Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Kramer vs Kramer (1979)

By Eric Jessen July 6, 2010

With Robert Benton's Kramer vs Kramer divorce has never seemed more adorable and less messy – no adultery, no prenups, just love. And learning; Kramer husband (Dustin Hoffman) how to be a better parent to their son Billy (Justin Henry); Kramer wife (Meryl Streep) how to be a more “complete” person.
One night he comes home late, for reasons of the “bringin'-home-the-bacon” variety, and she runs out on him – to California “to find myself.” “It's not you it's me,” she tells him. Now Kramer husband has to raise Billy by himself. Much bonding occurs, so when Kramer wife returns Kramer husband won't give up Billy without a fight. Lawyers and judges get involved and Kramer wife is awarded custody of Billy despite all the heart-strings being pulled in the husband's favor.
It's all very civilized and upper-middle class. (Did I mention both Kramers are advertising executives in Manhattan and wife went to Smith.) Meryl Streep seems to be in about 15 minutes, of which she spends about 13 crying, and somehow she won Best Actress. Hoffman runs a lot with briefcases and portfolios under his arm and shares many warm looks with cute little Justin Henry which won him Best Actor.
In the end Kramer wife comes to her senses and decides to let husband keep Billy because she thinks it's best for their son. How nice. I'd say divorce has never seemed more sensible – even desirable. Maybe when Kramer vs Kramer was awarded Best Picture a few directors and producers had other things in mind. After seeing what it did for the Kramers I'd sign on the dotted line.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Duel in the Sun (1946)

By Eric Jessen July 2, 2010

After ten minutes of Dimitri Tiomkin Prelude and Overture the movie starts. The opening credits say King Vidor's Duel in the Sun with Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotton, Gregory Peck, Lionel Barrymore, Herbert Marshall, Lillian Gish, Walter Huston, Charles Bickford, Harry Carey and on and on. With so many names in big bold letters how could it go wrong? The only more amazing list was of the uncredited directors: William Dieterle, Josef von Sternberg. Another was David O. Selznick who also produced and wrote the script.
Then again I asked myself, how could it not go wrong? And so so wrong it did. Duel in the Sun, which was more accurately known at the time as “Lust in the Dust,” is so bad it's impressive.
Jennifer Jones plays the ravishing “half-breed” who puckers her lips and puffs up her chest. She makes them cowboys go wild. Gregory Peck keeps his hair wet and his hands dirty and does his best impression of a hunk. (Southern drawl has never sounded so articulate.) From the moment they make eye contact they look like they want to take a bite out of one another. (I think I saw Jones lick her lips.) All that's missing is a mating cry. Finally they kiss and it brings the house down. Jones resists at first – then again she aspires to be a lady. But eventually Peck's manly charms overcome her to the point she decides to loathe him for it. The passion boils over resulting in the two trying to kill each other. Fantastic! They both shoot each other then ask, “Are you okay, darling?” Outstanding! One of the great endings I can remember – two people dying in their killers/lovers arms. They didn't realize how much they loved each other until they'd killed each other. Did I mention this was a love story?
Joseph Cotton plays Peck's brother, the good guy, who Jones loves until she realizes how boring he is, and presumably sterile. Just before Peck shoots Cotton he delivers this line, “Don't give me your high and mighty noble talk, Big Words.” Brilliant! Lionel Barrymore plays the same part he played in It's a Wonderful Life except on a horse. Lillian Gish plays Mr. Potter's wife and she really is never bad enough for this movie, although she has her one overwrought dying seen. And how could I forget Butterfly MacQueen, who didn't get her name in bold, again playing the mousy maid from Gone with the Wind.
Duel in the Sun is so bad it's great. And hilarious. And irresistibly entertaining. Some would even say it's good. Maybe it is? Don't see no reason why not.