A great example of the Algonquin Round Table school of Hollywood humor

• Nunnally Johnson wrote this gem to George S. Kaufman regarding the film, Letter to an Unknown Woman: “The picture is about a girl who falls in love with another of those God damned pianists … and nuzzles around him until, finally, what the hell, he gives her a bang. Next week he goes to Milano to play a concert and that’s the last she sees of him—for ten years. By then she has a nine year old boy that looks like the pianist and she is married to another fellow, no musician, but what does she do now but go for this piano player again. And to her horror, what do you think? He doesn’t remember her! Right in the middle of this nuzzling, it dawns on her that he doesn’t know who the hell she is and, frankly, doesn’t seem to care so long as she gets those clothes off in a hurry. So out into the snow she runs and that’s the way the thing straggles to its tragic conclusion.”
Johnson envisioned the sequel this way: “It’s called Collected Correspondence of an Unknown Woman and instead of one incident I have something like a dozen. In other words, the piano player knocks her up regularly every five years and never DOES recognize her. Every semi-decade around she comes again, with another new kid tagging on behind, and every time he throws her on the bed and marks up another score. Once or twice he says, “Your face certainly does look familiar to me” but that’s all. Of course, she does everything she can think of to get out of him some further recognition than that, but nothing doing. Even when she lines up eight children behind her, everyone the spitting image of him, all he says is, “Jesus Christ, have we got to have that mob around while we’re doing it?” Finally, and this is the fade out, he’s a real old bastard, can’t hardly play Chopsticks, much less cross-handed stuff, and around comes this old bag again, a dozen little illegitimates trailing along behind, and nuzzles up feebly, still hopeful but much too proud to tip him off who she is, and after some heavy preliminary work, he manages to ring the bell again, possibly for the last time in his life, and as he is leaving the house and putting his hat on, we go to a close shot of him and he shakes his head and quavers, “I don’t care what ANYBODY says, I’ve seen that broad somewhere before!” FADE OUT. (Johnson and Leventhal 1981).

Capsule Review: Argo v Lincoln

My “beef” with Argo lies with the fact that the action seems to stall midpoint in the film. Somehow, the plot point that leads Ben Affleck into Iraq should have been expanded to find someone else to go with him. If this was a documentary, then there would be no question that the narrative leads us into a fairly narrow focus. The lead CIA character is sent to remove the hostages.
But films are meant to entertain, and the second part of this film is short on entertainment value. If the John Goodman or Alan Arkin characters were allowed to contribute more than an odd moment where they are seen talking on the telephone, it might have moved the action along at a different pace.
As it is, we are immersed in the twists and turns of maneuvering people and luggage through the Iranian airport and also driving to an fro in a mini-van, but it’s not quite enough. We aren’t allowed to buy in to the characters with any kind of emotional hook.
The action occurs and you are there. But something seems to be missing.
In Lincoln, all of the trappings of a Spielberg-esque movie apply here. There is some sentimentality attached to the images of Lincoln, but more than that, the iconic pictures we have seen in the famous Civil War photographs made by Matthew Brady are depicted here with unerring accuracy. Young Tad and his father, President Lincoln, are seen looking at a book together. The pose is strikingly familiar. Tad is shown in a mock-up of a soldiers uniform, playing with his toy troops. These are the images that bring the film to life.
Sally Field also manages to craft the impossible. We see a portrait of Mrs. Lincoln that is neither overly sentimental or alarmingly cute-sy. She is allowed to speak her case, warts, baggage and all, and we see a side of a woman in torment and pain, but with courage and humor and dignity that is often missing when she is portrayed.
The details of the movie’s focus, the passage of the 13th amendment, threaten to weigh down the plot at times. There is an attempt at comic relief in the character of James Spader and company. They are the representatives of a corrupt breed of back-door dealmakers that have never left the Washington scene.
But the movie is held together by Daniel Day Lewis. Someone remarked that what we are watching in his performance sets the standard for the new ideal of Lincoln and that seems accurate. It was said that Lincoln spoke in a high, nasal pitched voice that seemed hard to imagine in such a tall, raw-boned man.
But Mr. Lewis nails it completely. Not only does he re-create the voice, but the essence of the man himself is shown in his multi-layered character. This is the Lincoln who used humor to negotiate with his enemies, the man who was a wheeler-dealer at heart and was,in the end, a brilliant and complex individual. This is the portrait we see that undoubtedly stands the test of time.

Argo doesn’t seem to be a memorable picture. Lincoln is one for the ages.

Oz v Oz

115px-Judy_Garland_in_The_Wizard_of_Oz_trailer_2The trick in re-making any movie about the Land of Oz is to re-create the beloved characters we know so well. And to present them seamlessly enough to the audience that they are convinced these inventions are residents of Oz. In this case, the movie does a fairly good job convincing us that this is the Land of Oz we know so well. Some of the key elements used to re-invent the wheel begins with the idea that you must start in a black and white landscape if you are going to transition to the magical color field that is Oz. And when you are in Oz, the characters must jive with the original source.
The basic story begins and ends with the fact that the Wizard is a humbug. The witches are divided into two camps, good vs. evil. And there must be some kind of comic relief. In this Oz, relief is found in the form of a small wise-cracking monkey and a slightly chipped china doll.
There is just enough magic in the original story to help mix the potion. We are not entranced with the beauty and wonder of a Judy Garland, but we are given a small peek into the wonders of a 21st Century rendering of the magical Land of Oz It is worth the effort to glimpse into this latent Land of Oz.

About Roger Ebert

He was one of the last of a dying breed of film critics. Siskel & Ebert made film criticism something that everyman could do….Their show made people think about film critics in a different way.
They argued with one another, sometimes passionately disagreeing about the merits of the movies.

Ebert was not always someone you agreed with. He didn’t set himself up to be “Mr Nice Guy” or go out of his way to charm. He was himself, a regular guy who happened to know a heck of a lot about the movies.

About Annette Funicello

The Queen of the Beach movies…for the connoisseur of the bad B’s, she was one of the best.
The beach movies were always about having fun. In the cold war era, with the changing times, they were still simply “at the beach”. There was no hidden agenda in Frankie & Annette’s beach movies. You just went to have a good time. And a good time was had by all

Capsule Review for 42

This is not a sugar-coated treatment of Jackie Robinson. The good and the bad of the bio-flick has to be in the telling of a true story, “the way it was”. There is no attempt to make Robinson’s life seem easier than it was, or harder than it was.

But unlike a documentary, a Hollywood bio-pic has to have some kind of an angle. In this case, the driving force behind Robinson’s advent into major league baseball is found in the character of Branch Rickey.

Ford plays Rickey with a zeal not often seen in his acting of late. Rickey had a vision and a religious bent that comes through in the comments peppered liberally throughout the film. In the end, the film stands as a tribute to Robinson and a kind of opening salvo in the civil rights struggle that is to come.

Some of the action seems a tad contrived after the initial brouhaha is over when Robinson is introduced as a Brooklyn Dodger. But, in retrospect, the film is part of the larger struggle and definitely sends an uplifting message to those who know little of Jackie Robinson’s legacy.

The other baseball bio-flicks in the 6 Degree spectrum include “The Babe Ruth Story” and “The Lou Gehrig Story”. Of all the baseball films that simply set out to tell a story, the one I would recommend is “The Lou Gehrig Story”.

Gary Cooper is never better as Gehrig, a genuinely humble man who became a legend on and off the field of baseball. Gehrig was not only well liked, but also became a national symbol for a tragically debilitating disease-ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis- known simply as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”, that cut short his life.

The scene where Cooper, as Gehrig, is standing on the mound and simply says, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” is so moving and so based in the reality of what actually occurred that it stands alone as the truest film tribute to a sports legend.