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The Nat King Cole Show (1956)
You'll never know...
I had never known about The Nat King Cole Show until I tripped across this gem on BET Jazz. I was absolutely floored to hear Nat King Cole's piano performance on one of the shows! I already knew he was the greatest and smoothest of singers. That he also had the ability to play really fine piano was a revelation. He was technically flawless, and clearly enjoying himself.
The show also featured guest stars, some of them who became famous and remain so today, and some who were "up and coming" but have since faded. Regardless of fame, the quality of performance throughout is truly wonderful. It is obvious that a lot of thought went into this production.
I was so sorry to hear of the show's demise after a short run. The reason is particularly distasteful (ie, its being ahead of its time for having a black man in more than a subservient role). This must have been a real disappointment to Mr. Cole and his fellow black performers, arrangers, composers, etc. I can only imagine how it must have been for them, to live under that cloud of discrimination.
Nat, you are still the greatest, after all these years. "You'll never know how much I care!"
More believable than generally given credit for.
In events occuring before the time line in the story, Homer meets and gets to know his double, Jack Sommersby, in a Civil War prison. When Jack dies, Homer decides (for reasons barely hinted at) to impersonate Jack and take up his life where it had left off before the war six years earlier.
Viewers who have trouble accepting this story's basic premise and its subplots must not understand denial, the strongest defense mechanism of all. Laurel believes the returning soldier to be her missing husband because she wants to -- as does her son, and indeed the whole town (with a few menacing exceptions). This new guy is nicer than the other one. He is good to his wife, his kid, and his poor struggling neighbors, inspiring them all to work together to save the community at large from certain starvation if things do not change. In short, they all *need* this Jack Sommersby; therefore, he must *be* Jack Sommersby.
When folks are in denial -- does anybody not believe in mass hysteria? -- discrepancies are often overlooked, and reality is suspended. If that is hard to swallow, then consider that some folks were well aware of Homer's impersonation (if not his true identity), but chose to ignore it because it was in their best interests to do so.
The courtroom situation is another area where viewers have remarked on non-reality. But this may be chalked up to historical artifact. With today's high levels of movie/TV courtroom drama, and even genuine courtroom TV, this century's viewing audiences are far more sophisticated than the actual participants of court proceedings of the mid-19th Century, even among many lawyers and judges of the era. I had no trouble believing the courtroom of a small, largely uneducated community might have gone just the way it did in this movie... ...except for one thing, where all belief is suspended: the black judge, presiding over a southern courtroom, just after the Civil War. If there actually were any black judges in existence then, my guess would be that, like the few practicing black MD's, they were restricted to cases involving blacks, Native Americans, etc -- and not the trial of a white (and formerly rich) landowner.
Yet this plot device does not get in the way of my enjoyment of the movie over all. The judge strives mightily to be impartial, even with those townspeople who would not be so with him. Their rabid hatred of his race cries out for justice; therefore, the judge appears to provide it, with almost comic relief, precisely at a point when the tension demands it.
A haunting, well-told tale for those who appreciate depth of character over high-paced action for its own sake.
The Sons of Mistletoe (2001)
If Roma Downey can play the heavy, there is hope for the rest of us!
Some films are diminished by predictable story lines. This is not one of them. Rather, the very fact that one could almost call out what was going to happen, scene after scene, was in some strange way suspenseful: would I guess right? Yes! Oh, I am so glad!
Maybe this was due in part to the unfamiliarity of seeing Roma Downey playing the heavy for a change. Then again, it was not only her scenes where this happens. She came across as believable, once I got over the fact that here, she's no angel. It was nice to see her with a character that has a bit of growing to do. Another definite plus: the boys from the home played off each other nicely. I got the impression that these young actors truly cared about each other, as much as their characters did.
This is not a movie to get one's teeth into. It is a bit of a schmaltzy tear-jerker, with which to warm your soul on a cold winter evening. It is comfortable and delightful, with just the right touch of romance and the Christmas spirit.
A Christmas Memory (1997)
Ah, to live in such an innocent age!
A Patty Duke performance that shines, as always. Looking at the other reviews, it would appear that people either loved or hated this nostalgic Christmas tale. Not having seen the earlier version, I was not swayed by comparisons. This one stands up just fine all on its own. It tugs at the heart strings even before the ending, as Miss Duke's character Sook and her young relative Buddy naively make holiday fruitcakes for the President and his wife. Ah, to live in such an innocent age!
The Unknown (1927)
The damsel and the "No Armed Man" would have done even Hitchcock proud.
(potential spoilers) The music accompaniment to this silent gem (at least, the version I heard on TCM) underscored the problems that envelop the self-described Gypsy Circus, and was well synchronized to the action. I have to wonder if the movie would have had the same impact without it. Nevertheless, the visuals were disturbing enough.
It is wonderful to see Lon Chaney Sr. near the end of his career, and Joan Crawford at the beginning of hers. But the real star is author Tod Browning for his ironic plot twists and especially his advanced psychological insights, considering that this film was produced in 1927.
Some of these are somewhat overstated, but that can be excused on the grounds that this is a silent film. The fact remains that the psychodynamics ring true today for syndromes that did not even have names in the 1920's. The film deals well with an early Joan Crawford's phobic post traumatic stress. Lon Chaney shines. His character develops into what turns out to be a truly evil predator, in the form of a psychopathic stalker. Nevermind that he claims to want to marry her. She has given him no encouragement, He has built up a doomed-to-fail fantasy about her, and it is stalking, pure and simple. And yet -- as so often with real life sociopaths -- we unaccountably have a degree of empathy for him that he never feels toward others.
I found it a bit disconcerting that Mr. Chaney -- supposedly armless -- too obviously had real arms trussed up under his shirt... until it was revealed that his CHARACTER had real arms trussed up under his shirt! The reasons for this bespeak an unsavory past. And there need be no lingering questions about the future -- for even if things in the present unfold the way he wants them to, he would yet continue a path of destruction. Just when you think that this person can sink no lower...he does.
What is more, Miss Crawford's character is not even aware that she is being stalked -- she who is so fearful of the touch of men. In one disturbing scene in particular, the lovely young lady joins in his laughter, innocently never realizing WHY he is laughing. Aside from the audience, few really find out the truth about the man, usually to their demise.
The suspense would give even the great Hitchcock a run for his money. I found myself cringing and gripping my chair, especially in the final moments. 9 out of 10.
Lilies of the Field (1963)
Kudos to the author -- William E Barrett
The reason why this charming little gem was nominated for (and should have won) an Oscar for screenplay based on other material was the particular material that it was based on -- and that it largely remained true to the original work. A perfect 10.
Lilies of the Field was written as a short novel by William E. Barrett. Others have described the story well, so I will concentrate on the author. His works, small in number, were masterfully crafted inspirational tales of faith. Lilies of the Field seems to be timeless because its simple message of faith is timeless, and the story is simply told. That is why it works so well -- Barrett is a brilliant author and a master of the telling of belief in God. He manages this without being preachy.
(potential spoiler) By contrast, Barrett's other work, The Left Hand of God, is infinitely more complex in its story line -- crammed with tension and suspense, the very title gives a glimpse of its irony contained within. Its premise is based on a blasphemous assumption of someone else's identity by the main character. And yet, in the end -- as with Lilies of the Field -- it is simple faith that wins out.
When these works are translated to the screen, Lilies of the Field remains largely true to Barrett's book. This is unfortunately NOT the case with Left Hand of God. Forget that the great Bogart is the male lead. Forget that it also contains the worthy Gene Tierney, Agnes Moorehead, Lee J Cobb, E G Marshall. These stars cannot overcome the heavy-handed hatchet job that was done to the script. After all, Lilies of the Field had only Sidney Poiter with any real name recognition, and him not a whole lot yet. Rather, it was the story that the superb if largely unknown cast was able to pull off.
If you are a fan of Lilies of the Field, I suggest that you do NOT see the movie Left Hand of God. Instead, track down a copy of William E. Barrett's book (search well -- it is out of print) and READ the story as the author intended it.
The Left Hand of God (1955)
Read the book!
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** For those who do not think much of this movie -- PLEASE read the book. The movie I give only a 6 of 10, whereas the book is definitely a 10. If the film had followed the formula of the author, William Barrett, it would have been a 10 as well, as was Lillies of the Field, the wonderful movie that was done of Barrett's novella. Barrett wrote them both as entertaining stories -- and as inspirational, spiritual gems. Lillies - the movie remained so. Left Hand - the movie did not.
(spoilers ahead) Bogart as the bogus priest just does not play well. Or maybe he would have worked better if the script had followed the book. But I would rather have seen Charlton Heston, who as Ben Hur lets go of his vengeful anger in the end -- a similar transformation of Jim Carmody/Father O'Shea in Left Hand of God who, in the end, does the right thing after all and is less concerned with saving his own skin than with saving the whole mission community -- at great risk to himself. This comes across so masterfully in the book. Is it Bogey's fault that it does not do so in the movie? Or the stilted dialogue? What were the script writers thinking of??
A good deal of the story's charm is the constant circular thinking of Jim Carmody -- downed American pilot, trapped in China in the early days of communism. The text is full of irony and wit and tension as he ponders dilemmas as they present themselves, cascading upon each other without ceasing. He finally flees by impersonating a murdered priest. This is only meant to be a temporary solution. He knows that his ruthless boss, war lord Meih Yang, will soon figure out how he escaped. (In the movie we do not even get a glimpse of Yang's lamasary. The book better tells why Carmody must escape it, and contains wonderful foreshadowing in his relationship with Mary Yin -- a character nonexistent in the movie.)
Soon Carmody/O'Shea finds himself in a new trap -- the mission itself. If you dress like a priest, you had better act like a priest! The book makes it clear that the transformation of his character occurs not in the final crap-shoot showdown with Meih Yang but long before, in the quiet of the confessional, as he hears the weary sins of those he has no right to listen to. He does not know when he ceases being Jim Carmody and slowly becomes the priest -- if not in actual fact.
The love story is gentle -- and pure. How refreshing! Jim Carmody, renegade soldier for the war lord, is definitely flawed and very human. Jim Carmody as Father O'Shea, better but still flawed and still human, has a new dilemma -- how does he handle falling in love with Anne Scott, a mission nurse, and yet maintain his guise as a priest? And what hope for them if he ever does escape China? For Anne is a good Catholic. If she knew the blaspheming "Father O'Shea" was not really a priest, she could never forgive him. And yet, as a priest, she can never love him! The romantic tension between them is exquisite -- in the book. In the movie, it barely exists. I am glad this story comes from an earlier era, because now it would probably be unnecessarily sexualized -- as it no doubt would if a movie were made of it today.
The censors of the time undoubtedly contributed to the movie's flaws. Of all of the scenes they chose NOT to include, the one where the priest goes up to the whore house to try to talk the women into giving up their lifestyle -- prissy beyond belief -- is one that the censorship problem would have been better off leaving out. Sanitizing it adds nothing but confusion. By contrast, the book's dealing with this episode, certainly tame by today's standards, sparks with tension as the ladies do not just stand there senseless, but jeer the priest and throw rocks at him, in but one of the beautifully written ironies -- "Let she who is with sin cast the first stone!"
There is not much to criticize about Gene Tierney as Anne, though she hasn't much to work with. I agree with criticisms that Lee J Cobb should never have been cast as the oriental Meih Yang. Agnes Moorehead comes across as little more than a stick figure -- rare for her. Again, must be the script. What she could have done with the Beryl character from the book! The lonely friendship and camraderie of the mission's only American females, Anne and Beryl, does not come across in the movie. And the tense rivalry between Carmody/O'Shea and the doctor -- so rich in the book -- is stilted and irritating. And where is the warmth and humor between the grumpy doctor and his long-suffering wife Beryl? So frustrating, not to have these wonderful relationships explored. As I write this, I wonder why I even gave it a 6? Must be out of respect and love for the characters as originally conceived by the author, and grief for the movie that could have been, but never was.
The book is no longer in print, but it should be. My much-read copy long since having fallen apart, I did find another in a used book store. In today's era, where pastors and priests are exposed as child molesters, we deserve to hear about one who takes his vows seriously -- even though technically he never TOOK the vows! If you are a fan of Lillies of the Field, you should by all means track down your own copy, forget the movie, and READ The Left Hand of God -- William E. Barrett's forgotten masterpiece.