Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mini Review:
Sullivan's Travels (1941)
Starring: Joel McRea and Veronica Lake
Directed by: Preston Sturges

Another great flick! This one tells the story of John Sullivan, jaded Hollywood film director on a mission to tell the 'truth' to Americans. Not interested in filming any more 'comedies', Sullivan decides to disguise himself as a hobo and live the life of a vagrant to lend an even more realistic air to his new dramatic picture, tentatively titled 'O Brother Where Art Thou' (thanks, Cohen brothers, for that little homage). Along the way he meets a down-on-her-luck aspiring starlet, (played by Veronica Lake and known only as 'The Girl' througout the movie) who decides to join him on his travels. A classic case of mistaken identity and a signature Sturges 'twist' ends the tale on a positive note, as Sullivan comes to realize that the troubled masses need laughter in their lives more than realism.

In spite of my avid love for classic films AND Preston Sturges, this was my first viewing of this movie. It was also my very first Veronica Lake movie. She surely didnt disappoint. Though she is iconic in regards to her very 'avant guarde' hairstyle (for that time), she had a gorgeous face and a darling personality. I was also amazed how tiny she was and how impressive she remained during a large portion of the film when those signature tresses were covered by a boyish hat. The story plays along at a clip, nicely structured and easily followed. I also really loved the 'silent movie' segments, large portions of the film which were completely without dialogue and using only a peppy bit of score and some energetic acting to keep us involved. One scene in particular really stays w/ me and actually moved me to tears. It involves a group of convicts invited to join an all black congregation on their weekly movie night- a movie which happens to be a brilliant Walt Disney cartoon and which is , in itself, life affirming.

Though I adored The Lady Eve, this one is the better film of the two.

My rating: 9/10

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Starring: Jeff Daniels and Mia Farrow
Directed By: Woody Allen

It is hard for me to love any movie of Woody's more than this one. Watching it again only confirms that feeling.

The story starts at the height of the Great Depression. Cecilia (Mia Farrow, in what I feel is her best role)is a waitress in a diner, struggling to make ends meet while supporting an out of work husband (Danny Aiello) who treats her badly. Her only escape is her frequent trips to the movie theater where she completely loses herself in the lives of the romantic heroes on screen. After seeing a recent film, 'The Purple Rose of Cairo', and developing a crush on its adventurer-hero, Tom Baxter (played by a handsome, young Jeff Daniels), her trips to the cinema become more and more frequent. During one of her repeated viewings of the movie, Cecilia is shocked to find that Tom seems to NOTICE her watching from the audience. Her shock becomes total amazement when he begins to speak to her from the film and steps off of the screen to talk to her. Over the next few weeks, chaos reigns as the studio attempts to find the actor that plays Tom, Gil Shepherd, and see if he can convince his onscreen creation to get back in the movie! To make things even more complicated, the rest of the onscreen cast has to wait patiently for his return in order to continue the picture and they are getting impatient, casting rude barbs at the remaining audience members and threatening to leave the screen themselves. Incidentally, the remaining cast and their quandry provides the movie's biggest laughs!

The miracle about this movie is the direction, which never fails to be utterly convincing in its 'feel' for 1940's cinema or the bleakness of the Depression era. Woody Allen has created a masterpiece here that succeeds in being a fantasy and a lovely human comedy at the same time. Costumes, scene construction, music, characterizations...all of these combine to become a wonderfully effective piece of entertaining fantasy/realism.

The acting is wonderful on all counts as well. Mia Farrow really carries the movie, however, and should undoubtedly had garnered an Oscar for this achievement. Her face is at once naively optimistic and painfully exhausted throughout the film. The final moments of the movie never fail to move me to tears and its the expression in her eyes that accomplish this emotion. Jeff Daniels, like the dual role he portrays, was a relative newcomer at the time and he is likewise impressive as both the happy-go-lucky Tom Baxter and the aspiring movie star, Gil Shepherd.

Like most of Allen's movies, the script is marvelous and played with such strength by the entire cast. There are not many films that can succeed in being qualified 'heart-tuggers' and laugh-out-loud funny but this one is does that...and does it effortlessly! I highly recommend this movie to any and all fans, not only of Woody Allen, but of the best romantic comedies.

My rating: an easy 10/10

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Another BRILLIANT Sturges comedy along the same sexy, controversial style of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (one of my favorites). This one stars Stanwyk as a vampy con woman out to 'fleece' rich men on a steamship thru her skillfull hand at cards. Henry Fonda is the naive young man she captivates and who promptly wins her genuine affections. Of course there is the inevitable break-up when Fonda realizes that Stanwyk's original intentions were less than 'honorable'. Ins spite of their feelings, the two are split apart and over time-believe they have forgotten each other. That is, until Fonda's character is introduced to society lady 'Eve', a dead ringer for his lost love!

Sturges' dialogue is always witty, always intelligent,and unfailingly entertaining. The romantic and electric first moments between the couple when they meet are some of the best that I've seen from the genre, and truly proved that Fonda could hold his own in lighthearted fare of this kind. Stanwyk is at her best here, in that same off-beat quick tongued style of the day. Edith Head's costumes are likewise memorable.

Can't wait to see it again!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

JEZEBEL (1938)

I can't watch a William Wyler movie and NOT review it. He's one of my favorite directors of all time and his catalogue is next to none. This movie is not one of his best movies but it is undoubtedly the one that made Bette Davis a formidable screen presence. It is no wonder that she was so requested for the part of Scarlett O'Hara after having puleed this off since she too portrays a spoiled, rebellious southern belle named Julie. The costumes and supporting performances are also impressive in this simple little predecessor of Gone With The Wind. Though this film will never live up to that one's historicity, it carries alot of weight on it's own and is worth watching if for no other reason than to revel in the power of Bette's oscar winning role. Her somewhat surprising transformation, from the daring and impulsive flirt that dared to wear red to the Liberty Ball into the strong and self sacrificing lady she becomes, is a joy to behold.

My rating: 8/10