Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DVD: Recent Release Round-Up

Just Another Love Story (U.S. 2009). I read some rave reviews for this movie when it opened in New York earlier this year and kept an eye out for it. Next time I saw the title, it was on the new release list. Jonas is a Danish crime scene photographer, married with kids. He’s responsible for a car accident and goes to visit the victim in the hospital – where he’s mistaken for the woman’s mysterious boyfriend by her family and eventually the woman herself.

Some classic noir threads are at play here. The disgruntled man led astray, Cornell Woolrich-style mistaken identities. The opening minutes are too cute and self-conscious, but soon the movie settles down and tells its story simply and well. One of the better films of the year so far.

Murder at the Vanities (1934). Director Mitchell Leisen praised himself at the expense of Busby Berkeley in a book I recently read, saying that at least the numbers in this film could be staged in a theater. Because that’s what we’re looking for in a musical – rigorous fidelity to the confines of the proscenium arch.

It is a backstage film, so (minor) point taken. If only the numbers were any good. The best, “Sweet Marihuana,” gets by on the basis of strategic nudity. As a musical comedy lead, Kitty Carlisle is a great game show panelist. Her costar Carl Brisson is one of those European exports that takes America by storm, like bidets, Fiats and socialized medicine. The murder plot is investigated by Victor McLaglen, who delivers every line around a mouthful of corned beef. Dorothy Stickney is fun as a nervous maid, and you do get a little Duke Ellington.

Search for Beauty (1934). Olympic athletes Buster Crabbe and Ida Lupino (then a mere sixteen years old, using her native English accent, and wearing scary eyebrows) are hoodwinked by con man Robert Armstrong (King Kong) into fronting a lurid “fitness” magazine. The kids then set up a spa, which Armstrong tries to turn into a brothel. Featuring multiple bare asses of the male variety and a number, “Symphony of Health,” best described as Leni Riefenstahl’s Xanadu.

The latter two films, part of Universal’s new Pre-Code Hollywood Collection, feature fetching ‘30s sexpot Toby Wing and actress Gertrude Michael. A hellraiser who dated pulp novelist Paul Cain and inspired a character in his legendary Fast One, she’s easily the best thing in both movies.