It has been said that this film has every western cliché in the repertoire: dance hall floozy who’s a good girl at heart, trusty sidekick, shooting contest with incredible demonstrations of marksmanship, heroic stand by the Calvary, noble but inevitably defeated Indians, climactic shootout for two… even Wyatt Earp. Yet, Casablanca-like, the film gets away with a bevy of stock situations and even stock characters because every performance is so strong. The subtleties of the most subsidiary characters come across in a believable and refreshing way.
Prominent among the James Stewart films most often shown on television in the 1960s and ’70s were the five westerns that he made with director Anthony Mann. Despite this exposure, Mann, though something of a successor to John Ford in the genre of more psychologically complex westerns, is arguably not as well known today. Perhaps this is because he was considered more of a craftsman than an actor’s director, but in the western films Stewart made with him, the actor emerged as more understated, and showed audiences a whole new facet of his personality.
Most people get a terrific kick out of the interplay between William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies, especially in the original, made just before the Production Code in Hollywood went into full force. But the film’s convoluted plot and numerous characters make it necessary to keep notes just to follow along. In getting a handle on the many personalities in the movie, it becomes increasingly apparent that this large cast of characters, spread all over the periphery of the plot, is not peripheral at all. Indeed, this bunch serves to draw our attention even more to Nick and Nora Charles.
In 2007 National Public Radio played an excerpt of Fred Astaire singing “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” and asked listeners to describe in a single phrase the quality of his voice. One participant’s entry was, “The boyfriend you longed for before you found out about sex.”
Donald Spoto, in his biography of Audrey Hepburn, describes her one-time co-star as having “nothing erotic or even sensual about him… Fred Astaire was a gentleman up there on the screen—so much a gentleman, in fact, that there was never an atom of erotic appeal about him.”
NOTE: If you’ve not seen this evening’s movie before, you may wish to enjoy our program note after viewing My Man Godfrey.
Does My Man Godfrey have a happy ending?
Somehow I have trouble believing that Godfrey Parke (William Powell) is going to have the happiness with Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) that the surrendering Dr. Cary Grant is slated to enjoy with Katharine Hepburn as Bringing Up Baby comes to its rollicking end. Nor do Powell and Lombard seem destined to share the bliss of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert after their road adventures in It Happened One Night. Poor Godfrey has never indicated much more than patience and politeness toward Irene, while her tantrums and flights of fancy have made her seem less like an alluring woman and more like a child (albeit a sometimes delightful one) with each ensuing scene.
Although a definite relic of another age and sensibility, Now, Voyager is still regarded as one of the greatest romantic “women’s pictures” of all time. Indeed, it may be that its old-fashioned theme of self-sacrifice and its emotionally evocative Max Steiner score are part of the very reason the movie continues to fascinate us.
Silk Stockings has often been cited as one of the last great MGM musicals, and indeed it was the last to emerge from the prestigious Arthur Freed unit at the studio. It was the final romantic lead role for Fred Astaire (age 58 when it was released), and the last time Cyd Charisse, 36, would dance in a movie musical. It does not possess the dynamism of Astaire’s work of the thirties or even The Band Wagon, made only four years before, and is sometimes described as reflecting the tiredness of the genre. Still, it exhibits plenty of verve thanks to the distinctive direction of Rouben Mamoulian, whose last film this was. The director began work on a film version of Porgy and Bess and on Cleopatra, but was replaced on both projects, whereupon he returned exclusively to stage work.
USA, 1985. 90 min. Warner Brothers/ Aspen Film Society. Cast: Paul Reubens, Elizabeth Daily, Mark Holton, Diane Salinger, Milton Berle. Music: Danny Elfman; Cinematography: Victor Kemper; Production Design: David Snyder; Produced by: Richard Abramson, William McEuen; Written by: Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, Michael Varhol; Directed by: Tim Burton.
Living high up a mountain in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire in the late 1980s, I had no cable and absolutely miserable television reception, which meant that I began listening in earnest to National Public Radio and took to watching a few of the shows available on the two network channels I was able to get. Though I adored the quirky Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and The Wonder Years, I also watched a few shows to which I probably would not have been drawn had my selection been more diverse–I developed a Who’s the Boss? habit, once it was syndicated. Oddest of all was the show I’d occasionally switch to on Saturday mornings, when I was just returning from a grocery run and starting to put things away in the kitchen. Pee-wee’s Playhouse turned out to be a sort of cross between a live-action Warner Brothers cartoon–both fun for kids and zinging much of its humor straight over their heads–and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
U.S.A, 1959. 136 min. MGM / Loew’s Inc. Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau; Music: Bernard Herrmann; Cinematography: Robert Burks; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Written by: Ernest Lehman; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
During the 1950s and early 1960s there arose a type of film that I nebulously think of as the “cheerful Technicolor sex comedy.” Including such points on the spectrum as Daddy Long Legs, the Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicles, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Bell Book and Candle, and I’d Rather Be Rich, these films have dated noticeably, but that’s part of the fun of watching them. Their particular brand of romance, especially if it had a cat-and-mouse quality, was found to blend nicely with an element of adventure. If you imagine a tale of such ilk crossed with an ultra-stylish suspensor of the noir mien, you get North by Northwest.