The Good, The Bad and The Critic

Established on March 19th, 2012 and pioneered by film fanatic Michael J. Carlisle. The Good, The Bad and The Critic will analyze classic and contemporary films from all corners of the globe. This title references Sergei Leone's influential spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Red Dust (1932) Review

Title: Red Dust
Year: 1932

Director: Victor Fleming
Country: US
Language: English

Based on the 1928 play of the same name by Wilson Collison, and adapted for the screen by John Mahin, Red Dust (1932) is the second of six movies Clark Gable (Gone With the Wind) and Jean Harlow (Platinum Blonde) made together. Made during the pre-code era of the Golden Age of Hollywood, the film was a commercial and critical success. 

The owner of a rubber plantation (Clark Gable) becomes involved with the new wife (Jean Harlow) of one of his employees.

1932 was perhaps the worst year for Hollywood in its history. Due to the Great Depression which swept North America several small studios had to close their doors for good and the the only studio that managed to make a profit was MGM...mainly due to Red Dust. Its racy dialogue and fiery sexuality, Harlow was willing to show quite a bit of skin, enticed penny pinching Americans to run to the cinemas.

Set on a hot plantation, Director Victor Fleming gives us the perfect setting for intense passion to seep through the screen. Clark Gable's machismo flourishes as his raging lust for Harlowe, a nymph-ish woman with a cutting edge, slowly takes over his mind. A well paced picture, Red Dust does suffer from the poor handling of minorities. The Vietnamese characters are viewed as savages whose idiocy attempts to provide comic relief. Its a very dated aspect of this film. 

Despite many racist scenes, Red Dust (1932) is a gem from the Golden Age of Hollywood that ought to be viewed by contemporary audiences. Though both actors have played better roles, it's still an entertaining tale of great passion.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

I'm No Angel (1933) Review

Title: I'm No Angel
Year: 1933
Director: Wesley Ruggles
Country: US
Language: English

When Mae West's (1893-1980) film career had started she was already infamous for staging Sex on Broadway. She had received jail time for obscenity, and doing so made headlines across the country. At the age of 40, which was unusual for a woman that age, she was given a motion picture contract by Paramount Pictures. Her first film, 1932's Night After Night, secured her as a sex symbol on the big screen. 

Circus performer Tira seeks a better life pursuing the company of wealthy New York men with improbable comic complications along the way.

While many pictures at the time would turn a sexually adventurous young woman into a sweet heroine who enjoyed chastity, I'm No Angel presented the exact opposite. This is about a middle aged woman getting all the sex she can, and in the end striking it rich. It's a film that could only have been made during the pre-code era, as later censorship would not have allowed the majority of the script. 

I'm No Angel may be the most frank exploration of female sexuality to come out of the 1930's. This isn't just due to the pure charisma from Mae West, but also because the film allows for a dissection of sexual norms and a criticism of woman's role in society. We also see the issues facing feminism (unequal power, men manipulating women for their own gain) and have a character that appears stronger than these troubling forces. 

The humor in I'm No Angel is hit or miss, as well as the musical numbers. Perhaps its due to the limited sound technology, but Mae West's singing doesn't come across that well. Despite this, the film is ground-breaking in the way it addresses female issues and the time and thus deserves to be commended.

Madam Satan (1930) Review

Title: Madam Satan
Year: 1930
Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Country: US
Language: English

Many sequences in Madam Satan (1930) were filmed in colour, but due to corporate backlash against musicals which made the extra cost of colour unnecessary, Director Cecil B. DeMille decided that he would release these scenes in black and white. The incredible influx of musicals being made, due to sound being introduced to motion pictures just three years earlier with Jazz Singer, made American theatres too saturated with the genre and thus the film was considered a financial failure. 

Angela (Kay Johnson) and Bob Brooks (Reginald Denny) are an upper class couple. Unfortunately, Bob is an unfaithful husband, but Angela has a plan to win back her husband's affections. An elaborate masquerade ball is to be held aboard a magnificent dirigible. Angela will attend and disguise herself as a mysterious devil woman.

The film comes across multiple genres throughout its run-time; at one point a musical, then a bedroom comedy, then a disaster film. Its plot is very reminiscent of an Ernst Lubitsch or Preston Sturges film like The Lady Eve (1941). DeMille's pictures aren't as subtle as Lubitsch's however; a heavy moral hand guides us and, while we are subject to plenty of sin, the lengthy run-time will grow any audience weary. 

Despite of DeMille's righteous morality, Madam Satan is a high budget film that gives us plenty in the way of impressive stunts, special effects and costumes. The staging, cinematography and cast is all remarkable. Unfortunately much of the film's energy is given to the second half of the picture, which makes the first hour or so a drag. 

Unfortunately, perhaps due to the limitations of sound technology in 1930, the musical half of the picture isn't as memorable as one would hope. Aside from one song (out of many) the music can be considered white noise at best. Madam Satan is worth one viewing, but ultimately it would be understandable if this picture became forgotten. 

Bad Girl (1931) Review

Title: Bad Girl
Year: 1931

Director: Frank Borzage
Country: US
Language: English

Nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Bad Girl was adapted from the 1928 novel by ViƱa Delmar and the 1930 play by Delmar and Brian Marlowe. Several studios besides Fox were interested in making the movie, but the looming threat of the Hays office, and their insistence that the picture would not meet their standards, scared all but Fox away. It was a challenge, but Bad Girl barely made the censors. 

A man (James Dunn) and woman (Sally Ellers), skeptical about romance, nonetheless fall in love and are wed, but their lack of confidence in the opposite sex haunts their marriage.

Bad Girl (1931) reminds me of King Vidor's silent masterpiece The Crowd (1928) in the way that it realistically captures the trials and tribulations of an American couple, albeit the latter is a bit more bitter. The background story of what was considered "making it" in a poor economy is especially pertinent today. It primarily deals with finding contentment and trying to live up to romantic ideals while satisfying your own morals.

This picture is a romantic drama, that although can be a bit too optimistic, feels authentic and genuine in the emotions that burst through the screen. The misunderstandings within Bad Girl can be seen in the majority of relationships, especially blossoming ones. The richness in detail creates a gorgeous painting of daily city life during the depression era. Director Frank Borzage certainly is a master of his craft. 

The only real negative of Bad Girl is that it can be a bit too talky, especially during parts where you'd rather have silence. Still it's a remarkable picture that weaves tricky emotional webs that are unfortunately recognizable, even in 2018. 

Platinum Blonde (1931) Review

Title: Platinum Blonde
Year: 1931
Director: Frank Capra
Country: US
Language: English

Though American Director Frank Capra (1897-1991) had directed features in the silent era, Platinum Blonde (1931) was his first real critical success, albeit it did not do that well in the box office as returns would be seen as " a little disappointing". It was not until Capra further cemented his reputation that this picture would be seen as something with greater historical and artistic significance. 

A young woman (Jean Harlow) from a very rich family impulsively marries a reporter (Robert Williams), but each assumes the other is the one whose lifestyle must change.

At the height of Hollywood's Golden Era films about journalism were plentiful. Earlier pictures included It Happened One Night (1934) and His Girl Friday (1940), later pictures included Ace in the Hole (1950) and Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Platinum Blonde is a "rich vs. poor" romantic comedy that is full of charismatic and off-the wall characters who the audience becomes quickly attracted to. 

Though it can be a bit talky, the quick wit and speedy delivery of the dialog makes Platinum Blonde quite hysterical at times. Pre-Code naughtiness (implied sexual misconduct) make many scenes that much more special. Jean Harlow, a woman who turned heads back in her day, certainly is quite alluring in this earlier role. She would go on to make even sexier pictures. 

It's unfortunate that Robert Williams, who was spectacular in this picture, died just three days after the premiere of this film. His career would have been elevated and he could have starred in even greater films afterwards. Overall, though this is far from Capra's greatest picture, it still is an enjoyable piece of entertainment. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dames (1934) Review

Title: Dames
Year: 1934
Director: Bubsy Berkeley
Country: US
Language: English

Bubsy Berkeley (Nov 1895 - March 1976) was a film director and musical choreographer who planned elaborate musical numbers that involved complex geometric patterns. He is best known for his four back-to-back hits for Warner Bros; 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933 and Dames. The latter picture is what I shall review today. 

A multimillionaire decides to boycott "filthy" forms of entertainment such as Broadway shows.

Released in September 1934, just a few months after the Motion Picture Production Code, Dames presents a playful criticism towards the encroaching era of stifling morality. Equal parts comedy and musical, most of the supporting cast gets a chance to shine in this picture. Keeler, Powell, and Blondell show of their talent for dancing, while Hugh Herbert, Guy Kibbee and Zasu Pitts are allowed enough screen-time to tickle our funny bones. 

The plot isn't exactly feminist friendly, as Blondell's main role is to be a sex trophy and not have much agency in her "choices". This is a Bubsy Berkely musical however, and lavishly cheorographed musical numbers is what Dames does best. The Girl at the Ironing Board is a looney yet boisterous number and I Only Have Eyes for You has some of the most memorable shots ever put to film. Its a grand flick!

Dames is a sexy sleek picture that is memorable in more than one way. It pleased crowds in 1933 and I have no doubt cinephiles take great joy in watching it today. Though regarded as a lesser Bubsy entry, I must give it my utmost respect. 

Footlight Parade (1933) Review

Title: Footlight Parade
Year: 1933
Director: Lloyd Bacon

Country: US
Language: English

James Cagney was a former song-and-dance man, when he actively campaigned the executives at Warner Brothers to cast him for the lead in Footlight Parade. He was just falling into his gangster role however; as Public Enemy (1931) was an enormous critical and commercial success, so the studio was initially hesitant but eventually caved in. With this musical, Cagney would prove to be successful in more than one genre. 

Chester Kent (James Cagney) struggles against time, romance, and a rival's spy to produce spectacular live "prologues" for movie houses.

Footlight Parade is a feast for the eyes; a celebration of the magic of motion pictures. It has dazzling choreography, complete with visual bravado and spectacular songs that will have you humming long after the movie is over. Warner Brothers has the best possible cast for 1933; it includes the likes of Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell. In addition we have Bubsy Berkely directing the dances. 

This is a grandiose picture, as Warner Brothers spared no expense in making such a spectacular production. With full backing from the studio, we get sweeping cinematic shots with elaborate waterfalls and giant fountains full of women. The dancers, directors and musicians working together to create such amazing set-pieces is really telling of the country's attitude at the time. "We are going to work out our difficulties as a team!"

Made during the pre-code era, its risque humour helped make Footlight Parade one of the biggest hits of the year. Considering this was depression era and saving money to go to the movies was difficult, I'd say this film is a remarkable cinematic achievement. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Felix Trifles With Time (1925) Review

Title: Felix Trifles with Time 
Year: 1925
Director: Otto Messmer
Country: US
Language: N/A

Disney aficionados will tell you that animation in cinema goes as far back as Steamboat Willie (1928) the first sound picture featuring the beloved Mickey Mouse, but I'm here to not surprise readers by telling you that animation goes back even further! Felix Trifles with Time (1925) is an unusual picture starring Felix the Cat, a character who debuted in a Paramount Pictures short called Feline Follies

Felix, the cartoon cat, travels back in time and encounters prehistoric monsters.

For lack of a better word, silent cartoons are weird. Even the most straightforward of narratives will leave you feeling like you've just had a fever dream or watched a surrealist Salvador Dali painting come to life. Felix's comedy was quite wacky; in one scene he turns the splash from a lake into an umbrella to float down a cliff from safety. Its absurdity is part of the characters' endearing charm.

The first cartoon of the series to be distributed by Educational Pictures, Trifles with Time embodies much of the comedic sensibilities of that era. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton had worn fur togas in some of their shorts; even D.W Griffith played the stone age for laughs in Man's Genesis. Though The Flintstones wouldn't be made until the 60's we see proof that audiences loved similar type of humor. 

Despite its short run-time, I do love the time-travel narrative and prehistoric setting that our feline hero gets mixed up in. Felix the Cat may be under-appreciated today, but it's easy to see why audiences adored him back then. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

My Friend Dahmer (2017) Review

Title: My Friend Dahmer
Year: 2017

Director: Marc Meyers
Country: US
Language: English

Jeffrey Dahmer (May 1960 - Nov 1994) was an American serial killer who had confessed to the rape, murder, and dismemberment of 17 men, many underage, between 1978 and 1991. Found legally sane at the time of his trial, albeit later found to have many personality disorders, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. During his imprisonment he was left unsupervised in the showers of his prison gym; there he would be murdered by fellow inmates.

In My Friend Dahmer a young Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) struggles with high school and the slow destruction of his home life. 

My Friend Dahmer was originally a graphic novel by John “Derf” Backderf, based on his own experiences as a sorta-friend of Dahmer’s in late high school. Much of the more grim aspects of Dahmer's life, such as his alcoholism and sexual fixations, are downplayed in favor of a more human aspect of the killer. Great sensitivity is given to our subject, as we see him struggle with impulses that he desperately does not want to give into.

There is something disturbingly relatable with this version of Dahmer, who is a sensitive curious child that seems to be brought down by his parents' neglect. Their constant bickering slowly drives his frustration to the surface. We pity this boy and become uncomfortable when we realize we are not just witnessing somebody going through an awkward stage in life. This being said, Lynch plays such a complex character wonderfully. 

An exercise in how far we are willing to go with compassion, My Friend Damher is an exceptionally well constructed film that takes us to a place we dare not have gone before. A great psychoanalysis of one of America's creepiest killers. 

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) Review

Title: Murder on the Orient Express
Year: 2017
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Country: US
Language: English

Agatha Christie's detective novel Murder on the Orient Express was first published in the United Kingdom in 1934. It made quite an impact upon that era's readers, particularly due to its thought-provoking ending, and its popularity meant many adaptations for stage, radio, television and film. It was first adapted for the big screen in 1974 by director Sidney Lumet. That version found great critical and commercial success.

When a murder occurs on the train he's travelling on, celebrated detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh)  is recruited to solve the case.

Director and star Kenneth Branagh assembles an all-star cast for this enticing murder-mystery. Branagh reserves the juiciest role for himself: Hercule Poirot. This character was first introduced in 1920’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and has been played by over 20 legendary actors including Orson Welles and Charles Laughton. Branagh gives the character a playful and comical edge, which makes his audience drawn to Poirot.

The visual approach to the story is less successful, as much of the film looks like a digital mess of cartoon-ish CGI landscapes that waste potentially beautiful shots of Istanbul.The mountains and skies painted in pastel brushstrokes meant to imitate magic hour lighting have a lot left to be desired. Thankfully the main set-piece, the train designed by Jim Clay, looks of the period and doesn't distract from the well-crafted story appearing in front of us. 

Despite the distracting fifth-grader cinematography, Murder on the Orient Express is a charming picture that feels elegant in its storytelling. Perhaps the ending may not satisfy many people, but the journey ought to impress anybody with classical sensibilities.