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Around the World in 80 Days

Gasser

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Around the World in 80 Days is one of the lesser acclaimed Best Picture winners and understandably so. The 3+ hour movie offers an epic adventure marked by little excitement and characters that are difficult to love or identify with. David Niven‘s Phileas Fogg, who takes up a wager that he cannot circumvent the earth in 80 days, is uptight and cold. Despite this he manages to attract Shirley MacLaine‘s Indian Princess Aouda, who Fogg and companions rescue from a ceremonial burning alive. The only endearing character is Passepartout, played by an actor known only as Cantinflas. The Spanish gentleman’s gentleman, womanizer and gymnast gives the film is comical edge and heart.

Returning to MacLaine, I am reminded of how many older films used white, American actors in roles of a different ethnicity. I at first did not recognize MacLaine being so young and with tanned skin. She really does not look Indian, but it must have been more important/convenient to have an American actress play the role. This sort of casting I found most off putting in the 1944 Dragon Seed, which features an all-star American cast for a film set in China. Katharine Hepburn, Agnes Moorehead, Hurd Hatfield, and Walter Huston are made up to look Japanese and their presence perhaps points to a severe lack of valued, Asian actors in Hollywood at the time. Although a few Chinese actors are included in 1937’s The Good Earth, Paul Muni was cast as the lead character. That film, along with The Story of Louis Pasteur, have me avoiding all Muni roles now. I have also seen Abner Biberman cast — and painted — multiple times as characters of a different ethnic background. In his first role in 1939’s Gunga Din, Biberman plays and Indian character; in (again) Dragon Seed as a Japanese soldier; in 1945’s Back to Bataan as a Japanese Captain. I guess the guy just had that look.  The examples from my memory, however, all occurred in 1945 and earlier, so why could Hollywood still not locate a naturally exotic-looking character for Around the World in 80 Days? Did MacLaine really have the sort of star power to be a necessary contribution to the film?

Around the World in 80 Days is marked by a fabulous cast of famous side characters. A pudgy Peter Lorre shows up for a scene, Marlene Deitrich rattles off a few lines and Frank Sinatra gets photographed from behind for numerous shots before showing his face. The movie could really be enjoyed more as a game to spot the famous cameo than as a work of cinematic art. But at least I can check it off my list.

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Feature: Election Movies

As I remain at my office desk past 1 a.m. hoping to soon receive a reprieve from my duties as reporter this election night, I find myself contemplating movies that hinge on the subject. In my bleary state, I am having trouble coming up with many classic ones, so I might need help in adding to this list of great election/political movies:

  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington I believe to be the film that changed my mind about James Stewart. Although I had become quite tired of the man from too many forced viewings of It’s a Wonderful Life (Have I mentioned this before? I’m looking at YOU, Mom), it was this other Frank Capra-directed flick that turned it around. Accompanied by the always awesome Jean Arthur,  Stewart plays a replacement in the Senate who is supposed act as pushover but ultimately tackles attempted corruption.
  • All the King’s Men, the recent remake of which was lousy, perhaps makes one hate politicians. This story is actually on the campaign trail as a redneck politician wins the support of the people only to screw them over when he becomes corrupted after he takes office. Seems like that might be fairly commonplace outside the theater also.
  • The Manchurian Candidate, the recent remake of which also does not hold a candle to the original, takes a different approach to elections.  A superb Frank Sinatra works to stop a Korean veteran from fulfilling the assassination of a presidential nominee he’s been programmed to execute. Fantastic thriller.
  • Suddenly has Sinatra again involved in an assassination plot, this time with the actual president. I watched this movie years ago and thought it amounted to very little, and so it sits on my shelf untouched, but TCM has rated this one 4/5 stars, so what’s the deal? I should make a list of movies I’ve decided against and revisit them.

Help me out and drop some other favorite election/political movies in the comments. It’s all over now, so it’s okay to have fun.

Cinematic Shorts: High Society

Wowza!

High Society (1956)

     I have always considered myself a fan of musicals, but in recent years I have discovered I am a bit choosy on that front. For instance, I cannot stand The Sound of Music or South Pacific and was fairly bored with The King and I. If Kathryn Grayson is singing in a picture, forget it. I really enjoyed Show Boat, but I literally fast-forwarded through her songs.

     High Society, however, was the perfect combination of elements for me. Not only does it feature some of my favorite singer-actors, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, but offers Cole Porter songs (my favorite songwriter) and the glorious Grace Kelly in her final role before becoming Princess Grace and in her only on-screen singing spot. Add in Louis Armstrong as himself, and this had no choice but to be a favorite.

     The story is a musical version of The Philadelphia Story that transplants the action to Newport News, New Jersey. The dialogue is identical in many cases, yet the roles seem to fit the respective actors perfectly. I understand that many people will side with Philadelphia Story when presented with this adaptation, but I saw High Society first, so I am biased. I definitely enjoy the original that transformed Katharine Hepburn from box office poison to gold, but why not go for the version with songs?

"Well did you eva?"

  • High Society is set for 6 p.m. ET Nov. 21 on TCM

New! List After List

I have debuted a new tab to the top of the site labeled “Lists”. Here I will make available a compendium of the various movie checklists I keep for myself. Not only will this allow me to electronically keep track of my progress, but it should give you some insight as to what movies I have seen and which I have not (there are some surprises in the latter category).

I have two lists prepared to start and other, actor-related versions will come shortly.

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