Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Lady Eve (1941)

RATING: 8/10

It's hard to resist this romantic comedy from director Preston Sturges.

This 1941 effort with Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyk offers some very funny moments, a great love story and a generous dollop of slapstick. As film director Peter Bogdonavich notes in an introduction to the film, audiences would rarely see this much comedic effort from Fonda in another movie.


Colonel Harrington (Charles Coburn) and Jean (Stanwyk) are a father-daughter team of card sharks. They ride ocean liners and fleece well-to-do passengers of their riches. Their sights are set on Charles Pike (Fonda), the heir of a beer empire.

Charles doesn't much care for brewed hops. He's into snakes. Charles boards an ocean liner after spending a year on safari in the Amazon. His luggage includes a snake in a box. See any references to the Garden of Eden yet?


Plenty of ladies, young and old, try to catch Pike's attention in the ship's dining room. Jean watches, and comments, on their efforts before making sure Pike can't miss her when he walks by. She immediately kicks her seduction efforts into overdrive. Within minutes she has him in her cabin.

Charles is originally a target, but Jean finds herself really falling in love with him. The heir to beer is smitten too, until he learns Jean's background and figures he is being played for a dupe. Very quickly, his attitude turns ice cold. His marriage proposal is forgotten. He leaves the ship alone.


Jean, hurt badly, slips back into her role as dupster and finds an opportunity to get back into Pike's life. He falls for her again, this time as an English noble woman, not knowing it's his old love.

His handler, Muggsy (William Demarest), isn't fooled so easily, but his earnest warnings are ignored.

Jean, now Eve, is a big hit with Charles' father (Eugene Pallette) and other society folks. The younger Pike keeps tripping over furniture, and people, while being distracted with the fair dame.

A card game between Colonel Harrington, Jean and Charles is a gut-busting highight of this black and white film. Harrington is determined to clean out his rich competitor. Jean wants to prevent her new-found love from losing thousands of dollars. Dialogue between Harrington and Jean, and their respective slights of hands with a deck of cards, are standouts.

That's followed by Eve, now married to Charles, sharing details of her relationships with many other men on their wedding night. The train they're travelling on isn't the only thing blowing steam.


What a treat to have Coburn and Pallette in supporting roles. Coburn gets some delicious dialgoue. Pallette's businessman character wonders about his son while being delighted with Eve's introduction to the communityh. If Demarest looks familiar, he was Uncle Charlie in more than 200 episodes of the television show, My Three Sons, with Fred McMurray.

The Lady Eve also offers something of a rare sight for a film from Hollywood's Golden Age. The opening credits include an animated snake. It's hard not to get bitten by this film's appeal. Dig in.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Toy Story III (2010)

Wow, what a return.

Eleven years after Toy Story II, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tom Allen) and the gang are back for the third chapter in this enormously enteraining animated series.


Here's a rare example of a film series that keeps on delivering the goods. For every The Empire Strikes Back, there's plenty of Back to the Future IIs. Translation: the magic that made the first film so good, and Back to the Future was a very well-made film, is long gone.

Toy Story III is a wonderful film packed with humour and touching emotion. Just don't let the really young ones anywhere near this comedy from director Lee Unkrich.


A near-death experience for Woody and friends near the film's end is intense enough for adult viewers, let alone youngsters. Nightmares would appear to be a given if children get a look-see at this film. I'm not a parent, but I'm guessing anyone under eight would be really upset by Toy Story III. Parents, feel free to weigh in with your suggestions.

Andy (John Morris) is leaving for college. His room must be cleaned out before he ships out.

Woody and company haven't received much attention in a very long time. Andy has grown up and left his old friends behind. Dissension is in the ranks. Woody argues their loyalty should remain with Andy. He is their boy. Others want to experience the joy of being with a child again. It's a fair argument.


The gang ends up donated to a nursery. Their new venue appears promising. It's big. It's colourful. There are plenty of children. "We hit the jackpot," cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) suggests. But the nursery is overseen by Lotsa (Ned Beatty), a bitter stuffed bear who lost the attention of a little girl years ago. This bruin's bad. His creepy baby henchman is a disturbing sight.

It's up to Woody to free his friends and get back to Andy's home. Time is short. He leaves soon for school.

Toy Story III works in many ways.


The addition of Ken (Michael Keaton) is a real hoot. Here's a guy who has his issues. "I'm not a girl's toy," he argues at one point. He discovers Barbie (Jodi Benson) is part of Woody's posse. As much as he loves her, Ken is also part of Lotsa's gang. But Barbie, who has a brain in this film, knows just what buttons to push to break him.

Lotsa has turned the daycare into a prison. This sets up the film's breakout plot. Chatter Telephone (Teddy Newton) is the sage old-timer who breaks down all the challenges Woody et al have to overcome to gain their freedom. A toy monkey is their chief nemesis. How he is described is a real treat.

Toy Story III also delivers some real howlers of dialogue, including a fantastic description of Lotsa's evil ways and Ken's laments for fashion appreciation.

Unkrich has helmed each of the Toy Story films. Each is great fun. Anyone for Toy Story IV? I'm game.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Jodi Benson first voiced Barbie in Dance! Workout with Barbie in 1992. She was also Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

Blake Clark, who appears as Slinky Dog, was a military police officer in the final episode of M*A*S*H.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fallen Angel (1945)

Deception abounds in Fallen Angel.

Just about every character pulls some kind of scheme in this strong film noir effort from Otto Preminger (Laura).


The funny stuff starts early when a Greyhound bus driver gives the heave-ho to Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews). He's stayed on past his fare purchase. The driver knows all about the falling asleep excuse. Stanton gets turfed in Walton, a small town between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

With little cash, Stanton pretends to be a friend of Professor Madley (John Carradine), a psychic who will soon be rolling into town. That deception gets Stanton a room for the night.


It's doubtful Madley has any type of real academic training either. His assistant gets the goods on a community's dead before showtime and feeds details, not too loudly, during the performance.

Stanton, and plenty of other fellows, takes a shine to Stella (Linda Darnell). She's a knockout waitress with all the warmth of a frozen water pipe. Potential suitors, including her own boss Pop (Percy Killbride), think they have a chance with Stella. A fat chance is about as good as it gets for them.

Stella has a racket of her own too, falsifying bills of diners so she can take extra cash from the register.


Stanton's determined to come up with the cash Stella wants security before she'll marry him. He zeroes in on June Mills (Alice Faye), the daughter of a highly respected late mayor. She was also left a nice estate by her dad.

Stanton, who appears to have no interest of religion in his life, turns on the charm on June when she's rehearsing the organ at church. It's all an act. He even tries to rendezvous with Stella when he sees her at a dance hall while on a date with June. Stanton and June quickly marry, much to the disapproval of her sister Clara (Anne Revere), who was burned by a man in her own past.

"He's a charlatan," she warns her sibling.

Even when Eric disappears on their wedding night (!) to seek out Stella, June stands by her man.

When Stella turns up dead, a former big-city cop, Mark Judd (Charles Bickford), is determined to prove Stanton killed the woman. He, and June, flee. Did Stanton kill her? If not, who? Will he still try to fleece June out of her savings? Will they actually fall in love?


"I got everything by talking fast in a world that goes for talking and end up with exactly nothing," Stanton notes in a candid moment with his definitely better half.

Fallen Angel works for many reasons -- a great cast, terse dialouge and a whodunnit plot that should keep audiences guessing until the end.

Did June kill Stella so she wouldn't lose her man? Is Clara responsible, wanting to prevent her sister from the same pain she endured? Did a spurned suitor of Stella's murder her?

Watch Fallen Angel and find out.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: Jukebox salesman Dave Atkins is played by Bruce Cabot. He was in the original King Kong with Faye Wray. His last film was Diamonds are Forever.

Anne Revere was Mrs. Green in Gentleman's Agreement. That film is also reviewed on this site.

In a commentary accompanying the movie, film noir historian Eddie Muller notes many of the crew who worked on Laura teamed up again for Fallen Angel.

John Carradine appeared in plenty of horror films (Captive Wild Woman, Voodoo Man). It's great to see him in a dramatic role as Professor Madley. Heck, he was even in The Grapes of Wrath.

Percy Killbride was perhaps best known as Frank 'Pa' Kettle in a series of Ma and Pa Kettle films.