British Cinema, Drama

The Chalk Garden (1964)

This is a film that I never get tired of seeing, it is filled with excellent performances from everyone in the cast, and features some very memorable characters. This film is all about human emotions,  damaged people and the secrets we harbour. This is one to check out if you enjoy watching fine acting.

It was a few years ago when I first saw this film, I was completely blown away at the time by the performance of Hayley Mills. She still impresses me each time I watch this one.

 

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Laurel. Screenshot by me.

Hayley at this point in her career had been acting for several years, and she had always been very natural on screen. I think she truly outdid herself in this film though. Hayley perfectly captured just how emotionally messed up and defensive her character, Laurel is. Hayley steals every scene she is in, often with just a look or by her body language in scenes. Laurel explodes with long contained pain and anger several times during the film, and Hayley makes you feel every tear shed, every scream and every angry word.

 

Hayley lets us see that deep down though Laurel is just a little girl desperate to be loved. Laurel puts up a defensive front to protect herself. I’m also fascinated by the behaviour of her character, and how this girl finds weakness in others and hurts others so that she can feel like she is in control of some aspect of her life.

The Chalk Garden tells the story of Laurel (Hayley Mills), who is a deeply troubled teenager. Laurel has scared away a succession of governesses, after she drove them to their wits end. Laurel does things to shock and scare people, she also makes up stories (sometimes half truths)and has a nasty habit of prying into the lives of those around her.

 

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Miss Madrigal. Screenshot by me.

The latest governess to take charge of Laurel is Miss Madrigal (Deborah Kerr) she is an enigmatic, no nonsense woman, and she sees straight through Laurel’s troubled exterior to the damaged girl beneath. Laurel’s father is dead, and she is estranged from her mother (Elizabeth Sellars)who she blames for her fathers death. Laurel lives with her elderly grandmother (Edith Evans) and the loyal and compassionate family butler, Maitland (John Mills).

 

Maitland cares for Laurel and her grandmother very much, and he can also see straight through Laurel’s actions and behaviour to the fragile girl inside. Laurel’s bad behaviour and needling don’t affect Maitland anymore as he has grown used to her. He offers Miss Madrigal support and guidance in how to deal with Laurel.

Miss Madrigal also takes charge of the garden of the home (the chalk garden of the title)to see if she can bring it to life (much the same as she must do with Laurel).

Laurel begins to suspect Miss Madrigal is not all she seems. Soon a damaging revelation will emerge which makes Laurel see the consequences of her own actions and behaviour.

I love watching the slowly developing bond and trust grow between Hayley and Deborah’s characters, the growth and change in their relationship is beautifully portrayed by both actresses. At first Laurel is openly hostile towards her, then she begins to like her, then she becomes fascinated by her. Madrigal knows the only way to reach Laurel is to be honest with her, and she knows better than to try and forcibly change the girl.

 

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Maitland. Screenshot by me.

I also love the growing bond between Maitland and Madrigal. It is inferred that he admires and likes her, and that he is possibly falling in love with her. Madrigal certainly likes him but it’s not clear if she would ever open her heart to him. I love all the scenes between John and Deborah and I think they worked very well together.

 

My favourite pairing in the film is Laurel and Maitland. Hayley and her father John Mills made several films together in which they co-starred alongside one another, this is my favourite of their screen pairings. I love the bickering between Maitland and Laurel. I also like how Maitland knows Laurel’s secret. What is her secret? She is just a lonely and sad little girl, she acts older than her years, and she acts mean and tough, but she is really anything but. Maitland knows this fact long before others do and he sticks with the girl and supports her as he can.

I love the scene where Maitland catches Laurel talking to her doll. She is so disgusted that he sees her in a (in her view)vulnerable and weak moment; Maitland knows all too well that she thinks that, you can tell by the way he looks at her throughout this scene. It is a touching moment when you see Laurel (for the first time)as just a lonely child.

While it is Hayley who steals all the scenes, the adults in the cast are equally brilliant too.

Deborah gives one of her best performances here, as a woman harbouring great pain and troubles of her own. Deborah’s performance is all in the eyes and in what is not said aloud, as much as in what is said. She makes Madrigal strong and really piques your interest about this woman and her secrets.

Edith Evans is very good as the strong woman who is at odds with her own daughter  and granddaughter. In Madrigal she finds someone who challenges her and tells her a few home truths.

John Mills is marvellous as the quiet and wise Maitland. No fool and no pushover, this guy doesn’t take Laurel’s mean temper lightly, but he lets her get at him because he knows she needs to vent and take things out on someone. He puts up with what she does to him, but he won’t stand idly by and see her do the same to Madrigal.

Elizabeth Sellars doesn’t have much to do as Laurel’s elegant, absentee mother, but she lets you feel her characters frustration and anger with her own mother in a key scene.

The great Felix Aylmer appears briefly as a man who knows the truth about Madrigal. Aylmer was one of the great British character actors and it really is a treat to see him here.

My favourite scenes are the following. The doll scene. Laurel and Madrigal painting up on the cliffs. Maitland and Madrigal’s talk in the Library. Laurel breaking down on the beach. All the scenes between Maitland and  Laurel. Madrigal and Laurel playing tennis and playing the question and answer game. Laurel stuck in the tree. Maitland buying Madrigal a bolt for the door. The revelation about Madrigal.

I consider this to be one of the best British films, and it’s certainly a real gem in the careers of  all of the cast members. Any other fans of this one? I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.

 

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Book Chat

Maddy’s Favourite Books About Classic Era Film Stars: Part 1

Not sure if any of you out there have read any of these books or not. If not I highly recommend them.

These are books that I have grown to love a great deal. I love knowing more about classic stars and their lives. These books certainly let you in to these peoples lives and give you a more rounded view of them.

 

Photo0164 Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing by Lee Server

I love this one because this book lets you see the real woman behind the sex symbol. Ava is an actress who I really like because she didn’t hide herself. Ava was honest, down to earth, fun, passionate and generous; what you saw with Ava was what you got. She was kind to people, and would happily hang out with crew and public; instead of just solely associating with her fellow actors. Ava was a free spirt who would be who she wanted to be, not who others thought she should be. I admire that about her.

This is a fascinating read. Server has clearly done some thorough research to make for a very detailed and interesting read indeed. These pages bring Ava to life. This is one that it is difficult to put down once you start reading. There are some lovely photos of Ava too.

 

Photo0166Bring On The Empty Horses by David Niven

This one is a sheer delight from start to finish. David Niven (always loveable on and off screen)had a real gift for telling witty stories. In this collection of stories we hear about life in Hollywood during the 30’s and later.

David Niven shares stories of his life with fellow acting friends, and actors who he knew socially. We learn a  great deal about the classic stars, and we certainly have a lot of fun whilst doing so. Reading the pages it’s like David is talking directly to you sharing his memories and opinions of his time in Hollywood. A must read. I never get tired of rereading this one.

 

Photo0165The Movie Greats by Barry Norman

The late British film critic, Barry Norman, writes passionately here about various classic stars including Marilyn Monroe, Peter Finch and Edward G. Robinson. He gives us an insight into the private lives and issues of these people. After reading this I feel like I know the people he is writing about. Another must read for classic era film fans. Again, this is another book that you can tell was well researched beforehand. A pleasure to read.

I have many more favourites which I’ll share with you soon. Have you read any of these? What do you think of them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

The Duo Double Feature Blogathon: William Holden and Audrey Hepburn

Movie Duo blogathonThe Flapper Dame and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies are hosting this blogathon all about screen duos who only ever made two films together. Be sure to visit their sites to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I’m writing about one of my favourite screen couples. Who are they? That couple are William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. They were two of the most popular American film stars of the 1950’s and 60’s, and they sure did have some amazing chemistry with one another. You would have thought that they would have been paired together more regularly, sadly that was just not to be. 

They only ended up working together twice in their entire careers. I like them so much because they have such incredible chemistry, they really make you feel and believe their respective characters growing feelings for one another. There are some romantic screen teams out there that fit together like hands in gloves; Myrna Loy and William Powell, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson etc. I consider William and Audrey to be one of those types of screen couples.

The couple were first paired together in Sabrina (1954). This charming romantic comedy tells the story of a chauffer’s daughter (Audrey Hepburn) who is in love with two wealthy brothers (William Holden and Humphrey Bogart). They both love her in return, but which of the two will end up capturing her heart forever? If you haven’t seen the film I won’t spoil the final outcome for you.

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Audrey and William share a dance in Sabrina. Screenshot by me.

Audrey and William shine in their shared scenes together here. There is a real warmth and tenderness between them that really helps in their romantic scenes. During the making of this film the pair fell in love and had a brief affair, so their chemistry is the real thing and it really does show on screen.

Sadly their real life relationship didn’t have a happy ending. Audrey was desperate for children and William having had a vasectomy couldn’t give her that which she desired above all else. Plus William was also married at the time which put an obstacle in their path of happiness, but he certainly fell hard for Audrey no doubt about it.

In this film I love them the most in the dance scene out on the terrace, they fit together perfectly and look so at ease in each others arms. I think that it is more than simply acting between them in that scene, there is a real connection between them that you can see. The way William looks at her I think it’s like he’s looking into her soul, and she looks at him with such adoration and joy in her face. I could watch these two dance and flirt forever and still feel that magical connection and still be enchanted by them.

I also really love them in the scene outside the train station where Holden’s car screeches to a halt when he sees Audrey waiting for a taxi. Their comic back and forth banter in the sequence is a real joy, and once again their reactions to one another are so genuine.

The couple were reunited on screen ten years later. This time to star in the extremely underrated Paris When It Sizzles, a romantic comedy that is also one big in joke about filmmaking. The film pokes fun at many different film related things, from method acting, to how scriptwriters come up with their stories. 

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William and Audrey in Paris When It Sizzles. Screenshot by me.

A secretary (Audrey Hepburn)is sent to Paris to type up the latest script from a famous film screenwriter (William Holden). She gets drawn into his imagination and the two also find themselves falling in love. We also see all the possible plots he comes up with acted out by William and Audrey playing the different characters from the screenplay.

It was difficult for William to make this film as he still had feelings for Audrey, and at this time he was also drinking rather heavily. There are moments in this film when he looks at her and you can tell that it is not his character looking at her with longing, it is William himself looking at the woman he loves.

It’s quite painful to watch them at times actually in this one because you feel his longing, and when you know what was going on behind the scenes your heart goes out to him. It must have been agony for him to have been so close to her and knowing he couldn’t have her. That agony and longing in a weird way actually works for the film. William’s character finds himself more and more attracted to Audrey’s secretary, but he finds it difficult to pursue his feelings when they have work to do and he’s also not sure if she returns his feelings.

There is still that genuine warmth and magic between Audrey and William on screen here, and they both look like they are enjoying the opportunity to have lots of fun in the scenes such as the vampire at the grotto, and the scene when they order room service (I love the way Audrey makes that order and the look on William’s face when he hears her place the order.)  🙂

I love them the most in all the scenes in this where they kiss, those kisses are so tender and passionate. I also love them in the scene where they are playing the rich couple who both mention having had giraffes as children, the way they act in that and deliver the lines cracks me up every time I watch that film.

Perfect timing, natural chemistry and genuine affection for each other help these two become a perfect screen team. I was so disappointed when I first found out that they only made two films, I was so looking forward to seeing them in more films. Oh well, at least their screen magic can be enjoyed over and over again in these two films.

Well those are just a few of the reasons why I love these two so much. If you have never seen William and Audrey act together, I suggest that you take a look at the films I mentioned and watch them together for yourselves. I hope you like this screen duo as much as I do. Happy viewing.  🙂 

Any other fans of William and Audrey? Please leave your comments below.

Blogathons, Fantasy

The Colours Blogathon: The Red Shoes (1948)

Colours Blogathon

Catherine over at Thoughts All Sorts is hosting this blogathon all about films that feature colours in their titles. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

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Vicky and Ivan dancing in The Red Shoes Ballet. Screenshot by me.

I’m writing about one of my all time favourite films. That film is the 1948 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger classic, The Red Shoes. This is one of the most visually stunning and beautiful films ever made in my opinion.

Artistic, imaginative, romantic, absorbing, and quite moving; this film truly has something in it for everyone to enjoy.

Firstly, I would like to talk a little bit about Powell and Pressburger themselves. The pair began working together in 1939, on the WW2 spy thriller, The Spy In Black. They founded their own production company called The Archers in 1943. Their distinctive film logo (an arrow being fired into an archery target)became as famous as the films it appeared at the beginning of.

The majority of Powell and Pressburger’s films were quite different from any other films being made at the time. Their films were visually imaginative and very impressive. These films were more like works of moving art than traditional films. The uniqueness and artistic look of their work is a major factor for me in liking their films so much.

Powell and Pressburger were completely different from other filmmakers of the time, and they created films that really took you out of your own life (in a major way)for a few hours. Their films are beautiful to look at and really draw the audience in. 

From time to time though they could also make the sort of films that the public were more used to seeing; films such as The Small Back Room, The Spy In Black and 49th Parallel. Their collaboration came to an amicable end in 1957, and they remained friends for the rest of their lives. Their films were not instantly acclaimed as classics upon release and it took several decades for them to receive praise and appreciation.

Director Martin Scorsese is a big fan of their work and he has done so much to bring their films to the attention of audiences today. Powell was also married for the last few years of his life to Scorsese’s regular editor, Thelma Schoonmaker.

Powell and Pressburger became famous for the use of Technicolor in their films. In The Red Shoes they once again use Technicolor to its best possible effect. They, along with their regular cinematographer Jack Cardiff, created magic and moving art on screen. Their use of colour was a big part of the unique look of so many of their films. Their colour films are so rich and vibrant, and it is the look of this particular film that lingers in the mind long after it has finished.

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Vicky and a dance partner made out of newspaper. Screenshot by me.

This filmmaking team managed to use Technicolor in a way that had never been done before, nor has it been achieved in films since. This team prove what filmmakers are capable of achieving should they put their minds to it. Their films are pure art and they are rightly praised and admired by film fans and filmmakers today.

Moving on to the film itself. In The Red Shoes (long before Black Swan) we are shown the sacrifices that have to be made by ballerinas for their art. They push themselves extremely hard, and for some there can be nothing else apart from the ballet in their life, they give all they are to their art. We also see that their dedication to their art can make them ill if they push themselves too hard either physically or mentally. 

The Red Shoes is based upon the fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson. It is all about a young girl who puts on a pair of red shoes. Once she does she soon finds that she cannot take them off. She also finds that they make her dance everywhere she goes. She cannot make herself even stop for a rest. In her despair she turns to a woodcutter for help, he chops off her feet to ease her suffering. As she lies in his arms ,the shoes dance off still containing her feet. Off those shoes go, forever continuing their eternal dance around the land. Can you believe that was a children’s story? It made a big impact on me when I first read it. This story and the images it conjures up have stayed with me to this day. Some dark stuff for sure.

The film (thankfully)does not focus too much on that story. We instead focus on a young ballerina who must choose between her career with the ballet, or her own personal life and having love in that life.

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Moira Shearer as Vicky. Screenshot by me.

Vicky Page (Moira Shearer)is a young ballet dancer who attracts the attention of Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). He is the head of world famous ballet company, The Ballet Lermontov. He sees great potential in Vicky. When his lead dancer, the adored Irina (Ludmilla Tcherina) leaves his company to get married, Lermontov gives Vicky Irina’s position in the company. Vicky finds lasting fame in the ballet community as the lead in a ballet written especially for her. That ballet is the Red Shoes, and it is based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson.

As her success and talent grows, Boris falls in love with Vicky and he is determined to keep her with him at all costs. Vicky likes and respects him but she doesn’t return his feelings, instead she falls in love with young musician Julian Craster (Marius Goring). He offers her a life away from the pressures of the ballet.

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Marius Goring as Julian Craster. Screenshot by me.

Lermontov becomes jealous of the young couple, and soon Vicky finds herself forced to choose between her career and her life with Julian. It is extremely difficult for her as she loves both equally and becomes emotionally torn between them. Soon she starts to become ill from all this pressure.

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Anton Walbrook as Lermontov. Screenshot by me.

Four of the films leading actors were ballet dancers at the time of the films release. Moira Shearer (playing Vicky), Robert Helpmann (playing Ivan, the much respected lead dancer of the Lermontov ballet), Ludmilla Tcherina (playing Irina) and Leonide Massine (playing Grisha, the temperamental company choreographer). Each of these get their own chance to shine in various dance sequences throughout the film. 

The standout sequence in the film is the ballet of the Red Shoes. The sequence in its entirety lasts around fifteen minutes of screen time. The sequence is one of the most artistic and creepy things ever put on screen. I think it captures the beauty and artistry of ballet perfectly.

There are also several scenes in that sequence that feature bizarre and creepy images which for me bring to mind a nightmare. I’m specifically thinking of the scene where begins Vicky hallucinating things from her own life during the performance (such as the shoemaker transforming into Lermontov and Julian), and of the shots of men turning into paper figures and slowly falling to the ground, as Vicky’s uncontrollable, red clad feet dance amongst their fallen, limp figures. I’ve often wondered if the fallen figures represent people in the fairytale who die, while the girl in the red shoes lives forever dancing on, and on, and on?

It’s a dazzling sequence for sure and is a perfect blend of the art of ballet and of the art of film. There is also some clever camera trickery at work in it for the moment Vicky jumps into the red shoes and they lace themselves up. This shot still impresses when viewed today.

Anton Walbrook gives the standout performance of the film for me. He is a man driven by his dedication to his work who finds himself falling unexpectedly in love. Then he starts hating himself for getting drawn away from his work by his desire for Vicky, and also for the desire for a personal life away from his work. To Lermontov the ballet is a calling and he despises any of his dancers who choose personal life over their ballet work. He starts to hate himself as much as he hates anyone in his company who gets distracted. Walbrook steals every scene he is in with just a look. In many scenes he can be seen seething with jealousy and a barely repressed desire for Vicky. He makes you both pity and despise Lermontov at the same time.

Vicky dancing The Red Shoes Ballet. Screenshot by me.

Moira Shearer is excellent as the young woman given the career opportunity of her life. Her initial excitement soon transitions to weariness and short temper when she is under pressure. She really brings home the struggle that Vicky is enduring concerning the choice between her private and professional life.

Marius Goring is energetic as the dedicated and outgoing composer who cannot understand Vicky and Lermontov’s obsession with the ballet. He can offer Vicky happiness, but is she willing or able to accept it? Goring was one of the best character actors in all of British cinema, here he gets quite a bit of screen time and gets a real chance to shine. It’s nice to see him in a more major role for a change.

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Vicky climbs the stairs to Lermontov’s villa. Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes are the following. Vicky climbing the stairs to Lermontov’s villa (this sequence looks like something straight out of a fairytale, and Vicky is like a Princess in that outfit she wears and it looks like she is exploring the grounds of a deserted castle.) The ballet of The Red Shoes. Vicky and Lermontov meeting for the first time at the party and he asks her “why do you want to dance?”, she replies “why do you want to live?”  Julian and Vicky arguing during rehearsal about how she should dance during a particular music segment. The montage of Vicky and Ivan dancing in several ballet productions. Lermontov sitting in his apartment, alone, depressed and angry.

Like the fairytale upon which it’s based, this film has quite a dark edge to it and the ending is very bleak. Don’t let that put you off though, as it is truly worth watching. This film never fails to impress me and has become a real favourite over the years. It’s in my top five favourite Powell and Pressburger films too.

Be sure to watch either the special restoration DVD release of this, or check out the Blu-Ray version to see the film looking at its best.

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

Blogathons

The Movie Scientist Blogathon: Dr. Emmett Brown

Movie scientist blogathonChristina Wehner and Ruth, over at Silver Screenings are hosting this blogathon all about movie scientists, be those scientists good, bad, or just plain crazy.  Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I’m discussing a scientist who is certainly one of the good guys. The scientific genius in question is none other than the eccentric, and extremely loveable, Dr. Emmett Brown from the Back To The Future film trilogy.

With his wild hair, wide eyes, and over excitable personality, Dr. Emmett Brown really is the epitome of the crazy film scientist. He is far from mad though, and he certainly isn’t an evil or dangerous man either. A loyal friend, and a curious and gentle soul are how I would best describe this man. 

Doc Brown’s claim to scientific fame is that he invents a device which actually makes time travel possible. He has a vehicle that he equips for time travel. Does he plan on travelling through time and space in a ship? A police phone box? (fans of Doctor Who will get that reference)Through a time portal? Nope. Doc Brown’s time travelling machine is none other than a DeLorean car.

The Doc sets the car up so that it becomes possible for the occupant to be able to key in a specific date in history/the future that they would like to visit. This date is typed into a panel on the dashboard. Once the car hits 88mph, it and its occupants, are sent back or forward (in a swirl of flames)in time. The catch is that the car runs on Plutonium, and unless you take a back up supply with you, returning to your own time once your visit is over will prove near on impossible to do.

In the first film of the trilogy we find ourselves in the American town of Hill Valley, in the year 1985. Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) steals some Plutonium from Libyan terrorists, who are now tracking him down to get it back. The Doc meets his best friend Marty (Michael J. Fox)in a shopping mall carpark in the early hours of the morning. Doc shows Marty the DeLorean time machine, and he asks Marty to film the moment Doc will make history by going back in time. Just at that moment the Libyans show up and shoot the Doc, and then they go after Marty.

 

Marty jumps in the car and tries to evade them, he speeds up to 88mph and finds himself back in Hill Valley in 1955! The Plutonium chamber is empty and he has no backup (the Doc was in the process of putting more in when he was shot. Marty must track down the younger Doc (still played by Christopher Lloyd)and get his help to go home.

Marty must ensure he does not interfere with history in any way, as that could have major repercussions on the future. This is made difficult for him when he meets his teenage mum, who quickly develops a major crush on him! Marty must help his parents realise they are meant to get together. Marty must also help them get rid of the local bully, Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Can the Doc help Marty and find a way to get him  back home?

Part 2 sees the Doc, Marty ,and Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer travel to the future Hill Valley. There they encounter flying cars, hover boards and 3D technology. They also encounter a terrifying alternate timeline; one in which the town of Hill Valley is now run by Biff, who is now a millionaire, who has killed Marty’s dad, and is now married to Marty’s mum!

Part 3 finds Marty and the Doc going back in time to the Wild West. They encounter ancestors of characters we’ve seen in the other two films. The Doc also finds love for the first time in his life with a schoolteacher (Mary Steenburgen). Can Marty and the Doc ever get home?

I love Christopher Lloyd in these films. He conveys so much about this character through expressions alone. He has always been a very physical and emotive actor (any fans of his role in Taxi?) and I think he is really at his best here as the Doc.

Christopher makes the Doc intelligent, hyperactive, gentle, funny, quirky and fearless. There is so much going on with this character and Christopher lets us see it all. Such a great performance. He captures the curiosity and joy of the scientist perfectly. Every little discovery or break through results in cries of delight from him. 

The Doc is someone who will try anything once. He has no fear of trying anything and everything to find ways of making his inventions work. He is a loyal friend and a gentle soul who struggles socially, but who will make an effort when and where he can.

I really love his friendship with Marty. Marty treats the Doc with respect and loves him too. Marty doesn’t treat the Doc as a weirdo, unlike many of the people who know him. The Doc is also the only person in Marty’s life (in the first film at least)who listens to Marty and is there for him equally in return. They have a strong bond and the Doc brings some excitement into Marty’s pretty dull/average life. Through his friendship with him, Marty lets Doc connect in a small way to normal life. They are one of my favourite film duos.

I think that the Doc represents the curiosity and passion that all scientists have about their work and research. The Doc is completely devoted to his work (sometimes at the expense of anything remotely resembling life as you and I know it)but all that hard work pays off in the end. This character lets us see that anything is possible if you only focus and put your mind to it. 

I think that Doc Brown may just be my favourite screen scientist.   🙂

Any other fans of this loveable, funny, and clever scientific genius? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

Drama, Romance, Silent Film, War

Wings (1927)

 

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The camera puts us right in the middle of the air fight sequences. Screenshot by me.

It’s been a while since I did a Silent film review. I’d like to talk about one of my favourites from this era. It is set during World War One, and it is one of the all time great war films. It is also one of the best of the big screen epics. The film is Wings.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I think it is pretty remarkable just how well Wings stands up when it is viewed today. 90 years after its original release, this film still remains a gripping and realistic depiction of war and also of aerial combat. 

The film also manages to be a touching portrayal of friendship, and it also takes a look at the pain of unrequited love.

The performances in this film really come across to me as being very natural. Arlen and Rogers are both equally excellent. I think they both do a very good job of conveying their characters transitions from wide eyed, eager and very apprehensive newbies in the air force; to becoming seasoned and traumatised veterans, all while still being at such a young age.

Clara Bow delivers the real standout performance for me; she is effervescent and lumious one moment, and then broken hearted and vulnerable the next. This is one of her best performances from the Silent era I think.

Henry B. Walthall and Julia Swayne Gordon are both very moving as David’s mum and dad. The scene where they say goodbye to him as he leaves for the war has me welling up. Henry plays the dad as doing that stiff upper lip thing, he won’t allow himself to break down or hug his son because if he did he’d never let him go. Julia makes the mother more emotional, but she still restrains her full emotions from showing.

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One of my favourite shots in the whole film. Screenshot by me.

This film was the first ever Best Picture Oscar winner (and until The Artist won in 2011, it was the only Silent film to win the award) and it’s not difficult to see why there was so much love for this one.

WW1 would have been fresh in the minds of audiences watching this for the first time; they no doubt would have been able to really connect with the experiences of the lead trio, and have been able to relate to the characters wartime experiences. The film does a good job of capturing the horror of war, and also of the fact that death will come and claim anyone at any time.

The performances and characters keep my interest throughout, but it is hard to deny the real stars of this one are the aerial sequences. Real planes and hundreds of pilots feature in the film. The aerial sequences were shot on location at Kelly Field Air Force Annex, in San Antonio, Texas.

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The planes head into battle. Screenshot by me.

The aerial scenes really keep you on the edge of your seat and add a great deal of realism to the film. I think these sequences take you deeper into the experiences of Jack and David. These sequences also have a documentary look about them.

One of my reasons for loving Silent films so much is that I love how visually beautiful and unique so many of them look. I also have a real fondness for tinting in Silent films. 

Many Silent films were tinted in various different colours and there is some glorious screen tinting to be enjoyed in this one. I especially love the golden tint which features heavily throughout. I also think that the intertitle cards look very nice too.

Wings is a film that manages to be an intimate human drama, while also being set against an epic backdrop of global warfare.

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Jack and David. Screenshot by me.

In a small town in America life is idyllic. The youth are out enjoying life to the full. Best friends Jack (Charles “Buddy” Rogers)and David (Richard Arlen)compete for the affections of the beautiful and wealthy Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston).

Jack is pretty slow (seriously, how on earth could he miss her signals!)to see that his neighbour, Mary (Clara Bow) is in love with him. She shares his adventurous nature and is clearly the gal for him.

America soon becomes embroiled in the First World War and Jack and David sign up to join the Air Corps. Headed overseas they are soon fighting against the Germans.  Mary also joins the fight, by signing up as a nurse and ambulance driver. Heartbreak, joy and a tragic twist of fate lie in store for our trio.

The film is notable for several reasons. Firstly of course there are all those spectacular aerial sequences. I like how we also see the pilots in the cockpit and that really makes us a part of the scene as we see the personal effect of these impressive air battles.

The film also features some very striking photography and camerawork. The way the camera zooms across the tables of a nightclub until we find Jack is very memorable. There is also the scene where Jack drinks champagne and we see the bubbles float up out of his glass. When he later gets quite drunk he sees giant bubbles everywhere.

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Gary Cooper as Cadet White. Screenshot by me.

The film also features a very young Gary Cooper in a small role. Coop makes quite an impression as Cadet White, an ill fated fellow pilot who meets Jack and David.

It Happened One Night fans should also keep an eye out for Roscoe Karns who appears here in a small role.

The film also features a famous kiss between Jack and David, many people see it as a gay moment. I can see why they might think that, but is not supposed to be seen as a romantic kiss though, it is simply deep affection and love between best friends. Remember the reason why the kiss is taking place also and see it in that context. I can see why this moment made quite an impact though, and nothing like that would be seen on screen again for decades after this. 

The film also contains a few scenes of nudity. There’s the scene in the examination room when the lads go to sign up with the airforce. Clara is also shown nude in the scene where Mary is caught getting undressed in the hotel.

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Clara Bow as Mary. Screenshot by me.

My only issue with the film is its treatment of Mary. I wish we had been given a few more scenes showing her experiences during the war in more detail. It wasn’t only David and Jack who were taking part in the war, she was there too working as a nurse.

I wanted more of her story instead of her simply being the love interest. I also hate the double standard of how she is punished when she is found in Jack’s hotel room. compared to what happens to him. They were both breaking the rules, so they both should have been disciplined equally!

My favourite scenes are the following. Mary helping Jack with his car. The plane crashing into the house which has rows of freshly dug war graves right next door to it. David and Jack meeting Cadet White, sharing his chocolate, getting to know him and then hearing tragic news about him. All the scenes featuring the patriotic Herman Schwimpf. David saying goodbye to his family. David and Jack looking through Cadet White’s personal belongings. Mary thinking she has hurt a soldier when she crashes her ambulance. Jack visting David’s parents. The older woman helping Mary choose a dress to wear when she is with Jack. Mary finding Jack in the nightclub, the look she gives the other woman he is with is priceless(if looks could kill, then that gal would be flat on the floor). All the scenes featuring the planes. I also love the intertitle saying the film is dedicated to the dead airman”To those young warriors of the sky, whose wings are folded about them forever, this picture is reverently dedicated.”

This is a film that I never get tired of watching. It moves and impresses in equal measure. It is one of the very best films to be made during the Silent era. Any other fans of this one? If you’ve never seen it I highly recommend you buy the Blu-Ray disc, the film looks stunning in that format and there are some good extras too.

 

 

 

Blogathons, Noir

The Alan Ladd Blogathon: This Gun For Hire (1942)

Alan Ladd Blogathon YellowRachel, over at Hamlette’s Soliloquy is hosting this blogathon all about the actor Alan Ladd. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. I’m writing about Alan’s performance in the Noir film This Gun For Hire.

In 1942, Alan Ladd (seen in the banner above) was cast in the lead role in a little Noir film which would catapult him to film stardom. For several years before this role came along Alan had been working very hard trying to get his big screen break. 

Since the early 1930’s Alan Ladd had been seen on screen in bit parts, including in a small role as a reporter in Citizen Kane. Try as he might though, he just wasn’t getting cast in any major film roles and it seemed like he was going nowhere mighty fast. 

Alan’s luck was about to change though when he was offered the role of the contract killer Raven, in Frank Tuttle’s 1942 Noir film, This Gun For Hire.

Who knows what Ladd thought of his role as Raven, or indeed if he had any expectations at all as to audience reactions to his performance. Whatever he may have thought though, he was in for a very pleasant surprise indeed. This film made him into a star.

Following his performance in this film Alan Ladd would go on to become one of the most beloved stars of the 40’s and 50’s. His career peaked with the 1953 Western film Shane. Alan sadly died in 1964 , aged just fifty years old. A sad loss indeed for the film industry.

This Gun For Hire is a very good film indeed, but I think it is Ladd who makes this film remain so memorable today. He is downright scary as the ice cold killer calmly killing to order. He steals every scene he is in with just a look. He really doesn’t need much dialogue in this one, his face tells us all we will ever need to know about this guy and what his motives are.   

Right from the films opening scene Ladd has our attention with every little move he makes, and with every look which crosses his face. He gives us a very clear impression of Raven. We see that he is kind and tender towards his cat, and that he shows absolutely nothing but contempt and hatred towards the cleaning woman who hurts his cat. Raven slaps the cleaning woman and roughly makes her leave his room. 

As the film goes on we see that Raven isn’t a people person, and he has no qualms whatsoever about killing other people to order. He will use his own judgement though at times and if something doesn’t seem right to him he will go against orders. He is also a very good judge of character too.

This film also saw the first pairing of one of cinemas greatest screen couples. Who are they? Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake of course. This couple worked together in four Noir films. As far as I’m concerned this first film is one of their very best pairings. They are magical together and have real chemistry. Ladd’s baby faced, tough guy, and Lake’s cool, sensual blonde sure do make for a very memorable screen pairing.

The growing relationship between their characters is a major part of why I love this film so much. They slowly grow to trust and like each other, and Raven opens up to tell her about his past, which then explains so much to us about how he came to be the man he is. The interactions between their characters is the heart and soul of the film. Ladd and Lake (and their characters) are the reason (in my opinion)why this film stands up so well when viewed today. The film has a really cracking story, but it is the strong performances which linger most in your mind after viewing this one.

Raven (Alan Ladd)is a gun for hire, he is not a people person and much prefers the company of animals. Raven is hired by the peppermint chewing Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) to kill a blackmailer who has stolen a chemical formula from the Nitro Chemical company where Gates works. Raven (in a pretty brutal sequence for the era) kills the blackmailer and his girlfriend, and then leaves with the recovered formula.

Gates betrays Raven by paying him off with some marked money. Gates then reports Raven to the Police. Raven doesn’t trust Gates and he buys something from a shop to test if the money is being watched for. He sees that it is marked, and so Raven then goes after Gates for revenge.

Gates also works as a nightclub manager and hires the talented singer/magic act entertainer Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) to work for him. Unbeknown to him she is the girlfriend of Detective Michael Crane (Robert Preston)who is on Raven’s tale. Ellen is also asked to spy on Gates by a Senator, who is himself being blackmailed by Gates.

It soon transpires that Nitro Chemicals, Gates, and his colleagues are under suspicion of being traitors to their country. Ellen risks her life to get dirt on Gates, and is soon also thrown together with Raven. The two get closer and closer to danger and to the truth.

My favourite scenes are the following. Ellen’s magic trick act for Gates(featuring a catchy song and some clever camera trickery and editing.) Raven evading the Police at his hotel. Raven telling Ellen about his childhood. Raven and Ellen meeting on the train. Gates discovering Raven is on the same train as him and getting very worried indeed.  

This is a solid Noir/thriller about a brave gal, and about a morally dubious man, who in the end does show some redemptive qualities. Ladd steals every scene he is in here. It’s really not hard to see why this performance turned him into a star. This is one of my favourite films of his, and I think it would be a very good place to start to introduce someone to his film work.

Here are my five favourite Alan Ladd performances.

                                                                 1- This Gun For Hire

                                                                 2 – The Blue Dahlia

                                                                 3- Shane

                                                               4- Hell Below Zero

                                                               5  -The Proud Rebel

What are your thoughts on this film?  Any other fans? What do you think of Alan’s performance as Raven? Please leave your comments below.