Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Razor’s Edge (dir by Edmund Goulding)


Oh, 1919!  What a year.  The Great War had ended, leaving much of Europe devastated.  American soldiers were coming home and, scarred by the horrors they had experienced, becoming members of a lost generation.  The Spanish Flu was infecting millions, on the way to eventually wiping out 3% of the world’s population.  It was a grim time so it’s no surprise that many chose to close their eyes and pretend like everything was fine.  Only a few people were willing to look at the world and say, “There has to be something more.”

The 1946 film The Razor’s Edge tells the story of one such man.  Before the war, Larry Darrell (Tyrone Power, Jr.) was like most of his friends back in Chicago.  He was carefree.  He was wealthy.  He was engaged to marry the beautiful but self-centered Isabel (Gene Tierney).  But then he went off to fight in World War I and the experience changed him.  On the final day of the war, another soldier sacrificed his life to save Larry and Larry is now haunted by that man’s death.  No longer sure about his place in the world, Larry announces that he’s rejecting his former life.

Of course, that’s an easy thing to do when you’re rich.  Larry is lucky enough to have an inheritance that he can live off for a few years.  All of his former friends think that Larry’s just struggling to adjust to being back home and they expect that he’ll get over it soon enough.  Isabel’s uncle, Elliott (Clifton Webb), thinks that Larry’s acting like a total fool.  For Larry’s part, he no longer cares what any of them think.  He’s going to travel the world, seeking enlightenment.

While Larry’s searching, life goes on without him.  Isabel ends up marrying one of Larry’s friends, Gray Maturin (John Payne).  Larry’s best friend from childhood, Sophie (Anne Baxter), suffers a personal tragedy of her own and, when Larry next meets her, she’s living as a drunk on the streets of Paris.  Larry keeps searching for the meaning of it all.  He works in a coal mine.  He discusses philosophy with a defrocked priest.  Eventually, he ends up in the Himalayas, where he studies under a Holy Man (Cecil Humphreys).

It’s an intriguing idea and still a relevant one.  Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really work because Larry tends to come across as being a little bit full of himself.  I could imagine someone like Henry Fonda working wonders with the role but Tyrone Power seems totally miscast as Larry.  When you look at Power, you find it hard to believe that he’s ever had a bad day, much less a need to spend months hiding in the Himalayas.  He comes across as the last person you would necessarily want to take spiritual advice from.  The fact that Webb, Tierney, Payne, and Baxter are all perfectly cast only serves to enforce just how miscast Power is.  It’s a well-intentioned film with nice production values but it’s never quite compelling.

The Razor’s Edge was based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham.  Interestingly, the film features Maugham as a character, played by Herbert Marshall.  Even more interesting is the fact that the film was apparently remade in 1984, with Bill Murray cast as Larry Darrell.  I’ve never seen the remake so I have no idea if Murray is an improvement on Power.

(Also, since I’ve been pretty critical of Power in this review, let me recommend Witness For The Prosecution, in which Power is much better cast.)

The Razor’s Edge was nominated for Best Picture but lost to another film about returning vets, The Best Years of Our Lives.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Dodsworth (dir by William Wyler)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1936 best picture nominee, Dodsworth!)

Dodsworth is the type of film that makes me thankful for both TCM and my own obsession with Oscar history.

Based on a Sidney Howard-penned stage adaptation of a Sinclair Lewis novel, Dodsworth tells the story of an American couple abroad and how their travels change them as both individuals and as a couple.  Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is a wealthy man living in the middle of the United States.  20 years ago, he founded Dodsworth Motors and now, he’s finally reached the point where he can sell his company and retire.  Sam doesn’t have any big plans, not yet anyway.  Mostly, he just wants to visit Europe with his wife, Fran (Ruth Chatterton).  They’ve never been.

Walter Huston is perfectly cast as Sam Dodsworth.  When we first meet Sam, we’re not really sure whether we’re going to like him or not.  He seems to be a decent human being but he also seems to be rather resistant to change.  He’s a self-made man.  He’s smart but he’s not well-educated.  He’s honest but he’s stubborn.  He’s rich but he’s hardly sophisticated.  He says that he wants to experience new things but we can’t help but wonder how he’s going to react when he actually has the opportunity.

The cracks in Sam and Fran’s marriage become obvious as soon as they board a luxury liner heading for England.  Sam meets another traveler, Edith (Mary Astor).  Edith is divorced and lives in Italy, two things that make her very exotic to a proud product of middle America like Sam Dodsworth.  Edith and Sam immediately hit it off but there’s no way that Sam would ever consider having an affair.  Meanwhile, Fran finds herself attracted to a series of different Europeans, played by David Niven, Paul Lukas, and Gregory Gaye.  While Fran loves Europe, Sam finds himself yearning to return to the small town world that he knows best.

For a film that was released 82 years ago, Dodsworth remains a remarkably watchable and involving film.  Along with featuring brilliant lead performances from Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, and Mary Astor, Dodsworth touches on universal themes that remains as relevant as today as when the film was first released.  Though neither Sam nor Fran would probably recognize the term, their trip to Europe leads to an existential crisis that will be familiar to anyone who has ever looked at their life and wondered, “Is this all there is?”  At the start of the film, both characters believe that they’ve found perfection in their marriage, their family, and their money.  By the end of the movie, both of them realize just how wrong they were.

If not for my love of Oscar history, I never would have seen Dodsworth listed among the films nominated for best picture of 1936.  And, if not for TCM, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to DVR Dodsworth this morning and then watch it earlier tonight.  That’s why it pays to know your history and to take chances on films of which you previously may not have heard.

Dodsworth was nominated for 7 Academy Awards but it only won the Oscar for Best Art Direction.  It lost Best Picture to a far less memorable film, The Great Ziegfield.

The Perfect Crime Film: KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (United Artists 1952)


cracked rear viewer

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My friend Rob suggested I review KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL awhile back, and I’m sorry I waited so long. This is a film noir lover’s delight, packed with tension, violence, double-crosses, and a head-turning performance by John Payne in the lead. Made on an economical budget like the same year’s THE NARROW MARGIN , director Phil Karlson and George Diskant create a shadowy, claustrophobic atmosphere brimming with danger at every turn.

I knew Payne mainly from his 40’s musicals and his idealistic lawyer opposite Maureen O’Hara in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, but he’s a revelation here as Joe Rolfe, a florist truck driver who’s set up as a patsy by a gang of armored car robbers. He can dish out (and take) beatings with the best them, and delivers the tough-talking dialog with aplomb. KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL helped Payne shed his lightweight image, and he went on to do other dark crime films and rugged…

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Here’s The Lux Radio Theater Version of Miracle on 34th Street!


I’ve spent so much time talking about how much I love It’s A Wonderful Life that I’m running the risk of overlooking my second favorite Christmas film of all time, 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street!

So, now that you’ve had a chance to enjoy the radio version of It’s A Wonderful Life and the behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of that classic film, why not sit back and listen to Lux Radio Theater’s production of Miracle on 34th Street!?

This was originally broadcast on December 22nd, 1947 and it features the cast from the film — Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, and Maureen O’Hara!

And remember — Santa Claus is real!  The U.S. Post Office says so!

 

 

 

Holiday Scenes That I Love: The U.S. Postal Service Proves The Existence of Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street!


Is there a Santa Claus?

Well, if you’ve ever seen the original 1947 Miracle on 34th Street than you already know the answer.  There is a Santa Claus and he looks exactly like Edmund Gwenn!

In this scene, Kris Kringle is on trial.  He swears that he is Santa Claus.  The prosecution claims that not only isn’t he Santa Claus but Santa doesn’t exist at all.  Fortunately, it’s the U.S. Post Service to the rescue!

Miracle on 34th Street is true Christmas classic and I hope you enjoy this holiday scene that I love.

(The remake with Richard Attenborough is also pretty good, as long as you can ignore the fact that Mara Wilson grew up to be one of the most annoying people on the planet.)

Shattered Politics #12: The Boss (dir by Byron Haskin)


The Boss

After you’ve watched The Phenix City Story, why not go over to Netflix and watch another obscure but hard-hitting B-movie, The Boss?

First released in 1956, The Boss came out a year after The Phenix City Story but they both serve as good companion pieces to each other.  Whereas The Phenix City Story shows what it’s like to live in a city dominated by corruption and crime, The Boss shows how a city could get that way in the first place.

The Boss opens in 1919, in an unanmed midwestern city.  (A title card informs us that the city is a “middle class city.”)  World War I has ended and the returning soldiers are marching in a parade throughout the city.  Leading the march is Capt. Matt Brady (John Payne), a humorless war hero.  Marching behind him are a group of soldiers who all seem to hate his guts, even after Bob Herrick (William Bishop) attempts to defend him.  It appears that Matt was a strict officer during the war and Bob was the only one of his men who didn’t hate him.  Of course, a lot of that is because Bob was a childhood friend of Matt’s.  They both grew up in the city together.  To be exact, their home was in the third ward.  As Bob explains, the Brady family rules the third ward.

Matt’s older brother, Tim (Roy Roberts), is the 3rd ward’s alderman.  After the parade ends, Tim explains that he expects Matt to follow in the family business.  However, Matt doesn’t want anything to do with politics.  Instead, he just wants to marry Elsie (Doe Avedon) and live a normal life.  In fact, Matt says, he’s got a date with Elsie that night.

However, before Matt can go on that date, he ends up getting attacked and beaten up by some of the soldiers from the parade.  He’s late for his date and when Elsie refuses to forgive him, Matt ends up going out and getting drunk.  After getting into a few more fights, he meets an insecure woman named Lorry (Gloria McGhee) and announces that they’re getting married whether she wants to or not.

The next morning, Matt wakes up to discover that he now has a wife, Elsie never wants to see him again, and that Tim has dropped dead of a heart attack.  Bruised and hungover, Matt suddenly finds himself forced to take over the family business.

The film jumps forward a few years.  Matt is now the most powerful man in the city.  He decides who get elected to which office and, with the help of the Mafia, he’s made a lot of money for himself.  Bob, meanwhile, has married Elsie and is now Matt’s attorney and unofficial second-in-command.  Meanwhile, Lorry lives in a huge mansion that she never leaves.

It took me a while to get into The Boss.  In fact, I nearly stopped watching after the first twenty minutes because it didn’t ever seem like there would be a moment when Matt would be anything other than surly, drunk, and bruised.  But then, once Tim drops dead, the movie becomes a bit more interesting.  If you remember John Payne for anything, it’s probably for being the nice but kind of boring lawyer from the original Miracle on 34th Street.  So, it’s interesting to see him here, playing a crude and perpetually angry man who always seems to be on the verge of punching someone out.  He gives a good performance and occasionally you even feel a little sorry for Matt.  For everything he does wrong, he’s still essentially the same guy who wanted to marry a school teacher and live out in the suburbs.

Of course, I’m a history nerd so my favorite scenes in The Boss were the ones that dealt with real moments from history, like the scene where Matt panics when he hears about the 1929 Stock Market crash.  Even better, though, is a brief sequence that takes place at a political convention.  Though no names are uttered and the party is never specifically identified, it’s obvious that Matt is meant to be at the 1932 Democratic Convention and the candidate that is asking for Matt’s support is obviously meant to Franklin Roosevelt.  When Roosevelt is nominated without Matt’s support, Matt can only bitterly observe that he wishes he was from Chicago because then he could own a President.

Would a movie made today have the guts to say such a thing about FDR?  I doubt it.

The Boss is currently available on Netflix.  If you’re into politics and history (and maybe even political history), be sure to watch it before it goes away.