It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). 130 minutes. Directed by Frank Capra. Starring James Stewart (as George Bailey), Donna Reed (as Mary Hatch Bailey), Henry Travers (as Clarence Odbody), Lionel Barrymore (as Henry F. Potter), Thomas Mitchell (as Bill Bailey), Beulah Bondi (as Ma Bailey), Gloria Grahame (as Violet Bick), H. B. Warner (as Emil Gower), and Todd Karns (as Harry Bailey).
It’s a Wonderful Life draws inspiration from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, in which supernatural visitors show the miser Ebenezer Scrooge his past, present, and future in order to convince him to reform his heartless ways. Similarly, in It’s a Wonderful Life, an angelic guide named Clarence uses a vision of an alternate present to demonstrate to the suicidal protagonist George Bailey how integral he is to society, and Clarence’s efforts rescue both George and his small town, Bedford Falls, from a dark fate. But the movie also strives to convince George of the American values that … Read the rest
Ziegfeld Girl (1941). 132 minutes. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. Starring James Stewart (as Gilbert Young), Judy Garland (as Susan Gallagher), Hedy Lamarr (as Sandra Kolter), Lana Turner (as Sheila Regan), Tony Martin (as Frank Merton), Jackie Cooper (as Jerry Regan), Eve Arden (as Patsy Dixon), Philip Dorn (as Franz Kolter), Charles Winniger (as “Pop” Gallagher), Ian Hunter (as Geoffrey Collis), and Edward Everett Horton (as Noble Sage). Musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley.
Ziegfeld Girl is intended to be a follow-up to 1936’s The Great Ziegfeld, but whereas The Great Ziegfeld focuses on Florenz Ziegfeld (founder of the Ziegfeld Follies) and his rise to fame, Ziegfeld Girl charts the careers of three fictitious Follies showgirls. The similarities between the two movies are numerous, and towards its end, Ziegfeld Girl even recycles some of the footage from the earlier film, including The Great Ziegfeld’s famous rotating wedding cake set. While Ziegfeld Girl has many failings—including the fact that it … Read the rest
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). 129 minutes. Directed by Frank Capra. Starring James Stewart (as Jefferson Smith), Jean Arthur (as Clarissa Saunders), Claude Rains (as Senator Joseph Harrison Paine), Edward Arnold (as Jim Taylor), Guy Kibbee (as Governor Hubert Hopper), Thomas Mitchell (as “Diz” Moore), Eugene Pallette (as Chick McGann), Harry Carey (as President of the Senate), and Beulah Bondi (as Ma Smith).
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is considered one of the great movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age. As a celebration of the role of goodness in American politics, the movie optimistically maintains that average, decent people can make meaningful contributions to democratic government, yet it also provides an unflinching depiction of the unprincipled nature of Washington culture. At the same time, while it tells the morally tinged story of one man’s struggle to triumph virtuously over his political adversaries, it represents the American democratic process with a decent amount of precision and accuracy, despite the fact that … Read the rest
On February 12, 2016, the San Francisco Symphony screened Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) at Davies Symphony Hall with live orchestral accompaniment. Live accompaniment is a popular trend in vintage movie presentation: in similar fashion, a national tour of The Wizard of Oz with live orchestra made the rounds in the summer of 2015, and the San Francisco Symphony plans to perform the ET soundtrack in March of 2016. It seems to me that Vertigo is probably one of the most desirable films to see and hear in this way. Its astonishing score by Bernard Herrmann, Hitchcock’s frequent collaborator, is a symphonic landmark and Herrmann’s personal favorite of his many compositions. Given the high quality of the music (let alone of the film itself, which was ranked number one on Sight and Sound’s 2015 poll of the greatest movies ever made), this seemed the perfect opportunity for me to explore the phenomenon of live soundtrack recreation.
Live accompaniment in the … Read the rest