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Friday, Mar 28, 2014
Jack Benny meets a money pit.

According to the back of the box, Manhattanite Moss Hart moved to the country and renovated a Colonial estate. Out of this experience, he and co-writer George S. Kaufman hatched George Washington Slept Here, one of their many hit Broadway comedies. It was “opened out” into a film version that’s still funny today, despite or because of the loud and obvious nature of the humor, which involves Jack Benny falling through ceilings and down stairs with no more result than spouting one more exasperated, sarcastic one-liner.


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Friday, Mar 28, 2014
Paging Geraldine

Now available on demand from Warner Archive is Dear Heart, a gentle comedy for wistful romantic shut-ins, or perhaps a light drama that slips into comedy. It’s a showcase for Geraldine Page as Evie Jackson, a talkative, lonely postmaster (“I suppose I should say postmistress but it sounds too racy”) who arrives in New York for an annual convention. She’s a needy warm-hearted person who pushes at the edge of desperation before pulling herself back to self-deprecation. Page perfected this type so well, she eventually won an Oscar for it 20 years later with a movie called The Trip to Bountiful.


Evie’s unmarried but she’s tasted the apple. She’s been around with one or two of these conventioneers and now longs for something permanent. She’s like a more modern, midwestern, less doomed version of a Tennessee Williams heroine, perhaps from The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone or The Eccentricities of a Nightingale. When she’s not leaving herself phone messages or having herself paged, she bumps into a greeting-card salesman called Harry Mork (Glenn Ford). He’s also ready to settle down and has impulsively proposed to Phyllis (Angela Lansbury), who has a grown but boyish son (Michael Anderson Jr.) who drops in out of the blue. Much is made of Phyllis hailing from Altoona.


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Friday, Mar 28, 2014
Thanks less than a million.

Did you hear the one about the idealistic politician who learns he must sell his soul to the corrupt “machine” to secure support, and then, his conscience prodded as much as his libido by the disappointment of a good woman, he finally makes a speech that tells the truth and wins the girl? You’ve heard it if you’ve seen any number of Hollywood political comedies building up to the Big Speech. A very good example from the Depression is Thanks a Million starring Dick Powell. A smart, glossy example from the Clinton era is The American President. A blander example from the dawn of the 1950s is The Reformer and the Redhead, now available on demand from Warner Archive.


It opens with the sharpest satirical comment it’s going to make. An African guide fires a rifle at a lion. When it’s safe, a white man (Ray Collins) pokes his pith-helmeted head from the bushes, grabs the rifle, and rushes over to pose for the photo. His niece (Kathleen Freeman) does the same, and together they swindle a reputation as big game hunters. Back in the California town they control, their self-promotion crosses swords with the local zookeeper (Cecil Kellaway) and his daughter Kathleen (June Allyson), who despises those who hunt animals for sport. They lose their zoo jobs, so Kathleen applies to up-and-coming “reform candidate” Andy Hale (the same Dick Powell from the aforementioned Thanks a Million ) for support and eventual romance.


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Friday, Mar 28, 2014
Look away.

Available on demand from Warner Archive is The Vanishing Virginian, the last film directed by spiritual sentimentalist Frank Borzage for MGM. It belongs to a thriving strand of nostalgic small-town Americana that sprang up in Hollywood during WWII, and whose apotheosis was Meet Me in St. Louis. Other prominent examples include The Human Comedy, One Foot in Heaven and Our Vines Have Tender Grapes.


Whether set in the past or the present, all are driven by tension between yearning for a supposedly simpler time and a subtle awareness of upheaval and loss spurred by war, which is sometimes mentioned explicitly and sometimes suppressed. They seem like pleasant escapism on the surface but roil with tensions and uncertainties. The contemporary context of this film is evoked in the opening of the New York Times review: “Despite the strict rationing law on sugar, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has gone far beyond the two-lump limit in The Vanishing Virginian”.


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Friday, Mar 28, 2014
Noah is not a blasphemous anti-God screed. Instead, it's an amazing movie that misses being an all out masterpiece by one autonomous idea.

Free will. It’s either the flaw in God’s design for man or his gift for living outside the strictures of his scripture. It’s the core of organized religion, determination drained of its actual meaning with sin and supplication replacing its otherwise humanistic designs. In his new film, Noah, arcane auteur Darren Aronofsky takes a simple Bible story and blows it up. He turns the cutesy tale of “cats and rats and ele-phants” (but no unicorns, sadly) into a struggle between the individual and an obvious Supreme Being. There is no question of God’s existence in this stunningly ambitious and often flawed masterwork, He is everywhere - in the ground, in the air, in the scarred psyche of the characters. He even provides the film with its major strength, and one of its biggest (albeit, imagined by the filmmaker) problems.


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