January 2021 Quickie Reviews

JANUARY 2021 BREAKDOWN
  • 50 films/series total
  •  19 new classic films
  • 19 re-watches
  • 3 TV series
  • 3 documentaries
  • 2 silent films

Biggest Disappointment – This month is a toss- up among The Woodlanders,  Desperate Search, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Dumbo and If Winter Comes

It Started with Eve

Best DiscoveryThe Wipers Times, It Started with Eve

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019) – Boasting a stellar cast and a beautiful production, I expected better of this Dicken’s adaptation. My only other exposure to this story is the 1935 version produced by MGM and this one falls short by comparison. The plot and pacing feel jumpy and the relationships between the characters are not well developed.

Larceny, Inc. (1942) – This is a cute little crime comedy with Eddie G Robinson, though not extremely memorable. I should write more about it, but I don’t care enough to do so.

McClintock! (1963) – Western comedies like this one are a rarity. Which is a shame, since it is almost absolutely perfect.  Screen duo John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara are fabulous as an estranged couple battling it out. This movie is full of great lines and scenes. One particular sequence that never fails to make me laugh is the outdoor brawl by the slurry pit. I also adore the speech John Wayne gives his adult daughter about why she won’t be inheriting his wealth. It’s one of the best father-daughter scenes on screen.

The Women (1939) – Snarky and acerbic, this film puts the highlight on the hypocrisies and loyalties of female friendships in the best way.  It features most of the biggest female names in cinema for that time and yet somehow, it is Rosalind Russell as the catty, fair-weather friend of Norma Shearer’s main character who steals the show. (Don’t even get me started on the recent remake.)

This Could Be the Night (1957) –  My second time through, and I appreciate even more this unique, underrated film. Jean Simmons stars as a young lady who takes a part time job as a secretary for the owner of a night-club and makes herself an indispensable member of its’ makeshift family.  This movie does a great job avoiding clichés and familiar plots while excellently utilizing a cast without any real headliners.

Keep Your Powder Dry (1945) – This little drama really should be better known. Its’ story about disparate women learning to work together in the WAC’s puts the spotlight on female friendships which is often lacking in film. The cast of Lana Turner, Laraine Day and Susan Peters really makes those relationships look sincere.

Home Town Season 5 – Yay! Ben and Erin are back. This series is always such a bright spot once Christmas is over and it’s just cold, dark and winter. I like the Southern setting and the relationship between the two of them.

The Brokenwood Mysteries Season 5 & 6 – These seasons saw the return of Jarod, one of my favorite characters. I’m still entertained by these people (more so than the mysteries), but I do wish for a bit more character development in the way of background revelations and personal relationships.

The Wipers Times (2013) – A cheeky depiction of a British military company who operate an unsanctioned satirical newspaper on the front lines during WWI. This was a unique story particularly regarding war time. I especially loved the segments where each edition of the paper were presented in black and white similar to a vaudeville act. I highly recommend this wartime dramedy.

Listen, Darling (1938) – A young Judy Garland pairs with child star Freddie Bartholomew in this comedy where they kidnap and try to match-make her mother so she won’t marry for practicality’s sake. Walter Pidgeon and Mary Astor also star. This is fun, but lightweight.

Lord Jeff (1938) Of the three Freddie Bartholomew features I watched this month, I think this is my favorite.  After being used in a criminal enterprise, he is sent to a reform school, where he struggles to make friends. The rest of the cast is good too, particularly Charles Coburn and Mickey Rooney. Watching the boys, who are society rejects in a way, learn new skills, including friendship and trust is what made this a favorite for me.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) – While the 80’s adaptation of this lit classic will always be my favorite, this black and white one is also very good. My second time around, I was even more impressed with Leslie Howard as the main character. The best parts of his performance are subtle and nuanced. But Merle Oberon is rather flat as his wife.

East Side, West Side (1949) – I confused this with another Van Heflin & Barbara Stanwyck pairing, B.F.’s Daughter.  This interpersonal drama which also includes a murder just has too much going on. Too many supporting characters who aren’t that important, too many story lines and way too much meaningless dialogue.  The excellent cast makes it worth sitting through, particularly Ava Gardner as a malicious former mistress.

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) – It took about thirty minutes in before my interest was captured, but this early production about the famous Tudor king is worth watching solely due to Charles Laughton’s performance as the oft married monarch. Though I didn’t love his performance, I also couldn’t take my eyes off of him. The way he delivers the best line of the movie, “the things I do for England” was simply perfection.

Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936) – I didn’t realize this story was written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It definitely has the earmarks of her work; child-centered, sweet, but balanced with hardship. Child star Freddie Bartholomew ably carries the film on his shoulders, but I enjoyed it mostly for character actors C. Aubrey Smith and Henry Stephenson. I was disappointed with Dolores Costello in the role of the mother. I just think her talent was mediocre.

North and South (2004) – It’s a rare thing when an actor so perfectly inhabits a role that he becomes the character, but that’s exactly the case with Richard Armitage’s performance as John Thornton in this mini-series. Like Colin Firth playing Mr. Darcy, he owns it. I never get tired of this series. Another highlight, is the character of Nicholas Higgins (as played by Brendan Coyle) and his interactions with both main characters.

Old Acquaintance (1943) – Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins really are like fire together on the screen. It’s too bad they only made two films together. Of their pairings, I like this best, because of the plot about two best friends who also become rivals but still remain loyal to each other.

Dark of the Sun (1968) -Whew, this film is not for the faint of heart. It’s pretty brutal and not just in it’s portrayal of violence. Originally titled Mercenaries, which is a more accurate description of this story, it depicts a group of hired men who travel to the interior of the Congo to rescue people, but more importantly diamonds, which the President needs to stay in power. Although, the violence isn’t graphic, it still may turn the stomach of some. My personal favorite Rod Taylor does well as the mercenary in charge. His relationship with his black second in command is very well portrayed. Overall, it’s an interesting look at how internal and international politics and policies often come at the expense of everyday people.

My Reputation (1946) – You can’t go wrong with a Barbara Stanwyck movie, but this is not my favorite of her pairings with George Brent. However, I do like it’s take on Stanwyck’s journey from a women who follows the rules of her society to one who learns to be true to herself.

Men Are Not Gods (1936) – I still can’t quite figure out what it is about Miriam Hopkins that fascinates me. More often that not, she comes off shrill and manic in her pictures. I didn’t really like this story of art imitating life in which she ends up in a love triangle with a Shakespearean actor and his wife that somewhat resembles Othello. But still…she captivates the screen.

Cash McCall (1960) – James Garner is a bit too lackadaisical to be believed as a corporate raider, but I don’t care. He’s charming, handsome and smart as the title character who’s most recent acquisition may be motivated by the fact that he is in love with the owner’s daughter. Garner and Natalie Wood have an easy chemistry together. I like how her character stands up to his and is a person in her own right, besides serving as a love interest.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992) – Can you believe I’d never seen this before a couple of years ago? My second viewing cemented my opinion that this is one of the best movies of our time. The cinematography is stunning. I love all the outdoor shots which are like a visual love letter to the land.

Along Came Jones (1945) I feel like I’d seen this Western comedy before, but couldn’t remember a thing about it. Loretta Young is gorgeous and I appreciate seeing her in a role that is very different than most she’s done. Gary Cooper looked like he was having fun spoofing himself as a Western character.

The Red Badge of Courage (1951) – This well-regarded Civil War drama directed by John Huston really made me feel like I was in the midst of the action…or lack of action. Of all the films I’ve seen and books I’ve read over the years about this war, it gave the best portrayal of what it was really like. I think Huston’s choice not to use marquee names was smart as the characters felt like everymen.

The Divorce of Lady X (1938) – I liked this British comedy much better the second time around. Having just seen Merle Oberon in an underwhelming performance in The Scarlet Pimpernel, I found her much more engaging here as the lady who bedevils Laurence Olivier’s character. I know Olivier is considered a great actor, but I rarely enjoy his films. However, he comes off much better in a comedy where his character is completely befuddled and lacking control of what happens to him.

Three Smart Girls (1936) – Boasting a plot which has been used before about three sisters who try to re-unite their parents, this film left me with mixed feelings.  I was initially turned off by Deanna Durbin’s performance early in the film, but once I focused on the other actors and the various threads of the plot, I liked it better.  The best part of this comedy is Alice Brady with her extravagant gowns and gesticulating hands as the mother of the woman the girls’ father is planning to marry.

The Lost Civilizations of North America (2010) – I feel the title of this documentary is a bit deceiving. I was expecting to learn more about these civilizations. Instead, this doc focuses on the reasons the history and artifacts have disappeared and the arguments archaeologists and anthropologists have regarding the validity of that history. It was informative, but disappointing.

Churchill and the Movie Mogul (2019) – An exceptionally educational and fascinating look at the relationship between Winston Churchill and Alexander Korda and how they worked together to create propaganda films to stir up sympathy for the British during WWII. This touches on the depths of their talents and motivations and great love for England.  I enjoyed seeing film and interview clips of some of Korda’s stars including Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard. The presentation of the material was well done, keeping me engaged with the content. It also raised an internal debate for me about the moral ramifications of using films as propaganda. I highly recommend this documentary.

Finding Your Roots – Henry Louis Gates Jr. has to be the most amiable series host on television. He asks great open-ended questions of his guests and does a great job communicating the historical context that their ancestors lived in. But sometimes, I feel the narrative of each episode has an agenda. I also feel like these more recent seasons share less ancestral stories then were featured in the past.

Woman Chases Man (1937) – Joel McCrea and Miriam Hopkins made several films together and had some really fun chemistry in this comedy. McCrea plays the straight man to Hopkins comic foil. There’s no denying the plot is silly, but who cares. I particularly love the sequence at the end with everyone up in a tree.

Splendor(1935) – Miriam Hopkins gives one of her most natural performances as a poor woman who marries into an old money family whose greed manipulates her into making an awful sacrifice for her husband’s sake.

If Winter Comes (1947) – This British film starts out strong and boasts a great cast including Walter Pidgeon, Deborah Kerr, Angela Lansbury and a young Janet Leigh. It revolves around the saintly Pidgeon whose kindness to Leigh makes him a pariah in his community. It’s interesting comparing the kind of story you see in an American film in a British setting. I loved the little village and the adulation of the lesser folk for Pidgeon, but the judgement and cruelty of the townspeople was all a bit much for me.

Desperate Search (1952) – I was looking forward to seeing Howard Keel in this dramatic role about a pilot whose children are lost in the wilderness after a plane crash. But, he seems unable to express emotion except when he’s fighting with his ex-wife or treating his current wife like a burden. Jane Greer gets to play nice as the second wife who genuinely cares for her husband and his children. The scenes with the children surviving on their own are extremely far-fetched, especially at their ages and the young girl spends the whole movie crying and whining.

Turnabout (1940) – This body switch comedy between feuding spouses takes a while to get going. But once the switch is made, it becomes absolutely hilarious. Watching the gorgeous Carole Landis act like a man is jarring, but  John Hubbard’s performance as a woman is even funnier. One of my favorite character actors Donald Meek gets a larger than usual role for which I can only be thankful.

Reckless (1935) – Considering this stars real life couple Jean Harlow and William Powell, I expected better. Their chemistry feels less romantic and more like siblings. The best interactions come between Powell and May Robson, who plays Harlow’s onscreen grandmother. Another problem with this film is that Harlow seems to be acting in a drama while Powell gives a more comedic performance.

The Woodlanders (1997) – I should have known with this story being adapted from a Thomas Hardy novel, that it would be depressing. The fact that I couldn’t get invested in any of the characters didn’t help. But the setting is beautiful.

Fanchon the Cricket (1915) – The only film starring all three Pickford siblings, this is adapted from a George Sand novel. Mary Pickford is undeniably winsome when she plays waifish characters like this woodland outcast. Considered lost for years, I’m so glad it was found and restored, however the film score is jarring and does not match the action which is a real distraction.

The Red Kimona (1925) – A morality tale about a young woman lured into prostitution, who after shooting the man who ruined her life, tries to go straight, but the world won’t let her. I feel I can’t accurately judge this film as I was distracted while watching it.

The White Angel (1936) – A glowing biopic of Florence Nightingale’s beginning as a nurse and through her service in the Crimean War. I’m not sure how factual this film is, but casting Kay Francis as Nightingale was an interesting choice that eventually grew on me. You don’t often see Francis in period pieces, but she portrayed Nightingale with great purpose, strength of will and discipline.

Narnia’s Lost Poet: The Secret Lives and Loves of C.S Lewis (2013) – This documentary gives an interesting perspective on Lewis life as it argues how that life was shaped by the women he loved.  Although it glosses over the end of his life and his relationship with his wife, overall it gives a good cursory introduction to Lewis. The narrator is clearly passionate about his subject and I enjoyed his presentation of Lewis life as he visited the places Lewis himself experienced significant life events.

The Right to Live (1935) – I watched this for George Brent, but it turns out, his role is a supporting one and rather bland. However, all is not lost as Josephine Hutchinson gives a wonderful performance as a woman who slowly starts to fall for her husband’s brother when her husband becomes paralyzed. I’ve seen her in one other film and she is a very good actress. It’s sad that she didn’t become better known.

The Iron Mistress (1952) – Alan Ladd plays Jim Bowie in this “biographical” film. Ladd looks haggard and though it comes with good reviews, I didn’t find this movie all that entertaining. Virginia Mayo looks gorgeous and has beautiful costumes though as the woman Ladd is in love with.

It Started with Eve (1941) – Deanna Durbin is hit or miss with me, but this comedy of hers is definitely a hit. This may be my favorite performance of Charles Laughton, who plays a wealthy, dying man who wants to see his son married, not realizing that Durbin is a stand-in for his son’s real fianceé.  Laughton and Durbin have delightful chemistry together.

Zandy’s Bride (1974) – Hmm, I have mixed feelings about this mail-order bride story. Gene Hackman is the man who lives in a remote location and sends off for a bride. But he treats her terribly. Which is probably close to the reality historically for this type of situation. Unfortunately,  it doesn’t make for an enjoyable film. The dialogue is sparse, but the shots of coastal California are gorgeous.

The Blue Dahlia (1946) – I’ve been re-watching many of the Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake pairings lately and I now believe this to be the weaker of the bunch, mainly because Lake’s character really doesn’t seem to serve much purpose. The focus is and should have remained on the men in the film. Still, it’s fun to watch the two of them together.

Dumbo (2019) – I remember why I didn’t enjoy the original Dumbo much. It’s pretty much the same with this remake. I just find the story sad and cruel. The computer generated Dumbo is adorable, however.

Small Town Girl (1953) – A  good cast saves this film for me, but not by much, especially when I compare it to the original with Janet Gaynor. Plus, I feel the story was good as it was without adding a bunch of unnecessary musical numbers solely for the purpose of showcasing the stars’ talents. Farley Granger is the weakest link as the male lead.

The Chase (1966) – I remember being impressed with this melodrama, but had forgotten how seedy it really is. The cast is great, many of them at the beginning of their careers. Marlon Brando gives a superb performance as the sheriff of a small town that unravels when they find out their favorite scapegoat has escaped from prison. Robert Redford and Jane Fonda also co-star, but are so beautiful as to be distracting. The film explores, classism, racism, and the hypocrisy of small town morals.

The Red Pony (1949) –  What a sweetly moving family film about a young boy’s love for his pony and his coming of age. Based on a story by John Steinbeck, it pays homage to “simpler” times and features gorgeous cinematography. It also has an excellent cast with Myrna Loy, Louis Calhern and Robert Mitchum all supporting the young ginger haired Tom Miles.

The Taming of the Shrew (1929) – I’ve never been a big fan of this story. But as it is the only time Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Mary Pickford starred together, I had to watch it. The film quality is not great and Pickford’s performance is mediocre. I’m starting to think she could only play one type of role. But the last fifteen minutes were quite entertaining and had me laughing as her Katherine figures out Petruchio’s game and turns it against him.

DNF’dHoneymoon Hotel, Our Mutual Friend, The Cat’s Meow, A Suitable Boy 

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