Thursday, June 08, 2006

1936 The Great Ziegfeld

Stars: William Powell, Myrna Loy and Fanny Brice.

Watching these movies has always been planned as being more or less a solo exploit. Often these early movies are not memorable, and many people will not want to watch them. Further, I tend to watch them at odd times and occasions. I had the pleasure of company for this movie - but I think, she may have preferred any number of other options. I was amazed at Ho's persistence, but she herself stated that she kept watching "just to see if it got any better". Sadly, no.

One review I read of this movie called it a "lovable dinosaur", since movies like this are a distant memory. For that we can be all thankful. It certainly captured the heart and soul of the Zeigfeld musical numbers with spiraling staircases, featuring women in ridiculous costumes standing around looking suitably vapid. Perhaps my frustration at the self-indulgence of this pap - which probably encapsulates the style of Zeigfeld appropriately and somewhat accurately - overshadowed the work of the actors in portraying the story of this man's life.

The only thing I really enjoyed was the cameo by Fanny Brice. Having been a devotee of the movie "Funny Girl", which chronicles her life, I was interested to see the real woman after only knowing her through Barbra Streisand's re-telling. And she was wonderful. Shame this movie was about some Zeigfeld character......
1935 Mutiny on the Bounty

Stars: Clark Gable and Charles Laughton

Having back to back Gable movies was quite delightful for me. Say what you will, I just like seeing him on the screen, although in this telling of the story of Fletcher Christian, I was perhaps a little less moved than previous and subsequent roles of Gable.

Charles Laughton made the role of the vile Captain Bligh his own, and in fact, the modern image of Bligh owes much to his portrayal. He performs with such conviction, that he seems to be so loathsome that mutiny and his eviction from the ship seems almost lenient. But it is a movie, and unfortunately, is accused of being fairly historically inaccurate with the occurences of the time. What is understated is Bligh's superiour skill as a sailor, which is evidenced in his survival following the mutiny. This is not played up in the movie, but quite obviously, since the intent was to portray him as quite the villain. Interestingly, three of the lead roles were each honoured with nominations for Best Actor, but none won.

Overall, the movie didn't capture me, but seemed to smack of a vehicle to show Gable shirtless. Not completely a bad thing, but not necessarily award-worthy.

Friday, June 02, 2006

1934 It Happened One Night

Stars: Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert

I knew before this started that I was going to like it. It was Frank Capra directing with Clark Gable on the screen - what could possibly be wrong with it? And the answer, nothing. It is a simple love story, where the couple in question dislike each other intensely to start, and then find themselves head over heels in love. Adversity is thrown in their way, but all comes right in the end. Perhaps it seems simplistic now, but still I think that that simplicity enhances it, making it timeless.

One of the stand-out scenes of the movie is of course when spoilt brat Ellie Andrews helps out in the procurement of a ride. She hitches her skirt above her ankle line, to the great delight of a passing motorist. It is innocent in so many ways, but also touching.

The pool of movies that were nominated that year included another Claudette Colbert epic, "Cleopatra", and an Astaire/Rogers classic, "The Gay Divorcee", but honestly, none of them have remained in our memories. So, perhaps this simple movie, was a good choice.
1932/33 Cavalcade

Stars: Diana Wynyard, Clive Brook.

This movie has proved nearly impossible to source. I have been only able to find a copy of it on Video, and an NTSC version at that - and of course, here in Australia we are PAL. Apparently, Wishtup has a video that will play it - so hold on for this review until I can get away one weekend to his place.
1931/32 Grand Hotel

Stars: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore and Lewis Stone

This movie is billed big - it has a stellar cast and much of the majesty of the long gone days of movie making. But I fear it had little effect on me. I am not sure why. The cast was great, the sets lovely and the acting superb. But still, I remained unmoved by much of it. I think overall the story wasn't enough to grab me, although having loved many Andy Hardy movies, it was amazing seeing Lewis Stone as a sombre war veteran and not as the all-knowing Judge Hardy. Lionel Barrymore's character was delightful, if somewhat tragic, but felt so much more real than Greta Garbo's slightly unbelievable rendition of a former prima ballerina. But Joan Crawford. Oh Joan. She was amazing. She lit up the screen. She was daring, reckless, and full of life. She was so timeless in this movie and her presence alone salvaged the movie for me.
1930/31 Cimarron

Stars: Richard Dix and Irene Dunne

I had hoped with the acknowledgement of "All Quiet" the year before, maybe the Academy and industry was starting to get the hang of this movie-making business. But alas. It isn't helped from the outset that this winner is a western - never a genre to strike my fancy - but the DVD blurb told it as a "generation-spanning saga....told with an authenticity that moviegoers.. recognised". I crossed fingers and ploughed in.

We meet Yancey and Sabra Cravat on their quest to gain land during the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush. Through misfortune, they end up in the city, but with the will to start a newspaper in the newly formed town. Their newspaper is controversial in that it talks of equal rights with Indians, but finds success in this back-water. The story then goes on with drama befitting a western type tale.

Where it failed me dismally was in portraying Yancey as some sort of hero full of the pioneering hero. He decides to go off and leave his wife and children to fight wars and such - sending no word home. Meanwhile, Sabra runs the newspaper as editor (although always retaining his name at the top), and becoming a respected member of the community. He returns home briefly to defend the rights of a prostitute, and then whips off again, on some mission of his own design. Many years later, near the close of the story, we see Sabra, now being voted into public office, having brought up the family solo, and continued running the newspaper. And all this time, never once having heard one word from her renegade husband, but remaining faithful to him regardless. She erects a monument to him and those like him with their pioneering spirit.

It made my blood boil. Spirit, I ask you!?! He had no spirit - she was the one with spirit! The whole movie seemed to be in awe of him, but she was the one who pioneered, quietly at home - while he rode the prairies and left her without support. But that said, I shouldn't revile a movie based on political and personal objections. Was it any good? Hmm, not so easy to say. I felt most of the acting was stiff and objectionable. The portrayal of the town as it grew over the time period was perhaps the most impressive part of the whole film.