Films I Love, Noir

The Narrow Margin (1952)

The Narrow Margin is a film that I never get tired of watching. It’s a very brisk film and it is one which manages to pack quite a punch in just 71 minutes. This is a film in which no scene or dialogue exchange feels like a waste of time. I also consider this film to be a prime example of how a low budget B movie can sometimes stand head and shoulders above any A film. 

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Brown and Forbes meet Mrs. Neall. Screenshot by me.

The Narrow Margin was an RKO studios film and it was directed by Richard Fleischer. It was shot in just twelve days. The screenplay for the film was written by Earl Felton and it was Oscar nominated. The film has no music other than Mrs.Neall’s beloved records. Instead the sound effects of the train wheels and ambient noise are all that we hear as the film goes on. I think those natural sounds add a great amount of realism to the film and I like that the scenes are undisturbed by intrusive or over dramatic music.  

This film has more twists and turns than a roller-coaster, and it also features some of the greatest lines ever uttered in Film Noir history.  The following are just a few of my favourite lines of dialogue from the film.  

Brown: ” She’s a sixty-cent special.Cheap, flashy, and strictly poison under the gravy.”

Brown: “Take it all, I can’t eat it!” Mrs. Neall: “That’s because you’ve been packin’ away steaks behind my back.”

Mrs. Neall: “Some protection they send me. An old man who walks right into it, and a weeper”.  

Brown: “You make me sick to my stomach.” Mrs. Neall: “Well use your own sink!, and let me know when the target practice starts!”

Brown: “My partners dead, and it’s my fault. He’s dead and you’re alive. Some exchange.” 

Mrs. Neall: “Not till I tell you something, you cheap badge-pusher! When we started on this safari, you made it clear I was just a job, and no joy in it, remember?”

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Brown. Screenshot by me.

Besides the fabulous dialogue, it is the complex and very fascinating characters who make this film what it is. Charles McGraw’s character is one of the hardest, toughest and cynical men that you’ll find in any film, let alone in any Noir film. Marie Windsor steals every scene she is in as the tough-talking, strong willed dame who sprays quips and insults around as though they were bullets coming out of a gun. 

Police Detectives Walter Brown (Charles McGraw)and Gus Forbes(Don Beddoe)are assigned to protect Mrs.Neall(Marie Windsor)and escort her to court. Neall is a mobsters wife who has agreed to testify against her man in court. People associated with her husband are trying to kill her before she can talk to the law.

Brown is tough, cynical and he hates the fact that he and his partner are risking their lives for a no good gal like Mrs. Neall. Even though she is testifying, he doesn’t think she’s a good person at heart at all. As they escort her to the train they’ve booked tickets on, Forbes is gunned down by a hitman sent to take out Mrs. Neall. Brown manages to get Mrs.Neall on the train and locks her in the empty compartment. A number of hired heavies board the train too, and there are now very few places on the train for Brown and Mrs. Neall to hide. Can Brown protect her or not? Brown also has to deal with the distraction of the lovely Mrs. Sinclair (Jacqueline White)who is travelling on the train with her young son. Brown and Mrs. Sinclair strike up a genuine bond and he becomes very fond of her. 

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Brown and Mrs. Neall have words. Screenshot by me.

This is a very tense film and the train setting gives it an extra level of suspense as there are very few places that Brown and Mrs. Neall can hide once they’re on board that train and it is hurtling down the tracks. The antagonistic relationship between Mrs.Neall and Brown is also very interesting to watch, the pair loath one another, have wild sexual tension going on, and their verbal sparring is a Noir lovers treat to listen to. 

There is a big twist in this film concerning a main character (which I’m not going to reveal because it’s best to go into this film not knowing who it is, this in order to retain the surprise and impact when the reveal does arrive) and when it is revealed, I think that it makes you see this person in a very different light than you did much earlier in the film. When this twist is revealed we also realise that there are two different Police operations being run, and each one is as important and dangerous as the other.  

If there is a downside to this film I would say that it lies with the way the sacrifice and murder of this character later on in the film is only referred to once afterwards. When you realise the risk this person was taking and how brave they were, I think that it’s a shame that more time isn’t devoted to acknowledging that sacrifice.That issue aside though this is one of the best Noir films and it is filled with superb performances and many memorable moments. 

McGraw gives one of his best performances as the tough as nails Detective who hates his current assignment, but despite his personal feelings he will work hard to protect Mrs.Neall no matter what. He may be mean, he may be rude and rough at times, but there is no doubt that he is a good guy underneath all that, and he is certainly someone you would want on your side in a fight.

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Mrs. Neall gets threatened. Screenshot by me.

 It’s a real shame that Marie Windsor appeared in so few Noir films because she is perfectly at home in the dark and seedy world of Noir. Marie comes across as being strong, sexy, and she is a real natural with that snappy dialogue.

Paul Maxey also turns in a very memorable performance as an overweight train passenger who keeps getting in the way of Brown a few times.

My favourite scenes are the following. Brown fighting in the train compartment. Brown and Forbes meeting Mrs. Neall for the first time. Brown and Forbes discussing what Mrs. Neall is going to be like. Mrs. Neall and Brown arguing after he brings her a sandwich. The reveal/twist murder scene.  

Any other fans of this one?

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Comedy, Films I Love, Romance

It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night is my all time favourite Screwball comedy film. When I’m in need of a film to make me laugh and put me in a good mood, then this is one I always turn to. My main reason for loving this one so much is the growing relationship between Ellie and Peter; I especially love watching them go from a bickering odd couple, to a couple who are very much in love with one another.

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Ellie and Peter’s first meeting. Screenshot by me.

I also love this film because it is extremely funny and features a perfect mix of slapstick comedy and verbal comedy. It also contains so many believable and likeable characters. This film always leaves me with a smile on my face because it’s such an uplifting, romantic and fun film.  

I also like how our perceptions of Ellie and Peter change as the film goes on. We start off enjoying seeing Ellie get brought down to reality with a bump, then we sympathise with her and start to like her because we see that she does have a heart, and that she is a sweet and compassionate woman who can’t help the life she was born into. Peter starts off as being a selfish guy, happy being on his own and interested only in using Ellie to get a story; as the film goes on though he changes to become a much warmer man who won’t use her to get a front page story. 

Seeing Ellie’s personal troubles splashed across the front page of papers, also reminds me that the rich may well be better off than most of us are, but they pay a heavy price in return for this as their private and difficult times are made into news on a regular basis.

The film is directed by Frank Capra. The film has a cracking screenplay by Robert Riskin, which is based on the short story Night Bus, written by Samuel Hopkins Adams.  Frank Capra is one of my favourite directors; I like his films because they focus on everyday characters and their struggles, hopes, and their dreams. There is also a note of hope in many of Capra’s films that I quite like. In Capra’s films we see wrongs righted and evil and greedy people fought and stood up to. It Happened One Night is one of my top five Capra flicks. The other four films in my list are The Bitter Tea of General Yen, It’s A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

I am a huge fan of films, books and series which focus on relationships between people who are complete opposites slowly starting to fall for one another. This film features a couple who are one of my all time favourite opposites attract couples. I love how Ellie and Peter start out at each others throats, and then as their relationship slowly develops, they both start to realise that they can’t do without one another. I also love this one because of how perfectly Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert work together as a screen team.

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Peter and Ellie get close. Screenshot by me.

Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert)is the daughter of a famous millionaire( Walter Connelly) . Ellie and her father are very famous. Following a bitter argument that they have about her relationship with her fiancé (who has the most awesome name ever), King Westley(Jameson Thomas), Ellie jumps from the family yacht and swims ashore. Running away with only a few dollars in her possession, Ellie is forced to experience life without access to her daddy’s limitless cheque book. 

Boarding a bus, Ellie finds herself literally thrown together with down on his luck newspaper reporter, Peter Warne(Clark Gable). Peter instantly recognises Ellie, and he sets his sights on getting the news scoop of the season. He calls his boss at the first opportunity he gets, tells him what’s going on and to stand by for more updates. However, as they spend more time together, Peter actually finds himself starting to fall for this pampered heiress, and she ends up developing feelings for him in return. When the bus has to stop due to a road closure Ellie, Peter and the other passengers spend the night at a motel; it is at this point that the pair actually start to realise that they are in love with one another. 

Clark Gable is terrific as the warm hearted Peter. He plays Peter as a guy with a tough and gruff exterior who is in reality a real sweetheart. I love how he conveys Peter’s annoyance and frustration with Ellie’s lack of understanding of how real life in depression era America works. Slowly though we see him become amused by her antics, and we then see that he is starting to become very fond of her.

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Clark Gable as Peter. Screenshot by me.

I especially love Clark in the scenes where Peter is starting to get really protective of Ellie, and he looks at her with such tenderness and affection on his face. I also like how he makes Peter come across as a man more than capable of defending himself both verbally and physically. He is also believable as a man who knows how to (and enjoys) push peoples buttons and wind them up.

Claudette Colbert is hysterical as the aloof, wealthy lady learning how everyone else lives. She shows us that Ellie has no clue as to how ridiculous some of the things she says sound, such as expecting the bus driver to wait for her long past departure time at a scheduled stop, simply because she is going to take longer to come back to the bus than the others. Claudette is radiant and bubbly in this film, she reminds me quite a bit of Clara Bow. I’m certain that if this film had been made in the 1920’s, then Clara would have been the perfect gal to play Ellie. 

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Claudette Colbert as Ellie. Screenshot by me.

Claudette makes you laugh, but she also makes you sympathise with Ellie because to be fair to her she has never had to fend for herself before in her life. She makes Ellie a tough gal, but also someone who is actually quite vulnerable, kind and almost childlike in a way. I love how she makes Ellie seem as though she is control of her situation even when she is far from it. Ellie also has a few surprises up her sleeve (such as the unforgettable leg reveal scene during the hitchhike sequence.)

Roscoe Karns is hysterical as an annoying and overly talkative bus passenger called Shapeley. Roscoe was always a scene stealer and he steals every scene he is in in this. He also gets to deliver my favourite line in the film: “when a cold mama gets hot, boy, how she sizzles!” 🙂 It cracks me up every time I hear him say it. 

                                         Roscoe Karns as Shapeley. Screenshot by me.

 Shapeley tries to chat Ellie up and has lots of fun at her expense, that is until Peter steps in and rescues her (what a knight in shining armour). Roscoe Karns has long been one of my favourite character actors and he is someone who sadly doesn’t get talked about much these days. I highly recommend you all check him out in some other films, such as Twentieth Century.

My favourite scenes are the following. Ellie and Peter’s first meeting where he falls into her lap. Peter carrying Ellie across the river. Ellie ordering a box of chocolates on the bus and getting angry when Peter cancels the order. Peter pretending to give his boss a real talking to over the phone.Peter and Ellie pretending to be an arguing married couple, I love the accent Ellie puts on in this scene.The bus singalong. Shapeley talking to Ellie on the bus. Ellie giving the little boy her money. The “take me to your island” scene. Ellie stopping traffic by showing her legs. Ellie going for a shower at the motel, only to find she has to queue up to get to the showers! Ellie running across the lawn in her wedding dress.

                                    Peter attempting to hitch a lift. Screenshot by me.

Most unforgettable scene in the film? I’m going to have to go with the hitchhike scene. This scene has become one of the most unforgettable moments in film history. Peter makes a big thing of bragging to Ellie about how easy it will be for him to hitch them a lift. He fails every single time he waves his thumb to passing motorists.  

Ellie grows tired of nobody stopping. She tells him to move over and watch how it’s done. She walks to the edge of the road, waits for a passing car, and then flashes her legs at the driver. A driver comes to a screeching halt when he gets a glimpse of leg. It cracks me up every time I see it.

   Ellie shows Peter how it’s done. Screenshot by me.

What makes the scene even funnier is the look that Clark has on his face in reaction to Ellie’s leg reveal; he makes us see that to Peter, Ellie’s action has come so completely out of the blue and he didn’t think she’d ever do anything like that.

It Happened One Night truly is one of the finest Screwball comedies ever made. The comic bickering between Ellie and Peter is first class. I also bet that depression era audiences got a real kick out of seeing a rich character forced to endure what everyday life was like for the majority of people at the time. This film is timeless, I think the story could still work set in any other era because of the class and life experience difference of the main characters. I also like that the rich characters are not depicted as being nasty or perfect, they have their troubles and flaws just like the rest of us. 

Below are some facts and a legend about the film.

  • Colbert didn’t enjoy making this film, but her performance here won her the Best Actress Oscar in 1935. She was very surprised when she actually won this award. 
  • The film also won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor(Clark Gable) and Best Screenplay. 
  • The scene where Clark Gable takes off his shirt to reveal he is bare chested, led to a large decline in the sale of men’s undershirts from this point on in America.

Are you also a fan of this film? Then please leave your thoughts below.


Never seen this before? Buy your bus ticket, head for the station and get on board. Prepare for laughter, tears and a trip that you won’t forget in a hurry.

 

 

Blogathons, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon

 

Ida banner 1This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ida Lupino. Ida was a hugely talented director, writer, actress and producer who worked during the classic film era in Hollywood.

I wanted to honour this very talented lady by holding a blogathon, so that we could all remember her and get together to discuss her work and legacy.

Twelve wonderful bloggers were kind enough to sign up to take part. I’m very happy to announce that the big day has finally arrived! Stop by throughout the day to read the articles being submitted about Ida. 

Message to none WordPress bloggers: For months now, I’ve not been able to leave any comments on none WordPress sites. So unless your comments sections are set up to accept anonymous comments, I’m afraid that I can’t leave you any comments. 😦  Please check back to this post where I will leave comments for the entries written by those of you not on WordPress. Sorry about this. Thanks for understanding.  

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The Entries

Down These Mean Streets discusses Ida’s sexy and sultry performance in Private Hell 36

 

Caftan Woman discusses the time Ida acted alongside Jean Gabin and Claude Rains in Moontide. 

Hi Paddy. How have I never seen this film before?! Your fine review has me desperate  to check this one out. Gabin, Lupino and Rains were masters of their craft, and I am interested to see how Ida got along performing alongside those two brilliant actors. From what you say she did just fine and was perfectly at home in this role. I like films that are a mix of genres, and this one sounds like a good example of one such film. Ida and the rest of the cast are ensuring that I’m going to try and track this down. Thanks so much for taking part and celebrating Ida. 

 

Reelweegiemidgetreviews shares her views on Ida’s poignant performance in The Twilight Zone episode The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine.

 

MovieMovieBlogBlog tells us about the times that Ida went directing on Gilligan’s Island. 

 

The Midnite Drive-In takes a trip with Ida into The Twilight Zone.

Hi Quiggy. I loved your reviews of Ida’s two TZ episodes. The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine is such a poignant episode, and it has become a great favourite of mine. Such a shame it is often overlooked by some fans of the series. Glad to see you also picked up on the similarities between this episode and Sunset Blvd. Ida sure does a terrific job of conveying Barbara’s sadness, loneliness and desperate desire to be living again in her past, surrounded by friends she loved. We all at some point long to be back in our past, at least Barbara got the chance to return. The Masks is excellent. I love seeing those selfish and nasty people get what is coming to them. In real life shallow, and cruel people often hide behind a mask of being an upstanding person; the reality is usually very different, and in this episode such people are forced to wear their real faces. Ida did a brilliant job directing this.  

 

Old Hollywood Films discusses a film Ida directed, the funny and poignant The Trouble With Angels.

Hi Amanda.Your fine review of one of my favourite films has put me right in the mood to watch this again. Ida did a terrific job directing this one, and I really like the equal balance of comedy and poignancy she managed to achieve as the film goes on. When I watch this again, I will be sure to study Hayley’s performance to see if I detect any similarity to Ida herself as you have (very interesting observation). The Jerry Goldsmith score is beautiful and I never get tired of hearing it. Thanks so much for joining me to celebrate Ida.

 

Classic For A Reason discusses Ida’s role as a determined sister and surrogate mother in The Hard Way

 

PortraitsbyJenni tells us about an Ida Lupino film that made her a fan of classic era cinema. That film is Deep Valley.

 

Taking Up Room discusses Ida’s unforgettable performance in They Drive By Night. 

 

I share my thoughts on one of Ida’s finest directorial efforts The Hitch-Hiker.

 

 

Blogathons, Films I Love

The Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon: The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

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This is my entry for my Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon being held on the 12th of May. There is still time to join if you haven’t already. Click here to sign up and see who is writing about what.

I’m writing about The Hitch-Hiker. This is a film which I consider to be one of Ida Lupino’s finest directorial efforts. I will even go so far as to say I think it may well be the best film that she ever directed.

Ida Lupino was one of the finest actresses of the 1940’s. Ida excelled at playing tough and sexy dames on screen, and she was always a perfect fit in Noir films and thrillers.  By the end of that decade she also proved that she had a great amount of talent behind the camera as well. She branched out and became a producer and a writer.

In 1949, she sat in the directors chair for the first time, after she stepped in to replace the director Elmer Clifton on the film Not Wanted. Clifton had become ill and he couldn’t continue working on the film. Ida finished off the film for him, but out of respect to him she didn’t take a directors screen credit. Her first official film as a director was Never Fear(1950). Between 1950 and 1953, Ida directed three films including Outrage; this is a very powerful drama about a woman dealing with the aftermath of being raped. 

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Gilbert and Roy before their nightmare begins. Screenshot by me.

In 1953, Ida turned her attention to true crime and made The Hitch-Hiker. The film is actually classed as a Noir, but I personally don’t consider it to be a Noir film. I’d class it instead as a crime thriller. I always end up on the edge of my seat whenever I watch this film. Ida made sure that this film was crammed with plenty of tension and suspense. It’s a gritty and suspenseful film featuring memorable performances from three of the finest American character actors of this era.

The film also has quite a timeless look about it. The film is mainly shot in a car, and is also shot on location out in the middle of nowhere. I think this helps to give the audience a sense that this event we’re witnessing could happen anywhere, at any time, and in any era. Show this film at the cinema today, and I am sure it would still work for younger viewers and deliver suspense and thrills. The film also serves as a warning to be very wary of who you pick up on the road. I also like how the film denotes the passing of the days by having the men grow stubble and look sweaty and weary.

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Myers. Screenshot by me.

The film is based upon the real life hitchhiker kill spree of Billy Cook(named Myers in the film). Between 1950 and 1951, Billy Cook murdered six people(including an entire family) between Missouri and California. He was eventually caught and received the death penalty for his crimes. The film was produced through Ida’s production company Filmmakers Inc, which she had set up with her ex-husband, the producer and writer, Collier Young.  As well as directing this film, Ida also co-wrote the screenplay along with Collier Young and Robert L. Joseph.   

Emmett Myers (William Talman)is a sadistic and dangerous man. He has been going around the country hitching rides and then killing the people who pick him up. He then steals their cars and possessions and heads across country. The film begins with us seeing him murder a young couple in their car. We only see his legs and the murders are not depicted graphically, and yet they come across as real and disturbing. We then see him hitch a lift with a lone man. Next we see that man’s dead body dragged to a roadside.

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No escape from Myers. Screenshot by me.

We then meet the heroes and victims of the film. Friends, Gilbert Bowman(Frank Lovejoy)and Roy Collins(Edmond O’Brien, a regular face in Ida’s films)are heading to Mexico for a fishing trip, and maybe a little fun time with ladies of the night. Picking up Myers after he pretends his car had broken down, the pair soon realise that they should have drove straight past him. Once he’s in the car, he pulls a gun on the pair and controls their every move from then on. 

The rest of the film focuses on Gilbert and Roy’s attempts to get away from Myers or try and overpower him and escape. The Police are on the look out for Myers and unbeknown to the three men in the car, the Police are succeeding in getting close to tracking them down. 

The story is a cracking one, but it is the performances from the three leads that linger most in the memory when the film is over.

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Talman. Screenshot by me.

Talman is so frightening as the psychotic Myers. He has a deranged and dead look in his eyes and makes you believe he is a seasoned killer with no remorse for the horrific crimes he commits.

There is a scene where he talks about what led him to be the way he is, and this scene shows us that people are not usually born this way; they become evil and hardhearted due to abuse and mistreatment in their childhood. Myers got a rough hand dealt to him growing up and he snapped and became the way we see him.

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Lovejoy. Screenshot by me.

Lovejoy is excellent as Gilbert. Watch his face because you can see he is conveying his character trying to think up ways to overpower Myers.

I love his reaction when he nearly gets shot in the head but is spared because the gun misfired; the mixed look of fear, relief and disbelief he shows on his face makes for a powerful moment.

 

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O’Brien. Screenshot by me.

O’Brien is equally good as Roy, and I like that he is a bit more openly afraid of what is going on than Gilbert (who it is mentioned had come out of the army, so perhaps his military experience allows him a better control of his fear) is at times. I love the scene where he is told to stand with the can while Myers shoots at him.

There is some interesting photography in this film too. Nicholas Musuraca was the man behind the camera, he did wonders with shadows and lighting in films including The Spiral Staircase and Cat People. Most of the scenes in The Hitch-Hiker take place in the car, with the three men shot in a mid shot (either seen from the front or from behind) throughout, this style of shooting makes these scenes come across as being very claustrophobic. In the scene where Myers forces Gilbert to shoot at Roy, there is also a terrific point of view shot looking down the barrel of a gun that I think looks awesome. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Myers explaining about his eye which never shuts(seriously creepy). The can shooting scene. The opening murders. The scene in the store between Gilbert and the little girl. Myers taking Gilbert and Roy hostage. Roy and Gilbert making a run for it at night.

The film received somewhat mixed reviews upon its release. Now it is rightly regarded as an effective thriller, and is recognised as being a real highpoint in Ida Lupino’s career. Despite all that though I don’t think it has still achieved the praise and fame it actually deserves.  

Ida would continue on as a director throughout the next three decades. She would mainly work in TV (and she became the only woman to direct an episode of The Twilight Zone, an episode called The Masks). She was a woman well ahead of her time and her hard work helped pave the way for future women directors. Such a shame that she didn’t get to direct more films in her career.  

Sadly as of 2018, there are still too few women sitting in the director’s chair on film sets. I can also think of none off the top of my head who multitask in the industry and work as actresses, writers, directors and producers like Ida did. She was a very multi-talented woman, and she proved that she could more than hold her own in a very male dominated industry. The Hitch-Hiker stands as a reminder of her varied skills behind the camera.

What are your thoughts on this film?

 

Blogathons, Silent Film, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon: Day One

The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon has finally arrived! Over the next two days, 11 wonderful bloggers will be submitting their articles celebrating the life and career of Lon Chaney Sr.

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Lon is one of my favourite actors. I have long wanted to do something to celebrate his life and films, but I wasn’t really sure what I should do to celebrate his work.I eventually decided that a blogathon was the way to go. I was delighted when Ruth at Silver Screenings agreed to join me and co-host this Chaney blogathon. 

I will be your blogathon hostess for today. The lovely Ruth will be your blogathon hostess at her site tomorrow. Please submit your articles to us over the next two days. I can’t wait to read your thoughts on Lon and his films.

                                                                    

                                                            Day 1 Entries

Critica Retro does an excellent job of reconstructing the lost Lon Chaney film: The Miracle Man.

Taking Up Room shares her thoughts after watching her first ever Chaney film: The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

Speakeasy reviews a Chaney horror film called The Monster.

Ruth gets to the heart of who Chaney is, with her review of the 2000 documentary: Man Of A Thousand Faces.

I take a look at Lon as a character actor and discuss his portrayal of disabled and disfigured characters

 

Blogathons, Silent Film, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon: The First Character Actor And His Portrayal Of Disabled And Disfigured Characters

Lon 3This is my entry for the blogathon being co-hosted by myself and Ruth at Silver Screenings. I have wanted to do something to honour the talents of Lon Chaney Sr for a while now. I was overjoyed when Ruth agreed to co-host this event with me to honour Lon. 

Lon Chaney Sr is one of my all time favourite actors. He was such an intense actor and his every move on the screen drew and kept your attention. Lon could also convey more to us with a single look than any line of dialogue could ever convey. I also strongly feel that his performances haven’t dated like some others from this era unfortunately have. His performances are very natural and are not theatrical. I consider Lon to have been the first real character actor to have appeared on film.

Lon always acted differently in each role and he played someone different each time he went before the camera. Lon seemed to take great pleasure in acting and in becoming the characters he was given to play. I actually consider him to be the greatest character actor there has ever been in films because he disappeared so completely into the characters he played.   

I often get a bit bored with some actors after a while because they always seem to just play variations of themselves on screen. With Lon however, each performance he gave was different, and in many of his films you can’t even recognise him. The ability to so convincingly disappear into a role is the mark of a good actor or actress in my opinion, if they can convince you of something and make you completely believe they are the characters they are playing then they’ve done a great job. Lon always convinced.

Lon Chaney Sr was known as “The Man Of A Thousand Faces”. He gained this name because he didn’t merely act, he was so convincing in roles that it was as if he really did become the characters that he played on screen. He was also quite often buried beneath layers of extraordinary makeup (which he himself created and applied) but even when he wasn’t made up he remained one of those actors whose face never seemed the same from one role to another. He was also a very emotive actor and he really made audiences feel what his characters were going through on screen.

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Lon as Quasimodo. Screenshot by me.

I really love his makeup for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923). He did a terrific job of creating Quasimodo’s facial deformity. I especially love the swollen eye and the disfigurement on the lower lip.He also put himself (yet again)through great physical discomfort to play this role. It is a very physical role too, and he does lots of climbing and scenes where he is jumping and swinging off of things, he also captures Quasimodo’s physical effort and discomfort when walking. 

I also quite like his makeup in the film Shadows (1922). In this film he made himself up to be a Chinese man called Yen Sin. Now, I find such a casting decision to be very unfortunate (why not hire a real Chinese actor for the role?)but unlike Mickey Rooney’s absolutely atrocious portrayal of a Chinese man in Breakfast At Tiffany’s; Chaney’s portrayal actually comes across as being quite believable. He also does a terrific job through his body language of conveying this characters very humble nature. I also like the stoop and dragging walk that he gave to his character. Lon brought Yen Sin to life and didn’t play the man as a caricature.  

Lon was especially good at portraying characters who were disabled, disfigured or unlucky in love. He played these people in such an empathic way that he made us feel their pain, their desires, their rage, and also their very deep sadness. He could convey so much to us about them through facial expressions or a single glance. Although Lon also played many able bodied characters throughout his career, it is the disabled and disfigured characters he played that he is best remembered for by audiences today. He makes us connect with these characters, and he makes us feel for them and experience what they are going through.

I also admire him greatly for the tremendous effort that he went to in order to portray disabled and disfigured characters. Forget actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Marlon Brando going the extra mile for their roles, because they have nothing on what Lon put himself through when he took on a role!  

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Lon as Blizzard, a double amputee, in The Penalty. Screenshot by me.

For example, in The Penalty (1920) Lon had his legs lifted up behind his back in a special harness. He then inserted his knees into two leather stumps, this then created the effect of him being a double amputee with leg stumps. He taught himself to walk on his knees in a way that appeared natural during his scenes. This was extremely painful for him to endure during filming. I think the pain and discomfort certainly paid off though because it looks like he is a real amputee when you watch this film. 

The Penalty is also an interesting film because of Lon’s character, Blizzard. He is a man who has been left as a double amputee after a surgical mistake. Blizzard has become a powerful criminal and he is (quite understandably)a very bitter man and he dominates those around him. Blizzard is interestingly never presented as being someone left  helpless or dependent on others because of his disability though; he is instead shown as being very self-sufficient, strong, determined and he can even get violent with those who displease him. The film features one of Lon’s best ever performances in my opinion. 

Lon famously created and applied his own makeup for many of the characters he played. He had his own makeup kit which he carried around with him in a fold out leather case. With the help of his makeup, Lon could make himself look old, frail, scarred, rough, ugly or scary. His makeup coupled with the physical way he used his body in roles is what makes him unique as an actor I think. He alone decided how his characters should look and act and he got to create and apply that look. 

One of the most famous of all his makeup achievements was for the 1925 film The Phantom Of The Opera. In this film Lon plays the hideous masked phantom of the opera. The most famous scene in that film is the scene where the phantom is unmasked. He looks so scary that even the camera goes out of focus slightly when he is unmasked, it’s almost as though the camera is afraid of him too. He really did a remarkable job with the makeup I think.

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Lon as The Phantom. Screenshot by me.

I love his makeup for this character because he looks so gaunt and scary. His eyes are sunken and he looks in some ways like a skeleton. His nose is also extremely disfigured and stretched. It is a startling sight when you look at it. I like that he also plays the phantom as being very graceful and athletic physically. Lon makes for quite a commanding screen presence in this role. He is totally terrifying and his hideous makeup helps a great deal. I also like how Lon ensures that we both fear and pity the phantom at various points throughout the film because of how he plays the role.

Lon’s portrayal of the phantom also allows us to see how emotionally tortured this man is. Lon manages to convey to us just how angry and sad the phantom is because he can’t even show his own face in public. 

Lon Chaney Sr was born in Colorado, on April 1st, 1883. His birth name was Leonidas Frank Chaney. He was exposed to disability at an early age because his parents, Emma and Frank, were both deaf mutes. His parents had met and fallen in love at a deaf school that had been founded by Lon’s grandfather in 1874. That school was The Colorado Institute For Mutes. The school still exists today under its current name of The Colorado School For The Deaf And Blind.

Lon could hear and speak normally. He learnt from an early age how to speak to his parents using a combination of sign language, facial expressions and pantomime. These skills served him well later when he became an actor, as he really had the ability to get his characters emotions and intent across to his audience.  

I have no proof of this being the case, but I never the less firmly believe that Lon’s regular access to two disabled people ensured that he grew up to have a greater understanding of, and a great compassion for, people in real life who were disabled and disfigured. To him there was nothing odd or frightening about his parents disability, they were simply his parents who were two people who just happened to be deaf. I feel that in some way he felt he should do what he could to make disability more present in everyday life and to help make people see disabled people for who they are, instead of ignoring them or acting awkwardly around them. 

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Blizzard out and about in The Penalty. Screenshot by me.

When Lon portrayed disabled and disfigured people on screen he played them in a way that showed audiences that these people were just like everyone else. His films also show that the disabled and disfigured can work, create, fall in love, and most importantly can exist along with able bodied people. He also showed the incredible courage of these people in not hiding away. The people he played are often shown as trying their best to get on with their life as normal. Lon also showed us the unique abilities that some disabled people can have, such as using other limbs to compensate for the loss of hands for example, as seen in Lon’s performance as the armless Alonzo in The Unknown

It’s also important for us to remember that in the era that Lon played these characters, disability and disfigurement were very much seen as being taboo subjects for many people. Mentally ill and disabled people were often sadly shut away in homes and were put out of sight and mind. At this time there were also thousands of WW1 veterans returning home from the trenches; these men were suffering from terrible disfigurements and wounds and other people in society were quite shocked and frightened by how they looked.

Lon’s portrayals of the disfigured and disabled brought all these people and their issues right out into the open for everyone to see. I think that making films featuring characters living with these issues was something that was very daring and brave for Lon and the directors to do at the time.   

Another thing Lon Chaney Sr was able to do so brilliantly, was to be able to convey to us the desperate longing of a character who was unlucky in love. In The Unknown, Laugh Clown Laugh, Tell It To The Marines and He Who Gets Slapped, Lon is able to show us just how much these very different men love women who, for various reasons, they can’t have and how they all end up loving these women from afar.  Unrequited love is a difficult pain to bear. I think that Lon does a super job of conveying his characters longing for the love they so desire. Watch his face in these films because the longing and pain over love are written clearly all over his face. 

In 1926, Lon Chaney made a film called Tell It To The Marines. He called it his own personal favourite film from amongst those that he made. In recognition of his remarkable and totally convincing performance as a tough as nails Marine Sergeant, Lon would become the first actor to be made an honorary US Marine. I thought that was so lovely the first time I read about this as that is a great honour to be given indeed. His being awarded like that speaks volumes to me about how much his performance must have resonated with the men who served in the armed forces at the time.   

In The Unholy Three (1930), Lon appeared in what would sadly end up being his final screen role. This would also be his first and only sound film. At the time he made this film he was very ill, and he was diagnosed with the lung cancer which would sadly kill him just a few months later. In this film he also delivered not one but five excellent vocal performances. 

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Lon’s final scene in The Unholy Three. Screenshot by me.

Had Lon lived, then I think he would have done very well as an actor in sound films. I think he could have been quite good in the gangster films of the 1930’s. He had a tough and intense look that would have suited gangster films I think. His voice was very deep and strong and I can see no reason why he couldn’t have easily fit into sound roles. He also demonstrated in his final film that he had plenty of vocal talent as well as his physical acting skills. I’m sure that he would have also done well in radio productions.  

I find his final scene in The Unholy Three to be very moving. As Lon’s character says goodbye to some fellow characters, he is in a way saying goodbye to his film audience too. His final line in the goodbye scene is “That’s all there is to life. Just a little laugh, a little tear”. This line sums up his career to me. Throughout his career Lon made us cry, he made us laugh, and he also showed us what it was to be human (to experience joy, sorrow, pain, tragedy etc)and he made us feel his characters emotions right along with him. Lon showed us that everyone has feelings and that everyone will experience happy and sad times in life. In life you will laugh, you will cry and sometimes you may even do both at the same time. 

Lon is one of my favourite actors and he is someone who I dearly wish I could have met. I find him to be a fascinating individual and also a man who was well ahead of his time. I think he would be quite touched to see how his performances and makeup achievements are still admired and beloved today, over one hundred years after his death.  Thanks for all you achieved, Lon. Thanks also for giving disabled and disfigured characters a presence in cinema.   

What are your thoughts on Lon Chaney Sr?

Join myself and Ruth on the 5th and 6th May. Over these two days we will have more posts for you celebrating the life and career of Lon Chaney Sr.

 

 

 

Horror, Page To Screen

The Exorcist (1973)

Where to begin with this film? For decades The Exorcist has been called the scariest film of all time. It’s not hard to see why it has earned that title. It is a very disturbing and shocking film. It was banned here in the UK for years when it came time to release it on video.  

Upon its release at cinemas people threw up, ran out of the cinema, and broke down in tears because they simply couldn’t handle the horror that they were being subjected to with this film. Nothing like this film had ever been seen before and some people just couldn’t handle what they were seeing up there on that screen. Of course all of these reaction stories gained the film more publicity and audience attendance figures went through the roof.

Why does this film affect people so much? I think part of it is due to the fact that the possessed character is a child. It would be one thing to watch an adult go through what we see in this film, but seeing a child undergoing  such things is very disturbing. At the beginning of the film we also get to see this child as a pure, bubbly, sweet and happy girl, and then when the transformation comes we are shocked because we’ve gotten to know her personality and how she is later is such a shocking change to how she was at the beginning. The transformation is also depicted as happening in a gradual way, I think that makes us more scared of what we are seeing because it is happening in stages and we are not sure quite what we are witnessing or what the final result will be. 

I also think that whether or not you are a religious person, it can’t be denied that the concept of the devil is something that strikes fear into most people. In this film the thing taking over the child claims to be the devil himself and that is very frightening because you think there is no way she can be saved or he stopped. I also have to say that I find it odd that many religious people have been so opposed to this film over the years. The film shows the Catholic church in a positive light and has them as the heroes of the story. The Exorcist certainly is dark, frightening and even disgusting at some points; but it is also without a doubt one of the best good versus evil films that has ever been made.  

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Chris is terrified. Screenshot by me.

Today some younger viewers more accustomed to gory films, say that they find this film to be laughable. The film has been terrifically parodied in the Scary Movie films, which sadly means that people who have seen those films first may laugh at the actual film when they see it. Personally though I don’t see anything in The Exorcist to laugh about. It is a scary film and it messes with the audience in a psychological way quite unlike any other horror film ever has. 

I first saw this film on video with my parents when I was 18 or 19. Me and my dad had never seen this before. My mum had seen it at the cinema upon its original release. Mum said she saw it with her friend who was a Catholic, the film disturbed my mum, but she said it really messed her friend up more and that she was very upset by it. They both left the cinema trying to process what they had seen, and they were freaking out because they now had to walk home in the dark afterwards!  We all found this scary when we watched it together and my dad has refused to watch this again ever since. I’ve managed to watch it again a few times but it is a film that really unsettles me and I don’t know why. Do you know that feeling you get where you’re aware that someone is standing behind you, but you can’t see them? Well, that’s the feeling I get if I watch this on my own. I never feel like this when I watch any other horror film. This film really unsettles me like no other ever has.

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Father Karras. Screenshot by me.

What I like about this film is that it really gets you thinking and it also affects you emotionally. I really feel for the mother and how she reaches her wits end trying to help her daughter; I feel her fear and pain, because we in the audience have been just as distressed by what we’ve witnessed as she has. I also like how it addresses the crisis of faith that Father Karras is undergoing. I imagine this issue must have disturbed some Catholic viewers who didn’t like to accept that even their devout Priests could find their faith being so severely tested at times.

This film also makes you question why do bad things like this happen to good and innocent people? As Father Merrin says (in my favourite scene from the directors cut)”I think that the point is to make us despair. To reject the possibility that God could love us.” This dialogue comes from a scene that William Peter Blatty (the screenwriter, and author of the novel the film is based on)was desperate to be included in the theatrical release. It was a scene with Merrin and Karras taking a break from the exorcism and Karras asks Merrin “Why this girl?”. You see both men are really shook up by what they’ve just seen in the room, and you can see that even the older man is shocked to his core. The director William Friedkin refused to keep the staircase scene in, and it was taken out, along with the ending featuring the detective and the other Priest. This cut final scene shows us that there are still nice things happening in the world, as well as all the bad things. Years later Friedkin put both of these scenes back in as part of the directors cut.

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Father Merrin arrives. Screenshot by me.

The film is based upon the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty. The novel was inspired by a real exorcism case that Blatty heard about. The real exorcism happened to a little boy in America in 1949. In the film version the possessed individual was changed to a twelve year old girl.

Director William Friedkin knew what he was doing when he made this film. He builds up the horror and suspense slowly as the film goes on. He does such a terrific job of focusing equally on the performances, the character development and the horror. He shoots the horror scenes in such a way that you are drawn to the screen, even when you really want to just look away in fear.  I also like that music is used sparingly in this film. All too often in horror films music accompanies the scary moments and sometimes that can take me out of the horror I’m watching, but the lack of music in most scenes in this film makes what is happening on screen seem more real in a way. 

Georgetown, Washington DC. Film actress, Chris MacNeil(Ellen Burstyn)is distraught when her twelve year old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair)begins exhibiting strange and frightening behaviour. Regan says vile and disturbing things, she does unusual things and has no memory of doing them, and her bed (with her on it)keeps violently shaking. Numerous tests and scans are carried out but no medical cause for her behaviour can be found. Regan deteriorates further and further and then she begins to transform physically into something monstrous. Things take an even more terrifying turn when Regan claims she is the devil himself.

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Regan fully transformed. Screenshot by me.

Chris (who isn’t religious)finds herself turning to the church for help. She meets with Jesuit Priest, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller),and she explains the situation to him and begs him to help her. Father Karras agrees to help as he can see how distressed she is. Karras visits Regan, talks with her and also studies her to see if she could be mentally ill. I like this section because in reality it is rare for an exorcism to actually be performed. Mental illness and conditions such as brain tumors or emotional trauma have to be ruled out by doctors and priests before they’ll even contemplate performing an exorcism. If no explanation can be found for the behaviour that is when a priest will step in.

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Regan levitates. Screenshot by me.

Once Karras becomes convinced nothing but possession could be causing her behaviour, he asks for permission from church superiors to go ahead and perform an exorcism. Enter Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), he is a much older priest who has performed several exorcisms around the world. His last encounter took quite a toll on him and weakened his heart considerably. Merrin prepares Karras for what they will be encountering and tries to warn him not to listen to anything the possessed girl says to him. This is easier said than done and Karras will struggle greatly as the two men battle evil for the soul of Regan.

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Father Merrin speaks to Chris. Screenshot by me.

When I first saw this film, I was convinced Sydow was actually an elderly actor. I hadn’t seen him in anything before this and I was astonished to learn later that he was only in his thirties when he played Merrin. The convincing age makeup and his body language and weary expressions really do make you believe he is an old man. Sydow has since become one of my favourite actors and I love his performance in this film a great deal. He gives his character an aura of worldliness, kindness and wisdom; he is certainly distressed by what he sees, but he knows how to keep a lid on his reactions of disgust and distress. Merrin is experienced in these matters and knows how to not let himself become affected by what he hears and sees. He tries to keep an eye on Karras and help him not feel so alone during the exorcism. Sydow’s performance lingers in the mind long after the film has finished. I love how reassuring Merrin is and how he makes Chris (and us) feel reassured and safe when he walks into the MacNeil home.

Jason Miller is moving as the doubt riddled young priest. He conveys that Karras is kind and approachable and tries to do his best, but how he despairs at the horror and violence he sees around him daily. I wish Miller had made more films after this because he is very good here.  

Ellen Burstyn is excellent as the mother who can’t believe what is happening to her daughter. Burstyn lets you feel her fear and sadness. You pity her and admire her for staying with her daughter in spite of what is happening to her. Ellen suffered a bad back injury during a stunt in this film. A stuntman pulled too tightly on a back harness she was wearing for the scene where Regan slaps her and the force of the slap sends her across the room.

Linda Blair gives an impressive performance for one so young. She excels at the creepy facial expressions and terrifying outbursts of her character. She also does such a good job of conveying the innocence and sweetness of Regan in the beginning of the film, this allows us to then become utterly terrified by her personality change later in the film once she gets possessed. Regan’s possession dialogue (which features some vile language and disturbing screams) were dubbed over for Linda by the older actress Mercedes McCambridge(Johnny Guitar and Giant.) Mercedes vocal performance is chilling.  
Lee J. Cobb provides solid support as Lt. Kinderman, a detective whose investigations into a suspicious death leads him to investigate Regan. He becomes convinced Regan is responsible for the case he is investigating.

Dick Smith’s pioneering makeup work on the film is to be applauded. The makeup for Regan’s transformation is horrifying and very effective indeed. Smith did more than just apply makeup though, he mixed makeup with practical effects (such as making welts on Regan rise up on the skin)which made the makeup very realistic indeed.  

My favourite scenes are the following. Chris meeting Karras in the park and begging him for help. Merrin and Karras staircase talk. The shadow of Regan walking past her bedroom window(when she is supposed to be tied to the bed). Merrin arriving at the house and speaking to Chris, I love how gentle and comforting he is with her when they speak. The entire exorcism sequence. The head spinning scenes. Chris going into the attic and getting scared. Cracks appearing on Regan’s bedroom door.

The Exorcist remains a disturbing and scary film decades after its original release. I can think of no other horror film past or present that has ever had an impact on the audience the way this film has. I prefer the theatrical version of the film, but I recommend the directors cut for the staircase scene between Merrin and Karras and for the ending. The directors cut also includes the infamous spider walk sequence.

There are two sequels to this film. Exorcist II: The Heretic is truly one of the worst films ever made. This sequel will have you screaming with laughter though because it is so bad and is not remotely scary. I think I would have been so disappointed if I went to see this at the time it was released thinking I was going to get what the first film gave us. Exorcist III however is as disturbing and thought provoking as the original. George C. Scott portrays Lt. Kinderman this time around and the third film focuses on him investigating some brutal murders which may be being carried out under demonic influence. It also focuses on Kinderman’s friendship with a priest who featured in the original film.

What are your thoughts on this film? Please leave your comments below.

Romance, Thriller

King Kong (1933)

This year is the 85th anniversary of the release of the film King Kong. The film was a huge success when it was released, it made a great deal of money at the box office, and its success saved RKO Studios from falling into bankruptcy.

Besides the spectacular Stop Motion effects that the film features, King Kong is probably best remembered for Fay Wray ripping her lungs out screaming in terror, as she is kidnapped by the giant ape of the title. The film is a great deal of fun. I really like the film but I do have some issues with it which I’ll get to in a bit.

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The name is Kong. King Kong. Screenshot by me.

King Kong really is a milestone in the history of Stop Motion Photography. The very clever process had been around for some years previously, but the way it was used in this film far eclipsed anything that had come before. Next to the work of Ray Harryhausen, I would say that this film is one of most significant and important stop motion films ever made.

Stop Motion Animator Willis O’Brien and his team of miniaturists, technicians and painters all worked marvels on this film. Their work made it seem like King Kong was a real giant ape. I love how they made it seem like Kong was far larger than his natural surroundings, and how he was also larger than any people he comes across and therefore he seems quite intimidating and frightening to them.

I especially love how Willis and his team managed to achieve medium shots of Kong in front of surroundings (be it jungles, cliffs or New York City)and made it look like he was bigger than everything around him. I also liked the shots where they also managed to make it look like he had Fay Wray (looking tiny in comparison to him) trapped in one of his hands. It’s incredible what they managed to achieve on this film in regards to the technical side of making the film.

I also love how they managed to make Kong’s face express a wide range of emotions. Kong is shown as being curious, sad, angry and scared at various points in the film. The emotions of Kong are what make me marvel at this film so much; Kong is made so much more than a mere wow factor special effect, his emotions mean that we connect with him and consider him to be real; therefore we also feel for him as the film goes on adnhe becomes hunted and harmed.

Kong wasn’t the only Stop Motion character in the film either. There are dinosaurs on Kong’s island and they too are made to come alive through the magic of Stop Motion. The scene where Kong fights a flying dinosaur on a cliff edge is one of my favourite scenes. I also like the scene where a man is attacked up a tree by a dinosaur and gets eaten in the process. The dinosaur sequences are just as impressive as the solo Kong shots. The scene where Kong and dinosaur fight in the swamp is a highlight of the film.

King Kong was directed by Merian C. Cooper (who also created the character of Kong)and Ernest B. Schoedsack.  Film director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong)has charted a ship under the command of Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher). The ship will take him and his film crew to the unexplored Skull Island. Denham wants to shoot his new film there. 

 Along for the ride is Denham’s leading lady, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray)a young woman left hungry and desperate due to the Depression. Denham sees potential in this gal and he intends to make her a star. On the trip to the island Ann falls for the  ships First Mate, the rugged and gruff Jack Driscoll(Bruce Cabot).  I love the scenes between them, but I dearly wish we could have had more scenes where we get to witness their relationship developing.

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Ann and Jack share a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

When the ship reaches the island the crew go ashore. There they find a tribe of natives who live in a village near a massive wall and gate built along the side of the jungle which lies beyond. They leave in a hurry when the natives spot them and head towards them. A few hours later some natives come out to the ship and kidnap Ann. She is taken ashore and tied up on the other side of the wall. She is prepared as an offering to the giant ape Kong, who lives in the jungle and is worshipped as some sort of god by the natives. Jack and the others head back to the island to try and rescue her. 

           Ann sees Kong. Screenshot by me.

Kong takes Ann through the jungle (fighting off dinosaurs along the way)to his clifftop home. When they are alone he becomes very curious about her and studies her, prods her with his fingers and handles her so gently. I love the scenes where he studies her because he is so fascinated by her. I also like how he is so gentle with her after we have just seen him kill and destroy in the previous scenes. There is something about Ann that draws him to her, and even though she is terrified of him, he can’t bear to part with her. Is it love on his part? Who knows, but there is certainly something that makes him desperate to keep her with him from now on.

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Ann in Kong’s hand. Screenshot by me.

Jack finds Ann and together they manage to escape from Kong by climbing down a vine. Kong goes crazy and chases them. He breaks through the wall and gate, destroys the native village, kills (in pretty graphic detail)many natives as they flee, and gets closer and closer to Ann and Jack. Down on the beach, the ships crew manage to stun Kong and they sedate him and put on the ship. Kong is then taken back to New York and exhibited as the Eighth Wonder Of The World. Kong breaks loose from the stage of the theatre where he is being held and stumbles around the streets of the big city looking for Ann.

Climbing up the outside of a building he peeks through a window and sees a woman, thinking it is Ann he reaches in and grabs her; this lady isn’t Ann and she is terrified, he throws her and she falls screaming to her death. Kong continues his climb and finds Ann on another floor, he reaches in and grabs her. Then he roams the streets again trying to escape the noise of the city. He also attacks an elevated train and kills several people.  

Then he climbs the Empire State Building and gazes down on the city below. A group of fighter planes are dispatched to shoot him. He places Ann down on the roof of the tower and stands to his full height and tries to grab the passing planes, but he cannot prevent himself from getting shot down and he falls to his death. The Empire State Building sequence is the real highpoint of the film and it has become one of the most famous scenes in film history. There is so much suspense in this scene and the whole thing looks truly epic. 

                                    The Empire State Building finale. Screenshot by me.

On the ground people gather around the giant body of Kong. Denham utters the famous last lines of the film: “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast”. This line sums up the film really, it is one of the best takes on the beauty and the beast story out there. Kong loves Ann in some way, and when he is with her he is gentle and protective instead of ferocious and cruel. He never hurts her either. Kong is the real victim of the film, instead of Ann because he is used and persecuted. Also his affection for Ann wasn’t returned by her (unlike in the Jackson remake, Fay Wray’s Ann is utterly terrified of Kong throughout the film)at any time, so even the person he likes doesn’t return the same feelings he does. Poor old Kong, my heart goes out to him so much as the film goes on.

As a viewer I am always torn about just how I want the famous final scene of this film to go down. On one hand I really pity Kong and I want him to escape and be able to somehow live happily. I always wish that those bullets will miss him as they are fired. On the other hand he has killed many people in the city and done so much damage that at this point he is a major danger, menace, and he has become quite scary too, so part of me does accept and understand why he has to be stopped. This scene still packs quite an emotional punch today I think. The scene is so well put together and paced and it delivers a thrilling and suspenseful finale to the thrill ride we’ve been on. 

As much as I enjoy the film, I also have a number of issues with it too. I really like the effects but I think the characters are very underdeveloped which is a real shame. I think a few more scenes on the boat would have been good to allow us more character development. I also think that the acting is pretty bad, some of the actors yell their dialogue, and some talk in quite a rushed way too. Reicher and Cabot deliver two of the better performances in my opinion, but even they are not as good as they could have been. Fay Wray spends more time screaming than she does delivering lines of dialogue! The cliché depiction of Ann as a helpless damsel in distress really gets on my nerves. All these things really annoy me because I don’t care about any of these characters at all, and I often cringe at most of the scenes featuring humans only. Kong delivers the best performances in the film in my opinion.

There are many films of this decade featuring far better acting and character development than what we see here. I worry that if any young viewers see this as their first foray into classic era film that they may (quite understandably )be put off. This may mean they won’t check out other classic films because they think the acting will be like this in all films from this decade in particular (we know that isn’t the case), and they may take one look at this film and never return to the classic film era again. I think it’s such a shame that the human side of this story got lost along the way somehow. 

A few more scenes with Kong and Ann would have been beneficial too I think so there could have been more interaction between them. I think more scenes between them would have given us a chance to see Kong’s affection for her develop even more. 

I do love how dark and graphic this film is. There are many scenes of Kong and the dinosaurs killing people and eating them. During the code era many of these scenes had to be cut from the film on re-release due to them being deemed to graphic. The scene where Kong takes off some of Ann’s clothes and examines them was also cut because it was sexually suggestive. I’d hate to have seen this butchered version because all those scenes are among the best in the film! The violence of Kong also serves to show how differently he behaves when Ann is around. 

The depiction of the natives of Kong’s Island is also pretty bad. The native characters are even less developed than the main characters are. The natives are also dressed in the cliché native style of grass skirts and bangles. A few scenes that allowed us to get to know them and their culture better couldn’t have hurt. 

85 years on from its release, and I think that King Kong still astounds viewers and has held up pretty well as a very enjoyable adventure film. I will take stop motion and practical effects over fake looking CGI any day of the week because they look so much better. I wish I could have been in the first audiences for this film to have seen how everyone reacted to Kong. 

What are your thoughts on the film?

 

Drama, Films I Love, Noir

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Photo0134Odds Against Tomorrow is directed by Robert Wise. The film was one of two films to be produced by its star Harry Belafonte’s own production company – HarBel Productions. This is a film that I love very much. I recently treated myself and bought it on Blu-ray. I highly recommend that you purchase it in that format as it looks fantastic, there are some great extras on it to also enjoy.

This is a taut, atmospheric and extremely gritty film all about desperate people doing desperate things in order to survive. The film also takes a hard-hitting look at the issue of racism too. The final shot shows the stupidity of racism(and other prejudices) because we are all the same; we are all humans who are trying to live, and when we die it doesn’t matter what skin colour, sexual orientation, gender etc we are, as we are all equally dead and are the same in death. So what the hell are we wasting time fighting and hating one another for when we are alive? As the film goes along we also see that Belafonte and Ryan’s characters are more similar than dissimilar, both in terms of their struggles and prejudices, and also in their mutual run of bad luck.

The film was shot out on location in New York and for me this helps to give the film a very realistic feel. In terms of its atmosphere and look this film reminds me quite a bit of Sweet Smell Of Success. The realistic look of this film coupled with the performances and the characters stories, make this one give off an almost documentary vibe. This story manages to have an impact because it comes across as being so real and true to life. 

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The robbery in progress. Screenshot by me.

Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan both deliver two of the best performances of their respective acting careers. They are both excellent as the two tightly wound men edging ever closer to their respective breaking points.Both Belafonte and Ryan make us care about their characters and convey to us how frustrated they are with their respective situations. Both tell us much about their characters simply by an expression, or by the way they respond to something someone says to them. 

This film was quite daring for the time it was made in because it showed black and white people as being the same. In this film Johnny and Earle are both depicted as having good times and bad, they each have difficulties where their romantic relationships are concerned and they both need money. Despite their mutual hatred for one another, Earle and Johnny are actually very similar men. We can tell these are just two broken, lonely and essentially decent guys just trying to survive and get by doing what they have to. Both men love their wives very much and are trying to make a better life for their families. The film shows us that we are all people and if we look beyond our petty prejudices we will find more similarities with one another than we will find differences.

Dave Burke (Ed Begley)is a bitter ex detective who is living a pretty crummy life. He has planned what sounds like a perfect bank robbery. He just needs two people to help him do the job. He enlists embittered, WW2 veteran and ruthless killer, Earle Slater (Robert Ryan)and heavily in debt, gambling singer Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) to help him. Each man stands to get $50,000 for their part in the robbery. 

The robbery should be pretty simple but Johnny and Earle’s mutual hatred of each other causes tension and chaos. Earle is openly racist and Johnny is not one to stand by and just take that foul rubbish lying down, he returns the hatred, and Earle doesn’t like it one bit. It all leads to a tense and violent finale. 

The main trio of Ryan, Belafonte and Begley are all excellent. Begley is another actor in this who tells you much with just an expression or glance. I believe from the way he reacts to racist comments that his character is not a racist, and that is quite an interesting angle to the film. His character Dave is also shown to be friends with Johnny and they have known each other for years. Dave doesn’t like Earle’s attitude and he is shown to be openly disgusted by Earle’s horrible words and attitudes. I also find Dave an interesting character because he started out on the right side of the law and has now joined the wrong side.

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Johnny puts his anger into his singing. Screenshot by me.

Belafonte plays Johnny as a tightly wound man who has got where he has in the world due to his own skill and determination and nothing else. There are times when he wants to strike out at the  people giving him racial abuse, but he stops himself knowing there will be trouble if he does. I love the nightclub sequence where his eyes show the undisguised hatred he feels for the gangster he is heavily in debt to. Watch Belafonte’s eyes throughout the film, those eyes convey so much about what Johnny is feeling and going through. I also love how the way that Belafonte sings in this film, he shows us that singing is a way for Johnny to be able to release all that rage and distress building up inside of him; Johnny may not be able to take his rage out on the people hurting him, but he sure can take it out on the microphone. 

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Earle. Screenshot by me.

Ryan plays Earle like a ticking time bomb. This man has a temper which is on a real short fuse. He feels less of a man due to his dire situation and thinks money will make him something more. Keep your eye on Ryan throughout and you will see him convey how on edge Earle is, this guy is just waiting to unleash his pent up anger on anyone who happens to be around. In real life Robert Ryan was the exact opposite of the racist Earle, he was a very liberal man and was involved in Civil Rights; the fact that he so convinces as such a despicable character as Earle shows what a gifted actor he was.

Shelley Winters, Kim Hamilton and Gloria Grahame play the dames in the lives of Earle and Johnny. Kim is Ruth, Johnny’s ex wife and the mother of his adored daughter. Ruth loves him but she cannot take his lifestyle, nor can she stand his hatred of white people. Ruth will always love him, but she can’t be with him anymore. Kim is excellent and conveys so much by her facial expressions alone.

Shelley is Earle’s much younger wife Lorry, she loves him dearly and with her he can be vulnerable and himself. It is in scenes with her that we see his tender and gentle nature come out into the open.

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Earle and Lorry share a moment. Screenshot by me.

Gloria Grahame is Helen, a friend of Lorry’s who lives in the flat above theirs. She wants to be taken out of herself and treated as a woman (an escape from the drudgery of her life)she fancies Earle and he knows it. Earle has never cheated on Lorry but one night he and Helen are talking and it’s obvious to them (and certainly to us)that they are going to have sex. The tension between them is electric in this sequence. Sadly the actresses don’t have as much to do on screen as the men do, but they are all excellent and make an impression when they are on screen.

Keep an eye out for Richard Bright (best known for playing Michael’s loyal bodyguard Neri, in The Godfather)as a homosexual henchman of the gangster that Johnny is in debt to. Wayne Rogers (of MASH fame)also has a small role as a soldier who gets on the wrong side of Earle.

I’m always left feeling sorry for those who love and are waiting for these men to return from their date with crime. There’s Earle and Johnny’s wives, and David’s beloved pet dog, the one thing on earth who appears to love him and who is loved in return. They all have my symapthy and I’m always left wondering what happened to them all following the events that end this film.

My favourite scenes are the following. Johnny taking his daughter to the park. Lorry telling Earle he can borrow money from her. Johnny’s funny exchange with the elevator operator. Earle punching the soldier in the bar. The entire final 30 minutes of the film.

This story comes across as just one example of thousands more like it. We are all (whether we are men or women) trying to escape from some pain or perceived weakness, we all want a better life and we are all trying to get by. This film captures the lonelieness and problems of humanity well. It also shows us that racism is so stupid as we are all the same, can’t we make some effort to get along while we are living on this planet?

This film is a real highpoint in the careers of all in the cast and of the director Robert Wise. I’d love to know what you think of this film? Please leave your comments below.

Films I Love, Unsung Classics

George Sanders As Simon Templar

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The Saint’s signature stickman. Screenshot by me.

In 1928, the author Leslie Charteris introduced readers to a man named Simon Templar. Simon was known to the Police and to criminals as The Saint. Simon Templar was a suave and very charming gentleman thief; he was also something of a Robin Hood type figure who stood up to injustice and remained one step ahead of the Police (and of any bad guys) when they pursued him. He was always on the side of good though and he would sometimes team up with the Police to help them stop bad and dangerous criminals. My favourite aspect of the novels (and the TV series adaptation)is Simon’s love/hate relationship with Inspector Teale of Scotland Yard; their banter is hysterical and I love how deep down they really like and respect one another. This friendship is found in the George Sanders films between Simon and Inspector Fernack.

Simon ended up becoming a very popular character with readers. Simon would leave a hand drawn stick figure man with a halo over his head as his signature mark on messages he had penned, or at the site of his own crime scenes. The stick man would feature in the opening of the RKO films starring George Sanders.

Simon first appeared in the novel Meet The Tiger (1928). This first novel also sees the introduction of the character Patricia Holm. Patricia becomes a frequent partner and girlfriend of Simon’s, she pops up in many of the novels but she doesn’t appear in the film adaptions. Charteris carried on writing the Saint novels until 1963. 

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Screenshot by me.

There have been several screen adaptations of The Saint made over the years, for both film and also for television. There was also a 1940’s radio series adaption starring Vincent Price as Simon. Arguably though the most famous screen adaptation of Charteris’s work was the 1960’s British TV series starring Roger Moore as Simon. I totally dig that series(thanks dad for introducing me to Simon Templar and also to a pre-Bond Roger Moore) but I much prefer the 1930’s and 1940’s film series starring George Sanders as The Saint.  

George took over the role of Simon Templar from Louis Hayward, who had played Simon in The Saint In New York (1938).The suave George Sanders was basically the go to actor in Hollywood at this time if you wanted someone to play a cad or villain in your film. As Simon, George got to show that he was actually just as adept at playing good guys and heroes as he was playing villains and heartbreakers. I also like how he plays Simon as a ladies man, but not in any way as a man who breaks the hearts of the women he dates or treats them badly (unlike the many cad characters George so often played in other films).

I was so excited when I first found out that George had played Simon in this film series. When I started to watch these films I became quite angry; I was so angry when I thought about how the studios didn’t let George play the hero more often on screen. What a wasted opportunity! When I read any of the Saint novels now it is George’s face that I see when I’m picturing Simon, he really is the perfect screen version of this character and is every inch the hero.

I quite like George’s other (relatively small number) good guy performances in films like Foreign Correspondent, Lured, The Lodger and The Falcon film series. His performance in the Saint series is a highlight in his career in my opinion. George Sanders perfectly captures Simon Templar’s wit, intellect, charm and (when necessary)his physical toughness. Through his portrayal I always get the sense that his Simon Templar is someone you would love to have as a friend and he would make you feel safe, but you certainly wouldn’t want him as your enemy.

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Simon and Inspector Fernack look for a clue. Screenshot by me.

I really love how George delivers his lines in these films, he shows us that words are Simon’s weapons and he throws them around like knives. George is clearly having a lot of fun during scenes where he fires off quips and insults at people he loathes. I also really love the look George has on his face when he’s playing scenes where Simon sees through another characters lies. I also don’t think you’re ever in doubt that his Simon can more than take care of himself in a fight. He’s also got no hesitation in dishing out a bit of violence to villains who deserve a taste of their own medicine.

George Sanders played Simon Templar between 1939 and 1941. That all ended when RKO studios offered him the role of Gay Laurence in the 1941 film, The Gay Falcon. The Falcon series so closely resembled The Saint series, that Leslie Charteris actually ended up suing RKO Studios for plagiarism. I consider it to be a great shame that George didn’t get to star in any more Saint films. I think he was perfectly suited to the role of Simon and I consider him to be the best Simon Templar ever seen on screen. Given how much The Falcon resembled The Saint, you can watch those films and consider them a continuation of Simon’s adventures. Sanders tired of playing Laurence after only three films, his own brother Tom Conway went on to become that series lead playing Laurence’s brother. The Saint film series later continued on with two more films starring Hugh Sinclair as Simon.

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Simon and some lady friends hit the tennis courts. Screenshot by me.

I love George’s performance the most in The Saint Takes Over, The Saint Strikes Back, and The Saint in Palm Springs. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching any of his Saint films, but these three films in particular have become great favourites. In addition to George’s terrific performance throughout the series, I also want to give a shout out to the terrific supporting cast joining him.

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Jonathan Hale as Inspector Fernack. Screenshot by me.

Jonathan Hale plays Inspector Henry Fernack, friend and frequent professional thorn in Templar’s side. Fernack essentially replaces Simon’s friend, British Inspector Teale, once Templar moves across the pond to the US.

 

Hale is excellent and I think that he and George Sanders work very well together in these films. They are both terrific in comic moments involving the pair of them. I really love Hale in the scene where he has an allergic reaction to some seafood in The Saint Strikes Back. 

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Paul Guilfoyle as Clarence. Screenshot by me.

 

Paul Guilfoyle adds a great deal of comedy to the films as another of Simon’s pals, Clarence ‘Pearly’ Gates. He steals all the scenes he is in. I always look forward to him appearing in scenes, especially if he has scenes with George Sanders.

 

 

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Wendy Barrie. Screenshot by me.

Wendy Barrie pops up in most of Sanders Saint and Falcon films. She isn’t an actress who I’ve ever really been a fan of, but I think she is actually very good in these films. I like her in scenes with Sanders, and I think that they play off one another very well. She usually plays Simon’s love interest.

 

 

The role of Simon Templar could well have been written especially for George Sanders, he fits the role just like a glove. I love his performance and I like the elegant, suave and tough way he plays Simon. His performance as The Saint has become a great favourite of mine. I really enjoy returning to these films to watch his portrayal of Simon. 

These films are great fun and are very enjoyable and quality B pictures. You could do far worse than spend an hour watching one of these films. If you’re a fan of George Sanders then I highly recommend that you check him out in these films. 

Please share your thoughts on Sanders portrayal of Simon Templar. Which of these films are your favourites? I’ll be happy to receive comments about the books too.

Disaster, Films I Love

A Night To Remember (1958)

On April 10th, 1912, the White Star Line passenger ship, R.M.S Titanic set out on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. There were more than two thousand people travelling onboard the ship. The Titanic hit an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic on the evening of the 14th of April. Just a couple of hours later this luxurious ship had sunk to the bottom of the sea. 1523 passengers and crew perished in the freezing sea that night. There were only 705 survivors.  

In the years following this disaster, there have been many other shipping disasters around the world, some have involved even greater numbers of casualties, but even now over 100 years later the Titanic sinking remains the most famous of them all. There is also still a tremendous amount of interest in this disaster and in the ship itself. Why is that? Well, I would say it’s due to several things. The ship was on her maiden voyage when she sank. The Titanic had also been marketed as being an unsinkable ship, and was the biggest and most luxurious ship afloat at the time. This disaster was unthinkable really because of all of that.

                                         Murdoch sees the iceberg. Screenshot by me.

I think the Titanic disaster also lingers in the mind because so many of the men aboard bravely went to their deaths after giving women their place aboard the lifeboats. The steerage passengers were also forcibly kept from getting to the boat deck until the lifeboats were nearly all launched. There were also several moving stories such as the band playing as the ship sank from under them, trying desperately to calm frightened passengers with some soothing music. Mr and Mrs Strauss choosing to die together rather than be parted etc. There were also too few lifeboats aboard to save everyone travelling on that voyage; the lifeboats that were onboard were not filled up to their full passenger capacity, this (along with how the steerage passengers were treated) is one of the most shocking parts of the whole disaster for me.

Director Roy Ward Baker and producer William MacQuitty (who actually saw the Titanic launched when he was a boy) made this film in 1958. Their film is based upon Walter Lord’s non-fiction book about the sinking. Lord researched the disaster and he spoke to the Titanic survivors at length. He then published their accounts of what happened that night in his 1955 book called A Night To Remember.

Baker’s film wasn’t the first film to be made about the Titanic. There had been some earlier films made about this disaster. The first Titanic film was Saved From The Titanic (1912), this film starred Dorothy Gibson who was a real life Titanic survivor. The second was Night and Ice (1912)a German film all about the sinking. The third was Titanic (1953), this features Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck as an estranged married couple travelling on the doomed ship.  I think that Baker’s film is the best screen depiction out there of this disaster. 

Baker’s film accurately captures the behaviour of people on the night and I think it also does a superb job of depicting in great detail the horrors of the sinking. James Cameron’s 1997 film was pretty accurate in terms of recreating the ships opulent interiors more so than this film was, but it is Baker’s film which makes me feel like I am actually there with these people on that cold April night. The real Fourth Officer of the Titanic, Joseph Boxhall, served as the technical advisor for the film throughout the shoot.  

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Passengers try to escape the sea as it crashes through the ship. Screenshot by me.

Baker’s film also does a great job of capturing how frightening and chaotic the sinking was. I like how his film focuses on a variety of different characters from across all three of the class divisions found onboard the ship and shows how they react to the sinking. I also like how the stories of many of the real passengers and crew are focused upon, instead of the film primarily focusing on fictional characters (although the second class couple and the Irish steerage group are fictional characters) like Cameron’s film mainly did. 

I also think that Baker’s film is shot in a way that gives it an almost documentary look. It’s like we’ve somehow dropped in on the real events as they are unfolding and have become helpless onlookers to the disaster. This effect coupled with the superb performances and period recreation, gives the film a realism which Cameron’s version lacks I think.   

Interestingly Baker’s film also depicts the ship as going down in one piece during the sinking. Several witnesses claimed this was what happened, but others claimed it broke apart before going down. When Robert Ballard found the Titanic wreck in 1985, the ship was on the seabed in two pieces. We’ll never know for sure if it broke above the surface, or did so when it hit the seabed, we only know that is in two pieces now. For anyone who believes it broke apart above the surface, try and remember that this film was made before the wreck was discovered and it was based upon the witness testimony recorded at the time.

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The Titanic sinks. Screenshot by me.

A Night To Remember focuses on the experiences of several passengers and crew travelling on the ship. We follow the Titanic from her launch in Southampton and out to France and Ireland to pick up more passengers. We then see the ship move out into the Atlantic travelling on to New York. When the ship hits an iceberg panic and chaos reign as the passengers and crew try escape the sinking ship.

The Titanic bridge crew try to signal a ship that is very close to them (The Californian) for help, but they get no response from that ship. The Titanic wireless message for help is picked up by The Carpathia, but that ship is some hours away from them, but despite their distance they make their way to them as quickly as they can. Once the Titanic sinks, a new hell arrives as the survivors not in lifeboats try to survive in the freezing ocean. 

The character we follow the most in this film is Second Officer Charles Lightoller(Kenneth More). This is one of my favourite films featuring Kenneth More, I think that he is excellent as the proud and heroic officer trying to save lives and keep panic from spreading as the boats are lowered. For the first half of the film Kenneth is really just in a supporting role, but as the film goes on though he ends up becoming the main focal point.

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Kenneth More as Lightoller. Screenshot by me.

There is an incredible cast of British talent in this. Standout performances for me are Kenneth More (as Lightoller, the highest ranking Titanic officer to survive the sinking). Michael Goodliffe(as Thomas Andrews, the designer and builder of the Titanic). Anthony Bushell (as Captain Rostron, the Captain of the rescue ship Carpathia).Ralph Michael(as Mr. Yates, a gambler). Kenneth Griffith (as John Phillips, one of the Titanic’s wireless operators)and Laurence Naismith(as the Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith).A young David McCallum has a supporting role playing wireless operator Harold Bride. James Bond fans should keep their eyes peeled for Desmond Llewelyn(Q)as a steward in the steerage section.

I think Michael Goodliffe gives the best performance in the film as the devastated Mr. Andrews. In the scene where Andrews calmly awaits his fate, Goodliffe has this haunting look on his face that makes you realise that Andrews has mentally and emotionally removed himself from the current situation(he is there in body, but in his mind he has long since gone.)

                                       Andrews prepares for his death. Screenshot by me.

Anyone else catch that Andrews is staring at a painting entitled Approach To The New World? In his situation that title could be seen to refer to the possibility that an afterlife may await him next. Goodliffe is a much underrated actor and I think that A Night To Remember could well be his finest screen hour.                

Several scenes in this always make me cry every time I watch them. The passengers at the stern who start praying in different languages. The old steward finding the little boy and realising they are most likely going to die(as the ship sinks, he hugs the boy and he says to him”we’ll find mummy, we’ll soon find her”). Mr. Andrews persuading the young honeymoon couple to get into a lifeboat or jump overboard. The band playing on as the ship sinks. Mr. Andrews pleading with a young stewardess to put on a lifejacket. Mrs Strauss refusing to leave her husband and get into a boat.

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The steward and the boy. Screenshot by me.

One of the saddest scenes focuses on a first class couple (Honor Blackman and John Merivale)saying goodbye. As the wife gets into a lifeboat with the couples children, the father who has had the truth of the situation from Mr. Andrews, knows full well that he is more than likely never going to see his beloved family ever again.

                             Saying goodbye to his wife and children. Screenshot by me.

I love the look on Merivale’s face as he plays that scene, he shows how scared and brokenhearted this man is and how he is trying to keep a brave face for the sake of his family. It makes me think about the many families that night who had to go through such a parting in reality. 

This film is a powerful depiction of courage and of tragedy. This film is my favourite of all the films out there about this disaster and it has many moments in it that I have found extremely hard to forget. Scenes such as the young couple being killed by the falling funnel. Wailing and screaming beginning to be heard coming from people in the sea after the ship sinks. Andrews preparing himself to die. Ismay(Frank Lawton) breaking down in the lifeboat as he sees the ship sinking. The woman slipping as she gets into a lifeboat and is left hanging between the ship and the lifeboat(terrifying moment). The ship hitting the iceberg and First Officer Murdoch (Richard Leech) desperately trying to change their course. The baker getting drunk to try and protect himself from the effects of the cold water. The passengers and crew at the stern praying and screaming. This is a film that gets under your skin and I find it very difficult to forget about this one once I’ve watched it.

The scale model of the ship and the sinking sequences are the highlight of the film for me. There is no CGI here, all the sinking scenes were done using practical effects and I think the scenes look all the better for that realism. The model and sinking sequences are extremely impressive when viewed today. I think that younger viewers who haven’t seen this film before would be very impressed with how these scenes look.

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The sinking ship. Awesome model work. Screenshot by me.

A real ship called R.M.S Asturias was also used for part of the filming. The ship was in the process of being scrapped at the time. Only one side of the ship remained intact, so MacQuitty got art students to paint that side just how the Titanic had been painted. Mirrors were then used to aid in the filming of scenes supposed to take place on the other side of the ship. Once filming was completed the Asturias was then scrapped. Scenes where lifeboats and people were supposed to be in the sea were shot on location in Ruislip Lido, London. 

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Survivors try to make their way to an overturned lifeboat. Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes are the following. The steerage passengers playing football with the chunks of ice from the iceberg than landed on deck. Ismay in the dining room demonstrating how steady and secure the ship is, only for a woman to knock the table and shake everything. Lightoller trying to persuade the gambler to join him on top of the collapsible boat, only for him to swim off. Andrews speech to the young honeymoon couple. Molly Brown (Tucker McGuire) in the lifeboat saying “you get fresh with me son, and I’ll throw you overboard!”. The Titanic leaving Southampton. The passengers praying on the stern. Mr.Yates passing a young woman getting into a lifeboat a goodbye letter from him for her to mail to his sister. Murdoch’s accusatory look at Ismay when Murdoch finds him sitting in a lifeboat being made ready to lower.

This is an excellent film filled with many powerful performances that have a real emotional impact. I also like how this film shows us the experiences of the engine and boiler room crew on the Titanic. Many of the men in those departments got trapped below deck and were killed as the sea swept through the lower decks. These crewmembers are shown as being among the first to realise the severity of the incident as it unfolds around them. The scenes showing these men trapped below deck are claustrophobic and scary.

I also like that the Californian and Carpathia and what their crews did are included in the film too. In other films and TV adaptations of this disaster these two ships are often not included at all or only feature very briefly. 

I also like how the film depicts the disbelief amongst most passengers and crew that they were in any real danger, even as a notable list starts to be noticed some don’t think anything of it. Slowly people start noticing liquid in glasses tilting to one side and realise that maybe they should heed the warnings to get to the boats. In reality many passengers were very slow to take the incident seriously and get quickly into the lifeboats.  I highly recommend seeing the Blu-ray version of this, the picture is so clear that it looks as though it had been made today. I think it’s a testament to Roy Ward Baker that his film about this disaster is the one that I return to again and again. I do like Cameron’s film, but it was Baker’s version which first got me interested in the real disaster itself and I think his version has a more realistic look to it. I highly recommend seeing both films though.

If you are interested in reading about the real disaster, then I would highly recommend Walter Lord’s book. I’d also recommend reading Titanic: An Illustrated History by Don Lynch.

What are your thoughts on this film?

Films I Love, Romance, Thriller

North By Northwest (1959)

 

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Roger Thornhill tries to hide while on the run. Screenshot by me.

For many people, North By Northwest is considered to be Alfred Hitchcock’s best film. It isn’t hard to see why this one is so beloved and highly regarded by fans and critics alike.

This film contains all of the essential elements of Hitchcock’s films; suspense, thrills, a case of mistaken identity, an innocent person wrongly accused, comedy, and a cool and beautiful blonde woman. In short, I think that this film really is the perfect Alfred Hitchcock package.

I love this film so much. This is a film in which something is always happening and I find it interesting that in this film the characters are always on the move. From the opening titles, designed by Saul Bass (and accompanied by one of Bernard Herrmann’s best scores) the characters are continuously seen being on the move, they never really stop moving until the final scene onboard the train. The film is an exhilarating thrill ride and is a great deal of fun to watch. I also love the photography by Robert Burks. I especially love the overhead shots he does during the scenes where Vandamm questions Roger, and also in the scenes at Vandamm’s mountain house.

I also like how stylish and elegant the film looks overall. The characters are so well dressed and the film transports us back to a bygone era of class, style and elegance. Part of why I love classic films so much is because they show me how past generations dressed and lived. I love the 1950’s glamour and elegance captured by Hitch and featured in this film.

There are also so many interesting and intriguing characters in this film and their presence makes this film one that I like to return to again and again.There’s plenty of twists and turns and you’re never sure who to trust or take at face value. I also love the way these characters all interact with one another throughout the film. Characters perceptions of one another also change as the film goes along and our perception of them changes too.

I like seeing Roger Thornhill start out as being in control and as being a bit self absorbed. As the film goes along he changes when he realises he’s not as in control as he once thought he was. We see him turn into a man who comes to care about someone else, we also see him realise there is more outside of the life he had been leading up to this point in time.

I also like how Roger becomes braver and more heroic as the film goes on. He is scared and confused by what is happening to him at first, but then he takes it in his stride and we see him become less and less like the self absorbed man at the start of the film. I also like how he later willingly puts himself in danger as he rescues the woman he loves from certain death. 

The scenes between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are very playful. Their scenes are filled with sexual tension and a great deal of warmth, fun and affection too. I especially love their dinner chat and flirting on the train. These characters and their relationship with one another are the heart of the film for me.

                                   Roger and Eve flirt over dinner. Screenshot by me.

The growing relationship between Cary and Eva’s characters is fun to watch and I find myself coming to care very much for them both. The scenes between Cary and Eva are a real highlight of the film for me. Their scenes on the train are erotic, tender, interesting and very funny. 

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Roger and Eve get intimate. Screenshot by me.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant)is a Madison Avenue advertising man. He has a very good life, a life that he believes he is in complete control of. His ordered life is turned on its head when he is mistaken for a C.I.A agent, called George Kaplan. Suave spy, Phillip Vandamm (a sinister James Mason) has been aware of Kaplan following him and his group for some time. He wants Kaplan dead. Thornhill can’t persuade him that this is a genuine case of mistaken identity and that he is not the man that Vandamm thinks he is.

So begins a non stop chase across the country. Thornhill tries to avoid Vandamm’s men and also tries to avoid getting arrested by the authorities, after Vandamm frames him for murder. Thornhill also tries to get someone else to believe him that Vandamm is the real villain and is trying to kill him.

Enter the resourceful, mysterious and cool blonde, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Eve helps Thornhill when he gets into difficulty aboard a train that she is travelling on. A genuine bond develops between the two and they begin to fall in love, but can Thornhill trust her or not? I consider Eve to be one of the strongest and most interesting of all of Hitchcock’s leading ladies. 

A C.I.A official, known only as the professor (Leo G. Carroll), finds out about Roger Thornhill’s situation and tries to help him. The professor is also on the Vandamm case and he also has an agent of his own working right under Vandamm’s nose. Who is this agent?

I love how many things in this film actually defy logic when you think about them long enough. Somehow though you actually never seem to realise the illogic when you are watching these moments in the film. It’s only afterwards when you suddenly stop and think about some of the things you’ve just watched. I’m thinking mainly of the scene where Thornhill is forcibly made drunk in order to be got rid of. If Vandamm wants him dead so bad, why not just shoot him to make sure he is dead?

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Roger is about to be forced to drink all of this. Screenshot by me.

The same goes for the famous crop duster sequence, why not just get Roger Thornhill out to that road and shoot him and bury him somewhere, instead of chasing him with a plane? Yet the illogic of these moments actually work when you watch the film. This is a testament to Hitch I think, in that he can make you so invested in the story that certain things don’t strike you as odd until much later. I have to say that I actually think the scene where Thornhill watches that glass of booze getting poured out is quite chilling. Thornhill is going to be forced to drink such large amounts and he has no way of being able to fight back against this. That’s pretty grim when you stop to think about it for a moment.

There’s so much to enjoy about this film. From the great performances throughout, the exciting Bernard Herrmann score, and two of the most famous of all Hitchcock sequences. The crop duster chase and that suspenseful finale up on Mount Rushmore, have both gone on to become two of the most famous scenes in cinema history.

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Roger is sent to the middle of nowhere and is about to encounter a crop duster. Screenshot by me.

The crop duster sequence really builds up suspense and tension. The sequence is perfectly edited together and it is exciting, suspenseful and dramatic throughout. I like that it starts off slow and that Hitch gradually builds up the mystery and suspense. Is Roger Thornhill going to meet someone? Is he going to get attacked or killed? How will that happen if so?

The beginning of the crop duster sequence plays out almost like a silent film with Thornhill out in the middle of nowhere and us seeing what unfolds through his eyes. There is no need for any dialogue in this sequence. Then the crop duster plane is spotted and it slowly turns then it speeds towards him and begins shooting at him. That moment where it swoops towards him and he runs has become one of the most iconic scenes in film history. 

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Roger and Eve in a literal cliffhanger moment. Screenshot by me.

The Mount Rushmore sequence has me on the edge of my seat throughout because it is so suspenseful. I don’t like heights at all, and so the scenes where Roger Thornhill and Eve Kendall slip or nearly fall from that famous mountain really do make me squirm in discomfort and cry out “be careful!”. This sequence is a tie for me with the Statue Of Liberty sequence in Saboteur for the title of most suspenseful Hitchcock scene.

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Eve and Roger climb down the mountain. Screenshot by me.

The scenes in the Mount Rushmore sequence are perfectly matched to Herrmann’s score. I think that the music definitely adds even more tension and an air of danger to that which we already feel watching these moments.

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Eve falls down the mountain. Screenshot by me.

The scene where Eve’s shoe heel snaps and she falls down really makes me watch through my fingers, I really can’t stand that scene. It also makes me laugh that Eve doesn’t seem to have thought that it might be a good idea to take off those high heels before trying to climb down the mountain. LOL. Ah, only in the movies. 😉

The film also has two big twists concerning the identity of two main characters, and that really keeps you trying to figure out just who you can trust, or who you can even take at face value as the film goes on.The film is also very funny in places. I especially love the hysterical auction distraction scene “three thousand, I bid three thousand!”. Cary really gets to show off his comedy skills in this film. Cary reels off many comic lines and he also does one of the funniest and best drunk impressions I’ve ever seen on film. I love the scene where Roger is at the Police station and rings his mum. When he is on the phone to her, he tells her they forcibly made him drunk, then he delivers this sidesplitting line in response to a question from her – “No, they didn’t give me a chaser!” LOL. 🙂 

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The unsupportive Mrs Thornhill. Screenshot by me.

Jessie Royce Landis is absolutely hysterical as Roger’s mother. Mrs. Thornhill doesn’t believe her son’s story of being framed and hunted down and she has quite a few laughs at his expense.

I love the way she silently laughs at him and jokes about his stories. Some supportive mother he has!  Jessie and Cary were actually quite close in age, yet you somehow believe she is his mother in this film. 

 

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Vandamm. Screenshot by me.

James Mason is chilling, smooth and menacing throughout. He plays a character who won’t get his own hands dirty, but who has no qualms about ordering someone to be killed.

You know that he is a nasty piece of work. This is one of James’s greatest villain roles in my opinion. I like how he plays a man of great intelligence who is not to be trusted or underestimated. 

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Leonard. Screenshot by me.

Martin Landau provides solid support as Vandamm’s loyal henchman, Leonard. He lurks in the background of many scenes and you can see him desperate to start hurting Thornhill and other characters. Landau plays this guy as a real sadist.

My favourite scenes are the following. Thornhill and Vandamm’s first meeting, I love where they circle around each other sizing each other up. The Mount Rushmore finale. The entire section aboard the train. Roger and Eve’s dinner talk. The auction scene where Roger does some random bidding so he will get arrested, which then means he can get away from Vandamm. The drunk scene at the police station. Thornhill trying to rescue Eve. Eve and Roger’s goodbye at the train station. The crop duster attack. The scene in the Mount Rushmore restaurant. 

I can happily watch pretty much all of Hitch’s films again and again, but this one in particular is one that I can enjoy over and over again. It is such a good film and so seamlessly put together. It looks amazing too, from the photography, to the elegant clothes and to the use of Technicolor. Be sure to see this one on Blu-ray to see it looking crystal clear and looking its very best.
Are you a fan of this film? Please share your thoughts on the film.