Marlowe (1969) directed by Paul Bogart
A late-60s MGM oddity that feels like something from the cheaper MCA-Universal television crew, at least in its visual flatness and efficient-but-just-barely composition and editing. Surprisingly faithful to the Chandler novel (The Little Sister) in plot, but, of course, not at all in mood. With James Garner as Marlowe, it's going to be a lot lighter, of course. Garner, as always, is fun, but he isn't Chandler's Philip Marlowe (I'd argue less so than Elliot Gould in Long Goodbye). This isn't necessarily so bad, as pretty much no film adaptation of Chandler has gotten Marlowe right, including some truly great films, but with the plot of the book kept so accurately, the lighthearted Garner doesn't quite fit.
It's still eminently fun and watchable, however. And as the plot keeps darkening, director Bogart & DP William Daniels begin to turn things more and more noir, and Garner lowers the smartass act a bit. Then it ends, rather suddenly and unsatisfyingly, but that's par for the course with films like this from this period. A pity, you feel it could have been a lot more, but it's a nice little cable watch. Two and a half Stars
The Women (1939) directed by George Cukor
Oh, this is cool and it crackles! Unfortunately, there's a great big hole at the center in the person of Norma Shearer, who is fine in moments but damn is she lousy and outmatched for the most part. Beautiful design, great dialogue, incredible performances (apart from Shearer). I wish the sexual politics were a little less.... still-centered-entirely-around-men... in this film of nothing but women. I'm not even sure this film with an all-female cast, with over a hundred named characters, has one conversation not ultimately about a man. But at the same time, the STRENGTH of some of these women and the power of their performances... There's still something I don't like or trust about George Cukor movies for some reason -- a kind of reactionary feeling of maintaining a status quo and not rocking the boat.
This was shown on TCM as part of a month-long-salute to Joan Crawford, and the first one I saw in that series -- only really knowing her work from Mildred Pierce onward, seeing her earlier work was not exactly a revelation, but it did impress me. She's ridiculously natural and modern for the period, and fills every moment and bit of business with SOMETHING interesting. Three and a half Stars
When Ladies Meet (1941) directed by Robert Z. Leonard
Silly little picture with some fine actors doing good work. As usual, the sexual attitudes of the time are annoying... well, not of the time, the attitudes are timeless and tiresome, and here end up with the friendzoned Nice Guy, of course, getting his way in the end. Ugh. At least it's fun moment-to-moment as it goes with this cast. Two and a half Stars
A Woman's Face (1941) directed by George Cukor
Good fun little melodrama. I think it could have been something more with a harder edge, but it's not bad -- god, the more I critique Cukor movies the more it sounds like I have something against him for being gay, like he's weak or something, but while I like the skill and proficiency of his frame and camera movement, his treatment of character always seems too distant and indulgent and not probing enough to me; sometimes it's good to stand back and look at people from a distance, but he never seems to step up and make things really mean when they need to be. This could almost be a good proto-noir in the right hands, but instead it's a solid but undistinguished piece with a great cast doing good work. Two and a half Stars
Strange Cargo (1940) directed by Frank Borzage
Wow, I have to see some more Borzage. I checked and discovered, to my surprise, I hadn't seen any of his films, except now this. Incredible camera.
A fine example of a grim little melodrama elevated by some intense staging and shooting. Gable & Crawford are at close to their best here, I'd reckon, but Ian Hunter, who I've always somewhat liked, gets a real chance to shine. The Christ allegory stuff could have been annoying but the film is so wonderfully grim the light parts are an appropriate respite. I want to see this again, and soon. Three and a half Stars
Susan and God (1940) directed by George Cukor
Fun, funny, adorable, and what a piece of froth should be. Not stagy at all but betrays its theatrical roots all over the place, structurally, and somehow that's to its benefit. Amazing ensemble cast. Crawford gets an incredible and deserved grand entrance on a boat after 15 minutes of everyone talking about how great she is (a classic "Mr. Wu" entrance as Orson Welles once described). Once again I am disappointed by the message of a film from this period being "eventually the independent-minded woman will settle down and realize how silly she was and just be a proper woman for her man," but in this film there's never a chance of anything terribly real happening in any case, so let it slide a little more than usual. Three and a half Stars
Reunion in France (1942) directed by Jules Dassin
Silly wartime drama with a great bunch of character actors to watch. Well-shot by Dassin, but he can only do so much with the stock story. No chemistry between Wayne & Crawford, unfortunately. An OK time-filler, though. Two Stars
Above Suspicion (1943) directed by Richard Thorpe
Ooh, boring and annoying for the most part. A couple of nice plot elements. Great character actors doing Nazi bits again. MacMurray as annoying as usual for me (except in Double Indemnity, where his smarm works). Crawford acts like she's in a screwball comedy. Still, fun to see the non-top-drawer pictures of the period sometimes. One and a half Stars
Hollywood Canteen (1944) directed by Delmer Daves
Better than Stage Door Canteen, which I saw last year, by far, but still just a barely-hanging-together collection of skits and songs with a slightly-embarrassing (and embarrassed) framing story device. Patty Andrews, of the Sisters, turns out to have a nice Martha Raye-like comic personality. Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet have a nice little bit I've seen excerpted many times (turns out to go on a few beats too long in the original). By the end, a little too self-congratulatory, but still somehow touching in its intent. Two Stars
The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) directed by Billy Wilder
Boring as hell, and I remember watching it and thinking the same several times as a child. Watched it then for the same reason I did now, it was the only thing on (which should have been a lot more possible back in the days when we only had 7 broadcast channels, but it's not). Was stunned to find it's a Billy Wilder Joint. Ugh, hope I don't wind up sitting through it again for lack of something better. I would normally say I love Wilder, but looking over his works, there's as many I dislike as like (but the ones I like, I REVERE). One and a half Stars