Summertime (1955)

S-S-S-Summertime

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

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.

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Mister Roberts (1955)

No One Can Succeed Like Mister Roberts

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

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.

Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Dog Day Afternoon

I only had the pleasure of watching many of the famous Disney classics for the first time last December and while I enjoyed almost all of them, Lady and the Tramp was one I absolutely fell in love with. One of the aspects which makes Lady and the Tramp great is its ability to pull off a love story not only free of cliches but also manages to feel fresh. Going into this movie I was concerned that it would the typical high-class girl falls in love with a low-class guy (well dogs in this case) but I was very pleasantly surprised. Both Lady and Tramp are believable characters but display subtle dog traits which I didn’t even notice the first time I watched the film. Perhaps the most humorous of these would be the fact the dogs in the film refer to Lady’s owners and “Jim Dear” and “Darling” as this is what the two call each other throughout the film. The little details like this warrant Lady and the Tramp as a film worthy of multiple viewings.

Lady and the Tramp was the first animated produced in CinemaScope and they sure took advantage of the new format. The whole movie is one big ignition of the senses; could a movie be more relaxing to watch than this? Just like Lady I don’t want this seemingly perfect world of early 1900’s Americana to be altered in any way; notice throughout the entire the film every day is filled bright sunshine and it only starts to rain when things hit their worst. The date sequence also surprised me greatly; having seen it parodied to death my entire life I didn’t think it would have anything to offer me; yet their entire date had me awe and left me breathless. The soundtrack also offers some of the most memorable compositions and songs in Disney history, perfectly capturing the essence of falling in love. Lady And The Tramp is an absolute heart melting charmer If I ever saw one and my personal favourite animated Disney film from Walt’s era.

It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)

Stormy Weather Ahead

Its Always Fair Weather will go down in history as the film musical which “could have been”. If It’s Always Fair Weather had been made a few years earlier it could have been in the same leagues as Singin’ In the Rain and On the Town but some shortcomings prevent it from being so. The movie 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 and 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 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. Although I find It’s Always Fair Weather’s biggest drawback are the sections of the film which are uneventful. The film could definitely benefit from the trimming or removal of whole scenes; there is a faster paced, snappier film in here.

Yet the film does showcase some of the best moments of any MGM musical. The musical numbers themselves are fantastic, all written for the film itself, while the majority of MGM musicals took their songs from back catalogs and stage musicals. The five-minute opening dance number showcases the then-new cinemascope format by having three dancers occupy their own third of the screen. 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. The soundtrack of the movie is great enough that I even bought the soundtrack. ‘Once Upon a Time’ is one of the most emotional numbers I’ve heard in any film but the centerpiece of the film is Gene Kelly’s number ‘I Like Myself’, featuring him tap dancing on roller skates, no trickery! This is of my very favourite musical numbers of all time, his title number from ‘Singin’ In the Rain’ may be more iconic but this is friggin’ epic and an unbelievable display of talent if I ever saw it. The movie’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.

The movie’s other notable aspect is being one of the earliest movies to satires television and its vacuousness. This may seem hypocritical of Hollywood but unlike other Hollywood musicals, Its Always Fair Weather actually has a dark and not very uplifting story of three war buddies who are reunited ten years later to find out they can’t stand each other.
Despite its shortcomings, I do have a lot of love for’ It’s Always Fair Weather’, largely due to its fantastic soundtrack and simply because of its gorgeous aesthetic as seen in MGM musicals, a world of beautiful, bright colours and welcome artificiality. As a musical enthusiast, I am forgiving of the movie’s flaws but others may be less patient with its uneven pace.