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.

Photo0680
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.

Photo0677
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.

Photo0679
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?

 

Advertisements
Films I Love, Japanese Cinema

Ikiru(1952)

 

Photo0463
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.

Ikiru 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.

The message of Ikiru is to value life and the time you have on earth. The 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.

Are you 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 that your name and deeds are remembered after death. 

Photo0460
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.

Photo0461
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.

 

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, 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.

Photo1373
William in Stalag 17. Screenshot by me.

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 unless it is 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).

Photo1203
William dances with Audrey Hepburn in the film Sabrina. Screenshot by me.

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.

William 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.

Photo1374
William as Frank in the film Breezy. Screenshot by me.

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.William acts his age here, his character is not a dashing ladies man in control of this situation. 

William 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Photo1105
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.

Photo1102
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 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.

Photo1103
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.