Showing posts with label We're No Angels. Show all posts
Showing posts with label We're No Angels. Show all posts

17 December 2015

Christmas is Almost Always Murder


by Eve Fisher

Seriously, Norman Rockwell has a lot to answer for. All those pictures of Mom and the turkey, the family gathered around... All those "Old Home Folks" stories about the perfect Christmas, and how sweet it was when children were grateful for a penny, and grownups didn't get anything, but they all ate like horses and loved it. All those Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (I mean, really, 24 hour a day Christmas movies starting on THANKSGIVING??????) Okay, back to those, where it's all about love, love, love, love, love, with red and green and what is the deal with all those movies about a "Prince/Princess for Christmas"?

I really am turning into a grinch, right?

Wrong.

We're No Angels - 1955 - poster.png I love a good Christmas movie or story, but I take my entertainment with a little salt, thanks. Or at least a shot glass. And a little murder just adds to the fun.

Here's a list of my favorite Christmas movies, the ones my husband and I watch every year, and yes, we know the lines by heart:

We're No Angels, (1955), Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray, and Basil Rathbone. For my 2012 take on this movie, complete with synopsis and begging everyone to go to Netflix and get it immediately, see here: http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2012/12/were-no-angels.html

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Monty Wooley, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, and more. The worst house guest in the world is also the most erudite, witty, arrogant, and popular man on the planet. Sheridan Whiteside was Kaufman and Hart's masterpiece (especially as played by Monty Wooley), based on (of course) the Algonquin Club's founder, leader, gatekeeper and spoiled child, Alexander Woollcott.
Jimmy Durante, Mary Wickes (in her breakthrough screen role), and Monty Wooley
The play - and the movie - are chock full of characters who were based, almost libellously, on real people. Banjo = Harpo Marx. Beverly Carlton = Noel Coward. Lorraine Sheldon = Gertrude Lawrence, of whom Beverly Carlton says, in my favorite movie line of all time,
"They do say she set fire to her mother, but I don't believe it."
And Mary Wickes as Nurse Preen, who has to nurse the impossible Sheridan Whiteside:
"I am not only walking out on this case, Mr. Whiteside, I am leaving the nursing profession. I became a nurse because all my life, ever since I was a little girl, I was filled with the idea of serving a suffering humanity. After one month with you , Mr. Whiteside, I am going to work in a munitions factory. From now on , anything I can do to help exterminate the human race will fill me with the greatest of pleasure. If Florence Nightingale had ever nursed YOU, Mr. Whiteside, she would have married Jack the Ripper instead of founding the Red Cross!"
Reborn (1981). Directed by Bigas Luna, originally titled Renacer, "starring" Dennis Hopper as the snake-oil selling Reverend Tom Hartley, Michael Moriarty as Mark (a thickly-veiled Joseph), and (I kid you not, spoiler alert!) a helicopter as the Holy Spirit. While it has horrible production values, and was obviously made (in Italy, Spain, and Houston, TX) on rather less than a shoestring (I think all the money was spent on the helicopter), this still may be one of the most interesting versions of the Nativity that's ever been done.
"You're going to have a baby? I can't have a baby! I can't even take care of myself, much less a baby!" Mark.

The Thin Man (1934). William Powell and Myrna Loy. Machine-gun dialog, much of it hilarious. A middle-aged peroxide blonde and an incredibly young Maureen O'Sullivan. More drinking than anyone would dare put into a movie today, at least not without a quick trip to rehab for somebody, especially Nick Charles. And mostly true to Dashiell Hammett's plot.
"Is he working on the case?" "Yes, a case of scotch!"

Okay, a quick break for myself and the grandkids: A Muppet Christmas Carol (with Michael Caine), A Charlie Brown Christmas, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (narrated by Boris Karloff). Love, love, love them ALL.




Okay, back to more adult fare:

Listed under secret pleasures, Love Actually (2003), mostly because I start laughing as soon as Bill Nighy starts cursing. (What can I say? I'm that kind of girl.)
"Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don't buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free!" Truer words are rarely spoken in a Christmas movie...

Totally NON-secret NON-guilty pleasure: Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988). Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder), Tony Robinson (Baldrick), Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent and Miram Margolyes as Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, and Robbie Coltrane as the Spirit of Christmas...
"Mrs. Scratchit, Tiny Tom is fifteen stone and built like a brick privy. If he eats any more heartily, he will turn into a pie shop." God bless us, everyone.
Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) (1951). Alistair Sim. This is my favorite version, mostly because it feels like Dickens to me, because I love Fezziwig's sideburns, because of the hysterical charwoman, but mostly because Mr. Sim's Scrooge really ENJOYS being a hard-hearted miser from hell. Which makes his delight, after coming back from his Christmas travels among the spirits, more believable. Or at least I always find myself grinning from ear to ear...



"I don't deserve to be this happy. But I simply can't help it!" Hit rewind, while I make another cup of tea and pull out the Christmas cheer…
Merry Christmas, everyone!

18 June 2015

Having Fun Being Bad


by Eve Fisher

Frank Underwood - House of Cards.jpgI have, like so many people, been watching House of Cards via Netflix DVDs.  The first season was hypnotic.  The second season not so much.  I may not watch the third season.  Why? It's real simple: Nobody seems to be having any fun. Not the President, not his wife, not the staff, not the Secret Service guys, and especially not Francis and Clare Underwood.  I mean, what's the point of pursuing power by any means, if you're not going to have a good time screwing everyone over?  Even the sex romps are grim. More on that later.

Think about prime-time TV these days.  Who's enjoying the game on Game of Thrones?  Did Walter White ever kick back and watch trash TV on Breaking Bad?  I experienced the world of Mad Men, and the people I remember had a lot more fun drinking and screwing than Draper and pals ever did. Do The Americans ever just go fishing? Wayward Pines is so dark you can't see the road, much less the actors.  Every plot is convoluted, everybody is up to their necks in conspiracies, everyone is always plotting their next move, and everyone is soooo serious...

But that isn't the way the real world works.  People go fishing.  They relax.  They get hooked on Candy Crush or Triple Town.  They binge-watch anything they can.  Joseph Stalin liked cowboy movies, Charlie Chaplin, Georgian wine, and billiards.  The man knew how to relax.  So did others: Mao Zedong was a master calligrapher and a fairly decent poet. He also really enjoyed women. Hitler loved listening to Putzi Hanfstaengl play piano, and apparently had a fondness for dogs.  Osama bin Laden wrote love letters in between calls for jihad. Napoleon loved Josephine and cheating at cards. In other words, in the real world, even totalitarian monsters take a break once in a while and have a good time.

Meanwhile, Francis Underwood even gave up ribs.  (And considering how solemn everyone was before and after, that three-way didn't do much to loosen anyone up.)

Nathaniel Parker as Harold Skimpole
in the 2005 BBC production of
"Bleak House"
I miss the villains of yesteryear.  Count Fosco, hugely fat, delighting in pastry, the endless cigarettes his wife hand rolls for him, great glasses of sugar water, and playing with his tiny little mice while he works [successfully] to have Lady Glyde declared dead after he imprisons her in a madhouse.  And all despite his deep admiration, love, passion, for her sister, Marian Halcombe. Now there's a villain who is not only ruthless - read The Woman in White and see - but knows how to have fun while doing it.  Or there's Harold Skimpole, the middle-aged "child" who cannot understand why people are so cruel and harsh as to not supply him with his daily needs, gratis, so that he can live like the charming butterfly he is, while betraying everyone in Bleak House in the worst possible way.  (He is the reason that the child street-sweeper Jo dies.)  You want to kill him, but he's certainly having a great time.  Of course, Dickens really knew how to write hand-rubbing, chuckling, glint-in-the-eye villains:  Ebenezer Scrooge, the Marquis St. Evremonde, Fagin, and that ultimate hypocrite, Josiah Bounderby.

Or, on screen:
  • Henry Fonda's Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West,
  • Basil Rathbone's Andre Trochard in We're No Angels
  • Lionel Barrymore's Harry F. Potter in It's A Wonderful Life
  • Peter Ustinov's Nero in Quo Vadis, and, of course, 
  • Charlton Heston's Richelieu in The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers.
  • The late, great Christopher Lee in The Man With the Golden Gun.

Now granted, there was a lot of over-acting in these - Henry Fonda and Charlton Heston were obviously having the time of their lives as they FINALLY got to play the villain!  But I think there's a lot of over-underacting today.  It's the latest style:  very self-controlled, laser-serious, apparently clinically depressed villains who don't take pleasure in anything, even power once they get it (if they ever do). But if you go back a few decades, and you find villains who smirked, sneered, sauntered, and basically acted like Bette Davis in The Little Foxes.

Francis Urquhart.jpg
Or you can always go back to the original:  Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart in the original, UK House of Cards, who was ruthless, deadly, witty, with a smile like a silver-haired Puck.  "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment."  Watching Richardson's Francis, I always felt that, while he'd definitely sold his soul to the devil, he got full price for it. (And it was a hell of a lot more than one shared cigarette a night...)  And he enjoyed everything he got.

Still available on Netflix, here's a preview of Francis Urquhart's best monologues to whet your appetite:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRNNhcQutTQ




20 December 2012

We're No Angels


by Eve Fisher

"I'll say one thing for prison:  you meet a better class of people." 
               Joseph (Humphrey Bogart) in "We're No Angels", 1955.

Aldo Ray, Bogart, Peter Ustinov
Okay, so that's only true (with some exceptions) in movies.  But I'd cheerfully spend all day with these guys. I first met them when I was ten years old, back in the 60's, watching the 1955 Christmas Classic, "We're No Angels," a black and white TV set, all by myself.  I laughed until I cried, and I remembered lines from it for years afterwards.  It warped me for life.

"I read someplace that when a lady faints, you should loosen her clothing."  - Albert

Three convicts escape from the prison on Devil's Island on Christmas Eve.  There's Humphrey Bogart as Joseph, a maniac and master forger, Peter Ustinov as Jules, an expert safe-cracker, in prison only because of a "slight difference of opinion with my wife", and Aldo Ray as Albert, "a swine" of a heart breaker who only fell afoul of the law after asking his uncle for money (the illegal part was when said uncle said "no" and Albert beat him to death with a poker - 29 times).  Oh, and their fellow-traveler, Adolphe - or is it Adolf?

                       "We came here to rob them and that's what we're gonna do - beat their heads in, gouge their eyes out, slash their throats. Soon as we wash the dishes." - Joseph

Anyway, these 3 convicts need money, clothing, passports - and they find it all at Ducotel's General Store, the famous Ducotel's, "the one who gives credit".  Along with Felix (Leo G. Carroll), the most inept, innocent, and financially challenged manager in history, his beautiful wife, Amelie (played by Joan Bennett), and their daughter Isobel (Gloria Talbott, in full super virgin mode). 

"You really like us, don't you?"  - Amelie (before Sally Field)

You can see where this is going:  they get hired, they get interested, they get all warm fuzzy, they change their ways, everyone is happy.  Right?  Well, not quite.  Because the big fat plum in this pudding is Basil Rathbone as Andre Trochard, who owns Ducotel's, and has come to Devil's Island - with his sycophantic nephew Paul - to do the books on Christmas Day.  I love a good villain, and Basil Rathbone is as snooty, snotty, sneering, vindictive, scheming, insulting, arrogant, belittling, and generally nasty as they come.  ("Your opinion of me has no cash value."  - Andre Trochard.)  He makes Ebenezer Scrooge look like a warm pussy cat.


Andre Trochard - "Twenty years in solitary - how's that for a Christmas present?"
Jules - "That's a lovely Christmas present.  But how are you going to wrap it up?"

There's no Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, or Future in this one; no "God bless us, every one"; no Tiny Tim; but there's theft and forgery, fraud and deceit, murder and mayhem, all done with sharp, hilarious dialog.  Go.  Rent it now.  Pour a Chateau Yquem (you'll understand later) or its equivalent, pull out a turkey leg, and enjoy!  Merry Christmas!  Compliments of the Season!

NOTE:  This was Joan Bennett's last role for Paramount for a very long time:  she was in the middle of a huge scandal when her husband, the Paramount film producer Walter Wanger, shot and almost killed her agent, Jennings Lang, in front of her in the MCA parking lot.  "I shot him because I thought he was breaking up my home," Wanger said.  Ms. Bennett said Wanger was wrong, that Wanger was in financial trouble, that Wanger was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but there would be no divorce. (!)  Wanger got 4 months at the County Honor Farm and went back to producing movies.  (Now that's Hollywood, folks.)  Bennett got blacklisted.  Until, O happy day! Dark Shadows hired her as matriarch Elizabeth Stoddard and she got to play with vampires instead of agents and producers.  As always, life is stranger than fiction.  If only she had had an Adolphe...  or is it Adolf?

SECOND NOTE:  This movie has a ton of great lines, but I have to admit my 2nd favorite Christmas movie has my favorite line of all time - the movie is the 1942 version of "The Man Who Came to Dinner", and it's Beverly Carlton (a thinly veiled Noel Coward) commenting on his former costar Larraine Sheldon (a thinly veiled Gertrude Lawrence):
"They do say she set fire to her mother, but I don't believe it."  
I laugh my head off every time...