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Belle Of New York, The (MGM 1952, Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen)

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Of enjoyable MGM musical The Belle Of New York, The Observer said, “…in its new way seems to be one of the most refreshing musicals Hollywood has sent us for a long time”. It was produced by the legendary Arthur Freed, among whose pictures were the great musicals such as Babes in Arms (1939), Meet Me in St Louis (1944), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), On the Town (1949, Take Me Out to the Ball Game , An American In Paris (1951), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Band Wagon (1953) and Gigi (1958).

Freed had originally intended to make The Belle of New York in 1946 with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland but the project was dropped when Garland dropped out during rehearsals. However, the production was reactivated for ASTAIRE. Based on a successful 1897 stage show, Astaire was cast as a playboy who had left five brides at the altar, finally to fall for straight-laced Salvation Army lass VERA-ELLEN.

The score features eight new songs by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer, among them Seeing’s Believing , Naughty But Nice , Baby Doll, Who Wants To Kiss the Bridegroom and a song that was destined to become an Astaire trademark, I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man .

Director Charles Walters had originally wanted Mae West for the role of VERA-ELLEN’s aunt but she wanted too much money. But a strong cast and top notch songs and magnificent choreography made this a hit and the sequence of Astaire and Vera-Ellen literally dancing on air to the tune of Seeing’s Believing remains one of the classics of the musical.

USA / MGM / 82 minutes / 1952 Filmed in technicolor

Writers: Robert O’Brien, Irving Ellinson / Adaptation: Chester Erskine From the musical play by Hugh Morton and Gustave Kerker / Music and Lyrics: Johnny Mercer, Harry Warren / Cinematography: Robert Planck / Producer: Arthur Freed / Director: Charles Walters

Cast: Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen, Marjorie Main, Keenan Wynn, Alice Pearce, Clinton Sundberg, Gale Robbins, Henry Slate, Roger Davis, Tom Dugan

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California Split (Columbia 1974, Elliott Gould, George Segal)

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California Split

California Split is a movie about the adventures of two card players, and it stars two of 70s-era Hollywood’s most prolific male actors. Elliot Gould (M*A*S*H, 1970) plays Charlie Waters, a small-time card player who has the charisma and moxie of someone who’s way better at the tables than he actually is. Alongside him is George Segal (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, 1966) who plays Bill Denny, a magazine writer who moonlights as a casual player. Charlie and Bill meet in a California poker parlour game that turns heated over a dealt card hitting the floor, raising concerns of cheating. Despite this, the game continues, and one of them wins. This leads to the two players getting mugged by one of the game’s sore losers, giving them an experience that’s worth bonding over. The two become fast friends and this starts them off on a poker adventure that will test and reveal their true spirit.

In a 1974 review, Roger Ebert called California Split a “magnificently funny, cynical film”, which is probably the best way to describe the succeeding events following Bill and Charlie’s meet up. Regarded by many to be one of the best poker movies ever made, California Split is a quirky but ultimately realistic and darkly comedic look into the life and mind of card players. Despite this, you don’t really need to know a thing about poker beforehand in order to enjoy the movie. It’s a classic American adventure movie that has inspired countless other road trip movies and casino films.

From start to finish, California Split follows Bill and Charlie through the race tracks, seedy bars, private poker parties, Vegas’ second-rate casinos, treating bruises with hot shaving cream, waking up to massive hangovers, and even another mugging in which their instincts are put to the test. The result is less of a movie with careful exposition, and more of what feels like an inside look into the hilariously nightmarish world of America’s casino scene. The Telegraph calls the film one of Robert Altman’s best out of his extensive catalogue. It is brilliantly pieced together by his signature subtle visual prose, realistically overlapping dialogue, and the bravely understated introductions of his many quirky characters, California Split is one of the 70s’ definite must-see adventures. Such was the film’s realism that PartyPoker state that legendary player Thomas Austin Preston Jr. aka ‘Amarilo Slim’ had a small part. In his time Slim was known as one of the greatest ever poker players, winning 4 WSOP bracelets, and would have been an inspiration for the two main characters.

California Split is definitely a treat not just for card players, but for anyone who likes well-crafted movies about friendship and the makings of the American Dream.

main stars
George Segal, Elliot Gould Ann Prentis, Gwen Welsh, Edward Walsh, Joseph Walsh, Bert Remsen

crew details
Director: Robert Altman
Producer: Joseph Walsh, Robert Altman
Director of Photography: Paul Lohmann
Editor: O. Nicholas Brown, Lou Lombardo
Composer: Phyllis Shotwell
Screenwriters: Joseph Walsh
Production Designer: Leon Ericksen

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Broken Arrow (1996, John Travolta, Christian Slater)

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Broken Arrow

Great blockbusters have simple, paper-thin plots but succeed because of great characters and fast-moving action and Broken Arrow, John Woo’s second Hollywood outing after Hard Target proves that. Air Force Major Vic Deakins (John Travolta) is bitter after being passed over for promotion but has a pension plan: steal a Stealth bomber armed with nuclear warheads and sell them to the highest bidder.

The only fly in the ointment is his number two, Captain Riley Hale (Christian Slater) but hitting the eject button mid-flight solves that. As Hale, aided by Forest Ranger Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis), sets off in pursuit of Deakins, with the authorities believing he had a hand in the theft anyway, the missiles change hands several times and, as the film draws to its climax, are primed and ready to explode.

What Woo, best known for all out Hong Kong thrillers such as The Killer and Hard Boiled , brings to the film is a series of all out action sequences, from exploding copper mines to fights on a burning train, from a bus that has to clear a gap in the freeway to a car chase across the flats of Utah. The cat-and-mouse duel between Travolta (a most satisfying villain) and Slater is non-stop and Graham Yost, who scripted Speed and Hard Rain , writes in enough exposition to keep the plot believable but the rest is all in Yoo’s capable hands.

USA / 1996

Director: John Woo
Writer: Graham Yost

Cast: John Travolta, Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Findo, Frank Whaley

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Forever Amber (1947, Linda Darnell, Cornell Wilde)

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Forever Amber

Forever Amber was adapted from Jerome Cady’s rollicking novel. Cromwell is dead and Charles II – played by George Sanders – is on the throne in this lavish costume drama. Cornel Wilde and his noble friend Richard Greene, on their way to London to claim rewards from the king for services rendered, stop at a country inn where Darnell sets her cap at Wilde and asks him to take her with him to London. When he refuses, Darnell runs away from the home of her lowly foster-parents and takes up residence at a tavern where she knows Wilde will stay.

Her cunning plan works when Wilde makes her his mistress but trouble is round the corner when under the patronage of Charles he becomes a privateer and goes off on an expedition, leaving Darnell with his money. Losing this in a swindle and hauled into debtors prison a highwayman prisoner, John Russell, helps her to escape with him and she begins works as his decoy. When Russell is killed, Darnell becomes the mistress of Captain Glenn Langan, who places her in the theatre where she enjoys the King’s protection. Her son, by Wilde, is born and when he returns from sea, he kills Langan in a duel before heading off again leaving Darnell free to marry elderly Earl Richard Haydn. For Darnell her career upward continues eventually becoming the King’s mistress until Wilde returns from his success in America, their son electing to return to the New World while Darnell finds herself jilted by the King and without a position at Court.

Time magazine described the film as, “an account of Slut’s Progress” and this is indeed a fabulous opulent epic drama from low life to high life and down again.

USA / 1947

Director: Otto Preminger
Writers: Philip Dunne, Ring Lardner Jr, adaptation by Jerome Cady, from the novel by Kathleen Winsor

Cast: Linda Darnell, Cornel Wilde, Richard Greene, George Sanders, Glenn Langan, Richard Haydn, Jessica Tandy, Ann Revere

 

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