“Ball of Fire” (1941) starring Barbara Stanwyck & Gary Cooper

Opening credits prologue: Once upon a time – in 1941 to be exact – there lived in a great, tall forest – called New York – eight men who were writing an encyclopedia. They were so wise they knew everything: the depth of the oceans, and what makes a glowworm glow, and what tune Nero fiddles while Rome was burning. But there was one thing about which they knew very little – as you will see…

I saw this movie yesterday (July 16th)- Barbara Stanwyck’s b-day. A clever/sexy/wise-cracking nightclub singer, Katherine “Sugarpuss” O’Shea (Stanwyck- who got an Oscar nod), needs to be kept on ice b/c her mobster bf Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews- slick and sharply-dressed) is suspected of murder and her testimony could get him the electric chair. A naive/tall/handsome professor, Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper- almost 40 and fabulous), meets Sugarpuss while researching an article on modern slang; in rom com fashion, their two worlds collide. When she hides out with Potts (and his 7 fellow nerdy profs), everyone learns something new! This is included among the AFI’s list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.

Potts: What’re you gonna do?

Sugarpuss: I’m going to show you what yum-yum is. Here’s yum. [kisses him] Here’s the other yum. [kisses him again] And here’s yum-yum. [gives a long kiss that knocks him backwards onto a chair]

To pick up slang for their script, screenwriters Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett visited the drugstore across the street from Hollywood High School, a burlesque house, and the Hollywood Park racetrack. When Cooper is taking notes of the newsboy’s slang, the marquee on the theater across the street advertises Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), an inside joke that refers to the script’s inspiration. There is even a promo photo showing the actors sitting in front of a Disney poster, each one in front of his corresponding dwarf: S.Z. Sakall – Dopey; Leonid Kinskey – Sneezy; Richard Haydn – Bashful; Henry Travers – Sleepy; Aubrey Mather – Happy; Tully Marshall – Grumpy, and Oskar Homolka – Doc. Lucille Ball wanted to play Sugarpuss, as she thought it was the kind of role that would win her an Oscar. She fought for the role and was eventually hired, but once producer Samuel Goldwyn found out that Stanwyck (recommended by Cooper) was available, he gave her the part instead. Andrews based his character on notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel, who owned the Formosa (a club across the street from Goldwyn Studios). Andrews used to go there after work; he had the suits, hats, and spats down pat.

Miss Bragg: That is the kind of woman that makes whole civilizations topple!

One of Gene Krupa’s four trumpet players was Roy Eldridge, the only Black man in the band (briefly seen in the film). To avoid offending white audiences in the Jim Crow South, the studio and director Howard Hawks came up w/ a plan. The reels of a movie were shown using two alternating projectors. Sixteen mins. into the film, Stanwyck comes on, sings “Drum Boogie” (Martha Tilton provided the voice) w/ the band, and Eldridge stands to perform his trumpet solo. When the song is over, Stanwyck leaves the stage and the first reel ends. As the next reel begins, she returns for an encore, the band is still in place and the audience is still applauding; however, Eldridge has been removed from the band. By simply switching projectors before Stanwyck’s first entry, a projectionist could “edit out” Eldridge.

Sugarpuss: [about Potts] Yes, I love him. I love those hick shirts he wears with the boiled cuffs and the way he always has his vest buttoned wrong. Looks like a giraffe, and I love him. I love him because he’s the kind of a guy that gets drunk on a glass of buttermilk, and I love the way he blushes right up over his ears. Love him because he doesn’t know how to kiss, the jerk!

After surviving quarantine life, all of us know about being house-bound, lonely, and out of touch w/ the world (though we aren’t working on a set of encyclopedias)! It’s obvious that the the (also nerdy) Miss Totten has a crush on Potts; when she comes by for a meeting re: financing their work, the other profs urge him to be nice to her. In just a few days, Potts wins over Sugarpuss by being kind, thoughtful, and respectful (traits that her bf doesn’t possess). She teaches the profs re: current songs and how to dance the cha-cha- it’s sweet and funny. Check this movie out if you want a laugh!

[1] A very funny, sprightly film, fast-paced and full of wonderful performances. Stanwyck is glowingly wonderful, but I still can’t get over Cooper’s wonderful characterization of a supremely attractive total geek. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, see the movie and you’ll realize it’s true.

[2] I really liked the way that every one of the nerdy professors is tempted to correct every mistake made by the others. But the gags throughout the movie are really something. Hilarious.

[3] “Ball of Fire” shows pre-Pearl Harbor comedic Hollywood at its zenith.

[4] The expressions of the day are dated and humorous and there are so many you can’t count them all. Some are stupid; some are hilarious… which is what you get with most comedies anyway. Not every line hits the mark, but a lot do in this one.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Object of Beauty” (1991) starring John Malkovich & Andie MacDowell

A romantic comedy about the fine art of thievery. -Tag line

Two Americans living the good life in London find their romantic relationship challenged by a sudden lack of funds. Jake (John Malkovich), a commodities broker, is unable to pay the bills (b/c of a strike that holds up a cocoa shipment). So, he suggests that Tina (Andie MacDowell) file an insurance claim on her little Henry Moore statue. This statue is the only item of value that she owns- her sense of security. One day, the statue suddenly disappears from their posh hotel room! They are begin to doubt each other and the strength of their love.

Tina: You’ve always said when it comes to food, shoes, and sex, price is no object.

Jake: Good shoes are important!

I cam across this on IMDB TV when I was looking for movies w/ John Malkovich (after seeing Dangerous Liaisons). The writer/director is an American, Michael Lindsay Hogg, who worked on music videos, TV (incl. Brideshead Revisited), as well as movies. Tina’s best friend, Jenny (Lolita Davidovich), is also American; she was married to Cint Eastwood and is the mother of Scott Eastwood. The hotel’s investigator Victor Swayle (Bill Paterson) goes on a little power trip. Paterson is a veteran character actor who recently appeared as the father in the hit TV show- Fleabag.

Jake: I am on the verge of something very lucrative, so for you to even be talking about dishonoring one of my checks, really puts me in a very sweaty mode.

The statue is taken by the deaf/mute hotel maid- Jenny (Rudi Davies). She knows this is wrong to do, but later explains that the statue “spoke to me.” Jenny (only in her 20s) lives in a tiny flat w/ her teen brother (who is in danger of becoming a criminal). As some viewers noted, Jenny is at the heart of the story and the only likeable character. It’s also rare to see a (working-class) person have a well-developed arc in a movie.

This movie is for those of you who enjoy character development and quirky humor. There is fun chemistry between Malkovich (who loves fashion) and MacDowell (who looks great in all the fashions as a former model); they joke around and seem to have fun together. If you like fashion, you may notice the Armani suits and Manolo Blahnik shoes. Siskel and Ebert both liked this movie (two thumbs up). I really liked the ending- it was sweet and funny!

[1] The film is an underhanded, cynical, satirical poke at American materialism…

[2] The chemistry between the two of them reminds one of William Powell and Myrna Loy. If they had picked up the pace a bit, they would have had a real classic comedy here. This film is highly watchable, though.

[3] My favorite not-to-be-missed extremely funny scene? John Malkovich’s “Jake”, in a moment of depressed exasperation, talking aloud to himself composing his own obituary.

[4] You will enjoy this film much more if you pay attention to the irony of the value placed by different characters upon this Henry Moore sculpture. It is worth nothing to some, only money to others, an emotional commitment to another, and an object of aspiration to one other. All of these perspectives speak to each other, and it is a very interesting conversation.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Romancing the Stone” (1984) starring Michael Douglas & Kathleen Turner

Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), a romance novelist in NYC, receives a treasure map in the mail from her recently murdered BIL. Her sister, Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor- one of the co-writers of the screenplay), is kidnapped in Colombia. Two sleazy criminal cousins, Ralph (Danny DeVito) and Ira (Zach Norman), demand that Joan travel to Cartegena to exchange the map for her sister. Joan, despite the warnings of her editor, Gloria (Holland Taylor), flies to Colombia. Joan (who doesn’t know Spanish) becomes lost in the jungle after being fooled by the mysterious Zolo (Manuel Ojeda). Joan meets an irreverent fortune-hunter, Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), who agrees to help her out for a price. They embark on an adventure that could be straight out of one of Joan’s novels!

Gloria: [observing men in a bar] Wimp. Wimp. Loser. Loser. Major loser. Too angry. Too vague. Too desperate. God, too happy. Oh, look at this guy. Mr. Mondo Dismo. I actually used to date him. Total sleaze bucket. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Hold everything. Get a load of this character. What about him?

Joan Wilder: No, he’s – he’s just not…

Gloria: Who? Jessie?

Joan: Maybe it’s silly, but, I know there is somebody out there for me.

This was the only produced screenplay for writer Diane Thomas; she was a waitress in Malibu when Douglas optioned her script for $250,000 – wow! Thomas (only 39 y.o.) died in a car accident, while working on a new project w/ Steven Spielberg the following year; her bf has been driving the Porsche that Douglas had bought her as a gift. Director Robert Zemeckis was able to go forward on his own project, Back to the Future (1985), since this movie was a hit. Alan Silvestri was hired to do a temporary score, but Zemeckis liked his work so much that he kept him on as composer. Romancing the Stone was to be filmed in Colombia; the country suffered an increase in kidnappings of Americans, so production was moved to Mexico. After the film’s original cut rated very low w/ preview audiences, Fox feared it would be a flop and Zemeckis was fired from Cocoon. Zemeckis made substantial changes, incl. to the prologue and ending; the scene w/ Gloria and Joan to the bar was added and scene in the crashed plane was re-shot (6 mos. later).

Joan: [after Jack cuts off the heels of her shoes] These were Italian.

Jack: Now they’re practical.

If you’re in a cranky mood, or just want to watch a fun movie, check this out! Yes, this has elements of the rom com (NOT my fave genre), BUT the twist is the action/adventure (which drew me in). There is also humor, incl. some LOL moments (even IF feeling V low/tired)! The chemistry between Turner (who came from the theater) and Douglas (who was already a box office draw) is terrific; Douglas said: “I don’t know what it was. Somehow, we just got along right from the start.” I’m NOT a big fan of Douglas (though I love his dad’s work), BUT I found him to be a charming guy here. Turner admitted that it was tough to work w/ Zemeckis, as she was still new to movies and didn’t understand much re: directing for the screen. We know DeVito is very funny, but Juan (Mexican actor/director Alfonso Arau) provides humor also. At first, Juan (a drug lord) becomes a fanboy upon meeting Joan (his fave writer), then he takes her and Jack on a wild ride on his “mule” Pepe (a tricked-out truck). Arau directed two of the most (visually) appealing movies I’ve ever seen- Like Water for Chocolate and A Walk in the Clouds.

Joan: What is all this?

Jack: All this? About five to life in the States, a couple of centuries down here.

Joan: Oh, marijuana.

Jack: Oh, you smoke it?

Joan: [defensively] I went to college.

The music goes along so well w/ the film- it just carries you into the adventure. The scenery is beautiful, esp. the brief scene where Juan, Jack, and Joan come upon the valley w/ “The Devil’s Fork.” The hair and costuming also helps tell the story. At the start of the story, Joan has her hair up in a bun and wears a puffy jacket over conservative/tight business suits. Later on, her hair is down and she’s wearing a flowing top and skirt w/ bold/bright flowers. The dance scene is sweet and also reminiscent of classic Hollywood; Douglas said that they didn’t realize that cameras were rolling (so were just enjoying themselves dancing w/ the locals/extras).

In the prologue depicting Joan’s latest novel, the music used is the theme from How the West Was Won (1962). In the fight scene, Zolo asks Joan: “How will you die? Slow like a snail? Or fast like a shooting star?” This is a call-back to the opening when the villain tells Angelina: “You can go quick like the tongue of a snake, or slower than the molasses in January.” At the end, Jack and Joan “sail off” down the street in Jack’s yacht Angelina (the name of the character in the book Joan is writing at the beginning of the film).

Spoiler-Free Reviews of Trending Movies (OCT 2020): “Borat 2,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” & “Rebecca”

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon Prime)

Yes, Rudy is in this mock documentary (and doesn’t come off as so innocent)! Of course, y’all can see and judge if you’re curious. This is NOT the type of humor for sensitive viewers, as some of it is quite gross, vulgar, and cringe-y. This time, Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) is joined by his wide-eyed teen daughter, Tutar (24 y.o. Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova), who may be interested in becoming a journo also. Bakalova may be the breakout star here, as she can go toe-to-toe w/ the British comedian/filmmaker! Look out for a touching scene involving Borat and two elderly Jewish women. There is also a Black woman (babysitter) who gives Tutar some good advice. If you’re already a left-of-center (liberal) individual, you may be LOL-ing at the politically-charged stuff. I almost couldn’t believe that Cohen snuck into CPAC (which took place in FEB 2020 in DC)!

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)

In Chicago 1968, the Democratic convention was met w/ protests from activists like the moderate Students for a Democratic Society led by Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and the militant Yippies led by Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong from Succession), which led to violent confrontations w/ police. Seven of the accused ringleaders are arraigned on charges like conspiracy by the hostile Nixon administration, incl. Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II- a rising star in Hollywood) of the Black Panthers (who wasn’t involved in the incident). What follows is an unfair trial presided by Judge Hoffman (veteran actor Frank Langella) and prosecuted by a reluctant, but duty-bound Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Two of the defense lawyers are William Kunstler (Mark Rylance- a British theater star) from the ACLU and Leonard Weinglass (character actor Ben Shenkman), an expert on constitutional law.

I saw this last week; I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s writing (though haven’t seen all of his shows). Sorkin was approached by Spielberg several years ago re: writing this film- WOW! If you’re into US history, costumes, legal drama, and politics- you’ll enjoy the movie. Otherwise, it could come off as a bit boring; the directing style Sorkin uses is simple/straightforward. I liked the humor (which was mainly provided by Baron Cohen and Strong) and I learned some new things, too. I enjoyed seeing the subtle acting from Gordon-Levitt (now almost 40- whoa), Rylance, and Shenkman (who you may know from Angels in America).

Rebecca (Netflix)

Here was the (short) review I shared via Twitter last FRI night: Not sexy, not suspenseful, not one bit scary- just cliched, colorful, & clueless! Fans on my Alfred Hitchcock Facebook group were (mostly) reluctant to watch this version, though it’s not a remake. This is an adaptation of the novel (which I didn’t read); I suspect it’s not totally faithful. Though it delves into class issues, there is very little age gap between the leads. Viewers looking for the LGBTQ element to be explored further (w/ Mrs. Danvers) will be disappointed. The director (Ben Wheatley) doesn’t do much w/ light and shadow- a missed opportunity!

I don’t love or hate Lily James, but I don’t think this role suited her. The same goes for Armie Hammer (tall/conventionally handsome); he acts wooden, lacks mystery, and has no romantic chemistry w/ James. His accent is way off- it’s more Mid-Atlantic than British. I haven’t seen much of his acting, but I thought he’d be a LOT better than this! I did enjoy seeing Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) and the (still gorgeous) Kristin Scott Thomas. What we have is a movie where the costumes and scenery overtake the people in the story. The supporting actors did well w/ what they were given, esp. the prosecutor (in the third act). The ending scene looks like it belongs in a different movie- MANY viewers were confused!

“Moon Over Parador” (1988) starring Richard Dreyfuss, Raul Julia, & Sonia Braga

A sort of annoying and also kind of charming actor, Jack Noah (Richard Dreyfuss), is shooting a film on location in the (fictional) country of Parador when its seemingly benevolent dictator, Alphonse Simms, suddenly dies. The dictator’s right-hand man, Roberto Strausman (Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia), makes Jack an offer he can’t refuse-impersonate Simms… or die! Jack’s acting skills fool the masses, but not the palace staff; they play along to keep their jobs. Simms’ mistress/nightclub dancer, Madonna Mendez (Brazilian actress Sonia Braga), decides to help Jack play his role convincingly.

Jack: [after being asked to be the dead dictator’s imposter] Why couldn’t you get Bobby DeNiro or Dustin Hoffman?

Roberto: Not available! I would have given my right arm to work with Bobby DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman!

Jack: [under his breath] They always say that about DeNiro and Hoffman.

The plot of this comedy was re-used for the movie Dave (1993) starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. In the age of Trump (often called a wanna be dictator), it’s not far-fetched to see a leader w/ dark makeup, who makes appearances at beauty pageants, and avoids questions from the press. However, this dictator cares for the regular people! Dreyfuss played dual roles of both Jack and the double of Pres. Alphonse Simms; the real Simms was played by his brother Lorin. When Jack is applying make-up to look like Simms in the meat locker, Dreyfuss’ brother is playing the part of the corpse. This movie received two Golden Globe Award noms in 1989- Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Braga and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for Julia. Even w/ big hair and wild/revealing outfits, Braga’s soulful characterization shines through. Julia (sporting blonde hair) creates a sadistic/power-hungry villain w/ a maniacal laugh… and a brain (he went to Harvard).

The country’s name of Parador is a mash-up of Paraguay (PARA) and Ecuador (DOR). The 14 families that control Parador refer to the 14 families that (in reality) controlled El Salvador in the early 1970s. Ralph (Jonathan Winters) tells a long story re: an English pirate who founded the country of Parador (to explain why Simms has an Anglo-Saxon name). The real reason is that the film was shot in Brazil, and director Paul Mazursky needed a shot of a crowd of extras chanting the dictator’s name. When the crowd is chanting “Simms,” they are actually saying “Sim” (“yes” in Portuguese). There are scenes from Carnivale; people of all ages w/ various skin tones dance and party.

Moon Over Parador pokes fun at government and show business, which is filled w/ many neurotic/egotistical actors. It contains many references to pop culture, incl. A Streetcar Named Desire, Casablanca, Dynasty, and Hollywood Squares. Jack is dressed like Don Johnson during his Miami Vice years (complete w/ a blonde mullet wig) when filming the movie in the first act; a young Dana Delaney plays his leading lady. During a scene where Jack has to address the crowd as Simms, he ad-libs and uses lines from The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha. Only Roberto (a theater buff) gets this reference, which is a call-back to Julia’s leading role (Don Quixote) in the Broadway musical. Fans of SVU- look out for Dann Florek (one of Jack’s NYC actor pals). The earlier national anthem (O Parador) is sung to the tune of O Christmas Tree. After Jack changes the song, Sammy Davis Jr. (wow) sings it to the tune of Besame Mucho. Dick Cavett (playing himself) interviews Simms and Madonna in the third act of the film.

[1] …this movie is funny, yet has a serious side as well… the main character, who at the start of the movie is a struggling actor and somewhat of a buffoon, evolves too and by the end of the movie commands respect.

[2] Paul Mazursky’s film is under-rated in my opinion; maybe because the film never takes itself seriously.

…quite clever issues are brought out, as Noah begins to enjoy his role and tries to bring in social reforms.

[3] Is it appropriate to turn the tense situation in Latin America into comedy? Well, “Moon Over Parador” does a good job with it. No matter what they do in this movie, they pull it off.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews