The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

★★★★

 

The Smiling Lieutenant is a 1931 romantic comedy musical directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Because it is a pre-code film, theThe Smiling Lieutenant sexuality is a major factor in the plot and within a couple of years movies like this would no longer be “appropriate” for the general audiences.

The plot concerns Lieutenant Preyn (Maurice Chevalier), who after a life of jumping from one woman’s bed to another, falls in love with a violin player named Franzi (Claudette Colbert). One afternoon while Lt. Preyn is standing at attention waiting for an arriving king and princess, he flashes a big smile at Franzi who is standing across the street. As the princess (Miriam Hopkins) rides past she thinks he is smiling (and laughing) at her. Her father calls Lt. Preyn to see him and he quickly learns that his only way out of trouble is to marry the princess who is obviously attracted to him.

The Smiling LieutenantOnce married, Lt. Preyn finds himself bored with his new wife. She isn’t the adventurous, free spirited girl that he is used too. He wanders the streets and one day comes across Franzi. They begin having an affair and soon the princess discovers what her new husband is up too. She must then decide what she can do (and what she is willing to do) to show her husband how important he is to her.

In the 1930’s, Ernst Lubitsch made some of the most sophisticated and hilarious movies ever made. He was able to combine great stories, witty dialogue, and a sexual frankness to his films that was unparalleled. Other directors tried to achieve this same style of movie, but few were as successful as Lubitsch.

The acting in The Smiling Lieutenant is fun and easy going. This seems like the kind of movie that everyone involved enjoyed filming. Maurice Chevalier spent his entire career singing andThe Smiling Lieutenant smiling, and he does both better than most. The songs are light, with clever lyrics that made me laugh and smile throughout the film. Claudette Colbert does some singing of her own, but her contributions to this film go far beyond her singing. Claudette’s character is the one we sympathize with the most. Miriam Hopkins is wonderful as always. At the start of the film she seems spoiled and frustrating, but after she stands up for herself and becomes willing to change herself to win her husband, she becomes inspirational.

With the induction of the Production Code, The Smiling Lieutenant quickly disappeared into obscurity. It was thought to be a lost film for The Smiling Lieutenantyears before a print was discovered in Denmark, in either the 1970’s or 1990’,s depending on what you are reading. No matter when it was discovered, thankfully we are able to enjoy this movie today, and surprisingly the quality is quite tremendous.

The Smiling Lieutenant was nominated for just one Academy Award, but it was a Best Picture Nominee. The same year Ernst Lubitsch had another movie (One Hour With You) that was also nominated for Best Picture. (Not a bad year.) Overall, I thoroughly loved the movie and am sure I will watch and enjoy it again many times.

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Classic Movies Playing In Theaters: October & November 2012

Once again, Cinemark has released their next series of classic movies. We have a group of six wonderful films that includes two Best Pictures winners and another Best Picture nominee. Plus, a special Halloween showing of the Mel Young FrankensteinBrooks classic, Young Frankenstein. These movies will play each Wednesday, starting October 10th and running through November 14th. Each movie will be shown twice, at 2:00 and again at 7:00. They also will once again be offering all six films for the discounted price of $30.00. For tickets and details go to Cinemark. The movies being shown are as follows:

Gone With The Wind (1939): October 10th

Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins (1964): October 17th

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954): October 25th

Young Frankenstein (1974): October 31st

The Great Escape (1963): November 7th

The Sting (1973): November 14th

The Game (1997)

★★★★★

&

My Hall Of Fame

 

In 1997, director David Fincher released his psychological thriller The Game. In the subsequent years many thrillers ofThe Game this kind have followed, but The Game still stands out as a landmark film in a genre that was in desperate need of resurgence.

Highly successful investment banker Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is turning 48 years old. Ever since his father committed suicide when he was 48, Nick has been afraid to reach this point in his life. He sees similarities in his lifestyle and that of his fathers. Because of his past and the choices he has made, he has grown increasingly greedy and unkind. He has a younger brother that he hasn’t seen in three years and an estranged ex-wife who was pushed away by his inability to love anyone or anything.

For his birthday Nick’s brother Conrad (Sean Penn) gives him a gift certificate to Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). The GameWhen Nick asks what CRS is, Conrad tells him that it’s a “game” that makes his life fun. Nick eventually goes to CRS, where he undergoes a series of tests that take up an entire day. Shortly thereafter, Nick’s “game” begins, although he quickly wishes it hadn’t. His life becomes turned upside down as CRS seems to have take all of his comfort and safety away from him. The only guidance Nick receives is from a waitress, Christine (Deborah Unger), who mysteriously is thrown into his game. Nick soon discovers from Conrad that the game is a fake and CRS is just trying to take Nick’s fortune away. Now Nick must rely on his own wit and ability to find a way out of the game before his life is destroyed completely.

The Game is the type of movie that makes you feel uncomfortable because we all fear the loss of control in our own lives. The Game Nick is a modern day Scrooge, whose life has become mundane and pointless, and his game allows him to reflect on his own life and see what a pretentious jerk he has become. Michael Douglas was the perfect actor to undertake this role. His presence on the screen is amazing. He is able to scream when he’s angry and yet appear so pitiful when he is in need. I don’t know that there are many other actors who could have pulled this role off with the same strength and perfection.

One of the greatest things about The Game is the camera movement. As you watch this film it feels as if the camera is constantly moving which gives the audience an unsettling feeling. Rather than outside observers, we become part of the movie and therefore part of the danger.

The GameWhen The Game was released in 1997, it wasn’t an overly successful movie. During it’s opening, it received mostly positive reviews and earned a respectable amount at the box office. As time went on, The Game received good word of mouth and became one of those movies that everyone seems to enjoy. Now fifteen years later, The Game is considered to be one of the films that reintroduced the “suspense thriller” to a new generation of moviegoers. The psychological thriller had lost some of its popularity over the years, but thanks to The Game (as well as a few other thrillers of the time) this genre was about to make an enormous comeback.

David Fincher was still a relatively new movie director when he undertook The Game. His first film, Alien 3 (1993),The Game although often looked down upon today, brought an even darker side to a film series that was already unnerving. In 1995, Fincher became instantly famous with his immensely popular, Se7en.  It was the success of this dark thriller that allowed Fincher to make The Game. Many thought it wouldn’t achieve the same notoriety as other suspense movies, due to the complex and involved plot, but Fincher proved it could be done. After The Game, Fincher continued to make this same type of film with Fight Club (1999), Panic Room (2002), Zodiac (2007) and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011).  All of Finchers’ movies are dark, unnerving and brilliant. The two others films he has directed (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Buttons in 2008 and The Social Network in 2010) are not “thrillers”, and oddly enough they were both extremely well received, as The Gamewell as them both being nominated for Best Picture. David Fincher has truly become one of the elite filmmakers today and has shown that with his ingenuity and skill he has the ability to one day be considered one of the all time greats.

Rear Window (1954): Paramount Centennial Blogathon

This is my contribution to the “Paramount Centennial Blogathon” hosted by The Hollywood Revue. Be sure to check out all the posts about the great movies and history that surround 100 years of Paramount.

After 100 years and thousands of movies, Paramount has left uncountable memories on everyone. They have continued to make high quality films year in and year out. Of all the movies filmed on the Paramount lot, my all time favorite is the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, Rear Window.

Rear Window is the story of photojournalist, L.B. Jefferies (Stewart). Five weeks ago he broke his leg and is confined to a wheelchair, in his apartment, for one more week. It is a small apartment that typically doesn’t get much use, but it does have large windows around the back (or should I say rear) that overlook the courtyard bellow, as well as into his neighbors’ homes. L.B., or Jeff as he is called, spends his days watching the mostly Rear Window Blogathonmundane events of the people he lives around.

Every day Jeff’s nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), comes in and rubs him down, takes his temperature, and insults his voyeuristic tendencies.  She doesn’t put up with his garbage and scolds him when she catches him eyeing the ballet dancer too much. She is in favor of Jeff settling down and getting married to his uptown girl, Lisa (Grace Kelly).

Lisa comes over every evening to check up on Jeff, and then she spends her time trying to convince him that she could give up her ways and spend the rest of her life with him, traveling the world, finding interesting and adventurous thing for him to photograph. She also spends just as much time trying toRear Window Blogathon look as beautiful as possible, to keep Jeff from breaking up with her.

As the movie opens, Jeff seems to be just an innocent snooping neighbor. He doesn’t interfere with anyone; in fact nobody knows that they are even being watched. He watches the apartments like a rotating soap opera that never ends. At the end of our first evening Jeff hears a loud, quick scream. For the rest of the night Jeff sees one of the neighbors leaving his apartment with his large suitcase and then returning again, multiple times. He begins to get suspicious, and the next morning the man’s invalid wife doesn’t appear to be in the apartment at all. Jeff tries to show Stella and Rear Window BlogathonLisa, but neither of them believe his crazy notions of foul play.

Slowly more details unfold, and Jeff is able to convince Lisa that a murder has taken place. He calls in a detective friend that he has, but once again it becomes hard to make him see things their way.

Eventually, Jeff gets Stella on his side as well, and the three of them camp out overnight in order to solve the case. It’s at this point that Jeff is no longer in control, and Lisa has taken over to follow through on what Jeff has started.

Filmed entirely on the Paramount backlot (mostly on stage 18), Rear Window was destined for greatness. In 1949, Cecil B. DeMille filmed Samson And Delilah on this stage, and then Billy Wilder used it in Sunset Boulevard (1950) for the scenes in which DeMille is filming, and again in 1953, this stage was used again for the Best Picture nominated film Shane. Then in October of 1953, construction began on stage 18 to create the brilliant set for Rear Window. It took just over a month to Rear Window Blogathoncreate this immense set that at the time was the largest set ever constructed on the Paramount lot. The building of the set included the excavation of the soundstage floor to include the basement in what would later become the courtyard in the final film.

The apartment building included 31 apartments, eight of which were fully furnished. These apartments included electricity and running water, and could be lived in full time. Because Hitchcock wanted Rear Window to be filmed from Jefferies point of view, he remained in the apartment with Jimmy Stewart and talked to the actors across the courtyard through earpieces. Between takes, Mrs. Torso (Georgine Darcy) would relax and enjoy herself as if she were at her own home. In order to simulate sunlight, Hitchcock used over 1,000 arc lights, which burned so hot that at one point Rear Window Blogathonthe heat caused the fire sprinklers to be set off.

Famed costume designer Edith Head had worked with Hitchcock previously in 1946 on Notorious, but now that he had begun his career at Paramount he developed a wonderful working relationship with her that would last for the rest of his career. Edith Head began her career at Paramount in 1924, and she quickly worked her way up the ladder until she became the greatest costume designer in Hollywood.  In her career she was nominated for an Academy Award 35 times and won six awards for Paramount movies between 1949 and 1955.

Alfred Hitchcock moved to Paramount in 1953, and chose Rear Window for his first project. He would go on to make fourRear Window Blogathon more films at Paramount, including his classics, To Catch A Thief (1955) and Vertigo (1958). Rear Window also acquired a Best Director Academy Award nomination for Hitchcock.

Although Hitchcock made several wonderful films in his career, I always think of Rear Window as his greatest achievement. Toward the beginning of the film the audience looks down on Jefferies for his voyeuristic tendencies. Much in the same way Stella judges Jefferies, we judge him as well. But as the movie progresses both Stella and the audience begin to see things the way Jefferies sees them. We all forget about “rear window ethics” and begin to look for mysteries and murders around every corner. It is a great accomplishment in this master director’s career, and a welcomed addition to Paramount’s brilliant movie collection.

This has been part of the Paramount Centennial Blogathon with portions of a previous Rear Window post.

Macbeth (1948)

★★★

 

In 1948, Orson Welles released his screen adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Both at that time and in the years since, his movie has been looked down on for being incomplete and unfaithful to Shakespeare’s original work. InMacbeth addition, the great Laurence Olivier released his Hamlet at almost the exact same time, and in comparison, Welles’ movie looks slightly inferior…but perhaps that was Welles’ goal.

Macbeth was Orson Welles’ fifth directorial effort, and he was only 33 at the time of its release. Since his previous films had some financial difficulties, no studio wanted to make something as risky as a Shakespeare adaptation with Welles in charge. He went to Republic Pictures and they agreed to join forces with him because they were looking to expand their films to include a “high class” quality of film. They gave Orson Welles $700,000, and he agreed to pay any overages. He also set himself on a regimented shooting schedule, where he only allowed himself 23 days to shoot the film. He used as Macbethmany sets and costumes that had been left behind from previous movies (mostly westerns) from Republic Studios, in order to keep the cost as low as possible. Essentially, Welles was trying to prove that you could make a film adaptation of a Shakespeare play without spending too much of the studio’s time or money.

Now admittedly the problem within this film is the script itself. A short shooting schedule required extensive cuts to be made. Welles’ Macbeth is very short (107 minutes) considering the original text. Many critics didn’t like Welles’ editing and changing of the story, but he was a man on a mission and he needed keep his movie (and himself) in control. These days most adaptations are expected to exclude large amounts of text, and perhaps in some way MacbethMacbeth showed filmmakers that it was possible, when necessary, to make those tough cuts. Not every Shakespeare movie can run over three hours.

Luckily for Macbeth, Welles brought his amazing directorial abilities, as well as his brilliant knowledge of using light and shadows, to accomplish more for the overall feeling of this film than if he would have spent a small fortune on grandiose sets. If you turn the volume down on your TV and you just watch the “art” of Macbeth, you will truly be blown away by what an exquisite film this is aesthetically.

The beauty of this film lies not in where Welles went wrong, but in what Welles was able to achieve. This was the first ever major film adaptation of Macbeth, and only the fourth Shakespeare adaptation Macbethsince the introduction of sound.  His film came in on time without spending any extra studio money.  When he decided to make a Shakespeare movie, at first he had chosen Othello, but in the end he decided it was going to be too expensive. Based on his accomplishments with Macbeth, for Welles’ next directorial movie he was able to get financing and at last be able to make Othello.

Twentieth Century (1934)

★★★★

 

Twentieth Century is a 1934 screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks. Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) is a BroadwayTwentieth Century producer who has just signed a lingerie model (Carole Lombard) to be the star of his next play. She has no experience, and little talent, but Jaffe is sure he can mold her into a star. He even changes her name to Lily Garland. Jaffe is exactly the kind of overly dramatic man who lives and breathes the theater. There is nothing as important to him as a magnificent and honest performance. He quickly teaches Lily everything that she needs to succeed, and that is exactly what she does. Lily follows every instruction that he gives, and it pays off beautifully. They produce hit after hit and she quickly becomes a huge star. Along with their success, Jaffe also generates a love for Lily, as well as an overprotective, unnerving sense of jealousy. He even goes to the extreme of hiring a detective agency to tap her phone. When Lily Twentieth Centuryfinds out how intensely crazy Jaffe has become, she packs her bags and heads out to Hollywood.

Years later, Jaffe is unable to produce anything but flops and Lily has only become more popular than before. Jaffe has boarded the “Twentieth Century” train on its way from Chicago to New York, and by some amazing coincidence, Lily is on board the same train as she heads back to Broadway. Jaffe sees Lily as his last chance for greatness, and decides that by any means necessary, he has to get Lily to sign a contract with him before the train reaches the station.

Twentieth Century is screwball comedy at its best. Everything is over the top and out of control. These characters are so far removed fromTwentieth Century the world of reality that there is little difference between their performances on the stage or their lives off the stage.

John Barrymore gives an extremely funny performance and in many ways appears to be making jokes at the expense of himself and other brilliant stage actors of his day. With his crazy eyes he appears to have lost his mind, yet at times I think he is the only character who really knows what is going on.

Carole Lombard was on her way up the ranks of comedic actress in 1934. She had a few good roles under her belt, but this was the one that separates the girl from the leading lady. She gives the best acting up to this point in her career and deserves full credit for her ability to match up with Barrymore in every scene. Howard Hawks thought she was perfect for the role, and although there were moments early Twentieth Centuryon that many had doubts, Lombard was able to reach down deep and pull out the feisty, no-nonsense woman that she is best remembered for playing.

Twentieth Century is a non-stop train ride full of laughs that everyone is sure to enjoy. I highly recommend seeing this film again and again.

Les Enfants du Paradis aka Children Of Paradise (1945)

★★★★★

&

My Hall Of Fame

 

Les Enfants du Paradis, more commonly known as Children Of Paradise (1945), is a French romance film directed by Marcel Carne. It was an instant success upon its release and is still considered to be one of the greatest French films of allChildren Of Paradise time. Children Of Paradise was called, “The French answer to Gone With The Wind. Although in America many would scoff at such a statement, when you watch this film there is an enormously grandiose feeling to the production, as well as an intense romantic story hiding beneath the surface that does seem quite reminiscent to other American epics, including Gone With The Wind. It became part of the Criterion Collection about ten years ago, but recently it was released again, this time on Blu-ray, from a newly restored restoration of the film. I am sure it hasn’t looked this good since it’s initial release 67 years ago. (And maybe not even then.)

Children Of Paradise is the story of a courtesan, Garance (Arletty), and the four men who love her and would give anything Children Of Paradiseto receive her love in return. It is the 1820’s or 1830’s, set among the Parisian theater scene. A mime, Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault), falls in love at first sight on the street. He saves her from being arrested after she is accused of stealing a watch. The watch was actually stolen by Garance’s “acquaintance” and admirer, Pierre-Francois Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), who survives through his life of crime as a thief and murderer. He loves Garance, as he loves any unobtainable object. This same morning, Garance meets an aspiring actor named Frederick (Pierre Brasseur). They flirt in the street, but soon after part ways.

Baptiste and Frederick begin working on the stage together with great success, and Baptiste even arranges for Frederick to rent a room in the same building that he lives in. Later that night Baptiste sees Garance in a tavern with Pierre-Francois and he takes her away from this life in order to include her in his. Garance goes with him, but is surprised that Baptiste is looking to help her and not just have sex with her. Baptiste gets her a room as well, and sitting on her bed in the moonlight heChildren Of Paradise professes his love for her. She doesn’t return his love, but does offer her body to him. Embarrassed, Baptiste storms off to his room for the night. After he leaves, Frederick hears Garance singing and he engages her in a conversation. Frederick quickly admits the attraction and wanting that he feels for her, and she offers her body to him as well. Frederick accepts without hesitation.

Baptiste continues to love Garance from afar, and even gives her a part in his new pantomime, putting her on a pedestal, high above all others. When he discovers that she and Frederick are involved together he is distraught and is unable to perform on the stage. Another performer that Baptiste has known for years is a girl named Nathalie (Maria Casares). She has been in love with Baptiste for years and wants nothing more than to be with him Children Of Paradiseforever.  When Baptiste is distressed, Nathalie is the only one who seems to understand his pain.

While Garance has been on stage, Cornte Edouard de Montray (Louis Salou) sees her and also falls for her beauty. He goes to see her back stage and he offers her anything to come and be his mistress. She refuses, but the Cornte leaves her his card and says that if she ever needs any help he will always be available to her. Soon after she is once again accused of a crime committed by her old friend Pierre-Francois, and in order to stay out of trouble she calls upon the Cornte for help.

The second half of the movie takes place many years later, and all of our main characters have drifted apart. Due to timely circumstances, they will all be brought together and forced toChildren Of Paradise confront their true feelings and desires for each other. Although everyone has moved on in their respective ways, when they come face to face again they have evolved and are now ready to fight for what the want.

When watching Children Of Paradise, one can’t help but marvel at the grandness of a movie of this magnitude, filmed during the Occupation. This film had everything working against it from the start. The Nazi’s wouldn’t allow any movie to run more than 90 minutes, so Carne filmed Children Of Paradise as two 90 minutes movies that go together. (At some point later an additional ten minutes was added as well.) The sets are absolutely enormous, reaching over a quarter of a mile in length. There were extensive repairs needed due to the weather, and at one point whole sections had to be transported to another location. The extras were an intriguing combination of French resistance fighters in need of “cover” work during the day, as well as Vichy sympathizers who were placed on the set. Set designer Alexander Trauner and composer Joseph Kosma were both Jewish, and were being hunted, but they still chose to work on this film in complete secrecy.

Children Of ParadiseThe story, although it may seem complex, is really a very basic love story. Everyone thinks they love Garance and they want her for themselves. Garance is unable to love anyone, and is therefore doomed to forever create pain and suffering for all those around her. She is a goddess that is unequal to the world, and just like the pedestal Baptiste puts her on in his pantomime, she looks down on everyone beneath her. She always seems to have a smile on her face, even when things seem darkest for her. She has resigned herself to living this way and since she sees no way out, she enjoys every moment the best that she can. The pain she produces for others doesn’t even seem to bother her. If they choose to leave that would be fine, and if everyone decides to share her that is all right with her as well. The only thing she can’t seem to do is bring herself to love someone in return. Arletty does a magnificent job as this sought after creation. Her performance stands out Children Of Paradiseas one of the most memorable in French cinema history.

Her “men” all give wonderful performances as well. The Cornte and Pierre-Francois are smaller roles, but nonetheless important and well acted. Pierre Brasseur is both brilliant and hysterical as Frederick. He is by far the most comical character of the story, and he plays the part beautifully. He was the least in love with Garance of the men, and this makes him the only character that can afford to not be openly jealous of Garance and her confidant.

The character of Baptiste could be one of the greatest characters ever on the screen. He is a mime that performs night after night without saying a word, getting laughs from the audience even though a smile never appears on his face. He is filled with pain, but Children Of Paradise laughed at by all around him, and for the complex character, Jean-Louis gives a truly great performance. The pain he shows on the stage is heartbreaking and emotional. Many times, with no words at all, the face of this mime can convey the feelings of a man better than several pages of dialogue.

I have never been a pantomime fan, but the scenes of Baptiste on stage are poetically beautiful. It is truly an art, and luckily Barrault had a wonderful teacher to help him prepare. Etienne Decroux was a mime that taught Barrault for this role, as well as being the teacher of the great Marcel Marceau. He also took on the role of Baptisite’s father in the film.

I feel that I could continue to talk about this movie forever. It has quickly become one of my favorites, and I wish toChildren Of Paradise continue spreading it to others who have not had the opportunity to see it yet. The Criterion Collection has done a magnificent job making it available for everyone to see, and I think to miss out on the film would not only be an injustice to yourself, but to the history of film as well.