Wednesday, April 27, 2011

classic castaways

There's an oft repeated and varied tale of two friends who go to a video store. When passing the classics section one laments that they "just don't make em' like they used to." The other extends his arm in a grand gesture and counters, "these are the ones that have survived." I don't recall where I first heard it, or whether the story is even true, but the comment is justified. It wasn't just Citizen Kanes and Taylor's and Paine's, and for every heavy hitter double the flops. According to Robert Sklar a 1930s survey distributed to screenwriters allowing them to comment on their industry and the product it produced resulted in a whopping three fourths negative response.

But there's a flip to the coin. A haven commonly referred to as films so bad they're kind of good. Which for good or ill I'm willing to admit to. This post will celebrate just a few of my favorite train wrecks.

Thirteen Women (RKO Radio Pictures, 1932)

A year before RKO would make King Kong there was this monstrosity. In a far cry from Nora Charles famous 'good wife' Myrna Loy plays a half caste maniac who decides to destroy her former classmates, including Irene Dunne, for bullying her in the past. This could be a fantastic comment on racism and the ways minorities have been marginalized in society. But what tack does this film take? To give Myrna the power to hypnotize people with nothing more than her makeup lathered artificially slanted eyes. And I can't look away either, especially when Myrna decides the way to destroy Dunne is to plant an explosive in her son's bouncy ball (Halloween candy's not the only reason to fear strangers, kids!). I can't decide if this film is a drama, a poor stab at comedy, or a more personal brand of horror film that makes you want to turn your own skin inside out.

The best part? It actually ends in a train wreck.

Parachute Jumper (Warner Brothers, 1933)

While only released a month before 42nd Street the two do not sit side by side in public memory. I honestly have no recollection of the plot of this one and it isn't memorable enough to warrant the five seconds it would take to read a plot synopsis on imbd. The reasons this one is so great? Bette Davis as a sassy southern belle with an accent to match. Jezebel pre-code style. Also fun for the le gasp! People had middle fingers in the 1930s and knew how to use them! moments.

Casino Royale (MGM, 1966)

Before Daniel Craig there was David Niven as Bond. Both he and this film are not placed in the great pantheon of 007 films for good reason as the film acts as an anthropological study in where careers go to die (hey it's work, right?). Yet there are hidden, can't look away style gems. I will provide three magical screen caps to demonstrate. When I snap my fingers again you will immediately view this film.

I give you

David Niven in an alpine hat.

Woody Allen in a sombrero with a David Niven punching bag (sans Alpine hat)

Drugged Deborah Kerr dancing a jig.

And voila!

Hush... Hush Sweet Charlotte
(2oth Century Fox, 1964)

Something of a camp classic, though not as well known as its cousin Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? also starring Bette Davis as a ham fisted shrill psychopath. That part makes me sad, honestly, and I don't find much fun in it. The reason to watch this film?

Olivia DeHavilland as a stone cold... we'll say fox.

For someone most remembered as sweet and syrupy (and I'd gladly order a Melanie Hamilton special any day) this one remains great fun to see her Cruella Deville side. Dalmation coats would suit her splendidly.

Beloved Infidel (20th Century Fox, 1959)

Basically Baywatch porn made for romantics instead of 15 year old boys. Meaning, of course, that I love it. Gregory Peck as F. Scott Fitzgerald: the drunken years (or was that every year?). Deborah Kerr as Sheilah Graham, famous gossip columnist. Solid performances, though many question Peck's casting. Honestly I'm too busy drooling to really care. Both have seen better days. Special points in this one to costume design and art direction, which are stunning to look at though don't make up for a cotton candy script. A film best described by exclamation points. Love in the sand! Day trips to Tijuana! Who could ask for anything more.

Moral of this slightly embarrassing story? They still don't make em' like they used to. And maybe, in some ways, that's a good thing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

bom chicka bow woww

Claiming my blog on bloglovin' and using this as an excuse to post pictures of Gregory Peck.

Post well spent.