Editor’s note: We know that just about every movie ever made has at some point coursed through our collective consciousness. So, the notion that you haven’t heard of a movie might not be true for everyone. Still, it’s worth remembering four good films that failed to achieve cult status.
LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932)
Mark Tiarks/For The New Mexican
Love Me Tonight may date from the infancy of the movie musical, but it feels surprisingly contemporary, thanks to Rouben Mamoulian’s audacious direction and sophisticated songs by Broadway’s Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.
Parisian tailor Maurice Courtelin (Maurice Chevalier) travels to a deadbeat viscount’s chateau to collect on a bill and immediately falls in love with Princess Jeanette ( Jeanette MacDonald). The embarrassed aristocrat passes Courtelin off as a baron, but the tailor’s ersatz title and genuine charm seem to have no effect on the haughty princess. Meanwhile, man-starved Countess Valentine (Myrna Loy) sets her sights on Courtelin, the only male in sight she’s not related to, with hilarious results.
Love Me Tonight opens with an innovative, three-minute “symphony in sound,” as the script described it, that begins at dawn with a bell tolling, a man snoring, and a pickaxe-wielding construction worker, and then builds with other street sights and sounds added in, now in rhythm, until the entire city is awake.
The sound symphony is followed by “Isn’t It Romantic?” — a virtuoso piece of musical storytelling begun by Chevalier in his shop. It’s continued by his client on the street, where it’s repeated by a taxi driver. The driver’s passenger then hums it on a train to some soldiers, who sing it as they march across a field. A gypsy violinist plays it for his companions, whose singing carries it to the chateau. Princess Jeanette adds the final verse, thus connecting her to Chevalier well before they meet.
Made two years prior to the Motion Picture Production Code (also known as the Hays Code) went into effect, Love Me Tonight is surprisingly racy, both visually and verbally. Before her lavishly costumed operettas with Nelson Eddy, MacDonald was a cinema sex symbol known as “The Lingerie Queen of the Talkies,” and she spends quite a lot of the film in a negligee. Mamoulian also makes effective use of split-screen technology in a dream sequence to suggest that Chevalier and MacDonald are in bed together.
A delight from beginning to end, Love Me Tonight is available only on DVD and Blu-ray, but it’s well worth the investment. Romantic musical comedy, no rating, 104 minutes, not currently streaming
TIME AFTER TIME (1979)
In his first onscreen appearance after an unhinged turn as the vile emperor Caligula, Malcolm McDowell proves himself adept at playing the romantic lead. He’s utterly charming as science fiction author H.G. Wells, who’s built himself a working time machine. The year is 1893, and London is reeling from the serial murders of Jack the Ripper. Unbeknownst to Wells, his friend and colleague, John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner), is actually the Ripper. When the authorities close in on Stevenson, he escapes via the time machine. Wells pursues him to modern-day San Francisco where he enlists the aid of an equally charming bank teller named Amy (Mary Steenburgen) to track his quarry. Wells falls in love with her.
Helmed by first-time director Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), Time After Time is a good-natured, old-fashioned delight that deftly blends romantic comedy and science fiction thrills. A fish out of water, Wells adjusts quickly, relishing the wonders of the modern world with a scientist’s innate curiosity.
Is the future predestined? Can it be altered? How far will Wells go to save the woman he loves from Jack the Ripper? The final act is a nonstop race against the future with plenty of action and some chills. Science fiction, rated PG, 112 minutes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Santa Fe Public Library
TAMARA DREWE (2010)
There are worse places to be stuck than the bucolic British countryside. It’s verdant, lush, and filled with gray stones and black-and-white cows. It’s the perfect place for a bed and breakfast and a writers’ retreat. It’s also the perfect place for small-town fever to lead to rampant hormones and enough love triangles to redefine the laws of trigonometry.
Based on a comic strip of the same name and directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen), Tamara Drewe brings together an impressive ensemble cast of familiar actors, many of whom are instantly recognizable even if you’ve never heard of the film. Gemma Arterton (Their Finest), Dominic Cooper (Preacher), Luke Evans (Dracula Untold), and Bill Camp (The Night Of ) all ham things up a tad, clearly having fun with the soapy sheen of the film.
To a man and woman, just about everyone in the fictional Dorset village of Ewedown is struggling with obsession and insecurity. Many of them are writers looking for inspiration and confidence. Ironically, the only person effectively wordsmithing is the man who owns the B&B. The rest of Ewedown is populated with rock stars, farmers, and a brutally honest barkeep. They all share a talent for falling in love with the wrong person.
At first, it seems like Drewe is just about the only Ewedownian who truly has it together. Her writing career is on track, and she can have just about anything and anyone she wants. She’s not immune to insecurity, though, and has a little bit of ugly duckling syndrome in her past. Her torrid relationship with Cooper as drummer Ben Sergeant satisfies her needs to be desired and adored but can’t seriously last. She’s also got her eye on the beau of her youth, who all but broke her heart.
Somehow, everyone manages to coexist until an erstwhile teen sends a lusty email from Drewe’s email account and CCs half the community. The love train goes off all the rails, and little Ewedown is consumed in chaos.
Tamara Drewe delivers some quirky laughs and enough heart to feel authentic. It’s good vicarious-vacationing for these locked downtimes. Romantic comedy, rated R, 111 minutes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes
YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN (1950)
We all love heroes. Maybe now more than ever. In this film, loosely based on the tragic life of Bix Beiderbecke, you get one in spades: a man who loses everything, only to find it again. (Again, it’s very loosely based on Beiderbecke, whose longterm alcoholism is believed to have contributed to his death at 28.)
In it, Kirk Douglas plays Rick Martin, a one-of-a-kind horn man who “couldn’t see anything but notes and he couldn’t hear anything but his trumpet. Playing,” says narrator/piano player Smoke Willoughby (the great Hoagy Carmichael), “that was his way of talking.”
In Martin’s journey from aimless urchin to trumpet superstar, Martin meets a kindly mentor ( Juano Hernández), a chanteuse with a crush (Doris Day), a darkly seductive head case (Lauren Bacall), and a few bandleaders that harden his metal to play the way he hears it in his head.
It’s not a script that will surprise you: His fall from grace is lurking in every triumph and bad decision. But the dialogue is satisfying and, for those of us yearning for happy endings, Young Man fits the bill. The performances, too, are top-notch, beginning with Douglas, who made his bones playing intense characters like this one. He puts the pedal to the metal in this Michael Curtiz film noir, especially during Martin’s inevitably slide to the gutter. He’s entirely believable, even when playing the dusky, mean, honeyed tones that come from his trumpet. (The incomparable Harry James plays Martin’s parts — reason enough to watch the movie.)
Day is Day, which is just perfect here, and Bacall is … well, Bacall, in all the best ways. Hernández, though, is the scene-stealer with his quiet delivery and subtly rendered emotion. Drama, 112 minutes, Amazon Prime