Films Worth Viewing Year 3



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Jack Ryan films

Jack Ryan is a character developed by Tom Clancy. There is a TV series on Prime which covers the early years; however many of you may be more familiar with the films: "Patriot Games." Clear and Present Danger," and "The Sum of All Fears." The first two are available on Prime; the third is available on IMDb. "The Sum of All Fears" is the first chronologically. It was directed by Phil Alden Robinson, and it has an amazing cast. In 1973 during the wat between Israel and Arab States an Israeli jet is shot down and crashes in the Sinai. It was carrying a nuclear bomb. Many years later the bomb is discovered and sold to a Neo Nazi group who plan to use to provoke a nuclear between the US and Russia. A young CIA analyst, Jack Ryan (Ben Afleck) becomes involved when his profile of the new Soviet leader, Nemerov (Ciaan Hinds) comes to the notice of the CIA director, William Cabot (Morgan Freeman). I really liked this film, until the ending. This has a stellar cast" James Cromwell, Bruce McGill, Phllip Baker Hall, Alan Bates, Liev Schreiber, and Ron Rifkin among others. This is still well worth watching if you are partial to spy thrillers.

Of these three films, my favorite is "The Patriot Game." An older Jack Ryan, Harrison Ford, is a teacher at the Naval Academy married with a daughter. He is in London giving a speech. As he exits the speech, he sees an attempted assassination of a member of the British Royal family, Minister of State for Northern Ireland. He thwarts the attempt, saves the Minister, and kills one of the assassins, the brother of Sean Miller (Sean Bean) who is captured by Scotland Yard. Miller vows vengence at the trial. He later escapes. To complicate matters the group responsible is a violent breakaway faction of the IRA. The Sean Bean character is not realistic, his desire for revenge is over the top, and his group allows this need for revenge to dominate their operations. Still this is well acted with excellent action scenes. Phillip Noyce directed this and the sequel.

"Clear and Present Danger" is an an attempt look at the War on Drugs. Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) has become a senior analyst at the CIA. An assassination of a prominent American businessman and friend of the president along with his family on his boat is discovered by the Coast Guard. The President (Donald Moffat) is outraged and he puts in motion a plan to insert an unsanctioned secret military unit selected and led by Tom Clark (Willem Dafoe). Meanwhile, Jack Ryan has discovered that the president's friend was in business with the Cali Cartel. There is $650 million of the Cartel's money in secret accounts. Problems escalate until Ryan has to go to Colombia to bring the remnants of the team out. The banal corruption of the top leadership seemed unrealistic to me, but considering recent presidential behavior, perhaps I should reassess my thinking.

So what we have is a mini binge. Clancy is a huge popular author for a reason, and these films afford solid if somewhat guilty pleasures.
Enjoy or not as you see fit.
 
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"Apollo 11"-Todd Douglas Miller-2019

I came to this film with no expectations. It premiered on TV and won a few technical Emmys. I bought the DVD because I buy a lot of DVDs. The odds are that many(most) of you have never seen this. A good portion of you weren't alive in July, 1969 when these events took place. In my case, I was alive, but I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in India in 1969. I did see some film in a movie theater in India. Surprisingly, this was not the event I was questioned most about. Jackie Kennedy's re-marriage was a much bigger issue. Widow re-marriage is a major issue culturally and religiously in India.

This film made Apollo !! come alive for me. This period of just over a week is condensed into a manageable length film which still allows the viewer to place him or herself in Cape Kennedy and Houston. There is the voice of Walter Cronkite, the man who told us the gigantic stories of the day. As I listened, I became aware that his remarks were scripted, No even Cronkite could extemporize so elegantly. There was tremendous planning of everything in this venture. Amazingly almost everything was filmed including the rehearsals. Miller has stated that everything in the film happened on the day and at the time it actually happened. This was possible because NASA and the National Archives maintained a library of film and sound recordings. There were over 100 reels of film and 11,000 hours of sound recordings which this team had to view/hear, select, and synchronize.

How did this team take us back 50 years in time? Step by step. They show us views of the 10,000 cars and thousands of Americans famous (Johnny Carson) and average who were present at a moment in history. They also show us the restricted seating for 5,000 invited guests including members of Congress and Justices of the Supreme Court. We see Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins suit up. They journey to the launch pad, and go up 320 feet in an elevator and enter the capsule. We see concern in Houston over a leaky hydrogen value. In Houston we view rows and rows of white men wearing short sleeved white shirts and neckties. There is only one woman, and no persons of color. Behind a screen there are hundreds more technicians who are not visible. They are sometimes consulted. At the end of the film we see shots of the thousands of individuals who built the rockets, the lunar module, and developed the training protocols. During the film we spend our time with the 3 astronauts and the ground staff in Houston.

This film had me from the beginning. I wasn't bored, and I ignored the sound track music. We hear Nixon's public congratulations, and we hear Kennedy's speech a month before his assassination. Mission accepted, mission completed. I believe that the film makers were wise in how they chose to tell the story. They did their best to be accurate. The actual events are more moving than any script they could devise. My only criticism is that the DVD extras are paltry. However, if you do an internet search, you can find several entertaining interviews with Miller where he opens up about his process. Last year he made a short film about the 18 day quarantine the team went through after they landed. This short film had to be put together while the crew couldn't work together at a single site. They were in quarantine. I strongly recommend searching out these interviews.

This is a noble film of a great event. It is a gift that allows us to be there while history was made.
 
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Jack Ryan films

Jack Ryan is a character developed by Tom Clancy. There is a TV series on Prime which covers the early years; however many of you may be more familiar with the films: "Patriot Games." Clear and Present Danger," and "The Sum of All Fears." The first two are available on Prime; the third is available on IMDb. "The Sum of All Fears" is the first chronologically. It was directed by Phil Alden Robinson, and it has an amazing cast. In 1973 during the wat between Israel and Arab States an Israeli jet is shot down and crashes in the Sinai. It was carrying a nuclear bomb. Many years later the bomb is discovered and sold to a Neo Nazi group who plan to use to provoke a nuclear between the US and Russia. A young CIA analyst, Jack Ryan (Ben Afleck) becomes involved when his profile of the new Soviet leader, Nemerov (Ciaan Hinds) comes to the notice of the CIA director, William Cabot (Morgan Freeman). I really liked this film, until the ending. This has a stellar cast" James Cromwell, Bruce McGill, Phllip Baker Hall, Alan Bates, Liev Schreiber, and Ron Rifkin among others. This is still well worth watching if you are partial to spy thrillers.

Of these three films, my favorite is "The Patriot Game." An older Jack Ryan, Harrison Ford, is a teacher at the Naval Academy married with a daughter. He is in London giving a speech. As he exits the speech, he sees an attempted assassination of a member of the British Royal family, Minister of State for Northern Ireland. He thwarts the attempt, saves the Minister, and kills one of the assassins, the brother of Sean Miller (Sean Bean) who is captured by Scotland Yard. Miller vows vengence at the trial. He later escapes. To complicate matters the group responsible is a violent breakaway faction of the IRA. The Sean Bean character is not realistic, his desire for revenge is over the top, and his group allows this need for revenge to dominate their operations. Still this is well acted with excellent action scenes. Phillip Noyce directed this and the sequel.

"Clear and Present Danger" is an an attempt look at the War on Drugs. Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) has become a senior analyst at the CIA. An assassination of a prominent American businessman and friend of the president along with his family on his boat is discovered by the Coast Guard. The President (Donald Moffat) is outraged and he puts in motion a plan to insert an unsanctioned secret military unit selected and led by Tom Clark (Willem Dafoe). Meanwhile, Jack Ryan has discovered that the president's friend was in business with the Cali Cartel. There is $650 million of the Cartel's money in secret accounts. Problems escalate until Ryan has to go to Colombia to bring the remnants of the team out. The banal corruption of the top leadership seemed unrealistic to me, but considering recent presidential behavior, perhaps I should reassess my thinking.

So what we have is a mini binge. Clancy is a huge popular author for a reason, and these films afford solid if somewhat guilty pleasures.
Enjoy or not as you see fit.

The Hunt for Red October is the best Jack Ryan film and Alex Baldwin was the best Ryan (in my humble opinion, of course). It's also the film that launched the sequels. Why did you choose to leave this film out of your capsule? Did a miss something? That is always a possibility with me.

I have read most of the Ryan books. Baldwin captured the impulsive nature of Ryan in a way that Ford never did. He also seemed more instinctive and intellectual than Ford which were a big part of the books.

BTW, Baldwin turned down the second Ryan picture (Clear and Present Danger?). He was offered the chance to play Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway and took it. This was a conflict with the CPD schedule and the producers offered the part to Ford.
 
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The Hunt for Red October is the best Jack Ryan film and Alex Baldwin was the best Ryan (in my humble opinion, of course). It's also the film that launched the sequels. Why did you choose to leave this film out of your capsule? Did a miss something? That is always a possibility with me.

I have read most of the Ryan books. Baldwin captured the impulsive nature of Ryan in a way that Ford never did. He also seemed more instinctive and intellectual than Ford which were a big part of the books.

BTW, Baldwin turned down the second Ryan picture (Clear and Present Danger?). He was offered the chance to play Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway and took it. This was a conflict with the CPD schedule and the producers offered the part to Ford.
The reason why I did not include "The Hunt..." is because my copy is in storage. I found a free streaming option on 123 movies. See below.
 
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"The Hunt for Red October"-John McTiernan-1990

This the first Jack Ryan novel. It was originally published by the Naval Research Institute. It was a huge success. Mc Tiernan and Jan de Bont were coming off the huge success of "Die Hard." If you remember the original "Die Hard" it was set inside a single building the Nakatomi Tower. This was a good reference point for a film set in a submarine. The silent drive drive is fiction; the fact that there were indviduals on both sides who worked to avoid nuclear war on both sides is true.

In the film a senior Soviet Captain, Marko Raimus (Sean Connery) believes that his new sub Red October is designed as a first strike weapon. A CIA analyst working in London, Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) identifies anomalies on a new sub looking at photographs from space. He confirms with other experts that this new ship has a secret drive system which can't be picked up on sonar. Ryan has written an intelligence bio on the ship's captain. There are two options. The conventional option is that the Soviets are planning to use Red October as a first strike weapon. Ryan comes to believe that Raimus is panning to defect. The film explores how these two individuals can bring off a secret defection.

The film was budgeted at $30 million; it had a WWG of over $200 million. The film is paced superbly. It mixes shocks Milnius killing the political officer) with protacted building of tension (Milnius turning the sub around and going straight at a torpedo). This has an A+ cast including: Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Josh Ackland, Richard Jordan, and Tim Curry among others. I agree that this is probably the best Jack Ryan film.
It certainly holds up very well. The most common criticisms are that the portrayal of the Cold War is inaccurate. Even worse the submarine movement is inaccurate.. In my opinion it isn't something which will likely making your viewing less enjoyable.

This is fun and action has rarely been done better. The effects are seamless. You won't miss CGI.
 
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"The Hunt for Red October"-John McTiernan-1990

This the first Jack Ryan novel. It was originally published by the Naval Research Institute. It was a huge success. Mc Tiernan and Jan de Bont were coming off the huge success of "Die Hard." If you remember the original "Die Hard" it was set inside a single building the Nakatomi Tower. This was a good reference point for a film set in a submarine. The silent drive drive is fiction; the fact that there were indviduals on both sides who worked to avoid nuclear war on both sides is true.

In the film a senior Soviet Captain, Marko Raimus (Sean Connery) believes that his new sub Red October is designed as a first strike weapon. A CIA analyst working in London, Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) identifies anomalies on a new sub looking at photographs from space. He confirms with other experts that this new ship has a secret drive system which can't be picked up on sonar. Ryan has written an intelligence bio on the ship's captain. There are two options. The conventional option is that the Soviets are planning to use Red October as a first strike weapon. Ryan comes to believe that Raimus is panning to defect. The film explores how these two individuals can bring off a secret defection.

The film was budgeted at $30 million; it had a WWG of over $200 million. The film is paced superbly. It mixes shocks Milnius killing the political officer) with protacted building of tension (Milnius turning the sub around and going straight at a torpedo). This has an A+ cast including: Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Josh Ackland, Richard Jordan, and Tim Curry among others. I agree that this is probably the best Jack Ryan film.
It certainly holds up very well. The most common criticisms are that the portrayal of the Cold War is inaccurate. Even worse the submarine movement is inaccurate.. In my opinion it isn't something which will likely making your viewing less enjoyable.

This is fun and action has rarely been done better. The effects are seamless. You won't miss CGI.
Thanks, much appreciated. Completely agree.
 
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Hobbits in films

Peter Jackson mad six films in which Hobbits are central to the story. They are based on novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. He was a British academic(philologist)
who created an imaginary world (Middle Earth. His novel "The Hobbit" was published in the 1930's. He continued writing an extensive back story for two decades. The backstory includes languages, poetry, geneology, short stories, maps, drawings .and other items before the publication of" The Fellowship of the Ring." That was followed by two more books, "The Two Towers", and "The Return of the King." Whether or not they are to be considered a trilogy or a single novel is one of the mild controversaries surrounding his works. If literary disputes intrigue you, I suggest you crawl into that hole on your own.

The novels became immensely popular world wide. They have been translated into 38 (?) languages and have sold upwards of 150 million copies.
Originally, critical reception was mixed, but now these works are considered not only foundational works in fantasy, but make virtually all lists of the greatest novels in the English language. I suspect that many of you have read the novels; however, if you haven't let me advise you that the films do not directly follow the books. If you are interested in the books, let me suggest one of the many editions of "The Lord of the Rings" which bind together the trilogy. However, you should seek out a compilation which includes the prologue and the numerous appendices. The prologue deals with Hobbits; they also have their own novel. However, don't say you weren't warned. Middle Earth has proven addictive.

However, this is a site devoted to films. You should not feel you are a cultural denier if you have never read a word of the texts. Even so, we are still confronted with six films. The fact that I felt constrained to view all six films and re-read portions of the novels,should not constrain you. We all bring who we are to the films and the written word. For purposes of discussion here, I propose to discuss only two films. Jackson made the "Lord ofthe Rings" first. These films were shot in New Zeeland over a period of three years. The third film "The Return of the King" won 11 )scars and made over a billion dollars in box office. Over a decade later Jackson broke "The Hobbit" into three separate films: "An Unexpected Journey," The Desolation of Smaug," and "The Battle of the Five Armies." These three films achieved neither the critical success nor the popularity of the first trilogy. However. several characters appear in both sets. Gollum (Andy Serkis) and Ian MacKellan (Gandalf) appear as the same characters in both groupings. However, Iam Holm created the Bilbo Baggins role in the Ring Trilogy, but because The Hobbit occurs some sixty years earlier. Martin Freeman plays Bilbo in the Hobbit films.

I propose to consider only two films, but I will provide some backstory for each trilogy. I have chosen one film from each trilogy to discuss. From the Hobbit, I have chosen "The Desolation of Smaug." I believe it to be the best film in the trilogy, and it deals directly with the central issue of the trilogy the return of the dwarves to Erebor and in it the dragon (Benedict Cummberbach) gets a chance to shine. One likes villains to have more than malevolence, they should have character. The nature of addiction is key to understanding both the soul of Smaug and Thorin Oakinshield (Richard Armitrage). Several generations ago, a dwarven king ruled this incredibly rich mountain. The huge treasure hoard they accumulated drew the attention of the dragon Smaug. Dragons like gold and jewels more even than dwarves. The kingdom is smashed, the dwarves are killed or forced to flee homeless and impoverished. A descendent of the King plans to re-take the mountain, and when he obtains the arkenstone become the king of kings for all the dwarves of Middle Earth.

to be continued
 

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I thought the first film in the LOTR trilogy was the best of the 3. The entire Hobbit trilogy should be skipped, IMO.


There have also been several animated films based on Tolkien's writings. The quality of them varies greatly.

A television series based on The Silmarillion has been in the works for years.
 
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I thought the first film in the LOTR trilogy was the best of the 3. The entire Hobbit trilogy should be skipped, IMO.


There have also been several animated films based on Tolkien's writings. The quality of them varies greatly.

A television series based on The Silmarillion has been in the works for years.
I liked the first of the LOTR trilgy quite a bit; the second was the most disappointing because I like Ents,; the third has some great virtues, but it is betrayed by its length. If t he Hobbit films had been made first; then the tone might have been more appropriate.
 
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Thorin has been planning the return for years, but he is only able to gather a small group of dwarves to be his partners. A wizard, Gandalf, becomes aware of the effort to return to Erebor. He is not the only one to have this foreknowledge, orcs are also aware of the plan. Orcs are elves gone wrong. Some 1800 years before, the forces of evil led by perhaps the most powerful sorcerer of all time, Sauron, were defeated by the forces of good.
Sauron had created several sets of Rings of Power. There were three for elves.7 for dwarves, and 9 for mortal men. All of these rings were tied to Sauron and controlled by one "ring to rule them all." This ring disappeared after this battle between good and evil. The ring has the power to take the soul ofthe wearer. The ring wants to return to Sauron. The ruler of Gondor fails to destroy the ring which would destroy Sauron.

Tolkien sets up quest scenarios in both these trilogies. Think of Lancelot or perhaps the Odyssey. In the Hobbit the quest is apparently tp regain Erebor for the dwarves, but in fact this quest is a set up for the quest for the one ring. Among the huge treasure now held by Smaug is an artifact called the arkenstone. Its possession will unite the seven kingdoms of dwarves. There are two questions in the narrative. First why does Gandalf aid Thorin's quest? The second is why does he recruit Bilbo Baggins to be part of the tear to retake Erebor? Gandalf senses that power of evil is on the rise, and he believes that restoring the dwarves in Erebor will help in the coming fight. However, Smaug has no real relation to Sauron. Could Sauron use the power of a dragon in his rise to power? This is one of those times where you have to accept the internal illogic to continue on the quest. Gandalf has a feeling that a particular Hobbit will aid in Thorin's quest. Hobbits have been largely ignored by the other beings living in Middle Earth.
Other beings are often not even aware of their existence.

Physically Hobbits are even shorter than dwarves. They are primarily farmers. They live in modified holes in the ground. They apparently the source of pipe weed, but little else. However, they seem to lack a drive for fame, riches, and power. They are innocent, but they have some moral strength.

All of these films were shot on location in New Zeeland. The locations are beautiful, and they vary greatly from the bucolic eden of the Shire to the desolation of Mordor. The costuming and make-up are superb. However, where the books attend to the details of daily life, the films focus on major set pieces. One of the most telling criticisms of the films is that they change the central focus from Hobbits to other more traditional heroes.
The Hobbits are the exemplars of moral courage. They also have innocence. Yes, Bilbo wants to experience adventure, but he has little desire for material rewards or power. Gandalf represents duty; his responsibility is to preserve and protect. The elves and humans struggle with duty; they often fail. Even Frodo when he takes up duty, destroy the one ring, falters. Only Samwise (Sean Astin) remains true,

to be continued
 
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"Hopscotch"-Ronald Neame-1980

I will return to Hobbits or not; sometimes things do not proceed to a successful conclusion.

As some of you may remember I am fond of spy films. I also admit to having a predilection for caper films. This forgotten film combines both genres.
It has a brilliant score which features Mozart. Figaro is the title character in two of the greatest operas: Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" and Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" Music from both Figaro's is used in the score. It turns out that Matthau loved Mozart. I neglected to mention that Walter Matthau plays Miles Kendig CIA officer heading up the Berlin Station. The date is never really confirmed. The novel on which it is based came out in the early 70's. The author, Brian Garfield, is the author of "Death Wish." He is the screenwriter along with Brian Forbes who at one time was slated to direct. This is one of those films which bounced around Hollywood for more than a few years. The Landaus (Ellie and Martin) became attached as producers. They are known for such works as "Long Day's Journey into Night", "The Iceman Cometh," and Rhinoceros."

Ronald Neame became attached very late in the process. Neame was 99 when he died in 2010. He is known primarily as a cinematographer. His first credits came in the early 30's. He worked with David Lean on the Noel Coward films ("Blithe Spirit," "In Which We Serve." etc) behind the camera. He also did some script work including "Brief Encounter." He started directing in the mid-forties. Among his best films are two with Guiness: "Tunes of Glory," and "The Horses Mouth." Other films of note include "The Odessa File" and "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie."

Garfield worked with Neame on the set to polish the script. He said he wrote 27 versions of the script. He would sit in a corner of the set and make revisions on his manual typewriter. Neame said he was the fastest typist he ever saw. Interestingly, Matthau contributed several ideas to the script.
Matthau was a draw for some of the other principals, particularly Glenda Jackson (Isobel). The other principals include Herbert Lom as Laskov the head of Soviet Intelligence in Weastern Europe. Ned Beatty (an underrated actor) as Meyerson a bureaucrat from dirty tricks who has taken over Miles Kendig's section. Sam Watterson is Cutler a Kendig protegee who takes over Kendig's Berlin job.

The film opens in Octoberfest in West Berlin. Kendig is on site taking pictures of the roll up of the Soviet Intelligence team in Berlin. He retrieves the goods from Laskov who is also on site. He lets him go; they have a history. This enrages Meyerson, who fires Kendig and assigns him to archives. Kendig won't let this stand; he devises a counter. He will publish his memoirs which will expose the secrets of the CIA and other intelligence agencies including the Soviets. He sends a chapter at a time to a half dozen or more agencies. They try and track/stop him. He leads them a merry chase through Europe( Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and England) and the US (Washington, Atlanta, Savannah) remaining one step ahead of his pursuers. Meyerson issues a kill order. No one is killed in the film, but Kendig embarrasses many.

Think of the Bourne movies without violence, but with wit and cunning. The film came out after several books critical of the CIA were published. There was a famous "60 Minutes" profile of Frank Snepp who exposed some of the more unsavory deeds of the Agency, His case had reached the Supreme Court when the film was released. He was at the Vietnam desk; he published an uncleared memoir in 1977. He lost the case beforethe Supreme Court, but his book was already out there. A more recent film, "The Bridge of Spies" deals with the events surrounding the exchange of Rudolf Abel for Garry Powers.

This film is a particular favorite of mine. There are some memorable scenes including where old lovers Kendig and Isobel meet for the first time in years to discuss wines. Another classic scene involves the destruction of Meyerson's vacation home by the FBI. Kendig rented it to work on his memoirs. I love the ending, but I will not reveal it. YouTube has a free streaming option. I suspect few of you have seen this film, but you really should. Like the best wine, it has aged well.
 
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Zy - Have you ever watched Sullivan's Travels? (1941) Written and directed by Preston Sturges. It's an absolute classic with a simple message, that humor is as important as art or any other human endeavor. It's also a well delivered slap in the face to pretension in Hollywood. Best of all, it features a glorious young Veronica Lake.
 
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Zy - Have you ever watched Sullivan's Travels? (1941) Written and directed by Preston Sturges. It's an absolute classic with a simple message, that humor is as important as art or any other human endeavor. It's also a well delivered slap in the face to pretension in Hollywood. Best of all, it features a glorious young Veronica Lake.

No question, "Sullivan's Travels" is a certified classic. One of the two best Preston Sturges directed movies in my opinion, the other being "The Lady Eve".
 
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Zy - Have you ever watched Sullivan's Travels? (1941) Written and directed by Preston Sturges. It's an absolute classic with a simple message, that humor is as important as art or any other human endeavor. It's also a well delivered slap in the face to pretension in Hollywood. Best of all, it features a glorious young Veronica Lake.
I wrote a comment about this film June 11th 2019. I followed up with a comment on "Grand Canyon" where the character played by Steve Martin (a film producer of action films) says it is the greatest film ever made. This Lawrence Kasdan film is a special favorite of mine. Sturges is a great director, my favorite is "The Lady Eve" with Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck ( another personal favorite) which I also wrote a comment for this site.

Next up is "The Man in the White Suit". This is one of the classic Ealing Comedies. Alec Guiness stars as chemistry nerd/inventor. He develops a synthetic fabric which lasts forever and is impervious to stains, dirt, etc. This will be up tomorrow morning.
 
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"The Man in the White Suit"-Alexander McKendrick-1951

There is an old English Joke where a young boy calls a tobacco shop and asks: "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" The shop owner answers "Yes."
The young boy replies: "You should let him out." Guiness thought of himself as a stage actor to the end of his life, but this film made him a star on screen. Today his other Ealing comedies are better remembered (Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob) , but here Guiness proves he can carry a film. He was knighted in 1959, probably more for his stage work.

Sidney Stratton, despite his First and his history as a research fellow has been continually fired from jobs in the textile industry, He was the nerd before his time. He has set up an unauthorized lab in his current position which seems to be lab janitor. His lab makes strange sounds and has strange lights. There is a hint of Dr.Frankenstein, but perhaps not so menacing. His goal is to produce a new synthetic fiber which will last forever and is impervious to dirt and stains. He is discovered and fired once again. He has financed his research by less than ethical means. Yet, he appears to be a complete innocent. Guiness' facial expressions are open, his manner benign. His purpose is unwavering.

He manages to find another job in the textile industry at industry leader Birnley. This time he is moving boxes from one place to another. He attracts the attention of the working class girl Birtha (Vida Hope). However, the potential relationship with Daphne Birnley ( Joan Greenwood), the daughter of Alan Birnley (Cecil Parker) the CEO of the Birnley is more important.

He worms his way into the lab because he is the only one who really understands how to use an electron microscope. The secret lab is setup once again. This time Sidney succeeds in producing his new super fiber. That is the beginning of problems for the entire industry and even for society itself. Labor and capital are united in opposition to this new invention. Sidney has a suit made from this new fabric. Of course it is white, the color of innocence.

One is reminded of a Frank Capra film. Like the Potter role in "It's a Wonderful Life", we have a wheelchair bound villain, Sir John Kierlaw (Ernest Thesiger). When the fabric proves unstable, the status quo is saved , Sidney walks of the screen, We see only his back, but the voice over narration warns he may be back. Science can't be easily controlled.

The textile industry was one of the pillars of the Industrial Revolution in England. The film pokes fun at both sides of the industry, however, it is more than hinted that science can be the real problem. Where labor and capital are predictable, science is open ended. It moves forward with little thought of the consequences.

Highly recommended, there is a free streaming option at archive.org.
 
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"Citizen Kane"-Orson Welles-1941

This film is my great white whale. I had seen it perhaps a half dozen times before I began preparation for this comment. I was ambivalent. Yes, it was beautifully filmed, but I thought rather showy. Until I began my extensive study, I didn't realize this was the Hollywood opinion. I hadheard about Orson Welles as a child. My father told me about the Mercury Theater production of H.G. Welles "War of the Worlds" in detail. Of course I listened to radio growing up, That was not the radio of decoder rings and singing cowboys and Fibber McGee's closet which I knew. Welles was an artistic boy genius. He started his acting career as a teenager in Dublin. He walked into the Gate Theater claiming he was a Broadway star; he aced the audition and was soon on stage. Returning to the US because he couldn't get a work visa; he soon found work in the theater and n radio. He was a founding member of the Mercury Theater. The group mounted productions on stage and over the air. RKO sought him out. He signed a two picture deal which gave him unprecedented freedom including the final cut. His first two submissions were rejected, but the third was accepted. Welles co-scripted with Herman Manciewicz. There iis a long running controversy about who was primarily responsible for the final screenplay.

It was Welles' intention to use theater actors primarily from the Mercury Theater company who had never appeared in films. There is one exception, the vocal coach for his second wife. John Houseman and Bernard Herman also came from New York. Houseman was an unofficial producer, and drunk minder for Mankiewicz. Herman wrote the score which included a musical comedy song and a bit of opera. Herman would later work with Hitchcock. Greg Toland (Cinematographer) and Robert Wise were working in Hollywood. Toland was known for his work with John Ford. Wise was just beginning his career. He came on after Welles fired the first editor. Welles and Toland developed a relationship of mutual respect almost immediately. This was a hugely influential film initially because of its use of the latest technology. Search out other sites to discover in detail innovations in lighting and camera work. An excellent place to start is Roger Ebert's commentary. D.W. Griffith said" "I loved Citizen Kane, and I particularly loved the ideas he took from me." Ebert is correct that Welles used new and/or developing techniques as Griffith had done in silent films.

I would like to ignore the massive controversy surrounding the film. Charles Foster Kane was somewhat loosely based on the publisher William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was livid; he attacked the film in his papers, and he refused to take ads for any RKO films. He lobbied theater chains to ban the film. Where "Citizen Kane" was shown; it did solid business. The war was limiting foreign markets; Kane was a box office failure. However, the critical reception was excellent. Kane won only one Oscar, best original script. there was block voting against the film by organized groups. It is interesting that Hearst didn't try to have the film blocked by the Hayes' office.

The film was basically unavailable until it began showing on TV. It became an art house staple in the '60's. "Sight and Sound" polls directors and critics to rank films every ten years. "Citizen Kane" was top ranked from 1962 on. I watched the film 3 times over the last two days. I watched the Ebert and Bogdonovitch commentaries first, then I watched the unadorned film. I read extensively about the film. this included several dozen reviews. I have changed my mind about this film. It is a great film, and I think I have some insights to share.

To be continued
 
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One of the startling bits of information I uncovered is that Donald Trump claimed that this was his favorite film. oh wait he later revealed that "Deadly Bloodsport" was his favorite film. For film buffs, this is ticking off a big box. I admit to being a contrarian, but I'm not above questioning my judgement. It has been opined that the film doesn't change, but the viewer changes. The film sometimes does change, Ebert remarks how much one can see in the 35 millimeter version than the original prints. Of course the nitrate prints burned up in the 70's. Ted Turner was supposed to be trying to colorize "Citizen Kane." Let's accept that the viewer brings his/her experiences to the movie. Watching the two commentaries gave me a different subtext when I watched the film a third time in two days. I was a consciously more informed viewer. What did I see?

The film opens with shots of Kane's mansion, Xanadu. We see the metal fencing and the No Trespassing sign. We also view a light in one window. There is a quick wipe into a news reel (News on the March). This was s takeoff on "Time" magazine's "The March of Time." Welles appeared on the CBS radio show. After the newsreel is shown for professional news personnel , one journalist is given the task of discovering the "meaning" of Kane's last word "Snowbud." Thompson, William Allard, begins his research with Kane's second wife, Susan Aldrich Kane ( Dorothy Cummingore), she won't tell him anything. Thompson (we never see his face} next visits the library of Thatcher. He was the banker who oversaw Kane s' development untilhe turned 25. Then he would come into his inheritance which began with a huge goldmine. Reading the unpublished memoir setup flashbacks to the boy in Colorado. Rosebud remains illusive, and Thompson interviews Bernstein, Kane's business manager. The flashbacks can cover long periods of time. There is the famous flashback of Kane having breakfast with his first wife, Emily Norton (Ruth Warwick) through several years. They groe both more emotionally and physically distant over the years.

Of all his holdings Kane is interested in one, a second rate NYC daily, "The Inquirer." When he comes into his fortune at 25, he throws himself into the development of the paper. On the first day of his management, he has a statement of purpose appear on the front page. This avows that the paper will protect the interests of the working class. When Kane returns to manage the paper, he brings along his closest friend, Jed Leland (Joseph Cotton). Cotton becomes the drama critic. At one point it looks like Kane will become governor of New York. A scandal derails him. The depression hits his group of newspapers hard. Kane has spent money building up a print and radio empire. The bank takes over his empire. He retires to Xanadu, his unfinished palace in Florida with his second wife. His attempt to make her a great opera singer has been a total failure. After several years in Xanadu, Susan leaves him. Kane grows old alone. He has no friends or family. When he dies, a snow globe falls from his hand and breaks as he utters "Rosebud." The snow globe was in Susan's apartment the night they met. Kane has been buying things from all over the word for decades. After his death, they are catalogued and put up for auction. Thompson arrives to photograph the mass of goods, and perhaps to find Rosebud. He is unsuccessful, but he states that finding Rosebud wouldn't explain Kane's life. We are let in on what Rosebud is, but the reveal doesn't really help us How did Kane's life go so wrong?

I couldn't find a free streaming service. The film is a technical masterpiece, an arresting story with excellent acting. I recognize the achievement, but it doesn't move me emotionally. This was Welles" first film, in the estimate of critics and directors it is his best. Welles wasn't portraying himself in the film. Most actors wanted to work with him; Charlton Heston insisted that Welles direct "A Touch of Evil" as a condition of his signing on to star. Both Wise and Toland were fans. You really need to watch this on a big screen; the next best thing is to get a DVD with lots of extras.
 
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I can't remember the first time I saw "Citizen Kane", it was certainly a long time ago. It is one those films my wife and I will watch whenever we come across it on television. Excellent film with all sorts of interesting stuff in it, the only part of the movie that doesn't do much for me is the Susan Alexander singing opera part, but then again I do quite enjoy the business of Joseph Cotten and the review of her singing.
 
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I liked the bit where the stagehand holds his nose looking down at Susan. Sometimes it is hard to understand Kane's behavior. One for instance is his finishing Leland's column. Is Welles making a point here? I think so, when Thompson says that finding out abut Rosebud won't explain Kane's life this seems to say can you really ever know another person? There is much more subtlety in this film than I thought before. I'm not sure I understand Kane, but that's okay. Easy answers tend to be non answers
 
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"The Music Room"-Satyajit Roy-1958

When I wrote the comment on "Pather Panjali" i dealt with some of Roy's background. This was filmed between "Aparajito" and "Apu Sansar." Roy had a problem, despite the success of "Pather Panchali", "Aparakito" was a failure at the box office. Like Kurosawa, Roy was more admired outside His native country. Roy had another major problem; India's film industry produces and promotes Hindi films. Bengali films were distributed almost exclusively in Bengal. The market was almost exclusively urban. This film is Roy's attempt to reach a larger domestic market. He believed that the introduction of music and dance might do this. He also thought that the unfamiliarity of Indian music would make it difficult for Western audiences

I just lost almost three hours of composition. I think this is a terrific film, but I can't face re-creation at this point. You can stream this through Criterion, Kanopy (if you have a library card), or Prime for a few bucks. I feel killing myself; I actually liked what I wrote about this film. You can check out Ebert's review. Ask me questions please.
 
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"Lagaan"-Ashutosh Gowariker-2001

This film had a widespread worldwide release. It was shown at numerous film festivals. and it was reviewed favorably around the world. It was nominated for the Oscar as best foreign film. It runs for almost 3and 1/2 hours. There is an excellent print available on YouTube. Sadly, there are no English subtitles. So why bother? It has excellent visuals, a very interesting story, meticulous period detail, clever use of music, and compelling performances by the lead actors. The film is subtitled: "Once Upon a Time in India." Unlike the series of films which followed Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West," this film is a classic fairytale "Once Upon a time..."

The film is ostensibly set in 1893. This is British India, but the village is not under direct British control. It is ostensibly ruled by a rajah, but he must pay a tax, lagaan, to the British for protection. This tax is collected from the villagers in grain (Primarily rice and wheat). The region is suffering through a drought. Last year the rains came late, and the crops were poor. The rajah was able to negotiate a payment of half the normal lagaan. This year the drought is even worse. The leader of the local troops, Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne) tells the rajah that this year there will be a dpuble lagaan. Even if the rains come, this tax will be almost impossible to pay.

The hero, a local farmer, Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), is making it difficult for the British captain to hunt deer. He throws stones startling the deer just before the captain shoots. He later mocks the British officers' cricket match. This leads to a confrontation between Bhuvan and Captain Russell. A bet is made. If the locals defeat the British in the cricket match, then there will be no lagan, If they lose there will be triple lagan for three years. Captain Russell is a racist thug. His behavior offends his sister, Elizabeth ( Rachel Shelly). She decides to help the villagers. There is a young village woman, Gauri (Gracey Singh) who wants to marry Bhuvan. Aamir Khan is one of the premier Bollywood stars. He set up his own peoducrion company to make this film. The two English actors (Paul Blackthorne and Rachel Kelly) are better known for TV work. (Blackthorne stared in "The Dresden Files" a personal favorite.) Gacy Singh's first film didn't promote her stardom; she is better known for her vocal work.

The film cleverly intertwines religion, opposition to British rule, and romance. Naturally both Gauri and Elizabeth want Bhuvan. In Hinduism, Krishna and Rhada never consummate their love. Their story is the basis for the doomed relationship between Bhuvan and Elizabeth. Cricket has become a staple of Indian life. Internationally, India has risen to the top in cricket. It is played all over India.

Elizabeth becomes a cricket spy for the villages; Gauri resents and fears her involvement. The villagers at first blame Bhuvan for creating a life threatening disaster, but under his leadership they become a team. The team unites all India. The team includes a cast which includes a Sikh, a Muslin, and an untouchable. The songs are romantic and patriotic.

The songs are better integrated, and they move the plot forward. Captain Russell is a classic villain with no redeeming qualities. What could be an anti British diatribe is moderated by Elizabeth and the British colonel. Then there is cricket; to misquote Shakespeare: "The game's the thing wherin we catch delight of all..."

I liked this quite a lot; yes 3 hours plus is long, but this is never tedious, Viewing options are limited, but if you can find the DVD, it's worth it. It has one long section which was deleted which is well worth viewing. This is the most accessible Indian version of epics like "The Ten Commandments" or perhaps some of David Lean's films. This isn't a great film, but it is great entertainment.
 
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"My Name is Khan"- Karan Johar-2010

There is a solid free streaming option at 123Movies. This was an attempt to make a new Bollywood film. It deals with epic issues good versus evil, human identity in a changing and dangerous world, and how one individual can change the world. I almost forgot there is an unconventional love story. Johar is better known as a producer, but he is a quality film maker. However, the key factor in Fox's involvement was Shah Rukh Khan's involvement. He was the unquestioned top star in Bollywood. Then he was pared with Kajol, his favorite co-star. Think Tracy and Hepburn. Fox Searchlight took over worldwide distribution. Typically Hindi films make most of their money from the domestic market. The next most important area for profit is overseas Indians. This film opened around the world in late 2010.

Shah Rukh Khan plays an Indian Muslim born and raised in Mumbai. He suffers from Asperger's syndrome, but he is undiagnosed until he comes to the US after the death of his mother. She told him that there are only two types of people in the world" good and bad. He leaves Mumbai only after her death. He joins his younger brother and his wife in the US (San Francisco). His brother runs a business selling beauty products. Rivan Khan is a high functioning Asperger's individual, but salesmanship is extremely difficult for him. He is highly intelligent and he can fix almost anything. He meets and falls in love with Mendira who works in a salon. She is a single mother with a young son Sammy. It appears that they will have a wonderful life together as a family. The only problem is that she is a Hindu, but only his brother takes real issue. It is Khan's sister-in-law who has him diagnosed with Asperger's.

There little world falls apart after 9-11. Violence against Muslims, and those who look like Muslims spreads in the US. The culmination is the murder of Sammy by a group of teenagers on a soccer field. He has taken Khan as his last name; Mendira in her anguish blames Khan. He loses her love; he goes on a quest to meet the US president. When he meets him, he will say" "My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist." The journey is not easy nor short.

This is a long film over 2 and 1/2 hours. The pacing is good. Past and present are mixed together. The two central performances are excellent. Shah Rukh Khan studied Asperger's for over a year, and he maintained his character off screen while filming. There is Bollywood style music, but it is integrated in the film, and there are no real stoppages of the plot for musical interludes. The film is in Hindi and English with subtitles. As you might expect, the film ends on a hopeful note. I enjoyed it; you might too. I promise no more Indian films for a while.
 
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"The Secret of Roan Inish"-John Sayles- 1994

This is available on Prime. The film is an adaptation of the children's book "The Secret on Ron Mills Skerry" written an illustrated by Rosalie K. Fig. She was a coast watcher in World War II in Skerry. She was looking for U Boats, but she saw seals. The locals told her stories of the "Skerry" half human and half seal. She used one of those stories as a basis for the book. It was read as a child by a friend of Sayles. She suggested that he make a film of the book. She gave Sayles a copy of the book which she purchased at a library sale for twenty-five cents. Sayles wrote the script and as he often does edited the film.

This was a tough film to finance; Sayles used some of his own money to reach the $3 million budget. The Irish government provided some support. Perhaps that was the reason why the film was made in Ireland and not Scotland. The cast and crew were primarily Irish. One of the most important exceptions was Haskell Wexler the multiple Oscar winning cinematographer. He brought his equipment and a cameraman to Ireland. This a beautiful film performed by a cast of mainly amateurs. The story is told through the eyes of 10 year old Fiona Coneely (Jeni Courtney). She was discovered by
interviewing thousands of young girls. She was a competition swimmer, and her mother saw a TV appeal for a girl to play the part. I think she is excellent.

The film is based on the legend of skerries. Think mermaids. The skerrie can shed his/her skin and live on land. If you hold the skerry's skin, you can control them. What we call seals are most often sea lions. This film uses real seals and animatronics. The real seals were found washed ashore and and raised in tanks. There is some footage of wild seals filmed in Skerry.

There is a family legend that many Coneely's are descended from a skerrie. After living on land for years and having many children, she returned to the sea. Once a generation a Coneely is born with dark hair which is the skerrie inheritance. During the 30'sand 40's islanders left the islands for the mainland. They were pushed by economics and then the war to leave their homes. They were Irish speakers. Irish Gaelic is both a written and spoken language, but spoken Irish varies so much from region that it is almost different languages. As you might expect, the score consists of traditional Irish music. The film is set in the immediate post war period. Fiona's mother has died. He little brother, Jamie ,vanished in his boat cradle. She moved with her father to Glasgow. She is desperately unhappy and she is sent to live with her grandparents in Donegal She hears a story from a black haired Coneely which lays out the family history with skerries. She discovers that her little brother still lives watched over by seals. He returns from time to time to Roan Inish. Fiona wants to bring Jamie back to the family. She and her cousin Eamon plan to make a life with the grandparents and Jamie on Roan Inish.

Enormous care was taken in filming despite a limited budget to provide a realistic setting for fantasy. This is a superb family film. It did reasonably well at the box office, and it was a critical favorite, but it is largely forgotten today. Highly recommended.
 

HuskyHawk

The triumphant return of the Blues Brothers.
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"The Secret of Roan Inish"-John Sayles- 1994

This is available on Prime. The film is an adaptation of the children's book "The Secret on Ron Mills Skerry" written an illustrated by Rosalie K. Fig. She was a coast watcher in World War II in Skerry. She was looking for U Boats, but she saw seals. The locals told her stories of the "Skerry" half human and half seal. She used one of those stories as a basis for the book. It was read as a child by a friend of Sayles. She suggested that he make a film of the book. She gave Sayles a copy of the book which she purchased at a library sale for twenty-five cents. Sayles wrote the script and as he often does edited the film.

This was a tough film to finance; Sayles used some of his own money to reach the $3 million budget. The Irish government provided some support. Perhaps that was the reason why the film was made in Ireland and not Scotland. The cast and crew were primarily Irish. One of the most important exceptions was Haskell Wexler the multiple Oscar winning cinematographer. He brought his equipment and a cameraman to Ireland. This a beautiful film performed by a cast of mainly amateurs. The story is told through the eyes of 10 year old Fiona Coneely (Jeni Courtney). She was discovered by
interviewing thousands of young girls. She was a competition swimmer, and her mother saw a TV appeal for a girl to play the part. I think she is excellent.

The film is based on the legend of skerries. Think mermaids. The skerrie can shed his/her skin and live on land. If you hold the skerry's skin, you can control them. What we call seals are most often sea lions. This film uses real seals and animatronics. The real seals were found washed ashore and and raised in tanks. There is some footage of wild seals filmed in Skerry.

There is a family legend that many Coneely's are descended from a skerrie. After living on land for years and having many children, she returned to the sea. Once a generation a Coneely is born with dark hair which is the skerrie inheritance. During the 30'sand 40's islanders left the islands for the mainland. They were pushed by economics and then the war to leave their homes. They were Irish speakers. Irish Gaelic is both a written and spoken language, but spoken Irish varies so much from region that it is almost different languages. As you might expect, the score consists of traditional Irish music. The film is set in the immediate post war period. Fiona's mother has died. He little brother, Jamie ,vanished in his boat cradle. She moved with her father to Glasgow. She is desperately unhappy and she is sent to live with her grandparents in Donegal She hears a story from a black haired Coneely which lays out the family history with skerries. She discovers that her little brother still lives watched over by seals. He returns from time to time to Roan Inish. Fiona wants to bring Jamie back to the family. She and her cousin Eamon plan to make a life with the grandparents and Jamie on Roan Inish.

Enormous care was taken in filming despite a limited budget to provide a realistic setting for fantasy. This is a superb family film. It did reasonably well at the box office, and it was a critical favorite, but it is largely forgotten today. Highly recommended.

This is a long time family favorite of ours. Very well done.
 
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"Baby Face"-Alfred E. Green-1933

The New York Post proclaimed Lily Powers to be " a vixen of the lowest order>" The reviewer probably hadn't seen the original version which was rejected by the censors in New York. Warner Brothers pulled the original and made quite a few changes. The pulled version remained in a Library of Congress until 2004. When that version was discovered it made its way to film festivals, Turner Classic, and to The National Film Registry within a year.. It has been named "one of the top ten films which called the Production Code to be enforced."

Remember this is the depth of the Great Depression. The entire movie industry was at risk. Warner and other major studios were taking major risks in hopes of finding an audience. Warner Brothers were known for gangster films, but that wasn't the only arrow in their quiver. Films with risky sexuality were another option. The story was written by Darryl F, Zanuck, then production head at Warner Brothers. He sold the story for one dollar; he was making $3500 a week, so it wasn't a sacrifice. Barbara Stanwyck (Lily Powers) starred in several early Capra films "The Bitter Tea of General Yen" and "Miracle Woman" which pushed the Production Code boundaries.

The film opens with Lily Powers working in her father's speakeasy in Erie, PA. He had been selling her sexual favors since she was 14. Her friend and co-worker Chico (Thelma Harris) is a young black woman. The soundtrack makes use of two songs, "Baby Face" and the "St. Louis Blues" beneath the action. When the still under the club explodes killing her father, Lily is at a crossroads. She seeks advice from a local shoemaker and regular customer. He is an ardent reader of Friedrich Nietzsche. Her urges Lily to leave Erie and go to the big city. There she should use her beauty and personality to exploit men and get what she wants. Lily takes his advice; she hops a freight with Chico. However, they are discovered and threatened with 30 days jail time. Lily talks him out of this using sex. We never see the sex, but the implication is clear.

The poster advertising the film shows Stanwyck standing next to a ladder. The implication is clear, she will climb to the top man by man. One of her early conquests at the NYC bank where she finds a job is John Wayne. She ends up some years later with the bank president, Cortland Trenholm (George Brent). Brent was the favorite leading man of Betty Davis. Chico remains with Lily throughout her climb, but she appears as a servant. Thelma Harris had a long career in Hollywood; she was a singer and dancer as well as an actress. This film relationship is outside the Hollywood norm. Stanwyck had the ability to make unlikeable characters come alive often with some redeaming qualities. While her performance in "Double Indemnity" is for me the pinnacle, this take is just below the summit.

Unfortunately, free streaming options require jumping through hoops. If you Have Turner Classic, it is available there, and it can be rented on Prime for two bucks. Highly recommended.
 

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