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Archive for the ‘Burgess Meredith’ Category

Idiot’s Delight

18 Jan

Idiot’s Delight — directed by   Clarence Brown — a comedy about a pack of vaudeville players and assorted types trapped in a European mountain resort as WWII breaks out around them.  107 minutes  black and white 1939.

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Clark Gable. He had a foundation of great masculinity, great presence, and great authority. So we who grew up with him in his heyday overlooked what a superb and various actor in the technical sense he always was. He loved being an actor. He trained hard for it. He made sacrifices to learn it. He took it seriously. We who saw him in his film heyday did not know that. What we knew was his extraordinary natural foundation of masculinity, presence, and authority. But here one would have to say that Gable really carries the picture on his acting alone, because, while Norma Shearer is rather good in the Garbo take-off, which dominates the central portion of the story, the scenes which frame her impersonation are not properly prepared and played. Nor do the supporting parts, as cut from Robert E. Sherwood’s play, work well, although they are played by masters of their craft, the great Charles Coburn and the ingenious Burgess Meredith, both in thankless roles. Edward Arnold’s part is as baffling in its story line as is Joseph Shildkraut’s. Their roles lack narrative completion; that is to say, they have not been properly honored by the writers, editors or producers. Lynn Fontanne played it originally with Alfred Lunt in the Gable role, but Gable is much better cast, for he makes a marvelous rogue. And no one could brush off a needy female like Gable. But what is really present — and watch for it — are the moments when the camera is on him alone. Behind that handsome mug and that masculinity and presence and authority is an actor in full operation on all burners, responding with exactly the right feeling for the situation at hand. Watch the variety of incredulities with which he receives Shearer’s tall tales. Watch his eyes. And sit for a moment and consider how convincing a motive is his scepticism as a driving force to uncover her ruse; it fuels his sexuality and it fuels his love for her. And yet he holds it very lightly, as lightly as the straw hat and cane with which he performs a creditable song-and-dance vaudeville routine, backed by six blonds, one of them the lovely Virginia Grey. Gable carries the film, and it’s worth watching to see how he does it.

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That Uncertain Feeling

31 Dec

That Uncertain Feeling — directed by Ernst Lubitsch — an idle society bitch is bored by her husband and falls in love with a temperamental pianist. black and white – 1941.

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This is a remake of a movie by Lubitsch himself, The Marriage Circle, and it failed at the time and fails still. Of course there is Melvyn Douglas who was a master at high comedy. An actor of great charm and zest and authority, three times Garbo’s leading man, Douglas brings his timing and easy masculinity into play and every scene he appears in comes alive around him. And Burgess Meredith, in the David Wayne role, as the spoiled other man, brings his quirky energy into the mix. But there is a rancid olive at the bottom of the cocktail, and that is Merle Oberon. The role requires the open and loving heart of a Claudette Colbert, and we get instead the gelid soul of Oberon. Her face is paralyzed as ‘twas by Novocain, a condition that happens to actresses who somehow fall into films but are not actors by calling or temperament. Kim Novak was another. There have been many. Oberon has a cold voice. She has none of the inner fluidity of deep humor that is a necessary ingredient in comedy. Nor does Lubitsch’s particular ruthless take on marriage work here. One cannot buy the glibness of the divorce. You’d need the hurt heart of Rosalind Russell for that. One cannot even buy the original marriage. And one cannot buy into Oberon as a beauty over whom men would go bonkers: there is no inner beauty in her, poor thing. Maybe in real life, but not on the screen. At least not here. But the fault is Lubitsch’s really, not just in casting her, but in making this leaden story enlivened, it is true, by occasional masterful moves of his comic genius, but not enough to carry the day. And after he made it, he said so himself.

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