Movies I’ve Recently Seen: Brief Encounter, Topsy-Turvy, Siren of the Tropics, & Cotton Comes to Harlem

Thanks to the current COVID surge, which I’m calling the Delta Blues, I’ve been staying away from movie theaters. But I’m still watching movies at home.

A- Brief Encounter (1945)

Love, romance, and marriage may make the world go around, but it often goes in the wrong direction. This pre-epic David Lean drama follows the story of two people who fall deeply in love in a train station. The problem is that they’re both already happily married. There is no solution that won’t hurt several very nice people. To make it worse, they’re all British, and they try to keep their upper lip stiff. The film is told through the eyes of the woman who loves her husband but has much hotter feelings for another man. By the way, one scene in the film inspired Billy Wilder to make The Apartment.

B+ Topsy-Turvy (1999)

Mike Leigh, who usually gives us serious, contemporary drama, serves up a delightful and reasonably historically correct version of how Gilbert and Sullivan created the Mikado. Composer Sullivan wants to stop working with librettist Gilbert, and their partnership seems dead. But then, Gilbert becomes interested in Japanese culture, and Sullivan embraces the idea. And thus a musical comedy masterpiece was born. The movie is kind of long, but very entertaining…especially in the scenes of rehearsing the play.

B Siren of the Tropics (1927)

In my first real Josephine Baker experience, I discovered something I didn’t know. The African American dancer who delighted Paris wasn’t just sexy, outrageous, and utterly unique. She was also very funny. But about the movie. When Baker isn’t on the screen, and that’s most of the first half of the movie, it’s the dullest of silent melodramas. Luckily, the second half has a lot of Baker, and when she’s on screen, the movie becomes magic. Yes, the film is racist, but nowhere near as racist as an American film from that period.

D Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

The early 1970s created the blaxploitation genre, and some of the movies that came out of that scene were well worth watching. But not this one. It’s hard to imagine how a great actor like Ossie Davis could have directed such a bad movie. He doesn’t seem to know where to put the camera. No one, even the excellent actor Godfrey Cambridge, doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing. The stunts look fake. The timing was off. The best thing in the movie is John Anderson’s dumb, comedy relief white policeman, and he’s not really all that funny. The plot isn’t worth talking about.