Sunday, March 30, 2014

NORTH TO ALASKA (1960)

John Wayne and Stewart Granger (along with kid brother Fabian) strike it big in Alaska.  Now that they're rich Stewart sends Wayne back to Seattle to fetch his fiance.  Wayne goes, but soon learns that she's already married.  Nervous to go back to Alaska empty handed, he finds a French (Stewart's fiance was French) prostitute and persuades her into returning to Alaska with him...for Stewart, but naturally she's in love with the Duke.  Meanwhile, back in Alaska some lowdown claim jumpers are trying to get in on Wayne and Granger's gold strike.

NORTH TO ALASKA is one of my most watched John Wayne films.  What makes it so entertaining is how energetic everything is.  Right from the beginning it's non-stop yelling, screaming, fighting, shooting, furniture crashing, jumping and so on.  It never slows down for a minute.  Also the slow-burn romantic story between is Wayne and Capucine is really fun to watch.  I love the scene where she and Stewart are in the cabin alone and Wayne gets all pissed off.  It's too funny. 

Fun story, beautiful scenery (I don't think any of it was actually from Alaska though), great crowd scenes, title song sang by Johnny Horton, excellent pace, strong supporting cast including some funny dude who keeps sneezing during the final scene.  One of the funniest of Wayne's comedic films.  Highly recommended.

THE IMPATIENT YEARS (1944)

Opening in a divorce court Jean Arthur and Lee Bowman was a divorce...right now!  The judge is willing to grant them their wish, but when Jean's father Charles Coburn tells the judge (via flashback) what really happened and then devises his own plan to make them work for their divorce the judge agrees.  See, during the flashback we learn that Jean and Lee met a year and a half ago while he was on a four day furlough in San Francisco.  It was love at first sight so they immediately got a marriage license, but then they had to wait two days to get married.  They do and on their wedding night they had an out of this world fuckfest.  So much so that she got pregnant.  Now nearly a year and a half later Lee comes home on a 30-day furlough only to find that the woman he married is a total square!  Plus she lives with her father and some sniveling boarder who's secretly in love with Jean.  The initial meeting works out horribly, so they wanna call it quits and get a divorce, but the plan Coburn sells the judge is to force them to go back to San Francisco and retrace their steps for that entire four days.  I'm sure you can guess how it ends.

From what I've read the idea for this movie was to reunite the three stars of the previous years hit THE MORE THE MERRIER: Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn.  Now that would make a lot of sense, since TMTM is a delightful wartime romantic comedy that's still great even now. Arthur and Coburn both signed up, but McCrea didn't.  I don't know why, but if I had to wager a bet he probably got a whiff of that lame script and went running for the hills.

I love Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn, but you've got to have a script that works and chemistry between the two leads.  This one has neither.  With McCrea there would have been chemistry, but that still leaves the weak story.  The idea of a couple getting to know each other in a home environment after they've already been married and had a child is full of possibilities, but unfortunately everything in this possibility comes off as lazy, too convenient and forced.  Also the side story about the boarder a complete waste of time because first off it's never built up properly (the dude is a total wiener and Arthur isn't interested in him at all) and secondly it's never resolved!  One moment he's there, then boom movies over.

Lame story, zero chemistry between Lee and Jean, poor attempts at humor, interesting supporting cast with lots of familiar faces (including Luke Skywalker's Uncle Owen), slow pace.  The film had its moments (I got a good giggle out of the military guy at the dance club), but there's so much better stuff out there I wouldn't really worry about it.

Friday, March 28, 2014

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953)

What a movie!  Set in 1941 on a military base in Hawaii FROM HERE TO ETERNITY tells the story of a hardheaded and never fully explained soldier named Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) who always seems to do things the hard way.  As the film opens he's losing his Corporal rank as a bugler to transfer to a rifle company as a buck private.  Once there's he's pretty much told by the Captain that he'll be promoted to Sergeant within a year if he would join the regimental boxing team.  Prew refuses and is then given "the treatment".  Meanwhile, the First Sergeant (Burt Lancaster) is getting sick and tired of being the Captain's work bitch and starts making googly eyes at the Captain's broken wife.

Having just finished the novel I was curious to see how they even made it into a mainstream movie back in 1953 since the novel itself is grim and sexually explicit, but they did a great job.  Yeah, a lot of stuff was cut out or changed completely, but the dismal feel is still there.  And the acting!  It's easy to see why this film received five Oscar nominations for Acting and won two...if Ernest Borgnine's role had been bigger he probably would have been nominated also! I don't even know who's performance was my favorite.  Montgomery Clift was great, especially at portraying the internal (almost suicidal?) struggles of Prewitt, Burt Lancaster was just straight up awesome, Donna Reed (who I mostly know from her show and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE) was surprisingly adult.  Seeing her here as a jaded hostess at private gentlemen's club was quite an eye-opener!

Beautiful B&W photography, Claude Akins screen debut, Frank Sinatra showing his acting chops, Deborah Kerr being sexy, excellent story, great pace, beautiful Hawaiian scenery.  If the story wasn't so censored, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY would be close to going on my Best Movies list, but as it is I think the majority of modern audiences would find the whole thing too dated.  Highly recommended though for classic movie fans.