Monthly Archives: July 2010

She Done Him Wrong

Directed by Lowell Sherman
Produced by William LeBaron
Written by Mae West (play Diamond Lil)
Harvey F. Thew & John Bright
Starring Mae West
Cary Grant
Owen Moore
Gilbert Roland
Noah Beery
Music by John Leipold (uncredited)
Cinematography Charles Lang
Editing by Alexander Hall
Studio Paramount Pictures
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date January 27, 1933
Running time 66 min
Country United States

I’ve always wanted to see this film for a couple of reasons. Firstly I do like Mae West’s double entendres and one liners and secondly we get to see a young Cary Grant. Here he is the one who is being lusted after by West, which is strange since in years to come it would be Grant who was the older man lusting after and getting the younger woman. It’s odd to see the roles reversed.

Whilst I admit that I enjoy West’s wit I must also admit that she is a bit of a one trick pony in that he sly one liners are the only things she can really do. Worse still she hogs the spotlight so that nothing of interest occurs when she is on the screen.

When compared to other comedians of the 1930s West’s act isn’t as interesting. W. C. Fields, who West is often compared with, had some amazing one liners in his films too but he also was pretty good with the slapstick stuff and could share the spotlight with others who were funny too, while Groucho Marx had his brothers to play off, even if we had to endure a boring Harpo harp recital or Chico putting the audience to sleep with his piano playing. West too insists on showing off her non-comedic talent when she decides to sing… and it is excruciating. Unlike when Groucho sings West is serious and is not doing it for laughs so it makes it even more intolerable. I guess that Mae wanted to sing and no one had the guts to say no?!

The film is interesting and does feature Mae reciting he most well known line to Grant, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?”, but the film could have been better in my opinion.

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You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man

Directed by George Marshall
Edward F. Cline (uncredited)
Produced by Lester Cowan
Written by W. C. Fields (as “Charles Bogle”) (story)
Everett Freeman (screenplay)
Richard Mack (screenplay)
George Marion Jr. (screenplay)
Starring W. C. Fields
Edgar Bergen
Charlie McCarthy
Cinematography Milton R. Krasner
Editing by Otto Ludwig
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date February 18, 1939
Running Time 76 min.

This was quite a good W. C Fields comedy film. It features a lot of classic lines from Fields, as well as some good slapstick pratfalls, but also features a continuation of his wonderful rivalry with a ventriloquists’ puppet.

It’s a bit hard to explain but for many years Fields had a radio rivalry with Charlie McCarthy, Edgar Bergen’s (Candice’s father) dummy. It’s strange indeed to think of someone doing a ventriloquist act on the radio, but that is where this funny rivalry was created. Both Fields and Bergen have some great moments to themselves in the brief moments when they are in a scene together there is some really good chemistry and funny jokes.

You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man is a part of the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection with The Bank Dick, My Little ChickadeeInternational House and It’s A Gift. This DVD box set is available from Amazon for $46.99. You can purchase it by clicking here…


Barry McKenzie Holds His Own

Directed by Bruce Beresford
Written by Bruce Beresford & Barry Humphries
Starring Barry Crocker,
Barry Humphries,
Donald Pleasance,
Dick Bentley
Music by Peter Best
Release date 1974
Running time 93 minutes
Country Australia
Language English

Compared to the original this is a pretty awful film. It doesn’t have the charm of the original and seems to think that it’s funny just saying the words abo, slant eyes and poofter as often as you can if an hour and a half. There is a huge cringe factor involved in this film and its celebration of ockerism. It could have worked if it satirised instead of celebrated the boof headed stereotype or made it like the first movie where we had an unsophisticated fish out of water story, but instead Humphries and Beresford tried to make it some stoopidly lame comedy. It is a shame as the are both very talented and can do much better than this shit. As a gross out comedy it doesn’t work as there is just one clever double entendre in the entire film. Thank Christ we’ve progressed ever so slightly in the 35 years since this was released, although I know that there are some rednecks who mourn the fact that it is now frowned upon to go out of your way to be as offensive as possible for no reason whatsoever.

I suppose the only redeeming feature of the film is Crocker’s sincere performance. The rest of the film is just a whole lot of stereotypes and crudity for the sake of crudity.

As you can see, very classy indeed. Also I have to ask… where we so insecure at that time? It’s almost as if we had to reassure ourselves that Australia had a place in the world and that we could in fact do worthy things. Unfortunately the only thing this film is worthy of is being thrown in the garbage.

If you really want this piece of crap it is available from EZYDVD for $15, but I have seen it for $10 from other places (Dirt Cheap in Collins Street).


The Adventures Of Barry McKenzie

Directed by Bruce Beresford
Produced by Phillip Adams
Written by Bruce Beresford & Barry Humphries
Starring Barry Crocker,
Barry Humphries,
Spike Milligan,
Peter Cook
Music by Peter Best
Cinematography Donald McAlpine
Editing by John Scott, William Anderson
Distributed by Columbia Pictures Video Ltd.
Release date 1972
Running time 114 minutes
Country Australia
Language English/Strine

This was on Fox Classics last night and I must admit that I did enjoy it quite a bit. It is a million times better than its sequel because it sticks to the unsophisticated fish out of water story, and satirises the pretentious artsy fartsy types, of whom Humphries would have been (I’ve read his book and all the boring tedious stuff on Dadaism) and the poms, who I guess considered themselves culturally and intellectually superior to us.

Unlike the sequel there isn’t an overload of offensiveness used just for the sake of offending people. I think the only really offensive thing would be the overloaded use of the word abo, which as Mal Brown has recently taught us, wasn’t really considered to be offensive in the 1970s. How things have changed for the better.

There is some nudity and bouncing breasts are featured a bit. This was before we became such a prudish nation and boobs were considered bad.

It’s not all that funny and a bit cringe-worthy, but the film is watchable, although I must say that both Spike Milligan and Peter Cook are wasted in their roles.


Shanghai Express

Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Produced by Adolph Zukor
Written by Jules Furthman
Harry Hervey (story)
Starring Marlene Dietrich
Clive Brook
Anna May Wong
Music by W. Franke Harling
Rudolph G. Kopp
Cinematography Lee Garmes
James Wong Howe
Editing by Frank Sullivan
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date February 2, 1932
Running time 80 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Shanghai Express is a very interesting film from 1932. Set in civil war torn China but filmed in Paris, it stars Marlene Dietrich as Shanghai Lilly. The film was directed by Josef von Sternberg and according to one review that I have read of the film, is meant to be a statement about the love between the fame director and his starlet. Of course rumours have abounded about another affair that the German actress was having with her co-star Anna Mae Wong. Who knows what really was happening behind the scenes.

Dietrich plays the coaster Shanghai Lilly, who has been breaking the hearts of men between Peking and Shanghai for five years, since her heart was broken by ‘Doc’ Harvey, a British officer who she meets up with while travelling on the train. Lots of critics have raved about her performance but she really doesn’t have that much to do. She spends some time looking glamorous and smoking a cigarette and smirking her way through her scenes looking as though she is about to burst into laughter but she is out acted by her co-star Anna Mae Wong, who despite being on screen for a much shorter amount of time has a far juicier part and more screen presence than Marlene.

Then there is Warner Oland as the evil rebel leader Mr Chang, who holds the train passengers for ransom and rapes (off-screen) Wong’s character Hui Fei. Oland is best known as being a caucasian actor who played many Asian parts, especially the famed Oriental detective Charlie Chan. He is thoroughly despicable here.

Shanghai Express was nominated for best picture at the 1932 Academy Awards and while it is very watchable and a very good film, and  Wong and Oland’s performances are great, I don’t know if the film is that great. As I said Dietrich spends most of her time mugging for the camera rather than really acting, while Brook’s performance as ‘Doc’ Harvey is rather wooden.


Of Mice And Men

Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Lewis Milestone
Written by John Steinbeck (novel)
Eugene Solow
Starring
Burgess Meredith
Betty Field
Lon Chaney, Jr.
Charles Bickford
Bob Steele
Noah Beery, Jr.
Music by Aaron Copland
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Studio Hal Roach Studios
Distributed by United Artists
Release date December 30, 1939
Running time 111 minutes
Language English

The 1939 version Of Mice And Men is a film that has perhaps been forgotten a bit over time, especially when compared to some of the other movies that came out during  1939/40. It is quite easy to forget just how great this movie was and how iconic the performance of Lon Chaney Jr. is as Lennie. I guess part of the reason for it to be forgotten in this country could be because it was banned from being released here in Australia for about twenty or so years, thanks to our diligent Chief Censor Creswell O’Reilly who deemed this film to be morally inappropriate to be screened here because… well actually after watching the film I cannot see any reason for it to be banned other than we were (and probably still are) quite prudish. That there doesn’t seem to have been much outrage at the time that a best picture nominated film was banned from being seen by us Aussies is a bit of a concern.

As I said earlier in this post Lon Chaney’s performance as Lennie is quite iconic and it is a shame that it has been overshadowed by his latter role as the Wolf Man. The Lennie character and Chaney’s portrayal of him were parodied numerous times over the next two decades by animators Tex Avery at MGM and Chuck Jones at Warner Bros with the most obvious parody is the Avery cartoon Lonesome Lenny in which Lenny calls Screwball Squirrel ‘George’ and… well see for yourself.

Of course when ever you see a cartoon character talking about ‘tending the rabbits’ they are parodying Chaney.

Also I think Burgess Meredith’s performance as George should be mentioned. Most people only know Meredith as The Penguin from the Batman TV series or as Mickey from the Rocky films, so it is good to see him in his younger days. He gives a great performance as George who is always looking out for the ‘slow witted’ Lennie as can be seen in the final scene where he must make a harrowing decision.

Overall this is a prety good film. I have previously seen the 1980s version with Randy Quaid as Lennie but feel that this version was much better. It is of course based on John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel which is also a great read.


The Good Earth

Directed by Sidney Franklin, Victor Fleming & Gustav Machatý
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Written by Pearl S. Buck (novel)
Donald Davis (play)
Owen Davis (play)
Talbot Jennings
Tess Slesinger
Claudine West
Starring Paul Muni
Luise Rainer
Walter Connolly
Tilly Losch
Charley Grapewin
Music by Herbert Stothart
Edward Ward
Cinematography Karl Freund
Editing by Basil Wrangell
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date January 29, 1937
Running time 138 min.
English

I like old movies but even I can see that one area where old-Hollywood got things dreadfully wrong was with race. Even in the 21st century this has been one area where the movies have struggled although things are better than they were when The Good Earth was made in 1937. Firstly you’d expect a film about Chinese farmers in China to feature Chinese actors playing the roles, but you’d be really wrong. Here Paul Muni of Scarface fame plays Wang Lung, whilst Luise Rainer won the best actress Oscar (her second) for her portrayal of O-Lan despite the fact that she did so with a heavy German accent.

Apparently producer Irving Thalberg wanted to cast and all Chinese cast but Louis B. Mayer thought that the film going public would not be ready for this. Anna Mae Wong was asked to play Lotus, the seductress, to give the film some authenticity, but she angrily declined the role because she was angry that all the main roles were played in yellow-face by Caucasians and that she would be asked to play the least sympathetic role.

Over-all the acting is hammy, the dialogue ridiculous and stereotypes abound. The film may have been tolerable if there had been Asians at least playing the Asian characters as the yellow-face just makes the film worse than it probably is.

By the way just a note to all Foxtel subscribers that everyone gets the movie channels free for the next two weeks. I saw The Good Earth on TCM.