This Week in Rixflix #4: March 31-April 6, 2017
A much smaller week in film watching than the previous week (10 less films), much of it directly responsible for the upswing in my hours spent writing now that the hip is doing even better than before. Having regular physical therapy also ate into the film watching time as well. Oh, yeah, and some old pal reunion time at Disney California Adventure Park on April Fools' Day with my pals Mattman and Leandro, where April Fools' was never even mentioned once. Hard for even me to think about film for long when hanging with my buddies at Disneyland Resort. (Unless we are talking about film, of course. But we only did a little bit...)
This week's feature film count: 15; 13 first-time viewings and 2 repeats.
Highest rated film: Little Fugitive (1953) – 8/9.
Lowest rated film: Frankenstein Island (1981) – 2/9.
The Arnelo Affair (1947) Dir.: Arch Oboler – A deadly dull affair without a single surprise in it, The Arnelo Affair is a waste of a pretty decent cast including Frances Gifford, George Murphy, John Hodiak, a very young Dean Stockwell, and a devastatingly underused Eve Arden, who brings the only life (and intentional comedy) to the picture. The lovely Gifford is a wife who is absolutely bored with her life with Murphy, who shows her no affection or attention at all. Her attention is turned momentarily by cad about town Hodiak (who might as well twirl his mustache if only it were longer) but when push comes to shove, she refuses to destroy her marriage with an affair. But Hodiak sets her up as the prime suspect when he decides to murder his previous flame. Since we know everything going on, and barring an incredible twist ending that never comes, all one can do for the last 40 minutes is wait for Hodiak to have a change of heart. Want to take bets that he does, but in such a way that Hodiak pays for his murdering ways violently so that the censors are appeased? Rating: 5/9
Rosalie (1937) Dir.: W.S. Van Dyke – A rather strange film that I would refer to as a "trifle" if it weren't overlong at 123 minutes, Rosalie boasts Nelson Eddy in his first role away from Jeanette McDonald, Cole Porter songs, John Philip Sousa marches, collegiate football, West Point antics, European court intrigue, and Eleanor Powell dancing her heart out at usual in the leading lady role (including the famous scene where she taps across the tops of a series of giant drums). It's an odd amalgam of ingredients, and though it has a cast filled with terrific character actors, some of them – such as Edna May Oliver, Jerry Colonna, and William Demarest – are absolutely trapped in nothing roles. I guess this was so they could give Eddy more time to bore us with molasses-slow ballads.
The best parts, and the main reasons this film slinks up to "good" territory for me, belong to sidekick Ray Bolger as Eddy's best pal who has to jump through hoops (not literally) to win his own fickle girlfriend's heart back, and his future co-star from The Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan – the Wizard himself – as the king of Romanza, a fictitious country that doesn't seem to be all that happy to have a befuddled monarch who takes his orders from his own ventriloquist dummy. (That's right... you did not read that wrong. Ventriloquist dummy...) I did wonder for a while if perhaps this film was actually meant for Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, but it turns out that the film version of Rosalie (it was a Broadway show originally with a non-Porter score; Frank Morgan played the king on stage as well) was started in 1928 as a vehicle for Marion Davies until the production fell to pieces. A decade later in the sound era, the film was completed with only a few shots from the 1928 attempt incorporated into the final product. Regardless of its history, what made Rosalie work for me, apart from Powell's luminous dancing talent, were the scenes between Bolger (who never really gets to let loose with his incredible dance skills, though he teases them) and Morgan, who form an odd friendship amongst all the dull romantic stuff around them. They are great fun, but unless you have over two hours to spare, don't bother. Rating: 6/9
Honeysuckle Rose (1980) Dir.: Jerry Schatzberg – One of a pair of films that I watched this week where I had seen portions of each previously but had never sat down to go through them in their entirety (Min and Bill being the other), Honeysuckle Rose was the first starring feature for Willie Nelson, and he came out of it with an Oscar nomination for One the Road Again, the monster crossover hit that was introduced in this picture. It had once astounded me that this film also received a Golden Raspberry nomination for Worst Supporting Actress (for Amy Irving, in the very first year of the Razzies), but when you actually look the truly shocking facts up, 70 films overall have received either nominations or awards at both the Oscars and Razzies (including Suicide Squad, which won an Oscar – sadly – this year). While Irving is pretty unpolished and young in this film, nothing about her performance reads "year's worst" to me, so obviously someone just had a beef with her in the nomination process (probably John Wilson, founder of the Razzies, whom I take exception with on a great many things he does with his awards). This movie is merely OK dramatically; in a film mostly about infidelity and the threat of divorce, everything gets tidied up far too neatly to be satisfying on that front. But the musical sequences onstage with Nelson and his band are wholly entertaining, and I also have to give a nod to a fine supporting role from the great cowboy actor Slim Pickens in a non-comedic performance. Rating: 6/9
The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened (2016) Dir.: Lonny Price – I love several Stephen Sondheim musicals, but Merrily We Roll Along is not one of them. This is mainly because I have barely heard of it, though I have heard a couple of songs from the show before (Good Thing Going, Not a Day Goes By). The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, directed by show alumnus Lonny Price, gets into exactly why most people don't know Merrily better, which opened and closed after 16 official performances (not counting previews) in 1981 (though it has been revived more successfully since). We see modern day interviews with many of the original cast, including Jason Alexander, long before his fame-making days on Seinfeld, and with Sondheim and producer Harold Prince. Luckily for this documentary, extensive filming of rehearsals had taken place at the time in conjunction with a planned television doc, which gives viewers more of a inside look at the development of the production than we might normally have gotten. But there was a little too much "inside baseball" going on here to keep my full interest through its running time. Nicely done, and essential for Sondheim and/or musical theatre fanatics only. Rating: 6/9
Easy to Love (1934) Dir.: William Keighley – The first of two 1934 comedies with which I quite unexpectedly had great fun during the week. Easy to Love is a romantic farce that features the always elegant Adolphe Menjou as a philandering husband who has the tables turned on him by his wife, played by an angered but mischievous Genevieve Tobin. She finds out the location of the love nest he shares with his would-be next wife, Mary Astor, and then precedes to make him jealous in return by affecting an affair with his best friend, a millionaire played hilariously by Edward Everett Horton, a personal favorite since my youth. Door-slamming silliness abounds, all very lightly done and coated with some terrific lines by a game cast. ("Well, I've had a lot of shotgun weddings, but this is the first fire ax wedding I've ever officiated at," says the Justice of the Peace, essayed by the terrific character actor, Guy Kibbee, and yes... someone is indeed holding a fire ax in the chapel.) Hugh Herbert shows up as a very confused detective, and that was all I needed to sell this film to me for good. A nice surprise. Rating: 7/9
Sing and Like It (1934) Dir.: William A. Seiter – And here's that other 1934 comedy, that has gangster Nat Pendleton and his grouchy, cigar-chomping (as always) sidekick Ned Sparks wander into a community theatre and encounter ZaSu Pitts, where she awkwardly and awfully squawks her way though a terrible song about mothers. Unluckily for everyone, Pendleton is a full-on mama's boy who tears up at the song, and decides then and there (and especially after everyone says openly that it stinks) that he is going to make Pitts a big Broadway star. Soon, he and his thugs are not just taking over the upcoming show belonging to a big-time producer played (once again) by Edward Everett Horton, but he even has a couple of his guys rewrite the script by adding incredibly sophomoric jokes to it. If this sounds reminiscent at all of Bullets Over Broadway, then you win a cigar, because that is basically what it is, only the would-be star is just gawky ol' ZaSu Pitts and not the gangster's girlfriend, played here by a fiery Pert Kelton, who then plans to have Pitts kidnapped. Just so remarkably silly and goofy, in which Sparks gets the best showcase, throwing off remarks about everything going on around them, which mostly fall on the deaf ears of Pendleton, who just keeps crying every time he hears the "Mama" song. Sing and Like It gets a couple of big demerits though for having a repeated punchline being each time Kelton ends up with a black eye from her man. (Easy to Love doesn't go that far, but yes, the threat of a wife-beating lurks there as well, as it does in many a 1930s comedy.) Sure, it was the times, and one cannot judge ancient relics by the acceptable societal measures of today and ever hope to be entertained. But that doesn't mean one has to like them either, and such scenes come off completely cold today for anyone that is not a white male in the House or Congress. Still, my rating is a 7/9.