We’re No Angels was Michael Curtiz’ second Christmas film in a row (despite its release date of July 1955), although unlike White Christmas, We’re No Angels is a less secular affair with its use of biblical references in the tale of three, perhaps not so wise men who bestow gifts on a distressed family at Christmas. We’re No Angels is both sentimental and darkly comic as the Ducotel family in a French colonial town on Devil’s Island (despite none of the cast appearing remotely French) are not massively bothered by having three escaped convicts stay at their adjoining home/business. The three disreputable men go to the Ducotel household intending to rob them but end up getting caught up in the spirit of the season after having a voyeuristic insight to the troubles bestowing the family and their failing general store. We’re No Angels is a bright and colourful affair with the scenes in the bustling port town in particular showing off Curtiz’ directorial skills. The picture even calls to mind Larceny Inc (1942), another film in which a group of criminals inadvertently turn around a failing business.
A large portion of the film’s dark humour comes from Aldo Ray alone in the role of Albert, a sexual offender type convict of whom we don’t know the extent of his activities but the movie hints that it ain’t pretty. Much of the film involves him having an attraction and interacting with the family’s daughter Isabelle (Gloria Talbott), including pinching her derrière and carrying her fainted form into her room with the door closed – once again, the family takes no objection to this. Likewise Isabelle appears to have a serious medical disorder in that she faints multiple times in a short period and even has an unrequited love for her second cousin. Contrasting the more lowly and thuggish Albert is Peter Ustinov as the eloquent and well-spoken Jules. His technique of cracking locks and opening safes involves him lightly touching the outside of a device and then bumping the side of his hand lightly against said device, resulting in the hatch opening – is it this simple in real life or is the movie playing loose with safe and lock-cracking techniques?
We’re No Angels was Humphrey Bogart’s big career opportunity to show off his eccentric comedic side as the con artist Joseph. Bogart was able to display his comic chops in All Through The Night, however, We’re No Angels is more in the vein of The Marx Brothers – just look at the scene in which Joseph successfully cons a customer into buying a suit which is clearly several sizes too small for him. Bogart’s facial expressions and body movements accentuate the performance and even the sight of the tough guy cooking in a kitchen wearing a pink apron somehow doesn’t degrade his machismo. Likewise, Bogie also delivers one of the funniest lines among the pantheon of great Bogart quotes:
“We came here to rob them and that’s what we’re gonna do – beat their heads in, gouge their eyes out, slash their throats. Soon as we wash the dishes.”
Basil Rathbone on the other hand, the Hollywood embodiment of villainy portrays an Ebenezer Scrooge type role as Andre Trochard, the business owner who sees no objection to doing labour on Christmas Day nor having no concern for people’s humanity, just business. We’re No Angels bounces back and forth from zany jokes to more deadpan humour such as the trio’s very slow, drawn-out debate on who should tell Andre not to open the box with their pet snake named Adolf in it. The humorous ending in which the three decide to return to prison was likely brought about by the production code forbidding criminals to be portrayed as sympathetic characters thus their redemptive conclusion – an example of finding a clever solution within the confines of censorship.
SEX! Now That I Have Your Attention, Read My Review
***This Review Contains Spoilers***
The Seven Year Itch is often dismissed as a lesser Billy Wilder effort yet the film is far more than just the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe’s skirt blowing up over a subway (an image which doesn’t even appear in the film). There’s always an ongoing debate over just how talented certain stars are who were better known for their status as icons rather than their acting ability (Greta Garbo, John Wayne, Arnold Schwarzenegger and yes, Marilyn Monroe). The Seven Year Itch is the ideal showcase for how gifted a comedienne Monroe was while also having the allure of the likes of Harlow or Garbo.
The Seven Year Itch is surely the most entertaining on-screen representation of repressed sexual urges. I’m sure many men can relate to Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) regardless of their age and the male fantasy of being alone with Marilyn Monroe. In one scene the movie displays a classic case of expectation vs reality in which Sherman imagines a melodramatic scene in which himself and a sultry Monroe wearing a tiger dress play classical music on a piano. This is soon followed by reality in which the two un-romantically play chopsticks on the piano.
Tom Ewell spends much of the film interacting with himself. His self monologuing is entertaining listening and helps carry the film in a part which could come off as creepy but Ewell avoids it from doing so – Ewell is charismatically dull if that makes sense. It’s a shame Ewell never had more notable roles, he would have fit right at home in comedies which would have starred the likes Jack Lemmon or Walter Matthau (of whom originally screen-tested for Ewell’s role).
Movies like this with a summery feel are great viewing any time of the year, to go along with the summer mood or the enlighten the dull winter, especially with the sultry music score courtesy of Alfred Newman. The Seven Year Itch also sees the advent of the intricate title sequence (by none other than Saul Bass), a step up from a stationary title of the movie and a list of cast names which had been seen in cinema up until that point. There is even a scene early in the film in which Sherman goes to a vegetarian restaurant, orders soy food and a waitress rants about how “if there was no clothes there would be no sickness and no war” – crazy leftists circa 1955.
The Seven Year Itch was limited by the Hays Code yet it’s still interesting to see how far they could go within these confines with lines such as “when it’s hot like this I keep my undies in the icebox”. At the end of the day you can censor and restrict all you want but you can’t stop someone from exuding natural sexuality. I’m sure moralists were outraged at the time yet the story is about a man overcoming his adulterous urges, avoiding temptation and remaining faithful to his wife, refusing to become a summer bachelor while his wife and son are away for the season.
Watching Summertime kind of feels like going on a holiday, it just has that summer-like feel to it which is hard to describe. The film doesn’t have the epic scope of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia or Doctor Zhivago yet it still has that same epic feel. I’ve never been to Venice but with the European cities I have been to, you know that they feel like time capsules. Summertime also feels like a documentary that could have been filmed in subsequent decades (whenever 1950’s fashion isn’t apparent on screen) adding to the timeless aspect of the film. I often say it but the world itself is the greatest movie set of them all. Just as impressive is the sound design. The ambient noise of footsteps, dogs barking, birds singing or music in the faint background; Summertime is a good movie to have playing the in the background to create an atmosphere in your own house. I am however disappointed to report however the UK DVD release of Summertime from Second Sight is pan & scan only, shame on you!
Katharine Hepburn plays a tourist who exhibits a number of stereotypical tourist habits including the need to record everything she sees, I guess that’s not such an annoying modern trait (all that is missing are the selfies). At least though she is an independent spinster who wants to see the authentic side of another country and not the phony stuff in comparison to the couples she meets who fall for the tourist traps and guided tours. This is one of the aspects of Summertime which I can relate to as the older I get I have less patience for organised group trips abroad and just want to go off for an adventure at my own will. That and the romantic fantasy of going to an exotic place by yourself in search of love. At its, heart Summertime is a deeply tragic film once we discover just how lonely Katharine Hepburn’s character is as she tries to mask her emotion and not feel awkward when conversing with married couples. We know little of this character’s background and why she is going on holiday on your own?
David Lean may be known for his epic visuals, but the man can create an incredibly emotional story (I still say the ending of Brief Encounter is one of the most powerful film moments I’ve ever witnessed). Summertime draws a number of parallels to Brief Encounter and of course, the movie ends with the two being separated at a train station as he rushes to get there before the train leaves. It’s a cliché ending used for decades but for good reason, I believe.
Fonda, Cagney, Powell, Lemon. What more could you ask for? Being a huge fan of all four actors, for me personally, Mister Roberts may be the greatest accumulation of actors ever; thus I will try my best to contain my inner fanboy. Not only do all four play interesting characters but they all share such interesting relationships between each other. Fonda and Cagney share a Bugs Bunny/ Yosemite Sam-like dynamic with Cagney being a frustrated old captain (possibly with a Napoleon complex) in a position of power but with no control over the taller Fonda stepping over everything he does.
Jack Lemon’s Ensign Pulver, on the other hand, hates the Captain but out of total shock, the captain likes the Ensign. I find this dynamic particular funny as I can relate to that situation of being admired by someone you dislike. However, I also relate to the character of Mister Roberts himself in his predicament of being stuck in a rut of which he is desperate to escape from; wanting to leave the navy cargo boat and be right in the action of the Second World War. The entire film effortlessly combines tragedy and comedy with no better example of this being the final scene itself in which the film transitions from the tragedy upon the characters discovering that Mr. Roberts has been killed in action to one more final pay off from a recurring gag; one of my favourite movie endings ever.
The claustrophobic intimacy of the ship, as well as the simply superb dialogue and performances, makes the dialogue-heavy scenes so engaging. Even with two directors on the project which could have spelled disaster, the film manages to come out perfectly fine rather than ending up like a Frankensteinian stitch up. The other scene which always stuck out to me was at the beginning of the film when the men are attempting to get a glimpse of women in a shower and going crazy as hell over it. Would men have the same reaction today because of the internet? Was the prospect of seeing a naked woman more thrilling back then?
Mister Roberts would be William Powell’s final film although one of Jack Lemon’s first, so I see the film as a passing of the torch between two generations of comedic actors. Originally Powell retired after appearing in How to Marry a Millionaire but decided to appear in Mister Roberts after reading the script. A much, much better choice of final film in which he shows that even in this stage of his career the man was still a master of words.
It’s Always Fair Weather will go down in history as the film musical which “could have been”. Had it been made a few years earlier it could have been in the same leagues as Singin’ In the Rain and On the Town but several shortcomings, some determined by the period the film was made prevent it from being so. Even the studio had that little faith in it they dumped it as a second feature alongside Bad Day At Black Rock.
It’s Always Fair Weather differs from other musicals of its time in its sombre tone with the tale of three war buddies who are reunited ten years later to find out they can’t stand each other upon discovering one is a hick, a snob and a goon. This is juxtaposed to a world of beautiful, bright colours and welcome artificiality with urban sets to die for. It’s Always Fair Weather was originally conceived as a sequel to On the Town, reuniting Gene Kelly with co-stars Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin. However, by 1955, Munshin no longer had box office credibility while Sinatra was too big a star that the studio was unwilling to work with him. In their place, we get Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd, both of whom get the job done but lack the same electric chemistry Kelly’s On the Town co-stars possessed. Frank Sinatra in particular I find is sorely missed as I loved his three-picture partnership with Kelly in which they made an excellent comedic duo. None the less the roaster does get a big boost with the casting of the great Cyd Charisse, whom like Ann Miller in On the Town, plays a glamorous woman with contradictory personality and an encyclopedic knowledge of well, pretty much any topic.
However, I find It’s Always Fair Weather’s biggest drawback are the sections of the film which are uneventful and doesn’t have the lightning-fast pace of On The Town or Singin’ In The Rain. The film could definitely benefit from the trimming or removal of whole scenes; there is a faster-paced, snappier film in here. The film does help make up for this though in its musical numbers. It’s Always Fair Weather does showcase some of the best moments of any MGM musical with the soundtrack being one of the best in the MGM catalogue. The musical numbers and compositions are fantastic and all written for the film itself by the great Betty Comden and Adolph Green, while the majority of MGM musicals took their songs from their back catalogue as well as other stage musicals.
The five-minute Gershwin like dance number “The Binge” showcases the then-new cinemascope format by having three dancers occupy their own third of the screen as they dance and create percussion with trash can lids on their feet as they work together in great physical tandem of drunken joy. Once Upon a Time, on the other hand, is a heart aching number if there was one as the three men sing about their broken dreams while Music is Better Than Words couldn’t be more enchanting if you asked for it. The centrepiece of the film, however, is Gene Kelly’s number ‘I Like Myself’, featuring him tap dancing on roller skates, no trickery! Like Singin’ In the Rain, the number is an encapsulation of pure happiness (just look at the faces of the onlooking extras). This is of my favourite musical numbers of all time and is an unbelievable display of talent if I ever saw it. The film’s only crime in the song and dance department is the lack of a dance number between Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, despite one actually being filmed.
I feel widescreen technology came too late the MGM musicals which could have used it to great advantage but by 1955 musicals had already lost most of their economic viability due to the rise of television. It’s Always Fair Weather is Hollywood coming to terms with the existence of its rival television but relishes the opportunity to satirize the format as superficial and ridden with advertising.