Kehr’s Weekly Recap: The Pirate (1948)

A broad and beautiful Vincente Minnelli musical (1948) with a rich score by Cole Porter. In a Technicolor Caribbean, traveling player Gene Kelly is in love with demure maiden Judy Garland, but she has lustier fantasies, pining after the magnificent pirate Black Mococo. Lively, colorful, and lyrical—Minnelli was married to Garland at the time, and it shows in some of the most romantic close-ups ever put on film. 102 min.

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Kehr’s Weekly Recap: The Great Race (1965)

Blake Edwards‘s parody of/tribute to slapstick comedy is obscenely overlong and insistently hammy, but so what? It’s highly inventive, self-conscious camp, made in 1965, well before the genre wore itself out in superciliousness. The story centers on a New York to Paris road race (think about that for a while) between the Great Leslie, a white-suited, teeth-flashing Tony Curtis, and the unscrupulous Professor Fate— Jack Lemmon in a Mack Sennett mustache. Very funny; creatively vulgar. 160 min.

 

Kehr’s Weekly Recap: Picnic (1955)

The sometimes underrated Joshua Logan made his directorial debut with this overripe 1955 Daniel Taradash adaptation of a characteristically hyperbolic William Inge play, and the surprising thing is how much of it works—at least until the climactic dance scene with William Holden and Kim Novak, when camp and hysteria tend to take over. Jo Mielziner does such a formidable job of adapting his own theatrical set designs to homespun midwestern locations that you wonder at times if he—and maybe cinematographer James Wong Howe—shouldn’t be credited as codirectors. The secondary cast—Rosalind Russell, Susan Strasberg, Betty Field, Cliff Robertson, and Arthur O’Connell—also keep things pretty lively. 115 min.

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Kehr Capsule of the Week: Gone with the Wind (1939)

A critic-proof movie if there ever was one: it isn’t all that good, but somehow it’s great. The first part, in which the gracefully moving camera of George Cukor (soon to be replaced) establishes the ordered world of Tara in elegant visual terms, is really very fine. But the last half is all slow, desultory denouement, and the death of the little girl is the dirtiest kind of screenwriter’s trick. No one I know of has yet solved the secret of this 1939 film’s apparently timeless appeal, though I’d guess it has something to do with the elaborate mechanisms of fate, history, and sex brought to bear on Scarlett, whose overweening libido must be punished as magnificently as it has been celebrated. The striking color overlays, which are the film’s sole stylistic eccentricity, were the contribution of that cryptic auteur, production designer William Cameron Menzies. Victor Fleming signed it, though there were many, many fingers in this particular pie. 222 min.

Kehr Capsule of the Week: It’s Alive (1974)

Larry Cohen’s cultish 1974 horror film. The plotting is never less than clever and suggestive: it reduces the Exorcist ethos to its essentials, in the figure of a mutant baby that murders the doctors and nurses in the delivery room and goes on to attack society at large, happily gurgling all the while. It’s certainly a vivid image of something deep and dark within the nuclear family, though it’s hard to say exactly what. This rough, vague film has attracted the interest of psychoanalytically inclined academic critics, who’ve found plenty of room to maneuver within its broad symbolic outlines. Still, it isn’t that well made—it seems more potent in retrospect. With John Ryan and Sharon Farrell.

Kehr Capsule of the Week: Slightly Scarlet (1956)

A major film (1956) by Allan Dwan, who, after Raoul Walsh, was the most expressively kinetic director in American film. The plot is a complicated affair borrowed from the James M. Cain novel Love’s Lovely Counterfeit: a high-ranking mobster is assigned to get some dirt on a reform candidate for mayor but ends up falling in love with the politician’s secretary—which touches off a series of power plays for control of both the city and the syndicate. It’s also that rare item, the color noir, photographed by the great John Alton. With John Payne (who became a first-rate noir performer after shucking his drippy musical-comedy image at Fox), Arlene Dahl, Rhonda Fleming, and lots of other 50s icons.

Kehr Capsule of the Week: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

It’s almost impossible to define this 1943 masterpiece by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It was ostensibly based on a cartoon series that satirized the British military class, yet its attitude toward the main character is one of affection, respect, and sometimes awe; it was intended as a propaganda film, yet Churchill wanted to suppress it; it has the romantic sweep of a grand love story, yet none of the romantic relationships it presents is truly fulfilled, and the film’s most lasting bond is one between the British colonel (Roger Livesey) and his Prussian counterpart (Anton Walbrook). Pressburger’s screenplay covers 40 years in the colonel’s life through a series of brilliantly constructed flashbacks, compressions, and ellipses; Powell’s camera renders the winding plot through boldly deployed Technicolor hues and camera movements of exquisite design and expressivity. It stands as very possibly the finest film ever made in Britain. With Deborah Kerr, Roland Culver, and James McKechnie. 163 min.