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Month: December 2012

Where the Lilies Bloom (1974)

Where the Lilies Bloom (1974)

“If anybody ever finds out he passed away, they’ll take us to the county home for sure.”

Where the Lilies Bloom Poster

Synopsis:
When their widowed father (Rance Howard) passes away, a fourteen-year-old Appalachian girl (Julie Gholson) and her siblings — Devola (Jan Smithers), Romey (Matthew Burrill), and Ima Dean (Helen Harmon) — keep his death a secret in order to stay together as a family; meanwhile, Mary Call (Gholson) attempts to honor one of her father’s dying wishes by preventing an amorous suitor (Harry Dean Stanton) from marrying Devola.

Genres:

Review:
Based on a Newbery Honor-winning children’s book by Vera and Bill Cleaver, Where the Lilies Bloom tells a powerfully authentic tale of orphaned siblings scratching out a living for themselves in Appalachia by wildcrafting (gleaning for medicinal herbs) while keeping nosy neighbors and other well-meaning adults at bay. Other than the presence of Stanton (in a wonderful supporting performance) and Sudie Bond (given just a few minutes of screentime as Gholson’s encouraging English teacher), performances are primarily by unknown actors, including three refreshingly natural youngsters — Gholson, Burrill and Harmon — who apparently never made any other films. (Smithers, 25 at the time she co-starred in this movie, became best known for her work on the T.V. series “WKRP in Cincinnati”.) Gholson in particular deserves mention for her fiery lead performance as Mary Call; we believe this spindly, savvy girl is someone who could support and motivate her entire family, at least for a few intensive months. The subplot involving her continuous attempts to keep lovestruck Kiser Pease (Stanton) away from her beautiful older sister adds both levity and gravitas to the screenplay, as we wonder what exactly will happen once their deeply held secret is inevitably found out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Julie Gholson as Mary Call
    Where the Lilies Bloom Gholson
  • Harry Dean Stanton as Kiser
    Where the Lilies Bloom Stanton
  • Excellent use of real-life locales
    Where the Lilies Bloom Sets

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for one-time viewing. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

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Beach Party (1963)

Beach Party (1963)

“Bring me my pendulum, kiddies — I feel like swinging!”

Beach Party Poster

Synopsis:
An anthropology professor (Robert Cummings) spying on a group of bikini-clad teenagers decides to “gain access” to their clique by befriending a young woman (Annette Funicello) whose commitment-phobic surfer-boyfriend (Frankie Avalon) has started flirting with a busty blonde (Eva Six).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary opens his review of this “first of AIP’s successful Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello beach series” by noting that viewers of-a-certain-age watching the opening scene — with “the stars riding along, top down, singing the title song” — will “flash back to when [they] once had a crush on one of the two wholesome stars, or feel nostalgic because [they] used to watch these films at the drive-in and actually enjoy them”. With that caveat out of the way, he quickly concedes that “the picture goes downhill when nostalgia gives way to annoyance at the stupidity of the characters Avalon and Funicello play”, not to mention the fact that “all the teens in the film have IQs lower than their ages”. He argues that at least the “campy film… pokes fun at itself” — though this is small solace for the drivel one has to sit through in the meantime. Having now viewed all three of the “Beach Party” flicks recommended in Peary’s book (this one, Beach Blanket Bingo, and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini), I can safely say that seeing one will suffice to give film fanatics a sense of the genre; it might as well be this inaugural entry, and then ffs can consider themselves done unless otherwise compelled.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Dick Dale and the Del Tones’ performance
    Beach Party Del Tones

Must See?
Yes, but ONLY to have seen one entry in the infamously popular “Beach Party” franchise.

Categories

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Just Tell Me What You Want (1980)

Just Tell Me What You Want (1980)

“Belonging to Max Herschel had a lot of advantages: it was fun and first class all the way.”

Synopsis:Just Tell Me What You Want Poster
When an autocratic tycoon (Alan King) — married in-name-only to an alcoholic wife (Dina Merrill) — discovers that his long-time mistress (Ali MacGraw) has fallen in love with a penniless playwright (Peter Weller), he immediately sets out to ruin both her career and her finances.

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Review:
Female screenwriter Jay Presson Allen isn’t necessarily a household name for film fanatics, though she had a long and noteworthy career in Hollywood, beginning with her work on Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), and continuing through a multi-film collaboration with director Sidney Lumet. Just Tell Me What You Want is based on her own novel, and showcases an insider’s cynical view on the vagaries of wealth and power in the entertainment business, with the “insider” epitomized in the film by King’s long-suffering secretary-cum-mother-figure (Myrna Loy, giving a classy, consistently nuanced supporting performance). To that end, Allen seems to get many of the details of this particular universe “right” — most notably in the way everything happens at a faster-than-expected pace, with King autocratically dictating orders left and right, pausing only to break down in temporary tantrums over minor details he can’t control. Indeed, King’s performance is spot-on throughout, indicating unexpected star power.

Much more problematic is the key casting of Ali MacGraw as his lover, “Bones” Burton; though she tries hard, MacGraw simply isn’t up to the task of inhabiting this undeniably complex character — a powerful female television executive who is nonetheless content to live as King’s mistress for years on end. As events get more and more complicated and treacherous in their relationship, she begins to exhibit the same forlorn expression far too often (and is shown digging for solace in a pan of homemade fudge at least one too many times). Where’s her bite? It comes in fits and starts (most notably during the infamous Bergdorff-Goodman’s brawl), but is never fully present or believable. Meanwhile, though the poster’s tagline proclaims, “They’re rich. They’re in love. They’re negotiating”, this isn’t quite accurate, given that it’s clearly King who holds the purse strings in the relationship, from beginning to end. In sum, we just don’t learn enough about “Bones” to really “get” her, other than on the most surface level — which makes it twice the shame that her character’s voiceover was chosen to bookend the film, rather than Loy’s (who would have been a MUCH more logical option).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Myrna Loy as King’s long-suffering secretary
    Just Tell Me Loy
  • Alan King as Max Herschel
    Just Tell Me What You Want King
  • Dina Merrill in a bit role as King’s deeply troubled wife
    Just Tell Me What You Want Merrill

Must See?
No, though fans of Lumet’s and/or Allen’s work might be curious to check it out.

Links:

Room for One More (1952)

Room for One More (1952)

“There’s nothing wrong with him that being three days old wouldn’t fix.”

Room for One More Poster

Synopsis:
When the parents (Cary Grant and Betsy Drake) of three children (George Winslow, Gay Gordon, and Malcolm Cassell) decide to bring two additional foster children (Iris Mann and Clifford Tatum, Jr.) into their household, both challenges and triumphs abound.

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Review:
This Norman Taurog-directed adaptation of Anna Perrin Rose’s memoir about her experiences integrating several troubled foster kids into her home remains a minor cult favorite of those who recall seeing it on television years ago. While a bit didactic at times, the storyline nonetheless nicely portrays the chaos of family life in a semi-realistic fashion, showcasing how exhausting yet rewarding parenting can be. Real-life married couple Cary Grant and Betsy Drake are aptly cast, with Grant exhibiting his characteristically droll sense of humor (listen for a throwaway line early on about their cat’s new litter of kittens — something about a bicycle…), and Drake admirably demonstrating effective parenting techniques when dealing with seemingly “unhelpable” children. Unfortunately, the film drags on a bit too long towards the end, as both foster kids are given an opportunity to fulfill their personal dreams, and we’re asked to watch nearly every second of it unfolding in real-time; otherwise, film fanatics will likely be pleasantly surprised by Taurog’s sensitive handling of the emotionally-laden storyline.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A refreshingly honest depiction of how hectic, challenging, yet loving a large household can be
    Room for One More Family Life

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended as a minor cult favorite.

Links:

Little Colonel, The (1935)

Little Colonel, The (1935)

“Papa Jack is sick — and those two men might hurt him!”

Little Colonel Poster

Synopsis:
A crusty former Confederate colonel (Lionel Barrymore) disowns his daughter (Evelyn Venable) when she marries a Yankee (John Lodge) — but his heart is slowly melted when he meets his six-year-old granddaughter (Shirley Temple), whose quick temper bears an uncanny resemblance to his own.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that this postbellum tale of a “stubborn and quick-tempered” young girl who “pleads with [her grandfather] to save her parents from thieves who are trying to steal a valuable land deed” remains an “enjoyable Temple vehicle, with some nice interplay between her and Barrymore… and some nifty dancing by Temple and Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson”. Indeed, Temple’s staircase dance with Robinson (preceded by Robinson’s solo, one he had perfected for years) remains a true highlight — not just of this film but of cinematic dance performances in general — and shouldn’t be missed. However, given the current possibility to watch isolated musical numbers through venues such as YouTube, film fanatics shouldn’t feel compelled to watch the entire movie, given that I just voted The Littlest Rebel (1935) as film fanatics’ “go to” Temple vehicle, and The Little Colonel essentially offers more of the same — with the critical difference that Temple’s character here isn’t all sugar-and-spice. To that end, Temple does hold her own admirably against Barrymore (perfectly cast), and Peary’s right to note that their “war game with toy soldiers is a highlight” of the screenplay. The rest of the storyline, however, is pure melodrama, and not really noteworthy in any way.

Note: Listen for a sly exchange between Temple and Hattie McDaniel (as “Mom Beck”), when McDaniel comments on Temple’s penchant for wanting “blue stories”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Stellar dancing by Temple and Robinson
    Little Colonel Staircase Dance

Must See?
No, though all film fanatics should immediately check out the staircase dancing sequence on YouTube, if they haven’t already seen it.

Links:

Littlest Rebel, The (1935)

Littlest Rebel, The (1935)

“Uncle Billy can do anything! He can sing and dance and climb trees, and do everything in the world — I know he can bring Daddy back!”

Littlest Rebel Poster

Synopsis:
When a Confederate officer (John Boles) sneaks back to his plantation to visit his daughter (Shirley Temple) and dying wife (Karen Morley), he’s arrested by a Yankee colonel (John Holt), who — thanks to Temple’s charm — takes pity on him and helps him try to escape.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately notes that Depression-era child star Shirley Temple is “in peak form as a charming little Southern girl” in this “enjoyable film” (directed by David Butler), “with the very self-assured, likable Temple displaying amazing acting and dancing talents”. He points out that “her cheerful tap routines with [Bill ‘Bojangles’] Robinson” — a.k.a. “Uncle Billy” — are “classics”, and that Temple’s “love and respect for her black ‘uncle’ are touching”. He acknowledges, however, that it would be “hard to accept” that the slaves on Temple’s plantation “seem so happy” if “Boles and Morley weren’t so nice”; indeed, modern viewers will likely be greatly disturbed by the film’s decidedly patronizing attitude towards slavery, one which portrays loyal Robinson as an endless source of avuncular kindness rather than someone who might be interested in escaping to his freedom. Regardless, The Littlest Rebel remains a classic Temple vehicle, not least because of the undeniable chemistry she and Robinson possess together; it thus earns my vote as the movie film fanatics should consider watching if they want to get a taste of what Temple’s phenomenal fame was all about. Watch for the “delightful” (if utterly unrealistic) “scene in which Temple asks President Lincoln (Frank McGlynn, Sr., in a fine bit)” for a special favor.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Shirley Temple as Virgie
    Littlest Rebel Temple
  • Temple and Robinson’s magnificent dancing sequences
    Littlest Rebel Temple Robinson1
    Littlest Rebel Temple Robinson2

Must See?
Yes, as a representative Temple flick, and to see Robinson at his dancing finest.

Categories

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Libeled Lady (1936)

Libeled Lady (1936)

“The things I do for that newspaper…”

Synopsis:
A dedicated newspaper editor (Spencer Tracy) puts his wedding on hold when he learns about a potential libel suit involving an heiress (Myrna Loy) falsely accused of being a “husband stealer”. Tracy hires his former colleague (William Powell) to temporarily wed his own fiancee (Jean Harlow), then romantically pursue Loy in an attempt to prove she really is guilty of husband-stealing — but naturally, romantic entanglements prove this process much more difficult than originally conceived.

Genres:

Review:
Peary argues that the “fast pacing, funny wisecracks by the dozens, and the sexual chemistry between the characters… make you overlook the confusing plot” of this “classic screwball comedy with a powerhouse cast” — but I disagree that the film is confusing in any way. While there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot (and in motivations of the characters), each one is simply a delicious new development in what amounts to an immensely clever script (by Maurine Dallas Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers, and George Oppenheimer, based on a story by Wallace Sullivan). Peary points out that “highlights include the wedding scene, in which Harlow weakly kisses husband Powell and gives a heartfelt smooch to best man Tracy” and “charlatan Powell [proving] he wasn’t lying when he told Loy and her father (Walter Connolly) that he is a fisherman”.

Peary accurately notes that the film “is a particularly strong showcase for Harlow, whose character is sometimes tough, sometimes sentimental, sometimes infuriated, sometimes a good sport, always sexy, always funny”. He writes that he loves “her angry pout and how she huffs and puffs through a room with shoulders and legs working in unison”. In his Alternate Oscars, Peary votes Harlow Best Actress of the Year for her role here as Gladys, noting that Harlow “has never gotten enough praise” as “one of the great movie discoveries of the thirties”, and further pointing out how ably she “exchang[es] wisecracks with Powell and Tracy”. I agree, but also find the lead performances by Powell and Loy to be spot-on, with Loy a particular treat to watch as she demonstrates unexpected layers of complexity to her seemingly ice-cold heiress; her initial rebuffs towards overly-confident “ladies man” Powell are especially humorous.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jean Harlow as Gladys
  • William Powell as Bill Chandler
  • Myrna Loy as Connie Allenbury

Must See?
Yes, as a delightful screwball comedy. Voted one of the Best Pictures of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.

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Freaky Friday (1976)

Freaky Friday (1976)

“I wish I could switch places with her, for just one day.”

Synopsis:
A teenage girl (Jodie Foster) and her mother (Barbara Harris) switch bodies for a day, getting to experience life from the other’s perspective. They soon find that life as both a teenager and a housewife is incredibly hectic, as Harris attempts to help her husband (John Astin) prepare for a gala event that night, while Foster navigates through the treacherous waters of high school.

Genres:

Review:
Based on a 1972 children’s novel by Mary Rodgers, this live-action Disney film was just one of five films 14-year-old Jodie Foster appeared in that year (others include Taxi Driver, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, and Bugsy Malone) — thus indicating her enduring popularity after years of work as a child actor in television and on the big screen. She does a fine job in her role here as a slovenly, athletic tomboy who spends most of her screentime “inhabited” by her mother — but it’s Harris (primarily playing teenage “Annabel”) whose performance really stands out. Better known for her work on Broadway than in films, this may actually be Harris’s best leading role onscreen: her no-holds-barred portrayal of an adolescent trapped in an adult body is a sheer pleasure to watch, from beginning to end. In early scenes, we see her luxuriating over the fact that she’s not only liberated from attendance at school but suddenly has a sexy, braces-free demeanor — only to quickly demonstrate how inadequately prepared she is to handle everything associated with the ’70s vision of womanhood/motherhood, from putting on false eyelashes (a great scene!) to preparing an impromptu meal for 30 to managing a household full of domestic assistants.

Fortunately, the film as a whole is mostly deserving of her stand-out performance, with the switched-identities element particularly well handled throughout. While we only see each character in her original body for the first 12 minutes of the film (and during the tail-end of the hectic finale), we nonetheless continue to believe in and understand exactly what’s happened to them, thanks to clever use of voice-over (plus, of course, the spot-on performances by the female leads). If there’s one slight downside, it’s that Harris’s travails as teenage “Annabel” are so much more intrinsically interesting and hilarious than Foster’s as the adult “Ellen”. Foster is primarily shown being humiliated time and again at school — either from her lack of knowledge about “modern” equipment (she has no idea how electric typewriters work), or her overabundance of knowledge in history class (where she’s viewed as a know-it-all), or her utter clumsiness on the hockey field (where she’s literally pummeled by members of the opposing team). In sum, “Ellen”/”Mrs. Andrews” simply isn’t as interesting a character as “Annabel”.

Regardless, the fast-paced screenplay (written by Rodgers herself) keeps us on our toes throughout, right up until the surprisingly enjoyable slapstick finale (involving a cop chase and an elaborate water-skiing revue). It’s also fun to see how cleverly Rodgers incorporates sly sexual innuendos without ever bordering on poor taste — i.e., the titillated reaction by Astin when Harris accidentally calls him “Daddy” a few times. Meanwhile, both Harris and Foster learn important lessons in how to empathize with each other (naturally), but this thankfully isn’t hammered over our heads. Somewhat surprisingly, Freaky Friday remains worth a one-time look by all film fanatics — primarily for Harris’s performance, but also as a pleasantly enjoyable situation comedy. Watch for the inspired final shot/scene.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Barbara Harris as Ellen/Mrs. Andrews
  • Jodie Foster as Annabel

Must See?
Yes, for Harris’s stand-out performance. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

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Poor Little Rich Girl (1936)

Poor Little Rich Girl (1936)

“That kid in there’s a novelty — just what we need for our act!”

Synopsis:
The only daughter (Shirley Temple) of a wealthy widower (Michael Whalen) is suddenly on her own when her caretaker (Sara Haden) is accidentally killed while taking her to boarding school. Soon Temple joins forces with a pair of married musical performers (Jack Haley and Alice Faye) who are eager to add her to their act — but when will her true identity be revealed?

Genres:

Review:
This in-name-only remake of Mary Pickford’s 1917 silent classic offered mega-child-star Shirley Temple yet another opportunity to charm Depression-era audiences in the way she did so well — and to that end, it certainly succeeds. Temple is as adorably precocious as ever, singing a few cutesy tunes while instantly charming an old curmudgeon (Claude Gillingwater), aiding the fortunes of a talented young couple in desperate need of a break (Haley and Faye), and avoiding capture by a nebulously lecherous stalker (John Wray). Highlights include Temple singing to her dolls (who eventually get up and dance), and her truly impressive tap finale with Haley and Faye, which apparently took countless attempts to get just right. However, this one ultimately isn’t must-see viewing; Peary lists other Temple titles in his GFTFF, and film fanatics need only see one or two at most to get a representative sense of what Temple’s phenomenal fame was all about.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Temple singing “Oh My Goodness!” to her dolls
  • Temple, Faye, and Haley’s impressive finale tap dance to “Military Man”

Must See?
No, though of course Shirley Temple fans will want to check it out.

Links:

Barkleys of Broadway, The (1949)

Barkleys of Broadway, The (1949)

“You’re wasted in musical comedy. You could be a great tragic actress!”

Synopsis:
Popular dancing duo Dinah (Ginger Rogers) and Josh (Fred Astaire) Barkley find their marriage and their joint career threatened when Rogers meets a French playwright and director (Jacques Francois) who leads her to believe that her true calling is serious drama.

Genres:

Review:
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ tenth and final collaboration together (after a ten-year hiatus) was this innocuous Technicolor musical originally intended to reunite Astaire and Judy Garland after their successful pairing in Easter Parade (1948). Much has been made of the fact that Rogers was a little heavier here than in her earlier films with Astaire — a ridiculous complaint given that she dances wonderfully, and remains athletically trim. Indeed, Astaire and Rogers still sparkle while they’re dancing (either together or solo), and fans of the duo will surely be glad for one more chance to see their incomparable magic onscreen. Less easy to forgive is the lackluster script and premise (by Betty Comden and Adolph Green), which, as noted in All Movie Guide’s review, “is the kind of situation that Comden and Green [were] so adept at spoofing, but they’re asked to play it straight here.” Nonetheless, it is interesting to see how eerily the storyline echoes the “split” between Astaire and Rogers years earlier, when Rogers largely turned away from dancing and went on to forge an Oscar-winning career for herself as a “serious actress”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ginger Rogers as Dinah Barkley
  • Some fine Rogers-and-Astaire dance numbers

  • Astaire performing “Shoes With Wings On”

Must See?
No, though fans of Rogers and Astaire will certainly want to check it out.

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