THE FILM YAP » greta garbo We Never Shut Up About Movies Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:48:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 And the Nominees Were — 1939 Sun, 17 Jul 2011 02:04:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Austin Lugar, Keith Jackson and Kenny Jones started a podcast called “And the Nominees Are.” On this show they are attempting to review every single Best Picture nominee starting from the very beginning. Here, Austin recaps the plot summaries of each set while teasing the longer discussions.

In the history of the Oscars, there are a few years that stand out as really incredible. 1977 had “All the President’s Men,” “Bound for Glory,” “Network” and “Taxi Driver” all losing to “Rocky,” another beloved movie. 1939 is another of those years with so many films that are still watched today, especially by families. It’s almost unfair that some of these happened to come out in the same year because they could have easily won the gold among a weaker field.

“Dark Victory”

Just like Norma Shearer kept popping up in the earliest years, it’s expected to see Bette Davis every time. More likely than not, she gets a big sweeping “Oscar scene.” This is another movie to showcase her range as she plays a woman who is dying but may have gotten better. The melodrama is sometimes a bit much, but an interesting plot keeps it going.

“Gone with the Wind” – WINNER

What can’t be said about this movie? Its epicness still feels underplayed. It’s obviously a technical masterpiece as it pulls off the most impressive elements from the Margaret Mitchell book, such as when the mansion burns. Yet it really holds up well because all of the performances are grounded and the writing is really strong. Deserving of all its praise.

“Goodbye, Mr. Chips”

This one is not deserving of all its praise. It’s the go-to “inspirational teacher movie,” but it does not hold up well. Everyone is too cheesy, and the writing is devoid of any emotional connections between the characters. Too many moments aren’t earned, especially the way they raise up Mr. Chips into a messiah-esque teacher, yet Robert Donat still won Best Actor and it’s constantly referenced today.

“Love Affair”

Leo McCarey was rather consistent director at this time. He’d made some incredible movies, but this one is lesser in comparison. It’s his first version of “An Affair to Remember” with two actors who lack the spark of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Still there is plenty of charm, especially the couple’s first day together.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”

Without this movie, nobody would know what a filibuster is. C-SPAN is never as dramatic as this movie, but that’s what Frank Capra does best. He shows the hopeful world we wish we inhabited. Jimmy Stewart is, of course, brilliant as the young senator who wants to make a difference. The film is so earnest that it is still inspiring and worth showing to children.


It’s been awhile, but Ernst Lubitsch is back with this one, known primarily because of how it used Greta Garbo. Instead of her moody uber-serious persona, she was allowed to be funny. Most of the humor comes from her being an extremely robotic Communist sent from Russia to disprove capitalis — and take part in a fun convoluted plot. Not as many laughs per minute as his other work, but this still a delightful movie.

“Of Mice and Men”

Most people have just seen the Gary Sinise version, but this one holds up as a solid equal. Adapted from the famed John Steinbeck novella, Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. play the two brothers traveling from ranch to ranch to find jobs. Sometimes it’s overplayed but not too often. They establish a great tone and even keep with the grittiness of the source material.


Orson Welles said he watched this movie 100 times to teach him everything he needed to know about filmmaking so he could produce “Citizen Kane.” It’s evident why. This is the John Ford we know and love. He uses Monument Valley with automatic expertise to film thrilling chases and landscape shots. Strangers are forced to know each other better as their stagecoach ride is full of danger, including the arrival of the Ringo Kid, played by John Wayne. Fantastic stuff.

“The Wizard of Oz”

It’s the bloody “Wizard of Oz.” Any faults you have with this film are minimized compared to it being “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s the ultimate family film due to the classic songs, beautiful surroundings and romantic quest. It’s scary, silly and has a likable message. Seriously, it’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Wuthering Heights”

Here marks the first, but not final, appearance of Laurence Olivier. He plays the brooding Heathcliff, doomed to take part in one of the most famous Gothic romances of all time. Not everything works in this adaptation, but there are plenty of acting gems throughout and keen direction by William Wyler

We discuss these movies in a lot more detail on our show, “And the Nominees Are,” as well as discussing the other awards from this year. This set was covered over two episodes, both of which can be found for free on iTunes. We’d love it if you left us a review! Our show is also on Facebook and Twitter and our brand-new website.

If you’d like to play along with us, the next 10 films for 1940 are “All This and Heaven Too,” “Foreign Correspondent,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Great Dictator,” “Kitty Foyle,” “The Letter,” “The Long Voyage Home,” “Our Town,” “The Philadelphia Story” and “Rebecca.”

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Grand Hotel (1932) Fri, 02 Apr 2010 05:30:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> “Grand Hotel” was one of the first conscious attempts to gather an “all-star” cast. The poster blared out the names of the cinematic giants of that era: Garbo! Barrymore! Barrymore!

Joan Crawford, nearly unrecognizable with her trademark eyebrows shorn back, was the baby of the bunch.

Nearly 80 years later, the 1932 film is most notable for its intersecting, interweaving storylines — similar to “Nashville,” “Crash” and a number of other notable films.

Like “Crash,” “Grand Hotel” would win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was the only award for which it was nominated, and still holds the record of least number of nominations for the movie that won Oscar’s top prize.

An old, horribly scarred doctor (Lewis Stone) acts as the quasi-narrator and chorus. “Grand Hotel: People come, people go, but nothing ever happens,” he intones at the beginning and end of the story. The obvious irony is that a whole lot does happen.

The central story thread revolves around Grusinskaya, the greatest ballet dancer in the world, played by Garbo. At the height of her fame, she’s sick of dancing and adoration. “I want to be alone,” she insists after a performance — words that would forever become associated with Garbo, herself a reluctant star.

Little does she know, but Grusinskaya is being stalked by a thief after her priceless pearls: Baron Felix von Geigern, played by John Barrymore. The baron is a ruined noble, a gambler and occasional bandit, when necessity calls. He poses as a rich gentlemen to move about in high society, which he exploits either with card games or outright robbery.

He’s being financed by some criminals who are growing impatient with his attempt to wrest away the pearls, and are ready to apply strong-arm tactics to recover their stake money. The baron finally sneaks intoGrusinskaya’s suite and takes the pearls, but overhears her despair and stops her attempt at suicide. They fall in love, and he resolves to repay his partners in crime rather than hurt her.

The entire story takes place over the course of a couple of days, with lives and loves being changed forever.

Crawford plays Flaemmchen, a poor young stenographer hired by a powerful business magnate named Preysing (Wallace Beery). The baron and Preysing both flirt with the ingenue, which leads to a clash between the two later on.

The other principle character is Kringelein (Barrymore’s brother, Lionel), an accountant from Preysing’s textile plant. An old, timid man, he’s been diagnosed with a fatal illness, and determines to spend all his money living his last few days in luxury.

Preysing, who’s pursuing a major merger deal to save his failing business, is the villain of the piece, although he isn’t portrayed as evil — merely imperious. He’s the sort of man who treats his perceived equals with genteel manners, and his underlings with dismissive contempt.

At one point Preysing hires Flaemmchen to be his secretary on a trip to England, and both of them understand this to mean she will become his well-compensated mistress. It’s a great early role for Crawford, as the smart but fatalistic woman who keeps finding herself under various men’s thumbs.

Director Edmund Goulding — who also helmed “The Dawn Patrol,” which was featured in this space some months ago — uses some interesting storytelling techniques. He shoots the Grand Hotel in Berlin with an opulent eye, lingering particularly over the great checkerboard-tiled lobby and the view down the great circular atrium. William A. Drake adapted his play for the screen, which in turn was based on a novel.

Money, and the pitfalls of the pursuit of it, are the central theme. Other than Grusinskaya, who only wants a little joy in her life, every character is in some way ruled by their wealth, or lack of it.

“Grand Hotel” hasn’t aged particularly well, but it’s still an engaging and important piece of cinema.

4 Yaps

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Ninotchka Mon, 01 Feb 2010 05:12:20 +0000 Continue reading ]]> “Ninotchka” may just have been the very first romantic comedy.

Although Hollywood produced many romances around 1939, and many of them were funny, I think “Ninotchka” stood out for several reasons. One is that it was Greta Garbo’s second-to-last film. She famously abandoned acting in her mid-thirties, at the height of her fame.

Another is that it was among the first mainstream movies to explicitly criticize the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Don’t forget, he was “Uncle Joe” until after the war.

But watching it today, what most jumps out at me is how closely it resembles the structure and form of modern films like “The Proposal,” “When Harry Met Sally” or “Leap Year.”

The basic formula of the romantic comedy is two very different people meet, hate each other, but eventually come to realize they’re in love. External forces conspire to drive them apart, but they subvert them and end up together. The End.

There are obviously a lot of variations, but most films that we dub romantic comedies follow this basic outline. And “Ninotchka” trailblazed the way.

Garbo plays the title character, an envoy from Russia (the movie never refers to the U.S.S.R.) sent to Paris to negotiate a settlement to the jewels belonging to the Grand Duchess Swana, a former member of Russian aristocracy. She lost her family jewels in the Communist takeover, and is trying to prevent three bumbling Russian diplomats from selling them.

The unsmiling, brusque Ninotchka is brought in to iron things out. On the street she runs into a suave gentleman, Leon (Melvyn Douglas), who pitches woo. He’s a slick capitalist who prefers not to work, and basically represents everything she reviles. Nevertheless, she’s soon smitten.

Soon they realize that Leon is a friend (and perhaps lover) of the duchess. As soon as the business with the jewels is concluded, Ninotchka has to return home and end the romance. Leon attempts to follow her, but is denied as a counter-revolutionary.

In the end, Leon cooks up another diplomatic mess in Constantinople that forces the Russian minister (Bela Lugosi, in a bit part) to send Ninotchka, reuniting them.

The film was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, the German-born master who segued easily from silent to sound pictures. But I think the real triumph of this film is in the screenplay, by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch. It just crackles with great dialogue and humor that bites without ever seeming nasty.

For me the best exchange comes when Ninotchka and the duchess meet at a swank restaurant. Ninotchka is there with Leon, and Swana is none too happy with the presence of the woman who has (from her perspective) stolen her jewels and her man. Ninotchka has just made a pointed reference to the aristocracy using the Cossacks to whip the people into line:

Duchess: “You’re quite right about the Cossacks. We made a great mistake when we let them use their whips. They had such reliable guns.”

Or this exchange, when Ninotchka steps off the train and refuses to let a porter take her suitcase.

Ninotchka: “Why should you carry other people’s bags?”
Porter: “Well, that’s my business, ma’am.”
Ninotchka: “That’s no business. That’s social injustice!”
Porter: “That depends on the tip.”

I can’t say as I was particularly dazzled by the Garbo/Douglas pairing. It’s one of those goofy movie romances where the leading man falls in love within minutes of meeting his lady, and he spends the next reel or two convincing her — and the audience — it’s true love.

If “Ninotchka” were made today, it would come off as a cliched knock-off of the old romantic comedy model. But it endures because it is the mold, not the imitation.

3.5 stars

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