Monthly Archive for December, 2012

Viva Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas (12/30/12) TCM (1964 ***) Directed by George Sidney, written by Sally Benson, starring Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret, Cesare Danova and William Demarest. Race car driver/mechanic Lucky Jackson falls for a swingin’, singin’ pool manager who wants him to settle down and give up racing. Considered one of Elvis’ better films, this one demonstrated why he was such a star. Though the plotline bordered on non-existent at times, he was well-matched by the dynamic talents of Ann-Margret, though I wondered for the first few minutes if the director was going to feature any parts of her anatomy besides her rear end. As I watched the film, I kept in mind that this movie was shot and released during the period Beatlemania was sweeping the U.S., at a time when The King’s spotlight would soon be shared with four mop-tops from Liverpool. According to Imdb.com, Viva Las Vegas was released on May 20th, 1964, mere weeks before A Hard Day’s Night opened on July 6th.

I Love You Again

I Love You Again (12/30/12) TCM (1940 **1/2) Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, starring William Powell, Myrna Loy and Frank McHugh, with Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer as Leonard Harkspur, Jr. A conk on the head turns an amnesiac teetotaler back into the con man he was seven years before. This film was made smack dab in the middle of the delightful Powell & Loy’s six-film Thin Man series. Four of those films, incidentally, were directed by Van Dyke, who passed away in 1943 before the final two were made. As for I Love You Again, it followed a formula common to early post-code romantic comedies in which outlandish plot elements that defied close examination were necessary to allow for a level of naughtiness. In this case, Powell’s character discovers he’s married to a knockout and his primary motivation thereafter is to get into their “marital” bed and, presumably, her vagina.

Panic in Year Zero!

Panic in Year Zero! (12/30/12) TCM (1962 **1/2) Directed by Ray Milland, based on the story by Jay Simms, starring Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon and Mary Mitchel. When Los Angeles is blown away in a nuclear attack, domineering father Harry Baldwin takes his family to the woods and commands them to live in a cave. This film was aired on TCM in the early morning hours of December 21st, 2012, the date the world was supposed to end. At least that was according to those who believed the end of the Mayan calendar meant the end of recorded time. I recorded and watched Panic out of curiosity more than anything else, and it while it’s not a very good film, it was entertaining on a shlock-tastic level. The jazzy “go man go” soundtrack by Les Baxter definitely combined with some over-the-top situations and dialogue for a potent little “atomic cocktail.” I was surprised when the end credits revealed it had been directed by Ray Milland himself. “That explains a lot,” I thought, particularly Milland’s presence. For what its worth, he did a pretty decent job, given the material (and presumably the budget) he had to work with. Checking his filmography, he directed a total of fourteen projects in his career, though nine of those were episodes of TV shows. On a final note, there really ought to be a special place in cinema heaven for movies with exclamation points in their titles, and it would sure make for one heck of a film festival!

Vivacious Lady

Vivacious Lady (12/29/12) TCM (1938 ***1/4) Directed by George Stevens, based on the story by I.A.R. Wylie, starring Ginger Rogers, James Stewart, James Ellison and Charles Coburn. A university professor falls for and weds a nightclub singer, then encounters numerous hilarious impediments to introducing her to his parents. If you can swallow the “love at first sight / getting married in a day” premise, there’s a lot to enjoy about this film, including a delightful little catfight between Francey (Rogers) and her romantic rival. There’s also plenty of late-1930s sexual innuendo thrown in. Ginger Rogers was superb and adorable, and this screwball comedy came at a time when Stewart was just about to make some of his greatest films.

Stage Door

Stage Door (12/29/12) TCM (1937 ***1/2) Directed by Gregory La Cava, based on the play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, starring Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Adolphe Menjou, with supporting roles by Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller and Jack Carson. The aspiring actresses living in a female boardinghouse endure disappointments and temptations. Though some of the character motivations were a little suspect, the snappy dialogue running throughout this film more than made up for it, and it’s clear why this movie has become such a classic. Rogers and Hepburn (not to be confused with Rodgers and Hart) would compete three years later for Best Actress. To see who won, consult Google or read my recent review of Kitty Foyle (1940). Though there were rumors of on-set rivalries between the two leading ladies, the pair were well-cast for their roles as quasi-adversarial roommates. It was also a delight every time a young Lucille Ball, Eve Arden or Ann Miller appeared onscreen.

Kitty Foyle

Kitty Foyle (12/28/12) TCM (1940 ***) Directed by Sam Wood, based on the novel by Christopher Morley, starring Ginger Rogers, Dennis Morgan and James Craig. A Philadelphia office girl falls for her no-good rich boss and can’t get him out of her head. Best known as Fred Astaire’s dance partner, Ginger Rogers showed her acting chops and won a Best Actress Oscar, somehow beating Kate Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. Though I enjoyed Rogers and grant that her performance was frequently more nuanced than I’d expected, I had a hard time getting into the story. This was due to a number of factors, but primarily I didn’t care for the “told in flashback” structure using a snow globe as a visual cue nor its occasional lapses into outright melodrama. Also, let’s be fair: It didn’t exactly take a genius to figure out who (SPOILER ALERT, I guess) the titular Kitty Foyle should wind up with in the end. Having said that, it was kind of a relief when she made the right choice.

Cabin in the Woods

Cabin in the Woods (12/28/12) Netflix (2011 ***1/2) Directed by Drew Goddard, written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. A group of five young people take a weekend trip to a creepy cabin, but all is not as it seems… on multiple levels. Wow. I LOVED this film, from start to… well, almost its finish. The only reason I’m not giving it four stars is that I was a little disatisfied by how it ended. I don’t want to write too much about Cabin in the Woods because I don’t want to give anything away. Let’s just say that it’s a film that remains true to the conventions of the slasher horror genre, yet also builds a second story completely around them. Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins were great fun to watch and their presence was even more entertaining because Whitford essentially played his character from The West Wing, Josh Lyman.

The Lemon Drop Kid

The Lemon Drop Kid (12/23/12) TCM (1951 **1/2) Directed by Sydney Lanfield, based on the story by Damon Runyon, starring Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. A small-time racetrack con man with an oral fixation has until Christmas to pay a mobster named Moose Moran $10,000. This film’s main claim to fame is that it introduced the song “Silver Bells” to the great American holiday songbook. The song was written with the deliberate intent to compete with Hope’s frequent partner Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” which of course went on to become the most recorded song of all time. As for the film, as likable as Bob Hope was, I had a hard time getting over the story’s built-in unlikability for his character, whose goal was to save his own skin by using a bunch of little old ladies as pawns in a bunko scheme that would leave them all out in the cold… on Christmas!

White Christmas

White Christmas (12/20/12) AMC (1954 ***) Directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. Two song-and-dance men (plus their love interests) decide to “put on a show” in a quaint Vermont inn to help out their former WWII commanding general. This movie was clearly intended to cash in on the popularity of the song “White Christmas,” which had been introduced in the film Holiday Inn (1942), starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. White Christmas (the movie) borrowed many of the elements from the earlier film, including its setting in a New England Inn. The casting of the female leads was curious. Vera Ellen was clearly cast for her dancing ability and the fact that she wouldn’t outshine Rosemary Clooney in the looks department. As beautiful as her voice was, George Clooney’s aunt Rosemary wasn’t exactly a bombshell in the same league as Marilyn Monroe. She was attractive, but not in a traditional leading lady sense. Further, Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby were definitely out of their depths in some of the dance numbers, but it was fun to watch Kaye do his damnedest to keep up with Vera Ellen. Along those lines, keep an eye peeled for a young George Chakiris (West Side Story‘s Bernardo) as one of the dancers. On a side-note, this was the first time in a long time I’d watched a movie on AMC and thank God I DVR’d it. With all the commercials, the running time was stretched from two hours to nearly three!

Elvis on Tour

Elvis on Tour (12/20/12) TCM (1972 **1/2) Directed by Robert Abel and Pierre Adidge, starring Elvis Presley. Early 1970s Concert and behind-the-scenes footage is presented in a Woodstock-style split-screen format. This music documentary was a follow-up to Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970), and it actually won a Golden Globe award for best documentary. Though primarily a concert film, it painted an interesting portrait of Elvis as a spiritual man, one who sang gospel songs through the night and into the early morning. The film also attempted to frame the early 1970s Elvis against the backdrop of his early success, and to that end it included a lesser-seen 1956 Presley performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Tour cities featured in the film were Hampton Roads, Richmond and Roanoke, Virginia; Greensboro, North Carolina; San Antonio, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Watching Elvis on Tour, I couldn’t help but think about an Elvis concert I attended in the mid-1970s with my mother and grandmother. Though my memories are somewhat fuzzy, the concert I attended at the Omaha Civic Auditorium was very similar.Elvis aside, the production featured a couple of other notables: Its director Robert Abel (who died in 2001) went on to found Robert Abel and Associates, which produced some of the earliest commercial computer animation. In addition, a guy named Martin Scorsese was credited as “montage supervisor.”