THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942) – Nothing but a bad habit

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The following is my entry in the You Must Remember This…A Kiss Is Just a Kiss Blogathon, being hosted Feb. 13-14, 2016 by Lesley at the blog Second Sight Cinema. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ ruminations on a variety of kisses that occurred in movies from the dawn of cinema through 1980!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

It’s shameless, that’s what it is.

The set-up: We’ve spent the movie’s first few minutes learning about Tom and Geraldine “Gerry” Jeffers (Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert). Tom is a failed inventor. Gerry has been perfectly willing to use her feminine wiles to help Tom on the road to success, but Tom wants to make it on his own merits, which is mostly why he’s a failed inventor.

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Tom and Gerry have just returned to their New York penthouse after a joyless dinner in which they’ve pondered ending their marriage of five years. Both of them have been imbibing in order to ease the pain, Gerry having imbibed slightly more than Tom.
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(“And when love’s gone,” Gerry adds, “there’s nothing left but admiration and respect.” What a terrible thing to have as the only pillar left in your marriage!)

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Gerry tries to unzip the back of her dress, but she is in no state to do so. Tom says that if she’ll come around into the light, he’ll help her. Strangely enough, a major portion of that light appears to have fallen into Tom’s lap, since that is where Gerry lands. “You don’t think this is a little intimate, do you?” Tom quietly snarks. “Doesn’t mean anything to you anymore to sit on my lap?”

“No,” Gerry lightly protests.

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Tom now has Gerry’s back as a target. It’s too tempting. “Or if I kiss you there? Or here? Or here?” says Tom, planting his lips on a number of biological locations familiar to Gerry. One kiss too many, and Gerry complains, “You know I’m ticklish!”

“Then why is your breath coming faster?”

“Because you’re squeezing me!”

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You got that right, sister. One last squeeze, and Tom and Gerry end up in an embrace that literally curls Gerry’s toes and sends Victor Young’s musical score into stringy ecstasy.

“Almost nothing?” Tom reiterates.

With her last ounce of coherency, Gerry agrees, as Tom delivers her up the stairs with the same manful intentions that Rhett Butler had for Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. “Nothing but a bad habit,” Gerry murmurs, and as Gerry keeps coming up with new synonyms for “bad,” the scene quietly fades.

I couldn’t tell you if this scene was the inspiration or template for movie love scenes to come, but if it wasn’t, it should have been. Absolutely shameless — and would that countless other love scenes had been as flawlessly shameless as this one is.

(When it comes to The Palm Beach Story, I am a self-designated cheerleader for this gift from the movie gods. Click here to read my complete review of this beautiful movie.)

 

 

Announcing the IN LIKE A LION, OUT LIKE A LAMB BLOGATHON!

The month of March is just around the corner. So it seems appropriate for our blog to usher in the

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Think of a movie that you went into or prepared to see — in any format (theater, DVD, cable, rental) — with the gravest of misgivings, only to discover that it was either not that bad or more delightful that you could have imagined. So you began with gruff expectations, only to have your heart melt by movie’s end.

We ask you to share that experience via blog. Maybe start out by explaining why you were unsure about the movie. Was your Significant Other dragging you to see what you thought was a “chick flick”? Had the movie received universally bad reviews, and you went to see it only because nothing else was available? Then give a decent summary of the plot, actors, etc., and why you ended up liking the movie.

Here are the rules:

  1. Please leave me a message in the “Comments” section below that includes the name and URL of your blog, and the name of the movie you choose to write about.
  2. Below are banners to advertise the blogathon. Once you have completed Step # 1, please grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.
  3. The blogathon will take place from Sun. Feb. 28, through Tues., Mar. 1, 2016. Once you have posted your blogathon entry on one of those dates, please post its URL in the “Comments” section so that I can link our blog back to it.

Have fun with your blog entry, and let’s make this blogathon roar! Here’s the line-up so far:

Movie Movie Blog Blog – The Ref (1994)

BNoirDetour – The Big Sleep (1946)

Cinematic Scribblings – The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Old Hollywood Films – Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948)

I Found It at the Movies – The Wild Bunch (1969)

Moon in Gemini – The Terminator (1984)

Love Letters to Old Hollywood – When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Serendipitous Anachronisms – I Bury the Living (1958)

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – Move Over Darling (1963)

Dell on Movies – Flipped (2010)

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#SatMat Live Tweet movie for Sat., Feb. 13: LOCUSTS: DAY OF DESTRUCTION (2005)

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I love disaster movies that give you just a faint whiff of characterization — not a carload of exposition (because who could believe in these characters, anyway?), just enough to rationalize your watching the carnage to come. Locusts: Day of Destruction fits the bill perfectly.

Lucy Lawless plays Dr. Maddy Rierdon, a Dept. of Agriculture investigator who’s getting it from all angles. Her husband is whining because she’s too engrossed in her job to start a family with him. One of her former professors (John Heard) has started a mutant-locust experiment on his own, leaving Maddy to shut down the prof’s lab and fire him.

And worst of all, Maddy must not be getting paid diddly-squat, because her wardrobe is so constrictive, she wears tight jeans to a meeting where she’s addressing her formally dressed peers, and at one point, she walks around an awful long time with just a bra on before she can find a top that fits her. Poor thing!

Oh, and that renegade locust experiment? You don’t think the prof really burned all of those creatures away, do you?

So, Lucy Lawless cheesecake and a locust plague. Need I say more? See you at Twitter.com this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST — use the hashtag #SatMat to comment on the movie as it unspools before you!

 

 

 

BEETLEJUICE (1988) – Hereafter known as the funniest hereafter ever

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The following is my entry in the Ultimate 80s Blogathon, being hosted Feb. 15, 2016 by the blogs Tranquil Dreams and Drew’s Movie Reviews. Click on the above banner to read reviews of bloggers’ favorite films from the 1980s!

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When Beetlejuice first released in 1988, a friend of mine spent his entire lunch hour explaining the plot to me. I couldn’t imagine anyone being enamored of such a bizarre-sounding comedy. I saw it a year later on cable TV, and it has become synonymous with Halloween for me ever since. Besides which, it’s as riotously funny as any movie I’ve ever seen.

Strangely enough, it didn’t start out that way. Director Tim Burton, fresh from his success with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, originally planned the movie as a macabre drama about a sweet couple named Adam and Barbara Maitland (played straight, and to perfection, by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis). The Maitlands accidentally die in a car crash, and the movie was supposed to be a ghoulish look at the deceased couple’s coping with the afterlife.

Then Michael Keaton signed on to play the title role of a ghostly “bio-exorcist” who helps the Maitlands cut through Death’s red tape (but only to help himself in the end). Keaton uncovered the movie’s black-comedy potential and turned around Burton’s vision of the movie.

And what a turn-around! Keaton’s role takes up only one-fifth of the movie, but when he appears, it’s like all the Marx Brothers set loose in one ghostly spirit. Lascivious, vociferous, and hilarious, Keaton made comedy history and won the National Society of Film Critics’ best-actor nod.

The supporting actors are no slouches, either. Winona Ryder as a death-obsessed girl who is surprised by her encounter with the real thing, Jeffrey Jones as her smug dad, and most of all, Sylvia Sidney as a beleaguered afterlife clerk…all are wonderful.

The music is one of cinema’s great scores, courtesy of the offbeat Danny Elfman — with a huge assist from Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” (in the funniest lip-synch routine ever put on film, posted below). And when the movie isn’t all-out funny, which is seldom, it’s a marvel to look at, thanks to production designer Bo Welch.

If you want to do Halloween right, forget all those cutesy, just-kidding cartoons floating around TV in October. Beetlejuice is the real deal.

Buster Keaton in OUR HOSPITALITY (1923) – Hilarious and perilous

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The following is my entry in The Second Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, hosted by the lovely Lea at Silent-ology from Feb. 7-8, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read a variety of blogs related to the movies, TV work, and life of the wonderful comic artist Buster Keaton!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Our Hospitality represents a quantum leap forward for Buster Keaton’s filmmaking. By this point, we’ve grown so accustomed to laughing at Keaton the moment he appears on-screen that when his first few scenes are developed at a leisurely pace, we start to wonder if Keaton will reward our patience. All I can say is: Wait for it.

The story is a take-off on the famous Hatfield-McCoy family feud, here set a few decades back from when it actually happened. Otherwise, the movie is very authentic-feeling. Keaton created his setting based on period photos, had his art director Fred Gabourie make a reproduction of an early, rickety steam locomotive (trains were Keaton’s passion), and also rode on a period-style bicycle. All of this contributes to the movie’s atmosphere, as well as providing the impetus for some inspired gags.

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(Credit for the movie’s direction is given to both Keaton and John G. Blystone, who later got directing credit for Laurel & Hardy’s Swiss Miss and Block-Heads. Since Stan Laurel didn’t take any direction on his own movies any more than Buster Keaton did, it’s not to difficult to guess who the auteur is here.)

The movie begins with a startlingly dramatic prologue showing the on-going feud between the Hatfields and the McCays. When the McCays’ father and a Hatfield brother are killed, Joseph Canfield (Joe Roberts, in his final role before his death a few months after the movie’s release) vows vengeance on the next male McCay, who at present is an infant named John (played by Buster’s son).

Mrs. McCay sends her son to an aunt in New York for safety’s sake, but twenty years later, John (Keaton) returns to handle his late mother’s estate. John is so courtly to Virginia (Natalie Talmadge, then Mrs. Buster Keaton), who rides with him on the train home, that she invites him to her house for dinner. Unfortunately, he discovers too late that she is a Hatfield and that her brothers have blood lust on the brain. The Canfields’ code of honor does not permit them to kill any guest in their house; needless to say, John does everything he can to prolong his stay inside.

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The movie’s final third is nothing less than breathtaking, as the Canfields pursue John to a tall gorge over a river that leads to a waterfall. When Virginia tries to help John and is nearly swept over the waterfall, John’s rescue of her inspires one of the most stunning shots in Keaton’s filmography (there would be plenty more to come). As always, Keaton had a Canfield-like sense of honor and could not allow himself to fake any stunt he thought he could do; in the shot of Virginia’s rescue, Keaton inhaled so much water that a doctor had to be called to give him first aid.

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(It was not Keaton’s only death-defying stunt in the movie. When he first fell into the water, Keaton had been attached to a safety wire, but the wire quickly snapped. Thus, much of Keaton’s peril in trying to save himself wasn’t acting.)

Nevertheless, there are also plenty of laughs in the movie, especially in John and Virginia’s train ride and in John’s machinations to keep from leaving the Canfield home after dinner. Natalie Talmadge, despite her having been regarded as the least thespian of the famous Talmadge sisters (she would never do another movie role), acquits herself admirably as the lone Canfield concerned for John’s life.

Any modern movie that combined such period detail, risible comedy, and eye-popping suspense would probably be regarded as a masterpiece. Come to think of it, there’s little reason not to regard Our Hospitality in the same way.

#SatMat & #WarBonds’ special Live Tweet movie for Sun., Feb. 7: Harold Lloyd’s THE FRESHMAN (1925)

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Contrary to popular belief, there are a few people in America who are interested in other things (such as movies, perhaps) besides the Super Bowl. Count me among them.

Nevertheless, I felt I had to exploit Sunday’s football mania somehow. So I have joined forces with another Twitter.com Live Tweet named #WarBonds, hosted by a nice fellow named Shane. #WarBonds generally Tweets movies from the World War II era, although occasionally Shane dabbles in silent film as well.

So what more appropriate movie to Tweet as Sunday’s “pre-game show” than Harold Lloyd’s silent comedy classic The Freshman? In it, Lloyd plays Harold Lamb, a naive young man going off to college. Harold thinks he can become popular by aping the cliches of his movie idol, The College Hero, which eventually results in Harold becoming the unwitting joke of the campus. D’ya Harold can turn things around by the time of the big football game?

The movie’s premise sounds as silly as that of The College Hero, but if you give yourself over to it, The Freshman is just as rousing as it was 90 (!) years ago. To keep things matinee-style, we’re prefacing the movie with a cartoon, Popeye’s Ya Gotta Be a Football Hero (1935).

So join us at the 50-yard line, er, Twitter.com this Sunday at 5:00 p.m. EST, and use the hashtags #SatMat #WarBonds to comment along with the movie!