Monday, August 18, 2008

Week of July 21st:

Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958): I'm not sure this film is actually intended as a comedy. I guess the situations conceived by director Mario Monicelli are buffoonish enough to qualify as intended amusement, but a pallor of failure coats the characters, so that most of the jokes land with a wet thump and the actors are reduced to a lot of flailing and shouting in order to make the film seem livelier than it is. Didn't make me laugh, at any rate. What a sad bastard of a movie. Grade: C

Diary of a Nudist (1961): Congratulations Doris Wishman! You achieved something with this nudist-camp-expose that I didn't think possible: You made tits seem boring. I mean, Nude on the Moon was no great shakes, but it comes off like goddamn 2001 compared to this dispiriting jigglefest. Also: Having naked kids running around in addition to the acres of nude femme flesh may have helped your "just education" case if Johnny Bluenose decided to sue on grounds of indecency, but that doesn't stop it from feeling really creepy. No wonder this genre died an unlamented death. Grade: D+

A Night to Remember (1958): Archetypal British prestige project, for better and for worse: This detailed tapestry about the sinking of the Titanic is meticulous, sober and respectful, festooned with dignified professionalism in front of/behind the camera and mostly free of histrionics. It's also as dead and bloodless a film as you're ever likely to see. Sometimes keeping a stiff upper lip means that you're just stiff. Given a choice between this and James Cameron's cheeseball melodramatics, I'll take the latter every time. Grade: C

A Song Is Born (1948): Seven years seems like an awfully small turnaround window for a director to be remaking his own film. But even Howard Hawks needed to get paid, so here's a jazz-age redux of Ball of Fire. The main surprise: Despite the legendary director's extreme distaste for the film, it ain't bad. The structure of Ball of Fire is left more or less intact, yet enough room is left for some terrific musical numbers featuring the likes of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and a number of other musical greats. Also, the charming Danny Kaye is a marked improvement over Gary Cooper, if for no other reason than Kaye doesn't come off like he's made of oak. Hawks's direction, unsurprisingly, is pretty perfunctory (the climactic musical-number-as-ambush is as lazy and slack as anything in any great director's oeuvre); meanwhile, Virginia Mayo tries her best, so I guess I can't fault her for not being Barbara Stanwyck, but the difference is noticeable. Still, if it's not on the level of a classic, it's still a pleasant diversion jam-packed with great tunes. Nothing wrong with that. Grade: B

Tell No One (2008): And now, a thought experiment for those of you who've seen this film. Close your eyes and imagine the no-doubt-in-the-works English-language remake. Let's just say that, as an example, hack extraordinaire Gary Fleder was at the helm of this remake. As for a screenwriter for the adaptation... oh, I don't know, let's assume Wesley Strick. Just let your mind spool through the plot and see how it might appear. Got that image? Hey, isn't that funny? It'd be exactly the same moronic, contrived film, wouldn't it? Some things, it seems, transcend translation. Grade: D+

The Violent Professionals (1973): Awesome, over-the-top Italian police drama about a loose cannon cop who decides to avenge the death of a uniformed friend by going undercover and single-handedly destroying an entire crime syndicate. This meathead is pretty merciless, but then he is going up against guys who shoot pregnant women for no reason during the course of a bank robbery, so I guess you gotta be hard. Absolutely no good for anyone at all, but pretty deliciously entertaining in a one-damn-thing-after-another way; between the shoot-outs and the car chases and the beatings and all the silly '70s posturing and the occasional bit of inexplicable business (i.e. the bit where some low-level thugs have the cop strip jaybird-naked), I was never bored. Turns dark and cynical at the climax, as these things are wont to do. Grade: B

What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966): Woody Allen's "debut" film, a comically redubbed Japanese spy flick, is really kind of inexcusable. Irrepressibly sophomoric and silly, overflowing with bad puns, cheesy vaudeville gags and leering sex humor, this film should be an embarrassment... but goddamn, is it ever funny. I'd like to say I'm bigger than this, that I didn't giggle at a villain named Wing Fat, the idea of "a non-existent but real-sounding country," and a man threatening to have his mustache eat another guy's beard, but I'm not -- this made me laugh a lot. If only everyone's juvenilia could be this much fun. Grade: B+


Blogger Jeff Duncanson said...

Steve...buddy...For the sin of giving "Big Deal" a C ...a C!!! you have slipped a notch on my cool-meter.
I pret near wet myself laughing at the climatic scene where they bust through the wall. a perfect little comic bit, IMHO.

You say you're not sure it was intended as a comedy. I turned that around when i watched it. The characters act like the're in a serious caper film, which makes it all the funnier when they founder.

Please promise you'll give this one another go, OK?

6:16 PM  
Blogger Steve C. said...

I did laugh during the climactic heist, I'll admit. It was the buildup towards it that I didn't care so much for.

I think it's a matter of tone -- between my dislike for Big Deal and my so-what reaction towards Divorce Italian Style, I'm starting to suspect that the broader strains of Italian farce may not be my thing. (I recently saw Mafioso as well, which on one level functions as a satire of this kind of farce.) I'll give the Monicelli another look down the line, though -- maybe I was just in a bad mood or summat.

11:45 AM  

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