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Great performance by James Garner
This isn't much of a thriller, and, as a character study, it is also pretty thin entertainment.
TWILIGHT is worth seeing, however, for James Garner's elegant performance. That he steals the film, with such ease, from three great pros (Newman, Sarandon, Hackman), makes it an even more impressive achievement.
The Age of Innocence (1993)
Great art direction, but ...
Scorsese completely missed the the ironic tone Wharton maintains
in the novel. Worse, the film contains an endless stream of
narration; though this is beautifully spoken by Joanne Woodward,
it's distracting, and almost an admission of defeat. Scorsese's
interest in narrative film has been wilting since GOODFELLAS;
this film is a preview of the disaster that is CASINO.
Anna May Wong shines
Multiple sexual entanglements and jealousies keep things tense at the Piccadilly club. Anna May Wong shines as a dishwasher who becomes the club's star attraction. This film shows what Wong was capable of, and the talent Hollywood wasted by not giving her starring roles. Nice cameo by Charles Laughton as a drunken boor. The compelling sexual and ethnic politics are exploited to full effect by director E.A. Dupont.
Sunnyside Up (1929)
one of the best early musicals...
This is a unique film in the history of musicals. Neither of the leads can sing; most of the dancing, whether by the stars or chorus girls, is rudimentary at best; the story is a familiar litany of 1920's stage cliches, and was dated almost immediately. Yet, it is utterly charming and effective. Part of this has to do with the appealing cast (particularly Janet Gaynor), but most of the credit goes to songwriter/producers DeSylva Brown & Henderson, and director David Butler. The music is integrated into the story in a dramatically sophisticated and cinematically daring way. The production number "Turn On the Heat" is, conceptually, a model for what Busby Berkeley would do in the 1930's.
If your only exposure to early musicals is that award-winning dud "The Broadway Melody", check out "Sunny Side Up" (or, for that matter, "The Love Parade"). You'll be pleasantly surprised.
The Kiss (1929)
An odd ending to Garbo's silent film career
By the time "The Kiss" was made, Garbo was an established >superstar, and her films were specially tailored vehicles to >enhance this stardom. Yet, surprisingly, French director Jacques >Feyder subordinates Garbo to a rather pedestrian murder mystery. >Even worse, he cuts away from "the kiss" (between Garbo & Lew >Ayers) referenced in the title. M-G-M might have been too >worried over Garbo's imminent entrance into talkies to care. >The film is notable for its fantastic Art Deco sets, but also >suffers from one of the worst contemporary Movietone scores of >any late silent feature. A mixed bag.
The Match King (1932)
Warren William at his best
Though the script could have used a rewrite, mainly to upgrade the dialogue, Warren William's presence makes the film worth watching. He plays a lying, evil, conniving, and utterly ruthless human dynamo who works his way up from janitor to international power broker.In other words, a typical Depression-era anti-hero. Especially enjoyable is the penultimate flashback sequence, in which William remembers every rotten thing he's ever done. In a word, fun.
Kansas City (1996)
One of Altman's best
This film is so deceptively constructed that it took me a few
viewings to completely get it. Not the most inviting recommendation for a film, but even at first look, there is much
to enjoy. The music is superb, the performances outlandish and
entertaining, and the take on politics and race relations truly
incisive. For example, kidnapping really was a political tool in
1930's Kansas City; Blondie's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) real crime
is kidnapping a politician's wife for personal reasons. Though
his contempt for romanticism is truly bitter, this remains one
of Altman's best films.
Going Hollywood (1933)
Bizarre, but worthwhile
Strange plot casts Marion Davies as, essentially, a stalker. After hearing Bing Crosby on the radio, she throws over her old >life to follow him to Los Angeles. Davies is appealing, as >usual, and there are some nice comic bits from Patsy Kelly. The >highlight, however, is Crosby singing his early classic >"Temptation".
Love Is a Racket (1932)
The title fits the film perfectly
This seedy, downbeat Broadway tale of love, money, ambition, and power makes for an entertaining film. Credit director William Wellman's felicity with the fast-paced Warner Bros style for the no-nonsense, snappy approach. Douglas Fairbanks Jr is very fine as the hardbitten gossip columnist with a fatalistic, romantic side, but Lee Tracy, Ann Dvorak, Frances Dee, Warren Hymer, and, especially, Cecil Cunningham as the conniving Aunt Hattie, do their best to steal the film. And, as this is a pre-code movie, who says a character can't get away with murder?
Hot Saturday (1932)
Nancy Carroll shines ...
Nancy Carroll shines as an innocent woman nearly destroyed by >gossip in this very unflattering portrait of small town America. >Now forgotten, Carroll brings sensitivity, depth, and humor to >her performance. An inexperienced but effective Cary Grant is a >man with charm and without conventional morals. The ending is a >surprise.
Sharp melodrama from screenwiter Robert Riskin
Screenwriter Robert Riskin may be best known for his collaborations with director Frank Capra, but this well written, character driven melodrama will make you want to check out his other credits. The always terrific Carole Lombard is the tough but sweet woman with a past, and Pat O'Brien is her man, a soft-hearted blowhard. Mayo Methot is Lombard's world weary best pal, and Jack LaRue is her good looking but dumb as a box of hammers gangster boyfriend. Walking cliches, one would expect, but the script is careful with details, and the characters act logically and believably, even in the most unbelievable situations. The good writing clearly energizes the actors, with O'Brien and Methot, in particular, rising to the occasion. You might come away suspecting that Robert Riskin just may be more interesting than Frank Capra.
Girls About Town (1931)
The "girls" of the title are Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman, and the town is New York. This dynamic duo in silk and ermine entertain hick businessmen looking for a good time while in Manhattan. Francis, as one would expect, handles the melodrama deftly, while Tashman steals the show with her sharp delivery of the tart dialogue. As with most films made before the hammer of censorship came down in 1933, there are some real risque jolts in the both dialogue and action. Well worth tracking down.
Safe in Hell (1931)
Director William Wellman at his best ...
A case can be made that director William Wellman did his best work at Warner Bros-First National from 1931-1933. "Safe in Hell" is a prime example. There isn't much plot in this saga of a "bad" woman (Mackaill) redeemed by love, but the atmosphere of sin, desperation , and hope is efficiently evoked. The compositions are continually inventive, and the camera movements are as energizing as Wellman pulled off the same year in "The Public Enemy". He also coaxed fine work from the beautiful Mackaill; it's telling that this tough guy director seemed to work so well with actresses. In his Warner Bros. tenure, Wellman did great films with Barbara Stanwyck, Loretta Young, and Ruth Chatterton, too. Look up his resume, and check out the films.
One Way Passage (1932)
A dying woman and a condemned man fall in love on an ocean liner; how's that for high concept, circa 1932. No, I'm not giving anything away about this tightly plotted, exquisitely produced melodrama. Upper class sophistication, personified by ever-glamorous Kay Francis and gentleman crook William Powell, characterizes the tragic aspect of the story, while ethic warmth and humor, in the classic Warner Bros. style, are perfectly supplied by Aline MacMahon, Warren Hymer, and Frank McHugh. Lots of marvelous small touches, not the least being the way McHugh plays the final scene. If it's on, don't miss it.
The Divine Woman (1928)
One glorious reel
This is a lost film, save for one reel found in a Russian archive. But what a reel! Lars Hanson is a soldier due to ship out at midnight, and Garbo is the lover who will not let him go. The tension, sensitivity, passion, and sense of doom conveyed in this scene makes it all the more tragic that this is Garbo's only lost film. Victor Sjostrom, who directed Lillian Gish in two of her greatest films, seems to have been a perfect match for Garbo as well. Look for this fragment on Turner Classic Movies; they program it between feature films fairly often.
Monte Carlo (1930)
Jeanette MacDonald is luminous, and, to my utter surprise, there is a real erotic charge between MacDonald and Jack Buchanan. Parts of the score may be a bit underwhelming, but "Beyond the Blue Horizon" is as terrific as advertised. Of course, at the root of it all is the peerless cinematic wit of Ernst Lubitsch. A marvelous trifle with a real depth of feeling.
It's a Gift (1934)
When Fields met his match ...
If W.C. Fields is the funniest comedian in sound films, and perfectly hilarious in starring vehicles (Bank Dick) and guest shots (International House), why is this one is his best? Because Fields' antagonists are, for once, as grand as The Great Man himself. Aside from an evil blind man, and a cheerfully homicidal baby (ever reliable Baby Leroy), there is the ultimate Spouse from Hell. Former Vogue editor turned actress Kathleen Howard is pure outraged selfishness (Fields' mirror image) as the wife; her declamatory style of acting would be at home in a John Waters epic. She is divine, and so is the film.
Bright Lights (1930)
Another reason why musicals fell out of favor in 1930 ...
It is a shame that no Technicolor print of this Vitaphone musical has survived, because the aesthetic oddities of the 2-color process would be a match for this preposterous Broadway story. Star Louanne (Mackaill) plans to marry a rich dud, but deep down pal Wally (Fay). Sadly, Wally is a jerk. There is a flashback to an African local (like Disney's Tarzan, sans Africans), and some silly backstage gunplay. Frank McHugh is swell as a drunk reporter. Mackaill is appealing in the production numbers, but as lost as everyone else with the poor script. Guilty fun for fans of early musicals, though.