Dark Victory (1939)

March 20, 2009

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I cried.  I cried myself to sleep after I saw this.

That means it works and it also means that I’m not going to say too much about it.  Bette Davis, full of life and vigour as the doomed Judith Traherne, is exceptional in this.  Now I love Bette at the best of times, so a film designed to showcase her talent to the full is always going to appeal to me.  So what if the elements around her aren’t quite right?  Bette shines in Dark Victory, she positively radiates.

George Brent as Dr Steele lacks charisma and there isn’t much chemistry between him and Bette, in terms of on-screen partnerships the key scene between Bette and Bogey is a comparative sizzler.  Brent actually clicks pretty well with Geraldine Fitzgerald (as Ann, Judith’s closest friend) and it all just seems a bit of a shuffled pack.  Not that I could see Brent playing the Bogart role , nor Fitzgerald replacing Davis at all!  Bogey plays the trainer of Traherne’s horses, a sometimes Irish man called Michael O’Leary- I say sometimes because he occasionally has an Irish accent but usually doesn’t- and his job is to look a bit rough and to take no shit.  He does the role okay but has still not quite grown from actor to star yet.  Bogart’s big scene with Davis is great but aside from that he, like everyone else on screen, is little better than wallpaper.  On the bright-side, this comparative invisibility amongst the support players meant that I didn’t get to notice and be infuriated by Ronald the Ray Gun.  A mercy.  7/10.

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Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

December 25, 2008

One of the saddest legacies of my heavy-drinking days is that I’ve half-seen or half-remember so many films.  This is one of them.  Watching it today I honestly couldn’t tell if I’d seen it before in a stupor, or seen various parts of the film at various times.  Or if it is just so quotable and influential that it is one of those films which is diminished because you’ve seen so much of it before, done in inferior ways by inferior film-makers.

The plotline is interesting but pretty generic (here’s one of the ways that it could’ve been diminished, for all I know its ambiguous ending may have been a complete revelation in 1938), Michael Curtiz’s direction is zippy but dated and the script is quotable but self-consciously so.

The big thing this film has going for it is the performances of its main players.  James Cagney is in it.  See?  And he plays James Cagney better than he’s ever played him before.  Understand?  It’s a great performance, iconic and memorable.  Pat O’Brien plays the tough part of the young hood-turned-priest convincingly.  And Humphrey Bogart plays it deft and understated in the part of the slippery lawyer Frazier.

I liked a lot about watching this film- the basketball game is tremendous fun and the ending is very clever- but, for me anyway, it is less than the sum of its parts and I give it a 7/10.