PAST HOLLYWOOD AND THE PAST OF FRANCE’S PAST

PAST HOLLYWOOD

IT’S A DATE
William A. Seiter
1940

There is a scene midway in It’s a Date when John Arlen( Walter Pidgeon) is asking advice about proposing to Georgia Drake ( Kay Francis)  from her longtime secretary/companion.  This latter thinks he is talking about proposing to the actress’ daughter Pam (Deanna Durbin).  Every line he says can be interpreted either way, and the secretary keeps misunderstanding him.  This one-joke scene is carried to unconscionable length, well acted and timed  —   but long.  This expanded scene typifies the entire film, simple jokes bearing more weight than they can handle.

Despite her characteristic energy and determination, Deanna Durbin is less entertaining here than usual.  Garson Kanin’s writing does not serve her well.  (Scripts were written for her; movies were created around her.)  There is, of course, the obligatory scene in which an audience  —  our stand-in  —  is absorbed in her vocal delivery.  But ridiculous selections were made for her to sing, Loch Lomond, Ave Maria, so that the moviegoing public could feel it was hearing serious but palatable music.

Kay Francis is excellent as the actress/mother.

*          *          *          *          *

THE PAST OF FRANCE’S PAST

LES GRANDES MANOEUVRES
René Clair
1955

Missing are Clair’s busy groups and milling crowds and some folks within them chasing each other.  There is but a small group of malicious, malevolent townswomen and a slightly larger group of lighthearted, lustful soldiers.  And no one ever chases anybody else.  The pursuit here is of another kind, and Clair concentrates on two people and their delicate, nuanced  —  if not profound  —  relationship to each other.  Soldier Gérard Philipe is attempting, on a wager, to seduce Michelle Morgan.  Morgan, never before impressive for me, is perfectly beautiful and perfectly cast.   Philipe is superb  —  amusing, outrageous and touching, all at once.  The two play so finely together that while the film was still running I conceived the idea of another ten best list:  The most chemical couples of all time, with Morgan and Philipe on the list.  (Philipe would be dead just six years after completing this film, aged 37).

Set in a small provincial town in the 19th century, Les Grandes Manoeuvres  features costuming, décor and color that are of a piece  —  all gentle and delicate.

Brigitte Bardot is delightfully just right in a small part as a soldier buddy’s girlfriend.

SPOILER ALERT:  It must end, of course, à la française, giving the picture a more serious tone than it perhaps deserves.

*          *          *          *          *

NIGHTLIGHT BURNING BRIGHTLY

For all northeast Ohioans:  The Nightlight in Akron is showing Michel Gondry’s MOOD INDIGO through August 14.  Find the schedule of times for this and dates for other upcoming films at http://www.nightlightcinema.com.  Get on their mailing list.  Become a member.

Still for all northeasters:  Today at 5:15 at the Cleveland Cinematheque John Ewing is showing Chuck Workman’s What is Cinema? along with his  Precious Images and at 9:45 April Wright’s Going Attractionsthe Definitive Story of the American Drive-In Movie.  April Wright will be present.  The Workman films show on Saturday the 9th as well at 9:15.

For Ohioans one more time:  Check Muse Education Media Film Festival on Facebook for showings in Akron on August 15 and 16.  (Thanks to Rich Heldenfels for this tip.)

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MOVIES ARE EVERYWHERE

Like many people, I learned about the desert from the movies.  When I was sixteen my father took me to the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York for a special screening of Lawrence of Arabia, all four hours of it, and I became enraptured not only by Lawrence’s kooky quest to lead the Arabs to independence but the sheer gorgeousness of the desert itself. Half the movie seemed to be shots of thousand-foot sand dunes and rose-tinted light and honorable Bedouins taking tea by oases. The drama was cemented by soaring theme music and lingering shots of Lawrence, wearing quite a lot of black kohl squinting into the distance and looking determined. /  This became my image of the desert…

The passage is from To the Moon and Timbuktu,Nina Sovich’s charming, incisive, honest book about her intrepid travels as a woman alone in parts of Africa.

Again: “This became my image of the desert as the movie Charade with Audrey Hepburn became my image of Paris. And even as I got older and realized that life rarely imitated the movies I found it hard not to hope, just a little, that make-believe would mesh with reality.”

And once again: “Like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, I have come to the city by a shabbier ocean in search of transit papers.”ééé

Nina Sovich. To the Moon and Timbuktu.
Houghton Mifflin (New Harvest), 2013.

NEXT FRIDAY POST AUGUST 22
See you at the movies,
Rick

 

 

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