November 2018 Film Quickie Reviews

Well, November was an interesting month in film for me. Thanks to a busier schedule with the holidays and a plethora of new Hallmark Christmas movies to keep up with, I didn’t watch as many classics as I normally do.

Picture: IMDb Jack Lemmon and Glenn Ford in Cowboy

This month I managed to watch nineteen titles, although three of these were silent shorts. I also watched three silent feature films which were all extremely memorable. I added in a documentary on Mary Pickford this month too which was very fascinating. It was as much about her as it was the history of early film. I would have to say my pick of the month is the silent Where Are My Children? It is one which will stick with me a long time.

The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) -What a weirdly entertaining film this was. Although the special effects are badly dated. Even knowing Tony Randall was the star, I couldn’t recognize him at all as Dr. Lao.

Cowboy (1958) – I’m not generally a fan of Westerns, but this one kept me glued to my screen. Glenn Ford gives a good performance and is there anything Jack Lemmon can’t do!? He’s great as a city boy who gradually hardens into a tough cattle driver.

55 Days in Peking (1963) – I was hoping all the reviews labeling this film as unexceptional would be wrong. Sadly, they were not. Gardner’s role reminded me very much of Garbo’s role in The Painted Veil. Charlton Heston was ok as the Marine defending the compound, but David Niven gave the best performance. I found the historical background of this story both interesting and somewhat confusing, but it is nice to see an important non-American historical event covered in this movie.

Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies (2008) – I have watched very few of Pickford’s films. But I’m always interested in the person behind the fame. I was absolutely fascinated by this documentary. I knew Pickford was important to the early film industry, but had no idea how absolutely pivotal she really was. This is one of the better personal documentaries I’ve seen in the past couple of years.

The Big Shakedown (1934) – Ever since watching Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor on screen together in Lucky Star, I have kept my eye open for more of their work. However, Farrell is absolutely wasted in this film as a chemist who goes to work for a gangster. So is Bette Davis. Ricardo Cortez is the most interesting as that gangster. But, overall this is a forgettable movie.

Espionage Agent (1939) -I always find Joel McCrea likeable in his early, non-Western films. He continues that likeable streak in this film where he is guess what? An espionage agent along with his wife played by Brenda Marshall. I would definitely consider this a propaganda film and at times it almost felt like a documentary.

Where Are My Children? (1916) -This caught my eye because of the female director, Lois Weber and also because it stars Tyrone Power’s parents as a childless couple. Wow! This is one silent that will stick with me for a long time. It presents perspectives on eugenics, birth control and abortion. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the arguments made by the film it leaves a strong impression. The most interesting perspective for me was that of the man who desperately wants children but is secretly denied them by his wife’s choices.

Suspense (1913) -This short directed by Lois Weber, was only about thirteen minutes long. But it had a bit of a Hitchcock feel to it, before Hitchcock even came along. There are couple of very interesting camera shots that stood out to me and heightened the suspense of the story.

Susan Slept Here (1954) -I didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did. Particularly with the age gap between Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds characters. She plays seventeen and he plays thirty five but looks fifty. Somehow, they pull it off. It’s also rather funny and I loved the vintage Christmas decorations in his apartment.

Mabel’s Blunder (1914) -This was my first exposure to Mabel Normand and I enjoyed this comedy short about a case of mistaken identities.

Caught in a Cabaret (1914) -Another comedy short with Mabel Norman and also starring Charlie Chaplin. For some reason this one just didn’t connect with me.

Salome (1922) -I’ve heard quite a lot about Nazimova and this film over the years, so was excited to finally have the chance to watch it. What a spectacle! The art and costume design are phenomenal. But I though the acting was over-wrought and the pacing extremely slow. I fast forwarded through several frames. This is one I can say I’m glad I watched, but will never sit through again.

Seven Seas to Calais (1963) -Though it isn’t a Disney film, it reminds me very much of those adventure movies from that studio that I watched as a child. Plus, I never pass up a chance to stare at Rod Taylor, especially a blonde, swash-buckling Rod Taylor.

Diane (1956) -I wasn’t expecting much from this Lana Turner film about the mistress of a French king, but actually found myself enjoying it. Turner is stunning as usual, the costumes are beautiful as well. And I really enjoyed seeing a movie where two strong women match wits and wills.

Linda (1929) -This was a random choice and one I’m so glad I took a chance on!  A silent film about a young Appalachian woman in an arranged marriage who falls for a city doctor, it was sweet, melancholy and moving. Noah Beery (brother to Wallace) gave a touching performance as the unwanted husband. I’ve never heard of Helen Foster, who played Linda, which I think is a real shame after seeing her as a woman torn between duty and love.

Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) -Somehow this early Robert Taylor film has escaped my notice until now. It is a pleasant little musical. Eleanor Powell is  exceptionally talented and I loved seeing her pretend to be a French dancer. But I doubt if this film is one that sticks with me.

Tara Bulba (1962) -I’m always interested in perspectives that aren’t often covered in film, such as this tale of a Ukranian Cossack hero. The film had great potential and some very dramatic scenes, but was ultimately disappointing. Tony Curtis was utterly miscast. I wish the movie had just focused on Yul Brynner’s portrayal of the titular hero instead.

All the Way Home (1963) – I’ll have a longer review of this coming in January for the Jean Simmons blogathon. For now, I’ll see this isn’t a feel good movie, but it contains great performances by Robert Preston and Jean Simmons and is definitely worth watching. A quiet story of family and grief.

Did you see any of these movies this month?

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