Phew! I wasn’t even sure if I was going to write up a monthly recap post. The majority of June, excluding my movie watching experiences, was Not Good. My brain felt like it was oozing out of my ears. That’s the best visual I can provide. But thankfully, I’m here to share some of my favorites from the month. I also finally watched The Martian, which took me too long since I hate Matt Damon Matt Damon is my favorite contemporary actor! I really enjoyed it, much more than I expected.
So, onto the films.
Marriage is a Private Affair (1944)
dir: Robert Z. Leonard
Lana Turner easily had one of my favorite faces of all time. She was absolutely exquisite; the contours and symmetry of her profile, nose, chin. I LOVE looking at her. That being said, I find it unfair that critics often found her beauty too distracting and dismissed her acting ability as a result. I’ve loved her in the few films I’ve seen her in, and I adored her in this. It’s not the kind of role she was known for. In this film, she’s beautiful and glamorous while still projecting vulnerability and earnestness, only the way a 23 year old can. And that 23 year old is also a first time wife and mother. She’s Theo, a carefree rich girl who’s just married Tom (equally gorgeous John Hodiak) on impulse. Theo’s mother has been married numerous times and the unspoken expectation is that Theo will follow in her footsteps. She won’t be able to build a lasting home and that terrifies her. Lana is just so perfect as this fickle, vulnerable, unsure girl who wants to be her best and tries her hardest. It’s a sweet film with heartbreaking moments that show human frailty in all its brutal shades and makes a case for human understanding. This was actually filmed while Lana’s very public marriage woes with Stephen Crane were unfolding. She noted this ironically in her autobiography, which I loved.
Permit me to use the overused “master of suspense” sobriquet here, in which Hitchcock masterfully confined the plot to a single setting. It’s on a – you guessed it – lifeboat. After a German submarine sinks their ship, an assorted band of survivors rescue one of the Nazis (Walter Slezak). Naturally they fiercely debate whether or not to kill him, and when he’s permitted to live, the trauma just continues to build up. Tallulah Bankhead as the haughty, cynical, glamorous journalist Connie Porter is sublime, and gorgeous too. John Hodiak also stars and he’s amazing, as are William Bendix (break my heart), Hume Cronyn, Canada Lee, and Slezak. It’s so virulently anti Nazi and the cinematography is wildly impressive, with the composition of certain shots. It truly was a nerve wracking experience watching this.
Finding Dory (2016)
dir: Andrew Stanton
My cowriter Nia over at Upcoming Pixar wrote up a fabulous review. We both agree that this film does have its flaws, but they are microscopic to me. I love Pixar full stop. All the movies considered weak, mediocre, not worthy of the Pixar name (note, many people on The Internet are weirdly sensitive about Pixar making bad films) are ones I love. Cars 2? Delightful. Brave, Monsters University, The Good Dinosaur? Very dear to my cold, dead heart. I love Finding Dory because it expands on the role of a Pixar heroine (only the third Pixar film with a female protagonist), and is so lovingly crafted around Dory and her perceived disability. It’s the most outrageous Pixar film to date, veering more into the territory of slapstick cartoon than their previous features. It’s an important film with some brilliant commentary. Also, it took them two years as opposed to the usual six months to design Hank the Octopus, who is a riot. I wrote an editorial about why the film proves that Pixar isn’t in decline and that the quality of their sequels and their female characters is quite strong.
And now! The musicals!
Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)
dir: Richard Thorpe
|Girls in tuxedos: easily one of my top 5 aesthetics.
“It’s a toss up between June Allyson and Gloria Dehaven as to which is the lovelier girl.”
Those words appeared in famously acerbic Bosley Crowther’s review of this charming little musical about two sisters who love a sailor. As adorable, perky, and all around incandescent June Allyson was (I love her), Gloria Dehaven really was the more gorgeous of the two. So the fact that Junie could even stand next to her and be considered as lovely and appealing means a lot to me. The ideal boy next door, Van Johnson, plays the sailor. (I need to see more of his films with June. For my health and sanity. Currently I’m marathoning Murder, She Wrote and the episode in which the two guest starred was Everything I Could Have Hoped For). Jimmy Durante costars, Lena Horne (!!!! LISTEN…I WILL devote longer posts to Miss Horne in the future) has a speciality number, Ava Gardner appears in one of her early uncredited roles, it’s just a really sweet time. I may have to write up a separate post on it.
Thousands Cheer (1943)
dir: George Sidney
MGM musicals like this one and the one above often have threadbare plots. But the dazzling music and technicolor here more than compensate. Am I saying that visuals override a compelling story? Yes, absolutely, I don’t care. There are millions of films out there with rigorous plot lines and characterizations, this is just escapist, shamelessly patriotic fluff. Kathryn Grayson and Gene Kelly star, Gene does a mop dance, Gene wears form fitting leotards (!), Kathryn sings in that ethereal way of hers while looking ethereally beautiful per the norm, I LOVE IT SO MUCH. He’s an army private who “needs” to learn discipline, she’s the daughter of the colonel, they fall in love, she puts on a grand show for the troops featuring some of MGM’s top talent in specialty numbers and skits. I definitely have to write up a separate post on it. My favorite number was Lena Horne’s; I actually watch it every day and it’s done wonders for me.
Carmen Jones (1954)
The famous Carmen opera transposed onto black military life in WWII. Dorothy Dandridge, as most everyone is aware, clearly deserved better: from life and Hollywood. She is mesmerizing in this. Sultry, unapologetic, leading Harry Belafonte to his doom. Oh gosh, he’s incredible as the guy tortured by love who eventually loses his mind. I love his dark side. It’s interesting too that even though the story is tragic for Carmen, she’s just moving through life so blissfully. She’s calculating, but mostly carefree. The songs too, particularly Pearl Bailey’s numbers, were fantastic. And it all comes together in this heady mix of technicolor and heat.
The Music Man (1962)
dir: Morton DaCosta
I almost turned this off, but thankfully watched it all the way through. The first couple of music numbers really didn’t do anything for me, but then it picked up and I was loving it more. Robert Preston, who I loved in S.O.B and Victor, Victoria earlier this year (he’s hilarious in both), is Harold Hill, a con man who hawks band equipment and instruments to unsuspecting simpletons in small towns. When he arrives in River City, it seems like all will go according to plan, except that Marian Peroo (lovely Shirley Jones) is suspicious of him almost immediately. I totally have a crush on Robert Preston now. He’s irresistible to watch, whether singing (or talk-singing, the songs are ingenious partly because they’re so wordy) or dancing (that choreography)! I love “The Sadder but Wiser Girl”, though I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be insulting to me, because I’m everything Harold despises; sweet, innocent, wide eyed Sunday School teacher, etc.
Bells are Ringing (1960)
dir: Vincente Minnelli
From the opening shots of candy colored telephones, I knew I would love this infectious treat. Judy Holliday originated the role of Ella Peterson on Broadway. Ella is so lovable. She’s a switchboard operator for the telephone answering service called Susanswerphone, but instead of just taking messages, she gets involved in her clients’ lives. She’s not a meddler, she genuinely wants to help people. One of her clients is down-on-his-luck playwright Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin). “He needs a mother,” Ella explains to her coworker. So she assumes the role of mom for Jeffrey, until the two meet (she gives him a fake name). They fall in love, she urges him to quit stewing in self pity and actually create, the small joys of life are magnified, that sort of thing. Holliday and Martin are a splendid screen team and he’s vastly underrated as an actor. Do you know also that Judy Holliday’s squeaky voice could cure most ailments…
Kiss Me Kate (1953)
dir: George Sidney
My favorite film of the month! GEEZ LOUISE, am I obsessed? Completely, unequivocally. I don’t know what not being obsessed with this film is. It’s a musical retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, a backstage musical in which the actors mirror the parts they play onstage. Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) and Fred Graham (Howard Keel) are a divorced couple starring as Kate, the shrew, and Petrucio, the man who would tame her. I watched this on the same day as Thousands Cheer, so it was a double dose of being verklempt over Kathryn Grayson. She wears a blonde wig and a red wig, and her face is just incomparable. For everyone who thinks she wasn’t much of an actress, watch this and quit being so foolish. Also, I have just fallen completely in love with Howard Keel. I want to marry him. He might be dead, but realism has no place in my life right now. He and Kathryn had these powerhouse voices and I’ve been listening to this soundtrack and the two of them nonstop. I wish they had made more than three films together. I haven’t even mentioned Ann Miller, who steals plenty of scenes. Her dancing skills…unmatched. One of my favorite numbers here.
My full list with some excellent ones not included here can be found on Letterboxd.