Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 5: Family Plot (1976)

What’s that? A Hitchcock film considered an unsung classic? Believe it or not the answer is yes.On this day back in 1980, we lost one of the best film directors there has ever been in the world. Alfred Hitchcock died aged 80.

For decades Hitch had scared audiences silly and shown us how a suspense film should be made. Hitchcock’s films allowed actors to play roles quite different to what they usually accepted, and that is interesting for me to watch this change as a viewer. His films explored themes like obsession, the innocent wrongly accused, jealousy and mother issues. The majority of his work is highly praised and much discussed.

After reaching a career highpoint with Psycho and The Birds; Hitchcock’s last few films sadly declined in popularity and they are rarely praised the same way his earlier ones are. I agree wholeheartedly that Torn Curtain is pretty bad (apart from that excellent farm sequence) but I don’t agree with all the criticism of the others. I’m not saying all of them are perfect, but I firmly believe they are far from the weak films many consider them to be.

Marnie, Frenzy, Topaz and Family Plot are all films that I feel are worthy of more attention and reassessment.

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George and Blanche endure a scary car ride. Screenshot by me.

I want to talk today about one of my favourite Hitchcock films. That film is Family Plot. It ended up becoming Hitch’s final film and I consider it to be a really grand finale. The film features many of his key components; such as the beautiful blonde woman, thrills, suspense, humour, and a slight supernatural element too. In a way it is a tribute to all that came before. I love it because it is just so much fun.

Blanche Tyler(Barbara Harris)is a con artist posing as a medium. Blanche is hired by the wealthy Julia Rainbird(Cathleen Nesbitt)to help find the son of her dead sister. Julia will give Blanche $10,000 in reward. Blanche and her taxi driver boyfriend, George Lumley(Bruce Dern)jump at the chance to get some cash, so they start investigating and soon uncover something they will wish they hadn’t.

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Karen Black as the mysterious woman in black. Screenshot by me.

Meanwhile, across town, suave jeweller Arthur Adamson(William Devane) and his girlfriend Fran (Karen Black)are kidnapping wealthy people and asking for valuable diamonds as ransom. These two will soon cross paths with Blanche and George.

Harris is perfect as the kooky Blanche, she is a fake, but she acts like her abilities are real much to the amusement of George. Blanche is so loveable so we don’t hate despite the fact that she is conning people in her role as medium. Blanche comes across as someone it would be fun to know, she’s sweet, funny and life with her around wouldn’t be dull.

Bruce Dern is excellent as the cranky taxi driver who is happiest at home with Blanche, enjoying a bottle of beer in front of the TV. He is the Hitch everyman for the 1970’s, stressed from working hard and looking forward to his time off. As their investigation progresses, George pretends to be a Private Detective and he seems to have fun in this role/job change.  This is one of my favourite performances from Dern, and it’s a rare time where he gets to play a character who isn’t a villain or crazy.

William Devane is oily and overly charming. He makes Arthur a very two faced character and a real nasty piece of work. You know this is a guy who only cares about himself.

Karen Black has fun playing two roles. As Adamson’s girlfriend, she is bubbly and is only going along with his schemes to please him, she isn’t doing it because she is a bad person. As the black clad, blonde mystery woman who collects the ransom she is cool and determined.  In a way Fran reminds me of Madeleine/Judy in Vertigo; she is  a woman desperate to be loved, and who makes herself up to look like someone else because her man forces her to. Both Scottie and Arthur seem to have a thing about mystery blondes and ignore the real girl they are forcing to dress up.

Ed Lauter delivers strong support as garage owner Joseph Maloney. He may hold the key to the missing Rainbird heir.

Cathleen Nesbitt is moving as the elderly woman consumed with regret and remorse for her actions all those years ago.

The film also features a sadly much overlooked score by John Williams. The music works so well in the film, and for me is one of the most memorable scores for a Hitchcock film.

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Blanche. Fake medium or the real deal? Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes are the following. George and Blanche bickering in the taxi on the way back from Julia Rainbird’s house. The entire sequence in the cemetery where George is looking at headstones. The first shot of Fran as she walks into the Police station dressed in black and wearing sunglasses. The brakes failing on George and Blanche’s car, leading to terrifying car journey. That wink at the end.

A playful and thrilling film. I consider this one a fitting tribute to all that came before in Hitch’s career.

I also always get a real craving for a burger after watching this. Why? Due to the scene where George and Blanche eat homemade burgers. 

I wish with all my heart that more people would show some love to this film. Any other fans here?

 

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Detective, Horror, Page To Screen

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

Odds are that even if you’ve never see this one, you’ll almost certainly be aware of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Agent Clarice Starling. These two characters are what set this film apart from all the other serial killer films out there.

A film focusing only on the conversations between these two characters alone would be just as good as the film we have now. Lector and Starling’s exchanges are so fascinating to watch, from the way lines are delivered, to witnessing the undeniable growing bond of trust between these two polar opposites.

The film is a favourite of mine not just because of the story, but because of the well written characters of Starling and Lecter. Foster and Hopkins give unforgettable performances(both won an Oscar for their performances in this film)that stay with you long after the film has finished.

Gene Hackman and Michelle Pfeiffer were originally going to play Lecter and Starling, but both ended up turning down these roles. As much as I would have loved to have seen how they both would approached these roles, I am very glad that we got Hopkins and Foster in the end.

Hopkins plays Lecter as seemingly unthreatening, he is polite and charming, and he speaks calmly and quietly. However characters soon learn not to let their guard down around him, as his mind, words, and observation skills are his weapons, and he uses them to devastating effect. He is like a snake, just waiting to strike out and when he does his attack will be swift and deadly.

The first meeting between him and Starling shows us how much information(both concerning what the FBI want from him, and personal details about Starling)he has got from her without her even being aware she has given him this. He is a manipulator and will only tell someone what he chooses to disclose, you can’t force anything out of him.

Foster is the young FBI trainee, keen, dedicated and more than capable of coping fine in a very male dominated profession. Clarice Starling joins Ellen Ripley as one of my favourite tough female screen characters. Starling is a tough, strong and capable woman, who is admirable and brave enough to face horror and evil head on.

Starling finds herself drawn to Lecter and can’t deny that a genuine bond has developed between them despite what he has done and is capable of. Day after day this woman puts herself through hell to try and get vital information to help save a new victim of the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill.

The horror and violence she sees on this case affects her deeply, but she doesn’t shrink away from it because she needs to face it in order to defeat it. I have always considered Starling to be brave because of this, there were times when she could (and we might say should)have just quit and moved onto a less emotionally destructive case, but she didn’t and to do that takes courage.

Behavioural Science Unit Chief, Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) assigns Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Lector is a cannibalistic serial killer, who is one of the most high profile killers behind bars.

Crawford believes Lecter can help the FBI build a profile of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a terrifying killer who is murdering and skinning women. Lecter slowly agrees to share his observations and knowledge with Clarice, but only if she in return tells him deeply personal things about her childhood. Clarice must make a choice between saving Bill’s current victim, Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith)and letting Lecter inside her head. Clarice must also deal with the interference of the smarmy Dr. Chilton(Anthony Heald), the head of the secure prison/hospital where Lecter is imprisoned.

This is a suspenseful film that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It plays with the audience because at times we find ourselves liking Lecter, in spite of what we know him to be and to be capable of doing. Clarice is also in many ways acting as our eyes throughout as we are thrown headfirst into a rabbit hole of horror, manipulation and fear.

I love the scene in the hospital/prison when Clarice first visits. There is a terrific point of view shot when she walks into the guards office leading to the cells of the most dangerous inmates. We are seeing this new environment for the first time as she sees it.

The film is directed by Jonathan Demme, and he does such a good job of bringing the horror and realism of the novel by Thomas Harris to life. The film sticks very closely to the book and I believe the book and film were the first to look inside the mind of a killer, instead of just portraying them as monsters, this story gives us reasons why some people do such horrendous and disturbing things.

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Harris wrote four novels featuring Lecter. The first of these was Red Dragon, which is the prequel to Silence of the Lambs. The novel features the psychologically tortured FBI Agent Will Graham being forced to confront Lecter. They must work together to find the identity of a serial killer who is targeting families.

Out of the novels, I love Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs the most.

Hannibal is a very good story, but I really didn’t like what happened to Clarice at the end. I much prefer the ending seen in Ridley Scott’s film adaptation. Both the novel and the film are very good, but I have never felt that either is the highest point in the series. 

I have never read the book Hannibal Rising. This book deals with Hannibal’s origins and looks at what made him become the man we know. I’m not I want to read this, as I like the bits of info we get on him in the other books. I also think that by taking some of the mystery away from the character, that the character loses something. A bit like when we learnt Darth Vader’s back story in Star Wars, he no longer scares as much when you go back and watch the original trilogy. 

Back to the film. I loved Howard Shore’s atmospheric score. I love the performances of Hopkins, Foster, Smith and Levine. I love the realistic look to the film and how it shows us what Police and agents have to see and go through to find killers and investigate their horrendous crimes.

I wish the film had included more of Crawford though. In the book he is very much a key character, and there is a moving subplot involving his terminally ill wife. Glenn is very good as the driven unit leader. He convinces as a man who has seen so much of this horror that he has learnt to be more unaffected by what he sees in comparison to Starling. On the Blu-ray there are some good deleted scenes involving Crawford that I really wish had been kept in.

I like how we also see what is going on with Catherine (the latest victim) and how despite her fear she tries to stay strong and tries to get control of her situation when she can.

My favourite scenes are the following. All the scenes between Lecter and Clarice, but especially the one where he gives her a towel. Crawford putting a protective and comforting arm around an injured Starling. Catherine trying to get control of her situation by capturing Bill’s dog. The FBI training montages featuring Starling. The finale in the basement. Lecter speaking with Senator Martin (Diane Baker)and telling her “love ya suit”. Clarice telling Lecter about the lambs.

Most unforgettable scenes? The cage breakout and the officers being killed in the process. The cleverly edited doorbell scenes, where we are not sure whether Crawford or Starling have found Bill’s house. Starling cocking her gun when she starts to realise a man she is talking to is more than likely Bill. The finale in the basement where Starling is trying to find her way around in the dark.

Quite a disturbing film in places, but one that is very much a must see. Strong performances, fascinating characters, and a gripping and scary story.

I’d love to get your thoughts on the film and the characters. Any other fans of the novels? Please leave comments about the novels too.

 

Films I Love, Japanese Cinema

Ikiru(1952)

 

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The famous swing scene. Screenshot by me.

Akira Kurosawa is one of my favourite film directors. I admire his films quite a bit. I have several favourites from amongst his work, but it is Ikiru that I consider to be my all time favourite Kurosawa film. It is a film that really impacts  the viewer on an emotional and spiritual level.

This film makes me stop and think about life every time I watch it. This film helps you realise that we should all stop and take in what is around us(the sky, the animals, the flowers etc), work is certainly necessary to pay the bills, but there is more to life than your job.

Treasure life with all your heart. There will come a time when one day you will no longer be here to appreciate life. Afraid that no one will remember you after you have left this earth? Then do something positive to help others while you’re living, that will make sure your name and deeds are remembered after death.

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Watanabe hears the worse news a person can receive. Screenshot by me.

Takashi Shimura gives a performance that really moves me, he makes you feel his characters pain, anguish, and also his eventual peace with his tragic and frightening situation.

Shimura is one of the most expressive actors in film history and I think that his performance here should be used in an acting masterclass. Every look, every expression speaks volumes and affects the viewer as we see the loneliness, pain, joy and fear of this man.

Kanji Watanabe(Takashi Shimura)is an office worker whose greatest pride in life is his work and his work record. He begins to suffer from terrible stomach pains and is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This news really hits him and he is adrift in life.

Watanabe’s work no longer brings him any joy, and he is desperate to find out the secret to enjoying life, he will learn that there is no such secret. He begs a young office worker(Miki Odagiri)to help him understand how to live, she is frightened by him and doesn’t understand what is driving him.

Watanabe doesn’t realise until later that enjoying life doesn’t mean laughing and going out partying; it can simply be nothing more than appreciating a sunset or sunrise, admiring the beauty of flowers, sitting and watching  what’s going on around you etc.

Life is the very world around us, the air we breathe, the snow, the rain etc. He also learns that he can leave something in this world that says he was here, he sets out to build a park for the local children. In one of the most iconic images in film history we see Watanabe sitting quietly on a swing as the snow falls around him, he is sitting quietly in that moment.

My favourite scenes are the following. Watanabe singing the song with tears in his eyes. When he discovers(before the doctors can tell him)that he is suffering from cancer, the fear and realisation in his eyes really gets to me. All the scenes between Watanabe and the young office girl. The ending showing the park being used as intended.

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Watanabe finds some joy. Screenshot by me.

Ikiru is one of the most moving films there has ever been. This film is so real to me(by that I mean I find myself connecting with Watanabe throughout)his pain and emotional journey don’t even seem like a film plot, they seem like a real experience that has been captured on film.

Shimura’s performance here is his very best in my opinion. He really was a one of a kind actor; his face is a kaleidoscope of emotion, and he really lets you see and share his characters grief, fear, and happiness. He makes me want to reach through the screen and hug his character. 

This story should be one that anyone from any country and background can enjoy, as the story is one that is so universal. This film is a human story and makes you realise how precious life is. 

Any other fans? If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it.

Blogathons, Tributes To Classic Stars

The William Holden Blogathon: Holden As An Actor.

 

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Virginie over at The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting this blogathon about William Holden. Check out her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read all the other posts about Holden’s films and life.

Instead of just talking about one specific film or role, I’d like to discuss William as an actor and to talk about two of my favourite performances from him.

William Holden is one of my favourite actors, he is always watchable and I will always check out a film if I see he is in it. I love his earlier films but I much prefer him in his later career. As William’s film career went on I think that his acting talents grew and improved. I think it’s fair to say that in some of his early films he looked a little stiff, uncomfortable even on screen, but what I like is that you can see him grow in confidence as the years and the films go on.

In a way this acting growth makes me like him even more. I can take a journey with him and witness his acting ability grow and improve simply by watching his films. I think he looks more comfortable on screen the older he got. He could effortlessly switch between comic, romantic and dramatic roles. He could play emotionally reserved and devastatingly charming men and make you believe both types of performance.

In the late 1960’s, and into the 1970’s, Holden continued to act on screen often in more supporting roles than lead ones. I especially like his performances in two later dramatic films Network and Breezy. I think it is such a shame that we lost him when he did. I have no doubt he would have continued turning in fine performances for many more years. I think he could have easily settled into a very successful career of supporting/character actor in his later years.

Charming, handsome, smooth and having the gift of making everything he did appear effortless about sums up William Holden in a nutshell. Born on April 17th, 1918, in Illinois, he would go on to become one of the most popular stars of the 1950’s and beyond.

There was much more to Holden than good looks, and a warm smile though; he could give a real depth to his characters with just a small look or expression.

In 1939 he made a name for himself when he starred alongside Barbara Stanwyck in Golden Boy. This boxing classic sees a baby-faced Holden play Joe Bonaparte, a violinist turned boxer. Holden and Stanwyck became good friends, and he was forever grateful to her for persuading producers to take a chance on him. Holden put a lot of heart into this performance and it placed him on the path to stardom.

By the time he was cast in Sunset Blvd (1950), Holden had really honed his acting skills; his character in that Joe Gillis, is torn between his growing feelings for Norma(Gloria Swanson) and what she can offer him(fame, wealth, status)and his desire for a normal life/relationship. Holden does such a good job of letting us really feel what Joe is experiencing inside, and he also crucially doesn’t get overshadowed by the great Gloria Swanson as the deranged Norma.

At times Holden makes us dislike Joe for his treatment of Norma, he comes across as selfish and taking advantage of someone with obvious issues. At other times he makes you really feel for this Joe’s situation and we pity him as much as we do Norma. I’m not sure another actor could have portrayed all of that in quite the same way.

Many other hits followed for him after this. Stalag 17 (for which he won the Best Actor Oscar, and famously delivered one of the shortest ever Oscar speeches, simply saying “Thank You”.) Sabrina, Picnic and The Bridge on the River Kwai. He became one of Hollywood’s most popular actors.

Holden showed his funny side in 1955, when he appeared as himself in an episode of I, Love Lucy. He is clearly having a ball as he gets his own back on Lucy after she stares at him for ages, whilst he is trying to eat lunch in a restaurant. Every time I watch this episode I crack up, I think he showed great comic skills in this and it’s a shame he didn’t get to tap into those skills more often on screen. As funny as the episode is, I think it really does a good job of making us aware how annoyed celebrities must be at being endlessly gawped at or approached when out in public.

Yes, of course you’ll be excited if you come across someone you’re a fan of, but I really don’t agree with approaching them other than at events like backstage signings or film premieres. They are people with lives just like us and they deserve their privacy and space too. This episode shows us how we’d feel if the tables were turned.

I’d like to talk now about two of my all time favourite William Holden performances.

                                                      Sabrina, 1954, directed by Billy Wilder.

 

This was the first of his films that I ever saw. I not only fell in love with the film but it also made me an instant fan of William Holden. I didn’t find myself thinking I had to see more of his work before deciding if I liked him or not. I liked him right away and was determined to check out more of his films to see what else he did.

Audrey Hepburn plays Sabrina Fairchild, the daughter of the chauffer to the wealthy Larrabee family. Sabrina finds herself falling in love with the Larrabee brothers; the elder, serious, businessman, Lionel(Humphrey Bogart)and the handsome, fun loving, playboy youngest brother, David( Holden).

From the first time we see him Holden makes us aware that David is a man who women fall hard for, he doesn’t treat his women badly, but he doesn’t commit to them easily either. Holden makes David a fun and charming character and you like him(despite his seeming indifference to Sabrina earlier in the story.)

I love his reaction when he sees Sabrina(now elegant and wearing Paris fashions)at the train station; slamming on the breaks of his car, reversing and turning on the charm full volume he offers her assistance, all the while being oblivious to who she is. It’s a funny scene and he makes it so.

I love the scene where David tells Lionel some home truths and receives a punch on the nose. It is a powerful moment because David(and Holden)is deadly serious for the first time in the film. He is not joking, he knows the truth and we also see that he has been paying attention to his families business all these years too. I love the scene where he takes charge and we believe he knows what he is doing after all. Holden makes this character development believable and that helps the scene immensely.

I never get tired of watching this charming romantic film. I love all the cast and the story, but Holden’s performance is a big reason this became a favourite.

 

                                           Breezy, 1973, directed by Clint Eastwood.

The story sounds cliché, but the film ends up being anything but. Free spirited Breezy(Kay Lenz)meets a middle aged estate agent, called Frank Harmon(Holden). The two slowly become friends and then slowly begin to fall in love.

There is trouble and heartbreak ahead though. Frank’s friends don’t accept his relationship with Breezy, and Frank himself has doubts that this May-December romance can last. Breezy has no such doubts, she loves Frank and she doesn’t care about their age gap.

Holden is so moving in this. Perfectly conveying his character tentatively allowing himself to fall in love and be vulnerable for the first time in years. Holden lets himself appear nervous, hesitant and vulnerable on screen. I love him in this role because he makes what Frank is going through believable, and you really feel his hesitation and conflicted emotions.

I think it is quite a brave role for him to have taken actually. He isn’t a movie star in this, he is just a regular guy undergoing a transforming event in his life. He really makes you feel what Frank is going through.Holden acts his age here, his character is not a dashing ladies man in control of this situation.

Holden also shows us just how much effort Frank is putting in to try and change his introverted nature.Holden and Lenz work very well together, and there is a real tenderness in their shared intimate moments(both the emotional and the physical scenes.)

This film shows us that love is worth the risk. Who cares what other people think? Enjoy the remaining years of life and have fun. I am always left feeling exactly this at the end of this film. Life may not end up being perfect for this couple, but they’re certainly going to try and have a good time together.

I love Holden in the beach scene where Breezy kisses him for the first time. He is taken aback, then you see something on his face that makes you realise he has fallen for her just as much as she has for him.

This is a film very much deserving of much more recognition. Two fantastic lead performances, an adorable dog with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen, and a poignant and funny story to tell. If you’ve never seen it before, I highly recommend watching it.

 

                                                 Maddy’s Five Favourite William Holden Films

1- Paris When It Sizzles

2- Breezy

3- Golden Boy

4- Sabrina

5- The World Of Suzie Wong

For all the joy Holden brought to his fans, his own life was sadly not filled with much happiness. He became an alcoholic, and he physically aged long before he should have done. He and Audrey Hepburn fell in love when they worked together on Sabrina; Hepburn ended their relationship when she discovered Holden had had a vasectomy, which meant she would not be able to have had children with him(something she wanted more than anything else in life.)He found some joy in the last years of his life though, as the partner of Hart To Hart actress Stephanie Powers.

Holden was a dedicated conservationist and set up the Mount Kenya Game ranch. Following his death, Powers founded The William Holden Wildlife Foundation which is still working today.

On November the 12th, 1981, Holden fell at home and died after hitting his head. His body wasn’t found until four days later.  A very sad end for one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.

Many thanks William for all the entertainment you have given me over the years. You are much missed. R.I.P.

Thanks to everyone for reading my post. Be sure to go and check out all the other entries over on Virginie’s site.

 

 

 

 

 

British Cinema, Second World War

Went The Day Well? (1942)

Quite simply this is one of the best films ever made at Ealing Studios. This film was a rare none comic film from this studio which was best known for its comic output. The film looks at how we act under pressure and threat. It also shows us that we can all make a difference in such circumstances.

For a film from the 40’s, Went The Day Well? contains some extremely graphic and dark scenes. If you’re after a war film that doesn’t shy away from its grim realities, this is one for you to seek out.

The following are just a few of the dark and grim scenes in the film. There’s the scene where a woman murders a German soldier, and in turn she is murdered by his colleague. The scene where members of the home guard are gunned down on the road. The scene where a woman is slapped for not obeying instructions. There is also the scene where the Vicar is shot to death in his church.

One of the most shocking (and for me the most unforgettable)scenes comes near the end of the film. A live grenade is thrown into a room full of children, an older woman notices it, and without a moments hesitation she grabs it and runs from the room with it, only to be blown up.

The body count in this film is very high. Both British and German characters are killed throughout, leading to the battle for the village in the films final minutes. Uplifting WW2 morale this film sure isn’t!

 

The film is based on a story by Graham Greene. I’d say that the film no doubt served as a reminder to British people at the time to remain vigilant to the possible invasion of the enemy.

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Went The Day Well? tells the story of a group of German paratroopers who seize control of the British village of Bramley End. Some of the villagers make an heroic stand against the soldiers, and they try and get word to neighbouring communities of the arrival of the Germans.

Unbeknown to the villagers one of their own is a German sleeper agent. Leslie Banks plays the double crossing Oliver Wilsford with relish. Wilsford is despicable having no qualms about happily ending the lives of people he has lived amongst for years.

As well as a superb story to keep you on the edge of your seat, this film  also has a cracking cast to enjoy.

Marie Loher is excellent as the heroic Mrs. Fraser.

C.V France is perfect casting as the steadfast Vicar, a man willing to risk his own life instead of bowing beneath the jackboot.

Valerie Taylor is Nora, the Vicar’s gentle daughter who will do the unthinkable and resort to violence.

Harry Fowler is George, a young boy who will risk his own life to alert neighbours to the invasion.

A very young Thora Hird is memorable as Ivy. She is shown happily dispatching Germans off with her shotgun.

Muriel George is Mrs. Collins, the brave postmistress who gives a side order of hatchet with her sausages and mash.

A young David Farrar impresses as an ice cold German soldier casually threatening to kill the village children.

The film interestingly depicts everyone in this community working together for the greater good. Whether they be rich or poor, old or young, male or female; the villagers come together and work as one to defeat the enemy.

I also like how for most of the film it is the women who come up with plans of escape, or come up with ways of warning the outside(the eggs with a message on for example). The film also offers some very strong female roles, and shows that the women can be just as brave and capable(if not more so)as the men can.

This is one of my favourite war time films, and it is a film that I consider to be one of the best British films ever made. I also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this film influenced The Eagle Has Landed.

Highly recommended if you’ve never seen it. If you have, please leave your thoughts below.

 

Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 4: They Might Be Giants (1971)

This is a film that really moves me like no other. In this film the lonely find companionship, the unloved find soulmates, the damaged find healing, and individuality is allowed a real chance to shine.

This is a film about what it means to be different. The characters individual natures and quirky behaviour set them apart from the so called norm, and in some cases this leads to the rest of society classing them as mad or dangerous.

Who is worse though? A man believing himself to be Sherlock Holmes, or someone who seems to take great pleasure in locking up people and threatening anyone who doesn’t do as they are told? As long as nobody is hurting anyone else, why do we all have to conform to be like others? Be yourself and just try and cope with the uncontrollable force that is life. Plus, as the funny but deeply frustrating telephone exchange scene demonstrates, there is plenty of madness already affecting the so called normal members of society.

Justin Playfair(George C. Scott)is a judge who retreats into the persona of Sherlock Holmes, after his beloved wife dies. Playfair believes he is Holmes, he has the detectives coldness and famed deduction and observation skills; yet retains Playfair’s obsession with stopping and punishing the evil people of the world.

 

Psychiatrist Mildred Watson(Joanne Woodward) is hired by Playfair’s brother to assess Justin, and if she deems it necessary insist he is committed to a mental hospital. At first Mildred sees him only as a sick man, but soon she gets caught up in his delusions. Holmes/Playfair believes that Moriarty is behind all the evil things happening in New York, from murder to injustice. The detective and the doctor set out to try and locate Moriarty(if indeed he even exists.)

Watson becomes as much of a friend to Holmes/Playfair, as John Watson was to the Holmes in Doyle’s stories. Both Holmes/Playfair and Watson are lonely and damaged in some way, yet each helps the other and finds salvation in their growing bond. Their growing romance is sweet to watch and the date night at Watson’s apartment is  touching, awkward, funny and sweet.

John Barry’s accompanying score is one of his very best. The music really touches your soul and fits the story perfectly.

George C. Scott is at his very best in the duel role of damaged patient and analytical detective. There are moments where he lets us catch a glimpse of Justin, and then the mask of Holmes descends once again as protection from the world.

Joanne Woodward is both funny and moving as the woman of reason drawn into a delusion, and possibly experiencing a break with reality herself.

My favourite scenes are the following. Holmes/Playfair correctly deducing about Watson’s life, the Rudolph Valentino scene, Holmes/Playfair teaching Watson how to walk like a detective, the elusive pimpernel scene between Holmes/Playfair and Peabody(Jack Gilford), Watson leaving and Holmes/Playfair mentioning that she went away in stockened feet, the “Mr. Rathbone” scene, and the hysterical cinema outing (especially when Watson says “good grief, I think they’re growing mushrooms!”)  🙂

Part human tragedy, and part comic look at the craziness that is life and humanity; They Might Be Giants is a very different kind of film than most.

Featuring many memorable performances, and an ending that can be seen in two ways and should lead to much discussion(just what is that light? Train lights? Moriarty actually appearing? Police torches?)

This is one that has long had a place in my heart. If you like Sherlock Holmes then do check this out. If you believe in individuality, then this is a film for you too.

I’ve always thought this plot would make a good series set in the modern day. Each week have Watson trying to help Playfair mentally, and have the pair also getting caught up in real cases brought to Holmes/Playfair’s door through people hearing of his incredible deductive/detective skills. The bond between Watson and Holmes grows, but maybe Watson comes to realise that it would be more harmful to actually make Playfair return to himself.

I don’t think this film will be to the taste of everybody, it is very unusual and quirky. Give it a go though if you like the actors, or like the sound of the film.

As ever, please share your thoughts below.

Films I Love, Indian Cinema, Romance

Charulata(1964)

Charulata is one of my favourite classic era Indian films. I love it because it is a real character piece, and also because it is a poignant and unforgettable story of love, emotional connection and loneliness.

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Madhabi Mukherjee as Charu. Screenshot by me.

The main reason I love this film so much is due to the heartbreaking and powerful lead performance of Madhabi Mukherjee.

She is one of my favourite actresses from all of Indian cinema, she is such an expressive actress and she always manages to convey so much with her eyes alone.

In this film her expressions convey everything that her lonely character is feeling.

The film itself a masterful portrayal of a slowly crumbling marriage, of loneliness, friendship, desire and passion. It is a film about the emotions and desires that we may all have, but that some of us may have to keep hidden away due to the circumstances we find ourselves in at the time these feelings arise.

Directed and written by Satyajit Ray, Charulata(the lonely wife)is set in the scorching heat of Victorian era Calcutta. Bhupati(Sailen Mukherjee)is a newspaper journalist, his long work hours and dedication to his job means that he ends up neglecting his young wife, Charu(Madhabi Mukherjee). The pair still love each other very much, but they have become more like best friends sharing a house, rather than a loving man and wife.

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Charu and Amal talking in the garden. Screenshot by me.

Charu is lonely, she wants more in her life than organising her household, and reading the books and magazines in her home library.

Sensing her loneliness, Bhupati invites his sister and outgoing brother-in-law, Amal(Soumitra Chatterjee)to keep Charu company. Amal shares Charu’s passion for literature and of discussing reading.

As the two spend time discussing literature and writing, they become very close and enjoy spending time together. Charu finds herself falling in love with Amal. Does he return her feelings? Will anything come of this growing love?A heartbreaking story of love that at first appears to be unrequited(truly one of the most difficult things to deal with in life), regret and enjoying life.

This is a film which is a slow build, it really takes its time developing the characters and their situations. This is the type of storytelling I like best. We end up feeling like we are there with the characters sharing their lives. If you like films focusing on the characters, and films which let the actors carry the film, then this will be one for you.

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Charu and Bhupati. Screenshot by me.

Madhabi is superb in the scenes where we see that Charu is falling for Amal, but that he is blind to her growing feelings for him. We see her visibly brighten when he enters a room, or when they read and write in the garden.

Her disappointment and longing is evident on her face and in her body language.

Both Amal and Bhupati notice Charu’s change of behaviour but neither tries to find out what is bothering her. My heart goes out to Charu so much.

My favourite scenes are the following. Amal pushing Charu on the garden swing. Bhupati crying in the carriage when he realises what has happened and that he is partly to blame. Amal writing the letter to Charu. Amal trying to explain his story to Bhupati. Charu and Bhupati on the beach. Amal’s reaction to reading Charu’s story. Charu reading Amal’s letter to her and the storm rushing through the house signalling the arrival of Amal(and symbolising the chaos his stay will cause in this house.)

Strong performances from the lead trio, a moving story, and characters that you can feel for all combine to make this a must see. I also like how Bhupati is not presented as the villain of the piece, you feel for him and like him, just as you do with Amal and Charu. In this respect this film reminds me somewhat of David Lean’s The Passionate Friends.

This one is in my top five Ray films. The other four being The Big City, Nayak: The Hero, The Music Room and The Stranger.

Any other fans of this one? If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it.