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  • April 12, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Ernst Lubitsch Love Stories

    by John Farr

    Ernst Lubitsch, director of this week’s Reel 13 Classic Heaven Can Wait, previously helmed two other pictures that set the standard for romcom dialogue.


    Trouble in Paradise (1932)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Parisian jewel thieves Gaston (Herbert Marshall) and Lily (Miriam Hopkins) fall in love over dinner-trying to pick each other’s pockets. With a wealthy widow, Mme. Colet (Kay Francis), as their latest mark, they craftily install themselves as her secretary and typist, respectively. But things get complicated when Gaston must pretend to fall for the beautiful heiress (or is he pretending?) and she returns the compliment. Careful, Gaston- you’re playing with fire!

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This sublime, soufflé-light farce ranks as one of the director’s finest outings. The film pokes sly fun at conventional mores, and cheerily touts the marvels of sex, riches, and the little games we play with both. All the signature ingredients you’d expect from the Master are here in abundance, including rarefied atmosphere, snappy dialogue, and witty ripostes. Marshall and Hopkins create a striking comic chemistry- he the epitome of English coolness, she wonderfully feisty, but no fool. And Ms. Francis makes a stunning complication! If you like your chuckles with a touch of class, here’s your movie.


    The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) uses her wily sales technique to impress Hugo (Frank Morgan), a Budapest gift-store owner, she is hired to work alongside clerk Alfred Kralik (James Stewart), but the two don’t hit it off. No matter: Alfred is secretly hoping to meet a woman with whom he’s had a promising written correspondence via the personals. Klara, meanwhile, begins to fall for an anonymous man she’s been writing to as well. So it’s a big surprise-to them, not us-when they discover the true identities of their respective pen-pals.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    They don’t make romantic comedies like they used to, and no one made them quite like director Ernst Lubitsch, whose famed “touch” lights this wry, poignant, perennially charming film. Veteran players Stewart and Sullavan are a perfect match as comically antagonistic lonelyhearts, conveying their characters’ vulnerabilities with a delicacy too often missing from the tepid Hanks-Ryan remake, “You’ve Got Mail”. Rich subplots involving the wonderful Frank Morgan and Joseph Schildkraut, who plays a scheming, boastful employee, let Lubitsch impart further nuance to this modest but wholly pleasing tale. A delight from start to finish, this is one “Shop” you’ll want to dally in.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • April 5, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Early Olivier

    by John Farr

    Chances are you’re familiar with these two Laurence Olivier classics, but if you haven’t seen them, or just haven’t in a while, go back and revisit a pair of 1940 pictures that put Olivier (star of this week’s Reel 13 Classic The Entertainer) on the movie map.


    Rebecca (1940)

    Rebecca

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    After meeting on the Riviera, a demure young woman (Joan Fontaine) marries a wealthy widower, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), and returns to his sprawling English manor at Manderley. But Maxim’s battalion of servants instantly regard her with undisguised hostility, referring reverentially to the deceased Rebecca De Winter, whose death is veiled in secrecy. Bit by bit, she uncovers the truth about Rebecca’s demise…

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Produced by the great David O. Selznick, Hitchcock’s multiple Oscar-nominated domestic mystery, sort of a cross between Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier (who penned the novel it’s based on), was Hitch’s maiden outing in Hollywood. And he couldn’t have asked for a better cast: Fontaine is exquisite as the innocent new bride who narrates the film, and super thesp Olivier is masterful as ever playing the urbane tycoon with a secret. But Judith Anderson has the choicest turn as a sadistic housemaid, Mrs. Danvers, who has it in for the timid Fontaine. To top it all off, George Barnes’s expressive black-and-white camerawork marries beautifully with Hitchcock’s inimitable atmosphere of psychological menace.


    Pride and Prejudice (1940)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    IIn 1835 England, wealthy, class-conscious couple Mr. and Mrs. Bennett (Edmund Gwenn and Mary Boland) have five daughters who are of marriageable age, and they have decided to match them with appropriate suitors. Of all the eligible men in their social circle, the arrogant, dashing Mr. Darcy (Laurence Olivier)-despite his haughty airs–is the real catch, and independent-minded Elizabeth (Greer Garson) might be the only daughter worthy of his attention.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Penned by Aldous Huxley, this splendid adaptation of Jane Austen’s satirical novel seamlessly translates her barbed criticisms of upper-class mores to the big screen. Under MGM journeyman Leonard’s guiding hand, Olivier and Garson are a joy to watch as romantic interests whose strained rapport matures from mutual disdain to honest affection. Karl Freund’s magnificent cinematography captures all the period details-like a lawn-party archery lesson-beautifully, while Aldous Huxley’s witty dialogue preserves the spirited flavor of Austen’s text. And I do mean to “Prejudice” you: Avoid the botched 2005 version! .


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • March 30, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Leaner David Lean

    by John Farr

    David Lean is known for his sprawling epics, like this week’s Reel 13 classic Doctor Zhivago, but here John Farr recommends a few of his earlier, tighter works.


    Brief Encounter (1945)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Based on a play by Noel Coward, this is the simple, wrenching tale of two people married, but not (maddeningly) to each other, who meet by chance in a train station and embark on a short, intense romance. We can tell Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) is an honorable sort, and Laura Jesson seems settled and content in her married life, so their sudden, very powerful feelings for each other throw them both for a considerable loop. How they navigate these tumultuous emotions and regain their equilibrium forms the heart of the story.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This subtle, heartfelt British gem will still drench most anyone’s Kleenex nearly seven decades after its release. Performances by Howard and Johnson are impeccable; she was rightly Oscar-nominated for her restrained, all too believable performance as a loyal wife bewildered by emotions she thought long dead. Direction and script, both of which received Oscar nods as well, are suitably understated, and the use of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto throughout the film further heightens the sentiment. Even with the British reserve much in evidence, the overall effect is intensely moving. Don’t miss this one.


    Great Expectations (1946)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In British director Lean’s superb rendering of the Dickens classic, we follow the changing fortunes of Pip, an orphan who reaches young manhood (as John Mills), only to discover he has an anonymous benefactor intent on making him a real gentleman. With his new friend Herbert Pocket (Guinness), Pip sets out to make his mark in bustling, 19th-century London. But just who is Pip’s mysterious sponsor?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Perhaps the finest Dickens adaptation ever, this rich, fascinating film about chance encounters and changing fortunes begins with a nerve-rattling sequence in a graveyard that’s one of the finest moments in British film. Both Mills and Guinness are a trifle old for their roles, but their virtuosity fully compensates. Guinness, in his first significant screen appearance, is particularly striking as pocket, giving us a tantalizing taste of things to come. A bona-fide classic.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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