The Great Dictator (1940)

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The Great Dictator (1940)

The Great Dictator (1940). 124 minutes. Directed by Charlie Chaplin. Starring Charlie Chaplin (as Jewish barber/Adenoid Hynkel), Paulette Goddard (as Hannah), Maurice Moscovitch (as Mr. Jaeckel), Emma Dunn (as Mrs. Jaeckel), Bernard Gorcey (as Mr. Mann), Paul Weigel (as Mr. Agar), Jack Oakie (as Benzino Napaloni), Reginald Gardiner (as Commander Schultz), Henry Daniell (as Garbitsch), and Billy Gilbert (as Herring). Written, produced, and scored by Charlie Chaplin.

The Great Dictator was in its time and remains today a daring film. Through bizarre coincidence, the movie takes advantage of a unique opportunity for one titan to skewer another—that is, the English comedian with the famous toothbrush mustache lampoons the German dictator with the famous toothbrush mustache. As a comedy about the Nazi regime, and much like its contemporary To Be or Not to Be (1942), The Great Dictator may be hard for some to stomach now as it was then, in spite of its use of revered silent-era star Charlie … Read the rest

My Man Godfrey (1936)

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My Man Godfrey (1936)

My Man Godfrey (1936). 94 minutes. Directed by Gregory La Cava. Starring William Powell (as Godfrey), Carole Lombard (as Irene Bullock), Alice Brady (as Angelica Bullock), Gail Patrick (as Cornelia Bullock), Eugene Pallette (as Alexander Bullock), Jean Dixon (as Molly), Alan Mowbray (as Tommy Gray), Mischa Auer (as Carlo), and Pat Flaherty (as Mike Flaherty).

My Man Godfrey is a kind of topsy-turvy fairy tale about the Great Depression: a society girl finds a hobo whom she adopts and transforms into a butler, but in the end he reveals that he is really a member of the upper classes. Much like the princes of fairy tales, the butler Godfrey is on a personal quest laden with trials, except that his quest involves moving through the American social hierarchy, becoming first a member of one class, then another, and then another. Although the movie is a screwball comedy set in ritzy 1930s Manhattan and features large sets, beautiful clothes, and quirky … Read the rest

Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932)

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Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932)

Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932). 84 minutes. Directed by Jean Renoir. Starring Michel Simon (as Boudu), Charles Granval (as Edouard Lestingois), Marcelle Hainia (as Emma Lestingois), Sévérine Lerczinska (as Anne Marie), Jean Gehret (as Vigour), Max Dalban (as Godin), and Jean Dasté (as student).

Pauline Kael famously described Boudu Saved from Drowning as the story of a proto-hippie whom a family of bourgeois benefactors attempts to reform. In many ways this description works. I can attest that Boudu (the proto-hippie) does bear the markers of the many individuals who continue to inhabit the counter-cultural margins of the Bay Area, where I live: a free and easy approach to sex (witness how he impulsively grabs and fondles the maid Anne Marie while he carries on an affair with the lady of the house), a lack of care for his personal appearance (the clothes full of holes and the unkempt beard and mustache), the periodic narcissism (the lack of interest in the … Read the rest

The Maltese Falcon (Three Versions, 1931-1941)

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The Maltese Falcon

The following article is a review of three film adaptations of Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon: the pre-Code Maltese Falcon (1931), the bizarre comedic Satan Met a Lady (1936), and the superb film noir version (1941).

Synopsis: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)

Sam Spade is a private detective working in San Francisco. A woman identifying herself as Miss Wonderly appears in his office one day and asks for his help: she claims her sister is visiting the city in the company of a disagreeable man, and Wonderly wants the two separated. Spade’s partner Miles Archer takes over the case and agrees to shadow the man, Thursby, but that evening both Miles and Thursby are shot dead.

The next day, Spade meets up with Wonderly, who explains that she and Thursby were involved in a plot to capture an illusory, legendary, jewel-studded falcon statuette that has been smuggled around the world by treasure hunters through the ages. … Read the rest

Tales of Manhattan (1942)

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Tales of Manhattan (1942)

Tales of Manhattan (1942). 118 minutes. Directed by Julien Duvivier. Starring Charles Boyer (as Paul Orman), Rita Hayworth (as Ethel Halloway), Thomas Mitchell (as John Halloway), Eugene Pallette (as Luther), Ginger Rogers (as Diane), Henry Fonda (as George), Cesar Romero (as Harry Wilson), Charles Laughton (as Charles Smith), Victor Francen (as Arturo Bellini), Elsa Lanchester (as Elsa Smith), Edward G. Robinson (as Avery “Larry” Browne), George Sanders (as Williams), Harry Davenport (as Professor Lyons), Paul Robeson (as Luke), Ethel Waters (as Esther), and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (as Rev. Lazarus).

Tales of Manhattan is a compilation of five stories that follow the transference of a black tailcoat from one person to another in New York City. Over the course of the film, the tailcoat is bought new, sold used with a bullet hole in it to a man on his wedding day, torn apart through the exertions of a conductor who is too large for it, repaired for a charity case, … Read the rest

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

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"To Be or Not To Be" (1942)

To Be or Not to Be (1942). 99 minutes. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Starring Carole Lombard (as Maria Tura), Jack Benny (as Joseph Tura), Robert Stack (as Lt. Stanislav Sobinski), Felix Bressart (as Greenberg), Lionel Atwill (as Rawich), Stanley Ridges (as Professor Alexander Siletsky), Sig Ruman (as Col. Erhardt), Tom Dugan (as Bronski), Charles Halton (as Dubosh), and Henry Victor (as Capt. Schultz).

In To Be or Not to Be, Jack Benny plays Joseph Tura, a Polish actor in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who thinks highly of himself even though few others do. At one point, disguised as a Gestapo agent to further the Polish cause, he asks the German Col. Erhardt if he has heard of this actor Joseph Tura, apparently fishing for compliments even while conducting dangerous espionage. Col. Erhardt, to Tura’s surprise, has heard of the actor. “Oh yes,”the Nazi says, “I saw him in Hamlet once. What he did to Shakespeare we are doing now to Poland.”… Read the rest

The Gold Rush (1925)

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The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush (1925). 95 minutes. Directed by Charlie Chaplin. Starring Charlie Chaplin (as the Little Tramp/Lone Prospector), Georgia Hale (as Georgia), Mack Swain (as Big Jim McKay), Tom Murray (as Black Larsen), Malcolm Waite (as Jack Cameron), and Henry Bergman (as Hank Curtis).

The Gold Rush is the silent film Charlie Chaplin hoped he would be remembered for. Set in the Yukon during the late nineteenth century, the movie features well-known Chaplin comedy routines such as the protagonist boiling and eating his own shoe, a tabletop dance with two bread rolls on the ends of forks, and a cabin that slides back and forth over the edge of a mountain cliff. But one of the movie’s most impressive accomplishments is the way that it develops Chaplin’s Little Tramp into a deeply moving, remarkably touching character, something that The Gold Rush was criticized for during its own time but that today makes it seem soulful.

The plot revolves around three … Read the rest

Remember the Night (1940)

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Remember the Night (1940)

Remember the Night (1940). 91 minutes. Directed by Mitchell Leisen. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (as Lee Leander), Fred MacMurray (as John Sargent), Beulah Bondi (as Mrs. Sargent), Elizabeth Patterson (as Aunt Emma), Sterling Holloway ( as Willie Simms), Paul Guilfoyle (as district attorney), Charles Waldron (as New York judge), Fred Toones (as Rufus), Tom Kennedy (as Fat Mike), Georgia Cane (as Lee’s mother). Screenplay by Preston Sturges.

Remember the Night is a Preston Sturges comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck as a thief and Fred MacMurray as a New York prosecutor who spend Christmas together in Wabash, Indiana. Although not as well known as other Sturges films such as The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, and The Palm Beach Story, Remember the Night is nevertheless a surprisingly enjoyable holiday film weirdly mixed together with elements of a trial drama. In addition, and probably the reason that I recommend it the most, the movie also functions as a love story to the … Read the rest

Top Hat (1935)

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Top Hat (1935)

Top Hat (1935). 101 minutes. Directed by Mark Sandrich. Starring Fred Astaire (as Jerry Travers), Ginger Rogers (as Dale Tremont), Edward Everett Horton (as Horace Hardwick), Erik Rhodes (as Alberto Beddini), Helen Broderick (as Madge Hardwick), and Eric Blore (as Bates). Music by Irving Berlin.

Top Hat remains the most commercially successful musical made by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers during their film partnership in the 1930s. In it, Astaire plays dancer Jerry Travers, who is headlining a revue on the London stage. While noisily tap-dancing in his producer and friend Horace Hardwick’s hotel room, Jerry encounters the woman in the room downstairs, Dale Tremont (played by Ginger Rogers), who complains about Jerry’s impromptu performance to the hotel. He falls  in love instantly. She, however, cannot stand him, his noisy tap-dancing, or his efforts to woo her. Through a series of misunderstandings, she also comes to confuse him with his producer Hardwick, whose wife Madge she happens to be friends … Read the rest

It (1927)

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"It" (1927) featured image

It (1927). 72 minutes. Directed by Clarence G. Badger. Starring Clara Bow (as Betty Lou Spence), Antonio Moreno (as Cyrus Waltham, Jr.), William Austin (as Monty), Jacqueline Gadsden (as Adela Van Norman), Priscilla Bonner (as Molly), Gary Cooper (as reporter), and Elinor Glyn (as herself).

According to Elinor Glyn, whose serialized novella “It” was the inspiration for the movie of the same name, “It” is:

“…that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With ‘It’ you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man. ‘It’ can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.”

This sounds very similar to the definition of the so-called “X-factor,” the mysterious source of talent that entertainment industry casting directors, talent managers, and moguls claim emanates from great film and theater stars. It seems a bit strange to suggest that what governs our sexual and romantic interests also … Read the rest