British Cinema, Romance

Brief Encounter (1945)

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Undoubtedly this is one of the greatest British classics. Brief Encounter is an intimate romantic drama that has long held a place in my heart. Its story of two married people falling in love, but plagued by feelings of guilt, and having an inner decency which makes them not want to give in to their feelings has been imitated many times since: Falling In Love, The 7.39(TV), and even a remake of Brief Encounter, starring Richard Burton and Sophia Loren. Although enjoyable, none of them will ever come close to this original version in my opinion.

Laura(Celia Johnson)and Alec(Trevor Howard)meet at a railway station, and keep running in to one another. A friendship develops which soon becomes something more. The catch is both are married to someone else, and neither wants to hurt their spouse. Neither can deny their feelings and they will  have to decide whether to begin a relationship or not.

We feel for them both so much, and because they resist their feelings this makes them sympathetic because they can’t deny the attraction, but they will not just go straight ahead and act on it. If they had fell into each others arms and ran off together, I highly doubt this film would have become the classic it is today. I also like how their meetings and growing feelings don’t feel contrived; their meeting feels real and believable.

Brief Encounter is directed by David Lean, and is based on Noel Coward’s stage play, Still Life(which was set entirely in a railway waiting room). Lean wisely expanded the action beyond the train station, giving us glimpses of Laura’s home life with loving, but slightly dull husband (Cyril Raymond), and meetings in town between Alec and Laura.

In many scenes this film could almost be seen as a Silent film, there are many moments where the camera is close in on Celia’s face and we hear her characters thoughts, fantasies, desires in a narration; while all this is going on Celia has to also express what we hear through her expressions, and she does so expertly.

There is also another prominent couple in this film, Albert (Stanley Holloway) and Myrtle(Joyce Carey)the station master and station café manager; they enjoy an open, flirtatious relationship, whilst never seeming to ever become a couple (like Alec and Laura). These scenes also serve as some comic relief in an otherwise serious and emotional story. Margaret Barton is also good as the young café assistant(I believe she is now the only surviving cast member.)

My heart breaks for Alec and Laura every time I watch this; it is obvious that they would be good for one another and they genuinely care for each other. I admire their moral strength though in not giving in to their hearts desire, that only makes me like them and pity them more. Can you imagine how hard it must be to give up what you want most, and just walk away? That takes real strength and determination, not everyone can be so strong in life.

The use of Rachmaninov’s music was an inspired choice, today that music and this film are inseparable in many peoples minds. It fits the film perfectly.

My favourite scenes are the following. Their cinema visits. The scene in the flat. Laura’s fantasy in the train window. The first(and as it turns out) final scene in the café and the “you know what’s happened, don’t you?” scene.

I love this scene for the story and performances, but I also enjoy watching to see a bygone era. This is the England of steam trains and to our modern view some extremely cheap prices for everything, from food to cinema tickets.

A bittersweet love story that stays with you long after the film has finished. I have no doubt that this film will continue to be effective for as long as film survives. I think that is a testament to the abilities of Lean, and all the cast and crew who worked on this.

Please share your thoughts on this timeless love story. Never seen it? Get a copy of this and enjoy this deeply moving film. Be sure to see it on Blu-ray to catch it looking at its best.

Comedy

The Princess and the Pirate (1944)

Bob Hope at his wisecracking best, more visual gags than you can count, and dastardly pirates. Bob Hope has long been one of my favourite screen comics; whether working solo or in his partnership with Bing Crosby, and this film is one of my favourites of his.

Hope plays Sylvester The Great, a travelling actor who ends up aboard a ship attacked by pirates. Sylvester rows for his life along with the beautiful Princess Margaret(Virginia Mayo)who is pursued by the pirates so they can claim ransom for her. Sylvester and Margaret get caught up in a hunt for treasure, are pursued by a feared Pirate Captain known as the Hook(Victor McLaglan),and Sylvester realises he’s beginning to fall for Margaret.

Stopping off at an island town, Sylvester gets work in a tavern performing his act. This sequence is one of my favourites in the film; I crack up every time I see the scene where he’s asking the owner if he can perform there and is told he has to join him in a beer, Hope asks for a short beer and along comes the biggest beer glass you’ve ever seen, and he has to drink it down. Priceless.

Pretty much every line from Hope’s mouth will crack you up. There’s even a mention of his Road To movies with Crosby. I found the ending(which I won’t describe in case some people reading haven’t seen this)totally unexpected, and that only makes it funnier, I also loved Hope breaking the fourth wall in this scene.

It’s fair to say that the rest of the cast are merely there to support Hope, but there are some memorable performances from the supporting cast too; Walter Brennan in particular is a hoot, as a toothless pirate who saves Sylvester from walking the plank.

If you need a laugh you really can’t go wrong with this film. Highly recommended to fans of Bob Hope.

Please share your thoughts on the film.

Oscars

Maddy’s Top 10 Oscar Winners

Tonight, over in America, awards will be received, speeches made and gowns admired or criticised. Yep, it’s Oscar Night.

I’m not much of a fan of this ceremony. To call a film or performance the best implies you have watched all the films and performances that year from around the world, I don’t see how that’s possible. Also, how on earth can you possibly watch, and narrow down all the films made world wide each year to just a handful, and then only award one? Anyway, below I have listed the winners from across the years that I’ve agreed deserved an award.

I’m listing my top 10 Oscar winning films and my top 10 actor and actress Oscar winners.

Maddy’s Top 10 Best Picture Winners

All About Eve

It Happened One Night

Wings

Lawrence of Arabia

The Godfather

Gone With The Wind

The Silence of the Lambs

In The Heat of The Night

The Artist

The Bridge on the River Kwai

 

Maddy’s Top 10 Best Actor Winners

Ben Kingsley – Gandhi

Gregory Peck – To Kill A Mockingbird

George C. Scott – Patton

William Holden – Stalag 17

Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln

Jean Dujardin – The Artist

Alec Guinness – Bridge On The River Kwai

Ray Milland – The Lost Weekend

James Stewart – The Philadelphia Story

Robert De Niro – Raging Bull

 

Maddy’s Top 10 Best Actress Winners

Olivia de Havilland – The Heiress

Vivien Leigh –  A Streetcar Named Desire and Gone With The Wind

Meryl Streep – Sophie’s Choice

Joanne Woodward – Three Faces of Eve

Elizabeth Taylor – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Charlize Theron – Monster

Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Maggie Smith – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Julianne Moore – Still Alice

 

I can’t believe they didn’t win an Oscar. I know some received an honorary award, but that’s not the same as winning for specific roles or films they directed.

Richard Burton

Akira Kurosawa

Glenn Close

Peter O’Toole

Dorothy Dandridge

Judy Garland

Claude Rains

Howard Hawks

Charlie Chaplin

Alfred Hitchcock

Cary Grant

James Mason

 

I would have given Richard Burton the best actor award in 1967. I would have given Dorothy Dandridge or Judy Garland the best actress award in 1955.

 

Share your thoughts on the Oscars, your favourite and least favourite winners over the years,and feel free to include who you think will win the key awards tonight.

I think Natalie Portman has a good chance of getting Best Actress tonight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musicals, Romance

High Society(1956)What A Swell Party This Is…

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Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Louis Armstrong(and his band), Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm, Lydia Reed,John Lund,Sidney Blackmer,Margalo Gillmore and Louis Calhern are the stars of this elegant musical.

This musical version of The Philadelphia Story was released in 1956. I saw this version before seeing the Katherine Hepburn one, and although I love the 1940 film; I think that this version will always be my favourite.

Grace Kelly is perfectly cast as the beautiful, icy, society heiress Tracy Lord. Kelly really makes me feel for Tracy in the poolside scene where she says to fiancé George(John Lund),”I don’t want to be worshipped, I want to be loved”.

Bing Crosby is Tracy’s ex husband, Dexter; the man she will always love but whose human shortcomings she could never accept/understand.

Frank Sinatra is tell it like he sees it news reporter, Mike Connor; who along with good friend and tough gal(and obvious right woman for him)Liz Imbrie(Celeste Holm),is covering Tracy’s wedding to George Kitteridge(John Lund). Tracy must choose between George, Dexter and Mike, which of these men does she really love?

Featuring some cracking music and songs, many courtesy of the legendary Armstrong who plays himself as a friend of Dexter’s(Armstrong also serves as the films narrator/guide.) Well Did You Evah?, My Little One and True Love are favourites of mine.

A beautiful film about beautiful people living the elegant highlife, and proving that all the wealth and glamour in the world can’t create happiness.

This is one that always leaves me in a good mood when I’ve watched it. Funny, romantic and a good remake. Highly recommended if you haven’t seen it.

Please let me know your thoughts on the film if you have seen it.

 

 

Romance, Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 1: Paris When It Sizzles (1963)

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I’d like to start a series of posts about classic films that I think deserve some more attention. I’m starting with this romantic comedy starring William Holden and Audrey Hepburn.

Quite simply, this is one of the best (and funniest)films out there about filmmaking. Focusing this time on the screenwriting process, this is a very funny look at film clichés, how quickly plot ideas can change, and how such ideas come to be in the first place. A clever mix of genres (at one point it is a thriller, whilst another scene finds us firmly in horror territory)and featuring an hysterical cameo from Tony Curtis, as a young method actor featuring in several of the film scenarios. The film is basically one big in joke about the filmmaking process, and about the people who work in the industry.

Featuring some gorgeous photography in and around Paris, lots of humour and romance, and Holden and Hepburn having a great deal of fun, what’s not to like?

Richard Benson (William Holden)is a cynical Hollywood screenwriter, a ladies man, who loves a drink or two, and is living in a Paris apartment. Hired months ago to write a new screenplay, he has in fact been spending his time having fun and hasn’t written a word! With his deadline fast approaching he hires secretary Gabrielle(Audrey Hepburn)to help him begin and finish on time. As he comes up with possible scenarios we actually see his ideas as film scenes on screen, featuring Holden and Hepburn as the various main characters. While all this is going on, Benson is finding himself falling in love with Gabrielle, but does she return his feeling?

Holden has a ball playing various fictional adventurous leading men, and even a charming vampire! Hepburn shows a real gift for comedy as the secretary caught up in imagination, and as various fictional leading ladies.

The vampire grotto sequence is one of my favourites, as a romantic afternoon lunch suddenly takes a turn into the realms of darkness, when Holden’s charming playboy is revealed to be a vampire. It’s funny and ridiculous at the same time and just where is that beautiful waterfall/park they go into? It looks gorgeous, I also like the fountains featured in the final scene.

I also love the scene in the film studio featuring Audrey as a sexy woman of the streets taking a bubble bath on an exotic set.

Great fun, and highly recommended to fans of Holden and Hepburn. This flick deserves to be better known. Spread the word, folks!

If you’re already a fan of this one, please share your thoughts on the film.

 

Tributes To Classic Stars

A Tribute To Jean Harlow

Tough talking, sassy, stands her ground, platinum blonde hair, gifted comedienne, and had one of the most distinctive voices in classic film history. Who are we talking about? The one and only Jean Harlow of course. Born on the 3rd of March, 1911, Jean would go on to become one of the greatest stars of American cinema. Tragically she only lived to 26, dying of kidney failure in June, 1937.

Known affectionately as Baby; Jean was adept at playing tough talking, fun loving dames and she owned every inch of screen she featured in. When she is on screen you don’t look at anyone else. I like how she makes her characters likeable and natural; she makes her characters seem like real people who you could imagine meeting in life. Jean also inspired Marilyn Monroe who was a big fan of her growing up.

My all time favourite Jean Harlow film is Red Headed Woman (1932); this terrific pre-code finds Harlow’s outrageous secretary going after the man she wants no matter what the cost. Jean is clearly having a lot of fun in this role, although her character would have been considered immoral at the time, Jean makes her likeable and you can’t help but admire her tenacity in continuing to go after what she wants. Her character is quite sexually forward for the time period, pre-codes were notoriously daring for the time, but Jean’s character must surely have raised plenty of eyebrows. I love her in the drunk scene, and the “do it again, I like it!” scene. When I first saw this I was pretty surprised by the ending, as this film is one of the few where a ‘bad’ character isn’t punished for their actions.

Red Dust (1932) is another favourite of mine. Her character Vantine is so much fun, and is clearly the perfect match for Clark Gable’s Carson. This film also features what is possibly her most memorable scene, taking an outdoor bath, while really in the nude on set; There is a story that she apparently stood up at the end of the scene and said “this is for the boys in the lab”, I’ve always wanted to believe that story as it sounds so like her, of course it could just be one of those legends that just gets repeated through the years.

My problem with this film (and the 1950’s remake also starring Clark Gable, Mogambo )is that it has always seemed highly unlikely that Gable’s character would ever choose the Mary Astor/ Grace Kelly character over Jean Harlow/Ava Gardner’s.

At the time of Jean’s death she and Thin Man actor William Powell were engaged, and he was devastated by her loss. I like to think that had she lived they would have married and been very happy.

There are many classic actors and actresses that I wish I could have met, Jean is one of them. She packed a lot into her short life, and her performances/characters were quite ahead of their time and therefore still feel relatable and modern today. I love watching her films, and I think I always will. Thank you Baby for all your performances.

I love Jean the most in the following films: Red Headed Woman, Red Dust, Dinner At Eight, Three Wise Girls and Libeled Lady.

Please share your thoughts on Jean. Which of her films do you love the most?

Romance, Second World War

Enchantment (1948)

Saw this little gem for the first time yesterday and really enjoyed it. I’d never heard of it before, and I think it’s one that deserves to be better known. Beginning in London, during the Second World War, the film takes us back in time to the Edwardian era as we follow the experiences of one family.

David Niven plays both the older and younger Rollo, embittered by the tragic end to his romance with his fathers ward, Lark (Teresa Wright). Rollo’s cold hearted, elder sister Selina(Jayne Meadows)is nasty to Lark and puts in place several obstacles to prevent the burgeoning love between her brother and Lark. I have rarely felt such hate towards a film character as I have towards Selina; interfering, controlling and cold, she wants to be the centre of attention at all times and can’t bear it when others are happy. At the same time I was fascinated by why she was that way; at the beginning we learn her mother died when she and her two brothers were young, and she became the mistress of the house(essentially she had to grow up before her time), I also think she resented Lark being brought into her family. As sad as Selina’s childhood may have been it doesn’t excuse such behaviour when she grows up.

Niven is excellent here, hugely likeable(when wasn’t he?)as the dashing, younger Rollo and almost unrecognisable as the older man. Wright is enchanting as the gentle Lark, struggling with her feelings and enduring unpleasantness from Selina for years.Evelyn Keyes and Farley Granger play war time sweethearts with a connection to Rollo’s family.

I really liked that the family home serves as the films narrator, there is that old saying “if only walls could talk”, in this film we get to hear what they would say if they could. The opening really made me think about houses and what goes on inside those four walls, and how connected we are to the home we grew up in.

This is very sad in places, if ever a couple deserved a happy ending it was Rollo and Lark, sadly that just wasn’t to be so.Good performances, beautiful costumes(Wright in particular gets some stunning gowns)and period detail. Highly recommended.

 

 

Classic TV, Science Fiction

The Twilight Zone(1959-1964): Come And Take A Trip With Me

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I love this series! Scary, sad, fascinating, shocking and most of all imaginative. Growing up I had heard and read a lot about this series, but had only ever seen a handful of episodes. That all changed a couple of years ago, when I treated myself to the complete series on Blu-ray(the episodes are beautifully cleaned up). It is now one of my favourite series.

I think this is the most human series I have watched. What I mean by that is it so perfectly captures what it means to be human, our weaknesses, strengths etc.

The series shows the best and worst of humanity. Wouldn’t we all love to offer advice/support to our younger selves? By watching Walking Distance we feel like we have.

By watching No Time Like The Past, we can see that good intentions may not be possible or even advisable. Sometimes our desire for self preservation gets the better of us, watch The Shelter for a prime example of this.

Created by Rod Serling, the series first came into being with a script written by Serling, called The Time Element. This unofficial pilot episode was aired on the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, in November 1958. Martin Balsam(who would also feature in the official series)and William Bendix were the stars. This story of a man who claims to be able to time travel back to Pearl Harbor just before the infamous attack, sets the tone for the series we all know today.

The official series aired a year later and would continue until 1964. The series is primarily classed as Science Fiction, featuring many stories of time travel, alien invaders and alien worlds. I like many of those episodes, but my personal favourites are the creepy ones; episodes such as The Grave, Thirty- Fathom Grave, The Hitch-Hiker(the first episode I ever saw),Deaths-head Revisited and The Howling Man, these all scare and make me think in equal measure, and they are all personal favourites.

The powerful performances and different weekly settings ensured the series was popular, but its real claim to fame was the twist ending to each episode. These endings are the series trademark, we are left often reassessing the previous 25 minutes we have watched once the twists are revealed. I love that no matter how many times I watch an episode the twist still retains the shock factor, even when I know full well what’s coming next.

It is a credit to Serling and his superb writing staff that the series is still as powerful today as it was when it first aired. I also like how you never know where you’ll end up next; one episode could be set on an alien world, another set in the old west, and another in the present(50’s and 60’s). Serling’s series also tackled the big issues of his day, particularly racism, fear of nuclear war and fear of people/places unknown to another set of people; the morality tales still stand up well today.

I can also think of no other series where the creator became such an integral part of their own series(not even Alfred Hitchcock on his anthology series.) Serling provides voice over narration for all episodes and filmed intros and outros to the episodes. The face of Serling is as much a part of the series as the music and twists. In the Blu-ray boxset, Serling’s intros/outros are included in all the episodes.

I consider the first three seasons to be the best. I’m in the minority of fans who actually like season 4(locks self in sealed vault to escape onslaught of season 4 hate.) While I will agree with the main critics that the hour long format here was a mistake; I strongly disagree that the episodes found here are the weakest.

Some of my favourites from this season are The Thirty-Fathom Grave, On Thursday We Leave For Home, Miniature(one of the most moving of all Twilight Zone episodes, featuring a young Robert Duvall),The New Exhibit, Jess-Belle and Printer’s Devil.

I actually think season 5 is the worst, many of the episodes are terrible(what went wrong with the writing here?)There are a few gems to be found though: In Praise of Pip, Nightmare at 20,000 feet(perhaps the best known of all the episodes),An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, Living Doll, Night Call and Stopover in a Quiet Town.

Throughout the series there are fan favourites including: Time Enough At Last, The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street(although I think this would have worked better as a paranoia story, without the alien involvement that we later discover), Nightmare at 20,000 feet, Walking Distance, A Stop At Willoughby and The Odyssey of Flight 33; there are somewhat lesser appreciated gems too, including: The Last Flight, Nick of Time, People Are Alike All Over, One For The Angels, Printer’s Devil, The Hunt, The Passersby, I Shot An Arrrow Into The Air(surely the origins of Serling’s film The Planet of the Apes?),Judgement Night, The Silence, Passage For Trumpet and Mirror Image.

I love how many big film stars feature in this series. I envy classic era audiences who got to tune in weekly not knowing who would appear next. A handful of stars made more than one appearance: Jack Klugman(superb in several deeply moving episodes), Burgess Meredith, William Shatner, Martin Balsam etc. I think the quality of the work is evident given the amount of film stars who agreed to guest star in these episodes.

The series also features one of the most instantly recognisable themes in TV history. Chances are if you’ve never seen an episode, you’ll have heard that intro tune at some point in your life.

I suppose there is also the big question as to just what exactly The Twilight Zone is or means? I take it that it is a phrase that perfectly sums up a the weird and unexplainable events in life. I have often found myself saying “I can’t believe this, it’s like I’m in The Twilight Zone”, when faced with bizarre or horrible situations.

My ten favourite episodes are the following: The Passersby, Walking Distance, The Last Flight, The Grave, Printer’s Devil, The Odyssey of Flight 33, The Changing of the Guard, In Praise of Pip, The Howling Man and One For The Angels.

Similar series which I like include: One Step Beyond and Thriller.

Please share your thoughts on the series. What are your favourite episodes? Never seen an episode? What are you waiting for? The Zone awaits you, just make sure you get a return ticket though, because you wouldn’t want to get stuck there, now would you?

 

 

Detective, Page To Screen

The Saint On Screen: George Sanders as Simon Templar

 

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In 1928, author Leslie Charteris introduced the world to Simon Templar. The suave, charming, gentleman thief was a Robin Hood type figure who was popular with readers.

There have been several screen adaptations of The Saint made over the years, for both film and TV. Arguably his most famous screen outing was in the British TV series starring Roger Moore. I totally love the series(thanks dad for introducing me to Simon Templar and a pre Bond Moore) but I much prefer the 1930’s/40’s film series starring George Sanders. Sanders took over the role of Templar from Louis Hayward.

The suave Sanders was the go to actor if you wanted cads and villains. As Templar he got to show that he was just as adept at playing heroes too. When I read any of the books it is Sanders face I see when picturing Simon. I wish he had gotten the opportunity to play the good guy more often.

Sanders perfectly captures Templar’s wit, intellect, charm and (when necessary)extreme toughness; through his portrayal I always get the sense that his Templar is someone you would love to have as a friend, he would make you feel safe, but you certainly wouldn’t want him as your enemy. I also really love the look Sanders gets when he’s playing scenes where Templar sees through another characters lies. I don’t think your ever in doubt that his Templar can take care of himself in a fight; he’s got no hesitation dishing out a bit of violence to villains who deserve a taste of their own medicine.

Sanders played Templar between 1939 and 1941. That 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 sued RKO for plagiarism. I consider it a great shame that Sanders stopped making the Saint films, I think he was perfectly suited to the role and is the best Templar on screen. Given how much The Falcon resembled The Saint, it seems odd to me that he would have turned down any future appearances as Templar, but I guess he wanted more high profile flicks than these B pictures. Sanders tired of playing Laurence after three films, his own brother Tom Conway became that series lead. The Saint film series continued with two more films starring Hugh Sinclair.

I love Sanders 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 these films. In addition to Sanders terrific performance, I also want to give a shout out to Jonathan Hale as Inspector Fernack, friend and frequent professional thorn in Templar’s side. Fernack essentially replaces Inspector Teale once Templar moves to the US. Paul Guilfoyle adds comedy as Clarence ‘Pearly’ Gates.

Share your thoughts on Sanders portrayal of The Saint. Which of these films are your favourites? I’ll be happy to receive comments about the books too.

 

 

 

Actors Birthdays

Remembering Alan Rickman

Alan would have celebrated his 71st birthday today. We tragically lost this great actor(one of my all time favourites)in January last year. I miss him so much. One of the best actors of his generation. His rich, and instantly recognisable voice was a great asset to him. Perfectly at ease playing droll villains, romantic leads, or tragic characters he was always a welcome sight in any film.

I love him the most in the following films: Snow Cake, Sense and Sensibility, Galaxy Quest,The Harry Potter series, Mesmer, Dogma, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Truly Madly Deeply, Die Hard and The Barchester Chronicles(TV series).

He is an actor who I will always miss, I grew up watching his films and he was someone who was always there. When I first heard that the Potter films were being made, I wished so hard that Alan would be cast as Snape; you cannot begin to imagine how happy I was when I read the news that he had actually joined the cast.

My all time favourite role of his will always be Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. He is heartbreaking as the gentle, kind and long suffering older love interest of Kate Winslet’s passionate, outgoing Marianne. I wish he had played the romantic lead more often.

R.I.P Alan. All sympathies to his family and friends. Happy Birthday, and thanks for so many wonderful film memories.