Queen Christina

Starring Greta Garbo, Queen Christina shows a woman who became the leader of Sweden as a child when her father died, lead like a man. Garbo captivates. I don’t think I’d seen her in a movie, just in photos. My, was she compelling. Her magnetism keeps all eyes on her. This strong, passionate queen had no qualms about leadership. Her problem is the nagging requests for her to marry the King of Spain.

In the beginning of the film she had no desire to marry. When she gets fed up with the wheedling to coax her into the King of Spain’s arms, she bolts from the court. Dressed as a man, followed by her mentor, she encounters the Spanish envoy whose carriage falls into a rut. She teases and mocks him and his retinue. When she overhears the envoy’s plan to take a room at a nearby inn, she beats him to it and takes the last room for miles. Incognito, the queen teases the envoy when he arrives at the inn. Yet he gets the last laugh when the innkeeper, who’s swayed by the envoy’s higher offer, convinces the disguised queen to share the room with the envoy.

It isn’t long before the queen’s gender is revealed to the envoy and before you know it, they’re madly in love. Of course that presents problems because 1) the envoy’s mission is to convey his King’s proposal to Queen Christina and 2) he’s bound to discover his love’s true identity.

Garbo gives a strong performance and the story offers a surprise ending. The costuming was elegant and arresting. I’ve got to see more of Garbo’s films. You should too.

Note: There was a Queen Christina, who ruled Sweden in the 17th century, but I can’t find any evidence that this film isn’t more than conjecture.

Summertime

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I was surprised that Katerine Hepburn could bore me. In Davide Lean’s Summertime (1955) she did. Hepburn plays Jane, an American secretary on her dream vacation in Venice. She’s dreamed of this trip for years and has a lot of energy and high expectations. Soon Jane’s pouting because her trip isn’t as idyllic as she hoped. She doesn’t have any horrible mishaps like getting robbed or sick so to me she just needed to look for some alternatives. Maybe she should go out for a day with the American couple who seemed a bit corny, maybe she should go to a different city or get a tour guide over the age of 10 instead of the urchin who looked about 6, had no shoes, spoke English better than a lot of Italian university students and who spoked cigarettes, which Jane gave him. (That was something you wouldn’t see today. Jane didn’t spoke on screen ever, but had a pack and bargained with this ragamuffin for.)

Jane does bump into an handsome Italian, Renato in the Saint Marco’s Square and the next day happens to go into Renato’s shop. There’s clearly some attraction, but Jane’s awfully standoffish despite her severe loneliness which makes it impossible to enjoy Italy.

About half of the film consists of Jane moping, which made it drag. Eventually, Renato pursues Jane, who soon discovers he’s married. At that revelation, Jane wants to end things, but she’s so lonely.

Ugh!

Jane had built this trip up in her mind so much that it was destined to disappoint. When she talks of home, it’s not as though she hates it. We’re not sure why she never married. She does mention going to a real ball as teen so she’s had opportunities for romance apparently.

Renato continues to pursue her and responds with pat answers to questions about his wife and children. Jane could do better. I hoped she’d end things with Renato.

All in all, I found the film dull despite Hepburn’s ability to be clever and energetic.

Poldark, Final Season, Ep. 6

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Last week’s Poldark began with lots of romance, but then ended with tragedy. As the story opens, Morwenna’s in bed with Drake having gotten past all her rotten feelings about sex, caused by that lecherous first husband Ossie. Drake’s brother Sam is now wooing a pretty blond named Rosina. Yet Tess, whom I wish would disappear, is flirting with godly Sam, trying to tempt him with religion. How’s that for irony?

Ned’s in prison and Kitty’s been giving the guards bribe money to keep him safe. When Ned’s trial begins things don’t look good. Plenty of paid witnesses are lying on the stand. Ross is called to speak and gives a passionate testimony, but he went too far and sounded so rebellious that he probably did more harm than good. Dwight was urged to speak and now that he’s helped George and maybe one other person overcome mental illness, he’s an expert. He states that he’s sure that Ned’s mentally ill and didn’t mean to almost kill the King. What? Dwight, you must realize that an asylum for the mentally ill is arguably worse than death in 1800.

My biggest criticism of the episode and the one prior is how George is suddenly well. He has no more hallucinations or mental problems whatsoever. It doesn’t seem possible.

Ned Despard is a real historical figure. So the show can’t go to far from the truth. Ned did govern the British Hondura after his time fighting in the American Revolution. The real Ned Despard plotted to overturn the government and kill King George III. In the show Ned seems innocent, while history says he wasn’t. So the show departed from history and I can see that the highest punishment would be meted out for treason.

Cecily’s father arranges for her to marry George as soon as possible. George can never love any woman as much as he did Elizabeth, but he’s practical and a lady in the house would help with the kids as well as bring more into the world. Cecily and Geoffrey Charles must elope and they do run away, but are caught.

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Ross plans to break Ned out of jail with the help of Dwight, whose wife Caroline insists he goes along. Caroline usually pines for Dwight to stay home with her or to take her to London, but she also has high principles.

Cecily and George’s grim wedding begins. There’s to be no party and the guests present are her father, George’s Uncle Cary, Valentine and a lady who must work at the church. Geoffrey Charles burst in and almost stops the wedding. He’s carried out, but before he leaves, Cecily lies and says that she was intimate with Geoffrey Charles, who then tells George that he’ll never know if his first born is really his or Geoffrey Charles’ child. That ends the wedding. (Though George is pretty cold hearted and could wait to make sure, so this plot twist could have been better.)

After risking everything Ned tells Ross he’s not going to escape. This is an odd turn of events and weakened the plot for me. Ned has to be executed since that’s the history, but then just have him go off to his sentence rather than add this part.

While I do wonder what’s next for Ross and Demelza, I’m very curious to know what will happen to Cecily and Geoffrey Charles. My guess is her father will kick her out and they’ll elope, but you never know.

The episode had lots of change and action, but there is something about this season that seems off. I suppose I can’t get past the difference between Winston Graham’s stories and the original ones written this year by Deborah Hosfield, who’s a wonderful writer, but there’s a difference between adapting and creating.

 

The Saphead

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Buster Keaton’s first starring role in a feature film was playing Bertie Van Alstyne in The Saphead. Saphead sure is a disparaging way to refer to someone. It refers to a weak-minded stupid person. Is Bertie Van Alstyne really a saphead? His tycoon father certainly thinks so, but Agnes, Bertie’s adopted sister disagrees. She’s smitten. When she returns home Bertie defies his wealthy father and tries to elope with Agnes. Their plans are comically foiled and Bertie shows his father that he’s no wimp or fool (well not completely either) so the wedding proceeds until Mark, Bertie’s lazy, crooked, philandering brother-in-law plants a letter from his dead mistress on Bertie.

Bertie is framed. His father stops the wedding so that sweet Agnes isn’t married to a philanderer with an illegitimate daughter. Crushed, but noble, Bertie goes to the cosy house he bought for his new bride. His solo dinner amidst the wedding decorations is a sad scene indeed.

The next day Bertie tries to lift his spirits by going to the Stock Exchange where he’s recently purchased a seat. Of course, the traders laugh at his expense and play him for a fool. Yet the tables get turned when Bertie, inadvertently saves the day when he foils his brother-in-laws plot to take over the family fortune.

The version I got from the library needs restoration. Many of the outdoor scenes looked green, while the indoor ones were black and white.

The Saphead charmed me with it’s innocence and simplicity. Keaton’s facial expressions and physical humor stole the show. The plot took turns I didn’t expect and other than forgetting all about Henrietta’s poor orphan child, the story was a delight.

Cover Girl

I learned about Cover Girl from 4 Star Film Fan, here you can always discover wonderful film classics. Starring Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly an, Eve Arden and Phil Silver, Cover Girl shows Hayworth as Rusty Parker, a captivating beauty and talented dancer who performs in her boyfriend, Danny McGuire’s Brooklyn club. Silver is a comic and the pair’s buddy. Rusty is down to earth but when she hears about a magazine contest she becomes curious about the big time.

Mix ups and show tunes ensue. Danny hopes Rusty will stay in Brooklyn. Briefly he stands in her way, but soon figures Rusty doesn’t really love him if she’s so impressed by the Manhattan set. Of course, Rusty wins the contest. It turns out that the sponsoring magazine is run by a man who fell in love with Rusty’s grandma, who turned him down, married an ordinary piano player and led a happy life.

The emotions were convincing. You hope that Danny will declare his love and that Rusty doesn’t settle for the high life rather than try love. I enjoyed the joking and friendly traditions Hayworth, Silver and Kelly’s characters share. Some numbers ran a little long, but the dancing was solid. I particularly enjoyed Kelly in a scene with his conscience who tries to advise him. You just don’t see such scenes carried off well nowadays.

Cover Girl’s a fun film well worth your time.

The Band of Outsiders

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Jean-Luc Goddard’s 1964  Band of Outsiders has gotten under my skin. It’s full of powerful imagery and perplexing characters. Beautiful and naive Odile meets two friends, Arthur and Franz in an adult ed English class. The young men are smitten with Odile, though the Alpha male of the pair Arthur pursues her and leads the trio in a robbery of a man who lives with Odile in her aunt’s home.

I kept hoping that Odile would stop Arthur’s pursuit and look for a better man. She saw that Arthur’s plan was both wrong and foolish, but she continually went against good sense. Arthur isn’t kind to Odile and Franz occasionally stands up for her, but throughout the film Arthur, who comes from a family of boorish gangsters, treats Odile poorly. He’s too selfish to be kind to anyone. He’s a ruined person.

I often winced at the psychology of the relationships on screen. I did understand and feel sorry for Arthur, whose relatives beat him so he’d get them the loot faster. I wondered why Franz couldn’t find a better friend and I understood that Odile was a weak person easily influenced by flattery and attention, but all that was hard to watch.

What saved the film for me was its magical moments. In one scene the trio decides to try to beat American tourist Jimmy Johnson’s record of racing through the Louvre in 9 minutes 45 seconds. Probably my favorite scene was in a café when Odile gets the boys to dance. You see the trio of needy people entangled in an ambivalent love triangle dancing. I can watch this again and again.

Godard’s narration is full drôle commentary. The black and white images are compelling. So despite my quibbles with the relationships, this heist film that’s full of ennui is well worth seeing.

The Music Man

The Goodman Theater offers solid brass band entertainment in Mary Zimmerman’s production of The Music Man. One of the top American musicals in my book The Music Man tells the story of con man Prof. Harold Hill comes to small town Iowa to cheat the townsfolk of their hard earned cash by promising them their boys will avoid the evils of the pool hall, a veritable den of inequity, if they just entrust them to him. For the price of instruments, sheet music, and uniforms, Prof. Hill will soon have these children’s virtue in place and they’ll be able to play beautiful music to boot.

The town’s mayor, who owns the new pool hall and the spinster librarian, Marian are among the most skeptical. Hill aims to win them over, though it won’t be easy. Marian won’t be the first skeptical lady his charm has won over.

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With a full orchestra, solid dancing and tunes like “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Trouble,” “Good Night My Someone” and “Till There Was You” The Music Man knocks it out of the park.

The Chicago Tribune’s reviewer thought the show’s star couple lacked chemistry. Perhaps they weren’t the most electric couple in musical theater, but they did a good job and with these songs, the colorful costumes, creative set, and familiar story, this production won me over.

The theater was quite full and some shows have already sold out. I urge you not to miss this summer’s The Music Man.