The Bad and the Beautiful (Vincente Minnelli, 1952). The perfect post-Oscar movie. It won five of the statues itself, including Best Supporting Actress Gloria Grahame (who is fine but who has a very small part), Best Screenplay, which is a joke, and Best B&W Cinematography (Robert Surtees), which is deserved. It’s one of those Hollywood movies that exposes Hollywood for the junk it produces, and pats itself on the back for such a brave expose, without ever making a serious attempt to figure out what’s wrong with Hollywood. It is somehow self-congratulatory and self-critical at the same time. I can’t say I enjoyed it much. #908 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 6/10. A better drama with a Hollywood backdrop is In a Lonely Place, with Grahame as the female lead opposite Humphrey Bogart.
Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935). As interesting today as it must have been on its release, Ruggles of Red Gap plays with stereotypes about English and (especially) American behavior, giving Charles Laughton a comedy role the same year he made Mutiny on the Bounty and Les Misérables. The English stereotypes are not unlike those found on Downton Abbey, but the Americans are nothing like Shirley MacLaine in that show. The main reason is that the Americans in Red Gap, Washington are Westerners (it takes place in 1908), where everyone slaps each other on the back and calls their friends things like “Sourdough”. Charlie Ruggles (perhaps confusingly not playing the titular character) is a rich American who refers to Ruggles (a gentleman’s gentleman) as “Bill” or “Colonel” while explaining that where he comes from, everyone is equal. Once the film moves from England to Red Gap, we get to see Ruggles/Laughton find the true meaning of America when he’s the only person in a bar full of cowpokes who can recite the Gettysburg Address. It’s an obvious setup for an inspirational moment, which works none the less, on the level of “La Marseillaise” in Casablanca. Laughton is both funny and creepy as Ruggles, with an odd way of mugging that is reminiscent of Andy Kaufman playing a foreigner. But whenever things look to fall apart, ZaSu Pitts steps in to save the day in her inimitable fashion. #897 on the TSPDT list. 8/10. Leo McCarey’s comic touch is seen to great advantage in Duck Soup and The Awful Truth. And ZaSu Pitts is one of the many great things about Greed (not a comedy, of course).
Akira (Katsuhiro Ohtomo, 1988). 7/10.