Arrowsmith (1931)

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Sinclair Lewis’ great 1925 novel deals with the temptations faced by doctors who could just go on the lecture circuit and pontificate rather than do good. And these days most of them go on vast junkets financed by Big Pharma and peddle their wares to gullible patients who gobble up anti-depressants and their brain functions are rewired  – a Simon Curtis doc would suggest this was a conspiracy with western governments to suppress protests against the fundaments of modern liberal democracies … looks like the meds finally wore off, eh?! Ronald Colman decides to tackle the plague head-on after missing out on a career-enhancing opportunity, making a fatal mistake with a child suffering from diphtheria and his wife, a nurse (Helen Hayes) loses their pregnancy. He takes off to the Caribbean to fight bubonic plague and meets the woman who will become his second wife (Myrna Loy) while all around him succumb. This vastly truncated adaptation by Sidney Howard was directed at warp speed by John Ford because he was kept off the bottle for the shoot. It’s good to see Hayes – some of us only really know this legendary actress from Disney and Agatha Christie in the 70s and 80s [if anyone knows where I can see The Snoop Sisters please let me know!]; and things liven up with Loy, but her part of the story barely happens. Strange pre-Code version of a work of cultural and scientific significance by a writer who seems to have been a seer in consideration of current events, but worth catching for the performances, Alfred Newman’s score and filling any gaps in your John Ford education.

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After the Sunset (2004)

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An enormously charming cast makes this action comedy caper a wholly enjoyable affair. Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek are the diamond thieves tempted by One Last Job on an island paradise prior to their wedding and retirement, though he keeps delaying writing his vows. Woody Harrelson is the FBI agent determined to catch them because they’ve foiled him before. Don Cheadle is the local crime bigwig who spots an opportunity to steal the third of the Napoleon Diamonds on a cruise ship stopping in the vicinity and Brosnan has to face him down – he stole the first two. It becomes a buddy movie and the sight of Brosnan and Harrelson spooning is really something. Naomie Harris pops up with the local police to add to the Bondian references. If you’re going to do this kinda thing, do it on a tropical island with performers who have charisma to burn. There’s a great ending, BTW. Brett Ratner returned to this sub-genre with Tower Heist and they’re probably the only two of his films to feature anything resembling real people, relatively speaking. Screenplay by Paul Zbyszewski and Craig Rosenberg.

The Black Swan (1942)

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Twentieth Century-Fox knew how to make good plotty films and this rip-roaring swashbuckler is at the top of the entertainment heap. Adapted by Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller (they both wrote Scarface, Miller wrote The Sea Hawk) from Rafael Sabatini’s novel, shot by Leon Shamroy in glorious Technicolor, scored by Alfred Newman and directed by the always reliable Henry King, what more could you want? Oh, there’s Tyrone Power as Jamie Boy, supporter of privateer Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar) who’s just taken the King’s shilling and wants to clean up the Spanish Main and Maureen O’Hara as Lady Margaret, daughter of the Governor he usurps. They’re after Leech (George Sanders, splendid as a brigand in a ginger wig) who’s done a deal with Lady Margaret’s fiance to divest the Prince Consort of a pile of gold and taken off in the titular galleon. Thomas Mitchell provides comic relief and you must sit back and relish the witty banter between the mismatched lovers as Jamie Boy kidnaps the lustrous lady to lure Leech into a trap. Oh my! How wonderful is this!

The Crimson Pirate (1952)

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Galleon? Check. Skull and crossbones? Check. Velvet loons? Check. Someone shouting ‘Avast’? Check. Swashbuckling? Check and check and check!!! This is one of the supreme entertainments of the studio era. Burt Lancaster is the piratical Captain Vallo operating in the Caribbean in the late 18th century. He and his men capture a frigate belonging to the king that’s carrying Baron Gruda to the island of Cobra to crush a rebellion led by El Libre. Gruda suggests they exchange the leader for a reward.  The crew say this isn’t pirate business so Vallo and his mute henchman (Nick Cravat) are sold out. The deal with Libre’s fellow rebel Pablo Murphy (Noel Purcell) falls asunder. Vallo has a gruff approach to romance with Libre’s daughter Consuela (Eva Bartok) – “What we have for each other we just have to get over!” When Professor Prudence (James Hayter) gets working on his scientific experiments to take back the island things get seriously funny. This is elegant, energetic, exuberant entertainment. It is a film for all ages, for the ages. Working from a first screenplay by blacklistee Waldo Salt, Roland Kibbee fashioned an amazing, tongue in cheek action adventure with oodles of quips to spare. Christopher Lee, who has a supporting role with the Brits (boo hiss!) said of the turn of events in his memoir,

The script started life as serious, nay solemn, but Robert Siodmak, the director, with all the sure touch of real tension behind him in The Killers andThe Spiral Staircase, took stock of the material in forty-eight hours and turned it into a comedy. It was like a Boy’s Own Paper adventure, except that Eva Bartok was in it.

— Christopher Lee, Tall, Dark and Gruesome[4]