Suspicion

  • Title: Suspicion
  • Director: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
  • Date: 1941
  • Genre: Mystery, Film Noir, Drama
  • Cast: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Leo G. Carroll, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce
  • Format: B/W, Standard
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“I’m honest because with you I think it’s the best way to get results.” — Johnnie

“Monkey-face, I’ve been broke all my life!” — Johnnie

Suspicion starts like any light romantic comedy. Johnnie (Cary Grant) meets Lina on a train and tries to pick her up, but she’s unimpressed. They run into each other again at a fox hunt. He talks her for a walk on a Sunday and makes a date for later that afternoon. Lina announces this to her parents, but he breaks their date for that afternoon, and for a week, Lina is miserable because she hasn’t seen him in so long. However, he returns just in time for the hunt ball. Very soon after, Lina sneaks out of her parents’ house and the two are married at the registry office. The two go on a whirlwind European honeymoon, then return to a new house – where Lina discovers that Johnnie has no money.

Suddenly, instead of a light romance, the film resembles Gaslight. Over and over, Lina picks up on her husband acting weirdly, or suspiciously. But she has no proof, no idea what’s really going on, and every time Johnnie’s money troubles seem to catch up with him, he suddenly comes up with the money he needs (such as a £2000 pound windfall that Johnnie claims he got from the track). Lina notices her husband is fascinated with detective and murder stories… but at first, thinks nothing of it. But when Johnnie’s dear friend, Beaky, dies under mysterious circumstances, Lina goes to their mutual friend Isobel, a mystery writer. Isobel talks about her recent mystery, where a man causes another man to walk over a weakened footbridge and fall to his death. Isobel says that morally it’s murder if the first man knew the bridge was weak. She then casually says “It’s the same with Johnnie’s friend, Beaky.” Beaky had died after drinking a large amount of brandy in a drinking contest – despite his allergy to brandy. Lina freaks at this because she knows that Johnnie knows about Beaky’s allergy and that Beaky would sometimes still drink brandy even though it caused him to have fits, and trouble breathing. Later, Isobel, her husband, Lina, Johnny, and a strange blond woman dressed as a man have a dinner party. Johnnie’s dinner conversation though not only focuses on murder but on untraceable poisons. Lina’s so freaked she won’t let him into her bedroom that night.

Things finally come to a head when Lina decides to go home to spend a few days with her mother. Johnnie insists on driving her. On a winding road, Lina thinks he’s trying to kill her, but he pulls her back into the car, then yells at her. When they talk, Lina comes to the conclusion that Johnnie was considering suicide as a way out of his money problems, and for her to get his insurance money to settle his debts for once and for all. Lina throws herself into his arms, and they drive back towards their house.

In Gaslight, Ingrid Bergman gradually comes to realize that her husband is a criminal who only married her to have access to the empty house next to hers, where he thinks there’s a treasure. The husband manipulates his wife, trying to make her think she’s going insane – and she’s only saved at the last minute by a kind policeman.

Suspicion is much more unsettling. Cary Grant is very menacing – and switches from his “happy go lucky”, “everything is fine” personality to someone who is truly scary like lightning. He clearly seems to not only not want to work, but to only have a talent for losing money – and he routinely borrows money to pay off his most insistent debtors. Yet, at the same time, Joan Fontaine’s Lina seems almost paranoid. We see her getting little pieces of evidence that her husband’s up to no good, such as when she goes to visit him at his office and learns from his employer and a family friend (played brilliantly by Leo G. Carroll) that Johnnie was fired weeks ago after £2000 went missing from the business. But each time she finds something out, he has an explanation and she forgives him and realizes that she loves him.

What makes the film brilliant is that because of Grant’s superb acting, and the way he flips back-and-forth between menace and light-hearted kindness, one is never sure of his motives. Does he want to kill his wife for her money? It doesn’t appear so, he never actually does anything to her. Yet, at the same time, he’s almost slimy in the way that he always has an answer for everything. At times, Lina seems very alone, but at others, she has no problem going out – she visits Isobel with no problems, and sees other friends who seem jealous of her relationship with Johnnie. Suspicion is a masterful, and short (only 99 minutes) film with no concrete endings. I highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Swing Time

Sunset Boulevard

  • Title:  Sunset Boulevard
  • Director:  Billy Wilder
  • Date: 1950
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Drama, Film Noir
  • Cast:  William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Jack Webb
  • Format:  Standard, Black/White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I just think a picture should say a little something.”– Betty
“Oh, one of the message kids, just a story won’t do.  You’d’ve turned down Gone with the Wind.”– Joe
“No, that was me.  I said, Who wants to see a Civil War picture.”– Sheldrake

“I am big, it’s the pictures that got small.”– Norma Desmond

“Still wonderful, isn’t it?  And no dialogue.  We didn’t need dialogue, we had Faces.”– Norma

“Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture.  They think the actors make it up as they go along.”– Joe

Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard is one of the best movies made about movies, ever.  It’s also an excellent Film Noir, filmed by one of Film Noir’s best directors, Billy Wilder. The dialogue sparkles, and much of this film is quotable.  The characters are sympathetic, but doomed – as is characteristic of Noir films.

Sunset Boulevard is the story of Joe Gillis, down on his luck Hollywood screenwriter, and Norma Desmond – once queen of the silent silver screen, now all but forgotten in her decrepit Hollywood mansion. The film opens with a shot looking up at a dead body floating in a swimming pool. Narration sweeps the viewer into the story, telling us how Joe ended up in the swimming pool. Yes, this is the second time Wilder’s started a film with his protagonist dead or dying and used narration to explain how he wound up in such a state (the other being the wonderful Double Indemnity). Joe’s a writer, but he’s hit a “slow” point, so much so that he’s three months behind on the rent on his apartment, and his car is about to be repossessed. Without his car, Joe’s in trouble, so he dodges the finance company, which leads him to Norma Desmond’s mansion — he gets a flat and pulls into her garage.

Norma, once Queen of Silent Films, has now gotten old and lives in seclusion with her butler, Max. Joe introduces himself to her, recognizing her, but really has no interest, he only wants to hide out until he can get the money to pay what he owes on the car. But Norma is fascinated by this young man, thrown into her clutches by fate. When he tells her he’s a writer, she shows him her script for “Salome”. It’s truly dreadful, and about 600 pages too long, but Joe reluctantly accepts a job as editor/re-writer/ghost writer.

And thus begins Joe’s descent. He becomes a “kept man”, with Norma buying him gifts of fancy clothes, jewelry, watches, cuff  links, etc. Joe, a “plain speaking” sort, isn’t impressed with Norma’s gifts, but he’s caught in her web and helpless to get himself out.

At the beginning of the film, just prior to meeting Norma, Joe has a meeting at Paramount Pictures with Mr. Sheldrake, to plug his new baseball picture. The meeting goes nowhere, though he meets Betty Schaefer, a script reader with aspirations to be a writer. They meet later in the picture, when Betty tries to convince Joe to develop about six pages of his failed script into a full-length movie. They meet again and begin to work on the new script together, and even start to fall for each other. But their relationship is doomed because she’s engaged to his best friend, Artie (Jack Webb); and Joe, though he’s not in love with the much older Norma Desmond, feels a certain responsibility to her.

Every time it seems that Joe might break away from Norma… and find happiness with friends his own age like Artie and Betty, he’s drawn back.

Meanwhile, Norma lives in the past, watching her movies on a theater screen in her home. (Something Joe scoffs at… one wonders what he’d think of the VHS/DVD/Blu-Ray market today?) She even performs live shows for Joe once in awhile. Once a week, what Joe describes as “her waxworks” come to play bridge, they are cameos of other classic silent era film stars. Norma is an aged beauty, and she hasn’t handled the fact well. Partially because of Hollywood’s standards of young perfection, but also partially because she was never able to change with the times or re-invent herself. Which is a fate of many Hollywood stars, especially women.

Norma finally drops off her script for “Salome” in person to Cecil B. De Mille (played by De Mille himself). When an aide at Paramount calls her, she instructs Max to hang up… playing hard to get. She later goes to the studio in person and meets De Mille. While he’s checking out the calls she’s received, an old lighting gaffer recognizes her, and turns a huge floodlight on her. Soon behind-the-scenes people and actors alike are flocking around her with cries of, “Norma Desmond!” and “It’s Norma Desmond!” and “I thought she was dead!”. De Mille, meanwhile, discovers that the calls were about her car… someone wanted it for a Crosby picture. De Mille decides to save Norma’s feelings by not telling her, and even promises to shoot “Salome” after his current film.

Norma returns home and books every type of beauty treatment she can. Joe gets even more frustrated, but won’t leave, he can’t leave.

Finally, Joe starts sneaking out during the evening to meet Betty and work on their script, “Dark Windows”, a romance. They start to fall for each other. But Joe doesn’t want to break up the engagement between Betty and Artie. Norma also becomes jealous and even calls Betty to tell her “what kind of man he is”. Joe catches Norma at this, invites Betty over, then cruelly explains his circumstances. He’s driving her away because Artie’s a nice guy. After Betty leaves, Joe goes to his room, grabs his suitcase, and begins packing – taking only his own clothes, and leaving the rest. Norma has a fit… and in her anger, shoots him three times (and thus, Joe winds up in the swimming pool). Later, reporters, police, detectives, and others gather. By this time, she’s gone completely mad and has no idea where she is or what’s going on. Max, her director, and first husband, directs her down the stairs, and with newsreel cameras rolling, she delivers her speech about how great it is to be back in pictures, and the film’s immortal last line:  “Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark.  All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Sunset Boulevard is brilliant. It’s dark, and chilling, and Joe, a perfectly nice guy, a writer from Ohio who came to Hollywood to make it big, and died in a swimming pool, is both a warning and a ideal protagonist. The film’s theme is broken dreams: Norma became a star at sixteen, but now she’s fifty and has no one, and no concept of how to live in the world. Joe only wanted to become a working writer in Hollywood, and, well, didn’t. The film is the antithesis of  the rags-to-riches tale that is so popular in the American psyche and in Hollywood films and musicals in particular. It’s also a tale of how Hollywood uses beautiful women and then spits them out to replace them with someone younger, and more beautiful (though that’s implied not explicit). I love this film, and Billy Wilder’s directing. And, again, as in most Film Noir films, the dialogue sparkles.

I highly, highly recommend Sunset Boulevard. If you’ve never seen it, make a resolution to watch it, you won’t be disappointed.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Superman/Batman:  Apocalypse

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle

  • Title: The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle
  • Director: H.C. Potter
  • Date: 1939
  • Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre: Biography, Drama, Musical
  • Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edna May Oliver
  • Format: B/W, Standard
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Well, we’ve got our health, we’re young, we’re in Paris, we’re on our honeymoon, what more can we want.” — Vernon

“Hey, dance with me.” — Vernon
“All the people downstairs?” — Irene
“Look, we can do it quietly, like this, just as if we’re walking on air.” — Vernon

“War is a man’s business, women only do what they’re told.” — Maggie

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle is the last musical that Astaire and Rogers did for RKO and it’s notable for several reasons. It’s one of only two films where Astaire and Rogers played a married couple (the other is The Barkleys of Broadway). It’s the only biography the two did, so the only time they played real people. It’s the only one of their musicals that’s more of a drama than a comedy. And it’s the only one with a definite downbeat ending (Vernon Castle (Astaire’s character) dies). The film is different from other Astaire and Rogers musicals and that may be why it is not as well known as their other films.

The film opens in 1911, Fred Astaire is Vernon Castle, who at the time is barely working as a vaudeville comedian. He’s not even the star of the show he’s in, but the second banana who takes all the pratfalls and on-stage abuse from the star. He tries to get the show’s leading lady interested in him, but to no avail. However, while at the seaside, he meets Irene Foote (Ginger Rogers) when they both jump into the drink to rescue a small dog. She, it turns out, is an aspiring actress/performer and she performs “The Yama Yama Man” as an audition for Castle.

After the lackluster audition, the two go to the train station, where a group of “bachelors” and their dates are on an excursion. When one of the guys gets up and dances – Vernon shows off his tap dancing skills. On their later dates, Irene suggests that Vernon should give up comedy and become a dancer. Vernon actually agrees with her and the two approach his boss with the idea of being a dance team. But his boss is having none of it. However, two French theatre owners approach Vernon and offer him a job in Paris.

Now married, Vernon and Irene go to Paris… but discover that the job they thought started immediately won’t start for six weeks. Irene convinces the theatre owners to give Vernon an advance on his salary so they will have something to live on for six weeks. After the six weeks of waiting goes by, Vernon returns to the theatre — only to discover he’s to play his comedy role again. As he explains to his wife, “Well, I refused… I know you don’t want me to do, and I didn’t want to do it… but he brought up the money we owe him…” Irene accepts this trying to make him feel better by saying, “Well, at least it’s a job, maybe not the job you want, but it’s a job.” To console her, Vernon dances with her, quietly.

Fate intervenes in the person of Maggie, an entrepreneur and agent who walks into their apartment at that moment and sees them dancing. She gets them dinner and an audition at the Cafe de Paris. The audition is a smash success, and other couples imitate the Castles. They are hired by the nightclub as professional dancers. Before long they are back in New York, introducing The Tango to New York. The Castles sell books, records, and dancing lessons. Irene becomes a fashion icon. Their merchandising continues with ladies hats, bon bons, and face cream. Vernon’s name goes on cigars and dancing shoes. They introduce the Fox Trot, and the Castle Polka. With both scenes of the Castles introducing their ballroom dances, the shot of the couple dancing is double exposed with sparkles and lights – giving it a dreamy quality. Irene bobs her hair, which causes a sensation and starts a trend. The Castles introduce the Moxie, another dance, at a seaside resort. They then tour nationally. (We see the couple dancing across a map of the US and each place they stop – additional dancers appear). As they return home, Irene and Vernon tell their manager, Maggie, they are tired and want to buy a house and raise a family. However, as they pull into one little town, there’s a fuss outside the train — Germany’s declared war.

At first, the Castles do retire to their new home, and Vernon agrees with Irene that he won’t enlist. But when he’s asked to work at a benefit… he sees all the Canadian soldiers and decides to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps.  He manages to live through the war, but when he returns home he’s sent to Fort Worth at the last minute as one of the pilots in an airshow for a Brigadier General. An inexperienced pilot takes off and flies into his airspace — given the choice of hitting the other plane or trying to avoid the crash he pulls straight up and the plane stalls. Vernon Castle is killed in the plane crash… the young inexperienced pilot in the plane with him survives, in part because Vernon took the seat in front rather than letting the young pilot do it since he knew that the front was the more dangerous seat. After her uncle and Vernon’s close friend tells Irene the news she walks into the garden of the hotel her husband had set-up for her and imagines the two of them dancing together in the garden.

Again, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle is very unusual for an Astaire and Rogers film. It has a downbeat ending, and even the dances are mostly not complete dances … they are excerpts as the story unfolds. Astaire performs well as Vernon Castle… really getting into the role which is quite meaty. Rogers has less to do, mostly following her husband around, and worrying constantly about him after he goes to war. But the film is meant to be a historical film, taking place between 1911 and 1918, when women didn’t even have the right to vote so Irene’s somewhat shadowed appearance can be understood if not condoned. And it is obvious that this couple loves each other, and Vernon, at least, allows his wife to not only have a say in their decisions but to lead in them (It’s Irene who insists he’s better than physical comedy; it’s Irene who wants them to retire from touring, and it’s Irene who at first insists that Vernon not go to war). In a sense, though Vernon dies at the end, the film is not only romantic, but it’s a more realistic romance than most movie romances.

The story for the script was written by Irene Castle, based on her autobiographical book about her husband, and she acted as an advisor on the film, especially in terms of Rogers’ clothes.

This was not your typical Astaire and Rogers musical, I’d say it’s for diehards only, or if you want to see a different type of film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The rating is based on the film not being what you expect out of a musical — for example, there are very few full dances in the film.

Recommendation: Depends.
Rating: Three and a half out of five stars.
Next film: Stripes

Shall We Dance (1937)

  • Title:  Shall We Dance (1937)
  • Director:  Mark Sandrich
  • Date:  1937
  • Studio:  RKO (Radio Pictures)
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance
  • Music:  George Gershwin
  • Lyrics:  Ira Gershwin
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore
  • Format:  Black and White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I told ya’ I haven’t even met her … but I’d kinda’ like to marry her.”  — Peter

“If we get married now, I can start divorce proceedings in the morning.”  — Linda

“I be your pardon, but what are grounds for divorce in this state?”  —  Linda
“Marriage.”  — Law clerk

Shall We Dance is one of my three favorite Fred and Ginger musicals — the dialogue is wonderfully witty, the plot, involving a secret marriage that isn’t, and then is, is great fun, and the Gershwin score is simply marvelous. The dances are incredible (though I wish Fred and Ginger had actually danced to “You Can’t Take That Away From Me” rather than Fred merely singing it to Ginger). Be sure to take note of the wonderful Art Deco set for “Slap that Bass”, and Fred and Ginger tap dancing on roller skates to “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”.  My other two favorite Fred & Ginger musicals are Top Hat and Swing Time. Though, I must say, there are parts of all their musicals I enjoy.

Fred Astaire plays Peter P. Peters, a dancer who’s discovered by Jeffrey (Horton) and becomes the star of a ballet in Paris, under the name, “Petrov”. Ginger Rogers, is musical comedy / Broadway star Linda Keene who’s sick of the “life” and her stream of unsuitable suitors.

Astaire sees a picture of Linda and falls for her, so he tries to meet her in Paris. But when he over-hears her complaining to her maid about all the unsuitable men who see her picture and then try to win her over, he introduces himself as “Petrov”, with a very bad Russian accent, rather than Peter P. Peters from Philadelphia, Pa.

However, both soon sail for New York on the steamship Queen Anne. It takes Peter a while, but his persistence pays off, and soon Linda falls for him. Yet, when Jeffrey (Horton) tells an unsuitable suitor of Petrov’s that he is secretly married to Ms. Keene, and Peter confirms it — she lets the news slip, and soon the “secret marriage” is headline news. When Ms. Keene is seen knitting on the ship deck (she’s actually making a sweater for her dog), it adds fuel to the fire. She erupts in anger at the rumors — and blames Peter for them.

In New York, Peter and Linda are booked into adjoining suites, by the concierge (Blore) — who, none-the-less keeps locking the door and pocketing the key as he’s told the couple is not married. Linda, however, has her own troubles — the news media hounds her about her secret marriage; her manager wants to keep her on the stage or he’ll lose his theatre, and the man she thinks she wants to marry is angry at her for “lying” about her “marriage to Petrov”. When the manager uses a mannequin of Linda to take pictures of Linda and Peter in bed (a twin no less) and publishes the pictures — Linda’s anger only grows, especially as her boyfriend dumps her.

Linda and Peter go to the park, have a date, and decide to marry in secret in New Jersey, for real, and then publicly divorce so Linda can marry who she wants. But Peter’s now in love with her. When Linda finally serves him divorce papers, he finds him dancing with a stage full of “Linda Keenes” (dancers with masks). She’s impressed, and in the end, Linda and Peter dance together and decide to stay married.

Musical Numbers

  • Slap that Bass  — Fred, vocals and dance
  • Beginner’s Luck — Fred, vocals
  • They All Laughed — Ginger, vocals; Fred and Ginger, dance
  • Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off — Fred and Ginger, vocals, Fred and Ginger, tap dance on roller skates
  • They Can’t Take That Away from Me — Fred, vocals
  • Shall We Dance
Also, an opening sequence of Fred “practicing” alone, that’s tap and ballet, and various other sequences of ballet that are “rehearsals”.
Recommendation:  See It
Rating:  4.5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Shall We Dance (2004)

Satan Met a Lady

  • Title: Satan Met a Lady
  • Director: William Dieterie
  • Date: 1936
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Cast: Bette Davis, Warren William
  • Format: Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Do you mind very much, Mr. Shane, taking off your hat in the presence of a lady, with a gun?” — Valerie

Satan Met a Lady was included as a bonus feature on my special edition copy of The Maltese Falcon. I didn’t have very high hopes for it, and in this case, I was right — it was awful. The description of this loose adaption of Dashiell Hammett’s classic novel The Maltese Falcon, is that it’s “light-hearted”. Well, I could tell they were trying to make a comedy, but it fails utterly. This isn’t The Black Bird, and it’s not a parody. It’s like watching a really bad high school production of The Maltese Falcon, and not even Bette Davis can save it.

The plot, vaguely reminiscent of the classic film and novel, differs in a few key points. First, the McGuffin everyone is after isn’t a Falcon, it’s a French Ram’s Horn, made of ivory and filled with jewels. Second, all the names are changed — the detectives are Ames and Shane, not Archer and Spade. The film shows us a bit more of Ames, actually it takes a while before the Ram’s Horn plot is introduced, so when Ames is killed, it should mean something. That it doesn’t is mostly down to the film just not working very well. Casper “The Fatman” Gutman is a woman in Satan Met a Lady, and her underling is called Kenneth. She’s still a mobster though, and overweight (though not grossly so). Madame is probably the most interesting character in the film. In the end, Shane does turn Valerie over to the cops for killing his partner, then he takes the train out of town with his secretary. That is a nice bookend since the film started with him taking the train into town, escaping trouble in the next town up the road.

Bette Davis puts in a good performance in some scenes but is merely average in others. Warren William is terrible as Shane, the detective. He has no personality at all. Overall, even as a bonus feature, just not very interesting. But at least it’s short, clocking in at only 74 minutes.

Recommendation:  Give it a miss.
Rating:  1
Next Film:  Serenity

Sabrina

  • Title:  Sabrina
  • Director:  Billy Wilder
  • Date:  1954
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Romance, Drama
  • Cast:  Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Oh, I’m not telling you that you have to be a cook as she was, or that I want you to marry a  chauffeur like me, but you know how I feel about it. Your mother and I had a good life together, we were respected by everyone. That’s as much as anyone can want in this world. Don’t reach for the moon, child.” – Fairchild, Sabrina’s father

“It’s all beginning to make sense — Mr. Tyson owns the sugar cane, you own the formula for the plastics and I’m supposed to be offered up as a human sacrifice on the altar of industrial progress — is that it?”  — David

“So strange to think of you being touched by a woman – I always thought you walked alone.”  — Sabrina
“No man walks alone by choice.”  — Linus

Sabrina, cannot in truth be called a “romantic comedy”, because the storyline is, in many ways, quite dark, though the second half of the film does turn into a typical romantic triangle. Hepburn is Sabrina, the daughter of the chauffeur, living on the very large, Long Island estate belonging to the Larrabee family. She’s quite young, and quite taken with David (Holden), the younger of the two Larrabee brothers. David, however, barely knows she exists. When Sabrina sees David romantically involved with another woman, she gets so upset, she decides to commit suicide. And even though she’s scheduled to go to France for cooking school the next day, she goes to the garage, starts all the cars, closed all the doors and tries to kill herself, after leaving a note for her father. Sabrina is rescued by Linus (Bogart) the older Larrabee brother, and nothing more is said about what happened.

After the incident, she’s sent off to France and cooking school. In France, at first, Sabrina can think of nothing but David, and even her classes don’t distract her. And given that the classes start with “How to boil water” and “how to crack an egg” – you can’t really blame her for being bored. But soon she’s taken under the wing of an old baron who teaches her about style, and grace, and she returns to New York two years later an outwardly changed woman, full of style and sophistication. But, inwardly, she’s still obsessed with David. Upon learning he’s engaged, she still plans to ensnare him.

Sabrina’s plans, however, are somewhat derailed by Linus, the older Larrabee, who’s arranged his brother’s marriage to a sugar cane heiress to cement a business deal to make bullet-proof plastic from sugar cane. (Don’t ask, just like you don’t want to try and figure out how the daughter of the chauffeur can afford the prestigious Cordon Blue cooking school in France). Linus arranges his brother’s match, but playboy David thinks that this is one girl he’s not interested in. And when he sees Sabrina in all her finery at the train station, he’s hooked. But, Linus, mostly to save his business deal, and partially because he’s also intrigued by this sophisticated woman in his midst, also starts to date, Sabrina.

And thus, we have the triangle, who will end-up with Sabrina? Like many movies from the 1950s, it’s the men in her life — her father, the two brothers, and the two brothers’ father, who seem determined to make Sabrina’s choice of a husband for her, rather than letting Sabrina choose. Still, it is a good movie anyway, and the first time I watched it I was genuinely surprised who she ends up choosing after all.

Billy Wilder directed Sabrina, which accounts for its dark tone, and I’m not just talking about the black and white filming. Wilder’s direction is incredible, especially his use of deep focus and shots of the characters completely isolated from each other, surprising in a romance (but not surprising coming from Wilder – an accomplished Film Noir director). Even in what would normally be a very romantic scene, Linus and Sabrina boating, she’s on one end of the boat, he’s on the other. The boat’s only about 15 feet and the two “lovers” are sitting as far apart as they could possibly get without one of them being in the ocean. When Sabrina confronts Linus in his office – the lighting is used to great effect and further isolates the characters.

Recommendation:  See it! (At least once)
Rating: 3.8 Stars Out of  5
Next Film:  Same Time, Next Year

Roman Holiday

  • Title:  Roman Holiday
  • Director:  William Wyler
  • Date:  1953
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Romance, Comedy
  • Cast:  Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I could do some of the things I’ve always wanted to do.”  –Ann
“Like what?” –Joe
“Oh, you can’t imagine.  I’d like to do just whatever I like, the whole day long.”  –Ann
“Things like having your hair cut, eating gelato?” –Joe
“Yes, and I’d like to sit in a sidewalk cafe, and look in shop windows, walk in the rain!  Have fun – and maybe even some excitement.” –Ann

“The news can wait until tomorrow.” — Ann

“She’s fair game, Joe, it’s always open season on princesses.” — Irving

Roman Holiday is Audrey Hepburn’s first film.  It could have also been easily called, ‘The Princess’s Day Off’, because that is what the film is really about.  Hepburn is Princess Ann, on a whirlwind tour of European capital cities.  Her schedule is booked by the second, and everything is planned to the last detail – even the words she’ll say when accepting or refusing gifts, giving good will speeches and addressing the press.  And young Ann is quite, quite sick of it.

Upon her arrival in Rome, Ann falls into hysterics and is given a drug to calm her down.  But, instead of sleeping, she sneaks out to have some fun.  Ann collapses on a bench, completely limp and out of it. She’s discovered by Joe (Peck), a reporter, who doesn’t recognize her.  He sees her as a drunk young lady in trouble.  He tries to get her into a cab, but she’s so out of  it, she doesn’t remember her own address.

So he takes her home to his apartment.  He lends her pajamas, and offers his couch (she takes his bed). No impropriety occurs, and the next day, Joe goes off to his job at the American News Service.  There he discovers the big news is that the Princess Ann has taken ill, and cancelled all her appointments – and Joe recognizes the girl in the papers as the girl in his apartment.

He talks to his boss, and promises an exclusive and personal interview with Princess Ann.  His boss offers $1000.00 for the story.  When he adds that he can provide candid pictures as well, the price jumps to $5000.

Joe returns to his apartment and finds a recovering Ann.  He lets her have a bath and change again, gives her some money, and sees her off.  Then he calls his friend, Irving (Albert), a photographer, and promises him a cut of the deal.  Irving agrees to find out what the story is, and will meet Joe later. Meanwhile Joe, follows Ann, without letting her know.  He bumps into her, and promises her a holiday, then takes her to a sidewalk cafe, where Irving meets them.

Ann and Joe, with Irving in tow, tour the tourist spots of Rome, and Ann has the time of her life just being normal. He even takes her to a dance on a barge in the river. There, Ann, dances with the barber who cut her hair and invited her to the dance.  But her country has called in their secret service to look for Ann, and they find her on the barge.  A fight breaks out but Joe, Ann, and Irving all manage to escape.  Finally, Ann decides she must go back to her duties and after a couple of nice hugs with Joe, has him drop her off within walking distance of her hotel.

Joe decides he can’t impose on Ann’s privacy, or embarrass her, and tells his editor there’s no story.  He tells Irving he can sell the pictures if he wants, though he wishes him not to do so.

The next morning, Ann, again in the beautiful white gown of a princess, has her press conference.  She coldly gives her practiced answers.  Except once – when asked her favorite city on the tour, Ann replies, Rome.
She sees both Joe and Irving at the press conference.  During the receiving line, she shows nearly no emotion, using the same kind responds with them as with the rest of the ladies and gentlemen of the press.  Irving, hands her an envelope of the pictures, saying they are commemorative pictures of Rome.  Ann leaves the press conference.  All in attendance have left – and Joe is left, alone, walking out of the hotel.

Roman Holiday is a fun picture, though a bit slow.  Audrey Hepburn is really good, expressing both emotion and lack of emotion, as she alternately experiences every day things for the first time, or does her princess act for the press.  Peck is a man who’s caught – he feels something for Ann (though in my opinion he’s much too old for her) but knows they are from different worlds.  In a way, the film is about isolation, Ann’s behind the walls of a palace, and Joe’s in the middle of a bustling city.  Though Joe has a friend in Irving, and his poker buddies seen at the beginning of the film.  It’s enjoyable to watch.

Recommendation:  See it.
Rating:  3.5
Next film:  Royal Wedding

Roberta

  • Title:  Roberta
  • Director:  William A. Seiter
  • Date:  1935
  • Studio:  RKO
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Music:  Jerome Kern
  • Book and Lyrics:  Otto Horbach
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“But underneath, she’s a pearl.”  — John
“And a pearl, so I’m told, is the result of a chronic irritation on an oyster.” — Huck

“John, every day you act worse – but today you’re acting like tomorrow.” — Huck

Roberta is another RKO musical where Fred and Ginger play second fiddle, this time to Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. And to make things worse – Irene Dunne sings, four numbers, two that aren’t even in English. And she can’t sing. Dunne has this awful, trying to sound soprano, warbling sort of voice that’s about as irritating as nails on a chalkboard. And unlike Follow the Fleet, which also has the problem of regulating Fred and Ginger to supporting cast behind Randolph Scott, Roberta has no comedy elements hardly at all. The plot revolves around a fashion house matriarch, Scott’s Aunt, who dies, and a question is raised as to who will inherit her fashion house and continue to make it a success.

Fred Astaire, as Huckleberry (or Huck), is an Indiana band leader, as well as singer and dancer. He and his band, the Wabash Indianiaians, head to France for a gig. When they arrive, the owner of the club claims he wanted “Red Indians” and refuses to hire them. Wondering what to do, they head to Paris, hoping to find someone who can get them a gig. John (Scott), a member of the band, and friend of Huck’s, has an Aunt, Mimi, who runs the Roberta fashion house. They head there and John and Mimi have a happy reunion. John also meets, Stephanie, Mimi’s assistant, who he’s quite taken with. Mimi is about to help them out. Meanwhile, the band, including Huck, is waiting downstairs. Getting restless they begin to play signals to get John’s attention. As they are playing, Huck sees Ginger on a balcony. Their eyes meet.

However, rather than follow the plot of Fred immediately falling for Ginger and trying to woo her — when he gets upstairs to find out why John is taking so long, he finds Ginger putting on a accent and claiming to be a European countess. Once they are alone, however, it turns out that the two know each other, they grew up together, and “Countess Scharwenka” is Ginger’s stage name. Huck asks her to get his band a gig. She does.

Soon, as I said, Mimi dies, leaving her salon to John — even though he knows nothing about fashion or design. John approaches Stephanie (Dunne) and tries to give her the business, but she refuses. The two end-up as partners. They have issues, but eventually put on a musical fashion show together. By the end of the film, John’s proposed to Stephanie (after a few misunderstandings, as in all romances), and Huck and Liz (Rogers) are also together.

Musical Numbers

  • Let’s Begin – Fred (singing) and his band (music).  Fred has a soft shoe number with the company.
  • I’ll Be Hard to Handle – Ginger singing.  Fred & Ginger — tap, ballroom.
  • I Won’t Dance — Fred (singing).  Fred – solo tap.
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes — Irene Dunne singing (no dance).
  • Lovely to Look At —  Irene Dunne singing (no dance).
  • Lovely to Look At — Fred singing to Ginger.
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes — (Music only)  Fred and Ginger,  ballroom dance.
  • Reprise — Fred and Ginger, partner tap.

As stated above, Irene Dunne also has two non-English songs, possibly lullabies, that she sings to Mimi to help her fall asleep for her afternoon nap.

Fred and Ginger’s ballroom number, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”, is wonderful. It’s slowly paced, beautiful, and eloquent. Ginger shows an incredible sense of balance throughout the dance. It’s also, conceptually, unusual for a ballroom number, especially a Fred and Ginger number, in that for most of the dance, both the opening and the closing, they aren’t touching each other. They are mirroring, and dancing ballroom moves, but without actually holding hands — which means Ginger had to have had an incredible sense of balance — not depending on her partner’s strength to hold her up. The middle of the dance does have Fred holding Ginger’s hand to spin her, as well as moving into a more traditional ballroom hold, but it’s an incredible dance to watch. Plus it is choreographed perfectly to the music.

The reprise is nearly the opposite of the main dance — it’s very fast paced partner tap. Fred and Ginger fly through their moves. Ginger’s moving so fast she actually has to hold the skirt of her very long, silky, black gown (the same one from the “Smoke gets in your Eyes” number) up as she dances, though she does hold it in such a way as to not reveal her knees. After their dance, it’s Liz (Ginger) who says to Huck (Fred), “So, you were going to propose, right?  I accept.” Basically, proposing to him!

Not one of the best Fred and Ginger films by a long shot, but the “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” dance and the reprise tap dance are both worth waiting for.

Recommendation:  If you want the complete Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers collection, see this, otherwise look to one of their better films.
Rating:  3 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Robin Hood:  Men in Tights

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 rekindle 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 are 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 an 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 “everyman” 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, meanwhile, 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 persona. 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