2013 CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, OH)

It’s my favorite time of year in central Ohio, or nearly. CAPA, our local arts organizing group, has announced its lineup for the 2013 Summer Movie Series held in Downtown Columbus’ historic Ohio Theatre. For those of you unfamiliar with this seasonal gem, the June 28 through Aug. 25 series features a plethora of classic movies shown in the theater that was originally built as a movie house and is now used for concerts, ballets, etc.

Among this year’s offerings are two Hitchcock movies, which you know delights me. The wonderfully amusing The Trouble with Harry, To Catch a Thief and the Jimmy Stewart rendition of The Man Who Knew Too Much will certainly be on my schedule.

Other prize showings include An American in Paris, Grand Hotel, Citizen Kane, Bonnie and Clyde, The Thin Man, 1974’s The Great Gatsby, and Touch of Evil.

I have been notoriously bad about achieving all the CAPA Summer Movie Attendance goals I have set in years past, and I won’t pretend this year will be any better. I do hope to at least catch the Hitchcock flicks, but I’ll admit The Man Who Knew Too Much won’t be at the top of my list.

The Great Gatsby

Wowza!

The Great Gatsby (1974)

The Great Gatsby (1974)

I have been sharing a weekly classic movie-viewing experience with my 91-year-old grandmother for going on a year now. Last weekend I brought her the 1974 The Great Gatsby, and it was the first movie she stayed awake all the way through, asked clarifying questions about the plot, and declared to be a very good movie. Her reaction is a testament to what I hold to be a phenomenal film and one of which I can never get enough.

This movie adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel had its true-to-the-book screenplay written by Francis Ford Coppola, which has probably 50% to do with how great it is. The other half belongs to the actors, all of which give remarkably strong performance, save for maybe Robert Redford playing the title character.

For those unfamiliar with the classic story, it is a tragic and complicated romance between former sweethearts whose lives separated and reunite them. It is a tale of a man so driven by his love for a woman that he builds an entire life to reach her, and a yarn about a couple whose selfishness knows no bounds.

Set during a summer in the 1920s in New York City and the city’s islands of “East Egg” and “West Egg”, one Nick Carraway (Sam Waterston) narrates the goings on between his cousin Daisy Buchanan, played by Mia Farrow, and the man she once knew, Jay Gatsby (Redford), who is Nick’s neighbor. Daisy and her husband of roughly eight years Tom (Bruce Dern) live in a lavash home on one of the “eggs” where they enjoy a life of leisure and decadence.

Nick quickly learns Tom has “a woman in the city” whom he soon meets at her home above an auto mechanic garage. This Myrtle Wilson (Karen Black) is of the lower classes by virtue of her marriage to George Wilson (Scott Wilson), but is able to maintain a luxurious life via the apartment she and Tom enjoy in the city. Tom’s unwillingness to divorce his wife despite not being able to stand her, as one partygoer suggests, causes the unstable woman to explode at her lover during a party the two host at their apartment.

Meanwhile, Jay Gatsby hosts parties at his mansion every weekend just next door to the cottage Nick is renting on the “egg” opposite the Buchanans. Nick is finally invited and the acquaintance made between the men, which leads Gatsby to request Daisy be invited to Nick’s home for a rendezvous. The reunion between Daisy and Gatsby is overwhelming for the pair, who were in love over the course of a month when Daisy was 18 and constantly pursued by men in uniform. Gatsby had gone to war asking Daisy to wait for him, but she was spellbound by the wealthy Tom and married him soon after.

The couple rekindle a romance that is now fueled by Daisy’s frustration over her husband’s infidelity, which has roots beyond Myrtle. Gatsby takes joy in showing the woman all the glorious things he has accumulated by making his fortune after the war. The source of the man’s wealth is shielded from all, but it can be deduced it has both bootlegging and other illegal antecedents. Daisy revels in the fine clothes and golden knick knacks the man displays, which bring her to tears over the mistake she made in not choosing the once-poor Gatsby.

The story becomes an utter tragedy when Gatsby –now a regular in Daisy’s social circle– joins the Buchanans, Tom and Daisy’s best friend Jordan (Lois Chiles) in an afternoon’s diversion in the city. The man pressures Daisy into telling Tom she is leaving him, but conflicting emotions throw the woman into emotional turmoil and she races out of the city with Gatsby by car. Two characters will die within the following 24 hours.

I first watched this movie in high school when reading “The Great Gatsby” for an English class. My teacher then put the question to us of whether Jay Gatsby was in fact “great”. My thought at the time was, “Of course! It’s Robert Redford.” She informed the silent class that in fact he was a horrible man, far from greatness. I have never forgotten that question and have since concluded there was much fault in my teacher’s assessment. There was nothing wrong about Gatsby. Perhaps he created a life and wealth for all the wrong reasons, but is there ever a good reason to desire decadence and excess? It was not Gatsby who was the horrible person but the Buchanans who, as Nick says at the end of the story, are careless people who smash things and leave them to others to clean up. Although we spend the movie disliking Tom, it is not until the conclusion that we develop a real ire for Daisy who is perfectly content to move on with her life despite literally smashing up the people around her.

The performers in The Great Gatsby are fantastic. Both Black and Farrow do a great job of inserting mental instability into their characters’ personalities, although Myrtle is certainly far more unstable than Daisy. Dern plays a perfectly despicable husband and is easy to hate. Wilson, meanwhile, blows us away with his weakness turned to overwhelming grief. Waterston’s character often tries to blend into the background as the objective bystander in the story, but if one watches his reactions, particularly towards the end, he transmits a feeling of dread to us. Only Redford offers such a subdued performance that it is difficult to attribute him with any great accomplishment. He plays Gatsby as cool and calm as he should, but it’s a performance that nearly seems to lack passion. His good looks nevertheless make it difficult not to love his Gatsby.

The latest film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” is –last I heard– set for release next summer. With Director Baz Luhrmann at the helm it is sure to be an eye-poppingly lavish display of the glorious 20s, but its success at telling the story remains to be seen. The 1974 version has seemed to me to be very good at keeping with the book, but most movies take liberties when translating from the written word. We will have to see if that is the case with the upcoming “The Great Gatsby”. The casting seems fairly suitable with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Isla Fisher as Myrtle and Tobey Maguire as Nick. I know too little of Carey Mulligan to judge her casting as Daisy.

Lady in Cement

Dullsville

Lady in Cement (1968)

     Welcome to post-Production Code cinema, Frank Sinatra, where nudity, violence, homosexuals and strippers abound. That is essentially what I though when watching 1968’s Lady in Cement in which Sinatra as a private eye gets to search for the killer of a naked woman he found at the bottom of the ocean, her feet in cement. He trolls through a bar run by a gay man where scantily clad but mostly dressed women shake their stuff, meets up with an undercover detective dressed in drag at an actual strip show, and gets to make out with a woman far too young for him.

     The movie was released to New York audiences a mere 20 days after the new Motion Picture Association of America rating system was instituted on Nov. 1, 1968, but the Production Code the new ratings replaced had essentially crumbled by that point with many films being released without the MPAA seal of approval before that year.

     Sinatra playing Tony Rome follows up on 1967’s flick Tony Rome in which he plays the same character investigating the murder of a wealthy girl. In Lady in Cement he works with the help of a police detective to unravel a complex mystery in which the murders pile up. Rome is summoned to the boat house of a young woman where he is instead greeted by a large man with a gun –Gronsky (Dan Blocker)– who hires him to seek out a missing blonde who might be the same dame as the dead one in the water. Going to the gal’s place of work –that go-go dancing joint– Rome meets the girl’s roommate Maria (Lainie Kazan) who herself next ends up dead with Gronsky seen fleeing the scene.

    The information Rome does have points to a party held at the home of a young, wealthy socialite Kit Forrest, played by Raquel Welch in all her bathing-suited glory. Kit says she was too drunk to remember what happened at the party — the place the blonde was last seen. Her neighbor, gangster Al Munger (Martin Gabel), also warns Rome to stay away, but Rome has the hots for Kit, so that won’t be happening. The owner of the go-go joint is the next body on the pile and Rome is looking like the murderer. Fleeing from his police buddy he eventually lands at Kit’s and she reveals that she woke from a drunken stupor with the original girl’s body on her floor. Rome smells a frame up, however, and keeps digging.

     Sinatra was 53 when Lady in Cement was released and he was looking his age. I am the last person to denounce the Sinatra allure, but no longer the dashing young thing he used to be, he plays a mature detective well but teeters on the edge of sex appeal. Exacerbating his age, however, is 28-year-old Welch who is utterly unbelievable in her attraction to Rome. Granted, Sinatra had just divorced this same year from 23-year-old Mia Farrow, but I think we all are confused about why the 30-year difference there did not stop their union (she was three years older than Sinatra’s youngest child).

      Besides our lead male and female, the cast is essentially unnotable. No one gives a particularly stunning performance, and although the mystery is plenty complex, it is not superbly executed. Several inside jokes are contained within the movie, however. A car with a bumper advertisement for  Dean Martin Restaurant & Lounge is seen, a “You Make Me Feel So Young” instrumental is played in one scene, and Sinatra’s ex-wife Ava Gardner is alluded to when Rome mentions knowing a girl who used to date bullfighters.

Secret Ceremony

Dullsville

Secret Ceremony (1968)

     I almost wanted to give this movie a “What the F—?” rating because I think I might be traumatized for life after this one. I’ve categorized Secret Ceremony as both drama and horror because frankly I could not figure out if this was supposed to be frightening or just a creepy drama. At first I regretted reading the Dish Network synopsis that described the movie as “a London hooker looks like a girl’s late mother and the girl looks like the hookers late daughter.” I wondered if I would have been able to disseminate what was happening without that hint, but truly, I would not have known Elizabeth Taylor was meant to portray a prostitute without it. The movie is also less about Mia Farrow‘s resemblance to Taylor’s daughter who drowned at age six than Taylor being a dead ringer for Farrow’s mother.

     After Farrow’s Cenci lures Taylor’s Leonora back to her shuttered mansion where she lives all alone, Farrow quickly becomes convinced that Taylor is her mother. Finding herself in luxury, Taylor too quickly decides to go along with the ruse, feigning an English accent and talking as though she had been there all along.

A loony Mia Farrow considers what she would look like with the face of her dead mother, who happens to be a doppelgänger to Elizabeth Taylor's character.

     Farrow is unrelentingly creepy with her pale skin and black wig making for many chilling shots. She behaves as a child despite (as we later learn) being 22. She reenacts portions of her former and possibly sane life in private, including a disturbing conversation with an empty chair dating back to when her step-father groped her at age 16. That step-father, played by Robert Mitchum, reappears in incestuous pursuit of Cenci and convinces her to give up her virginity. She then plays pregnant leading Leonora to instantly go along with the ruse. The girl does eventually snap free of her lunacy after a second role in the sand with her step-father and rejects Leonora. The film ends in “tragedy” but the characters are so unrelatable that I could not have cared less. The conclusion is not necessarily predictable but not original either.

     Taylor does give a fantastic performance but the character is such a far cry from normalcy it does not really shake me. Secret Ceremony (the title for which totally escapes me) came in the middle of her career after a couple Oscar wins and the star’s establishment as an international glamor icon. Farrow, who was 23 but similar to her character easily played a adolescent, was in only her third role, with Cenci coming before the also creepy Rosemary and Sarah in the previously reviewed See No Evil.

     I did some searching online to try to find an explanation for this dreadful nightmare of a movie, but did not come up with much besides the reviews being mixed, with positive remarks referencing Taylor’s performance. If anyone can shed some light on this and perhaps settle the angst I have suffered, please do.

Cinematic Shorts: See No Evil

Wowza!

See No Evil (1971)

     The 70’s murder thriller See No Evil is a bit out of character for my “Cinematic Shorts” because I have only seen it once. Despite that, it is a movie that pops into my mind somewhat regularly because it was just that fantastic. It is a story of a young blind woman, played by the lovely Mia Farrow, who returns home from a date and spends the night in her home not realizing her entire family has been bloodily murdered in various rooms in the house. She spends the night in a bed beside her semi-nude sister or cousin or something and almost takes a bath in the tub where someone else is lying dead.

     I watched this movie alone and in broad daylight and was creeped to the bone. It is utterly nerve-racking to watch this woman wander among all these bodies not realizing anything is wrong until she finally bumps into one. What is even worse is when the murderer returns to the home because he dropped his ID bracelet, which Farrow happens to find. So this young lady is attempting to hide herself in the house as the man tramps about and eventually chases her across the countryside surrounding the rather isolated home. The frustrating events only compound themselves as the story goes along, and the horrible twist of who the murderer is will send shivers down your spine.

     This is not currently scheduled on TCM so I’ll give you the Netflix link because you have to see this.

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