Movies I’ve Recently Seen: The Pirate, The King, Harriet, & The Curse of the Cat People

Since my last Recently Seen piece, I’ve revisited two films I hadn’t seen in ages, along two new ones. (Of course, I’ve seen other movies over that time, but I either wrote about them elsewhere or didn’t feel the need to write about them at all.)

A- The Pirate (1948), Criterion Channel

Cole Porter’s songs disappoint, but the dances are fun and, for their time, sexy. Most importantly, the story may be the best among all the MGM musicals, playing off and contrasting two common romantic fantasies–pirates and actors. Judy Garland is a young woman on an 18th-century Caribbean isle, who fantasies about a famous and terrible pirate. Gene Kelly plays the actor who falls for her and tries to win her by pretending he’s that pirate. If you think the song “Be a Clown” sounds familiar, producer Arthur Freed reused the music and slightly changed the lyrics for Singin’ in the Rain‘s “Make ’em Laugh.”

B The King (2019), Netflix

It takes a while to get used to watching the story of Henry V without Shakespeare’s language, but director/co-writer David Michôd has a very different take on the historical events. Such a radical approach requires new and modern dialog. In this version, Prince Hal/King Henry starts out as a near pacifist, very unwilling to go to war. But by the end, he’s a cold-blooded killer. The biggest character change is Falstaff, who is no longer comic relief. He’s a bit too loving of wine and women, but he’s also a brilliant and courageous tactician, and becomes the King’s best and most important adviser.

B Harriet (2019), Cerrito

I’ve waited for a Harriet Tubman film for years. Now that we finally have it, it’s a bit of a disappointment. It’s still a riveting, suspenseful movie about the horrors of slavery and the courage of those who opposed it. The cast, from Cynthia Erivo on down, are perfect. The countryside manages to be both beautiful and foreboding. But Erivo has too many long speeches that don’t sound realistic. Also, while the film celebrates her incredible courage, it replaces the real Tubman’s keen intelligence with messages from God.

C+ The Curse of the Cat People (1944), Criterion Channel

I was deeply disappointed the first time I saw Val Lewton’s sequel to his very good Cat People. After all, if you’re watching the sequel to a horror movie, you expect horror. But if you look at Curse on its own, it’s an interesting but simplistic drama about a young girl who lives too much in her imagination, and a father who doesn’t know what to do about it. It’s so much unlike a horror movie that could be more accurately be called The Blessing of the Cat People.