by Bill Hawk

Miramax, 2003, Color, 89 mins.- Buena Vista DVD

Peter Dinklage: "It's really funny how different people see me and treat me……. because I'm actually just a very simple, boring person."

A simple, boring person who happens to top out at 4 feet, 5 inches tall- a situation which has led to Dinklage being a rather taciturn type who is wary of "Normal" people. He leads a simple life, rooming over the model train shop in Hoboken where he works, and pursuing his choo-choo-related hobbies. But when his boss dies and wills him an old, unused train depot in quiet little Newfoundland, New Jersey, he decides to retire to an isolated life there. His plan runs into some snags, though, in the form of ebullient ice cream truck operator Bobby Cannavale and flighty painter Patricia Clarkson- the former wanting to be friends, the latter wanting to make amends after almost running Dinklage over. As the three slowly form a bond, Dinklage starts to crawl out of his shell, revealing that he's a bigger guy than his size alone would indicate. Big enough to make a better life for himself- and for his new friends.

Like its main character, this is a little picture with a big heart, and it could be accused of overplaying its hand here and there. But on the whole, writer/director Thomas McCarthy effectively serves up the sort of character-driven tale that fans of small, independent films look for. The cast is quite good, particularly leading man Dinklage- his bitter, repressed, near-silent dwarf character could easily have rung the caricature bell, but he pulls it off. His interaction with Cannavale is the source of much of the picture's humor, as the other man is determined to be a pal and could care less that Dinklage is only half his size. There is a definite "Feel-good" factor to the story, and while there are a few hard knocks- particularly with regard to Clarkson's character, who has been touched by tragedy- you won't regret spending time with these folks. Extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary by McCarthy, Dinklage, Cannavale, and Clarkson.

United Artists, 1959, B&W, 122 mins.- MGM Special Edition DVD

Jack Lemmon: "Look at that! Look how she moves- it's just like Jell-O on springs!"

Well, if you're going to study someone to aid you in impersonating the fairer sex, you could do a lot worse than to pick Marilyn Monroe….but then again, if you're Jack Lemmon, you haven't got much chance of following in her footsteps. Musicians Lemmon and Tony Curtis are on the lam after accidentally witnessing a little event known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and have taken refuge with a band traveling to a gig in Florida. There's just one catch- it's an all-girl band. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and the boys doll themselves up and change their wardrobes and do their best to pass as females. After warning Lemmon to keep his hands off the other band members, Curtis uses the insight gained from his (pseudo) gal-pal experience with Monroe to woo her with a phony (male) identity……while Lemmon is himself wooed (as a woman) by goofy playboy Joe E. Brown. And if that isn't enough, bootlegger George Raft- the guy who wants our heroes' hides- shows up for a mobster convention, and things get really crazy……

This beloved old laugh-fest has a number of interesting things bubbling away beneath its goofy surface. For Lemmon and Curtis, "Getting in touch with their feminine side" has life-changing effects that aren't as predictable as you might expect, and there are some scenes that must have cranked audiences' eyebrows all the way up to their hairlines back when this picture was first released. Producer/director/co-writer Billy Wilder is in fine form here, getting the best from a luminous cast. Watch as Lemmon tangos the night away with Brown, Curtis does a playboy routine centering on a Cary Grant impression, Monroe sings, and Raft goofs on his old gangster persona, and you know that you're seeing a unique mixture of talent. And to top it off, you get one of the most memorable closing lines in cinema history. Recommended for all classic comedy fans. Extras include a documentary and two featurettes.

RKO, 1945, B&W, 95 mins.- Warner Bros. DVD

Dick Powell: "I was a toad on a wet rock…..a snake was lookin' at the back of My neck."

Powell, as Raymond Chandler's classic private eye Philip Marlowe, has a finely-honed sense of danger….not that it does him much good, as he winds up getting sapped, throttled, shot full of narcotics, and almost shot full of lead during the course of this story. Bored and broke, he agrees to help hulking jailbird Mike Mazurki find his old girlfriend, briefly detouring into- and bungling- a body-guarding gig that sends his client to the morgue. Powell's conscience prods him to dig around, and soon he's up to his neck in a blackmail/robbery/murder scheme populated by the likes of femme fatale Claire Trevor, phony-baloney "Therapist" Otto Kruger, and the usual assortment of lowlifes and nosy cops. Powell pursues his investigation to the bitter end, aided by Trevor's stepdaughter, Anne Shirley- but it's a tossup whether he'll survive to spend some quality time with the shapely young lady.

The elements here are familiar, and the story is the tangled knot that is typical of Chandler's plotting, but the enjoyment comes from the smoke-filled Forties atmosphere and the characters who are stewing in it. Powell does a 180 from the lightweight musical roles that made him famous, and while he often seems more petulant than hard-boiled, it is nevertheless an entertaining turn that was Chandler's favorite screen incarnation of Marlowe. Costar Anne Shirley, similarly known for "Nice" roles, holds her own with Powell against tough cookies Trevor, Kruger and Mazurki. With veteran director Edward Dmytryk at the helm, you get an archetypical film noir that is the perfect accompaniment to a lonely evening, a pack of unfiltered coffin nails and a bottle of cheap Scotch. The only extra of note is an audio commentary by noir scholar Alan Silver.

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© Melt Magazine 2004