Walter Pidgeon

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Madame Curie Review


Excellent
Hey, I never thought the hunt for radium would make for an engrossing way to spend two hours, but Madame Curie reveals itself to be one of the most engaging biopics of its era. Reuniting the stars of Mrs. Miniver (as heralded on the poster), Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon make for perfect Marie and Pierre Curie, respectively. The film covers virtually their entire adult lives, from Marie's early interest in math and science to her "business only" marriage to Pierre, to their joint work searching for a mysterious radioactive substance in pitchblende ore, melting tons of material over many years and eventually coming up with a couple of grams of the stuff. While Pierre dies early (not from radiation poisoning, he was hit by a carriage), Marie would go on to win two Nobel Prizes. Her death (from radiation exposure) is off camera. Both Garson and Pidgeon are outstanding, and the film's treatment of science is both incredibly realistic and, shockingly, a lot of fun.

Forbidden Planet Review


OK
If the goings-on that take place under alien skies on the surface of Altair-4 in 1956's Forbidden Planet seem familiar, it's not just because the planet's name was recycled later for the Star Trek universe, but also because this film was the well-drunk-from by so much cinematic and televisual sci-fi of the following decades. The stalwart explorers, deserted planet, missing planetary explorers, a mysterious evil that may have a less than completely corporeal source; there's a reason that the film has been called the most influential sci-fi flick until Star Wars (actually more so, since nobody was ever really able to recapture Lucas' peculiar magic). It's unfortunate then, that as inspirational as it may have been, Forbidden Planet wasn't a better film.

Set further in the future than most sci-fi tales, the undistinguished script by Cyril Hume -- inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest, especially the magician Prospero and his magical spirit agent Ariel -- takes place in the 23rd century, when the human race has finally burst the bonds of our solar system and is truly exploring space. A spaceship crew (in an actual flying saucer, a rare thing for humans in films of this sort) is on its way to Altair-4 to find out what happened to the crew of the Bellerophon, which touched down 20 years back and hasn't been heard from since. A strange voice informs the crew to land only at their own peril, which they do. Not long after landing, the crew -- led by a stalwart and spry pre-Airplane Leslie Nielsen -- is taken by a friendly and nearly all-powerful robot (as in Robby the Robot, soon to grace the small screen on Lost in Space) to meet that warning voice. Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), a mysterious fellow with little use for strangers but in possession of a nubile blonde daughter who takes a shine to the first male strangers she's ever seen, is the sole survivor of the Bellerophon's crew. The others? Killed in brutal fashion by some strange and disembodied alien presence, which may just still be around to threaten the newcomers.

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Forbidden Planet Review


Excellent
You might not notice it, but 1991's Total Recall is a serious homage to Forbidden Planet (itself a rendition of Shakespeare's The Tempest), what with its ancient race of superintelligent (and extinct) beings and a lovely lass who gets the spacemen to act all googly. Of course, Rachel Ticotin is no Anne Francis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is no Leslie Nielsen, barely recognizable here in one of his first movies. Part space opera, part haunted house story, Planet's simple mystery is this: Why are there only two people left alive on a remote planetary outpost, and why don't they want our heroes to drop in for a visit? The answer is surprisingly erudite for 1950s B-cinema, and the effects are positively groundbreaking for the era (not to mention, the film introduced the classic Robby the Robot to the world). A true classic that is starting to look dated, but which still holds up well.

Mrs. Miniver Review


Excellent
For some reason, I've resisted seeing the acclaimed Mrs. Miniver all my life (probably due to the dull title) -- but finally I caught a showing on Turner Classic Movies and I was duly impressed. Now out on DVD, there's no excuse for anyone to miss seeing Miniver for themselves.

The titular missus is just a moderatly wealthy English lady in 1939 who's trying to keep her family together on the eve of World War II. Her son enlists in the RAF, her husband serves in the river patrol. The Germans drop bombs and, eventually, a Nazi soldier lands in the Miniver backyard. In happier times the son woos and marries the local beauty. A flower show is held. Oddly, all of this is compelling and makes perfect sense -- and it all looks gorgeous thanks to some lush black & white photography, excellent set designs, and impressive war effects.

Continue reading: Mrs. Miniver Review

How Green Was My Valley Review


OK
If you were sitting next to me during a recent screening of John Ford's How Green Was My Valley, you'd probably ask "How Black is Your Heart?" After all, the movie won five Oscars in 1941, including Best Picture, and has a permanent home in the Good Honest Folk movie hall of fame. It's hailed as Ford's non-western masterpiece and the screen debut of Roddy McDowall. You might even be tempted to trounce me about the shoulders and cry "Get with it, old man!"

I tried but I can't. Seeing Valley 60 years after its premiere only tells me that it hasn't aged well and maybe wasn't even supposed to. After all, America's paeans to ordinary people and their dreams hit their peak in 1941, hot on the heels of WPA murals and Dorothea Lange's photographs. And while we might be living in an age of renewed sincerity (the memoir, David Grey), Valley still strikes me some kind of virgin artifact, a relic cast in mythology before it was even born.

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Advise And Consent Review


Extraordinary
Everybody loves Henry Fonda -- but what if he was a freakin' commie!?

Otto Preminger turned his eyes from the legal system (Anatomy of a Murder) to American politics in the underseen and tragically underappreciated Advise and Consent.

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The Bad And The Beautiful Review


Excellent
This biting behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood is as sharp as they come. Opening on the funeral of a producer, the film follows three people as they spew vitriol on the man. Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner are particularly fun. Hollywood wouldn't be skewered this horribly again until The Player, 40 years later.
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