The Fabulous Forties #45: Love Laughs At Andy Hardy (dir by Willis Goldbeck)


LLAAH

I cringed a little when I saw that the 45th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1946’s Love Laughs At Andy Hardy.  

This was because I had never seen an Andy Hardy film before but I did know enough to know that, starting in the 1930s, MGM made a series of films that featured Mickey Rooney in the role of a “nice, young man” named Andy Hardy.  Andy was a well-meaning kid who grew up in Middle America under the watchful eye of his father, Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone).  What little I had heard of the Andy Hardy films led me to suspect that they were very much a product of their time and had not aged particularly well.

Having now watched Love Laughs At Andy Hardy … well, I can confirm that it is a product of its time.  And it is definitely an uneven film, though perhaps I would have felt differently if I had seen any of the other Andy Hardy films.  (Love Laughs was the 15th film about Andy Hardy and it pretty much assumes that the viewer already knows who Andy and all of his friends and family are.)  But I will say this: Mickey Rooney was a really good actor.  In fact, as I watched Love Laughs At Andy Hardy, I was shocked by just how good a performance Rooney gave.  When I think of Mickey Rooney — well, to be honest, it’s rare that I ever do.  But when I do, it’s usually in relation to the exploitation films he made after he was a star.  These were movies like The Manipulator or Silent Night Deadly Night 5, all of which feature an elderly and obviously unwell Mickey acting up a storm.  In contrast to those film, in Love Laughs At Andy Hardy, Mickey gives a totally empathetic and, at times, even subtle performance.   Even by contemporary standards, his performance feels real and, as I watched, I started to understand how there actually could have been 16 separate films about Andy Hardy.  You really do find yourself caring about the little guy,

As for this film, it opens with Andy returning from serving in World War II.  Apparently, he left college to enlist in the army.  Now that he’s back in America, he’s ready to return to college and ask his old girlfriend, Kay (Bonita Granville) to marry him.  However, to Andy’s shock and disappointment, Kay has moved on and has other plans.  Why, it’s almost enough to make Andy want to drop out of school, give up his dreams of becoming an attorney, and try to find work as an engineer in South America!

Fortunately, Judge Hardy is there to talk some sense into his son.

It’s all fairly predictable and, as I said before, definitely uneven.  I get the feeling that a lot of the scenes in Love Laughs At Andy Hardy were meant to serve as call backs to previous films in the series.  Watching this film without a context can lead to a lot of confusion.  But, again, it’s all saved by Mickey Rooney’s performance.  While I can’t really give this film a strong recommendation, I imagine if you’re fan of Rooney’s or the Andy Hardy films, you’ll enjoy it.

Perhaps the best scene in the film comes when Andy is set up on a blind date with a girl named Coffy (Dorothy Ford).  When Andy goes to Coffy’s dorm to pick her up, he can’t understand why all the other girls keep looking at him and laughing.  However, once Coffy shows up, it quickly becomes obvious.  Coffy is 6’2 while Andy is a full foot shorter.

However, when Andy and Coffy arrive at the college dance, they defy all the laughs and the snide remarks.  Instead of surrendering to the expectations of snarky society, they perform a dance to end all dances and I’m going to conclude this review by sharing it below.

Enjoy!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #34: Nightmares Come At Night (dir by Jess Franco)


nightmarescome2big For the past two weeks, I’ve been in the process of reviewing 126 cinematic melodramas.  Embracing the Melodrama Part Two started in 1927 with a look at Sunrise and now, 33 reviews later, we’ve finally reached the 70s.  And what else can I say about that other than to exclaim, “Yay!”

Seriously, a lot of good films were released in the 1970s.

We begin the 70s by taking a look at a film from the iconic and (to some people) infamous Spanish director Jess Franco.  Over the course of 54 years, director Jesus Franco Manera was credited with directing 203 films.  In all probability, the workaholic Franco directed a lot more than he’s been credited with.  As I wrote about Franco in my previous review of Female Vampire: “Among critics, Franco is usually either dismissed as a total hack (and/or pervert) or embraced as the living embodiment of the auteur theory.  Though no one’s quite sure how many films Franco has directed, Franco himself has estimated that he’s directed more than 200 films and, for the most part, he has financed and distributed them all on his own.  Franco has worked in every genre from thriller to comedy to hardcore pornography, but he is probably best known for directing low-budget, occasionally atmospheric erotic horror films.”

Now, I have to admit that I feel a little guilty about using a paragraph from an old review in a new review.  (And, as you may have noticed, I reviewed Female Vampire before Franco passed away in 2013.)  But, then again, it feels somewhat appropriate because Franco was famous for and unapologetic about taking bits and pieces of old and unfinished films and inserting them into new films.  That’s certainly the case with his 1970 film Nightmares Come At Night.

Nightmares Come At Night opens with Anna (Diana Lorys) living in an atmospheric mansion with her lover, Cynthia (Colette Giacobine).  Anna is haunted by frequent nightmares where she sees herself killing strange men with a spear.  Cynthia arranges for Anna to talk to an enigmatic doctor (Paul Muller).  Anna tells the doctor about how she was once a famous erotic dancer until she met Cynthia.  At this point, we get several lengthy flashbacks of Anna dancing in an oddly desolate club, all of which adds to the film’s ennui-drenched atmosphere.

Talking to the doctor doesn’t do Anna much good and she continues to have her nightmares except now the nightmares also seem to feature men giving lengthy monologues.  It soon becomes obvious that the neurotic Anna is being held as a virtual prisoner in the house by the dominating Cynthia.

(It’s a bit like a Lifetime movie, except everyone’s naked for 85% of the film’s running time.)

Meanwhile, we occasionally get shots of two people staring out of an unrelated window.  Eventually, we realize that they’re supposed to be Cynthia’s neighbors.  One of them is played by Franco’s frequent muse, Soledad Miranda.  (Miranda would tragically die in an automobile accident in 1970.)  Anyone who is familiar with Franco’s work will immediately notice that Miranda’s look in Nightmares was later duplicated by Lina Romay in Female Vampire.  The neighbors are obsessed with Anna.  As the film progresses, we discover that, when not looking out the window, they spend most of their time lying on a filthy mattress.  At one point, the camera zooms in for a close-up of the graffiti that’s been written on the wall over the mattress.

LIFE IS ALL SHIT, it reads.

To a certain extent, it’s pointless to say that Nightmares Come At Night is a disjointed film because almost all of Franco’s films were disjointed.  That’s actually what gave even the weakest of his films an odd and memorably dreamlike feel.  But Nightmares Come At Night is even more disjointed than usual.  That’s because Nightmares Come At Night was made out of a mix of footage shot for other films.  The scenes with Soledad Miranda were for an earlier, unfinished film.  Those scenes were combined with the footage of Anna, Cynthia, and the doctor.  The end result is a film that doesn’t necessarily much sense but you still have to admire Franco’s refusal to let any footage go to waste.

Ultimately, as with so many Franco films, Nightmares Come At Night is less about plot and all about atmosphere.  This is a film that is full of ennui and existential decadence.  It’s not one of Franco’s best films but, much like last year’s underrated California Scheming, it’s a bit of a minor existential classic when taken on its own terms.

(Please note: the trailer below is mildly NSFW.  Watch at your own risk.)

The Daily Grindhouse (Horror Edition): Female Vampire (dir. by Jess Franco)


My wonderful and loyal readers, I fear that I have failed you.  How is it, with my love of both grindhouse and Eurosleaze cinema, that I have yet to review a Jess Franco film on the site?  Halloween seems to be the perfect time to correct that oversight by taking a look at Franco’s infamous 1973 horror film, Female Vampire.

To truly “appreciate” a film like Female Vampire, it helps to know a little something about Jess Franco.  Working under a variety of pseudonyms, Spanish-born Jesus Franco Manera has been making films for over 60 years.   Among critics, Franco is usually either dismissed as a total hack (and/or pervert) or embraced as the living embodiment of the auteur theory.  Though no one’s quite sure how many films Franco has directed, Franco himself has estimated that he’s directed more than 200 films and, for the most part, he has financed and distributed them all on his own.  Franco has worked in every genre from thriller to comedy to hardcore pornography, but he is probably best known for directing low-budget, occasionally atmospheric erotic horror films like Female Vampire.

The opening of Female Vampire pretty much epitomizes everything that people love and hate about Jess Franco as a director.  The film begins with a series of ominous shots of a misty forrest.  The forest feels both beautiful and desolate at the same time and Franco’s camera lingers over the fog, building up an atmosphere of both mystery and melancholy.  Suddenly, we see one lone figure walking through the forest.  Irina (played by frequent Franco star Lina Romay) emerges from the fog, naked except for a cape and a belt.  The camera follows Irina as she walks through the mist.  When Irina stops and faces the audience, the camera zooms in to a close-up of her face and her body.  While Franco’s aim here is obviously to cater t0 the sexual fantasies of his predominately male audience, it’s still a remarkably strong scene because Romay faces the camera with such confidence that her nudity feels less like exploitation and more like empowerment.  (Romay was, like me, a self-described exhibitionist.)  Once Franco’s camera zooms away from Irina, she then starts to confidently approach the camera (and the audience as well).  She gets closer and closer to the camera until finally … she accidentally bumps her head on the lens.

That, for lack of a better example, totally sums the aesthetic of Jess Franco.  When you watch a Franco film, you’re left with the impression that Franco simply turned on the camera and recorded whatever happened to happen in front of it.  Occasionally, he managed to capture something unique and dramatic and just as often, he filmed someone bumping into the equipment or staring straight at the camera.  Whether he liked the spontaneity that came from an unexpected mistake or he just didn’t have enough money in his budget to do a second take, Franco would more often than not include these mistakes in his final film.

As for the rest of Female Vampire, it’s eventually established that. along with being a vampire, Irina is a countess and also a mute.  (At one point, we do hear her inner thoughts, a monologue in which she tells us, “I earnestly wish an end would come to this bloody race I am forced to run.”)  Several different cuts of Female Vampire have been released over the years and depending on which version you see, Irina either has to either regularly drink blood or drink semen in order to survive.  (“It was as if his potency was sucked out of him,” as the coroner puts it.)

While Irina spends all of her time wandering around a depressing resort town and seducing various victims, a poet (Jack Taylor) searches for her.  This poet — who spends a lot of time staring off into the distance and delivering inner monologues about walking down this road we call life — is determined that he and Irina are meant to be together.

There are many different version of Female Vampire currently in circulation.  For instance, a heavily-edited version was released in the U.S. as The Bare-Breasted Countess.   While Franco’s director’s cut lasts close to two hours, there are other versions that barely clock in at 70 minutes.  There’s a hard-core version, a soft-core version, and even a version that features close to no sex at all.  The version I saw was the DVD released by Image Entertainment.  That version is reportedly close to Franco’s original.

As is typical for a Franco film, not much happens in Female Vampire and what does happen doesn’t make much sense.  But, oddly enough, that actually worked in the film’s favor.  By ignoring things like plot and logic and by focusing on the film’s visuals, Franco made a film that literally feels like a dream.  Every scene is filled with an atmosphere of pure ennui and, when coupled with charisma of Lina Romay and Jack Taylor,  the end result is a film that’s strangely compelling.