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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Kiss (released in 1929) - starring Greta Garbo, Conrad Nagel and Lew Ayres

The Kiss was Greta Garbo's and MGM's last silent movie. It is a 1929 drama film directed by Jacques Feyder and starring Greta Garbo, Conrad Nagel and Lew Ayres in his first feature film. This movie was also Garbo's last picture with Conrad Nagel. It is rumored that Garbo had to choose from two movies, the Divorce and the Kiss. Garbo opted for the Kiss and Norma Shearer starred in The Divorce which won her an Oscar. Garbo's career never had an Oscar moment and this was one of the greatest injustices in cinematic history.
Irene, a fascinating young woman is trapped in a loveless marriage with a much older Guarry. She is scared of her husbands jealous nature and silently bears the emotional abuse. A clandestine affair with a young lawyer Andre sustains her, but Irene scared of her husbands fiery nature brings the affair to a close. As they part, a heartbroken Andre leaves for Paris and Irene is once again alone with her loneliness.
Pierre, a young son of a Lyon financier Lassalle, is besotted by Irene. Lassalle is a partner of Guarry. Irene does not reciprocate Pierre's feelings and on the eve of going off to college he begs a kiss from her. She gives him a chaste kiss but Pierre forcibly takes a passionate one. Guarry returns to witness this stormy scene and attacks the youngster. In the scuffle Guarry is killed and Pierre is on the run. Lassalle forces Pierre to keep his silence about this affair.



Irene recounts the whole incident to the police and tries to keep Pierre out of the loop. Her accounts are so full of contradictions and loopholes that the police start suspecting her. Lassalle pitches in saying that Guarry was despondent about the business and was suicidal. Brought to trial Irene is defended by Andre and he gets her acquitted of all the charges. But Irene confesses to him that she indeed had killed Guarry to protect the boy's life. Andre forgives her and the two lovers reunite.
This final silent film had two sounds, the gunshot and the incessant ringing of the telephone. Belgian director Jacques Feyder used both the pantomime format and the aforementioned sound effects -- a gunshot and the incessant ringing of a telephone -- to optimum effect. The screenplay is very weak and only saving grace is Greta Garbo's acting. Garbo breathes life in to the proceedings with her society lady act who is driven to murder. Her acting makes the character's nobility very believable.
The Kiss was a silent film with a sound track and lasted only for 60 minutes. It was not a big box office success, but off late has been on the news for Garbo's luminous presence. Her compassion, love and generosity comes through her kiss with young Pierre.

The Kiss (released in 1929) - starring Greta Garbo, Conrad Nagel and Lew Ayres

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Conquest (released in 1937) - Starring Greta Garbo, Charles Boyer and Reginald Owen

Conquest is a movie about Countess Marie Walewska who becomes the mistress of Napolean Bonaparte to safeguard the interests of her country. This enigmatic polish countess was the mistress of Napolean and even comforted him during his days in exile.
This movie stars Greta Garbo as Marie Walewska along with Cajrles Boyer, Reginald Owen, dame May Witty and others. The movie was adapted by S. N. Behrman, Samuel Hoffenstein, Helen Jerome and Salka Viertel from the novel Pani Walewska by Waclaw Gasiorowski and it was directed by Clarence Brown.
Marie Walewska is the beautiful wife of the polish count Walewska. In the winter of 1807,the pillaging Russian soldiers over run Eastern Poland, the land of Count and Countess Walewska. They make fun of the aging Count and his young wife and they become mortally afraid of the Russian Army. Marie's brother informs her about the exploits of Napoleon and when Marie briefly meets him at a church she is suitably impressed as he is enthralled by her beauty. After two months she is formally presented to the French emperor at the court and she is grateful that Napoleon makes no allusion about their earlier meetings.



Napoleon is totally taken in by Marie and send her love notes begging her responses. She confides in her husband who tries to take her away. But the Polish leaders, seeing a chance to liberate Poland, urge her to give in to Napoleon. A patriotic Marie gives in and begins to have an affair with Napoleon. Even though she trades her virtue for her country, she slowly falls in love with the charismatic emperor.
Marie's husband leaves for Rome and gets a divorce which enables her to stay with the emperor. Napoleon takes up his quarters within Marie's home and their idyllic trysts are only marred by Napoleon's frequent absences. Soon Marie is pregnant and she awaits the birth of her baby in secret. She leaves to meet Napoleon in Vienna where she comes to know that he is to marry Princess Marie Louise of Austria of the Hapsburg dynasty. He tells her the blue bloodline of the Hapsburg's would enable him to create his own bloodline of rulers.
A devastated Marie returns to Poland and gives birth to a son Alexandre. She never informs Napoleon about his son. Soon the fortunes of Napoleon change for the worst and he suffers successive defeats at the hands of the Russians and the English. After the disastrous campaign of Waterloo napoleon is exiled to the Island of Elba. Marie and her son live with him till he dies.
This movie was one of the most disastrous movie in Greta Garbo's career and was a loss making venture for MGM studios. Actually it is said to have marked the downfall of Greta Garbo's career with her being more and more reclusive. The costumes, cinematography, sound, music and art are to perfection and Garbo looks the part of the ethereal beauty Marie. But it is still a critically acclaimed movie which presents the facts with considerable accuracy. The movie was nominated for two Oscars namely, for the Best Actor in a Leading Role (Charles Boyer) and Best Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons and William A. Horning}.

Conquest (released in 1937) - Starring Greta Garbo, Charles Boyer and Reginald Owen

Sunday, December 26, 2010

As You Desire Me (released in 1932) - Starring Greta Garbo, Erich von Stroheim and Melvyn Douglas

This is about a women who has no past and is claimed by many people as their own. “As you desire me” stars Greta Garbo in the title role along with Melvyn Douglas, Eric Von Stronheim and Hedda hopper. This movie was directed by George Fitzmaurice and is adopted from the play of the same name by Luigi Pirandello. This is the only movie where Greta Garbo plays a blonde character. The running time for the movie is 71 minutes and is one of the shortest of her Hollywood movies.
Garbo plays Zara, a sultry night club singer for whom men and booze are a weakness. She lives with Karl Saltzer, a novelist who loves her and tolerates her drinking binges and picking up strange men. Zara never can love Karl as he loves her, and this is evident from her offhand behavior with him. But everything changes when she encounters, Tony at one of her performances. He calls her “Maria” and tells her that she is in fact the wife of Count Bruno Varelli who had gone missing during world war I. He informs her that her husband and himself were looking for her for the past ten years.
Zara scoffs at his claims and orders him out. But his persistence pays off and she relents to meet Bruno Varelli at his estate, much to the dismay of Karl. Karl threatens and shoots her arm to prevent her from leaving him, but Zara moves to Bruno's estate with Tony. Bruno is ecstatic to receive his wife, but Zara arrives as a stranger, not recognizing her servants or Bruno himself. She refuses to stay at the estate but acquiesces to the persistent pleading of the other members. She asks Bruno to help her find in herself, Maria, the women he really desires.
Slowly as their understanding grows, Zara falls in love with Bruno and decides to devote her life to him. But when she actually finds love which had eluded her so long, Karl returns with the final blow.
Karl meets Ines, Maria's sister and asks for her help to expose Zara as an impostor. Ines informs Zara that one week from her return, Maria was to be legally declared dead and all the property would have been transferred to her. She insinuates that Bruno had imposed the identity of Maria upon her to safeguard the property. Zara is devastated and feels that Bruno's love is in-fact for the money. Karl brings in an heavily veiled women whom he claims to be the real Maria. He informs Zara that Maria was imprisoned at a sanatorium to enable Bruno to run the estate. The veiled lady recognizes all her servants and sister, that everybody is convinced that she is the real Maria.
But soon he truth comes out that the veiled lady is in-fact the impostor who had lived among them in the estate. Bruno tired of all the games confesses his love for Zara and tells her that his feelings would never change even if she is proved not to be Maria. Zara accepts his declaration with happiness and they are reunited. This movie was a box-office success for MGM and still considered one of the nicest romantic movies of all times.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Grand Hotel (released in 1932) - Starring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore and Joan Crawford

This American drama film is directed by Edmund Goudling and is adapted from a the novel Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum. This movie stars Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore and John Barrymore.
This movie opens with Doctor Otternschlag, a disfigured veteran who stays permanently at the Grand Hotel remarking “Grand Hotel....People come and go. Nothing ever happens”. After this seemingly innocuous remark, acts as a catalyst for a chain of events at the hotel. Baron Felix Von Geigern, a jewel thief and a master card player stays at the hotel undertaking small time theft and forgery. He is a noble man who has lost his fortune. The Baron befriend Otto Kringelein, a small time accountant who is fatally ill. He stays at The Grand to spend his last days in the lap of luxury. Kringelein's ex-boss is Director Preysing who is an wealthy industrialist staying at the Grand to ink a large deal. He hires a stenographer Flaemmchen who wants to be an actress. She shows Preysing her audacious photographs and hints that she is willing to do anything to be a star. Preysing soon starts an affair with her.



Another guest, Grusinskaya is a famous ballet dancer who is tired of the world. She unexpectedly returns home and finds the Baron rummaging through her jewels. She says ”I want to be alone”, mistaking him to be a part of the staff. But the Baron stays and engages in a conversation which brings them both closer. After the conversation the guilty Baron returns her jewels and Grusinskaya invites him to accompany her to Vienna. The Baron agrees and engages to meet her at the train station.
The Baron joins Flaemmchen and Kringelien for afternoon tea, where a coquettish Flaemmchen cajoles Kringelien to dance. Preysing who arrives is consumed with jealousy and imperiously tells Flaemmchen to stop. All are disgusted by his uncouth behavior and Kringelien gives him a piece of his mind. Preysing gets angry and the situation is diffused by the baron's intervention. The Baron tries to steal from the intoxicated Kringelien, but seeing his pathetic condition returns his wallet back. He turns his attention to Preysing instead.
But as fate would have it the baron is caught by Preysing stealing his papers and in the scuffle bludgeons him to death. Flaemmchen arrives at the scene and runs to Kringelien who confronts Preysing. They summon the police and Preysing is summarily arrested. Oblivious of the Baron's fate, Grunskaya waits at the train station for him and grieves when the Baron does not arrive. Flaemmchen and Kringelien leave for Paris to try a new cure and vow to be be with each other. As they leave the hotel, Doctor Otternschlag once again observes, "Grand Hotel. People come and go. Nothing ever happens.".
This movie may be a tedious watch for many as there are lot of a interconnecting events with no story to hold your attention. Btu it is critically acclaimed movie. The film is the only motion picture to have won the Academy Award for Best Picture, with that category being the sole category in which it was nominated. In 2007, Grand Hotel was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Another cause for its fame is Garbo's famous opening line “I want to be Alone” which is often alluded to her in real life. Garbo's reclusive nature fueled speculations that these lines were actually spoken by her in real life.

Grand Hotel (released in 1932) - Starring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore and Joan Crawford

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mata Hari (released in 1931) - Starring Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro

Mata Hari is a pre-code (before the introduction of censorship) film loosely based on the life of Mata Hari (the stage name of Margaretha Geertruida Zelle), a courtesan executed for espionage during World War I. This movie directed by George Fitzmaurice stars Greta Garbo in the pivotal role. This movie is one of Greta Garbo's biggest hits and MGM's hit of the year netting a profit of nearly one million dollars. This pre-code movie was released again later and heavily censored, and many a scene was chopped to fall in line with the Hay's code.
Mata Hari is a courtesan who resides in Paris and is a spy for the German armed forces. She seduces many army and police officers passing secrets to enemy hands. With the general paranoia for spies during World War I, French spy bureau chief, Dubois vow to unmask the femme fatale. He keeps surveillance over her activities to nail her with complete evidence.
Mata Hari gets her assignments from Andriani who urges her to get the information of Russian Troop movements along the border. She meets the dashing Russian pilot of the imperial air-force, Alexis Rosanoff who is celebrated for his flight through the German Lines to bring in important messages. Mata Hari does not know that Alexis actually possesses the documents that Andriani had asked her to procure. She falls for the dashing officer and has an affair with him.



Soon she comes to know about the papers and darkens the room distracting Alexis, enabling others to photocopy the papers before returning it to the rightful owner. Andriani is disappointed in Mata Hari's involvement with Alexis. He kill Carlotta, another spy for daring to fall in love with her target. He threatens Mata that the same fate awaits her.
Dubois on the other hand in search of evidence gossips about her affair with Alexis to her ex-lover Shubin. An enraged Shubin confronts Mata Hari and threatens to expose her. Scared of Shubin's anger, Mata Hari even shows the photographs she stole from Alexis. But blinded by rage Shubin places a call to the embassy to have Mata Hari arrested. Mata shoots him and is on the run. She almost boards the plane to Amsterdam, when information about the fatal accident involving Alexis reach her. In-spite of Andriani's warnings she meets Alexis and is duly arrested by Dubois. A blinded Alexis does not know the situation and thinks that Mata is severely ill and is confined to a sanatorium.
Mata Hari is tried and convicted for spying against France. She is condemned to death and her last wish is to see Alexis. A blind Alexis meets her thinking the prison to be a sanatorium. She informs him not to grieve her death and walks out to meet the waiting firing squad. This movie was a huge success and is responsible for the cult following of Mata Hari. This movie is largely a fictionalized account and completely romanticizes the spy she was. Greta Garbo's beauty and talent makes this movie a notch above all.

Mata Hari (released in 1931) - Starring Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ninotchka (released in 1939) - A comedy starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas

This is the penultimate movie starring Greta Garbo and is an all out comedy which is a first for the actress, who was always revered for her tear jerkers. This movie made by MGM is directed by Ernst Lubitsch and also stars Melvyn Douglas opposite Garbo. This movie portrays the communist Russia to be a drab place compared to a Parisian Joie de vivre. It is one of the movies which makes veiled criticism about Joseph's Stalin's autocratic rule.
Three Russian agents, Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski are deputed to sell the confiscated jewels of Countess Swana to raise money for the party. They reach Paris and stay in a posh hotel where they are overheard by one of the waiters Alexis Rakonin, an Impoverished Russian Count. He alerts Swana who is residing in Paris and her lover Count Leon d'Algout promises her the return of her jewels. Count Leon befriends the three men and show them the sights and signs of Paris which makes them wonder at their drab life style. Meanwhile Swana obtains an injunction preventing the sale of the jewels in Paris. The higher ups in the Soviet Union are furious by the turn of events and send their super spy "Envoy Extraordinary" Nina "Ninotchka" Ivanovna Yakushova to bring the three men home and facilitate the sale of the jewels. Ninotchka is a stern woman who thinks of Russia and her duty. After chastising her comrades, she also tours Paris soaking in the architectural wonders. She meets Leon who tries to flirt with her and gets a royal ignore. For Ninotchka he is an example of western decadence and soon learns his identity. Leon also comes to know about her and is intrigued by her persona.



Leon follows her to a cafe and jokes with Ninotchka to get to know her better. Even though his jokes fall flat, he manages to melt her heart. Soon both enjoy each others company and Ninotchka becomes a changed woman. She dresses and enjoys the opulence of the city and soon falls in love with the count.
A much drunk Leon and Ninotchka return to the hotel and she tries the jewels on Leon before falling asleep. Next day she gets a call from Swana that she had the jewels stolen from her room by Rakonin and names her price for their retrieval – Leon. Ninotchka agrees and goes back home. Leon pursues her and meets her when she reaches Istanbul on her next assignment. He persuades her not to leave and they live happily ever after.
This movie was banned in the Soviet Union for criticizing Stalin and Communism. But it still went on to be one of the top grosser of the year. It also snagged four Academy Award nominations including the one for Garbo, for the best actress.
In 1990, Ninotchka was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It was also included on two American Film Institute lists and was also included on Time Magazine's All-Time 100 Movies.

Ninotchka (released in 1939) - A comedy starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Two Faced Woman (released in 1941) - Starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas

This movie directed by George Cukor stared Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas in the pivotal roles. It had Garbo playing a double role and MGM tried to have a make over for her from a super sexy siren to a simple sweater girl.
Workaholic New York Magazine editor Larry Blake visits an Idaho Ski Lodge for a relaxed weekend. Here he meets simple sweet Karin who works as a ski instructor at the lodge. The perennial flirt Larry hits on Karin and a minor accident throws them together for a long time. On an impulsive decision Karin and Larry get married and Larry promises to leave New York and his job for a simple life. But soon his boss O.O Miller arrives with Larry's secretary Ellis and drags him back for a urgent photo-shoot. Larry leaves promising Karin that he would be back pronto. But New York works its charms again and Larry continues his old life.
Karin after many telegrams with Ellis reaches New York and find Larry happily entrenched in his work. She with the help of Ellis goes shopping and gets a make over as her super sexy alter ego Katherine to smite Larry. But at a play backed by Larry, Karin hears him flirting with his old flame Griselda Vaughn. A distraught Karin tries to leave and soon runs in to Larry's boss Miller. She makes him believe that she is Katherine, Karin's twin sister and soon has a dinner invitation from Miller. Larry is dumbfounded to see Karin enter in a super sexy avatar.



He is again taken aback when she drinks, smokes and dances with gay abandon. He tries to ascertain the facts by making a call to the ski lodge and confirms that Karin is indeed Katherine. Meanwhile Karin nursing a huge hang over is recuperating at the hotel when a n amused Larry accosts her. Determined to play her game he proposes to her and tells her that he wants to reform her after divorcing Karin.
Karin orders him out and when he tires to reach Idaho, she reaches before him and pretends to be her old self. Larry continues to play the game and taunts her even though she reveals the truth. Soon an exasperated Karin dumps him to go skiing followed by Larry who promptly falls in to the frozen lake. Karin rescues him and he says ”I am Larry's twin brother”. Karin accepts his joke and reunites with her husband.
This movie was generally pilloried by the public and the critics. It created such a furore for being immoral that the Catholic church urged a blanket ban. Garbo was distressed by the turn of events and battled with MGM over her role. Even though her sunny acting shines through he romantic comedy, insiders report that she was morose and depressed than ever.
This movie was Garbo's final film role after which she turned in to a virtual recluse shunning the public eye. But still I would recommend a look for the sorcery of acting from the genius like Garbo which made even a mediocre movie memorable.

Two Faced Woman (released in 1941) - Starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Camille (released in 1936) - Starring Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore, and Elizabeth Allan

The movie Camille starring Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor has inspired countless songs and love sonnets for the cupid struck heart. This romantic drama made the song “I'll Love Like Robert Taylor, Be My Greta Garbo.” by Milton Benjamin is the great testament for the chemistry shared by the all time greats. This movie was directed by George Cukor was a success at the box office and was also critically acclaimed. The picture is based on the 1852 novel and play La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas.
Marguerite Gautier is the Lady of the Camellias because of her marked preference for these flowers. This beautiful French courtesan was generous and large hearted which marks a sharp decline in her savings. To arrest the downward spiral of her income, her friend Providence urges her to find a rich patron. She plans to introduce her to Baron de Varville, a rich man completely besotted by Marguerite's charm. But at the theater Marguerite meets Armand and falls for him thinking him to be the Baron. But she is forced to leave Armand's side when the real baron arrives, but gives him the key to her apartment.
Marguerite becomes the baron's mistress and has a lavish life style. When the Baron leaves for Russia she stays back and again meets Armand. Armand tells her about his deep feelings and urges her to come away with him. Marguerite asks him to come later, but has to rebuff him as the baron has returned.



A heartbroken Armand asks his father for some money and plans to travel the world. Marguerite on receiving his bitter note of farewell goes to met him and he persuades her to come to the country with him. At the country Marguerite's health improves and they spend a gay summer falling in love with each other again. But Armand's father concerned about his son reaches his place and begs Marguerite to leave his son alone. He reminds her about her position in the society and the doom which would fall on Armand if seen in her company.
A grieving Marguerite returns back to the Baron who takes her back but on lesser generous terms. She resumes her life as a courtesan, but the rigors of this life ruins her health completely. Severely ill and in debt she writes to see Armand one last time. Armand returns to her and Camille dies in his arms assuring herself that she never was more happier.
This movie received four academy award nominations including the one for bEst actress for Greta Garbo. She won the New York Film critics circle award for the best actress. It also made the times list of 100 great movies ever made.
This romantic movie is one tear jerker ever made. It tugs at your heart strings and Greta Garbo as the beautiful and vulnerable courtesan with the heart of gold is splendid. Her chemistry with Robert Taylor is something unmeasurable. A really good watch for those rainy days with a blanket and popcorn.

Camille (released in 1936) - Starring Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore, and Elizabeth Allan

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Flesh and the Devil (released in 1926) - Starring Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Lars Hanson, and Barbara Kent

Greta Garbo, John Gilbert and Lars Hanson star in this silent movie with English inter-titles, directed by Clarence brown. This movie was adapted from the play of the same name by Hermann Sudermann. The plot is the eternal love triangle which brings upon the destruction of a boyhood friendship laced with deception, drama and murder.
The film concerns two boyhood friends Leo and Ulrich who grow up to be soldiers in the German armed forces. As boys they had sworn to be friends and signed their pact in blood. On leave from duty both Leo and Ulrich are greeted by Ulrich's sister Hertha and his mother. In the station Leo meets a breathtakingly beautiful woman and it is love at first sight for him. Abandoning Hertha at the dance floor Leo leaves to be with the beautiful lady, Felicitas who is the wife of Count Rhaden. While they are lip-locked the Count returns and challenges Leo to a duel. The duel takes place under the guise of a card game and Leo kills the Count. He “requests” a movement to Africa from the military court and leaves town with Felicitas promising to wait for him.
But Felicitas soon carries on with life and gets married to Ulrich. She conceals her affair with Leo and the details about her earlier life. Ulrich in the meanwhile secures a pardon for Leo from servitude and Leo returns home. Upon his return all he can think about is Felicitas and is devastated to know her as Ulrich's wife. He starts avoiding Ulrich and this pains his friend.



But Felicitas continues to tempt Leo to continue their relationship. The only person in the know is Pastor Voss who gives a fiery sermon regarding adultery clearly pointing to their involvement. When, racked with guilt, Leo keeps away from Felicitas she proposes to elope with him. But as she packs her bags, Ulrich returns with a diamond necklace which weakens her nerve. When Leo arrives to pick her up, she tells him that she is a slave for Ulrich's money and would like to continue their covert affair. A disgruntled Leo tries to strangle her and is caught by Ulrich. Felicitas turns the tables accusing Leo of rape and Ulrich challenges him for a duel.
Leo and Ulrich reach their boyhood ground for the ultimate duel and Leo refuses to aim at Ulrich. Ulrich gets the wind of things and both of them embrace. Meanwhile Felicitas trudging to the snow to reach them on the urgings of Hertha, drowns in the pool. This movie was well received by the critics and audiences alike. It also marked a turning point for Garbo's professional and personal life.
It was during the filming of this movie that she was romantically linked with her co-star Gilbert which ultimately ended in a wedding from which Garbo backed out on the last moment. She also fought a high pitched battle with MGM studio for a break to visit her family in Sweden and as a reconciliation the studio hiked Garbo's fees. At the end of the filming Garbo was the highest paid actresses of the time.
The movie is very popular in the DVD circuit and an alternate happy ending was also incorporated. In 2006, Flesh and the Devil was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Monday, December 13, 2010

Anna Christie (released in 1930) - Starring Greta Garbo, Charles Bickford, George F. Marion, and Marie Dressler

Anna Christie is a landmark film where Garbo makes the successful transition from the silent era to the talkies. It is said that the studio had prepared her assiduously to make the change with success, unlike many other stars who failed with sound. MGM coached Garbo so well that even her Swedish accent was completely removed. Additional publicity material with the tag-line “Garbo Talks” generated more interest in this movie. This movie was adapted from a Pulitzer prize winning play by Eugene O'Neill and was also a silent movie staring Blanche Sweet.
Anna Christie was directed by Clarence Brown and starred Greta Garbo, Charles Bickford and George F Marion. This movie was nominated for 3 academy awards including the one for best actress for Greta Garbo.
Garbo is Anna Christie, a waterfront prostitute who comes in search of her father to the barge. Her father had sent her off to a relative's farm and the abuse had forced Anna to run away and become a prostitute. She never forgives her father for abandoning her. Anna enters a saloon where her father's mistress is drinking and gives her first dialogue, the immortal line “Gif me a visky, ginger ale on the side, and don' be stingy, baby." Marthe, the mistress soon deduces her identity and tells her that her father Chris was hoping to see her as a lady and she would have to be one to refrain from hurting him. Anna agrees for the deception and lives with Chris as the dutiful daughter he is so proud off.



Anna and Marthe rescues a drowning sailor Matt and brings him to the barge. Soon an intimacy develops between the two and they even go on a date to Conney island. But Chris, her father disapproves of the relationship because he want her settled with a stable marriage and a house on the land. Anna also has secrets of her own and Marthe urges her to come clean to prevent a confrontation between Matt and Chris. She reveals her sordid life as a prostitute and Matt leaves in disgust. As Anna picks the broken pieces of her life she finds Matt waiting for her. He tells her that mistakes were made in the past by both of them and he is happy to be the first one to claim her love. The film ends in a happy note with a grand reunion.
The mystique of this film is all the more increased, as it is one of the last movies that Garbo posed for and promoted. She had her last photograph shot with the Maharajah of Kapurthala before retiring from public life. This movie was a monster hit of the year and also won accolades for Garbo's seamless transition and sound. It was also adapted in to the German Language and proved successful in the European markets. It also was made in to the silent version too, to cover more theaters. I would like to add that the secret allure of the movie is Garbo itself. See it for the amazing histrionics of the wonderful Greta Garbo

Anna Christie (released in 1930) - Starring Greta Garbo, Charles Bickford, George F. Marion, and Marie Dressler

Friday, December 10, 2010

Love (released in 1927) - Starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert

Love is adapted from the timeless classic of Leo Tolstoy "Anna Karenina" and stars Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. Directed by Edmound Goudling this movie from the MGM stables try to capture the Greta-Gilbert erotic chemistry to the fullest.
The Russian army officer Count Vronsky on the way to battle enters an inn and spies on a women. He tries to flirt with her and the annoyed lady rebuffs his advances but Vronsky is taken in by her very beautiful countenance. Vronsky is again presented with the same lady, Anna as a wife of the Russian senator, Karenin. Anna though initially is cold to Vronsky's passion thaws and they soon start an affair. Anna is very unhappy in her marriage with her husband who has no time left for her. Her only consolation is her son Sergei, whom she dotes on.
As the passionate affair continues, it becomes the talk of the town and soon the word reaches Karenin's ears. A love sozzled Anna makes a spectacle of herself at the races and the angry senator confronts the lovers and drags Anna back home. He even tries to get Vronsky courtmartialled for disciplinary reasons. Both Anna and Vronsky elope and leave Russia for Italy. But even though Anna finds passion, her love for her child drives her to guilt. She ultimately returns to Russia to inquire upon her son. But her husband forbades her meeting with Sergei and tells her that the boy has been told that she is dead. A heartbroken Anna tries everything to get her son back, but the twisted laws of that era prevent her from getting his custody.



On the other hand a love sick Vronsky follows her to Russia and they start living in together. But Anna's guilt and the lack of respectability drives her to alcohol and depression. Karenin tries to get back at Vronsky by diminishing his social status and Anna begs him not to resort to vengeance. Karenin asks her leave St. Petersburg forever and not to see Sergei again. Upon loosing her son Anna commits suicide by stepping in front of the train. This tragic version true to the Tolstoy's novel was distributed internationally
To satisfy the American audiences, the ending was slightly altered. A time leap of five years was envisaged where Vronsky meets Anna's son graduating from military college. He meets him and Sergei invites him over to his house where Anna is residing. Karenin has passed away and the lovers reunite again with the blessing of Sergei.
Love was beset with many problems and Greta Garbo was seriously ill during its production. It is also said that Garbo was part of the strike asking for higher remuneration from the studio and she returned to her shoot only after a substantial pay hike.
This movie was initially titled Heat and was a block buster of that year. This was one of the last silent era movies of Greta Garbo and she again was to make Anna Karenina with Clarence Brown.

Love (released in 1927) - Starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reaching for the Moon (released in 1930) - Starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Bebe Daniels

Reaching for the Moon is an American 1930 black and white musical film starring Douglas Fairbanks and Bebe Daniels. This movie had a working title, Lucky Day, which was later changed by the director Edmund Goudling.
Vivian Benton is an amateur aviatrix and a wealthy socialite whose show Aero girls is creating waves in the social circuit. During her felicitation ceremony in a big New York hotel she chances upon Jimmy Carrington who points out the successful broker Larry Day. He is also being toasted by his fellows for his eventful career. Day is a super successful and rich man but very inexperienced in the art of romance. He hardly can bring himself before women and is very reticent. Jimmy wagers with Vivian about hooking up with Day before the end of the felicitation ceremony and Vivian successfully gets her date winning the bet.
Larry Day in anticipation of the romantic interlude, gets dating advice from his valet, Roger. But Vivian who leaves for London where her show is to be opened, calls from the ship breaking up the date. She amuses herself in the process and Larry Day becomes very hurt and vengeful. He and Roger board the same ship to teach Vivian a lesson and to get even. Vivian is traveling to England with her fiancé, Parkington Chempson and Day spend the day wooing her with Roger's able assistance. As the days wean away Vivian thaws and notices Day a lot. Larry Day but falls head over heels in love with Vivian and concentrates all his energies on her.



But trouble is brewing for Day on the professional front as his whole attention is consumed by Vivian. The stock market crashes and he looses a great deal of money. Larry finds himself to be a pauper. But on the last day he confesses his love to Vivian and finds that the whole troop surrounding him. Believing it to be one of Vivian's practical joke Larry believes that he has lost his fortune and the girl, retires a heart broken man. But Vivian as she docks at her destination, tells him that she loves him and is ready to be his wife even if it means being poor.
This sweet romantic comedy has Douglas Fairbanks making a rare appearance in a talking picture. His portrayal of Larry Day is markedly different from the swashbuckling hero's he has played during his silent film days. But an actor once is an actor forever and Fairbanks gives a measured and mature performance with out his trade mark over the top style and his dialogue delivery is impeccable. Another notable mention is the sound track of the movie which involves the famous song “when the folks high-up do the mean low-down” sung by Bing Cosby and the chorus.
This movie was meant to be 90 minutes long, but later was cut to 74 minutes. The Spanish version of the movie is called Para alcanzar la Luna. This movie was a moderate box office success and currently a favorite of the DVD circuit.
A good movie to watch.

Reaching for the Moon (released in 1930) - Starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Bebe Daniels

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Private Life of Don Juan (released in 1934) - Starring Douglas Fairbanks and Merle Oberon

Just imagine Don Juan suffering a midlife crisis and returning to domesticity? This Douglas Fairbanks starer portrays the life of Don Juan after age and sluggishness has caught up with him. The Private Life of Don Juan is a film about the life of an aging Don Juan, based on the 1920 play L'homme à la Rose by Henry Bataille.
The sleepy town of Seville is abuzz with rumors of the arrival of Don Juan and this sends all husbands in to a tizzy. They lock their wives, barricade balconies and are suspicious of all. But Don Juan is a tired old man yearning for the rest cure. He arrives in Seville incognito but is soon discovered, thanks to a sword fight at the inn. His wife Dona Dolores threatens to send him to prison if he does not apologize for his earlier affairs. But don Juan does not accept the truce and walks away.
But to his irritation he is followed by the ardent admirer, Rodrigo who wants to be just like him. Rodrigo asks him to teach him the art of seduction and also accepts that he was playing the part of Don Juan in secret fueling the rumors of his comeback. But his instructions are cut short when a jealous husband, Don Alfonso, kills Rodrigo, believing him to be Don Juan. The news spread far and wide that Don Juan is killed. As the whole town mourn him, Juan disguises himself as Captain Mariano and retire from the social life. He attend his magnificent funeral where woman mourn the loss of romance and his attentions.



But Don Juan is a born socialite and he gets tired of his sedate existence. He breaks his secret to a tavern maid, Rosita and to his dismay is rebuffed. He tries his luck climbing up the balcony of another attractive girl and is sent as a messenger boy to her lover in the rain. He also tries to turn on his actress friend Antonita, but is discarded in favor of a rich duke. Stunned by the rejection Don Juan attends a play commemorating his life and declares himself alive during the performance. He again is laughed at and thrown out of the the theater. Don, totally rejected reaches an inn where a middle-aged lady proposes to him, making him think of his wife Dona Dolores. He meets her and begs her to take him back.
She initially does not believe him, but takes him home. She then makes him woo her through the balcony and takes him back saying “Every woman wants more than a husband. Every woman wants Don Juan for herself."
This movie is the last performance of Douglas Fairbanks in a silent movie. An end of an era, Fairbanks was the apt choice of the middle aged Don Juan as age was diminishing his capabilities in real life too. The viewer is treated to the vagaries nature inflicts on human life as age and wisdom creeps up to him. A good movie to watch and cherish of memories beyond the sands of time.

The Private Life of Don Juan (released in 1934) - Starring Douglas Fairbanks and Merle Oberon

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Black Pirate (released in 1926) - starring Douglas Fairbanks, Donald Crisp, Sam De Grasse, and Billie Dove

The Black Pirate is a adventure film of the silent era and it stars Douglas Fairbanks, Donald Crisp, Sam De Grasse, and Billie Dove. The film begins with the looting of a ship by the pirates. The crew are murdered and the whole ship is blown up by the pirates. As the looters make merry of their plunder and cart away the treasure, a father and son duo fight the sea to be washed ultimately over an abandoned island. The father passes away after giving the son his signet ring. The son wows revenge and carves on the tombstone "MY FATHER I SOLEMNLY VOW TO BRING THY MURDERERS TO JUSTICE". Viewers have to bear in mind that this is a silent film and the written word helps us to gauge the dialogues.
Meanwhile the Captain and the Pirates come over to the same island and they plan to bury the treasure in one of the caves. The evil Captain and the Lieutenant plan to kill the others to usurp the treasure. But they are stopped by the arrival of the Son who declares his intention of becoming a pirate. The Captain declines and one of the men MacTavish asks him his qualifications to become one. The son moves over to the Captain and slaps him and is soon challenged to a duel. The captain whips out his cut-lass to kill him and the son takes another one to take him on. The captain is killed by the son's superior swordsmanship and he is accepted by the pirate gang. The lieutenant does not like the new member but he keeps his silence.



Soon the son earns his stripes as a black pirate. The Lieutenant tells him that to confirm his credentials he must show more character. The black pirate assures him that he single handedly can subdue a ship. Soon another ship looms over the horizon and the black pirate captures the ship. But it takes all his ingenuity to keep the looters from murdering the crew which consists of a Princess and her entourage. The lieutenant wins her through lots and the black pirate persuades him to keep her from harm to get a ransom.
The lieutenant reluctantly agree as all other crew member support the black pirate. He soon comes clean with the princess and shows him the signet ring. He tries to rescue the princess and is soon captured and ordered to walk the plank. But MacTavish cuts him loose and the black pirate swims to safety. Soon he returns and after much heroics manages to free the ship, kill the other pirates and win the princess. Then the Black Prate and the Princess sail away in to the sun set.
This movie is pure unadulterated entertainment with the swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks as the black pirate. His swashbuckling antics, pure athleticism brings credibility to the action sequences. In most of the silent movies the actions are mostly over the top acting and this is required to get the viewer to understand the sequences. So sometimes it may appear a little weird to see lot of exaggeration. This movie is one the first movies to be shot in two tone Technicolor. The script was adapted by Jack Cunningham from a story by Fairbanks, who used his middle names "Elton Thomas" as a pseudonym. The film was directed by Albert Parker and has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

The Black Pirate (released in 1926) - starring Douglas Fairbanks, Donald Crisp, Sam De Grasse, and Billie Dove

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Gaucho (released in 1927) - Starring Douglas Fairbanks and Lupe Velez

The Gaucho is a Argentine anti-hero who is the ultimate savior; inspite of his initial wild behavior. This movie is a Douglas Fairbanks vehicle which is in-fact written and produced by him. It is said that Fairbanks was influenced by the miracles at the St. Lourdes Shrine and the religious overtones in the movie is ultimately derived from this. The Gaucho showcases the amazing good looks and athleticism of Fairbanks who swings from trees, rides bare back and dance with heavenly abandon.
El Gaucho is the ultimate bandit who can single handedly control a town with his small company of bandits coming in later to complete the task. He is willful, playful and a perfect Casanova. Gaucho sets his sights on a small town with a healing shrine. The flashback tells us that a girl who fell from a cliff was miraculously saved by the Virgin Mary who in-turn gives her the healing powers. So the shrine of Our Lady flourishes and the coffers are overflowing with gold.
The usurper, Ruiz is the villain who wants to loot the town and the shrine for the gold. But Gaucho and his banditos put a perfect spanner to his works and ends up saving the shrine. Gaucho is hailed as a hero and his roving eye makes him more appealing. His eye rests on the Mountain Girl, Maria, who is fiery and hotter than the hottest of jalapeños. She matches Gaucho's temper and his dancing steps. A heavenly scene is the two of them doing the tango and nothing can yet has been devised to beat the chemistry these two share. Soon Maria and Gaucho are sharing an apple and the romance flourishes.



But the mountain girl has a fiery temper and a jealous mind. She cannot stand her man showing attention to others. Gaucho is attentive and responsive, playful and watchful with the young girl. But his livery is short-lived as he is afflicted with the black doom. The movie does not present the medical condition and many critics dub it as leprosy. But the black doom slowly sucks out the life off his body and his arm turn black.
Gaucho meets the saintly lady in the Shrine whose prayers heal him. He is attracted by her serenity and holiness and falls in love with her. But this earns him the wrath of Maria. Soon all hell breaks loose with Ruiz and gang capturing him. He is tortured along with the others and this scenes can be labeled a little sadistic. But it is a Fairbanks movie who can be compared to the ultimate superhero. He prevails all the tempests with the able assistance and blessing of the Virgin Mary. Then Maria also is tamed and turned in to a perfect catholic and wedded.
This movie belongs to the silent era and this does not diminish the entertainment value. In fact the touchy feely feeling in the movie is more due the absence of sound. Douglas Fairbanks is the most apt choice as the swashbuckling, smoking Casanova bandit with a devil may care attitude. But the revelation is the mountain girl Maria, a girl who is ahead of time and no real man can match or resist this red hot pepper girl.
Just watch it for pure entertainment.

The Gaucho (released in 1927) - Starring Douglas Fairbanks and Lupe Velez

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Robin Hood (released in 1922) - A classic movie starring Douglas Fairbanks, Wallace Beery and Enid Bennett

Robin Hood released in 1922 is considered one of the most costliest movies ever made. It cost a whopping 1.2 million dollars to make his movie and is considered the ultimate spectacle. Douglas Fairbanks starred in this movie portraying the outlaw Robin Hood who robs the rich to give it to the poor.
The earl of Huntington becomes King Richards favorite by wining a jousting tournament against the cheating Guy Gisborne. He becomes the kings right hand man and this enables him to meet Lady Marion Fitzwalter and he falls in love with her. When Richard the lion-heart leaves for the crusades, Huntington accompanies him. Richard appoints his cruel sadistic brother John as regent who fancies Lady Marion. Goaded by Guy, John usurps the throne as Richard departs and set him-selves as the tyrannical ruler.
Lady Marion send a message to Huntington and tells him about all the tyrannies of John and urges him to come back. When Huntington asks Richard permission to leave, Richard suspects cowardice and refuses leave. Huntington, not wanting to divert Richards attention from the battle ahead leaves on his own accord and is branded a deserter. He is captured and imprisoned by Guy who wants to kill him to gain Marion. But Huntington escapes and sets himself as an outlaw Robin Hood, in the jungles of Sherwood and wows to defeat King John.



He soon forms the band of merry men with Little John, Friar Tuck and others and they oppose the enemies like Sheriff of Nottingham who terrorize the poor. He robs the rich and gives it to the poor and saves them from the yoke of taxation. Soon these band of merry men soon make King John life miserable and he tries to get back by imprisoning Marion. But Robin Hood arrives to save her and defeats Guy in a grueling battle. But Robin Hood is captured and is saved by the arrival of Richard at the right time. Soon John and his cohorts are captured and sent to prison and Robin Hood is given back his titles and Marion.
This silent era film is characterized by lavish sets and great camera work which makes it a very grand spectacle. It is said that the castle of King John is built even up to the minutest details and thousands of extras with the right clothing were employed to give feel of the era. However this movie is a Douglas Fairbanks vehicle and he steals the show. A major departure from the book, this movie does not portray Robin's meetings with little John, Friar Tuck etc and this is indeed a sore disappointment.
This movie scored high at the box office and is said to have been the first one to have a grand premier. All the actions and the spectacle is worth a watch even without the obvious absence of dialogues. The actions and portrayal of the actors as merry men is sometimes little funny but one has to understand that they suffer a major handicap due the absence of dialogues. Ultimately it is indeed Douglas Fair bank's Robin Hood and one need to watch this movie to watch this Athletic American star of yesteryears.

Robinhood (released in 1922) - A classic movie starring Douglas Fairbanks, Wallace Beery and Enid Bennett

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Three Musketeers (released in 1948) - Starring Gene Kelly and Lana Turner, based on the book

The Three Musketeers is a fantasy action film adapted from the Alexander Dumas's novel of the same name. Many versions of this tale has been tried out in Hollywood and has been the favorite period drama adapted by the film industry.
D'Artagnan is a superb swordsman who leaves for Paris to join the famous Musketeers and carry a recommendation letter to De Treville, the commander of the Musketeers. On his way he is assaulted by a lady's guard and his letter is also burnt. Artagnan reaches De Treville who recognizes the assailant and allows him to train for the esteemed position. While on the street Artagnan sees his assailant and tries to duel him enraging the Three musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Artagnan challenges them to a duel and while this happens Richelieu's men try to arrest them Artagnan joins forces with the Musketeers and foils the arrest. This act of valor earns him the respect of the musketeers who take him in to their fold.
That night a chance meeting with Constance Bonacieux, the lady in waiting for the queen Anne leaves Artagnan deeply in love. His feelings are reciprocated by Constance. But trouble is brewing as Queen Anne has a lover in the British Duke, Buckingham. King Louis XIII of France presents his wife Anne, a magnificent pair of earrings which she gives to Buckingham as a token of her love.



This exchange reaches the ear of the wicked Richelieu who plots the overthrow of the King. To precipitate the war between England and France to fulfill his nefarious designs he asks the King to have the queen wear the beautiful diamonds for the grand ball. A panic stricken Queen confides in Constance who enlist the support of the musketeers. But Richlieu sends a Femme fatale Milady de Winter to appropriate the jewel from Buckingham.
As the Musketeers battle Richelieu's men to reach the duke, de Winter gets the earrings. But Artagnan who reaches the goal makes a similar copy, thus helping the Queen to avoid a scandal. Richlieu again asks de Winter to seduce Artagnan to enlist him in his force. Athos reveals that de Winter is his evil wife who is a common murderess thus earning her wrath. Richelieu then kidnaps Constance to force Artagnan's hand. But the queen frees her and send her to Buckingham. De Winter reaches there and is promptly captured, but manages to murder Constance.
A heart broken Artagnan gets an incriminating letter delivered by de Winter to Buckingham in which Richelieu had asked for a partnership. He unmasks Richelieu during the grand ball and has him captured. He also captures de winter who begs for mercy and send her to the guillotine.
This movie has Gene Kelly playing the title role of de Artagnan and Lana Turner the femme fatale de Winter. This movie has June Allyson, John Sutton and Angela Lansbury in key roles. MGM to avoid a confrontation with the Roman Catholic Church, omitted the reference of Cardinal Richelieu from the movie. This movie is one of the successful movies of that year and is a good watch.

The Three Musketeers (released in 1948) - Starring Gene Kelly and Lana Turner, based on the book

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Mark of Zorro (released in 1920) - A silent era film starring Douglas Fairbanks and Noah Beery

Zorro is the fictional Character developed by Johnston McCulley and has gone through many avatars since 1919. Numerous comics, movies and short television films are made about this dashing hero who is a combination of Robin hood, Batman, Scarlet Pimpernel and many other superheroes. But the myth of the bumbling hero and his heroic Alter ego continues to allure audiences for over a century.
The Mark of Zorro is a silent era film staring Douglas Fairbanks. Don Diego is the son of Don Alejandro, a wealthy rancher and is outwardly a cowardly, effeminate, bumbling guy. But on witnessing the travesty of justice he transforms himself in to a swashbuckling Hero, called Zorro who battles the rich and delivers for the poor.
His hometown in California is governed by Governor Alvarado, his henchman the villainous Captain Juan Ramon and the brutish Sergeant Pedro Gonzales. They terrorize and plunder the peasants who have no where to go. So the peasants turn to Zorro or the Fox who delivers them from their troubles, and marks the assailants with his “z” mark on their faces.



Don Diego is smitten by Alvarado's daughter, Lolita and tries to court her through numerous magic tricks which fall flat. Lolita cannot stand his actions and is courted also by Captain Ramon. But she nurses a romantic feeling for the super hero Zorro. Zorro's adventure continues as he gives one defeat after another for the oppressors and escape through the various mazes and alleyways in the city.
After many adventures, Alvarado's family along with Lolita is jailed and Captain Ramon tries to forcibly take her away. Zorro arrives in his costume only to tear it off to reveal his true identity. Lolita is ecstatic that Diego is in fact her real love Zorro. After a bout of fierce fighting Zorro imprisons the wrong doers and forces Alvarado to abdicate from his post. He wins the soldiers to his side to cleanse the system and also gains Lolita's hand in marriage.
This movie presented Zorro with the present day costume complete with the mask, black clothes and the round hat, which was not envisaged by the creator of Zorro. This movie has been remade many a time, but Douglas Fairbanks Zorro remains the template for all who imagine this super hero.
This movie on release proved to be a critical and box office success. Douglas Fairbanks', athletic good looks made the fighting scenes memorable. The chase through he roof tops, stables and the alleys have to be seen and are magnificent even without any sound effects. The silent movie may not impress you at the start, but soon grows on you as you put yourself completely at the hands of the visuals. It may be overwhelming initially but the cinema grows on you.
This movie has been made very recently with Catherine Zeta Jones and Antonio Banderas as Zorro. The story has undergone a metamorphosis but the underlying premise is the same. Try comparing the two and you will love Douglas Fairbanks too.

The Mark of Zorro (released in 1920) - A silent era film starring Douglas Fairbanks and Noah Beery

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Thief of Baghdad (released in 1924) - starring Douglas Fairbanks and Anna May Wong

This movie is a epoch making movie of the silent film era and is treated as one of the classics of American cinema. This movie stars the effervescent Douglas Fairbanks and was the stepping stone for the Asian Actress Anne May Wong to gain a foothold in Hollywood. This movie takes place in Baghdad where a bare-chested and bare-footed thief Ahmed is living on the streets by his wits. He pilfers his food, wrangles a place to sleep and steals nicknacks to gain money. He never does any gainful work and is contemptuous about his religion.
But things change as he comes across a magic rope during one of his robbing sessions. He uses this rope to steal the ultimate treasure from the Caliph of Persia. As he magics himself in to the castle, he sees the caliphs daughter who is the ethereal beauty. He is completely smitten and even forgets the treasure he came to steal. The Caliph, meanwhile is hunting for suitors for his daughter and calls for princes far and wide. Soon the princes from India, Persia and Mongolia arrive along with the Prince from the Isle of Seven seas who is really Ahmed in his stolen finery.
Ahmed woos the princess and she chooses him to be her husband. The Mongolian Khan is the most disappointed as he had planned to conquer Baghdad on the pretext of the marriage. But Ahmed's deception is soon discovered and he is flogged and thrown out on the streets. A distraught Ahmed takes refuge in religion and takes the advice of the local Mullah. The Mullah tells him that “Happiness has to be earned” and he needs to work for his goal of attaining the princess.



In the meantime the remaining princes are given the task of getting a the most unique treasure to win the heart of the princess. The Prince of Persia buys a flying Carpet, the Prince from India get a crystal ball and the Khan from Mongolia gets the golden apple which can cure any malady. They combine their resources and rush back to Baghdad where the princess is in the throes of death due to the poison administered by the Khan's slave girl. The Khan cures her and the Caliph ponders on the question of the winner. The impatient Khan anyway conquers Baghdad and imprisons everybody in it.
Ahmed in the meantime gets a magic chest which gives him all he desires. He acquires all princely stuff, including a army and defeats the evil Khan. Ahmed gets to marry the princess and lives happily ever after. This silent Era film has amazing sets by William Cameron Menezies and these magnificent creations lend credibility to the adventure scenes which includes Palaces, fire breathing volcanoes, treasure caves, flying horses, lions and battle scenes. At the time of zero special effects, the movie scores on the art department itself. Another point I need to point out is the acting, which seems to be over the top by today's standards. But those actions speak louder than words as emotions are not conveyed by words but by facial and body movements. This movie has to be seen to be believed.
In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

The Thief of Baghdad (released in 1924) - starring Douglas Fairbanks and Anna May Wong

Monday, November 22, 2010

You Can't take it with you (released in 1938) - starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore and directed by Frank Capra

This movie was directed by Frank Capra who adapted it from the Pulitzer prize winning Broadway show by Kaufman and Hart. It stars the legendary James Stewart and Jean Arthur in the title roles. It also starred Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold and Spring Byington. Lionel Barrymore was suffering from arthritis and acts in crutches for the entire movie.
Tony Kirby is the heir of a vast business empire whose father Arnold.P.Kirby is a arms dealer and a real estate magnet. Kirby Sr has one ambition, which is build a big ammunition plant and is busy buying vast tracts of land to seal the deal. But one thorn in the flesh is Martin Vanderhoff who refuses to sell him homestead because it is filled with memories. Kirby offers him four times the money but Vanderhoff says no as family and memories are more important than money even during the great depression.
The Vanderhoff's are the most eccentric, screwball family with a devil may care attitude. They never care for money, success or have any ambition. Grandpa's daughter Penny aims to be a writer with little talent and has a small kitten as a paperweight.



Granddaughter Essie has fantasies of becoming a ballerina even as her, Russian teacher exclaims, 'She stinks!' -- and Essie's oafish husband Ed (Dub Taylor) plays the xylophone while wearing his old football jersey. There are other bohemian characters roaming around the house making up explosions along with a mad butler and a maid. To cap it up is Grandpa Vanderhoff who slides down the banisters and ends up breaking leg. Well that is to prove that he is a fun guy who values family fun. The one sweet normal girl is Alice Sycamore who works as a secretary in Tony Kirby's office.
Alice and Tony predictably fall for each other and plan to get hitched. But the perennial hitch of family sanction comes in the way. Anthony Kirby and his snobbish wife are alarmed at Tony's choice but try to humor him by agreeing to meet the girls family. Alice plans a grand dinner and her family agrees to behave. But a wrong date and the wrong meeting makes the introduction explosive as the blue blooded Kirby's are exposed to the bohemian chic of the Vanderhoff's'. Then all goes downhill and the engagement goes in flames.
But love does triumph in the movies changing the life of the Kirby's forever. Kirby's learn to have fun and Vanderhoff triumph as a paragon of virtue. The whole cliché ending of “money can never buy love” happens and everybody lives happily ever after by being poor. This movie had seven academy award nomination wining two -the best picture and the best director trophy. This was the second Oscar for Frank Capra in five years. The box office success was also phenomenal and is treated as one of the nicest romantic comedies. Well if you like romance and enjoy poor vs rich dramas, this one is for you.

You Can't take it with you (released in 1938) - starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore and directed by Frank Capra

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Last Horizon (released in 1937) - starring Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt, and directed by Frank Capra

This 1937 movie directed by Frank Capra is adapted from the novel of the same name by James Hilton. This fantasy movie starred Ronald Coleman and Jane Wyatt.
Richard Conway is a man of many talents and is the new British Foreign Secretary. He is a famous Writer, Soldier and highly sought after diplomat. As an armed revolution threatens China he rescues the stranded foreigners in Baskul and escapes with the last of the evacuees. But unknown to him their plane is hijacked and crashes in a remote Himalayan kingdom killing their abductor. They are rescued and taken to Shangri-La, an idyllic valley sheltered from the bitter cold which is headed by a mysterious head Lama.
Here the passengers find their idyllic life very much to their liking. Most of the newcomers grow to love Shangri-La, including paleontologist Alexander Lovett, swindler Henry Barnard, and bitter, terminally ill Gloria Stone, who miraculously seems to be recovering. Richard finds the lovely Sondra whose allure and beauty mesmerizes him. But his younger brother George and another young woman Maria from Shangri-La are bent upon leaving the place. They constantly try to persuade Richard to leave the place.



Richard gets an audience with the Lama, who tells him that his presence in Shangri-La is no accident. His talent and wisdom had impressed them to choose him to be the leader of Shangri-La. The Lama informs him that Shangri-La is a mystical place where people do not age, fall sick or wither with age. He designates Richard as his heir and passes away.
George, depicts the story as mere fantasy and persuades Richard to leave the place. They move on with Maria who upon leaving Shangri-La reaches her real age and dies. George looses his sanity and commits suicide. Richard continues his journey and slowly looses his memory. But on the voyage back to England he remembers all and jumps from the ship rendering him untraceable. He anyway gives an account of his adventures to others traveling with him. Then he makes him way to Shangri-La to continue his task entrusted to him by the Lama.
The movie has major deviations from the book and this has been a sore point with the audience who wanted a faithful adaptation. This movie was one of the expensive movies made in the 30's which drove a rift between the studio and the director. It was not received well and never recovered its money for a long time, meeting costs after 5 years. After it was re-shot and edited it was released to garner some box office success. The critical reception was a mixed one with some critics praising it and others rubbishing the work. It was nominated for 7 academy awards wining the award for Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing. It lost the award for the best Picture narrowly to the ultimate winner “The life of Emile Zola”. But the movie pioneered high technological advances which were used to film the Himalayan Scenes. A watchable movie if you are interested in the sci-fi Genre.

The Last Horizon (released in 1937) - starring Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt, and directed by Frank Capra

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Going My Way (released in 1944) - starring Bing Cosby and Barry Fitzgerald

This 1944 blockbuster was directed by Leo McCarey staring Bing Cosby and Barry Fitzgerald. This movie was the biggest hit and cemented the place of Bing Cosby as one of the biggest guaranteed box office draw of the 40's.
This movie is about a young priest who takes over the parish from a veteran and the feelings of displacement and jealousy involved in this take over. Father O'Malley is a young priest who is sent to the parish of St Dominic's in poor neighborhood of New York. He is to take over from Father Fitzgibbon for whom age is not on his side. The parish has nothing much going on for them, except the petty gossip and rivalries. Soon Father O'Malley revamps the entire going on's, reinvigorating the youth.
Father Fitzgibbon feels the parish slipping away from his hands as he watches O'Malley in action. The younger parish priest gets a grip on everything like the parish interludes and youthful capers. And slowly resentment sets in Fitzgibbon's mind. But O'Malley is aware of the confusion in the older man's mind and he is kind and considerate. He slowly chips away the armor and engages him.



O'Malley and his friend Father Timothy "Timmy" O'Dowd take Father Fitzgibbon for golf and he thoroughly enjoys it calling it the great outdoor pool. Soon he opens up about his parish life of past 50 years. He also mentions about his mother who is pushing 90 living in Ireland. O'Malley has his own personal demons to deal with with his interrupted love affairs. Soon pieces start to fall in to the right places. The choir is formed and the youth movement gains momentum with the prime mischief maker young Tony Scaponi comes to the fold.
Then tragedy strikes when the church is damaged in a massive fire on Christmas eve. But the spirit of togetherness kindled by Father O'Malley cannot be extinguished so soon. The newly awakened parish rally against odds and celebrate Christmas as a family in a temporary church. At this momentous occasion, Fitzgibbon's elderly mother reaches him all thanks to O'Malley efforts. But the joyous occasion has a sad tinge with O'Malley being transferred to another parish. But the builder builds for others and the fruits of his creation may not be for his sake but for the restoration of others. As the parish rejuvenates and embraces each other, O'Malley slips away for his new task.

This movie was a monster hit and was nominated for 10 academy awards winning seven. Bing Cosby won the Oscar for Best actor and Barry Fitzgerald won for the best supporting actor. Barry was nominated for the best actor award and lost to Cosby. After this the Oscar committee restricted the nominations to one category. It also won the Oscar for best picture, best director, best screenplay and best song. It was followed the next year by a sequel, The Bells of St. Mary's.
In 2004, Going My Way was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". A feel good movie worth a watch.

Going My Way (released in 1944) - starring Bing Cosby and Barry Fitzgerald

Monday, November 15, 2010

Arsenic and Old Lace (Released in 1944) - Starring Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, and Raymond Massey

Arsenic and Old Lace is a 1944 film directed by Frank Capra based on Joseph Kesselring's play of the same name. It stars Cary Grant along with Josephine Hull, Jean Adir, Raymond Massey and John Alexander.
Cary Grant is Mortimer Brewster who does not believe in love stories and the institution of marriage and has written several books against it. But his views are put to the test when he falls head over heels for his childhood friend Elaine Harper and they get married on Halloween day. So Mortimer and his new bride go visiting relations after their wedding. Mortimer's bizarre relatives live in their family house and consist of his aunts, Ada and Martha and his brother Teddy. Well one hitch is that both Ada and Martha are very eccentric with Teddy crowning the madness streak. Teddy believes himselves to be Teddy Roosevelt and charges at all occasions over the banisters, imitating Roosevelt's famous charge up San Juan Hill.
Sinister and devilish plots and corpses tumble out of his Aunts closets. Both Ada and Martha inform him about their charity of bumping off invalid old members to end their presumed suffering by giving them elderberry wine spiked with arsenic. These corpses are unwittingly buried by Teddy who believes that he is digging locks for the Panama Canal and burying yellow fever victims.



To complicate matters further, Mortimer's more sinister brother Jonathan arrives along with his plastic surgeon friend Dr. Herman Einstein. Jonathan is a psychotic murderer who has his face altered by Dr. Einstein to look like Boris Karloff in his makeup as Frankenstein's monster. Jonathan finds about his aunts secrets and try to bury his latest victim Mr. Spenalzo in the basement. This is vehemently opposed by his aunts who think their victims prestige will be lowered being buried with a lowly Spenalzo. Soon all the crazed deranged relatives turn their attention to Mortimer.
A mortally afraid and mortified Mortimer tries to keep one step ahead of them. He tries to protect Elaine and makes various bumbling attempts to alert the cops and get his aunts and Teddy to an asylum. He is also scared of going insane as his relatives as insanity is galloping through the Brewster's from the days of their arrival aboard the Mayflower.
In the end, he manages to get his relatives booked and locked up. The ultimate redemption comes when he is informed by Ada, that he is not a Brewster, but the son of a chef aboard the ship. A relieved Mortimer walks in to the sunset with Elaine, happy to be a sea cooks son.
This movie is a spoof of the Black widow murders and was well received at the box office. This movie was also the critics favorite and is treated as one of the great 100 laugh riots by the American Film Institute. This macabre movie is a great fun to watch and I would recommend it highly for anybody. Just keep it away from children below eight.

Arsenic and Old Lace (Released in 1944) - Starring Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, and Raymond Massey

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Road to Hong Kong (released in 1962) - starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Joan Collins (the last in the Road series)

This is the last edition of the Road series staring Bing Cosby and Bob Hope. But the female lead was played by Joan Collins instead of the old time favorite Dorothy Lamour. Lamour makes a smart guest appearance in the movie for old times sake. This movie was directed by Norman Panama.
Harry Turner and Chester Babock are small time vaudeville actors and Chester suffers a localized amnesia when he is hit on the the head while hawking a do-it-yourself-space kit in India. Harry takes him to a local Lama who feeds him a wonder herb which not only restores his mind but gives him a high speed photographic memory. At the airport, Chester meets Diane, a spy for the “Third Echelon” an organization of mad scientists who are bent upon ruling the world, sorry the universe. Diane mistakes him to be a photographer sent to copy the secret Russian formula for rocket fuel. Chester memorizes the formula just by glancing at it and Diane destroys the other copy.
Soon the mad men are after the con men and they are captured. Both Harry and Chester are send in a rocket in the place of apes and tested upon successfully. The third Echelon members try to sacrifice them for science and send them to a harem to make their final hours wonderful. Diane, by now realizes that her employers are starking mad and decides to help the duo. Soon the trio are in a mad run of an escape.



Dorothy Lamour, an old friend help them outwit the pursuers and keep them at her night club. She alerts the police and the Third Echelon is raided. But Harry, Chester and Diane are trapped in a rocket which takes them to a distant planet called Plutonium where they meet the new comic duo, Frank Sinatra and Dean martin. And thus the baton passes to the next generation.
The last edition of the Road movie was not well received by the audiences and one can safely say that this is the least funniest of the series. It tends to be a spoof of all the spy movies but fails flat on deliverance. The worst transgression was the female lead, Joan Collins who is a poor replacement for Dorothy Lamour. Lamour is infinitely more attractive, stately and talented. It seems that Cosby did not want Lamour because she was too old for the franchise and she had a guest appearance because of Hope's insistence. But I can safely say age has caught up on Bing Cosby's face, more than any of his co-actors of the series. And it is pretty safe to say Joan Collins falling for 60 something Cosby was too far fetched.
This picture was not made by Paramount pictures but by a British company and has hugely spoofed off Dr. No. Many James Bond regulars like, Robert Marley, Syd Cain and Walter Gotell along with Peter Niven appear in this movie. The famous transsexual April Ashley also appears in this movie and due to the gender discriminatory practices of those years, her name was pulled from the credits.
Well this movie is worth the look because of its predecessors, but do not go looking for the yesteryear gags. The magic is gone and the remnants of it promises a glint, not the glitter of gold.

Road to Hong Kong (released in 1962) - starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Joan Collins (the last in the Road series)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Road to Bali (released in 1952) - starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour

The wacky trio Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour star in this penultimate movie of the road series. This is the only movie to be pictured in Technicolor and the last movie to star Lamour. The director of Road to Utopia, Hal Walker makes a come back with this movie.
So again the two vaudeville actors Harold Gridely and George Cochran leave their act mid-way to get away from fathers of the daughters who were romancing them. The fathers armed with boomerangs want a shot gun wedding and the two con artist complete with disguises flee across Melbourne to reach Port Darwin. Here they get the job nobody wants; which is to get Prince Ken Aroke's sunken treasure. Many deep sea divers have lost their lives to a gigantic sea creature who seems to guard the treasure.
But the treasure belongs to the deceased king, who has the beauteous daughter Princess Lalah whom Ken wants to forcibly marry to usurp the throne. Lalah likes George but cannot forget Harold as he resembles her childhood friend – a chimpanzee. This is really one of the most hilarious resemblances in the history of motion pictures. Princess Lalah warns George about the Boga-Ten or the underwater squid which guards the treasure. George tricks Harold in to diving and he is soon accosted by Boga-Ten. Harold slips out of his suit and comes overboard with the treasure only for it to be yanked off by Ken. But the squid pulls out Ken in a deadly embrace leaving the trio rich beyond dreams.



But to escape from Ken, the duo move on with the treasure and the princess towards home. But Harold gets distracted when Lalah says that she loves both of them and the ship gets wrecked on another Island. Here Harold and George are taken in by a very smitten gorilla and even see the mirage of Humphrey Bogart, Hilarious scenes which leave you clutching stitches on your sides.
But as the Gorilla leaves them, barbaric natives cart them off to their homes ostensibly to shrink their brains and skulls. The tribes medicine man Bhoom Da is a friend of Lalah's Father and tries to help them. But their chief Ramayana, is in cahoots with Ken and he tries to persuade Bhoom Da to host a two groom wedding. Both Harold and George are told separately about the wedding and get excited. But they are drugged and wake up only the next day. They soon learn Lalah's fate and rush to rescue her. By that time the volcano erupts scattering the natives and the mad trio escape again.
Harold and George ask Lalah to pick one of them and Lalah picks George. A dejected Harold conjurers up Joan Russell to be his companion. But alas she picks George who walk away in to the sunset with two girls. Howzatt!!! for a perfect ending. Nothing should induce you to keep away from the Road series. Perfectly unbalanced fun, Top class.


Road to Bali (released in 1952) - starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Road to Rio (released in 1947) - starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour

The ultimate comical trio, Bing Cosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour star yet again in this wacky comedy where we have the action all aboard an ocean liner bound to Rio in Brazil. This movie is directed by Norman McLeod.
Scat Sweeney and Hotlips Barton are out of work musicians travel around the world trying to stay out of trouble and women. But inevitably they fail and after starting a fire in the circus with their hare brained act, they become stow aways in a Rio bound ship. They meet Lucia Maria Andrade and are immediately smitten by her. But Lucia blows hot and cold every moment. One time she is sweet and welcoming and the next minute she hands them over to the captain as unwelcome visitors.
Lucia is accompanied by her aunt Catherine Vail who seems to have an uncommon influence over her. She tells them that Lucia is to be married to her brother in Rio. Soon the stow aways discover that Vail is hypnotizing Lucia to keep her under control and some “papers” safe between them.



Both Scat and Hotlips plan to help out Lucia and get her off from Vail's influence. They soon succeed, but the uncanny Lady Vail puts her back under her spell and Lucia slaps them both. She even hypnotizes both of them and makes them fight against each other to the kill. But the boys soon figure out the evil designs of the devilish Aunt and soon reach Rio to rescue the damsel in distress. Lucia is all set to marry Vail's brother and a mysterious stranger informs the boys that the only way to stop the wedding is to retrieve “the papers”. So Scat and Hotlips reach the venue with Hotlips disguised in drag. They manage to hypnotize (again) Aunt Vail's henchmen and retrieve the papers. Scat reads them through and when Hotlips asks him what they are he says “the world should never know”.
So they use these papers to stop the wedding and the ultimate scene includes a cavalry charge from Hope's frequent sidekick Jerry Colonna to rescue the two wedding crashers. So the wedding is crashed, the girl is rescued and the evil aunt put to the test. Hotlips gets the girl and Scat sees him hypnotizing the girl but cannot do anything. The papers are revealed to be the best ultimate secret, the cutest of gags.
This road movie is the longest of the series running up to 100 minutes. But the gags are the same and the punches perfect. My favorite scene is the one when Bing and Bob introduce the Portuguese singers as Americans and teach the musicians one American line each by rote. Just imagine strong Portuguese men with Spanish accent's saying an American phrase by rote: "You're in the groove, Jackson", "You're Telling Me," and "This is Murder." Perfectly hilarious. You need a dose of the road movies to get the blues off your hazy eyes. Good watch always.

Road to Rio (released in 1947) - starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour