The times they are unchangin’

So guess who gets DVDs by mail now? This girl! Two weeks ago Modern Times (1936) blew in through the post, along with Bridesmaids (I tell you I watch everything).

Modern_Times_poster

Modern Times was Chaplin’s first sound film — the 1940 film The Great Dictator his first “talkie”, which interestingly, he swore he would never make. In 1936 it seems he hadn’t reconciled himself to the advent of talkies. Except for a scene in which Chaplin’s  Tramp entertains a cafe audience by singing complete gibberish, he says not a peep. Narration and dialogue occur mainly on intertitles.

It’s also my first exposure to Chaplin’s work — don’t judge, internet. Can I be honest here? All that his name brought to mind before this was a goofy tramp with a tiny mustache. Modern Times changed that. The clarity! Paulette Goddard’s first scene stunned me. Her character, so joyous, so alive as she scrambles along the docks to survive, gritting her teeth against a sharp knife — and life.

paulette-goddard

Goddard as “A Gamin.”

The satire and humor! It’s impossible to pick a favorite scene from this film. Among the many is when Chaplin, on the verge of a nervous breakdown after working on a production line, goes on autopilot and attempts to tighten the secretary’s skirt buttons with his wrenches. Or how about after he falls into the cogs?

chaplin modern times

Or when the mechanic falls through it? And who can forget the American daydream house where grapes grow around the kitchen door and cows walk up for milking?

It’s not all laughs, of course — they live in the midst of the Great Depression. Tragedy comes in the form of a bread line. The tramp alternately lands in jail and gets fired. Life fights dirty and they fight back — often ending up on the losing side — but they try.

I was excited watching this film. Excited, frustrated, saddened, amused. I could relate to it in different ways — many people can. But the main feeling threading its way throughout the film? Hope. “Buck up — never say die!” the tramp tells “a gamin” as they sit, homeless and exhausted, along the side of a vast, empty highway. She does … and we do too.

Advertisements

Opera haters, you’re missing out.

I went on a crazed movie purchase binge recently, and now the 1955 film Interrupted Melody sits atop my T.V. (Does anyone put their DVDs back in the cabinet? Really? Okay, never mind). Finally! This film is seriously underrated. Based on opera singer Marjorie Lawrence’s  memoir, it recounts her rise to, and later, her fall from fame after she contracts polio.

Interrupted Melody poster

Eleanor Parker was nominated for an Academy Award for this role, and with good reason: her performance was gripping, emotional, inspiring.

Eleanor Parker Interrupted Melody Delilah

Parker as Dalila in a scene from Saint-Saëns’ opera Samson et Dalila.

Parker’s voice was dubbed by Eileen Farrell, who insisted on going uncredited for the score.

Eileen Farrell

Opera singer Eileen Farrell.

Something to do with Marjorie Lawrence wanting to sing the score, and the producers not, and Farrell not wanting to steal her thunder. Pretty selfless if you ask me.

eleanor parker carmen

I read that Parker actually sang on set to make the scenes more realistic. It worked. All of the opera scenes are spectacular, but their collaboration on Carmen was my favorite.

Glenn Ford also delivered an excellent performance as Thomas King the doctor, Lawrence’s love interest.

glenn-ford-interrupted melody

But his character grated a little on my nerves. He bordered on sexist at times, wanting her to stay home as much as possible and make babies, wanting her to sacrifice her 6 month tour (which isn’t that long), the opportunity of a lifetime, to keep him company. And the film seems to agree, because she contracts polio during the tour. “I’m such a fool,” she says, weeping, as Tom gazes down at her immobile form. As if to say, if she had just stayed home and made babies with Tom like a good wife should, instead of gallivanting all over South America, this would have never happened. Hello! When you’re a world-renowned opera singer at the height of your career and love what you do, some compromises have to be made. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s challenging being spouse to a celebrity. She made sacrifices. He just didn’t appreciate them. 

But I digress. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know when she contracts polio. Therefore, I can’t assume anything. Plus, later on he makes up for being a jerk.

On doing research, I discovered that Eleanor Parker passed away this past December. She was 91. The Baltimore Sun wrote a short but warm tribute on her passing.

Summer Stock (1950)

Summer Stock film poster

Jaz: Summer Stock makes a great case for saving the newspaper industry. And recycling. Because not only does Gene Kelly make glorious music with newsprint, he also reads the articles AFTER dancing all over them. After which I’m sure he lined the canary cage … and then composted it. If that’s not love for paper-based media, I don’t know what is.

Summer-Stock-Kelly-Newspaper

I’d like to see YOU tap dance on your Kindle!

I love musicals, Gene Kelly, and Judy Garland (excepting a brief period when my sister played Garland’s music nonstop — for months I couldn’t listen to “The Trolley Song” without wincing). To see all three of them joined in technicolorful harmony was bliss. It makes me want to watch Meet Me in St. Louis and For Me and My Gal again.

Summer stock friendly star

Judy Garland singing “Friendly Star”

Perhaps nostalgia has something to do with it: a part of my childhood is punctuated by the sound of the Summer Stock soundtrack on scratchy vinyl. My personal favorite? The Gospel-inspired song, “Dig for Your Dinner.”

As for plot, if it’s depth you’re going for, brush off that copy of Moby Dick. But if you want to see whether or not the theater group pulls off their barn-staged musical, Gene Kelly tap dance on the dining room table, and Judy Garland get happy — in a strange, albeit wonderfully artsy choreographed act — leave the dust bunnies undisturbed.

summer-stock-judy-garland-1950_i-G-67-6719-ELVA100ZBeaver and I give it four carrots (out of five).

Note: This post is in no way meant to discourage the reading of Moby Dick. In fact, I fully intend to finish it myself. Right after I watch Meet Me in St. Louis.

Liz: I was unsure about the movie for the first few minutes, but then Gene Kelly showed up and it got a whole lot better.
summer stock garland kelly
I liked the overall story–hard-working girl trying to save her farm gets shackled with her irresponsible sister’s boyfriend’s acting troupe. Trouble of the heart then arises when her paternally dominated fiancé (and his father) objects to the show being put on in her barn and when she falls for her sister’s boyfriend as he begins to learn where on the family tree the leading lady characteristics really are.
The cast includes numerous familiar faces beyond the main stars, which always makes me happy. The musical numbers were okay. Nothing spectacular, but not bad, though I wasn’t sure what to make of the semi-religious ones, such as the one where Judy Garland dances around in a suit jacket and stockings.
summer stock 1950 3
I usually don’t like romances between two people already involved in relationships, but I liked this story. It was a bit cliché with the oft used circumstance of one character being in a lackluster engagement with a likable-but-not-romantic-hero-type and the other being in a relationship with a beautiful but spoilt and selfish woman. Predictable, but was cute nonetheless.

Overall conclusion: Enjoyable and worth the watch.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Liz: The Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of my favorite 1950s sci-fi/horror movies. It is a “must see” along with The War of the World, Forbidden Planet, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. When I say that it’s one of my favorites, it’s not because it’s a movie I want to watch over and over again, but because it’s unique (in my movie watching experience anyway), and memorable, particularly for someone who first saw it as a little girl. With a dangerous creature that comes back to life, a handsome hero and a lovely heroine, and the exotic setting in the Amazon, I couldn’t help but like it as a child. Even the title had a certain something to it. To this day, I think of the movie when I hear the word lagoon, and when I’m swimming, I think of Julie Adams swimming in the muddy Amazon—doing graceful backstrokes to be precise—and of course, the creature who might be lurking beneath her, its long claws reaching out for her.

When I watched the movie as an adult, I still enjoyed it and found it somewhat suspenseful. I was surprised to realize that Richard Carlson was the handsome hero. I’ve always associated with him with the quiet, absent-minded doctor in the Abbot and Costello movie Hold that Ghost.  I’ve seen him in several movies in the last few years, and I enjoyed his performances, but it still feels a little strange to see him as the bold, muscular hero instead of the mild-mannered, nearsighted, professor type.

Fun fact I found on IMDB: The creature (Gill Man) appeared in the “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights” episode of The Munsters as Uncle Gilbert. (I remember seeing this episode now. It was cute. He wore a trench coat and hat.)

There is a sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, called The Revenge of the Creature, in which the creature is captured and taken to an aquarium in Florida, but I didn’t care for it. As often happens, the first was better.

Jaz: Picture this: You’re a famed bilingual ichthyologist meandering through Brazil when you come across a human-like fossilized webbed hand sticking out of a rock. This could be a “missing link”! What do you do? Do you:

  1. Rush back to the Biological Institute and return with research equipment and a team of learned scientists
  2. Take photos, document, section off the area and report your findings to a scientific organization
  3. Yank the thing out of the rock with your bare hands and leave unarmed natives as guards in the Amazon jungle

If you guessed c, you’re right! This is correct scientific procedure, people.

Little does Dr. Maia, the famed ichthyologist, know that his discovery will lead to numerous deaths (First four are natives — natives are expendable), and also ruin a perfectly good swimsuit.

Blissfully ignorant, Dr. Maia eventually returns with his former student, Dr. David Reed, and Dr. Reed’s assistant/wannabe fiancé, Kay. Being a beautiful woman, she has no need of a degree, only a little field training and a pair of short shorts. Also, he brings the highly egotistical and mercenary lab head Mark Williams.

There’s some kind of vague love triangle insinuated here: Kay leads on Mark because she feels in his debt for her training, but really wants to marry David because they’ve been together for six whole months. Mark is possessive and David is annoyed. Kay just wants to show off her nice backstroke in her white swimsuit.

The creature is the only one who truly appreciates Kay’s backstroke and kidnaps her. This of course suggests that a female version of the creature exists, but we never see a second creature, which begs the question: is this the last of the species? Or can it reproduce asexually?

Anyway. The creature is smitten and traps them in the lagoon, creating panic on board. How are they to escape?

This film left me with a few unanswered questions as well, such as: how did the actor in the creature suit manage to swim in that thing? Why would anyone swim into creature-infested Amazonian waters in the dead of night wearing only swim trunks? And, where can I buy that white swimsuit?

The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a genuine horror classic. It’s cheesy, suspenseful and quite artistic, especially in the underwater scenes. Along with The Blob, it’s the perfect Halloween film.

And yes, I did draw that header image.

September Swashbucklers: The Princess Bride

Liz:

10 Reasons to Like The Princess Bride

  1. “As you wish” (especially when said as tumbling down hill)
  2. “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
  3. “Inconceivable.”
  4. “Rodents of unusual size? I don’t think they exist.”
  5. “He’s only mostly dead.”
  6. “True love”
  7. Swordplay left handed and then right handed.
  8. Both drinks had poison
  9. Names like Buttercup, the Dread Pirate Roberts, Miracle Max, and Prince Humperdinck
  10. A grandfather reading to his sick grandson, but skipping the kissing scenes at grandson’s request

Aside from being remarkably quotable, The Princess Bride has likeable and memorable characters (like Fezzik) and just memorable characters (like Vizzini), a great swashbuckling scene, a sweet giant, a fairy tale feel, and a touching frame story. To my surprise, it’s actually based on the 1973 fantasy novel of the same name by William Goldman, who wrote the screenplay for the movie. I have the book, though I’ve never read it. The book’s cover announces it is an abridgement (though its size belies that) of a work by S. Morgenstern. Don’t be fooled: there’s no such unabridged book or such an author. That’s just part of the fun.

What do you like about The Princess Bride? Have you read the book?

Jaz: Last month a friend confessed that she’d never seen The Princess Bride. “Inconceivable!” I thought. Hasn’t everyone watched this film?

Sadly, no. And for those who haven’t, I have this to say: you must watch this film at least once in your life. Add it to your bucket list (or whatever else you call it). For my part, I’ve seen it one too many times – and still the “game of wits” scene never fails to make me laugh. The Princess Bride has everything one could wish for in a fairy-tale swashbuckler: corny, dominating theme music, quirky loveable characters, cheesy special effects, over-the-top acting, improbable situations, and of course, plenty of swashbuckling swashbucklingness.

As I recall, the film was – overall – pretty faithful to the book. It omitted Prince Humperdinck’s former matrimonial interest, a woman obsessed with hats, and tweaked the ending to make it more palatable to American audiences (in the book the story ends with Inigo’s life in peril as they are pursued by Humperdinck’s men). Sorry, spoiler. You know me.

Another thing I like about The Princess Bride is how it revolves around a grandfather, the narrator, reading aloud to his young grandson who’s in bed with a cold. Every so often the boy interrupts when the story gets mushy: “They’re kissing again. Do we have to read the kissing parts?” and, “Is this a kissing book?”

Well, is it a kissing film? It’s a little bit of that, and so much more. But you’ll have to find out the rest for yourself.