Tag Archives: Claudette Colbert

Midnight (1939, Mitchell Leisen)

Midnight is a rather smart film. Screenwriters Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder are able to do a whole bunch of plot twists–always through comedic means–because of how they’ve got the film structured. The film opens with Claudette Colbert arriving in Paris, penniless. Taxi driver Don Ameche takes pity on her and falls for her. There’s the beginning of a great melodrama.

Only Ameche loses Colbert and his subplot is about finding her. He doesn’t have any other plots, just that subplot. He’s not in the movie a lot after the first third, though he does come back in time for the finish, which is good because it’s why his name is second-billed above the title.

John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Francis Lederer and Rex O’Malley all get billed under the title, which stands out. They seem like bigger names than under the title billing suggests. And Barrymore’s a big part of the film. He’s the one at the center of Midnight’s actual plot–Colbert helping Barrymore keep Lederer away from Astor. See, Barrymore’s Astor’s husband and Lederer is her indiscreet companion. Lots of amazing comedy stuff from Barrymore. He’s got great material, but his performance is phenomenal–with director Leisen doing a lot of it non-verbally. Sight gags with John Barrymore, it doesn’t get much better. He’d run away with the movie if it weren’t for everyone else racing him.

Astor, for example, is fabulous. Her part–mischievous adulterer–ought to get old fast, but never does. Brackett and Wilder give each scene’s leads wonderful dialogue, but Leisen makes sure the actors without lines are doing just as much acting listening to whatever disaster is occurring or being avoided in front of them. Midnight’s never madcap, it’s never rushed, it’s always thorough. The jokes, visual or aural, always get enough time. In the second half, the film even introduces one-line caps to each sequence. It’s great–and it’s deliberately done once the film has changed gears a bit. Midnight is always unpredictable (at least in how Brackett and Wilder are getting where they’re going).

Lederer’s solid. O’Malley’s fantastic as Astor’s sidekick. It’s with him she gets the most to do; the script’s very much constructed to emphasize the comedy, Leisen’s direction–of Ameche and Colbert, of Colbert and Lederer–is often overly melodramatic. There are some gorgeous shots of the fellows romancing Colbert–great photography from Charles Lang–and they could just as much be for drama or tragedy, but instead they’re for comedy.

The “leads” are both excellent. Quotation marks because Claudette Colbert’s so much more the lead than Ameche but then again, maybe not. It’s almost like Brackett and Wilder took three separate stories–Colbert’s, Ameche’s, Barrymore’s–and squished them all together, only keeping the best parts.

Once the film gets to the third act, however, it seems like the magic might run out. The film’s pacing slows down to a real time crawl and it’s very hard to anticipate what’s going to happen. Then it turns out Brackett and Wilder had something ready for just the occasion. Fine cameo from Monty Woolley in the third act as well.

Midnight is a wonderful picture. It’s exquisitely written, smartly acted, smartly directed. The comedic range of Barrymore and Ameche is something to behold.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mitchell Leisen; screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, based on a story by Edwin Justus Mayer and Franz Schulz; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Doane Harrison; music by Friedrich Hollaender; produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Claudette Colbert (Eve Peabody), Don Ameche (Tibor Czerny), John Barrymore (Georges Flammarion), Mary Astor (Helene Flammarion), Francis Lederer (Jacques Picot), Rex O’Malley (Marcel), Hedda Hopper (Stephanie) and Monty Woolley (The Judge).


blogathon-barrymore

THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND ANNUAL BARRYMORE TRILOGY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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The Palm Beach Story (1942, Preston Sturges)

The Palm Beach Story is a narrative. Director Sturges opens with a rapidly cut prologue showing stars Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea getting married, where he inserts clues for what will eventually be the film’s utterly pointless deus ex machina. Sure, Palm Beach runs less than ninety minutes so it’s possible the viewer be sitting around focusing on the prologue’s unanswered questions, but unlikely. Sturges is betting a lot on no one paying too much attention.

The film’s first act has Colbert paying off she and McCrea’s debt, so she then leaves him. She’d been waiting to do it until they were even with the grocer. Besides an awkward scene where she and McCrea get drunk, there’s almost no character development between them. It’s not just with one another–since the second act requires them both to be dishonest, there’s rarely any sincere scenes between their characters and anyone else in the film.

One has to wonder if Sturges intended the deus ex machina to have more importance, since it deals entirely with Colbert and McCrea and he’s spent most of Palm Beach concentrating on the people they meet. Rudy Vallee and Mary Astor eventually show up to provide romantic interests for the married leads, which ought to be funnier but Sturges spends more time with jokes at Sig Arno’s expense.

Astor is fantastic, Vallee is fine, Colbert is too mercenary and McCrea looks lost.

Sturges never finds the right tone for the film. It’s off from that first scene.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Preston Sturges; director of photography, Victor Milner; edited by Stuart Gilmore; music by Victor Young; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Claudette Colbert (Gerry Jeffers), Joel McCrea (Tom Jeffers), Mary Astor (The Princess Centimillia), Rudy Vallee (J.D. Hackensacker III), Sig Arno (Toto), Robert Dudley (Wienie King), Franklin Pangborn (Manager) and Esther Howard (Wife of Wienie King).


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Drums Along the Mohawk (1939, John Ford)

Every eight years or so, I watch Drums Along the Mohawk to see if it gets any better. According to my cursory notes from my last viewing, it apparently has gotten a little bit better. As the titles rolled, I was hopeful–it is John Ford after all (his first color film) and screenwriters Lamar Trotti and Sonya Levien have both written some excellent films. But it’s rocky from the start. The most film’s most rewarding aspect is seeing Ford get comfortable with filming in color. His composition for the opening is problematic, like he’s trying to fit as much into the frame as possible to showcase the lush colors. For the first fifteen or twenty minutes (one of the nicest things about Drums is how fast it moves), it looks like Post-Impressionist. The colors are so vibrant, they distract from the actors.

And the actors are where Drums Along the Mohawk has problems. The film starts with Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda getting married. The rapid-fire pacing gives them a few minutes–a scene working together in the fields and it’s a fine enough scene–to get a reasonable chemistry going. They don’t. The fault seems to lie with Colbert, who’s either entirely wrong for the role or just terrible. It’s hard to tell, because there isn’t a single moment where Colbert doesn’t appear to be a porcelain doll. Her hair and make-up are always perfect (until the scene where she has to shoot at the attacking Indians–and by then, in the third act, it’s far too late to make up for it). Fonda fares better, but only because Trotti and Levien give him an amazing monologue about the nature of war. But Fonda’s not the film’s focus and in many ways, Colbert isn’t either.

Drums Along the Mohawk is a melodrama; it’s event after event after event. There’s some implied nuance–like Jack-o’-lanterns at a wedding–but the film’s sets and costuming are fantastic, so it’s a totally different department working on such additions. The script only approaches subtly a couple times–first, during that field scene and, second (and fair more successfully), with Edna May Oliver and Ward Bond. Oliver’s the feisty widow who can’t stop talking about her passed husband and–in a great scene–makes a couple marauding Indians preserve her bed while they’re burning down her house. Bond’s comically flirtatious in their first scene together, but it soon develops into what appears to be a discreet and touching romance.

The rest of the film’s acting is fine. Jessie Ralph’s in it, she’s always good. John Carradine’s wasted as a villainous Tory.

As the film progresses, Ford’s use of color flourishes. There’s a magnificent chase scene with Fonda on the run, the action only taking up the bottom fourth of the screen, the rest filled with clouds. The film’s eventually unimaginable in black and white, it simply wouldn’t make any sense–quite a difference from the opening scenes.

There’s a general competency to the script, combined with a good performance from Fonda (the script really doesn’t give him much to do save that one scene) and Ford’s direction, Drums Along the Mohawk passes. It’s just a shame they didn’t get a female actor appropriate for Colbert’s role… who knows how it would have turned out.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Lamar Trotti and Sonya Levien, based on the novel by Walter D. Edmonds; directors of photography, Bert Glennon and Ray Rennahan; edited by Robert L. Simpson; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Claudette Colbert (Lana), Henry Fonda (Gilbert Martin), Edna May Oliver (Mrs. McKlennar), Eddie Collins (Christian Reall), John Carradine (Caldwell), Dorris Bowdon (Mary Reall), Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Weaver), Arthur Shields (Reverend Rosenkrantz), Robert Lowery (John Weaver), Roger Imhof (Gen. Nicholas Herkimer), Francis Ford (Joe Boleo) and Ward Bond (Adam Hartman).


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It Happened One Night (1934, Frank Capra)

There’s something particularly tragic about It Happened One Night: somehow, Capra and Riskin let it get away from them. It’s possible–likely even–the awkward conclusion was a result of not having access to the stars (Gable and Colbert were both on loan to Columbia), but it doesn’t really matter. Riskin went from a deliberate pace–the majority of the film takes place over three or four nights, these days and nights being the film’s content for the first ninety minutes (I suppose the opening scene is an indeterminate period of time before these days begin, but probably not more than seven hours)–to a rushed one… the third act takes place over a week and takes up about fifteen minutes of time. However, were it not for Riskin’s change in point of view, futzing with the pace wouldn’t matter. The point of view change, combined with the pace (and the lack of the main characters) kneecap It Happened One Night when it needs to be its best.

The point of view in the film is, for the majority of it, excessively brilliant. Capra and Riskin create a masterpiece of realism and humanism, while still making a romantic comedy. The viewer is with Gable and Colbert on the road and Capra films it on location a lot (I think except some interiors) and Riskin writes it real. Watching Gable, who I really love as movie star, actually have such a great script to act–he’s fantastic. His performance is incredibly rich and deep and different from anything else I’ve ever seen him do. Colbert’s great too, with her character forming throughout. Riskin just does an excellent job and Capra knows how to direct the script and then loses itself. It doesn’t even lose the realism as much as it loses the humanism. It loses the realism a bit… Walter Connelly, also great, plays Colbert’s father and he’s a little too Hollywood perfect for the film, especially since he becomes the main character for the last fifteen minutes. I understand why–to create a sense of suspense (It Happened One Night, for worse, seemingly created the romantic comedy model still used today)–but it’s totally inappropriate. When the film loses Gable as the protagonist, it’s essentially lost (never to find itself).

Capra does a great job–his composition is particularly exciting, as he plays with tight spaces and open ones. There’s barely any score and it’s all “natural” sounds, which works beautifully. He creates this usually quiet place for the story to unfold. Again, goes towards the realism.

I’ve only seen the film once before and had the same reaction, due to the misfire of an ending, so I wasn’t enraged (because I knew it was inevitable). But I imagine I’d be livid if it were my first viewing.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Capra; screenplay by Robert Riskin, based on a story by Samuel Hopkins Adams; director of photography, Joseph Walker; edited by Gene Havlick; music by Howard Jackson and Louis Silvers; produced by Capra and Harry Cohn; released by Columbia Picutres.

Starring Clark Gable (Peter Warne), Claudette Colbert (Ellie Andrews), Walter Connolly (Alexander Andrews), Roscoe Karns (Oscar Shapeley), Jameson Thomas (King Westley), Alan Hale (Danker), Arthur Hoyt (Zeke), Blanche Friderici (Zeke’s wife) and Charles C. Wilson (Joe Gordon).


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