Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Professional Sweetheart (1933) - Ginger Rogers Flounces About

Ginger Rogers Professional Sweetheart 1933 movieloversrevews.filminspector.com
Ginger Rogers and Theresa Harris in "Professional Sweetheart."

Ginger Rogers is remembered by casual movie fans as the first or second half of Fred Astaire's name - "A Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers dance film" - and not so much on her own. Let's just get right out front of that and say that it is terrific for any actress who did her best work in the 1930s to be remembered at all.

Ginger Rogers Professional Sweetheart 1933 movieloversrevews.filminspector.com

At this point, being associated with the great Fred Astaire - who, unlike just about anyone else in Hollywood, cornered the field on a specific field, film dance, and is acknowledged by everyone as the gold standard in that discipline - is something that shouldn't be taken as some kind of insult or pejorative. Ginger ran rings around Astaire as an actress and singer, but she was not the classic, creative dancer that Fred was. Ginger was an actress who danced and Fred was a dancer who acted and sang, and let's leave it at that.

Ginger Rogers Professional Sweetheart 1933 movieloversrevews.filminspector.com

Thus, I'm not in the "Oh, poor Ginger" camp (which a somewhat disgruntled Ginger herself tried to stir up during her late years). However, there's not the shadow of a doubt that Ginger was a great talent in her own right, quite possibly the best actress of that decade. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1941 - and that film is pretty much forgotten ("Kitty Foyle"). She worked sporadically into the early 1990s - but a lot of her later work was in "The Love Boat" types of situations. She sang the absolutely classic and eternal "We're in the Money" - and if you asked 1000 people what film that song was from, maybe one (if you got a particularly knowlegeable group) might know that Ginger sang it in "Gold Diggers of 1933" (and not "42nd Street" as even the knowledgeable fan might think).

Ginger Rogers Professional Sweetheart 1933 movieloversrevews.filminspector.com

The point is simply that Ginger was one of those cases of a great talent who missed it by "that much," and whose fame now as merely being Astaire's dance partner is as much a source of irritation to her fans as it is a tribute. Delving into her work is rewarding because this girl had it going on throughout her career, and she was working it with the best of them.

Ginger Rogers Professional Sweetheart 1933 movieloversrevews.filminspector.com

Case in point: "Professional Sweetheart" (1933), directed by William A. Seiter, written by  and starring Ginger. The Hays Code was not quite in place yet, and films in the 1932-33 period such as the Clark Gable/Carole Lombard "No Man of Her Own" among many, many others were continuing to press the limits of sexual expression. Heck, the very title of this film - a synonym for "working girl" in its basest sense - wouldn't have made it past the censors. Ginger was the perfect vessel for this "last call" era of film partying, a pretty young thing who was willing and knew what she was doing. While films from that time may seem innocent now, they certainly weren't innocent then, and even today they retain a certain sauciness that resonates though the years.

Ginger Rogers Professional Sweetheart 1933 movieloversrevews.filminspector.com
Ginger was dubbed by Etta Moten, who was a standard go-to girl singer of the era.

The plot is simple: the celebrity front (Rogers as Glory Eden) for a typical boring household product ("Ippsie Wipsie Washcloths," which become a recurring joke of its own) must lead a pure and blameless life or it will reflect poorly on her sponsor's product or she faces disaster. She, though, is getting restless, dreams of "getting in trouble" for the first time, and is ready to fly the coop. Abetted by her knowing African-American maid (Theresa Harris), she tries to sample a little of what the world has to offer, is steered by her handlers toward someone "appropriate" (Norman Foster) who won't reflect poorly on the brand, and ultimately breaks free - or does she? It's a fun meditation on what Hollywood was (and is) really all about - selling soap or, in this case, Ippsie Wipsie Washcloths.

Ginger Rogers Professional Sweetheart 1933 movieloversrevews.filminspector.com
Theresa Harris, who like many others (including Edward Everett Horton and Akim Tamiroff of all people) was uncredited, almost steals the film as Glory's maid, but Ginger's performance was too good for that to happen

The film also stars a typical collection of character actors from the period who do their bits and fill in the time in between Ginger being (inexplicably) dubbed singing, prancing about in her underwear, and cracking wise: Gregor Ratoff, Zazu Pitts, Frank Pangborn, Edgar Kennedy, Frank McHugh. This is Ginger's film from start to finish, though, and, as her first foray into RKO after rising through the ranks at Warners, "Professional Sweetheart" ultimately, in a circuitous fashion, led to her pairing with Astaire. Before we gloss over the others too quickly, let's observe in passing that, contrary to current stereotype, "Professional Sweetheart" proves that old Hollywood a) was not averse to portraying obviously gay characters in an open fashion and without anything bad happening to them, and b) it also had no difficulty placing African-Americans into central and very positive positions (though here not crediting Theresa Harris for whatever reason when she should have been named as a lead - but she's up there on the screen and she got paid during the Depression and that, my friends, is not something to dismiss lightly). Also, Etta Moten, who dubbed in Ginger's singing voice here, was African-American. Hollywood definitely was open to employing African-Americans in prominent positions, and they got there solely through raw talent and a lot of hard work. Oh, and coincidentally or not, Etta also did some singing in "Gold Diggers of 1933," though Ginger got along on her own in that one.

Ginger Rogers Professional Sweetheart 1933 movieloversrevews.filminspector.com
A promotional still for "Professional Sweetheart" - Ginger was in terrific shape.

This is not the best film of all time. It is not the best film of 1933. It is not even the most memorable Ginger Rogers film of 1933 (that honor goes to the aforementioned "Gold Diggers"). Everybody involved did more significant work elsewhere (Watkins wrote "Chicago," for goodness sakes). However, it is a delightful comedy showcasing Ginger in her skivvies that fans of the era's films might want to track down.

Below is a slice of "Professional Sweetheart" where Ginger acts like the bad girl her character wishes she had had a chance to be with her new, very innocent husband. Be forewarned, this scene is not for the faint of heart. This is actually a pretty realistic depiction of certain types of raw relationships, with Ginger taunting her man savagely and daring him to do something - and then, well, he does.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

RIP James Garner

James Garner movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
James Garner.

Many people remember James Garner from "The Rockford Files," which was a classic '70s offbeat "private investigator" show (half the shows on tv in the '70s featured "private investigators," you'd think that everybody was calling for private investigators to solve their problems every other day). Or, perhaps you remember him from his other classic tv role in "Maverick" (which also featured Roger Moore). Both shows were about the best that tv has to offer.

My own best memory of a James Garner performance (and there are many) was in an off-beat film that most folks probably have never heard of. It was an odd little mid-'60s film that had some absolutely dazzling performances and an intricate screenplay. It was called "Mister Buddwing" (1966), directed by Delbert Mann.

James Garner Mister Buddwing movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
James Garner in "Mister Buddwing"

If you are a fan of good films - not the hyped films at your local multiplex this weekend, but good films that are completely forgotten - then you should consider hunting down "Mr. Buddwing." If you look it up, you will see lots of mediocre ratings and reviews, which often is the hallmark of quirky films that weren't intended to amuse the mass audience. You have to be willing to get past that if you want to uncover true hidden gems that really strike an individual chord within you.

I won't give away the plot, but it is somewhat along the lines of "The Twilight Zone" until the very end. You have no idea what the heck is happening until the final scene, and then it all makes chilling sense. And no, it's not science fiction or even fantasy. It's the story of a man. You have to see it to appreciate the context of what I just wrote.

Garner had to take that role because it was quality. There's no other possible reason for a rising star like him to play the character that he did, who is impossible to pin down and in a film that was as far from being commercial as possible. He'd probably appreciate your remembering him and the film by watching it.

You don't have to be a film snob to seek out films like that, and we're not touting it for that reason. Instead, it is just a great film that is forgotten. Sometimes, underrated films like that are the greatest treasures of all. If you need a little convincing as to why to see it, just look at the cast: Garner, Jean Simmons, Suzanne Pleshette, Katharine Ross, Angela Lansbury - these folks weren't begging for work at that time. The number of awards they won is impressive. If you come to a specialty film site like this, you're probably open to off-beat ideas about what to see, so here's your idea of the day.

James Garner is one of those actors who lived a full life and thus out-lived the peak of their fame. If he had died thirty years ago, it would have been treated as a national event. Since he did live a full life, and his fame receded, few will note his passing, and that's ok. It is how the world works. But he was a great actor and personality who brought real life to his roles.

So, if you're hunting down something a little weird and a little crazy, but ultimately satisfying and even epic, look for a copy of "Mister Buddwing."

James Garner Mister Buddwing movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
"Mr. Buddwing."


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The Expendables 3" Coming August 15 2014

The Expendables 3 Sylvester Stallone movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
"The Expendables 3."

Mel Gibson joins Sylvester Stallone and the boys for the third installment of "The Expendables."

Gibson plays a crazed maniac who apparently kidnaps some kids, and Stallone's team has to go get them.

The film is rated PG-13, but Stallone says it is as close to an R rating as you can get.

"The Expendables 3" stars Stallone, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kelsey Grammer, Gibson, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz, and Glen Powell. John Woo directs.

Pierce Brosnan is on the hook for the next film, so the series definitely continues.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Wild Things (1998) - Denise Richards On Fire

Denise Richards Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
"Wild Things" (1998).

Denise Richards was a little-known former model and tv guest star when Paul Verhoeven saw her potential and cast her in her breakout role as Lt. Carmen Ibanez in "Starship Troopers" (1997). Denise stole that gory science fiction parable, but the best was yet to come. The following year, she starred in "Wild Things" (1998), an erotic thriller from Mandalay Entertainment directed by John McNaughton, which has entered the portals of voyeurism's Hall of Fame due to Denise's sizzling turn as Kelly Van Ryan, a spoiled rich brat turned bad.

Denise Richards Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Denise Richards gets down to business in "Wild Things."

Florida high school guidance counselor Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon) is falsely accused of rape by two nubile students, Kelly Van Ryan and Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell). He hires ambulance chaser Kenneth Bowden (Bill Murray) to clear him, and the case proceeds to trial. Suzie, however, breaks down on the stand and admits that she and Kelly made everything up in order to get even with Lombardo for his affair with Kelly's mother and for not bailing Suzie out when she was locked up on a minor drug charge. Kelly's mother (Theresa Russell) is humiliated, and Lombardo has Bowden bring and settle an action for defamation against Kelly's family for $8.5 million, which is paid.

Denise Richards Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com

Turns out, though, that Lombardo planned the whole thing with the two girls so that they could pry the money out of Kelly's rich mother. Police Detective Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) pursues the case, and decides to rattle some cages. He tells Suzie that Lombardo took all the money for himself. She panics, but Kelly calmly says that Lombardo is trustworthy. However, Kelly then phones Lombards and says that Suzie is getting suspicious and may need to be eliminated. Suzie hears this and attacks Kelly, but their fight in the pool turns into a sex session. Duquette has been watching them and takes it all in.

Neve Campbell Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com

Lombardo and Kelly, though, follow through a few nights later and take Suzie to the beach to kill her, wrapping her body in plastic and throwing it in the trunk of Lombardo's car. Lombardo then throws her body into the swamp.

Neve Campbell Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com

Duquette then must investigate Suzie's disappearance with his partner, Gloria (Daphne Rubin Vega). They find her blood on the beach and her car at the bus terminal. Duquette confronts Kelly at her house, and she attacks him, shooting him in the arm. Duquette returns fire and kills her, leading to his dismissal from the police force.

Denise Richards Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com

It then becomes apparent that Lombardo and Duquette were working together all along. Duquette was only supposed to wound Kelly, not kill her. They resolve their differences and go sailing on Lombardo's sailboat the next day, where Lombardo takes them out to sea and then knocks Duquette overboard. It then turns out that Suzie wasn't killed after all, she was hiding in the boat. When Duquette manages to climb back on the boat, Suzie shoots and kills Duquette with a spear gun in revenge for killing another friend of hers years before.

Denise Richards Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com

It then appears as if Suzie and Lombardo will sail off into the sunset together, but Suzie poisons Lombardo, knocks him overboard and leaves him in the ocean.

Neve Campbell Matt Dillon Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com

During the end credits, it is shown that Suzie planned the whole thing in order to get the money and kill both Lombardo and Duquette. She had been angry at Lombardo for leaving her in jail. It also is shown that Kelly hadn't attacked Duquette at all, instead he cold-bloodedly killed her and then created his self-defense argument by shooting himself in the leg. We also see that Bowden had divided the money for them.

Denise Richards Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com

As convoluted plots go, "Wild Things" is right up there. However, the plot is completely irrelevant to whether you will enjoy "Wild Things." The key is the acting, and it is absolutely stellar all around. Aside from Richards stealing every scene she is in, Neve Campbell manages to get through the film without getting overly emotive, and she plays a fairly convincing bad girl. Bill Murray is hilarious as attorney Bowden, and stands out in a minor supporting role as Kelly's mother's friend Tom Baxter. The two male leads, Matt Dillon and Kevin Bacon, are adequate and carry the story along, but you'll barely notice them aside from their interactions with the girls. This is truly an outstanding ensemble cast, a cast of seasoned pros mixed with a bright-eyed ingenue (Richards).

Denise Richards Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com

"Wild Things" is legendary not for the plot, and not for the dramatic acting, and not for the moody background score by George S. Clinton. It is iconic because of the volcanic sexual appeal of Denise Richards at her absolute most stunning, along with the nicely matched Neve Campbell. Unfortunately, while Campbell is a terrific actress, physically she is not in the same league as Richards. There are two scenes, the pool scene and the threesome with Matt Dillon, that are just scorching, but others are great as well (such as the classic shot of Richards leaving a swimming pool). Richards later claimed that she, a good Catholic girl, needed a couple of drinks to go through with the threesome scene. If you aren't expecting Denise Richards to disrobe, when she does you'll hardly be able to believe your eyes.

Denise Richards Neve Campbell Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Those types of bulky cordless phones were quite common in the '90s.

All that said, "Wild Things" is fine, enjoyable evening fare that is perfect for couples or anyone that wants to see Denise Richards at the peak of her beauty. An uncut version was released in 2006 and is the one to get, adding seven minutes. The director, John McNaughton, claims that he removed a scene for being "gratuitous," and one can only wonder how that differed from 60% of what he left in.

Denise Richards Wild Things 1998 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com

"Wild Things gets four thumbs up and should be on everybody's list of Denise Richards, Neve Campbell or Matt Dillon films to watch. The only sad thing about "Wild Things" is that, while several direct-to-video sequels starring others were released, the original stars never got together to film a real sequel. Kevin Bacon was the Executive Producer, and if he put up the financing for "Wild Things" and collected the profits, it was the smartest move he ever made.

Below is the trailer for "Wild Things."