Bad Boys for Life
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A film with many layers and a joy to watch, itâ(TM)s a real triumph for director Ernst Lubitsch. He gives us a romantic comedy in which the romance is just a part of a larger canvas, one that touches us in so many ways: the loneliness of the holiday season, the humiliation of betrayal, needing to endure other people and the boss at oneâ(TM)s workplace to support a family, and of course, an unlikely love that only comes from scratching beneath the surface.
Lubitsch is so complete in the way he tells this story, and yet seems to tread lightly as he does so. He fleshes out his characters in the simplest of ways, with little gestures and comments. He exercises the deftness of restraint in all things, from the slyness of his comedy to letting silence and his actorsâ(TM) faces say it all when appropriate. He gives us a rich symphony of human emotions, showing us human dignity and the angels of our better natures, but also our pettiness, jealousy, vanity, and disdain. In love, he shows us the importance of inner character but also acknowledges physical appeal. In community, he gives us a sense of comradeship, but also the inevitable pecking order and little rivalries. There is real wisdom in his observations of how people behave, but also a philosophical acceptance and elegant refinement in how he presents it. He always seems to thread the needle, and maybe thatâ(TM)s the essence of what the â~Lubitsch touchâ(TM) is all about.
One theme in the film is how people communicate, and the need to be honest and yet graceful. We see this in how one salesman (Jimmy Stewart) talks to the boss (Frank Morgan) contrasted to the way another does (Joseph Schildkraut), a guy who sucks up and is an example of grace without truth. We also see it in how Stewart and the new saleswoman (Margaret Sullavan) antagonize each another, never giving one another the benefit of the doubt, and often being forthright but lacking grace. They are of course much more eloquent and kind to one another as anonymous pen-pals, and it shows us how much our openness and attitude towards someone else shapes our view of them.
The cast is fantastic, led by excellent performances from Morgan and Stewart. Felix Bressart as the family man and William Tracy as the errand boy stand out in supporting roles. I wasnâ(TM)t as wild about Margaret Sullavan, but she fits the part quite well. The scene she has with Stewart in the cafÃ (C) is wonderfully acerbic, and is preceded by Bressart pointing out just who has the copy of Anna Karenina with the red carnation in a clever way. Another great scene is Stewartâ(TM)s dismissal, which is one he and Lubitsch both execute as true masters. I also loved that moment Frank Morgan has with the new errand boy after seeking someone to go to dinner with.
There is such a genuine feeling to this film, where Lubitsch really takes us into the world of this little shop. As in life, there is despair, humiliation, and bickering, just as there is warmth, friendship, and higher love. This is an old film to seek out.
Itâ(TM)s nice to see Boris Karloff and an international cast which includes MichÃ¨le Mercier, but the three horror tales presented here by director Mario Bava are all pretty simple, and he too often relies on zooms and shock cuts. I also found the music to be far too dramatic and intrusive, as if trying to will fear into us because the stories arenâ(TM)t scary. However, I later discovered that I had seen the American cut, which is apparently quite a bit worse than the original, because content was censored, the filmâ(TM)s color processing was done at an inferior lab, and the soundtrack was completely changed. Not sure what to conclude other than to say, seek out the Italian version.
What a nice little surprise this was, and great showcase for Dolores del RÃo. The premise of a magazine critic (Pat Oâ(TM)Brien) being taken to Mexico while drunk by his business partner (Edward Everett Horton) to avoid being married (to Glenda Farrell) is a little silly, not unlike other screwball comedies. Itâ(TM)s made interesting by Horton trying to set Oâ(TM)Brien up with del RÃo in order that he forget Farrell, not remembering that Oâ(TM)Brien once panned del RÃo in a review and sheâ(TM)d like to get even with him. The little cat and mouse game she plays, assisted by her shrewd manager (Leo Carrillo) who regularly takes advantage of foreigners, is entertaining, and director Michael Curtiz moves things along well.
We also get the incomparable Busby Berkeley and a couple of entertaining musical numbers in the second half of the film. The first of these, â~The Lady in Redâ(TM) includes wonderful vocals from Wini Shaw, sexy shimmying from the chorus, and an extended ballroom dance routine by Tony De Marco and Sally Craven (later his third wife), who were nearly as good as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, if not on a par with them. Itâ(TM)s definitely one to watch. The second, âMuchachaâ(TM) is also pretty wild, with horses prancing up a staircase in addition to del RÃo singing and dancing.
del RÃo is charming throughout the film, and itâ(TM)s refreshing that her character is intelligent, erudite, and elegant. Sheâ(TM)s a beauty in her evening gowns and the two-piece bathing suit that she helped pioneer, which we see plenty of in a long scene at the pool. She was on her way out of Hollywood a few years later which is a shame, though it really makes me want to check out her Mexican films from the 1940â(TM)s. I may be rounding up a bit because of her and Berkeley, but they made the film for me.
What does it say about the Depression that films from this era so often had scenarios where one could get rich quick, and in some highly improbable way? Maybe itâ(TM)s like the lotto fantasy of todayâ(TM)s world of wealth disparity, and the more we see these types of schemes, the bigger underlying problem we have. Anyway. In this one, the premise is a pair of rival companies of â~genealogistsâ(TM) who take advantage of cases where a rich person dies suddenly and without a will, finding their heirs for a cut or producing phony ones. Rich people die without wills all the time right?
James Cagney plays the leader of one of the firms, and Alan Dinehart the other. Bette Davis is Dinehartâ(TM)s main assistant, having worked for Cagney before and leaving him for a lack of ethics. He protests, saying that all businessmen are crooked, and that âthere's only two kinds of guys in business - those who get caught and those who don't!â? Itâ(TM)s a cynical view, but perhaps justified, especially in times when unchecked capitalism and corporate greed lets us down. Regardless, the two are an interesting contrast; Cagney is coarse and slaps his assistant (Allen Jenkins) around, whereas Dinehart is refined and serves proper English tea in the office. The premise is silly, but the way Cagney plays his con is clever. It involves a character played by Alice White and I was happy to see her, but itâ(TM)s unfortunate she was so ditzy. Bette Davis is sharp and engaging though, and more than makes up for this, and at the end of the day, there is more than enough charm in seeing her and Cagney in this minor film of theirs to make it interesting.