Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Romancefest 2018: The Thomas Crown Affair

I saw the Pierce Brosnan/Rene Russo remake of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR back in the 90s when it came out, and I always meant to check out the original, but never got around to it – until now.

This 1968 heist flick from Norman Jewison is the epitome of cool. Steve McQueen stars as Thomas Crown, a millionaire who plans and pulls off the perfect crime (robbing a Boston bank) just because he feels like it.

Faye Dunaway investigates and guesses early on Crown must be behind it. But, she falls in love with the guy because he's McQueen, and he falls in love with her because she's Dunaway.

The movie uses lots of editing techniques that would have been cutting edge at the time, using lots of split screen to show actions that are going on simultaneously, which comes in handy during the heist scenes. The shapes and sizes of the split screens change and adjust throughout sequences to highlight what we should be looking at and how we should be looking at it. It's mostly successful but it's also easy to see why more movies don't do stuff like this today (or do it far more sparingly when they do). Hal Ashby, who went on to become a great director in his own right, was on the editing team.

So, if you want something romantic and sexy but also super cool, this one's for you.

Romancefest 2018: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

So far this year's Romancefest has been mostly lighthearted fare, but now we turn to a more dramatic flick from the UK, SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING. This 1960 film was directed by Karel Reisz.

A very young Albert Finney stars as a young machinist who still lives at home and spends his hours away from work getting drunk and laid. He's having an affair with a married woman (Rachel Roberts) as the film begins, and develops a new relationship with a pretty girl (Shirley Anne Field) more his age as the story continues.

Drama ensues when Finny first knocks up Roberts and then attempts to arrange an abortion for her. His self destructive and carefree ways quickly catch up with him and he's forced into a life he doesn't particularly want, inevitably heading down the road of transforming into his parents.

The film is shot in stark black and white in realistic locations and its influences can be seen in later British flicks like QUADROPHENIA and even A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, of all things. Finney is very compelling in the lead and it is no surprise he later became a star. This is a bleak coming of age story that benefits from addressing universal themes by using a specific time and place and unique characters. That's usually a winning combination.

Romancefest 2018: Father Goose

Cary Grant goes against type as a  rough around the edges alcoholic beachcomber in FATHER GOOSE, a 1964 romantic comedy directed by Ralph Nelson. The film takes place during WW2 on islands in the southwest Pacific where the Japanese are set to invade. Grant falls ass backwards into being roped into becoming a "coast watcher" on a deserted island by the Royal Australian Navy, spotting and reporting Japanese planes and boats that come near while living in a shack in the jungle.

When Grant's sent on a mission to pick up his replacement on a nearby island, he ends up instead with his hands full with a French teacher (Leslie Caron) and the seven little girls under her care. At first he's annoyed by their presence on the island but of course he eventually comes around and even falls in love with Caron as she falls in love with him.

This is kind of a strange film because the main premise is pretty high concept – a scoundrel is forced to put up with a straight-laced teacher and her kids. But, the details around this premise are crazy. Although it makes total sense, it never occurred to me the Navy might conscript civilians to hang out alone on deserted islands so they could report the movements of Japanese planes and ships via radio. It's a great set up for this premise, because there are so many interesting details to contend with beyond just the odd couple routine.

Still, the greatest strength is Grant, and it's interesting to note that Grant said this role was closer to his real personality than all the gentlemen he played in all his other more famous rom-coms. It's fun to see him with gray stubble, chugging whiskey, trying to fix his boat and yelling at little girls.

Romancefest 2018: How to Marry a Millionaire

Let's check back in with Marilyn Monroe for Jean Negulesco's 1953 film HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. This time, Monroe teams up with Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable. The plan: rent a ritzy penthouse – if they already have a home base among the rich, rich men will be easier to find. Right?

Not necessarily. To support themselves, the women sell more and more of the apartment's furnishings until they're living among card tables while trying to lure millionaires. Each woman has a string of affairs where there's usually something that's not quite as it seems, and eventually they all learn maybe they should marry for love instead of millions, after all.

The most fun part of this movie for me was watch Bacall in a comedic role. I’m used to seeing her as a femme fatale in noir flicks, so it's fun to watch her bounce off of the chemistry with Monroe and Grable. Of course, Bacall's the more dry and sarcastic one and the others are more bubbly and ditzy, so it's not completely against type, but still a refreshing change.

Romancefest 2018: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Stanley Donen's 1954 musical SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS starts off innocently enough with Howard Keel as a pioneer farmer in the mid 1800s Oregon territory. He lives on a farm with his six brothers and wants a wife, so one day he goes into town and finds one: Jane Powell as a plucky woman working in a tavern, happy to go off and marry one man instead of serving every man in town.

The innocence continues as Powell takes on the job of civilizing the other 6 brothers and teaching them the ins and outs of courting a woman. They all go into town and there's a really cool song and dance (and fight) sequence revolving around a barn raising.

Things take a turn swiftly south when the 6 brothers hatch a plot to kidnap the girls from town that they want to take as wives, then keep them up on their farm all winter as the pass is snowed over and their families and betrothed ones won't be able to get at them. Then they'll have to marry the six brothers, right? Yeesh.

Of course this isn't meant to be disturbing, it simply is anyway. To the movie's credit, as soon as Powell figures out what has happened, she scolds Keel to the point where he moves out and flees to his winter cabin, and she banishes the other brothers to the barn. To the movie's detriment, the kidnapped women do eventually fall for the brothers and everyone gets married in a "happy" ending.

Aside from the extreme sexism on display here, the movie is at least enjoyable for inventive song and dance scenes involving chopping wood and stuff like that, though the songs are not very memorable. The first half of the film, before the kidnappings, is the best stuff. It'd be an interesting exercise to try to rewrite this one without the sexism and see how it comes out.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Romancefest 2018: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Time for another Howard Hawks movie, this time 1953's GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. Marilyn Monroe famously stars as one half of a showgirl duo rounded out by pal Jane Russell. Monroe's engaged to be married to a rich guy (Tommy Noonan) whose father does not approve. Noonan unexpectedly has to skip their cruise to Paris thanks to his disapproving father, but Monroe and Russell have to hit the seas anyway to get to their next gig. Noonan sends a private eye (Elliot Reid) on board to make sure Monroe behaves.

Once on the cruise, all kinds of wacky hijinks ensue as Monroe sets her sights on an elderly diamond magnate and Russell first goes after the entire Men's Olympics team, before getting the hots for Reid.

The movie is most famous for Monroe's performance, her pink dress, and the song "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" and rightfully so. She's great in the movie, and funny as always, but as far as I'm concerned Russell stole the show as the wisecracking, sarcastic half of the duo, especially in her poolside, double-entendre-laden number with the Men's Olympics team, "Anyone Here for Love."

Romancefest 2018: The Clock

Here's another Judy Garland film directed by Vincente Minnelli, 1945's THE CLOCK. This time it's a straight up dramatic role for Garland without any singing or dancing. Garland stars as a working girl in New York City who runs into a soldier on leave (Robert Walker) in Penn Station on her evening commute. Walker is new to the city and wowed by everything, including Garland. They spend the afternoon together and arrange for a later date, which turns into an all-night hangout session similar to the marathon date in BEFORE SUNRISE.

However, in this case, Walker is destined to ship off to war in a couple days, so as he grows closer to Garland, their looming departure from each other becomes more and more potentially tragic. The most heart-wrenching moment in the film is when the two of them lose each other in a crowd of commuters and waste the better part of the day trying to find each other again.

It was interesting to see Walker as a young, naïve romantic lead when the only other thing I've ever seen him in is as a creepy villain in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. He and Garland make a convincing couple and the back lot at MGM makes a convincing New York City.

The movie begins to get a little long towards the end as our two romantic leads attempt to navigate the red tape of a quick wedding, but it gets back on its feet again in time for a tear jerking and hopeful final scene.