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What Was The Last Movie You Watched?

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Eight Men Out from 1988


Wrapped inside Eight Men Out, one of the best baseball movies ever made, is a morality tale that can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it.

If you haven't first read Eliot Asinof's outstanding book Eight Men Out (comments here: #8,388 ), the movie will be a bit confusing, especially if you try to keep every player and every gambler straight. Instead, it is easier to just follow, at a high level, the movie's sweeping story of the "Black Sox scandal" of the 1919 World Series.

The outline of the scandal is reasonably well known to history, (probably) eight players on the 1919 White Sox team agreed, to some extent, to throw the Series in return for money provided by gamblers looking to profit on some of the, potentially, greatest inside-sports information ever.

(Spoiler alert if you don't know the general history of the story.) When the story broke into the open shortly after the Sox lost the Series, it created a national scandal, appropriate in notoriety for the country's national pastime, that led to an exonerating jury trial, but a ban from baseball and general public condemnation for the eight players.

"Say it ain't so, Joe" became part of the American lexicon, reflecting the fall of one of the greatest players in baseball history and a hero to many Americans at the time, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.

There are, at least, two fascinating angles to the story, the most prominent being the morality tale at its core. It seems beyond a doubt that seven of the eight players took money to throw the series and, then, took some actions in some games to do so.

In the players' defence, in that era, players were treated unfairly by the owners, with the White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey, being a particularly penurious and mean-spirited one. Conversely, they were still paid, as they acknowledged, a multiple of what the average American made...and this was to play a game, not work in a coal mine.

It's easy and right to say the players cheated for money and should be condemned. Nobody's life is fair and the players were hardly Jean Valjeans, plus society creates rules and morals that are the guardrails of civilization. Yet you can't help somewhat understanding, on some human level, even if not condoning it, how the gross injustice they faced inspired some to cheat.

The other incredible angle to the story is how poorly the players and gamblers executed the fraud. Had one smart player and one smart gambler led the effort, it might have worked with the players getting paid, the gamblers making a bundle and the scandal not coming out for many years after it was too late to impact those who participated. Too many were involved for it not to, eventually, come out.

Instead, though, the players and gamblers acted like Keystone Cops who turned into a circular firing squad as the gamblers stopped paying the players during the series, laughingly noting (paraphrasing), "who were the players gonna complain to, the cops," while in response, the players won a few games that (happily) caused many of the gamblers to lose money.

The really smart gamblers, like Abe Rothstein, probably profited from it, but he, like the other smart ones, also understood the risks and machinations well enough to keep his fingerprints off the evidence. The entire scheme and its fallout is a perfect example of individual greed and venality trumping the cheaters' own common good.

Director John Sayles and an impressive cast including (there are too-many outstanding performances to note them all) John Cusack, D. B. Sweeney and David Strathairn as players, John Mahoney as the team's manager and Clifton James as Comiskey engagingly bring this complex story to life in an early example of Hollywood starting to care about having accurate details in its period movies.

Sayles and the cast also realistically capture the feel of the game, the talent of and pressures faced by the players, the beauty of the diamond, the overwhelming-at-times noise of the crowd and the individual passion of the fans.

Equally impressive, the nuances of the story - the contention of the players, the stupidity of so many involved, the attempted cover up, the unequal justice, the arrogance of the owners and the creation of the role of the baseball commissioner - are all smartly limned in a reasonably balanced manner.

Eight Men Out is a complex story whose complete picture has been lost to history. It's a morality tale of Greek Tragedy proportions that has plenty to teach us today as human nature has not changed one bit.

And finally, it's one heck of a baseball movie that probably doesn't get the mention that other famous baseball movies do as it's not an inspiring tale about the sportsmanship, beauty or poetry of the game.

eightmen.jpg
 

Edward

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View attachment 451393
Eight Men Out from 1988


Wrapped inside Eight Men Out, one of the best baseball movies ever made, is a morality tale that can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it.

If you haven't first read Eliot Asinof's outstanding book Eight Men Out (comments here: #8,388 ), the movie will be a bit confusing, especially if you try to keep every player and every gambler straight. Instead, it is easier to just follow, at a high level, the movie's sweeping story of the "Black Sox scandal" of the 1919 World Series.

The outline of the scandal is reasonably well known to history, (probably) eight players on the 1919 White Sox team agreed, to some extent, to throw the Series in return for money provided by gamblers looking to profit on some of the, potentially, greatest inside-sports information ever.

(Spoiler alert if you don't know the general history of the story.) When the story broke into the open shortly after the Sox lost the Series, it created a national scandal, appropriate in notoriety for the country's national pastime, that led to an exonerating jury trial, but a ban from baseball and general public condemnation for the eight players.

"Say it ain't so, Joe" became part of the American lexicon, reflecting the fall of one of the greatest players in baseball history and a hero to many Americans at the time, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.

There are, at least, two fascinating angles to the story, the most prominent being the morality tale at its core. It seems beyond a doubt that seven of the eight players took money to throw the series and, then, took some actions in some games to do so.

In the players' defence, in that era, players were treated unfairly by the owners, with the White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey, being a particularly penurious and mean-spirited one. Conversely, they were still paid, as they acknowledged, a multiple of what the average American made...and this was to play a game, not work in a coal mine.

It's easy and right to say the players cheated for money and should be condemned. Nobody's life is fair and the players were hardly Jean Valjeans, plus society creates rules and morals that are the guardrails of civilization. Yet you can't help somewhat understanding, on some human level, even if not condoning it, how the gross injustice they faced inspired some to cheat.

The other incredible angle to the story is how poorly the players and gamblers executed the fraud. Had one smart player and one smart gambler led the effort, it might have worked with the players getting paid, the gamblers making a bundle and the scandal not coming out for many years after it was too late to impact those who participated. Too many were involved for it not to, eventually, come out.

Instead, though, the players and gamblers acted like Keystone Cops who turned into a circular firing squad as the gamblers stopped paying the players during the series, laughingly noting (paraphrasing), "who were the players gonna complain to, the cops," while in response, the players won a few games that (happily) caused many of the gamblers to lose money.

The really smart gamblers, like Abe Rothstein, probably profited from it, but he, like the other smart ones, also understood the risks and machinations well enough to keep his fingerprints off the evidence. The entire scheme and its fallout is a perfect example of individual greed and venality trumping the cheaters' own common good.

Director John Sayles and an impressive cast including (there are too-many outstanding performances to note them all) John Cusack, D. B. Sweeney and David Strathairn as players, John Mahoney as the team's manager and Clifton James as Comiskey engagingly bring this complex story to life in an early example of Hollywood starting to care about having accurate details in its period movies.

Sayles and the cast also realistically capture the feel of the game, the talent of and pressures faced by the players, the beauty of the diamond, the overwhelming-at-times noise of the crowd and the individual passion of the fans.

Equally impressive, the nuances of the story - the contention of the players, the stupidity of so many involved, the attempted cover up, the unequal justice, the arrogance of the owners and the creation of the role of the baseball commissioner - are all smartly limned in a reasonably balanced manner.

Eight Men Out is a complex story whose complete picture has been lost to history. It's a morality tale of Greek Tragedy proportions that has plenty to teach us today as human nature has not changed one bit.

And finally, it's one heck of a baseball movie that probably doesn't get the mention that other famous baseball movies do as it's not an inspiring tale about the sportsmanship, beauty or poetry of the game.

View attachment 451392

Sounds like a good one to check out. I've been vaguely aware of that scandal for some years now due to the passing reference in The Great Gatsby, though no more aware than simply that there was a suggestion it had happened. How long did it take to come out? My recollection is that Gatsby was set in 1922, published in 1925, and within the story it is presented as something of which the narrator was aware, but had half-dismissed as rumour.


Last night I watched a 2021 French film called Flashback on Prime. I watched it in the original language with subtitles, which was fine (no English dubbing available, though dubbing can be a mixed bag and distract from the viewer experience sometimes, so...). It surrounds a female lawyer, Charlie Leroy, who is somewhat amoral as we begin. Specifically, she manages to successfully defend a client the firm believe / know to be guilty of rape, by underhand means (the old victim blaming routine - "wearing sexy knickers is consent", this inspired by an infamous case in Ireland where much the same happened a few years ago). By some magical occurrence, she ends up off on a Scrooge-esque (though there's no Christmas involved here) journey through French history, witnessing the role and treatment of women at the time of Joan or Arc, the revolution, Napoleon, and the 1945 French general election, the first in which French women were permitted to vote, among them. She learns her lesson and gets a chance to put things right at the end, though this is rather better handled than in many similar narratives in English language cinema. A nice little film that deftly deals with An Important Message in a light, whimsical but not superficial manner which is oh so very French. I enjoyed it.
 
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Sounds like a good one to check out. I've been vaguely aware of that scandal for some years now due to the passing reference in The Great Gatsby, though no more aware than simply that there was a suggestion it had happened. How long did it take to come out? My recollection is that Gatsby was set in 1922, published in 1925, and within the story it is presented as something of which the narrator was aware, but had half-dismissed as rumour.


Last night I watched a 2021 French film called Flashback on Prime. I watched it in the original language with subtitles, which was fine (no English dubbing available, though dubbing can be a mixed bag and distract from the viewer experience sometimes, so...). It surrounds a female lawyer, Charlie Leroy, who is somewhat amoral as we begin. Specifically, she manages to successfully defend a client the firm believe / know to be guilty of rape, by underhand means (the old victim blaming routine - "wearing sexy knickers is consent", this inspired by an infamous case in Ireland where much the same happened a few years ago). By some magical occurrence, she ends up off on a Scrooge-esque (though there's no Christmas involved here) journey through French history, witnessing the role and treatment of women at the time of Joan or Arc, the revolution, Napoleon, and the 1945 French general election, the first in which French women were permitted to vote, among them. She learns her lesson and gets a chance to put things right at the end, though this is rather better handled than in many similar narratives in English language cinema. A nice little film that deftly deals with An Important Message in a light, whimsical but not superficial manner which is oh so very French. I enjoyed it.

I just checked my memory against Wikipedia and they were pretty close but the (probably) more accurate Wikipedia says a Grand Jury was convened in 1920 and the trail was held in June of 2021, so it was "out there" in the press, etc., within a year of the event.
 

Doctor Strange

I'll Lock Up
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I usually can't stomach anything even vaguely sports-adjacent, but Eight Men Out is a great film.

Not for nothing, nearly everything that John Sayles has written/directed is worth checking out. He's a major talent.

Of course, Arnold Rothstein's "fixing" of the 1919 Series is key backstory in Boardwalk Empire AND The Godfather. It's spoken in hushed tones in the early seasons of Empire re Michael Stulbarg's organized-crime-inventor Rothstein. And in one of those additional scenes in Part II's 1920s that turn up in the extended Godfather Epic and Saga cuts, young Hyman Roth explains that he took the name Roth (not his original last name) to honor Arnold Rothstein, because he thought that fixing the Series was the greatest crime ever.
 

Edward

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I just checked my memory against Wikipedia and they were pretty close but the (probably) more accurate Wikipedia says a Grand Jury was convened in 1920 and the trail was held in June of 2021, so it was "out there" in the press, etc., within a year of the event.

Thanks, that makes sense. As memory serves, Nick Carraway (in Gatsby) references it as something half-remembered he'd seen in the media some time back, so that would tally.
 
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Thanks, that makes sense. As memory serves, Nick Carraway (in Gatsby) references it as something half-remembered he'd seen in the media some time back, so that would tally.

I remember that scene (since I've read the book and watched the 1974 movie version more times than I care to admit) as, like so much in TGG, it's quietly telling.
 

Edward

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I remember that scene (since I've read the book and watched the 1974 movie version more times than I care to admit) as, like so much in TGG, it's quietly telling.

It's a lovely little detail. Wolfsheim is a character who has, what, a page or two's worth of appearance at most, yet he's so beautifully three-dimensional. (Owl Eyes is the same, as many others.) I 'discovered' the novel when I was assigned it as part of my English Literature A level, and adored it. Read it eight times in those two years, and about half that again in the thirty years since. I didn't so much care for the 74 version (I've never like Redford as a performer), but I did like the Luhrman one, interestingly (I loathe his stuff normally). It's such a great scene. I've always wanted human molar cufflinks ever since I first read that.... indeed, it's the role I always wanted to play in my fantasy version of a film or stage production....
 
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Temptation from 1946 with Merle Oberon, Charles Korvin, Paul Lukas and George Brent


With nothing more than a basic gold-digging- and cheating-woman story at its core, Universal Studios used all its powers to turn Temptation into an engaging dark melodrama / mystery driven by love, lust, honor and betrayal.

Set in the early 1900s, mainly in Egypt, Merle Oberon plays the aging gold-digger running out of money from a prior divorce settlement who sets her sights on a staid, wealthy, middle-aged English bachelor and Egyptologist played by George Brent.

Knowing her notorious reputation could sink this Hail Mary effort, Oberon goes to Brent's friend and confidant, a physician played by the always outstanding Paul Lukas. Oberon puts herself in the role of a patient who confesses to her doctor her plans to deceive Brent into marrying her. She believes that the physician's code of patient confidentiality will prevent Lukas from warning his friend.

Putting that forced and convoluted scheme aside, it does set Lukas and Oberon up as antagonists, especially since she succeeds in marrying Brent, but then becomes bored as the wife of an archeologist whose social circle comprises other Egyptologists and their science, not society, minded wives.

After a contrived plot twist about Oberon helping out the daughter of a friend of Brent who got "entangled" with an Egyptian "prince," a womanizer and scammer played by Charles Korvin, Oberon, herself, and the fake prince begin having an affair.

After going at it regularly while Brent is away at an excavation site, Oberon and Korvin begin plotting to "get rid of" Brent so that they can be together with his money and live happily ever after. Or does Korvin see that as step one of a two-part plan to get the money all for himself sans Oberon?

The heart of the movie is watching aloof and calculating Oberon falling for Korvin. He may or may not be playing her, but she's all in for her relationship with Korvin in the same way men are usually all in for their relationships with her.

The Motion Picture Production Code didn't allow any sex to sneak onto the screen, but credit to Oberon for a convincing performance as a woman willing to risk it all for carnal desire. It's usually the man who becomes all stupid over sleeping with a woman, but in this one, it's Oberon's libido trumping her self interest.

From here, it's all clandestine meetings, planning, poisons, attempted cover ups, the occasional pang of moral conscience, a corrupt doctor, Lukas possibly thwarting the plan and a last-minute conversion in Oberon that's only somewhat believable, but does give the climax a couple of hard pivots.

Told through a flashback where we see Oberon, the Egyptian police and Lukas sorting out the fallout from the plot and its legal ramifications, Temptation cheats the viewer a bit with an ending that "tells not shows" the dramatic denouement, but that was probably more about Universal not wanting to end on too-down a note.

Universal Studios worked hard to create lavish sets that probably convinced no one that the filming took place in Egypt, but still the sets, Oberon's elaborate period costumes and the gorgeous black and white cinematography (now beautifully restored) makes Temptation a visually captivating picture.

But it's the acting that turns a very basic and old story into an engaging ninety-eight minutes of movie watching. Oberon is wonderful as the conniving and mirthfully wanton woman who ends up in one of her own style of tramps.

Korvin is equally captivating as the scheming womanizer who ensnares Oberon in that trap. Brent, meanwhile, is in his acting sweet spot here as the boring and kind-hearted husband, while Lukas centers the picture by all but playing the role of the entire Greek Chorus to this tragedy.

Temptation isn't a great movie, but it is an example of how the studio system could leverage a big budget, beautiful cinematography, smart screenwriters and top acting talent to make an old story feel like a fresh tale about the biblical sins of greed, lust, betrayal and murder.
 

Edward

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After watching Blood Rayne the other week, I moved on to part III in the franchise last night. (Part II appears not to exist on UK Prime.) Whereas the first is a hokey but fun enough, 17th century-set tale of Rayne, a 'dhampir' (child of a human and a vampire, lacking the weaknesses of both) and her quest to destroy the evil vampires, Part III moves on to WW2 and Rayne seeking to thwart a plot to make Hitler invulnerable by turning him into a vampire. The basic concept is great - I love this sort of Weird War 2 alternative history / fantasy mix - but the execution is lacking. Whereas the first is engaging enough in a Hammer Horror stylee (though it was released in 2005; part 3 was 2011), I just couldn't quite get into this one. The film makers appeared to realise it was weak, and so have shoe-horned in two overlong, narrative-crashing and, frankly, crushingly dull, sex scenes that totally ruin the pacing where they fall. I wouldn't bother with this one if you haven't already seen it, unless your only other options for entertainment are wall to wall / 24/7 news about something in which you have no interest, or a Star Wars prequel.
 

Edward

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Watched a 2021 version of Jekyll and Hyde last night on Prime. Nice little film. Clearly low budget; costuming for men just looks a little.... off somehow. Like it's obviously people dressed up period rather than period sort of thing. (Yeah, I know, but....). That however does not ruin it. It's a nice, taut little piece, instead of an action-packed version of Jekyll's tale, it is told at a remove, by his friend and solicitor. The writer clearly wasn't a lawyer (making the friend a witness, executor and, in the end, beneficiary wouldn't have been legal even then, to the best of my historical knowledge, but it's a small detail the vast majority won't pick up). Most of the story takes place after Jekyll's death, and there's a lovely device which rationalises it all instead of it being "magic potion". Of course this won't be to the tastes of purists who will brook no departure from the source material, but given how many faithful versions of the tale are already out there, I rather enjoyed this one doing something different. An engaging, but not overly demanding, watch at the end of a long day in front of a different screen.
 
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The Model and Marriage Broker from 1951 with Thelma Ritter, Jeanne Craine, Zero Mostel, Nancy Klug and Michael O'Shea


"You wouldn't know the score; you got a pretty face. These people here [points to a file cabinet of clients], they don't have pretty faces."


Hollywood strayed off the ranch in a good way with The Model and the Marriage Broker by choosing not to go with another story stamped off the press. Instead, director George Cukor and character-actress-supreme Thelma Ritter teamed up to make an unusual comedy that clicks pretty well from the first scene to the last.

Ritter plays a New York City marriage broker who makes her living matching up the awkward-at-love and not-pretty or glamorous everyday people who are lonely and in need of relationship help. Today, algorithms do it, but in the old analog world, there were the Thelma Ritters to turn to.

Ritter is a salt-of-the-earth New Yorker in every way - loud, brassy, disheveled, but also a no-nonsense person with a big heart underneath it all. Part of the fun in this one is watching Ritter, often exasperated with her clients' dating ineptitude, trying to steer them into relationships.

With a client list that includes a fat and balding man played by Zero Mostel, an awkwardly tall and shy middle-aged woman played by Nancy Kulp and Frank Fontaine playing a man who is unable to form one coherent sentence in front of a woman, you laugh a bit, but also cry a bit.

Credit to Cukor as he didn't go the usual Hollywood route of half-heartedly trying to make the Joan Fontaines of the world look dowdy (à la Suspicion). And equal credit to these actors for being willing to take on some very unglamourous roles that had to, for some, feel a bit too real.

One of the twists in the movie comes when, by accident, Ritter meets a young fashion model, played by Jeanne Crain, who is dating a married man. Crain is the type of woman that would never need to be one of Ritter's clients.

Crain is angered by Ritter's unsolicited advice to break her affair off because Ritter believes the married man will just string Crain along. Ritter also tells Crain that even if she does get him, she'll then be breaking up another woman's marriage.

From here the movie is Ritter trying to help her oddball clients as Crain comes back to Ritter under one pretense or another, but really to get advice. Ritter, always the matchmaker, tries subtly paring Crain with a handsome, but modestly paid x-ray technician played by Scott Brady.

(Modest spoiler alert) The second twist comes when we learn that Ritter herself only got into the matchmaking business when she lost her husband to another woman and was so lonely she started putting other people together. Who hasn't known someone like that in their lives?

There's a lot of pathos amidst the humor in this one as we see that each funny, quirky client is also a human being with romantic dreams, but not the easy looks or personality to make those dreams happen.

When Crain looks down on Ritter for what she thinks is a tawdry business, Ritter's long-time friend, another hardened New Yorker, wonderfully played by Michael O'Shea, delivers the bombshell line, quoted at the top. He educates a cluelessly smug Crain, used to having men falling at her feet, about the challenges of the not-pretty people of the world.

Kudos to director Cukor for that above exchange, because right when you are enjoying a funny little movie about some average-looking and diffident people trying to find love, in a flash, the brutal unfairness of the world comes crashing through.

The climax is a bit too Hollywood easy, but it doesn't matter as Cukor pulled off a difficult assignment in The Model and the Marriage Broker. He and his talented cast, starring (ignore the billing, she's the star) the not-in-any-way-glamorous Thelma Ritter, made a successful comedy interwoven with sobering commentary about ordinary people trying to find love.
 
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Every Girl Should be Married from 1948 with Cary Grant, Betsy Drake and Franchot Tone


Girl: "And who made that crazy rule that a girl can't ask a man [for a date]?
Guy: "...My dear young lady, there's such a thing as dignity and modesty and decorum."
Girl: "Oh pooh!"


Every Girl Should be Married is a 1948 version of a romcom with talented actors, smart directing and a fun little script. It's charm over substance in the best way possible as you enjoy the silliness knowing that it's all just make-believe.

Betsy Drake plays Anabel Sims, a country girl now working as a clerk at a department store in a big city, while aggressively and shamelessly looking for a husband. Sims wants a home, husband and babies and is convinced she'll know the right man when she sees him.

Enter Cary Grant playing noted pediatrician and bachelor Dr. Madison Brown. When Sims bumps into Dr. Brown in a drugstore, she falls immediately. Then, through research - she's big on research - Sims discovers that he checks every one of her potential-husband boxes except that he doesn't want to get married and doesn't show any interest in her.

The next step for Sims is to continue her research to get the good doctor interested in her. Sims interviews everyone in Brown's life - regular waiters, his barber, friends, former classmates, etc. - and then maps out a campaign to run into him, "coincidentally," to get him to ask her out.

Sims is uber passive aggression in pursuit of love. She's bubbly and persistent in a new-puppy-just-wants-attention way. More cute than pretty and always in motion, she's enjoyable up to a point, a point she crosses over a few times in her pursuit of Dr. Brown

To understand the movie, you first have to understand that the character of Anabel Sims is mentally unstable. In the context of a silly romcom, we can enjoy her crazy behavior, but in real life, especially if she wasn't adorable, she'd be considered a stalker and a danger to herself and others.

But back in romcom land, it's all fun and hijinx as Grant as Dr. Brown pretty much figures out what she is doing. Still, channeling all his wonderful inner "Grantness,'' we see Dr. Brown bemused time and again as this cute girl overplays her hand.

All sorts of silly situations come up as Sims "wins" a one-month stay in her dream house, which only further fuels her husband-hunting ambitions. She even begins dating the playboy owner of the department store, played with pitch-perfect smarminess by Franchot Tone, to make Grant's character jealous.

She also nearly gets fired and, then, she disrupts a public lecture given by Grant as Dr. Brown because (see the exchange at top) she's frustrated that societal convention frowns upon women asking men out. Yet, as she firmly queries the audience at his lecture, how else is a girl supposed to get a reticent guy?

It's all silly and fun as you know from the first scene that nothing really bad will happen in this movie and that it will all work out. Director and co-writer Don Hartman knows how to create a pretty world where the "big city" is clean and friendly, the challenges his characters face are playfully embarrassing but harmless and nobody is really mean or angry.

Every Girl Should Be Married will work for you if Betsy Drake's brand of hyperkinetic cuteness amuses you as, often, she gets awfully close to being irritating. It helps, of course, to have Cary Grant's calming charm to offset Drake's romantic histrionics.
 

Bushman

I'll Lock Up
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Watched "Hellfest" as part of my continuing Halloween horrorthon. Greta concept, great execution, and the twist ending is still the scariest part of the whole movie.

„Der Untergang“

Bruno Ganz at his very best, think the „plot“ is commonly known.


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This is still one of the best, and most unnerving war films I've ever seen. it was just so... depressing. The greatest shock to me was the abject denial that lived within Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler in these final days, and continued right up to almost their final hours. It was disturbing to watch as Eva Braun, in complete denial, threw bunker parties even as Soviet shells could be heard obliterating the city above, or Adolf rant and rave at his generals, still somehow believing there were reserves available, and this was just a minor setback on his quest for world domination. It was stranger still seeing Hitler's personal council of generals fighting their need to make Hitler aware of the reality of the situation - that Berlin could not be held in a siege, and their desire to simply escape Hitler's wrath at being told bad news and in turn the execution rifles. The most disgusting thing to watch were the flippant attitudes of Social Darwinism, and conniving, backstabbing behavior from Joseph Goebbels. If there was a man worse than Hitler, it may have been him. Not even Hitler went so far as to actively poison his own children. The man was a complete and utter monster.
 
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Lady Killer from 1933 with James Cagney, Mae Clarke and Margaret Lindsay


Lady Killer is a pure Cagney vehicle that's having fun with his early 1930s on-screen gangster persona. Cagney has so much raw energy and talent at this point in his career and "talkies" were so new, that director Roy Del Ruth just let Cagney rip in a few scenes knowing he'd get something magical on screen.

Del Ruth was right. At the open, Cagney plays a smart-aleck theater usher who becomes a smart-aleck gangster who has to flee town when the heat is on. With a movieland-pretty gunmoll, played by Mae Clarke (yes, she's the grapefruit-in-the-face Mae Clarke) in tow, he hightails it to Los Angeles where he "Cagneys" his way into movies.

As a rising star, now distant from Clarke and dating an established star, played by million-dollar-smile Margaret Lindsay, Cagney is happy living the Hollywood life in his Deco apartment, driving a fancy car and wearing expensive suits.

Then, though, his old "friends" from the New York gang show up threatening to ruin his career by exposing his sordid past. Cagney tries to buy them off, but blackmailers are never satisfied with one payment.

A desperate Cagney tries to break free of his gang while keeping his movie-star name clean and stopping Lindsay from leaving him as she's jealous of Clarke. Being both a comedy and pre-code, past immorality doesn't have to be paid for in the guns-blazing climax or ensuing police-and-publicity wrap up.

Lady Killer is a silly story full of plot holes that works because Cagney is that good. He's a ball of energy spitting dialogue out like machine-gun bullets whether back talking to a boss or the cops, sweet talking Clarke, Lindsay or some other woman or convincing a Hollywood producer to hire him. He's quick to anger, quick to charm and quick to laugh (even at himself).

He's the precursor to Eddie Murphy, in the early 1980s, where the movie exists to highlight the talent of one actor. In these star vehicles, it helps, though, as in Lady Killer, to have a female lead, Mae Clarke here, who can hold her own with Cagney as a star needs a worthy adversary.

Clarke is smart enough to play her brand of early femme fatale softly as you'll never out-energy Cagney (although, Joan Blondell came close a few times in other Cagney movies). Clarke and Cagney's scenes together are wonderful vignettes with her viperous smile equalling his conniving one as these two rapscallions know they can't trust each other, but still, there's a mutual attraction.

Lady Killer is fun. It mocks too-serious theater bosses, flat-footed cops, bumbling gangsters, frivolous society dames and almost everything pretentious about Hollywood, but in a not mean-spirited way. Cagney's warp-speed acting was perfect for Warner Bros'. warp-speed early talkies as neither slows down for a second, while the picture bounds from one entertaining scene to the next.
 
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MV5BY2FjNzE3ZjMtMTZhNy00NGVkLTgxMmYtZWFkYjI5Mzg4MzQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI1NzMxNzM@._V1_.jpg

The Scapegoat from 1959 with Alec Guinness, Bette Davis, Pamela Brown, Annabel Bartlett, Nicole Maurey and Geoffrey Keen


The Scapegoat is a gem of a little movie with an impressive cast and a neat twist on the "twins switch roles in life" story.

It does gloss over some plot flaws, but most movies ask for a little suspension of disbelief in return for thought-provoking entertainment. In The Scapegoat, director Robert Hammer, using a Daphne Du Maurier novel as source material, holds up his end of that bargain.

Alec Guinness plays a staid and bored-with-his-lonely-life English professor of the French language who, while vacationing in France, meets his exact twin, a French nobleman, played of course, by Guinness as well.

You just have to accept this never-explained unbelievable coincidence, while watching Guinness the nobleman seize the opportunity to trick Guinness the English professor into assuming his identity.

With the excuse of some form of temporary schizophrenia provided by nobleman Guinness, professor Guinness, in one day, finds himself the head of a troubled aristocratic French family comprising a disaffected alcoholic wife, a bitter spinster sister, a domineering mother, a mistress pushing for more out of her relationship with Guinness, a precocious daughter, a failing family business and a dead-patriarch's will that sets the family members against each other.

Professor Guinness, now in the middle of a tempest, is no longer bored with his life. As he tries to understand the history and nuances of all these family ties, this thoughtful man, grateful to have, for the moment anyway, a family and home, also begins trying to solve some of the family's problems with compassion.

The fun here is, first, the fish-out-of-water aspect of the story as an English professor struggles to acclimate himself to a French nobleman's world. One wonders if professor Guinness had any female companionship in his "before" life, as he now finds himself with both a wife and a libidinal mistress.

The other very enjoyable aspect of the story is how professor Guinness' kind approach, which clearly his predecessor doppelganger did not employ, immediately improves the lives of those around him and even gives the family business a fighting chance.

The climax has a couple of twists as, of course, nobleman Guinness had a nefarious reason for effacing himself for a while, but when he wants back in, professor Guinness is not willing to just go away quietly.

The Scapegoat works because Guinness is just that good at playing two distinct personalities, one of which is stressed by being dropped into an extreme situation.

Guinness, though, isn't alone here, as Bette Davis as the cranky matriarch, Pamela Brown as the angry spinster, Annabel Bartlett as the spirited daughter, Nicole Maurey as the frisky mistress and Geoffrey Keen as the loyal butler all draw you into this sometimes hard-to-believe story.

British movies in the 1950s relied on stories and personalities (and incredibly crisp and beautiful black and white cinematography) to captivate the viewer as English studios didn't have Hollywood-sized budgets.

In The Scapegoat, we see again how a smart story - an original twist on a classic plot - put over by talented actors, can create an engaging movie that outshines many big-budget efforts that often rely too much on special effects and histrionics. As always, nothing beats a good tale, well told.
 
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Not a review, but since we were discussing it a couple of pages back, I thought I'd let everybody know that Svengoolie will be showing "Trilogy of Terror" Saturday night at 7PM Eastern.
 

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