To Catch a Thief

  • Title:  To Catch a Thief
  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Date:  1955
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Action, Romance, Suspense
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Brigitte Auber
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I stole once, a long time ago, I went to jail.” – John Robie (Cary Grant)
“I know. The Germans bombed the prison and you all escaped, joined the Underground, and became heroes.” – Danielle
“I joined because I wanted to make-up for some of the things I’d done. I’ve never stolen since.” – Robie

“You’re here in Europe to buy a husband, huh?” – Robie
“The man I want doesn’t have a price.” – Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly)
“Well, that eliminates me.” – Robie

“John, Why bother?” – Frances
“It’s sort of a hobby of mine, the truth.” – Robie

A series of daring jewel robberies rocks France, specifically the resort communities of the French Rivieria. The police immediately suspect John Robie, a retired jewel thief once known as The Cat. Robie decides the only way he will be able to prove his innocence is to catch the thief himself.

Robie meets HH Hughson, an insurance broker from Lloyd’s of London. His company has insured many of the stolen jewels, so he has a vested interest in finding the jewels so his company doesn’t have to pay the claims. Robie convinces him to give him a list of potential targets. Hughson is a bit dubious, but agrees.

Robie then meets up with Jessie Stevens and her daughter Frances (Francie). Mrs. Stevens is widowed and extremely rich after oil was discovered on her husband’s small Texas ranch. She’s also loud, uncultured, rude, and obnoxious. Her daughter, Frances, has benefited from her mother’s money, having attended a European “finishing school”, and traveled the world. Frances is a bit spoiled, and very bored with her life of travel and suitors after her money. Robie and Frances immediately have an attraction.

Meanwhile, Robie had first gone to the restaurant of his friends from the French Underground movement, but they are convinced he’s guilty and has gone back to his jewel-stealing ways. The only person from his previous life who thinks he’s either innocent, or it doesn’t matter if he’s guilty, is Danielle – the wine steward’s daughter, who flirts shamelessly with Robie – despite being young enough to be his daughter.

The story is told somewhat episodically, against the backdrop of seaside France. The tale alternates between the romantic encounters between John and Frances (swimming at the beach, a wild car ride ending in a romantic picnic, even the tour of a villa) and Danielle’s flirting with John, and John’s attempts to find the thief.

Robie also receives threatening notes at his hotel – which tell him to lay off his search. He misses one robbery entirely, because he is concentrating on the Stevens. He then goes to investigate a villa he’s been staking out for several nights, despite getting a second note that tells him to stay away. He finds the wine steward, dead. The police report to the newspapers, this is The Cat. But Robie goes to the police and points out the steward had a wooden leg, it would have been impossible for him to climb on rooftops. The steward is also Danielle’s father – and when he shows up at the funeral, Danielle accuses him of murder.

Robie then decides to set a trap of his own. He knows that an upcoming costume ball will be a perfect opportunity for The Cat to strike. He goes to the ball with Mrs. Stevens and Frances, and the police attend as well. He and Hughson switch places, and while Hughson dances the night away with Frances, Robie waits for The Cat. His gambit pays off and he catches the real thief – Danielle.

To Catch a Thief  is a lavish production, very colorful and big (the film as a 1:85:1 ratio, despite being shot on 35mm film). Cary Grant is in fine form, and Grace Kelly is brilliant as Frances. But the film has always felt very slow to me. Still, if you’ve never seen it – it is a must-see, a classic film of romantic suspense.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Tomorrow Never Dies

Thunderbirds Are Go

  • Title:  Thunderbirds Are Go
  • Director:  David Lane
  • Date:  1966
  • Studio:  MGM/UA
  • Genre:  SF, Children
  • Cast:  Shane Rimmer, Peter Dyneley, Sylvia Anderson, Jeremy Wilkin, Matt Zimmerman
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“OK, boys, Thunderbirds are go!” – Jeff Tracy

“Well, clearly, there’s life on Mars. But I guess it’s not life as we know it.” – Jeff

Thunderbirds Are Go is based on the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation TV series, Thunderbirds and was made at the same time. The movie is very much like a bigger, more complex and meant to be more exciting episode of the series. And that is where the film falls down, unfortunately. The film opens  with the control center for the Zero X, a manned flight to Mars. A saboteur inside the vessel is able to sabotage it, and the ship crashes into the ocean. The crew, however ejects and is rescued by normal air/sea rescue.

Two years later, there is a discussion of the crash in the wake of a 800-plus page report detailing exactly what happened. The conclusion of the report – sabotage!  However, Earth is again in position to try for Mars. The proposal to do so meets with one negative vote. The captain of the previous mission asks that International Rescue be called in to provide security and be on-hand in case anything goes wrong. The head of the space organization isn’t happy about asking for help, and refuses to do so.

Meanwhile on Tracy Island, the boys are eagerly standing in front of Jeff Tracy’s desk. Though he points out that International Rescue does not normally respond until they receive a request for help, he tells them that rules are meant to be broken and sends Scott in Thunderbird 1 and Virgil in Thunderbird 2 to Glenn Field to monitor and assist. Alan is dispatched in Thunderbird 3 to monitor from space. John is of course, on Thunderbird 5, and will only monitor communications as normal. Gordon is left at home with nothing to do. Once the boys have left, Jeff calls Lady Penelope and asks IR’s London agent to also go to Glenn Field to investigate and route out any saboteurs.

Lady Penelope, undercover as a journalist, asks one of the scientists on the mission a question, then gives him a St. Christopher medal, with a transmitter/homing beacon inside. Later, once everyone is meant to be on the ship for takeoff – she runs a check and realises Dr. Grant is not on the ship. Scott goes to investigate and unmasks a phony and saboteur. Penny locates the real Dr. Grant who is unharmed and returned to the aircraft before it takes off. Penny and Parker also chase the saboteur in FAB 1, Lady Penelope’s pink Rolls Royce. The chase includes the car turning into a hydrofoil and continuing the chase on water, and finally bringing down the saboteur’s helicopter with machine gun fire.

Meanwhile, Zero X takes off as scheduled and without difficulty. Thunderbird 2 escorts it as far as rarefied atmosphere, where Thunderbird 3 takes over and sees that the ship safely leaves Earth’s atmosphere. Alan returns in Thunderbird 3 to Tracy Island. Meanwhile, rather than returning immediately to Tracy Island, Scott and Virgil join Lady Penelope at a new nightclub called the Swinging Star. The Thunderbirds are left under guard at Glenn Field.

Back at Tracy Island, Alan isn’t happy to have heard that Scott and Virgil are going out for a night on the town. He asks Jeff for permission to go to the mainland with Tin Tin, but Jeff refuses.

That night, Alan has a dream – Lady Penelope picks him up and takes him to the Swinging Star nightclub in space. There’s instrumental music and Alan wear’s a medium blue suit, while Lady Penelope wears a stunning blue dress with a white feather boa. After the first musical number, Cliff Richards Jr. and the Shadows come on and play an elaborate number which includes them playing on FAB 1 in space, and on a giant guitar and other effects. After his musical interlude, the dream gradually becomes slightly nightmarish and Alan is woken up by his father, after he falls out of bed.

thunderbirds-are-go-5

Next, the boys, Jeff and Tin Tin are relaxing by the Tracy’s pool. Jeff notes the Zero X is now on Mars.

The film cuts to Mars, which is grey and rocky – like the moon. The Martian Excursion Vehicle rolls along the surface, while the scientists inside talk of collecting samples. The scientists and astronauts notice some unusual rock formations. They then decide to fire on one to break it down for easier collection.  This is a bad move, as the “coiled rocks” are living creatures. These “rock snakes” attack. The group in the MEV call for immediate pick-up and learn it will be a short time before the rest of the ship is in position for rendezvous. The MEV tries evasive maneuvers. Finally, the MEV takes off before the rendezvous check time. However, they safely reconnect with the ship.
On Tracy Island, Jeff and the boys discuss the amazing discovery on Mars and that the ship will return in six weeks.

Six weeks later the Zero X runs into trouble on it’s return journey.  International Rescue is called in. Not only is Zero X crashing, it’s heading for a small city, and access to the escape unit is jammed.

Scott heads to Glenn Field in Thunderbird 1 to oversee the rescue operation in Command and Control. Virgil, with Gordon and Alan, responds in Thunderbird 2. Once Thunberbird 2 gets closer to Zero X, Gordon oversees the rescue winch and Alan attempts to get aboard the Zero X to fix the escape unit system.  Brains, the engineer, reads a circuit diagram to explain to Alan what he needs to do.  Alan adds a transistor to the broken/burned out unit, and starts to re-wire it.  The pilot sends his co-pilot and navigator to the escape unit, but continues to fly the plane – such as it is, since it’s crashing.

Although Alan drops his screwdriver, and the ship is skimming the treetops, Alan’s able to re-wire the machinery. The pilot gets to the escape unit and the unit is safely ejected. Alan also ejects but isn’t able to get directly to Thunderbird 2. He is, however, safely lowered to the ground, where he’s picked-up by a waiting Lady Penelope in her pink Rolls Royce, with Parker acting as chauffeur. Lady Penelope promises to take him to the Swinging Star nightclub.

Meanwhile, the crew of Zero X are safe, including the pilot – who got into the escape unit at the last moment.  The plane itself, however, crashes into the city – presumably without harming anyone on the ground since the area was evacuated.

At the Swinging Star, Alan is wearing a fake mustache disguise. He soon learns that the rest of his family, including Jeff, are at the next table also in disguise. They congratulate Alan and toast him as an hero.

Thunderbirds Are Go has a few problems. First, for a movie that should be about a fantastic rescue – it isn’t really. The first Zero X goes down, but the crew are rescued by conventional means. When the Thunderbirds go to escort the second Zero X, other than routing out a saboteur, there’s no need for them to be there because the launch goes off perfectly. When the Zero X gets into trouble on Mars, they are too far away to call International Rescue – even Thunderbird 3, and they rescue themselves. And finally, the actual rescue at the end seems rushed. Alan does get to be the hero, but he’s also a seasoned professional (if anything Gordon and John get slighted in the story). Also, although the crew is rescued, always the most important thing for International Rescue – rescuing people; one really has to wonder about the wisdom of allowing a very large spaceship to crash into a city. I mean, Did they really think it would be completely evacuated?  And then there’s the fantasy dream sequence. The whole film is slow, clunky, and feels like two or more Thunderbirds TV episodes cobbled together.

The positives are of course the model work, which is really good, even though the models do scream that they are, in fact, models, and not something realistic. It’s worth noting that Derek Meddings, who did the model work for the series, this film, and many of Gerry Anderson’s other series; also worked on Doctor Who, the James Bond feature films, and had a distinguished career in special effects. I have this and Thunderbird 6 to round-out my collection of Thunderbirds DVDs. I also have the entire TV series. But other than as a collectible, it’s not really worth it.

Recommendation:  Skip it
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Thunderbird 6

Singin’ in the Rain

  • Title:  Singin’ in the Rain
  • Director:  Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
  • Date:  1952
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance, Comedy
  • Cast:  Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Cyd Charisse, Rita Moreno
  • Format:  Standard, Technicolor
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Dignity, always dignity.”  — Don Lockwood

“What do you think I am?  Dumb or something?”  Lina

“Everybody’s always making speeches for me, well tonight I’m going to do my own talking, I’m going to make the speech!” — Lina

It should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of Fred Astaire (see links on left to his many films that I own) so, even though I think it’s perfectly possible to like both, I’m much less of a fan of Gene Kelly.  Kelly definitely has a very different dancing style — he’s athletic, and dances like a gymnast but he’s also very heavy.  While Astaire dances on air — and seems to float with grace and style, Kelly is very down to earth and almost working class, even when playing a rich, successful, film star as he does in Singin’ in the the Rain.

The film starts with a 1927 film premiere, which is reminiscent of  an Oscar Red Carpet night, complete with a female commentator, who announces the stars as they arrive.  Soon, one of the film’s stars arrives, Don Lockwood (Kelly), who is convinced to tell his well-known story to the audience.  He does, but the pictures in the resulting montage are the exact opposite of his words.  It is a very nice piece of ironic humor to start the film.

However, it is also ironically, and unintentionally, a comment on the studio system of film-making, of which MGM was a prime (but not the only) example.  The studio would create background stories, publicity images, even the names of their stars, as well as choosing which films their stars made and who their co-stars were.  Studio system actors, in a very real sense, were “just doing a job” — they showed up, made that month’s picture, then the next, and the next, and the next.  This is one reason why film stars of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, racked up huge numbers of films if they stayed in the business.

Just as Lockwood and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), the stars of Monumental Pictures, start their new film, “The Dueling Cavalier”, Warner Brother’s “The Jazz Singer” comes out and is a smashing success.  “R.F.”, the head of  the studio, decides “The Dueling Cavalier”, will be a talking picture.  Don and Lina are given voice / diction lessons, but whereas Don takes to it like a duck to water, Lina, whom the studio has not allowed to speak in public, has trouble.  Her voice is loud, squeaky, obnoxious, and her manner is rude, self-centered, and shrewish.  Not only is her voice a distraction, but she is unable to figure out she must direct her voice towards the microphone, or that playing with her costume (notably a strand of fake pearls) will cause extra noise that’s a distraction on the film.  In short, Lina, is a disaster, though probably not entirely due to her own fault.

The new film is shown to a preview audience, and the crowd roars with laughter (for a serious, historic romance), and many complain it’s the worst they have ever seen while leaving the theater.  RF, Don, and Don’s friend, Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) are devastated. But, Kathy (Debbie Reynolds), a young starlet and acting hopeful, that Don has been pursing, has an idea — make the film into a musical.  Cosmo points out that Lina also can’t sing or dance.  Then he gets an idea:  Kathy will dub Lina’s lines, and sing for her.  They take the plan to RF, who loves it.  Don suggests they save what they can of the film by making it about a “young hoofer” (that is, a dancer) who goes to New York to seek his fortune on the stage, while backstage he’s hit by a falling sandbag, and dreams he’s in the French Revolution (the footage already shot of “The Dueling Cavalier”), the title of the film will be changed to “The Dancing Cavalier”.

Everything goes to plan until Lina finds out what’s going on, and about Kathy dubbing for her.  She’s extremely angry and releases a story to the press about her phenomenal singing voice.  She also points out to RF she’s in charge of her own publicity.  Therefore, RF’s plans of giving Kathy screen credit, and making it plain in the press she was a new star and would star in new films with Don goes up in smoke.

The new film’s premiere is a success, and Lina insists she will make Kathy dub her voice for the next five years, ruining Kathy’s own career.  She makes a speech to the crowd, which goes over only so-so, then at the crowd’s insistence, sings the reprise of  “Singin’ in the Rain”, getting Kathy to dub it for her. However, Don, Cosmo, and RF pull the curtain back, revealing that the excellent voice is, in fact, Kathy.

List of  Musical Numbers

  • Fit as a Fiddle
  • All I Do is Dream of  You
  • Make ‘Em Laugh
  • You Were Meant For Me
  • Moses Supposes
  • Good Morning
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Would You?
  • Broadway Melody / Broadway Rhythm
  • Singin’ in the Rain (Reprise)
  • You Are My Lucky Star

Most of  the music from Singin’ in the Rain, isn’t original at all — it’s from Warner Brothers and RKO musicals from the late 1920s up to the mid-1930s.  Even the title tune is from the Hollywood Review of 1929, while “Good Morning” is from Babes in Arms (1939).  However, “Singin’ in the Rain” with Gene Kelly gleefully walking, striding, singing, and dancing in a cold, rainy street is an excellent number.  I also liked the less-than-serious “Moses Supposes” (Kelly and O’Connor, partner tap) and the energetic “Good Morning” (Reynolds, Kelly, and O’Connor, trio partner tap).  The finale is typical of big, technicolor, MGM musicals, with several moods, changes of  set and costume, lots of show dancing, and even two lovely ballet numbers starring Cyd Charisse dancing opposite Gene Kelly.

However, the film is very anti-feminist in it’s attitudes.  Lina, is made fun of and gets her come-uppance, not only because she’s a “shrew” but because she insists on being in charge of her own career, and speaking for herself.  Whereas Kathy is a good girl and always does what she’s told – by Don and RF especially.  Lina’s goal, speaking for herself, making her own career decisions, and basically not being pushed around, isn’t so bad.  Yes, she misbehaves (especially towards Kathy whom she sees as a threat to her relationship with Don), but you know what they say about well-behaved women (they rarely make history).  There’s also the inherent age-ism of  a young starlet replacing a more mature actress. Overall, what she wants and her behavior isn’t that bad, considering, and the way she’s belittled, made fun of, and embarrassed — not to mention the complete loss of  her career is a bit harsh of a punishment.

Recommendation:  See it (if only for the dance sequences)
Rating:  3.5 out of  5
Next Film:  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Royal Wedding

  • Title:  Royal Wedding
  • Director:  Stanley Donen
  • Date:  1951
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, Sarah Churchill, Keenan Wynn
  • Format:  Standard, Technicolor
  • DVD:  R1, NTSC

“Do I look like a gentleman?” — Jaime, Anne’s father
“Jaime, you look like a banker.” — Tom
“But do I look like a gentleman?” — Jaime

Tom (Astaire) and Ellen (Powell) Bowen are a brother-sister Broadway act, with a hit show, “Every Night at Seven”.  Their show is so successful that their agent gets a call from England, an offer for the two to open their show in London in time for the summer Royal Wedding (of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip).  Aboard the steamer ship bound for the UK, Ellen meets Lord John Brindale (Lawford), and the two begin to date once the ship reaches England.  Meanwhile, on the first day of casting and rehearsals in London, Tom bumps into Anne Ashmond (Sarah Churchill), and they also begin to date.  Eventually, the show, “Every Night at Seven” also opens in London.  Tom has one of his contacts check out Anne’s American fiance’ who had returned to Chicago then failed to contact her – turns out he’s now married. This frees up Anne, and she proposes to Tom.  Meanwhile, Lord Brindale has also proposed to Ellen.  At first, Tom and Ellen are reluctant to marry and break up the act.  However, with “wedding fever” in the air because of  the Royal Wedding, they quickly change their minds and the film ends with the double wedding of Tom and Anne and Ellen and John.

Royal Wedding seems, in part, to be drawn from parallels to Astaire’s own real life — he got his start first in vaudeville and then on Broadway, with his sister Adelle as his dance partner.  When she left the stage to marry, he wasn’t sure what to do, before someone (thankfully!) suggested Hollywood, and the rest, as they say is history.  But by having Powell and Astaire playing brother and sister, rather than having them romantically linked, there’s a playful side to this film that is enjoyable.  Some of the scenes between the two are quite fun, and more of their teasing and kidding each other could have vastly improved the film. The problem with the film is that MGM and Arthur Freed apparently love to play with toys and don’t know when to put them away.  In one number, Astaire dances with a coat rack / hat stand and various pieces of gym equipment in the steamer ship’s gymnasium while waiting for Ellen to show for rehearsal.  In another, the floor Ellen and Tom are dancing on tilts wildly as the ship navigates rough waters.  And, finally, this is the film where Astaire dances on the walls and ceiling of  a room (as well as Anne’s photo). Astaire was a gifted, fluid, and graceful dancer — yet in the “dance on the ceiling” routine, he looks uncomfortable and like he can barely manage the moves — it’s painful to watch.  Astaire doesn’t need tricks – I wish MGM would have just let the man dance in his later films (this is also why I much prefer Astaire’s early work, especially when he was paired with Ginger Rogers).

Also, my copy of this film is in horrible shape.  There’s a “outdoor” scene between Powell and Lord Brindale which is very muddy and overly red.  Some restoration work wouldn’t come amiss at all.

Finally, Powell sings three solos in this film — and she can’t sing.  I just don’t enjoy her singing voice at all. I will say, though, that her few dance scenes with Astaire, despite make-up and costumes that seem designed to make both her and Astaire look terrible, are good.  I do think Jane has better chemistry with Astaire than Eleanor Powell did.  The Astiare/Powell brother/sister act is fun.

List of  Musical  Numbers

  • “Every Night at Seven”  — Astaire, Vocals; Astaire and Powell, Dance
  • Musical number and dance, no vocals (Astaire dances with hat stand, gym equipment)
  • “How Could You Believe I Love You”/”I’m a Liar” – Astaire and Powell, vocals and dance
  • “You’re the World to Me” — Astaire with Anne’s photo, dances on walls, ceiling
  • “I Left My Hat in Haiti” — Astaire, vocals and dance segues to production number
  • “Lovely Day for a Wedding” — Background
Recommendation:  It’s OK, but disappointing
Rating:  3 of  5
Next Film:  Running Scared

Cabaret

  • Title:  Cabaret
  • Director:  Bob Fosse
  • Date:  1972
  • Studio:  Allied Artists (DVD released by Warner Bros.)
  • Genre:  Musical, Drama
  • Cast:  Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Joel Grey
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You can’t stand Maximilian because he’s everything you’re not! He doesn’t have to give English lessons for three Marks an hour, he’s rich! And he knows about life, he doesn’t read about it in books.  He’s suave and he’s divinely sexy. And he really appreciates a woman!” — Sally
“Oh screw Maximilian!” — Brian
“I do.” — Sally
“So do I.” — Brian

“It’s also an established fact, Herr Ludwig, there’s also another well-organised group of which you’re obviously a member; the International Conspiracy of horses asses!”  — Brian

Cabaret as a film reminds me of quote from Bax Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge:  It’s the story of a time, it’s the story of a place, [and] it’s a story of love. However, the love stories in Cabaret are more complicated and end less happily than the story in Moulin Rouge. Set in 1931 in Berlin, Cabaret is the story of the people that meet, come together, and leave, at the Kit Kat Klub – a wild cabaret. The main story is about Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), an American Cabaret singer who wants to be an actress, Brian (Michael York), a British student who comes to Berlin with no money and teaches English to survive, Maximilian, a married, bisexual German Baron looking to find anyone to fill his bed, Fritz a friend of Brian’s who’s hiding a few major secrets, and Natalia a rich Jewish woman who falls for Fritz. At the club, the all-knowing EmCee (Grey) rules.

The film draws you in slowly to it’s story of these diverse characters. Sally, especially, is a fascinating young woman. The daughter of an ambassador, she claims, she may have grown-up with wealth and privilege, but she finds herself with a two-room apartment in a boarding house, working all day and singing at the Cabaret all night. Sally drinks, smokes, and fools around. In some ways, she’s the female counterpart of Joe Gideon in Fosse’s other classic, All That Jazz.  And Sally has no problems letting everyone know just how willing she is to sleep with men to get whatever she can. Quite by chance, she meets Brian, and the two become friends then lovers.

However, before long the two meet Maximilian. Sally immediately begins sleeping with him, simply because he showers her with gifts and money. Brian, who had explained to Sally that he had slept with three women before and all were disasters, and has now fallen for Sally, is also taken under Maximilian’s spell, especially when the three of them spend a “dirty weekend” together at Maximilian’s country house.

Brian also meets and befriends Fritz, a shy German, who comes to him to learn English. Fritz falls for Natalia, another of Brian’s students but it’s Sally who gives Fritz advice about how to get Natalia interested in him, since she keeps turning him down flat. Eventually, Natalia calls Sally to her house and confesses she is also in love with Fritz but the relationship is impossible.

Throughout the film, the action is intercut with the entertainment at the Kit Kat Club, all introduced by the mysterious EmCee, including Sally’s musical numbers. The Club will put anything on the stage — female dancers and singers; female mud wrestlers; a parody of German folk singers; a duet between the EmCee and a guy in a Gorilla suit dressed as a ballerina. Nothing is sacred and everything goes at the Cabaret. However, when the film does cut to the Cabaret, often whatever’s on stage parallels the dramatic storyline. This intercutting is Fosse’s true genius.

When Sally discovers she’s pregnant, she tells Brian, also telling him she will have to sell the fur coat Maximilian gave her to pay for an abortion. When Brian asks who the father is – Sally insists she doesn’t know. And considering she’s been sleeping with Brian, Maximilian, and other men she’s picked up at the club, she honestly does not. Brian proposes, and insists that he doesn’t care — he’ll help her raise the baby no matter what. They can return to Cambridge, and he will get his teaching Fellowship. At first, Sally agrees.

Meanwhile, Fritz and Natalia’s relationship is at an standstill, and Natalia insists it can’t continue. But Fritz admits to Brian that he’s secretly Jewish. When he came to Berlin, on the papers he filed, he had listed his religion as Protestant, but he isn’t. Brian convinces him to tell Natalia. Fritz does that, and Sally and Brian witness the wedding.

However, despite Brian’s wishes, Sally is full of doubt. She spends a night at the Cabaret, having an unheard conversation with the EmCee. When she returns to Brian that night, she’s without her fur coat. Brian badgers her until she admits she did have the abortion. Brian is livid – and decides to leave her. Before long, he’s returning to Cambridge. Sally goes back to the Cabaret, and that night belts out a triumphant version of the film’s title tune, “Cabaret”. We finally see just how much Sally loves the stage, as she comes to life on stage, more glowingly alive than at any part previously in the film — and this for an independently spirited woman who is the exact opposite of a shrinking violet. However, Sally’s pure happiness on the stage will be short-lived, the film ends with reflections seen through the glass side divider of the Cabaret stage of the Nazis in the audience. Soon the lives of everyone in the film will be in danger; and most of them, even Sally will probably be dead. It’s a haunting ending.

There is also a chilling scene earlier in the picture, on the way back from their dirty weekend, Maximilian, Brian, and Sally are at some sort of outdoor German festival. There, a Hitler youth stands and sings “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”, a patriotic German song. At first alone, soon others stand and join in. By the end of the song, nearly all the young people in the audience are standing and singing. Most of the older people remain sitting, however. It’s a frightening visual and auditory illustration of exactly what is happening in Germany. Brian, seeing the display, gathers Sally and Maximilian and leaves.

In another scene, Brian gets in an argument with his German co-boarders at Sally’s boarding house. He goes out in the street and a Nazi party member tries to foist a Nazi paper on him. Brian refuses it, yells at the Nazi, then knocks over the flag. He’s beaten senseless for his trouble.

The owner of the Kit Kat Club had also kicked some Nazis out of the club — he’s also beaten senseless for his actions.

But the brilliance of Cabaret is in it’s use of intercutting — the songs that Sally or the EmCee or both sing at the club are often intercut with and reflect the dramatic plot; but they don’t illustrate the plot. This isn’t a musical where plot points are sung – it’s almost as if the music at the club is the background to the storyline. And the club is a wild place, a place of the underworld, but a place of ships passing in the night. Also, throughout all the club numbers and performances – the audience sees figures walking between the camera and the Cabaret stage, almost as if we are in a club and people are moving around. There is also the sound of  talking, clinking glasses, clapping, laughing, etc. The people moving between the camera and the stage also provides a wipe point for editing.

List of  Musical Numbers

  • Mien Herr – Liza Minnelli
  • Everybody Loves a Winner – Liza Minnelli
  • The Money Song (Money Makes the World Go ’round) – Minnelli and Grey
  • Two Ladies – Grey
  • Tomorrow Belongs to Me – Hitler Youth (and it’s terrifying)
  • Cabaret – Liza Minnelli
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 Stars
Next Film:  Royal Wedding

North by Northwest

  • Title:  North by Northwest
  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Date:  1959
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Suspense
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Leo G. Carroll, Edward Platt, Martin Landau
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Hello? Hello, Mother? This is your son, Roger Thornhill…”  — Roger (Cary Grant)

“Apparently, the poor sucker got mistaken for George Kaplan.” — Anonymous Spy 1
“How’d he get mistaken for George Kaplan, when George Kaplan doesn’t even exist?” — Anonymous Spy 2

North by Northwest is a very fun, enjoyable, romantic (in both senses) and exciting Hitchcock film. The film’s entire plot rests on a case of mistaken identity. Grant is Roger Thornhill, an Madison Ave (NY) advertising executive, who is meeting some friends and business associates in a hotel bar, when he realizes he needs to send a telegram. He raises his hand to call over the hotel telegram boy just as the telegram boy is calling out for George Kaplan. This is observed by two foreign agents, and thus the snowball starts to roll downhill. The agents assume Thornhill is Kaplan, and kidnap him, taking him to a house in the country. There, he is questioned, and forced to drink a bottle of bourbon. They then pour Thornhill into a car, hoping he will have a nasty accident. Thornhill, however, is somewhat familiar with drunk driving, and he’s able to make his escape, though he is spotted by the police and arrested for drunk driving.

The next morning, Thornhill and his lawyer, played by Edward Platt, attempt to explain what happened. Of course, there is no evidence at the country estate that anything happened, and the hostess who answers the door puts on a performance, claiming she was worried after he’d gotten tipsy at a dinner party. Thornhill pays his $2.00 fine.

Thornhill then returns to New York, searches Kaplan’s hotel room and goes to the United Nations building to meet Townsend, the man who kidnapped him the previous night, he thinks. But the man he meets isn’t the Townsend (James Mason) who kidnapped him. Before he can get any answers, or straighten out the mess, Townsend is killed by a thrown knife. Thornhill, like an idiot, picks up the knife — and his picture is snapped as he does so. With no other choice, he goes on the lam, sneaking aboard a train bound for Chicago, because that was where Kaplan was scheduled to go.

Meanwhile, we meet “The Professor” (Leo G. Carroll) and his merry band of spies. They discuss the issue of Thornhill, and their fake agent “Kaplan”, as well as their real agent who will be in danger, if they step in and clear Thornhill. “The Professor” declares they must do nothing.

On the Chicago-bound train, Thornhill meets Eve Kendall, who hides him. Grant and Kendall immediately have a connection, trading flirty dialogue. In Chicago, Kendall arranges for Grant to meet Kaplan; but we also see her talking to Leonard (Martin Landau), Townsend’s chief henchman, on the phone. Kendall’s directions lead Thornhill to a dry, dusty, deserted road in the middle of a cornfield. He’s attacked by a crop duster.

Thornhill survives that, confronts Kendall, and Grant’s performance is excellent. He’s very icy and cold when he confronts her — subtlely seething with anger that she betrayed him. He then follows her to an auction. Townsend (Mason), his henchmen, and “The Professor” as well as Kendall are all there. When it looks like he’s going to be caught by Townend’s goons, Grant makes a scene at the auction and gets himself arrested. But he’s released and taken to the airport by Carroll. “The Professor” explains more of the plot, before taking him, by plane, to South Dakota.

There, by the Mt. Rushmore monument, the film winds down to it’s conclusion.

Hitchcock uses a lot of very high angle shots in North by Northwest, almost like a kid with a new toy, but it does work. Grant is fantastic as the confused innocent. Eva Marie Saint plays Kendall with icy maturity, even in her more romantic scenes with Grant. The supporting cast is great. Leo G. Carroll, of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. plays a very Mr. Waverly-like character as the un-named head of some un-named security organization. In fact, the entire film almost seems like a pilot for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. at times, but with a much bigger budget. Martin Landau is menacing, and quiet, as Leonard, James Mason’s henchman. And James Mason himself has a cold, sophisticated, frightening evilness about him. Edward Platt, of TV’s Get Smart, as a brief but fun role as Thornhill’s overworked lawyer. Overall, the film is great fun. The bi-wing crop duster chasing Grant in the cornfield, and the climatic chase across the face of Mt. Rushmore are famous movie scenes, that are also quite enjoyable to see intact and in context.

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

Gone with the Wind

  • Title:  Gone with the Wind
  • Director:  Victor Fleming
  • Date:  1939
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Classic, Romance, Historical Epic
  • Cast:  Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia deHavilland, Ann Rutherford
  • Format:  Technicolor, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Most of the miseries of the world were caused by wars, and when the wars were over — no one ever knew what they were about.”  — Ashley Wilkes

“No, I don’t think I will kiss you.  Although you need kissing and badly, that’s what’s wrong with you.  You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.”  — Rhett Butler

“What a woman!” — Rhett Butler

Gone with the Wind sweeps you into it’s story gradually but completely.  You are quickly immersed in the story and the characters.  And the film is really Scarlett’s story.  Scarlett O’Hara, despite first appearances, in a way is a very modern character, and at times a strong woman.  She’s manipulative, determined, strong and feisty, and she knows what she wants (or thinks she does).  She’s willing to do whatever she has to do, whenever she has to.  Scarlett is in sharp contrast to Melanie (deHavilland) who’s kind and generous — to a fault, and weak and even, at times, a bit simple.  Melanie can be strong (watch her face down Union troopers in the second half of the film for example), and she’s honest about her feelings and in her marriage to Ashley (her much older cousin).  DeHavilland is fantastic in her thankless role as the perfect Melanie.  Scarlett’s sisters never learn anything about strength, or getting what they want (which is simply a husband to care and provide for them) and whine and simper-on throughout the film.  Scarlett never once whines or complains, not really, she just does what needs to be done, or what she thinks she needs to do (and she doesn’t care at all who she hurts in the process). Essentially Scarlett’s a bitch in both the good and bad sense of the word.  Because in some circles to be a bitch is a compliment, and in some circles it’s the only way to really survive.  And whatever else you say about Scarlett O’Hara — she’s a survivor.

When we meet Scarlett, she’s not that impressive — she comes off as dumb, and shallow, concerned only with her looks, and her beaus.  But even in the beginning of the film it’s suggested she’s not as dumb as she pretends – she just acts that way because it’s how she’s been taught and how she thinks she can get a man.  However, she soon finds out the man she’s “wanted”, who she thinks really loves her, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) from the plantation next door, is going to marry his cousin Melanie, instead.  We aren’t told if this is an arranged marriage or a love match.  Ashley and Melanie are actually well suited to each other — both are kind and gentle, always doing what’s expected, never raising any controversy, filling their roles the way one was expected to — given the times and their statuses.  Scarlett, throughout the film says both aloud and by her actions that she loves Ashley and that she’s convinced he loves her — even when both are married to other people.

The war (the American Civil War) comes and all the men go off to fight.  Ashley and Melanie have been married.  Scarlett, in a fit of pique, marries Charles, Melanie’s brother, even though Charles was her sister’s beau.  Charles dies of pneumonia during the war.  Scarlett really doesn’t care, and even rebels at wearing Widow’s Weeds and not dancing at the next round of society balls (which at this point are only being held as war fund raisers).  She gives in to convention, though, and manages to look stunning in black.  (At the time, only a widow would have worn black, especially at a society function).  During the society ball, she manages to arrange things so each of the women will be “auctioned off” for dances. Rhett Butler bids on and wins Scarlett.  She’s so desperate to dance, she takes him up on it, claiming it’s for charity (we know it’s not).  Rhett is the dashing stranger — he’s avoided service in the war because he has no desire to get himself  killed and he hates all the waste of  war.  Rhett’s a gambler, a blockade runner, and a rakish rogue.  He’s trouble and considering Scarlett is as well — they are very suited to each other.  Even Rhett says to her, they are two of a kind.

Scarlett and Melanie end up in Atlanta, working as nurses to help the wounded.  Scarlett doesn’t particularly like this duty, but she knows she must do it.  Melanie has Ashley’s baby (nine months after his Christmas leave). She’s sick and ill just before and during the birth, but Scarlett manages to figure out and help with the process.  By this time, the war is nearly over, and Sherman’s troops are marching on Atlanta.  Rhett comes to the rescue of the three women (Scarlett, Melanie, and Scarlett’s maid, Prissy) and the baby.  He gets them out of Atlanta and safely on the road to Tara, Scarlett’s home, then leaves, informing Scarlett he’s going to join the war effort for a last stand.

Scarlett manages to make it the rest on the way on her own, seeing Twelve Oaks (the Wilkes plantation) burned to the ground on the way.  Tara’s survived, but her family’s in ruins:  her mother has died, her sisters are still weak and ill from a fever that killed her mother, and her father’s gone out of his head from shock.  Saddled with a another sickly and physically weak woman and a baby, Scarlett endures.  She finds that her home still stands, but it sits in the middle of a wasteland, and there’s no food or money. Scarlett runs out into a field, eats a carrot she finds, and starts to throw up.  Then  she holds up her hand, “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again,” she swears.  This is the end of part one, and the intermission card is on the DVD.

Part two picks up during the Reconstruction.  Scarlett is told she needs three hundred dollars to pay the taxes on her home.  That might not sound like much, but in the 1860s/1870s it was a small fortune, especially when you have absolutely no way of making any money.  Scarlett uses a pair of drapes to sew herself a new dress and tries to get the money from Rhett Butler.  He’s in a union jail (stockade) and can’t access his money which is in a London bank.  (After all, it’s not like they had ATMs back then, and though he could access his funds via bank draft, it could be traced and the money taken — this is a risk Butler isn’t willing to take).  Scarlett then runs into Frank Kennedy, another of Sue Ellen (her sister’s) beaus. She marries Frank to get at his money that he’s made running a general merchandise store, and convinces him to buy the lumber mill next door.  Scarlett saves Tara, but lives in Atlanta, running the mill and lumber business.

Scarlett proves to be a shrewd businesswoman, running the mill (though Ashley Wilkes is her partner in name), at a time when women seldom worked, much less ran their own businesses.  However, one day she takes a horse and buggy (another concept the ladies in town find scandelous – Scarlett driving her own buggy, alone) through a bad area of town.  She’s attacked.  Rhett Butler shows up and rescues her. Scarlett, Melanie and the other girls have a sewing party, and Scarlett knows something is going on, but doesn’t know what.  She later learns Ashley, her husband, Frank, and several other men have gone to attack the men who attacked Scarlett.  Frank’s killed.  Ashley returns, wounded, but alive.  (Rhett again comes to the rescue, faking being drunk, with Ashley faking being even drunker, as in the local doctor, so they can get into Tara which is being guarded by Reconstructionist/Union troops on the lookout for the men who attacked the men who attacked Scarlett).  A widow again, and in Widow weeds, again, Rhett proposes to Scarlett.  They marry and soon have a daughter, Bonnie.

Scarlett, however, is so vain, that after the birth of  her daughter, she decides not to have any more children because it will ruin her figure.  Rhett considers divorcing Scarlett when she tells him this, but decides to stay. He’s fallen for Scarlett, despite their tendency to constantly fight, and Scarlett’s drinking issues.

When Bonnie’s around eight, Rhett gets fed-up and takes Bonnie with him on a trip to England, when they return dual tragedies occur:  Bonnie’s killed in a horse-jumping accident (it really is one of  the saddest moments of the entire film), and Scarlett, who’s gotten pregnant again, despite her intentions, falls/is pushed down a flight of stairs, gets sick, and has a miscarriage.  Her second pregnancy is interesting anyway because it’s the result of something seldom talked about now, and certainly not in 1939 — marital rape.  (She’s drunk/he’s drunk — they fight, he carries her up the stairs and literally has his way with her, then leaves for London the next day).  Also, the scene on the stairs between Rhett and Scarlett is filmed in such a way that we really don’t know if Scarlett fell by accident, if she fell accidentally on purpose to anger Rhett, or if Rhett was so angry at her he pushed her without thinking.  Whatever — he’s devastated by the two losses.  It doesn’t help that though Scarlett calls out for him, all the women around her decide not to tell  Rhett she wants him with her when she’s ill.  Shortly thereafter, Melanie, who was told not to have more children, get’s pregnant, has a miscarriage, and dies of sepsis  (or possibly pre-eclampsia). She even tells Scarlett to look after Ashley for her.  Scarlett talks to Ashley though, and finally realises she really loves Rhett, and her feelings for Ashley were a childish crush and a pipe dream.  She goes to tell Rhett — but he basically doesn’t believe her and leaves her.  In the end, Scarlett’s bereft and without a man, but she realises that she does still have the one thing that really matters — land, Tara, her home.   Somehow, Scarlett will be just fine.

Gone with the Wind really is a great film.  It’s more than simply a romance or a war film.  It’s unusual in that the entire film is told from the point of view of a woman — and not a goody-goody woman, but a woman who’s complex, scheming and manipulative.  And unlike the designing women or femme fatales of the Film Noir films, Scarlett isn’t made to fatally suffer for her mis-doings.  The film sweeps you up and into it’s world and it’s characters.  Vivien Leigh is gorgeous, and gives an incredible performance as Scarlett.  Clark Gable is fantastic as Rhett Butler.  The rest of the cast shine in their roles, sometimes in the smallest and simplest scenes (such as the conversation between Melanie and the Atlanta madam Miss Belle after she hides Ashley and saves his life).

The film also looks gorgeous — it’s a early Technicolor film, and the colors just pop right off the screen.  I loved the restoration work on my copy — it looks brand new, with no color bleeding or red cast.  There are scenes in Gone with the Wind that still impress, such as the burning of  Atlanta.  The film is of course, based on a novel, and print screen cards appear not just at the beginning of  the film, but throughout the movie explaining what is going on, especially in the larger canvas of the Civil War — it adds to the scope of the film.

The politics of the film deserve a mention — this is a film that white-washes (no pun intended) the Old South, and slavery in particular.  Blacks (called “darkies” in the film — even by Scarlett and Rhett) are referred to as servants, not the slaves they were.  They are also portrayed as being well treated and taken care of and happy with their lot (something that simply wasn’t true).  The film is definitely sympathetic to the South.  However, that speaks volumes about the times when the film was made (1939) and the times the film portrays (the 1860s) as well as the point-of-view of the author of the book. Students can learn from such a film what attitudes were in the past, and then learn what the harsh realities were.

About the famous slapping scene, though — often it’s taken, completely out of context as an example of the film’s racism.  However, when Scarlett slaps Prissy — she’s hysterical.  Scarlett could have easily have slapped a white woman who was behaving in such a fashion.  And Scarlett pretty much slaps everyone in the film at one point or another (including her sister, Rhett, Ashley, and possibly even Melanie – but again to wake her up).  Slapping Prissy is not out of character for Scarlett, it’s in character.  And considering Prissy’s hysterical at the time — she needed to be slapped (it’s film grammar for shutting up a hysterical woman).  Besides, in the film’s context — Prissy is Scarlett’s slave, not a servant, and technically Scarlett had the right to hit her.  Not that it’s right, but there you go.  There’s a lot more in Gone with the Wind that is on the racist side, but that scene isn’t one of those things.  It certainly isn’t something worth banning the film for, as has been proposed occasionally.

Overall, a really remarkable film and a must see.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Mary Poppins