Allyn Joslyn

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The Great McGinty Review


Very Good
The guy is sloppily attired in the manner of the American urban bum, circa the Great Depression. A ragged coat, floppy hat, and three-day growth mark him as meant for the city's many soup kitchens, one of which he finds handing out mugs of soup and chunks of bread. It just so happens that this particular mobile kitchen is sponsored by the city's mayor, up for reelection that very night. Fortunately there's something the man can do to help the mayor who just gave him that soup: vote for him under an assumed name and he gets two bucks. Only the man is an enterprising sort of bum: by the end of the night he's voted for the mayor 37 times, and thus unwittingly started his own political career.

One of the century's smarter films about politics, Preston Sturges' The Great McGinty takes a blowsy, no-nonsense approach to the subject at its core -- corruption -- and by treading that line between sanctimonious outrage and full-blown farce achieves a welcome attitude of realistic (and fatalistic) morality. Sturges' fable starts in one of those wonderfully atmospheric, fly-buzzed and smoky bars that inhabit Third World cities in all great films, where the man, Dan McGinty (Brian Donlevy), is working as a bartender, and telling the story of his fairy tale rise and fall. In its own meritocratic way, the story is actually quite inspiring: man comes out of nowhere, rockets upward through a major city's political organization, marries well, lives better, eventually becomes governor. Sure, he rose to power on a raging tide of graft, but that's the Chicago way, right?

Continue reading: The Great McGinty Review

Heaven Can Wait (1943) Review


Weak
The premise at first seems quite a nice one. Henry Van Cleeve (Don Ameche, looking prematurely aged but still dapper in evening wear) comes down a staircase into a cavernous, Art Deco-inspired office where he is being interviewed by a dandy fellow referred to as His Excellency (Laird Cregar). Pretty soon it's clear Henry is actually dead, His Excellency is in fact Satan, and Henry is, for reasons that it will take the rest of the movie to explain, lobbying to be granted admission to Hades. Pressed for grievous offences or mortal sins, Henry can only say, "My whole life was one continuous misdemeanor."

Putting his lead foot first, director Ernst Lubitsch saddles his story with a script that never properly uses its complete potential. Henry feels that as part of his interview process, he must go through the story of his life, which would have generally been a decent idea, except that he led a pretty uninspiring one. Growing up in the mid-to-late 19th century, Henry is swaddled in privilege from the get-go. The scion of a wealthy family residing in a Fifth Avenue mansion, he becomes a general ne'er do well at quite a young age, something which the film (or at least his recounting) tries to blame on the effects of the women in his life (mother = too controlling, French maid = too permissive). By the time Ameche appears again as his younger self in the 1890s, his playboy ways have just been (supposedly) swept away by his having fallen in love with a beautiful woman whose name he doesn't know. Problem is, when he finally finds out the identity of the woman - Martha Strabel (Gene Tierney), of the Kansas City Strabels, who made their fortune in the meatpacking business - it turns out she's already betrothed to his stiff and deadly dull cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn). Being of thin moral fiber anyway, Henry elopes with her. His carousing appears hard to put behind him, however, and 10 years later, Martha is ready for a divorce.

Continue reading: Heaven Can Wait (1943) Review

Island In The Sky Review


Very Good
For the longest time, I didn't think anything was going to happen in Island in the Sky. In fact, the very title implies that nothing is going to happen: I figured a big bomber would be flying around during WWII, drop a few bombs on Dresden or something, maybe hit some resistance, and finally return home after a successful run over Germany.

Was I wrong: Island in the Sky takes place mostly on the ground, after a transport plane (piloted by Captain Dooley, played by John Wayne in an exemplary role) crashes in the frozen wilds of Newfoundland. The film -- after a good 40 minutes of useless exposition -- spends the bulk of its time dealing with their attempts to be rescued.

Continue reading: Island In The Sky Review

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