A Chorus Line

  • Title: A Chorus Line
  • Director: Richard Attenborough
  • Date: 1985
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures
  • Genre: Musical, Drama
  • Cast: Michael Douglas
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

A Chorus Line is quite possibly the first musical I ever saw – on film. I remember watching this movie in high school and enjoying it immensely. The film still has a lot of pull, because it’s also very dramatic. Michael Douglas plays a masochistic choreographer – who subjects sixteen dancers to the audition of their lives. He sits in the shadows, unseen by the dancers on stage as they pour out their hearts – each telling very personal stories. Some are funny, some sad, some will even make you cry. This film has a sense of depth and feeling to it.

There are a lot of edits and cuts in the dances – close-ups of the dancer’s faces, different angles, and the use of a lot of mirrors. To quote Ginger Rogers:  “Do they think I dance with my face?” But, filming with mirrors is always tricky – the mirrors and cameras and other equipment have to be carefully placed to avoid cameras, mikes, and lights appearing in the mirrors. At least some of the dancing is shown full frame. I just wish the editors would trust that an entire dance can hold the audience’s attention – if shown from start to finish without close-ups! As it is, though some of the more dramatic conversations work – in a musical, it’s all about the dance and the lyrics. Though to give them credit – each of the dancers that gets a starring number – is expressing themselves, their feelings about dance, and their experiences in life.

Musical Numbers (Guessing on the Titles, here — my DVD copy does not have a list of musical numbers)

  • I Can do That
  • Everything was Beautiful at the Ballet
  • Hello, Love
  • Surprise
  • Nothing
  • Tits and Ass (Dance 10, Looks 3)
  • I’m a Dancer
  • One Singular Sensation
  • What I Did for Love
  • One Singular Sensation (Reprise)

One unusual thing for a film about making a musical – we never actually see the finished musical Broadway play. The film’s plot is about casting the chorus. And the final reprise number, of  “One Singular Sensation”, with its ever-expanding group of dancers – goes back to the audience seeing the chorus as a mass of moving bodies, not as individuals. Whereas, as I’ve said, the film’s content takes the time to make the chorus members real people – with dreams, ambitions, problems, etc.

Recommendation:  See it – at least once.
Rating:  3.5
Next Film:  Citizen Kane

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

  • Title: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • Director: Ken Hughes
  • Date: 1968
  • Studio: United Artists / MGM
  • Genre: Musical, Children, Romance
  • Cast: Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Lionel Jeffries, Benny Hill
  • Format: Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

Do you think they’re going to get married?” — Jeremy
“Has he kissed her yet?” — Jemina
“Not yet.” — Jeremy
“Just as soon as he kisses her – then they’ll have to get married.” –Jemina

In Edwardian England, Mr. Potts (Dick Van Dyke), a poor inventor, is raising his two young children on his own. Simultaneously two things happen – his children want him to buy a wrecked race car for 30 shillings because it’s been their plaything and the local junk man wants to melt it for scrap; and, Potts runs into Truly Scrumptious, daughter of the local candy maker.

Potts brings one of his few working inventions, a candy that whistles, to the Scrumptious Candy Factory hoping to raise some money – he fails, he thinks, when the factory is invaded by dogs. But later, he ends up at a fun fair, where he performs with a singing/dancing group (“Me Ol’ Bamboo”) – to his surprise, coins flood the stage and he ends up with more than enough to buy the wrecked car. He tows it, behind a horse, back to his workshop, and spends days putting the car back together. But when it’s done it’s a truly wonderful car.

To celebrate the completion of the car, Potts takes his children to the beach for a picnic. He runs into Truly, and she comes along. A fine day is had by all, and as they are winding up the picnic, the children ask their father for a story – about pirates. Potts begins to tell the story, and suddenly they are in the story – pirates come to take Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the car turns into a boat and they escape. The story is not over, though, because when they return home … Baron Bomburst has taken Grandpa Potts away in his dirigible – believing him to be Professor Potts, the man who invented the floating car.

Potts, Truly, and the children follow, in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which has now grown wings and flies. They arrive in Vulgaria, where the local toymaker (Benny Hill) tells them children have been outlawed because the local Baroness (Bomburst) hates children. The toymaker hides the four, but while Potts goes to find his father, the children are captured by the local “child catcher”. However, Potts, the toymaker, Truly, and eventually, the captured children revolt at the castle and Potts family is freed and they escape.

Dissolve to Potts concluding that they “all lived happily ever after”, as the four sit in the car at the beach. Potts drops off Truly, declaring it would be ridiculous for them to get married. But when he gets home, he discovers his father and her father playing toy soldiers in his living room. It seems his father was Mr. Scrumptious’s batman and Scrumptious was his “brigadier”. Also, further testing has shown Potts whistle treats are awful for people but terribly popular with dogs – he wants to offer Potts a contract that will make him rich. Before he can even accept Potts rushes off to find Truly – who is rushing off to find him. Potts kisses her – and she replies, “Now you have to marry me!”.  And everyone is happy.

The Technicolor filming really adds to this movie – the colors pop right off the screen. But for a children’s movie it is quite long (it even has the dreaded intermission). Also, other than the title song, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, and “Doll on a Music Box” the music is only so-so, and there really isn’t much dancing (and what there is manages to be rather static). Overall, I much prefer Van Dyke’s “Mary Poppins”. But, the movie must be given credit as a fun fantasy for children.

Trivia: The film is based on a book by Ian Fleming, produced by Albert R Broccoli, and filmed on location in England, Germany, and France, and at Pinewood Studios in England. If you’re wondering – yes, it is the same Ian Fleming who wrote James Bond. And Albert Broccoli produced many of the Bond films, which were often filmed at Pinewood.

Musical Numbers

  • You Two
  • Toot Sweets
  • Hushabye Mountain
  • Me Ol’ Bamboo
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • Truly Scrumptious
  • This Lovely Lonely Man
  • POSH (Port Out, Starboard Home)
  • Roses of Success
  • Hushabye Mountain (reprise)
  • Chu-Chi Face
  • Doll on a Music Box
  • Truly Scrumptious (reprise)
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (reprise)

Recommendation: Show it to your kids.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: A Chorus Line

Charade (1953)

  • Title:  Charade (1953)
  • Director:  Roy Kellino
  • Date:  1953
  • Studio:  Portland Picture
  • Genre:  Short Stories, Film Noir
  • Cast:  James Mason, Pamela Mason
  • Format:  Black and White, Standard
  • Format:  R1, NTSC 

“We can reconstruct the crime over dessert.”  — Max

“Because this had to end like this, and because you’re more than a little mad, that makes you my perfect love.  This is a love that will never wilt, it will survive like a pressed flower, I shall never learn that you are stupid, or shallow, or inconstant.  Jealousy and disillusion will never make you hateful or dangerous.”  — Max

Though it has the same title as the film reviewed previously (Charade – 1963), this film really has nothing to do with the other.  Rather, it’s actually three short films, no more than half an hour each (probably a bit less, I didn’t keep close track), connected with scenes between James and Pamela Mason discussing the movie project they are working on.  The film, actually, starts oddly with the two talking to each other – James Mason about his desire to be a producer, and Pamela saying he’s an actor who will never be a producer.  He mentions three scripts she’d worked on – saying they were too short to produce, she counters with the idea of doing a Trio.  Between each completely separate story, and at the end as a concluding bookend we return to the two as themselves talking.

The first story is actually quite a nice film noir piece, though the production values are extremely low.  Everything takes place in one set, which isn’t too bad, but Pamela Mason’s voice-over reminds me of  Victoria Winters from Dark Shadows.  And in one scene, James Mason’s menacing appearance at her door is totally spoiled by a boom in the shot.

However, that said, it does draw you in.  Pamela Mason is a British ex-pat, living in Paris, and trying to become a painter – and failing miserably.  Her next door neighbor is loud and annoying, especially when she plays the piano – badly, at all hours of the night.  Pamela even fantasizes about killing her annoying neighbor.  Then one night she hears the piano being played surprisingly well, followed by an argument and a suspicious thump.  She looks out her door and sees a man standing in the hall under the naked light bulb.  Being an artist, she sketches the man.  Deciding it would be more fun to keep the secret of what she saw – she tells the police she slept soundly that night and saw and heard nothing.

Suddenly, “Max” (James Mason), the man she had seen in the hall appears – he’s rented the apartment next door.  Yes, the dead girl’s apartment.  He’s aware of the room’s history, but it doesn’t bother him.  The two get to talking and before long, Pamela is painting his portrait.  As she finishes painting when he isn’t there, she writes “Portrait of a Murderer” on the painting, then covers it with a canvas.

Max arrives, and tells her he’s been attending the trial of the man who is accused of killing her neighbor.  He mentions some details from the man’s defense, and demands to have the original sketch she drew.  Looking at the sketch, they see a detail mentioned by the man which had never been mentioned before.  Pamela tries to convince “Max” she loves him and will never betray him.  He kills her anyway.  Two French policemen finding the body, also find the portrait…

and we return to James and Pamela Mason, discussing that “Max” will most certainly be caught.

The second story, Duel at Dawn based on an Alexandre Dumas story, has the former boyfriend of a countess challenging her current fiance to a duel.  The conditions of the duel sound impossible, one man is certain to die.  The Countess (Pamela Mason) is so distressed she writes a letter to her fiance telling him she’ll die as well if  he doesn’t survive – she also tells her maid to stay there out of sight and tell her who survives.  She also writes a letter of intent to her father.  The maid, sees the Countess’s ex-boyfriend leave the dueling barn.  However, unbeknownest  to her both men survived – the duel was a trick, meant to test Mason’s courage.  However, before the Countess can go all Juliet at the news her maid brings her of her fiance’s death, Mason arrives just in time.  Realising what she was about to do – he swears off dueling for life.

The third story, The Midas Touch concerns a boring captain of industry, who’s only talent is making money.  He’s so good at it he finally gets bored and takes off for England where he holds a series of low jobs before becoming a butler and falling for the Lady’s maid (Pamela Mason).  However, when the head of the household decides to take his Yacht to the US, he’s faced with a problem – he wants to marry the maid and live a quiet life.  Somehow, instead, he ends up back in New York, captain of industry again, but now married to the maid – who’s now an aspiring actress.

Overall, I liked the first piece best – Mason was quite menacing, and the use of mirrors to get tricky shots was interesting to watch.  Use of a single set is quite stagey, but at the end becomes effectively claustrophobic.  It’s a pity that single story wasn’t extended to full movie length, and the intermediate dialogue between Pamela and James Mason cut.

The second piece isn’t bad – tho’ it’s predictable, and James Mason’s character, though the “hero” for once, is quite annoying as well (he does put his “honor” over his fiancee’s life).

The third story is just plain awful… no doubt about it.

Overall, though the first story is worth watching, the rest of  Charade (1953) isn’t really worth it.  I’m glad this was only an extra feature on another film I bought (Charade 1963) rather than something I really paid for.

Recommendation:  Turn it off after the end of the first story
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Charade (1963)

  • Title: Charade
  • Director: Stanley Donen
  • Date: 1963
  • Studio: Universal
  • Genre: Suspense, Romance, Mystery
  • Cast: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy
  • Format: Technicolor, Widescreen
  • Format: R1, NTSC

“It is infuriating that your unhappiness does not turn to fat.” — Sylvie to Regina

“Any morning now, you could wake-up dead, Mrs. Lambert.” — Threat spoken to Regina

“Being murdered in cold blood is not nonsense! Why don’t you try it sometime?” — Regina to Peter

Audrey Hepburn is Regina Lambert, who returns to her flat in Paris, determined to ask her husband for a divorce, only to find the flat completely empty, the electricity shut off, and a police officer waiting to tell her that her husband has been murdered. He was thrown off a train. Shortly thereafter, a man claiming to be from the CIA (Walter Matthau) informs her that her husband was wanted for stealing $250,000 in gold during World War II along with four other men. What follows is a complicated suspense movie of multiple identities, miscellaneous murders, revenge, and a search for the missing money. Cary Grant alone, who keeps showing up around Audrey Hepburn, has at least four names.

This film is directed like a classic Hitchcock film, though the director is actually Stanley Donen – better known for his musicals. There is some romantic tension between Hepburn and Grant as well, but not as much as is typical for a Cary Grant-led romantic comedy.

Overall, though a bit long, it’s still a fun film. I picked up my copy at Suncoast on sale for $4.99 — back when there was a Suncoast Video, simply because with Grant and Hepburn as leads I figured I couldn’t go wrong and I was right. The film is very enjoyable. Cary Grant is excellent as the mystery man Hepburn isn’t sure she should trust or not. And Audrey Hepburn is excellent and believable as the only one in the film who really has no idea what’s going on. Also, there are two surprises at the end: where the money was hidden (a classic – I love it, tho’ the idea has been played with since in several formats) and who Cary Grant “really” is – another classic.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Next Film: Charade (1953)


  • Title: Casablanca
  • Director: Michael Curtiz
  • Date: 1942
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Classic, Drama
  • Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
  • Format: Black & White, Standard
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“What in heavens name brought you to Casablanca?” – Cap’t Louis Renault
“My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.” – Rick Blaine
“The waters? What waters — we’re in the desert.” – Cap’t Renault
“I was misinformed.” – Rick

“What’s your nationality?” – Maj. Strasser
“I’m a drunkard.”  – Rick

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world — she walks into mine.” – Rick

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” – Cap’t Renault
“Your winnings, sir.”  – Waiter
“Oh, thank you very much.”  – Cap’t Renault

Casablanca is one of the best movies ever made. Like all great movies it is still enjoyable after repeat viewings, and can even become more enjoyable because of the anticipation of favorite lines, scenes, and events. The movie, after a brief audio introduction, swiftly carries you into it’s world. Casablanca: Crossroads of the world, filled with refugees from war-torn Europe hoping to beg, borrow, or steal enough to obtain exit visas and passage on the plane to Lisbon and from there passage to America. Part of what Casablanca does so well is not only the main plot of three “little people”, but the small side plots: the older German couple who have finally obtained passage and are practicing their imperfect English; the woman who sells her diamond tennis bracelet – for far less than it’s worth because she’s desperate for money (and the broker knows it); the pickpocket; the young girl who asks Rick if she should trust Cap’t Renault and do a “very bad thing” so she and her husband can escape Casablanca. There is a real sense that everyone in Casablanca has a story – and it may be as compelling as the story of Rick, Ilsa, and Victor Laszlo.

But at it’s heart, Casablanca is about Rick, Ilsa, and Victor – three good people caught in a mess. Rick – the cynic, who “sticks his neck out for nobody,” Victor – hero of the people, who escaped a German Concentration Camp and is the leader of the underground free French. And Ilsa – the girl they both love and have loved at different times. The film is about Rick’s journey from cynic to unlikely hero, but there’s an edginess to the movie – the audience doesn’t know what Rick’s final decision will be. Part of this may have been the cast didn’t know, supposedly the script was unfinished and the movie was made on the fly. But even if that wasn’t so, and even when you have the final scene with all its perfect dialogue memorised – you’ve seen this movie that often, the film still manages to have a sense of surprise to it, a sense of anticipation, and it creates a world that envelops you. It truly is a brilliant, brilliant film.

Also – Casablanca is filled with great lines, those quoted above, and gems like Cap’t Renault’s “I’m only a poor, corrupt official,” or his “Major Strasser has been shot – round up the usual suspects,” not to mention Rick’s speech to Ilsa at the end of  the film, and the last line of the film as well. Totally classic!

Besides the sparkling script – the film is filled with great images as well: Ilsa’s hand knocking over the champagne glass as Rick kisses her as the Germans match into Paris; the rain washing away the ink of Ilsa’s note to Rick; the close-up as Cap’t Renault drops the bottle of  “Viche Water” into the trash. And light and shadow are used so well in the film. Ingrid Bergman looks so beautiful, especially when she walks into Rick’s the lighting on her face makes her practically glow. But shadows and half-light are also used well. Mist and smoke are used to enhance the visual image: the smoke obscuring Rick as he gets on the train in Paris, and the mist and fog-shrouded airport at the end of the film are two examples. Another of my favorite scenes is when Victor leads all of Rick’s Cafe’ Americain in singing the Marseillais to drown out the Germans who are singing De Fatherland, especially Yvonne crying.

Rick – Richard Blaine, is a man who “sticks his neck out for nobody,” that at the start of the film does nothing to help poor Ugarte (Lorre), despite his pleas, and despite him saying Rick’s the only one he trusts – an action which later results in Ugarte’s death. This is the man who is the noble one at the end of the picture – he’s the one who gives up love for something greater, and because he knows the woman he loves – loves someone else. I just love this movie and could watch it again and again and again. Which is often the best compliment a work of art can have – to make you want to experience it over and over again.

All in all – just about a perfect movie.

Recommendation: See it!  Own it!
Rating: 5 (out of 5) Stars
Next Film: Charade


  • Title: Carefree
  • Director: Mark Sandrich
  • Date: 1938
  • Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre: Musical, Romantic Comedy
  • Music and Lyrics: Irving Berlin
  • Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Ralph Bellamy
  • Format: Black & White, Standard
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“We all try to escape reality. We all want to be something entirely different than we really are.” – Dr. Tony Flagg

Carefree is one of the less well-known Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals. It is somewhat unusual in that it’s one of the few, if not the only one, where Fred and Ginger are not playing professional dancers – thus the film is more like a romantic comedy (especially a screwball comedy) than a musical. In this film, Fred is Dr. Tony Flagg, a Freudian psychiatrist, and hypnotherapist. Ginger is his patient, Amanda Cooper, brought to see Tony by his friend Steven (Ralph Bellamy) because she’s afraid of matrimony. Also, whereas in most of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, Fred meets Ginger and falls for her, in Carefree, it’s Amanda (Rogers) who falls for Dr. Flagg (Astaire) almost as soon as she meets him. It takes Dr. Flagg a while to realize his true feeling for Amanda.

Also, Carefree is a very dreamy, effects-laden film, well, for 1938, that is. Dr. Flagg, as an expert in psycho-analysis, asks Amanda to tell him her dreams. Told that she doesn’t dream, he takes her to dinner with friends and has her eat a variety of strange foods – to induce dreams. And dream she does, but not of Steven, instead, she dreams of Tony. And the dance in her dream includes a slow-motion sequence that’s a joy to watch.

Later, at the country club, Amanda sings “The Yam”, bringing Tony into the dance with her. The dance is interesting because, in the first part of the dance, she’s actually the one leading. Though that changes to Fred leading as the dance becomes more elaborate. As a whole, “The Yam” is elaborate partner tap dance, with ballroom moves, and swing, that’s also light and humorous. The dance also moves through several rooms of the country club, and at the conclusion, Fred flips Ginger over his leg several times (bracing the leg against a table, flipping her over it like a gymnast’s bar, dancing to the next table, bracing his leg, flipping her over it, going to the next table, etc, in a complete circle around the room). It’s impressive in the pure strength and athleticism it took to do that – as well as Astaire’s natural grace, and Ginger’s balance. Astaire often manages to look like he’s floating on air. It’s amazing.

Finally, in desperation, after Amanda admits she’s fallen in love with him; Tony hypnotizes her into thinking she loves Steven and that Tony’s “terrible, and should be shot down like a dog”. Poor choice of words on Tony’s part. Because, yet again, he leaves her alone – this time having a conversation with himself in the mirror, in which he realizes he’s fallen for his patient. He returns, only to discover, yet again, she’s escaped while under the influence. This time – she goes to a skeet-shooting contest and starts shooting up the place with a rifle. Tony must figure out how to undo what he did …  when Steven, and his pal the judge, are determined to not let Tony see Amanda again.

Carefree also has the ballroom number, “Change Partners, and Dance”, with Dr. Tony attempting to hypnotize Amanda during their dance, which is also quite a nice number.  (She’s in a black dress, he’s in full black tux with tails).

As always the dances are shot full-frame (Fred and Ginger are shown from head to toe), and the dance is filmed in a single shot, without a lot of edits and cuts. This method of filming makes it easier to follow the dance, but also means the dancer’s pure talent can shine through.

Eventually, everything works out. Tony gets in to see Amanda at her wedding, Steven accidentally knocks out Amanda, Tony reverses his negative post-hypnotic suggestions, and Tony and Amanda marry. Ralph Bellamy, of course, is left alone and single as always. Carefree is also a short film, only 82 minutes, but still very fun, light, and funny.

This film is fun, and the novelty of Ginger chasing Fred instead of the normal Fred chasing Ginger makes it a bit unusual. It’s a screwball comedy classic, but with singing and dancing.

List of  Musical Numbers

Since They Turned Loch Lamond into Swing – Fred (tap)
I Used to Be Color Blind – (Fred, vocals), Fred and Ginger (Ballroom dance)
The Yam – Ginger (vocals), Fred and Ginger (Partner tap)
Change Partners and Dance – Fred (Vocals)
Change Partners and Dance – Fred and Ginger (Ballroom)

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4
Next film:  Casablanca

Broadway Melody of 1940

  • Title: Broadway Melody of 1940
  • Director: Norman Taurog
  • Date: 1940
  • Studio: MGM
  • Genre: Musical
  • Lyrics & Music: Cole Porter
  • Cast: Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, George Murphy, Frank Morgan, Ian Hunter
  • Format: Black & White, Standard
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Say listen, we may never get anywhere, but if we don’t think so… I’d rather break it up, now.” — Johnny

“I think people can be platonic — and still be friends.” — Casey’s blonde

“The more you know about women — the less you know about women.” — King
“Maybe it’s time you found out they’re not all alike.” — Johnny

Johnny Brett (Astaire) and King Shaw (George Murphy) are struggling dancers making ends meet by walking brides down the aisle in place of the father-of-the-bride, and dancing (for .05 cents a dance) at the reception to make ends meet while they try to break into a professional Broadway gig. King is so fed-up and disgusted with their lack of success he’s about to give up. Johnny, keeps his partner’s spirits up, cheering him on. That night when the two perform their comedy-dance number at the hotel, they are spotted by a talent scout. The scout sees Brett and wants to offer him a chance to dance with Claire Bennett (Eleanor Powell) the biggest star on Broadway, and Brett’s secret crush. Brett, however, mistakes him for a bill collector – and gives him his partner’s name. So the agent calls King in, thinking he’s Brett, for an interview – which turns into an audition, which turns into a job.

King, is, somewhat torn that his big break is his big break – and he has to leave behind his partnership with Johnny; but he tells Johnny he was going to pass on the offer – both or nothing, so to speak.  Johnny talks him into it anyway.

The audition goes fantastically. Throughout the film, Johnny gives King tips and even improves steps from the show. Both King and Johnny fall for Claire. Claire’s in something of a relationship with her manager – but, despite his continued proposals, and her continued refusals, they are both married to their careers, and Claire, in particular, won’t give up the stage for marriage. (What a concept for a film from 1940 – a woman who chooses a career over marriage! ).

Meanwhile, the talent scout (Frank Morgan) runs into Johnny and tells him how bad he feels about the mix-up and says he wants to make it right. Johnny refuses. In the end, the scout promises to discover him next year and get him a job. Johnny shakes on that.

Claire catches Johnny playing “I’ve Got My Eyes on You” on the piano, tapping while sitting, then dancing with her photo. The two go to lunch, and end-up dancing together (a nicely done partner tap dance).

Finally, the first night of the new show rolls around. But King is drunk in his dressing room – he’s convinced that Johnny has stolen Claire from him. Johnny substitutes for King in the first number, and when he returns backstage, convinces King he fainted in the wings after the first number, but he was a sensation and gets him ready for the rest of the show. The next day, though, Claire sets him straight.

Though King and Johnny are now squabbling, King sets things right by faking being drunk and Johnny goes on instead. Astaire and Powell perform the stunning “Begin the Beguine” as the show-within-a-show. The number is fantastic – with two sections and a transition between them. Section 1 is a white and black set with Astaire in a Bolero outfit. The transition has four chorus girls in plaid. Then Section 2 has Astaire in a white tux and Powell in a floaty white dress – and has some very, very nice and accomplished partner tap dancing. (Partner Tap is side-by-side; as opposed to ballroom dance which is face to face). The second part set is a black set that’s so shiny the dancers are reflected on the floor. Also, the dances are full-frame, that is, we see the dancers from head to toe and the dance from start to finish without edits and cuts.

After the big finale dance – Johnny and Claire return back stage only to find that King was faking, and the three return “on-stage” for a threesome partner tap dance, which ends the film.

Broadway Melody of 1940 has a rhythm like a sine wave — the scenes between Astaire and Murphy are great, as are the dances — but whenever anyone else is talking, the plot is incredibly slow. I, frankly, could have done without the female juggler scene at the talent agency, or the hopeless bad “comedy” soprano.

The other thing is Astaire and Powell: she’s not Astaire’s best partner, who is, of course, Ginger Rogers; or even someone like Cyd Charisse who’s contrasting training provides a good counter-balance to Astaire. Whenever I watch a movie with Astaire and Powell — it feels, to me, like I’m watching two separate dancers – not a unit. Powell is a good tap dancer — and extremely athletic – her gymnastic maneuvers in “I am the Captain” are truly impressive – they take your breath away.

Whereas Astaire is extremely impressive on his own in “I’ve Got My Eyes on You” where he plays the piano, taps while sitting, moves effortlessly into a jazz/ballroom/tap dance with Claire’s portrait, and ends by tap dancing on a step — with one foot on one level and the other on a different level. Amazing. But it says something that the two do some of their best work alone – where their “partner” is merely watching and the dancer doesn’t even realize it. Even in “Begin the Beguine” – which is a fantastic number, with impressive tap dancing and partner dancing – it just feels like there’s an ice wall of separation between Powell and Astaire. Frankly, Astaire has better chemistry with George Murphy in this film — and I don’t think it’s Astaire’s fault.

List of  Musical Numbers

  • Please Don’t Monkey with Broadway — Murphy and Astaire
  • I am the Captain — Eleanor Powell
  • Between You and Me — Powell and Murphy (ballroom)
  • I’ve Got My Eyes on You — Fred Astaire
  • Jukebox Dance — Powell and Astaire (tap)
  • I Concentrate on You — Powell (ballet)
  • I’ve Got My Eyes on You — Powell and Astaire (Harlequin number) (Ballroom/jazz)
  • Begin the Beguine 1 — Astaire and Powell
  • Begin the Beguine 2 — Astaire and Powell

Recommendation: Actually not bad – see it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Next film: Carefree

Broadcast News

  • Title: Broadcast News
  • Director: James L. Brooks
  • Date: 1987
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Genre: Romantic Comedy
  • Cast: William Hurt, Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks, Joan Cusack, Christian Clemenson, Jack Nicholson
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Did you go to college? (pause) So, you’re not well-educated, you have almost no experience and you can’t write.” — Jane
“Yeah, and I’m making a fortune.” — Tom

“So, don’t get me wrong when I tell you that Tom, while being a very nice guy, is the devil.” — Aaron
“This isn’t friendship! You’re crazy, you know that?”– Jane
“What do you thing the devil’s going to look like if he’s around?” — Aaron
“God!” — Jane
“Come on! No one’s going to be taken in by a guy with a long red pointy tail. … No – I’m semi-serious here! He’ll be attractive, he’ll be nice and helpful! He’ll get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation! He’ll never do an evil thing! He’ll never delibrately hurt a living thing! He’ll just bit by little bit, lower our standards where they’re important. Just a tiny little bit — just coax along flash over substance!” — Aaron

“This is one story they’re not going to cover, ‘course if the network doesn’t cover it – it must not be important, so why worry about it, right?” — Aaron

Broadcast News is a very funny, yet bittersweet romantic comedy. In some ways it does follow the typical romantic comedy conventions — a girl is torn between two guys. Or, rather, a girl is friends with one guy who’d be great for her romantically — but she’s swept off her feet, so to speak, by the handsome new guy she’s just met, a guy who flatters her at every turn. But, besides the comic elements what makes this film work is how it introduces us to three people we end up emphasizing with – even when they are angry at each other, and making a few important points about the status of journalism in the US – without soapboxing or turning the film into an overly depressing drama.

The main characters are: Jane (Holly Hunter) — a woman so driven and tightly wound that she tells taxi drivers what route to take, and starts every day (or deals with stressful situations) by unplugging her phone and crying for a few minutes. Jane is very, very good at her job as a Washington news producer. And Jane’s best friend is Aaron.

Aaron (Albert Brooks) is a professional reporter. He knows his stuff, he knows how to write and how to produce / manage shooting news. He’s friends with Jane but also loves her and would like to be more than friends with her. He’s also supported Jane’s fight against “entertainment as news”.

Tom (William Hurt) is the new kid on the block – even he knows he was hired for his looks and that he’s not all that bright. Jane argues with him that he can do something about that – he can study-up, and watch and learn from the other more experienced reporters. Tom sees Jane and immediately falls for her – but at times, he almost seems to be acting like he sees her as a good career move because he also has a one night stand with another female reporter at the Washington news bureau.

More serious plotlines include exposing entertainment news as NOT news; cuts to staff, especially actual reporters with experience, and faking the news. Relatively early in the film, Jane and Aaron are in South America with a group of Contras who are fighting the Sandanistas. A cameraman says something to one of the soldiers about his boots. Jane strides in and screams that they are not in the business of making news, then explains to the soldier he can do whatever he wants. The soldier puts on his boots. Later – she’s happy to have a shot of that because it makes a fine point in the story.

However, Tom’s first story on his own — a well-done piece about date rape, includes a cutaway shot to Tom, the reporter, tearing up. At the very end of the film, Jane pulls the rough tape and sees Tom faking (or acting) his reaction – which was used in the finished news story. She’s livid – he doesn’t see what’s wrong with it. In the end, instead of going for a week’s vacation someplace warm, sunny, and with plenty of sand, together — Tom goes alone because Jane’s realized she can’t be with someone so contrary to her own ethics.

Meanwhile, Aaron has also decided to leave — with the huge amount of cuts in the Washington bureau, and thinking Jane will be with Tom, or at the very least, never be in love with him. He takes a job in Portland.

Jane is left alone — not ending up with either of the two men in her life.

The film has two bookends — the opening shows all three characters as children. The end, taking place seven years later, shows Tom getting the network news anchor spot but refusing to be the managing producer controlling content — instead, he asks Jane to do that, and she accepts. Aaron is still in Portland, married, with one child. Tom’s engaged. And Jane’s still single, but “seeing a guy”. These bookends are a classy way of introducing the characters and opening and closing the film.

Besides the entire film’s critique of entertainment-as-news, and flash over substance; the film also introduces a very important concept: budget cuts at national news networks. At the end of the film, nearly thirty people lose their jobs at the Washington Bureau. These are characters we’ve come to know and care about like our leads. But Jane’s promoted — first female Washington Bureau chief; Tom’s also promoted – sent to London to be groomed for the network anchor position, and in disgust – Aaron quits and heads to Portland. As the business manager is making the cuts, and the current anchor (played by Jack Nicholoson no less) shows up to show his support for people who have just lost their jobs, the anchor makes the comment about how awful it is that they had to cut so much from the news budget, “all because they couldn’t program Wednesday nights”, and says he wish he could do more. The business manager says in an undertone, “Or they could have cut a million or two from your salary”, then passes it off as a bad joke, a nervous joke. The audience knows better.

I highly recommend seeing this film, it’s enjoyable, the characters are great, and surprisingly enough for a romantic comedy – it actually has something to say.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 of  5 Stars
Next Film: Broadway Melody of 1940

Bringing Up Baby

  • Title: Bringing Up Baby
  • Director: Howard Hawks
  • Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
  • Date: 1938
  • Genre: Classic, Romance, Comedy
  • Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant
  • Format: Black & White, Standard
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC, 2-disc Special Edition

Bringing Up Baby is a classic and very funny “screwball comedy”. It’s simply a joy to watch. Cary Grant plays a “zoologist” (Considering he’s building a brontosaur skeleton for a museum, he’s more likely an archeologist, anthropologist, or paleontologist. Zoologists study living animals) who keeps running into Susan Vance (Hepburn), an heiress who seems to never stop talking or take five seconds to consider the consequences of  her actions. Grant is also due to get married – something Hepburn foils by keeping him busy on her Aunt’s estate in Connecticut. Though there is very little plot, the film is brilliantly funny – from Hepburn and Grant walking out of a very fancy restaurant pressed close together to hide the fact that Hepburn has lost the train and backside of her skirt – to various shenanigans chasing her pet leopard, Baby, the film is laugh out loud funny.

Cary Grant plays an out-of-his-depth professor perfectly, confused and confounded throughout – until he finally realizes how he feels about Susan. Whereas, Katharine Hepburn is at her screwball comedy best, talking a mile a minute without ever making sense.

The dialogue in the film is fast and furious and frequently overlaps – working to add to the pace and the hilarious nature of the film. Truly, not a film to be missed.

Recommendation: See it! — What are you waiting for?
Rating: 4 out of 5
Next Film: Broadcast News

The Breakfast Club

  • Title:  The Breakfast Club
  • Director:  John Hughes
  • Date:  1985
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre:  Comedy, Drama
  • Cast:  Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, John Kapelos, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

Five characters in search of an exit is a format for a play that’s pretty simple:  take a group of characters with nothing in common, and stick them someplace they can’t escape, and watch what happens.  The Breakfast Club does that by sticking five students with nothing in common with each other in the school library for a Saturday detention.  The students each represent a clique or group in a typical high school:  an athlete, a Princess, a brain, a criminal, and a basket case.  Nowadays — the athlete would be called a Jock and the brain — a geek, but overall the movie doesn’t even look dated, because teenagers are still teenagers.  The movie was also one of the very first to not romanticize being a teenager, but to portray teens in a realistic way with real problems.  But one of the best things about the film is that it evokes sympathy and empathy for all the characters — even the mysterious “basket case”.  The Breakfast Club challenges audience members, especially teens whom the movie was meant for — to see beyond the stereotypes they hold about each other, and see what they have in common, or to at least understand that someone else might have problems too.  Each of the teens in the movie has issues:  problems with their parents, problems with their friends, problems with their image –and the film addresses those issues and problems and gets them in the open.

Scene not to miss:  The lunch scene — each of them have a lunch that represents their group on a plate.

Overall, it’s a great movie.  This is a teen movie that means something.  Which is why it became so iconic.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4
Next Film:  Bringing Up Baby