Tag Archives: Movie Reviews

The Dual Roles Blogathon: Day 2 Recap

Another marvelous day! I wanted to thank Ruth of Silver Screenings for co-hosting this blogathon with me and making it such a success (and for making the lovely posters). And thank you, everyone, for also making it a success!

mv5bmtg4mtk0mde4nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnze2mdgzmje-_v1_In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood shows how Elizabeth Montgomery played both Samantha and Serena in the show Bewitched.
dickersonMirco-Brewed Reviews 
gives us Beach Dickerson and the Fine Art of Getting Yourself Killed, Multiple Times, in Roger Corman’s Teenage Caveman (1958).

joevsvolcanoislandCary Grant Won’t Eat You covers Meg Ryan’s three roles in Meg Ryan’s Fate Foretold in Joe Versus the Volcano.

peter-sellers-as-dr-strangeloveSilver Screenings reviews Peter Seller’s in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

img_4919Champagne for Lunch shows how “2 Howard Keels are Better than 1” in Callaway Went Thataway. 

deadagain3Moon in Gemini covers Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh’s dual roles in Dead Again.

18453777-r_640_600-b_1_d6d6d6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxThe Wonderful World of Cinema writes of Genevieve Bujold in Brian De Palma’s Obsession.

boris-dual-roleMikes Take on the Movies thrills and chills with good and evil Boris Karloff in The Black Room.


Posted by on October 1, 2016 in Movies


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Madame Curie (1943)

MV5BMjI4NzAwNDUwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTA1MjkyMTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_After the phenomenal success of Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson earned an Academy Award for Best Actress), MGM re-teamed much of the cast for Madame Curie, a biopic of Marie Curie and her romance with husband/scientist Pierre Curie. The movie was inspired by the book Madame Curie: A Biography, written her daughter, Eve Curie. The role was originally intended for Irene Dunne in the late 1930s, then Greta Garbo. Finally, Greer Garson was given the role in 1943.

What I was surprised at was how much (reasonably) accurate science is incorporated into the movie. It is a blend of romance and scientific endeavor and apart from an excessively reverential tone, the film is surprisingly interesting and very sweet.

Marie Sklodowska (Greer Garson) is a Polish student studying in Paris in the 1890s. She’s an extraordinary dedicated and earnest student, brilliant in her work, and she is noticed by Professor Perot (Albert Basserman), who sets her up in a lab with Dr. Curie (Walter Pidgeon), a shy physicist who is at first concerned that having a woman in the lab will prove disruptive.

It is only disruptive in that Dr. Curie begins to fall in love with her and is dismayed that she intends to return to Poland and teach. He believes that she has so much to contribute to science that she ought to stay in Paris and continue her work. He also wants her to stay because he loves her, but it takes him a while to realize it.

He finally does propose, however, after having her down to his country home to meet his parents (Dame May Whitty and Henry Travers). Once married, she embarks on her doctoral work, investigating why pitchblende (ore filled with uranium and therefore radioactive) emits energy strong enough to act like light on a photographic plate. She soon discovers that once the uranium is removed from the ore – which she believes is the sole source of the radiation in the pitchblende – the ore is still radioactive. This brings her to the conclusion that there must be another, unknown and radioactive element and she and her husband set out to isolate and prove its existence.

90736-004-05FEA8C2The process of isolating the unknown element was unbelievably laborious and the film does a good job of demonstrating this. They dissolved the ore and selectively precipitated out the different elements, one element at a time, until only the radium remained. Now, you could just put your specimen of ore under a powerful x-ray machine and determine what elements are in it.

Eventually, they are able to prove the existence of radium, though the film skips their discovery of polonium (polonium is best known for being used to poison Alexander Litvineko, who had fled Russia and accused the Russian Federal Security Service of organizing a kind of coup so Putin could take power – ironic since Marie Curie named the element Polonium after her homeland, Poland, to underline the fact that Poland was not an independent country and was partly controlled by Russia).

It is a testament that the film never gets bogged down in excessive science and keeps things understandable, though it does occasionally get bogged down in too-reverential discourses on the importance of science. But what keeps the film relatable is the romance between Marie and Pierre.

Walter Pidgeon in particular brings a lot of warmth to the role and to the film. Greer Garson does well, but she is extremely earnest. She’s like George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooks and Dr. Lydgate combined. She has the saintliness and earnestness of Dorothea (she is even frequently lighted as though she were saint, with a warm glow of light on her face) and the scientific brilliance and dedication of Dr. Lydgate. But Pierre Curie, though equally brilliant, seems a bit more vulnerable, shy, devotedly in love with his wife and dedicated to working side-by-side with her. There is something so sweet in how he discovers that he no longer can imagine working or living without her. They manage the unique feat of being fully committed to their work and fully committed to each other (though as far as I can tell in the film, Pierre’s father is raising their children).

602508_origAnd although it is clear that Marie also loves Pierre, it is like she doesn’t fully appreciate it until after their discovery of radium. After the intense few years of work, now her pressing work has lifted she fully sees how much she loves him…only for tragedy to strike.

I had always heard that Marie Curie died as a result of her work, which gave me the impression that she died particularly young. In my ignorance, I was expecting the last bit of the film to be about her wasting away a martyr to her science, but actually she lived until she was 66, though the cause of her death is believed to be related to her lifelong exposure to radiation. But it was actually Pierre who died tragically young in a traffic accident (run over by a horse and cart) when he was only 47 and she 39.

The film is much more upbeat about science than films would be after the end of WWII. It is about overcoming obstacles, dreaming great things (“to catch a star on your fingertips”), wonderment, collaboration. In Madame Curie, she speaks about cures for cancer, that “science has great beauty and, with its great spiritual strength, will in time cleanse this world of its evils, its ignorance, its poverty, diseases, wars, and heartaches.” After the end of WWII, it was “what man has wrought” and fear of the atomic bomb and an ambivalent attitude about the double-edged sword of science.

Madame Curie doesn’t seem to be watched as often as some of Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon’s other films, but the chemistry is there and for a 1940s biopic, it’s quite detailed. They even reproduced scenes from pictures of the real Pierre and Marie Curie (their wedding day with their bikes, the clothes Marie Curie wore in the lab) and over all it has a more authentic feel than I am used to from MGM films.


Posted by on July 22, 2016 in Movies


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Three Jeanette MacDonald Film Reviews

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Despite only appearing in operettas, Jeanette MacDonald could seemingly do it all and the more I see her films, the more awed I am. I recently watched three of her films and I couldn’t decide which one to review, so I thought I’d review them all in miniature. The reviews are in the order that I saw them, rather than the order of their release.

Jeanette MacDonald and Jack Buchanan, Monte Carlo, 1930

Jeanette MacDonald and Jack Buchanan

Monte Carlo (1930)

You can tell that director Ernst Lubitsch is still feeling his way from the silent film medium to sound, though his films still feel less static than other directors in 1930. But some scenes linger too long instead of moving forward with greater rhythm. The story is an operetta adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s novel Monsieur Beaucaire, about a prince pretending to be a hairdresser. Jack Buchanan is the wealthy count/hairdresser, Count Rudolph Falliere. Jeanette MacDonald is the flighty, impoverished runaway bride who hires him.

The film opens with an extremely funny sequence involving the preparations for a wedding (in the rain) between Countess Helene Mara (MacDonald) and the wealthy Prince Otto von Liebenheim (Claud Allister). It’s a scene that could have been done in the silent era, as the stage is set for the wedding, servants run hither and yon, and we learn that the bride has run away, leaving an empty wedding dress on a chair

We next see Countess Helene running to catch a train with nothing on but a slip and a fur coat, which greatly surprises the conductor (silent comedian Billy Bevan). She then launches into “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” a song that became a hit for her. The song was much noted at the time for how Lubitsch staged it, with the song sung in time to the train as people watch the train pass…creating a more dynamic musical experience than was usual at the time.

But after the infatuated Rudy passes himself off as a hairdresser, the film begins to drag. ZaSu Pitts as Jeanette MacDonald’s maid seems slightly underused for comedic affect and there are simply too many songs and not enough plot. It seems like every five minutes either MacDonald or Buchanan launches into a song.

Jack Buchanan was a British musical comedy star who is best remembered as Jeffrey Cordova in The Band Wagon, but his rather nasal voice isn’t suited for these kind of romantic songs. The ending, however, picks up again as the countess, Rudy and the prince all go to the opera, which just happens to be an adaptation of Monsieur Beaucaire. Ultimately, what was most fun was seeing Jeanette MacDonald play a spoiled, flighty young woman who seems to change her mind quite frequently, but nevertheless remains adorable.


Allan Jones and Jeanette MacDonald

The Firefly (1937)

After making a few successful movies with Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald wanted a change of leading man. She ended up with Allan Jones, who’s most prominent roles came in Show Boat and A Night at the Opera.

The Firefly is nearly a great movie that does everything right until the end, which makes it all the more frustrating. It was based on an operetta by Rudolph Friml, but was completely re-written save the songs. The setting was changed to Spain during the Napoleonic Wars (to reflect the current Spanish Civil War). Nina Maria (MacDonald) is a singer and dancer, who is also a spy for Spain. She seduces French officers and learns what she can. However, while on a mission she falls in love with the persistent and apparently harmless and aimless Don Diego (Jones), until she discovers that he’s a spy for France.

It’s a remarkable showcase for Jeanette MacDonald. She sings, she dances (she studied Spanish dance before filming), she’s funny, she’s dramatic and dedicated and consistently outwits everyone in sight, except for that little indiscretion of falling in love.

What’s frustrating is that the film insists on a happy ending, which doesn’t make any sense in the context of all that came before. The film may begin humorously, but ultimately it goes in a more dramatic direction. Not to mention the heavy-handed montages near the end meant to evoke parallels between Napoleon and Franco, complete with peasant uprisings and the image of chains falling off when the Spanish win. The film could have been at least 15-20 minutes shorter.

However, there is still much to like about the film. The gowns are by Adrian and as always in an Adrian designed costume drama, it is delightful to behold. Warren William, Douglas Dumbrille, Henry Daniell and George Zucco also appear to good effect.


Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier

The Love Parade (1929)

The Love Parade marked the screen debut of Jeanette MacDonald. Ernst Lubitsch saw an old screen test and hired her. The two remained friends his whole life. The film also launched her as “the lingerie queen.”

Maurice Chevalier is Count Alfred Renaud, military attache in France from the fictional kingdom of Sylvania. After multiple indiscretions involving multiple women, he is sent home to face the queen (MacDonald). As soon as she sees him (and reads the report on his exploits) she decides she must have him and they marry. However, he soon grows frustrated with his role as the Prince Consort subservient to the queen.

The majority of the film is quite delightfully whimsical and ironic. It is playing on the idea that he is like the queen’s wife. He is an an adornment who is to provide the queen with an heir. Even the wedding vows are reversed, with him having to promise to obey and be “docile” while she is the one condescending to marry him and raise him up to her station. However, the ending becomes frustrating as he insists on his rights as a man and husband. It’s all played for comedy, but he essentially effects a coup and usurps her throne. She can’t do without him, so she yields her authority. This is precisely the reason Queen Elizabeth I never married!

Once again, it is fascinating to see Lubitsch transition between silent and sound films. He especially makes dynamic use of sound effects and music in The Love Parade (more so than Monte Carlo). It is extremely rare to hear non-diegetic music in early talkies (music that does not occur “naturally” in the scene, like an orchestra or phonograph) but considerably enlivens the film. Compared to Broadway Melody of 1929, the film feels fluid and non-stagy.

However, I can see why Lubitsch quickly moved away from operettas. I generally love musicals, even when the songs or dances stop the action, but in a Lubitsch film, the songs really do get in the way of his story and are often unnecessary, with the exception of songs like “Beyond the Blue Horizon” or “Let’s Be Common,” which is sung in The Love Parade by Lupino Lane and Lillian Roth about how they don’t have to live like the aristocrats when they marry, with separate rooms and the inability to have a good scrap and let some steam off.

The film includes several silent stars, including comedians Lupino Lane and Ben Turpin, who has a cameo that makes use of his trademark cross-eyed stare. Eugene Pallette also appears in an early talky role, showcasing his voice that is, in the words of the Self-Styled Siren, like putting “a double bass through a cement mixer.”


Posted by on July 8, 2016 in Movies, Uncategorized


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