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The Other Love (1947)
Barbara Stanwyck is fantastic!
If you ever wished Barbara Stanwyck had starred in Dark Victory, rent The Other Love for your chance at recasting the Hollywood classic. In this romantic drama, Barbara has a serious lung condition and has to abandon her career as a famous concert pianist to heal in a Swiss sanitorium. It's not long before she falls in love with her doctor, David Niven, but is he hiding the seriousness of her illness from her?
Barbara Stanwyck gives an excellent performance in this overlooked film. She usually portrays very strong, independent characters, so whenever she breaks down and cries or begs for help, it's truly heartbreaking. Get ready to be heartbroken more than once during this film. I like Barbara anyway, but I was particularly impressed by her range of emotions: fear, anger, resentment, love, relief, hope, and determination. Ladislas Fodor and Harry Brown's script wasn't the strongest element in the film, and I could imagine another actress would have either been too flat or too melodramatic. Barbara is very real.
In addition to the medical portion of the film, Barbara is also caught in a love triangle, torn between David Niven and Richard Conte. While I love The Niv, Richard Conte is very magnetic. One man knows her past, and the other could be her future; one keeps up a professional front, and the other is overtly passionate. Which will she choose? Find out by renting this romance on a cold, rainy afternoon.
No Deposit, No Return (1976)
Too silly for grown-ups
In this silly, pie-in-the-face comedy, a brother and sister try to avoid spending Easter break with their stuffy grandfather, so they hide out with two bank robbers and fake their own kidnapping. You don't have to rent it; trust me, it sounds better than it is.
While he gets first billing, David Niven as the grandfather has hardly any screen time. The children aren't the most likable characters ever written, and the wannabe criminals, Darren McGavin and Don Knotts, aren't really that funny. For laughs, screenwriters Arthur Alsberg and Don Nelson rely on slapstick gags and elaborate but boring setups involving the little boy's pet skunk. It's fine to rent with very little children, but the grown-ups will probably be surfing the internet on their phones the whole time.
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
The best version by far
If you've never seen one of the three major film versions of the famous mutiny-and therefore have no knowledge of the plot-the opening credits of the 1935 film will give you a pretty fair warning of what is about to happen. I've seen all three versions, 1935, 1962, and 1984, and this version has quickly become my favorite.
Charles Laughton, the famously strict Captain Bligh, leads a two-year voyage from England to Tahiti to procure breadfruit plants and bring them back. His second-in-command, Fletcher Christian, is played by an un-mustached Clark Gable. At first, Gable supports his captain and tries to get the crew to behave and obey their commanding officer to avoid his horrible punishments. But when Laughton repeatedly brutalizes his men for small or nonexistent infractions, Gable leads a mutiny and takes over the ship.
I know Clark Gable was called "The King", but he really wasn't a good actor. Please, nobody throw anything at me, and hear me out. He was very handsome, made girls swoon by taking his shirt off in most of his movies, and had a powerfully confident presence onscreen. But his acting consisted of shouting or smirking, with exception to The Misfits. When you watch Mutiny on the Bounty, it's as if you're watching Rhett Butler on a boat. He's exactly the same.
My criticisms of Clark Gable aside, the rest of the movie is very good! The character of Captain Bligh has to be so much more than just strict and unreasonable. He's obviously a mass of problems, otherwise he wouldn't act the way he does, and in Charles Laughton's interpretation, those problems are written on his brow. He broods, wants to be better than he is, and craves order and respect for deep reasons, and it's obvious without being melodramatic. But it's Franchot Tone who steals the show in his performance. He's the most likable character, and he delivers so much passion into his lines, whether he's interacting with Tahitians and creating a dictionary, falling in love, or finding a balance between loyalty to his captain and to his friend. I like him anyway, but I've never seen him pour so much of himself into a role as in this film. All three leads were nominated for Best Actor in 1936, since the Academy hadn't created the Supporting Actor category yet, and the vote split between them. The only nominee who wasn't in Mutiny on the Bounty took home the gold that year, but at least the film won Best Picture. The sea scenes were pretty remarkable for 1935, so keep that in mind when you watch it.
If you can, keep an eye out for James Cagney, David Niven, and Dick Haymes, as one of the dozens of extras in the film. I never found them, but you can give it a shot. This is very much a man's movie, but I enjoyed it immensely. The characters and production values kept me riveted even past the end!
The Lady Says No (1951)
Say 'no' to The Niv?
You're going to need some serious suspension of disbelief to watch this one. I mean, who would say "no" to David Niven?
Joan Caufield plays a best-selling authoress, whose claim to fame is a book that warns unsuspecting women about the greatest horror known as Man. Men are filthy, nasty beasts, and women would do well to always say "no"! David Niven works for a popular magazine, and he's assigned to do a featurette on Joan. He hates her book and her message, and as soon as they meet, they're at each other's throats-and not in a good way. But, since it is David Niven, she just might be charmed long enough to listen to what he has to say.
Yes, it's pretty silly, and enormously dated, but if you like silly and dated, you won't go wrong by renting The Lady Says No on a rainy afternoon. David Niven is absolutely adorable and charming, and since I love him anyway, it's easy to root for him in this funny 50s romp. My advice: watch the opening credits. If you start laughing during the song, you're in the right mindset to enjoy the rest of the movie. I find it hilarious.
A Kiss for Corliss (1949)
Kiss and Tell was better
A Kiss for Corliss is a sequel to 1945's Kiss and Tell, but if you missed that one, you won't be lost. There's only one mention to the previous film, a few cast members were even replaced with no explanation, and the main crux of the first one was expected to be conveniently forgotten about by the audience. Still, Kiss and Tell is infinitely better than the sequel, so I recommend you watch that one instead.
Shirley Temple, a senior in high school, is still a troublemaker and enjoys manipulating her on-again, off-again boyfriend Darryl Hickman, who lives next door. Her father, Tom Tully, is a lawyer who's representing David Niven's soon-to-be third ex-wife. Shirley accidentally meets The Niv in her father's office and practically swoons, overwhelmed by his magnetism. Obviously; it is David Niven! In her diary, Shirley writes some incriminating fictitious romantic passages about Niven, hoping her boyfriend will read it and get jealous-but what happens when her parents read it instead?
It's a very hilarious set-up, but unfortunately, it winds up being very silly. Kiss and Tell was adorable and hilarious, but only a few scenes in A Kiss for Corliss were that way. It felt like Shirley had hurt feelings about her poor reviews of her adult acting chops, and the screenwriter wanted to further the downfall of her career. David Niven was hardly in the movie, and while his comic timing is always very good, it was a throwaway part that he easily walked through.
Pagan Love Song (1950)
Pretty cute and gorgeous to watch
I know the title will put you off, as will the fact that Esther Williams dons dark makeup and pretends to be Tahitian and Rita Moreno speaks in broken English, but if you can get past the "island people are primitive" attitude the movie takes, Pagan Love Song is actually pretty good. I've seen a few Esther Williams flicks, and this one is by far my favorite. Probably because hunky Howard Keel spends more of the movie without his shirt than fully clothed.
Half-Tahitian Esther Williams -because Hollywood wouldn't approve of a truly interracial romance-falls for visiting American Howard Keel and helps him adjust to island life. Rita Moreno and her boyfriend help out around the house, and an old woman sends her kids to live with Howard so they can grow up around a proper gentleman, and he complains about not being able to take a bath in a tub-oh, the difficulties of living in Tahiti!
Howard is given several songs to show off his beautiful singing voice, and while they're simple-during one song, Rita Moreno taps a rhythm on bamboo stalks while Howard sings "The House of Singing Bamboo"-since he's singing them, they aren't bad. If he can sell a song while pedaling a stationary bicycle in front of an obvious blue screen background, he can sell anything. Plus, in glorious Technicolor, his teeth and tan are enough eye candy in themselves; just wait 'til he dons a sarong!
The movie was filmed in Hawaii, so the surroundings for most of the scenes are lush and gorgeous. And even though some of the songs are silly, if you're watching an Esther Williams movie, you're not really expecting the songs to be complex. She has a couple of very pretty swimming dance numbers, and Howard even joins her for some of the choreography! There's also an entertaining Hula chorus number that helps transport you to the tropical setting. If you're looking to introduce yourself to Esther Williams, or if you're looking for a light musical with a ridiculously handsome lead, rent Pagan Love Song.
Seven Sweethearts (1942)
Cute obscure old movie
Reporter Van Heflin travels to a small town to write about their annual tulip festival, but as soon as he gets there, he's greeted with nothing but strangeness from the town's residents. First, the head honcho, S.Z. Sakall, sits in the middle of the square and plays the oboe, the local hotel is full of colorful characters, and S.Z's seven daughters all have boys' names!
Since all seven daughters are beautiful, Van has a difficult choice on his hands. The oldest, Marsha Hunt, and the youngest, Kathryn Grayson, are the highest contenders for his affections, and it isn't long before the audience finds out the reason for Marsha's heavy come-on. According to tradition, the oldest daughter has to get married before any of the others can-and S.Z.'s very old fashioned!
Most people probably aren't going to choose to sit down and watch this obscure old movie, but for the few of you out there who remember Kathryn Grayson and love listening to her beautiful voice, she's given plenty of songs to show it off. Her beautiful coloratura soprano voice shines, but if you don't like opera singing, this movie will probably drive you up the wall.
I'm the first to admit I don't usually like Van Heflin, and I usually get him confused with Van Johnson and Arthur Kennedy, but in this movie he's actually a lot more likable than he usually is! I've never seen him in a romantic comedy before, and when he smiles and jokes around, he doesn't seem as grumpy as he normally does. Kathryn is also very sweet and likable, so once again, if you're looking for a film of hers to watch-she didn't make too many unfortunately-you could do a lot worse than Seven Sweethearts.
One more compliment for this light-hearted B movie: S.Z. Sakall, usually cast as a laughable foreigner, was given the opportunity to actually act in this movie, and he did a very good job. As a father terribly attached to his daughters, when he learns they're considering marrying and leaving him, he gets very hurt. If you watch this movie, you'll find out how effective his pouts can be.
Desperate Search (1952)
Howard Keel in a drama?
Desperate Search isn't the best old movie out there to choose from, but if you're looking for a higher-end B movie that's exciting, you might want to check this one out. Howard Keel is a divorced dad who only gets to see his kids once a year. When he puts little Lee Aaker and Linda Lowell on an airplane to return to their mother's house, he has no idea it might be the last time he ever sees them. . .
The airplane crashes, and both nervous parents, Howard and his ex-wife Patricia Medina, are left in limbo since no one even knows where the crash occurred. Keep in mind this was made in 1952, when cell phones and GPS technology didn't exist. Also, at that time, it was a really big deal to put two young children on an airplane alone and ask the stewardess to look out for them! The good news for Howard and Patricia is that they're both airplane pilots, so they can both aid in the "desperate search" for their kids. The bad news is that Howard's current wife, Jane Greer, suspects she might lose the love of her husband.
Parts of the movie are incredibly exciting, in particular when a very mangy and hungry mountain lion makes an appearance. Parts of the movie are confusing, when Patricia Medina shows up. She looked so much like Jane Greer I continually got them mixed up and didn't know which scenes involved which actress! I enjoyed seeing Howard Keel in a dramatic non-singing role, and boy, was he curt! I lost track of how often he snapped at Jane, poor thing. Still, he looks awfully handsome in the cockpit.
Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
Betty Hutton has fantastic energy!
If you grew up listening to the Broadway soundtrack of Annie Get Your Gun, you'll come to associate Ethel Merman's fantastic, belting voice with Irving Berlin's songs. It's completely understandable that you'd watch the film adaptation and be disappointed by Betty Hutton's less-than-stellar vocals. But I appeal to you, as a fellow musical lover, to give the film a fair shot.
The original casting choice for the tomboy cowgirl Annie Oakley was Judy Garland, and if you buy the DVD, you can watch her perform a couple of songs. Only after watching the outtakes can you see just how far she would have dragged the film down. Her energy was low, her timing was slow, she was too old for the part, and her expressions were too troubled. Annie is supposed to be innocent, fresh, exciting, and endearing: all qualities a 1950 Judy Garland wasn't. Betty Hutton might not have been able to sing all the songs as well as the immortal Ethel Merman, but she was young, innocent, fresh, exciting, and endearing. Her energy was off the charts! And while the part was practically made for Doris Day-Warner Brothers wrote and filmed a knock-off version, Calamity Jane, for the blonde star three years later-Betty was an excellent choice. She made the audience care about her, and she delivered the lines with such sincerity, she even made the audience take the silly story seriously.
Howard Keel played the big-voiced, ridiculously handsome, self-assured Frank Butler. Every time Betty looks at him during their first few scenes together, her jaw drops and she turns to jelly. It's very funny, and I'm sure you'll find yourself mimicking her-I did! He's so incredibly handsome and charming in this movie, it's no wonder he was cast in basically the same role in Calamity Jane-Hollywood just didn't want him to take his cowboy hat off! His handsomeness aside-I know, it's impossible not to notice-he does a very good job in what was only his second film!
Louis Calhern plays Buffalo Bill, and when he meets Betty, she asks if he's really the famous Colonel. He says he is, and he's so convincing throughout the movie, I found myself believing that he really was! I didn't even recognize the veteran actor until the movie was almost over, and he actually looked handsome and distinguished in his long hair and goatee. Also, he was very warm-hearted, a choice of delivery that was welcomed, since Betty wasn't often met with warmth throughout the film.
All in all, this is a great film adaptation of a Broadway show, combining elements that seem to come directly from the stage-hammy but lovable songs-with additions that could never have been seen onstage-rodeo performances. The production values are very good, including breathtaking costumes by Walter Plunkett. Give it a try, even if you're skeptical of Betty Hutton. She's cute as a button!
Calamity Jane (1953)
A rip-off of Annie Get Your Gun, but still cute
Let's get the obvious out of the way: Calamity Jane is a shameless rip-off of the hit Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun. There, now that you know, you can sit back and enjoy the movie-if you want to, you can even watch it first!
While blonde cutie-pie Betty Hutton played the gun-toting, masculine Annie Oakley in the film version of Annie Get Your Gun, blonde cutie-pie Doris Day plays the gun-toting masculine Calamity Jane in Calamity Jane. There's a song of argument between the two leads, a song in which she realizes she's unexpectedly fallen in love, and a song he sings about his ideal love. In Annie Get Your Gun, Buffalo Bill Cody is a main character; in Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok is a main character. Both plots include tensions involving Native Americans, a show coming to town, a hotel proprietor who complains about actors, and a "makeover" of the tomboy lead to get a man's attention. Oh, and both versions star Howard Keel as the love interest. See what I mean?
So, if you've seen and fallen in love with Annie Get Your Gun, you probably won't like Calamity Jane. If you've never seen Betty Hutton's performance, you'll probably think Doris Day is the most adorable cowgirl on the planet and refuse to see the original. I watched Calamity Jane for over ten years in ignorant bliss before I saw the original for the first time, and when I finally did, I was properly chagrined. Doris Day obviously patterned herself after Betty Hutton, and the production values of Annie Get Your Gun are infinitely higher. I'd recommend watching Calamity Jane first, because you'll probably love it. Then, when you watch the original, you'll love that one, too! Now, let's get to the good parts of the movie musical: Doris Day is absolutely adorable! She's incomparably cute in her cowgirl digs, rough-talking slang, and blustering bravado. Because underneath it all, we know it's still the feminine, beautiful, bright Doris Day, and we know it's only a matter of time before she takes Howard Keel's advice and fits herself into a dress. One of my favorite lines is when she's mistaken for a man, and she laughs herself silly. Suddenly she stops-"Come to think of it, that ain't so funny."
Howard Keel is utterly yummy and manly in another of his wonderful musical roles. It's only fitting that they cast Charlton Heston's look-a-like, Philip Carey, to distract Doris from Howard. If Philip had been replaced by someone less handsome, we'd be wondering what was wrong with Doris, why she'd set her cap at anyone else besides Howard Keel. As it is, Howard is pretty irresistible, and he and Doris have fantastic chemistry together.
The one fly in the ointment is Allyn Ann McLerie, a woman so beautiful and genuine every man in town falls for her. She's not beautiful, and her character isn't written to be genuine or trustworthy or nice or grateful-so why does she turn every man's head? It doesn't make any sense, but with the cute songs, energetic charm of Doris Day, macho presence of Howard Keel, and the extremely likable Dick Wesson in a surprising and hilarious role-even when he's not the focus of the scene, he adds subtle touches to his performance-there's plenty else to love about Calamity Jane. Plus, you'll never think of honey the same way again after Dick's song!
King, Queen, Knave (1972)
Pretty funny quirky 70s sex comedy
Sometimes Hollywood makes bad casting decisions, casting an actor or actress who, no matter what they do, could never be believable in the role. For example, in 1970's Ryan's Daughter, Robert Mitchum was cast as a man so sexually unfulfilling that his wife cheats on him. It's just not believable. And, in 1972's King, Queen, Knave, Gina Lollobrigida cheats on David Niven and has an affair with her nephew-in-law, John Moulder-Brown. He's a bumbling, mumbling fool, and David Niven is a stud who exercises every night before bed. The basic premise of this movie doesn't really make any sense.
However, if you can suspend your disbelief, it's actually a funny movie-in a quirky, seventies way. Everyone knows the seventies were weird, and this movie doesn't hide it. There are parties, uses of recreational substances, lavish costumes and wigs, a free-love attitude, and group sex. So, know what you're getting into with this movie, and if it sounds like something you could get a good laugh out of, you'll probably like it. I still maintain that anyone who cheats on David Niven should have her head examined, let alone choosing someone so ridiculous for her lover. If you agree with me, I'm sure you'll get some semblance of satisfaction from the famous bathtub scene: The Niv isn't exactly a faithful husband, and he has a threesome with two beautiful babes. It's actually a really funny scene, one of the only scenes in the film that's totally believable.
I'm about to write something weird, but since the entire movie is weird, I feel justified. Even though Gina and Niv aren't really paired together romantically, they make a very attractive and well-suited couple onscreen. They have similar interests, the chemistry of their banter sparkles, and they're easily the best looking couple at the party.
Another reason-albeit small-why I liked this movie is the family dog. A beautiful, award-winning, statuesque Dalmatian pals around with Gina and Niv in several scenes, and he is gorgeous and very well trained. That breed is one of my favorites, and it's adorable to see him follow Gina as she paces or give The Niv a big kiss on the lips. How darling is that? So, if you want to see The Niv with a beautiful dog, a beautiful wife, and two babes in a bathtub, there's only one movie where you'll find all three: King, Queen, Knave.
Kiddy Warning: Obviously, you have control over your own children. However, due to nudity and sex scenes, I wouldn't let my kids watch it.
The Impossible Years (1968)
David Niven's finest comic performance--a must see!
I can't remember the last time I laughed so heartily and often during a movie as I did while watching The Impossible Years. The play, written by Arthur Marx and Robert Fisher, was a smashing success on Broadway, and when Hollywood came calling, it couldn't have found a more perfect lead than David Niven. Without him, the movie-no matter how funny George Wells's script adaptation was-wouldn't have been very good. It shows off his incredible comic timing like no other movie ever has, and even though he's a wonderful dramatic actor, this hilarious performance is one of his best. Simply put, The Niv is amazing.
He plays a college professor and psychiatrist, working with Chad Everett to write a book called The Impossible Years about how to successfully raise teenagers during the spirited 1960s. Of course, Niven's oldest daughter, Cristina Ferrare, drives her parents crazy with her free-loving rebellious teenage behavior. Ironically, the plot reminds me of Shirley Temple's Kiss and Tell-a rambunctious teenage girl has a silly boyfriend next door but longs to grow up, the parents and neighbors fight about whose kid is a bad influence on the other, and they were both based off fast-paced, situationally comedic Broadway plays-which Niven starred in the sequel to.
Yes, the plot is a little dated, since teenage problems have changed since the 1960s, but as long as you remember how things were, or can imagine, you'll be able to appreciate the hilarity behind the script. The quick-paced jokes, silly gags, and set-ups that pay off are all extremely funny, but again, without David Niven, it would have dragged. He's energetic, flawless without coming across as rehearsed, and utterly believable as a frazzled dad who can't get a handle on his kids. This could become your favorite David Niven movie, and if it's the first of his you watch, this role will be the one you always associate him with. Taking off my love goggles for a moment, because I'm the first to admit I'm biased when it concerns The Niv, this is still an incredibly funny movie starring a very talented comic actor. Hands down, it's one of my favorite of his movies. But if you watch it, get ready to put on your own pair of love goggles.
Happy Go Lovely (1951)
Extremely sweet and funny
When a stuffed shirt millionaire gets mistaken for a penniless reporter, it's a comical delight in Happy Go Lovely. The beautiful Vera-Ellen is a dancer in a theater troupe, headed by the always hilarious Cesar Romero, but they don't have any money to put on their show. By chance, Vera-Ellen gets a ride to a rehearsal from David Niven's chauffeur, and Cesar thinks she's intimately involved with millionaire Niven himself! Naturally, with one of his leading ladies dating a rich man, Cesar plans to exploit him and get backing for the show. When does the meet-cute tagline come in? You'll have to keep watching to find out.
Happy Go Lovely is absolutely delightful, but as cute as the premise is, it wouldn't have risen above B-movie stature without the talent of its three leads. David Niven is pure comic genius, and paired against Cesar Romero, the battle of the frazzled is hilarious to watch. And, as I always say, it's a great bonus to watch two beautiful people fall in love with each other. The Niv is as handsome and studly as ever, and Vera-Ellen gets to show off her beautiful figure and incredible legs. She sings and dances, and her cuteness rubs off on Niv's character, letting his sweetness shine through as the movie continues.
It's not the most well-known backstage musical out there, but it's awfully cute. Unless you actively dislike The Niv or Vera-Ellen-I can't imagine why anyone would-there's no reason why you won't love this darling little romantic comedy. It's sweet, funny, and has plenty of eye candy!
Four Men and a Prayer (1938)
A lack of energy
I don't usually like Loretta Young, so when I say she's the best part of this movie, that should give you a clue of what I really think about it. In Four Men and a Prayer, Loretta is clad in some beautiful clothes, and she seems to be the only one among the cast who put any energy behind her performance. I actually fell asleep twice while trying to watch it.
A respected soldier is court martialed and disgraced, but when his four sons find him dead by a gunshot wound to the head, they don't believe he committed suicide. It's murder! And they already know the suspects, so the four brothers-as well as Loretta Young who has a hopeless crush on one of them-set off to find the truth. George Sanders, William Henry, David Niven, and Richard Greene are the brothers, but they all seem pretty tired. It's easy to imagine every scene was filmed thirty times and that the audience was been treated to the last take. Unless you love Loretta Young, you probably won't want to sit through this pseudo suspense film. And if you do like her, try renting Three Blind Mice or And Now Tomorrow instead.
A Feather in Her Hat (1935)
Very good obscure old movie
Pauline Lord, a poor, common woman, wants a better life for her son. She owns a small shop, and together with her partner Basil Rathbone, she raises her son to have the manners and speech of a gentleman if ever he should get out of the slums. When he comes of age, she tells him a great secret: he's adopted, and his mother was a very wealthy woman who's left him $1000 to make his way in the world. With this news, Louis Hayward sets off to London to find his family and start a career as a playwright.
While this film might not be as big a tearjerker as others of its kind, it's still very good and entertaining to watch. Pauline Lord gives a great performance, reminding me of a British Shirley Boothe in her tired, sacrificing nature. Basil Rathbone and Louis Hayward are very good as well; you can really sense both their struggles of being a part of the upper and lower classes. Wendy Barrie and Nydia Westman are both sincere, kind, and loving, so when they're pitted against each other, you'll have a hard time rooting for only one in the love triangle! My only complaint is I would have liked the film to be a little longer. All the characters are so interesting, if the running time had been expanded twenty minutes or more, we could have learned a little more about them!
For lovers of Stella Dallas, A Pocketful of Miracles, and Great Expectations, add this English drama to your list. It's an obscure old movie, and you'll be glad you found out about it.
The Extraordinary Seaman (1969)
A very pleasant surprise!
At first, I hated this movie. I almost turned it off, but there stood David Niven, in a white captain's uniform and in Technicolor. I kept watching. By the end of the movie, I loved it! Thank goodness for David Niven in a white captain's uniform in Technicolor.
The entire movie is interspersed with real WW2 footage and promotional films to help men enlist. It's a little strange, and to be honest, I could have done without the constant cuts, but if you can get used to it early on, that will help you. Screenwriters Phillip Rock and Hal Dresner must have wanted the entire film to feel satirical, but I think it would have been even better without the stock footage. Now to the plot: Alan Alda, Mickey Rooney, Jack Carter, and Manu Tupou are shipwrecked on a deserted island during WW2. They come across an abandoned, wrecked ship, but quickly find that it's not quite abandoned! David Niven, the ship's captain, is still aboard, drinking, making whimsical remarks no one seems to understand, and far from anxious to help with the war effort. But together, and with a random appearance by Faye Dunaway, they patch up the boat and try to help fight the Japanese.
Without David Niven's character, the movie would be terrible. And without David Niven cast in the role, it would have devolved into a silly 70s comedy with no class or charm. Everything funny and lovely in the film is due to The Niv's splendid comic timing and suaveness. After watching this film, I dare you not to wish he'd been cast in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. He's infinitely more likable than Rex Harrison. For that matter, why wasn't he cast in My Fair Lady? Well, I guess that's an issue for another time. For now, if you'd like a silly war comedy, give The Extraordinary Seamen a try.
Eternally Yours (1939)
No imagination to the story
The title song played over the credits is very pretty, and Werner Janssen's score was nominated for Best Music in 1940. However, after the opening credits are done, the movie goes downhill. Eternally Yours belongs to the group of films that tells wives in the audience to support their husbands no matter how mean, selfish, and inattentive they are. If you don't like that message, you won't like this movie.
Loretta Young starts the movie engaged to Broderick Crawford, but when she goes with her girlfriends to see David Niven, a famous magician, it's love at first sight. So far so good. But is there a secret twist to their love-was he hypnotizing her or using a magic trick to win her love? No, there's neither imagination nor secret twists in Gene Towne's and C. Graham Baker's script. Countless times I thought the story would turn in a different, clever direction but it never did. Loose ends aren't tied, and inventive plot lines aren't explored. As much as I love David Niven, this isn't one of his good movies.
Escape to Athena (1979)
Cute quirky comedy
It's really tough to make a comedy out of a POW movie, and it's even tougher to make the most predominant Nazi character likable. Somehow, Escape to Athena manages to do both.
Elliott Gould and Stephanie Powers are American entertainers, taken to the famous Stalag 17 prison camp, where veteran residents David Niven, Sonny Bono, and Richard Roundtree show them the ropes. It turns out, the gang is only pretending to behave and cozy up to their captors; they're involved in a secret plot to liberate the camp, with outside help from Telly Savalas and Claudia Cardinale. By far, my favorite part of the movie is when Elliott and Stephanie arrive. They walk past some prisoners outside in the fenced yard, and Elliott gives a double-take to William Holden. "You're still here?" he asks, referencing Bill's Oscar-winning performance in 1953's Stalag 17.
Even though the movie can feel a little strange at times-Roger Moore plays a Nazi and he frequently jokes around with the POWs, and he treats Stephanie like a girlfriend instead of a prisoner-it's actually pretty good. There are some tense moments when the gang takes steps in their master plan of escape, and there are some pretty cute moments of camaraderie. If this type of quirky comedy appeals to you, you'll probably like it. It's not one I'll watch over and over again, but I did enjoy it.
One of the greatest classic romances of all time
David Niven, aged up with white hair and wrinkles, returns to his childhood home. He's alone and has clearly lived a life of sadness and regret. While wallowing in his memories, he learns of a blooming romance between his niece, Evelyn Keyes, and his former love's nephew, Farley Granger. As the young lovers face their obstacles, Niven recounts his love affair with Teresa Wright.
This is an incredibly beautiful film, with a love story that should be remembered and ranked up with the greatest classics, like Gone with the Wind and Casablanca. Unfortunately, this film has mostly gone unremembered through the years, and I can't understand why. With Hugo Friedhofer's beautiful score, a sensitive screenplay adaptation by John Patrick-writer of The Hasty Heart, Some Came Running, and Love is a Many-Splendored Thing-and fantastic performances by Niven and Wright, this should be a go-to classic on anyone's list. After a role like this, it's a wonder David Niven didn't play continuous romantic leads the remainder of his career. He and Teresa have a wonderful chemistry together, and with the infinite sadness in his eyes, it's a wonder I didn't bawl my way through the entire movie.
The preview is a great representation without giving anything away, a rare treat in old movie previews. If it tugs at your heart, rent the movie. You might bump it to the top of your list of cinematic romances. Bring your Kleenexes, though. Enchantment is a tearjerker.
Dinner at the Ritz (1937)
Very cute romance and mystery!
Annabella is engaged to Paul Lukas, but when her fiancé's car crashes into David Niven's car, it's love at first sight! But Dinner at the Ritz isn't a love triangle; it's a mystery. . . Shortly after the arrival of the "other man", Annabella's father is murdered during a house party. The police have ruled it a suicide, but the devoted daughter knows better, and with a bit of help, she sets out to find her father's killer.
The plot of Dinner at the Ritz was very entertaining. The biggest problem was the casting. Most of the actors, save David Niven and Paul Lukas, never grew up to be very famous, and there were two or three men who looked so similar I kept getting them confused. And when one of them was very clearly a good guy, and the other just as clearly a bad guy, I would have preferred one of the pseudo-twins to have dyed his hair or grown a mustache! The two leads were very cute, though. Annabella was charming, The Niv was dashing, and they both were very convincing in their pursuit of their young love. All in all, it's a cute movie, and if you like oldies, you could do a lot worse than Dinner at the Ritz.
The Dawn Patrol (1938)
Incredibly realistic and touching WWI movie
Although I'm a classic movie aficionado and have seen more old movies than anyone I've ever met, I'd only ever seen Errol Flynn in a bit part in the Doris Day comedy It's a Great Feeling. So, for all intents and purposes, I'd never seen an Errol Flynn movie until I rented The Dawn Patrol. After only a few minutes of absorbing his performance, I was filled with awe and admiration. I haven't gone on a renting spree just yet, but I look forward to watching many more of his films in the time to come.
All Quiet on the Western Front is often hailed as the greatest WWI movie ever made, but now I have a new favorite. In The Dawn Patrol, Basil Rathbone is in charge of a flying squadron and is forced to send his boys off on high risk missions. More often than not, the boys don't make it home, and there's a constant influx of new recruits whom Basil and Captain Errol Flynn have to train and prepare for the worst. This is a very unusual method of storytelling, putting the audience on pins and needles every time someone flies out, and filling them with sadness every time new characters grace the screen.
There's a very natural camaraderie between the men, and most acutely between Errol Flynn and fellow soldier David Niven. They were close friends in real life, and when the camera captures their scenes, it feels like it's projecting backstage footage instead of scripted dialogue. The soldiers have more of a brotherly bond than in any other war movie I've ever seen. In singling out the leading men for their performances, I fear I'll be slighting the young boys with smaller parts; everyone in this movie gives very heart-wrenching and realistic performances. There are times when it's hard to watch, but it's an extremely well-made, well-acted film.
I was very surprised at Errol Flynn's acting style. I'd expected him to overact like silent movie stars or at least ham up his scenes like a classic swashbuckler. His delivery and expressions were so realistic and modern, it's a wonder he even knew how to give such a performance, since no one else in that era did. I have a strong desire to rent The Last of Robin Hood, because I'm sure Kevin Kline will give a perfect imitation of Errol Flynn. Not only is the physical resemblance striking, but the subtlest of expressions and mannerisms are also mirrored. It was almost as if Errol Flynn were giving a Kevin Kline impression!
Obviously, I highly recommend this movie, even though parts of it are very sad and remind us of the tragedies of war. It's a wonderful old movie to watch if you don't normally like old movies, because besides the color scheme, it doesn't even feel like you're watching one.
Curse of the Pink Panther (1983)
A tinge of sadness
There's a tinge of sadness associated with Curse of the Pink Panther. Peter Sellers had died before the last two films of the series were made, and while The Trail of the Pink Panther used leftover footage from previous movies, this second to last installment didn't use his image at all. Also, this was David Niven's final film. He was very ill and died before its release.
But, if you can get past those upsets, and you like silly, slapstick Pink Panther movies, give this one a try and see if you like it. Yes, it's not the same without Peter Sellers, but Blake Edwards tried to give Ted Wass similar gags to those used in previous films. Still, since the premise revolves around an ongoing search for Inspector Clouseau, the audience is always keenly aware of why Clouseau is really missing.
In addition to David Niven, others from the original films appear in this sixth part of the series: Herbert Lom, Capucine, Robert Wagner, and Burt Kwouk. And keep an eye out for a surprise cameo from Roger Moore!
Carrington V.C. (1954)
Even better than The Caine Mutiny
Imagine a cross between The Caine Mutiny and 12 Angry Men, and you'll get Court Martial. This military courtroom drama is tense, thrilling, and will keep you at the edge of your seat from beginning to end.
David Niven is a highly respected and decorated major, and he's been court martialed for three offenses: stealing money, entertaining a woman in his quarters, and leaving the base without permission. The entire film takes place in the courthouse, and it is intense! The men on the jury all know David Niven personally, and they try to put their bias aside for the sake of the law. Noelle Middleton, a captain, tries to defend him-but is she also biased, since she was the woman in his quarters? And finally, Niven's wife: Margaret Leighton. Niven insists she's too ill to testify, but when she shows up in court, will she condemn or defend him?
The acting in this film is fantastic, not only by Niven and his two leading ladies, but also by the supporting men on the jury. It's very hard to act in a real-time film, because you constantly have to have an emotional buildup in your character's performance-there's no "three weeks later" downtime in the plot, or a cutaway to another character's side-story. Anthony Asquith must have given his actors great direction, because they were all very convincing. John Hunter's script, based on Campbell and Dorothy Christi's play, is intelligent, thoughtful, and fast-paced; you're going to need to pay close attention on this one, but it's worth it! Unfortunately for this movie, it came out the same year as the more successful The Caine Mutiny, so the Academy forgot about the British drama at the Oscars. Although Humphrey Bogart was very good, David Niven absolutely deserved a nomination for his incredible performance.
The original "Anastasia"
Halfway through watching Candleshoe, my mom turned to me and exclaimed, "Best David Niven movie ever!" I'm sure she was forgetting about The Impossible Years, Paper Tiger, and our Christmas tradition The Bishop's Wife, but I had to agree that Candleshoe was an absolute tour-de-force for the debonair actor.
Little Jodie Foster, in her masculine child phase, is a no-good scamp. She's poor and has no family, but she soon gets involved in a get-rich-quick scheme with Leo McKern. Those of you who have seen the cartoon Anastasia will marvel at the similarities mirrored in the beginning section of Candleshoe: An old woman is extremely wealthy and is looking for her long-lost granddaughter who was taken at a young age and never seen again. She's offering a reward, and Leo, a known scoundrel, trains Jodie Foster to pretend she's the teenager in line to inherit! With the help of his girlfriend, he teaches Jodie what foods to like and dislike, details about her fake family, and how to behave like the upper class. Then, in the midst of the inevitable test, Jodie remembers a detail that wasn't taught to her-about a secret passageway! Somebody ripped someone's idea off. . .
Still, if you liked Anastasia, you'll probably really love Candleshoe. Helen Hayes plays the grandmother, and David Niven is her butler, and they add an enormous amount of class to the movie. I've already described in detail the beginning scenes, so I'll stop giving away the plot. In case you were wondering why I've pronounced David Niven's role as a tour-de-force part when he's only the butler, I will reiterate my praise. I won't tell you why, but I will tell you he's given an enormous amount of variety in the film, and he handles it perfectly. If you're a fan of his and are considering blowing Candleshoe off as a silly Disney movie, think again. Go out and rent it with a pal, so you too can have someone to turn to and shout, "Best David Niven movie ever!"
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)
Adorable screwball comedy
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife has one of the most classic "meet cutes" of any old movie: Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert are shopping for pajamas; he takes the top and she takes the bottoms. Sparks fly, and before they know it, they've gotten hitched! But what penniless Claudette doesn't know is that millionaire Cooper has been married seven times before. Once she finds out his dirty secret, she makes it her mission to make him pay.
This is a delightful screwball comedy, with elements of romance, ridiculous timing, sexual innuendos, a battle of the wits, and a battle of the sexes! Armed with help from her father Edward Everett Horton and her friend David Niven, both with hilarious comedic talents, Claudette is ready to battle for the constancy of her husband's affections. There won't be a ninth wife-not on her watch! Check out this adorable romantic comedy during your next classic film fest, or watch it with your hubby after he's done wrong. He'll get the idea.