Tag Archives: Ernst Lubitsch

Letterboxd Season Challenge: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

This is film 2 for the Letterboxd Season Challenge. The whole list of films I’m planning to watch is here.

Week 2: 1930s Musicals
Challenge: Watch an unseen 1930s musical
Film I Chose: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), directed by Ernst Lubitsch

tf-thesmilinglieutenant

We’re totally in my wheelhouse doing 1930s musicals, so much so that I had to go much more obscure than the Fred/Ginger and Busby Berkeley films many other Challengers are doing (though if you haven’t seen those, that’s absolutely the way to go). Instead I went for a Pre-Code Lubitsch/Chevalier musical I hadn’t seen.

Chevalier plays Nikki, a lieutenant in the Austrian army who’s something of a womanizer (his opening song, sung direct to camera, talks about how it’s “toujours l’amour in the army” and how much the ladies enjoy his ra-ta-ta-ta-ta, a double meaning for a trumpet fanfare), until he meets Franzie (Claudette Colbert), a violinist who quickly dumps Charles Ruggles in favor of Chevalier. The plot thickens when Nikki winks at Franzie while on duty as an entourage from a neighboring country drives through and the princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) thinks he was winking at her and soon wants to marry him.

Continue reading

Scorecard: April 2012

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

AKA, the TCM Classic Film Festival edition. There are a few others mixed in, but the majority of these are from that Fest. Which means it was a damn good month of moviewatching. Oh, and apparently my two favorite new-to-me films were both silent. I honestly do not try to do this, people. It just happens that way, I swear.

What I Loved

Girl Shy

I wouldn’t say Harold Lloyd is a recent discovery for me as I continue my odyssey through silent film; I saw Safety Last quite a while ago and always included him as one of the great silent comedians. But beyond that obligatory name-checking, I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to his work. I was very grateful to put that to rights this month with not one but THREE Lloyd films seen at the TCM Fest and at Cinefamily, and the presentation of Girl Shy at the Egyptian Theatre will definitely go down as a lifetime filmgoing highlight. This film is awesome, taking the nerdy, girl-shy Harold through a series of misadventures whereupon he meets a girl and overcomes his stuttering shyness as he tells her about his book – which is about how to get all kinds of women to fall in love with you. It’s extremely charming and quite funny, and all capped off with one of the most incredible chase stunt sequences I’ve ever seen, and yes, I’m including Keaton’s motorcycle chase in Sherlock Jr. in that assessment. Just when you think Lloyd has done about all he can do with this gag, he tops himself and does something even more gasp-worthy. Insta-favorite. Full review on Row Three.

1924 USA. Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Richard Daniels, Carleton Griffith.
Seen April 14 at the TCM Film Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 372 out of 2930

For Heaven’s Sake

My other Lloyd experience was a double feature (the other one is a bit lower on the list) Cinefamily and the Silent Treatment showed in honor of Lloyd’s April birthday. These were actually before Girl Shy, and were already enough to solidify my Lloyd fandom, I liked them so much. Particularly this one. Thoughtless millionaire Lloyd accidentally funds an inner-city mission, but his apathy turns to extreme interest when he meets the preacher’s lovely daughter. I really enjoyed this film, which has two fantastic extended chase/action sequences – one with Lloyd provoking all the street thugs he can find into chasing him right into the mission (where he wins their loyalty by nonchalantly passing the collection plate to rid them of stolen jewelry before a police search), the other with Lloyd trying to corral a group of five drunk friends and get back to the mission for his wedding. Both are filled with physical gags and insane stunts, all done with a charm and physicality that belies Lloyd’s milquetoast first impression.

1926 USA. Director: Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Noah Young.
Seen April 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 512 out of 2930

Cabin in the Woods

I’ve been looking forward to this Joss Whedon-penned horror film for literally years now, as it went through distributor hell along with everything else MGM owned as they fought bankruptcy. In fact, I’ve been watching its progress so long that I remember being disappointed that I was going to have to watch a horror film to keep up with Whedon, because I wasn’t into horror films yet. Thankfully by the time it came out, I had overcome that hurdle and managed to see and enjoy most of the films Cabin in the Woods references, plus this film isn’t really going for scares as much as laughs and meta in-jokes, which are precisely up my alley. I had a great time with this film, which is extremely clever in the way it plays with expectations, horror tropes, and manipulation. I won’t go as far as some in saying that revolutionizes the horror genre – it doesn’t do that so much as celebrate it, poke loving fun at it, and layer a great workplace comedy in on top of it. It’s a lark, not a deep satire, and that’s fine. I laughed a lot, gasped some, and had a ginormous smile plastered on my face the whole time.

2012 USA. Director: Drew Goddard. Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker.
Seen April 21 at AMC Burbank 16.
Flickchart ranking: 534 out of 2930

Continue reading

50DMC #29: A Movie Everyone Should See

The 50 Day Movie Challenge asks one question every day, to be answered by a few paragraphs and a clip, if possible. Click here for the full list of questions.

Today’s prompt: What’s a movie you think everyone should see?

This is a question I never quite know how to answer. If “everyone” really means everyone in the whole world, then I have no answer. Movies are vastly important to me, but not to everyone, so I hesitate to tell anyone who doesn’t care for them that they have to see any one in particular. In that case especially, what they should watch depends extra heavily on what they do enjoy. You could say it should be a movie with a particularly important social message or something that makes it important outside of moviedom, but I tend to dislike message pictures personally, so don’t recommend them. You could say something of particular cultural impact, but those (like Star Wars or some such) tend to permeate the culture so much it doesn’t really matter if you’ve seen them or not.

If you limit it to people who like movies or are film buffs, then you get the big hitters like Citizen Kane, but choosing that is boring, and they’ve probably seen it. So here’s how I’m going to modify the question: What’s a movie that I think film buffs should see that they probably haven’t. Now, a lot of classic film buffs will have seen To Be or Not to Be, but I tend to find that a lot of people who do enjoy classic film haven’t. And they should. It’s a 1942 comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who’s known for his sophisticated touch for romantic comedies. This one has that, but it’s also a satire aimed squarely at Hitler, who in 1942 was pretty much at the height of his power. The level of comedy at Nazi expense in this film is almost as ballsy as Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Yet mixed in with the comedy (as it is in Chaplin’s film, too, I hasten to make clear) is a great deal of pathos. A company of Warsaw actors putting on Hamlet (hence the title) end up going underground when the Nazis come in, but they hatch a plot to fight back, full of impersonations and subterfuge – the most important acting roles they’ll ever have. But Lubitsch and company manages to balance a comic style with very serious stakes perfectly.

I couldn’t find the scene I really wanted to share, where one of the actors, in the midst of the blitzkrieg attack on Warsaw, gives Shylock’s “do we not bleed” speech from The Merchant of Venice. It’s pretty much the sobering moment when the bedroom comedy centered on Carole Lombard’s flirtation with a young flier to the consternation of Benny, her husband, turns into the war-torn spy plot of the second half, and it’s exquisite. But this one will do as well, as an interrogation of a young boy ends up in a loyalty-grabbing series of “heil Hitlers.” By the way, this was Carole Lombard’s final film, after more than a decade of being one of Hollywood’s most sparkling comediennes; she was killed the next year when her war bond tour plane was shot down. Her loss was tragic, but there couldn’t be a finer film to be her final legacy to us.

Film on TV: June 22-28

bigcap.jpg
Rear Window, playing on TCM on Sunday, June 28th at 12:15am

As TCM nears the end of their month of Great Directors, they shine the spotlight on George Stevens, Ernst Lubitsch, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock, and George Cukor. And a mini-spotlight on David Lean on Friday morning.

Monday, June 22

10:45am – IFC – Mon Oncle
Jacques Tati’s Chaplin-esque character, Mr. Hulot, this time takes on modern life in the form of his sister’s house that has been mechanized with all the most modern electronic aids – think Disney’s 1950s House of Tomorrow. Of course, everything goes wrong.
(repeats 5:05am on the 23rd)

4:00pm – TCM – The Caine Mutiny
Humphrey Bogart’s Captain Queeg is a piece of work, and by that I mean some of the best work Bogart has on film. He’s neurotic, paranoid, and generally mentally unstable. Or is he? That’s the question after first officer Van Johnson relieves him of duty as being unfit to serve and faces charges of mutiny.

Great Directors on TCM: George Stevens
I’m not a huge fan of Stevens, personally, but I think my apathy is largely based on how overrated I think Giant is, and TCM isn’t playing that anyway.

10:00pm – TCM – Shane
Alan Ladd plays the titular cowboy, idolized by the young son of the family he takes refuge with as he tries to escape outlaw Jack Palance.

12:00M – Sundance – Talk to Her
Talk to Her is one of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s finest and most moving works, drawing heavily on the passion of bullfighting and dancing. Marco and Benigno develop a friendship as they care two women in comas – Marco’s girlfriend Lydia, a bullfighter gored in the ring, and nurse Benigno’s patient Alicia, whom he has fallen in love with. There’s a touch of the bizarre, as there always is in Almodóvar, but the film is richly rewarding in mood and vision.

2:15am (23rd) – TCM – Swing Time
Many people call Swing Time the best of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, and it’s certainly up there. Frothy story? Check. Jerome Kern music? Check. Fantastic dances? Check. Of course. Must See

Tuesday, June 23

7:00am – Sundance – Nights of Cabiria
Nights of Cabiria, one of the films Federico Fellini made during his sorta-neo-realist phase, casts Masina as a woman of the night, following her around almost non-committally, yet with a lot of care and heart. And Masina is simply amazing in everything she does – not classically beautiful, but somehow incredibly engaging for every second she’s onscreen. Must See
(repeats at 10:00pm on the 28th)

9:00am – IFC – Howl’s Moving Castle
Hayao Miyazaki has been a leader in the world of kid-friendly anime films for several years now, and while many would point to Spirited Away as his best film, I actually enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle the most of all his films. Japanese animation takes some getting used to, but Miyazaki’s films are well worth it, and serve as a wonderful antidote to the current stagnation going on in American animation (always excepting Pixar).
(repeats 2:35pm)

3:15pm – TCM – Anatomy of a Murder
One of the best courtroom dramas ever made – James Stewart vs. George C. Scott as lawyers on a murder/rape trial that may not be quite what it seems. And that’s aside from the top-notch jazz score by Duke Ellington, which is in itself reason enough to see the film. Must See

Great Directors on TCM: Ernst Lubitsch
Lubitsch was one of several directors who came over to the US from Germany in the 1920s – while Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau and others brought German Expressionism and the moody sensibility that would become film noir, Lubitsch brought a sparkling continental wit and sophistication that informed the screwball comedy. The famed “Lubitsch touch” proved inimitable, though, and his best films are impossible to mistake for anyone else’s. I feel a little let down by TCM, though, that they’re not playing To Be or Not to Be, not only Lubitsch’s finest hour, but one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen.

8:00pm – TCM – The Shop Around the Corner
The original version of You’ve Got Mail has James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as feuding employees of a shop who are unknowingly exchanging romantic letters. Ernst Lubitsch brings his warm European wit to bear, making this dramedy a cut above the norm.

10:00pm – TCM – Ninotchka
“Garbo Laughs!” proclaimed the advertisements, playing up the comedic factor of the usually implacable Greta Garbo’s 1939 film. True enough, though it takes a while for the charms of Paris and Melvyn Douglas to warm the Communist Ninotchka to the point of laughter. Pairing up director Ernst Lubitsch and writers Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (who had yet to become a director himself) turns out to be a brilliant move, as Ninotchka has just the right combination of wit and sophistication.

2:00am (24th) – TCM – The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg
In this silent film, Ramon Novarro is the titular prince and Norma Shearer the barmaid whose love tempts him away from his royal duty – a bit like Roman Holiday in reverse. There’s a later musical version, but even with the voice of tenor Mario Lanza, it can’t really compare to Lubtisch’s original.

Wednesday, June 24

4:00pm – TCM – The Thin Man
William Powell and Myrna Loy made eight or ten films together, but none more memorable, witty, sophisticated, or enjoyable as The Thin Man. Their portrayal of Nick and Nora Charles, a married detective couple pulled into a case of disappearance by an old friend, remains one of the most refreshing views of married life in all of cinema. Plus the script is fantastic, the plot decent (though a bit reliant on familiar Agatha Christie techniques), and the wildly varying acting styles of the supporting cast amusing. No seriously, I promise. Must See

6:00pm – TCM – After the Thin Man
The Thin Man was such a rousing success that it spawned five sequels – this second in the series the only other one really worth watching (though Powell and Loy are generally worth watching anyway). It also boasts an extremely young James Stewart in only his second or third year in Hollywood.

Great Directors on TCM: Stanley Kubrick
Too bad Kubrick tended to make rather long movies; TCM is only playing two of them tonight, and neither one is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Boo. There’s not much I need to say about Kubrick – he was a visionary in both form and content, constantly pushing the envelope on what he could put in movies, from the Cold War satire of Dr. Strangelove, the ultraviolence of A Clockwork Orange and the bloody glee of The Shining, to the sexual obsessions of Lolita and Eyes Wide Shut. And the man had an eye for visuals like no other.

10:30pm – TCM – Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Trust Kubrick to find the funny side of the Cold War. Peter Sellers plays multiple parts, including the President, an insane general who wants to nuke Russia, and the limb-control-impaired doctor of the title. It’s zany, it’s over-the-top, it’s bitingly satirical, and it remains one of Kubrick’s best films in a career full of amazing work.

12:15am (25th) – TCM – Lolita
I haven’t seen Kubrick’s Lolita, and having just finished reading and being heavily disturbed by the book, I’m debating whether or not I want to. But it is on, and it is Kubrick, so I’ll list it.

Thursday, June 25

6:30pm – IFC – Pi
Darren Aronofsky’s first feature is this fever dream of a mathematician searching for the numeric patterns that will unlock the secrets of the stock market – paranoid, fearful of human contact, and beset by terrible headaches, he’s also pursued by Wall Street factions and Hasidic Jews, each seeking the results of his formulas. It’s heady stuff, but Aronofsky’s the right guy for that.

Great Directors on TCM: Federico Fellini
Fellini is one of the touchstone figures of European cinema, no question. From his sort-of neo-realist (but too quirky to really be neo-realist) films of the 1950s through his autobiographical opuses of the 1960s and his flamboyantly surreal 1970s films, he never made a film that wasn’t undeniably Fellini, and yet it’s easy to see his ties to nearly every cinematic movement that took place during his long career. (See also Nights of Cabiria, playing on Sundance on the 23rd and 28th.)

8:00pm – TCM – La Strada
Fellini’s most enduring muse, Giulietta Masina, here plays the apparently simple but amazingly good-hearted Gelsomina, indentured to circus strongman Zampano (Anthony Quinn) – her loyalty unshaken despite his cruelty. Masina is perfection here. Must See

10:00pm – TCM – Juliet of the Spirits
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Juliet of the Spirits, and I remember finding it difficult when I did see it, but it makes a nice double feature with La Strada. Both start Giulietta Masina, but they’re from distinctly different periods in Fellini’s career. He’s quite surrealist here, from what I recall, having Juliet retreat into fantastic reveries to escape her life with an unfaithful husband, as opposed to La Strada‘s distinct tendency toward neo-realism.

10:00pm – Sundance – Wristcutters: A Love Story
Patrick Fujit (Almost Famous) slits his wrists and finds himself in a strange, limbo-like place where all the suicides get stuck after they die. But then he meets Shannyn Sossamon, who claims she’s there by mistake, and embarks on an odyssey to get her out of limbo. It’s a bit of a strange film, but it’s also very sweet and Sundancey.

2:45am (26th) – Roma
Fellini returns to nostalgic auto-biography here, giving a series of impressionistic and over-the-top scenes of Rome through the eyes of a returning filmmaker who grew up there.

Friday, June 26

12:00N – TCM – Brief Encounter
Beautifully understated romantic drama of a chance encounter at a railway station cafe between two married people who know better than to indulge their burgeoning love for each other, but do so anyway. David Lean directs.

5:00pm – TCM – The Bridge on the River Kwai
British prisoners of war are commanded to build a bridge over the River Kwai for their Japanese captors – a task which becomes a source of pride for old-school British commander Alec Guinness. But American William Holden is having none of that and makes it his mission to blow the bridge up. One of the great war films.

5:50pm – IFC – Stage Beauty
Sometime around Shakespeare’s time, theatrical convention changed from having all female parts played by males on stage to allowing women to perform female roles themselves. Caught in this shift were the effeminate men who had made their careers and indeed, their identities, out of playing women. Stage Beauty is about one such man and his crisis of self when he no longer had a professional or personal identity. It’s a fascinating film in many ways.

Saturday, June 27

Great Directors on TCM: Alfred Hitchcock
I figured TCM was saving Hitchcock for the last weekend of their Great Director’s month. They really like Hitchcock over there, which works out for me, since he’s one of my all-time favorite directors.

7:15am – TCM – Suspicion
Joan Fontaine thinks her husband Cary Grant is poisoning her, but she can’t be quite sure. Neither can the audience, really, although that depends on whether you go with Hitchcock’s original ending or the one the studio tacked on because they thought Hitchcock’s would be unpalatable to audiences.

9:00am – TCM – Rebecca
Hitchcock’s first American film, based on Daphne du Maurier’s romantic novel. Rebecca is actually the previous wife of our mousy narrator’s new husband – her greatest fear is that he still loves Rebecca too much to care for her, but the truth may be more sinister than that. A lot of people really love this film, but I personally dislike the Hollywoodized ending enough that I’m not a huge fan.

11:15pm – TCM – Spellbound
Hitchcock indulged the 1940s Freudian craze with this suspenser starring Gregory Peck as a disturbed individual and Ingrid Bergman as his psychiatrist. Throw in a trippy Salvador Dali dream sequence and you’re all set!

1:15pm – TCM – Marnie
Marnie gets something of a bad rap, I think, because it comes right after Hitchcock’s amazing VertigoNorth by NorthwestPsychoThe Birds streak of genius, but I think it’s one of Hitchcock’s most underrated films, despite a few somewhat obvious plot devices and the fact that ‘Tippi’ Hedren can’t act. In some ways, the imperfections in this one are what makes it interesting. And Sean Connery’s husband is fascinating, whether or not you agree with everything he does.

3:30pm – TCM – Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock built the foundation for all future psycho-killer movies with this classic. It’s not as terrifying as it once was, but that doesn’t at all diminish its brilliance, because it doesn’t depend on scares, really, for its greatness. Must See

5:30pm – TCM – North by Northwest
Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) gets mistaken for George Kaplan and pulled into an elaborate web of espionage in one of Hitchcock’s most enjoyable and funniest thrillers. So many great scenes it’s impossible to list them all. Must See

8:00pm – TCM – Notorious
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films, and one of the greatest spy films ever. Spy Cary Grant recruits Ingrid Bergman because of her relationship with suspected enemy spy Claude Rains – but how far is she willing to go? Simply fantastic on every level. Must See

12:15am (28th) – TCM – Rear Window
Hitchcock, Stewart, and Kelly mix equal parts suspense thriller, murder mystery, romance, voyeristic expose, ethical drama, caustic comedy and cinematographic experiment to create my favorite film of all time. Must See

2:15am (28th) – TCM – Vertigo
James Stewart is a detective recovering from a vertigo-inducing fall who’s asked by an old friend to help his wife, who has developed strange behavior. Hitchcock plays with doubling, fate, and obsession, all the while creating one of his moodiest and most mesmerizing films. And watch for a great supporting turn by Barbara Bel Geddes as Stewart’s long-suffering best friend. Must See

4:30am (28th) – TCM – The 39 Steps
My vote for Hitchcock’s finest British-era film follows Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll though a twisty and witty tale of spies and mistaken identities.

Sunday, June 28

Great Directors on TCM: George Cukor
Cukor has a reputation for being a great woman’s director, and he was, in fact, a favorite of many of MGM’s most bankable female stars, from Norma Shearer and Vivien Leigh to Joan Crawford and Katharine Hepburn. His films are great exemplars of MGM’s polished studio style, while yet having a vitality that not every MGM director managed to capture.

8:00am – TCM – Dinner at Eight
Dinner at Eight is the best example of a 1930s MGM ensemble comedy. You got two Barrymores (Lionel and John), Jean Harlow (one of her top couple of roles), Wallace Beery (fresh off an Oscar win), Marie Dressler (forgotten now, but also just a recent Oscar winner at the time), and others converging for a dinner party. Sparkling dialogue is the real star here.

12:15pm – TCM – Adam’s Rib
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn take on the battle of the sexes as married lawyers on opposite sides of an assault case involving gender politics. It’s a great movie in dialogue and acting, and still interesting for the 1949 view of women struggling for even basic equality. Some of its approach to gender may be a bit strange today, but…that’s why it’s interesting.

8:00pm – TCM – The Philadelphia Story
Hepburn here is Tracy Lord, a spoiled socialite about to marry Ralph Bellamy when ex-husband Cary Grant turns up. Throw in newspaper columnist James Stewart and his photographer Ruth Hussey, along with a bunch of great character actors filling out the cast, and you have both rollicking wedding preparations and one of the best films ever made. Must See

10:00pm – TCM – The Women
Only the cattiest, most man-less film every made (there are no men at all, so of course George Cukor directed it, right?). Several of Hollywood’s greatest female stars, from established divas like Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford to up-and-comers like Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine to character actresses like Mary Boland and Marjorie Main (and even non-actresses like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper), give their all to one of the wittiest scripts ever written. I don’t know if this is really a must-see in the grand scheme of cinematic history, but dang it, I don’t care. I find it incredibly entertaining. Must See

12:30am (29th) – TCM – My Fair Lady
George Cukor finally won an Oscar in 1964 for this film, a high-quality adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s musical, itself an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, itself based on the Greek story of Svengali and Trilby. Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn acquit themselves well as phonetics professor Henry Higgens and street urchin Eliza Doolittle. I guess I just find it a bit overlong and overproduced, as most 1960s musicals were, but I may be in the minority.