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Month: January 2012

Peter Pan (1953)

Peter Pan (1953)

“That corner house over there is the home of the Darling family — and Peter Pan chose this particular house because there were people here who believed in him.”

Synopsis:
A forever-boy named Peter Pan (Bobby Driscoll) flies into the nursery of the Darling children — Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont), John (Paul Collins), and Michael (Tommy Luske) — and takes them to Never Land, where they battle against evil Captain Hook (Hans Conreid).

Genres:

Review:
Walt Disney’s animated version of J.M. Barrie’s play-turned-novel is beloved by many, but ultimately remains one of his lesser classics. With the exception of the catchy tune “You Can Fly!”, the songs aren’t very memorable, and the animation — while representative of the fine work Disney Studios produced — isn’t all that distinguished. What hurts the film the most, however, is its disjointed storyline, which flits around through various scenarios (including a typically offensive one involving “redskins”; see IMDb’s message boards for voluminous discussion on this), and simply never feels focused. In addition, we’re not quite sure who to be rooting for: while Peter Pan would be the obvious choice, he’s too much of a scampish scoundrel to feel much sympathy for; and though Wendy is a lovely character, she’s not sufficiently developed to be viewed as a central protagonist.

Other characters, meanwhile, are simply disappointing and/or ill-conceived: as Richard Scheib of the SF, Fantasy, and Horror website puts it, “the Lost Boys look… like anthropomorphized fluffy bunnies and Smee [Hook’s right-hand-man] looks like he has strayed in from a casting call for one of the Seven Dwarves.” Meanwhile, Hook (wonderfully voiced by Hans Conreid) is too buffoonish to represent a real threat; his interactions with both Peter and “The Crocodile” rely far too heavily on tiresome slapstick. The most intriguing character in the film by a long shot is Tinkerbell, who never says a word, but says PLENTY with her expressions, body language, and actions.

Other than Tinkerbell, the most interesting aspect of this film for me (as a mom of two little kids) was the fact that young Michael Darling wears pink the entire time. This prompted me to do a bit of research, and I came upon this short article, which states: “Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out.” Since the original Peter Pan was written (and takes place) near the turn of the century, this choice makes sense.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Typically fine Disney animation

  • The refreshingly feisty character of Tinkerbell

Must See?
No, though naturally it holds some cultural interest (it was the highest grossing film of 1953), and is a must for Disney fans.

Links:

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977)

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“I like him. He treats me like I’m a real person.”

Synopsis:
A mentally disturbed teenager (Kathleen Quinlan) is placed by her concerned parents (Ben Piazza and Lorraine Gary) in an asylum, where she works with a compassionate psychologist (Bibi Andersson) hoping to help her overcome her delusions.

Genres:

  • Kathleen Quinlan Films
  • Literature Adaptation
  • Mental Illness

Review:
Kathleen Quinlan’s memorable performance in this adaptation of Joanne Greenberg’s bestselling semi-autobiographical novel is reason enough to label it a Missing Title from Peary’s book. 23-year-old Quinlan convincingly portrays a fiercely independent teenager (Deborah) beset by mental turmoil, who slowly allows herself to trust in the guidance of her new therapist (Bibi Andersson); this situation sounds ripe for cliche, but it’s handled with a remarkable level of honesty and respect, and bolstered by fine, nuanced performances from both actresses. Indeed, the film itself remains a surprisingly welcome addition to the sub-genre of movies taking place within mental asylums. Other than its unrealistically happy ending (and an inevitable compression of events taking place over several years), most of what we see happening on-screen feels refreshingly authentic. We witness a case of horrific abuse, and tentative friendships forming between the inmates (who are likely to be cordial with each other one minute, then unaccountably violent the next). We also see moments of genuine compassion on the part of the caretakers — most noticeably in the minor character of “McPherson”, who handles one particular scene (undressing Quinlan from her restraints) so naturally that you can’t help believing in him as a real character.

Much has been made about the assessment of Deborah as schizophrenic, a label the character herself uses several times throughout the screenplay; while this would appear at first glance to be a correct diagnosis (given that Deborah is plagued by unwanted voices and visions), experts ultimately determined that she probably suffered from extreme depression and somatization disorder rather than schizophrenia (which would explain why she could attempt to heal herself without the assistance of medications). Regardless, her intrusive visions are nicely handled by director Anthony Page; we see her slipping into her alternate reality at strategic times, but this is never overplayed. Overall, nearly everything about this film worked for me — thus, I’m labeling it a Missing Title, and recommending that film fanatics check it out.

Note: Susan Tyrrell is nicely cast as one of the inmates; that was a fine, no-brainer choice. Watch also for Sylvia Sidney as an inmate Deborah becomes friendly with.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Kathleen Quinlan as Deborah
  • Bibi Andersson as Dr. Fried
  • Susan Tyrrell as Lee
  • Norman Alden as McPherson
  • An effective cinematic portrayal of mental disturbance

Must See?
Yes, simply for Quinlan’s break-through performance.

Categories

Links:

Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Lady and the Tramp (1955)

“Remember this, Pigeon: a human heart has only so much room for love and affection. When a baby moves in, the dog moves out.”

Synopsis:
A beloved pet dog named Lady (Barbara Luddy) feels slighted by her owners (Peggy Lee and Lee Millar) when they have a baby, and embarks on a series of adventures of with a stray dog named Tramp (Larry Roberts).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that while the animation in this “most likeable Disney animated feature” is “not that ambitious and there are few surprises in the storyline”, the “relationship between Lady and Tramp” — who make “an appealing couple” — is “sweet”, and the “ending is pretty suspenseful”. Peary’s review just about sums up my own sentiments about the film, which remains a modest yet enjoyable minor Disney classic, one sure to appeal to kids once they’re old enough to handle its one truly distressing scene (in which a likeable animal appears to be seriously hurt). Meanwhile, all film fanatics will surely be curious to see “one of the cinema’s most romantic courtship scenes”, as the lead characters “end up eating opposite ends of the same strand of spaghetti and their mouths draw closer together for their first kiss”. However, despite its historical relevance as Disney’s first animated feature based on an original story (and first Cinemascope feature), this one remains simply strongly recommended rather than must-see.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine animation
  • Peggy Lee’s creative songs
  • The well-known “spaghetti courtship” sequence

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly recommended.

Links:

Smallest Show on Earth, The (1957)

Smallest Show on Earth, The (1957)

“We’ve got to make the Bijou the best little cinema in this part of the country!”

Synopsis:
When a writer (Bill Travers) and his wife (Virginia McKenna) inherit a rundown cinema (the Bijou) previously manned by three aging employees — a doorman (Bernard Miles), a ticket-taker (Margaret Rutherford), and a tippling projectionist (Peter Sellers) — they attempt to turn it into a going concern in order to convince their competitor (Francis De Wolff) to buy them out.

Genres:

Review:
Film fanatics will surely be inherently drawn to the subject matter of this comedy about a young couple trying to revive an ailing independent cinema house (which shows nothing but westerns!). Unfortunately, while there are some genuinely charming moments scattered throughout (and one definitely gains a renewed appreciation for the skill involved in running a movie theater), the storyline itself never really takes off, making this a good-natured situation comedy with much potential but too little pay-off. Once the central conflict is established (McKenna and Travers must convince De Wolff that they’re serious in their commitment to running the Bijou), all that’s left is to watch our intrepid cast attempt to make a go of things; but their antics are mildly amusing at best. Meanwhile, none of the three “elderly” characters — played by cinematic favorites Sellers, Rutherford, and a nearly-indistinguishable Miles — are sufficiently developed (or given enough screentime), and the understated denouement is surprisingly discomfiting.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An amusing look at the challenges of running an independent cinema house

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look, and will likely be endearing to most film fanatics, given its subject matter. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

“No man living today can predict exactly what the future holds.”

Synopsis:
A race of sexy blonde Venutians, led by Moana (Mamie Van Doren), are threatened by the arrival of a small crew of astronauts on their planet.

Genres:

Review:
This bizarre early entry in Peter Bogdanovich’s directorial career was produced by Roger Corman as a way to gain additional mileage from two Soviet space exploration films he had purchased and already used to make Battle Beyond the Sun (1963) and Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965) (click here to read more). The resulting film is (perhaps inevitably) a jarring mish-mosh of scenes, with most of the film’s running time spent following a crew of dubbed Soviet astronauts and their robot as they explore Venus, and additional scenes showing a bevy of telepathic blonde Venutians (wearing skin-tight pants and seashell bras) worshiping their god (see stills below) and reacting with silent horror to the invasion of their planet; the two cohorts, naturally, never actually meet. It’s all frightfully sub-par — but interestingly enough, the storyline moves along at a quick enough pace that you’ll likely never be bored, exactly. You can’t help wondering what the astronauts are really saying (how closely is writer Henry Ney sticking to the original script?), and thinking about whether he was inspired at all by Woody Allen’s spoof What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966).

My favorite exchange:
Astronaut #1: It almost sounds like a girl…
Astronaut #2: Or a monster!

Same difference, naturally.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Moments of campy appeal

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Bitch, The (1979)

Bitch, The (1979)

“After the pleasure, the pain, lover!”

Synopsis:
A gambler (Antonio Cantafora) in debt to the Mafia seduces the nymphomaniac owner (Joan Collins) of a failing discoteque.

Genres:

Review:
This trashy sequel to a title mercifully missing from Peary’s book (1978’s The Stud) similarly stars Joan Collins in an adaptation of a blockbuster novel written by her sister, Jackie Collins. I was genuinely hard-pressed to come up with a meaningful synopsis of The Bitch, given that the “storyline” (such as it is) is simply an excuse to get the various characters into bed with each other, in between showing off numerous high-end locales. I presume we’re supposed to enjoy watching a still-sexy 40-something “bitch” like Collins seducing young men left and right (including her hapless chauffeur; ha ha), but ultimately it all simply comes across like badly-directed soft core porn, without nearly enough unintentional laughs to merit its labeling by Peary as a Camp Classic. (Naturally, it does have its base of fans, as evidenced by comments on IMDb, including some calling for its remake — heaven help us!)

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joan Collins’ unabashedly raunchy portrayal as Fontaine Khaled

Must See?
No; skip this one.

Links:

I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955)

I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“I’m the looking glass you created to see yourself in!”

Synopsis:
Raised for a life in show business by her overbearing mother (Jo Van Fleet), Lillian Roth (Susan Hayward) finds fleeting fame in Hollywood but descends into alcoholism while suffering through a string of unhappy marriages.

Genres:

  • Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
  • Biopics
  • Downward Spiral
  • Richard Conte Films
  • Susan Hayward Films

Review:
Based on Lillian Roth‘s memoir of her descent into life-threatening alcoholism (and eventual recovery through AA), this musical biopic afforded Susan Hayward yet another opportunity to portray an aspiring female artist struggling against a seemingly insurmountable host of personal demons. According to TCM’s article, Hayward lobbied strongly for the part, citing her previous work in both Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) and With a Song in My Heart (1952) as evidence that she was well prepared to tackle such a role. She succeeded in her entreaty, ultimately earning the fourth of five Oscar nominations for her work here, with Peary himself nominating her in his Alternate Oscars as one of the Best Actresses of the Year (thus prompting me to check this film out as a potential Missing Title). However, as with Annie Get Your Gun (1950), I’m afraid a strong lead performance isn’t enough to make the film itself must-see.

While I don’t quite agree with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum that it’s “truly dreadful”, the film — directed by Daniel Mann — never really redeems itself as anything other than a standard episodic biopic, marching steadily along a predictably chronological pathway. In addition, having recently read Roth’s memoir, I couldn’t help noticing how (inevitably) white-washed this Hollywoodized adaptation ultimately is; for instance, while Richard Conte is suitably malicious as the most abusive of her many husbands, the real-life loser he represents was at least 10 times worse. With that said, the movie may remain of minor interest to film fanatics due to Roth’s erstwhile status as a fleeting starlet (she’s probably best remembered for her memorable supporting work in Love Parade and Animal Crackers). However, for those truly interested in her sordid life history, you’re better off simply reading her much-harder-hitting memoir instead.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Susan Hayward as Lillian Roth

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look simply for Hayward’s performance.

Links:

Calamity Jane (1953)

Calamity Jane (1953)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“Looks like Calamity’s been holding out on us, carrying concealed weapons.”

Synopsis:
Sharpshooter Calamity Jane (Doris Day) bets Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel) that she can bring famed showgirl Adelaid Adams to the small town of Deadwood, but accidentally recruits Adams’ personal maid Katie (Allyn Ann McLerie) — an aspiring singer — instead. When Katie learns that Jane is secretly in love with Lieutenant Gilmartin (Philip Carey), she helps Jane present herself in a more feminine fashion; meanwhile, both Hickok and Gilmartin fall in love with Katie, causing romantic tension all around.

Genres:

  • Aspiring Stars
  • Character Arc
  • Doris Day Films
  • Howard Keel Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Musicals
  • Singers
  • Strong Females
  • Westerns

Review:
Like Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Calamity Jane is a popular ’50s-era musical which Peary fails to include in his GFTFF, but lists in his Alternate Oscars — in both cases, nominating the female lead as one of the Best Actresses of the Year. While I don’t believe AGYG is ultimately “must see”, I would argue that Calamity Jane is, simply for its status as a cult favorite. Indeed, the film remains memorable and provocative simply due to its surprisingly strong gay subtext: much like Preston Sturges was able to get away with an astonishing amount of sexual innuendo in his The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) by playing carefully within the bounds of the Production Code, the screenwriters here present a resolutely heterosexual storyline (Jane is shown right away as being smitten with a man) which nonetheless possesses a definite undercurrent of homosexual playfulness.

For instance, there’s a rather astonishingly bold moment when “Calam” has just arrived in “Chicagee”, and is wandering ogle-eyed down the street in her buckskins and a cap; suddenly a beautiful lady looks at her and winks — deliberately and flirtatiously. Calam, naturally, is simply befuddled — but what did that woman mean, precisely? Did she really believe Calam was a man? Meanwhile, when Calamity first sets eyes on McLerie, she calls out, “Goshamighty, you’re the prettiest thing I ever seen!” (And once again, McLerie mistakes her for a man.) Later, Day and McLerie set up house together… And so it goes.

Subtext aside, Day’s character remains refreshingly atypical simply for her unapologetically straightforward, no-b.s. approach to life — as indicated so clearly in the following verbal exchange:

Hickok (looking at a photo of Adelaid Adams): She’s charming, lovely figure… Everything that a woman oughta be!
Jane: Looks like a fat, frilled up, side of undressed beef to me!

Although Jane eventually buys into more traditional feminine ideals of beauty (simply to catch her man), she never loses a shred of her spunk or personality.

With that said, I’m actually not sure how I feel about Day’s performance overall; I prefer many of the other fine performances she gave throughout her career — including her portrayal as Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me (1955), and her trio of comedic performances with Rock Hudson. However, for the reasons stated above (as well as a toe-tapping score of songs, and solid supporting performances by both Keel and McLerie), I do believe Calamity Jane is worth a look by all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Doris Day as Calamity Jane
  • Allyn Ann McLerie as Katie
  • Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickock
  • A fine roster of tunes by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster

  • A fascinating “layer” of gay subtext (if one chooses to “read” it that way)

Must See?
Yes, for its cultural relevance as a strongly subtextual, toe-tapping musical.

Categories

Links:

Legend (1985)

Legend (1985)

“As long as unicorns rule the earth, evil can never come to the pure of heart.”

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

Synopsis:
A young forest dweller (Tom Cruise) shows the girl he loves (Mia Sara) where the world’s last unicorns are, accidentally unleashing a battle with the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry).

Genres:

  • Coming-of-Age
  • Fantasy
  • Ridley Scott Films
  • Tom Cruise Films

Review:
I hesitated for quite a while before deciding to designate Ridley Scott’s Legend a Missing Title from Peary’s book. It isn’t all that compelling a movie, but its status as a cult favorite (probably not evident yet to Peary back in 1986) is now clear — and its truly impressive, other-worldly special effects finally convinced me that it’s earned a certain niche in cinematic history. The brief synopsis given above just about covers the gestalt of the extremely basic hero-myth storyline: Cruise loves Sara, who opens a Pandora’s Box of evils when she can’t resist wanting to touch a unicorn, thus allowing the minions of the Lord of Darkness access to said unicorns, and setting in motion a battle between good-and-evil, with Sara as the romantic pawn (Curry wants her for his evil bride). Will Cruise come to the rescue, with the help of his fairy/elven friends? What do you think?

This film, however, is all about the magical universe it presents — and to that end, it’s hard not to be impressed. Twenty years before the emergence of Peter Jackson’s (clearly superior) Lord of the Rings trilogy, Scott and his team crafted a remarkably haunting mystical landscape which Richard Scheib of the SF, Fantasy, and Horror site refers to as “sumptuously textural” and “achingly beautiful”; filled with eerily “realistic” creatures, including elves and fairies and Tim Curry’s horrifically gruesome Lord of Darkness (those horns!). Scheib, a clear fan of the film, calls the movie (which was lambasted by most mainstream critics) an “extraordinary synthesis of production design, cinematography, editing and effects” — and it’s actually hard to disagree with this specific assessment, given that he doesn’t try to make any claims about the narrative. Regarding the performances, Cruise isn’t all that memorable, but Sara is lovely and fine in her screen debut (she’s perhaps best known for playing Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend the following year), and Curry’s performance is a stand-out.

Note: In 2002, Legend was released on DVD in two different versions: the original, shorter, American theatrical release (with a synthesized score by Tangerine Dream), and the longer director’s cut (with a score by Jerry Goldsmith). I watched the original — trying to remain faithful to the version Peary might/would have seen around the time he was writing GFTFF — and loved the score, but took a brief look at the other version and liked Goldsmith’s score just as well, in a different way. In my opinion, the “score” (ha) is ultimately even between the two.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness
  • Mia Sara as Lili
  • Rob Bottin’s astonishingly effective make-up design
  • Ethereal cinematography

  • Magical special effects

Must See?
Yes, as a cult movie with truly impressive make-up and effects.

Categories

Links:

Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“A man never trifles with gals who carry rifles — oh, you can’t get a man with a gun.”

Synopsis:
A scraggly sharpshooter named Annie Oakley (Betty Hutton) becomes famous in the Wild West Show put on by Buffalo Bill Cody (Louis Calhern), but finds that her enormous crush on her performance partner (Howard Keel) is disrupted by their ongoing rivalry.

Genres:

  • Battle of the Sexes
  • Betty Hutton Films
  • Edward Arnold Films
  • Howard Keel Films
  • Musicals
  • Rivalry
  • Strong Females
  • Westerns

Review:
Peary doesn’t list this infamously troubled musical (plagued by production concerns, and then out of circulation from 1973 until 2001) in his GFTFF — but he does nominate Hutton as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book, so I decided to check it out as a potential “Missing Title”, and review it here. Sadly, I don’t believe it is “must see”. Despite a rousing score of hummable classic tunes by Irving Berlin (including “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun”, “Doin’ What Comes Naturally”, “I Got the Sun in the Morning”, “Anything You Can Do”, and “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, to name just a few), the storyline itself simply fails to engage. As in Calamity Jane (1953), the story centers on a rough-and-tumble female sharpshooter who must “clean herself up” and become more “feminine” in order to attract the man she loves (indeed, the narrative parallels are downright uncanny); however, while Doris Day’s Calamity Jane is a memorable three-dimensional character with plenty of personality and sass, Hutton’s Annie is simply hyperkinetic and somewhat annoying.

This is not necessarily the fault of Hutton, who invests her character with as much energetic enthusiasm as she gave to just about every other role she played; I believe the fault lies primarily with the narrative, which portrays tomboyish Annie as instantly infatuated with Keel’s “Frank Butler” (presumably for comedic value). Her slack-jawed reaction upon viewing him (repeated several times) simply comes across as cartoonish. Meanwhile, the subplot involving Annie’s “adoption” as the honorary daughter of Chief Sitting Bull (J. Carrol Naish) is not only silly, but leads to a number of downright offensive scenes with Native Americans. (Yes, I know, it’s all part of how things were perceived during that era — but that doesn’t stop it from being utterly unappealing.) In sum, while Hutton’s performance is worth a look, and the film itself was one of the most popular musicals of its time, this one is simply recommended rather than Must See.

Note: Check out Wikipedia’s article for more information about the film’s troubled production history; it originally starred Judy Garland, who became too ill to continue, and was ultimately fired by MGM.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Betty Hutton as Annie Oakley
  • A host of fine, rousingly performed Irving Berlin tunes

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for one-time viewing simply to see Hutton in her most (in)famous role — and to enjoy the score.

Links: