This week I enjoyed a trio of fun films:
Our Betters (1933): I’ve long wanted to see this pre-Code George Cukor comedy about the ills of the upper-class, and at last found it on YouTube! The film is probably most famous for its final moments featuring Tyrell Davis as extreme pansy dancing instructor Ernest, featured in Victor Russo’s 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet (about gay representations in Hollywood, available on YouTube and Netflix). Beyond that, it’s an adaptation of a story by M. Somerset Maugham about the phenomenon of American heiresses marrying broke British nobility. Constance Bennett plays one such American, the languid Lady Pearl Grayston, who marries for a title and immediately discovers her husband (a young Alan Mowbray) has a lover and no intention of being faithful to his bride. Lady Pearl yields her husband and her dreams of marriage to begin dalliances of her own, soon becoming the toast of London society, where conventional morality is passé. The comedy becomes drama when Bennett gets a powerful speech in defense of how she must live before sending her younger sister Bessie (Anita Louise) back to America before she ruins her future. A mite preachy, but secondary characters played by delightful pros (especially Violet Kemble Cooper) ensure we don’t wind up in melodrama. RECOMMENDED.
Forty Guns (1957): Based on a review at Twenty Four Frames and with a love of Pickup on Second Street (1953), I decided to watch this Sam Fuller Western. Filmed in Cinemascope and with emphasis on tight clenches and wide-open spaces, I enjoyed this tale of a determined man (Barry Sullivan) and his brothers as they face off against a determined woman (Barbara Stanwyck) and her empire, including the titular “forty guns” who work for her. The upbeat ending is a hard compromise to take and was not Fuller’s first choice, but the film does have a great dark ambiance, creative camera work, and a heapin’ dose of Fuller’s cynical auteurist stamp. RECOMMENDED.
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2015): All right, so it took me a while to get this to the top of my viewing list, but I loved it. Watched it twice, in fact, within three days. Superb writing, fantastic use of speculative elements, and great work with the Sherlock character. Even the heavy-handed proto-feminism and the fat suit — something I loathe on principle — is entertaining. I’ll say no more in case some haven’t seen it, just HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for lovers of BBC Sherlock