The Purple Rose of Cairo

  • Title:  The Purple Rose of Cairo
  • Director:  Woody Allen
  • Date:  1985
  • Studio:  Orion Pictures / MGM
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Dianne Wiest
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m sorry about the money.  I had no idea.” — Tom
“That’s OK, it’s not going to be so easy to get along without it in this world.”  — Cecilia
“I guess I’ll have to get a job.” — Tom
“That’s not going to be so easy, either.  Right now, the whole country is out of  work.” — Cecilia
“Well then, we’ll live on love.  We’ll have to make some concessions, but so what.  We’ll have each other.” — Tom
“That’s movie talk.” — Cecilia

“I’m confused.  I’m married.  I just met a wonderful new man, — he’s fictional, but you can’t have everything.” — Cecilia

The Purple Rose of Cairo is set in the 1930s in a small town in New Jersey.  Cecilia (Mia Farrow) is a waitress, and not a very good one at that.  Her husband is a bum, not only in the sense that he’s unemployed, which he is, but he treats her terribly — he beats her when he’s drunk, he’s disrespectful to her all the time, he takes her wages and spends them on gambling, beer, cigarettes and other women. And Cecilia isn’t even a good waitress – her customers scream at her and tip very little, if anything.  Her boss screams at her as well.  Cecilia has one escape, one place where she can relax, get away from her awful life, and dream of some place, some thing, better — the movies.

So once a week, at least, she goes to the local single screen movie theater and watches the movie that’s come to town.  And she knows all about the various actors — their names, their roles, who they’re married to and divorced from.  In short, Cecilia is a fan of the movies.  But look at her life:  this is before TV, and the film itself was made before the Internet, computer gaming, or on-line gaming (a “computer game” in the 1980s would have meant an arcade game like Pac-man, or maybe a system attached to the TV with cartridges of games, such as Atari or Intellivision).  Theatre would have been too expensive for a waitress in the ’30s (heck it’s too expensive for a waitress now) – if her small town even had one.  And, yes, they had radio in the 1930s, but in the major cities like New York, not in small towns, like Cecilia’s home in New Jersey.  Besides, maybe she prefers the visual element and the fantasy of film.

One day, Cecilia catches her husband with another woman — she tries to leave him, but loses her job as well.  When she bumps into one of the local “ladies of  the evening” on the street, she realises she has no skills, no job, and no where to go, and she reluctantly goes back to her husband.  But at one point, she ends up at the local movie theater, watching the same film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, over and over and over again.  She’s watching the film, quietly crying, when suddenly, the character of Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) in the film, looks at her and addresses her, before stepping out of the film to meet her.  Tom and Cecilia run off.

The other actors in the film are perplexed and try to figure out what to do, being unable to move the story along without Baxter.  The movie house is in a panic.  Audience members are demanding their money back as the actors on the screen do nothing but talk to each other and insult the audience.  The theater owner calls the producer of the film in Hollywood and RKO (the studio that produced “The Purple Rose of Cairo” in the film). Soon, Hollywood types and the actor who played Tom, Gil Sheppard, are in New Jersey trying to figure out what’s happened.  Throughout the film we get snippets of what’s going on, on the screen and with the execs from Hollywood (such as the Tom Baxter character forgetting his lines in Chicago, and eventually Tom Baxter’s trying to get out into the real world in Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit).

Meanwhile, Tom is, Pinnocco -like, is enjoying the fun of being a “real” person — though he’s a bit confused about the real world.  But he’s convinced he’s in love with Cecilia.

The film moves back and forth between Tom and Cecilia’s romance, Cecilia’s “real” life, and the Hollywood execs trying to figure out what to do.  Gil Sheppard (the actor who played Tom, also played by Jeff Daniels) arrives and meets Cecilia.  Soon Cecilia’s in the midst of a love triangle, or quadrangle if you include her own husband.  Tom tells Cecilia he’s fallen in love with her over and over again.  Before long, Gil is also claiming he’s in love with Cecilia.

Tom, having discovered his money isn’t real, takes Cecilia to the movie theater.  He takes her into the film and brings her to the Copacobana for a date, then takes her for a night on the town, which is shot in a Art Deco, 1930s-style montage sequence.  After their date, he takes her back to the ‘real’ world.  There, they run into Gil.  Gil also claims to be in love with Cecilia, and that he will take her away with him to Hollywood.  Cecilia is forced to make a choice – and she does, she chooses Gil.  Tom, the perfect romantic hero, goes back into the film.  Gil has her go home to pack, and when she returns to the movie theater, he and all the Hollywood people have gone.

Soon, Cecilia is back in her old life.  And the last shot of the film is her face, lit by the light of the silver screen as she watches Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance to “Cheek to Cheek” in Top Hat.  Cecilia smiles, just a little bit, as she watches the film, with a Mona Lisa smile.

Cecilia is a representation of the audience; and how film writers and producers perceive the audience (this is, after all, a Woody Allen film).  She’s not dumb – she knows that actors play the characters in the films she watches, and that the films aren’t real.  But the escape they provide is something important – not hope exactly. Because Cecilia also knows, especially after her experience with the fictional Tom and the actor Gil, that no White Knight will ride in to town, and take her away from all this.  But films provide some time away from her awful life – her awful job, her terrible husband, and her boring small town.  In short, it’s a chance, for a few hours a week, to pretend she’s someone else, or to pretend there actually can be a happy ending.  It’s a brilliant commentary on movies, really.

Oddly enough, one weird thing about watching the film now, is that even though it’s a period piece, it does look a bit dated.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but it does.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  The Ref

The Producers

  • Title:  The Producers
  • Director:  Mel Brooks
  • Date:  1968
  • Studio:  Embassy Pictures / MGM
  • Genre:  Comedy, Musical
  • Cast:  Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewlett, Andreas Voulsinas
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“It’s amazing, it’s absolutely amazing, but under the right circumstances a producer could make more money with a flop than with a hit!”– Leo
 
“But if we get caught, we’ll go to prison.” – Leo
“You think you’re not in a prison now? Living in a grey little room, going to a grey little job, leading a grey little life?”  — Max
 
“Leo, how much percentage of a play can there be altogether?”  — Max
“Max, you can only sell 100 percent of anything.”  — Leo
“And how much of ‘Springtime for Hitler’ have we sold?” – Max
“Twenty-five thousand percent.” – Leo
 
Mel Brooks’ first comedy film, The Producers, is a tour-de-force. It’s laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end. The film is so over-the-top and so funny that what could have easily been a very offensive movie is instead a true comedy classic. The film first introduces Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) – a failing Broadway producer who has gone from running six hit shows simultaneously, to having nothing but a run of failures. The only way he can find investors now, is by seducing little old ladies for checks made out to “cash”. Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder, in only his second film role) is a mild-mannered accountant. One day, he’s sent to go over Max’s books and walks in on him playing sex games with an 80-year-old. To say that Leo is shocked is an under-statement. But soon Max gets the old lady to leave, and Leo enters the producer’s office.  This opening scene between Max and Leo is hilarious – and sets a slightly surreal, out there, quality for the entire film.
 
In doing the books, Leo discovers a simple accounting error – Max raised $2000 dollars extra for his last play and never invested it in the play or returned the profit to his investors. This, Leo points out is fraud. Max convinces Leo to not turn him in. Then, Leo has a lightbulb moment, and innocently says that a producer could make more money with a flop than a hit. The rest of the film is about the two trying to do just that – produce a flop, and keep all the extra money they’ve raised from their investors.
 
Leo, being an honest accountant, though a bit neurotic (his reaction when Max takes his “blue blanket” is screen perfection – as is his breakdown in hysterics slightly later when Max threatens him), so Max must convince Leo to do it. Max seduces Leo with a day in the park, like an extended date, and it really is Max’s kindness that convinces Leo what the heck – he wants everything.
 
Once he has Leo on board, they must find a play. And they do – “Springtime for Hitler – a gay romp with Adolph and Eva”. They locate the author, the slightly insane German, Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), and buy the play. Then Max goes to raise money from his little old lady brigade – in a wonderful montage sequence. Next, it’s casting. The cattle call for Hitler, is both similar to A Chorus Line or the opening of All that Jazz (tho’ it pre-dates both films, but posssibly not the play of “A Chorus Line”) and is quite funny. But it’s the audition of Lorenzo St. Dubois (Or “LSD”) that is brilliant. Not only is Dick Shawn’s performance brilliant, but the song, “Love Power” and the choreography of the audition, with LDS’s band, is priceless. (Another ’60s moment is Max’s new Swedish secretary (Lee Meredith) – who speaks no English, and when told to “Go to Work” turns on the record player and starts Go-Go Dancing.)
 
Soon it is opening night. Remember – Max and Leo want the play to tank. The play, “Springtime for Hitler” opens with the big Broadway production number, that includes everything:  a parade of beautiful chorus girls in elaborate German-style outfits (including beer steins or preztels on the girls boobs – simply hilarious), a rockets-style section in black leather, and a Bugsy Berkley style overhead shot. Oh – and the columns turn into cannons that fire at the audience. The number has to be seen to be believed and is SO over the top, (and SO bad) that no description can do it justice. Audience members are, of course, shocked, and some even walk out.  Max and Leo go over to a nearby restaurant, to drink and celebrate.
 
Then LSD takes to the stage as Hitler – and before long the audience is laughing hilariously!  That Franz is in the audience and takes this as an affront adds to the choas – especially when he runs on-stage and is hit over the head, something the audience assumes is part of the play.
 
Much to the shock of Max and Leo – the play is a hit! They then decide to blow up the theatre, and end up in court. Leo actually gives a pretty moving speech defending Max and their friendship. Soon Max and Leo are behind bars, selling percentages of a new play, Prisoners of Love, to the inmates, and rehearsing.
 
What makes Brooks’ The Producers so funny is in the execution. Merely writing, or reading, a plot summary just doesn’t do the film justice – especially the production number, and any scene with LSD. Shawn is simply inspired. But all the actors give the performances of their lives in this – which is why it remains one of Brooks best films.
 
It goes without saying, but I suppose I must, that Mel Brooks is Jewish. And he himself has said on numerous occasions, that the way to deal with despots isn’t in giving speeches, or using rhetoric or psychology – it’s in ridicule and poking fun at them. The film caught some flak when it was made, but it did quickly win over it’s sophisticated audience once people realised the joke.  And, also, the film is very witty and has a lot of faster-paced dialogue and less reliant on sight-gags than many of Brooks’ more recent films (tho’ the production number has both sight gags and witty dialogue). Again, one of Brooks’ best films, highly recommended.
 
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Purple Rose of Cairo

The Princess Bride

  • Title:  The Princess Bride
  • Director:  Rob Reiner
  • Date:  1987
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Adventure, Romance, Comedy
  • Cast:  Cary Elwes, Robin Wright,  Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal, Peter Cook, Andre-the-Giant
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You fell victim to one of the classic blunders.  The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia.  But slightly less well known is this – never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”  — Vizzini

“We’ll never survive [in the Fire Swamp].”  —  Buttercup, the Princess Bride
“Nonsense, you’re only saying that because no one ever has.” — Westley

“You know how much I love watching you work – but I’ve got my country’s five hundredth anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Gilder to frame for it.  I’m swamped.” — Prince Humperdinck

The Princess Bride is one of my favorite films of all time.  It’s a film I actually owned a copy of on VHS, then replaced with a DVD.  I absolutely adore this film — it’s smart, fun, intelligent and chock full of fun and quotable lines.  The film actually has two storylines — the frame story of a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading the story of The Princess Bride to his grandson (Fred Savage) who is home sick.  The growing relationship between grandson and grandfather adds a sweetness to the film, as does the young boy’s growing interest in the story.  The main storyline, though, is the story of Westley and Buttercup, two young lovers separated by fate who simply must end-up together.  However, what prevents the story from sinking into typical romantic comedy is the intelligent, witty dialogue and the simply gorgeous cinematography.  The film pulls itself together in such a way that it just works incredibly well.  It’s also shot in a very storybook style, which ranges from castles with interiors that obviously look like sets, to some simply wonderful sunsets, and some great scenery when Buttercup and Westley first meet again. (The wide shots of the castles are no doubt real ones in Ireland and England where parts of the film were shot).

This film also has some wonderful sword fights.  The fight between Westley and Inigo Montoya is wonderful! I really enjoy it every time I watch the film.  But there’s also some wonderful fight scenes between Montoya and the evil Count Rugen.

Overall, the film is just enjoyable.  Simply enjoyable.  It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s romantic.  The good guys are good because they treat other people nicely and well, and the bad guys – Vizzini, Count Rugen, and Prince Humperdinck are bad guys in part because they treat other people terribly.  Humperdinck’s motivation is also to start a war between Florin (his country and home to Buttercup) and neighboring Guilder.  And a bit of wordplay with the names of  the country as well – Florin and Guilder are two coins in a former Netherlands currency.  Florin is also the name of an old two-shilling coin in the UK that’s no longer in use.

If by some chance you haven’t seen this movie, it’s an absolutely must-see.

Recommendation:  See it!  Also good for all ages without being overly sweet.
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Producers

The Philadelphia Story

  • Title:  The Philadelphia Story
  • Director:  George Cukor
  • Date:  1940
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Romance, Comedy
  • Cast:  Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart
  • Format:  Black and White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

The film opens with Katherine Hepburn throwing out Cary Grant.  Two years later, newspaper headlines announce the upcoming wedding of Tracy Lord (Hepburn) to a man named “George”.  Tracy is a spoiled, self-centered, upper crust, old money, Philadelphia socialite.  She’s recently estranged from her father, because he’s recently had an affair with a New York dancer.

Grant, an alcoholic playboy, returns to Philadelphia from two years abroad, because he wants to re-kindle his relationship with her, and stop her wedding.  However, he’s not completely obvious about what he wants.

Stewart’s a newspaperman, a reporter, who dreams of being a real writer, and has written one book of short stories.  But he’s currently working at a gossip magazine, and is paired with a female photographer. He’s bribed to cover Tracy’s wedding.

Grant and Stewart arrive at Tracy’s — however, the pacing of the film is slow, much slower than is needed for the type of “screwball” romantic comedy that Cukor is trying to build.  I think the film may have been better off in the hands of Howard Hawks.  Or, for a melancholy feel, Billy Wilder.  But in Cukor’s hands, it clunks along.

There are some very funny, witty, clever lines of  dialogue — but there’s also scenes that make one wince, such as Grant insulting Hepburn until she cries — and he’s supposed to be in Philadelphia to woo her back?

Hepburn, meanwhile, starts off as a nearly liberated woman, wearing silky pantsuits, and telling her mother and younger sister, that she dis-invited her father from the wedding because of his affair.

Meanwhile, Hepburn ends up having an illuminating conversation, not to mention a few kisses with James Stewart, while she’s drunk.  The next day, her wedding day, she can’t remember exactly what she did.  At first, evidence suggests she slept with Stewart, which ticks off her fiance’, George.  However, Stewart clears the air by explaining nothing happened.  George forgives Hepburn — but, to her credit, she doesn’t forgive him for jumping to conclusions about her and she cancels the wedding.  Then, as she’s announcing this to the guests — Grant, who’s feeding her lines to make the embarrassing situation more graceful, proposes.  She accepts, and the wedding goes on — with Hepburn marrying Grant.  It’s also suggested that Stewart’s female photographer should marry him, so at least Stewart isn’t left in the cold.

The problem with the film — well, it’s almost like a updated “Taming of  the Shrew“.  Yes, Tracy Lord is a spoiled, pampered woman who has difficulty expressing her emotions, and thus seems to be an ice queen.  She compared to a “goddess” several times in the film, and never favorably.  However, her abilities at horseback riding, swimming, and sailing suggest she’s a true “outdoorsy” woman — and a woman who doesn’t need a man, she needs to be allowed to do her own thing, probably in a career.  I also felt she had much better on-screen chemistry with Stewart’s character, a nearly penniless writer, than Grant’s — who’s also a spoiled playboy.  Tracy and Dexter (Grant) had split before because they grew bored with each other, and her coldness drove Dexter to drink (his drying out is a sub-plot of  the film), but there’s no reason to believe they won’t tire of each other again.  Stewart, meanwhile, is an “every man” sort, as always, but his honesty would keep Tracy on her toes, and she probably wouldn’t get bored of  him.  And, should she start to take advantage of him — he’d call her on it.  I could also see Stewart prodding her into opening some type of writing or artsy-related business, such as a publishing house, art gallery, or artist’s colony.  Not that Tracy’s an artist, but she does have a head for business, and she seems genuinely interested in Stewart’s book, not just flattering him.

There are a couple of misses in the film as well – Tracy’s ill-fated second husband-to-be really should have been played by Ralph Bellamy– we know she’s not going to marry him, the romantic triangle is between Hepburn, Grant and Stewart, so why not cast the guy who never gets the girl?  Howard Hawks would have been a better directing choice — and would have ramped-up the pacing of  the film.  The scenes with fast dialogue are some of  the best, but at 112 minutes the film runs a little long, and drags in places.  Hawks could have speeded up the dialogue and the plot (such as in his wonderful His Girl Friday).  And, as much as I like Grant – I don’t think the film works with the plot of Tracy Lord going back to her first husband.  On the one hand it makes her look like an on-screen Elizabeth Taylor, and on the other it seems terribly old-fashioned, almost as if to suggest a woman can’t really be divorced.

Recommendation:  Worth seeing, but at times slow.
Rating:  3 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  The Princess Bride

Notorious

  • Title:  Notorious
  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Date:  1946
  • Studio:  RKO
  • Genre:  Drama, Film Noir
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD format:  R1, NTSC, (Criterion Collection, single disc)

“Waving the flag with one hand and picking pockets with the other, that’s your patriotism.”  — Alicia

“I’ve always been scared of women, but I get over it.” — Devlin

In Hitchcock’s Notorious, Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia, whose father’s been tried for treason, found guilty and jailed.  We later learned that he “died in his cell”, which is only marginally better than “shot while trying to escape”.  Bergman is indifferent to her father’s death, knowing he was a traitor (or as he put it in a recorded conversation – loyal to Germany and his own pocket) – but seems apolitical.  She is, however, a hopeless alcoholic, even driving drunk.  She meets Devlin at one of her parties, and quickly discovers he’s an American agent.  He brings her to his bosses to use as an agent.  Reluctantly, she agrees and the two fly off to Rio.  It’s interesting to note that Alicia’s friends had also wanted her to take a vacation, but suggested Cuba!!!  Anyway, once in Rio, Alicia and Devlin discover what the job is that Devlin’s un-named agency wants her to do.  She’s to become romantically involved with Claude Rains’ character, a man she knew as a young girl, and someone who seems to be supporting some shady scientists, though to what end is unknown – that is what Alicia is to find out.  Devlin isn’t happy about Alicia’s assignment, because the two have fallen for each other. Alicia, however, agrees.  She quickly forms an attachment to Rains — and even marries him.  Devlin, meanwhle, becomes her handler – but gets more and more angry to see the woman he loves with another man.

Despite it’s fantastic cast – Notorious is a very, very slow moving film.  Yes, the tension does build up, especially when Rains’ mother discovers Alicia is an agent and begins to poison her coffee, but the pacing is so slow as to be irritating instead of suspenseful.  I actually found Rains to be the most fun – it’s nice to see him in a juicy “bad guy” role as opposed the to lighter characters he normally plays.  Bergman is excellent as the newly minted tough-as-nail agent, but her easy submission into taking the poisoned coffee (and not realizing there might be a reason she feels so sick) undercuts her strong woman personna.  Grant, of course, rescues her at the end, but the film still has a strange ending (they leave the house, but we don’t know, for sure, if Grant got to her in time for the poisoning to be reversed).  All in all – I think Notorious is a good example of a film that would work better as a TV series.  I’d have loved to see a pair of secret agents – one male, one female, who gradually fall for each other – and eventually marry.  It could be especially interesting if the woman still must “honeytrap” other spies as part of her job.  A TV series, however, could gradually work the relationship of  “Alicia” and “Devlin” — making it more realistic, as well as dealing with the difficulties of a couple in such a dangerous profession.

But, getting back to the film, Grant is fantastic in Notorious – giving a subtle performance, and projecting a core of steel and violence.  I loved that.

Overall, though Notorious has it’s good points and an excellent cast, it’s like a novel by a great writer who needs an editor and without one writes books which are overly long.  The film really needed to be tightened up, the pacing improved, and the ending needs to be more concrete and less confusing.  Still, I would recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Philadelphia Story