The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – 1947

Director – Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Starring – Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, and George Sanders

I may be run out-of-town on a rail for saying this, but The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was a pretty stupid movie.  Posturing and posing as a lighthearted romantic comedy about a young woman contending with the spirit of a salty old sea-captain, instead, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is the story of a lonely woman wasting her life and the lives of those around her (her daughter and maid) because she had a etherial fling with a crotchety old ghost for less than a year.  Not only is it implausible (even within the mythology of the world that is set up in the film), but it also annoyed me to the point of anger.

Firstly, the story.  Gene Tierney plays Lucy Muir, who at the beginning of the film is a freshly widowed woman.  Her first order of business is taking her daughter, their maid, and parting ways with her prying, manipulative in-laws.  Their anger at her leaving them, and forsaking the memory of her late husband is brushed casually aside.  She gives as her reasoning the fact that there was little, if any, real love in the marriage, and without another word, they’re off.

The sort of wacky, lighthearted comedy kicks in for a little while, as she goes through the trial and error of buying a home, discovering that it’s haunted, and acclimating herself to her etherial housemate.   It is from this point that the romance part of the romantic comedy kicks back in, as Rex Harrison’s Captain Gregg and Lucy begin to like, and eventually grow very fond of one another.  When the money that her dead husband left her dries up, Captain Gregg has her write out the story of his life, and sell it as her own.  It’s during the selling of this book, that Mrs. Muir meets a charming, living, man who sweeps her off of her feet.  Captain Gregg reacts at first by acting out, and eventually by giving up (telling her while she is sleeping that it was all a dream, and that she’ll think of it as a dream upon waking), and fading away.

***SPOILERS*** (Although the whole movie is a bit of a spoiler)

Well as it turns out, the suave, dashing man turns out to be an absolute cad, go figure, and Lucy soon finds out that he is married with children.  Not only that, but his wife doesn’t seem at all surprised by her showing up, and says that it has happened before.  After that, Lucy spends the rest of her life alone, growing old along with her trusty (read: stupid) maid, until she dies and is greeted as a ghost by the spirit of Captain Gregg.

***END SPOILERS***

As far as movies of this era go, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so mired in the antiquated notion that women are these weak willed pets that need constant tending to, and taking care of.  The idea that this woman would spend her entire life doing nothing for herself, be it for income, chores, for income, or in her interpersonal relationships is ludicrous.  When the money that her husband left her runs out, does she get a job?  Does she sell the big expensive, fucking house that she bought willy-nilly?  No, she claims that she’ll “find a way”, until a fucking ghost helps her.  The only friendships she has are the ghost that is trapped in her house, the maid that does everything for her, and the man who trips over himself to court her.  It is as insulting and demeaning to women as it possibly could be.  Now I understand that in the 40’s women generally stayed at home, and took care of the children.  They, very often, didn’t go to school, and never had to work (unless they were poor or of another color), but as a guy raised by a strong female role model, who herself was raised by a smart, capable, female role model as well as  a respectful, intelligent man, I hated this movie.

It doesn’t even really matter about the other qualities of the film, although it was competently shot, the sound and music were okay, and I don’t recall any of the actors accidentally messing up a line.  Based solely on the merit of what this film has to say, not only to women, both young and old, but to me, I definitely does NOT deserve to be on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.

One final point, just to illustrate how poor this movie is, I would rather watch Katherine Hepburn, and Diane Keaton reading the phone book, to me personally, in my house, while I was tied to a chair, with bamboo slivers under my fingernails (well, maybe not the bamboo).  Watch one of these instead…”Lost In Translation”, “Singin’ In The Rain”, or “Garden State”

(***Warning Spoilers***)

“There’s a dead sea captain in it” – Ashley

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The Graduate (1967)

TheGraduate

The Graduate – 1967

Director – Mike Nichols

Starring – Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft

A classic film.  One that, I’ve been told, encapsulates an entire generation.  It sums up what it’s like being in that in-between stage in life, where you’re not quite a responsible adult, and you’re no longer a care-free kid.  I have to say that this summary of The Graduate is entirely true, although, to fully appreciate these selling points one has to be part of that demographic.  At the very least you have to be near to that demographic, otherwise the just out of college (or recent graduate, get it, get it…?) Benjamin Braddock starts to seem more and more like a shiftless young man who just doesn’t know what he wants.

The story starts out after Ben has graduated from college with a number of honors, and the pride of his parents overflowing.  The guests at his party are gushing about him, dying to know more about his time in college, but all he can think about is getting away from them and being alone.  It is during this wallowing, that he encounters Mrs. Robinson, a sexually hungry neighbor who wastes no time in seducing him.  At first Ben is frightened, but eventually days later, his curiosity gets the better of him and he voluntarily accepts her lustful advances.

Mrs. Robinson, a woman unhappy in her marriage, and unfulfilled by her choices in life, is attempting to dampen the pain through their purely physical encounters.  Conversation, and social niceties are thrown out the window, as she apathetically, almost coldly manipulates Benjamin in order to get what she wants.  Benjamin, fascinated by the attention he is getting from her, doesn’t quite know how to handle the clinical approach that Mrs. Robinson takes, and continually attempts to engage her.  Ultimately he persists long enough, and delves deep enough to find out something of why she is engaged in this deception of her family with him.

During their affair, Ben lets everything else in his life slide.  The drive and ambition that defined him in his college career, now gives way to malaise and ennui, causing his parents to finally confront him.  In an attempt to get him back on track, it is suggested that Ben take Elaine Robinson out on a date (his parents are un-aware of Ben’s affair with Elaines mother).  Ben’s submission on this issue, and his and Elaine’s subsequent date sets into motion the main conflict of the movie.

While this movie almost certainly defines what it is like to be young, and to break free of the mold that has been set for you, it also chronicles the consequences of such impulsivity.  For every life altering decision that Benjamin Braddock makes to forge his own way, there is a life long regret that Mrs. Robinson is continually trying to make up for.  For every plot element that looks forward into a promising future, there is an equally strong storyline looking back on decisions that can’t be un-made.

That being said, what you get out of this film depends entirely on where you are in your own life as you watch it.  I for example, just turned thirty, am engaged, and have a steady job that I work hard at everyday.  I see the folly in Benjamin’s decisions more than I do the glamour.  Dustin Hoffman does a great job of playing the impulsive, wandering, naivety that most college kids our just out of school.  He is young capable of getting what he wants, and most of all he is only really concerned with himself, and what seems to be best for him in the present.  Anne Bancroft on the other hand, does a fantastic job of playing the person who used to be just like Benjamin Braddock.  Someone who, only now, can see the error of her choices.

Visually, the film is put together beautifully.  It flows together much like the characteristic songs from the soundtrack.  Each shot goes with the next, and is bourne from the last.  The patterns layered in the montage scenes repeat themselves to illustrate the scheduled and repetitive nature of Ben’s life, and start to fall away when he becomes more impulsive and free-wheeling.  The color is rich and vibrant, which aides  the slightly unreal quality that one feels after completing  something as life-changing and influential as graduating college.

While the Graduate maybe didn’t have the same effect on me that it did on others, it did have an effect none the less.  While I don’t think it is the film that completely defines who I am, or who I was, neither are the films that at one time did define me.  As much as Lost in Translation once meant to me, i’m coming to it from a different perspective now, and it doesn’t quite mean the same thing.  That being said, just because it doesn’t define me, doesn’t mean it isn’t saying something important anyhow.  The same is true for The Graduate.

“Hoffman at his tannest.” – Ashley

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

McCabeMrsMiller

McCabe and Mrs. Miller – 1971

Director – Robert Altman

Starring – Warren Beatty and Julie Christie

So we come to yet another Robert Altman movie. This time Altman subverts the western genre, transforming a series of characters from cookie cutter black and whites into more realistic grays and earth tones. Warren Beatty plays the McCabe of the title, arriving in a new frontier town in the Pacific Northwest with his sights set on jump starting the gambling and whore house industries. His reputation in town precedes him as the bartender bolsters his reputation by telling stories of his “gunfighting past” (it’s not revealed till later whether or not this account of his past is rumor or authentic). The town folk, rapt with attention, line up to hear his stories, play poker with him, and to sample his wares. His operation is going well, and McCabe grows more and more full of himself until Mrs. Miller, another entrepreneur new arrival in town, shoots holes in his rather short-sighted and limited plans.

She knows the true potential for this sort of business in town, and more importantly she knows how to run it. She convinces McCabe to put up the cash and soon enough they are in business. Together, their business flourishes as does the rather one sided affection that McCabe feels for Miller. Her desire to legitimize the spot she has cut out for herself, serves as a blockade to McCabe’s attempts to sweep her off of her feet. The greater their success, the more amorous he tries to be, and the more distant she becomes.

When a large conglomerate business makes a take-it-or-leave-it offer to purchase the business, McCabe refuses in a bluff, attempting to squeeze a larger sum from the buyers. Mrs. Miller knows how ruthless these men can be, and does what she can to warn McCabe of the danger of playing with fire. Beatty’s “gunslinger” is full of the glory of his own legend, claims to know how to play the game. Unlike the rest of the townsfolk however, Mrs. Miller can see right through his posturing.

Altman’s tendency to turn archetypes on their heads, results in McCabe having the ego and confidence of a Hollywood cowboy, but without the skills or experience to back it up. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, but up until now he’s been lucky. Despite her addiction to opium, Julie Christie’s Mrs. Miller can see that plain as day, and resigns herself to what is almost a foregone conclusion at this point. What follows at the end of the film is brutish and inevitable.

When the shunned offer results in the conglomerate company sending a couple of fearsome, hired guns to forcibly relieve McCabe of his enterprise, his pomp and ego turns into bargaining and cowardice. The three men sent to kill McCabe are a scary bunch of outlaws who seem to fear nothing, or no-one. They run roughshod over the town, and the townspeople, taking what they want and killing indiscriminately. Rather than stepping out on the street and having a showdown, Altman’s characters fight it out like they would in real life, by hiding and through ambush. The bad guys fight dirty, and in order to stay alive, the good guys have to fight dirty too.

Altman’s change of venue from the arid southwest of the United States, to the chilly and bleak northwest provides just the right tone for the film. Bleak and foreboding, harsh and unforgiving. Altman had his cinematographer purposefully flash expose the film to light before developing to get that hazy 1800’s photo quality. Before learning this, I thought it was a bad transfer on my DVD, and it annoyed me to no end. Just like each of his other movies, I grew to appreciate it. While I never ended up loving how it looked, I could at least appreciate that the film itself was used as a tool through which the story was being told. Altman isn’t necessarily afraid of making the finished look of the film weathered and used, if it helps along the story.

The town’s sets in this movie, reminded me a lot of the apartment complex set from Rear Window. At first the flood of visual information seems overwhelming, but as the story progresses and the sets are used again and again, we become at home in them. They start to take on a reality, a three dimensionality, and a familiarity, that transcends the 2 hours or so that we inhabit them. I wouldn’t be surprised if this place is still standing somewhere (I guess I actually would be surprised, but the feeling of it being a real functioning place is no less diminished for it being gone in today’s world.)

Like each of Altman’s films that I’ve seen (and I suspect the ones I haven’t seen as well), The Long Goodbye, The Player, Short-Cuts, and M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a product made up of carefully laid out elements that form the cohesive whole. Film stock, film-developing, editing, direction, acting, sets, and costumes all work with one another towards a common goal. I started out not liking this movie, ready to write it off as a dud, but as I kept watching, I felt more invested in this little nook of the world. I felt like I grew with each of the characters as they went through the story.