The African Queen (1951)

The African Queen – 1951

Director – John Huston

Starring – Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn

When I was in junior high, I got my first computer.  Along with a 14.4 kbps dial-up modem, floppy disk drive, and the home-edition of Microsoft Works (not Word, mind you, works.) that machine of the future came with a copy of the Encarta Encyclopedia CD-Rom.  That laughably slow and instantly outmoded program, had a whole glossary of movies, a few with accompanying video clips, only the best ones mind you.  Now since only the most renowned films came with video clips, it goes without saying that it was a point of pride for me that I had seen all but two of those select few films.  The first one was 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the second…was The African Queen.  Take that Encarta!  It took me till 2012, but I finally beat you!

The African Queen is at its heart a love story, though it’s a love story that’s wrapped up in a war, adventure, thriller, and at times a comedy.  It’s the early days of World War 1, and we start at a british-run mission in the heart of an African colony of Germany.  Reverend Sayer and his sister Rose (Hepburn) staff the mission, attempting to spread the gospel to the un-enlightened natives, when they receive word of the start of the war.  They are advised that German soldiers are on their way to oust any enemies to the interests of Germany, and have to leave behind their life’s work if they want to escape with their lives.  This news pushes the reverend too far and, unable to cope, he falls ill and eventually dies leaving his sister to fend for herself.

As the arrival of the German soldiers looms close at hand, supply ship captain Charlie Alnut (a particularly grizzled Bogart) arrives just in time to offer Rose a mode of escape.  Though he is course in his manners and seems generally uncouth to the prim and proper English upbringing that Rose is used to, Charlie is a welcome sight.  The two make their way down river toward friendly territory, all the while avoiding Germans, Alligators, mosquitos, leeches, harsh weather, white water rapids, and each other along the way.

So I’ve made it fairly plain that I haven’t ever really been a fan of Katherine Hepburn.  This has been a point of contention between my wife and I, as she simply adores Hepburn (despite the fact that she has seen Bringing Up Baby, which is one of Hepburn’s most terribly annoying roles).  My dislike is ingrained in me so deeply, that I’ve actually avoided The African Queen because of its star.  Upon having actually seen it, I am disappointed to say that maybe I was being a bit harsh with my immediate dismissal of Hepburn.  It’s a good film.  More than that, it’s a great film!

To classify this film is not as easy as it can be with some other films.  With so many genres mashed up together in the story, it really fits into so many different categories.   Perhaps the best fit for my purposes here is to call it a romance.  We really get to see a pair of people go from not really liking the other, through friendship, courting, and eventually we see them emerge as true companions and best friends.  While the going is tough, the nagging and pestering they inflict upon each other actually strengthens the bond they have, and raises the stakes of the film in direct relation to the danger level.

When Rose demands that they try to strike a blow on behalf of the british navy against the Germans, Charlie is initially against it.  He stands to lose his boat, his lively hood, and potentially his life.  It is plain to the audience that without someone to share his life with, a friend, a purpose, he really has nothing to live for anyway.  The companionship with Rose illustrates this fact to him, and as they draw closer to their target, the thing he fears most is losing the woman he loves and respects.

Rose, too, gains from this relationship.  She learns to soften her rather stuffy and stuck up exterior.  Charlie shows her that there is a romance, and beauty to the world that she was here-to-for un-aware of, and that it can’t necessarily be attained through scripture and strict adherence to manners.  Ultimately, they learn that they need one another.  The off-hand relationship they have at the beginning of the film becomes all-consuming, dwarfing the danger, uncertainty, and even the beauty that lies ahead of them.  Each becomes the other’s reason for moving forward, and the pair becomes the reason and the reward for the audience’s continued attention.

As far as the performances, I don’t think Humphrey Bogart has ever been bad.  He makes everything I see him in at least a little bit better, and more than likely, he is the reason that it was excellent.  There are a select few actors who are capable of doing what other actors accomplish in half the time and with a quarter of the exertion.  Bogart is one of them, and is most deserving of all of the praise that is lumped upon him.  Hepburn on the other hand is equally matched to Bogart…in this movie.  I remain skeptical as far as her other roles go, but I am at the very least excited to find out if my initial impression of her holds true, or if I had her wrong the whole time.  I’m not quite sure what to wish for…to be right from the start, or to be wrong but with a fresh new body of films to look forward to.

All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised by the African Queen.  For a film that I had such an adverse reaction to before watching, it was certainly a treat to be proven wrong about it.  The plot, pacing, cinematography (gorgeously filmed in Technicolor, by the way), and yes, even the acting, really do make this one of the best films ever made.  A deserving addition to this list, and definitely something worthy of your time and attention.

“Told ya so!” – Ashley

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My Man Godfrey (1936)

My Man Godfrey – 1936

Director – Gregory La Cava

Starring – William Powell, Carole Lombard, and Gail Patrick

When talking about films of the Hollywood studio system from the 30’s and 40’s, one of the first genres that comes to a lot of people’s mind is the screwball comedy.  These zany, farcical, films are usually the farthest thing from realism, with characters so far-fetched and ridiculous that they couldn’t possibly be real.  One prime example of the screwball comedy, and not-coincidentally the only example I had seen up until recently, was the much-loved Bringing Up Baby, starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant.  I didn’t like Bringing Up Baby, point in fact, I hated it.  And it, being the most prominent example of the screwball comedy, led me to the mistaken impression that I just didn’t like the genre.  Recently, I learned something.  Upon my viewing of the fantastically fun My Man Godfrey, I learned that I was wrong. 

Godfrey follows the rise, and the adventures, or rather the mis-adventures, of the titular Godfrey and the spoiled, nearly detestable members of the Bullock family.  Starting out in the city dump, where Godfrey is living, the flakey and fickle Irene Bullock hires him on as the family’s butler after he is claimed in a scavenger hunt as a “forgotten man”.  The real conflict comes into play when Gail Patrick playing the fantastically poisonous Cornelia Bullock, sister to Irene, sets her mind on ruining Godfrey, and having him fired based on a small slight she received from him during the aforementioned scavenger hunt.

Godfrey, played with ease and charm by the wonderful William Powell, handles both Irene’s romantic advances, as well as Cornelia’s maliciousness with a calm, cool head.  As time passes, Godfrey becomes a trusted and valued member of the Bullock household, but he has no intention of remaining indentured to them for the rest of his life.  Godfrey has other plans, and as these start to become clear, everyone in the Bullock family starts to wonder what they will do without him, even Cornelia.

The writing, by Morrie Ryskind, and Eric Hatch, is lightning quick and very sharp.  The film is essentially a dense, solid wall of humor and heart, pushing forward regardless of what (or who gets in the way).  ***SPOILERS*** The one disappointment I had with the film, was the fact that Godfrey ends up with Irene, and not Cornelia.  The conflict, and therefore the magnetism and attraction between Godfrey and Cornelia was the strongest.  Irene, though likable, and interested in Godfrey in a romantic way, is not smart or deep enough of a character to make a proper match.  Cornelia is just as capable, just as smart, and just as big a personality as Godfrey, not to mention, they each could have taught the other a thing or two.  The story ended up with the wrong pair getting together, but the path getting there was super fun to take, and isn’t any less successful for going off track. ***END SPOILERS***

The real strength of this film lies in its actors performances.  The story is a fine outline, but doesn’t go much beyond the blueprint stage, and the cinematography is fine, but nothing groundbreaking or outstanding.  Powell, Patrick and Carole Lombard as Irene Bullock have a kinetic chemistry with one another that could carry any story pretty far, no matter how good or bad it was.  Powell had already made a name for himself as one of the caustic, lovable, alcoholic main characters of the beloved Thin Man series, and My Man Godfrey only helped to catapult him into further great roles (a lot of them in the Thin Man series).  Lombard and Patrick on the other hand are both new to me, but I’m definitely interested in seeing other examples of each (especially Patrick).

So…what have we learned here today?  Well, I’ve learned not to base my opinion of an entire genre on one crappy movie (sorry to those of you who like Bringing Up Baby).  I’ve also learned that all I have to do to make it in this world, is to move down to my city’s dump, wait to get caught up in some socialite scavenger hunt, go to work for them as a butler, and ride the gravy train on to success and good fortune.  My Man Godfrey was a lot of fun, and is definitely worth checking out.  I recommend it highly!

This Just In…

1000 Movies You Must See Before You Die!

I thought of how much fun the idea of seeing all of these movies was to me, and equally of how much fun it would be to write about them all too.  It was at this point that a few things dawned on me.  I realized just how large this undertaking was, and how equally large the time commitment will be too.

I was daunted by the sheer volume of my endeavor.  I immediately started to formulate a way to lighten the load.  I’ve already seen a lot of movies, I thought, why shouldn’t I just write about the ones that I’ve already seen?  Yes!  That’s it!  I’d write about the movies in this book that I had already seen.  That way, I’d save a lot of time, and I wouldn’t be tempted to dwell on my own in-activity, and unsocial behavior.

This got me thinking yet again.  As I said before, I was looking forward to seeing all those movies…That’s IT!  I would go ahead with my initial plan of watching each of the movies that I haven’t seen and writing about each one individually, AND I would write about the ones I have seen (although these will be done in groupings so as not to accelerate my already rather sedentary behavior tendancies too much.)

Here is the first installment of the movies that I have seen.  They are not quite as in depth as the reviews that I have done and plan to continue doing for the new material, but they provide a good summary of what I liked and/or what I didn’t like.

I hope you enjoy this bunch.  It covers the first movie in the book that I had seen, up through the end of WWII.  So…get reading already

Metropolis (1927)

I was lucky enough to catch this projected from a remastered 70mm print with lost footage re-integrated into the story.  It featured a live piano accompaniment, and featured written descriptions of scenes that were still “lost”.  At the same time, I was unlucky enough to see it while I was super, super tired.  There are some slow moments, and I was drooping at times.  Still, it was probably the best possible way to see Metropolis for the first time.

“Fuckin’ love it!” – Ashley

M (1931)

The Criterion Collection has introduced me to a wide variety of movies, including quite a few of the selections on this list.  M introduced me to foreign film in general, not to mention the fantastic Peter Lorre.

Scarface : The Shame of a Nation (1932)

I saw this with a couple of other fantastic American noir and crime films in a little theater on the left bank in Paris, the Action Christine for those who are in the know.  It was part of a week long mini-film-festival concerned with classic and overlooked American noir films.  I was able to catch a number of other great flicks including, Kiss Me Deadly, Key Largo, the version of The Killers from the sixties (with Ronald Regan, Lee Marvin, and John Cassavetes), and the topper, Charade.  I was surprised how much of this story of Scarface is recognizable later on in the Brian De Palma version.

It Happened One Night (1934)

I was introduced to this movie through a friend who was absolutely in love with it.  I was, at first a little skeptical, but came to appreciate it quite a bit.  I’m not sure why everyone makes a big deal about Clarke Gable in Gone With the Wind, but not in this one (I suppose I’ll find out later, when I watch it).

(**Warning Spoilers**)

“If a man nicks names you brat, it’s because he loves you.”  –  Ashley

The Thin Man (1934)

As this was a recommendation from numerous trusted sources, I may have gone into this one with elevated expectations, which as you may or may not know can be death on first impressions.  While I didn’t love it as unilaterally as I was led to believe that I would, I didn’t dislike it at all.  It was solid, but not discernible from a lot of other movies that I have seen from this period.

“Alcoholism is hilarious!” – Ashley

The 39 Steps (1935)

One of two of Hitchcock’s British movies that I’d seen after I’d tooled through almost all of his American stuff, (The Lady Vanishes being the other…), and while I liked The Lady Vanishes better, this was not without it’s charms.  By and large this seems like a stepping stone through which you can get to Hitchcock’s great works, although it is not great in and of itself.

“Genius begins…” – Ashley

La Grande Illusion  AKA  Grand Illusion (1937)

This is another of these movies that I was introduced to through the Criterion Collection.  When I saw this movie, it was the first time that I had either heard of or seen Eric von Stroheim, Jean Gabin, or Jean Renoir.  Von Stroheim in particular interested me, and I have since been looking for his epic, studio bankrupting movie, Greed.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)

Snow White was the second movie that I ever saw in a movie theater (E.T. being the first), and since then, thanks in part to having a good number of girl cousins, friends, and going to a daycare where a good amount of the kids were girls, I was quickly overdosed on this movie (along with The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins).  That being said, upon my first viewing, I was enraptured.  I wanted to be the 8th dwarf, and I was terrified of the old witch with the apple.  Fucking scary!  This is how childrens stories can be.  They don’t have to be these antiseptic, polished, glittering trash-heaps that they came to be, straight to video sequels with crappy 3D animation.  Snow White set the standard, even IF I don’t really wanna watch it anymore.

“Teaching all pale, black-haired girls around the world that they are the most beautiful.” – Ashley

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

I partially wrote this longer post of movies that I had already seen because of this movie.  I didn’t want anyone to think that just because I had seen it, to think that this might mean that I liked it.  I saw this in film school, as an example of the studio system of the 30’s and 40’s, and more specifically because it was THE classic screwball comedy.  I liked movies from this period, and more importantly I was a pretty big fan of Cary Grant, so it seemed like a natural fit.  Then along came Katherine Hepburn and ruined everything.  She plays the most annoying, murder-inducing, terrible fucking annoyance EVER!  I could not wait until it was over.  From 5 minutes in or so I was checking my watch, sending text messages to friends, trying vein to sleep, anything to avoid that shrill voice, and that irksome demeanor.  What made it worse was, that Cary Grant, put up with it to the point where his character started to exhibit affection for Hepburn’s.  This bastion of charm, class, and smooth masculinity was was so utterly ineffectual, that not only could he not save me from hearing this woman speak, but he stole two hours from me in the process.

“Holy shit, there’s a leopard in it!” – Ashley

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Who doesn’t like the Wizard of Oz?  It’s a little heavy on the songs, and musical routines which I don’t really go in for (making a lot of movies musicals in this book a little daunting), but the story and the fabulous imagery were far more than enough to outweigh them.

“Technicolor orgasm!” – Ashley

Rebecca (1940)

I liked Rebecca (come to think of it, I’m not sure that I didn’t like any Hitchcock movies), but I liked Notorious better.

Fantasia (1940)

This, like with a lot of different musicals, was pretty lost on me.  I’ve fallen asleep or gotten board and wandered off each time I’ve tried to watch this (3 separate times now).  The animation was great, but not quite enough I guess.

“Elephants in tutus.” – Ashley

Pinocchio (1940)

I enjoyed Pinocchio back when I saw it initially, but it was never quite as good, in my opinion, as The Jungle Book, The Sword in the Stone, or Robin Hood.  Maybe it was just the time period that I grew up in, maybe it was the animation style.

“So many sexual euphemisms, so little time…” – Ashley

The Bank Dick (1940)

W.C. Fields is a smarter, more adult, and more aware version of The Three Stooges.  He pokes fun at himself rather than poking fun at others or having them poke fun at him.  Don’t get me wrong, I love The Three Stooges, but every now and again it’s nice to see you don’t have to hit something with a hammer in order for it to be funny.

Citizen Kane (1941)

The enigma that is Citizen Kane…it is both vastly over and under-rated.  The idea that you can pick one movie in the scope of all that has come out to date and claim that it is the greatest movie ever made is a ridiculous one.  Equally ridiculous is the idea that that same movie is of no or little value simply because every other movie since then has co-opted the same bag of tricks.  Citizen Kane and Orson Welles set the standard, and now people get mad that in a sea of copy-cats, it no longer stands out to them.

“Oh, yeah.  It is real good.” – Ashley

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Fantastic, fantastic movie.  For one reason or another, before I had ever seen a Humphrey Bogart movie, I was under the impression that I didn’t like him as an actor.  This movie, The Big Sleep and Casablanca proved me wrong three times in a row.  Each was fantastic in it’s own way, but the addition of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre make this a contender for my favorite of the bunch.

Dumbo (1941)

This is my least favorite of the early Disney movies.  I didn’t quite know what to make of the bizarre pink elephant sequence, and I took the shame and teasing that were inflicted upon the titular character to heart.  I haven’t seen this one for a long time, but I’m not sure that I want to.

“Go hug your mom.” – Ashley

Casablanca (1942)

Check out my review of  The Maltese Falcon two entries above this one, and you’ll know how I feel about this one.  With a rousing story, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains you can’t help but love this movie.

(***Warning Spoilers***)

“Don’t get on the fucking plane!” – Ashley

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

I like Shadow of a Doubt, but just before seeing it, I had seen The Third Man, and I was completely prepared to fall in love with it.  Joseph Cotton was the key.  He and the movie didn’t really stand out to me…correction, they weren’t able to blow me away the same way The Third Man had.  Despite this, I still enjoy watching it when I want to throw something on while I doing something else.

Gaslight (1944)

It was on my Grandpa’s insistence that I sat down and watched this one with him.  A well made movie, with the beautiful Ingrid Bergman, but I have to say, this spot could have easily gone to at least 2 dozen other movies (Charade, Miller’s Crossing, American History X, Leon The Professional, Bottle Rocket, El Mariachi, True Romance, Shallow Grave, Hard Boiled, Hearts and Minds, Le Cercle Rouge, and Ghost Dog to name just a few.)

Double Indemnity (1944)

I fell in love with Double Indemnity when I first laid eyes on it.  I seemed to ooze a certain coldness, and efficiency that I had never seen up until that point in movies.  I’ve heard other reviews of this movie citing Fred MacMurray as being the weak link in the chain, to not committing to the role enough (the reviewer was saying that he did this in most all of his roles), I disagree whole heartedly!  He may not have achieved the short lived notoriety of someone like James Dean or Clarke Gable (note: my definition of short lived may not match yours), but he was the right man for the job in each of the movies that I’ve seen him in.

“How not to commit a murder.” – Ashley

Murder, My Sweet  AKA  Farewell My Lovely (1944)

Murder, My Sweet was a good movie, but this is another slot given to a lesser contender.

Spellbound (1945)

When traveling in London I visited the Salvador Dali museum, expecting to see a host of what I thought were the artists more well known works.  Instead, I saw a bunch of his work that I had never seen before, including a number of artifacts from the movie Spellbound!  Ultimately, I think fairly well of my visit to the Dali museum, but that is mostly because of the items from the movie.  Spellbound, like the museum, has left a generally favorable impression on my mind, but it doesn’t go much farther than that.

“I wish I dreamed in Dali” – Ashley

Les Enfants Du Paradis  AKA  The Children of Paradise (1945)

This is a fabulous movie that you should go see.  Now.  Go ahead, I’ll wait….Wasn’t that awesome.  Well dig this…This whole movie was filmed during the Nazi occupation of France.  Film stock, supplies and artisans were in short supply, cast and crew were being routinely investigated by the puppet Vichy (read Nazi) government, and still they managed to pull off a staggeringly beautiful movie with beautifully thought out and constructed sets, top notch acting, and a story packed with anti-fascist allegory.  On top of this, the majority of the actors and crew were utilizing the “cover” of the movie in order to stay hidden, as many were French Resistance underground fighters.  Now go watch it again!

That is all for this first chapter…go watch all of these movies and write back to tell me what you think.