Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Donovan's Reef

Movie Review: Donovan's Reef

Year of Release: 1963
Country of Origin: USA
Director: John Ford
Cast: John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Elizabeth Allen, Jack Warden, Cesar Romero, Dorothy Lamour

Plot outline: A war veteran in the South Seas tries to salvage a buddy's reputation when the man's daughter comes calling (IMDb).

The movie was shot on extremely photogenic Kauai, Hawaii - where an icy Boston heiress has gone to search out her seemingly errant father. That staid lady not only discovers the beauties of the palm-studded island but also romance in the guise of John Wayne, an erstwhile heroic hand on a Navy destroyer who decided to stay on after the war and is now the owner of the island saloon of the title, among other properties. Mr. Ford and his devoted team are not overlooking that movies should move even though the dialogue is colloquial, funny and manly. Everyone, from Elizabeth Allen, as the starchy Bostonian whose reserve melts after being exposed to the amorous assaults of Mr. Wayne and the charms of the happy folk around her, to Miss Lamour, is constantly involved in physical action: Mr. Wayne belts Mr. Marvin; Mr. Wayne and Mr. Marvin good-naturedly take on an Australian Navy crew; the kids go water skiing; Mr. Wayne is forever tearing around the island in a jeep; and Miss Lamour is tossed into a pool. Miss Allen gets a watery greeting at the outset when she lands in the lagoon on missing her step off the schooner that brings her to her destination. She is never the proper Bostonian after that. Mr. Ford, to summarize, is kidding, but he also has his viewers in mind and he does not shortchange them. Everything ends as happily as a trite travelogue, and his cast behaves in customary but satisfying style. Miss Lamour's contribution is slight, but she obviously appreciates the free-and-easy spirit of the whole wacky affair. Jack Warden is merely serious as the dedicated doctor, and Jacqueline Malouf, Cherylene Lee and Tim Stafford, as his happy, half-caste offspring, are winning youngsters. (NYT)

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

Monday, 25 May 2009

Penny Serenade

Movie Review: Penny Serenade

Year of Release: 1941
Country of Origin: USA
Director: George Stevens
Cast: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Beulah Bondi, Edgar Buchanan

Plot outline: A couple's big dreams give way to a life full of unexpected sadness and unexpected joy (IMDb).

From the moment that Miss Dunne sadly turns on the old gramaphone and, to the plaintive strains of "You Were Meant for Me," the scene fades back to her first meeting with Mr. Grant, you may recognize that you are in for a reminiscent wrench. Then, as she successively replenishes the music box with such nostalgic tunes as "Just a Memory," "Missouri Waltz," "Poor Butterfly," "Blue Heaven," etc., right out of a book, you follow the couple as they marry, suffer countless little woes, buy a country newspaper, adopt a baby and finally lose the child they love so much. And slowly, without being aware of it, you drift with them and the movie from brittle, sophisticated comedy to out-and-out softy stuff, from the quixotic plighting of their troth at a New Year's Eve party to the first fearful bathing of baby in the familiar new-parents comedy vein. And then you are sniffling and gulping as little daughter takes part in her first school play and you know that the teacher's promise that she can be "an angel next year" is irony. Somehow, it all goes down, despite a woefully overlong script - all but Mr. Grant's recalcitrance after the little one is gone. It's hard to believe that a man could treat his ever-loving wife so wretchedly, at a time when both would be drawn even closer together by grief. And their sudden joyful willingness to adopt another child is open to doubt. But some very credible acting on the part of Miss Dunne and Mr. Grant is responsible in the main for the infectious quality of the movie. Edgar Buchanan, too, gives an excellent performance as a good-old-Charlie friend, and Beulah Bondi is sensible as an orphanage matron. Heart-warming is the word for both of them. As a matter of fact, the whole picture deliberately cozies up to the heart. (NYT)

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

Sunday, 24 May 2009

The Phantom of the Opera

Movie Review: The Phantom of the Opera (silent)

Year of Release: 1925
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Rupert Julian
Cast: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry

Plot outline: A mad, disfigured composer seeks love with a lovely young opera singer (IMDb).

This well known silent classic is certain to be of interest to silent movie students who haven't yet gotten around to seeing it. It provides the most famous role for one of the silent era's biggest stars, Lon Chaney. Movie buffs will also be fascinated by its color sequence. Color cameras and film, and their prodigious lighting requirements, were prohibitively expensive, yet this marquis production used a color scene to generate buzz, and show off its colossal opera house sound stage. Besides the sets, the pastel color scene, and the fame of its production and star, The Phantom of the Opera has yet more going for it: suspense! True, it is predicated upon a stock theme, the pure blond beauty in peril from villain, a cliche that preceded cinema. But the theme is overused precisely because it is effective, especially since some of us take the perverse attitude of cheering for the villain. If anyone is offended, it might be those mindful of the woman's role in society. An early scene features dozens of childlike ballerinas fascinated by and fearful of the Phantom. Worse, our heroine, Christine leaves much to be desired in terms of character. While the unseen Phantom is advancing her career, she cheerfully follows his instruction, even spurning her lover, the heroic and humorless Raoul. If her rival Carlotta is killed, so much the better, for the sake of her own career. But once Christine learns how ugly her new boyfriend actually is, all she can do is cower in fear. Only late in the movie, when she pleads to the Phantom to spare Raoul, does she show concern for someone other than her fair-skinned self. (BK)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Movie Review: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Year of Release: 1961
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Irwin Allen
Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine, Barbare Eden, Peter Lorre, Robert Sterling

Plot outline: The captain of a nuclear submarine defies his commander to save the Earth from a deadly space fire (IMDb).

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was the forerunner of the TV series of the same name (which lasted for four seasons, 1964 -1968, and 110 episodes), which became Irwin Allen’s longest running show. The reason for Allen making the series seems solely based on shrewd commercial instinct - that he had expended $400,000 building a model and the interior set of the submarine, it was left over after making the movie so why not do something else with it. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is mounted with the dull stolidity, indeed it lays out the blueprint of the ensuing series: the wooden dialogue and characters, the laughable science, and the mindless spectacle of flashing lights. The characters are all forthright GI types hewn with shining patriotism; attempts to introduce characterization with a romance between Barbara Eden and Robert Sterling, and crewmembers expressing concern about their families have a dreadfully forced embarrassment. The science is, as it always was in Allen’s science-fiction, laughable; all the talk about a burning Van Allen belt and being able to blast it away with missiles is remarkable in its pseudo-scientific incompetence. Allen should have been ashamed about his failure to even check the most basic details in his science-fiction (if he did know better it does seem a remarkable contempt for his audience’s intelligence). But, the movie is not without its entertainment value. The middle scenes with the crew tensions pitted against commander Walter Pidgeon’s single-minded determination are conducted with a certain vigour. The effects work is particularly good, notably the scenes of the submarine cruising beneath the surface and the nicely done burning sky effects. Although the effects fall down when one sees that the Seaview model has only been built at one size and when it is focused on in tight closeup the lack of fine detail shows it up as just a model. (M)

My judgement: *1/2 out of 4 stars

Monday, 18 May 2009

Phantom of the Opera

Movie Review: Phantom of the Opera

Year of Release: 1943
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Arthur Lubin
Cast: Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster, Claude Rains, Edgar Barrier

Plot outline: A disfigured violinist secretly loves a rising operatic soprano and haunts the Paris Opera House (IMDb).

Nelson Eddy is no phantom in this movie; he is very much in solid evidence, and his lungs are working as strongly and as loudly as they have ever worked before. Indeed, you might almost think the picture was made just so he might sing. And that is the principal reason why this remake of the old Lon Chaney movie is bereft of much of the terror and macabre quality of the original. The role of the Phantom has been very much watered down, and Claude Rains has been made to play it in a sort of "lone ranger" style. In this rewritten version of the old Gaston Leroux tale, he is nothing more than the unsuspected father of an understudy who tries very hard and in secret to advance his daughter's career. When Mr. Eddy isn't singing or preparing, he is usually making ponderous love, which is oddly supposed to be funny, to Miss Foster, along with Edgar Barrier (he is the high-hat detective who tries to solve the mysteries of the opera house). Together they make about as boring a pair of rival suitors as we dread to see. The sequence in which the Phantom drops the huge chandelier on the heads of the glittering audience is the only moment in the movie in which the potential excitement of the story is realized. Here the blend of monstrous violence with the wild Russian music on the stage achieves the realization of terror which is lost in the rest of the yarn. Even the scenes in the catacombs beneath the opera, where the Phantom lives, receive a kid-glove treatment. It's a nice little spot the boy has there. To be sure, the production is elegant. Settings and costumes are superfine, they all make a lavish display. But that richness of décor and music is precisely what gets in the way of the tale. Who is afraid of a Phantom that is billed beneath Mr. Eddy in the cast? (NYT)

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

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The African Queen

Movie Review: The African Queen

Year of Release: 1951
Country of Origin: UK, USA
Director: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn

Plot outline: In Africa during WWI, a gin-swilling riverboat owner is persuaded by a strait-laced missionary to use his boat to attack an enemy warship (IMDb).

One of the most popular of all classic Hollywood movies, The African Queen was also the only movie which paired Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn together as the leads. The top-ranked American Film Institute Actor and Actress, respectively, they proved to have good romantic screen chemistry together as a middle-aged Odd Couple forced together by circumstance, and learning to like it. Although unquestionably a good movie, The African Queen itself is not as impressive as the clever Hollywood formula construction upon which it was based. In retrospect, it was genius to cast Bogart as the salty but kindly sea merchant, and Hepburn as the prim but headstrong missionary. The problem was that their characters were too fluid. Bogart is all too willing to risk his life (and hers, too) on an unlikely mission that had little chance of impacting the war, anyway, which was waged on the battlefields of France. The feel-good story certainly delivers, but relies too strongly on coincidences. The Germans arrive at the village seemingly just after Bogart has left, delivering as an aside the news of the sudden war. Bogart shows up again the day that the failed missionary has died, despite earlier saying that he wouldn't be back for some time. On the day chosen to torpedo the Louisa, there is a terrible storm. But they go ahead with the plans anyway, despite an earlier assurance by Bogart that the Germans would return again and again. There's hardly need to mention the incredible timing of the Louisa hitting the African Queen, after the marriage ceremony but before the execution. Somehow, Bogart and Hepburn are united again but separated from the German crew, with nowhere to go but back to the leech-infested marsh. Then there is the stereotyped depiction of Africans as simple-minded children, of WWI era Germans as bullying oppressors, and of missionaries as clueless fools. Bogart's character rings the most true, but it is his performance that makes it credible. (BK)

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

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Pat and Mike

Movie Review: Pat and Mike

Year of Release: 1952
Country of Origin: USA
Director: George Cukor
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Aldo Ray

Plot outline: Romance blooms between a female athlete and her manager (IMDb).

Miss Hepburn always has been an actress whose competence with a line or with a tensile dramatic situation has been well above the margin of surprise. But this is the first time she has shown us - at least, on the motion-picture screen - that she can swing a golf club or tennis racquet as adroitly as she can sling an epigram. As a sensational all-round lady athlete who joins the ranks of the pros in the wild hope of getting away from a peculiarly demoralizing beau, she is given an opportunity to match golf strokes with Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Betty Hicks and to trade forehand drives and backhand volleys with Alice Marble, Don Budge and Gussie Moran. And while she may not come up entirely to her competitors in the way of form, she makes a good enough show of ability to give the illusion of being a first-rate pro. In the role of the tough-guy sports promoter to whom the lady flees and with whom she has a wild adventure vis-a-vis a trio of Damon Runyon thugs, Mr. Tracy, too, makes happy pretense of being a sporting type or, as he realistically puts it, "There's a nice dollar laying around for you and I to pick up." Pat and Mike is a shaky combination of, let us say, Woman of the Year and (if you can imagine without music) the theatrical Guys and Dolls. But, withal, it is a likable fable about a highly coordinated dame who moves in upon and takes over a positive, authoritative guy, with slight overtones of honor triumphing over shadiness and greed. It is smoothly directed by George Cukor and slyly, amusingly played by the whole cast, especially by its due of easy, adroit, experienced stars. Mr. Ray, as a dumb, moody fighter; Sammy White, as a shifty hanger-on; and William Ching, as the stuffed-shirt fiancé, are outstanding in support. George Mathews and Charles Buchinski (Bronson) are also fun as "the kind of types that have been known to act very hot-headed in their day and age." (They are neatly manhandled by Miss Hepburn, using judo, in one scene.) And, as for the real professional athletes and the exhibitions they give, they are credible, colorful and exciting. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Wild Bunch

Movie Review: The Wild Bunch

Year of Release: 1969
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Cast: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien

Plot outline: An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the traditional American West is disappearing around them (IMDb).

The Wild Bunch had modest box office success, but its real influence was with film critics and western aficionadoes. More violent than any western that preceded it, the movie opened and ended with extensive scenes of graphic bloodshed. Violence was depicted as ugly and not heroic. The leads were not portrayed with nobility, nor did they have the cool demeanor of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name. The story is set in Mexico circa 1910, and Angel (Jaime Sanchez) gets into trouble for his revolutionary sympathies. As he is a member of The Wild Bunch, weak attempts are made to rescue him. If the gang was completely corrupt, they would instead laugh at his misfortunes. Analysis of symbolism sometimes cannot be avoided. In The Wild Bunch, we see a group of children laughing and grinning as they place a small scorpion into a swarm of ants. As if the scorpion doesn't have enough troubles, the children later set both the ants and scorpion ablaze. I suppose the scorpion represents The Wild Bunch, who themselves represent both lawlessness and advanced middle age. The ants represent the public, who seeks law and order. The fire stands for the coming of a new age, that of the automobile and the end of the west. The children are the next generation, who will thrive in the new order but retain the cruelty of the past. (BK)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Airport '77

Movie Review: Airport '77

Year of Release: 1977
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Jerry Jameson
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant, Brenda Vaccaro

Plot outline: Art thieves hijack a 747, hit fog and crash into the ocean, trapping them and the passengers under 100 feet of water (IMDb).

The disaster genre was in full swing by 1977, and Jennings Lang, the executive producer, was apparently trying to be like Irwin Allen. He produced the last two installments of this series, going for more elaborate perils than what the previous two movies offered. Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) is back to offer assistance with another airplane disaster. This time, he is the liaison between the military and the company that built the plane. There's no explanation of how he went from airline mechanic (Airport) to VP of Operations (Airport 1975) to this position. Nevertheless, he offers helpful advice concerning the plane's stress points, which is a crucial bit of information considering how the Navy plans on freeing the submerged passengers. Airport '77 somehow manages to remain believable despite its outlandish plot, which is always taken seriously. The movie works because if this scenario were to happen, then what we see looks like a plausible way to go about a rescue operation. The best performance goes to Jack Lemmon, who remains calm and takes charge admirably as Captain Gallagher once the plane sinks underwater. The plot is bewildering, but a good disaster movie always features tremendous odds against the people in danger. So, as long as the screenplay makes the characters smart about their situation, then it usually works. While bad disaster movies get the special effects right, but always lack a strong human element for us to latch onto. Luckily, Airport '77 features some interesting characters and an engaging screenplay to go along with the plot. (SS)

My judgement: ** out of 4 stars

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Legal Eagles

Movie Review: Legal Eagles

Year of Release: 1986
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Ivan Reitman
Cast: Robert Redford, Debra Winger, Daryl Hannah

Plot outline: Tom Logan has a law partner who put a dog on the witness stand, a client who can't enter a room without a crime being committed, and a case that could turn out to be the murder of the year (IMDb).

Robert Redford only acted in four movies in the 1980s, turning his energies instead to directing, activism, and his Sundance Institute for young filmmakers. Hardly surprising, if Legal Eagles is representative of the scripts he was being offered at the time. While for director Ivan Reitman, sandwiched between Ghostbusters and Twins, this was a rare flop; and for Debra Winger, her career never quite recovered. While the picture falls well short of the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn comedies it seeks to emulate, it's slick and good-looking enough to while away a few undemanding hours. Legal Eagles tries to be all things to all people (romantic comedy, courtroom drama, action-packed thriller), ending up significantly less than the sum of its parts. Redford glides through it all effortlessly, but his 24-carat charisma is the only thing keeping this flick afloat. (NS)

My judgement: ** out of 4 stars

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Woman of the Year

Movie Review: Woman of the Year

Year of Release: 1942
Country of Origin: USA
Director: George Stevens
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn

Plot outline: Rival reporters Sam and Tess fall in love and get married, only to find their relationship strained when Sam comes to resent Tess' hectic lifestyle (IMDb).

There are many things to recommend this battle of the sexes movie, not the least being the fact its script won best screenplay Oscar in 1943. It is the first (of nine) memorable on-screen collaborations between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, whose appeal lies in their differences. Made in 1942, the movie's working woman theme is a progressive one; sparks fly in all directions as Hepburn's multi-lingual woman of the world Tess (she won't talk to anybody who hasn't signed a non-aggression pact) and Tracy's Sam (he calls her the Calamity Jane of the fast international set) irk and are besotted by one another before trying to work it all out. It is clear from the start that their lives and lifestyles are totally different. He thinks they are going on a date; she thinks he is going to drive her to the airport. Tess' favourite aunt Ellen Witcomb (Fay Bainter) advises her that "success is no fun unless you share it with someone" and the whirlwind marriage (scheduled between engagements) results in a wedding night to remember, in which the marital bedroom is graced by a refugee, his bodyguards, an entourage and family and friends. My favourite scene comes towards the end when Tess tries to win her way back into Sam's heart through his stomach. It is obvious that she has probably never even been in a kitchen before, let alone tried to cook, and the results are hilarious. Sam watches from the doorway as Tess (wearing a fur coat) finds imaginative ways to separate eggs, works out how to light the gas stove and tries to keep an oozing waffle under control. "You don't think I can do all the ordinary things that any idiot can do?" Tess pleads, to which Sam pragmatically states: "Because you're incapable." Tracy and the ever-elegant Hepburn are at their prime in this delectable black and white - filled with witty lines and hilarious situations - movie that gives romantic comedies a good name. (LK)

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

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The Odd Couple

Movie Review: The Odd Couple

Year of Release: 1968
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Gene Saks
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau

Plot outline: Two friends try sharing an apartment, but their ideas of housekeeping and lifestyles are as different as oil and water (IMDb).

The Odd Couple was a successful Neil Simon's Broadway play. Clearly, the premise is engaging. The two main characters are exaggerated, of course, but their motivations are understandable. Felix (Jack Lemmon) is an obsessive-compulsive who wants to keep everything in order. Oscar (Walter Matthau) is a fatalist who wants to enjoy the moment, since tomorrow might not be another day. The movie sure looks like a play. Most scenes take place within Oscar's apartment, and feature pages of dialogue. Men are culturally regarded as standoffish, particularly when they are not trying to impress a woman. In this movie, though, all grievances major and minor are to be uttered instead of silently endured, and Felix's poker buddies actually care whether or not he jumps from a tall building (the usual gamblers would place wagers on whether his launching pad is the Chrysler building or the Empire State skyscraper). It is important to Felix that he be liked. His eagerness to cook for his poker friends is an attempt to show his affection for them. Can Felix and Oscar learn from each other? Can Felix learn about carpe diem, and stop whining about his back/bursitis/sinuses? Can Oscar become financially responsible and a good host? The answer is NO, despite Oscar's close comments about cigar butts. They can't even appreciate the other's good points. They will remain oil and water, since man's basic nature cannot be changed. Or it wouldn't be funny. (BK)

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

Monday, 4 May 2009

Arsenic and Old Lace

Movie Review: Arsenic and Old Lace

Year of Release: 1944
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, Jack Carson

Plot outline: A drama critic learns on his wedding day that his beloved maiden aunts are homicidal maniacs, and that insanity runs in his family (IMDb).

The core of the story is that these two nice charitable old ladies are pre-meditated murderers. This is basis enough for a movie, but for Arsenic and Old Lace, it is only the beginning. Excitable Cary Grant is added, as well a series of preposterous coincidences. On the same day that Grant discovers his aunt's methods of solving "Brooklyn's lonely old man problem", Grant gets married, Jack Carson takes over the neighborhood beat, and malevolent Raymond Massey shows up after a twenty-year absence. Things sure are hopping at the Brewster mansion. The one real surprise is that Peter Lorre gets away. The production code of the day frowned on criminals escaping justice, and here is a mass murderer (in the eyes of the law) sneaking off scot-free. It's also something of a surprise that cop Jack Carson sees Grant tied up, accompanied by two strange-looking men he's never seen before, and accepts at face value Lorre's lame explanation without even removing Grant's gag. Well, that, and Priscilla Lane putting up with outrageously rude behavior from Grant, beginning with the opening scene where he wears dark shades as if he's ashamed to be with her. She tells him she was nearly strangled by Massey, and Grant remains concerned only with sending Teddy Roosevelt to the nuthouse. But it's a good movie despite its problems of an overly complex plot and dubious character motivation. This has much to do with Grant, who is at his most ridiculous, and his A-list supporting cast. Plus, a few droll lines, usually supplied by the smiling, saintly aunts who believe their poisoning of house visitors provides a social good. (BK)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Anna and the King of Siam

Movie Review: Anna and the King of Siam

Year of Release: 1946
Country of Origin: USA
Director: John Cromwell
Cast: Irene Dunne, Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell

Plot outline: A strong-willed English widow shows the stubborn King of Siam how to live in the modern world (IMDb).

Based on the popular biography written by Margaret Landon about Anna Leonowens who served as governess at the Siamese court in the early 1860s, this movie should be vastly attractive to those who respectably delight in the idealized picture of a female whose splendid qualities accomplish worthy ends. For Irene Dunne plays the fabled governess briskly and winsomely, and the whole pattern of her characterization is designed to show her strength of mind and will. As the gentle and proud English widow who is considerably shocked and outraged at the feudal customs of Siam, who stubbornly refuses to grovel before the masterful king and who spends several years in rather charming and occasionally brutal tilting with him, Miss Dunne makes a regular bandbox heroine. She carries her bonneted head high, demonstrates wit with pretty modesty and eventually drops a tender, touching tear. Her lady is on a level with some that Greer Garson has played. But it is really in the performance of Rex Harrison as the king and in the cunning conception of his character that the charm of the picture lies. For this king is a most exceptional person, as was well indicated in the book; he is strangely desirous for enlightenment and for progress, while preserving feudal rules. And his quaintly eccentric nature, his difficult comprehensions of new thought, his pride and his poignant humility supply the humor and appeal in this movie. The fact that Mr. Harrison is able to play the role with rare personality and authority while wearing some of the silliest costumes - droopy bloomers, spiked headgears and silken jerkins - manifests the exceptional talent that he has. The script does not follow the line of the book, and certainly the extravagant decorations are a bit beyond the span of that report. A few of the characters, such as Linda Darnell's Tuptim and Gale Sondergaard's Lady Thiang are elaborate and conventional "Hollywood". So, too, is the saccharine cuteness of some of the palace tots and Richard Lyon's stiffly self-conscious performance of the governess' own son. Director John Cromwell is responsible for much of the over-doing here. But Lee J. Cobb is quietly commanding as his majesty's chief ministers and Mikhail Rasumny is amusing and attractive as a much put-upon court scribe. They contribute - along with Mr. Harrison - to the qualities which make this movie worthwhile. (NYT)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Pocketful of Miracles

Movie Review: Pocketful of Miracles

Year of Release: 1961
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: Glenn Ford, Bette Davis, Hope Lange

Plot outline: A good-hearted gangster turns an old apple seller into a society matron so she can impress her daughter (IMDb).

The story, which alternates uneasily between wit and sentiment, is based on the 1933 Lady for a Day which was also directed by Frank Capra. It has to do with an impoverished apple-seller (Bette Davis) who would have her long lost daughter (Ann-Margret) believe that she is a lady of means. This is simple enough when the daughter is on the other side of the globe, but when she comes trotting over for a look-see, mama is in trouble. Enter mama's favorite apple-polisher, influential Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford), who hastily sets up an elaborate masquerade with the aid of a horde of typical 1930s Runyon-esquehoodlums who are hard as nails on the surface, but all whipped cream on the inside. The picture seems too long, considering that there's never any doubt as to the outcome, and it's also too lethargic, but there are sporadic compensations of line and situation that reward the patience. Fortunately Capra has assembled some of Hollywood's outstanding character players for the chore. For the romantic leads, there are no James Stewart and Jean Arthur (probably Capra's most formidable star-pairing), but Ford and Hope Lange. As a comedy team, they get by - particularly Ford. Lange is more suitable for serious roles. Davis has the meaty role of Apple Annie and, except for a tendency to overemotional in closeups, she handles it with depth and finesse. But, the best lines in the picture go to Peter Falk, who just about walks off with the movie when he's on. (V)

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