Monday, May 31, 2010

Sisters, Sisters

This week, we turn to another dramatic movie. Olivia de Havilland takes second billing again to Bette Davis in In This Our Life.  This time, they are sisters, Stanley and Roy Timberlake.  Roy (Olivia) is married to Dr. Peter Kingsmill (Dennis Morgan) and Stanley (Bette) is engaged to Craig Fleming (George Brent), but Stanley has developed a grand passion for Peter, and induces him to run off with her.  Roy and Craig become friends out of loneliness, and then decide to marry. Only Stanley, of course, comes back.  And, of course, has decided that Craig would make a nice trophy on her mantle.  And so it goes.

The movie is very much Davis'. Her Stanley is an unapologetic bitch.  She wants everything, and gives nothing in return.  Davis' scenes with her greedy uncle, played by almost lasciviously by Charles Coburn, are wonderfully revolting.  The old man slobbers over his "favorite" niece, giving her anything that she wants. And, she takes whatever he offers; she is beyond flirty as she butters him up for even more rewards.  Here the trailer from the film, to give you a glimpse of Ms. Davis' character:

The men are merely window dressing to the women.  Too bad really, with actors as good as George Brent and Dennis Morgan, you would like them to have more fleshed out charactersBut this movie is much more concerned with the ladies: Bette and Olivia are yin and yang to one another - with Olivia as the good, loving, kind sister.  The men are there to function as sex objects - the temptation for Stanley and the source of goodness for Roy.  

An interesting acting turn in the picture is that of Billie Burke as Lavinia Timberlake, the girls' mother.  For those of us used to the dippy Billie of Topper or Father of the Bride, this role is a bit of a surprise.  You can see where Stanley got her attitude: her mother is a piece of work, totally self absorbed, whiny, and nagging.  She is an invalid who is trying to rule her husband and daughters with guilt, but since it doesn't really work any longer, she just tries harder and gets more whiny.

I don't want to forget Hattie McDaniel, as the Timberlake's maid, but also as a mother whose innocent son is accused of murder.  Her scene with Roy is extremely touching.  As always, Ms. McDaniel takes a small role and makes it pivotal.

Next week, another drama. Do join us.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Olivia Gets Gas

Our movie today is 1938's Hard to Get. Olivia plays spoiled heiress Margaret Richards; out on a lark, she meets auto mechanic (and unemployed architect Bill Davis (played by Dick Powell, with only a little bit of singing).  Margaret pulls into Dick's gas station and demands he fill her auto - on credit.  No id, no money, no nothing.  Since he has already filled her car, he demands repayment - she has to clean all the rooms in his autocourt. Of course, she wants revenge. And, of course (since this is a screwball comedy), they fall in love.

The beginning of this movie very much reminded us of the (serious) 1933 Ginger Rogers/Joel McCrea movie Chance at Heaven,wherein Joel fills the tank of another fund-less/id-less heiress and finds himself  in love (only Joel doesn't make her clean up afterwards).  And Olivia's Margaret harkened back to another screwball - Marcia West from It's Love I'm After. Dick Powell only gets to sing for a tiny bit; mostly,  he gets to be thrown on his head.  And Charles Winninger (as Margaret's irracible father Ben), gets to be, well, irracible. Interestingly, we also have a brief appearance by Bonita Granville, again playing Olivia's younger sister.  Sadly, she is only on screen for about 5 minutes total (at the beginning and end of the movie), but she is always delightful.
In 2010, the idea of a young woman gallivanting around town in her roadster without a cent in her pocket or any kind of ID is rather unbelievable (we hoped she didn't want to get into a government building on her sojourn!!). Heck, when a police officer shows up, he isn't even concerned that she is without a driver's license! But, regardless of the silliness, and the fairly unbelievable plot, this is a fun movie, with a good cast. It made us laugh. We think it will delight you as well.  To get you ready, here's a trailer:
Next week, we take a break from comedy - join us for a more serious side of our heroine.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Olivia and Family

This week, we watched a movie none of us had seen before (or, quite frankly, even really heard of): Call it a Day (1937). The movie tells the story of one fairly odd day in the life of the Hilton family, a middle-class English family.  Olivia plays the older daughter, Catherine, who is posing as a model for family friend Paul Francis (Walter Woolf King).  Only problem is, she is madly enamored of him, and he is terrified to be alone with her.  Mother Dorothy (Frieda Inescort) is being pursued by a would-be Lothario (Roland Young), and father Roger (Ian Hunter) is in a similar situation when his client Beatrice Gwynn (Marcia Ralston) decides HE would make an excellent night's diversion.  Silly, perhaps, but also diverting, and with a satisfying conclusion.

Though given top billing, Ms. de Havilland really has a secondary part. The main action  of the plot is devoted to Dorothy as she tries to keep Frank at bay.  But Olivia is wonderful as a heart-sore teen, who is stuck on a married man.  The rapport between her and Bonita Granville (as her younger sister, Ann) is perfect.  Young Ann is in love with art; when Paul gives her a Dante Gabriel Rossetti sketch (because she is a fan of the Pre-Raphaelites), her offer to loan it to Catherine is touching.  And logical - she won't give it up, but loves her sister enough to let her borrow the precious sketch (and as I Pre-Raphaelite fan myself, I envied her that picture!!).  An interesting note - the part that Olivia played here was played on the West Coast stage by her sister, Joan Fontaine. 
We should also mention the performance of Roland Young - who would have envisioned Topper as such a lech! He is very funny as the brother of Dorothy's friend, who develops an immediate interest in this mother of three when he meets her in a market.  The interactions between the two of them - especially the scene in which she tries to induce the busy members of her family to stay in for dinner when Frank shows up in an attempt to win his beloved away from her husband, are VERY well done.

We heartily recommend this under-viewed movie.  Well worth a look! 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Olivia & Errol & Rosalind & Patric

This week, our movie is the 1938 comedy Four's a Crowd.  Olivia plays Lorri Dillingwell, the daughter of a wealthy businessman.  She is engaged to publisher Patterson Buckley (Patric Knowles), who is being forced to shut down his newspaper. Jean Christy (Rosalind Russell), a reporter about to lose her job, decided to entice former reporter (and now successful PR man) Robert Kensington Lansford (Errol Flynn) back to the paper.  Easier said than done, of course; Bob decides to use Pat as a means to potential client Dillingham (thought Lorri, of course). Jean is in love with Bob; Pat is in love with Lorri; Lorri develops a mad crush on Bob. And Bob? Well, we THINK he loves Jean. Or maybe he loves Lorri. Or maybe he just is in it for the money.  We're not exactly sure for quite a while.  But, it's a WB comedy, so it all turns out right in the end (and I won't tell you who ends up with whom.  You'll have to watch the film).

Sure, this is a little piece of fluff. Rather silly at times, but with such wonderful actors, how can you go wrong? Olivia is back playing a character very similar to Marcia West in It's Love I'm After - somewhat silly, and rather easily swayed.  Errol Flynn gets to be decidedly silly - the scenes of him running from the dogs that guard the Dillingham mansion are a riot (and it doesn't hurt that we get to see him without his shirt. The man had QUITE a nice physique).  

Rosalind Russell is very adorable as Jean, who knows what she wants, but can't seem to quite get him into her grasp.  And while none of us are particular fans of Patric Knowles as a rule, he's actually pretty good here.  He manages to hold his own, for the most part, with this powerhouse of talent.   

As always, we see some nice character parts - Walter Connolly as Mr. Dillingham, is, as always, very funny. And Margaret Hamilton as Amy, who would easily walk on hot coals for Bob.  Both actors it is a pleasure to see.  We do get to see a lot of Connolly. Not enough of Hamilton.

Next week, we'll be watching something none of use were familiar with: Call it a Day. In the meantime, here's a trailer to introduce you to the characters: