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Month: December 2009

Nobody Waved Goodbye (1964)

Nobody Waved Goodbye (1964)

“What kind of a life is he going to have? He’s got to go to college — he’s got to at least graduate from high school!”

Nobody Waved Goodbye Poster

Synopsis:
A rebellious Canadian teenager (Peter Kastner) fights with his parents over his goals for the future and his relationship with a local girl (Julie Biggs).

Genres:

Review:
Canadian filmmaker Don Owen was originally tasked with making a 1/2-hour documentary about juvenile delinquents for Canada’s National Film Board, but ended up filming this largely improvised cinema verite docudrama instead. Reminiscent of Cassavettes (though Owen himself notes a distinct difference between their two styles), Nobody Waved Goodbye is an indie variation on Rebel Without a Cause (1955), with Peter Kastner’s “Peter” longing for something indescribably more than his own parents’ comfortable middle class lifestyle. He’s a clean-cut pseudo-Beatnik (indeed, he attends sing-along “hoots” with his banjo in tow) who’s seemingly ripe for a 1960s hippie lifestyle, but without a viable counterculture readily waiting for him; instead, he plays hooky from school with his sweet girlfriend (Julie Biggs), resists studying for his senior exams, toys with petty crime, and eventually moves away on his own. Naturally, he quickly learns how challenging it can be to survive in the world without a degree or any experience — but easy answers to his existential dilemma aren’t forthcoming. Nobody Waved Goodbye remains a noteworthy entry in Canada’s film history, and is worth seeking out for one-time watching.

Note: Twenty years later, Owen made a follow-up film called Unfinished Business (1984), which I haven’t seen, but a lone poster on IMDb gives it a disappointing thumbs down.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Peter Kastner as Peter
    Nobody Waved Kastner
  • The cinema verite script
    Nobody Waved Verite

Must See?
No, though most film fanatics will likely be curious to check it out.

Links:

Rembrandt (1936)

Rembrandt (1936)

“What is success? A soldier can reckon his success in victories, a merchant in money. But my world is insubstantial. I live in a beautiful, blinding, swirling mist.”

Rembrandt Poster

Synopsis:
Rembrandt van Rijn (Charles Laughton) deals with the death of his wife Saskia, suffers from bankruptcy, and falls in love with his housemaid (Elsa Lanchester).

Genres:

Review:
While Charles Laughton is perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning performance as Henry VIII (in Alexander Korda’s The Private Life of Henry VIII, 1933), many believe that his work in this little-seen historical biopic by Korda is even better. Refreshingly, at just 81 minutes long, the episodic Rembrandt doesn’t try to relate every detail of the famed artist’s life: instead, it starts with the death of Rembrandt’s (unseen) wife Saskia, then moves on to chronicle Rembrandt’s financial struggles, his relationship with his sharp-tongued housekeeper (Gertrude Lawrence), and his scandalized but loving affair with a housemaid (Lanchester). Korda’s decision not to show Rembrandt’s paintings (with the strategic exception of “The Night Watch” — an essential early plot element) is a wise one; instead, the film’s impressive attention to visual detail (sets, costumes, and props are all stunning) allows us to feel genuinely immersed in Rembrandt’s work-a-day world of 17th century Holland. It’s Laughton’s central performance that really carries the film, however: even when simply reading scripture passages, the world around him literally stands still, and we along with it. While I’m not normally a fan of Hollywood biopics (they tend to take themselves far too seriously, not to mention playing fast and furious with the facts), Rembrandt stands out a notch above the crowd, and remains worthy viewing for all film fanatics.

Note: Theatre fans will be especially gratified to see Gertrude Lawrence in one of her few cinematic appearances; she’s a worthy match for Laughton (as is his real-life wife, Elsa Lanchester). Watch also for a nearly unrecognizable performance by Roger Livesey as “Beggar Saul”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Charles Laughton as Rembrandt
  • Elsa Lanchester as Hendrickje
  • Gertrude Lawrence as Geertje
  • Georges Perinal’s cinematography
  • Vincent Korda’s stunning sets
  • Fine period detail

Must See?
Yes, for Laughton’s noteworthy performance.

Categories

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Belle of the Nineties (1934)

Belle of the Nineties (1934)

“It’s better to be looked over than to be overlooked.”

Belle Nineties Poster

Synopsis:
A popular nightclub singer (Mae West) from St. Louis signs a contract with a manager (John Miljan) in New Orleans to get away from her ex-lover, a boxer (Roger Pryor) who has falsely accused her of cheating on him.

Genres:

Review:
This innocuous Mae West-ern was one in a string of enormously popular films West wrote and starred in during the 1930s, following her success in She Done Him Wrong (1933) and I’m No Angel (1933) (both Peary titles). Here, West once again plays (to reasonably campy effect) an utterly irresistible femme fatale chanteuse, but the storyline she’s given herself to work with is lame and confusing. All we’re really watching for are West’s infamous quips, which are too few in number and too tame — most likely because the Production Code had just gone into full force. Leo McCarey directed, but there’s little evidence of his comedic genius here. Hardcore West fans will want to check this one out, but the rest of us can feel free to skip it.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Mae West doing what she does best (while wearing some beautiful gowns)
    Belle Nineties Mae West

Must See?
No, though Mae West fans will certainly want to check it out.

Links:

One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

“You may be a one-eyed jack around here, but I’ve seen the other side of your face.”

One-Eyed Jacks Poster

Synopsis:
An outlaw (Marlon Brando) seeks revenge on his former partner (Karl Malden), who abandoned him years earlier and is now sheriff of a small California town.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that this “lone directorial effort” by Marlon Brando — with an original running time of 4 hours and 42 minutes, cut down to 141 minutes by the studio — is a “visually impressive but muddled psychological western”. While it’s easy to see how Brando might have stretched the story to go deeper into the characters’ psyches and motivations, however, the story itself is never hard to follow, and the narrative works just fine. One-Eyed Jacks (based on a novel by Charles Neider) is essentially a revenge tale, made more complex by the fact that Brando’s character (Rio) decides not to automatically confront and kill his former partner when he first encounters him after five long years in prison. Instead, he initiates a game of cat-and-mouse, baiting “Dad” (Malden) into believing all is forgiven and forgotten. This maneuver actually makes sense, given what we know already about Rio’s crafty ways: he’s a liar and manipulator, someone who will do and say anything to bed a pretty woman, for instance. Indeed, Rio’s very much an anti-hero, yet we can’t help rooting for him given his hiss-worthy nemesis — Malden’s conniving, two-faced, social climbing sheriff.

The aspect of the story that works least well is Rio’s star-crossed romance with Malden’s stepdaughter (Pina Pellicer), who comes across as far too willing to forgive Rio’s lies and welcome him back into her embrace (were there explanatory scenes cut from the longer version??). Yet Pellicer (who, sadly, took her own life just a few years after this film was released) has such a winning presence and an unusual beauty that we can’t help enjoying her whenever she’s on-screen, despite how little she’s given to work with. Indeed, nearly the entire western is pleasant to watch, given the inspired decision to establish the setting along California’s Monterey coast, with dramatic waves crashing in the background during numerous key scenes. Malden himself is nicely cast against type in a complex villainous role; and while Peary argues that Brando is simply patterning his performance after Elvis Presley and other “fifties rebels”, I find his tortured portrayal of Rio to be convincing. Equally impressive is the fine supporting cast — most notably Ben Johnson as a hardcore baddie who hooks up with Rio after his escape from prison, and Katy Jurado in a tiny but effective role as Malden’s wife.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marlon Brando as Rio
    One Eyed Jacks Brando
  • Karl Malden as Dad
    One Eyed Jacks Malden
  • Pina Pellicer as Louisa
    One Eyed Jacks Pellicer
  • Fine supporting performances by Ben Johnson, Kary Jurado, and others
    One Eyed Jacks Jurado
  • Charles Lang’s cinematography
    One Eyed Jacks Cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance as Brando’s lone directorial effort. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies 3.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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