Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)

I recently attempted to watch this film and couldn't endure it. I think I lasted a very brave 40 something minutes before my patience was completely exhausted. The film tells the story of a family with 12 children (11 when the film starts), but the emphasis is on the father more than any other characters. There isn't really a plot but rather episodes with lose connections, like "Meet me in St Louis" had a few years prior. However it has none of the charm of that film, although it must have been a success in 1950 as it had a sequel in 1952.

What were the problems with it? First and foremost, the script. No plot and annoying characters throughout get you nowhere. Clifton Webb as the father is irritating. His character is at best described rose tinted father in a bad sitcom. And he overacts. He's fine as a sophisticate in "Laura" or "The Razor's Edge" but he seemed to take no real interest here. Myrna Loy is pure background. Jeanne Crain, who seemed to have a larger part in the sections I fast forwarded is way too old for her character. She wanted to be Judy Garland, she's only dull.

The other major point which really annoyed me was the cinematography. This was the dullest Technicolor film I ever saw. The skin colours were way too pastel. Maybe it was just the print used in the DVD [UK R2] but it seemed to me that there was far too much blue and too little red (the Technicolor process divides light in blue, green and red). Technicolor 20th Century Fox films have a distinctive look, not as bright as those say MGM, but nothing like this - just look at the beautiful "Leave Her to Heaven".

Not often a remake is better than the original, but the 2003 version of this film is far more interesting.

The funniest fact about the film, was that I thought I recognised the street from the aforementioned "Meet me in St Louis" - and according to IMDb I was spot on.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Collect Plays of Somerset Maugham, Volume 2

Here is my second post about the plays of Somerset Maugham. A few years ago I got two different sets of his plays. The first, had nine plays spread over two volumes and was a recent edition by Methuen. It was one of my first buys after my arrival in the UK. The second was bought on ebay, a complete set of the three volumes of the “Collected Plays”, originally published in the fifties. This didn't make the first set redundant, because of the omission of “The Letter” in it. It was certainly one of my most inspired buys.

I have just finished reading/re-reading the whole second volume, which has some of his better known comedies and farces, including “Our Betters”, “The Constant Wife”, “The Circle” and a hilarious farce “Home and Beauty”. All of these I have read at one time or another. There are also two further plays, “The Unattainable” and “The Breadwinner”, which I read for the first time and both far more interesting in themes than they are in reality. The first, is a three act exposé of how we always want what we can’t have, and that when we can we don’t want it anymore. It was funny in several moments, but not successful enough. However, it seems it was a hit in 1917. The second is one of the last few plays he wrote. It’s about a man who decides to abandon his family (who find him an absolute bore) and career (he has just ruined himself) and go and Live, but despite an interesting ending, it has some very dull scenes, especially in the beginning, and the most irritating portrait of 18-year olds ever put on paper. Neither of them really recommended, unless you’re already a fan.

The remaining four titles are altogether much better and I wonder why they aren’t staged more often in London. I guess they are perceived as too old fashioned, or perhaps the author has really gone out of fashion, or a bit of both. It’s really a pity – their themes of equality between women and men and society’s double standards, may not be as obvious as they were in the years after WWI but they still matter. Ok, divorce nowadays is easier to get, transforming the irony of the last act of “Home and Beauty” into just a silly scene, as most people won’t be fully aware how hard was to get a divorce in Britain in those days. But perhaps more important, is the fact that in these plays women misbehave as much as men. That was uncomfortable then and is uncomfortable now, despite the ninety years that have passed.

I had a chance of seeing two of them at their last West End incarnations – “The Constant Wife” with a wonderful Jenny Seagrove (who was the lead in the recent revival of “The Letter”) and “Home and Beauty” with a not so good Victoria Hamilton. I also saw and recommend George Cukor’s film version of “Our Betters” with a brilliant performance by Constance Bennett and which is quite high on my DVD wish list. I just hope that someone decides to bring it to London again. The same goes for “The Circle” which would be a great vehicle for Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Patricia Routledge or Penelope Keith.

Monday, 20 August 2007

"If I never knew you" (from Pocahontas)

I wish Disney would release the Mel Gibson/Judy Kuhn version of this song sometime soon. I would even double dip on the original soundtrack if they re-did it. It's a lovely song and the one Disney song that I don't own, want and can't have.

Still there might be hope as the OST CD is out of print - it may carry it in its next incarnation. I just hope is not in 2015 for the film's 20th anniversary.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Lady Frederick (1907)

This is the first of a couple of posts I intent to make on the subject of Somerset Maugham's plays that I am reading/re-reading after having abandoned a couple of books. I can' t say I have discovered new favourites, but "Lady Frederick" was a pleasant surprise. It was funny, clever, and kept me interested - something that its successor in volume one of the collected plays had not. A drawing-room comedy about money (or rather the lack of it) and a few marriages. Far less stylised than Oscar Wilde's, it keeps to the tradition and although less funny more is more real and interesting. To me, it's only drawback is the portrait of Captain Montgomerie, probably quite acceptable then but uncomfortably anti-semitic nowadays.

Originally performed in 1907, it catapulted the author to amazing heights - he became the first living playwright to have four plays simultaneously in the West End (Noël Coward would match that in the mid-twenties). Perhaps it remains known today only (and rather unjustly) because of the amazing scene in the beginning of the third act where Lady Frederick appears without make-up before a young man who is in love with her. Every actress of the day refused to play it because of it. Today I imagine that most actress would sink their teeth in it, but then again it might still be too raw.

I would love to get a chance to see this in London. Strangest things have happened, and as far as I know the recent revival of "The Letter" was fairly successful. Meanwhile, I would recommend it to anyone who has had an introduction to Mr Maugham.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Why I love the shinning DVD...

As TV stations stop screening old movies, or do it at times that no one who works can watch, and places like the NFT show less classics and less variety, the DVD has changed completely my access to films. I now have discs bought not only in the UK and Portugal (the two obvious starting places for me…) but also France, Spain, Germany, one from Belgium bought somewhere else and one from Italy (the wonderful “La Finestra di Fronte”) and plenty from the US – God bless the internet, I have to say…

The issues and rights of the films, and the release decisions of some of titles can be almost hilarious at times. For instance, why do I have to go to Germany to buy British films that aren’t available in the UK (“Bedrooms and Hallways”)? Why does Spain get the only official release of Mankiewicz’s “The Honey Pot” with a delightful Maggie Smith? Or why are countless Region 2 releases of WB available in some countries but not others, including the UK, despite the fact that they have already the correct subtitles and/or audio tracks - “Splendor in the Grass”, “The Champ” 1932 version, Fritz Lang’s “Moonfleet”, “Jezebel” are examples of films that are available in some European countries but not the UK.

Part of my problem is that I still prefer to support Region 2 releases, but since less and less is happening in the classics’ market, and when it happens usually carries inferior releases, why bother? Having a multi-region player and an eye on different countries can produce quite nice results… For instance a French release of “Dark Mirror” with Olivia de Havilland, I think unavailable anywhere else.

And as my collection grows more and more, I for one am quite happy with these little discs which have allowed me to see many wonderful and not so wonderful films, but be familiar with the work of actors that I would not have known otherwise. The case in point is the films of Myrna Loy. Despite having a decent following in the US her films are practically unseen and unheard in Europe. If they are it’s because they were directed by William Wyler or have Cary Grant in the leading part. So I was pleasantly surprised with “The Thin Man”, “Libeled Lady” and “Mr Blandings builds his dream house”. And I want more… With the exception of “The Best Days of our Lives”, all the her films I ever saw were on disc…

DVDs also have allowed me to see films that for long eluded me on TV or screenings, such as “White Heat” and most Cagneys, “I am a fugitive from a chain gang”, “Old Acquaintance”, “Mildred Pierce” and gave me the possibility to watch “What’s Opera Doc?” whenever I want. Hurrah!

Insomnia with Judy

About twice a year London has nights that are too hot for me to sleep comfortably. It's rather strange for someone who is born and bred in Lisbon, where I have experienced around 30º at night in heatwaves, but I do hate this side of summer. If on top of that I have gone to bed late in the previous nights, I really can't sleep. Tonight is one of this nights... oh well...

So here am I, listening to Judy Garland MGM recordings and writing. Just heard her version of "Anything you can do". I think it's one of her best songs, full of energy and comedy, and makes me very sorry that the film ("Annie get your gun") was never made with her - and I think this is part of the reason why I haven't seen it yet. At least the recording survives, and it's quite high on my iPod's most played...

When I was a kid/pre-teen, I remember recording her songs with a tape recorder from my VHS versions (recorded from TV) of her most famous musicals. I had stumbled into one of her film completely by accident due to a review in the portuguese newspaper "Público". This was when portuguese TV still showed old films on a regular basis... I have to say I was completely unaware of all the symbolism she carries - to me she has always been part of my love of films. Recently I decided to invest in the Rhino editions of my favourites, as well as one of their "best of" and be slightly nostalgic. This is how I became acquainted with the "Annie get your gun" recordings.

My top five of her MGM recordings would definitively have to include this, "Get Happy", "Mr Monotony", "The boy next door" and cheating slightly "The man that got away" (it's a WB film, not MGM, and I prefer the version from the Carnegie Hall concert).

Plus, "The Pirate" DVD should be arriving from amazon soon...

Thursday, 2 August 2007

I want a complete Danae (Non Sequitur book)...

"Something silly this way comes", the first collection of Lucy and Danae strips from "Non Sequitur" was a) missing a few and b) didn't include anything before Lucy appeared, so I really really want a complete set - she's marvellous... but I would still be happy with volume 2...

Reading comics online is ok, but I still prefer them in book format.