12 Angry Men

Talkie of the Week: 12 Angry Men

USA 1957, 96 minutes, black & white, MGM. Director: Sidney Lumet, Written by Reginald Rose, Based on his teleplay. Cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, John Fiedler, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec and Robert Webber.

Plot summary: Twelve jurors discuss the case of a young man they were chosen to adjudicate on. Together, they examine evidence and testimonies to reach an unanimous verdict.

Review: Originally produced live and broadcast on CBS in 1954, 12 Angry Men was a success with critics and TV audiences before the teleplay was brought to the big screen to win three Academy Award nominations. Starring Henry Fonda as famed juror #8 whose intellectual curiosity saves a young defendant from being convicted upon neglect, the motion picture adaptation offered an atmosphere of density and literal anger, mixed with an almost tangible heat that added fuel to a starting fire. Relying on a stellar cast of character actors, 12 Angry Men was shot in a claustophobic setting, a juror’s room with only a restroom serving as a possible escape. Suspense erupted from the men and their tingling aggression brought on by prejudices, disinterest and their own personal struggles.

Fifty-five years ago, the film captivated audiences on the big screen but wasn’t completely successful until it found its way back to American TV. Today, the film is every bit as entertaining and tension-packed as it was upon release. Benefitting from vivid dialog and a darkish quality in black and white, 12 Angry Men is the kind of classic that will never grow old. Available on DVD and Bluray, the film has the potential to attract a whole new generation of movie buffs who – like their parents and grandparents – will find themselves engrossed in the plot as soon the jurors are in session.

Have a look at impressions from the movie here.

Adam’s Rib

Talkie of the Week: Adam’s Rib

USA 1949, 101 minutes, black & white, MGM. Director: George Cukor, Written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, Davis Wayne, Jean Hagen, Hope Emerson, Eve March, Clarence Kolb, Emerson Treacy, Polly Moran, Will Wright, Elizabeth Flournoy

Plot summary: Adam and Amanda are happily married until a case divides the two lawyers in court when he has to prosecute his wife’s female client.

Review: As one of the most successful romantic comedies, Adam’s Rib is a classic gem for its topic of equality between man and women, and for its splendid cast led by Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn. Famous for their on screen chemistry and witty acting, the two stars brought a sparkle of energy to an already hilarious script. Written especially for the two actors as their sixth silver screen collaboration, the film was loosely based on the real life story of William and Dorothy Whitney and presented Judy Holliday in her first big part. Praised for the quality of their script, screenwriters Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin got nominated for an Academy Award and was added to the National Film Registry in 1992.

As one of those classics that never gets old, Adam’s Rib is a film I simply cannot get enough of. I may be biased towards two of my favorite Hollywood veterans, but Spencer Tracy’s and Katherine Hepburn’s performances are a pure joy to watch. With their endless banter and their natural quality, they added life to a film that was already blessed with a talented director and an excellent score. The case they quarreled about as Amanda and Adam Bonner is a real hoot, especially due to the eventful courtroom scenes. In addition to that, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell and Jean Hagen did a wonderful job supporting the main stars, never outshining them but strong enough to leave a mark.

Available on DVD today, Adam’s Rib is the perfect treat for an evening at home with friends. It will entertain you and maybe stir a discussion about a topic that never really seems to get old. More than sixty years later, the sense of humor and style may be different, but that’s exactly what makes this film pure gold.

Adam’s Rib original trailer

Wife vs. Secretary

Talkie of the Week: Wife vs. Secretary

USA 1936, 88 minutes, black & white, MGM. Director: Clarence Brown, Written by Faith Baldwin, Norman Krasna, John Lee Mahin, Alice Duer Miller. Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, James Stewart, May Robson, George Barbier, Hobart Cavanaugh, John Qualen

Plot summary: Van is happily married to Linda until she suspects her husband of having an affair with his gem of a secretary called Whitey.

Review: Wife vs. Secretary is a stellar film with a stellar cast. Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy and James Stewart in one movie – the names alone promise a good eighty-eight minutes of excellent entertainment. And if you enjoy the work and style of only one of these Hollywood legends you won’t be disappointed.

As the leading man of this heavyweight ensemble, Clark Gable carries the basic storyline without any trouble. He’s charming, sympathetic and looks innocently guilty when he faces his celluloid wife and secretary. Jean Harlow is Whitey, Gable’s beautiful office gem who goes beyond her usual sensual poise and charm. She is capable, willing and able, but on a much different note than Loy’s Linda or the audience may assume. Myrna Loy is a wonderful counterpart to Harlow’s peppy character: she’s sophisticated and full of trust until her husband starts telling lies. She’s the perfect loving wife who’s scorned when the gossip seems to match the truth. And her scenes with Jean Harlow spark of the fireworks that go much deeper than any of those contemporary cat fights. The two actresses show class and composure, wittily supported by a subtle script and a beautiful wardrobe. James Stewart adds additional spice to this mix of salt, pepper and chili. He plays Whitey’s boyfriend who’s honest and nice to the bones. He stands for the direct opposite of Van Stanhope’s (Clark Gable) world of big business, fancy dinner parties and a spoiled life. He’s a decent character who offers Whitey a simple but  righteous life.

To sum it up, Wife vs. Secretary is a well-rounded film that never leaves you bored. The storyline is hilarious but doesn’t miss to delve into a moment of poignancy. The dialogs are concise and mildly suggestive, much to the benefit of the spirit and tone of the film. The movie rarely goes over the top but always keeps its characters believable and likable, leaving the audience undecided about who to side with until the very end.

Wife vs. Secretary is a brilliant showcase for the talents of its three leading actors, James Stewart in one of his early roles and an excellent supporting cast. It is the right kind of film to cheer you up on a lazy Sunday afternoon or a perfect addition to a movie marathon of classics led by two of Golden Hollywood’s most memorable women. And although the versus in the title suggests competition, it is the way those two leading ladies work together that makes this movie really great.

Available on DVD. Wife vs. Secretary trailer

The Approaching New Year

With the new year fast approaching, I’ve decided to have a look at 2012 because I may love vintage but I rather look ahead than back. So what’s cooking?!

On January 17th, America’s sweetheart Betty White is going to complete another decade. She’ll be turning  ninety. I know she just recently said that’s not an accomplishment but that it just happened, bless her for  counting her blessings like that. But still. Ninety is quite a milestone. And with her popularity, filmography  and attitude she definitely outshines an entire studio full of performers less than half her age.

 

On April 18th then, my personal Tinseltown darling, RKO’s 1940s starlet and Perry Mason‘s renowned girl Friday, Barbara Hale, will join Ms. White, my N Hollywood grandma and their club of Fabulous at Ninety. Although long retired, well-deserved and (apparently) happily so, Ms. Hale is still fondly remembered by Della Street fans and classic cinéastes from around the globe. More and more of her work has been published on DVD or online in recent years and I sincerely hope that 2012 will reveal more of her bubbly warmth for us all to enjoy.

Then several films and TV shows will celebrate their anniversaries. Here are some examples:

  • Ironside (1967-75, NBC)
  • The Lucy Show (1962-68, CBS)
  • My Little Margie (1952-55, CBS & NBC)
  • Perry Mason TV show (1957-66, CBS)
  • A Likely Story (1947, RKO, directed by H.C. Potter, starring Barbara Hale and Bill Williams)
  • The First Time (1952, Columbia, directed by Frank Tashlin, starring Robert Cummings and Barbara Hale)
  • Ivanhoe (1952, MGM, directed by Richard Thorpe, starring Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor)
  • The Miracle Worker (1962, United Artists, directed by Arthur Penn, starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke)
  • Pat & Mike (1952, MGM, directed by George Cukor, starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952, MGM, directed by Stanley Donen, starring Gene Kelley and Debbie Reynolds)
  • That Touch of Mink (1962, Universal, directed by Delbert Mann, starring Cary Grant and Doris Day)
  • What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962, Warner Bros., directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis & Joan Crawford)

Of course there are many many more, e.g. Bambi (1942), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Mrs. Miniver (1942) or To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Also other TV shows like The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78) or The Flying Nun (1967-70).

The legendary Barbara Stanwyck had her screen debut as a fan dancer in Broadway Nights eighty-five years ago. She would’ve turned one-hundred and five on July 16th, Raymond Burr ninety-five on May 21st.

I could continue this list ad infinitum. But I rather wish you a smooth start into the new year and hope you’re looking forward to all the vintage treats that will be revisited and adored on this blog in the up-coming leap year.

Bless y’all!

The Thin Man

TV classics: The Thin Man

USA 1957-59, 2 seasons,  72 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC, black & white. Produced by: MGM Television, Based on the mystery novel by Dashiell Hammett. Cast: Peter Lawford, Phyllis Kirk, Also starring: Jack Albertson, Patricia Donahue, Nita Talbot

Plot summary: After resigning from being a P.I., Nick Charles keeps stumbling upon cases that ask for his expertise and a little to massive amount of help from his socialite wife Nora.

Review: For fans of The Thin Man movies (produced between 1934 and 1947), this show takes some getting used to. The late 1950s show does not feature Myrna Loy and William Powell as fabulous Nick and Nora Charles with their incomparable on-screen chemistry and charm, instead it introduces a different yet equally sophisticated duo of actors: Phyllis Kirk and Peter Lawford. Their portrayal differs largely from Loy’s poise and Powell’s wit, but they are definitely entertaining and endearing in their own way.

Attempting to follow the success of The Thin Man movies, the TV show is also beautifully written and equipped with elegant robes for Phyllis Kirk and dashing suits for Peter Lawford. Unfortunately, the show’s irony and often sharp sarcasm did not last longer than two full seasons. It was MGM’s failed experiment at producing a show after dismissing television and thus failing to keep up with the changes of time.

Today, the show is not yet available on DVD although it is a worthwhile treat to watch Nick and Nora getting in and out of trouble with recurring guest stars like Patricia Donahue, Nita Taylor or Jack Albertson. Selected episodes are available online and a sample episode was even included on “The Complete Thin Man Collection“. So take your pick and lean back to enjoy this show, I sure didn’t regret coming across it and I keep my fingers crossed for more episodes to be available anytime soon.

The Thin Man sample episode