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

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

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


  • 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

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

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

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


  • Title:  Indiscreet
  • Director:  Stanley Donen
  • Date:  1958
  • Studio:  Republic Pictures
  • Genre:  Romance
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m the wrongest woman you’ve ever seen and I’m going to pay him back with interest!”  — Ingrid Bergman

Probably one of Cary Grant’s less-known romances, I picked it up in a bargain bin someplace.  However, the presence of Ingrid Bergman makes the film watchable.  The plot is also a bit backwards or reversed — where else would one see a woman get extremely angry and plotting her revenge when she discovers her lover of several months is not married.

Bergman plays Anna, a well-known actress of some acclaim.  She’s wealthy and independent, and bored stiff by the parade of suitors at her door.

Grant is Philip, a diplomat, who bores easily and thus has come to the conclusion he should remain a bachelor.

Anna and Philip meet thanks to another couple and go to a dinner together, they have a marvelous time, and Anna invites Philip to her apartment for a “nightcap”.  Philip accepts the invitation, then tells her he’s married, he’s separated from his wife, and he can’t get a divorce.  And so begins their affair.  Philip turns down a job in Mexico and accepts a job working for NATO in Paris, then flies to London every weekend to spend time with Anna.  The two attend ballets and gallery openings and they enjoy dinners and long walks.  They spend several months together in their “illicit” affair.  And slowly the two fall in love.

Things begin to unravel when Philip is “offered” a job in New York, a job he has to take that will take him away from London for five months.  Anna is heart-broken that he will leave her.  But Philip has a surprise, he talks her into toasting him at midnight, on her birthday, the next day — when he’s supposed to be on a boat for the US.  Anna’s brother-in-law confronts him about his secret — he’s not married, he’s single. Philip explains he came up with the lie of a non-existent wife to avoid having to say “He’s not the marrying kind”, but admits his plan to surprise Anna on her birthday.  The brother-in-law, finding out from Anna that she plans to fly to the US to meet Philip, talks her out of it by saying, essentially, “but he plans on surprising you by being here”.  Unfortunately, he slips up and also tells her Philip is single, which enrages Anna.

That night there’s a big dance at the same place where Philip and Anna had their first date.  Anna seethes through the entire evening; and plots her revenge when she sees an old suitor at the dance, and someone sends her a red rose – she assumes it’s from the old suitor.  There is a very nice scene of country dancing by the way!

That night, supposedly their last night together, Anna plays games with Philip.  Bergman’s performance, like the scene where she loses it when she learns the truth about Philip, is brilliant.  She can bring so many emotions to relatively simple dialogue!  The next night, her birthday, Anna’s filled her flat with roses and candles, and plans for David to meet her for dinner, half an hour before Philip is due to surprise her. David, fortunately, is struck down with appendicitis and doesn’t make it.  Anna attempts to substitute Karl, her Chauffeur for David, only to have the mess backfire on her.  Fortunately, Philip comes in to give her a second chance, after all he did propose to her!  And they all live happily ever after.

Again, a fairly standard romantic movie, not a lot of entanglements.  If David, Anna’s old suitor, has actually been a character in the film and not just someone who’s mentioned (even if played by Ralph Bellamy) it would have worked a bit better and given the film some more tension.  But still, the leads are good actors, and it has a slightly unusual plot.

Recommendation:  Not bad if you’re in the mood for romance
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  It Happened One Night

Charade (1953)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bandwagon

  • Title: The Bandwagon
  • Director: Vincente Minnelli
  • Date: 1953
  • Studio: MGM
  • Genre: Musical
  • Cast: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan
  • Format: Standard, Technicolor
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC, 2-disc Special Edition

“We enter with nothing but a dream – but when we leave we’ll have a show! In between there will be enthusiasms, frustrations, hot tempers, cold coffee, some of us will fight, some will fall in love but all of us will work… The night that curtain goes up it will go up on a smash hit! And believe me kids, there’s nothing in the world so soothing as a smash hit.” — Jeffrey Cordova

“Gosh, with all this raw talent around, why can’t us kids get together and put on ourselves a show!” — Lester Martin

The Bandwagon is, in many ways, a parody of the standard WB/MGM musical. It certainly has a light-hearted twist on many of the conventions of a musical. Astaire is Tony a “song and dance man”, “a hoofer”, who left Broadway and went to Hollywood, making his fame in a string of musical films, such as “Swinging Down to Panama” (a reference to the classic Astaire / Rogers film Swing Time and Astaire’s first film with Ginger Rogers – Flying Down to Rio). But, that was ages ago, and in the opening scene he sells his top hat, gloves, and dance cane to raise enough money to buy himself a ticket back to New York, where some old friends have promised him a role in a new stage play to be directed by the famous Jeffrey Cordova. Tony hasn’t heard of Cordova, but any job is a job, so he agrees to see him. Tony’s first sight of Cordova is on stage – playing Oedipus Rex, Tony scoffs – “This is the man that’s going to direct a musical?” But his friends, Lily and Lester Martin (Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant) assure him Cordova can do anything.

The next issue Tony has is his co-star — Lily, Lester, and Jeffrey have choosen, Gabrielle – a ballerina (Cyd Charisse). Tony, besides thinking she’s too tall, is intimidated by the cool dancer. Gabby also has her own doubts – not only intimidated by Tony but worried she won’t be able to handle the pressures of a Broadway show.

And what a show – Jeffrey takes Lily and Lester’s light-hearted musical comedy and turns it into a dark, gloomy, musical version of Faust. And yes, it does turn into the disaster you’d expect. In fact, the first half-hour of the film involves the pulling together of the musical, and their first out-of-town show, which is a complete flop. That the show is a flop instead of a rousing success is the exact opposite of many musicals about the pulling together of a Broadway show.  The shocked faces of the audience and backers as they exit the theatre are amusing, but the cast of the show is in trouble.

At the after-show cast “wake” Tony takes the reins, and with the help of Lily and Lester decides to take the show back to it’s roots – testing in each city on the road until they are ready to go back to New York. Even Jeffrey agrees.

What follows is a quick montage of numbers, then the show returns to New York. In New York, we see the play book, heard the numbers we’ve seen on the road, and the finale number is “Girl Hunt” — film noir done as a musical ballet with Fred as the Detective (complete with a deliberately corny monologue) and Cyd Charisse as the sweet blonde victim and the dark-haired Femme Fatale. It’s a pure jazzy ballet — music and dance telling the story, in between Tony’s monologue. It’s a brilliant number and one of my favorites ever, especially in a MGM musical. And again, it’s an example of the very clever nature of the movie to have a musical Film Noir piece as the center-piece conclusion of the film.

What sets The Bandwagon apart from similar MGM musicals is it’s nod-nod-wink-wink cleverness that acknowledges the audience knows exactly what they are poking fun at. “Tony” selling his top hat, gloves, and stick – the uniform of Fred Astaire’s traditional b/w Art Deco films which had gone out of style by the 1950s. The very traditional back stage musical that runs up to a big premiere – only to have that premiere be a complete flop. Lester’s comment, “Gosh, with all this raw talent around, why can’t us kids get together and put on ourselves a show!” even delivered to sound like Mickey Rooney – is a dead-on reference/parody of the WB backyard musicals (think young Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney) that wouldn’t go over the heads of a 1950s audience at all. As I said – clever. The second half, or even last third of the film is more the traditional MGM musical, with as many songs by the same composer jammed in as possible. But, at least it makes sense, plot wise, since each is performed in a different city as the troupe is testing the waters. And “Girl Hunt” is pure brilliance that works on many levels — it’s a brilliant dance, the colors are incredible, the explosions and special effects look like stage effects – as they should, and the whole number itself takes a film-noir story and condenses it into about 10-15 minutes of wordless performance of jazzy music and dance (wordless except Tony’s monologue).

List of Musical Numbers

  • I’ll Go My Way by Myself
  • Shine on your Shoes
  • That’s Entertainment!
  • Dancing in the Dark (music only)
  • More Beer/I Love Louisa
  • New Sun in a New Sky
  • I Lost the One Girl I Found
  • Louisiana Hayride
  • Triplets
  • Girl Hunt
  • Reprise – I’ll Go My Way by Myself
  • Reprise – That’s Entertainment

Other music in the film that’s particularly enjoyable: “Shine on your Shoes” – Fred tears up a old-fashioned street arcade, while a shoe-shine guy dances to the rhythm as well. It’s great fun, and well filmed – though there’s a noticeable edit in the middle of the scene, unusual in any of Fred’s dance numbers. “Dancing in the Dark” – performed without lyrics, is a beautiful ballroom dance piece with Charisse and Fred dancing together. It’s shot full-frame, that is, we can see the dancers from the tips of their toes to the tops of their heads for every beat of the dance – and the entire dance is one shot – no edits to spoil the rhythm of the movement of the dancers. It’s a beautiful, beautiful piece. “Louisiana Hayride” with Nanette Fabray belting out the vocals is pure fun, tho’ it also includes some of the worst grammar ever in the lyrics, yet it’s still energetic and fun. “Triplets” includes some clever costume effects to make Fred, Nanette, and Jack Buchanan all look like infants. And then there’s “Girl Hunt” discussed above. Overall, fun, light, enjoyable, — a film to cheer one up, and leave the theater singing. A joy to watch.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Barkleys of Broadway