The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Plot: Tracy Lord is getting married to George Kittredge, someone way beneath her social station, and Spy Magazine wants all the scoops. So Spy sends writer Mike Connor (Mike is short for Macaulay, decades before any Culkins slapped their own faces), and photographer Elizabeth Imbrie to capture the festivities. Tracy’s ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven escorts the pair as a Spy liaison (and low-key blackmailer), and in the course of about 24 hours, the three Spy employees manage to unravel the pending nuptials.

Best Moment: When Mike and Liz first show up, Tracy and her little sister Dinah put on the show of shows for them. It is hilarious. Dinah literally performs–walking on her pointe slippers, speaking French, and ending with a vocal performance while she plays the piano. Pretty much anytime Dinah opens her mouth, I’m a fan.

Worst Moment: In the opening scene of the film, Tracy is chasing Dexter out of the house, throwing things at his feet, breaking one of his golf clubs. In return. Dexter shoves Tracy through the doorway back into the house. I know I’ve seen this movie before, but I don’t remember that opening scene. It jarred me on this viewing, especially having been shoved through a doorway by someone much bigger than me.

Epiphanies: My unpopular opinion: I don’t like this movie. I find Tracy insufferable. I don’t think it’s romantic (Rotten Tomatoes ranks it as the 3rd best Romantic Comedy of all time). I find Dexter incredibly presumptuous to think Tracy would want to remarry him mere hours after breaking off the engagement to George.

If anything, this film reminds me of this quote from Mindy Kaling:

“I simply regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world created therein has different rules than my regular human world.”

And maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for a rom-com-sci-fi flick when I popped this one in the DVD player. It’s not exactly the time of year when I’m feeling particularly hopeful about anything related to relationships, so I fully admit I was not in a good headspace while watching.

Recommendation: Well, it is on the National Film Registry and it is on AFI’s list of the 100 greatest films of all time, and if the only Jimmy Stewart film you’ve seen is “It’s A Wonderful Life,” then you owe it to yourself to see him play a completely different character from George Bailey. Plus, Stewart won the Academy Award that year for Best Supporting Actor, so it’s worth your time just for him.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Plot: Really? You don’t know? I’m not sure it’s my job or place to fill you in on this one.

Best Moment: It hit me upon this particular viewing that when the Fearsome Foursome first appear before the wizard asking for brains, heart, courage, and a ticket home, the task he gives them will accomplish three of the four requests. Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion can’t rescue Dorothy without brains, heart, or courage. When Dorothy is imprisoned and sees Auntie Em looking for her, she realizes the value of home, so in a sense, even Dorothy’s wish is somewhat fulfilled. It just made me think that sometimes we might be wanting a skill or trait and not realize how the tasks set before us actually develop what we want.

Worst Moment: At the end credits when everyone is named, except the Munchkins, who are reduced to “The Singer Midgets.” Oof.

Fun Facts: This was the first time I watched this film from start to finish, and the first time I watched it without commercial interruptions.

I love how this film has manifested in other popular culture texts, but my absolute favorites are these: Harry Connick, Jr. singing “If I Only Had A Brain,” and Scrubs’ 100th episode, directed by Zach Braff.

Recommendation: Oh come on. See it. It’s an American treasure. And then listen to this:

Gone With the Wind (1939)

I’m back with movie reviews this week, and what a movie to make a return with. Four hours of racism, misogyny, more racism, and one of the worst female characters ever to grace the big screen!

Plot: It is April 1861 and life is oh so good for Scarlett O’Hara. All the boys love her, including Ashley Wilkes, but when Scarlett finds out Ashley plans to propose to Melanie Hamilton, Scarlett is incensed that Ashley chose someone other than herself. While the film takes us through the Civil War and Reconstruction, the core plot is really about Scarlett’s inability to let go of the one thing she couldn’t have–even though she married three times (once for spite, once for money, once for love…I think). It’s not until the end of the film that she realizes what a waste her life has been, pining for Ashley, and Scarlett is utterly alone. Her sisters hate her, her parents are dead, her daughter is dead, the only person to be a friend to her is also dead, and her estranged husband leaves her for good. Yet somehow the film has an air of hope at the end.

Best Moment(s): While I find plenty about this film to be problematic, it really is a visually beautiful film to watch. The color had to be stunning to audiences used to mostly black and white films, the score is lush, the costumes almost made me long for late 19th-century fashion to make a comeback. The script itself is decent, but it’s Rhett Butler’s lines that zing nearly every time he opens his mouth. About halfway through the film, I realized the only lines I’d jotted down came from Rhett.

Worst Moment(s): It’s so tough to choose just one here. Is it the villainizing of the North, every time an insert title appeared on screen? Is it Rhett’s implied rape of Scarlett near the end of the film? Is it every single time Scarlett opens her mouth and reveals how truly awful she is? Is it the constant racism, and the appearance of longing for a return to slavery in the opening title? Pick one. It’s bad.

Here’s some alternate titles I thought of:

“Gone With the Wind”
or
“Scarlett O’Hara is the Worst…But Also Not The Worst”
or
“Co-dependent Relationships: A Cautionary Tale”
or
“If The War Won’t Kill You, The Fallout Will”

Rhett Butler’s Best Lines: While “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” is so cemented in our consciousness, people who’ve never seen the movie quote it, Rhett has some amazing lines. Here’s some of my favorites.

  1. With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.
  2. You should be kissed and often and by someone who knows how.
  3. Mr. Wilkes, who is mentally unfaithful to his wife, but can’t bring himself to be technically unfaithful.
  4. In response to Scarlett finally declaring she loves him, he responds, “Well that’s your misfortune.”

Fun Fact: Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in the film, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress that year. The awards ceremony was held in a segregated hotel, and she was not allowed to sit with her castmates for the ceremony. Here’s her acceptance speech:


 

Recommendation: Truly, this is a must-see when it comes to American cinema. I would hope that audiences today would be quite discomfited by the sympathetic portrayal of the South–and that’s something we should all sit with a bit.

For some context, check out this timeline of when Confederate monuments were built. D.W. Griffith’s ode to the South, slavery, and racism “Birth of a Nation” had debuted just 24 years earlier. Take a look at that timeline again. Notice when the biggest surge was in building Confederate monuments. And just 24 years later, we get “Gone With the Wind.”

I know, I know–correlation is not causation. But the media we consume does, in part, construct our world view. My hope is that 2018 viewers of “Gone With The Wind” see just how problematic it is, and are moved to do whatever they can to end racism and injustice in their little corner of the world.

I checked the Googles, and I’m not alone in finding the film problematic. Here’s some additional reading about this film and grappling with its place in our collective history.

From the L.A. Times

From Vulture

 

Brief Hiatus

The next film in my project is “Gone With The Wind.” It clocks in at 3 hours and 58 minutes, and when I look at my calendar for the next two weeks, well…I don’t have four solid hours to give over to watching it.

The only time I’ve seen the film is when AMC used to show it on Thanksgiving Day, all day. It could only air 3 times that day–starting at 6 a.m, I think–because with the commercials, it took 5 1/2 hours to make it through one viewing. So I’ve seen pieces of it, but not in its entirety and not without interruption.

So to give the film the attention it deserves, I have to wait until Nov. 3 to watch it. I’ll be back that week with my review of an American classic.

Dark Victory (1939)

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 7.35.22 PM

Promotional photograph of Geraldine Fitzgerald and Bette Davis in the film Dark Victory. Public Domain Photo.

Plot: Judy Traherne is a 23 year-old socialite who loves riding horses. One afternoon, she takes a nasty spill and tests conclude she has a brain tumor. Though hesitant, she eventually concedes to a surgery that is ultimately unsuccessful. But she’s not told by either her doctor-turned-lover/fiancé or her best friend that she will die within months. But like every good story, Judy discovers her prognosis and confronts her saboteurs. While initially angry, Judy eventually softens, and reconciles with both of them, marries the doctor, moves to New England so the doctor can focus on research, while they both ignore Judy’s reality. The film ends with Judy sending away her husband, her friend, and EVEN HER DOGS, so she can die alone on her bed.

Best Moment: Maybe I’m a tad bit pragmatic, but early on in the film, the good doctor goes on a rant about the lack of cancer research. I loved it. He is frustrated with his inability to understand the disease, so he decides to quit surgery and focus on research. He does this because he hopes for “a serum for cancer, like insulin for diabetes.” Oh, that it were so, dear doctor.

Worst Moment: Can there be a bad moment in a film that stars Bette Davis? Perhaps if I redefine “worst”–the worst moment was when I realized just how powerless doctors often are. So many times in film and television, doctors are the heroes, those who know all. Here, I felt a great deal of empathy for all doctors. As my brother-in-law once said to me, “There’s a reason we call it a practice.”

Fun Facts: Well, probably the funnest fact is that Judy’s horse trainer is played by Humphrey Bogart, and her friend that’s a boy is played by Ronald Reagan. Bette Davis was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance–and she really is quite wonderful–but the film had the unfortunate timing of coming out the same year as Gone With The Wind, so I’ll let you figure out how that ended up for Ms. Davis.

(Vivien Leigh totally won.)

Recommendation: Oh, see it. The end isn’t gut-wrenching. And it really is a good testament to how we all can live fully, even when we know our time is running out. Plus, when my friend Lynne found out what this week’s movie was, she was so excited I’d seen it! She loves this movie! So if Lynne loves it, and if I say see it, then you should probably see it.