Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Classic Movie Round-Up

As I noted in a blog post a week or so ago, the month (or two) immediately following the Oscars is a barren landscape of terrible movies. I've used this as an opportunity to catch up on some 'Classic' movies that have never breached my peripheral. I have a pretty solid handle on movies made in the last 10 years, but my film knowledge outside of that can best be described as an 'affront to cinema'. Here are some brief reviews of the films I've had a chance to catch up on recently:

The Apartment (1960)

Held in pretty high esteem in film circles, this is director Billy Wilder's follow-up to 1959's Some Like It Hot. Billed as Comedy-Drama, it definitely leans heavily towards the drama and features some pretty racy material for something to come out in 1960. The premise involves CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon) loaning out his apartment to his philandering superiors with the hope that he will get promoted as a result. A love triangle of sorts starts between Baxter, his personnel director Mr. Sheldrake and his girlfriend, elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Rather than use this as an opportunity for a screwball romance, Wilder opts for a much darker tone. It works by and large, but is unexpected from someone who had previously directed one of the best comedies of all time. Lemmon tries very hard to be a lovable schmuck here, and it shows. I don't think he has the everyman quality or the acting chops to carry the plot alone. He is great in Some Like It Hot however. Shirley MacLaine however, gives Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel a run for their money as she plays the original manic-pixie-dreamgirl here.

His Girl Friday (1940)

Barely 90 minutes long, His Girl Friday is as densely a packed film as I can remember and is the screwball comedy that I've been looking for. The plot features Cary Grant as newspaper editor Walter Burns who devises an elaborate scheme to win back his ex-wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) who is soon to be married. The phrase 'chaos ensues' is an understatement. The film has the dialogue of a Quentin Tarantino movie and the plot twists of a Dan Brown novel (ugh) packed into a blithe and trim 90 minute feature. At some points it was exhausting to try and keep up, but it was always enthralling. Most of this excitement stemmed from the electric chemistry between Grant and Russell. I wasn't surprised to learn that director Howard Hawkes encouraged ad-libbing on the set, as many of the lines are delivered so deftly and naturally that I had trouble imagining them being put to paper. It may not fulfill the benchmarks of a masterpiece, but it was a lot of fun, and that's impressive for a film released 70 years ago.

King Of Comedy (1982)

Recommended by J-Fo himself, King of Comedy is Martin Scorsese's dark, comedic follow-up to Raging Bull and features Robert De Niro as aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin. Much like his turn as Travis Bickle 6 years earlier, De Niro plays Pupkin as a seemingly affable but completely delusional man, one who constantly blurs the line between his dreams and reality. Whether he does it to get attention or because he sincerely believes these events happened is unclear, but for my money he is more unnerving than Bickle. He is obsessed with TV personality Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) and after speaking with him briefly, misinterprets small talk as genuine interest and sets off a dizzying series of events. Scorsese masterfully paints Pupkin as more naive than dangerous, never allowing us write him off as insane or hope for his demise. Rather, we simply hope he realizes the error of his ways and can salvage some semblance of dignity.

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