Albert Nobbs (Rodrigo García, 2011). Glenn Close probably deserves her Oscar nomination. She properly plays the title character as someone who has been self-repressed for so long he no longer seems to know any other way to be. The problem with the movie is that while the initial setup is interesting, and while the character Nobbs might make for some interesting post-viewing discussion, as the guiding spirit of the film, Albert Nobbs is pretty boring. I’m not saying there’s a better way to play the character … Close is quite good … it’s just that the character doesn’t do enough to grab our attention. And so Janet McTeer, who also deserves her Oscar nomination, ends up stealing the film, not just because McTeer is excellent, but because her character (Hubert Page) externalizes his soul in ways unavailable to Nobbs. As we left the theater, a friend noted that she would have preferred a movie called “Mr. Page”. I can’t really complain that Albert Nobbs isn’t the movie my friend and I would have liked more, but neither can I recommend the film. 6/10.
A Letter to Three Wives (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1949). A warm-up for All About Eve, and to my mind not nearly as good. There are the usual Mankiewicz touches: witty and often cutting dialogue, characters who don’t necessarily like each other but who hang out together nonetheless, and a generally sour attitude (although in this case, a semi-happy ending overcomes at least a little of that sourness). It’s the Desperate Housewives of its day (or, rather, the reverse), rising and falling with the talents of the various actors, but never falling too far thanks to Mankiewicz’ dialogue. There’s a snobbish attitude towards popular culture that would soon be directed at television, but which used radio for target practice in 1949 (“The purpose of radio writing, as far as I can see, is to prove to the masses that a deodorant can bring happiness”). All About Eve is more mean-spirited and funnier, but this is a decent film as well. Mankiewicz won Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay. #972 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.
Attack of the Puppet People (Bert I. Gordon, 1958). This week’s Creature Feature lives down to the reputation of its director, the immortal Bert I. Gordon, who made some of the worst movies ever (at least 8 B.I.G. films turned up on Mystery Science Theater 3000). This isn’t his all-time worst … John Hoyt does a nice job as a lonely doll maker. As many have pointed out, there is no attack in the movie, nor are there any puppet people. Gordon indulges in one of his specialties, the worst rear-projection this side of Marnie. And the cast is full of actors so obscure you won’t even say “hey, it’s that guy!” This is a family project: Gordon’s wife helped him on special effects, and their daughter made her screen debut as a little girl who loves dolls. Attack of the Puppet People isn’t bad enough to be good (see Gordon’s Beginning of the End for that), and Hoyt means it’s not even bad enough to be bad. 4/10. (Next week’s Creature Feature: the ludicrous but occasionally grisly The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. There will be a quiz! While cramming for that exam, you’ll want to check out “Jan in the Pan: Soliloquies and Dyads in The Brain That Wouldn't Die”.)