Friday, November 18, 2011

"The family with us was strong and remains strong. Their problems are my problems and vice versa. We're sort of a 'group' going through the world together. Isn't that wonderful? I feel so lucky. I feel cared for and I have always felt cared for... I cannot say anything in detail about my sisters and brothers. They are so much a part of me that I simply know that I could not have been me without them. They are my 'box' - my protection."
- Katharine Hepburn, Me: Stories of My Life

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#33*: Mildred Pierce

Starring: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Ann Blyth
Dir: Michael Curtiz (1945)

I was working up to this! I know it's a classic, but I'm scared of Joan Crawford.
Main character Mildred, played by Joan Crawford, is a stay-at-home mom whose two daughters are her only joy in life. When her husband leaves her for another woman and forces her to make her own way in his absence, Mildred finds work as a waitress to provide for her children. Her younger daughter Kay is a tomboy, cheerful and helpful, obviously destined for a tragic end. (THANKS, MOVIES.) Older daughter Veda is pretty and spoiled and longs to be a social success, whatever that means. (Class is a big theme in this movie. The Pierces are lower class, struggling to fit into the upper class. This causes misery. Life lessons here, my peeps!) Mildred lavishes gifts and dance lessons and everything she can afford on Veda, who is growing precocious and soon insists that her mother's offerings aren't good enough. Mildred, being sort of pathetically devoted, decides to feel ashamed and try harder rather than smack that ungrateful mouth.
Fortunately for Veda, Mildred is busting her buns and soon finds herself in a position to open her own restaurant. She winds up buying some property from wealthy bachelor Monte Beragon, a shmoozy guy in white pants who winds up seducing her ("HEY, NICE LEGS") and making her feel young and pretty again. Business is booming! Life seems to be looking up for Mildred! She buys more and more gifts for Veda. At this particular moment Kay gets pneumonia and dies, and the Pierce's divorce is finalized. This is what we like to call "a clusterfuck."
Veda interlude: Veda is a crazy little ho. She is ashamed of her working-class family and longs to Escape into Society. As soon as Mommy is all busy and distracted Veda runs off and marries a wealthy boy that she doesn't love JUST BECAUSE HE IS WEALTHY. (Ho.) Then, rather than stay with him (and he seems nice!), she demands a divorce, claims she is pregnant, and takes the poor boy for $10,000. Mildred steps in and tears up the check, knowing Veda is lying about the baby. Veda says some horrible things ("You're poor and ugly and I hate you"), Mildred slaps her, they both cry, and Mildred says GET OUTTA MY HOUSE. So Veda is kicked out and gets to sing in nightclubs for a few years. Yay!
End Veda interlude.
Since all this happens rather fast, Mildred recuperates with a vacay in Mexico while Veda plays a poor man's Carmen Miranda with her fancy voice lessons. When Mommy comes back she decides she wants Veda again, so she makes a deal with Monte to marry him - giving him one third of the business in exchange - in order to give Veda the home life she's always longed for. Bad idea, Mildred. Monte's a perv, what, you don't have that sixth sense for perverts like all women were born with?!?! Whatever, it works, Veda makes a tearful return to her mother and things seem on the up-and-up.
One night some time later Mildred is held up at work arguing with her creditors. Monte has been bleeding the restaurant franchise dry with his expensive lifestyle and his... creepy... doting on Veda. When she returns home from this meeting, Mildred finds Veda and Monte alone. K-i-s-s-i-n-g. It is GROSS, and I would screencap it for you only I mailed the DVD back to Netflix yesterday. It's just... Veda looks like a 12-year-old. Not okay.
Even the internet doesn't have it.
Mildred is disgusted and Veda wastes no time launching into her "Well now you know, he only stayed with you to get to me anyway, blah blah blah, I can't believe you thought anyone would love you, we're going to get married, p.s. you're still poor" rant. Mildred leaves. Monte turns around and is like, "Um, I'm not marrying you" and Veda flips a cow and shoots him.
The movie ends with Veda begging her mother to cover for her to the police so she can flee JUSTICE. JUSTICE, VEDA. Fortunately, Mommy Dearest has a brief moment of Um Fuck No and Veda is sent to jail. Outside the courthouse Mildred is met by her (sympathetic?) ex-husband and the movie fades out with the reassurance that they will make a life together again.

Stars: 4 of 5 for quality, 3 of 5 for re-watchability

*I watched this before TGNM, but posted in reverse. Anal-retentive me demands accurate numbering.

#34: Three Guys Named Mike

Starring: Jane Wyman, Van Johnson, Howard Keel, Barry Sullivan
Dir: Charles Walters (1951)

Sick at home under my baby quilt, all dosed up on DayQuil and gypsy tea with loads of honey, it's time to attack the Netflix instant queue!! Starting with the inexplicable Three Guys Named Mike (no, wait, it has Howard Keel. It's explicable now)!!
In TGNM, Jane Wyman plays Marcy, a high-energy Type A kind of gal who loves to fix problems and help people and is always full of adorable ideas! Doesn't she seem cut out to be an airline stewardess? Well, she is. She is going to school to be an airline stewardess. NICE.
Nobody seems to be able to make up their mind throughout this movie whether Marcy is a wide-eyed small-town girl always adorably messing things up (but nobody minds because she's so cute) or if she's just a blandified American 1950s version of Amelie. But whichever she is, I like her. "Rules weren't made for Marcy," remarks one Mike. Yeah, in like two scenes of the movie, one of which involves her letting a DOG ONTO A PLANE. Sounds a little bit IGNORANT to me. But oh well, if that's her tagline, I'll go with it.
The premise of this movie is that Marcy is likable, and she happens to meet a few guys in a short period of time that all decide to like her. And they are all named Mike. And they are all met by her through the WILD AND WONDERFUL WORLD OF AIR TRAVEL, which I imagine was still exciting in 1951 and apparently wanted to do little as an industry to counter the slutty-stewardess thing through propaganda like this.
Yes, that is all there is to the premise.
Mike #1 is Howard Keel, who I was rooting for until I remembered that Van Johnson got top billing and I was probably setting myself up for a disappointment. He appears early in the film wearing some sweet shades and singing a bum-de-dum-dee tune to himself in a sweet white car. Marcy has a flat on her way to the airport so he gives her a ride, she says she's a stewardess and he asks her how she likes her work, Oh she likes it fine but those pilots are real assholes, thank you, goodbye! But when she arrives on the tarmac and boards her first flight feeling all kinds of nervous HE'S THE PILOT!
In this wonderful scene Mike #1 gets mad at Marcy and makes fun of her while Sexy Copilot cracks up over on the left. Note to viewer: I don't think Sexy Copilot is actually supposed to be cracking up... And that is why this scene is wonderful.
OH BA DUM PSH! It is Awk-town, population: Mike and Marcy for a while until she starts being cute and bringing him his lunch, and we get a really winning montage of multiple meals being presented to Mike #1 until he finally starts smiling and winking at her in adorable moments like this (how else do you win a man over, anyway?):
Marcy meets Mike #2 (Van Johnson) some time later on a flight. He is aloof and reading a big heavy book so she thinks he must be a Very Important Person and spends the duration of the flight trying to get his attention. Somehow this involves telling a little girl sitting near Mike #2 to look out at the stars, whereupon Mike #2 gets all show-offy and starts being like ACTUALLY ASTRONOMY KNOWLEDGE BLAH BLAH and being rude and Marcy is like Fine well if you want to be that way and gives him this sassy look:
(Pure sass-afrass.)
Later she finds out Mike #2 is a graduate student and part-time bartender and they bond over the fact that he loves teaching and lighting up the eyes of children with knowledge and truth and love, and hey, Marcy's mom was a teacher too.
Mike #3 is an asshole she meets when her car battery dies and he very sleazily helps her fix it. I will spend very little time on Mike #3 because he SUCKS. He is TOO OLD and he is GROSS. Unfortunately, he also has one of the best "bits" with Marcy, where they pretend they are already married and talk about the six kids and the cat and the governess, and it is all very cute and funny until he starts grabbing her hand and fondling it and smooshing his lips on it and being like "Marcy, I think you'd like living life the way I do, you see, I'm an advertising man" or some baloney.
Basically the movie carries on and I get increasingly confused because I can't tell who I'm supposed to root for, although that may be the cough medicine. The Three Mikes meet and instantly hate one another and battle for the last thirty minutes or so for Marcy's affections, they all help her move into her new apartment (so cute! Helpful men!) and try to out-muscle each other, and at the culmination of the film they fight each other all the way to the tarmac to send Marcy off to Dallas or somewhere with their marriage proposals.
Proposal #1 (Cute and tall Mike.)
Proposal #2 (GROSS MIKE.)
Proposal #3 (Humble Scientist Mike.)
Not actually a proposal but should have been (Sexy Copilot.)
Well Marcy chooses the humble scientist and there's the end of the movie. It was cheesy and short and formulaic, but in all I actually enjoyed it a great deal. Jane Wyman was very endearing and, while I hate to see Howard Keel bested by Bland Johnson, the romance is sweet. Marcy almost made me want to be peppy and energetic and start lighting up other people's lives, but then I remembered that I'm home with a sinus infection and can't even make my own bed. Sigh. Maybe this movie is about accepting limitations?

Stars: 3.5 of 5. It is insubstantial and cute.

**Further notes about this movie:
-A lot of the scenes are shot in one take. Some are quite long!
-Marcy's girlfriends are really cute
-Marcy in a sarong makes me want to watch South Pacific
-Howard Keel.