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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.

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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.

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Monday, Nov 10, 2014
All of the climbers in White Tower allegorize their treks up the mountain to some extent.

“A mountain can be a symbol of the obstacles that you encounter in life. To conquer it is to gain self-confidence and courage. You understand that, don’t you?” speaks a patrician British codger (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), spelling it out for the practical American ex-soldier Ordway (Glenn Ford), who doesn’t quite understand why he’s tramping up a mountain in the Alps known as The White Tower.

Sometimes a mountain is only a mountain, perhaps, but Ordway’s doing it to impress a woman: the lovely and aloof Carla (Alida Valli). The mountain symbolizes her lost father, and she won’t let go of it until she finds somebody to replace him in her emotions. This is also spelled out bluntly in Paul Jarrico’s script from James Ramsey Ullman’s 1945 novel.

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Thursday, Nov 6, 2014
Nasty Habits tries too hard to be a Nixonian allegory set in a pseudo-convent, forcing its plot parallels onto places they don't belong.

Nasty Habits transfers the details of the Watergate scandal into a Philadelphia convent, with Glenda Jackson playing the Nixon role of an icy abbess who secretly tapes everyone. As a satire of Watergate, it feels pointless and cumbersome; it might work better as a satire of the Church by implying that all hierarchies of power can use similar methods. The movie at first feels like such a takedown; it opens by showing the nuns drinking, smoking, swearing, and fornicating with Jesuits. Then, however, the screenplay throws in some exposition between a monsignor in Rome (Eli Wallach) and his “PR priest” (Jerry Stiller) in which they explain that this convent isn’t really an official part of the Catholic Church but some bizarre fabricated reactionary order that doesn’t recognize the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and they may end up having to correct it or disown it. So there goes that interpretation.

They even explain that this Philadelphia order is an off-shoot from one in Crewe, England, because the film is based on Muriel Spark’s novel The Abbess of Crewe, but why bother? So much of the film induces this sense of “why bother”. Why bother to have two seminarians “break in” to the abbey to steal one troublesome nun’s love letters, which she keeps in an unlocked box in a public place, and have them come back the next day to be caught? Couldn’t any senior nun have taken the letters? Ah, but it’s all necessary to parallel Watergate. When your allegory takes precedence over common sense in your main story, you’re in trouble.

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Wednesday, Nov 5, 2014
These two Arsène Lupin pictures give viewers a glamorous look at the lives of jewel thieves, with sparkling dialogue and double-crosses abound.

Arsène Lupin, the dashing French jewel thief, was created by Maurice Leblanc soon after E.W. Hornung created the similar English thief Raffles. Warner Archive recently issued two Raffles movies as a double-feature on demand, and they’ve also obliged us with this terrific two-fer of MGM films about Lupin. While the Raffles movies are sophisticated entertainments, the Lupin films cross into real brilliance, and these prints are as sparkling as the dialogue.

In both films, the debonair Lupin plays cat and mouse with a clever and relentless detective. In Arsène Lupin, brothers John and Lionel Barrymore play these mighty opponents, with John constantly displaying his profile as the handsome Lupin while his limping brother fumes and frets as the crafty policeman.

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