October 18th, 2010

The Women (1939)

The Women The Women The Women

A woman is compromised the day she is born.

1939. It is a year cited by many as one of the greatest in cinematic history. Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Ninotchka, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? All released in 1939. On the eve of a war that would forever change predefined notions about humanity, it seems fitting that Hollywood should produce some of its most memorable meditations on the nature of good versus evil, preservation in the face of destruction, idealism apropos reality, and the toll that such struggles reign over its subjects.

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. That very same day, on the other side of the Atlantic, MGM released George Cukor’s comedic classic, The Women. At first glance, The Women seems nothing more than a marriage of style, wit, and star-power, thereby marking it anachronistic to the geo-political battles raging behind its birth. And yet, it proved to be one of the year’s top grossing films, a box-office juggernaut that lifted itself beyond the laurels of Clare Booth Luce’s play, and into a territory all its own. Why? Let’s peel back the onion’s layers and take a peek. . . read more »

September 29th, 2010

The Thin Man (1934)

The Thin Man The Thin Man The Thin Man
Would you mind putting that gun away?  My wife doesn’t care, but I’m a *very* timid fellow!

I had every intention of writing about 1936’s Satan Met a Lady this week, mainly because I wanted to do a three part series about Golden Age productions of The Maltese FalconSatan Met a Lady is the middle child of these efforts, and also the only one to deviate from a strictly dramatic treatment.  As a comedy/crime hybrid, I was intrigued and willing to give the film a far greater latitude than I usually would when regarding incarnations of a famous work.  However, despite the best efforts of one, Bette Davis, the entire film was so haphazardly put together that I barely made it through the modest 74 minute running time.

While I certainly do not think that only “good” films are worthy of deconstruction, sometimes it only takes a single fatal flaw to kill a picture.  When that happens, there’s only so much you can say.  In this case, the failure had less to do with reconceptualizing Dashiell Hammett’s classic tale of murder most foul, and more to do with someone’s insistence that Satan Met a Lady follow in the footsteps of another Hammett property:  the wildly successful cinematic rendering of The Thin Man.  Unfortunately, the dialogue is so turgid and the laughs so forced, that instead of enhancing the criminal aspect of the plot, they create a schizophrenic effect which in turn renders both elements impotent.

Certainly Satan Met Lady was not the first, nor the last, attempt to capitalize on the success of the crime turned comedy procedural.  A whole slew of debonair detective themed pictures cropped up around the same time, indeed William Powell himself was involved in the Philo Vance pictures, a series which predates The Thin Man by a few years.  Then, of course, there is the “Fast” series that revolves around Harry Kurnitz’s novels about Joel Sloan, a rare-book dealer moonlighting as a detective.  Yet I am hard pressed to think of any effort that out performs, or even pulls fair with The Thin Man. So that, dear readers, leads us to the topic at hand. . .

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September 19th, 2010

What’s Old is New

Chock Full o' Nuts store in the late 1960s

Chock Full O’  Nuts is that heaaaaaavenly coffee!

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that a new Chock Full O’ Nuts opened its doors on 23rd street last Monday!  Once as ubiquitous in Manhattan as Starbucks, the chain, which began in 1926, fell into obscurity and eventual extinction during the 1980s.  I mean, what kind of self-respecting yuppie would eat at a lunch counter?

Now that times have changed (and boy, how they’ve changed), it seems the owners of Chock Full O’ Nuts are banking on a mixture of nostalgic appeal and good old parsimony to pack their countertops.

“We’re in a recession now, and comfort food is always something that people gravitate to.”

Two donuts are 99 cents.  A regular cup of coffee is $1.55.  And yes, they are still serving their classic nutted cheese sandwiches.

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September 11th, 2010

Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

Wild Boys of the Road Wild Boys of the Road Wild Boys of the Road
You wanna forget us. But you can’t do it. Cuz I’m not the only one. There’s thousands just like me, and there’s more hittin’ the road every day!

Excuse the absence, these past two weeks have been long for Miss Fierce.  They also encompassed a birthday. . .and what better way to celebrate nearing my dotage than to watch a pre-code film about teenaged hobos!

Wild Boys of the Road, was directed by William Wellman in 1933.  If that name sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because he helmed the first film to win an Oscar for Best Picture, “Wings,” back in 1927.  Interestingly, it was also the only silent film to ever be credited with the award.  But I digress!

Eddie (Frankie Darro) and Tommy (Edwin Phillips) are best friends, growing up amidst the pitfalls of normal middle-class adolescence (dating, cars, school dances) until both their families experience financial destitution.  Hitherto blissfully unaware of the Depression’s realities, the pair is thrown into an entirely different world over night when they decide to run away, so as not to further burden their parents.

On their travels, they meet up with a host of other young people, all pushed out onto the road by the Depression.  Most notable amongst these wayward youngsters is Sally (Dorothy Coonan Wellman, the director’s future wife), a freckle-faced girl disguised as a boy, whom they encounter whilst riding the rails.  The trio forms an unlikely familial unit, with Eddie assuming the “fatherly” role of leader, as they navigate an unforgiving territory in search of respite from crushing poverty.

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August 22nd, 2010

Dodsworth (1936)

Dodsworth Dodsworth Dodsworth
Love has got to stop someplace short of suicide

True story!  My personal copy of Dodsworth was bought from a local video store (remember them!?) that went out of business.  When I arrived at the sale, the “Classics” shelf had been picked clean.  I mean, every single film was gone, except for Dodsworth. Someone even purchased Anatole Litvak’s Mayerling (with Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux), so you know we weren’t dealing with average video clientele!

Anyway, despite my giving it a good home, the sight of Dodsworth sitting alone, sad and dejected, still haunts me  (Go on.  Say it.  “If that’s all that haunts you, you’ve lived a charmed life!”).  Mainly, because I never thought we’d reach a point where overlooking anything of William Wyler’s would be commonplace behavior.  But I suppose it has, since hardly anyone talks about this film, despite its having been a 1936 blockbuster and recipient of 6 Oscar nominations.

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August 12th, 2010

Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943


#10 Drinking on the job! // #70 Serious work, serious times. // #68 Lessons

Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943 – Plog Photo Blog.

It’s a rainy Thursday here, perfect weather to share this wonderful photo blog. These pictures, spanning from 1939 to 1943, were compiled by the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. Offering a glimpse into the lives of rural Americans, they are unique not only for the fact that they’re in color, but because they represent a subset of photography long since past.

Any photographer, amateur or professional, will appreciate the care taken to tell the stories of these people. Today, we live in an age where you can pick up a digital SLR, shoot hundreds of frames in a matter of minutes, and delete them twice as fast. The result is that you lose the ability to think critically, not just about your composition, but about your subject matter. Everything becomes expendable.

Trust me, there aren’t enough filters in Photoshop to re-create what you see here.

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August 8th, 2010

Easy Living (1937)

Easy Living Easy Living Easy Living
Cloudy with a chance of fur coats // Her hat is ruined // Ball offers to buy her a new one

Mitchell Leisen’s Easy Living explores the age-old question, “Who am I?,” through a series of would-be catastrophes predicated on a classic plot device:  mistaken identity.  Heroine Mary Smith (Jean Arthur) is an ordinary girl who experiences the extraordinary, when a fur coat drops from the sky and lands on her head.  The coat belongs to the wife of financier J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold), “the Bull of Broad Street.”  At $58,00 US (approximately $900,000 by today’s standards), the coat represents the sort of extravagance that precipitated Black Tuesday, and one that Ball is loathe to countenance. When triumphantly told by his wife that it cannot be returned, he tosses it off the roof to teach her a lesson.

In a random act of kindness, Ball offers to buy Mary a new hat to replace the one damaged by the fall of the coat.  The boutique staff assumes that she is his mistress, setting into motion a series of events that will change both the lives of Mary, Ball, as well as that of Ball’s dilettante son, John (Ray Milland).

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August 1st, 2010

Well Hello!

And welcome to my blog (any Deven Green fans out there?)! This is to be the first of many posts, the majority of which I pray will be much more entertaining than what you’re reading right now.

The long of it is here, and the short of it is that I watch an inordinate amount of film, which prompted the creation of this blog. Needless to say, my friends are ecstatic; they no longer have to listen to me babble endlessly about what I watched yesterday evening.

That, dear readers, is now your happy domain!

I will make a full disclosure and let you know that I have a film degree, so if at any time I veer towards the pedantic, feel free to face-slap me in the comment section. However, I hope to keep things here light hearted. Don’t want to put too many people to sleep.

My main area of concern is 1930s Hollywood era film, and for all of you that are about to tell me that Mildred Pierce falls outside of this, note that the original novel does take place during the Depression. I think the actual film retains enough of the novel’s concerns regarding money, status, and security that it remains relevant to the blog’s theme.

Plus, I fully intend to delve outside the 30s into pre-code and post-war cinema every now and again. I like to mix it up!

Alright, that’s enough to be getting on with for now. Please feel free to contact me regarding movies you think I should watch, or classic cinema sites you think I should visit. I’m always looking for some new distraction!