After ordering a pile of old movies from the wonderful local library (the KCLS system rocks!) I've just watched three of them and it struck me that modern movies move at a much quicker pace than films made before 1970.
I watched "The Clock" with Judy Garland and Robert Walker, "The Big Street" with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball and "Madame Curie" with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon.
The Clock is the story of a wide-eyed Minnesota-born GI on leave for 72 hours in New York City, who meets up with Judy Garland, a secretary who has been in the Big Apple for three years, but still hasn't found love. Garland looks appropriately feminine and frail in the film, and it's directed by her future husband Vincente Minelli, but though it is supposed to be a tender tale of love blooming between two people who meet by accident under the clock at Penn Station, I found the male lead, Robert Walker, to be just too naive, over-eager and prissy enough that he seemed gay and not a spark really flew between himself and Garland. Though the film moves slowly at times, I wasn't as distressed by that as by the ending, which left us hanging as to whether Walker's character makes it home to settle down with his new wife, and where they were going to settle down even if he did make it back...he had been adamant that he wanted to go back to the Midwest, while Garlands character makes it plain that she loves city life.
The Big Street, based on a novel by Damon Runyon, is the story of "Little Pinks" Pinkerton (Fonda), a bus boy who carries a torch for the singer/girlfriend of a big local hood, Gloria Lyons, aka her Highness (Ball). Pinks doesn't seem to see that her Highness is really a gold-digging witch who is a huge narcissist and cares only for her own rise in society. She treats everyone around her like dirt, especially if she thinks they're of lower station than herself, and she is trying to land a local millionare, whom she only wants to marry for his money, not being a believer in love. When confronted by the hood for trying to leave the club to date said millionare, her Highness throws her engagement ring at him, telling him he doesn't own her, and is rewarded with a right hook to the jaw, sending her down a flight of stairs and breaking her back.
The hood and all her glamorous friends abandon her, and Pinks is left to come to her rescue and care for her with his band of scruffy gambling pals and poor friends and neighbors. Balls character isn't the least bit grateful for any of this, and continues throughout the film to be rude, derisive and mean to everyone around her. A sweet faced, young Henry Fonda spends the film doing everything in his power to make Ball's character happy, selling her diamonds and furs to pay her medical bills, bringing home leftover champagne and caviar from the club so she will still feel like royalty and constantly bolstering her flagging ego, since it becomes apparent that she is paralysed from the waist down, and will never dance or stand on a stage to sing again.
The horrible snob eventually cries her way into getting Pinks to agree to take her to Florida, even if it means him walking all the way while pushing her in her wheelchair. They eventually get several rides and land in Miami, where her nasty highness somehow thinks she will recover just because she is warm everyday. When that doesn't happen, she sobs all over Pinks again about wanting to wear a sparkling off shoulder gown and diamonds and sing to a room full of appreciative people "of the right kind," meaning wealthy and connected.
Pinks actually steals a dress for her, and jewels, and gets his friends to lie to society members that a real countess is coming to a party and will sing there. He blackmails the Hood to use his club for one night and forces him to provide champagne and caviar, and then has her Highness sit in a chair in the gown and sing her torch song while the police and the owner of the dress and jewels hear Pinks explanation for taking all that he took. They allow him to let her keep the dress for a night, and after carrying her all over the dance floor, Ball's character says she wants to try walking up the stairs with Pinks to show she's not a gimp, and after two steps, she dies in his arms, and Pinks solemnly carries her up the stairs to watch the sun go down. The end. So masochistic Fonda is left with nothing but jail time for caring for this horrible snobbish witch of a woman who was pretty but had a vile personality and no soul nor love of the one kind and compassionate man in her life. Yeesh. What message does that send to men about women, and women about themselves?
Though the opposite was true in "Madame Curie" it still made the woman in the movie out to be subservient to her man, who, though very polite and kind, was still not her equal in brain power. Even after his death, Marie Curie attributes most of her success to her husband Pierre, though it was her bright ideas and mental acuity that leads them to the discovery of Radium. She has two children that she seems to see as pleasant distractions, but not really as important as her scientific work or her husband. Walter Pidgeon shines as Pierre Curie, an affable and socially awkward professor who approaches Greer Garson as if she's made of spun glass and he is a bull with mad cow disease. Still, of the three movies this one was my favorite because there was real chemistry enacted between the main characters, and the plot didn't drag on and on. Van Johnson plays a small role as a reporter, and Greer Garson's Marie is so stunningly beautiful that she almost looks like a manequin. It's a plus that the movie was based on a biography of Madame Curie by her daughter Eve. The film was nominated for many academy awards, and it had several wonderful moments that showed the talents of both Greer and Pidgeon, who had worked together in Mrs Miniver.
I plan on watching "Good Night and Good Luck" another biographical film with my husband and grabbing a few more old movies from the library when I turn this lot in.