Take 3: The King and I (1956) Review

For the Fourth Broadway Bound Blogathon, I chose to review the 1956 version of The King and I! Years ago, I had seen the 1999 animated adaptation of the musical. Since I vaguely remember it, I can’t provide an honest opinion of that movie. Because I had only seen pieces of the 1956 film and because it was recommended to me by Maddy from Maddy Loves Her Classic Films, I now found a good excuse to finally check the film out! While I knew the play itself was successful, I was surprised to discover it had won a Tony award. As this year’s blogathon focuses on Tony winners, it gave me an opportunity to learn something new. This is one of the reasons why I love participating in blogathons! Now, let’s start this review of 1956’s The King and I!

The King and I (1956) poster created by 20th Century-Fox.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Deborah Kerr is a dramatic actress, as her strengths can be seen in drama films. Because there were plenty of dramatic moments in The King and I, this allowed the best of Deborah’s acting abilities to be placed on display! In scenes that allowed Anna to stand up to King Mongkut, Deborah adopts a serious persona without any sarcasm. Her tone of voice is stern, while also standing up straight and looking directly at King Mongkut. Because there were light-hearted moments as well, it gave Deborah an opportunity to incorporate humor into her performance. This balance made the role suit Deborah well! This is the first time I had ever seen any of Yul Brynner’s performances. However, I was quite impressed by his portrayal of King Mongkut of Siam! Similar to Deborah Kerr’s role, there was a good balance of drama and comedy. In a scene where King Mongkut is talking to his son about what he learned in school, Yul speaks with a serious tone of voice. He also moved around the set with a posture that reflects his character’s royal power. However, when he introduced Anna to his children, King Mongkut would make silly faces in order to get them to smile. Before watching The King and I, the only film of Rita Moreno’s I had seen is West Side Story. Because of this, it was interesting to see Rita work with different material. While Anita, Rita’s character in West Side Story, is sassy and confident, Tuptim is more reserved and sensitive. When Rita didn’t have speaking lines, facial expressions and body language helped convey what Tuptim was thinking. As I liked her portrayal of Tuptim, it makes me wish Rita had appeared in more scenes.

The musical numbers: A musical is only as good as its musical numbers. With The King and I, I found the musical numbers to be entertaining! The most interesting one is the Siamese interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Because Tuptim is reading a copy Anna gave her, she decides to write a play based on her own version of the novel. This particular number features traditional dancing, stylized face masks, and practical effects, such as a white sheet representing ice. It served as a good example of how everyone can view a text differently. The rest of the musical numbers in The King and I ranged from dramatic to comedic. One of them is ‘Getting to Know You’. In this scene, Anna dances with one of King Mongkut’s wives. Some of the children circled around their mother in order to mimic Anna’s skirt. This was a simple way humor was incorporated into some of the musical numbers.

The costume design: The King and I is known for being an elaborate musical, with elegance being found within the costume design. Bright colors were worn by almost all the characters. In a scene where Anna is introduced to King Mongkut’s children, the children’s outfits featured hues of pink, red, and green. The members of the royal family sometimes wore plaid, which complimented the rich color palette of the movie. Metals like gold could also be seen in the royal family’s attire. Some of King Mongkut’s jackets featured gold embroidery, a reminder of his wealth and affluence. Bronze coated the children’s headpieces as well. With the costume design being so exquisite, I wonder how much of this movie’s budget was devoted to it?

The Fourth Broadway Bound Blogathon banner created by Rebecca from Taking Up Room.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The under-utilization of Rita Moreno: As I mentioned earlier, the only film of Rita’s I had seen is West Side Story. Therefore, I was looking forward to seeing her performance in The King and I. I was disappointed to see Rita’s talents under-utilized. In this two hour and thirteen-minute movie, Rita appeared in a handful of scenes. While she did participate in the story’s musical components, she was only given one duet and the narration during the Uncle Tom’s Cabin play. I understand The King and I was released five years before West Side Story. But if the 1961 film has taught me anything, it’s how Rita is, talent wise, capable of so much more.

Drawn out storylines: The storylines in The King and I were drawn out because of the film’s two hour and thirteen-minute run-time. King Mongkut’s story, where he attempts to save his reputation, is one example. For about half the movie, King Mongkut wants to prevent other world leaders from thinking he is “barbaric”. Since this particular storyline lasted for so long, the resolution/payoff was fine, but somewhat anti-climactic. Lun Tha and Tuptim’s storyline took place throughout the whole movie. However, by the end of the film, it was left unresolved. It makes me wonder if it would have been resolved if The King and I’s run-time had been shorter?

Songs interrupting the story: In a typical musical, the musical numbers help progress the story forward. But in The King and I, the musical numbers interrupt the over-arching story, causing the transition between story and song to feel less seamless. After an elegant party at the palace, King Mongkut discovers Tuptim is missing. King Mongkut’s search is disrupted by Anna singing ‘Shall We Dance?’. This then turns into a private dance between Anna and King Mongkut, which is interrupted by a guard. The guard informs King Mongkut that Tuptim has been found. Moments like this one cause the story to pause for the sake of a musical number.

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My overall impression:

So far, I have seen four of Deborah Kerr’s movies. Out of those titles, I’d say The King and I is her best one! As I said in my review, the material complimented her acting abilities. There was enough drama to show off her strengths, while also having enough comedy to let Deborah have fun with the role. The film gave me a chance to see interesting performances and musical numbers, from Rita’s portrayal of Tuptim to a Siamese interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The exquisite costume design and sets are definitely photogenic, highlighting the wealth and power within the royal family. Even though the movie as a whole is good, there are musicals I would choose over it. The songs interrupting the story instead of progressing it forward is one reason why I feel this way. I’ve heard Anna and the King is a non-musical version of this particular story, so I’d be interested in seeing how lack of musical numbers affects the overall story-telling. I’d also be interested in watching Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner’s other film, The Journey.

Overall score: 7.7 out of 10

What are your thoughts on The King and I? Which version is your favorite? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun on Broadway!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison Review

Easter is just around the corner. Because of this, Pure Entertainment Preservation Society is hosting The Faith in Film Blogathon! This event has given me the perfect opportunity to review Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, which was recommended to me by Maddy from Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. Since the movie features a Nun as one of the main characters, I knew there would be some religious themes within this script. However, I have never seen this film before, so I didn’t know what these themes would be. Choosing Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison also gave me an excuse to watch more movies from Deborah Kerr’s filmography. So, let’s start this review to see where this film ranks!

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison poster created by 20th Century Fox.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Because Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr are the only two actors in this movie’s main cast, those are the only two performances I will be discussing in this review. This is the third film of Deborah Kerr’s I’ve seen, with the previous two being Edward, My Son and Marriage on the Rocks. The one consistent part of Deborah’s acting abilities is how she uses emotions and expressions to her advantage. This allows her to make each of her roles seem well-rounded! While Sister Angela, Deborah’s character, and Mr. Allison are fishing, Mr. Allison tries to catch a turtle with a tool he built himself. When Mr. Allison falls into the ocean, Sister Angela appears shocked and horrified, as the situation happened so quickly. Later in the film, Sister Angela and Mr. Allison are discussing their plans if they leave the island. As Mr. Allison is talking about how he has grown closer to Sister Angela, tears can be seen forming in Sister Angela’s eyes. Deborah’s face in that scene said so much more than dialogue could. Robert Mitchum is an actor I’ve heard of, but am not familiar with. Even though I have seen pieces of El Dorado and Scrooged, I don’t remember his performance in those projects. As I watched his portrayal of the titular character, it appeared as a combination of the laid-back personality of Clark Gable and the tough persona of John Wayne. But for Robert, his eyes contained emotion throughout his performance. As Sister Angela falls ill, you can tell Mr. Allison is genuinely concerned for her. Robert’s eyes are what worked in his favor, as they held a sense of sympathy for Sister Angela and longing for her well-being. The first scene of this movie contained no dialogue, as it focused on Mr. Allison’s reaction when he first arrives on the island. Because of this, Robert had to rely on his facial expressions and body language to explain what his character was going through. I found these creative decisions gave the film a good first impression, as it brought some realism to this story!

The scenery: According to IMDB, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison was filmed in Trinidad and Tobago. Even though the location is not specified in the film, the scenery made the movie very photogenic! There is so much foliage to be seen, from the tall palm trees to the smaller bushes. The ocean boasted a consistent shade of blue, which was definitely appealing to the eye. Sandy beaches and dark brown rocks complete the natural look this space had to offer. Based on appearances alone, this island looked inviting!

The parallels between the religious order and the Marines: Within Mr. Allison and Sister Angela’s conversations, parallels between the Marines and the religious order are brought up. One of the them is discussed while they are building a sail for their raft. Sister Angela addresses the preparations she had to go through in order to become a Nun. She even talks about one mentor within the religious order she wasn’t a fan of. Meanwhile, Mr. Allison shares his basic training before he officially became a Marine. He also brings up a drill Sergeant that he didn’t like. I never thought about these parallels until I saw this film, so I like how this story was somewhat thought-provoking. The parallels between the religious order and the Marines also showed how Sister Angela and Mr. Allison were similar than they first realized.

The Faith in Film Blogathon banner created by the Brannan sisters from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The limited presence of faith: While I did like seeing the parallels between the religious order and the Marines, I was disappointed by how limited faith’s presence was. Before watching Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, I expected faith to be a cornerstone of this story, similar to films like Ben-Hur. Because the movie takes place during World War II, a correlation with the David and Goliath story would make sense. Seeing one of the characters question their faith or have their faith tested would be appropriate, given their circumstances. But faith in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison was served in small doses.

A basic conflict: In movies, television shows, or books, I like conflicts that contain more depth. But the conflicts in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison were more basic than I hoped. In theory, the idea of a Marine and a Nun surviving on an abandoned island sounds interesting. But as the story progresses, the conflict is the same as other films of this nature. Even when Japanese soldiers invade the island, survival is still a major conflict. Because of everything I mentioned, few new ideas were brought to this particular table.

Lack of resolution: At one point in the film, Sister Angela explains to Mr. Allison how some women change their minds when it comes to the religious order. Several scenes later, Mr. Allison tries to dissuade Sister Angela from taking her final vows by telling her he loves her. She even starts to weigh her options when it came to her future. However, we never find out what her final decision was. A brief explanation in the script would be solved this problem. But because this explanation was nowhere to be found, a sense of closure was missing.

Cute Easter image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by freepik – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is a fine movie. Even though I found it better than Edward, My Son and Marriage on the Rocks, I was expecting more from this third film. I was hoping faith would have a bigger role in the story, especially since Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison was released two years before Ben-Hur. However, as I said in my review, faith was served in small doses. The conflict itself was typical for a movie that involves characters being stranded on an island. Because I like conflicts with more depth, this creative decision was disappointing. But the movie did have its strengths, such as the acting and the thought-provoking parallels. With all this said, this is a film I would still recommend to older viewers just in time for Easter!

Overall score: 7.2 out of 10

Have you seen Robert Mitchum’s or Deborah Kerr’s films? If so, which ones would you recommend? Let me know in the comment section below!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Royal Wedding Review (Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire Double Feature Part 2)

As I said in my review of Teenage Rebel, I haven’t seen many films from Fred Astaire’s filmography. In fact, the only two movies of Fred’s I’ve seen so far are The Sky’s the Limit and Funny Face. When I joined Crystal and Michaela’s blogathon, I knew which Fred Astaire picture I wanted to write about. Last month, I was recommended the 1951 film, Royal Wedding, by Heidi from Along the Brandywine. She suggested this film because of its use of split screens. Since I don’t have many Fred Astaire titles on my movie recommendation board on Pinterest, this was my first choice for this double feature! It is interesting that Royal Wedding is the last movie I’m reviewing in 2020. Musicals from the Breen Code era are usually seen as happy, up-beat productions. This is a contrast to the type of year 2020 ended up becoming.

Royal Wedding poster created by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: A similarity I’ve noticed among Fred Astaire’s roles in The Sky’s the Limit, Funny Face, and Royal Wedding is how confident he comes across in each film! Speaking specifically about Royal Wedding, his character, Tom Bowen, had the showmanship you’d expect from a stage performer. Even though he was performing a duet in the movie’s opening number, “Ev’ry Night At Seven”, he had a stage presence that demanded the audience’s attention. This is because he had complete control over his part of the performance as well as experience leading other musicals. Fred also appeared comfortable as one of the leads in this film. Jane Powell’s on-screen personality in Royal Wedding was very sweet! Her character, Ellen Bowen, was also flirty without overdoing it. What worked in Jane’s favor was how she was able to keep up with Fred in their musical duets as well as hold her own in her solos. It definitely showed how strong of a performer she is! Because I’m not familiar with Sarah Churchill as an actress, I wasn’t sure how a Fred Astaire and Sarah Churchill on-screen pairing would work when I first saw them together. But as the film went on, I realized they had better on-screen chemistry than I expected! As an individual performer, Sarah gave her character, Anne, a sophisticated independence that never made her seem snobby or self-centered. In one scene, as she’s recalling to Tom how she came to be a dancer, Anne is so sure of herself when she talks about it. In scenes like this, you can tell that Anne has a healthy amount of self-confidence, partly because of Sarah’s captivating performance!

The musical numbers: When I watch musicals from the Breen Code era, I can’t help but notice the creativity that comes from some of the musical numbers! One example is Fred’s solo, “Sunday Jumps”. On paper, the idea of Fred dancing with a hatrack and exercise equipment might sound silly to some audience members. But because of the choreography and Fred’s dancing talents, that idea becomes a thoroughly entertaining one! Another solo of Fred’s, “You’re All the World to Me”, also showcases creativity well. In this musical number, Tom Bowen can be seen literally dancing on the walls and ceiling, as to visually represent what his heart is feeling for Anne. The number itself is also ahead of its time, as this particular idea wasn’t common in films from this era. I loved how a bright color palette was used in “I Left My Hat in Haiti”! It provided the musical number with an energy and personality that nicely contrasted the toned-down atmosphere of London. The musical number also did a good job at utilizing its ensemble.

The dialogue: Because of the Breen Code, screenwriters had to think and write cleverly when it came to expressing ideas that wouldn’t be allowed on film. That mentality can certainly be found in Royal Wedding’s script! After their performance, “Ev’ry Night At Seven”, Ellen complains about the theater’s lack of air conditioning due to the theater manager wanting to save money. Frustrated by that decision, Tom tells his sister how the theater manager will need a fan for one specific place. Subtle references like this one respect the audience’s intelligence and gave the screenwriters a chance to think outside the box when it comes to language. There were also memorable quotes within the script. During Anne and Tom’s conversation, Anne told him that dancing made her happy. She also said that she wanted to dance when she was happy.

The Third Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon banner created by Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood.

What I didn’t like about the film:

No major conflicts: In Anchors Aweigh, Clarence “Brooklyn” Doolittle and Joseph “Joe” Brady help their new friend, Susan, get an audition with a well-known composer at a movie studio. This served as the main conflict for the film. With Royal Wedding, there was no main conflict to be found. Instead, the story focuses on the two relationships between Ellen and John and Tom and Anne. Even when sub-conflicts were introduced in the movie, they are resolved rather quickly. Having one overarching conflict would have added some intrigue to this story.

Too many boyfriends: At the beginning of the movie, Ellen is shown having multiple boyfriends. This was to highlight the point of Ellen having difficulty ending these relationships. When Ellen’s boyfriends are interacting with one another, I had trouble keeping track of who was who. I understand this creative decision was made on purpose, to emphasize the aforementioned point. But this gave the audience unnecessary confusion.

The titular royal wedding as an afterthought: When a film is titled Royal Wedding, most audience members would expect the wedding itself to play a significant role within the plot. Because the story focuses on the relationships of Tom and Anne and Ellen and John, the royal wedding is treated as an afterthought. Sure, the characters casually bring it up from time to time. But there is little to no excitement in London just days before such a historic event. When a pre-wedding parade is passing by Tom and Ellen’s hotel suite, the scene places more emphasis on John and Ellen’s conversation, preventing the parade from being shown on-screen. The day of the wedding appears in the last twenty minutes of the film, but even that part of the story is overshadowed by the previously mentioned relationships.

Princess tiara image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/ornamental-princess-crowns_1109199.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/gold”>Gold vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Royal Wedding is the type of movie where the acting performances and musical numbers make up for the weaker story. While the plot isn’t bad, it could have benefited from having a major conflict. If the creative team behind this movie wanted their story to be more interesting, it would have contained a mistaken identity. Ellen Bowen would switch places with the princess and fall in love with the prince, while the princess is mistaken for Ellen and eventually forms a romantic relationship with Tom. With this conflict, the wedding itself would have a greater presence in the whole story. It would also create a series of hilarious hijinks. Personally, I’d recommend Anchors Aweigh over Royal Wedding. The former has a stronger story and, in my opinion, is a more enjoyable film overall.

Overall score: 6.2 out of 10

What are your thoughts on Royal Wedding? Which movie is your favorite out of the ones I’ve reviewed this year? Please tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Funny Face Review (Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly Blogathon Part 2)

For the second part of my Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly double feature, I’ve chosen to review the 1957 film, Funny Face! Last September, when 18 Cinema Lane received 135 followers, I reviewed my first Fred Astaire movie. That was The Sky’s the Limit, which I thought was just ok. Speaking of firsts, reviewing Funny Face is a first for 18 Cinema Lane, as it is the first musical film starring Aubrey Hepburn I’ve seen! Even though I have seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Nun’s Story, those films would be classified as dramas. Since this was my first time seeing Audrey perform in a different genre, I was curious to see if she would be able to hold her own. When I read the synopsis for Funny Face, it sounded similar to another musical starring Audrey: My Fair Lady. Because I haven’t seen that movie, I can’t make a comparison between it and Funny Face.

Funny Face poster created by Paramount Pictures.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: The one word I’d use to describe the cast in Funny Face is comfortable. I chose this word because every actor and actress appeared comfortable in their role! This presented the characters as if they were real-life people dealing with real-life situations. Watching Audrey’s performance in this movie reminded me of her performance in The Nun’s Story for this reason: her character grows over the course of the movie. In Funny Face, Jo opens her heart and mind to a new chapter in her life that she never thought she’d embark on. She steps out of her comfort to not only follow her dream of meeting her favorite philosopher, but she also creates new dreams for herself. Audrey’s ability to adapt to any scenario helped her make Jo’s journey seem believable! As I mentioned in the introduction, I saw The Sky’s the Limit last September. Personally, I liked Fred’s character in Funny Face more than his character in the 1943 film. This is because Dick Avery had a better personality. He came across as easy-going and approachable, someone who you would want to tour Paris with. This made Dick Avery worth rooting for! Kay Thompson stood out to me as Maggie Prescott! While her character was no-nonsense and straight-forward in what she wanted, she was never cold-hearted or mean for the sake of it. This is different from other characters of this specific type. What’s also different is how Maggie was allowed to be silly, as could be seen when she and Dick are attempting to find Jo at the home of Jo’s favorite philosopher. This gave Kay an opportunity to apply her acting abilities to various situations!

The use of color: I love how color was used in Funny Face! Whenever scenes had a primarily plain color palette, like white or beige, objects or pieces of clothing were added to bring a pop of color to the space. The opening scene is such a great example! Each door of Quality magazine’s office was painted a bright shade of various colors, providing visual appeal to a mostly white lobby and hallway. Maggie’s office adopted a beige hue for about 85% of that location. However, certain pieces of fabric and even an assistant’s green coat add bold colors to a place that would have remained dull without them. This decision to use color was very detail oriented and showed how the film’s creative team really paid attention to how their project would be presented!

The musical numbers: Funny Face’s musical numbers were not only entertaining to watch, they also incorporated creative ideas that made them memorable. The very first musical number, “Think Pink!”, showed a montage of the different ways the color pink could be worn. Through the use of colorful visuals, it helped illustrate the point Maggie was trying to stress to her assistants as well as the audience. “Bonjour, Paris!” showed Maggie, Dick, and Jo simultaneously in a split screen shot. I have never seen a musical use a split screen before, so this detail is the one I remember the most! Each performer in these musical numbers looked like they truly enjoyed what they were doing! “Basal Metabolism” showed Audrey Hepburn having fun performing her dance trio. She appeared in her element and joy radiated from her routine. This definitely added to the overall enjoyment of Funny Face’s musical numbers!

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What I didn’t like about the film:

No major conflict: While watching Funny Face, I noticed something was missing from this movie. That would be a major conflict, which I think would have made the story a little more interesting. Smaller conflicts, like finding a new face for Quality magazine, kept the film moving forward. But, because a major conflict was absent, it made situations feel like they worked out too easily in the characters’ favor. One idea could have shown Dick struggling to decide if he should continue to be a fashion photographer or become a stage performer. If this would have been a conflict in the story, it would have presented a mystery as to which career path Dick will choose.

A prolonged transformation: Like I said in the introduction, I haven’t seen My Fair Lady. Therefore, I can’t compare the two movies. What I will say about Funny Face is how Jo’s transformation doesn’t happen until the film’s halfway point. In the first half of the story, Jo’s perspective starts to change, allowing her to expand her intellectual horizons. But the physical transformation, from bookworm to fashion model, happens a lot later than most movies of this nature. When a character makes a dramatic change to their appearance, that moment may be the audience’s most anticipated moment. If they are forced to wait too long, they may start to lose interest.

An attraction that happened too quickly: In my review of The Crow: City of Angels, I pointed out how, to me, Ashe and Sarah’s attraction for one another was a flaw of that movie because it came about so quickly. The attraction between Jo and Dick in Funny Face makes the same error, as it also happens too quickly. Minutes after meeting for the first time, Jo and Dick share a kiss. Shortly after this encounter, Jo sings “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, a song about falling in love. If this song had been sung later in the film, after she had spent more time with Dick, the song itself would have been more impactful. Even though it is somewhat predictable for Jo and Dick to form a relationship, it should have taken its time to come to fruition.

With Glamour & Panache: A Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly Musicals Blogathon banner created by Heidi from Along the Brandywine.

My overall impression:

Funny Face is a film I had heard of for years, but had never seen. Whenever I heard about classic films or even movies starring Aubrey Hepburn, this film has, more often than not, been brought up. Now that I have seen Funny Face, I have developed an understanding for why this is the case. This is not just a good musical or a good Audrey Hepburn title. It is a good movie in general! Creative ideas within this project help it stand out. Some examples include using a split screen and incorporating objects with color into scenes with plain color palettes. Musical numbers were well-choreographed, featuring performers that appeared to enjoy the material they were given. Every actor and actress seemed comfortable in their roles, giving their characters a life of their own. While Funny Face does have its strengths, it has its weaknesses as well. Just one example is how Jo’s transformation happens much later in the film. Despite having seen only two of Fred Astaire’s movies, I’d pick Funny Face over The Sky’s the Limit. I would even choose Funny Face over Take Me Out to the Ball Game!

Overall score: 7.8 out of 10

Have you seen Funny Face? Which Fred Astaire musical is your favorite? Please share your thoughts in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: House of Wax (1953) Review

For KN Winiarski’s 1st Annual Spooky Classic Movie Blogathon, I chose to write about a film that was recommended to me by one of my fellow bloggers. As the title states, I will be reviewing the 1953 film, House of Wax, which was suggested by Patricia from Caftan Woman. This is a movie I’ve heard of, but had never seen. Since the film was released between 1920 and 1960 (one of the blogathon’s requirements), it gave me a good excuse to check it out! Even though I have seen and reviewed three of Vincent Price’s movies, only one of them was released during the Breen Code era. Because House of Wax premiered in the early ‘50s, it allowed me to view more of his films from that time period. Based on the synopsis, House of Wax is considered a “revenge film”. It made me curious to see how this type of story would work within the Breen Code era. I was also interested in comparing House of Wax to a project like The Crow, which I reviewed back in May.

House of Wax poster created by Warner Bros.

The acting: House of Wax is the fourth film of Vincent Price’s I’ve seen. While I enjoyed his acting performances in The Whales of August, House of the Long Shadows, and Shock, I really liked his performance in the 1953 film! When his character, Henry, is talking about his wax figures, the passion he has for his craft can be seen on his face and in his eyes. Vincent makes the audience feel bad for Henry when these figures and the museum burn to the ground. As time moves forward, Henry evolves into a man of sophistication. Through the power of his acting talents, Vincent makes this transition feel believable. Prior to watching House of Wax, I was not familiar with Phyllis Kirk as an actress. However, I really liked her portrayal of Sue Allen! The emotional intensity Phyllis brought to her role is what made her performance stand out! When she is chased through the city by a murderous criminal, the audience can see and feel the fear Sue is experiencing. This helped raise the intensity of that scene. After she reaches the safety of a neighbor’s house, she immediately bursts into tears. Sue’s emotions show just how emotionally exhausted she is from constantly looking over her shoulder.

The wax figures: Because this film is called House of Wax, a showcase of various wax figures is to be expected. What was unexpected for me was the overall quality of these wax figures! All of them were so well-crafted, they looked like real-life individuals. In fact, there were times when I was waiting for at least one of them to start moving on their own. Throughout the film, facts about the people these figures were representing and the artistic process were shared within the dialogue. One example is when Henry is explaining how he created his Marie Antoinette figure. He tells a potential investor that Marie’s eyes are glass and were inserted through a hallow part of the head before it was attached to the neck. I found this part of the story fascinating! I also wish there was a documentary about this particular art form.

The historical accuracy: House of Wax takes place during the early 1900s, with the time period influencing every aspect of the film. What works in this movie’s favor is how the visuals looked and felt like the time period the film’s creative team was striving for! As Henry’s wax museum is burning, a fire truck appears to put the fire out. A noteworthy point is the model of the truck resembled one from the early 1900s. Another way the time period was reflected was through the set design! The exterior of the House of Wax museum looked like a movie palace from decades past, commanding the attention of passers-by. The beige and red marble alcove leading to the museum reminded me of an outdoor market, with the museum itself selling a form of entertainment to potential customers. These design choices made the overall film feel immersive!

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What I didn’t like about the film:

The 3D effects: One of House of Wax’s claims to fame is featuring one of the earliest forms of 3D in cinematic history. Any poster of the film and the movie’s opening credits boast this detail enthusiastically. However, the 3D in this movie stayed in 1953. In the scene where Henry opens his House of Wax museum, a spokesperson uses paddle-balls to get patrons’ attention. During his routine, the spokesperson breaks the fourth wall and tells a man in the audience that he is trying to hit his popcorn bag with one of the paddle-balls. When the paddle-ball moved toward the audience, the moment itself looked like it was filmed in 2D. The 3D in House of Wax comes across as an outdated gimmick that felt awkward and out of place.

A protagonist I can’t root for: More often than not, “revenge films” feature a protagonist who represents the opposite of the horrors committed against them. Eric Draven from The Crow is a perfect example. While he kills the villains who have wronged him and his fiancé, Shelly, Eric is fighting fire with fire when his city’s justice system is ineffective. He also chooses to keep his moral compass intact by helping those who are innocent. I won’t spoil House of Wax for those who haven’t seen it yet. But all I’ll say is that as time goes on, Henry throws away his moral compass and takes his mission too far. Because of this, I couldn’t bring myself to root for this character.

Scares that aren’t consistent: There are several moments in House of Wax that are truly unsettling to watch. Seeing Henry’s wax figures burning is just one of them. However, I expected the film to be much scarier than it was. The most terrifying moments happened toward the beginning and end of the movie. Everything in-between felt like a juggling act of darker and lighter moments. Right after Henry’s wax museum burns down, a happy dance party is shown. This feels like a major tonal shift from the ominous tone that was set up in the film’s opening scene.

1st Annual Spooky Classic Movie Blogathon banner created by Kristen from KN Winiarski Writes.

My overall impression:

As a movie, House of Wax is good! It is a horror title that relies more on tone and atmosphere. But as a “revenge story”, I feel a film like The Crow does a better job at expressing that type of narrative. One major difference is how the character of Henry is not worth rooting for, as he abandons his moral compass within the course of the film. I found this to be a surprising choice for a Breen Code era film. While it doesn’t overpower the movie, the 3D aspect of the project did not work. It was obvious that 2D filmed moments were waiting for the 3D effect to kick in. Sadly, the 3D failed to show up. I would say House of Wax is an interesting choice for Halloween viewing, as it utilizes wax figures to provide elements of horror. It eliminates the use of blood/gore and has the ability to put the audience on edge.  

Overall score: 7.5 out of 10

Have you seen House of Wax? Which film of Vincent Price’s is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Phffft Review + 65 Follower Thank You

Earlier this week, I received 65 followers on 18 Cinema Lane! With my blog’s first anniversary coming up next Saturday, I found this recent gain in blog followers to be a pleasant surprise! As I’ve been doing before, I have chosen to review a film that was released 65 years ago (in 1954). While researching movies with 1954 release dates, one film in particular instantly stood out to me. The reason is because of the title alone. Phffft (yes, that is the real title of this film) is a movie that seemed like it was begging for me to watch and, eventually, review it. So, because of everything I’ve just said, I decided to pick Phffft as my movie of choice this time around. Was this film as funny as this title suggests? I’m glad you came to this review, as we’re about to find out!

Phffft poster
Phffft poster created by Columbia Pictures. Image found at http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/86629/Phffft/#.

Things I liked about the film:

  • The acting: I thought the cast of Phffft was good! Judy Holliday shined the brightest with her portrayal of Nina. Her performance appeared very natural as well as believable. I also thought that Jack Lemmon did a good job with his portrayal of Robert. Everything that happened with Robert seemed so convincing because of how versatile Jack’s performance was. Even though this is a movie about a couple experiencing a divorce, Jack and Judy gave a good performance not only as individuals, but also as a pair. Whenever Robert and Nina were together, I always had the impression that Judy and Jack had good on-screen chemistry. In a scene where Nina and Robert unexpectedly become each other’s dancing partner, it looked like they truly enjoyed one another’s company.

 

  • What it means to be a “hero”: During a flashback scene that explains how Robert and Nina met, it was revealed that Robert was a military lawyer. In this scene, his self-esteem has fallen a little bit because he doesn’t see himself as a hero. I found this character choice of Robert being a military lawyer very interesting. In fact, it seems like we, the audience, don’t get many portrayals of military lawyers in film. Besides A Few Good Men, I can’t really think of many movies that feature the importance of military lawyers. Phffft does take the time to show how lawyers can play a significant role within the military. The film does this by having Nina remind Robert, as well as Robert reminding himself, that if he wasn’t keeping an eye on the military’s finances, the military would have lost a lot of money. This message of how a hero can mean different things to different people was a good addition to this film.

 

  • Showing both perspectives: As I’ve already mentioned, Phffft is about a couple who experiences a divorce. In movies where divorce can be found in the film’s narrative, the main perspective is usually given to just one person in that relationship. Also, in movies about divorce, there are times when one person in the relationship is portrayed as an antagonist and the other is portrayed as a protagonist. In Phffft, however, the story is told from both of the perspectives of Robert and Nina. Each side of the story is given an equal amount of time for the characters to grow as individuals and experience their own personal journeys. It also shows an unbiased view of what each character is going through. To me, I thought this was a good story-telling choice.

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What I didn’t like about the film:

  • Lack of comedy: Despite the humorous title, I didn’t find Phffft to be very funny. While I did chuckle at some moments, there were no moments within the film that made me burst out laughing. I’m not sure if this movie just didn’t correlate with my sense of humor or if the comedic writing in this film was just that weak. But I, personally, found the lack of comedy in this movie to be very disappointing.

 

  • Too dialogue-heavy: In every movie, dialogue is a necessary component to the overall story. However, there is such a thing as too much dialogue. Phffft featured many scenes where characters were having conversations with one another. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough situations and conflicts happening in this movie to balance out the dialogue. Having too much dialogue in this film did not work its favor.

 

  • The premise being too basic: While Robert and Nina’s divorce was the main plot in Phffft, it was the only plot within this movie. Also, I found this plot to be so basic, that the scenarios Robert and Nina get themselves into feel like they were incorporated in the movie just for the sake of keeping the plot going. Like I just mentioned, Phffft didn’t have enough situations and conflicts to balance out the dialogue. To me, this movie needed, at least, one secondary plot in order to keep it interesting. Because of the lack of subplots, it caused the other characters in this movie to feel like they were just there because they knew either Robert or Nina.

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My overall impression:

At the end of the day, Phffft was just ok. Because of how funny this title sounds, I was expecting the film to be just as funny. Unfortunately, this movie was somewhat disappointing for me. All of the comedy in Phffft felt weak, almost like it was poorly written. However, I would never say this is a bad film. There were things about it that I liked, such as Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon’s performances. But when it comes to comedies from the 1950s, I think there are movies out there that are better than Phffft. Now that this review is coming to an end, I just want to take the time to say thank you to each of my 65 followers. When I started this blog a year ago, I never expected to receive this many followers in such a short amount of time. It just makes me appreciate all the success this blog has achieved, including the increase in readers and followers.

 

Overall score: 6.1 out of 10

 

What are your thoughts about this review? Are you looking forward to the 70 follower thank you post? Please tell me in the comment section!

 

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen