Browsed by
Month: August 2021

Jolson Story, The (1946)

Jolson Story, The (1946)

“If you don’t mind, I’ll sing ’til you ask me to stop. You ain’t heard nothing yet!”

Synopsis:
As a child, Asa Yoelson (Scotty Beckett) loves to sing in his synagogue and is given his big break by a vaudeville performer (William Demarest) who hires him as part of his act. Once he’s grown up (Larry Parks), “Al Jolson” visits his loving Jewish parents (Ludwig Donath and Tamara Shayne) in between his thriving career as a popular entertainer and breakthrough movie star, and soon brings his prospective wife (Evelyn Keyes) home to meet them. But will Keyes’ desire for a peaceful life conflict with Jolson’s need to sing?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopics
  • Evelyn Keyes Films
  • Singers
  • Vaudeville and Burlesque

Review:
This whitewashed biopic of legendary performer Al Jolson was a box office hit, and helped spark a renewal of interest in Jolson’s talents. Jolson is portrayed as a highly gifted and innovative artist who knows that his novel ideas are worth sharing with the world, and works tirelessly to get his big break.

Perhaps due to the fact that Jolson was still very-much alive (and involved) during the making of this film, all characters are portrayed in a favorable light (though some — like Demarest — are actually amalgams of various people Jolson knew and worked with).

Keyes plays an aspiring dancer named “Julie Benson” since Ruby Keeler didn’t want her actual name involved (though the titles and key melodies from Keeler’s movies are all used):


As a heads up to viewers, much of Jolson’s earliest performing was done in blackface — though in conducting a little research, I was intrigued to learn that Jolson was actually a strong anti-racist advocate, insisting on equal pay for and treatment of Black performers, and responsible for bringing Black musical styles to white audiences. It’s too bad this aspect of his life isn’t given much screentime here (other than showing him briefly visiting a jazz club).

Meanwhile, much of Jolson’s personal life — i.e., his first two wives — is missing from the movie as well, and his temporary early retirement and eventual divorce from Keeler/Keyes is treated as merely a difference in desired lifestyles, with Keyes fully sympathetic of his wish to go back to performing. However, this type of “smoothing over” is par for the course in biopics. Given that Jolson dubbed all the songs, this movie remains a useful entry point for those interested in learning more about this mega-star of vaudeville and early Hollywood.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Joseph Walker’s cinematography


Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re a Jolson fan. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Long Voyage Home, The (1940)

Long Voyage Home, The (1940)

“When a man goes to sea, he ought to give up thinking about things on shore.”

Synopsis:
The crew on a British tramp steamer — including Smitty (Ian Hunter), Cocky (Barry Fitzgerald), Yank (Ward Bond), Driscoll (Thomas Mitchell), and Swedes Ole (John Wayne) and Axel (John Qualen) — carouse together while experiencing a variety of challenges, such as Yank being wounded, the crew suspecting Smitty of being a German spy, and Ole’s desire to finally return home to Sweden.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • At Sea
  • Barry Fitzgerald Films
  • Ian Hunter Films
  • John Ford Films
  • John Qualen Films
  • John Wayne Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Sailors
  • Thomas Mitchell Films

Review:
Following their initial collaboration on Stagecoach (1939), John Ford and John Wayne reunited for this adaptation (by Dudley Nichols) of four one-act sea-based plays by Eugene O’Neill. The film — set just after England’s entrance into World War II — is inherently episodic in nature, with several different characters taking center stage at various times, and the many challenges of life at sea made apparent:

Most compelling is the mysterious tale of Hunter’s “Smitty”, who is seen attempting to flee the ship after being told none of the sailors can leave due to secrecy issues with ammunition being on board. We can tell he’s distressed and distracted, but don’t understand why — until his shipmates concoct an elaborate rationale for his behavior and trap him into confessing his story.


The other primary tale is that of Ole (Wayne), a genial Swede who is merely on the periphery of proceedings for most of the film, but by the end becomes the storyline’s symbolic (and literal) chance for another life; we’re kept in painful suspense about how his travails will turn out.

Gregg Toland’s cinematography is the true star of the show, however. Those interested in his work will most certainly want to check this film out.

Note: Ford and Wayne’s other (post-war) collaborative efforts are all listed or reviewed in Peary’s book; in chronological order, they are: They Were Expendable (1945), Fort Apache (1948), 3 Godfathers (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), The Searchers (1956), The Wings of Eagles (1957), The Horse Soldiers (1959), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), How the West Was Won (1962), and Donovan’s Reef (1963).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Ian Hunter as Smitty
  • Gregg Toland’s cinematography


Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a look as a highly regarded favorite by a master director and cinematographer. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book, and nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.

Links:

On the Beach (1959)

On the Beach (1959)

“We’re not machines; we’re not going to fall over in rows, you know.”

Synopsis:
In a post-apocalyptic world with the global north completely ravaged by nuclear fallout, the captain (Gregory Peck) of an American submarine — accompanied by a depressed scientist (Fred Astaire) — lands in Australia, where his lieutenant (Anthony Perkins) tries to warn his wife (Donna Anderson) about their imminent deaths, and a beautiful woman (Ava Gardner) is eager to begin an affair with Peck.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anthony Perkins Films
  • Ava Gardner Films
  • Fred Astaire Films
  • Gregory Peck Films
  • Nuclear Holocaust
  • Scientists
  • Stanley Kramer Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Stanley Kramer’s adaptation of Nevil Shute’s novel about the end of the world” — a “well-made film [that] doesn’t oversensationalize its subject” — has held up well” and, along with Testament (1983), remains “our most pessimistic anti-Bomb film because it allows no survivors.” He points out how weird is it “seeing deserted streets in Melbourne and San Francisco”:

… and how “heartbreaking” it is “watching Anthony Perkins, an officer in the Australian navy, tell [his] wife Donna Anderson, who never worried much about anything, that they’ll soon be dead.”

Peary adds that “Fred Astaire does fine in his first dramatic role, playing a disillusioned scientist who expresses the film’s themes: if we have nuclear weapons, they will be used, intentionally or by accident.”

Taking up quite a bit of initial screentime is the potential affair between boozy Gardner and stoic Peck, who (at least at first) acts as though his wife and children are still alive.

Eventually, however, all characters find their own way to make sense of their inevitable deaths — and, other than a critical mission to determine whether random morse code signals coming from San Francisco might be signs of life, it’s these various subplots which make up the heart of the film. One is definitely forced to wonder: what would you do if you knew you only had a few days or weeks left to live? Would you have an affair, drink, party, attempt to return to your place of birth, plot your death peacefully in advance, engage in your favorite (albeit highly risky) sport:

… and/or simply despair? All are possibilities covered here. While the film feels overly somber and slow-paced at times, I suppose there’s no way around this; unlike in (for instance) Five (1951) and The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959), there is no cautious optimism offered up to viewers here.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Highly atmospheric cinematography

  • Numerous effectively bleak moments

  • A fine score by Ernest Gold (though not all agree)

Must See?
No, though it’s definitely worth a one-time look.

Links:

Music Man, The (1962)

Music Man, The (1962)

“Friends — the idle brain is the devil’s playground!”

Synopsis:
When a con-man (Robert Preston) shows up in a small Iowa town promising to start a boys’ band and selling its puritanical citizens uniforms and instruments, both the town’s mayor (Paul Ford) and librarian, Marian (Shirley Jones), are suspicious about his credentials, and try to learn more. Meanwhile, Preston gets help from his friend (Buddy Hackett) in convincing the townsfolk — including the mayor’s wife (Hermione Gingold) the four members of the school board (The Buffalo Bills), Marian’s mother (Pert Kelton), and Marian’s little brother (Ronnie Howard) — that they have untapped musical talents, and helps a teenager (Timmy Everett) woo the mayor’s daughter (Susan Lockey). But will the arrival of a rival anvil salesman (Harry Hickox) ruin both Preston’s financial plans and his growing romance with Marian?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Con-Artists
  • Morality Police
  • Musicals
  • Robert Preston Films
  • Salesmen
  • Shirley Jones Films
  • Small Town America

Review:
Robert Preston reprised his Tony Award-winning role in this colorful Technirama adaptation of the Broadway musical, directed by Morton DaCosta (who earlier helmed Aunt Mame — not listed in GFTFF). It’s filled with enjoyable musical acts, beginning with a trainful of salesmen chant-singing “Rock Island” while getting us instantly up to speed on who the infamously slippery “music man” (currently going by the moniker “Professor Hall”) really is:

From there, nearly every song cleverly moves the narrative forward. “Iowa Stubborn,” for instance, shows us the temperament of the conservative town Hall has come to visit and work with:

Oh, there’s nothing halfway,
About the Iowa way to treat you,
When we treat you,
Which we may not do at all!

… and once Hall discovers the town’s Achilles heel (the arrival of a brand new billiards table), he exploits it to the nth degree (as sung in “Ya Got Trouble”):

Friend, either you’re closing your eyes
To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated
By the presence of a pool table in your community.

Jones and her mother and brother enter the picture next, and we come to understand she’s seeking a romantic partner, but not just anyone — rather, with that special “someone” who she sings goodnight to (“Goodnight, My Someone”).

Hall excites the town with the idea of a band (“76 Trombones”), and then sets to work flattering and machinating like crazy. We see the magic of his “Think System” as he miraculously pulls together a barbershop quartet:

… then listens to a gaggle of self-righteous women talk trash about Marian the Librarian while singing the hilarious “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little”, interwoven with dialogue:

Maud (Sara Seegar): Professor, her kind of woman doesn’t belong on any committee. Of course I shouldn’t tell you this but she advocates dirty books.

Hall: Dirty books?

Alma (Adnia Rice): Chaucer!

Maud: Rabelais!

Eulalie (Gingold): BALZAC!

(Never before have I thought about this French author’s name in such a provocative way…)

In “The Sadder But Wiser Girl”, Hill shares his preference for “women with experience” (which he wrongly believes Marian is):

I can tell you that right now
I snarl, I hiss: How can ignorance be compared to bliss?
I spark, I fizz for the lady who knows what time it is
I cheer, I rave for the virtue I’m too late to save.

— and we then see Marian in her workplace, noting how easily Hall can distract her and cause a ruckus while singing “Marian the Librarian”:

The second half of the film is less exciting, but still has a few more infectious numbers to come — including “Gary, Indiana”:

… “The Wells Fargo Wagon” (featuring cutely lisping Ronnie Howard):

… and barbershop quartet “Lida Rose” deftly woven with “Will I Ever Tell You?”:

Other notable highlights include Hermione Gingold’s amusingly colorful performance as the mayor’s wife:

… Pert Kelton as Marian’s concerned but loving mother:

… and Timmy Everett’s* impressive dancing (seen here during “The Shipoopee” — not a personal favorite, but the choreography’s fun):

The film’s fantastical finale has been oft-discussed, and may or may not seem like the best choice possible — but it brings the film to a rousing, feel-good close:

While it’s over-long and could have benefited from some trimming, this enjoyably filmed musical remains worth a look.

* Everett tragically died in his sleep at the age of 38 from an apparent heart attack; he never married.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Robert Preston as Harold Hill
  • Many enjoyable musical numbers
  • Fine Technirama cinematography


Must See?
Yes, for Preston’s performance and the enjoyable songs. Selected in 2005 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Categories

  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

Links:

Ship of Fools (1965)

Ship of Fools (1965)

“There’s prejudice everywhere; it does no good to give it back.”

Synopsis:
On a passenger ship travelling from Mexico to Germany in 1933 — with hundreds of displaced workers packed into steerage — numerous dramas unfold on the main deck: the ship’s doctor (Oskar Werner) falls for a drug-addicted Cuban countess (Simone Signoret) who is being sent to a Spanish prison; an artist (George Segal) and his upper-class girlfriend (Elizabeth Ashley) wonder if their relationship will last; an anti-semitic businessman (Jose Ferrer) praises the rise of fascism while a dwarf (Michael Dunn) and a Jew (Heinz Ruehmann) sit at a separate dining table; an aging beauty (Vivien Leigh) laments her stage of life; and a former baseball player (Lee Marvin) with a drinking problem can’t stop talking about his failures.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • At Sea
  • George Segal Films
  • Jose Ferrer Films
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Simone Signoret Films
  • Stanley Kramer Films
  • Vivien Leigh Films

Review:
Stanley Kramer directed this adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter’s 1962 allegorical novel about a group of disparate individuals seeking elusive happiness prior to the second World War. It’s notable for featuring Vivien Leigh in her final performance, though her role is minimal:

More front-and-center is the shipboard romance between Signoret and Werner, which is both believable and absorbing:

Unfortunately, numerous other sub-plots litter the screenplay, ranging from annoying (i.e., Ashley and Segal’s “tortured” romance):

… to racist (nearly all darker-skinned characters are portrayed as prostitutes or unwashed masses):

… to insufficiently built out (i.e., Marvin’s troubled past):

As DVD Savant describes this film in his review, “very little happens besides talk. Most of the actors state their woes in position speeches and many scene-pairings amount to little.” Of minor interest is the role played by Ruehmann, who is given some of the film’s most hopeful lines:

… but overall the film is a disappointment.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Oskar Werner as Dr. Schumann
  • Simone Signoret as La Condesa
  • Ernest Laszlo’s Oscar-winning cinematography

Must See?
No, though it may be worth a one-time look simply for Werner and Signoret’s performances.

Links:

Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)

Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)

“What else am I supposed to know how to do besides fight?”

Synopsis:
When an aging boxer (Anthony Quinn) is required to quit for his own safety, his manager (Jackie Gleason) — in hock to a ruthless gambling boss (Ma Greeny) — tries to convince him to turn to demeaning work as a costumed wrestler. With support from his kind trainer (Mickey Rooney), Mountain (Quinn) reaches out to an employment agent (Julie Harris) who begins to fall for him, and helps him get an interview as a camp counselor — but will Gleason support Mountain in his career shift, or try to sabotage him for his own gain?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anthony Quinn Films
  • Boxing
  • Gambling
  • Has Beens
  • Julie Harris Films
  • Mickey Rooney Films

Review:
Rod Serling wrote the Emmy-winning Playhouse 90 teleplay upon which this adaptation — originally starring Jack Palance — was based. Quinn is perfectly cast as a punch-drunk fighter named Mountain whose blurred vision after his final fight (against Cassius Clay!) serves as the opening sequence:


We can understand Mountain’s loyalty to “Maish”, played with cool conviction by Gleason (likely building upon his similar characterization of Minnesota Fats in The Hustler) — and it’s refreshing seeing Rooney playing a supporting role in which he’s purely sympathetic:

Harris is fine as a well-meaning employment agent who finds herself caught up in the pathos of Quinn’s predicament; while it’s unclear whether their nascent romance will be feasible or not, it’s easy to see how and why she would want to help him.

Adding to the film’s menacing atmosphere is a unique turn by Madame Spivy (recognizable as a member of the “garden party” scene in The Manchurian Candidate) as a cigar-puffing heavy in a trenchcoat:

Meanwhile, Arthur Ornitz’s cinematography bathes the entire storyline in an effectively seamy light — and the film’s downbeat ending feels both appropriate and realistic. This one isn’t must-see, but remains worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Anthony Quinn as Mountain Rivera
  • Jackie Gleason as Maish
  • Julie Harris as Grace
  • Mickey Rooney as Army
  • Arthur Ornitz’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing.

Links:

South Pacific (1958)

South Pacific (1958)

“When all you care about is here, this is a good place to be.”

Synopsis:
In the South Pacific during World War II, a widowed French plantation owner (Rosanno Brazzi) falls in love with a much-younger Navy nurse (Mitzi Gaynor) who can’t shake her racist horror about his former wife being Tonkinese. Meanwhile, a young lieutenant (John Kerr) who has fallen in love with the beautiful daughter (France Nuyen) of a Tonkinese entrepeneur (Juanita Hall) enlists reluctant Brazzi’s help in the war effort.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cross-Cultural Romance
  • Joshua Logan Films
  • May-December Romance
  • Musicals
  • Play Adaptations
  • Racism and Race Relations
  • South Seas Islands
  • Widows and Widowers
  • World War II

Review:
Joshua Logan directed this adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s enormously popular Broadway musical, based on a series of tales by James Michener. The songs remain as catchy as ever, and viewers will be hard-pressed not to start humming “Some Enchanted Evening”, “Bali Ha’i”, or “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” as they watch:

With that said, many of the lyrics remain uncomfortably non-P.C., racy, and/or dated. Consider these lines from one of the opening tunes, “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame”:

We feel restless, we feel blue
We feel lonely and in brief
We feel every kind of feeling
But the feeling of relief.

I was watching this sequence with my 13-year-old daughter and had to pause the recording to talk with her about women being objectified in this song, and how it reflects dated notions of what was considered acceptable at the time. Meanwhile, the notion of an exotic island (Bali Ha’i) where non-local men can have all their desires met will be distressing to more sensitized modern audiences:

… and the following lyrics from “Bloody Mary” provide further evidence of how “othered” Pacific Islanders were at the time:

Bloody Mary’s chewin’ betel nuts.
She is always chewin’ betel nuts.
Bloody Mary’s chewin’ betel nuts.
And she don’t use Pepsodent!
Now ain’t that too damn bad!

… though at least I was able to talk with my daughter about what a strong female-of-color Bloody Mary is, providing sustainable work for locals rather than forcing them to give in to exploitative wages by whites. On the other hand, Bloody Mary essentially marketing her beautiful, non-English-speaking daughter to Kerr may be pragmatic but is still deeply discomfiting:

Back to “mere” sexism, “Honey Bun” — sung by Gaynor in a sailor suit to a crowd of horny sailors — is also quite racy and objectifying, though adults will be able to appreciate it within its context as wartime entertainment:

My doll is as dainty as a sparrow,
Her figure is somethin’ to applaud.
Where she’s narrow she’s as narrow an arrow,
And she’s broad where a broad should be broad.

A hundred and one pounds of fun,
That’s my little honey bun!
Get a load of honey bun tonight.

She’s my baby, I’m her pap!
I’m her booby, she’s my trap!
I am caught and I don’t wanna run,
‘Cause I’m havin’ so much fun with honey bun!

I remember catching snippets of South Pacific on television as a kid, but never fully engaging (which is odd, given my childhood love of beautifully colored musicals). Speaking of colors, even director Logan hated the use of too-obvious filters, which are distracting rather than enhancing:

However, what was most interesting to me upon this adult revisit is how the theme of inter-racial romance is handled, with both Gaynor (as Nellie) and Kerr (as Lt. Cable) unable — at least initially — to move beyond their toxic xenophobia in the face of love. Lt. Cable tries to explain his feelings to Nellie:

Lt. Cable: All the time I’ve been in the hospital with that darn malaria, I haven’t been able to see anything but her face. I love her, and… What kind of a guy am I, anyway? I love her, and yet I said I couldn’t marry her, and… I don’t understand myself. If I love her, why don’t I marry her, and stay here, and…

Nellie: You’re just far away from home, Joe. We’re both far away from home.

Lt. Cable: But it doesn’t make sense!

Nellie: Oh yes, it does… I guess it does, anyway. I guess people like us — well, we just have to go back to where we belong.

Ultimately, South Pacific becomes a story about individuals overcoming their entrenched failings — racism, cowardice, lack of desire to support war efforts — and emerging slightly better than before, which isn’t a terrible moral to absorb. However, this film (and the play more broadly) must be viewed through a critical historicized lens in order to appreciate its highlights while wrestling with its many challenges.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Leon Shamroy’s cinematography

  • Numerous memorable songs

  • Juanita Hall as Bloody Mary

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look for its historical significance and the (mostly) enjoyable songs.

Links:

Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, The (1961)

Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, The (1961)

“The whole world — the stars… Everything is drifting. Is it so bad to drift?”

Synopsis:
When her older husband (John Phillips) dies during a trip to Italy, an aging actress (Vivien Leigh) sets up a home for herself in Rome and befriends a crafty Contessa (Lotte Lenye) who procures a handsome young lover (Warren Beatty) for her.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Expatriates
  • May-December Romance
  • Prostitutes and Gigolos
  • Tennessee Williams Films
  • Vivien Leigh Films
  • Warren Beatty Films
  • Widows and Widowers

Review:
Vivien Leigh (in her next-to-last big screen role) is perfectly cast in this adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ novel about an aging actress who finally allows herself to be seduced by a young gigolo, fooling herself (somewhat) into believing he loves her.

While Leigh’s sensitive portrayal is fine and nuanced, Beatty reveals his lack of acting experience by giving a fairly terrible performance — though at least he comes across as authentically obnoxious:

There’s not much to the storyline other than watching a reasonably likable, self-sufficient woman (Leigh is clear on what she wants for herself) being taken for a ride by manipulative bastards — so your enjoyment of this film will depend entirely on whether you’re up for this kind of narrative playing out. The film is also notable for featuring stage actress Lotte Lenya in one of her very few screen roles, and she’s quite effective:

Note: Lenya is likely best known to film fanatics for playing villainous Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love (1963), but she also starred (much earlier) in G.W. Pabst’s adaptation of her husband Kurt Weill’s Three Penny Opera (1931).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Vivien Leigh as Karen Stone (nominated as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
  • Lotte Lenya as Contessa Magda
  • Fine production design and cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look for Leigh’s performance. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)

Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)

“If a guy can be enough things in this business, he can make a living.”

Synopsis:
Vaudeville actor Lon Chaney (Jimmy Cagney) hides the fact that his parents (Celia Lovsky and Nolan Leary) are deaf from his pregnant wife Cleva (Dorothy Malone), who panics when she meets them from fear of genetic transmission. Soon Lon and Cleva — whose son Creighton (Rickie Sorensen) has been born completely healthy — find themselves drifting apart, and Cleva seeks fulfillment by renewing her singing career; but Lon wants her home with their child and sabotages her career, sending her into a mental health crisis. Eventually Lon shifts to a career in silent film and marries a loyal chorus girl (Jane Greer) who provides a stable, loving home for their family — but will now-grown Creighton (Roger Smith) forgive his father for lying about the true status of his mother?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Actors and Actresses
  • Biopics
  • Deafness
  • Dorothy Malone Films
  • James Cagney Films
  • Jane Greer Films
  • Marital Problems
  • Vaudeville and Burlesque

Review:
As with most Hollywood biopics, this homage to silent screen star Lon Chaney, Sr. plays fast and furious with the facts, but manages to convey enough of this complicated actor’s thorny personal life and intriguing career that we remain engaged throughout.

While Malone is posited as the villainess of the story (how can she be so bigoted against kind Lovsky and Leary?!):


… we despise Cagney for withholding such crucial information from her, especially at a time when deafness was societally stigmatized. Meanwhile, we’re shown how irrational his desire to have Malone stay at home with their child is, given that Sorensen is a well-adjusted lad with plenty of support — particularly from the infinitely noble and patient Greer (talk about casting against type!) who is literally waiting in the wings.

Most interesting to film fanatics, however, will be numerous sequences of Lon using his skills with make-up to disappear into a variety of characters, eventually making a name for himself as the “man of a thousand faces” in films such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923):

The Phantom of the Opera (1925):

… and The Unholy Three (1930) (Chaney’s first talkie and last film):

Watch for Robert Evans in an appropriately stiff performance as young Irving Thalberg:

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • James Cagney as Lon Chaney, Sr.
  • Dorothy Malone as Cleva
  • Russell Metty’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for its historical value and for Cagney’s performance.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links:

Fallen Idol, The (1948)

Fallen Idol, The (1948)

“Don’t worry, Baines; I won’t tell them anything.”

Synopsis:
The young son (Robert Henrey) of a French ambassador in London is cared for by a kind butler named Baines (Ralph Richardson) and his mean wife (Sonia Dresdel) — but when he stumbles upon Baines (Richardson) with his mistress (Michele Morgan), Phile (Henrey) becomes caught in a web of confusing secrets.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carol Reed Films
  • Childhood
  • Falsely Accused
  • Marital Problems
  • Ralph Richardson Films
  • Servants, Maids, and Housekeepers

Review:
In between helming Odd Man Out (1947) and The Third Man (1949), Carol Reed directed this compelling thriller — based on a short story by Grahame Greene — about a young boy facing countless adult lies and deception. Non-actor Henrey was coached and supported by Reed throughout every scene, and gives a wonderfully natural performance:

Richardson is also in fine form as a kind but all-too-human man stuck between a rock and a hard place, with a shrewish wife so awful:

… we can easily forgive him for seeking solace from Morgan. Perhaps most impressive, however, is the way Reed — working with DP George Perinal — manages to make this very much a picture told from a child’s perspective, both literally and figuratively:

Viewers will likely flash back to their own childhoods, when we were forced to observe strange events and actions by adults who may have been well-meaning:

… but wrongly believed we (kids) were peripheral to their concerns. Such an assumption proves to be woefully misguided in this particular story, with the life-or-death narrative hinging on Henrey’s guileless attempts to simply follow the instructions he’s been given while managing his very-real fears and misunderstandings. The Fallen Idol — so-named due to young Phile looking up to his ultimately imperfect father-figure, Baines — remains a tense, well-acted, atmospherically filmed movie, one which should certainly be seen by all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Ralph Richardson as Baines (nominated as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
  • Bobby Henrey as Phile
  • Georges Perinal’s cinematography


Must See?
Yes, as a powerful classic by a master director.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director

Links: