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What Was The Last Movie You Watched?


One Too Many
St John's Wood, London UK
What a lovely rose Ms Allan is. Her facial beauty character alone could give a man reason to live honourably.
A mark must see film. Irene Dunne had similar features and her eyes spoke volumes. Haunting elegance gifted
divine nature, matched implicit directorial recognition.
New York City

The Moon and Sixpence from 1942 with George Sanders, Herbert Marshall, Steven Geray, Doris Dudley, Florence Bates and Molly Lamont

The Moon and Sixpence is based on a W. Somerset Maugham novel that is loosely based on Paul Gauguin's life. "Influenced by" might be a better description as, at times, Maugham's characters track Gauguin's life, but at other times, they go their own way.

George Sanders plays Charles Strickland, Gauguin's doppelganger. It's a role tailor made for Sanders who made a career playing snarky and cynical characters like Strickland, a middle-class Englishman who abandons his family to move to Paris to paint.

Herbert Marshall, playing the Maugham-like character - a novelist and friend of the family - goes to Paris to try to convince Sanders to return to his wife and children. This is when the movie really kicks into gear as Sanders has no intention of returning.

He is completely indifferent to Marshall's entreaties regarding honor, duty and responsibility to his family. He doesn't revel in his awful behavior, he simply doesn't care. Sanders wants to paint, needs to paint, and is done with his old life.

Sanders delivers scathing speeches about the hypocrisy of middle-class morality. Even though he makes these self-serving speeches, and he seems to believe them, he also doesn't really appear to care that much about justifying his actions.

Sanders goes on to brutally use all his friends and almost all the women in his life, who oddly push their love, money and care on him. Without trying, he somehow calls forth sympathy from others.

Poverty seems only to bother him to the extent that it interferes with his painting. Even so, he has no interest in selling his work as he paints for himself to express something he needs to put down on canvas.

The man is insufferable, but there's an honesty to his single mindedness. He doesn't ask others for help, but takes it without gratitude. He seems to be guided by an inner force that says "paint!"

The final segment in the movie, which tracks Gauguin's life a bit, has Sanders in Tahiti, married to a pretty young island girl who devotes herself completely to him. After Sanders dies in the South Sea island, Marshall pops up to provide a coda for the movie.

The Moon and Sixpence is an awkward but engaging movie as it's a fictionalized biopic, which has you constantly wondering what is true and what is made up by Maugham. You'll probably be Googling "Gauguin" by the time the movie is over.

It is also Sanders' movie as no one plays a selfish but appealing cad better than he. Yet, here he shows a deeper dimension conveying both an all-absorbing passion to paint and the odd magnetism of his egotistical character.

Marshall is good as the Maugham-like author serving, effectively, as narrator. There is, however, too much of Marshall narrating or just chatting with Sanders as someone forgot the writer's creed of show don't tell.

Steven Geray, Doris Dudley, Florence Bates and Molly Lamont all deliver fine performances as each one pops up in a supporting role at different times in Sanders' life.

For most of the movie we don't see any of Sanders' painting, but there is a pretty dramatic reveal of his work - in a brief color sequence in this otherwise black and white or sepia-tone picture - in a closing scene in Tahiti. It's no surprise that the work is in Gauguin's style.

Movies like The Moon and Sixpence, movies about difficult and unconventional artists, show us that, sometimes, genius needs to, selfishly, plow its own path.

These movies argue that the human detritus left in the artist's wake is worth it for what the artist bequeaths to mankind. That is true, but it's also easier to say that if you aren't one of the humans left flattened by the artist.


One Too Many
St John's Wood, London UK
Read Sixpence long ago, never seen flick. I recall Maugham's diddy quite well enough though because
Gauguin's sensual brush made adolescent male minds twinkle. I recall Maugham's regret at not having bought
any of Gauguin while in Paris, and later in Tahiti his widow said her husband wished all his unsold art legacy
matched. This looks a good Sanders glove fit.


London, UK
John Wick 4 the other week. Tremendous fun. Closes out the Wick story in style, with a nod to the real old school of the mythical heroes like Robin Hood. The closing shot I saw coming a mile off, but it's beautifully done. The scene that had me whoop for joy, though, was the very knowing nod to The Warriors with the female DJ sending out her messages to the 'boppers' out there. I enjoyed this franchise immensely. It's big, dumb, silly and fun, and played beautifully. I'm reminded a little in all of it of 2008's Wanted, which never had the level of attention I felt it deserved as a similar romp at the time.
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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.

A very nice picture. The remake was entertaining enough, but I don't think worked in the same way as noted above: the original is very much a product of its time.

Julian Shellhammer

Practically Family
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.
As well, decades since I read a "Saint" book. I remember checking a copy out of the local library not long after reading all the Sherlock Holmes I could find, then beginning to work through Chandler, Van Dine, Stout, and Hammett. Simon Templar was only peripherally known to me, sort of via the television series, but were fun reads.
New York City
As well, decades since I read a "Saint" book. I remember checking a copy out of the local library not long after reading all the Sherlock Holmes I could find, then beginning to work through Chandler, Van Dine, Stout, and Hammett. Simon Templar was only peripherally known to me, sort of via the television series, but were fun reads.

I don't have it anymore as it was given to Goodwill in a move, but this is what my copy look liked. It was a cheap paperback that I bought in the late 1980s/early1990s and read on a few long train rides. I probably read ten or so Saint books before I moved on, but I enjoyed "living in his world" for awhile. One day, I'll pick up another of his books and will revisit that world.

Julian Shellhammer

Practically Family
Battleship Potemkin (1925) dir. Sergei Eisenstein, via YT. Flash cuts, massive crowd scenes, striking shot compositions, this has it all. The movie nerd lingers on...
The Saint in London (1939), brought to us by John Paddy Carstairs, with George Sanders and Sally Gray. We're trying to watch in release order. Simon Templar acquires factotum Dugan in this outing. Gray, as Penny Parker, lends a hand in breaking up a counterfeiting ring (in and about London). Sanders is suave, but can handle with ease thugs and being shot at. Well-paced entertainment at under an hour and a quarter.
New York City

The Driver from 1978 with Ryan O'Neil, Bruce Dern and Isabelle Adjani

Is it neo-noir or just a crime drama? With all but no backstory to the characters, who are nameless throughout, a surreal world of crime and policing and a city as a kind of urban jungle, if The Driver isn't neo noir, what is?

Ryan O'Neal plays a for-hire getaway driver, called The Driver, who commands a high price for his services. Thankfully, he isn't uber-cool like an action adventure hero, just a handsome, anti-social, laconic loner who is very good at his job, like many noir criminals.

As O'Neal plies his unique trade, an off-balance police detective played by Bruce Dern, with a team of two that seems to know Dern's mind is no longer tightly tethered to reality, makes capturing The Driver, or The Cowboy as Dern calls him, his singular mission in life.

After opening with a heck of a good car chase scene, with O'Neal driving the getaway car from a casino heist (in a state without legalized gambling), Dern amps up his efforts to catch O'Neal.

When a witness, The Player, played by French beauty Isabelle Adjani, denies seeing O'Neal drive the car, Dern gets all angry, but he has to release O'Neil. Later, O'Neal tries to pay The Player, but like him, she seems happiest looking pretty, but being left alone.

Dern then spins a bit farther out into orbit as he plans a sting operation for The Driver that even in the 1970s, and even if you know nothing about the law, screams entrapment. None of that matters to Dern though as he's on a mission.

In real life, if Bruce Dern was a normal, well-adjusted man, then he has to be the greatest actor ever as he seems to have "crazy" stamped on his forehead in most of his roles, this one very much included.

Dern's plan involves a staged bank robbery, using real criminals, where O'Neil gets a cut to drive the getaway car. The police-sanctioned sting robbery goes horribly wrong with guards and civilians getting shot and, of course, the criminals turning on each other.

O'Neal not only drives the getaway car successfully, but he comes away with all the "hot" loot, which he stashes in a train terminal locker. Yet, of course, Dern is still after him as is one of the gang from the bank heist.

O'Neal then concocts a scheme with The Connection (think, his business manager) to launder the money. In a very classic noir-like turn, briefcases of "hot" and "clean" money go in and out of lockers at the train station as locker keys discreetly change hands a few times.

It climaxes, no spoilers coming, the only way it could, with one final car chase as O'Neal and Adjani try to get the "clean" money from one of the gang members.

The real ending, though, is the very cool denouement back in the train station where Dern and O'Neal meet for one last time as The Player, Adjani, watches from a distance. It is, by far, the best scene in the movie.

O'Neal is surprisingly good as The Driver, especially when he finally, later in, gets to say a few complete sentences of dialogue and do something other than drive. Had the movie been a success (it wasn't) a sequel or TV series could easily have followed.

Adjani underwhelms as the aloof Player, in part because she has so few lines and, in part, because she has on so much makeup she looks like a mannequin. Dern, as noted, is in his acting sweet spot here playing a highly functioning sociopath.

The Driver, like many of the original noirs, exists in a parallel universe where cops, criminals and citizens all have specific roles to play in a morally ambiguous world that allows these dark and tragic tales to unfold unencumbered by normal constraints.

Cars speed all over town at night without getting into the accidents that would happen on real planet earth. Unhinged cops go about their corrupt pursuits without oversight and loner criminals exist for no reason other than professional pride and to look cool.

Director Walter Hill specialized in these types of neo-noir movies that "bridge" traditional noir with the completely insane universe of cops-and-robbers movies that directors like Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino have been making for the past two-plus decades.

It's far from perfect, but for simple, unadorned and uncomplicated entertainment, and as a window into a movie genre in transition, The Driver is a fun and quirky 1970s Tinseltown curio that’s held up pretty well.

New York City

The Most Dangerous Game from 1932 with Joel McCrea, Fay Wray and Leslie Banks

One of the joys of early 1930s movies is their, often, concise storytelling as seen in The Most Dangerous Game's runtime of sixty-three taut minutes that rips along from setup, to climax, to conclusion with little fuss.

Joel McCrea plays the sole survivor of a small yacht that crashes near an isolated island despite having carefully navigated between the island’s channel markers.

When McCrea washes up on the island’s shore, he quickly finds his way to an eerie castle where he is greeted by a creepy servant, but an ingratiating "Count," played by Leslie Banks.

The only other "guests" are a brother and sister, played by Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, who also washed up after their boat crashed as, it seems, the island's channel buoys are misleading (cue dramatic music).

The surfacey cordial albeit baleful count is a hunter, like we learn McCrea is. The Count, though, and this comes out early and you'll guess it even earlier, uses his island to hunt human prey that washes up from boat crashes caused by his buoy stratagem.

It's a good set up: a remote and dreary island, a foreboding castle, sinister servants and a flamboyant and obviously insane host, plus a trapped pretty woman, Wray, and handsome man, McCrea, who slowly realize they are in trouble.

The second half of the movie is the hunt as Count Insane gives McCrea and Wray - Armstrong is hunted earlier - a one-day head start, which only means so much on a small island.

In preparation for the hunt, McCrea and Wray use their intelligence to set traps to outwit the soon-to-be stalking Count who'll be using his gun, bow and arrow and vicious hunting dogs.

What follows is a good hunt scene through a thick jungle, a foggy swamp and around dangerous cliffs that keeps you engaged and nervous.

While, by today's standards, some of it feels a bit hokey owing to the limitation of early 1930s special effects, overall, the hunt is a gripping chess match.

The money moment and entire point of the movie, though, is when McCrea and Wray are worn out, seemingly all but trapped by the dogs and thinking they are going to die.

That is when McCrea, the hunter - of animals, not humans because he's not insane - quickly and without flourish says he now knows how his prey has felt all these years.

Bam! Nineteen-thirty-two movie philosophy meets two-thousand-and-twenty-four principles and shows that our present-day sensitivities to hunting are not new ideas.

Modern movies, with all their CGI and progressive tenets, have yet to top The Most Dangerous Game for making a point directly and powerfully, but without pompous virtue signalling.

The entire movie, climax included, also anticipates the typical James Bond story, which was still two decades in the future with its evil, insane villain, remote island hideout, damsel in distress who proves to have grit and square-jawed hero who outsmarts the evil genius.

While most Bond movies riff on the general theme, The Man With the Golden Gun and Octopussy borrow heavily, in several scenes, directly from The Most Dangerous Game. Most good stories are just retold for a new generation.

One has to pity poor Ms. Wray as this jungle hunt was just a warm up for her career-defining (killing?) role as the object of King Kong's affections a year later. The woman knew how to alluringly run through jungles.

The Most Dangerous Game is good, and holds up today because it respects its audience by letting its smart story speak for itself with little embellishment.

Modern filmmakers, who CGI movies to death, create two-plus-hour runtimes out of thin material and hit you over the head with their social and political messages, could learn a lot from this 1932 example of how less, done smartly and concisely, can be more.

Julian Shellhammer

Practically Family
An odd offering, starting out as a 30s/40s rom-com, then grim manslaughter tale, then melodramatic drama as only classic Hollywood could produce, is And One Was Beautiful (1940), with headliners Robert Cummings and Laraine Day under the direction of Robert B. Sinclair, who brought us such varied fare as The Wild Man of Borneo, Rage in Heaven, I'll Wait for You, and numerous television programs.

Cummings is richrichrich society guy ($10 million worth) pursued by society ladies by the boatload. Day is high school/college age kid sister of one of the said society ladies. Witty repartee sets the opening scenes as rich folk attend parties and fret about social status.

Then a tragic fatal accident occurs, and the middle part of the story involves guilt, a sensational trial, a wrongful conviction, and an unspoken but growing love twixt our characters. No spoilers here, but things do get straightened out. There is a satisfying comeuppance at the end of 1 hour and 10 minutes, and we come away with a happy feeling.
New York City
An odd offering, starting out as a 30s/40s rom-com, then grim manslaughter tale, then melodramatic drama as only classic Hollywood could produce, is And One Was Beautiful (1940), with headliners Robert Cummings and Laraine Day under the direction of Robert B. Sinclair, who brought us such varied fare as The Wild Man of Borneo, Rage in Heaven, I'll Wait for You, and numerous television programs.

Cummings is richrichrich society guy ($10 million worth) pursued by society ladies by the boatload. Day is high school/college age kid sister of one of the said society ladies. Witty repartee sets the opening scenes as rich folk attend parties and fret about social status.

Then a tragic fatal accident occurs, and the middle part of the story involves guilt, a sensational trial, a wrongful conviction, and an unspoken but growing love twixt our characters. No spoilers here, but things do get straightened out. There is a satisfying comeuppance at the end of 1 hour and 10 minutes, and we come away with a happy feeling.

Everything you said, plus the "other woman" is the beautiful Jean Muir


One Too Many
St John's Wood, London UK
I read this short story as a boy. Rainsford, I recall was the protagonist but there wasn't a woman to gin
this mano-a-mano tale, and I rather remember Rainsford heard a pistol shot while swimming to shore.
Never seen this flick but Faye is chick flick excess baggage because Rainsford needed a foil for dialogue.
And it seems the studio thought a little bit of nookie for a lust in the dust island romp couldn't hurt.
Years later The Naked Prey with Cornel Wilde easily toppered the human prey genre.


I'll Lock Up
Troy, New York, USA
"Saltburn" - Hmmm and interesting film but not a great one as far as I'm concerned. Certainly full of "shocking" scenes and great performances but as far as a coherent/believable story... not so much. I much preferred "The Talented Mister Ripley" which covered the exact same territory without the gratuitous schlock. A 5 year old with one season of "Law and Order" or "CSI" under their belt would've unraveled this mess in minutes. As for the final 7 minutes!!!! The less said about that the better.

New York City
Skyscraper Souls (1932).jpg

Skyscraper Souls from 1932 with Warren William, Maureen O'Sullivan, Verree Teasdale and Hedda Hopper

In the 1920s and early 1930s, until the Depression put an end to the frantic building of skyscrapers, the public was fascinated with the new vertical behemoths.

The construction of marque buildings like the Woolworth Tower, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State (the last two briefly competed for the title of world's tallest) were closely followed by the public. They were technological marvels in their day.

Hollywood, of course, didn't miss a beat, putting out several stories about these soaring edifices that provided many Americans their first opportunity to see one.

In Skyscraper Souls, MGM lets it rip in this dripping-in-sex-and-financial-chicanery tale of the "souls" whose lives center around the world's tallest skyscraper.

Warren William plays the man who had the vision to build the hundred-story monument to his ego, but who now faces losing his building as a note is coming due and he's scrambling to refinance. Equally challenging is William's love life.

His friendly wife is played with pitch-perfect insouciance by Hedda Hopper. She's happy to take his money in return for regularly disappearing so that he can have paramours whom he tells he can't marry because, he says, his wife won't give him a divorce.

While dealing with his financial troubles, William's long-time paramour, played with sensitivity by Verree Teasdale, who's also the building's business manager (women were smart, successful and sexy in pre-codes), discovers he's lying about his wife denying him a divorce.

Worse, Teasdale discovers that William is "dating" her pretty young secretary played by Maureen O'Sullivan. That hurts.

O'Sullivan is all but the co-star in this one as her captivating cuteness masks a complex character who falls for a bank clerk (played with annoying pushiness by Norman Foster). O'Sullivan, though, outright tells him she won't marry him because he's too poor.

Instead, and after resisting at first, O'Sullivan gives in to William's advances as we see that she, too, has a libido that finds money and power intoxicating. Plus bank clerk Foster is so annoying, you don't blame her.

It's a complex role that O'Sullivan proves more than equal too. While O'Sullivan had a successful career with plenty of good parts in the 1930s, one has to wonder why this incredibly talented actress remained one level below that decade's top female stars.

Skyscraper Souls has several risque subplots working including a jeweler falling in love with a prostitute, a dressmaker who can't keep his models in line and other building denizens with amorous challenges. It's an early version of overlapping soap-opera stories centered on a single location.

Back in the main plot, William is up for his multiple problems as he masterminds a morally nasty, but legal-for-the-day, pump-and-dump stock scheme (the Security Act of 1934 would change that) that could bankrupt his long-time partners, but secure the building for himself.

William is also desperately trying to edge Teasdale into "retirement" with a padded pension (he's not always cruel), so that he can move on to O'Sullivan. Objectively, William is a selfish ba***rd, but he's also a captivating and complex man who changed the world.

Even those who see through his charm, often still like him. Actor William is in his sweet spot here as he was born to play a powerful man of questionable morality who succeeds by drive, smarts and charisma.

The climax has Greek Tragedy overtones as William, at the end, is on top of the world with the building now secure and O'Sullivan conquered, but then a blow from an unlikely source befalls him. Will he survive or has it all been a struggle for naught?

Skyscraper Souls has been eclipsed in reputation today by similar movies from the same era like Grand Hotel or Dinner at Eight.

The movie deserves, though, to sit beside those two as an outstanding example of precode Hollywood blending the themes of sex, power, business and cutting-edge technology into one heck of a captivating soap opera.

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Doctor Damage

I'll Lock Up
John Carpenter film festival continues, with his remake of The Thing.

It creeped me out as a teen, and love it to this day.

"You gotta be f@cking kidding...".

If you know the film, you know the scene...
For some reason it took me forty-two years to see that movie (watched it last night) and I agree it's great! Will have to check out of a few other Carpenter movies, since the only one I know well is Escape from NY. If anyone has suggestions please post.

I was reading the wikipedia entry for The Thing and it mentions some other films that came out 1982: Poltergeist, Conan, Blade Runner, Mad Max 2, ST Wrath of Khan, and Tron. What a good year!!
New York City

When Strangers Marry from 1944 with Kim Hunter, Robert Mitchum, Dean Jagger and Neil Hamilton

While billed as a noir and with an interesting cast, When Strangers Marry is a low-budget effort that feels more like a The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Present TV episode from a decade or so later than a full-length movie.

Kim Hunter plays a newlywed who comes to New York to meet her traveling salesman husband, but he doesn't show up on time. Instead, Hunter runs into an old beau from her midwest hometown, played by Robert Mitchum, who helps her search for her absent husband.

After reporting her husband as missing to the police, the husband, played by Dean Jagger, shows up, but acts mysteriously: he doesn't want to tell his new wife why he was late, what he was doing, nor does he want them to see other people. It's very much like the start of a The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode.

Meanwhile, the police lieutenant, played by TV Batman's future Commissioner Gordon, Neil Hamilton, thinks Hunter's husband might be the "silk stocking murderer" who killed a man less than a week ago in Philadelphia for the ten grand the man was carrying.

From here, this short movie is, mainly, about watching a confused and Bambi-looking Hunter trying to believe her very-suspicious-acting new husband. At the same time, seemingly good-guy Mitchum tries to help her even as the police start to close in.

When Strangers Marry has some neat noir elements, but the story is a mess of holes with several awkward scenes and stilted dialogue. There's a twist at the end that explains some of the characters' behavior, but there are still plenty of inconsistencies in the story.

The value today in this one is seeing a young Robert Mitchum only a few years before his breakout to major stardom in much-better noirs. He's big and handsome here and the camera loves him, but he doesn't yet have the full confidence needed to own a scene - that was coming.

Kim Hunter is her usual somnambulant self. She is Deanna Durbin without Deana's wonderful Durbinness. Even Dean Jagger, a talented actor, struggles a bit with some of the script's worst dialogue, but it's fun to see this usually bald actor with a full head of Hollywood-provided hair.

And you can't help but enjoy seeing a middle-aged Neil Hamilton in a similar role here as a police lieutenant to the one that would make him famous two decades later.

When Strangers Marry is a mediocre, low-budget movie with a sloppy story that can only be enjoyed today because of its interesting young cast. It also helps if you are willing to think of it as the antecedent to those late-fifties TV shows that also had low-budgets and, sometimes, weak stories, but often engaging actors.
New York City

The Divorcee from 1930 with Norma Shearer, Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel, Judith Wood and Robert Montgomery

To call The Divorcee a good "precode" doesn't do this smartly layered picture justice. It's pre-code in its subject matter, but traditional in its values, in a very believable way. Plus, despite being almost a hundred years old, its major themes are still relevant today.

Norma Shearer and Chester Morris play the leaders of the young, rich and socially prominent "smart set" of New York City. Their marriage is the envy of their friends as it seems as good on the inside as it looks on the outside.

It is, until Morris, intoxicated one night, cheats and Shearer finds out. All the following can be true in the realpolitiks of relationships: she's rightfully hurt, the affair genuinely meant nothing to him as he was drunk and she would have been better off not knowing.

She does know, and though she tries, she can't put it behind her until she has her own affair, with a friend in their set, played by Robert Montgomery. When Morris finds out, he is angry more at being embarrassed because it was with a friend, than he is hurt by her infidelity.

The marriage can't hold after that, so it's off to divorce court, followed by public debauchery for Shearer and the bottle for Morris. But Shearer's "playing the field" is all show as she still has feelings for Morris and does no woohooing behind closed doors.

Rounding out the story are two of their friends, played by Conrad Nagel, who was in love with Shearer before she married Morris, and Judith Wood, whom Nagel married on the rebound and out of obligation and pity when he disfigured her in a drunk-driving accident.

With that awful start to their marriage, it's no surprise it's floundering. Nagel uses that as his opportunity to take another stab at winning Shearer's heart. It's only a secondary story, but Wood's sad plea to keep her husband is heartbreakingly real. Shearer kindly walks away.

In a lighter scene, Montgomery, the friend Shearer revenge canoodled with, dances quickly away from Morris when Morris, innocently, asks Montgomery if he knows who it was in their set that slept with his former wife. Montgomery saw no honor in honesty at that moment.

The climax, no spoilers coming, is powerful because it's real, not because it's necessarily satisfying. It is consistent with a story that says honor and honesty matter, but aren't always absolutes. That's a very not-Hollywood answer to real-life problems.

Even with a strong cast, this is Shearer's movie with her rightfully winning a Best Actress Oscar for her performance. Shearer never lost all her silent-film mannerisms, but her acting here is thoughtful. She delivered the challenging emotional nuance the role needed.

Morris, in one of his better performances, showed good range as a man who finally saw that saving face might be costing him too much in life. Montgomery, in his sweet spot here as the likable cad, was on the brink of a long run of starring roles as a likable cad.

For an early talkie, it's 1930 and Hollywood was still figuring out where to put the microphones, the movie's fast overlapping dialogue is surprisingly modern. It predates 1940's His Girl Friday by a decade, a movie often cited as being the first realistic dialogue picture.

While the actors deserve a lot of credit, director Robert Z. Leonard also deserves note. His picture was ahead of its time with its aforementioned comfort with new technology and its more natural feel. Leonard, not surprisingly, would go on to have a long Hollywood career.

For fans of the era, the clothes, cars and architecture are Art Deco / Jazz Age heaven, as the story was written in the late 1920s before the stock market crashed and the Depression started.

Seeing young men and women dressed to the nines, even for casual outings, can make the movie seem dated, but young men and women, today, still fall deeply in love, sometimes hurt each other by cheating, sometimes divorce or breakup and sometimes regret it.

Living together has reduced some of that risk - or at least made it less outwardly embarrassing and formal - but humans are still humans, cheating still hurts and pride can cause them to make everything worse.

The Divorcee, stripped of all its wonderful style, is no less relevant today than when it was released. The really hard question it slyly asks still has no good answer: can a lie be better than the truth, when the truth wrecks two lives, but a lie would have made everyone happier?

The retort is that it took all the wreckage for Morris' character to truly understand how wrong his behavior was and, maybe, to truly understand how much he loved his wife. Then as now, there are no easy answers.
New York City

Arrowsmith from 1931 with Ronald Coleman, Helen Hayes, Clarence Brooks and Myrna Loy

Arrowsmith is based on a big book by Sinclair Lewis. The challenge for making films from big books is how to distill a long and complex story down to a coherent movie of a reasonable length.

Unfortunately, instead of focusing on one or two time periods or one or two themes of the many in the novel, the makers of the movie tried to retain too much of the long and broad sweep of the story.

The resulting movie feels rushed and inconsistent as it speeds through too-many decades and too-many challenges and plot twists in only ninety-nine minutes of screen time.

For all its issues, though, director John Ford, with leads Ronald Coleman and Helen Hayes, produced in Arrowsmith an interesting movie that raises several challenging philosophical medical questions.

The picture might not completely work, but it still has a number of engaging and thought-provoking scenes.

Coleman plays Arrowsmith, who, when we first meet him, is a promising medical student more interested in research than being "a pill pusher." He's a young idealist doctor.

He then, however, marries a pretty young woman, played by Helen Hayes and puts research aside when he moves with Hayes to a rural community to build a practice, make a home and start a family.

After curing a bacterial outbreak in the local cow population - he's closing in on penicillin - which brings him national fame, Coleman and Hayes move to New York City when Coleman is offered a job at a distinguished research institute.

A few years later, Coleman is sent to the Caribbean to treat, and do research on, a plague outbreak. With Hayes along - she's been the "strong woman" behind the man his entire career - Coleman quickly faces a moral medical conundrum.

He has to decide if he is going to conduct a "study" where he only gives serum to half the population to "prove" its effectiveness and advance the long-term benefit to mankind or if he will just treat everyone as the "humane" thing to do.

This always rushed movie climaxes with Coleman facing yet another moral conundrum, this one regarding how one does true and honest research. His decision, with the benefit of what we know today, looks idealisticly naive.

Along the way, there are many good "quick hits," as we see Coleman battle narrow-minded government bureaucrats, superstitious patients and bosses more interested in publicity and funding than medical research.

It is also uplifting to see one of the great historical moments of scientific advancement as the discovery and refinement of antibiotics truly did improve life for mankind.

Coleman and Hayes also go through a series of ups and downs in their relationship as Coleman is often frustrated in his career choices, which impacts their marriage.

The usual financial and family challenges also buffet their marriage, including a potential love affair that Coleman could have with a socialite played by Myrna Loy. It's an affair that is dramatically toned down from the book.

The cinematography in Arrowsmith is outstanding (and wonderfully restored). For 1931, the beautifully sets, sweeping shots, gorgeous use of shadow and general attention to detail is impressive.

John Ford was still learning his craft, but his ability to shoot epics was already forming, even if he didn't fully pull this one together.

Coleman and Hayes, and several other actors, especially Clarence Brooks in a very refreshing-for-the-time not-at-all-stereotypical role as a black doctor, deliver outstanding performances.

Arrowsmith tried to do too much, resulting in a movie that feels rushed and inconsistent, but one that is still impressive, especially for 1931. With engaging performances and a big budget that delivered some spectacular sets and cinematography, Arrowsmith is worth at least one viewing.

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