Thumbs Up for Three (well, actually just two)
Cactus Flower (1969) What, really, can be said about a love...rectangle between Walter Matthau (shudder), Ingrid Bergman, a young Goldie Hawn fresh from Laugh-In and her skinny, nondescript beatnik neighbor? Only that it was far more entertaining than I could've hoped. Matthau is a dentist who hopes to date Hawn, but somehow, she's come under the impression that he's married - and no one wants to be a homewrecker, right? Sensing his impending loss, Matthau pleads his shy, introverted secretary (a still-flawless and amazingly comedic Bergman) to parade as his soon-to-be-ex-wife and inform Hawn that the marriage is over, leaving the delicious (shudder) dentist is up for grabs. But who ends up with whom is still being sorted out til the film's very finish. A truly classic scene: Ingrid Bergman in a dazzling blue dinner gown and mink stole, dancing freestyle among teenagers at a fashionable, free-love hippie coffee spot. Seriously, see this movie.
Double Indemnity (1944) Barbara Stanwyck * the dad from My Three Sons + Billy Wilder's directorial skill = film noir classic, non? Well...sort of. Double Indemnity is perhaps the kind of complex, mulitlayered film, much like Casablanca, that earns its due praise and respect upon multiple viewings, but doesn't have much clout the first time around. The plot seems simple enough: a frustrated wife (Stanwyck, in a hideous blonde wig) meets down-on-his-luck insurance salesman Walter Neff (yup, Rob, Chip & Ernie's dad) when he visits her home to inquire on the extension of the coverage of one of her husband's soon-to-expire policies. Intrigued, she realizes that if her husband were to have life insurance, she could gain a swift and sizable sum upon his death - if it's proven to be an accident. Scandal and intrigue arise as she and Neff work together to plot and execute the perfect murder. I stayed around to catch the end, but certainly not because of Stanwyck's acting; I could hardly call it a worthwhile film, but I will admit the suspense was nearly nauseating at some points throughout. Perhaps I'll give it a try in a few months and see if I can glean any new aspects to appreciate from it. Until then, though, I'll give it a double condemnation.
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) Before this past Tuesday evening, if you were to ask me anything about James Cagney, my response would invariably be "You dirty rat, you killed my brudda" in one horrible attempt at colorful dialect or another, because that's just one of those things I feel you're societally responsible to know - a timeless quote that you're simply born knowing to whom it's attributed. Imagine my surprise, then, upon realizing that the Yankee Doodle Dandy I'd tuned into was a good movie. Not just a decent movie, but a very good one (albeit a tad propaganda-laden, justifiable in the flagwaving months following Pearl Harbor). Who knew Cag could dance? And sing? And do comedy? And dance?! Did I mention the hoofing? Though not too similar to the vibrant, color-saturated MGM spectacles I'm used to, Dandy is just that - dandy. It's a delightful bio-pic of songwriter, actor, and stage producer George M. Cohan, and Cag pulls it off to a tee, infusing as much patriotism and enthusiasm into his character's creative forces as we'd like to imagine the real-life Cohan did. Cagney took home his only Oscar for his performance here, and I can say that as the real-live nephew of his uncle Sam, he definitely deserves it.