Saturday 27 June 2015

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Syv Brude til Syv Brødre

My wife does not like the fifties. She claims it is the whole package, but at the core of it is the housewife’y female ideal. Old gender roles about the ideal family with the happy wife in long skirt taking care of the home all day in a generic suburban development. With “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” I know exactly where she is coming from. The film oozes those values and ideals and if this was all there was to the fifties I would dislike it as well.

Fans of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” should not bother to read on. I did not like it at all and you not want to read the rest of this review.

Very little in this movie makes any sense and the few things that make a little sense requires you to really bend your perception of the world. Let us just start with the beginning. Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) walks into a frontier Oregon town some time prior to the turn of the century. He lives on an isolated farm with his six brothers and now he is in town to get supplies and a wife. For which reason he breaks out into singing about what sort of perfect woman he would like. Well, it is a musical, so I suppose he would do that. 

Considering there is supposed to be one woman per ten men in town he strikes gold immediately when he finds Milly (Jane Powell) who consents immediately (???) to marriage. In a second they are married and rides home to the farm. Milly is super happy so she starts to sing opera about how happy she is to become a housewife in the middle of nowhere. Adam has forgotten to tell her the little detail that there will be another six men at the farm, but she finds out soon enough. One way to look at this could be that she is a lucky girl sharing a home with seven hunky men. Ah, but not in the fifties. Another way would be to feel cheated and be upset, cancelling the deal. But no, again you know, the fifties. Oh, she is a bit upset, but she is a good, well-trained housewife so she takes over the home, get the boys washed and taught some manners and accepts it. Am I watching “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”? 

Milly’s biggest issue is that Adam does not love her enough and that he just wanted a maid. Well, apparently she does not mind being a maid, she just wants him to be kinder to him. The other six brothers on the other hand are deeply envious and want wives of their own. So, Milly trains them to go courting and before you can say wupediwu the boys are super elegant acrobatic dancers. There is a barn raising and an accompanying ball, which proves to be an excellent chance to impress the girls. Since the boys are now professional dancers and highly skilled gymnasts the girls are suitably impressed, but less so their boyfriends. In fact six of the girls seem to forget all about their local boys and jump into the arms of the six bushmen.

Following the stunning success (which included trashing the very barn they came to build) the boys decide to emulate the Roman raiding of the Sabine women. They go into town in the night and kidnap six girls. The townsfolk are of course upset about that and since they have no helicopters and round the clock new service they form a pose to get girls back. Unfortunately because of an avalanche blocking the pass leading to the Pontipee farm they have to turn back and wait till spring. 

Stop here and think about it for a second. Six girls have been abducted to a remote farm full of horny, lonely men. This is a big, big story and all the townsfolk can do is sit down and wait. This just totally insane and the only precedent I can think of is Norwegian Vikings stopping by in Scotland to pick up some women to bring along with them to populate Iceland. That does not exactly make it right. In a modern context it is a big no-no.

Milly is miffed by this stunt and keeps the girls inside and the boys outside. It is does not take long though before have a massive six-double case of Stockholm syndrome on our hands and the girls think that the brothers are so manly and nice that they do not want to go home. When the pass reopens and a new pose arrives to take the girls home, a priest in the pose hears a baby cry (Milly’s, so Adam did show her some affection after all) and he cries “Oh no, not that!”. Have the girls had a baby? If so, that would mean sexual abuse, a thought not very far away considering the circumstances, six women held as sex slaves on a remote farm. When questioned about the baby I am sure the girls will try to protect the boys, saying that it is Milly’s and that the boys have been nice to them, but no. The girls all claim it is theirs, because, holy cow, a child out of wedlock is a terrible thing and the only way to solve it is to marry the girls to the fathers. Think about it for a second. Kidnapping, sexual abuse? Yeah, let’s marry the girls to the offenders. Makes perfect sense right?

So much for the story. I doubt I spoilt anything really. Knowing this is a 54 musical we know where it is heading ten minutes in, just not that it would be this stupid.

There is no logic anywhere, the brothers are somewhere between stupid, extremely macho and sissy boys and the role of women Neanderthal at best. I know a musical means singing a lot, but rarely has it been done so completely out of context with dancing so absurdly mismatched with the story that it feels like two different movies. I get a feeling here that the producers took the special “laws” of musicals and drove them out on an absolutely absurd tangent claiming that idiocy is okay in a musical as long as it gives a good show and to hell with the audience trying to make sense of this.

I have been thinking hard about something positive to say about this pile of nonsense and grudgingly I must admit that the tunes are catchy. Some of them have gotten stuck in my head and I hate them for it. As long as I can skip Jane Powell’s ventures into opera land I actually think I could enjoy the soundtrack. Also the acrobatic dancing is impressive. Extremely mismatched to the story, but very nicely executed.

Yet this is a musical I would prefer to forget sooner rather than later. I feel 10% more stupid after watching it and unless I finish this review very soon I will become a blabbering idiot.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

On the Waterfront (1954)

I Storbyens Havn

The big Oscar winner of 1954 was ”On the Waterfront”. It won in eight categories including most of the big ones: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor. The only reason, it seems, that it did not win Best Actress was because the female lead, Eva Marie Saint, was considered supporting, a category she won. In other words, this was the “Titanic” or “Gone With the Wind” of 1954.

I never saw it before and with such acclaim I had some very high expectations to this movie. I think that it quite obvious. Also this movie has been recommended to me left and right as a must-see. 

And the verdict now I have finally watched it: Yeah, it is good. In fact, it is a damn good movie. And what I really like about it is that it is good in those old-school categories that really matters to movies: The story, the acting, direction, cinematography and not least relevance. This is not a gimmicky movie on a monster budget. If anything it is scraped together, but with such skill that it feels like a lot more.

Where to begin…

On the docks of New York there are a group of men doing the hard work of loading and unloading boats. It is a tough and grimy job for hard men and what makes it even harder is that their local union is totally rotten. Instead of supporting the workers their union is exhorting them and generally acts as a crime syndicate. The leader of the mob is a disgusting fellow called Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) and he is decidedly not friendly. His henchmen includes the two Malloy brothers, Terry (Marlon Brando) and Charley (Rod Steiger), Friendly’s lawyer. 

Friendly stays in power through a reign of terror. Opposition means exclusion from the jobs and silence is ensured by killing off those who might go to the police. It is exactly at such a killing we enter the movie. Joey Doyle has spilled his guts about the syndicate to the crime commission so now he has to die. Terry, who is an ex-boxer and portrayed as a bit slow on the uptake is instrumental in this, but also surprised that Joey had to die. His second thoughts gets another notch when he falls in love with Doyle’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), herself on the mission to find out who killed her brother.

Terry find himself torn between protecting the only friends he ever knew and helping Edie and the priest Father Barry (Karl Malden) bring down the gangsters. He ends up choosing the later and that is not without problems and danger.

The setting on the dock is incredibly real. It is cold and grey and you can almost smell the oil and soot. Elia Kazan used a lot of location shots and it paid off big time. The realism of the setting is almost half the movie. It was aided greatly by the acting performances. Kazan’s troupe comes primarily from the method acting school which allow for very realistic acting. This was especially the case with Brando. He owns that role, not through intense acting, but simply by being that person. It is incredibly powerful when you see it because it works in all those small details that makes a person real, what they do with their hands, how they walk, where they look and so on. Not for a second does it look staged. Though not in his league the rest of the team follows suit and this works particularly well for the dock workers. If I did not know better I would say Kazan hired the local dock workers for the job (and maybe he did for some of the extras).

Eva Marie Saint is less convincing than Brando in her acting, but is compensated by the way she is presented. She is a blond beauty, but with her paleness, lack of makeup and drab cloth she looks worn and tired and determined and that makes her convincing.

I would be quite surprised if Kazan was not just a little inspired by Italian neorealism. In the same way the German invasion of Hollywood in the twenties and thirties brought expressionism to the big studios so did neorealism slowly sneak into the movies in this period, a style which only reached its heyday in Hollywood in the seventies. For this reason “On the Waterfront” looks and feels twenty years ahead of its time.

I have read and heard a lot about how this was Kazan’s defense for witnessing before the Committee on Un-American Activities. According to this idea Kazan identifies with Terry who decides to betray his friends because of the crimes they did. In this respect this would make it the reverse of “Johnny Guitar”, who criticized the prosecution. I can of course not tell if this is really the case, but I find the case a lot weaker than with “Johnny Guitar”. The allegory would compare socialist work in the movie industry with outright gangster activities. As scared as America was of communist infiltration I doubt most people would go so far as to call them gangsters and in hindsight it just sound ridiculous. Ironically the movie encourage the dock workers to work together against a system that is preying on them. That is a pretty socialist idea.

So I am not so impressed with the allegory and actually prefers to ignore it. This is a damn good movie that tells a compelling and relevant story and that is plenty for me. I am very impressed with this movie and without having seen the other contenders for the 1954 Academy Award this is a movie that deserves its accolade.    

Sunday 21 June 2015

Anniversary, now again

Anniversary, now again

It is today three years ago I started my blog and that is cause for celebration. Well, at least I will celebrate a little and maybe have a whiskey or so tonight… Ah, but it is has been three great years and have am still enjoying writing this little blog.

The past year has been an ordinary year in the sense that there has been no new movies added this far down the list and no catching up to do. Last year at this time I was at movie number 218 and now I am at 281. That is 63 movies in a year. Add to that two title from the Danish list and I make it 65 movies. Not that impressive really, but that is in fact right on target, so I am content with that. 

Last year at this time I was in 1948 and now I have just opened 1954, which makes for 6 years. This is a little better than last year, but lately the years have swollen and I think I should be happy doing 4 years over the next year.

I have opened up the fifties and with a new decade comes new experiences. An increasing number of movies are now in color and the technical level has improved quite a bit since the forties. Acting and direction has developed as well with the advent of method acting. This essentially bring a new realism into movies, making them feel less staged and I believe I see some influence from Italian Neorealism. Finally, of course there are new actors and actresses in that natural replacement that can be expected.

The past year also saw the birth of my book blog. This project however is moving very slowly. Two books reviewed does not impress anybody. But wait and see, I am busy reading old Japanese books these days.

Finally I would like to thank everybody reading and commenting on the blog. It is the greatest thing to know that somebody reads your stuff and I really do not mind when everybody disagrees with my on my lame analyses.