January 27th, 2009

MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941) **

Mr. and Mrs. Smith represented a change of pace for director Alfred Hitchcock.  Out of his 50+ films, this one was his only comedy.  Sure, The Master of Suspense usually added humorous touches to all of his films, but Mr. and Mrs. Smith was his only out and out farce.


The plot revolves around the Smiths, an otherwise happily married couple (Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery) who have a shocking conversation over breakfast in which Mr. Smith reveals that if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t get married.  This sends Mrs. Smith into a huff and she starts PMSing on him.  Then the Smiths learn through some contrivance that their marriage isn’t legal and after Mr. Smith doesn’t propose right away, Mrs. Smith goes into a snit and starts seeing other people.  From there, the couple vie for each other’s affections by making the other one jealous until they finally realize they’re still in love.


Hitchcock only directed this flick as a favor to his good friend Carole Lombard.  Because of this, and the fact that comedy isn’t exactly Hitch’s forte, the film carries few of The Master’s trademarks.  Mr. and Mrs. Smith doesn’t really work as a Hitchcock movie and it works even less as a screwball comedy.  In fact, the film isn’t really screwy at all.  The final act of the flick, which takes place in a snowbound cabin in the woods, doesn’t fit with the rest of the film and really slows the comic momentum down to a crawl.  The film does engage the audience in fits and starts (mostly due to the chemistry between the two leads) but never really comes to life and is rarely laugh-out-loud funny.  

Hitch’s next was Suspicion.


Woody Allen writes, directs, and stars in this sporadically amusing comedy about a career criminal named Virgil Starkwell (Allen) whose incompetence frequently lands him in jail.  He repeatedly escapes only to be captured and imprisoned again and again.  His life of crime eventually takes it’s toll on his marriage but it won’t matter because in the end he gets sentenced to 800 years in prison.  (“With good behavior he can get that cut in half!”)


I’m not the world’s biggest Woody Allen fan, but I do prefer his early stuff when his work was more goofy and anarchic.  While Take the Money and Run is pretty hit or miss, it does have a couple of big laughs.  My favorite scene was when he escapes from jail by carving a gun out of soap and paints it using black shoe polish.  He holds a guard at gunpoint and they walk out of prison, but unfortunately for Allen, it’s raining and the gun turns into a big handful of foam.  His robbery attempts are equally amusing.  I particularly liked the scenes where he knocked off a gumball machine as well as the part when he tried to rob a pet shop.


Allen utilizes a mockumentary style for a majority of the movie and some of the gags are great.  (Like his parents’ disguises.)  Ultimately though, a lot of the jokes are just repeated over and over again and the laughs kinda dry up during the second half.  Also, the whole marriage subplot isn’t all that funny and keeps the flick from really cutting loose.  This probably won’t deter die hard Woody-philes from checking it out though, but the casual fan, like me, will be left wanting more.


Best line:  “He never made the Ten Most Wanted List.  It’s unfair voting.  It’s all about who you know.”

SOYLENT GREEN (1973) ** ½

By the time Soylent Green was released, Charlton Heston had already been in two Planet of the Apes movies and The Omega Man; effectively cornering the market on the late 60’s and early 70’s futuristic apocalypse movies.  Instead of fighting super-smart simians or mutant scavengers though, this one finds Chuck going up against a government conspiracy.  You’d think this would be a walk in the park for old Chuck.  After all, we’re talking about the man who set off the A-Bomb that blew up The Planet of the Apes here.  Actually Chuck has a tough time in this one.  He plays a cop in the over-populated future where people eat various colored “Soylent” food products.  While investigating a murder, he learns that the main ingredient in the latest batch of “Soylent Green” might not be the most appetizing thing in the world.


Soylent Green was ahead of it’s time in a lot of ways.  It predicted the whole “Greenhouse Effect” thing, video games, as well as the concept of recycling.  (i.e. the contents of “Soylent Green”.)  Having said that; the flick still is pretty goofy looking.  That’s okay though because I kinda dug the film’s cheesy pseudo-futuristic art design. 


Although Director Richard (Conan the Destroyer) Fleischer’s pacing sputters along and he concentrates more on the detective aspects of the story rather than the sci-fi stuff, Soylent Green still ain’t too bad.  Some of the bizarre futuristic stuff was pretty cool like the Euthanasia Clinic and there was a great scene where rioting citizens get scooped up by giant bulldozers.  I also liked the assassination in a confessional bit too.  Had Fleischer amped up the science fictiony undertones of the movie, I think it could’ve rocked. 


Despite a certain level of unevenness; what really holds the film together is the performances.  I enjoyed seeing Leigh Taylor Young as a piece of human “furniture” and Edward G. Robinson was simply excellent in his final role.  Familiar faces like Whit (I Was a Teenage Werewolf) Bissell, Chuck (Tourist Trap) Conners, Joseph (Baron Blood) Cotten and Brock (Star Trek 6) Peters all offered up solid support, and made the most out of their brief screen time.  But the movie really belongs to Chuck.  He’s dynamite in this flick and really commands the screen.  Even when the movie starts to drag (which is often), you can still savor his awesome performance. 


Heston’s final line in this one isn’t quite as good as “You blew it up!  Damn you all to Hell!”, but it’s almost as memorable.  I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it for you.  Let’s just say if you’re at a dinner party and someone offers you some Soylent Green, you say NO!