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Month: October 2013

Bad Girl (1956)

Bad Girl (1956)

“Kindly allow me to choose my own friends!”

Bad Girl Poster

Synopsis:
A widowed editor (Anna Neagle) reluctantly dates a handsome client (Norman Wooland) while becoming increasingly concerned about her rebellious daughter (Sylvia Syms), who is spending more and more time with a jive-loving hepster (Kenneth Haigh).

Genres:

Review:
Reportedly made as a British response to Rebel Without a Cause (1955), this collaboration by husband/wife team Herbert Wilcox and Anna Neagle is a competently directed but uninspired teen-angst flick. Neagle’s stoic-mother performance is just a tad shy of Joan-Crawford-territory — but that tad makes all the difference, in the wrong direction; her reactions and expressions are predictable through and through. Meanwhile, Wooland is simply forgettable as her conveniently understanding and handsome suitor. The best feature of the film is Sylvia Syms (in her screen debut) as the pretty young protagonist, who’s torn between a desire to remain her mother’s “good” eldest daughter, and her itch to explore the wild-and-woolly world of soul-corrupting jive. The screenplay becomes needlessly melodramatic in its final third, as Neagle and Syms are provided with further opportunities to explore their complicated mother-daughter dynamic, and the overall tenor of the film begins to feel more like a “women’s weepie” than anything else.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Sylvia Syms as Janet Carr
    Bad Girl Syms

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

Links:

Devil Commands, The (1941)

Devil Commands, The (1941)

“Your mother is not dead – not really. She’s come back to me!”

Devil Commands Poster

Synopsis:
A scientist (Boris Karloff) mourning the loss of his beloved wife (Shirley Warde) enlists the help of a corrupt “medium” (Anne Revere) in making contact with Warde through brainwave technology.

Genres:

Review:
Boris Karloff starred in numerous B-level “mad doctor” flicks during the 1930s/1940s, five of which are listed in GFTFF (see here, here, here, and here for my other reviews). This title — part of a five-film “Karloff series” produced by Columbia Pictures — is, comparatively speaking, one of the best, thanks to a compelling rationale behind Karloff’s obsessive quest: his love for his dead wife (convincingly played by Shirley Warde in just a few minutes of early screentime). Also lifting the film a notch above average is a strong performance by Anne Revere, playing a quietly psychopathic “medium” whose love of money overrides all other concerns, even her own safety. Other elements of the quickie screenplay (just over an hour long) feel somewhat conventional, but there’s certainly enough here — including a typically committed performance by Karloff, and atmospheric cinematography — to recommend this one for fans of the genre.

Note: Read Pop Matters’ review of this film for an insightful analysis of how its themes fit within broader cultural concerns of its era.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Anne Revere as Blanche Walters
    Devil Commands Revere
  • Atmospheric cinematography
    Devil Commands Cinematography1
    Devil Commands Cinematography2
    Devil Commands Cinematography3

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly recommended for Karloff fans.

Links:

Paper Chase, The (1973)

Paper Chase, The (1973)

“I need a way of living that I can rationalize!”



Synopsis:
An ambitious law student (Timothy Bottoms) dates the daughter (Lindsay Wagner) of his professor (John Houseman) while joining forces with a handful of his classmates to prepare for final exams.

Genres:

Review:
James Bridges’ adaptation of John Jay Osborn, Jr.’s novel about a first-year Harvard law student struggling to survive and thrive is perhaps best remembered as the showcase for John Houseman’s Oscar-winning performance as Professor Kingsfield — a larger-than-life instructor who is simultaneously revered and feared by his students. Indeed, in its depiction of Bottoms’ relentless quest to earn Houseman’s respect — and its overall presentation of the rigors of law school, complete with plenty of heady dialogue and ruthlessly competitive interactions — The Paper Chase fully succeeds, and we remain enthusiastically engaged; as Vincent Canby points out in his review for The New York Times, it’s refreshing to see a movie that “acknowledge[s] the existence of a mind”. Unfortunately, however, this focus is interrupted time and again by a poorly developed romantic subplot, one which ultimately feels both contrived and unsatisfying. Wagner’s character, while potentially fascinating, is insufficiently developed to earn our interest; instead, she functions merely as a distraction for Bottoms — someone who happens to conveniently possess an insider’s perspective on the man Bottoms is single-mindedly obsessed with. Meanwhile, Bottoms’ character eventually becomes so callously self-absorbed that we stop rooting for him — a dangerous outcome for a film predicated on whether or not our dauntless protagonist will succeed in his quest.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • John Houseman as Professor Kingsfield
    Paper Chase Houseman2
  • Gordon Willis’s cinematography
    Paper Chase Cinematography2
    Paper Chase Cinematography4
    Paper Chase Cinematography5
  • A fascinating glimpse at the rigors of law school
    Paper Chase Law School

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a one-time look for Houseman’s performance.

Links:

Barefoot in the Park (1967)

Barefoot in the Park (1967)

“Corie, if it’s a good marriage, it’ll last until 5:30.”

Barefoot in the Park Poster

Synopsis:
A newlywed couple — fun-loving Corie (Jane Fonda) and straitlaced Paul (Robert Redford) — struggle to adjust to married life in a tiny New York apartment.

Genres:

Review:
This early Neil Simon romantic comedy (based on his own long-running Broadway play) remains a surprisingly irritating and dated dud. The primary problem lies with Fonda’s character — an enthusiastic young housewife who’s either clinging rapaciously to her husband’s shirt-tails or petulantly throwing a fit; one desperately wishes she could channel her energies into some kind of career. (Many actresses were apparently considered for the role of “Corie”, yet she’s so poorly written that it’s actually difficult to imagine anyone having better success with her than Fonda.) We’re presumably meant to sympathize with poor Redford’s character (a stand-in for Simon himself) — an every-man who simply wants to go to work and earn a living; but he’s so dull and under-written that we don’t care much for him, either. Another critical concern is that we aren’t given sufficient motivation to care about the ultimate survival of this couple’s sexually charged yet perilously unstable marriage, which suffers from seemingly irreconcilable personality differences (she’s free-spirited and likes to walk “barefoot in the park”, while he’s more conservative). Meanwhile, a critical subplot involving Fonda’s attempt to set up her single mother (Mildred Natwick) with an enigmatic foodie neighbor (Charles Boyer) is simply tiresome — as are the running “gags” about how tiny and elevated the couple’s new apartment is.

Note: Simon would rework the basic concept of conflicting personality types attempting (unsuccessfully) to live together in his infinitely more clever and enjoyable comedy The Odd Couple (1968).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Mildred Natwick as Fonda’s mother, Ethel
    Barefoot in the Park Natwick

Must See?
No; skip this one.

Links: