Thursday, January 31, 2008

Chick flicks for guys, Part 1

Valentine's Day is coming up in a few weeks, so I'd like to start making a few suggestions for DVDs for guys to rent and watch with their lady friends. Now, there's a stereotype of the sort of movie that women like -- and that most men will find emetic. I'm not about to suggest watching Fried Green Tomatoes with your significant other; instead, these will be movies that, despite having plots that would fit in on the Lifetime channel, can be enjoyed even by a man's man. (And, all of them will be available on DVD so that you actually can get a hold of a copy to watch with her.)

First up is Leave Her to Heaven. This is an interesting movie in that, although it's a film noir, it's also a Technicolor film noir. And the Technicolor is absolutely gorgeous and used to excellent effect. We first see this in the framing story, as star Cornel Wilde is returning to his home, the stunning "Back of the Moon". (For the record, this was actually filmed at Bass Lake, near Yosemite National Park. Cornel Wilde and Gene Tierney Wilde's introduction then dissolves to the story of how he met Gene Tierney, who was reading one of his novels while they were both on the same train to New Mexico. The scenery is beautiful, but even more so is Tierney. Wilde and Tierney meet, fall in love, and eventually marry, much to the chagrin of Tierney's half-sister (Jeanne Crain). She knows something bad is about to happen! Also in the know is Tierney's spurned lover, a prosecuting attorney played by Vincent Price.

Unfortunately for Wilde, however, he discovers that his new wife is insanely jealous. The new couple travel to Warm Springs in Georgia to pick up Wilde's brother (played by ubiquitous child star Darryl Hickman), and bring him to Back of the Moon. It's here that we really see Tierney's jealousy kick in, as we get to see her be responsible for poor Darryl Hickman's death, the death of her unborn child, and her own death, which she, having discovered that Wilde loves Crain more than her, tries to pin on the two of them. It is here that Vincent Price shines, as he gets to engage in a withering cross-examination of Wilde.

Of course, this being a noir, we know the truth, and what's going to happen to Wilde, but the way in which the truth is revealed to the characters in the movie is still surprising.

Gene Tierney was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, but had the misfortune of being up against Joan Crawford, who did an equally good job as Mildred Pierce, and being backed by Warner Brothers, beat out Tierney for the Oscar. (My personal opinion is that Crawford was not undeserving, but I prefer Tierney's performance.)

What's in it for the ladies? Although it's a noir, it's not the hard-boiled noir of Robert Mitchum, but rather closer to what would have been known as the "weepies" in the 1930s.

And for the guys? Why, Gene Tierney, of course. She's hot, hot, HOT! The fact that it's a great story doesn't hurt, either.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The effete Leslie Howard

Turner Classic Movies has been spending Thursday nights in January showing some of the great love stories. Among the movies coming up this week is Intermezzo: A Love Story, airing at 1:15 AM ET on February 1. (Note that for those of you in the Pacific time zone, this is 10:15 PM on Thursday, January 31.) Ingrid Bergman stars in her first American movie, as a piano teacher who is asked by the professional violinist father (Leslie Howard) of her pupil to be his accompanist on his next tour. Needless to say, while on tour they fall in love, despite the fact that he's already married.

Ingrid Bergman looking at Leslie Howard's violin in Ingrid Bergman is radiant as always, despite the fact that she has to suffer going through a good portion of the movie dressed up in an old-fashioned overall-style dress. (This may have been appropriate for a young Swedish woman of her social class in the 1930s, but really, we'd rather see Bergman in the outfits she wore in Notorious.) Leslie Howard, on the other hand, seems typecast: he's weak and needy (although not as bad as, say, Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, airing just before Intermezzo, at 11:15 PM ET January 31), and indecisive too. And this is by far not the only role in which Howard played the weak man:

All the way back in 1931, he was engaged to Norma Shearer in A Free Soul, but she fell for the much more interesting and dashing Clark Gable.

Fast forward a few years to 1934, and Howard's role as Philip Carey in Of Human Bondage. As Bette Davis says in the movie, when she kissed him, she used to wipe her mouth -- [insert hammy gesture of Miss Davis wiping her mouth on her sleeve] -- WIPE HER MOUTH! Although Of Human Bondage is a fine movie, and the cast does an excellent job as long as you don't have anything against Bette Davis's scenery-chewing, it's difficult to find much sympathy for Howard.

The Petrified Forest. Howard is again paired with Davis, but spends most of the movie having his decided lack of masculinity put on full display by Humphrey Bogart. (Then again, who in the 1930s could have competed with Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart?)

Gone With the Wind. Howard plays Ashley Wilkes, the man Scarlett O'Hara supposedly wants, although again, it's the much stronger Rhett Butler who really gets O'Hara's heart racing.

49th Parallel. Howard has a relatively small role in this ensemble cast, but it's of an anthropologist in Canada who goes in for Thomas Mann and artists the Nazis would consider degenerate -- and can't be bothered to stand up for himself until the Nazis try to destroy some of Howard's precious artwork.

What did poor Leslie Howard do to get himself consistently cast as such weak men?

One final note about Intermezzo: this is a remake of a 1936 Swedish movie, which also starred Ingrid Bergman in the same role.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Spare a thought for Jack Carson

Head shot of Jack Carson,

Jack Carson, 1910-1963

TCM's "Star of the Month" for January 2008 has been James Cagney. Cagney made a lot of wonderful movies, but I must admit that I tend to be a fan of the character actors, as they always make the movies they're in interesting, but don't get the recognition that they deserve. So, I'd like to recommend one of Cagney's movies by way of mentioning one of the supporting actors: The Strawberry Blonde, with co-star Jack Carson, airing on TCM at 5:45 AM ET Thursday (January 31).

Carson plays Cagney's long-time friend, a user who has a knack for committing frauds, but leaving Cagney on the hook for them. The movie opens with Carson needing emergency dental work from Cagney -- an altogether frightening prospect, as the movie is set at the beginning of the 20th century, at a time when dentistry was significantly less advanced than it is today. We're led to believe that there's something between Cagney and Carson -- and that something is eventually revealed in one long flashback.

Amongst the things Carson has done to Cagney is to take the girl Cagney wanted: the title "strawberry blonde", played by Rita Hayworth. So while Carson gets to marry Hayworth, Cagney is "stuck" with Hayworth's friend, Olivia de Havilland. (Not a bad compromise, I suppose.) I won't give away any more of the plot, except to point out that you should stay for the end credits: instead of the traditional end credits we get an encore of the song "And the Band Played On", complete with lyrics and bouncing ball to follow the lyrics and sing along.

But more on Carson. He's wonderful, and possibly best-remembered as the oily, smarmy "friend", a role not dissimilar to the Wallace Fay that he would play a few years later in Mildred Pierce. But that's far from Carson's only "other man" role. Indeed, you can see him in another such role alongside Cagney in The Bride Came COD, at 11:30 PM ET January 30. (Actually, I could have used this movie as a springboard for a discussion of character actors, as it's got the uniquely-voiced Eugene Pallette playing Bette Davis's father.) Finally, Carson was also the "other man" for Myrna Loy in Love Crazy.

Hello World!

 Yes, this is the typical "hello world post" for my new blog.

I'm a cineast, which is just a fancy word for saying I'm a movie buff. I enjoy classic movies, and will post here to share my love of classic movies with anybody and everybody. Stay tuned for more posts about everybody's favorite movies!