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Posts Tagged ‘bette davis’

“MIKE WALLACE IS HERE” My rating: B 

90 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Mike Wallace was the take-no-bullshit TV newsman who asked the questions that made his subjects — and sometimes his audience — squirm in discomfort.

Early in “Mike Wallace Is Here” we see some old studio footage of Wallace being “interviewed’ by his “60  Minutes” colleague Morley Safer.

“Mike,” Safer asks, “why are you such a prick?”

Questioned about his borderline brutal methodology, Wallace would say he was motivated by a search for the truth.

But as Avi Belkin’s documentary makes painfully clear, much of Wallace’s bulldog style was born of insecurity, of a sense of unworthiness.

Indeed, the first 20 or so minutes are crammed with cringeworthy examples of the things an acne-ravaged young Mike Wallace did to survive in the early days of television. He took acting gigs. Even more dubious, given his future calling as a journalist, he was a glib pitchman, a shill, a soulless talking head for products ranging from cigarettes to kitchen gadgets.

Small wonder that during his early years at CBS Wallace’s newsroom colleagues speculated that he was only portraying a journalist.

It’s pretty clear that Wallace was himself hung up on that question.

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Bette Davis, Errol Flynn

Bette Davis, Errol Flynn

“The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” screens at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 31, 2014 in the Durwood Film Vault of the Kansas City Central Library, 14W. 10th St.  Admission is free. It’s part of the year-long film series Hollywood’s Greatest Year, featuring movies released in 1939.

 

The year 1939 was a very good one for actress Bette Davis.

She had four films released in that 12-month period, all of them now regarded as classics.  She was the high-society deb dying of a brain tumor in “Dark Victory,” the wife of a Mexican statesman in “Juarez,” a spinster who allows her illegitimate daughter to be raised by her cousin in “The Old Maid.”

Davis was nominated for a best actress Oscar for “Dark Victory,” but in my humble opinion she should have received that honor for her work that year as England’s “virgin queen” in “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.”

For here is Bette Davis at her most magnificent, playing a monarch torn between the hubris of ruling a nation and her almost girlish infatuation with a handsome man several years her junior. It’s a monumental, horrifying, and very human performance.

Whether this is an accurate depiction is beside the point. As history “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” leaves much to be desired. As a gaudy slice of colorful melodrama, it’s pretty great.

In particular, the film does a terrific job of re-creating the relationship between Elizabeth I (Davis) and Robert, Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn). Whether factual or not, the on-screen psychology of these two achieves a subtlety and sophistication that is remarkable.

Of course we expect that sort of creativity from Davis, one of the great actresses of her generation.

Flynn, on the other hand, was not what you’d call a “thinking” actor, being more accustomed to flourishing a saber and swinging from ropes than mining the finer points of human motivation.

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Bette Davis, Brian Ahern

Bette Davis, Brian Ahern

“Juarez” screens at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 24, 2014 in the Durwood Film Vault of the Kansas City Central Library, 14W. 10th St.  Admission is free. It’s part of the year-long film series Hollywood’s Greatest Year, featuring movies released in 1939.

 

The makers of “Juarez” went out of their way to ensure the film would be as historically accurate as possible.

The Warner Bros. research department amassed a 300-volume library of volumes about Mexico in the mid-19th century. Two historians were hired to vet the script being written by Aeneas MacKenzie. When MacKenzie was finished he had a screenplay long enough for two films, so other writers (especially John Huston, who was yet to make his directing debut) were called in to trim it.

Paul Muni

Paul Muni

Well, “Juarez” may be historically accurate. But this 1939 release is also an inflated bore, a history lesson in which the history smothers all the drama.

For starters the film has no center. It’s named after Benito Juarez, who served five terms as president of Mexico and who was the leader of the revolution that overthrew the French-imposed reign of Emperor Maximilian.

The studio brass thought they had a sure thing in Paul Muni, the Oscar-winning actor who was famous for disappearing into the roles of real-life figures like Louis Pasteur and Emile Zola.

But Muni’s Juarez is wooden and stiff, less a human being than a stuffed owl. You’ve got to admire the makeup job that transforms him into a Mexican Indian (it took two hours in the makeup chair every morning), but this performance is borderline robotic.

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Bette Davis, George Brent

Bette Davis, George Brent

“Dark Victory” screens at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 19, 2014 in the Durwood Film Vault of the Kansas City Central Library, 14W. 10th St.  Admission is free. It’s part of the year-long film series Hollywood’s Greatest Year, featuring movies released in 1939.

“Dark Victory” is one of those old-fashioned weepies that sophisticated film goers hate to love.

But then, ever since its release in 1939 this Bette Davis classic has left audiences torn between helpless sobbing and a slow-burning resentment over the picture’s emotional manipulation.

Davis, who was nominated for a best actress Oscar (she lost to Vivien Leigh in “Gone With the Wind”), plays spoiled, vivacious heiress Judith Traherne, who is diagnosed with a brain tumor and falls in love with the surgeon who goes poking around in her noggin.

Problem is, after the surgery the M.D. realizes the tumor will come back with fatal results.  But he doesn’t tell his patient of the grim diagnosis (a choice that today would get his license yanked), allowing her to go along with her flighty life. Judith will feel perfectly fine until the day ten months hence when she goes suddenly blind and drops dead.

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