#129 It’s Always Fair Weather

Watched: August 21 2017

Director: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Starring: Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Dan Dailey, Michael Kidd, Dolores Gray

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Three friends, Ted Riley (Kelly), Doug Hallerton (Dailey), and Angie Valentine (Kidd), return to New York from World War II. They get drunk, engage in a stomp-style dance routine and promise each other (and bartender Tim) to meet up again in ten years.

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“We’ll totally be this happy and optimistic for the rest of our lives, and we’ll never grow apart, and we’ll live up to all our potential, and never fail, and everything will be awesome forever!”

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The ten years pass, and would-be lawyer Ted is a gambler, aspiring artist Doug is an ad-man, and ambitious chef Angie is the owner of a hamburger stand. They meet up, but are disappointed in each other, their once great friendship, and themselves.

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“Well, weren’t we overly optimistic annoying little gits in that last scene..?”

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As they are stewing in their resentment in a fancy restaurant, Jackie Leighton (Charisse), who is also in advertising, is introduced to them by an associate of Doug.

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They’re shielding their eyes because her dressed ripped in the last scene. They’re gentlemen. Except for dude on the left.

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She fends off Ted’s advances at first, but then comes up with the idea to show the three men’s reunion on a TV show hosted by (the glorious) Madeline (Gray). Also, there are gangsters.

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Nothing like a bit of violence to rekindle an old friendship

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We’re suckers for Gene Kelly musicals, and so naturally we enjoyed this one. We loved the time lapse showing how their careers developed over the years; the thoughts they have about each other to the tune of The Blue Danube; the boxers in Stillman’s Gym (very Bugsy Malone!); the roller blade tap routine; the dresses and Madeline. Funny yet slightly moody and depressing at times – great stuff!

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It might be the gloomiest Kelly-musical, but it’s not all dark and serious

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What we learned: K-L-E-N-Z-R-I-T-E spells Klenzrite – the only washing soap for us. Also, how to scare men off with facts. As if we needed more help in that department…

Next time: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

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#74 A Matter of Life and Death

Watched: January 15 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Marius Goring

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 44min

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Also known by its alternate title

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As Peter Carter (Niven) is plunging towards certain death in a shot up plane May 1945, his final moments are shared with radio operator June (Hunter) and the two, as people are wont to do in these intense situations, fall in love. He ejects from the burning aircraft without a parachute and is surprised to find himself alive on shore some moments later. Surely, the fall should have killed him?

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How much imagery of nudity, flutes and goats do you need to convince yourself you’ve reached hell?

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Turns out, it should have. Up on the celestial plane, the clerics are confused about the lateness of his arrival until they find that his Conductor, a very camp Frenchman (Goring), lost the pilot in the fog and thus neglected to collect his soul.

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“Bonjour! Je suis le campest Frenchman you’ll ever meet. Bon bon, mon petit fromage!”

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Unfortunately for the clerics of the afterlife, in the few hours of “extra” life Peter got, he met and fell in love with June which greatly complicates things. As he is not at fault here, is it fair to take him away just as he has found the love of his life? Since it was their mix up that caused this to happen, the celestial beings grant Peter a trial with his life at stake.

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Celestial trials have the most impressive courtrooms

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Meanwhile, in our own world, June has enlisted the help of a doctor friend of hers, Dr Reeves (Livesey, of Colonel Blimp-fame), as her new love is suffering headaches and possible hallucinations after jumping from a plane without a parachute… Naturally, the medical professional diagnoses Peter with head trauma and recommends surgery, to coincide with the patient’s heavenly trial.

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Which leads to some beautiful shots!

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This was a beautiful and engaging film which we completely loved. The relationship between Peter and June is lovely, although a bit hasty. She’s either very wonderful or very naïve to stick by him when he starts talking crazy after they’ve known each other for all of a day. The trial becomes very political, and much of the criticism against England from the USA could have been modern criticism against the US, which is very interesting to observe (especially given the newly instated president..). It’s like both countries have a history of proclaiming themselves above others and trying to impose their rules on other nations…

The sets are beautiful and impressive, especially on the other plane.

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Such as the stairway, or escalator, to heaven, for instance

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In a way, this film is like an opposite Wizard of Oz, as our world is in glorious technicolor while the other world is in drab black and white. Then again, our world is supposed to be the desirable one so it makes sense. A Matter of Life and Death has humour, excitement, adventure, romance, political undertones, history lessons, camp Frenchmen and gorgeous shoes! What’s not to love?

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A film so good it has its own stamp!

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What we learned: make sure you have a law degree before cheating death. Also, we have found the winners of the mannequin challenge of 1946!

Next time: La Belle et la Bête/Beauty and the Beast (1946)

PS: confused about the numbering on this? Check out this disclaimer!

#64 The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Watched: December 13 2016

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook

Year: 1943

Runtime: 2h 43min

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An epic masterpiece in glorious technicolo(u)r, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp follows soldier Clive Candy (Liveley) through three wars and the untimely deaths of many African animals.

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So many dead African animals…

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During World War 2, Major-General Clive Wynne-Candy, commander in the Home Guard, is “captured” in a Turkish bath by overzealous soldiers who cannot wait for the actual exercise to begin. A scuffle ensues, Wynne-Candy is assaulted and insulted by the young leader, and we are then treated to a two-and-a-half hour long flashback of the aging soldier’s life.

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Meanwhile, the poor man has to sit around like this

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It begins during the Boer War, when young Candy is on leave and hears of some anti-British propaganda being spread in Germany. After being told clearly by his superiors to leave it alone, he goes off to Berlin to see Edith Hunter (Kerr), the British governess who brought the offence to his attention. Because why listen to your superiors?

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After some (hilarious) musical bullying in a restaurant, it all escalates into a proper duel. As is tradition.

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For offending the entire German army, Clive must fight a duel with Theo Kretschmar- Schuldorff (Walbrook) which leads to injuries for both fencers. They end up in the same hospital for convalescence, where they strike up a lifelong friendship together with Edith. As Clive recovers and prepares to return to England, he finds that his two friends have fallen in love and celebrates their engagement with them. It is only after he leaves he realises that he too is in love with the governess.

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Who wouldn’t fall in love with a woman who uses an entire bird as a fashion accessory?

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The two men go their separate ways, but keep in touch. World War 1 begins, and both soldiers are fighting, though obviously on different sides. On the last night of the war, Clive sees nurse Barbara Wynne (also Kerr) who is the spit of Edith (naturally) and once home, he tracks her down and marries her. Probably healthy.

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“Of course I love you for you, my dear! Your money and your striking resemblance to my sort-of almost ex-girlfriend are completely irrelevant!”

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After 1918, Theo is a prisoner of war in England for a year before he’s allowed to return home, defeated and defiant as many Germans at the time. However, his attitude changes during Hitler’s regime, and he eventually seeks refuge in England.

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Old, disillusioned and broken, Theo once again teams up with his old friend.

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The second World War is a difficult time for the now aged Clive, and his attitudes to war and how it should be fought give him a dismissal from the military where he has lived his life. The friendships of Theo and Clive’s driver (and confidant) Johnny Cannon (Kerr again) help him find new new purpose and brings us right up to the start of the film.

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It gives Clive a chance to get up from the bath and restores his dignity as well

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This was a wonderful film and despite its long run time it flies by. All major actors give great performances, and the glorious technicolor really does justice to the soldiers’ uniforms as well as Deborah Kerr’s amazing hair. We loved the clips showing the passage of time between wars, and the handling of Barbara’s death through newspaper clippings was oddly emotionally effective. There are some very good comments on a then ongoing war which are still good observations 70 years on.

The friendship between Clive and Theo is beautiful and the characters are wonderful as well. They’re both flawed, yes, but they are likable and human, which made us very invested in the outcome. We loved it, and it’s well worth the three hour run time.

What we learned: Oh, so many things! Old people have lived long, full lives. Never go off at half cock. Avoid politicians like the plague. Political ideas are best discussed by drinking beer and fighting duels. You so rarely see a good fencing duel nowadays. Only part of the title is true.

Next time: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

#61 To Be Or Not To Be

Watched: November 27 2016

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Starring: Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Stanley Ridges

Year: 1942

Runtime: 1h 39min

Note: same at Cat People and Road to Morocco. Starting to have abandonment issues.

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During World War II, Joseph (Benny) and Maria Tura (Lombard) are the lead actors in a Polish theatre troupe in Warsaw. While Joseph is onstage, however, his wife has an unfortunate tendency to flirt with young men in her dressing room. Before the German occupation of Poland, these young men included lieutenant Sobinski (Stack), who fled to join the RAF once Poland was occupied.

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Maria’s affair hurts Joseph in several ways. First because of her unfaithfulness, second because her lover keeps leaving the theatre during his most important soliloquy – “To be or not to be”

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In England, Sobinski starts to suspect professor Siletsky (Ridges) who’s returning to Warsaw, of being a spy for Germany. Once the higher-ups learn that the professor is going to Poland with the names and addresses of all the relatives of the Polish flyboys, they send Sobinski to intercept him and the information to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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No man with a beard as glorious as this could ever be a spy?!?

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Maria, Joseph, and eventually the entire troupe are dragged into the plot to secure the information and after Siletsky is accidentally killed, Joseph has to impersonate the dead spy in meetings with the (somewhat incompetent) Nazi leaders. With hilarious consequences.

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To Maria’s acting credit, she improvises like a champ upon realising that the man she’s been flirting with for info is now played by her husband

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Although we’ve both heard of this classic comedy before, we had yet to watch it. Despite Sister the Oldest having at one point watched pretty much everything related to Hamlet ever made, for a University course, this one had slipped through the net. So it was about time.

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Seriously – I know the entire soliloquy. Yet have never once been paid to recite it.

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To Be or Not to Be is hilarious and impressive, made even more so considering it was made in 1942, with the war still going strong though the full extent of the atrocities of Nazi Germany were not yet public knowledge. Making fun of Hitler and the Nazis in general was a brave move at the time, but it is not hard to discern the motivation of Jewish German-born director Lubitsch. Despite being a comedy, and a great one at that, the film naturally has very serious undertones and the threat of the Nazi regime is palpable throughout. Definitely worth watching!

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Aw, silly Hitler!

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What we learned: a tendency to dragging out scenes and stealing the spotlight makes professional actors unsuited for undercover work.

Next time: I Walked with a Zombie (1943)