Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)

It's a week after Bastille Day and we're having a heatwave. What better reasons to watch Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1953)? Jacques Tati's delightful satire of vacationing at the French seashore is nearly silent, making it ideal for those who don't like subtitles. The dearth of dialog is more than compensated for by the music, Tati's direction, and the actors, especially the peerless Tati. The physical comedy is universally hilarious and really is what this movie is about. The simple plot is basically how a varied group of middle-class French spend their mandatory August vacation at a small seaside hotel. Tati mines the constant motion for endless laughs–a la Three Stooges crossed with Benny Hill. (Remember, the French revere Jerry Lewis, as do I.)

Having watched the film with subtitles and dubbed, I don't think the dialog adds much to one's enjoyment. Tati did receive an Oscar nomination for the screenplay, but we know that scripts aren't just the words spoken. After all, another French movie won a screenplay Oscar without any words at all. (The Red Balloon in 1957)

★★★★★

 

1776 (1972)

It's raining on this July 4th, so with the parade done, outdoor activity is off for the day. Fortunately, the Drexel Theater showed 1776 this afternoon (and tomorrow morning).

The only movie about what we celebrate on July 4th–the Declaration of Independence–is a musical. 1776 was a financially and critically successful Broadway show that had opened in 1969, so it was an easy decision for Jack Warner to put it on the screen. Coming at the height of the Vietnam era, the closing months of President Nixon's first term, and not long after the race riots and civil rights assassinations of the 1960s, it was also very relevant–even for a period piece. It has an anti-war ballad (“Momma, Look Sharp”) and a number about the slave trade (“Molasses to Rum”). President Nixon is reported to have asked Columbia Pictures to cut “Cool, Cool Considerate Men,” which is critical of the greed and economic self-preservation of conservative politicians.

Surprisingly, a two-and-a-half-hour 1972 musical about events of a month in 1776 is still very effective and entertaining. Even more surprisingly, most of the Broadway cast was retained for the film. Blythe Danner replaced Betty Buckley, but it's not detrimental. The film is very talky and somewhat static, but opening it up beyond the few street scenes that were added would have only made the running time longer. Despite being a musical, it has virtually no choreography–Onna White was retained from the stage–unsurprising for a show with only two small female parts and essentially confined to a conference room.

For me, the truest test of 1776's relative merit today came as I was leaving the theater with my daughter and her friend, both eleven years old. They decreed the movie to be “great.” Of course, they're spending the rest of the rainy afternoon playing video games, but even the American Revolution took eight years.

★★★★☆

 

Detour (1945)

You should be watching the Bruins and Blackhawks battle for the Stanley Cup or a baseball game, preferably the Red Sox. Or you should be biking, barbecuing, or swimming. However, if you really want to take in a movie, I recommend Detour (1945).

Edgar Ulmer's masterwork is barely over an hour, making it a nice bite-size entertainment that won't keep you indoors too long. Better yet, it will stop you from picking up hitchhikers, if you're planning a road trip.

The aptly named actress Ann Savage is sensational as a femme fatale who turns nice guy Tom Neal's world upside down. Any further description of the plot would spoil this tight, stylish film for viewers.

Suffice it to say, Ulmer's expressionist background, dirt-cheap budget, outstanding screenplay, and week-long shoot ensure that this noir classic is a fast-paced little gem of the genre that has become a must-see for noir aficianados and a treat for all. This is the movie that The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) wishes it could be.

★★★★˝

 

Arrested Development (2003-2006, 2013)

A string of elaborate set-ups to clever but odd punchlines in sitcom format. Fantastic.

★★★★★

I Married A Witch (1942)

I Married A Witch is Rene Clair's perfect little comedy confection of a movie. Veronica Lake is at her peak, just slightly drawing attention from the great Fredric March and Cecil Kellaway. Susan Hayward also leaves an impression in an early supporting role. Robert Benchley gives a reliably fine performance.

Lake is a long-dormant 17th century witch and Kellaway is her equally cursed father. When they are roused from the tree in which they have been trapped, they must cope with the 20th century. Lake is drawn to March's Massachusetts politician and tries to help him in his quest to be elected the state's governor. Hayward is his increasingly jealous social-climbing fiancée. Screwball hijinks ensue for all.

I Married A Witch stands up well to other New England-based classic screwball comedies, including Nothing Sacred, The Devil and Daniel Webster, George Washington Slept Here, Talk of the Town, and Bringing Up Baby. Clair shows a deft touch with fairly light material, taking advantage of the racy possibilities provided by a sometimes invisible witch invading a romantic conquest's life. Even comes with some nice special effects.

★★★★★

 

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

From its first shot, Leave Her to Heaven proves that film noir need not be in black and white or in an urban setting to be a great example of the genre. Director John Stahl uses lurid technicolor in the New Mexico and Maine wilderness to provide an atmosphere that is as effectively unsettling as an ink-dark Los Angeles proved to be just a year earlier in Double Indemnity.

Just as effective are Gene Tierney’s blood-red lips and icy green eyes, which could never have been used so well in anything other than color. Interestingly, to commit one of her villainous deeds, Tierney dons a pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses that are near knockoffs of those worn in a key scene in Indemnity by fellow femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck. In each case, the intent was to convey how soulless these two women truly were.

Leave Her to Heaven is justifiably known for its stunning houses, clothes, and music. Again, this goes against our expectations of noir–with some notable exceptions, like Sunset Boulevard, Vertigo, and The Bad and the Beautiful. The acting is fine, especially Tierney, Jeanne Crain, and Ray Collins. However, Vincent Price is once again miscast and Cornel Wilde, normally a good character player, is in over his head as a leading man. Luckily, their less than inspired work doesn’t drag the movie down.

Leave Her to Heaven is one of the best 1940s films noirs, with all the elements that we expect of the genre, except of course for day-for-night photography, shadows, or city settings. But, there are plenty of low angle shots, foreboding dialog, skewed camera shots, mirrors, doubles, melodrama, and one of the vilest and most beautiful femmes fatales in any movie.

★★★★☆