NEWS MOVIE REVIEW
Copyright 2001 Entertainment News
[ November 14th 2001 ]
watching the DVD of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which
came out yesterday, with my headphones on so as
not to disrupt the household with sounds of gunfire
and explosion, my wife interrupted to ask a question.
took off the headphones, we found ourselves watching
the silent screen while we talked, drawn - not
by the special effects or the action - but by
the magnetism of Angelina Jolie. Obviously more
than a pretty face - an Oscar already to her credit
- Jolie is one of the few actresses today that
can command the screen the way stars of the '40s
like Barbara Stanwyck and Ingrid Bergman once
no accident that I bring up those names. Remastered
versions of Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946),
starring Bergman and Cary Grant, and Preston Sturges'
The Lady Eve, (1941) starring Stanwyck and Henry
Fonda, have been recently released on DVD.
Stanwyck and Bergman didn't need to draw guns
or do high-wire stunts like Jolie did in Tomb
Raider, though Stanwyck did use a well-turned
ankle to trip up Fonda's character, a rather awkward
bachelor of inherited wealth, Charles Pike (Hopsie),
who spends his time studying snakes.
plays Jean Harrington, the daughter of card sharp
Colonel Harrington (the great character actor
Charles Coburn). The pair are traveling on an
ocean liner when it stops to pick up Hopsie, who
has been up the Amazon for a year.
the pair sees only a mark; the colonel goes after
him with cards, Jean with her feminine wiles.
There is one scene early on that is one of the
most delicious in the history of film. In it,
Hopsie sits on the floor while Jean reclines on
the couch, snuggled up against the bedazzled bachelor
while she babbles about sweet nothings. The uninterrupted
single-frame shot lasts for three minutes and
51 seconds, an eternity in film time, before Jean
sends the by-now-intoxicated Hopsie on his way.
It doesn't get sexier than that.
actually begins to fall for the clumsy guy, but
Hopsie, after falling himself, rejects her after
finding out about her past. To get even, she creates
a second persona, the Lady Eve Sidwich, a British
cousin, and begins her seduction all over again.
Lady Eve is a meditation on love and sex and identity
- and is immensely funny. Much of that is owed
to Stanwyck's brilliant performance. Stanwyck
plays more than just Jean and Eve, an American
and a Brit. She's a woman who's tough and vulnerable,
down-to-earth and flighty, seductive and in love,
and often you can see all of that roll by as Stanwyck
flashes from one identity to another.
actress, who died in 1990, often played roles
in which she was tough but had a heart of gold.
Despite some magnificent performances (Meet John
Doe, Golden Boy, Stella Dallas, Double Indemnity)
Stanwyck never won an Oscar until she was awarded
an honorary one in 1982. But as The Lady Eve,
she turned in a performance for the ages.
time she made Notorious for Hitchcock, Bergman
had already won a best-actress Oscar for Gaslight
in 1944. Like Eve, Bergman's role in Notorious
required her to be more than one woman. She plays
Alicia Huberman, a loyal American who is the daughter
of a convicted Nazi spy. The stigma has turned
her to drinking and promiscuity, a loose woman,
as it was termed.
and connections to her father's Nazi friends make
her the perfect candidate for recruitment when
an American spy agency wants to infiltrate a Nazi
organization that has sprung up in South America
after the war. But because she has fallen so far,
the agency believes she will need a reason to
risk her life. Cary Grant, playing American agent
T.R. Devlin, is then essentially ordered to seduce
her in order to make her agree to the assignment.
As the picture was made in 1946, the filmmakers
had to tiptoe around this without being explicit,
but you get the picture.
Alicia is seduced - falling madly in love with
Devlin - she is sent to Rio to insinuate herself
into the household of the Nazis' ringleader, Sebastian
(Claude Rains), who has been in love with her.
Once she's there, she must appear to care about
Sebastian, which includes sleeping with him (once
again, off camera). Meanwhile, Devlin has distanced
himself from her (a loose woman, he is reminded),
which is like a dagger to her heart. (If this
plot sounds familiar, Mission: Impossible 2 used
more or less the same gambit.)
Alicia must live a double life - not just as a
spy, but emotionally as well. Bergman, of course,
had experienced this dual existence before as
Ilsa in Casablanca, where she was married to a
resistance hero fighting the Nazis but loved a
tough, seemingly amoral nightclub owner.
of these heroines are less than perfect, vulnerable,
emotional, but willing to go for it. The Lady
Eve and Notorious are great films, of course;
despite being made for mass audiences, they still
incorporated complex ideas into their stories.
What they have in common is that both Jean and
Alicia are real heroines you can root for - despite
- and because of - their shortcomings.
Lara Croft is based on a heroine from a video
game, and the filmmakers did little to add any
depth to Croft, emotional or otherwise. Instead
it's gunfire, special effects and butt-kicking;
that's the nature of Hollywood.
thing that Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
taught us is that you can have both depth and
action. It's unfortunate that in Jolie's three
films since she won the Oscar for best supporting
actress in Girl, Interrupted, she has gone from
being eye-candy Gone in 60 Seconds, to being silly
and boring Original Sin and a caricature Tomb
may all be poor choices by Jolie, but looking
around at the current fare being turned out by
Tinseltown, she may not have had many choices.
This begs the question: When will we see real
film heroines again and not cartoons?