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Archive for the ‘Adolph Menjou’ Category

Forbidden

19 May

Forbidden – directed by Frank Capra. Drama. 83 minutes Black And White 1932

★★★★★

The Story: A small down librarian heads for the high-life and finds true love.

~

Imperturbably soigné is how we usually see Adolphe Menjou, tailored so perfectly you don’t even notice it – except here we peer under the togs and find an actor of chance.

He had moved from playing betrayed and betrayer of husbands in the Silents, and now in the Talkies, we find a character with perfect diction and a well placed voice. All of which is to the good when his tuxedo gives out to a warm heart inside it. Surprise, surprise!

An unusual love story, pre-code, in which that heart is given to his mistress, played by Barbara Stanwyck, whose heart is also true. But Menjou can’t marry her, or won’t, he says, because he is already married to a woman he is indebted to. Perhaps it is the case that he can’t divorce and remain a successful politician. In any case, what we have is a story that rings true in its execution at every turn. All I know is I care for both these people and have not a single word of advice for either of them. All I can do is watch.

A triangle is completed by Ralph Bellamy as a muck-raking journalist, with a mean streak that gets wider as the years elapse. It’s not his usual thudding part, and he is very good in his crudeness, energy, and drive for Stanwyck’s hand. Surprise, surprise!

The story takes them through the years. They age. And things get worse for all of them as they do. Surprise, surprise!

Each scene is beautiful Their romance at night horseback riding on the beach is one of the most stunning scenes I have ever seen in a film. And the big confrontation filmed outside in a downpour is emblematic of the hardship true lovers will put up with to be with one another. Again – no surprise –  because all of it filmed by Joseph Walker.

And, also no surprise, it is written by Capra’s standby Jo Swerling.

Stanwyck is interesting, vulnerable, raw. When speech fails, Capra uses her as Silent actress, and she never gets it wrong, too big, too broad, too much. Always just right. She was one of those actresses who was greatest when young. Here she is 24. Her name is now above the credits. It will never find itself anywhere else.

She and Capra made four films in a row together. Then, years later, Meet John Doe, a collaboration of masterworks, as fresh and true in their execution and playing as a glass of milk at dawn.

 

 

The State Of The Union

18 Jul

The State Of The Union – directed by Frank Capra. Political Drama. A self-made millionaire runs for president and ruins himself morally. 124 minutes Black and White 1948.

★★★★

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. She was a remarkable personality. He was an unremarkable one. She was a thoroughbred racing down the track with the blinders on. He was a garden variety Joe shambling along taking it all in. She was quick thinking and controlling. He was withdrawn and deliberating. Energetically they made a perfect couple because they could see into one another and you could see them do it and you could see that they didn’t mind being seen doing it. Theirs is a transparent cocktail. So a film with them presents, before one looks at it, the promise of a union that puts pat to one of the great American hatreds, snobbism. She was upper class, he was lower. They are equal opposite parts, and there is a democracy to them as a given. Knowing they are together in a film means we are to be presented with that common vision of fairness which is at the heart of the American character and vitality. Their popularity is the popularity of the audience themselves. The homogeneity of the heterodox, they are the melting pot itself. They are one from many. Claudette Colbert was slated to play the wife here as she was also slated to play Margo Channing in All About Eve, and, while she is a marvelous film actor, it is impossible to imagine these parts being played by anyone but the actors who did play them. Katharine Hepburn is particularly suited to this part if you consider her from the point of the enneagram, for her point is One, the one who is born right, and Hepburn’s is a woman who never veers from her sense of what is right, This sense drives the entire plot of the film, and without it the film would lack the foundation it possesses. Hepburn’s playing is superb – light, quick, agile, responsive, and natural. She is right without being righteous. She is most profound when funny, as Ones are, which makes her being right digestible, and she is most untrue when emotional which Ones also are, which makes her weeping scenes merely lachrymose. Hepburn seems to think that weeping is the Great Thing That Acting Requires, but when Hepburn tears up, her character goes out the window. Otherwise everything she does is on the money, down to the smallest detail. Just beware the trembling lip, folks. When she starts getting noble, head for the exits. Spenser Tracy, who plays the husband two-timing her, commands his part like a skipper; virtually every detail is believable. He’s funny and true, convinced and convincing, and it’s largely his film. The script from a Broadway success, feels jammed with repartee and wisecracks, overwritten and forced. Capra is a great director of crowd mayhem, but everybody yells a lot and delivers noble orations. It’s a bit thick, with a thickness made viscous by Victor Young’s taffy score. Angela Lansbury is but 22 when she plays the hardheaded, lascivious newspaper magnate who is having an affaire with Tracy and who instruments his presidential bid. The maturity of her bearing is almost sufficient, but she is helped by her costumes by Irene, and particularly by her hairdos by Sydney Guilaroff, who also does Hepburn’s hair and does it brilliantly, for this is not one of Hepburn’s slacks roles. Adolphe Menjou plays the campaign manager tellingly and Van Johnson, in one of his great sardonic roles, plays the press agent. Capra made few films after the war, for after the war America was no longer corn-fed. But if you like the writing of Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Men, The Newsroom, The Social Network), as I do, you will be very happy watching The State Of The Union.

 

 

CAFÉ METROPOLE

25 Jul

Café Metropole – Directed by Edward H. Griffith. High Comedy. A Paris debt-ridden restaurateur strong-arms a dead-beat young man to romance a millionaire’s daughter. 83 minutes Black and White 1937

* * * * *

When an actress complained to the photographer Lucien Andriot that he didn’t photograph her as well as he did five years ago, he said, “Well, my dear, I am five years older now.” The wit of his filming of this masterpiece of 30s comedy immensely nourishes the vigor of what passes before our delighted eyes. This is one of the funniest films I have ever seen, Its plot is mobilized by the roguish mustaches of Adolphe Menjou who forces Tyrone Power to impersonate a Russian Duke to impress the family of an American millionaire, played by Charles Winninger, and by Helen Westley, who doesn’t miss a comic trick, and by Loretta Young who is one game gal as the rich man’s daughter, delighted to be taken in by the deception. You’ve got to see how well she looks in clothes. Remember? They are the most gorgeous rigs you have ever seen. No one ever dressed like that except in the movies – which is why we went to the movies, isn’t it? Gregory Ratoff, who also stars in this, also wrote the story, which is wonderful, but more wonderful still is the dialogue, written by Jacques Deval, who gives his characters some of the most mischievous lines ever heard in a motion picture. This is an essential film, perfectly executed to dispel dyspepsia, cancer, and war. Rely on it. It will also paint your house in an ideally brighter color and put all your dear children through Yale.

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The Marriage Circle

09 May

The Marriage Circle  — Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Farce. Her husband doesn’t love her so she sets her sights on her best friend’s. 85 minutes Silent Black and White 1924.

* * * *

In 1931 Samson Raphaelson was to write the remake of this shaky farce into Lubitsch’s enchanting musical with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald , and in 1950 Max Ophuls was to perpetuate his Lubitsch style of Viennese sex farce in La Ronde. Here the style is not quite mature because the film is silent and silence lends seriousness in a sex comedy to what it is important to understand is meant to be silly. Or perhaps his leading lady, the beauteous Florence Vidor, had insufficient self-security to have room for a sense of humor. No, that’s not fair: she plays the part perfectly and is perfectly cast as a lady. Or perhaps his leading man Monte Blue was too much of a rube to be fooling around in a tuxedo among the haute bourgeoisie. Certainly Blue is an odd piece of casting for a leading man. He has a face like a ram’s bottom and a talent for falling into violent giggles which, while endearing, is always out of place, as though it were an acting trick ordered in like a performing seal dragged into a wedding. No, that’s not fair either. The part is that of a feckless jackass; you can’t blame him; that’s what it is, and that’s the way he plays it. For the real problem lies with the script, which does not hold the water of probability sufficiently to retain our patience through all the shenanigans. On the other hand we have Marie Prevost as the calculating hussy whose machinations are cause of all the plot, the sub plot, the counter plot, the family plot, and the burial plot. She twists her slinky lips so, that it is no wonder no one wants to kiss them. But she’s a good actress too. She brings a sexual daring to the part that drives the whole thing along right smartly. Her husband is, however, the only one of the principals who belongs in this sort of material and, unlike the others, in no place else, the great Adolph Menjou, an actor of rare sophistication and a talent for wearing evening clothes that is incomparable. He is the only actor of the bunch who survived into talking pictures, in which he played principal parts for years, consummated as his turn in Man On A Tightrope in which Elia Kazan causes this actor, many times voted The Best Dressed Man In America, to lie on a couch calculating destruction and covered with the ash of the cigarette he is smoking. Here his playing the confrontation scene with Blue is priceless. He works with a hat, a cigarette, gloves, and cane, and, aged 34, eyes that know everything. It’s worth the price of admission; it’s worth a lot more than that, in fact. It’s a scene which every young actor in the world might observe and learn from.

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Stage Door

08 Mar

Stage Door — Directed by Gregory La Cava —  Comedy Melodrama. A boardinghouse for aspiring actresses is the poison bowl where an ambitious amateur and her hardbitten roommate machinate for success on The Great White Way. 92 minutes Black and White 1937.

* * * * *

If you like 30s movies with Fast Talkin’ Dames, this will make your eyeballs pop! Everyone is completely at home with the (proleptic of Altman) overlapping dialogue by Edna Ferber and George F. Kaufman who wrote Dinner at 8 and You Can’t Take It With You and this. A nifty gab-fest by world class reparteuses — Eve Arden, Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn, Ann Miller (ae 14), and Lucille Ball (who discovered her, ae 13). Hepburn’s hold on her public is never plainer than here, for she talks with an Hartford high society twang but she always levels with you. Her directness and her common sense are a passport in any country and any society. And Roger’s drunk scene is brilliantly played (and written) revealing that Jean, the lady with the snappy tongue, is a lot more ignorant of the ways of the world than she would have us believe. The ladies are catty, of course; indeed Eve Arden actually wears a live cat around her neck! The extras include a Lux Radio Broadcast with Rogers in her old part, Eve Arden in a different part, and Roz Russell in Hepburn’s part. Talk about collection of distinctive voices!  Talk about talk! Choice!

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Heartbeat

25 Feb

Heartbeat — Directed by Sam Wood — Melodrama. A  female juvenile delinquent enters high society.  100 minutes Black And White 1946

* * * *

Ginger Rogers was 35 when she played the part of a 17 year old here. I don’t know how well this movie did at the box office, but if it failed it might have been because the public who grew up with her knew perfectly well how old she was, because they were the same age as she was. Nevertheless, she is wonderful. The story is Oliver Twist with a female as Oliver, Basil Rathbone as Fagan, and so forth. We are to believe she has run away from a girls’ reformatory, and when she is soon thrust into the high life of Paris, watch what, as an actress, she chooses to play. She does not play innocence. She plays, I’m Not Used To This World, This Dress, This Handsome Ambassador. It’s a very shrewd choice, and a natural one. Her being found stealing Alolphe Menjou’s stick pin is delicious. She had this naturalness from the start of her career in pictures which began when she was 19 in 1930. The film is amusing and quirky throughout. And, boy, can she hold the screen. She had a naturalness and a sense of herself that drew you to her. Rogers was talented and hardworking: she was touring the country at age 14 as a Charleston Queen. By the time she started making musicals with Astaire she had 19 films under her belt. She understood film acting from the inside out. I think you’ll enjoy yourself with this off-beat Sam Wood piece.[ad#300×250]

 

Man On A TIghtrope

05 Feb

Man On A Tightrope – directed by Elia Kazan — Drama. The owner /ringmaster and his small touring circus fall afoul of The Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. 105 minutes black and white 1953.

* * * * *

Kazan was a high Virgo and while that means that he understood what was crucial, what was critical, it also means that he was highly critical of himself and his own work, and not always accurately. Thus his put-down of this work – an action adventure piece that actually comes alive completely in the bumbling escape attempt with which it ends. Man On A Tightrope is the best circus picture I have ever seen. Kazan adores the circus folk and their life, and really gets down with them. You see their color, their gypsy soul, their absurdity, their dignity, and their crazy fun. The story is based on the actual escape of a real circus from the Communists, and Kazan actually filmed this in Europe and actually uses that very circus in the film. He brings in Hollywood actors to play the principals, Alex D’Arcy, touching as the bashful lion-tamer, Gloria Grahame, once again as the girl who doesn’t want to say no, Richard Boone as the lumpen-heavy, Adolph Menjou covered with cigarette ash lying on a couch as he plays the bureaucrat out to outwit the owner, , and Frederic March as that owner. Kazan originally wanted March as Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman, which is strange because March is no more Willy Loman than my cat. He has too much inner stance. He is too middle-class. But he had used him in the original stage production of The Skin Of Our Teeth, a Kazan early triumph, when March told him, “Be careful with me. I tend to over-do,”  and which Kazan loved him for. It’s just wonderful how wonderful March could be. He is often miscast. He is not a sexually exciting actor. He doesn’t offer romance, even when young. But he can offer pain and its discombobulation and weakness. He can offer doubt. He offers the promise of middle-age, even when young, which means that he offers the values of a grown-up; at no point is he ever an adolescent. You have to take him seriously, even if you don’t particularly like him or don’t particularly like looking at his face, which is one thing you don’t have to do with a stage actor but do have to do with a movie actor. And you have to respect his technique which is displayed here with no showiness. Kazan, good naturedly said about March here that he had to keep Freddy from hamming it up, but March never seems in danger of doing that. Terry Moore, though, pushes it as the love interest with Cameron Mitchell, but that was the way she always was, and you wonder why Kazan allowed Zanuck to cast her. She’s a false note in a bad plot move, but the rest of the material is right on. What do you have to sacrifice to escape oppression is the theme. Perhaps Kazan didn’t quite realize it, but it’s a great theme. Too bad, but it’s still a marvelous piece, typical of Kazan in his love of actors, his spacious sympathies, and his phenomenal understand of human nature.

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Roxy Hart

04 Feb

Roxy Hart – Directed by WIlliamWellman – Comedy. A cunning, dim-brained doxy tries to get away with murder while everyone else in the country is getting away with murder. 75 minutes black and white 1942.

* * * * *

One of the funniest movies I have ever seen: an out-and-out American farce on American promotion, it’s relation to American justice, and the relation of both of them to American sex appeal. Adolph Menjou and Ginger Rogers head a cast of brilliant supporting performers, among whom we have Lynn Overman, Spring Byington, Sarah Algood, William Frawley, and George Montgomery. The piece is so well-written that all Sarah Algood has to do is stare fixedly at a newspaper and say the word “Children” for me to fall off my chair laughing. William Wellman directed it, whom one does not mainly associate with comedy, but, boy, he didn’t miss a trick here. He’s well aided in the editing to tell the story smartly. As to the actors, nobody misses a trick, either. Watch Ginger prepare to faint by hoisting up her skirt over her knees. It is based on a stage played called Chicago, and it eventually became a musical called Chicago, which can be credited for its big energy and color, plus the sacred bosom of Queen Latifa singing “You Gotta See Momma Every Night Or You Can’t See Momma At All”, but the delights of Roxy Hart itself, which is actually filmed closer in time to the Roaring Twenties, bring forward all the gum-snapping smart-alecky attitude of that era and also of the times we live in now, with its easy remorselessness and eye-rolling acceptance of Madoff and The Money Boys. Wall Street today is so crass and unregenerate you gotta laugh. They’re getting away with it — the Civic Conscience reduced to a political cartoon in the papers. So here — except the cartoon goes on for over an hour. Rent it. Sit back in your seat. Ya gotta love it. Ya just gotta!

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