The prohibition and Key Largo


In the 1948 movie “Key Largo”, starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson, and one of the phrases in the movie got me thinking. Rocco (Robinson’s character), terrified by the hurricane, commands one of his gangsters to start talking, to say anything.


The gangster, Curly, starts talking about the prohibition. Here’s what he says:

“I bet you 2, 3 years, we get prohibition back. This time we make it stick. Bet you 2, 3 years prohibition comes back. Absolutely, yeah… The trouble was — see, before — too many guys wanted to be top dog. One mob gets to massacring another, the papers play it up big, see, so what happens… naturally, the papers play it up big, and the public get the idea prohibition’s no good, and if they can get rid of it, prohibition, I mean…”

[here we get a separate scene of Rocco being completely terrified by the power of the hurricane, then the talk turns to prohibition once more, continuing the previous line]

“… so the public votes out prohibition, that’s the end of the mobs. Next time it’ll be different, though. We learned our lesson, alright. Next time the mobs’ll get together.”

Perhaps this is why some drugs are still illegal, like marijuana. I realize the debate is much bigger than this, but still, it’s possible that some stand to lose a whole lot of money if marijuana were to be legalized, just like the mobsters lost a lot of money when alcohol was once more legally available. It’s a good theory, right?

In my opinion, marijuana is no dangerous than alcohol, so I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t consume it, and am only concerned with the unfair scrutiny all hemp varieties get due to their association with marijuana. Hemp seeds, for example, are very nutritious, and hemp string and rope is quite useful around the house. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t grow any kind of hemp, because you’ll be automatically raided, even though you have nothing to do with marijuana at all. It’s silly.

The prohibition/drugs discussion aside, “Key Largo” is a great movie, definitely worth watching. You can get it from Amazon, or you can rent it from Netflix.


Our economy: a very distinctive photoplay

I found this photo of a truck advertising the Rialto Theatre on Shorpy. What perked my interest was the juxtaposition of the truck in front of the US Treasury Building. Although the photo was taken in 1925, it’s somehow applicable to our times.

Rialto Theatre truck in front of US Treasury, 1925

Doesn’t it seem strangely non-coincidental that a photoplay/movie truck would find itself in front of the Treasury building, particularly when you consider what economic times we’re living in? I for one have been feeling like we’re watching a theater performance every time I turned on my TV in recent months. Politicians and government employees and suits from the Federal Reserve (which is separate from the US government) and CEOs have all paraded in front of the cameras and wept for the state of our economy when they themselves were at fault for its state. They’ve been crying crocodile tears and promising to make it all better, and we sat there mesmerized, hoping for a savior.

We had the drama of the economic downturn, then the drama of the election. The first act is over. Now we await the second act, which includes a bonus appearance from a fantastic pork-barrel stimulus plan guaranteed to make all the Washington hogs cry out for joy. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I won’t tell you what I think of it, but it’ll involve a lot of work from the US Treasury building in the photo above. They’ll need to print a lot of Monopoly money to finance it all.

At any rate, this is what I think of the economic crisis. And this is what I think of the way companies are treating their employees nowadays. Finally, this is what I think of the problems car companies are having. Call me the guy from the nosebleed seats who thinks the show sucks and keeps throwing peanuts at the performers. Maybe I’ll get booted from the theatre, but at least I’ve spoken my piece.

Just remember, there will be a third act…

Photo used courtesy of Shorpy.


Wedding Present (1936)

“Wedding Present” (1936) is a wonderful romantic comedy made toward the end of the great depression. Cary Grant plays an ace reporter named Charlie Mason, in love with his partner in “crime”, Rusty Fleming (played by Joan Bennett). Cary would reprise the role of an intrepid reporter/editor in “His Girl Friday” (1940), opposite Rosalind Russell, although his role in that movie would be somewhat darker.

The “Wedding Present” starts with Charlie attempting to get a wedding certificate but mostly goofing around, which leads to Rusty calling off their engagement. The tagline is “We’re almost married… and we want to stay that way!” Of course, that doesn’t work, so the tension builds up as Rusty is wooed by a pilot, then by a well-known writer of success books, called Dodacker, played by Conrad Nagel.

Seeing Conrad Nagel in the role of Dodacker, one wonders why he had been a matinee idol in the era of silent movies. Not much here endears him to the viewer. Then again, his role in this movie was meant to be unlikable, so who knows… Joan Fontaine certainly saw something in him, since she had an affair with him not long after this movie was made — she was barely 20 while he was well over 40.

There is a wonderful optimism that pervades this movie. It seems nothing can go wrong — except Charlie and Rusty’s relationship — but even that’s rescued in the end. Charlie and Rusty both act as if their jobs don’t matter — and I suppose when you’re both award-winning reporters, you can get a job anywhere you like. They slack off, they skip out on work, but since they always get the first-page stories, things work out alright for both of them.

Although there’s some awkwardness between Cary and Joan, they complement each other very nicely. It’s a lot of fun to watch Joan on screen. She manages to appear charming, intelligent and sexy, all while fitting the part perfectly. It’s hard to imagine that she didn’t want to go into acting when you watch her on screen. She’s so natural — but then that should come as no surprise considering she’d been born into a family of actors with roots in that profession going back to the 18th century.

Cary is still in his pre-polished era. You can see his youthful enthusiasm here, and some of his slightly rough, unpolished edges still show through. Although he looks great in a suit, he’s still not quite comfortable in it, not like in his later years, when his suits became an integral part of his screen persona, a part of who Cary Grant was and always remain. But the youthful Cary is a lot of fun to watch. There’s a sense of unpredictability about his next move. One wonders, how will he handle the next line, the next scene? Much like throwing a pebble in a pond and watching the ripples disturb the water’s surface, watching the young Cary act, one can see the little ripples that belie the thought process behind the role’s mask. This would later solidify into a shiny, pristine, glamorous and timeless surface. In his later years, Cary reached perfection. Cary was the role and the role was Cary.

Although the movie is somewhat anticlimactic in some scenes, and some judicious editing could have fixed it, it’s really wonderful. It’s relaxing to watch and it’s quite entertaining. The ending is spectacularly wonderful, and it alone makes the entire movie worth watching. When you add in everything else — the comedy, the superb acting, the gags, the dialogue, the interaction — you can’t help but realize that you get your money’s worth here. Give it a try, you won’t regret it!

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Flushed Away (2006)

“Flushed Away” is an entertaining tale of a house rat named Roddy enjoying the good life as the spoiled pet of a rich girl. Just as the girl’s family goes on vacation and he can really let loose, an intruding rat comes in, gets a taste of the good life, and flushes Roddy down the toilet.

Roddy ends up in some sort of rat colony (more like a little city) down in the sewers, and he must find a way to get back home while negotiating life on completely new terms. He finds a girl rat named Rita, who helps him. The two make an unlikely pair since she hates him from the get go, but as they say, opposites attract. There’s a nice surprise ending that I don’t want to spoil for you, and tons of action throughout.

If you’re familiar with Nick Park’s work (think Wallace & Grommit) then you’ll recognize the animation style. The difference is that “Flushed Away” is computer-animated, not made with the usual stop-motion clay puppets that Nick Park works with. The same style was preserved, for the most part, but it was all done on the computer. There is a noticeable difference, and for the diehard Wallace & Grommit fans, it’s a bit of a letdown. The movement is neither smooth enough for good computer animation, or jumpy enough to fit Nick Park’s stop-motion style. But in the end, the movie stands on its own as an enjoyable adventure and one tends to forget about the animation’s shortcomings.

Nick Park actually voices one of the slugs in the movie. He’s not in the credits, and I can’t find out which slug it is, so I’ll let you all guess. If you find out, do let me know.

This movie also features famous actors for the main voice talents, and as I stated in other movie reviews, there’s no reason not to give real voice actors the chance to do these roles. I don’t know that Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet added anything special to the voices of Roddy and Rita, other than their names and a bit of intonation. Now when it comes to The Toad, voiced by Ian McKellen, and Le Frog, voiced by Jean Reno, the story is entirely different. Their voices are distinct enough to fill out their characters and make them come to life.

At any rate, it’s a great family movie and I liked it.

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John Loves Mary (1949)

“John Loves Mary” is a movie made in 1949, starring Ronald Reagan, Jack Carson and the husky-voiced Patricia Neal. The script was adapted from a Broadway play by the same name, originally written by Norman Krasna. I found the story charming, and wondered why I liked it so much, till I discovered that Norman Krasna also wrote the story for another movie I like, called “The Ambassador’s Daughter“.

The story goes like this: John Lawrence (played by Ronald Reagan), a GI returning from WWII, meets his love, Mary McKinley (played by Patricia Neal), who’s waited faithfully for him all those years. But he’s got a secret. While in England, he found and married the old flame of his army pal, Fred Taylor (played by Jack Carson), in order to bring her to the States and reunite her with him. You see, his pal saved his life during the war, and he wanted to return the favor.

Well, as soon as he returns, Mary wants to marry him. He’d love to, but can’t, since he’s already tied the knot, and needs to spend several weeks in Nevada getting a divorce. He tries to tell her, but can’t. Her father (played by Edward Arnold, who always seemed to get these sorts of roles) throws the weight of his senatorial position behind the wedding, and speeds all of the proceedings up at city hall. Hilarity ensues as both John and Fred scheme and connive to delay John’s wedding to Mary. All ends well, of course, but it sure is fun to watch what happens in the meantime!

Bonus: see Ronald Reagan in boxers, twice… It’s not often one gets to see an American icon and ex-president of the United States in his boxers…

More info:

  • IMDB
  • NYT
  • No listings available at Netflix or Amazon, unfortunately

Song of the Thin Man (1947)

“Song of the Thin Man” (1947) is the sixth and final installment in the Thin Man series, starring Bill Powell and Myrna Loy. The series started in 1934 with “The Thin Man”. In the midst of the depression, that first movie struck a chord with people and was instantly popular. More movies followed, in 1936, 1939 and 1941. One was even made during WWII, in 1944.

This final movie made in 1947, at the end of WWII, was a turning point. From that point on, movies changed. Americans who came home from abroad, from war and travel, had a different perspective in life. Social hierarchy changed. American prosperity came into its own and people’s expectations changed (not necessarily for the better). You’ll see hints of all those things in this movie.

I may be wrong on this, but it’s possible that Bill Powell was made to wear a wig for this movie. He had a receding hair line as early as 1931, and it was visible in his other Thin Man movies. In this one, however, you’ll see a clear, determined hair line, much closer to his forehead than in earlier movies. It bothered me a bit. I wanted to see the Bill Powell I knew, with his own hair.

The plotline for this movie is similar to the others in the series. Someone gets murdered, there are lots of suspects and motives, the likely suspects turn out to be false, and the criminal is someone close to the action but an unlikely choice. Although we know how things are going to unroll, it’s the action, the dialogue, and above all, the actors that keep us interested in this movie, and in the others as well.

Bill Powell and Myrna Loy are two of my favorite actors, and they’re amazing when they’re together on screen. It’s a delight to watch them. Every time I see a movie that stars only one of them, I miss the other. They’re just not the same if they’re not together.

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The Ambassador's Daughter (1956)

The Ambassador’s Daughter (1956)We watched it tonight and liked it. It’s a funny romantic comedy full of light laughs. The script’s somewhat thin at times — some of the plot twists are sewn with white thread, as they say — but the acting’s great, in particular that of Olivia de Havilland, who plays the title role. What’s also a rare treat is the location: Paris in the 50s — need I say more about that? The movie’s in color, in spite of the black and white screenshot (which was the only one I could find).

Overall, the movie’s easygoing, and it’s really a wonderful movie for a quiet evening at home. It’s about an innocent, unlikely romance between the daughter of the American ambassador to Paris and an American soldier on leave. It starts out as an experiment for her, but ends up serious, and with a very happy ending.

The movie also has Myrna Loy, and that’s a treat as well. If it only had Bill Powell, too, but you can’t have everything, can you? John Forsythe plays the American soldier. I’d never heard of him before this movie, but he played his part very well.

Pick it up and relax with your significant other while you watch it. It’s a quiet, nice little movie that’ll let you have a peaceful night’s sleep afterwards.

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Re-makes aren't as good as the originals

My Favorite Wife (1940) Move Over, Darling (1963)

Just finished watching “My Favorite Wife” (1940), and found it so much better than its remake, “Move Over, Darling” (1963). The thing is, I watched the 1963 version first, so I wasn’t prejudiced against it by the original. Yet after watching the original tonight, there is no doubt that I prefer it. Ligia and I were laughing out loud virtually through the entire movie. The gags, the lines, the acting, the action — everything was fresher and funnier. By contrast, I found the acting flat and the jokes overworked in the 1963 version.

Cary Grant and Irene Dunn shined again in this movie. They were a fantastic pairing in The Awful Truth (1937), and they put on a similar bedroom routine at the end of this movie, except this one’s absolutely hilarious. If you have a chance, pick up “My Favorite Wife“. They don’t make them like that anymore, and it’s really worth watching, if only for the comedy!


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)

Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End (2007)Saw Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End last night with Ligia. Superb follow-up to Dead Man’s Chest (2006). I loved the plot twists in this one, and thought the script was handled wonderfully to offer closure to the story points from the first and second movies in the series. It seemed to me there was a ton more action packed into this one than the first and even the second. And it was certainly not as dark as the second, which left me frustrated and with a headache. As expected, things definitely had the Jerry Bruckheimer signature: big music, big fights, and furious, charging action.

I loved all of the legends and tales that were weaved so nicely into this movie’s plot (Calypso, the maelstrom, the literal end of the world, Davy Jones’ locker). (For more information about the places discussed in the movie series, see the Geography of the Pirates of the Caribbean, but know that it contains spoilers.)

Now about the acting: superb, as we’ve come to expect from the previous two movies. Honestly, praises are to lavished all around. Everyone’s performances felt authentic. I was in awe of Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of Barbossa this time around. That man is a born character actor! Orlando Bloom really grew into the role of Will Turner this time. It felt to me as if he finally inhabited the character. Kevin McNally’s performance as Mr. Gibbs also stood out as more forceful than in the other two movies.

There’s a surprise appearance by someone in this movie. I’ll give you a hint: he appears at Shipwreck Cove as a pirate, and he was supposedly an inspiration for Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Jack Sparrow… This may be a spoiler, but I have to point it out, or you may miss it: it looks like Jack Sparrow is the son of this pirate king. Watch closely for the dialogue between them!

The set designers and the editors are to be praised as well. Like in the first movie of the series, they did a wonderful job in making the sets inhabitable. When I watched it, things were so real I could imagine walking around the streets and places that were filmed. Beyond that, the entire movie came alive — it was believable and authentic. It met my litmus test: I didn’t notice the sets, and focused on the movie.

There was one thing I didn’t like: the makeup on the actors’ faces was very visible in some scenes, and it was a deep sort of yellow. It looked as if they had jaundice. I understand it’s really hard to deal with makeup in humid and wet environments, especially when people are sweating and action sequences are being shot, but still, it was disconcerting to look at their faces and see them yellow in one cut and normal in the next. This happened especially during scenes filmed on the ships.

The way is left open for another movie at the end. Don’t worry, this movie does NOT end in a cliffhanger, like the second one. I thought that was a particularly cruel move, and I’m glad to see it didn’t happen here. Everything that needs closure gets closure, while the gate is still left ajar. Beautiful ending, if you ask me. And that reminds me: do NOT leave the movie theater until ALL of the credits roll by. There is a surprise scene at the end (and I mean the END) of the movie. Don’t want to spoil it for you, but do NOT leave the theater, wait for it. It’s worth it!

One of the last scenes takes place between Will and Elizabeth. I’ll spoil it if I go into the details, but it’s very endearing, and involves a play on words — a wonderful metaphor about sincere love, and the act of giving someone your heart with the hope that they will guard it well.

More information:

A Guide To A Good Life, Reviews

Random Harvest (1942)

Just saw Random Harvest (1942), and had to blog about it. What a wonderful movie! I had no idea it even existed until tonight. Ligia spotted it on TMC a week or two ago, and we moved it toward the top of the queue of our Netflix account. I’m so glad we did!

The story is fantastically beautiful. A woman (Greer Garson), meets and falls in love with an amnesia patient (Ronald Colman), a convalescing officer from WWI. His life, until then a dreary, monotonous stay in an asylum, begins with their chance meeting.

They move to the country, and he begins to write. He’s quite good at it, and emboldened by his success and the prospect of making a living from writing, he proposes to her. She accepts, of course, and they settle down to a beautiful married life.

They have a boy, and one day he gets a job offer in nearby Liverpool. They’re both very happy about it, and he sets off for the city right away. On his way to the job interview, he has an accident, and a concussion brings back all memory of his previous life, erasing his current one.

Naturally, he goes back to his family home (he happens to be an aristocrat) and picks up his life, troubled as he may be by the lapse of three years from his life. His now ex-wife, desperate, searches everywhere, falls ill and the baby dies. When she sees his photo in a newspaper some time later, she applies to be his secretary, and gets the job, but does not tell him about her identity, hoping that he’ll recognize her. He does not, and things go on like that for years: he, tormented by unrecognizable wisps of memory from the past, and she, so close and yet so far from his heart.

I won’t tell you more, because I don’t want to spoil the movie for you if you haven’t seen it. Suffice it to say that it’s absolutely excellent. It’s a perfect screenplay, and Ms. Garson and Mr. Colman are absolutely marvelous in their parts, and they’ve now made my list of favorite actors and actresses. I was left speechless at the beautiful ending, and could only think “Bis, bis, bis!” I’m truly shocked that I did not hear of this movie until now, and want to find more like it. Record it, rent it or buy it, but see it. You must. You won’t regret it.