(On TV, June 2018) There’s a weird, weird quality to Laura—a film noir with a dead protagonist overpowering all other characters, a hilariously unprofessional investigation and a literal ticking-clock denouement. And yet director Otto Preminger keeps all the elements in good balance, delivering a film noir that works almost better as a study of obsession than a straight-up murder story. Having actors such a Gene Tierney (suitably entrancing as Laura), Dane Andrews, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price (well before he became the prince of horror) also helps. The result is actually kind of delicious, what with the good dialogue, unusual structure (so that you’re not watching the same darn thing) and stylistic touches. Laura amounts to a surprisingly good film, perhaps not a core film noir but certainly adjacent to it.
(On Cable TV, April 2018) I think that what I enjoy most out of my data-driven method to watching classic cinema is approaching movies completely blind other than knowing that “a lot of people have watched this.” That’s how I end up watching films that may not sound interesting, but end up being surprisingly enjoyable. Hence The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, a film that sounds terrible from a simple premise (“Widower moves into a seaside house, ends up forming a relationship with the previous owner’s ghost”) but ends up being unexpectedly captivating, and even somewhat fresh even seventy years later. The magic of the film isn’t in its premise but in its execution, with the lovely Gene Tierney turning in an impeccable performance as a widower looking for a fresh life on her own, and especially Rex Harrison as a crusty sea captain having lost little of his lust for life even in death. The first unremarkable few minutes are competently made, but the film takes a life of its own as soon as the ghost makes his appearance. Harrison’s near-parodic take on a sea captain is charming, and the film seamlessly shifts gear from suspense drama to romantic comedy, complete with rather witty dialogue. Then there’s another shift as a live romantic interest shows up, setting up a dramatic triangle that provides much of the film’s third quarter. Then it’s off to another seamless shift into romantic drama, with a last act that takes surprising leaps forward in time, and completes with an incredibly satisfying conclusion. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir has too many rough edges to be considered an all-time classic (some of the dialogue is pandering, and many of the dramatic twists are implausible at best—the last act is particularly problematic), but it’s highly enjoyable and has more than a few pleasant surprises in store for modern viewers. Charming and surprising, it has aged admirably well and represents, even today, an exemplary example of 1940s Hollywood cinema.