From the Chicago Reader (October 5, 2001). — J.R.
Conceivably the most neglected of James Whale’s better works, this hilarious period farce (1937, 91 min.) imagines a hoax perpetrated by the Comedie Francaise in order to teach the famous and conceited English actor David Garrick (Brian Aherne) “a lesson in acting.” The only problem is, Garrick is in on the gag from the beginning, leading to a variety of comic complications at a country inn. Boisterous and high-spirited, this sport of a movie helps to justify critic Tom Milne’s claims that Whale was a kind of premodernist Jean-Luc Godard; rarely have the art and pleasure of acting, demonstrated here in countless varieties of ham, been demonstrated with as much self-reflexive energy (with the possible exception of Sylvia Scarlett), and Whale’s enjoyable cast (including Olivia de Havilland, Edward Everett Horton, Melville Cooper, Lionel Atwill, Lana Turner, Marie Wilson, Albert Dekker, Fritz Leiber, and the wonderfully manic Luis Alberni) takes full advantage of the opportunity. Ernest Haller’s cinematography creates an intriguing period film noir atmosphere, and Ernest Vajda’s script gives the players all the chances to cut up that they need. On the same program, Bob Clampett’s Bugs Bunny cartoon What’s Cookin’, Doc?… Read more »
Unusually seedy and small-scale for a Fox picture of 1952, this black-and-white thriller is set over one evening exclusively inside a middle-class urban hotel and the adjoining bar. The bar’s singer (Anne Bancroft in her screen debut) breaks up with her sour pilot boyfriend (Richard Widmark), a hotel guest. He responds by flirting with a woman (Marilyn Monroe) in another room who’s babysitting a little girl (Donna Corcoran), but the babysitter turns out to be psychotic and potentially dangerous. Daniel Taradash’s script is contrived in spots, and the main virtue of Roy Ward Baker’s direction is its low-key plainness, yet Monroe — appearing here just before she became typecast as a gold-plated sex object — is frighteningly real as the confused babysitter, and the deglamorized setting is no less persuasive. With Jim Backus as the girl’s father and Elisha Cook Jr. as Monroe’s uncle, the hotel elevator operator. 76 min. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 2005). — J.R.
The third feature by writer-director Rebecca Miller (Personal Velocity), daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, doesn’t succeed in everything it sets out to do. But as a statement about the death rattle of 60s counterculture it’s thoughtful and affecting, and Daniel Day-Lewis is mesmerizing as a defiant yet ailing idealist who once helped found a commune on an eastern seaboard island and now lives on the isolated property with his sheltered 16-year-old daughter (Camilla Belle). This arrangement becomes more troubled after he invites a lover (Catherine Keener) and her two teenage sons (Ryan McDonald and Paul Dano) to move in, and all five people begin to come unglued. With Beau Bridges. R, 111 min. (JR)
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