by Bill Hawk

Universal, 2004, Color, 108 mins.- Universal DVD

Tom Wilkinson: “Well, uh, technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage, but it’s- it’s on a par with a night of heavy drinking.”

And when heavy drinking isn’t enough, you go to physician Wilkinson, who has invented a procedure that erases troublesome memories- and which does a bang-up business around Valentine’s Day, for obvious reasons. Wilkinson’s latest client is Jim Carrey, who applies the maxim “Turnabout is fair play” when he discovers that his lady love Kate Winslet has wiped him from her memory after an acrimonious breakup. Carrey, a withdrawn and unhappy guy, had found some measure of happiness with the wacky Winslet- but the differences which pulled them together, eventually pushed them apart again. The only problem is, once the high-tech forgetting gadget is doing its number on the immobilized Carrey’s noggin, he realizes that the good memories are just as important as the bad ones. And so he winds up playing hide-and-seek inside his own mind, aided by his memory of Winslet, and inadvertently picking up some tawdry details of the lives and loves of Wilkinson and his co-workers along the way.

This endearingly twisted effort from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman further cements his reputation as one of the most original talents around. Matching him is director Michel Gondry, who is known for his inventive filming techniques, and who pulls some clever camera tricks in this one. The story employs a fractured timeline and jumps in and out of Carrey’s head, but it all makes sense in the end, and you get some increasingly wacky plot twists to spice things up along the way. The two leads perform a fun switcheroo on their usual screen personas, with Carrey nicely subdued and Winslet an energetic nut. And in addition to being a quirky, bittersweet bit of entertainment, the story makes points about the fluidity of memory, and about how we are shaped by the totality of our experiences. Not to mention reminding us that Valentine’s Day can really make you feel like crap. Recommended for all manner of romantics and oddballs. Extras include audio commentary, featurettes, and deleted scenes.

Warner Bros., 1951, B&W, 101 mins.- Special Edition DVD

Leo G. Carroll: “Young lady, there’s no overlooking the fact that murder is at our doorstep, but I wish you wouldn’t drag it into the living room.”

An ironic statement, given that the young lady in question is Patricia Hitchcock, whose father Alfred has a predilection for such unpleasantness- one that he exercises to striking effect in this picture. Tennis star Farley Granger runs into charming oddball Robert Walker during a train journey, politely listening as Walker outlines his idea for getting away with murder- two men, strangers, could swap their homicidal chores, each doing away with the other man’s “Problem.” No apparent motive or opportunity, and thus no trip to the slammer. You can probably see where this is heading- Walker isn’t kidding, and he targets Granger’s estranged, gold-digging wife, expecting Granger in turn to do away with Walker’s hated father. Granger finds himself going round and round with the psychotic Walker and with the cops, all the while trying to keep the truth of his situation from girlfriend Ruth Roman and her sister, the aforementioned Pat Hitchcock. Will Granger give in to Walker’s bizarre form of blackmail, and kill a man just to keep his own cozy life from jumping the tracks? Or will he be able to derail Walker’s plot? Either way, Granger’s going to get bounced around like one of his tennis balls before it’s all over……

Guilt, both real and implied, permeates this story like a fog, and gives an extra kick to the familiar wrong man/double chase elements of the tale. Hitchcock even generates a bit of guilt in the viewer, as he plays with his audience’s sympathies for the two men. Walker, who can stalk and strangle with the best of ‘em, can also help an old blind man across the street, and his warped nature is shown to be the result of what could charitably be described as an unhealthy home environment. Nice guy Granger is enraged by his inconvenient (if admittedly unpleasant) wife, and doesn’t exactly go running to the authorities when things hit the fan. The two men’s round and round interaction becomes literal in their final confrontation, which takes place on a merry-go-round that is spinning wildly out of control- one of many wild images in this picture. Throw in some terrific performances and a healthy smidgen of black humor, and you’ve got guaranteed fun from the Master Of Suspense. Extras on this two-disc set include audio commentary, a documentary and several featurettes.

Columbia, 1943, B&W, 104 mins.- Columbia DVD

Jean Arthur: “I’m not the kind of person anything happens to.”

A situation which changes when the young lady decides to do her patriotic duty in regards to the wartime housing shortage in Washington and sublet her apartment. Her new roommate, oldster sort-of VIP Charles Coburn, is a real character who makes her well-ordered life more “Interesting.” Especially when he decides to play Cupid by taking in his own boarder, clean-cut young Army Air Force guy Joel McCrea, who claims to have no interest in the fairer sex. Arthur isn’t too happy about Coburn’s meddling, especially as she’s engaged to be married, but some of those old romantic comedy complications contrive to keep the three roomies in close orbits to each other. And since Arthur’s fiancée is a self-involved stiff with a stunningly bad toupee, and Coburn is an expert conniver, McCrea and Arthur’s orbits get closer and closer.

Another winning effort from producer/director George Stevens, this picture relies on the comedic talents of its principal actors, who keep things lively and engaging even when cornball factor amps up.
The winsome, husky-voiced Arthur got her only Oscar nomination for this one, with Coburn one-upping her by actually scoring a statuette for his lovable old coot routine. And McCrea is fun to watch as his laconic character warms up to- and in turn, warms up- Arthur. With Stevens in the director’s chair, you can rest assured that that everything will be shown to best effect, in a smoothly unobtrusive style. Comic highlights of the tale include the chaos wreaked by the two men on Arthur’s precise morning schedule, Coburn and McCrea’s dramatic reading of a “Dick Tracy” comic strip, Arthur’s attempts to ignore McCrea’s romantic attentions, and a great climactic visual gag. Extras are limited to some vintage trailers for other Columbia releases.

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© Melt Magazine 2004