Lucky Me

As Doris Day just passed away at the age of 97, I figured watching some of her films would be a good memorial. My library displayed their DVDs with Day and I chose Lucky Day at random.

In Lucky Me, Day plays Candy Williams an aspiring singer and dancer who’s very superstitious and won’t walk by a black cat or step on a crack. Any superstition you’ve heard of in America, she won’t test. Williams is part of a struggling troupe of performers led by Phil Silvers, who’s perfect for his part. Candy gets duped by a well-meaning composer and romantic comedy ensues.

Though Lucky Me isn’t Day’s finest film and there are no great classic songs I recognized, the film entertains. It’s a cheerful story which showcases Day’s optimistic style. It’s sure to make you smile. The supporting cast includes Nancy Walker, who I remember from the sitcom Rhoda. Walker’s dancing skill was a nice surprise and Silver was a wonderful father figure in this tale of old showbiz.

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Choose Me

Sultry and jazzy, Choose Me offers an intriguing story with Keith Carradine as Micky, a pathological liar, who escapes from a mental hospital and makes his way to Eve’s bar in an unnamed city.

Geneviève Bujold plays Dr. Nancy Love, aka Anne, enters the bar to meet with Eve, her new roommate. All the characters’ lives are interwoven and they don’t realize it. Eve calls into Dr Nancy Love’s popular radio show to get wisdom and clarity about her relationships. Dawn Rae Chung, plays a young wanna-be poet, who keeps her eye on Eve because she knows that Eve’s fooling around with her husband, who keeps getting infuriated with Mikey after he loses to him at a poker game.

The look of the film honors film noir, while the theme examines psychology and broken people in broken relationships pushing on in spite of their struggles.

I saw the film when it came out in 1984 and again now. I still appreciated the structure and dialog, but this time I around I noticed how the darkness of the film and the jaded approach to marriage and relationships doomed the characters. I felt sorry for them both times I watched, but this time I also felt sorry for the filmmaker for needing to make such a skeptical film.

Nonetheless, Choose Me offers great performances and a wonderful soundtrack. It’s worth a look, though it’s not in the “must-see” category.

Death by Hanging

Oshima’s Death by Hanging has masterful cinematography and great acting. Loosely based on a real crime, Death by Hanging attempts to argue against capital punishment and prejudice against Koreans.

The director directly states statistics of Japanese approval of capital punishment, before introducing the story. Oshima believes if he shows his audience an execution they’ll come to oppose punishing murderers with death. The story begins with all the protocol of an execution. The criminal named R has been convicted of raping and murdering two school girls. R has a champlain, gets a last meal as the officials in charge go through the usual procedures.

However, when R is hanged, he doesn’t die. Now what?

The doctor finds that R is still alive and soon he comes too. But R insists he isn’t R, which means they can’t hang him again. (Evidently, in Japan if there’s a botched execution, they could try again.) Now begins the long process, mainly led by the Education Chief (not sure why someone with this title is part of this process — it seems he has to make sure the felon has understood why he’s getting punished and agrees that he’s guilty). The black farce is turned up to “high” as the film proceeds. It’s full of dark humor as well as the logic behind ending capital punishment or it’s meant to be.

The film goes down some bizarre rabbit holes, which are pulled off by an outstanding cast. The Korean-Japanese actor who played R should have won an award. It’s amazing how he maintains this impassive presence amidst madness.The story drifts back and forth between fantasy and reality and the plot twists and turns and is full of surprises till the last second. I sure did not expect the ending.

I applaud Oshima for presenting the injustice against Koreans living in Japan so directly and thoroughly. Usually such cultural faults are well hidden.

However, the film felt long and was confusing at time. When R’s sister appears from no where and her relationship with her brother takes an incestuous turn, Oshima lost me. The arguments that followed against capital punishment weren’t convincing and in fact made me think, perhaps execution is acceptable since these arguments are the weakest I’ve heard. So in that respect Death by Hanging, while an example of dark humor and powerful imagery, fails. Because it’s incredibly original, I do recommend the film, but I imagine some people will have problems with some of the foolishness of the officials, the sister or the logic. It is a film you’d want to discuss afterwards.

 

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

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After watching Jacques Tati’s comedic classic Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, I was surprised to find out it was made in 1956. I’d have guessed during the 1930s. The film uses little sound, but the sound  is used to maximum effect. The sublime, recurring tune keeps playing in my head. Since it’s a happy melody, that’s just fine.

Awkward and unlucky, but well-meaning and kind, Mr. Hulot goes on vacation to a seaside French town. Wherever Mr. Hulot goes, minor disaster follows upsetting the quiet card players or the well-dressed ladies. More often than not, Mr. Hulot is his own worst enemy, but the consequence is usually small–some bruises, embarrassment or car trouble. It’s cool to see an old style vacation

The film is big on gags and short on plot. The characters are nameless stereotypes, but they do make an impression and each one is bound to remind you of someone you know or love.

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is a delight, but probably isn’t for everyone. The film is slow-paced, a trip to the old days. It’s the first Tati film I’ve seen and folks like Roger Ebert assert it’s his best. I’m glad I saw it because Tati is a master in French film, but I can’t recommend it highly because I think a lot of people want more plot, which they can get from Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd.

Cat’s Paw

Harold Lloyd’s talking Cat’s Paw (1934) satirizes dirty politics. Lloyd plays Ezekiel Cobb, the son of a missionary who grew up in rural China. Cobb comes to California to find a wife. He’s supposed to stay with a minister, who for years has run for mayor against a corrupt machine politician. The minister is a puppet who doesn’t realize he’s simply used   to make it look like there’s democracy in this town.

When the minister suddenly dies, his corrupt campaign manager needs a chump to run in his stead. He decides this naive newbie Cobb is just the man for the job.

Cobb’s an endearing character. He’s a fish out of water in America. Though he looks like he belongs here, China is his home. So he’s constantly bowing and has no idea what our slang means. He’s often mistaken for a “native” and this often gets him into all kinds of scraps. He lacks the street smarts and skepticism frequently found in corrupt cities.

Yet while the film never directly says as much, God helps the innocents and through a hilarious series of mishaps, Cobb is photographed punching the corrupt mayor and becomes a sensation. He’s swept into office. He’s as upset as anyone. He wants to return to China where everyone understands his references to the revered Ling Po, who’s wisdom he frequently imparts.

Cobb accepts his office and brings his innocent honesty into practice. He outfoxes the foxes and it’s a delight to see.

Lloyd is delightful. It offers satire with a clever story that still entertains. There are times when supporting characters use words like “Chink” which are derogatory and wouldn’t be used in a film today, but the characters who use such terms are portraying prejudiced people in contrast to the hero who respects and understands Chinese culture.

Cobb does search for a wife and looks for an idealistically innocent, poised woman. Pet Pratt, a woman in his boarding house is a worldly woman who tricks him by taking him to a nightclub with 1930s adult entertainment. She’s just the woman to help Cobb govern. It’s an added twist to the film, especially since Harold Lloyd films usually feature American sweethearts. Pet Pratt does not fit that mold and is fun to watch.

I was amazed by Cobb’s plan to clean up the city. He wasn’t the goody-two-shoes he seemed at the start.

Cat’s Paw was a fun film, which shows 1930s views of China.

Lucky Partners

I’d never seen a Ronald Colman film, though I’d heard the name. I ran across this title and thought I’d get the DVD from the library. (Note: the DVD has much better quality than the blurry trailer above.) Starring Ginger Rogers and Ronald Colman, Lucky Partners is a romantic comedy filled with style and wit.

Walking down the street one day, David Grant (Colman) wishes Jean (Rogers), a pretty passerby, “Good luck.” She stops and asks him why the “Good luck” and he smiles and they chat about her practical engineer fiancé before she goes her merry way.

When she arrives at her destination to drop off an order of books, she lucks into a free $300 (in 1940’s value) dress. Hmm, meeting that dapper fellow was lucky. Jean decides to take advantage of the luck and buys an Irish Sweepstakes ticket and convinces David to pay her half. That should increase their luck.

Lucky_Partners_film_posterDavid places a condition on his going in on the ticket. If they win, which is highly unlikely, Jean will accompany David on a fabulous trip prior to her marriage. She’s unsure. What will people think of an unmarried woman traveling with an unmarried man? David sees it as an experiment. When Fred, the fiancé turns up, his assumptions and attitudes, compel Jean to go along. Besides, it’s unlikely the ticket will win, so there’s no real risk, right?

Well, next the ticket does win the first round of the sweepstakes. Now Jean and David need to decide whether to cash in for $12,000 or to hold and wait to see if they can win the full $150,000. There’s some back and forth and mainly dapper David just aggravates Jean, but then so does flat-footed Fred. In the end they decide to risk it all and Fred holds on to the tickets.

But rather than do as he was told, Fred sold Jean’s half of the ticket, so after they lose the sweepstakes, Fred proudly presents Jean with her $6000. He’s shocked that his independent-minded fiancée is livid that Fred went behind her back. Jean grabs her money and storms across the way to give David the money. He then insist that they go on a pared down version of the whirlwind experimental trip. Now Jean’s nervous, but a deals’ a deal.

Based on a film by Sacha Guitry (the French writer/actor who made films like The Pearls of the Crown  or Le PoisonLucky Partners delights with a zany situation that dances around feminine virtue, trust, and whether one should marry a safe guy or the dashing artist with the mysterious aura. As is true of so many

The Kid Brother

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I’ve added a new film to my collection of absolute favorites. It’s The Kid Brother (1927) by Harold Lloyd, which Criterion collection has just released on a 2-DVD set with plenty of extras like expert commentary and interviews of Lloyd and Lloyd’s granddaughter.

Poor Harold Hickory. His big brothers, and they are big, outshine him at home. His father the sheriff views Harold as too young and weak to participate in town meetings or fight for good when the community needs strong men. Harold reveres his father and these slights hit him hard. No one sees how ingenious, loyal and hard working young Harold is.

When a group of charlatans arrive in town, the same day as Harold’s dad is entrusted with the town’s money to pay for a new dam (so quite a sum), Harold gets duped into letting them put on a medicine show. Dad never would sign off on such a deal, but the Kid Brother was fooled. Harold soon realizes his error and what a disaster it will be.

Catastrophes come one after another and the gags are inspired. I laughed out loud and was amazed at the film’s charm. In one minute, you get more humor than in 5 minutes in any other comedy.

Not only is the film placed with comedy, there’s also romance. Jobyna Ralson, who starred in The Freshman, appears as an orphan girl, who’s linked to the medicine show conmen and she soon captures the hearts of Harold and his brothers. Their meeting and relationship is sure to make you smile.

The Kid Brother qualifies as a must-see film for all ages. I enjoyed watching with the commentary on to get all the background on Lloyd and the making of this four star classic. This is an amazing mood-lifter.