Saturday, September 29, 2012

Film Review: Beau Geste (1939)

My addiction.
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TCM: Three brothers in the French Foreign Legion fight off murderous Arabs and a sadistic sergeant.

     To say that I simply really like this film would be a gross understatement. My feelings for Beau Geste amount way more than a "I like this film". No. It's to the point where for a brief second, just a brief one mind you, I wondered if Only Angels Have Wings might have competition. 
     Yes, it's that serious.
     And what makes it all the more funny to me is that I had been putting this film off for so long that it almost became an inside joke for me. I don't know why I put it off for so long, I guess I thought, despite the fact that Gary Cooper was the star, it was going to be boring and I wouldn't like it.
     I laugh in the face of irony.
     What got me to finally watch Beau Geste? The chance to see little Donald O'Connor. Yes. That is the sole reason why I decided that at last I was going to sit down and watch it.
     Of course, by the very first scene, it had me.
The boys.
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     As I watched Beau Geste, I couldn't help but be jealous of the relationship between the three brothers, Beau, Digby, and John. I'm a girl, and though I have two older brothers and a younger sister, I have never felt the camaraderie between my siblings and I. Sure, I know that they'd be there for me, and if I cried for help, they'd come help me. I love them, and I'm pretty sure they love me. But I would kill to have the relationship that these Geste boys have with each other.
     Now going off of the word "relationship" and "camaraderie", I would like to pay special attention to the charisma between Gary Cooper, Robert Preston, and of course, the man of the month, Ray.
Ray, Darling, could you please stop being so handsome?
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     Despite the fact that Gary Cooper is the star, and the fact that I love both him and Robert Preston (the Music Man!), every time I watch Beau Geste, I cannot stop myself from staring at Ray the whole time. Yes, he was incredibly handsome, but it is much more than that. This was Ray's first action adventure film after many "drawing room comedies where he played the suave sophisticate" (TCM) and he welcomed the chance, and you get this feeling that he had a lot of fun during the production with Coop and Robert.
Top of the mornin' to you!
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     This 1939 version is a remake of the popular silent 1926 version which starred Ronald Colman in the role of Beau, Neil Hamilton as Digby, and Ralph Forbes as John. Now, I haven't seen the original, but supposedly, the 1939 version is basically a carbon copy of the 1926. And while I know Ronald Colman, and respect him greatly as an actor in the few films that I've seen him in, I do not know who Neil Hamilton or Ralph Forbes are so I can't really say if they were great actors or not. In any case, I have a very hard time in seeing anyone play the Geste brothers as well as Coop, Robert, and Ray did (especially Ray).
Just kill me now.
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     Going back to how I thought this picture would be boring and that's why it took me so long to finally watch it . . . well, obviously, that thought easily wins the award for all of the stupid thoughts that I've had over the years. I mean, really? Beau Geste boring? I laugh at my stupidity. There are multiple reasons times multiple reasons why Beau Geste has got to be one of the best action adventure films ever, if not the greatest (the opening scene has got to be the coolest opening scene ever).
     As much as it is exciting, however, there is an equal amount of comedy and sadness. The comedy comes from Coop, Robert, and Ray as they act like brothers will: their "fighting" and picking on one another is just so funny. And then, the sadness . . . oh, there as the ending is coming nearer and nearer it was almost unbearable for me to watch (I assure you, when you get to the end, you'll be yelling why! at your television or computer the same way I was).
Oh, why, oh why!
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     Before I leave you, I would like to point out something that I found very interesting. In the film, Coop plays Beau, the eldest, Robert Preston plays Digby, the middle child, and Ray plays John, the youngest. Out of curiosity, I wondered if that was how the order went like that in real life. To my astonishment, I found out that while Coop was indeed the oldest (being born in 1901 he was thirty-eight when he made this film), Ray was actually thirteen-years-older than Robert, having been born in 1905 compared to Robert's 1918. Which means that Ray was thirty-three when he made this picture, and Robert was just a baby at twenty-one.
     Oh, and one one more quick thing, I give Beau Geste a 4/4 stars, so go do yourself a favor and watch it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Film Review: The Lost Weekend (1945)

Still as amazing now as it was then.
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TCM: A writer fights to overcome his addiction to liquor.

     I remember the first time I watched this film. I was at my father's, in my room, sitting in my computer chair, completely aloof to everything and anything around me. The film had just started, but the moment I saw Ray Milland's character, Don Birnam reach outside his window to grasp hold of the bottle dangling outside his apartment window on a string, I was hooked.
     Near the end of the film , my father walked in and wanted to know what I was watching. When I told him that it was The Lost Weekend with Ray Milland and Jane Wyman, he told me about this man that he used to know when he was a kid, and while he didn't hang his bottles outside of a window tied to a string, he did bury them under the bushes next to the fence. And that there were days when the yard would be up heaved and destroyed from his incessant digging as he searched for the bottles that he had forgotten where he put. His wife, my father told me, had been a very sweet and dear woman, and while the man was very kind when he was sober, he turned into someone completely different when he was drunk.
Don deciding his fate.
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     My father's memory of this man and woman (and their children) made me sad. I've never experienced something like that before in all my life, and to hear that my father had, and that it was a connection to The Lost Weekend . . . it only left me even more despondent.
     That's when I realized that to watch The Lost Weekend, despondency and hope are the exact emotions that you need to be feeling by the end of it, and if you aren't, you seriously need to get yourself checked out.
     For me, The Lost Weekend was (is) one of those films that you really want to see, but you know what it's about, and you find the subject matter incredibly hard to watch, but you suck it up and you watch it anyways and before, during, and after a storm of emotions are lashing out inside of you and you're just left there going . . . "Oh. My. God." And you know if your life suddenly ended right there, you would be a better person for having seen the film.
Don: A man of conflicted emotions and needs.
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     Oh, yeah. It's like that.
     As I have stated before, Ray was a vastly under-appre-ciated actor whom many thought could only play the romantic men of the slapstick comedies. Still today he is mostly seen as the romantic lead. People! Ray was so much better than that! He was Don Birnam. Ray Milland didn't exist; he just wasn't, but Don Birnam . . . Don was real; he was. His pain was real. His fears were real. His addiction was real.
Ray and Oscar: A beautiful pair.
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     And I'm not the only one who thought that Don--I mean, Ray, was amazing. The nominees for the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1945 were Bing Crosby for The Bells of St. Mary's, Gene Kelly for Anchors Aweigh, Gregory Peck for The Keys of the Kingdom, and Cornel Wilde for A Song to Remember, and of course Ray Milland for The Lost Weekend. Now, I've seen four of the five films listed (A Song to Remember being the one I haven't seen), and while I love Bing, Gene, and Gregory, and Cornel, I have to admit that they got that year right. Ray deserved the Oscar. His performance was raw. Powerful. Real. Terrifying.
Don's pain is palatable.
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Needing that drink . . .
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     The Lost Week-end, despite being sixty-seven-years-old, is a film that hasn't become "dated" in any sense of the word due to its subject matter. There are some films that become dated (I hate using that word) because of its subject matter, and that's simply because of the influence on the passage of time we have come to think of and treat things differently then we did in 1945. Alcoholism was taboo back in the day, a subject that was considered "trash talk" and wasn't dare discussed at afternoon tea. And that's exactly what The Lost Weekend is addressing. We should never cover up things as being an alcoholic. We shouldn't be ashamed for being one; and we shouldn't be ashamed for seeking help.
     I would like to point out how remarkable that The Lost Weekend was even made. Look at that release date: 1945 . . . This film is a product from a time when a man could not sit on a woman's bed (even if they were confined to the holy state of matrimony) without at least one foot on the floor which makes me cock my eyebrow and give a good ole' long "Mmmmmhmmmm. Yeah, sure. That makes sense." And according to Billy Wilder, the liquor industry offered Paramount five million dollars to not release the film . . . [he suggested had they offered it to him, he would've taken it, but I doubt that because it doesn't really seem to jive with Wilder's personality] (TCM).
Cary Grant and Ray Milland
Cary and Ray.
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     Now, once you see this film, you'll obviously see how perfect Ray was for it. I couldn't see anyone else as Don Birnam . . . surprisingly, however, Ray was not the one and only choice for the role. Jose Ferrer was offered the role (I've seen maybe one of his films, so I can't really say anything about that choice) as was . . . Cary Grant! My Cary! I read that Wilder took the script to Cary, and he thought he read/acted it brilliantly (of course he would), but that Cary didn't want to do the film because he didn't feel that anyone would accept him as a broken man, as an alcoholic--and as much I would love to see how Cary would portray Don Birnam, I'm glad Cary had the insight to know that he as Don Birnam just wouldn't be accepted. And The Lost Weekend HAD to be accepted. It was much too of an important film for it not to.
     There have been a lot of films about alcoholism produced since The Lost Weekend, but I'm going to go so far as to say that this 4/4 stars film has never been matched, the closest that comes to it though would be Jack Lemmon's Days of Wine and Roses. If you haven't seen The Lost Weekend, I highly suggest that you do--and soon. I warn you, though, it will change you. I don't know how exactly. I just know that it will. Somehow. Someway.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Film Review: Easy Living (1937)

TCM: When a working girl tries to return a lost fur coat, she gets caught up in a wealthy family's battles.

     Why can't my life be more like the movies? I mean, I'd love for a mink coat to fall down on my head and then meet Ray Milland. In fact, I wouldn't care too much for the coat, but the coat would get me the man, and Ray Milland . . . Yeah, I don't have to say much more than his name for me to get really excited.
     This was my first film that I saw with Ray in it, but to be truthful, I watched it for Jean Arthur, and I really only took enough notice in his role to take note that he was incredibly adorable and that Jean was lucky. The rest of the time I focused my complete attention on all of Jean's amazing-ness.
     It was upon a second viewing of this film that I focused my attention to other people besides Jean, and I liked what I saw when it came to this man named Ray Milland with an adorable accent that I just couldn't quite place. As I do with everyone that piques my interest, I do a little research on him. I found out that that accent of his was Welsh, he had a prolific career in Hollywood (though it appeared that toward the latter he took what came May), and that of course I would have to watch more of his films.
Edward Arnold and Jean Arthur.
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     And watched I have, but for now, we're sticking to this delightful gem of a screwball comedy, Easy Living.
     Honestly, I would be really hard pressed to think of a better cast that could have done this film. As hard as it may be to believe for all of you that think nothing in this world is perfect--Easy Living is just that. Perfect. Jean Arthur. Ray Milland. Edward Arnold. Need I say more?
     Edward Arnold is one of my favorite big tough guys that talked real loud and acted real mean, but really has a heart of gold--even if you have to dig for a little bit to find it. In Easy Living, he plays J.B. Ball, the third richest banker in the good ol' U.S., and he's got the wife that, taking advantage of her husband's wealth, likes to spend it.
John Ball, Jr.--the working man.
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     Receiving the latest bill informing him of his wife's latest extra-vagant spending spree, poor J.B. has had enough, and throwing the coat outside the window, it just happens to topple down on poor Mary Smith whom happens to be, of course, Jean Arthur. When J.B. comes out of his apartment, happy go lucky because his wife no longer has the coat, she tries to give it back to him, but he tells her to keep it. Mary, however, becomes upset because when the coat toppled down on her, it ruined her hat, and she's missed her bus and has no way to get to work. By offering to buy her a new hat and a ride to work for the magazine, 'The Boy's Constant Companion', where all the spinsterish women see her expensive coat, she is mistaken to be his mistress and is promptly fired . . . which leads Mary broke.
Psst! I see you!
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     With her last dime, she goes to an automat and unwittingly meets John Ball, Jr., who has left home to prove to his father that he can make it out on his own and doesn't need his money. This action was quite common in the films of the yesteryear. It was meant as a way for the "common" people of the time to connect with the "upper" class people. It was a way for the upper class people to say, "Hey, you and I? We're both the same. We could be best friends . . ."
     As I'm learning only Ray can be, he plays John Jr., as a most charming and funny and witty and, in the case of Ms. Mary Smith, quite smitten, son of the third richest banker in America.
     When John Jr., first sees Mary, he can't believe that she's eating in an automat (the $58,000 fur coat might having something to do with that, but I'm just guessing on that), but when she insists that she's got nothing but a dime to her name, he concocts this brilliant plan of giving her some food and when he gets paid, gives the money back to the automat.
John and Mary.
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     What could possibly go wrong?
     After a wild food fight with everybody fighting tooth and nail to get free food, John is fired and, refusing to return home and admit defeat to his father, has no place to go. Well, as aforementioned, Mary is believed to be J.B.'s mistress, and because of this has been given a room in an extremely expensive hotel by the proprietor in hopes that by taking extra nice care of J.B.'s mistress, she'll tell him and J.B. will start coming to his relatively empty hotel. So, while she has an expensive hotel suite, but no money, she offers John to stay with her.
     Again, this adds to John's confusion, but as most men probably would in his position, he just rolls right along with everything.
I would LOVE to take a nice hot bath in that . . . pool?
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     Mary takes John back to her hotel suite, and through the course of the night, they fall in love. It's under-standable. I mean, how can Jean/Mary not fall in love with Ray/John and how could Ray/John not fall in love with Jean/Mary? It can't be done. They're too perfect.
     The film continues on with ensuing slapstick comedy and misunderstandings as only Jean and Ray and Edward Arnold could pull off. It's a film that I would definitely recommend to anyone and everyone if they are in the need for a good laugh and a little loving; I give it a 3/4 stars.
Ray and Jean.
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   If this is the first Ray Milland film that one might see, I hope that he or she understands that Ray was a brilliant actor, and that he just wasn't someone who did cute romantic comedies. Ray could really act, and he was quite brilliant (as I found out, as everyone does, when I watched The Lost Weekend). Ray was an understated and underestimated actor who, despite having won an Oscar and being some fantastic films, never got his dues which is a shame. And by saying that I hope that with my reviews of the five films that I consider Ray's essentials, if a) you haven't discovered him, you'll grow to love him, b) if you know him, but haven't realized just how magnificent he was, you'll begin to, and c) if you already love him, you'll grow to love him more.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Ray's Essentials

Here's Ray's line-up:

1. Easy Living (September 5, Wednesday)
2. It Happens Every Spring (September 8, Saturday)
3. The Lost Weekend (September 15, Saturday)
4. Arise, My Love! (September 22, Saturday)
5. Beau Geste (September 29, Saturday)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Star of the Month: Ray Milland

Well, to get back in the ol' swing of things, here is the star of the month for September . . . the star that I've been looking forward to doing for a couple of months now: Ray Milland. The line-up of his films will be coming out tomorrow.

Hmm. Me, Star of the Month? I like.
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