A bedridden me with a head cold makes for a lot of screen time. I enjoyed more live tweeting of films than I’ve done in some time, as well as some interesting adventures in seeing what’s available on YouTube and oldies on DVD that I haven’t watched yet. That made for some wild variety this week!
Cause for Alarm (1951): This film lives where noir meets hysterical melodrama. There’s little attempt at character development, subtlety, or plot in this one. Instead, we get Loretta Young flipping out after her invalid husband (with reference to post-war trauma) sends a letter to the district attorney saying she and his doctor are conspiring to kill him. The tension is more that of a sitcom jumping the shark than noir. NOT RECOMMENDED unless your love for Loretta Young includes a wide masochistic streak.
The Mortal Storm (1944): I’d long wanted to see this anti-Nazi film starring Jimmy Stewart. It’s often referenced in discussions of Hollywood and the Holocaust. I found it engaging in its vitriol, and attention to a variety of character types and responses to Nazi bullying. My two qualms are rather obvious: (1) everyone is supposed to be German but they all speak English while some have accents and some don’t; and (2) the Jewish characters never state that they are anything other than “non-Aryan.” I know this is because Hollywood moguls (Jewish themselves) felt it better not to call attention to the specific plight of Jews as it might backfire and incite antisemitism at home. Yet, as a fan/scholar and Jewish American, I’d have valued the film even more if it did call a Jew a Jew. RECOMMENDED for historical value.
WolfCop (2014): I basked in this delightful horror-comedy with some of my favorite riffing pals, including live tweet host @GregMcCambley and @SullaBlack. The plot involves an alcoholic cop who is turned into a werewolf in a mysterious ritual, and becomes a better cop thereby. There’s even a werewolf sex scene. RECOMMENDED for anyone who enjoys B horror-comedy. Plus, there’ll be a sequel out this year!
Theodora Goes Wild (1936): I love Irene Dunne. Her lovely voice, her ability to play drama, and her penchant for comedy. So when I found a romantic comedy starring Dunne that I’d never heard of, I jumped on it. But sometimes there are reasons films are lesser known…and that’s mostly how I feel about this one. Dunne plays a small town gal who is secretly the author of scandalous tales of tawdry romance. Life takes a crazy turn after she meets a big-city playboy (Melvyn Douglas) who dares her to live a little. In typical screwball fashion, she flees his embrace only to find that he’s fallen for her. He appears in her little hometown and causes trouble. Eventually, she gives in to love, but then it’s his turn to pull out the rug because he’s already married, though separated. The comedy of errors keeps up until, you guessed it, they live happily ever after. I can’t tell whether I’m just tired of these types of movies or if this one is particularly thin. I love The Awful Truth, and it’s ridiculously convoluted. But Melvyn Douglas is no Cary Grant, and the character Dunne plays just isn’t compelling to me. NOT RECOMMENDED.
In a Lonely Place (1950): Many books of noir criticism discuss this film, and now I can see why. Humphrey Bogart plays a brooding, violent screenwriter (and ex-cop) with little charm but much fascination for his tough, independent neighbor, played by Gloria Grahame. Will she be the one to tame his savageness? It seems so, as he soon becomes charming and prolific under her nurturance. But the shadow of his aggression is large, and soon our heroine is more frightened than in love. Above all, I praise this film for an ending that rightly challenges typical Beauty and the Beast sexism in high noir fashion. RECOMMENDED.