The Blue Bird (1918)

The Blue Bird 1918

Mytyl (Tula Belle) and her brother Tyltyl (Robin Macdougall) are young children who don’t come from a wealthy father. They don’t have much and often spend their time watching the what the wealthier children are doing. However, they often fail to appreciate the simple things they already have. One day, their neighbor Berlingot (Edward Elkas) asks to borrow the childrens’ pet bird to cheer up her sick daughter, but the children refuse to.

Later that night as the children sleep, the fairy Berylune (Lillian Cook) appears to them in a dream in the form of Berlingot and tells them about the blue bird of happiness. The blue bird of happiness is a bird that’s the exact color of the sky, so it’s very difficult to find, but brings immense happiness to those who are able to find it. Berylune sends the children on a mission to find the blue bird of happiness, but first, she gives them a special hat with a diamond in it that allows them to see the spirits of their pets and other objects. The children quickly make friends with all these spirits and they all set off to find the blue bird.

Berylune brings the children and the other spirits to mystical places like the Palace of Night, where they’re reunited with their deceased grandparents, the Palace of Happiness, where they’re introduced to all the joys of life, and the Palace of the Future, where the souls of babies wait to be born. Along the way, the children keep trying to find the blue bird, but with no success. But when they wake up in the morning, the children suddenly have a much greater appreciation for everything they have and realize their pet bird is none other than the blue bird of happiness. When Berlingot stops by, the children insist she bring the bird to her daughter and it’s exactly the sick girl needs. She makes  a speedy recovery and when she comes to return the bird, it escapes and flies away. Rather than getting upset, Tyltyl asks the viewer to look for the blue bird of happiness in their own homes as that’s where it’s most likely to be found.

I wouldn’t say The Blue Bird was one of my favorite movies, but it was pleasant enough. It’s extremely imaginative and reminded me a lot of The Wizard of Oz, thematically speaking. I appreciated that Tula Belle and Robin Macdougall seemed like natural children and not overly-cloying and cutesy like many child actors could be. Many of the special effects were really well done, although the human actors portraying some of the spirits the children start to see like the dog and the cat might seem kind of bizarre Personally, I found the costume on the guy playing the spirit of the sugar loaf (yes, there is a person who gets to play the spirit of a sugar loaf) absolutely hilarious, but that may be because it’s been kind of a long day and I’m kind of easily amused. On the whole, I’m glad I saw it once, but I don’t think it’s the sort of movie I’ll go out of my way to see again.

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

The Phantom Carriage 1921

It’s New Year’s Eve and Salvation Army sister Edit (Astrid Holm) is lying on her death bed. There’s no hope for her, but the one person she wants to speak with before she passes on is David Holm (Victor Sjostrom), a poor, local drunk who is ringing in the new year by drinking with his friends in a cemetery. He tells his friends a story his friend Georges had told him about how the spirit of the last person to die on New Year’s Eve will spend the next year driving a carriage of death around the world, collecting the souls of those who die that year

When a Salvation Army worker finds David, he refuses to go see Edit, much to his friends’ dismay. His friends try to get him to make him go, but he dies after being hit on the head. David’s spirit is greeted by the spirit of his friend Georges (Tore Svenberg), who is driving the spirit carriage because he was the last one to pass away the previous New Years Eve.

Before taking over Georges’s job of driving the carriage, Georges warns David that driving the carriage is an absolutely horrible duty it is to have. Georges reminds David how he used to be married  father of two children, before Georges had corrupted him with alcohol. Sister Edit had taken a particular interest in reforming David and spent much of the previous year trying to do so. Georges also reminds David how he could sometimes be violent, like when his wife asked him to stay away from the children to prevent them from getting sick and he breaks a door down with an axe.

Being reminded of what’s been going on in his life inspires David to make things right again. He wakes up in the graveyard, just in time to get his life back in order.

Whether you’re looking for a really eerie movie to watch on a fall night leading up to Halloween or for something different to watch on New Year’s Eve, The Phantom Carriage is a great choice. If you want something very atmospheric and creepy, this movie has it in spades.  It’s creepy and atmospheric in a distinct way that only silent movies seem to be able to pull off. The plot may have some things in common with A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life, but The Phantom Carriage is completely unique unto itself. In fact, think of The Phantom Carriage as It’s a Wonderful Life if George Bailey were a total lowlife, if the movie had been produced away from the glossy Hollywood system, and if it lacked the sentimental touch of Frank Capra. The Phantom Carriage manages to be simultaneously familiar (at least when viewed with nearly a century’s worth of films that came out after its release in mind) and distinct.

Turn Back the Clock (1933)

Turn Back the Clock 1933

Joe Gimlet (Lee Tracy) is a middle-aged man who runs a store with his wife Mary (Mae Clarke). Times are tough and they’re barely eking out a living when one day, their old friend Ted Wright (Otto Kruger) comes into the shop and they agree to get together. Ted has been faring a bit better than Joe and Mary; he went on to become a very successful bank president and is married to Elvina (Peggy Shannon), another old friend of theirs. They agree to get together and spend an evening together.

Growing up, Ted was infatuated with Mary and Joe is still kicking himself for turning down a business proposition from Elvina’s father when he was younger that would have made him a millionaire. Despite everything he has, Ted admits to being jealous of everything Joe and Mary have and offers Joe the chance to get in on an investment. Joe really wants to take him up on the investment opportunity, but it would wipe out their savings and Mary doesn’t think it’s a good idea. She and Joe get into a big argument about it that night and Joe gets very drunk, leaves the house, and gets hit by a car.

Joe is taken to a hospital where he’s put under ether and dreams that he’s a young man once again. Now he has a chance to undo all the mistakes he made so many years ago. Not only does he take Elvina’s father up on that business offer, he marries her and uses his knowledge of the future to make some very wise investments and ends up being offered a very important consultant position with the government regarding World War I. Mary, on the other hand, married Ted and the two of them live a modest life running a shop together. But there’s the age-old question of whether or not money truly makes a person happier.

Movies about a person having a fantasy about either going back in time, into the future are hardly, or otherwise experiencing an alternate reality are hardly anything unique, but Turn Back the Clock somehow manages to not feel clichéd. I can’t quite put my finger on what prevents it from feeling trite, but it manages to pull it off. It may be because it does have a touch of sentimentality to it, but not in a heavy-handed way. It’s a slow build to Joe’s epiphany that maybe wealth and power isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be and never heads into being overly dramatic. The cast is great, it’s a particularly great Lee Tracy vehicle. It’s certainly interesting to see them try to make young Mae Clarke into a drab middle-aged woman. And hey, it’s even got a special guest appearance by the Three Stooges as an added bonus. All in all, I’d say it’s a movie that deserves to be a bit more well-known than it currently seems to be.

Lost Horizon 1937

Lost Horizon (1937)

In the midst of a revolution in China, author and diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Colman) is tasked with rescuing 90 people and getting them on a plane to Shanghai. Among the people rescued include Robert’s brother George (John Howard), Lovett (Edward Everett Horton), Gloria (Isabel Jewell), and Henry Barnard (Thomas Mitchell). After spending all night on the plane, the passengers wake up and realize they’re traveling in the opposite direction. Their plane has been hijacked and after an extremely arduous journey, the plane eventually crashes in some Tibetan mountains. All the passengers survive, but the pilot is dead.

The passengers are stranded far away from civilization, or so they think. Before long, they are greeted by porters who guide the passengers to Shangri-La, a beautiful paradise that apparently has magical powers. The people of Shangri-La don’t seem to age and Gloria, who was terminally ill when she left China, seems to be getting better. They have no connection to the outside world and have none of the conflicts that exist in the rest of the world.

Robert begins to feel like he’s been brought there for a reason and those beliefs are confirmed by some of the lamas of Shangri-La. When he meets Sondra (Jane Wyatt), he finds out she’s the one who suggested he be brought to Shangri-La because she’d read his books and thought they reflected the philosophical beliefs of their leader, the High Lama. The High Lama is very old and doesn’t have long to live and they want Robert to take his place.

Robert loves Shangri-La (and Sondra), as do all the other passengers, except for George. George resents being kidnapped and wants to leave with Maria (Margo), another woman who was kidnapped and brought to Shangri-La. Robert is forced to choose between staying in Shangri-La or leaving with his brother.

Spectacular. Simply spectacular. Mention the words “epic film” and you’ll likely think of Cecil B. DeMille or Ben-Hur, but Lost Horizon certainly has a place in that league of filmdom. The sets are grand and absolutely stunning, it’s full of intrigue and excitement, the story has a lot of depth to it so it isn’t overpowered by the grandeur of the sets, and the entire cast is amazing. Not only is Ronald Colman fantastic in it, he’s got an incredible supporting cast with the likes of Isabel Jewell, H.B. Warner, Sam Jaffe, Jane Wyatt, Edward Everett Horton, and Thomas Mitchell. It’s simply a first-rate film in all respects.

More Than a Miracle (1967)

More Than a Miracle PosterSpanish prince Rodrigo Fernandez (Omar Sharif) could have his choice of any princess his mother (Dolores del Rio) wants him to marry, but Rodrigo refuses to have anything to do with them. One day, he meets a magical monk and when Rodrigo explains who his ideal woman is, the monk gives him a sack of flour and a donkey. He is to find a woman who will make him seven dumplings with the flour and the donkey is to take him to her. As he rides along on the donkey, he meets the beautiful peasant Isabella (Sophia Loren). Isabella detests him, but he can’t resist her beauty and convinces her to make him the dumplings.

However, she gives him six dumplings, not seven — she ate the seventh one herself. To teach her a lesson for disobeying her, he plays dead, attracting the attention of the neighbors, then suddenly vanishes. In an attempt to bring him back, Isabella gets some help from some local witches, who create a spell for her. But when Isabella tries to cast the spell, she doesn’t do it right and instead casts a spell that paralyzes him and can only be broken with a magical kiss.

The prince’s guards find Isabella and bring her to the palace to break the spell and even though they have both fallen in love with each other, he still punishes her by sealing her in a barrel and sending her out to sea. That’s not enough to stand between, though, and Isabella is rescued by some children who help her get back to the palace. She gets in by working as a maid, but Rodrigo is under more pressure than ever to get married within seven days and to pick a bride, there will be a competition between the princesses. Rodrigo disguises Isabella as a princess and arranges a dishwashing competition, figuring she’d be a shoo-in to win. But when a rival sabotages Isabella’s plates, Isabella is about ready to end it all when she’s encouraged to make one last attempt to be with her true love.

More Than a Miracle isn’t a particularly noteworthy movie, but I enjoyed it just because it’s very different from the types of movies I typically go for and I was really craving something different today. It’s a cute movie; a pretty standard fairy tale fantasy story with some comedy thrown in for good measure. A pleasant little diversion that’s purely entertainment for entertainment’s sake. It’s certainly not one of the best movies Sophia Loren, Omar Sharif, or Dolores del Rio (who I was pleasantly surprised to see; until now, I don’t think I’d seen anything she made after Flying Down to Rio) ever made, but for what it is, there are far worse ways to spend a little over an hour and a half.

Angel on My Shoulder (1946)

Angel on my Shoulder

When gangster Eddie Kagle (Paul Muni) is released from prison, his old friend Smiley Williams (Hardie Albright) is waiting to meet him. But Smiley isn’t giving him a ride out of the kindness of his heart, he’s planning to kill Eddie and take over his crime syndicate. Eddie suddenly finds himself in Hell, where he meets Nick (Claude Rains). Nick has been hard at work in Hell trying to make nefarious deeds happen on Earth, but Judge Frederick Parker (also Paul Muni) keeps getting in his way. Nick would love nothing more than to get Judge Parker out of the picture by ruining his campaign for Governor. As luck would have it, Eddie bears a striking resemblance to the Judge and wants to get revenge on Smiley. So Nick makes a deal with Eddie that Eddie take over the Judge’s body and destroy his reputation and in return, Eddie will be allowed to avenge his own death.

Eddie does his best to tarnish the Judge’s reputation, but his efforts completely backfire. Eddie also has the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the Judge’s fiancée Barbara Foster (Anne Baxter) and quickly falls in love with her, which makes him realize the things he’d been missing out on due to his life of crime. Eddie wants to change his ways and when Nick gives him the opportunity to shoot Smiley, Nick doesn’t take it. Instead, he startles Smiley and Smiley accidentally kills himself. No longer willing to cooperate with Nick, Eddie has to go back to Hell. Nick would love to make Eddie’s stay in Hell even more miserable than he originally meant it to be, but is powerless to do so since Eddie knows how incompetent Nick was about this whole incident and could ruin his reputation.

With a cast of Paul Muni, Anne Baxter, and Claude Rains, I had fairly high expectations for Angel on my Shoulder, but it just wasn’t one of my favorites. There were some things I really liked about it, though. The scenes in Hell were awesome; very well produced. And for some reason, I couldn’t help but love the scene where Eddie/the Judge gets into a brawl. The kid saying, “He’s doing jiu-jitsu!” is just one of those little movie moments that I am now inexplicably obsessed with. As for the rest of it, though, I just couldn’t get into it, even though I really wanted to.

Thunder Rock (1942)

When his employer realizes that lighthouse keeper David Charleston (Michael Redgrave) hasn’t been cashing his paychecks, an inspector and David’s friend Streeter (James Mason) take a trip out to Thunder Rock on Lake Michigan to check on him.  Living and working on Thunder Rock is not easy; it’s a very lonely job.  David seems to like the isolation, though.  He has no need for money, he doesn’t read books to keep himself busy like other lighthouse keepers do, and he doesn’t even want to take his mandatory leave.  Streeter worries about David spending so much time alone, especially after David tells him he’s been seeing ghosts.

Ninety years earlier, there had been a shipwreck that claimed the lives of several immigrants from Europe.  When David read about it in the lighthouse records, he became haunted by these people.  He sees their ghosts, but the only one that realizes he is dead is Captain Joshua Stuart (Finlay Currie).  As he learns more about the pasts of these people, he realizes that each of them had come to America to run away from something.

David himself was running away from something when he came to Thunder Rock.  He had been a journalist in Europe, but after being censored for writing against fascism, he left his newspaper job to give lectures and write books to warn everyone about the rise of fascism.  But after being worn down by an apathetic public, he decides to get away from it all, leaves Europe, and becomes a lighthouse keeper.  When David tries to tell the ghosts that they shouldn’t have given up their fights so soon, even they see the hypocrisy of that sentiment.  But with their help, David realizes he needs to get back out into the world and keep spreading his message.

I’d say Thunder Rock was good, but not great.  Michael Redgrave was excellent and I loved the atmosphere of the movie, but I was a little disappointed by how little James Mason was in it.  In fact, if I had known how little James Mason was in it, I probably would have chosen another movie to write about for today.  When I read the synopsis, I was expecting something along the lines of The Uninvited or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but Thunder Rock isn’t as strong as either of those.  Some might find the anti-fascism message pretty heavy-handed, but you have to keep in mind that it was made in England in 1942, so it is very much a product of its time.   Although not a great movie, it would be a good one to watch on a rainy day.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1946)

After the death of her husband, Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) spends a year living with her controlling mother-and-sister-in-law.  Eventually, Lucy decides it would be best if she found a place of her own to raise her daughter Anna (Natalie Wood as a child, Vanessa Brown as an adult).  Her family highly disapproves of this idea, but she’s determined to live on her own.  She finds a place that would be perfect for her and the price seems almost too good to be true.  When she goes to look at the place, she quickly discovers the place is haunted.  Other tenants have been scared off by the ghost, but Lucy is determined to live there.

After she moves in, Lucy realizes the house is haunted by its previous owner, Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison).  Daniel tries to scare her away, but after she stands up to him, the two of them become very fond of each other.  Daniel manages to help Lucy out in many ways.  He helps her stand up to her controlling family and when she falls into financial trouble, he has her write his life story for him, which becomes a big hit.  Eventually,they fall in love with each other, but they know they couldn’t truly be together.

After meeting with her publisher one day, Lucy meets children’s author Miles Fairley (George Sanders) and can’t resist his charms.  The two of them begin a relationship, but Daniel is jealous of their relationship and tries to warn her about Miles, but Lucy won’t listen.  Daniel decides the best thing he can do is step out of Lucy’s life and lets her carry on her relationship with Miles.  Unfortunately, it turns out Daniel was right about Miles and Lucy soon discovers that Miles is already married and has children of his own.  Heartbroken, Lucy goes home to live out her life as a single woman.  As the years go by, Daniel doesn’t come to visit her, but she never forgets him.  One night, as an old woman, Lucy sits down in her room and passes away.  Daniel finally appears, waiting to lead her into the afterlife with him where they can finally be together again.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a pretty unique movie.  At first, I thought it might be something along the lines of The Uninvited, but then it became more of a fantasy movie than a horror movie, and then it finally turned into a romance movie.  It can be hard to make a movie with so many shifts in style, but Joseph L. Mankiewicz totally made it work.  I loved Gene Tierney as Lucy and Rex Harrison was spot-on as Captain Daniel Gregg.  This was such a charming and sweet movie with an excellent Bernard Hermann score as the icing on the cake.  This would be the perfect movie to watch on a cool Fall night while having a cup of hot chocolate.

Hugo (2011)

In 1931 Paris, a young orphaned boy named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives inside a train station’s walls and because he knows all about fixing clocks, he takes care of the station’s clocks.  When Hugo is caught stealing spare parts from Georges (Ben Kingsley), who runs a toy booth in the train station, Georges gives him the chance to make it up to him by working in the booth.  Hugo ends up becoming friends with Georges’ god-daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), and he soon finds out that she has never seen a movie before.  Georges has forbidden her from seeing them but she doesn’t know why.  But the two of them soon discover that the real reason is because Georges is none other than silent film pioneer Georges Méliès.  The kids are eager to learn more about his past, but convinced that he has been long forgotten and that all his work has been lost, the last thing Georges wants to do is look back on those days.  Hugo and Isabelle start investigating on their own and in the process, they are able to help Georges realize that not all of his work has been lost forever and that are able to show him that he has not been forgotten.

If you are a fan of silent films, by all means, go see Hugo!  I positively adored it!  It’s starts out looking like it’s going to be a kids’ adventure movie, but then it turns into a crash course in Georges Méliès and an introduction to silent film.  Even if you already know about Méliès and film history, it is truly delightful to see how Scorsese recreates Méliès’ studio and to see the clips featuring Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Louise Brooks, and Douglas Faribanks, just to name a few.  Martin Scorsese’s love of film history is very well known and you can see that influence in his other movies, but I loved seeing him be able to just go all out with it here.  You can tell that he must have been loving the fact that it was his job to recreate Méliès’ studio and sets.

Not only does Scorsese’s passion for the subject matter show, but it’s also very visually interesting.  Normally, I’m not a big fan of 3D and this was actually the first modern 3D movie I ever saw.  Before the movie, they showed trailers for some upcoming 3D releases and really wasn’t wowed by the 3D I saw in those, but Hugo’s use of 3D was far superior to anything I saw in the trailers.  The 3D was very well done and wasn’t used to carry the movie.  I’m confident that I would have loved it just as much if I had seen it in 2D.  It’s funny that the movie often referenced how audiences would scream and duck when they first saw Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat because they thought they were going to be run over, because there were moments in Hugo that made me sort of try to get out of the way of the 3D effects.  There was one scene where the Station Inspector is confronting Hugo and keeps leaning in closer and closer to Hugo (and toward the camera) and I caught myself leaning back in my seat because it felt like he kept leaning in toward me.

Overall, Hugo is a purely delightful and magical film.  I very highly recommend it.  It’s a very rare film and not just because it is a family friendly Martin Scorsese film.  Even though it has rightfully gained a lot of critical acclaim, it has only managed to peak at #3 on the weekend box office charts since it’s been released, which is too bad because it deserves to be on top.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

It’s no secret that movies were a favorite form of escapism during the Great Depression.  But for Cecilia (Mia Farrow), that idea is about to take on a whole new meaning.  Cecilia lives in New Jersey with Monk (Danny Aiello), her abusive, gambler, womanizer husband.  He’s out of work, but she and her sister work as waitresses — although Cecilia has a tendency to get more plates on the floor than on the tables.  The only thing that brings her real happiness is going to the movies.  When the local theater starts playing a movie called The Purple Rose of Cairo, she becomes obsessed with the movie.  The Purple Rose of Cairo is about an archaeologist named Tom Baxter, played by Gil Shepard (Jeff Daniels) who meets some socialites while they’re vacationing in Egypt and ends up joining them for a crazy weekend in Manhattan where he falls in love with a singer at the Copacabana.

Anytime something goes wrong in Cecilia’s life, she goes to see the movie again.  The fifth time she goes to see the movie, she’s surprised to notice something a little different about it: Tom begins to talk to her.  Not only does he start talking to her, but he walks right out of the screen and the two of them walk out of the theater together, leaving the audience and the other characters in the movie totally confused.  The two of them go off together and Tom reveals that he’s tired of living the same old story over and over again and wants to be out in the real world with her.  Of course, the real world is quite different from the movie world Tom knows, but that doesn’t matter since he loves Cecilia and Cecilia loves him.  Meanwhile, word of Tom walking out of the movie has gotten back to Hollywood and the film’s producer and Gil Shepard are in a panic about what to do.  They fly out to New Jersey to try to get Tom back into the movie, but while they’re there, Gil ends up running into Cecilia and also falls in love with her.  Eventually, Tom decides to go back into the movie, but he insists on taking Cecilia with him.  The two of them go on a wonderful date in the movie, but when it’s over, Cecilia has to decide between being with Tom or being with Gil.

I absolutely adored The Purple Rose of Cairo, it’s by far my favorite Woody Allen movie.  It’s funny, poignant, and wonderfully acted.  The scenes of the actors stuck in the movie after Tom left were absolutely hilarious.  Mia Farrow played meek, awkward, vulnerable very well and I loved Jeff Daniels in both his roles.  It was really a delight to watch him as the naive, happy-go-lucky Tom Baxter. If you’re a fan of classic films (which I’m assuming you are), you’re bound to love The Purple Rose of Cairo.

I hate to give away the ending of the movie, but I kind of like movies with endings that are a little open to interpretation.  Personally, just because I don’t want to imagine the worst possible scenario for Cecilia, I like to think it’s like that Rolling Stones song: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”  She might not get what she wanted, but hopefully she took a step toward a better life since she finally found the strength to do something she didn’t have the nerve to do before.