Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ten Movies the Siren Should Love…But Does Not

So, Tony Dayoub of the terrific blog Cinema Viewfinder has been tweeting his tour of Elizabeth Taylor's filmography, and having a good time doing it. Last night he watched Father of the Bride, Vincente Minnelli's beloved 1950 comedy, starring Taylor at her most gorgeous and featuring one of the most imitated bridal gowns of all time. And the Siren tweeted back that she should find this movie charming; after all, it stars Joan Bennett, who was ten different kinds of fabulous, and Spencer Tracy, who had a fine, laid-back and natural way to his comedic acting. And it's Minnelli, and the Siren adores Minnelli to the point where she can mount a ringing defense of Brigadoon's being shot on the back lot. And yet the Siren is firmly uncharmed, although she was unable to explain why in 140 characters or less.

This led to her thinking of other movies that have classic status and a number of elements that should hit all her sweet spots, and yet she's never tempted to sit down and get reacquainted with them when they pop up on Turner Classic Movies, or when someone posts or tweets about them. So, for the sheer undiluted hell of it, she came up with ten.

Now lists like this are risky, in that people do not generally care to have their beloved favorites maligned. The Siren apologizes in advance, and assures her patient readers that she sees virtues in all of these movies, even if it's just the presence of a great actor. You will also notice that the list is almost entirely comprised of some of the Siren's most beloved directors. And nothing here alters that devotion, but you'll have to accept that as a given. The Siren isn't going to clutter things up by waving around her Billy Wilder-loving credentials, for example.

Still, something about each of these films irks the Siren to the point of nonenjoyment. Usually that's related to deficiencies of humor, theme or performance, although there's a couple of films that, in the words of X. Trapnel's grandmother, "don't have looks eyes like."

So if the Siren's list includes a deep personal favorite, go ahead and take your revenge in comments: "Oh yeah? Well I'VE never liked [insert name of movie the Siren has praised to the skies]." Just remember the one rule at the Siren's place: No dissing Citizen Kane. That is not and never has been a joke. Otherwise, have at it.

P.S. Over at Some Came Running, Glenn Kenny has posted a response, in which he links to his defense of the second Man Who Knew Too Much and offers his approving thoughts on Kiss Me, Stupid. Check it out! The Siren loves the post title alone.

1. Father of the Bride (Vincente Minnelli, 1950)
The Siren hastens to say that the late Elizabeth Taylor is the one thing she really does like about the movie. Taylor makes the most of an underwritten role, and you really believe she loves her Pop. However. For one thing, it bothers the Siren that Taylor is so young, although she realizes full well that this is the age at which many people got married in the 1950s, and Taylor herself was married when it was released. Still, it's off-putting. As is Tracy's open jealousy of his son-in-law, and if you ask the Siren, his character talks down to Joan Bennett way too much, and she's clearly a lot smarter than he is. More than anything, the comedy falls short of the mark, both too sour and not sharp enough. The Siren's final curmudgeonly observation is that Taylor's celebrated wedding dress is way too mid-Victorian for her taste.

2. You Can't Take It With You (Frank Capra, 1938) Back in his IFC blogging days Vadim Rizov took this one apart. Heart of the matter:

Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (played by Lionel Barrymore) [is] a lovable old coot who lets whoever wants to follow their flighty impulses and desires (fireworks! mechanical dolls! ballet!) take up space and pursue them, no matter how impractical or unsafe.

Like all free spirits, Grandpa Vanderhof doesn't believe in paying the income tax. In [one] infuriating scene… he plays rhetorical cat-and-mouse with a frustrated representative of the IRS, demanding to know what good his 22 years' owed back-taxes would do. The representative says they need warships, but crafty grandpa -- three years before World War II -- says we haven't used those since the Spanish-American War. Nor does Grandpa use the roads ever, and he certainly doesn't believe in Congress because, you know, Congress, haw haw.

The Siren agrees with Vadim in every particular. We're both Capra fans, but You Can't Take It With You is for the birds.

3. Woman of the Year (George Stevens, 1942) To the Siren, this will always be one-half of a great movie. My word, Katharine Hepburn is gorgeous in it. The Siren would say it's tied with The Philadelphia Story for the title of Hepburn at Her Most Ravishing. And if the Siren is lucky enough to catch the first half, she'll watch it for the way the actress lounges down a hallway and swings her legs off that desk. The chemistry with Tracy would give Antoine Lavoisier a heart attack. But the ending--oh my stars and garters, that ending, in which Hepburn is humiliated because sure, she can wear the hell out of a chic suit and write circles around any man in sight, but what that does matter if she burns his breakfast--that ending is so hideous, so cringe-inducing that the Siren can't watch it. She can't even watch much past the midpoint because she knows the finale is coming. TCM says the ending was changed after an audience preview. And before you go after the Siren for imposing 2011 viewpoints on a 1942 movie, let it be said that when the rewrite was presented to Hepburn, she "termed it 'the worst bunch of shit I ever read.'" God, don't you love her even more for that?

4. Kiss Me, Stupid (Billy Wilder, 1964) The Siren likes Kim Novak very much in this movie; Pauline Kael was 100% right that "her lostness holds the film together," to the extent that it hangs together at all. People tell the Siren to just try to get past Ray Walston, but how, exactly? He's all over the movie. As is Dean Martin, a hit-or-miss talent for the Siren; here his character is just too creepy for words.

5. The Trial (Orson Welles, 1962) This is one movie the Siren would watch again in its entirety because it's so damn beautiful, and that is no small virtue in her eyes. But the truth is that she finds the dialogue, and the performances of Anthony Perkins and Jeanne Moreau, mannered and dull.

6. Sergeant York (Howard Hawks, 1941) The Siren doesn't believe that the indisputably great Hawks had much of a feel for Tennessee or its inhabitants. Nor does she care for the preachiness of this movie, or find Alvin York's conversion to Army superhero to be particularly convincing on screen, even if it did happen in real life. For what it's worth, co-screenwriter Howard Koch later expressed something of the same doubts: "If you render under all the Caesars, past and present, what they demand of us, there is little left for God. They get what they want--power, glory, money or whatever--and He comes out on the short end." The Siren does like the "Give Me That Old Time Religion" conversion scene a lot, though.

7. Guys and Dolls (Joseph Mankiewicz, 1955) Truly, the Siren does not get any of the love for this one. You want to revive an unjustly neglected Mankiewicz, the Siren suggests The Late George Apley or Five Fingers, both terrific. Guys and Dolls' abstract sets might--might, although the Siren has her strong doubts--have worked had the casting had been better. But look, people say it all the time because it's true: Frank Sinatra should have played Sky Masterson, not Nathan Detroit. Vivian Blaine, by all accounts a marvel as Miss Adelaide on stage, never quite catches fire here, and her fights with Sinatra are mechanical. Brando mangles his every love song, none worse than "A Woman in Love." The one saving grace for the Siren, aside from her beloved Jean Simmons dancing in Havana, is the marvelous Stubby Kaye.

8. Where the Boys Are (Henry Levin, 1960) The Siren can happily deal with retro attitudes toward sex and marriage in Jean Negulesco's "three girls" movies, like Three Coins in the Fountain or The Best of Everything. But there's one problem with this movie right there: you get four girls, and that's one too many. Darryl Zanuck would have made them take one out. Robert Avrech argues that Dolores Hart is quite good here, and she is. But the way poor Yvette Mimieux is treated makes the Siren's skin crawl, and there just isn't enough laughter or romance to make up for it in any way.

9. The Pink Panther (Blake Edwards, 1963) Great look to the film, and a great-looking Capucine, who is high on the Siren's list of Actresses She'll Forgive Anything Because They Are So Ridiculously Beautiful. But just not funny to the Siren; too slapstick, and a lingering cruelty under the humor that rubs the Siren the wrong way. Man, the Siren loves that song in the ski lodge, though.

10. The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956) This married couple just basically hate one another, don't they? The Siren vastly prefers the original.


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justjoan123 said...

Right there with you in a rather frightening sort of way. Especially the last: every time I see Stewart sedating poor Doris before he tells her the Absolute Worst News Ever, I want to hit him over the head with an Ambrose Chapel.

AndrewBW said...

I wasn't thinking about the ending of "Casablanca," where Ilsa has clearly chosen Rick over Victor, but rather before the movie begins, when she was a beautiful young woman in Paris falling in love with this rather colorless older man. She could have had her pick of any man in town and this is the guy she chooses? I know she says that she had heard all about him and that he was a great war hero whom she admired and looked up to but I can't help but think that she should have felt profoundly let down when she finally met him.

X. Trapnel said...


If I recall Ilse indicates that she met Laszlo pre-Paris "at the home of some friends" (I think she says in Oslo). Henreid wasn't all that old and as for colorless...well, ladies?

Yojimboen said...

XT. Victor Laszlo aka Otto Katz (aka 20 other aliases) needs to be looked at little more dispassionately. I have no doubt whatever that “Ilse” met “Victor” in exactly the same sort of circumstances in which “Marlene” met “Otto”.

Despite this reviewer’s doubt, there are dozens of separate and well-buttressed opinions that Victor Lazslo sprang more or less fully-fleshed from the unbelievable but true-life adventures of Otto Katz.

Certainly, from my own knowledge, Katz in H’Wood traveled the same circles as the Epstein boys and Howard Koch. Neither was Victor Laszlo alone in his parentage, Watch on the Rhine’s Kurt Muller (Paul Lukas) and Luis Denard (Charles Boyer) from Confidential Agent (both films un-coincidentally directed by the later blacklisted Herman Shumlin), were cut from the same cloth.

Fascinating dude, was our Otto. Not least for me, because as with every comment I’ve made to this blessèd site, I type these words in the room Otto slept in during his lengthy and productive stopover in Tinsel Town. So there.

Karen said...

I've always had rather a pash for Henreid, myself, and in Casablanca he was playing a hero of the Resistance, which is a pretty potent aphrodisiac. So, no, I never found Ilse/Victor that far-fetched.

X. Trapnel said...

I always thought that much of the appeal of Albert Camus was that he was simultaneously Rick B. and Victor L. He certainly never lacked for female companionship.

AndrewBW said...

Fascinating about Otto Katz. I'd never heard of him before, but the review of the Miles biography makes me want to learn more. Thank you. I can definitely see X's comment about Camus.

Anonymous said...

I used to love "GUYS AND DOLLS" a lot when I was younger. Now . . . it's okay. And I have yet to buy a DVD copy of it.

As for your other choices . . . you have a point. By the way, I can't stand "YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU". And aside from "IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT", I find that I'm not much of a Frank Capra fan.

Anonymous said...

Henreid wasn't all that old and as for colorless...well, ladies?

Frankly, I found him rather attractive and likeable for a straight arrow type. Although I don't really see him and Ilsa having a successful marriage.

Uncle Gustav said...

Siren, Capucine alert: The 7th Dawn (1964), missing on DVD, is now at Netflix Instant: click here.

Paul F. Etcheverry said...

Dear Siren,

Love reading your blog and have it on my links list!

(now what could I add to the 211 previous comments?)

A) While I enjoy Guys & Dolls - Marlon, Frank, Vivian and especially Stubby Kaye - as movie musicals go, I prefer risque early talkies, 1950's MGMs directed by Minnelli (I agree with you about Brigadoon) 1930's RKOs by Mark Sandrich and the indescribable weirdness that is American surrealist Busby Berkeley . . . Come to think of it, I also prefer Sinatra's 1953-1958 Capitol recordings, arguably his finest.

B) Last time I watched the horrid Woman Of The Year, it was a VHS copy and Ronald Reagan was president. Detested the ending so much that I wanted to do something approximating the television set-dropping opening of SCTV to both the boob tube and the VCR! Soon afterwards, I found a VHS with Catherine O' Hara doing her dead-on impression of Kate and LMAO. And I still seek a noir co-starring Spence n' Kate.

C) Last saw The Trial on 16mm when Carter was pres. All I remember are a slew of very cool tracking shots/camera compositions and Romy.

X. Trapnel said...

"I don't really see him and Ilse having a successful marriage"

Neither do I. The big joke is it's December 1941; America is about to enter the war, so who needs Victor Laszlo and his "work"? I believe VL is going to take to drink and Ilse light out for Brazzaville.

Ms.Zebra said...

In light of the recent negative comments on You Can't Take It With You, I'd just like to take this opportunity to adopt one of the most over-used and cliched cinematic moments, usually attempting to express despair, pain, or just plain overacting, and shout "noooooooooooooooooooo" for a full 30 seconds while raising my arms to the sky and looking quite anguished.

(I also contest that the early love scenes between Arthur and Stewart are as deliciously put-me-in-a-romance-trance as the step scene between Arthur and McCrea in The More the Merrier. Mmmm. The step scene.)

rcocean said...

An excellent post. I agree on "Pink Panther" great cast, great to look at but I always get bored watching it.

Facelook said...

Goodness, you are so right about The Pink Panther. I too love Capucine and that ridiculously catchy song in the ski lodge. They are the two reasons --the only two-- I watch that infernal movie.

grandoldmovies said...

This is a long thread & I'm coming in very late, but for what it's worth: Going out on a limb here, I actually love You Can't Take It W/You, think Ann Miller is very funny in it, and love the Stewart/Arthur chemistry; it's one of the few films in which L.Barrymore is actually bearable (he's no where near his vastly more talented brother, John). Saw Woman of the year many years ago & don't remember it, but recall not liking it; from your description of it, I think I know why. Although it wasn't part of your original list, I'm adding my bit on the Philadelphia Story, which others commented on; it's a film I've always loathed; I hate the way that the Tracy Lord character is made into a straw figure/fall guy for other characters' self-righteous brickbats. As it is, I never could warm up to Philip Barry; find Holiday & The Animal Kingdom to be exercises in upper-class smugness. The 1934 version of the Man Who Knew Too Much is, IMHO, far superior to the 1956 remake, although many auteurists wld disagree; the 1st version is lean & quick & has the great virtue of having Peter Lorre in it; the 2nd version is long & lumbering, and I always find the ending, w/Doris bellowing at the piano & her kid upstairs whistling to beat the band, kinda funny (though suppose Hitch didn't mean it that way). Haven't seen Kiss Me, Stupid, but The Pink Panther is really overrated, and boring to boot (and my god, Robert Wagner can't be funny to save his life!). Really a fascinating post.

pigoletto said...

Completely agree with this list - all are sort of tepid films to me. Hitchcock needs a slightly edgier or savvy woman in the lead to work - Torn Curtain left me cold too, couldn't buy Julie Andrews in that one at all. Can I add Scandal In Paris to this? I was so disappointed, as a fully paid up member of the George Sanders fan club. It should have been light, but ended up being so camp that George in drag playing the piano in The Kremlin Letter seems intensely serious. On the up side, I just watched Born To Be Bad - what a great little melo. Robert Ryan radiates some serious sex appeal and Joan Fontaine putting in a performance that comes across very similar in tone to Anne Baxter in All About Eve.

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Melanie said...

WTBA-the first (many many)times I watched it, I was sucked in by the early beach blanket bingo aspect of it (more intelligently done, though they were admittedly shooting at a different target in those movies). But...the last time I watched it, I realised three things for the first time. One, that rape scene and aftermath was probably the first time, and in this kind of film of all kinds, where a date rape was taken seriously, heck, a rape period-where it shows the devastation of the women, and not in a noirish way where it becomes about how she'll get revenge. Yes, it was mighty uncomfortable, because it was so true to life. Second, I realised how these girls were being, or trying to be be, sistahs to each other-there wasn't any petty feminine spite going at all, and that might almost be a first in a "women's film". Third-at the end, where Ryder admits that he doesn't know if he loves Merritt, but he likes her a lot-someone's been watching the Hepburn/Tracy dynamic when they for it right, so I suppose there was a pay-off for sitting through some of Hepburn's sometimes unwarranted self-assurance. Merritt and Ryder seemed to understand that they might wind up being friends, just really good friends, and that would be enough. I could almost hear them saying "This could be the start of a beautiful friendship". It was a welcome twist after all the overheatedness of teenage hormones I'd been gritting my teeth through (past my time, you still have to be there, IMO, having been there doesn't count lol). Last of all, this movie gave me an interest in what they called "dialectic jazz", I somehow got from there to Brubeck and the cool cats, now I'm hooked.

Giant-at first, I thought Dean's performance over the top too (is that possible in these sagas?) until! I saw in a documentary about Texas, the man upon whom he was based, one Glenn H McCarthy. Dean didn't do that man justice, no one could've have have been believable, right down to the sunglasses at night, the mumbled speech, the richman paranoia, the self-inferiority at his lack of education (though he'd have died before admit it, he overcompensated, and I mean bigger that Texas, if you can believe it, more like Middle Eastern sheik ostentation!) McCarthy poured a fortune into the Shamrock Hotel, with its ocean-sized pool, and something (a lobby wall, heck, for all I can remember, the pool itself)lined with emeralds! They just don't like make 'em like these self-made billionaires anymore, do even the Russian nouveaus show so much brazenness as the Texas wildcatters who struck it rich, from that day?

FOTB-yeah, they got me the first couple of times (my classic movie bug bit early, like when I was a kid, and I was on my own with it), a total sucker for all the big excitement leading up to the princess wedding (just think how lavish this was considered, and what expense people these days with much less money go to, now-bit I'm getting to that point).

My cyncism, possibly in overdrive, has wondered if this wasn't some tie-in with the wedding industry to get that business up and running again, after the simple frills-free weddings of WWII (Judy Garland in The Clock, just for one). People had been wearing suits to the JP, placeholder rings, the business needed to be made relevant again. Just a supposition, I've not checked any data on this theory.

Ann Sheridan! She had some intrinsic core of "no bullshit" which came across quite well in everything, but especially when she was playing with divas to the left, divas to the right (Davis and that finally annoying little laugh which was supposed to make her more down to earth, flirtatious, I don't know, then Monty chewing up from the other side, there wouldn't have been room for a third diva, and funnily enough Sheridan had the diva role in that movie, but if not for her tricks, she'd have looked more down to earth than any of them.

Jincy said...

Love that the Man Who Knew Too Much is on this list. Even worse than the bad casting and lack of chemistry is the fact that you have to hear "Que Sera, Sera" twenty-five times.

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