Gloria Grahame

Gloria Grahame

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Macao Review


Weak
In 1952, Josef von Sternberg was one of the few American directors with the audacity to proclaim himself an artistic genius. In the 1930s and into the 1940s, von Sternberg rode the tsunami of his artistic pretensions through a decade-long string of Marlene Dietrich films at Paramount and concluding with 1941's sweetmeat of the outré, The Shanghai Gesture. After that, von Sternberg was hoisted up on his own petard and his imperious attitude left him unemployed until, of all people, Howard Hughes took the bait and hired him to direct the doomed films Jet Pilot and Macao. The latter was a Robert Mitchum-Jane Russell star vehicle that, in spite of a collection of subsidiary directors (Nicholas Ray, Mel Ferrer, Robert Stevenson) brought in for salvage work, permitted von Sternberg to indulge in his penchant for weird exotica and lurid lighting effects and camera angles. As a result, Macao is a load of atmosphere and malarkey in search of a coherent storyline.

Andrew Sarris has written about von Sternberg that "his characters generally make their first entrance at a moment in their lives when there is no tomorrow," and Macao toes the Sarris company line. In a story that could have been hatched by S.J. Perelman, Macao, after an under-cranked chase scene, settles in on an ocean liner breezing into the freakish Oriental port of Macao ("a fabulous speck on the earth's surface"), the dangers ahead cued by the ship's barometer which indicates "Unhealthy for Plants/Unhealthy for Humans." Since this is not a nature documentary, the focus is on two humans -- Nick Cochran (Mitchum), on the run from an unclear fate in New York City, and Julie Bensen (Russell), high-tailing it from Hong Kong (when a customs inspector asks what she did in Hong Kong, she responds, "You don't really want me to tell you, do you?"). The two meet cute after Julie hauls a stiletto heel at a randy cha-cha dancer's torso but instead manages to clip Nick's noggin, who is passing by her cabin at the time. Nick and Julie immediately gravitate to each other, since not only are they the stars but also the coolest and most unflappable characters in the picture. The half-assed plot involves something about enticing villainous nightclub owner Vincent Halloran (Brad Dexter, whispering his dialogue like an incantation) outside the three-mile limit so that he can be arrested, and Nick being mistaken for a New York detective and chased around by Halloran's sinister thugs (with Philip Ahn's knife-wielding Itzumi being particularly impressive).

Continue reading: Macao Review

Oklahoma! Review


Very Good
"There's a bright golden haze on the meadow," sings Curly (Gordon MacRae) as Oklahoma! kicks off. He's right. There's also a brilliant blue sky filled with cotton-candy clouds and rolling farmland and pretty girls in petticoats. Even the horses are gorgeous. This visual feast, the first feature shot in Todd-AO widescreen (and filmed simultaneously in CinemaScope) was one of many mid-'50s features seemingly designed to lure armies of Americans away from their new black-and-white TVs and back into movie theaters for a dazzling experience.

And dazzling it is. One of the most fun and hummable of Rodgers and Hammerstein's many musicals, Oklahoma! took 12 years to make it from its innovative Broadway debut (it was the first musical in which every song related directly to the plot) to the big screen. The story of the romance between cowboy Curly and virginal Laurey (Shirley Jones in full soprano mode), it has plenty of peripheral characters, each of whom gets a song and dance along the way, from slutty Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame) ("I Caint Say No') and her boyfriend Will Parker (Gene Nelson) ("Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City") to the kind-hearted Aunt Eller (Charlotte Greenwood), on whose farm Laurey lives.

Continue reading: Oklahoma! Review

Oklahoma! Review


Very Good
"There's a bright golden haze on the meadow," sings Curly (Gordon MacRae) as Oklahoma! kicks off. He's right. There's also a brilliant blue sky filled with cotton-candy clouds and rolling farmland and pretty girls in petticoats. Even the horses are gorgeous. This visual feast, the first feature shot in Todd-AO widescreen (and filmed simultaneously in CinemaScope) was one of many mid-'50s features seemingly designed to lure armies of Americans away from their new black-and-white TVs and back into movie theaters for a dazzling experience.

And dazzling it is. One of the most fun and hummable of Rodgers and Hammerstein's many musicals, Oklahoma! took 12 years to make it from its innovative Broadway debut (it was the first musical in which every song related directly to the plot) to the big screen. The story of the romance between cowboy Curly and virginal Laurey (Shirley Jones in full soprano mode), it has plenty of peripheral characters, each of whom gets a song and dance along the way, from slutty Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame) ("I Caint Say No') and her boyfriend Will Parker (Gene Nelson) ("Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City") to the kind-hearted Aunt Eller (Charlotte Greenwood), on whose farm Laurey lives.

Continue reading: Oklahoma! Review

Crossfire Review


Good
Wildly overrated, Crossfire was nominated for Best Picture in its day with its presumably scandalous look at a murder carried out because its victim was Jewish and the murderer was a G.I. back from World War II, looking for kicks -- and if it rubs out a Jew, well, all the better.

Religious intolerance wasn't a new idea in the movies of the 1940s, but for some reason Crossfire has been singled out as making something unique out of this tale. I'm baffled as to why: Today the movie seems pat, with a curious setup but a drawn-out hour of investigation that looks like a schoolyard game of C.S.I. by today's standards.

Continue reading: Crossfire Review

Song Of The Thin Man Review


Weak
It wouldn't be Hollywood if they didn't wring too much out of a good idea, an axiom proven with Song of the Thin Man, the none-too-memorable conclusion to the six-film Thin Man series which started in 1934. Things start off nicely on the boat S.S. Fortune, which has been rented out for a swank gambling benefit and has a hot jazz band scorching up the stage. Nick and Nora are there, of course (apparently back on the sauce, though moderately), enjoying the rare night out away from their child Nick Jr., played by an 11-year-old Dean Stockwell, who is delightful in his absence from a majority of the film. The bandleader, in trouble with some bookies and needing money, gets shot in the back. Though we're in the dark as to who did it; this is a film that dates from an era when you could still have a gun slowly appear from behind a door and shoot somebody without us ever seeing the person holding it. It's also the kind of film that hearkens back to an earlier era of film where the cops still all have brogues and are named Clancy or Callahan.

For most of the film, Nick and Nora are chasing about after the killer(s) and getting a quickie introduction to the jazz world, one strangely uninhabited by African-Americans. The dry-martini duo get dragged to a number of kuh-raaaaazy daddio hepcat happenings, which juices things up somewhat, as the mystery here is somewhat of a klunker and one that you quickly stop trying to bother figuring out.

Continue reading: Song Of The Thin Man Review

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