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Archive for the ‘1930’s’ Category

Like last week’s Free-For-All-Friday entry, the following images have to do with publicity. Except they’re not photographs, they’re illustrations–and beautiful ones at that! I’ve seen some of the illustrations in their original form (I have the Katharine Hepburn one somewhere on my hard drive), but they’re much more striking and lovelier in their illustrated version.

Along with the main illustrations, are tinier ones with little factual trivia blurbs. For instance, did you know that Joan Blondell’s diet consisted for skimmed milk and potatoes for a period of three days at a time (The carbs! The carbs!)? Or that Joel McCrea was one of the only actors never to use any sort of stage makeup? It might also interest you to know that Victor McLaglen cooked all the meals when he went camping and that the divine Tallulah Bankhead was an avid oil painter. Like the publicity packages of the time, I’m not sure how many of these “facts” are true, but they’re sure fun to read.

Click images for larger versions:

Tallulah Bankhead, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery:

Tallulah Bankhead - Click for Larger ImageJohn Barrymore - Click for Larger ImageLionel Barrymore - Click for Larger ImageWallace Beery - Click for Larger Image

Constance Bennett, Joan Bennett, Joan Blondell, Claudette Colbert

Constance Bennett - Click for Larger ImageJoan Bennett - Click for Larger ImageJoan Blondell - Click for Larger ImageClaudette Colbert - Click for Larger Image

Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Durante

Ronald Colman - Click for Larger ImageGary Cooper - Click for Larger ImageMarlene Dietrich - Click for Larger ImageJimmy Durante - Click for Larger Image

Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Katharine Hepburn, Joel McCrea, Victor McLaglen

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. - Click for Larger ImageKatharine Hepburn - Click for Larger ImageJoel McCrea - Click for Larger ImageVictor McLaglen - Click for Larger Image

Also to go with yesterday’s penny-pinching post (say that three times fast), I forgot to link to this site that features old Montana Bar and Restaurant Menus. See how much a toasted sandwich and french fries would cost at the Coffee Cup Cafe or if you’re in the mood for drink, perhaps the drink list at The Club would be more to your liking. Only $.35 for a Daiquiri? I’m there!

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Since I’ve been busy for the past few days (not to mention that my brain feels like it’s completely fried out from work), I’ve become semi-obsessed with movies that run from about 60-75 minutes in length. I think they’re what the studios used to call “programmers”: b-movies that were the second feature on the bill, usually made in a short amount of time and with stock members of the studio’s acting stable. I’ve seen quite a few in the last couple of days–I find they fill in the space quite nicely between eating dinner and getting caught up on the latest Governor sex scandal.

One of my favorites is 1932’s Union Depot, a Warner Brothers’ effort that stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Blondell. Since it’s a depression era pre-code, you get all the trimmings: there’s Ruth (Blondell), a chorus girl who’s down on her luck, bums (Fairbanks and Guy Kibbee), a drunk (the lovable Frank McHugh), a counterfeiter on the lam (Alan Hale) and not one, but two sleazy sub-plots! Hurray!

Fairbanks and McHughThe beautiful Joan Blondellkibbee.jpg
Fairbanks and McHugh, Blondell and Kibbee. The latter three are standard in any early 30’s WB movie.

Union Depot is reminiscent of 1932’s Grand Hotel, except that it’s set in a train station and we’re treated to the exploits of the poor, instead of the rich. What I particularly enjoyed were the many subplots that managed to weave together by the end of the film. Since it’s a pre-code, the amount of sex is fairly shocking: when Ruth needs money, she’s willing to prostitute herself out to Chick (Fairbanks), a bum who’s posing as a rich guy thanks to the contents of a suitcase that the drunken McHugh left behind. However, Ruth can’t bring herself to do it and after having a change of heart, Chick decides to play “Sant-y Claus” and help her out. Ruth also has a deliciously twisted back story, which involves a perverted old man that she used to read dirty books too. She thought he was blind–he wasn’t, and when he whipped off his glasses and revealed a pair of evil eyes, Ruth ran for her life. Now, the pervert is hot on her trail and unbeknownst to Ruth, has followed her to Union Depot.

One of the scenes I got the biggest kick out of was in the diner where Chick orders a meal. When he places an order for “a nice tomato salad, a thick sirloin steak smothered in onions, some browned potatoes in creamed gravy, a flock(?) of hot biscuits and some honey, coffee and raisin pie a la mode”, you can only imagine what a meal that sumptuous would cost in 1932. Ready to find out? Here it is:

The grand total of $1.75!

Using this calculator, that meal would now cost a person $26.56. So back in those days, $2 was equivalent to $30 today. Talk about inflation! I’m always fascinated by the price of food in classic movies. It’s shocking to see a grocery store sign touting that a loaf of bread costs ten cents, while in today’s world, a loaf of bread is fifteen to twenty times that much! It insane.

Ellen Drew and Dick Powell on the rooftopMoney is also a huge factor in Preston Sturges little known comedy, Christmas in July (1940). Like Union Depot, it’s also another “programmer”, this time starring Dick Powell and Ellen Drew, as well as Franklin Pangborn and Sturges’ favorites, William Demarest and Frank Moran. Jimmy (Powell) and Betty (Drew) are a working class couple who spend their evenings sitting on the rooftop of their tenement, listening to the radio. Jimmy is obsessed with winning a coffee slogan contest that he entered, and while Betty doesn’t exactly get his entry (“If You Can’t Sleep at Night, it isn’t the Coffee–It’s the Bunk!”), they both dream about the $25,000 prize money that would change their lives. When Jimmy’s co-workers trick him into thinking he’s won the contest via fake telegram, he and Betty go on a huge shopping spree where Jimmy finally buys Betty an engagement ring, as well as gifts for all their neighbors and a state-of-the-art davenport for his mother.

The self airing davenola!
Push button technology that includes a reading lamp, a radio and a self-fluffing mattress–
all for the low, low price of $198.50! Try getting a couch for that now.

Out of all the Sturges films I’ve seen, I have to say that Christmas in July has become one of my favorites. Clocking in at under 67 minutes, it’s not only funny and witty, but Sturges shows how the sudden accumulation of money changes the opinions of others who would have treated the couple like a bunch of nobodies beforehand. In that respect, Christmas in July is pretty depressing: money changes you in the eyes of others. It’s a sad, but true realization. Jimmy and Betty are the same people, only richer and yet, everyone fawns over them as though they’re newfound royalty. That is–until it’s revealed that Jimmy’s winning was a joke and suddenly, Jimmy is a “criminal” to those that had just fawned over him. It’s quite hypocritical.

Like Christmas in July…
Living the Good Life: Ellen Drew and Dick Powell in Christmas in July

I didn’t realize it until the other day, but Union Depot and Christmas in July are quite similar in tone. What makes them work is the ability for the audiences to identify with their characters: Ruth and Chick or Jimmy and Betty. Both stories are representative of their eras. With Ruth and Chick, they’re just struggling to make it through the depression like everyone else. And with Jimmy and Betty, they’re both working just to make ends meet, in hopes that one day they’ll be able to afford a better life. When both couples come into money, the first thing they do is splurge: a big meal for Chick and some new clothes for Ruth, while Jimmy and Betty run down to the local department store and buy an engagement ring. But despite their wealth, the one thing that really draws you into both stories is love. You get the feeling that each couple could wind up poor and still find a way to make it. Love is stronger than money and the tense situations that test each couple afterwards, prove it.

And that’s the beauty of the one hour movie: a big plot and good acting packed into half the time that a regular movie would take. Sure there are some clunkers, but there are hidden gems as well. The studios cranked these movies out like clockwork out only to fill out double bill features and to meet quotas that theaters set. But what the studios didn’t realize is that in some of these little films, such as Union Depot and Christmas in July, were just as uplifting and entertaining as an top-billed movie, maybe even more so. By the time the 60’s rolled around, the “programmer” was pretty much obsolete and that’s a shame. Thank goodness they’re still around for us to watch today. Although times have changed, good films haven’t and sometimes, you just need a little cinematic pick-me-up that only a well-crafted b-movie programmer can provide.

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Another group of images for your enjoyment! This time, I’m posting Publicity Shots from the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Over the years, I’ve collected them from around the internet and I thought I would share them with you today.

However, I’ve always wondered what their source was. In the 1933 shots, there are numbers at the bottom of each page, so I’m assuming they’re from a book the studios sent out. Was this something available to the public? It doesn’t seem to be from a specific studio, but a grouping of them. You have Clark Gable (MGM) with Claudette Colbert (Paramount). I have to say though, a lot of the shots are gorgeous–especially the Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck ones (or maybe my love for Ball of Fire is showing!) If anyone has any information or knows what these are from, please let me know. They’re really gorgeous pictures though and the little biographical blurbs are fun to read as well. I’m also thinking that this is a book from the UK, since one of the Cagney stills says it’s from the movie Enemies of the Public, which was the UK title for The Public Enemy.

Also, I get a kick out of Greta Garbo’s little blurb: “Someday someone will find the real woman in her and she will cease to be Greta Garbo, film star. She will become, perhaps, Mrs. Somebody, housewife.” Yeah, right.

The 1930 shots of Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford are from their publicity packages. I doubt they wrote their own bios, although if I were alive at the time, I probably would have thought they did. I’m that naive.

Next week, part 2–but for now, Enjoy!

The 20’s – Norma Shearer (1925 & 1929)

1925 - Norma Shearer - Click for larger imagesmall_1929_norma.jpg

1930 – Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford

Gary Cooper - 1930 - Click for Larger ImageGary Cooper - 1930 - Click for Larger ImageJoan Crawford - 1930 - Click for Larger ImageJoan Crawford - 1930 - Click for Larger Image

1933: Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper 1 & 2, Joan Crawford

Claudette Colbert - 1933 - Click for Larger ImageGary Cooper - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionGary Cooper - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionJoan Crawford - 1933 - Click for Larger Image

1933: Jimmy Durante & Buster Keaton, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Leslie Howard & Mary Pickford

Jimmy Durante & Buster Keaton - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionClark Gable - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionGarbo - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionLeslie Howard and Mary Pickford - 1933 - Click For Larger Version

1933: Fredric March, Laurence Olivier, George Raft, Barbara Stanwyck

Fredric March - 1933 - Click for Larger VersionLaurence Olivier - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionGeorge Raft - 1933 - Click for Larger VersionBarbara Stanwyck - 1933 - Click for Larger Version

1933 Movie Stills:

Cagney, Cimmaron, Lee Tracy and Ann Harding - 1933 - Click for Larger VersionCagney & Blondell, McCrea & Fay Wray - 1933 - Click for Larger VersionJames Cagney - 1933 - Click For Larger VersionGary Cooper and Joel McCrea - 1933 - Click For Larger Version

From left to right:
Picture 1 – James Cagney, Cimmaron, Ann Harding, Lee Tracy
Picture 2 – Cagney & Blondell, Joel McCrea & Fay Wray
Picture 3 – Cagney in Enemies of the Public
Picture 4 – Gary Cooper and Joel McCrea

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Three on a Bed - Click for larger image

To get into the spirit for tonight’s pre-code marathon on TCM, I thought I would discuss one of my favorite movie from that era, Ernst Lubitsch’s Design For Living (1933). I admit that I don’t know much about pre-code films or their history, but I do know a great film when I see one. And not only is Design For Living great, but it’s incredibly sexy and fun as well. It’s risque plot begs the question: is it possible for two men to share a woman and live happily ever after? While the idea of a menage a trois is common knowledge by today’s standards, it had to be a shocking topic for 1933!

Cooper, March, Hopkins - Click for larger imageThe plot centers around two friends, playwright Tom (Fredric March) and painter George (Gary Cooper) who meet a free-spirited commercial artist, Gilda (Miriam Hopkins) on a train. Naturally, both men fall in love with Gilda and unbeknownst to each other, are having a physical relationship with her. Instead of choosing one, Gilda decides that the best solution is to forget about sex. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. Instead, Gilda has separate dalliances with both George and Tom and when she sees that she’s tearing their friendship apart, she runs off and marries her humorless boss, Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton). Soon, Gilda finds herself in an unhappy situation, surrounded by Plunkett’s boring, snooty friends while forced to play silly dinner games and sing even siller songs. It’s then up to Tom and George to rescue her from the boredom of Plunkett’s home.

While the “Lubitsch Touch” may not be for everyone, it’s precisely what makes Design For Living so fantastic. It’s a light, sophisticated sex farce that never crosses the line into smut. And while there are serious turns in the plot, they mostly revolve around the emotions of Tom, George and Gilda–never are they made to feel guilty for enjoying sex. It’s who they’re enjoying it with that’s the problem. But what makes Design For Living truly beautiful is that the main characters are friends first, and romantically involved second (a very close second, I might add). It’s clear from their banter on the train that they enjoy each other’s company. And when Gilda tells the boys to forget about sex, she turns it into something positive by critiquing their work instead and turning them into successes. Of course, none of the parties involved can go without physical comforts for long, but isn’t that what makes the movie so much fun?

Gary Cooper and Fredric March - Click for larger image

Both Fredric March and Gary Cooper are perfect in their roles. Not only do they have amazing chemistry with Hopkins, but they play off each other beautifully as well. The comic banter between them is easy and light and Design For Living playbill - Click for larger imageyou understand why their friendship has endured for eleven years. It’s also interesting to note that in the original Noel Coward scripted play, it was hinted that Tom and George were bisexual. Even though the Hays Code was lax, the powers that be insisted that Design For Living be cleaned up for the screen version. Hollywood wasn’t that liberated. Enter screenwriter Ben Hecht, who wound up rewriting all the dialogue except for one line (“For the good of our immortal souls!”), while keeping the plot the same. All traces of bisexuality between Tom and George were written out–or was it? In the scene where George finds out that Tom and Gilda have spent the night together, he angrily tells them, “It’s hard to believe I loved you both!” While the line was meant to express a platonic love between Tom and George, I’m sure some people were thinking along the lines of the original Broadway version. I know I was (but that’s mostly because I have a filthy mind). After all, Tom and George lived together before Gilda came along and after Gilda leaves them, they go off to China together. March and Cooper are not affectionate towards each other, but it’s hard not to think that there was something more to their characters, especially in such a sexually charged movie. I’m sure if Design For Living was re-made today (Heaven forbid), the writers would throw in some sexual tension and jealousy between Tom and George based on their previous, pre-Gilda relationship.

Cooper, March, Horton - Click for larger imageThe character of Max Plunkett is Design For Living‘s authority figure and the exact kind of attitude that the saucier pre-code movies thumbed their nose at. He’s awfully fond of the phrase, “Immorality may be fun, but it isn’t fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day!” which describes the kind of guy he is. Yawn. Played by Edward Everett Horton (one of my favorite character actors from the 30’s), Plunkett is the kind of guy who thinks after dinner games of 20 Questions and “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?” are a good time. He’s the symbol of stodgy monotony, while Tom, George and Gilda represent a more carefree attitude. Plunkett is obsessed with work and while the three want to be successful in life, it shouldn’t come at the loss of their happiness.

Married? Noooooo! - Click for larger imageI know it’s said that Horton was gay in real life, but I never got that kind of over-the-top flamboyancy from him, like I did with Franklin Pangborn. In so many movies, Horton was constantly married to women, who like him, had a sense of asexuality. You could never imagine them having sex–maybe the most you’d see is a chaste kiss, but that’s about it. Horton’s asexuality is what makes Plunkett so great–despite his love for Gilda, you could never, ever imagine him satisfying her like Tom or George could, nor could you imagine Gilda getting all worked up over him. Even his attempts at shopping for a bed are dull–Plunkett pulls out a tape measure to see the width of the bed, before measuring each of their shoulders! Horton puts in a fine dramatic performance here, especially in the post-marriage bedroom scene where he kicks the tulips after having a passionless wedding night.

But what really makes the movie is the character of Gilda (pronounced Jil-da). Miriam Hopkins shines in the role, bringing to life a complex woman who is not only comfortable with her sexuality, but places Tom and George’s friendship above her own happiness. The last thing she wants is for them to hate each other. Throughout the film, Gilda tries many different things in order to restore peace between Tom and George: she becomes “den mother” to their pursuits and then marries Plunkett so that neither man can have her. But in the end, Gilda cannot deny her true happiness anymore and neither can Tom or George. They need her as much as she needs them, jealousy be damned.

Hopkins runs a gamut of emotions throughout the film: she’s flirty and coy, but serious and passionate when she needs to be. It would be hard to like Gilda if Hopkins played her as a stupid, shallow and coarse girl, but she doesn’t. If anything, Gilda is a revelation–she’s a sexually liberated woman in the 1930’s, an idea that wouldn’t be popular until almost 40 years later. Gilda only wants to bring out the best in both of her men. She’s not desperately seeking approval from Tom or George and isn’t afraid tear down their egos and criticize their work (“Rotten!”). But she’s willing to succumb to passion when the time is right. Gilda wears her emotions on her sleeve. In one scene, she tells Tom that he haunted her “like a nasty ghost” and that “on rainy nights, I could hear you moanin’ down the chimney.” She’s open and honest. There’s no false pretenses with her and not only is it refreshing to see, but it’s fun to watch. It makes you root for Gilda and hope that she gets both her men at the end of the story. These characters are too nice and too much fun to be left broken hearted at the end.

A Gentleman’s Agreement - Click for larger imageGary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins - Click for larger imageI’m no Gentleman - Click for larger image
The end of the “Gentleman’s Agreement”

Design For Living also has it’s share of extremely sensual moments, which are sprinkled through the film. The innuendo is hard to miss. For example, take the scene where George and Gilda are alone together in their apartment. After pacing back and forth a few times, George grabs Gilda, proclaims his love and kisses her. In return, Gilda walks over to the dusty couch, lazily stretches the length of her body across it and purrs, “It’s true we had a gentleman’s agreement–but unfortunately, I am no gentleman.” The scene fades to black. It leaves the power of one’s imagination to figure out what happened next, which is so much sexier than showing the physical act of lovemaking itself.

It still rings! - Click for larger imageIn another scene, Tom visits the apartment of George and Gilda, only to find that Gilda still has his old typewriter. Despite promising to take good care of itwhen he left for London, Tom finds that’s it’s now rusted out. When Gilda enters the room, the sexual tension between them becomes unbearable. They can’t take their eyes off each other and the typewriter becomes a metaphor for their relationship. As Gilda starts fiddling with the machine, she and Tom have the following conversation:

Tom (accusingly): You didn’t keep it oiled.
GIlda: I did for awhile.
Tom: The keys are rusty. The shift is broken
Gilda seductively slides the carriage back and forth, causing the typewriter to ‘ding’. Tom and Gilda look at each other wide-eyed with excitement.
Gilda (excitedly): But it still rings!
March walks over to Gilda, where they meet face-to-face.
Gilda (softly): “It still rings.”
Tom: “Does it?”
Fade to black.

It’s one of the best moments in the entire film and that’s saying a lot, because there are so many high points to begin with. And speaking of which, the closing scene is also fantastic. After Tom, Gilda and George escape Plunkett’s mansion in a taxi, Gilda then declares that she wants to go back to Paris and have some fun–but not before giving each guy a big kiss on the lips. And we know exactly what kind of fun she wants. After all, she’s nestled in between Fredric March and Gary Cooper–who could blame her for wanting to have “fun”?

When I first got into classics, I could never understand what the fuss about pre-codes was all about, but after seeing a few, I do understand. Not only are they fun, but it’s nice to see endings where the main character isn’t severely punished for their actions. You know, if Design For Living had somehow been made after 1934, not only would a good chunk of the snappy dialogue have been eradicated, but one of the main characters would have had to die in order for moral sanity to rule the day. I’m guessing that Gilda would have received the brunt of the Code’s moral abuse. After all, she enjoyed sex and everyone knows that in post-1934 films, any woman who enjoys sex is a harlot. And don’t even get me started on separate beds!

I’ve always wondered what the movies would have been like if the Hays Code hadn’t been enforced in 1934. Would movies have gotten sexier and more violent? Hollywood is not a place where they know how to draw the line. For every good movie that’s released today, there’s another film that’s filled with tons and tons of gore and sex. I know I sound like a prude saying this, but my idea of a good time isn’t watching someone slice off their own arm or kill their beloved puppy for the sake of shock value. You don’t need shock value to enjoy a movie. I like sensical plots and good character development and that’s why classics, pre or post code, had those qualities in spades. Once the hammer of the Hays code came down, Hollywood had to clean up their act. But it’s not as though the quality of the movies went down–if anything, they went up.

Still, I’m thankful that so many pre-code movies still exist and I’m happy whenever I find a really good one, such as Design For Living (which is available in the 5-disc Gary Cooper Collection). I’m looking forward to the pre-codes and new documentary that TCM is offering up tonight because with every new film I watch, I gain new insights into the past and become more appreciative of the present. And in my opinion, that’s what loving Classic Hollywood is all about.

Links:

• A review and more background info on Design For Living via the Lubitsch site.

• The outlines of the Hays Code from Wikipedia

• A very good pre-code article at GreenCine

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While the rest of the world is asleep, I’m usually awake. I’ve been an insomniac since I was a child and it’s a habit I haven’t been able to shake. I’ve tried forcing myself to an early bedtime, but I wind up waking up halfway through the night and gravitate towards the television or computer (or sometimes I use the computer while leaving the tv on for background noise). And while I pay for it the next day, I find that massive amounts of coffee and a good healthy dose of Touche Eclat smeared under the eyes helps me become a somewhat fully functioning member of society.

During my insomniac hours, I usually surf through Amazon in search of classic dvds. Currently, they’re having a huge 50% off sale on Westerns, so I wound up grabbing the following titles:

Yellow Sky (1948) – directed by William Wellman, starring Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter and Richard Widmark

Lust For Gold (1949) – with Ida Lupino, Glenn Ford and Gig Young (one of my faves)

Broken Arrow (1950) – with James Stewart and Jeff Chandler

Duck, You Sucker (Special Edition-1971) – with James Coburn and Rod Steiger. I mainly got this one because I loved Once Upon a Time in the West and the title is pretty awesome. The only other spaghetti western with such an awesome title is God Forgives, I Don’t.

I can’t resist a good bargain. In addition to that, I also grabbed two of the Fox Film Noir titles, Fallen Angel (1945) and The House on Telegraph Hill (1951). I’m a bit wary of Fallen Angel because it’s directed by Otto Preminger and besides Laura, I’m not a huge fan of the man’s work. He just doesn’t do anything for me. I get to the end of one of his movies and go, “That’s it?” It’s like a big build up for nothing. However, Laura is a pretty awesome movie thanks to the performances by Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price, so I’m willing to give another Preminger-directed Noir a chance. However, Skidoo (1968) will not be re-playing in my house–unless TCM would show a letterboxed version of it. I’m a glutton for punishment, but not for Carol Channing in a see-through bra.

I swear, nothing makes my day like checking my email and seeing the subject line “Your Order Has Shipped” sitting in my inbox. I should be getting them any day now and nothing makes me happier than building my dvd collection. Please don’t mention Netflix–it’s a long story which will either frighten you or bore you.

In other news, the Fox Movie Channel is showing 1937’s This is My Affair which features the pairing of Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck before they were hitched. If you don’t happen to catch it, the FMC website says it’s going to be repeated on March 8th and 18th at 6:00 am.

If you’re into Jimmy Stewart movies (and expect to see plenty of his movies in May, since it’s going to be his hundreth birthday), FMC is also showing three of the five collaborations between James Stewart and director Henry Koster: Take Her, She’s Mine (1963), Dear Brigitte (1965) and No Highway in the Sky (1951), which features a reteaming with Marlene Dietrich. He plays a character that is really socially inept, yet brilliant–it’s almost as though he has Asperger’s Syndrome (but really, no one even knew about that yet). It’s a bit strange–the plot doesn’t work out to what I thought it would be (a disaster movie), but it’s decent. I have yet to see Dear Brigitte, but I expect it to be something like the lukewarm Take Her, She’s Mine. Midly funny in spots, but really forgettable once you’ve seen some of his other, better films.

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