Man of the World (1931)

After a scandal, reporter Michael Trevor (William Powell) left America for Paris where he claims to be writing a novel. Ha! His income actually comes from blackmailing like Mary Kendell’s (Carole Lombard’s) rich Uncle Harry. Though it’s not his custom to prey upon women, Michael’s partner in crime and former lover Irene convinces him to black mail sweet Mary. She’s sure he’ll make so much he’ll be able to afford to have the time to write a novel.

Soon Michael falls for Mary’s charms, but Irene is expecting a windfall. How can he put an end to this con? He’d like to propose to Mary but how can he without revealing what he’s really been up to? Mary’s dilemma is that she’s already engaged. Her feelings grow for Michael and she vacillates between writing her fiancé a Dear John letter or not.

Man of the World, like the other Carole Lombard films I’ve seen, is fine, light entertainment. Michael’s blackmailing isn’t charming, but we like Powell enough to overlook that but only a little. Lombard is elegant and her wardrobe sublime. Yet she had little history. What we see of Mary is superficial until the end. Clearly, they don’t know each other well enough to know whether their feelings will last beyond a holiday romance, but the film does show Michael struggle morally and the ending was realistic, not what I’d expect today. I thought the ending more satisfying than the usual Happily Ever After ones.

Hands Across the Table (1935)

Lombard and McMurray

In Hands Across the Table Carole Lombard plays manicurist Regi who’s sworn off love and plans to marry for money. A wealthy customer, Allen Macklyn, who’s confined to a wheelchair, gets Regi to open up. He soon falls for her; he sees the light and strength under the rough exterior. They soon become friends, though Allen hopes for more.

Into Regi’s life hops scion Theodore Drew III who’s playing hopscotch in the hotel where Regi works. Theodore’s smitten when he meets her, but Regi thinks he’s a nincompoop.  She saw him playing hopscotch by himself in the hotel hallway. Theodore goes to the barbershop for a manicure so that he can ask Regi out to dinner. She’s uninterested until she realizes he’s wealthy. Then she becomes so nervous that she cuts or jabs each of his fingers. They do go out and Theodore wines and dines Regi, who’s soon charmed. It isn’t till the wee hours when Theodore’s taking her home that he mentions that he’s getting married. She’s stunned and heartbroken. 

Nonetheless Theodore doesn’t see why Regi’s upset. Can’t things continue in spite of the wedding? After all he’s only marrying for money. It turns out his family’s lost its fortune and as Theodore has no ability to work and earn it, he must marry. Circumstances, flimsy ones, keep Theodore with Regi, who continues to fall for this cad. Meanwhile, Allen decides to propose to Regi. This sterling fellow would surely make Regi a wonderful husband if she can accept his disability.

Hands Across the Table was full of surprises. It was bold to show Theodore as a scoundrel from the start. Lombard was witty, beautiful and down-to-earth. Few actresses today can be both elegant and “of the people” as she was. Fred McMurray played Theodore, who was convincing as the fun guy with the mind of a child, a real Peter Pan. His character had one fact so I don’t fault him for not adding sophistication to this playboy.

While I hoped for a different ending, the film was fun and plot fairly original. It’s a good choice when you’re looking for light entertainment.

We’re Not Dressing (1934)

Trailer

Light and entertaining, We’re Not Dressing stars Carole Lombard and Bing Crosby. I can’t improve upon the IMDB storyline so here it is:

Beautiful high society type Doris Worthington is entertaining guests on her yacht in the Pacific when it hits a reef and sinks. She makes her way to an island with the help of singing sailor Stephen Jones. Her friend Edith, Uncle Hubert, and Princes Michael and Alexander make it to the same island but all prove to be useless in the art of survival. The sailor is the only one with the practical knowhow to survive but Doris and the others snub his leadership offer. That is until he starts a clam bake and wafts the fumes in their starving faces. The group gradually gives into his leadership, the only question now is if Doris will give into his charms.

“We’re Not Dressing.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0025965/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_20 on September 24, 2020

We’re not Dressing is a fun, though far-fetched love at first sight movie with some tunes like “Stormy Weather,” a heiress’ pet bear ad schtick from George Burns and Gracie Allen. It’s a fun romp that does have a twist at the end just when you think true love will prevail without another dark cloud.

Le Doulos

Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1962 classic noir gangster film Le Doulous blew me away. Beinning simply with ex-con Maurice walking though a squalid neighborhood, it soon delivered its first of several completely surprising murders. Maurice visits his friend Gilbert, who gives him information and offers cash to tide him over with the promise of more. After Maurice asks Gilbert to borrow a gun, he turns the gun on his old friend. It’s the first of several betrayals and murders.

Maurice then grabs Gilbert’s cash and all the jewel’s he’s reworking and was going to fence. Before he’s out of the house, Maurice hears a car drive up and he scrambles to escape and stash the jewels and money. Nuttheccio and Armand, big time gangsters, were to get the jewels from Gilbert and when they see he’s dead. Maurice manages to flee and bury the loot.

Next thing we see is Maurice is at his girlfriend Thérèse’s apartment preparing to meet his crony Rémy to carry out their heist. Maurice and Rémy’s jewel heist fails with both Rémy and the victim killed and Maurice is shot and passes out. Selien visits Thérèse and brutally beats her to find out Maurice’s whereabouts. Somehow Maurice winds up at a friends home where a doctor is tending to his wound, while Selein appears to be double crossing him with the police.

Melville treats us to a well lit, dark gangster film that pays homage to American gangster films while exploring friendship, loyalty and betrayal. The plot is loaded with shocks and surprises till the last scenes. There isn’t one point that didn’t hold my attention.

The Criterion Collection DVD is now unavailable, but many libraries probably have it. Mine did. Besides the masterful film there are bonus items like two interviews with directors who began as Melville’s apprentices and an analysis of three pivotal scenes.

From these extrasI learned that Melville always had to be at war with some one on the set. He built an apartment cum studio and his apartment was decorated in a New York rather than Parisian style. He tried to make this film look as American as possible. On the first day of filming he’d say “Good Morning” to everyone working on the film then he’d announce that he would not be wasting time with these greetings in the days ahead. He had no time for that!

Memories of Melville’s Army of Shadows led me to find another film of his and I’m glad I did.

Downhill

One of my big disappointments with the Sundance Film Festival was that I didn’t get to see Downhill with Julia Loius-Dreyfus and Will Farrell. I tried to get tickets every time it played but never was able to.

I finally saw the film on DVD and was quite disappointed. In spite of four star actors, It isn’t half as interesting Force Majuer, the Swedish film that Downhill is based on. While Downhill has a few changes so much of it follows the path of the original. The opening scenes, the eerie music, most of the plot are the same, but not carried off as well.

Downhill and Force Majuere show what happens to a married couple on a ski holiday with their two children when while eating lunch on a chalet deck, an avalanche erupts and heads towards the restaurant. Rather than protecting his family, Will Ferrell’s character Peter grabs his phone and runs to save his own hide. Luckily, the avalanche falls short of actually hitting the restaurant, but it is a close call. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Billie is completely shocked that her husband left the family to fend for themselves.

While the family had some minor fissures before, now Billie and Pete are at different poles. Billie waits for Pete to make a profound apology, but none comes. I guess he’s hoping that time will heal her wound. Fat chance. Billie finally erupts when she finds Pete lied about how Zach Pete’s younger colleague shows up at the same resort with his footloose and fancy free, hashtag loving girlfriend. Billie is furious to learn that Pete lied. It was his idea that Zach turn up. A huge argument ensues, but doesn’t help matters as Pete still asserts that Billie’s wrong about the avalanche.

Like the Swedish film, Downhill’s Billie’s distrust and disrespect for Pete snowballs. Some secondary characters appear as goofy, comic relief, but they aren’t that funny or well drawn. The two sons have little personality and spend much of their time watching movies while the parents go out for dinner and argue. These children were pawns in a weak story. I’d hoped for a lot more. I did enjoy the original and do like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but can’t recommend Downhill.

The Killers (1964)

I had to watch the 1964 version of Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers. After all, it was in the same DVD set. I didn’t have great expectations, but this powerful film captivated me.

Starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, with Ronald Reagan in a smaller role, The Killers begins at a school for the blind. Two hit men enter looking for Johnny North (John Cassavetes). The rough up the blind secretary and plow their way into North’s class for mechanics. They shoot North dead and make their escape. The contrast between a school for the blind and ruthless criminals is powerful.

After killing North, Charlie Storm (Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) are on a training Charlie can’t help ruminating over why Johnny didn’t try to evade his murder. He completely accepted it. Johnny was so unlike every other victim. Why?

Another question is Who? Who paid Charlie and Lee $25K when they’d never been paid more than $10K for a hit. Again, why? Why so much?

killers 675

So Charlie and Lee switch trains in Chicago and go down to Miami and begin to find out all they can about Johnny North. They soon learn that Johnny was a race car driver, that he fell head over heels for Sheila (Dickinson), a beauty who loves racing and Johnny. She keeps her sugar daddy Micky Farmer. Wining and dining Sheila leaves Johnny ill prepared for the big race. Not only that Micky is in the stands and is not pleased with what he sees with his binoculars. Disaster strikes when Johnny loses control of his car and winds up losing.

It’s clear that Johnny should avoid Sheila at all costs, but he just can’t and she winds up entangling him in Micky’s plan to rob a mail truck that’s carrying a million bucks.

Though the story’s been told before and it’s all done in flashback, The Killer’s kept my attention. The characters are cold blooded, yet passionate. Not one is able to walk away from danger. They have to play the game out to the bloody end. This film has 1960’s cool and a gripping plot. I do recommend seeing both the 1946 and 1964 versions. While you’re at it check on the Tarkovsky short.

Fun Facts

  • The Killers (1964) was supposed to be a TV film, but it had too much violence and sex so it was released in theaters.
  • It was the only film with Ronald Reagan as a bad guy and he hated the film.
  • The director Don Siegel was supposed to direct the 1946 one.
  • Siegel wanted to call the film Johnny North, but the bean counters at Universal said no film with a direction like “North” ever made much money.
  • They shot the last scene first as was usual for a Universal film. Lee Marvin was dead drunk and came 5 hours late. Despite his state, he nailed the scene.
  • This version doesn’t contain a single line of dialog from the short story.

 

The Killers – Tarkovsky (1956)

As a student, Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky collaborated on a short film based on Hemingway’s The Killers, which I found on YouTube. At 19 minutes long it packs a punch just as the 1946 version does.

Tarkovsky directed the first and third scenes. He also plays a customer who whistles a tune while he’s in the diner. According to a Criterion Collection essay that tune was common on Voice of America and in Russia came to represent freedom.The Killers is a good introduction to Tarkovsky whose masterpiece Andrei Rublev is over 3 hours long.

The Killers (1946)

Based on the 1927 short story by Ernest Hemingway, The Killers is straight up film noir. Directed by Robert Siodmak, he film begins with two hit men entering a sleepy small town and terrorizing the staff at the dinner. When they find out where the “Old Swede” (Burt Lancaster) lives, they complete their job. The odd thing is the Old Swede expects and accepts his fate.”

Reardon, An insurance investigator, is called in to find the Swede’s beneficiary. As the investigation progresses we learn about the Swede’s life and how he went from a failing boxer, to a robber, and how his love for a femme fatal named Kitty (Ava Gardner) was his downfall.

The insurance company doesn’t see the worth of pursuing the Swede’s decline or the big heist of $250,000 as it will minimally impact the ledger balance, but Reardon persuades his boss for a few days leeway. The story mainly consists of flashbacks, which are taboo in Hollywood, at least according to most screenwriting books, but they work. Each old acquaintance or lady friend has insight into the Swede.

the killers 1946 5

The Criterion Collection DVD comes with bonus commentaries and I recommend watching the one with award winning master writer, Stuart M. Kaminsky who explains the birth of film noir, which was brought over to the US from German directors who emigrated here and how the films got darker and darker with time. Then the New Wave French became enamored of the style and coined the term Film Noir. Kaminsky offers his insights into the success of the story and both the 1946 and 1964 film versions. The DVD set has both of these versions and next I’ll watch the 1964 film with Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson.

Torn Curtain

Alfred Hitchcock’s Cold War thriller Torn Curtain (1966) stars Paul Newman and Julie and kept me engaged from start to finish. Newman plays nuclear physicist Michael Armstrong who’s at an academic conference with his assistant cum fiancée Sarah Sherman. Sarah keeps asking him to commit to a wedding date, but Michael brushes this away. He’s got something else on his mind.

Suddenly Michael tells her he’s going to Sweden and someone else can give his presentation. Sarah’s baffled and later learns that Michael’s going to Berlin. She follows him and he’s furious when he sees her on his plane.

Sarah’s arrival is a surprise to the East Germans who welcome Armstrong. They’re confused about what to do with her. They move forward with their plan and Armstrong announces at a news conference that he’s defecting. Sarah’s shocked.

Now what? She’s come to East Germany and discovered she knows nothing of her fiancé, who’s going to give American military secrets to the enemy.

Little does she know that Michael’s a double agent. Spies give him instructions on where to go to get information on his operation, which soon goes off track.

The film’s a fast-paced thriller which will keep you guessing. Reviewing some other blogs I’ve seen it’s gotten some criticism for not being emotionally convincing, but I was more than satisfied with the twists and turns of Sarah and Michael’s romance just as I was with those of the Cold War enemies’ chases. Great climatic scene in a theater.

Torn Curtain earned a thumbs up from me.

Swearing: None

Violence: A bit, but not so bloody.

Sex scenes: one, nothing too graphic.

 

Miss Juneteenth

miss-juneteenth-2

When she was a teen, Turquoise Queen won the Miss Juneteenth beauty contest. Now she’s a single mom and her daughter is old enough to compete in the contest. The high point of Turquoise’s life, which hasn’t turned out how she expected, was this pageant. She had such promise, but here she is approaching middle age, working at a restaurant, cleaning toilets, no glamor, no excitement.

If her daughter were gung ho about the pageant that would be one thing, but Kai doesn’t care that much about becoming Miss Juneteenth and she’s outright against her mom’s idea for the talent portion of the competition.

The film is a slice of life and offers a touching, geniune relationship between a mom and a daughter. I saw the film at Sundance. Now you can see it via Amazon Prime.

The film doesn’t revel in foul language or gratuitous violence. It’s great for family viewing.