Tuesday, January 31, 2023

"An American in Paris" (1951)


An American in Paris (1951) is a meditation on artistic and personal integrity.  Can a creative person make a living with their creative accomplishments without "selling out?"  And what constitutes selling out?  The five main characters showcase different approaches to this issue.


Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary) is a successful singer and entertainer.  He sings what audiences like, he enjoys entertaining, and he makes good money this way.  


Henri possesses not only artistic integrity -- he does what he enjoys -- but personal integrity too.  As the story progresses, we learn that he was involved in the French Resistance during WWII, and we see him put someone else's needs and desires ahead of his own.  Henri has found the perfect balance of artistic and personal integrity, and he's such a wholesome character.


Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) has spent years and years living off a succession of grants while he writes a symphony.  The same symphony.  He never finishes it.  It's as if he's decided that, if he never finishes the symphony, it can't be performed, and he can't fail.  Adam thinks he's preserving his music and his talent by never allowing himself to fail, but he actually has lost his artistic integrity because he's betraying his music by never sharing it.  


Adam has some personal integrity, though, as he's loyal to his friends and helps them out when he can.  But he's been putting safety ahead of success for too long.  He's squandering his talent and his abilities, and he makes me sad.


Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) wants to sell his paintings and make a living with his art, but his work hasn't gotten much attention.  He's had a lot of artistic integrity simply because nobody has given him any chance to "sell out."  But then, he meets Milo Roberts (Nina Foch).  


Milo not only buys a couple of Jerry's paintings, she also offers to be his patroness by talking him up to various art critics and dealers and even arranging an art show for him.  That's all well and good, but, in return, she clearly wants... Jerry himself.  Jerry has to decide if his personal integrity is worth trading for getting his art noticed, and if trading himself for success will tarnish his artistic integrity in the process.


Milo does not value herself very highly.  She thinks the best way to get what she wants is by buying it, whether it's artwork or clothing or male companionship.  Milo is a classic "poor little rich girl" who has grown up believing that her wealth is the most important thing about her, and that everyone must be just as fascinated by it as she is.  She kids herself that she uses her money to help others, but she's really just trying to buy herself the next boyfriend, over and over.  


Poor Milo has no personal or artistic integrity, and she doesn't seem to learn anything about them by the end of the film.  All she learns is that some men can't be bought.


Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron) is a young, innocent dancer who doesn't even try to earn money with her dancing.  Her dancing is just for her, not something she wants to monetize.  She works at a perfume store.  But she has plenty of personal integrity to begin with -- she stands up for herself repeatedly when Jerry somewhat overbearingly pursues her.  Eventually, she realizes he's actually a nice guy who just happens to have poor interpersonal skills, he's not actually a bullying womanizer.  Then she starts to lose her hold on her personal integrity -- although she's falling in love with Jerry, she keeps company with Henri too, out of a sense of obligation.  


When Henri asks her to marry him, she accepts without telling him about Jerry, then keeps seeing Jerry without telling him about Henri.  Lise's abandonment of her personal integrity eventually causes a great deal of heartache not only for her, but for others as well.  Not everyone in this movie gets a happy ending, and that's largely because of Lise's hesitating to be honest with both of the men in her life.


Now, if that all sounds like heavy, depressing, boring stuff... it's not!  This is actually a frolicsome musical filled with joy and light and hope.  But all this very serious stuff is going on underneath the Parisian sunshine.  I think that blending of cheerful and serious is a big part of why I fell in love with this movie when I was in my early teens, and why it's remained one of my absolute favorite musicals ever since.  The musings on what it means to be true to yourself and your abilities were very important to me when I was in my teens, as I'm sure they are for many people.


This movie made me fall in love with both George Gershwin's music and Gene Kelly's dancing.  And I haven't ever stopped loving them.  They're both so full of energy and life -- I don't think I have ever seen Kelly's dancing style so perfectly accompanied as it is by Gershwin's songs.  


Is this movie family friendly?  Pretty much.  There's some kissing.  Milo clearly wants Jerry, physically, but it's pretty obvious she only ever gets a kiss or two out of him.  There's no cussing, there's no violence, and there's no smut, though the "artist's ball" toward the end gets almost bacchanalian... but not quite.   


This has been my contribution to the Great Muppet Guest Star Caper hosted by Taking Up Room and Realweegiemidget Reviews.  I hope you've enjoyed it!

And, if you're a fan of classic Hollywood, I invite you to sign up for my Shades of Shane blogathon that I'll be hosting in April :-)

Monday, January 23, 2023

Announcing the Shades of Shane blogathon

One of my favorite movies, Shane (1953), was released 70 years ago this April!  You are cordially invited to join me April 21 through 23 to celebrate this marvelous movie and the people who made it with the Shades of Shane blogathon!


There are many, many wonderful actors in Shane, and the idea here is to celebrate them by reviewing some other movie they made.


Any movie that also features someone who acted in Shane will be welcome.  Or you could contribute an overview of an actor or actress's career, a top ten list of your favorite roles or movies of theirs, or something else you can dream up!  As long as it involves an actor or actress who was in Shane, it's good to go.


To give you some ideas, here's a list of some of the actors and actresses who are in Shane:

Alan Ladd
Van Heflin
Jean Arthur
Brandon De Wilde
Jack Palance
Ben Johnson
Edgar Buchanan
Elisha Cook Jr.
Ellen Corby

You can find a complete list here on imdb.com.  Bit part players are just as welcome as the big stars.


Again, the idea is to review a different movie that features someone who is in Shane, not Shane itself.  Because there are so many cool performers in this movie, and so many of them made a host of films, I'm asking that there be NO duplicates.

Only NEW reviews will be eligible.  Please don't try to contribute a review you wrote previously.  Also, this is a celebration, so bitter diatribes or unkind posts are not welcome.


Ready to join up?  Comment on this post with your idea for a contribution + the name of the actor or actress from Shane you're featuring (if that isn't obvious), and I will add you to the roster.  If you're not sure if your idea qualifies, just ask :-)


Don't forget to snag one of these buttons to add to your blog's sidebar and spread the word!


Participants

Hamlette's Soliloquy -- Drum Beat (1954, Alan Ladd)
Andrea -- career retrospective for Jean Arthur
Taking Up Room -- Presenting Lily Mars (1943, Van Heflin)
Realweegiemidget Reviews -- The Evening Star (1996, Ben Johnson)
Classic Film and TV Corner -- The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946, Van Heflin)
Silver Scenes -- undecided
Whimsically Classic -- The Glass Key (1942, Alan Ladd)
Silver Scenes -- A Foreign Affair (1948, Jean Arthur) and Edge of Eternity (1959, Edgar Buchanan)
+ YOU!

Friday, January 20, 2023

"The Big Land" (1957)

Please don't get this movie confused with The Big Country (1958).  That one is a sprawling epic set in Texas with a large cast.  The Big Land (1957) is half as long, focuses on just a few people, and is set in Kansas.  Well, mostly.  It does involve Texas for a little while, too.

The first time I saw The Big Land was shortly after I fell for Alan Ladd, sometime in 2016.  I found it on my dad's movie shelves while I was visiting my folks and watched it over the course of a couple nights.  I didn't actually like it much at the time, to be honest.  But then, I started to realize bits of it would pop into my mind once in a while.  It just stuck with me in the way that a lot of movies don't.  So, I picked up a copy of my own a couple years later, and now I'm finally getting around to reviewing it.

Money in post-Civil-War Texas is scarce, but beef is plentiful.  Chad Morgan (Alan Ladd) and a few fellow Texas ranchers (including frequent feature in Ladd films George J. Lewis) drive their herds up to the Missouri stockyards, hoping to get a better price for their beef there than they would back in Texas.  Like so many others in real life, these ranchers gambled that the weight their beef lost on the trail, and the time and effort it took to drive them there, would be more than offset by the higher prices at the beef-hungry northern markets.


Unfortunately for Morgan and his pals, they run into a nasty guy named Brog (Anthony Caruso) who hates former Confederates like Morgan and his friends, and who loves to make big money by bullying and cheating and generally pilfering his weaselly black guts out.  


It's funny -- the more often I see Anthony Caruso, the fonder I grow of him, even though he plays bad guys so often.  Maybe it's because I've seen him in quite a few things by now?  He was good friends with Alan Ladd from the time they were both involved with the Pasadena Playhouse, before they broke into the movies, so Alan made sure to get him roles in his movies whenever he could.  Also, he plays the baddie in one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, "A Piece of the Action," and how can I not be fond of him for that?


Anyway, Brog is really awful and I'm not fond of him at all.  Blech.  He pays Morgan a pitiful fraction of what his beef is worth.  Some of the other ranchers refuse to accept his offer and say they'll just drive their steers elsewhere.  They blame Morgan for the failure of their plan and abandon him then and there.


Morgan's Southern accent and Confederate officer's cloak earn him a general shunning from the hotels and boarding houses.  Finally, he's permitted to sleep in the livery stable.  There, he makes friends with Joe Jagger (Edmond O'Brien), a boozehound who doesn't mind sharing the hayloft with a Reb as long as he thinks he might get a drink out of it.


Next thing you know, Morgan is saving Jagger's life when a bunch of toughs try to string him up for searching through their belongings for alcohol.  The two new pals make a run for it and leave the toughs behind.  Over the next few days, Morgan nurses Jagger through the DTs while they leave Missouri and wander around Kansas.

Then Morgan has a bright idea.  Why not build town in Kansas where Texas cattle are welcomed and will get fair prices?  It just so happens that Jagger is actually an architect and has always wanted to design a town.  They convince a bunch of people to back their idea, convince the railroad to build a spur out to their planned town, and then Morgan heads to Texas to talk a bunch of cattlemen into driving their herds up there while Morgan builds the town and keeps the railroad interested.


Oh, and Jagger has a sister named Helen (Virginia Mayo) who's practically engaged to a railroader, but who just can't keep her eyes off Morgan whenever he's around.  

The two things I like best about this movie are the friendship between Morgan and Jagger and the subdued love story for Morgan and Helen.  I love buddy stories, especially ones where two buddies kind of save each other from themselves.  Morgan helps Jagger stay sober, and Jagger helps Morgan avoid sinking into depression and despair.


As for Morgan and Helen, they are both these kind of sensible, grounded, down-to-earth people who don't fall about in swoons or make speeches about love.  They simply like each other and are attracted to each other and gradually fall in love.  It's really nice to see Virginia Mayo playing a nice girl, especially since she played a total rat opposite Ladd in The Iron Mistress (1952).

Is this an awesome western?  No, it's just a good one.  Though I wish there was a better print available -- this one changes color about every twenty seconds.  Too bad the Warner Brothers Archive Collection couldn't have cleaned it up a little more.  You can see evidence of that in my screencaps here, how it'll be all golden-brown sometimes, kind of pinkish other times, and then very normal still other times.  Sigh.

Is it family friendly?  Well, there's the battle with alcohol, and there's some western violence, including a shootout.  There's an attempted lynching, and there's a big stampede where some kids and other bystanders are in grave peril -- that might scare small viewers.  No cussing, no smut.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The "Flaming Hot... Five Reasons Why" Tag

Sally Silverscreen of 18 Cinema Lane tagged me with the "Flaming Hot.... Five Reasons Why" tag.  Thanks, Sally!  You know I do enjoy blog tags :-D

The Rules:
  • You must add the name of the blog that tagged you AND those of the Thoughts All Sorts and Realweegiemidget Reviews with links to ALL these sites.. and use the natty cat themed picture promoting this post. This picture is found later in this post… 
  • List 5 of your all-time swoon-worthy characters from TV or Film, i.e. crushes/objects of your affection. And do mention the actor or actress who plays them, as you might like James Bond as played by Timothy Dalton and no one else, etc., etc. 
  • Add 5 reasons why you love them, in five sentences.
  • Link to 5 other bloggers. 
  • Add lovely pictures, gifs or videos of those you selected. 
  • Oh…and post these rules.

Sooooo, I'm going to list these guys in the order in which they arrived in my life.  I'll try to keep my gushing to the required 5 sentences ;-)

Sergeant Saunders (Vic Morrow) on Combat! (1962-67)


My beloved Saunders is devastatingly attractive, but in an unconventional way.  


A lot of the time, he just looks like a kind of scruffy nobody, especially in still photos (except these, which really do capture his gorgeousness).  But when you see him in action, he's mesmerizing.


I think it's the intensity.  He's burning so brightly inside that you can't look away, and that inner fire is... unavoidably attractive.


Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman) in the X-men movies


My darling Wolvie is the best there is at what he does, and what he does isn't very nice.  Except when what he does is very, very nice indeed, and then I fall in love with him even farther.


It's that juxtaposition of feral and tender that makes him so fascinating to me.


Doesn't hurt that Hugh Jackman is unrelentingly handsome, of course.  But I loved Wolvie in the comic books before the movies even came out, so Hugh's deliciousness is just a sort of bonus, not what makes me swoon over the character.


Angel (David Boreanaz) on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and Angel (1999-2004)


Is it the pensive face?


The never-ending shoulders?


The classic tall-dark-and-handsome good looks?  Those all help a lot, for sure, but once again, it's who Angel IS that weakens my knees.  Even if he wasn't played by the achingly gorgeous David Boreanaz, this vampire with a soul who champions the hopeless would still entrance me. 


James "Sawyer" Ford (Josh Holloway) on Lost (2004-2010)


Sawyer is the one guy here that I didn't WANT to love.  He starts off the show as a complete loser, and I was convinced I could never like him for approximately two whole episodes... and then, the layers appeared.


Sawyer is more than just a handsome face, scruffy beard, long hair, and delicious Southern accent (and it's real, not fake, nom nom nom).  He also reads constantly, is completely devoted to refusing to let anyone ever like him at all, and has an anti-hero complex just begging to be disputed.


And he has dimples -- what more can I say?


Shane (Alan Ladd) in Shane (1953)


One of the things I like best about Alan Ladd's portrayal of Shane is how still and quiet he is.


He never wastes anything: not movement, not words, not a thing.  But that means that every glance and smile and line of dialog counts extra.


And Ladd's eloquent eyes, shy smiles, assured movements, and quiet words all combine gloriously in one unforgettable performance.  Handsome, magnetic, charismatic, mesmerizing -- no description does him justice in this film.

Well, there you have my five!  I'm supposed to tag five bloggers, so I hereby tag:

Chloe the Movie Critic at Movies Meet Their Match
Rebecca at Taking Up Room
Skye at Ink Castles

Play if you want to!

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

"Another Thin Man" (1939)

The third movie about Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) is... not one of my favorites in the series, to be honest.  I can never manage to remember the plot of this one even though it's based on a Dashiell Hammett story I've read.  We just get about twenty minutes into it, and then Cowboy and I will look at each other and say, "Oh, yeah!  This is the one with the baby party in it."  And that's all I can really remember about it between viewings!

It's always funny to me how the name "Thin Man" has come to refer to Nick Charles, when really the Thin Man in the title of the first film (1934) and the Dashiell Hammett book it's based on is NOT Nick Charles at all, but the murder victim.  

Anyway, in this particular movie, Nick and Nora are back in New York City, this time with their toddler Nicky Jr. (William A. Poulson) along, as well as their faithful dog Asta.  Where the Charles family goes, trouble is sure to turn up, and aren't we all glad it does?  Without trouble, there would be no movie for us to chuckle our way through.


This time, Nick and Nora get invited to spend the weekend at a Long Island mansion owned by Colonel MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith), ostensibly so Nick and MacFay can discuss a lot of business things.  MacFay was Nora's father's business partner, and now he's involved in handling the East Coast portions of her fortune. 


MacFay is being threatened and terrorized by a charming (note the sarcasm) fellow named Phil Church (Sheldon Leonard) and his pal Dum-Dum (Abner Biberman).  He assumes that Nick can put a stop to this somehow.  Nick pokes around into various corners, but before he can do much good, MacFay is murdered.


Obviously, Phil Church and Dum-Dum are the prime suspects.  Obviously, they can't be the killers because then the movie would be over too soon.  Disappearing dead bodies, a bunch of Nick's underworld acquaintances, and double lives all help complicate matters.  


One of my favorite parts of the movie involves Nick and Nora both winding up at a night club where Nora is pounced upon by a would-be new boyfriend and dragged out to the dance floor.  


Nora holds her own pretty well with the masher, but eventually, Nick has enough and rescues her.  It's a really funny, fun sequence that makes the most of Powell and Loy's comedic talents and their wonderful chemistry.


Another thing I love about this one is that Lt. Guild (Nat Pendleton) gets to appear again!  He's in The Thin Man too, and having him turn up again lends a wonderful bit of continuity to the series.


The "baby party" that I mentioned earlier is part of the film's climax and involves a whole lot of hoodlums and small-time crooks bringing random babies over to Nick and Nora's hotel suite to have a birthday party for Nicky Jr., with some pretty funny results.


Nick Sr. solves the mystery, as usual, and at the end, he and Nora collapse in their hotel room to get the rest they've been needing ever since they got off the train at the beginning of the film.


Between filming After the Thin Man (1936) and this film, William Powell suffered two pretty serious life events.  His fiancĂ©e Jean Harlow died, and he was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery and radiation for that.  I've heard that when he arrived on set to begin filming this movie, the cast and crew gave him a standing ovation.

I don't know if it's a result of those two things, but I think Powell's portrayal of Nick Charles is just a little softer and more loving in this film than in the previous two.  Of course, Nick and Nora still exchange lots of acerbic witticisms between many an onscreen smooch, just like in the first two films, but there seems to be even more affection and kindness laced throughout their interactions.  And Nick is particularly affectionate toward little Nicky Jr. in a way I think an earlier Nick might have not quite managed.


Anyway, Nick and Nora Charles remain one of my absolute favorite on-screen married couples.  I love the way they they are portrayed as playful, happy, and supportive of each other, and still very attracted to each other.  Too many movie and TV married couples show marriage as being unpleasant and a burden, and while it certainly can be, it doesn't have to be (in fact, in my experience, marriage generally is jolly good fun). 

Is this movie family friendly?  Pretty much.  Lots of alcohol use still.  Several murders, but none of them are shown graphically.  There's also a bit of very mild innuendo here and there.