February 18, 2011
We watched the 1969 film “Walk Don’t Run,” which was notable for being Cary Grant’s last movie. He retired, so the story goes, because he realized that he could no longer pull off the leading man image and didn’t think his fans would accept him in supporting roles. So he was “retired” for 20 years, as far as the movies were concerned.
In “Walk Don’t Run,” Grant plays a prominent British businessman, Sir William Rutland, who visits Tokyo during the 1964 Olympic Games, arrives two days ahead of schedule and can’t find a hotel room. He spots a notice posted by someone wanting to share an apartment and goes to the address. The “someone” is Christine Easton (Samantha Eggar), a nervous young lady who is engaged to a supercilious employee of the British Embassy. She isn’t interested in sharing her apartment with a strange man, but Rutland ignores her protests, confuses her with the kind of fast talk that Grant was so good at, and moves in. Christine tries to make the arrangement as hard as possible on Rutland by imposing an impossibly tight schedule for use of the bathroom, but Rutland – though totally unable to keep up with the timetable – isn’t that easily dissuaded.
During a business call in Tokyo, Rutland meets brash American Steve Davis, who is a member of an American Olympic team — though he won’t say which one — and who also is without a place to stay until the Olympic quarters open. Davis is played by the ill-starred Jim Hutton. Rutland and Davis are at odds at first, but Rutland ends up subletting half of his room to Davis — without asking Christine, of course. She objects when she finds out, but she is no match for the two of them. Rutland, who is happily married and old enough to be Christine’s father, doesn’t like Christine’s fiancée and thinks Davis would be a better match for her. Therein lies the story, although there’s a subplot in which Davis is accused of being a spy.
This is a good-natured film, and the three principal actors do it justice. Grant was about 62 when he made this movie, and he hadn’t lost any of his appeal or energy.
The movie was shot on location in Japan, and that adds to its interest. Tokyo is a busy place, and the outdoor shots were done in the middle of the daily bustle.
This movie is based on a highly-regarded 1943 film, “The More the Merrier,” which I haven’t yet seen. That stars Charles Colburn, Joel Macrae, and Jean Arthur. It tells the same general story, but it takes place in Washington, D.C., and makes fun of the housing shortage there during World War II. Colburn plays the businessman, and he was widely praised for his performance. He and Grant were very different personalities, but I can picture Colburn playing the role.
January 10, 2011
“Love in the Afternoon,” a 1957 movie directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, is entertaining in several ways, but it is also seriously flawed. The principal flaw was in the casting, no matter how good the names Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, and Maurice Chevalier, may sound when listed in the same credits.
The film, which is said to have been Wilder’s paean to director Ernst Lubitsch, is a subtle, witty, lightly slapstick romantic comedy concerning a Parisian private detective, his cellist daughter, and an international playboy with whom they both become involved. Detective Claude Chavasse (Chevalier) is engaged by Monsieur X, a cuckolded husband played by John McGiver — later the accommodating jewelry salesman in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” — who wants to know who his wife has been seeing. Chavasse determines that the guilty party is millionaire Frank Flannagan (Cooper) a globe-hopping businessman with at least a girl in every port. Chavasse’s daughter, Ariane (Hepburn), who studies cello at a Paris conservatory, is fascinated by her father’s profession and questions him incessantly about his clients and, in the face of his reticence, snoops in his files. After she overhears Chavasse’s client declare that he will go to the Hotel Ritz and shoot Flannagan, she feels compelled to warn the target — whose photos in the files have beguiled her.
Ariane, after getting no satisfaction from the police, goes to the hotel herself and makes her way into Flannagan’s room just in time to allow the paramour to escape so that the husband discovers Flannagan with Ariane instead. This encounter, of course, is the beginning of a series of meetings between Flannagan and Ariane, but she refuses to give him any information about her identity, and he takes to calling her “thin girl.” As is his habit, Flannagan eventually leaves Paris for other resorts, and it appears that the “affair” — to all appearances a chaste one — is over. But about a year later, he is back in Paris and the two accidentally meet at an opera house and the liaison, such as it is, continues, with Ariane filling Flannagan with fibs about the many men in her life — many of them based on things she has read in her father’s case files. Flannagan doesn’t know whether to believe these stories or not; that, plus the lack of any information about the girl, increasingly agitates him.
This being a movie, Flannagan and Monsieur X happen to meet in a Turkish bath and Monsieur X — still clueless about his wife’s dalliance — discerns the broad outlines of what is troubling Flannagan and recommends that he engage Chavasse to find out the truth about the “thin girl.” Flannagan does so, and Chavasse quickly figures out that the girl Flannagan is talking about is Ariane. Since Chavasse, through his investigations, is intimately acquainted with Flannagan’s track record with women — kiss them and run — he reveals the truth to Flannagan and urges the tycoon to leave Ariane in peace. Flannagan sets out to do that, but at the last moment, as his train is already beginning to roll out of the Paris station, he lifts the tearful Ariane on board and the two ride off in each other’s arms.
There are a couple of leaps in logic in this plot. One is that Chavasse had reported that Monsieur X’s wife was having an affair with Flannagan, but Ariane’s intervention made it appear that Chavasse had been wrong. That raises the question of why Monsieur X would recommend Chavasse as an outstanding detective. Another is that at the end of the film, after Chavasse has tried so hard to convince Flannagan to leave Ariane alone, the old man stands on the train platform with a satisfied smile on his face as his daughter rides off with the playboy.
Hepburn, Chevalier, and McGiver are delightful in this film. The big flaw — which was pointed out by critics at the time — was that Gary Cooper, who was 55, was much too old to be a credible partner for Hepburn, who was 28. Cary Grant, 53 at the time, had turned down the role because of the age difference. To complicate matters, Cooper — a friend of Wilder’s — was not in good health. He looked older than he was, and he looked drawn and tired, and that was exacerbated by the fact that the film was in black and white.
An interesting sidelight is that this film had two endings — one for American theaters and one for European. In the European version, which was released under the title “Ariane,” the audience was left to use its imagination about what took place between Flannagan and Ariane after the train left the station and closing titles started rolling.
In the American version, however, because extramarital sex was at least publicly frowned upon in the mid-1950s, the film closed with a voice-over in which Chevalier explains that Flannagan and Ariane got married and were “serving a life sentence in Manhattan.” The film was a failure in the U.S., but it was a hit in Europe.
May 11, 2009
We watched “Holiday,” a wonderful 1938 film directed by George Cukor, based on a play by Philip Barry. This was the second film based on that play; the first one appeared in 1930. Both were Oscar nominees.
The cast of this version included Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lew Ayres, Jean Dixon and Edward Everett Horton. In the guise of a romantic comedy, this is an attack on conformity, greed, materialism, and hypocrisy.
The premise is that a young and rising businessman, Johnny Case (Grant) falls in love with Julia Seton (played by a rather wooden Doris Nolan), the daughter of millionaire banker Edward Seton. Johnny and Julia plan to ask Edward Seton to give his blessing to their engagement, but Edward immediately tries to take control of everything from the timing of the engagement and marriage to the future of Johnny’s career. Johnny hasn’t told Julia, let alone Edward, that his own plan is to leave business and do nothing but travel for a few years while he sorts out the real purpose of earning money. He is encouraged in this mode of thinking by close friends, Nick and Susan Potter, played with biting humor by Horton and Dixon. When Johnny is introduced into the Seton household, he meets Julia’s brother Ned – played by the talented Lew Ayres – an alcoholic young man had been browbeaten by his father to give up childish ideas like composing music and attend to the family business.
Johnny also meets, and makes an immediate connection with, Julia’s sister Linda (Hepburn) who describes herself as the “black sheep” of the Seton family and makes no secret of her disdain for its values and social circle. In the museum-like Seton home, the only place Ned and Linda are comfortable is a “play room” outfitted by their late mother, a room to which Johnny and the Potters also eventually retreat – an effective reference to their rebellion against the established order “downstairs” and to the immaturity imputed to them by the stiff-necked patriarch and his pandering, two-faced satellites.
Eventually, Johnny has to decide on what terms – if at all – he is prepared to pursue his courtship of Julia and his potential career in the Seton empire.
This is a well written and well acted film (with the exception of Nolan). Its humor and sarcasm has stood the test of time. One has to get past the idea that Johnny Case would have been attracted to Julia Seton in the first place and that it would have taken as long as it did for their values to collide head-on. Over all, though, “Holiday” is an entertaining and uplifting experience.
March 16, 2009
I don’t understand why a television channel that exists solely to present movies – and presents each movie with some kind of historical context – does not let the credits run at the end of the film. I am referring to Turner Classic Movies. It’s frustrating. Last night, for example, we watched “Talk of the Town,” a 1942 flick that starred Cary Grant, Ronald Coleman, and Jean Arthur. I was curious about the actor who played Coleman’s black valet, because the character was an elegant figure who exhibited a deep intellect and spoke with an almost Victorian propriety. No credits. I found out on IMDB that the actor was Rex Ingram, who was born on a riverboat in Mississippi and around 1916 became the first black man to earn a Phi Beta Kappa key at Northwestern University. Ingram – not to be confused with the white director of the same name – appeared in nearly 50 properties – most of them movies.
Anyone who goes to a movie with me knows enough not to get up before the screen goes dark for good, and I know I’m not the only one who likes to see the names of the best boy and the caterer and – especially important – the music credits. Frequently, too, there is a lot of care taken in choosing the music that plays over the credits. I would never turn off “Dominick and Eugene,” for instance, without watching the credits roll over “Goin’ Down to Rio.” But the least I expect is to read the names of the actors in case I want to find out more about them. But that’s me – never satisfied,