Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

Ok, pay attention - Here Comes Mr. Jordan is based on the play Heaven Can Wait. It was remade with Warren Beatty in 1978 using the title Heaven Can Wait. It was remade again in 2001 with Chris Rock as Down to Earth. BUT Heaven Can Wait from 1943 is a movie with a completely different story. Got it?

In case you're not familiar - an over zealous angel pulls a man from his body before his time. Before they can put him back in his body, he has already been cremated, so the compromise is to give him the body of someone who was about to die anyway. Hilarity ensues.

Back to the 1941 version. This movie was very enjoyable. It has fun with the premise from the beginning but never goes for the cheap laugh. Claude Rains (Casablanca) stars as Mr. Jordan, the angel overseeing that everything goes well for our hero, a boxer who still wants the title shot that had been promised to his now cremated former self.

57 to go...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

America, America (1963)

I was fairly excited about this one when I put it in. It had only recently become available on Netflix and is from director Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire).

For whatever reason, I just couldn't get into it. It has an interesting enough premise. Kazan wrote the story based on his own uncle's dream and struggles to get to America, without which Kazan himself, born in what is now Turkey, would never have come to the US.

It just doesn't seem to work, from Kazan's voice over at the beginning making it seem almost like it will be a documentary to the painful fact that, unfortunately, his uncle's story, while significant and representative of immigrants at large, just isn't interesting enough to justify a 174 minute run-time.

58 to go...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wendy Hiller

This may be the first time I'm highlighting an actor I was completely unfamiliar with before venturing through all these movies. I guess I hadn't heard of Maurice Chevalier, but he was (seemingly) the inspiration for Pepe le Pew, so I was familiar with his essence, I guess.

Dame Wendy Hiller was primarily a stage actress but still starred in plenty of film and television over her nearly 60-year career. She was in five best picture nominees: Pygmalion (1938), Separate Tables (1958), Sons & Lovers (1960), A Man for All Seasons (1966), and The Elephant Man (1980).

The two I had not seen until recently are Pygmalion and Sons & Lovers. Mrs. Hiller was nominated for best actress as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion. I wish I could fairly compare this movie to My Fair Lady, but unfortunately I have not seen the latter since I was in high school and was indignant about even the concept of watching a musical at school. So, for the moment, Pygmalion destroys My Fair Lady on all fronts in my book.

Sons & Lovers was fun as it's done in the style of 1930's literary adaptation, even though it came out in 1960. Hiller plays the mother of the sons in question, though the protagonist is 24-year-old Dean Stockwell (yes, Sam from Quantum Leap) as the angsty, mamma's boy artist trying to figure out what he wants out of women and of out life in general. The characterizations are, for the most part, far more nuanced than, I think, they would have been (or could have been) in the 30's. Stealing the show, however, is Trevor Howard as the alcoholic, coal-mining father of the family. He is simultaneously the comic-relief, the villain, and the redeemer in this story.

Hiller's Oscar win came for Separate Tables as Burt Lancaster's mistress and the hotel manager. I haven't seen it recently enough to recall her performance specifically, so I am eager to revisit it now that I'm more familiar with her larger body of work.

59 to go...

Kitty Foyle (1940)

This film earned Ginger Rogers her one and only Oscar nomination and win, though it was far from a token award. She portrays the titular Kitty from a precocious 15-year-old to a mature woman hardened by the realities of life.

Two social factors play into the story that give an interesting look into America at the time. The first is class distinction as Kitty is from a poor family and that becomes the main obstacle between her and Wyn Strafford VI in their on-and-off relationship. The issue isn't so much how Wyn views her or even necessarily his family, but how the city of Philadelphia will view their relationship since the Strafford's are so "important." They debate moving elsewhere, anywhere else, where Wyn's family is not prominent.

Second, the "other man" in the story is a poor, struggling doctor. Obviously, there's no money in helping people, he just enjoys making a difference.

I don't give enough away here to make it unsafe to add that, at the end, she also does not make the decision you expect.

61 to go...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938)

Period pieces can be a funny thing when they're from a different period themselves. I didn't realize until about halfway through this one that it begins in 1915. I was clued in after World War I broke out and one of the characters went to fight (well, play in the army band) in Europe.

The story starts simple enough here that I really wasn't expecting much. An up-and-coming band and new-to-town female singer are forced to work together when a club owner insists they are a package deal or no one gets the job. The initial bitter sparks fly, but it then evolves into a more nuanced love triangle between the girl, the band director, and his right-hand man (well, slightly more nuanced - it is still from the 30's). All three have to juggle loyalty, love, and their own personal ambitions.

The band leader is played by Tyrone Power, a very big star at the time who isn't as well known today. His best friend is played by Don Ameche, Oscar winner decades later for Cocoon, and maybe best known (to me at least) as Mortimer Duke from Trading Places.

Overall a pretty good show. The musical numbers don't overstay their welcome and, more often than not, continue to serve the story.

62 to go...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Star is Born (1937)

This is the original version of the movie that has been twice remade in the U.S. with another on the way. The story is a cliche now and has been used even by stories that aren't exactly this one: starry-eyed girl moves to Hollywood, becomes a big star, and learns about life and love. The paparazzi were also apparently just as infuriating then as they are now.

I enjoyed this one primarily because it's innocence seems to fit that of the era in Hollywood (the Production Code was just a few years old). The writers won an Oscar for original story and it also earned an honorary Oscar for basically what sounds like being the first really good movie filmed in color.

63 to go...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stage Door (1937)

Going through all these old movies, it's easy for the titles to blend together and I struggle keeping them straight sometimes afterward. Most of them are enjoyable and entertaining, but very few stand out. Stage Door is definitely one of the stand-outs.

The primary setting is a boarding house for women struggling to become actors in New York City. They talk throughout the movie with the speed and wit of the Gilmore Girls, but instead of two of them, it's a houseful. It's a fantastic blend of hilarious one-liners and heartfelt emotional drama starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers (sorry, no Fred Astaire here).

64 to go...

John Ford

One of the great, early American film makers, John Ford was referred by Frank Capra as the "king of directors" and Orson Welles said his three favorite directors were "John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford." Ford won a still record holding four Academy Awards for Best Director.

The first of these was for The Informer (1935) which I just watched. Unfortunately, this is not one that stands up as well against time as most of Ford's other work. The protagonist is Gypo, a dim-witted thug who turns in a fellow criminal to collect the reward money, then blows it all during a night on the town. Gypo is played larger than life by Victor McLaglen, to the point that he is comically overacting. It was a performance that earned him the Oscar back then but would easily land him the Razzie today.

Ford's other Oscar wins were for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), and The Quiet Man (1952). He was additionally nominated for Stagecoach (1939) and directed many other classics including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962) and My Darling Clementine (1946).

65 to go...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Les Miserables (1935)

I was excited to watch this after hearing it was one of the more faithful adaptations of the book (one of my all-time favorites), though when I saw the run-time was a mere 1:48 I knew everything would have to be insanely rushed.

It started off well enough, but then they seemed to realize they weren't going to have the time necessary and just ended the story suddenly. Marius (Cosette's love) isn't introduced until nearly the end of the entire movie.

The film is well cast and well acted, but anything shy of a mini-series will always be inherently incapable of doing justice to Hugo's masterpiece.


66 to go...

Top Hat (1935)

Though the formula for romantic comedies is the same today as it's been since movies began (boy meets girl, some misunderstanding causes boy to lose girl, misunderstanding is resolved and boy gets girl back), they just don't seem to work as well as they used to. It may be as simple as they didn't have to try as hard in the past and that ease shows on screen.

Top Hat isn't great, but it's very enjoyable and a far better choice than whatever the latest Adam Sandler and/or Jennifer Aniston picture is. It is also, incidentally, the movie that they show to John Coffey in The Green Mile.

67 to go...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Champ (1931)

Maybe a bit hokey by today's standards, but I thought the sentiment here held up better than I would have expected. The champ is a washed-up former world boxing champion. He's a gambler and a drunk and a father. His 8-year-old son Dink idolizes him and doesn't even call him "dad" but "champ."

Wallace Beery won an Oscar for his portrayal of the down-and-out fighter, but the kid deserved it more in my opinion. He's the real heart of the story, played by Jackie Cooper, who grew up to play Clark Kent's boss in the Christopher Reeve Superman man movies.

68 to go...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

So, I just assumed this was going to be the original version of the 1978 Warren Beatty movie of the same title. This was not remotely the case. Other than the title, the stories have little to nothing in common. In Beatty's version, he gets put back in a different body on Earth much to the confusion of both those in his life and that of the man whose body he inhabits.

The 1943 version, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, tells a man's life story, focusing primarily on his relationship with his wife. It is framed, completely unnecessarily, by his telling Satan (though is never called by name) of his life so Satan can decide whether to keep him or send him to heaven. The story itself was funny and engaging, but morality or salvation are hardly significant themes and the film would probably have worked better with a different title and without the bookends of the protagonist sitting in Hell's lobby.

69 to go...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Front Page (1931)


I thought about leaving my review at that. I really couldn't get into this movie. There were a lot of characters coming in and out and without a recognizable face, I couldn't keep track of who was who (full disclosure - I may have been on my computer part of the time). I watched the 1974 version immediately after and it was a little better, but largely because it starred Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

I will give the original some credit for having fun one-liners and giving us the cliche of the reporter shouting into the phone in a very staccato manner (it may predate this film, I suppose, but we're only a few years into talkies at this point).

The director, Lewis Milestone, did direct the best picture winning All Quiet on the Western Front of the previous year (a great movie) and won a best director Oscar in the very first Oscar ceremony for Two Arabian Knights. They actually awarded two that year and he won for directing a comedy.

70 to go...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Alfred Hitchcock

Arguably the most famous movie director of all-time, Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar for directing, though he was nominated five times. The Academy finally honored him in 1968 with a lifetime achievement award.

Four Hitchcock movies were nominated for best picture: Rebecca (1940 best picture winner), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Suspicion (1941), and Spellbound (1945). I have seen several Hitchcock movies, but it was these three non-winning nominees that I had not seen until recently.

Spellbound stars Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. She's a psychologist in the then cutting edge field of repressed memories. He shows up as a well-known and respected doctor before it turns out he is actually an amnesia patient who assumed the identity of the doctor without knowing when or why he did so or what happened to the actual doctor. He disappears for fear he will be implicated in the real doctor's death and she goes after him having become smitten with him and convinced he's innocent. It's a rudimentary mystery by today's standards. There are better Peck movies, better Bergman movies, and better Hitchcock movies; that being said, this one is still worth watching.

In Suspicion, Cary Grant woos a young heiress. Soon after they are married she discovers that he's just a charismatic layabout with no money of his own. The titular suspicion rises as she wonders if he's just an innocent playboy or if he's willing to kill to keep up his fast living, no working lifestyle. Overall, the movie didn't really work for me as he's not vile enough to be a villain not likable enough to be redeemable.

My favorite of these three was Foreign Correspondent. It starts in August of 1939 with a New York reporter sent over to find a behind-the-scenes scoop on whether or not Europe is really on the brink of war. It seems decidedly un-Hitchcock until the reporter discovers a captive diplomat who he thought he had just seen publicly assassinated. It's the story that will make his career if he can live to tell about it. A very good show.

71 to go...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bad Girl (1931)

"O-kay." That's the catchphrase of the husband of the titular girl and he uses it to mean everything from "that's great" to "go f*** yourself." It also perfectly describes the movie itself. It's not funny enough to be a comedy and not weighty enough to be a drama. But it's not a bad show and does serve as a nice slice-of-life piece for the early 30's.

Frank Borzage brought home the Oscar for best director.

74 to go...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In Old Chicago (1937)

This movie is remarkably similar to 1936's San Francisco. So similar, in fact, I'm really surprised that this one earned a best picture nomination as well. Both deal with a growing major city and end with the major disasters that devastated those young cities. Both feature main characters with political aspirations who own night clubs. Both involve a romance with the girl who stars at the night club and the rivalries between men over the girls, politics, and economics of all of it.

The legendary source of the Chicago fire of 1871 was a cow owned by the O'Leary family knocking over a lantern. The film takes the O'Leary name and makes them major players in the city at the time.

In Old Chicago isn't a bad movie, but watch San Francisco instead.

75 to go...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

William Holden

I just watched Our Town (1940), the first of nine best picture nominees featuring William Holden. In it, he plays the timid boy next door, which is in starked contrast to his more confident characters of the 1950's. The story is a tad trite by today's standards, but it's not a bad movie.

Most notable of Holden's nine nominated films (of which I have now seen all) are Sunset Blvd (1950), Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and Network (1976). Holden received Oscar nominations as a struggling writer in Sunset Blvd and the television producer in Network. He won his only Academy Award for the Stalag 17 as a prisoner of war.

Stalag 17 was one of the four films he did with legendary director Billy Wilder. It was not nominated for best picture but, as with most Wilder movies, it remains required viewing.

76 to go...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

William Wyler

Despite being one of the greatest directors of all-time, most modern viewers haven't heard of William Wyler even if they know of other old-time legends like Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra. Wyler is the Meryl Streep of directors when it comes to Oscar nominations. Or rather, we should say that that Streep is the Wyler of actors as his last nomination came 13 years before her first.

Wyler was nominated for best director twelve times from 1937-1966. Second most is Billy Wilder with 8 nominations (Speilberg is in a 4-way tie for fifth with six nominations, to give you a modern name). Wyler is pictured above (left) with John Ford, the only director who has won more directing Oscars than Wyler (though he did so on just five nominations).

Wyler has also directed more best picture nominees (thirteen) and winners (three) than anyone else. His films themselves also, not surprisingly, have garnered more total nominations (127) and wins (39) [].

His best known film is, undoubtedly, 1959 best picture Ben-Hur. He also directed Barbara Streisand's first movie Funny Girl, Audrey Hepburn's breakout in Roman Holiday, Laurence Olivier's first acting nomination in Wuthering Heights, and Bette Davis to acting nominations in four different movies. And this doesn't touch his two other Oscar winning films Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

I had to watch two Wyler directed nominees recently to finish his thirteen - The Letter (1940) and Dead End (1937).

The Letter opens (no pun intended) with Bette Davis shooting a man to death. She explains to her husband and his friends when they arrive that the man she killed was making unwanted physical advances toward her and she was acting in self-defense. Her story seems a little too well rehearsed, but no one can poke any holes in it. Then a letter surfaces that, if revealed, would turn her open-and-shut self-defense case into anything but. The movie seems simple by the standard of modern thrillers, but is still entertaining.

Dead End is set in New York City during the Great Depression. Where the streets end and meet the river, a rich neighborhood and urban riffraff also intersect. Humphrey Bogart plays a local big-time criminal who had to flee the state but has returned after having face-altering plastic surgery. But the real story is of the kids in a small street gang and the decisions that could lead their lives to a similar dead end as the one on the street they haunt.

77 to go...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Good Earth (1937)

This adaptation was very faithful to the spirit of the book with one insulting exception - the leads were not played by Chinese actors. I guess they get a pass since it was 1937. They also ended the movie before the end of the book but it worked for this production.

Luise Rainer won best actress for playing the plain, hard working wife of Paul Muni's Wang Lung.

My advice: skip the movie, read the book. The movie is actually pretty good, but the book is light years better.

79 to go...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

William Shakespeare and Laurence Olivier

Here's an interesting stat that, while I have not confirmed it, I defy anyone to prove me wrong - William Shakespeare is the most credited writer in film/television history. IMDb credits the bard with 831 titles, dating all the way back to an 1899 short film.

Shakespearean best picture nominees include A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), Romeo and Juliet (1936), Henry V (1946), Hamlet (1948), Julius Caesar (1953), and Romeo and Juliet (1968). Hamlet won best picture. As did 1961's musical West Side Story based on Romeo and Juliet and 1998's Shakespeare in Love with Joseph Fiennes depicting the struggling young playwright as he writes Romeo and Juliet.

Arguably (or undoubtedly) the most famous writer in world history, his influence is undeniable. Acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa earned a best director nomination for Ran (1985) a version of King Lear staged as a samurai war epic. Kenneth Branagh earned the same for his 1989 version of Henry V.

I have now seen all of the bard's best picture nominees having recently watched the 1936 version of Romeo and Juliet and Laurence Olivier's Henry V.

George Cukor (who directed several best picture nominees) helmed Romeo and Juliet and did an excellent job playing up the humorous moments in the play without sacrificing the emotion of the famous tragedy. I would say that appreciation of Shakespeare grows greatly with familiarity, both on the whole and with individual works. I'm so used to the story of Romeo and Juliet that I had no trouble following the dialogue of the entire thing. I think the biggest hurdle in enjoying Shakespeare is simply how the shades of meaning of so many words have changed (or become obsolete altogether) in 400 years . For instance, Olivier's Henry V was harder to follow as I haven't seen Branagh's version in over 15 years and, aside from the St. Crispin's Day speech, I didn't remember much at all.

Olivier, for all his talents, is remembered first and foremost as a Shakespearean actor. Of his ten Oscar acting nominations, four of them were for playing Shakespeare heroes (including Othello). Olivier's lone acting win was for Hamlet, although he also earned TWO honorary Oscars. The first "for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer, and director in bringing Henry V to the screen" in 1947 and a second in 1979 for life-time achievement.

In addition to Henry V and Hamlet, Olivier starred in four other best picture nominees: Wuthering Heights (1939), Rebecca (1940's best picture winner), 49th Parallel (1941), and Nicholas and Alexandria (1971). He also, fittingly, did the narration of the 1968 Romeo and Juliet.

Above is a picture I took last summer in London of a statue of Olivier.

80 to go...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Class of 2010

The Oscar nominations were announced yesterday morning and in true movie nerd fashion, I had already seen all ten nominees for best picture. So my quest to see every nominee ever remains uninterrupted (though the total number seen just went up ten). Here's a quick commentary on this year's crop. Several are currently in my top ten of the year, which I'm still waiting to post until I see a few more contenders.

127 Hours - I haven't heard of anyone who went into this movie not knowing what happens. I keep wondering how it will be viewed a generation from now (over even in ten years) when new viewers can watch it cold. James Franco's acting nomination is well deserved and he's probably the only one who can upset Colin Firth.

Black Swan - The acting is great. The direction is great. The story is... okay. Portman should win, but in all other categories, this is an also-ran.

The Fighter - As of right now, this is my favorite movie of the year. Though I do have to confess that I don't consider this an exceptionally strong year. My top three from last year (500 Days of Summer, Inglourious Basterds, and Hurt Locker) would all rank ahead of it AND my top three from 2008 (The Dark Knight, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire) would all rank ahead of 500 Days of Summer. Okay, now it just sounds like I'm ragging on The Fighter, which is definitely not the case. The acting is great (see the three Oscar nominations and the two GG wins). The story is compelling. There is tons of fighting both verbal and physical in the ring and out yet the film contains no real villains. Even when you get mad at some of the characters, you still empathize with their motivations. That is a feat all too rarely pulled off in movies today.

Inception - For those of you keeping score at home, Christopher Nolan is working on a Kubrick-caliber batting average. He has directed seven movies and five of those are in the IMDb Top 250 (8 of Kubrick's 11 from 1956 until is death are in the Top 250... Spielberg sucks). Is Inception flawed? Sure. It is one of the most innovative movies of the last decade? You bet your ass it is. And it's always been my belief the point is to reward films that advance the art of film making. Unfortunately, Nolan is becoming something of a Jim Carrey with the Oscars. Despite having just earned his THIRD Director's Guild Nomination (Memento, Dark Knight) he has still yet to earn an Oscar nomination.

The Kids Are All Right - This was a good show, but so far from Oscar good that I find myself rooting against it. It's very well-done and entertaining, I just didn't think it was anything that special. If Annette Bening beats Portman for best actress I may just throw something heavy through something fragile, especially since it's Julianne Moore who really shines here.

The King's Speech - I've ranted before about most years having a token British nomination (The Queen, Atonement, and Gosford Park can all go suck a collective egg). So I went into The King's Speech more than a little apprehensive. I loved it. Colin Firth is starting to look like one of the safer bets to win gold next month and the movie leads the field with twelve nominations and may dethrone Social Network as the favorite heading in to Oscar night. The Fighter may have my vote out of the ten, but if it has to come down to King's Speech and Social Network, I'm behind King's Speech all the way.

The Social Network - Similar reaction for me as to The Kids Are All Right. It's really well done. I just don't think it's special enough for all the attentions it's receiving. That said, unlike Kids, I do currently have Social Network in my top ten and don't really disagree with any of its nominations. And I'll be rooting for Aaron Sorkin to pick up his first Oscar here.

Toy Story 3 - It should be obvious to everyone by now that Pixar long ago sold their souls to ensure that every movie they made would be great. That said, while I liked Up last year, I didn't think it deserved the best picture nomination. I have no such reservations about Toy Story 3. It probably stands behind only Return of the King on the list of greatest third installments of all-time.

True Grit - I loved this movie until the final 10-20 minutes. I guess I now understand how some people felt about No Country for Old Men. Also, can someone explain to me how Hailee Steinfeld is in the supporting category when she's in every scene in the entire film (I may be exaggerating, but not by much - I'd lay even money that she has more screen time than Jeff Bridges who is up for lead actor)?

Winter's Bone - This one was just a big swing and a miss for me. I did not like it. I almost shut it off thirty minutes in. It rang completely false to me. I don't claim to know their world and the book was written by someone who does know that world. But, living one state west of Missouri, I will claim to know that world better than a director from New York and a screenwriter from Seattle. And that may not even be the real problem. This is a dark, depressing thriller - fine. But there is not one break from it the entire time. I don't remember one laugh, one smile. I know they have it rough, but you still joke with your family at least 0.001% of the time.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Song of Bernadette (1943)

A naive, young French girl, who struggles with her Bible verses, sees a vision of what she can only describe as a beautiful woman dressed in white. It is those around her who begin claim Bernadette must be seeing the Virgin Mary.

Non-violent battle lines are drawn between those who flock to the site of Bernadette's vision (in the city dump, no less), and those who wish to discredit her, including members of the local clergy.

Jennifer Jones stars as Bernadette in her first role in which she is credited by her stage name (she was born Phylis Isley). She won the Oscar for best actress here, completely convincing as the innocent-beyond-reproach Bernadette. She would go on to earn another four nominations during her career.

The film also features a 32-year-old Vincent Price.

82 to go...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Claudette Colbert

This was an actress I already knew by name but always struggled not to confuse with other actresses of the era. I just watched three movies with her as the lead, so hopefully I can keep her straight from now on. Those three were Cleopatra (1934), Imitation of Life (1934), and Since You Went Away (1944), all best picture nominees.

1934 was a big year for Ms. Colbert. She starred in three best picture nominees. In addition to the two listed above was It Happened One Night, one of the best movies ever made. And that's not just my opinion. It was #35 on AFI's original top 100 list, #8 on their all-time comedy list, and currently ranks #140 on IMDb . The film won best picture and was the first to sweep the five major categories: best picture, best writing, best director (Frank Capra), best actor (Clark Gable), and best actress (Claudette Colbert). It was to be her only Oscar win, but she was also nominated for Private Worlds (1935) and Since You Went Away.

As successful and beautiful as she was, my brief research shows her to be rather insecure. According to IMDb, she "was so convinced that she would lose the Oscar to write-in nominee Bette Davis that she didn't attend the ceremony originally." And once she gained clout, she insisted on being filmed only from her left side and constantly worried about proper lighting, the effects of colorization, etc. (wikipedia).

Cleopatra was a fairly accurate, if rushed, account of Cleopatra's life and death with respect to her role in Roman affairs, specifically her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. It made one major omission however - the son she had with Caesar is never shown or mentioned in any way. The Egyptian queen must do what is best for herself and her kingdom while sincerely (at least within this film) falling in love with these Roman leaders.

In Imitation of Life, Colbert plays an entrepreneurial widow who strikes it rich with the help of the secret pancake recipe of her black house keeper. The movie is interesting in that there is no one single plot thread through the entire film, but it still works as a slice of life in the 1930s. Colbert juggles raising her daughter, running a business, and nurturing a social life. Her house keeper fights for the love her own daughter who, as a very light-skinned black, wishes to live the much easier life of a white person (keep in mind this is 1934).

Colbert showed great range in 1934. In her three Oscar nominated films of that year, she played a runaway heiress, a successful business woman, and the Queen of the Nile.

Ten years later, she played the mother of two teenage girls in Since You Went Away. It is the middle of WWII and her husband has just enlisted and shipped out. He is never seen the entire movie except for in two photographs at the beginning, not surprising given the film's title. The focus is on the home front and we see the family trying to make ends meet, dealing with their various romances, and constantly on edge about any correspondence regarding the war.

In total, Claudette Colbert was in five best picture nominees. In addition to the four I've discussed here, she also starred with Maurice Chevalier in The Smiling Lieutenant which I have already mentioned in this blog. In the photograph above she sits between Frank Capra and Clark Gable.

83 to go...