Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Broadcast News (1987)

Eric Jessen 6/23/09

Whenever I think of the TV news business I'll think of the movie Broadcast News and Jane(Holly Hunter), Aaron (Albert Brooks) and Tom(William Hurt) as if they were real. Broadcast News is a good movie because it knows what it's talking about. It's smart, which is less common in movies then you might think. This movie, like most movies, focuses on its characters, and their love affairs, but it doesn't use the news business as an arbitrary back drop for a few lines or laughs. It understands how being in the news business shapes it's characters. Jane, Tom, and Aaron are all experimenting with love as a basic human nature, but they all put their work above relationships.
Broadcast News' greatest strength is in the nuances of it's characters. Jane, Tom, and Aaron were all born for their jobs (as you'll see in the first scene). Jane is an obsessive but brilliant producer who is frumpish (shoulder pads, pant suits, and the same hair cut as my 10th grade math teacher) and socially awkward. (Holly Hunter's voice is annoying at first but you'll get used to it.) She likes Aaron and they enjoy each other's company, but he's ugly and she falls for Tom because he's oh so dreamy. The only problem is Tom personifies what she hates. He exemplifies the networks moving from news to entertainment. He is an idiot and knows nothing about journalism but is gaining in success off of his looks. Jane is forced to make the essential decision of the movie. Which will she chose, her job and her ethics as a journalist or Tom and love. You'll find out in an ending that strays from conventional Hollywood but is consistent with the rest of the movie.
Possibly the most entertaining character is Aaron. He is charming and witty but also bitter. He is intelligent and a great reporter, but wishes he were an anchor. His looks have always been holding him back in the news business. Ever since he was getting beaten up on the playground he acts snarky towards other people. He is in love with Jane but understands that she will never love him. He seems more than any of the other characters capable of choosing a relationship, especially with Jane, over his job.
The only problem I have with this movie is that it's realistic to a fault. It has no flash or surprises that would have me wanting to watch it again. It throws aside every sense of romanticism that we get from most movies. Usually being different is a good thing, but in this case I'm left not caring about the story or the characters because they don't change. The movie treats network TV moving from news to entertainment as an unsolvable problem and it treats its characters choosing their jobs over relationships as an unchangeable fact.
I may not watch it again any time soon but I'll always remember moments like when every so often Jane stops the movie in its tracks to take a second to cry/laugh. She's crying because of the stress of her job but she's laughing because she loves it.

Medium Cool (1969)

By Eric Jessen 6/23/09

The ending was completely unexpected, bewildering. Was there a gun shot, an assassin? Was it an accident? I can't tell. I'm probably supposed to be thinking of JFK, or MLK, or other assassinated 60's people. When I saw the ending it felt good, and new. I thought, hmmmm, that seems deep. (It was the same feeling at the end of Easy Rider, The Graduate, and Midnight Cowboy, all movies I liked.)
However, it didn't take me long to think, that ending didn't mean anything. In fact, this entire movie is meaningless. It feels very 60's and cool, but that's not enough. When it came out it probably was seen as a milestone. Roger Ebert said in his 1969 review that director Haskell Wexler “has made almost the perfect example of the new movie.” He is right about that, but Wexler's Medium Cool is an example of the new movie for the wrong reasons. It's a movie of style and feeling and an environment.(60's, Chicago, protests, hippies, blah, blah, blah....) It is not a movie for thought.
There is a story to tell. I think there was supposed to be a narrative. There is a cameraman (Robert Foster) who loses his job, falls for a single mother (Verna Bloom), and connects with her son, all while living with a trendy model. The narrative, or the idea for the narrative, is not that new, but in Medium Cool it seems new. Why? Because it was chopped up with only a few scenes left for us to figure it all out. I love when movies leave things off screen, and leave things for the audience to surmise, but in this case it is done without reason. All the scenes that might have had passion were left out and the lifeless ones left in. As a result the side show narrative to all the documentary style footage of riots and mobs.... is empty. What is left is ambiguous so it seems meaningful, but it is really just shallow. Is chopping up this narrative director Haskell Wexler's version of Jean-Luc Godard's jump cuts in Breathless? Is the last scene supposed to be like Peter Fonda saying “we blew it” in Easy Rider, or the shot of John Voight holding Dustin Hoffman in his arms at the end of Midnight Cowboy, or Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross on the buss at the end of the Graduate? (okay, enough movie reverences) I may have been fooled all those times, thinking they stood for something, maybe I just enjoyed those movies more, but either way I won't be fooled again.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

By Eric Jessen 6/30/09

As a little boy, Toto, peeks his head through the curtains of an empty theater at the Cinema Paradiso in a small village in Sicily, a priest sits alone watching his weekly movie holding a small bell. The priest is waiting anxiously to ring the bell every time Jean Gabin and Jany Holt from Renoir's The Lower Depths or two actors in one of Visconti's melodramas approach each other, slowly, and kiss. This is a signal for the lonely illiterate projectionist, Alfredo, to cut out this piece of the film. This is just one of the many beautiful scenes from Cinema Paradiso. Here's another. When the townspeople are denied entrance to the Cinema Paradiso, an angry mob forms and demands to see its film. So Alfredo points the projector out the window, saying movies “pass through walls”, and the mob watches its movie on a house wall in the town square. These scenes represent the romanticism of the movies that Cinema Paradiso understands
Cinema Paradiso does something that few movies are able to accomplish. It captures the magic and sense of wonder in film. Yes, it has its flaws, its cliché moments and a predictable “silly boy falls for dreamy eyed girl” element of the story. But its early scenes with Phillipe Noiret as Alfredo and Salvatore Cascio as Toto are simply amazing. The two actors are spectacular together. It's too bad the movie had to divert from them. As the actors that play Toto get older they get less interesting. The scenes with Toto as an adolescent and an elder are useless, awkward, routine movie drivel. It's also a shame that Cinema Paradiso had to revert to mush when one of its best scenes was abruptly ended when the nitrate film burst into flames, leaving Alfredo blind and a sad sac for the rest of the movie.
And yet, despite it flaws, I cherish this films early scenes. Yes, they're a bit overwrought, especially thanks to Ennio Morricone's score, but I still love them. They have nostalgia for the movies that is both beautiful and sad. This film is a reminder of how glorious and important the movies used to be. These poor villagers in Sicily pined for their weekly entertainment of watching the priests' cut of everything from John Wayne to Charles Chaplin on the biggest of screens. The few poignant scenes in the last passages of the movie point out how TV and other new mediums have led to the demise of the Cinema Paradiso. I wish there were still rowdy, crowded, smoke filled theaters that show old movies like the Cinema Paradiso.

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

By Eric Jessen 6/23/09

The most consistently funny thing in life is people. Down and Out in Beverly Hills asks me to laugh at people over and over again. Rich people, poor people, dirty people, clean people and one dog. I didn't always laugh out loud but I always smiled. Down and Out in Beverly Hills is based on Jean Renoir's brilliant film Boudu Saved From Drowning. And its biggest achievement in my mind is that after the movie was finished, when I was thinking about what to write, I had completely forgotten about Renoir's film. I feel like I had been making comparisons throughout, but somewhere along the way (probably the party scene, I can't remember a bigger freak show) I completely forgot about Boudu.
There are a lot of characters in this movie and many people to laugh at. There's Nick Nolte as Terry the bum, who's probably the least funny but is somewhat the instigator. There's Richard Dreyfus as Dave Whiteman, an unbelievably rich hanger salesman living in Beverly Hills. He's the kind of rich man who doesn't really need to do anything the rest of his life. When Terry's dog dies he decides to attempt suicide by jumping into Dave's backyard pool. Dave, wanting to be the hero, jumps in the water and saves Terry by giving him CPR. Dave offers to let Terry stay at his house until he gets better, wanting to live vicariously through Terry's impoverished desperation.
There's also Bette Midler as Dave's wife Barbara, who indulges herself by spending money on clothes, and specialists such as a Yogis, decorator, and dog therapist. There's also Carmen(Elizabeth Pena), the salacious housewife Dave is having an affair with. And many others, including a dog named Mattise (played by a dog named Mike) that is particularly impressive with comedic timing. And Little Richard as a persnickety neighbor.
What I liked most about this movie was the relationship between the bum and his captors. With all their wealth they'll never know what desperation or havoc feels like. They think they can find that in Terry. It doesn't matter if he lies, vandalizes, or sleeps with every female house member (all of which he does). The more he tears their once pristine house hold apart, the more they want him to stay. At the end of the movie Terry finally admits “I gave folks what they wanted.”

Carnal Knowledge (1971)

By Eric Jessen 6/29/09

Jonathan (Jack Nicholson) in Carnal Knowledge is a despicable creep. He's crude, rude, and an embarrassment to men everywhere. (But then, aren't most a little bit of an embarrassment to men everywhere at times?) He thinks and talks about nothing but sex. He's a manipulative prick and women are his victims. He treats them as toys for to play with one minute and throw aside the next. Women, for him, are to be judged on their waist and breast size. Everything he does is part of his game to have sex with as many women as possible.
In Carnal Knowledge we follow the sexual exploits of Jonathan and his roommate Sandy (Art Garfunkel) from their college years to their middle age. Sandy is a more compassionate and timid version of Jonathan. He is also less interesting because he is less tormented by the women in his life. Carnal Knowledge has three stages. In the first both Jonathan and Sandy, as college students at Amherst, pursue Smith student, Susan (Candice Bergen). They spot her at a party and Jonathan confidently tells Sandy “you can have her” and then proceeds to sleep with her behind Sandy's back. In the next stage both Jonathan and Sandy are on the verge of marriage, one with the passive and weak Bobbie (Ann-Margret) and the other with the aggressive tom-girl Cindy (Cynthia O'Neal). In the third stage they're both in different relationships, Sandy with a naïve eighteen year old and Jonathan with a prostitute. By the end they are disgusting (Sandy has a porn star mustache). They are desperate and ugly as they talk about the trouble they have “getting it up.” The once witty characters from the beginning become depressing. They mark the history of their lives by the women they've slept with or “felt up”.
We follow both Jonathan and Sandy, but this is Jack Nicholson's movie. He brings fire and energy to every role he plays, and in this movie he gives Jonathan complexity. We should all despise Jonathan, and yet by the end I pity him. He's sad, and pathetic because he acts like he doesn't care about women even though he needs them desperately. Jonathan's relationships with Susan and Bobbie are indicative of his suffering. He pursues both women for sex, but eventually wants more from their relationship. He wants to “open up” to them but is afraid of commitment and instead hides behind a facade as a sexual deviant. He blames everything on women for being “ball busters.” Johnathan is also tormented by time. He is steadily approaching an age where he won't have sex to fulfill his neediness.
Carnal Knowledge is a movie worth seeing, because it understands its characters. It knows everything from their thoughts and hardships to their language. It understands its two creeps so well it begs the question – is there any of Jonathan or Sandy in director Mike Nichols? (He was married 4 times.) Nichols must have known what it was like to be a man like Jonathan to understand how sex invigorates but also plagues his life. This is not a movie about the sex but a movie about how sex defines its characters.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Key Largo (1948)

By Eric Jessen

A group of amateur actors and and an amateur director would have made a more interesting movie, because at least they would have tried. It's clear that Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson and director John Huston all give a “D” effort. I was wholeheartedly disappointed that I didn't watch something else. I just wasted an hour and forty minutes watching a cast of talented actors and a talented director mail one in. Maybe they were all just tired of working with each other. Huston and Bogart had done numerous movies together leading up to Key Largo, as well as Bogart and Bacall, seeing as how they were married. Maybe that's it, Bogart and Bacall were the worst failure in the movie, maybe they were having a tiff. They had absolutely no chemistry.
Bogart plays former war hero, Frank, now a drifter, who is “just passin' through” Key Largo to see an old friend, James, played by Lionel Barrymore. James is an old crippled hotel owner with an attractive daughter Nora (Lauren Bacall). Nora and Frank hit it off immediately. Nora loves Frank's courage, and the rest of the movie will be one big test of that courage. While at the hotel Frank notices something “funny” going on. It turns out the hotel is being run by notorious gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson). Rocco is in Key Largo to do something illegal that will make him rich, the only problem is a giant hurricane is on its way. Nora, Johnny, Frank, Rocco, and the whole gang are stuck for the night in the hotel together while they weather the storm.
It was extremely difficult to describe the story in Key Largo because there basically isn't one. There are just a lot of caricatures. There is a gangster, a hero, some goons, an old crippled man, and a girl. Bogart seemed bored with his role and Bacall was about as stone faced as a woman injected with too much Botox. Edward G. was not much better. He looked like he was going through the motions in the gangster role. There were many strong supporting role performances by the likes of Lionel Barrymore, and Clair Trevor that were lost in an otherwise bad movie. Trevor was particularly good as Edward G's drunken mistress. She gives life to the few scenes she's in, including the best scene in the movie when she humiliates herself all for one drink (Huston's direction of the cast's reaction features some of his talent).
Warner Brothers was trying to get as much money as possible out of this ensemble, but by 1948, after The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not (two Hawks movies, with Bacall and Bogart), and The Maltese Falcon (Huston and Bogart), they had made one too many. Key Largo was the failure of the bunch. It doesn't just have bad acting, it also looks cheap in an overly studio way. It's easy to see the fake backdrops of palm trees and white sandy beaches. I felt cheated by the opening shots of actual Key Largo.
Bogart, Huston, Edward G, and the rest are all artists, capable of brilliant performances, but they're also regular people, and Key Largo was their version of a bad day (100 days of shooting to be exact) at work.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The China Syndrome (1979)

By Eric Jessen 6/27/09

Silent credits, the perfect exhale for one of the most thrilling movies I've ever seen. I was reeling, shaking, and actually sweating (I don't even sweat at the gym). My head was racing with questions. Do these power plants still exist, are these accidents still happening, do cover ups still occur? Is this movie still relevant?
After I had a chance to cool down I started thinking about this movie. It's so thrilling, but Why? Is it because of all that nuclear testing stuff? Was I just afraid that human error causing a nuclear disaster might happen today? No, I said to my self, because I don't think that stuff goes on anymore, and if it does I certainly know nothing about it. I realized it's not the fear of a nuclear explosion, it's thrilling because of a more basic fear. The fear of not being heard, or in this case more specifically the fear of an elaborate cover up. It's like being trapped, and unable to get out the information you know everyone else needs. So many times during the exciting conclusion I wanted to grab a camera and tell all of this movie's world what Jack Lemmon's character knew.
For all you people who haven't seen this movie here's a little synopsis. China Syndrome stars Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda, and Micheal Douglas. It's a great cast and they all do a spectacular job. Lemmon plays a nuclear power plant supervisor, and on one fateful day something terrible happens. We don't know what until later, and I won't tell you what. But what gets this movie rolling is that Jane Fonda as TV personality/journalist Kimberly Wells and her scruffy bearded anti-establishment cameraman Richard (Micheal Douglas) happen to witness, and Douglas secretly films, to their bemusement, the entire event. They have no idea what they saw but they know it was big, and if it's out of curiosity or if it's to capture a great story, they have to investigate. And because I've already mentioned cover up I'll tell you, the more they sense the cover up getting thick the more they try to uncover the secret and reveal it to the public.
If you have yet to see this movie and you want your experience to be as purely exhilarating as mine, don't read on.... Good, now that they're gone we can talk about that broken needle or nob thing, and when the sound guy got run off a cliff (he should have sped away, not try to stop). And I want to talk about the perfect way my thrilling frustration was heightened in the final sequence.
So, lets talk. This movie is so effective in getting me all riled up. By the end I wanted to be a journalist, cameraman, and nuclear power plant supervisor. This movie makes those jobs look so exciting. This movie was thrilling, exciting, and frustrating in a good way. Everything bad happens to Lemmon's character. The guy with the crucial pictures is nearly killed, he get chased, his friends start to bail on him, but then something truly unexpected and ironic happens. When he get a chance to be herd on national television he's unable to speak. He can't convey his message. You can see Micheal Douglas's character bitting his nails and pleading, “don't be so technical.” Lemmon cries “I'm not makin' any sense” as if he knows he's missing his one chance. It's the perfect cherry on his unbearable frustration sundae. It was the perfect thrilling conclusion to Lemmon's character's arduous plight. It actually cleared my mind for second, because I felt secure in my opinion of this movie. So now all I have to say is...
I loved, loved, loved this movie. It will always be fun, always be thrilling. Watch it again and again, alone or with those loud and obnoxious friends that you usually avoid when watching a movie. Watch for the reason that you should always watch movies. They're fun.

Ordinary People (1980)

By Eric Jessen 6/25/09

For a second I couldn't believe it was all over. I went out and out and out of this world (in a zoom out) and was stunned. It felt so real. I thought I had been there the whole time and had just died. I finally realized it was just a movie and movies have to end.
Now that I'm back in this world I can think back about the movie I watched, Ordinary People. My immediate reaction to this movie is that it is a near perfect movie about human behavior. It is extremely intelligent. We learn a lot about the characters through their mannerisms, and their every litter tic and jitter.
But now that I have had more time to think about it, I realize this movie does not show me anything new, or explore new theories of psychoanalysis people. It also doesn't delve into some murky areas of ordinary relationships or set up scenes that I wouldn't see on a common soap opera or daytime melodrama. The characters hurt and have problems. But their problems are ordinary, their solutions are ordinary, so this movie won't have me thinking and wondering tonight when I go to bed (the time when I always reflect on the movies I've watched). It also won't have me clamoring to watch it again, wanting to study the characters further.
Despite its ordinary material it is exceptionally effective in grabbing my attention and having me caring about its characters. It would have been weird to think about them as actors acting while I was watching because their portrayals seemed very real. In many ways it was an acting exercise because as I said the material doesn't take many chances. The acting by Timothy Hutton, Judd Hirsch, Mary Tyler Moore, and Donald Sutherland is vital to the success of the movie. They all do a superb job. Hutton plays a troubled teen, Conrad, who has just attempted suicide because of the death of his brother. We meet him in a terrible state. He is overcome by self esteem problems and lack of confidence. He is shy and awkward around other people and it is almost painful to watch. He has weekly meeting with his psychiatrist, Dr. Burger (Judd Hirsch). Dr. Burger is a simple character. As a psychiatrist he asks timely questions, seems caring of his patients, and down to earth. Nothing new there, but Hirsch is effective in calming down the movie when it needs it (maybe that's a problem, I don't know). Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland play Conrad's parents, Beth and Calvin. Calvin is a caring and worrying dad, who seems afraid of his son's problems but does his best to deal with them. Beth, who is the most interesting character, doesn't seem to love her son. In fact they don't even seem related. Their interactions are uncomfortable and awkward, like a couple that has just separated. Beth is also interesting because she seems to push all family members and relationships away in favor of her quite equanimity. I must say there is also a hint of lesbianism in her hair, clothes, and polished golf game.
It may not have been new, or uniquely perceptive, but good melodrama(like my introduction) is all and all and all and I loved it.

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

By Eric Jessen 6/21/09

If it looks great with many great scenes and some great performances, then why don't I feel as if it's a great movie?  There's something about “The Year of Living Dangerously” that has me peeved. Overall it is a very good movie, extremely well made. Peter Weir (of Picnic at Hanging Rock) directs a movie that has energy and mystery. The great acting comes from Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan. Hunt plays a vital role in holding the movie together (we'll get to that later). The fascinating scenes come from the depth of the characters. Mel Gibson stars as Australian journalist Guy Hamilton covering the revolution of the Sukarno government in 1965. Hamilton arrives in Indonesia timid and with no experience in a hostile foreign environment. Luckily he meets Billy Kwan, a cameraman who takes a liking to him. Billy gets Hamilton access to the higher ups of the Sukarno government, which fuels his career and his addiction to adventure. Kwan also plays matchmaker and introduces Hamilton to Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver). Weaver's Jill is the biggest disappointment. As the British embassy aide, she is an unconventional beauty but banal.  
I would recommend this movie overall because it is entertaining and most of the time engrossing. But something about it, some fault, stuck in my brain and I couldn't help but focus on it. I thought back scene by scene and of each character and finally came to a conclusion.  I don't like that much of this movie plays as if a documentary, showing me shot after shot of the famished and oppressed Indonesians, but then focuses on the shallow relationship between Gibson and Weaver.  
Somewhere along the way in the movie an idea is introduced that may have solved my problem but is not followed up. It is that Gibson and westerners like him don't understand real hardship and thus can't be trusted. He is sent to Indonesia as a journalist not to report on the hardship of the country but to feed his country and his own craving for adventure, revolution, violence, whatever is hot. I was very intrigued by this idea. It makes sense. It is introduced by the film’s catalyst, Billy Kwan.  However, as soon as it is brought up, Kwan, with all of his morality, kills himself in protest of his people's suffering.  
There's something not right about the occasional pan across Indonesians, looking near death, as they gravitate toward the beautiful Hollywood couple of Weaver and Gibson. It was irritating, as if the Indonesians are being taunted by Weaver and Gibson's glory. The actor and the character that held it all together was Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan. She is the reminder that the starving and suffering people in Indonesia are not just an exotic background for the Gibson and Weaver characters’ steamy love affair. He is the glue that holds this movie together. He has a conscience. He is the most interesting character. He is multiracial, his sexual orientation ambiguous as a girl playing a boy, and he is the size of a dwarf. He lurks around at waist level, documenting and analyzing everyone's lives, but also playing puppet-master. In one of the best scenes of the movie he tells Gibson “I created you!” For better of for worse, what Kwan created in the story, and Hunt created in Kwan, shaped The Year of Living Dangerously.

If.... (1968)

By Eric Jessen 6/20/09

It spiraled out of control and I loved every minute of it. Real and surreal converged into an ending of glorious madness. Machine guns were blazing and bombs bursting, all aimed at the insidious and stringent British school system. Malcolm McDowell as Mick Travis is the perfect catalyst for the revolution that brought the walls of “honor, duty, and tradition” tumbling down.
If.... begins with the real. The horrors of high school are revisited. There's needless cruelty by the students toward each other (yet another scene of the loner getting his head dumped in the toilet). There's good old-fashioned corporal punishment from teachers, priests (or at least they would have shown it if not for the fear of outrage) and mainly from headmasters. There's also religious fear mongering. The private school's reverend proclaims that, “Jesus Christ is our commanding officer and if we desert him we can expect no mercy.” There's even some adolescent homo-eroticism (it is an all boys school). It's all very real, and charming but as each minute passes energy builds in the undercurrent of a deep hatred for the school system.
Real turns into surreal. Mick unleashes his inner lion (you'll see). It starts out simple and builds. First he's mouthing off to authority, then he's escaping school and joy riding on a stolen motorcycle. That all seems plausible but then it gets ridiculous.
He stops at a coffee shop and forces himself on to the voluptuous waitress. After she slaps him they have passionate sex on the floor. Later Travis threatens to shoot and kill the school's teacher of gentlemanly military service, and then laughs as the teacher squirms in fear on the ground. In the following scene the teacher is pulled out of a man sized drawer in the wall and Travis insincerely apologizes.
McDowell's Travis looks at the world with a smirk. McDowell as the rebellious teen (If.... and A Clockwork Orange) can be hilariously entertaining but also frustrating because his characters seem to have a sarcastic detachment and indifference towards everything. McDowell's Travis is almost impossible to take seriously because he is in some ways inhuman. He has the aura and attitude of a person who sits back and laughs at, and hates everything around him. The point may be that he is the product of the tyrannical British school system. But I don't think If.... is effective in exposing the British school system because the surreal takes over the Travis character. He and his fellow rebels are as much the problem by the end when they're staring down and executing headmasters and clergymen with machine guns.
Where If.... is effective is in portraying the attitude of the adolescent boy. In this case, with this movie, McDowell is perfect for the role. Travis is cynical and whimsically rebellious.

My First Review

Mildred Pierce (1945)

By Eric Jessen 6/19/09

Watching Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce is like staring at a brick wall. Gazing off in the distant made her look strong. She had that half tilted up chin that we always see from Barack Obama. One reviewer called it “a milestone in feminist cinema.” The occasional poignant teary eyed moment won her her first Oscar. This movie is all about Joan. Her character weathers one hardship after another, and we sit exhausted from all the bloated melodrama.

This is my first review. It's somewhat of an experiment for me. Before I watched Mildred Pierce I was already worried about what to write. I told myself to be objective, don't prejudge, or try to write the review in your head before the movie's over. I wanted to be objective because it's easy to be negative. So many reviewers overlook good movies and write a predictably negative self-righteous review. But in this case, with this movie, I couldn't help myself. I tried very hard to like this movie and to like Joan Crawford's acting. Mildred Pierce is well made with good black and white photography. The opening sequence on the dock got me thinking I was in for another exciting noir, easily my favorite genre....

I just got up and walked around for 20 minutes to think how to summarize the plot. It's very convoluted. Well here we go. Shots fired, there's a murder, we didn't see the shooter but the dying man cried out “Mildred.” From then on we follow Mildred (Joan Crawford) to the dock where she contemplates suicide, then to the police station where she and many others are questioned over the murder of her husband. Through her conversations with the police a series of flashbacks reveal that she was once a pleasant housewife with a family and a nice husband (not the dead one). This is where the movie goes down hill. Mildred and her original husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) are dull and with no chemistry. Just as soon as we meet Bert he and Mildred are splitting up in scene that is awkward and without passion.

After that some new characters are thrown into the mix. There is Mildred's daughter Veda, played by Ann Blyth as unbearably tawdry and redundant. There's also Wally Fay, played by Jack Carson, who we saw a little earlier (still not the dead guy). Carson's Wally is the high point of the movie. Wally is a smooth talking businessman, with just the right amount of cheap and smart.

Finally I'll tell you about the dead man. The dead man is Mildred's second husband played by Zachary Scott. He's a broke dilettante, and who though charming, can't live without money, which makes his and Mildred's relationship hot and heavy, or at least that's the premise. Scott does a fair job but any time he or Carson try to create chemistry with Joan she does what, acts like a brick wall. Is the idea that if she seems in any way vulnerable around men she's less of a dignified strong woman. Crawford's acting is often characterized as without emotion, but in Mildred Pierce her stubbornness to keep a straight face seems intentional. Either way the result is my boredom and frustration.