Friday, October 06, 2017

Dinner at Eight (1933)


Wonderful, sharply-written ensemble comedy-drama following the individual stories of different characters attending a high-society dinner party, which interweave to create an alternately witty and funny, solemn and even tragic tapestry of the human condition.

Directed by George Cukor. Screenplay by Frances Marion and Herman J. Mankiewicz, from the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, with additional dialogue by Donald Ogden Stewart. Starring Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe and Billie Burke. Exquisitely photographed by William Daniels.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Merrily We Go To Hell (1932)


Pre-code melodrama about an alcoholic writer -- played by Fredric March -- and his disastrous marriage to Sylvia Sidney that leads to tragedy but ultimately redemption. March delivers a fine performance that prefigures his performance as Norman Maine in A STAR IS BORN five years later. Directed by Dorothy Arzner.

Friday, September 01, 2017

TWO GIANTS OF FILM COMEDY


Mack Sennett and Buster Keaton on the set of "Hollywood Cavalcade" (1939). For this tale of the early days of Hollywood starring Don Ameche and Alice Faye, Sennett supervised the silent film sequences featuring Buster Keaton, and which were directed by Mal St. Clair, who'd co-directed two of Keaton's silent shorts. Ironically, Keaton was one of the few major silent clowns who never actually worked for Sennett during the silent era.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Robert Mitchum in "Cape Fear" (1962)




Watching CAPE FEAR again last night for the first time in years, I was struck by the highly effective sense of dreamlike frustration in the climactic sequence on board the houseboat, with Peck's helpless frustration as he watches the boat get cut loose and float away, frantically swimming after it, and then learning that it was all a distraction while Mitchum has already made his way back to shore to attack Peck's teenage daughter.

I couldn't help comparing Mitchum's terrifying performance here with his characterization in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. The difference is that CAPE FEAR takes a realistic approach, firmly rooted in the conventions of its genre and in the classical style, where NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is like a dream and stands own its own as something totally unique.

I've become fascinated by Mitchum recently -- an absolutely fearless actor with a seemingly intuitive sense of how to play each role he undertook...versatile doesn't begin to describe his range.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Amateur Cinema

I'd say it's time for independent filmmakers to reclaim the word "amateur" and wear it as a badge of honor!


Herman G. Weinberg on Robert Florey, from "A Paradox in the Photoplay", in Movie Makers: the Magazine of the Amateur Cinema League, January 1929.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tales of Manhattan (1942)


I watched this film the other night. It's one of those omnibus films like IF I HAD A MILLION or O. HENRY'S FULL HOUSE -- with five stories involving a cursed tailcoat as it is transferred from one owner to the next and changes their fortunes in the process -- except this one is the work of a single director, Julien Duvivier, which accounts for the stylistic consistency between the individual segments here when compared with other films of this kind.

The five segments are all interesting if rather offbeat stories acted by major stars including Charles Boyer, Rita Hayworth, Henry Fonda, Ginger Rogers, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Robeson and Ethel Waters, among many others. (the copy I saw is missing the W.C. Fields sequence that was restored in the '90s, which is often cited as a highlight and which I've seen elsewhere, but is far from being among The Great Man's best work).

It's too bad Hollywood doesn't make films like this anymore, outside of the odd example such as 1989's NEW YORK STORIES or 2008's NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU. The format offers a lot of potential to tell short stories and the best of them can operate like variations on a theme.

A side note, but there's a particular little moment in this film that I loved: Eugene Pallette delivers the tailcoat to Henry Fonda's manservant Roland Young, who is cleaning up balloons and other debris after a wild party the night before. Young lets go of the balloons, which float up to the ceiling. A moment later, one balloon bursts off-screen, presumably from coming into contact with the hot klieg lights at the top of the set, and the men react to it briefly, while continuing on with their dialogue. Likely it was all done in a single take and was left in. It's the kind of little moment that reminds you you're watching a movie, and it calls attention to the all the hardware just out of camera range above the actors on the soundstage.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Film Prints with Stories to Tell



Something I often find interesting in the older, pre-restoration versions of silent films that long circulated on 16mm are the listings of the archival sources through which the prints were acquired, or the program notes and the original year of release added on to the beginning of the film when they were shown as part of a larger program or series. I've seen a number of these older editions used as sources for public domain videotapes and DVD releases over the years, which I like to think of as carrying on the life of these prints...almost as if they have their own stories to tell.