The Rare Review

Movies, books, music and TV

Songs Of The Wild West: “The Harvey Girls”

In the George Sidney film musical, The Harvey Girls (1946), Judy Garland still has her looks, her good singing voice, her good speaking voice, her serviceable acting; but does not dominate the whole of the movie.  There is stark ensemble work, with numerous bits of singing during the spectacular “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” number (the catchiest piece) and in the segment where the female trio, Garland included, sing the pretty song, “It’s a Great Big World.”

Cyd Charisse is in this trio but doesn’t make a splash.  A dancer not a singer, her crooning is dubbed and—well, she dances very little in the entire movie.  But Ray Bolger, as a quasi-blacksmith in this Old West musical, tap dances extensively and deliciously.  The Harvey Girls could use more charm and grace in a couple of its routines; this includes “Swing Your Partner Round and Round.”  The pic is no masterpiece, but it’s not exactly minor either.  My hat is off to songwriters Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer.  Also, not only Garland but Virginia O’Brien (Alma), too, offers some solid solo vocals.

Broken Virtue, “The Broken Star”

It is inarguably a fine thing that there are good guys in Westerns, especially one like The Broken Star (1956) wherein even a deputy marshal, Frank Smeed (Howard Duff), is depraved. A greedy murderer, this one, and he can’t get the better of his honorable friend, Deputy Marshal Bill (Bill Williams), although he assuredly tries. Without Bill and additional “good guys,” the movie’s depravity would become suffocating. One of the “good guys” is Conchita (Lita Baron), Bill’s love interest. Frank Smeed doesn’t deserve a love interest and doesn’t have one.

I am unfamiliar with director Lesley Selander‘s many other flicks, but this one is a manfully handled B product. Nobody here is a pretty-boy westerner or (of course) a wimp. A barroom fight scene means business. There is plenty of spot-on assertiveness and dark-haired Baron is all woman. Hooray! I must see some other Selander movies.

Loving Teacher: “A Minute’s Silence”

Julia Koschitz provides superb groundedness in the German film A Minute’s Silence (2016), in the role of Stella Petersen. She is very good at facial play but does not overdo it as her Stella starts working as an English teacher in a German fishing village.

At first Stella is not altogether kindly treated in the village, but this soon means nothing since there blossoms a romantic affair between her and Christian, one of her teenaged students. The teacher seduces Christian, savvily played by Jonas Nay, and enjoys her time with him without loving him. Christian probably does love Stella.

Ably directed by Thorsten Schmidt, the piece (seen by me on Prime) is tender and finally hard-hitting. Supporting actors are a delight, as is the coastal scenery. And although it ends with a phony positive metaphysic, Silence is hard to dislike, glowingly respectable.

(In German with English subtitles)

Boy Meets Girl. Will She Meet “Redeeming Love”?

Almost nothing about the Christian movie, Redeeming Love (2022), makes sense. An Old West drama adapted from a novel, it features a young Christian farmer, Michael (Tom Lewis), who is determined to marry a beautiful harlot named Angel (Abigail Cowen) in the hope that she will convert to the faith. Why wouldn’t she? After all, a burly brothel worker, Magowan, is so mean he batters her; but isn’t this a never tolerated damaging of merchandise?

Again, it doesn’t make sense.

Michael resembles the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament, but what is fine for ancient Israel does not work for the New Covenant era. The film, at any rate, is not very preachy and is photographically nice (if often too golden). As a faith-based item, it is slightly controversial because the camera shows in a couple of scenes not Cowen’s nipples but decidedly her breasts. With or without this, though, Cowen is an appealing performer. She gets the job done. But, alas, she cannot redeem Redeeming Love.

What Have They Done? The Film, “The Past”

In 2013, Iran’s Asghar Farhadi gave European artistic film a potency and purity it once had for several decades beginning in the late Fifties. I’m referring to the French-language picture The Past, set in Paris and built around several Middle Eastern migrants and one French woman, Marie-Ann.

Director Farhadi, who wrote the screenplay, has little respect for Marie-Ann (Berenice Bejo) even as he recognizes her humanity. The woman is pregnant by Samir (Tahar Rahim), the Arab man with whom she has been having an affair. This has followed Marie-Ann’s request for a divorce from another man (Ali Mosaffa)—all of which is due to Marie-Ann and Samir being creatures of quiet lust. The plot is pivoted on the question of whether the illicit affair compelled Samir’s wife to commit suicide.

The cast is expert. Bejo could probably never be false if she wanted to. The film is directorially not brilliant but certainly solid. It is as strong an “art film” as Il Posto (1961) or Betty (1992), giving no quarter, as it scrutinizes the theme of when divorce, however inevitable, fails to bring finality.

(In French with English subtitles)

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