Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Hustler (1961)

The Hustler won't leave viewers behind the eight ball.

But be warned film fans. This great film from director Robert Rossen (All The King's Men, The Roaring Twenties) is bleak.

Eddie Falco (Paul Newman) is a young and talented pool shark teamed with mentor Charlie Burns (Myron McCormick).

Fast Eddie is keen to knock champ Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) off his pedestal. Falco is a little too cocky for his own good when he gets his desired showdown with the pool hall king. He ignores Charlie's advice and loses the chance to pocket a whack of money.

Falco decides to go his own way and crosses paths with Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie). She has her own suitcase of troubles. Sarah's an alcoholic, is messed up by her father's abandonment when she was a youngster and may be turning tricks to help pay the bills.

Eddie and Sarah hit it off, although she wonders if their relationship will last when the cash runs out. Now trying to put down roots with Sarah, Eddie is reduced to hustling small amounts of cash to put food on the table.

With Charlie gone, Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) offers to bankroll Eddie's second effort to topple Minnesota Fats. Scott is fantastic as an amoral figure who makes plenty of cash gambling. Packard is leery of Fast Eddie's plans to hit the road again. She fears she'll be abandoned again.

The Hustler boasts several strong performances. Gleason, here five years after The Honeymooners, reeks disdain for the young buck out to top him. He's the king of cool who keeps his air of calm well into a marathon pool session against Falco that runs more than a day.

Newman, who scored his first big hit in 1956 with Somebody Up There Likes Me, delivers one of his career best performances. He's brash, confident and willing to put the love of his life at risk for the chance to be king.

The Hustler was nominated for nine Oscars and won two for art direction and cinematography.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: That's boxer Jake LaMoitta as a bartender.

Piper Laurie was Aunt Em in 1985's Return to Oz.

Paul Newman on The Hustler: "I had a good feeling about this one right from the start."
Source: Paul Newman: An Illustrated Biography

Monday, June 16, 2014

All About Eve (1950)

Bette Davis is right.

Strap yourselves in, folks. All About Eve is a must-see film.

Thank you, Joseph Mankiewicz, for writing and directing this incredible 1950 release. All About Eve earned 14 Oscar nominations and won six including best film, screenplay and director.

This drama boasts such a beautiful script with all kinds of delicious lines. It's also topical to watch more than 60 years later when the cult of celebrity is as strong as it ever was. The fate of actresses as they age and their transition from talk of the town to yesterday's news is also explored.

Eve (Anne Baxter) is a devoted fan to theatre giant Margo (Bette Davis). But Eve doesn't just want to worship Margo's talent. She wants to top her success. This lady is hooked on the "waves of love" audiences offer when they really like an actor's work. Eve gets a job as Margo's assistant and her manipulation accelerates.

She worms her way into Margo's life and proceeds to scheme and manipulate her way to major success. Only Margo's handler, Birdie (Thelma Ritter) is suspicious of Eve from the start. "You want an argument or an answer," Birdie tells Margo when she asks about Eve's actions.

Eve is a master at her craft, subtly weaving her spell to get others to do what she wants. Others, such as Margo, her friend Karen (Celeste Holm) and her playwright husband Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe) are out of their element against this master schemer. Eve is agreeable to using blackmail to get what she wants too.

George Sanders shines as theatre critic Addison DeWitt. This guy lives for the stage and its characters. Nothing else matters in his life. Only he is able to go toe-to-toe with Eve's scheming. Wait for when they're together in her suite. Sparks fly. "You're stepping way up in class," he warns her as they square off.

Eve's actions leave viewers slack-jawed at their audacity. She really is something else - and so is this movie.

My only real beef. The ending strikes this film fan as a copout with Eve ready to get a taste of her own medicine. But that's a small lament. Watch this film.

RATING: 9.5/10

FUN FACTS: Marilyn Monroe stands out with a small role as Miss Casswell, another young actress who dreams of success. But she's an amateur compared to Eve's cunning.

Hugh Marlowe and Gary Merrill, who appears as Bette Davis' boyfriend, appeared in Twelve O'Clock High. It's another one of Reel Popcorn Junkie's must-see films.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Penny Serenade (1941)

Penny Serenadeis a spin worth taking.

Told in flashbacks with records tied to pivotal moments, this 1941 drama from director George Stevens (Shane, Giant) considers the relationship of Roger and Julie Adams (Cary Grand and Irene Dunn).

Their marriage appears to be over. Why, we don't know until near the end of the film's two-hour running time.

It's music that brings this couple together. Roger hears a song played at a record store. He sees Julie and is smitten.

Their relationship starts and deepens. These kids are crazy about each other, but Roger isn't too keen on having children of his own. When a job comes up to report in Japan, he's game and, on New Year's Eve, asks Julie to marry him.

There's more spur of the moment decisions by Roger - rash perhaps - that rankle his better half. He lives in spacious quarters, with servants, in Japan. He'd fit in with folks who live above their means in 2014, taking advances on his salary to pay the bills. Julie, who joins him in the Far East, is rattled by his decision to quit his job and travel the world with a modest inheritance. What about our baby, she asks.

The couple return to America and set up shop in a small California town. Roger wants to run his own newspaper. Circulation isn't as big as his dreams. There's bad news with their expected child. An earthquake in Japan badly hurt Julie. She can't bear children. Julie wants to adopt. Roger needs some coaxing.

There's no grand adventures in Penny Serenade. Roger struggles to get by. Julie wants a child. They get their wish when a newborn becomes available for adoption. There's some funny scenes as the inexperienced parents deal with a crying infant that needs to be washed and diapered. Roger grows to love being a dad. But tough times in the newspaper business - hello again 2014 - mean the couple don't have the income necessary to formally adopt Trina. They risk losing her and eventually each other.

"We don't need each other anymore," Julie suggests as their marriage hits a tough stretch.

Penny Serenade is touching without being melodramatic, funny without being a farce.

Hurray for Edgar Buchanan as Applejack Carney, a friend of the couple whose handy in the childcare department and quick with a joke.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: That's Eva Lee Kuney as Trina at age six. She appeared in seven films between 1935 and 1948 including A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Cary Grant received an Oscar nomination for best actor for his work in Penny Serenade.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Angel and the Badman (1947)

This film starts with a bang, but ends up fizzling at times.

Angel and the Badman is one of only two films to be directed by James Edward Grant.

The 1947 feature starts with real promise - a man, shown only up to his waist, firing his pistol before running away.

That would be Quirt Evans (John Wayne), an outlaw who always outlives his opponents.

Evans' latest escape attempt ends up with him in rough shape. He's taken in by Quakers (John Halloran and Irene Rich). Their daughter, Penelope (Gail Russell), is quickly drawn to the badly hurt Quirt.

Quirt, a ladies' man and on the wrong side of the law, warms to domesticity with Penelope. But an old marshal, a friend with a lucrative proposition and other lawbreakers with a score to settle, threaten his newfound happiness.

Watch for the print you watch. The copy of Angel and the Badman I borrowed from my library had some dialogue that was impossible to hear.

RATING: 6/10