Desk Set

Talkie of the Week: Desk Set

USA 1957, 103 minutes, color, 20th Century Fox. Director: Walter Lang, Written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, Based on the play by William Marchant. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, Sue Randall, Neva Patterson, Harry Ellerbe, Nicholas Joy, Diane Jergens, Merry Anders, Ida Moore and Rachel Stephens.

Plot summary: When the Federal Broadcasting Network hires Richard Sumner to install an “electronic brain”, the head of the reference library fears for the relevance of her department and her very own job.

Desk_Set_1957Review: There are different reasons to pick a movie. The plot may delight you, the director or cast. You may have read the book a film is based on or you simply stumble upon a film on TCM or in the film department of a store. In my case, two reasons apply. First of all, I love Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as individual performers but as soon as they’re on screen together, my heart skips a beat. And then, so I gladly admit, I scan every store for classic film offers. The second my eyes fell on the sales sticker on Desk Set, a decision had been made to buy this film and enjoy it with a dear old friend. Now although said friend shares my enthusiasm for Miss Hepburn, she isn’t as enamored with Hollywood’s Golden Age as yours truly. So you can imagine her reaction when the film started to address computers and the pros and cons of upgrading the workplace a good 55 years ago. In her defense, she gave the movie a chance and ended up enjoying it despite her initial reservations. I was in love with it the moment I realized this was an adaptation of William Marchant’s play, written by Phoebe and Henry Ehpron who also penned one of my favorite comedies, The Jackpot (starring James Stewart and Barbara Hale). So yes, call me biased when I recommend this film to you but for anyone who’s fond of witty dialog, delicious acting and some depth in comedy, Desk Set is a true gem. To give away the storyline would be a crime, so I’ll refrain from saying more about the plot but this: not everything is what it seems, but you can always count on the Hepburn-Tracy chemistry now shrouded in legend. The film is available on DVD and as instant video. Here’s the trailer for you to judge for yourselves.

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All About Eve

Talkie of the Week: All About Eve

USA 1950, 138 minutes, black & white, 20th Century Fox, Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Based on The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr. Cast: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, George Sanders, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill, Gregory Ratoff, Barbara Bates, Marilyn Monroe

Plot summary: Aging Broadway star Margo Channing takes her young adoring fan Eve under her wings and ends up being ousted by the aspiring actress the not so innocent girl turns out to be.

Review: If you are into Hollywood classics, All About Eve will probably have crossed your path early on. It is one of those gems critics raved about upon release. A film that received fourteen Academy Awards nominations, including four for the star-studded female ensemble and six wins: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Costume Design and Sound Recording. It earned a variety of other nominations and awards, including a bow to Bette Davis’ leading performance at the Cannes Film Festival. Popular culture has frequently paid homage to All About Eve and the originally fictitious Sarah Siddons Award introduced in the movie was turned into an actual honor by theater enthusiasts in Chicago in 1952. The Sarah Siddons Society first awarded Helen Hayes for outstanding actress of the year and is still announcing their annual winners today.

With so much cultural impact on its resumĂ©, the film is almost bound to disappoint when you first watch it. Expectations are high, and rightly so, but All About Eve was a well-written movie back in 1950 and still is today. Joseph L. Mankiewicz created a story that’s gripping and timeless even though certain dynamics have changed in the entertainment business these days. All in all however, the sensitive bond between performing artists and their adoring fans, between experienced actresses and aspiring ones, between producers, writers and their entourage, has remained the same. It is a world of its own, so foreign to outsiders and yet so familiar to anyone who’s tied up in a business that strives on competition, rejuvenation and success.

Bette Davis was a genius pick for Margo Channing although Claudette Colbert was the original inspiration for the part. With her powerhouse performance, Miss Davis did not only win over juries and critics, but also built the ground for her fellow cast members to shine on. Anne Baxter absorbed Margo Channing’s fierce energy and created an almost eerie Eve Harrington whose admiration and lies push the story forward. Celeste Holm added a note of genuine heartiness to that group of strong-willed women while Thelma Ritter brought some much needed earthiness to the quixotic world of Broadway theater. Supported by a potent group of male actors and Marilyn Monroe in one of her early roles, the richly praised cast still leaves a lasting impression on its audience today.

For me, All About Eve is a must-see movie, one of those gems that grows on you over the years, with performances and lines that hit a nerve and stay with you. It’s a film you can watch over and over again, like many of the true classics, and they will always give you something else.

Available on DVD and VHS.

Forty Guns

Talkie of the Week: Forty Guns

USA 1957, 77 minutes, black & white, 20th Century Fox. Director: Samuel Fuller, Written by Samuel Fuller. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Gene Barry, Dean Jagger, John Ericson, Robert Dix, Eve Brent

Plot summary: Jessica Drummond rules her ranch, her brother and her forty hired guns in Arizona, intimidating the townspeople of nearby Tombstone. When Marshall Griff Bonnell and his two younger brothers come to arrest one of her men, they set off an avalanche that claims casualties on both sides.

Review: Forty Guns is a Western shot in best cinemascope quality. Written and directed by Samuel Fuller, the film features a hardboiled Barbara Stanwyck whose matriarch character is much more than our first encounter with her may suggest. Dramatically introduced on horseback, Jessica Drummond is a myth who surrounds herself with forty men to run her ranch, her Forty Guns. The myth is supported in a song, High Ridin’ Woman, which adds to the vigor of Ms. Drummond, foreshadowing her destiny.

Barbara Stanwyck is supported by Barry Sullivan as Marshall Griff  Bonnell, a former gunslinger whose courage and genuine approach to arrest felons deeply impresses her. Together, they carry a plot that’s far from jolly and move along a story that’s gripping and violent at times. Neither Jessica Drummond, nor Griff Bonnell are easy characters to understand and like, but the writing and the excellent performances add to their rough charm.

They are surrounded by a convincing cast of supporting characters and actors, Gene Barry, Dean Jagger and Eve Brent to only name a few. The landscape and setting adds to the sparse beauty of the film, accompanied by a neat score and convincing special effects.

All in all, Forty Guns is a film for a Western audience who appreciates the talents of Barbara Stanwyck and a stylish way of presenting a classic tale. It is a film that’s poignant and entertaining, a decent western that may surprise you in the end.

Available on DVD.

Alaska Passage

Talkie of the Week: Alaska Passage

USA 1959, 71 minutes, black & white, 20th Century Fox. Director: Edward Bernds, Written by: Edward Bernds. Cast: Bill Williams, Naura Hayden (as Nora Hayden), Lyn Thomas, Leslie Bradley, Nick Dennis, Raymond Hatton, Fred Sherman, Court Shepard, Gregg Martell, Gene Roth, Jess Kirkpatrick, Jorie Wyler, Tommy Cook, Al Baffert

Plot summary: Al Graham runs a trucking business in Alaska, America’s final frontier which confronts him with washed out bridges, female hitchhikers and mayhem concerning his partner Gerard Mason and his scheming wife.

Review: Alaska Passage is a short little film for an audience who appreciates a decent cast of experienced actors who do their best to support a charmingly simple storyline. Forced to return to his home base, trucker Al Graham picks up hitchhiker Tina Boyd who is on her way to Fairbanks to land a job. Attracted to Al early on, she decides to take him up on his offer to stay in the little trucker town where he runs his business. The local diner always needs a helping hand. Finding available lodging not far from Al’s, she soon hooks up with him on an intimate level until his partner Gerard Mason comes to town with his wife Janet. Al Graham has a personal history with Mrs Mason which leads to all sorts of trouble for him and his business.

What may sound a little too dramatic or predictable on paper does work on screen. The movie, although not exactly a blockbuster, has a good pace and a convincing cast led by Bill Williams and Nora Hayden. They make it work, the roughness of the story so beautifully accentuated by the Alaskan setting, as well as the romance. Supported by Lyn Thomas and Leslie Bradley as Mr. and Mrs Mason, they keep you entertained for the entirety of seventy-one minutes, making you wish for more to come after the rather abrupt ending.

Alaska, still a frontier myth long after this movie was made and released, is what makes this movie special. The peculiar characters seem to be outcasts in a world like ours but fit right in where they choose to live. They cope with nature, unpredictable and vile at times, but also overwhelming and breathtaking. They get lonely in the wilderness, cut off civilization if a bridge washes out or a plane crashes, leaving them depending on no one but themselves. It is that atmosphere the film delivers, nicely translated into action by TV’s former Kit Carson and his surrounding cast of performers. A movie well done and diverting. A perfect treat for a foul weather weekend morning.