#373- Judge Priest

Quick recap: A judge dispenses good ol’ Southern wisdom with a lot of love and just a touch of racism.

Fun(?)fact:  Stepin Fetchit played Jeff Poindexter, a ‘stereotypical 19th century black male’ in Judge Priest. Despite mostly playing dim-witted characters on screen, Fetchit was considered very aggressive and cunning when it came to getting compensated like his white co-stars. He was one of the very first Black actors to fight for equal treatment in the entertainment industry.

My thoughts: If there is one thing I learned from this movie it is this: If you ever find yourself on trial in the Deep South, tell a story about your confederate great-great uncle while someone whistles Dixie. It’s apparently that simple. In fact, tying an issue somehow to the Civil War could really solve all of our current problems. See, many people in the South don’t believe that global warming and why should they? Right now it’s only affecting penguins and polar bears up north. However, rising oceans will become a problem very soon for states like Mississippi and Alabama, and there are a lot of confederate cemeteries there. Doing something about climate change pays honor and respect to those brave, racist soldiers!

Stepping off my soap box and back into this review, I really enjoyed most of this movie even though parts made me really uncomfortable. Judge Priest was a sweet guy and got along with almost everybody. And I think he was a good judge too, although mischievous ways, like paying Poindexter to play Dixie to tug at the heartstrings of the jurors is probably illegal. But still, it seems as though 19th century Southern small towns weren’t really concerned with following all laws, as long as justice was served at some point. The beginning of the movie has Jeff Poindexter in front of Judge Priest, accused of stealing chickens. It seems an easy conviction until Priest reminds the prosecutor about various times he did basically the same thing. Maybe that wouldn’t fly in a big city but in this instance, people were satiated with the outcome.

It’s hard to land on a true opinion about this movie because so much of it is steeped in racist culture. Poindexter and Priest are considered friends but he still bosses him around and has him do unethical things for money, like he’s a puppet. And Aunt Dilsey is a sweet housekeeper but very stereotypical in that she lives for taking care of Priest and her main social activities consist of cooking and going to church functions. Still, there are glimpses that the director very much knew that these black actors were capable of so much more but maybe the audience wasn’t ready. It’s surprising to see a film about the South not completely turn into African-Americans being the butt of all the jokes. But maybe I’m just surprised because the bar is set so low.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Toy Story

Advertisements

#371- Bringing Up Baby

Quick recap: A woman with a pet leopard forces a hapless scientist to fall in love with her. Congrats?

It happens to the best of us

Fun (?) fact: Bringing Up Baby was considered a commercial failure at the time. It was so bad director Howard Hawks was fired from RKO Pictures and Katherine Hepburn was considered ‘box office poison’.

All cats interrupt phone calls, no matter how big or small they are

My thoughts: Bringing Up Baby is the original ‘screwball comedy’ because literally everyone is insaneHoward Hawks, in discussing why the film did so poorly, hypothesized it was because there’s no straight man to calm things down. Everyone, from the constable, to the housekeeper and to the main characters has their own ridiculous personality. Susan, played by Hepburn, exists as pure chaotic energy. She’s the first Manic Pixie Dream Girl! Everything she does sets off consequences (usually negative) to those around her, especially David, whose only fault is that he engaged with her. After that, it was all over. From what I’ve seen, it’s this frenetic pace that also helped turned audiences off. It was too witty, there were too many jokes being thrown around and too many characters who needed the spotlight. I’ve seen all sorts of comedies and this movie was ridiculously fast even for me.

But I still loved it. The main draw for me is the attraction Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn had. They were perfect to play opposite each other. Grant was a seasoned Vaudeville actor so slapstick comedy was nothing new for him, but Hepburn had never done anything quite like this. I think what makes her so successful is that she truly enjoyed herself. You can see how much fun she is having causing all this trouble and seems perfectly at ease in front of the camera. It’s hard not to fall in love with her. I enjoyed all of the acting, really, because in this movie, there was no such thing as over the top. And of course the leopard was just icing on the cake. I was worried he would used to do tricks and would be seen throughout the whole film, but that wasn’t the case. He’s integral to the plot but he really isn’t shown all that much.

Despite how well Susan and David worked together, their romance made me all sorts of uncomfortable. I know that’s the joke but she really did ruin so much of his life in 24 hours, including the final scene when she destroys his life’s work in a matter of seconds. Still, he tells her that their time spent together was the happiest in his life so far so maybe this will be the beginning of changes for him. One can only hope.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Beauty and the Beast

#366- Tabu: A Story of the South Pacific

Quick recap: Matahi and Reri are lovers who live in paradise. Everything is perfect, except for the fact that Reri has been chosen as a Forever Virgin as sacrifice to the gods. Oops.

Finally sinking in how messed up this whole thing is

Fun (?) fact: I assumed ‘Tabu’ to either be a lost island in the South Pacific, or some very complicated ritual a select group of natives followed. Turns out, it literally means ‘taboo’, as in, Reri becomes off-limits, or tabu, to other men. What a let down.

look at that………scenery!

 

My thoughts: Do you remember when you first discovered National Geographic magazine? You were probably in 5th grade or maybe middle school and the first time you opened one up you told yourself it was just for the articles since you wanted to be an archeologist, after all. But inevitably there was always, ALWAYS some photo shoot about an Amazonian tribe who had never heard of the concept of clothes and that, unfortunately, would be the exact second your teacher chose to walk by. That, my friends, is how this movie felt to watch. I tried my best to pay attention to the plot as best as I could but like that very first National Geographic photo spread many years ago, the tribe….aesthetic…..was hard to ignore.

Despite this movie being made in 1931, it’s not the worst when it comes to representing an indigenous tribe. Director FW Murnau filmed in the South Pacific and hired mostly locals. The beginning of Tabu is about as stereotypical as you can get with youths running around naked and just enjoying nature. But at the same time, it just didn’t feel exploitative . It surprised me how a silent film about a non-white group of people could come off as so humane. For example, there is a huge feast for Reri before she heads out to be a Forever Virgin (meaning no man can ever look or touch her again) and of course the girl is absolutely devastated. I loved how fed up the elder was that he had to deal with such drama, but it felt realistic. And so did Reri and Matahi’s relationship. They really seemed to care for each other, even though both were super naive when it came to being an adult.

As I went over the basic facts with my nine year old the next morning, as I sometimes do, I realized that this is actually a very tragic film. Almost 90 year old spoiler alert: Matahi and Reri run away to a different island only to be tracked down by the elder rather quickly. He threatens to kill Matahi if the girl doesn’t give in to her fate and she finally agrees because she loves him so much. Matahi refuses to give up however and follows her ship as far as he can until he finally succumbs to exhaustion and drowns. So basically the movies ends on a downer, except for the gods, who finally got their Forever Virgin.

Final review: 3/5. The nudity is pretty good too.

Up next: Cairo Station

#361- Trouble in Paradise

Quick recap: Gaston is one of the best con artists out there. He falls in love with Lily, who is just as cunning as he is. When they join forces to rob a rich woman, however, the plan goes off the rails.

two women in love with the same man? That’s trouble in paradise for sure!

Fun (?) fact: Trouble in Paradise was banned from public viewing once the Hayes Code took effect in 1935. It wouldn’t be until 1958 when people were allowed to watch it again.

So saucy to show a woman’s garter!

My thoughts: Is it possible to name your child Gaston and he not grow up to be a huge jerk? I feel like that name just seals his future somehow. Anyway, This was a fun movie to watch, especially since it was made in the pre-code era. Obviously there have been monumental films made during the Hayes Code but there is something about watching a director have fun with the story and not worry about getting in trouble. I think it also helped Trouble in Paradise feel much more natural than if it had been made just a few years later.

I think I was most surprised by how funny much of this movie was. Many times I’ll watch something and be able to tell that something is meant as a joke but it never makes me laugh. This movie definitely did, many times. My favorite scene is in the beginning when Lily and Gaston have dinner together. At one point she announces to him that she knows he is really a con artist, and he announces that he also knows she is one. They then take turns giving back various objects stolen from one another when the other wasn’t looking. It’s funny but it’s also ridiculously cute to watch these two criminals fall in love. I really liked their chemistry and when Gaston started falling for Mariette, the rich woman he wanted to rob, it made me angry that he picked the wrong woman.

As is also the stereotype in these early films, everything works out in the end. The solution was complicated and I’m still not sure who conned who,  but Lily and Gaston ended back together so that’s what matters. Apparently, director Ernst Lubitsch had what was called the ‘Lubitsch Touch’ which meant adding sophistication and wit to his movies. It’s very clear that Mariette and Gaston just want to have sex with each other but the audience has to read through the lines to figure out what is really said. In a time when raunchiness was starting to show through in many films (and the reason why the Hayes Code was created), it was nice to have a director trust his audience to really get what was going on without having to spell it out.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Anatomy of a Murder