Thursday, April 20, 2017

Harriet Craig (1950)

          Harriet Craig is a 1950 drama film noir based on the 1925 play Craig’s Wife, by George Kelly.  The sharp screenplay was written by Anne Froelick and James Gunn, and the film was directed by Vincent Sherman, who is also known for films such as Adventures of Don Juan, Mr. Skeffington, Old Acquaintance, The Young Philadelphians, and more.  Harriet Craig stars Joan Crawford, in her and Vincent Sherman’s second of three collaborations.  It also features Wendell Corey as a solid leading man, and others.
          Harriet Craig, played by Joan Crawford, is the wife of Wendell Corey’s character, Walter Craig.  She is a controlling, neurotic, manipulative wife and person in general, herself having money to her name.  Early on, she tells her psychiatrist that she hasn’t had children because her husband doesn’t like them.  But we soon find out that her husband believes she is unable to have them and himself finds it one of the greatest disappointments of his relationship with her.  Then there’s her cousin Clare, played by K.T. Stevens, who Harriet treats at times more like a servant than a relative, and whom she lies to as well.  Then she has servants, who no doubt get treated badly throughout the film as well.

          For how truly devious of a woman Harriet Craig continually proves herself to be, Joan Crawford surely had me glued to the screen.  At times, I sympathized with her, at other times I found it difficult to.  It delves into her childhood and the fact that it wasn’t a very good one, perhaps responsible for her apparent personality disorder.  I’ve never seen a Joan Crawford performance I didn’t like, but this one is perhaps one of the most memorable I’ve yet seen.  I’m surprised this wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award, perhaps because it wasn’t very commercially successful.  Either way, you’ll feel truly bad for Mr. Craig and everyone else in the Craig household throughout the picture.  And the tension between the two of them, Mr. and Mrs. Craig, at times is palpable.  If you were looking for a happy movie, this isn’t it.  This is full on film noir drama at its finest.  For Joan Crawford’s performance alone I’d give a good review, but this film as a whole is fantastic.  I give it 3.5 out of 4 stars!

Anna Christie (1930)

Anna Christie is a 1930 Pre-Code drama film based on a 1922 play of the same name by Eugene O’Neill.  It was released by MGM based on an adaptation of the play by Frances Marion, a popular screenwriter at the time who wrote such films as Camille, Dinner at Eight, the silent film The Wind, The Champ, and many more.  This film is directed by Clarence Brown, stars Greta Garbo, and is remembered by classic film lovers for being her first talkie!  MGM held off until 1930 (talkies began in 1928).  It also features memorable performances from Marie Dressler, George F. Marion, and Charles Bickford.
                The film starts off with George F. Marion’s character, Chris, sailor and father of Greta Garbo’s character, Anna.  He is there with Marie Dressler’s character, Marthy, before finding out Anna was on her way to meet him at age 20 for the first time since age 5.  Marthy meets Anna when she arrives, but leaves Chris’ barge in order to keep away from Anna so as not to badly influence her, as Marthy is a self-described “tramp” and alcoholic.  Anyway, when Garbo/Anna first steps into the room, in a bar, and asks for a drink, you know you’re in for a treat.  Garbo pulls the film together at all stops along the way, as a memorable Swedish-American girl with a rough upbringing spent on a farm and, later, as a prostitute.

                Anna’s father, Chris, takes her out on his barge to recover from her long trip, and we watch as she uses the opportunity to cleanse herself of her past as best as she can.  Her father, of course, does not know that she worked as a prostitute, at least not yet.  At one point, Charles Bickford’s character, Matt, is rescued out at sea by Chris and Anna, along with others.  It is not long before Matt and Anna fall in love, but can Anna live with herself not telling the man she loves about her past?  And if she tells him, what will happen?  And what’s to say for Anna’s father, who doesn’t want Anna to end up with another sailor?  These are the big questions, and the answers I’m not going to spoil.  This film was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Actress for Greta Garbo, and I can see why!  I give it 3.5 out of 4 stars!  If you’re a fan of Greta Garbo and haven’t seen this yet, add it to your list today!

They Made Me a Criminal (1939)

They Made Me a Criminal is a 1939 crime drama film noir, released by Warner Bros and directed by Busby Berkeley.  Busby Berkeley is more famously known for his work on musicals, having directed musicals like Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933, Dames, and more.  They Made Me a Criminal stars John Garfield, and also includes Claude Rains as well as Gloria Dickson, Ann Sheridan, a group of boys named “The Dead End Kids”, and others.  It’s a remake of an earlier film titled The Life of Jimmy Dolan, but it’s a worthy remake which some consider to be the greater of the two.
                This film was certainly one to remember, in my opinion.  John Garfield really carries this picture.  You may be a fan of his from other films like “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Humoresque”, two other pictures of which I’d recommend both, especially “Postman”.   The film starts off with John Garfield’s character, Johnnie, at the top of the boxing game.  It’s not long before someone is unintentionally killed, and Johnnie winds up to blame for it.  He wasn’t entirely unlucky though, as circumstances led him to knowledge that the police would be after him, and he was able to make the escape from town.

                Johnnie winds up further out West, meeting a bunch of young working boys on a ranch as well as a woman named Peggy, played by Gloria Dickson quite memorably.  He quickly takes an interest in her, and winds up working on the ranch under a different name.  Claude Rains plays the detective who is after Johnnie, and if you’re a fan of Claude Rains as I am (who isn’t?), you’ll surely like him in this role.  The characters just mentioned all come to know each other in interesting ways, making you root for Johnnie along the way.  I’m not going to spoil the ending, whether it goes with a happy or sad ending I’d rather you find out by watching the film!  I give it a solid three out of four stars!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Snake Pit (1948)

                The Snake Pit is a 1948 drama film about a woman’s time in the chaotic conditions of a mental hospital back in the early 20th century.  It stars Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham in one of her finest roles.  It’s directed by Anatole Litvak, whose other films include Anastasia, Sorry Wrong Number, All This and Heaven Too, and more.  It was nominated for 7 Oscars in 1948, of which it won one award for Sound Mixing.  Olivia perhaps deserved the Best Actress Oscar she was nominated for, but lost out to Jane Wyman for her performance in Johnny Belinda.

                Virginia Cunningham starts out the movie confused and talking to herself in her mind.  She doesn’t remember where she is or how she got there.  As the movie progresses, we come to learn about her history through fragmented memories the doctors are able to get out of her.  It is through these that the doctors aim to learn what triggered Virginia’s mental episode in the first place.  We come to see how events from her childhood into her adult life worked together to lead to her breakdown.  Olivia de Havilland’s great performance throughout this really builds up your interest in learning about her.

                As interesting as the aforementioned plot is, you then have to factor in the chaotic conditions of a hospital such as the one she is in at that time.  Corrupt nurses who want things to work their way, the use of shock therapy, and an overcrowded gang of varyingly sick women are some examples of this ever-present chaos.  At one point things are going decently for Virginia, but when she upsets the wrong person she finds herself sent up to a ward where the high-level, or extra-sick patients are crowded together.  In this chaos is when the movie’s title comes into play as Virginia comes to view her experience as being like a snake in a pit.

                The entire time, Virginia is trying to remember her husband, Robert, who is played well by Mark Stevens.  Toward the end, Virginia’s condition improves as doctors uncover more about her past, which I don’t want to spoil.  Past trauma is responsible for her breakdown, we discover, and as Virginia’s condition improves she even begins to help and befriend others in the hospital.  In the end, we get a happy ending for a drama film as she comes to fully understand what got her there in the first place and is mentally stable enough to return to her married life at home.  This isn’t film noir, people, if you were looking for an unhappy ending!  I hope I’ve clued you into the atmosphere of this movie without spoiling anything major, nonetheless!  Anyway, I give this film 3.5 out of 4 stars.  It’s definitely a classic that you should check out as soon as you can!  

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a 1966 American black-comedy film.  It’s also, perhaps, my favorite classic film of all time.  It stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, a well known Hollywood couple from back then, as well as George Segal and Sandy Dennis.  This film, directed by Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge, etc), was released by Warner Bros.  It is based on the stage play of the same name by Edward Albee.  It’s one of the only films to ever be nominated for every eligible Oscars category, winning five of them out of thirteen.   And that doesn’t surprise me, as performances from all four stars are fantastic, as well as being a great story with solid direction.

                Richard Burton plays a middle-aged college professor named George, who is married to Elizabeth Taylor’s character Martha.  George invites over a younger couple, played by George Segal and Sandy Dennis, and we get to spend a night with George and Martha as hosts as they drink alcohol and argue about their relationship in front of Segal’s and Dennis’ Nick and Honey characters.  George and Martha verbally abuse each other throughout, revealing to their guests the depth of their relationship with all of its problems.  Elizabeth Taylor certainly deserved the Best Actress Oscar that she won for her performance, while Sandy Dennis won for best supporting actress.  Richard Burton was nominated for Best Actor, but did not win, though he gives perhaps his best performance of his entire career in this film.

                I wouldn’t recommend trying to read or discover everything about the film before seeing it, as, if you’re like me, you’ll be shocked by the ending if you don’t understand for most of the film exactly what George and Martha are going on about.  They give contradictory reports about their children, for instance, much to the confusion of their guests.  Ultimately, I think the film is a shining example of what a married couple, dedicated to one another but troubled, may go through in the struggle to maintain their lives, their marriage, and their very sanity.  This film was a box office success, bringing in 40 million dollars for Warner Bros.  Anyway, without spoiling anything, I must insist that if you haven’t yet watched this film that you seek out to watch it ASAP.  I give it a full 4 out of 4 stars!  Don’t miss this one, even if you previously weren’t a fan of Burton or Taylor as an on-screen duo (or on their own, at that!).  This one’ll tear at your heart strings, in a way that I’ll never forget and I don't think you will either!

The Invisible Man (1933)

Welcome to my first review!  Why did I choose The Invisible Man (1933)?  Well because I had to pick something and this movie is fresh on my mind as I just watched it last night.  Coming from the director, James Whale, that brought you Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Showboat, and more…   It stars Claude Rains, though other actors, like Una O’Connor, do well in their parts.

A movie like this may not be such a big deal in terms of special effects by modern standards… but if you judge this movie rightfully on its 1933 standards, it’s definitely a technical achievement!  James Whale did his best to make me really feel like there was an invisible man doing things on screen.  I’d sure like to know more details about how they created the special effects for this film!  They say on wikipedia that “When the Invisible Man had no clothes on, the effect was achieved through the use of wires, but when he had some of his clothes on or was taking his clothes off, the effect was achieved by shooting Claude Rains in a completely black velvet suit against a black velvet background and then combining this shot with another shot of the location the scene took place in using a matte process.”  This at least somewhat clarifies how some of the effects were achieved.

Some may say that the film’s success was heavily reliant on these special effects, but let’s not forget that we get a good performance out of Claude Rains, whether we can see him or not!  Claude Rains plays Jack Griffin, a scientist who himself discovered how to become invisible yet hasn’t figured out how to un-do it.  A side effect of the process that made him invisible also made him lose his mind.  So we are treated to a shouting, often violent character who throughout the film not only murders a cop but causes an entire train to derail and crash, as he believes he is on a path to having power.  Not to spoil the plot, but there are ways to catch an invisible man.  For instance, if it’s cold out we would see his breathing.

This film was put out by Universal Pictures in 1933, and was Universals most popular Horror film since Frankenstein, another James Whale movie as mentioned before.  It didn’t win any Oscars but other groups both then and in recent times have awarded this movie various awards and/or top lists.  Overall, it’s not one of my favorites but I consider it an overall solid film and would give it 3 out of 4 stars.  If you like sci-fi and/or classic movies, and haven’t seen this yet, do yourself a favor and seek it out!  It just recently played on TCM so I’m not sure when they’ll air it next, but I’m sure you’ll find a way if you try!