Yours, Mine and Ours (1968)

Every Sperm Is Sacred

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Frank Beardsley’s (Henry Fonda) opening narration tells of how his children feel he neglected his wife and their mother; an interesting parallel to real life in which Fonda told his wife Frances Ford Seymour in 1949 he wanted a divorcee so he could remarry after an unhappy 13 year marriage; a confession which drove her to suicide. Not to mention Fonda was a man who was “emotionally distant” to his children starring in a movie like Yours, Mine and Ours, but being the great actor he is, never is he out of place.

Yours, Mine and Ours doesn’t have a massive amount of substance but has just enough to keep it afloat. It’s not the most advanced comic material for the likes of Lucille Ball but she makes the most of it. Apparently Fonda became deeply in love with Ball during film and the two became very close; always a benefit to the on screen chemistry. Likewise sex references still manage to slip into a family film (“He’ll bring me home in plenty of time for dessert”). The cinematography is also surprisingly advanced for a movie of this kind such as seen in the very opening shot of the film in which the camera pans back from a close up of Fonda to a battle ship in its entirety. Likewise there are plenty of effective shots of San Francisco.

The old fashioned family ideals in Yours, Mine and Ours were not in tune with a changing America of the time. The film was originally to be made in the early 60’s but was delayed due to various setbacks but the fashions present here are clearly of the late 60’s. With the film’s inclusion of battleships and planes the movie clearly has US Navy endorsement and I can see this pro-military aspect of the film not going down well during the days of the Vietnam War. Likewise at the end of the film the eldest son Michael Beardsley joining the armed forces; so I guess that’s off to Nam! This is the aspect of Yours, Mine and Ours which I find the most interesting; it’s a film which the product of before it’s time, clinging onto bygone values. For example the movie has Van Johnson in a supporting role whom I’ve always pictured as being an archetypal 50’s actor. But more importantly Frank Beardsley can’t be a stay at home father, he’s clearly a man’s man as evident from his high ranking position in the navy.

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There Was a Crooked Man… (1970)

It’s a Dog Eat Dog World

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

If more westerns were like The Was a Crooked Man I could consider myself a bigger fan of the genre. The opening scene in which a black maid who fakes the mammy act sets the stage for a film which defies convention. To date I’ve never seen another western like it; it’s not like a John Ford western or a Howard Hawks western, this is a Joseph L. Mankiewicz western; the first and only Mankiewicz western. I also love that theme song and am happy to hear it again and again in instrumental form throughout the film.

Mankiewicz was a master of handling dialogue and thus there is such a snappy pace to the whole film. “Nothing like fried chicken while it’s still hot and crispy” may be my favourite line Kirk Douglas has ever uttered in a film. The film is full of characters whom each get their own unique stories. The two homosexual lovers and comic buffoons played by Hume Cronyn and John Randolph have the most interesting character arc with an outcome which is the only time in the film someone isn’t totally out for themselves. The large scale prison set on the other hand captures the mundanity of prison life with the film gradually building up to the impending escape, ranking There Was a Crooked Man among the great prison escape movies.

There Was a Crooked Man is a movie which combines old Hollywood mixed with new Hollywood with its traditional western setting and it’s dosing of cynicism. The cast features stars both veteran actors and younger stars and a script by David Newman and Robert Benton of Bonnie & Clyde fame. Even the one moral character in the film ends up turning bad. Henry Fonda plays the moral role he was known for throughout his career right up until the very end of the picture, leaving me with a big smile on my face. The movie is very cynical but it’s that kind of wonderful cynicism that makes you feel happy, and not feeling down. Although I would call There Was a Crooked Man a funny movie, it is not the kind of film in which I find myself laughing but rather laughing inside to myself.

Sex and the Single Girl (1964)

Natalie & Tony & Henry & Lauren

A mainstream movie with sex in the title, even pre code didn’t do that. I could only find two films which precede Sex and the Single Girl; Sex (1920) and The Opposite Sex (1956). Although I imagine after this a movie having with “Sex” in a movie’s title wasn’t such a big deal but here they sure take advantage of it with the animated opening which puts alot of emphasis on the word ‘SEX’ in big capital letters. Perhaps the movie may have something interesting to say on its subject with Natalie Wood playing a psychologist who is a 23 old virgin (which characters in the film viewed as a compliment) or something about sleazy journalism but the movie becomes too dull to bother deciphering.

From what I’ve seen I get the impression that Richard Quine is a lousy director. He’s done a number of movies with great casts and interesting premises but are let down by flat, uninspired direction. The opening scene of Sex and the Single Girl is a gem with 1930’s comedy actor Edward Everett Horton giving a speech on how proud he is of his publication becoming “the filthy rag it is today”. Sadly it goes downhill from there. Even with the movie’s madcap finale it is hard to care what’s going on.

Henry Fonda was ashamed of this movie stating in an interview that he agreed to star in the film as a comprise to do a box office picture so he could indulge in doing movies which interested him such as 12 Angry Men and The Ox Bow Incident. There are worse movies you can do but why did he hate it so much? I doubt he would have an issue with appearing in a sex comedy as he himself starred in the sexually charged comedy The Lady Eve years earlier or is it because of the movie’s sleaze factor? Who knows…

Although I would be lying if I didn’t say I still got some superficial enjoyment out of the film. I am a sucker for the 60’s aesthetic with the bright, colourful sets (the stocking factory is very amusing) and the cool, breezy music by Neal Hefti. Likewise I do like the contrast between two generations present between Tony Curtis & Natalie Wood and Henry Fonda & Lauren Bacall. Sex and the Single Girl could have been a neo-screwball gem. In the end it’s a movie which looks appealing from the outside but is hollow on the inside.

Madigan (1968)

Bad Cops, Bad Cops

Madigan is my kind of cop movie, why? Everything about the movie feels so classic. So many classic cop movie tropes are there; the one officer who is determined to play by the book, police corruption, guys in suits who show off their identification, one liners galore and aided by the aura of cool Richard Widmark brings to the screen. Plus is there a more cop name than Madigan? Many of the men in the film wear suits and fedoras with this being the late 60’s and the final days in which it was common for working men to do so; although there is a sense of New Hollywood creeping in with the criminals in the movie appearing in that 1970’s archetype. Madigan is also one of the best uses of location, never has the grit and grime of the New York streets been captured so vividly.

The opening credits are a fantastic montage of New York in the early hours of the morning. This should come as no surprise as director Don Siegel had been a montage creator before becoming a director. I could happily have this movie playing in the background just to listen to the music. The score by Don Costa itself is one of the most underrated film scores I’ve heard; it’s so motivating and makes you want to go and kick some ass. Much of my appreciation of Madigan is due to the film’s aesthetics. The film’s plots are good if not entirely exception but men are those some fine aesthetics.

Ash Wednesday (1973)

The Fountain of Youth

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Richard Burton hated this movie, calling is a “f***ing bloody, lousy, nothing film”: I must strongly disagree. Ash Wednesday paints a haunting picture of a plastic surgery hospital, with patients walking around like zombies with bandages over their heads in a last desperate bid to be young again. As Keith Baxter’s character puts it “we all simply refuse to accept reality”. One moment during the film is in which a group of patients are playing cards; reminds me of the ‘waxworks’ scene from Sunset Boulevard. Realistic or not, this whole section of the movie is eerie and effective. Even after Elizabeth Taylor has left the hospital there is this continuing sense of unease, as if she has just sold her soul to the devil; helped in part by Maurice Jarre’s music score. The movie’s theme of fading beauty is made all the more poignant since its Elizabeth Taylor of all people doing the role.

The first act of Ash Wednesday features graphic scenes of plastic surgery. Watching the film I didn’t know if they were real or just really convincing special effects. Nope, it turns out it is real footage with skin being cut open and plenty of exposed flesh in close up detail. I do wonder who is actually under the knife in this footage but it is an effectively put together sequence in which I believed Elizabeth Taylor’s character was the one undertaking plastic surgery.

The opening credits of the film feature a series of cut and paste photographs of Elizabeth Taylor and Henry Fonda in an effort to make it appear they have been a married couple as they age over the years. Fonda being much older than Taylor in real life, these series of photos feature the two at the same age periods, so a photo of Fonda in the 30’s will be cut and paste with a picture of Taylor from the 50’s. It’s not entirely convincing but is neat to look at.

What I appreciate most about Ash Wednesday is just honest the storytelling is. Taylor’s husband played by Henry Fonda simply doesn’t love her anymore, there is no sexual attraction between the two them and they don’t satisfy each other’s needs anymore; yet he doesn’t come off as a jerk getting these points across. Untimely the two learn to accept this but not without having an understanding of each other and move on with their lives.

Ash Wednesday has yet to ever see the light of day on DVD, remaining VHS only.

You Belong to Me (1941)

The Guy Henry

I usually avoid writing such comments as “Why does this movie have such a low IMDB rating?!” but I’m going to break my own rule this one time. Why does this movie have such a low IMDB rating?! You Belong to Me is of the funniest films I’ve ever seen, period. Giving me the type of gut busting, side splitting laughter I rarely get from even the funniest of comedies. I was in howls of consistent laughter for 90 minutes; unlike The Lady Eve which I feel looses steam in it’s final third. I only watched You Belong to Me in order to become a Barbara Stanwyck-Henry Fonda completest and was expecting something mediocre based on all the negative IMDB reviews but I have to ask the question mankind has pondered since the beginning of time, “What is wrong with you people!? Do you even understand the basic essence of comedy?!!” Ok, back to planet Earth.

The movie plays out like a newspaper comedy; the setup of a husband neglecting his wife due to his obligations to his job except in this case the profession is a doctor and it’s not the man, it’s the woman. Peter Kirk (Fonda) acts like a spoiled child throughout the film who doesn’t know any better yet he’s always too loveable and innocent to ever come off as annoying. Likewise many of his shenanigans and dialogue are very Homer Simpsons like (“Patient dies while doctor ski-ies”). He goes to extreme lengths to have Helen Hunt (not the modern day actress but the character played by Stanywck) as his own with his increasingly humorous paranoia; and while considering Stanwyck’s sexuality I can’t blame the guy. The man really does look like he’s in love with the woman which would come as no surprise as apparently Fonda would tell his later wife he was still in love with Stanwyck. Peter Kirk has no purpose or ambition and doesn’t contribute a whole lot to society, unlike his polar opposite wife; the more mature of the two to say the least. Even with this comically absurd pairing I did at times feel somber for the couple.

I don’t always say this with every romantic pairing I see however after watching all three movies they did together I do believe Stanwyck and Fonda could have been a regular film pairing up with there with the likes of Astaire & Rogers, Powell & Loy and Tracey & Hepburn. The chemistry they share is some of the best I’ve seen in old Hollywood stars; a match made in heaven if I’ve ever seen one.

Sometimes a Great Notion (1970)

Sometimes a Great Motion Picture

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

There is no over arching plot in Sometimes a Great Notion yet I was still engaged with the life of this family with their ongoing effort to try and make a living and their own family dilemmas all occurring among the beautiful forest scenery of Oregon. This is a man’s movie reminiscent of the male bonding films from Howard Hawks such as Only Angels Have Wings and Tiger Shark.

Henry Fonda plays a character called Henry so I like to imagine his interactions on set with Paul Newman occur just like they do in the movie. I’ve also often championed Henry Fonda’s unsung abilities as a comedic actor and here he provides the film with some great moments of comic relief. Michael Sarrazin gives the most interesting performance though as the girly man Leeland Stamper who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the men largely due to his long hair. There’s a quiet confidence to his character though as he is unbothered by the remarks of the other men and eventfully wins their respect, by how? Winning a game of the ever manly sport of football.

The logging scenes themselves are actually quite suspenseful, seeing men who are putting their lives in danger in order to make a living, you’re expecting someone to get injured or killed at any time and that beings me to scene in the film which left the greatest impression on me. There are two death scenes towards the end of the film. First there’s Henry Fonda’s death which is sad, itself but that is but nothing compared to the death of Richard Jaeckel; I was thinking about this scene for days after watching the film and it’s even more powerful watching it a second time as I’m waiting in dread for the scene to arrive. For starters the character is trapped under a log while the tide is slowly rising and he spends the whole time joking about it and when he is eventually submerged in water he can only stay alive thorough constant mouth to mouth resuscitation until help shows up to move the giant log. I can’t imagine a more terrifying situation a person could be in; you can possibly get rescued and live but in order to do so you must remain completely calm; one mistake and you’re a goner. This one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever seen in a film. I doubt I will ever see a more intense death scene or one so difficult to watch.

The Ox Bow Incident (1943)

The Mob Doesn’t Think. It Has No Mind of Its Own. The great Spencer Tracy said in Fury!

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

When I think to myself what are the most pessimistic films, The Ox Bow Incident is one of the first to come to mind. This is the type of film you never forget. Whenever I hear a story in the news related to mob mentality, I always think ‘The Ox Bow Incident’! In the same way how any news story of political corruption or ineffectiveness makes me think Mr Smith Goes to Washington. The eerie music throughout the film sets the tone that something bad is going to happen.

This is the type of film that needs public exposure. It showcases how people can be pack animals who will rally behind something whether or not it’s true; demanding quick, speedy justice regardless of the consequences, with an ending which is a pessimistic punch to the gut, making you feel bad about humanity. The characters having no patience for the legal system and bend the law to fit their own agendas by allowing a deputy sheriff to deputise others. The result: three men are lynched on flimsily evidence that later turn out to be innocent. And is that wasn’t bad enough; the man they were accused of murdering is actually still alive. Remember just how easy false information can spread – do you hear that internet?

All the cast members of The Ox Bow Incident have their moment in the sun, although it’s Dana Andrews is the one of who steals the show for me – just what you expect for a man threatened with lynching for a crime he is not proven to have committed. The hung bodies themselves don’t appear on screen as this would have been too graphic for the time. Only their shadows appear which is no less a powerful image.

Henry Fonda’s character is like the man in the painting in the saloon who is about to reach out for a woman – “In reach but can’t do anything about it”. Henry Fonda was not a producer on The Ox-Bow Incident but it’s likely had more of a role than just an actor. At the age of 14, Fonda’s father took him to witness the lynching of a young black man accused of rape – an event which had a profound impact on him, so it’s clear the material of The Ox Bow Incident was of prime interest to him. Even in the film’s trailer he appears as himself talking about the book and film, and states “it’s not ethical for an actor to talk about a picture he’s in”. Yikes, times have changed!

Lynching was still prevalent in 1943 and the movie takes a jab at southerners with much of the posse being southern stereotypes. One of them even says at one point “Down in Texas where I come from we just get a man and string him up”, no wonder Texas gets a bad rap. The unofficial leader of the posse Major Tetley even wears a Confederate uniform.

The movie also packs a punch with its critique on machismo. The character of Major Tetley tries to make himself out to be more than he is while trying pathetically to be manly and tough. He tries to make a man out his effeminate and possibly gay adopted son (Tetley refers to him at one point as a “female boy”) by forcing him to be part of the lynching mob; needless to say things end in a tragic state. The son barely utters a word throughout the film until the end in which he gives a monologue to his father on what a depraved animal he is – such a release of anger. Likewise Jane Darwell plays an annoying loud mouthed old hag (ugh, that laugh) who is essentially one of the guys and believe you me: you just want to tape her mouth shut.

At only 75 minutes the film doesn’t screw around and gets straight to the point. The only disruption in the film’s pacing is a sub plot regarding Henry Fonda’s character and his ex-girlfriend. I haven’t got any answers to how this is relevant to the rest of the plot. Westerns are not my favourite genre so to enjoy one they have to be incredibly well done or stand out of the crowd. In The Ox-Bow Incident the western setting is merely a backdrop. The film has a low budget complete with obviously fake backdrops but it’s unlike anything else being made in Hollywood at the time. The film I found it held the most resemblance towards was Paths of Glory but preceding it by 14 years. The world wasn’t ready for The Ox Bow Incident in 1943 – but is it still ready?

On Golden Pond (1981)

My Knight In Shining Armour

On Golden Pond deserves the title of “something you don’t see every day”.  Movies which deal with old age don’t usually become box office hits in a world obsessed with being young, yet On Golden Pond became the 2nd highest grossing film of 1981. Plus it stars two elderly actors who hadn’t appeared in a major box office picture in over a decade.

Despite their six decades in the industry, not only was it the first time Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn starred in a film together but they the first time they had even met each other. I never ceased to be amazed by the longevity of the careers of these two actors, especially Henry Fonda, whom I consider to have the most impress careers of any actor I’ve come across, scoring great films in every decade from the 30’s right up to the 80’s. On Golden Pond would be his last film and what a way to end a career. On Golden Pond reflects Fonda’s real life relationship with his children. Reportedly the man was emotionally distant from his children, as are characters of Norman and his daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) in On Golden Pond. It makes you wonder how much of the interactions between the Fondas in the film are genuine.  Also what’s up with the bikini shots Jane Fonda? Was she trying to promote her exercise videos?

Norman Thayer actually reminds me of my own grandfather in how he enjoys screwing with people’s minds, such as the scene in which his future son in law tries to ask him if he would have a problem with having sex with his wife in their house.  Norman Thayer seems like a stereotypical old man at first but we grow to sympathize with his character; he’s a man nearing the end of his life played by a man who literally was nearing the end of his life. Compared to Henry Fonda’s appearance in the film Meteor which he stared in two years earlier, he aged quite a lot in that short period of time.

Katharine Hepburn is one badass old lady in this film. Just look at the scene in which jumps of a boat and into a lake to save her husband and nephew and doing he own stunts too. She also reportedly told Jane Fonda on set that she hated her but watching their scenes together you’d never know it but she’s Kate, she can hate whoever she wants. Plus it’s nifty to hear old stars curse, as well as flipping the bird. Norman and Ethel Thayer represent the old couple I believe most people would strive to be, married for decades but still madly in love with each other as ever.

The Moons Our Home (1936)

Straight to the Moon!

 

The Moons Our Home is one of my favourite super obscure films with only 139 users ratings on IMDB as of writing this review and a proclamation from Bill Murray as one of his favourite films (look up his appearance on the Siskel and Ebert Holiday Gift Guide 1988 In which he mentions he would like a cassette of the film for Christmas). The Moons Our Home has only recently seen its due on DVD on the Universal Vault Series although when I watched the film I had to access it though a torrent. Not the greatest image quality but as a big fan Margaret Sullavan and a Henry Fonda enthusiast I was overjoyed to get a hold of the film and was not let down in the slightest.

What surprised me about Margaret Sullavan’s performance is how much she reminded me of Jean Harlow, always changing mood within a split second while screaming and throwing tantrums from the very beginning of the movie Sullavan and Harlow are two actresses I didn’t think I would ever compare so it’s fascinating to see this aspect of her screen persona I didn’t even know existed. There is even a Hepburn-esque quality to her character of Cherry Chester with her fierce desire to be independent as well as clothing choices of a turtle neck and trousers.

Sullavan and Fonda had previously been married, making their pairing feel more tender and genuine with moments like their histrionics in the snow being as adorable as they are funny. The Moon’s Our Home also features innovative use of split screen in which Sullavan and Fonda are given half of the screen to represent different rooms in which they move in parallel and symmetrical tandem. The filmed is also carried by a fine cast of supporting players including Beulah Bondi, Margaret Hamilton and my favourite Walter Brennan as the hard of hearing justice of the peace; a brief but hysterically funny role.

It’s already a joy to discover a film I love, even more so when it’s a film that almost no one else will watch in a million years. It gives me the sense that it’s my movie. I guess this is what hipsters must feel like listening to bands no one else has heard off.