Friday, March 11, 2011
Born Yesterday, written by Garson Kanin and Albert Mannheimer, based on the play of the same name by Garson Kanin, directed by George Cukor, starring William Holden, Judy Holliday and Broderick Crawford (1950): Delightful, sarcastic, alternately cynical and hopeful about the American political process. Crawford plays a powerful businessman who moves to Washington with his mistress (played by Judy Holliday, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her role). He decides that Holliday needs some refining and polishing to fit into 'respectable' political society and hires down-on-his-luck journalist Holden to do the job.
But Holliday's character turns out to be a lot smarter than anyone expects, while Holden soon falls in love with her. Holliday, whose life was cut short in the 1960's by breast cancer, specialized in playing high-voiced ditzes, but in real life, she apparently had an IQ of 172 and managed to thwart the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities without being completely blacklisted or naming names (basically, she played dumb, and the politicians believed her). Badly remade with Melanie Griffith in the Holliday role in the early 1990's. Highly recommended.
Scaramouche, written by Ronald Millar and George Froeschel and Talbot Jenning, based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini, directed by George Sidney, starring Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, Janet Leigh and Mel Ferrer (1952): Swashbuckling period piece set in France a few years prior to the French Revolution. Granger plays a (literal) bastard ne'er-do-well who gets pulled into fighting the aristocracy by the death of his friend at the blade of Ferrer's evil nobleman.
Granger seeks out the best fencing trainers in France so as to be able to duel the Marquis de Mains; the film climaxes with the longest sword duel in film history to that time, and it's a doozy that George Lucas ransacked for the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader duels in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, in much the same way he lifted sections of the climactic action of Star Wars from The Dambusters. Charming and frothy; Janet Leigh plays the most American French noblewoman in film history -- it's something about her accent that does it. Highly recommended.