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Mr. And Mrs. Smith (#110 of 3)

Understanding Screenwriting #78: Friends with Benefits, Crazy, Stupid, Love., Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #78: <em>Friends with Benefits</em>, <em>Crazy, Stupid, Love.</em>, <em>Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #78: <em>Friends with Benefits</em>, <em>Crazy, Stupid, Love.</em>, <em>Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Friends with Benefits; Crazy, Stupid, Love.; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2; Point Blank (2010); Mr. And Mrs. Smith (2005); The Great Escape; MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot (book); The Fox Film Corporation, 1915-1935: A History and Filmography (book); Covert Affairs, but first…

Fan Mail: Contrary to what David E. thinks, I love films that are poetically structured. If you can find it, look at the great British documentary Song of Ceylon (1934), one of the most poetically structured films of all time. In my History of Documentary film course, the classes were always split: there were those who loved it and those who hated it because it didn’t tell a story. That gave me a chance early in the course to let them know that all films do not have to tell stories.

“Pippa” appears to be upset with David and me for taking things to “the Nth degree of irrelevance.” Then, alas, she goes on to provide a link to the “film structure in a circle” site that I wrote about in US#76. She ought to go back and read my comments on it. The problem I have with so much writing about screenwriting is that it is often only about structure (Syd Field’s plot points; the Hero’s Journey, etc) without a lot of understanding of the nuances of character, tone, et al involved. As in some of the films in this column…

Friends with Benefits (2011. Screenplay by Keith Merryman & David A Newman and Will Gluck, story by Harley Patton and Keith Merryman & David A Newman. 109 minutes)

Haven’t we recently seen this? Take one: No, actually we haven’t. In US#70, I wrote about No Strings Attached (2011) which has a similar plot: Two friends agree to have sex without any emotional attachments, but one of them naturally falls in love with the other and complications ensue. It was not particularly well done, for reasons I will come back to as we discuss this one. Friends is much better in a variety of ways.

5 for the Day: Robert Montgomery

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5 for the Day: Robert Montgomery
5 for the Day: Robert Montgomery

A reliable film presence of the thirties, Robert Montgomery was locked in a “support the female star” vise at MGM for many years. Mercilessly typecast by his studio, he always seemed to be in the drawing room, mixing cocktails and blandly grinning like the cat who ate the canary; he worked six times with Joan Crawford, five times with Norma Shearer and one miserable time with Garbo in a threadbare picture called Inspiration (1931), where he unaccountably seemed mortified to be in her divine presence. Toward the end of his tenure at the studio, he was allowed to direct a movie, Lady in the Lake (1947), a Raymond Chandler adaptation told entirely with a subjective camera from the point of view of detective Philip Marlowe, and this gimmicky “I am a camera” device was just as silly as Montgomery’s “tough guy” accent as Marlowe. Cast as racketeers in The Earl of Chicago (1940) or Hide-Out (1934), MGM’s glossy idea of gangster pics, Montgomery was not convincing, but have him play a well-dressed, tippling, high class jerk and provide him with some bright remarks, and he would be sure to steal plenty of scenes as a friend with benefits to a straying leading lady.

Now and Forever: Early Carole Lombard at Film Forum

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Now and Forever: Early Carole Lombard at Film Forum
Now and Forever: Early Carole Lombard at Film Forum

[The Carole Lombard retrospective runs at Manhattan’s Film Forum from November 21st—December 2nd. Click here for more information.]

In at least seven movies, all of them comedies with serious undertones, the exuberant Carole Lombard became emblematic of the whole screwball comedy genre of the thirties, and she passed into folklore with her marriage to Clark Gable and her early death in a plane crash in 1942, at age 34. It’s her centenary this year, so there have been tributes, including a “star of the month” program on the indispensable Turner Classic Movies. TCM showed her seven wonders, starting with Howard Hawks’ Twentieth Century (1934) and ending with Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942). In between those very different peaks, Lombard was the archetypal madcap heiress in Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey (1936), a small town girl caught up in the publicity machine in the cutting Ben Hecht satire Nothing Sacred (1937), a manicurist on the make in Mitchell Leisen’s Hands Across the Table (1935), a congenital liar in the overlooked True Confession (1937), and a demanding, hot-to-trot wife for Alfred Hitchcock in Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941).