Michael Curtiz – White Christmas [+Extras] (1954)

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The Charge
Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in a song and dance extravaganza.

Opening Statement
The 1954 musical White Christmas had the advantage of the biggest selling song of the time for its title, and adding the huge fame of stars like Bing Crosby made it one of the biggest films of the year and a Christmas tradition in many households ever since. The thin romantic comedy plot is overshadowed by the numerous song and dance numbers, making for a sentimental spectacle. Paramount has done an excellent job of bringing this classic to DVD in time for Christmas, and fans of the big Hollywood musicals can rejoice. Continue reading

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Ernst Lubitsch – The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

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The Budapest department store run by Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) is a happy little society of salesclerks, where assistant manager Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and salesgirl Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) don’t at all see eye to eye. But in secret pen-pal letters they’re madly in love with one another, each hardly guessing who their mysterious secret admirer might be.

The Shop Around the Corner
Ernst Lubitsch is offering some attractive screen merchandise in “The Shop Around the Corner” which opened at the Music Hall yesterday. “Ninotchka” appears to have used up his supply of hearty comedy for the time at least, but his sense of humor is inexhaustible. He has employed it to brighten the shelves where his tidy Continental romance is stored and, among the bric-à-brac, there are several fragile scenes which he is handling with his usual delicacy and charm, assisted by a friendly staff of sales-people who are going under resoundingly Hungarian names, but remind us strangely of Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan and Joseph Schildkraut. All told, they make “The Shop Around the Corner” a pleasant place to browse in. Continue reading

Billy Wilder – The Apartment [+Commentary] (1960)

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The Apartment is a 1960 American comedy-drama film produced and directed by Billy Wilder, which stars Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray. It was Wilder’s next movie after Some Like It Hot and, like its predecessor, a commercial and critical smash, grossing $25 million at the box office. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won five, including Best Picture. The film was the basis of the 1968 Broadway musical Promises, Promises, with book by Neil Simon, music by Burt Bacharach, and lyrics by Hal David.

Synopsis:
A man tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue. Continue reading

William Wyler – The Little Foxes (1941)

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Lillian Hellman’s play, a prime example of the “well-made” variety, is precisely the kind of successful middle-brow property that appealed to Samuel Goldwyn. He had already produced Hellman’s controversial The Children’s Hour (also directed by William Wyler, with cinematographer Gregg Toland), a play that handsomely survived a title change to These Three and the transformation of the issue of lesbianism into an illicit heterosexual affair. No major alterations were required for The Little Foxes. The film even resists the conventional “opening up” so often applied to theatrical texts, in the mistaken notion that fundamental cinematic values are expansively pictorial ones. Continue reading

Vincente Minnelli – The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

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Plot Synopsis [AMG]
Kirk Douglas plays the corrupt and amoral head of a major film studio in this Hollywood drama, often regarded as one of the film’s industry’s most interesting glimpses at itself. Actress Gloria Lorrison (Lana Turner), director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), and screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) are invited to a meeting at a Hollywood sound stage at the request of producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon). Pebbel is working with studio chief Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), whose studio is in financial trouble and needs a blockbuster hit. If these three names will sign to a new project, he’s convinced that there’s no way he can lose. But there’s a rub — all three of these Hollywood heavyweights hate Shields’s guts. He dumped Gloria for another woman, he double-crossed Fred out of a plum directing assignment, and he was responsible for the death of James Lee’s wife. All three are ready to tell Pebbel to forget it, until they hear the voice of Shields, calling from Europe to discuss the project by phone. The Bad and the Beautiful won five Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Gloria Grahame. Continue reading

Vincente Minnelli – The Band Wagon (1953)

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“In Sight and Sound’s 2002 poll of the ten best films ever made, one musical made the list: Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Without denying that film’s considerable charm, a musical released a year later (which failed to receive a single vote in Sight and Sound’s survey) may be worthier of similar hyperbolic citations: The Band Wagon. The films share several points of contact: both are backstage musicals built around songbook catalogues and produced for MGM by Arthur Freed; both have witty screenplays by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; and both feature important roles for Cyd Charisse. One may also see both films as primary examples of what André Bazin called the “genius” of the Hollywood system, in which great films are produced less through a single auteur than through a group of talented individuals working collectively with the sophisticated technical resources of a major studio while simultaneously drawing upon the rich traditions and forms of American popular culture.” Continue reading

H. Bruce Humberstone – Tall, Dark and Handsome (1941)

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Plot

Cesar Romero plays an outwardly tough prohibition-era gangster who in reality wouldn’t hurt a fly. He maintains his “killer” reputation by planting evidence of his involvement at the scenes of other crooks’ crimes. Romero begins aspiring for respectability when he falls in love with Virginia Gilmore and adopts the orphaned Stanley Clements. Through his own non-homicidal means, Romero redeems himself by wiping out a genuinely nasty gangster boss (Sheldon Leonard). Tall, Dark and Handsome was remade in 1950 as Love That Brute, with Paul Douglas in the Cesar Romero role–and with Romero playing the villain! Continue reading

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