Sunday, January 29, 2012

The True Glory (1945)

This film is not that well known. Understandable, considering the comparative lack of widespread interest in old documentaries, including those made in war time. The True Glory, however, I think should gain a greater audience.
            It is a documentary about the Allied invasion of Germany, which consists of using real footage and narrations from those who served on the front.
            I must say upfront that this is a very obvious piece of propaganda, but there is no denying that it is a very well-made one. The wartime footage is amazing. There are shots from sea, from the ground, and from planes. There are battle footage, and shots of peace and quiet. But what holds it together are the narrations, spoken by those serving in the armed forces.
            You don’t know their names, but that does not prevent you from paying attention to what they are saying. They from the army, from the navy, the airforcee, and the war rooms. They have to deal with weapons, death, cold, and lack of direction and communication. They are men and women; American, British and French. They talk about prepareing for D-day, the invasion, and events leading up to the end of the war in Europe. Sometimes amusing indents are revealed, but most of the time there is a somber mood. These stories are full of colorful language and paint great portraits of the type of people who were part of the armed forces.
            Now keep in mind, this is no “Saving Private Ryan.” Most of the violence is skipped over (after all, the purpose of this government-sponcered film was to boost moral) but one still sees disturbing imagery, none more so then a sequence in a consentration camp.
            But this a well put together piece of propogana, with no small help from uncreditied co-director Carol Reed. The editing of the clips is masterful, and the inspirational music drive the film onward with gusto. The final message a teamwork is worth paying attention too. And as a timecapsel of show the (brief) positive relations between the Russians and the Americans before the war won, it is worth seeing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Patterns (1956)

Fred Staples (Van Heflin) is the executive in a New York company. In this cut-throat, white-collared business world, he has to deal with a morally unscrupulous boss, Walter Ramsey (Evertt Sloane), in addition to his own conflicting ambitions.
        I never thought that a movie about office politics could be this interesting (sorry Executive Suite, but you did have your slow parts, despite arriving earlier), well-made, and creative. Of course, it helps to have an interesting and well written script by Rod Serling, and some first-rate performances.
        Though Mr. Heflin an effective low-key lead, Mr. Sloane steals the show as a dozy of a mean boss, Toward the few employers that he likes, he puts on the appearance of congeniality, and acts, to quote a female character, "simple and childlike". However, most of the time, especially at board meetings, he is a ruthless, heartless, and just plain cruel Boss from Hell. It is an amazing performance, and Sloane was completely up to it.
        Though I have already praised, Serling's script, I will do so again. His writing was sharp and memorable. You know a script is good when the monologues have you on the edge of your seat (sorry, Stanley Krammer....).
        Some of the staging are simple, but highly effective: for example, there is a scene showing a character overhearing other characters talking; however the camera is completing focused on the former. Techniques like this were borrowed from the film's original incarnation as a made-for-TV movie, but work just as well on the big screen. Additionally, there are some nice lighting effects, and a few on location exteriors shot in NYC which further add flavors of authenticity in the production.
        A further thing that is very impressive about Patterns is that how little it has aged over time. There are still problems with keeping ones morals in a competitive job market, and there are still bosses that are cruel and mean. Overall, I highly recommend this film: its lack of comic relief my turn off some views, but it is an effective and intense drama.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Ghost Goes West (1936)

           In 18th Century Scotland, a flirtatious Scot (Robert Donat) is killed running away from a rival clan. Because of his cowardliness, he is doomed to walk in his family castle as a ghost, until a relative can confront a relative of the rival clan. In the present day, his last descendent (Donat again) has to sell his castle to an American family, the Martins, and they want to bring it back to the States. What is a ghost to do?
            This movie was a disappointment: I though that Mr. Donat and a plot similar to The Canterville Ghost would make an interesting movie. Alas, I was proved wrong: this often slow moving, and sometimes dreadfully dull.
            The performances aren’t bad, but I though that Donat played his two characters (the ghost and his modern descendent) in the same way. Not too similar that I was confused between them, mind you, but enough that I found neither particularly memorable. And the love interest, curtesy of Jean Parker as  one of the castle's new owners, is so bland, that I felt myself beginning to fall asleep every time she was on screen.
            Not all is bad, though. The film really starts moving when they actually get to America, an hour into the movie. From there, there are some wonderfully jabs at Americanizing foreign things, mostly through how Mr. Martin (Eugene Pallette) gives the castle a makeover for an "authentic" highland party: a gondola in the moat surround the castle, a light show, or, my favorite, a jazz band playing Scottish tunes in a Latin American style (while in kilts, no less!)
            If the movie had spent more time in America, and less time in the highlands, and focused more on Scotish-American relations, instead of on the love-story, it would have been better. I think that was a major strength in The Canterville Ghost: it paid attention to the ghost, but also spent time making fun of the clash between American and British ideals.  But since Ghost Goes West spent so much time being wishy washy about money and Debts on the mainland, it unfortunately becomes forgettable.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tom, Dick and Harry (1941)

Janie (Ginger Rogers) has a simple plan: to marry a rich fella and live happily ever after. But reaching her goal gets complicated when she finds herself engaged to not one, but three different men: ambitious Tom (George Murphy), wealthy Dick (Alan Marshal), and happy-go-lucky Harry (Burgess Meredith). What’s a girl to do?
           This is an extremely amusing comedy, with a clever, if gimmicky, premise: Janie after Janie goes on a date with each of her boyfriends, she has a dream in which she pictures married life with one of them will be like. The repeated structure worked out beautifully with each alteration; these sequences are laugh out loud funny, and quite odd and surreal. Of the Forgotten Films that I have watched so far, this is one of my favorites.  It’s the kind off film that leaves you feeling warm, fuzzy, and just plain happy inside.
            Now, this was not a perfect movie. The characters are two-dimensional (at best), and much of enjoyment of the film hangs on your tolerance for Rogers continually baiting her poor fiancees.
            Thankfully the film itself manages to overcome these flaws. All the actors are wonderful, somehow managing to invest their paper-doll personas with charm and humor (with the exception Phil Silvers, who is in a (mercifully) brief cameo).
            As if you couldn’t tell, I really, really liked this quirky movie, and whole-heartedly recommend it. This is one romantic comedy that defies your expectations, in the most wonderfully weird ways possible.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Doorway to Hell (1930)

Lew Ayres plays a young but powerful gangster, who organizes all the big-time bootleggers in the city to stick to their own territories, with himself as boss. This works out swell, until Lew decides to go straight and head to Florida to look after his little brother, whom he had enrolled into military school. Predictably, things quickly go to hell in the city. And some guys will go to desperate measures to get him back….
            I was weary about seeing an early talkie gangster films, especially after the disappointments of Alibi (1929) and Little Caesar (1930). Those two , like many movies from the time period, were hampered by stiff cinematography, bland acting, and dull dialogue. However, Doorway to Hell was not as bad as I expected. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised.
            First off, let’s get the highlight of this thing out of the way: James Cagney has a supporting role as Ayres's best pal and second hand man. This was made a year before “The Public Enemy” made him a star, and already he steals whatever scene he is in. Heck, when he is in the same frame as the star, he can't help but focus your attention on him.
            Alas, the same thing cannot be said of Ayres. Though he's miscast (I found it really hard to suspend disbelief that he of the All Quiet on the Western Front  fame could hold an entire criminal empire in the palm of his hand) but he was effective in making a charming and likable crook, a usual site in pre-code ganger films.
            Another person you should keep an eye out for is a pre-Renfield, Dwight Frye, in bit part. He gets to do a drive-by shooting with machine-gun hidden in a violin case in the opening.True, he doesn't have time to go Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and bug out his eyes in that gloriously insane way of his, but it's pretty great to see him comparatively sane role.
            Visually and plotwise it's rather conventional, with some exceptions. There are some lovely examples of using a camera to show, not tell, harkening back to the days of silent films. In addition, there are double-deals, betrayals, murders, a woman who has an affair with her husband’s best friend, a prison break, more gangster talk than you can shake a stick at, and of course, Cagney. In case you can't tell, this is definitely a must-see for any fan of old-school gangster films.