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Archive for the ‘Fred MacMurray’ Category

Alice Adams

31 Mar

Alice Adams — directed by George Stevens. Family Drama. A young woman’s mother strives to upgrade her daughter’s social status. 99 minutes Black and White 1935.

★★★★★

Katherine Hepburn was 27 when she made this, and she went on starring in movies until she was 87, and you can understand why. She is an actress without repose. Even when acting repose she is actively doing it. Mind you, she has a very good script here and a first-class director, George Stevens, whose breakthrough film this was. Hepburn had played a series of high-strung, mettlesome, sophisticated girls, but here she plays an ordinary small town girl who wants to better herself. Alice Adams is a girl who loves her crude working class father, but takes after her mother who strives. She puts on airs, tells lies, and hides things to conceal her drab family background. The only result is that she is snubbed and picked on by the town’s worthies; she is not invited to other girls’ soigné parties, and wears handmade organdy when she is, and is a wallflower there. Why should we care about this pushy phony? It’s because in our lives when we were young we all wanted to be someone else, someone better, someone more popular. And because Alice is also kind and tactful, and, when home, direct and earnest, and because Hepburn herself is those things. So, well though we might wonder how tall, dark, handsome, Fred MacMurray, broad of shoulder, with wads of money, magnificent in tails, can stand this pushy dame with her coyness and strained lyricism and little half-laugh, it is because we see through her to Hepburn’s quality and harpsichord sensitivity to the truth about love. Booth Tarkington wrote the novel, and it’s a good one. The director and actress fought for the novel’s ending in which Alice has to go out and drudge as a secretary, but the studio forced this one on them, so it ends with a lecture. Except for Fred Stone as the father who sustains a whine of self-pity that is pitiless, the film is well cast and acted, especially with Ann Shoemaker as the mother, and Frank Albertson as the crude and rightly annoyed brother. Miss Hattie McDaniels is excruciatingly funny as a hired maid at a family dinner meant to impress McMurray, and she is but one example of Stevens’ quiet comic sense which infiltrates and supports many scenes: the look on the face of humanity is what Stevens is a master director of: a waiter asked to play a love song for the fifth time running.  As well as a sense of American mise-en-scene: you really feel you are walking down a small town street and not a back lot. As well as a stunning grasp of lighting, set to fit a mood: Alice coming back into the unlit shabby foyer from that wretched ball. As well as a revulsion to reaction shots in lieu of duets and closeups which enter the spirits of those explored: Hepburn and MacMurray’s kiss. How can Stevens like Hepburn so? For the same reason we do. Hepburn can create all that is false , affected, and pretentious about Alice, but she can also reveal how her feelings are hurt by the failure of her own folly, and how she is touchingly trapped in a cycle of groundless hope. Stevens’ strongest suit as a director was, better than any other director of his time, the creation of Americana: longing set against its conflicting background. The places we see are the places we knew. And the things hoped for are the hopes we hoped. This will eventually reach its fruition in his masterwork, A Place In The Sun. But here, for the first time, a master gathers his powers together.

 

 

The Texas Rangers

05 May

The Texas Rangers – Directed by King Vidor. Western Comedy/Drama. Two inept bandits join up only to find themselves assigned to take down an old buddy. 98 minutes Black and White 1936.

* * * * *

Vidor also wrote and produced it, thank goodness, for otherwise it would have been a routine oater. What he achieved instead was almost a satire of a routine oater, achieved it by casting that old sly-boots Fred MacMurray, aged 28, and Jack Oakie as the two inept drifter-hold-up men. The result is that Oakie is allowed to make every scene he is in funny, and MacMurray plays the straight man, which, goodness known, he was. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis might have done a remake with not much changed. Oakie is in virtually every scene and transforms all he touches. He plays The Braggart Soldier and MacMurray the dedicated virgin. The dialogue is not written for comedy, but Vidor directs it for comedy, including the proposal scene with Jean Parker as the girl who can’t keep her hands off him, and the travesty trial scene with George “Gabby” Hayes as the drunken toothless judge. As soon as force of circumstances separate Oakie and MacMurray, the film becomes a full swing action Western, with Lloyd Nolan, in a quite smart performance as the old crony they try to track down. The film falls into the tradition of the comic western, a bastard genre which George Marshall had had hand in, in Destry Rides Again. Little Big Man is a version of it, so, perhaps, is Josey Wales. Check it out.

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My Favorite Blond/Star Spangled Rhythm

23 Jan

My Favorite Blond/Star Spangled Rhythm —  director Sidney Lanfield/George Marshall – Mystery Farce in which a coward gets involved with a WWII spy ring. And A Hollywood WWII effort Variety Show.  Black and white 1942.

* * * * *

The Ghostbusters is a better Hope film of this era, but this one has its moments, as a mock spy caper, with Madeleine Carroll as The Hitchcock blonde she was. Star Spangled Rhythm is a Paramount varsity show and far more fun, with Hope as a cameo, spouting in-jokes about Crosby who is also in it. In a huge cast of Paramount superstars, the main attraction is Betty Hutton. You might say, if fact you would have to say, she “propels” the plot, for she had pop-eyes in every cell of her body. Here she throws herself into each scene as though onto a trampoline. This was her way, and if you can stand it, you can stand anything. But boy do you have to give her credit for total engagement, and she is superb in one scene with two men attached by the hands, trying to get over a wall. It’s a very funny scene, brilliantly played by her and by the other two, who were avid contortionists. Ray Milland, Franchot Tone, and Fred MacMurray are amusing as three men playing bridge like three women, a sketch written by George S. Kaufman. And there is Rochester doing a superb zoot-suit number with Katherine Dunham, young and great. Boy, do they rock! George Balanchine’s choreography of a jazz ballet with Vera Zorina is fascinating, not least because of Zorina’s amazing figure — yikes! Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer wrote the music for the film, and the score includes That Old Black Magic and Dick Powell and Mary Martin singing Hit The Road to Dreamland, the latter of which is taken over by a quartet of black male singers who are just wonderful! So there is really a lot of jam on the thin piece of toast this picture is, which was a War-effort effort. The toast may be stale by now, but the jam — especially as regards the black singers and dancers — is still fresher than fresh!

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