Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 5: Family Plot (1976)

Photo0088

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.

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 component; 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.

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.

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. Yum!

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

 

Detective, Horror, Page To Screen

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

Photo0026

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 just on the conversations between these two characters would be just as good as this film; their 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 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 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 want’s to, 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 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.

Photo0087

Harris wrote four novels featuring Lecter. The first of these was Red Dragon, which is the prequel to Silence of the Lambs and features the psychologically tortured Agent Will Graham forced to confront Lecter. I love Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs the most. Hannibal is a good story but I didn’t like what happened to Clarice at the end, I much prefer the ending scene in Ridley Scott’s film adaptation.

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 has a subplot involving his terminally ill wife. Glenn is very good as the driven unit leader, 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 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 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.

 

Horror, Page To Screen

Jaws (1975)

Photo0086

This film has been a favourite since I first saw it in my early teens. I love the characters, the story and the locations. John Williams chilling score greatly adds to the film.

I love how the two parts of the film are so different from each other. The first half is pretty much a horror film, the characters are established and the unseen creature from the deep keeps the viewer terrified. The second is all about the growing bond between Quint, Brody and Hooper.

When I first saw this, I was surprised by just how much humour is to be found in the second half; Quint’s outrageous sea songs, Quint and Hooper’s banter and constantly trying to outdo one another, etc. A scene that always cracks me up is Brody’s reaction to Hooper, when he asks him to go right out to edge of the boat so he can get Brody in the foreground for scale as he snaps a picture of the shark; Brody refuses, looks at Hooper as if he is crazy and climbs down to side of the boat(to go back up to the bridge)only to be met with the sight of Quint coming towards him carrying a speargun, this forces the Chief to return to where he just came from.

The trio are so different from each other and watching them overcome their differences to find common ground is as fascinating for me to watch now, as it was when I first watched it years ago. All the characters(but particularly the main trio)are so well written and come across as real people that you can connect to.

Jaws was the film that really started Steven Spielberg on the road to film success. He had impressed with his debut film, Duel, but it was Jaws that made him a household name. The film is based on the novel by Peter Benchley. The film sticks pretty close to the book, but there are some differences to be found. I don’t find the characters as likeable in the book as I do on screen, also there is a subplot between Hooper and Mrs. Brody that I’m glad wasn’t included in the film.

Ironically, Benchley spent the rest of his life trying to undo the bad reputation his novel(and the film)had given Great White Sharks. Benchley became a marine conservationist and wrote books about sharks and the sea, helping people to understand these creatures and their habitat.

Shark attacks are horrific, but they are  extremely rare events. Yet, thanks to the novel and the film, people are sadly wary of the sea and of the creatures that live there.

The film is set in the American coastal town of Amity. The film opens with a young woman going for a moonlight swim in the ocean, what starts off as a beautiful scene(I love the moonlight shining on the water and how peaceful that moment looks)soon turns horrific. The woman is grabbed from beneath the waves by something unseen, she screams as she is pulled and dragged around, finally she is pulled beneath the waves.

The next day her remains are washed up on the beach and the police are alerted. Chief Martin Brody(Roy Scheider)discovers her death was due to a shark attack. He has to try and persuade the mayor(Murray Hamilton)to close the beaches to prevent any further attacks. Vaughn refuses and a young boy is killed very close to the beach in a truly disturbing scene.

As the shark attacks mount up(and become more disturbing and graphic each time)Brody and Vaughn hire experienced local fisherman Quint(Robert Shaw)to hunt and kill the shark. Brody and Quint set out aboard Quint’s ship, The Orca, to search for the shark. They are joined by young shark expert Matt Hooper(Richard Dreyfuss)who comes equipped with technology to help them find the shark. Quint and Hooper rub each other the wrong way right from their first meeting, this leads to many funny scenes as they argue and try and outdo one another.

The trio soon find the shark they seek(or rather the shark finds them)leading to a terrifying finale.

There are so many memorable moments in this film, here are some of my favourites. Quint’s Indianapolis story. The estuary attack. Quint scraping the chalkboard in the meeting to get some attention. Hooper and Quint’s tattoo stories(love the way Dreyfuss laughs in this scene, it cracks me up every time.)Hooper and Brody discovering Ben Gardner’s boat. Hooper’s argument with the mayor and his shocked reaction to what the mayor says. The scene with the two fisherman who almost get attacked by the shark and the “Your going to need a bigger boat” scene.

Scheider, Shaw and Dreyfuss are all at their best in this film. Scheider is the hero of the film, he is an everyman thrown into an unusual situation made worse for him by his fear of the sea. As the film goes on we see him conquer that fear. Brody is my favourite character in this and I love the way Scheider plays him. He is a quiet hero and Scheider does such a good job of portraying him working hard to overcome his fear to be of help in the second half of the film.

Shaw steals every scene he’s in as the hot tempered Quint. He provides many of the films biggest laughs, but he also gets to deliver the most moving and powerful scene in the film, the famous Indianapolis speech. Shaw’s performance in that scene should be used in an acting master class, the way he delivers those lines, the look on his face and in his eyes is what makes that moment so powerful to the viewer.

I also like how it is the laughing Hooper who first gets his laughter under control and realises the significance of the story Quint is about to tell, and after this you can see he has a newfound respect for Quint. It’s also interesting to note that the second half of the film almost plays out like a version of Moby Dick, with Quint in the role of  Captain Ahab.

Dreyfuss is essentially the comic relief role in this film, his laugh always cracks me up because it’s so infectious. There is more to Matt Hooper  than comedy though, he is also a dedicated shark expert, he loves these creatures and is fascinated by them, but he knows what they are capable of and doesn’t underestimate them. He and Quint both know what sharks can do and both know much about them and their habitat.

The film has three sequels. Jaws 2 is ok. It has its moments and some of the original cast return. Avoid 3 and 4, they are in the so bad they are laughable category(joining Exorcist 2 and The Swarm, on the “what were they thinking when they made this?” shelf). 3 has some special effects that look they were lifted straight from an 80’s computer game. 4 features sharks that can roar, target specific humans and do so for revenge(I’m not making this up.)

Going back to the original film. I’m curious to know if this is just me, or if anyone else has ever noticed this? The opening scene to me has many similarities to Creature From The Black Lagoon(1954). Particularly the shot filmed from under the water as the women in both films swim across the surface. Could this film have had an influence on Spielberg and that shot was put in as a homage?

 

I’d love to get your thoughts on this film. Never seen it? Get the DVD right now and watch it.

Musicals, Romance, True Story

The Sound Of Music(1965)

Photo0082

One of the most beloved musicals ever made. Likeable characters, gorgeous scenery,  beautiful costumes and unforgettable songs. This is one I never get tired of watching and doubt that I ever will. It’s funny, moving, romantic and contains so much energy and joy(much like Maria herself).

The film is based on the true story of the Austrian Von Trapp family. The widowed naval captain who fell in love with his children’s governess, Maria. The governess was a Nun who brought joy back into his life(and the lives of his children.) Fleeing the Nazi rule during the Second World War, the family moved to Vermont in America and became famous for their singing.

Robert Wise directed The Sound Of Music. It was filmed out on location in Austria.

Maria(Julie Andrews)is a free spirited young woman, she is happiest walking through the mountains and enjoying life. After joining a convent she finds it difficult to conform to the rules of the disciplined life there. Maria is sent by the Reverend Mother(Peggy Mount)to be the governess to the seven children of widowed naval hero, Captain Georg Von Trapp(Christopher Plummer).

The Captain and Maria don’t get on when they first meet, she is appalled by the rules and strictness of his household, and at how his children don’t have fun. The Captain is annoyed at how she doesn’t obey his instructions. As time goes on he finds himself falling in love with her, and with the way she treats his children and approaches life.

Maria falls in love with the Captain too, but she is confused by her feelings(having never been in a relationship before.) Matters are complicated by the arrival of the elegant and beautiful Baroness (Eleanor Parker)who is also in love with the Captain.

This film is so much fun. It’s one of those where you join in with all the songs, and you’ve watched it so many times you more than likely know all the dialogue too.

Julie Andrews is effervescent on screen, she makes Maria’s positive outlook on life infectious. She is also very good in the scenes where she is confused by her growing feelings for the Captain. You can feel her awkwardness, her embarrassment and the internal agony she is enduring every time she is near him. There is a vulnerability and innocence about her that perfectly fits the role.

Christopher Plummer famously didn’t enjoy making this film, but that certainly doesn’t show in his performance. Developing from strict and controlling Captain, to gentle and fun loving father. The scene where he sings with his children for the first time in years is one of my favourite scenes in the film. After the song has finished he hugs them all, and it is like he is finally seeing his children for the first time in years. I also have to admit to the Captain being my first ever film crush when I was growing up, he is truly one gorgeous man.  🙂

The romantic scenes between Maria and Georg are so tender. My favourite is their dance where they look at each other and both know(whether Maria wants to admit it or not is another matter)that they have fallen in love with each other. It is so well done and convincing, it is almost like we as the viewer have stumbled across a private moment and are intruding upon it. I also love the gazebo scene.

Eleanor Parker has the hard task of essentially playing a wicked stepmother, yet also making you sympathise with her character at times. The Baroness genuinely loves Georg, she is awkward around the children but loves him. Parker steals every scene she is in and gets to wear some of the most beautiful and glamorous gowns in the entire film. I want that gold and white evening dress she wears so much.

Richard Haydn provides comic relief as Max Detweiler. Max is one of the Captain’s closest friends and is referred to by the children as “uncle Max”. It is Max who sees the potential and talent this gifted family has for singing. Although at times he is self centred he redeems himself by helping the family escape. We never learn his fate, but I’m sure it wasn’t good.

The seven child actors were mostly unknown apart from Angela Cartwright (who had starred in the TV series Make Room For Daddy and Lost In Space.) They all work very well together and are funny and adorable in equal measure. My favourites are Charmian Carr(who we sadly lost earlier this year)as Liesl, the eldest of the Von Trapp children. I also love Kim Karath as Gretl, who is the youngest child.

My favourite scenes are the following. A soaking Liesel being discovered climbing into the house at night by Maria. The entire party sequence, especially the scene where Georg makes a verbal stand against the Nazi’s and Maria and Georg dance. Liesl and Rolfe(Daniel Truhitte)dancing in the gazebo. The nuns removing parts from the Nazi’s cars to prevent them from chasing the Von Trapp’s, and confessing this theft to their Reverend Mother. Maria and Georg arguing by the lake about the children. Georg’s reaction to seeing Maria has returned from the convent. The Nuns singing about Maria and how confusing she is to them. Maria and the Reverend Mother discussing Maria’s feelings for the Captain. Maria taking the children out into the town and hills. Liesl and Georg’s duet. The wedding scene.

The Sound of Music is a film that has long held a place in my heart. It’s uplifting, it gives hope that the right romantic partner is out there somewhere for you, and (like in Jane Eyre)proves that true love isn’t about the physical appearance, but about two souls and hearts connecting.

Writing all of this has made me want to go out and dance in my garden, then get some jam and bread, and then settle down and watch this again.

Do you love this one as much as I do? As ever, share your thoughts below.

 

Japanese Cinema

Ikiru(1952)

Photo0081

This is my favourite Akira Kurosawa film. It 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 necessary to pay the bills, but there is more to life than your job.

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

Takashi Shimura gives a performance that really moves me, he makes you feel his characters pain, anguish and eventual peace with his situation. Shimura is one of the most expressive actors in film history and his performance here should be used in an acting masterclass. Every look, every expression speaks volumes and affects the viewer as we see this mans loneliness, pain, joy and fear.

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.

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 seem like a film plot, they seem like a real experience. Shimura’s performance is his very best (in my opinion)he 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.

One of Kurosawa’s best films, this story should be one that anyone, from any country can enjoy as the story is so universal.

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.

 

holden

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 you could see his acting talents grow and improve. 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 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 60’s, and into the 70’s Holden continued to act on screen often in more supporting roles than lead. 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.

Photo0072

This was the first of his films that I ever saw. I not only fell in love with the film, but it 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.

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, young, Breezy(Kay Lenz)meets middle aged estate agent, Frank Harmon(Holden). The two slowly become friends and then both fall in love.

There is trouble and heartbreak ahead though, as Frank’s friends don’t accept his relationship, and Frank himself has doubts that this May-December romance can last. Breezy has no such doubts, she loves Frank and 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, True Story

A Night To Remember (1958)

Photo0076

On this day, in April 1912, the White Star Line passenger ship R.M.S Titanic hit an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic. In just a couple of hours this luxurious ship on her maiden voyage had sunk. 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, but even now, over 100 years later, the Titanic disaster is still the most famous of them all. Why is that?

I would say it’s due to several things. The ship was on her maiden voyage. The Titanic had been marketed as being unsinkable, and was the biggest and most luxurious ship afloat at the time; this disaster was unthinkable really because of all of that.

So many of the men aboard bravely went to their deaths after giving women their place aboard the lifeboats. 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 music. Mr and Mrs Strauss choosing to die together rather than be parted etc.

There were too few lifeboats aboard to save everyone. The ones that were aboard were not filled to capacity. This is one of the most shocking parts of the whole disaster for me.

Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 film is based on Walter Lord’s non-fiction novel about the sinking. Lord spoke to Titanic survivors at length, and he published their accounts in his 1955 novel A Night To Remember.

For me Baker’s film is the best screen depiction out there about this disaster. It accurately captures the behaviour of people on the night, and details 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, but Baker’s film makes us feel like we are there on that cold April night. It does a great job of capturing how frightening and chaotic the sinking was.

Interestingly the film depicts the ship as going down in one piece. Several witnesses claimed this was what happened. 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 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 was based on witness testimony.

A Night To Remember focuses on the experiences of several passengers and crew. We follow the ship from her launch in Southampton, out to France and Ireland, and then out into the Atlantic on to New York.

The character we follow the most in this is Second Officer Charles Lightoller(Kenneth More). This is one of my favourite films featuring More, and 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 More is really just in a supporting role, as the film goes on he becomes the main focus.

There is an incredible cast of British talent in this. Standout performances for me are Kenneth More, Michael Goodliffe(as ships builder Thomas Andrews) , Anthony Bushell (as Captain Rostron, the Captain of the rescue ship The Carpathia),Ralph Michael(as Mr. Yates, a gambler) , Kenneth Griffith (as wireless operator John Phillips)and Laurence Naismith(as Captain 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 Goodliffe gives the best performance 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 removed himself from the current situation(he is there in body, but in mind he has long gone.)Anyone else catch that he 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 A Night To Remember is his finest screen hour.

Several scenes in this always make me cry every time I watch. The passengers at the stern as the ship sinks 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 says “we’ll find mummy, we’ll soon find her”). Mr. Andrews persuading the young honeymoon couple to get to 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.

One of the saddest scenes focuses on a first class couple (Honor Blackman and John Merivale)saying goodbye as she gets into a lifeboat with their children; the father (having had the truth of the situation from Mr. Andrews)knows he is more than likely never going to see his beloved family ever again. I love the look on Merivale’s face as he plays that scene, you know he is scared and brokenhearted.

A powerful depiction of courage and tragedy. This film is my favourite of all the films out there about this disaster, and it has many moments that I have found hard to forget, such as the young couple killed by the falling funnel, Andrews preparing himself to die, Ismay(Frank Lawton) breaking down in the lifeboat after the ship has sunk, the baker getting drunk to try and protect himself from the effects of the cold water, and the passengers at the stern praying and screaming.

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 letter from him for her to mail to his sister. Murdoch’s(Richard Leech) accusatory look to Ismay when Murdoch sees him sitting in a lifeboat.

An excellent film filled with many excellent performances. 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 Baker’s version got me interested in the real disaster itself and his version has a more realistic look to it. I highly recommend seeing both films though.

R.I.P to all the Titanic victims.

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

 

British Cinema, Second World War

Went The Day Well? (1942)

Photo0075

Quite simply, this is one of the best films ever made at Ealing Studios. This film was a rare none comic film from a studio best known for its comic output.

For a film from the 40’s, Went The Day Well? contains some extremely graphic and dark scenes. For instance, there’s the scene where a woman hatchets a German soldier to death and in turn she is murdered by his colleague. The scene where 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 most unforgettable)scenes comes near the end of the film. A live grenade is thrown into a room full of children, an older woman 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.

The film is based on a story by Graham Greene. 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, happily ending the lives of people he has lived amongst for years.

This film has a cracking cast. Marie Loher is excellent as the heroic Mrs. Fraser.

C.V France is excellent as the steadfast Vicar, 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 Ivy, 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 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 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 of warning the outside(the eggs with a message on for example). The film offers some very strong female roles, and shows the women to be just as brave(if not braver)as the men.

One of my favourite war time films, and 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)

Photo0074

This is a film that really moves me like no other. In this, the lonely find companionship, the unloved find soulmates, the damaged find healing and individuality is allowed a 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 Holmes, or Rudolph Valentino? 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? 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 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 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, and the pair also getting caught up in the 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.

As ever, please share your thoughts below.

British Cinema

The Edge Of The World (1937)My first viewing of this early Powell film.

Photo0071

This is a film I have wanted to see for quite a while. I saw it was available on Blu-ray, so I bought it to add to the ever growing film collection. I’m very glad to have this one.

In the 1930’s, the island of St Kilda(in the Hebrides)was evacuated, this followed years of poor crops, illness and mass emigration by many residents. Generations of a community that had lived away from the mainland of Scotland came to an end. The island is now the property of the National Trust.

British director, Michael Powell heard of this story and was fascinated by it. He was inspired to make a film about island life and to look at the struggle of surviving in harsh weather.

Teaming with American producer Joe Rock, Powell set out to try and get permission to film on St Kilda. Sadly permission was refused, but the islanders of Foula(a small island in the Shetlands)welcomed Powell and his crew with open arms. Many of the islanders appeared in the film and the island itself is still inhabited today.

As an extra on the Blu-ray, there is a documentary from the late 70’s, featuring Powell and lead star, John Laurie returning to Foula and meeting islanders they befriended and their families. I loved watching this and it was a treat to see Foula in colour(the film is in black and white.)

The film opens with Andrew Gray(Niall MacGinnis)taking a young couple(Michael Powell and Powell’s then wife, Frankie)to the now uninhabited island of Hirta. As he takes them ashore we find out he used to live their years ago, and in flashback we see what life was like back then and what led to the island being evacuated.

We see that islanders were torn apart as to whether they should remain despite failing crops and a lot of their young people leaving by choice for the mainland; or whether they should stay on the bit of land they know as home and make a go of it.

Andrew was for staying. His best friend Robbie Manson(Eric Berry)wanted to leave and Andrew’s fiancé(and Robbie’s twin sister) Ruth(Belle Chrystall)wanted to stay.

Personal tragedy makes Andrew change his mind and leave.

This film proves why filming on location can be an asset for a film or series. The photography and locations are beautiful, and the real island makes a real impact, with it’s towering cliffs, coves and windswept hills. The island becomes as much a character in the film as the actors do.

I really enjoyed this one, but I do have a couple of issues with it. Firstly I feel this is far too short, it clocks in at just over 1hr 14mins.

I think we could have done with more character development. I didn’t find myself caring too much about the central trios arguments and damaged relationships, because I hadn’t seen their relationship grow. I think Powell should have filmed some childhood sequences where we see why this trio are so close and then move onto the scenes that begin Andrew’s flashback at the beginning.

I also think that besides John Laurie(superb as the gruff Peter Manson, the leader of those wanting to remain)not many of the cast members get their chance to shine. Peter, Andrew and Ruth are the only characters who get much development and that is a real shame. I would have liked to have seen more of Finlay Currie in particular as Andrew’s dad, James Gray.

Those complaints aside, I really enjoyed this film very much. It’s very moving in places and gives you a good glimpse into an isolated communities way of life. It’s a very good film and being filmed on location adds something extra special to it; you can almost feel the wind blowing your hair and feel the sea spray on your face.

There is a very impressive shot at the beginning, where Andrew literally sees the ghosts of his past walk past him when he arrives on the island. This was very well done and makes quite an impression.

There’s some beautiful music, and an almost documentary look to the film. I was quite impressed with Belle Chrystal, she is an actress who I’ve never heard of before this and I’m going to see if she appeared in anything else.

Well worth a look for fans of Powell. Anyone else seen this?