Thursday, June 16, 2011

#28: Reaching for the Moon

Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Bebe Daniels, Edward Everett Horton
Dir: Edmund Goulding (1931)

And this is where shit gets REAL. All I can say about this movie is OH EM GEE. My sister insisted that this movie was fondly remembered somewhere in the back of her brain and we should give it a try and see. The fact that Bing Crosby had top billing for it on Netflix was kind of confusing, but that's just because he sings a song in it (sounding surprisingly un-Bing-ly, although he was only a baby at the time) which is totally no big deal although kind of a fun fact. The REAL point of the movie, however, is this:
This man. This man right here.
Seriously, words cannot explain. This man speaks to my soul across the years. There I am thinking that Bebe Daniels has big feet, and then he SAYS that she has big feet. Obviously, we share thoughts. We share alcohol intolerance too. It is like we were always meant to be.

Story-wise, Douglas Fairbanks Love of My Life plays Larry Day, a wealthy man who has no interest in women and no skills in wooing them. Then Vivien, a saucy aviatrix played by Bebe Daniels, bets a friend that she can get Larry out on a date. She wins - Larry is smitten, they set up a date, and Vivien... inexplicably... stands him up and hops on a boat to Europe ("Ha! Ha! Ha!"). Proving that Rules girls totally know where it's at, Larry is SO smitten following her rejection that he sneaks onto the boat to follow her, pretends to be a lecherous French steward in her bedroom (it's dark and he's hot), and then chases her around to pester her in random shirtless scenes like this:

Basically Vivien decides she likes him after all but she doesn't know how to show it, so he becomes convinced she's still leading him on and they have a little bit of trouble (hint: she's secretly engaged) and he thinks she's taking advantage of him and they fight. Somewhere in there everyone drinks a really potent cocktail and Larry dances on the walls like this.
Yeah what's up he's adorable.
Anyway, things end up fine -- they always do -- and it gets tied up with a neat little bow. Huzzah. The main thing is not the plot though, which is standard, but the OH MY GOD CUTENESS of the whole thing. I should admit that I was a little worried at first to see Douglas in a talkie. After feeling the first flutterings of appreciation from Mark of Zorro I was afraid of him sounding squeaky and horrible, maybe being older and less attractive... But the talking Fairbanks is basically ten million times hotter. Trust. You get to hear the sexy smoker's voice and the constant laughing that explains his perpetual doofy Zorro grin, and the adorable high-pitched noises he makes when he jumps and tumbles, and the way he fakes his French accent... he delivers classic lines, like "When madame disrobes for bed, anything is liable to explode!"

(Just in case it hasn't been made clear, I am completely sold on Douglas Roundface Fairbanks. Lock, stock, and barrel. Baby and bathwater. Eggs in one basket, etc.)

Bad: Nothing.
Good: EVERYTHING and hey, I almost forgot! My boo Edward Everett Horton of Busby Berkeley fame plays probably the only obviously gay character in the history of classic movies, and is also hilarious! He and Douglas have several utterly adorable scenes together, mostly where Horton is trying to coach Douglas in how to "make a lady."
Uncle Eddie also has one of my favorite lines in the entire movie - although it is difficult to choose - when he drinks his cocktail and promptly exits, saying, "There's a Polish woman in the second cabin. A blonde. I may be two hours. I can't tell. Who knows. *snaps*"


Stars: 4.5 of 5

#27: Why Change Your Wife?

Starring: Gloria Swanson, Thomas Meighan, Bebe Daniels
Dir: Cecil B. DeMille (1920)

Warning you in advance: Cutest movie EVER. Gloria Swanson is Beth, the uptight and bookish wife of a curly-haired man who likes dogs and is named Robert. (Robert is not that cute, let's just get that out of the way.)
Robert likes to do fun things like listen to foxtrots and smoke cigars buy fancy undies for his wife. Beth likes to enjoy an evening of classical music and then put on her frumpy glasses (no!) and go to bed with a book (NO!!). She also HATES to wear undies in front of her husband... she puts clothes on underneath them. Needless to say, Robert and Beth are having no fun.
Next thing you know, some little hussy from his past is stalking the curly-haired hubby and inviting him to her apartment to have drinks and listen to foxtrots (his weakness) and next thing you know THEY HAVE KISSED. (Bebe Daniels a.k.a. Sally is the hussy on the left.)
Blah blah blah Beth finds out, she and Robert get a divorce, and she is all wound up about it and miserable. Robert is shamed into marrying the hussy (because KISSES MAKE BABIES). Then Beth overhears some little snitches in a dressing room saying how it's about time Robert found a wife that was more fun anyway. (Apparently this kind of thing was put in newspapers back in the day - the mind boggles!) So, rather than getting all furious-and-a-half and telling off the beezies, Beth decides that they are right and she immediately buys a bunch of exciting new clothes, stating the first principal of emancipated women everywhere: "I'll take this and six more; and make them sleeveless, backless, transparent, indecent - go the limit!"
Shortly after, Robert and Beth are reunited when Beth goes to vacation at the hotel where Robert and Sally are honeymooning. Robert is immediately stricken by Beth's new look (read: visible ankles) and the spark is rekindled. Apparently the fact that Robert was a cheater is not a problem with Beth anymore. She also likes dogs now. Can't they just be in love again?? But ROBERT IS MARRIED!
Anyway it goes on from there and gets very action-packed toward the end (someone gets hospitalized for slipping on a banana peel, someone threatens someone else with a bottle of acid, someone wears a caped swimsuit and knee-high gladiator sandals... to lunch), but to save myself from both spoiling all the thrilling action and making this thing too damn long, everything works out and they are super cute.

Bad: There's a creepy violinist. I try to avoid discussing him because he is SO TRAUMATIZING. His hands are huge and his tummy is weird and he wears the most offensive swimming ensemble I have ever seen in my entire life, bar none, AND THEN TRIES TO HIT ON PEOPLE WHILE WEARING IT. Seriously. I would screencap it but this browser would die from shame.
Good: Everything!! Gloria Swanson is sooooooooooooo cute in this, I want to die. I can't believe it is the same Gloria Swanson from Beyond the Rocks, she is just a million times more endearing and wonderful. All the titles are cute and snarky, all the costumes are insanely horrible in a kind of entertaining way, you get little gems like this thrown around too --
and so forth. DAMN THOSE SHREWISH WIVES AND THEIR BOOKS. This is like every ugly duckling story every told, except better, and AWESOME.
Do it. Even if Robert isn't cute, it is so worth it. Honestly if he was any cuter this movie would probably freak out and break the scales of awesome anyway, and then I'd have to develop a new ranking system... boo.

Stars: 4 of 5

#26: The Mark of Zorro

Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Marguerite de la Motte
Dir: Fred Niblo (1922)

Okay, so here's the thing about Douglas Fairbanks.
Like, where to begin. Sort of short, sort of slouches, really bad hair (in this movie anyway), sort of round face with a sort of fat chin thing going on? Also, cheesy drawn-on mustache. Also, I've seen Antonio Banderas do this shit and he's, like, a comparative ten out of ten.
So riddle-me-this.
HOW does this short odd man manage to accomplish enough swashbuckling, hat-chewing, over-wall-leaping, and scarf trickery in a 90-minute period to capture my heart? HOW IS'T DONE? HOW IS'T ACCOMPLISHED? HOW IS THE LOFTY BARRICADE 'ROUND MY LOVE SCALED AND VANQUISHED BY A SMALL MAN WHO JUMPS HIGH?

Nevermind, 'twas done.

The first half of the movie was kind of slow, there were lots of natives being done wrong by the creepy Count of Something, this uptight Lolita beezy was all like "NO LE TOUCHE PAS" and Zorro was pretending not to be Zorro. But then a little ways in it started to get exciting - he was fighting people and being chased around and leaping high and twirling and thrusting and winning my love, et cetera. And he had to pretend to be this boring, awful nobleman who was always taking naps in the middle of the day (SUCH a turn-off, unless you knew he was just scuttling through the grandfather clock to go be Zorro instead) and doing obnoxious tricks with his hat. Not gonna lie, the love interest in this movie was like no big deal. But watching him mess with her was worth it.
And by the end, like I said, I was even jealous to see her get to do this.

Bad: All the scenes that didn't involve fighting and running and swashing and buckling were kinda whatever, and his love interest was a snooty little butt. I mean, I get that that creepy dude was totally imposing himself on her virtue or whatever, but she didn't have to be such a RUDE GUSS about it. Even if Zorro-pretending-not-to-be-Zorro was pretending not to care... I mean, he SO totally did! He just couldn't give himself away and jeopardize the fate California! Whatevs.
Good: Hugely relieved that I can like Douglas Fairbanks. (JUST WAIT UNTIL TALKIES OMG.) Because he jumps and swings and flies and flips and that shit has worked on me since I was knee-high to a grape watching Frank in Seven Brides... yeah, nbd.

Stars: 3.5 of 5 (because it gets better...)

#25: Beyond the Rocks

Starring: Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino
Dir: Sam Wood (1922)

Beyond the Rocks is a story of a sex god and a short woman who meet once and quickly part, meet again years later - it's kismet! - so the short woman douses herself with some flowery perfume that becomes like their little code thing and the sex god is so overcome that he passionately kisses her teeny little hands and... actually that part looks pretty fun -- and includes a big heavily costumed dream/storytelling interlude -- but then they are torn apart again (this time by a man with see-through eyes), so they are damned to gaze longingly and sigh deeply and write each other letters in their desperation, wait until the ugly man dies, and then FINALLY end up together forever - consciences clean - in the desert! Huzzah! (Note to self: Try watching Beyond the Rocks and The Sheik back to back. Could be awesome.)

Pictured above is a moment of potent silent chemistry (courtesy of a truly awesome Tumblr). See how the film melts and bubbles? Because their love is SO HOT.
That also tends to happen when a movie attempts to contain the heat of RUDOLPH EFFING VALENTINO OH MY GOD.

Anyway, the story isn't that great. When it starts and you're reading the titles it's all promising romance novel fare, like little Theodora Fitzgerald is trapped in a loveless marriage to a gross old dude and then there's the dashing Lord Bracondale (of non-threatening Italian lineage) trotting up and when Theodora falls out of a boat  he saves her and she smells like narcissus and it's so PHYSICAL and ROMANTIC. But then it really gets rolling and it's just pretty melodramatic. I think if there had been a little comedy to go along, I would have enjoyed it more. Or if Rudy spent more time climbing out of the sea. But altogether it forms kind of an over-rich romantic confection with a gross nougat-y moral at the center, definitely not how the movie would have been done today, where the beautiful young wife remains faithful to her old and ugly husband because she knows it's the Right Thing to Do, despite the dark and handsome and romantic and wonderful and smoking hot oh my god make me stop and he's Italian and he wears tails and he jumps selflessly into raging seas and scales tall mountains and he looks soooooooo gooooooooooood guy trying to steal her heart. So, basically implausible. Also, SPOILER ALERT (not really), I have watched a few more Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino movies since this and know they can be MUCH more compelling.
Not like Rudy is ever, you know, not worth watching. Or something. At all. Like, he's pretty much always good. For some reason... I don't know...

Bad: Boring. Ugly husband has see-through eyes. And they're all setting him up to be a villain and then in the end he's just like "Self-sacrificing, OMG I love you so much, I want you to be happy! IN THE DESERT!" Also, G-Swanson's clothes are soups unflattering. Except maybe the backless dress when they're staying at the manor-type place? But it doesn't make up.
Good: Rudolph Valentino was in this, did I mention that? And he wore SPATS and TAILS and his name was LORD BRACONDALE and he CLIMBED MOUNTAINS in his frickin CASUAL GOLF ATTIRE. Sooooohhghhhhhhmmmmmmmmmm.

Stars: 3 of 5