Knights of the Round Table

Dullsville

Knights of the Round Table (1954)

I tend to dislike movies set in any ancient era or really any time preceding the turn of the 19th Century. That being the case, the many costume dramas strewn throughout cinema history struggle to entice me. I one test of a truly great movies is that can garner the appreciation and enjoyment of the viewer who dislikes the given genre. Knights of the Roundtable does not do that for me.

Despite its big leading stars and sex appeal, Knights of the Round Table fails in the draw of its story and conviction of its actors. Taking a look at a different angle of the Sword in the Stone story of King Arthur, the flick focuses largely on Sir. Lancelot of the Lake (Robert Taylor) and his relationship with both Arthur (Mel Ferrer) and the king’s wife, Guinevere (Ava Gardner).

Amidst the many sword-fought battle/duel scenes, Lancelot makes the acquaintance of Arthur, who is essentially campaigning to be ruler of the land following his extraction of Excalibur from the stone. Once king, Arthur arranges to make good with his love Guinevere and marry her. The woman is being held in a castle, however, when Lancelot stumbles upon the situation. The knight fights the guard for her, not knowing she is Guinevere.

A love triangle of sorts ensues as Lancelot acts as best friend to Arthur while harboring feelings for the queen who does not hide her appreciation. Arthur seems so blind to the possibility of an inappropriate relationship that he declares Lancelot the Queen’s Champion. Knowing how he feels, Guinevere instructs Lancelot to marry Elaine (Maureen Swanson), who has been pouring her love all over the knight since before Guinevere entered the picture. Lancelot follows through with the marriage and takes his wife away from the castle to oversee the battlefield.

While away, Elaine dies in childbirth, prompting Lancelot’s return to Camelot –and his disposal of the baby with his father. The flame between the queen and the knight is rekindled, and a nearly innocent moment between them sparks a controversy that will bring down Arthur.

This description of the Knights of the Round Table certainly sounds far more sexy than it actually comes off. There are many other plot elements involved related to Modred (Stanley Baker) and Morgan LeFay’s (Anne Crawford) plot to disgrace and unseat Arthur. There is also a bit of a “bromance” within the story tracking the ups and downs between Arthur and Lancelot. The story has potential, but it failed to grasp me on any of these topics. The performances were just too underwhelming to drive an emotional response. Gardner is as gorgeous as ever, but offers nothing more. Ferrer, meanwhile, has never managed to convince me he is capable of a decent performance (including as husband to Audrey Hepburn. Zing!) Taylor, lastly, provides only a middle-of-the-road conveyance of Lancelot, a part that could have been played by anyone.

Knights of the Round Table does, however, have the distinction of being the first movie MGM shot in CinemaScope and recorded in stereo sound. The widescreen technique would become the mainstay of many epic adventures with vast landscapes like this one; though, certainly there were better movies shot in the format.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

That Funny Feeling

Ring a Ding Ding

That Funny Feeling (1965)

     I fell in love with Bobby Darin as a singer vicariously through Kevin Spacey. That would sound nonsensical if you were unaware of a contemporary flick called Beyond the Sea. That musical biopic was written, directed, produced and starred in by Spacey as his favorite singer, Darin. The story turns Darin’s life into a musical review of sorts, but I digress. My point is, I have never actually gazed upon Darin or his wife Sandra Dee in a film. Frankly, I never had high hopes for either of them as actors, so did not particularly seek out their work. That Funny Feeling, however, left me wanting more.

     This third of the flicks made by the couple takes the standard romantic comedy plot of mistaken-identity/misunderstanding-gotten-out-of-hand and makes it more complicated and plausible than possibly ever before. Darin is Tom Milford, a skirt-chasing executive of some sort with a posh apartment. Dee is Joan Howell, a wanna-be actress and maid who cleans apartments including Tom’s, yet has never met this Mr. Milford.

     The two meet cute three times by colliding with each other on the street and on the third time agree to have drinks. The two are a nice match, but Joan refuses to reveal her occupation and is ashamed to bring the man home to her disgraceful place. Lucky for her, the Milford apartment she cleans is supposed to be vacant for 10 days as Tom intended to go out of town. She does not know his plans have been cancelled. When Joan allows her date to take her home, Tom is baffled to find he is dropping her at his doorstep. He is so confused that he walks away from his own home in a daze.

     Over the course of several dates, Joan continues to pose as Joan Milford (the name is on the door) and live in the comfy apartment while Tom beds down at his boss’ even more posh apartment. The boss Harvey, played by Donald O’Connor, is only moderately accommodating and is none too pleased when he come home to find that Tom has told Joan that the abode is his own apartment. The story continues on with Joan thinking she has fooled Tom but knowing she has a deadline to vacate and with Tom confused as to why this woman has a key to his place but willing to keep up the charade in order to keep seeing her. Predictably, Tom proposes to Joan that she keep the name Milford and continue to live in his apartment.

     That Funny Feeling is well acted and does a great job of pulling the audience into the romantic plot. The lengths the characters go to hide their secrets seem a bit extreme but they are all adequately justified under the circumstances. At times, however, it does seem Joan and Tom have forgotten they are romantically involved as they put so much effort into maintaining their respective facades. Darin was far more handsome and charming than I expected, and Dee came off more intelligent than I anticipated. Her roommate sidekick in Nita Talbot also provides great comic relief. O’Connor makes a welcome addition to the cast and lends his comedic talent more to the delivery of great lines than to his usual brand of zany, face-pulling antics.

     That Funny Feeling, for which Darin wrote and sings the title song that runs during the opening and closing credits, was the last of three movies Darin and Dee made together. The couple met on filming Come September and were married in 1960 before divorcing in 1967. Dee was 18 at the time of their marriage and was known as being a shy virgin, to put it delicately. The two had a son, Dodd, and although Darin would have other companions before his death at age 37 –rheumatic fever as a child had shortened his life expectancy considerably– Dee never remarried.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

Above Suspicion

Gasser

Above Suspicion (1943)

     At first blush, Above Suspicion seems to be a spy comedy of sorts, given its star of Fred MacMurray and original casting of William Powell and Myrna Loy. As the plot progresses, however, the audience finds itself steeped in the treacherous landscape of Nazi espionage. 

     The picture starts out on a light-hearted note as MacMurray, nearly always a funny guy, walks out of an Oxford chapel with Joan Crawford on his arm. The newly married couple have their honeymoon interrupted almost immediately by an assignment to essentially act as spies during their Germany honeymoon and track down a missing agent. Crawford’s character’s response to the proposition is one of sheer delight at the prospect of spy life, but that jolly approach will not last too long.

     MacMurray is Oxford professor Richard Myles and Crawford is his bride Frances. Their first honeymoon stop is France where the two attend a cafe –with Frances in a rose-adorned hat– and spill their drink. They next utter a code line to signal their contact to meet them later. The next stop is a restaurant where their contact does not speak to the couple but leaves a map of Southern Germany filled with clues in Richard’s coat pocket. The young couple revel at translating the dots and holes into an indication of their next step.

     The first top in Germany is a book store where a man tells them where to find their next contact. Instead, the suspicious hotel staff point the Myles toward a concert where a German officer is shot by their hotelmate Thornley (Bruce Lester), who was also once engaged in similar spy work and had is fiancée tortured to death in the process. The couple next move on to a remote mountain village where they track down a chess collector who happens to be the man they are looking for. Unfortunately, another man is masquerading as the professor they seek and has the spy tied up. The Myles’ manage to escape, return for the Professor Mespullbrun (Reginald Owen) and make another clean escape. Their work is far from finished, however, and the most difficult tasks have yet to come with Conrad Veidt‘s Seidel to help them along.

     Never before have I seen Crawford so cheery as in Above Suspicion. She is in the height of her career and yet her character’s persona has a young energy to it that makes her highly appealing as a wife character and protagonist. It is worth noting, however, that in a scene where Frances is meant to have been beaten about the face, a close up of the actress provides favorable lighting that makes her appear more beautiful than at other moments in the film. Crawford was good at getting her way on aspects like this. Even when her characters were meant to appear worn down, she made efforts to look beautiful (see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and the makeup and false breasts she uses to amp up her appeal).

     As mentioned, this picture was originally meant for a Powell-Loy repairing to get them out of the Thin Man setting that had become their mainstay together. It was Loy’s departure from MGM, however, that resulted in the recasting of the Above Suspicion. Speaking of cast members, Veidt makes his final screen performance here before dying from a heart attack later in 1943. The German film star, who like many of his contemporaries fled the country upon Hitler’s rise to power only to be cast as Nazis in American films, nicely rounds out his career by playing a German working for the good guys. His character begins rather ambiguously, and like many other aspects of this movie, one has trouble discerning whether he is sinister or an ally. Veidt made fewer than 30 films during the 50 years of his life, but left an indelible mark on cinema history.

Source: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine, TCM.com

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