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Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Excepting THE LITTLE FOXES, Lillian Hellman’s plays are largely dismissed today, and WATCH ON THE RHINE is hardly free of her clunky devices: hidden packets of cash; a jimmied briefcase lock; a crumbling marriage to help move the plot; speechifying tots to cover any stray talking points; and that Hellman specialty, the metaphorical blindness of the blindingly rich. The WWII story follows an anti-fascist agent who brings his wife & kids to her family manse in D.C., then must rejoin the fight in Europe on his own. Ah, but not before he takes care of an informer who would, for a price, stop him. Matters are hardly improved by the all-thumbs megging from debuting B'way director Herman Shumlin. (His stiff follow-up, CONFIDENTIAL AGENT/'45 ended his brief Hollywood sojourn). So, why am I always so moved? It's true that Bette Davis. playing demur & looking uncommonly lovely, brings a deep emotional charge to what is essentially a generous supporting role and that Paul Lucas recreates his stage triumph without looking stale or over-rehearsed. (His showstopper, singing a defiant resistance song is riveting stuff.) Hell, even the creepy robotic kids grow on you. Hellman was no artist, but a working playwright (note the spelling) who built dramatic boxes that only held tight when the actors were both bigger-than-life & true-to-life. No wonder it worked so well with Golden Age Hollywood stars.

CONTEST: Name the Hollywood Production Code violation that is strikingly, almost defiantly, flaunted in this film to win our usual prize, a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of any NetFlix pic of your choice.

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