Monday 30 March 2020

A plague diary - a week's self-isolation viewing - Borzage, Farrow, Perry, Reed, Sale, Heisler, Mu, Sturges (J), Ulmer and Visconti

Random viewing in a week of the plague

Living on Velvet – (Frank Borzage, USA, 1935)

The always alluring Kay Francis hooks up with shell-shocked aviator George Brent and they go through domestic tribulations. Odd movie looking perpetually on the bright side.

Men in Exile – (John Farrow, USA, 1937). 

Barely an hour long, starring unknowns, in fact never to be knowns. Boy does this have some confusing politics. You’d think for Hollywood the good guys would be the professed liberals seeking to introduce democracy into a military dictatorship somewhere in the Caribbean that looks a whole lot like Cuba. Nuh. The dictator is after them for gun-running.  He turns out to be such a nice guy that the “hero”,  a cab-driver on the run after being inadvertently involved in a bank robbery, asks the same military dictator to be best man at his wedding to the inn-keeper’s daughter. Who thought that one up.

Rancho Deluxe (Frank Perry, USA, 1974)

The first from a western box set. The young Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston (as a ‘part’ Native American) are down on their luck cattle rustlers running afoul of local authorities. Thomas McGuane’s original script goes for heavy whimsy, some gross out characters and a general feelgood nature. Only rich rancher Clifton James comes out badly. The women in the movie, mostly secondary to the goings on, display voracious sexual appetites. The men are much more coy apart from a discreetly shot four in a bed scene with the leads and a pair of sisters.

Confucius (Fei Mu, China, 1940)

Legendary ‘lost’ Chinese film which finally came to light in the early 2000s and was then restored by the Hong Kong Film Archive. Not complete. There are two passages where the sound hasn’t been recovered. Good extras which explain the retrieval and restoration process and provide some memories of Fei Mu’s participants and relatives. An expert advised me you have to remember that it was made under wartime conditions (in "Orphan-Island" Shanghai), when the Japanese had seized the Chinese part of the city but not yet the foreign concessions.  (They were seized after the attack on Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941.)  It's not as achieved as his post-war Spring in a Small Town, but it's daringly 'experimental' for its moment, and quite unlike other films made in Shanghai in the same period.

The Third Man (Carol Reed, UK, 1949)

The only copy in the household is an old very early DVD, probably a bootleg edition, issued by the now hopefully disappeared Avenue One. Acfross the top of the box are the words “Digitally Remastered from original 35mm print”. To which you can only say “Total Bullshit”. These companies got away with claims that in other trades would have them had up. Still the film always works some magic and forgotten scenes bounce back brilliantly.

Let’s Make It Legal (Richard Sale, USA, 1951)

Claudette Colbert plays a grandmother who has finally got shot of her irresponsible husband Macdonald Carey. He’s a gambling addict. On the day the divorce is to become final she is once again charmed off her feet by former rival boyfriend Zachary Scott. Robert Wagner and Barbara Bates live with Claudette, along with their baby. In the end…guess what… The film is in a box set of Marilyn Monroe titles. MM plays a floozy who has latched onto Carey but wants an invitation to meet the fabulously wealthy Scott. She has a few scenes and some good lines. They may have been written by co-scriptwriter and longtime genius I A L Diamond. 

Along Came Jones (Stuart Heisler, USA, 1945)

Produced by and starring Gary Cooper. He plays Melody Jones a cowpoke who drifts into town and gets confused with a feared bad guy Monte Jarratt (Dan Duryea). Loretta Young, looking gorgeous, is Monte’s girlfriend but you know where this is heading. It’s rather funny at times and there are more plot twists and character reversals in Nunnally Johnson’s script than you can count. Melody’s inability to hit the side of a barn with his six-shooter is a good running gag. Part of a box set of westerns which also includes… da dum

The Hallelujah Trail (John Sturges, USA, 1965)

Two and a half hours including black screen intro music, an intermission card and more playout music over black screen, the bloat shows in this attempt at a comic extravaganza. Notable now for the parts played by Hollywood liberals like Burt Lancaster and others in a story involving some of the crudest racism ever towards Native Americans.

Naked Venus (Ove B Sehtstedht, USA, 1959)

What, who. On a backchannels USB stick otherwise devoted to the work of Edgar G Ulmer, comes this paean to the nudist movement with slabs of footage, perhaps twenty minutes in all, devoted to such activities as swimming, sunbathing, volleyball, archery and just walking around. It’s all related to the tactics employed by a party to divorce proceedings. The defendant/practising nudist has as her lawyer Ariane Arden, otherwise known as Ariane Ulmer. IMDb gives the game away by saying that the director’s name was a pseudonym for Edgar G Ulmer, demonstrating, it would seem, if nothing else that even Edgar had films he was ashamed of in his filmography. Ariane’s acting and delivery of her lines is actually infinitely superior to everyone except the hugely obese actor playing the judge in the divorce case.

The Leopard (Luchino Viconti, Italy/France, 1963)

Disappointment at the cancellation of the Cinema Reborn screening of the Scorsese/Armani million buck restoration led to this one being fished off the shelves. The version was released in Italy way way back, the first appearance of an alleged  ‘Versione Restaurata’. The copy runs to 177 minutes, some eight minutes less than the Scorsese/Armani edition to be shown at the Randwick Ritz and Elsternwick Classic. It’s an Italian edition with a second disc full of unsubtitled extras. The actual film comes  with some very crappy subtitling. The colours are washed out in many places and I see from the sticker it cost me $Eu30.90. It was issued by Medusa. Notwithstanding the lack of completeness, the crappy colours and the laughable subtitles, once again the film reduced me to tears from the get go.

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