As yesterday was Chinese New Year, I decided to embrace my inner Asian and head down to the Lunar Market for some Asian food and Chinese Backstreet Boys. Well actually, it being the New Year was a complete coincidence. I just wanted Asian food. Chinese Backstreet Boys was just an added bonus.
Had some Peking Duck Pancakes, Yakisoba, and spicy lamb kebabs, and they were all pretty delicious. We also went to Messina for gelato, and for the first time ever I tried a different flavour to my tried and tested salted caramel…I took a punt on lamington flavour instead. I’m not sure if lamingtons are something I need to explain to my non-Australian audience…if so, I take pity upon you. Lamingtons are amazing. So was the gelato. All in all a very gastronomically successful evening.
Today with my cold coming on I decided it would be a day of rest and relaxation, so I dived head-first into some old movies. Starting with It Happened One Night. My mother – the only movie critic that holds any weight with me – gave this a teary exclamation of approval when I picked it up. As usual, she was bang on the money. This thing swept all the major Oscars in 1935 (one of only three films to do it) and it’s not hard to see why. This thing just flies. It’s a romantic comedy in a dignified, classic sense, made funny not by ridiculous premises or comedic overacting, but from a genuine absurdity and the wit of the characters themselves. Clark Gable is the wisecracking American male personified in this. And thanks to this being made prior to 1934 we get to see his all-American bare chest as well. Apparently the fact that Gable wore no singlet under his shirt sent sales of singlets plummeting across the country. You can’t make this stuff up.
Speaking of the 1935 Oscars, apparently that year there was a furore over Bette Davis being snubbed for her performance in Of Human Bondage, leading to her coming in third for Best Actress as a write-in candidate and the Academy changing the entire nomination process. So I gave that a watch too. I can only imagine the risk involved in her taking this part in 1934, given the extent to which Hollywood stardom at the time relied upon a carefully crafted leading lady/man image, and her character in this is that of the most contemptible shrew to ever live. Just a total asshole, and she nails it. Her immense pride at how hideously ghastly she looks at the end is awesome. Love Bette Davis.
Leslie Howard is an actor that I kind of like and dislike in equal measure. I mean I like him as an actor and I like his face, but he also specialises in playing the most effete, neurotic, sullen poonces that end up making me want to punch him in his stupid face just a little bit. For example, Of Human Bondage. I get that he’s supposed to be the sensitive, arty type, but in this movie he comes off as gutless, cuckolded and a complete pushover. I cannot muster up the required sympathy for him to be able to care about his redemption. I just ended up kind of hating everyone involved, one of those films that make me question the point of humanity itself. In that sense I found it to be well made, but not exactly enjoyable to watch. Interestingly, due to an expired copyright this film is in the public domain and is up in full on Youtube. Enjoy.
Speaking of Bette Davis, in order to get the taste of depression and despair out of my mouth, lastly I popped in something guaranteed to make everything right with the world: The Man Who Came To Dinner. I looooooooove this movie, with all my heart. The first time I saw it was a religious experience for me. The clouds parted, the heavens shone down and I had absolutely no idea how I had lived for so long without this film in my life. It is magnificent. Wordy, clever, machine-gun dialogue, just line after line after line, delivering simply riveting satire.
I was already familiar with Alexander Woollcott from reading about the Marx Bros., and seeing such eccentricity brought to life is amazing. That kind of character seems like such a relic from a long lost era, and yet at the same time Whiteside is almost a prototype for the “magnetically charming asshole” character that we see so much of these days, from Dr. House onwards. As an aside, click here for a thoroughly fascinating examination of the relationship between Woollcott and Harpo Marx.
In a completely different way, Bette Davis playing such a toned-down, wholesome good girl is such a break from the roles one usually finds her in (especially today), and she plays it so well. Bette Davis is one of those transcendent actors who can play the sweetest of heroines and the vilest of villains and everything in between, and be convincing all the while. Love Bette Davis. On another note entirely, Ann Sheridan is positively stunning in this movie. Magnificent freeboobing too.
Everyone on earth owes it to themselves to watch The Man Who Came To Dinner. My favourite part is the nurse’s climactic, misanthropic speech. I wish I could find it on Youtube, but I can’t. So I guess you’ll all have to watch the film and see it for yourselves. You’ll thank me later.