Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Epic" (2013) -- Initial Thoughts

I went to see this with my sis-in-law last weekend.  We wanted to see The Great Gatsby, but it was sold out :-(  So she suggested this, and it was a lot of fun!  Something I probably would have waited for DVD for, so I'm glad she chose it and gave me a reason to see it on the big screen, as it was a visual treat.

It's a sweet story about a girl who moves back in with her dad after her mom dies and discovers a secret world in the woods around their house.  Her dad has long been convinced there are tiny green warriors riding hummingbirds in those woods, and he's dedicated his life to capturing evidence of them.  This obsession is why his wife left him, and why his daughter now thinks he's loony.  That is, until she meets them herself, gets shrunk to their size, and sets out on a quest to help them save the forest from a bunch of evil creatures bent on rotting everything in sight.

Epic is kind of an Avatar for kids, with some of the same "nature needs our help" ideology going on.  But it also has a nice message about parents and children needing to really listen to each other instead of letting the generation gap widen irreparably.  The visuals were lovely, full of refreshing greens and ominous greys, and the characters were a lot of fun.  I didn't love this movie, but I wouldn't mind watching it again when my kids are older.  There's some cartoony violence, a very vicious mouse, and a pretty intense scene where the main character gets chased by her pet dog after she's been shrunk, so I don't think my little ones are ready for it yet.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My Ten Favorite Dramas

I kind of put all movies that don't fit in another category into "drama."  Not enough action to be action/adventure?  Not funny enough to be comedy?  Not enough cowboyness to be a western?  Into drama it goes!

Like before, I've linked titles to previous posts I've done on those movies and included my own one-sentence synopsis of each movie.

1.  Ben-Hur (1959)

When Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) is unjustly imprisoned by his former best friend (Stephen Boyd), he vows revenge, but eventually learns revenge is less sweet than he'd expected.  Possibly the greatest spectacle epic ever filmed.

2.  The Man without a Face (1993)

A lonely boy (Nick Stahl) finds an unlikely mentor and friend one summer in the sixties.  My favorite Mel Gibson movie, and one of the first movies I bought when I went to college.

3.  Chocolat (2000)

A mysterious woman (Juliette Binoche) opens a chocolate shop in a sedate French village and teaches its inhabitants to reexamine their attitudes and customs.  The yummiest Johnny Depp movie ever -- do not watch this without a good supply of chocolate on hand!

4.  Apollo 13 (1995)

The true story of three astronauts (Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon) who must survive a space ship malfunction on the way to the moon.  I saw this in the theater when I was 15 with my parents.  It's amazing.

5.  Jane Eyre (1983)

A young governess (Zelah Clarke) teaches her employer (Timothy Dalton) about love and honor.  My favorite adaptation of my favorite novel.

6.  Giant (1956)

A spoiled East Coast beauty (Elizabeth Taylor) marries a stubborn Texas rancher (Rock Hudson), and they spend twenty-five years trying to figure each other out.  One of the first movies I can remember seeing, and my favorite James Dean movie.

7.  Witness (1985)

Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) goes undercover to protect a little Amish boy who is the only witness to a murder.  Taut and sweet at the same time.

8.  The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Three veterans (Dana Andrews, Frederic March, Harold Russell) find returning to civilian life much harder than they'd expected.  An amazingly frank look at post-war America.

9.  The Sheik (1921)

A willful English socialite (Agnes Ayres) catches the eye of a handsome desert sheik (Rudolph Valentino), then captures his heart with her refusal of his attentions.  Trust me, it makes a lot more sense on-screen.

10. The Sting (1973)

Two con men (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) try to con a ruthless businessman (Robert Shaw) who had their good friend murdered.  Try really hard to see this spoiler-free, it's a lot more fun that way!

Well, there we have it, my second list in this series.  Have you seen any of these?  Did you like or dislike them?  What are your favorite dramas?  Do you have a better way of classifying them than mine?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Rio Bravo" (1959)

As I mentioned earlier this month, this is one of my favorite westerns.  But I haven't seen it in probably seven or eight years, so I decided to dust it off to celebrate John Wayne's birthday.  I needed something to get me back in a serious western mood so I could get back to writing my novel, and this definitely did the trick -- I've gotten over a thousand new words in since watching this.

I've read (here and elsewhere) that Howard Hawks was inspired to make this movie when he saw High Noon (1952) and thought it was disgraceful for the hero of the film to go around begging people to help him.  He insisted a good hero would make do with what he had.

John T. Chance

So when Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) arrests Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) for murder, he doesn't go around asking for extra deputies to help guard the prisoner until the Marshal arrives in a few days.  Instead, he relies on his two existing deputies, a limping old man called Stumpy (Walter Brennan) and a drunk called Dude (Dean Martin).  Not exactly a group to strike fear in the hearts of evildoers, but Chance insists they're all he needs.

In fact, Chance refuses help from his good friend Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond). Wheeler insists he should have better assistance than just Stumpy and Dude and offers him the services of a young gunslinger dubbed Colorado (Ricky Nelson, in full-fledged heartthrob mode).  Colorado would rather mind his own business, which makes Chance decide he's got good sense.

Wheeler arguing with Dude

Chance is worried that anyone who helps him will get on the wrong side of Joe Burdette's brother Nathan (John Russell), who is bottling up the town and trying to force Chance to give up Joe.  He doesn't want anyone to get hurt for helping him, so he refuses all assistance from anyone not already involved.

And yet, people keep right on helping him.  Like his friends Carlos (Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez) and Consuela (Estelita Rodriguez), who own the hotel where Chance lives.  They help him with supplies and moral support no matter how much he insists he can do everything himself.

Carlos and Consuela

There's a new girl in town to further complicate matters, one who plays poker and looks by turns sultry and naive.  She's known as Feathers (Angie Dickinson) because this town is short on names, and newcomers like her and Colorado mayn't have names since there aren't even enough for regular townsfolk like Stumpy and Dude.  Feathers first catches Chance's eye because he thinks she's cheating at poker, but by the end of their first combative encounter, he's hooked.

Feathers, with some of the feathers she likes to wear

For a movie about a guy who doesn't need any help from anybody, Chance ends up getting helped by everyone who isn't a Bad Guy.  In fact, his character arc seems to be that he learns he can't do everything himself, which I find kind of ironic considering why Howard Hawks decided to make the movie in the first place.

My favorite character, predictably enough, is Dude.  Why is he a drunk?  Because he was in love with a girl who was no good.  When she ditched him, it broke his heart into teeny pieces, and he crawled into a bottle to try to forget her.  When we first meet him, he's enduring taunts for being so pathetic that he's willing to dig money out of a spittoon to get a drink.

Anyone that defeated and lonely is practically guaranteed to win me over.  Especially when, later on, he cleans up this nicely:

(Yes, large chunks of this post are just an excuse for me to show you yummy pictures.)

I'm especially fascinated by the friendship between Dude and Chance.  Dude used to be a really good deputy, but thanks to the aforementioned experience, he's now known around town as Borrachon (Spanish for drunk).  Chance hires him back whenever he has any deputy business available that Stumpy can't handle.  Chance also tries to preserve Dude's dignity for him, which Dude resents.  Still, Dude clearly idolizes Chance for being everything he isn't.

However, near the beginning of the movie, Hawks deliberately stages a long shot of Dude riding and Chance walking beside him while they have a conversation.  The subtext seems to be that Chance metaphorically looks up to Dude as well.  Why?  Because Dude let himself fall in love, and Chance never has?  Because Dude's trying to conquer his addiction?  Because he accepts help?  Or is it saying that Chance can stand on his own two feet, but Dude needs help just to get across town?  Or did Hawks just think it was cool that John Wayne is so tall, he can have a conversation with someone riding a horse?  It's one of many interesting moments between these two friends where there's a lot more going on than just the words that are exchanged.  

But anyway, I'm also intrigued by the relationship that grows up between Feathers and Chance.  They spend most of their time verbally sparring with each other, with Feathers teasing him and pushing every button she can find.  "I always make you mad, don't I?" she says during their second altercation, clearly enjoying the fact that she can rile him, yet also annoyed with herself for doing so.

Once we learn that she was widowed four months earlier, we understand her eagerness to keep Chance at arm's length while also clearly needing some kindness and comfort.

You can't have a movie starring Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson without getting them to sing, and they obligingly sing two songs together while they're hanging out in the jail waiting for their doom to arrive.

We're all in terrible danger... let's sing a song!
Ricky Nelson is really happy he found the prettiest guitar you ever saw.

This post is getting awfully long, so I'm not going to go into any more detail about the plot.  Watch it yourself if you want to know how it all turns out!

Angie Dickinson gets a few costume changes, but her clothes look to me like they're pretty '50s-ized.  Besides the ones I showed above, here are two more of her outfits:

The men get your standard western outfits.  John Wayne wears the same vest, pants, and jacket throughout, though he does change from a red to a blue shirt.  He also cracks me up a couple times when he's putting on a piece of his costume and it won't cooperate -- first, his hand gets stuck in a jacket sleeve, and then later, his vest twists up and he can't get it on right at first.  But he keeps right on going through those wardrobe malfunctions, and they just come off as believable little problems with clothes.  I happen to fight with my clothes that way a lot, so I like his little troubles :-)

Claude Akins gets the one really cool bit of clothing in the movie:

It's a vest made out of some kind of animal skin, either a very unusual cow, or maybe a horse?  Flashy and distinctive, definitely adding to his character of a no-good rich guy.

I'd also like to mention that Colorado and Feathers have very '50s hair, not period at all.  At least, I don't think it is.

Is this a family-friendly movie?  I'd say mostly.  There are a couple mild curse words and some old-style violence (shootings, explosions, and a bit of fisticuffs), and at the very end, Feathers wears what's supposed to be a really scandalous outfit, though today it looks about the same as a fairly conservative swimsuit.  EDIT:  There's also the implication that two unmarried characters spent the night together, but you can also choose to think they didn't, it's kind of up to the viewer.

Okay, one final note.  John Wayne does a whole lot of delicious leaning in this movie, and to celebrate his birthday, here are three shots of him for you to enjoy:

Happy birthday, John Wayne!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Guest Post about Sherlock Holmes

I'm the guest blogger on Sunshine & Shadows today!  Go here to read my post about my favorite celluloid incarnation of Sherlock Holmes.

Happy long weekend!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Iron Man 3" (2013) -- Initial Thoughts

If I had to choose one word to describe this movie, it would be "unimprovable."  Which my computer says is not a word, but phooey on it.  I can't think of one thing I would change in this movie that would make it better.  Not a different casting choice, director, visual style, plot change... nothing.  I liked it better than the first Iron Man and much better than Iron Man 2.

So if you've been considering going to see it, but haven't been real sure if it's any good or not -- go!

In fact, go right now, and don't read the rest of this review until you're back, because I am going to discuss plot twists and character development and all kinds of stuff that you Do Not Want To Know before you see it.  So don't read the rest of this post until you've seen the movie.  Please.  I'm serious.  I'm putting three yummy pictures right here so the rest of this post won't appear on your screen without you scrolling down, so you won't accidentally read any spoilage.

So.  What I'm gonna do here is not so much just review the movie as discuss the fact that, basically, it's a remake of Batman Forever (1995).

Please don't leave!  I'm serious.  I love that movie -- it's my favorite Batman movie.  Sure, it's so hammy and cheesy it could be a diner sandwich.  Sure, its effects look really clunky now.  But it's got some great acting (and some of the craziest scenery chewing of all time, I will admit that), a fun plot, and some kickin' music.

But more to the point, Batman Forever has a lot in common with Iron Man 3.  First off, both Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) are insanely rich and the heads of powerful corporations.  Both movies begin with a nerdly, genius scientist approaching the lead character with a brilliant idea they want to share.  Both Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey) and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) have long, stringy hair and bad glasses.

Jim Carrey in Batman Forever
Both Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark turn down the overeager scientists, though Bruce lets Nygma down way more nicely than the way Tony deals with Killian.  Because Nygma and Killian idolize the people who rejected them, they both take this very personally and, naturally, plot revenge.  This is how nemeses are born, after all.

Incidentally, both Nygma and Killian's ideas?  They involve mind-control.  Nygma goes on to create The Box, a silly-looking device that lets TV viewers feel like they're inside the show they're watching, meanwhile sucking their brainwaves and feeding all their thoughts to Nygma.  Killian's idea is more vague and science-y, but it involves harnessing unused brain space to help subjects grow and change.  (I really need to see IM3 again to really figure that part out).

Both Nygma and Killian strike out on their own after being rejected.  They find success, clean up beautifully, and make a move on the star's girlfriend.  And they try to get their idols to join them once again, which results in yet another round of rejections and anger and vengeance-plotting.  Both then join forces with Homicidal Maniacs, Nygma with Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), who wants to destroy Batman, and Killian with The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who wants to destroy America.  (Yes, yes, I realize that was a ruse, or so they want us to believe....)

Another similarity?  The girlfriends.  Both reddish-blonde knockouts with distinctly comic-book-y names.  Bruce Wayne woos Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), and Tony Stark is still having a combustible relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  

And both Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark acquire a protege, a younger male character in need of a father-figure.  One is newly orphaned Dick Grayson (Chris O'Donnell), a trapeze artist whose parents were murdered by Two-Face.  The other is Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins), whose dad walked out eight years earlier and whose mom never makes an appearance in the movie.  

There's a big emphasis in Iron Man 3 on the idea that you create your own enemies.  Tony Stark brushed off Killian, and Killian spent years figuring out how to get back at Tony and take over the world while he was at it.  Bruce Wayne refused to develop Nygma's idea, and also failed to prevent the accident that transformed Harvey Dent into Two-Face, and the two of them spend years figuring out how to get back at Bruce and take over Gotham City while they're at it.  Both movies seem to be saying that a little kindness goes a long way, and so does the lack thereof.  Not terribly profound, but important nonetheless.

Do I really think Iron Man 3 is a remake of Batman Forever?  Nah.  Iron Man 3 is far more serious, after all.  But they do have a similar plot arc, one that clearly resonates with me since they're both my favorite entries in their individual movie series.  Why does it appeal to me?  I know I'm drawn to the idea of proving yourself, that you can do what others say you can't.  It's the bad guys who are proving themselves here, but I do know I felt so very bad for Killian when Tony lied to him -- I could have slapped Tony.  Other than that, I'm not quite sure yet -- I'll have to think on it some more.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Happy Birthday, Bobby!

Happy birthday, dearest Bobby!  Here are a few fun candid shots of him I've found online over the years.

Anybody else want to be a little black kitten?
I try to mimic this expression whenever I read over some sheet music.
Let's imagine he's singing "Happy Birthday."

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Sherlock Holmes" (2009) and "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" (2011) -- Initial Thoughts

Last week, I doubled the number of Robert Downey, Jr. movies I have seen, going from four to eight.  I'm going to review both of his outings as Sherlock Holmes here so I can compare them a bit, as I liked one of them better than the other.

I remember when I saw the previews for Sherlock Holmes in 2009, that there was a moment where Watson (Jude Law) said to Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.), "Does your depravity know no bounds?"  And that moment made me say, "I am never going to watch this movie!"  Because the Sherlock Holmes created by A. Conan Doyle is the complete opposite of depraved.  Though he would doubtless deny it, Sherlock Holmes is the very model of a Victorian gentleman, morally upright and unswerving in his pursuit of justice.  So I refused to see this movie.  My dear friend DKoren agreed.  But then, last year, she accidentally saw part of the second movie on a plane, without sound, and found RDJ so compelling that she had to watch the real movies.  And she discovered something wonderful.

No depravity.

When Watson asks Holmes if his depravity knows no bounds, they are discussing doilies.  Yes.  Doilies.  And patterned tablecloths and china figurines and all the womanly fripperies that Holmes is convinced will overwhelm Watson as soon as he gets married.  Watson is being sarcastic and annoyed, and there's no depravity involved.  Once I'd been assured of this fact, I agreed to watch these movies with my friend when she visited.  And I enjoyed them!  I didn't love them, but I enjoyed them.  Here's a bit about each, and I'll get into plot points, character deaths, etc, so it's going to be pretty spoily.  Don't read beyond this if you haven't seen these yet, but want to!

Sherlock Holmes (2009) involves a cult that claims it will use magic to take over the British government.  It reminded me more of Buffy the Vampire Slayer than Doyle's stories in many ways, what with all the magic and a bad guy returning vampire-like from the grave.  Like Buffy and the Scoobies, Holmes and Watson follow clues and battle seemingly invincible adversaries and sniff ingredients to figure out what potions their enemies have been mixing up.

Unlike in most Buffy eps, however, it turns out that the monsters and magic were all a sham, and there are logical, human reasons behind all the seemingly magical occurrences.  Also, unlike Buffy and Doyle's stories, clues are withheld from the audience.  In the stories, Watson sees what Holmes sees, and records all the data for the readers, who can follow the clues and figure out the case if they're very clever.  This movie felt more like an Agatha Christie mystery, where several key bits of information get withheld from the readers just so the detective looks really brilliant when we get to the reveal.  Never a good plan, folks.

I liked Sherlock Holmes:  A Game of Shadows (2011) much better.  It pits Holmes against Professor Moriarty, his archnemesis from the original stories, who "killed" Holmes in the Doyle story "The Final Problem."  Now, I'm not a huge fan of stories involving Moriarty for the simple reason that he's overused.  I've read quite a lot of non-canonical Sherlock Holmes stories, and it seems like Moriarty pops up in a third of them.  It gets old!  Like having the Joker in every third Batman story, or Lex Luthor in every third Superman story.  Plus, Moriarty is so often over-written (or over-acted) and just... I get annoyed, okay?  But this Moriarty (Jared Harris) is subtle and crafty and shifty and oh-so-pleased with himself.  Creepy, in other words, but a worthy adversary for Holmes.  The movie as a whole was more of a chase than a mystery.  No withheld evidence, no red herrings.

Also, I absolutely loved this movie's portrayal of Mycroft Holmes (Stephen Fry).  He's fat and jovial and so obviously smarter than he wants you to think.  Loved, loved, loved this Mycroft.  Plus, he called Holmes "Sherley," which cracked me up no end.

Plus, they killed off Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) at the beginning, and I reeeeeally didn't like this Irene Adler -- she was too pert and too dumb.  Without her in the way, the rest of the movie was great!

In both films, I loved the portrayal of Watson by Jude Law particularly well -- he's all the things Watson should be:  loyal and brave and intelligent and somewhat exasperated by Holmes on occasion.  Plus, he's quite funny.  But... when has Jude Law ever turned in a bad performance?

I also dug Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes.  He has that almost-hidden sorrow, the pain lurking in his eyes that hints at past darkness... he's a bit broody, really.  Catnip for Hamlette, in other words.

I loved that Holmes' disguises are awful.  Dreadful.  Transparent.  But they buy him extra time when he needs it, which is all they really need to do.  It's a sweet twist since, in the stories, Watson is always calling Holmes' disguises undetectable and so on.

Things I didn't care for, other than the ones I've mentioned already?  The wonky film editing.  I liked it for the glimpse-inside-Holmes' brain parts, but not the other times it's used.  Got really old and annoying really fast.  And Mrs. Hudson (Geraldine James) was too snarky, not kind enough.

As for costumes... loved them!  Especially since both Holmes and Watson spent considerable time in suspenders.  I have this thing for guys in suspenders.  Strange but true.  Yummy.

This is a long post already, so not going into anything about costumes other than that.  Sorry!  There are pics available all over online if you're interested in seeing more.  (Oh, but Irene Adler does have the biggest bustles I've seen in... maybe forever.  Freakishly shelf-like, really.)

Is this movie family-friendly?  Um, not really.  A little bad language, some innuendo, lots of violence.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to any of my readers who are mothers!  Do you have any Mother's Day traditions?  My family always took Mom out to eat after church when I was a kid, and one such excursion turned out to be very memorable indeed, as we were involved in a pretty serious car accident on the way home.  That's always made me kind of have mixed feelings about the day -- none of us were seriously injured, but my mom got whiplash that has given her neck problems and headaches for the last twenty-some years.  It was a pretty scary experience for an eight-year-old, and ever since, I've liked staying home on Mother's Day more than going off to do something.

So this year, after church, we just stopped at a farmer's market on our way home.  We bought so many wonderful things!  Hearty apricot bread, wildflower honey, homemade kettle corn, beets, and pickles!  We came home and feasted on our finds.  Cowboy gave me a whole case of 24 glass bottles of Mexican Coca-Cola (made with real sugar, not corn syrup!), and my daughters gave me something they made in Sunday School this morning: a little mitchella plant in a pretty jar that they filled with colored sand and dirt.  My son told me "Happy Mother's Day!" accompanied by a hug :-)

My two gifts, plus some of our farmer's market haul
Now my hubby is also giving me some time to catch up on the computer.  Caffeine and computer time -- what could be better?  He's taking Dano out for a bike ride while the girls nap.  So I'd better start catching up on all the stuff I haven't read or written over the past week!  My best friend came to visit, and we had so much fun that I barely had a moment to check my email, much less blog.  So I have some movie reviews coming up (for Robert Downey, Jr.'s two Sherlock Holmes movies and for Iron Man 3), as soon as I can get them written.  

Meanwhile, enjoy your Sunday!

Monday, May 06, 2013

"Moran of the Lady Letty" (1922)

Today is Rudolph Valentino's 118th birthday!  Happy birthday, dear Rudy!

To celebrate, I watched one of my favorites of his movies, Moran of the Lady Letty (1922).  It's not what you probably imagine a Valentino movie to be like.  It has no exotic locations, no fabulous costumes.  Instead, it has sailing ships and heroics.  Part of the reason Valentino made this movie was to do a little damage control for his image.  Before I get into the movie itself, I'll give you a little background on that stage in his career.

Rudolph Valentino's breakout role was in 1921's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, playing a spoiled rich boy who grew up fast on the WWI battlefields.  His tango scene early in the film (watch it here) captured the attention of female moviegoers, but it wasn't until later that same year, with The Shiek, that he became the very first matinee idol.  Suddenly, women everywhere wanted graceful, passionate men with dark, smoldering good looks.  It seems that American men may have felt threatened by how strongly their women responded to this Latin Lover -- at any rate, critics pooh-poohed Valentino and maligned his masculinity.  Valentino, only 26 at the time, was very offended, and Moran of the Lady Letty is something of a rebuttal of those aspersions.  (If you want to know more, I totally recommend the Valentino biography Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W. Leider.)

Here's the story:

Ramon Laredo (Rudolph Valentino) is a wealthy young man of leisure.  And he's bored.  Women fawn all over him at cotillions and salons (and it's no mystery why), but he doesn't care.  Then one day, Ramon decides to go for a sail on the family yacht.  He meets some passersby, who laugh at him behind his back for being a pretty boy pretending to be a sailor.

Ramon in his natty sailing togs.

But instead of going for a sail, Ramon gets shanghaied!  One minute, he's sharing a friendly drink with some old codger, and the next thing he knows, he's on a smuggling ship setting sail for who-knows-where.  The men on the ship mock him for his nice clothes and refined ways, nicknaming him Lillee of the Vallee (their spelling, not mine).  But before long, Ramon earns acceptance with his ready fists (Valentino boxed in real life too) and his navigational abilities.  Captain "Slippery" Kitchell (Walter Long) even makes Ramon his first mate, and tells him he'll get a share in whatever money they make, be it from scavenging ships or stealing pearls or anything else.

Ramon getting laughed at.

And now we get to the titular character, Moran Sternersen (Dorothy Dalton), daughter of the captain of the Lady Letty, a Scandinavian cargo ship.  Her mother is dead, and her father raised her at sea -- Moran can sail with the best of them, and generally dresses in sailor clothes (even though they make her look like a hippopotamus from behind -- but she doesn't seem to care).  But the cargo of coal aboard the Lady Letty catches fire, and most of the crew deserts it, leaving only Moran and her father and their faithful first mate.  The smoke and fumes overcome all three.

Then the smuggler happens along and the crew boards the Lady Letty to see if they can steal anything.  Ramon finds the only survivor, Moran, and takes her back to the smuggling ship.  He realizes she's a girl, but tries to conceal that fact from Captain Kitchell, with the assistance of the ship's Chinese cook, Charlie (George Kuwa).  But Kitchell finds out, and of course has designs on her virtue, so to speak.  Ramon stands up to him and defends her, and several members of the crew back him up because they knew Moran before.

Ramon and Moran

Ramon has a bit of a spark for Moran, and when they land in Mexico to sell the guns they're smuggling, the two of them go for a walk on the beach.  Ramon tries professing his love for Moran, but she rebuffs him, saying that she's got no use for men that way, and that she wishes she'd been born a boy instead because she hates being a girl.

Ramon looks more sad than shocked, but accepts her answer.

Charlie, the cook, buys a dress for Moran because he has decided that if two young people try to fall in love, one of them should be wearing a dress.  (He doesn't specify which, interestingly.)  Kitchell bargains with a his Mexican cohorts to sell them Moran, but Charlie overhears and warns Moran and the rest of the sailors, and a heroic gun battle ensues.

Moran reverses all her ideas about men and falls in love with Ramon.  They sail the ship back to California, where Ramon reunites with his former friends, defends Moran's life and honor one last time, and they sail into the sunset, so to speak.

This isn't the greatest movie ever, and it has some pretty big holes, like how Ramon felt about the smugglers' illegal activities.  And Moran seems pretty unaffected by her father's death after the first couple of minutes.  But it's a lot of fun, and gives Valentino a chance to show off his muscles, his shooting and fighting skills, and his ability to convince even man-hating women to love him.

It also raises some really interesting questions about the views on sexuality and gender people had in the 1920s.  Ramon goes from a dandy to a manly sailor.  Moran goes from a mannish girl in pants to a dress-wearing woman.  Their very names mirror each other!  Clearly, people were accepted if they behaved differently than what was "normal" for their gender, but the message here seems to be that they can't be happy unless they conform.

Anyway, my copy of this was recorded off TV, so my screencaps aren't very clear, and I couldn't get really good ones of various costumes.  Here's how Rudy looks in the beginning, in spiffy formal wear:

Here are Moran and Ramon aboard ship, in simpler garb:

Is this a family-friendly movie?  There are a couple mild curses in the titles cards (this is a silent film, of course), and there are a couple of fist fights and the aforementioned gun battle.  That's about all that might be objectionable.

I'll leave you with this very sweet photo of the birthday boy: