LOVE ON A BET (1936) is a fun It Happened One Night knockoff in which Gene Raymond’s future as a theatrical producer hinges on his ability to leave NYC penniless in his underwear and arrive 10 days later in Los Angeles — in those pre-interstate highway days, a much more impressive feat than it is now — with clothes, $100 and a girlfriend. He soon finagles his way into traveling across country with fortune-hunter Wendy Barrie and her snarky aunt Helen Broderick, but will the burgeoning Raymond/Barrie romance survive when she learns she’s his ticket to fame and fortune (I hadn’t realized that particular rom-com plot went back that far)? A fun one.“I despise the odor of toasted marshmallow.”
MR AND MRS SMITH (1941) is Alfred Hitchcock’s only screwball comedy, the result of Selznick renting him out to RKO after Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent, though Hitch claims he chose it primarily because Carole Lombard wanted to be in one of his movies. Robert Montgomery discovers his affectionately squabbling marriage to Lombard is technically invalid but handles the reveal so poorly she walks out and starts over with Gene Raymond, this time as Montgomery’s blandly wholesome partner. This was an uninspired film but it turned a profit for the studio and proved Hitch could bring in a film without busting the budget. It’s also less of an outlier in Hitchcock’s work than I used to think, not that far from Rich and Strange or the rom-com bits of Young and Innocent, so perhaps the story appealed to Hitchcock as much as working with Lombard. “That’s fine — after I die, she gets the furniture.”
THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (2005) takes place over one night in Bucharest (it’s unclear if he actually dies at the end, but he clearly doesn’t have long) as the sick, pained drunk goes from hospital to hospital under the care of a kind but weary paramedic, only to encounter overworked doctors, arrogant doctors and exhausted doctors all coping with forms, bureaucracy and personal lives — it felt like Grey’s Anatomy or E/R without the compassionate doctor showing up to save the day. Given how universal these issues are, I’m surprised there hasn’t been an American remake. “These neoplasms are Discovery Channel stuff!”
For the first few minutes I wondered if E.T. — THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982) wasn’t going to work for me on rewatching (for Alien Visitors, of course) but before long I found it as charming as I did first run. Elliott (Henry Thomas) discovers a kindly alien who loves Reese’s Pieces (one of the great successes of product placement) and helps him hide from Peter Coyote’s Men in Black while “E.T.” tries to figure out a way to phone home. This is seen almost entirely from Elliott or E.T.’s perspective, or occasionally Elliott’s little sister (Drew Barrymore) which works remarkably well. On one of the special features Stephen Spielberg says although it was a personal film he figured it would only appeal to fans of Disney’s live-action kidvid of the time (trust me, this was not a compliment) and felt quite stunned when it became a critical and commercial hit (Peter Coyote talks about how the crew on the movie he was making when E.T. hit the theaters started treating him as a lucky charm). The sentimentality that works here would bog down a lot of later Spielberg films, but that’s no reflection on this film, which deserves its spectacular success.“It’s a miracle, and you did the best that anybody could do.”
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