July 2021 Quickie Film Reviews

JUly 2021 BREAKDOWN
  • 42 films/series total
  • 20 new classic films
  • 12 re-watches
  • 4 new TV series
  • 2 foreign films

Biggest Disappointment: A Song is Born

Favorite Discovery:  The Big Country, Let Freedom Ring

Most Watched Actors/Actresses: Van Johnson

Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries Season 2 (2021)– Though I wasn’t crazy about the story line for Peregrine and Detective James Steed, I do love the added focus on their relationship. The episodes were shorter so the mysteries took a back seat to the relationships, but I didn’t mind. I do like that we get to see more of James’ background in this season.

The Chosen Season 2 ( 2021)– I really appreciate how this series provides a new context for Biblical stories and people. This is still my favorite portrayal of Jesus that I’ve seen onscreen. This season continues with great character development and introduction of new characters.

Miss Scarlet and the Duke (2020) – Even though I saw this series earlier this year, I wanted to watch it again. It’s interesting how good stories like this can give me a better understanding of myself. Miss Scarlet is a progressive woman, ahead of her time. I found myself agreeing with many of her arguments, but also frustrated by her actions in pursuing her chosen career. I realized I see things as they are and accept them. I’m not one to push boundaries, but she sees things as they could be and refuses to accept cultural limitations.

Three Men and a Baby (1987) – Though I don’t enjoy this comedy as much as its’ sequel, I still find it very entertaining. I love the guys’ friendship. The humor is provided realistically by these three playboys learning cold turkey how to take care of a baby and I found it sweet how each of them became attached to her.

The Bride Goes Wild (1948) – I’m ambivalent about both Van Johnson and June Allyson, but really enjoyed them together in this romantic comedy about a boozy children’s book author and his strait-laced illustrator. I think the addition of Butch Jenkins as an orphan who pretends to be Johnson’s son really added interest and humor to an otherwise average story. I also enjoyed seeing Hume Cronyn and Una Merkel in supporting roles.

Slander (1957) – This drama takes a hard look at the impact of a celebrity gossip magazine, not only on the lives of those exposed, but also of the owner and his family. Steve Cochran plays the heartless owner of the magazine whose own mother is ashamed of his work. Van Johnson and Ann Blythe give heartbreaking performances of a married couple whose lives are turned upside down when Cochran blackmails Johnson for info on an even bigger celebrity. This tragic drama felt extremely prescient and modern considering this is an issue that we still see playing out today.

The Trouble with Angels (1966) – This is only my second time watching this fun comedy starring Hayley Mills and Rosalind Russell. I liked it even more this time around. Mills and her loyal sidekick at the convent school have such fun adventures and rebellions. I’ve long had a soft spot for Mills and this is quickly becoming one of my favorite of her films. It gives her a bit more personality than some of her prior Disney films.

Faith, Hope & Love (2019) – Though I found this family style romance on Netflix, it has the feel of a Hallmark film. I was drawn by the story of a widowed dad and a divorced woman competing in a dance competition. The actor was so likeable and though the main actress was played by dancer Peta Murgatroyd, she managed her role well. But the film was very uneven, with many cheesy moments that almost made me stop watching.

Three Strangers (1946) – What an unusual film this was. It’s one of many pairings of Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre who are also joined by Margaret LIndsey as three complete strangers who bind their fate together when they agree to gamble on a lottery ticket. It was compelling and completely unpredictable and the only time I’ve seen Lorre play a romantic interest.

Crooks Anonymous (1962) – An interesting and entertaining British comedy which was also Julie Christie’s film debut. Christie is the girlfriend of a con man/crook whom she refuses to marry unless he goes straight. The problem is stealing is a compulsion he can’t control. Luckily, the organization Crooks Anonymous promises them both that they can reform him. (using some very unusual methods.) But after his reform, temptation comes calling. It is a fun picture with a few surprises to keep things intriguing.

Three Men and a Little Lady (1990) – This sequel is much more familiar to me than the original for some reason. Maybe because it is my favorite of the two. I love the unique family set up which proves all the adults love for little Mary. She is the cutest! I love the camaraderie of the three men acting as her father. The cast is wonderful together and I appreciate the humor added by the elderly, senile butler and the romance starved head-mistress.

A Song is Born (1948) – It’s hard to believe that Howard Hawks is responsible for this lackluster remake of Ball of Fire.  The first thirty minutes are incredibly dull and the picture is only saved by the presence of Virginia Mayo and that of real life musicians like Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman making music onscreen. The humor in having six old gentlemen as admirers of Mayo’s beautiful dancer is completely wasted and Danny Kaye is flat out dull.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1943) – James Cagney shines in his Oscar winning role as Broadway legend George M. Cohan. Although how they made Joan Leslie look so plain beside him as his wife, I don’t know. This musical was a lot of fun. I knew almost nothing about Cohan, so was happily surprised to learn he was the genius behind some great patriotic songs, including Over There. Some of his dance numbers astonished me at how quickly his feet moved and the unusual style Cohan had of dancing with straight upper legs.

The Vineyard (2021) – There is a lot to love about this international historical drama about two families who find their lives colliding.  The costumes are nice, the settings in London, Cuba, Mexico and Spain are like a beautiful travelogue. I love the slow-burning romance between the wo middle-age leads.  The villains are a bit cliche though and it takes half the series for things to get really interesting as it spends the first five episode building the back story. I do hope there is a season 2 so we can see even more character and story development

Battleground (1949) – If this WWII film about the battle of Bastogne doesn’t turn you off to the idea of war, then there’s no hope for you. It portrays all the mundane, boredom of waiting, the discouragement over lack of food and supplies, the danger of illness and weather and the camaraderie and emotional fortitude of men who follow orders at the expense of their lives. Of all the war films I’ve seen, this is the only one which features a winter setting and I think I would rather face an enemy gun than the extreme cold.

Man With the Gun (1955) – How have I never heard about this Robert Mitchum western before? It’s sparse, violent and tells an interesting story in a short time. Mitchum plays Mitchum as a man quick with a gun who is hired to rescue a town from the iron grip of a wealthy landowner. But what no one knows is he is also on the trail of his estranged wife who just so happens to be working there as a madam.

Let Freedom Ring (1939) – I wasn’t expecting much from this western-musical mashup, but was happily surprised. This is my first Nelson Eddy film and although he wasn’t quite credible as a son of the west who returns from law school in the east to stand up to the big bad railroad tycoon played by Edward Arnold, he did okay. This story has been told before and better, but a great supporting cast including Virginia Bruce, Lionel Barrymore and Victor MacLaglen really made this a winner for me. MacLaglen’s character was a hoot and definitely my favorite. I also liked how this film explores the corrupt intersection of business and politics and what it means to be an American.

King of the Underworld (1939) – Humphrey Bogart and Kay Francis star in this programmer about a female doctor whose husband is killed while treating a gangster. She must then track this gangster down to clear her own name with the police. This is just another rote gangster role for Bogey, but I do like seeing Francis play strong career women.

The Music Man (1962) – Well, I finally got around to watching this well- know musical. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. The music was interesting and some times catchy. Robert Preston was mesmerizing as the con-man who comes to town to sell a product and then run. I couldn’t get over why a strait-laced character like Shirley Jones librarian could respect and stand up for an admitted liar and thief however. Also, I honestly wish this had been a bit shorter.

Behind Office Doors (1931) – Mary Astor shines as the secretary who engineers her boss’ rise to President of the company because of her secret love for him. Although why she was in love with him is a mystery to me and somewhat took away from my respect for her character. She was the true brains of the company. I wish this drama had explored a bit more her relationship with her married admirer played by Ricardo Cortez.

They Won’t Believe Me (1947) – I’ve heard a lot of great things about this film noir about a married man who can’t be faithful to his wife or his girlfriends. Robert Young is the perfect casting for this weak man who nonetheless preys on women for his own benefit. I find the most chilling kinds of villains are the ones who aren’t as obvious, ones you don’t suspect because their mild manners belie their corrupt hearts. Young’s female co-stars all make the most of their supporting roles. Unfortunately, my DVR cut off the recording a couple minutes before the end, and I couldn’t find it anywhere else to finish it. So I had to read about it online.

Sweet & Sour (2021) – I’m still mulling over this Netflix Korean drama. It’s a love story and yet it isn’t. It’s realistic in it’s portrayal of how the demands of work and exhaustion affect a young couple’s relationship. But there is a twist at the end that I’m still trying to wrap my mind around. A very unusual story.

The Big Country (1958) – Wow! What a stunning Western. My fear about it’s length was unfounded as it kept me engrossed the whole time. The cinematography is stunning with it’s wide vistas of “the big country” in which two old families are locked in a battle over water rights, kind of like the Hatfields and McCoys, though not quite as deadly. There’s not a bad performance in the bunch from this cast of pros including Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Charles Bickford, Jean Simmons and even Carroll Baker whom I generally have a low tolerance for. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I like this even better than Giant, another long, big budget Western.

Sadie McKee (1934) – I have to take Joan Crawford in doses, but this is one of my favorites of her films. Not only because she’s really wonderful as a blue collar woman who marries into wealth out of revenge, but because her character isn’t your stereotypical gold-digger. She really cares. She’s well supported by Edward Arnold, Franchot Tone and Gene Raymond as the men in her life who all get decent time in their roles. You can see Crawford and Tone’s chemistry as this was made right before they married. And this is an unusual role for Arnold who plays a wealthy but weak drunkard as he generally played shrewd, even cruel businessmen.

The Mayor of 44th Street (1942) – There is nothing special about this little drama. George Murphy and Anne Shirley star and although they are both likable, they are also both very bland. Murphy’s character is a man who has gone straight and is now the head of a successful music business. His criminal past tries to drag him down when he’s gullible enough to try to help a young hoodlum as well as his former crime boss.

Nora Prentiss (1947) – Aside from a compelling performance by Ann Sheridan as the title character, I just wasn’t in the mood for this one. I did appreciate how her character, a nightclub singer, was not just another cliche onscreen. But the story line of an upright doctor who spirals out of control after falling for Sheridan, frustrated me.

This Little Love of Mine (2021) – This Netflix flick about an attorney who reconnects with her childhood home and friends very much resembles a Hallmark film. It’s sweet, predictable and cheesy at times. However, the sincerity of the two main actors really had me liking this one.

Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog (1961) – Based on the true story of dog who’s loyalty to his dead master made him a beloved institution in Edinburgh. It starts out slow and sad, but ends up being not only funny but also a real feel good picture.  It’s definitely one of Disney’s underrated films.

The Woman in Red (1935) – Barbara Stanwyck elevates any film she is in. Case in point, she brings gravitas and intensity to her character portrayal here as a female jockey who ends up marrying a broke scion of an important family.

His Brother’s Wife (1936) – Really, the only reason this oldie is worth watching is because it stars real-life couple Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor together early in their relationship. Otherwise, the plot and pacing are uneven and the story is implausible.

The Ambassador’s Daughter (1956) – Though I had seen this before, I couldn’t remember a thing about it. I felt Olivia deHavilland was too old to play the part of the daughter, but of course she played it well. I loved the tour of 1950’s Paris offered by the movie as well as the supporting cast played by Adolphe Menjou, Edward Arnold and Myrna Loy. Loy had the best part as the wife of the American senator who befriends the ambassador’s daughter. The male lead however was extremely bland and drags down the rest of the cast.

Henry IX (2017) – I really wanted to love this mini-series about a British monarch who wants to abdicate the throne in order to gain personal freedom. It’s a rather cheeky comedy and a creative premise. However, it isn’t as good as it could be because they make the king look like an imbecile who needs constant babysitting.

While You Were Sleeping (1995) – This one never gets old and is one of my life time favorites.  The family scenes are the best, with each character’s personality quirks. Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman are both extremely endearing. And there are so many great one-liners.

Sister Act (1992) – It’s been a while since I’ve seen this so I had forgotten how much fun it is and what a great cast it has. Kathy Najimy had me in stitches as the happy nun. I’ve always loved the music too.

When We Last Spoke (2019) – I never thought I would see little Laura Ingalls aka Melissa Gilbert playing a grandmother as she does in this movie about two sisters who come of age during the Vietnam War. This is both a sweet but also sad story. The flash forwards showing the grown sisters’ estrangement are the weakest parts of the picture.

The Last Letter from Your Lover (2021) – Based on a Jojo Moyes novel, I wasn’t sure what I felt about this time slip film about a modern day reporter who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to a couple whose love letters she discovers. Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley star as the two women separated by decades. Woodley gets the best of it in her role as a neglected wife who begins an affair. Her costumes and the glamourous cinematography were some of my favorite things about this picture. I found Jones character rather unlikeable. The ending is fantastic and really saves the film for me.

Next Time I Marry (1938) – This Lucille Ball comedy about an heiress who marries a stranger so she can get her inheritance was a lot of fun! James Ellison who was never a star, does a good job playing the everyman husband who challenges her when they both race to Reno to be the first to divorce each other.

British Agent (1934) – Directed by Michael Curtiz, this is an interesting drama with some romance sprinkled in. Leslie Howard and Kay Francis are fantastic as lovers who find themselves on opposite sides of a political and idealogical war with him working as a British official inside Russia during WWI and the Russian revolution. That being said, I didn’t always understand what was going on and there were some far-fetched moments.

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969) – This comic western is in the vein of Cat Ballou. Robert Mitchum and George Kennedy are great as an aging marshall and his outlaw nemesis who band together when they realize they have become obsolete. There were some beautiful scenic shots and several times where I laughed out loud. I’m glad I found this lesser known title.

The Emperor’s Candlesticks (1937) – This is the kind of film that only MGM and its’ stable full of stars and glossy camera work could make work.  It’s a cloak and dagger story turned into a tale of two glamorous, socialite spies full of implausibilities. But William Powell is suave as usual and Luise Ranier is all doe-eyed beauty and charm, so who cares. The fun is in watching them and their wonderful supporting cast.

Monkey Business (1952) – It’s been long enough since I last watched this Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers comedy that I had forgotten how funny it is. Of course, the addition of Charles Coburn and Marilyn Monroe as supporting characters doesn’t hurt. I think this is one of both Grant’s and Roger’s better later films.

Photo Source: IMdB, Feature photo: The Big Country
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