torch song PDVD_009

Charles Walters’ Torch Song is by no means a great film.  I don’t even think it’s a good film, but it certainly is a curious one.  Why would Mr. Walters even need to make this on the heels of his very good film this year Lili?  Why did MGM need a film to showcase songs thrown out of The Band Wagon?  Why would Joan Crawford do a film like this which makes her and actresses like Jenny Stewart look absolutely foolish and irrelevant?  If anything, Torch Song raises a lot a of questions (most notably why we were all subjected to the horror of the blackface scene near the end of of this one), and this makes it a curious film indeed.

Joan Crawford is a total trainwreck in this one, and I’m sorry to say, I just can’t like her, and I can’t create any separation between the real Joan Crawford and Jenny Stewart.  Is this film a cry for help from her?  Again, it’s hard to come up with answers to these tough questions.  The only saving grace in this film is Michael Wilding, but even then his attraction to Jenny Stewart is inexplicable, even when it’s explained.

There is another film this year about a washed up actor trying to make it one more time in the MGM era, and that’s The Band Wagon.  It’s a terrific film.  Watch that one instead.

**1/2 ~AOS

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captains paradise

I really wanted to hate this film.  About less than halfway in, however, I was thoroughly drawn in Anthony Kimmins’ comedic drama The Captain’s Paradise.  This very British film about a bigamist does not seem so appealing on the surface, but when given a chance, Kimmins’ work delivers on a number of levels.  First and foremost, this is actually a morality fable.  Captain Henry St. James is not glorified for his actions, and those that do glorify him are made out to look like fools.

Alec Guinness is truly one of the best things about this film in the leading role.  He is the most vile of creatures, yet he’s a human throughout.  Is he bad human being?  Is he a cautionary tale?  Is he a complete chauvinist idiot?  He’s not a genius as one character would try to lead the audience to believe.  That said, there is a strange humanity to Captain St. James.  He’s not a lovable character by any stretch, but he’s not loathsome to the point of wanting to walk away from the film.  One truly becomes invested in his fate, either out of interest in his actual character or for the women in his life.  All of this is a testament to Alec Guinness’ acting chops. He delivers quite simply one of the better performances of the year here.  Speaking of the women in his life, I personally don’t have a lot of good to say about Yvonne De Carlo as Nita only because I could not get over her Spanish.  She is supposed to be Spanish as far as one can tell (maybe Moroccan?), but her Spanish is that of a native English speaker who has be speaking it well for a few years.  Perhaps that should not be distracting, but it takes away from her performance, and it was the film’s glaring weakness.  On the other hand, I really like Celia Johnson in the role of Maud.  She elicits such sympathy from the audience for her plight, and we the audience find ourselves rooting her on at every moment.  This is simply great acting on Johnson’s part, because there’s nothing particularly charismatic about her character, especially in contrast with Guinness.  In the end, although sometimes the most charismatic roles unfairly steal the show, Miss Johnson has us pulling for her until the bitter end.

Ultimately, I’m happy I gave The Captain’s Paradise a fair chance.  What I thought would be another male-centric chauvinist comedy turned out to be so much more than that.  The script is sharp and edgy, and the performances (for the most part) are first rate.

***1/2 ~AOS

TheActress

It needs to be first of all state that George Cukor’s The Actress is a delightful little gem.  There have been some big colossal films this year, and it is refreshing to see something this small in scope and tightly wound come across the big screen.  The theme of young women wanting to break out and show the world the power of independent women has run rather strong this year.  Leslie Caron in Lili, Maggie McNamera in The Moon is Blue, and of course Audrey Hepburn in the outstanding Roman Holiday have all provided us these different facets of these wonderful independent women this year.  I would have to say that Jean Simmon’s portrayal of Ruth Gordon Jones (in, as it turns out, Ms Gordon’s autobiographical screenplay) is right up there with those performances this year.  In the end, this is a heartfelt and personal film throughout, and the directing, writing, and acting all drive that home for us.

Kudos most first and foremost be given to Spencer Tracy as Clinton Jones, the overbearing, but clearly loving, father of Ruth.  His comedic timing is simply impeccable and he owns every single scene that he is in.  No disrespect to Miss Simmons performance, but Mr. Tracy end up owning this film about his daughter the inspiring actress.  In a year where most of the great performances have been dramatic, it is refreshing to get this very well played comedic performance from an actor that can quite simply do it all.

After all things are considered though, the very heart and soul of The Actress is none other than Ruth Gordon herself.  This film is her story, and she tells it with beautiful passion and honesty.  This film needed a female screenwriter, and who better to tell the story than the protagonist herself?  It’s not a big film, it’s not a perfect film (Teresa Wright and Anthony Perkins are rather two-dimensional throughout), but it is a personal one, and so for that I thank Ms Gordon for this window into her soul.

***1/2 ~AOS

the robe

Henry Koster’s sweeping Biblical/historical drama The Robe is not the first brush with religious themes that we’ve seen this year, but it certainly is the best produced.  Despite it’s shortcomings, The Robe is cinematic eye candy.  From the costumes, to the production design, to the cinematography, this film is visually one of the most beautiful color films we’ve seen all year.

The film is set in first century Rome during a time of rebellion in the province of Judea.  Enter, of course, Jesus (who we never actually do see) and you have a set of characters that are thrust into the winds of change and history.  Richard Burton plays the lead role of Marcellus Gallio, who is given the job of carrying out the execution of Jesus.  In short, his guilt leads to his conversion, as well as a confrontation with the Roman Empire.  Despite having a potentially juicy role, and despite the praise that has been bestowed upon Richard Burton for this role, I don’t really feel he does anything incredibly spectacular here.  It’s an adequate performance, but there have been more interesting performances this year that I feel will overshadow this one.  The same goes for Jean Simmons as Diana.  In reality, the really standout performance in this film is Jay Robinson as a really mentally unstable Caligula.  Every scene he is in is deliciously uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, the supporting actor race is so packed this year, I don’t know if there will be a place for Mr. Robinson when the year is all said and done.

In short, The Robe is generally well-executed, it’s engaging for the most part, but there are so many more exciting offerings this year that I’m not sure if it will really stick out in my mind come year’s end.

*** ~AOS

roman_holiday_09

I have been slowly and methodically considering what my review will look like for William Wyler’s masterpiece of a romantic comedy Roman Holiday for about a week now.  This is one of those films in which, the more I simmer over it, the more I really and truly do love it.  I have been reminded by some that the story is familiar and simple, but I will continue to remind them in return that there is nothing familiar and typical about William Wyler’s work, much less when he pairs together a dynamic duo the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on screen.  There is so much to like about this piece that I hardly know where to start.  Therefore, allow me to make a case for the greatness of Roman Holiday by citing a few highlights.

First of all, this film contains a very minimal score.  Mr. Wyler manages to drop us into these character’s worlds without using scoring to manipulate our thoughts about them.  Mr. Wyler leaves it to the actors themselves to move the audience, and on that note alone, this is a job well done.  Where the actors don’t manage to move the audience, the city of Rome most certainly does.  This is one of those rare films where the city that it is shot in becomes an important supporting actor.  So beautiful is this Rome, that audiences will want to return to Trevi Fountain as quickly as possible to relive it.  Sure the cinematography is wonderful, but the camera does a wonderful job of catching just the right shots of Rome at just the right time to get the viewer to want to fall in love with the city as they are falling in love with the characters.

Speaking of the characters, the acting in Roman Holiday is superb.  The big story in this film is none other than newcomer Audrey Hepburn, and rightfully so.  Playing Princess Ann (aka “Smitty”) she takes us on a journey that makes one contemplate an existence typified by a longing for things impossible to obtain.  We feel her longing, we feel her yearning, and we feel her exhilaration with everything new that she experiences.  Welcome Miss Hepburn to the race for Best Actress of the year!  So far we have a field of women that steal our hearts for various reasons.  Truthfully, I think Miss Hepburn steals said hearts better than anyone else in the race this year.  Her enjoyment of things as simple as a haircut becomes our enjoyment.  Her fears become our fears.  We have seen several quality lead performances by women this year, but Miss Hepburn’s might just be the one that stands out from the rest in the end.  Not to be outdone is Gregory Peck.  Although this is Audrey Hepburn’s film, Mr. Peck serves up some of the best dramatic scenes of the film.  It is a shame that he isn’t getting the attention that he deserves for this piece of art, as it is Mr. Peck that helps this film to transcend the romantic comedy genre.  Again, some of the very best scenes in the film belong to him.  And while we’re heaping praise upon these lead actors, it must be said that Eddie Albert also gives a great supporting performance.  He is the comic relief throughout, and his important (and very likable) piece of the puzzle rounds out one of the best ensembles we’ve seen all year.

I finally want to thank Mr. Wyler for never insulting my intelligence.  Roman Holiday is an intelligent man’s romantic comedy, and that’s what sets it apart from the rest.  Without serving up any spoilers, let me at least say that Wyler very smartly draws this film to a close, and it’s his work behind the camera that make those final scenes truly special.  Let us just say that this is an ending that will be discussed and debated for years to come, and one must admit that very few romantic comedies could stir up such debate.  I personally think that the ending is a perfect 10 landing, and much credit must be given to the director for such an accomplishment (as well as to the writers of this beautiful original screenplay).  I will likely be running it through my head for many years to come, and I will look forward to later joining in the discussion.  Bravo!

**** ~AOS

war of the worlds

The main question I keep getting regarding Byron Haskin’s War of the Worlds is, “Was it at least entertaining?”  I think the answer to that question is yes for the most part.  First of all, let’s be very clear, aside from some nice cinematography and some cool special effects, War of the Wars is not an awards contender by any means.  The story quite simple to follow.  The actors are wooden, and honestly there is not much to cheer for.  Sometimes at leasts antagonists can entertain when the heroes don’t deliver, but honestly I did not find myself caring for either side when it was all over.  If this film gets remembered at all, it may be for some of the pretty visuals.  Even there, however, there is nothing incredibly ground-breaking.  War of the Worlds therefore gets to step into a line of films that I’m glad I saw, but I highly doubt I will make an effort to see again.

**1/2 ~AOS

The Only Villain Is the Sea

Posted: 01/09/2013 in 1953

cruel sea

Maybe it was the flat acting, maybe it was the bland script, maybe it was the tepid directing, or maybe I’m just getting war film weary. Whatever the case may be Charles Frend’s adaptation of the novel The Cruel Sea just did not do it for me.  I wanted to like this film, I really did, but I just could not get into it.  Maybe at another time in another place I would have felt something for this film, but I just could not feel anything for anyone in The Cruel Sea.  I think I ran into the same thing with this film as I did with The Desert Rats.  I just didn’t care, and the director didn’t make me care at any point.  The film felt as choppy as the sea that was supposed to be the main character.  I think it’s worth a second look at some point to see if I was just having a bad day and the film was not as disjointed as it felt the first time.  For now I’ll just say that this will not be in my top 10 come year’s end.

As was the case with The Desert Rats the cinematography was certainly pretty.   Aside from some gorgeous cinematography though, I just don’t have much to say about this one.

** ~AOS