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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life with Father (1947)

So I've decided to do another old favorite of mine today.  I don't remember how I discovered this film, TCM probably, but I've loved it for years.  I bought the book at the swap meet the other day and in all probability, it's infinitely better than the movie, so before I go and ruin one of my favorite movies for myself, I'm going to review it.

Life with Father is based on a play by the same name, so the film version is very stage-y.  There isn't a lot of action so this isn't a good pick for someone who demands a lot of sex/explosions/guns from their movies.  If you like sophisticated comedy, read on.  Life with Father is like the shitmydadsays of the 1930's.   It's mostly from the perspective of Clarence Day Jr. and relates stories of growing up with his eccentric stockbroker father in 1890's New York City.

Life with Father stars William Powell in the title role, who is probably the most amazing actor of all time.  Check him out in My Man Godfrey and The Thin Man if you want to see him being super amazing.  Also starring is the lovely Irene Dunne.  The rest of the cast is a bunch of nobodies, except for a very young Elizabeth Taylor. 

So Clarence Day Sr. is a man who likes everything to be just so. He is eternally frustrated that his housekeeping staff, his cook, his wife, his children, his milkman, his creditors, his mailman and New York taxi drivers just fail to get it. 

The Day Family.  just-so

In a nutshell:  Mrs. Day's cousin comes to visit, which annoys Mr. Day.  She brings a young lady with her, Mary Skinner (Elizabeth Taylor) and she begins a flirtation with Clarence Jr., which annoys Mr. Day.  Junior and Mary discover that their love can never be because she is a Methodist and he is an Episcopalian so she begins prodding into Mr. Day's religious history, which annoys Mr. Day.  Mrs. Day discovers that Mr. Day was never baptized and so she begins panicking that her marriage is invalid and that her husband won't be going to heaven, which annoys Mr. Day.  And So On...

Hordes of Gypsies

It's the scenes and the dialogue that are funny, not so much the action itself.

This scene reminds me a lot of Justin Halpern's dad:  Mr. and Mrs. Day are having an argument over a bill from a department store. 

Mrs. -- I try to keep down expenses.  You know yourself Cousin Phoebe spends twice as much as we do.
Mr. -- Don't talk to me about your Cousin Phoebe!
Mrs. -- You talk about your own relatives enough.
Mr. -- That's not fair, Vinnie.  When I talk about my relatives, I criticize them.

And then there is the sub-story of Junior's flirtation with Mary Skinner.  It's horribly awkward, but charming.  And then Mr. Day gives Junior what is probably the best "facts of life" talk in the history of cinema. 

I've never seen the play version, but from what I've heard, it's better than the film because, of course, the censors had their way with it.  The last line is meant to be, "I'm going to be baptized, dammit!" but the "dammit" had to be omitted.  Directors, writers and actors back then had to be a lot more creative and subtle in how they told their risque jokes.  Pay attention when you watch old movies, sometimes an actors choice of words or gesture will seem a bit dirty, chances are, it's completely intentional.  Life with Father is full of them.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Scarface (1932)

Firstly, I have never seen the Al Pacino version of this film.  I know.  I know.  It's on my list.  I love gangster films so I thought I'd start at the beginning.  Ultimately, the joke is on you because I'll be the one who gets all the references to earlier films. 

So this is Scarface.  Produced by Howard Hughes who had a reputation for doing whatever the fuck he wanted.  Because he could.  Seriously, the man had so much money that he could afford to tell everyone on the planet to go fuck themselves and suffer absolutely no ill consequences whatsoever. 

You know it's a good movie because it starts with a disclaimer telling the audience that the film is not meant to glorify criminal life.  But let's be real.  All the cops and newspapermen are douchebags while all the gangsters, with the possible exception of Johnny Lovo, are badasses.  I don't consider myself a violent person, but if I had a driver and a tommy gun and a house full of's just such a shame that in an age of DNA testing, fingerprint databases, cell phone tracking and the patriot act; you just can't get away with shit like you could in the good old days.  And so we live vicariously. 

Tony Comante

This is Tony Comante (Paul Muni), just a small time thug who gets caught up with the usual suspects after the untimely assassination of Italian mob boss, Big Louis Costillo.  In all likelihood, he's guilty as sin, but he's cool.  He ain't afraid of no copper.  Under interrogation, he says, "What kinda mug ya think I am?  I don't know nothin'.  I don't see nothin'.  And I don't hear nothin'.  And when I do, I don't tell no cop.  Ya understand?" I love it.  So, Johnny Lovo's shady lawyer shows up and bails Tony out.  See, Lovo's got aspirations to take over the southside and he's making Tony his lieutenant.  Tony has a friend, Guino Rinaldo (George Raft) and a kid sister, Cesca (Ann Dvorak).  You can probably guess where that's going.  Anyway, he hooks Guino up with a job and some cash from Lovo. 

Guino Rinaldo
Cesca and Tony Comante

Kid sister Cesca is clearly a slut, but Tony dotes on her and is VERY protective.  He gives her some money too.  He doesn't realize that she's got a thing for his friend Rinaldo. 

Tony works in what you might call the "marketing department" of Johnny Lovo's southside gang.  His job entails going to speakeasies and informing them that he will be supplying their beer from now on.  If they have a problem with that, he shoots someone.  Not a bad job for a young Italian.  Unfortunately, he's a little too trigger-happy and the next thing you know, Lovo is getting a dead body delivered on his doorstep with a note attached, "Stay out of the Northside."  Now, Johnny specifically warned Tony to stick to his territory.  The Northside is controlled by the Irish mob headed by some guy named O'Hara.  But Johnny Lovo isn't really cut out for management.  Not only is Tony ignoring orders, but he's moving in on Johnny's girl, Poppy. 

...right under Johnny's nose.

And then we get to the film's first drive-by shooting.  O'Hara's gang drives by Johnny's headquarters and blasts them with machine guns.  Where most men would be defeated, or at least a bit shaken up, Tony's only thoughts are, "omg those are so cool where can I get one???"  So he gets himself a machie and heads out with his cronies to take over the northside, much to Lovo's dismay.

The next 20 minutes or so is mostly a series of drive-by shootings from Model Ts, collateral damage, firing squads and dead Irish mobsters everywhere.  O'Hara is pissed.  So is Johnny Lovo, but who cares about him?

whatever...I do what I want!

Meanwhile, sister Cesca is eager to prove that she's all grown up.  She shows up at the club in a slinky dress and starts hitting on Guino Rinaldo, who knows better than to bang Tony's sister.  Tony forcefully escorts her out of the club and takes her home where he roughs her up a bit.  He tears the strap of her dress, exposing more boob than you will see in a film until 1968.  Seriously, this is what pre-code films are all about. 

So...I won't ruin the rest of the movie for you, but basically, Cesca and Guino get married secretly, planning to surprise Tony later.  At the same time, Johnny Lovo puts a hit out on him.  Tony catches Guino with his sister in a hotel room and, clearly under a lot of stress, shoots Guino point blank.  Cesca tearfully explains that they'd been married and Tony is sorry, but not THAT sorry. 

At this point in the movie, the whole cast is dropping like flies.  You may wonder who will still be alive for the final battle.  Is there even going to be a final battle?  Maybe everyone dies and then the screen goes black.  No no.  If that were the case, you wouldn't need a disclaimer at the beginning. 

So let's take inventory.  Who is still alive?

Cesca.....and some cops.

Except Cesca wants to kill her brother.  But then she changes her mind and decides that she'd rather kill cops.  Nice girl.

and so...

Actually, there are 2 endings.  The censors hated both of them, so Hawkes went with the good one.  And boy is it a HONEY. 

Scarface is one of the shining jewels of the Pre-Code era, a short time just after the widespread distribution of talking pictures, but before anyone really gave a crap what filmmakers chose to portray in film.  Well there were some groups that cared, religious groups and such would boycott on behalf of the children.  And technically, there was the Hays Production Code prohibiting gratuitous violence and portrayals of sex and drugs, but Hollywood Producers hired a guy to be in charge of enforcing the code and then paid him off to do nothing.  The system worked quite well for the years between 1929 and 1933.  There is a very good documentary about the pre-code era produced by Turner Classic Movies that is very much worth watching if you're interested in this sort of thing.  Movies made during this time were much more adult, more violent, more risque, and absolutely fascinating to watch.  Also consider the time period, just after the wall street crash of 1929, these movies portray the general zeitgeist of the time more accurately than any film would do for a long time to come.  Despite being so titillating, pre-code films would often have more adult themes and were often intellectual as well as smutty.  Sadly, the Catholic Legion of Decency saved the day and a generation of children grew up believing that Andy Hardy was realism.  The production code had some really ridiculous rules, more ridiculous than Lucy and Desi's twin beds, that clever directors and writers would carefully slip past the censors, but that is a discussion for another time. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

You Remind me of a Man.

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947):  Shirley Temple in a love triangle with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.  Sold.


So Richard Nugent (Grant) is some kind of artist who has a tendency to get into trouble when he goes out drinking.  In the beginning of the film, we see Nugent in court with some nightclub hussies, a bouncer and his lawyer, sorting out a bar room brawl.  Presiding over this case is Judge Margaret Turner (Loy), smooth operator, but a little too uptight.  She could use a little Dick Nugent.

The Honorable Judge Turner

Later that day, RN gives a lecture at the local high school where he meets Susan Turner (Temple), Judge Turner's orphan baby sister.  Though she's got a steady her own age, Jerry White, Susan is enamored with Nugent, doing everything in her power to get him alone.  He does everything in his power to get her to leave him alone, especially after he finds out that she is the Judge's sister.  Eventually she invites herself into his apartment while he's not there, falls asleep while waiting for him, and then the whole thing turns into Lolita.  The Judge dies while hysterically running out into traffic and then Nugent takes the young Susan on a nice long road trip during which he licks her eyeball to dislodge an eyelash.

Just kidding.  Susan's family is pretty pissed about it and ready to charge Richard with endangering a minor and god knows what else.  But then their meddlesome uncle, whose name I can't recall so we'll call him Uncle Psychologist steps in.  He realizes that Richard is innocent and that his going to jail will only make a martyr of him in Susan's eyes.  He suggests they date, gets Judge Turner into the idea and so the hilarity begins.  Nugent is dragged along on some juvenile dates with Susan.  It's fun to watch Cary Grant have an ice cream soda with a bunch of teenagers after a basketball game.  Eventually, he figures out the way to drop Susan is to imitate a teenage boy.  They have this charming exchange:

Hey!  You remind me of a man.
What man?
Man with the power.
What power?
Power of hoodoo.
You do.
Do What?
Remind me of a man.
What man?
And so on....

And we thought the never ending song was clever.

The immature schtick backfires.  Susan loves it.  Nugent takes Susan and her family to a community picnic in Jerry's jalopy.  He signs up for a bunch of competitions, sack races and such and loses every single one to Judge Turner's love interest, Tommy Chamberlain (Douchebag.) (played by Rudy Vallee)  Except for the last event, an obstacle course, where Susan bribes Jerry and the HS basketball team to throw the race so that Nugent wins.  That part is weird because Jerry and the team weren't even at the picnic and I can't figure out how she orchestrated that without a cell phone.  I suppose it will remain a mystery.  

At the end of the day, Margaret Turner realizes that Nugent has been made a fool of long enough and decides to go on a date with him to let him off the hook.  He takes her to his favorite nightclub where they drink and dance and totally forget to talk about the Susan problem.  There, they run into one of the hussies from the beginning of the movie who behaves obnoxiously.  And then Susan shows up and catches her sister out on a date with her man.  "A woman scorned is a fury!" she says.  (lulz)  And then Jerry shows up and tells Susan he's been drafted.  And then craziness happens, characteristic of a screwball comedy and then everyone dukes it out and leaves Richard Nugent with the tab. 

More stuff happens, and then Meddlesome Uncle Psychologist gets involved with Margaret's love life, somehow manages to get Richard and both sisters on a plane to Africa.  Oh Humbert Humbert you sly old fox. 

No.  Just kidding again.  The real ending is pretty obvious.

Besides the brilliant casting, this is a fun movie.  It gives a good glimpse into the young lives of the Silent Generation, who apparently had clever sayings like, "Mellow Greetings, Yookie Dookie!" and "I don't dig ya chick!" and "I'm an old pepper shaker."  I have no idea what any of that means, but apparently they are fun things to say if you're trying to freak out old people.