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Archive for October, 2015

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

the_greatest_show_on_earth_posterDirected by Cecil B. DeMille

I have only been to the circus once. I was two, I think. The only thing I remember about the circus is the elephants coming in to the ring; that’s all. Because I have so little circus-watching experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie. I was glad I didn’t have high expectations, because I was able to enjoy it, even though it has its ups and downs.

So what’s the story? The Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey Circus is not doing well. People just don’t want to come to the circus anymore. The backers don’t want to do a full season. Brad, the circus manager, gets them to promise that the circus will stay out as long as they stay in the black. To do this, he hires Sebastian, a famous trapeze artist. This makes unknown, but excellent, trapeze artist Holly angry, because she wanted to be in the center ring. She decides to prove to Brad and Sebastian that she is the best.

The Good: The circus is amazing. I kind of wish Cecil B. DeMille had just made a documentary about the circus and the real circus performers, because the story wasn’t all that interesting. I would have loved to know how people got involved in the circus, how they learned to do some of the incredible things they do, if they would ever consider leaving the circus. The circus was truly the best part of the movie.

The cinematography was well done. It had to be in order to capture the feeling of the circus, the size and the noise and the color and the bustle and the amount of work it is to put a circus on.

Gloria Grahame is fantastic as Angel, a “sadder but wiser” circus performer who loves Brad, but isn’t sure that he will love her back because of her past. Charlton Heston (whom I did not recognize in normal clothes and a hat) is very good as Brad, the manager who will do anything to keep the circus going. Cornel Wilde is charming as the playboy performer Sebastian. It’s always nice to see Jimmy Stewart, even though his role as the clown with a mysterious past isn’t very large. His little dog is adorable, too. Lyle Bettger was good as the Angel-obsessed Klaus. And it is fun to see famous circus people like John Ringling North and Emmett Kelly doing their thing.

The Bad: I did not like Betty Hutton, who played Holly. She was more annoying than anything. Apparently, she was a famous singer at the time, but her acting skills could have used some work.

Since I grew up watching The Ten Commandments, I’m used to Cecil B. DeMille narrating with great weight about serious subjects. It was really odd to hear him narrating about the circus. It wasn’t necessarily bad, per se, but it was really weird for me. It probably wouldn’t bother someone who isn’t familiar with DeMille’s voice.

The Ugly: The story is really weak and not particularly interesting. How the writers managed to win an Oscar for best story is beyond me. It must have been a weak year for that award.

The train wreck at the end was probably good for its day, but it doesn’t hold up well. Klaus is obviously sitting in front of screen when he’s supposedly on the tracks. I try not to let that kind of stuff get to me, but sometimes it does. This is one of those times.

Oscars Won: Best picture; best writing, motion picture story.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best director; best costume design, color; best film editing.

Moulin Rouge (1952)

Poster - Moulin Rouge (1952)_11Directed by John Huston

I will freely admit that part of the reason I’m doing 1952 right now is because after watching Moulin Rouge! (2001), I was curious about this movie. I wasn’t sure if the 2001 version was a drug-induced remake of the same story or a weird Baz Luhrmann fantasy that had nothing to do with John Huston’s movie. It turns out that except for the setting, they don’t really have much to do with each other. That made me glad, because I much prefer John Huston’s vision over Luhrmann’s, and I hate it when people are more familiar with subpar remakes than with the fantastic originals.

So what’s the story? Aristocrat Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec turns his back on his privileged upbringing to become an artist during the heady days of late 19th century France.

The Good: Josè Ferrer. Toulouse-Lautrec is a complicated character in this movie. He’s an angry drunk who is convinced that life won’t bring him anything good. Ferrer does an excellent job with that.

Henri has two different women in his life: Marie Chalet and Myriamme Hayam. Colette Marchand is Marie Chalet, a beautiful, yet poor, woman who doesn’t mind Henri’s deformities. Marie is a hateful, pettish gold-digger, and Marchand plays her perfectly. The more sympathetic, mature Myriamme is played heart-breakingly well by Suzanne Flon.

Another great thing about this movie is that it has Zsa Zsa Gabor. Even though she has top billing after Jose Ferrer, her role is rather small. But you can tell that she’s having so much fun basically playing herself that you just have to love her. I have to admit, I find the Gabor sisters fascinating; they were kind of like the Kardashians (famous for no good reason), but super classy. I think they would have interesting people to know. And I will stop crushing on Zsa Zsa now and move on.

There is some clever camera work in this movie. In real life, Toulouse-Lautrec was 5’1”. Josè Ferrer was much taller. He spent quite a bit of the movie walking on his knees to be closer to the right height. You can’t tell, and I love that you can’t tell. This movie would have been just silly if they had done a bad job with Henri’s height because it’s so central to the story.

The dancing in the movie is ridiculously amazing. I have never seen the cancan done in real life, but I had a vague idea that it involved high kicks while balancing on one foot. I would suggest that even if you don’t ever watch this movie, at least google the cancan scene from this movie. It takes serious skill and athleticism to do it. I was blown away. Oh, and in case you’re wondering (or worried), no, the dancers don’t wear split bloomers. The movie’s from the 1950s; that would have been too scandalous.

I love how 19th century Paris and Toulouse-Lautrec’s art were brought to life. The clothes and the colors and the costumes are all fantastic. There are rich people and poor people and you can differentiate between them (which isn’t always the case in the movies). The costume and makeup people paid close attention to the art and took some of the clothes, makeup, and hairstyles straight from his paintings. I loved it. I also loved the two interludes where the paintings themselves were flashed on the screen to music that matched them. It was a good way to show passage of time and also to highlight what Toulouse-Lautrec did and what lower-class Paris was like at the time. It was very cool.

Even though I minored in art history in college, I don’t know much about Toulouse-Lautrec’s life in general. Seeing as how this is a biopic based on a novel based on his life, it’s probably not completely accurate. But I liked the story. It didn’t make Henri out to be perfect, but it gave him more dignity than he had in Moulin Rouge! (2001), which was something that really bothered me about that movie.

The Bad: I can’t think of anything about this movie that’s bad. It’s mostly good, except for the ending, which flies past “bad” and lands in “ugly”.

The Ugly: The ending is so cheesily bad. It rivals Goodbye, Mr. Chips for cheesy badness.

Oscars Won: Best art direction-set decoration, color; best costume design, color.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Josè Ferrer); best actress in a supporting role (Colette Marchand); best director; best film editing.

Random Fact: It is really hard to type “Moulin Rouge”. My fingers want to type “Moulin Rogue,” which works, too, but it sounds like a superhero who patrols the streets of Paris. (“Who was that masked man by the mill?” “Don’t you know? That was the Moulin Rogue!”)

Another Random Fact: Peter Cushing (AKA Grand Moff Tarkin) has a small role in this movie. Watch for him at the horse races!

Ivanhoe (1952)

Ivanhoe (1952)_01

Directed by Richard Thorpe

I read Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe when I was fourteen or fifteen, and I thought it was fabulous. It has all the necessary elements for an excellent swashbuckling story: adventure, romance, chivalry, and jousting. I had high hopes for the movie, too, but sadly, they were dashed. The elements were all still there, but something was missing. It didn’t feel alive somehow.

So what’s the story? Saxon knight Ivanhoe, who has been to fight in the Crusades, refuses to believe that King Richard is dead. As he makes his way back to England, he rides past every castle he can find, hoping that his English singing will attract the attention of a captive king. This long and slightly foolish plan works; King Richard throws him a letter explaining that he is being held for random. Prince John knows about the ransom, but refuses to pay it so that he can be king instead of his brother. When Ivanhoe reaches England, he not only has to raise the ransom, but right many wrongs and rescue damsels in distress.

The Good: The music is beautiful. It’s scored by Miklos Rozsa, who would go on to score Ben-Hur several years later. The music is very rich and full. The adjective I want to use is “orchestral,” but I’m not sure that would mean anything to anyone else. Hmm. How to put it? He uses the full orchestra to great effect. That makes it sound really boring, but it’s not. It’s really quite stirring.

The best actors in Ivanhoe were not the main characters. The person whose acting stood out to me the most was George Sanders as the villainous Norman knight De Bois-Guilbert. Even though his character was not the most chivalrous, his emotions rang true and he managed to take his flat character and make viewers pity him. It was impressive.

Other people with smaller parts were also able to make the most of their parts. Emlyn Williams as Ivanhoe’s slave-turned-page, Wamba, provided some welcome comic relief. Cedric, Ivanhoe’s bitter Saxon father, was played excellently by Finlay Currie. And Guy Rolfe was the vilest and scariest Prince John I have ever seen.

Although I read the book several years ago, I remember thinking that Rowena was terribly disappointing for a Saxon princess. She was just so blah. (That impression may have been wrong; like I said, it was a while ago.) But in this version, she has spirit and is a lot more awesome. Joan Fontaine did a very good job of showing her strength, her pride, and her jealousy, even if I thought she was a little old for the part. (Side note – this is the first time I’ve seen Joan Fontaine and thought, “Oh, yeah. She and Olivia de Havilland are totally sisters.” The resemblance really shines in this movie.)

The jousting scenes were pretty cool, even if some of the men’s colours were not manly looking. That was a seriously impressive sport, although I’m glad it’s not a big thing anymore because it also looks incredibly dangerous.

 The Bad: Robert Taylor is terribly miscast as Ivanhoe. He doesn’t even bother to try an English accent, which is a little jarring when everyone around him has one. He’s too old to convincingly be a young, dashing knight, and he’s much too solemn.

There is a scene where Ivanhoe has been taken captive, along with Rowena, Rebecca, Cedric, and Wamba. Robin of Locksley (yes, THAT Robin of Locksley) comes with his men to free them. There’s a huge battle with falling rocks and longbows and battering rams and swordfights, and it should be awesome. But it’s not. Watching people fire arrows at each other gets really boring after a while, and the swordplay is not well-choreographed. It may be the most disappointing medieval battle scene in a movie ever.

The Ugly: Elizabeth Taylor is so wooden as the Jewess Rebecca. She is extremely beautiful, but a damsel in distress should show some actual distress once in a while, instead of just looking pretty and putting her hand to her mouth. When she spoke, she sounded like she was reading lines, not speaking from her heart.

The worst thing about this movie was that it was so stiff. There was no sense of fun. There was no swash to the buckle, so to speak. Everything was taken so seriously. I wanted to say, “Hey! People! You’re in a castle! You’re fighting baddies! You’ve got awesome clothes! Smile once in a while. Look like you’re having fun!” No one ever did. Most of the separate elements were fine, but it just didn’t meld in a good way. A movie like this, set in the same time period and with so many of the same elements as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), is going to get compared to that movie. It needed to distinguish itself in some way, and sadly, it didn’t.

Oscars Won: None.

Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best cinematography, color; best music, scoring of a dramatic or comedy picture.

The Quiet Man (1952)

the-quiet-man-movie-poster-1952-1010203160Directed by John Ford

 As a librarian, I spend a lot of time using the alphabet, so yes, I realize that I by reviewing The Quiet Man today, I am doing things out of order. But Maureen O’Hara died on Saturday, and I’ve been thinking about her and her movies a lot the last couple of days. Because of Miracle on 34th Street and The Parent Trap (the originals of both, NOT the inferior remakes), I grew up admiring Maureen O’Hara as a strong, beautiful woman, completely unafraid to be herself, no matter what society thought. After reading obituaries and tributes to her the last couple of days, I get the feeling that she truly was that way. Since Maureen O’Hara plays another beautiful, strong woman in The Quiet Man, I’m posting my review of it today as my little tribute to a wonderful actress.

I grew up watching John Wayne movies, so I’m not sure how I missed this one. No, it’s not a Western, but I’d seen lots of other non-Western John Wayne movies. But even though I had never actually seen The Quiet Man, I had seen E.T. the Extraterrestrial, so I was really excited to finally know which movie included the dramatic kissing scene that E.T. watches on TV. It was a gap in my movie trivia knowledge, and I was ecstatic to have it filled in. Beyond that bit of trivia, I was glad to finally see The Quiet Man for another reason: it’s a dang good movie!

So what’s the story? Sean Thornton left Ireland for America with his parents when he was three years old, but his mother always talked of Ireland as if it were paradise, so he decides to move back and buy the cottage where he was born. He sees fiery-spirited redhead Mary Kate Danaher as soon as he steps foot in the village of Innesfree and decides that she is the girl for him. Unfortunately, Sean offends Mary Kate’s brother almost as soon. Although Mary Kate makes no secret about her reciprocation of Sean’s feelings, will her brother and her Irish customs keep them apart?

The Good: I’m going to mention cinematography first, because this movie is so beautiful that it literally made me cry. During the race, when the horses are pounding across the beach with the green mountains in the background…oh, it’s amazing. I can’t even begin to describe the beauty of it all. I know that Ireland is beautiful, but photographers still have to have an eye to capture the beauty, and the cinematographer did a fabulous job.

This movie is perfectly cast. I can’t think of another actress who could have done a better job at playing Mary Kate than Maureen O’Hara. She’s strong and proud and just plain wonderful. John Wayne is good as always as the man who is trying to live his dream, but who just doesn’t understand the culture of the woman he loves. He’s confused and frustrated, but so wholly in love. John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara were good friends in real life, and they have excellent on-screen chemistry.

The supporting cast is also so good. Ward Bond makes a surprisingly convincing Irish priest. Victor McLagen, although perhaps a little old to look like Maureen O’Hara’s brother, is full of bluster and silly pride as Will Danaher. Barry Fitzgerald brings a fabulous sense of humor to the role of Michaleen Oge Flynn, and his real-life brother Arthur Shields is excellent as the Protestant Reverend Cyril Playfair. Mrs. Playfair, played by Eileen Crowe, is mischievous and fun. I love them all!

The musical score is gorgeous. Victor Young used a lot of old Irish melodies, but also wrote some beautiful themes of his own. The music complements the movie perfectly.

The story and screenplay are fabulous. I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies in general, because they’re just so fake. But The Quiet Man is so real. Two proud, stubborn people fall in love, but have a hard time adjusting to each other. Even though they love each other, they don’t completely understand one another. Movies don’t usually show that. Romantic comedies also tend to end with the wedding as the happy ending, but The Quiet Man is not like that. I wish more moviemakers would be brave enough to tell a real story like this one.

The Bad: Because I am a modern woman, I was incredibly uncomfortable with the scene where Sean drags Mary Kate off the train and pulls her across the fields and through the village. Yes, she was asking something of him that he didn’t want to do, but he wasn’t trying to understand her culture, either. Also, I’m not sure how accurate the Irish culture was portrayed. It felt very stereotypical to me, but maybe the stereotype happened because of reality. I don’t know. I just had to turn off the cultural sensitivity part of my brain, and then I was okay.

The Ugly: Nothing, unless you are even more sensitive than I am about the dragging through the fields scene.

Oscars Won: Best director; best cinematography, color.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a supporting role (Victor McLaglen); best writing, screenplay; best art direction-set direction, color; best sound, recording.

Random Fact: Even though The Quiet Man won an Oscar for best color cinematography, I once had a library patron who refused to check out the copy we have because it wasn’t in black and white, which, according to her, was the original. I did some research and apparently, ABC only had a black and white print, so that’s what was shown on broadcast TV for a while. The patron never did believe me that The Quiet Man was originally in color. Sigh.

An Explanation and An Apology

70 years of the oscarHello, my loyal readers (at least those that I haven’t alienated yet)! It has been a really long time since I’ve written a post, and I am so sorry. I know everyone was waiting on tenterhooks for the rest of the movie reviews from 1952. I know that the world has been holding its collective breath for the last four or five months. Please know that I wouldn’t have left you all hanging if I didn’t have a very good reason. That reason is called mononucleosis. This is a really stupid and annoying reason, because I am too old to get mono, it’s the second time I’ve had it in less than two years, and I don’t know why I got it because I haven’t kissed anyone for almost a year. You might think that having mono would actually be great for my blog, because it would give me lots of time to sit around and watch movies and write about them, but you would be wrong. Mono made it practically impossible for me to watch an entire movie without falling asleep. It also made my brain shut down, so writing was definitely out. I’ve slowly been recovering; that means that at this point I care that I haven’t written anything for a while, whereas before all I could think about was when my next nap was going to be.

My amazing sister-in-law deserves a good deal of the credit for getting me back on here. About six weeks ago, she gave me a book by Robert Osborne (whose job I would love to have, by the way) called Seventy Years of the Oscar, which is an awesome book with a very self-explanatory title. The fact that she thought of me when she saw it and got it for me made me feel very supported. Also slightly guilty. 🙂 So thank you, Meagan, for kicking me a little in the behind so I would get back to this project.

The movie reviews are going to start coming back this week. They may not happen at the rate of five a week for the next little while, but they will be posted. Please be patient with me and please keep reading. Knowing that even just a few people are reading what I write is what keeps me writing, and that makes my life better. So watch for more reviews coming soon, and thank you for being awesome!