Wednesday, August 26, 2009

3 reviews for the price of 1

Swedish poster for Design for Living (transl: "Between us Gentlemen"), and two Italian posters for Dark Victory (same transl.) and The Old Maid (transl: "The Great Love").

I still have a cold (probably the swine flu, I really shouldn't socialize with all those strange men down at the docks), so there have been some film viewing.
When I had seen three really great films in a row, I felt it hard to decide which one to write about - so I thought I would try to make short reviews of all of them instead. Summarizing the plots in a few lines, and focusing on what I liked/disliked about them. And lots of pictures. Sound any good? I'll do it anyway.

The films: Design for Living (1933), Dark Victory (1939) and The Old Maid (1939).
Frequently used ingredients: Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins, George Brent, Edmund Goulding and socially awkward situations.

Spanish film poster (transl: "A Woman for Two").

Design for Living
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
USA 1933
91 min
Starring: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Gary Cooper, Edward Everett Horton and Isabel Jewell, among others.

See it on YouTube here.

Gilda (Hopkins) meets two young artists on a train in Paris: painter George (Cooper) and playwright Tom (March). Complications arises when both men fall in love with her, while she keeps up a liaison with both of them. She admits that she can't choose between them, so they make a gentleman's agreement: They will all three live under the same roof, but no sex can occur.
The ménage à trois seems to work, and Gilda becomes their artistic muse. But when Tom goes away to London to work on his successful play, Gilda and George are left alone with their frustrations. Around this time, Gilda proclaims that "It's true we had a gentleman's agreement, but unfortunately, I am no gentleman.", and the carousel of relations suddenly spins at top gear, making all the contestants feel sick and confused, but no less a-mused.

What I like about Design for Living:
  • The amazing actors and actresses, down to the bit parts. E. E. Horton is a comical genius playing the old friend of Gilda's, Max Plunkett, who only deeply cares about his social position. His stenographer is played by pretty Isabel Jewell, an actress that worked in a lot of great pictures (including Gone With the Wind. 1939), but seldom had any meaty parts. She is highlighted in Kate Gabrielle's Silents and Talkies [post] and Mark Clark's Film Noir Photos [post] blogs.
  • Miriam Hopkins. When I first saw her in a film, I thought I would hate her. I always adored Bette Davis, and they are known to be each other's nemesises. But I can't avoid it - I like Hopkins. Her accent and voice is so charming, and she is a darn good actress with a lot of charisma.
  • Tom's silly play. Hilarious.
  • George's seriously good paintings. (I really want to believe that Cooper painted them in real life.)
  • Two strikingly good-looking men in the leading parts. I understand Gilda's problem - I would have had trouble choosing too. I love their drinking scene, obstinately trying to find something to drink for every time they raise their glasses (which is frequently).
  • "The Lubitsch Touch". Such a great picture! Probably impossible to get bored by, no matter how many re-runs of it you participate in.

What I don't like about Design for Living:
  • Ehm... nothing? That I haven't seen enough of it, perhaps.

Italian film poster (transl: "Sunset).

Dark Victory
Director: Edmund Goulding
USA 1939
104 min
Starring: Bette Davis, George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Ronald Reagan, among others.

See it on YouTube here.

A spoiled 23 year old heiress, Judith (Davis), is faced with the fact that she is dying of a brain tumour. When Judith falls in love with her brain surgeon, she is afraid that he proposes to her out of pity.
Since we know from the beginning that Judith sooner or later has to die, the film focuses on the environment's inconvenient feelings toward the tragedy and how Judith tries to make the best out of the time she has left, rather than focusing on the question "Will they find a cure?" or "Will she really die?". A brilliant plot direction.

What I like about Dark Victory:
  • A brilliant script, that doesn't chicken out with an un-realistic happy ending, as post-codes tend to do.
  • Bette Davis in her probably best role. I can't see any other actress do the part of Judith as perfectly as Davis. Those big eyes of her hold a lot of emotions.
  • Ronald Reagan. I mean, seriously. How mant other countried than the USA could make a presidant out of a, perhaps only decent, actor?
  • Well, the rest of the amazing cast. George Brent is really growing on me as an actor (hadn't any opinion of him just a few months ago), and Geraldine Fitzgerald is amazing as the heartbroken best friend of Judith's.
  • The ending. So sad, beautiful and artistic.
What I don't like about Dark Victory:
  • How could Warner Bros do this to Humphrey Bogart? He is just so wrong as the Irish stableboy. His accent is embarrassing, and his part has really no great purpose in the film.

The Old Maid
Director: Edmund Goulding
USA 1939
95 min
Starring: Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins, Donald Crisp, George Brent and Jane Bryan, among others.

See it on YouTube here.

A costume "woman drama" set in the days during and after the Civil War. Delia (Hopkins) is just about to be married when her previous fiancé Clem (Brent) comes home from the war. Delia breaks her engagement to him and goes on with the marriage, but her cousin and friend Charlotte (Davis) has feelings for Clem and spend time with him before he goes to war again. He is later killed in the war, and the next thing we know Charlotte runs an orphanage for children who lost their fathers in the war. Among those children are her and Clem's love child, Clementina, who for security purposes is adopted by Celia and raised as her own.
Charlotte moves in with Delia and her family and grows into an old maid, while her daughter Clementina only knows her as the stubborn, unsympathetic "aunt Charlotte".

What I like about The Old Maid:
  • Donald Crisp. It feels almost surreal to watch him as a kind, child-loving doctor in this film, the day after I saw him as the tyrannic father in Broken Blossoms (see previous post)!
  • Davis' and Hopkin's chemistry. They may not have likes each other in real life, but every scene they have together is almost magical. Perhaps the tension between them did it. Whatever the reason may be, we always feel the unsolved problems and unverbalized thoughts hanging in the air between them.
  • Miriam Hopkins, again. She is a really great actress. I read that she was very difficult to work with, but you can't blame an artist for being eccentric, can you? Anyway, Hopkins is, like George Brent, growing on me big time.
  • My Darling Clementine. The tunes of the song is played when Charlotte and Clementina have a scene together, and it's so heart tearing. Charlotte really loves her daughter, while Clementina never aknowledges her, except for complaining and yelling. (Nothing wrong with Jane Bryan, but the character is a horrible, spoiled brat.)
  • Charlotte by the fire. When Charlotte practices her speach to Clementina when she comes home from the ball. At first she is the loving mother, then at an instant she changes into the strict aunt. An obvious proof of Davis' acting qualities.
  • The final scene.
What I don't like about The Old Maid:
  • George Brent dies. Okay, his characters can die, but not 20 minutes into the film! That was just brutal.
  • Yes, the Clementina character. I want to hit her.


Kate Gabrielle said...

:D This was such a fun post!
I love Tom's silly play, it's my favorite part of the movie!! I almost with that Goodnight Bassington had actually been made into a real movie!

Really, what IS up with Humphrey Bogart in Dark Victory? Strangest casting decision ever!!

Nicole said...

I too hated that George Brent died so early in the old maid. That annoyed me.

I loved reading your reviews and looking forward to watching Design for Living. :)

Kim said...

I actually just watched Design for Living for the first time today and thought it was fantastic. The ending scene was especially perfect (but I think Lubitsch is always great with his endings).

And I agree with you about Hopkins, there is something really adorable about her.

Encore Entertainment said...

Yes. Bette was marvellous in DARK VICTORY.

I have to ask though...are you a fan of Katharine H?

I have a poll on my site dedicated to her films and performances...if you like kindly vote...thnx

Princess Fire and Music said...

I've seen the two last films, but must get on watching the first. Thanks for linking to them on YouTube!

I've heard in several places that Bette Davis considered Dark Victory to be her best-ever performance. It's one of those movies I can watch over and over again, and it never gets old.

Diana. said...

REgarding "Charlotte by the fire" point, David´s daughter tells that her mother behaved the same way in real life...

Mykal said...

Still have a cold! Have you seen a doctor, young lady? - Mykal

Matthew Coniam said...

Now do you see why I chose Design For Living as my favourite Lubitsch? And why that Hopkins-Stanwyck fight wouldn't be such a pushover after all?
It's funny, because you went for a menage-a-trois story for your imaginary film; this must go some way towards being it!
Man, they don't make them like that anymore.

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
Great! Haha, who would star in it, do you think? Chico Marx and Lucille Ball?

One wonders what the meaning of having Brent in that role was? I almost suspected that he would come back from the dead, haha.
Yes, see it! Most of these YouTube films are in HQ, that does a lot to the experience.

There has to be more Lubitsch for me! I think I've only seen three of his films.
Yes, I can't help but adore Hopkins!

Encore Entertainment:
Oh, I love Katherine Hepburn. Such a great, marvelous actress.
I voted on your poll just now!

Princess Fire and Music:
No problem, want to share the experience with my fellow readers! Watch it in HQ, i think that's an option for Design for Living. Makes the YouTube experience much better.
Yes, I almost feel like re-watching it already!

Rehearsing film characters...? I hope. But many great artist were more or less insane, probably a necessary quality to make big things!

"I won't see any doctors, I'm just fine!" Maybe I have a brain tumor? Well, I had some whiskey yesterday - I hear it's a good medicine for all kind of illnesses! (At least they said so in the 18th century.)

Matthew Coniam:
I was one of those who had a little problem figuring out if Hopkins or Stanwyck would win - I had to reason about it! As I said, I think Hopkins' got the cat claws, and can cause wounds with fatal infections. But Stanwyck would knock her down with a straight right, and at least win in the short run ;)
You're right - Design for Living is close to my dream film! And I can't complain about exchanging one handsome man (Montgomery) for two (Cooper and March) - oh la la!

Sebina said...

Design for Living (1933) is one of my all time favourite films, AND one of my favourite Pre-Codes too. The ending is my favourite scene in the whole film!

I haven't seen Dark Victory and Old maid in many years.... *time for a re-watch*

Lolita said...

I can understand that! I have to watch Design for Living many times over and over, and decide if it might be my favourite pre-code too!
Yes, especially Dark Victory!