The Reckless Moment (1949)- Max Ophuls

 ★★★★

 

“The Reckless Moment” (1949) is a dark crime film directed by German filmmaker, Max Ophuls. The story, based on “The Blank Wall” by Elisabeth Sanzay Holding, is about Lucia Harper, marvelously portrayed by Joan Bennett. Her husband is working overseas, so she is forced to play both mother and father to their almost 18-year-old, trouble-causing daughter, Bea (Geraldine Brooks), and their younger, inquisitive son, David (David Blair). The Reckless Moment (1949)Bea, an aspiring artist, has become involved with a con man named Ted (Shepperd Studwick), who she thinks will aid her in her career. Lucia is against Bea’s involvement with a man like Ted, and soon an accident leaves Ted dead. Lucia knows that her daughter will be a suspect, and attempts to cover the death up. What she never expected was Mr. Donnelly (James Mason), a smartly dressed, well-mannered young man, who appears out of nowhere, holding love letters written to Ted from Bea. He, along with his partner (Roy Roberts), blackmail Lucia, who has no idea what she should do next.

A movie like “The Reckless Moment” often goes unnoticed, or at least unappreciated because it isn’t flashy or overly sophisticated. Max Ophuls directs with care and precision. His movements glide in a fluid manner that allows the audience to enjoy, without noticing his work. He is the film’s guide, but he makes sure that he (and his work) goes unnoticed as well. He is there to make sure that everything is presented the way he intended, without letting anything interfere. The Reckless Moment (1949)Cinematographer Burnett Guffey adds his usually delightful skill to the picture, but once again, it’s the fact that he doesn’t try to do too much that helps things move along- still, he deserves to be praised.

Ophuls was known throughout his career to be a feminist director. His leading ladies aren’t there for their sex appeal, but for their talents, both the characters and the actresses. Enter Joan Bennett. Bennett is the perfect fit for this type of role, just coming out of the 1940’s that saw her play many film noir characters, and just before the 1950’s that would give her the “motherly” roles that would consume much of her time from this point forward. This is her movie. She is the leading character, and she is very much alone. She dominates scene after scene, and even seems capable of taking on these blackmailers that are messing things up. Of course it helps that her husband, Walter Wanger, served as producer on “The Reckless Moment”, so between him and Ophuls, she had plenty of support in taking on an enormous role such as this.

James Mason is a wonder to behold, in what, in all reality, is a very small but crucial role. Already, at this relatively early point in his career, his screen presence is undeniable. He plays a no-good, low-down, contemptible man, but one that has a heart. It’s not an easy role to pull off, but Mason (who we would soon discover could do anything) makes it all look so easy.

Max Ophuls is one of those directors who has flown under the radar for many years. He made his early films in Germany, but (being Jewish) left for France before WWII began. The Reckless Moment (1949)By 1941, he had to move on once again, ending up in the United States, and (somewhat unbelievably) he was unable to find work. Before returning to Europe after WWII he made four films, including “The Reckless Moment”. It, along with the underrated “Letter From an Unknown Woman” (1948), are both marvelous examples of the kind of pictures that he was capable of creating. After the War ended, and he returned to the more comfortable confines of Europe, he would go on only to direct four more films before his premature death at the age of 54. These films, “La Ronde” (1950), “Le Plaisir” (1952), “The Earrings of Madame de…” (1953), and “Lola Montes” (1955) are all magnificent features that perfectly illustrate how to turn a movie into a work of art. It was as if he could paint the images on the screen, so that forever we would have the ability of enjoying his vision- in each and every painstaking detail- just the way he would have wanted.

As long as I am standing up shouting my praise to Max Ophuls, I may as well include this short poem written about the director by James Mason, who also starred in another one of his American films, “Caught” (1949). Part in jest, part in honesty, Mason sums Ophuls’ directing style up quite nicely:The Reckless Moment (1949)

A shot that does not call for tracks

Is agony for poor old Max

Who, separated from his dolly

Is wrapped in deepest melancholy

Once, when they took away his crane

I thought he’d never smile again

 

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Nights of Cabiria (1957)- Federico Fellini

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall of Fame

 

There are some people who want to be loved so badly, they’ll tell themselves anything just to keep going. Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) is one of those people. Nights of Cabiria (1957)In the opening moments of Federico Fellini’s moving, and at times, heartbreaking masterpiece “Nights of Cabiria” (1957), we witness from afar, as Cabiria laughs and runs with her boyfriend, Giorgio (Franco Fabrizi). Frolicking together, they wind up standing, side by side, next to a fast-moving river, staring into its beauty and mystery. It is during this moment of peacefulness that Giorgio grabs Cabiria’s purse and pushes her into the water, knowing full well that she can’t swim, and leaving her to die, all for a handful of cash. After being saved by some children nearby, Cabiria returns to her home and argues with her friend (Franca Marzi), that somehow it was just a mistake- she fell, and being scared, he fled with her purse, but surely he will return to her soon. Nights of Cabiria (1957)Her desperation, and the desire to be loved by someone- anyone, is almost too much to endure.

If this opening five minutes seems a bit painful, brace yourself. It’s going to get worse. You see, Cabiria is a prostitute, and not a high-class one at that. She earns her living by having sex with people, any of which she would stay with forever, if only they’d show her any real affection (or for that matter, even some fake affection would suffice). Unfortunately for Cabiria, each one of her encounters is as meaningless as the last, fulfilling their needs, while leaving her empty. She is, quite possibly, the saddest character ever to grace the screen. Seriously, somebody just hug the poor girl! What is surprising is that despite her past, she continues to hope that love is waiting just around the corner.

Nights of Cabiria (1957)

“Nights of Cabiria” is one of the best films of all time for many reasons. It’s crafted perfectly by one of the world’s greatest directors, shot on location around one of the greatest cities in the world, and has a story that manages to touch its viewers in a way that is both comforting, and oddly unsettling at the same time.Nights of Cabiria (1957) The greatest thing about this picture, however, has nothing to do with any of that. “Nights of Cabiria” is great because of Giulietta Masina and her intense, no holds bar, tour de force performance. Everything lives and dies with her, and how she manages herself on-screen. And it’s not just her character’s sadness that makes this performance incredible. It actually has more to do with her ability as an actress to move, in a very real way, between emotions. Sadness, anger, frustration, passion, and joy. She jumps between them all, keeping the audience enthralled, crying with her as she prays for a better life, and then laughing as she walks directly into a glass door. It is a performance that includes a bit of everything, and is one of the greatest Nights of Cabiria (1957)of all time. It embodies a similarity in its heartbreaking effect to Kenji Mizoguchi’s “The Life of Oharu” (1952), but Cabiria’s upbeat outlook leave this film with an optimistic feeling that is a stark opposite to Mizoguchi’s harrowing tale.

I believe that “Nights of Cabiria”, even with all of it’s popularity, gets overlooked because Fellini made so many monumental films in his career. It’s stuck in between “La Strada” (1954) and “La Dolce Vita” (1960), with “8 1/2” (1963) coming just a few years later. When any artist creates that many “masterpieces” in such a short span of time, it’s easy for one (or some) of them to become overlooked (even if just slightly). “Nights of Cabiria” isn’t as flashy and obvious as these other classics, yet somehow it is my favorite. Perhaps it’s because it’s the most relatable. Or maybe it’s Masina’s performance. More than likely, however, it’s the simple fact that there are few things as touching and poignant as a lost soul looking for love, and having the upbeat attitude to believe that she will one day find it…somewhere.

The Power of Hindsight: 1942 at the Movies

It is time, once again, to delve back into the past and see how things look. Ever since 1928, the Academy Awards have been held, showcasing the greatest achievements in filmmaking.King's Row (1942) It is years later, however, that both audiences and critics are able to really examine all the movies, and it is then that the power of hindsight helps us to determine which films are truly the best. When putting these lists together I follow the same Best Picture criteria that is in place today (because I think it works brilliantly), meaning that there have to be five nominees, and can’t be more than ten. When looking back into the golden age of cinema it’s easy to come up with ten nominees, in fact it wouldn’t be hard to pick 15 or 20, but doing it this way separates the “greats” from the “goods”. This also gives the opportunity to look at smaller films that were perhaps panned upon their initial release, but have grown in popularity over the years. Sometimes there are foreign language films that weren’t seen by enough people, sometimes an animated film becomes a “classic”. There are so many things that time can change, but the power of hindsight helps clear everything up.

Cat People (1942)

When it comes to 1942, there are some release dates that need to be mentioned, just to make things clear. For starters, the David Lean film, “In Which We Serve” Now, Voyager (1942)was released in the UK on September 17th, 1942, and the United States on December 23rd, 1942. I don’t know which technicality made it eligible for the Academy Awards in 1943 instead of 1942 (it was a Best Picture nominee in ’43), but for the sake of this article, I am going to consider it a film from 1942. Likewise there is another British film, “The 49th Parallel” aka “The Invaders”, which was released in the UK November 24th, 1941, but in the United States April 15th, 1942, making it eligible for a Best Picture nomination (which it received) in 1942. For our purposes, however, we will consider this a film from 1941.

To start with, here are the ten Best Picture nominees from 1942:

  • “The Invaders” aka (“The 49th Parallel”)The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
  • “King’s Row”
  • “The Magnificent Ambersons”
  •  “Mrs. Miniver”
  • “The Pied Piper”
  • “The Pride of the Yankees”
  • “Random Harvest”
  • “The Talk of the Town”
  • “Wake Island”
  • “Yankee Doodle Dandy”

Those are some pretty impressive films!

Random Harvest (1942)

Let’s address each of these, one by one. “The Invaders”, as discussed before, was released in 1941, so no longer can be eligible. “King’s Row” is a good drama, but today doesn’t hold up quite as well. Lot’s of drama and good performances, but ultimately it is a bit of a letdown. Orson Welles’ follow-up to “Citizen Kane” the Pride of the Yankees (1942)was the enormous undertaking of “The Magnificent Ambersons”, which although did receive some negative comments in 1942, still managed to gain a Best Picture nomination. Oddly enough, with the passing years it is regarded higher today than at any time in the past. “Mrs. Miniver” was the Best Picture winner in 1942, and for my money, it deserved to be. What a fantastic film, filled with memorable performances and unparalleled beauty. “The Pied Piper”, on the other hand…not so much. It’s still a good movie, but I don’t think it has lived up to that coveted Best Picture status. “The Pride of the Yankees” is a wonderful movie for many reasons. Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, and Teresa Wright are all amazing, and the story of Lou Gehrig is an important one, that director Sam Wood does a beautiful job of telling.Talk of the Town (1942) I know some people find “Random Harvest” to be a bit melodramatic, but I completely disagree. This film is so moving that I can’t help but be affected by its poignancy. “The Talk of the Town” is a hard film to classify. Part drama, part comedy, it is the kind of picture that could have trouble finding an audience, yet everyone seems to enjoy this well-blended mix, as well as the great performances from Ronald Colman, Jean Arthur, and Cary Grant. “Wake Island” is a good war movie, and I see how it was nominated upon its release, but there are plenty of other war films that are just as good if not better, so today it becomes a little lost in the shuffle of time. And that (at long last) brings us around to “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. What a film, and what a performance. There is just no arguing that one.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

I know what you’re thinking, all of those films are great, perhaps we should just leave the list alone, right?. Well, as great as those ten films are, I think they can be improved some, especially after examining the other releases from 1942. Les Visiteurs de Soir (1942)But where to begin? There are some films that offer great performances such as Van Heflin in “Johnny Eager”, Rosalind Russell in “My Sister Eileen”, Joan Crawford in “Reunion in France”, Bette Davis in “Now, Voyager”, or Katharine Hepburn in “Woman of the Year”. In addition to “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, there are some other notable musical films like Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in “Holiday Inn”, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly in “For Me and My Gal”, Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in “You Were Never Lovelier”, and even Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s classic “Road to Morocco”. And then there were foreign films of note, including Yasujiro Ozu’s “There was a Father” and the amazing “Les Visiteurs du Soir” directed by Marcel Carne. Also, there were a couple of legendary directors who released films in 1942, like Cecil B. DeMille’s “Reap the Wild Wind” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Saboteur”. The Major and the Minor" (1942)So many great movies… but we’re not done yet. What about Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and Sydney Greenstreet in “Across the Pacific”, or Jean Gabin and Ida Lupino in “Moontide”? How about the Disney animated classic “Bambi”? Lest we forget to include (even if just because we love it so much) the B horror classic, “Cat People”.

Even after all of that, it was comedies that were the real highlight in 1942, and they didn’t get too much attention from the Academy either (as usual). Billy Wilder made his American debut with the hilarious “The Major and the Minor”, starring Ray Milland and Ginger Rogers,The Palm Beach Story (1942) and there was also Rene Clair’s comedic “I Married a Witch”, with Frederic March and Veronica Lake. And then the great Preston Sturges followed up his amazing 1941 (“The Lady Eve” & “Sullivan’s Travels”) with the riotous Claudette Colbert/Joel McCrea picture, “The Palm Beach Story”. The highlight of the comedy world, however, belongs to another brilliant and hilarious director, Ernst Lubitsch. His 1942 film “To Be or Not To Be” is too good for words, and remains today one of the funniest motion pictures of all time. Carol Lombard and Jack Benny are perfect, and I still don’t understand how this film didn’t receive more acclaim upon its initial release.

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

It could go without saying that there were enough films to fill two good years in 1942, but now comes the difficult part of narrowing things down to just ten, which incidentally, was harder than I ever expected. I had to make some tough choices, and I am sure that a couple of my decisions will be unpopular, but ten nominees means ten nominees. Here is my list of nominees; the ten best films of 1942.

Of course, with so many memorable titles, it might be easy to disagree! I, for one, can’t believe that I don’t have room for “Talk of the Town”, “Moontide” or “Now, Voyager”, all of which I thought had a good chance to make the final cut. If only all years were as fantastic as 1942. You can also read more on The Power of Hindsight with my thoughts on 1936, 1954 or 1963.

Moontide (1942)

 

 

Whirlpool (1949)- Otto Preminger

 ★★★

 

“Whirlpool” is a film noir, crime, suspense movie effectively written by Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt, based on the novel, “Methinks the Lady”, by Guy Endore.Whirlpool (1949) The story revolves around a well to do, attractive woman named Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), who also happens to be a kleptomaniac. Her husband, Dr. Sutton (Richard Conte), is a renowned psychoanalyst, who knows nothing of his wife’s condition. When she is caught shoplifting in a department store, the smooth talking David Korvo (Jose Ferrer) come to her rescue and gets her out of trouble. It turns out that he is a hypnotist, and he claims that he can help Ann to overcome her problem. Things go wrong, as Korvo ends up being more than Ann suspects, and she gets mixed up in a crime. Lt Colton (Charles Bickford) comes in to help sort out the facts and psychological details, but Korvo has planned things far better than anyone could have expected.

Otto Preminger is a brilliant director, whose expertise and skill in the crime genre seem to have no limit. “Whirlpool”, however, doesn’t bring everything together.Whirlpool (1949) Is it even really a crime film, or is it just a psychological melodrama? In the years before “Whirlpool”, Preminger delivered time and time again with films like “Laura” (1944), “Fallen Angel” (1945), and even “Daisy Kenyon” (1947), but this one just doesn’t have the excitement of his previous pictures.

What is strange is that there isn’t anything wrong with the construction of “Whirlpool”. The script flows nicely, and the story is interesting. Legendary Oscar-winning cinematographer Arthur C. Miller contributes with his usual high quality skills, and David Raskin provides an unsettling eerie score that seems to fit the overall feel perfectly.

And then there is the acting, which quite honestly, couldn’t be any better.Whirlpool (1949) Gene Tierney is marvelous, especially because she always seems to have that far off distant look in her eyes anyway, so playing a woman under hypnosis fits quite well. Jose Ferrer can do almost anything, but he plays evil best, and “Whirlpool” offers him plenty of chances to shine. Richard Conte and Charles Bickford aren’t given much screen time, but they use it effectively. All in all, it’s a wonderful ensemble picture, and this cast of professionals mesh together extremely well.

The only problem here is that with everything- all the work and all the effort-nothing ever really happens. It sounds interesting and exciting, but doesn’t develop beyond what’s on the surface. Essentially, the first twenty minutes is good, but as things progress it just doesn’t get better.

Whirlpool (1949)“Whirlpool” is one of those rare missteps for Otto Preminger. He would follow this one up with the superior “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1950), also with Gene Tierney, the hard to find, “The 13th Letter” (1951), and (one of my personal favorites) “Angel Face” (1952). He has the ability to make films that are entertaining time and time again, and I suppose “Whirlpool” will just have to go under the heading of close… but not quite enough.

Maleficent- The Great Villain Blogathon

When I heard that Silver Screenings, Shadows & Satin, and Speakeasy were going to do a blogathon about villains, I was extremely excited. After all, I have a life long obsession with screen villains, and all of their nastiness. Although some find it hard to appreciate a good villain, I for one, find them to (typically) be the more interesting characters in a movie. Their motivations are all-encompassing, and their dedication to achieving whatever their goals may be, is a true testament as to how far someone is willing to go in order to succeed. The list of great villains is a long one that made picking one monumentally difficult. The one villain, however, that has stuck with me the longest as being the most evil-most devoid of anything good- is Aurora’s nemesis from Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), Maleficent.

 Maleficent

There are several reasons for my believing Maleficent to be such an important and unforgettable screen villain. Her name, for instance, which isn’t even really a name, you know? It’s an adjective meaning: doing evil or harm, and is itself a portmanteau of malevolent and magnificent. Malevolent and magnificent. Think about that combination for a second!

And have you seen this woman? I say woman, really she is just a (very evil) fairy godmother, hence the magic spells, teleportation abilities, and lightning bolts that she shoots from her fingers. Not to mention that whole turning into a dragon thing. The first thing that you notice about Maleficent is that she knows how to make an entrance. The doors burst open, making the candles go out and the room go dark. Everyone gasps, but still nothing, that is except for her pet raven, Diablo. Then there comes a will-o-the-wisp that travels to the center of the room, and the center of everyone’s attention. She transforms into the light-green skinned fairy with a gown of black and dark purple wrapped around her. She glides (not walks) across the room with the beauty of a ballet dancer, making an entrance that has the reverence of royalty. Everyone stays silent and in awe because of their fear of her, and their respect for what she can accomplish. She announces that her presence here in the castle is only to congratulate the kingdom on the birth of the new princess, as her lack of an invitation to the Royal Christening surely must have been an oversight.

 Maleficent

Of course, it wasn’t an accident that Maleficent was left off of the guest list, just like it wasn’t an accident that she showed up anyway.  You see, like so many screen villains, Maleficent is doomed because of her hatred toward others. Why is she this way? It doesn’t matter. After all, she had to have made some bad life decisions somewhere along the lines to end up at this point. Unfortunately, her hatred has grown too large. For instance, forget the fact that she dooms the poor infant Princess Aurora to death. That isn’t enough.  She chooses to draw it out, so that her death will occur some time in the next 16 years. The worry of a parent to know every day could be “the” day is an awful fate to have to endure. Then, once Maleficent is successful in putting Aurora into her “deep slumber”, Maleficent does something so spiteful and mean, I can’t even begin to fathom how far and deep her hatred runs. She captures Aurora’s true love- the one man who can bring her back to life- and instead of killing him, ensuring her own victory, she imprisons him, explaining that she is going to keep him alive for 100 years, and then release him to ride to his princess’ rescue. Of course he will be too old to have a life with her, but that is just what Maleficent wants. She’s not going to keep them apart forever, just longer enough to destroy their lives and ensure their misery.

Maleficent

You see, the nickname Mistress of all Evil is not an exaggeration. If you need any more convincing, look at the fact that it takes three “good” fairies, and all their abilities to get Prince Philip out of his dungeon, and then when good finally has a chance to triumph, Maleficent pulls out all the stops and transforms into the most incredible dragon ever seen. Donning the same purple and black, with eyes that look like dark pits into the recesses of Hell, Maleficent attacks Philip and toys with him, giving the three good fairies plenty of time to pull all of their good magic together and finally come up with some way to defeat her. Even in the end, it took all their strength to kill her. No one person or fairy could have done it on their own.

Maleficent

Marc Davis was the principal animator in charge of Maleficent. As one of Disney’s famous Nine Old Men, Davis was responsible for many important Disney characters, such as Cinderella, Alice, Tinkerbell, and later Cruella De Vil. He also was responsible for Aurora. Davis is one of the greatest animators of all time, and is also one of the few recipients of the prestigious “mousecar” award. (Half mouse/half Oscar.) Eleanor Audley provided the vile voice of Maleficent (after also being Lady Tremaine in “Cinderella”), and while working on “Sleeping Beauty”, Davis listened to voice recordings that she had made of her dialogue. The evilness of her voice helped to inspire her final look.  Audley, along with dancer Jane Fowler, were also used as live action references to the animation team.

There are many great villains throughout the history of film. Some are scary, some are fearsome, and others still, have a psychological effect that stays with their audiences. Maleficent is scary. She is fearsome, and she will toy with everyone psychologically. The one area where she surpasses so many others is that she truly is pure evil. Nothing good could ever come from her. If you mess with her, be prepared for hate, revenge, anger, and all the powers of Hell to come with her to the fight. Beware and be ready, because you have been warned.

Maleficent

This post is part of The Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings, Shadows & Satin, and Speakeasy. I want to thank them for hosting such an enjoyable event, and I want to encourage you to read more of the many posts from the world of movie lovers.

Orphans of the Storm (1921)- D.W. Griffith

 ★★★★★

 

Everything has a beginning, and film is no different. Yes, it is true that film was “invented” by many, over a course of a few years, but the invention of filmmaking (at least in the sense of the word today) can be attributed to D.W. Orphans of the Storm (1921)Griffith and his innovative, pioneering ways. Any opportunity to see one of Griffith’s 500 plus full length or short films is probably time well spent, but there are five films; five masterful works of art that should be sought out and seen, quite simply because they are (possibly) five of the best 10 or 15  films of the silent era. These films are “Birth of a Nation” (1915), “Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages” (1916), “Broken Blossoms” (1919), “Way Down East” (1921), and his final masterpiece, “Orphans of the Storm” (1921).

Based on the 1874 French play “Les Deux Orphalines” by Adolphe d’Ennery and Eugene Cormon, “Orphans of the Storm” is a melodrama surrounding two adopted sisters, just before and during the French Revolution. In the opening minutes we see a duchess who is forced to give up her baby daughter (Louise), and the child is left in the snow-covered steps of Notre Dame with a handful of money and a note begging for someone to take care of her. Orphans of the Storm (1921)Moments later, a man without enough money to feed himself or his wife, brings his own infant daughter (Henriette) to the same steps, in hopes of finding someone else to feed and care for her. At the sight of Louise, the man is overcome by the severity of his actions and he takes both children home with him.

Jumping forward, Louise (Dorothy Gish) and Henriette (Lillian Gish) have grown up to be loving sisters, who want nothing more than to be together. Both parents are dead, and Louise has been left blind by an illness. Together they travel to Paris to see if they can have her eyesight restored, but as soon as they arrive, Henriette is kidnapped by a lustful aristocrat, leaving Louise to wander the streets aimlessly.

The remainder of this epic is split into two stories of the sisters trying to find each other, once again all in the midst of the impending French Revolution. Orphans of the Storm (1921)Henriette gets involved romantically with a good-natured aristocrat (Joseph Schildkraut), and Louise finds herself imprisoned by a street beggar (the great, frightening, and sadly forgotten Lucille La Verne), who uses her blindness as a way to gain sympathy from rich aristocrats passing by.

There are times during the first half of this epic that things seem to be moving slowly. That’s a mistake, however, it just seems that way. It’s all setting the stage for the second half that almost has too much drama to be contained on the screen. Griffith’s great films are so elaborate- so large that one can’t help but be wowed by how much he was able to do. He knew how he wanted everything to look, and impossible was not a word in his vision. Orphans of the Storm (1921)“Orphans of the Storm”, although not as large as “Intolerance”, is an enormous undertaking, with extensive sets and costumes at every turn.

Both Dorothy and Lillian Gish give amazingly poetic and intense performances. There is enough drama and pain in their eyes to fill two movies. They pour everything into their characters, making acting the highlight in a picture full of highlights. Any time you see either Lillian or Dorothy in a Griffith film, you can be sure to be effected in a way you won’t soon forget. There is a reason that their performances are still applauded almost one hundred years later, and if you don’t understand the reason, just give “Orphans of the Storm” a chance to prove it to you.

Broadway Melody of 1936 (1936)-Roy Del Ruth

 ★★★

 

The “Broadway Melody” films that MGM released between 1929 and 1940 are a series of four pictures that have nothing in common except for their name. They are, typically speaking, low on plot and high on musical talent. Broadway Melody of 1936 (1936)They also were extremely successful. The second of the four, “Broadway Melody of 1936” (1936), was the first of three to star Eleanor Powell, and also receives a boost from Jack Benny in a comic relief supporting performance. The plot, however, is nothing too exciting, and leaves the audience begging for more dancing…and Eleanor Powell.

Irene Foster (Powell) is an aspiring musical performer who travels to New York City to see a big time theater producer, Robert Gordon (Robert Taylor), who also happens to be an old friend from high school. He is against Irene trying to be a performer, but his secretary (Una Merkel) teams with Irene to prove her talents to Gordon. It seems that everybody except for Gordon is anxious to get Irene dancing. There is the brother/sister dance team (real life brother and sister Vilma & Buddy Ebsen), who become Irene’s friends, and she even convinces a gossip columnist (Jack Benny) and his slap-stick Broadway Melody of 1936 (1936)side kick (Sid Silvers), to lend a helping hand.

Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed put together a handful of decent songs for this picture, most of which are more remembered today as being recycled in the more popular “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952). In fact, “Broadway Melody of 1936” was well received upon its initial release and was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Story (I don’t get that one), and my favorite (forgotten) category, Best Dance Direction, which it won! An even more impressive feat when you consider the tough competition from “Top Hat” (1936).

It’s a good thing that this film does have such marvelous dancing, because the rest kind of falls short. Jack Benny and Sid Silvers are funny, but aren’t given enough screen time to make a significant impact. Broadway Melody of 1936 (1936)This movie (like so many 1930’s musicals) is really just about the dancing anyway. And that my friends, is where Eleanor Powell is allowed to shine. She is absolutely amazing in dance after dance, scene after scene. Her movements are an inspiration, and when she really gets going in her highlighted dance number, Powell becomes the very definition of sexy. She’s a breath of fresh air every time she starts moving, and the overall picture could have benefited significantly from more of her and less of everything else. If she is the only reason you watch “Broadway Melody of 1936”, believe me, that is reason enough. She gets ★★★★★, and the rest of the film only gets ★★.