The series of Thin Man movies answers the question, “What does happily ever after look like?”
The Romantic John Wayne
It’s hard to think of John Wayne and romance at the same time. The image of one and the image of the other don’t rest well side by side; one seems to negate the other.
Barbara Stanwyck must have liked working
Without intending to, I’ve found myself watching a lot of Barbara Stanwyck movies lately, including Double Indemnity (of which I’d like to scribble something one of these days). I believe IMDb shows she appeared in 101 movies and TV shows in her career. She really must have liked working.
I realized I have 18 Stanwyck movies on DVD (only a small number relative to her output). Of those, I’ve watched 15. There are three I’ve yet to see (but plan to): To Please a Lady, Jeopardy and Stella Dallas. Of the 15 watched, I’ve only written about a few, such as this one below. I watched it just last week.
My Reputation (1946)
Directed by Curtis Bernhardt
It seems a strange thing to say but My Reputation suffers from an actor’s performance that is too good.
Barbara Stanwyck portrays Jessica Drummond so well, you almost fume with frustration with her in the movie’s first half.
That’s not actually the case, however.
The problem is the movie and using its first third to create a portrait of a conflicted woman – it’s really a lot of exposition. As the Variety review from 1945 points out, the movie’s other star, George Brent, doesn’t make an appearance for about a half hour or so.
My Reputation is a romantic melodrama and, once the first third is over and certain things are established, entertaining in an average kind of way. Actually, thanks to Stanwyck’s performance, it’s above average. While a romance, it is also about psychological conflict and it’s that element where Stanwyck really excels.
Jessica Drummond is a recent widow who suffers from a domineering mother and friends who are superficial at best. She wants to assert herself as an individual, having been lost for years as secondary to others, but she can’t bring herself to do so. She makes a number of false starts.
This is what I mean about frustration: Stanwyck portrays the conflict so well that, if you are me, while sympathetic you want to tear your hair out because she is so mousy. However, once a new love shows up in the form of George Brent as Major Scott Landis the movie picks up as Stanwyck’s character becomes increasingly stronger.
It’s true the movie is dated, as some have pointed out, but I didn’t find that a particularly difficult barrier to get past, no more so than a historical film or book would be. It’s not a movie for everyone – despite the psychological aspect, it’s essentially a love story, a romantic fantasy.
If you don’t like romances, you probably won’t like this movie. On the other hand, if you want to see yet another brilliant Barbara Stanwyck performance, you really shouldn’t miss this one.
- Self-Styled Siren has an update on the For the Love of Film (Noir) blogathon, including a specifically for the blogathon. Get ready! It begins Valentine’s Day (February 14) and runs through till February 21. Oddles of bloggers talking about film noir and film preservation.
An unapologetic and satisfying romance
A friend kept telling me how much she loved this movie. I knew nothing about it but a few years ago I saw it and picked it up. I took it home, put it in the DVD player and was very happy I did.
This is a good, fun movie.
Dangerous Beauty (1998)
Directed by Marshall Herskovitz
What’s a girl to do? It’s 16th century Venice, wealth and politics determine the marriage bed and, with a father having squandered the family fortune away on drink, a sad match with a old man is the best a woman of few means can do.
Unless, of course, she becomes a courtesan, which is what Veronica Franco, played exquisitely by Catherine McCormack, decides to do in Dangerous Beauty.
By turns sexy, romantic and even bawdy, and generously flavoured with an almost melodramatic quality at times, Dangerous Beauty is a marvelously entertaining film that, when all is done, is ultimately an unapologetic and satisfying romance.
But unlike many costume romances, the movie does not choose to make the lead female character a damsel in distress awaiting a dark rugged hero to sweep her off her feet and carry her off to some ill-defined happily-ever-after. No, Veronica is the architect of her fate.
And Rufus Sewell as Marco Venier, the handsome if somewhat wishy-washy object of her affections, gets to go along.
The movie works so well for several reasons. First of all, it is what it is, meaning it knows it is a romance and follows those conventions faithfully. However, it manages to go beyond them by toying with them, such as making Veronica a much stronger character than the form normally possesses.
And the Veronica character, as played by Catherine McCormack, is the ultimate key to the film’s success.
McCormack manages a nuanced performance that captures a cornucopia of emotional shadings that enunciate the character perfectly — strength, uncertainty, sauciness, love, sensuality and the steady-eyed determination of youth, among others.
I just love the mischievous grin she gets, particularly in her earlier scenes with Rufus Sewell. There is a completely disarming combination of youth and playfulness in it.
Sewell is also good, as he always is, despite a role that is quite difficult to play — the hero is not quite a hero, the man who disrupts his life due to his conflict between his love of Veronica and his sense of duty.
There is also a wonderful performance by Jacqueline Bisset as Paolo, Veronica’s somewhat stern and determined mother.
It is she who introduces Veronica to the life of the courtesan (and from whom, in the back story, we can probably assume Veronica gets her own strength of will).
In the end, Dangerous Beauty is a great romance and adventure. It’s sexy too. While it may have a bit of a costumed soap opera quality to it, that’s fine because it works, engaging us in its story from the very start.
As far as I know, there is just the one version of Dangerous Beauty on DVD and, while passable, it’s a bit of a disappointment. The image is soft and I found the lack of a crisp image frustrating.
The story, however, is strong enough that you can convince yourself you can live with it. But I would certainly like to see a better presentation of the movie at some time in the future.
If they ever do, they might also want to think about including some special features. Other than some text “Production Notes” that are pretty scant, there are no special features here.