For Reel


The King and I (1956)
September 11, 2016, 4:40 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Walter Lang
3.5 Stars
The King and IThis over-inflated Rogers and Hammerstein production undeniably has its charms, even if it often suffers from the same sluggishness of the typically overproduced spectacles of its ilk (a subplot involving the forbidden romance between Rita Moreno and Carlos Rivas is permission to take a quick nap). As the mother hen who promotes Western ideals in the kingdom of Siam, Deborah Karr is captivating—her steadfastness is not to be taken for self-seriousness, with her performance allowing glimpses of both levity and sensuality. As oddly captivating as Yul Brynner is, his performance would be dead in the water without Karr as the straight woman, who gives him the required sensitivity and sentimentality. The film’s most enduring quality is its sense of repressed sexuality—in the same way that many flock to Victorian novels for the steamy but understated romances, The King and I involves a romantic relationship that Hollywood was unwilling to put on movie screens too blatantly. As a result, Brynner’s bare chest, Karr’s revealing evening gown, and one well placed hand on a waist carries a remarkable sense of unbridled passion, adding an extra intensity to Karr and Brynner’s scenes together. If the songs aren’t particularly memorable, the performances and the enchanting surrealism of the Jerome Robbins choreographed Uncle Tom’s Cabin setpiece age the film better than one might think.



The Blue Bird (1940)
January 1, 2016, 1:08 pm
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Director: Walter Lang
3.5 Stars
The Blue BirdThis ill-advised answer to The Wizard of Oz was a turning point in the career of a 12-year-old Shirley Temple, who 20th Century Fox didn’t know what to do with once she hit adolescence. It was her first flop and marked the downturn of her career, ending her contract with the studio that brought her stardom within a year of its release. And yet, if The Blue Bird is not the light fantasy fare that audiences might have expected, it is ambitious and daring, dealing with ideas of mortality in an earnest, uncommonly curious way. In a hugely memorable setpiece, Temple and her little brother (Johnny Russell) venture to the land of the Future, where children wait patiently to be born. Among those they encounter are a little girl who identifies herself as their future sister who won’t be on Earth for very long and a boy who dreads his birth as he knows that his fight against injustice will lead to his death. Shot in Technicolor on impressively designed sets, the film deserves comparisons to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in that it matches its fantastical circumstances with incisive philosophical themes. The great Gale Sondergaard has a hugely entertaining role as Temple’s cat-turned-human, and early sequences allow Temple to play somewhat against type as a bratty tween.



Love Before Breakfast (1936)
June 3, 2015, 12:57 pm
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Director: Walter Lang
2.5 Stars
Love Before BreakfastThe poster for Universal’s Love Before Breakfast features an illustration of star Carole Lombard with a shiner on her left eye. It’s an image that reads differently now than it did in 1936, which might be true for the rest of the picture–this is one of those romantic comedies that can just as well be classified as a stalker thriller. Preston Foster plays a millionaire so enchanted by Lombard that he purchases the oil company that her fiancé (Cesar Romero) works at with the intention of sending him to Japan. Later, while knowing full well that she doesn’t match his interest, he proposes a marriage arrangement just so that he can claim ownership over her. This being a romantic comedy, eventually she does fall for the sociopath, although one can’t be sure why. The misguided premise is only amplified by Foster’s imposing, charmless presence. He’s dull and threatening, swallowed whole by Lombard’s screwball talents. As with many comedies of its ilk, the picture descends into insanity by the end, and the best moments in the film are watching Lombard take on the manic energy that the genre demands. She also benefits from some remarkable gowns (Lombard brought along costume designer Travis Banton and cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff from Paramount for this Universal Picture), including a knockout dress adorned with feathers, pearls, and capped off with a preposterously large mane of feathers.