RSS

Tag Archives: 1950s movies

(Review) A Leprechaun, a Mermaid, and a Greaser

Entertainment 150Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)
Darby O’Gill is a walking cliche, that “drunken” old Irishman you find in every pub telling tall tales about his escapades with leprechauns and other Fair Folk. What’s different is Darby doesn’t drink and his stories are all true; so when he is finally sacked by Lord Fitzpatrick, the land-owner whose estate he’s supposed to be tending, his frienemy King Brian steals him away to the innards of Fairy Mountain, where he will naturally live out the rest of his days. Darby, who has a daughter he cares for more than anything else in the world, isn’t having that. So what’s a wily old man to do?

I wasn’t expecting to like this movie as much as I did, which is to say not much at all. When you hear about a live-action Disney film from the 1950s, you naturally think of the corniest all-ages entertainment you can think of — at least, I do. And while Darby O’Gill and the Little People is definitely a G-rated movie, it’s also surprisingly engrossing. The film exists so comfortably in its own skin that if you take it on its own terms you might just find yourself having a pretty good time.

What makes the movie work is how well they’re able to capture the rhythm and flow of a good faerie tale. Sometimes Brian — the King of the Leprechauns — is a friend and confidant, and other times he’s a dangerous adversary with powerful magic who must be outwitted. Darby O’Gill is sometimes a clever old man who tricks leprechauns as easy as breathing, and sometimes he’s a poor mortal wretch so far out of his depth you can’t imagine how he’ll get out of trouble. The dynamics of power and emotional investment are always changing, and even by the end of the movie you’re not entirely sure his experience with the fae is ultimately positive. It’s fun to watch the stakes shift as much as they do.

A pre-007 Sean Connery is the romantic interest here, and he’s so young he doesn’t have any of that urgency or gravitas that we’ve come to know him for. But he does make for a good crooner, and it’s fun to watch him drift in and out of Darby’s narrative. It’s also neat to live in a setting where everyone knows the rules of magic better than you do; their reactions tell you everything you need to know about what’s going on, even though the finer details are missing.

Still, if you haven’t quite gotten into the movies of old Hollywood, chances are this isn’t the movie that’s going to sway you. If you’re more comfortable with the rhythm of old cinema storytelling, this works well. Darby O’Gill and the Little People is an old-fashioned story, but it’s still well told.
Cry-Baby (1990)
John Waters made this film right after the unexpected success of Hairspray, when movie studios were practically beating down his door in order to work with him. The fact that he made this wonderfully insane ode to trash and 50s teen idol musicals just makes me love him more.

Here, Johnny Depp is playing around with his teen-idol image in ways that are actually more effective than burying it under a ton of pancake make-up. He plays the leader of a “drape” gang named “Cry-Baby” Walker; he earned the nickname by squeezing out only a single tear when something upsets him. Cry-Baby is backed up by his perpetually-pregnant sister, Pepper; “Hatchet Face,” a legit crazy woman who steals every scene she’s in; Milton, Hatchet Face’s devoted boyfriend; and Wanda Woodward, a sexpot played by none other notorious porn actress Traci Lords.

Cry-Baby falls in love with a “square,” a good girl being groomed by the stuck-up parents in charge of 1950s Baltimore society. Allison falls for his rock-and-roll singing as well as his single tear trick, and ends up forsaking her clan for the chance to live with the drapes for a while. That’s the basic story, though there are all kinds of detours through it that are surprising and hilarious.

No matter what your expectations coming into this film, Waters manages to upend them. The characters are varied and expertly-drawn, so idiosyncratic that you know who they are by the end of the film’s prologue and opening credits. The fact that their backstories are still surprising when they’re revealed is impressive.

I can’t think of another director who delights in his own weirdness as much as John Waters, and that’s what ultimately makes Cry-Baby so fun. Walker’s gang of drapes are undeniably insane and fundamentally broken, but there is such a passionate and loving bond between them you can’t help but see them as good people. Waters has been the champion of loving weirdness throughout his career, and the fact that he made one of his weirdest and most passionate films as the major studio release here shows a dedication to that vision that’s been simply unwavering.

The third act of the film falls apart a little bit, but it’s still a lot of fun and really engaging. Well-drawn characters are sacrificed to get the “everything and the kitchen sink” finish that Waters wanted, but it doesn’t eat up too much of the goodwill the movie earns. If you’re an neophyte in the ways of Waters, I’d say Cry-Baby is an excellent film to cut your teeth on — if you hate it, then it’s highly unlikely you’ll love anything else he’s written or directed.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
The 70s and 80s were rough on Disney animation; after The Jungle Book, there weren’t too many films that were looked upon fondly before this one. Even though I liked quite a number of the animated films of that period, there is simply no question that The Little Mermaid raised the bar for the company and began a creative high period that would take them through most of the 1990s.

Ariel is the title character, a mermaid princess who is fascinated by the human world above the surface of the oceans. Her father, King Triton, knows the cruelty that man is capable of and wants to protect his daughter from being hurt — his isolationist demands runs counter to her curiosity and optimism. When the terrible sea witch Ursula grants Ariel’s fondest wish — to be human so she can marry a prince she’s fallen in love with, the fate of two kingdoms is suddenly hanging in the balance.

The songs in this movie are some of the greatest in any Disney musical ever. “Part of Your World” is a fantastic, ideal “I want” song; “Kiss The Girl” is the most romantic song that I can think of in a Disney film; and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is so delightful that it almost gets you on Ursula’s side for a hot second. The animation has to be better just to be worthy of the words, and Disney steps it up in wonderful ways here. Taking fish, crabs and other sea-creatures into anthropomorphic territory is not easy. Sebastian scuttles nervously, and you at once recognize he’s a crab (ew!) and that he has these intense emotional desires (aw!) that endear you to him. Flotsam and Jetsam, Ursula’s hench-eels, are creepy, predatory, yet hypnotic. It’s easy to imagine how naive Ariel could be pulled under their sway.

There are some problems. This time around I found Ariel’s character design a little weird; her head feels really long, accentuating the forehead in this distracting way. And Prince Eric is kind of a terrible character, this wishy-washy dude who seems to be mostly defined by his love of alto voices. Even when Ariel gets Eric in the end, you get the feeling that she could do so much better; the humans in the story are more bland than sadistic, so what was King Triton even worried about there?

The stakes are supplanted by the battle between Ariel and Ursula in the third act, and even then Prince Eric effectively kill-steals the encounter. What did Ariel actually learn through this? How will she be a bit more discerning and a bit less reckless in the future? How did she earn her happy ending?

The argument could be made that this is not that kind of children’s movie, and you might be right. But Ariel’s flaw — the thing that gets her into trouble — is never really identified and addressed through the course of the story. The happy ending feels just a little lessened because of this, even though the rest of the movie is nothing short of delightful.

Still, if it’s been a while since you’ve seen The Little Mermaid, it is definitely worth another look. The songs are amazing, the environments and (most of) the character designs are fantastic, and its ambition is really something to admire. After the long dark time of Disney’s lesser canon, it’s a great example of how you can take Walt’s original passion for telling great stories and update it for modern audiences.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 23, 2016 in Movies, Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The AFI Top 100 Films: On The Waterfront (#8)

Entertainment 150On the Waterfront (1954)
Starring Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint and Lee J. Cobb
Written by Budd Schulberg
Directed by Elia Kazan

Terry Malloy (Brando) is a New Jersey dock worker whose brother is in the mob. That mob runs the Worker’s Union, and as long as you play by the rules you get the chance to work that day. Of course, playing by the rules means making sure the police and the Waterfront Crime Commission don’t ever find witnesses to the string of murders they know mob boss Johnny Friendly (Cobb) has ordered. In order to subsist, you have to simply let crime pay.

Terry was a boxer who could have fought his way out of the slums, but he took a dive on his brother’s orders so that he could win a bet. He’s also used in the murder of a popular dock worker who was thinking about flipping to the Crime Commission. When Terry falls in love with the slain worker’s sister, he’s finally jarred out of his lifetime of subservience and finds it within himself to actually stand up for what he believes is right — not just for himself, but for every other dock worker under the boot-heel of Johnny Friendly.

On the Waterfront is a story about a man coming into his own sense of morality, and what that compels him to do in the face of systemic corruption. When everyone around you has a tacit acceptance of social injustice as the way things are, it can be impossible to speak out against it. We have an earnest belief that it only takes one person to get the ball rolling, and once the process has been started momentum will take care of the rest. The death of Joey Doyle is that inciting incident, and Terry simply picks up from there to finish the job.

What’s interesting about this film to me is how the idea of standing up for social justice becomes so indelibly tied to Terry’s slow but distinct straightening towards manhood. Terry’s arc is that of the man learning to lead his own life; when he tells his brother Charley (Rod Steiger) “I coulda been a contender, instead of a bum”, the regret he’s expressing is not being tempted by his environment to be anything less than the best person he could be. Now, at long last, he’s making a different choice when faced with similar circumstances.

It takes him a while to get around to that point, and he’s coaxed every step of the way by Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint, in her first role) and Father Barry (Karl Marlden). They both know that there’s no difference in Terry’s case between personal redemption and social salvation, and it’s fascinating to watch them patiently lead him to the ideal that doing the right thing so you can be the kind of guy who does what’s right.

Brando embodies Terry with a nervous masculine energy that belongs specifically to him but feels universal. We all struggle to live up to our ideals, and the harder it is to fight against the current the sweeter the victory, no matter how small. The end of the movie feels like a triumph, even though it’s a small show of solidarity. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the workers have won over the mob, but it makes an important turning point in the fight.

This is heavy stuff under a paint of 50s melodrama. The performances feel locked firmly in their time, even though the script takes a specific situation to explore universal themes. It’s strange to pull back the ‘coating’ of the movie and find yourself identifying with it so strongly. Admittedly, the dated production can make the barrier to entry too steep for some, but it’s worth doing. The discovery of such a rich movie is worth taking it on its own terms.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 12, 2014 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The AFI Top 100 Films: Singin’ in the Rain (#10)

Entertainment 150Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds
Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

It’s interesting to me that so many movies chronicle the rise of the “talkies” and the demise of so many silent film stars once pictures had sound. It must have been the last truly apocalyptic moment in movie-making; the monumental shift in acting from pantomime and stage-ready hamming to smaller gestures and voice-heavy emoting saw an entire class of major stars suddenly fade in a few years’ time, giving rise to a new crop of actors who could look and sound the part.

Some films — like the amazing Sunset Boulevard — take a dramatic look at the toll on the psyche that summary rejection brings you. Singin’ in the Rain takes the path of the romantic comedy, instead, where the disruption of the talkies and the influx of new talent actually allows most of its stars to move on to bigger and better things. Of course, the broad plot is mostly window dressing for a number of really amazing musical productions — mostly choreographed by Gene Kelly himself.

Kelly is Don Lockwood, who is one of the biggest silent screen stars of his day with partner Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). They’re always in love on film, and Lina has taken to thinking that they’re lovers off-screen as well. Neither Don nor his former partner, Cosmo Brown (O’Connor) like Lina very much, though. When talking pictures hit big, Don’s voice is a perfect fit for the kinds of roles he plays — Lina, whose voice is shrill and high, doesn’t do so well. It’s decided that her voice be dubbed over with Kathy Selden’s (Reynolds), a struggling actress that Don almost immediately falls in love with instead.

It’s easy to guess where the film is going from that set-up, but the destination isn’t the point — how entertained we are getting there is. And that’s where Singin’ in the Rain really shines. Kelly and O’Connor have a great chemistry, and they riff off of each other quite well. Both of them are workhorses when it comes to song and dance, and they attack each number with a ferocity I don’t think I’ve ever seen. O’Connor’s work on “Make ‘Em Laugh” is rumored to be so difficult he was bed-ridden for three days trying to recover, or so the story goes.

Every. Single. Song.

They just dance like this for every song.

Hagen is great as Lina Lamont. She’s calculated her performance with just the right amount of charisma so that you love to hate her. She’s a ridiculously fun villain, and she understands just what she’s for in every scene. So many of the movie’s highlights belong to her; whenever the proceedings are in danger of becoming too sappy, she punches it up with the right amount of tartness.

But the movie unquestionably belongs to Kelly. When people think of the big Hollywood musicals of the 40s and 50s, this is the movie they think about — and with good reason. Every song crackles with energy, the cast is obviously having a great time, the whole affair moves with a briskness that makes its 100-minute running time seem even shorter. It’s an iconic movie, the one that every golden-age musical is judged against. It’s a timeless movie that somehow manages to catch the distinct style of entertainment in the 50s while chronicling a subject that swept through cinema twenty-five years earlier.

If your tolerance for musicals is low, then chances are you won’t really dig Singin’ in the Rain. If you’re curious about them, though, and wonder why a lot of those old movies have such a devoted following after all these years, this should be the film you watch to see why.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 29, 2014 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

The AFI Top 100 Films: The Bridge on the River Kwai (#13)

Entertainment 150The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Starring William Holden, Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins
Written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson (screenplay) and Pierre Boulle (novel)
Directed by David Lean

The Bridge on the River Kwai is a chronicle of what can happen to twist our logic into insanity through the fog of war. Whereas Apocalypse Now explores what happens when man is allowed to give in to insanity with none of the societal constructs we use to block (or in some cases support) it, this movie shows us a man whose values get so twisted through his wartime experience that he ends up collaborating with — and ultimately supplanting — his sworn enemy as a matter of pride.

That man is Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Guinness), an officer for the British army who was captured along with his platoon by the Japanese. The commandant of the prison camp, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), is under pressure from his superiors to build a bridge within a certain amount of time. It holds vast strategic value, enabling the Japanese army to get men and supplies to areas of Burma that would otherwise be impossible. This would give them a significant advantage in the Pacific theatre of World War II.

Saito demands that all prisoners work on the bridge — even the officers. Nicholson refuses that last bit, under the grounds that it’s forbidden by the Geneva Convention. The resulting stand-off unites the men behind Nicholson (who ends up being punished in a sweat box) and encourages them to sabotage the building of the bridge, at least until Saito is forced to blink first and release Nicholson. The victory of the prisoners, however, is short-lived when their commanding officer sees the state of the project.

Appalled at the shoddy workmanship on display, Nicholson steadily takes over construction. At first he wants to give the men something to do so that their discipline and morale is improved, but it soon becomes a chance for him to leave a legacy behind after the war. The bridge, to his mind, will stand as a testament to British engineering and workmanship. Its prompt completion will be a thumb in the eye of the Japanese, proving that the Royal Army can do what the Emperor’s Army can’t.

Nicholson proves to be a harder, more effective taskmaster than Saito. He demands more and more of his men, even pulling people out of the infirmary to work. Saito just fades into the background as Nicholson becomes the new commandant of the prison camp, subjecting his own company to grueling work and punishing conditions just to prove his worth. Never mind that he has taken over the enemy’s work for them, or that the bridge actively works against the interests of his side.

Meanwhile, the one officer who survived in an escape attempt from the prison camp is convinced to go back and sabotage the bridge. Shears (Holden) is an American grunt who leads an international commando group to blow it up, and a lot of the film is devoted to him slowly giving up his selfishness in favor of a higher ideal. It makes for a really nice parallel story as Nicholson twists his ideals to serve his selfishness without even realizing.

The movie can only end one way, and that’s with a confrontation between Nicholson’s group and Shear’s unit. It’s a great opportunity to show just how far Nicholson has gone off the map, and even though you know he’s out in a mental and military wilderness it’s shocking to see just how lost he is. The climax of the film plays out like something of a Shakespearean tragedy, and the survivors are bewildered at the wreckage that they’ve had a hand in creating.

What’s fascinating about this film is figuring out exactly where Nicholson went wrong. His intentions were…sound enough, I suppose, but there’s clearly a line that was crossed at some point without the officer even knowing it. None of the people supporting him asked him to check his bearings before moving forward, and at some point he became the very thing he had been fighting all this time. Is this where an unwavering commitment to ideals gets you? Or is it just that he had been applying them improperly all this time?

We have the benefit of distance with which to determine the answers to these questions, but none of the participants in this scenario really did. And maybe that’s the point — when you’re in a situation where it’s the norm for men to be cruel to other men, it’s impossible to even find your bearings, to know what’s an acceptable application of your ideals and what isn’t. That at best, men are likely to turn into Nicholson and at worst they become Kurtz.

The movie is based on the book of the same name, and Nicholson is an amalgam of various French officers that writer Pierre Boulle served under in the war. Despite his repeated claims that he wasn’t trying to take a dig at the British, a lot of people (even star Alec Guinness) thought it was an indictment of the British Army. I could certainly see that, though really only one man drives the problem that needs to be stopped. It could be considered an organizational failure that his course wasn’t corrected well before the climax of the film.

The performances are first-rate all around, and given its unique location considering it’s a WWII film it’s one of the sunniest war movies I’ve ever seen. The adventurous, almost breezy tone masks a surprisingly thorny tangle of ideas in this movie, and that’s what makes The Bridge on the River Kwai so great. It’s entertaining, and when you stop to think about it really sobering. It’s the kind of movie you see on Friday night and end up thinking about through Sunday afternoon.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 4, 2013 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The AFI Top 100 Films: Some Like It Hot (#14)

Entertainment 150Some Like It Hot (1959)
Starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe
Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond
Directed by Billy Wilder

I was immediately intrigued by this movie once I discovered it was co-written and directed by Billy Wilder, the gentleman responsible for the superb The Apartment. I was expecting another movie like it, a comedy that dealt with unexpected subject matter in a deftly-handled way. Some Like It Hot wasn’t quite like that, but it was still a really enjoyable farce that manages to surprise us every now and then.

Two musician friends, Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon) are down on their luck. To make matters that much worse, they accidentally witness the Valentine’s Day Massacre while making a quick delivery for a friend. The quickest way to get out of town is through a traveling all-women’s band, so they disguise themselves as girls and sign up at the last minute as Josephine and Daphne, respectively. They’re surprised by the treatment of the women on the train going to Miami, but they make a number of friends there — one of them is Sugar Kane (Monroe), the band’s lead vocalist and ukelele player.

Once the band arrives in Miami things get even more complicated. Joe falls in love with Sugar, and decides to woo her by donning a second disguise — this time as the heir of Shell Oil. The ruse works for the most part, though there are plenty of close calls. Daphne, meanwhile, is being aggressively pursued by Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), an actual millionaire who isn’t used to taking no for an answer.

The film is breezy and light, but what makes it impressive is the way it piles lies on top of lies at a breakneck pace. It’s over two hours long, but it really doesn’t feel like it — every scene moves at the speed it needs to, slowing down so the characters can get to know each other, or at least become familiar with the face one character is presenting above their own, then speeding up when the carefully constructed lie falls apart. Both Joe and Jerry are in over their heads and they know it; nothing is planned but their wits manage to keep them one half-step ahead of utter disaster. Both Curtis and Lemmon are pretty game for what the script asks them to do, and there’s a surprising amount of sympathy for women and what they have to deal with in a male-dominated society. It pulls back the curtain without condemning; this is a farce, after all.

Monroe is magnetic here as Sugar, the unlucky-in-love good-time girl. When she sings “I’m Through With Love” near the end of the film, she’s surprisingly sincere; the heartbreak exudes from her, as if she’s not even trying to project it. It’s kind of stunning. Her lightness, her easy charm, suffuses the whole movie. Lemmon and Curtis are precise with their comedy, and under the steady direction of Billy Wilder they weave through the tangled plot of the script without a knot.

Considering the plot — that two men dress as women to escape witness-killing by the mob — is so dark, it would be incredibly easy to get this movie wrong. I’m not sure if the “men-in-drag” genre is permanently through or if the most recent examples have simply been that poor, but Some Like It Hot actually works incredibly well. I’m positive that in the hands of lesser collaborators, the machinery would have fallen apart. It’s a testament to the talent of everyone involved that it purrs along as easily as it does.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 26, 2013 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The AFI Top 100 Films: All About Eve (#16)

Entertainment 150All About Eve (1950)
Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and Celeste Holm
Written and Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

There’s an awful lot going on in this movie, especially considering the time in which it was made. Just a quick bit of Internet research has uncovered a multitude of perspectives detailing what All About Eve has to say about homosexuality, Cold War politics, gender roles and the tense relationship between Broadway and Hollywood. The fact that I saw none of this through my first viewing, but see how all the symbolism actually tracks with these various, scatter-minded theories speaks to the strength of the writing. It’s a truly impressive film with a lot on its mind, but it’s also a whole lot of fun.

Bette Davis is fantastic here as Margo Channing, the current Grand Dame of Broadway. She occupies the office of her archetype with the expected theatricality, regally generous with her favor when her audience plays their roles and cements hers. She’s a bundle of contradictions, expectant and needy at the same time, surprisingly warm and casually cruel. Just when you think she lives on the shallow surface of her fan’s adulation, she says something that points to a deep understanding of the society she inhabits and her place in it. Margo is one of the most complex movie heroines I’ve seen in a really long time, and Davis embodies the assured magnetism of an actress at the top of her game.

Almost as hypnotic is Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington. We meet Eve as a pathetic groupie in an alley where Margo’s best friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) takes her in. According to Eve’s story, she’s a war widow who left her meager life in the Midwest to follow Margo’s career. More than anything, she wanted to be near her idol, so it’s a dream come true when she’s slowly collected into the star’s inner circle. Eve insinuates herself into Margo’s life more and more, eventually becoming her trusted confidant and personal assistant. Eve works with polite blandness and total efficiency, and most people can find no fault with her. They’re mystified when Margo reacts so violently to slights that look like “innocent” mistakes to the casual observer.

Of course, there’s something far deeper going on here. It’s only a matter of time before Eve’s scheme is laid bare — by the time the victims of her plans realize what’s going on, it’s far too late to do anything about it. And that’s when the movie gets to be at it’s most interesting.

As it becomes increasingly clear that her time in the spotlight is over, Margo reflects on her ascent to the top of the New York theatre scene and how she’s treated the people she met along the way. For the most part it feels like she’s so accustomed to having her way and wielding her considerable influence that she won’t go down without a bitter fight for her crown. What’s amazing is that when she realizes what the fight will cost her in the relationships of those closest to her, she gives it up. She realizes that holding on to power doesn’t mean much if you don’t have something more permanent and lasting to go with it. As awful as Margo can be (and has been) to the people around her, she has a very mature appreciation for them. It’s this support network that she retreats into when Eve officially supplants her as the toast of New York.

Bette Davis: Queen of the Side-Eye

Bitchily, of course.

Eve, on the other hand, uses people and discards their relationship as soon as she has what she wants from them. While her ambition is fulfilled, the only person by her side is a theatre critic who is using her for his own purposes. We begin the film with her crowning as the latest jewel of the theatrical community, and after we find out the number of awful things she did to get there we see just how hollow her victory is. The award she receives means nothing to her, and the party thrown in her honor is so worthless to her she skips it to pack for her imminent trip to Hollywood.

The thing that strikes me most about this film are the wonderful relationships that manage to survive the sabotage orchestrated by Eve. Margo and Karen have their strains, and their husbands and lovers have similar struggles — especially when they’re targeted by Eve’s ambition. But it manages to hold; the affection shared by these people is deeper than the business they’re engaged in. Margo realizes this and chooses to nurture it, even though it takes her a bit longer than it might have if she were a bit more centered to begin with. But the fact that she’s off-kilter is one of the things that makes her so much fun.

A few critics have tied Margo’s acquiescence to the general push for women to give up their agency and return to the homemaker role in post-war America. There’s a lot in the film to support this, too. Sociologically the film takes on a darker undertone with her willingness to fade; she realizes that her personal community won’t tolerate her strength, so she weakens herself. It’s difficult to see Margo’s turn in the latter parts of the movie as a positive thing if you view it through that lens, especially if you see it as Joseph Mankiewicz pushing a hetero-normative agenda there. Through Eve’s example and Margo’s pre-fall life, he’s outright telling you that ambition is bad and folding to your dominant partner is good. Of course that’s not a “truth” that should be tolerated. But on a purely personal level, it feels more like Margo made a choice that brings her the most happiness. Holding on to her fleeting position at all costs would simply cost too much.

The subtext of societal normalcy notwithstanding, All About Eve is a totally engaging movie buoyed by incredible performances, sharp and layered writing, and wonderful characters. The fact that it inspires such passionate and thoughtful debate six decades later cements its worthiness as one of the best American movies ever made.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

The AFI Top 100 Films: The African Queen (#17)

Entertainment 150The African Queen (1957)
Starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn
Written by James Agee & John Huston (screenplay) and C.S. Forester (novel)
Directed by John Huston

There’s really nothing else quite like The African Queen. Set (and filmed!) in Africa, it tells the story of a missionary’s sister Rose Sayer (Hepburn) fleeing the region after Germany deemed her brother a “hostile foreigner”. His hut is burned down and he is beaten so badly that he remains addled for the few days it takes him to die of fever. With nothing left for her at the village she worked in, she decided to leave on the only transport she could, the titular river-boat captained by hard-drinking grump-meister Charlie Allnut (Bogart).

The pair learns of a rather nasty German submarine sitting in a lake nearby, blocking off access to this part of the region. Not content with merely escaping, Rose decides to do her part for the war effort and blow it up with a home-made torpedo or two. At first Charlie isn’t having any of it, but as the pair travels down the river together they grow closer in mind and spirit. They fight over just about everything, even still, but they look past those differences towards the bond that being in such a terrible situation gives you.

It’s the bond between the characters and the wonderful chemistry between the actors who play them that gives the movie it’s charm. Bogart is really in his element here as Allnut, a crude riverboat captain who’s really only looking to do his job and drink a lot. Hepburn channels her steel spine well into Rose, the high-minded religious woman who seeks to drive Charlie to a higher purpose. And through her uncompromising yet mostly genial nature, she herds him there through the distraction of the bottle and “meager” self-preservation.

When she’s able to channel him into a place where their interests align and things flow smoothly, the effect is electric. It’s like sailing a ship into the current, or channeling base instinct towards a constructive purpose. You’re always shocked by how swiftly and efficiently things get done. That’s the magic between these two at work; you see how well they fit together because of their differences, and it makes you believe in the idea of two opposing yet complementary forces. The id and the super-ego joining to propel the individual towards impossible achievements.

They sure do have to suffer a lot to learn that, though. Not only do they have to navigate each other’s personalities, but they have to deal with the very real dangers of the river as well. Swarms of flies, the tricky rapids and currents that lead the Queen into dead spots that must then be dragged through. The scenes of Rose and Charlie dealing with the elements are incredible, shot with a realism that makes you feel terrible for them and horrified at just some of the many delights the African wilderness can inflict on unsuspecting travelers. Knowing that director John Huston and his stars also had to deal with a lot of tough conditions to film on location only adds to that reaction; Hepburn was sick with dysentery for much of the movie, and they used real leeches for a particularly awful scene.

african-queen

Not pictured: nightmare fuel.

Another interesting thing about The African Queen — and one of the things that makes it a bit more timeless than other films of its type — is it really gives you a sense of the unique geography of Africa without diving into the thorny socio-political and racial issues of the time. You don’t see too many African jungle adventures that don’t need to come with the disclaimer of “Some racist things happen in this movie, but that’s just the way people thought at the time.” It was nice to have that.

The final set-piece — when the Queen and her crew finally reach the lake where the German sub is positioned — skews things in a distinctly Hollywood direction, but it’s still quite well done. The tonal shift isn’t so jarring it negates the realism of what’s come before, and both Hepburn and Bogart are so charming they pull it off with a minimum of questioning. The African Queen represents old-school filmmaking at its finest while still offering something unique to this day. It’s a great adventure worth getting wrapped up in.

Rating: 8/10.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 6, 2013 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,