Monday, January 19, 2015

10 Films I Saw at the Stanford Theater in 2014

I saw the following 10 films from August 8 to November 1, 2014 at the Stanford Theater.

From August 1 to October 12, the Stanford had a grab bag series:  Mickey Rooney films on Mondays & Tuesdays, Silent films on Wednesday, Charlie Chan, Superman & Sherlock Holmes films on Thursdays and Fridays.  The Stanford's website and program guide stated they would play Superman serials on Thursday & Fridays but I only went once to a Thursday/Friday screening & I saw two Superman serials.  There must have been screening on other nights of the week.

Lauren Bacall passed away on August 12, 2014.  In memoriam, the Stanford screened 10 films starring Bacall from October 17 to November 2.

Charlie Chan at the Opera starring Warner Oland, Boris Karloff & Keye Luke; directed by H. Bruce Humberstone; (1936)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce & Ida Lupino; directed by Alfred L. Werker; (1939)
Love Finds Andy Hardy starring Mickey Rourke, Judy Garland, Ann Rutherford & Lana Turner; directed by George B. Seitz; (1938)
Flying Hostess starring William Gargan; directed by Murray Roth; (1936)
Gigi starring Leslie Caron & Louis Jourdan; directed by Vincente Minneli; (1958)
The Reluctant Debutante starring Rex Harrison, Kay Kendall, John Saxon & Sandra Dee; directed by Vincente Minneli; (1958)
Dodsworth starring Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Paul Lukas, Mary Astor & David Niven; directed by William Wyler; (1936)
The Devil and Daniel Webster starring Edward Arnold & Walter Huston; directed by William Dieterle; (1941)
Written on the Wind starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack & Dorothy Malone; directed by Douglas Sirk; (1956)
The Cobweb starring Richard Widmark & Lauren Bacall; with Charles Boyer, Gloria Grahame, Lilian Gish, Oscar Levant, Fay Wray & Susan Strasberg; directed by Vincente Minneli; (1955)
Designing Woman starring Lauren Bacall & Gregory Peck; directed by Vincente Minneli; (1957)


The Stanford screened the 1948 Superman serial which consisted of 15 episodes.  Looking at the episode list, I realize that I saw chapters 1 & 14 at the Stanford.  Kirk Alyn played Superman & Noel Neill played Lois Lane.  I was familiar with Neill from Adventures of Superman, the George Reeves television series.  She played Lane for 5 of the 6 years the series was on the air.  I didn't see enough episodes to form an opinion except it seems odd without the George Reeves' led cast in the roles of Superman, Jimmy Olson & Perry White.

Charlie Chan at the Opera was on a double bill with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  Since first seeing the films on television as a boy, I have found the Charlie Chan films to be silly.  It could be that I was subconsciously aware of the racist depiction of Chan.  I didn't realize Warner Oland and Peter Toler were white until a few years after seeing my first Charlie Chan film.  However, it was more likely that the outlandish power of deduction that Chan exhibits struck me as ridiculous even at a young age.  It didn't help that he said things like "Confucius say man who..."  Even with Boris Karloff in the cast, Charlie Chan at the Opera couldn't keep my attention.  Boris Karloff played an escaped insane asylum patient who goes to the opera house to kill his wife.  Several people end up murdered and several more have motive to murder the deceased.  Chan sees clues no one else does, lays a trap for the killer and Chan's #1 son helps by getting his Chinese American college buddies from UCLA or USC to be supernumeraries in the opera.  I can't remember too many scenes.  This was the first Chan/Sherlock double feature of the series.  After seeing it, I wasn't inclined to go to any more.

Whereas I was never a fan of the Charlie Chan films, I watched the Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce repeatedly if not necessarily enthusiastically.  I can't articulate why I liked Holmes better than Chan.  Even today, I'll watch the Cumberbatch or Miller versions of Holmes on television.  The plot to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is that Moriarity is distracting Holmes by encouraging a man to take revenge on the family of the man who killed his father.  His weapon of choice is bolas!  This all done so that Moriarty can steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.  A young Ida Lupino plays the damsel in distress.  I didn't dislike The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes but I wasn't engaged with it like I was at an earlier age or with the numerous other Sherlock Holmes projects.  I had considered making a few trips to the Stanford on Fridays to see Chan & Holmes but after this experience, I didn't go back.


Love Finds Andy Hardy & Flying Hostess was a double feature.

Unlike Charlie Chan & Sherlock Holmes, I don't remember seeing an Andy Hardy film growing up.  Somewhere along the line, I either saw portions of a film or read enough about the series to understand the set up.  I chose Love Finds Andy Hardy because a 17 year old Lana Turner was in it.  That last sentence must sound borderline criminal.

In Love Finds Andy Hardy, Andy (Mickey Rooney) is juggling three girls.  As Xmas approaches, Andy has two goals - buy a new car and get a date for the Christmas Eve Dance.  His regular gal Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford)  is going to be out of town for the dance.  Andy's pal will be out of town for a few weeks so to keep the wolves at bay, he pays Andy to take his girlfriend Cynthia (Lana Turner) out in his absence.  That works out fine because Andy needs the money for the car he bought without his father's permission.  One thing leads to another & Andy doesn't get a date for the dance...until next door neighbor Betsy Booth (Judy Garland) comes to the rescue.

Considering the country was still in the Great Depression & WWII was three years later, Andy Hardy's problems seem petty.  That's with the benefit of hindsight though.  My main complaint with the film is Mickey Rooney's frequent mugging for the camera.  He must have been encouraged to do so by the director.  Love Finds Andy Hardy portrays a simpler time that never existed in a manner that seems ridiculous today.  A young Judy Garland really had a winning screen presence.  She could convey vulnerability very well.  She was so young & fresh scrubbed.

Flying Hostess was an obscure Universal film about the rigorous training flight stewardess undergo.  If the film is accurate, in the 1930s stewardesses needed to first be RNs.  Flying Hostess follows three young ladies as they make their way through training.  One of them drops out to marry a shady character.  Another gets involved with an airline pilot and head of the flight stewardess training program.  If I recall correctly, the third one was the funny but homely one.  Foreshadowing Airplane! by 45 years, the finale involves one of the stewardesses having to land the plane because the pilot & co-pilot were incapacitated.  Flying Hostess was an enjoyable if not entirely memorable film.  Andy Devine was the most recognizable actor in the cast although I also recognized William Gargan's name from some of Elliot Lavine's film noir programs at the Roxie.


Gigi The Reluctant Debutante was a double bill.

While a teenager, they restored Gigi and HBO showed it.  As a teenage boy, musicals were not high on my list film genres but I liked Gigi.  A Lerner & Loewe musical directed by Vincente Minneli, great things were expected of Gigi and it delivered.  Gigi is the story of a young woman (Leslie Caron who was the second choice after Audrey Hepburn), who comes from a family of courtesan in the turn-of-the-century Paris.  Gaston (Louis Jourdan) is an old family friend and the most notorious playboy among the boulevardiers.  Still rambunctious, Gigi is quickly coming into her own and has a youthful joie de vivre that Gaston cannot resist.  Initially reluctant to live the negotiated life of a high-end mistress, Gigi eventually consents to be Gaston's mistress...until he realizes he loves her.

It's rather a sordid situation.  I couldn't help but think of the scene in Pretty Baby where Brooke Shields' virginity is auctioned off.  Essentially, Gigi's relatives are training her to be a courtesan and are prepared to engage in negotiations to get the best deal for her.  I recall this arrangement from a tour of New Orleans once.  Whenever Gigi objects to this life choice being made for her, she is upbraided for her obstinacy.  First she agrees to Gaston's terms and then he backs out & decides he wants to marry her instead.  I'm sure that made for a strong marital foundation.

By modern standards, the situation sounds barbaric.  That's overthinking the film.  Gigi is first & foremost a musical and has many memorable songs.  Maurice Chevalier as Gaston's uncle croons "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" and later sings a famous duet with Gigi's grandmother (Hermione Gingold) called "I Remember It Well."   "The Night They Invented Champagne" is also a very memorable number.  Like a young Judy Garland, Leslie Caron is vivacious and irresistible in the title role.  Chevalier steals the film with his comical scenes.

The Reluctant Debutante is a formulaic film which had its moments but I never really got into.  Sandra Dee is an American teenager who visits her father (divorced from her mother) in England.  Her father (Rex Harrison) complies with his 2nd wife's (Kay Kendall) desire to introduce the young woman to London society via debutante balls and the "coming out" season.  These events and stiff British boys bore Sandra Dee because she is really interested in John Saxon, a drummer in a band that plays at these society events.  Kendall & Angela Lansbury, on behalf of their daughters, compete for party dates and guests.  Rex Harrison was amusing as the bewildered father.  The Reluctant Debutante served to fill out the evening after Gigi but otherwise it was nothing particularly memorable.


Dodsworth & The Devil and Daniel Webster was a double feature.

William Wyler is the most nominated director in Oscar history with 12 Best Director nominations.  I have made it goal to see all 12 films.  Counting Dodsworth (1936), I have seen four since starting this blog:  The Letter (1940), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) & Roman Holiday (1953).  I've seen Ben-Hur (1959) several times and I seem to recall seeing it at the Castro but apparently not since 2007.  I remember seeing Wuthering Heights on TV as a teeanger.  That leaves half the films to be seen:  The Little Foxes (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Heiress (1949). Detective Story (1952), Friendly Persuasion (1957) & The Collector (1965).

Dodsworth is an excellent film.  Based on a Sinclair Lewis novel, Dodsworth is the story of Sam (Walter Huston) & Fran (Ruth Chatterton) Dodsworth.  Sam is the founder and CEO of an automobile company.  Urged by his wife Fran, Sam sells his company and takes her on a European vacation.  Fran is the doyenne of high society in their small Midwestern town but Fran sees herself as a worldly sophisticate thwarted by lifelong circumstances (chiefly her dullard husband).  On their vacation, she flirts with men, pretends to be younger than she is and ultimately dispatches Sam back home so she can have a proper extramarital affair without her pesky husband getting in the way.  Bored by the European social scene his wife finds fascinating, Sam returns home to his daughter & son-in-law.

Upon his return, Sam feels out of sorts.  For the first time in his life, he has no job, no wife and no plans.  He becomes irritable and rightly begins to suspect his wife of having an affair in Europe.  Using his business contacts to confirm the affair, Sam sets out for Europe again to put a stop to it.  When confronted, Fran initially denies the affair but when she sees it is futile, she admits to it and begs for forgiveness.  Sam takes her back but she quickly changes her mind and ask for a divorce; partly because she discovers she is a new grandmother and she feels a woman as vibrant as her is too young to be a grandmother.  Fran quickly takes up with a younger German or Austrian Baron who proposes marriage which satisfies two needs - a younger man to reflect her own self-view and the aristocratic title of Baroness.

Sam wanders Europe waiting for the divorce to become final.  He bumps into an American divorcee (Mary Astor) whom he met on the ocean liner over from America.  Sam quickly finds his bearings with his new companion who much better suited than Fran ever was.  When the Baron's mother object to the marriage based on Fran's age, Fran desperately telephones Sam to call of the divorce.  Sam initially agrees out of a sense of loyalty & self-sacrifice but as their ocean liner is about to set sail for America, he gets off the ship to be with Astor to screams of Fran.

Ruth Chatterton is tremendous in her role as the fickle & self-conscious Fran Dodsworth.  Her insecurities and misguided ambitions tear apart her marriage which is likely a better outcome for her husband.  Walter delivers the kind of performance I've seen from his in American Madness & The Shanghai Gesture.

The Devil and Daniel Webster featured strong performances by Huston & Edward Albert in the title roles, respectively.  Interestingly, Thomas Mitchell was originally cast as Daniel Webster & several scenes were filmed with him in the role before he was injured during the filming and replaced by Albert.  Simone Simon is also memorable in a small role as the beautiful associate of Mr. Scratch who helps to keep Jabez Stone on the path to damnation.  I thought Huston was a little too hammy as the devil and Albert a little too stolid as Webster but that is quibbling.  My viewing of The Devil and Daniel Webster suffered because it followed Dodsworth.


Written on the Wind and The Cobweb were on a Lauren Bacall double feature.

Written on the Wind is the quintessential Douglas Sirk melodrama.  I have long wanted to see it.  I didn't even realize that Lauren Bacall was in the cast.  Robert Stack is Kyle Hadley, the scion of a wealthy oil family.  He is also an alcoholic...and suffers from low sperm count.  He falls in love with his level headed secretary, Lucy Moore (Bacall).  He quickly marries her despite the subtle objections of his best friend Mitch (Rock Hudson).  Lucy doesn't know what she is getting into when she arrives at the Hadley residence:  the senior Hadley provides some stability but clearly his parenting skills are lacking.  His son is an alcoholic and his daughter (Dorothy Malone) an self-destructive and loose woman who harbors not-so-secret desires towards Mitch.  The senior Hadley (Robert Keith) all but begs Mitch to marry his daughter but Mitch wisely declines; partly out of wariness of Marylee but also because he recognizes his attraction to Lucy.  In this cloistered environment the passions simmer and the jealousies come to the forefront.  Kyle suspects Mitch's true feelings; Marylee is jealous of Lucy's hold on her brother & Mitch.  Lucy increasingly aware of and reciprocating Mitch's feelings.  There is an accidental death and false accusation which ratchet up the melodrama.

Written on the Wind very much has the look & feel of a 1950 melodrama.  It seems overblown by 2014 standards but I have to admit I was entertained.

The Cobweb is an ensemble piece set in a mental institution.  Widmark is the psychiatrist who is experimenting with a kind of self-governing form of group therapy.  Bacall is the art instructor at the institution who hasn't recovered from her huband's death.  Gloria Grahame is Widmark's frustrated wife who flirts with infidelity.  Lilian Gish is the tight-fisted administrator of the facility.  Charles Boyer is the medical director of the facility who is having an affair with his secretary.  As you can imagine, there were all sorts of subplots...the most entertaining being a power struggle between Bacall, Grahame & Gish over the new curtains in the library.

Like Written on the Wind, The Cobweb uses small gestures to make melodrama out of the trivial although I suppose the plight of mental patients and state of mental healthcare is anything but trivial.  Both films remind me that entertaining films need not be major artistic statements.

Designing Woman was paired with How to Marry a Millionaire but I skipped that film.  Designing Woman is a lightweight but fun romance of opposites.  Sophisticated fashion designer Lauren Bacall falls in love with the working class newspaperman Gregory Peck.  There is some subplot about a crooked boxing promoter that puts Peck in danger but frankly, I can't remember that too well.  The most memorable part of the film was the easy screen chemistry between Bacall & Peck.  They should have made more films together.

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