading her alleged masterpiece, Rebecca, but I never could get into it, but after seeing this, I shall have to try again. This story is about John Barratt and Jacques de Gue, both of whom are played by Alec Guinness with considerable skill. They find each other one evening at a bar and discover that they look identical. They have a pleasant evening. John, the main character, is a French teacher in England, and Jacques is a French nobleman who is overwhelmed with his family, his château (ridiculous–I could never be overwhelmed with a château) and family business–a glass factory. (I crave that business. This guy is an idiot.) By the end of the evening, John is sloshed, slizzered, and pissed. There are so many lovely slang variations on the word drunk! When John is out cold, Jacques switches clothes and possessions with him and leaves without a trace. When John is woken up, he is lost in a new world; the world of Jacques de Gue. At first, he hates it, because his identity has been stolen sans permission, but he quickly gets over it because he wasn’t really fond of his old life. As he becomes used to his new family, he learns to like and care for them, even the kooky Countess, a morphine addict played brilliantly by Bette Davis. He quickly assumes responsibilities that Jacques had long abandoned, such as caring for these people, his mistress, and the glass factory Jacques hadn’t visited in fourteen years! After a few weeks, his wife (Jacques’ wife) falls from a tower to her death. This is suspicious because Jacques was set to inherit her fortune upon her death. John realizes that Jacques is back and he has made this great switch for the sole purpose of murdering his wife. Rude! Jacques/John is cleared of all suspicions by the police because he was at the stables of his mistress, but that was not the end–Jacques must be stopped! Watch it and find out what happens. It’s really quite good. [My Rating: 8/10]

March 8: The Sisters 

This was a pretty standard picture. Really nothing exceptional aside from the cast. Bette Davis filmed it right after Jezebel, one of my favorites, if you remember, and I can’t believe she would agree to such a tedious picture after the glory that was Jezebel. Errol Flynn is the male lead. Sadly, his adorable trademark mustache was shaved off. You have no idea how inspiring that mustache is to me–I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to emulate it–never turns out just right, though. I always look like a particularly attractive porn star from the 70s. Not really a terrible look, but not right for me. Thankfully, he grows a mustache later on in the film, but it’s just not the same. Tant pis. This picture is about a group of sisters (Louise, Helen, and Grace) who all suddenly get married. Louise, Bette’s character, marries Frank, Errol’s character. Helen marries Louise’s ex and Grace marries a wealthy man she feels a fatherly affection for. (My dream marriage!) They’re all reasonably happy at first, but their marriages all fizzle one way or the other. After a considerable amount of liquor and verbal abuse, Louise and Frank fight and then get back together. She suffers from a miscarriage and once she’s healthy, Frank can’t take anymore and rushes off to Asia to start over. Grace’s husband has a heart attack and dies. Helen’s husband is seeing another woman. Sad. Then at an election ball (side note: do we still have these? They look fabulous! I may start one for Obama. Traditional attire, dancing, punch with lots of liquor, sickly sweet cakes, etc…it’ll be great.) Anyway, Frank comes back from wherever the Hell he was and gets back together with Louise because they really do love each other. [My Rating: 4/10]

March 9: For the Love of Dolly

Oh, Dolly! I will always love you! (See what I did there?) She’s an amazing woman, but I’m not going to gush because this documentary was about a number of diehard Dolly Parton fans and not the Queen of country music. It revolves around the opening day parade at Dollywood and how these nearly maniacal people try to meet Dolly at the parade. Melisa is a woman who moved to Nashville with no friends or family just to live closer to Dolly. She was abused in her youth and dreamt that Dolly was her mother or aunt or any relation of Miss Parton. Harrell and Patric are a couple who make porcelain dolls and organize garage sales to raise money to buy Dolly memorabilia. They’re sweet, but both have facial hair that creeps me out. The only person in my opinion who can rock a goatee is Montel Williams. Then there’s David, who has special needs. He is sweet and loving with a consuming passion for Dolly. She’s everything to him. He has created what appears to be a museum in his home. Finally, we have Judy, who frightens me. She has built herself a recreation of Dolly’s cabin in the mountains of Tennessee in her backyard. She scraped paint off of said cabin and had the Home Depot paint match it to get the exact color of Dolly’s childhood home. She had a dog named…guess. Did you get it? Little Andy. So, what! I got a little misty eyed. That is one of the only two songs that can make me sob. (Well…three songs. Oh Hell, there’s a bunch.) This cast of odd folks tell stories of their love of Dolly, everything she means to them, how inspiring she is in their lives. It’s borderline creepy (it’s more than borderline, honestly), but sweet, reminds me of my mother, actually. When I was younger, we went to fan club parties for Wynonna Judd. We stalked that woman up and down the state of Tennessee. We went to her house and spent hours staring at the gates, we took thousands of pictures of her buffalos, we sent her letters, we became bumbling fools when we were near her. We were insane…she knew me by name. So, this picture reminded me of myself. It was a pretty short film, so I’m not going to detail each and every scene, but there was one bit that was incredible. It was bizarre, terrifying, hilarious, sad, and joyful all at once. Melisa and Judy are so fanatical that they know what each car looks like in Dolly’s entourage, they even know the plate numbers. One day, they stop at a car dealership because they think one of the SUVs belonged to Dolly’s assistant. They get in the car with the same reverence one would enter the Vatican. They rummage around and lo and behold–there is Dolly’s insurance card! Why it was left there I do not know. Good Lord–they found her hair! I guess Dolly sheds. Two grown women begin diving through the car, literally diving, for strands of hair. With each piece, the grow more and more excited, more frenzied. It’s maniacal. You must see this documentary. It’s so joyful and heart-warming, but still sad and lonely. I suppose it’s bittersweet. [My Rating: 10/10]

March 12: The Legend of Hell House

After the debilitating failure of my Halloween movie selection, The Haunting (so bad!), I had no hopes for this one as it was allegedly very similar. Thankfully, it was rather different and rather good. This story begins with a wealthy eccentric who wants to discover if the soul survives death, so, he hires three people who are all at the top of their fields. Dr. Barret is an accomplished parapsychologist, Florence Tanner is a spiritual medium, and Hanley is a physical medium. They all travel to Belasco House, which they call “the Mount Everest of haunted houses” to try and gather some evidence. At first it’s just a generally creepy old manor with the normal bumps, but soon it becomes apparent that something more deadly is at hand. During a sitting many strange phenomenon occur: glasses rattle, ectoplasm is collected, Florence speaks in a new voice. Creepy, kooky, scary, spooky. As the few days go by, the events become more and more frightening. Florence is attacked by a cat and is later killed in an unrelated event. Dr. Barret doesn’t believe in conscious entities and thinks that the ghostly activity is nothing more than an overabundance of some kind of paranormal energy and the house is merely acting as a super-charged battery. So, he builds some crazy machine to counteract the energy and purges the house. At first, it appears to work, but when the doctor goes to check the machine’s readings, he discovers that he has pissed the ghost off something fierce and it explodes in his face–DEAD! Hanley rushes to the chapel because he believes he has finally found the solution: Belasco–the guy who built the house–was a midget! It took me a bit to realize they were being serious. Anyway, Hanley finds a lead-walled chamber where Belasco has somehow perfectly preserved himself. Odd film, but a a good horror picture. Much better than the usual sex parade nonsense we’re usually assaulted with these days. [My Rating: 6/10]

Film of the Week: For the Love of Dolly You simply have to see it for the car dealership scene. It’s worth hundreds. A melancholy yet heart-warming documentary about Dolly’s diehard fans. I understand them. And, honestly, I’d probably go nuts over her hair, too.

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