Tag Archives: william wyler

XL Popcorn – Jezebel / The Young Girls of Rochefort

One month in and it is spreading up into my neck from my right arm. Dictated reviews will be continuing until I know more about what I am dealing with.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Jezebel
Director: William Wyler
Year: 1938
Country: USA

After two and a bit years I have finally gotten around to watching Jezebel. I do not know why it has taken me so long, but my best guess is that I wanted to make sure that I didn’t use up all of the female lead films of the 1930s and 40s.

Anyway, here we are at last watching Bette Davis in the role many have described as her best. It is definitely an amazing turn by her and yet I still think that she was at her best in All About Eve. Then again maybe that’s because All About Eve is one of my favourite films the 1950s and she gets a far better supporting cast than in Jezebel.

I think of this film has a best picture nominee from 1938 and compare it to some of the best picture nominees from recent years. With the exception of Brooklyn from this year there has been a real absence in the female lead pictures getting Oscar recognition. Watching Bette Davis absolutely kill it as Julie just makes me angry to think that we’re not making films like this anymore.

Obviously I did not mean films that tread so lightly on the topics of slavery, but films where there are strong women as title characters that are allowed to steal the show. Sure we still have the likes of Carol, Frances Ha, Still Alice and… now I’m finding it difficult. Maybe Gravity should be included as well. Still, what has happened?

Maybe Jezebel is not the best film to bring this up. I guess because this film shows the name with the website Jezebel it subliminally came to the forefront of my mind. What can I say though, I love a good women’s film from this era of cinema. It makes me want to dig out my copy of Mildred Pierce and make it a double bill.

If you are fond of antebellum or women’s films then Jezebel is definitely a film to add to your wishlist. Hell, if you want to see a fantastic acting performance then this is a must see.

rochefortTitle: The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort)
Director: Jacques Demy
Year: 1967
Country: France

To be honest, doing the write up for Jezebel kinda bummed me out. So instead of watching my original choice I went for something a bit more upbeat.

Now I do not think that I have ever seen a musical in a foreign language (that time I went to the opera doesn’t count). It’s one of those film genres that I would more readily associate with Hollywood and, therefore, the English language. Turns out that other than Bollywood films there are two French musicals on the list. Both of them are by Jacques Demy, which means that The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is the other one.

I went into this with a fairly closed mind. I expected that after half an hour of this film I would start to zone out. Nothing against the idea of a French musical it is just that I’ve seen a lot of bad musicals (because when you tell people about musicals you like they take it to mean you will like any musical). I’m happy to say that The Young Girls of Rochefort defied my expectation. I adored it.

The thing that really stood out for me was the visuals. It was as if Jacques Demy took a French town, painted it with pastels and ran it through a jukebox. In terms of looks it felt like 1960s France should feel on a sunny day. I’m probably not making much sense, but there you are.

I know from reading around that this is not the strongest musical from this director. That in terms of songs it is a weaker than The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Therefore I now have very inflated expectations for the other film.

The best song is probably the twin song, which is the first song you hear and is a recurring motif throughout the first half. Not only is it catchy with clever lyrics (thanks a lot to the translators of this who managed to keep the rhyming intact whilst preserving as much meaning as possible) but it also soars thanks to the amazing chemistry of real life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac.

This film is such a love letter to the old Hollywood musicals that any moment you do feel that it would sail away on its own ocean of cliché. Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac make sure that this does not happen. Their characters are confident and so self aware that they prevent this film from feeling flighty. It is also a joy to see Gene Kelly pop in and kill his dance numbers.

One thing that we tend to love about musicals is they mostly have happy endings. I know this despite the fact that Dancer and the Dark and Moulin Rouge! feature in my favourite films list. However I still managed to feel myself rooting for the romantic pairings in this film. It was a film of just pure joy that it could not end any other way, could it?

I know I’m gonna have trouble getting some of the songs out of my head in the next day or so.

Progress: 534/1007

XL Popcorn – Gunga Din / Dodsworth

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Gunga Din
Director: George Stevens
Year: 1939
Country: USA

It’s a rainy Wednesday and nothing pairs better with a miserable grey day than a black and white movie. Obviously, the pairing depends completely on the quality of the film and I have to say that this is one of those that made me feel remarkably uncomfortable.

As much as I love Cary Grant I found it very difficult to warm to his character (although I still enjoyed the scenes where he had no shirt on). Then again he could have copied and pasted this character into another film and I would have been absolutely fine with that. You see, this is a film set in the British Raj and the sides are very clearly defined – British good, Indians bad. Watching this 80 years later there is a substantial part of me that takes the side of the native Indians who have been strangling the invading British in their sleep.

I kinda expected a rollicking adventure and bromance film which would not be too taxing on the mind grapes. If it was not for the heaped tablespoons of racism it would have probably achieved that. Then again we have a middle aged Jewish man in blackface as the titular Gunga Din (or would the word brow face be more apt here?) and a lot of abuse being hurled by the invading British.

The highlight of the film is Annie the elephant who is a delight whenever she is on screen. And with the likes of Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine in this film I do feel that there has been a great deal of wasted potential. Although, is interesting to note the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom used this as inspiration for some of their scenes. Also this was a genre of films back in the day and so did need to be represented on this list… even if it was ridiculously obvious that they used rubber snakes on strings in a torture scene.

Title: Dodsworth
Director: William Wyler
Year: 1936
Country: USA

For some reason and going into Dodsworth my expectations were not that high. I guess it’s because the name Dodsworth made me think of the clock from Beauty and the Beast or some fuddy duddy from the British upper class. Clearly I had no idea what the school was about and that it would be more Journey to Italy than The Magnificent Ambersons.

The question raised by the film is this: how do we cope with growing older? In the case of Mr. and Mrs. Dodsworth you have two sides of the spectrum. The younger wife (who can only have been 3 to 5 years younger) is clinging on to her lost youth whilst her husband is starting to “shrivel up”. In order to discover more about the world in the wake of selling his successful car company the Dodsworths undertake a trip to Europe.

He is eager to go and see the sights, do all of the boring tourist things and visit automobile factories. She wants to go to dances and use this opportunity to engage in high European Society. This conflict of the urge to fill young and the allowance to feel old leads to the ultimate conclusion; this is a couple that cannot stay together. We get the first hint of this when Mrs. Dodsworth flirts with an Englishman on the boat from America to Europe and he goes a bit further than she wants (being a 1936 film he kisses her). This rocks her to her very core. He manages to call out the fact that she is a small town girl unsuccessfully faking her way in society.

Her flirtations continue and either because he trusts her so much or he is just unwilling to notice things go a bit too far. It’s quite sad seeing how this couple who clearly loved each other just don’t know who they are anymore. It gets the point where the wife refuses to acknowledge that she has become a grandmother as it would put off her suitors.

You cannot fault the acting in this in the main three roles and of Mr. and Mrs. Dodsworth and Mrs. Cartwright (Mary Astor). No one escapes without bruises, but because of the time period is obvious that the husband will end up happier than the wife who has been cheating on him and asked for a divorce so she could marry a German count.

Based on the actions we see in the film is almost easy to say that she deserves what she got. However, there had been married for 20 years and it is very clear but she had spent that as a doting housewife without much else in her life. One can only imagine the boredom that led to this explosion of vitality on their trip to Europe. She will have to deal with the heat once she makes her back to America, he will not. She may not be a perfect individual, but then again who is. I feel sorry for her for she’ll have to explain to everyone they ever knew what happened in Vienna.

God, I love this so much more than Gunga Din!

Progress: 498/1007

Oscar Bait – Mrs Miniver

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 86/89

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 459/1007Title: Mrs Miniver
Director: William Wyler
Year: 1942
Country: USA

Mrs Miniver has the rather odd distinction of being the only propaganda film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. In the two years of the films production a lot happened which caused the US to go from being a neutral observer to a post-Pearl Harbour combatant. This meant that the level and the type of propaganda had to change – which ended up with the film being rushed for release by the President of the United States himself.

Considering all that, how could this not win the Oscar? Especially when you throw in an excellent performance by Greer Garson as the titular Mrs Miniver.

The issue I have with this film is that it, at times, feels awfully disjointed. It is very much of the type where we spend the first act becoming acquainted with the central family as they were and then we see them in the throes of war. It is a tried and true formula that was expertly carried out by Gone With The Wind only three years earlier.  Mrs Miniver, however, takes way too long to set this scene.

The film also falls victim to the classic casting problem: children. The casting of all three Miniver children (including the adult son Vincent) just did not work. There was a part of me hoping that one of the two sons would be the member of the main family sacrificed to hammer home the horrors of war. No such luck.

There are a number of bright spots that made this a compelling film though. The scene in the bunker, for example, displayed something that actually felt real. It cut through the bullshit of the stiff upper-lipped village and their flower competition and showed the war from the perspective from bombed Brits.

It also pains me to say it, but I also got slightly taken in by the rousing propaganda-friendly speech made by the village priest as he stood in his bombed out church. Then again, Dresden.

Brass tacks though – I never really felt that this film engaged me. End of story.