The Adventures of Robin Hood (1937)

Plot: Every Robin Hood movie or cartoon you’ve ever seen. Is it really necessary that I rehash the plot here? I mean, this basically sums it up:

Okay, okay, in all seriousness, as I watched the ORH (or at least the original speaking Robin Hood), I made a list of all the incarnations of this story I’d seen, and I came up with four: Costner, Elwes, Daffy, and that adorable Disney fox. What I didn’t expect was how the base story was so similar in each version.

Best Moment: Not gonna lie, near the beginning when Robin Hood shows up at Prince John’s feast with a dead deer draped across his shoulders, and then slams said deer at the Prince’s table? I was reminded of how displays of virile masculinity are incredibly attractive. I didn’t find Errol Flynn all that attractive, but in that moment he certainly was. Maybe it was that whole “he can provide for me theory” .

Worst Moment: When I went into the kitchen to cut up some brownies, missed about five minutes, didn’t rewind, and completely lost interest in the rest of the film. I mean, if you’ve seen one Robin Hood movie, haven’t you seen them all?

Fun Facts: The 1937 Robin Hood film was directed by Michael Curtiz, who directed my all-time favorite movie, Casablanca. AND Claude Rains–who plays Captain Renault in Casablanca–plays the tyrannical Prince John here. I love seeing directors and actors repeatedly work with each other.

Recommendation: I mean, it’s a Robin Hood movie. Perhaps watching another one will feel something like this:

Daffy

 

But if you love the story of Robin of Locksley and Marian and all the Merry Men in Tights, give it a view. Then watch Arrow (which I hear is good), and then look forward to this flick, which I think we need like we need another hole in our collective heads, but it does have that cutie pie from the Kingsmen series, so…it may be worth a gander.

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Plot: This film is another biopic, this time about Emile Zola, a man I’d heard of but knew nothing about. The film tracks his time from penniless “man of letters” hanging out with Paul Cézanne, through his rise as a prolific Parisian author, to his famous “J’accuse” letter published in a newspaper and subsequent trial for defamation in what is called The Dreyfus Affair (which is about as cuckoo bananas as it gets, in terms of government conspiracy and coverups). The film ends with Dreyfus’ exoneration and Zola’s death.

Best Moment: Zola’s whole life, according to the film, was about fighting injustice. Early in the film, his employer asks why he writes such “muckraking” content, when there is so much that is pleasant in the world. Calling truth “muckraking” popped my relevance antennae, and several other moments in the film had an element of timelessness to them. Which should give me hope…the more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.

Worst Moment: The pacing of the film was tough for me. I usually love films based on people’s lives, but I found myself dozing off, even though the overall content was interesting.

Fun Facts: Saturday night, this tweet landed in my timeline:

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So I looked at the history of the “J’accuse” letter, and felt a bit more prepared for the film. Serendipitous that David Frum would pull out a Zola reference in response to what’s going on with the Kavanaugh hearing.

Also, watching this film Sunday night was a nice little cap to a week in which both me and Stueve were accosted and verbally harassed for teaching journalism, and for defending journalists:

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I want to read Zola’s work now, just because of how he was portrayed in the film–as a pursuer of truth and justice. Oh, and my favorite line?

Each serves his country in his own way:
One with a sword, the other with a pen.

The release date of this film was not lost on me: the world was three years into the Third Reich, and the entire Dreyfus Affair, at its core, is blatant anti-semitism. My hope is that American audiences were incensed at what they saw. Though knowing immigration policies for Jews during Hitler’s reign, I’m not confident the film had much effect.

Recommendation: You can probably skip this one, and instead, read up on The Dreyfus Affair and Zola’s role in exonerating him.

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

Great-Ziegfeld-1936-Poster

Public Domain photo, from WikiMedia Commons

Plot: This is a standard biopic when it comes to plot, about the life of Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld. If you’ve ever heard of “Ziegfeld’s Follies,” this movie is a fictionalized account of how this show came to be, as well as Ziegfeld’s failures and successes, both in his personal relationships and shows he produced.

Best Moment: Oh, the musical numbers were just gorgeous. I loved all of them, even the one that was a mishmash of Strauss, Verdi, Gershwin, and one other composer I couldn’t place. The costumes were lush, and Wikipedia tells me that it took “250 tailors and seamstresses six months to prepare them using 50 pounds (23 kg) of silver sequins and 12 yards (11 m) of white ostrich plumes.” The musical numbers are definitely wonderful to watch, and a couple are written by some heavy hitters: Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern. The scene where Ziegfeld and his buddies sing “Look for the Silver Lining” reminded me how much of a sucker I am for musicals. (Here’s Judy Garland singing it.)

Worst Moment: An utterly heartbreaking moment where Fannie Brice (playing herself) realizes that just because Ziegfeld hired her didn’t mean that he saw her as a woman worthy of gorgeous costumes. As she says, “So, to work for Mr. Ziegfeld, I gotta be an urchin. Even in burlesque I was middle class.” Also devastating: when the 1929 stock market crash wipes him out financially and all his shows close.

Fun Facts: Well, aside from Fannie Brice playing herself, Ray Bolger plays a stagehand whom Ziegfeld hires to perform in his show. Who is Ray Bolger, you ask?

215px-The_Wizard_of_Oz_Ray_Bolger_1939

This guy.

The film won Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Dance Direction.

Recommendation: The film runs nearly three hours, and I didn’t watch it all in one sitting. It took me a while to really get into it, but the second half moves pretty quickly. The final 10 minutes are so melancholy, though, so you’ve been warned.

A Night At The Opera (1935)

A_Night_at_the_Opera_film_poster

Public Domain photo from WikiMedia Commons. 

Plot: Well, I’m not entirely sure. Hijinks? See, this is a Marx Brothers movie, and I had two problems as I watched. Problem 1: I was so far behind on work that I tried to do some tasks while watching. Problem 2: Marx Brothers movies can move at a quick pace that require full attention and multiple viewings. But here’s what I think happened: The Marx Brothers are in Italy. They somehow become involved in the life of an opera singer. They go to New York and muscle their way into a production of Il Travatore.

Best Moment: There’s a good 10ish minutes of Chico Marx playing the piano while immigrant children watch, fascinated. Harpo follows him by playing the harp. These two scenes are mesmerizing. Also fun: when the opera’s pit orchestra starts playing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” instead of Verdi. And the opera singing. All the musical numbers were thoroughly enjoyable.

Worst Moment: Not a moment I can pinpoint, but I don’t like that I couldn’t follow a clear plot line. Maybe I need to watch it again? The jokes are just so fast in this film that I had a hard time keeping up. Then again, if I was around in 1935 and everything around me was bleak, I’m sure a film like this would’ve been a welcome escape…

Fun Facts: This film ranks #85 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies.

But it’s the stateroom scene that has had the most impact on American Popular Culture. According to the Wikipedias: Cyndi Lauper, Sting, Animaniacs, Seinfeld, Suite Life of Zack and Cody all paid homage to this gag of cramming too many people in too small a space.

Recommendation: I think everyone should see at least one Marx Brothers movie. I’ve seen three now: Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, and now A Night at the Opera. Culturally, I’m glad I watched them. But I couldn’t really tell you what any of them are about, other than providing a medium to watch Groucho’s wordplay, Chico’s musicianship, and Harpo’s pratfalls. And they are each worthwhile to see. So if you haven’t seen a Marx Brothers film, you should. I might watch this one again, if for no other reason than to try and nail down a three sentence plot summary.

 

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

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Clark Gable. Franchot Tone. Gallivanting about Tahiti. By Trailer screenshot – Mutiny on the Bounty trailer, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3989944

Plot: A film version somewhat based on historical events in which part of the crew of the HMS Bounty decide to mutiny, casting adrift British vice-admiral William Bligh with those who were loyal to him. Bligh was known for being tyrannical, and the ship’s lieutnant, Fletcher Christian, loses his ability to defend Bligh’s harsh treatment of the hired hands who actually sail the ship and starts the mutiny. The film covers what I’m guessing is close to five years of time, from the voyage to Tahiti and back to England, as well as the court martial for the mutinous men. Spoiler alert: Fletcher Christian evades Bligh and never sees England again, and therefore never has to face his court martial.

Best Moment: The speech given by Roger Byam after being court martialed. During the mutiny, Byam was essentially taken prisoner by Christian, despite the two being good friends. Because he didn’t do more to resist the mutiny, Bligh omits key details from his testimony to ensure Byam is found guilty. Once Byam faces his conviction, he explains that while mutiny is never a solution, Bligh was not innocent.

Worst Moment: Bligh’s treatment of the men on his ship is truly heinous. His character is the definition of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Fun Facts: I had seen the 1962 remake of this film, starring Marlon Brando, and much of what I wrote in 2005 applies to this 1935 version. It truly is a masterclass of how not to be a leader.

It won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and three of the actors in the film were nominated for Best Actor. As a result, the next year the Academy created the category “Best Supporting Actor.”

Epiphany: After Christian takes the Bounty, he heads back to Tahiti. Once there, he tells the men they are staying. Some of the men have families in England, but Christian knows if he goes back, he is dead. Eventually they have to leave Tahiti to evade a British ship, so they sail until he feels it is safe to land somewhere they won’t be found. None of the sailors with him have a choice–they are subject to Christian’s whims.

So my question is this: is Fletcher Christian really any better than Bligh? A benevolent dictator is still a dictator.

Recommendation: If you like movies about sailing, see it. Some of the shots on the ship are pretty cool. But I can take or leave this one. I’m not sorry I saw it, but I probably won’t watch it again.