The ever elegant William Powell and My man Godfrey

I notice that today, TCM is showing the 1936 My man Godfrey, starring William Powell as the titular character, Carole Lombard, and Eugene Pallette.  This is one of my favourite comedies:  It features bitingly funny and sophisticated dialogue, delivered to wonderful effect by all the actors, but particularly by Eugene Pallette, as the beleaguered patriarch of an oddball assortment of family members, including the wastrel hanger-on Carlo played by the excellent Mischa Auer.  When it comes to comedies, Hollywood really doesn’t make them like this any more:  So many of today’s comedies rely upon vulgarity, broad slapstick, juvenile and scatological humour, all of which render them distinctly unfunny.  This film, on the other hand, uses wit, subtlety, and sophistication, and assumes that its audience has a certain degree of intelligence and discernment.  I never tire of watching this film, as I always pick up a subtle element that I missed in my last viewings. Powell excelled at sophisticated wit and wry humour.  Lombard is, as always, a treat:  She is scatterbrained, talks a mile a minute, and is absolutely loveable. Not to be missed.




Das Weib des Pharao

I watched the restored version of the 1922 Das Weib des Pharao last night.  The English title is The loves of pharaoh, although my rudimentary German suggests that Das Weib means The wife. It’s an interesting entry from director Ernst Lubitsch, who became associated in the US for his sophisticated, elegant, and wry comedies, and for whom the phrase “the Lubitsch touch” was coined.  This was his last German before he left for the US, and which he made to expand his repertoire to include epic films.  The story of the restoration of this film is fascinating, since no single print survived. It’s certainly not a film I have seen before, nor is it one that is shown much on television, so I am grateful to TCM for the opportunity to see it. The film is a shortened version of the original, since some parts have been lost forever; it includes also some still shots for scenes for which film is unavailable.  The story is clearly based on Verdi’s Aida, but no such attribution is provided. This film certainly lacks the Lubitsch touch, as no wit or humour is to be found.  As is the case with so many silent films, the acting is often over the top, which was the norm for this medium, but it is taken to some extremes in this film, particularly by the actors in blackface playing the Ethiopian characters.  The battle and crowd scenes are often stilted and clumsy; I don’t think this is surprising for an director who was known for his subtle and light touch. Perhaps because of Lubitsch’s lack of expertise in such a genre, the film and action sequences are too over the top, even by silent film standards. Still interesting to watch, however, especially because it is such an odd contrast to Lubitsch’s other films.

The film stars the controversial Emil Jannings, a favourite of director F. W. Murnau; in Hollywood, he is likely most known for his role in The blue angel, the simulataneous English-filmed version of Der blaue Engel. Janning’s work during the Third Reich in Nazi propaganda films meant the end of his acting career after the war.


Image source



In honour of Kirk Douglas

Since yesterday was Kirk Douglas’ birthday, I thought I’d reflect on some of my favourites of his works. Kirk Douglas has been an acquired taste for me, as I normally prefer actors with a more subtle touch, a quality I do not easily associate with him. Douglas excelled at playing tortured, driven characters and was associated with many significant films.  I certainly admire his passion for life and films, both of which were very evident in his book I am Spartacus, which chronicles all the work he put into ensuring that this film was made, and his insistence on using the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Douglas had an intense presence on the screen; it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. He was unabashedly larger than life.  To commemorate his 97th birthday, Douglas listed his birthday wishes:

  • A world where weapons, big and small, are symbols of weakness, not strength
  • A world where religion informs values, not governments
  • A world where the air is breathable, the water drinkable and the food is healthy and plentiful
  • A world where poor people are the smallest percentage of the population
  • A world where education and health care are available to everyone
  • A world where prejudice based on race, religion and nationality is non-existent
  • A world where smoking tobacco is considered a ridiculous practice from a bygone era
  • A world where all diseases are curable and physical pain is no longer a part of life
  • A world where we control technology, not the other way around
  • A world where greed is never considered good

Not a shabby list at all, Mr. Douglas.  Below is a list of my favourite Douglas films:

spartacus seven days paths aceout


Warner Brothers gangster films

Turner Classic Movies is featuring a variety of gangster films today.  I am a big fan of gangster films, which is the main reason why Warner Brothers is my favourite of the classic film studios.  In the 1930s and 1940s, Warner Brothers established a reputation for producing gritty, hard-edged films that featured streetwise and hard-bitten characters, who often met grisly ends. These Warner Brothers films embraced reality, rather than escaped from it.  Below is a list of my favourite Warner Brothers gangster films, many of which feature James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.  As a child, I didn’t like either Cagney or Robinson; I was drawn to the tall elegance of actors like Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Cary Grant.  It was not until much later in life that I learned to appreciate the artistry of Cagney and Robinson, and their innate ability to dominate every scene.

Public enemywhite heat Angels little caesar twentiesbullets


Sam Rockwell tribute

Susan Doll’s post pays tribute to one of my favourite contemporary actors, Sam Rockwell.  Doll expresses so well why Rockwell is such a gifted and versatile actress.  I, too, was introduced to Rockwell in Galaxy Quest, a film I like very much, particularly as a dyed-in-the-wool Trekker.  Rockwell can play comedy and drama equally well, and his performances are seamless; he truly becomes lost in the characters he plays.


Old versus new films

This post expresses so very well how I sometimes feel about watching newly-released films.  I’m an avid cinephile, but I’ve always been drawn to older films, preferably in black-or-white.  I have a number of new releases waiting for me on my DVR, courtesy of  my digital subscriptions, but my preference is always to turn to the recorded older films first.  Using film stills, Richard Harland Smith captures so wel why older films are so much more fun.


No new Sherlock until 2014?

The Huffington Post reported today that the third season of Sherlock might not air in Canada until 2014. This date pertains to PBS, so perhaps BBC Canada will air the show a little earlier.  Still, this is disappointing news, as I had been hoping for early 2013.  It’s clear that the filming schedules of Martin Freeman (The Hobbits) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek 2) are the root of the delay.  Given the talent of both actors, I’m pleased that they are both in demand, and I am eagerly anticipating Star Trek 2 (have I mentioned that I’m a Trekker?).  I’m sure that’s a collective scream I’m hearing from the legions of Sherlock fans.