My Love Came Back 1940

My Love Came Back (1940)- Curtis Bernhardt

 ★★★

“My Love Come Back” (1940) is a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy, made fun by a charismatic star captivating her audience. The plot is basic, as each scene leads right into the next with plenty of coiencedences and few (if any), surprises.My Love Came Back 1940 Oddly enough the downfalls of the picture are forgettable as Olivia de Havilland so easily tranforms a below average script and story into a fun, breezy film, that although may lack in out-loud laughter, certainly has plenty of smiles and grins. The plot, as I stated is quite simple. Poor struggling classical violinist Amelia (Olivia de Havilland) is considering leaving her music conservatory because she needs money and her good-hearted friends (Jane Wyman & Eddie Albert) have put together a jazz band, that with her on board could make plenty of money for her to be comfortable. Julius Malette (Charles Winninger) is a wealthy music-loving man, who decides to sit as president of her conservatory, not for his love of the arts, but because, despite a significant age difference (not to mention a wife), he is attracted to Amelia. When he discovers that she is leaving, he begins sending her money annonomously disguised as a scholarship. He also starts sending her musical gifts, and taking her out on the town to concerts, My Love Came Back 1940operas, and even the circus… you know, to improve her appreciation of music. One night, Julius is reminded by his wife (the always entertaining Spring Byington) that it is their anniversary. He calls upon the vice president of his company (Jeffrey Lynn), and requests that he meet Amelia instead. Of course the two quickly hit things off, but he (wrongly) assumes that Amelia is already Julius’s mistress, thus leading to a series of misunderstandings and confusion amongst friends, family members and pretty much everybody in the film. Despite a running time of 81 minutes, “My Love Came Back” could be shorted up into the length of a tv sitcom. Every major and most of the minor plot points are regrettably frustrating and overly ridiculous. de Havilland however, still comes riding in to save the day. She is the bright shinning light that not just makes the movie watchable, but makes it enjoyable. Her eyes glisten and her smile sparkles making even the dullest scenes once again fun. Every scene that lacks her presence, is dark and dreary, but then Olivia comes gliding in once again, and the audience has a chance to take a deep breath and smile. Even the supporting cast seems to be sad when she isn’t there.My Love Came Back 1940 S.Z. Sakall (who is always funny), Jeffrey Lynn and Charles Winninger all have scenes without de Havilland, but even they seem to be in a rush to get through them and move on. It really is too bad she couldn’t be in every scene! I know it sounds weird to say, but there are few actresses who could take a film such as this and elevate it to, not just something tolerable, but something fun and amusing. Then again, there are few women like Olivia de Havilland, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

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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 ★★.

The Heavenly Body (1944)-Alexander Hall

 ★★

 

The Whitleys are a happily married couple. At least that’s what famed astronomer William Whitley (William Powell) thinks. His wife, Vicky (Hedy Lamarr), has grown increasingly tired of waiting for her husband to put the stars on the back burner, and promoting her to the major focus of his life. Hedy Lamarr and William Powell in "The Heavenly Body" (1944)She’s become impatient, and at the urging of her excentric neighbor (Spring Byington), she is convinced to look to the stars herself, only instead of a telescope, she uses an astrologer (Fay Bainter). Her astrologer tells her that she is going to meet someone special, and being a foolish, frustrating person to watch, Vicky explains to her husband that their marriage is now over.

William becomes more annoyed than concerned, until of course Vicky meets their air raid warden (James Craig), who just happens to fit the description of Vicky’s mystery man. William must now go on full alert to keep his marriage alive, all the while being consumed by the most important scientific event of his career.

It seems that “The Heavenly Body” (1944) may have been made specifically because of the success of William Powell and Hedy Lamarr’s previous film, “Crossroads” (1942). Hedy Lamarr and William Powell in "The Heavenly Body" (1944)Between Powell’s appearance in the fourth Thin Man, “The Shadow of the Thin Man” (1941), and the fifth installment, “The Thin Man Goes Home” (1945), his only starring roles were in these two Hedy Lamarr films. World War II, and Myrna Loy’s absence from acting during this time, unfortunately, hurt his career. Screwball comedy is well within his ability, but with the exception of a couple of good scenes and some nicely written dialogue courtesy of Michael Arlen and Walter Reisch, “The Heavenly Body” falls into the category of mediocre.

Hedy Lamarr is a good co-star for Powell, despite their 22 year age difference. In fact her youth and free-spirited attitude adds to the gullibility of her innocent and naive character. She is a good fit for “The Heavenly Body”, and shows her ability to do screwball comedy, paired with one of the best.

The downfall, or perhaps more appropriately, the serious cataclysm of “The Heavenly Body” is that Vicky so blindly listens to her astrologer, and casts aside her obviously loving husband, even though she has never believed in astrology before.

It’s new to her and she is willing to test it out, but to end a marriage on that test seems more than far-fetched or screwball- it seems stupid. The Heavenly Body (1944)As the plot continues, it is easy to get angry with Vicky, especially considering that William wasn’t even a bad husband, and obviously loves her. It’s hard to enjoy a romantic comedy when one of the characters behaves so ridiculously.

The supporting cast is fun to watch. Especially Spring Byington, in a role that is far too small, as well as the group of Russians  that come over a “teach” William the best way to drink vodka. Less emphasis on the astrology and more on the crazy situations that William keeps walking into, would have made for a funnier, laugh-out-loud successful formula. It also would have made a better screwball comedy. As hard as it is to find a William Powell comedy with flaws, “The Heavenly Body” is here.

It Started with Eve (1941)- Henry Koster

 ★★★★

 

“It Started with Eve” (1941) is the last of six films that had the dynamic creative collaboration of director Henry Koster, producer Joe Pasternak, and acting/singing sensation Deanna Durbin. It also (quite possibly) is their funniest. Of course instead of giving them all the credit, I must point out that what makes this film wonderful has more to do with a delightfully witty screenplay written by Norman Krasna and Leo Townsend,  and a commanding and hilarious performance from the somewhat surprisingly comical Charles Laughton.

You see, Jonathan Reynolds (Laughton), the towering, powerful man, who grabs headlines every time he leaves his home, is in fact, dying.It Started with Eve (1941) His loving son, Johnny (Robert Cummings), rushes to his father’s enormous mansion and kneels next to the bed in time to hear the dying man’s request to set his eyes on his only child’s fiance before death comes. Johnny, being an obliging son, frantically drives across town to the hotel where his fiance, Gloria (Margaret Tallichet), is staying with her mother (Catherine Doucet). Unfortunately, they aren’t in, and Johnny feels that all is lost.

But wait! Johnny’s luck is about to change as a hat check girl, Anne (Deanna Durbin), agrees to pose as Johnny’s fiance, just to help out. (Isn’t that sweet of her?) Anne meets Mr. Reynolds, who is impressed with her girl-next-door appearance and down-to-earth mentality. So much so in fact, that he makes a remarkable recovery and is back on his feet in no time. Good news for him- bad news for Johnny and Anne as they have to figure out some way to break the news of their lie to the old man, without him relapsing.

Although “It Started with Eve” is a highly predictable story, the entire production still benefits from a great script and a cast who clearly know how to get the job done. Robert Cummings spends the majority of the film running in circles with an I’m so confused and overwhelmed look on his face, but he steps things up when the scene needs him too. Deanna Durbin does what Deanna Durbin always does best- she looks cute and likeable, and she sings.It Started with Eve (1941) She also gets to mix things up with both Cummings and Charles Laughton, which gives her a chance to do some more physical comedy with Cummings and a more dialogue driven humor with Laughton.

It is the great Charles Laughton who deserves the most praise, in a role that is a far cry from his successful performances from the 1930’s. Don’t get me wrong, he can always be funny in a smaller, quieter way, as is evident in a film like “The Private Lives of Henry VIII” (1933). In “It Started with Eve,” however, his humor and comedic style is much more evident and substantially more appreciated. He also has the advantage of playing a character that is supposed to be substantially older than he was. In fact, Laughton was only 42 years old at the time of this film’s release, making Robert Cummings (playing his son) only 11 years his junior. Laughton sulks around many of his early scenes, reminding the audience of his deteriorating body and fragile bones, but it’s all just a set-up to show how youthful he now feels by having Anne in his and his son’s life. Truthfully speaking, I wish Laughton had made more films such as this one, as he has a refreshing and highly enjoyable style that truly does leave the audience wanting more.

Her (2013)- Spike Jonze

 ★★★★★

 

Throughout my conversations with fellow film enthusiasts over the years, I have often come across those who will scoff at the idea of King Kong and Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) being one of the greatest film romances. If you find that you fall into this category of scoffers, perhaps Spike Jonze’s latest cinematic endeavor, “Her,” (2013) is not the film for you. True, there are no large, savage apes attempting to woo Miss Darrow in this film, but the unlikely romance between a seemingly ordinary man and his sultry, intelligent operating system does prove to be just as complicated…and just as sweet.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is an average, intelligent man, living in Southern California, at some point in the not-so-distant future. He is a sad, lonely man, trying to come to terms with his separation and pending divorce from his life-long love, Catherine (Rooney Mara).  He works as a surrogate card writer for those who are unable to find the right words to talk to their loved ones, but since his life has begun spiraling downward, he finds that he lacks some of his lyrical creativity from the past.

Her (2013)

In order to bring some order back into his life (or perhaps just to break up the monotony of evenings spent playing video games and having phone sex with random women), Theodore gets himself an operating system who calls herself Samantha (seductively voiced by Scarlett Johansson). There is an instantaneous connection between Theodore and Samantha, but (for obvious reasons) neither of them are quite sure how to move their relationship forward. Theodore embraces his new love, but is wary of the long-term complications that come attached. He does feel somewhat better after sharing the true facts of his new girlfriend with his long-time friend and neighbor, Amy (Amy Adams), who sees the advantages to Theodore’s situation, whilst experiencing marital problems of her own.

The numerous problems that come from having an actual relationship with an operating system seem obvious, but it’s not that simple. After all, every argument that one can make for why it doesn’t work can be thrown right out the window the moment that you see the way Theodore lights up when he hears Samantha’s voice, and by the joy that they share just being together.Her (2013) I can’t sit here and say that it isn’t weird to watch them evolve as a couple, but I would be lying to say that I wasn’t rooting for their love to last.

Of course there are three, somewhat simple reasons, that watching this film and these characters is so easy to do. Firstly, we have the great Joaquin Phoenix. There are a handful of actors working today that possess the dedication and ability to pull off any role at any time, and Phoenix is one of them. So much of this film requires him to sit, or stand, or walk somewhere while talking to Samantha, but the only thing that he can play off of is her voice. There are no eyes to stare into as he tenderly speaks his lines, no mouth to kiss while he lies in bed. He is alone, even when he is with her. In one of many famous scenes in the classic “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), actress Lina Lamont (Jean Hagan) yells to her director that it’s hard to face the microphone while playing her love scene because, “Well, I can’t make love to a bush!” Perhaps Lina can’t, but Joaquin Phoenix sure can. I don’t even know where he would begin to prepare for a role such is this, and the fact that he makes it looks so easy is a true credit to himself as an actor.

Her (2013)

The second reason is filmmaker extraordinaire Spike Jonze. Love his films or hate them, you have to appreciate his creative abilities. His stories, characters, direction, dialogue, and even his song this time around (The Moon Song) all come from a creative place that most of us will never be able to fathom. He is a true visionary at a time when the cinematic world needs his gift dearly, and “Her” is just his latest in a line of immensely creative films, but it is also his best.

And then lastly we have Scarlett Johansson. Well, not Scarlett herself, but her voice anyway. I have always been of the opinion that voice acting doesn’t fall into the same league as physical acting. Even the best of voice performances can’t capture the same kind of passion and intensity, right? Wrong. In fact I couldn’t have been more wrong. Scarlett Johansson plays a character that is basically trying to prove that she is more than just a voice, and that is exactly what she has done. She is not a just a voice, she is a character, and a well-played one at that.

Her (2013)

“Her” is not a film for everyone, although I think everyone could take something from “Her”. In a world that continues to put technological progress on the front burner, it is not hard to imagine Theodore and Samantha’s world one day becoming a reality. And if their world can be real, so can their unusual, but unorthodox love. And all without any tragic end atop the Empire State Building.

Too Many Husbands (1940)- Wesley Ruggles

 ★★★★

 

The ultimate screwball comedy dilemma… “Too Many Husbands”. That is the problem that dear, sweet Vicky (Jean Arthur) must face in this witty, highly entertaining screwball comedy from 1940.Too Many Husbands (1940) Vicky was happily married to Bill (Fred MacMurray), who went away on a month-long boating trip, and after some kind of incident, was assumed drowned. Within six months, Vicky has remarried, this time to Henry (Melvyn Douglas), who not only is Bill’s former business partner, but also his best friend. Now, another six months later, Bill has been rescued from a deserted island and has returned, much to everyone’s surprise, as well as his own bewilderment. Vicky is now faced with the monumental moral decision: does she go back to her original husband, or just continue on as if he was still dead?

Just in case she needs any help, both men are dead set on competing for her affections, which incidentally, gives Vicky a little too much enjoyment. The more they fight over her, the more pleasure she seems to receive. She also has the guidance of her father (Harry Davenport), although she doesn’t seem very inclined to listen to him anyway.Too Many Husbands (1940) He’s just there for an extra bit of humor, and (much in the way Davenport did throughout his career) he doesn’t disappoint.

“Too Many Husbands” is based on the 1919 play “Home and Beauty,” by W. Somerset Maugham, which in turn is based (or at least inspired) by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “Enoch Arden”. It is also not the only film version based on Tennyson’s work that was released in 1940. Leo McCarey wrote and directed a somewhat similar version of this story, “My Favorite Wife” (1940), starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Although many of the plot points are the same, each has its strengths, and focuses on separate details of the characters’ precarious situation, leaving plenty of room for screwball fun.

Where “Too Many Husbands” stands out is in the cast, with their amazing chemistry and highly enjoyable repartee. Too Many Husbands (1940)Arthur treats each of her husbands with a love and admiration that really exemplifies how deeply she cares for each of them. She loves them both, wants them both, and at several points seems to be contemplating how she might be able to finagle some way to remain with both of them. Jean Arthur thrives in screwball comedies, and “Too Many Husbands” is no exception. It gives her ample opportunities to make us love everything about her.

Despite MacMurray’s and Douglas’ characters despising the situation that has been thrust upon them, their still have a friendship and bond, that runs deeply underneath everything else. Their witty banter makes the uncomfortable nature of the story fade with a relative ease. Both are large, strong, towering men, but when faced with losing Arthur, they seem to revert back to young boys on a school-yard, vying for her attentions; and they do it well.

Too Many Husbands (1940)The strength of this film is also its greatest weakness, however. We love these three characters so much, we don’t want anyone to be left out. We want to see this situation work itself, even though it’s obvious that it can’t. The filmmakers were clearly undecided on how they wanted their own film to end, and therefore made it hard for everyone in the audience to be satisfied. Although there is no clear  “happy ending” waiting for everyone, that doesn’t make the ride any less enjoyable.

The Mad Miss Manton (1938)- Leigh Jason

 ★★★★

 

The lovely Miss Melsa Manton (Barbara Stanwyck) isn’t really mad, although she does tend to make some crazy and ill-advised decisions. For example,  just as the film opens and she arrives home from a costume party, she decides to take her dogs for a walk… alone… at night… in New York… in a costume. Sure that might not seem too crazy, but then when she witnesses a man sprinting from a dark house into his car and speeding away, she decides that it’s her responsibility to investigate. The Mad Miss Manton (1938)After tying the dogs up outside, Miss Manton proceeds inside where she stumbles across a dead body and makes the first smart decision of her evening by calling the police. Of course Lieutenant Brent (Sam Levene) has trouble believing Manton because of her history as a snobbish, trouble-making socialite, and the fact that she is wearing a highly provocative (and childlike) costume. It doesn’t help her case that the dead body has disappeared, leaving no trace to be found; even by a team of screwball comedy detectives that were born to be characters in a film like this one.

Melsa, however, is undeterred by the police and their lack of faith. She, along with her misguided and completely ridiculous group of friends, have every intention of proving that a murder was committed, even at the risk of their own peril. Just to make their mission one  of greater importance, a news editor, Peter Ames (Henry Fonda), printed an article about Miss Manton and her seemingly ridiculous antics. The Mad Miss Manton (1938)That’s when Melsa storms into Ames’s office, threatening to sue for libel. Of course, just as fast as she storms in she also manages to steal Ames’s attention. He’s instantly enamored by  her charms and beauty, and is perfectly willing to risk his own safety for her.

“The Mad Miss Manton” is exactly the kind of middle-of -the-road screwball comedy that was being produced in the late 1930’s. It has a delightful yet unrealistic plot, it’s full of characters that make jokes despite being in seriously danger constantly, and the police seem to be the most clueless people on the planet, while our average everyday people (like Melsa) are perfectly suited to be crime fighters. It is also just an average film technically speaking. Director Leigh Jason is not a name everybody knows, not because he didn’t have talent, but because his movies tend to be good, not great.

The funny thing here is that “The Mad Miss Manton”, despite the points I have mentioned, is an above average movie.The Mad Miss Manton (1938) The reason it is able to rise above its flaws is because of Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. This was the first of three pairings for the two legendary actors, with the others being “You Belong to Me” (1941) and “The Lady Eve” (1941). Their on-screen (and off-screen) chemistry is electrifying, and every scene that they share leaves a smile on your face. The humor is better and the story is more plausible because of the way they handle themselves as a comedic duo. With other actors in this film it would become quickly forgettable, but Stanwyck and Fonda have created something extremely enjoyable, even if it’s not perfect. It’s their comedic timing and undeniable screen presence that elevates “The Mad Miss Manton” to the level of a “must see”.