Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Flirtation Walk (dir by Frank Borzage)


 

In the 1934 Best Picture nominee, Flirtation Walk, Dick Powell plays a soldier who is constantly trying to go AWOL.

It’s not that Richard “Dick” Palmer Grant Dorcy Jr. dislikes the army.  In fact, he’s actually getting a pretty good deal out of his enlistment.  He’s been stationed in Hawaii, where he gets to go to luaus and hang out on the beach.  He has a wonderful friend and mentor in the person of Sgt. Scrapper Thornhill (Pat O’Brien).  Since this film was made in 1934, he’s not going to have to worry about going to war for another 7 years.  He’s known as The Canary because he loves to whistle and sing.  Everyone like Pvt. Dick Dorcy and that includes Kit Fitts (Ruby Keeler).

Unfortunately, Kit’s father is General Fitts (Henry O’Neill) and he’s none too amused about his daughter having a romance with an irresponsible enlisted man.  He would much rather that Kit marry his aide, Lt. Biddle (John Eldredge).  After he’s told to stay away from Kitt, Dick makes plans to desert so he can run off with her.  Fortunately, Scrapper finds out what Dick is planning and he goes to Kit and warns her that Dick’s about to throw away his life for her.  Not wanting him to get into trouble, Kit pretends that she never felt anything for Dick.  When a broken-hearted Dick wonders why Kit rejected him, Biddle smugly informs him that he’s neither “an officer nor a gentleman.”

Stung, Dick decides to fix that problem.  In order to become an officer, he applies for admission to West Point and gets in.  Dick leaves Hawaii for the mainland and he does very well at West Point.  He’s even put in charge of producing, writing, and directing West Point’s annual theatrical production.  However, things get complicated with Gen. Fitts arrives to serve as superintendent.  Coming with Gen. Fitts are both Kit and Lt. Biddle.

Deciding to express his angst through art, Dick writes a show about a female general.  Since Kit is the only female at West Point, guess who gets the lead role?  Though Kit is still in love with Dick, she can’t get him to listen to her explanation for why she rejected him.  Will a stroll along West Point’s famed Flirtation Walk help fix things?

Well, it is a Dick Powell musical….

Flirtation Walk is a pleasant but forgettable movie.  Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler make for a cute couple but neither one of them gives a particularly interesting performance and the bland songs don’t make much of an impression either.  Those who are into military history might enjoy the fact that the film was actually filmed on location at West Point but, for the rest of us, this is a nice but not particularly memorable musical romance.  For me, the most interesting part of the film was that it didn’t even attempt to be realistic when it came to Dick’s theatrical production.  It’s a huge production, if never coming close to being as much fun as the one from 42nd Street.

Why was Flirtation Walk nominated for Best Picture?  I imagine it was because it was a hit at the box office.  It only received one other nomination, for Best Sound Recording.  Regardless of why it was nominated, it lost to the far more memorable It Happened One Night.

Horror Film Review: I Married A Monster From Outer Space (dir by Gene Fowler, Jr)


The 1958 film I Married A Monster From Outer Space tells the story of Marge (Gloria Talbott) and Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon).

Just one year ago, they seemed like the perfect couple.  They were newlyweds, looking forward to starting a family and living in a nice house in the suburbs.  Bill seemed like the perfect guy, warm, friendly, humorous, and loving.

However, things have changed.  On their one-year anniversary, Bill is cold and distant.  He certainly seems to have little interest in romance or anything like that.  When Marge gives Bill a new dog as his anniversary present, he doesn’t seem to be sure how to react to it.  When the dog later ends up dead, Bill gives her an implausible excuse.

Bill has changed but he’s not the only one.  Marge notices that all of her friend’s husbands are acting strange as well.  It’s as if something has magically turned every man into the neighborhood into a stiff, humorless jerk.

(Either that or it’s the 50s!)

One night, Marge decides to follow Bill into the forest and she sees something that challenges everything that she previously thought she knew about her husband.  What does she discover?  Well, it’s right there in the title.  Marge has married a monster from outer space!

I imagine that most people’s natural instinct with a film like this is to make fun of the title and just go on from there but actually, I Married A Monster From Outer Space is an intelligent and well-done sci-fi film.  Gloria Talbott does a great job in the lead role and Tom Tryon’s rather stiff screen presence is perfectly suited for the role of Alien-Bill.  Gene Fowler, Jr. directs the film as if it were a film noir where the usual gangsters and bank robbers have been replaced by humanoid aliens who don’t like dogs.

Since this movie is from 1958, there’s all sorts of subtext creeping around.  The most obvious, of course, is that America is being invaded from within.  You don’t think your husband could be an alien?  Well, Alger Hiss’s mother probably didn’t think her son was a communist spy!  You think it’s a silly idea that normal seeming humans would be working to conquer the world?  Have you not heard of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg?  When Bill and the other men turn cold and impersonal, it’s easy to see that they’ve embraced an ideology opposed to individual freedom and we all know what that means.

However, for me, this film works because it strikes at a very primal fear.  How well do you really know the people who you love?  Is he always going to be as perfect as he seems when you first start going out or is he going to totally change once he’s sure that you’re not going to leave him?  Like many women who have tried to escape from abusive boyfriends and spouses, Marge discovers that no one believes her.  She lives in a world controlled by men and all of the men have been taken over by the same thing that’s taken over Bill.  Even if you’ve never married a monster from outer space, you know what Marge is going through.

So, don’t dismiss this film because of the melodramatic title.  I Married A Monster From Outer Space is an intelligent sci-fi horror film, one that’s still relevant today.

Horror Film Review: Invaders From Mars (dir by William Cameron Menzies)


The aliens have arrived!  They landed one night in the middle of a thunderstorm and now, they’re hiding underground in a sandpit.  Only David McClean (Jimmy Hunt) was awake to witness their arrival.  He was supposed to be asleep but who could sleep through all that thunder and lightning?  (Not to mention the sound of the flying saucer!)  Unfortunately, no one’s going to believe David because he’s only 12 years old!

That’s the premise at the heart of Invaders from Mars, a nicely surreal science fiction film from 1953.

In order to humor David, a few people do go to the sandpit to look for this supposed UFO.  They include his scientist father (Leif Erickson) and a few local cops.  They all return saying that they found nothing.  They also all return in a really bad mood.  David’s formerly loving and humorous father is suddenly distant and rather grumpy.  And he no longer speaks like himself.  Instead, he is now rigidly formal, like someone still getting used to speaking a new language.  Maybe it has something to do with the strange mark on the back of his neck….

David goes into town and soon discovers that several townspeople are acting just like his father.  It’s almost as if something is controlling them!  Well, what else can David do but go to the local observatory and get the U.S. Army involved!?

Invaders from Mars may be disguised as a children’s film about a flying saucer but it actually deals with some very adult issues.  What do you do when you know that you’re right but no one is willing to listen to you?  Do you stubbornly cling to what you believe or do you just become a mindless and unquestioning zombie like everyone else?  Do you remain independent or do you get the mark on your neck?  Of course, it should also be pointed out that Invaders From Mars was made at a time when people were very much worried that America was being invaded from within by communists and subversives, all of whom would rob Americans of their individual freedoms just as surely as the aliens in David’s town.  Invaders From Mars came out two years before Invasion of the Body Snatchers but they both deal with very similar issues.

What sets Invaders From Mars apart is that it’s told from a child’s point of view.  It plays out like a nightmarish fairy tale.  The film was directed by the famous production designer, William Cameron Menzies and he gives the entire film a nicely surreal look.  The town is just a little bit too perfect while the inside of the spaceship is a maze of corridors, all overseen by a ranting head in a crystal ball.

The film’s ending was probably chilling to audiences in 1953.  For modern audiences, it’s a bit of groan-inducing cliché.  Still, the ending itself makes sense when viewed in the context of the entire film.  (It’s literally the only ending that makes sense.)  Still, ending aside, Invaders From Mars is a classic sci-fi film and one well worth watching this Halloween season.

 

The Fabulous Forties #16: Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case (dir by Harold S. Bucquet)


Dr._Kildare's_Strange_Case_FilmPoster

The 16th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1940’s Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case.  It’s about a doctor who investigates a medical case and wow, is it ever a strange case.

Apparently, there was a whole series of Dr. Kildare films that were released in the 30s and 40s.  I guess the films were the cinematic equivalent of a TV show like Grey’s Anatomy or ER or Children’s Hospital or… well, every medical show that’s ever shown up on TV since the beginning of time.  Dr. James Kildare (Lew Ayres) is a passionate young doctor who may break the rules but he gets results!  His mentor is Dr. Gillipsie.  Gillipsie is played by Lionel Barrymore and since the character is cranky and confined to a wheelchair, it was impossible for me to watch him without thinking about Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life.  Whenever Kildare went to him for advise, I kept expecting Gillipsie to glare at him and say, “You once called me a warped old man…”

Anyway, Dr. Kildare works in a hospital and, when he’s not silently judging everyone else that he works with, he’s busy silently judging the wealthy Dr. Lane (Sheppard Strudwick), a brain surgeon whose patients keep dying.  Kildare and Lane are also both in love with the same nurse, Mary Lamont (Laraine Day).  Mary wants to marry Kildare but Kildare would rather be poor and single than compromise his medical principles.  Lane, on the other hand, sends her a box full of silk stockings.  Plus, he’s rich!

Seriously, how is this even a competition?  Forget Kildare and marry Lane!

Except, as I mentioned earlier, all of Lane’s patients keep dying.  Is Lane incompetent or, as Kildare suggests, is it possible that brain surgery is just really, really hard?  I imagine it was even harder in 1940, when this movie was being made.  While Kildare and Lane are operating on brains, Dr. Gillipsie is still using leeches to suck sickness out of the poorer patients.

(You don’t actually see it happen in the movie but Gillipsie comes across as being a leech man.)

Anyway, eventually, Kildare has to cure a schizophrenic and it turns out that he can do this by putting the man into an insulin coma.  As is explained in great detail, forcibly putting a patient in a coma will cause that patient’s mind to go back to a reset point.  It’s kind of like how Windows sets up a restore point before doing a major update.

And that therapy sounds so crazy that you just know it had to be based in an actual practice.  I checked with Wikipedia and I was not shocked to discover that apparently Insulin Shock Therapy used to be a thing!

Anyway, Kildare’s gets into a lot of trouble for putting his patient into a coma and attempting to erase a huge part of his mind.  Will Kildare’s results vindicate his methods or will Gillipsie have to use leeches to suck the crazy out of the patient’s brain?

Watch the film to find out!  Or don’t.  Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case was directed by Harold S. Bucquet, who did a pretty good job with The Adventures of Tartu.  His direction here is flat and uninspired, which only serves to make this entire film feel like an old TV show.  I’m tempted to recommend the movie just because of the scene where it’s explained that insulin shock therapy causes patients to devolve so that they can re-evolve but otherwise, Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case is forgettable.

If you want to see it, you can watch it below!

Or you can just watch this classic episode of Children’s Hospital!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Blossoms In The Dust (dir by Mervyn LeRoy)


Blossoms_dust_movieposterDid you know that up until the year 1936, if a child was born to unwed parents, it was common practice to actually put the word “illegitimate” on that child’s birth certificate?  As you all know, I am perhaps the biggest history nerd in the world and, while I knew that there was once a huge stigma associated with being born outside of marriage, I did not know just how institutionalized that stigma was.

I’m also proud to say that my home state of Texas — the state that all the yankees love to bitch about — was the first state to ban the use of the word “illegitimate” on birth certificates.  This was largely due to the efforts of Edna Gladney, an early advocate for the rights of children.  Along with starting a home for orphans and abandoned children in Ft. Worth, Edna also started one of the country’s first day care centers for the children of working mothers.

That’s right — there was a time when day care was itself a revolutionary concept.

I have TCM to thank for my knowledge of Edna Gladney, largely because TCM broadcast a 1941 biopic called Blossoms in The Dust.  According to Wikipedia, the film was a highly fictionalized look at Edna’s life but, to be honest, I would have guessed that just from watching the movie.  While Blossoms In The Dust gets the important things right (and it deserves a lot of credit for sympathetically dealing with the cultural stigma of being born to unwed parents at a time when it was an even more controversial subject that it is today), it’s also full of scenes that are pure Hollywood.

In real life, Edna knew firsthand about the challenges faced by children of unwed parents because she was one herself.  Apparently, at the time, that was going too far for even a relatively progressive film like Blossoms In The Dust so, in Blossoms, Edna (played by Greer Garson) is given an adopted sister named Charlotte (Marsha Hunt).  When the parents of Charlotte’s fiancée discover that she was born outside of marriage, they refuse to allow Charlotte to marry their son.  In response, Charlotte commits suicide.

In real life, Edna was born in Wisconsin but, following the death of her stepfather, moved to Ft. Worth to stay with relatives.  Edna was 18 at the time and eventually met and married a local businessman named Sam Gladney.  In Blossoms in The Dust, Edna is already an adult when she first meets Sam (played by Walter Pidgeon, who played Greer Garson’s husband in a number of films) and they meet in Wisconsin.  It’s only after Charlotte dies that Edna marries Sam and it’s only after they’re married that Edna moves to Texas.  Whereas the real life Edna had relatives in Texas, the film’s Edna is literally a stranger in a strange land.

That said, the film is actually rather kind to my home state.  The film spend a lot of time contrasting the judgmental snobs up north with the more straight-forward people who Edna meets after she moves to Ft. Worth and it’s occasionally fun to watch.  (Of course, I would probably feel differently if I was from Wisconsin.)

Blossoms In The Dust was nominated for best picture but it lost to How Green Was My Valley.  Greer Garson was nominated for best actress but she lost to Joan Fontaine in Suspicion.  However, just one year later, Garson would win an Oscar for her performance in the 1942 best picture winner, Mrs. Miniver.  Incidentally, her husband in that film was played by none other than Walter Pidgeon.

Ultimately, Blossoms in the Dust is typical of the type of movies that you tend to come across while watching films that were nominated for best picture.  Some best picture nominees were great.  Some were terrible.  But the majority of them were like Blossoms in the Dust, well-made, respectable, and just a little bit bland.  Blossoms in the Dust is not bad but it’s also not particularly memorable.  If, like me,  you’re a student of history and social mores, Blossoms in the Dust has some historical interest but, when taken as a piece of cinema, it’s easy to understand why it’s one of the more forgotten best picture nominees.