San Francisco is proof that blockbuster disaster flicks are not a modern invention. San Francisco's difference is that there is actual substance along with the explosions and visual effects that you won't find in any Michael Bay pyrotechnic fest. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy play childhood friends who took very different paths to adulthood - Blackie Norton (Gable) is a swarthy nightclub owner turned politician and Fr. Tim Mullin (Tracy) is a Catholic priest. They still get together to spar (literally), until a down-on-her-luck, classically trained singer, Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald) wanders into Blackie's saloon in want of job. While she'd normally be too classy for his place, he finds her attractive and intriguing and signs her on a two year contract. Fr. Mullin sees Mary's devout nature being corrupted by Blackie's heathen ways and that's when the figurative sparring begins. Also contending is weathy scion, Jack Burley (Jack Holt) who happens to own The Tivoli, an Opera house, and who also happens to appreciate Mary's charms. Mary is torn between her feral passion for Blackie and her personal and professional aspirations that Burley could materialise. Just as the love triangle is coming to a head, the great earthquake of 1906 rocks San Francisco to its core. San Francisco may have some shockingly good and effective (even today) visual effects, but the real conclusion is realising what truly matters when the world crumbles around you. It's also a beautiful love story to the city of San Francisco and its resilience commemorated especially in the lovely title song. MacDonald is the weak point here. At the time, she was a famous singer with dramatic aspirations that don't translate, especially up against masters like Tracy and Gable. Gable was reticient to do the picture because of her and how much the film was of her singing AT him - "without him being able to defend himself". And he was completely right. MacDonald is stiff and has no chemistry with Gable. I think San Francisco could have been so much more with someone like Irene Dunne as Mary - and would be a more appreciated classic today.
Anything combining Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, and George Cukor can't be anything less than wonderful. Although Adam's Rib is my favourite of the Hepburn & Tracy pairings, Pat and Mike is fizzing with the snappy banter and electric, yet easy chemistry of its stars. Although many classic romantic comedies can make a feminist cringe with their outdated ideas of the little woman, Pat and Mike, and especially the mould-breaking Hepburn, challenges some of that. Pat proudly wears trousers (watch your language in calling them pants, darling) and is an athletic star - mastering several sports at top levels with just natural ability. The triumph is when she trades in her domineering, traditional beau Collier (William Ching) for her gruff, but sentimental manager Mike. Tracy is wonderful in the role - I love his rough Bronx humour paired with the vulnerability of finding such a glorious woman in Hepburn. Their chemistry is legendary for a reason, their strong personalities would seemingly clash, but instead there is an ease and comfort of meeing their match - or as Mike would say "5-Oh, 5-Oh". Never has stretching after a workout been so sexy. It's a film in which you will find yourself grinning like a lovebird.
A classic courtroom drama which pits human intellect against faith and two of the greatest screen icons - Spencer Tracy and Fredric March against each other in truly masterful performances. Inherit the Wind is a thinly veiled fictionalisation of the "Scopes Monkey Trial" which had the country on the edge of its seat in 1925 deciding on a teacher, John T. Scopes', ability to teach Darwin's Theory of Evolution in his Tennessee classroom which employed the real life giants of the day - leading civil rights' attorney Clarence Darrow (encouraged to serve by journalist H. L. Mencken) and "The Great Commoner" and 3 time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. In the film, Bertram Cates (played by a pre-Bewitched Dick York) is defended by Henry Drummond (Darrow/Tracy) as Matthew Harrison Brady (Bryan/March) attempts to drive the devil out of the sleepy town. Tracy and March give two of the most electrifying tandem performances - they truly feed off of each other while also vying to shine brighter than the other. This production is legendary for the fact that spectators would come from all over the studio to watch these stars shine in their performances. In spite of all that, Gene Kelly, really stands out for me in this film - one of his first dramatic roles to battle his singing and dancing type casting. Kelly plays E. K. Hornbeck (Mencken), a journalist who is the voice of the outside world looking in and the cynical newsman cutting through the bravado. He delivers one of my favourite ever lines "Mr. Brady, it is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." The dialogue throughout is appropriately snappy, heady, or sentimental. Helped, in part, by writer Nedrick Young who director Stanley Kramer bravely hired despite his blacklisting. Which brings us to the other underlining message of the film, made in the shadow of McCarthyism, is a parable of the Senator Joseph McCarthy's long tirade against intellectual discourse. Inherit the Wind beautifully compares this to the acceptance of the proven truth of science over the fantastical religious beliefs of The Book of Genesis. Tracy's closing speech about the simple sweet wonder we give up when we learn the truth or accept technological advancements can still be viewed today with dear appreciation for "good ol' days" and is prescient in regards to our advancing world's privacy concerns. Inherit the Wind continues to offer so much to viewers on many levels. Only a true classic can say that.
You might associate David Lean with great cinematic epics but this film, Brief Encounter, is epic in its own way. In the film Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, neither overly beautiful or glamorous, live quiet, satisfying, expected lives until they meet by chance on their commute in a train station cafe. There are no grand, over the top gestures - just a quiet, believable friendship that in becoming naturally deeper catches its players offguard. Unlike other stories of the genre and time, Brief Encounter doesn't judge its lovers. There are no evil consequences for finding something beautiful with someone who isn't their spouce, only the heartbreaking consequences of it happening to those mindful of their "duty" and (unfortunately?) overly cautious in following their heart. The lovers' only doom is to returning to their previously satisfying loves and lives. We all have given up something and look back on it with regret and Brief Encounter shines a light on that inner corner of each of us. The performances are beautfiul, real, and worthy of such an epic of the soul. An under appreciated classic!
I love musicals. I love Rodgers & Hammerstein. But I didn't love Flower Drum Song. I recently watched it thanks to TCM's 31 Days of Oscar and was excited because it was the one R&H film I hadn't seen since it's a bit more elusive than my favourites, South Pacific and The King and I. Now I can see why. There are a few songs I liked "I Enjoy Being a Girl" and "Don't Marry Me", but overall the cringe overwhelms the charms of this outdated extravaganza. If you stripped back the racist stereotyping, I think there could be a decent stroy of immigrant parents wanting to keep their American children to the motherland ways. On top of that, even the songs I liked are pure sexism - women wanting nothing more than to be dutiful wives to awful, philandering husbands. Nancy Kwan is glorious - although I tire of extended dance numbers that are not relevant to the story at all. If you enjoy classic musicals, it's worth watching once, but you'll be able to "wash it out of your head" rather quickly afterward.