There are quite a few excellent films coming up, which is a good thing as we’re expecting rain for the next six or seven straight days (it’s fine, I’ve tomatoes, peas, green beans, and other goodies going in the garden and have planted a few more plants in the pollinator’s garden, too) here in central Ohio! Best of all, TCM is screening the little-known but exceptional The Mortal Storm on Monday, birthday of my favourite actor, Jimmy Stewart. For something more lighthearted but still affecting, though, we have Kerr and Mitchum just before prime time Saturday night.
Also, for the past week I’ve been sharing photos I took at the Dublin Cemetery here in Columbus on Flickr, so you all get to enjoy those as well.
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison 1957
6PM Saturday, May 18
Well, yours truly will be watching Orb win the next leg of the Triple Crown, but if Thoroughbred racing isn’t your scene, Heaven Knows is an endearing, funny, and rather lovely film about a nun (Deborah Kerr) and US Marine (Robert Mitchum) who end up stranded on an island; the sister was abandoned by the local priest and the other had died, and the Marine, shipwrecked after his submarine was destroyed by the enemy. Before they complete their escape raft to Fiji, the Japanese arrive, The odd pair scramble to survive during the occupation, and living in a cave together as they must, they get to know each other quite well indeed.
Gentle and pious Sister Angela is still more than young enough and attractive, nor has she taken her final vows; the handsome Corporal Allison young and a leatherneck indeed, but truly chivalrous and gallant, protecting Sister Angela and providing her what he can, even at risk of his life. There’s a fight, machismo, a marriage proposal, illness, grave danger, and a decision. One of director John Houston’s very best films, this is a character study, as his best films usually were—and he couldn’t have picked better actors, either. Kerr and Mitchum are perfect in their roles, utterly believable—and as someone has said about their multiple films together, Mitchum gave Kerr sex appeal and Kerr gave Mitchum class.
This is actually filmed in DeLuxe, not Technicolor, but I think it’s lovely all the same in that regard; the island is beautiful, and Houston makes sure we know this.
My grandfather was stationed in the South Pacific during the war, so perhaps it’s between that family history and the obvious fact that it’s a tropical island that makes this a wintertime favourite of mine—but it’s good to watch all year ’round.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
10AM Sunday, May 19
It’s very hard not to like this film, a fantasy-drama-comedy about a boxer who is accidentally allowed by an angel to die before his time. This mistake is corrected by angel Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), who must find the boxer a new body to live in until his time does come. Joe’s return to earthly life, however, is complicated when he’s first placed in the body of a wealthy man, Bruce Farnsworth, whose nasty wife and her lover want him dead, and make a couple of attempts at ensuring that happens. To top off these hijinks, Joe’s former manager (hilariously played by James Gleason) is drafted for Joe’s comeback—in the rotund body of the tycoon–and a pretty, sweet-natured young woman seeking Farnsworth’s help for her father.
Farfetched? Yup. But the film’s terrific screenplay and laugh-out-loud funny and clever dialogue make Here Comes Mr. Jordan work very well—as do the fine performances, particularly from Robert Montgomery (Joe), James Gleason, and of course Claude Rains. Indeed, Montgomery and Gleason both received Oscar nominations for the film (Rains was inexplicably passed over I told you this was a good movie, and yes, it’s superior to the Warren Beatty remake Heaven Can Wait (but then, I’m not a big fan of Beatty’s acting…and the later film lacks a certain grace). If you’re looking for a very funny movie with a sports angle and just a touch of romance, this is your flick. It’s very entertaining, and actually DOES have something for everyone!
You Can’t Take It With You 1938
7:45AM Monday, May 20
Zany almost beyond belief, You Can’t Take It With You is a treat that even has a little bit of libertarianism (really just old-fashioned American “leave us alone”-ism) in it. Lionel Barrymore is the patriarch of a cobbled-together clan of not just his own girls (Jean Arthur and Ann Miller) but various societal rejects, mostly creative types. A sense of normalcy (whatever that means) invades the happy and eccentric home when banker’s son Jimmy Stewart falls for Jean Arthur. His uptight, strait-laced parents are not likely to understand or approve of the wacky but cheery family. Throw in the threat of a developer buying up Barrymore’s family’s neighborhood and razing the home of everyone—unsurprisingly, the whole neighborhood loves the family—and you have a pretty good story with a lot of laughs and, as director Frank Capra always made sure he instilled, heart.
The Mortal Storm 1940
10AM Monday, May 20
The Mortal Storm is one of the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen (and y’all know I’ve seen quite a few). When the Third Reich takes over Germany, the ramifications of this rip two families apart and threatens to destroy those who love and befriend them as well. No, this is not a happy-go-lucky film, but they can’t all be, and the message of Frank Borzage’s Mortal Storm is as relevant today as it was in 1940. Some pieces of art are for beauty, but others force us to look upon our world and think; this is one of the latter. Based on Phyllis Bottome’s best-selling 1938 novel, the film so incensed Hitler that he banned the showing of any MGM film; that alone is probably endorsement enough for most of us, because if Hitler found it effective enough to be furious, it must be a very good movie—and it is.
If that is, for some reason, not enough for you though, or if you fear a morality play, you needn’t worry. Mortal Storm is a superb film: it’s beautifully photographed by William Daniels, who captures each mood flawlessly. The cast is stellar, all turning in excellent performances: Frank Morgan, who plays the family’s professor patriarch, probably gave the best turn of his career in the film. Jimmy Stewart is earnest, kindly, quiet, but courageous—and very sincerely and tenderly in love with Freya, daughter of Morgan’s professor, and ethereally played as a winsome spitfire by Margaret Sullavan (that description will make sense when you see the film). I always love Maria Ouspenskaya, who plays Stewart’s mother; she’s ideal for the role and carries it very well, as a mother who sees her son stepping closer and closer to a fire no one person can put out. She turns in one of the finest, most touching performances in all of film during the closing twenty minutes or so of the movie. Robert Young, Robert Stack, and Bonita Granville round out the superb cast.
I encourage you to DVR this film for later viewing. Again, the cinematography, story, and acting are all grand slams; the film was sensitively done, and for this reason, it blows most viewers away. One which deserves much wider audience.
Two better or more entertaining old-school gangster films will be difficult to find. The first stars Edward G. Robinson in the role that made him a superstar (and rightly so, though he personally was a kindly man nothing like the callous criminals he so often portrayed). The latter is one of the high points of James Cagney’s incredible career, and also closes with one of the most famous and spectacular movie scenes in film history, probably second only to Scarlett O’Hara vowing never to go hungry again. The only disappointment is that these two aren’t back-to-back!