Sunset (1988)

Sunset movie poster.JPG

Blake Edwards’ adaptation of Rod Amateau’s unpublished manuscript about the friendship between movie cowboy Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) and real life Wyatt Earp (James Garner) had the potential to be something quite brilliant:  it doesn’t carry it off due to inconsistencies of tone (never quite slapstick, never quite thriller) and performance (Willis didn’t heed his director to take his role seriously) but it retains its interest. Hollywood’s well-preserved 1920s villas provide a magnificent backdrop to a story set in 1929 just when the industry was getting to grips with the transition to sound. Earp in real life had moved to Los Angeles in 1910 but here he’s newly arrived and hired on a silent movie set to advise Mix and they get embroiled in a murder at the Kit Kat Club, a high class brothel where the whores are movie star lookalikes (shades of LA Confidential) run by the cross-dressing Cheryl (Mariel Hemingway.) Earp tries to help his old girlfriend Christina (Patricia Hodge) who happens to be married to studio boss Alfie Alperin (Malcolm McDowell), a thinly disguised version of Chaplin, and her son, who is in constant trouble and goes missing. The mystery at the story’s heart involves police corruption with those reliable villains M. Emmet Walsh and Richard Bradford and Warhol stud Joe Dallasandro showing up as a gangster. There’s a scene at that year’s Academy Awards (not anatomically correct, but still fun) and lots of really interesting performances in the wings including John Fountain playing his grandfather, the legendary John Gilbert. Willis’ unpreparedness made for a difficult time and Garner (a gentleman) commented on it, a rare instance of his speaking out against a colleague and his own performance really saves the film. Garner had of course worked with Edwards before – on Victor/Victoria. His interpretation of Earp is markedly lighter than his earlier one in Hour of the Gun.  There’s a cute running joke about his inability to drive a car – he does it a lot and in real life Garner was an accomplished racer and stunt driver particularly on The Rockford Files. In a neat nod to that, Dermot Mulroney makes his debut – he would play (my beloved!) Rockford in a TVM reboot. The other pluses are the LA locations used including the Ambassador Hotel, the Roosevelt Hotel, Melody Ranch, Bell Ranch and Orange Empire Railway Museum. Not great Edwards but worth a watch for the idea and Garner, with the usually reliable score from Henry Mancini as well as delectable photography by Anthony B. Richmond. A missed opportunity to make a satisfying Hollywood murder mystery but heck with all that talent I’ll take this anyhow.

Advertisements

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

singin-in-the-rain-poster

It hasn’t taken the death of Debbie Reynolds for me to watch this again;  it’s a regular viewing choice for me and has been for a very long time. It’s the ultimate film about Hollywood moviemaking and let’s pretend and the transition from silents to talkies; it’s the greatest ever musical; it’s a film to grow up with and grow old with, with comedy and romance and great song and dance routines and that number, in the rain; it is a heaven-sent ode to joy. Goodbye, Debbie.

Piccadilly (1929)

Piccadilly movie.jpg

Has there ever been a better-looking London film? Not in black and white. From the titles on the sides of buses and on advertising hoarding and in neon lighting, to the exotic costumes enhancing the performances by kitchen maid turned star Shosho (Anna May Wong) in the titular nightclub, this tale of infidelity, deception, jealousy, murder, sex, race and class remains a thrilling parade. Wong is stunning. Directed by German great EA Dupont from a screenplay by Arnold Bennett, I’ve written about it here:  www.offscreen.com/view/peccadillo-piccadilly.

On Moonlight Bay (1951)

On Moonlight Bay poster.jpeg

Sheerly delightful musical comedy starring Doris Day. She’s tomboy Marjorie Winfield who moves house with her family and starts dating the boy next door, college boy William Sherman (Gordon MacRae), meanwhile bank VP pop Leon Ames (reprising his role from Meet Me in St Louis) disagrees with William’s notions about money and marriage. He declares of Marjorie, All she knows about men are their batting averages! Precocious son Wesley (the brilliant Billy Gray) spends his time devising schemes that wind up in disaster, housekeeper Mary Wickes keeps everyone going and Mom Rosemary DeCamp is the still centre of an ever-brewing storm. When William goes off to WW1, stuffed shirt Hubert (Jack Smith) tries to woo the more feminine Doris who tries to lose her mechanic’s gear. Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson conjured the wonderful screenplay from the Penrod stories by Booth Tarkington (whose work also inspired Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons).  There are some wonderful individual scenes, including a silent movie insert, there are great songs and the atmosphere is tangible. Did I mention that there’s snow? And a snowball fight and a sleigh ride? Oh joy! It was devised as standard studio fare by Warners but had Ernest Haller doing the incredible cinematography and Max Steiner on scoring duties. It was such a huge success it was followed with a sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, another fabulously charming outing. This period romcom is on constant rotation at mine. Lovely lovely lovely!

Easy A (2010)

Easy A poster.jpg

Superb comedy take on The Scarlet Letter (complete with silent film inserts) that features a star-making performance by Emma Stone. It was she who came up with the line, ‘Gossip Girl in the Sweet Valley of Travelling Pants.’ She’s a high school nothing who inadvertently achieves notoriety as the school slut when she pretends she’s had sex to sate a friend who spreads extraordinarily exaggerated rumours about her. With great support from a gifted adult cast and some terrific comic turns and spins on using the internet, this is one of the smartest films of the last several years. Who wouldn’t want Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as their parents? And what a lovely dog!  Written by Bert V. Royal and directed by Will Gluck. And what about the use of that Natasha Bedingfield song?! (Pace The Hills, eh?!) Great, Ferris-type of fun.