Movies

Ninotchka

ISBN: 
012569566828

I have a confession to make. For years, I had a secret crush on a much older woman.  She passed away in 1990 at the age of 84. I was 34 at the time. I only knew her through her films, and one, in particular, stirred me. The woman was Greta Garbo and the film that burrowed a special place in my heart was Ninotchka. The script  was written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder and directed by Ernst Lubitsch and tells the story of a down to business, emotionally cold Russian official sent to Paris to check on the status of Russia’s sale of the nation’s former crown jewels which were being sold to help support Russia’s recovery after the revolution. Upon arriving in Paris she finds herself involved in a legal battle with Russia’s exiled Grand Duchess for possession of the jewels and finds that the Russian representatives sent originally to sell the jewels seem to have given in to the temptations and pleasures of the rich Paris life.  Her mission is complicated by the attentions of Count Leon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas) who after meeting her on the street is determined to win her heart. Unknown to her is that he is also the lawyer representing the Grand Duchess in court.  Unknown to him at the time is her relationship to his case.  Can the heart win over political philosophy and the law?

Gene Wilder (1933 – 2016)

Gene WilderI can still remember the first time I saw Gene Wilder in a film.  He was playing a mousey accountant by the name of Leo Bloom who, while going over the books of once-famous Broadway Producer Max Bialystock makes the casual observation that it would be possible, though dishonest, to make more money with a Broadway flop than a successful production.  The film was “The Producers,” and the rest they say is history and Gene Wilder screamed his way into being one of my favorite comedic actors as Zero Mostel stood over him while he lay on the floor in a panic screaming, “Don’t Jump on me. Don’t Jump on me.”

Gene went on to star in many well-known comedies: Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Stir Crazy, Silver Streak and many others.  His role as candy maker Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory will likely never be forgotten. The library owns a number of Gene Wilder’s Films and books. You did know he was also a writer, didn't you?  The link below will create a list of items to choose from.   He will be missed.

 

The Films and Book of Gene Wilder

Citizen Kane

ISBN: 
883929184811

Citizen Kane tells the fictional story of rich newspaper publisher Charles Foster Kane, his rise to power and eventual decline as he shifts from an idealistic publisher/editor into egotist whose power has gone to his head.  It was based loosely on the life of William Randolph Hurst, but not loosely enough to suit Hurst.  The film pulled few punches and Hurst was not amused at being the subject, even if indirectly of such a movie. Citizen Kane almost completely failed at the box office when it was released and even before the production was finished the film was wrapped in controversy. Director and writer Orson Wells was accused by Hurst of the being a communist, and a homosexual, both of which were considered major issues in 1941.  Interestingly he also accused Wells of being a womanizer and Socialist as well. As you can see the accusations leveled at Wells were often contradictory and usually untrue.  The major newspapers, owned by Hurst refused to review the film or allow it to be advertised in their pages.  In fact, no review of Citizen Kane appeared in any paper owned by Hurst until the mid- seventies over 30 years after its release. 

Cheyenne Social Club

ISBN: 
012569816121

Harley Sullivan: What kind of business you figure your brother left you?
John O'Hanlan: Well, the letter don't say - but that's just like a lawyer. They don't tell you no more than it takes to confuse you. But it's a... something called the Cheyenne Social Club.

 

After receiving a letter informing him of the death of his brother John O’Hanlan (James Stewart) leaves his position as a hired hand on a cattle drive to take over the Cheyenne Social Club the business his brother left him in his will.  It might seem obvious to us by the name of the business and the movie just exactly what the nature of the business is, but this is a story about a more innocent time and John O’Hanlan is a more innocent man.  He is joined on his trek across the country and into Cheyenne by his good friend Harley (Henry Fonda).  The film which was directed by Gene Kelly moves fluidly through the story from one situation to another.  Low Key” may be the best way to describe this film about a man of high morals, and a kind heart who suddenly finds himself the owner of the most famous brothel in Wyoming. 

Arsenic and Old Lace

ISBN: 
883929151615

Mortimer Brewster’s aunts Abby and Martha are two of the kindest, most loving women you could ever hope to meet.  They are always willing to help others and always seemed to have a kind word for everyone.  They raised Mortimer and his brothers Jonathan and Teddy from a young age.  Mortimer has developed into a well-rounded young man who works for the city’s paper reviewing the theatre.  Brother Teddy, while harmless, suffers from the delusion that he is President Theodore Roosevelt. Brother Jonathan, well, the less said about him the better.  He was the type of child who enjoyed pulling the wings off of flies and the legs off of spiders.     The “fun” begins when Mortimer is excitedly preparing to share the good news of his coming engagement to the girl next door rather unexpectedly finds a dead body in the window box seat of his Aunts’ home.  Later that same night his brother Jonathan returns home after a long absence; who after numerous face changing surgeries looks a great deal like the actor Boris Karloff. With him comes an alcoholic plastic surgeon and another dead body.  Meanwhile, Teddy seems to be digging body sized locks for the Panama Canal in the basement. 

Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines

ISBN: 
024543112044

In 1965, there were two racing comedies released both of them set during the first 10 years of 1900’s.  The more popular of two was “The Great Race,” which was about an around the world automobile race; the second was Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines, about an air race between London and Paris in very early  and flimsy aircraft.  While I will admit there is something special about The Great Race and it certainly had more stars who were known in the United States, Those Magnificent Men and their flying Machines had something the other did not … History.

What do I mean by history?  First of all, there is the light-hearted review of man’s attempts to fly featuring the comic skills of Red Skelton mixed with historic footage of some of the more outrageous of man’s attempts and failures to fly before the opening credits.  You are not likely to see more historical film footage of man’s failed attempts to fly in another movie.  But of even greater interest to someone like me is that every plane used in the film was a recreation of a historic airplane from the birth of aviation.  In a few cases, they added some safety devices or a small change was made to better protect the pilots, but the planes did fly, or, at least, those that were supposed to fly did, and they were actually flown for the movie’s footage.

The Blob (1958)

ISBN: 
715515011129

If the stories I’ve heard are true there is a five-gallon bucket somewhere in the United States that contains a batch of red silicone still moist from the 1958 production of The Blob.   Supposedly it is brought out and displayed at the annual Blobfest in Phoenixville PA where many of the scenes for the movie were shot.   The Blob is one of many science fiction movies of the 1950’s that told of some unknown horror coming from outer space that endangers the world.  A lot of these were extremely low budget and featured extremely bad special effects even taking into account the time they were produced. 

American President

ISBN: 
883929039982

Not too long ago I was reminded of one of my favorite romantic movies, The American President.  The film stars Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd and Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade, a lobbyist for an ecological group.  President Shepherd is something unusual in the U.S. Presidency, though not in movies, a single father.  Shepherd is nearing the end of his first term, up for re-election and wondering if the real reason he was elected was due to a sympathy vote after his wife died of cancer during his campaign.  Now, after a little over three years of widowhood, he spots Sydney at a meeting taking place at the White House and decides he would like to ask her out.  The problem, obviously, is that he is the President of the United States.  His life is a fish bowl and there is a dignity that goes with the office that makes it difficult to have close friends.  His oldest and best friend now refuses to call him anything other than “Mr. President” even during their private games of pool.  So just how does a President ask a woman out on a date?  What happens when that date is successful and they find themselves strongly attracted to each other?

Hairspray (1988)

ISBN: 
794043609923

You may have seen the musical.  You have most likely seen the movie starring John Travolta, Queen Latifah, and Nikki Blonsky, but have you see the movie that started it all?  The original 1988 comedy Hairspray, directed and written by John Waters, featured Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad and Divine as Edna Turnblad.  This movie has a grittier, earthier feel than either the musical or the 2007 movie.   This is not too surprising as Hairspray was the first film by John Waters to receive less than an “R” rating.  Prior to this film John Waters had been justly known in Hollywood as “The King of Bad Taste.” Hairspray was the first John Water’s films to even attempt to appeal to the general public. 

Repo Man (1984)

ISBN: 
025192851025

It is likely that if I mentioned the name of Mike Nesmith most of us would think of the 1960’s band The Monkees.  Some of us might think to recall him for his work with the First National Band, or some of his solo musical works.  You might even remember him as one of the pioneers of the modern music video.  It might come as a surprise to you that he was the executive producer of a film that the magazine Entertainment Weekly named #7 on its list of the “Top 50 Cult Films of All-Time.”  The film is Repo Man starring Emilio Estevez as Otto, a street punk having a bad day, who is tricked by Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) into becoming a repo man and brings him into the strange and dangerous world surrounding the repossession of automobiles.

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