"Going Hollywood" (1933, MGM)
A very weird film, featuring a young (and super-cute!!) Bing Crosby alongside Marion Davies, the uniquely untalented kewpie-doll starlet who William Randolph Hearst backed in flop after flop. It's meant to be a screwball comedy, but reads more like unintentional camp, particularly in any scenes where Davies is called apon to sing, dance or act. Bing plays a crooner gone Hollywood; Davies plays a blonde nutcase who stalks him from coast to coast, insisting that their love was meant to be. Davies character seems particularly psychotic in light of her bizarrely vacant delivery... The disconnected performance and lackluster plot combine synergistically, and after a while you just have to start cracking up... it's a scream! Like Davies, the movie looks great, but lacks substance. (For a more sympathetic take on Davies' legacy, check out Kirsten Dunst's surprisingly sympathetic portrayal in Peter Bogdanovitch's 2002 comedy, The Cat's Meow, a thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining film about the Hearst/Davies relationship...)
"Birth Of The Blues" (1941, MGM)
Bing Crosby and Jack Teagarden lead the Basin Street Hot Shots, the (fictional) first all-white jazz band in New Orleans. Goofy and slow in parts, but god clean fun. Lots of weird racial stuff -- it's worth it, though, just to hear Mary Martin say, "I want to learn to sing like the colored folk." This is a fairly starry-eyed reading of the history of jazz, cleaned up a bit for a mainstream audience, but definitely with the best of intentions. Good clean fun, and a nice chance to see one of the best jazz musicians -- Teagarden -- strutting his stuff alongside one of the greatest jazz singers of all time, Der Bingle himself.
"Everything Happens At Night" (20th Century Fox, 1939)
Yawn. Apparently this plot-heavy Sonja Henie flick was meant to show her dramatic range, but it's a real snoozer... Henie's had an elfin, Bjork-like quality to her... but this fluffy, uneventful film was certainly no Dancer In The Dark.
An awesome Busby Berkeley extravaganza! The plot leading up to the finale isn't that amazing, but the full production is! Super-psychedelic dance numbers... amazing. Bizarre anachronistic cast note: isn't that Robert DeNiro as the prudish uncle?
"The Country Girl" (1954, Paramount)
Der Bingle as you've never seen him before! Bing Crosby plays a washed-up alchoholic actor whose been given another shot at the big time, yet manages to sabotage himself at every turn. Grace Kelly is his sort-of codependent wifeypoo, and William Holden plays a theatrical producer who gets manipulated by the conniving and devious Crosby. Early on the movie sets a striking emptional tone, very complex and alarming, although mildly undercut by the preachy, gee-whiz attitude folks had back then towards Psychology (with a capital "P"!) Great performances. Crosby in particular is very convincing, and Holden and Kelly also give strong, though stagey, performances. Definitely worth checking out!
"Cavalcade" (1933, Twenthieth Century Fox)
Noel Coward's homage to the bygone era of Edwardian England. A long and somewhat lumpy script tracks one upper-upper class family's trials through 1899-1933, as their paths intersect the Boer War, WWI, and the Titanic... Oddly enough, considering Coward's bon vivant temprament, the movie seems to condemn the libertine sensibilities of the Jazz Era (great glimpses of the action, though, including a gay couple exchanging gifts in a nightclub...) and exalts the more traditional English reserve. An interesting film, although in retrospect WWII loomed large in the background...
"Hold Your Man" (1932, MGM)
Jean Harlow and Clark Gable try to capitalize on their onscreen heat from Red Dust, in this comedy-gone-melodrama about a couple joined in crime during the desperate years of the Great Depression. The stark depictation of life in a women's jail (or a "boarding house," as they called it back then...) is pretty amazing, and pretty raw. Plus, Gable and Harlow had great chemistry together... definitely worth checking out!
"Fury" (1936, MGM)
Fritz Lang's first Hollywood film features Spencer Tracy as a man falsely accused of a crime and attacked by a lynch mob. He survives and comes back, seeking revenge. Pretty heavy stuff, and a pretty thrilling film.
"The Sure Thing" (1985)
This teens-coming-of-age sex comedy was a lot slower than I remembered it being, but John Cusack sure is cute. And look at little Anthony Edwards! So... was Dr. Green a big frat rat before he went pre-med?
"Cruel Intentions" (Columbia Tristar, 1999)
Uber-hip postmodern virgins acting like teases. And did Reese Witherspoon really marry that icky lizard boy? Ewwwww.
"The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" (1976)
An admirable Bicentennial-year comedy about the waning days of the Negro National League in the years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in msjor league baseball. Trouble is the plot limps a bit, and there's not enough Richard Pryor. Or enough baseball, really. OK, but not great.
"Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun" (Universal, 1969)
A good, but slow-moving, fatalistic sci-fi thriller from 1969... sort of a pop culture Rosetta Stone between Star Trek and "The Six Million Dollar Man," wherein a hidden, doppelganger Earth threatens our own, and all the space-racing might of the our species can do nothing to prevent the inevitable. Slightly strained, but worth checking out.
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