From Here to Eternity (1953)

Image result for from here to eternity

This is what everyone did in Hawaii before Pearl Harbor.

There’s something about war that goes well with Oscars, like peanut butter and jelly.  If you’ve been around on this blog awhile, you may recall that I devoted an entire month to war-related films and still had plenty left over for other posts – like, for example, this one.  Perhaps it’s because there is some inherent drama in war:  the personal story meets the epic, the constant threat of death offers a natural level of drastic stakes.  I’ve seen a lot of war movies now, and they’re all a little bit different, but they’re also all a little bit the same.

FHtE opens on the arrival of a new soldier to an army unit in Hawaii.  He’s both a bugler and a boxer, and there must be some kind of joke there, but now he doesn’t really do either.  His commanding officer, a douchebag who doesn’t do much and takes all the credit, brought him there because he wanted to win a boxing championship.  Since he refuses to box, most of his peers and superiors make his life difficult with elaborate hazing rituals and punishments, because the time-honored method of getting someone to become a team player is to treat them like crap until they cave and do whatever you want.

Meanwhile, the non-commissioned officer (by the way, if I sound like I’m throwing off vaguely-accurate military terms with confidence, it’s only because I’ve decided to take a stab at it and hope for the best) who runs the show decides the best thing for his career is to indulge in Captain Douchebag’s wife.  If you’ve maybe played trivia and seen a still image from this movie in a picture round, say, it might have been this beach make-out scene.

Also, Frank Sinatra is in this movie.  Because why not?

I like the subtlety overall of the film, set in Hawaii in the weeks or months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Except for one scene, where someone is casually leaning near a wall calendar with the date brightly indicated in red:  December 6!!!  (exclamation points possibly added).

I just read a movie review for Moonlight (even my non-movie-watching ass was intrigued), in which the reviewer likened an actor’s performance to the experience of watching Montgomery Clift act for the first time.  I mean, I guess it was fine and all, once I figured out which one he was, but I didn’t notice anything unusually brilliant.  This is probably why I’m only a blogger and not a professional critic.  Most of my reviews would be one sentence:  Yeah, that was cool, I guess.

 

Theme:  War & Doomed Romance

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Nobody lies about being lonely

Advertisements

On the Waterfront (1954)

Image result for on the waterfront

Technically, my first experience of Marlon Brando was watching Superman as a kid, not that I would have had any clue who he was then.  Later, in my grad school Shakespeare class, we watched bits of Julius Caesar, where he famously portrayed Mark Antony.  But beyond that, I mostly know him only from the Truman Capote profile in The New Yorker.

Capote has his own mythos surrounding him, in much the same way as Brando – the center of everyone’s attention in New York City.  While Capote placed himself at the heart of a web of society, almost reveling in the fakeness of it all, Brando went the other way, receding ever deeper into seclusion of his own making.  You can almost see that moment of decision in the profile (though it’s probably more interesting to read about how it came about).

Anyway, I thought about that sort of mythos a lot as I watched On the Waterfront.  There’s that famous line, about the contender and the bum, and I found myself wondering, every time somebody used one of those words (happens more than you’d expect in this movie) when the famous moment would come.  Like so many other iconic scenes in cinematic history, when it comes, and you already know to expect it, it’s kind of a disappointment.

Brando plays Terry Malloy, a longshoreman whose older brother is right-hand man to a mobster.  The mob runs everything in New York, including the longshoremen’s union.  He decides to stand up to the mob, and embarks on a Christ-like journey that is inspiring, but also kind of futile.

One of the thoughts attributed to Brando in Capote’s profile, as he laments the idea of being a movie star and not making some kind of meaningful art, is “Movies date so quickly.”  It’s true – how many of these Best Pictures will we watch in another forty years?  That’s not a criticism of movies per se, so much as of entertainment or history of any kind.  The things of contemporary life that survive us are not necessarily those we would choose, or expect.  Much of the profile focuses on Brando’s current film, Sayonara, based on a novel by James Michener.  Both have faded into the mists of the twentieth century.

I guess I’m also thinking about the idea of legacy, thanks to my recent stint of (finally!) listening to Hamilton.  Brando has this legacy of brilliance, but what did he really do that lasts?  What makes him so much better than the other actors of the time, if not simply the story that everyone tells of his superiority?  He’s the kid sitting on top of the pile of candy, maybe buying into the mythos a bit, maybe not, but ultimately, like anything mythical creature, he’s forever alone.

 

Theme:  Marlon Brando

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Contender or bum?

Ben-Hur (1959)

Image result for ben hur

You’ve probably already forgotten, but there was a remake of this movie released just last month or so.  It came out with virtually no fanfare, and apparently disappeared with as much to-do.  I’m not even sure how faithfully it might have retold the story, and though I’m a little curious, I’m not so curious as to actually look it up.

Ben-Hur is about a Jewish prince (Judah Ben-Hur) in some Biblical land who is remarkably successful considering the Romans have long since conquered his territory.  He happens to be about the same age as this other famous Jew of the same era, a fact which only became clear to me when it was literally spoken aloud by someone, because I was certain that Ben-Hur was well over 40.  His old Roman buddy, Massala, has just returned to town to take a position as some kind of military leader.  He pays a visit to Judah, in part to relive old memories of throwing javelins together, but mostly to convince Ben-Hur to snitch on his fellow Jews who defy their oppressors.

There’s so much homoerotic tension in their scenes together that I created a completely different story in my head.  Honestly, there’s a moment where they toast each other by intertwining arms and sipping from their wine goblets, like a wedding couple.  Eventually, Massala turns against his former friend, perhaps because his advances have been rejected.  According to IMDB trivia, I’m certainly not the only one to draw that conclusion.

Ben-Hur goes off to labor as a galley slave, rowing in the bowels of some warship.  Then he gets adopted by a Roman general, despite being a fully grown-ass man who certainly doesn’t need a dad to tell him what to do (the location of his actual father remains unclear).  He spontaneously develops an interest and mastery over horses, which leads to the big chariot race that most people associate with the film.

You might think that an epic chariot race would be the climactic finale of a movie, especially one clocking in a 3 and a half hours, but you’d be wrong.  After the race, Judah has to figure out what happened to his family, and why they’re hiding in the leper colony (spoiler: because leprosy).  If only there was a guy who was renowned for his ability to cure such an incurable disease.

Though Ben-Hur is subtitled “A Tale of the Christ,” you never really see Jesus’ face.  The movie is essentially bookended by Jesus’ birth and death, but you only get glimpses and suggestions of him in between.  It’s kind of a clever technique, the dramatic irony of this mysterious carpenter’s son whose trajectory happens to align with Ben-Hur’s.  The viewer only sees Jesus from behind (which, granted, is probably because he has great hair).  I only wish it had remained much subtler than the way it ended up.  Maybe it’s just personal preference.  I find most stories about Jesus a bit boring from a narrative perspective, because you already know his character and how the story ends – there’s not much room for novelty.  Then again, the Harry Potter movies are kind of the same:  you already know it by heart but want to see whether they’ve screwed up your favorite part.

 

Theme:  Chariot

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  I hardly felt a slave (said no slave ever)

Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)

Image result for around the world in 80 days

The funny thing about watching all these movies, one after the other, is that even the ones I know next to nothing about come with certain expectations.  For example, I expect that the films that have entered the canon as Great Movies are going to actually be Great Movies that have only to reveal their brilliance to me.  And then there are the films that haven’t lasted quite so long in the canon, which I can safely assume are absolute rubbish.  Obviously, there’s no in-between.  Movies are always either fantastic or terrible, despite the fact that I would describe very few of the films I’ve seen from this list in such definitive terms.

With that opener, you can probably guess where I’m going with this.  Despite being another three-friggin’-hour-long film, and with a pretty wince-worthy series of colonialist portrayals (they get to fight off not just one, but two kinds of Indians!), bizarre cameos from the big stars of the day (most of whom I’ve never heard of), and a ten-minute scene of literally nothing but a guy waving a flag in front of bull for no reason other than that the actor happened to also be a bullfighter, I have a grudging appreciation for this movie.  I’m not putting it at the top of my list or anything, but it’s also not at the bottom.

Based on the totally random introductory part of the film, which features Edward R. Murrow narrating something about the advances of technology in film and travel, it’s pretty clear that the filmmaker was really excited about the promise of the Space Race.  Traveling around the world in 80 days seemed impressive back in the day, but now we have rockets that can go around the Earth in hours, is apparently the point.  More recently, they’ve remade this film as The Amazing Race, or any other number of reality shows that ask contestants to do something dangerous and crazy for the camera.

Phileas Fogg, who doesn’t smoke or drink or do anything interesting, makes a bet with the fellows down at the old boys’ club that he can make it around the world in eighty days.  He brings along his faithful companion Passepartout, who just came into his employ that same day and happens to have a wide range of talents that come in handy when they, for example, drop into a Spanish village in the middle of bullfighting season.  Also, a big bank just got robbed, leading everyone to believe that Fogg is the culprit.  Along the way, Fogg rescues an Indian princess (Hindu India, not Native America) who is about to be sacrificed on an altar to Kali (because that’s a thing, I guess?).  Also, the Indian princess is Shirley MacLaine.

What redeeming qualities, you might ask, did I find in this film that led me to the conclusion that it was palatable – nay, even kind of weirdly entertaining?  Well, despite the long runtime, I found myself relatively engaged in the action.  Other than the longest bullfight-with-no-narrative-purpose ever, they mostly move from place to place without pausing long enough to do much more than wreak havoc.  There was an odd running obsession with cows.  There were a number of genuinely funny lines (“Crisis or no, nothing should interfere with tea!”).  But the real star of the show was the daredevil Passepartout, played by Mexican comedic actor Cantinflas – who was apparently quite famous back in the day.

The most important thing is that the movie is educational.  What I learned here is that if you’re rich enough, you, too, can travel around the world, dispensing with any obstacles with ease.  Just throw money at people and you’ll get hot air balloons, elephants, boats, all at your command.  You’ll even get princesses to fall in love with you!  Some things never change.

 

Theme:  Victorian/Book into Film

First Time Watching:  Yes

Final Verdict:  You’ve been diddled!

Gigi (1958)

I’d originally planned to pair a different movie with my first selection this week, but it just so happened to fit in quite well with my month-long theme for August, so I decided to make a last-minute substitution.  That’s where Gigi comes in.

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I fundamentally find musicals kind of boring.  The songs in musicals tend to be great expository blocks that could have been summed up in a couple of lines of dialogue.  “Oh, I find my wealthy playboy life unsatisfactory and boring,” says Gaston the wealthy playboy, but instead we need a show-stopping number to drive the point home.  And what is it anyway with romances that start with at least one character who is cynical about ever falling in love?  Maybe the most important lesson to learn is that if you want to live a romantic life, you should start out by being as unromantic as possible.

On the other hand, the thing I do enjoy about musicals (since my mind tends to wander so easily during the song) is imagining what it would be like if people just went around in real life breaking out into song.  There you are, catching Pokémon in the park, and suddenly a dude sitting on the bench behind you starts going on with “Bellsprouts are ringing in my heart” or something.  You’d think he was loony.

In terms of this film, I’d like to point out another pet peeve I’ve noticed in old movies:  the Creepy Old Guy Who Leers at Young Girls.  Uncle Honore (curious name for an aging French bachelor) narrates the story at the beginning, looking remarkably like Sam the Snowman in the Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer Christmas special, originating in the same era.  Though he is certainly in his 60s or older by that point, he starts off with a song thanking heaven for “little girls.”  Also, the little girl he’s talking about is the one who ends up marrying his nephew, just in case it wasn’t tasteless enough to ogle any random girl.  Oh, but such is life in the 1950s.  Or the 1900s, when this film is supposed to be set.

I’d seen in some ranking that this movie was considered to be nearly at the bottom of the pile of all the Oscar winners.  In truth, I was expecting it to be much worse.  Though it wasn’t really to my taste – I’d rather see witty banter than drawn-out songs – it wasn’t really any worse than the other musicals of that same era.  I consider this to be on part with An American in Paris or even My Fair Lady.  At least the male romantic lead had some endearing qualities.

One thing, though, for which I think Gigi is rightfully praised is the look of it – the costumes, the set pieces, the artistic art cards to introduce scenes in a party montage.  There’s one little shot of the shore in waning light, with Gigi and Gaston dragging donkeys along the beach (don’t ask) that just looks really nice.

I’m just glad it all works out for Gigi in the end, and she can spend the rest of her life pouring coffee and lighting Gaston’s cigars.  True romance.

 

Theme:  Classic romantic comedy

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  I’d rather be miserable with you than without you.

All About Eve (1950)

 

When I first thought about doing a month of woman-centered movies, this is actually the film that inspired me.  I hadn’t heard much about the plot of it, except that it featured several women, which was a pretty big deal simply because of its rarity.  Even though I’d seen good things about it, I was still concerned (as I am with all the older movies I watch) that I might find it dated or dull.  I can honestly say that this is one of my favorite Oscar winners that I never would have watched if not for this project.

The story itself is maybe not the most original:  an aging actress fears her position being usurped by a younger, fresher ingénue.  In a way, though, it’s the familiarity of this story that makes the way it plays out so engaging.  It’s like watching someone hit a piñata – you know what’s going to happen, but you still want to see which way the candy flies.  So much of the plot is driven by various characters being bitchy to each other and either plotting against or suspecting each other of plotting against each other.  Ultimately, though, it is all about Eve and the destruction she brings.

This movie touches on a question about a woman’s career and ambition that’s basically still unresolved today.  At one point, Bette Davis’ character wonders how to balance her acting with “the career of being a woman” – she concludes that you can’t have it both ways.  It’s moments like this, where she’s sitting in a car with a woman she thinks is her closest friend, confiding her deepest fears, that really show what’s possible when women are given strong roles.

Boring side note:  whenever I watch one of these movies for the blog, I always jot a few notes into a notebook to help me remember characters or details, or simply to record my initial impressions.  Usually, I’ll end up with one page of thoughts, maybe a quote or two.  I’m pretty sure that my notes for this movie are longer than anything I’ve seen thus far.  To be fair, the movie begins with a virtual dramatis personae, rattled off amid an awards ceremony, and I figured I’d need to keep track of who’s who.  (I also observed, “Room full of dudes: great start” in reference to my Bechdel Test.)

But I also found myself copying down quote after quote.  There are so many clever lines and witticisms, that even if the plot – hurtling toward some sort of inevitability – didn’t keep your interest, you could just listen for the funny stuff.  I hope someday to have the right context and solemnity to intone, as Bette Davis, “Remind me to tell you of the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke.”

In the context of the Test, perhaps it’s Marilyn Monroe, in one of her early roles, who gets the best and most lasting line.  When someone suggests Eve talk to the pretentious theater critic, who’s brought Marilyn as his date to a party, she demurs, saying she doesn’t have anything interesting to say.  “You won’t bore him, honey,” Miss Monroe reassures her.  “You won’t even get a chance to talk.”

I’ll conclude with one last note I made, which I actually have thought about with respect to all of the films I’ve watched this month so far.  “Wouldn’t it be great,” I wrote to myself, “if the women just fell in love with each other instead?”

 

Theme:  Ladies on film

Bechdel Test:  I’ll say it passes.

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Real diamonds in a wig

An American in Paris (1951)

Song-and-dance movies are kind of like porn:  if you’re looking for plot, you’re watching for the wrong reason.  This movie kind of makes that clear, in that the final twenty minutes are dominated by an extended dance sequence which apparently – though I was far too ignorant to pick up on this on my own – were themed around particular French artists.  Dance fixes everything, of course, so all the problems that were raised throughout the film (standard romance fare:  somebody is betrothed to somebody else, etc.) are entirely dispensed with by the end.

The plot is this:  Jerry Mulligan is an American soldier who stays in Paris after the war to become a painter.  His buddy is a pianist and his buddy is a singer, and so they probably spend more time breaking out into song-dance-numbers than Jerry spends painting.  (Granted, a movie spent watching somebody paint might not be a better alternative.)  A rich American woman expresses interest in Jerry’s art – or possibly his body – but Jerry falls in love with a French girl instead, who also happens to be dating the singer.  Everything works out in the end via a massive dance number.

I don’t know a lot about the classic dancer/film stars of this era, as evidenced by the fact that I spent half the movie thinking the star was Fred Astaire rather than Gene Kelly (thanks, Madonna).  I do recall being bored to tears in the show-stopping numbers of the movies or cartoons that I did see as a kid.  That part where Judy Garland sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in The Wizard of OzAnd it’s still in black and white?  Snooze.  I suppose it’s a little different if I’m watching an actual dance performance, but I don’t have much patience for tap-dancing on film.  Like, the sounds are probably dubbed in later anyway, right?

One thing that I don’t often notice while I’m watching movies that stood out here were the interesting transitions.  There’s a moment where a character lights a cigarette, which then dissolves into a dancing woman reaching for a lamp.  Obviously, it’s much harder to explain than to actually notice.  The final dance sequence also did some neat things that seemed to blend the set of a stage performance which techniques that could only be done with film – like reconstructing a Paris street drawing done by Gene Kelly, the titular American artist, into a backdrop that morphs with each of a series of scenes.  It’s visually arresting, if not necessarily something that held my interest forever.

There’s also a quirky trick in the beginning that I liked, where someone introduces a character and then subverts it somehow, like by panning the camera to a figure in a window and then saying, “Oh, no, that’s not me.”  Like the other techniques, I was hoping there might be more of that, but after a description-through-dance number with the French girl, it kind of disappeared.

Ah, well.  It’s not supposed to make sense, is it, as long as you get what you came for.

 

Theme:  the American man

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:   ‘S Wonderful?

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

 

I’m going to expose my lack of World War II knowledge and confess that I didn’t realize Burma was a part of the Pacific theater.  I’m going to further expose my ignorance by admitting that I had to look up where the movie took place, even after having watched the film.  Maybe I’ve been tainted by too many Vietnam war movies, so that anything tropical and war-y would seem to take place there.  (Okay, I knew it wasn’t Vietnam, but I was thinking Thailand for a while.  Or maybe the Philippines.)

As Eurocentric people (referring specifically to white Americans, I suppose), we tend to focus so much on the German side of the war, and forget far too easily what happened in the Pacific.  If not for Pearl Harbor, we might not have bothered getting involved in that particular conflict at all, leaving Japan to run rampant throughout China, Korea, and apparently Burma.  Of course, when I think about it, Burma was a British colony at the time (which I know primarily thanks to George Orwell, who wrote many essays on his experiences in the British Foreign Service).  I’ve just explained a lot to myself.  Thanks for bearing witness to my learning.

All of this is sort of beside the point.  I’m supposed to be talking about a movie here.

Bridge takes place in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, where a new group of British POWs is induced to build a bridge spanning the river Kwai (hence the title).  The big conflict, though, is not over whether the soldiers will be forced to build the bridge – that’s a given.  The question is whether the officers will join in the labor, against the rules of the Geneva convention.  Alec Guinness is great as Colonel Nicholson, the stodgy officer who stands on principle in defiance of the Japanese prison camp commanding officer, Saito.  You pretty much alternate between admiring his grit and wanting to pound his head against the wall for refusing to back down even at the risk of death.  His troops all admire him, too, perhaps because they don’t realize that they will not be spared hard labor no matter what the result of Nicholson’s last stand.  Nicholson is even principled enough to order his men to build the bridge right, rather than intentionally sabotaging the job as they’d done outside of his influence.

Meanwhile, there’s an American POW (who is, incidentally, a bit like Don Draper) in the camp who is far less eager to help his captors.  He manages to escape and is then enticed by a guy who looks remarkably like Doctor Who and Sherlock writer Stephen Moffat to return on a mission to destroy the bridge.  While the battle of wits between Nicholson and Saito is probably the more interesting conflict, character-wise, it’s hard to resist an exciting commando mission.

Sorry, Sherlock season 4 is delayed while I go blow up a bridge.

I’m a sucker for juxtaposition, and I love the scene where the two commandos are setting up explosives on the base of the bridge while the prisoners are inside celebrating its completion with pantos in drag (such a British thing to do).

It’s really interesting how each of the war movies I’ve watched so far has approached it from a completely different angle.  This one is almost more of an adventure story that also happens to have a war as a backdrop.  Being a POW is no walk in the park, and the movie sort of brushes past that fact, but otherwise, it’s an entertaining film.  I did think that it was about an hour shorter than it actually was, so I had to pause in the middle when I started falling asleep, picking it up the next day.  But that’s not really a criticism, except in my own planning.

As the Brits might say, “Good show.”  And I’m not talking about the panto.

 

Theme:  War

Which One:  World War II (pacific theater)

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Bridge to a T

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

 

Like The Great Ziegfeld’s focus on the vaudeville stage, this film seems less an earnest use of the circus as a setting to tell a story than a showcase of a dying form of entertainment that also happens to feature a basic plot for the sake of the stars. This film opens with a really dramatic voiceover that evokes the sense of a war newsreel, which might or might not be intentional. It was directed by Cecil B. DeMille, who also directed The Ten Commandments, among other epic religious pictures.

Supposedly, this was Charlton Heston’s breakout film. I’m pretty much only familiar with him from Planet of the Apes, so it’s interesting to imagine that TGSoE could be a prequel, considering it features a pair of baby gorillas and other assorted monkeys, some of whom presumably grew up to be damn dirty apes. He plays the responsible circus manager, which means he’s basically the most boring guy in the whole show, but ultimately more desirable as a love interest than the dashing trapeze artist who, let’s face it, is kind of rapey in a couple of scenes.

I’m not sure who the appropriate audience of TGSoE might be – people who love the circus and went to the cinema because the circus wasn’t in town, or people nostalgic for childhood? I don’t think the circus had faded quite so much as a form of entertainment at that point, certainly not as much as today. I haven’t been to the circus since I was a kid, but then, it’s not really the sort of thing you do for fun as an adult unless you’ve got kids of your own.

That said, I liked certain things about this movie. Buttons the Clown (played by James Stewart entirely in clown makeup) – the clown with a secret – was an intriguing side mystery that could have received a little more screen time. For that matter, I find clowning the most fascinating part of the circus. What is its origin as a pursuit? Is it related to the court jesters of yore? Are all the people who run off to join the circus just trying to be clowns? Why are people as likely to be frightened of clowns as entertained by them? I really need a narrative nonfiction book on this subject, pronto.

If the film had focused a little more on the characters (less on romantic entanglements and more on their lives as circus performers, perhaps), I would have enjoyed the film a bit better, I think, especially if it also managed to do so in about two hours rather than nearly three. While it’s kind of interesting to see scenes of parades and elephant tricks and trapeze artistry, mostly it just made me think how much cooler it would be if I were sitting in a giant tent, surrounded by the smell of sawdust and animals, gawping up in the air as ice cream dribbled down my hand – instead of watching audience members doing so on screen. A movie about the circus just makes you want to go to the circus, which seems a bad strategy for the film industry.

If you take nothing else from this post, I want to share a line, mostly without context, that was surprising in part because I’m not sure whether it carried the same meaning then as it did today. Woman circus performer (who is for some reason drenched in water), about the dashing trapeze guy: “Why is it whenever he’s around, I’m all wet?!”

 

Theme: Showmanship

First Time Watching? Yes

Final Verdict: Not enough monkeys

 

Marty (1955)

 

I’ve just realized this cover is in color, even though the film is black and white.  Curious.

Ah, love. When mid-February hits, our thoughts turn to romance, dreaming of the Valentine we have, or wish we had. If Oscar celebrated holidays, he’d probably have us watch Marty on Valentine’s Day.

I’m not entirely sure what it is I associate with Ernest Borgnine, but romance is certainly not it. And yet, he gives an endearing performance here as a guy luckless in love who finally finds it. Somewhere I saw this movie described as one about ordinary people falling in love, and I think that’s what I find so charming about it.

Borgnine is the eponymous Marty, a guy who is 34 and has essentially given up on finding the girl of his dreams. (If this were a slightly different film, you might wonder why Marty is so suspiciously uninterested in ladies, but I guess that’s for the remake.) On some last-ditch effort, he meets Clara, a schoolteacher who has somehow reached the ungodly age of 29 without getting hitched. They’re like the last two lepers at the colony. Meanwhile, in a subplot, Marty’s cousin finds living with his wife, new baby, and mother a tad agonizing.

As I’ve suggested in the past, I don’t know much about playwriting in the 20th century, but Marty really feels like its foundation rests on the stage. There are limited scenes and locations – Marty’s house, the dance hall, the late-night streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx (apparently this story falls somewhere prior to the eras of rampant crime and hipsters on the streets). The story itself takes place over the course of about 24 hours. That container gives it a sense of an enclosed world, in a good way. I’m a little unsure how much of this film depends on Italian immigrant culture and how much is 1950s courtship culture, but either way makes for an interesting anthropological study.  I also loved the dialogue in the movie – the little tics of working class New Yorker speech, the subtle humor of some of the lines.

To be fair, the message of the movie, if you think about it too hard, is a bit bleak. Everybody refers to Marty’s love interest – and I’m no expert, but she seems to be on the pretty side of normal to me – as a dog.  It’s a strange, unconvincing plot point.  His friends try to convince him to move on to something better, his mother and aunt reject her (one of whom says, in one of the best ironic-today-but-unclear-how-ironic-then lines in the film, “College girls are one step from the street.”). But will he listen to them, or follow his heart?

Fortunately, it’s Valentine’s Day, so we can believe that love conquers all.

 

This woman is constantly described as a “dog” in the film.

Theme: New York romance

First Time Watching? First time I even heard of it.

Final Verdict: Not such a dog as it thinks it is.