Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Are you packing?" "Yes, dear, I'm putting away this liquor."

After the Thin Man -- Yep, I'm still officially an official Nick & Nora fan. While there didn't seem to be as much boozing as in the first one, the couple seemed to have gotten a lot more adorable. I thought that the murder mystery this time was more interesting as well. Also, a very young Jimmy Stewart was involved! Asta the dog had a little more screen time, with puppies (aww!) and a cheating wife. Again, I thought his scenes were going to be overly cloying, but once more he proved me wrong! I seriously want a dog just like him.

We get to see Nick and Nora's different backgrounds. Nick's friends are all newsmen, paperboys, prizefighters, pickpockets, and the usual rough fare that comes from being a former flatfoot. Nora's family is rich and haughty, mainly consisting of old stodgy biddies who tell her how sorry they are that she's married to Nick -- right in front of him. That was pretty harsh!

Nick and Nora sleeping in separate beds somehow adds to their adorability. There's a scene where Nora can't sleep, so she turns on the light and lays on her side facing him. "I like to watch you sleep," she says. "You're so cute. Do you have any pictures of you when you were a baby?" "No," he mumbles, trying to get some shuteye, "but you can take one in the morning." And then she talks about scrambled eggs, and he gets up and offers to make some for her but she says no, never mind. So he gets back into bed and she's all, "But you are a better cook than I am." Eventually, at the end of this scene, he gets up to cook her some eggs because she's basically just so darn cute. I'm explaining it really badly, but the whole thing just kinda tickled me. (Plus, I realize now that this scene totally sets up the movie's ending.)

This is not a nitpick, just a curious observation: why...why did the detective from the San Francisco police department have this really grating Chicago-ish accent? Did all Chicago/New York detectives get transferred to San Francisco during the 1930s and '40s? Because I haven't seen a detective movie set anywhere other than Chicago or New York where the lead detective didn't have an accent.

Speaking of accents, this is a nitpick: the Lychee club owner, Dancer, was in the beginning derided for being a "kraut," at least I think he was, and then at the end, he suddenly gained an Irish accent. Either I didn't notice it at first because it was bad, or I noticed it because it got worse. In any case, I had to pause the movie and say aloud, "Wait, when did he become Irish?!" It didn't really matter, it just threw me.

Oh, and for once, I didn't really mind the way the Asian characters were portrayed. One of them even spoke in perfect American English. Go figure!

The gag in which the butler says "Walk this way" and the guest imitates his funny walk occurs in this movie. And for all this time, I thought Mel Brooks invented it.

Overall a really fun film! Another Thin Man, coming up next.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

OTP circa 1934

The Thin Man stars William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, who are a former detective and his rich wife. They are such an adorable couple. They drink a lot, suffer hangovers, and throw snaps and barbs at each other and make faces, all carried out with the most playful affection I have ever seen onscreen. And because of this chemistry, they're also quite sexy together, even though they sleep in separate beds.

It's a complicated mystery (beautifully filmed, too, with nice use of lighting and shadows) full of one-liners and witty banter that's almost as quick paced as a Marx Brothers movie. In once scene, a police detective is rummaging through Nora's dresser. She blurts out, "What's that man doing in my drawers?" And Nick does a spit-take.

Their terrier Asta is adorable as well. I thought he'd be an annoying, extraneous animal actor, but he actually played a nice third wheel to Nick and Nora's antics.

And Myrna Loy was so cute and made the most amusing expressions. Her enthusiasm for martinis rivals Karen Walker's on "Will & Grace."

Turns out the movie will be on TCM this Tuesday. Catch it if the 1930s is your thing.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

There is such a thing as too evil.

I'm officially a Richard Widmark fan. I first saw him in No Way Out, in which he played a vile racist opposite Sidney Poitier's interning doctor. Last night I watched another piece of noir called The Street With No Name where he was the dapper leader of a gang of thugs. Oh. He was evil. I've rarely seen evil played so well, so coolly, so brutally. And in these two characters there was underlying cowardice as well, and Widmark just absolutely hit the nail on the head. I would say that as an actor he's definitely on par with James Cagney in the bad guy role. So now I've just added a whole bunch of his movies to my Netflix queue. Apparently he did a lot of westerns, and while I'm not really a fan of the genre, I will certainly watch a good western now and then.

But about The Street With No Name. Its opening theme and the first 15 minutes or so seemed straight out of a newsreel documentary about the FBI. It was like "J. Edgar Hoover: Crime Scene Investigator!" When they showed trainee Gene Cordell (played by Mark Stevens, the lead dude) at a shooting range, they gave him posters of Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson to shoot at. Cordell is recruited to investigate a series of robberies and murders that the authorities think were carried out by the same gang, so he goes undercover as a seedy drifter type, with another agent covertly looking out for him and relaying any information back to the Bureau. Going under the name of George Manley (heh), he's given a full fake criminal background and documents.

Cordell wanders into a gym where bets are taken on boxers. Upon scanning the crowd of onlookers, he spots a group of well-dressed men who seem to be overseeing the operations. (And they were rather pretty in their suits and fedoras, I must say. 'Specially this one guy in a dark pinkstriped suit...but more about him later.) And then the movie really starts when Alec Stiles (Widmark) makes his entrance, all cool and sinister, and you know by his look that he's the big boss around here, and he happens to own the gym, too, so all that gambling money is his. Cordell needs to get in good with him somehow, so he starts heckling one of the fighters. Stiles challenges him and says he'll give him $5 for every round he goes with that boxer. Cordell says make it $10, and it's a deal. After holding his own in the ring for two rounds, and after some banter with Stiles, Stiles decides to look into him via his super-special screening process. One of his thugs has already gone through Cordell's pockets and stolen his fake Social Security card. And from that, Stiles finds out all he needs to know, thanks to secret connections in the police department.

Stiles runs a tight little gang of thieves. He welcomes Cordell into it after he "passes" the screening process (that fake criminal record was convincing, I guess), and gives him a roll of cash to buy himself some new clothes, because he says, "I like my boys to look sharp." And he's kind of hot when he says that. Speaking of hot, the guy in the dark pinstriped suit from earlier, his nickname happens to be Shivvy because he carries a pocketknife. He's played by actor Donald Buka, and I wish I'd taken some screencaps because he was so pretty.

Stiles shows his brutal, neurotic side fairly early when he's seen habitually inhaling menthol, and then while at home he snaps at his wife for leaving the window open ("You open that window again and I'll throw you out of it!"). He also reams one of his guys for giving a stolen fur coat to a girlfriend. He's prone to smacking people's faces with precision whenever he loses his temper. All this is worthy of an ideal bad guy. But then suddenly the character loses all its appeal when you see for sure that, yeah, wow, he's bad, in a scene where he (falsely) accuses his wife of tipping off the cops to a big heist. When she smacks him, he goes ballistic, straddling her on the bed and pinning her arms while he hits her again and again. Now, the camera pans up a little so we don't actually see his hand strike her, but I was like damn, man. I think that's the turning point where you believe that Cordell will really be in trouble if he's ever exposed.

Widmark definitely carried this movie, but overall, it was really, really good. The engaging character actors, the tight scenes, and the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography make for an entertaining, fast-paced 90 minutes. Two minor issues I had with it were, as I said before, the dry and dated opening sequence ("We're the FBI and we are so awesome!"), and the boxing scene, which I thought went on a bit long. At least they looked like they were actually hitting each other, though.