One of the holiday’s best known tales, Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol,” has been reproduced, adapted over the years many times in various formats from animation to TV, film and stage. From Charlie Brown to Mickey Mouse to “The Odd Couple” and multiple screen versions performed by a diverse host of actors including George C. Scott, Reginald Owen, Seymour Hicks, John Carradine, Patrick Stewart, Walter Matthau, Jim Carrey, Albert Finney, Vanessa Williams ( you are reading this right. Ms. Williams played Ebony Scrooge in a TV movie called “A Diva’s Christmas”) and of course the great Alastair Sim in what is considered by many, including myself, the best adaptation ever, the 1951 version, originally titled “Scrooge” in the U.K. but generally now known by Dicken’s original title.
Unlike most versions, this British production follows fairly close the Dickens novel, though there are some changes, and also unlike most versions this is a dark, bleaker account of the world’s best known miser. Recently I watched, for the first time, the Reginald Owen version from 1938, released by MGM, and while decent, the many needless changes to the plot along with a surplus dose of sentiment makes this a soft hearted second rate, if still entertaining, adaptation. Continue reading →
The 1951 Bob Hope comedy, “The Lemon Drop Kid,” is based on a Damon Runyon story, the second film of Hope’s to do so. Just two years earlier, Hope made the highly successful, “Sorrowful Jones,” co-starring Lucille Ball. The film was released in time for the holidays, only as you will see if you check out the newspaper ad below, the holiday in question was Easter and not Christmas. The film also introduced the now standard Christmas classic, “Silver Bells” written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. In the film the song is sung by Hope and co-star Marilyn Maxwell, but more on that later.
Hope is a small time grifter known as The Lemon Drop Kid. At a Florida racetrack he unknowingly swindles a gullible woman out of a ton of dough by convincing her to switch her bet to another horse. Unfortunately for The Kid, the horse comes in dead last and the money the woman bet with belonged to her boyfriend, a hood named Moose Moran (Fred Clark). Moran gives The Kid until Christmas, a few weeks away, to come up with the $10,000 he would have won had his girl bet the money on the winning horse as he wanted. Continue reading →
Short Takes returns with three reviews, totally unrelated. A young Natalie Wood stars in A CRY IN THE NIGHT while 1950′s Brit blonde bombshell Diana Dors is in THE UNHOLY WIFE. Finally, Ginger Rogers shines in the lightweight 5th AVENUE GIRL.
I wonder when they named this picture, “A Cry in the Night,” whose tears they were referring too, Natalie Wood’s character perhaps, who is kidnapped in the middle of the night or maybe the audience who had to sit through this cliché ridden tale about a child-like adult (Raymond Burr), think Lenny in “Of Mice and Men,” who watches young couples making out at a local lover’s lane.
After knocking out her boyfriend old Raymond kidnaps Ms. Wood taking her to his secret hideout where he confesses he just wants to be ‘friends.’ Yes, Nat makes a couple of feeble attempts to escape but in the end only manages to ripe her skirt so she can reveal some leg in order to keep the males in the audience awake. Wood’s father, played by Edmond O’Brien, is an overbearing, over protective, sexist who finds it hard to believe his eighteen year old daughter would willingly go to a lover’s lane of her own free will after he forbid her too. In fact, ole’ Edmond seems more concerned with wanting to beat the crap out of the boyfriend for this dirty deed than finding his daughter. Oh yeah, by the way, he’s a cop who naturally wants to be involved in the case though he should not be. The cast also includes Brian Donlevy as the sensible cop who attempts to control the out of control O’Brien. As directed by Frank Tuttle, there is nothing original here, to say the least. Tuttle is best known for making “This Gun For Hire” some fourteen years earlier which made Alan Ladd a star. Ladd, by the way, is the narrator who opens the film and his company co-produced the film. Continue reading →
If 1952 made Marilyn Monroe a name, a rising new film star, in 1953 she exploded on the screen with three standout Technicolor productions. “Niagara,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “How to Marry a Millionaire” all of which would help define the Monroe celluloid doctrine. Her screen persona was now full blown and propelled her into the Top 10 list of Hollywood stars.
Henry Hathaway’s “Niagara” opens with two great shots of natural beauty, first is the mighty Niagara Falls with millions upon millions of gallons of water falling with God given power. The second shot is our first view of Marilyn Monroe lying naked under a thin sheet in her motel bedroom. Light shines through the sheet giving us a silhouetted shape of her right thigh. In her hand, a cigarette dangles over the side of the bed. The look on her face is one of satisfaction making one wonder what she was doing while her husband Joseph Cotten was off admiring the falls. We quickly come to learn this marriage is in trouble. When she hears her husband’s keys unlock the door, she puts out the cigarettes, rolls over, her back to the door, faking she’s asleep. This all happens within the first three minutes of the film. Continue reading →
1952 was an important year in Marilyn Monroe’s career, a Life magazine cover, photographed by Phillip Halsman, her nude calendar photos, originally published a year or two before were reissued and became a scandal that only helped her career plus the release of five films, including her first leading role. The first three films were released within a month of each other. In Fritz Lang’s “Clash by Night,” for which Marilyn was loaned out to RKO, she had a small but impressive role dressed mostly in a swimsuit. This was followed by a five minute appearance in “We’re Not Married,” a multi cast film with little to offer and then came “Don’t Bother to Knock,” along with “Niagara” the darkest roles in the Monroe catalog. Later the same year came “O’Henry’s Full House” another multi cast film in which Marilyn appeared in one segment and “Monkey Business” a comedy starring Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. In this film Marilyn played the kind of part she already came to hate, the dumb blonde.
In “Don’t Bother to Knock,” Monroe’s character is a young disturbed woman recently released from a mental institution who gets a job, through her uncle, as a babysitter for a young girl. Considering Monroe’s mental history, and eventual suicide, plus her mother’s illness, it would seem this film could have hit very close to home for the young and upcoming actress as well as being prophetic. It is also arguably one of her best dramatic performances. Continue reading →
Is there anything more exuberant than watching Gene Kelly singin’ and dancin’ in the rain? Generally considered one of, if not, the grandest of all musicals, and whom am I to argue, “Singin’ in the Rain” is a joyous delight, celebrating movies, music, dance and the talent of a cast and creators who rarely were better. Critics over the years have been in agreement, from Pauline Kael who called it “the most enjoyable of musicals” to David Kehr, who said it is “one of the shining glories of the American musical’ to Roger Ebert who wrote, “There is no movie musical more fun as ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ and few that remain as fresh over the years.” Even New York Times curmudgeon Bosley Crowthers wrote at the time of the film’s release, “Guaranteed to put you in a buttercup mood.” And let’s face it, if a film can put old sourpuss Crowthers in a “buttercup mood” that my friends, is one hell of a movie! (1)
Surprisingly the film, while it met with good reviews, was not considered the instant classic, top of the heap, musical it would be judged in later years. Sure, it was a hit financially but overshadowed in accolades by Kelly’s previous film, Vincent Minnelli’s “An American in Paris,” released only five months earlier and destined to win Best Picture of the Year for 1951.(2) The Kelly/Donen film’s only Academy Award nominations were for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Jean Hagen and Best Musical Score for a Musical Picture (Lennie Hayton). This was the year of DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth,” generally considered the worst film to ever win Best Picture. Other nominees that year included Fred Zinnemann’s “High Noon,” thought to be the early favorite, John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge,” John Ford’s “The Quiet Man” and the mediocre “Ivanhoe.” Hard to believe no one thought the joyous MGM musical was worthy of a spot on the Best Picture nominee list that year. Continue reading →
Nothing seems to make sense in “Kiss Me Deadly,” even the opening credits roll backwards. Author Mickey Spillane hated the movie, screenwriter AI Bezzerides hated the book and film goers back in 1955 must have been confused with what it was they were exactly looking at. Sure there was a P.I. and plenty of hot looking dames with legs that went from one end of the screen to the other but, this is the 1950′s, the time of The BOMB, we’re not just dealing with dope here, this time it’s serious.
Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer may just be the dumbest P.I. to ever grace the screen, still director Robert Aldrich gives us one of the great film noirs of all time with a touch of science fiction tossed in just for good measure. It’s violent, sexy, nasty, and one of a kind. The film’s ending is one of those, to use an antiquated 1960’s term, mind blowing, one of the great film endings that will stay with you long after the film is over. Meeker is perfect as the thuggish Mike Hammer, a bedroom dick, who is not beyond letting his secretary/ lover, Velda (Maxine Cooper) have sex with someone just to gain information on the case. Continue reading →
Bad cops, family values and the middle class American dream are the themes driving Joseph Losey’s dark riveting film noir, “The Prowler.” Whenever one thinks of voyeurism in the cinema, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” tops the list. For 110 minutes we watch James Stewart observe what goes on in the magnificent studio constructed Greenwich Village court yard. But “Rear Window” was not alone in approaching this topic, in fact, released at almost the same time, within a week of each other was another film, this one from Columbia called “Pushover.” It was directed by Richard Quine and starred Fred MacMurray and a young Kim Novak. Plenty of other films have dabbled in voyeurism including “Psycho,” “The Conversation,” “Peeping Tom,” “Body Double” and more recently “Suburbia.” If one thinks about it, and if you take it to the extreme every film is voyeuristic, subsequently making every moviegoer a voyeur. Now, doesn’t that make you feel good?
So now that you feel nice and dirty we can delve into Joseph Losey’s ”The Prowler”, a nasty tale of bad cops, misplaced trust, repressed sexuality, desires and chasing the middle class American dream. That last piece is part of what would get Losey in trouble with the HUAC. It may seems insignificant today but back in the early 1950′s right wing communist witch hunters looked at “The Prowler” as downright subversively un-American, but more on this later. Continue reading →
The camera focuses in on what is a homemade time bomb. A young unidentified man carries it to a car placing it inside the trunk. Unknowingly, an American with his bimbo girlfriend gets into the car and drives off. The camera pulls back; we are in a sleazy Mexican border town. The camera follows the car. Coming in to the moving camera’s ranges is Vargas (Charlton Heston), a Mexican police officer and his newlywed American wife, Susie (Janet Leigh). They cross the street heading toward the American side of the border. We pass one bar and strip joint after another, the music, jazz, rock and roll, blaring out from each one. At the border, Vargas stops and talks with the border guards, the two Americans in their car pass through, the girl mumbling something about hearing a ticking sound but no one pays her much attention. Moments later the car explodes into a fiery ball. With the strategic assistance of cinematographer Russell Metty, Welles frames this opening all in one astounding continuous long running brilliant shot. Continue reading →