Auntie Mame

I can’t think of a more vibrant, exuberant character than Auntie Mame played by Rosalind Russell.

“Live! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

When young Patrick’s father dies, he’s sent to live with his vivacious Auntie Mame. Before you know it, he’s stirring the perfect martini and at a progressive school where clothing is optional. His trustee Mr. Babcock is appalled and Patrick is shipped off to a boarding school but gets to spend every holiday with his only living relative Auntie Mame, a free-spirit and free-thinker.

Sally Cato: [before a fox-hunt] Well? Shall we to the hounds?
Mame Dennis: [muttering] Yeah, I’d love to meet your family.

When the market crashes, Mame loses her fortune and takes on a variety of jobs which she botches with aplomb. All looks bleak till Game meets an oil tycoon from Texas who soon marries her after she defies his family’s efforts to ridicule her.

The film delights from start to finish. Same does face her share of slings and arrows and always faces them with courage, charm and wit. I haven’t seen this film in years and found it one of the most delightful films I’ve seen in years. I’d say this is a perfect film. I must find more of Rosalind Russell’s films, though I fear few films can match or exceed this comedic masterpiece.

Les Misérables, Ep. 5

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While I like Les Misérables, and the novel’s one of my favorite books, there’s some je nes sais quoi aspect that is missing in this production. Perhaps I can’t help but compare a Les Misérables production to the musical, but then why am I completely satisfied with the classics with Michel Simon and Jean Gabin? I watched them after reading the book or seeing the musical and was swept up by the stories. With this version, I’m a bit detached.

This week resumes with Cosette pining for Marius, who’s rather mopey in my opinion. Marius’ friends led by Enjolras decide to seize the moment of General LaMarque’s funeral to start a revolution that will bring about the social change they seek, i.e. better treatment for the poor. Marius is teased for being so in love that he can’t focus on a revolution.

The penniless Marius decides to eat crow and visit his awful grandfather to ask permission to marry. The old man scoffs and just suggests Marius put the girl gramps believes is a pauper up in an apartment and amuse himself till it’s time to marry for status and wealth. Gramps is simply advising Marius to do what he did. To his credit, Marius is appalled and vows to never cross the threshold of his grandfather’s mansion.

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After escaping from jail, Éponine finds Marius and promises to give Cosette a letter from him. Though she’s in love with Marius, she’s willing to aid his love for her rival. She confronts her evil, abusive father in her efforts and while for a time hides Cosette’s new address she eventually tells Marius all and even sacrifices her life for him. The problem with this production was that the love Éponine shows looks so thin. I wondered why she died so Marius, who’s a bit of a wet noodle, could live.

The funeral procession seemed less epic, and probably more authentic, than in the musical. All hell does break loose, but this rush to the barricades didn’t have the impact on me as a viewer as other productions did.

Javert continues to obsessively want to capture Jean Valjean more than he wants to quell a rebellion. This time I wanted a colleague or superior to knock him over the head or ship him off to an asylum.

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Jean Valjean fears Thenardiér and the police and plans to leave France after a few days at a new secret apartment. In addition to retrieving the fortune he’s stashed in the woods, he has to deal with Cosette’s teenage rebellion. Like all her age, she can’t see that her love isn’t quite as important as saving her adopted father’s life. Well, it’s almost excusable as she’s not fully aware of Jean Valjean’s situation. But she does know enough. She’s the one who cleaned his wounds after his fight with Thenardiér’s thugs. He has told her he was in prison. She must remember how he saved her from abuse and neglect.

The episode takes us up to Jean Valjean arriving at the barricade. He’s finally discovered Cosette’s secret romance and selflessly goes to help Marius.

For the most part, Masterpiece has followed Hugo’s story, but as I said something’s missing. Je souhaite que je nouveau quoi.

Les Misérables, Ep 2

lily les misLast night was the second episode of the Masterpiece/BBC production of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. I knew what was coming. I knew that Fantine was in for a tough timethis week. Her lover Felix had agandoned her and their baby Cosette and Fantine had no family or skills to support her well.

Last night we saw Madame Thenardier for the first time. Olivia Colman’s portrayal is both lusty as you’d expect, but also more likable because unlike the novel or the films, this Madame Thenardier tells her disreputable husband that he should be more honest because by getting a reputation for honesty, their inn would prosper. He slaps her for this. Later, another character makes the same point. I’m not sure why this production chose to white wash Madam Thenardier’s character when earlier productions succeeded with the character depicted as shown in the book.

As anyone who’s seen the films or read the novel know, in the next chapters Fantine experiences great hardship. She’s truly one of the “Les Misérables.” Though I wanted to be strong, I did have to look away at at one time mute the TV as Fantine’s fate takes a turn for the very worse.

The episode was unstinting in its depiction of Fantine’s fall. In fact the scribbler she uses to read letters from the Thenardier’s treats Fantine horribly suggesting, if not urging her to sell herself and criticizing her for selling her “assets,” i.e. her hair and teeth, before she turned to prostitution because with her cropped hair and toothless smile, she’s a less desirable object . . . . Ugh.

Fantine’s fall is worse than Jean Valjean’s and part of this is due to her extreme naivety. She never questions the Thenardier’s who constantly ask for more money to care for Cosette. She leaves her daughter with absolute strangers, though in this day there were orphanages for children with living parents. That would be the better route. In the book we’re told that Fantine had no parents at all and just grew up wandering about her small town and getting food, clothing and shelter from whoever felt generous. (Not sure why she wasn’t in an orphanage.) So that information explains a lot about why Fantine lacks common sense and has no one, no aunt, cousin, parent, etc. to turn to for help.

Cleaned up and dignified, Jean Valjean has moved upward gaining wealth and power now that his factory is prospering and he’s become mayor. The people love him. But soon Jalvert turns up and recognizes his old prisoner. Naturally Valjean gets nervous, but he remains true to the Bishop. He’s found God and honesty, though he still errors (in terms of firing Fantine, mainly because he didn’t know her full story). This production does a better job than the musical showing how much Valjean agonizes over saving the thief who’s about to die in his place. The musical certainly shows us how easy it would be for Jean Valjean to keep quiet and continue to live his new life, but this drama accentuates the dilemma.

There’s one sequence with Marius as a young boy. Somehow time hasn’t effected him as much as it has Cosette. His growth is a lot slower than hers in the interim between this and last week. Anyway, what struck me was the powered wig he sports and is worn by his grandpa and his cronies. It’s a stark, grandiose contrast to the prosperous Jean Valjean’s hair. I can’t remember if Hugo’s book makes the upperclass this contemptible.

All in all, I’m enjoyed episode 2, though it had some scenes of great suffering that I couldn’t bear. Things are bad, but not this bad in the weeks ahead. I will add that this is not an episode I advise kids watching. It might even be considered R rated for Fantine’s struggles in the streets.

 

Human Condition, II

HUMAN CONDITION

Tatsuya Nakadai as Kaji

Part two of Kobayashi’s trilogy Human Condition maintains the excellence of the first film. Here the hero Kaji is a private in the military. It seems no one on the face of the earth faces more degradation than a WWII Japanese private. Kaji’s particularly targeted because he’s suspect of being a “Red” since he tried to get humane treatment for the Chinese P.O.W.’s stationed at the mine he managed.

The “vets” or soldiers with more experience are merciless in their brutality against the newer recruits. In fact, the sensitive Obara, who’s physically weak and plagued by domestic problems, is beaten and humiliated in a way I’ve never witnessed. While Kaji tries to help, that makes matters worse for Obara who commits suicide rather early on in this three hour film.

Although Kaji is strong and performs his duties without failure, because of his principles, he’s berated and targeted. In no uncertain terms, the film indicts the Japanese military, where a few good men are outnumbered by corrupt brutes. Even when he was in the hospital, he was beaten. The head nurse thought nothing of striking patients!

As in Human Condition, part 1, Tatsuya Nakadai, who plays Kaji, is stellar. I just learned that he was a shop clerk and Koyabashi, the director of Human Condition, discovered him and put him in a film.

Victoria, Season 2, Week 5

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The King over the Water

The episode begins with an assassination attempt while Victoria and Albert are out for a carriage ride. When talking with Lord Peel, the PM, Victoria suggests she smoke out the assassin by going for another carriage ride. Albert’s astonished and thinks it’s foolish, but Peel agrees and admires the queen all the more for her courage. Seems like a genius double win for Victoria.

So off they go for another ride and this time Victoria’s got a super, bullet-proof parasol, which Albert made. He sure is handy.

The assassin, who’s an unfortunate, poor man with a club foot and a hump back, again tried to shoot the queen. He was quickly arrested and the palace security is increased, which is tedious.

Needing a change of pace, Victoria proposes a trip to Scotland, where she always wished she could go when she was growing up. Off they go to a Duke’s home where there’s lots of “foreign” food and dancing in the woods. Still as host, the Duke keeps a tight schedule including the blaring of bagpipes for an alarm clock and mind-numbingly boring poetry readings for the visit.

To cure the boredom, while on an outing, Victoria and Albert quickly tell the Duke they’re riding home separately. Albert assures the Duke they’ll be fine because he has a great sense of direction. (Famous last words.) Off they gallop into the highlands. We’re treated to beautiful scenery.

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Scenic Schotland – I’d love to see this

Turns out Albert’s sense of direction isn’t that keen. With no compass or map and with gray clouds looming, our royals realize they’re lost. No matter which way they turn, they can’t find the way back to the castle. As night falls, they realize they must find shelter and wide up staying with an old crotchety couple in their cottage. Plenty of humor is drawn from the peasant farmer and his wife not knowing who their visitors are. Victoria learns to darn socks and Albert tells the farmer that he works at a big factory. The night is a true vacation from their real roles. (This trip with the night in the cottage is pure fiction. Victoria’s diaries show no such experience and there’s no reason her daughter would have expunged it.)

At the castle everyone’s in a state because the queen is lost. The next day, Victoria and Albert are “rescued” by dozens of guards and soldiers. The farmer and his wife learn that they were hosting royals.

As for some subplots:

  • Mrs. Skerret dances night after night with a dashing Scottish lad, who’s smitten. She will not let him write to her in London. So she’s leaving herself open to Mr. Francatelli’s advances, though she’s also been snippy with him.
  • Ernst, who’s seemingly come to terms with his illness, offers Harriet, his lover, condolences for her husband’s death. She’s in no mood for this and rebuffs him. Their relationship is dead though Harriet doesn’t know Ernst has syphilis. So we’re treated to this impossible tension about a relationship that can’t be. It’s tough being all all-knowing spectator. We can try calling out to the TV, but we know that doesn’t work.
  • The assassin, a character based on “Hunchback William Bean,” gets off lightly with a jail sentence rather than execution since there were no bullets in his gun. He was homeless and prison was a home.
  • The Duchess hoomphs and comments sourly once or twice, so nothing’s moving forward there. She doesn’t get lines that are all that funny. A lot of the dialog, that’s meant to be funny is just cliché.
  • The two gay noblemen have a romantic moment in the Highlands, though the blonde man is quite jealous that his lover is engaged to be married. I can see the jealousy, but doubt anyone in his shoes would be surprised. I bet what would normally happen is both men would marry and they’d carry on their relationship in secret. The only thing that would endanger the situation would be if one had to move far from the other because of family property that had to be managed.
  • Albert is increasingly critical of Lehzen, Victoria’s maid and governess. She wasn’t allowed to go to Scotland. Albert sees her as a threat and doesn’t like how she does things.

After the serious Irish Potato Famine episode, this week we had a pastoral vacation and some light entertainment. While the assignation attempt was real, the night at the farm wasn’t. Thanks to the Internet we can know what’s historic and what’s not and enjoy a night of fine British drama.

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

the collection

I gave Masterpiece’s The Collection a try when it premiered on Sunday. It didn’t take long for me to grow tired of a program where the characters all seemed dark, greedy and selfish. I confess after 10 minutes or so I changed the channel.

The show is about a struggling fashion house in Paris after WWII. The man in the center of the video’s first frame is the jaded, selfish owner of a fashion house is asked by a government official to help France’s fashion industry rise again to its former zenith.  To his left is his reprobate brother who’s a talented designer who’s got substance abuse problems.

I’d much rather PBS brought back The Paradise, where the characters were flawed and faced obstacles, but the heroine was good, though not at all boring. Dark characters like those in House of Cards or The Collection aren’t necessarily fascinating.

If I got the show wrong, and should give it a chance by catching up online, let me know.

Mr Selfridge Finale, Part 1

In the US, we got episodes 9 and 10 together for our finale.

So I came to them with great anticipation. We’ve known that Nancy’s a con artist and that Loxley’s scheming to get even with Harry for helping Mae, his ex-wife, though Loxley’s so one dimensional, it annoys me. The less screen time he gets the better. Many viewers have read about Harry’s life in Woodhouse’s Shopping, Selfridge and Mr Selfridge and we know that after Rose died, Harry’s life began to unravel as he became more indulgent and reckless. So far this season we haven’t seen too much of that — yet.

Harry’s got a lot on the line as he’s started a price war to make good on the promise to his board to get them a 10% dividend. Loxley’s circling the waters hoping to bring Harry down. As for romance, Harry’s proposed to Nancy completely unaware that she’s a con artist. Granted she seems to be falling for Harry, but she’s still too cunning for my tastes. How I wish Mamma Selfridge or Princess Marie would go to the Information Bureau and have her looked up! Or Violette. She seems to have her suspicions.

This season isn’t the program’s best. It feels like they’ve gotten new writers to take over and they don’t have a sense of what viewers like me want.

The episode begins with Harry showing everyone a warehouse of goods that they must sell so he can keep his board members happy. Everyone rises to the occasion, which does show a devotion to the game of retail and to Harry himself. It reminds me of The Paradise and I would get caught up in the glamor of shopping and sales. There was an art to this business, which is sadly fallen by the wayside.

Loxley, who’s name must be synonymous with unctuous, has a fit when he reads in the paper that Lady Mae, his ex-wife is going to get married. The scene came off as rather over-the-top in terms of emotion. Loxley is meant to be a character your hate, but mainly he’s become a caricature. He then calls a meeting with two board members who for some reason see him as worth listening to. Why? The man’s clearly unscrupulous and was losing money himself until he started profiteering.

Harry stops a supplier from overcharging Nancy who’s buying lumber for houses she didn’t plan to build. In the car to the store she admires his bargaining prowess. He’s saved her. Swoon. Then things go pear-shaped as the car approaches the store. Protestors outside pelt Harry and Nancy with eggs. If you don’t like a business practice, boycott the sale. There’s no reason to get nasty. But this barbarism results in Harry deciding he needs a new head of security and since George needs a new job . . .

So George gets a job as head of security back at Selfridges, where he belongs.

Princess Marie informs Harry that she’s gotten delivery of her family jewels. She can now wipe the slate clean and carry her weight financially. Harry brushes aside any thoughts of repayment. Harry confesses that he and Nancy are secretly engaged, which sets off the princess’ radar. She’s leery of Nancy Webb, so she does some detective work. She discovers that Nancy’s architect is a fraud when she sees him hocking the engagement ring Harry gave Nancy. This storyline has gotten tense. It seems the truth about Nancy will come out and it’ll devastate Harry.

Billy, the biological father of Doris and Mr Groves’ son Ernest, stops by unannounced to visit Ernest. Mr Groves sent him packing and later chewed out Miss Mardle for interfering, which she did do. She responds by calling Groves a hypocrite and criticizing him for seeing things in black and white. She had a point, but could have been more humble. After all, her meddling led to Doris’ death. This storyline has seemed forced. Doris getting hit by the car and having an affair seemed dreamt up to add Drama! The scene where Mr Groves and Miss Mardle have it out, seemed, like many this season, to be forced and unnatural.

The French aviator, who’s something of a churl, takes Violette out on a date — to Victor’s to “play out past history” if you believe what he says. She would have guessed as much before she gets to the alley where Victor’s club is, but never mind. It’s boorish in the extreme to flaunt that you’re going out with someone in front of your or their past love. Violette is extremely uncomfortable and should run from this sadistic man. He completely lacks insight or sensitivity when it comes to women. Violette is a strong-willed woman so even though her father’s meddled in her love life and said Victor’s off-limits, I don’t get that she feels she must go out with Jacques. At home Harry consoles Violette, who for some unknown reason feels she must marry this Jacques though she’s young and attractive. It’s just bizarre. Why does she feel so hopeless? Her mother didn’t marry till she was in her 30s. I doubt Violette’s that old.

Gordon vows to tell his father that he loves Grace. She’d put an end to their romance after Mr. Crabbe caught them kissing.

Mr. Grove consents to allow Billy to visit his son once a month. I do wonder if Billy would continue to visit if at some point he meets a new girl . . . .

Loxley manipulates the board members, who’re putty in his hands, into calling an emergency board meeting. Mr. Crabb gets hysterical, but Harry’s ready for them. He knows he could be ousted and in the end has the last laugh by not showing up. There’s a clause in the store’s by laws that says he can postpone a board meeting for two weeks. So he does.

Mr Selfridge Season 2 Finale, Part 2 Comments

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The second part of the finale in the US (or episode 10 in Britain) begins with lively conversation at the Selfridge dinner table and Rose asking everyone to count on a traditional family dinner for Thanksgiving. The girls and Harry’s mother are back and the mood is elated. Then the mopey musician, Florian, knocks on Miss Mardle’s door. He asks about why she’s ending their affair and she explains it’s age. Really, I just don’t see this earnest violist as making anyone all that happy. It seems a matter of convenience. Whoever the agency would have sent would eventually have wooed Miss Mardle.

Harry has quite a morning. First Henri learns the charges in the U.S. are all dropped so he’ll sign up to go off to war for the French. Given what he knows about how the war is really going, I’d expect Harry to sit his friend down and try to talk him out of fighting. A little later both Agnes and Victor resign as they’re getting married while George is on leave. Like last season’s finale, Harry loses a lot of those he counts on at once. He did offer Agnes the chance to stay on, which she refused. Big mistake Agnes. Though the real Selfridge seemed more conservative and didn’t hire or promote as many women as we see on the show, this chance to bend the British rules of not letting married women work should have been considered.

The Palm Court looks elegant and I wish department stores had such lovely restaurants, not only food courts. Henri goes to Victor to apologize for speaking out of turn about Agnes’ belief in George’s well being when he was missing. He also mentioned that he’s signing up for the army. I did notice that Victor didn’t apologize for grabbing Henri’s arm and almost coming to blows. This is one reason I’ve wanted Agnes to choose Henri. She was upset to learn that Henri’s off to fight. She does care.

The saddest thread of the story is Rose’s diagnosis. Her doctor tells her her condition is fatal. We don’t get all the details. We just get stunned as she does. The scene in the doctor’s office is short and well done. Just enough to convey the severity and provide tension.

George is overwhelmed by his colleagues as the flock around him when he visits the store. They mean well, but a mob is not what he needs. Gordon saves George saying that he should go talk with his father. I wish Henri and Gordon, who’s so keen to serve, sat in on this talk. George describes refers to the horrors of war. News and letters are censored so the public’s in the dark about the truth. It’s still a bit oblique. I wish he’d gone into more detail since we don’t see actual battle scenes. That could have been more powerful. By the end, George has inspired the store’s new displays “The Comforts of Home” about all the things that keep the soldiers going. Agnes’ swan song.

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Catching Up: Mr Selfridge Episode 8

Harry returns, the press descends

Harry’s back!

May 4th Americans saw Harry Selfridge return to chaos at home. Loxley has framed him for a scandal with the military procurement committee so it looks like he profited by getting the Brits shoddy boots for their soldiers. Not a word of truth in that, but no one will believe him and only The Times prints his side of the story. On top of that, Henri LeClair is being held at the American Embassy since he’s suspected of embezzlement.

Harry bravely enters his store through the front past the vultures or journalists await. He’s determined to face things head on. The store’s dead. Few customers want to shop in a store with this black cloud hanging over it and raving protesters outside accosting all who enter.

Till now I hadn’t realized how many fresh flowers there were in the store. How lovely! I grow more nostalgic each week.

Lady Mae is at a posh hotel with her maid, who informs her that her bank draft was refused and the hotel wants its money. Mae plans to sell the jewels she stored in the safe deposit box. Married to Lord Loxley, she should have store more and loads of cash for years in banks all over the city if possible.

Snake in the grass, Delphine, who I think is worse that Mr Thackeray, visits Rose to get the scoop on Harry’s return and to offer to cheer Harry up with “stardust,” i.e. a dash of Hollywood. Rose handles her perfectly. She’s friendly, but skeptical in a way that’s not rude, but sincerely shows that Delphine’s help with Harry isn’t needed. Rose isn’t going to stop Delphine’s plan, which shows confidence in Harry and in herself.

With friends like these, Rose . . .

Harry debriefs Bill Summertime apprising him of how met with a German manufacturer who’ll help the Brits and mentioning how the Germans questioned him for hours and ransacked his room. Bill offers little appreciation and no help whatsoever with the problem with the boot scandal.

Harry does speak to his staff assuring them that Frank wrote a pack of lies and that he’d get to the bottom of this. Neither Frank nor Rose have had great luck with friends in London.

Continue reading “Catching Up: Mr Selfridge Episode 8”