Friday, November 09, 2012

UCLA Celebrates Director Mitchell Leisen

The career of directing great Mitchell Leisen will be celebrated at UCLA beginning a week from today, Friday, November 16th.

The month-long series That Signature Style: The Films of Mitchell Leisen features 16 of the director's films. Leisen is a director who has perhaps been underrated in the past, but in recent years it seems as though his work is being reassessed by film fans and historians. Leisen particularly excelled at heartfelt romantic drama and bubbly romantic comedies; whether drama or comedy, Leisen's movies always look wonderful, reflecting his background as a former art director. While fellow director Billy Wilder unfairly derided Leisen's background, I believe the great look of Leisen's films is a key component to their success, though style is never more important than the interactions of the characters. Leisen had a special knack for moving the audience without being maudlin, and on the flip side his movies are often laugh-out-loud funny.

Though a number of the films in this series have been shown on Turner Classic Movies or are available on DVD, some of these movies are quite difficult to see. Classic film fans in Southern California should jump at the opportunity to see rarely shown movies such as LADY IN THE DARK (1944) and FRENCHMAN'S CREEK (1944) -- on a big screen, no less!

Although I would have loved the series to include a couple more key Leisen films, such as ARISE, MY LOVE (1940), this is an excellent lineup of films from an impressive career. I hope to have the opportunity to enjoy several of these films in the next few weeks!

Opening night on November 16th will feature historian David Chierichetti signing copies of his book MITCHELL LEISEN: HOLLYWOOD DIRECTOR.

That first night features two of my all-time favorite '30s comedies, MIDNIGHT (1939) and EASY LIVING (1937). MIDNIGHT is a gem starring Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, and Mary Astor, while the delightful EASY LIVING features Jean Arthur ("Golly!"), Ray Milland, and Edward Arnold; it includes a justly famous brawl in the Automat. I'm hoping to attend so that I can have the opportunity to enjoy these very funny movies in 35mm with an appreciative audience.

Below is the rest of the schedule; links to those films I've reviewed here previously can be found at the hyperlinked titles. The UCLA web pages for each double bill can be found at the hyperlinked dates.

Sunday, November 18th, features two films from 1934: DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY with Fredric March and Evelyn Venable, and MURDER AT THE VANITIES, with a cast that includes Jack Oakie, Kitty Carlisle, and Duke Ellington.

November 30th features HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941), which received multiple Oscar nominations but is so difficult to see that I had to resort to YouTube a couple of years ago. It's a superb film which I highly recommend, starring Olivia de Havilland, Charles Boyer, Paulette Goddard, and Rosemary DeCamp.

It's paired with Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray in SWING HIGH, SWING LOW (1937), which I believe is the only one of their costarring films I haven't seen as yet.

Sunday, December 2nd, is another outstanding evening, starting off with Barbara Stanwyck and John Lund in the gripping romantic noir NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950). Leisen and his cast completely sell this touching story of a woman who assumes a dead woman's identity, finding the love of a man and a family in the process.

NO MAN OF HER OWN plays with THE MATING SEASON (1951), which also starred frequent Leisen leading man John Lund. Lund's bride is played by the gorgeous Gene Tierney, and their mothers are played by Miriam Hopkins and the Oscar-nominated Thelma Ritter.

I had the good fortune as a child to see Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland in LADY IN THE DARK (1944) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This rarely seen, not-on-DVD film plays December 9th. It's paired with the most enjoyable TAKE A LETTER, DARLING (1942), featuring a sterling cast: Rosalind Russell, Fred MacMurray, Macdonald Carey, and Robert Benchley.

I most hope to attend the movies on December 10th, KITTY (1945) and FRENCHMAN'S CREEK (1947). Neither film is on DVD, and while KITTY has been shown on TCM, to my memory FRENCHMAN'S CREEK hasn't turned up there in the last few years. KITTY stars two favorites, Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard, while FRENCHMAN'S CREEK stars Joan Fontaine, Arturo de Cordova, and Basil Rathbone. FRENCHMAN'S CREEK was based on a book by Daphne Du Maurier, who also wrote the novel which inspired one of Fontaine's best films, REBECCA (1940).

The Christmas film REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) has reached new audiences in recent years, thanks to the championing of Robert Osborne and Turner Classic Movies; it was one of the first films released on DVD in the TCM Vault Collection. REMEMBER THE NIGHT will be shown at UCLA on December 14th. What a great time of year to see a film which so effectively conveys a deeply felt Christmas spirit.

It plays with one of Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray's best films together, HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE (1935), costarring Ralph Bellamy.

The series comes to a close on December 16th, with Olivia de Havilland in her Oscar-winning role in TO EACH HIS OWN (1946), which once again also features John Lund.

Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray then team in one of my favorite '40s comedies, the very funny NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943). Colbert's a magazine photographer and MacMurray's a tunnel-digging "sand hog." Can upper class and working class find happiness together?

UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater is one of the best places to see classic films in the Los Angeles area, and I could happily attend every single night in this series. Hopefully I'll be able to attend at least a few, and I highly recommend that fellow Southern Californians take the opportunity to see some really wonderful movies in 35mm prints. Great evenings of entertainment guaranteed!


Blogger barrylane said...

Your assessment of Liesen's work and summary of his films must surely be a highlight of your Musings. I have seen most though not all of his films, Easy Living a notable sxcetion, and you have made me with to see them all once again.

5:13 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Hi apoligies and corrections:

"exception" not scetion..."wish" not with.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks very much, didn't he make so many good films? Even "little" titles such as 13 HOURS BY AIR (1936) are fun to watch. Hope you're able to revisit some of them soon. :)

Best wishes,

8:00 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

It was unfortunate that for so many years the negativity of both Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder toward Leisen hampered the reputation he richly deserves. The films he made from their scripts were actually much better for his direction and would not have been as good--and certainly not as warm --as if they had been able to direct them. It's especially true of REMEMBER THE NIGHT, my favorite Leisen film, which I love more deeply than anything Sturges directed himself, even if I'll readily acknowledge Sturges is brilliant and creative. And it's true of Wilder too. I believe he did eventually bring his direction up to his writing, but it took years and the influence of the great art director/production designer Alexander Trauner for Wilder to really become the artist he was always taken for being.

A very good piece, Laura, and I'd support your recommendations of the series as a whole. I will probably get back to absorbing melodrama NO MAN OF HER OWN which I only saw on TV years ago.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Blake. When I first saw REMEMBER THE NIGHT I couldn't believe I'd gone so many years never knowing of it, it's simply wonderful.

I'll check in with you if it looks like I might be able to see NO MAN OF HER OWN -- besides having the chance to say hello, I could also pass back the book you so kindly lent me! :)

Just ordered our tickets for EASY LIVING and MIDNIGHT. This will be my first trip to L.A. for a movie post surgery, and it feels great to be back to normal! :)

Best wishes,

12:49 PM  

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