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The Glenn Miller Story Review


Good
Jimmy Stewart gives a promising performance in a film that starts off great and quickly descends into unfortunate boredom. The big problem? Glenn Miller just wasn't that interesting a character. Aside from the fact that he basically ordered his girlfriend (then engaged to another man) to take a train across the country and marry Miller instead, there's not much new to this up-from-poverty-to-famous-composer/musician story. The entire last half concerns Miller's work as a bandleader in the military (which is, I suppose, important since he died during World War II), but the very worst scene comes earlier in the film, when Miller and best gal Helen (June Allyson) visit a jazz club: The entire scene is filmed through a spinning color wheel. It may be the worst directorial decision in the history of movies.

To Be Or Not To Be (1942) Review


Excellent
Decades before Roberto Benigni was romanticizing the Holocaust and Mel Brooks was supposedly courting Nazi controversy on Broadway, Ernst Lubitsch made To Be or Not to Be, a tart little comedy about the Nazi invasion of Poland which, a few glitches aside, was all the more daring for having been made during the war itself, when its outcome was hardly certain. Unfortunately, Brooks remade the film in his own manner some 40 years afterward, substituting most of Lubitsch's wit with his brand of shtick - not as awful as it could have been, but definitely not a patch on the original.

To Be or Not to Be opens in 1939 on the eve of war, with a Warsaw theater troupe rehearsing a satire called Gestapo, which has been ordered shut down by the government, for fear of offending Hitler. The troupe's stars are Maria and Joseph Tura - a self-absorbed flirt and a preening ham who wouldn't know acting if it smacked him in the face - who couldn't be less interested in the outside world, until it comes crashing in. Maria (Carole Lombard, all smoky elegance) is carrying on an affair with handsome pilot Stanislav Sobinski (Robert Stack, shockingly fresh-faced and clear-voiced), while Joseph (a nimbly verbal Jack Benny) seems almost more perturbed by the fact that Sobinski walks out on his Hamlet soliloquy every night than the fact that he's doing so to meet backstage with Maria.

Continue reading: To Be Or Not To Be (1942) Review

Ninotchka Review


Excellent
As a sex symbol, Greta Garbo may seem like an odd choice -- she lacked the drop-dead gorgeousness of subsequent Swedes like Ingrid Bergman -- but few stars have built or maintained a bigger reputation in Hollywood. A silent film star, Garbo caused a sensation when American audiences finally heard her voice ("Garbo talks!"). Ninotchka is one of Garbo's few comedies, and part of its success is because the script plays off of the actress' slightly stiff, very foreign demeanor.

Garbo plays Ninotchka, a Soviet envoy sent to Paris to sell jewels that belonged to a former Russian duchess now turned Parisian socialite (Ina Claire). Melvyn Douglas is a count who becomes infatuated with Ninotchka and tries to divert her away from her duty to the Party. It's not Casablanca -- but it's not just another frothy romantic comedy either, thanks to Garbo's performance and the clever screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett (who also co-wrote the legendary Sunset Boulevard and The Lost Weekend).

Continue reading: Ninotchka Review

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To Be or Not to Be (1942) Movie Review

To Be or Not to Be (1942) Movie Review

Decades before Roberto Benigni was romanticizing the Holocaust and Mel Brooks was supposedly courting Nazi...

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