Daily Film Thoughts: Kay Francis, Edward G. and One Two Three

Here are some thoughts on three films I’ve seen as of late. I’ll review them in order:

The first is Confession a 1937 film by the unmentioned and unknown director Joe May. Starring Kay Francis and Basil Rathbone, the story opens on a young girl named Lisa (Jane Bryan) saying goodbye to her mother as she leaves for vacation. She and her friend receive an unusual letter from Michael Michailow (Basil Rathbone) to come see him at one of his concerts – these young women don’t know Michael. So they go and during the concert Michael lays eyes on Lisa – he “knew” she’d come. Lisa’s friend has to be home by 10 leaving Lisa alone with Michael after the concert; a shy, young Lisa and an aggressive and seductive old Michael cause for some of the most awkward romanticism you’ll ever see. Lisa feels increasingly uncomfortable and is convinced by Michael to see him one last time before he leaves for another tour.

Structured beautifully, after the opening third of the film Michael gets shot by a deranged woman at a nightclub the night before he’s set to leave – it turns out the first 30 minutes were Lisa telling her story of her and Michael to a court; the deranged woman on trial. Lisa’s character is basically unheard of apart from one or two small scenes later on and she takes a backseat to Vera (Kay Francis) and her story that is told behind closed doors. There is a twist in the story that smacks the film into perspective and had me literally speaking to myself going “Holy f-ck”. It’s by far the best twist I’ve seen on film; but perhaps that is just due to me not knowing anything about the plot before hand.

The cast is great and headed by one of the finest leading performances I’ve seen in Kay Francis. The pacing is elegant; the direction is subtle; the story is fascinating and the ending is thrilling. One of the greatest films I’ve seen and I urge anyone that’s a fan of classic cinema to seek this out immediately. [9/10]

The second film I’ve seen as of late is Tiger Shark. Coincidentally, I was putting early cinema film references in my latest screenplay – a homage to prohibition gangster films – and I decided to use this film, a film I’d not seen. A few days later it happened to pop up on TCM and it seemed like too eerie a coincidence to pass up.

Tiger Shark is a 1932 film by Howard Hawks and it stars Edward G. Robinson and Zita Johann. The story is simple and consists primarily on the lives of fisherman – most notably one fisherman by the name of Mike Mascarenhas (Edward G. Robinson) a self-absorbed, arrogant, yet genuine Portuguese man with a hook for a hand! He rambles endlessly about the most mundane of things and feels too similar a person to be a fictional character; a tribute to the skill of Mr. Robinson.

Aboard the vessel he is the captain of, there are major health issues; primarily ones that preserve your life and keep you from dying. The fishermen and their main goals are to fish, obviously. But in shark infested waters, there are many instances where the large fish pull you in and for the few seconds you lay in wait for help, you lose a limb. In one case, a man dies and Mike decides to go to inform his daughter Quita (Zita Johann) and care for her. Not because he’s noble, but because she’s quite pretty and he’s quite lonely. This sparks a typical romance and after a little while they get married. Soon after she realizes she isn’t in love with him, but rather one of his shipmates and closest friends in Pipes (Richard Arlen). Pipes wants no part of an affair because he’s indebted to Mike for saving him and losing a hand in doing so – she doesn’t care either way.

The story ends is typical from beginning to end with a pretty good ending that achieves what it wants the viewer to feel; Mike never once changes throughout the course of the film and it’s very nice to see consistency in such a character. Robinson was excellent and knocked the film up 1 mark with his best performance yet. I’d recommend it to fans of Edward G. Robinson or a light and short romantic films from the heyday. [7/10]

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The latest film I’ve seen is The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Having seen the 2009 version based on the novel by John Godey, I figured I may as well give the one with the superior acting and superior reviews a go.

Like you probably know because of recent trailers, the story consists of a subway man – in the Scott version, a subway dispatcher; in this, a subway policeman – by the name of Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) trying to plea with a man who has hijacked the subway Pelham 123 with three co-conspirators. They demand a large amount of money – in the ’09 version there is a hidden motive; in this it’s straightforward and less ironic due to recent circumstances in the real world’s financial situation – and the four men, led by Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw). Unlike the new version, this is all about business – there is no chummy, fate pondering dialogue, it is simply all about business.

What I liked most about this version in contrast to the ’09 version were the characters. They were all real people: from the two main characters begin completely straightforward and putting forth very ‘manly’ auras to the subway patrons who are completely scared and not bound to do anything stupid or unconventional… everyone is just an honest person. Caricatures and unreasonable circumstances are not ever a problem with this film which put it miles about the most recent version.

The performances are very good: the determined and collected performance by Walter Matthau blends beautifully with the relentless and sardonic performance by Robert Shaw.

All in all, the film is very entertaining and structured very well. It has one of my favourite final acts in film history and the final scene seals that statement. If you disliked the version that just came out don’t hesitate to watch this film to restore your faith in the story! [8/10]

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