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Month: November 2013

Pink Panther, The (1963)

Pink Panther, The (1963)

“I’m sure no one ever had a husband like you.”

Pink Panther Poster

Synopsis:
A British playboy (David Niven) and his nephew (Robert Wagner) separately attempt to steal a valuable jewel from a princess (Claudia Cardinale) while bumbling police inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) — whose wife (Capucine) is having an affair with Niven — tries to determine the identity of a notorious jewel thief known as “The Phantom” (Niven).

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately notes that this “overrated Blake Edwards comedy at least gave Peter Sellers his first chance to play bumbling Inspector Closeau”, and that “Sellers completely steals the film from the other stars, including topbilled David Niven”. He points out that beautiful Capucine (whose personal life was quite tragic) is “surprisingly good doing physical comedy with Sellers”; indeed, the “abundance of sight gags” — primarily between these two characters — are what stand out most in one’s memory. Unfortunately, the “film drags badly when Clouseau isn’t on the screen”, with the forgettable storyline seemingly designed as an excuse merely for audience members to drool at the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Of note are Henry Mancini’s beloved score, and DePatie-Freleng‘s animated opening credits — but this one really can be skipped.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau and Capucine as his deceptive wife
    Pink Panther Sellers Capucine
  • The clever animated opening credits
    Pink Panther Opening Credits
  • Henry Mancini’s score

Must See?
No; stick with A Shot in the Dark (1964) if you’d like to see a reasonably worthy entry in the series.

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Dark Victory (1939)

Dark Victory (1939)

“Confidentially, darling, this is more than a hang-over.”

Dark Victory Poster

Synopsis:
A headstrong young heiress (Bette Davis) with an inoperable brain tumor falls in love with her surgeon (George Brent), believing he’s cured her — but how will she react when she finds out that both Brent and her best friend (Geraldine Fitzgerald) are lying to her?

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “famous Warner Bros. weeper features [a] powerhouse performance from a truly lovely, appealing Bette Davis”, who — “in her favorite role” — plays “a kind, strong-minded heiress who has frittered her life away partying, riding horses, [and] shopping”, but must confront her own mortality when she begins “suffer[ing] vision problems” and learns that her “prognosis is negative”. I wouldn’t necessarily choose the words “kind” or “appealing” when describing Davis’s “Judy Traherne”, given that she initially comes across as sullen, brash, and spoiled — “When I tell you to do something, do it!” she barks at her horse trainer, played by a notoriously miscast Humphrey Bogart — but she does indeed later “demonstrate a tremendous reserve of strength that few women in film have shown and it’s quite moving”. As with so many “Bette Davis films”, Davis is truly the highlight of the show here: Brent (her real-life lover) is more or less “stiff and wimpy as usual” as her surgeon/love interest, and while Peary refers to Fitzgerald as “superb”, I find her doting character oddly opaque. With that said, the “direction by Edmond Goulding is both strong and sensitive”, and Davis’s character arc is compelling. As Peary notes, despite the “morbid” subject matter and the “tears caused by the drawn-out finale, the triumph of this woman at the point of death actually has a cheering effect”. Watch for Ronald Reagan in a supporting role as Davis’s consistently inebriated party companion.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bette Davis as Judith Traherne (nominated by Peary in Alternate Oscars as one of the Best Actresses of the Year)
    Dark Victory Davis3

Must See?
Yes, as a cult classic, and for Davis’s performance.

Categories

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Of Human Bondage (1934)

Of Human Bondage (1934)

“There’s usually one who loves, and one who is loved.”

Of Human Bondage Poster

Synopsis:
A club-footed medical student (Leslie Howard) falls obsessively in love with a cold, calculating waitress (Bette Davis) who repeatedly leaves him for other men.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that this adaptation of the second half of W. Somerset Maugham’s thrice-filmed novel — directed by John Cromwell — is “static, claustrophobic, and uninterestingly acted by Howard”, but that it’s “worth watching” as “the film which really launched Davis’s career”. In Alternate Oscars, Peary names Davis Best Actress of the Year for her performance as the “mean and menacing” Mildred, a “cold-hearted, money-loving opportunist who treats Philip like dirt” — or, in the words of New York Times film critic Mourdant Hall, “a heartless little ingrate”. In Alternate Oscars, Peary provides more detailed information on how and why Davis came to take on this role, which “no major Hollywood actress would consider playing” — she apparently “wasn’t concerned about image because no one really knew who she was after twenty-one pictures”, and she “figured [this was] her one shot at stardom”.

Peary writes that this role “made such an impression because it was conceived and played in such an original manner” by Davis, given that her Mildred “isn’t especially pretty… or alluring” and “isn’t smart or knowledgeable”. He points out that she “is not a vamp, she is just cheap, stupid, and shallow” — which is precisely why Howard’s relentless obsession with her is so fascinating. As Peary argues, Philip “hates himself for being a cripple… [and] Mildred is his punishment”. Indeed, Davis’s Mildred is a unique variation on a femme fatale: she’s clearly Philip’s undoing, yet he’s almost entirely responsible for their continued dysfunctional “relationship”. She could genuinely care less about him, but — almost to her own surprise — he continues to make himself available to her time and again; and so, as an inveterate manipulator, she takes easy advantage. Theirs is a morbidly fascinating dynamic — not one I find pleasant to watch, but certainly one film fanatics should see at least once.

Note: Peary ends his review by stating he’s “never seen a film in which so many letters are read” — really? That’s somehow hard to imagine.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bette Davis as Mildred
    Of Human Bondage Davis

Must See?
Yes, for Davis’s Oscar-nominated performance.

Categories

Categories

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Mr. Skeffington (1944)

Mr. Skeffington (1944)

“I married the woman everyone else wanted to.”

Mr Skeffington Poster

Synopsis:
A narcissistic socialite (Bette Davis) marries a wealthy Jewish businessman (Claude Rains) to ensure that she and her shiftless brother (Richard Waring) are financially secure — but her marriage to Job Skeffington (Rains) remains loveless, and she continues to entertain a bevy of suitors until her looks finally begin to fade.

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Review:
Vincent Sherman faced notoriously challenging circumstances during his filming of Elizabeth von Armin‘s historical novel — primarily the death of Davis’s husband one week into shooting, which led to Davis making life miserable for just about everyone on the set (including Sherman himself, her on-and-off-again lover). The resulting film is a sluggish, tonally inconsistent “women’s drama” which never really finds its footing and feels too long by half. Davis, though enthusiastic, is simply miscast as a flirtatiously irresistible beauty who’s never at a loss for suitors (who in turn come across more like a comedic Greek chorus than realistic supporting characters). Rains is as invested as always in the title role — but he’s really secondary to the proceedings; this tale should have been called Fanny Skeffington instead, given that it’s primarily concerned with tracking Davis’s predictably disastrous fall-from-grace, hastened by a convenient bout of appearance-wracking diphtheria. To that end, the final portion of the film — in which the hideously transformed Fanny finally gets her comeuppance — provides the most entertainment value, in a gruesomely baroque manner; one can’t help thinking of Davis’s later Grand Guignol performances when viewing her mask-like visage (see still below).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A grotesquely baroque tale of feminine narcissism turned sour
    Mr Skeffington Face
    Mr Skeffington Curls
    Mr Skeffington Mirror

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for its curiosity value.

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