Thursday, January 22, 2009

Four Flicks

While we're on the subject of movies, I've been catching up on some oldies recently. In ascending order of enthusiasm:

I recommend My Favorite Wife, a 1940 screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. The plot involves a wife (Dunne) returning from a desert island after seven years presumed dead. The husband (Grant) has remarried the very morning she returns. Hijinks ensue. A lot of the action is corny -- in a Three's Company kind of way -- but there are some genuinely funny moments. And most of all, did I mention Grant and Dunne? They have more charm than 98% of today's actors combined. This isn't one of those classics that has aged very well, but it's a perfectly enjoyable treat. I fell madly in love with Dunne in this, but she's been dead for 18 years, so that's probably not going to work out.

I strongly recommend High Noon, which, like the next movie below, isn't exactly a trailblazing pick. Gary Cooper is a little dull for my taste, but Grace Kelly and a young Lloyd Bridges are both terrific. It's a simple story, but it generates a lot of drama by playing out in more or less real time.

And I don't have enough words to recommend His Girl Friday. No idea why it took me so long to see it, but Grant (again) and Rosalind Russell have insane chemistry. Like All About Eve, this is one in which dialogue hasn't really aged. The plot twists might be patently "zany" in a way that's extinct (in good movies, anyway), but the script is brilliant. I fell madly in love with Russell in this, but she's been dead for 32 years, so that's probably not going to work out.

What do these vintage movies have in common? Their running times are 88, 85, and 92 minutes, respectively. The Dukes of Hazzard was 106 minutes. I am here to tell you that, nine times out of 10, less is more. This is a lesson Hollywood hasn't just forgotten -- it's covered it in gasoline and set it aflame.

Lastly, there's Marty, also lean (91 minutes), and the 1955 Oscar winner for Best Picture, but not as essential. It stars Ernest Borgnine, who won Best Actor, as a lonely, good-natured 34-year-old bachelor living with his mother in the Bronx. When he meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a plain 29-year-old with equally few prospects, the two hit it off. Borgnine is perfect for the role, there are some charming black-and-white images, and Marty and his friends engage in a couple of funny, Diner-like conversations. But the story is so sweet that it's almost inert. It's not bad, but a little boring. Perhaps worth seeing in the long run, but no rush.

Marty did have striking posters in Russia and Poland:

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Blogger Lee said...

My partner and I watched "His Girl Friday" on New Year's Eve. I'm sure I'd seen most of it before, but I don't think beginning to end. I don't think it is fair to say that movies aren't this good anymore (not that you were), but I do think this combination of zany *and* grown-up no longer exists. It was a great way to ring in the new year.

Have you seen "The Awful Truth" with Dunne and Grant? They are on the verge of finalizing their divorce. Hijinks ensue. Also a goodly amount of drinking.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...

Have you seen The Awful Truth? If you're a fan of Grant/Dunne (as I am, too), you SURELY must have seen this one--which I think is 10 times better than My Favorite Wife and easily ranks amongst my favorite comedies of all time. It made me fall in love with Dunne. If you haven't seen it, stop your life and do so right away.

7:26 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

The Awful Truth has been added to my queue, and moved to the very top. It should arrive this weekend. Thanks to both of you for the strong recommendation; I'll report back...

11:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of "His Girl Friday", though I have gotten a little tired of it over the years. I like that the girl gets to be funny though--that's a special treat in this era of comedy.
Have you seen "The Apartment"?


5:12 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

Last night I stayed up until 4am to rewatch "Auntie Mame." If you love Rosalind Russell you need to see all 143 minutes of it.

Sure she's over the top and the child actor that plays her nephew is a Chompers Icicleupthebutt, but Russell gets amazing lines and her timing is perfect.

You won't be sorry.

7:24 PM  

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