Best Picture Winners #14 – How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Best Picture Winners #14 – How Green Was My Valley (1941)
Best Picture Winners #14 – How Green Was My Valley (1941)

So far in the 40s, our Best Picture winners have been adaptations of novels. Of the two of them, I’ve only read Rebecca. I had no idea that the 1941 winner, How Green Was My Valley, began as a novel until I watched the opening credits. Of course, I know this won’t be the last BP winner whose story was originally a book (Around the World in 80 Days and Oliver! are some of the future ones on our list that immediately came to mind).

This was one of those winners that I had never heard of, unlike the others on our list, such as Midnight Cowboy and From Here To Eternity. Part of what’s been fun about this project is watching all these classic movies. Honestly, that’s why Andrew and I went for this project in the first place! I had a vague idea of what this was about. Here’s all you need to know: life in a Welsh mining town (imagine the 80s song Life in a Northern Town recast as those words instead……”life in a Welshmining town…..” 😀 ) and behind it all, is a sweeping and touching drama about a family and their lives in this town.

That’s it.

Considering that I love to write about family drama in my own books, you would think that I would riveted on the edge of my seat for this one. I feel bad saying this because I know some people love this movie, even with all its sentimental plot points that verge on sappy (especially the ending montage), but I have to say that Andrew and I were both less than engaged for this one. If I find myself randomly checking stuff on my phone, I know that’s not a good sign…..

The problem for me wasn’t the sentimentality. I can deal with that. Plus, this wasn’t nearly as sappy as You Can’t Take It With You. It was more that the pacing was so…. slow…… I don’t know it it’s because they excised material from the book (which is over 600 pages!), so parts that might’ve made it more engaging were gone, but I just didn’t feel lost in the story like I wanted to be. I kept wondering how much time was left instead. I also felt like there was too much external narration going on. I would’ve preferred to have less of that in this movie and just focused on what was going on screen and figure it out myself. And the ending was unsatisfying too…..

Now don’t think for a moment that I hated this one. This wasn’t a terrible movie by any means. This was no Cimarron, that’s for sure! That they managed to make California look like southern Wales is a testament to the filmmakers. And I did love the different Welsh names. Angharad (I just might use that name in my latest book, which includes Welsh characters). Huw. Gwilyn. Oh and the miners always singing Welsh hymns. The language nerd in me loved hearing Welsh, a language you don’t hear much, especially here in the US.

I just wished that the story had moved along a little quicker….. *sigh* Not a favorite, but by no means a bad movie.

Three out of five stars

Next time: Our “aside” movies, Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon. Both are movies I’ve heard great things about. Let’s hope they’ve held up well over the years, especially Citizen Kane. We shall see! 🙂 

Best Picture Winners #13a – The Great Dictator (1940)

Best Picture Winners #13a – The Great Dictator (1940)
Best Picture Winners #13a – The Great Dictator (1940)

You couldn’t have two more different movies if you tried.

Even though ten (!) movies were nominated for Best Picture in 1940, Andrew and I chose only one “aside” movie for that year. That was the year that the excellent Rebecca won Best Picture. No one knew at the time, but that film would be the only Hitchcock movie to ever win that award.

Within the long list of Best Picture nominees was the first Charlie Chaplin “talkie,” our only “aside” movie for 1940. Andrew had always heard good things about it, so he suggested we add that one to the list.

Rebecca, as we all know, is a drama.

The Great Dictator?

Ummmmmm, not so much.

Andrew put it this way: if you’ve ever seen The Producers, and you remember that scene with the song “It’s springtime for Hitler and Germany,” then imagine that scene and sense of humor extended into almost two hours. And you’ll get a sense of this movie.

You get Charlie Chaplin playing a nameless Jewish barber who is injured during battle in Tomania (Germany) trying to save the life of his friend Schultz. He loses his memory through a bad concussion and has to spend time in a care-home for about twenty years recovering. When he comes out, a ruthless dictator has taken over with his Double Cross party and forced Chaplin’s fellow Jews to live in ghettos, which are run by his former friend Schultz. And who is Schultz’s boss? The great dictator Adenoid Hynkler, who looks just like our Jewish barber hero.

Chaplin as the Jewish barber in the movie..... and now.....

Chaplin as the Jewish barber in the movie….. and now…..

No, that's totally not Hitler...... *shifty eyes* (From Wikipedia)

No, that’s totally not Hitler…… *shifty eyes* (From Wikipedia)

Schultz protests Hynkel’s new policy of eradicating the Jews, so he is jailed, but then escapes and hides out with his old friend and Chaplin’s girlfriend Hannah in the ghetto. Stormtroopers come in and find Schultz and the barber and take them away to a camp, but Hannah and her family escape to the nearby Osterlich (Austria; the German word for Austria is Österreich), which hasn’t been invaded yet. However, Hynkel has plans for that country, and after failing to ally with Napaloni, he invades Osterlich. Schultz and the barber are trapped at the camp, but manage to escape, and given that the barber looks just like Hynkel, he uses that to his advantage when Hynkel is planning his invasion of Osterlich…..

When we went into this movie, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never seen a Charlie Chaplin movie, and I came to find out that he was the only Hollywood filmmaker to continue making silent movies even well into the sound era. And it wasn’t until The Great Dictator that he made his first “talkie.” I had only vaguely heard of this movie, and I didn’t read much about it beforehand. I wanted to judge it on its own merits.

What I came away with was the first truly hilarious comedy of this entire list so far. More than that, this was the first satire that made the list of nominees too. And what a hilarious one this was! I have never laughed more than during the first scene of Charlie Chaplin making his speech as Adenoid Hynkler. Oh and the globe scene, and the meetings between Hynkler and Napaloni, the leader of Bacteria, all capped off with a touching ending with a wonderful speech about hope and humanity, I absolutely loved this movie. Watching this seventy-six years later, with generations of hindsight behind us, this movie still holds up, in my opinion. It’s such a great send-up of Adolf Hitler and just how ridiculous he came across, and while it did drag in some parts, I was engaged for the movie.

Chaplin did everything to make Hitler/Hynkel as ridiculous as possible, and that is where the humor in this movie comes from. The random babble that sounds like German, inserting random words that sound like German (“cheese and crackern!”) as well as actual German words like sauerkraut and wienerschnitzel, how he would raise his hand to stop the clapping and all applause would stop…… Well, you can see it for yourself in this scene, the first time that Hynkel makes his appearance in the movie:

And who can forget the closing speech, with our barber hero dressed as Hynkel, at the invasion of Osterlich:

Hands down one of my favorites of the project so far! If you enjoy satire, political humor, and/or just want to see a classic comedy that can still make you laugh in 2016, I recommend this movie! 😀

Five stars out of five

Next time: We move forward to 1941’s Best Picture winner, How Green Was My Valley, and two other asides for that year, Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon, which Andrew and I have never seen.

Best Picture Winners #13 – Rebecca (1940)

Best Picture Winners #13 – Rebecca (1940)
Best Picture Winners #13 – Rebecca (1940)

I can’t remember when I first heard of Daphne Du Maurier’s famous book Rebecca. However I heard of it, I ended up reading the novel for a book report in my senior year of high school. And I blew right through that story. It was right up my alley: dark, gothic and the story was set in a mysterious house (at that time, my favorite books were Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, novels that are set in large houses that were full of mysterious secrets).

Back then, I had a tradition of reading a book and then watching the movie adaptation. I liked comparing the book and movie to see what was changed and what was retained. After reading a biography of Joseph Merrick for a sophomore year book report, I watched The Elephant Man. After reading Wuthering Heights, I taped (yes, literally taped) the Juliette Binoche/Falph Fiennes version of Wuthering Heights off one of the movie channels on DirecTV.

No exception was made for Rebecca. After reading Rebecca and getting a good grade on my report (yay!), Mom and I went to our local Blockbuster (ah the days before Netflix…..) so I could see the 1940 movie version and compare it to the book.

After the all-color Gone With The Wind, we return to black and white for this movie, and while it would’ve been interesting to have it all in color, I think the black and white works well for a movie like this. Right from the beginning, we are taken to the remains of a burned mansion, with a voiceover that begins “Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” It’s the voice of the unnamed narrator, who is remembering what this house used to look like, and from there, we go into her story.

Rebecca_1

 

We never know that woman’s name. What we do find out is how she came to live in that large mansion. After lingering on the remains of that large house, we return back in time several years. While employed as the traveling companion for an older, rich woman in the early part of the 20th century, our heroine meets the rich, older (he appears to be in his late thirties/early forties; she’s in her twenties) and brooding Max de Winter in Monaco. They spend time together, they fall in love, and they marry in a hurry, at which point, he takes her home to his Cornish mansion called Manderley.

She knows that this isn’t Max de Winter’s first marriage. She’s heard of his first wife, the titular character. (And to make it easier for you guys reading, I’m going to call our narrator Mrs. DW #2) And almost right away, Mrs. DW #2 feels jealous. Everyone talks at Manderley about how Rebecca used to do things, so that’s how she should do them too. This is where Rebecca did her correspondence, these are the people she wrote to, etc. The handkerchiefs are all embroidered with her monogram. So is the stationery and all the bed linens. And everyone talks about how great Rebecca was. That she was gorgeous, kind, etc etc blah blah blah. The woman could do no wrong, it seems. And oh wasn’t her death such a tragedy? She went out one night on the sea and drowned. Sad sad sad.

And hounding Mrs. DW #2 about anything to do with Rebecca is the main housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.

Oh boy, where to start with her.

Creepy housekeeper time.....

Creepy housekeeper time…..

Mrs. Danvers loved Rebecca. (And whether that love is something of the “love that dare not speak its name” kind, or just pure devotion is up to interpretation.) Mrs. Danvers takes it upon herself to remind Mrs. DW #2 of Rebecca ALL the time. Mrs. Danvers has even preserved Rebecca’s former bedroom as a shrine. She shows Mrs. DW #2 around said bedroom when Mrs. DW #2 goes there one day out of curiosity. Mrs. Danvers shows her Rebecca’s bed, her dressing table, and her linens, reminding her of the untouched underwear that Rebecca never wore.

Ummmmmm…… did I mention that she’s creepy?

So it’s bad enough that Mrs. DW #2 feels out of her depth in having to take care of this large house and filling the shoes of this seemingly perfect woman. But with Mrs. Danvers around practically every corner and Max not doing much to make her feel welcome, and making her doubt her relationship with Max, Mrs. DW #2 is having a rough time of it. Who hasn’t felt out of their depth in a new situation? Perhaps that’s what touched me most about Mrs. DW #2. You could feel her pain in trying to measure up and be good enough for everyone. And the way that Max seems to ignore how his new wife is feeling, like ignoring a new dress she bought to impress him, just makes it all the more heartbreaking.

Of course, we find out later that Rebecca isn’t as perfect as she seemed to be and that Max isn’t still in love with her in any way, when her sunken boat is found after another boat hits the rocks and it all comes to light. I suppose I could give away more of what happens after that, but I would rather leave it for you to find out. 😀

I enjoyed this movie when I saw it as a teenager. Watching it again years later, I still do. I’ve watched some longer movies for this project (this one runs a little over two hours) that felt like they lasted way longer. Gone With The Wind was one of them. And You Can’t Take It With You ran for less but felt longer. But the pace of this one felt just right. I was engaged the entire time, and certainly Andrew was. He’s even said he’d like to read the book! Definitely one of the better movies we’ve watched so far in this movie project, and to hear there’s going to be a remake…… Well, I’m not so sure about that! This movie was perfect in terms of the atmosphere, pacing, and the acting. You could really feel for these characters, especially Mrs. DW #2, though I did wish Max could’ve been a little more sympathetic to his new wife, but that’s probably my more modern sensibilities coming through. 🙂

And Mrs. Danvers is still as creepy as ever.

Four stars out of five

Next time: An aside movie, a Charlie Chaplin movie called The Great Dictator.

Best Picture Winners #12a – Wuthering Heights (1939)

Best Picture Winners #12a – Wuthering Heights (1939)
Best Picture Winners #12a – Wuthering Heights (1939)

One of the first “classic” books I ever read was a book from the late 1800s called Wuthering Heights.

That wouldn’t be significant except that when I read it, I was in eighth grade. I finished the book on New Years Eve of my eighth grade year. I remember because it was my goal to finish the book by then.

You could say that I was a very precocious reader. I started reading Emma when I was ten years old. I didn’t get through it all, but the point was, I was reading this thing when I was ten years old! I was also a huge fan of The Little Princess and Little Women, which I also read around that time. And somewhere along the way, I found the Brontë sisters and Wuthering Heights.

The book was unlike anything I’d read to that point. While I’d read tragic books before (Where the Red Fern Grows), this one was OMG SUPER TRAGIC HOLY CRAP. The heroine dies halfway through the book (SPOILER), the male lead is a psychopath to the nth degree (OOPS ANOTHER SPOILER), and the atmosphere is NOT a happy one. Not at all the romantic story that it’s sometimes portrayed to be, especially in this movie adaptation. They say when you read a book like that so young that you probably don’t comprehend all the nuances.

Oh but I did.

I knew going into this that it would be different from the book. And that this was the first of many adaptations of Emily Brontë’s story. I’d expected things to be different from the book. Because a book and a movie are two different ways of telling a story. One is more visual, the other allows you to get into more of the character’s heads with words instead of visuals.

This adaptation starts off the same way the book does: a man named Mr. Lockwood finds himself wandering around the Yorkshire moors on a stormy night and comes across Wuthering Heights. Needing a place to stay to wait out the storm, he asks the owners, a Mr. Heathcliff and his wife, if he can stay for the night. Heathcliff tells him they aren’t usually prepared for visitors, but he’ll be put up in one of the spare rooms that hasn’t been used in years.

While Lockwood is sleeping, he is awakened by a ghostly, woman’s voice at the window begging for Heathcliff to let her in (cue the famous Kate Bush song because, well, it’s Kate and any excuse to put one of my favorite all-time artists in a blog post!)

Lockwood is spooked of course and lets Heathcliff know that he can’t sleep in that room because he heard a woman calling for him. At which point, Heathcliff runs out into the storm, calling for this Cathy. When Lockwood asks about that Cathy, Ellen, the old servant at Wuthering Heights, tells Lockwood the tragic story of Heathcliff’s love for Cathy. How Heathcliff was a foundling on the streets of Liverpool, and Cathy’s father Mr. Earnshaw brought him home to raise him as his own. Hindley, Cathy’s brother, hates how their father favors Heathcliff, he treats him badly, but Cathy loves him, they fall in love, but then can’t be together when Cathy wants to go be with the rich Edgar Linton down the road. Heathcliff leaves, comes back rich, but can’t have Cathy because she’s already married, so to spite her, Heathcliff marries Edgar’s sister Isabella, who actually IS into Heathcliff, but he doesn’t love her. He’s just doing it to get back at Cathy.

Then she suffers from Victorian illness and dies, leaving Heathcliff unhappy. And then fast forward however many years later to where the movie started, and Heathcliff is still pining over Cathy, but is stuck in a loveless marriage to Isabella, and then, oh, he dies in the storm and you get to see him wandering the moors with Cathy again.

It’s all very dramatic and drawn-out, and I’ll admit, I was a bit more into this movie than Andrew was. Probably because I’d read the book, knew the story well, and was curious to see how this adaptation held up against the book. Which is to say, the atmosphere was there, but the ending was totally changed. In fact, I’d say that the ending almost spoiled it for me. Other than Isabella being there when Mr. Lockwood comes in (by that point in the book, Isabella’s said “screw this, I’m leaving” and left the child she and Heathcliff have together with him and disappeared), and not having Cathy die in childbirth like in the book, the movie I thought was accurate to that first part of the book.

But that ending…..

NO.

The whole point of the story, in my opinion, is that obsession can ruin people. Note that I didn’t say love. Because as much as this movie wanted them to be portrayed as tragic lovers, I think of their relationship as more of an obsession than true, deep caring love. They would NOT have been happy together. They are too similar and would’ve just driven each other nuts.

Also, if Heathcliff and Cathy had truly loved each other, they wouldn’t have dragged other innocent people like Edgar and Isabella into it and tried to ruin each other’s lives because they couldn’t have what they wanted. And in the second half of the book, which isn’t even touched on in this movie, you get to see more of that obsession driving Heathcliff to ruin. You don’t see him trying to ruin the lives of his child with Isabella, Hindley’s child, or Cathy’s daughter, because of how he was mistreated as a child and because, well, he’s super psychopath-sociopath-you-really-don’t-want-to-make-him-mad.

So this has turned into a bit of a rambling post, and I might as well just end it here with my rating for the movie before this turns into a literary analysis. Was this worth watching? Yes, if you enjoy these kind of stories and if you’ve read the book. A well-done movie, though different from the book.

Three out of five stars (well-done movie, but docked for changing that ending and thus the whole point of the story)

Next time: Another literary adaptation and one I haven’t seen in years: Rebecca. Also, another book that I read when I was in high school!

Best Picture Winners #12 – Gone With The Wind (1939)

Best Picture Winners #12 – Gone With The Wind (1939)
Best Picture Winners #12 – Gone With The Wind (1939)

So now we’ve come to the longest Best Picture winner (well over four hours) and also the first major movie that even if you’ve never seen before, you’ve probably heard of it.

In other words, a true classic movie.

To be honest, I feel strange trying to write a review of a movie like this. It’s such a beloved film (for good reason, as you’ll see) and so much has been said and written about it. But I will try my best to say what I thought of this movie.

Andrew had never seen this before, but I had. I saw this movie for the first time in college. My best friend at the time was SUPER into classic movies like this one and she counted this one as one of her absolute favorites, if not THE favorite. She was shocked that I’d never seen it before, so one afternoon, we holed up and watched her two VHS set so I could see what a classic movie this was. I was wary of watching it because my mom had seen it a long time ago and thought of Scarlett as a brat and talked me out of seeing it.

While I won’t say that my mom was wrong, well….. Scarlett is complicated. And I’ll admit, I like complicated characters, but at times….. She was very frustrating to watch. As you’ll see.

Even after seeing this a second time, I’m still not sure what I really thought of this movie. As far as the movie-making skills on display here, Gone With The Wind is an extremely well-done movie especially for the time! The close-ups of characters, the lighting, and of course, the fact that this is the first all-color Best Picture winner is something of note. And the scene where Scarlett shoots a Union soldier who’s shown up on her doorstep leering at her is something right out of a Tarantino movie.

It’s just long. So. Long.

Sweeping, more like.

What to say about the story? Well, it’s set against the Civil War and Reconstruction (the post-war years). You get Scarlett O’Hara, a typical Southern belle who’s grown up rich and spoiled by her family at their Georgia plantation, and who is hopelessly chasing after Ashley Wilkes, her neighbor and the intended husband for a sweet girl named Melanie Hamilton. Scarlett could have any guy she wants but she wants the one she can’t have (isn’t that how it always works?). She’s beautiful and knows it, but also she’s very smart (which is demonstrated especially later on after the war ends and she has to make ends meet). Early on, she meets the famous Rhett Butler, an older bachelor and blockade runner, but she’s too blind to see that Rhett is actually into her, while Ashley clearly isn’t (and even tells her so multiple times).

As the war goes on, she marries once (the guy dies of pneumonia two months into service), encounters Rhett multiple times and has words with him (at least he actually has a personality, unlike Ashley), almost loses her home, Melanie has Ashley’s child and is unable to have any more, and has to escape Atlanta when it’s burning down. After the war, Scarlett marries again to her sister’s beloved, starts a lumber mill, he dies, she marries Rhett, you think they’re going to finally live happily ever after and she’ll see that Rhett is the one for her…..

Not so much.

Throughout the movie, I found myself increasingly frustrated with Scarlett. Since she’s the main character, we get to spend a lot of time with her. And you know, sometimes I liked her. I admired her tenacity and ability to adapt and survive. She didn’t just give up. She did what she could to save her family’s home. And of course her dresses were gorgeous, even though they’d be hard to drive in! (Hey, I think of practicality!). She even makes a beautiful dress out of the curtains in her house! Talk about resourceful (and actually something I did for fun using some old thrift store curtains for a skirt).

 

Behold, the curtain dress.

Behold, the curtain dress.

 

I don't want to know how many yards of fabric this was...... So pretty *sigh*

I don’t want to know how many yards of fabric this was…… So pretty *sigh*

 

Then, at other times, I wanted to throw my crochet needles at the screen (I’m the weird one for whom a four hour movie means “woohoo I’ll get some crocheting done!”). Here she has everything she could ever want (a husband who dotes on her, a beautiful child, a great house) and she’s still hung up on Ashley. Who is nice to look at, yes, but has no real personality. Seriously.

Fun fact: The guy who played Ashley (Leslie Howard) was in line to play Rhett. So glad they went with Clark Gable instead. He just doesn’t have the look of a suave, good-hearted (but still flawed and a bit of a jerk sometimes) character like Rhett. But that’s just me. 🙂

Of course, our heroine only realizes that she was a fool all along at the climax of this movie, at which point Rhett has had enough of her and is leaving her (Oh spoiler alert 😛 ). That’s where his famous “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” comes from. She’s all worried about what she’s going to do, and he just doesn’t care anymore.

And I don’t blame him.

Classic movie. I can see why people love it. The cinematography for the time is absolutely astounding. It’s also about an important time in our history, the characters are certainly interesting, if at times infuriating, and the romance between Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh is something to behold. They have great chemistry together. Not something I’d watch everyday, but a well-done classic nonetheless.

Four stars out of five (no I wouldn’t watch it in the next year or so but it gets high marks for me for how well-done it is!)

Next time: We have TWO asides for 1939: The Wizard of Oz (which neither Andrew or I have seen in years!) and one of the many adaptations of Wuthering Heights. This is one version I’ve never seen, so this should be interesting. Especially because I hear that movie version stops halfway through the book, before it gets to the really interesting parts……

Best Picture Winners #11a – The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Best Picture Winners #11a – The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Best Picture Winners #11a – The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

So for 1938, we had down on our list two movies: the actual Best Picture winner (You Can’t Take It With You) and then a nominated-but-didn’t-win-but-we-want-to-watch-it-anyway (The Adventures of Robin Hood). A sentimental screwball comedy and an exciting adventure movie set in medieval times.

Wonder which one of those I liked the most….

😀 😀 😀 😀

This is also a movie that Andrew won’t be reviewing, See, he grew up on this movie and has fond memories of it from childhood. So no need to write a review! When we saw that movie had been nominated, I mentioned that I had never seen it before (I know the Disney version very well, though!) and he insisted that we watch it! And I said, hey, sure, why not? Woohoo!

I. Absolutely. Loved. This. Movie.

Seriously.

It’s got action, it’s got adventure, AND it’s also IN COLOR! Yes, this was the first color film of our project so far! Not even colorized. No, it was originally released in technicolor! Vibrant greens and reds all around. It had a look to it that you just don’t get in movies anymore, to be honest. I have nothing against digital stuff, but the look of these older color movies is just….. Wow! Such eye-popping colors!

As for the plot, well, it’s simple. In fact, it reminded me of Game of Thrones but without the blood and nudity. King Richard the Lionheart is being held captive by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, while returning home from the Third Crusade. Realizing that his brother isn’t around to stop him, Richard’s brother Prince John takes over the throne and oppresses the Saxons. Specifically, raising taxes that he claims are to help his brother’s ransom, but which is actually to secure his position as king. Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn), a Saxon knight, is the only nobleman who disagrees with Prince John, and for the rest of the movie, does everything in his power to oppose John and help restore the rightful king to the throne. Of course, other events happen (an archery tournament that Robin enters under a disguise, etc) but really, all you need to know is good guy versus bad guy.

Oh and of course, along the way, he meets a love interest, the beautiful Lady Marian Fitzwalter, played by none other than Olivia DeHavilland (the second movie with her and Errol Flynn that we’ve seen so far; the first was Captain Blood). And I don’t need to tell you this but I will: they end up together in the end.

But of course!

One of the most fun movies of the project so far, hands down!

Of note: the duel in the closing scenes between John and Robin is clearly the template for a similar fight in the movie The Rocketeer (incidentally, a movie that loved and watched all the time as a child just as Andrew watched this one!). There’s a scene about a half hour into The Rocketeer where the Timothy Dalton character is filming a movie with a scene that is very similar to the closing duel scene. Even fighting on a stone spiral staircase, just like in this movie.

First, the Robin Hood duel scene..... Note the stone staircase and everything.....

First, the Robin Hood duel scene….. Note the stone staircase and everything…..

 

Hey, wait, that looks familiar! :)

Hey, wait, that looks familiar! :)

 

Five out of five stars

Next time: A classic movie that I saw almost ten years ago with a college friend who rated it her most favorite movie of all time: Gone With The Wind. Also….. The longest movie so far. A movie of epic length, you might say…… 😀 🙂

Best Picture Winners #11 – You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

Best Picture Winners #11 – You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
Best Picture Winners #11 – You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

We are now two years away from completing our first full decade of Best Picture winners!

Woohoo!

Of course, we still have many more decades to go (I recently added the 2015 winner and some asides for when we catch up to the present day) but hey, one decade at a time, right?

Of course!

We are now up to 1938 and that year’s Best Picture winner, another movie adaptation of a play (Cavalcade being the first). You Can’t Take It With You began as a Pulitzer Prize-winning play no less than two years before this movie adaptation was made (guess it must’ve been a popular piece!). As far as the movie version goes, I could tell that this was a play from the first scene.

Lots of side conversations and the action taking place in few places.

That’s the giveaway for me!

Now for the more important part. So what happens in this movie?

A successful banker named Anthony Kirby is planning to buy up a 12-block radius around one of his rival’s factory so he can put them out of business. However, there is one house in that area that just won’t sell to him. Meanwhile, Kirby’s son Tony has fallen in love with the company stenographer, Alice Sycamore, and wants to propose marriage. Alice comes from a lower-class family, so she’s worried that her family will be looked down by Tony’s rich and famous family. She’s also worried about the eccentricities of her family and how they’ll be seen by Tony’s family. Her sister wants to be a dancer, her father makes firecrackers in the basement, her mother wants to be a playwright and she’s always throwing out possible lines to people for approval, etc.

Kirby and his wife disapprove of Tony’s choice for marriage. So when Tony purposely brings his family on the wrong day to visit her family, the Sycamore family is caught off-guard and the meeting goes off the rails. And so does the movie. The police arrest everyone in the house for disturbing the peace when Alice’s father’s firecrackers go off in the basement, Alice flees town later, and it turns out that the holdout house was Alice’s family’s house. Grandpa decides to sell off the house, which means everyone has to vacate. And then at the end, somehow, Kirby visits them and everybody is happy because Kirby realizes that money isn’t everything and that those lower-class people are good after all……

Hmmmmm……. But what about everyone else that has to leave? I just kept thinking about that at the end of the movie. How can such a story end in such a happy way?

Hmmmmm…..

To be honest, I had a lot of trouble understanding some of the dialogue in this movie, so much of the action went over my head and I found myself looking at a plot summary on Wikipedia. And while I thought the overall message was good (money isn’t everything; we got to hear the title of the movie about 1:27 in. The grandfather in Alice’s family told it to Kirby when they were all arrested and held in a drunk tank at the police station), I thought the movie was plodding and….. Alice’s family were VERY…… OK, I’ll just repeat it then. They are eccentric. To the point of….. WOW……

As a side note, I loved the dresses that Jean Arthur (the actress who played Alice) wore.

But I knew I would. I love old fashions!

Well-done movie, but it’s a bit slow and the ending is just meh……

Three out of five stars 

Next time: A movie that was nominated for Best Picture but didn’t win: The Adventures of Robin Hood.

 

Best Picture Winners #10 – The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Best Picture Winners #10 – The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
Best Picture Winners #10 – The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

From the United States across the ocean to France.

That’s where 1937’s Best Picture winner takes us. Not only to France, but back in time to the late 1800s. In 1936, we learned all about the great showman Florenz Ziegfeld and his troupe the Ziegfeld Follies. This time, in 1937, we get to learn more about the great French writer Emile Zola. In other words, this is a biopic, though after watching this movie, I would use that description in a very loose sense.

But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

I was immediately interested in watching this movie. See, I was a French major in college. So I got to hear a LOT about Emile Zola. We never read one of his books, but I heard a lot about him. I knew that he was a popular French writer in the late 1800s who wrote a lot about prostitutes and other lower-class people as a way to expose the harsh lives they led. Because he didn’t write about happy subjects, he often caused scandals with his writings.

I had also vaguely heard about something called the Dreyfus affair, which he somehow became embroiled in. But that was the extent of my knowledge.

Oh and his famous article called J’accuse. I knew about that.

But that was it.

After watching The Great Ziegfeld, I was happy to see that the running time for this movie was a nice one hour and fifty-something minutes. Woohoo, a shorter movie! So I sat down with my latest crochet project (a beautiful sweater, my first one!) and put on this movie.

Most biopics start at the beginning of the subject’s life. However, this one begins in 1862, when Zola is into his thirties and living in a drafty attic in Paris with his friend Paul Cézanne (a famous French painter; another person I learned a lot about in French class!). They’re trying to make ends meet, Paul with his painting and Zola with trying to work on his writing. Then a chance encounter with a prostitute hiding from a police raid in a Parisian café where Zola and Cézanne are having a meal inspires his first major writing project, a book called Nana. Zola’s book causes quite the scandal, since his subject is a down-and-out prostitute rather than someone of a higher social class. He is even fired from his day job for it, but fortunately, he doesn’t need to go back to the regular 9-to-5 (or what they would say in French, métro boulot dodo [metro, work, sleep]) life anyway. He becomes a prolific writer, pumping out tons of books, all of them about lower-class people. When asked about why he chose those subjects, he explains that he wants to expose the truth about their lives.

All of this takes place within the first half hour of the movie. We rush through the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, all of his books being published and selling like petit pains (little breads), his marriage to a woman named Alexandrine, buying up a mansion and starting a family, and living comfortably on his wealth. He even encounters his old friend Cézanne again, who hasn’t found much success and who even admonishes our hero that Zola has become too complacent, unlike the zealous reformer he was when he was younger and they were living in that drafty apartment.

Then along comes the major part of this movie: the famous Dreyfus affair. The long and short of that scandal is this: the French army realizes there’s a spy amongst them giving information to the Germans. And without any thought or evidence, the officers accuse a general named Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew, of being the spy. There is absolutely no proof that Dreyfus is the spy, but they take that opportunity to court-martial Dreyfus and imprison him in French Guyana for being a traitor the French state.

Colonel Picquart, one of the higher-ups in the French army, finds out who the real spy is, but he’s told to keep quiet. And to get him out of the way, they send him to one of their African outposts. Meanwhile, poor Dreyfus is sitting away in a locked cell in South America, completely innocent.

The case is closed, but Mrs. Dreyfus knows that her husband is innocent. And she comes a-knocking on Zola’s door to ask for help, with clear evidence of her husband’s innocence. Zola is reluctant to give up his comfortable life, but decides to help her.

The Dreyfus affair is where the movie spends most of its time: Zola’s famous J’accuse letter, where he accuses the army officials of covering up the scandal; Zola being brought to trial for libel; Zola fleeing to England to continue his campaign to clear Dreyfus; a new administration finally admitting that they were wrong and all of the perpetrators either fleeing or committing suicide. And of course, since this is a biopic, the movie’s end comes when Emile Zola dies of carbon monoxide poisoning right before Dreyfus is brought home and exonerated. (As a side note, some believe Zola was murdered, which wouldn’t surprise me given that he made a lot of political enemies in trying to help Dreyfus. However, it’s so long ago that it’s hard to know if it was murder or not.)

Overall, I found this movie very intriguing. But I knew that I would be. It has to do with French history, and I’m automatically biased toward French things anyway! However, putting away my French biases, I have to say that because this movie spends so much of its time in the Dreyfus affair, I’m not sure that the title, The Life of Emile Zola, is really the best one for this movie. We start halfway through his life and most of the movie is about his involvement in a political scandal. Maybe something like Zola and Dreyfus would have been better. Since I knew this was a biopic, I was expecting something to talk about his early life too, but that didn’t happen.

That was perhaps the only major beef that I had with this movie. Otherwise, it was well-done and certainly better paced than the previous movie! So if you’re interested in finding out about a major scandal in French history and the people behind it, I would recommend this film. It certainly kept me interested all throughout!

Four out of five stars

Next time: Our second “aside” for this project, and my second Errol Flynn movie ever: The Adventures of Robin Hood, which was nominated for Best Picture in 1937 but didn’t win. And since this is a favorite of Andrew’s from when he was a child, and I’ve never seen it, we’ve added it to our list!

Best Picture Winners #9 – The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

Best Picture Winners #9 – The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Best Picture Winners #9 – The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

By this point, we are over halfway through our first full decade of Best Pictures. So far, we’ve seen a a comedy (It Happened One Night), adventure films (Mutiny on the Bounty and the nominee Captain Blood), war dramas (Wings and All Quiet on the Western Front), and general dramas (CavalcadeGrand Hotel).

Oh and a musical. The Broadway Melody (though I try to forget about that one…….)

We can add a new category for this movie, the 1936 Best Picture winner The Great Ziegfeld: biopic.

You see, I’d heard vaguely of the Ziegfeld Follies before. Not sure how, but I’d heard of that before. And it turns out that this movie is about that same Ziegfeld, Florenz Ziegfeld (as a side note, what a cool German name. The first name reminds me of the French equivalent Florent, the first name of a favorite singer. But I digress. 😛 )

Since this is a biopic, we get to learn all about Florenz Ziegfeld, starting when he was just a guy trying to get people to come see his shows on the Atlantic City midway in the late 1800s, to his successful stage shows with his troupe the Ziegfeld Follies, all the way to his death in the late 20s/early 30s. (Ooops, spoiler alert: he dies in the end……).

That’s really the long and short of it.

The story itself is meh. Guy gets fame, goes through multiple wives, etc etc. All of it lasting a little over three hours.

I did quite a bit of crocheting while watching this movie, let me tell you!

But what’s more well-known about this movie are the stage sequences for the musical numbers. You see, this movie is known today for the extremely lavish productions of Florenz’s shows. One of the songs in this movie, called A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody, is perhaps the most well-known of these intricate numbers. A continuous shot on multiple revolving stages…… Ziegfeld stated in the movie that he wanted even the people in the back to be able to see the show, and you can tell that he kept that in mind. There was always something to look at, no matter where you were in the theater.

This video trims some of that “Pretty Girl” sequence (probably so they won’t get caught for copyright infringement *sigh*) but you can get an idea of it here (there is a version on YouTube in full but it’s in 3D, so unless you have 3D glasses with you….):

Oh.

My.

LORD.

I have never seen a more lavish movie in all my life. I don’t want to know how many yards of fabric were used to make all these beautiful dresses! And the time that went into choreographing this…..

WOW.

And that’s really all that was notable for me about this movie: those musical sequences. You have to hand it to them, a lot of work went into those scenes. It’s just that the movie was so long. I can watch a long movie like Titanic, the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or Gone With the Wind if it’s a well-done story and I’m engaged with it. That wasn’t so with this movie. It also didn’t help that after a while, Ziegfeld’s first wife Anna Held really started getting on my nerves. One minute she was all googly-eyed over him, then the next moment, she yells that she doesn’t want to see him again for some weird reason…… Whatever. I get that he was sometimes a jerk but still….. She just irritated me. 😛

Two and a half out of five stars

Next time: Another biopic, this one about the French author Emile Zola, called appropriately enough, The Life of Emile Zola, the BP winner of 1937. 

Best Picture Winners #8a – Captain Blood (1935)

Best Picture Winners #8a – Captain Blood (1935)
Best Picture Winners #8a – Captain Blood (1935)

Woohoo for my first Errol Flynn movie!

Watching all of these movies from the early days of cinema has exposed me to a lot of classic actors and actresses. It Happened One Night had Clark Gable (though I’d seen him before in Gone With The Wind when I watched that with a college friend some years ago). This movie had Olivia de Havilland, who I also know from Gone with the Wind. (Incidentally, she’s the only still living cast member from that movie!)

And this movie had Errol Flynn in the role that made him famous: the Irish doctor named Peter Blood.

And while it was a very popular movie at the time, it wasn’t chosen as the Best Picture for 1935. However it was nominated, and when we went through our list of winners and nominees, Andrew picked this as an aside movie for 1935, because he’d been meaning to see it for ages and just never had.

So this is also our first aside movie, i.e. movie that was nominated but didn’t win and which we want to see anymore.

I would say that 1935’s BP winner and this movie are actually quite similar. Both movies have adventures at sea and lots of action. They also take place many years ago (in this case, 17th century England). And between the two of them, I would choose this movie to watch again. Not only was the pacing better but it was just overall a fun movie to watch!

And I’m not even into pirate movies!

But of course, with a name like Captain Blood!

This movie tells the story of a simple doctor, Peter Blood, who was summoned to help a man who had participated in a rebellion against the English king. While performing his duties as a physician, he’s arrested and brought before the king. As punishment for helping a rebel, he is sent with several other dozen men to Port Royal, an English colony in the West Indies, to work as a slave. There in the West Indies, he is bought by Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland), the beautiful niece of the local military commander. While in captivity, he hatches an escape plan for him and the other slaves. He succeeds (of course! He’s Errol Flynn!) and during a Spanish raid, he and the men seize a ship and they begin their life of piracy in the West Indies.

What I thought was also interesting about this movie was the use of title cards. I’ve noticed that some of these earlier “talkies” still use title cards to indicate the passing of time, etc. This was one of them.

Overall, very enjoyable movie and I’d definitely watch it again! 🙂

Four stars out of five

Next time: the dance and song extravaganza The Great Ziegfeld. They say this movie hasn’t aged very well. We’ll see!