Thursday, June 30, 2016

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Films: Michael Clayton
Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of George Clooney as an actor. There are times when I really like him, when he seems like the right guy to be there, and times when I think he’s just relying entirely on being George Clooney. He’s hit or miss with me, which leaves me wary. Michael Clayton is clearly his movie, despite Tilda Swinton winning the only Oscar out of its many nominations. Honestly, I only recorded this because I scrolled past it and I didn’t know what to expect from it.

Michael Clayton is the story of a lawyer who both has problems and whose main talent is fixing problems. Our titular character (played by the aforementioned George Clooney) is currently about 75 large in debt to a loan shark. The debt comes from a restaurant he and his brother attempted to open. Sadly for Michael, his brother is a junkie and used the money to fuel his drug habits, leaving Michael—who refuses to sell out said brother—on the hook.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Workman's Comp

Films: The Devil and Miss Jones
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the surprise pleasures I’ve had on this blog over the past 18 months was discovering The More the Merrier, a sort of screwball comedy right in the heart of the war years. That movie featured the talents of Charles Coburn and Jean Arthur as well as those of Joel McCrea, and it’s an entertaining little romp that is probably exactly what people needed in the middle of the war. The Devil and Miss Jones comes from a couple of years earlier and is thus an earlier pairing of Coburn and Arthur, and minus Joel McCrea. McCrea is replaced by Robert Cummings, who is pleasant enough, but hardly of the same caliber.

Anyway, this is from 1941, so the winds of war were certainly starting to blow, but hadn’t yet reached American shores. Because of that, The Devil and Miss Jones is not about any sort of war effort, but about the plight of American workers and the problems encountered with the men who run such companies. In truth, it’s a lot closer to a 1940s version of “Undercover Boss” than anything else.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Skin Deep

Films: The Rose Tattoo
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

Most of The Rose Tattoo takes place inside the house of the main character, a good indication that this was based on a stage production, which it was. Tennessee Williams apparently wrote this with his friend Anna Magnani in mind, but she didn’t feel she had a good enough command of English to play the role on stage. Four years after the show debuted, Magnani did take the role in the Hollywood adaptation, one for which she won an Oscar. It’s a pretty straightforward play, based almost entirely around a single character.

I’ve seen plenty of Tennessee Williams adaptations--A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof--but this one was new to me. It’s also substantially different from some of Williams’s other plays, particularly when it comes to the ending. That’s not a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just a thing worth mentioning. Like many of his plays, though, The Rose Tattoo focuses on a woman in the south who is repressed in some significant way and damaged by the events of her past.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Thai-ing One on

Films: Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness
Format: Turner Classic Movies on laptop.

Documentaries have a long history, and early documentaries have an interesting history in that realism was often eschewed in favor of compelling narrative. That’s at least partially the case with Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, the only documentary ever to be nominated for anything like a Best Picture award. It was actually nominated for Best Unique and Artistic Picture, an award that vanished after the first Oscars and became essentially a part of the Best Picture category. This is sort of an ethnography, albeit with some bits that were staged. To the credit of the filmmakers, though, these events were evidently restaged because the original footage didn’t turn out, so these are at least based on real events.

Chang is the story of a “family” in Thailand back when it was still called Siam. On its face, it’s the story of a family trying to survive in a jungle and trying to raise a small crop of rice while dealing with predatory cats and stampeding elephants. Based on that, it’s hardly a shock that this was such a hit the year that it was released.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Films: A Song to Remember
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin' flatscren.

I can’t claim to have entered A Song to Remember with my normal neutrality. The truth is that I’ve only liked Cornell Wilde in a single film and I haven’t been impressed by Merle Oberon beyond her beauty in anything. A movie that puts them as a romantic pairing is, to me, the bland mating with the wooden, and it’s difficult to work up enthusiasm for that. Fortunately, there’s an interesting historical context to put A Song to Remember in, one that makes this far more interesting than it might have otherwise been.

This is the story of Frederic Chopin, the great Polish composer, best known for his waltzes. Chopin, greatly acclaimed, died young, and A Song to Remember attempts to tell us why. We start with the young Chopin (played as a youth by Maurice Tauzin) and his instructor, Professor Joseph Elsner (Paul Muni). Young Frederic is a talented pianist and even a budding composer before his 12th birthday, but is terribly troubled by the problems of Poland, specifically by Poles being taken into custody by Russian authorities.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bear Down

Films: The Revenant
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When The Revenant came out last year, it because the latest film to start the chant of “Give Leo an Oscar!” Well, this time it worked, and strangely enough for the film in which Leonardo DiCaprio says less than in any other of his films. Someone needs to start that chant for Richard Deakins, by the way—the man has 13 nominations without a win. Anyway, even before I saw the teaser of the next version of the 1001 Movies book, I figured The Revenant was a virtual lock. It’s got everything the compilers of the book want in a film. It’s long, it’s daring, it’s highly acclaimed, and it’s got a star they love.

It’s also worth noting that it’s evidence that several people had a really good 2015. Tom Hardy was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this and also played the title role in Mad Max: Fury Road. Domnhall Gleeson plays prominently in this and was in Brooklyn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the critically-acclaimed Ex Machina, a film that also starred Oscar Isaac, who was big in the latest Star Wars film and Alicia Vikander, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in The Danish Girl. It’s like Six Degrees of Oscar.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

America's Singing Sweethearts

Films: Naughty Marietta
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you talk about classic screen couples, a few names come up. Fred and Ginger, naturally, but also Tracy and Hepburn, William Powell and Myrna Loy, and Bogie and Bacall. I think it’s fair to mention Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in that crowd. They made eight films together, and their films were incredibly popular. The first of these, Naughty Marietta (sometimes called Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta) is the only one nominated for an Oscar, at least in the categories I care about.

I have to admit, I was worried. I’ve seen a few Jeanette MacDonald films and have either liked them or at least been neutral on them. MacDonald was an engaging presence on screen and she had great timing for light romantic comedy. The problem is the singing. I’ve learned to appreciate musicals a lot more in the last six years, but opera just doesn’t work for me, and she was definitely an operatic singer. The singing, in fact, has been the hardest part of her films for me to deal with, even if I’ve liked everything else. Nelson Eddy is a new one on me; all I really knew about him is that my mother wasn’t a fan.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Blue Balls

Films: That Obscure Object of Desire (Cet Obscur Objet du Desir)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

The filmography of Luis Bunuel has been a mixed bag for me. There have been some of his movies that I have really enjoyed, like The Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. There have been others, like Las Hurdes that I have absolutely hated. I’m always a little apprehensive going into a Bunuel film because I’m not sure what I’m going to get. That Obscure Object of Desire (or Cet Obscure Objet du Desir if you prefer) is Bunuel’s last film. I went into it not knowing what to expect.

The biggest issue I have with Bunuel is the problem I have with absurdism in general. I don’t know if I should take it seriously or if I should laugh at it, and if I do laugh at it, there’s a part of me that suspects that’s what Bunuel wants. I don’t know how to react to absurdism and surrealism in general. Fortunately, That Obscure Object of Desire is a film that actually has a plot. While there’s certainly some absurdism here (don’t worry—we’ll get to that), there’s also a story that can be followed, and that helps tremendously.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

British Bulldog

Films: Young Winston
Format: Streaming video from TCM Watch on laptop.

I literally have a stack of unwatched movies sitting next to me, but instead of watching one of those, including a few that I’ve really been looking forward to seeing and at least one that has been sitting in its NetFlix envelope for more than a week, I’ve instead decided to watch Young Winston on TCM’s app because I missed recording it on the DVR and it vanishes in 24 hours. I make sacrifices for this blog sometimes. As the name of the film might suggest, Young Winston is about the early life of Winston Churchill, based on his own memoirs.

With a film like one, I think a certain grain of salt. I don’t doubt that Young Winston is an accurate depiction of Churchill’s book. I question instead just how accurate Churchill’s memoirs are. There is almost certainly a bit of rose-colored glasses with this, and almost certainly a bit of hyperbole in places. I don’t know, of course, but I do suspect. I get this mostly from the voiceover that hangs over many scenes. The words paint a picture of character and dignity, while the reality we see is quite a bit more dismal.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Nick's Picks: Tangled

Films: Tangled
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is the sixth in a series of twelve movies suggested by Nick Jobe.

Nick likes to make me watch animation. I think that’s partly because the 1001 Movies list is pretty bare when it comes to animated film, partly because it’s the shortest of my Oscar lists, and partly because he really likes animation. Last year, three of his four films were animated, and he gave me a couple this year. Tangled is a film that is oddly missing from the Oscar list, especially considering how acclaimed it is (7.8 on IMDB, 3.7/5 on Letterboxd), and especially considering it’s a Disney film. Disney seems to get a little benefit of the doubt come Oscar time—witness the win for Disney/Pixar’s Brave and nominations for Brother Bear.

No matter--Tangled is the story of Rapunzel run through the Disney story machine, magicked up a bit, and with songs added. The basic story is pretty much the same. Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is a (wait for it) princess kidnapped by a woman named Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy). Here, the reason is a little convoluted. See, Gothel one day discovered a flower in the forest that was literally a drop of sunlight. She used it regularly to restore her youth, meaning that Mother Gothel is hundreds of years old. One day in the nearby kingdom, the pregnant queen becomes ill. Men from the kingdom discover the flower and use it to cure the queen, and Rapunzel is born with the magic of the flower imbued in her hair. The magic only works if the hair is uncut, though, so Gothel steals the baby away and locks her high in a hidden tower where she won’t be found. Rapunzel’s hair grows and grows, and soon is long enough to be used as the method of entry to the tower by Gothel. Gothel tells her “daughter” that the outside world is too dangerous for her and so she is never allowed to leave the tower.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

...And Straight on 'Til Morning

Film: Finding Neverland
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on rockin’ flatscreen.

I don’t have proof of this, but I suspect that the reason Johnny Depp wanted to play J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland is that he got to dress up like a pirate for part of it. Depp has been nominated for Best Actor three times. He played a pirate for one of these roles and a mass murderer for another. It certainly seems to fit that he’d also be nominated for a role in which he plays a man whose most famous creation involves a murderous pirate.

Finding Neverland isn’t the story of Barrie’s life, but the story of the creation of Peter Pan, Barrie’s enduring play/movie/book/childhood experience. As the film starts, Barrie’s latest play, financed by Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) has turned out to be a bust and a financial failure. Barrie, looking for new inspiration, spends his days at a nearby park. It is here that he meets the Davies children: George (Nick Roud), Jack (Joe Prospero), Peter (Freddie Highmore), and Michael (Luke Spill).

Thursday, June 16, 2016

I Think We're Supposed to Remember This...

Film: The Alamo
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

I like John Wayne, although it’s entirely possible that I like the idea of John Wayne more than the actor. Actually, I don’t think that’s true at all. Wayne made a lot of movies that are pretty socially backward and Wayne is kind of a poster child for reasons for white guilt. The problem with John Wayne is that more often than not, he played John Wayne, or played at least the idea of John Wayne. He was actually a pretty good actor, and a lot of his performances are surprisingly nuanced once you get beyond the John Wayniness of them. The Alamo is particularly interesting not just because it stars the man but also because it’s one of five movies he directed and one of only two that he actually allowed himself to be credited on.

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that The Alamo is the story of the massacre at that building by the Santa Anna-led Mexican Army. The movie runs 162 minutes long and it’s more or less an exercise in waiting for the attack that’s going to end up killing everyone. Again, we know what’s going to happen going in. Everyone is going to get killed. There will be plenty of macho moments, a few victories, some arguments and fights, and then the main cast will die heroically and the credits will roll.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dewey Defeats Truman

Film: Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

Of all the films I’ve reviewed here, and I’ve reviewed a lot, I don’t think I’ve come across one like Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!. This is not a traditional film in any sense of the word. What this is, in fact, is a filmed performance of a one-man show of the same name with James Whitmore taking the role of Harry S Truman during the years of his presidency. The film was made, evidently, by staging nine cameras around a live performance of the show in Seattle and editing it live, essentially as if it were being done on live television. In that respect, it’s pretty impressive.

During the course of the show, Truman talks to the audience, tells stories about his history, and also talks about what were current events for him at the time. It appears that the show is in two acts, the first covering Truman’s first presidency started on the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The second concerns his second term, and the only one he was elected to. Throughout, Truman not only talks to those in the crowd, but to “people” who come to visit him, holding conversations where we can hear only his side, but where he also gives us enough information to follow both sides. In a sense, these moments are like listening to Bob Newhart on the phone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Know Your Spouse

Film: Suspicion
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I did the 1001 Movies list, I watched a lot of Hitchcock, since he is by far the best-represented director on the big list. Not all of Hitch’s movies made the list, though, and the only one that contains an Oscar-winning performance was left off. That film is Suspicion, a film that is in many ways classic Hitchcock and in others seems tonally strange. It’s a hard film to figure. Part of the tonal strangeness comes from moments where the mood doesn’t merely shift but 180s on a dime. The other odd bit here is that we spend the entire movie knowing that Cary Grant is playing a rogue and a “bad boy” and convinced that he might well be a serial murderer.

Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) is a charming and dashing man, desired by all the ladies both despite and because of his bad boy nature. He’s an inveterate gambler, always broke, and always in debt. He meets Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) on a train and manages to charm her despite her being something close to a spinster. When he suddenly arrives in her town, she is smitten in spite of herself and even though her father (Cedric Hardwicke) disapproves, she soon runs off with him and elopes.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Picks from Chip: Iron Sky

Films: Iron Sky
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is the sixth in a series of twelve movies suggested by Chip Lary.

When we created our lists for 2016, Chip warned me that he was specifically giving me a movie that was really dumb. That movie was Iron Sky, a film in which the central conceit is that in 1945, a group of Nazis escaped to the dark side of the moon, built a gigantic base, and have continued to teach their ideology to those who made the trip. This Fourth Reich is building weapons with the intent of, naturally, returning to Earth and conquering it. Yeah, it’s one of those premises that is simultaneously ridiculous and makes you wonder why it took someone until 2012 to think of it (and yes, I’m aware that there might be earlier movies with the same basic premise).

Anyway, we learn about the swastika-shaped base when a new American mission to the moon lands on the dark side, coincidentally close to the base. The two astronauts, one killed immediately, are on the moon as essentially a publicity stunt/public relations move/re-election stunt by the American president, who is clearly intended to be Sarah Palin (Stephanie Paul). The second astronaut is captured, and much to the shock of the moon Nazis, astronaut James Washington (Christopher Kirby) is black.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Fred and Ginger

Films: The Gay Divorcee
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s a particular charm to early musicals, at least in theory. Even when they aren’t very good, there’s a sweet innocence to them. When your stars are Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, though, you’re likely to find something worth watching even if the story is dippy. The Gay Divorcee is the second film the pair made together, and while the plot isn’t a great deal to get excited about, it’s a hard film not to enjoy. Astaire and Rogers are a great couple on screen and a better one on the dance floor. Toss in Edward Everett Horton and Betty Grable, and yo’ve got a movie that, while thin on believable plot, is hard not to enjoy.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Everybody Loves Raymond

Films: Ray
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

A couple of years ago, a Half-Price Books near where I work had a massive sale. If you wanted to take part in the sale, you bought a bag for $35 and anything you could fit in the bag was yours. I walked out with more than 50 DVDs. One of those was the two-disc set of Ray, since I knew it was a movie I’d watch eventually. I was mostly daunted by the length, since Ray is a little more than 150 minutes long. I like Ray Charles as much or more than the next person, but that’s a pretty serious commitment.

Ray is a straightforward biopic of Raymond Charles Robinson, better known to the world as Ray Charles. While there are a few moments of something like magical realism, Ray appears to be a true biography of the man without removing the warts. Ray Charles (played in the film by Jamie Foxx) was a unique musical presence, a man who revolutionized a great deal of music and a true innovator. He was also a man who had a number of children outside of his marriages and who was a heroin addict for a very long time. All of this is included in the movie, and that inclusion is important.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Off Script: Strange Behavior

Films: Strange Behavior (Dead Kids)
Format: Internet video on various players.

I knew when I signed on to watch the Fangoria list of 101 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen that it was going to be a mixed bag. I figured there’d be a few duds and a few movies that turned out to be really worth watching for one reason or another. I’ve said before that I really try to go into every movie with an open mind, which is how I approached Strange Behavior (originally titled Dead Kids). Well, a few minutes in I was pretty sure that this was going to be one of the duds. Half an hour in, I was desperate for the damn thing to end. Strange Behavior is based on an interesting idea and has some noteworthy actors in it, but is cursed with terrible production values and worse editing.

The basic story is this: in Galesburg, Illinois (a couple of hours drive from where I live, actually), a series of slasher murders take place. These murders seem to be the work of several different killers. At the same time, a psychologist named Gwen Parkinson (Fiona Lewis) is conducting a series of experiments. Think the two are related? You’ve seen a movie before.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Iron Horse

Films: The Pride of the Yankees
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Every so often, an actor or a director has a year for the ages. Consider Victor Fleming’s 1939 when he made both Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Teresa Wright had that sort of 1942. Wright was nominated for Best Actress in The Pride of the Yankees, but lost to Greer Garson. As it happens, Wright was also in Mrs. Miniver and won and Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for that role. Like a said, she had a good year. The Pride of the Yankees is one of those all-American films, one that can probably be appreciated by many, but can really only be fully understood by people who have grown up in a culture where baseball has truly permeated society.

The Pride of the Yankees might be a warts-removed biography of Lou Gehrig, but that really doesn’t bother me at all. It’s an exercise in myth making and hero creation, and that’s really what it should be. This is a film about a genuine American sports hero, a man who truly crafted a legend for himself, and with the world suddenly at war, the American people needed heroes. They needed to be reminded of courage, honor, and greatness. The Pride of the Yankees might have removed a couple of warts, but do we really need this hero tarnished? The other thing is this—from all reports, Gehrig is the nice guy depicted here.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Saw: Extreme Sports Edition

Film: 127 Hours
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

Writing about 127 Hours is going to be difficult for me for a couple of reasons. The first is that I have a real problem with films that involve physical confinement, and since our main character gets trapped 17 minutes in to a film that is just over 90 minutes long, there’s going to be a long part of this film that will make me uncomfortable. The second is that, while it’s impossible not to be impressed by the will to live and the ingenuity displayed by Aron Ralston (played by James Franco), there’s a part of me that thinks 127 Hours is a great advertisement for why it’s a bad idea to tempt fate in this specific way.

I talked with old podcasting partner Nick Jobe about this movie this morning, telling him that I intended to watch it today. He said that the truth of 127 Hours is that you go into the movie knowing what is going to happen and you spend the entire movie waiting for it to happen. When it does, it lasts a couple of minutes and then it’s over. That’s pretty accurate.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Schizophrenia Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Film: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

Yesterday I watched a movie about alcoholism. Today, it’s all about schizophrenia. I’ve watched plenty of movies about mental illness before. Shock Corridor, The Snake Pit, Heavenly Creatures, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest spring to mind as films with this as a central idea, and plenty of others certainly touch on it, and that’s really just the mainstream movies. Watch enough horror movies and you’ll see plenty of movies taking place inside institutions as well. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is the sort of film that seems to want to capitalize on the success of Cuckoo’s Nest. The difference is that this time, our main patient is suicidal, teetering on the edge of a face-first dive into schizophrenia, and is a 16-year-old girl named Deborah Blake (Kathleen Quinlan).

The film starts with Debbie’s being committed to what looks to be very much the standard movie version of an institution. We also get an early glimpse into the fantasy world Yr where Debbie spends a great deal of her waking life. Life in the institution is difficult. It’s loud and raucous and none of the patients are firmly attached to anything like reality. Debbie discovers that she is more or less unable to feel anything in the real world because all of her emotions are tied up in the savage world of Yr. Another suicide attempt and scenes of her burning her arm with a cigarette highlight the fact that Debbie is physically, mentally, and emotionally detached from the world the rest of us live in.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Alcoholics Unanimous

Film: Days of Wine and Roses
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m not a drinker. Oh, I’ll have the occasional drink, but rarely more than one and almost never more than two in a given month. Alcoholism doesn’t run in my family—it sprints and sometimes does the high hurdles. It’s just better if I avoid it in general. That being said, I find movies about addiction fascinating, which makes Days of Wine and Roses a film of particular interest for me. It benefits from a good main cast and from a realistic depiction of alcoholism. This is not a happy film, but it is a very good one that probably should have been nominated for more Oscars than it ultimately was.

Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) works as a public relations man. A lot of his job appears to be finding attractive young women to hang out with his clients. Because of this, and as a part of his job herding these young women around, Joe drinks a great deal. One night, he meets Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick), the secretary for one of Joe’s clients. Joe is immediately attracted to Kirsten, but she doesn’t seem to be that interested in him. He does manage to get her out to dinner, and even though she doesn’t drink, they hit it off. Joe even manages to find a drink that she likes—brandy Alexanders—because of their chocolate content.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Hiding Out

Film: The Diary of Anne Frank
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I knew this was going to be rough. The Diary of Anne Frank is a three-hour movie, and I know where we’re getting to at the end. Essentially, this is an exercise in watching a story play out where you’re just waiting for the shoe to drop. You know it’s going to happen, and it’s probably not going to happen until the end, which means all of the close calls and nervous moments are filled with an odd tension, even the ones that are in the middle of the movie and therefore too early in the narrative to be that dangerous.

You probably already know the story, and if you don’t, shame on you. Briefly, during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the Frank family moves into the attic apartment over a business in Amsterdam. They stay there for two years with the Van Daan family and are eventually joined by a dentist named Albert Dussell (Ed Wynn). The eight people, all essentially fugitives from the German invaders because they are Jewish, are forced to be silent during the day so that they don’t tip off the people working below to their presence. Their only contact with the outside world is a radio and through the meetings with the factory head Kraler (Douglas Spencer) and his assistant Miep Gies (Dodie Heath).

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Immigrant Song

Film: A Ship Comes In
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

I hate bringing up Letterboxd all of the time here, but it often serves as an important touchstone for some of the more obscure films that I watch. In the case of A Ship Comes In, we’re looking at one with a dozen and a half scores, none of them higher than 3.5 stars and the vast majority below 3. Fortunately, the surviving print of the film is a mere 70 minutes long, so if there’s going to be pain, at least it will be short. A Ship Comes In suffers from a lot of problems. Most of these are a function of the time it was made. It’s overly melodramatic like most silent dramas and the plot points are incredibly obvious. Just as seriously, this is a film in desperate need of being restored. The print that exists, at least on YouTube, is faded and washed out and most of the title cards are a strain to read.

A Ship Comes In is an immigrant story. The Pleznik family—father Peter (Rudolph Schildkraut), his unnamed wife (a nominated Louise Dresser), son Eric (Milton Holmes), and young daughter Marthe (Linda Landi) arrive from…somewhere…via boat into New York. They clear immigration and settle in the city. Peter finds a job as a janitor and takes pride in his work as much as he can. Peter also has philosophical disagreements with Sokol (Fritz Feld), another immigrant who is also an anarchist or possibly a communist. At the very least, he’s a violent dissident.