Rob Harmon’s Picks 12/9/14

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksROB HARMON’S PICKS 12/9/14

Season’s Greetings from Best Video!

“Good times and bum times, I’ve seen ‘em all, and, my dear, I’m still here.” – Follies

Random cashier observations from behind the counter at Best Video on a recent, bustling Saturday night:

The door swings open and shut, swishing leaves and chilly air about the entryway as people rush in and out throughout the evening. Kate, at the coffee shop, keeps things lively as she perks her customers up with hot coffee, snacks, and conversation.

A family, new to the store, receives recommendations on Miyazaki films – no, not from my co-worker Mike and I – but from other customers milling about in the kid’s room! (Truly, recommendations can come from anywhere at Best Video.) Off in the direction of Top Hits the boisterous sound of voices rises above the din of the music throughout the night as classmate bumps into classmate, friend into friend, and neighbor into neighbor, even as others mutely scan the shelves of new releases looking for… what exactly? (They’ll know it when they see it!)

A group of teenagers comes in looking for THE WARRIORS and I cannot help but smirk to myself, remembering that I, too, was once a teenager about to see THE WARRIORS for the very first time. Lucky them! A man looking for a fourth title for the four movies/four nights deal finally decides upon CREEPSHOW but he cannot find it in Horror or Best Horror: Mike directs him to the George Romero section in Directors.

Meanwhile, a woman cannot find the taped stage version of Kaufman and Hart’s THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER with Nathan Lane where it usually resides in Performance/Drama: “That’s over in the holiday section in Top Hits,” I tell her. Another customer checks out THE REF, confiding that it is the only holiday film he will watch this Christmas season.

In this day and age of brick-and-mortar stores shuttering their doors, while online streaming services generate movie “recommendations” through algorithms and endlessly cut back on their inventories, Best Video is still here. That is something we should all be grateful for this holiday season.

Yes, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. Best Video was the anti-Blockbuster, just as today we are the anti-Netflix and the anti-Redbox. I will write it one more time, if only just to savor it:

Best Video is still here.

Unquestionably, the greatest Christmas present we here in the Hamden/New Haven area can give ourselves is a robust and healthy Best Video for many years to come. The cost of such a gift is your continued business: it may be only a rental or two a week, DVDs or BluRays ordered for purchase (especially with the holidays approaching), a cup of coffee, or the cover charge for a musical performance or screening, but it is needed. The modesty of such actions belies their power.

Do you remember the character old Fezziwig in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol?” A generous and gregarious businessman, Fezziwig hosts a rollicking party — at his own expense — for the benefit of the community on Christmas Eve, and his beaming nature seems to lift the entire neighborhood up. As Scrooge wistfully recalls it so well, though this contribution was a modest one, it was “quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

With a healthy Best Video we are all rich throughout the year.

Neglected Holiday Treasure: REMEMBER THE NIGHT (dir. Mitchell Leisen, 1940)

If you are looking for a little something to snuggle up with this holiday season check out 1940’s REMEMBER THE NIGHT, with screenplay by Preston Sturges, the last he would write, in fact, before directing his own feature films beginning with THE GREAT McGINTY.

The story concerns Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck), arrested for shoplifting a bracelet just before the Christmas holiday in New York City. Slick assistant D.A. John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) is assigned to prosecute and, recognizing that the jury will be unlikely to convict a woman just before the holiday, shrewdly has the trial put off until after Christmas.

However, realizing that Leander will now have to spend Christmas behind bars, he gamely bails her out before driving home to Indiana to visit his mother (Beulah Bondi), aunt (Elizabeth Patterson), and cousin (Sterling Holloway). Recognizing that Leander, too, is from Indiana, and, further, taking pity on her as she has nowhere else to go, he invites her along for the road trip. Cue: romance!

Leisen is one of the few directors in Hollywood who worked his way up from the art and costume departments and it shows: his films tend to be classy, well-produced affairs, and often well-acted, as in this case. Stanwyck and MacMurray would team up a number of other times, most memorably of course in Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), but also in Douglas Sirk’s excellent THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956). Reportedly, Sturges was so impressed with Stanwyck on the set of this film that he promised to one day pen a screwball comedy for her, resulting in that gem-of-all-gems, THE LADY EVE (1941)!

REMEMBER THE NIGHT is, in many ways, a journey through an American landscape that no longer exists: the action may begin and end in the big city, but its heart is in the countryside, small country back-roads, snow-covered farms, fireplaces, and simple, homespun family values which fill the middle section.

But do not be fooled into thinking that this is mere holiday schmaltz: within REMEMBER THE NIGHT, as with many of Sturges’ other films, beats a very adult heart, and the ending may surprise. Still, the movie exercises moments of perfectly-attuned sentiment, such as the scene where Stanwyck plays the song “A Perfect Day” on the Sargent family piano, with Holloway singing and the rest of the family later joining in. A perfect day, indeed: Leander has at last found a home far from the shriek of car brakes and horns, yet the pain which suddenly registers on her face is a recognition that somewhere — far away — the jury awaits.

For another great Preston Sturges film set around the holidays, also check out the madcap, hilarious MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK (1944)!