Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) is a drama directed by Mike Nichols. The screenplay by Ernest Lehman is an adaptation of the play of the same title by Edward Albee.

The film stars Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton play George and Martha, a middle aged married couple. George is a professor of History at a small New England College. Martha is the daughter of the President of the University.

George and Martha are a couple who have a marriage that is truly love-hate.

George Segal and Sandy Dennis play a young newly married couple, Nick and Honey. Nick is a new professor of Biology at the University.

Nick and Honey are invited to drinks at George and Martha's house after a party at the University.

As the film goes on the characters get drunker, angrier and some painful secrets are revealed.

George is initially seen with a certain meekness which gives way to a raging psychological torment all his own.

Martha is a cruedly boisterous hard drinking woman who launches into many loud and lengthy tirades. However, there is a certain sympathy for Martha and you are allowed brief glimpses of the warm and lovable woman she could have been.

At first Nick appears to be a devoted husband. But we learn as the story unfolds, Nick didn't marry Honey because he loved her, but because he thought she was pregnant and because of her money. Nick is also not above committing adultery.

Honey is a mousy, innoscent and naive woman at first. The majority of the film she is a drunken moran. She denies what is going on around her and tries to act like a playful child.

Elizabeth Taylor gained thirty pounds for her role and gave the performance of her life. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role.

Sandy Dennis won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Sandy is incredible in the unspoken word in this film, her facial expressions and most of her performances are going on in the background of the tirades of the other characters. This is a film if you watch a second time focusing on Sandy Dennis you will get a whole new perspective.

Richard Burton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He protrays a wicked humor with psychological torment. You find yourself laughing but wondering if you should be laughing.

George Segal was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. A relative newcomer at the time, George Segal holds his own against the powerhouse of Taylor and Burton.

The film was considered groundbreaking for having a level of profanity and sexual implication unheard of at that time. This was the first movie to successfully challenge the Production Code Office and eventually force the Motion Picture Association of America to overhaul the Production Code Seal with the eventual classification system in 1968.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was the first movie to be given the MPAA tag: "No one under 18 will be admitted unless accompanied by his parent."

This movie is 131 minutes long and only contains four actors and is a fine example of how actors alone can hold a story and the audience is drawn in from the first line uttered to the final line of the movie.

There are no special effects, fancy background scenery, the entire movie is dialogue and character driven. It is acting at its best. This film shows if you are truely a fine actor (as Taylor, Burton, Dennis and Segal show) you don't need any special frills to make a character.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pickup on South Street

Pickup on South Street (1953) is a film noir directed by Samuel Fuller. The film stars Richard Widmark, Jean Peters and Thelma Ritter.

Richard Widmark plays Skip McCoy, a pickpocket who steals Candy's (Jean Peters)wallet. Candy is a delivery girl for Joey (Richard Kiley) who is communist agent. Candy's wallet contained a microfilm of top-secret government information. This sets off a frantic search for McCoy and the microfilm by the police and the communists.

Richard Widmark is at his best as smart alec pick pocket Skip McCoy. McCoy is a three time convicted criminal that Captain Dan Tiger (Murvyn Vye) would love to bust one more time and send him away for life. McCoy views the police as his moral equals but intellectual inferiors. McCoy taunts them: "Go on, drum up a charge. Throw me in. You've done it before."

Jean Peters is beautiful and engaging as Candy, the girl from the streets with the golden heart. Candy is unaware that she is a delivery girl for the communists. She knows she is in some shady dealings but has no idea the extent of those dealings.

Murvyn Vye as Captain Dan Tiger is the police officer everyone dislikes. He is more driven by sending Skip McCoy up the river one more time than recovering the government secrets contained in the microfilm. Captain Tiger is more than willing to pay informants for information.

Thelma Ritter is the heart of this movie and steals this movie. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Thelma Ritter plays Moe Wiliams, a weary street peddler selling neck ties who also sells information to both the police and anyone willing to pay (but not the communists). Moe has one goal in life, to save enough money for a fancy funeral and proper burial. Her final scene is one of the most touching performances you will ever find in a movie.

Sam Fuller's directing of this film is incredible.

For example, when Candy (Jean Peters) starts going through her purse and notices her wallet is missing, an alarm goes off in the background in the building she's in, as if it's an alarm going off in her head.

Sam Fuller also captures the personality of New York City. The crowded subway and people scurring through the subway and the streets. As the characters move and interact, they are framed in living force that New York City is.

Pickup on South Street is film noir at its best in which the characters drive the plot.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

George Washington Slept Here

George Washington Slept Here (1942) is a comedy based on the Broadway hit directed by William Keighley starring Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan.

The film costars Charles Coburn, Percy Kilbride, Hattie McDaniel, William Tracy, Joyce Reynolds, John Emery, Charles Dingle, Harvey Stephens and Terry the dog.

Bill and Connie Fuller (Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan) are forced to move from their New York City apartment because their small dog (Terry) has damaged the carpets.

Antique loving Connie secretly purchases a run down farmhouse in which rumors state that George Washington once slept there.

Bill hates everything about the house. Added to the fact that there are rotten floors, no bathroom, no water, a roof that leaks, walls missing and trains that depart at odd hours making commuting almost impossible.

Despite Bill's objections, the Fullers, together with Connie's young sister Madge (Joyce Reynolds), move into the house and begin renovations with the help of local handyman Mr. Kimber (Percy Kilbride).

The Fullers encounter several obstacles and Jack Benny as Bill is hilarious dealing with his new home.

Mr. Prescott (Charles Dingle) announces that the road to the house is his road and the Fuller's cannot use it. So Bill Fuller most drive over the country dodging cows.

Kimber finally finds water only to learn that he has dug on Mr. Prescott's land and tapped into Prescott's well. So Kimber continues to dig for water.

One rainy day, Hester (Hattie McDaniel), the couple's maid, announces the kitchen table has floated away with dinner.

To make matters worse, everything is costing more than the couple budgeted.

By the end of summer, the house is remodeled but there is still no water.

Uncle Stanley (Charles Coburn) arrives for a visit. Uncle Stanley is the family's rich uncle that everyone is kind to hoping he will leave them money. However, Uncle Stanley is a windbag and full of himself, always bringing framed portraits of himself.

Then Connie's bratty nephew Raymond (Douglas Croft) comes to live with them.

The Fullers then learn that, contrary to the legend, Benedict Arnold, not George Washington, slept in their house.

Meanwhile, Madge has become smitted with local actor Clayton Evans (John Emery) who is performing in the local production of The Man Who Came to Dinner. Steve (William Tracy) does not realize Madge is also now performing in the local play and believes Madge is about to run off with Clayton. Steve tells Bill and he grabs a shotgun and rushes to rescue his niece. To Bill's suprise, he bursts on stage in the middle of a performance and the audience erupts in laughter.

Jeff Douglas (Harvey Stephens) a local antique dealer and president of the local historical society has been helping Connie on a secret project. Bill becomes convinced they are having an affair. The secret project is Jeff locates an original map of the area which reveals the well and road are not on Prescott's land but actually the Fueller's land.

When Bill gleefully tells this news to Prescott, he responds by pointing out that the Fullers are facing foreclosure and that he intends to buy their newly remodeled house and land when that happens. To Bill's dismay, Connie had failed to tell him about the foreclosure letter she received because she didn't want to bother him with minor things.

Desperate to save their home, Bill and Connie ask Stanley for the necessary money, but he turns them down, confessing that he went broke in 1929 and has been lying about his fortune in order to ensure that his relatives will treat him well.

Things look hopeless, but then the Fuller's small dog finds an old letter in a boot that Kimber discovered while digging for a well. It is a letter from George Washington which is valuable enough to pay the mortgage, thus saving the house just in time for the arrival of a swarm of seventeen-year locusts.

George Washington Slept Here moves at a snappy pace and is full of ample moments for classic Benny reactions and classic Benny gags.

For example, one classic gag occurs at a train station. Bill Fuller is holding a bunch of garden supplies and keeps accidently tapping a train passenger (Gertrude Carr) on the butt with a rake. She turns around and slaps an innoscent passenger (Jack Mower) thinking he is grabbing her butt.

Percy Kilbride is wonderful as Mr. Kimble, never cracking a smile and delivering his lines with a calm nonchalant way. At one point in the movie he breaks into song out of nowhere singing "I'll Never Smile Again" which brings the house down in laughter.

The Fuller's dog (Terry) is delightful and is better known for her role as Toto in The Wizard of Oz.

A very pleasant and amusing "house from Hell" comedy with a wonderful cast. With its fast pace, this a movie you can watch again and again and always find something new and amusing in the performances.