Monday, March 28, 2011

Joan Joins the Mob

In 1950, Joan Crawford was back at Warner Brothers (and with director Vincent Sherman for the second time) in a fairly turgid gangster movie, The Damned Don't Cry.  Told in flashback, as on Lorna Hansen Forbes flees to her parents house following the discovery of a murdered man, we learn that Lorna was actually Ethel Whitehead.  Living in relative poverty in her parents home, with her husband and small son, Ethel's life has few pleasures, thanks to her penny-pinching husband (Richard Egan).  When their little boy is killed suddenly, Ethel leaves  her husband, landing work as a dress model, gradually becoming a call girl to make a few extra dollars.  Her life's direction changes again when she meets accountant Martin Blackford (Kent Smith); thanks to Ethel's intervention, Martin becomes enmeshed with gangster George Castleman. 

And so it goes.  Quite frankly, we found this movie WAY too long.  The section that introduced Lorna's life story for example, when we see the death of her son, was totally unnecessary (and could have been briefly outlined within the body of the movie).  Also, Crawford is not really convincing here.  Her speech pattern is very peculiar.  She seems to think that she needs to change the way she talks with each small change in her life: the housewife has a quiet, precise speech; the whore talks like she just escaped from a Damon Runyon novel, and Lorna adopts the pronunciation of the Vanderbilts.  All very bemusing.

It was nice to see Richard Egan (in a very small part as Ethel's miserly husband); David Brian (as George Castleman) was used to much better advantage in the previously discussed Flamingo Road. Steve Cochrane as gang member Nick Prenda was interesting to watch, as was Kent Smith as the loyal Martin.  But all-in-all, we've seen better movies.  Here's a trailer to give you an idea of the film's marketing:

We'll be back shortly with another Crawford film from the 1950s.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Interlude: The Road to Hollywood

The Movie Night Group had the wonderful opportunity to join Robert Osborne and Angela Lansbury for a screening of the 1962 The Manchurian Candidate in New York City.  Like most of the attendees, we had never seen this film on a big screen, and what a knockout.  The story of a Korean war troup that is kidnapped by the enemy, with one member programmed to be a stone-cold killer, it features outstanding performances by Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury.  As Ms. Lansbury pointed out in the introduction, none of the actors was afraid to look bad, and all (except Ms. Leigh) have scenes in which the tension and horror of the movie is reflected in their face.  In particular is a scene towards the end of the film in which Ms. Lansbury's face seems distorted, bloated, and truly ugly (if one could believe that!). 

If you have never seen The Manchurian Candidate (big screen or small), it is one that you owe to yourself.  It has a script that will keep you on the edge of your seat til the conclusion. However, if you have seen it before, you will see new things with each new viewing. On our way out of the theatre, we heard a woman mentioning that she had seen the film before, but this time noticed the constant references to Abraham Lincoln (something I don't believe I had picked up on during my many small screen viewings). 

So thanks again to TCM for a remarkable opportunity to see classic movies the way they should be seen.  And thanks too, to Mr. Osborne and Ms. Lansbury for sharing their insight into the film with an eager audience.  For those of you who have never seen this magnificent film, here is the trailer (there is another scene on YouTube, but it gives away too much of the ending.  We'll put that at the bottom. DON'T watch it if you are new to the movie)

More Joan Crawford soon, but we felt our "readers" might like to join us for a few minutes at the special event.

And now, the SPOILER scene:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Joan Gets Arrested

Flamingo Road (1949) features Joan Crawford as Lane Bellamy, a carnival dancer who gets bored with the constant running from creditors, and decides to settle down in the town of Boldon City.  Boldon City is run, in every negative context of that word, by its malevolent sheriff, Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet).  His assistant, Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott) is enchanted by Lane, much to the chagrin of Semple, who has other plans for her personable aide - he plans to use him as a political stooge, a body and a voice that will allow Semple to create his own political machine. Lane, of course, will put those ambitions in jeopardy - too strong to be manipulated, too common to be an attractive political wife, she becomes an obstacle for Semple to get out of the way.

While Crawford is a bit old to play Lane, her power as an actress is still well used.  You can well appreciate her character's ability to land on her feet despite any obstacle, and her tenacity in going head-to-head with Sheriff Semple.  But, good as she is, it is Sydney Greenstreet who steals the movie.  He is so amazingly EVIL - you cannot take your eyes from him the minute he walks into a scene.  Poor Zachary Scott is faced with the unenviable task of playing a weakling. There isn't ANYONE that can't push this man around, from his idiotic, daddy-obsessed wife (Virginia Hudson) to Lane to Semple. We did especially enjoy the scenes between Lane and Dan Reynolds (David Brian). Again, we get to see another side of Lane, as she begins to love the man she had only hoped to use. 

Flamingo Road is a surprisingly enjoyable movie.  We hope you'll give it a try one day.  Here's a trailer: