Month: April 2012

This Old Thing? It’s Just Givenchy

Remember, blowing bubbles is one big trick

Peter Falk and Natalie Wood have a romantic bubblegum-blowing contest.

True or False: If you owned a fabulous lemon-yellow Givenchy suit, you would wear it when robbing a bank.

Or, perhaps, like us, you would have to rob a bank in order to obtain the Givenchy suit.

We’ve been pondering this Deep Question ever since we saw Penelope, a comedy about a neglected wife (Natalie Wood) who is so desperate for attention she knocks over her husband’s bank.

Now, we cannot endorse anyone holding up a bank – haute couture notwithstanding – but Wood’s bank-president husband (Ian Bannen) is so annoying, it’s hard to retain any moral perspective on the matter.

Back to the lemon Givenchy. After the robbery, the fabulous designer suit becomes problematic. It is a key piece of evidence in the heist (as seen on security tape), and suddenly it’s hot! hot! hot! Wood unloads the suit at a thrift store, where it is immediately grabbed by shady clothiers Lou Jacobi and Lila Kedrova.

(Digression #1: We adore Jacobi and Kedrova so much, we wish the film was entirely about them. Here is some marvelous dialogue that Jacobi delivers over a plate of cold cuts: “Ah, Cherie, now that’s what I call a vintage pastrami. … Quickly, my angel! The cream soda.”)

The film also benefits from the appearance of a young Peter Falk as – surprise! – a police detective. He’s no fool, this copper, and he tries to not let his attraction to Wood interfere with his investigation of the robbery.

This film is pure aspartame. There are a lot of scenes where Wood fiddles with her amazing clothes/bank robber disguises in the back of fleeing taxi cabs. Come to think of it, Penelope is just a Natalie Wood fashion show with an armed robbery tossed into the mix. But we can forgive this obvious ploy, because the costume designer showcased in this movie is our idol, Edith Head.

(Digression #2: Watch for the primitive 60′s-era drink-box during one of the scenes in the therapist’s office. It’s an actual BOX!)

If you’re looking for a fun, fluffy film, check out Penelope. And give us your opinion of the lemon-yellow Givenchy.

Penelope: starring Natalie Wood, Ian Bannen and Peter Falk. Written by George Wells. Directed by Arthur Hiller. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Colour, 1966, 100 mins.   

Wartime Spies on Vacation

Look here, old chap, I have ways of making you talk

Frederick Valk plays James Mason for his lunch money.

The best way to spread a rumour is to take someone into your confidence and swear them to secrecy.

Because who can keep quiet when they’ve got a really juicy tidbit they’re bursting to share?

This don’t-tell-anybody-but-make-sure-you-tell-everybody ploy is a trick James Mason uses in the British war-time thriller Hotel Reserve (1945). Mason is a happy Austrian medical student vacationing at a French resort during WWII. But when police discover he (unknowingly) possesses images of a top-secret French military base, he must find out who shot the photographs.

It’s weird to see Mason as an innocent bystander, in the wrong place at the wrong time, forced into the role of a reluctant stool pigeon. (We much prefer to see him as a bossy villain, such as the delightfully evil Phillip Vandamm in North by Northwest.)

Frankly, we found Hotel Reserve a bit odd. The plot is a stretch: someone at the resort has accidentally used Mason’s camera to take illegal military photographs. The premise is meant to be Hitchcock-ian, no doubt, but in this film it falls flat. Never mind treasonous agents, who is that careless with their camera when they’re on vacation?

Then there is the matter of Mason’s character. He is supposed to be Austrian but his demeanor and accent are stereotypically British. For example, when a fellow guest catches a large fish, Mason exclaims, “I say! That is a fish, isn’t it?”

Plus there are the usual supporting characters: the untrustworthy hotel proprietress; the grumpy and secretive German; the unlikable honeymooning couple; the British tourist (complete with tweeds and a pipe); and the young woman, Clare Hamilton (Maureen O’Hara’s real-life sister), who is hopelessly in love with Mason. Everyone is supposed to be suspicious – who, WHO shot those pictures? – but it’s painfully easy to see who’s guilty and who isn’t.

The movie also seems to have trouble deciding if it’s a thriller, or a pseudo film noir, or a light-hearted drama. In one scene, a man squeezes the flash bulb on an old-fashioned camera and it makes the sound of someone passing wind. The man squeezes the bulb repeatedly, which produces rapid-fire flatulence sound effects.

And yet, there are things to love about this movie: the scenery of the seaside; the interesting sets; the foreign feel of the film. The texture is rough and in no way feels like it’s been manufactured by the slick Hollywood studio system.

We also like the importance the script places on eating lunch. Any movie that takes lunch this seriously is A-OK with us.

We’ve given it a mixed review but we don’t want to discourage you from watching Hotel Reserve. Not at all! You really ought to see it because it isn’t from Hollywood, and because James Mason is always worth it.

Reserve: starring James Mason, Lucie Mannheim and Raymond Lovell. Written by John Davenport. Directed by Victor Hanbury, Lance Comfort and Max Greene. RKO Radio Pictures, BW, 1945, 90 mins.   

A Word About Garbo’s Hat

We are equals in map-reading, comrade

Greta Garbo, in a dapper French beret, tells Melvyn Douglas to cool his jets.

We want to show you something remarkable about the comedy Ninotchka.

Much has been said about this movie, one of the great films from Hollywood’s Golden Year (1939). For example, there are all the witty lines. In one scene, the delightful Ina Claire says to her mirror: “I’m so bored with this face. … Oh well, I suppose one ends up with the face that one deserves.”

Also, much has been made about the famous Greta Garbo laugh, which MGM actually used as the tagline – and the marketing strategy – for Ninotchka.

About Garbo: Believe it or not, she’s charming as a humourless Russian Bolshevik who arrives in Paris to oversee the sale of Russian royal jewels. Garbo hooks her thumbs in the belt of her utilitarian dress when barking out orders, and delivers her lines with a deadpan expression: “The last mass trial [in Moscow] was a great success. There are going to be fewer, but better, Russians.” No wonder the playboy Melvyn Douglas character falls for her!

We must say we are greatly amused by the way “jewels” is pronounced in this movie. Everyone pronounces the word as “JOO-elllls”, which makes them seem more valuable than the script lets on. (The JOO-elllls, when we finally get to see them, are, well, meh. These are what Russian royals would wear? From the country that made the Fabergé egg a legend? But, we digress.)

Let us turn our attention to the most remarkable thing of all.

This:

Look at this hat. In Ninotchka, this hat symbolizes Garbo’s inner struggle: free-choice capitalism vs. duty-bound communism. When she first sees this hat in a store window, Garbo dismisses it as a waste of money. Even though she remains contemptuous every time she passes the window display, we can see she is torn. Finally, she succumbs to this hat’s (capitalism’s) appeal and secretly buys it.

Look at this hat! It’s a toilet plunger! But that’s what is so remarkable. Garbo looks stunning in this thing. Here is a true movie star, able to wear a toilet-plunger hat without a trace of irony, and you find yourself wondering if you could even wear it.

This movie and this hat show us why Garbo was so famous and why many consider her to be the quintessential Golden Era movie star. Make the time to watch Ninotchka; we bet you’ll want to add it to your DVD collection.

Ninotchka: starring Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas and Ina Claire. Written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, BW, 1939, 110 mins.

Thank You, CMBA

To Members of the Classic Movie Blog Association:

Thank you for voting SilverScreenings as a member of CMBA. I’m thrilled to become part of the association, and to have the opportunity to share a passion for classic film with other like-minded movie buffs.

Thanks again!

—R.A. Kerr

Joan Crawford Liberates Paris

What's for breakfast, Pilgrim?

Joan Crawford teaches John Wayne how to take down Nazis.

The great thing about a Joan Crawford movie is that everything is about Joan Crawford.

Take the entertaining 1942 wartime drama, Reunion in France. Here, Joan battles Nazis with such conventional weaponry as perfectly coiffed hair and a fur coat with shoulders out to there.

Crawford plays a spoiled Parisian socialite livin’ the good life until the German army rolls into town. Once there, the Germans take over her house, her finances and her boyfriend (Philip Dorn).

Don’t get the wrong idea. This isn’t a movie about German occupation or the struggles of the French Resistance. This is about our Joan deciding that the Nazis are going down! We know this because, as she herself points out, she represents everything France was and is and could be.

O-kayyyyy, then. Now, if that weren’t enough – get this – our Joan actually rescues John Wayne (John Wayne!!) by smuggling him out of the country.

Clearly, the Germans have no idea with whom they’re dealing.

This is an interesting movie in many ways. Director Jules Dassin has added real footage of Paris at the time, including a shot of Adolf Hitler gawking at the Eiffel Tower.

A note about dialogue: Our Joan starts out with a dodgy British accent which begins to droop about eight minutes into the film. However! This is not an issue because we want to see Joan Crawford, not some actress struggling with a phony accent.

If you’re looking for a wartime drama with minimal violence and maximum fashion, make time to watch Reunion in France. Let our Joan inspire you to do something remarkable.

Reunion in France: starring Joan Crawford, John Wayne and Philip Dorn. Written by Jan Lustig, Marvin Borowsky, Marc Connelly. Directed by Jules Dassin. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, BW, 1942, 100 mins.