Film Reviews by Steve

Welcome to Steve's film reviews page. Steve has written 466 reviews and rated 7152 films.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

W.C. Fields: It's a Gift

This Keeps Getting Better..

(Edit) Updated 20/11/2021

Fields used his feature films to recycle favourite sketches from his stage acts, so they are inevitably episodic. It's a Gift feels like his first masterpiece because his tragicomic persona crystallises perfectly. He is a timeless, suffering everyman whose desires must always be thwarted. He only wants to go to California to run an orange grove...  

Fields' is a middle aged man whose wife has become alien to him. He is aware that he has been left behind by a changing world. His coping strategies have made him weary, and unfulfilled. There is a residual charm which is evident to the kindhearted, but looks grotesque to most. Traumatised by domesticity, he remains more gentle than his times.

 Like all film comedians, he creates a strong visual image: his cigar, white flannel suit and boater, the ruined nose. It's a Gift has a fine script. The opening episode is the funniest with Fields' grocery store destroyed by the blind/deaf Mr. Muggles, who after wrecking the glassware, hilariously crosses the road outside untouched by the speeding traffic.

Such are the frustrating laws of the Fieldsian universe.   He can see every disaster as it approaches, but is powerless to resist. All he can do is palliate with whisky and cigars. It is a standard strategy in comedy to place your protagonist in the last place he wants to be, which is exactly where the immortal Fields' character lives his life. 

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

The Marx Brothers: Duck Soup

Classic Comedy.

(Edit) Updated 20/11/2021

When comic acts from the stage got to make Hollywood films they were usually stiffed with B directors and budgets. The Marx Brothers fared better than most and here rated multiple Oscar winner Leo McCarey. Harpo, Groucho and Chico (and Zeppo in his last film) worked their act for years, and finessed their strong visual image and contrasting comic styles.

There's Groucho's fast talking wordplay, Chico's garbled malapropisms, and Harpo's destructive, primal mime. Groucho takes over the corrupt oligarchy of Freedonia which is slipping into war with neighbours Sylvania for whom Harpo and Chico are operating as spies. With populist governments emerging in 1930s Europe probably this was intended as satire.

But it's mainly an opportunity for the trio to unleash their trademark anti-establishment anarchy. There's a great visual joke with Groucho playing both sides of a mirror. Margaret Dupont again scores as their uncomprehending straight woman.  I like Marx Brothers films when Groucho is reeling off sardonic, convoluted, rapid-fire gags and not so much for the musical interludes of the other two.

Which makes Duck Soup their best film, dense with immaculate Grouchoisms.  It's the pick of their early Paramount films and it bombed, badly. The remaining three brothers left Paramount for MGM thinking that they were finished. But over the years Duck Soup has become an influential comedy (there's plenty of Monty Python here) and rated their masterpiece. 

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Gold Diggers of 1933

42nd Street II.

(Edit) Updated 20/11/2021

With 42nd Street a hit, Warners made Gold Diggers in its image. Busby Berkley arranges the dance numbers and the brilliant songs are again by Dubin and Warren. There are familiar faces on screen with Dick Powell as a blue-blood composer romancing Broadway showgirl Ruby Keeler, to the outrage of his stuffy Boston family.        

If the comedy, script and situations of Gold Diggers aren't quite to the standard of 42nd Street, Berkley's musical numbers are still sensational and the best feature of the film. The film opens with Ginger Rogers singing We're in the Money as the rented scenery and costumes are reclaimed. Broadway is feeling the impact of the depression.  

There's Shadow Dance and the amazing Pettin' In the Park. This time it's Powell who has to go on at the last minute after the juvenile wrecks his back, and Dick ends the routine trying to get Keeler out of her steel corset with a tin opener. There's some fizzy precode dialogue from Joan Blondell and Aline MacMahan. It's still a year before the production code.

 Remember My Forgotten Man is the showstopper with a phenomenal vocal from Etta Moten,  mimed by Blondell. Berkley cuts from the stage to scenes of men queuing at a soup kitchens. Warner Brothers supported the New Deal and Roosevelt. Berkley's numbers were usually beautiful confections, but here he showed you could dance the blues.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Trouble in Paradise

Lubitsch Classic.

(Edit) Updated 20/11/2021

The Baron (Herbert Marshall) and the Countess (Miriam Hopkins), have arranged a romantic supper in his swanky hotel in Venice. But soon they rumble each other as fellow con artists. After they have returned the trinkets they have lifted from each others, they move onto Paris as a team and steal a diamond covered handbag from a rich perfumer (Kay Francis).

Marshall finagles a job as the tycoon's secretary and develops romantic feelings for her while embezzling a fortune from the company. But Hopkins wants him for herself. It's a love triangle, except two of the lovers are kleptomaniacs trying to gyp the third and each other.

Marshall is very much at home in Lubitsch's Paris.  But it's Hopkins film in a performance that goes a long way to establishing a female archetype of the screwball comedy with her mix of the ditzy, impulsive and volatile.  

The dialogue is charming and witty and the farce is adorable.   But it's a comedy of manners which also refers to Trotsky and the wages of the poor. Unexpected and imaginative at every twist it is the last word on the sophisticated comedy which was Lubitsch's milieu: set in the romantic destinations of Europe, a place of irony, charade and repartee. And scandal. 

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Musical Frou-Frou.

(Edit) Updated 20/11/2021

Musical version of Anita Loos' durable 1925 novel, via the Broadway stage, and updated from the jazz age to the 1950s. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are two showgals from Little Rock, Arkansas. Monroe plays a gold-digger, Russell a sort of she-wolf, who sail by liner to Paris with the red blooded boys from the US olympics team, and an elderly gent (Charles Coburn) who owns a goldmine.

Predictable chaos ensues. Neither Monroe nor Russell were dancers and they kind of wiggle and sway through the film in synchronicity, singing half a dozen pretty good musical numbers, including the legendary showstopper, Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend.

There's a very funny script by Charles Lederer, heavy with innuendo, and Howard Hawks is a legendary comedy director.  But the film shines because of the performances of the two stars. They make dazzling, glittering magic, particularly Monroe, playing a sort of distorted femininity.  Its look probably influenced the future of drag more than mainstream chic. 

 It's completely weightless, and its values are materialistic, mercenary and soulless. But it is hilarious, irreverent and unique. It's the film that made Monroe a major star and the original good time blonde that would be copied across the world. What she does here, I'm not sure it's acting at all, or even sexy. But as far as the Hollywood comedy is concerned, she heralded the hedonistic, consumerist fifties.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

The General

Critical Favourite.

(Edit) Updated 16/11/2021

This civil war comedy-drama is now considered Buster's classic but it wasn't well received at the time.  He plays a rebel engine driver who isn't allowed to enlist and so is shunned by his fiancée. When his train, with his girl on board, is stolen by Northern spies, Buster must retrieve the locomotive, rescue the girl and secure a strategic advantage for the South.  

The General is an ambitious film, with armies of extras staging huge battle scenes, with spectacular stunts, shot in remote locations in a period setting. Keaton was thinking bigger than his comic contemporaries. Sadly, its failure meant his independence was compromised and he would soon sign a disastrous deal with MGM which sent his career into a spiral.  

But Keaton was still at his peak. His gymnastics around the engine are graceful and breathtaking, with many truly hair-raising stunts. He still performs his familiar persona, the Great Stoneface, but also inhabits a believable character. Marion Mack gives an appealingly ditsy comedy performance as his capricious sweetheart.  

While the film is spectacular, it isn't among Buster's funniest films. It doesn't help that many people are dying on screen. It's an action film. The period detail is persuasive and the star gives a brilliant demonstration of his prodigious talent as a physical actor and comedian.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

The Marx Brothers: A Night at the Opera

Too much opera.

(Edit) Updated 16/11/2021

When the Marx Brothers signed with Irving Thalberg, he asked them if they would take a pay cut as Zeppo had quit. Groucho replied that without him they were worth twice as much. It's a shame that no one could bring similar insight to the musical numbers that stretch their MGM debut over 90 minutes and introduce longueurs to their maniacal, fast talking comedy.  

The act was revised, toning down the anarchy, and making the trio more likeable by having them roast the bad guys, rather than just anyone. The difference is obvious, but there are still some long stretches of fabulous wordplay from Kaufman and Riskind, including the legendary Sanity Claus sketch.

 There is also the famous crowded stateroom scene. Margaret Dumont adds a little continuity by leaving Paramount with the remaining trio to play Mrs Claypole.  The vocals of Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones are, I guess, a matter of personal taste.

It's tempting to lean on the FF during the musical numbers. Harpo and Chico's recitals are actually harder to tolerate than the opera. They all slow the film down. Hard to be too critical as this was the biggest box office hit of their careers, but my personal preference is for the earlier, crazier Paramount films.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Ruggles of Red Gap

Comic vehicle for Laughton.

(Edit) Updated 16/11/2021

This is a vehicle for Charles Laughton's ripe, mature comic talents.  He is Ruggles, a valet won in a game of poker by a tycoon from the US west, (Charles Ruggles, channeling Walter Brennan) from an English aristocrat (Roland Young).  It's a fish-out-of-water comedy, but there is also a little light propaganda, as the inhibited servant finds freedom and equality in the new world.

 There is plenty of Lubitsch in the set up (Young and Ruggles are among his regulars) but Leo McCarey paints with a broader brush and a heavier touch. He even has Laughton quite solemnly reciting the Gettysburg Address!

 The film is funniest in the earlier scenes, as the wife of Laughton's new employer (Mary Boland) tries to get Ruggles to gentrify her reluctant spouse, mocking the (supposed) vulgar pretensions of Americans abroad. Eventually, Ruggles finds dignity in the American west and escapes the control of those in who would exploit his compliance.  

Laughton and Young give most unusual performances, almost catatonic, so inhibited are they in their seemingly feudal relationship. The implication seems to be that they are both damaged by their dependence on each other and their fatalistic belief that this is inevitable. Laughton is a matter of personal taste, I think, but this is his best comedy.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Laurel and Hardy: Sons of the Desert

Classic Comedy.

(Edit) Updated 16/11/2021

 This is one of the Stan and Ollie scenarios in which they have jobs, a home and wives, which always feels a stretch because they are incapable of carrying out even the simplest of instruction. We never find out what their work is, only they want to go to their fraternity's yearly convention to make business connections!

 Which of course their wives will not allow. The duo inhabit a domestic world of bullying and fear. Ollie's wife is often wielding a big knife and Stan's invariably is holding a huge rifle for killing ducks. They go anyway and are inevitably found out. Ollie is punished ruthlessly, with crockery.  

As ever, it's the characters of Stan and Ollie and the comic performances of the great stars that are the best parts of the film; their clowning, their optimism, their aspirations and their inevitable failures justified by the pair through the distorting lens of self delusion.    

There is a good script too and Charlie Chase is memorable as the drunk, middle aged practical joker they get lumbered with at the convention. Mae Busch spars well with Ollie, and Dorothy Christy is really quite scary as Mrs. Laurel. Laurel and Hardy often suffered with inauspicious directors and meagre budgets, but this is among their very best.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Top Hat

Musical Classic.

(Edit) Updated 16/11/2021

Fred and Ginger arrived as a starring double act with Top Hat. It was the first musical created for them, rather than the duo being cast into an existing project. It is a continental farce set in London and an extremely artificial art deco Venice with the classic device of mistaken identity keeping the sparring Americans abroad apart until the final reel.

 Fred handles the screwball dialogue pretty well, though Ginger is given little to do outside the dance spectaculars. The support cast is very much at home among the frou-frou of the plot, particularly Eric Blore as the unctuous valet of a bemused toff  (Edward Everett Horton). They seem far more married than Horton does to his wisecracking wife (Helen Broderick) .

 When Astaire and Rogers are dancing, particularly together, the film is sublime and they have some wonderful Irving Berlin songs to perform. There's the chic swing of Top Hat, White Tie and Tails with Fred backed by a male chorus line. The star dancing in his tails with a cane implies a whole world of style.

The duo performing Cheek to Cheek, with Ginger in that fluffy feather dress, is among their greatest routines. They present pure elegant romance and insinuate an unmissable sexual rapport. Astaire and Rogers together are one of the most enduring images of Hollywood in the 1930s. They must have looked otherworldly to audiences going through the depression.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

One Hour with You

Sparkling Lubitsch.

(Edit) Updated 16/11/2021

 In American films in the thirties, comedy was  a courtship dance that ended at the altar. For Berlin émigré  Ernst Lubitsch, that's where it started. Romance was a masque of deception, intrigue and impulse. His musicals in this period were set in a sort of Paris of the mind. In the context of early sound Hollywood films they were alien, exotic and a revolution...

...Until 1934 when censorship closed them down. Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald are happily married. So happy that they talk in rhyming couplets and break into song. Their relationship is so fertile with innuendo that it's their matrimony that seems salacious, and the marriage-go-round of their friends which appears the dull convention.

In the face of such conjugal joy, what can Genevieve Tobin and Roland Young do but try to break them up? Her, by seducing Maurice, Roland by exploiting this dalliance to divorce his unfaithful wife.  The suggestiveness of this film is astonishing, and hilarious.

Maurice has a unique charisma, addressing the camera directly and audaciously, singing in his boulevardier style amazing songs of sex and infidelity. Like Oh That Mitzi! and What Would You Do?   Lubitsch's films are artful, gravity free celebrations of the great game of love and they established the conventions of the sophisticated comedy.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Lloyd v Keaton.

(Edit) Updated 16/11/2021

The plot of Steamboat Bill, Jr.  is similar to Harold Lloyd's earlier The Kid Brother, but the style is different. Keaton's location shoot was more striking and his sets and stunts more ambitious. I think Lloyd's film was funnier. Both play ingenues, though in their mid thirties. Harold makes a romcom, Buster produces more of an action comedy.  

Young Buster is a softy brought up by his mother on the east coast. He leaves to work on his dad's ramshackle river boat, and falls in love with the daughter of the owner of a fleet of state of the art steamships. A situation desired by neither father. Love conquers all, but not until Buster has proven himself by saving everyone from drowning in a cyclone.  

The film is best known for its astonishing final 25 minutes when the town is ripped apart by the high wind and washed away in a great tide. Including the famous gag of the front panel of a frame house collapsing over a hapless Buster, who is saved by an open upstairs window. It was a stunt he had used before, but not on as grand a scale.    

Credit to the scenery and props department, their work on the storm scene is phenomenal, and complements Keaton's extraordinary performance as the man fighting nature. It is a tour de force and one of the great passages in cinema. Just watching him walking into the wind is worthwhile, and no one ever fell as well as Buster.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

The Kid Brother

Silent Romcom.

(Edit) Updated 16/11/2021

This is a sweet boy-meets-girl romcom, until the amazing last twenty minutes of action when Harold rousts a huge redneck who has stolen public money from his dad. Lloyd is the weakling youngest son of a family of tough rustic musclemen led by his father the sheriff. And Harold admires them devotedly, and dreams of being just like them.

The innocent Jobyna Ralston comes into town with a crooked medicine show, and her associates steal the town's savings.  And Harold goes to get it back, employing the inventive intellect that no one else in the family or community shows any interest in,  they being thick in the arm, and in the head too.

Harold plays his usual archetype, a skinny, optimistic do-gooder we can root for. His alliance with Jobyna is utterly virtuous. The film is dense with charming, clever gags and the set-piece climax on a wrecked ship gives Harold plenty of opportunity to display his character's wholesome determination and his own genius for physical comedy.

 Lloyd made more at the box-office in the 1920s than any of his great contemporaries. His work was so consistent. But it's 1927 and the talkies will change everything.  Lloyd did better than some, though his clean-cut hero began to go out of style in the sophisticated era of screwball. But, for me he remains the funniest of the silent comedians.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Sweet Smell of Success

Actors' Film.

(Edit) Updated 15/11/2021

The film begins like a typical late fifties film noir as Elmer Bernstein's big band scores a familiar montage of the neon lit streets of Manhattan. Then, with the seeming magic of originality, James Wong Howe picks up his camera and, wanders through the avenues and backstreets, clubs and theatres of Broadway. This location tracking was completely new for film noir and it looks fabulous.

Despite the corrupted humanity on show, and the noir aesthetic, there is no legal crime.  JJ Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) controls Broadway through his popular newspaper column and the secrets he holds over its players. He owns press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) because Falco needs the column. In turn the agents court Falco for his access to Hunsecker.

The screenplay was written by Clifford Odets, the liberal who named names to HUAC. The cynical showbiz food chain of Broadway represents the iniquities of capital and politics. The big cat feeds on the vulnerable minions of the neon jungle. Hunsecker has an unspoken incestuous obsession with his sister and leans Falco to break her engagement to a jazz guitarist

Manhattan is controlled by the syndicate which means Hunsecker, a populist with a god-complex who brazenly drums out his phoney patriotics and dares anyone to demur. He has a logo which gives him the eyes of Big Brother. This is the ultimate film that has no one to root for, and offers no sweeteners at the fade out. It is an intelligent, artistic work of overwhelming pessimism.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Write your review

100 characters remaining
4000 characters remaining

See our review guidelines and terms.

Sherlock Jr.

Sherlock Jr.

(Edit) Updated 15/11/2021

A one man show for Keaton. He had honed his blank, Great Stoneface persona in a porkpie hat over years in vaudeville and in dozens of comedy shorts dating back to 1917, and by Sherlock Jr. he was at his peak. Buster plays a projectionist who aspires to be a detective. Unfortunately he is fitted up by his rival for his girl to appear the thief of her father's pocket watch.

 Buster falls asleep showing a film about a jewel thief and dreams that he enters the screen and solves the crime. As it is a dream, the events become increasingly surreal. Other silent comics used incongruous back projection, but Keaton's (and his writers') imagination make it just that little bit more special with Buster also let loose in the film, destroying its realism.

But it is more than just a great idea. Keaton was also an extraordinary physical comedian, and the film is dense with amazing acrobatics, often of complicated, cerebral set ups. And so he stands on a huge water-pipe as it swings across the road and deposits Buster in the passenger seat of a getaway car.

 The contrast between Keaton's deadpan exterior and his bizarre experiences is the key to his comedy. It is hard to watch Keaton's extravagant, show-stopping stunts and not be overwhelmed by his ambition and his craft. For me he is the most enterprising and gifted of all the twenties comedians and Sherlock Jr. is his greatest work, one of the best silent films ever made.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.
1234567891032