Wednesday, October 26, 2011

#32: Something in the Wind

Starring: Deanna Durbin, John Dall, Donald O'Connor
Dir: Irving Pichel (1947)

Boy do I love me some Deanna Durbin. Look at her! Isn't she adorable?!? Hope you're ready for shit-tons of screencaps and a horrible synopsis!
In Something in the Wind, Deanna plays Mary Collins, host of a radio program that's about to go off the air due to lack of funds. Poor little Mary, the program just consists of her sitting barefoot on a desk, spinning her own records and singing her own songs. She sure could use some money! And shucks, she seems like a nice girl.
In case you missed it, this is DEANNA DURBIN we're talking about. She is a TALENTED LADY.
One day Mary is met outside her studio by Donald Reed, wealthy heir of a local millionaire, who informs her that his Grandfather Reed has died and the financial relationship existing between Papa Reed and herself must now come to an end. There are a few unsavory hints about the nature of this relationship (as in SEX FOR MONEY). Mary has no idea what he's talking about, he hints insultingly a few more times, she tells him to piss off, he storms out, end of scene. Fast forward and Mary's elderly aunt confesses to her that when she was a governess in the Reed household, she and Papa Reed fell in love and he has been supporting their family with monthly checks ever since. This explains why the Reed estate would be cutting them off, but not why Mary is being accused of having an affair with Pops. Poor Mary hardly has time to digest this fact, however, before she is KIDNAPPED BY THE REED FAMILY!!
"I realize how hard it must be for this family to get people to come calling, but this really is too much!"
WHOA! Turns out all the Reeds are under the impression that Mary was a mistress of the late Reed Senior, and are now prepared to buy her off in order to subdue any scandal!! Yeesh! This family is INTENSE! Papa Reed, peeps should just be honest with each other, am I right? There ain't no baby.
Mary would at first like very much to remove this misunderstanding, but, realizing that a great deal of money is actually being offered to her (she could save her radio program!) and deciding that the Reeds pretty much suck anyway, she decides to play along as the fallen woman. She quickly invents a lovechild and demands a million dollars to keep her mouth shut. She shamelessly enjoys sending the whole horrible family into hysterics with threats of bad publicity, refusals to sign any settlement papers, and vivid descriptions of Donald's "darling baby uncle."
Mary bears up under vicious attacks on her character.

Mary and poor cousin Charles (Donald O'Connor) become fast friends during this process. Charles is in love with Donald's fiancee, and since Mary already hates Donald for insulting her, the two team up to destroy Donald's engagement and cause general misery. Creepy Uncle Chester chooses this moment to pop out from some behind some furniture. He's the same guy who played Deanna's dad in Three Smart Girls, isn't that funny? This family is all over the place.
What are you doing, Uncle Chester? "Hiding!"
The plot speeds up now as Charles takes matters into his own hands, convinced he can split up Donald's engagement faster if he can just persuade Donald to seduce Mary (?) and then arrange for this seduction to be witnessed by Clarissa, the fiancee. Donald is sort of stupid and agrees to go along, because... if Mary likes him... she will take his money? Or something. Don't ask questions. This is basically an excuse to take Deanna to a fashion show and have her wear this incredible sequin-y get-up, along with buckets of innuendo at Donald's expense. 
"You want it to get around town that I am Mrs. Reed? Why Donald, this is so sudden."
Deanna is a far cry from muffins and milk in this movie, and may I say I find her adorable?! In this scene she sings a wonderful song about mistresses and gets to sit on Donald's lap. Clarissa walks in and of course sees the whole thing, so TA-DA engagement over! I really want to recount this full scene blow-by-blow because it is actually hilarious, but I'm afraid to ruin it. 
"I'm insanely jealous." :D
Okay now moving on.
Back at the house, Donald tries once more to fake-seduce Mary. This time it works. There is a full moon, Charles hires a band to play outside the window, Mary wears one of her new fancy boob-enhancing gowns from the fashion show, and Donald turns off the lamps. Watching a poor woman's Jimmy Stewart try to nuzzle up and bust a move is definitely one of this movie's biggest selling points.

Donald: "You seem to be a very intelligent person, Miss Collins - Mary - 
and, if I may add, very attractive."
Mary: "Well, I wouldn't know! Personally, I've never appealed to myself in that way."

Before you know it, the movie magic takes its hold, Mary sings a song with the band, and BOOM! Fireworks! They kiss! And... it's the real deal!!
Donald looks like a great kisser. And look, he accessorizes!
They confess their true attraction to each other (as a viewer you just shut up and take it) and Mary goes to bed that night blissfully in love. Unfortunately, Mother Reed has witnessed this all from her bedroom window. She comes to Mary's room to convince her that any romance with Donald is impossible (blah blah blah poor, blah blah blah family duty, blah blah blah fake bastard child). Mary is finally subdued and leaves the house the next morning without saying goodbye to Donald. WILL THEY EVER BE TOGETHER AGAIN??
I'm going wrap up the rest with a slideshow so as not to spoil the wonderful ending! Well, okay, some hints too: Jail. Alcohol. Duet. And... ballet?

In this scene, Charlie drinks the soda and Donald drinks the alcohol. They both get drunk.
Deanna sings her way out of jail again. This time it's Il Trovatore with Jan Peerce of the Metropolitan Opera.
Another great kiss with Donald!
"That's just a sample of the work done on this machine."*
There you go!

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

*I'm not making that up. He actually says that.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

#31: The Heiress

Starring: Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson
Dir: William Wyler (1949)

Sexiest elbow grab in the history of film
Let's start with the plot. Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) is plain, unappealing, and wealthy. As she ages, her critical and overbearing father becomes resigned to her spinsterhood, but her aunt continues to trot her out for parties Just In Case. Then one night the dashing Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) meets her at a dance and she instantly falls head over heels. He is sweet, intelligent, doting, and... poor. Olivia's overprotective father takes one look and instantly suspects him because, you know, nobody could love his stupid daughter and if Monty is poor then he can only want one thing, right? Once Monty proposes to Olivia, Dad steps in to prevent the wedding. Olivia vows their love is real, so he threatens to cut off her inheritance as a test. And here's where the movie starts to suck - Dad's right. Monty instantly bails, and the now-destitute Olivia is supposed to be grateful for this deliverance.
But it hurts!! Olivia really is unappealing, yet you want to believe Monty has seen the good in her. She really is unlovable, but, as she herself hopes, might he not have seen past her awkwardness and loved her for her virtue? Maybe?? Unfortunately, no. So the fact all along that the only two men in her life who ever claimed to love her both see her as unwomanly, unlovely, and a disappointment, finally becomes clear to her. And it breaks her.
First, full disclosure: I thought Morris loved Catherine. I really did. I believed in Monty's earnest face, his awkward smile, his adorable shoulders-to-waist ratio and empty dance card. Ten minutes in and I was squealing and screencapping and clapping my little hands in glee! Daddy was a tyrant! True love would conquer all! Catherine would get married and loosen up a little and have a baby with Monty and then everything would be perfect in the end! Monty would be her deliverance, Catherine vowed that he would "love her for all those who didn't!"
Sexiest hand-kiss in the history of film
But by the final third of the movie, as the score grew gloomy and foreboding and Catherine started getting her Fierce on, I realized I was about to be disappointed. And I got mad. I pounded the couch cushions, I yelled at the screen, I would not accept the injustice. Right up to the last moment I thought something, somehow, might magically make it right. I thought Monty's mustache meant he was really a new man. But Dad, now dead, was still right.

Austin: "Your grace? Your charm? Your quick tongue and subtle wit?... Catherine, I've tried for months not to be unkind but it's time for you to realize the truth... 
A hundred women are prettier, a thousand more clever, but you have one virtue that outshines them all. Your money. You have nothing else."
Catherine: "He does not love me for that!"
Austin: "I've known you all your life and I've yet to see you learn anything. With one exception, my dear - you embroider neatly."

(Try not turning into a bitter old spinster after hearing something like that. From your dad.)

So, after the credits rolled, while cranking "The Man That Got Away" and cleaning my kitchen in a fit of frustration, I finally realized something: The cruel transformation, the life-altering betrayal, the steely life of solitude and abandonment - it was a Jane Austen novel without salvation. Morris Townsend is what happens to naive, sheltered women right before they get rescued by a Mr. Darcy ("We knew each other growing up, the man's a douche. Buuuuuuuuuut, here's me..."). And I realized that I was no wiser than Lydia or Marianne, that Morris was indeed a fortune-hunting douchebag, and so my wee little heart broke.
But could YOU say no to that face??
Before that moment, however, I believed in romance. Monty filling out the dance card. Catherine giggling with Aunt Penniman. The elbow grab. Austin's horrible rant against Monty in the sitting room, and Monty being so brave.
The every-present chamois gloves.
I realized watching Catherine ascend the stairs that I am not a Strong Woman. I'm not made of that steely stuff. But... here's my thought. If not being a Strong Woman lands me with anything near Montgomery Clift in my late-plain-30s...

I don't think I mind.

Stars: 4 of 5

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

#30: My Foolish Heart

Starring: Susan Hayward, Dana Andrews
Dir: Mark Robson (1949)

Oh, Susan. Oh, Dana. Oh, My Foolish Heart.
So I'll admit that from the instant I saw J.D. Salinger's name in the credits I was prepared to hate this story. And I almost did. I'm sure the only reason I liked it at all was because it was in movie form, and my darling Dana carried the lead. If I'd had to read PHONEY PHONEY BLAH BLAH BLAH ANGST LOVE KILLS AND EVERYONE DIES OH LOOK THE WATER I WANT TO KILL MYSELF as I imagine it appeared in the New Yorker, I wouldn't have bothered. J.D. SALINGER I HATE YOU!
Okay, sorry.
I did like the movie overall. Susan Hayward's acting is new to me since I've only seen her in pictures, but I think I like her. I heard she got an Oscar nomination for this role which on the one hand is Oh my lord old Hollywood, the things you used to reward*, and on the other hand is Neat! Of course I think she did a far more convincing job being the horrible alcoholic Eloise, probably because she was nowhere near college-age in this film, and portraying a naive twenty-year-old was a stretch at best. BUT she was still good as old Eloise. And her white lacy dress at the dance reminded me sooo much of Liz Taylor's white dress in A Place in the Sun, which was a plus. And then there was the whole thing that followed of how illegitimate babies ruin lives and kill innocent people and destine you for a life of misery, like in APITS. Also, she just looked like Liz Taylor to me. In the mouth, I think? Since that fact distracted me a great deal through the film, let's be honest and say that's about all I have to say for Susan, and we can move on now to DANA.
Oh, Dana. OOOOOOOOOH, Dana. He is too old for his part as well, maybe (this was after Best Years), but who cares - I love him. Every time I branch out with my Dana education I am impressed by how good of an actor he is. He speaks the same way, carries himself the same way, in every way seems totally effortless, and yet he creates a hugely different impression in every role. Wow this is totally the way all shitty bloggers sound when they try to describe good acting. I CAN'T ARTICULATE OKAY? IT'S JUST HOW IT IS. I love him SO much, but he can always surprise me. I guess that's how I tell a good old actor from another. And let's be honest, a lot of old actors suck**.
Dana isn't meant to be a 100% good through and through love interest in My Foolish Heart, but I guess that's just because he's doing this whole sex-before-marriage-I-don't-love-you-yet thing in a black and white movie and my standards for black and white movies are TRUE LOVE! And BUFFALO GALS! And OPEN POST OFFICE BOX 237 AND TAKE ME OUT OF MY ENVELOPE AND KISS ME! It's clear enough that he's a good person, he's just disenchanted (in that horrible J.D. Salinger way) and looks more like a real person than a Love Interest usually does. The way he wooed Eloise was kind of threatening, which I admit did loads for his sex appeal, but still kept me on guard until the movie played out and proved his worth. Ahhh Dana!
Example: The scene in his apartment, with Mendelssohn, on the couch. I just kept thinking "OH SUSAN DON'T DO IT!" but then "DAMN IT GIRL I TOTALLY WOULD I DON'T BLAME YOU I GUESS AAHH!" And then, while I still think the young Eloise was less convincing than old Eloise, this line she said before leaving his apartment punched my gut with how much it reminded me of real life, especially because she looked so sad:
"I wish this wasn't just a buildup. I wished you liked me a little."

So he says he likes her. And he wants her to stay for sexytimes. And she won't. (Again, this sucks! She wants him to like her! But, morals!) And finally he leans over, kisses her "the way he would a rich but loathsome aunt," and she goes to leave.
And of course she feels silly and tries to show up again two minutes later and bust a move, but he sends her home. And then, then, dear viewer, you know it's okay to love him.

As a side note, I also love that once she leaves he pretends like he's going to clean his apartment for a minute. But then he doesn't, and just takes his clothes off instead.
The rest of the movie is just really sad. There's the whole Fallen Woman thing which I have a hard time with, though I do love how Eloise doesn't try to force Walt to marry her. I also feel that Walt's reluctance to go to war and his numb feeling, being a "serial number in a platoon in a company in an Army," could have been better elaborated. Maybe it was too soon after the war to put that sort of attitude in a mainstream movie. Who knows. BUT. Ugh.

All in all, I liked it, but I won't be returning to My Foolish Heart anytime soon. It was very sad, and I don't like seeing Dana die. I do, however, like seeing him do this:

Because that's what I give Netflix twenty bucks a month for.

Stars: 3.5 of 5

*Boys Town. Just... Boys Town.