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.

Henry V

For my Great Books Book Club, I read and watched Shakespeare’s Henry V. I saw the 1989 film directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also adapted the play and starred in it.

Filled with intrigue, camaraderie, betrayal, battles and even wooing, Henry V is compelling. The best speech is this “We few, we happy few” band of brothers speech. It’s right at the climax of the film as the Brits are about to battle the French who far outnumber them. Like many speeches in Shakespeare it’s stirring and wise.

I did fast-forward through much of the battle scenes because they were authentically brutal, but at the same time true to life. While the film doesn’t contain every line from the play, it’s a faithful version and still packs a wallop and ends with a cute flirtation between Henry and the French princess. The end does have a very different tone than the main part of the film. Is that an error?

If so, I’ll forgive it because it gave another facet of Hennry’s personality.

Poldark, Final Season, Ep. 6

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Last week’s Poldark began with lots of romance, but then ended with tragedy. As the story opens, Morwenna’s in bed with Drake having gotten past all her rotten feelings about sex, caused by that lecherous first husband Ossie. Drake’s brother Sam is now wooing a pretty blond named Rosina. Yet treacherous Tess, whom I wish would disappear, is flirting with godly Sam, trying to tempt him with religion. How’s that for irony?

Ned’s in prison and Kitty’s been giving the guards bribe money to keep him safe. When Ned’s trial begins things don’t look good. Plenty of paid witnesses are lying on the stand. Ross is called to speak and gives a passionate testimony, but he went too far and sounded so rebellious that he probably did more harm than good. Dwight was urged to speak and now that he’s helped George and maybe one other person overcome mental illness, he’s an expert. He states that he’s sure that Ned’s mentally ill and didn’t mean to almost kill the King. What? Dwight, you must realize that an asylum for the mentally ill is arguably worse than death in 1800.

My biggest criticism of the episode and the one prior is how George is suddenly well. He has no more hallucinations or mental problems whatsoever. It doesn’t seem possible.

Ned Despard is a real historical figure. So the show can’t go to far from the truth. Ned did govern the British Hondura after his time fighting in the American Revolution. The real Ned Despard plotted to overturn the government and kill King George III. In the show Ned seems innocent, while history says he wasn’t. So the show departed from history and I can see that the highest punishment would be meted out for treason.

Cecily’s father arranges for her to marry George as soon as possible. George can never love any woman as much as he did Elizabeth, but he’s practical and a lady in the house would help with the kids as well as bring more into the world. Cecily and Geoffrey Charles must elope and they do run away, but are caught.

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Ross plans to break Ned out of jail with the help of Dwight, whose wife Caroline insists he goes along. Caroline usually pines for Dwight to stay home with her or to take her to London, but she also has high principles.

Cecily and George’s grim wedding begins. There’s to be no party and the guests present are her father, George’s Uncle Cary, Valentine and a lady who must work at the church. Geoffrey Charles burst in and almost stops the wedding. He’s carried out, but before he leaves, Cecily lies and says that she was intimate with Geoffrey Charles, who then tells George that he’ll never know if his first born is really his or Geoffrey Charles’ child. That ends the wedding. (Though George is pretty cold hearted and could wait to make sure, so this plot twist could have been better.)

After risking everything Ned tells Ross he’s not going to escape. This is an odd turn of events and weakened the plot for me. Ned has to be executed since that’s the history, but then just have him go off to his sentence rather than add this part.

While I do wonder what’s next for Ross and Demelza, I’m very curious to know what will happen to Cecily and Geoffrey Charles. My guess is her father will kick her out and they’ll elope, but you never know.

The episode had lots of change and action, but there is something about this season that seems off. I suppose I can’t get past the difference between Winston Graham’s stories and the original ones written this year by Deborah Hosfield, who’s a wonderful writer, but there’s a difference between adapting and creating.

 

The Music Man

The Goodman Theater offers solid brass band entertainment in Mary Zimmerman’s production of The Music Man. One of the top American musicals in my book The Music Man tells the story of con man Prof. Harold Hill comes to small town Iowa to cheat the townsfolk of their hard earned cash by promising them their boys will avoid the evils of the pool hall, a veritable den of inequity, if they just entrust them to him. For the price of instruments, sheet music, and uniforms, Prof. Hill will soon have these children’s virtue in place and they’ll be able to play beautiful music to boot.

The town’s mayor, who owns the new pool hall and the spinster librarian, Marian are among the most skeptical. Hill aims to win them over, though it won’t be easy. Marian won’t be the first skeptical lady his charm has won over.

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With a full orchestra, solid dancing and tunes like “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Trouble,” “Good Night My Someone” and “Till There Was You” The Music Man knocks it out of the park.

The Chicago Tribune’s reviewer thought the show’s star couple lacked chemistry. Perhaps they weren’t the most electric couple in musical theater, but they did a good job and with these songs, the colorful costumes, creative set, and familiar story, this production won me over.

The theater was quite full and some shows have already sold out. I urge you not to miss this summer’s The Music Man.

All That Heaven Allows

The trailer promises “torture and ecstasy.” Maybe.

I don’t mean I didn’t enjoy All that Heaven Allows (1955) starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson as a November – June romance, but the movie does swerve into the melodrama lane as the ad suggests.

The movie opens with wealthy widow Cary (Wyman) getting urged to attend a party by her friend Sara (played by Bewitched’s Agnes Morehead). Cary’s got to fend off loneliness after all. Sara later urges Cary to get a television set as that’s a good companion. At a country club party, Cary and the audience are bored by the snobbish guests who idolize convention.

Then young and handsome Ron enters Cary’s life and soon they’re in love. A gardener by trade, Ron prefers a simple, outdoorsy life. His friends admire his down-to-earth value system. As time goes by, Ron proposes and Cary wants her friends and college age kids to know about her relationship.

A beautiful middle-aged woman and a young man?! This pair sends shockwaves through the town. Cary’s friends are vicious towards Ron. Her children through adolescent tantrums. What are you thinking? Do you know how this looks?

Cary has to choose between her secure past and a romantic future.

The film took on a fresh situation. Questions like does Ron want children? aren’t addressed as the main theme is the effects of snobbery and convention. Sometimes the dialog was laid on thick and wanted to tell the director “I know what you’re driving at so you don’t need to be so obvious.” All in all, I was pulled into the story and happy to stick with it.

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.

 

 

The Smiling Lieutenant

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I only knew Maurice Chevalier from “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” from Gigi. However, I discovered his much earlier film The Smiling Lieutenant, 1931 a grand farce. If you like silly old time films with romance, you’ll like this. Chevalier plays a young lieutenant who’s quite a flirt. At the start of the film, his superior comes to him bemoaning how he loves a sweet young thing in spite of loving his wife. Chevalier’s Niki advises him to stick with his wife, and shortly thereafter Niki is wooing the sweet young Franzi, played by Claudette Colbert. Franzi is a modern woman who’s fine with “free love.” I hadn’t seen a 1930s woman with such a character.

Niki and Franzi fall madly in love, but trouble ensues when Niki accidentally waves at a sheltered princess from a small province. Her father a prince feels disrespected and immediately interrogates Niki. Before you know it, Niki saves his skin by talking his way into a shotgun wedding to the princess. What to do?

On the wedding night and during the honeymoon phase, Niki breaks the princess’ heart by keeping his distance from her and slipping off for rendezvous with Franzi.

It’s not the usual romance. I kept wondering how the story would end happily. While the film was a little sillier than I like, it was fun and different. There are several light-hearted songs which enhanced the film. I did think it was odd that Chevalier is supposed to be a native of Vienna though he speaks with his usual distinct French accent.

All in all, it was a fun film, though not a masterpiece.

Flambards

flambardsLast week I watched an old favorite, Flambards, a British historical drama set in 1910. I first saw this 1979 program in the 80’s and I wondered whether it was available on DVD. Thankfully through my library’s network, I could get them.

In this post-Downton Abbey or Poldark era, I thought perhaps I wouldn’t like Flambards as much as I remembered. While the film seems fuzzy and the sets aren’t as dazzling, I love this program.

Flambards begins with Christina, an orphan who’s been shuffled from aunt to aunt, comes to her uncle’s home. Confined to a wheelchair, Uncle Russell is gruff on a good day. He wakes up and goes to bed barking orders. The rest of the day he’s usually shouting or plotting while drinking port.

When Christina arrives in town, no one’s there to pick her up at the train. Only her cousin William remembered she was coming. Will and Christina are kindred spirits, but Mark, Will’s older brother, is an egotistical, status-conscious, hard drinking churl. Christina’s horrified to learn that the plan is that when she turns 21 in six years, she’s to inherit her money and would then marry Mark so her money may be used to prop up the Flambards estate.

A major conflict in the story is between Mark, the churl, who lives for fox hunting and drinking, and William, the younger brother, who’s fascinated by flying machines, and all things modern. Christina feels both challenged and safe around William, whereas Mark frustrates and maddens her.

Another crucial character is Dick, a stable worker, who teaches Christina to ride. He’s sweet on her, but well aware of his place. Christiana treats Dick as an equal forgetting the class difference. Will tries to get Dick to stop calling him “sir” because he doesn’t support the rigid class structure, but Will sees that such a gesture doesn’t really change anything. After helping Christiana save her old horse from getting eaten by the hounds, Will’s dismissed. The injustice is clear and swift. Though Christina owns up to her part, i.e. she came up with the plan and participated in it as much as Will or Dick, Dick is the online to pay a price. We see how cruel men like Uncle Russel could be, how they used their power.

Flambards has romance, history and conflict, i.e. all the ingredients I need in a good drama. Based on a novel by K.M. Peyton, Flambards is an ideal candidate for a remake. It worked for Poldark, for which next season is its last. The same writer should take on Flambards.

Look – I think you can watch Flambards here.

 

 

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.

Only Yesterday

When 27 year old Taeko takes a vacation from her office job in Tokyo, childhood memories flood in, making the young woman take stock of her life. Taeko loves the countryside and jumps into working in the fields with her grandmother. This passion mystifies her sisters.

In the country, Taeko is haunted by memories from her 5th grade self. She looks back at the gossiping classmates, her outsider status at home and how she missed out on a chance to act because her father disproved of theatrics. She was and still is a dreamer, who was at times, kind, selfish, a follower, a betrayer and a doormat. In essence, Taeko lived through the slings and arrows of tween life.

Romance almost buds when Taeko meets Toshio, a young farmer who’s left the city to start an organic farm, before most people had heard of them. Toshio and Taeko have a bond and become fast friends. They both love rural life, but when urged to consider Toshio in terms of romance, Taeko can’t handle it.

This animated film has lush, detailed illustrations of scenery. Seeing the homes, the trains, forest and details like the burners for mosquito repellant, the tea kettle or kerosene heaters, makes me remember my time in Japan. I thought the artists drew the children better than the older characters, but that is a mild criticism. Also, I wish they had kept this film in Japanese and had subtitles or offered a choice for dubbing. That way, I could have escaped into the movie further still. All in all, Only Yesterday is a beautiful film that’s best considered as a contemplation of the past. The ending isn’t very satisfying, but I think viewers should consider this a depiction of a life, rather than a story with a definite end.