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BED OF ROSES (1933), a pre-Code film from director Gregory La Cava (who also co-wrote it), stars Constance Bennett and Pert Kelton (the original Alice in The Honeymooners) as a pair of ladies of the night just out of jail. The two sound a lot like Mae West impersonators, and share West's sharp wit and swaying hips. But the movie is pure La Cava: witty and intelligent, with Bennett terrific as Lorry Evans, a hooker who wants to play it smart and settle down with a wealthy husband. She instead sets herself up with a wealthy corporate type (John Halliday), who puts her up in a posh apartment as his mistress. But Lorry finds that she longs for the love of a real man (Joel McCrea), a poor but honest riverboat captain. Bed of Roses may not be as well known or as good as La Cava's My Man Godfrey or Stage Door, but it's worth seeing.
DESIGNING WOMAN (1957) features a clever gimmick – multiple voice-overs giving multiple perspectives on the story – but its cleverness ends there. A miscast Gregory Peck (in a role made for Cary Grant) plays sports reporter Mike Hagen who meets and quickly marries fashion designer Marilla Brown (Lauren Bacall). The two butt heads over friends, professional duties, and former lovers with all the sophistication of two TV sitcom characters. In fact, that's what this ponderous flick most resembles: a typical sitcom in which the main characters squabble over trivialities (who was that girl you were with before we even met?), shouting and mugging their way through the inane story. Maybe someone thought this movie would echo the great screwball comedies of the 1930s, but it lacks the sophistication and delicate grace of those movies, and comes across as a sort of 1950s Bringing Up Baby. Except director Vincent Minnelli is no Howard Hawks.
CHANGELING (2008) is based on a fascinating true story. Set in Los Angeles in 1928, the movie tells the tale of single mom Christine Colins (Angelina Jolie), whose son disappears without a trace. Five months later, the police claim to have found her son, but it isn't. In a compelling tale that would seem incredible if it wasn't true, Collins seeks out the truth, battling a corrupt police force and charges of insanity in the process. Directed by Clint Eastwood and written by J. Michael Straczynski, Changeling is a moving experience, well-performed by Jollie, Jeffrey Donovan, Jason Butler Harner, John Malkovich, Michael Kelly, and Amy Ryan. Eastwood should stop talking to chairs and continue doing what he does best: directing films like this.
September 23, 2012
ABSOLUTE POWER (1996), Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris. Improbable but entertaining thriller in which Eastwood plays master thief Luther Whitney who witnesses a murder committed by the president (Hackman). In the course of avoiding the police (Harris), who suspect him of the murder and the secret service agents who know he was a witness, Whitney finds a middle way to avoid punishment. Eastwood is fine as the thief, and he has some good exchanges with Harris as the honest cop. Better on television than on the big-screen; maybe it's subject matter is more TV, simplistically tapping into paranoid fears. 6/14/99