Friday, March 03, 2006

Unemployment Movies:

Nothing like joblessness to get me to plunge into the depths of my nigh bottomless closet o' VHS/DVDs.

Here are some of the titles I've screened since being laid off:

Anna and the King of Siam (1946) I wanna like this, Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison are a likable pair, but its a racial impersonation gig and thus while interesting to watch is also unsettling to the modern sensibility. Harrison as the King has a great "deathbed scene, Jose Ferrer himself couldn't have milked it more ruthlessly.

"That Gang of Mine" (1940...and thanks Rob) Leo Gorcey wants to be a jockey and the rest of the Bowery Boys are as usual bored and willing to enable him no matter what the cost. This is a typical Bowery boys programmer prior to their detour into comedy and as such is maudlin, shameless fun marred only by the deplorable lack of any of Huntz Hall's antics.

"Brenda Starr" (1976) Jill St. John stars as the comic strip reporter with a cast of TV ne'er do wells. Clearly this was supposed to be pilot to an unproduced BS series, St. John doesn't really seem all that enthused about the project (something to do with voodoo in the jungle) but Victor Buono chews the scenery like a hungry piranha fish.

"The Devil is a Sissy" (1936) A Veddy English toff Freddie Bartholemew moves to Brooklyn and tries to get in good with the local kid gang headed by Mickey Rooney and Jackie Cooper. This is like a golden age kid actor summit with fine if over-wrought acting from all and know you are deep in the land of hyperemotionalism when the most restrained performance is from that deathless Hamasaurus Rex, Mickey Rooney.

"The Unholy Three" (1930) Lon Chaney Senior stars as a crooked side show ventriloquist who teams up with a midget and a strongman to unleash a wave of fiendish terror on an unsuspecting backlot city. Alas they pick as their headquarters what amounts to Mrs O'Grady's evil Pet Store which is naught but a chance for Chaney to indulge a really first class drag act. Its too bad Chaney died right after this film was finished, he could've easily made the transition to talkies he had a talent for charactyer voices in addition to his wizardly with grotesque make up.

"My Son the Hero" (1960) Guiliano Gemma stars as a black sheep son of Zeus sent to Earth to rid Crete of a tyrant. Yup, I know, I'm watching peplum movies again...but this one was good, its funny in a very intentional way and Gemma is less of a brooding muscleman and much more a classical trickster character. The cinematography is excellent, especially the numerous underground scenes and the comedy measured and unaffected.
Gemma would later move on to spaghetti westerns where he played under the stage name "Montgomery Wood".

"Come Back Charleston Blue" (1972) This is the nominal sequel to "Cotton Comes to Harlem" and stars Raymond St. Jacques and Godfrey Cambridge as Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones the two ubiquitous Harlem police detectives on the trail of a rising young drug pusher. Not quite as funny as "Cotton Comes to Harlem" and way more violent, nonetheless, St. Jacques and Cambridge are fun to watch...they don't like anybody! Their fellow cops, local religious leaders, pushers, the mafia its a long list they've antagonized!

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1971) Tom Courtenay stars as Solzhenitsyn's Soviet Gulag imate doppelganger in this seldom seen British film shot in Norway. The original novel may be at fault here, its is in some ways un-filmable being more of a realistic mood piece a'la Ernest Hemingway. Still and all that the cast gives it their best shot and it is a very faithful adaptation of the book.

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