‘Virtue’ starring Carole Lombard

This was a nice way to kick off the weekend. Virtue aired on TCM earlier this month on Carole Lombard’s day during Summer Under The Stars. The film pairs her with Pat O’Brien and she plays a reformed prostitute. She falls in love with O’Brien, a taxi driver who knows all about “them dames.” Or at least he thinks he does.

from AFI.com

I love these incredibly short pre-code movies. In just 68 minutes, director Edward Buzzell and writer Robert Riskin (Frank Capra’s usual collaborator during his Columbia years) give us a full, snappy story. Lombard is just gorgeous and gives a stunning performance.

Virtue was released in 1932. It is on the TCM schedule for Sept. 5 at 9:45 am. Set your DVRs!

Billy Wilder on Kino Cinema Classics

For my first post after an extended break, I’m taking a quick look at two new essential Blu-ray releases from my favorite director, Billy Wilder.

In July, Kino released its first wave of titles from the MGM/UA library. These included two underrated titles from Wilder, Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). Both of these films show two very different sides of Wilder, but both are quintessential films in his canon.

Witness is based on the play by Agatha Christie and shows that Wilder could handle suspense as well as Alfred Hitchcock. The best way to watch this film is to see after going years without seeing it. That way, you can completely forget what the twist is. Then you see it and can just marvel at how well Wilder directs it.

The cast of the film is surprisingly strong. These are all men and women who have been on the stage and screen so long that you can’t imagine the world of film without them. Where would we be without Charles Laughton? How could we have gotten on without Marlene Dietrich? Then there’s that performance from Tyrone Power, coming as a revelation. He could act and if his string of successful films at Fox earlier in his career didn’t prove it, Witness does.

Kino’s Blu-ray release is really gorgeous, even if it is only a single-layer disc. The only extra beyond the ingenious trailer is a short excerpt from Billy Wilder Speaks that covers the film.

Holmes comes from a different era of Wilder’s career, when he was stuck in the rut with I.A.L. Diamond, as he would remain for the rest of his career. While the partnership did yield The Apartment, many of his films after that received lukewarm responses for good reason. But Holmes was much different, thanks in part to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character of course. Robert Stephenson, along with Colin Blakely as Watson, is a joy to watch as Holmes. This is the most fun you’ll have with the character outside of the BBC’s Sherlock.

Sadly, the film is in rough shape. For whatever reason, even though it was made in 1970, it looks awful. It doesn’t help that the 125-minute film has to share a single-layered disc with some standard-def extras that run over an hour. They probably don’t take up much space, but a dual-layered disc would have helped.

Anyway, the extras are very interesting, particularly the 50-minute reel of deleted material. Apparently, Wilder and Diamond had a very long film in mind, but these sequences are more or less self-contained. So, you can cut any of these and they wouldn’t affect the larger mystery. It would have been cool to see Wilder and Diamond put together these cut scenes for a sequel, but Holmes wasn’t that big a hit to even consider that.

I can’t wait for more Wilder films from MGM/UA to hit Blu-ray. It’s sad that Kino appears to be more interested in them than Criterion, but it’s better than nothing. Bring on One, Two, Three, Irma La Douce and The Fortune Cookie please!

‘Separate Tables’

separatetablesDelbert Mann’s Separate Tables is probably one of the best hidden gems I’ve checked out recently. It’s available to stream on Amazon Prime Instant Video, so definitely check it out.

I saw it only knowing that David Niven won his Oscar for his performance in the film, but he wasn’t even the best part of it. Wendy Hiller, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr and Rita Hayworth were all stunning. Hiller and Niven deserved their Oscars, but this is one film that should have had three winners. Kerr gives this her all as Sibyl.

If you haven’t seen this movie, you are in for a treat.

Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Une femme mariee’

une femme mariee

Une femme mariee, fragments d’un film tourne en 1964 en noir et blanc (A Married Woman: Fragments of a Film Shot in Black and White), a film from Jean-Luc Godard, is more like an essay, devoid of any traditional film language. Then again, if you expect anything ‘traditional’ in a Godard film, you’ve never heard of him. 

Une femme mariee was far different by even Godard standards. As I noted, anything an audience usually expects in a film is not here. In a sense, it’s a film without a beginning, climax and an end. There is no action. It focuses on Charlotte (Macha Meril), a married woman torn between her husband, a man romanticizing the past, and an actor. She seems committed to neither of them and Godard appears to be more interested in the effects of consumerism on her life.

Charlotte is one of the most interesting female characters in Godard’s cinema. She’s older than Anna Karina’s characters in Bande a part and Alphaville, the two films Une femme mariee is sandwiched by. Charlotte is an individual not tied to anyone, even though she loves her husband’s child (she is not the mother). Still, I don’t think she is not happy with her life, especially after reading page after page of magazines and seeing what life is “supposed” to be like.

The film was made in just four weeks and even without a script, but you wouldn’t get that feeling upon seeing it. Raoul Coutard’s cinematography has never been better, perfectly capturing the unique images in Godard’s head.

While MoC may be the Criterion Collection of England, they do things a little differently. Une femme mariee does include Godard’s trailer, but that’s it. The rest of the bonus material is the 80-page book, filled with some fascinating essays. I still haven’t even read through it all yet!

MoC has put together another fine package with Une femme mariee. I can’t wait to get another one of their releases soon. If you are a fan of Godard in the U.S., get this now.

Quick ‘Argo’ Thoughts

argopicIt took literally months, but I finally saw Argo. Ben Affleck has now scored wins from the Director’s Guild, the Screen Actor’s Guild and the Producer’s Guild, meaning that it’s the one film riding momentum heading into the Oscars. Of course, a lot of noise is being made about how he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, which I still think is a big deal.

I’m not doing a full review but here are some quick thoughts:

  • How great is that opening? The storming of the embassy is a master stroke…quite possibly the best part of the movie.
  • Affleck may have gotten robbed, but Bryan Cranston was robbed of a Best Supporting Actor nod. I know people love Alan Arkin (he got the best lines), but Cranston was amazing as Affleck’s superior.
  • Great soundtrack.
  • I have to say, it was really cool to see that old ’70s Warner logo on the big screen.
  • The last twenty minutes were exhilarating. This movie is book-ended by two great sequences.

See this movie in theaters while you can. It comes out on Blu-ray the Tuesday before the Oscars, but this begs to be seen on the big screen. As for whether or not this movie deserves to win Best Picture … I’m still rooting for either Lincoln or Silver Linings Playbook.

Photo: ArgoTheMovie.com