Before she was the all-American wife in the “Thin Man” movie, Myrna Loy specialized in playing — believe it or not — “exotics.” Meaning the former Radersburg, Mont., gal pretended to be some sort of vaguely “Asian” temptress, usually plotting against honest, clean-cut (and, of course, white) American characters.
Before she was the all-American wife in the “Thin Man” movie, Myrna Loy specialized in playing — believe it or not — “exotics.” Meaning the former Radersburg, Montana, gal pretended to be some sort of vaguely “Asian” temptress, usually plotting against honest, clean-cut (and, of course, white) American characters.
1933’s “Thirteen Women,” now available from Warner Archives, showcases Loy at her exotic best. Playing Ursula Georgi, a diabolical woman variously described as Indian, Japanese and a mixture of the two, she’s plotting revenge against the snotty, snobby sorority sisters who tormented her years ago at finishing school. Using a combination of sexy hypnotism and fake astrological forecasts, Ursula tricks these dimwitted real housewives into offing themselves.
We’re supposed to root against her and for heroine Irene Dunne, but Loy is by far the most interesting character, meaning she gets my vote for the true hero of the movie. Of course, Hollywood doesn’t work that way, and poor Ursula comes to an ironic (and abrupt) end. Don’t feel bad for her, though. In less than a year, she’d be slipping into the role of Nora in “The Thin Man” and embarking on a long and successful Hollywood career.
“Taxi!” is another movie from the beginning of a movie legend’s career. Jimmy Cagney — a year after starring in “Public Enemy,” the movie that made him a star — plays a tough-as-nails cabbie leading a group of independent drivers against a ruthless corporation. Like many pre-Code Warner Bros. movies, “Taxi!” adds a surprisingly liberal viewpoint to the fast-paced plot and sudden violence.
The big company is basically a criminal enterprise, and it’s up to “little guys” like Cagney to fight back, using any means necessary. Naturally, this being a 1932 Jimmy Cagney movie, that means plenty of fights and threats, but this is also before Cagney’s screen persona was solidified, meaning he also gets to dance (with co-star Loretta Young) and even employ a bit of off-the-cuff Yiddish slang. A mere 69 minutes long, it’s a great example of just how much could be packed into movies once upon a time.
To buy either of these films, go to warnerarchive.com
It’s hard to believe, but there are two separate TV shows devoted to the notorious Borgia family that became famous (and infamous) during the Renaissance. There’s Showtime’s “The Borgias,” of course, which piles on the sex and violence (not difficult when you’re discussing the Borgias). Then there’s “Borgia: Faith and Fear,” which aired in Europe before being shown on Netflix. Though not as lurid as the Showtime version, it’s definitely worth a look.
Produced by Tom Fontana, the man behind such TV classics as “St. Elsewhere,” “Homicide: Life on the Streets” and HBO’s “Oz,” “Faith and Fear” is more concerned with the political and social currents that fuel the sex and violence. That might sound less interesting, but when you’re talking about a family that not only committed numerous crimes, but also supported the greatest artists of the era and produced not one by two popes, you can see those currents are powerful indeed.
Originally released in two-hour episodes and now available in a DVD set from LionsGate, season one of “Borgia: Faith and Fear” feels like a series of smart, sophisticated movies that all build to a larger whole. Fontana proved he could work with large casts in his previous work, and with a big canvas and some big issues (including the politics behind becoming the pope), he makes this dark corner of history grimly fascinating to modern eyes.
‘World on a Wire’
How much you enjoy “World on a Wire” will depend on your tolerance for three-hour German science fiction films that focus on complex ideas rather than jaw-dropping action.
Originally filmed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder as a two-part TV miniseries back in 1973, “World on a Wire” has been long sought by sci-fi and cinema fans. After years of bad dupes and private screenings, the film was restored and unveiled at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival. Now it’s available on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion, and it’s worth a look — as long as you’re (a) patient and (b) not expecting “The Matrix.”
The comparison to “The Matrix” is apt because, essentially, it’s the same premise. Scientists have invented a virtual reality simulation so convincing that the people experiencing it have no idea they’re living in a fake world. Naturally, one of them (Klaus Lowitsch) stumbles onto the truth when investigating the disappearance of a co-worker, and naturally, things begin to spiral out of control — not quickly (this is a very deliberately paced movie) but ominously and inevitably.
The most striking thing about “World on a Wire” is the distinctive, slightly disturbing look Fassbinder and company give the film. Aside from some vintage computers and a few futuristic devices, the entire movie has an early 1970s European vibe, with fashions and interior decorating to match. Somehow it all works, especially since Fassbinder shoots virtually every scene from a weird angle, through a window or from a mirror, giving you the feeling that reality is just outside your field of vision. In other words, maybe you’re not as real as you think, either.
Read Will Pfeifer’s Movie Man blog at rrstar.com/blogs/willpfeifer/ or email him at email@example.com.
Some DVDs out Tuesday, March 6:
“Game of Thrones”: The first season of HBO’s critically acclaimed fantasy for grown-ups arrives on DVD, meaning if you don’t pay extra for HBO you finally can see what all the fuss is about.
“Footloose”: The first “Footloose” wasn’t a very good movie, but at least it made a boatload of money. This tepid remake didn’t even do that.
“Jack and Jill”: This awful comedy (along with “Zookeeper” and “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star”) helped Adam Sandler set a record for Razzie nominations this year. Congratulations, Adam! If history is any indication, you can top those numbers in the future!
“Tooth Fairy 2”: Think this movie sounds terrible? Then listen to this: It stars Larry the Cable Guy. Sounds a lot worse now, doesn’t it?
“The Town: Ultimate Collector’s Edition”: Someone at Warner Home Video must love Ben Affleck. This deluxe boxed set is a love letter to Affleck’s 2010 crime drama, with multiple versions of the movie (on both DVD and Blu-ray), a booklet of photos from the set and a faux dossier of information about the film’s criminal characters. Look for a review in next week’s Movie Man column.
Bruce Springsteen, “Wrecking Ball”: Here’s what Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, says about the CD: “Bruce has dug down as deep as he can to come up with this vision of modern life. The lyrics tell a story you can’t hear anywhere else and the music is his most innovative of recent years.”
Tony Bennett, “Duets II”: Joining Bennett on this CD are such big-name performers as Mariah Carey, Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin, Carrie Underwood and the late Amy Winehouse.
Andrew Bird, “Break it Yourself”: Did you know Andrew Bird was the one who provided the whistling during Walter’s big number in the movie “The Muppets”? It’s true!
Soundtrack, “John Carter”: Composer Michael Giacchino, who has won an Academy Award, Emmy, Golden Globe and Grammy, provided the score for this big-budget science fiction epic.
— Will Pfeifer
Sources: thedigitalbits.com; tophitsonline.com