Friday, January 14, 2011

No. 86: Mutiny On The Bounty

Right now, I’m sitting at home with a mug of steaming tea, watching the wonderful Fred and Ginger flick Swing Time(1936). I have a nasty cold, and it’s not very fun. On the bright side: my mom has a cold, too! We’re hunkered down for the day (with the sleeping dog) watching classics. I could get used to this.

I kept putting off watching AFI #86, Mutiny On The Bounty. Why? Maybe I thought it wasn’t a fun movie, or it wasn’t interesting. Whatever I may have originally thought, I’m glad to say I was completely wrong.

In the late 1700’s, über-crazy Captain Bligh (Laughton) embarks on a journey to Tahiti with his first mate, Fletcher Christian (Gable) and a naive midshipman, Roger Byum (Tone). The Captain’s harsh and abusive treatment of his crew eventually causes Fletcher to lead a mutiny, leaving Bligh stranded in a longboat at sea. Fletcher and the crew flee, first living in Polynesian paradise, but ultimately forced into hiding on remote Pitcairn Island for the rest of their lives. Somehow, Bligh makes it back to England; the few crew members that supported him [including Byum] also get home, but are accused of mutiny and are sentenced to hang. Using his wealth and connections, Byum manages to escape the noose - but the rest of the crew isn’t so lucky. Bligh stays crazy as ever, and Fletcher and the mutineers live a lonely life on their island. An almost-happy ending? It was good. Anti-climactic, but good.

There’s a lot to love about Mutiny On The Bounty. My mom thinks Clark Gable looks best wearing a suit and fedora (or being Rhett Butler). Me? I think he looks just dandy in a sailor’s outfit. Charles Laughton is absolutely perfect as insane Captain Bligh - he creates a character so sadistic, it’s painful to watch. The stellar supporting cast adds humor and depth to the story, especially Henry Stephenson, Donald Crisp, and the wonderful Spring Byington. The dizzying camera shots of the ship are simply gorgeous, and the director made the most of South Pacific location shooting, bringing the colorful atmosphere of Tahiti through black-and-white film.

I honestly can’t think of anything I dislike about this film. The ending is a little unsatisfying; the movie is so grim that it just feels wrong to have a semi-happy ending. Other then that, it’s perfecto.

So, if you like:

* Sets that seem to have inspired Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean

* Caricatured seamen (bottles of rum and all)

* The craziest sea-captain you’ll ever meet – puffy-lipped Charles Laughton at his scene-stealing best

* Clark Gable in a fantastic sailor outfit. ‘Nuff said.

* Camera shots of the ship that make you seasick

..then you’ll love Mutiny On The Bounty.

Next up, No. 85, Duck Soup (1933) – the fantastic Marx Brothers classic. I love this movie. So, so, so, so, so much. I’m excited. Stick around and read about it!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

No. 87: Frankenstein

Frankenstein (1931)

Starring: Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, Mae Clarke

Directed by: James Whale

Awards won: …none? [That’s ridiculous.]

When I walk through a video store, I get sidetracked looking at garish horror movies: blood splatters, dead bodies, vampires and zombies. But those aren’t the horror movies I like. I prefer the older horror flicks of the 30’s and 40’s, like the original Dracula (1931).

With this in mind, I was excited to watch Frankenstein again. I love the Mary Shelley book (1818), and this movie adaptation is always fun to watch. Read on!

Most people know the story of Frankenstein. Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Clive) ditches his fiancé (Clarke) to work on his grand experiment: creating a man from parts of exhumed corpses. He reanimates his man-creation (Karloff), and he quickly turns into a violent monster. The monster escapes, roaming and wreaking havoc on the countryside. Eventually Dr. Frankenstein and an angry mob trap the monster in a windmill tower, and burn the building down, destroying the “Frankenstein” monster.

After the movie, I thought “Wow. I’m going to have problems thinking of negative points to write about.” That doesn’t happen too often. Seriously - I loved almost everything about Frankenstein. It might not scare the same way modern horror movies do, but it still has goosebump-raising elements of shock and suspense. Every scene is rich in detail, which was rare for an early horror movie – it could have easily been complete camp. Boris Karloff’s performance is fantastic. The creepy way he smiles as he tosses a child into a lake, how he swings his arms as he slowly climbs the stairs, the way his fearful eyes react to a lighted torch – it’s really a timeless performance.

I can only think of a few minor negative points. Some parts of the movie are unintentionally funny; the monster’s incessant groaning made me laugh, but you know what? It didn’t make the movie any less enjoyable. Some of the dialogue was a little cringe-worthy (“My god, the monster is upstairs!”), but you know what? I still enjoyed the movie.

So, if you like:

* Incredible sets and atmospheric lighting, from laboratory to countryside

* Beautifully staged black and white cinematography, ahead of its time

* Mad-scientist crazies at their best

* A body re-animation scene that would inspire countless re-animations, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Star Wars

* A good supporting cast. Though the story is vaguely set in Germany, their accents run from British to German to American

..then you’ll love Frankenstein.

Next up, No. 86: Mutiny On The Bounty (1935), starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable. This is a good one – and a very dramatic one. Stick around and read about it!