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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.


Grand Hotel


Grand Hotel (1932)

Grand Hotel (1932)

Grand Hotel has the distinction of being the only movie to win the Best Picture Oscar and be nominated for nothing else. The fact that it drew no acting nominations is notable given the star-studded cast, but it is true that none of the actors really stands out. Perhaps they were all too evenly matched.

Grand Hotel endeavors to be a story about the comings and goings in a high-end Berlin hotel, but it belies its own motto –“Grand Hotel… always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”– in the events depicted for us. We are first introduced to the handful of characters the story follows via a series of edits between their respective phone calls in the hotel lobby. We learn Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) has only a few weeks to live and is blowing his life savings enjoying them in an expensive hotel. The Baron (John Barrymore) telephones an accomplice explaining a need for more funds and referencing a theft he intends to commit. General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery) is working to close a merger that will be lucrative for him by relies on his company’s partnership with a French firm. And famed Russian dancer Grusinskaya’s maid telephones to say the ballerina is ill.

The hotel acts as a catalyst to allow the overlapping of these various lives, who infinitely influence one another but then part as they do the hotel. Also entering into the scene is Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford), a stenographer sent for by Preysing. Before he is ready for her to begin working on the merger documents, however, Flemm waits in the hall where she is approached by the Baron with amorous intent. They agree to meet the following evening for dinner and dancing. The Baron has previously met Kringelein and decided him a fine chap, creating a fast friendship. Kringelein approaches the couple in the hall and makes friends of Flemm as well. Also caught by Flemm’s looks is Preysing, once he’s ready for her to begin work.

Before the Baron can meet up with Flemm for a romantic evening, however, he will enter the room of dancer Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) to abscond with her pearls. He sneaks in through a balcony window –two rooms down from his– but finds himself trapped when the depressed ballerina abruptly returns. In the dark room he sees her contemplating suicide and opts to intervene. In the ensuing hours, the two fall in love.

Flemm has by this time fallen in love with the Baron and finds herself disappointed in his new mood. Grusinskaya is leaving for Italy in a day and in order to accompany her, he must come up with money for train fare, a subject making him rather depressed. Flemm occupies herself in looking after the ailing Kringelein and in resisting the advances of Preysing. This businessman happens to own the factory in which Kringelein once worked and proves himself a royal ass by mistreating him in the hotel. Flemm will nevertheless consider leaving town on the arm of Preysing, but ultimately walks out the doors of the Grand Hotel with another man.

Grand Hotel, which was based on a play, is a great film from a technical standpoint as well as the somewhat esoteric relevance of its story. To the average viewer, the movie comes off as rather boring with seemingly no moral or sense of satisfaction at the close. But the point of the plot is about the random meeting of people and the indelible effect they have on one another. Flemm enters the hotel a stenographer and leaves as a mistress of sorts. Grusinskaya enters horribly depressed with her career faltering and leaves on cloud nine after a fantastic performence the night before. Preysing enters on the verge of a profitable deal and leaves in worse than ruin. Only Kringelein enters and exits with equal levels of joy; although, he departs with more money and company than he arrived. If there is any moral center to the story, it is Kringelein.

As I mentioned, the acting is fine, but you could have guessed that by the cast. This is often thought of as a great Garbo movie, but she does not appear in at least half of the action. Her line “I want to be alone” is well remembered, but not particularly meaningful. Garbo was a big star at this point, but audiences were taking a liking to Crawford by this time as well. The two never appear on screen together and had little to do with each other on set especially since Garbo’s scenes were shot on a separate soundstage closed to visitors. Director Edmund Goulding once described the movie as two stories, both centered around women in crisis –Garbo’s depressed dancer and Crawford’s stenographer trying to scrape her way to a better life– with the Baron to connect the plots. I’m not sure I see the movie in that way because I do not view Flemm as a woman in crisis but as a distinctly different type of person bouncing among our main characters.

  • Grand Hotel is set for 9:45 p.m. ET Feb. 15 on TCM.

The Painted Veil


The Painted Veil (1934)

Ah, Greta Garbo. This Swedish actor played foreign women of many origins during her celebrated career and no one in America seemed to mind if her accent wasn’t quite right. She also played parts that took her characters all over the world. In The Painted Veil, Garbo is an Austrian girl who finds herself in uncivilized China and trapped in a story that offers no satisfactory solution to its plot.

When her sister leaves the family home following her marriage, Garbo’s Katrin finds herself persuaded into married life by her father’s scientist partner Walter, played by Herbert Marshall. The man, a bacteriologist, must immediately leave Europe to return to his work immunizing the residents of Hong Kong.

The transition into an eastern way of life is one challenge for Katrin, another is her husband’s abject absence. He is consumed by work developing vaccines, unlike his friend Jack (George Brent), a British attaché at the embassy. Jack, although married, spends plenty of time with the lonely Katrin and eventually corners her into a kiss. An affair begins from there.

Katrin convinces us she is in love for the first time with Jack, but when Walter learns of the affair, he demands a divorce only on the promise that Jack will also divorce his wife and marry Katrin. Walter has no such intentions. Angry, Walter lugs Katrin with him to a rural community that is thought to be the source of a cholera epidemic. The proximity to the disease is danger enough to the woman, who has nothing to occupy her time. Although she has proved herself selfish, Katrin will come to understand her husband’s work and fall in love with him.

Perhaps The Painted Veil would have been a better movie for me if the roles played by Brent and Marshall were reversed. The young Marshall has always been convincing as a suave, yet head-over-heels sort and one we can easily root for. Brent, on the other hand, is so lackluster and grinning in his every role that Katrin becomes clearly wrong in her affair. His behavior at the nearing of divorce is despicable, so he becomes even lower in our perspective as Katrin goes on pining.

Once in the cholera-ridden town, however, Marshall’s Walter becomes equally distasteful as he deliberately treats Katrin poorly. There appears to be no reconciliation for them, but the ending positions Katrin spilling vows of love and worship that seem no more genuine than Jack’s intentions to marry her.

Garbo is beautiful and perfectly dramatic as always, but the story lends little for the audience to cling to. We struggle to find a likeable character as the bad behavior by both men and Katrin’s betrayal of her wedding vows make all parties sinister to some degree. For me, The Painted Veil is a story of misery that leaves one feeling like he needs a vaccine himself.

Camille (1937)

Ring a Ding Ding

Camille (1937)

     The 1937 release of Camille did not give audiences a new story. The romance originated as an Alexandre Dumas novel that became a Paris play in 1848, the Verdi opera La Traviata, a 1907 Danish short film La Dame aux Camlias, a 1915 Shubert production, a 1917 Fox film, and a 1927 First National production, among many others. What the other adaptations did not have, however, was Greta Garbo.

     Although the past productions also featured some great actresses in the lead role, for audiences in the 1930s, there was no better-suited star than Garbo. She plays Marguerite Gautier –the lady of the camellias because of her love of the flower– who in this film’s case is a society lady whose lifestyle is paid for by the generosity of male suitors. With her debt on the rise, Marguerite is advised by a friend, Prudence Duvernoy (Laura Hope Crews), to find a wealthy suitor. The mark is the Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell), but a case of mistaken identity at the theatre lands Marguerite in acquaintance with long-time admirer Armand Duval (Robert Taylor).

     Although Marguerite carries on a relationship with the Baron, and he keeps her financially sound, she finds herself all at once in love with Armand when the two are alone at a party. She has also been hearing that this man over the years has always been ever attentive when she would fall under one of her illness spells, likely the result of tuberculosis. After some time and growing affection, Marguerite agrees to break off her relationship with the baron in order to spend a summer in the country with Armand, something that would perhaps mend her health. Before she can leave town, however, she must pay off $40,000 francs worth of debt, something no match for Armand’s $7,000 per year salary. The baron foots the bill just before declaring he would never see Marguerite again.

     The couple have a marvelous time in the country despite the discovery that the baron’s mansion is just a hill away. While there, however, Armand’s father (Lionel Barrymore) stops by to beg Marguerite to back off. He says the relationship will ruin the young man’s future success and could bring a certain amount of shame upon him. Marguerite, despite knowing that her health is unlikely to keep her around for many more years, coldly breaks her relationship with Armand and says she is returning to the nearby baron. The couple will reunite, but not under happy circumstances.

     I cannot help but ponder why the story of Camille has time and time again produced movies –as recently as the 2001 Moulin Rouge. The story is that of a love triangle but not one in which the object of the dual affection is emotionally torn between two individuals. Instead, she must weigh passion against her financial needs, needs that have been ever-present in her past up until the introduction of true love. Other incarnations of Camille have painted the woman as a courtesan, and although the Garbo version does not depict her that way ala Production Code restrictions, there is no denying her source of income. So the story also involves a love so strong that it ignores the woman’s seedy past.

     Perhaps the plot is appealing to viewers because the romantic choice is obvious; we will always root for love over money. Yet regardless of the decision, the woman will still meet a fate that neither love nor money could have prevented.

     Garbo and Taylor embody all that the story demands of impassioned love. Although Garbo’s performances can be cold at times, she is convincing in her emotional connection with Taylor, who meanwhile is exhibiting the endearingly obsessive love that seems to exist only in films and classic literature. The couple does the story justice and create a good entre for anyone who has yet to be exposed to the classic romance.

Feature: What to Watch Saturday–Ninotchka


Ninotchka (1939)

     It is possible that still to this day I would not have seen Ninotchka had it not been for its appearance on one of those lists of the best movies ever made or movies you have to see. I bought it as part of a Greta Garbo box set some time before that list crossed my path, a box set that seven years later still has several untouched DVDs. But I am lucky/glad the circumstances led me where they did because Ninotchka truly is one of the best pictures ever made.

     This Best Picture/Writing/Actressnominated movie will play at noon ET Saturday as part of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar. It might not have won in that oh-so-competitive year of 1939, but it has maintained a place in cinema history nevertheless.

     The tag line for the Ninotchka promotions was “Garbo laughs” because it was one of the few lighter roles she did in sound. When you start into the movie, however, you will be befuddled by that reference because as this Russian officer Ninotchka, Garbo fails to smile for the front third of the flick. The Swedish star plays the heavy who enters France to find out what is taking three bumbling Russian officials so long in selling some royal jewels. These Iranoff (Sig Rumann), Buljanoff (Felix Bressart), and Kopalski (Alexander Granach) have discovered the wonders of a capitalistic society and all the luxuries it offers and are in no hurry to return home.

     Ninotchka will resist the lure of the romantic and decadent city of Paris even when she finds the kisses of Leon, played by Melvyn Douglas, delightful. It is an absurd hat that will turn her, however, and when she breaks down into laughter, we know Mother Russia’s spell has been lifted.

     Ninotchka almost seems scandalous in how heavily Garbo’s character pushes the message of the evils of capitalism and the glory of communist Russia. One can forget all that, however, when the leading lady starts living life to our own delight. Garbo is so charming as the naive adult entering such a luscious society, but she also plays the brutally stoic role perfectly. Douglas, meanwhile, could not be more charming. I feel like as an actor he largely failed to make his mark or distinguish himself from the mass of similar leading men, but he really is swoon-worthy here. I find the duo particularly enthralling in a late-night scene in Leon’s apartment after “little father” the butler has been sent home. Garbo’s growling of “again” as a request for another kiss is hilarious, endearing and unexpected all at once.

     And if you have never heard of Ninotchka and the title has you bewildered in terms of pronunciation, no worries. By the end of the picture you too will be shouting “Ninotchka, Ninotchka, Ninotchka!” and possibly asking your significant other to “salute”.

     It might be worth noting on a down point that Ninotchka was remade into the 1957 musical Silk Stockings with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. My first disappointment with that film is that it did not actually feature the jazz standard “Silk Stockings”. Secondly, it is a tragic disappointment story and performance-wise when compared with its origin movie.



Anna Christie


Anna Christie (1930)

     With the 1930 release of Anna Christie the world heard Greta Garbo speak for the first time. What was her first line? “Gif me a visky, ginger ale on the side, and don’ be stingy, baby.” Garbo’s face and performances on the silent screen had already established her as a legend, but when audiences heard that husky voice it only sought to further her appeal.

     The first image we see of Garbo in this film is equally impactful (below). A weary Anna is revealed behind the door to a New York bar, slouching and casting a wounded glance toward the waiter that opened the door. She next surveys the room and her expression shifts to disappointment before she saunters in.

     Anna has traveled from Minnesota and hopes to find her father at the bar, the address at which she has been writing him during the 15 years they have been apart. She was sent to a farm to keep her away from the rough life at sea the father, Chris (George F. Marion), enjoys as a barge captain. Life was not as pleasant in the simple town of St. Paul as Chris would have expected, however, and Anna reveals to a drunken woman with whom Chris has been living (unbeknownst to Anna) that she hates men because of an incident involving her cousin.

     When Chris shows up, Anna hides her alcohol and accepts his offer for a sarsaparilla. She joins him living on a coal barge after expressing much disgust with the idea before his arrival. Anna soon finds she enjoys being at sea, although Chris is still worried she will marry a sailor and be subjected to the unpleasant life a seaman’s wife endures. That fate does seem to be approaching when the barge picks up several men adrift and Anna makes an instant connection with Matt (Charles Bickford) who tries to force a kiss out of her but later softens his approach.

     Matt remains on the barge and he and Anna continue to kindle their romance and for once the young woman thinks she can love a man. Things are inching toward marriage but Anna’s sordid past becomes a hurdle when her man starts talking about how pure she is. She ultimately reveals her former place of employment and Matt dumps her.

     I certainly did not foresee a happy ending in this story about a rather depressed young woman, but the action finds a way. The plot and actors are pretty underwhelming excluding Garbo. The camera clearly loves the gal as somehow she seems to be shot more clearly than her fellow actors. In some scenes the camera remains transfixed on her face while engaged in conversation with others. She brings more telling emotion to her facial presentations than all the other actors combined, making Garbo the only redeeming factor for this flick.

     Anna Christie is based on the Eugene O’Neill play and was also filmed in German, with the latter version being the performance Garbo preferred. The movie was nominated for Best Actress, Director and Cinematography but won none of the awards.

Source: TCM.com

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