This past month I was all about Robert Ryan, but I’m actually going to do a more in depth post about his films in the near future. (And I only wanted to focus on a select few films for this post). I watched three Fred Astaire musicals on one day and they were wonderful bad mood chasers.
Here are a handful of favorites from the 36 that I watched.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) is the eldest of seven brothers who ventures into town one day looking for a wife. Milly (Jane Powell) agrees to marry him despite their brief meeting. After the wedding, she returns home with him to the mountains where she discovers, to her dismay, that he has six brothers and she’s now expected to be a housekeeper for all of them. Calamity, music, and expertly staged dancing ensues. In typical Stanley Donen fashion, it’s a sunny musical made even more impressive by Michael Kidd’s choreography. Keisha at Cinema Cities
wrote up a wonderful post on the spectacular Barn Raising sequence.
dir: Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang’s bleak visions of humanity remain the most devastating I’ve seen. Joe Wilson (Spencer Tracy) is wrongly accused of kidnapping a young girl and is held in a local jail as a result. The townspeople have already declared him guilty until proven innocent, and decide to mete out punishment for him themselves. It’s a powerful condemnation of mob mentality and lynching with brilliant camerawork highlighting just how grotesque and unfeeling mobs are. Censorship prevented Lang from addressing lynching as a crime that specifically targeted the black community, which is a damn shame. Potent as the film is, it would have been even more so.
dir: Martin Ritt
Although the film’s title is the name of the family dog, Sounder is actually a bittersweet look at the lives of one depression era black family. The Morgans, headed by mother Rebecca (Cicely Tyson) and father Nathan (Paul Winfield) are sharecroppers who struggle to make ends meet, but their home is filled with familial love and warmth. When Nathan is arrested for stealing food, Rebecca must shore up all of her strength and resilience in order to keep going. Cicely Tyson gives a stunning performance; strong and vulnerable all at once. She elicited such a strong emotional response from me in one scene. I burst into tears just looking at her face. It’s a delicately hopeful and life affirming film.
A Damsel in Distress (1937)
dir: George Stevens
The first film that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made apart at RKO. Fred’s dancing partner this time was twenty year old Joan Fontaine, who wasn’t a dancer, but her limitations don’t detract from the film at all. It’s so sweet and funny, with a mistaken identity plot line and Fred’s feet still tapping out his indelible magic. George Burns and Gracie Allen costar and provide most of the comic relief. I’m not very familiar with the two, but I know they were a beloved couple and onscreen this shines through, with Allen as a ditzy secretary and Burns as her straight man. And the two also dance with Fred, in some pretty rollicking fun numbers.
My favorite dreamy shots from the film:
Flying Down to Rio (1933)
dir: Thornton Freeland
The first film in which Fred and Ginger were dance partners. Their scenes were brief but they still made a huge impression, which is why they ended up making nine films together. I personally, still loved seeing Dolores del Rio in the lead. She’s so magnetic to me even if Fred and Ginger steal the show. Also features breathtaking numbers, including one on the wings of an airplane and black/Brazilian dancers showing off their popular dances, like the Carioca.
Silk Stockings (1957)
dir: Rouben Mamoulian
I plan on writing a separate post on this film, in which Fred and Cyd Charisse were paired together for the second and sadly, final time. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack practically nonstop since first watching it. (Fred Astaire’s slight laugh as he sings “too bad you can’t go back to Moscow” means a lot to me). All the songs are just too clever, given the subject matter. I wasn’t expecting to love it more than the 1939 film Ninotchka, which this is a remake of.
Love Crazy (1941)
dir: Jack Conway
I could watch 50 movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. They made married life so appealing and fun, even when ridiculous antics force them apart. Imagine: a man feigns insanity just to stop his wife from divorcing him. Bill Powell’s comedic timing was in a class apart. And Myrna, well, she’s perfect. They could both be really subtle and deadpan which often makes their interactions all the more hilarious. This is definitely in my top 5 screwball comedies.
The Great Lie (1941)
dir: Edmund Goulding
I LOVE Bette Davis and George Brent together. They reteamed with Edmund Goulding for this after the teariest of all tearjerkers, Dark Victory (1939). The plot to this film is somewhat implausible, but it’s somehow still true to life. Pete Van Allen (Brent) marries concert pianist Sandra (Mary Astor) in a drunken ceremony, then learns that their marriage isn’t valid. He offers to do the whole thing over but Sandra won’t marry him on the date he’s chosen. He returns to his old flame Maggie (Davis), and the two marry. They’re all set to live happily ever after until Pete goes missing while flying in Brazil and is presumed dead. Oh, and Sandra is also pregnant with his child. Naturally, Maggie offers to raise the child as her own, giving him all that’s rightfully his in Pete’s name. Sandra begrudgingly goes along. I never imagined anyone could strike fear into Bette’s heart, but Mary Astor did it! Her performance was perfectly calculated, oozing with the most potent pettiness and dislike. I honestly think this could work as a present day melodrama. (Baby mama drama).
Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
dir: Richard Quine
A much more lighthearted and quirky version of Vertigo
, only because Kim Novak upsets Jimmy Stewart’s life again. This time she’s a witch (!!!) who casts a spell that makes poor, defenseless Jimmy fall in love with her. Jack Lemmon (!!!) plays her musician brother, erratic but totally lovable. Elsa Lanchester is their aunt. What a cast. I loved how the “underground” New York City scene and jazz music were havens for witches and warlocks. Kim Novak gave a really enigmatic performance, and her beauty is decidedly witchy and magical. Also, this clip
of Jimmy Stewart sarcastically saying baby witch parties is the greatest thing.
dir: Richard Brooks
Starring Cary Grant as a doctor who’s forced to operate on a South American dictator, played by Jose Ferrer. I’ve written before about how fond I’ve grown of Jose Ferrer, and he’s just so amazing in this. Even though the dictator Raoul Farrago is an unsympathetic character, Jose imbues him with humanity. He was just really charming. It’s also cool that good ol’ Archie Leach had plenty of dramatic chops to pull this role off, since he’s primarily known for playing broad comedy. The two of them were so excellent, I wish they could’ve done more films together.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
dir: Steven Spielberg
The visuals and special effects were more enthralling to me than the narrative, but I still really enjoyed this. It had the right blend of mystery and tension, making it eerie enough without going into full on horror movie mode. Aliens have got such a powerful grip on the human imagination and I think this film and Kubrick’s 2001 make the best cases for their existence, and they also encourage curiosity and exploration.
The Tunnel of Love (1958)
dir: Gene Kelly
Gene Kelly’s directorial debut in which he didn’t also star. Doris Day and Richard Widmark are a married couple who’ve been trying to conceive and adopt a child for quite some time. Seems pretty standard until Augie (Widmark), a normally well adjusted and faithful husband believes he’s impregnated another woman and that his baby with the other woman is the one the adoption agency is giving to him and Isolde (Day). I laughed so much watching this and Day/Widmark are a great team. Also really nice to see him playing such a hapless guy, which I think he was well suited to.