Archive for the ‘Melvyn Douglas’ Category

And So It Goes …

04 Apr

And So It Goes… directed by Lasse Halström. Comedy. 94 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: a sardonic widower lives next to a lugubrious widow, and they become entangled in one another’s doings.


I rented it to see Diane Keaton’s smile – always a tonic to me, and to enjoy her ruthless spontaneity. What surprised me was Michael Douglas as the guy next door. So what appears to be and is a conventional happy-ending-modern-comedy whose outcome one inhales as it first draws breath, turns out to be a top notch comedy of character. 

Comedy of character. A rare thing. And both these entertainers are pushing 70! So they don’t have a moment to lose. 

Diane Keaton sings a number of songs as a lounge singer starting out. I wish she had been allowed to do one all the way through. But she’s a great singer, is our Diane. And Douglas is a real estate salesman who keep his foot in his mouth throughout. 

The surprise in this picture is Douglas’s performance as an idiot coot. He actually is able to create a character!!!! This is wonderful to see. His character is cranky and foolish and completely lacking in polish. But all this is a the gift of a script which is unexpectedly rich and which he rewards with a character study of the sort you never for a moment thought he was capable of. 

The story is ordinary, but the dialogue and acting isn’t. 

We have the admixture of Keaton’s storied technique, which is entirely welcome always, in an admixed with Douglas’s extreme acting, and it works just dandy. You’ll be surprised. 

It’s a popcorn movie. But still an unusual treat.




Comments Off on And So It Goes …

Posted in Diane Keaton: acting goddess, Melvyn Douglas, ROMANTIC COMEDY


The Guilt Of Janet Ames

09 Jun

The Guilt Of Janet Ames –– directed by Henry Levin. Drama. A WW II widow searches out the five men her husband’s death valiantly saved and learns the truth about herself from one of them. 83 minutes Black and White 1945.


Casting a movie. How do they do it?

For instance, of the great stars of the Golden Age of Film from 1930 to 1950, how many could actually portray intelligent women? Judy Garland? No. She was an intelligence and a rich one, but she was not intelligent. Paulette Goddard? No. She was a delightful minx, but you would never put her at the head of a finishing school. Barbara Stanwyck? She could play a shrewd woman, but an intelligent one? Ginger Rogers? Maybe. Irene Dunne? Absolutely. Katharine Hepburn? Why not. Claudette Colbert? Positively.

Casting has something to do with acting ability. But has first to do with an actor’s essence. It has to do with something inherent in them. Intelligence has something to do with IQ, perhaps, but has more to do with an inherent approach to life. Rosalind Russell was certainly one who could play an intelligent woman.

And did so, and does so here, opposite Melvyn Douglas, who has some sort of corner on authority rare to be found in leading men nowadays. The two are well sorted. For they are both intelligent and their talents match in scale. Douglas is earnest and focused and sensitive to what’s coming towards him. And Russell structures her performance to a certain order which it will be Douglas’s task to break down. For that’s the story.

It’s a quite interesting film, because it is the ur type for the Film Noir. That is to say, there is something wrong with each of the characters and it manifests as a disconnect to and hangover from the War. Shell shock is what PTSD was then called, and women on the home front experienced it too. They grew bitter and loveless, and quite right too, and then, as now, the men drank too much and went under. The film is not Film Noir but it is what Film Noir is about.

The picture is remarkable in the scheme of its story, but also in the use of schematic sets. This is the first film I have ever seen them used to such an extent. Later you find them in Red Garters and Dogville. And it was frequently used in Golden Age TV, and may have first found prominence in the sets for Our Town. Here they are used in hypnosis sequences in which Russell visits the survivors, Nina Foch, Betsy Blair, and Sid Caesar.

Another remarkable ingredient, making the film a really memorable visit, is the long and hysterically funny monologue Sid Caesar does as a nightclub act, an astonishing and delightful display of comic genius. As you watch him, you will not believe what is happening before your eyes.

But it is happening. And, surrounding it, the film and the story provide solid and unexpected satisfaction. Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas and Guilt. What a combo!


Sea Of Grass

21 May

Sea Of Grass — directed by Elia Kazan. Western. A husband and wife wrangle and separate because he is more devoted to the great plains than to her. 123 minutes Black and White 1947.


Conrad Richter, whose works I read at the time because of this movie is not much read any more, I’m afraid. His take on this old walrus material of the settlers vs. the cattlemen is a beautifully written, sub-heroic, that is to say, a personal non-formula version of the material and the characters. It rustles like the grass itself. Alas, the only rustling done in this movie is the theft of the book as vehicle for its two stars, Tracy and Hepburn. For, instead of a location shooting, the backlot at MGM is the prairie, and the whole venture looks like the settings for a musical in which you might expect a chorus of girls led by Jane Powell to leap over the fence in poke bonnets and pinafores, singing thrillingly. Indeed, the story might make a good musical, but a good western it does not make. I didn’t think this way at the time I saw it, aged thirteen. I was taken by compassion for the infidelity of the wife, and the romance at stake in that deed and its consequences. Kazan was earning his chaps in Hollywood, for this was his second film, but the entire production was already manufactured for him by the time he arrived on the lot. Katherine Hepburn’s costumes by Plunkett are multitudinous and inexplicably fancy for the setting. She looks like she had never lived in any one of them before the particular scene. Sydney Guilaroff does her hair beautifully, but he also must have lived on the ranch. Harry Stradling’s camera registers the impeccable dust impeccably. Kazan’s direction is flaccid, for he admits he gave up after the first day. He liked them, mind you, but he felt Hepburn and Tracy and Melvin Douglas, as The Other Man, were miscast, and I suppose they are. Here’s what, in various places, he says about Spencer Tracy as the cattle baron: “He looked like a comfortable Irish burgher in the mercantile trade. He wasn’t an outdoorsman in any sense of the word. He wasn’t a man who liked to leave Beverly Hills and the comfort of his home. His shoes looked like they had just been shined. I never could get him to stretch himself. Do you know Irishmen? They have this great inertia. Indifference. A man can have a way of making himself unapproachable. He’s a male and not to be tampered with. The man was absolutely commanding when he acted on a simple level that he understood. Where the confrontation was direct, Tracy was tremendous. When the thing was right for him, he was absolutely believable.” As to Hepburn: “She’d committed herself to a particular tradition of acting. Personally she was a marvelous woman, but she aspired to be like Katherine Cornell. Stars of that ilk had a duty to their audience to uphold, a certain image of glamour, heroism, and bravery. A star never did anything wrong. Essentially it’s the tradition of the 19th Century, carried over, milked down, and transposed.” (Kazan was a Virgo). By this time their off-screen relationship was like an old shoe. We sense no fragmentation, no newly weds getting-used-to, no sexual attraction. We sense they are technically collusive with one another. Individually she is highly reflexive, he weighty. They are good in some scenes, off-base in others. Better in comedy than drama. Harry Carey, Edgar Buchanan, Russell Hicks give fine support. Phyllis Thaxter plays the daughter, and her technique is to play an emotion, rather than a moment, so the voice is pitched to a twinkle when she is supposed to be endearing, or a constant yearning when that is the tone targeted. The film comes alive only in the third act when Robert Walker appears as the rapscallion son. It’s a super part, well written, and played with a swift indifference to the conventions of the role. Suddenly the entire screen comes alive with the juice of an actor’s imagination. Sea Of Grass is worth seeing because of him.


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.

* * *

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.



BlueBeard’s Eight Wife — I Met Him In Paris

31 Dec

Bluebeard’s Seventh Wife — directed by Ernst Lubitsch —  I Met Him In Paris — directed by Charlie Ruggles — black and white — 1937

* * * * *

Charlie Ruggles directs Paris and Ernst Lubitsch directs Bluebeard, and the difference is startling. Both directors have amusingly improbable scripts, both have big stars talents, but Ruggle’s film isn’t funny where it ought to be, and Lubitsch’s film is funny even where it ought not to be. Lubitsch is a realm unto itself. Somehow he could create a context where comedy — or rather humor — could flourish. The long astonishing opening sequence of Bluebeard is a case in point. You must remember that Gary Cooper was one of the world’s best-dressed men, tutored in it by the much older woman who kept him, the Countess De Frassio. So Gary Cooper enters a posh Riviera haberdashery and is accosted by a silly salesman to whom he pays no attention. What we notice is that Cooper, the least responsive of actors, is on the uptake right from the start and through the whole long sequence, which includes more parts that I have space to tell you of here, and ends with Cooper meeting Claudette Colbert and both of them throwing one another away. But my question is: how can Lubitsch get this usually unfocussed and self-indulgent actor Gary Cooper to bowl in the money alley? (He even used Cooper in, of all things, Design For Living!) Lubitsch was a kind of soufflé in which comedy could take place, and anyone who appeared in a film of his found comic grace awaiting them. Colbert is an expert high comedienne but even she, in the second feature, I Met Him In Paris, even Melvyn Douglas who is a deft comedian, and even Robert Young who has his own neat gifts in the craft, cannot make anything but a dull dish out of Paris. In it, though, we have a charming scene of Douglas and Colbert ice-skating, and I want your opinion: does Douglas look ridiculous in knickers, or am I mistaken and does he really bring it off? Lubitsch on the other hand somehow makes one complicit in the fun. He credits your intelligence and willingness to participate in the story as he tells it, so you become part of the telling. He lets you do your job as an audience. How satisfying! How rewarding! How hand-rubbingly droll!




31 Dec

Ninotchka – directed by Ernst Lubitsch – light comedy about a schoolmarmish Russian bureaucrat who come to Paris to straighten out three crooked countrymen and falls in love with a hat. I hour 50 minutes black and white 1939.

* * * * *

Garbo laughs, yes, but before that she brings onto the scene her basso profundo gloom, and it’s a smart move because of the big silly she finds herself eventually preferring to become. She said Lubitsch was the only director of talent she ever worked with, which is odd because she worked with Mamoulian and Boleslavsky and Stiller and Sjostrom. If she meant the result she was allowed to arrive at here, her remark is understandable. Garbo never did anything symmetrical with her body; she always chose to be at an angle. William Daniels who lit her understood she was better in three quarter or close up and not moving. All this works in her favor here, as she drops her famed droop and opens up into  the rich sense of humor and fun everyone who knew her said she had. If she wanted to be left alone, it was probably because she wanted to have a good time, and that is certainly what she does here in the company of Ina Claire, in a rare screen performance, which nonetheless does not make plain why she was and really must have been Broadway’s great light comedienne of her era. Melvyn Douglas brings his boulevardier humor and easy masculinity into Garbo’s view, and teaches her the inner virtues of champagne. This is Lubitsch’s home territory: gladsome Paris, Europe in a tuxedo. In fact it is his only territory. Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart, and Alexander Granach play the naughty trio, and watch Garbo’s shift into friendship with them as she treats with them. Simple. But what an actress! There is a lot to be said about Garbo in films: how she had to be imitated and could not be imitated and what she understood about film acting that nobody has ever understood so well since, but here, just sit back and take pleasure in the pleasure of another time, another genius caught in flight by another genius for us forever.


Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button