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Sunday, 2 May 2010

Reconsiderations

Most weeks when I scour the schedules I notice several films which I have seen previously, although most often not for some time, and I wonder whether they might deserve a place in my ever-growing collection of films on disc. Too often they are something of a disappointment on this second or third viewing -- and the same may well be true of those currently in my library, but that doesn't stop my reconsidering them. There were three such movies last week and here are my comments:

Houseboat (1958): This Cary Grant starrer has him as a feckless divorced father suddenly lumbered with his three kids on his ex-wife's death. Like "Father Goose" which I have written about previously, the mixture of Grant and troublesome children is not necessarily an ideal combination. However, the USP of this movie is Grant's co-star, the 24-year old Sophia Loren in her first English-language role, playing the spoiled daughter of a famous Italian conductor who gets taken on as a Nanny for the sprogs, despite having no home-making skills whatsoever. To add to their problems, the house Grant was planning to inhabit gets run over by a train (don't ask) and the whole kit and caboodle end up living on a derelict houseboat. While certainly very decorative, Loren was not really much of an actress at this stage of her career and her inexperience next to the debonair Grant makes her character hard to believe. However the film tootles along nicely to the inevitable conclusion, and I am happy to watch Grant do his double-takes until the cows come home.

Whirlpool (1949): I've seen this one by director Otto Preminger from a screenplay by Ben Hecht several times, but never quite remember it. It's the "usual" psychological tale of repressed anxiety, hysteria, kleptomania, hypnotism, and homicide, but never quite takes off. The lovely Gene Tierney plays the troubled wife of psychiatrist Richard Conte, while a very stagey Jose Ferrer is the womanizer who has her under his suggestive spell. He uses her to take the fall for the murder of a dowager who was threatening to expose him and establishes his own unchallengeable alibi by being in hospital recovering from a serious operation. However all is quite apparently not what it seems. None of the cast is really believable enough to carry off the high hokum of the plot and I just couldn't imagine wanting to have this movie on tap, as it were, for subsequent re-visits.

The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946): The great French director Jean Renoir sat out the war in the United States and many pick this film as his greatest achievement during his Hollywood years. I just can't agree since the film is far less successful than Luis Bunuel's 1964 version, and for my money nothing outshines the director's "This Land is Mine (1943) -- if only because it stars the daddy of all screen actors, Charles Laughton. The screenplay was adapted from the French novel by actor Burgess Meredith who also appears as a nutty captain, in tandem with a blonde Paulette Goddard (they were married at the time) as the eponymous chambermaid. She is the cheeky servant in the anti-Republican household of Judith Anderson and Reginald Owen, used as a ploy to attract their sickly son Hurd Hatfield from leaving home, and coveted by the nasty valet Francis Lederer (who let it be said makes a fine villain). While Renoir nicely evokes the feel of French country life of the period, the standard of acting amongst his cast is so very variable that the film has little hope of succeeding. Bunuel's film is, at least in my not so infallible memory, far more sly and subtle in playing out the tale, but perhaps I need to have another look at that one as well.

So you may ask, did I take any copies? It will come as no surprise to learn that yet another Cary Grant film joins my collection -- but when I will watch these 4700-and-growing-odd films is one of life's unanswerable questions.
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