Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jezebel (1938)

Jezebel opens in Antebellum (1852) New Orleans. Southern belle Julie Marsden (Bette Davis) upsets everyone when she arrives at her own party wearing her "horse clothes" instead of changing.

When her fiancé, banker Preston “Pres” Dillard (Henry Fonda), is tied up in a board meeting, she marches on over to rush him along. Everybody encourages him to treat her with a firm hand, including Dr. Livingstone (Donald Crisp) and Gen. Theopholus Bogardus (Henry O’Neill).

So she does it again. Apparently, there are Southern rules about that sort of thing, but as she's pretty much a spoiled brat, Julie wears a red dress to the Olympus Ball. Not only that, she tries to get an admirer, Buck Cantrell (George Brent), to take her to the ball. He demurs, for her own good. Pres himself acquiesces, apparently willing to let the whole thing play out.

Things get out of hand at the ball, and they find themselves dancing alone to the stares of all the guests. Next thing you know, he dumps her. Aunt Belle Massey (Fay Bainter) tries to help, but Julie refuses, and mopes around for a year until he returns to help Dr. Livingston deal with a looming breakout of yellow fever.

Julie's ecstatic, until Pres introduces her to his wife, Amy Bradford Dillard (Margaret Lindway). It's like to break her heart, but she refuses to give up. Her manipulations cause trouble. Lots of fatal trouble.

And that's when the Yellow Jack epidemic breaks out a-main. Compromises and sacrifices have to be made when it becomes necessary to care for a loved one.

Although it was rumored that Bette Davis was offered the lead role because she lost out for Scarlett O’Hara in 1939’s Gone with the Wind, it’s not true. Jezebel was filmed long before the role of Scarlett had been cast.

Jezebel is often referred to as a black-and-white version of Gone with the Wind. Miss Davis earned $650 a week for her work. Two familiar character actors – Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and Spring Byington – have small roles in the film.

Selected for preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress, Jezebel was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography and Best Music Scoring. Jezebel won two – Bette Davis for Best Actress, and Fay Bainter for Best Supporting Actress. Deserving. Very deserving, indeed.

I've seen a lot of Bette Davis' films, but this was quite a tour de force.

Grade: A-

Quotations I like from the film:

I'll make him live, I will. Whatever you might do, I can do more, 'cause I know how to fight better than you.” – Julie Marsden (Bette Davis)

I like my convictions undiluted, same as I do my bourbon.” – Buck Cantrell (George Brent)

"I'm thinking of a woman named Jezebel, who did evil in the sight of God." – Aunt Belle Massey (Fay Bainter)

'Movie Quotations' Change

The separate Sunday "Movie Quotations" posts have been discontinued. They are now included in the movie reviews.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Last Vegas (2013)

The last "old-fart road trip" movie I saw was Sideways (2004), with Paul Giamati and Thomas Hayden Church in a film about a road trip to California wine country.  Oh wait, maybe it was 2007's Wild Hogs, with John Travolta, William B. Macy, Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence, as four middle-agers in need of a motorcycle adventure. Wait again – I forgot the Hangover series; but that was young farts, not old farts. Never mind.

Anyway, be that as we may, middle-age crisis, here we go again. Well, not exactly. Last Vegas is more about seniors than middle-agers. (Rats, the actors I thought were younger than me sure are getting old.)

First, we see what the guys are up to: Sam Harris (Kevin Kline) lives in a Florida retirement village, Air Force retiree Archibald "Archie" Clayton (Morgan Freeman) lives with his son in New Jersey, curmudgeon Patrick "Paddy" Connors (Robert De Niro) exists in Brooklyn, and Billy Gherson (Michael Douglas) is a successful entrepreneur living in Malibu.

While delivering a eulogy at a friend's funeral, Billy proposes to his 31-year-old girlfriend, Lisa (Bre Blair). The boys plan a bachelor party in Vegas. Sam's wife, Miriam (Joanna Gleason), sends him off with a condom and a Viagra pill. Archie lies to his son, Ezra (Michael Ealy) and sneaks off. They cajole and trick Paddy, who now hates Billy, to come along. Paddy is pissed at Billy for not attending his wife's funeral.

At Binion's, they meet lounge singer Diana Boyle (Mary Steenburgen), who politely turns down Sam's immediate offer to use his wife's going-away gift. Diana shows them around, Archie hits the blackjack table and wins a hundred grand, Sam hits on a cross-dresser and makes friends, the boys judge a bikini contest, and the casino upgrades them to a villa originally promised to rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (in a cameo appearance).

Billy and Diana visit the Neon Museum Boneyard. A-a-a-nd he kind of falls for her. But Paddy’s also taken a liking to her and invites her to a bachelor party. The others set up the biggest and wildest bachelor party this side of Las Vegas. Hey wait, they ARE in Las Vegas.

As the end of the film approaches, conscience wins out, family worries are consoled, history repeats itself, perceptions and memories change, unwanted favors are granted, apologies are given and accepted, old hurts are healed, and the 60+-year-old bottle of scotch is finally opened. Friends then, friends now, friends forever.

All five leads (Douglas, De Niro, Freeman, Kline and Steenburgen) have won Academy Awards. Jack Nicholson originally was set to play Billy, the role that starred Michael Douglas.

Last Vegas was a big success. Produced for $28 million, the film enjoyed a box office of $134.4 million. No wonder. It's hilarious! All the senior citizen sight and situation gags are familiar and funny (they touch so close to home, except for that hitting on a cross-dresser part).

Good movie. The story itself isn't very deep, but it's fun watching, and the leads click.

Grade: B+

Quotations I like from the film:

"I have a hemorrhoid that's almost 32." – Archibald "Archie" Clayton (Morgan Freeman)

Diana Boyle (Mary Steenburgen): "That's a generous offer. Are you good in bed, Sam?"
Sam Harris (Kevin Kline): "I don't remember."

"Here's to the first bachelor party I ever attended that could be covered by Medicare." – Diana Boyle (Mary Steenburgen)

Sexy Bachelorette Party Bride-to-Be: "Do you guys have drugs?"
Sam Harris (Kevin Kline): "Does Lipitor count?"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Thousand Clowns (1965)

Twelve-year-old Nick (Barry Gordon) lives with his uncle, Murray Burns (Jason Robards), an unemployed television writer. They're always hanging around together, wandering around New York. One day, he springs a surprise: the Child Welfare Board is going to drop by and check out their living environment.

Albert Amundson (William Daniels) and Sandra Markowitz (Barbara Harris, in her film debut), Child Welfare Board investigators, drop by for their inspection and interview.

The illegitimate son of Murray's sister, Nick's wise beyond his years and has all the right answers to impress Sandra. For a while, anyway. Murray, not so much. And, Albert keeps ragging on Sandra; they happen to be engaged, and they bicker ... oh, how they bicker (you know how possessive and uptight bureaucratic men were in the '60s).

Sandra bawls her heart out to Murray after Albert leaves in a huff. They talk, lighten their hearts, go out for an adventure, and agree that they "probably love" each other. Albert returns the next day and tells Murray they're going to take custody of Nick, unless responsibility can be demonstrated very soon.

Now, Murray has a dilemma. In order to keep Nick with him, he needs a job; but he really doesn't want to work. He does, however have Sandra now. Well, maybe not.

His brother and agent, Arnold (Martin Balsam), hustles to help, setting up a couple of interviews. Murray's former employer, Leo Herman (Gene Saks), host of “Chuckles the Chipmunk,” pays him a visit to try and rehire him, grousing about how all the kids hate him because he doesn't have Murray writing the show any more.

Leo, Murray and Nick have a great conversation. And ... "I'm sorry."

A Thousand Clowns is adapted from Herb Gardner’s 1962 play of the same name. Recreating their stage roles are Jason Robards, Gene Saks, William Daniels and Barry Gordon.

Barry Gordon not only played Nick Burns, he is credited as Wilbur Malcome Burns / Theodore Burns / Raphael Sabatini / Dr. Morris Fishbein / Woodrow Burns / Chevrolet Burns / Big Sam Burns / Lefty Burns. Watch the movie. You'll see why.

A Thousand Clowns was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Martin Balsam, who won), Best Picture, Best Writing-Screenplay Based on Another Medium, and Best Music Scoring (there's a lot of walking and running around to honky-tonk piano music).

I rather enjoyed the cast, the clever characterizations and humorous dialog. I think you will too.

Grade: B

Quotations I like from the film:

“I just want him to stay with me until I can be sure he won't turn into Norman Nothing … I want him to know the subtle, sneaky, important reason why he was born a human being and not a chair.” – Murray Burns (Jason Robards)

“If things aren't funny then they're exactly what they are; and then they're like a long dental appointment.” – Murray Burns (Jason Robards)

Monday, October 13, 2014

'Movie Quotations' Change

Beginning today, the separate "Movie Quotations" Sunday posts are discontinued. But the quotations won't disappear; from now on, quotations will be included with the movies they appear in.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Arctic scientists discover an old aircraft containing a circular object with a white star in the middle. Cut to 1942, in World War II Tonsberg, Norway, where Nazis led by Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), steal a mysterious artifact – the Tesseract.

In New York, puny physical specimen Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is soundly rejected by the Army. His good friend, Sgt. James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), comes to his rescue while he's getting beaten up in an alley, and takes him to a future technology exhibition, where he meets Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci).

Dr. Erskine gets him enlisted, and recruits him into the Scientific Strategic Reserve. Steve is enhanced by Dr. Erskine's Super Soldier Serum. But first, he has to survive basic training. He impresses his superiors by using his brain instead of brawn, and his patriotic bravery.

That includes his commander, Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee), head of Project Rebirth, and Strategic Scientific Reserve officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), father of Tony Stark (remember him from the Iron Man films?), assists Dr. Erskine during the enhancement.

Steve emerges taller, much more muscular, faster, stronger and incredibly agile. When he's used to sell war bonds, he's a hit with the American citizens, but not the front-line soldiers. They'd rather see the chorus dancers. Steve goes AWOL with Peggy when he learns Bucky Barnes is MIA.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Schmidt and Nazi biochemist Dr. Arnin Zola (Toby Jones) explore the Tesseract's powers, create a division called Hydra, perfect a weapon, and plan to use it to win the war. They use the American MIAs as laborers to build Schmidt's super weapons. Steve frees them, confronting Schmidt (now aka "The Red Skull"), who escapes.

Steve ... er, Captain America ... returns a hero with the MIAs and receives an assignment – find the other Hydra plants and destroy them. He gets a new uniform and a special indestructible shield from Stark, plus his own commando unit consisting of some of the rescued MIAs: Bucky Barnes, Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan (Neal McDonough), Gabe Jones (Derek Luke), Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi), French Jacques Dernier (Bruno Ricci), and Brit James Montgomery Falsworth (JJ Field).

During the final confrontation, Red Skull escapes in his futuristic delta-wing airplane, and Captain America manages to get aboard. Years later, that's how the Arctic scientists find the Captain America shield.

There's a surprise ending ... as in "Oh my!" where Captain America meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the head of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Chris Evans turned down the role three times before he was convinced to take the part. His pay was $300,000, not a lot in my opinion. This was his sixth comic-book movie; previously he appeared in the two”Fantastic Four” movies, Push (2009), The Losers (2010), and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). Stanley Tucci always wanted to use a German accent, so he accepted the Dr. Erskine role.

Hayley Atwell trained six days a week for her Peggy Carter character, which she says she based on Ginger Rogers. Also considered for the role were Keira Knightley, Gemma Arterton and Alice Eve. Emily Blunt turned down the role. Hugo Weaving, by the way, does a great job as Red Skull.

A technique called "digital plastic surgery" was used by a company called LOLA to visually shrink Chris Evans in all dimensions. The results are simply amazing.

Produced on a $140-million budget, Captain America: The First Avenger had a good box office of $370.6 million.

Grade: A-

Quotations I like from the film:

I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.” – Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)

Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are, not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” – Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci)

The moment you think you know what’s going on in a woman’s head is the moment your goose is well and truly cooked.” – Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Murder, My Sweet opens with temporarily blinded private eye Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) being interrogated by cops led by Police Lt. Randall (Don Douglas) about a couple of murders. This is his story.

Moose Mallow (Mike Mazurki) shows up at Philip Marlowe’s office one night and hires him to look for his former girlfriend, singer Velma Valento. He’s reluctant at first, but money talks and Marlowe agrees to help the ex-con.

He gets in touch with Jesse Florian (Esther Howard), an alcoholic widow who used to know her, but she claims Velma died. He's then paid a visit by Linday Marriott (Douglas Walton), who wants to hire him for a few hours to protect him as he makes an $8,000-payoff for a jade necklace. Again, money talks. It earns him a blackjack whack in a dark canyon; a woman finds him and runs away before he finds Marriott dead.

Next a "Miss Allison" claiming to be a Post reporter visits him, but he knows her true identity – Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley). The jewel that Marriott was going to retrieve belongs to Ann's father's (Miles Mander) wife, Helen (Claire Trevor). Helen hires him, Ann tries to buy him off. Moose shows up and takes Marlowe to meet psychic Jules Amthor (Otto Kruger), who admits to being a "quack."

So what's the connection between Marriott, Amthor, the Grayles and Moose? Where's the jade necklace, anyway? Things get nasty, but the connections grow clearer (for us) as Marlowe is drugged and his mind grows hazier. Still in a semi-daze, he visits Ann at home and figures out she was the mystery woman in the canyon.

There's a big beach house on a cliff by the sea. And that's where everything plays out, and where we find out why Marlowe is temporarily blind.

Released as Farewell, My Lovely in the United Kingdom, Murder, My Sweet is based on Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel of that name. Critics called it the best adaptation of a Chander novel. It was filmed once before in 1942 as The Falcon Takes Over, starring George Sanders. A remake using the original title and starring Robert Mitchum was released in 1975.

The Mystery Writers of America awarded the film four Edgars: Best Motion Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Author, and Best Actor (Dick Powell).

Dick Powell was an aging matinee idol known for his light-hearted musicals. When Murder, My Sweet was released as Farewell, My Lovely, audiences thought it was just another musical. But when the studio changed the name to Murder, My Sweet, the box office receipts boomed, and Powell cemented a new career in film noir.

If you like film noir, you'll love Murder, My Sweet. I like film noir ... a lot.

Grade: A-