Movies I’ve Recently Seen: The Mask of Zorro, The More the Merrier, Flower Drum Song, The Booksellers & Tunes of Glory

A couple of months ago, I thought I was going to spend last week at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Instead, I saw five other films at home. For the most part, they were disappointing.

A The Mask of Zorro (1988), DVD

I considered listing this totally delightful movie on my recent swashbuckler article, but I hadn’t seen the picture in ages (even though I own the DVD), and besides, the article was getting too long. Now that I’ve revisited The Mask, I realize that this is one of the great swashbucklers, even though it was made nearly 50 years after the form died away.

This sequel of The Mark of Zorro (notice the similar titles) is mostly set 20 years later. The original Zorro (Anthony Hopkins), now an old man, takes in a young thief (Antonio Banderas) to train him to become the new Zorro. The big budget is on the level of Indiana Jones movies (Steven Spielberg produced), with large crowds and exceptional stunts. Director Martin Campbell knows when a fight is intended for suspense and when it’s intended for laughs. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays an ingenue who doesn’t just wait to be saved.

B The More the Merrier (1943), Criterion Channel

George Stevens’ last comedy before joining the army plays fun with wartime Washington’s housing shortage and the city’s then 8-to-1 ratio of women to men. The best scenes come early, with Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn trying to share a small apartment (at one point she doesn’t know she’s living with two men). A seduction scene (or the 1943 variation) is both witty and surprisingly sexy. Funny and romantic, with a taste of sadness due to the war that McCrea’s character is about to join (as did director Stevens).

C+ Flower Drum Song (1961), Kanopy

Probably the least known movie adaptation of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, thanks mostly to the lack of white people in the cast. The cliched story of mismatched couples is set in San Francisco’s Chinatown – a bold choice for a Hollywood studio in 1961. Much of the humor comes from older Chinese immigrants uncomfortable with American ways, and their young, more American children. The songs are mostly forgettable, with a couple of exceptions. Hermes Pan’s choreography is vigorous and delightful. James Shigeta makes a fine, romantic lead, but as the ingenue, Miyoshi Umeki shows an acting range from innocence to purity.

C- The Booksellers (2019), streaming for the Rafael

I love used book stores; I can barely pass one without going inside. But I don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a rare copy of a book I can buy new for pocket change. Perhaps that’s why I just couldn’t get into D.W. Young’s documentary about people who buy and sell extremely expensive books. It starts out interesting, and I’m sure I could enjoy spending time in many of these people’s stores. But as the documentary introduces us with one seller after another, it becomes repetitive and boring. At least one interview subject admits that they’re selling to rich, white people. I couldn’t help feeling that most of the books discussed belong not in a private collection but in an archive, library, or museum.

D+ Tunes of Glory (1960), Criterion Channel

This British military drama, set in a Scottish battalion apparently more interested in bagpipes than war, never jells into anything meaningful or believable. The clearly alcoholic commanding officer (a major played by Alec Guinness) can’t emotionally accept the new Lieutenant Colonel who supersedes him (John Mills). Nor can he accept the fact that his daughter has fallen in love. Both of these men waste their talent playing officers so mentally unhinged that they become too ridiculous for a serious drama.