A Letter to Three Wives is one of the few movies in the forties that pass the Bechdel Test. Perhaps that’s because Vera Caspary did the screen adaptation from a Cosmopolitan Magazine novel by John Klempner. Caspary, a writer of movies and novels, also wrote the movie Laura. Perhaps her influence is why this movie is dialogue driven, with even casual remarks bearing weight and meaning. A Letter to Three Wives is all about wants and desires, and how to people rationalize, pursue, and achieve them. A Letter to Three Wives pulls everything from the shadows. Consumption, advertising, and financial security are all dragged into the open. It’s a dialogue-driven movie because it’s through dialogue that fears, secrets, and concerns are revealed for the purpose of creating better relationships. This is what brings the drama because we know from the beginning of the movie that one relationship has been betrayed, doomed by closeted secrets and feelings. A Letter to Three Wives is meant to have people take a second look at both their desires and how they are pursued. A Letter to Three Wives might get a little preachy in places. But soapbox rants are just as much a part of relationships as words or cooing love or snarky teasing. The movie holds up well and even if the trappings of the world have changed, the same dialogue could be played out today, just as relevant now as in 1949.
The Home of the Creative Mind
Welcome to PooBahSpiel, the online voice and home of the creative mind of Mark Monlux, Illustrator Extraordinaire. Prepare yourself for an endless regaling of art directly from the hand of this stellar artist. And brace yourself against his mighty wind of pontification. Updates are kinda weekly and show daily sketches, current projects, and other really nifty stuff.
Sunday, June 17, 2018
Monday, May 21, 2018
The script for The More the Merrier was custom written as a vehicle for Jean Arthur. And while she was nominated for Best Actress, it was Charles Coburn who walked away with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance of the rapscallion Mr. Benjamin Dingle. Coburn tended to be given the same type in all the films he was featured, but in The More the Merrier, his character is given more room than normal, taking an impish delight in outwitting those around him while playing matchmaker. The movie does its best to show how crowded Washington, D.C. was during WWII. The actors are tripping over each other in their apartment, and when we see their characters anywhere outside their apartment, there’s a crowd of people in every scene, in every room, at every table, even on every rooftop. You will also notice that throughout the movie, the camera draws closer to the couple as their feelings for each other become closer. The madcap comedy does a great job of holding up over seven decades. Mr. Dingle’s antics and audacity remains fresh and entertaining. While I couldn’t capture the antics in the comic, I did my best to make it look crowded by filling each frame with a different character from the movie.
Received an Academy Award out of six nominations.
Monday, May 14, 2018
Cat Ballou is the name of this movie and the name of Jane Fonda’s character, a schoolmarm she plays straight. Her straight acting is necessary as she strikes the perfect counterbalance for most of the other main characters, who are provided comedic roles. Lee Marvin, who’s given the chance to overact in not one but two roles, gets most of the laughs. Historically, the gimmick of a double role, while interesting, doesn’t enhance a movie very much. But that isn’t the case in Cat Ballou. Had the writers decided to write the movie as a straight-up traditional Western, the gimmick would have been stale and lonely in its presentation. But they gave up on making Cat Ballou a classic Western and instead decided to make a Western that parodies Westerns. And that is why Lee Marvin was given full rein to be as broad as he wanted. Few actors get this chance. Marvin was deeply familiar with Westerns. He knew which subtle quirks would poke at audiences’ experience of Westerns. As a result, filled theaters roared each time Marvin hiked up his belt. Cat Ballou became the breakaway hit of 1965 and audiences ate up Marvin’s performance as he walked away with the picture. Not that Cat Ballou is a particularly tight picture. One of the plot holes is Cat Ballou herself. Fonda is introduced as a rancher’s daughter returning home from boarding school where she’s learned to be a schoolmarm. But the town takes little to no notice of a returning citizen, let alone the arrival of a new teacher. In fact, Fonda never steps foot in a schoolhouse. The schoolmarm is there because there’s usually a schoolmarm in Westerns. Just like there are usually horses, fancy shooting, sheriffs, trains, and other trappings. The story’s inconsistencies are overlooked because the movie doesn’t take itself, nor the genre it parodies, seriously.
Received one Academy Award out of five nominations.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
Lee Marvin might have fallen into his acting career, but he was a natural as a hardboiled tough guy. He became one of Hollywood’s iconic leading men and parlayed the power he wielded to work with the directors he wanted on the projects he wanted. Point Blank was one of those projects. Filmed in the Sixties, the movie hyper-focused on a particular look, Mod, from the word Modernist. The clothing, furniture, and art were the most recent in style and production. Clean sharp lines, shapes, and textures created the look. The mod scene consisted of coffee houses, jazz music, cocktails, and a desire to look graceful with simplicity, fueled by America’s post-WWII economic boom and mass production. It’s in this glossy utopian world that Point Blank is set. The clothing, props, and buildings show little of the past nor any hint of the emerging hippy esthetic. When such breaches do occur, they are for a reason. Alcatraz, from which our hero emerges at the beginning of the movie, sits on the bay like a tombstone of past mobsters in a cemetery. A careful viewing of Point Blank will show the importance of the imagery to the underlying tone and message of the film. The creative world-building is just one of many elements that turned a fairly decent, hardboiled thriller into a cult classic thoroughly enjoyed by film critics and fans. Point Blank might be a time capsule to a specific look from the ‘60s, but the underlying story in this work of thrilling suspense gives it legs. And it is one of several films that provide a worthy legacy to Lee Marvin and the others involved in its production.
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Cleopatra is the movie that nearly destroyed 20th Century-Fox. About everything that could go wrong during production went wrong. The script kept getting rewritten. Actors and actresses were replaced. Monumental salaries kept getting bigger even as production scheduling dragged on. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s relationship developed from a mere movie relationship into an epic in its own right. Elizabeth Taylor became deathly ill and had to be hospitalized. A new director was brought in. Several factors led to a new shooting location, and with scenes incomplete, this meant the huge sets and props had to be completely and perfectly reconstructed there. The new director, Joseph Mankiewicz, tried to convince the studio that their story was huge, and they had more than enough material to produce two films, Caesar and Cleopatra and Anthony and Cleopatra. The studio, however, was well into financial crisis by then and wanted to take advantage of the public’s infatuation with Taylor and Burton’s romance. So they pushed for the story to remain one single film. As a result, the final editing was brutal and removed large sections that would have made for a truly compelling story. Taylor was not pleased and said that they gutted key scenes from the film and kept war scenes to placate the audience. Watching Cleopatra, you can feel how Mankiewicz was right: Cleopatra should have been two films. Cleopatra is still a wonderful spectacle, but as daring and ambitious as it was, it would be the last in a long series of movie epics. The likes of it would not be seen again until the advent of CGI would allow grand shots on a reasonable budget.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Woman in the Dunes is filled with allegories. They are layered over each other. Some are obvious and others construct the full meaning of the film. There are so many interesting possibilities that cinemaphiles spend hours discussing them. Woman in the Dunes has always been an art house film. For its very skillful use of sound, cinematography, and story, it received a nomination for Best Foreign Film from the Motion Picture Academy. However, an average viewer might find the film dull in places. Dry sand flowing like water might have deep meaning to the narration, but its constant appearance might be boring to an audience more accustomed to explosions and jump scares. There are moments of high tension to be had. But they cycle back into an ever-growing feeling of frustration and exhaustion that is a good portion of the story. While you watch Woman in the Dunes, you should prepare yourself for a full meal of hidden and obvious meanings behind situations, objects, how the objects are shown, and the sound. The sound is one of the best things about Woman in the Dunes: it creates a narrative onto itself. Viewers might be tempted to re-watch it just to capture the narrative of the sound and how it changes, just like our hero does throughout the movie.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Topper is filled with so many goodies; I hardly know where to start. All of the actors and actresses are familiar faces. Some of them are mid-career, others are just starting out, and others will go on to achieve fame outside of acting. The success of Topper set Cary Grant up as a leading man in screwball comedies. The actor who plays the elevator-operator-turned-bellboy would go on to play Dagwood Bumstead in a series of Blondie movies. The birdlike voice of Billie Burke, who plays Mrs. Clara Topper, is instantly recognized as belonging to Glenda the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz. Alan Mowbray’s portrayal of Wilkins the Butler would land him dozens of similar roles to the point that his onscreen character and delivery would be quoted by Raymond Chandler. One of Hoagy Carmichael’s movie appearances, this one goes uncredited—but it’s hard to miss as he’s singing his Old Man Moon with the two leads leaning on his piano. And Roland Young presented Cosmo Topper’s dry delivery so elegantly that he received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, which was quite impressive as that was unheard of at the time. Oh! And don’t get me started about the car. The car is practically a character itself. Do some research and you will find a whole history of car customization you’d never heard about. Topper is light-hearted and gay. Topper was well received because the actors and characters they played endeared themselves to audiences.