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Thursday, Nov 20, 2014
Sure, Jennifer is chock full of dimensionless characters, banal dialogue, and gratuitous nudity, but it's never boring.

This horror item from the ‘70s is one of those dumb, cheap, cheesy, unconvincing efforts peopled by mostly undimensional characters spouting dialogue that wavers from simple to stupid, with the teen characters played by actors in their 20s, and many moments of gratuitous (i.e. necessary) breast nudity among teasing girls. Which begs the question: So what? None of that makes it bad, and Jennifer can rightly claim never to be boring.

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Wednesday, Nov 19, 2014
The moral predicament of Escape Me Never rings as hollow from the start, making it watchable at best, but not swallowable.

Escape Me Never is a handsomely produced disaster that sat on the shelf for almost two years before Warner Brothers released it to widespread disinterest. Classic starwatchers can shake their heads in bemusement, for it’s now available on demand from Warner Archive.

It’s Venice in the year 1900, and a poor woman called Gemma (Ida Lupino) causes a commotion in a snazzy palazzo. Gabbling out the exposition of her life story while overplaying bits of business all over the room, she tells the swells that she’s an orphan with a baby and that she lives with a composer. By coincidence, her listeners think she means Caryl (Gig Young, with mustache), the composer who’s wooing their rich and proper daughter (Eleanor Parker, beautiful), but it’s actually his womanizing brother Sebastian (Errol Flynn, without mustache). This misunderstanding leads the quartet into a muddled and unmerry dance where Gemma is anguished by the cad she loves while he’s smitten by his brother’s girlfriend, and all anybody’s going to get out of it is a lousy ballet.

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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.

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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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