Barry Fitzgerald

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Four Men and a Prayer Review


Weak
In Four Men and a Prayer, director John Ford doesn't have one. Saddled by Darryl Zanuck with a claptrap mystery adventure plot involving the dishonorable discharge and subsequent murder of a proud British career officer during the jewel-in-the-crown years of British colonialism and the efforts of his four sons to find the killer and exonerate their father, Ford assumes the role of Houdini. With a handsome physical production, Ford mounts an impressive sleight-of-hand, diverting prying eyes by throwing everything at the audience he can think of, anything to stay away from the actual story, which Ford doesn't want to get close enough to smell.

The nominal plot has stout-hearted Colonel Loring Leigh (C. Aubrey Smith -- who else?) kicked out of the Lancers for signing an order allowing a shipment guns to find their way into the hands of a band of Indian rebels, who end up massacring 90 men at one of those Indian passes so famous in '30s movie adventure yarns. Colonel Leigh is drummed out of the army but knows he's been set up and his signature forged. Returning to England he summons his four sons -- dim bulb Oxford student Rodney (William Henry), pompous barrister Wyatt (George Sanders), shallow ladies man/aviator Chris (David Niven), and stuffy British attache Geoffrey (Richard Greene) -- in order to show them the evidence proving he was framed by an international gun cartel. He doesn't get that far. While the boys are sipping bitters in the ante room, Colonel Leigh is shot dead in his study and the evidence removed. The press claims Leigh committed suicide from his disgrace, but the boys know better and set about to find his killer and clear his name.

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The Naked City Review


Excellent
How many stories are there in the naked city? Eight million; everyone knows that figure -- Kurtis Blow even cut a rap single on the premise -- and the sole reason that this tidbit of cultural knowledge is shared by all is to be found in the closing narration of the 1948 film noir The Naked City: "There are eight million storied in the naked city. This has been one of them." In truth, producer Mark Hellinger lifted his film's title from a coffee table compendium of photography -- arguably the first book of its kind whose focus was the art of the camera rather than that of the paintbrush -- by a certain Arthur Fellig, better-known by his nom de lens Weegee. Today we recognize Weegee's candid photos of New York's underside, taken together, as an indispensable document of a nighttime city long since gone by, but in his day Weegee's work gained only gradual acceptance because of its source: tabloid newspapers, the yellow press. The subjects of his photos bore this out: in his frames gangsters lay in the street, blood pooled around their broken faces; fires raged through occupied tenements; uniformed cops took aim on neon-lit city streets, open cruiser doors serving as shields. According to an essay by film historian Luc Sante that accompanies the new Criterion release of the film, Hellinger was presented with a copy of Weegee's The Naked City right around the time that a screenplay for a film tentatively titled Homicide crossed his desk; Hellinger, finding that the tone of Weegee's work matched exactly his vision for a film in which New York City served as the de facto central character, bought Homicide, re-titled it, and hired Weegee himself as still photographer for the production.

And although we readily identify The Naked City as film noir today, in reality the focus of the film is slightly skewed by comparison with other classics of the genre. Here it is the police, not a P.I. or American everyman-turned-vigilante, who brings the usual assortment of noir perps to justice, and the action we follow is that of the police procedure that draws the net ever closer. The picture opens with the murder of a young woman, a blonde knockout who models dresses for a living and who was lured to the city's bright lights and flashy lifestyle like a moth to the flame, and before a single day has passed, seasoned lieutenant Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and his rookie, war vet partner (Don Taylor) have administered the third degree to a seedy cross-section of New York society. Some of these interested parties, you'll be surprised to learn, are not completely forthcoming; from here, we follow Muldoon, whose job is to sort the lies from the truth, and partner Halloran, who puts in a lot of legwork and follows a hunch or two of his own. The film ends in a justly famed chase sequence through the maze of the Lower East Side (this legendary immigrant neighborhood, now the home of boutiques and cafŽs, is captured on film as it never has been before or since) and ends in a vertiginous sequence atop a tower of the Williamsburg Bridge.

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Bringing Up Baby Review


Grim
Screwball comedy is, in some sense, the most difficult of all types of comedy. Unlike physical comedy and straight farce, there's no real safety net, if the audience just doesn't follow or care about all the carrying-on displayed on screen, no matter how talented the performers or frantic the action, there just won't be much of anything that they'll find funny. Thusly does Bringing Up Baby fall flat on its face - not for lack of talent or effort, but for want of any good reason to exist.

Long before Hollywood suits thought it was a good idea to hide Freddie Prinze Jr.'s hottitude under a pair of spectacles (see Boys and Girls, if you dare), it was decided that for a change of pace, Cary Grant should be similarly four-eyed and socially reticent. And so he was cast in Bringing Up Baby as Dr. David Huxley, a nebbish scientist about to marry his icy prig of a colleague and who's been roped into wooing a rich potential donor to their museum. It's not that Grant can't play this guy, he pulls off the role just fine, but the whole enterprise seems reminiscent of covering a fine antique in layers of shellac or casting George Clooney as an antisocial computer hacker with poor fashion sense. Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should.

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Going My Way Review


OK
What's the point of this? Unsure, but in 1944 Bing Crosby dancing and prancing -- as a priest -- must have been a welcome respite from the War. Best Picture? Wow. They had cynics back then, didn't they? Father O'Malley (Crosby) prefers a baseball jersey to his priest's cloth, but more than anything the man loves to sing. Countless excuses (including an urchin's boys' choir) arise to allow for said singing, despite the curmudeonly oversight of Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald). Other sappy movies of the era (It's a Wonderful Life comes to mind) have held up over the years. Going My Way, sadly, has not.

The Story of Seabiscuit Review


Grim
While the 2003 Seabiscuit has its share of factual license, it can't hold a candle to the utterly contrived The Story of Seabiscuit, a mere Shirley Temple love story set against the backdrop of the (at the time) recent success of Seabiscuit in the thoroughbred horse racing world. The only actual reason to watch this film -- which has Temple and her dad coming over from Ireland in order to train the horse and lead him to victory -- is the black and white footage of Seabiscuit's actual races, incorporated into the film. It's the only genuine part of the movie, and the only part worth watching.

The Quiet Man Review


Weak
John Ford and John Wayne conspired to make what is widely regarded as one of their finest films... and it's not a western.

The Quiet Man is as simple as its title. A man with a dark past (Wayne) returns to his homeland in Ireland to reclaim his birthright, falling in love (with local lass Maureen O'Hara) and encountering ornery locals (namely her brother) along the way.

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