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C. T. Murphy

Part-time writer, sometimes blogger.

WB Top 100: Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


After enjoying “East of Eden”, I was excited to finally see “Rebel Without A Cause” and more of James Dean. Like so many films on this list, “Rebel …” is a movie most have heard of but, as time goes by, few have seen. Now having watched it, we can safely say that it has aged very poorly.

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If Don Adams were in this too, then it would be a much better movie.

The second film on our list to star James Dean, this 1955 picture follows Dean as Jim Stark, a moody teenager and the new kid in town. “Rebel Without A Cause” depicts teenage violence and criminality in a way that I imagine alarmed many people at the time. The film opens with three teenagers brought into a police station for unrelated reasons. Our protagonist, Jim, was arrested for public intoxication, Plato (played by Sal Mineo) for murdering puppies, and Judy (Natalie Wood) for a curfew violation.

Each teenager takes turns admitting their problems at home to Detective Ray (Edward Platt, who I recognized instantly as the Chief from television’s Get Smart). Jim is frustrated by his father (Jim Backus, who I also recognized instantly as Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island) because he never stands up to Jim’s mother and the two always fight. Plato was abandoned by his father as a child and his mother is always away, so he is constantly in the care of the family maid. Judy is no longer treated like a little girl by her father and she feels ignored by him, so she finds different ways to act up in hopes of getting his attention.

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#Thirsty4Thurston

All three teenagers are released. Despite only interacting with one another minimally while at the station, through the course of the following day, both at school and on a field trip, the three will meet one another, become friends, and fall in love. They will also be involved in a knife fight, an accidental suicide, breaking-and-entering, several murder attempts including a police officer, another breaking-and-entering, and one will lose their life to a police officer. It really is the busiest first day of school ever put to film.

To understand why we disliked “Rebel Without A Cause” it is important to first understand what made this film groundbreaking at the time and why I think many of its parts are still significant, even though the sum of those parts was severely lacking for us.

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Museums are always better with a knife fight.

First, I found it fascinating that the movie depicts a disturbed teenager (Plato) who is ostracized and bullied by other kids, his extreme acts of violence are ignored (murdering puppies), and he is left with insufficient adult supervision and easy access to a gun which he is willing to use. This fascinated me because too often I feel like our culture depicts youth violence, especially gun violence, and to some extent bullying, as a post-Columbine problem. Clearly that is a mischaracterization if a movie in 1955 was already (and thankfully so) depicting this issue.

The movie’s depiction of teenage violence is most important to me because it is an easy argument against older generations that talk about surviving bullying like it’s a badge of honor and a rite of passage that all children should be required to go through, rather than helped to avoid. In the case of the accidental suicide, Jim, as the new kid at school, is challenged by Judy’s boyfriend Buzz to a game of chicken where the object is to drive a car at a cliff as fast as possible and jump out of said car as late as possible before it careens off into the water. Luckily, I was never challenged to such feats of strength and determination as a child, but if that is in any way a representation of the level of bullying in 1955, then I think we are all better getting as far away from that as humanly possible.

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I thought this was a legitimately cool shot.

Second, though it is problematic, I enjoyed that “Rebel Without A Cause” tried to be about more than just moody teenagers and tried exploring some of the psychology as to why these teenagers were acting in antisocial, criminal, and horrible ways. Plato was under-explored, unfortunately, and Judy’s plot felt tacked-on, but I loved Jim’s reasoning. When contrasting the demeanor and persona Jim must adopt to survive “normal” teenage life with his father’s softer approach to confrontation, I fully understand Jim’s inability to reconcile his father’s position in their household with what the world keeps telling him a man should be. While the movie does little to depict the arguments of his parents in a way that justifies Jim’s feelings, it is an interesting example of a reality not yet able to come to terms with maleness and fatherhood as soft and supportive rather than brash, aggressive, and powerful.

Finally, there is James Dean himself. As mentioned in the “East of Eden” review, it is hard to judge James Dean, the cultural icon, for his acting ability on one performance alone. While obviously typecast in a similar role, Dean can hit several emotional high notes and its easier for us to understand the immense potential he had as a very young actor.

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This is a dumb horror movie death in a dumb teenage drama movie.

Now, with all of that said, “Rebel Without A Cause” was a disappointing film for us both. Knowing nothing about the plot before seeing it, the film has aged poorly and was one of the more frustrating movies we have seen in a long time. For instance, the movie takes place over a single night, but that night seems to stretch to the point that all believability is lost.

Further adding fuel to this fire, no one in this movie acts like a normal person. It felt like someone took the character intelligence from modern slasher movies and forced it into a teenage drama. For example, Buzz dies when he failed to jump out of his car, and all the teenagers drive off. Before Jim makes it back home afterward, the police have been notified and pictures of the accident have already appeared on the news, but when Jim admits to his parents that he was involved, they don’t support his need to come forward to the police because they want someone else to tell the police. It makes no sense and the Buzz story, much like his life in that car on that cliff, drops off almost instantly in favor of three of his goons (one is even named Goon and played by a very young Dennis Hopper) wanting to get Jim for ratting them out to the police. Of course, Jim did not get to tell the police because, like the puppy-murderer-releasing bastards that they are, they ignore troubled teen Jim when he comes to unburden himself.

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Somehow the puppy-killer is a good guy and someone we are supposed to by sympathetic toward?

Even the teenagers act erratically. Jim is a whirlwind of emotions, which is explained, but Judy falls in love with a boy she just met after her boyfriend careens off a cliff to his death in the same night. And Plato, by far one of the creepiest characters we have seen yet, was both disturbed and disturbing. If you have seen “The Room” and recall the neighbor kid of an ambiguous age who clings on to a couple far too closely, even in their bedroom with them, that is Plato exactly only somehow less creepy (and likely the basis for “The Room” character). Plato treats Jim like he is his dad. If the field of psychology was better defined at the time, then the writers of “Rebel Without A Cause” may have had enough to research and use in their script, but it just wasn’t there yet, and it shows in how the movie depicts these psychologically-weird character relationships.

There is a lot to enjoy about this movie and I mean no harm to its importance at the time, but the story is all over the place, the film needed to be edited for logic, and most of the topics and social commentary have been done better by more current media with a fuller understanding of child psychology. That’s not to discount how prescient this film was and remains. Even with its convolutions, there are important messages to extract from a movie like “Rebel Without A Cause” that are still relevant today. This movie isn’t far off from the phenomenon of something like Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix or any other similar movie or television show that attempts to tackle topics that sadly and tragically go undiscussed or under discussed regarding teenagers. As much as I ended up hating watching this movie, I cannot hate that it exists.

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Happy endings!

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: East of Eden (1955)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


1955’s film “East of Eden”, starring James Dean, is the first movie on our list to star the actor and the first time we have seen him act. In his tragically short life, all three films featuring James Dean are featured in this box set. Along with “East of Eden”, there is also “Rebel Without A Cause” and “Giant”. Given his status as a cultural icon, our reviews for these films will spend a lot of time on James Dean, but, at least in the case of this film, “East of Eden” is worth seeing regardless (and perhaps because) of James Dean.

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No joke, this movie is shot so beautifully with some really interesting direction. For instance, this shot on a moving train.

Adapted from renowned American author John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel, the film takes place in California in the late 1910s shortly before the United States got involved in World War I. Primarily taken from the book’s second half, the 1955 film version of “East of Eden” focuses on the relationship between two brothers, Cal (James Dean) and Aron (Richard Davalos), with their father Adam (Raymond Massey), a successful farmer with a reputation for his goodness and Christian values. While Aron is the perfect child and his father’s favorite, Cal is a troubled young man desperate to understand who he is and why his father will not accept him for it.

The cinematography in “East of Eden” does a fantastic job of bringing rural California to the big screen. Shot in CinemaScope, the film holds up well today. Like “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, it is great to see another film shot on location, especially in a part of California that isn’t Hollywood or one of the state’s major cities.

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Or this shot at an angle that heightens the aggression of Adam.

On first impression, Diane and I were both mixed on the acting of James Dean. He did a convincing job of playing a troubled youth, but my prior knowledge of Steinbeck had me worried this would be a Lennie situation from Of Mice and Men (in other words, a mentally unstable character). Without another role to judge him against, neither of us felt comfortable negatively reviewing Dean’s work in “East of Eden”. In truth, he is compelling here and brings plenty of emotion to the role. In the film’s climax when he presents a gift he believes will win his father’s love, Dean’s Cal finds only heartbreak from the disapproval he receives in response. That heartbreak is the audience’s heartbreak as well when Cal’s eagerness throughout the entire film to please his father turns into absolute despair.

We were also impressed by Raymond Massey’s Adam and Richard Davalos’ Aron. From one of the film’s earliest scenes, Adam confesses that while he understood his son Aron, he never understood his other son Cal. The movie doesn’t explore Adam’s morality too deeply nor does it try to expose him as a fraud. His confusion over his son Cal is to be expected since Cal often does what he wants despite any repercussions such as when he steals a coal shoot to help his father’s business. Aron, a mirror image of Adam, never has to try to earn his father’s approval since everything he does is in accordance with how Adam would wish it be done.

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Or scenes like this which frame the father with the two brothers standing apart from one another.

Like the book, “East of Eden” the film is a retelling of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. In the book, there is more explanation and background (since it covers several generations), but the film seems to do a good job distilling the highlights. There is no attempt to be clever or to hide this retelling either. Cain and Abel are mentioned specifically and Adam’s religion is a major part of his character.

Diane and I took a long walk after watching the movie. At first, I had little to say, but as we talked and shared our opinions, we both realized that there is a lot of subtext to “East of Eden”. For instance, during the film’s climax, Cal reveals to Aron that their mother is still alive despite their father telling them otherwise all their lives and that she is a woman of ill repute. The shock of Aron learning about his mother and other related events causes Adam to have a stroke. Despite stating earlier that nothing would cause him to join the war, Aron enlists and runs off to fight in World War I the next morning leaving Cal to take care of a father who he claims he no longer needs. Paralyzed and with limited speaking, Adam asks Cal to send away his annoying nurse and Cal takes this as a sign that he should remain and look after his father.

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Or a scene like this which Dean acts the shit out of with just his eyes and body language.

Without Adam confirming it, Cal states that his father wishes for him to remain by his side. Like Abel who was murdered by Cain, in the novel, Aron goes off to war because of Cal’s actions and dies. Unlike the myth where Cain is forced into exile, here Cal remains behind in an exile of his own choosing (the constant torture of trying to appease an overly moral man) and Adam also joins him in exile perhaps to pay for failing Cal as a father.

Or, at least that is my take. More surface-level, Cal tells his father that it is his choice what kind of man he is and that he chooses to remain by Adam’s side to take care of him. Adam sheds a tear because his son did listen to his lessons and may finally turn his life around. Cal understands that he has the power to be a good person now and he assumes the position of Abel (the favored child) while his brother petulantly marches off to a war he never believed in as his first and last act of defiance against his lying father.

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Or, finally, Dean on a swing (complete with the camera moving to match his momentum).

Either way, “East of Eden” is a solid film and one worth having a few chats about. The film looks great, the acting is compelling, and the story will hold your interest. Diane and I both enjoyed this film and we look forward to confirming whether or not James Dean was a great actor.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

/hail %t

I have seen a few discussions pop up on Twitter recently regarding games as social spaces. While I haven’t followed those conversations directly, what I have read makes a lot of sense. If games are social spaces and that’s what draws so many of us to them, then why are MMORPGs, a genre that is inherently social, no longer a draw?

It all comes down to competition. When MMORPGs were new, they were a far more interactive and innovative online social space than other options. I spent plenty of time in AOL chatrooms as a kid or working on my Xanga/Angelfire/Geocities/MySpace page, but none of those things combined as easily with my love of fantasy or video games as MMORPGs did.

I do not want to comment on the merit of online gaming as social spaces for children and young adults. My eyes always roll at the “kids don’t go outside anymore and that is why this country is doomed” arguments. Wherever you fall in that argument, for me as a kid, I spent near equal time outside as I did in, but for entirely different reasons. Outside, I explored the woods behind my house in relative solitude, only occasionally bringing a friend or young relative. Inside, I spent holiday breaks from school staying up until 5 AM playing games like Ultima Online and EverQuest.

As I grew older, my time outside was largely replaced by my time inside. To this day, I still enjoy a good hike and I have incorporated daily walks into my routine, but between work, adulting, and personal leisure, I go outside far less.

Other than the obvious reason of increasing responsibility, I also ascribe some of my outside/inside shift (especially when I was a teenager) to enjoying the more complex social spaces of MMORPGs. I wasn’t a loner as a child, but I had relatively few friends and no social drive to spend time with them after school, every day, every week. MMORPGs were fantasy escapism, but they also provided me a means to acquire an identity that I felt more control over than I did my real-life self. It was easier to escape my shyness. It was also easier to feel important or validated since, in an entirely self-contained world and community, expertise in the game is attainable by most who play it and is subject less to the real world’s prejudices regarding quantity of experience, the age of the person, etc. In other words, in MMORPGs, it was easier for me to feel more important and more confident than I did outside the game.

As much as I miss specific bits of gameplay, it is the social aspects of MMORPGs I miss the most and the thing I have had the hardest time recapturing. Journeying back to EverQuest or World of Warcraft, I rarely reintegrate into the current community and find it hard to continue playing without finding those I already know and who I most often speak to independent of any specific game these days.

Back to competition, MMORPGs are not going against AOL chatrooms anymore, but are instead going against a world that has evolved with them in mind and largely stolen their best bits for their own. Most multiplayer games these days come with their own chat tools regardless of how persistent their games worlds must be. If they don’t have the chat tools, then there are a ton of platforms that will provide the same functionality. Beyond those platforms, it’s not unheard of to hand out a phone number or email address, much like I used to have an AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ handle, only now we can reach one another anywhere with cellphones.

Almost every game is its own service now or directly integrated into a broader service otherwise. As such, the only unique thing left to the MMORPG genre are the things that were always horrible at worst and to the player’s test at best; namely, excessive grinding, bloated but weak content, and intentionally complicated sub-systems in the name of “simulation”.

This bothers me. A lot. While any future MMORPG has a good shot at being a great multiplayer game, I worry that the bar is too high to make a MMORPG that is a great multiplayer game. Developers must navigate a world that has largely left the genre behind while trying to compete against established evergreen games (League of Legends, Minecraft, Fortnite, DOTA 2, etc.) that may never sunset. Worse, MMORPGs need to target these gaming behemoths directly if they want to capture enough market share to sustain themselves. It used to be that MMORPGs were too expensive to make, but now they are too big a risk to attempt.

It leaves us all with a catch-22. Do we hope for MMORPGs that are good enough gameplay-wise that they may get lucky and catch on? Do we hope for MMORPGs that embrace the games-as-social-spaces that focus primarily on being an interactive super-chatroom that is engaging to a wide audience? Do we hope for both and get neither?

I wish I still had a guild to chat about this with while I run meaningless circles around Orgrimmar.

My Top 3 Games of the Year

It has been a little while since I wrote a video game post or a list. Here’s my top three I played this year:

#3: Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

Marvel’s Spider-Man had me hyped from day one, but the game delivered more than I had expected. I even went as far as getting the platinum trophy. I am glad now that I skipped the DLC, but I could use a sequel as soon as possible.

#2: Hollow Knight (Switch)

Hollow Knight took me by complete surprise. I expected to like it, but I did not expect to love it. For a few weeks, I obsessed over the game, going as far as defeating a really challenging optional boss. This game was an absolute blast and one of my favorite game experiences in 2018.

Dishonorable Mentions

  • Persona 5 (PS4) – I wanted to like Persona 5, but I didn’t take to it. I haven’t deleted my save though. I do intend to give it another try in the future.
  • Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (PS4) – Absolutely beautiful, the latest Dragon Quest did nothing for me. I hated the characters, I was bored by the story, and the gameplay did nothing for me either. I know that Dragon Quest games are “vanilla” by design but I had hoped for some hidden sprinkles. There were none.
  • World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth (PC) – For an expansion dominated by my favorite race, trolls, it was a huge disappointment to last less than a month and leave behind the three months I prepaid for. This was a terribly weak expansion.

Honorable Mentions

  • Ni No Kuni 2 (PS4) – It was good enough to finish!
  • Dead Cells (Switch) – I played a ton of this on Switch. Though I was never successful enough to finish it, it was a lot of fun.
  • Donut County (PS4) – I didn’t play this indie game directly. Instead, I watched as Diane thoroughly enjoyed it. We both laughed together at the jokes. It was an incredibly funny experience given the odd subject matter.
  • Frostpunk (PC) – I wanted more than what I got with Frostpunk, but it was still an incredible experience. I love a good city-builder and the fusion of that with survival mechanics to make a game I dreaded playing was a match made in heaven (or in this case hell).
  • Overcooked 2 (PS4) – It is Overcooked only better. Our couples nights playing this game every weekend were just as fun as when we did them for the original. I consider Overcooked 2 to be superior in every way.

#1: Slay the Spire

At over 700 hours, I have one achievement left to get in this blend of roguelikes and card games. I cannot think of a better game to carry me on now that I am completely done playing Binding of Isaac. That said, my obsession is currently waning, so I doubt I get to 1,000 hours unless they add something new when the game finally launches early next year.

WB Top 100: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


Sometimes it can be a real challenge to review a movie with any kind of objectivity. So I won’t. Welcome to our next movie, 1954’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, a musical about rape and Stockholm Syndrome, all played for laughs.

Set in the 1850s, Adam Pontipee (played by singer Howard Keel) arrives at a nearby town to buy supplies. He and his six brothers live in the wilderness, but every six months or so he comes around for trade. This time, he is also looking for a woman who can cook and clean for him since the food back home sucks and the place looks like seven men live there. One song later, he finds his bride-to-be, Milly (Jane Powell) and convinces her to marry him by withholding everything about where he lives and who he lives with.

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I’m here for six months of tobacco and women.

Milly returns with Adam and is immediately disappointed. On the way back, he let her make a fool of herself with a song about it being just the two of them, so the additional six brothers was a bit of a shock. The brothers gawk at seeing a woman, likely for the first time ever, but soon have her cooking and cleaning.

Milly eventually turns things around and ends up teaching the brothers the manners they never learned as uncouth mountain men. The movie seems charming enough at this point, if a bit quaint. After lessons and color-coordinated clothes are made, Milly takes all of the men to a social in town where they can meet women of their own. It leads to the movie’s only redeeming scene in which the brothers dance off against the local suitors in hopes of winning a future bride. It goes on forever, but it is one of the more unique musical sequences we have seen yet. The sequence takes full advantage of having dancers and gymnasts in the cast, including some very innovative dance sequences on a balance-beam like structure.

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Ignoring the obvious issues, this movie does have some solid dance sequences and songs.

Despite getting the upper hand in the dancing, the barn raising (literally a contest to build a barn for some other dude, such a hootenanny) doesn’t go so well. Bitter, the local men make multiple homicide attempts by throwing/tossing hammers, wildly swinging wooden boards, or pushing the brothers off ladders. It does a great job of earning sympathy for the brothers, but they eventually cave in at Adam’s urging and a brawl ensues. Women don’t like brutes who practice self-defense, so the brothers and Milly leave the town empty-handed.

It is around this time that the movie takes a dark, troubling turn. When Milly moved in, she brought with her a book by the Roman writer Plutarch that tells the story of the Sabine women. In the story, better known as “The Rape of the Sabine Women” (rape is used here in the slightly less unpleasant sense of “kidnapping”), Roman men abduct en masse women from other nearby cities to take as brides since they are short on women. Since this is the only book they own, Adam decides the brothers should just steal their brides instead of winning them the sissy-way of courtin’ and the like.

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Cue laugh track for the bag-over-head abductions!

And that is exactly where the film goes. Adam and his brothers ride down to the town in the dark of night and the dead of winter. There is a series of abduction antics that are shot and written similarly to any sitcom. It’s a wonder the film didn’t opt to have a laugh track to really sell the hilarious kidnappings.

The alarms get sounded and the men of the town rally to protect their property from the rapists. They make chase, but Adam, our other heroes, and their catch narrowly avoid an avalanche that conveniently cuts off the pass until Spring. The change in the season is conveniently long enough for the women to fall in love with the brothers, even after Milly kicks them all out of the main house to protect the other women’s virtues or some such nonsense.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda appears as the leader of the thirsty town suitors.

The movie ends with the men of the town coming to the women’s rescue, but as Milly recently had a baby with Adam, all the women claim they are the baby’s mother. Rather than kill the men, the townspeople let them live since each one might potentially be the father of a ruined woman’s child.

It is all bullshit and this is a terrible movie by all standards. Avoid at all costs.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: A Star is Born (1954 & 2018)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


I never seek out tearjerkers, but after seeing two versions of “A Star is Born” over the last week, I am starting to appreciate the catharsis of films-as-emotional release. I am not opposed to crying – it is not an affront to my masculinity or any such garbage – but I typically prefer more positive or upbeat films. Rather than two separate reviews, this week we are going to review 1954’s “A Star is Born” for our list and 2018’s “A Star is Born” just for the pleasure of it, simultaneously.

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There was a ton of footage originally cut from the 1954 version. Much was restored, but in our version, there was also several scenes that were just set photos with audio tracks. It took us a second to realize what was happening.

If you are unfamiliar, the original “A Star is Born” was released in 1937, but the film was officially remade in 1954, 1976, and 2018. The announcement of any remake these days tends to be received with the same cries of how Hollywood is “no longer” original. Well, remakes and being unoriginal are as old as Hollywood itself if you look at examples like “A Star is Born”.

All the films follow a similar theme: a woman at the beginning of her career falls in love with a man at the end of his. Try as she might and despite their love, the man repeatedly fails to overcome the weight of his own life. To protect his beloved and her career, the man realizes his presence will only hold her back from her dreams and he chooses to take his own life to, in his view, save hers. There are obviously variations to all these elements, but that’s the generally structure of the narrative in each.

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The colors for the 1954 film are really something given its age.

In comparing the 1954 and 2018 remakes, I feel far less jaded about than idea than I once did. Like so many, I usually shrugged anytime I saw a new version of an old favorite being announced. It seems like we are stuck in an endless cycle of repeating ourselves.

That is both true and untrue. If I had considered for a moment my love of the ancient epics from Homer or, more generally, my love of myths and the storytelling of those myths, originality only happens once and everything original happened long, long ago.

 

This sentiment is echoed in the 2018 version of “A Star is Born”. The film follows an established musician named Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) who falls in love with a singer named Ally (Lady Gaga) as he helps launch her music career overnight with an unrehearsed duet of one of her original songs at one of his concerns. In falling in love with Ally, Jackson remarks that music is “twelve notes and the octave repeats … it’s the same story over and over” but it’s the way Ally uses those twelve notes and the things she has to say with her lyrics that he falls in love with.

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I really fell in love with these two falling in love.

These two versions of the same story follow many of the same beats. While 2018’s version cast its leads as musicians, the 1954 version casts them as actors. Judy Garland returns on our list to play Esther Blodgett, an aspiring singer who is discovered by the actor Norman Maine (James Mason) in the early stages of his career decline. Lady Gaga gave a great performance in her version, but Judy Garland’s singing was phenomenal and well-utilized in the frequent musical numbers she performs as her character’s acting career has a rocket-strapped to it by her sheer talent.

In both films, the initial courtship and romance comes off creepy and stalkeresque. Both Cooper and Mason’s Maines are sympathetic characters from the outset, as both deal with blatant, toxic alcoholism. At the same time, the way they pursue Ally or Esther would have invoked serious concern if I were the target. I am grateful that neither story dwells overlong on these courtships as I think doing so would detract from the overall flow of either story, but an additional scene for each may have helped smooth out what otherwise feels like a hunter and prey scenario which, if I had different expectations for where the story was headed, might’ve led me to believe these were a different, more horrifying movies.

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I knew Judy Garland could do it all, but she does it all to an otherworldly degree of talent in this film.

Of course, once the romance blooms, both films hit their stride. In either case, I was drawn in by the chemistry of the couples. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga each give fantastic performances. Lady Gaga was especially appealing to me and did nothing to detract or take me out of the film as you might expect with a less experienced actress. I believed in their love and wanted them to survive the weathered, worn down ills afflicting Cooper’s Jackson Maine.

Similarly, though with less chemistry, I was near equally invested in Judy Garland and James Mason and their love. My favorite scene in the 1954 version follows James Mason’s Norman Maine, his contract with the studio terminated because of his declining talent and the liabilities of his alcoholism, as he spends the day in their Malibu home. He is clearly bored as he putts golf balls in the living room and finds ways to occupy his time.

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I loved that Esther noticed her husband had spent the entire day wasting his time but never said anything. That’s the value of someone who knows how to tell a story visually.

When Esther arrives home, still in costume from practice for her next big production, they embrace, and he tells her that he has been teaching himself to cook. As Norman wanders off to fetch dinner since the servants have been sent home, you see Esther’s shocked and surprised face as she looks around the room and realizes how her husband has obviously spent the day doing nothing. When he returns, she tells him about her production and, to boost his spirits, performs the whole song and dance number in their living room. As he laughs with her and cheers her on, you see how much in love he is with her and how happy he is for her. The scene ends when a mailman interrupts to deliver a package for Esther but uses her stage name for Norman’s surname rather than recognizing Norman Maine, a man who was once famous.

While you might expect either film to be about the jealousy of a veteran husband of his upstart wife, neither film explores that idea. In a more positive, progressive way, both films are about loyal, loving husbands who only want the best for their wives and their careers. As damaged as they each are, jealousy never really enters the picture.

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Heart breaking in both films.

Despite dealing with the lives of very famous people, the downfall for both Maines is unfortunately a very common disease: alcoholism. Even though they both interrupt award shows with their inebriation (in 1954, it is the Academy Awards; in 2018, the Grammys), their wives stick with them through the scandal and embarrassment and are willing to give up their careers to take care of them. But, in both versions, each Maine chooses suicide when they realize they will not get better and that their demons will only drag down the dreams of the women they love.

Though not the kind of movies I typically watch, I found both films to be compelling and worth seeing. Diane ended up favoring the 2018 version while I preferred the 1954 film. We were in overall agreement with our likes and dislikes of each, so the difference is more of preference rather than of quality. I found Norman Maine and his fall to be a more compelling arc than Jackson Maine’s, while she strongly preferred the chemistry of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga to James Mason and Judy Garland. In either case, these are two excellent films and a great example of how remaking something can take the exact same notes and make them compelling with a new voice. Like great music covers, both films are worthy of being on any playlist.

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“This is Mrs. Norman Maine.” – Even just revisiting the movie to take screenshots, hearing this line again teared me up.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


At last, we arrive at our final film on this list to star Gene Kelly. In the triumvirate of Gene Kelly films we’ve watched, this is the Caesar and, as the good book says, we must lend unto Caesar what is Caesar’s: “Singin’ in the Rain” is Gene Kelly at his very, very best.

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I am unsure why the film started with this, but it was cute!

“Singin’ in the Rain” follows the same formula as “Anchors Aweigh” and “An American in Paris”. It features a variety of singing and dancing acts, mostly notably those of Gene Kelly, the film’s star. There’s also a romantic subplot that is resolved moments before the films conclusion. Finally, there is a large-scale number, similar to the An American in Paris ballet in the film of the same name or the cartoon dance sequence in “Anchors Aweigh”, that likely took up the majority of the film’s budget.

This was our first time actually seeing “Singin’ in the Rain”. The song and dance sequence have filtered their way through pop culture to us, but I would have never guessed the plot. The film follows Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), two silent picture actors at the height of their fame. The two form a pair and, if you believe the tabloids, they are in love. This couldn’t be further from the truth, of course. Accompanying them are Cosmo Brown (played by Donald O’Connor), Don’s lifelong friend and partner in vaudeville, and Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), the film’s love interest.

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Debbie Reynolds could only be more charming if she were a grandmother and a witch.

Gene Kelly was perfect, as always, but Debbie Reynolds was the real standout for me. Outside of Disney’s made-for-television movie series “Halloweentown”, I don’t recall ever seeing Debbie Reynolds in a movie. In “Singin’ in the Rain”, she is adorable and easily our favorite romantic interest in all of these three films. She doesn’t get as much focus as she deserved, but she caught my eye every time she was on screen. Her singing voice was fantastic. Donald O’Connor’s performance of the song, “Make ‘Em Laugh” was also great, and his character never overstayed his welcome.

Despite the quality of the performers and their performances, for me, they alone did not make “Singin’ in the Rain” better than the others starring Gene Kelly. This film surpasses them by virtue of having a decent story. While there is a romantic subplot, it is hardly the focus of the entire film. In the second half, the focus shifts to Lina Lamont, a lead actress who cannot make the transition from silent pictures to talkies. Her voice, to say the least, is horrible and her singing is terrible too. The benefit of a plot that made me care about what happened to all of the characters managed to make “Singin’ in the Rain” a film I genuinely enjoyed.

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Iconic scene and it still stands up.

Of course, it isn’t without fault. As much as I loved the performances, the film’s big number – surprisingly not “Singin’ in the Rain”, though it is easily the most iconic – ran incredibly long. It was fantastic mind you, but, as the great line from my all-time favorite movie will eventually say on this list: “Too many notes.”

Most interesting for us both were the references to prior films we have already seen. Most notably, “The Jazz Singer” comes up as bringing on the talkie. With it, the film’s entire plot seems to change. There is also mention of “The Broadway Melody” including to an entire number and borrowing some of the film’s visuals in a callback. In a vacuum, if we had seen “Singin’ in the Rain” independent of this project to watch all of these films, these references would have made no sense. Its amazing seeing these movies begin to reference one another

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I wish Gene Kelly would have made a three hour long version of the big number he ends all his films with. It’d be a fever dream but one you could tap your feet to.

All in all, there is little more that can be said about this film. Unless there is an even better Gene Kelly film not included in this collection, this seems to me to be the finest iteration of a formula that made him an all-time memorable star. The music and scenes stand the test of time. It was a fantastic musical with a solid story and characters we very much enjoyed.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

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