Saturday, September 27, 2008

Some movies

The Howard Hawks series is wrapping up at BAM. I was very disappointed in I Was a Male War Bride. I thought the usually foolproof Cary Grant, in drag no less, would have been miraculous, but this was a leaden affair, surprisingly sour in affect. Three scriptwriters vainly tried to pump life into the usual screwball comedy situation of a warring couple that inevitably weds in the end. Here they wed in the middle and have trouble consummating the ritual because of Army bureaucracy. (Where’s Randolph Scott when we need him?) Real footage of a rubble-filled post-war Europe the only thing of interest.

Now, Hawks and Grant were in their element in Only Angels Have Wings, where men are men, the problematic one (silent film start Richard Barthelmess, looking out of place in the land of sound) is redeemed by the end, and dames are nuttin’ but trouble, even in the lovely form of Jean Arthur. Glad I went to this one. Years ago I saw a bit of it, and remembered the scene when Thomas Mitchell says, "Yes they have no bananas" with a straight face, and never forgot it.

The Big Sleep speaks for itself. I'm to spend the rainy humid afternoon watching it again, since Dorothy Malone’s always been my ideal of a bookshop clerk/librarian. Classic anecdote: William Faulkner worked on the script while being devoured by Hollywood. He and Hawks were confused about one of the numerous bodies in the story. Who actually killed him? So they call up Raymond Chandler, who wrote the novel. Chandler was just as stumped. My favorite Chandler line (and he liked it so much he used it in two stories): “Her face fell like a new bride’s piecrust.” OHS likes “Time crawled by like a sick cockroach.”

Poor Eisenstein! Having Stalin as his producer, so to speak, during the making of Alexander Nevsky. I’ve seen most of Eisenstein’s films by now, but I’d never seen this one before. It’s a shameless piece of propaganda, bombastic and tedious, rank with bourgeois hero-worship. It’s ludicrous in parts because obvious adolescents play the helmeted German soldiers, so that the noble people of Rus stand tall above them. There are some stunning compositions here, but they don’t triumph over the dreck (which was quickly shelved once the Hitler-Stalin Pact was inked in blood). Give me Eisenstein's silents any day. An Old Bolshevik like me much prefers Strike!

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