Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

The Shop Around the Corner is one of those films that seem to get better each time you see it. The warmth that projects from the screen and the teaming of James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are only two things that make this movie a standout in the filmographies of all involved.

The fluffy but pleasant story benefits greatly from the “Lubitsch touch”, since director Ernst Lubitsch had the knack of giving significance to little things without taking them too seriously. Presenting his characters honestly yet sympathetically, he makes the somewhat contrived situation seem believable and worth caring about. Its appeal comes across as almost effortless, but you only have to compare it with the less effective 1998 remake You’ve Got Mail to see how important the right touch is with this kind of story.

In Budapest, Hungary, the Matuschek and Company store owned by Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) and the bachelor Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) is his best and most experienced salesman. When Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) seeks a job position of saleswoman in the store, Matuschek hires her but she and Kralik do not get on with each other. Stewart and Sullavan are delightful as the clerks in love with romance and then with each other - without knowing it. Their dialogue - so adeptly handled as to seem utterly natural - perfectly conveys their confusion & quiet desperation as they seek for soul mates.
At its surface, one might assume The Shop Around the Corner to simply be the story of two lovers, Klara Novak (Sullavan) and Alfred Kralik (Stewart), who love each other without knowing it. However, Lubitsch's film runs much deeper than that. It's the story of Matuschek and Compan, and the various human relationships that make the store such a close-knit family. When storeowner Matuschek begins to suspect his oldest employee of having an affair with his wife, we witness the breakdown of two families, both at home and at work. Ernst Lubitsch really does himself proud with this film; the charm of the simple story is that it is so real and relatable.

The atmosphere of life in the Budapest shop is set up efficiently and convincingly, and the cast all settle into their roles seamlessly. As the leads, Jimmy Stewart works perfectly and Margaret Sullavan conveys the right balance of spunkiness and vulnerability. Felix Bressart is invaluable, giving perhaps the finest performance among his many character roles. In some of his scenes, he barely has to say a word to make you smile. Frank Morgan is surprisingly good in a role rather different than usual for him, Joseph Schildkraut is effectively oily as the deceitful Vadas, and the others all help out, too. Lubitsch gives all of the characters a chance to come to life without pretense, just by using simple details effectively.
It all fits together very well, with a great cast and a nice blend of wit and sentiment. The film moves at just the right pace and makes you a part of the characters' world. It makes for a very enjoyable movie that holds up very well even after several viewings and for its age.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sinatra, The Actor

When most people think of Frank Sinatra, they think of him as a singer, not as an actor. I was surprised to find he had a long acting career when I first became a fan. But he was much more than just a singer who could act in musicals and his Academy Award win for From Here To Eternity wasn't pure luck. Unlike the singers today who think they can act and vice-versa, he had real talent.

I feel that a lot of people don't give Frank enough credit for his acting abilities, so I came up with this small list of performances that showcase what he was capable of on screen. If you're not a huge fan his acting, then try watching a few of these movies.

From Here to Eternity (1953) was the movie that really made Frank take acting seriously. He desperately wanted the role of Maggio and after he got it, he did all he could to turn out a fantastic performance. His hard work paid off and he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role. When he won the part, his career was in decline, but with the Oscar both his acting and recording career skyrocketed and he became a superstar.

In Suddenly (1954) Frank Sinatra plays a ruthless criminal mastermind who wants to assassinate the president who is traveling through the small town en route to a fishing trip. He is downright brutal and nasty in the role--an utterly detestable villain who does remind us the it was the army that created him and made him into a killer or maybe deep down, it's just that he was always a killer at heart. An outstanding multi-dimensional performance from Sinatra.

The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) is in my opinion Sinatra's best performance on film. He is absolutely astounding as Frankie Machine, a junkie trying to conquer addiction. He made the role so realistic and incredibly believable. He clearly deserved the only Best Actor nomination of his career for this performance.

Some Came Running (1958) has Frank Sinatra playing a footloose writer returning to his Midwestern home town right after World War II. It's essentially a smart soap opera, with some very deep emotions and Sinatra (and the rest of the cast included) is brilliant. In my opinion, he was perfectly cast.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) This film features Sinatra's most complex and subtle performance of the 1960s. Sinatra plays Bennett Marco, a Korean War vet who is having troubling nightmares about what happened to him in Korea when his unit was attacked. Unbeknown to the survivors of the unit, they had been taken by the Koreans and transported to China, where they were brainwashed. Marco begins an investigation into what really happened and must stop a murder from being committed.

Though Sinatra often coasted through his roles, especially in the 1960s, he proved that he was much more than the song and dance man in musicals. He really could be a great actor when he wanted to be.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Breaking Point (1950)

I always look forward to TCM's Summer Under the Stars each August, because it gives me an oppurtunity to see often overlooked films starring my favorite actors. Such is the case with this 1950 Warner Bros. release directed by Michael Curtiz and starring John Garfield, The Breaking Point.

Warner Bros. had originally made this film six years earlier as To Have and Have Not with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. That film was very loosely based on the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name, but really the only thing similar to the novel was its title as the story department had rewritten the entire script which made it have an entirely different plot.

Upon its release, Hemingway said this movie was the best film adaption of any of his books to date, and there had been quite a few. Though To Have and Have Not had sizzling chemistry between its stars, the plot here is much more compelling. The Breaking Point is about a charter boat captain, Harry Morgan (played by John Garfield), who reluctantly falls foul with the law while trying to make ends meet for himself and his family. His plain wife (Phyllis Thaxter) begs him to give up the boat and find a more stable job after a fishing party lets him down stranding him without money in Mexico, forcing him to take illegal migrants on his boat back to the United States. If he wants to get home, Harry has no choice but to comply as he needs at least $100 to clear port.

Patricia Neal plays a two-timing woman and has minimal involvement in the plot. Later in the movie a shyster lawyer inveigles Harry to take a quartet of gangsters out to sea when they flee after their racetrack heist - culminating in the picture's gripping and climactic set piece - a suspenseful and bloody shootout on board.

Everything in the film moves along at swift pace. The crisp cinematography by Ted McCord (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Johnny Belendia) gives the film a low-key visual style. The movie didn't do well at the box office because by the time it was released John Garfield (who was in talks with Warner's to sign a long term contract) had already been targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Warner Bros. therefore did very little to promote the movie and distanced themselves from the star. However, Garfield gives one of his best performances in this rarely seen gem. The Breaking Point is a terrific film that I recommend.

First Post!

Hello! Welcome to Gold Hollywood! The title is quite self-explanatory; this will eventually become a classic film blog where I will post about classic Hollywood films, actors, directors, the occasional music post, and anything else related to the Golden Age of Cinema and the 1930s-1960sy in general.

I am very excited about discussing my love for old Hollywood, but I'm just as ecstatic to find other people who share my interest and also to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave comments. :)

Right now I have no idea who or what to post about first. So please come back soon when I actually have something interesting to say. :D

- Jen