Posts categorized “Underemployment CInema”.

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — Side Street (1950)

Farley Granger stars here as a mailman with big dreams and no impulse control. In the course of delivering the mail downtown near the courts, he notices where a lawyer has $200 locked up. The next time he goes back to that office, the door is unlocked and he takes advantage of the lawyer’s absence to steal a folder. It turns out there’s $30,ooo in the folder. He immediately regrets his choice and finds himself wanting to return the money but the money is part of a more insidious bit of blackmail and  other crimes and everyone involved in the story find themselves getting murdered.

Also complicating matters: the mailman’s wife is pregnant and just gave birth while he’s running around New York trying to extricate himself from this situation he’s gotten himself into.

The movie is fairly tepid but much of it is filmed on real New York City locations and as a NYC history fan, it was fun to see what corners and buildings are still around and what used to be where. Many nice scenes of the financial district, the waterfront, and the elevated trains. If I had to guess, I would say this film was influenced by Naked City (1948), which also benefited from a true crime story approach with the real New York City doing it’s job rather than trying to recreate it in a California studio.

One thing I noticed was how many shabby old-law tenements lined the streets.

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — Lifeboat (1944)

This is the Hitchcock film that asks the question,  “What are we going to do with people like that?” The people in question here are the Nazis.

Lifeboat was released in 1944 while World War II was raging. I saw it at least once or twice more than 35 years ago. This is the first time I am seeing it start-to-finish since then. The entire film is limited to the setting of a lifeboat after an American ship has been torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, which was also hit and sunk. The film starts with Tallulah Bankhead wrapped in a mink coat, alone in the lifeboat with her luggage, a typewriter, and a movie camera. She is a columnist and she loses all of these things in the course of the film. As the lifeboat drifts other survivors wind up on the boat, including some of the ship’s crew, a woman and her dead baby, a nurse, and a member of the U-boat crew.

There is some debate as to what to do with the German, as they are all from democratic countries. Tallulah’s character is the only one who knows German. so she has to translate.

The entire action of the film is limited to the lifeboat so we get to see these folks argue and endure crises, and of course, the German they have picked up (Walter Slezak) is up so something, starting with taking them not to Bermuda but to a German supply ship (he has a compass but the other survivors think it’s a watch). The group fight among themselves and fight against ideologies and fight against the elements. Gus (William Bendix), one of the ship’s crew, is wounded and needs his leg amputated; that is performed by Willi, the German.

I did a little research into this movie and at the time, some critics felt that the movie was too sympathetic to the Germans, to which Bankhead replied, “that’s moronic.” The passengers make the mistake of letting Willi take over the course of the ship, based mostly on the idea  that the has the most experience. I can see how a well-drawn multifaceted view of any German during wartime clashes with propaganda, Willi shows his true colors and the lifeboat undergoes yet another course correction (trying to keep spoilers to a minimum).

I have never seen this on the big screen and I wish I had; a reviewer for the New York Daily News back in 1944 said that you can “imagine you were there,” and the film has no music score. It’s just the shushing of the waves and whatever music the passengers make with a recorder on the lifeboat.

Hitchcock also manages, in this limited set, to eke out some fantastic shots, like a shot of Willi rowing the boat taken from the floor, upward; a group of hands sheltering a lighter while a knife is sterilized for the amputation of Gus’s leg.

The movie credits John Steinbeck for the story but Steinbeck had complaints about the script and others came in to rewrite it. There were also complaints in 1944 about the African-American character of Joe (Canada Lee), whom Bankhead refers to initially as “Charcoal.”  I have been watching a lot of old movies this year and this is the only portrayal of a black man in the Hollywood system that I have seen that didn’t reduce him to a scared rabbit or a comic figure. But it is hard to totally understand this portrayal in a 1944 context all the way from 2019.

I also have to agree that Lifeboat is one of Hitchcock’s underrated movies. It was the only one he made for 20th Century Fox and it wound up in limited release because of some of the “controversies.” Ultimately, Hitchcock does put his audience into an up-close-and-personal situation where people from a democratic tradition have to deal with fascism.

 

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — Wasp Woman (1959)

Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot) runs a cosmetics empire that has taken a dip in sales and one of her male employees has the temerity to tell her to her face that her FACE is the reason sales are down–she’s getting older! Around the same time, an older man who seems pretty reasonable about extracting the jelly of queen wasps for cosmetic purposes shows up and he only wants a private lab and credit for his creation.

By the way, Susan Cabot gives a performance in that board room that reminded me of Faye Dunaway yelling “Don’t fuck with me, fellas!” in the Pepsi board meeting scene in Mommie Dearest, and the scene played out here is the same era as Joan Crawford at Pepsi. She even seems to channel the older Crawford a bit.

Well, the miracle youth serum turns a guinea pig into a pup again and it also turns a cat into a kitten. Now it’s HER turn! Hmmm… you think they might want to study this a bit more but Janice suddenly looks 22 again after one injection (in reality, all they did was take off her too-small glasses and make her smile a bit). She gets addicted to the stuff and starts injecting herself, ignoring the horrible headaches she’s been having. And then there’s the scientist, who gets hit by a car before he can warn her about how the cat went nuts and tried to kill him.

In what must be the best healthcare plan in the world, Janice pays all of the scientist’s hospital bills AND moves him into a fully  furnished hospital room in her New York City offices, complete with nurse–until she kills the nurse when she turns into Wasp Woman.

There’s also some hilarious office banter among the secretaries, one of whom is very “hoity toity” but get her mad and she unleashes her Flatbush accent.

Roger Corman directed and produced this one; TCM showed it before The Fly.

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — Meet the People (1944)

Lucille Ball stars in this patriotic musical mishmash along with Dick Powell (TCM’s Star of the Month in December 2018). A bit of a mishmash because the main story of Ball becoming a welder at a ship yard gets interrupted now and then by vaudevillian routines and musical numbers along the way.

Swanee (Dick Powell) “wins” a date with Broadway star Julie Hampton, and with her help he almost gets to mount a production of his soldier-brother’s play. But, he doesn’t like the Broadway producer sexing up his work about the assembly line at a shipbuilding yard. He takes his marbles and goes home.

Meanwhile, Julie goes to the shipyard and gets a job as a welder. This leads to some publicity and she winds up in charge of PR at the shipyard. And she produces some shows at the shipyard that pisses off Swanee

Between scenes of this main story, we get “The Commander” (Burt Lahr) doing a bit of vaudeville, and Virginia O’Brien singing a song about domestic violence that is played for laughs but is actually quite horrifying by any era’s standards. I think MGM used this movie to get some of its stars some screen time so they could fulfill contractural obligations.

The odd part of this movie is that the shipyard was putting on shows during lunch hour anyway. In a patriotic wartime moment, Julie and Swanee watch an act where a Mussolini imitator plays an organ grinder with a chimp done up like Hitler. The singers address the chimp as “Schicklgruber,” a common wartime taunt to the F?hrer. [War time propaganda decided that Hitler’s father being born out of wedock to Maria Schicklgruber and extending that to Adolf Hitler was a way to insult him, even though Hitler was born Hitler.]

Lucille Ball is very funny here, delivering sarcastic lines in a way you don’t see in her TV series, and she’s quite beautiful. It’s also pretty obvious they have dubbed someone else singing during her musical number. Dick Powell is effective as the bullheaded man who lets pride lead him around by the nose. As wartime patriotism goes, the movie is pretty patriotic but not too over the top compared to others I have seen.

 

 

 

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — Goldie Gets Along (1933)

This relatively short film packs a lot of activity into its 75 minutes. Goldie lives in Crestview, N.J. with a puritanical aunt and her family who never fail to remind her how lucky she is to have been “rescued” from Paris after her mother died. After being berated by everyone in the house for returning from a night out at breakfast time, she storms out without a single possession. Goldie wants to get into the movies but even her fiancé, who has just bought them a house, belittles her ambition. So she decides to hitchhike, if necessary, to get to Hollywood.

While it would be wrong to apply the standards of #metoo to a film made in 1933, it is difficult to determine if Goldie is using lecherous advances to her own advantage or just “using her feminine wiles” to stay a step ahead of the men who would use the body she is offering uo to get ahead.

Either way, Goldie is a quick study and is able to keep out of trouble and makes her way to Hollywood by “winning” a series of fraudulent beauty contests. And even in Hollywood, she plays the game to her advantage. Living as a grifter is difficult, though, and she winds up having some regrets about fleeing her life and her fiancé back in New Jersey. Bill, the boyfriend, tracks her down, but it is difficult to understand what she sees in him, or vice versa. She was doing pretty well on her own. This is a pre-Code movie, but even so, a woman making it on her own, however feloniously, probably doesn’t seem like something a studio would want to promote.

The movie also allows itself to make fun of the movie industry a bit, and there is the almost obligatory montage sequence, but it has a very strange bit where the people seeking fame and fortune in Tinsel Town are interchanged with a variety of papier-mache heads.

Goldie is played by French actress Lili Damita, who was more famous for being married to Errol Flynn than for her career, in the end. (They divorced in 1942, btw.). What is very interesting about Damita is how she looks a bit like Garbo, is lit a bit like Garbo, and sounds a bit like Garbo despite being from different countries originally. Someone even makes a comment about her being like Garbo when she says she likes walking. Damita did make quite a few movies in both the silent and talkie eras. It was a nice little surprise to find this movie on TCM.

 

 

 

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — The Favourite (2018)

I knew absolutely nothing about The Favourite before seeing it. Frankly, all I saw was a poster with three women in period costume and I thought, I AM SO THERE.

After an unpleasant incident with another audience member who has no idea what designated seating means, the movie began and I was delighted to see that I was seeing a menage a trois of power involving an ailing Queen Anne, her lifelong friend Lady Sarah, and Sarah’s poor relation, Abigail. And while not everything depicted happens, these were three real women and we mostly see them on screen and it totally must pass the Bechdel test! [I didn’t see it listed.]

It is sometime in the early 1700s and Queen Anne is the last of the Stuarts on the throne, and she’s ailing. Gout and other mobility issues leave her in a lot of pain. Her longtime friend Sarah has much influence over the Queen despite Anne being a Tory and Sarah a Whig. Often at issue is whether to keep attacking France (Whig position) or not (Tory) and Sarah is there to plead the Whig’s position. She is also close enough to the Queen to tell her when her makeup makes her look like a badger.

Speaking of wigs… the men here are often done up in lots of make up and powdered wigs and seem to be parodies of themselves.

Abigail (Emma Stone) is unceremoniously assigned to the kitchen staff but she is shrewd and takes to the woods to concoct a natural herbal plaster to help ease the Queen’s pain. She is a bit presumptuous, going into the Queen’s bedroom and applying the potion on her person without asking, but this is enough to give Abigail an opening and a be the wedge that causes a rift between Sarah and the Queen. Plus, Abigail is NICE to Queen Anne. Never calls her a badger, for example.

Much of this is reminiscent of All About Eve, one of the bitchiest films ever made, plus a great example of social climbing and hangers on.

The writers and director Yorgos Lanthimos take some liberties. For example, Anne has one rabbit for each child she has lost (seventeen lost to miscarriages, stillbirths, smallpox and the most difficult, losing a son who lived to see his tenth birthday). In real life, Anne did not keep rabbits as pets… they were more likely dinner fare. But Lanthimos does a great job of humanizing a monarch who is supposed to be remote and the head of the Church of England. There’s a great “Don’t look at me!” scene between Anne and a footman.

Queen Anne was  the last of her line. The Glorious Revolution that put her sister (Mary II) and brother-in-law (William III) on the throne after deposing their Catholic father (James II) also mandated no non-Protestants on the British Throne. So Anne’s passing was an end of an era, as 50 Catholic heirs in the line of succession were passed over in favor of George of Hannover, whose descendant is on the throne today. It’s sort of incredible that this woman was at the head of an empire in two continents, the head of a church, but made quite malleable by her physical pains and whomever was nicest to her.

There is no real evidence of any lesbian aspects to the relationships of Queen Anne with Sarah or with Abigail, but there was a strong rumor at the time to that possibility. Also, men don’t really get the friendships of women.

The problem with “based on a true story” is that movies just do what they want to do to make an entertaining movie, and this is no exception, but the point of the movie seems very true to the power triangle here as Abigail (a Tory) gained more and more power at court. Also, the lives of women of that era were often not recorded or cared about, and it’s always great to see the lives of women of other eras faithfully portrayed on screen.

 

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — Horror Hotel [City of the Dead] (1960)

I saw this movie as a child and for many years all I remembered about it was that when the clock struck THIRTEEN, a woman was about to plunge a knife into a blonde student’s heart and the film suddenly cut to Susie slicing into her birthday cake. And that was all I remembered. I think I was about ten when I saw this on either Creature Feature on channel 5 or Chiller theater on on channel 11.

Then I spoke to a co-worker about it in 2000 and he said it sounded like Horror Hotel and finally 18 years later it was on TCM!

The only actor I recognize at all here is a younger Christopher Lee. The film is in black and white but possibly the most atmospheric b/w I have seen. John Moxey sets up an atmosphere of encroaching danger nicely as a mob comes through the fog to “burn the witch!” As a horror film, it works really well, quite likely because there are not a lot of bodies piling up and the action moves quickly and logically. There aren’t a lot of jump scares or twists and turns here. And not a lot of stupid stuff happens here, either, like going upstairs when you should run screaming to safety elsewhere.

The witch burning scene that opens the film is actually a dramatization of a history about the witch Elizabeth Selwyn being read by Professor Driscoll to his class. Student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) is interested in doing more research into witchcraft and the witch Elizabeth Selwyn. Driscoll recommends she go to the tiny town Whitewood, and recommends an inn.

There is a LOT of FOG in Whitewood and a lot of extras with no dialogue staring at Nan as she walks around town, and it gets even creepier when her brother comes looking for her after she mysteriously disappears. It’s also hard to imagine this movie in anything but black and white. It just aids the creepy goings on at the Inn, like people dancing in the lobby but disappearing once Nan opens the door and decides to join them.  And of course there’s a mute woman. And the innkeeper looks so much like the witch killed back in the 1600s!

There are some stupid moments as most horror movies have, like picking up creepy hitchhikers. But people did stuff like that in 1960. Horror Hotel is a very effective horror movie without a lot of slashing or gore (if you don’t count three dead birds and a human sacrifice). And like Psycho, which came out the same year, the blonde heroine of the movie dies in the first half of the movie and is never seen again.

Some actors sound very British; the film was filmed in England. The actual title of City of the Dead, based on the notion that during Satanic holidays the dead rise up and take over the town.

LAST SEEN: 1973.

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — That Hamilton Woman (1941)

Fresh off her success as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, we have Vivien Leigh in the title role of Emma Hamilton. Well, she did two other movies in 1940. But That Hamilton Woman takes advantage of Leigh’s figure and beauty and we see her in an endless parade of shimmering gowns and big hats, and that might almost be enough for me, quite frankly. But there’s an actual story it’s a good one.

The film starts out with Emma down on her luck in Calais, tossed in jail for stealing a bottle of wine.  Actress Heather Angel as “a street girl” is in the brig with her and Angel urges her to tell her story, “whether it’s real or not.” And she tells the girls about how she came to Naples with her mother, was practically sold off by her fiance to his rich uncle, the British Ambassador, and how she married him, learned French and Italian, and wound up best pals with the Queen of the Two Sicilies. Eventually, Horatio Nelson shows up needing 10,000 troops to trounce Napoleon and Emma succeeds in 10 minutes where her husband would have failed in a week.

It takes a while but (married) Admiral Nelson (Laurence Olivier) and Emma become lovers. Josiah, his stepson, seethes and writes home to mother complaining about “That Hamilton Woman.”

As things progress, the Two Sicilies are overrun by the French, so Nelson goes back to Naples to “save the Royal Family” but it’s all about Emma. The whole thing is a wonderful fantasy until they get back to London and of course, the vinegary wife of the Admiral and of course society are keeping a close eye on these two.

There are also a LOT of speeches about how awful Napoleon is and how all of Euopre is cowering and that the only way to deal with a dictator is to SMASH HIM, and of course, the movie is  filmed in 1941 so all these speeches against Napoleon are all about Hitler.

CASUAL MOVIE RACISM: Since this is Italy in 1799, there are no black servants to denigrate, but Emma’s mother later complains about how all the Italians “smell of onions,” and how the smell gets worse when they are excited about something. This reminded me of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life complaining about “those garlic eaters.”

SPOILER ALERT: After Nelson dies, we cut back to Emma in jail, looking like a very haggard Greta Garbo, and Heather Angel says, “And then what happened?” and Emma doesn’t give a real answer, so we never find out how Emma, who rose from being a dancer and a courtesan to helping Nelson destroy Napoleon’s armies and ships more than once, wound up falling from grace and stealing booze in Calais!

LAST SEEN: I think I only saw part of this movie while in high school, on a Sunday afternoon at Grandma’s house.

Cinema Non-Paradiso

A few weeks ago I went to see The Favourite at the Regal Union Square, which requires designated seating for everyone in the audience. Sigh.

I get to my seat and there’s someone in it. I start to mention that they are in my seat, they probably just need to move one over, and the younger of the two women immediately and dripping with entitlement starts a screed. “Look, my grandmother is 88 years old and she want to sit HERE, so why don’t you just sit THERE,” indicating the empty seats in front of her. I start to answer, “Well, I don’t need to deal with the problem of whomever has THOSE seats,” and she immediately yells, “For God’s sake, those are our seats! Just take them. What is your problem?”

“My PROBLEM is your attitude. Why are you screaming at me?”

“Well, I don’t have an attitude and I am screaming NOW.”

“Why are you screaming AT ALL?”

So I take their seats, and as I am getting settled, the preview on screen is pretty loud and the younger woman starts to talk to me so I just replied, “Look, I can’t hear you, and since I don’t really care what you have to say at this point, STOP TALKING TO ME, IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?”

Of course, I get a look from her like,”What’s HIS problem?”

Now, if the woman had just said to me, “Oh, my grandmother is settled in here and those are her seats just ahead of us. Do you mind taking our seats?” of course I would have agreed and there wouldn’t have been a single extra word about it. This is why I hate assigned seating in movie theatres. You’re stuck if you get jerks nearby, and who in New York City wants to start the “you’re in my seat” problem

Luckily the movie was wonderful and except for a few times when Grandma behind me kept kicking my seat, there was no further incident.

NOW, in the old days in New York City, if I didn’t want to sit near anyone for any reason, I just got up and moved to another seat. I once changed my seat three times before a movie started because I just KNEW the people near me were going to be a problem. (Cell phones, loudness, odor, you name it.)

I really do prefer seeing movies in cinemas but I really don’t like having lots of people around me. The once time I have gone recently to a Saturday night film, it was A Star Is Born and two women next to me started talking loudly, and gesturing wildly, the moment the movie started. I gave them “the look” and a quarter turn and they stoppedat

I don’t get it. You’re paying anywhere from $11 to $15 to see this movie. Why the hell are you talking!? Just shut up for two hours. It’s not that hard. Just put your lips together and keep your eyes open.

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA–The Blob (1958)

From the start, this movie has an unrelentingly positive attitude about teenagers, and I suspect it is because there were so many movies about reckless teenagers in the mid- to late-1950s. Here, teenage Steve (played by 27-year-old Steve McQueen) witnesses the Blob overtake a doctor, and he tries in vain to get the cops to take him seriously. Later, he has to round up other cleancut, wholesome teens to help get the authorities’ attention–the highlight being when they convince the school principal to help them bust into the school for the much-needed fire extinguishers to vanquish the Blog.

I saw this on TV back in the 1970s like everyone else. Some friends remember being terrified by the Blob as kids, but the Blob itself doesn’t have much screen time. The movie seems to spend more time on the well-intentioned teenagers. Aneta Corsaut, who played Helen Crump on the Andy Griffith Show, is Jane, the female well-intentioned team.