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 “Top Hat (1935)”
Shadow of a Doubt (1943). 108 minutes. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Teresa Wright (as Charlotte “Young Charlie” Newton), Joseph Cotten (as Charles “Uncle Charlie” Oakley), Henry Travers (as Joseph Newton), Patricia Collinge (as Emma Newton), Macdonald Carey (as Detective Jack Graham), Wallace Ford (as Detective Fred Saunders), Hume Cronyn (as Herbie Hawkins), Edna May Wonacott (as Ann Newton), and Charles Bates (as Roger Newton).
Shadow of a Doubt is one of Hitchcock’s great triumphs, said to be his favorite of his films. It presents in many regards a very basic story about a small-town American family that is visited by an outsider, a relative from far away who brings with him danger and intrigue. But it manages to elevate this familiar narrative to the level of the exquisite through the artful creation of tension, through the beauty of its setting, and through its impressive writing and acting. Told through the experiences of Charlotte “Young Charlie” Newton (played by Teresa … Read the rest “Shadow of a Doubt (1943)”
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937). 92 minutes. Directed by Leo McCarey. Starring Victor Moore (as Barkley “Pa” Cooper), Beulah Bondi (as Lucy “Ma” Cooper), Thomas Mitchell (as George Cooper), Fay Bainter (as Anita Cooper), Barbara Read (as Rhoda Cooper), Maurice Moscovitch (as Max Rubens), Elisabeth Risdon (as Cora Payne), Minna Gombell (as Nellie Chase), Porter Hall (as Harvey Chase), Ray Meyer (as Robert Cooper), Ralph Remley (as Bill Payne), Louise Beavers (as Mamie), Paul Stanton (as Mr. Horton), and Dell Henderson (as Ed Weldon).
You may have already heard about the Depression-era film Make Way for Tomorrow, even if you have never seen it. Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris called it “the most depressing movie ever made,” and Orson Welles told Peter Bogdanovich that “it would make a stone cry.” It has not achieved the commercial success or popular recognition of other critically acclaimed films of its time but is today considered to be an overlooked classic, an unflinching look … Read the rest “Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)”
The Jazz Singer (1927). 96 minutes. Directed by Alan Crosland. Starring Al Jolson (as Jakie Rabinowitz/Jack Robin), Warner Oland (as Cantor Rabinowitz), Eugenie Besserer (as Sara Rabinowitz), May McAvoy (as Mary Dale), Otto Lederer (as Moisha Yudelson), Richard Tucker (as Harry Lee), Bobby Gordon (as Jakie Rabinowitz at age 13), and Yossele Rosenblatt (as himself).
It occurred to me recently as I was watching The Jazz Singer that I had seen two of its musical sequences before: the famous “My Mammy” number that Al Jolson sings in blackface, of course, but also the “Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo’ Bye)” performance. The latter is shown playing on a television in the movie Goodfellas (1990) when federal agents arrive to search the home of Karen Hill (played by Lorraine Bracco). Karen’s husband Henry is a gangster, and the family home is frequently raided, but Karen has become inured to the presence of the agents. When they show up on this particular occasion, she … Read the rest “The Jazz Singer (1927)”
All This, and Heaven Too (1940). 141 minutes. Directed by Anatole Litvak. Starring Bette Davis (as Henriette Deluzy-Desportes), Charles Boyer (as Charles, Duke de Praslin), Barbara O’Neil (as Francoise Sebastiani de Praslin), June Lockhart (as Isabelle de Choiseul-Praslin), Virginia Weidler (as Louise de Choiseul-Praslin), Ann E. Todd (as Berthe de Choiseul-Praslin), Richard Nichols (as Reynald de Choiseul-Praslin), Jeffrey Lynn (as Rev. Henry Martyn Field), Harry Davenport (as Pierre), Montagu Love (as Horace Sebastiani), Helen Westley (as Mme. LeMaire), and George Coulouris (as Charpentier). Based on the novel by Rachel Field. Music by Max Steiner.
All This, and Heaven Too is about a couple that is simultaneously both having an affair and not having an affair. The lovers in question, governess Henriette Deluzy-Desportes and her employer, Charles, Duke de Praslin, never utter the words “I love you” to each other, and they appear to have no physical relationship. You may be tempted to think that such a story would not be … Read the rest “All This, and Heaven Too (1940)”
Dumbo (1941). 64 minutes. Directed by Ben Sharpsteen (supervising director). Starring Edward Brophy (as Timothy Q. Mouse), Verna Felton (as Elephant Matriarch), Cliff Edwards (as Jim Crow), Herman Bing (as the Ringmaster), Margaret Wright (as Casey Junior), and Sterling Holloway (as Mr. Stork). With the Hall Johnson Choir (as Crow Chorus) and the King’s Men (as Roustabout Chorus). Music by Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. Produced by Walt Disney.
I first saw Dumbo when I was very young, along with a slew of other Disney movies, but it was Michael Wilmington’s article on it in The American Animated Cartoon: A Critical Anthology that really made me think of it as a work of art. Wilmington argues that Dumbo is Disney’s finest achievement, both in terms of its visual artistry and its storytelling, and when I viewed it recently, I had to admit that I was astonished by both its innovative style and its maturity. Given that its protagonist Dumbo never … Read the rest “Dumbo (1941)”
The Fallen Idol (1948). 95 minutes. Directed by Carol Reed. Starring Ralph Richardson (as Baines), Bobby Henrey (as Philippe), Sonia Dresdel (as Mrs. Baines), Michèle Morgan (as Julie), and Denis O’Dea (as Chief Inspector Crowe). Screenplay by Graham Greene.
The Fallen Idol is a companion piece to the The Third Man, a film that I have often alluded to on this site. The two movies were released back to back, The Fallen Idol in 1948 and The Third Man in 1949; both were directed by Carol Reed with a screenplay by Graham Greene; both explore a male protagonist’s worshipful attitude towards his male companion, which is rooted in childhood; and in both movies, the companion turns out to be more nefarious than the protagonist at first thinks. But while The Third Man’s childlike Holly Martins is an adult who has yet to let go of his youthful adoration of friend Harry Lime, The Fallen Idol’s main character Phil is … Read the rest “The Fallen Idol (1948)”
Nosferatu (1922). 94 minutes. Directed by F. W. Murnau. Starring Max Schreck (as Count Orlok), Gustav von Wangenheim (as Thomas Hutter), Greta Schröder (as Ellen Hutter), Alexander Granach (as Knock), John Gottowt (as Professor Bulwer), and Georg H. Schnell (as Harding). Based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker.
We are fortunate to have F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu in any form at all. The movie is based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897), but Murnau never obtained permission from the Stoker estate to film his adaptation. Although the names and places were changed in the film from the original novel (this was done as a precaution), Nosferatu was still essentially Dracula. When Stoker’s widow determined that Murnau had made a film of her husband’s novel without her approval, she sued for breach of copyright in Germany and won. A judge ordered all existing copies of the film destroyed. Fortunately, Nosferatu had already been imported to France, and it is … Read the rest “Nosferatu (1922)”
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). 93 minutes. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Starring Paul Muni (as James Allen), Glenda Farrell (as Marie), Helen Vinson (as Helen), Preston Foster (as Pete), and Allen Jenkins (as Barney Sykes). Based on the memoir by Robert Elliott Burns.
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is notable for being an early Hollywood social commentary film. Based on the memoir by Robert Elliott Burns, it tells the story of Burns (called James Allen in the movie), who after serving in World War One returns home to the United States with the dream of becoming a civil engineer but ends up doing hard time in a forced labor camp. The subject of forced labor had appeared in theaters previously in, among other things, a popular Disney short starring Mickey Mouse (“The Chain Gang,” 1930), and the 1932 movie based on Burns’s life was soon parodied in a short musical comedy (“20,000 Cheers … Read the rest “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)”
The Razor’s Edge (1946). 145 minutes. Directed by Edmund Goulding. Starring Tyrone Power (as Larry Darrell), Gene Tierney (as Isabel Bradley), Clifton Webb (as Elliott Templeton), Anne Baxter (as Sophie MacDonald), Herbert Marshall (as W. Somerset Maugham), and John Payne (as Gray Maturin).
The Razor’s Edge wants badly to be a profound story of one man’s quest for spiritual enlightenment. Its title comes from a passage in the Katha Upanishad: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.” Protagonist Larry Darrell’s path is challenging insofar as it takes him across several continents and lasts many years. I cannot say that the terms with which Larry articulates his personal quest are as sharply focused as the titular image, but then again most of us have probably met people who describe their project of finding themselves using similarly broad strokes. As a result, the movie is an interesting … Read the rest “The Razor’s Edge (1946)”