Wednesday, November 30, 2016

More from Warner Archive Instant: Stanwyck, Ewell, and a big elephant (Warner Week)

*Illicit (1931): Another prime example of why we all need to settle down when we see the term "pre-code." It's not always that exciting. I thought this Archie Mayo pic with Babs Stanwyck, Ricardo Cortez, and the "I can never decide if I enjoy his work or if he annoys the hell out of me" Charles Butterworth would provide some thrills. Instead, it epitomized many of the stereotypes of early talkies, all right--only not in terms of crackling banter nor risqué subject matter, but in terms of long, drawn-out  monologues and a general staginess.

Stanwyck is "in a relationship" with James Rennie and wants to just live together despite his constant pushing for marriage. That alone is an interesting gender stereotype reversal, and Babs' independent-minded, assertive (most of the time) female is a compelling character. When she buckles down and agrees to marriage, the relationship starts to fizzle.

This could be the setup for a promising romantic comedy, but the movie fizzles along with the couple's passion, and the movie is just a lot of talk, much of it not particularly interesting. You know how when you were little and watched an R-rated movie hoping to see something cool, only to find out the rating was for "frank language" or something like that? That's kind of the feeling Illicit gives. Even Ricardo Cortez seems generic in this one.

*The Great American Pastime (1956): It's a pleasant enough look at suburban life through the milieu of little league baseball, but it comes off as a lifeless attempt to sort of clone Tom Ewell's Seven Year Itch persona. The most curious aspect of this movie is the casting of the female leads: Anne Francis is wasted in a bland role as Ewell's bland wife, while Ann Miller gets to play the more vixenous (if that's not a word, I'm making it one) role as a widow/mother of one of Ewell's players who makes Francis jealous. There's even a scene of Francis is a bathtub that may be designed to make the audience why in blazes Ewell never seems to notices her. This movie should be better than it is, though I realize I may have just sold it to you by mentioning Anne Francis in a bathtub.

*Maya (1967 TV series): The pilot episode was enough for me. Adapted by Stirling Silliphant from a feature film, this adventure series featured two teenagers exploring India with the titular elephant. I'd give this another shot someday for the location shooting, and the elephant is pretty cook, but I found the first episode uninspiring. My big impression was saying over and over again, "THAT'S Jay North?"

*James Fitzpatrick's Traveltalks: Washington, D.C.: At least, I tried to watch this one, but selecting it giave me the Yellowstone episode. I thought I could outsmart Warner Instant, though, with my brilliant follow-up of selecting the Yellowstone episode. You know what I got then? The Yellowstone episode. I include this item as evidence that Warner Instant still has a lot of bugs in the system.

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