Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

“Do you believe in witchcraft Ms. Connell?”

            I Walked with a Zombie is not what we today would think of a zombie movie. There are no creepy Exorcist-looking dead people roaming around a small town getting their heads blown off with a shotgun. I Walked with a Zombie explores the tradition of voodoo and the sect’s belief in the dead and their rising. This  film explores voodoo respectfully. The lead character does not believe in voodoo but she begins to question whether it could help.
            Frances Dee plays Betsy Connell a Canadian nurse who is sent down to an island called Saint Sebastian. She is to care for Jessica Holland, the wife of a sugar plantation owner named Paul Holland (Tom Conway) . On the boat heading towards the island, we hear Betty’s thoughts on how beautiful the island is going to be when it is as if Paul can hear her thoughts and he says that nothing stays beautiful for long.
            At dinner when she arrives on the island, Betsy can hear drums. Paul and his brother Wes explain that the drums are coming from the houmfort where the natives practice and hold their voodoo rituals. Paul tells Betsy that she can meet Jessica the next day. That night she hears crying and follows it to an old tower on the property. As she climbs the stairs she can see Jessica and calls out to her. Jessica has this emotionless look on her face and just walks towards Betsy like she is going to harm the nurse. Betsy screams and Paul, Wes, and the house keeper Alma come running into the tower. Paul commands Jessica to stop. She can follow simple commands and that is all. Paul sees Betsy coming to an island as a mistake; he feels she cannot handle the island that she is easily frightened. But Betsy assures Paul that she is not easily frightened; she never would have come to the island in the first place if she had been.
            The next day Betsy talks with Jessica’s doctor. The doctor says that Jessica had such a high fever from a tropical disease that it gave her brain damage. So far there is no cure to be found and Jessica just lives like a zombie.
            One afternoon on her day off, Betsy walks into town where she happens to meet Wes. As they sit a café a man, unaware that Wes is near, sings a song about the family. The song says that Wes had an affair with Jessica and that the boys are lonely and a young nurse has come along. The man stops singing the song but it affects Wes and he starts drinking heavily. When it gets dark Betsy wants to leave but Wes is completely out of it. Mrs. Rand, Wes’ mother, comes to get him. What has happened to Jessica has obviously affected the family and Wes and Paul blame themselves for her condition.
            That night at dinner, Paul and Wesley get into an argument over Jessica and over Wesley’s drinking. Wesley blames Paul for the way Jessica is and that he is only trying to impress Betsy. By this time it does seem as if Paul is trying to impress Betsy he seems to have very little interest in his wife at all, as if he is ready to move on since he knows nothing can be done for her. That night Betsy wakes up to the piano being played outside her room. Paul is playing it, he apologizes for waking her. He tells Betsy that he thinks she should go back to Canada that he should not have brought her to island and that now he feels he is the main cause of Jessica’s condition. Betsy does not want to go she has fallen in love with Paul.
            Betsy is determined to make Paul happy and to do so she feels she must find a cure for Jessica. She and Jessica’s doctor try to give her insulin shock treatment but that fails. Now desperate, Betsy asks Mrs. Rand’s advice about voodoo and if it could possibly help. Mrs. Rand works in a clinic so she sees things in a purely medical way. She says that voodoo is only psychological.
            That night Alma tells Betsy how to get to the houmfort. The night is windy as they walk through a cane field and past animal sacrifices. Betsy is obviously a little nervous and frightened but she keeps moving ahead. At a crossroad they come up to a zombie man who stands on guard.

He is very scary looking; he does not say or do anything. At the houmfort Betsy sees a priest doing a ritual with a saber. Followers play drums and chant.  Some followers, including Betsy, line up to ask the voodoo priest for advice through a hole in the door. When Betsy ask for a cure for Jessica the door opens and she is pulled inside. The priest turns out to be Mrs. Rand. She tells Betsy through voodoo she is able to tell the natives to use modern means of curing the sick. Mrs. Rand says that Jessica will never be cured she is too far gone.
            As Mrs. Rand and Betsy talk; the natives are amazed by the state Jessica is in. The priest with the sword stabs Jessica in the arm and she does not bleed. Betsy comes out of the hut and quickly takes Jessica back. The natives have upped their drumming and want Jessica to come back so they can do more ritual tests on her. Residents of the area are starting to get worried since they have never heard this before and always passed voodoo off as a joke. Later that night, the priest sends the zombie man to get Jessica. Betsy hears him shuffling passed her room and runs out. Before the zombie man can take Jessica Mrs. Rand comes out to the garden and sends him away.
            An official inquiry into Jessica’s illness has been started. Wesley uses this inquiry to put the blame on Paul but his accusation does not go very far. Mrs. Rand says she knows why Jessica is like this; she has turned the girl into a zombie. The doctor and Betsy dismiss this because her heart is still beating and she was never in a coma. When the doctor leaves, Wesley backs his mother up by telling that Jessica was in a coma for a day. Mrs. Rand has never believed in voodoo but felt desperate to save her family from breaking up when Jessica wanted to run away with Wesley. She felt possessed by the voodoo god to turn the woman into a zombie.

            Paul is now the desperate one as he asks Betsy to put Jessica out of her misery but she will not do it. The voodoo priest takes control of Jessica by putting her into a walking trance. Wesley follows her taking an arrow off the fountain statue of St. Sebastian.  Wesley carries Jessica in his arms to the shore of the beach. As the voodoo priest sticks a pin in a plastic doll of Jessica, Wesley plunges the arrow into her. He takes her body and walks into the ocean. The next day Wesley and Jessica’s bodies are found by natives while fishing.
            I Walked With a Zombie was very well received when it was first released. There is nothing spectacular and jaw dropping about the film. There was nothing like this being made at the time. What makes this film so good is that it is ambiguous: we never know the real reason for Jessica’s illness, we never know if she truly is a zombie or not, we do not know if the voodoo priest made Wesley kill Jessica and himself, and so much more. It did not stereotype Caribbean culture or the voodoo ritual it was a semi-serious look into is it-is it not real aspect of the voodoo religion. First watching the film it can be a little nerve wracking because you do not know what is going to come along or happen; maybe the nervousness or suspense is due to what we have come to believe that voodoo is scary with zombies and bringing people back to life.
            Everything about this film was very well done. The acting was very good. I watched this film to see Frances Dee, I had seen her in a pre-code film she made with Ginger Rogers called Finishing School  and I really liked her. She was gorgeous and a very good actress. The lighting in the film was great. Most of it took place at night time with the moon shining, the lighting added to the mystery and intensity to the story.
            Very little music is played throughout the film. The scene where Betsy comes across the zombie man walking in the garden there is no music playing; you can feel your heart race as you wait for something to happen. A scene without music is often more powerful than a scene with music since you are left to really think about what is to come there is not cue.
            One of my favorite aspects of the film is how Paul referred to island as being dead and unhappy, everything came to die there there was no beauty. On a wall in Jessica’s room there is a painting called Island of the Dead by Arnold Bocklin. Very nice touch by the design department adding this painting to the wall.
island of the dead|arnold bocklin|1880|26.90

            I Walked with a Zombie is not a conventional Golden Age of Hollywood story. There is a bit of a love story going on between Betsy and Paul but it is not the main focus. The focus is on ambiguity and voodoo and desperation. I liked this film for those aspects, for it being different from what was being made at the time.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Wrong Man

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“This is Alfred Hitchcock speaking. In the past, I have given you many kinds of suspense                pictures. But this time, I would like you to see a different one. The difference lies in the fact that           this is a true story, every word of it. And yet it contains elements that are stranger than all the fiction that has gone into many of the thrillers that I've made before.”- prologue to The Wrong Man

            “ An innocent man has nothing to fear, remember that.”
            Does an innocent man really have nothing to fear? We have heard this kind of line over and over again in crime movies and shows, for the cops they say this to see if the accused squirms or reacts either genuinely or guiltily. Alfred Hitchcock in his film The Wrong Man shows that an innocent man really has many things to fear when accused of a crime he did not commit.
             The Wrong Man is based off the real- life story of Manny Balestrero who is charged with holding up a store. The story was first printed in Life magazine in 1952 by Hubert Brean called “A Case of Identity.”  The story of an innocent man accused of something he did not do is a recurring theme in many of Hitchcock’s movies (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Spellbound). Christopher Emmanuel “Manny” Balestrero (Henry Fonda) plays the double bass in a small orchestra at the Stork Club. He plays late into the night, takes the subway and bus back to his home in Queens. He and his wife Rose (Vera Miles) are like most people, they struggle to make ends meet but they are happy with what they have. Poor Rose is having trouble with her wisdom teeth which will cost $300 to get taken care of (!!!). The next day Manny goes to the insurance company to take out money against Rose’s policy so she can get her teeth taken care of… from here on in Manny’s life is turned upside down.
            That night after Manny comes home from his mother’s house the police are waiting for him outside. The ladies in the insurance office believe that Manny is the one who held up the office the previous month. The police do not even let Manny tell Rose where he is going which makes her worry to no end later on. Witnesses say that Manny is the man who robbed their places of business. He is processed, put in a holding cell, taken to court where his bale is set way too high, and then taken to prison. Fortunately his brother-in-law posts his bale and he is allowed out of prison until the trial.
            After bringing Manny back home, Rose phones a lawyer named O’Connor. They see the lawyer the following. Rose is very optimistic and does all the talking while Manny is silent. O’Connor will take the case but he warns the Balestreros that he has never done a criminal case. During the meeting we find out that on the night of one of the crimes the Balestreros were on vacation. They go up to the place where they stayed and talk to the couple who run the motel. Manny remembers playing cards with some men. When they get back to the City, Manny and Rose try to track down these men for witnesses but they have no luck, two of the men are dead and one cannot be found.
            Rose is no longer optimistic about things. She’s worrying that Manny will be sent to jail and about money. She and Manny sit in O’Connor’s office and she just stares off into space. O’Connor notices something is wrong and suggests she gets up. When Manny gets home from work one night, Rose is still awake; she hasn’t been able to sleep for the past few nights. Manny now sees that something is definitely wrong with his wife. At one point she takes a brush and hits Manny over the head with it and cracks a mirror. Manny takes Rose to a specialist. He tells Manny that Rose is feeling guilty that all this has happened because of her and they are drowning in debt because she feels she was not good with money. The specialist suggests Rose goes into a home for a while to straighten out her mind.
            Manny’s trial is not going well. Two women identify Manny as the robber and a juror stands up asking why they have to listen to all the testimony anymore which causes a mistrial. At home while getting ready for work one night, Manny is basically at wits end with this whole trial. His life has been turned upside down and he wishes he had just been found guilty since it would be easier for him to move on. His mother tells him to pray but he just says it doesn’t work it’s luck he needs. When he walks into his bedroom he looks at a picture of Jesus on the wall and begins to pray. As he prays his face fades and we see a man walking towards the camera. The man’s face fits into Manny’s; it is the man who has been causing the Balestreros all their troubles and whom Manny has been mistaken for.
            The man walks into a deli and asks for some ham. As the woman goes to get the ham he walks behind the counter. He messes with the wrong woman!! The woman takes a knife and holds it out ready for him if comes and attacks. She stomps the floor as an alert and her husband comes up and attacks the robber. The police come and take him in.
            As Manny is working an employee tells him that the police need him to come down to the station and he leaves his double-bass on stage. At the station O’Connor tells Manny they got the guy and the innocent man and guilty man come face to face. Manny, not thinking of himself says to the robber “do you know what you have done to my wife?” The women who accused Manny in court have now positively identified the real the man; they cannot look Manny in the eye as they walk out because of embarrassment.
            The first thing Manny does the next day is go to Rose at the home she is staying at. He tells her everything will be alright but she’s not in her right frame of mind she is still out of it. This crushes Manny to no end.
            The film ends with a title card saying that two years later Rose was completely cured and the family is now living in Florida.
            The Wrong Man is not considered to be one of Hitchcock’s best films. When you watch a Hitchcock film you expect there to be this fantastic fictional suspense/mystery/thriller with a love story thrown in. The Wrong Man is a true story that cannot be fictionalized which makes this film underrated. It is a shame that this film considered underrated, I personally think, while it is not the best story, it is one of Hitchcock’s best directed films. As I watched this film I was amazed by the camera angles and how much they made us feel for Henry Fonda’s character. When Manny is in the holding cell Hitchcock pans the room as if we were looking through Manny’s eyes and he does the same thing in the courtroom and when Manny is being transferred to the prison. In the courtroom scene we see that Manny’s confidence is shaking as he looks as the jury not paying attention and talking, one of the lawyers that is defending him is drawing on a notebook and not listening at all, and his sister is putting on lipstick. Hitchcock explained to Francoise Truffaut about the prison transfer:
            “During the journey between the station house and the prison, there are different men guarding him, but since he’s ashamed, he keeps his head down, staring at his shoes, so we never show the guards… In the same way, during the whole trip, we only show theguards’ feet, their lower legs, the floor, and the bottom parts of the door.”
We see what Manny is nervously looking at as he walks past other prisoners. We can genuinely feel that Manny is sad and nervous and scared and feels that he does not belong with these real criminals. Hitchcock filmed the emotions of Montgomery Cliff’s character the same way three years previously in I Confess.
            Going for broke on realism, Hitchcock actually filmed The Wrong Man in New York City in the same neighborhoods the events really took place. He even used the actual home where Rose goes and had the actual doctors playing themselves. Vera Miles and Henry Fonda spent some time with the real Balestreros before shooting began. The real guilty man was caught by the woman who owned the deli but instead of holding the knife away from the man she had the knife against his stomach which made the man so scared that he did not move and the husband was easily able to keep the man down until the police came. Like in the film the man said “Let me go. My wife and kids are waiting for me.” Hitchcock told Truffaut that this line would never be written into a movie for how ridiculous it sounds but it just worked.
            One problem Hitchcock finds as a weakness in the film is the interruptions of Manny’s story to show how Rose is gradually losing her mind. I do not find these interruptions as a weakness. Yes they are interruptions they come at not the greatest moments for the flow of the story sometimes but I feel they are important. Showing Rose losing her mind over this is important; this is just one of the things that Manny has to fear. Vera Miles was excellent as Rose. The scene in the lawyer’s office when she is starting to slip was done so well; you can actually relate and understand her feelings of despair and hopelessness and of feeling stuck. She sits in the chair feeling numb. Hitchcock wanted to make Vera Miles his next Grace Kelly and you can tell by this film she could have been his next great  muse; her acting was fantastic (she was only 27 when she made this).
            The Wrong Man, while it may be underrated, is still a very good Hitchcock film. It is an unconventional Hitchcock movie which is probably why many do not like it; but from it being different from all his other films that is what makes The Wrong Man so good. The film is chilling because it is so real. We can relate to the working man and the problems of having debts, we can relate to the hopelessness, the nervousness, the sadness, and the frustrations of the characters. Truffaut points out the Hitchcock that in the hands of a lesser director this movie would not have worked out at all. But of course Hitchcock being the Master of Suspense and the greatest director of all time he made The Wrong Man work, he made this true story suspenseful and frightening.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

One Touch of Venus

“Oh aren’t you ashamed a big boy like you scared to death of a girl”
“But you’re not a girl you’re a statue"

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if love was chasing after you instead of you chasing after it? What if love were to just tap you on the shoulder and be totally smitten with you without knowing you? In the 1948 film One Touch of Venus, Eddie Hatch finds himself lucky to be chased by the goddess of love herself.
            Eddie Hatch is a window dresser who works in Savory’s department store. He is engaged to marry Gloria who never stops reminding him that they are to be married. Gloria loves Eddie more than he has feelings for her. He has a friend who also works in the department store named Joe. Eddie’s life is routine and ordinary with no complications. One night his boss, Mr. Savory, asks him to fix a curtain which keeps getting stuck. The curtain is supposed to open smoothly to reveal Savory’s latest art purchase the of the Anatolian Venus. As Eddie fixes the curtain he cannot help himself and kisses the statue. Lightning strikes after the kiss and all the sudden Eddie feels a hand ruffling his hair. He turns around and cannot believe his eyes: the statue of Venus is alive!!
            Venus is totally taken by this clumsy mortal. She says “Oh he’s wonderful” then looks to the sky and thanks Jupiter. When Eddie wakes up his head is literally in the lap of love with love herself stroking his hair. Eddie is just a ball of nerves and cannot come to his senses. This beautiful lady is just falling head over heels for him and he does not know what to do.  
            Savory sees that his statue has gone missing and immediately blames Eddie saying that he stole the statue. His assistant Molly thinks it is crazy that someone like Eddie could pull off stealing a heavy statue. Savory has detectives investigate Eddie and bring him.
            Throughout the movie Venus drives Eddie nuts. He is in trouble for something he did not do and Gloria is mad at him because she thinks he seeing another woman behind her back. All he wants is for Venus to go back to being a statue. On the elevator ride to bring Venus back Eddie realizes he is in love with the goddess and takes her out to a park for a romantic night. Unfortunately the detectives Savory hired find Eddie and arrest him.
            That morning Venus was found sleeping in the model home and Savory completely fell for her. She told him she was in love with Eddie that there was no way she and Savory could be together. The department owner was furious that he was being rejected for a small man with no power or money. When Eddie gets arrested Venus uses her sexuality and beauty to get Savory to have Eddie taken out of jail. Instead of calling the jail Savory calls Molly and pretends he is calling the jail. During the conversation Molly says she is quitting but Savory cannot function without Molly and realizes he loves her. Before he runs to Molly, Venus has the boss really call the jail and Eddie is let go.
            By the time Eddie gets back to Venus she has been turned back into a statue.
            Well not to completely spoil the ending Venus and Eddie do get together in some way.  
            All I can say about this film is how damn adorable it was!!!! I was gushing like an idiot I could not take how ridiculously cute and funny One Touch of Venus was.
            I had such a good time watching this film especially after seeing Ava Gardner playing the two-timing Femme Fatale Kitty Collins in The Killers. Ava Gardner is considered to be the ultimate screen siren with millions of fans in love with her… who better to play Venus the goddess of love than the goddess of the screen? I love Ava Gardner to no end in this movie she was so cute and bubbly as Venus. She had that sexy, gorgeous side to her as well as the sweet side that just mixed so well on screen for this film.
            Robert Walker was so perfect as the bumbling window dresser Eddie Hatch that now to me it is so difficult to see him as Bruno Anthony in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (I have no clue how I will be able to watch Strangers now after watching Venus I’ll be thinking about him as Eddie the whole time!).
            Eve Arden as Molly made the whole film. Her character was the perfect kind of snarky and her delivery of her lines were so spot on. She definitely has some of the best lines I have heard in classic film. Arden in pretty much every role she had was always dry and sarcastic and in this film her humor was spot on. Some of her lines were really quick and subtle so you really have to listen when she talks.
            One Touch of Venus was originally a Broadway play. There are a few musical numbers in here like “Speak Low” which gives the musical feel of a play but the witty, fast, dialogue of a play is there as well. The music in the movie is excellent it adds wonderfully to the silliness.
            One Touch of Venus is so much fun to watch. It’s a light hearted comedy that is so well acted and so well done in all aspects. If you are ever in a bad mood or just need a pick me up stick this film on and I guarantee you will feel better in no time. 
            YouTube has this film posted online in parts. So hop on over to YouTube now and get watching!!



Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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“These are dark times, There is no denying.”

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt.1” is definitely darker than the other six Harry Potter movies. The magic world has been thrown into chaos with the Dark Lord and his followers fully taking over. No one is safe, even muggles are being attacked. The Ministry of Magic now has a sculpture of a wizard crushing muggles under stone in their “rightful” place.
            For Harry, Hermione, and Ron the world as they knew it is gone. They can’t even go back to Hogwarts or any place they use to know as safety. The three friends are away from all they know for almost the entire movie. The only happy spot in the film is Bill Weasley’s wedding to Fleur Delacour. Even that is broken up when a message from the Ministry of Magic comes to tell everyone the Ministry has been taken over and the minister has been killed. Hermione disaparates away with Ron and Harry to a spot in London where she used to go with her parents. Since they cannot find a safe place in London, Harry, Ron and Hermione are forced to travel through woods and mountains to keep away from Voldemort’s followers who are on the lookout for them.
            I cannot give too much away without spoiling the whole movie.
            I really liked this installment of Harry Potter. I liked how they were out of their element away from Hogwarts, after seeing Hogwarts for so many years it was starting to get a bit old. I felt the same way about the book as well I liked how they were out in the real wizard world.
            Deathly Hallows and its content provides every actor in the movie with great material and a great way to show their acting abilities. Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliff, and Rupert Grint were so brilliant. All three have always been fantastic as Hermione, Harry, and Ron but now that they are older and the material is darker you can now see what fine actors they have become. Some of the best performances come from Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliff when Harry and Hermione are on their own after Ron leaves for a bit. Harry and Hermione have such a nice friendship, I enjoyed seeing them without Ron we got to see more of their friendship then we’ve ever seen before.
            Of all the roles and of all the characters I have to say that one the best is Bellatrix Lestrange played by Helena Bonham Carter. In the book Bellatrix is a loony but with Helena Bonham Carter playing the character she just makes Bellatrix amazing. When I read the Deathly Hallows there was one part in the book that I was freaking out with because I was picturing Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix in the movie and how incredible the scene was going to be. And let me say the scene made it into the movie and it was everything I could have imagined and more. I find Helena Bonham Carter to be one of the best casted actors in the series. I don’t think there is an actress out there who could pull off being creepy looking and acting as creepy as she does. She allows herself not only in this movie but most of her movies to become this dark, weird character that a lot of actresses today would never dare to do.
            I was surprised how far the movie went into the book. I was expecting them to end at a certain part with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I am guessing that the writer and director went as far as they did because the next part to come is going to be out of control and amazing. They did take out a lot of things, some of them I feel are important to the story but looking at it for the movie the things are just fillers.
            I left the theater loving Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt.1. Once the movie was over I said “ok I want to see the second part right now!”(if you ever want a fun experience go to a Potter movie at the midnight showing. They’re so much fun) I cannot wait for the summer to see the second part. Knowing what is going to happen and what the ending will be like I just can’t wait to see all the action come to life.
            This Harry Potter is nonstop. Visually like all the other Potter movies this is stunning. Everything from the acting, lighting, direction, costumes, sets, and special effects are so well done. See this in theaters for sure before the next part comes out in the summer

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Martin and Orloff

“Why’d you try to kill yourself?”

            The question is asked quite a lot throughout the movie. For those of who are special enough to have ever seen the show “Upright Citizens Brigade” then you know right off the bat what will be happening in Martin and Orloff and what kind of insane, crazy, out of control antics all the characters will be getting into. But for those of you who have no seen anything by the UCB… you’ve been warned this movie is odd and ridiculous to all proportions.
            Ian Roberts plays Martin Flam with Matt Walsh playing Dr. Eric Orloff. Throughout the movie we see that Martin is actually the sanity while Orloff is the insanity. Orloff surrounds himself with the oddest of people including his friend Keith who has a problem with shitting in sinks. Orloff drags Martin all over New York starting with a softball game he had to get to in the middle of Martin’s first session. From then on Orloff drags Martin to a hot dog vender where the guy’s face and hands got messed up from oil exploding on them, to a strip club where his girlfriend is a striper and has the best sweet potato pie, and to a theater play that is about someone killing themselves. Orloff is always saying to Martin “this will be good for you” and then something crazy winds up happening.
            As with the show, everything is all crazy from start to finish and comes together nicely at the end. He meets Kasha who is Eric’s stripper girlfriend, her friend and fellow stripper Patti, Patti’s overweight and very well endowed ex-boyfriend Jimbo, a writer named Dan Wasserman, and a patient of Orloff’s with severe daddy issues. All these people come together at the end and help Martin with his problem and standing up to his boss.
            Martin creates character costumes for a marketing company. He was to make an eggroll costume for this company called China Chef. The guy from China Chef is out of his mind and did not want Martin to make a costume with eye holes because he did not want people to be reminded there was a human inside he wanted it to look as real as possible. The actor in the eggroll costume went for a smoke but because he could not see where he was going he walked off a pier and drowned. The guys from China Chef covered the whole thing up and cut eye holes in the costume when the body was brought up.
            On the way back to Orloff’s office in one scene they stop for Chinese food (“It’s the best in the city.”). When they get back to the office Orloff takes out an eggroll and tosses it to Martin. Martin freaks out seeing the eggroll and says “I don’t want to talk to you I want to talk to the eggroll.” We along with Orloff that Martin tried to kill himself because he blamed himself for the actor in the eggroll costume dying.
            Martin and Orloff is one of those movies that you need to have a special kind of humor for. The story is outrageously ridiculous and the characters are all out of their minds in some way. This is a fun movie to watch for all the actors: Kim Raver plays Kasha who is affectionately called “Strippy” by Orloff, Amy Poehler plays Patti, David Cross is Dan Wasserman, Matt Besser is Martin’s boss, and Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, and Janeane Garofalo play the Southern Ladies a dinner theater play. This movie was before Amy Poehler was on Saturday Night Live, you can tell because her top front teeth were not capped yet. It was odd in one part to see her kissing Ian Roberts in the scene when Patti takes Martin back to her place, I can’t explain what makes the whole thing awkward and weird but it just is.  
            If you are in the mood for some dark, ridiculous, non sophisticated, humor watch Martin and Orloff. This is a movie I show all my friends at least once, it’s different from all the other comedy movies that have been made in the last ten years. Martin and Orloff is fun to watch when you think the weight of the world is upon you and nothing has been going your way, you see Martin and what he is going through and you realize that your life no matter how insane it is at the moment is nothing compared to what he goes through.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Killers (1946)

“If there's one thing in this world I hate, it's a double-crossing dame”
he plot for The Killers is one we can still see in many movies today. After watching this you can probably name at least five movies that have this kind of story and twist. What makes The Killers different from the movies of its kind today is you truly do not know who did what until the end. The movie is told as a series of flashbacks as a detective tries to solve the murder of a man.
            The beginning of the movie is sinister: two men are driving down a dark street with booming and mysterious music playing in the background. The two men pull up to a diner in Brentwood, NJ and go inside. They tell the man behind the counter they are waiting for a man named Paul Lund aka the Swede. They know he goes to the diner after work so they wait for him.
When Swede doesn’t show up at his usual time the two men leave to go look for him. Someone from the diner runs to Swede’s place to warn him that two men are coming after to him to kill him. Swede doesn’t care he said he did something wrong and now he has to pay for what he did. The two men eventually come for Swede and shoot him.
            Swede had a small life insurance policy so his death has to be investigated. John Reardon is sent to investigate Swede’s death. He tracks down people from Swede’s past and finds out that he was a boxer named Ole Anderson. He connects with an old friend of Swede’s named Sam Lubinsky who is a detective. Swede’s career ended one night when after a fight the bones in his hand were badly broken. Both Sam and Ole’s girlfriend at the time Lilly were at the fight. After the fight Ole started to hang around with some shady people. He took Lilly to a party one night at the home of “Big Jim” Colfax. There he sees the most beautiful woman he has ever gazed upon: Kitty Collins. From that first meeting his life is never the same again the beautiful woman took such a hold on him that he could think no one and nothing else.
            Everything Swede does is for Kitty. She and Jim play upon Swedes feelings and set him up for one of the greatest double/triple cross story ever.
            The moment this film was over all I said was “wow.” It has got a great story and a great twist. I truly enjoyed every minute of the film. I liked how we see a man lusting after a woman instead of always seeing women who are usually lusting after a man and will do anything for them. Swede risked everything on Kitty and his desire to be with her and was eventually killed for it. Kitty was truly a femme fatale men died for things that she had a large in role in.
            This was my first time seeing Ava Gardner in a film and she was perfect as the femme fatal. With her looks you could tell her character was going to be some form of trouble. She was so gorgeous in everything she wore. The smoldering, lustful looks towards Swede are to die for. I had always expected Ava Gardner to have this beautiful, sexy deep voice so when she first spoke in the film I was a little taken aback by her somewhat high voice… that does not in any form take away from her sexual appeal. One of my favorite parts of the film is when Big Jim is planning out the robbery of a factory and Kitty says something that he does not like so he says “Keep your mouth shut or get it slapped shut” and she comes back with “If you slap me you won’t live to see morning”, I love the way Ava Gardner says this line and how it shows Kitty’s feistiness and how she’s not afraid of Big Jim.
            This was Burt Lancaster’s first film roll. I believe that this is my first film seeing him as well and he did an excellent job. He and Ava Gardner had such good chemistry together and he was so good playing the lustful man after Kitty.
            Richard Siodmak directed the film with his fabulous Noir touch. He captured the lustful looks of Kitty, Swedes desire and lust for Kitty, and all the emotions of both characters so perfectly. 
            The Killers is based off a short story by Ernest Hemingway. The only part of the screenplay which comes from the short story is the beginning when the killers are in the diner looking for Swede. The rest was written by Anthony Veiller and an uncredited John Huston who would later have a successful career as a director.
             Definitely see The Killers if you are a fan of Film Noir. The Killers is one of those films that set the bar for all other crime and noir films that were to come. It is an excellent example in acting, writing, and directing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Made For Each Other (1939)

Made for Each Other was one of the over 500 films made in 1939. Compared to the dozen or so classic films which came out that year this one does not stand out in any grand way. But what Made for Each Other lacks in grandeur is made up by how real and true to life the story is.
            John Mason (James Stewart) works in a law firm where he has done pretty well for himself over the years. He has dreams of making partnership and making money to be comfortable. Judge Doolittle- John’s boss and head of the law firm- sends John to Boston to look up a case file. While in Boston John meets a woman named Jane (Carole Lombard). They quickly fall in love and marry immediately. The first time the audience sees Jane is when John brings her over to meet his mother. John’s mother does not know that the two of them are married. Mrs. Mason likes Jane but she does not approve of John marrying her. As John tries to tell his mother the best he can that he and Jane are married Jane comes right out with and says it. Mrs. Mason has a bit of a dramatic panic attack at this news. As Mrs. Mason goes up to her room, John and Jane agree that she can come live with them.
            Jane and John for their honeymoon decide to go to Europe for two weeks. John has been working on an important case in which he knows a lot about. Before he left he made sure to get a continuum so he would not have to rush back. John and Jane are on the ship with ten minutes left to leave when a man John works with, Conway, comes on board telling John that the case will go ahead next week that the continuum did not work; it’s either the case which could make John’s career and make him a partner or screw things up by going on his honeymoon. The couple stands on the deck waving goodbye with a crowd of people to the leaving ship.

            The couple, along with John’s mother move into a small apartment. They are having Judge Doolittle, his daughter, and Conway over for Thanksgiving. Things are not going smoothly at all: Mrs. Mason is driving the maid out of her mind to the point where she wants to walk out and she’s also driving Jane up a wall telling her what to do. John has been out trying to find a bottle of wine which is does but it is not enough to last the whole evening. Dinner did not over how Jane and John had planned: the maid wanted to leave and needed to be paid so John had to get up and find money for her and Judge Doolittle told John that he was giving the partnership to Conway not him even though he won the case he was working on.
            The next scene is Jane finding out she’s pregnant. She writes John a little letter (she did this at the beginning when John went back to work even though she was married and living with him) in the style of a poem with a baby pin attached to the paper. She goes to the court where John is and when the court lets out for the day she gives John the letter. When John reads the letter he is very excited, they hug each other in happiness.
            A few months later, Jane and John have a baby boy. They get into a taxi at the hospital to go home. Jane stares amazed at the baby and keeps asking over and over again “Isn’t he beautiful?” A mounted police officer comes by to see why the car has not moved yet when he looks through the roof from the window and sees the new parents and their baby. He says he’s sorry for being loud and then yells at the other cars to move along and to be quiet!

At home Jane tries to give baby Johnny a bath and Mrs. Mason is yet again telling Jane what to do. The baby’s clothes are hanging on a string in the bathroom to dry make the room even smaller and crowded then it already is. John keeps asking if he can do anything which makes Jane more frazzled. Jane sends John to get the baby a bottle, when he comes back he tries to feed the baby by making him hold it but obviously newborns cannot hold their bottles so Jane takes over.
            Times are getting harder. Jane encourages John to demand partnership and a raise from his boss. To pep John up Jane asks “Are you a man or a mouse?” to which he answers “A mouse.” He is up all night going over what he will say to Judge Doolittle; Jane sees this as she lays bed and has a proud look on her face. The next day John goes to Doolittle to tell demand his raise but Doolittle tells him some bad news: everyone, including himself, will be taking a 25% pay cut due to hard times. That night John comes home drunk, slamming the front door, turning the lights on waking the baby who unfortunately has to sleep in the dining room, and dropping the milk bottle in the kitchen. Jane doesn’t get mad at him she knows what has happened instead she tells him good morning since it is 3am and asks him if he’s comfortable once he goes to bed because he still has his shoes on. As she takes off his shoes, John starts going into a drunken rant about how he can never get any peace and quiet when he comes home. When he’s done, Jane tells him that she ran into Judge Doolittle and knows he did not get the raise. She calls him a fool and tells him she loves him no matter what that money is not all that matters. She feels bad that she made him go to Judge Doolittle and nothing came of it. He says to her that he’s no good for her and that he has let her down.

            Now the bills are piling up and notices are being sent out to the couple. Stress is getting to the both of them now. Jane sits in a park with their maid Lily. Jane tells Lily that she may have to her let go but Lily says she will stay no matter what. Lily tells a great metaphor: a watermelon is life it’s full and good and the seeds are money and other bad things so they should be spit out. She says “Never let the seeds stop you from enjoying the watermelon” and that she’s got her watermelon but she is choking herself on the seeds.


            On New Year’s Eve John and Jane are waiting for Conway to call so they know where he is having his party. They are all dressed up nicely and ready to go but Conway never calls. Upset, Johnny decides to go out without taking Jane but she runs after him. They go to a restaurant where there is a big party. They talk about their problems when John tells Jane that he wants to end the marriage. Jane is heartbroken; she says Happy New Year sarcastically and leaves. John stays behind and gets sucked into the party at another table. Jane comes rushing back in a panic; the baby is very sick and has been rushed to the hospital.

            Before they had left to go out we see that John’s mother has a cold. She keeps saying she got it from the baby he’s the one who has had a stuffed nose. Jane feels the baby’s forehead she senses something is a bit off but she dismisses it. At the hospital the doctor tells John and Jane that the baby has pneumonia. There is a serum that can save the baby’s life but it is in Utah where there is currently a big snow storm and nobody can get out.
            To get the serum it will coast five thousand dollars. John does not have that kind of money so he goes to Doolittle in the middle of the night. He wakes up his boss begging him to help; he loves his son and does not know what would happen to him if his son dies. Doolittle agrees to help and gives John the five thousand dollars. The pilot of the plane in Utah tells John over the phone that he cannot fly out not in a bad snow storm. John pleads him and asks the man what he would do if one of his kids was sick and there was something that could cure them. The pilot says no but another pilot who is not married says he will bring the serum to New York.
            The pilot has some engine problems in the weather and his plane explodes. He ejects himself and parachutes to safety but hurts his leg in the process. He finds a house nearby where the owners take him in. He asks where he is and they tell him he is 35 miles outside of New York City. The pilot faints in exhaustion and relief. The medicine is given to the baby just in time.
            The last scene of the movie is John in Judge Doolittle’s office with the partners. He has finally been made partner in the law firm and he is being tough with his demands and what he feels should be done with the firm. Jane comes in all excited to say that little Johnny has just said his first word. Everyone looks at him and tries to coax him into saying “dada.” He finally says it and the movie ends.
            Although this is not the greatest of films ever made it drives reality home. Nothing has changed in the 71 years after this film was released; people are still struggling with economic problems and money issues. The message of this film is what everyone needs to be reminded of now again that it is not money that is important it is the love of family and being together that counts. We all want things in life like a nice car, that apartment on Park Ave in NYC, or that perfect job making great money but that does not always happen. Sure not having a lot of money makes life tough but if you have the love of your family and friends and your health that is all that matters in life.
            I relate a lot to this film. My family has always struggled to make ends meet. My mom cleans houses and my dad is a teacher and they support me and my three younger brothers. My parents live pay check to pay check and literally have to budget everything they can’t just get something like a pack of pens from Staples on a whim. They always taught my brothers and I that as long as we are all there for each other and we are happy that money does not matter. I could not have asked for any better lesson in my life.
            In the film, Jane (kind of jokingly) tells John that when he gets his raise that she wants a fur coat and he says to her that he will get her a nicer ring than the one she has. In a scene later in the film she tells him that the ring and the coat and all the small things they want doesn’t matter as long as they have each other.
            Right now I can very much relate to the stress of money problems as I am making my way through college. I have been an undergrad for five years now and need to go off to grad school next year to get the job that I want. I know I will be paying for my college education for the rest of my life but as long as I am happy with my job and my life that is all that matters.
            In the film, John and Jane go through what every couple goes through. They are suffering financially in every way but no matter how much John can doubt that he has let Jane down she still loves him and he still loves her. By the end they get through their troubles and things get better with John’s job.
            James Stewart and Carole Lombard were able to take a not so amazing script and unglamorous story and make it believable and great. I have only seen Carole Lombard in Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith (which I love and will eventually review) where she plays a funny character. At the beginning of the film you can see her screwball side come out but towards the middle and especially the end of the movie she is serious and dramatic. She did an excellent job with the dramatic scenes (even if her acting was a bit over the top at some points) I was very impressed. My favorite scene of the movie is when the baby is in the hospital and a nun takes Jane into the hospital chapel. Jane says that she is not a Catholic but the nun tells her it is alright and leaves Jane to pray. Jane prays to Jesus let the baby live that he means so much to her and John and that they can’t seem to do anything for him but that He can help. Carole Lombard was to me totally amazing in this scene she played it so well.
            I say definitely try to see Made For Each Other. If you look at other reviews online they will say that the movie is not that good and that you’ll only see it if you’re a Carole Lombard or James Stewart completist. I like both actors and will admit I downloaded the movie to see the two of them together but now that I know what the film is about and what a great message of perseverance and love it has see the film mostly for the story and what it has to say.  

“It is an indisputable fact that this mundane, domestic chronicle has more dramatic impact than all the hurricanes, sandstorms and earthquakes manufactured in Hollywood last season. What demands solution is why, when Hollywood can make pictures as sound as Made for Each Other, it practically never does. [Stewart and Lombard’s characters] become two of the most memorable personages who have ever come to life upon a strip of celluloid.”TIME

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

I'll never let you go. Never, never, never.

Leave Her to Heaven is a story about a psychotically jealous woman who “loves too much” and wants whatever she loves all to herself.
            The film starts off as Dick Harland (Cornell Wilde) arrives back at his home called Back of the Moon. He has been in jail for two years. As Dick rows away to his home, his lawyer is asked what happened to him by a man sitting with him. From here the story of the movie is told as a flashback.
            On a train to New Mexico, Dick Harland meets a beautiful woman. She stares at him and he notices. She apologizes telling him he looks so much like her father. The two get to talking when he comes and sits next to her. He says something to her and she realizes she just read them in her book. He says he was the writer of the book and they introduce each other. Her name is Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) a young socialite.

When the train pulls into the station Ellen says it is her stop, Dick is so taken by her he doesn’t realize the stop is his as well. Once they are off the train they are met by the same people; Ellen’s mother and step sister Ruth and their family friends. Dick is going to their home to start writing his new novel.
            At the house, Dick sees that Ellen is wearing an engagement ring. She’s currently engaged to Russell Quinton who is running for district attorney. A few days later Dick is sitting outside typing up his novel. Ruth is above him hanging some flowers on a walkway and the two start to talk. From the pool next to where Dick is, Ellen swims up. He notices the ring is not longer on her finger. That night Russell comes down to New Mexico to talk to Ellen. The talk does not work and he leaves in silence as everyone in the living room watches him walk out the door. Before Russell had come, Ellen announced to everyone that she and Dick were to be married. This comes a surprise to Dick so after Russell he talks to her. She proposes to him and soon after they are married.
            Dick has a teenage brother named Danny who (for an unknown reason) cannot walk well on his own. Instead of going on a real honeymoon, Dick and Ellen honeymoon in Georgia where Danny has been staying in an outpatient home. Ellen seems to like Danny. She spends a lot of time with him and helping him move around. When Dick suggests they all go home to Back of the Moon Ellen goes to the head doctor pleading with him not to release Danny to tell Dick that Danny is not ready to leave. The doctor said there is no reason why Danny has to stay any longer he can go home for a while. Ellen says that she and Dick have not had any time alone together since they got married they just came to Georgia and they’ve been with Danny. When Dick walks in Ellen goes from being sort of angry to happy for show.
            At Back of the Moon, when Ellen wakes up in the morning she immediately goes over to Dick’s bed and wakes him up to spend some time with him. The walls are paper thin, Danny knocks on the wall and he and Dick start talking. Ellen is at once upset. The next scene is of Ellen in the kitchen with the house helper Thorn who is a long time friend of Dick’s. She tells Thorn that she can make breakfast and set the table herself she did not need any help (this goes back to a talk she and Dick had about once they settle somewhere they can hire a maid. Ellen doesn’t want one because she wants to do everything for him). As she sets the table with Thorn she tells him of a nightmare she had: she was out on a rowboat in the middle of the lake while Dick was in the water, Dick started to drowned but she could not move the boat her arms would not move the paddles she just stood and by the time she realized Dick was in serious trouble he had drowned.
            Later on, Ellen walks over to where Dick has been typing up his story. She does not like that a lot of his time has been spent writing the book and not with her. All the sudden a boat is coming up the lake, in the boat is Ellen’s mother and step-sister Ruth- Dick has surprised her by inviting them over. Ellen is furious and the whole time they are at the house she is on edge and nasty. Dick gets along nicely with Ruth; teasingly he calls her The Girl With the Hoe after he saw her outside gardening one day. A few days later Ellen’s mother tells Dick that she and Ruth are going to be leaving. He asks what’s wrong with Ellen and the mother replies “There’s nothing wrong with Ellen it’s just that she loves too much.” Dick is now beginning to see there is something wrong with his new wife.
            Ellen and Danny sit on a boat in the lake. They talk about going to her family home in Bar Harbor. Danny is going to be attending school in the town. Ellen says that Dick does not want to leave Back of the Moon before his book is finished that Danny can go on before them. He says that he’ll wait for Dick and Ellen so the three of them can go to Bar Harbor together. The look on Ellen’s face is pure hatred and anger. Danny says he is going to swim all the way to the other side of the lake. Ellen follows behind him in the rowboat encouraging him to keep going. Danny starts to get tired and his muscles begin to cramp. Ellen sits and stares in anger and anticipation as Danny drowns in front of him. She hears Dick whistling at the house, she immediately yells Danny’s name, throws off her sunglasses and jacket and jumps into the water. Dick jumps in the water and swims out his brother.

             Dick sits on a beach in Bar Harbor saddened by the loss of Danny. Ellen cannot understand why Dick is out there all alone. She does not realize that killing Danny only made things worse; Danny is all Dick can think about. Ruth suggests to Ellen that maybe they should have a baby to bring some happiness. The wheels in Ellen’s head start turning; she thinks if she does get pregnant that Dick will spend more time with her and she will just be his main focus.
            A few months later Ellen is still unhappy; she can’t go out anywhere, in her mind the baby is making her a prisoner and she feels Dick is not paying any attention to her at all. To top off her jealousy and hatred her father’s former laboratory has been turned into a nursery for the baby and she goes out of her mind. One day she sees Dick and Ruth coming back from town together where it seems like they were having a good time together without her. You can see the jealousy on her face and the wheels turning in her head as she creates a new scheme.

            Ellen is her room with Ruth. She can’t stand the sight of herself and the thought of the baby. She says to Ruth “Look at me, I hate this little thing. I want it to die.” When Ruth leaves Ellen comes up with an idea; she put on a long nightgown and sandals with heels and walks to the stairs. The evil, nasty look on Ellen’s face when she comes to the top of the stairs is heart stopping you cannot believe this woman is going ahead with this awful plan. In the hospital the doctor tells Dick that Ellen is alright but the baby boy did not survive.

            A few weeks later Dick’s book new book comes in the mail. Ellen opens it and she sees the dedication says “To the Girl with the Hoe.” Her jealousy starts up with a fury. Ruth told Dick that he should have dedicated the book to Ellen and all of his books for that matter but he did not listen. Dick comes back and has it out with Ellen. He cannot understand why she is jealous with everything and questions everything he does. During this talk, Ellen confesses to killing Danny and to not wanting the baby and purposely falling down the stairs. Her reasoning is she did not want anything coming in between the two of them. Dick cannot believe what she has just said and tells her he is leaving her.
            The night Dick leaves Ellen goes down the basement where her father’s laboratory equipment has been moved. She takes out his container of arsenic and exchanges it with something from the bathroom. She then sits down and writes a letter.
             Dick is at the train station when he hears his name on the loudspeaker telling him he has a call. It’s Ruth she tells him Ellen is really sick. He goes back to Bar Harbor where Ellen is literally on her death bed. Her mother tells Dick she was fine this morning but all the sudden has gotten very sick. He goes to her, she tells him she loves him and that she wants to be cremated and her ashes scattered like her father’s.
            Ruth is later held for the murder of Ellen. The letter Ellen wrote was to Russell Quinton telling him she believes Ruth is after her and she is afraid of her sister. A bag of full of arsenic was found in the pocket of coat that was owned by Ruth which she had let Ellen borrow. Russell believes what Ellen had to say because he still has feelings for her. The evidence is damning against Ruth: Ellen was the only one who took sugar in her coffee and she had left her Will that she wanted to be buried in the family crypt not have her body cremated. The cremation of the body and her trip she had booked a few days before to Mexico makes Ruth look very guilty for murder. Russell yells and yells at Ruth asking her is she is in love with Dick. Finally she breaks down and confesses that she was in love with him. Dick is asked by on the stand. The first time Russell asked Dick if was in love with Ruth he denied it but now that Ruth had said something he confessed as well. He went on and told the jury that Ellen was crazy she would be the type of woman to kill herself and that out of jealousy had killed Danny and killed their baby as well. Ruth is let off for murder but Dick gets sentenced to two years of jail time as an accessory to murder since he did not call the police right away when Ellen told him about murdering Danny.
            The flashback ends with the end of the lawyer’s story.  The man sitting with the lawyer asks if she will be waiting for him and the lawyer says yes she will. The lawyer says that Ellen had lost, it was the only time she had ever lost anything.
            Dick rows his boat to his house. Ruth sees Dick rowing up to the house and she runs out to the dock and they hug.
            The whole time I was watching this film I could not believe how someone could be so insanely jealous like Ellen. My mouth was open the whole time. The film just took a woman’s obsessive love and jealousy and wove such a great story.
            Gene Tierney was excellent as Ellen Berent.  She did an amazing job throughout the whole film but the scene where Ellen kills Danny was her best. Her facial expressions alone were incredible. You know you are watching a great actor or actress when their facial expressions tell more than words ever could. Gene Tierney was up for Best Actress in a Leading Roll for Leave Her to Heaven… as evil as her character was she should have won. This is why I love acting and seeing actors/actresses play different rolls than what you’re used to seeing. Seeing Gene Tierney as a jealous, evil woman was shocking to see but made the film that much more enjoyable (and shocking) to watch.
            Gene Tierney’s costumes in this film are so pretty. The white coat and sunglasses she wears on the boat when Danny drowns was so pretty (is it weird to say that her character’s anger made her look very pretty?). See her in Technicolor was really cool. She was gorgeous no matter in black and white or color.
            Leave Her to Heaven is what a Film Noir is about; it’s about crime, love, passion, and a deadly Femme Fatale.