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What Was The Last Movie You Watched?

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Dance, Girl, Dance from 1940 with Maureen O'Hara, Lucille Ball, Louis Hayward and Ralph Bellamy


Sure the story in Dance, Girl, Dance is contrived, but who cares as Maureen O'Hara's thoughtful and charming performance, with a meaningful assist from Lucille Ball, makes this silly art-versus-commerce tale fun from beginning to end.

O'Hara and Ball play polar opposite personalities, so when their ballerina dance troop folds, Ball gets a job in burlesque. With the show needing a genuine ballerina to do an artsy dance for comic relief, Ball offers the thankless part to O'Hara.

O'Hara wants to be a serious dancer, but needing the money, she accepts Ball's offer. Each night, Ball is celebrated by the crowd as she peels off her clothes, while O'Hara is mocked for her attempt at serious dancing. The audience is paying for prurience, not art.

O'Hara then begins dating a wealthy recently divorce playboy, played by Louis Hayward, who's still in love with his ex-wife. Seeing this, greedy Ball tries to steal Hayward from O'Hara. The term hadn't been invented yet, but there's nothing new about frenemies.

The last piece of the puzzle is O'Hara attempting to get into a serious dance studio, which lands her, for a flash, in front of the studio's owner, played by Ralph Bellamy. Yet her lack of confidence has her fleeing before she auditions.

The climax, no spoilers coming, has O'Hara finally snap and uncork on Ball over the burlesque show, over Hayward and over all the slights and digs she's been taking the entire movie. From there, it's on to the best scene in the film: the night court resolution.

Even in 1940, there's nothing new in this movie, which has been riffed on ever since, except for O'Hara's low-key, captivating performance. She's a girl with a good moral compass who's unfit to navigate a world that doesn't care much about the art of dance.

Her performance is special because she's not weak or silly, which is how a character like hers is often portrayed. Instead, she's genuinely nice, but unconcerned if others aren't nice to her as she just tries to see the good and work around the obstacles.

Today, girl power is often about brute force, bravado intelligence and not showing any weakness or traditional feminine traits - we'll see how long that model holds up - but here, O'Hara puts on a display of another version of girl power.

It's a version where a girl has an inner strength, but no need to prove it to the world at every turn. It's also a version where she has self doubts, as most people do, but tries to stay on her own path.

Finally, it's a version where she can see that the wealthy man who wants to marry her is really in love with his ex-wife and she wants him to find a way back to her. When this version finally says "enough!," it's genuine and not scripted out of a political playbook.

Ball also deserves mention. Her character, while a vamp and a gold digger, shows some heart and honesty that requires real nuance from Ball. Ball later created an iconic comedic TV persona, but in this one, she shows she was more than a one-trick pony.

Co-directed Dorothy Arzner, one of the few women directors at the time, keeps this contrived story from becoming camp or screwball as the characters feel real even in some forced situations. There's heart and emotion behind almost everything they do.

The men don't really count in this one. Hayward is fine as the guy the girls fight over and Bellamy is good, once again, playing the odd man out, but it's Ball and O'Hara, and really O'Hara, that drive the picture.

O'Hara had a long and successful career. In Dance, Girl, Dance you can see why as she imbues a stock character, the good girl who gets pushed around, with an empathy and grit that elevates the entire movie. As the saying goes, "she gave a performance."

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The Dark Corner from 1946 with Mark Stevens, Lucille Ball, William Bendix, Kurt Kreuger and Clifton Webb


While there are a few better choices, you could do much worse than introducing someone to film noir using The Dark Corner, with its weary private investigator, gritty urban setting, sleazy art dealer, brawny thug, infidelity and whip-smart, cute secretary.

Mark Stevens plays the young, but tired private investigator who just opened shop in New York City after having served a jail sentence in San Francisco. Though innocent, he took the fall for his crooked, blackmailing partner, played by Kurt Kreuger.

Stevens has no time to settle in, though, as he immediately gets a "I got my eye on you" visit from a local police detective. Then, he and his new secretary, played by Lucille Ball, discover they are being followed by a thug, played by William Bendix.

After Stevens beats up Bendix, in an echo of Bogie beating up Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon, the games really begin as Stevens eventually discovers Bendix is working for an urbane and condescending art dealer, played by Clifton Webb.

Webb's motive in all this takes some time to unravel, but it revolves around his much younger and quite fetching wife, played by Cathy Downs, her young studly paramour, Kreuger again, and jealousy.

Most of the movie, though, is spent following Stevens with Ball trying to find Bendix so that they can work from him up the chain to Webb. Meanwhile, Webb and Kreuger play their own game of retribution over Downs with Stevens as the patsy.

It's all done in a wonderful noir style, including many on-location scenes shot in New York City with elevated trains rambling by, sharp-tongued cabbies, no-nonsense cops, crowds, skyscrapers and nights filled with neon and shadows.

Stevens is good as the beaten-down private eye, who has doubts and insecurities. He's not an antihero like Bogie, but a real guy in a tough situation. It doesn't make for an iconic character, but he is believable.

The real standout is Ball as the smarter-than-the-boss secretary. She wants Stephens to straighten his messy life out so that he can ask her to marry him, even though he doesn't know yet that is what he wants to do.

Webb could play a condescending and nefarious art dealer in his sleep as the role is fully on brand with his acting persona at that time. Downs is excellent as his cheatin' wife, who is as cynical and underhanded as her husband. They deserved each other.

Bendix, too, is on brand in this one as the thug who enjoys his work just a little too much. He was his own cottage industry in the 1940s of movie heavies who seemed to have a screw or two turned a little too tight.

You also want to look for the well-done car-chase scene near the end with the cop on the running board the entire time. With that era's low pay and small pensions, cops were doing that stuff out of devotion to the job.

The Dark Corner is noir done right. Maybe because it lacks an iconic antihero, it's not in the pantheon of noirs. Yet it is still a heck of a trip through the 1940s urban jungle of infidelity, blackmail, thuggery and murder, with a little romance tossed in on the side.
 

FOXTROT LAMONT

One Too Many
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Need to mark this down Fast. And I still cannot get Irene Dunne out of my head, had to be that
ocean liner scene talk with her paramour who bluntly told her the crossing itself would be lonely,
and his sit down chat with his son before the stroke.

Lucille Ball was a more fetching lass than I recall from her tele series housewife role. A real looker.
Wonder why her film career wasn't more extensive. She certainly had more than enough to fill a film.
 

Julian Shellhammer

Practically Family
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879
Eyes in the Night (1942) starring Edward Arnold as Capt. Duncan Mclain, a blind detective who solves mysteries with the help of his dog, Friday (who out-Rin-tin-tins Rin-tin-tin in some skill sets). Supposedly the first in a projected series, it did not catch on. With Ann Harding, playing a retired stage star, who seeks out Mclain for help in solving a murder. Donna Reed is Harding's stepdaughter who is entangled with much-older guy, who might be on the shady side.

It turns out there is espionage afoot, on the hunt for something (it's never clear what) that Harding's husband, Reginald Denny, invents that could help the war effort. Allen Jenkins is aboard as Maclain's aide, pepping up the story.
 
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No Man of Her Own from 1932 with Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Dorothy MacKaill, Grant Mitchell and J. Farrell MacDonald


No Man of Her Own is another movie example of the triumph of personality over plot. Future real-life married couple Clarke Gable and Carole Lombard sparkle in their only on-screen pairing, helped along by a strong supporting cast and precode fun.

Gable plays a wealthy New York City card shark who makes a very good living helped by his gang of likeable rapscallions that include perennial character actor Grant Mitchell, he fixes the card decks, and sizzling Dorothy MacKaill, she seduces the "marks" into the game.

The one fly in the ointment is a detective, played by another engaging character actor, J. Farrell MacDonald, who knows what Gable's gang is doing, but hasn't yet been able to arrest them.

Gable, "laying low" in a small upstate town and presenting himself as a NYC businessman, meets a local librarian, played by Lombard. She's a nice girl dying to get out of her small town (in precode land, young, small-town or county girls love coming to the big city).

She falls hard; he falls a bit, but on a coin flip that he loses, he agrees to marry Lombard (just go with it). Now in NYC, she moves into his fancy apartment thinking he's a successful Wall Street businessman, but he continues his card shark business almost in front of her.

Gable tells his friends his plan is to let the marriage play out a bit, then he'll ship Lombard back to upstate New York with some money and a fun memory. He believes it too, until he starts to really fall in love with his good hearted, sincere and sexy-as-heck wife.

She, of course, discovers he's a card shark, which she won't abide, but instead of ditching the marriage, she tells him he's too good to be a crook and that she's going to stick with it until he changes. Gable, who now wants the marriage to work, didn't count on this.

There are some surprises from here for fans of this style of precode (no spoilers coming), but the movie does take a few convoluted twists (this is a "just go with it" plot) until we get to the inevitable ending.

It's a ridiculous story that still works as Gable, Lombard and team are just that appealing. The future "King of Hollywood" looks like a handsome puppy here without his trademark moustache and too much on-screen energy, but the camera loves him.

Lombard, equally young, is more poised in her acting. Plus she's sexy and smart - smarter than Gable, as precode women often were smarter than their men. Her rival, here played by MacKaill, is also sexy as heck, as she tries to pull Gable back to his old world of "dames."

Being precode, there are separate scenes of Lombard and MacKaill prancing around in their anatomy-revealing underwear for no other reason than so that we can see these women in their anatomy-revealing underwear.

Added into this fun mix is Grant Mitchell as Gable's friend and partner. Look for the scene where Gable wakes this late-owl up early to discuss a problem, while all Mitchell wants to do is go back to bed. It's these funny but genuine scenes that make the movie work.

A scene that has both precode spice and general charm is when Gable and Lombard are in their train compartment the morning after their newlywed night. It captures their post-sex glow, their new closeness and their awkwardness over learning how to live together.

No Man of Her Own (a stupid title) is nothing more than a quick studio precode, but it also shows why the studio system worked for so long. It understood how stars, personalities, charm and prurience could easily overcome a silly plot.

Today, it is also a wonderful look at one of Hollywood's early golden couples before they became a golden couple. Gable and Lombard wouldn't start dating for several years, but here we get to see the two starring together on screen before they starred together in real life.
 

LizzieMaine

Bartender
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We're showing Saltburn right now -- last two shows today -- and the audience response has been, to say the least, mixed. "Well, I don't know what THAT was all about" is one common opinion expressed at the exit door, along with "Oh--my--gawd." As for my own opinion, well, "EAT THE BLOODY PIE" goes down in memory as one of the all-time movie lines of the decade.

Interesting, though, is that we've been getting a sharp increase in younger people -- that is to say, younger than our usual 60+ boomer crowd -- for this film. I don't know where they're coming from, because they certainly don't live around here, but every night, out of an average audience per screening of 12 persons, at least half of them have been under 30.
 

Doctor Strange

I'll Lock Up
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I must disagree, it IS Brideshead Revisited... crossed with The Talented Mr. Ripley and set in 2006.

I thought it was okay, not great. But I loved that Emerald Fennell chose to shoot it in the classic 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
 

Edward

Bartender
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24,908
Location
London, UK
We're showing Saltburn right now -- last two shows today -- and the audience response has been, to say the least, mixed. "Well, I don't know what THAT was all about" is one common opinion expressed at the exit door, along with "Oh--my--gawd." As for my own opinion, well, "EAT THE BLOODY PIE" goes down in memory as one of the all-time movie lines of the decade.

Interesting, though, is that we've been getting a sharp increase in younger people -- that is to say, younger than our usual 60+ boomer crowd -- for this film. I don't know where they're coming from, because they certainly don't live around here, but every night, out of an average audience per screening of 12 persons, at least half of them have been under 30.


It's been a real opinion-splitter over here. The main thing I found a bit odd was Rosamund Pike seemed much too young to be the actual mother of those kids, but I don't think she was supposed to be a step parent?
 
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The Man in Grey from 1943 with Phyllis Calvert, Margaret Lockwood, James Mason and Stewart Granger


The Man in Grey, from a popular novel at the time, is the movie equivalent of a page turner. It's not high art, but more like a fun romance / bodice-ripper novel brought to the screen.

A nod must be given to Britain's Gainsborough Pictures for producing this reasonably elaborate costume drama during WWII. It might be a notch down from Hollywood at its best at the time, but it's only a small notch.

The story is framed by an opening and closing scene set in, then, present day WWII Britain as two strangers, played by Phyllis Calvert and Stewart Granger, meet at the auction of the Rohan estate.

They each have an ancestor connecting them to a scandal that took place in the Rohan family back in the early 1800s. The movie then quickly dissolves to that earlier time period where we meet Calvert again, this time playing her ancestor, a young lady at a finishing school.

Kind and socially respectable Calvert befriends the school's outcast, the poor "social nobody" played by Margaret Lockwood. The old WASP quip about being careful about the friends you make as a freshman at college applies here as well.

Lockwood later creates a scandal by running away from school with a boy. Calvert, meanwhile, now being "shopped around" for marriage is all but sold to the older, wealthy, respectable but cold Lord Rohan, played by James Mason.

Calvert goes into her marriage with an open heart, but quickly learns that her husband wants her only because he desires a male heir.

In fairness to Mason, he tells Calvert, you can have all the benefits of being my wife - name, stature, wealth - and affairs on the side like me, just be discreet. She's not happy, but makes her peace as it's not a terrible life, especially once she produces the required heir.

Calvert then meets a handsome young man, played by Stewart Granger, now playing his ancestor, who fires up her dormant libido. One assumes that in the book she and Granger took her libido out for a test drive, but on screen, that's left to your imagination.

The final piece of the puzzle falls into place when Calvert, by chance, meets a now very poor Lockwood who is struggling to get by as a traveling performer. Calvert, always the good and trusting friend, takes Lockwood into her home, effectively, as a companion.

The next step is the one that creates a stable equilibrium - Calvert and Granger have a discreet affair as do Mason and Lockwood, while Mason and Calvert, in public, play the happy couple - but movies are not made to showcase stable equilibriums.

Calvert wants the real thing, love in her marriage, and Lockwood wants the real thing, being Lady Rohan to the world. The climax, no spoilers coming, has Calvert trying to achieve her goal the honest way, while Lockwood tries deceit to achieve hers.

The result is a lot of drama and a surprisingly high body count, followed by a dissolve back to then present day England where Calvert and Lockwood tsk, tsk their ancestors and head off into the sunset and the rest of WWII.

Calvert, never looking prettier, is the one who both shines and carries the picture as the kind soul constantly being wronged, but who is still able to keep her good nature. Lockwood puts her natural dark sultriness to good use here as the conniving friend.

The men have smaller and less impactful roles as this is a women-driving picture, but still, Mason is in his element as an arrogant aristocrat as is Granger, young and handsome, in his, playing the swashbuckling "hero" Calvert deserves.

The Man in Grey is escapist fluff that hit the screen at the time when English and American audiences, saturated with war-time propaganda movies and newsreels, were happy to spend a few hours in a theater with a good old-fashioned tale of lust, greed, deceit, honor and heroism.

Today, the movie, despite its awkward 1943 bookends, works equally well as escapist entertainment free of the gratuitous sex, general anger and forced politics of modern pictures.
 
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Alfie from 1966 with Michael Caine, Julie Foster, Jane Asher, Shelly Winters and Vivien Merchant


It's not easy to make a movie that is, both, of its time and timeless, but Alfie pulls it off. Yes it captures the start of London's swinging 1960s sexual revolution, but its themes of infidelity, abortion, commitment, fatherhood and finding meaning in life are timeless.

Michael Caine is outstanding as Alfie, a middle-aged, good-looking single man who lives his life mainly to sleep with "birds," without forming any real attachment to them. He's a democratic playboy who sleeps with younger, older, single and married women.

We get to know Caine as he "breaks the fourth wall" throughout telling the audience his thoughts and motivation. He comes across as selfish and insensitive, but somehow without seeming to be mean or nasty.

Oversimplifying his philosophy, he lives for himself. While he'll leave things vague sometimes, he not only doesn't lie to women, he usually tells them straight out he's not in it for the long haul. The amazing thing is how many women hang on hoping he'll change.

The wife who casually cheats with him has no expectations, but several young single women, notably two played by Julie Foster and Jane Asher, stick around too long believing, one assumes, that time will turn Caine their way.

Even when Asher has Caine's son, after he offers to pay for an abortion, she makes no demands on him. He half fathers the boy until Asher accepts an offer of marriage from a kind man she doesn't love, but who she knows will make a good husband and father.

One thinks Caine might see life in a different light after he has to go to a sanitarium for a lung infection for a bit, but he ends up banging the wife, played by Vivien Merchant, of his sanitarium roommate when he gets out. That leads to the movie's defining scene.

Merchant has an abortion at Caine's apartment to keep the affair a secret from her husband. Caine is emotionally torn when he sees (the audience doesn't) the aborted fetus. His following thoughts and reflections might not be your views, but they are timeless.

Coincidentally, on the same day Caine sees his child's fetus, he sees his son with Asher being raised by another man. It's Caine's come-to-Jesus moment, which lands him in the arms of his older paramour, played with delicious sexual insouciance by Shelly Winters.

Alfie gets his comeuppance as Winters turns the tables on him - you'll want to see how - which leaves Caine maybe adrift or maybe fortified to return to his philandering ways.

As a time capsule of the 1960s at a turn, Alfie is a gem. Some men have short hair and wear ties, while others are starting to wear their hair long while sporting turtlenecks or open collars. The freer clothing styles reflect the freer sexual standards.

Yet the movie's themes are not stuck in the 1960s. While today, women no longer see marriage as a singular life goal, many still want to get married and many will find men who can't commit. It's called an evergreen problem for a reason. It works in reverse, too.

The aging playboy isn't new either. As friends and former lovers pair off and start families, he will begin to question his lifestyle. Being the oldest guy in the singles bar can be a sobering moment.

The "shortcut" here (as movies need) is Caine having a child and one aborted in quick succession. It drops the realities of his lifestyle right in front of him in one poignant moment.

As a movie, Alfie would fail miserably if Caine's Alfie was mean spirited or a braggart. That man is boring.

Caine, instead, seems to truly believe his broken philosophy about avoiding love and commitment. So even though he hurts women, you not only don't hate him, you - sometimes - can almost feel sorry for him.

Alfie was, rightfully, a breakout movie for Michael Caine as he perfectly embodies an aging lothario. Asher, Foster, Merchant and Winters also deliver moving performances as Caine's "women." Merchant, in particular, will touch you playing a very broken and lost wife.

Alfie manages to be both of-the-moment and a movie that smartly explores timeless problems. It's a picture that almost seems fun until, unexpectedly, you find yourself being emotionally battered. That's what good movie making will often do to you.
 
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Alfie from 2004 with Jude Law, Jane Krakowski, Sienna Miller, Marisa Tomei and Susan Sarandon


Alfie: "I want to explain."

Ex-girlfriend: "What, you had your fill of me, something cuter came along, I don't need to hear it, Alfie."


The original 1966 Alfie with Michael Caine is rightfully seen as one of that decade’s defining movies.

It captured England on the cusp of "The Swinging Sixties." But since its plot pivots on an abortion scene that is politically unacceptable today, the remake had to do something different.

That "something different" weakens the movie as this 2004 version not only dilutes the critical abortion scene, it waters down the "Alfie as father" storyline of the original where Alfie spends time with his "Illegitimate" son, but can't commit to the mother.

Those two storylines define the first movie. They are so attenuated in the newer version that all we are left with is a very Hollywood-slick look at a womanizer seeing some of the downside of his playboy lifestyle as he ages.

Jude Law is quite appealing playing Alfie, the British expat limo driver in New York City who, with his sharp suits and a scarf tied around his neck in that “cute” early '00s way, bangs one pretty woman after another.

"Breaking the fourth wall" regularly, as in the original, Law as Alfie, lets us in on his calculating approach to bedding, dating and then leaving women before it gets too serious. That there are problems to this surfacey fun lifestyle is the point of the movie.

Time and again, we see him hurt women and then move on. Later, they do not want Alfie back when he comes around for seconds, as even he can't fill up his bed fast enough with new ones.

Without the strong abortion and fatherhood themes of the original, though, that's really all there is to the story. There's a new storyline about Alfie sleeping with his best friend's kinda ex-girlfriend, but it feels forced and boring.

The women - Jane Krakowski as the sweet girl who is truly hurt (see the quote at the top), Sienna Miller as a manic depressive, Marisa Tomei as the single mom, Nia Long as the best-friend's girlfriend and Susan Sarandon as the rich cougar - are all engaging.

Sarandon gets to have the most fun as she out "Alfies" Alfie, delivering the same crushing line (no spoilers) that Shelly Winters delivers in the original, but with even more bite.

Set in New York City (but not completely filmed there), with everyone wearing "perfect" clothes, a slightly "aged-tinted" cinematography and a new soundtrack produced by Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart that sounds kinda 1960s - Alfie is very retro slick.

Add in the heavy smoking that wasn't a thing even back in 2004, Alfie zipping around New York City helmet-less on a moped and Miller's heavy black eyeliner and Alfie feels of no real place and time or vaguely early 2000s with a splash of London 1960s mixed in.

Some men (and women) aren't wired for commitment. Our cultural shorthand is to say they don't want to grow up, but like some women who don't want to be married, not everyone fits the model. Our modern take doesn't like it, but all life paths have downsides.

Alfie 2004 is entertaining, but a bit sad and pointless. It's a remake without purpose and without the soul of the original, but darn it, the style and acting talent keeps your attention as does the Neverland feel of New York City. Still, the only move is to see the original first.
 

FOXTROT LAMONT

One Too Many
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Alfie was a constant college wine and cheese topic; mainly I suppose because whether pro or con
abortion, movies are quite capable as literature at drawing inescapable moral jigsaw puzzles that leave people flummoxed. Confused and morally adrift, lost and imperiled on life's merciless high seas.
 

Julian Shellhammer

Practically Family
Messages
879
The Saint in New York (1938) dir. Ben Holmes, with Louis Hayward at the Saint, Kay Sutton as a mysterious character tied up with a criminal organization, and Jack Carson and Paul Guilfoyle as a pair of Mutt and Jeff thugs played a la Damon Runyon.

With crime running rampant through a large unnamed US city, a citizen's committee recruits Simon Templar, international man of sophisticated crime and deliverer of extra-legal consequences for bad guys. The police commissioner grants some sort of legit status to Templar, who proceeds to bring down the gang. Hayward comes across as self-confident, ruthless, and charming to both friend and foe. There are quite a bit of folks dispatched, done with the Hollywood no wounds visible style. The print was murky and dark; dvr'd off of TCM. Looking ahead to the George Sanders iteration of the character, played in a lighter vein.
 
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The Saint in New York (1938) dir. Ben Holmes, with Louis Hayward at the Saint, Kay Sutton as a mysterious character tied up with a criminal organization, and Jack Carson and Paul Guilfoyle as a pair of Mutt and Jeff thugs played a la Damon Runyon.

With crime running rampant through a large unnamed US city, a citizen's committee recruits Simon Templar, international man of sophisticated crime and deliverer of extra-legal consequences for bad guys. The police commissioner grants some sort of legit status to Templar, who proceeds to bring down the gang. Hayward comes across as self-confident, ruthless, and charming to both friend and foe. There are quite a bit of folks dispatched, done with the Hollywood no wounds visible style. The print was murky and dark; dvr'd off of TCM. Looking ahead to the George Sanders iteration of the character, played in a lighter vein.

It's been decades since I've read one of "The Saint" books and years since I've seen one of the movies, but "The Saint in New York" was my favorite. The book, in particular, is entertaining and, for us today, fun time travel.
 
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Ace of Aces from 1933 with Richard Dix and Elizabeth Allan


Ace of Aces is a thoughtful 1930s anti-war film set during WWI. It has plenty of early talkie clunkiness, but even today, it still packs a powerful punch.

Richard Dix plays a sculptor scornful of the patriotic fever sweeping the USA upon its entry into the Great War. He has no interest in killing another man and is dismissive of the country's gung-ho attitude.

His girlfriend, whom he loves in a modern sensitive way, is played by the beautiful Elizabeth Allan. She gets caught up in the country's flag waving and volunteers as a nurse. Disgusted with Dix's pacifism, she calls him yellow and says she is ashamed of him.

Apparently, no man, not even a pacifist, likes being called a chicken by the girl he loves, as the next thing we see is Dix joining a fighter squadron.

Dix's unit provides an early and realistic look at the surface cynicism and gallows humor men who face death daily use to mask or control their fear. The men drink away their anxiety and sing songs or play games to avoid the only thing they are thinking about.

In a gut-wrenching brief scene, we see a pilot commit suicide with a handgun right after his brother, another pilot, was killed.

Today, that scene would be dressed up in artistic pretensions and would take up five minutes of film, but in Ace of Aces, it is maybe thirty seconds long, has no flourishes, and knocks the wind right out of you.

Once pacifist Dix gets a taste of aerial combat, he becomes a killing machine experiencing a complete personality change. He is cold and aloof to his fellow fliers and only becomes fully alive in the cockpit with an enemy plane in his gun sights. It's a chilling transition.

Dix and Allan meet up by chance when both are on leave in Paris. He is now the heavily decorated and lauded fighter ace loving the war; she's a nurse who, having seen the war's endless parade of maimed and dead men up close, doesn't believe in its glory anymore.

She apologizes to Dix and begs him to love her as he did before, but he tells her he has no interest in or time for that attitude. In a poignant moment, he says he just "wants" her for the weekend - demoralized but willingly - she submits. God bless pre-code realism.

Back with his squadron, Dix shoots down a German pilot who, unknowingly to Dix, was trying to do a nice thing for an American pilot who had been shot down earlier.

Injured himself in the battle, Dix winds up convalescing in the hospital next to the same German pilot. (Since it was not a triage tent, but a far-from-the-front hospital, could that have really happened?)

Now that his enemy is not just a distant plane spiralling to the ground or another glory sticker on his fuselage, but a living breathing human, Dix has the epiphany moment we know was coming as his old pacifictic feelings return.

Despite being offered a safe position in a training school, Dix returns to his squadron in an emotionally confused attempt to figure out his thoughts about the war. He then ignores orders, goes up alone and gets an enemy plane in his sights, but he can't pull the trigger.

The movie should have ended right there, at that exact moment, but Hollywood needed a Hollywood ending, which wasn't worthy of this, otherwise, tight seventy-six minute effort.

Ace of Aces is an unvarnished look at war and the changes it inflicts on the young men and women (nurses on the front then, soldiers today) who live its awful reality.

Every war has its sincere pacifists or conscientious objectors who have something to say, especially as, early, the war "parade" gets up and running. But there's also this: somebody has to stop the past, present and future Hitlers and Putins of the world.
 

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