Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Marrying Kind (1952)

While watching The Marrying Kind  a few weeks ago on TCM, I was reminded of The Crowd (1928), that great silent movie which looked at the life and love of an "ordinary" couple, portrayed charmingly and heartbreakingly by James Murray and Eleanor Murray. The later film treads similar ground: it follows a working class married couple, Aldo Ray and Judy Holliday, over the years, from their marriage day to their impending separation, and all the dissapointments, tragedies, and reconciliations in-between.

It's framed by Ray's and Holliday's impending divorce proceedings, overseen by a patient woman judge (a woman in a position of authority treated with respect in an old movie? Color me delightfully surprised). Of course, this being Hollywood, there's a tentative reunion at the end and the divorce is called off. An outcome which I didn't find satisfactory, partially because Ray's character is such an irredeemably proud hothead, and partially because the movie is more successful at showing the desolation of the couple's relationship than offering any sort of persuadable hope of its fixability.

Despite what I've said, The Marrying Kind is still a worthwhile, well-acted, and sharply written (by real married couple Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon), and worth seeing, especially if you want a break from cinematic marriages consisting of nothing but sunshine, lollipops, and banter.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)

British Cinema sure did love their the Byronic heroes of the kitchen sink set. You can see these angry young(ish) men give dirty looks at an England gone to seed in films like Look Back in Anger (1959),  Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), to name a few. 

The director of the latter, Karel Reisz, brings us a more explicitly political cad, the titular Morgan, played by David Warner. As typical with this type of movie, he's involved with a more "proper" sort of lady (Vanessa Redgrave), who wants nothing more than to settle down, in this case by divorcing the eccentric, animal-loving loving Morgan and marrying a posh art-dealer (Robert Stephens).

Being the movie's protagonist, Morgan thinks he can win back his ex-wife. Thankfully, despite his efforts, which run the gamut from vandalism to kidnapping, it doesn't work. SPOILERS: She gets married anyway, and he ends up in a mental institution.

But because this IS a comedy (sort of), she takes his continual intrusions in stride (mostly). For you see, as a representative of the upper class, Redgrave's character, Leonie, is both repelled and attracted to the more lively, unpredictable, working-class Morgan. She does care for him, but just can't stand living with him anymore, and no amount of fence-climbing or gorilla suit-wearing can change that. 

I liked the film, though 80% of that opinion I owe to Warner and Redgrave's stellar performances. A year earlier, the former appeared as a rebellious and ironic Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company; the performance was never recorded, but one can see glimmers of the Danish Prince's wit, snark, and energy here.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Coup de Grâce (1976)

Serious Movie time! And you can't get anymore serious than a black and white German movie from the seventies, directed by Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) and staring his then-wife and fellow director Margarethe von Trotta (Marianne and Juliane).

This film is stark and dark tale set in eastern Europe right after World War One, as German troops battle Soviet Guerrillas during the Russian Civil. This being a Serious Movie, there are suppressed and expressed passions, stuff breaking, people dying, gorgeous visuals and snow.

It's also a rare time to see a woman smoke a pipe. Pipes are like cigars; one's so used to seeing men use the phallic things that it's an utter shock when a woman does it. An old Roma woman in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) smoked one, but other than that, my mind is drawing a blank when it comes to other examples of cinematic women using this handy signifier of wisdom.

But back to Coup de Grâce: it's very dreary, but very rewarding, in the way good Serious Movies are: compelling, nice on the eyes, and stimulating to the brain.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Bigger Splash (2015)

So La Piscine (1969) got a remake. They switched the location from France to Italy, replaced Romy Schneider, Alain Delon and Maurice Ronet with Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Ralph Fiennes, and sprinkled in a killer soundtrack ranging from Verdi to The Rolling Stones. But the basic bare-bones plot remain the same: Couple A have their summer spent swimming, sunbathing, and having sex is interrupted by the arrival of couple B, consisting of an old flame and his daughter. Shenanigans ensue. Both movie hit similar plot points until the end. So if you've seen one version, you won't be surprised with the outcome of the other.

I found the original to be superfluous, but harmless. The lead actors and cinematography were gorgeous, but the movie as a whole was a rather bland affair, half-heartedly attempting to appear deeper than the soapy fluff it was. Its new iteration tries to avoid that trap by inserting flashbacks and food porn, but alas, falls into the same hole. To the movie's credit, Swinton and Fiennes are a lot of fun to watch. But I did want it to improve on the source material, instead of matching it, so I can't help but be a wee bit disappointed.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Burn! (1969)

After trying it out in the frustratingly boring Mutiny of the Bounty (1962), Marlon Brando's British accent is back in Gillo Pontecorvo's Burn! Thankfully, this time it's in the service of a much better movie. After the success of The Battle of Algiers (1966), Pontecorvo takes the earlier film's exploration of guerrilla warfare used to combat colonialism, and transplants it into a story of a slave revolt, orchestrated by Brando on behalf of a British tea company, on a fictional Caribbean island in the mid-19th century. 

The result is an effective commentary on powerful nations and companies using idealogical ideas as a shield when pursuing their own interests. Brando's good, and there's a fine Morricone score. Really, the only beef I had with the movie was that, despite repeated reminders that the island has been under Portuguese control for centuries, the locals only speak Spanish!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Men Filming Women in Peril

D.W. Griffith liked filming women trapped in ambushed cabins, alongside men who see only one option left to help her,

The Lesser Evil (1912)
The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1913)

only to be stopped when armed reinforcements arrived. You can also see it The Birth of a Nation (1915), where the trapped southern belle just misses having her father bash her head in with a pistol butt. 

John Ford apparently played an uncredited Klansman in that movie. 14 years later, he'd film Stagecoach:

Image Source:

where we get the same situation and interventionist outcome, with the uncomfortable solidification of the "men know what's best for the women folk" dynamic intact. Homage to Griffith, reuse of a suspense-raising trope, or both?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Coogan's Bluff (1968)

ie the first movie that pared Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel, a collaboration which produced some damn fine films, including Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) and Dirty Harry (1971). Though Coogan's feels more like a warm up to the latter, it does have some highlights:

1) Hollywood's half-assed attempt to capture the counter-culture.

Dig that pad, man! As Eastwood's Deputy Sheriff Coogan experiences it, the NYC scene consists of squeaky clean hippie guys attacking him to the sounds of bad acid rock, while young, nubile & body-painted chicks high on drugs and free love throw themselves at him.

2) The '68 fashion. My favorite is this all-red number worn by Eastwood's potential love interest Susan Clark wears at the very end. Don't have a screenshot, but believe me: everything, boots to coat, is candy-apple red.

3) A chase scene. Around Fort Tryon Park. On Motorcycles.