Identity: 1 + 1

This Week in the Movies…

While reading Jeanine Basinger’s The Star Machine (2007), I’ve been inspired to watch some of the old movies she talks about, along with others that catch my attention. The two from Basinger I chose this week were Taxi! and Theodora Goes Wild. My sister and I watched Love and Friendship, and I added another Melvyn Douglas picture, plus  Greystoke–a favorite back in 1984 when it was released.

  • She Married Her Boss (1935)–Claudette Colbert, Melvyn Douglas
  • Theodora Goes Wild (1936)–Irene Dunn, Melvyn Douglas
  • Love and Friendship (2016)–Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Morffyd Clark
  • Taxi! (1932)–James Cagney, Loretta Young
  • Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984)–Christopher Lambert, Andie McDowell, Ralph Richardson

Greystoke held up pretty well across the intervening decades, though on the small screen it lacks some of the impact it had in the theater. Of all the films, this one most clearly asked questions of identity: Are we our genetic heritage? The accidents of our childhood? Christopher Lambert’s Lord Greystoke chooses to be the crossroads of nature and nurture. And God, the imagery is gorgeous. Including Chistopher Lambert. He carries the theme wordlessly: perfect as a wild creature and equally commanding in his bearing as a gentleman, his eyes always suggesting a searching intelligence.

Last week I saw Irene Dunne and Cary Grant in The Awful Truth and was looking for another of her pictures to watch. Since I’d just seen–and loved–Melvyn Douglas as the cranky all-work boss in She Married Her Boss, I decided to go with Dunne and Douglas in Theodora Goes Wild. It’s odd that I’ve been watching so many screwball comedies, because, constitutionally, I’m ill-equipped to enjoy them. As soon as the obvious pairing starts to get screwed up, my anxiety levels rise and refuse to budge till the final seconds of the film when everything ends well. This was less of a problem in Boss because Colbert was so obviously the master of the situation and it was only a matter of time till Douglas woke up to the fact. That was a fun film with a lot of comic moments, but the ending felt tacked on and abrupt and completely out of character for Douglas. Identity is at issue for this mismatched couple too: the secretary he prided himself on understanding, the woman who thought she had been married for love. I can only guess they’ll be even more confused with each other after the end, but at least they are laughing.

Theodora was another matter entirely. Both Douglas and Dunne take turns ruining each others lives, both instances of which I found hard on the nerves. Jake the Dog though was a bonus in Douglas’s turn at wrecking ball. I also wasn’t convinced that Douglas ever had feelings for Dunne–it was never in his eyes, his voice or his manner–but you could tell she’d gone soft on him long before she admitted it. Identity was rather the point of the secrets in the movie. The best question it asked was whether there was more truth in our quotidian lives or in our imaginations. My favorite bit along those lines is when Dunne first enters Douglas’s apartment to find it the perfect incarnation of a scene in her novel.

Love and Friendship is a Jane Austen adaptation, which I’m always most willing to see, especially one that, while leaving the 18th century dialogue intact, renders it as natural to f the story as the costumes and period sets. Lady Susan, played with glib indifference by Kate Beckinsale, is a piece of work that even a chess grand-master would be challenged to out-maneuver. The only matter of identity here is the issue of the plus-one: who shall one marry? Lady Susan does not believe in being the victim of birth or fortune. She’s a bracing tonic, though not exactly a role model.

Last of all is Taxi! Its’ the story of a pair of young lovers caught up in the taxi wars on 1930s New York. I’m not sure how much of it made sense, though may be historically true, but it’s an excuse for Cagney to exhibit his hair-trigger temper, dance a bit, crack wise and romance the girl. The girl is Loretta Young ad she’s not afraid to dish it back to Cagney. It’s exciting to watch the two of them in their scenes together–they spark like live wires at each other. Hot stuff for a sultry Sunday afternoon. I liked that they were secure enough in each other to really fight, no holds barred; they’re a couple, sure, but they are separate people with their own motivations and ways to work things out.