June 2021 Quickie Reviews

  • 51 films/series total
  • 29 new classic films
  • 13 re-watches
  • 7 foreign films
  • 2 TV series
  • 2.5 silent films
  • 1 documentary

Biggest Disappointment: Rose Marie

Gracie Allen, Robert Young & Eleanor Powell in Honolulu

Favorite Discovery: Honolulu, Just William

Most Watched Actors/Actresses: Fred Astaire, Ann Southern, Eleanor Powell

Crimes of Passion (2013) – I have been waiting years, YEARS, for the opportunity to watch this mid-century Swedish mystery film series. Although, I wish there was some humor woven in, otherwise, this is everything I wanted it to be. It features a husband and wife and their best friend who is a police detective. The love triangle was intriguing  thanks to the physical chemistry between the wife and the friend. I did feel the character of the husband was sweet, but a bit under-developed and bland. Figuring out who the guilty party of each episode was kept me entertained and I rarely guessed right. Most of all,  I loved the setting and costuming and the glimpse of Sweden I got from this series.

Cup of Love/Love & Coffee (2016) – A second viewing of this made for tv movie left me loving it less than the first time. I like the story of a flavor scientist who goes looking for inspiration and finds herself butting heads with the traditionalist owner of a Columbian coffee plantation. The main actress is natural and charming, but the rest of the actors are a bit cheesy and the characters cliche.

Cranford (2007) – Having finally read Elizabeth Gaskill’s novel, of course a re-watch of this series was in order so that I could compare the two. While the series adds characters and plot lines that aren’t in the book, it does a great job staying true to the characterization of the…well, characters. A fabulous and talented cast make that possible. And what the series does add only enhances the original story in my opinion.

Robin Hood (1973) – I don’t care what anyone else says, this is still my favorite version of Robin Hood ever made, even if it is a cartoon. It’s hilarious, family appropriate and the songs are catchy.

The Sound of Music (1965) – This is one of two defining films of my childhood. I didn’t realize how much I missed it, until I watched it again. Singing along to the songs brought me happiness and reminded me of good memories.

Everything Happens at Night (1939) – My first Sonja Henie film and I can definitely appreciate her charm and star power.  Robert Cummings and Robert Young also star as two journalists chasing her and a story. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get excited about either one of them.

Kiss Before the Mirror (1933) – I chose this obscure film because I wanted to watch a Nancy Carroll film. And while she did well as the cheating wife of an attorney defending his best friend for the murder of his own adulterous wife, it was really Frank Morgan and Paul Lukas as the two friends who give riveting performances. I haven’t seen either one of them in roles this dramatic before.

Swiss Family Robinson (1940) – Until very recently, I didn’t even know there was this earlier version of the familiar story. Thomas Mitchell stars as the head of the family with Freddy Bartholomew and Tim Holt as his two eldest sons. It definitely has a different feel than the Disney classic, thanks to a higher level of conflict and tension. But It is a good adaptation in its’ own right.

The Wedding Plan (2016) – I expected this Jewish film about a women who continues with her wedding plans after being dumped, believing that God will provide the groom, to be more of a comedy. It’s not. There are a few funny moments, but it’s more of an exploration of the concepts of singleness and marriage specific to the Jewish faith and culture.  While I found it interesting, it also seemed odd. But that could be due to my lack of understanding and exposure to this culture.

Sissi (1955) – One of Romy Schneider’s first films and also one that brought her world-wide fame. This is based on the real life story of how the Emperor of Austria falls for his cousin Elisabeth.  I love the vivid, bright quality of the picture. Schneider is so charming as the down to earth but mischievous Sissi. I love how loyal she is to her sister and refuses to consider the emperor’s suit for her sake.

Rose Marie (1954) – Umm…you all know about my struggles with musicals already, right? So, I had trouble staying engaged with this movie. Ann Blythe is beautiful, but just doesn’t fit the role of a backwoods tomboy and the love interest of Howard Keel and Fernando Lamas. I actually enjoyed Lamas as a wily trapper. And the film’s scenery is stunning! That’s about all I can say for this film.

Live, Love and Learn (1937) – Once again, I chose to re-watch a film that I had seen before, but which wasn’t very memorable. Although this is not the best of the movies that Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery made together, it is still enjoyable, mostly thanks to the addition of Robert Benchley as their mutual pet. Montgomery isn’t very believable as a bohemian artist and I don’t believe their mutual life philosophy of preferring poverty for the sake of great art is sustainable. Nevertheless, it’s a fun watch.

Thunder Afloat (1939) – A little bit of the boorish Wallace Beery goes a long way and I’m never going to be a fan. Here he co-stars with Chester Morris as tug boat captain rivals who end up working together in the Navy. Virginia Grey has a good part, but plays it unevenly as Beery’s daughter. Despite the movie’s flaws, it still managed to keep me intrigued.

Trade Winds (1938) – Joan Bennet is charming as a woman who kills her sister’s lover out of revenge. She then goes on the run and is pursued by two detectives, played by Frederic March and the ubiquitous Ralph Bellamy as well as March’s love-struck secretary Ann Southern. Bellamy plays his usual character, but it is fun to see him in glasses for a change. The ladies completely steal the show and Southern is growing in my esteem as a comic actress thanks to roles like this.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) – This is my least favorite of the Narnia film trilogy, but that is not to say I dislike it. I just miss the presence of Peter and Susan and seeing all the siblings together. The character of Eustace grates on my nerves, although that is the point, in order to show his eventual transformation. I always get choked up at the end when the team meets Aslan on the beach and must say goodbye. Reepicheep is the best!

The Unfinished Dance (1947) – I’m gaining a new appreciation for Cyd Charisse. Not only is she beautiful, but she’s also a very beautiful dancer who makes the work of the dance appear effortless. Aside from that, this was one of the few Margaret O’Brien films I had yet to see and it’s a bit special in her oeuvre as she has a very dramatic role. In all honesty, as talented as she was, this is not my favorite of her performances. Her character is rather brittle and spends most of her time glaring. I would have liked a bit more character development to explain her love of ballet, her obsession with her favorite dancer and her personality.

Carmen Jones (1954) – Well, I finally got around to watching this famous classic.  It’s also the first of Dorothy Dandridge’s films I’ve seen. Having seen a previous adaption of the opera Carmen, with Rita Hayworth in The Loves of Carmen, I was slightly familiar with the story. I thought it was a very creative choice to re-write the lyrics but keep them set to the original music of the opera. It helped tie the updated story to the original source. But above all, all I can say is wow! Dandridge blew me away as the star of this show in every way possible. I have no words. She’s that fabulous.

Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) – This is a nice tribute to Jerome Kern and the songs he wrote, with wonderful performances by MGM’s stable of stars. I especially enjoyed Lena Horne’s performance of That Man of Mine, as well as the segments with Judy Garland. Van Heflin’s performance as Kern’s fictional best friend livened up Robert Walker’s portrayal of Kern. What I appreciated most was learning that many songs I’ve always loved were written by Kern.

The Affairs of Annabel (1938) – Lucille Ball is stunning in this screwball comedy about an actress who’s publicist is constantly cooking up crazy publicity stunts that don’t work out. Jack Oakie plays the publicist and also plays it over the top to much at times. Despite that, this is a fun little romp, mostly thanks to Lucy.

Seventh Heaven (1937) – I had no idea that a remake of Frank Borzage’s beautiful film 7th Heaven existed, much less that it starred James Stewart pre-fame. He is paired with Simone Simon and somehow it works. Though nowhere near as beautiful as Borzage’s version, it is nonetheless a moving depiction of a romance between two cast-offs of society. Stewart’s sewer cleaner rescues Simon’s prostitute and of course they fall in love. Though Simon gets some beautiful close-ups no one could match Janet Gaynor’s original performance as Diane. However, I do think Stewart outperforms Charles Farrell as the original Chico.

Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) – I had forgotten the majority of this film other than it features a horse and some dancing.  With an outstanding cast including Eleanor Powell, Judy Garland, Robert Taylor, Buddy Ebson, George Murphy and more, you would think it would be more memorable. It’s certainly entertaining, but even after a re-watch, I still couldn’t tell you a whole lot about it.

Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951) –  This picture couldn’t make it’s mind up what it is. The first half was very noir-ish; dark and seedy. Then half-way through, the main couple leave the city (on the run) for the bright climate of California and the female lead does an about face with both her hair and her personality. Ruth Roman is intriguing as the femme fatale in the first half of this movie, but not so much as the happy housewife with darker hair in the last half. However, Rory Calhoun kept things interesting as the tortured ex-con who thinks he’s killed again but can’t remember. There was in interesting side line about another couple who befriend Roman and Calhoun and then wrestle with the moral dilemma of turning them in for a cash reward. It’s not a bad film, but definitely feels uneven.

Funny Girl (1968) – I think I’ve figured out what it is I generally don’t like about musicals of this era. It’s the stagey settings which clearly look fake. I prefer live backgrounds. However, if a musical is exceptional, (such as My Fair Lady) than it overcomes that barrier in my mind. This one did. Everything else about this musical is exceptional, the costuming, the choreography, the performances, the songs…Barbara Streisand is wonderful in her film debut, and Omar Sharif kept me mesmerized.  I’m kicking myself that I waited so long to watch this.

Weary River (1929) – This is a strange amalgamation of silent and talking film that also manages to mash together the gangster genre with music and romance. I’ve never seen the appeal of Richard Barthelmess. Here he is a gangster who is reformed by his love of music when he becomes the leader of the prison band, a plot which is supposedly based on a true story. He sings the same song three or four times through the film, taking time which could have been used for plot development. Still the way the picture manages to switch back and forth between silent and talking makes it interesting to experience.

Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) – The medium of silent film requires the actors to tell a story through physical expression. Lon Chaney is famous for being a master of this skill becoming known as the “man of a thousand faces.” This talent is even more amazing when you consider his natural face was often changed or obscured by heavy make- up as it is here with him playing a clown who falls in love with his adopted daughter. A very young Loretta Young is sweet as that daughter who is enthralled with an Italian count played by Nils Asther (who is almost too pretty for the screen). This movie is an excellent example of why silent films can still be compelling over a century later.

Joy in the Morning (1965) – This is a beautiful depiction of young lovers navigating the challenges of marriage which left this viewer experiencing the gamut of emotion thanks to sensitive and intimate performances by Richard Chamberlain and Yvette Mimieux. It’s not often a film can move me to tears anymore, but this one did. It deserves to be much better known that it is.

The Merry Widow (1925) – A bloated spectacle directed by Erich von Stroheim which takes great liberties with the original play. I only found it watchable due to the presence of John Gilbert whose stalker prince is unlikeable until an unbelievable change of heart. His co-star Mae Murray also has a character quick change which is equally incredible. The rest of the men in this picture are despicable and the tacked on ending while happy is a bit ridiculous. I can see why von Stroheim hated it. Some cold-eyed editing would have improved things some. As it is, this is my least favorite of the film adaptations for this story.

The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) – Having recently finished Ginger Rogers autobiography, I had a yen to re-watch the last of her films with Fred Astaire. It’s the only one in which they play an already married couple. However, here they split up due to her desire to become a dramatic actress in a case of real- life inspiring art. This film is also known for Astaire’s dance of the dancing shoes. Though not the best of their films together, it’s still enjoyable and a fitting ending to their onscreen partnership.

Honolulu (1939) – This is little more than a showpiece for the comedic talent of Gracie Burns and the dancing skills of Eleanor Powell. But I’m all for it. The more I watch Powell the more I appreciate her creative genius and joy on the dance floor. She may even be more talented than Astaire and Gene Kelly. Robert Young joins them playing a dual role as an actor and his look-alike. I loved the real Hawaiian setting and Powell’s jump-rope dance on the cruise ship as well as her hula tap dance towards the end.

Just William (2010) – I fell hard for this mini-series which follows the antics of an incorrigible British boy, his friends and family. I even watched it twice through. Though only four episodes long, it managed to win me over quickly thanks to its’ delightful humor, every day events and a talented cast, including Lily James in her first onscreen role.

Love and Learn (1947) – I’m thankful this little programmer had a short run time. I liked some things about the plot which involves an heiress falling for a penniless song writer and pretending to be poor herself. There were a few funny moments sprinkled through the film. However, of the four leads, Jack Carson’s characters is unlikable, Janis Paige as his girlfriend is wasted in her role, and Robert Hutton is dry as toast as the love interest. Only Martha Vickers as the heiress made this bearable. It’s a shame she didn’t have more success on screen.

Chic! (2015) – For a movie featuring people who work in the French fashion industry, I expected the costuming to be more interesting. This is one of those enemies to lovers stories. A harried assistant hires the gardener she fired to act as the muse to her fashion designer boss. Honestly, while this had potential, it ended up being a bit dull considering all the potential it had to work with.

The Story of Vickie (1954) – Before Romy Schneider became famous for her Sissi films, she starred as the young Queen Victoria under the same director. Schneider looks impossibly young and sweet, but the film feels overly saccharine for the story. Due to budget constraints, the costumes are mostly terrible and it feels very stagey at times. While I didn’t hate it, I much prefer the similar The Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt.

Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940) – This is the film famous for the dance number Begin the Beguine and the only film to star dancing legends Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell together.  Astaire’s character plays second fiddle to George Murphy, and I liked how his overlooked but supportive character made this a bit different than what I’ve come to expect from his movies. I can’t say this is my favorite of either Astaire or Powell’s pictures, but it is worth watching.

The Greatest Showman (2017) – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this musical. I love pretty much everything about it, especially the music. I do feel Michelle Williams’ performance as Barnum’s wife is weak, but then so is her character development. Still, it’s great entertainment.

Maisie (1939) – It’s only recently that the appeal of Ann Southern has really hit me. The first of the Maisie series for which she is best known, she plays a kind-hearted show girl stranded in the west. I liked her wise-cracking, call it like she sees it character. And surprisingly I enjoyed seeing Robert Young play a ranch manager cowboy.

Fast & Furious (1939) – Though this final film of the Joel and Garda Sloane series (all of which star different lead actors) features Ann Southern as Garda, I was a bit disappointed that she doesn’t get as much screen time as her co-star Franchot Tone. But Tone keeps things entertaining as a gentleman detective who can’t seem to keep his wife’s curious nose away from his case.

The Blue Gardenia (1953) – Anne Baxter knocks it out of the park with her performance of a woman who is tortured by the belief that she killed a man but can’t remember doing so. Fritz Lang directed this film noir and as usual, keeps the psychological tension high.

Silk Stockings (1957) – A remake of the Lubitsch classic Ninotchka, and don’t shoot me classic film fans, but I liked this version better. Cyd Charisse is less wooden in her delivery than Greta Garbo was and more believable when her character softens. The dance numbers were fun and the supporting cast hams it up in the best way. Also…Fred Astaire. Enough said.

The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) – A long time favorite of mine, and one I think more people should get the opportunity to see. Despite it being a film about an amateur golf tournament, it’s more than just another sports movie. It delves into discussions about class, and portrays the courage it takes to pursue a dream. It’s both inspiring and funny. A young Shia LeBeouf gives a good performance as a working class man chasing the shadow of his golf hero. But it is his child caddy who has all the best lines and really makes this film work.

Babe (1995) – One of the most unusual, funny, sweet movies I’ve ever seen and I never get tired of it. The voices for each animal in this live action feature are perfectly cast and the cinematography and setting only enhance its’ quirky charm.

The Trip To Bountiful (1985) – It’s amazing to me that a film all about an elderly woman’s attempt to return to her childhood home could keep me interested for two hours. But when that woman is played by Geraldine Page in a natural but fantastic performance it’s not surprising. It’s a simple but beautiful story set in a corner of Texas with which I’m very much familiar. The conflict between Page and her daughter in law played by Carlin Glynn adds conflict and nuance in the best way.

Persuasion (1995) – I can never decide which movie version of this Jane Austen story is my favorite. I definitely prefer Amanda Root’s portrayal of Anne Elliott in this adaptation. She’s quiet, kind and patient. I feel the settings in this one are also more natural.

Her Kind of Man (1946) – This crime drama frustrated me. Janis Paige plays a sweet singer who is too good for her gambler boyfriend Zachary Scott. She’s pursued by reporter Dane Clark. Every time Paige chooses Scott over Dane, I just wanted to throttle her for her stupidity. However, despite the fact that I have never been a fan of Scott’s, he gives a great performance as the small time smarmy gambler whose selfishness is only matched by his arrogance.

Topkapi (1964) – A kaleidoscope of a film, with shifting colors, characters and plot points. I love heist films and this is an interesting one. I really enjoyed the great shots of Turkey and Greece where this is set. I also enjoyed my introduction to Maximillian Schell as the suave leader of a gang of jewel thieves plotting to steal a dagger from the Topkapi Museum. But this is Peter Ustinov’s film as the hapless small time con-artist who gets mixed up with the thieves. He absolutely deserved the Oscar he won for his performance here.

Silver Skates (2020) – A visually sumptuous Russian fairytale of a film about a street thief who forms a relationship with a smart, beautiful heiress. The drama of the hero’s life as a pickpocket tends to overshadow the romance portion of the story. And yes, there are things about the story that are implausible. But I still enjoyed this quite a bit.

On the Town (1949) – One of three films starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, this popular musical  is colorful and fun. But not one that will become a personal favorite.

Lillian Russell (1940) – A beautiful, but mostly empty biopic of the famous singer played by Alice Faye and a host of other talent like Henry Fonda, Don Ameche, Warren William and Edward Arnold as the men in her lives. Faye is elegant and sings Russell’s songs beautifully, but her portrayal doesn’t seem to match what I’ve read about the real Russell’s character. The male talent are pretty much wasted in their roles.

Secret (2007) – Great reviews and high ratings convinced me to watch this Taiwanese romantic drama. Though slow moving this is a satisfying tale of boy meets girl with an unexpected twist. It’s set at a music school and there are some wonderful and even gorgeously shot piano sequences, that I as a piano player particularly enjoyed.

Sinatra: All or Nothing At All (2015) – This two part, four hour Netflix documentary perfectly blends recordings of Sinatra’s performances and reminisces to tell the story of his life. This doc devotes more focus to Sinatra’s music career than his film career or family life. Despite it’s length, it still feels like even more details could have been added. I wish it hadn’t skipped over the last twenty years of his life.  But its still a very personal, intimate look at this famous performer, one which any fan should appreciate.

The In-Laws (1979) – Apparently, this is considered on the the best comedies made, and yet I had never heard of it. Alan Arkin and Peter Falk co-star as two soon to be in-laws when Falk gets Arkin mixed up with his CIA work. It is funny, but not quite as much as I expected it to be.

Featured Photo: Just William

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