DVD Commentary That Would Make Me Happy

I watched Sullivan's Travels (1942) recently for the second time for the commentary (I love film commentary).

But this commentary was not by anyone who had anything to do with the film when it was being made. I don't like this kind but I'll take it, since so many of the folks who worked on the film are dead.

It was Noah Baumbach, Kenneth Bowser, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean.

Not all DVD commentaries are equal; this one was the bottom of the rung. It was like listening in on a film class where everybody tries to be profound but doesn't know what in the world they are talking about.

I was nauseous most of the time.


FILM COMMENTARY THAT WOULD MAKE ME HAPPY
My 1st choice for a DVD commentary -- people who actually worked on the film.

This can be the director, one of the actors or even a craft service person (ok, maybe not a craft service person, but you get the idea).

My 2nd choice -- someone who,though not having worked on the film, has at least immersed himself in the study of the particular film he's commenting on, or is a family member, friend or colleague who knew well the people working on the film- the backstory, the director's thoughts behind this or that shot, what the actors were thinking here or there.

Someone like
1)Sandy Sturges (director Preston Struges's wife and author of his bio),
2)Robert Osbourne(film historian and host for a classic film channel), or even
3)film critic Leonard Maltin (I can't stand this guy, but at least he gives the kind of information I look for in a commentary.), or
4)one of you well-versed folks out here in forum-land.

There is no 3rd choice, b/c anything less than the first 2 groups would not be worth the trouble of hearing; this is the group into which the commentary for SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS falls.

First Impressions: The Heiress (1949)


I have just finished THE HEIRESS (1949) starring Olivia De Havilland and Montgomery Clift.

I have never been so disappointed in an ending in my life!!!!

The Story
The story is that some poor dashing young man named Morris comes into the life of a wealthy wallflower named Catherine and we don't know if he wants her for her money (as her father says) or really loves her (as her aunt says).

He plans an elopement with her, and she decides to cut all ties with her fortune since her father despises Morris and hates Catherine(because she's not pretty like her mother). But Morris never comes to elope as he promised. She finds later that he went to the other side of the country.

Years later, after the death of dad, Catherine is much more adept at handling herself in public and heavy with bitterness. Catherine idles away in her spinsterhood and Morris shows up out of the blue.

Oh! That Ending
After I reconciled myself to the fact that Morris really is after Catherine's money, I knew they might never get married at the end (she'd been hurt too much) but I thought, eventually he would learn his lesson and become truly penitent and no longer pursue her.

I thought as well that she would let go of her bitterness eventually, and they would end any ties in some bittersweet way.

The ending was not at all sweet and nothing but bitter!!!

We are left with Morris banging on a door that she deliberately bolted knowing that he's on the other side, hearing him calling for her. We see her walking to her bedroom (eyes slightly wide and spooked) and end with Morris in desperation, still banging on the door. The music swells and "The End."

It is a cliff hanger, I would call it, at the height of tension, not at a true resolution.
I can't believe it! I really can't believe it!!



Copyright © Java_Rush 2006

The Star (1952) - Drama with Bette Davis

Another transcript of mine from the annals of that fun movie forum.


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THE STAR (1952) starring Bette Davis, Sterling HAyden and a very young Natalie Wood

STORY

Aging, has-been actress is in denial, for the first 3/4ths of the film, that she's no longer a top star. This film is about how she copes with the increasing signs that she is on the way out of show business.

A handsome, younger man,an ex-GI businessman, waits in the wings until she can come to her senses.

Natalie plays the actress's unconditionally loving daughter.

THOUGHTS

BD gives an outstanding performance, as usual. But other films about declining stars have been wittier and not as sluggishly paced as this one (I give you BD's own ALL ABOUT EVE from 1950).

You start to see the seeds of her horror films here. She screeches and shrieks like her Baby Jane character does later on in her film career.

And just as in her horror films, they have put so much make up on her face that she looks like a fugitive from a Kabuki theater.


The guy is 8 years younger than BD in real life, but he looks even younger because he seems to have taken care of his body and BD has not. She looks like she's having a romance with her son or nephew.


Speaking of Sterling Hayden, I don't know if I've seen him in anything else, but he doesn't seem to know how to act.

He merely spits out his lines in monotone, and I'm talking firey passionate lines that are supposed to come across as profound. He seems not to have gotten beyond merely memorizing his lines.

This makes BD's performance all the more remarkable,because she could play so well opposite someone who gives her no emotion to which to respond.



Copyright © Java_Rush 2006

The Scarlet Empress (1934)


From one of my posts at the Classicmovies.org forum

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Marlene Dietrich as The Scarlet Empress (1934)

A film about Catherine the Great's acclimation to her new home in the royal family of Russia

I just couldn't get over the idea that MD is marrying a guy who, in that wig, resembles Harpo Marx (and seems to be borrowing some of his antics).

I wonder if that was deliberate.



photo courtesy of brightlightsfilm.com


Copyright © Java_Rush 2006

Sullivan's Travels (1942) ...

It is a transcription of my review of Sullivan's Travel's from (you guessed it) that forum.

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SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS(1942) starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake.

Story: A Hollywood director wants to find out what suffering is in order to really get into his upcoming tragic film. He decides to live the life of destitution for awhile.

After many false starts he finally makes it to a kind of poverty and squalor that he did not plan and out of which he cannot extract himself. . . or so it seems.


MY EXPERIENCE WITH THIS FILM:

I've seen it before. As a kid, the laughing faces of the prisoners scared me to death. They were like things in those horrible 3-D films where something ugly jumps out at you.

As a kid, I liked the idea of starting out on an adventure in disguise and I thought the title was clever.

I still like the film. But it changes tone so much I get restless. I want it to be a straight comedy and eschew the darker tones b/c I have so much fun in the lighter parts, but I know that wouldn't work with the plot. oh well. . .



Copyright © Java_Rush 2006



Mildred Pierce (1945)

Last year I watched, for the first time, Mildred Pierce (the famous film which led to Joan Crawford's first Oscar. Her receipt of that Oscar is another famous story in itself which I'll save for later.).

Of course, I posted my thoughts of the film at the forum of Classicmovies.org (yes, another nod to that forum), and I'm pasting it here in toto ----------------------




MILDRED PIERCE, WHY I WATCHED

Finally gotten around to watching MILDRED PIERCE. I'm not a Joan Crawford fan but I wanted to be prepared just in case I ever saw Carol Burnett's parody of the film, MILDRED FIERCE.



MISS CRAWFORD'S SYMPATHETIC PERFORMANCE

Miss Crawford here plays a most sympathetic character- everything Mildred touches turns out wrong, except her profession. How eerily like Miss Crawford's life.

I found a gem of a performance here. Much like Katherine Hepburn's in ALICE ADAMS - a tough woman turns in a beautiful, tear-jerking role. The roles are similar in that the title characters each are snubbed while trying to be accepted by Society.


BUT THERE'S A TWIST . . .
But where Alice's unceasing labor to reach the heights is sweetly futile, Mildred's quest is psychotically obsessive.

Mildred wants Society in order to please her spoiled kid, Veda. Mildred deserves what she gets from this relationship.

Mildred walks off the screen with her estranged husband in a poignant reunion, which is great.

But we are supposed to think of them as victims of Veda and Veda's snobby boyfriend.

Actually, they are parents who have destroyed both of their daughters- one kid by indulgence, the other by neglect.


YOUNGER DAUGHTER
Poor little Kay Pierce -the younger kid. No one pays attention to Kay because she doesn't cause trouble as her older sister, Veda, does. Everybody likes Kay, but figures she can take care of herself. This is why the poor kid dies -no one notices she has pneumonia until she needs to be hospitalized!

Neither the filmmakers nor the other actors do justice to the death of this kid's character. The child is made to be endearing in this film. So when she dies you expect something from her "loving" mother other than "I shall remember [her last words] as long as I live."

Usually, a mother like Mildred (one who earnestly believes she loves her kids) in that situation (30 seconds after the kid dies in front of her) is far too overwrought to make speeches.

The father does a far better job here - looking at the bed and wordlessly writhing in pain. There are no words for such a situation, so there shouldn't be any here, least of all from the character with whom we are supposed to sympathize.

It threw me off kilter that Mildred would speak here and in such unwavering voice. Miss Crawford seems to be merely reciting lines. Everybody in this scene over-acts, except the guy who plays the father.

The next scene we see Mildred broadly smiling as her business booms. This would have been fine (we know she's a workaholic) if she had grieved enough at the death scene. She doesn't grieve enough at the death scene, so it seems she really doesn't care much for Kay rather than valiantly trying to bury her grief in her work.


PARENTAL SELFISHNESS -& FAMILY'S DOOM; OLDER DAUGHTER
Mildred and her husband suffer by their own selfishness - the guy, rather than stick to his family when the going gets tough, walks out to be with some other woman. Throughout the movie, Mildred obsesses with pleasing Veda, the older kid, to the detriment of her marriage, all so that Mildred can feel loved by her kid.

Arrghh! I want to strangle Mildred and her husband!

So the parents have not taught the kid any discipline or to be respectful, which is possibly the ultimate selfish thing any parent can do. The kid will not have had any real love ( a love which tells a person when he needs to straighten his behavior), won't know how to love, and won't be able to function with normalcy in any world other than where she gets all and gives nothing.

Yes, Veda helped to mess up the family, but Mildred and husband created a monster!!


WHAT I'D LIKE...
I'd love it if each character had his own version of this story - one movie each. It would be wonderful to see this film from some other angle than glorifying poor Mildred.



Copyright © Java_Rush 2006

Now, Voyager (1942)

I watched NOW, VOYAGER (1942) a few days ago for the first time.

Some of the people at the ClassicMovies.org forum spoke of it so fondly that I had to see the reason for the fuss first hand.

I had heard much about it, read a bit on it, knew of its existence, generally, but never made time to watch it because I knew it was a tragedy. Like those movies about the Titanic - you know the ship sinks at the end.

Nevertheless I dove into the film head first. Hold your breath.


SPOILERS AHEAD

Story
A dowdy, shy old maid (Bette Davis) domineered by her mother (Gladys Cooper) gets new duds and a new 'tude after visiting a kindly psychiatrist (Claude Rains) who tells her to take a voyage. On shipboard she meets and lusts for a married man (Paul Henried);the feeling is mutual.

The rest of the show is about them getting back together after the voyage - will they? won't they?

In the meantime, the old maid, Charlotte, helps a new young patient at the doctor's sanitarium who is going through the same things as Charlotte once did.

The girl turns out to be the married man's daughter(I can't remember the guy's name).

Charlotte and the married man don't get married at the end (as most 1940s movies would have ended it) b/c his wife is still alive, so they settle for being a make-shift "family" with Charlotte as patron for the girl's social life.

How depressing.


The Affair

The fact that they spend so much time together alone knowing he's married made me lose all sympathy for both of them. The fact that they begin the affair fairly early on in the film had me hoping all the way through that the storyline would get better, it doesn't.

The movie tries to villainize the wife (whom we never see to get HER side of the story) by paralleling her to Charlotte's unloving mother so that the audience will want the two illicit "lovers" to get together, but such shenanigans merely serve to nauseate me.

When Charlotte helps Tina, the guy's daughter, gain self-confidence I held out hope that she was doing it unselfishly, but that was a misplaced hope - Charlotte admits that she's only doing it so that SHE can have a husband and daughter of sorts vicariously!

Charlotte's self-absorption (first in her depression, then in the lives of others) reaches a new low.


Other Prospects

Charlotte really had my sympathy before the affair.

I was prepared to give her every bit as much of my support as I did to the equally dowdy, betrayed, unloved heroine Catherine (Olivia DeHavilland) in THE HEIRESS(1949).

But NO. Charlotte just HAS to have this affair! Charlotte claims to want a husband and kids of her own.

[Well, then get your own and stop trying to steal someone else's.]

What really gets me is her double standard. At first she discourages the widower that she's dating by telling him that she doesn't want to step into another woman's territory (meaning his late wife's position).

[Sure, sister, when that woman is DEAD you don't want her husband; it's the man whose wife is alive to be hurt that you want.]

I didn't even mind her refusing the hand of the widower because she would have made his life miserable by sneaking out with the other guy or at least having an emotional affair from a distance.

The widower escaped a fate worse than death!


When she finally breaks it off with the widower and tells him that she would never marry I thought it a wise choice, but her statement premature - she could have dated a bit more and found a spicy and hot ,nice single guy who lived life on the wild side (her favorite type), even in Boston.

But NO! She just HAS to have the guy who's forbidden to her.

Perhaps that is it.

All of her life (they don't say how old she is, but she's older than 20) she has been forbidden to do many things, a prisoner in her own home, and now that she has stepped out on her own she goes HOG WILD.

Maybe she thinks she can find a happy life only with an illicit affair (probably a side effect from reading those forbidden romance novels hidden in her room).

How sad.




HOW I THOUGHT IT WOULD END (BUT, BOY, WAS I WRONG)

Ending #1
When she first goes back to the sanitarium and looks with sympathy on the patients, I thought that she would spend the rest of her life and fortune helping out other people like herself. THE END. Roll credits.

When it ended with the affair still going I thought perhaps my idea was a bit too modern a sensibility. Is it?

In PINKY (1949), the heroine finds out her intended cannot marry her as she is, so we end with her single and contented, establishing a Nursing School.

So it's not too modern, the filmmakers just didn't want to take this road.

Ending # 2
Since Charlotte and the married guy seem to be getting back together towards the end, I thought the script would kill off the wife and then they'd marry (kind of like in Jane Eyre). But no!

The film makers couldn't leave the two people respectable, they end with this selfish, skewed sense of family.

These are two very self-absorbed people who will scar that kid for life once she finds out. The kid will question every motive Charlotte ever had, when she finds out.

Oh the horror!

The filmmakers leave us with a train wreck waiting to happen!

(I won't even get into what this could do to the wife.)


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