Giant (1956)

Love at first sight has its challenges as Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) and Jordan (Rock Hudson) find to when they rush into marriage. Texas rancher/tycoon Jordan visits Maryland to check out a horse he wants to buy. He returns to Texas with not only a horse, but a wife. Neither is easily tamed.

Now some men love strong women, who question big ideas, but Jordan wasn’t like that. He’s a traditionalist and a bigot. His charm and good looks, attracted Leslie, but through most of the film it seems like his notions of keeping poor people in their places, including a sick baby of Latino heritage has to go without a good doctor, drives a wedge between his wife and him.

A fish out of water, Leslie tries to fit in. She’s not warmly received by Jordan’s sister who has run the house and ranch for years. The townspeople have never met anyone from out East so they don’t know how to accept an outsider and Jordan’s little help as he just figures Leslie should fit in.

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Jordan loathes Jett Rink (James Dean), a young handsome ranch hand who inherits a small plot of land from Jordan’s sister. Leslie needs people other than her husband to talk to and she sees no problem befriending Jett. This makes Jordan’s blood boil. He also disapproves of Leslie’s friendliness with the Latinos who live in the village. He wants her to stay home and not make waves, which is just not in Leslie’s nature.

The film jumps ahead to the time when Jordan and Leslie’s children are grown enough to be choosing careers and spouses. As in most families, the children have minds of their own. Jordy, their son, marries a lovely Latino woman, but both parents, particularly Jordan are prejudiced against her. What’s more Jordan disappoints his father by choosing to become a doctor rather than manage the vast ranch that’s been in the family for generations.

One daughter marries a fine man, who wants to ranch, but he wants a small ranch so Jordan’s ranch is unwanted. The other daughter becomes smitten with Jett, who’s become incredibly wealthy. Of course, this leads to major trouble.

The western landscape is grand, but dry and brown. Leslie surprised me with her ability to get Jordan to see that she does love him, but will often disagree with him. As the years passed, Jordan’s development in terms of opening his mind to other ethnicities or women’s roles changed very little. I was surprised that Leslie put up with him, but the story’s from another era. A more modern character would have given up on a husband, who was so stubbornly biased.

When the film shifts in time by 20 years or so, the main characters all get gray, but their skin doesn’t age and their bodies are still hard and fit.

All in all, while the film features big stars and has romance and action, I felt I just had a superficial view of this family. There was never a point where I felt the family was on the brink of disaster. Jet was, but he’s not the central character. He was an outsider, who wanted social acceptance and success. Yet, I didn’t feel I knew enough about him. I felt the characters were all more distant than most. Thus it’s not a film I’d watch again and again.

Unfaithfully Yours

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In Unfaithfully Yours, Rex Harrison plays conductor Alfred de Carter, a pompous egotist. (Doesn’t Harrison play a lot of this sort?) De Carter’s clueless brother-in-law Augustus misunderstood his request to “look after my wife while I’m gone and as a result Augustus has Daphne, the wife, followed by a detective.

At first Alfred wants to give his wife the benefit of the doubt, but other people want to tell him that his wife was found leaving his secretary’s hotel room in a negligee in the middle of the night. Soon Alfred’s high minded ethos are out the window and while he’s conducting a symphony concert, he’s plague by different scenarios involving confronting Daphne about this affair.

Each variation is more comical than the last. Directed by Preston Sturges, Unfaithfully Yours is a madcap comedy with a perspicacious take on jealousy. I particularly liked how well music was worked into the story and how each piece fit Alfred’s mood to a T.

The psychology of jealousy is explored to the limit. Harrison offers a superb performance of slap stick humor in a scene towards the end when he tries to trick his wife. Unfaithfully Yours moves at a clip and in spite of a few corny jokes stands up to the test of time. In the 1980s, they did a remake of Unfaithfully Yours starring Dudley Moore. I doubt it could match this clever film.

The Criterion Collection version includes a bonus feature with Terry Jones of Monty Python fame describing how he discovered Preston Sturges and his thoughts on the film.

A Soldier’s Daughter

Season 2 of Victoria opens as the queen is ready to get back to work after a month of confinement (i.e. rest after childbirth). At first she must fight her way to get the reins back. The British army has just suffered a huge defeat in Kabul. Albert and some of the nobles have kept this from her. I expect the lords to keep things from her, but Albert? He should know how hands on she wants to be. It’s her country. He’s just lived there a few years, at most. He’s not a Prince.

Albert keeps crossing Victoria such as the time he decides not to approve an appointment of a courtier’s brother. He thinks he knows better. He also doesn’t realize that he’ll have some explaining to do if Victoria, as she’s bound to, finds out.

Second seasons usually bring new characters. With Victoria we have Diana Rigg as the Duchess of Buccleuch, who’s added as a version of Maggie Smith’s Violet on Downton Abbey. In the first episode it doesn’t work well. The Duchess makes annoying comments about how women shouldn’t read novels and how her niece has a red, strawberry-like face, but the wit is missing. Time will tell. In the two hour episode we Yanks got, The Duchess didn’t add much.

There was a bit of comedy about the chef Francatelli having left. The new chef’s food tastes and looks horrid and at one point he’s about to stab someone who made a mistake. Penge insists he hand over the knife and upstairs the queen insists Francatelli returns. Skerett, who’d turned down Francatelli’s marriage proposal has no luck getting him back. The royals can’t very well starve so his new boss is forced to fire Francatelli, who’s soon back in the palace kitchen, very much annoyed. I expect we’ll see this romance continue, though it wasn’t that thrilling last year.

The Green-Eyed Monster

In the second episode shown in the US, Albert is enthralled with mathematician Lady Ada Lovelace, who invented a calculating machine and early computer programming. Caught confusing pi and pie at a social gathering and frustrated that she can’t understand Thomas Mathus’ idea population increasing geometrically, Jeremy Victoria feels threatened by Lovelace. She’s certain that Albert will start an affair with her.

To seek some counsel, Victoria turns to Lord M, who’s a sight for sore eyes. As usual, he is wise and kind. Albert and Lord Peel don’t want her to see Lord M as he’s no longer in power as Prime Minister. Victoria argues that she’s just seeing him as a friend, not for political reasons, but Albert insists she’s naive, which doesn’t help the bumps in their marriage.

We glimpse Lord M as tired and not himself in his greenhouse, which foreshadows serious illness ahead.

Albert resists his father’s requests for money and ignores the reminders of his home region of Colberg’s many financial needs.

A young maid is hired, but must hide her Catholicism as Penge hates Catholics. This young girl gets spooked by a mysterious figure running through the house. Victoria’s undergarments have gone missing, which convinces the maid that the palace is haunted. By the end Victoria and Albert discover that a second child is on the way and we discover the ghost is really what Violet, I mean the Duchess of Buccleuch, calls a guttersnipe.

The costumes and settings were majestic and elegant. I enjoyed Jenna Coleman’s fiesty, yet vulnerable performance. The writing was good, though I hope the screenwriter could be freed from the need to add in Downton-esque elements. The show has plenty of its own merits it doesn’t need to pander to Downton fans. Downton fans are Masterpiece fans; let Victoria be Victoria.

Victoria, Season 2 Begins

Crazed Fruit

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When I picked Crazed Fruit (1956) out at the library, I had no idea what it was about our who the director, Ko Nakahira was. Until recently, the only directors I knew were Ozu and Kurosawa. I’ve learned Japan has produced many masterful filmmakers.

Crazed Fruit takes place in the late 1950s when Japan is getting prosperous, at least the elite are. The main characters are two brothers from a wealthy family. The brothers, Natsuhisha and Haruji, spend their summer with their fellow rich kids gambling, smoking, drinking, fighting and going after girls. Another occupation is complaining about how their college professors know nothing and how their futures are meaningless. While it’s becoming an economic wonder, Japan doesn’t offer any outlet for their passions.

When the brothers arrive at the train station en route to their pal’s summer house, they see Eri, a beautiful, alluring young woman. Haruji, who’s the young, innocent brother, is smitten, but his brother, who’s quite the lover boy, pulls him away so they can hurry over to their friends.

The next day while out on a boat, they notice a girl in the water. It turns out to be Eri. Soon both boys are smitten and don’t really care or, in the case of Haruji, know, that Eri’s married to a much older, prosperous Western man.

Haruji innocently courts Eri, who always has an excuse why she can’t be picked up at home. The scenes with Haruji and Eri are tastefully sensual. The camera captures their desire as they lie next to each other sunbathing on the rocks by the sea in a way that’s exquisite. It’s a much more compelling than any sex scene I’ve seen in 10 years or more. Nakahira is a master, who deserves to be studies by every filmmaker and film lover.

Soon Natsuhisha becomes obsessed with Eri. He finds her house and sees her husband. He promises to keep her Western husband a secret from Haruji if Eri will have sex with him. She agrees. Eri’s character is hinted at rather than well defined. She’s a mystery and unlike other characters. She’s insulted and angry, but also willing. Natsuhisha exudes animal chemistry and she finds him more than satisfying in the bedroom. Eri seems to want to keep her three men, to keep those relationships separate, but to keep them. Of course, this is impossible

The film, which is based on a novel by Ishihara, broke new ground in depicting sensuality and the abandonment of traditional morality among rich youth. At the time, though people’s own mores had changed, film had not. Japanese films tended to uphold traditional morals. While the tragic ending in Crazed Fruit certainly doesn’t promote the lifestyle or choices of the idle rich, it did shock the elders at the cinema.

Crazed Fruit was conceived and produced to be a low budget, teen flick that would cash in at the box office. The story, in Nakahira’s hands, is a beautiful classic.

The Criterion Collection offers two thoughtful essays on Crazed Fruit. The commentary by Japan film expert Donald Richie greatly enhances the film as he explains the social context and context of this film within Japanese filmmaking.

 

Dragnet Girl

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Dragnet Girl: Joji (l) and Tokiko (r)

Director Ozu’s Dragnet Girl is an absorbing silent film about Tokiko,a gangster moll, who becomes jealous when Joji, her boyfriend, gets a case of the wandering eye. Tokiko looks as sweet as can be, but actually she’s quite a coquette. She works at a company by day and the boss’s son is smitten with her plying her with expensive gifts that she’s happy to take.

Her night’s are spent with Joji, the head of a small crime outfit that seems to fix boxing matches. Tokiko is Joji’s main squeeze. Selfish and extravagant, she’s quite brazen and disloyal as she’ll wear her boss’s gifts in front of Joji.

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Kazuko

When a high school boy, impressed with Joji’s flash and power, tries to join his gang, the boy’s sister, Kazuko, who’s simple and innocent, begs Joji to get her brother back on the straight and narrow. Joji’s instantly smitten with Kazuko. He starts hanging around her music shop and starts appreciating classical music and all that Kazuko, who pays him no mind, appreciates.

At first Tokiko dismisses her rival, but when she sees that Joji is changing for real she gets nervous. She goes as far as plotting to shoot Kazuko, but then she comes to appreciate Kazuko’s magnetic innocence. Tokiko is not to be trusted after telling Joji she wants to change and become more like her rival. She’s been branded as a delinquent and that label’s impossible to remove.

The film has the style of a noir classic and takes some interesting turns as Tokiko refuses to marry her boss and plots to rob him with Joji. It’s a beautiful simple film that didn’t need talking.