I won’t be watching many of these, because the Stanley Cup playoffs are on AND the Derby (the only one that matters this time of year) is Saturday, and of course we’re in the midst of a new season of Doctor Who. And gardening and taking the dog to the park or just sitting on the porch reading, because it is grand being outside after a long winter, isn’t it? But let’s take a look anyhow.There are bound to be a few rainy days ahead!
Three Comrades 1938
3AM Friday, May 3
High Society almost made the cut, but it is a bit shaky—especially when compared to the original—and it does not measure up to Three Comrades, which I saw ages ago and look forward to seeing again. Stars Robert Taylor, Margaret Sullavan, Franchot Tone, Robert Young, Guy Kibbee, Lionel Atwill, and Monty Woolley do wonders with a script co-written by soon-to-be-darling-again F. Scott Fitzgerald about three men all madly in love with a dying woman between WWI and WWII in Germany. Adapted from a novel by Erich Remarque, it’s a deeply affecting story, made all the more so by the exceptional performances turned in by its already very good stars.
Sullavan received an Oscar nomination for her Three Comrades performance (ultimately losing to Bette Davis’ Jezebel).
Also worth watching Friday: 7AM The Heart Of New York (1932 comedy about a plumber who becomes a millionaire after inventing a washing machine); 6PM High Society (1956 remake of The Philadelphia Story; doesn’t measure up to the original and Kelly is an ice queen, but it’s an enjoyable confection with great costumes, and an easy second-place finisher for Friday); 11PM The Bride Wore Red (1937 romance starring Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone, Robert Young, and Billie Burke in the story of a chorus girl trying to catch a rich husband).
Two films by the great Busby Berkeley for your money tonight, both featuring eye-popping song-and-dance numbers that could only come from the mind of Berkeley.
In the first we have another “let’s put on a Broadway show!” plot combined with chorus girls seeking husbands with deep pockets; it stars Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Aline MacMahon, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Warren William, Ned Sparks, Ginger Rogers, and Sterling Holloway. One of the highlights is definitely the hopeful, if-only Depression-era hit “We’re In The Money”.
The second stars James Cagney as a producer struggling to put a great show on despite all of the frustrations being thrown at him, including the machinations of his avaricious ex-wife. Cagney stars alongside Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Ruth Donnelly, Hugh Herbert, and Frank McHugh. You’ve got three doozies when it comes to Berkeley numbers here: “Honeymoon Hotel”, “By A waterfall”, and “Shanghai Lil”. This is one of the great films in which Cagney was allowed to rather be himself—an old-school song and dance man, without doubt the best hoofer in the film. Together, these are both classic early 30s musicals, full of optimism that the Depression would end soon—though it would hang on for another decade thanks to FDR’s inability to resist meddling (the uncertainty this created scared off investors & business owners with theresulting low unemployment). Hooray for Hollywood, indeed—there, at least, and in its productions, the good life still was!
Also worth watching Saturday: 9AM Fire Over England (1937 starring Flora Robson as Queen Elizabeth I and Olivier & Leigh as lovers in a tale of intrigue before Spain’s attempt to invade England in 1588; James Mason shows up in a small role); 10:45AM The Falcon Takes Over (good 1942 entry into the “Falcon” series starring George Sanders, Lynn Bari, James Gleason, and Ward Bond); 4:15PM The Caine Mutiny (1954 court-martial classic starring Bogey as a ship’s captain gone mad and menacing and the mutiny Van Johnson and Robert Francis lead in order to save the men from a spectacularly-filmed typhoon; Jose Ferrer and Lee Marvin also star); 6:30PM The Wild One (1953 starring Marlon Brando—we know the rest!); 12AM 42nd Street (another ’33 Busby Berkeley stunner).
The Sheik 1921
6:45AM Sunday, May 6
I’ve not seen this—ah, everyone’s favourite disclaimer from me!—but it’s a very highly-regarded classic, and the one that made Rudolph Valentino a swoon-inducing star. The chieftan kidnaps cultivated Englishwoman Agnes Ayres (if we could have children, I’d so name our little girl Agnes—what a lovely name!) from a casino, who finds her reserve crumbling against the seductive chieftan’s advances. The lady is then abducted by Valentino’s evil rival, and Valentino must rescue her. More than one reviewer has noted, seeing this, that Valentino’s appeal to women was easily discerned in The Sheik.
I’ve no doubt that, this being 1921, there are some cultural and ethnic issues, and Leonard Maltin warns that this one can be campy, but I think it may well end up in the “essentials” file.
Also worth watching Saturday: 11AM The Magnificent Ambersons (poignant, rather heart-rending tale of a cruel son all but imprisoning his mother so she might not remarry after her husband’s death, played against the story of how the man she would marry raises his daughter; 1942. Stars Tim Holt, Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Agnes Moorehead in a Welles-directed film that is truly brilliant and…well…magnificent); 12:30PM The Lady From Shanghai (another from Welles, this from 1948; he stars as an Irish wanderer who goes to work for a somewhat maniacal tycoon and his predatory wife, played by Welles’ real-life wife Rita Hayworth; the film follows the bizarre love triangle that turns into a murder mystery); 8PM The Shopworn Angel (1938; Jimmy Stewart & Margaret Sullavan pair off in another sweet romance, this one about a showgirl whose love for a young soldier changes her); 11:45PM That’s Entertainment! (1974 dream machine wherein Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire re-introduced America to MGM’s fantastic musicals via clips—infectiously wonderful!).
Two terrific crime noirs (is that an actual category, or did I make it up?) that definitely are essentials in your film history.
The first is about small-timers attempting to pull off an enormous and sophisticated jewel heist; it’s been done again and again, but is still the papa of ’em all: strong dames and needy ones, crooked cops, betrayal, and criminals on the lam. We watch the whole thing, from the gathering of the players to the end. Great cast, too: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen (Singin’ In The Rain), James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, and in a small but noteworthy role, Marilyn Monroe. “Haven’t you bothered me enough, you big bananahead?!” I’m a big fan of this one’s photography. Based on the novel by W. R. Burnett, who also wrote Little Caesar.
The Naked City is going to be familiar as well, because countless crime and chop shows have been inspired by its meticulously following the investigation of a young NYC woman’s murder. Filmed on location in the teeming Big Apple and with a convincing story that really could have happened in New York in ’48 or today (hence the name) makes this interesting—we’re following but
one small story in the biggest and best-known of American cities, a story that begins “on an ordinary day” like any other, and you feel it watching Naked City. The narration and this being in black and white help the film seem more real than today’s über-slick cop shows, too. Barry Fitzgerald (The Quiet Man) stars.
Other Films Worth Watching Tuesday: All night in prime time we’ve “Tough Guys” crime films: 1947’s Crossfire starring Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Ryan at 10PM (well worth watching!) at 10 and nail-biter film noir Out of the Past, also from ’47 and also starring Mitchum, at 11:30. Earlier in the day, we have 1940s Strange Cargo at noon. I’ve heard a bit about this drama about prisoners who escape from Devil’s Island that stars Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Peter Lorre, and Ian Hunter and am intrigued indeed.
So Long at the Fair 1950
6:30PM Wednesday, May 8
Another I’ve not seen, but it sounds stimulating: when a young man disappears in Paris, his sister hunts for clues to what happened during the 1889 Exposition. Complicating her search is that no one believes her brother exists. Maltin calls it “offbeat,” which to me means “different”, so sign me up. Jean Simmons, Dick Bogarde star.