Queen & Slim
Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
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The main theme of this movie is one that has played out so many times in movies and books (and life): a man (James Mason) cheats on his wife (Barbara Stanwyck) with a woman (Ava Gardner) who gives him the thrills she cannot. The affair was over, but now she's back. He resists, but she points out that fireworks are not something to be taken lightly: "Maybe it wasn't love, maybe it was only chemistry, or the right combination, or a miracle. But most people drag through their whole lives without finding it. We both know that, don't we Bran?" And when he tells her he doesn't want to see her again, she purrs the sexy double entendre "I'll do exactly what you want Bran, exactly what you want."
Gardner is just brilliant, oozing raw desire and channeling Jean Harlow in "The Red-Headed Woman" when she later gets slapped by Mason. Instead of being hurt, she eggs him on, knowing his passion is rising, and knows "that's what you're missing at home", and "you want to be rotten like me." Stanwyck plays the virtuous wife with quiet grace, though I thought she was too reserved in a showdown scene with the outlandishly mean Gardner. It's always great to see her movies though, and she does play 'hurt' and 'conflicted' well.
There is a lot of star power here, with Cyd Charisse and Van Heflin also in the cast, and even an appearance from Nancy Davis, who of course would later be Nancy Reagan. As Stanwyck is betrayed by Mason, she turns to Heflin, and it's quite clear they're mutually attracted. Heflin is so smooth and likeable, and there is dignity in his acknowledgment of his love for her without resorting to adultery, in direct contrast to Gardner and Mason. Mason and Stanwyck may have gotten top billing, but I think they were upstaged by Heflin and Gardner.
As the pressure ratchets up, both Mason and Stanwyck find themselves needing to make choices, though Mason's is disrupted by an event I won't spoil. There are some events that might be too convenient as it plays out, but there is reality and passion here, and I enjoyed this film.
A very good drama noir great actors and actresses make this movie enjoyable.
Stanwyck and Gardner duke it out over James Mason--Any side of the town is good, for revenge!!
If Only it Knew What Kind of Movie It Wanted to Be
I strongly suspect it would make the studios happier that I will watch anything starring certain people than it would make the people themselves. Yes, on the one hand, people watching their movies is what makes stars desirable. On the other hand, I am watching these movies in most cases many years after the fact. If you had asked her, I'm sure Barbara Stanwyck would have rather I had just watched [i]Double Indemnity[/i] again; James Mason probably would have settled for [i]20,000 Leagues Under the Sea[/i]. I'm sure they both also would have agreed that this wasn't their worst movie, in that it's not actually a bad movie. (Just not a very good one.) After all, having someone watch one of their bad movies over sixty years later (and in both cases more than twenty years after they died!) isn't exactly going to help their careers. And it means I watched a performance they might not have been terribly proud of.
Today, I watched them as Jessie and Brandon Bourne. No, they're not spies; she is the daughter of a once-famous actress (Gale Sondergaard) and he lives on his wife's money. (I [i]think[/i] she also has a job, but I'm not sure quite what.) He had an affair with Isabel Lorrison (Ava Gardner), who then left for Paris. She is back, and she knows that, when she crooks her little finger, Brandon comes running. And indeed, he is helped out of a brawl at a nightclub after a fight regarding her by pretty little Rosa Senta (Cyd Charisse). Rosa is in love with Mark Dwyer (Van Heflin), who promptly falls in love with Jessie. Isabel is being supported by I Missed Who--who I'm pretty sure is also fooling around with Helen Lee (Nancy Davis, before she was married). But I missed pretty much everyone's name, so I'm not sure if Helen is the person who throws us the big plot twist, which I'll get to in a minute. Will Brandon stay with Jessie? Will Rosa get Mark? Does anyone care?
I am going to have to give spoilers here, because there are some things which really kind of irritate me. About halfway through the picture, someone murders Isabel. The film goes out of its way to prove that it could not have been Jessie; fair enough. This isn't about her in that way, so she was off with Mark. The question is whether Brandon did it or not. Now, if I'm right, the killer was Nancy, but it could have been anyone for all it mattered. (You should know, by the way, that I am valiantly resisting all manner of Just Say No jokes.) Somebody could have just broken in and been burgling her apartment for all it mattered. The issue is that we had to create One Great Conflict in the relationship between Jessie and Brandon, one which took Isabel out of the picture as an issue in and of herself. It had to be about whether Jessie trusted Brandon, about whether she'd stand by him in his hour of need. How much did she trust him?
Really, there are at least four plots to this movie, none of which have been given enough detail to carry an entire movie. The story of Mark and Rosa is interesting. The love triangles of Mark, Jessie, and Brandon and Jessie, Brandon, and Isabel, respectively, are interesting. The murder of Isabel could have been interesting if they gave us anything to go on. And in fact, each of those stories could have combined with one of the others to make a pretty good movie--but only one. The obvious solution to the conflicting love triangles is for Jessie to kick Mark out to Isabel's and start a relationship with Mark instead. The only reason to add Rosa into the mix is to leave her heartbroken; we actually already have a setup for how Mark and Jessie would meet, so all I see him doing is brushing off the affections of a girl, claiming they aren't real because of how long she's had them. Actually, it kind of makes me like him less. If Mark had been just a detective investigating the murder, his story with Rosa would have been sweeter.
I will say that I'm surprised that the movie decided that divorce was the right answer to Jessie and Brandon's story. I agree, mind; they are not two people who should be married. One gets the distinct impression that they are married because Brandon likes money and status, and he can get those as Jessie's husband. I don't even know if I want her to end up with Mark instead; as I say, I feel too sorry for Rosa. I just don't want her to be with Brandon anymore, because he doesn't deserve her. However, it was not unknown for Joe Breen to announce that marriages in movies had to be saved. It's entirely possible that he would have insisted that Brandon be made somehow salvageable--but it's also worth noting that he had an affair with Isabel, and that's also a no-no under the Code, which is probably why several sources wrongly claim that his affair was before his marriage to Jessie. I don't want a straight remake of this movie; I don't think it deserves it. But I'd like to see similar material handled so sensibly today.
A bit longish and convoluted. Barbara Stanwyck is great but we don't see so much of her in this film even though she has top billing. Cyd Charisse was awesome and incredibly beautiful.
A good drama about complicated romances.
This has it's moments. You'll love hating Gardner...and Mason for that matter. Soapy all around.
Barbara Stanwyck lifts this turgid melodrama up from the ordinary. Ava Gardner gives a powerful performance in a supporting role. Good costume design and cinematography.
71/100. Barbara Stanwyck lifts this turgid melodrama up from the ordinary. Ava Gardner gives a powerful performance in a supporting role. Good costume design and cinematography.
You feel her vibrant passion