Friday, June 28, 2019

Film Friday: The Devil's Brigade

The Devil's Brigade (link to IMDb/photos via IMDb)

An American colonel who has never been in combat is assigned to create a special forces unit from Canadian Army troops and a ragtag group of U.S. Army misfits.

1968/130 minutes/color

Once again, I found myself at my sister's to watch a William Holden movie. Since we're trying to watch some of his movies we haven't seen before (unlike favorites like Stalag 17 and Picnic), we decided on The Devil's Brigade (which is free on Amazon Prime). We knew going in it might not be very good, and we were right. However, if you like war movies and aren't too choosy about things like the quality of dialogue or the actor's accents, The Devil's Brigade may be worth a watch. There's also a good amount of Holden (in the starring role as Lt. Col. Fredrick), as well as appearances by Cliff Robertson (whose accent is all over the place!), and a young Richard Dawson (the original host of Family Feud) chewing up the scene--and other TV greats like Carroll O'Connor and Claude Akins. Really, it's Richard Jaeckel whose performance shines as acrobatic Pvt. Omar Greco (he's in blue in the picture below).

The film jumps from a scene in England (with a nice cameo by Patric Knowles--Will Scarlet in 1939's The Adventures of Robin Hood--playing Lord Mountbatten, aka Prince Philip's uncle) to the training facility where a bunch of Army rejects and misfits gather, soon joined by a Canadian troop. From here, the film follows the usual army unit-against the odds formula, with some fun moments.

Holden shows his hard living here (he was an alcoholic, by all accounts) but his performance is still solid, and my sister and I always enjoy watching him. I found a good review of the movie that I pretty much agree with--it's an uneven film that is ultimately somewhat entertaining and could spur you to learn more about the history behind this heroic brigade, but it's not a stellar example of the genre, or Holden's talents. I'll be back next week with a movie starring another one of my favorite male stars of the era--Cary Grant. Until then, happy summer (if you're in the same hemisphere as I am)!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Film Friday: An Apartment for Peggy

An Apartment for Peggy (links to IMDb/photos and blurb via IMDb)

A retired professor rents his attic apartment to pregnant Peggy and her GI-Bill-student husband. The professor ponders if his life is no longer useful while the young couple faces the challenges shared with many WW II veterans' families.

20th Century Fox
1948/96 minutes/color
Starring Edmund Gwenn, Jeanne Crain, and William Holden

Born Yesterday got me on a William Holden kick, so I've been slowly watching more of his movies. My sister and I both love him, so it also gave us an excuse to get together and share a meal (and pie!) and enjoy a charming movie, An Apartment for Peggy. Directed by George Seaton, who also helmed the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street (also starring Gwenn, who so convinced me in the role that when I was little, I believed he was Santa Claus!). Seaton, who also wrote the script, gives us a film that is both real and comforting, emotional yet uplifting, and a wonderful time with three great actors. As a 1948 review in Variety says, Perlberg and Seaton "sell the human interest with just the right amount of believeable hokum and heartstring tugs, and the cast plays it to the hilt." 

The film starts with Gwenn as a philiosophy professor who is ready for his life to end, and soon we meet Crain, as bubbly pregnant Peggy, and her husband, Jason (Holden), in college on the GI bill, hoping to become a teacher. The film capably tackles big issues, and small, with humor and a light touch. The way the three become a family, and their interactions with others, highlights favorite themes of mine--found family and helping others in the ways you can. If you like any of the stars, or Miracle on 34th Street, I highly recommend An Apartment for Peggy. Thanks to Christine at Overture Books and Film for her review that reminded me this was a movie to watch! I agree wholeheartedly with this glowing 1948 New York Times review that Seaton "has made an enriching picture, balanced with laughter and tears." It's an entertaining and comforting movie, especially welcome right now!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Film Friday: Born Yesterday

Poster via IMDb
Born Yesterday (Link to TCM; it will be shown next month)

"A newspaper reporter takes on the task of educating a crooked businessman's girlfriend."

Columbia Pictures
1950/102 minutes/B&W
Starring Broderick Crawford, Judy Holliday, and William Holden

In May, I was at my sister's house one Saturday, and we were in the mood for a classic film. When she heard I hadn't seen Born Yesterday yet, she put it on (she has cable; I don't). Many years ago, we'd seen several George Cukor films at the Stanford Theatre when they'd done a Cukor Festival, but Born Yesterday wasn't one of the movies we saw. As usual with Cukor, the film didn't disappoint.

Born Yesterday opens at a busy, upscale Washington DC hotel, where we follow Broderick Crawford as junk man turned millionaire Harry Brock, and his silent fiance, played by Judy Holliday. Brock soon turns from merely somewhat rude to downright bullying, and we find he's there having bribed a congressman to ensure a bill goes Brock's way. Holden as Paul Verrell comes in, a reporter doing a story on Brock, who isn't exactly keen on the idea. But when Brock's lawyer says he and his fiance, Billie Dawn (Holliday), need to fit in better (I have to mention her clothes--I love Billie's outfits! Kudos to Jean Louis.), Brock hires Paul to give Billie some polish--being Brock, he thinks she's the only one who needs to change. I had a hard time laughing at Brock, given there are still so many such people around today (the film is surprisingly timely), but Crawford's performance is amazing, as he does bring some humanity and humor to the role of this unmitigated bully.

I love it when Billie looks up words in the dictionary! I do that too, though she has better one-liners. :)

It's Judy Holliday who shines in the film, though. She shows with subtlety Billie's transformation, though from the beginning we see her intelligence, humor, and humanity. The chemistry between Billie and Paul is also clear, though the only disappointment in the film is, as my sister said, "not enough William Holden." But the montage scenes of Paul and Billie taking in the sights of the city, sharing their stories and insights, is both satisfying and charming. So is the ending of Born Yesterday, which, though I felt perhaps Brock deserves a stronger comeuppance, shows Billie's compassion, smarts, and new strength. I've only seen Holliday in two other movies, Adam's Rib and The Marrying Kind (in which she gives very strong performances), but I'd guess her performance in Born Yesterday is her finest. It's a film worth watching. I'll leave you with William Holden. :)

Holden as Paul, in glasses/photos via IMDb

Friday, June 7, 2019

Film Friday: Suspicion

Photo via IMDb

"A shy young heiress marries a charming gentleman, and soon begins to suspect he is planning to murder her."

RKO Pictures
Starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
1941/1 hour 39 minutes/black and white

The week after I saw Casablanca at the Alameda Theatre, we went to see Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion. It begins in classic Hitchcock style, on a train, with two strangers meeting. We soon learn more about heiress Lina, played with quivering naivete by Joan Fontaine, and Johnnie, a bounding, handsome cad, played with charm and creepy finesse by Cary Grant. Hitchcock, as usual, is a master of suspense, and the slow build of suspicion lives up to the movie's title. However, from the beginning, I found Johnnie's brand of charm so off-putting that I wanted to yell at Lina to run, yet her consistent defense of him, even as her suspicions about his motives grow, is equally unsympathetic. His name-calling ("monkey face") and many lies are just some of the reasons I sided with Lina's parents about her relationship with Johnnie. However, if I get back to the movie as a whole, it's certainly entertaining and suspenseful, and pulled me in to the storyline. It is, however, one that ultimately failed for me. I won't spoil it, in case you haven't seen it, but some claim that the ending was changed--and very disappointing my friend and I found it. Otherwise, it's a film worth watching.

Bruce and Grant in Suspicion/Photo via IMDb

One of the reasons it's a good film is the great, if underused, supporting cast: Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Dame May Whitty, and Nigel Bruce, among others. It's Bruce's comedic turn as Johnnie's friend that shone for me and made Grant's performance that much better, when the two played off each other. Both Grant and Bruce have wonderful comic timing that enhanced their solid performances. We don't see much of Hardwicke and Whitty, unfortunately. Be sure to check out Whitty in a (better) Hitchcock film, The Lady Vanishes; a favorite Hardwicke performance is his turn as the evil Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It felt as if the underuse of these performers and their characters lent the movie an air of the unfinished--one too many loose threads that, tangled with the unsatisfying ending, left me with a mixed feeling about the film. It's a Hitchcock film worthy of viewing, but not a favorite.

Have you seen Suspicion? Do you have a favorite Hitchcock movie?