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Month: September 2013

In Name Only (1939)

In Name Only (1939)

“I’ll see Ms. Eden whenever and wherever I can.”

In Name Only Poster

Synopsis:
A man (Cary Grant) unhappily married to a shrewish, gold-digging wife (Kay Francis) falls in love with a young widow (Carole Lombard) — but their desire to get married is foiled by Francis’s deceptive interventions.

Genres:

Review:
John Cromwell directed this maudlin, implausibly scripted romance about a pair of star-crossed lovers who can’t seem to get an even break, thanks to the evil machinations of a gold-digging wife-from-hell. Grant and/or Lombard fans hoping for anything close to a screwball comedy will be disappointed, given that In Name Only takes itself quite seriously, with no laughs to be had — but the entire affair is competently directed, acted, and photographed (by J. Roy Hunt), making it fairly easy to sit through. Watch for a fun supporting performance by Helen Vinson as a philandering socialite who makes a play for Grant.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Helen Vinson as Suzanne
    In Name Only Vinson
  • Fine cinematography (by J. Roy Hunt) and direction (by John Cromwell)
    In Name Only Cinematography

Must See?
No; this one isn’t must-see.

Links:

Four Daughters (1938)

Four Daughters (1938)

“So they flipped a coin: heads he’s poor, tails he’s rich.”

Four Daughters Poster

Synopsis:
The four grown daughters — Thea (Lola Lane), Kay (Rosemary Lane), Emma (Gale Page), and Ann (Priscilla Lane) — of a musician (Claude Rains) struggle to find romantic happiness with the right partner. Emma resists overtures from the boy next door (Dick Foran), while Thea aspires to marry a wealthy banker (Frank McHugh) and Kay remains primarily focused on her career as a singer. Ann, the youngest, is determined not to marry — though she soon falls for a handsome musician (Jeffrey Lynn) whose charms sway her sisters as well; but when his troubled, cynical friend Mickey (John Garfield) arrives in town and falls for Ann, romantic entanglements become even more complicated.

Genres:

Review:
Based on a story by Fannie Hurst, and designed as a vehicle for Priscilla Lane and her two sisters (Lola and Rosemary), Four Daughters — directed by Michael Curtiz — was originally intended as an “A”-level picture, before Errol Flynn dropped out of the cast and Jeffrey Lynn signed on. It’s primarily notable today for affording John Garfield his memorable screen debut — indeed, Garfield’s Oscar-nominated supporting performance as a philosophizing cynic who plucks Ann’s pity strings is likely why Peary includes this title in his GFTFF, and was enough to make the New York Times’ reviewer take note:

As the most startling innovation in the way of a screen character in years — a fascinating fatalist, reckless and poor and unhappy, who smokes too much, who is insufferably rude to everybody, and who assumes as a matter of course that all the cards are stacked against him, Mr. Garfield is such a sweet relief from conventional screen types, in this one character, anyway, so eloquent of a certain dispossessed class of people, that we can’t thank Warner Brothers, Michael Curtiz, the director; Mr. Epstein and Miss Coffee, the screen playwrights; and even Miss Fannie Hurst, the original author, enough for him.

Otherwise, the film remains a fairly straightforward product of its era — a tearjerking romance full of conveniently implausible twists and turns, all taking place within the idyllic white-picket borders of a happy small-town household, presided over by avuncular Rains (in a throwaway role) and no-nonsense May Robson as “Aunt Etta”. With that said, the script is surprisingly well-written for its genre, and contains quite a few lines of thoughtful and/or amusing dialogue (see examples below) — you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised if you decide to check this one out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • John Garfield as Mickey Borden
    Four Daughters Garfield
  • Ernest Haller’s cinematography
    Four Daughters Cinematography
    Four Daughters Cinematography2
  • Some surprisingly effective dialogue:

    “Do you think that’s right, to leave a song dangling in mid-air — no face, no feet?”
    “My name came first — then the curtains.”

Must See?
No, though it’s of interest simply for Garfield’s debut screen performance.

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Breakfast Club, The (1985)

Breakfast Club, The (1985)

“Everyone’s home life is unsatisfying: if it wasn’t, people would live with their parents forever.”

Breakfast Club Poster

Synopsis:
A group of diverse teens — a privileged preppy girl (Molly Ringwald), a rebel (Judd Nelson), a jock (Emilio Estevez), a nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), and a recluse (Ally Sheedy) — form unexpected bonds during an extended day of detention at school, overseen by the tyrannical Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that writer-director John Hughes’ “follow-up to Sixteen Candles” (“nick-named ‘The Little Chill'”) is “essentially a mock encounter session involving five teenagers”, who “reveal themselves through their volatile actions and wrenching confessions” as “tough exteriors disappear, social barriers crumble, [and] deep secrets are revealed about their troubles at home”. He points out that “each kid turns out to be soft at the core and sympathetic”, and notes that “all suffer from the same problem: parents” (!!). He writes that while Hughes’ “direction is too stagy”, his “dialogue is perceptive and witty, and also realistic enough to have made the film a hit with teenagers”. (Indeed, while the movie was popular upon its release, its cult status has grown to enormous proportions since then, with its Facebook page receiving nearly 2 million “likes”.) Peary notes that “it’s obvious that Hughes likes teenagers and believes them to be smart and funny”; he further points out that “the young cast excels”, with “even Nelson” — who “got a lot of bad press, looks too old, and is stuck with most of the film’s cliches” — “fine in the largest role”.

Peary’s assessment just about sums up the merits of this guiltily enjoyable teen classic — though he neglects to mention the memorable use of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” as the theme song (it was written specifically for the movie). Interestingly, Hughes was asked to write a play based upon his film (to be performed by high schoolers), and this may be the best way to view the material: as a morality play, one with an overly-convenient resolution (as Peary points out, “the ending is too rushed” and “we aren’t sufficiently prepared for the two couplings that take place”), but which packs a punch precisely because it’s so strategically scripted. Hughes’ genius was in capturing the types of stereotypes and concerns that plague teenagers (who often feel isolated by their differences) — and then allowing his characters to work through these concerns in a cathartic deconstruction. It’s the stuff of (troubled) teens’ fantasies, and clearly explains the film’s cult status years later.

Note: In addition to Sixteen Candles (1985), John Hughes wrote and directed several other cult favorites — including Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987); indeed, despite variable output in his later years, Hughes himself (who died from a heart attack in 2009 at age of 59) has a considerable cult following.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the young ensemble cast
    Breakfast Club Ringwald
    Breakfast Club Hirsch
    Breakfast Club Hall
    Breakfast Club Estevez
  • An often witty and incisive script by Hughes
    Breakfast Club Ensemble

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

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

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Trading Places (1983)

Trading Places (1983)

“Breeding, Randolph — same as racehorses; it’s in the blood.”

Trading Places Poster

Synopsis:
Corrupt millionaires Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche) Duke plot to reverse the fortunes of a hustling black con-artist (Eddie Murphy) and a privileged white stock broker (Dan Aykroyd) — all for the sake of a one-dollar bet about nature versus nurture.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “very funny modern-day Prince and the Pauper variation” — directed by John Landis, and scripted by Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod — remains a “sweet-tempered screwball comedy in the finest tradition of those memorable social satires of the thirties and forties”. He points out that Landis “borrows from Capra (the triumph of the little man over rich, corrupt robber barons) [and] Preston Sturges (a poor man’s fortunes can change overnight), and adds a dash of absurd humor that is characteristic of his own comedies and the work of his two stars”. He notes that while the film is ostensibly about the triumph of “environment over heredity”, it is “actually about loyalty, faith, and respect within friendships”, which are “the major determining factors in how a person winds up”.

The cast members here are all at the top of their game. Murphy (early in his career) is both infectiously charismatic and consistently hilarious, while Aykroyd is appropriately priggish as his entitled yet ultimately sympathetic foil. Supporting the comedic protagonists are Jamie Lee Curtis (playing an archetypal “kind-hearted prostitute”), who projects just the right mix of moxie and casual sexiness; Denholm Elliott (as the distressed butler bullied into turning against his employer, Aykroyd), who invests his minor role with significance; and Bellamy and Ameche (how fun it is to see these veterans on screen together!), who project hiss-worthy villainy. [Kudos to the screenwriters for not shying away from presenting their venally racist attitudes.] Despite the silly appearance of men in gorilla suits late in the game (a personal pet peeve with comedies), Trading Places remains a “true crowd-pleaser” and a cult favorite, one you’ll almost certainly enjoy revisiting.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the entire cast
    Trading Places Bellamy Ameche
    Trading Places Curtis
    Trading Places Aykroyd Murphy
  • Excellent use of authentic Philadelphia locales
    Trading Places Philadelphia
    Trading Places Philadelphia2
  • A smart, witty script

Must See?
Yes, as a cult comedy favorite.

Categories

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