Good old Eliza Doolittle with her flowers in Covert Garden Market…she’s so seemingly content in her existence on the steps of the famed London opera house. Then, along comes Professor Henry Higgins and turns her simple world upside down. From the classic play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and then adapted into a musical production by Lerner and Loewe, director George Cukor masterly takes hold of the big screen version, making Eliza, Professor Higgins, and all of the rest seem as fresh as the day Shaw originally penned them. Audrey Hepburn as Eliza caused quite a bit of controversy in the day. Julie Andrews, who originated Ms. Doolittle on the stage, was seen by Hollywood execs not to be “Hollywood” enough for the starring role. So, very Hollywood Hepburn was brought in as a replacement, along with professional-dubber Marni Nixon singing the songs for her. Rex Harrison was able to reprise his stage role of Professor Higgins (I guess he was “Hollywood” enough, or at least would not take no for an answer) and he did manage to “sing” his own songs. As in the stage productions, Harrison got away with his lack of singing talent by doing more of a “melodic talking” to music. Regardless of all of the hoops that were leapt through along the way, the end result is one fabulous film. And, even though I’m sure Andrews would have been great in the movie, Hepburn just shines here, as if Audrey and Eliza were one in the same. Isn’t it Loverly???

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For Roger Moore’s second time as 007, the filmmakers decide to go back to what James Bond does best…be Bond. In Moore’s previous outing as the super-spy for MI-6, 1973’s Live and Let Die, the best thing about it was the music (Paul McCartney and his post-Beatles band Wings did the title song). Here, Moore’s Bond welcomes back Q’s gadgets and his fast-acting romances. The plot is pretty silly (unlike the other Bond stories???)…Bond believes a famous hit-man (who only shoots his prey with golden bullets from a golden gun) has targeted him so he goes on the lookout for the assassin. What the “Man with the Golden Gun” really wants, though, is money (don’t they always want money!)…money for his clever way to harness the power of the Sun. But, if Bond happens to die, all’s the better. Christopher Lee (of Dracula fame) plays “The Man with the Golden Gun” but even though the role as a baddie usually offers actors to live out their fantasies of depravity, Lee does not seem to be enjoying himself. But, then again, maybe he read the script!!!! All in all, this is a fun romp through the MI-6 world of Bond and his ladies. Not the best Bond but not the worse either. A ringing endorsement, ain’t it?

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If you’ve seen Laura or any other of Gene Tierney’s films, you know she usually plays a good woman. Maybe not always a perfect lady but a law-abiding, seemingly moral character. In Leave Her to Heaven, any question of morality, honor, and integrity flies out of window. Tierney plays an evil woman. This is not giving anything away or being too harsh. Right from the beginning, we find out Tierney’s not quite right, though it’s not until later in the film that she reveals her true viciousness. And, viciousness might be putting it mildly. The story revolves around Tierney’s character’s relationship with Cornel Wilde. Some of the things her character does in this film…well, they are just unspeakable. And, Tierney pulls them all off with conviction and believability. This woman who can be so innocent and naïve in other films becomes this ruthless devil without skipping a beat. Watch this one because it’s a good film, but mostly because of the GREAT performance by a truly underrated actress.

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The Heiress is a magnificent film that defies 1940s Hollywood logic…the woman and man do not walk into the sunset hand-in-hand. Actually, what is even more defiant for a film of this era is a woman having power over a man. Yes, 1940s were the days of the powerful woman in Hollywood: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, etc. But, the films those women were in were mostly about tough ladies who needed the love of a good man to set them straight. The Heiress is nothing like that. The film begins by setting the stage that shy, naïve Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), the wealthy daughter of a stern New England doctor, played beautifully by Sir Ralph Richardson, will probably never marry. Catherine is plain, timid, and lacks what, as her father claims, men look for in future wives…aside, of course, from her money. Enter Montgomery Clift’s Morris Townsend, who takes a liking to Catherine but her father disapproves and believes Townsend is just an opportunist. By now I’m sure you’re wondering where the “powerful” woman enters the picture. Well, Catherine learns quite a few life lessons over the course of the film and in the end she is a strong, confident woman who knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t want. Even though George Cukor was known in Hollywood circles as being the best “ladies director,” I feel that director William Wyler gives Cukor tough competition here and with some of his other movies (Roman Holiday, Mrs. Miniver, Jezebel, Funny Girl , etc.). This film is a tour de force for de Havilland (she won the Oscar), but Wyler’s brave direction increases both the power of Catherine and the tone of the whole film.

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One of the most loved and acclaimed movies of the 20th Century, Gone with the Wind is the winner of eight Academy Awards®, including Best Picture. Best Actress® winner Vivien Leigh stars as Scarlett O’Hara, who is simply one of the most timeless characters in cinema history, not to mention one of the prettiest Southern Belles ever. Starting in Margaret Mitchell’s iconic novel on life in the South before, after, and during the Civil War, Scarlett became engrained in the American consciousness as the epitome of beauty and selfishness. She spends most of her time pining over a man she can never have (Ashley Wilkes), and when she can finally have him, she wants the one she has had all along (the infamous Rhett Butler). Her fickleness, somehow though, comes off mostly as charming…the men in her life just simply understand that this is how she is. And every time she is let down by one of her beaus, her Mammy (Hattie McDaniel in her Oscar®- winning performance as Best Supporting Actress) is right there to help Scarlett survive. After all, tomorrow is another day!

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As critics and audiences alike call this their favorite James Bond film, I guess I am no longer alone in thinking this is one of the best spy films ever made. There is very little wrong with Goldfinger and what is wrong is very easily overlooked because of the strong plot and even stronger characters. With many series, the filmmakers begin to wane and rest on their successes when number three (or so) comes along. But, this is the case where the third film truly is the charm. Number one in the series Dr. No and two (From Russia with Love) just seem like practice in order to get to this third installment in the Bond series. Bond creator and author Ian Fleming got the title Goldfinger from the villain’s name…a man who is obsessed with gold. Truly. And the actor who plays the man-in-gold (Gert Fröbe) fits the bill perfectly. Sean Connery’s Bond also comes into his own in this film. In Dr. No he seemed a little unsure of himself and in From Russia with Love, it was the opposite…he seems TOO confident as the super-spy. Here, Connery shows the right tone of power, control and fear. And the plot is also one of the best ever in a Bond film…with Frobe’s Goldfinger trying to destroy the gold in Fort Knox so his mass amounts of gold increase considerably in value. But, for Bond films, plot always seems to take a back seat to the gadgets, romance and action. Here, at least, they made an attempt at a story…and did a great job in the process. No worries, though. There are lots of gadgets, action and romance. Promise.

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Not having a sister, I’m not sure I complete understand the family dynamic in this film, but putting that aside, I feel this is a good film about love and relationships that neither gets too gooey or too preachy. It starts off like a lot of films have in the past…two siblings have more than their fair share of issues because they could not be more different. One sister is sleazy and superficial, whereas the other is brainy and slower in the “love” department. Sleazy sister likes loafing off her relatives. Brainy sister always is the responsible one who has to pick up the pieces of Sleazy sister’s life. After the Brainy sister finally gives up and kicks Sleazy sister out, the film takes an unconventional turn. Instead of having the typical resolution of “accepting each other’s faults” this one actually allows the characters to change and grow. Enter Shirley MacLaine, who plays the sisters’ estranged grandmother, and there suddenly are three intelligent female characters who are capable of transforming themselves without the help of a “good man” or constant attention from others. The three main characters use what they’ve learned from each other but on their own create their own change.

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This is the one James Bond movie that I enjoy mostly because it seems so dated. Earlier Roger Moore Bond films (Live and Let Die, The Spy who Loved Me and The Man with the Golden Gun (I’m not even talking about the REALLY DATED and just plain BAD Moonraker)) somehow were mostly able to avoid being bogged down with era-specific music and technology (remember – I’m NOT talking about Moonraker). But, For Your Eyes Only has great electronic music that is reminiscent of the Disco era at its best! Also, some of the gadgets and technology in this one are a little dated as well…such as the Identograph that Bond and Q use to help identify a bad guy who tried to kill Bond. The story is pretty solid…with your basic “Bond saving the world” plot. This time, 007 is trying to retrieve an encryption machine from men who want to use it against the British. I feel that this film is enhanced by Topol, who plays one of the most interesting Bond characters yet. If you’re in the mood for some good early-1980s fun, For Your Eyes Only is one you have to check out!

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The Day of the Jackal was a surprise to me. I have tried other 1960s/1970s-era spy films and had not liked them…The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Odessa File, etc. When this Fred Zimmemann film came on cable one night, I begrudgingly thought I would give it a go, but expected I’d be turning it off quickly. I didn’t. I was totally engrossed in the story and captivated by the inner workings of the main characters. The story begins in the 1960s with a failed assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle and leads us into a web of intrigue about a secret French organization that is determined to succeed in killing then President de Gaulle. This film plays like a documentary, which makes it slower-paced and more intense. Mostly filled with unknown actors (or at least actors who are not known to me) with the exception of Derek Jacobi…playing a Frenchman, no less…The Day of the Jackal demands all of your attention. If you take your eyes away from the screen for a second, an important detail might be missed. I’ve watched this one several times since I first saw it and each viewing, I catch something new…something that makes me like the film even more. From start to finish, this one captivates…it is truly one of the best, most taut spy thrillers ever made.

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First off, I’m not a big fan of “historical” or “costume” pics, but this one for me worked. It is a love story, a thriller, a drama and a heartwarming tale of both friendship and a saga of life-long betrayed all rolled into one. Based on the novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas, this story has been told before in movies, and probably will be told again…I mean there is so much hatred and passion in this one that it’s hard for filmmakers to resist using it for subject matter. What makes this version captivating for me was the look and feel of the film, and also the performances by both main players…Jim Caviezel and Guy Pierce. Caviezel plays Edmond Dantes, a man dastardly wronged by a man he assumed was his close friend…Fernand Mondego. Pierce is so malicious and cruel in this film that it’s still hard for me to see him in anything else and not see him as a villain. And Caviezel is convincing as a man who will stop at nothing to get revenge. The film is visually stunning, set mostly in France which has never looks better. The visuals themselves are so vivid that they tell their own story…so even if you’ve read the book or seen another version before, check this one out…for the look alone!

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