Thursday, May 31, 2012

Film Review: Double Indemnity (1944)

Fred and Barbara in the second of three
films together.
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TCMDb: An insurance salesman gets seduced into plotting a client's death.

     Whenever someone talked about this film, I felt as though I had committed an unforgivable sin, broke a law, or thumbed my nose to the world of classic films because it wasn't until very recently that I finally watched it. After having watched it, I feel as though it should be one of the first ten any new classic film lover should see (and that's saying something).
     I like a lot of films; the selected ones, the one that I love, however, are in an elite group all of their own. I'm glad to say that Double Indemnity is now a part of that elite group.
The opening credits.
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Does anyone ever pay at-tention to the title sequences? If they have a design to them, or any animation? Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't. Some really great ones that I really like are the title sequences for The Man with a Golden Arm (1955) and the ones to Ocean's 11 (1960) both which were created by Saul Bass, a graphic designer known for his film posters and his title sequences. In the case of Double Indemnity, I found it highly interesting for an injured man walking, or rather hopping, with crutches comes slowly forward until his front blacked the camera out, and the film finally begins. Plus, with the music in the background, it just adds to it. It immediately gave me a sense that I was going to be in for a good time.
Walter Neff telling his side of the story.
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     The film first starts out with Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) driving back to his office, starting up a recorder, and begin to tell his friend, Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), a fellow insurance salesman, that he had been right all the time about the Dietrichson case not being an accident--that there had been a murder; the only thing he had been wrong about was who had killed the old man. He got it wrong because it was "so close up to your nose, you couldn't see".
     It's then when he begins to go into how he, Walter Neff, had come to killing the old man Dietrichson.
     He killed him "for money and a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman"--the same ol' same ol'.
     To be quite honest, I hate it when some of my favorites are bad guys. I like them to be a good guy--or good woman, and I suppose in a way that's typecasting. I know that some of them loved to stretch their wings and play against type, got to show their acting chops a little bit. I understand that, and I admire them for it, but that still doesn't change the fact that I don't really care for them to be a bad guy. So, while I have to admit that Barbara Stanwyck was superb in Double Indemnity as was Fred MacMurray, I didn't really care for them to be so heartless--especially Barbara.
Murder at first sight.
Photo Courtesy of
     Barbara gave one her best performances, if not her best, ever as Phyllis Dietrichson. I think her most chilling moment on screen was as she sits in the driver seat and listens to Fred MacMurray kill her husband. The look on her face is one of self-satisfaction of a good job well done. She thinks she's gotten away with it, in fact she knows she's gotten away with, and there's nothing no one can do about it.
     And she would have gotten away with it . . . they both would have had it not been for Keyes and "the little man inside of me". I don't know anything about murdering anyone since I have no desire to, so I have no idea if this murder would still hold up today, but considering the fact that Edward G. Robinson figured out what really happened--even though he initially got the wrong man--I don't think it would.
     Apparently there really is no such thing as a "perfect murder"--too bad they didn't know that. If they had known that, however, we wouldn't have a film, now would we?
Edward G. Robinson, or as I like to call him, Eddie G., as
Martin Keyes.
Photo Courtesy of
     I think my favorite thing about the whole film besides the fact that everybody in it was superb, was the amazing dialogue. I ask you, why can't they write dialogue like this anymore? Why do they have to try and see how many f-bombs they can drop in one sentence? I'm not saying all movies are like that today, but too many of them are in my opinion. I think what some of the writers ought to do is sit in a little room with as many other writers that can possibly fit and watch the classics to get an idea as to how they should really write. They don't have to use the slang because, lets face it, some of it is dead, but they should definitely learn how to play on words, and instead of right out saying something, write in such a way that leaves the audience going: Did he mean what I think he meant when he said that?
Tom Powers as Mr. Dietrichson. The poor sap has no idea
what's coming to him.
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     Here's just a few of the great lines in Double Indemnity:

Walter Neff: You'll be here, too?
Phyllis Dietrichson: I guess so, I usually am.
Walter Neff: Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
Phyllis Dietrichson: I wonder if you know what you mean.
Walter Neff: I wonder if you wonder.


Walter Neff: It's just like the first time I came here, isn't it? We were talking about automobile insurance only you were thinking about murder. And I was thinking about that anklet.

Plus the numerous times that Fred MacMurray said, "Baby" . . . I don't think I've heard anyone say "Baby" quite the way he did.

Keyes lighting Neff's cigarette.
Photo Courtesy of
     In the end, Phyllis Dietrichson got what she deserved, and though you start to feel sorry for Fred MacMurray near the end because you find out that he was going to be the fall guy the entire time, you know also he gets what he deserves . . . after all, murder doesn't pay, especially backing during the Code, and so you know that Walter Neff can't live as a free man. And so, with Keyes lighting the wounded Neff's cigarette--a nice touch by Wilder considering through out the whole film it was Neff lighting the fumbling Keyes cigar--you are left wondering if he even lives.
     I give this film a 4/4 stars, and highly suggest that it be one of your first classics to watch if you are a newbie.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Film Review: This Is My Affair (1937)

Robert and Barbara in their second
film together.
Photo Courtesy of
TCMDb: Navy Lt. Richard Perry becomes an undercover man out to discover the leaders of a group of well connected men who pull off bank robberies during the McKinley administration (early 20th century).

     I can only say that it's no wonder that Barbara Stanwyck fell for Robert Taylor and vice verse. They were absolutely gorgeous in this film, and even if This Is My Affair was terrible, I'd suggest that you'd watch it anyways because of the fact that they are so gorgeous together. However, This Is My Affair isn't a terrible--in fact it's a very entertaining film, and so I'm going to suggest that you watch it for as much as the story as the two beautiful leads.
Has there ever been a more stunning couple
than these two?
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     So, the main reason why I love doing my Star of the Month, despite the fact that I'm usually always late with posting them on their assigned days, and for this I apologize (I'm hoping I'll be able to get them up on their actual days this summer since I won't have school--but then again, I'll be having a job this summer as well, so we'll just have to see), I get to discover new people or get to learn more about the ones I already know a little about; I get to discover new films either way.
     As I was deciding what five essentials I should choose for the Miss, I decided I really wanted to stick to films that were for, the majority, unknown, or not as popular as the rest of her films (which is what I've tried to do with all of my stars so far). When I was combing through Missy's filmography, and I saw this title, the first thing I thought was Oh, another melodrama. Not that I have anything against melodramas, but I just have to be in the right mood for them.
Missy with Victor McLaglen (right) and Brian Donlevy (left)
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     After I read the synopsis, I discovered, to my delight, that This Is My Affair isn't a melodrama at all, but rather a whodunit with a twist, and the twist simply being the fact that it took place back in McKinley's term in the Oval Office, which I guess really isn't a twist at all. The point is, I liked the film. It's not the greatest, but it's entertaining.
Lt. Richard L. Perry/Joe Patrick, Lil Duryea, and Jock Ramsay
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     A sort of a running gag in the film, though there's really hardly no gags at all, is that Victor McLaglen's character, Jock, who's in love with Lil, is an amateur magician--or rather, that's what he thinks he is. He's the bully who thinks he's hilarious, but really is nothing more than a jerk picking on people smaller than him. The tricks he plays on the people around him are silly and insipid. I mean, when he's about to be hanged, and the priest is standing there asking him if there's anything he'd like to say, or do, after telling him in so many words, no, he then asks the priest to sit down, and says as he fans a deck of cards out, "Pick a card. Any card." Really? Who does that?
The Taylor's--before they were the Taylor's.
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     An interesting note is that two years after the making of this film, Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck became husband and wife on May 14, 1939; the first for Robert, and the second (and final) for Barbara. They had starred together just one year before in 1936's His Brother's Wife. They would divorce in 1951, and would star co-star together in one more film much later in 1964's Night Walker (they did not play love interests, but rather Robert was Barbara's lawyer who was trying to kill her . . . yeah . . .). In short, it's not the best film, it has its weak moments, but it's still enjoyable. I found the actor who portrayed Teddy Roosevelt to be highly amusing ("Bully, bully, bully!). I give This Is My Affair a 3/4 stars.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Film Review: Breakfast for Two (1937)

Barbara and Herbert in their first of two films together.
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TCMDb: A Texas heiress competes with a gold digger for the love of a playboy.

     Anyone that knows me, and knows me well, knows that I hate--detest, abhor, loathe--getting up early. I am, by nature, a nocturnal person and prefer to stay up late in the night, and then sleep late into the day. There have been a few times, however, when I've set the alarm clock for an ungodly time (anytime before 11:00 is ungodly to me, though 9:00 and up is manageable), and let that barbaric beeping sound jar me out of a very nice sleep at the tender time of 5:55 so I could watch Breakfast for Two at 6:00.
     It was, like a good movie always is, worth it. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, it had me laughing almost nonstop.
     Have you ever wondered what makes a "screwball comedy" a screwball comedy? The good ole' web gives this definition: The screwball comedy is a genre of comedy which is unconventional, goes in different directions, and behaves in unexpected ways. Now that we have the definition of the word screwball comedy, lets do a little check list to see if Breakfast for Two is really a screwball comedy or if it's just been masquerading as one.
Put 'em up, Duke, or I'm gonna slug ya!
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     The first item on the list is unconven-tionality. Well, for this one you've got to dig deep inside yourself and ask: Does a Texas heiress sparring with a playboy after she's just bought his house because she's trying to make him realize he needs to grow up and be a man sound conventional? 'Tis a very good question. You can make your own decision on this, but just so it'll fit into my little check off list, I'm going to say, in the fashion of Gary Cooper: Nope.
     Second, does it go in different directions? Well now, let's see. You know from the get-go that Herbert and Barbara are going to get together--it's just inevitable, but do you really expect her to buy his business that's been in the family for generations, and then give him the role of vice-president, hoping that it'll jar him out of his playboy ways, and then when that doesn't work and he's about to marry an aspiring "actress" who only really wants his money, she concocts all these ways to try and stop the wedding (the first try is the most hilarious to me)? Sure is sounding like a screwball comedy to me.
Down Pee-wee!
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  Third item on the list: Does it behave in unexpected ways? Barbara's character is named Valentine, there's a Great Dane named Pee-Wee, a butler named Butch (played by the ever sputt-ering Eric Blore), a brainless, money hungry blonde, a boxing duel (you can only guess who wins) between Barbara and Hebert, a couple attempts of a wedding, and a Texas uncle bursting in on the first attempt at said wedding and point an accusing finger at the blonde and shout: "That woman is the mother of my baby!" The first time I heard that line, I laughed so hard and freely that I forgot it was only about seven in the morning and so I got in trouble for laughing too loud . . . but I didn't care; it was too funny not to laugh at.
     So, has Breakfast for Two been masquerading as a screwball comedy, or has it been the real McCoy the whole time? I'm going to say, Yup. It's the real McCoy (besides, if I didn't, I'd have to answer to the Miss, and it looks like she'd win).
That's what I thought.
Photo Courtesy of
     Leonard Maltin gave this picture a 2.5/4 stars, but I think it deserves in the very least, a 3.5/4 stars. If you would to watch this film it's being shown on TCM Tuesday, May 29 at 6:45 P.M (now why in the heck couldn't they have show it at that time when I watched it?). I suggest you do, if only for the scene that I mentioned beforehand. If you're a Missy fan, you cannot miss it. I read that Barbara took on this role because she wanted to do a happy picturing after just having finished Stella Dallas--if that's the case, I say she did a great job of choosing. This film is a hoot and a half, and I'm sure she had a lot of fun filming it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Film Review: No Man of Her Own (1950)

Film based off of Cornel Woolrich's novel,
I Married a Dead Man.
Photo Courtesy of
TCMDb: Helen Ferguson, pregnant, penniless, and dumped by her boyfriend, takes on the identity of Patricia Harkness, when she and her husband are killed in a train crash to try to ensure a better life for her and her child.

   In many cases No Man of Her Own seems nothing more than a very well-produced "B" picture--and maybe that's exactly what it is. All I know is that I like this picture because it's so different. Sure, maybe the premise of the film is a very well-used one, but it's one that I find directors and producers back during the Golden Age of Hollywood and even up to now like to go back to time and time again; it's like a favorite pair of sneakers--you just can't get rid of them.
     In my opinion, however, the few aspects that keeps No Man of Her Own, which most definitely should not be confused with the single Gable and Lombard 1932 pairing, from falling into the "B" picture category are: Barbara, the noir intensity of the film, and John Lund's voice.
     You don't have to be a mathematician, all you really need to know how to do is subtract 1907 from 1950, and you'll know that once again, Hollywood didn't, and still doesn't, give a fig about stretching the boundaries. At the age of forty-two, Barbara Stanwyck was probably a little too old to be playing a pregnant woman done wrong, whom I can only assume is meant to be portrayed as a woman in her mid to late twenties, early thirties at most. And at forty-two, Barbara is four years older than her leading man, John Lund who was thirty-eight, but I ask you this: Who really cares? I don't, and I'm guessing if you're a Barbara Stanwyck fan, you don't either (besides, does the woman even look like she's forty-two?).
On a crowded train headed towards nowhere.
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     Admittedly, I haven't seen too many noirs. In fact, I'm pretty sure, I wouldn't end up using all ten of my fingers if I had to name them off to you, but then again, I may be wrong. One of the best thing about noirs, is that sometimes you don't really know if it is or isn't. Granted, you can usually tell by the lighting or the lack thereof, but I'm sure you get my drift. Maybe this isn't considered a noir by the "professionals" whomever they may be, but for my benefit, I'm going to say that it is. The cinematography is simply breathtaking to me; the shadows add just the right amount of tension that really captures your attention, and keeps it. I know next to nothing about cinematography, so I can only hope that what I think to be right is actually so. If not, please correct me and inform me as to what really makes a good old fashion noir film just that.
Barbara and John Lund.
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     Now, I'm sure one or two of you, or however many of you actually read this blog, might be wondering as to why I said one of the things that makes this film for me is John Lund's voice. Strange, I know, but it's true. Your voice is just as identifying as your fingerprints or your dental records, and I find even though I'm good at remembering people's faces and names, I'm even better at recognizing them by their voices. John Lund's voice is exactly what amused cynicism sounds like, if it does have a sound. Though he was in some very good films such as To Each His Own (1946) in a dual role as Olivia de Havilland's lover who's a pilot in World War I, and then her son who's also a pilot, but this time in World War II; and A Foreign Affair (1948) with Jean Arthur and Marlene Dietrich, he never really hit it big, which to me, is a total shame. Was he the greatest actor ever, no. But was he good enough? In my opinion, yes.
Cornell Woolrich's stories.
Photo Courtesy of
     Again, just to reiterate the caption under the first image, this film is based off of Cornell Woolrich's/William Irish's novel I Married a Dead Man. I have actually read this book, and I did so a few months back not too long after I had watched them film. As we all know by now, I'm sure, rarely, if at all, does the film follow the book. To my surprise, the film matches the novel pretty well. The only real big difference in the novel is that at the end, you don't really know if what has happened between the two leads, the roles portrayed by Barbara and John, are going to be able to make it after all the lies that have been told. You want them to, and you have an idea that they might, but there's that nagging voice at the back of your head going: But that's what he wants you to think . . . and so you begin to doubt yourself. In the film, however, they give Barbara and John the happy ending that you want them to have. The code was still very much in force in 1950, and so we all know that when a character kills someone, they're suppose to pay, they can't get off because that would be romanticizing murder (and we all know that Hollywood has never done that before--oh, no, of course not), but in the end we find the few missing pieces of the puzzle and put them together, and the ending is able to be tied off with a nice little bow.
     I give this film a 3/4 star rating, and if just by chance you would like to see this film, you can view it over on what I like to call the "Holy Grail of Classic Films" also known as youtube, type in the title, and voila! You can either watch it in parts, or watch it all in one piece. They're both there (though how long that'll stay, I'm not sure. You know the youtube gremlins, and how they are, so don't come and hunt me down because I said that it's on youtube, and then you go look and it's not there. At this moment in time as I'm writing this, it is on there).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Film Review: The Mad Miss Manton (1938)

Henry and Barbara in their first picture
Photo Courtesy of
 TCMDb: A daffy socialite gets her friends mixed up in a murder investigation.

     Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck are one of my favorite leading couples. They were so great together--granted, Barbara Stanwyck was great with just about everyone, and Henry Fonda was, well, Henry Fonda (need I explain more?). So it absolutely galls me almost to the point of insanity that they aren't included in TCM's Leading Couples book. Uh, hello, TCM, what happened here? Someone, I don't know who, but someone seriously let the ball drop on this one. 
     Tsk, tsk.
     When one thinks of Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, they immediately think of their classic pairing in The Lady Eve (1941), and they do so with good reason. Lady is a rare gem in the fact that it is flawless; it's perfection is dazzling. Taking it for granted in the fact that if you are a classic fan, or a fan of either Barbara's and/or Henry's, you probably already know about The Lady Eve, meaning you've seen it and/or read about it, I chose their first pairing which came three years before as one of Barbara's essentials: The Mad Miss Manton.
     When I watched this film, I thought to myself, If I ever find a dead body, I hope Barbara Stanwyck is there with me . . . Yes, you heard me, I would want Barbara Stanwyck there by my side--at least then I'd know I'd get some sort of comic relief.
Do not try this level of coolness. You will fail, and most likely
get more than just a little singed.
Photo Courtesy of
     Though it's not considered up to par of the leading screwball comedies such as Bringing Up Baby, It Happened One Night, or My Man Godfrey, I think it should be. It's a delightful film with a great vibe, a mystery that'll have you guessing all the way (at least it did me), and of course the romance between Barbara and Henry is lovely to watch. One of my top favorite scenes is when, after Henry's character, Peter Ames, a newspaperman, has printed a story saying that the body that socialite Melsa Manton had supposedly found at a friend's house who is away, was nothing but another one of her many hoaxes (which she's apparently quite well known for), Barbara bursts into his office, walks up to Henry's secretary and slaps him full across the face, and only then asks, "Are you Peter Ames?" The secretary stutters a "no". Having started to pace in his office before Melsa walked in, Peter walks out from behind the door which he had become hidden behind when she burst in, and says, "But I am." Melsa promptly turns around and slaps him across the face, and without missing a single beat, Peter slaps her right back and says coolly, "To complete the circle."
Henry and Barbara . . . one of the best leading couples ever.
Photo Courtesy of
     I thought I was going to die of laughter. I replayed that scene at least four times. In that one row, and with the continuation of the scene, you know that the pairing of Peter Ames and Melsa Manton/Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck is going to be interesting . . . very interesting indeed.
     Another aspect that I love about this film is Melsa Manton's group of friends. They're the kind of friends that a girl wants to have: they believe in you, and no matter what, they've got your back. Granted, they're a little daffy, but so is Melsa so it all works out in the end. The point is, Melsa has gotten herself in this mess of having to prove that there actually was a body, and though they're not so certain about everything, they're willing to help her and stick with her no matter how much trouble they get into. Tell me, what more could a girl ask for?
The nuts . . .
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     Anyone that knows me knows that I love a good comeback and The Mad Miss Manton is loaded with them. Besides the formerly mentioned "To complete the circle" there's also this exchange between a couple of Melsa's friends when they go back to the house in which Melsa originally found the body in:

Melsa: Helen, you go search the upstairs.
Helen Frayne (Frances Mercer): Oh, no! I was never much of an individualist. If the upstairs has to be searched, we'll search it together.
Dora Fenton (Catherine O'Quinn): Why, that's communism!

Here's another one:

Peter: Listen, before I knew you, I disliked you intensely. When I met you, I disliked you intensely. Even now, I dislike you intensely . . . that is the sensible, sane portion of me . . . but there's an insane side of me that gets a little violent every time I think of you.
Melsa: Getting out of a million dollar lawsuit wouldn't have anything to do with your change of affection, would it?
Peter: You're a nasty creature, aren't you, but in time I'll beat it out of you.

Ooh, ooh, one more:

Peter: We'll go to South America for six months--maybe we'll never come back.
Melsa: Can you afford it?
Peter: No, but you can.
Melsa: Isn't there a drop of red blood in your veins? I want to live on your income!
Peter: That's foolish, who's going to live on yours?

     I cannot be the only one who finds those lines hilarious . . .
Henry, gagged, tucked, and all ready to go beddy-bye with
his dolly.
Photo Courtesy of

     Really, I don't see why Leonard Maltin only gives this film a two and a half star rating. For me, this film is a laugh a minute that should be far better remembered than it is. It may not be The Lady Eve, but I think it was a wonderful first pairing for a wonderful classic leading couple that doesn't get all the notice that they should. So, if this little post has at all whetted your desire to see this film, TCM will be showing it on Saturday, June 9 at 12:00 A.M. EST. I highly suggest you watch it because I give this film a 3.5/4 stars.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Barbara's Essentials

The Miss's five essentials:

1. The Mad Miss Manton . . . (May 14, Monday)
2. No Man of Her Own . . . (May 19, Saturday)
3. Breakfast for Two . . . (May 23, Wednesday)
4. This Is My Affair . . . (May 29, Tuesday)
5. Double Indemnity . . . (May 31, Thursday)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Star of the Month: Barbara Stanwyck

     For some reason I had an extra hard time in choosing the Star of the Month for May. At first I had planned to do Katharine Hepburn, but then I found that I didn't really want to. I love Katharine, but I felt like doing someone different, but the problem was I didn't know who it should be. Finally, I decided that Barbara Stanwyck would be the Star of the Month for May. I like Barbara a lot, and I've seen quite a few of her films, but not nearly as many as I should have. So, there we go. I'll have the five essentials for Barbara up later on today (if you haven't noticed, I'm a little behind with everything on this blog. I've been pretty preoccupied).

Who? Me? Ah, you shouldn't have!
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