Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Movies I’ve recently stared at on TCM #10

The Magic Box (1951) – I know I ought to be ashamed for not having gotten around to seeing this wonderful movie before (what can I tell you—I’ve been sick) but it’s a real beaut—and in Technicolor, to boot. Robert Donat plays William Friese-Greene, the British inventor to first patent a commercially viable motion picture camera. Box is a positively spellbinding biography of a forgotten man, splendidly acted by Donat (who is amazing in the role of an individual who, although likeable, has many faults and frailties) and a virtual Who’s Who of British cinema at the time, with appearances and cameos played by the likes of Richard Attenborough, Ronald Culver, Joyce Grenfell, Robertson Hare, William Hartnell, Thora Hird, Stanley Holloway, Michael Hordern, Sidney James, Glynis and Mervyn Johns—the list goes on and on. The most famous scene in Box occurs when Donat’s Friese-Greene finally perfects his invention and drags a constable off the street to show it to him…said bobby being played by Laurence Olivier, who tells Friese-Greene: “You must be a very happy man.” Sadly, things weren’t always rosy for the visionary Friese-Greene…but his life makes a movie not easily forgotten. Directed by John Boulting and written by mystery great Eric Ambler as a cinematic pageant for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Seven Days to Noon (1950) – John Boulting is back in the saddle as director of this white-knuckle suspense thriller (with his twin brother Roy producing) that nabbed a Best Writing-Motion Picture Story Oscar for scribes Paul Dehn and James Barnard. An atomic scientist (Barry Jones) starts to have serious doubts about his work and decrees that he’ll blow up London in one week unless the government rids Britain of nuclear weapons. Rampant rumors of war and expressions of sheer panic ensue, of course. The interesting thing about Noon is that it really hasn’t dated all that badly…plus it’s curious to note that while the powers that be have decided the scientist has simply gone funny in the head due to overwork the viewer can clearly see that the man is an intelligent and sane individual whose commitment to a safer world is free of the fear-based politics practiced by the Lord High Muckety-Mucks (that have declared he’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs). Noon’s lack of a big-name cast (star Jones appeared in a lot of movies, including the aforementioned Box and Brigadoon) immeasurably helps the picture sustain its suspenseful mood; TCM announced this as a “premiere” (the first time shown on the channel) but I caught it a long time ago on a public television station and it’s still first-rate.

The Late George Apley (1947) – Another TCM “premiere” (though I’m pretty sure Fox Movie Channel has run this one before) that I went in thinking I wasn’t going to like…but then again, Ronald Colman rarely lets me down. Ronnie plays the titled character, a stuffy Boston aristocrat convinced that Beantown is the center of the universe and that his progeny (daughter Peggy Cummins, son Richard Ney) are making serious mistakes when it comes to their romantic relationships. Cummins is sweet on Charles Russell (yes, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar) who’s a Yale man (Heavens to Gimbels!) and lectures on the “radicalism” of Ralph Waldo Emerson; Ney is enthralled with a girl (who we never see) who lives in Worcester (Colman: “From Worcester? A foreigner!”) and ignores the affections of his lovestruck cousin Agnes (Vanessa Brown). The source material from this film came from a novel by John P. Marquand (of Mr. Moto fame), who later turned it into a stage success (with George F. Kaufman); the screenplay by Philip Dunne has lost very little of its sarcastic bite, particularly in actor Percy Waram’s dialogue (he plays Colman’s sardonic brother-in-law), where most of the best lines in the film emanate. Colman is great in the title role (his character reminds me of the professor he plays in The Talk of the Town), and he’s ably assisted by the aforementioned players…as well as Edna Best (as his devoted wife), Richard Haydn, Nydia Westman and Mildred Natwick (who has a priceless exchange of dialogue while holding a cuckoo clock).

1 comment:

Toby said...

When I was deep into the whole idea of the star system and movies, I always had The Magic Box on the edge of my radar; told that it was full of big names.

And now, to find out Michael Hordern, Glynis Johns, AND William Hartnell are in it? Yeah yeah yeah.... Olivier. Great. It's these three I'd see it for!