Friday, January 30, 2009

THE CLOCK (1945)

Sometimes a movie comes along that immediately becomes a favorite. A little gem that you've never heard of, that slipped past the radar of critically acclaimed classics and goes down in history as one of the most underrated movies you've seen. The Clock is one of these wonderful little surprises.

Judy Garland and Robert Walker star as the principal characters in this sweet little romance that takes place during two days in Manhattan, close to the end of WWII. Walker is 'Joe', a serviceman on leave for 48 hrs only-a popular premise for films of this time and genre. He is , in his own words, very 'green'-a small town boy completely at a loss in this giant city. Alice, herself relatively new to Manhattan, is a cheery secretary who comes to his rescue by offering to show him around a little while after a chance meeting at Grand Central Station. Her spritely tour of the city, however, evolves into something much more as the hours pass and it becomes evident to both of them that they are falling deeply inlove. Over the course of Joe's leave, they begin to face the reality that they must either commit to the relationship in spite of adversity or never see one another again.

The movie starts out lightly enough, as the innocence of the newfound friends moves the story along in a humorous way. However, as the hours progress-even the viewer gets drawn into the sense of urgency that the pair feel when they realize their time together is coming to a rapid end. There is also a solemn anti-war message that lurks beneath the sweetness of the story as the lovers face all sorts of obstacles in their simple desire to be together as long as Joe's sense of duty will allow. Moments of the film are exquisitely crafted,such as one scene in particular in which the main characters realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are meant to be together. The scene takes place amid the sound of sirens, in a park after midnight. It is lovingly constructed, zooming in closely on Judy's tearful face and Robert's bobbing adam's apple with tender effort. And it will wring the heart. Another brilliant scene, in which the couple are being married in an offhand way by a harried justice of the peace who shows absolutely no regard for the solemnity of the occasion, is extremely memorable. A passing train drowns out his words so that the youthful pair are left struggling to maintain their composure in the face of such an disrespect. I have to admit, a tissue certainly comes in handy more than once during this movie.

Minelli's direction is phenomenal and it's unfortunate that his more lavish movie musicals overshadow this one so entirely. The film is beautifully shot in black and white and maintains it's moving sentimentality throughout. Judy Garland has never looked lovelier-you can almost feel Minelli's attraction to her in the way he frames her face. The one flaw, I feel, is the overly melodramatic music that is on occasion much too loud, a common problem w/ romantic movies of this time. But it's easy to overlook.

As far as romantic films go, this far outshines more popular ones such as Sleepless and Seattle or An Affair To Rembmer. It's just a classic, pure and simple.

My rating: 9/10

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Of COURSE it's directed by Billy Wilder. Looking at his list of movies, I'm utterly shocked at the diversity of them all. Having discovered this, I'm hard pressed to group him together with my favorite all time directors, Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock, in terms of the number of great films he has to his name. Anyway, on with this movie review:

Witness for the Prosecution is an Agatha Christie short story and it has been reported that this is the only film version of her work that she herself was completely happy about. It is a phenomenal little movie; I say 'little movie' because it is pretty light fare, even w/ the heavy subject matter.

The story follows ailing defense lawyer, Sir Wilfred Robarts (Charles Laughton) as he is released from the hospital after a serious heart attack. His doctor has instructed him to avoid stressful cases in court, alcohol, and smoking-all things that he loves and which he is quick to recommence immediately after leaving the hospital. This in spite of the strict watch of his endearingly militant nurse, Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester, the real life wife of Laughton in a role that was created principally for her since the character did not exist in the novel). Soon after his return home, Robarts is approached with exactly the type of case his doctor would warn against, a seemingly innocent man being charged w/ the murder of an elderly woman. The accused man, Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), feels the charge is rediculous and claims that his own wife, Christine (Marlene Deitrich), would be able to support his allibi at the supposed time of murder. However, upon interviewing said wife, Robarts realizes that the matter may not be quite so simple since she herself seems intent on condemning her husband. What follows is a wonderful courtroom drama replete with great performances, fun twists, and plenty of wit.

In spite of the multitude of acclaimed English thespians in this movie, Laughton runs away with the movie (metaphorically of course; I doubt the poor man could have 'run' anywhere if his life depended upon it). He is a perfect mix of humor, smarts, and subtlety-while at the same time huffing his giant frame around the set like a petulant child when it comes to evading the watchful eye of Miss Plimsoll and her little white pills. His reactions to the inevitable plot twists are obvious and painstakingly heartfelt in their delivery. Incredible performance! In addition, Lanchester is wonderful as the charmingly devoted Miss Plimsoll and Tyrone Power is better than usual as Leonard Vole-a sympathetic hero indeed. Finally, how can we overlook the wonderfully layered performance of Marlene Deitrich as Christine Vole? She accomplished so much in this movie, making us feel the dilemma she faces-her cold sense of duty amid the obvious confusion of her husband who evidently holds her on a pedestal and loves her to distraction. I can't say more about her acting because it would partly give away the 'twist' of this story but if you've seen it-you know how good she is.

Billy Wilder adapts this story flawlessly to the screen and succeeds in something many directors have tried and failed, making the film version worlds more involving than the book. Even Christie would agree, I think.

This is one for the shelf. Even after repeat viewings, I find myself in just as much suspense-knowing full well how it ends but somehow still holding my breath for its exciting conclusion.

My rating: 9/10

Friday, January 23, 2009


Do yourself a favor: Start at the beginning. Watch Esther swim. Skip forward about 15 minutes to the little swimwear 'fashion show' in the movie that features some of the cutest vintage swimwear I've ever seen. Skip forward another 10 minutes or so to the quartet performance of 'Baby, It's Cold Outside'-probably one of the most darling songs ever written. Then, fast forward to the very end and watch the all too brief water ballet that concludes the film. Belive me, you've missed nothing.

There is supposed to be a story line involving two sisters and some confusion about the identity of a cuban polo player. Whatever, I lost complete interest after the cute swimwear.

My rating: 4/10 (but only for the bathing suits and the great song!)

Thursday, January 22, 2009


An extremely pared down version of the Ayn Rand epic novel.

Gary Cooper stars as modern architect and 'man against the world', Howard Roarke, while Patricia Neal plays Dominique Wyland, a married woman who believes in his abilities but also happens to be madly in love with the guy. The story is compelling, one man's architectural dreams pitted against the popular masses and traditional building styles of the time, and it moves along at a clip. Unfortunately, the dialogue suffers from too much melodrama and becomes painfully wooden even when being delivered by these accomplished actors. Cooper's Roarke is a representative of modernity, not a living breathing figure. And Neal is token feminine support instead of a fleshed out heroine, in spite of her magnificent hair. The star of this movie, the thing that saves it from subtle failure, is Vidor's direction and the gorgeous black and white cinematography that speaks so fluently of the time. Certain shots were frameable in their pristine and stark construction, a perfect example of the beauty in contrast. Vidor proves himself here again to be a largely visual director, not so much a solid storyteller. However, it's certainly warrants a viewing and the look of it, like his 1928 masterpiece The Crowd, will stay with you.

My rating: 6/10

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I caught this today on TCM and must re-emphasize what a great team Matthau and Lemmon make. Their brand of wit just pairs perfectly, especially when helmed by great director, Billy Wilder, and placed in a lovely black and white environ. The story focuses on an overly zealous camera-man Henry Hinkle( Lemmon) who, while attempting the perfect sports-shot, is plowed into by his subject-Quarterback 'Boom Boom Jackson' who is intent to making his touchdown. Placed in the hospital with only minor injuries, Hinkle finds himself torn between the sincere apologies of 'Boom Boom' and the persistent pressure of his lawyer brother in law ,Willie (Matthau in his oscar winning role), to 'milk' the situation for all its worth-insurance wise by feigning far more more serious medical conditions. It's a good solid story with great acting and a steady pace. There are plenty of funny moments to enjoy in both the script and the delivery of it but there is also a healthy message to take away. This is one I'd glady watch again, if for nothing else than to revel in the great onscreen chemistry of the two leads (non-sexually speaking of course...heh heh).

My rating: 8/10


I rented this film from Blockbuster when I was about fifteen years old. During the three days that I had it (maybe more), I watched it probably four times. I'm not sure what impressed me the most-the art, the acting, or the romance. I haven't seen it since so when it premiered on OVTV this weekend, I gave it another view.

The biopic follows the life of famed sculptor, Camille Claudel-a young girl who trained under the tuttelage of Rodin himself and eventually became his lover. After a somewhat tumultuous relationship, Camille leaves Rodin behind, only to realize how strongly her work was defined by their love. Without his guiding hand, her creative strength wanes, as do her mental faculties. She becomes obsessed with his memory, convincing herself in the meantime that he is somehow stealing her ideas and stalking her person. Ultimately, she becomes an alcoholic and an agoraphobe-inprisoning herself in her studio and shunning all outside society. Without family to intervene, she would almost certainly have self destructed. Still, though her family had her committed to medical care in 1913, she never recovered from her mental illness or truly reached her artistic potential. Depressing? You bet.

Isabelle Adjani is a revelation as Camille. Her beautiful face, tiny frame, and porcelain skin are in complete contradiction to her character's boundless strength, harsh language, and latent self loathing. In short, she was perfectly cast and runs away with the movie. She makes the slow descent into madness even more painful to watch since we also much be confronted by her angellic looks and perseverance. Knowing her eventuality as we do from history, the journey is an arduous one. Depardieu is probably more physically attractive in this movie, as Rodin, than any other I've seen and he does an able job as well. Both of their faces are memorable and the physical demands of this part are handled with ease. Costumes and sets are consistent with the period, as are the subtle gray landscapes throughout. It's a very good looking movie.

I credit the director for the look of the film, but also with it's major flaw-that of being overly melodramatic. Though this story does have little to work with in terms of what is uplifting or positive, I feel like more effort should have been made in the last hour to focus on the beauty that came of the protagonists' relationship,some exquisite pieces of art. Instead, I felt that too much attention was paid to Claudel's decline to put sufficient emphasis on the sculptures and their meaning. The music was also extraordinarily tedious, assaulting us through most of the film and competing with the story itself in a distracting and overbearing way. Still, there are some worthy supporting performances in the film that deserve mention, principally that of Phillipe Clevenot as Eugene Blot.

Though I feel that this film lacks continuity in its construction and suffers from excessive melodrama, the good outweighs the bad and it remains a 'must see' movie. Adjani's portrayal is still one of my favorite performances ever put to film and it's pleasant to see Depardieu underplay a role for once. In addition, the chance to see the physical energy and strength needed to pursue this artistic medium , the closeup views of bloody knuckles being peppered with grains of marble as the chisel does its work, the sinewy paleness of bodies straining to accomplish artist- conceived poses, the stark constrast of unsculpted rock with the smoothe and flowing beauty it bcomes-all of these things will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Which leads me to give the film a well deserved 8/10.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Itty Bitty Review:

Just thought I'd stop in and say a few words about Esther Williams. She was magnificent. She was gorgeous. She accomplished things underwater that some dancers couldnt do on solid ground. And there is an entire Olympic event that is based solely on her unique abilities.

This movie is a 'biopic' about Annette Kellerman, the famed Australian swimmer who dared to wear a one piece swimsuit that hugged her body and was quite the pariah in proper society. Esther gives the character lots of spunk and a sweet smile while at the same time turning out some amazing underwater musical numbers that have yet to be duplicated or attempted. Storywise, this flick has little to truly grab you. However, it's worth seeing simply for Esther's uncanny underwater dancing and the gorgeous technicolor cinematography that would lift anyone's spirits.

My rating:7/10

*I'll probably be turning out alot of these mini reviews this month, as TCM goes into it's 30 days of Oscar and I catch alot of quality movies I've missed.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Being a longtime fan of movie musicals, I have made it a personal goal to see all of them. Yep, I've even got Xanadu under my belt. This one, Shall We Dance, has long been considered one of Astaire and Rogers' best movies. Before today, I'd always managed to miss it but finally, after seeing it, I can adamantly say it IS their best.

The story follows ballet dancer 'Petrov'(Astaire)and his pursuit of famed broadway hoofer, Linda Keane. Peter (known as Petrov to the ballet elite) has been a fan for a long while but Linda is tired of her insipid admirers and won't give him a chance. The two finally meet up on a steamship bound for New York and immediately, sparks fly. However, the 'obstacle' to this particular love story presents itself in the form of an unwelcome rumor, that the two are already married by the time they arrive in New York. Linda feels used, assuming that Peter started the rumor and denies the marriage to all who will listen-which turns out to be no one. What follows is some great dance numbers, wonderful Gershwin melodies, witty repartee', and lots of fun.

The two leads have wonderful chemistry and its never been more evident than in this movie. They play off each other with ease, relegating the rest of the solid cast to well, comparitive insignificance. Neither of them are strong singers but the scene in which Astaire woos his lady with 'They Can't Take That Away From Me' is one of the genre's most romantic. The tears in her eyes...just lovely. I got a little misty myself. Ginger Rogers has always been a wonderful leading lady in my book, and one of the greatest things about she and Astaire as a couple is that since they both could act, the relationships-from movie to movie-from character to character-were always believeable.

The dancing is especially effective when coupled with the great George and Ira songs, such as the title number, 'Let's Call The Whole Thing Off', 'They All Laughed', and 'Slap that Bass'. The most memorable perhaps, is the dance on roller skates to 'Let's Call The Whole Thing Off' that foreshadowed a more complicated but similar number Gene Kelly performed in 'It's Always Fair Weather' over a decade later. Graceful but still retaining some comedic value.

Though I am still a huge fan of the MGM musical, there is no doubt that Astaire and Rogers were the best dance team that every graced the screen. The Berkleys of Broadway, later in their carreer, provides viewers with a glimpse of what could have been, had MGM gotten a hold of them sooner-in terms of color and brilliance. But still, this is definitely a crowning achievement and one I plan to watch many times.

My rating: 9/10