Thursday, December 27, 2012

Movies 101 - A Star Is Born (1954)

A Star is Born (1954) – 181min – TVPG

Norman Maine (James Mason) is a movie star whose fame is on the decline because of his alcoholism. The studio keeps him away from the press but during a live performance at the Shrine auditorium he arrives intoxicated, he is about to make a fool of himself on stage when one of the singers Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) includes him in the act to make it look like it was all planed. Her quick thinking saves face for the Studio and Maine. Maine is so take by her quick thinking and talent he encourages her to come to Hollywood to be in motion pictures. Time passes and they go their separate ways, Blodgett tries her hand at acting and gets bit parts and Mane is called away to make a picture overseas. Once he comes back he sponsors her and pulls some strings to get her a starring role and she becomes a star. While her career takes off his completely implodes. Maine’s alcoholism takes over his life Blodgett is willing to give everything up to take care of Maine but he realizes that he is a detriment to her and chooses to take his own life.

This movie is so completely hard to watch, I feel incredibly bad for all of the characters. It’s a story of success, failure, love, pane, hope and hopelessness. This story has been remade twice the original was in 1937 and the other remake was in 1976. I have only seen this one but it looks like it was the only one that has a lot of big stage productions added to the story, Born in a trunk reminds me of Gota Dance from Singin' in the Rain. James Mason will always be the bad guy form North by Northwest for me but this role shows his more dramatic side, his performance was masterfuly done. 

This version of the film had some parts added from the uncut version of the film. The sound was usable and they laid it down with stills that were taken from the production of those sense. Original the film was 196min long and was then cut down to 182min. The Studio was concerned about the length and how many times it could be run in the theater so it was further cut down to 154min. The director George Cukor was not happy about the changes to the film but for the lengthy addition of Born in a Trunk he was already wrapped from the film.

My take away:

I didn't know this was a remake, I guess we will always have remakes in this industry. I should take some time and track the ebb and flow if ideas in Hollywood. When a new idea comes along and how many times they remake it. I am just wondering when they are going to do remakes of Harry Potter or Star Wars. I wonder if they are marked by new technology in film making, Superman the original was made when the technology was vastly inferior to when it first came out. King Kong is another example of this. Hummmm I need to dig further on this.

Movies 101 –Duck Soup

Duck Soup – 68min – N/A

The country of Fredonia is in financial ruin Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) is the wealthiest woman in the country and is supporting the government. She refuses to give any more money unless Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) is appointed as the new leader. Rufus and his secretary, Bob Roland (Zeppo Marx) proceed to run the country into the ground in the mad cap hijinks made famous by the Marx brothers. The neighboring country of Sylvania is eyeing Fredonia for takeover. The Ambassador from Sylvania, Trentino (Louis Calhern), is working to try any way he can to take over the country. He hires two spies Pinky (Harpo Marx), and Chicolini (Chico Marx) to dig up some dirt on Rufus. He even employs the vixen Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres) as a fem fetal to try and manipulate Rufus. Things escalate to a full on war between the two countries. In true vaudevillian style it’s a mixture of sight gags and song numbers. This is not my favorite Marx Brother film but it is one of the better ones in my opinion.

Some of the most memorable scenes were in this movie; the mirror gag is one of my favorites because I first saw this on I Love Lucy between Harpo Marx and Lucy. In the film Harpo is dressed up like Groucho and he is hiding on the other side of what used to be a mirror. They move in unison and even when Groucho thinks that he has Harpo caught, Harpo pulls a switcheroo and mirrors Groucho movie for move. The other scene that stands out is the mini war with the Street vendor. It starts out as a small matter of Chico and Harpo bumping into one of the Lemonade venders (Edgar Kennedy) customers. Then it escalates to knee holding and hat switching and then the burning of a hat it is extremely funny. One of the best fast paced exchanges between three people it’s so well performed that you have to watch it twice to see all the choreography. The second interaction between this trio is extremely funny as well. The Lemonade vender comes back at Harpo and takes some of the Peanuts that Chico is selling and ends up getting his new hat burned. The lemonade vender tips over the Peanut cart and then walks back to his cart to serve the line of customers that have gathered. Harpo begins to help mix the lemonade with his feet.

During this production the relationship between Paramount Studios and the Marx Brothers soured. This is one of the five films that were a part of the Marx brothers and Paramount contract, they separated after this production. This movie originally bombed at the box office and that made the separation a lot easier from paramount’s stand point. As I understand Zeppo also stepped away and started a talent agency with his brother because he was tired of getting bit parts. I would like to do more research on who the relationship fell through.

My Take Away: The Marx Brothers have a very fast and sometimes hard to follow brand of humor. People today don’t often appreciate that the contribution these people made for the genera of comedy. Without the Marx brothers we don’t get to Blazing Saddles or Airplane. I'm going to get you Sucka has that same feel only with a more modern pacing and direction of humor. I guess any spoof film has its roots in these films that came before. Leo McCarey directed this and he is better known for directing An Affare to Remeber. You can view this film on NetFlix watch it now.