A pretty ok movie, mostly notable for all the definite articles in the credits:
We’re in Russia – all the names and signs and newspapers are in Russian, then halfway through the movie they decided the setting was well established and signs start appearing in English. Captain Anton Walbrook (year after The Red Shoes) visits the card games every night but never plays because he’s determined not to lose. So he visits a creepy bookseller to learn some useful tips:
The creepy bookseller is overdoing it:
Anton learns about a terrible old woman who knows the supernatural secret to winning at games of chance (their big card game is just betting 50/50 on a single-card draw). He pretends to be interested in the pretty girl (Yvonne Mitchell of Sapphire) who works for the old lady (Edith Evans, Ghost of Christmas Past in the Albert Finney Scrooge) by plagiarizing love letters, gets close enough to threaten the old lady, who promptly drops dead, then idiot Walbrook tells the girl his whole scheme. He gets the secret of the cards from the dead woman, wins a fortune then loses it all (and the girl) the same night. Shocktober 2021 Challenge: no more movies from the British, they are simply frightened by everything.
Since Garrick reminded us of Olivier, and Steve was just talking about Shakespeare movies, this came to mind – a very early Criterion DVD I bought on sale and never watched, and now the disc is in storage but the movie’s on Criterion Channel in very nice quality.
Opens with a super sweet model town, this should be the whole movie, minus that typical 40’s movie music that gets so choir-bombastic it overloads everything and just sounds like a dull roar of horrid horns. The play is being framed as a debut performance at the Globe, complete with crowd reaction and backstage shots. Leslie Banks (the Jimmy Stewart of the original Man Who Knew Too Much) returns as narrator before each act. It starts raining at the largely outdoor theater before act 2, then the setting magically shifts to Southampton, the sets in the “real world” looking more fake than the Globe, but it’s nice to get outside.
Olivier’s direction is fine and inventive, but the performances are super-declarative and I’m barely even trying to follow the action, except when Falstaff shows up, dying in bed with sour memories of the King’s final kiss-off speech via voiceover. The change in scenery allows for crowd scenes and big camera crane-ups, but I admit the endless speeches are less engaging without the crowd reactions – but the crowd in the early section was distracting when their laughter competed with the speeches, so apparently I cannot be pleased. I thought the performance style was tuned to the Globe, but once we go offstage they yell just as much, in fact the king’s famous pre-battle Crispin’s Day speech sets a new movie record for yelling. I was surprised to recognize John Laurie – the accent helps. Two women speak French, and either subtitles hadn’t been invented yet or it’s assumed that anyone going to see an Olivier/Shakespeare movie in the 1940’s would know French. Olivier was given an honorary Oscar, after this movie lost all its category nominations to The Best Years of Our Lives.
I mainly know W.C. Fields from Looney Tunes caricatures… his muttering insult comedy is pretty appealing. Not just a harmless old man with a funny drunk routine – when he got creative control of a movie, it turned out mental. He plays a screenwriter for studio boss Franklin Pangborn(!), living out the scenes he’s pitching, while Pangborn interrupts to say these are lousy ideas for a movie.
Fields becomes infatuated with a rich woman in a mountaintop home – she’s played by Marx Brothers regular Margaret Dumont. Unfortunately, the other thing he borrowed from the Marxes is the idea that a comedy should have terribly high-pitched singing. Up-and-coming studio star Gloria Jean plays his niece, who performs painful Snow White scream-singing, and throwing in a shriek-whooping fake gorilla, the movie has unpleasant audio. It ends with a really unexpectedly good car chase, at least!
Fields unplugging his ears after a Gloria song
“The Rival” Leon Errol with Dumont:
WWII-era French town descends into paranoia when someone is writing letters accusing other townspeople of various crimes. I’m a fan of the sharp-looking Clouzot fast-paced b/w thrillers, though I watched this while tired and my notes make little sense (“everyone in church got forged letters arranging them to meet… no 13 suicided after letter… Rolande is someone”).
Doctor Germaine: Pierre Fresnay, lead dude of The Devil’s Hand
Hotgirl Denise: Ginette Leclerc, “stupid wife” of the remade Late Mathias Pascal
Old Man Vorzet: Pierre Larquey, a Diabolique professor, 8th billed so nobody guesses he’s the villain
Young Goodwife Laura: Micheline Francey of a late 30’s Phantom Carriage remake
Polished, impersonal work, it puts forward little more than a spirit of free-floating misanthropy. Remade (and improved) by Otto Preminger in 1951 as The Thirteenth Letter.
I thought I’d be a clever boy and watch the 2020 remake followed by the 1940 sequel and see which is better. Neither really holds a candle to the James Whale movie, but remake definitely has the edge over this clunky, cheapie sequel. As far as German directors who worked with their wives, directed versions of The Indian Tomb, and emigrated to the USA in 1933 go, I prefer Lang – who made his own sequel with the word “Return” in the title this same year. Fellow German Curt Siodmak (Robert’s idiot brother) was beginning his Hollywood writing career, having wowed his home country with classics like F.P. 1 Doesn’t Answer.
Nan Grey (a soft-voiced automaton) was supposed to marry a very young Vincent Price (a full decade before The Baron of Arizona), but he’s inconveniently on death row because he killed his brother… or DID he?? (he did not). Fortunately, Price is friends with another man with a dead brother – O.G. I.M.’s bro Frank (John Sutton would also appear in Return of The Fly). Frank, not a great scientist (he lets cigar-smoking cops into his chemical lab), turns Price invisible to spring him from prison, then hopes he’ll find a cure before Vince goes mad (the movie lets this drop, Vince never starts slipping). So this time the girl’s in on the plan and the invisible man’s a good guy – kinda anticlimactic as far as horror sequels go.
I.M. sits down for a nice meal with his girl and his brother’s killer:
Cedric Hardwicke (Hitchcock’s Suspicion) likes Nan and is sadly obvious about it, seems so glad to have Vince out of the way that you almost suspect him of having murdered the brother, ah, of course he did, as Vince learns after playfully tormenting a drunk whom Cedric confided in. Movie is extremely British, and plods along… the dialogue obvious, the invisibility effects good but some other filmmaking techniques lacking (they have animals “die” by freezing the picture, a non-barking dog is overdubbed by a very-barking dog). Vince kills the killer and I suppose nobody can prove it was him, then gets his body back.
Mouseover to watch a guinea pig get visible:
A more specific title would’ve been Bronte Sisters In Love. Charlotte is writing the more popular Jane Eyre while Emily is writing the critical fave Wuthering Heights, but we don’t see much of this, mostly we follow their fascination with their boringly strict minister-father’s bland employee (Paul Henreid, Bergman’s husband in Casablanca).
Oldest Charlotte is Olivia de Havilland in long tight curls (same year she played twin sisters in The Dark Mirror), Emily is Ida Lupino (just a few years before she’d start directing), and their drunkard painter brother Branwell is Arthur Kennedy (whom we recognized from the westerns). There’s also the youngest sister (Anne: Nancy Coleman) and mostly we amused ourselves by trying to tell the three girls apart.
Bran paints his sisters:
Part of a flurry of Brontë interest, after the 1939 Wuthering Heights, 1943 Jane Eyre (with Joan Fontaine, sister of de Havilland), and (purportedly based on Jane Eyre) I Walked With a Zombie. Mostly a stodgy, joyless costume drama from Warner Bros and Bernhardt (Joan Crawford’s Possessed), and the writers of Undercurrent and National Velvet and Above Suspicion.
Emily in the sky:
This remake of Howard Hawks’s Ball of Fire is very scripty – so much screenwriting that there’s no room for anything else. Maybe a powerful performance could break through the scriptiness, but Virginia Mayo (ah, who?) is no Stanwyck, and Danny Kaye (I can never remember who he is exactly, and think of him as “Fake Donald O’Connor”) is no Gary Cooper (and I don’t even like Gary Cooper), so we’re boned. Mayo and her gangster boyfriend “Tony Crow” get in some real good slang, at least, while Kaye avoids Mayo because of her distracting body and the demoralizing effect of her presence, and hides out with his music scholar buddies, none of whom are Cuddles Sakall (but one of whom is Benny Goodman). Popular musicians Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong look on as Kaye finally gets the girl, and picking up the second half of this movie a day later, we forgot why we’d ever started it, until we saw the Hawks name again – he remade his own pretty-good movie as a pretty-bad movie in the same decade.
Named after the song, for some reason, since mostly it’s a Christmas movie – a semi-remake of The Shop Around the Corner, with Van Johnson as the insensitive lunk. Tom Hanks and Jimmy Stewart are extremely likeable actors, offsetting the insensitivity of their character, but here the producers were mostly focused on finding excuses for Judy Garland to sing old-fashioned songs, so they changed the shop to a music store, hired a bunch of comedians for the support roles, and accidentally cast a lunk to play the lunk.
Cuddles Sakall (this is his latest film that I’ve heard of) is their boss, a music store owner who plays his expensive violin very badly, with his Devil and Miss Jones costar Spring Byington as his secretary/fiancee, plus nordic-sounding Minnesotan Clinton Sundberg (Good Sam), and Buster Keaton! Keaton gets to smash the offending violin (actually another violin, long story) and directed the chaotic scene when Judy and Van meet – which we knew because the P-Bog doc just showed it. Van’s violinist friend was actually a violinist, who had just appeared on a Life magazine cover.
Opens with heavy narration, which thankfully peters out. Judy looked and sounded great onscreen – this was a brief productive spell between The Pirate and Summer Stock during the period when she kept getting fired from movies. Mostly she sings period-appropriate songs for shop customers looking to spend 15 cents on sheet music, but she gets to stretch out at a company party, following a lively barbershop song with the crazy-energetic “I Don’t Care.”
Criterion posted a pile of MGM musicals, and I got Katy to watch The Pirate, which she didn’t like, even though it’s about a circus-boss scam-artist ladies’ man who pretends to be a notorious pirate in order to win over a pretty girl, then discovers her fiancee is the real notorious pirate, fat and retired.
Stars: Gene and Judy
Blustery and Loud: Walter Sleestack (The Clock King of TV’s Batman) and Gladdie Cooper (Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady)
Yitz: Lester Allen as Capucho, the movie’s secret star
In The Pirate, Garland’s unhappily betrothed Manuela, who craves romance and adventure, insists, “Underneath this prim exterior, there are depths of emotion, romantic longings.” It’s a statement that could be made by virtually any character in any musical. These are hardly frivolous matters. The musical is for anyone who has ever longed for something or someone — that is to say, everyone. What is life without fantasy? To be firmly grounded, one must occasionally walk on air.