Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Edward G. Robinson's range

Several months ago I mentioned how Edward G. Robinson played a very broad rage of ethnic characters during his career, from Greek to Portuguese to American, in addition to all his gangster characters. TCM's Summer Under the Stars honors Robinson on August 20, giving us an excellent opportunity to evaluate that range.

Robinson is generally best known for those gangster roles, and two of the best-known of his gangster roles kick off prime time: Little Caesar at 8:00 PM ET, followed by Key Largo at 9:30 PM. Of course, he also played good guys, as in Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, at 8:00 AM. Here, Robinson plays Dr. Paul Ehrlich, the German scientist who found the first effective treatment for syphilis. It's typical for the Warner Brothers movies of the era: excellent production values, with a dash of social content thrown in, and a cast of true professionals doing a fine job from top to bottom, with Robinson standing out amongst them all.

Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet will be followed at 9:45 AM by the even more interesting Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. This movie is in many ways reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie, except that it's more contemporary, being set in World War II-era Wisconsin. Robinson plays Norwegian immigrant farmer Martin Jacobsen, living with his wife Bruna (played by Agnes Moorhead, who's also cast against type but puts in an excellent performance) and daughter Selma (Margaret O'Brien). The story is mainly told through Selma's eyes, as she learns life's lessons by seeing the trials and tribulations that the various adults go through. Not only those of the farmers, but also those of the new teacher, the newspaper editor with whom she falls in love, and Selma's best friend Arnold, the son of the farmers living closest by. Selma and Arnold, in fact, get into the same sorts of scrapes you could see little Laura Ingalls getting into in Little House on the Prairie

It's all lovingly told; the characters are for the most part kind and generous, but still have the same human failings that we all do. It's got good family values without being preachy, and is an excellent movie for family vieweing, especially with younger children. (Older children may find it a bit young for them.) Unfortunately, I erred in my February post when I said Our Vines Have Tender Grapes is available on DVD. The IMDb page lists a DVD link to Amazon, but the Amazon link reveals that the movie has in fact not been released to DVD -- which is really a shame. The TCM showing is your only chance to see the movie, and it's a chance I strongly recommend taking.

No comments: