Tuesday, July 16, 2013


When I heard the opening notes of Alfred Newman's theme to LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING, they were immediately familiar. Though I'd never seen the film before that music was absolutely recognizable as something I had heard used before. I can't specifically recall where I heard it, but I believe it was in the context of either parodying a "two people falling in love" kind of moment or something along those lines. It is a lush romantic piece of music and being from an iconic film like this, it's no surprise it's been used as a schmaltzy shorthand for love-y dove-y feelings in other films. 
Plotwise: William Holden, operating during his best period(50s-60s), plays an American newspaper correspondent working in Hong Kong who falls for a (proud to be)Eurasian doctor played by Jennifer Jones. There is some cultural clashing and teeth gnashing.
Jones is good in the film, but she is playing a widow and playing at a certain kind of detachment here that unfortunately makes her rather dull. It's not that her acting is bad, but the combination of the character and the aforementioned detachment, makes it very difficult for me to connect. Holden doesn't have his usual pizazz here either. His character is also kind of flat in my opinion. I guess I just wanted him to be more of a sarcastic, charismatic type. He's just missing some vibrance that I'm used to seeing in him. Everything here feels rather... mechanical for lack of a better description. Maybe I'm just heartless? Not sure, but I do know that I preferred my rewatch of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE(see below) to my first viewing of this. As I've heard Alonso Duralde say before, this film was just "a dog whistle I couldn't hear".
The disc certainly looks lovely though I must say. I know the film is much beloved and those that remember it fondly should be pleased with it. Absolutely worth picking up for fans.

It's always interesting to revisit 90s films if for no other reason than to see the various cast members that pop up.
It's also interesting to rewatch a film like this which is now sort of a staple romantic piece that is clearly taking cues from movies of the 30s, 40s & 50s(AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER is referenced constantly throughout). When you watch something like this where you've got a female lead character who is engaged to a rather boring, straight-laced fellow, you might think 'Geez I've seen this a billion times'. But whereas SLEEPLESS is influenced by more classic sources, a lot of romantic films nowadays are still taking cues from SLEEPLESS(and the late Nora Ephron in general). This isn't meant to make some claim that SLEEPLESS is particularly original at all, because it isn't. But at least, at the time it came out it felt very much like a movie imbued with a love of classic cinema.
I guess it might have been that sense of classic cinema that I zoned in on a little bit in watching it again for the 1st time in about 20 years. The other thing I responded to was how much I love Tom Hanks. My wife and I had just watched CLOUD ATLAS, a day or two before so it was neat to see Hanks in this period(which was his veritable heyday vs now when his popularity has waned a bit). Like I said, Hanks is something of a favorite of mine. He and Michael Keaton are two of the great comic actors of the 1980s in my opinion. THE BURBS is one if my favorite comedies and Hanks is stellar in it. SLEEPLESS is almost a transitional film for him in some ways though. He is playing things for comedy, but there's definitely a decent amount of drama here too. I have to admit that even against my all my instincts to dislike SLEEPLESS this go round, I was charmed by it. The stuff with Hanks and his kid was just too hard for me not to be amused by. And Meg Ryan was in here cutest period here so that doesn't hurt. To me, she's only cuter in JOE VS. THE VOLCANO. You know, now that I think of it, my adoration for JOE VS. THE VOLCANO certainly carries over some feelings to this movie. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan together again, sans brain cloud.
When I finished the film I realized that I didn't have really any vitriol for it all. I think I had inextricably linked it to YOU'VE GOT MAIL(a film that is unquestionably lame) in my head and that accounts for some my bad feelings towards it. I also think that after years of seeing crappy romantic films, this one almost seems refreshing in comparison. It is at its worst a bland, flat piece of fluff and at its best, a pleasant affable piece of fluff. Fluffy either way you slice it.

 Still Available!
PHILADELPHIA(1993; Jonathan Demme)
As mentioned above, we've been on kind of a Tom Hanks run in our house recently. He is truly one of my favorite actors and it's been a joy to go back and rediscover several of his films that I've not seen in close to two decades(!). The first thing I always remember about PHILADELPHIA is the Bruce Springsteen tune. His excellent song "Streets of Philadelphia" won the Oscar in 1993:
I remember seeing the music video a lot that year and it always stopped my channel surfing for a few minutes so I could listen to it one more time(and watch Bruce walking):
I'm pretty sure I saw the video/heard the song before I ever saw the film and it totally hooked me. At the time, I was not too aware of Jonathan Demme. I had seen and been kind of blown away by SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, so that sort of put him on my radar, but I wouldn't dig deep into his remarkable filmography(SOMETHING WILD, MELVIN & HOWARD, HANDLE WITH CARE....) till some years later. Demme was in something of a prestige period in his career so I would never have thought of him as the shaggy, independent voice he once was(not that any one part of his career is better than the other, just different).
I was certainly aware of Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington at the time and that the film was an "issue movie" getting much critical praise and attention. Speaking of Tom Hanks and Oscars, many will recall that he also won an Oscar for his performance in PHILADELPHIA:
There's so much I had forgotten about this movie. Not the least of which is how Demme chose to compose the shots. Many of them are straight-on close up shots of people's faces. It's a rather confrontational style that is really quite effective. There's a lot of ugliness that the film is confronting and it really serves it well to have to look into the faces of those perpetuating that ugliness. And makes it even more powerful to look directly into the faces of those that ugliness is being perpetuated against. The disc looks great and serves to highlight the decline of Tom Hanks' character's condition as the film proceeds. Seeing more detail absolutely is beneficial in this case as the film does focus a lot on people's reactions to Hanks and how he looks as the disease(AIDS) he is inflicted with takes a brutal toll on him.
It's a remarkably prescient and relevant film for the very moment we are living in today and I highly recommend that people revisit it or see it for the first time if they have not seen it before. Powerhouse performances from both Hanks and Washington that bring this movie to another level of potency and impact. Not to mention it's a great courtroom drama and I myself am a sucker for those.

Both films can be purchased from Twilight Time via Screen Archives:

No comments: