Archive | February 2012

Six Degrees Has Returned!

In honor of the recent dogathon and because I have been rewatching all the official Bond films (Never Say Never Again (1983) included). I am asking you to connect Asta of Thin Man fame to Desmond Llewelyn, better known as ‘Q‘ from the Bond series.

Asta in After The Thin Man (1936)

Desmond Llewelyn in A View To A Kill (1985)

I am handing the challenge to Page over at My Love Of Old Hollywood.

Withnail & I (1987), TSPDT #937, Recommended

Danny (Ralph Brown)

When I was a kid, I received my first exposure to this film. I didn’t realize it at the time, but while I was watching Wayne’s World 2 (1993) I was being introduced to the character of Danny (Ralph Brown) who is a drug dealer in Withnail & I. I remember him distinctly because of his great stoner voice. The Wayne’s World movies were never that great, but are childhood cult favorites. That’s a decent way to describe this film as well, except that it’s reach and staying power are greater.

Withnail (Richard E. Grant) & I (Paul McGann)

Withnail & I follows Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and his friend Marwood (Paul McGann), or simply the I in the title as he is the one narrating the story. They are both out of work, alcohol drinking, drug taking actors who accidentally go on holiday in 1969 Britain. By that I mean, they go to visit Withnail’s gay uncle Monty who they presume will put them up and does, but not exactly as they planned. They end up in a little cottage with no heating and nothing to eat. They spend most of their time trying to keep warm and find food. I make it sound like a tale of survival with that plot summary and it is, but not a stranded in the jungle survival. Their friendship is what is going to survive or perish. It’s also not a film that is plot driven. The focus is on the two leads and the series of comedic incidents they go through. Those incidents reveal where they stand together now and point towards where each must go after their accidental holiday.

Withnail

Withnail is beyond the point of no return. He looks like a punk rocker, but is that likable, funny, friend that can act pushy and tough around you, but will turn on you when the slightest amount of pressure is applied to them by others.

Marwood

Marwood, is a pretty boy with promise in life, but is in love, romantically or otherwise, with someone who is dragging him down. In this case, that person is Withnail. Without knowing it, this is going to be their last hoorah together.

The best scenes in the film come in three flavors: 1. When Withnail or Marwood has one of their brilliant one-liners such as, “Who fucks arses?” and “I want something’s flesh!”, 2. When Withnail sells out his friend, 3. When Marwood grows more backbone. There are many more one-liners then the one’s I listed. Some are yelled at people on the street, others are advice on killing chickens, and one other is a explanation for why the cow about to mow down Marwood is so randy. They are hilarious and people often quote them at the mention of this film or when anybody involved in the production is spotted in real life.

Withnail on "randy" cows

The most honest moments in the film are numbers 2 and 3, where Withnail turns on Marwood and when Marwood stands up for himself. Early in the film the two go to a bar. Marwood uses perfume to try and hide the stench from his shoes. This gets him called a homosexual by a nut job in the bar who proceeds to confront the two. He goes for Withnail and in no time at all, Withnail is explaining that what ever is going on between the man and Marwood has nothing to do with him and why don’t they settle it in the street. Marwood is clearly hurt but he bolts from the bar with Withnail and continues to follow him to their accidental holiday.

From The Beginning Of Defense...

...To Being Hung Out To Dry

The best of number 3 comes late in the film after Marwood has nearly been raped by Monty. Marwood found out that Withnail spewed nasty lies about him in order to get the cabin they have been living in. Lies that all but made explicit that Marwood was fair game for Monty. After telling Monty off from an attempted rape, Marwood confronts Withnail. He makes it clear to Withnail that no justification explains away that he is standing naked in front of him and hurt beyond repair.

Marwood Confrontation, Part I

Marwood Confrontation, Part II

It’s these moments that take this film from a childhood favorite to a moving and funny story of two people at a crossroads. That’s what makes this film have the staying power that it does. It’s the reason that what starts as bathroom humor becomes something I am proud to recommend. In the future, I will probably even highly recommend it. This is one that can be re-watched to point of memorization and still feel it is speaking to the child with an important look at adulthood. Rather than the film losing meaning by rote. I knew Grant was good from L.A. Story (1991), but I wouldn’t have expected this kind of performance from him. I’ll probably never watch one of the Wayne’s World films again, but I will watch this one many more times.

My Deanna Durbin Punishment, Part VI: Something In The Wind (1947) – Approach With Caution

The Durbin Smack

See that guy in the middle getting slapped by Deanna Durbin. That’s how I felt watching this film. I foolishly believed that Lady On A Train (1945) meant that the final film in this series would be enjoyable too. Instead, I was coldly smacked in the face with something as bad as the worst of her films that I have seen.

Durbin As DJ

The movie begins with DJ Mary Collins (Deanna Durbin) finishing her set with the first of many musical numbers (I should have known that this spelled disaster for the film). After leaving the booth, she is approached by Donald Read (John Dall) who tells her that he doesn’t really care what her relationship was with his grandfather, but that it needs to end. Mary has no idea what he is talking about, so of course, Mary reacts with indignation at such an accusation and storms out. Mary goes home and has a heart to heart with her aunt who also happens to be named Mary Collins. Turns out it was the aunt that had the relationship with Donald Read’s grandfather. That relationship included the financial support that Donald Read alluded to.

Heart to Heart

Cut to the Read family and being rich and thinking themselves above others. They decide to resort to kidnapping. Of course, this task is given to the younger of the Read brothers named Charlie (Donald O’Connor). They know where she is going to be and wait for her to leave, where upon they gag her and stuff her into a car.

Kidnapping Durbin

Taken to the Read home, she is confronted by the family who proceed to insult her for trying to milk off of them. They want her to sign away any financial ties that she has with the family. The mother makes the mistake of dropping a little information: Donald Read is to be married and any hint of scandal could ruin it. So Durbin being Durbin, she creates a fictitious baby to rub it in and drive up the cost of her silence. She puts the price at a million dollars. They talk and get nowhere when Charlie kindly suggests the two of them go to the library together.

Mary Collins (Deanna Durbin) and Charlie Read (Donald O'Connor)

He tells her in an song (why?!?) that he knows that she is full of hot air. Then he tells her that he wants her to continue doing it. He has a thing for his older brother’s fiancee and would love for her to drive a wedge between them so he can have her for himself. What follows is what you expect. Durbin gets closer and closer to Donald as she tries to drive a wedge between him and his fiancee. Since Durbin would be robbing the cradle with O’Connor, she saves him from his infatuation with the gold digging fiancee and he plays the helpful child role. Oh, and there are plenty of songs to make the boring film, annoying.

Love Birds

When I Saw This, I Thought The Cybermen Had Come To Delete The Film. No Such Luck.

Since I only wanted to see Durbin gagged repeatedly throughout the film instead of wanting to bash my head in with a brick, I say approach with caution.

Final words on Deanna Durbin: She could sing, but was best, when she was simply allowed to act.

Coming Attractions

There are three main posts that will be coming in the next month or so.

1. The final film in My Deanna Durbin Punishment called Something In The Wind (1947).

See Deanna Durbin...

Rob The Cradle...

With Donald O'Connor

2. I will be watching the next film on TSPDT’s 1000 Greatest Films. That being Withnail & I (1987)

3. I am participating in Comet Over Hollywood‘s Gone Too Soon blogathon in March. The blogathon profiles stars that died before the age of 50. Thinking immediately of James Dean and that I don’t want to pick what everyone else would, I thought of Zbigniew Cybulski. Also known as The Polish James Dean.

Zbigniew Cybulski in Ashes And Diamonds (1958)

My Deanna Durbin Punishment, Part V: Lady On A Train (1945) – Recommended

The two major problems with this film can be seen in the screenshot above and below. The first is that Deanna Durbin was attacked by peroxide and thus is a bottle blonde throughout the film. The second is that particular outfit.

Wearing That Outfit Is Cruel and Unusual Punishment

It’s horrendous and tacky. Thankfully, those are really the only two problems with this film.

Deanna Sees A Murder From The Train

It begins with Deanna riding the train as it comes to a stop. She is reading “The Case Of The Headless Bride” when outside her window she witnesses a man being beaten to death with a crowbar. What follows is what happens when Deanna Durbin gets bitten by the Nancy Drew bug. It’s also what happens when filmmakers make something that pokes fun at the cinema of the 1940s and lets Deanna run with it.

Officer, What Do You Mean I Have Murder On The Brain?

She reports the murder but no one takes her seriously so she starts to investigate on her own. Then she has a great scene which was obviously meant to poke fun at Citizen Kane. After Deanna arrives at her stop and reports the murder to a clueless cop, she seeks help from the author of the murder mystery she was reading. She follows him to a theater where a newsreel starts and we meet the dead man looking very Kane-like.

Not Charles Foster Kane

Deanna then proceeds to the dead man’s home where the opening shot is outside the fence looking towards a house, far in the distance.

Not The Home Of Charles Foster Kane

Then instead of moving closer and closer to the house, we join Deanna on a fence facing down a prop deer that probably went on to a career in Douglas Sirk movies.

Deer vs. Durbin

Deanna is a hoot throughout the film but especially inside the house when she has one of her finest scenes while playing a chair.

That's No Chair...

It's Deanna Durbin!

After that, the exact details of the plot aren’t important. She gets the author, exposes the murderer, and manages to work in a few vocal numbers without ruining the film and her fine comedic performance. In fact, the first number initially seems ridiculous until it stops. Deanna is singing a lovely number over the phone to her family not realizing that there is a bad guy in the room. After she finishes, he has a couple of tears on his face, begins to leave, and then realizes what an idiot he is being. He turns around, gets what he came for, goes out into the hall, and beats Durbin’s mystery writer unconsciousness. We go into the number thinking it is sentimental slop and that it’s going to ruin everything. Instead, it’s all a setup for a funny sequence that plays for laughs, without sentiment.

The film makes many references to film noir both in it’s plot and appearance. Durbin’s performance is almost self-referential without ever breaking the fourth wall. She even channels a bit of Stanwyck’s Lady Eve in that she’ll charm you right over a cliff with her body and personality.

Looks So Good, Bring A Tear To Your Eye, Sweet Durbin Pie

Edward Everett Horton and David Bruce deliver superb supporting performances as her caretaker and murder mystery author, respectively. The film is the Durbin picture I have been waiting for since I saw Three Smart Girls (1936). It allows Durbin’s natural comedic talent to reign supreme without feeling it’s necessary to graft songs onto the film at any cost. Deanna is like Ginger Rogers. Ginger was an amazing dancer, but she doesn’t need to dance to deliver a quality performance. The same is true of Deanna, she is an amazing singer, but she doesn’t need to sing. But rather than giving us a sans singing Deanna, they actually make the singing work for the movie. It’s there for a reason. Even when that reason is to poke fun at the exogenous numbers that populated musicals of the period. I loved it and I recommend it!