Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Quick thoughts on some movies I've seen in the last few weeks:

Private Hell 36 - I saw this thanks to Netflix streaming.  It turned out to be a tough little lowbudget noir film co-written by Ida Lupino and directed by Don Siegel. Two police detectives track down stolen money from a robbery and one decides to help himself to some of the loot. Steve Cochran plays the crooked cop and Lupino plays a disillusioned bar singer who falls in love with him. They are contrasted with Cochran's honest partner played by Lupino's real-life husband, Howard Duff whose movie wife is a smoking hot Dorothy Malone.  Other familiar actors like Dean Jagger, Dabbs Greer and Richard Deacon also appear.

3some - This is a Spanish film about three young art students, two men and a woman, who develop a sexual and romantic relationship where both guys are in love with the girl and vice versa. I've seen a lot of post-Franco Spanish films that take on unconventional sexual topics in a much more open-minded and serious way than similar stuff would be tertead in an American film. There are no dumb dirty jokes or embarrassed overreactions in this movie, just a serious look at shifting relationship dynamics that ends on an ambiguous note.

Black Swan -  It's a 21st century update of The Red Shoes and it also bears the same relationship to its source, the ballet Swan Lake, as Michael Powell's film did to the Hans Christian Andersen story that inspired it.  This is a nifty little gothic thriller set in the ballet world about a ballerina whose quest for perfection essentially drives her insane. There's enough usage of evil doppelgangers that the film can also claim the Edgar Allan Poe story "William Wilson" as an ancestor and there's a touch of Roman Polanski's Repulsion in there too. Natalie Portman is tremendous in the lead and is Barbara Hershey as her controlling mother.

Sunnyside Up - A 1929 musical notable as the first talking picture teaming of Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor who were a very popular romantic couple in Twenties movies. It's actually a musical and a bit frothier than other Farrell-Gaynor films like Street Angel and Seventh Heaven  with folks like Marjorie White and El Brendel around to provide the comic relief. The picture spawned a couple of popular songs of the period, "If I Had A Talking Picture Of You" and "Turn On The Heat" and the stars do their own singing with Gaynor even getting a solo dance number.  The only notable quirk in the picture now is that the early recording equipment had Gaynor talking in a squeaky Betty Boop voice with no lower range. Yet that didn't seem to hurt her career because she continued to be a star for several years and her voice sounded more normal in her later films.


Michael Powers said...

Actually, Gaynor remained huge for nine more years afterward then left the business for a good 15 years. The Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted an elaborate retrospective of her movies several years ago that knocked everyone's socks off. She was so charming and remained top-billed in everything for the remainder of her movie career, including "Ladies in Love" (1936) with Constance Bennett, Loretta Young, and Tyrone Power, until she chucked the business entirely. When she returned in 1953, it seems as though it was only to dabble a bit here and there. I think the squeaky voice business might have been largely an artifact of the DVD you were watching or something. I saw the movie at MoMA a couple of months or so ago and I think I remember her voice being fine although you might be right that it sounded a bit deeper later (the period's queen of the speaking voice, of course, was Anna May Wong). By the way, the bananas scene for "Turn Up the Heat" looked almost like something out of Amsterdam's Banannenbar!

Michael Powers said...

And I love the Lord Buckley panel on your page!

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