Sunday, March 31, 2013

Silent Sundays: Mantrap (1926)

“I’d never flirt unless it was necessary.”

            The title of this film is a very good play on what happens and where the story takes place.
            Ralph Preston is young divorce lawyer in New York City. He has enough of women coming in and making up stories and then trying to hit on him. One day after seeing a client and a mass of women waiting to see him he runs out of his office in a hurry. His friend Woodbury (Eugene Pallette) is waiting for him. Woodbury suggests going up north to Canada to a place called Mantrap for some time just to get away from everything. Ralph is a little hesitant because he has never been camping before and does not know the first thing about it.
            A guy named Joe who lives in Mantrap is tired of living outdoors. He tells his friend that he has not seen any excitement in twenty years when he had gone down to Minneapolis and saw a woman’s ankle. His friend tells him that “Ankle ain’t the half of what they’re showin’ now.” When Joe gets to the city he is all confused and nearly gets hit by a car. He walks up to a sidewalk. He sees a pretty young girl come out of a taxi. Joe goes to barber shop to get himself cleaned up. The girl from the taxi walks in, she works in the shop. Her name is Alverna (Clara Bow) and she is the manicurist. Joe is embarrassed at first that his hands are so rough but she tells him she does not mind. When she takes him to a table he asks her out for dinner. Alverna replies that she does not usually go out to dinner with men but she likes him enough to go out to dinner.
            Woodbury takes Ralph to a department store to buy come camping clothes. He looks like a Mountie and feels stupid. When they get up north Ralph is not having any fun being in the wilderness. He accidentally knocks over a pot of food. Woodbury is so furious with Ralph he punches him. The two men get into a brawl. Joe is one of the men that comes and breaks up the fight. He invites Ralph to come and stay with him for a few days at his house while Woodbury camps out. Averna waits for Joe on the dock. When she sees her husband has brought home another man she fixes her hair and makeup. Alverna tells Ralph she is happy to see someone from New York City. She wants to throw Ralph “a nasty party” but Joe wants to invite their stuffy neighbors and the reverend he wants a respectable party. Alverna cannot stand their neighbors they are crabby and mean and do not like her one bit. Towards the end of the night Alverna manages to get the crabby neighbors out of the house. As soon as they leave she puts on some records and dances with all the guys there. She has a great time dancing with Ralph. Early that morning, Ralph is sleeping on the porch when he hears two Indians creeping around the house. He scares them off with his gun. Joe and Alverna come out to see what all the commotion was. Alverna and Joe go back into the house. She tells her husband that she is too scared after what happened she is going to stay up and read for a while. Really, Alverna goes outside to sit with Ralph.
            For four weeks Ralph has stayed with Joe and for those four weeks Alverna has only had eyes for Ralph. She tries to kiss Ralph but he pulls away. The following day Ralph tells Joe he is worried about Woodbury and wants to go find him so they can head back to New York. Alverna decides to run away. She sees Ralph in his canoe on the river and calls to him from shore. She wants to go with him she is sick of Mantrap. Ralph tells her that Joe is his friend taking her away with him would not be honorable. Alverna gets angry and tells him that she will just walk home she has done it before. Ralph changes his mind he does not want her to walk by herself. He lets her know not to think of him as a man but as a means of transportation. An Indian lets Joe know that Alverna has gone away with Ralph. Joe grabs his shotgun.
            In the woods, Ralph really falls in love with Alverna. He wants to write to Joe for him to divorce her. Their Indian guide deserts them and they are left alone to find their way. They see an airplane overhead and they wave it down. The pilot of the plane says he cannot take passengers he is supposed to be flying around checking to see if there are fires anywhere. Alverna starts flirting with the pilot and out of that they get a can of food. Ralph is mad at her for flirting when she said she would not flirt anymore. She tells him it was necessary they were hungry. Alverna sees Joe riding up the river in his canoe. Ralph goes to grab his gun. Joe comes ashore with his shotgun ready to shoot. None of the men do any shooting instead they sit down and talk. Joe tells Ralph he would rather save him from Alverna then shoot him. Ralph tells Joe that he will marry Alverna if he will give her a divorce. Joe had planned to send Alverna away to stay with his aunt in Minneapolis so she can have some fun in the city. Alverna lets them know that she is her own boss and when she goes to the city she is not staying with an old aunt. She takes the canoe and leaves Ralph and Joe behind.
            Ralph and Joe get back to where they are supposed to be. Ralph is now back in New York at his office and ready to see his clients. Joe is back home and misses Alverna desperately. One of his neighbors asks him why he still love Alverna when she was no good. Joe defends his wife he tells the old cow that Alverna is a good woman. Alverna walks in the door fresh from the city just as Joe was telling the old woman off. They are both so happy to see each other. She tells Joe that she was very lonely in the city without him.
            The cast of this film was very good. The only name you will of course know is Clara Bow. And possibly know Eugene Pallette if you are good at paying attention to character actors in older films. I think I have only seen Clara Bow in two other films besides this and I did not think she was anything special in them. I liked her in this though. When I think of Clara Bow I think of flappers with spunky attitudes and that is exactly what she was here.

            Mantrap is a good silent film. Victor Fleming (Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz) directed this and he did a great job. I am so used to seeing his epic 1939 films that it was nice to see one of his humble early films. I liked the title is a play on the small Canadian island that is literally a mantrap and on Clara Bow’s character to some extent. Mantrap is a funny and enjoyable silent film that if you can find you should give it a watch.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Thunder Road (1958)

The only reason I ever sat through Thunder Road was because it was a Robert Mitchum film. If I had read the plot before I watched it I would not have even bothered to waste my time.
            Honestly I stopped paying attention in the first twenty minutes so this summary will not be long at all. Lucas Doolin (Mitchum) and his family are moonshine makers and runner. He is the runner for his father. His cousin customizes the car to hold the liquor. The police are constantly on Lucas’s tail whenever he goes on a run. Now to make matters more difficult a city Mafioso wants in on the moonshine running and selling. When Lucas goes into town he is caught by the police. The police put him in jail but they really want to use him to get to the gang that wants in on the moonshine.
            A whole lot of drama happens in between that bored me to death and I am sure it will bore you if I fill it in.
            Robert Mitchum was one of the screenwriters. He came up with the story and even wrote the theme song. Mitchum was great I have yet to see him give a bad performance in a film. I was just very bored with the topic of cars and liquor. I guess that is the girl in me I need romance and drama… well there was romance and drama but it was so forced and crappy with the main story. Mitchum’s son James played his younger brother. He originally wanted Elvis in the role but Elvis’s manager sucked and said no because Elvis was not getting paid enough so Mitchum put his son in the role. James was by far the better choice because, obviously, they look alike and he was a much better actor than Elvis.
            Thunder Road was not my kind of film at all. As I said I was bored with it in the first twenty minutes. The film was a big hit when it was released which I guess I can understand for the time period. Mitchum made Lucas a vet of the Korean War and his world was now dark and angry. I can see this appealing to many of the returning vets and boys coming of age at this time. The only way I can tell you to see Thunder Road is if you films with cars or like cult films which this has become. Otherwise completely skip Thunder Road.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Crown vs Stevens (1936)

Never heard of Crown vs. Stevens before? No worries because I never heard of it before TCM aired it the other day. I only watched it because Patric Knowles aka Warner Bros. other Errol Flynn played a leading role.
            The film begins with Chris Jensen (Knowles) at a nightclub with his girlfriend Mamie. He proposes to her only after a month of dating. He tells Mamie that he has to know her answer because he has to wait to ask to have his pay raised so he can begin to pay the ring off. Mamie convinces Chris to let her wear the ring. The following day Chris asks his boss for a raise and the boss a Mr. Stevens says he cannot give him the pay they are only a small decorating firm with a somewhat limited clientele. Mamie calls him at work to say she is not going to marry him she has fallen in love with a rich man. She refuses to give back the ring because she wants something to remember him by.
            Now Chris is out of nineteen pounds and without a raise it will take him a long time to pay the loan shark off he got the money from. Chris goes to the loan shark to explain his problem. The man says he must pay the money back. Chris then goes to Mr. Stevens to ask for him for an advance on his pay. The boss yet again refuses Chris’s request. Chris goes back to the loan shark to try to work something out. When he walks into the office he finds the loan shark slumped over his desk dead from a bullet to the head. A woman comes out of the shadows of the room. She warns Chris to stay where he is or else she will do to him what she did to the dead man.
            Mr. Stevens asks Chris to run over to his house to pick up one of the accounting books. Chris retrieves the book, as he looks up from the book he can see his boss’s wife Doris. She is the woman who killed the loan shark. Doris explains that she did not mean to kill the man but he attacked her and the gun went off. She did not want to go to the police because her husband would have turned her out. She only went to the loan shark because her husband was not giving her money. When Chris gets back to the office the police are there looking at Mr. Stevens’ gun. They found Doris’s name in the loan shark’s book she had tried to burn. The gun is the wrong caliber and cross Mrs. Stevens off their list of suspects.
            Doris’s friend Ella comes over the house. Ella is dripping with new furs and clothes and jewelry. She is engaged to a man with a lot of money. Doris is upset because she wants the things that Ella has. Ella thought Doris had married someone with money. Doris thought she did too and now she has no new clothes and her house is bare of luxuries. Ella tells her friend not to worry hopefully Stevens has left her money in his will. Ella parts telling Doris there will be a party at her place that night.
            Doris goes to the party. Stevens is made at his wife for coming home late and drunk. He is even more upset because he is getting sick with a cold and wanted her to take care of him. A few days later Doris calls Chris at the office to tell him her husband is very sick and his condition is worsening and that she wants to take him away to get better. Unfortunately for Doris her lie falls apart when the foreman of the office visits Mr. Stevens and sees that his boss is not gravely ill at all. Chris goes over to the house to have Mrs. Stevens sign the payroll for the week. Doris tells him that her husband is too ill to come downstairs he has just gone to sleep for the night. Now Chris is worried that Doris might do something to her husband. He tells his friend Molly about what he saw at the loan shark’s office.
            Doris has brought a strong sleeping solution. She plans to kill her husband by giving him an overdose. Mr. Stevens reads about the murder of the loan shark and realizes the gun belongs to Doris. His wife blames the innocent maid and fires the girl. She gives a glass of milk with the sleeping solution to her husband. He drinks the whole glass and immediately starts to feel out of sorts. As he walks down the stairs he becomes very tired. Doris tells him that fresh air will do him good he must try to get outside to the car. In the car he falls asleep. Doris turns the key and starts the car. She walks out of the garage closing all the doors and leaves Mr. Stevens to die. Before Doris does anything else she pours the sleeping solution down the drain.
            Chris decides to tell Mr. Stevens about the murder his wife committed and brings Molly along. Doris answers the door and tells Chris her husband has been asleep for hours. Molly drove him over in her car and by accident she put the car in reverse instead of drive. The car backs up to the garage. Chris hears the engine running and someone inside. He gets out of the car and finds Mr. Stevens on the floor of the garage. At the same time the maid comes back with the police suspecting something is going on. They are just in time to see Chris take Mr. Stevens out of the garage. Doris pretends to play dumb for a while and lie and then she confess her plan to kill her husband once she sees he is alive.
            Obviously there is no court scene and the title Crown vs. Stevens makes no sense. The film is light with a little suspense. Some of the acting is a little over the top but for the most part all the actors did very well. The studio that made this film was a sister studio to Warner Bros. Warner Bros. saw Patric Knowles and brought him to California. Knowles is such a good actor I always enjoy seeing him in films. Crown vs. Stevens is not available on Youtube or DVD. It is not that great of a film but if TCM ever airs it again give it a watch. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring Reunion (1957)

I got so excited when I went through TCM’s schedule and found a film that starred Dana Andrews, Betty Hutton, and Jean Hagen called Spring Reunion. I did not care what the story was about I had to see it I adore all three actors to no end. As soon as the film started I immediately regretted having wasted room on my DVR to see it
            The Carson High School class of 1941 is celebrating its fifteen year reunion. At the beginning of the film we are shown four of the most popular students from that year. Maggie Brewster (Hutton) was the most popular, Jack Frazer was the football hero, Fred Davis (Andrews) was set to be the most successful, and Berna Forrest (Hagen)… well to be honest I forget what she was voted I could be getting she and Fred mixed up. Anyway… fifteen years later Maggie is working for her father at his real estate firm. She travels around the world with her parents and works very hard at her job. She has been helping the school set up for the reunion. Barna, or Barney as everyone calls her, comes in from another city. She is married with four kids and is as happy as can be to have a break them. Jack has been having a great time reliving his glory days playing high school football.
            Maggie has been trying to sell Fred’s father’s house. Fred has been out of town with all the arrangements being done over the phone. She goes over to his house to set up for a showing and Fred walks through the door. They surprise each other but seem incredibly happy to see the other. Fred tells Maggie he is having second thoughts about selling the house. He is waiting to hear from a possible job out in San Francisco. If he does not get the job out there he will stay in Carson City. Maggie gets mad at him because there is one potential buyer who is very interested in the house. However, her anger subsides and she asks Fred if he is going to the reunion. He had no idea it was taking place that night.
            That night, Fred shows up at the reunion. Maggie is very happy to him. When the reunion ends Maggie leaves with Fred with Barney and Jack tagging along.
            After this the rest of the film just falls apart. It was falling apart since the beginning but here it just crumbles.
            The cast of Betty Hutton, Dana Andrews, and Jean Hagen was great. I would have loved to have seen them in a much better film with a much better story. This was Betty Hutton’s last film. What a damn shame to see someone with so much talent and energy go out like this. Dana Andrews was good his character was a bit sketchy and dark but he did a good job. Jean Hagen was fabulous. The woman is not given enough credit for her acting. I wish she had been in more scenes.
            Spring Reunion is a classic film that should only be seen by fan of either Betty Hutton, Dana Andrews, or Jean Hagen. The story is terrible and just starts off boring.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

“Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps. And I want my scalps. And all y'all will git me one hundred Nazi scalps, taken from the heads of one hundred dead Nazis. Or you will die tryin'.”

            The first time I saw Inglourious Basterds I was not crazy about. Give me a break though I was not into movies as much as I am now. I remember thinking that Christophe Waltz was absolutely amazing. Now that I have watched Inglourious Basterds again I love it.
            If you have been living under a rock for the past four years or have not seen the movie it takes place during World War II. A group of Jewish- American soldiers is tasked with hunting down Nazis and killing them. They are lead by Lt. Aldo Rain (Brad Pitt) and are known as the “Basterds.”
            Looking for The Basterds is Col. Hans Landa (Christophe Waltz). He is a Jew hunter and as he explains it a very good one. He was able to find a family of Jews hiding in a farm house in France. He did, however, let one of the family members, Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent), get away.
            I am not going to say much more about the movie because it is way too amazing and awesome to give away anything else. All the stories being told are connected which makes it so fun to watch to see how everything unfolds.
            The cast is like a dream cast there is so many incredible actors in this. I am not a fan of Brad Pitt but I loved him as Aldo Raine. He was fantastic.  This movie belongs to Christophe Waltz. The moment he comes on screen and begins talking he owns the movie. He is one of my favorite movie characters without a doubt. Hans was creepy and charming and quite scary all at the same time. Melanie Laurent played Shoshanna brilliantly. Waltz was so perfect he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and deserved it. I love how full of revenge she was and how she got it. Michael Fassbender played a British soldier and no one could have played the character any better. Diane Krueger played a German actress who was a spy for the British. (Can I just say I want to see her and Michael Fassbender together in a movie?). The oddest casting in this to me was Mike Myers as a British officer and BJ Novak as one of the Basterds. Myers was odd to see in a Tarantino film but at the same time he fit in perfectly. Novak will always be Ryan from The Office to me and nothing else.
            Quentin Tarantino is a genius. He took the dark gloomy subject of WWII and turned it into a wonderful dark comedy. This is WWII according to Quentin Tarantino. You almost wish the war had happened this way. The whole story and every one of the characters are immensely entertaining. My favorite aspect of Tarantino’s films is how he writes dialogue. Sometimes less is more but with his films more is better and that is because the man is the master of writing dialogue. No matter what his movies are about the dialogue is relevant, long, dry, and witty. He knows his characters so well he has them so well planned out that he is able to create their dialogue perfectly. He also knows how to cast his films, if he actually has a hand in that. The actors that have been in his films are incredible they are their characters.
            Inglourious Basterds is one of the greatest films to have come out in the past few years. As I was watching the movie it reminded me of The Great Dictator. Both movies take Hitler and make fun of his ridiculousness to no end. If you have yet to see Inglourious Basterds I suggest you do so as soon as you can. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Silent Sundays: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

“Even if you part my soul from my body I will not confess.”
            Growing up in a Catholic household whenever I read about the lives of the saints I was always fascinated with their sacrifices for their faith. I would like to say I would confess to my faith and stick by it if I were tortured or whatever like the saints were but in reality I do not think I would. One saint’s story that had always fascinated me and still does is Joan of Arc. I remember reading a book about her when I was young I had found it in the library. I remember not being able to pronounce half the names since they were in French but what I was able to understand I liked. When I began to really become interested in silent films one of the first I had read about was The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Dreyer. I was immediately interested in seeing the film just based off what it was about and then I saw some film stills and clips and it became a film I had to see.
            The story being told in The Passion of Joan of Arc is supposed to have come from a book that had been found in an old library. This book contains notes from the trail of a young woman who fought for her country and was judged and tortured by unorthodox theologians.
            These unorthodox theologians are supposed to be men of God. They are supposed to help those in need and not judge people. What they seem to be is scared. They are scared of a young girl named Joan who comes from a small French village who has lead her people to fight the invading English on the orders of God. They try to belittle her questions and make her confess using trickery. Joan wears men’s clothing on God’s orders. The theologians cannot and will not believe that God has made a woman wear men’s clothing. They tell her if she puts on women’s clothes they will allow her to attend mass. When Joan refuses they think she is blasphemous. One thing they desperately want Joan to do to prove she has been sent by God is to repeat The Lord’s Prayer. She knows the prayer but will not do so for them. Eventually she does recite the prayer when the priests trick her that the King has sent her a letter. One of the priests has forged the King’s signature even though Joan does not know what it looks like nor does she know how to read.

            The priests have enough of her answers. They bring her to the torture chamber. They want her to sign a confession to get her to stop everything she says and does. They tell her she will be alone in the world without God if she does not. Joan replies that she will be alone with God.  Before they can put her on anything Joan faints.
            Soon Joan is brought once again before a judge. They make her sign a confession in a moment of weakness. She has seen that she will be put to the stake. When she is brought back to her room Joan calls the priests and changes her mind about her confession. After her retracted statement Joan is now sentenced to die.
            Crowds of townspeople rush to the center of town to watch the burning. Many of them are crying and saddened. One man in the crowd yells at the priests that they have killed a saint.

            The Passion of Joan of Arc was a beautiful film. Carl Theodor Dreyer shot the entire film in close ups mostly from Joan’s point of view. The close-ups allow you feel every emotion from Joan and all the characters. You are given the sense of how small Joan feels and how she sees these unorthodox theologians who are supposed to be kind men of God judging her unfairly. You can see that these men are afraid of her. Their questions even show they are afraid of her. I liked this take on the story of Joan of Arc. Everyone knows she wore armor and fought in battles and was burned at the stake. This is a different take it shows a woman who was scared. It shows her as a human. You want her suffering to end. The one scene that got to me was when she was being given her Last Rites and there was a carnival happening. The people were oblivious and it was almost as if it was mocking a tragedy that was taking and about to be taking place. The Passion of Joan of Arc is an absolute silent classic. If you are interested in storytelling and film making and silent films definitely watch this film.