Sunday, December 4, 2022

Scent of a Woman

A movie that I've had sitting on my DVR for quite some time is one that's pushing 30 years old: Scent of a Woman. Recently, I finally sat down to watch it so that I could do a review here and free up some space on my DVR.

The Baird School is one of those tony all-boys schools in New Hampshire which have been around for well over a century and which has the scions of rich alumni making up a good portion of its student body. One person who isn't part of that crowd is Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell). He's from Oregon and his mother and step-father run a convenience store; Charlie had to win a scholarship and accept financial aid to be able to attend Baird. Other students, such as George Willis, Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman with even worse hair than he'd have later in life, and credited as Philip S. Hoffman), kind of put Charlie down as they're able to go off to a ski resort for Thanksgiving.

Charlie, however, needs to work over the holiday, hoping that he can earn enough to afford a plane ticket home for the Christmas break. To that end, he responds to an ad put up by Karen Rossi, one of the townies. She's looking for somebody to be a companion to her uncle Frank over Thanksgiving. Apparently, the Rossis are planning to visit the husband's family in New York, and Uncle Frank doesn't want to go as it's not his side of the family. But why is Uncle Frank living with his niece and her fairly young family anyway? And why does he need a companion?

Well, even if you didn't already know the plot to the movie, you might be attentive enough to notice that Frank has gone blind, for reasons that will be explained later in the movie. He's also an irascible bastard, although it's probably not the blindness that caused that. Nobody else has wanted to be Frank's companion for the holiday, and Charlie isn't so certain he wants to either. But then, he needs the money.

Meanwhile, back at Baird, Charlie also has some personal problems coming up. A couple of his classmates, who are much closer friends with George, decide to play a prank on the headmaster, Mr. Trask (James Rebhorn), which involves putting up a balloon on a lamppost. Charlie and George see these guys putting up the balloon, as does an older female employee who, because of her bad eyesight, isn't able to figure out what exactly is going on. But when the prank is pulled off, she knows that there were a couple of guys involved and that, more importantly, Charlie and George might be witnesses. So Trask starts putting the screws to Charlie and George to name names. George has a wealthy father and can possibly pull strings to get off, but Charlie doesn't have the power.

And if that's a downer to Charlie's Thanksgiving, it's going to get a whole lot more messy for him. Frank is Lt. Col. Frank Slade, US Army (Ret.), so he has a fierce sense of honor and duty, which includes not necessarily snitching on people. An in addition to being an irascible bastard, he's also a manipulative SOB. So before he knows it, Slade has arranged for a taxi to take the two of them to the airport to take the puddle-jumper to New York for a Thanksgiving weekend on the town that Karen knows nothing about.

And then there's the real reason for the trip to New York. Frank, having lost his eyesight thanks to his negligent handling of hand grenades, has decided that he's going to have one final blowout before shooting himself to death. When Charlie finds out about this, he's understandably horrified. But how can he stop a man determined to kill himself? Of course, this being a Hollywood movie, Charlie and Frank are going to learn from each other and, well, come to some sort of resolution.

The big problem with Scent of a Woman, and one that I see some contemporary reviewers had, is that the movie moves too sedately and goes on way too long. It's a little over 150 minutes before the closing credits roll, but is the sort of story that really should have been written to run under two hours. There's not as much here as the running time might have you think. It may not help, either, that Frank is a fairly obnoxious movie for much of the movie. It's no wonder nobody wanted to be his companion. Pacino won the Oscar, although I can't help but think it's more of a showy role than one that really required acting chops.

Still, there's enough to like about Scent of a Woman to make it worth a watch, especially Chris O'Donnell being appealing as the young man and nice cinematography. It's just that I can't help but think the movie could have been even better.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Flanagan Boy

I've mentioned before that there are quite a few British pictures from the 1950s that cast an American in one of the leads, presumably with the expectation that this would make it easier to get a distribution deal in the US. In fact, the Hammer studio worked out a deal with an American producer, Robert Lippert, to produce a bunch of these movies. There are a couple of box sets of the noirish films from this partnership that were released which I picked up. Recently, I watched one of the movies off one of the box sets, Bad Blonde.

American Barbara Payton plays the titular bad blonde, but we don't meet her for a while. The movie starts off at a carnival, possibly at one of those fading seaside resorts like we see in The Entertainer. One of the attractions there is a boxing show where the promoter offers average Joes the chance to earn a nice for early 1950s standards payday by lasting three rounds with one of the promoter's ringers. (Something similar is also a major plot device in the early John Garfield film The Made Me a Criminal.) Accepting that challenge is young Johnny Flanagan (Tony Wright). Johnny is a capable boxer. Well, he's actually more than that, as he knocks out the ringer. This gets the promoters' attention, and the pair of Sharkey (Sid James) and Sullivan (John Slater) decide to train him.

But if they had the ability to train a truly talented boxer for the big time, they wouldn't be toiling away in carnivals. They need money to put up to offer better training conditions and also attract the attention of the real prizefighters. Enter Giuseppe Vecchi (Frederick Valk), an Italian who somehow made it to the UK despite the two countries having been on opposide sides of that little war less than a decade earlier and who has the money. He buys a piece of Flanagan, and Johnny starts training at Vecchi's nice big house somewhere out in the country.

Vecchi has the money to train Johnny, but he's also got something else: a trophy wife Lorna (that's Barbara Payton). She being a Hollywood beauty (the excuse given for her being in the UK is that she was a taxi dancer), she turns heads, and it's not long before she turns Johnny's head. The fact that Mr. Vecchi says he can't dance and encourages Johnny to dance with Lorna only makes matters worse. Things get so bad, in fact, that when Lorna shows up to Johnny's big fight, he can't think about anything but Lorna's presence, and gets knocked out.

Lorna, for her part, married for money and found out that she didn't love the man she married. With that in mind and knowing her power over men, she fairly quickly sets out to get Johnny to murder Giuseppe, as if there were some chance she could get away with it. At least she has a halfway reasonable plan, which involves Johnny heading out from the country house, giving him an alibi, only to make a detour to the isolated outbilding on the pond from where he can scheme to overturn Giuseppe's rowboat, as Giuseppe can't swim. Thanks to the Production Code, however, you know that Lorna and Johnny aren't going to get away with it in the end.

The big problem that Bad Blonde has is how derivative it is. Multiple reviewers on IMDb mention The Postman Always Rings Twice, and there's certainly a lot of resonance between the two movies. There are some other movies mentioned in the IMDb reviews, and I've mentioned some connections in this post myself. The movie is clearly treading very familiar pathways.

Taken on its own merits, however, Bad Blonde isn't really a bad little movie. It holds up well as a programmer, but it's little more than that. It's nice to see the British twist on American noir, as well as the slightly grittier production values these second-tier British productions seemed to have, as those fit a movie like this well. And if you like the genre, I think you'll like the movie. Just don't expect anything groundbreaking here.

Friday, December 2, 2022

The Desperadoes

Randolph Scott made enough westerns in his career that it's easy for a company to put out multiple box sets of his westerns. I got through all of the films on one of the Scott box sets I had, and some time back bought a second. I recently got around to watching one of the movies off that box set, The Desperadoes.

The first thing that surprised me is that the movie is in Technicolor, something I wouldn't have expected from Columbia producing what is really little more than a programmer during the height of World War II. But since Natalie Kalmus' name is on the credits, we know this isn't a colorized movie. Also mildly surprising is the cast, since two of the players were about to go on to bigger things.

Anyhow, as for the plot, it involves the town of Red Valley, Utah, during the Civil War. The local bank gets robbed, causing the settler depositors to question their confidence in the bank. Have no fear, says proprietor Clanton (Porter Hall); he's getting a better safe -- and indeed, there is a scene of the new safe arriving. But we also see in a brief scene where he's talking to livery stable owner Willie McLeod (Edgar Buchanan), this robbery is really an inside job by the two of them and an outlaw gang.

Randolph Scott is not, in fact, a member of that gang. Instead, he's the local sheriff, Steve Upton. He wasn't in town for the robbery because he was trying to catch some wanted criminals. To make matters worse, Steve was waylaid out in the wilderness by Cheyenne Rogers (Glenn Ford). Cheyenne was supposed to be one of the gunmen in the robbery, imported from well away so that nobody would recognize him, but he got delayed by the loss of his horse, and had to steal Steve's instead.

So when Rogers gets to town, using an obviously phony name like Bob or Bill Smith or somesuch, Willie's niece Allison (Evelyn Keyes) immediately figures something is amiss. That's because she recognizes the sheriff's horse, wondering why somebody else would be riding it. Worse for Cheyenne is that the lady who is in charge of the gambling at the saloon, calling herself the Countess (Claire Trever, future Oscar winner) knows Cheynne and knows of his criminal past.

Still, Cheyenne stays in town, in part because the Countess thinks she caused Cheyenne to go bad back in Wyoming. And then there's the Sheriff, who knows Cheyenne and either doesn't know about Cheyenne's past, or doesn't care about it now that Cheynne is trying to get on the right side of the Production Code again. Complicating matters is that the Countess is also in love with Cheyenne, although he and Allison fall in love along the way. And then one of the gang members who actually robbed the bank outs Cheyenne, which puts him and the sheriff in danger.

As I said at the beginning, I was kind of surprised to see The Desperadoes in Technicolor, since for a 1940s western it's little more than standard stuff. At least when they got past 1953 and the introduction of Cinemascope, you can understand the programmer westerns wanting to use color to show off those wide vistas and compete with television, largely in black and white at the time. Although The Desperadoes is fairly standard, that doesn't mean it's a bad movie by any means. In fact, it's quite competently made, and will definitely entertain any fan of the western genre. It's not quite as good as the darker and more psychological westerns of the 1950s, or the A westerns, but it holds its own as a movie to watch on a rainy day or if you want something shorter.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #438: Combat Sports

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is "Combat Sports", which is easy if you include boxing, and obviously much more difficult if it doesn't include boxing. In the end, I went with three cheesy movies that don't go by the Marquess of Queensbury rules:

Best of the Best (1989). A group of Americans (including Eric Roberts and Chris Penn) coached by James Earl Jones travel to South Korea to take on a team of Korean martial artists in a competition. They're heavy underdogs, and go through all the tropes of team-building movies. Hey, I didn't say these movies are any good.

Kickboxer (1989). While my previous selection actually had some good actors (including Louise Fletcher as mother to Eric Roberts), this one stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, as a man who sets out to avenge the injury his brother received at the hands of a Thai kickboxer. Oh so totally original. But it can always get worse, as we get to our final movie:

Mortal Kombat (1995). You probably recall the video game, known for the "Finish him!" cry when one of the fighters was close to death. Somebody (specifically, producer Lawrence Kasanoff -- OMG -- looking through his filmography I see the hilariously awful Blood Diner) had the brilliant idea to take the characters in that game and make a movie out of it. Critics, unsurprisingly, hated it; fans of the game flocked to it in droves.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Another one of our aircraft is missing, somewhere north of the 49th parallel

Errol Flynn was TCM's star of the Month earlier this year, which gave me the chance to record a couple of movies that I hadn't blogged about before. Among those movies is Desperate Journey. Recently I watched it, so now you get a post on it.

A multinational crew is given the task of bombing an important railway junction in what, before the war, was the very eastern part of Germany near the border with Poland. Among them are Brits Lt. Forbes (Errol Flynn) and Sgt. Hollis (Ronald Sinclair), and American Johnny Hammond (Ronald Reagan). Two other members of the crew are presumably American, Sgt. Edwards (Alan Hale Sr.) and Officer Forrest (Arthur Kennedy). (From doing a bit of reading, it sounds like the script was written before the US entered World War II, so the Americans were presumably intended to be the sort of volunteer like the ones who went to Europe in 1916 to fly in World War I.)

The bomber goes on its run, but the weather is bad and the cloud ceiling is low, so to complete the mission, they have to fly low enough that it gives the Germans a good shot at knocking the plane out of the sky, which they summarily do, or else we wouldn't have a movie. All five of the men survive, although Hollis is substantially injured, which isn't surprising since he's the one played by the least-known of the actors, at least by Hollywood standards. The others don't want to leave Hollis behind to die, or worse, to get picked up by the Nazis and tortured for information. In any case, the result is that the Nazis pick them up as a group, and it's up to Maj. Baumeister (Raymond Massey) to interrogate them.

The major is a bit of an idiot in that he doesn't have anybody aruond him for the interrogations. This allows Lt. Forbes to get in a fight with him and win it, allowing the men the time to search the office and then escape. Of course, they now have to figure out how to get the hell out of Nazi Germany, even though they don't really know anybody and have the entire might of the Nazi state gunning for them.

Amazingly, however, they're able to get first on a railcar heading for Berlin with a lot of wounded German soldiers. And once in Berlin, they actually meet Käthe Brahms (Nancy Coleman), who is part of the relatively passive resistance. She works for a doctor who also opposes the Nazis, and that gives the flyboys another chance to escape when the Nazis come calling. Käthe has parents in Münster, which is rather further west, and would allow them to get closer to England. Somehow they make it to Münster, and as part of the Nazis catching up to them in Münster, they steal Maj. Baumeister's car, which allows them to get to the Netherlands. That was of course occupied by the Nazis at the time, but at least theoretically had a lot more people who hated the Nazis than Germany proper did. Not that we meet many of these people. Instead, the plot deals with the Germans having repaired a downed British bomber which they're hoping to fix and then use on a bombing raid since the RAF wo't notice until too late that it's not the Brits flying this plane.

While watching Desperate Journey, it was hard to escape the similarities to a couple of British movies, One of Our Aircraft Is Missing and 49th Parallel. Unfortunately, I think both of those movies are superior because they go for intelligence, while Desperate Journey goes for entertainment and the sort of dehumanizing the enemy propaganda. The coincidences in Desperate Journey also seem more far-fetched than the other movies. Still, it does entertain well enough, and fans of old Hollywood World War II movies will certainly enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

A couple of brief thoughts on B movies

Over the summer, when I wasn't blogging because I was taking care of Dad with his hip fracture, I watched a several movies off my DVR that I don't think are on DVD at all, figuring I'd probably never blog about them anyway. I actually have a couple of features that I watched recently that are on DVD that I could blog about, but thanks in part to doing more overtime at work and then the time difference of the World Cup soccer havnig me record the US matches and watch them when I get home, there have been a couple of days that I haven't felt the energy to do a full-length post on something I watched recently. So instead, I'll more briefly mention a couple of movies that probably ought to be on box sets. Either that, or whoever has the rights to Warner Home Video ought to put everything in the Warner Archive in part of some streaming service, and then include movies like these that aren't going to make much money otherwise.

The first is Don't Tell the Wife, which is in many ways a great example of the sort of B movies that RKO made back in the days before World War II, when B movies were a big thing. There aren't really any stars here, although some people went on to become big. Lynne Overman is nominally the male lead, as a man married to a woman (Una Merkel) who is sick and tired of his schemes to get rich quick. Unfortunately for her, sme of his friends, who are clearly on the wrong side of the law, have come up with another one. These include character actors Guinn "Big Boy" Williams and William Demarest. They get Overman in on the scheme, and bring in a dupe (Guy Kibbee) to play the part of the honest company leader who doesn't realize he's got a bunch of crooks backing him. It's all over in a little over an hour. There's nothing particularly great about it, but there are all those character actors. One I haven't mentioned is Lucille Ball, who has a small role as a secretary at the company.

I also watched Boulder Dam, which was made over at Warner Bros. and is fairly typical of the sort of B movie that Warner Bros. put out in the mid-1930s. The star here is tragic Ross Alexander, in what isn't a light romantic comedy role for him. Instead, he's playing a mechanic at a car company in Detroit. He gets in a dispute with his boss, and as in Days of Heaven, Alexander's character accidentally kills his boss, sending him out on the road. Alexander eventually ends up near Las Vegas, where the Hoover Dam is being built. Since they didn't have Social Security at the time the dam was being built, it was easier for him to get a job on one of the many work crews without being recognized as a wanted man. He even winds up with a girlfriend (Patricia Ellis). But then somebody from his past shows up and his happiness is threatened. Being a post-Code, things are resolved somewhat differently than Warner Bros. might have done in the pre-Code era. But there's still some understated social commentary in this one.

Both movies are definitely worth a watch, and it's a shame that there's rather less interest in streaming so many of these old movies, considering you'd think they're not going to make any money just sitting in the vaults. I wonder if there are issues with converting them to a format suitable for streaming on any of the subscription sites -- the format that would have been required for running on TV 10 years ago in the days before streaming internet might not be something that would work so well with streaming. After all, the conversion for showing on TV isn't just a DVD. But then, I think a lot of these old movies show up in the Watch TCM app after airing on TCM, which means it probably shouldn't be as big of an issue to have them in a library for a subscription streaming site.

Monday, November 28, 2022


I've mentioned DVRing a fair amount of movies over the Thanksgiving weekend since DirecTV has a free preview of the premium movie channels. One movie that I recorded over a previous free preview weekend is Belfast. I notice that it has several showings over the next week or two, starting with today at 3:25 PM on HBO2, so I watched it over the weekend to do a review on it here.

The movie starts off with a brief aerial view of the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland as it is today, or at least sometime in late 2020 or early 2021 when the movie was filmed. The camera then pans over a wall, and the footage goes into black-and-white. We're also sent back into the past; specifically, August 15, 1969. This is just about the time that the "Troubles" began, depending on which event you want to count as beginning them. August 1969 was the start of the first larger-scale rioting between Protestants and Catholics.

Buddy (Jude Hill) is a Protestant boy of about nine years old who lives on an ethnically-mixed street with both Catholics and Protestants, which is too much for some of the more radical Protestant groups. They riot, breaking the windows of houses and businesses owned by Catholics, something Buddy doesn't really understand since he's a bit young and hadn't known anything about the political grievances of the various groups. But the rioting is a big deal for Buddy's mom (Caitriona Balfe) and dad (Jamie Dornan), who is away a lot as he works over in England. Indeed, Dad has a pretty good job, and his boss even offers him a raise and a housing allowance that would enable the family to live in England, which would get them away from the Troubles. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

Buddy tries to enjoy life as much as a young boy can despite major and stressful political events going on around him, much like the young boys in a movie like Hope and Glory. He's got loving grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds), and even becomes friends with a Catholic classmate, Catherine. But the real world is bound to intrude, and is in fact brought to him in part by his own cousin, who gets him to do the sort of petty mischief kids do -- except that she knows members of one of the local Protestant gangs.

This leads to an incident where the gang breaks into a supermarket and loots it, with young Buddy stealing a box of laundry detergent. Mom is aghast, and realizes that the family has to get away from Belfast, even though the idea horrifies Buddy, who can't quite comprehend how serious the situation is.

Kevin Branagh directed Belfast, which is semi-autobiographical as he was born in Belfast and his family left for England during the Troubles. It's a labor of love, and one that is mostly successful. As the movie focuses mostly on young Buddy, it's fairly episodic, not that this is a bad thing. Jude Hill does a good job as little Buddy, helped by a fine supporting cast around him.

If there was one problem for me, it's that as with some more recent movies, there are times when the camera seems intrusive, as directors move the camera around in different ways than they could with the cameras they used in the studio days. People who watch mostly modern films may not notice, but for me, as someone who watches a lot of old movies, I definitely pick up on it. This is, however, a mild flaw.

Belfast is a fine "little" movie that deservedly got a lot of attention when it was released. If you haven't had the chance to see it yet, definitely record it if you can.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Defiant Ones, but with women and exploitation

TCM is running a podcast on Pam Grier, and last month ran a couple of nights of her movies to promote the podcast. This gave me the chance to record a couple of her movies that I hadn't seen before, including Black Mama White Mama.

As you can guess, Pam Grier is the black mama in the movie, a character named Lee Daniels. She's not actually a biological mother, but a prostitute who's been sent to a women's prison in some tropical island country that may or may not be the Philippines. (This one and a couple other Grier movies from the same period were filmed in the Philippines, and there are times when the Philippines flag shows up, but at other times the script seems to want us to believe that the movie is in some unnamed tropical country. And why would there be this many non-Asian people in the Philippines anyway?) Having the movie open up in a women's prison gives the moviemakers the chance to use all the tropes of the genre to good effect, such as food fights or women showering together, as well as the inmates trying to navigate the system.

One of Lee's fellow prisoners is Karen Brent (Margaret Markov), a white woman who is a revolutionary for reasons that aren't quite clear. She's got friends on the outside who can spring her, and she's planning to join up with some gun-runners in order to buy weapons from them to give to her fellow revolutionaries. The authorities would obviously like to know what sort of information Karen has. They transport her to a higher-security place. The warden has a thing against Lee because Lee spurned her sexual advances, so the warden has Lee transferred as well. And since these are two dangers criminals, they're chained together for the transfer.

Of course, you can guess what happens next. Some of Karen's revolutionary friends have found out about the transfer and come up with a scheme to get the convoy stopped so that they can spring Karen. That obviously haven't heard that Karen is chained to another prisoner. And the escape doesn't quite go to plan, either. Oh, the two women escape, but they're not able to hook up with Karen's revolutionaries. So they have to make their own way, while still chained together. This is a problem, because Karen is supposed to get the guns on one side of the island, while Lee has a contact much closer, but in the opposite direction. Karen points out, however, that it's her friends who freed them so perhaps her needs should trump Lee's.

So the two women have understandable reasons to dislike and distrust each other, although it didn't feel to me as though their being different races was as big a deal as it was for Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones. There's still no getting around the fact that the two are going to have to work together if they can't figure out a way to get those chains off of them, and as they work together, they begin to develop a grudging respect for one another.

But there are still all sorts of people looking for the two women, and those all have competing interests too. The army hires the criminal gang headed by Ruben (Sid Haig) to find the women, while Lee's pimp is looking for her since she's hidden money that she extorted from the pimp.

But to be honest, the plot here is really secondary. This is a straight up exploitation movie, like the other women-in-prison movies Grier made in the Philippines, and we watch for the fighting and the skimpy outfits, not for social issue plots like in The Defiant Ones. As such, Black Mama White Mama succeeds in entertaining, understanding that it's not going to be a great movie by tackling important social issues. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. It's a pretty darn fun one.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Annie Hall

Another of the movies considered an all-time classic that I haven't blogged about here before is Annie Hall. I recorded it back in March when TCM ran it as part of 31 Days of Oscar, but never got around to watching it. I noticed in looking through the schedule that is has two airings on TCM in the coming week, one tomorrow (Nov. 27) at 6:15 PM, and the other on Dec. 2 at 1:45 PM, so I figured now was a good time to watch it and do a post on it.

Annie Hall is, I think, really the blossoming of Woody Allen playing neurotic New York types, with more emphasis on the neurosis than on the comedy surrounding his character the way that things like Bananas or Sleeper did. Here, Allen plays Alvy Singer, a comedian obsessed with death and still thinking about the love of his life that he lost, one Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). As Alvy starts thinking about Annie, cue the flashback....

Well, not quite. Annie Hall isn't a straight flashback story, although a lot of it is in what would normally be considered a flashback. However, it doesn't feel like a normal flashback in that the story of the relationship isn't told in a straight line from meeting through to breakup. Instead, the flashbacks go back and forth in time, while they're frequently broken to return to Alvy in the present day breaking the fourth wall and talking either to the viewer directly or to people on the street.

As I said, Alvy is a New York comedian, with a best friend in Rob (Tony Roberts), a comedian himself who ultimately gets an offer to do a TV show out in Los Angeles. That's a place that, as we'll see later in the movie, is much different from New York. As for Annie (Diane Keaton), she's originally from Wisconsin and still has family out there, but she's come to New York to make it as a singer mostly; she eventually gets discovered by another singer, Tony Lacey (Paul Simon) and moves out to Los Angeles, putting a strain on the relationship.

In and around all this, we see how the two actually met (at a tennis club), how they decided to move in together, and then how they decided to move apart before the ultimate breakup and then, like the end of The Way We Were, running into each other by chance some time after the breakup.

Annie Hall is the sort of move that I think isn't quite for everybody, but more for people who are really into the whole idea of the art of making movies, especially less commercial movies. If you look at it that way, it's easy to see why critics and the in-the-industry people who make movies and vote on the awards would love this. There's urbane humor and situations for mature people, along with the techniques of breaking the fourth wall and the non-linear storyline that demands the viewer's attention. For people who consider themselves more casual fans or, like myself, non-film school types, I think I'd recommend other of Allen's work first. Other films, where Allen playing a neurotic character doesn't take over the film, work better.

Friday, November 25, 2022

My Cousin Vinny meets Reversal of Fortune

I mentioned the other day that DirecTV is running its annual Thanksgiving weekend free preview of all the premium movie channels. As a result, I've already recorded several movies, and even watched one of them since it's going to be on again tomorrow. That movie is Legally Blonde, which gets another airing at 11:30 AM Nov. 26 on The Movie Channel Xtra, as well as frequent further airings over the course of the next few weeks.

Reese Witherspoon plays Elle Woods, who at the start of the movie is a senior majoring in fashion marketing at a state school out on the west coast, holding down a 4.0 GPA while also serving as the president of the sorority of which she's a member. She's got a boyfriend in Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis), although I'm not certain why they're an item at the start of the movie considering the differing personalities. Indeed, Warner dumps Elle fairly early on because his family has plans for him that involve his going to Harvard Law School and eventually running for political office. A stereotypically ditzy blonde like Elle is certainly not part of that plan.

Elle, for her part, still loves Warner, so she decides that she's going to try to win him back... by getting accepted to Harvard Law School, even though she hasn't previously shown any big desire for law school. Still, she takes the LSAT and does well enough that, combined with the GPA and breaking the stereotypes for what sort of person should go to law school, the addmissions committee decides to take a flyer on her.

Elle gets to Harvard Law School and finds that Warner already has a new girlfriend in the form of Vivian (Selma Blair), and that she doesn't fit in with the other people there in general. To add to that, she hasn't prepared for law school at all, as she shows in her very first class, where Prof. Stromwell (Holland Taylor) summarily dismisses her for not having read the material. Obviously Elle never watched The Paper Chase before heading off to Harvard.

One of Elle's other professors is Callahan (Victor Garber), who, like Alan Dershowitz, does real legal work on the side, although the movie implies that his law firm is more important than his professorship, which I don't think is the case for most real-life law professors. Callahan has a partner at his firm in the form of former student Emmett Richmond (Luke Wilson), who still can be seen around campus.

Prof. Callahan is running some sort of internship scheme as well, and Elle decides she's going to apply herself and try to get accepted for that in order to impress the rest of her classmates. Indeed, she does, along with Warner and Vivian, who are none too pleased about it. And here is where Elle starts to get her chance to shine. Prof. Callahan is taking the defense of one Brooke Taylor-Windham (Ali Larter), a wealthy socialite who married a much older man and who is now on trial for the man's murder, which she insists she did not committ. Much like Alan Dershowitz's students in Reversal of Fortune, the interns are going to help with the defense.

Brooke, like Elle, happens to be a Delta Nu sorority sister, although several years before Elle, and that gives Brooke reason to trust Elle when she's not so willing to trust anybody else. Brooke does have an airtight alibi for why she couldn't commit the murder, but it's one that would ruin her business reputation, which is why she's reluctant to reveal it to anybody but Elle. But Elle's intuition, combined with some of the things that make her the stereotype of the ditzy blonde, wind up working in her favor when it comes to the murder trial of a rich young socialiate.

This, however, is where some people might also have some problems with the movie. All along, it's the sort of movie that requires some serious suspension of disbelief, but once we get to the trial, which like a lot of Hollywood courtroom scenes bears little resemblance to reality, the disbelief ramps up several notches. For me, however, the bigger issue was in the directing and editing, which seemed slightly off to me. Not to the extent that a movie like Darkest Hour was, but still, something about it gave me the vibe of a moviemaker trying to be different or edgy, when traditional camera techniques and editing were all that was necessary.

At the heart of the movie, however, is a fairly light comedy that largely works even though it's definitely a different sensibility to studio-era Hollywood. That's a result of a very good performance by Witherspoon, who handles the material well, with good support in the second half of the movie from Luke Wilson. It's also a movie that's trying to be entertainment first and, if it has any message about breaking stereotypes or presenting strong women, doesn't really let them override the entertainment.

It's hard to believe that Legally Blonde is already over 20 years old. But if you want light entertainment, give it a watch, as it definitely succeeds in that regard.