18
Apr
14

Mr. Selfridge, Season 2

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Mr. Selfridge’s second season kicked off a couple weeks ago. The first episode picks up as Selfridge’s is about to celebrate its firth anniversary. Time’s flown by and it shows for some and not for others, which is odd. I was glad to see my favorite characters/actors, but the first episode was strange because the story pretty much wipes aside, or minimizes the problems Harry faced at the end of season 1 when his wife, fed up with his philandering and the public ridicule of a satirical play about Harry, left as did his best friend and most talented colleague, Henri LeClere. As if that weren’t enough, Harry’s reporter pal childishly turned on him, because he wasn’t available mmm.

I found it implausible that Harry wasn’t more affected by isolation. He’s a gregarious man who needs his social network to make him who he is. Without that energy, Harry’s nothing. He’d have hit rock bottom and then had to find new friends as well as new loves. He did find new women to replace his lover Eva Love, but Henri and Frank’s friendships were left void. I didn’t buy that that wouldn’t have left a big hole or that Selfridge would have tried to fill it. I also found it odd that Rose, Gordon and Frank all reappear at the same time. Yes, it’s the anniversary, but someone would have reconnected earlier and others might never have.

It’s just weird that in pre-WWI era Agnes, Kitty and Vincent are still single. One of them would have married. It’s odd that we don’t really know why Henri hit the skids. If J. Walter Thompson, New York didn’t work out, why not return to Chicago’s Marshall Fields, Macy’s or Paris? Why would he wind up in squalor? It’s not like he’s a gambler or drinker. I’m also surprised that Miss Mardle has chosen to stay on at Selfridge’s and work with her lover Mr. Grove as his new, young wife has baby after baby. Only a glutton for punishment would. Since she took a risk on Selfridge’s store, you’d think she’d have the pluck to get a new job.

Amanda Abbington

The second episode, where Henri seems to return for good, had a better storyline. I’m glad that Miss Mardle has come into money. We’ve got some new villians this year. Poor Lady Mae is married to a wife beater, who’s destitute. He’s cut off her funds since he has no money. It’s good to see Harry defend Lady Mae and all women against this abusive blackguard.

Rose is back and has taken up with a new friend, Miss P whom she met on the ship back to London. Rose needs a few more friends in London, but it’s just too convenient for the writers to make this one the owner of a risqué bar. Mr. Selfridge always tries to titillate in an anachronistic, implausible way.

Agnes’s character and storyline draw me it. I’m happy to see her back from Paris where she apprenticed at Galleries LaFayette. As the new head of display she’s got her hands full, particularly since the new head of fashion took an immediate dislike to her and is doing his best to sabotage her. Thank God, Harry knew that Henri would consider coming back if it were to help this damsel in distress, (whom he loved and left). Though I like Victor, I prefer to see Agnes with Henri. Most characters don’t get two fine young men to choose from. It’s an embarrassment of riches, in a way.

15
Apr
14

Good Reminder by Hank Green

Sure we know this, but we don’t really buy into the idea enough. Instead we buy into an idea that life’s an constant game of getting makeovers and new clothes. Wear what you like and spend half what you do on clothes. The rest of the cash can go into investments, experiences, etc.

06
Apr
14

Sea of Grass

hepburn tracy

Kathryn Hepburn plays Lutie, a St. Louis woman who falls for Spencer Tracy, an older rancher named Jim. She marries him despite warnings that life on the prairie won’t be easy, nor will living with Jim may be hell. Tracy’s character is a real so and so. He drives homesteaders off government land. He owns plots that dot the area and wants his cattle to graze wherever. The town folk consider him irascible and bull headed. His cattle hands and cook seem deeply loyal. Marriage to this taciturn loner soon gets hard. While Jim occasionally gives in to Lutie’s requests, his indifference to their suffering neighbors and his schemes to keep homesteaders out, is at odds with Lutie’s beliefs. Besides there’s little for her to do and no one to talk to on the ranch. She loses her one friend due to Jim’s hard hardheartedness.

Eventually, Lutie gives in to temptation and has romantic encounter with a sympathetic lawyer who’d warned her about Jim. She gets pregnant and has a son. Her infidelity becomes public knowledge.

I liked the film as it offers a different look at life out West. The ranch is pretty comfortable and Jim gets Lutie a piano and gets the furnishings she’s used to. The challenge isn’t the tough living quarters or manual labor (Lutie does none), but rather the barren emotional life. The way infidelity and illegitimacy are handled seemed novel, even by today’s standards.

I wouldn’t say this is a “must see,” but it is compelling and held my interest. Hepburn and Tracy always do though, don’t they?

29
Mar
14

Mr. Selfridge

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That sign is the spitting image of Marshall Field’s sign

I never saw Mr. Selfridge last year. I’d left the US and just didn’t get hooked. Friends thought it wasn’t up to Downton Abbey and no one I knew followed it. From the promos the show seemed more brash, than Downton so I wasn’t drawn to it.

However last year I loved The Paradise, a period drama covering the same exciting era of the development of department stores, which affected women’s rights and freedoms. Shopping was revolutionized (a mixed blessing) as now it wasn’t just a task, but a creative, imaginative endeavor. With a lull in programming for the Anglophile who likes history, I gave Mr. Selfridge a try.

At first I really didn’t like it. Though he was inventive and a caring employer, Harry Gordon Selfridge (Jeremy Piven) is a womanizer, drinker and a bull in a china shop. Though he’s married to a beautiful, smart woman who is portrayed as having no problems in the bedroom, he prefers to frequent girly shows and pursue Eva Love, a burlesque singer. Granted this girly show is PG by our standards, it wasn’t then and it’s hard to get drawn into a show about a pig, after watching Downton Abbey where high standards predominate.

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I’m not sure why, but I did stick with the show and liked it more as time went on. The female characters in this era of suffragettes and working women drew me in. We’re supposed to identify with Agnes (Aisling Loftus), a shop assistant who gets sacked for letting Selfridge behind the counter in the first store she worked in. The stern floorwalker saw this and saw her exchange with friendly, American Selfridge and gave her the sack saying “We’re not that kind of store.” Out on the street, unable to find another job with a younger brother to support, Agnes summons the pluck to ask Mr. Selfridge for a job. Pluck’s Selfridge’s life’s blood and he hires her. In the first season Agnes’ growth has been as compelling as watching Selfridge succeed. She’s been promoted to lady’s fashion, fallen in love (though she doesn’t call it that), escaped a drunken, abusive father and shown her talent for design and retail. She’s not as interesting as The Paradise’s Denise, whom I think has more spark, but her rags to riches story entertains.

In the first episodes it was hard to watch Rose Buckingham Selfridge (Francis O’Connor) put up with her philandering husband. That hasn’t gotten easier, and I cringe when Rose gets too close to a starving artist, who later tries to come on to her teenage daughter, but Rose’s scene when she puts Harry’s lover, Eva in her place showed grace under pressure. Rose is complex and it can’t be easy to be married to Harry, not just because of his carousing but also due to his personality.

Like Downton Abbey, subplots and secondary characters like the sophisticated, conniving Lady Mae Loxley (Kathleen Kelly) who arranges Selfridge’s financial backing when his first partner pulls out, Mr. Grove the head of staff who’s wife is an invalid so he’s got a thing going with the strict head of accessories, Miss Mardle. I will criticize Mr. Selfridge for trying to spice up history for the sake of ratings. While infidelity is nothing new, it’s rampant in this drama and it comes across as a play for ratings. One philandering character is enough for an hour’s television. Give other characters other problems. (I doubt that request would be heeded.)

Henri Leclair (Grégory Fitoussi of Engrenage fame) lends savoir faire to the store as he’s a master of window design. He’s also a pillar for Selfridge, a loyal colleague and friend from their days in Chicago. He adds romance as towards the end of season 1, he turns to innocent Agnes to replace his French lover, a modern woman who always wears a tie and who works for J. Walter Thompson. I was sorry to see how Agnes got left and didn’t quite buy how stoically she let him off the hook.

The show’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. It could be better, but I guess I’m on board for another season. Some critics have pointed out that Piven’s not good with nuanced emotion. Close ups should stop. They fall flat. (Downton doesn’t use them.) I think that would help. That’s probably valid, still since Selfridge puts so much of his heart into his store, his work family.

27
Mar
14

Spies of Warsaw

spies warsaw It’s interesting seeing David Tennant in a role other than Doctor Who. He does a fine job as a French spy in Warsaw leading up to the outbreak of WWII. (Never mind that it would make more sense for a French spy to speak with a French accent, but I don’t blame Tennant for that.) Spies of Warsaw isn’t action packed, but it has its moments and kept me entertained. It’s got a bit of romance, betrayal, history and suspense. It’s not the greatest BBC production, but since it moves along and its set during an interesting time, I could forgive its flaws. Yeah, the romance didn’t seem to matter. None of the actors did anything spectacular, but the story wasn’t terrific, so they’re excused. Yeah, the last mission seemed rather out of the blue, but it was still better than a lot of what’s on the tube.

If a friend or relative really wanted to see this, it’s no big sacrifice to watch it with them.

Would I watch it again? Probably not. Do I regret watching it? No.

23
Mar
14

Lifeboat

Lifeboat-(1944)---Tallulah-Bankhead,-John-Hodiak,-Walter-Slezak-715067

I loved Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944) and am so glad I’ve embarked upon this challenge to watch one old movie a week. With Tallulah Bankhead and Hume Cronyn in an ensemble of survivors whose ship has been sunk during WWII, Lifeboat blends tension and morality. In Hitchcock’s hands, there’s ambiguity and sophistication in every scene.

The film opens with the high class Connie Porter, a self-absorbed, jaded newspaper columnist, sitting alone in a lifeboat. Not a hair out of place, she looks bored as if she’s waiting to board a first class flight to Paris. One by one, other survivors make it to the boat. In its 1944 review, the New York Times describe the cast as

Within their battered lifeboat are assembled an assortment of folks who typify various strata of a free, democratic society. There is, first, a parasitic woman, representative of the luxury fringe, who is opportunistic and cynical—a picturesque trifler in every respect. Then there is an American business tycoon, likewise opportunistic and cynical; two meek and pathetic women and four men of the torpedoed ship’s crew. These latter are two tough but aimless fellows, a Cockney dreamer and a pensive Negro—all of them clearly indicative of an inarticulate class.

While one character has a British accent, I wouldn’t call it cockney. The African American character doesn’t say much and is rather stereotyped, but I wouldn’t call his class inarticulate. He didn’t talk much and allegorically I suppose you could say his group has been silenced. Since the War’s over and won, viewers won’t share The New York Times’ concern about showing the German as more capable than the others. He was their prisoner in many ways and they chose to defer to him at times, but weren’t under his control exactly.

The last person to make it to the boat is a Nazi, from the U-Boat that torpedoed the other characters’ boat. Should he stay or not? Should he be trusted or not? While their survival matters, the Nazi issue adds great tension and is, where the most drama rests. At first just the working class guy wants to chuck the German overboard. The others outnumber him. Later the German proves both useful and deceptive. The plot isn’t predictable and the ending isn’t what they’d do today.

My DVD came with a scholarly commentary, which was of interest, but since the film itself was so compelling, I turned it off. Perhaps I’ll watch again with it. I did learn though that Hitchcock and Bankhead got along exchanging barbs as they worked. He called her Baghead and she “pronounced his name like it began with a B.” Also, while Steinbeck received credit for the film, he didn’t write the script they used. He sort of put together a short story and wasn’t able to transition from fiction to film.

I enjoyed Bankhead’s wit and strength and will look for more of her films.

References

Crowther. B. (1944). Lifeboat. The New York Times.

Related articles

Gill. B. (1972). Profile: Tallulah Bankhead. The New Yorker.

18
Mar
14

On Harold Lloyd

h lloydeAfter watching Harold Lloyd in Safety Last, I became curious about what the newspapers of the day said about him. So I went to my library’s website and searched for him and the years 1922 – 1923 (when this film was made and was released in the Chicago Tribune archives.

I was struck by the tone of the paper – very casual. The movie Gal Friday seem realistic. One article I found was “The Real Inside Dope on the Movie Stars: Yes, Hard Knocks Made Harold Lloyd What He Is Today.” I chuckle at the “The Read Inside Dope” phrase. The article begins:

Harold Lloyd is one of those intrepid, joyous young persons who would attempt to dig a transcontinental canal with his fingernails if he thought the effort would benefit anybody. His character has been battered into shape by hard knocks — into such shape as he is spoken of as “the finest chap in Hollywood.”

The article goes on to explain how he isn’t conceited like Conway Tearle, whoever he was, nor a “rounder.” He exemplified the rags to riches archetype as he started work at age 11 selling popcorn at train stations. Later he sold newspapers, was a waiter, and an amateur boxer. As a teen he had the savvy to enlarge his paper route and then hire other boys to deliver segments of it.

Lloyd’s father owned a restaurant, which failed. The family was in dire straits and Lloyd wanted them to move to New York so he could work on the stage. The father thought Los Angeles and movies would be better. The father decided to flip a coin to determine where they’d go. I can’t imagine flipping a coin for such a decision. The coin decided they’d go to L.A.

Getting a foot in the door was tricky. Lloyd couldn’t get past the guards. He figured out that if he put on his grease paint and walked in with the extras returning from lunch, he could breeze by the “fish-eyed guards.” That trick worked and eventually Lloyd was hired for $3.50/day. Opportunities came his way after than and he rose from extra to star. He got the idea for his signature glasses from a comic he saw. His were specially designed so his expressive eyebrows could be seen.

How did he lose his thumb and index finger, I wondered. Seems he was posing for a still ad. The concept required that he be holding a bomb. It was supposed to be fake but wasn’t. Lloyd had a cigarette at the time and BOOM! He was blinded for 4 days and lost his fingers. If you’ve seen him scaling the walls in Safety Last, you can see he didn’t let that stop him.

Next I read the Chicago Tribune’s review of Safety First. I didn’t realize that movies would be shown at Orchestra Hall, a rather posh site. Then again those were posh-er times than ours and the era of the movie palace. The reviewer, Inez Cunningham admitted to not watching the half hour of the film when Lloyd has to scale the building because she was afraid of such exploits and didn’t see why anyone would like them. I’m wondering how such a stick in the mud got a job as a movie critic in the era of Lloyd, Keaton and Chaplin. Upfront she writes that she doesn’t generally like Lloyd, but admits that on this film he was on his best behavior and left out his usual vulgarities and “blythe.” I suppose I’ll have to watch some of his earlier films to see these vulgarities.

Works Cited

Cunningham, Inez. “Harold Must Be Good: Even Critic Laughs.” Chicago Tribune. 28 May 1923: Print.

Harpman, Julia. “The Real Inside Dope on the Movie Stars: Yes, Hard Knocks Made Harold Lloyd What He Is Today.” Chicago Tribune. 3 Aug. 1924: Print.




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