The Gay Divorcee

  • Title: The Gay Divorcee
  •  Director: Mark Sandrich
  • Date: 1934
  • Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre: Musical, Romance, Comedy
  • Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Alice Brady, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Betty Grable
  • Format: Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Guy, you’re not pining for that girl?” — Egbert Fitzgerald
“Pining? Men don’t pine, girls pine. Men just suffer.”  — Guy Holden

“Chance is the fool’s name for Fate.” —  Guy Holden (becomes a catch-phrase of the film)

Guy Holden (Fred Astaire) is a professional dancer, who bumps into Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) quite accidentally. He’s taken a steam ship to England for vacation. She’s only on the ship after boarding to pick-up her Aunt, who is dragged off  by a custom inspector. Prior to leaving, Mimi’s aunt, Hortense Ditherwell (Alice Brady), accidentally locks her skirt in her steamer trunk – then runs off  with the key. Guy happens by, tries to help, but only succeeds in ripping her skirt. Mimi is upset so he lends her his coat. But he’s smitten. Mimi returns the coat but without an address for him to reach her. He searches London for her, but has no luck. After two weeks, Guy’s good friend, a lawyer named Egbert (Edward Everett Horton) convinces him to leave London and go to Brighton for a nice seaside vacation.

Meanwhile, Mimi has seen Egbert as well, in his official capacity as a lawyer. She wants a divorce, but her husband, whom she’s barely seen over the last two years, won’t grant her one. Egbert suggests her only recourse is to go to a seaside resort, to get caught in flagrante delicto with a correspondent (a man who makes his living doing this). Mimi also heads to Brighton.

Mimi and Guy run into each other, and begin to get along. Then Guy casually tells her, “Chance is the fool’s name for fate”. Unfortunately, he’d used the phrase before with Egbert, who liked it so much that he told Mimi that would be the password of her correspondent. Meanwhile, he tells the correspondent (Erik Rhodes) the password, but the poor man is Italian, and his English is very bad, so he mangles the phrase every time he repeats it to various women at the resort. Mimi invites Guy to her room so they can get caught, but due to the misunderstanding with the catch-phrase, she misunderstands many of the things Guy says, and she gets more and more mad at him.

Aunt Hortense, and Guy’s friend, Egbert, end up finding the correspondent and bring him to Mimi and Guy, the mess with Mimi’s mistake is straightened out and Astaire and Rogers dance the show-stopping “The Continental”. The next morning, Mimi’s husband arrives, but finding her with the Italian refuses to believe there was an affair, and forgives her. Mimi brings in Guy and he starts to waver. Then the waiter comes in and points out that “Mr. Brown” had been at the resort before with his wife (not Mimi), and thus the divorce will be granted. The finale is a reprise of “The Continental” as Guy and Mimi dance together having now been married (probably, from their clothes and the fact that they seem to be sharing a hotel room).

Musical Numbers

  • Don’t Let It Bother You – Vocals – Chorus
  • Don’t Let It Bother You – Dance, Astaire (Fast tap, solo)
  • A Needle in a Haystack – Vocals – Astaire, Dance – Astaire
  • Let’s Knock K-nees –  Vocals – Chorus and Edward Everett Horton, Dance – Chorus
  • Night and Day – Vocals – Astaire, Dance – Astaire and Rogers
  • The Continental – Vocals – Rogers,
  • The Continental – Dance – Astaire and Rogers
  • The Continental – Dance full chorus ensemble
  • The Continental – Dance Astaire and Rogers (Finale)

“The Continental” is one of the few Busby Berkley-styled numbers in an Astaire and Rogers film – and this is only the second film they did, chronologically. The number is very impressive but doesn’t have the intimacy of later dances in other films. However, “Night and Day” is the film’s sweet, romantic dance between Astaire and Rogers, as he’s finally found this woman he’s fallen for, and she’s slowly drawn to him. “The Continental”, by contrast, is a very showy, impressive dance, and both the Astaire/Rogers portions and the chorus portion (with the strong, contrasting black and white dresses and full suits with tails) are an excellent example of not only really good Broadway-style dancing but also excellent black and white photography and use of contrast. The lines of dancers in alternating black and white, and even dresses that are half  black/half white form patterns and are just impressive. Directors at the time knew how to use black and white photography to their advantage. However, the short reprise of “The Continental” with Astaire and Rogers dancing in their hotel room, including, over a breakfast nook table, is very romantic and intimate, and beautifully shot. This film also has two separate dances where Fred performs his “triple” as I call it — both feet off the ground, body absolutely straight, including both legs, angled to the floor, and a triple scissor flourish. It’s a fantastic move because Astaire is completely off the ground so long, he almost appears to hang in the air. The man was that good. And, yeah, it’s like he could float on air.

The_Continental

The plot of The Gay Divorcee is that of a light, romantic comedy. The film is based on a Broadway play, which had also starred Astaire, and was actually titled The Gay Divorce. The Hollywood production code actually made a note on the film that, “there is nothing happy about divorce”, and thus forced the change in the title. This film also showcases many of the bit players (Alice Brady, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes, Edward Everett Horton) and ensemble actors who are sometimes but not always in the Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers RKO musicals. Though I wouldn’t call it one of the three best Fred & Ginger musicals, it could easily place fourth.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4
Next Film:  Get Smart

Gaslight (1940)

  • Title:  Gaslight
  • Director:  Thorold Dickinson
  • Date:  1940
  • Studio:  British National Films, MGM
  • Genre:  Drama, Suspense
  • Cast:  Anton Walbrook, Diana Wyngood
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“You can’t possibly tell if you’re hurt until you’ve had time to think about it.” –Ex-cop to Bella

This film is on the reverse side of the 1944 version DVD I own.  The original film is based on an 1938 play.  This version of the film begins with a bang, showing an old woman getting strangled at Number 12, and the murderer tearing up the house looking for something.  We then see several people who live in the square talking about the horrible crime that happened there, and we’re made aware the house has stood empty for several years.  Next, Paul and Bella Mellon arrive (the characters known as Gregory and Paula Anton in the 1944 version).  We also see an ex-cop talking to a groom as they care for their horses about the strange happenings at Number 12.

There is considerably more exposition and more discussion by minor characters of the murder, and the new residents of Number 12, almost so much that the movie at first seems to be about the house rather than the people living there.  The 1944 version, is much more grounded in the characters living in the house, and told mostly from Paula’s point of view.  This older version switches points of view several times, showing us exactly what Paul is doing, showing the ex-cop’s investigation (without ever giving his name either), showing us various residents of the same square and their impressions, etc.

Paul’s flirting with Nancy, the parlourmaid, is much more pronounced.  In one scene he kisses her, in another he actually takes her on a date to a music hall (and we’re subjected to watching it, as awful as it is, though the Can-Can dancers are interesting).  Nancy, however, isn’t nearly as sinister as she is in the 1944 versions.  She’s almost a harmless flirt.  Paul’s playing around with the maid is contemptible but Bella seems to intentionally turn a blind eye to it.

The scene in the parlour with Paul torturing Bella about the missing picture, making her call in the servants, and questioning the servants is almost word-for-word the same in both films, as is the scene of Bella at the concert where he tortures her about taking his watch.  However, in this film we actually see Paul put the watch in Bella’s purse.

Besides having a lot more exposition up front; there’s also less suspense than the 1944 version because we see a lot of what Paul is doing straight out.  In the 1944 version, especially if you’ve never seen the film before, you don’t know what’s going on – is Paula actually going mad?  In this version, we know Paul is torturing Bella, and although the actress does, in some scenes, do a good job of portraying someone who thinks she’s going out of her mind — her belief that she’s for some reason taking things, becomes weak and wimpy when we see Bella begging Paul to keep her anyway.

Like the 1944 version, Paul has a roll top desk which hides some of his secrets – including a brooch he’s taken from Bella and told her she lost.  However, there’s no letter from an admirer to Paula’s aunt — because in this story, Bella isn’t related to the murdered woman, but rather her husband is.  However, Bella does find an envelope address to “Anton Boyer” which is Paul’s real name.  The search for rubies (£20,000 Pounds worth) is much more pronounced, but rather than being hidden in plain sight, sewn onto a theatrical costume among fakes; the rubies are actually hidden inside the brooch.  (One of the more unbelievable bits – Bella takes the rubies out of a vase, where she’d hidden them after finding them loose inside the brooch.  She asks the ex-cop helping her — Are they valuable?)

Less is made of Paul’s nocturnal visits out – and even Bella’s hearing footsteps and the gaslight going down then back-up don’t occur until over halfway through the film — making it considerably less spooky.  A minor character, Bella’s cousin, is more important – he tries to see Bella, but is refused by her husband.  He doesn’t exist in the 1944 version, and one of his visits is given to Joseph Cotten’s detective, as is some of his dialogue.  Another change is one of the cops who start investigating is in number 14 (the next door empty house) when Paul enters it.

There is a nice shot of  Bella’s reflection in a music box, as she hears footsteps and finally starts to scream for Elizabeth, the cook, who pooh-poohs her.  However, like Nancy, the cook seems harmless.  She’s also not deaf as she is in the 1944 version.

There is a scene with Paul telling Bella she’s mad and she will die in a lunatic asylum and he hates her, in which he is quite, quite sinister.  And, of course, we’ve seen all along exactly what he’s doing to drive his wife mad.  And since we’ve also seen the old woman’s murder and the ransacking of the house rather than hearing about it later, one can make the connection between that crime and Paul’s behavior towards Bella, even though we don’t see his face.

Overall, a competent film.  Competent direction, not overly flat, with some nice touches.  Competent acting, too.  Diana Wyngood isn’t bad as Bella — but she does seem wimpy at times, simply from the rearrangement of scenes, and the lack of focus on her.  There is the scene between Bella and Paul at the end, where Paul’s been caught, but it lack the raw power of Bergman’s performance, despite almost identical dialogue, simply because we’re not so caught up in Bella’s story.

Recommendation:  Wouldn’t hurt to see it, but the 1944 version is much better.
Rating:  3
Next film:  The Gay Divorcee

Gaslight (1944)

  • Title:  Gaslight
  • Director:  George Cukor
  • Date:  1944
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Drama, Film Noir, Suspense, Classic
  • Cast:  Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC, (Double-sided)

“I was right about you — I knew from the first moment I saw you, you were dangerous to me.” — Gregory
“I knew from the first moment I saw you, you were dangerous to her.” — Mr. Brian Cameron, Scotland Yard

I’ve always thought that Gaslight is one of the scariest movies to watch. It’s spine-tingling and chilling, rather than gross, or shocking. The best way to get the full effect, is to watch it with all the lights off, at night, when you’re alone in the house, and of course a thunderstorm helps. There is nothing scarier than the idea of someone coldly trying to drive you insane. Films about those kinds of mind games are truly frightening.

The movie opens with Paula leaving her aunt’s house, she thinks for the last time. She had been raised by her aunt, after her mother died in childbirth. She’s been encouraged to go to Italy to study singing and forget the recent tragedy that’s befallen her. We learn later that her aunt was a famous opera singer and she was murdered. Still later we learn the murder is still unsolved, there was a jewel theft at the same time, but the jewels were never found, sold, or traded.

In Italy, Paula quickly discovers she has no talent for operatic singing, and she meets the man of her dreams, she thinks. After two weeks, he’s proposed. She tells him she needs time to think about it, and wants a week to herself at a lakeside vacation resort. When her train arrives there, he’s waiting for her. He talks her into settling down in London, and even though Paula doesn’t want to return to London, she agrees. The film is, by the way, set in Victorian London. They end up living in Paula’s Aunt’s house, which Paula has inherited.

The film then gets weird – Gregory Anton completely controls his wife’s life. He doesn’t allow her to go out of the house, not even on a short walk (even by Victorian standards, that’s excessive). He fires Paula’s maid, and hires an impertinent girl named Nancy (beautifully played by Angela Lansbury as alternately sinister and flirty). Again, normally the hiring and firing of servants would be a woman’s job.  And he slowly starts to drive Paula insane, giving her things, then taking them away but telling her she lost them. Taking a picture down off the wall, then pointing it out to be missing and saying she did it.  And going out at night, leaving her alone with a deaf cook and rude maid, who do everything he says and thus join in on his mind games of turning down the gaslight (and saying it hasn’t been) and ignoring the footsteps in the closed off attic that Paula hears.

But the genius of  the movie is that it isn’t obvious about any of this. We don’t actually see Gregory take a brooch from Paula’s purse, we only see him fiddle with it. We don’t see him tell the servants to lie to make Paula look nuts either – we only see him tell Nancy she’s to take all her orders from him and not her mistress.

Joseph Cotten is Mr. (Brian) Cameron, a Scotland Yard detective who happens to see Paula with Gregory one day when they are sight-seeing at the Tower of London. Gregory is immensely jealous when Paula smiles at Cameron after he tips his hat to her, but she was merely being polite. Gregory then goes back to the Yard and examines the cold case of Paula’s aunt’s murder, but is told to leave it alone.  Luckily for Paula, he doesn’t.

Paula, Gregory and Mr. Cameron again run into each other at a party thrown by one of Paula’s aunt’s friends. Again, Gregory pulls his slight of hand, telling Paula his watch is gone and pulling it out of her purse – the hysterical Paula is led from the party.

Gregory’s cold, calculating, insidious little plans get worse and worse, as he tells Paula a letter she found in her aunt’s music doesn’t exist and she was staring at nothing, and that her mother didn’t die in childbirth but rather a year later in an insane asylum.

Fortunately, by this time Cameron and a bobby named Williams have started investigating, and find out  Gregory only goes out to “work” at night, they even find that he disappears in an alley behind the house, and comes out looking dirty and dusty, his tie askew. One night, when Gregory has left, Cameron goes to the house and finds Paula, he starts talking to her when the gaslight dims. She’s excited that he also sees the gas lower. Then he hears the footsteps, and, knowing what he does from his own investigation, concludes her husband is poking around in the attic. They also find the letter that Gregory had claimed didn’t exist.

Then the light turns to normal, Paula encourages Cameron to leave, he does, and when Gregory returns he, and Elizabeth try to convince Paula no one was there that evening. Paula starts to break down and Gregory arrives. After a struggle, Cameron arrests Gregory finding the jewels on him.  Paula’s aunt had sewn them on her costume amongst all the paste jewels. Nothing like hiding in plain sight!

But this isn’t a case of the boy rescues the girl. Ingrid Bergman’s performance is masterful – she portrays a deliriously happy bride, and a frightened wife equally well. But her best scene is at the end of the movie, as she turns the tables on her husband, playing the same mind games on him that he had played on her, if only for a short while, before turning him over to Cameron and the police.

The directing, the use of light and shadow, and the acting, especially by the women in the piece is all masterful.  It’s also a flip-flop of the typical Film Noir motif — that usually involves a cunning, conniving, designing woman, known as the femme fatale, dragging a relatively innocent man down into a well of crime and evil, and thus destroying him. In Gaslight, it’s the man who’s cunning, conniving, cold, and chilling, and he’s attempting to drive his wife insane, after murdering her aunt, to get the jewels he didn’t have time to steal because she had interrupted him. (The police knew Paula had awoken, walked down the stairs, and found her aunt dead, but everything else on the case remained open.) Also, where the man often dies as a result of committing a crime for the femme fatale – here Paula not only survives, but in the end, she’s triumphant, discovering she’s not going insane, getting the chance to pay her husband back (who’s secretly married to someone else, and thus not legally her husband), and possibly even finding happiness with the detective who solved the case. How often can a Film Noir film have a truly happy ending? Not often.

Anyway, it’s an incredibly good film, everyone in it does an excellent and admirable job, and I love it. It can be good to watch something spooky occasionally.

Recommendation:  See It!
Rating:  5 Stars
Next film:  Gaslight (1940)

Galaxy Quest

  • Title:  Galaxy Quest
  • Director:  Dean Parisot
  • Date:  1999
  • Studio:  Dreamworks Pictures
  • Genre:  SF, Comedy
  • Cast:  Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, Robin Sachs
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“For the past one hundred years our society had fallen into disarray, our goals, our values had become scattered, but since the transmission we have modeled every aspect of our society from your example and it has saved us.  Your courage, and teamwork, and friendship through adversity.  In fact, all you see around you has been taken from the lessons garnered from the historical documents.”  — Mathezar

“Jason, we’re actors, not astronauts.” –Gwen

“Did you guys ever watch the show?” –Guy

“Ducts? Why is it always ducts?” –Gwen

Galaxy Quest is a great movie — it’s funny, it has an original plot, and the special effects and make-up still stand up twelve years later.  Galaxy Quest is the story of a group of actors from a science fiction television series who suddenly find themselves on a real spaceship created by a group of aliens after watching their tv series, or “historical documents”.  The film begins at a convention for the “Galaxy Quest” TV show which is filled with the cliches about costume-wearing fans.  The actors don’t really like each other but are there because they are desperate for work.  Jason Naismith (Allen) even over-hears a group of guys in the men’s room poking fun at him.  He goes home, gets drunk, and the next morning goes to what he thinks is a gig with the Thurmians.

Later he discovers he really was on an alien ship – and he and his crew end up on the ship too.  Before long they are involved in a war between the Thurmians and Sarris a bug-like alien who has been destroying their civilization because he can.  Jason attacks Sarris’s ship but it’s a disaster, and the Protector is damaged.  They go to an alien planet to get a replacement Beryllium sphere (engine part), and Jason fights a pig monster and a rock monster.  But soon Sarris has the upper hand again, capturing Mathezar, the Thurmian leader, and trying to kill everyone on the ship.  Jason explains about being actors, and Galaxy Quest being a tv show – then creates a distraction while the guards are taking them away.  Everyone splits up with different tasks to do to rescue the dying Thurmians and get Sarris’s crew off  the ship.

Finally, Jason has his third space battle with Sarris, and succeeds.  But is it too easy?

After something I’m not going to spoil, because I loved it so — the Protector returns to Earth, and our “actors” make a triumphant appearance at the Galaxy Quest convention.  Jason rescues the crowd from another of Sarris’ men – which the crowd assumes is a great special effect.

Jason also works with three of  the Galaxy Quest fans via a transmitter – when he needs help sneaking around the ship.

Galaxy Quest, in a way, is a complex movie.  Each of the actors, playing actors, had three roles to play – their characters in the 1982 TV show, themselves as typecast actors in the 1990s making ends meet by convention appearances and opening electronics stores, and the characters the Thurmians think they are – as all of the “actors” try to work things out in the science fiction plot of being on a space ship and fighting a war.  It’s a bit to wrap your head around — but the film works well because everything in it feels real and true to the story.  It’s not a nod-nod wink-wink breaking the fourth wall type of comedy at all – the story itself  is a good science fiction story with a lot of action and a lot of comedy.  There are also serious parts – such as the torturing of Mathezar, the death of Qualleg, and Jason’s growing realization that the entire mess is his fault – that are handled well.

The other question in this film is:  “Who are the real fans?”  And actually, the fans in the film aren’t the convention guests — but the Thurmians.  These are a people who, first, are very innocent, child-like, and naive.  Yet, at the same time, they had the vision and scientific skills to look at something on a TV show and actually build it and make it work.  They also more or less abandoned their own culture to adapt that they saw in the “historical documents” – sort of  anthropologists gone native to the extreme.

However, it is interesting that the fans at the convention are shown as stereotypical fans, buying tons of merchandise, wearing costumes, asking technical questions of the actors, or if “Commander Taggart and Lt. Madison had a thing.”  But when the movie returns to the convention at the end — the fans in the audience are for the most part wearing T-shirts and jeans, in other words, dressed “normally”, and waiting for Jason and his crew to appear and speak.  In the end, the film isn’t poking fun of  science fiction and media fans – it’s celebrating them.

Recommendation:  See it and own it!
Rating:  5 Stars
Next Film:  Gaslight (1944)

The Full Monty

  • Title:  The Full Monty
  • Director:  Peter Cattaneo
  • Date:  1997
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures
  • Genre:  Comedy, Drama
  • Cast:  Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Addy
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“When women start pissing like us, that’s it, we finished, Dave, extincto.”  – Gaz

“I like you. I love you, you bugger.”  – Gaz, to his son, Nathan

“And they won’t say nought about your personality, neither, which is good, ’cause your basically a b…..d.”  — Dave

The Full Monty took the upper Midwest by storm, much to the shock of Hollywood and perhaps even the film’s makers. First released as an “art house” film — it became a blockbuster in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio, and probably other “rust belt” states as well. Critics praised the film and it moved from “art house” slots to main theater venues. I saw the film when it came out and I remember how excited the crowd was. But, the thing is, the success of the movie had to do with the fact that audiences in the Midwest, in steel towns and auto manufacturing towns could identify with the story.

The Full Monty isn’t really about stripping. It’s a film about a group of unemployed steel workers. The film opens with a promotional film about Sheffield, in England, a place that is attracting workers, full of attractions and night life, and is built on steel. Then, comes the caption, 25 years later, and the film starts in earnest. The mills are shut down, most everybody is unemployed, and the few who have found jobs are working low income service jobs, such as security guards at the local superstore or at the abandoned plant.

One night the Chippendale male dancers come to town and perform for one night only at a women’s only night at the local “workingman’s pub”. Gaz is disgusted he can’t go in for a drink, but when his pal Dave tells him his wife’s inside, Gaz decides to pull her out by sneaking in through the bathroom window. Dave is to accompany him but can’t get through the window. Just as Gaz and his son are heading into the pub, three women come into the men’s room. Gaz hides, and watches as they check their make-up and chat. When he sees one of the girls stand and pee in the urinal (something she learned at “girl guides” she says), Gaz is shocked. The next day at Job Club, the unemployment center, he’s complaining about how useless he feels.

The men are poking fun at the Chippendales, when someone points out how much money the one night made. And Gaz comes up with a plan — getting his mates together as their own “Hot Metal” strippers. No one seems to take his idea seriously, but when his ex-wife and her new husband threaten to sue for sole custody of his son unless he comes up with £700 pounds, Gaz becomes more and more persuasive. He holds try-outs, but only gets one guy that way. He sees his old boss, whom he doesn’t get on with, at a ballroom and recruits him. But mostly, it Gaz, his friend, Dave, and guys from Job Club. In total, the six men decide to teach themselves how to dance, and find a venue so they can make their money.

But again, the heart of the movie isn’t in the stripping. And it’s not the “humor” of a group of overweight, too old, or too skinny steel workers becoming male strippers. The tale is in the people, and the little moments of characterization. Gaz and Dave are walking along and they find a guy, sitting in a car, that’s not working. Dave gets the car started, failing to notice the hose running from the tailpipe inside the car. The guy inside rolls up his window, Dave walks back to Gaz – then notices, and pulls the guy out of the car. At one point he argues with him, throws him back in, then pulls him out.  The guy ends up being one of the six.

It’s moments like Gerald, Gaz’s boss, who goes to Job Club every day because he hasn’t told his wife that he lost his job. She finds out when everything, including the house is repossessed, and she throws him out — the same day he received the notice that he’d got the job he applied for at a different factory.

Even Gaz’s story is about his need to continue to see his son, rather than just trying to make some money.

But the film is also very funny, with great music, which prevents the dire situation of the characters from being too much.  And, again, plant closures, families torn apart, increases in crime, desperation, are all themes anyone from a one industry town like Detroit, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh of the 1970s can identify with.  But the humor prevents it from becoming too much.  In a sense it’s a film that asks, “What if?” as well as “What would you do?”

In the end, despite a near arrest, and various problems, the six men all go on stage and strip. And, as they promised, they do “go for it” and bare it all (tastefully shown from the back). But it’s the characters that make the film. Though the freeze frame at the end is really a brilliant way to end the film.

Fair warning – like Billy Elliot and The Commitments this film has plenty of swearing and blue language. It’s not for young children for that reason. It’s a film for adults, but not in the sexy sense.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Galaxy Quest

Frankenstein

  • Title:  Frankenstein
  • Director:  James Whale
  • Date:  1931
  • Studio: Universal
  • Genre:  Horror
  • Cast:  Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, Mae Clarke, Edward Van Sloan
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • Format: R1, NTSC

“It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive” — Henry Frankenstein 

“Have you never wanted to do anything that was dangerous? Where should we be if nobody tried to find out what lies beyond? You never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars?”  — Henry Frankenstein

I liked this “monster movie” better than Dracula because the story flowed better. However, that are several parts in the film where it is considerably difficult to keep a straight face, simply because I have seen Mel Brooks’ wonderful Young Frankenstein many, many, many times.

However, getting to the movie, it is of course based on the novel of the same title by Mary W. Shelley, though for the film she is credited as “Mrs. Percy B. Shelley” (isn’t that ridiculous? I could see Mary Shelley or Mrs. Mary Shelley. But Mrs. Percy Shelley? Why not take all her individuality away.) But anyway.

Henry Frankenstein is an experimental scientist who’s engaged to be married to the local Baron’s daughter in a Bavarian village. But for the last three weeks he’s been shut-up in an abandoned watch tower working on experiments. His fiancee, a friend, and his instructor from university find him there on the quintessential “dark and stormy night” — it’s rainy buckets with thunder and lighting to match.  However, that’s perfect for Henry’s experiments. He and his assistant, Fritz, use the electricity of the storm to bring the Creature to life. But unknown to Henry – rather than the normal brain he requested that he pick up at the local medical college, Fritz was startled, dropped the normal one, and brought an abnormal, criminal brain instead.

The creature cannot speak and has a horrible fear of fire. Fritz uses this fear to torture the creature, who escapes Frankenstein’s care. The Creature explores the world, including throwing a little girl into a lake, while the Baron presses for his daughter’s wedding to Henry. The villager brings his drowned daughter to town; and at the same time, the Creature attacks Henry’s fiancee. It the end, the mayor, the Baron, and Henry form a mob of villagers, and track the creature down. Henry’s captured by the Creature and both end up in a windmill. Henry then escapes, but the mob burns the windmill. 

Frankenstein is a frustrating film – at times the visuals are stunning, especially for the early 30s. For example, Henry’s experimental lab is amazing; and the scene of the burning windmill at the end of the film is also stunning. But at other times the film looks amazingly cheap (when the villagers are running around in the “forest” the sky looks like a painted backdrop). The film is only 69 minutes long, which is quite short. Henry’s fiancee is strong enough to insist she go with her friend and his teacher to talk sense into him about abandoning his experiments, yet on her wedding day she allows Henry to lock her in the parlour, making her a perfect target for the Creature.

Colin Clive, an actor I’ve frankly never even heard of, gives an excellent performance as Henry Frankenstein. And Boris Karloff steals the show as the Creature.

Recommendation:  See it, at least once.
Rating:  3
Next Film:  The Full Monty

Footloose

  • Title:  Footloose
  • Director:  Herbert Ross
  • Date:  1984
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Musical, Drama, Romance
  • Cast:  Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow, Lori Singer, Dianne Wiest, Christopher Penn, Sarah Jessica Parker
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Well, boy, a lot of folks are going to give you problems, right off, because, you see, you’re an outsider.  You’re dangerous.  They’re going to worry about you.”  Foreman at the plant where Ren works

“There was a time for this law, but not anymore.  This is our time to dance.  This is our way of celebrating life.  That’s the way it was in the beginning.  That’s the way it’s always been.  That’s the way it should be now.”  Ren McCormick

Ren and his mother Ethel, arrive in the small town of Beaumont, Utah, after being abandoned by his father/her husband.  Almost immediately, Ren has trouble fitting in, really through no fault of his own. The townspeople, especially fellow student, Chuck, and his own uncle seem determined to ostracize him from having any social life in the town.  Ren makes a few friends — Willard, and his girl, Rusty.  He also, eventually becomes friends with Ariel, the preacher’s daughter.  Ren longs to dance to work out his troubles, but the small town of Beaumont has outlawed dancing.  About halfway through the film, Ren discovers why — several teenagers were killed after going to the next town to party in a drunken car accident on the one lane bridge back into town.  One of the teenagers was Ariel’s brother.

Ren is now more sympathetic, but he still wants to have a senior dance, a prom.  He gets most of the high school class together and pleads his case at the town council meeting.  Ren even quotes the Bible to make his point about dancing being a celebration of life.  But the council is stacked against him.  Almost immediately after the council meeting, several of the more conservative adults in town head over to the town library and begin burning “inappropriate” books.  This time the preacher intervenes, aghast at what’s happened.  At his next Sunday sermon, he gives his permission for the dance to be held at a warehouse just outside of town.

Footloose is a film filled with teenaged rebellion in the metaphor of dance.  It’s Ren’s story, perfectly played by Kevin Bacon, but by the end of the film we understand everyone’s point of view, even the preacher’s (perfectly played by John Lithgow).  Well, except maybe Chuck, Ariel’s former boyfriend the lout who beats her up when she officially breaks up with him to go out with Ren.  The preacher’s really just an over-protective father, partially destroyed by the loss of his son.  Ariel’s has a bit of a death wish — both because of what happened to her brother, and possibly as a rebellion against her father.  Willard and Rusty are normal teenagers who are being denied a normal teenaged experience by the Draconian rules of the town.  Ariel’s mother, Vi, is silent and dutiful (she even dresses like a Quaker), but eventually is so fed-up with her husband pushing the family apart that she challenges him.

Classic dances include Ren going to the deserted factory where he works, and dancing by himself to “Never”, in powerful moves full of gymnastics.  Ren had also tried out for the gymnastic team, but was cut for pure malice.  Ren teaching Willard to dance to “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” is classic.  And the first and finale/reprise of  “Footloose” are both excellent.  Plus the movie gives us, Ren and Chuck challenging each other to a game of chicken in tractors, to the music of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero”.  Overall, it’s a modern, yet 80s, musical.  Heavy on plot, music integrated fairly well into the plot, but, the dances are not full-frame and contain a lot of cuts, edits, cutaways, and close-ups, with no flow.

Musical Numbers / Songs

  • Footloose — Kenny Loggins
  • The Girl Gets Around — Sammy Hagar
  • Dancing in the Streets — Shalamar
  • Holding Out For a Hero — Bonnie Tyler
  • Never — Moving Pictures
  • Somebody’s Eyes — Karla Bonoff
  • Let’s Hear It For the Boy — Deniece Williams
  • I’m Free (Heaven Help the Man) — Kenny Loggins
  • Almost Paradise (Love Theme from Footloose) — Mike Reno & Ann Wilson

Recommendation:  See it.  I especially recommend this film for teenagers.
Rating:  3.5 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Frankenstein (1931)

Follow the Fleet

  • Title: Follow the Fleet
  • Director: Mark Sandrich
  • Date: 1936
  • Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre: Musical, Romance, Comedy
  • Lyrics and Music: Irving Berlin
  • Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, Harriet Hilliard, Lucille Ball, Betty Grable, Astrid Allwyn
  • Format: Black and White, Standard
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Say, Will you guys let me forget I was once a hoofer?” – Bake Baker

“Sorry, miss, it’s the rules of the Paradise, no girls are allowed in without an escort.” – Ticket Girl
“Oh, I see, women aren’t even admitted to Paradise without a man.” – Connie Martin

“But I bet you’re used to seeing pretty girls all over the world.” – Connie
“I never give them a tumble, sister, women don’t interest me.” – Bilge Smith

Follow the Fleet is another Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical where, unfortunately, they play second fiddle. The main romance is between Connie (Harriet Hillard) and Bilge (Randolph Scott) – and Hillard even sings, unfortunately. Fred and Ginger do have a lot to do, but as the “B plot” of the film. Astaire plays Bake Baker, an ex-hoofer, or dancer, now in the Navy. Ginger is Sherry Martin, his former dance partner, now trying to make it on her own with a career in show business. Connie is Sherry’s sister, a music teacher. And Bilge is Bake’s best friend aboard his ship. By the way, keep in mind, this film is from 1936, or before World War II; thus this is a peace-time Navy.

When Bilge and Bake’s ship makes port in San Francisco, they, as well as a group of sailors, head into town for shore leave. Bake runs into his old dancing partner again. He had been in love with her and had even proposed, but she turned him down to concentrate on her career. Meanwhile, Bilge meets Connie, and they have a nice date. However, he also meets Iris (Astrid Allwyn), who as the vivacious blonde, is much more his type, he thinks. Bake promises to help Sherry find a better job in show business, but before he can do anything (and after he’s accidentally cost her her job at the Paradise club) all shore leave is canceled and all the sailors have to return to their ships.

Connie is now head-over-heels in love with Bilge and doesn’t realize he’s fallen for Iris. She decides to take out a loan to refurbish her father’s ship, which needs a lot of work. Sherry gives Connie her savings to help as much as she can. Sherry’s also angry at Bake for leaving her without the better job he promised her.

When the ship returns that Spring, Connie’s refurbished the ship, with help, but she also has a massive loan that’s due. Sherry is still angry at Bake. Bake is completely in love with Sherry, so much so that he’s decided to leave the Navy and go back to show business. Bilge, though, thinks he’s in love with Iris, not Connie. Sherry and Connie, with Bake’s help, decide to put on a show to raise funds to pay off Connie’s loan (in part because a family friend also helped, and now he’s in trouble for covering the debt). Bake convinces Iris to perform “a small part” in the show, then writes a scene that Bilge is intended to over-hear, so he’ll get sore and run to Connie (it sort-of works). Bake also gets himself in trouble, hitting an officer he was told was harassing Sherry (a misunderstanding) and has to go AWOL to get to the show on time. Bilge lets him go on-stage, once he is told the show was to help out Connie. In the end, Sherry and Bake are together, with the promise of their own show once Bake finishes his term in the Navy (including his time in the brig) and Sherry even proposes to him. Bilge and Connie are also together, though, like Bake, Bilge has to finish his term in the Navy before he can be master of his own ship and sail the world, with Connie, on her ship.

Musical Numbers

  • We Saw the Sea  — Fred Astaire and Ensemble, vocals
  • Let Yourself Go — Ginger Rogers, vocals
  • Get Thee Behind Me, Satan — Harriet Hilliard, vocals
  • I’d Rather Lead a Band — Fred Astaire, vocals (and tap dance) also dance with ensemble
  • Ginger’s solo tap dance, for her “audition”
  • Let Yourself Go — Ginger Rogers, vocals (reprise)
  • But Where Are You? — Harriet Hilliard, vocals
  • I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket (Piano) — Fred Astaire
  • I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket (Song) — Fred Astaire, vocals; Fred and Ginger, dance (tap)
  • Let’s Face the Music and Dance  — Fred Astaire, vocals; Fred and Ginger, dance (ballroom / waltz)

“Let’s Face the Music and Dance” is one of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers best numbers together, and it’s worth waiting through the entire picture to see it. It’s highly unusual for a Fred and Ginger musical in that the number is part of the “show within a show” that the two characters, Bake and Sherry, and putting on for Sherry’s sister. It’s the only number for the show within a show. And, in a sense, it’s a ballet – it’s a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, told entirely through music, dance, and the expressions of the characters. Fred is gambling at a casino, but loses all his money; then he loses the girls that hovered around the table with him. When he finds all the girls ignoring him, he goes to the roof of the casino hotel, takes out a pistol, and is considering shooting himself. But, while on the rooftop, he runs into Ginger, who’s about to jump off the roof. He rescues her, and the two dance a marvelous slow waltz to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (Fred provides vocals at the start before it segues to the dance). The dance is the perfect embodiment of romance that Fred and Ginger do so well, and it’s a story in and of itself. And this despite the accident which occurred in the middle, where Ginger’s beaded gown accidentally hit Fred in the face (he continued anyway, and though other takes were done later, the first was the best and remained in the film, and yes, you can see the smack).

It is a shame that the relationship between smart and sassy, Sherry, and working-class, Bake, is the B plot, and Bilge and Connie are the “A plot”. Randolph Scott really doesn’t seem to be any sort of a catch for Connie – he’s a bit of a cad. But there you go, a rather uneven film, but with a fantastic dance at the end. This is one of the Fred and Ginger musicals I owned on VHS videotape, that I replaced with DVD.

Recommendation:  Though not perfect, see it.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Footloose

Flying Down to Rio

  • Title:  Flying Down to Rio
  • Director:  Thornton Freeland
  • Music:  Vincent Youmans
  • Lyrics:  Edward Eliscu & Gus Kahn
  • Date:  1933
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical, Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Dolores del Rio, Gene Raymond, Raul Roulien, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Eric Blore
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Crazy nothing, that guy writes songs.”  — Maintenance Worker 1
“Well, that’s screwy, ain’t it?”  Maintenance Worker 2
“It’s so screwy he can afford to buy a plane just like this.” — Maintenance Worker 1

“What do these South Americans got below the equator that we haven’t?” — female friend of Belinha

“We’ll show them a thing or three!” — Holly Hale

Flying Down to Rio is best known for being the first film where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced together. I must admit the first time I saw it – I was a bit disappointed because they only dance one dance together. However, this was my second time watching the film, and I must say, though a typical romantic comedy musical, it actually holds up fairly well for what it is. And a romantic comedy is a romantic comedy – they have basically the same plot whether it’s It Happened One Night or Sleepless in Seattle.

This film really isn’t so different than any other romantic comedy past or present. Roger Bond (Gene Raymond), a band leader at a hotel in Miami, meets Belinha (Dolores del Rio) at the hotel where he works. The hotel has just hired a new Swiss Maitre d’hotel to shape up the staff and rule number one is:  “No fraternization between the staff and the guests.” But rule number one goes straight out the window, when Roger meets Belinha. Their dance is reported through the hotel grapevine to Belinha’s aunt, who mistakes Roger for a gigolo. Roger, however, arranges to fly Belinha to Rio, where his band has also gotten a gig (they hope). While traveling their plane is forced down, Belinha and Roger start to fall for each other, again, but Belinha pushes him away because she’s already engaged through an arranged marriage. In Rio, Roger finds out her fiance is none other than an old friend of his, Julio.

Meanwhile — Honey Hale (Ginger Rogers) is the professional singer in Roger’s band. She’s friends with Fred Ayers (Fred Astaire). It’s interesting that in their first film together, Fred and Ginger have an almost brother and sisterly relationship rather than a romantic one. The two, tease and squabble, and they say things to each other like they’ve known each other for years. The chemistry is great, but very platonic. Fred Ayers plays accordion in Roger’s band and is also an old friend. Both Roger and Honey are peripheral to the main plot (which is the romantic triangle between Belinha, Roger, and Julio) but still provide humor and support to the main characters.

The one and only dance Fred and Ginger perform together is the Latin-influenced “The Carioca”.  Watch Fred’s fancy footwork, it’s extremely impressive. Ginger also gets to show off some fancy steps of her own, which Fred mirrors. I think Ginger may have been the only one of Fred’s film dance partners where he would mirror the woman, usually in partner tap. Though this particular dance is a bit more elaborate than the typical American partner tap Fred and Ginger are known for. But it is a very impressive, though short number. And though it is filmed full frame (Fred and Ginger are seen head to toe) there are two cutaways to audience reactions.

The rest of  “The Carioca” is a Busby Berkley-styled dance number, with patterns, and elaborate costumes, and changes in the rhythm and style of the dance, including changes in costume and lead singers. It’s definitely the showpiece of the film, though the Avatrix show at the end is also impressive.

Ginger and Fred each get a song to sing, however, and Fred gets to perform some elaborate tap as he’s attempting to instruct the new girls hired to perform in the new hotel’s opening week show. When Fred is nearly arrested for performing without an entertainment license, he and Roger come up with a different plan to prevent the hotel from closing before it even opens — a surprise Avatrix show. An Avatrix is a woman who performs acrobatics on the wings of a plane. Roger, Fred, and Honey get every show girl they can find, including those from other hotels, to perform on Biplanes over the hotel, thus saving the hotel and the band’s jobs. And Roger ends up with Belinha, as Julio realizes they are meant to be together and literally jumps out of a plane (with parachute) to give them a chance to get married by the plane’s captain.

Musical Numbers

  • Music Makes Me — vocals by Honey Hale (Ginger Rogers)
  • The Carioca (Instrumental)
  • The Carioca — Dance by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
  • The Carioca — Dance by Ensemble
  • The Carioca — Etta Moten (and reprise by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, dance)
  • Orchids in the Moonlight — Dance
  • Orchids in the Moonlight — Song
  • Flying Down to Rio — vocals by Fred Ayers (Fred Astaire)

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  3 of 5 Stars
Next film:  Follow the Fleet

A Fish Called Wanda

  • Title: A Fish Called Wanda
  • Director: Charles Crichton
  • Date: 1988
  • Studio: MGM
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Cast: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Geoffrey Palmer, Stephen Fry
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“I offer a complete and utter retraction. The implication was totally without basis in fact. And was in no way fair comment and was motivated purely by malice. And I deeply regret any distress that my comments may have caused you, or your family. And I hereby undertake not to repeat any such slander at any time in the future.” — Archie, apologizing to Otto, who is holding him upside-down outside a window

“Oh, right to call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people.” — Wanda, to Otto

“Apes don’t read philosophy.” — Otto
“Yes they do, Otto, they just don’t understand it! Now let me correct you on a couple of things, ok? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not every man for himself! And the London Underground is not a political movement! Those are all mistakes, Otto, I looked them up.” — Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda is an extremely funny movie, with a brilliant cast. But it is extremely difficult to explain why it is so funny. The film opens with an armed robbery of a jewelry exchange in London. The four thieves get away with twenty million in diamonds. However, after Otto calls the cops to arrest George, one of the co-conspirators, and the guy who planned the whole thing, as he and Wanda planned, they discover George was too clever for them and he’s hidden the gems somewhere else. The question is where?

Thus begins a great farce and character comedy. Ken, the stuttering, animal-loving, assassin, get’s the key to a safe-deposit box, but doesn’t know where the box is. Wanda, unbeknownst to Ken, steals the key and hides it in her locket. Then Wanda decides to cosy up to Archie, George’s barrister, in hopes that he will tell her where the loot is. Meanwhile, Wanda and Otto have been having a relationship, but Wanda’s only interested in Otto until the caper is done and she has the diamonds. Wanda’s also holding Ken close to the vest.

The film snowballs, as any good farce does. The characters are larger-than-life, yet still sympathetic. As the film progresses, Archie, especially, becomes the put-upon good English husband who needs excitement in his life. And that excitement arrives, in the form of Wanda, who initially simply wants to find out where George hid the jewels, but later falls for Archie anyway.

This is a very, very funny film, that needs to be seen to be understood and appreciated. But overall, it’s extremely enjoyable and a good-time film. Moreover, it is laugh-out-loud funny.

Trivia: Cleese’s character is named Archie Leach. Archibald Leach is the given or birth name of Cary Grant.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Next Film: Flying Down to Rio