July 28, 2007

The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve
directed by Preston Sturges, 1941

I should say up front that this is the best screwball comedy I've ever seen, and among the top few romances as well. I should also say up front that I have had a crush on Barbara Stanwyck for years, so that may color my opinion somewhat.

I almost don't want to talk too much about this movie, because it's hard to do it justice in words. But yeah like I'd ever shut my mouth about something I liked...

First of all, you've got Henry Fonda who's got the dorky rich boy shtick down, but isn't satisfied to do just that. His character has quirks and depth and realness, and also all the qualities you want in a romantic leading man. (It's amazing how many so-called romances will have lead characters who are pretty despicable and unlovable.) And Stanwyck is just a marvel really - I don't think I could say enough positive things about her. She's absolutely radiant and full of life and like Fonda she seems like such a real person. Well, of course "real" within the ludicrous context posited by a screwball comedy.

As in Sullivan's Travels (reviewed a couple weeks ago here), it's the tone that makes it all work. Unlike in that other movie, the director isn't "playing tricks" with tone here, but keeping us engaged as viewers, sucked into the story. The genius is a matter of making us feel that the people on the screen are reflections of ourselves, that there's a human commonality that connects us.

So in this context, the plot is beautifully wrought, with actual developments that alter the relationships among the characters and further the drama. (Again, how often have you seen films wherein the plot twists are nothing but that - a little obstacle to make sure it doesn't peak too soon?) A great second act and third act, each one stretching the bounds of credulity further, adding new possibilities for dramatic irony, characters study, and just hilarious dialogue.

And anyone could fall in love with Ms. Stanwyck just by watching.

July 24, 2007


I'm feeling rather open, expansive, and generous tonight for some reason. Just in a nice mood I guess, and you know what that means .... yep, some more Whitman (never let it be said that I am full of surprises)

This is the meal quickly set, this the meat for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The kept-woman, sponger, thief, are hereby invited,
The heavy-lipp'd slave is invited, the venerealee is invited;
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.

The is the press of a bashful hand, this the float and odor of hair,
This the touch of my lips to yours, this the murmur of yearning,
This the far-off depth and height reflecting my own face,
This the thoughtful merge of myself, and the outlet again.

Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well I have, for the fourth-month showers have, and the mica on the side of a rock has.

Do you take it I would astonish?
Does the daylight astonish? does the early redstart twittering through the woods?
Do I astonish more than they?

This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.

by the way, it took me a minute, and then I double-checked. "venerealee" does mean what you think it should mean.

July 14, 2007

The Grifters

The Grifters
directed by Steven Frears, 1990

This movie combines a lot of my favorite genre tropes and mixes them up into a great pulpy psychodrama. You got your Jim Thompson story cataloging the dark side of the American Dream as usual. You got your Frears eye for colorful mise-en-scene that makes you feel somehow boxed in and wide-open vulnerable at the same time. And of course you got the kind of acting that just knocks your socks off.

I don't think John Cusack's ever been better - brilliantly cast. Annette Bening is pitch-perfect throughout. And man that Angelica Huston... she is just such a good film actress it's insane. The highest compliment I can pay the other actors in this movie is that they manage to hold their own in the same room as her - her character here has got layers and twists and depths and just wow.

Think I may have to do a little 90s-noir festival for myself ... Red Rock West, Last Seduction, etc. Got any suggestions?

July 10, 2007

Sullivan's Travels

Sullivan's Travels
directed by Preston Sturges, 1941

For some reason I had never seen this movie before, and wow. What a lovely piece of work it is, enjoyable on so many levels. I think that the most amazing achievement is the fine control of tone throughout ... really I should watch it again, because it seems impossible that it was all handled so masterfully. The movie manages to be all post-modernly self-referential, but without using our current technique of snarky "look at me" humor to cover up its anxiety.

This is definitely a movie that's nervous about itself, refreshingly so. And just so entertaining. I laughed so hard over and over. It even manages to have to have African American characters two steps above the expected uber-cringey brain-freezing stereotypes. Great performances from Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, and a huge cast of spot-on character actors. I'd really like to watch this one a second time right away, and preferably on the big screen.

[Side Note: the Pynchon reading continues apace. Loving it so far!]