Wednesday, March 01, 2006

High Class Gals and Low Class Transit

Movie Reviews

When Paramount Pictures decided to make a screen adaptation of the Clare Boothe Luce play The Women, it was only appropriate that they taped George Cukor to direct. Cukor was well known around Hollywood as a 'womens director' sometimes lavishing so much attention on the female players in his films that the men in the casts felt neglected. This was not to be a problem during production of The Women as the movie was to have an entirely female cast. It was the conceit of Ms. Luces play that the male characters (of which there are several) never be shown but only referred to with all scenes featuring just the female characters alone.

The Women is a late entry in the 'white telephone' sub-genre of film, and unfortunately it does nothing that hadn't been done better in earlier examples of that cinematic type. The principle story has to do with a type of 'tug-of-war' over a Mr. Stephen Haines between his wife Mary (Norma Shearer) and mistress Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford), with Rosalind Russell thrown in as the gossipy Sylvia Fowlers to perpetuates the crises. There are many other talented women in the cast including future academy award winner Joan Fontaine, the then Mrs. Charlie Chaplin Paulette Goddard, and Hedda Hopper playing a gossip columnist much like she was in real life. Despite a somewhat funny exercise scene I found this movie mostly ponderous. The lady's are representative of the women of a particular class of a particular time and while it seems they are often ment to be progressive their logic and way of thinking would now be considered decidely retro-grade and unfemanist. The Women is an interesting experiment of a movie that probably worked better in 1939 then it does now.

While not as good as either The Camera Man or The General, Steamboat Bill Jr. is a funny Buster Keaton movie, and if I remember correctly a favorite of Bill Cosbys. Ernest Torrence is William Canfield Sr. the owner of a riverboat (The Stonewall Jackson) in the American heartland. Bill Sr. is excited about the coming visit of his son William Canfield Jr., whom he has not seen since he was a baby as the child was raised by his mother in Boston. Expecting a rough-and-tumbler like himself Bill Sr. is horrified when he discovers his only son to be a prisyfied berea wearing weakling. Bill Jr. wants to please his pop but is somewhat distracted by his pursuit of college classmate Marion King (Marion Byron) whose father John James King (Tom McGuire) happens to be his dads biggest competitor in the riverboat business. Various highjinks ensue, the most memorable of which is Keatons prolonged battle with a terrible windstorm that completely decimates the small riverfront town. This movie also boasts one of the funniest title card lines I've ever seen in a silent film. When Bill Jr. comes to break Bill Sr. out of jail (long story) he is bringing his pop a loaf of bread with about half a dozen tools baked in it. Unfortunately the tools fall out of the loaf before Bill can hand it over to his father, when the Sheriff then gives young William a dirty look of realization upon the screen flashes the following: "That must have happened when the dough fell in the tool-box." At only 71-minutes Steamboat Bill Jr. is a worthy silent comedy.


At 9:30 AM, Blogger Nate Dredge said...

'The Women' is being remade with another strong female cast, including Annette Bening, Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, Meg Ryan, and Uma Thurman.


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