Friday, 6 December 2013

Around the World in 80 Days

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (COLOUR, 1956)

Director
Michael Anderson

Cast
David Niven, Cantiflas, Finlay Currie, Shirley MacLain, Robert Newton, Robert Morley, Ronald Squire, Basil Sydney, Noel Coward, Buster Keaton, Noel Coward, Cedric Hardwick, George Raft, Charles Coburn, Marlene Dietrich, Peter Lorre, Frank Sinatra and John Carradine

Ages
4 and up

Plot
In Victorian England, in the Reform Club, Phineas Fogg (Niven) makes a bet that he can go around the world in 80 days. Is it possible? He and his newly-appointed French manservant Passepartout (Cantiflas), who was previously a gymnastics teacher, set off for Marseilles. Travelling to Spain on a balloon, a boat to Marseilles, a cruise to Suez, a steamship to Bombay, a train cross India, a steamship to Hong Kong, another ship to Yokohama, a ship to USA, another train cross the continent and a steamship to Britain was the original eighty-day plan. However, he faces several set-backs, including being suspected for robbery by a detective (Newton), falling in love with an Indian princess (McLain), missing a ship, missing a train, and later, being arrested. Will he make it?  

Still of (from left): Shirley MacLain, Robert Newton, David Niven and Cantiflas after missing a train cross America 

Why it’s good
Naturally, it is the most action-packed comedy about two people travelling round the world. Thus, it might as well be the Best Picture of 1956. It was, anyways.
This is one of the most big-budget great adventure films ever, and the film is easy enough to understand by any child, even if they do not get some parts. It is one of the greatest adaptations of a Jules Verne novel – one cannot argue more.

Numerous old stars appear in this film, with a star-studded cast. Buster Keaton, a silent film comedian, appears as the Train conductor in America. Marlene Dietrich plays the woman reading a menu in the San Francisco restaurant. Ex-gangster film actor plays Dietrich’s boyfriend, while in the same scene, Frank Sinatra plays the piano. Charles Boyer appears as a Parisian clerk, Charles Coburn as a Hong Kong clerk and Ronald Colman as a official on India’s railway. Cedric Hardwick, the all-rounded knighted British actor, appears on a train in India, and the Casablanca (1942) actor, Peter Lorre, appears as a Japanese waiter. To be honest, most of the film is a lot of cultural stuff. Showing loads of contrast, why not call it Around the Day in Eighty Worlds?

Trivia
The barge seen in the scene on the steamship from Calcutta to Hong Kong actually belonged to producer Michael Todd. It was the King of Thailand who lent it to him.

If you like this…
The 2004 version starring Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan isn’t very similar to the 1956 version. It is about a Chinese thief (Chan) who steals a valuable jade Buddha, seeks refuge under Fogg, and then a major display of martial arts.  

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Cary Grant - the leading man of Hollywood's classic movies

Cary Grant was born in Bristol, England, in the year 1904, and had an ordinary lower-middle-class life. That all changed when, at fourteen, he forged his father’s signature to join a troupe of knockabout comedians to America. He was on the same ship as a famous director, Douglas Fairbanks, and then got inspired to get into the movies, but didn't till 1933. In the US, he learnt acrobatics and pantomime before gaining fame in the Broadway show ‘Good Times’. After the show, he was selected by Mae West to appear in her film She Done Him Wrong (1933). Then began his career.  His good looks and superb acting made him the leading man in many comedy and dramatic roles, playing against legendary actresses such as Grace Kelley, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman.


Cary Grant (1904-1986) in North by Northwest (1959)

What lessons does he have to teach us? Do what you think (is) right, and be humble about it.

Here are his best films:

BRINGING UP BABY (BLACK AND WHITE, 1938)
Grant and Katherine Hepburn come together in a screwball comedy with a leopard, a dinosaur bone, a dog, and a ripped-up dress? Definitely one of his best films with Hepburn, and it is a zoo of its kind.

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (BLACK AND WHITE, 1940)
Again with Katherine Hepburn, he makes a perfect role as her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven, and then reporter Maculay Conor (played by James Stewart) falls in love with the bride set to marry George Kittredge (John Howard).

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (BLACK AND WHITE, 1940)
Cary Grant’s turn to be a reporter, people! Well, at least he edits a newspaper. Now, he has to stop his ex-wife from remarrying insurance salesman Bruce (Ralph Bellamy). How? Maybe asking her to go and report on a murdered (John Qualen) may help.  

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (BLACK AND WHITE, 1944)
Mortimer Brewster has always been against marriage but he’s now going to marry Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane). However, he finds out that his aunts are both murderers, and that insanity runs through his family.

NOTORIOUS (BLACK AND WHITE, 1946)
More Ingrid Bergman then Cary Grant. Alicia Huberman (Bergman) has been asked by Devlin (Grant) to go to South America to spy on a group of Nazis. Marriage is as far as she’s gone, and the marriage makes Alexander Sebastian thinks they’re really in love. Wrong. Huberman and Devlin have an affair…

TO CATCH A THIEF (COLOUR, 1955)
Cary Grant is suspected for stealing jewellery. Of course he hasn’t done it. He now falls in love with Grace Kelly, and must ferret out the thief at the same time.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (COLOUR, 1959)
Well, he stars as Roger O. Thornhill, and after all he has done (just drinking and driving), he tries to find the guy who stuffed bourbon in his mouth. He realises he has been mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and he needs to find a way to survive without being murdered. How? Somewhat under Lincoln’s nose.

THAT TOUCH OF MINK (COLOUR, 1962)
That touch of mink is on Doris Day, not Grant. When she comes to look for the millionaire who wet the dress, they fall in love instead. And what’s worse? A holiday in which the airplane has only one occupant?

CHARADE (COLOUR, 1963)
Playing charade is what Peter Joshua (Grant), Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) and Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) are doing. With comedy and mystery added. 


The Asphalt Jungle

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (BLACK AND WHITE, 1950)

Director
John Huston

Cast
Louis Calhern, Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Marilyn Monroe, Marc Lawrence, John McIntire, Brad Dexter, Anthony Caruso, Jean Hagen and Dorothy Tree

Ages
10 and up

Plot
Doc Erwin Riedenschneider (Jaffe) has been locked up in jail for seven years. What does he do during his jail term? He crafts a major heist for half a million dollars. He meets Cobby (Lawrence), and they get in touch with married lawyer Alonzo Emmerich (Calhern) to help finance them. Alonzo is almost bankrupt, and so he and his friend (Dexter) want to double-cross Doc for the loot. Together with hooligan Dix Handley (Hayden), driver Gus (Whitmore) and safecracker Louis (Caruso), the crime is committed. However, with Alonzo’s niece (Monroe) spilling the beans about her uncle’s role, the end is near for all the culprits.

Still of (from left): Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe and Louis Calhern 
Why it’s good
Because it is the city under the city, a jungle city of crime and hooligans and a lot more. The ‘jungle city’ is one of the best film-noir works ever made, about crime and betrayal.

While Marilyn Monroe stole the show as Alonzo’s niece Angela Phinlay, her first film of the decade in which she was credited, the crime plot was one of the most fascinating – it was a crime plot with many characters showing how the heist led to a huge change in everyone’s life.

Trivia
Both director John Huston and star Sterling Hayden were members of the Committee for the First Amendment, which stood against the blacklisting of alleged Communists working in the film industry during the Red Scare. Huston had never been a Communist, although Hayden at one point had been.

Parent’s Guide
Violence and more violence after the heist.

If you like this…: 
Rififi (1955) was made in Italy by an American and it is what this is – a heist.    

Scarface: The Shame of the Nation

SCARFACE: THE SHAME OF THE NATION (BLACK AND WHITE, 1932)

Director
Richard Rosson and Howard Hawks

Cast
Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, George Raft, Boris Karloff, Karen Morley and Osgood Perkins

Ages
10 and up

Plot
Tony Camonte (Muni) is a gangster who had just shot a famous Chicago gangster. As he rises above many with his insanely violent ways, he falls in love with Poppy (Morley). He and his mob (Raft, Karloff and Perkins are just the main ones) soon see that they will fall down, and the cops soon catch Tony even with his sister (Dvorak) by his side. 
Still of Paul Muni in Scarface 

Why it’s good
Because it is so filled with action, so filled with mystery, and just so tense. No film has ever been so violent and had so many censorship problems, and none shall ever be responsible for the dawn of gangster films than this film.

Yes, very little of today’s gangster films would be here today if not for Scarface. It was ‘a shame of the nation’, as mentioned in the tagline, but it is actually today ‘the birth of a nation’s film’.

No gangster film actually gets any better than this film nowadays, although James Cagney – actor of gangster – has a point to make.

Trivia:
Al Capone was rumored to have liked the film so much that he had his own copy of it.  Film debut of George Raft, who didn't have to go far for inspiration on how to play a gangster in this film. He grew up in a New York City slum alongside gangsters Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Joe Adonis and Lucky Luciano. In an ironic twist, after the release of "Scarface", many of Raft's gangster pals would come to him for advice on how to dress, walk, talk, etc.

If you like this...: 
Paul Muni’s other great film was I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, which was made the same year. It was about a criminal wrongly suspected of robbing a dinner, sent to a chain gang, and escaped. The Private Enemy (1931), Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) and White Heat (1949) are great Cagney gangster films.  

Monday, 25 November 2013

Sullivan's Travels

SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (BLACK AND WHITE, 1941)

Director
Preston Sturges

Cast
Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, William Demarest, Robert Warwick, Franklin Pangbom, Porter Hall, Charles Moore, Eric Blore and Byron Foulger

Ages
7 and up

Plot: 
John Lloyd Sullivan (McCrea) is a director of escapist and comedy films, with names like Hey, Hey in the Hayloft and Ants in Your Plants of 1939. Suddenly he wants to direct a drama, and now he wants to direct a drama based on a novel on humanity, Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? When his team points out that he knows nothing of hardship, he heads off as a tramp with only ten cents in his pocket. He soon meets a girl (Lake) and is saved twice by his reputation. Then, when he finds himself really in trouble, when he is left without any money and when his identity is stolen, he finds out the truth behind hardship.

Still of Joel McCrea in Sullivan’s Travels 
Why it’s good
Because it just is. Nobody can say much about a Preston Sturges comedy, but the truth is that this romance-drama-comedy is one of his best works.

The beginning is funny, the climax is sad, and in the end things start looking up. While the comedy gives everyone the laughs, the film is about hope and laughter. The message is clear (spoiler!): Who wants to see a sad movie when they can see a happy one?

While the jokes are Preston’s speciality (take for example, the word Amateur describing Sullivan as a tramp), the script is just so different, so much more civic-minded, and definitely better than the rest of his films.

Trivia:
Look for Preston Sturges’ cameo in the film. He is in the foreground when Veronica Lake was reading the newspaper and jumped in the air.

Parents’ Guide
There is romance in the air between Sullivan and the girl.

If you like this…: 
Sturges directed many comedies. It includes The Lady Eve (1941) about a heir to a beer company, The Palm Beach Story (1942) about an inventor needy for cash for his big idea, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero (both 1944) about war, and finally Unfaithfully Yours (1948) about a musician.


The Trouble with Harry

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (COLOUR, 1955)

Director

Cast
John Forsythe, Edmund Gwenn, Shirley McLain, Mildred Natwick, Mildred Dunnock, Jerry Mathers, Royal Dano, Barry Macollum and Dwight Marfield

Ages
7 and up

Plot
In a meadow in a small town in Vermont, Harry Worp, the husband of Jennifer Rogers (McLain), who hasn’t been staying with her, is found dead. Captain Albert Wiles (Gwenn) thinks he is responsible, and with the help of artist Sam Marlowe (Forsythe), help to bury him. Ivy Gravely (Natwick) thinks she is the murderer, and a few other people stumble pass the body (including Doctor Greenbow (Marfield) and a tramp (Macollom) without paying much attention. And then Marlowe and Rogers fall in love. Then the truth is revealed…

Still of (from left): Shirley McLain, John Forsythe, Mildred Natwick and Edmund Gwenn  

Why it’s good
Because it is the most atypical Hitchcock film ever made. It is definitely the funniest of them all, with a certain little style that is extremely different. It is a comedy without a name. 

Unlike other mystery-comedies, like The Thin Man (1934) and Charade (1963), it has the film directed with more comedy and much less mystery, and the film is in fact unique for its kind. A comedy would be totally new for Hitchcock, and he did it pretty well, with his whodunit becoming a who-didn’t-do-it story with a bang – who-thinks-he-done-it-but-didn’t-do-it-and-who-did-it.

The art world intervenes in the film, and an art critic and a millionaire pop in some time to see Marlowe’s exhibition and the art shop. The art is of the modern style, and the evidence is hidden in one of the paintings: Marlowe’s portrait of the Dead Man.

Trivia:  
Alfred Hitchcock’s personal favourite quote in any of his films was in this film: What seems to be the trouble, Captain?

Parent’s Guide
Practically nothing. There is a romance between Marlowe and Rogers throughout the story.

If you like this…
Other Hitchcock films. None are the same as this film in terms of style and plot. But it is the same director.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Lifeboat

LIFEBOAT (BLACK AND WHITE, 1944)

Director

Cast
Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, Walter Slezak, Mary Anderson, John Hodiak, Henry Hull, Hume Cronyn, Heather Angel and Canada Lee

Ages
10 and up

Plot
Based on a story written by John Steinbeck. A ship in the Atlantic sinks after being attacked by a German U-boat during World War II. Constance Potter (Bankhead) escapes on a tiny lifeboat. She is joined by other passengers aboard the ship from various backgrounds. Soon, there are 8, and they are joined by the captain of the other U-boat (Slezak).  It’s war!  

The cast of Lifeboat


Why it’s good:
Because it is direct and straight to the point. Not many films reach to this certain standard where the film delivers clearly the messages of friends, enemies, war and the will to survive.

The plot is simple, but very powerful. The entire film is set on a wooden boat floating in the ocean - no fancy sets and special effects. The rest of its greatness stems from the wonderful acting. The great acting goes to Tallulah Bankhead, who played Constance Potter, the reporter. She has a beautifully-characterized manner, and her stories of love, marriage and divorce are highlighted throughout the film.

The film has the most emotion of Hitchcock’s many films. At that time, he was exploring a new genre of dramatic yet thrilling films. A truly amazing feat for him.

Trivia
For the German-dubbed version the challenge was to maintain the tension between the English-speaking majority in the boat vs. Willy and Connie Porter speaking in German. This problem was "solved" having Willy pretend to be a Dutch volunteer with the Kriegsmarine and shifting the Willy-Porter conversation to the Dutch language.

If you like this…
Other Hitchcock films.    

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Meet John Doe

MEET JOHN DOE (BLACK AND WHITE, 1941)

Director
Frank Capra

Starring
Gary Cooper, Barbara Starwyck, Edward Norton, Gene Lockhart, Walter Brennan, James Gleason and Rod La Rocque

Ages
10 and up

Plot
In order to increase the sales of newspapers, Ann Mitchell (Starwyck) writes an article about a man, John Doe, who has threatened to jump down from Mayor Lovett’s (Lockhart) office. The article generates a great deal of sympathy from the readers.  The problem is, John Doe does not exist. The newspaper’s boss Connell (Gleason) needs to find someone to act as John Doe, and somehow Long John Willoughby (Cooper) is selected for the job. D.B. Norton (Arnold) decides to publicize John Doe through radio speeches, tours and the press. Soon, John Doe Clubs, which promote good neighbourliness, start popping up all over the country, but Willoughby threatens that he is going to reveal his identity.

Long John Willoughby (Cooper) is picked from the streets to act as John Doe, a fictional character created to increase readership at an ailing newspaper.


Why it’s good
This movie has a really imaginative plot.  It’s a political comedy about a man who is paid to act as someone else. And that is what’s so funny when he gets into a whole lot of trouble being suppressed by Norton while trying to live his own life.  He is just a simple down-and-out guy who wants to be a baseball player, but he does succeed in inspiring the whole nation to be good and helpful neighbours.

The movie also touches on the role that the media plays in sensationalizing news.  Can we really believe what the newspapers, radio or television (and now the internet) tell us, and want to have us believe?  

Norton is the real bad guy, and that’s not really obvious when you first meet the man in his round glasses.

Trivia
Capra had four endings directed and they were tried out in four different states – the one where Mitchell fainted on top of Mayor Lovett’s office was the best.

Parent’s Guide
None


If you like this…
"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1941) and "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946) are other feel good movies from Frank Capra, where there is a happy ending in the end after the protagonist overcomes a lot of hardship and emotional upheavals.




Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (BLACK AND WHITE, 1939)

Director
Frank Capra

Cast
James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Thomas Mitchell, Edward Norton, Guy Kibbee, Beulah Bondi, H.B. Warner, Eugene Pallette, Astrid Allwyn, Harry Carey,  Porter Hall and Pierre Watkin

Ages
10 and up

Plot
A senator dies and Governor Hubert (Kibbee) needs to elect someone to replace the deceased senator. He selects the na├»ve Jefferson Smith (Stewart), a boy scout who runs a newspaper, Boy’s Stuff. On his way to Washington DC, Smith meets Senator Joseph Harrison Paine (Rains), who is his father’s old friend. Paine has a secretary, Clarissa Saunders (Arthur), who helps Smith draft his first bill, which is to have a boy’s camp at Willet Creek in Montana, Smith's home state. This is the place, however, where Paine and the powerful state political boss Jim Taylor (Norton) want to build a dam. Thus, they accuse Smith of graft. Can Smith and Saunders wreck Paine and Taylor's political machine with whatever they’ve got?

Confrontation between Paine (Rains, left) and Smith (Stewart, right) at the senate.

Why it’s good
I just watched this film and had a scary dream that included our own politicians .... This movie is an introduction to political corruption and tells us about the politicians vs. the people. The two sides do not agree all the time (well, at least in here).

Made just in the same way as "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", this centres on how it is like to be a senator. Joseph and Jim are two very bad and pro-business characters, if you ask me. Stewart is playing a good-hearted youngster who’s got to spoil their graft.

“The difference between this guy and the rest of the senators is that he’s honest,” Joseph Paine tells Jim Taylor. But will Paine, under Taylor's influence, stop Smith from continuing with his plans?

Newspapers and reporters also appear in the movie always thirsty for the story. For example, Diz Moore, played by Thomas Mitchell, is the poet of Washington Correspondence. There are a few newspaper articles shown with staged photographs. However, Jim Taylor controls them all. 

Trivia
In 1942, a ban on American films was imposed in German-occupied France. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" was the last film to be screened.

Parent’s Guide
Not much. However, there are some minor scuffles in the senate.


If you like this…
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), starring Gary Cooper.         

Friday, 24 May 2013

Ball of Fire

BALL OF FIRE (BLACK AND WHITE, 1941)

Director
Howard Hawks

Cast
Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Dana Andrews, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, Tully Marshall, Lenoid Kinskey, Richard Haydn, Aubrey Mather, Allen Jenkins, Dan Duryea and Mary Field

Ages
7 and up


Plot
A group of nine lexicographers are working on a new encyclopedia. Their leader, Bertram Potts (Cooper), meets a garbage man (Jenkins) and Bertram feels that his own article on slang has no resemblance to the language used by the commoners such as the garbage man.  In fact, Bertram finds that his article is 20 years outdated. When Bertram goes off to find more users of slang, he ends up falling for a nightclub singer, Sugarpuss O’Shea (Stanwyck). Sugarpuss is actually the girlfriend of a gangster, Joe Lilac (Andrews), who is suspected for murder. Can he and his friends help Sugarpuss get out of the gangster plot?

Still of Gary Cooper in Ball of Fire
Why it’s good
Because it just is. The film is similar to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but it is no worse than that 1935 Disney film.  In my view, Sugarpuss is Snow White, and the lexicographers are the dwarfs. The gangster is the evil queen (that goes a little too far, I guess). 

To the audience of that period, this film might’ve been a better option compared to Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  That’s because it’s realistic. By that time, people have realized that evil queens and princesses like the ones in Snow White cannot be found in the real world (maybe only in the child’s imagination). Then, America still had gangsters (Al Capone was still alive) and singers like Katharine ‘Sugarpuss’ O’Shea weren’t uncommon.

The whole movie owes its comedy to the screenwriter – Billy Wilder. Billy Wilder would later reformulate this plot to write the script for Some Like It Hot. Billy Wilder was genius and created fun scenes – a shoe-changing scene which could have happened in Cinderella, a dance scene involving eight of the lexicographers and a scene of a housemaid locked in a closet.

Trivia
Even though they play two of the "old men" lexicographers, Leonid Kinskey (Prof. Quintana) and Richard Haydn (Prof. Oddly) were both under 40 years old when they made this movie.

Parent’s guide
A bit of the Roaring 20s fashion which features revealing clothes.

If you like this…
Cooper and Stanwyck’s other 1941 comedy, "Meet John Doe", about a man who acts as a non-existent person.      

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Old, Dark House

THE OLD, DARK HOUSE (BLACK AND WHITE, 1932)    
   
Director
James Whale

Cast
Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Lillian Bond, Ernest Thesiger, Gloria Stuart, Raymond Massey, Eva Moore, Brember Wills and Elspeth Dudgeon 

Ages
10 and up

Plot
In a rainstorm, five travellers in two separate vehicles seek shelter in a mansion belonging to the Femm family. The travellers are greeted unwelcomingly by the scarred butler Morgan (Karloff), who can be dangerous when drunk. The travellers have dinner with two members of the Femm family, Rebecca (Moore) and Horace (Thesiger), while 102-year old Roderick (Dudgeon) is bedridden upstairs and scripture-quoting Saul (Wills) is locked up. Over the course of one horrific night, the plot unfolds.

Still of Boris Karloff as Morgan
Why it’s good
It’s a wild movie. Although the film was not as well made as the rest of the Universal films like "The Mummy" (1932), there are many unforgettable characters and such funny dialogue which could tickle your funny bones and actually scare you at the same time.

The rest of the Universal horror films were more serious and scary, and this one isn’t scary at all. The scares come from Morgan, the butler, and if not, from Brember Wills who comes out only at the last minute as if he came in and said ‘Boo!’. Then he stays for just 5 minutes throwing knives like a maniac and rushing up and down the steps.

The cast playing the five disoriented travellers are magnificent. It includes Gloria Stuart, who played the old lady in 1997’s Titanic. Raymond Massey was the guy playing Jonathon Brewster in "Arsenic and Old Lace", as the lookalike of Boris Karloff (who appears here).

Parent’s guide
A knife comes through the air when Brember Wills goes crazy. A lot of scares for young children including the scene where Lillian Bond and Eva Moore have a fight.

Trivia
James Whale, the subject of the film Gods and Monsters, considered this film to be the best of his own works.

If you like this…
James Whale directed other horror movies and thrillers for Universal in the early 1930s, including The Invisible man (1933), Frankenstein (1933) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).