novemBER 2021 BREAKDOWN
- 45 films/series total (not inlcuding Hallmark films)
- 29 new classic films
- 4 re-watches
- 8 silent films
- 3 new TV series
- 3 documentaries
- 1 foreign film/series
Biggest Disappointment: Point Blank, April Showers
Favorite Discovery: Ben-Hur These Wilder Years
Call the Midwife Season 10 – What can I say about this show, that hasn’t been said? It’s another great season with new, relevant stories and birth experiences. I’m really liking the introduction of a possible love interest for Trixie and Cyril and Lucille’s romance is the sweetest.
Grantchester Season 6 – This season has been a difficult one to watch with its’ focus on Leonard’s sexuality being on trial. I was hopeful that with the arrival of Will as the new vicar in past seasons, that this show would feel more hopeful, than depressing, but I’m not finding that to be the case, especially this season.
The Republic of Doyle Season 2 & 3– I continue to be entertained by the antics of the Doyle family of investigators. The romantic tension between Jake and his cop love Leslie is well done but frustrating. I’m really starting to appreciate Des, the Doyle’s sweet, dorky, but loyal employee. These two seasons also give us more or a look at Jake’s siblings, which I honestly don’t think add much to the plot.
That’s Dancing (1985) – Though I would have liked more depth into the history of how dance impacted film as well as how film musicals influenced culture, I still found this documentary rather interesting. Mostly for the musical numbers it shared, many of which were not the obvious choices. But while some people might feel that the more popular and known musical scenes would have better portrayed the impact of dance, I appreciated seeing sequences I’ve not seen before.
Carl Laemmle (2019) – What a fascinating look at one of silent film’s early pioneers. I had no idea how vitally influential the founder of Universal was. He took on the motion picture trust led by Edison and eventually won. He helped lead the film industry’s move to California, promoted women directors, gambled on unknowns who later become classic film legends such as John Ford, William Wyler and others. He was instrumental in softening public opinion to German’s after WWI and also later rescuing German Jews from Hitler’s regime. Stories contributed by family, film experts and those rescued by Laemmle add greatly to the perspective this doc gives on a man whom I’ve learned to admire.
Dean Martin: King of Cool (2021) – I didn’t know as much about Dean Martin as I thought I did. This documentary was both informative and interesting with a perfectly balanced focus at both his professional and personal lives. I loved learning how important family was to him. And although I found it sad, that he withheld himself in many ways from the people who knew and loved him, I also respected that he didn’t make excuses and didn’t allow himself to be bullied into anything he didn’t want to do. It was great hearing from some of those who knew and worked with him, although I would have loved it if it would have been possible to include direct interviews with Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra. Overall, I found this look at such a famous man rather bittersweet.
FOREIGN FILMS & SERIEs
Walpurgis Night (1935) – This Swedish film was a mixed bag for me. It stars a young Ingrid Bergman before she became an American star and Lars Hanson who was a great silent film actor. Bergman is radiant and innocent as the secretary in love with her boss played by Hanson. If the movie had stuck to their story line, and the camera to their scenes, I probably would have loved it. However, it also spends a lot of time in the newspaper offices where Bergman’s father is the editor where a lot of heavy-handed moralizing about women’s duty to have children is discussed. The transitions between scenes are also abrupt and don’t help.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) – This silent film pits the family of two sisters, one who married a Frenchman and one who married a German, against each other during WWI. Silent film star Rudolph Valentino is the spoiled, favored grandson who falls in love with a married woman played by Alice Terry, but who eventually redeems himself and his cowardly father through bravery on the battlefield. The main plot about family ripped apart due to conflicting ideals is an interesting one and reminiscent of those found in Civil War films. But the portrayal of the Germans as strictly villianous dulls the impact it could have. This is the first time I’ve seen a more rugged, unshaven Valentino and I have to say, I like it. Alice Terry is wonderful as the woman torn between her duty to her older wounded husband and her passion for her lover. Lastly, the score is fabulous and emphasizes the action and emotions onscreen perfectly.
The Great Train Robbery (1903) – Though short, it’s hard to believe this film was produced in the earliest years of the industry. The narrative is precise enough to feel almost like a newsreel, the picture quality clear and the subject interesting. The final and literal shot of the picture only adds to its’ entertainment value.
Ben-Hur (1925) – Wow! This is an exceptional production and one which I think is better than the more popular version starring Charlton Heston. The intensity of the story is kept tight throughout the longer run time. The action scenes, particularly the battle at sea and the chariot race are fantastic and Ramon Novarro gives what may be his best performance as Judah Ben-Hur. I also enjoyed seeing Francis X. Bushman as his nemesis since I just finished a documentary about the actor. It’s clear from the size and quality of the production that the studio really believed in this film. It’s definitely one of the best pictures I’ve seen this year.
Scaramouche (1923) – Another silent film classic which I preferred over the later remake with Stewart Granger. Although to be fair, I wasn’t a big fan of the later version anyway. This one again stars Ramon Novarro and a silent screen actress I’m developing an interest in, Alice Terry. The sets and costumes are fabulous which they need to be for a story set right before the French Revolution. Novarro did a good job showing his character’s growth, but it is really Lewis Stone who stood out as the villain of the piece. The end of the film felt false however, as Stone’s villain all of a sudden shows a conscience and Novarro’s rescue of his love interest and another wealthy woman from the citizen mob is not believable. Despite that, this is another entertaining silent picture.
West Point (1927) – The best thing about this silent comedy is its’ wonderful jaunty score, which creates the perfect tone for the film. I was very impressed by William Haines after seeing him in Show People, and he’s just as engaging here as a young, self-absorbed cadet who continually breaks the rules. Even when he’s being childish and ridiculous, you can’t help but still find him endearing. It’s also my first time seeing Joan Crawford in a silent film and she has good chemistry with Haines.
The Patsy (1928) – This is my second time through this silent comedy starring Marion Davies and it was just as delightful as the first. Davies is a wonderful comedienne and gives delightful impressions of Mae Murray, Lillian Gish and Pola Negri later in the film. But my favorite scene is when she keeps walking past the doorway where her sister and beau are kissing, wearing different hats. You just have to see it. Davies is joined by the great Marie Dressler as her mother who favors her older daughter while criticizing and neglecting her youngest. I love the rapport between Davies and her onscreen father as the two hen-pecked members of the family. Just an all around enjoyable picture.
A Sailor Made Man (1921) – This was one of Harold Lloyds’ first full length feature films. He plays to type as a wealthy weakling who joins the Navy to impress a girl played by Mildred Davis. He eventually rescues her from a harem. It has some funny moments including a frantic rescue/chase scene towards the end. But my favorite scenes are between Lloyd and his Navy friend. I’m always on board (see what I did there?) for a good bromance.
Dr. Jack (1922) – What an unexpected surprise. Once again Harold Lloyd stars, but this time he plays a sensible. intelligent country doc. I really liked seeing him in something a bit different. He still gets a chance to play silly, but in a way that doesn’t make his character ridiculous. His common sense medical treatments and also his compassion make him much more relatable.
Du Barry Was A Lady (1943) – I’ve long heard about this technicolor musical with Lucille Ball, Red Skelton & Gene Kelly in which Skelton dreams he’s Louis XV. I hate to admit, but I’m not a fan of Skelton’s brand of humor, nor have I ever been overly enamored with Kelly, who is legitimately talented. But I did enjoy seeing Ball play it very understated in the modern sequences. The costumes were fantastic and the candy colored sets fun to look at. And as an I Love Lucy fan it was a nice surprise to see her singing the Friendship song at the end of the film.
The Big Street (1942) – A story of unconditional, unrequited love with an ending that pulls it all together and packs a punch which got me emotional. Lucille Ball is good as the selfish, spoiled, lady friend of a criminal whose experience with tragedy still doesn’t change her ways. Henry Fonda is really too pretty to be a man but is well-cast as the busboy who is willing to sacrifice everything for her. The supporting cast including Eugene Pallette and Agnes Moorehead add humor and humanity as the busboy’s friends.
China Seas (1935) – Every now and then I just need a dose of Clark Gable. This time he plays a roguish (when doesn’t he), but secretly honorable ship’s captain ferrying passengers which include two old flames and a large shipment of gold. Jean Harlow is his working class lady stalker who doesn’t let his lack of commitment deter her, even when she teams up with the wicked Wallace Beery in helping pirates take over the ship in search of the gold. I’ve never liked Beery and Harlow’s performance is too shrill for me, so much so that I can’t see what Gable’s character sees in her. I’m not sure how Rosalind Russell ever managed to become a leading lady playing supporting parts like this one as Gable’s other, more classy love interest. It’s a throw-away part that even she can’t make interesting. Still Gable makes this one worth watching.
About Face (1952) – I wasn’t expecting much from this musical based on the poor reviews it has on IMDb, but I actually liked it. This remake of Brother Rat is nothing special, but is better than the original in my opinion. This is in part thanks to my new crush Gordon MacRae and Eddie Bracken. Dick Wesson as the third person in this male friendship trio is as dull as a fence post, but the other two add enough life and interest to carry the film. It’s average, but fun.
Maisie Goes to Reno (1944)– This is the year that the charm of Ann Southern finally hit me and it’s no surprise to me that she is a delight in this title that’s number eight of ten in the Maisie series. Southern’s portrayal of a working girl on vacation who can’t help but play amateur investigator to help a soldier whose rich wife is divorcing him because of a misunderstanding is funny and charming, especially since her love interest John Hodiak and everyone else seem to think she’s lost her mind. I look forward to watching the rest of the films in this series.
April Showers (1948) – My appreciation for Ann Southern does not extend far enough to save this film for me. This one also stars Jack Carson as her husband and partner in a vaudeville show which sees them become a success after their young son joins their act. Though they are all talented, this musical is mediocre and I’m not just saying that because I struggle to appreciate Carson and really don’t enjoy the vaudeville setting. The songs are not at all memorable and the story has been done better. Carson’s descent into alcoholism and the abandonment of his family is hard to swallow, seeing as how the first half of the film is all about how much he loves his wife and kid.
Good News (1947) – June Allyson is slowly growing on me, the more of her films I watch. This is another lightweight musical set in a college where she is the studious librarian who falls for the popular football captain played by Peter Lawford. The song French Lesson was a stand-out for me and Joan McCracken’s supporting performance as Babe just about stole the show. The second half premise is a bit ridiculous in that it rests on the win or loss of a football game determining whether our two stars end up together. But overall I enjoyed this one.
Carousel (1956) – I only watched this because of my Gordon MacCrae crush and was disappointed to find him looking a little bit worse for the wear. Not to mention his character is an unpleasant one and I don’t really believe his redemption at the end. In fact, I found it ridiculous. However, I loved the natural setting near the sea, the cinematography and most of the music. I’m a sucker for a New England setting, I guess. The choreography for June Is Bustin Out All Over felt reminiscent of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and it was a nice surprise to see one of the actors for that film show up later in this one. I was surprised to learn that the popular song You’ll Never Walk Alone originated from this musical.
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952) – If I didn’t already love the later film version with Colin Firth so well, I might have appreciated this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play more. The dialogue of course is witty as one would expect of Wilde. However, this version definitely feels more like a stage play than a movie. And I couldn’t help but compare it to the lighter comedic touch of the 2002 film.
The Guns of Navarone (1961) – Some movies are more than entertainment, they are an experience. I was on the edge of my seat for most of this WWII drama, nervous and tense at all the challenges this group of British soldiers faced as they attempted to infiltrate a Greek island held by the Nazi’s so they could destroy some big guns in their fortress. Gregory Peck was the main star, but I found David Niven and Anthony Quinn’s characters much more interesting.
Wise Girl (1937) – I’ve got a soft spot for Miriam Hopkins if not Ray Milland, who both star in this comedy as an aunt and uncle who both want possession of her sister’s and his brother’s children. The pictures starts out a bit dull, but improved as it went on. The boxing scene in particular had me laughing. Hopkins is funny as the rich girl who goes slumming to get the goods on her nieces’ uncle and to get to know them as well. It’s nice that she didn’t stay on her high horse once she learned to appreciate how the working classes live.
The Challenge to Lassie (1949) – When I saw that British character actors Edmund Gwenn, Donald Crisp and Reginald Owen all star in this picture, I couldn’t resist. But it didn’t take too long before I felt the story was familiar. It turns out it was based on the tale of Scotland’s Greyfriar’s Bobby. As I had seen and loved Disney’s later film about this Edinburgh institution, I couldn’t help but compare this version a bit unfavorably. The country landscapes are beautiful, but the city settings are obviously fake. Crisp also stars in Disney’s version in the role of the grumpy, rule following parson, so it was interesting to see him here as the kindly original owner of the dog. But of the three Lassie films I watched this month, this one was my least favorite.
42nd Street (1933) – I know a lot of people love and praise this film and that it was very important in film history, but I wasn’t overly impressed. For one thing Ruby Keeler is not really leading lady material, nor do I find her dancing skill for which she is known, all that amazing. And I found George Brent, who I normally love, rather wooden and wishy-washy in his role. But the story portraying the behind the scenes action of a Broadway show was good. And Una Merkel and Ginger Rogers were the best part of the whole film. Every scene they were in sparkled.
Street of Women (1932) – I’m a completist, and as this starred both Kay Francis and Roland Young, I had to watch it. Though it’s not bad, I was thankful for the brief run time. Francis was the best part about it as a woman in love with a married man who gives him up when her younger brother falls for her paramour’s daughter. Alan Dinehart was under-whelming and hard to believe as Francis love interest as is Young as a friend who is also in love with her.
Confession (1937) – Another Kay Francis starring drama and once again she plays a self-sacrificing role. Considering Francis is the headliner, I was surprised it took almost thirty minutes into the film before she appeared. Then I was in for a shock as she plays a blond cabaret singer who quickly murders a music impresario played by Basil Rathbone. We then get to see her reasons why in a long flashback where we learn he ruined her marriage and separated her from her beloved daughter. The more I see of Francis, the more I believe she is an underrated dramatic actress. She excels in roles like these.
Courage of Lassie (1946) – Of the three Lassie films I watched this month (none in order within the series), I like this one best. As a child actress Elizabeth Taylor is magnificent playing opposite animals and portrayed her love for them better than with her later male onscreen interests, in my opinion. I really believe her bond with the dog. The first twenty minutes of this film are surprisingly sweet as it focuses on the abandoned puppy making friends with all the forest animals before finding a home with Taylor. I also appreciated seeing Frank Morgan as Taylor’s friend and the dog Bill’s trainer, a role which was less ridiculous than many of his previous ones, and one with a great deal of warmth. I didn’t enjoy Bill’s later exploits as a messenger dog during the war, but overall I thought this whole picture was a pleasant experience.
Point Blank (1967) – Apparently this is a seminal movie in film history, but I have to say, it’s not one I enjoyed or understand. I like to say I’m a film fan not a critic and perhaps my lack of technical interest affects my opinion here. But this story of revenge is just not to my taste, particularly in all the seedy places it takes the viewer.
Goodbye Again (1961) -Though I wasn’t a fan of this story line about a middle aged woman who tries to hold on to her philandering lover while also being wooed by a man 15 years her junior, I can find nothing to criticize in the production or the performances. Ingrid Bergman gives an outstanding performance as the main character torn between two men. I felt her pain and torment. The TCM host who introduced the film said she wasn’t afraid to down play her looks here, but I think she is as beautiful as ever. Anthony Perkins and Yves Montand both really sold their parts. Montand in particular really was despicable, but also understandable. The black and white photography in Paris is stunning and the editing perfectly paced.
Son of Lassie (1945) – Once again a Lassie movie sports some gorgeous background scenery and a fairly implausible story line. Peter Lawford is the star and the grown up boy from the original Lassie film. He heads off to war and Laddie (Lassie’s son) follows him the entire way, from sneaking into the cockpit of his plane to bailing out over Norway. I’m learning I just have to suspend my disbelief while watching Lassie films. Nils Asther’s brief appearance as a Norwegian who helps both Lawford and Laddie was a nice surprise.
State Fair (1945) – I’m not sure why I find this musical so charming when I can be so critical of others, but I do. Maybe its’ the nostalgia factor of being set at a state fair. Maybe it’s the wonderful cast including some of my favorite character actors. Perhaps it’s the almost too pretty for the screen pairing of Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews. The songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein are good, but not extremely memorable, except for All I Owe Ioway. Whatever the case, it was a pure pleasure seeing this again.
That Way With Women (1947) – I love it when Sydney Greenstreet plays more comedic parts like this. Here he is an auto magnate who secretly goes into partnership with a working class man, played by Dane Clark, to run a local gas station. Clark butts heads with Greenstreet’s daughter played by the beautiful Marsha Vickers, over their differences in class. They are both snobs. Meanwhile the two men find themselves in hot water with a local protection racket. It’s nothing exceptional, but certainly entertaining, especially with Greenstreet in a more jolly, silly role.
Born to Dance (1936) – Jimmy Stewart in a musical is a novel idea and one that actually works. Probably because this film doesn’t take itself seriously. This one is more fun than I remember and really a showcase for Eleanor Powell’s dancing. Powell was an average actress, but the joy and seeming ease with which she dances, is irresistible. Una Merkel is entertaining as always as Powell’s friend. The best scene however is Reginald Gardiner as a cop maestro who directs an invisible symphony in the park.
One Minute to Zero (1952) – Since there aren’t as many films about the Korean War, I wish this one had delved a bit deeper into the conflict. The combat scenes are well done, but lack context. Robert Mitchum is the star of the show as a Colonel whom the odds are against. He meets an idealistic, do-gooding UN worker in Ann Blythe with whom he really doesn’t share much chemistry. For all that this is a romantic war drama, it really isn’t that interesting, although it does highlight the moral dilemmas that those in command must confront during war time.
These Wilder Years (1956) – What a pleasant surprise! James Cagney stars as a business mogul who goes looking for his grown adopted son. Along the way he befriends a young unwed mother as well as Barbara Stanwyck, a compassionate woman who has dedicated her life to finding homes for such babies. It’s sentimental without being saccharine and both Cagney and Stanwyck are genuine in their roles. Cagney in particular is the softest I’ve ever seen him yet you can see the inner conflict he wrestles with. Everything about this movie is unique and worth watching.
Zebra in the Kitchen (1965) – This comedy had so much potential. The plot about a young boy who releases all the zoo animals into his city could have been a lot more entertaining, but somehow misses the mark. The relationship between him and his pet cougar is rather sweet and the impetus for most of the film’s action. There are also a few funny moments, like the ostrich who swallows a radio and changes the station every time he swallows. And the way the main zookeeper tries to protect the boy is rather nice. But the rest of it is just lacking .
Summer Stock (1950) – Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, I should love this, right? Let’s just say, the musical numbers were entertaining and well-done with stand-outs being the ensemble piece Dig, Dig, Dig for your Dinner, Kelly’s solo You, Wonderful, You and Garland’s solo Get Happy. However, I wasn’t really feeling the plot. Garland is not believable as a farmer, and her chemistry with Kelly felt off. Also, I did not like her selfish sister at all and didn’t find it credible that the two would switch beaus. But hey, it’s Garland and Kelly, so I’ll let it go.
The Philadelphia Story (1940) – I was feeling under the weather and needed one of my comfort films. So of course, I chose this one which features some of the best lead and supporting actors of the 1930’s. Though it does have it’s problems which date the film (namely the sexist behavior of the male leads), the performances, script and production quality vastly outweigh this. And where else can you see Cary Grant face push Katharine Hepburn and also see the two trade snide remarks for two hours?
Red Notice (2021) – I’m always on board for a comedic heist film and while this one isn’t special, it’s still a lot of fun, mostly thanks to Ryan Reynold quick sarcastic one-liners. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a bit more mellow than normal while Gal Gadot feels somewhat typecast. I enjoyed all the globe-trotting these white-collar thieves do, even if there is a lot about the plot that is implausible. If you can suspend disbelief, you’ll like this one.
The Best of Enemies (2019) – I had a lot of interruptions while watching this civil rights movie based on a true story, so I feel like I didn’t get the full effect of it. But I love that films like this are bringing to light every-day heroes and redemption tales such as this one where a black female activist and the white male head of the local Ku Klux Klan learn to find some common ground and respect for each other. I’m always partial to Sam Rockwell, and both he and Taraji P. Henson give performances of great depth. Hatred is a terrible thing.
25 Hallmark Movies – In other news, I now have the Hallmark channel again after a two year absence. Needless to say, I’m playing catch-up in the Christmas movie department. I will not review each one I’ve seen since many of the plots and tropes are similar and eventually run together in my memory. However, I do think Hallmark has made some great strides in improving the stories, acting, diversity etc overall, which I really appreciate. I’ve listed all the titles I watched this month and highlighted my favorites.
One December Night, The Christmas Bow, A Glenbrooke Christmas, You , Me & the Christmas Trees, The Christmas Ring, Open by Christmas, Next Stop Christmas, Five More Minutes, Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle Christmas, Good Morning Christmas!, Christmas Sail, A Christmas Together With You, A Godwink Christmas: Second Chance, First Love, A Kiss Before Christmas, An Unexpected Christmas, Cranberry Christmas, Holiday for Heroes, My Family Christmas Tree, On the 12th Date of Christmas, The Angel Tree, The Christmas Card, The Nine Kittens of Christmas, Unlocking Christmas, Nantucket Noel