When I started this blog, I had the intention of writing about movies one at a time. But with 31 Days of Oscar going on, there are several days where I can see a bunch of fantastic movies in one day. Yesterday was certainly one of those days: Alice Adams, Ninotchka, Stalag 17, and Network. When I was trying to think of which of those movies I wanted to write about today, I figured that maybe I’d try something different and try writing several short reviews instead of one long review.
Alice Adams (1935):
Alice Adams came fairly early in Katharine Hepburn’s career. Katharine Hepburn plays Alice, a woman who is desperate to climb the social ladder, despite not being wealthy. She meets Arthur (Fred MacMurray), a man who has the social standing she aspires to have. Alice falls in love with Arthur and eventually he has to meet her parents. Alice’s mother insists on having a fancy dinner to impress Arthur, and of course, the dinner is a total disaster. A funny disaster, but a disaster none the less. After dinner, Alice assumes Arthur wants nothing to do with her and realizes the strain that her status-seeking ways have put on her father.
Of Katharine Hepburn’s movies from the 1930s, I don’t think this is one of the best. I’m not a big fan of the story, but it’s still totally worth seeing just for Katharine Hepburn’s performance. She did an excellent job of adding vulnerability to Alice and making the audience like her. It was one of Katharine’s favorite roles. Perhaps the greatest testimonial to how great her performance was came from Bette Davis. Katharine and Bette were both nominated for the Best Actress Oscar that year and Bette won for the movie Dangerous. Bette was later quoted as saying that she thought Katharine deserved the Oscar more than she did.
Ninotchka is easily my favorite Greta Garbo movie. I positively adore Garbo in her more dramatic roles, but in my mind, she was never better than when she did comedy. In Ninotchka, she was purely delightful to watch. She was the perfect straight woman, so deadpan and had impeccable comedic timing. She played off Melvyn Douglas very well. It’s so much fun to watch Ninotchka transform from the strict, uptight communist to a kinder, gentler woman who realizes capitalism isn’t so bad after all.
Not only does Ninotchka star one of my favorite actresses, it’s also got two of my favorite behind-the-camera influences at work: Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder. This movie is the epitome of the infamous “Lubitsch touch.” It’s sophisticated, bubbly, and witty. Billy Wilder co-wrote the screenplay and I have to say that I’ve always thought it was a shame that Wilder never wrote or directed another Garbo movie. Billy Wilder originally wanted Garbo to play Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd., but Gloria Swanson was just made for that role. But perhaps in another role, maybe something more comedic. A Garbo/Wilder pairing would have been destined to be cinematic gold.
Stalag 17 (1953):
Speaking of Billy Wilder, let’s go from my favorite actress to my favorite director. I can talk about my favorite directors all day, but if I have to pick just one director to call my favorite, I go with Billy Wilder. I’ve only seen about half of the movies he directed, but I’ve never been disappointed in one of his movies. Stalag 17 has been on my list of movies to see for quite some time now and I’m so glad I finally had the chance to see it.
First of all, I was surprised that this movie was really quite funny. I guess I just assumed that a movie about a WWII German POW camp wasn’t going to be funny, but I was wrong. But then again, I also didn’t realize that Harvey Lembeck was in it. If I had known that, I would have figured there would be some comic relief in there. Stalag 17 is really a lot more than your typical WWII movie. It’s a war movie, a comedy, and a suspenseful mystery all rolled into one. From the scene where Sefton (William Holden) realizes who the informant is, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. It was absolutely riveting. It also made me realize just how underrated William Holden is these days. He was amazing in this movie and totally deserved his Oscar, but I just don’t hear his name come up too often and that’s really too bad.
I keep trying to think of something unique to say about Network, but it feels like anything I have to say about it has already been said a million times. If you want to see a great example of life imitating art, watch Network. In 1976, the whole concept of this movie was supposed to be the most outrageous example imaginable of ruthless TV executives going to any extreme to get ratings. 34 years later, it just doesn’t seem all that unbelievable anymore. However, just because it isn’t quite as unbelievable as it was, that doesn’t mean it’s any less brilliant. Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, and William Holden all give performances that you absolutely must see.