Tuesday, February 18, 2014


More movies I've watched this month. All were on DVD or Blu-ray unless otherwise noted.

SWEET CHARITY (1969) Director: Bob Fosse. Writer: Peter Stone based on the Broadway play. Cast: Shirley MacLaine, John McMartin, Ricardo Montalban.

I’ve been fascinated by Bob Fosse as a film director for a while and having just finished Sam Wasson’s excellent Fosse biography, I decided to revisit his films.

Revisit isn’t quite the right word for SWEET CHARITY, though. I didn’t make it through the movie last time I tried to watch it. In fact, I didn’t make it through the opening song. While I’m very interested in Fosse as a director, I’ve never been a fan of musical theater. My interest in Fosse came from seeing his first totally dramatic, non-musical film LENNY. I like dance but the smarmy Broadway songs are generally too much for me to take. This time I persevered.

Loosely based on Fellini’s, NIGHTS OF CABIRIA, SWEET CHARITY turned out to be a darker and more interesting film than the first four minutes would suggest but not a wholly successful by any means. It’s overlong and tonally muddled. MacLaine is fairly charming but she can’t sing or dance on the same level as the rest of the cast. In fact the best scenes in the movie are the “Big Spender” and “ Rich Man’s Frug” sequences that don’t feature MacLaine at all.

The last half loses steam heading toward a bold but dreary ending for a musical. I admired what they were trying to pull off, replicating the ending of Fellini’s film but it comes off dated and unsatisfying. The unused alternate ending featured on the DVD may not work either but it would have given then film a bit better conclusion.

As a Fosse fan, there's a lot of interesting stylistic stuff here. He relies too often on gimmicks but you can see the foundation of what would become his signature visual style.

SWEET CHARITY is a mixed bag but definitely it's worth sticking around past the four minute mark.

LORNA’S SILENCE (2008) Writer/Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Cast: Arta Dobroshi, Jeremie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione. In French/Albanian/Russian

I really admired the Dardenne’s THE KID WITH A BIKE and as directors they seem to be admired by everyone so I’m trying to catch up on their films.

I appreciated this story of very low-level criminals trying to use Belgium’s immigration system for personal gain. Lorna is an Albanian who just want’s to raise enough money to open a snack bar. That’s the sort of story I’m drawn to but my lack of understanding of European immigration hampered my enjoyment, particularly in the first half. Still, the characters where well observed and I had no idea where the story was going. That’s generally what I always want from a movie.

I look forward to diving into more of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s films.

THE NAKED SPUR (1953) Director: Anthony Mann. Writers: Sam Rolf and Harold Jack Bloom. Cast: James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell

For my money, the great Westerns of the fifties (or any other decade) were the series directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart as well as the films directed by Budd Boetticher starring Randolph Scott. Of the Mann/Stewart movies, THE NAKED SPUR is my favorite.

Its five person cast is entirely made up of actors that I love. Stewart may be my favorite actor of all time and this is one of his best performances. What other Western ends with the hero breaking down into tears while trying to grapple with what kind of a person he really is. That decision is the crux of the film and is decided in the very final moment. What could be better than that in drama?

We got the chance to see a very nice 35mm print of THE NAKED SPUR at The UCLA Film & Television Archive’s Billy Wilder Theater.

I have to point out that this is the second movie this month featuring Millard Mitchell and damn it, it won’t be the last.

THE UNINVITED (1944) Director: Lewis Allen. Writers: Dodie Smith, Frank Partos. Cast: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Gail Russell

All right, this is an odd movie. It’s a ghost story which takes it’s subject seriously which few Hollywood movies had done up to this point but it isn’t dour. In fact, it’s often quite lighthearted which nicely lets the creepy elements sneak up on you.

Most of the lighter fare is thanks to Ray Milland. Along with his sister, Milland’s character, buys an old house in a small town on the coast of England to escape London and get some creative work done. The location is beautiful but this being a 1940’s Hollywood movie, the location used is in reality the northern coast of California. We watched this the day we came back from a weekend trip to this very spot in Sonoma County so in my mind that’s where The Uninvited takes place.

The way the eventual plot develops is a little jumbled but there’s something very charming here. I suspect much of that charm (and Milland’s pithy dialogue) is due to frequent Billy Wilder collaborator Charles Brackett. He’s credited as an Associate Producer here but I suspect he really rewrote the script.

Charles Lang’s photography is another standout and really shines on Criterion’s Blu-ray. Film Director Michael Almereyda’s (NADJA, THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER) video essay on THE UNINVITED is an excellent supplement to the disc.

THE UNINVITED isn’t perfect film but it’s certainly an interesting one.

FROM BEYOND (1986) Director: Stuart Gordon. Writer: Dennis Paoli. Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel, Ken Foree

After the audaciousness of Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR I remember not being very impressed by this follow up adaptation of another H.P. Lovecraft story. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray release tempted me into giving this another shot and I’m glad I did.

This unrated cut injects the audaciousness that I felt the original version lacked. The film is more austere than RE-ANIMATOR but restoring scenes like one where Jeffrey Combs, pineal gland having burst out of his forehead, sucks the eyeball out of a doctor’s face make for a much more interesting experience. And crazy. Somehow the craziness just clicked for me this time owing to the added material and the excellent presentation.

Combs is a great actor but he doesn’t quite seem well matched for the part. That said, he’s always so committed, you could never hold it against him. Barbara Crampton is excellent as Dr. Katherine McMichaels. She’s really the lead here. Her character develops at breakneck speed throughout the film but she always manages to sell it. Her performance in the final seconds of the film where a highlight.

If you enjoy this brand of smart, crazy eighties horror movie, I definitely recommend you give FROM BEYOND (another) shot.

If you missed them, here are FEBRUARY MOVIES Part 1 & Part 2. 

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