Monday, February 28, 2022

TCM in March: 31 Days of Oscar Highlights

It's just about March, and that means it's time for 31 Days of Oscar on Turner Classic Movies!

In years past, all of the films shown on TCM during this series were either nominated for or won an Academy Award.

The 28th annual 31 Days of Oscar month will be a little different this time around, with the theme "Celebrating the Winners." Every one of the movies shown in March is an Academy Award winner, not just a nominee.

As I mentioned in my "Quick Preview" of Oscar month a few weeks ago, another new feature this year is a tie-in with the HBO Max streaming service. Each day a different Oscar-winning film will be available at the HBO Max Classics Curated by TCM Hub.

TCM has created a special microsite with the month's schedule. Please note the times listed are for the Eastern time zone.

With the Oscar-winning films shown this month being particularly well known, I decided to focus my March recommendations very specifically on some of my all-time most favorite films.

It will be a somewhat shorter list than usual, solely discussing films which I've seen countless times over the course of my life and which hold particularly special meaning for me. Please click any hyperlinked title for a full review.

...I'm hoping to see a top favorite MGM musical, THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946), at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. Judy Garland leads a marvelous cast. For anyone who can't make it to the festival, THE HARVEY GIRLS will be shown early on Tuesday, March 1st, as one of the first couple of films to kick off Oscar month.

...On March 2nd, heading into March 3rd, my pick is one of my all-time favorite movies, SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954). I consider this one of my Top 3 Favorite Films, and the Barn Dance might be my favorite movie scene ever put on film. Howard Keel and Jane Powell lead a talented cast, directed by Stanley Donen and choreographed by Michael Kidd.

..March 5th another all-time favorite movie will be shown, John Ford's SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949). Please click the title link for a post I wrote after seeing the film (again!) at UCLA a few years ago, in which I list many of its pleasures.

...LITTLE WOMEN (1933) is another film I dearly love. I've seen it many times but was very deeply touched when I revisited it at the Egyptian Theatre in late February 2020. It was an emotional viewing experience -- and I probably would have cried even more if I'd known I'd only see a handful of other films theatrically that year! LITTLE WOMEN will be shown on March 6th.

...THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) is another of my most favorite movies, which I feel is one of the greatest exemplars of the magic created by the "studio system." It will be shown March 7th. Don't miss it!

...THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943), starring Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur, is an utter delight, with rib-tickling humor and sweet (and even steamy!) romance. Guaranteed smiles and blissful sighs. It's on March 8th.

...On March 13th TCM is showing a "newer" film which I consider an absolute classic: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995), the wonderful Jane Austen story starring Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, and Kate Winslet. It there anyone who doesn't love this movie? Hard to imagine.

...There's more Jane Austen on March 15th: MGM's classic version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940), starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. If anyone at our house stumbles across this film airing on TCM, the channel doesn't change until it's over!

...THE MUSIC MAN (1962), showing on March 17th, is another film which is pure joy. I couldn't begin to guess how many times I've seen it. Favorite scene: "Marian the Librarian."

...There are several old favorites on March 21st; I'll recommend THE GAY DIVORCEE (1934). I grew up watching "Fred and Ginger films," starting on KTTV Ch. 11 in Los Angeles, and they're part of the reason I fell in love with classic films.

...A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949) is one of my favorite films of the '40s from 20th Century-Fox. The cast is great, with special mention going to the underrated Linda Darnell, who is simply fabulous. It's on March 22nd.

...What can I say about CASABLANCA (1942)? Despite having seen it countless times over the years, my most recent viewing -- a nitrate print at the Egyptian Theatre -- was one of the most thrilling and memorable theater experiences of the last decade. It will be shown March 26th.

...March 27th is a particularly rich viewing day; I could easily have chosen to write about GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) or ALL ABOUT EVE (1950). I decided to particularly recommend another of the movies which first made me fall in love with classic film, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934). I don't know how young I was when I first saw it, but it must have been one of the very earliest classic movies I ever saw. I've loved it ever since. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert are absolute perfection.

...Another favorite Clark Gable film is SAN FRANCISCO (1936), costarring Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy. It's another I first saw on local television when I was young. I couldn't have dreamed then that I would one day see it on a big screen or via a beautiful Blu-ray, uninterrupted by commercials! Like THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, it's another great example of a movie studio firing on all cylinders -- great casting, music, special effects. Everything works. It's on March 28th.

...March 29th might be my favorite day on the schedule, with some absolutely wonderful films on the schedule, including a pair of World War II movies which hold special meaning for me, THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943) and MRS. MINIVER (1942). I first discovered both films which I was around 12, and they had a great impact on me. In the case of THE HUMAN COMEDY, I also loved William Saroyan's book, and I used the final scene from MRS. MINIVER when we had to memorize and deliver a speech in class. That was a bit unique in a late '70s junior high school.

...There are also several favorites on March 30th, including one of my all-time favorite Doris Day movies, CALAMITY JANE (1953). The music carries the viewer away from the earliest scenes and doesn't let go. The entire film is a delight -- and it includes "Secret Love."

For more on TCM in March 2022, please visit TCM's online schedule along with my Quick Preview of TCM in March.

Finally, a reminder that this year's Academy Awards show will be held on Sunday, March 27th.


A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale

A few days ago we paid a return visit to Forest Lawn Glendale. It's a lovely place to walk the grounds while visiting the final resting places of numerous filmmakers.


Forest Lawn Glendale is huge, at 300 acres, so although we've been several times, there are always new places to visit. For photos from past trips, please see my posts spanning visits from 2015 to 2020: A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 1, A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 2, A Visit to the Forest Lawn Museum, and A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale.

We started off this visit at the gravesite of L. Frank Baum, author of THE WIZARD OF OZ and many other OZ books, which were favorites of one of our daughters when she was growing up. Of course, THE WIZARD OF OZ also inspired the classic 1939 movie.


Next we visited an area where several members of the Lane Sisters family are buried, including actress-singer Rosemary Lane.


Rosemary was married to makeup artist Bud Westmore; their first child, Belinda, did not survive. They would later have another daughter, Susan Bridget.


The Lane Sisters were born with the last name Mullican, but all but Martha, who was not in show business, adopted the last name Lane. Unlike her sisters Lola, Rosemary, and Priscilla, Leota Lane only had a very brief film career.


The sisters' mother Cora, who also adopted the name Lane, is buried with Rosemary and Leota at Forest Lawn Glendale.

Priscilla Lane is at Arlington National Cemetery with her husband, Col. Joseph Howard, and Lola Lane was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Santa Barbara, alongside her last husband, Robert M. Hanlon.


Director Roland West was the husband of Lola Lane. He was also loosely connected to the 1935 death of actress Thelma Todd, insofar as she died at the home of his ex-wife, Jewel Carmen.


Martha-Bryan Montgomery was the infant daughter of Robert Montgomery and his wife Elizabeth; she was named for her maternal aunt, actress Martha-Bryan Allen. Martha-Bryan Montgomery was only a year old when she passed away in 1931. The Montgomerys would go on to have two more children, including actress Elizabeth Montgomery, born in 1933.


Cinematographer Archie Stout was a co-Oscar winner for THE QUIET MAN (1952) along with Winton C. Hoch. He shot many other John Wayne films, from '30s "B" Westerns up through THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954), after which he retired.


Frank Borzage began as a silent film actor and went on to direct many special films, including LUCKY STAR (1929), HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (1937), HIS BUTLER'S SISTER (1943), and MOONRISE (1948), to name just a few.


Also at Forest Lawn is the great director Ernst Lubitsch, who like Borzage made countless wonderful films; I wrote about some of them at the time of the UCLA Film & Television Archive's 2018 Lubitsch retrospective.  It's said that at Lubitsch's funeral Billy Wilder sighed "No more Lubitsch," to which William Wyler replied, "Worse than that -- no more Lubitsch films."


As I wrote at the time of our last visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, one often comes across well-known names purely by chance while walking around L.A. area cemeteries. Such was the case when we parked our car, and as soon as I got out I discovered the side-by-side graves of actresses Beverly Roberts...


...and Wynne Gibson. Roberts played leading lady and supporting roles at Warner Bros. throughout the second half of the '30s, while Gibson had a longer career, beginning in the late '20s. The actresses were close friends.


Actress Astrid Allwyn is in an easy-to-find spot near the Freedom Mausoleum. In films from 1931 to 1943, she was also the mother of TV actress Melinda O. Fee.


The wonderful Carole Landis appeared in films from 1936 to 1948. She died tragically in 1948, only 29 years old. She appeared in favorite films such as MOON OVER MIAMI (1941), I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941), ORCHESTRA WIVES (1942), and SECRET COMMAND (1944). During World War II she worked hard touring military bases as an entertainer.


Constance Lupino, who was briefly in films under the name Connie Emerald, was the mother of actress-director Ida Lupino.  She's buried next to Errol Flynn and Patrice Wymore.


Actress-Dancer Patrice Wymore was Errol Flynn's last wife, outliving him by well over half a century. They're buried side by side.


I previously shared a photo of Errol Flynn's grave marker from our 2015 visit, but as I didn't share Wymore's then, I include a new photo of his marker now.


Western actor Hugh O'Brian is buried in the Court of Freedom area.


Finally, cowboy star Tom Mix is buried at the top of a steep hill:


Additional photo posts on the final resting places of historic Hollywood figures: A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 1, A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 2, A Visit to the Forest Lawn Museum, A Visit to Hollywood Forever Cemetery (2014), A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Musicians, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Comedians, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Actors, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - Writers, Directors, and More, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 1, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 2, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 3, A Visit to Desert Memorial Park, Los Angeles National Cemetery, A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 1, A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 2, A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 3, A Visit to Forest Lawn Cathedral City, A Visit to Oakwood Memorial Park, A Visit to Hillside Memorial Park, Part 1, A Visit to Hillside Memorial Park, Part 2, A Visit to Hollywood Forever Cemetery (2019), A Visit to Woodlawn Cemetery, A Visit to Valley Oaks Memorial Park, A Visit to Valhalla Cemetery, A Visit to Pacific View Memorial Park, A Visit to Glen Haven Memorial Park, A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale (2020), A Visit to Calvary Cemetery, and A Visit to Home of Peace Memorial Park.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Tonight's Movie: China (1943) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

This seems to have been the weekend to watch World War II movies released in 1943.

Yesterday I saw the Warner Bros. film EDGE OF DARKNESS (1943), newly released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection.

Today I revisited CHINA (1943), a Paramount Pictures film I saw for the first time in 2012. It's now available on Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber.

CHINA stars Alan Ladd as David Jones, who is making a small fortune selling oil in 1941 China. He's strictly focused on profits and will sell to anyone who can pay top dollar, including the Japanese.

As war in China intensifies, David and his employee Johnny (William Bendix) struggle to make it by truck through the war-torn countryside to Shanghai. Against David's better judgment, they end up picking up a schoolteacher, Carolyn Grant (Loretta Young), and several of her students in order to transport them to safety. An orphaned baby found by Johnny is also along for the ride.

Though David is initially annoyed by his new responsibilities, it doesn't take long before he comes to admire and then love the spunky Carolyn.

At one point David and Carolyn view horrific atrocities; they also witness great loss of life by brave Chinese they have come to know. All of these experiences combine to change David's devil-may-care attitude toward the war in a very short time frame.

CHINA is an extremely tough film which doesn't hesitate to depict the brutality of war. No one is spared, including children. When David sees what a trio of enemy soldiers has done to a family, he unhesitatingly machine guns them -- and even says it felt good. The film has a very high body count on all sides. It's not graphic, but that isn't needed to make the film disturbing.

On my first viewing I liked the film well enough, but I think I enjoyed it even more on this second viewing, in large part simply because of how much I've come to enjoy Ladd over the past decade. That said, as I noted in my 2012 review, some of the script's character development is fairly perfunctory, though it's also true that that probably makes the film a little easier to watch. It's an interesting story, but if I were more deeply emotionally invested in the characters it might be too much to handle. The fast-paced 79-minute running time also helps in this regard.

Ladd and Young, who would work together again on AND NOW TOMORROW (1944), are both great favorites of mine, and they're each very good, especially considering the limited amount of screen time they have to sketch out their characters. Ladd conveys a fast-acting, temperamental man whose decency is awakened by his time with the sincere and generous Carolyn on the one hand and the horrible things he experiences on the other.

Ladd's an actor with tremendous screen presence, which does much to carry the film along. Since my first viewing I've read the suggestion in multiple places that Ladd's "Jones," who wears a leather jacket and fedora, could have helped inspire Indiana Jones, and it's certainly not hard to believe.

Young also does a fine job playing a confident woman who will jump in to do anything needed; she may be sweet and saintly, but she'll also drive a truck or pick up a gun. A scene where she reads the 23rd Psalm aloud is enormously touching, especially as the scene's Christian message is something so rarely seen in modern filmmaking.

Bendix has perhaps the best part in the film; Johnny's softer personality stands in stark contrast to his tough boss, especially when they wrangle over what to do with the baby Johnny has rescued. A scene where David has to deliver bad news to Johnny is beautifully acted; David doesn't even say anything, but Johnny knows from the look David gives him. Real-life friends Ladd and Bendix were always an excellent team, and that's certainly true here.

The film was directed by John Farrow. Frank Butler's screenplay was based on a play by John Stuart Dudley (aka Archibald Forbes).

CHINA was filmed in black and white by Leo Tover. Iverson Ranch stands in for China in some scenes; it was particularly fun to notice this, as since the first time I saw this film I have visited Iverson several times and have stood exactly where the cars are in the movie.

The supporting cast includes Philip Ahn, Iris Wong, Marianne Quon, Victor Sen Yung, Richard Loo, and Soo Yong.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a fine print with excellent sound. Disc extras are a commentary track by Eddy Von Mueller; the trailer; and a gallery of eight additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

As a side note, this film would make a nice double bill with one of my favorite Deanna Durbin films released the same year, THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY (1943), in which Durbin shepherds eight war orphans from China to a new life in San Francisco.

We're very fortunate that Kino Lorber has released a number of Ladd and Young films over the last couple of years, including Ladd's CALCUTTA (1947) and Young's BECAUSE OF YOU (1952) and THE ACCUSED (1949); I'll be reviewing the latter film here in the near future. Here's hoping the future might hold even more Ladd and Young Blu-rays from Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Edge of Darkness (1943) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Last week the Warner Archive released the Warner Bros. film EDGE OF DARKNESS (1943) on Blu-ray.

No one could have anticipated when the release was planned just how shockingly relevant this film would be this particular week.

As I watched the story of Norwegian Resistance fighters battling to free their home from the Nazis during World War II, I of course couldn't help thinking of the war which has just broken out in Europe, as Ukrainians fight to repel the Russian Army.

Phrases like "Everything old is new again" and "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it" ran through my mind as I watched the story of brave men and women who took up arms to rescue their home and country, knowing they were at great risk of death themselves.

Errol Flynn stars as Norwegian fisherman Gunnar Brogge, who has recently been considering sailing away from his Nazi-occupied village -- and his sweetheart Karen (Ann Sheridan) -- in order to join an army and fight for Norway's freedom from outside the country.

Gunnar's plans change when word reaches the citizens that arms will soon be arriving in their village, as well as at towns up and down the coast. The citizens hold a meeting in their church, the one building the Nazis usually don't enter, and after a quiet debate they hold a vote on whether to accept the guns and fight their oppressors.

As time goes on, some citizens show unexpected bravery against the occupying army, while Karen's brother (John Beal) is disdained as a Nazi collaborator. The situation in the village becomes more and more dire, but just as it's beginning to look as though all hope is lost at the hands of the Nazis, a plan for the recently arrived guns goes into action...

This is a very good, subdued film directed by Lewis Milestone, whose other wartime classics included ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930) and A WALK IN THE SUN (1945).

Flynn and Sheridan give quietly confident performances as two of the leaders of the local Resistance. Neither actor is as flashy or charming as we often see in their films, and that's entirely appropriate here. I enjoyed their performances as admirable and determined town leaders. The events currently happening elsewhere in the world certainly work to freshly underscore that their characters and situations were entirely realistic.

I particularly liked the agency given to Sheridan's tough-minded Karen throughout the film. Karen and Gunnar are equal partners. When the final gunshot of the movie comes, it's Sheridan's Karen who pulls the trigger and hits the target, while Gunnar (Flynn) watches alongside her.

Judith Anderson is a hotel owner and fellow Resistance member who determinedly resists the courtship of a relatively kind Nazi soldier. Karen's father, a doctor who isn't sure fighting back is the right choice, is played by Walter Huston, with Ruth Gordon as her mother, who mourns for the old happy days.

There are some wonderfully played smaller parts, such as Henry Brandon (THE SEARCHERS) as a British secret agent and Virginia Christine as the doctor's shy but determined employee, who picks up a gun alongside the men when the time comes. Morris Carnovsky plays a retired schoolmaster who refuses to surrender his home to the Nazis.

Helmut Dantine plays a Nazi officer, with Nancy Coleman as a disturbed woman who is clearly kept in the hotel by Dantine for one reason and one reason only.

This 119-minute film was filmed in black and white by Sid Hickox, with some location work taking place in the Monterey area. Robert Rossen's screenplay was based on a novel by William Woods. The musical score was by Franz Waxman.

The new Blu-ray print was made from the "best preservation elements." Like most Warner Archive Blu-rays, it looks and sounds great.

Disc extras are the short GUN TO GUN (1944) with Robert Shayne and Lupita Tovar; a Chuck Jones cartoon, TO DUCK OR NOT TO DUCK (1943); and the trailer.

Recommended as an excellent World War II film which is also surprisingly timely.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...Good news! The FLOWER DRUM SONG (1961) Blu-ray announced last spring by Kino Lorber will be released on May 24th.

...Last month I mentioned the upcoming Kino Lorber Studio Classics release of a new Blu-ray collection of Francis the Talking Mule movies from new 2K masters. A May 7th release date has now been set. Each of the seven films in the collection will have a commentary track, by Toby Roan, Lee Gambin, Eddy Von Mueller, Stephen Vagg, and Staci Layne Wilson.

..."Coming soon" on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber: HUMAN DESIRE (1954), starring Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame, and BEDTIME FOR BONZO (1951), starring Ronald Reagan and Diana Lynn. I've never seen BEDTIME FOR BONZO and am pleased it's on the upcoming release schedule.

...Just out from Turner Classic Movies and Running Press: The Ultimate Movie Trivia Challenge, a boxed deck of cards with over 400 trivia questions. I anticipate receiving a review copy of the set and hope to share more about it here in the near future.

...John Latchem of Media Play News has reviewed the new Blu-ray release of AMERICAN UNDERDOG (2021). I love inspirational sports films -- especially if someone like Dennis Quaid is in the cast -- so I picked up a copy and look forward to checking it out.

...From Variety: "Why Are Movies So Long Now?"

...A home Bette Davis owned in Toluca Lake is slated for demolition. Thanks to Elizabeth for passing along this YouTube video. Some readers may recall that four years ago I was able to see the exterior of another of Davis's homes, located near Griffith Park.

...Out next month from Schiffer: GLAMOUR ROAD: COLOR, FASHION, STYLE, AND THE MID-CENTURY AUTOMOBILE by Jeff Stork and Tom Dolle.

...The Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles, which dates from 1929 and is currently run by the Landmark chain, is undergoing a 10-week renovation.

...Last month I mentioned the daily Wordle puzzle which has become popular. A month later, I'm still playing! Here's an article on it from the University of Oregon. The game's creator received his Master's at the university.

...A few days ago I reviewed the new Flicker Alley release of REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947). Here are additional reviews from Cereal at Midnight and Derek Smith of Slant.

...Leonard Maltin has a roundup of new film books, including the great book on Disney Imagineer Claude Coats by David Bossert and the Scott Eyman book on 20th Century-Fox I reviewed here last week.

...Speaking of books, a few days ago I came across a listing for the 2015 title COLUMBIA NOIR: A COMPLETE FILMOGRAPHY, 1940-1962. It's by Gene Blottner, who has written a couple of books on Westerns I really liked. The Columbia book went on my wish list!  It was published by McFarland & Company.

...At 50 Westerns From the 50s, Toby Roan recent posted an interesting review of THE PARSON AND THE OUTLAW (1957). Any Western with Marie Windsor is worth a look!

...Glenn Erickson has reviewed the new Criterion Collection Blu-ray of Douglas Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956).

...KC got to go see Robert Siodmak's FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942), starring Richard Carlson and Nancy Kelly, at Noir City Seattle and writes about it at Watching Classic Movies. I really enjoyed getting to see that one on a big screen at the 2020 Noir City Hollywood Festival.

...I haven't watched the Academy Awards for years, for a lot of reasons, including things like the Honorary Award being dropped from the show. The Academy's new plan to drop even more awards from the show doesn't seem likely to make film fans happy. Why don't they instead drop all the political banter, inane jokes, etc.?

...Notable Passing: Actress Sally Kellerman has passed away at the age of 84. She received a Supporting Actress nomination for M*A*S*H (1970).

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my February 12th roundup.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Tonight's Movie: West Side Story (2021)

Today I caught up with the Steven Spielberg remake of WEST SIDE STORY (2021) at my local movie theater.

WEST SIDE STORY was released in December, but with the rise of Omicron I decided to take a few weeks off from going to the movies. I'm back in theaters this month, starting with DEATH ON THE NILE (2022) last week, and happily found that WEST SIDE STORY is still playing.

I love classic musical theater, and WEST SIDE STORY is a show I know as well as any other; I even wrote a paper on it in 9th grade. I've seen the original 1961 film countless times, including at least five times in a movie theater, and I also saw a marvelous 2011 theatrical production.

Some comparisons with the 1961 version, in particular, are inevitable, so I'll state up front that I felt this new version was a solid effort. It wasn't a necessary film, given that I consider the 1961 version a four-star classic, but just as with theatrical revivals, it was interesting seeing a new interpretation. I'd give this new version a respectable three stars, with details below.

I don't think I need to spend much time on the plot, a New York ROMEO AND JULIET story between Puerto Rican Maria (Rachel Zegler), whose brother Bernardo (David Alvarez) leads the Shark gang, and Tony (Ansel Elgort), a founder of the Jets gang currently led by Riff (Mike Faist).

Instead, I'll dive right into my thoughts on the film's pros and cons. In terms of overall quality, as I said, it's a good film. At times it ascends to the absolute heights, specifically during the songs "Maria," "Quintet," and "Tonight," which evoked tears of joy over its beauty.

Much has been made of all the actors in this version doing their own singing, which was not the case for the original film, and I did enjoy the singing very much. Elgort, who I liked in BABY DRIVER (2017), was for me the find of the film; he was tall, handsome, and impressive in terms of both acting and singing, other than one oddly discordant note in "Something's Coming."

Zegler's singing was beautiful; indeed, I've already ordered the soundtrack, which will be the fifth version of WEST SIDE STORY I own. Besides the '61 soundtrack and two Broadway recordings, I've even got a boxed LP set with opera singers Jose Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa!

That said, despite those who look down on dubbing, actors doing their own singing isn't everything when it comes to moviemaking. Zegler was sweet and perfectly acceptable as Maria, and I could easily imagine her in a touring production of the show. I loved her singing, including "A Boy Like That." But up against an actress with Natalie Wood's lifetime of experience, Zegler's version of Maria lacks Wood's depth and emotional resonance as seen in the 1961 film. (Wood always completely devastates me in the final scene, but I was dry-eyed here.) Same role, many of the same lines, but far different characters. Marni Nixon being able to dub Natalie Wood so well gave us a wonderful Maria, end of story.

In terms of comparing the two films specifically, many musical fans will already be aware that the '61 film version rearranged the placement of some of the songs from when they appeared in the stage production, with the changes for "I Feel Pretty" and "Cool" being especially significant. "I Feel Pretty" originally took place after the rumble, and was moved up in the film to capture Maria's excitement prior to meeting Tony (during which they sing "One Hand, One Heart"). The change also kept the story from grinding to something of a painful halt, with the audience watching a happy Maria while knowing Tony killed her brother.

"Cool," a Jets dance which takes place on stage before the rumble, was moved to after the deaths of Riff and Bernardo in the '61 film, with the dance led by Tucker Smith as Ice. The new placement of that dance provides a cathartic moment for both the Jets and the audience, and thematically, everyone calming down over the course of the number helps point the way toward the gangs coming together in the in the final scene. (And, while I'm at it, I'll comment that I consider that version of "Cool" to be one of the greatest dance numbers ever filmed.)

This new version discarded the '61 song lineup changes, and I think it's a shame as it was truly a case of a film improving on the original source material. Part of what occurs as a result of the reversion to the stage song order is that while this film is only three minutes longer, at 156 minutes, than the 153 minutes of the 1961 version, it feels much longer. The pacing is off, with the bad/sad parts of the story taking forever to get through, to the point I was really ready for it to end a good while before it did.

In terms of other comments on the presentation, the supporting Jets and Sharks aren't differentiated enough; no one really stands out in the manner of Tucker Smith, Tony Mordente, or David Winters in the original version. Costuming might have also helped viewers quickly grasp which gang we're watching. The staging of the opening sequence was extremely well done but being unable to easily tell the gangs apart, when we're just getting to know the characters for the first time, made it less powerful than it might have been.

Much of the film, shot by Janusz Kaminksi, has a cold, grey look, with colors finally bursting out in a handful of scenes, such as an energetic and quite delightful performance of "America" in the city streets. That was one of the scenes which made me very glad I was seeing the movie on a big screen; Ariana DeBose, who's been Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actress for Anita, does an excellent job leading the ensemble. The colors and outdoor setting of "America" reminded me a bit of Emma Stone and her girlfriends dancing in LA LA LAND (2016) -- which, in turn, the New York Times reported was inspired by WEST SIDE STORY'S "I Feel Pretty"!

While this WEST SIDE STORY does a better job showing dancers' feet and using longer takes than some musicals of recent decades -- CHICAGO (2002) is one which comes to mind as flawed in this regard -- some numbers periodically cut the feet out or placed the cameras too close to the action, including "Dance at the Gym."  That dance, always a high point for me, had some great moments here but overall its expected excitement was muted.

The role of Doc the drugstore owner, played by Ned Glass in the earlier film, was rewritten to create a role for Rita Moreno as Doc's widow, Valentina; her own cross-ethnic love story with Doc underscores Tony and Maria's new romance. Moreno, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for Anita in the 1961 version and who also has a 2021 producing credit, is fine, but her role was a little too big, which is another aspect which dragged down the pacing.

It was curious to me that this new film felt "thinner," with less emotional depth, despite adding detail; new bits such as Tony's prison background or Bernardo being a boxer did surprisingly little to add motivations and texture to a story and characters many of us already know so well.

There were also some curious changes which seem to have been done "just because" or to make some sort of minor political statement, like removing "I Feel Pretty" from taking place in an immigrant-run dress shop -- a setting which hints at the possibility of upward mobility and the American Dream -- and instead makes Maria and the girls cleaning ladies in an expensive section of Gimbel's department store, where everything on sale is out of their financial reach. Anita has a dress-making business run out of the apartment; I would have done the number there, if not in the dress shop. Indeed, in the original Broadway production the song takes place in the apartment.

I will say that while it's easy to point out the issues and flaws in a film like this, when there's such an outstanding film to compare it with, I did enjoy myself, including spending time analzying what worked for me and what didn't. Bernstein and Sondheim's music is immortal and will always be one of my favorite scores; the singing was gorgeous, DeBose was a strong Anita, and Elgort was a real find for me in the role of Tony.

My friend Jessica, who also loves the '61 version, covers many of the same points very well in her review at Comet Over Hollywood. I found myself nodding along as I reread it today; I think we only really parted ways on Elgort, and we've since discussed that she liked him better on a second viewing.

Would I see the 2021 version again myself? Yes, or at least sections of it. (I'm not sure I need to relive this film's version of the rumble again.) It's a good movie, it just has really tough competition. I might buy the Blu-ray, which is due out March 15, 2022, or rewatch scenes when it comes to Disney+ as of March 2nd. But when I really want to immerse myself fully in WEST SIDE STORY, I have no doubt I'll return once more to the magic created by Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins, and company in the 1961 release.

Parental Advisory: WEST SIDE STORY is rated PG-13. There is some foul language and intense but not particularly graphic violence.

The trailer is here.

Related 2010 book review: WEST SIDE STORY in the Music on Film series by Barry Monush.

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