Rusty Knife

57760-the-rusty-knife-0-230-0-345-cropPart of a collection of Japanese noir films, Rusty Knife (1958) packs a punch. A relentless D.A. won’t give up on getting justice for a murder that was wrongly categorized as a suicide. He hunts down two reformed gangsters, who witnessed the murder as other yakuza (Japanese mobsters) killed a city official. One of the witnesses now owns a bar and has turned over a new leaf. However, the guilty and anger towards these gangsters who brutally raped and murdered his true love. As the D.A. urges him, the reformed gangster pursues the yakuza and seeks revenge.

The emotions run high and the plot has some great fight scenes. The plot offers plenty of surprises. I recommend this film and would certainly watch more of director Toshio Masuda’s films.

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High Society

Starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holme and featuring Louis Armstrong and his band, High Society (1956) follows in the footsteps of the 1940 Philadelphia Story. Here socialite cum snob Tracy Lord (Kelly) is about to marry the straight laced George. Her baby sister protests and puts in many a good word for Tracy’s ex-husband Dexter (Crosby). Tracy’s appalled. She could never consider returning to the even-keeled, kind Dexter who betrayed her by using his musical talents for jazz rather than classical music.

Yes, she’s that snobbish.

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What style!

She’s about to marry George a drab businessman who looks good in a suit. Yet tabloid journalists played by Sinatra and Holme appear to get the scoop on this high falootin’ wedding.

What? Why?

Well, Tracy’s given the choice of either enduring the cheap coverage of her wedding or allowing the rag to publish a scintillating exposé on her father who ran away with a showgirl. Reluctantly, Tracy allows the tacky reporters in to save her mother from shame. She’s not completely selfish or clueless.

As you’d expect, Dexter still loves Tracy and Mike from the tabloid soon falls for her, while George’s buddy-duddy side gets increasingly pronounced.

With some good singing and dancing, High Society entertains. It also puzzles. Aside from her beauty, what does Tracy have going for her? Dexter was married to her and is presented as a man who’s perceptive so he would know her beyond the superficial. He’s still in love with such a snob, a snob who hates jazz because she sees it a crass. That wouldn’t matter much, except jazz is Dexter’s art. Hmm.

I was struck by Crosby’s cool guy persona and Grace Kelly’s perfect silky hair and elegant outfits. All in all, I liked the film flaws and all.

 

 

Cat’s Paw

Harold Lloyd’s talking Cat’s Paw (1934) satirizes dirty politics. (You can watch the whole film on YouTube by clicking above.) Lloyd plays Ezekiel Cobb, the son of a missionary who grew up in rural China. Cobb comes to California to find a wife. He’s supposed to stay with a minister, who for years has run for mayor against a corrupt machine politician. The minister is a puppet who doesn’t realize he’s simply used   to make it look like there’s democracy in this town.

When the minister suddenly dies, his corrupt campaign manager needs a chump to run in his stead. He decides this naive newbie Cobb is just the man for the job.

Cobb’s an endearing character. He’s a fish out of water in America. Though he looks like he belongs here, China is his home. So he’s constantly bowing and has no idea what our slang means. He’s often mistaken for a “native” and this often gets him into all kinds of scraps. He lacks the street smarts and skepticism frequently found in corrupt cities.

Yet while the film never directly says as much, God helps the innocents and through a hilarious series of mishaps, Cobb is photographed punching the corrupt mayor and becomes a sensation. He’s swept into office. He’s as upset as anyone. He wants to return to China where everyone understands his references to the revered Ling Po, who’s wisdom he frequently imparts.

Cobb accepts his office and brings his innocent honesty into practice. He outfoxes the foxes and it’s a delight to see.

Lloyd is delightful. It offers satire with a clever story that still entertains. There are times when supporting characters use words like “Chink” which are derogatory and wouldn’t be used in a film today, but the characters who use such terms are portraying prejudiced people in contrast to the hero who respects and understands Chinese culture.

Cobb does search for a wife and looks for an idealistically innocent, poised woman. Pet Pratt, a woman in his boarding house is a worldly woman who tricks him by taking him to a nightclub with 1930s adult entertainment. She’s just the woman to help Cobb govern. It’s an added twist to the film, especially since Harold Lloyd films usually feature American sweethearts. Pet Pratt does not fit that mold and is fun to watch.

I was amazed by Cobb’s plan to clean up the city. He wasn’t the goody-two-shoes he seemed at the start.

Cat’s Paw was a fun film, which shows 1930s views of China.

Unplanned

While the acting and directing could be better, Unplanned presents the experience of Abby Johnson, a Planned Parenthood clinic director, who does a complete 180° transformation on her views on abortion after viewing an abortion. There’s a lot of flashbacks that go from post-transformation to Johnson’s college days when she had two abortions and when she became a volunteer for PP.

The film has some gory moments as it holds nothing back. There are scenes which feature the blood and gore which are part of the clinic’s experience. I wouldn’t bring children to this R rated film. While Gosnell, tells a story about abortion, it’s not as graphic, though the actions of Kermit Gosnell were more violent. Gosnell kept the gore to the minimum.

The film did inform me. I didn’t get have much knowledge of what it’s like to work in a PP clinic. The characters, except for the director, were shown as well-intentioned people. The first director does seem one-dimensional, but a lot of people do see their bosses as stereotypes. In this case the director is all about money and she does show what a business this is. As the director, Abby’s mentor, said, “non-profit is a tax status, not a business model.” The film does show PP’s sales techniques and vision for growth.

I wish the supporting characters like Abby’s husband and parents were more three dimensional.

The film has a message and it does a decent job of conveying it through the life story of Abby Johnson.  It did make me think and it seemed authentic.

Lucky Partners

I’d never seen a Ronald Colman film, though I’d heard the name. I ran across this title and thought I’d get the DVD from the library. (Note: the DVD has much better quality than the blurry trailer above.) Starring Ginger Rogers and Ronald Colman, Lucky Partners is a romantic comedy filled with style and wit.

Walking down the street one day, David Grant (Colman) wishes Jean (Rogers), a pretty passerby, “Good luck.” She stops and asks him why the “Good luck” and he smiles and they chat about her practical engineer fiancé before she goes her merry way.

When she arrives at her destination to drop off an order of books, she lucks into a free $300 (in 1940’s value) dress. Hmm, meeting that dapper fellow was lucky. Jean decides to take advantage of the luck and buys an Irish Sweepstakes ticket and convinces David to pay her half. That should increase their luck.

Lucky_Partners_film_posterDavid places a condition on his going in on the ticket. If they win, which is highly unlikely, Jean will accompany David on a fabulous trip prior to her marriage. She’s unsure. What will people think of an unmarried woman traveling with an unmarried man? David sees it as an experiment. When Fred, the fiancé turns up, his assumptions and attitudes, compel Jean to go along. Besides, it’s unlikely the ticket will win, so there’s no real risk, right?

Well, next the ticket does win the first round of the sweepstakes. Now Jean and David need to decide whether to cash in for $12,000 or to hold and wait to see if they can win the full $150,000. There’s some back and forth and mainly dapper David just aggravates Jean, but then so does flat-footed Fred. In the end they decide to risk it all and Fred holds on to the tickets.

But rather than do as he was told, Fred sold Jean’s half of the ticket, so after they lose the sweepstakes, Fred proudly presents Jean with her $6000. He’s shocked that his independent-minded fiancée is livid that Fred went behind her back. Jean grabs her money and storms across the way to give David the money. He then insist that they go on a pared down version of the whirlwind experimental trip. Now Jean’s nervous, but a deals’ a deal.

Based on a film by Sacha Guitry (the French writer/actor who made films like The Pearls of the Crown  or Le PoisonLucky Partners delights with a zany situation that dances around feminine virtue, trust, and whether one should marry a safe guy or the dashing artist with the mysterious aura. As is true of so many

Samurai Rebellion

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What a film! Starring Mifune, Toshiro* Samurai Rebellion (1967) blew me away. The Japanese really do know how to play on one’s emotions. Far from our stereotype of this culture, they’re capable of intense emotion, stubbornness and defiance.

Set in the early 18th century, Samurai Rebellion tells the story of a samurai family that’s more or less forced to make their son marry their Lord’s cast off mistress. Mifune plays the head of the family, Sasahara Isaburo, an older master swordsman, who had to marry his cold-hearted, domineering wife because he lacked social status. Sashara often jokes about how he’s just a hen-pecked husband. When the message comes that the regional warlord wants Sasahara’s son Yogoro to marry his troublesome mistress, Sasahara tactfully says, thanks but no thanks. He’d like a better marriage for his son. Sasahara’s wife thinks this is stupid. In this culture when the warlord asks you to do something you do it. she clearly has no respect for anyone but herself. This woman makes the farmer’s wife in Grant Wood’s American Gothic look cheerful.

This forced marriage is not kosher in this society. The warlord is abusing his power. Sasahara keeps politely refusing. In time the son, breaks in on a visit from the steward and agrees. No one expects much from this marriage.
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When Ichi, the mistress arrives with her daughter, she explains to her new husband that she was exiled because after bearing her child, she returned to the castle to see that the Lord has found her replacement, a cutie, who’s now making the Lord’s heart race. Ichi never wanted to be this guy’s wife or mistress, but is disgusted that after giving birth she’s been displaced. By speaking up, Ichi finds herself cast out.

Surprisingly, Yogoro and Ichi fall in love. Ichi is an ideal daughter-in-law who puts up with her grouchy mother in law and is a great asset to the family. But the course of true love never runs smoothly. When the Lord’s firstborn dies, Ichi is summoned back to the castle. She doesn’t want to go. Yogoro doesn’t want her to go and neither does Sasahara. In fact, the men are willing to defy the lord and fight to the death to keep Ichi.

The film kept me in suspense from start to finish. Mifune gives a powerful performance and the director Kobayashi Misaki provides a beautiful drama. There were some times when the cinematography was too much like when there’s an intense meeting at the castle during which lots of bold, distracting shadows come through the windows, but that’s a minor fault. Much of the cinematography is gorgeous as the filmmakers use the aesthetics of Japanese homes with little furniture, tatami mats, and dark beams against white walls to good effect.

Though there are only two female characters, they’re both strong women who hold their own in a man’s world.

I highly recommend Samurai Rebellion, which I bet you can get the DVD from your library as I did. (Thank God of inter-library loans.)

You can read the illustrious Donald Richie’s Samurai Rebellion article here.

*Note, I’ve used the Japanese practice of writing the family name first and the Western first name second.

Victoria, Season 3, A Show of Unity

When her carriage is unsuccessfully attacked by Irish rebels, Victoria learns that the Irish want their freedom. Thus the queen takes her entourage to visit the Emerald Isle.

Albert gets Bertie a new tutor from his visit to Cambridge. Victoria’s not amused because she wasn’t consulted. That’s understandable. Albert continues to have trouble with his role, which he sees as second-fiddle, and Victoria’s mourning Skerrett and impatient that no one realizes this. All these emotions add to the marital conflict between the Queen and the Prince.

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The real Feodora

Like Cinderella or Jane Eyre, Feodora’s left at home to look after the children. She stews and pouts and is clueless about the new tutor, whom the servants suspect is up to something.

In Ireland, the royal retinue stay at Lord Palmerston’s estate. We meet Lady Palmerston. I expected a long suffering woman trapped in a loveless, arranged marriage. I was off base. Lady Palmerston is a busy beekeeper and happy with her open marriage.

Victoria’s blown away with the open marriage concept. She shares this arrangement with Albert, not that it’s something either of them want to try, but she’s amazed she’s met a woman who’s okay with this.

Love is also in the air between Sophie, the duchess with the churlish husband, and the new footman, Joseph. It’s a perilous relationship, that’s consummated and joyous. The duchess and the footman frolic in at the beach and aren’t as secretive as they should be. Rather jealous, Lord Palmerston notices and warns Sophie that she’s playing with fire. She doesn’t heed his advice and I suspect will be found out next week (or soon).

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Sophie, the duchess who’s playing with fire

Victoria is a big diplomatic success at the ceremony in Dublin where she says just the right things and shows the Irish she cares. This doesn’t solve everything, but she was the first British monarch to visit Ireland since the Middle Ages, so I think she’s due some credit.

Back home, Albert quarrels with Victoria. He also is proud as can be that Bertie’s making great progress with his studies. His math and French have taken off.

However, Victoria’s new maid eventually mentions that the servants suspect the tutor of child abuse. The queen immediately races to the children’s room and catches the tutor in the act. He’s thrown out. I would have like to have seen him thrown in jail and put on trial. Poor Bertie! I found this storyline the most heart-breaking of the week. (Sophie should know her affair will be found out and that to cuckold a duke with a hot temper will not go unpunished. I fell sorry for her but she’s an adult.)

As usual, the hour sped by. The program is packed with drama, gorgeous costumes, and splendid scenery. This week we were also treated to some fine Irish-inspired music.