Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time: MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE and RITA, SUE & BOB TOO ""

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Twilight Time: MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE and RITA, SUE & BOB TOO

MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION (1962; Henry Koster)
This movie owns with a shot of a rocket going into space. Jimmy Stewart explains that part of the reason man has even taken to leaving the planet in the first place is because it's so darned crowded down here on earth.
I love that there was ever a time when families took a month long vacation together in the summer. Roger Hobbs (Jimmy Stewart) takes his family on vacation to the seaside for the summer and things wrought with trouble. First off, they've rented a dilapidated beach house with some 'slight' plumbing issues. Secondly, they've brought their youngest children with them, one a boy obsessed with TV, the other a bored teenage girl with braces. His other two older children arrive at the beach house later with their families. Instead of having a relaxing vacation (He keeps trying to read War And Peace on the beach but can't seem to get past page one), Hobbs is put through the comic trials and tribulations of trying to entertain his kids and deal with their various dysfunctionalities. Each scenario starts off with the best intentions and veers most often into disastrous territory. Hobbs always seems to be able to have end up having a moment or two of true connection with each of his kids. Overall it's a very pleasant light comedy held together by Jimmy Stewart and his affable charm. I've associated Stewart with a great patriarchal energy ever since seeing IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE at a very young age. He can be such a warm, nurturing, humorous presence it's no wonder he was the icon of cinema he became. He's quite good in these type of fatherly roles. In fact, Julie Kirgo's wonderful essay (included with this disc) makes a very apt and interesting connection between George Bailey and Roger Dobbs in that they are at two ends of fatherhood. George is just kind of getting going, he is "staring into the abyss" as Kirgo puts it, and Hobbs is more of a late era Stewart character - she calls it his, "grumpy, beset family man" phase. She also draws comparisons between Hobbs and Spencer Tracy's paterfamilias in FATHER OF THE BRIDE. The two are certainly if the same ilk indeed. Henry Koster directed this film and he and Stewart had collaborated previously on HARVEY back in 1950. The cast in MR. HOBBS is highlighted by the lovely Maureen O'Hara as Stewart 's wife John Saxon as his college professor son in law and Fabian as the fella who takes a shine to his daughter. The plucky score is by Henry Mancini (one of my favorite composers) and this disc features the Twilight Time signature isolated score track for your enjoyment.
I think that the thing I enjoy most about films like this from the early 1960s is this more relaxed sense of the pace of life in general. Seeing a movie like this makes me oddly nostalgic for that time though I never lived through it. I feel like the general attitude towards work and taking big chunks of time off has changed a lot since that time. It may just be me, but I rarely hear of people I know taking a month off of work even in the summer. As a father of two I would truly cherish time like this with my children. Even if the plumbing wasn't working.

BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984; Woody Allen)
in a career as long and varied as Woody Allen's it's easy for a film or three to get lost and nearly disappear. This most commonly happens with the more mediocre efforts in a filmography this vast, but there are often some buried gems in there to be rooted out as well. BROADWAY DANNY ROSE is one of those gems. Like another of his lost-in-the-shuffle comedies ZELIG, this film has a slightly different story style than some of his others. ZELIG is of course a faux documentary and is told in that style, while DANNY ROSE is conjured narratively by a group of old comedians telling stories in New York's famous Carnegie Deli. Both films are lovely black and white, and both were shot by the incomparable Gordon Willis. If ever there were a man whose films should have some sort of legally mandated release on Blu-ray, it's the films of Gordon Wills. Being as MANHATTAN is easily one of the most gorgeous movies ever made to my mind, it's always a pleasure to see Allen and Willis collaborate (especially in black & white).  Though DANNY ROSE can't possibly live up to MANHATTAN, it is nonetheless a lovely looking film. One shot that Woody and Gordon Willis seem to like is the long shot with people walking and talking in the streets of New York. Several of those here. There's even a sort of reprise of Woody running down the street as he did in MANHATTAN. What's most enjoyable about this movie though is the Danny Rose character. It's just an inherently funny idea that there was this fourth rate theatrical manager who had a blind xylophone player, a one-legged tap dancer, some balloon folders and a dude with a bird act. Woody's classic nebbish persona slots right in to the Danny character. All his nervous anxiety and paranoid comments play perfectly. What's great about Danny Rose the character and this movie though is they both have a good deal of heart to them. The main story of the film shows the crazy adventure Danny ends up going on when he's trying to do his best to please his star client (an over-the-hill, one-hit-wonder crooner from the 1950s). Danny is sent on an errand to go and retrieve his client's mistress and things go from bad to worse to worser. The mistress is a mobster gal portrayed by Mia Farrow. Both she and Woody play great off of each other (this was a time when they were a bit more fond of each other than they are presently) and it made me think a bit of their relationship in CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (though both his and her characters are much different in that film). Overall though, this is a good little movie and I'd say better than a lot of Woody's output in the past 10-15 years. Well worth watching if you're a fan of his that hasn't bothered to see it yet.

RITA, SUE AND BOB TOO (1987; Alan Clarke)
Though I've come to discover that this film was something of a cult item, I had not heard of it until this Twilight Time Blu-ray release. I had heard of Alan Clarke and was familiar with some of his films like SCUM and THE FIRM. I was also aware of MADE IN BRITAIN, though I hadn't seen that either. Being that the Clarke films I had seen were pretty gritty, violent tales involving gangs, punks and such, this movie was something of a surprise (though it still very much feels like an Alan Clarke film). It focuses on a sexual fling between an older married man and two teenage girls from a lower income area. This film reminded me a bit of a grittier Mike Leigh kinda thing. Don't get me wrong, I know Leigh can get a bit gritty in films like NAKED (which I adore), but for the most part his movies are softer comedies. This film, while it has some comedic elements is far from the sex farce that the title might suggest. The universe that these girls live in is a tough one and that certainly flies in the face of some of the lighter moments.
Alan Clarke's style here (and in general) lends to the gritty feeling and gives a certain immediacy via a lot of hand-held camerawork. Apparently Clarke's own cinematographer was said to have called Clarke's films "walking movies" or something to that effect because of all of the 'walk and talk' kind of shots in them. It's a style that meshes quite well with showing British life on the lower socio-economic side of things and immersing us in this world. One thing that really makes this film compelling is the performances by the two lead girls, Michelle Holmes (Sure) and Siobhan Finneran (Rita). Both ladies are perfectly convincing in their roles and quite charming. Their portrayed naivety certainly brings an undercurrent of sadness to the film, but it is nonetheless quite engaging. There's something about these two plucky spirits up against an often rather unpleasant world that also reminded me a bit of Todd Solondz's film WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE in some small way.
Included on this Blu-ray is a wonderful commentary from Twilight Time regulars Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo (who writes the excellent essays include with each Twilight Time release). Lots of great detail here regarding the cast, Alan Clarke (and his abilities as a filmmaker as well as casting) and British cinema of this period as well. 

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