Saturday, May 11, 2013

"The Desert Song" (1953)

In 1953 Warner Brothers released the third version of the operetta, The Desert Song. In fact, as you can see in the poster below, it was marketed as "The New Desert Song." This film was released in three-color Technicolor and in 1.37:1, not widescreen. The first widescreen film, The Robe was released by Twentieth-Century Fox in CinemaScope that same year. The first version of The Desert Song in 1929 was the first Warner Brothers film released in color, with the two color Technicolor process.

The movie is based on a hit stage musical that featured Oscar Hammerstein's book and lyrics. The basic plot is that the French are attempting to build a railroad line through the desert in Morocco but they are under constant threat by some Arab rebels. The leader of the rebels is actually a Latin tutor hired by the French general who is sent to protect the railroad from the rebels to watch keep a femme fatale named Margot from flirting with the army. The big surprise at the end is when she discovers that the rebel leader, who she admires, is the same Latin tutor.  Songs that do not do much to move the plot along are thrown in from time to time.

The storyline trots along but it is hard to identify with any of the characters in the movie. It fails to create any sense of enthusiasm in the audience for the lead characters. The comic relief in the film comes mostly from Dick Wesson's character, an American journalist always trying to dig up dirt. He's honestly the only character I can actually remember from this movie.  The film looks nice though.

I was able to screen this film during the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival. Robert Osborne had been hyping this film from the start of the festival. He was even there to introduce it. He informed us all that it was the first time this film had been screened in over 50 years in a theater.  Two of my colleagues and I sat in anticipation to film. Throughout the film, I can assure you that I was not the only person snickering and rolling their eyes at the movie. We all shared equal disappointment from the film after the credits rolled. We all wondered exactly why WB thought they needed to remake this film? Third times the charm? Because it wasn't.

After writing my thoughts, I dug up the original New York Times review of the movie. You can see that even 54 years ago, my impressions were shared.

The Desert Song FilmPoster.jpeg

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Iron Man 3 - A Stark Contrast

Another superhero sequel has arrived. I must confess that I am not huge fan of the genre, but there is something very endearing to the character of Tony Stark, created on screen by Robert Downey Jr. Perhaps it's his dripping sarcasm and snark. Perhaps, it's the fact that he feels like a real person, arrogant, yet human. Iron Man 3 has the legs to stand on it's one, while subtly fitting into the the Avengers film canon.

Things that stood out to me in this film is amount of times that Tony Stark was left to his own human devices. Often it was his own fault due to his constant tinkering with more advanced versions of the Iron Man suit. In this film, he is up to Mark 42. Between sharing the suit, waiting for the suit to show up and hoping that when it does arrive, that it will work, Stark is left to use his own physical strength and mental prowess to get through things. Stark is Iron Man, there would be no suit without Stark, but Stark would have little purpose in the world without it.

The villain in Iron Man 3 was also a fresh take. Without resulting to spoilers, modern issues with Middle East centric terrorism was dealt with in a way that was realistic yet carefully separated from any reality that we currently live within.  The concept of a terrorist leader, depicted by Ben Kingsley, who demands respect from all those he comes in contact with, is right out Al Queda. However, we soon learn that things are not as they appear. Kingsley plays "The Mandarin" who takes over all broadcasts networks whenever he feels like it to carry out his terrorist threats. Much in the same way that 24 hour news access brings into our living room everything going on in the world at any given time, the bad as well as the good. It reminds us that everything is not what it appears, media is often filtered and celebrity is subjective.

Don Cheadle returns as War Machine, who has now been adopted by the US Military and renamed the Iron Patriot. Iron Patriot plays a small supporting role, but when it all comes down to it, Stark is the creator of his own destiny and it's by his own creations that things are made whole again, at least for this Marvel installment.

I am not one who is overly excited for the Thor sequel coming along. I still have not seen the first one and was introduced to his character only in The Avengers. The next Avengers sequel is slated for 2015. Another Captain America is due April 2014. I have enjoyed what I have seen so far. Disney seems to be a great fit the Marvel Universe as all of these films have a bit of the magic and heart one expects from the Mouse House. I accept that my statement is controversial.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

TCM Classic Film Festival 2013, an adventure.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to experience the 4th Annual Turner Classic Movie Classic Film Festival, in Hollywood. This festival is unique but it will screen rarely seen films, new restorations and unique exhibitions, such as a rare screening of Cinerama Holiday at the Cinerama Dome. I began my weekend watching the premier of a restored digital print of Funny Girl inside Grauman's Chinese Theater. It was my first time in the theater and my first time watching the film. Streisand could not make it due to an invite to the White House. Instead, a surprise guest appeared and sat to chat briefly with Robert Osborne. That surprise guest was Cher.

Many of the screenings began with short question and answers from stars in the film. My two favorite were Tippi Hedren before a screening of The Birds and Max von Sydow prior to watching Three Days of the Condor. Both of those were also screened at the Chinese, which incidentally began a major renovation today, just three days after the festival ended.


An interesting screening was that of The Desert Song. Robert Osborne had been encouraging people to go see this film. TCM had been trying to get the rights cleared for several years and it finally became available. Osborne was even there to give the introduction to the film. My friend and I sat down and watched this movie with musical numbers. Musical numbers were presented usually as a entertainment in bars and clubs around Morocco, where the film took place. There was some Nazi's, some French and some oppressed Moroccans building a railroad.  There was a also a contrived love story mixed in. The plot was lame, the dialogue horrible and the acting, mediocre. Perhaps RO just had some nostalgic memory for this film, but I didn't get it.

The last film of the weekend for most, was a screening of Buster Keaton's The General inside the Chinese theater. It played with a live accompaniment. I left before that, so my last film was Condor.  I look forward to next year. Meanwhile, join many of my cinema compadres on Twitter under the hashtag #TCMparty. We live tweet along with TCM films. It's a guaranteed good time with snark and some great trivia as well.