Escape into the world of the early 20th Century English Countryside with Noël Coward’s Easy Virtue, an enchanting romp of manners, moral conduct and forbidden love. Fun from the first scene, playwright Coward writes a taut, clever piece here, that is dazzled up for the big screen with a strong cast and a beautiful setting. British period piece stalwarts Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas shine as the patriarch and matriarch of a dizzy, dysfunctional family, the Whittakers. Mrs. Whittaker tries desperately to keep her family proper, which is a task that seems impossible at times and the entire family spends most of its time trying to live up to the expectations their stern, rigid mother has set for them. Case in point, her son, John, brings home an American widow, Larita, as his new wife and the mother has to find a way to accept this sophisticated yet unrefined woman into her household. Or, better yet, John has to find a way to shield Larita from his mother’s tyrants and constant quibbling about the fact that Larita is less than ready for British country society. Constant banter from mother, son, wife and the whole gaggle of Whittakers provides non-stop entertainment.
Jessica Biel as Larita could be seen as an unconventional choice. But, Biel lives up to the Larita that Coward himself might have envisioned. She is playful and sweet, without being too over-the-top. Her frustration with her mother-in-law’s acceptance of her seems convincing, though Biel’s Larita does not in any way give in to Mr. Whittaker’s demands and streaks of terror. Kristin Scott Thomas shines here as the dominating, over-bearing mother. Out of major filmmaking for a time, Thomas made several recent films in France, though she is best known for her work in The English Patient, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Actress. Colin Firth, in my opinion, steals the show here, as the gruff, unruffled, disheveled, recently resurfaced father. His character has a seemingly small role, but it is intricate to the plot and Firth makes it so when Mr. Whittaker is on screen, you cannot notice anything else…which for the nutty, whirlwind behavior of this family is saying something. The soundtrack adds not only to the time period, but to the franticness of the antics…altering lively, modern tunes into 1920s-style rhythms.
All-in-all, a fun, exciting two hours in the English Countryside…with some quirky characters along for the ride.

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A sophisticated romantic comedy directed by George Cukor about a rich, spoiled socialite (Katharine Hepburn) who learns some things about who she is and what she really wants on the eve of her second marriage. Cary Grant co-stars as her former husband who cleaned up his act and hopes to make amends with his ex-bride. Jimmy Stewart (who won his only Best Actor for this role) also stars as a reporter who gets caught up in the whole mess. Definitely the perfect film cast, the three stars do some of their best comic work in his film, especially Hepburn, who rose back to the top of Hollywood after this starring role. Reconceived as the musical High Society in 1956 with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly, but this original film didn’t need music to be a fun, entertaining ride!

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Who knew that lighting two cigarettes at a time would be so romantic? I guess Paul Henreid knew, since he did that for Bette Davis in this film. That scene is just one of many tributes to their characters’ love and affection for each other. Davis plays frumpy and wealthy Charlotte Vale, whose mother has a hold over her so strong that Charlotte has a nervous breakdown. While recovering, she also undergoes a physical transformation that takes her from an awkward gal into an elegant, sophisticated woman of the world. Yes, it’s a little cliché and “convenient but Davis makes her character’s sudden transformation work. Charlotte’s relationship with unhappily married Henreid soon becomes the focus of the film and even once Henreid is out of the picture, Charlotte is never able to put him out of her mind. A tour-de-force by Davis, who did many good films, but few as moving and sentimental as this one.

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Silly but stylish comedy about a young ditzy girl from a ditzy family who, during a charity scavenger hunt, meets a “forgotten” homeless man. The man plays along with the scavenger hunt gag and allows himself to be turned in as the grand prize. To reward him, the young girl makes him the family’s new butler. Of course, everyone knows what is going to happen – somehow the unlikely duo will fall in love and, not to ruin it for anyone, the “happy endings” cliché does occur here. But, leading up to the ending is a film filled with fun, mostly because of the true comic genius of Carole Lombard. The chemistry between her and William Powell’s “forgotten” man allows the audience to believe that fantasies like this do come true. When you hear the word “screwball,” what/who do you associate with that word? After seeing this quintessential “screwball” comedy, you will think of Carole Lombard every time.

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This film set the stage for early romantic comedies and also gave the brilliant career of director Frank Capra a boost. While running away from the demands of her strict, wealthy father, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) meets struggling newspaperman Peter Warne (Clark Gable) on a bus going from Florida to New York City. They cannot be more different: he likes to drink more than work and she is spoiled and prudish about everything. What should be just a two-night ride turns into a much-longer trip filled with stops and mishaps, all of which bring the two closer together, despite their differences. This movie’s sharp, witty dialogue inspired a new form of film comedy, where the characters’ initial love/hate relationship inevitably turns to romance. This comedy style was used later for films such as Howard Hawks’ 1940 classic His Girl Friday and George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story, also from 1940. Neither Gable nor Colbert wanted to make this comedy, but after they were both honored with Academy Awards for their work, they were probably glad they did. It Happened One Night also won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay Oscars.

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The teaming of the comedy team of Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and director George Cukor leads to comic mayhem as a bright rich girl steals her sister’s fiancée, a struggling young lawyer. Not the most famous of the Grant/Hepburn/Cukor pairings (The Philadelphia Story would have to take that prize) but I feel it’s the best. The comedy has a quirky, strange quality that makes it unconventional, which might be why it was not initially received as a classic, but it’s not too strange to miss this wonderful film.

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Can Cary Grant be a murderer? That is the question director Alfred Hitchcock attempts to answer in this film. Grant plays wandering playboy Johnny Aysgarth who catches the eye of rich, dull Lena, played in her Oscar-winning role by Joan Fontaine. The question that continually plagues the audience, and eventually Lena, is why did Johnny pick her. One of the more obvious reasons is her money, something which becomes almost a given after Johnny pawns some wedding gifts to gamble. The major flaw in this film is the end, but that is not the fault of Hitchcock nor the actors. Hitchcock wanted to remain faithful to the book this story is based on (Before the Fact by Francis Iles) and keep the dark ending, but his producers had trouble dealing with Cary Grant as a murderer. Even with that disappointing final scene, this is still a taut, tense thriller that will keep the audience guessing.

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