Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Bookmark and Share
Tuesday, Nov 18, 2014
This film is, above all, a technical accomplishment, but it has languished since its 1938 release.

This expensive epic focuses on a little-told historical subject. While the initial California Gold Rush of 1849 has often been used as a background for films and stories, this screenplay by Warren Duff and Robert Buckner (from Clements Ripley’s novel) focuses on the Sacramento Valley rush of 1877, specifically on the use of hydraulic mining to wash away tons of mud onto the farmland below, leading to environmental and legal conflict between farmers and miners. The latter aren’t rugged individualists but employees of fatcat syndicates in San Francisco, who are depicted as shallow and greedy while the farmers are the salt of the earth. Real issues and philosophies are discussed before the destructive climactic action literally washes everything away when everyone disregards the law.

Bookmark and Share
Monday, Nov 17, 2014
This RKO item will appeal to fans of Olivia de Havilland and those with a sociological interest in wartime propaganda, but few others.

As a romantic comedy, Government Girl has one of those plots where the two leads annoy each other instantly and spend the movie shouting, the better to prove their love, which they don’t figure out until the audience is long past ready to go home. In this corner: Miss de Havilland as an efficient secretary who indulges the kind of slapstick shenanigans she didn’t usually get to deploy. In the other corner: Sonny Tufts as the new loud honcho in charge of building airplanes for the war effort, and who’s ready to cut every corner as he bulldozes through the bureaucracy. Alas, the one looks mainly like de Havilland crawling on the floor and jumping on sofas, and the other looks like Tufts in full bellow.

Bookmark and Share
Friday, Nov 14, 2014
A 20 years too late sequel with some sporadically funny stuff measured out across an ever decreasing level of interest.

Want to know the difference 20 years makes? Two decades ago, Twitter was still 12 years away, Facebook a mere ten. Taylor Swift was four. Justin Bieber had just been born. The Matrix had yet to be released, and the only success Marvel could muster was the original Fantastic Four. If you live to be 80, two decades is one fourth of your life, and if you were a new parent at the start of 1994, your kid is either in college or moved back in with you by now.

Thomas Wolfe wrote the famous book You Can’t Go Home Again way back in 1940, but its titular sentiment still applies, even today. You really can’t recapture lightning in a bottle. About the best you can do is set-up your current situation to mimic the past as closely as possible, thereby hoping that, via karma or some unspoken magic, you can once again taste the fruits of your previous labors. That was clearly the plan for the Farrelly Brothers’ Dumb and Dumber To.

Bookmark and Share
Thursday, Nov 13, 2014
This spaghetti western is clearly a prelude to Sergio Bergonzelli's later sexploitaiton films.

I’m sure there are others, but The Last Gun is the only Spaghetti Western I can think of that begins with voice-over narration. “The fast draw holds the law in its hands, and the big gun was boss,” says a friendly cowboy voice that would be better suited for a Disney animation. “Now being boss wasn’t just a matter of opinion. You had to be fast, real fast—faster than Jim Hart’s left hand.”

We then see some washed-up old man who should be holding a pitchfork instead of gun challenge Jim Hart (Cameron Mitchell) to a duel. Hart fails to talk the guy out of it, so he has no choice but to use his left hand to draw a gun and shoot him down dead.

Bookmark and Share
Wednesday, Nov 12, 2014
I Live My Life is a film that lands in the lineage of the '30s films about the screwball comedy derived from marital bickering.

Here are the rules for a film like I Live My Life: a man and woman must spend the whole movie arguing in order to prove they’re made for each other, and a headstrong woman must ultimately give way to what the man wants. In the wake of the 1934 classics It Happened One Night and Twentieth Century (which are more even-handed), Hollywood unleashed a flood of bickering screwballs, of which Joan Crawford and Brian Aherne play their parts as Kay Bentley and Terry O’Neill in I Live My Life.

Kay, a spoiled heiress of self-parodic lapels, literally stumbles into Terry’s archaeological dig on the island of Naxos. The smug archeologist is excavating a Venus, and he compares himself to Pygmalion, leading Kay to call him Pyg. Their literary and articulate repartee is courtesy of writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz. He erects a three-part structure that wobbles in the last act (when Terry tries to be an executive vice-president) but makes up for it by getting louder. Crawford fans will enjoy the fire when she unleashes her anger, as she’s far more interesting in those scenes than when politely apologizing or casting down her face and making cow-eyes, though she always retains a fierce sense of control.

Now on PopMatters
PM Picks

© 1999-2014 All rights reserved.™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.