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Friday, Apr 25, 2014
Douglas Sirk goes for baroque

Sleep My Love (not to be confused with Arise My Love, also starring Claudette Colbert) is the middle of three woman-in-danger thrillers directed by Douglas Sirk in the late 1940s. From the first reel, the audience knows it’s what they used to call the Gaslight routine, the plot where the husband tries to convince the rich wife she’s losing her marbles so he can inherit her dough and trade her in on the younger model waiting in the wings. The attraction of this device is that it taps into women’s insecurities about being patronized, disbelieved, and manipulated by male-dominated society. The drawback is that it makes the heroines into the most frustratingly obtuse idiots in the world.


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Friday, Apr 25, 2014
not to be confused with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

In a public market in Marrakesh, a man in the crowd grimaces and turns to show an enormous decorated blade sticking out of his back. He’s hastily covered with a blanket and carried away by his killers, apparently before anyone notices. This leads to the question: if you want to stab someone discreetly, why use a great honking blade with a foot-long handle? The answer, of course, is to make an exciting and picturesque moment reminiscent of The Man Who Knew Too Much, without being as good and whether it makes sense or not. This flimsy, silly, light-hearted plot isn’t going for sense.


So begins Bang, Bang, You’re Dead (the onscreen title doesn’t have the exclamation points of the packaging), one of about a million spy spoofs that flooded screens in the 1960s in the James Bond craze. They needed two things: pretty girls and pretty locations, and this inexpensive item from producer Harry Alan Towers offers both.


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Friday, Apr 11, 2014
Americana and Betty's legs

There have been a thousand show-biz musicals where the hero and heroine advance and retreat through many misunderstandings, arguments, and contrivances until they finally get together, and Betty Grable’s million-dollar-legs shuffled through a lot of them. Fortunately, Mother Wore Tights doesn’t belong to that species for long. It gets all that out of the way in the first reel so it can concentrate on being another kind of movie entirely: nostalgic, sentimental Americana about the trials and tribulations of a family, as recalled by the child who’s going to write a book about it.


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Friday, Apr 4, 2014
Tain't funny, McGee, but it's sure strange.

Husband-and-wife comedy team Jim and Marian Jordan starred in one of the most popular radio shows, Fibber McGee and Molly, for over 20 years. The characters starred in three RKO films, the first of which is Look Who’s Laughing (1941) in the Lucille Ball RKO Comedy Collection. Freshly available on demand from Warner Archive is a double-feature containing the last two films, Here We Go Again (1942) and Heavenly Days (1944), both movies named after Molly’s catch-phrases. To borrow another catch-phrase, “Tain’t funny, McGee”, but these movies sure are weird.


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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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