Finally Watching [Old Movies]

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Postby No Good Advice » Tue Mar 15, 2016 6:36 am

I doubt that. I don't know in America specifically but Chaplin is globally known and revered among people who have no idea who Keaton is.
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Postby number none » Tue Mar 15, 2016 6:43 am

We're talking film nerds here
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Postby Spoilt Victorian Child » Tue Mar 15, 2016 6:57 am

Yeah I get the same impression re: Keaton. I don't really know to what extent auteur theory is still a thing but I guess it would have to be pretty flexible by now.

Regarding the divorces, it is possible they just didn't love each other all that much, despite all the cheating.
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Postby No Good Advice » Wed Mar 16, 2016 9:17 am

When I think about it most pre-code Hollywood I've seen seems to portray infidelity as a turn-on. Definite fetishizing going on.
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Postby Merciel » Wed Mar 16, 2016 7:36 pm

Stage Door (1937)

I loved this movie. It's such a good examination of female friendship and female rivalry, and it's funny and cutting and there's no romance plot (there's only one major male character, and he's the closest thing the movie has to a villain), and it does such a great job of capturing the aspirations and shattered hopes and weird blend of support and competition that go with people trying to break into a subjective, creative profession (that's glamorous at the top but filled with poverty and disillusionment and cynical/hopeful wannabes at the bottom). I was impressed that a male screenwriting team got the dynamics so right (they usually don't!), but then I saw it was based on a play by a female playwright, and even if they changed lots of the other stuff, that underlying core might be why the interactions feel so accurate to me.

Or maybe they were just uncommonly observant writers, who knows. I sure don't! Anyway, regardless of who gets the credit, it was pretty pretty good.

One thing that is not good is Katharine Hepburn's hairstyle for much of this movie. Oof. She's gorgeous despite it, but for a lot of the film she's basically wearing some kind of flattened hair souffle on her head. It's not a good look.

The central performances are all really great though. Hepburn's great, Ginger Rogers is great, Gail Patrick is great (I love her, she's basically Cornelia mk.2 in this, and she's probably my favorite Old Movies! actress now because god damn if she's not just like everything I've ever wanted to be in these roles), the bit parts (incl. Lucille Ball) are all fun to watch, and it's just all-around a minor but brilliant gem of a film.

Some of the comedies we've watched haven't had nearly enough jokes to qualify as comedies. This is a "drama" where the jokes fly so fast and sharp that you're liable to miss them if you aren't listening closely in every conversation (also there are about 20 minutes of actual drama toward the end, which is not coincidentally my least favorite stretch of the movie. It's not bad, I just vastly prefer the parts where everybody's being rapid-fire catty-friendly at everybody else).

10/10
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Postby mystery meat » Wed Mar 16, 2016 9:41 pm

:D
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Postby Spoilt Victorian Child » Wed Mar 16, 2016 11:00 pm

Meanwhile I was worried the whole time that she was going to object to that characterization of women.
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Postby Merciel » Wed Mar 16, 2016 11:08 pm

Nah that's pretty dead on for dorm dynamics, which is pretty much what that boarding house was.

Plus the added financial pressure that forces these poor girls to go out on dates with Seattle lumber dealers in order to get a half-decent meal.
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Postby Spoilt Victorian Child » Thu Mar 17, 2016 2:33 am

Some other thoughts:

I liked how the first five minutes of One Hour with You are basically just the setup for a dirty joke, particularly since it requires no setup at all:

"Hey, you can't make love in public!"
"But officer, he can!"

If his accent were a little better I think Chevalier would be the perfect Lubitsch actor. Everything he does seems suggestive. Also, I guess sometimes the accent helps.

Jeanette MacDonald's singing is a little rougher than I'd like.

Speaking of alternative beauty standards, I believe Kay Francis describes William Powell as being as handsome as her friend can imagine. I love William Powell as much as anyone, and I don't know her friend very well, but I really doubt that is true.

Jewel Robbery is pretty great all in all but they definitely thought pot was funnier than it is. But maybe it was that funny in 1932.

I think the only thing I have to add on Stage Door is that Andrea Leeds is perfectly cast as the talented person everyone is rooting for. She absolutely looks like that person. She is not very good at crying, however.

Oh, the butler is really funny. "I bet I can get you a job with a ventriloquist."
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Postby Spoilt Victorian Child » Thu Mar 17, 2016 2:41 am

Also Google suggests that it was the same monkey in The Kid Brother and The Cameraman. Either way, it is impossible to do this monkey justice. I hope that it personally was a millionaire.
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Postby Merciel » Thu Mar 17, 2016 1:39 pm

Oh one other thing I liked about Stage Door (it's so minor, but it's so great) was how annoyed Ginger Rogers was when her friend told her that the Seattle guys were going to arrive all dressed up, and then they roll in wearing business suits instead of the tuxes she had clearly been expecting.

Just the death stare she shoots her friend upon realizing that (a) she is now overdressed; and (b) these guys don't know how to dress (or otherwise live up to her standards of civilized conduct, since they probably do think they're in formalwear and that's why they misinformed her friend).

There's an infinity of blind date disappointment in that stare and it is just fantastic. That's the moment, even more than when Rogers comes home limping from getting her feet stomped by inept dancers, where you know exactly what she thinks of these guys.

edit: and then also of course the in-joke of Ginger Rogers getting her feet stomped by incompetent dancers.
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Postby Merciel » Thu Mar 17, 2016 2:00 pm

In a Lonely Place (1950)

I realize there's a long and venerable tradition of noir heroes having porn-actor names, but "Dix Steele" really has to be the best/worst example I've ever encountered. What a name.

So here we have the ostensibly tragic tale of how Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart), violent alcoholic, is erroneously suspected of murdering a young lady and this cloud of suspicion causes him to Ruin His Life.

The problem with this premise is that no, actually, he ruined his life. He's already an extremely erratic, hot-tempered, impulsively violent shithead way before Mildred kicks the bucket. His agent and oldest friend straight-up tells his fiance Lauren that he's a complete maniac and has been that way for as long as the agent's known him and she's just gonna have to suck it up and get married to him (which is like: lolwut? what the hell kind of a pre-marriage pep talk is that, even in a '50s pulp noir universe?). The only real effect of the erroneous murder suspicions is that they enable Gloria Grahame to hit the eject button on a clearly abusive and unsustainable relationship that would probably have gotten her killed, one way or another, had she stayed in it. So really the "tragedy" is the best possible thing that could have happened to her, and she should probably be grateful that poor ol' coat-check Mildred fell on a grenade for the cause.

Anyway. That aside, this movie is pretty good. It's funny in the beginning and then gets darker and darker as it goes on, until the end is straight-up psycho melodrama.

Also Wikipedia has this hilarious/horrible tidbit about the filming:

Grahame and [director Nicholas] Ray's marriage was starting to come apart during filming. Grahame was forced to sign a contract stipulating that "my husband [Ray] shall be entitled to direct, control, advise, instruct and even command my actions during the hours from 9 AM to 6 PM, every day except Sunday...I acknowledge that in every conceivable situation his will and judgment shall be considered superior to mine and shall prevail." Grahame was also forbidden to "nag, cajole, tease or in any other feminine fashion seek to distract or influence him." The two did separate during filming. Afraid that one of them would be replaced, Ray took to sleeping in a dressing room, lying and saying that he needed to work on the script. Grahame played along with the charade and nobody knew that they had separated. Though there was a brief reconciliation, the couple divorced in 1952, when Ray found Grahame in bed with his thirteen-year-old son.


Gloria Grahame really was an unbelievable trainwreck. What a sad, sad life she made for herself.

8/10
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Postby Merciel » Thu Mar 17, 2016 2:08 pm

Also, some thoughts on the clothes in this movie:

-- Bogey is dressed horribly in this film. I assume those were intentional choices to show what a nutjob his character was, but seriously, those white-buttoned dark shirts and unvented sportcoat combos, ugh. Also the loudly patterned bowties with his tuxes, ugh x2. It's official, I'm a black tie purist, because god damn those things were hideous.

-- There is a marked deterioration in formalwear standards from the '30s to the '50s. The fancy rich-people hangout scenes, which in older movies would have been exclusively black (if not white) tie, are here populated primarily with a mix of suits and sportcoats, with only a sprinkling of tuxes, and most of the tuxes have "creative" variations like Bogey's fugly bowties. The only white tie in the film belongs to his inebriated ridiculous actor friend, and is specificaly called out with a "did you forget to change out of your costume?"

BOO HISS. I do not approve.

-- I did like that the police lieutenant's wife was wearing what appeared to be a homemade dress while entertaining Gloria Grahame's character at her house and telling Grahame about how she personally sewed all the tableclothes and curtains in their home. She didn't mention the dress but it was a very homemade-looking dress. Oh the '50s, peak era of ladies' home ec and the notion that women ought to be able to make their own (dowdy, almost certainly either pastel pink or pastel blue) clothes.

-- The police captain's Joker suit was pretty good too.
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Postby mystery meat » Thu Mar 17, 2016 2:10 pm

yeah Grahame was a huge nymphomaniac and i don't think Ray's relationship with his son ever really recovered after that.
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Postby Spoilt Victorian Child » Thu Mar 17, 2016 3:46 pm

I was impressed with In a Lonely Place most of the way but it kind of trips itself up at the end. It can't really sell the tragedy angle because it's not clear that the stress of the case was the only problem; like Merciel said, you're mainly left with the impression that Laurel has accidentally been saved. I think it probably would've been better to move the confession to a coda and just have it end on more of a noir-ish shrug. But then I guess you sacrifice the tension of the phone ringing.
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Postby Spoilt Victorian Child » Thu Mar 17, 2016 4:02 pm

Here is a great bit from Adolphe Menjou's Wikipedia page (presumably written by someone who mainly speaks German):

Because of Menjou's public support of McCarthy's hunt for communists, the anti-imperialistic propaganda of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) used to display their western opponents typically with a Menjou-style moustache. Vice versa, in the GDR it was rated as a statement of political opposition to trim one's moustache that way. This kind of beard became a general symbol for the demimonde, criminal Westler and in Germany it is still called Menjou-Bärtchen (Menjou beardlet). In German film and theatre play dubious gentlemen, opportunists, corrupt politicians, fraudulent persuaders, marriage impostors or other charming criminals are often equipped with such a Menjou-Bärtchen and in real life it is linked by prejudice and self-fulfilling prophecy to occupations like car trader, traveling salesman, insurance agent, pimp, investment consultant or estate agent.

Also delighted to see that the German word for "mustache" is "Schnurrbart."
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Postby G_S » Thu Mar 17, 2016 4:07 pm

Merciel wrote:In a Lonely Place (1950)

So here we have the ostensibly tragic tale of how Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart), violent alcoholic, is erroneously suspected of murdering a young lady and this cloud of suspicion causes him to Ruin His Life.

The problem with this premise is that no, actually, he ruined his life.


don't neglect that this movie is also about the war and PTSD, like a lot of other noir
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Postby Merciel » Thu Mar 17, 2016 6:03 pm

Is it? If so, that aspect is awfully ambiguous and underplayed relative to at least some of the other noirs we've seen. Dix's old war buddy seems completely fine, no signs of PTSD whatsoever; he's a contented police detective with a ridiculously domestic wife, the very epitome of '50s happy coupledom. And the agent tells Laurel that he's known Dix for 20 years and he's always had a hot temper, which means his impulse control and violence problems predate any possible war experience.

The prevailing interpretation I've seen (which, granted, is from like two sources, because I don't exactly delve deeply into the scholarly analyses of these things, not that they aren't interesting) seems to be that the director, at least, took the view that the "artistic temperament" deserves special license to be shitty.

In fact it was kind of boggling to read that Nicholas Ray apparently thought the Dix-Laurel relationship bore some resemblance to his own relationship with Gloria Grahame (and that he didn't see Dix as a complete asshole/thought Laurel bore some culpability for the dissolution of their relationship), which is a total wtf.
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Postby Phil » Thu Mar 17, 2016 6:21 pm

I've always taken it as a pretty clear attempt at self-criticism, which Ray did quite a bit of (this and his last film, We Can't Go Home Again, being the two best examples, though the later is considerably murkier). I can't imagine what the argument is that Dix 'deserves special license to be shitty'? I guess you can complain that it's too sentimental in that it ends with Dix just completely pathetic, but I'm having a hard time seeing how anyone could possibly read it as Ray flattering himself. I guess if you think that the voiceover at the end lends itself too easily to being taken as an earnest attempt at pathos rather than the last ironic turn of the knife?
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Postby Spoilt Victorian Child » Thu Mar 17, 2016 6:24 pm

The detective says he's always been that way, but Dix was his commanding officer -- I don't think they knew each other before the war (but maybe I'm mistaken).

There are several references to how he was "before the war" (usually in a "he hasn't been this way since" construction). I agree that it's underplayed but I think it's definitely there. Was PTSD a thing the censors (or HUAC, I guess) were looking for?
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Postby Merciel » Thu Mar 17, 2016 6:40 pm

Phil wrote:I can't imagine what the argument is that Dix 'deserves special license to be shitty'?


I'm paraphrasing (because I need to file a thing and can't dig up the original article where I read it), but it's tied in to the idea that Great Artists are inherently mercurial, self-destructive, etc., and that one can't have the genius without the corrosive aspects as well. This comes through most baldly in the agent's monologue re: "you've got to take the bad with the good." Dix is an Artist, therefore it is to be expected that he'll be erratic and impulsive (and, apparently, prone to near-homicidal ragefits).

I'm not really sure whether you're supposed to buy the argument, but it does get presented in the film.
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Postby Merciel » Mon Mar 21, 2016 4:03 pm

Pygmalion (1938)

My initial reaction to this movie was "huh, that is a really faithful adaptation of the play" (since I'd previously seen My Fair Lady, which... isn't), but then I looked it up on Wikipedia and saw that Shaw did the screenplay himself, so that all makes sense then.

Leslie Howard is great as Prof. Higgins. Wendy Hiller is fine as Cockney flower girl Eliza but a little underwhelming as Fancy Fake Princess Eliza; she just isn't pretty or regal enough for me to buy that pompous lil' Karpathy would be so quick to claim her as a descendant of his own country's royal blood. I can imagine somebody immediately seizing onto a claim that Audrey Hepburn is a princess from their royal house (naturally; who wouldn't want to take credit for Audrey Hepburn?). But Hiller is just... not that sparkly.

That's a minor nitpick though. This is obviously a great adaptation of the play and the best version to watch if you want to get Shaw's actual views and inveighing against "middle-class morality."

8.5/10
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Postby brody » Mon Mar 21, 2016 6:23 pm

a man called adam (1966)

Image

like a jazz world inside llewyn davis starring sammy davis jr as the titular adam, cicely tyson as his lover, frank sinatra jr as his protege, and louis armstrong as an older musician. davis jr is so fucking good here
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Postby Merciel » Tue Mar 29, 2016 12:02 am

Easy Living (1937)

Whether this counts as a good movie probably depends on whether you're willing to accept people tripping and falling over stuff as an adequate substitute for jokes.

Personally, I am not.

5.5/10
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Postby mystery meat » Tue Mar 29, 2016 12:07 am

but the automat and ray milland's massive hotel room are so cool :(
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Postby Merciel » Tue Mar 29, 2016 12:42 am

The automat was conceptually cool just because I hadn't seen one explored in such detail before. I think we've seen them in a couple of previous Old Movies but they've just been passively in the background, whereas in this one it was a major plot point so we got to see how it all worked, and that was neat.

Which reminds me, since SVC and I were wondering what caused the disappearance of the automat, here's the answer:

The format was threatened by the arrival of fast food, served over the counter and with more payment flexibility than traditional automats; in the 1970s, the automats' remaining appeal in their core urban markets was strictly nostalgic. Another contributing factor to their demise was inflation of the 1970s, making the food too expensive to be bought conveniently with coins, in a time before bill acceptors commonly appeared on vending equipment.
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Postby Spoilt Victorian Child » Tue Mar 29, 2016 12:50 am

I liked it more than Merciel but it didn't do much for me either. I would take that hotel room though.

I am glad to see I guessed correctly re: the automat.
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Postby Spoilt Victorian Child » Tue Mar 29, 2016 2:01 am

The only line that really feels like Sturges to me is when Ball Sr. refers to the magazine as "Boy's Constant Reminder." That cracked me up for so long.
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Postby Merciel » Thu Mar 31, 2016 2:06 am

The 39 Steps (1935)

This really just felt like a rough draft for The Lady Vanishes and North By Northwest, which recycle a bunch of setups and plot points first presented in this film. I suppose my "first draft" impression might have been accentuated by the picture quality being pretty poor for a lot of this movie; I don't know whether it was filmed that way or whether it was just the version we watched, but it did seem fuzzier and less distinct than even a lot of the '20s stuff. Similarly, the humor and suspense elements seemed markedly less focused than they'd become in the later versions, and the plot didn't really hang together that well (although I don't know how much of that is down to the book and how much was due to shoehorning Hitchcock's preferred elements into the adaptation).

But it was still pretty good.

7.5/10
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Postby Merciel » Thu Mar 31, 2016 2:17 am

Heroes for Sale (1933)

I don't know whether it's awesome or depressing that this movie is so resonant in 2016. You've got the neglected veterans coming home from war, the "good guy" who gets life-destroyingly hooked on opiates after suffering a legitimate injury and being given painkillers by a doctor, the communist who flips to caricature capitalism as soon as he comes into money, blue-collar workers losing their jobs to automation, the question of whether private charity can provide adequately for the massed poor, basically a whole bunch of the themes that are playing front and center in this year's election cycle.

So that was pretty neat/surprising. I didn't know what to expect when we started this movie (SVC rarely tells me more than the general genre, run time, and who the main actors are before we start a show) and I wasn't anticipating any of that.

As a movie it didn't do a whole lot for me, though. Social commentary pieces rarely do. It was mostly just interesting to see that we're still facing down all the exact same problems some three generations down the road.

7/10
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