Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

I love this movie.

The Philadelphia Story. is a wonderful gem: an extremely funny and smart effort from director George Cukor (Dinner at Eight, Adam's Rib) and a jaw-dropping cast of stars with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart.


Hepburn reprises her role of Tracy Lord from Philip Barry's smash Broadway play.

The beautiful daughter of a very rich society family, Lord's marriage to sailboat tycoon, C.K.Dexter Haven (Grant) went south, badly, two years earlier. Now, she's preparing to tie the knot with self-made man George Kittredge (John Howard). He's trying, sometimes badly, to fit into high society. Trying to ride a horse is, uh, difficult.


Celebrities and the rich were big news 71 years ago and even more so in today's status-loving North American society. That's why it's neat to see Stewart as Macaulay Connor, a magazine reporter who's reluctant to worm his way into the upcoming nuptials with photographer Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey). The couple firmly closed the door to any media coverage of their wedding ceremony. Haven, even though he slugged a photographer when he was on vacation with Lord during their marriage, is more than happy to help the reporting duo slip into her moneyed world.

Connor initially clashes with Lord over their differences in status. He's a little sensitive on the money issue because his collection of short stories isn't flying off the shelves. He falls spellbound for her gorgeous looks, something other men have done with less-than-stellar results. "You're lit from within," Connor tells her after a generous helping of vino. "You're the golden girl." Kittridge also vows to worship Lord. She just wants to be loved.

So, Lord is about to marry one man while her first husband pines for a reunion and a new suitor is smitten with her goddess-like ways. Her younger sister, Dinah (Virginia Weidler) still has a soft spot for Haven. Kittridge? Not so much. She's wondering how she can delay the wedding.


Hilarious zingers are shared generously among the cast. There are plenty of laugh-out loud moments. Rolande Young, as Lord's Uncle Willie, is especially sharp with his tongue and his lecherous pursuit of Imbrie.

Infatuation versus true love. The privileged rich and the struggling worker. A second chance at love. A first real encounter with romance. Lots of comedy.

Consider this your invitation to watch The Philadelphia Story.

RATING: 10/10

FUN FACTS: The Philadelphia Story earned six Oscar nominations, including best picture, director and lead actress. The film won two Academy Awards for best actor (Stewart) and screenplay. Rolande Young's first film role was as Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes (1922). Virginia Weidler was just 41 when she died of a heart condition in 1968.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Panic in the Streets (1950)

Here's an interesting twist.

The original title of Panic in the Streets (Fox Film Noir) was Outbreak.


Sadly, the 1995 thriller of the same name by director Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot - The Director's Cut) and stars Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman, is a more suspenseful take on the same subject, a plague that can kill.

Still, there are some interesting reasons to watch this 1950 effort from director Elia Kazan (East of Eden, On the Waterfront).

This film noir is definitely more entertaining than his 1947 release, Gentleman's Agreement, which Reel Popcorn Junkie reviewed earlier in 2011.


A big plus is some fine work, in his big screen debut, by Jack Palance (Shane). Palance's Blackie is a violent hoodlum with a permanently itchy finger on his handgun.

Blackie demands his cash back after a recent illegal immigrant to New Orleans, feeling ill, decides to leave a card game early. "I want that money," is Palance's first line. What follows, a nearly silent chase scene along railway tracks and warehouses, is another highlight of this film.

Health inspector Clinton Reed (Richard Widmark) is called in after an autopsy of the now-dead card player. A couple of bullets might have felled him, but something else was well on its way to killing him. Plague.

Reed warns authorities only have 48 hours to find others who had contact with the deceased or the city, and country, risks being overwhelmed by the deadly disease.

Blackie is convinced police interest in the dead man means he brought something valuable into the country. He wants to find the supposed treasure.

Police Capt. Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) isn't so sure of Reed's prognosis. The two clash over how the investigation should be handled. That kind of tension is standard in a thriller. While Douglas gets most of the film's best wisecracks, what makes Reed's character neat to watch is the other job-related pressures he is facing.


He's overworked, underpaid and a stranger to his wife, Nancy (Barbara Bel Geddes) and young son. Warren has watched colleagues leave for better-paying jobs with less stress and is starting to wonder if he should follow.

Panic in the Streets doesn't come close to living up to its name. There's a pesky reporter, Neff (Dan Ross), who gets wind of what's happening, but the Big Easy's residents don't have a clue about how close they are to getting wiped out. Neff is locked up by police for fear of inciting panic. Debate the merits of that police action while popping your next batch of popcorn.

Instead, there's just a small number of people working desperately to track down everyone who is infected with the plague.

The ailing include Raymond Fitch (Zero Mostel), a sniveling member of Blackie's posse.

Panic in the Streets features a strong cast and some interesting camera work, but fails to generate much tension about a potentially lethal incident.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACT: Richard Widmark was nominated for a best supporting Oscar for his debut performance in Kiss of Death.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Elvis: That's the Way It Was (2001 Special Edition)

The King reigns in this reboot of the 1970 documentary, Elvis: That's the Way It Is.

This Is Elvis (Two-Disc Special Edition) includes the original 1970 theatrical documentary and this 96-minute effort that focuses solely on Elvis Presley preparing for, and performing, during a four-week engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.


Presley's between-song banter is mostly bland, but he proves he's an extraordinary showman in an hour-long set pieced together from six nights of performances.

The King performs a number of his early hits including show opener That's All Right (also his first single), Heartbreak Hotel, Love Me Tender, Don't Be Cruel and more recent songs such as his chart-topping Suspicious Minds and In the Ghetto, both from 1969.


Presley looks, and sounds, fantastic. He doesn't prance around a lot, but he does move with great vigour. At one point, Presley hops off the stage to walk through the crowd during Love Me Tender. Imagine Bono or Britney Spears trying that in 2011. He doesn't stop there. The King signs autographs and kisses numerous ladies, and shakes at least one man's hand, in-between songs.

The film's first 35 minutes feature rehearsals at MGM Studios and at the International Hotel. Presley includes The Beatles' Get Back in his 1961 hit, Little Sister during one session.

A nine-minute featurette, Patch It Up: The Restoration of Elvis: That's the Way It Is, includes interviews with band members Jerry Scheff (bass), Ronnie Tutt (drums), Glen Hardin (piano) and James Burton (guitar).

Presley had a 32-inch waist in 1970. An overweight King of Rock and Roll died seven years later at age 42. What a waste.

RATING: 8/10

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Roaring Twenties (1939)

A bang-up cast puts some major pep into The Roaring Twenties.


There's nothing subtle in this gangster film. Even worse, the screenplay doesn't miss a chance to conveniently bring characters back together, in New York City of all places. One character has a grudge against another? Guess who'll meet up later? Prepare to give this script a lot of latitude with the liberties it takes poking at one's suspension of disbelief.

Still, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Gladys George are fantastic in this 1939 effort by Raoul Walsh (White Heat).


Bogart delivers as the menacing, double-crossing George Hally. The Roaring Twenties really kicks into gear when he and Cagney share the screen. Much was made of a scene in Michael Mann's Heat that drew together Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Well, here's a similar scenario from 40 years earlier with two all-time greats.

Hally, Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) and Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn) are all First World War veterans who all met, like a lot of veterans during the Great War I'm sure, in a shell hole under German fire.

Their paths cross in civilian life. Bartlett can't find work, in a sombre nod to a problem veterans actually did face after war ended, and starts running booze during Prohibition. Hart is a by-the-book lawyer enlisted by Bartlett to help with the business side of his growing empire. Hally jumped feet first, with both arms not far behind, into a life of crime.


Bartlett and Hart both have eyes for the same dame, Jean Sherman (Priscilla Lane), a sweet, young lady with a great set of pipes. Bartlett loves Jean, but she's in love with Hart. That's going to be a problem.

When Eddie isn't busy having shootouts with night watchmen and other gangsters, he is slugging Hart for messing around with his girl.

The real treat here is Gladys George (Maltese Falcon). She is perfectly cast as the wise, and weary, speakeasy owner, Panama Smith. She has a soft spot for Bartlett from the get-go, saying he reminds her of a soldier she knew. Given how this script is put together, it's a surprise Hally didn't kill him when the two were overseas.


Plenty of sharp dialogue helps power The Roaring Twenties. "What a load of ice," offers Panama when she sees the engagement ring George bought for Jean. "Go home and rescue a swimmer," chides Hally when an apparent Coast Guard vessel prepares to stop his boat loaded with hooch.

Entertaining nightclub performances of My Melancholy Baby, It Had to Be You and I'm Just Wild About Harry break up the carnage and fisticuffs.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Paul Kelly, who appears as Bartlett's foe Nick Kelly, appeared in more than 50 silent shorts starting in 1911. Director Raoul Walsh earned his first directing credit in 1913 with The Pseudo Prodigal. Cast member Edward Keane's last film was the 1959 Japanese gangster film, Ankokugai no Koayaku.