Thursday, 30 April 2009

King Kong

Movie Review: King Kong

Year of Release: 1976
Country of Origin: USA
Director: John Guillermin
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange

Plot outline: An oil exploration expedition comes to an isolated island and encounters a colossal giant gorilla (IMDb).

The director and the writer display real affection for old-time movie magic and nonsense that come through in spite of an elaborate physical production. Especially effective are the opening sections that lay out - with a respectful gravity that is truly comic - the scientific mumbo jumbo that softens us for the make-believe to come: a team of oil experts from a cartel named Petrox sets out to find a mysterious uncharted island that is perpetually enclosed in a cloud of carbon dioxide, indicating that the earth beneath is a virtually bottomless reservoir of petroleum. It may well be that we don't need such explanations. Part of the appeal of King Kong today, as it was in 1933, is based on the wish to believe that there may still be places in this planet unpenetrated by Petrox, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Sony and the likes. The movie builds well to Kong's initial appearance, after we are almost an hour into the story, when he comes clomping out of the jungle to claim his monthly sacrifice, who is not, of course, Fay Wray, but Jessica Lange who plays a would-be actress named Dwan. Though Dwan sets Kong's heart aflame, she's more likely to set everyone else's teeth on edge. What sort, exactly, is this movie? It's a series of big, foolish but entertaining spectacle scenes, such as the natives of that uncharted island prancing around, doing pagan fertility dances. It's the sight of the mighty Kong picking up Dwan in the palm of his hand and washing her off under a jungle waterfall, then fiddling curiously with her bra. It's Kong going amok in New York City, looking for Dwan, grabbing up a subway car and rattling it like a gourd, then trudging south to the World Trade Center, where he ultimately meets his fate. Nevertheless, Kong's last fight with army helicopters is beautifully (and bloodily) done, the setting trivializes it. There are other actors in the movie beside Miss Lange. They include very good actors such as Jeff Bridges (as a professor of primate paleontology from Princeton) and Charles Grodin (as a vicious, ambitious Petrox executive), but they are supporting characters to the various pieces of machinery (and one man in an ape suit) that portray Kong in his changing moods. The movie includes some vulgar language, some partial nudity, some violence at the end, and some intimations of unrealizable bestiality that small children everywhere will recognize as simple friendliness. (NYT)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 28 April 2009


Movie Review: Ran

Year of Release: 1985
Country of Origin: Japan, France
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu

Plot outline: An elderly lord abdicates to his three sons, and the two corrupt ones turn against him (IMDb).

In 1957, Akira Kurosawa borrowed from Shakespeare's "Macbeth" for his movie Throne of Blood. Nearly three decades later, he returned to the setting of medieval Japanese armies at war, this time adapting plot elements from Shakespeare's "King Lear". Ran is the Japanese symbol for chaos, an apt description of the story: the disintegration of a family dynasty through ambition, treachery and war. As in Throne of Blood, the destructive ambitions of the warlords are stoked by the schemes of a woman. The battle scenes, the sets, and the cinematography are all excellent. Just one complaint: there must be a hundred warriors shot down from their horses, but not once does a horse fall. I am not advocating cruelty to animals, but medieval marksmanship couldn't have been that good! Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) has two distinct personalities: the bold, ruthless warlord, and the lost, cowardly madman. It is to Nadakai's credit that he plays both roles well. His character's wild mane of white hair perfectly matches his pathos. The effeminate supporting character of Kyoami is the most interesting: the court fool can say things that, if said by others, would be treasonous. But it is advice worth considering. (BK)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Monday, 27 April 2009

The Spoilers

Movie Review: The Spoilers

Year of Release: 1942
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Ray Enright
Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, John Wayne

Plot outline: An Alaskan prospector fights a crooked federal agent to save his gold claim (IMDb).

Having pinched the muscles of Randolph Scott and John Wayne and found them solid, Ray Enright has leaped to a safe perch on a camera boom and let them slug it out for Marlene Dietrich's well-manicured hand. Naturally, a row of the dimensions that Enright has sent hurtling across tables, balconies and through windows in the last reel of the movie requires some sort of excuse. It has been doubly provided. Not only does Mr. Scott, that smooth-talking villain, try to rook Mr. Wayne of the Midas Gold Mine, but also he makes a few impolitic gestures in the direction of Miss Dietrich, who understands it when she sees one. As Cherry Malotte, a lady saloonkeeper, Miss Dietrich carries on in the rough-cut diamond tradition of Mae West and wears beruffled costumes about as concealing as the fins on a fish. In short, Miss Dietrich has left behind the subtle nuance, the languorous murmurings of love. No doubt that was the reason why they returned so often after jail breaks, train wrecks and free-for-all battles over a jumped claim. But Cherry, good woman, remained true to one man. She turned down Bronco Kid, otherwise Richard Barthelmess, who used to win the girl himself regularly not so many years ago, and when a frail young lady in the person of Margaret Lindsay momentarily threatened the theft of Mr. Wayne, Cherry shed only one tear before going on the warpath. Perhaps Cherry's complex affections seem a bit amusing at this distance, and thank Mr. Enright and Miss Dietrich's witty playing for keeping them so. Sprinkled with double entendres nearly as frankly cut as Miss Dietrich's gowns, the screenwriter and producer have kept their tongues firmly in their cheeks, even when stout Mr. Scott and Mr. Wayne begin tearing up the set. It's a lovely brawl. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Death on the Nile

Movie Review: Death on the Nile

Year of Release: 1978
Country of Origin: UK
Director: John Guillermin
Cast: Peter Ustinov, Jane Birkin, Lois Chiles, Bette Davis

Plot outline: Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of an heiress during an Egyptian tour (IMDb).

Death on the Nile is a classic whodunnit in every sense. It follows the conventions of the genre like they were handed down from Mount Sinai. Naturally there is a murder, a group of suspects conveniently contained in a confined space, and a brilliant detective to put all the pieces together. Along the way we discover tantalizing clues that may or may not point to the truth. These clues are doled out slowly, often in half-overheard conversations or in a furtive glance or gesture. Death on the Nile benefits from a romantic, exotic locale to work with, the Nile, along with the famous Egyptian pyramids and other monuments, makes for a far more interesting backdrop than even the most lavish English manor house. Peter Ustinov plays Hercule Poirot with a whimsical humor, a lightness that belies the detective's razor-sharp intellect. Poirot is assisted by David Niven's Colonel Race. Poirot and Race have some of the best scenes in the movie together as they needle each other with their witty banter. The rest of the supporting cast is a delight to watch as well. Although they are too many to mention everyone individually, there are a few that really stand out. Particularly amusing were Bette Davis and Maggie Smith as the wealthy, acid-tongued Mrs. Van Schuyler and her cantankerous nurse, Miss Bowers. Angela Lansbury was a riot as Salome Otterbourne, a lusty, tippling writer of lurid romance novels. Jack Warden does quite well with a German accent as Dr. Ludwig Bessner, a doctor of questionable skills and methods. Finally, Mia Farrow is impressive as Jackie, the rejected former lover of Linnet's husband. (V)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Saturday, 25 April 2009


Movie Review: Mogambo

Year of Release: 1953
Country of Origin: USA
Director: John Ford
Cast: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly

Plot outline: Victor Marswell, the owner of a big game trapping company in Kenya, becomes involved with the new wife of his guest (IMDb).

All your favorite African animals make cameo appearances. Lions, elephants, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hippos, rhinos, crocodiles, impalas. Even the secretary bird is a bit player, so Gardner can crack a joke about a female secretary ducking the advances of a male executive. Clark Gable is too old for the role, Victor Marswell, even though he was the lead in the successful original version, Red Dust (1932). But they say that power attracts, and certainly Gable is the big man on campus. For the crime of letting a panther escape, rather than tear off his limbs, Gable punches his less reliable white assistant, who naturally goes down for the count. Assault is less likely to solve his greater problem, whether to go blonde or brunette. In this case, the brunette is more fun, but the blonde burns with an intense heat. Through it all, the odd man out isn't really Gardner, who gets to spar with all concerned while playing the role of heartbroken but chin up second choice lover. The sap is Kelly's husband, Nordley, who chalks up her refusal to sleep with him as a disinclination for African camp life. When he's out of the way, Kelly exchanges torrid glances with Gable, but doesn't go much further because she's a good girl at heart, and there were no "R" rated movies in 1953. Even in Africa, it's a white man's world. Blacks are servants, scouts, laborers, hunters, and warriors. But they certainly aren't equals, and none appear to speak even broken English. However, Gable and his two fellow white trappers speak any native language fluently, regardless of which tribe they are obliged to exploit. A good script, a famous cast, a legendary director. All the ingredients are there, but the recipe for greatness proves elusive once again. It's not just the use of animals as props and atmosphere, or Gardner's ceaseless badgering of whatever living being is closest to her (she needs a dog!) The problem comes back to the premise. This 1953 version of Clark Gable isn't such a great catch. Couldn't Ford have cast his buddy John Wayne instead? (BK)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

2001: A Space Odyssey

Movie Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Year of Release: 1968
Country of Origin: UK, USA
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter

Plot outline: Mankind finds a mysterious, obviously artificial, artifact buried on the moon and, with the intelligent computer HAL, sets off on a quest (IMDb).

2001: A Space Odyssey was probably the most original movie ever made. It is so different from conventional movies that, in fact, it may be a different art form altogether. Even the very best movies, such as Casablanca, Rebecca and Chinatown have formulaic elements. In contrast, 2001 is in its own world, as if all the movies made before had never existed. Even though Stanley Kubrick has made even better movies (Dr. Strangelove and Barry Lyndon), 2001 will always be the most impressive, just for its originality and audacity. The movie has four parts. The first part is the dawn of man. Man-apes are taught to use tools and kill by an imposing black monolith. In the second part, a second black monolith is found buried in the moon by astronauts in the year 2001. This leads to a mission to Jupiter by another team of astronauts and a talkative, emotional computer named HAL. The final and most surreal part has astronaut Dave Bowman traveling to the infinite and beyond. Many critics were (and perhaps still are) put off by the lack of dialogue and character development, the slow pace, and surreal imagery. 2001 is a story told by cinematography, with much of the meaning left to the imagination of the viewer. The most developed character in the movie is HAL, a computer that is more emotional than the robotlike humans that accompany him on the mission. The confrontation between HAL (voiced by Douglas Rain) and Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) is the most interesting part of the movie, more so than the increasingly bizarre and unfathomable finale. (BK)

My judgement: **** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 19 April 2009


Movie Review: Kagemusha

Year of Release: 1980
Country of Origin: Japan
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kenichi Hagiwara, Jinpachi Nezu

Plot outline: When a powerful warlord dies, a thief is recruited to impersonate him (IMDb).

Kagemusha is another entry in Kurosawa's decades-long string of samurai movies. Although not without its problems in pacing and stiffness, it is better than some of his more famous movies, such as Yojimbo. It is also not up to the level of his best work, such as Throne of Blood, Ran and The Seven Samurai. The story is familiar, and yet unique. The warlord Shingen is mortally wounded while besieging a fortress. His dying wish is that his dynasty continue. This is accomplished by using an impersonator, Kagemusha (Tatsuya Nakadai), who is a thief with humble ancestry. Kagemusha serves as Shingen's stand-in for three years, improving morale and even helping to win battles. The most impressive aspect of Kagemusha is its cinematography, costumes and sets. Many scenes have waves of soldiers clad in armor and carrying banners, set against the sun and the countryside. Kurosawa gets even more from the battlefield images by judicious use of composer Shinichiro Ikebe's score. Outstanding cinematography and convincing sets and costumes are a familiar hallmark for Kurosawa throughout his career. Many scenes, however, are lengthy and static. People sit in a room and talk, and move so infrequently that it is sometimes difficult to tell which character is talking. It is true, however, that this criticism has to be diluted by putting it in a context of cultural differences and expectations. Western audiences want action from their war movies, and may have less appreciation for character depth and development. Nonetheless, the movie improves markedly whenever Shingen's young grandson Takemaru (Kota Yui) is on camera. Takemaru's energy, enthusiasm, and honesty of expression provides a stark contrast to the cynical and circumspect adult men that fill most of the movie's roles. Kagemusha is forced to subjugate his honest and emotive natural personality in order to impersonate Shingen. He can only be himself around Takemaru, who is eager to see him as something other than a stern monolith. (BK)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Friday, 17 April 2009

Rio Grande

Movie Review: Rio Grande

Year of Release: 1950
Country of Origin: USA
Director: John Ford
Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Ben Johnson, Claude Jarman Jr.

Plot outline: A cavalry unit located on the Mexican border must control Indian uprisings (IMDb).

Rio Grande is set at a remote, understaffed fort near the Mexican border in 1879. Lt. Col. Yorke (John Wayne) is facing an uprising of Apache Indians, who emerge from protected villages in Mexico for hit and run attacks. Yorke's young son has failed West Point and enlisted to prove his manhood, by coincidence assigned to his father's command. Wayne's estranged wife Kathleen (Maureen O'Hara) arrives to claim her underaged son from the Army, and rekindle romance with Wayne. Meanwhile, Tyree (Ben Johnson) is wanted for manslaughter, and there are several songs from the impressive "Sons of the Pioneers". Competently directed, with a fine cast and cinematography, the movie is surprisingly sentimental but sometimes drags. As usual in Ford movies, the Indians are faceless savages, with audience sympathy intended for the cavalry soldiers. Claude Jarman Jr. is well-cast for the role of Wayne's son. He looks the boy his character is supposed to be, and conveys the earnest and determined character traits necessary for the role. The father-son/commander-recruit/ guerilla-war theme was previously used in Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), another movie in which the son has to perform heroic feats to win the respect of his father. (BK)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Cassandra Crossing

Movie Review: The Cassandra Crossing

Year of Release: 1976
Country of Origin: West Germany, Italy, UK
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Cast: Sophia Loren, Richard Harris, Martin Sheen, Ava Gardner, Burt Lancaster

Plot outline: Passengers on a European train have been exposed to a deadly virus. Nobody will let them off the train so what happens next? (IMDb)

The American disaster movie was a staple of 1970s cinema. Indeed, it proved such a bankable formula that it was emulated by an unusual West Germany, Italy, UK co-production with an international all-star cast. Originally finalized over a quick meeting between mega-producers Lew Grade and Carlo Ponti, who intended the production to feature his then-wife Sophia Loren, The Cassandra Crossing was announced as part of the ambitious Grade’s planned new investment strategy, consisting of diverse features in a busy production schedule. Nevertheless, the lavish, thrilling adventure that Grade and Ponti promised attracted financing and distribution and would prove to be director George P. Cosmatos’ entry into a career as something of an expatriate journeyman, eventually leading him to Hollywood. The movie was not the hit entertainment that its producers were hoping for, however, and indeed remains more known outside of America, having failed to secure proper distribution in that all-important market. Nevertheless, it remains a remarkable achievement for the ease with which the always under-rated Cosmatos was able to transform a uniquely American genre into a rather anti-American statement with particular echoes for Europe post World War II. (RC)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Monday, 13 April 2009

The Longest Day

Movie Review: The Longest Day

Year of Release: 1962
Country of Origin: USA
Directors: Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki
Cast: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Richard Todd, Red Buttons, Richard Beymer, Robert Ryan

Plot outline: The events of D-Day, told on a grand scale from both the Allied and German points of view (IMDb).

The Longest Day was a mammoth project dramatizing D-day, the Allied invasion of France. It was nearly three hours in length and with an enormous ensemble cast, all playing supporting roles. The production was very conscientious about realism: the actors were always of the same nationality as their characters, and spoke in their native languages. The American role in the invasion is not exaggerated, and the German soldiers and officers are not portrayed as brutal stereotypes. The truth is, a great invasion makes for great drama, and with the attention to detail and production values of The Longest Day, the movie couldn't miss. Complaints about the movie are minor: strafing planes don't bother to make a second pass, it is implied that the Germans lost the war because unstable Hitler wouldn't release the Panzer tanks, and attempts at comic relief generally fall flat. The cast is so enormous that it is difficult to remember who is what. But it is fun playing "name the actor": heavyweights John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Rod Steiger and Henry Fonda are easily spotted, as are middleweights such as Eddie Albert, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowell, Peter Lawford, George Segal and Jeffrey Hunter. For some reason, a number of U.S. pop singers and teen idols were cast: Paul Anka, Fabian, Tommy Sands, and Sal Mineo. John Wayne and Henry Fonda would later have key roles in bloated war movies that were not successful, (The Green Berets and Midway respectively) demonstrating that the drama of war does not always come across on movie. (BK)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 12 April 2009


Movie Review: Duel

Year of Release: 1971
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Dennis Weaver, Eddie Firestone, Gene Dynarski, Tim Herbert

Plot outline: A business commuter is pursued and terrorized by a malevolent driver of a massive tractor-trailer (IMDb).

Steven Spielberg first made his mark with a television movie about a diabolical truck, a subject that would seem to have only limited possibilities. In fact, Duel took advantage of the very narrowness of its premise, building excitement from the most minimal ingredients and the simplest of situations. Even without benefit of hindsight, Duel looks like the work of an unusually talented young director. Duel begins when a California businessman embarks on a car trip and happens to pass a certain truck on a two-lane road. The truck, which seems to have a mind of its own (the driver is never clearly seen), wants revenge and spends the rest of the journey getting it. The trip, which is a succession of nerve-wracking chases (truck gets behind car and forces it to speed up; truck gets in front of car and tries to force it off the road; truck butts car into path of oncoming train, etc.), was indeed a long one. According to the production notes, Dennis Weaver, who plays the car's driver David Mann, put in more than 2,000 miles during the 16-day shooting schedule. Duel might almost have been a silent movie, because it expresses so much through action and so little through the words. As the movie's only real character, Weaver gives a few internal monologues that only awkwardly express Mann's anxiety. These and a few whimsical conversations from a call-in radio show are really all the character development the movie provides, and they're much weaker than the ingenious visual effects. Spielberg wasn't purely a special-effects director in those days, and he isn't one now, but the people in Duel seem particularly remote. The minor characters, at the various stops Mann makes along the highway, are uniformly freakish. And Mann himself is shown to be a henpecked husband who regains his masculinity only through the contest on the road. The ending is abrupt, but the main impression left is one of talent and energy. Spielberg seemed, with this movie, to be headed for bigger and better things. Sure enough, he was! (NYT)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Saturday, 11 April 2009


Movie Review: Yojimbo

Year of Release: 1961
Country of Origin: Japan
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yôko Tsukasa, Isuzu Yamada

Plot outline: A samurai comes to a town divided by two criminal gangs and decides to play them off against each other to free the town (IMDb).

Akira Kurosawa frequently borrowed western themes for his movies, which in turn became the basis for western adaptations. A good example of this mutually beneficial cultural exchange is Yojimbo. The setting and story is similar to that of an American western, with Japanese equivalents substituted for gunmen, sheriffs, taverns and showdowns in the dusty streets. The success of Yojimbo bred imitations in the west. The first was A Fistful of Dollars (1964), the initial entry in Clint Eastwood's western trilogy with Italian director Sergio Leone. Less notable was Last Man Standing (1996), the remake starring Bruce Willis. The year is 1860. The fall of the Japanese Shogunate dynasty has led to the unemployment of samurai. One of them is Sanjuro (Toshirô Mifune), who wanders poor and hungry into a small town. He learns from bitter but compassionate Gonji (Eijirô Tôno) that the town is divided by two rival families, who each have hired criminal gangs to do the other in. This arrangement is for the benefit of both Sanjuro and the local coffin maker (Atsushi Watanabe). Learning that both sides are equally despicable, Sanjuro decides to play them off against each other. Kurosawa, of course, is one of the greatest directors of all time. His movies are consistently of very high quality. Yojimbo is a very good movie, but it is not up to the standards of his best movies. Sanjuro's swordsmanship, survival ability, and heroism take on mythic proportions, losing some credibility along the way. The supporting characters lack the depth found in The Seven Samurai (1954) or Ran (1985). Yojimbo also varies between drama and comedy, betraying some indecision on the part of Kurosawa. But, Yojimbo does have excellent cinematography, a unique, interesting score, and an entertaining story. And perhaps no movie better showcases the talents of Toshirô Mifune, who may be the greatest of all Japanese actors. (BK)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Friday, 10 April 2009

The Great Ziegfeld

Movie Review: The Great Ziegfeld

Year of Release: 1936
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Luise Rainer

Plot outline: A lavish biography of Florenz Ziegfeld, the producer who became Broadway's biggest starmaker (IMDb).

The Great Ziegfeld is a lengthy but surprisingly effective biography of Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld. William Powell gives an entertaining performance as the title character, and the script is both witty and compelling. Luise Rainer gives a heartrending performance as the dithering, childlike French stage performer Anna Held. Meanwhile, Myrna Loy appears to be miscast to play Billie Burke. Loy's attempted vocal imitation of Burke comes and goes, and seems half-hearted at best. Loy, a striking beauty, was probably cast due to box office considerations. Powell and Loy had already been teamed up together in several successful movies, including Manhattan Melodrama and The Thin Man. She was a talented actress, but wasn't the right personality for playing vivacious Burke. Whether his shows become smash hits or disappointments, Ziegfeld always seems to be broke. This is due to his characteristic excessive generosity and gambling. Ziegfeld's frequent encounters with creditors and bankers provides much comic relief. The Great Ziegfeld is three hours in length. This is due to the addition of many elaborate production numbers, featuring a bevy of showgirls in outlandish costumes. These stage productions are visually impressive and have undeniable historical and cultural importance. But they are also dead in the water, their very scale making them turgid and bloated. The movie drags during the show depictions, and picks up again when Powell and the narrative resume. (BK)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Shall We Dance

Movie Review: Shall We Dance

Year of Release: 1937
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Mark Sandrich
Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton

Plot outline: A budding romance between a ballet master and a tapdancer becomes complicated when rumours surface that they're already married (IMDb).

Shall We Dance is best known for its George and Ira Gershwin scores: "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me". From the beginning, Astaire wants Rogers. Of course, she plays hard to get, and the usual misunderstandings create further obstacles, but we know that they'll get together at the end. Rogers first falls for Astaire because he is walking a team of dogs. If that 'hilarious' sight gag is unconvincing, what about this one? Rogers is set to present Astaire with divorce papers, until she sees him dance with a bevy of showgirls dressed up like her. Worse, they each have a mask of her. The normal feminine reaction would be to recommend psychiatric treatment for Astaire, then run. Instead, she joins the act. The middle of the movie is dominated by a thin storyline. Astaire orchestrates publicity that he is secretly wed to Rogers. Why? So he can escape the clutches of a dancer (Ketti Gallian), as simply telling her no would be too easy. Rogers' best friend and night club owner (Jerome Cowan) participates in the scam with Astaire to prevent Rogers from marrying William Brisbane, as it will end her (and allegedly his) career. But Rogers never has any romantic interest in Brisbane. She wants to get married because she's tired of being chased by men. So, she lets Astaire chase her instead. No part of the story makes any sense. The supporting characters are even more befuddled. Edward Everett Horton owns a dance studio, but in effect is Astaire's constant companion. The problem is, he's a complete idiot, as is a moralistic hotel manager (Eric Blore) that receives far too much screen time. Shall We Dance asks the audience to disregard the shallowness of plot, script, and characters. After all, it is a musical, and don't Astaire and Rogers sing and dance divinely? But in truth, neither can do little more than keep in tune. Their carefully rehearsed dance routines can't carry the movie's dead weight. Don't examine it, just find the spirit and enjoy it. (BK)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Monday, 6 April 2009

Follow the Fleet

Movie Review: Follow the Fleet

Year of Release: 1936
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Mark Sandrich
Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott

Plot outline: Two sailors on leave romance a dance-hall hostess and her prim sister (IMDb).

Imperfections in Follow the Fleet, a free adaptation of Hubert Osborne's play Shore Leave, are confined to story, and that's usual with musicals, stage or screen. The major flaw - and it is really a minor one - is the movie's failure to include a few comedians to help carry the picture along when Astaire and Rogers are not in there dancing. Edward Everett Horton would have helped, and so would Eric Blore or Erik Rhodes. Comedy, rather than the minor romance of Randolph Scott and Harriet Hilliard, would have been a more satisfactory order of the day. An admiral's salute is still due for Astaire and Rogers, with a general broadside of approval for Scott, Hilliard and Allwyn. Nevertheless, the story never detracts from the important element - the Astaire-Rogers musical efforts. There are seven songs which is a bit too much - all by Irving Berlin, with "Face the Music", a cross between "Piccolino" and "Lovely Day", easily the leader. The score on the whole is pleasant but save for "Face the Music", the last number, not particularly distinguished. (V)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Friday, 3 April 2009

Night and Day

Movie Review: Night and Day

Year of Release: 1946
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Michael Curtiz
Cast: Cary Grant, Alexis Smith, Monty Woolley, Ginny Simms, Jane Wyman, Eve Arden

Plot outline: The fictionalized biography of composer Cole Porter from his days at Yale in the 1910s through the height of his success to the 1940s (IMDb).

With Cary Grant giving a casual and thoroughly ingratiating performance, and with Monty Woolley on hand to let some delightfully acid comments drop where they may, Night and Day moves with slick cinematic and rhythmical ease from one hit tuneshow to another. While the movie begs quick dismissal as an idealistic smattering of biography about a living personality, there is no denying that it is stuffed with the gaudy things that make for a visually handsome entertainment. Brief and not precisely accurate glimpses of the tunesmith's early life in Indiana, his days at Yale, when he dashed off the football hymn "Bulldog", and his experiences with the French Army in World War I are followed by a lively series of excerpts from a half dozen or so of his popular Broadway shows. Ginny Simms sings most of the songs, putting them over nicely in her own pleasant and sort of blue-velvet-tone voice without making any attempt to imitate the style of an Irene Bordoni or an Ethel Merman. Just as well, too. The incomparable Mary Martin is in the picture for one delectable sequence, doing the popular "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" as only she knows how to put that suggestive ballad over. "Begin the Beguine," certainly one of Porter's best and most frequently played tunes, is richly sung by Carlos Ramirez in a setting of lush tropical splendor, and there is a sizzling specialty tap dance by Estelle Sloan. Night and Day is a fulsome entertainment, well larded with the flavor of the Broadway show world and touches of sentiment, romantic and otherwise, which smack more of Hollywood than Porter. Alexis Smith's role as Mrs. Porter is largely fictional, but the actress performs the part with a great deal of charm. Jane Wyman, as a show girl, and Eve Arden, who plays a French songstress in broad burlesque, are both very amusing. Director Michael Curtiz never permits the movie to drag. His is more of an achievement than might be readily apparent, considering the sprawling character of the production and the rather thin and conventional scenario the scenarists concocted about the fabulous Cole Porter. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars