Happy Birthday Ingrid Bergman!

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Hello everyone! I’m back! I think this was the longest I’ve ever been without writing something! 9 days! Bloody boo-boo! The reason for that was that I was away last week, enjoying the sun. Also, I’m going to a Screenwriters’ Festival this week so it’s been kind of hectic lately. Missed you guys, though!

Anyway, today is Ingrid Bergman’s birthday! Since she’s one of my all-time favorite actresses, I’m going to watch one of her movies tonight. Maybe Notorious (1946). Or Casablanca (1942), which I haven’t seen in a while. Or maybe both. I’ll decide later.

Happy Birthday, Ingrid! We love you.

Movie-watching thoughts

  • I realized that I haven’t seen a lot of musicals this year. So I must have some sort of a marathon one of these days and revisit some classics.
  • Another thing I’ve been meaning to do is, I want to re-watch some movies that I loved but only saw once.
  • I also want to re-watch movies that I didn’t particularly love to try and change my mind about them. I always like to give a movie a second (and sometimes third) chance.
  • Thanks to all your reviews, you wonderful people, my to-watch list is gigantic! And I love it.

 

Happy weekend, everyone! ❤

 

Grand Hotel (1932)

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What’s this? Another blogathon? You bet! I love my blogathons and August seems to be filled with them! So when Crystal of In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood announced that she was hosting a Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, I knew right away that I wanted to write about Grand Hotel (1932), featuring two of the Holy Barrymore Trinity, John and Lionel. Two great performances in an equally great movie.

But the thing is, Grand Hotel wasn’t just a movie. It was an event. One of the very first ‘ensemble cast’ movies ever made and one that some even predicted would result in a ‘Battle of the Stars’. Picture it: Hollywood, 1932. Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore and Wallace Beery, five of MGM’s biggest stars, all in one picture. The anticipation and frenzy surrounding it was incredible and the premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater has become legendary. Needless to say, Grand Hotel lives up to it all.

Being an ensemble cast, it doesn’t really have a plot per se. Just several intertwining stories about the guests at the Grand Hotel: Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), a ballerina who is depressed after realizing her career isn’t what it used to be; the Baron (John Barrymore), a hotel thief with a ‘heart of gold’; Flaem, the Stenographer (Joan Crawford), a young, attractive working girl, who wants to be more than just a stenographer; Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), an accountant who’s decided to spend his last remaining days at the Grand Hotel; and Preysing (Wallace Beery), an industrialist (and Kringelein’s former boss) hoping to close a deal.

Even though I think every single actor is fantastic in it, Lionel Barrymore stands out for me. He plays the most kind-hearted, genuine character in the movie and he breaks your heart at times, particularly in two scenes: when he’s confronting the detestable Preysing (funny how he himself would play a similar character, years later in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)) and when he and Flaem decide to go away together. Those two scenes made me love Lionel Barrymore. And what a wonderful chemistry he has with Joan Crawford!

The other Barrymore in the film, his younger brother John, isn’t to be ignored either. Never has a thief been so likeable (aside from maybe Cary Grant’s John Robie). He is a ‘gentleman’, as Flaem describes him, and his affection and respect for Kringelein shows that. He is just charming. His scenes with Grunsiskaya are sweet and tender, with a sense of calmness in an otherwise frantic hotel. The two of them seem to complement each other in a beautiful way.

Edmund Goulding directs them and the supporting cast to a triumphant success. Written by William A. Drake, based on his 1930 play of the same name, which, in turn, was adapted from the novel Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum, the movie ended up winning Best Picture (notably without being nominated for anything else) and it has remained one of Hollywood’s greatest classics.

 

The Big Combo (1955)

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I love film noir. I’m borderline obsessed with it. So when I found out that The Midnite Drive-In was hosting a film noir blogathon, I got all excited! Right away, I knew I had to talk about Joseph H. Lewis’ The Big Combo (1955), a film that holds a very unique place in noir history.

The most famous image in film noir comes from The Big Combo, but nobody knows that. Strange but true. The final shot of the film seems to be everything film noir is about: the fallen hero, the femme fatale and the shadows and fog that envelop them. It’s the perfect shot. Only, in this case, Lt Leonard Diamond (Cornell Wilde) isn’t a fallen hero, and Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace) isn’t a femme fatale. She’s far from it. She’s quite possibly the biggest victim in all of film noir. As the movie starts, she comes running down an alleyway, chased by two men. When they finally capture her, we begin to understand what’s happening: a certain Mr Brown (Richard Conte) somehow owns everything and everyone in town and he’s angry that she tried to escape from him. The police – more specifically Diamond, who can’t let the Mr Brown case go and has become obsessed with Susan – have been after him for months. He did something and they know it. They just haven’t got anything to go on. Except for his long-suffering girl Susan, who might just be the key to it all.

The supporting cast (or maybe this is an ensemble cast?) couldn’t be more awesome: Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman as Fante and Mingo, Mr Brown’s henchmen; Brian Donlevy as McClure, Mr Brown’s cowardly right hand man; Helene Stanton as Rita, Diamond’s part-time girlfriend; and Helen Walker as the elusive Alicia. Who’s Alicia, you ask? That’s what they all try to find out. With a great screenplay by Phillip Yordan, there are endless twists and turns along the way that culminate in a climactic ending.

My very first post on this blog back in September 2015 was about how underrated The Big Combo is. I actually called it ‘the most underrated movie ever’ and I still stand by that. It just seems to be one of those obscure films that only a handful of people know and I can’t understand why. It’s a great film and it contains literally the most iconic film noir shot ever. I mean, sure, it’s not as good as Double Indemnity (1944) or Out of the Past (1947), but it’s a pretty great film nonetheless and it deserves a lot more praise than it gets. And it was very daring for 1955, especially with regards to two aspects: Fante and Mingo are a homosexual couple; and at one point Mr Brown clearly performs oral sex on Susan. Well, not that clearly, but there’s no mistaking it!

I love the whole film, but my two favorite things about it are Richard Conte’s fantastic performance as Mr Brown and John Alton’s stunning cinematography. They are, to me, the film’s stars and I think they should have both been nominated for an Oscar. In fact, the film got no love from the Academy whatsoever. But unlike many films that didn’t and then gained popularity, The Big Combo continues to be underrated and overlooked.

So please please please, for the love of puppies and kittens, do watch it. It’s a joyride of a film and one that needs to be pulled from gutters of obscurity and into the bright lights of mainstream as soon as possible.

The Naked City (1948)

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‘Jean Dexter is dead. The answer must be somewhere down there.’, says our narrator, the film’s producer, Mark Hellinger. And he’s right. Down there, on the all too familiar streets of New York, lies the answer to Jean Dexter’s murder. And the robberies. And whether or not Frank Niles (Howard Duff) knows anything about it. And… well, you know how it goes in a film noir. Except that I’m not too sure about The Naked City (dir. Jules Dassin) being classified as noir. Sure, the title sounds like a noir. But to me, it’s more of a documentary-style crime drama than a noir. Anyway, that’s not really important. The Naked City is too significant to be boiled down to a genre. The Naked City doesn’t have a genre. It created one: the New York City genre.

As our narrator takes us through the everyday lives of our New Yorkers, complete with iconic landmarks and equally iconic sounds, little do we know that Jean Dexter is being murdered. That is, until it is brutally shown to us, in the midst of that perfectly nice montage of New York. After that, the investigation, led by Dan Muldoon (brilliantly played by Barry Fitzgerald) and Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) begins and we’re taken on a journey through crime and New York.

The Naked City is a fantastic film in itself but what really astonishes me about it, is how immensely influential it clearly is. When I was watching it, there were so many scenes and elements that reminded me of later films, such as The Big Heat (1953), The French Connection (1971), Pulp Fiction (1994), L.A. Confidential (1997), not to mention practically every Woody Allen film, including his most famous shot (from Manhattan, 1979), which you will immediately recognize as you’re watching this. But the thing is, it hardly gets any credit, in comparison with the ‘giants’ of the influential film realm. This is probably the most influential film that gets mentioned the least.

Part of its influence is, of course, the New York City motif. It has been used in countless films, but did it start here? Sure, there were movies prior to this that were set in New York and made good use of it – Street Scene (1931) comes to mind – but The Naked City delivers what it promises: New York City at its most vulnerable and…. naked. New York is the main character in The Naked City. So much so, that it won the Oscar for Best Cinematography (William H. Daniels), as well as Best Editing (Paul Weatherwax). Malvin Wald’s story was also nominated, losing out to The Search (1948). And if you’re wondering about Barry Fitzgerald failing to get a nomination… yeah, I’d like to know the answer to that as well.

There are eight million reviews about The Naked City. This has been one of them.

Gloria DeHaven 1925 – 2016

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With a career spanning several decades, Gloria DeHaven was one of those stars who could ‘do everything’. She was an accomplished actress and singer (The Thin Man Goes Home (1944), Summer Stock (1950), among many others), she sang with Bing Crosby’s band, she performed on Broadway and the West End, and she enjoyed an extensive and illustrious career on television.

RIP Gloria DeHaven and thank you.

 

1001 Movies to See Before You Die

I love this book. I own three editions of it (1st, 2nd and 11th) and I think they’re excellent. But one thing that’s always baffled me about it, is that there seem to be some massive omissions. I don’t mean in the sense that, I think this or that movie should be in it because I like it, I understand that not every movie is going to make it onto the list, but still, Three on a Match (1932), The Big Combo (1955) and Rififi (1955) are all missing from it and I can’t imagine why. In fact, I was so shocked that Rififi wasn’t in it, that I ran through the 1955 pages three times and then checked the Index. It’s not in it! Whaaaa…??

Anyway, I suppose that’s bound to happen. That’s the beauty of these things. It’s all subjective and it gets you talking. And it’s only 1001 movies, anyway. They can’t all be in.

Cracking book, nonetheless.