Films I Love

The Ten Commandments (1956)

Cecil B. De Mille sure knew how to put on a show. He really was the master of the big screen epic. When DeMille released a new film, audiences of the time knew full well what they were in for: large scale sets, a truly epic story, larger than life characters, and so many memorable moments. His films were what going to the cinema was supposed to be all about. You went to the cinema to be entertained and wowed. DeMille put a great deal of work into ensuring that his audiences got plenty of wow factor and entertainment. 

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The Red Sea parts. Screenshot by me.

De Mille’s films were big events, and many of them went on to become classics that are still discussed today, several decades after DeMille’s death. I think that The Ten Commandments (which would sadly be his last film) is one of the very best films that he ever made.

I also think that this particular film is a good place to begin if you are trying to get into DeMille’s work. This film shows you just what he was all about as a filmmaker. I really think he managed to perfectly blend together an intimate human story against a truly epic and stunning visual backdrop.  

De Mille’s final film has also become the film for which he has become best remembered for. The film is a partial remake of his own 1923 film of the same name. The Silent version told two stories. The first is a depiction of the biblical events, including the famous parting of the Red Sea. The second is a story set in more modern times and it concerns two brothers and their respective views on the commandments. 

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Charlton Heston as Moses. Screenshot by me.

However, for his later remake, DeMille decided to focus entirely upon the Biblical story. He shot on location out in Egypt (employing hundreds of extras to star in the mass crowd sequences)and on soundstages. His film recreates Ancient Egypt for us in great detail.  

I also love how he shows us the great contrast between the rich and the poor of the time in the film. We see the gruelling life of the slaves, toiling under the boiling sun for hours on end covered in mud and sand.

We also get to see the luxury and beauty of the royal household. The royals living there are indifferent to the plight of their slaves. To them these people are not people at all, they are simply strong backs and hands to do their bidding. 

The special effects by John P. Fulton are extraordinary and they have stood the test of time well. I especially love the creepy shot of the plague drifting through the streets. The parting of the Red Sea is also a truly masterful achievement.

The film tells the life of Moses. The newborn baby Moses (played by Charton Heston’s newborn son, Fraser) is placed in a basket by his mother (Martha Scott) and floats off down the River Nile in order to escape the murderous soldiers of the Pharaoh. 

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Princess Bithiah finds baby Moses. Screenshot by me.

The soldiers are killing all first born sons in an effort to stop a prophecy about a deliverer for the Jewish slaves. The basket drifts into the water gardens of the royal palace and is discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter Princess Bithiah(Nina Foch). The Princess is childless, so she keeps baby Moses and passes him off as her own child. 

Years later we see the now grown Prince Moses (Charlton Heston)as a strong and beloved warrior. He is the favourite of the current Pharaoh, who is his uncle, Sethi(Cedric Hardwicke).  This favouritism annoys Sethi’s son Rameses (Yul Brynner)and he hates Moses.

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Princess Nefreteri. Screenshot by me.

These two men become rivals for the crown of Egypt and also for the hand in marriage of Princess Nefreteri (Anne Baxter). The Princess is a beautiful, scheming, and very vain woman, but she genuinely loves Moses and doesn’t want to be married to Rameses. I really love how Anne plays this role, she chews the scenery up and ends up stealing all the scenes she is in. Anne also gets the most beautiful dresses to wear throughout the film.

Everything soon changes when Moses learns the truth about his heritage. He is banished by Sethi(a decision that breaks the older mans heart)and is sent by Rameses out into the desert. Instead of dying he survives his trek and meets a tribesman and his daughters.

Moses is taken in by them and he later marries the oldest daughter, Sephora (Yvonne De Carlo). Years pass and the couple have a son. One day Moses sees a strange light on top of the mountain next to where he lives.

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Sephora, the girl who won the heart of Moses. Screenshot by me.

Climbing the slopes of the mountain he discovers God, who appears to him as a burning bush and speaks with the voice of Moses’s long dead father (Charlton Heston’s voice deepened). When Moses comes down from the mountain he is a very changed man. He now looks much older and has the appearance of one who is in some way removed from the life around him. 

Moses must now travel to the capital of Egypt and show the power of God to Rameses who has now succeeded his father as Pharaoh. Rameses is now married to Nefreteri and they have a son. Rameses refuses to accept what Moses is telling him. He thinks that things like making snakes appear or turning water to blood are nothing more than magic tricks. When the plagues arrive in Egypt and his son dies he sets out with his armies to destroy Moses. 

This leads to the famous exodus sequence and the parting of the Red Sea. These two sequences remain extremely impressive when viewed today. I own this film on Blu-ray and the effects and the sharp picture quality really do look fantastic. There are a few scenes where the effects don’t look so good(you can see the lines between the imposed backdrop and the actors for example,) but these two sequences have stood the test of time really well. 

I am not a religious person, but I really do enjoy watching this film and its depiction of slaves being set free and given a good life. I have no idea whether the events depicted here are accurate or not according to Bible, but I do find the film to be hugely enjoyable and impressive regardless of whether or not it really happened. 

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Joshua and Lilia. Screenshot by me.

A few complaints coming up. I wish that the storyline focusing on the heroic stone cutter Joshua (John Derek)and the gentle and humble water girl Lilia (Debra Paget)had been given a greater focus. If only there had been a few more scenes before she is taken away from him so that we could really feel a greater connection to them and their relationship. Derek and Paget make the most of their roles, but I just wish they had been given larger roles. 

I also think that many of the supporting cast sadly don’t really get much substance to their roles. The actors all shine in their scenes, but many characters are not as developed as they should be.

I feel that Moses and Sephora’s relationship is also very rushed, I think there should have been many more scenes between them depicting their growing feelings for one another. 

The film also features two very bizarre casting choices. Vincent Price as the master builder, Baka. Price certainly oozes malevolence but he just comes across as being out of place in this film for some reason. I am a huge fan of Price but I am quite bemused by him appearing in this. 

Moving from Price onto the second piece of strange casting in the film. Just who was responsible for putting my boy Eddie G in this film as Dathan? He was one of the finest actors of his generation, and he is a great favourite of mine, but this was not a role or film genre that he was suited to at all. His casting leaves me scratching my head. 

Quibbles aside this is a very enjoyable film. It is one I would dearly love to see on the big screen as it was intended to be seen. Have any of you seen it at the cinema? If so, please share your experiences of what that was like. 

Upon release the film quickly became one of the most financially successful films at the box office. I hope that made DeMille happy because you can see on screen how much work went into this film. De Mille suffered a massive heart attack during filming but like the pro he was, he was back on set not long after suffering it to continue working. He would suffer from problems with his heart for the rest of his life. De Mille died in 1959. 

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Rameses. Screenshot by me.

My favourite performances in the film come from Yul Brynner (sexy and strong as the crown prince). Nina Foch as the loving Bithia. Martha Scott as Yochabel, the real mother to Moses. Anne Baxter as the beautiful Nefretri. Cedric Hardwicke as the stern but fair Sethi. Debra Paget as Lilia. Yvonne De Carlo as the humble and kind Sephora. I also enjoy seeing De Mille himself in the opening introducing the film. 

I also really like Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses. Heston has never been an actor I’ve liked very much. This film and The Big Country are really the only films I have ever actually liked him in. I love how he conveys through his body language and expressions his transformation from Egyptian prince, to thoughtful and other worldly messenger of God. There is an authority and strength about him in the scene where Moses comes down from the mountain, and you more than believe then that he has undergone a real change. A very impressive performance. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Rameses kissing Nefretiri and telling her she will be his wife. Moses seeing God and coming back down from the mountain. Sephora telling Moses that all that her (poor)family have he is more than welcome to. Moses’s staff becoming a cobra. Bithiah finding Moses in the basket. Nefretiri arriving at the mudpits to find Moses. The exodus and parting of the Red Sea. Rameses and Nefretiri’s reactions after the death of their son. Sethi’s deathbed scene. The plague drifting through the streets. Moses’s adoptive and birth mother pleading with one another over his future.

I also have to praise the music by Elmer Bernstein. He replaced Victor Young as composer after Young became ill. I love the score because it’s larger than life, just like the film is. It is a dramatic, sweeping and memorable score.

You will have noticed that I have added screenshots to this post. I have always been a little unsure about whether or not I should be including screenshots and photos in my posts, but seeing that so many other bloggers do it, I thought I’d have a go myself. Let me know if you think the quality is ok or not. If you think I captured them ok, I may well go back through my archives and add some to past posts.  I hope you like them. 

One more thing before I go. If you are buying this film I can’t recommend the Blu-ray edition highly enough. The film looks beautiful and stunning in this format. The picture quality looks so clear, the colours are so bright and vibrant, and the film has been cleaned up very well indeed. 

What are your thoughts on this film?

 

 

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Blogathons, Disaster, Drama, Romance

The Clark Gable Blogathon: San Francisco (1936)

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Michaela over at Love Letters To Old Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Clark Gable. Be sure to visit her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I think it’s fair to say that Clark Gable was the leading man in 1930’s Hollywood. Strong, handsome, and very charming; Clark could fit right into pretty much any film genre. He also had that whole rugged, tough guy on the outside, who is really just a total sweetheart on the inside act down perfectly as his screen persona. 

I think that Clark Gable’s appeal as an actor lay in the fact that he appealed equally to both men and women. Men wanted to be like Clark, while the women all wanted to be with him. If a film starring Clark was released there would be a lot of people turning up at cinemas to watch it.

Long before watching him in his most famous role, that of the dashing Captain Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, I first saw Clark in a much lesser known film. That film is the 1936 disaster drama, San Francisco.    

This film was one of the first from the classic era that I ever watched. I loved every single minute of it.  I found the songs to be moving and powerful, the romance to be sweet, and I felt that the friendship between Clark’s rogue and Spencer Tracy’s kindly priest came across as real and strong. I loved the beautiful gowns Jeanette got to wear. I was extremely impressed with the earthquake sequences. This one quickly became one of my favourite films. 

I think it’s a shame that hardly anyone seems to know this film nowadays. It is a terrific character piece, has some strong performances and features some memorable songs. It also shows us the San Francisco of the past, the one that was lost forever in the 1906 earthquake (that famous quake plays a key role in the film).

I love Clark quite a bit in this film. I really like the mixed way of how he plays his character. At times his character, Blackie Norton, can be a mean and harsh man; yet at other times Blackie is gentle and loveable. Clark really shows us that although Blackie is certainly flawed, he certainly isn’t all bad and he really does have a great deal of good within him. Clark plays him in such a way that we can forgive him any bad he does, simply because Clark makes him so likeable.  

I also like how Clark conveys Blackie’s growing feelings for Mary to us with expressions alone. We feel his desire to be with this woman, but also that he is not able to change his ways to commit to her. We feel his distress when he doesn’t know if she has survived the quake, and we see how torn up he is thinking he may have lost her. Clark really goes through a wide range of emotions in this film and his performance really brings his character to life and gives him depth. I think this is one of the best performances he ever gave.

The film begins on the 31st of December, 1905. It’s New Year Eve and the party atmosphere is in full swing throughout the city. Aspiring singer Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald)arrives in the big city that very evening. Mary is desperate to find work. She is hired by nightclub owner Blackie Norton (Clark Gable)to be one of the singers at his club.

Although she can sing in the upbeat way that his club requires, it is clear that Mary’s voice is much better suited to the opera stage. Mary’s voice really is out of this world and it’s very clear that she has it in her to go far with her singing talent. 

Blackie and Mary fall in love, but it’s clear to us that Blackie doesn’t quite know how to handle his growing feelings. Blackie says and does things that push Mary away from him. Mary is a very pure and religious woman and she doesn’t want to be just a casual fling to Blackie. Mary also struggles in adjusting to her new life in San Francisco.

Blackie is a loveable rogue, and he is also quite the ladies man too. Blackie has a lot of casual relationships with women who work with him, and also with women he knows socially; he treats his women very well and they like him, but he never actually commits to any of them. 

Blackie has a tough and somewhat selfish exterior. His best friend Father Tim Mullin(Spencer Tracy)knows the truth of the matter. He knows that Blackie is in actuality a really nice guy, a good guy, and that he is very decent. Blackie is not religious, but he always helps Tim out when the church needs money, and he will do anything for anyone in need. Tim and Blackie have been friends since childhood and know each other inside out. The pair lead different lives now but they are still a part of each others lives despite their major differences. 

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Mary becomes a star attraction at Blackie’s club and attracts the notice of  the wealthy Jack Burly (Jack Holt)who offers her the job of singer at the Tivoli Opera House in the city. Mary and Jack become involved which then leads to Blackie getting angry and leaves us wondering which man she will choose in the end. 

In the early hours of the 18th of January, 1906, an earthquake strikes the city and then everything changes. Lives are lost, homes and businesses are destroyed, and the city itself is destroyed. In just one night an entire way of life is wiped out forever. Our characters are caught up in this and it has a huge impact on them. The earthquake also serves as a wake up call to Blackie, he learns that love and relationships are more important than work, or putting up a tough guy image as protection in life.

The earthquake sequence is the highlight of the film and it is so realistic. It perfectly captures the horror, the confusion, the panic, and the terror of an earthquake. It’s a scary and distressing sequence and I think it stands up very well when viewed today. It’s a very impressive sequence and all the actors (both stars and extras)do a superb job of portraying their fear and confusion. This sequence is that good, that it’s almost like someone filmed the real quake and what we see in the film is documentary footage. I’d say the film is worth watching for this sequence alone.

The human drama is just as memorable as the quake sequence and the actors all do a good job of keeping our interest throughout. Clark is excellent in the role of Blackie, and he makes Blackie a very believable character who has strengths, weaknesses and also flaws. He isn’t perfect and he tries to change his ways. I really like how Clark shows Blackie as being more vulnerable as the film goes on. He is especially excellent towards the end of the film set during the earthquake.

If you are not a fan of Jeanette or her singing, then I think you might struggle to watch many of the scenes in the film. There are many scenes of her singing, but if you do like her and you like opera this will be a real treat.

I’m not the biggest fan of Jeanette, but I do like her and I consider this to be one of her best films. I like how she lets us see this woman is really struggling against her growing feelings for Blackie, and also shows her struggling against her principles and morals in her love for him. Jeanette’s performance is also one that is all in the expressions, her face conveys to us what her character is going through.

Spencer Tracy is excellent in the role of the decent, loyal best friend and the kind and caring priest. Spencer oozes goodness and compassion in this film. He makes you wish that you had a friend like Father Tim in your life. This performance could also be seen as warm up for his famous performances as a kind priest, in Boy’s Town and Men Of Boy’s Town.

If there is a downside to the film, I’d say it perhaps lies in focusing too much on the singing career of Mary. If you’re not a fan of opera then these sequences will no doubt be difficult to get through. I would have liked to have seen a few more scenes between Tim and Blackie. I would also liked to have seen more of the aftermath of the quake to see what the survivors did next. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Father Tim ringing Blackie to thank him for the organ. Blackie and Mary’s first meeting and him letting her stay the night in his apartment. Blackie falling to his knees and praying (Clark’s performance in this moment never fails to me to tears). Blackie punching Tim. Mary singing with choir at the church. Father Tim’s conversation with Mary in the church. The entire earthquake sequence and final scenes of the film.

Singin’ In The Rain fans need to listen out closely to Jeanette’s singing scenes, as at one point she can be heard singing the song Would You. This song  of course became famous for its use in that 1952 musical.

The other memorable tune in this is the very catchy song San Francisco. This one has stayed with me since the first time I ever watched this. I just love the way that Jeanette sings it, and I think it is a bouncy and uplifting tune.

There are also many religious overtones to be found throughout this film. If you view the film from that perspective, I suppose that the earthquake at the end could be seen to almost serve as a force sent to wipe away the perceived decadence and possibly immoral lifestyle of one San Francisco, and allowing for a new and fresh city and better life to be built in its place.

Some viewers take issue with the end of the film where everyone, even people who don’t believe in god, are seen at the end to be praying to god. I myself find this to be something of a leap. I doubt a traumatic event like this would have any non believers turning religious.

Having said that though, I do think that in a terrible event such as an earthquake, people who are not religious, and who do survive, will beg out for their loved ones lives to be spared also. They probably will say a thank you for surviving. They might not say these words to a god, they may just think them in their head, or they may say them out loud to no one in particular.  

In my opinion this is one of the best American films of the 1930’s. I think that it has a bit of everything in it for people to be able to enjoy. The film has some romance and drama, there are tears, good visual effects and also some very impressive stunts too. There are some stunning costumes in this too, I really envy Jeanette for having been able to wear such gorgeous dresses. 

Clark Gable really is at his best here and I think that he got to show us what dramatic acting heights he could reach. 

My five favourite Clark Gable films are the following.

1- It Happened One Night

2- San Francisco

3- Gone With The Wind

4- Teacher’s Pet

5- Red Dust

Any other fans of San Francisco? What do you think of Gable’s performance?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Coming Of Age, Drama

The Robin Williams Blogathon: Dead Poets Society (1989)

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Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood, and Gill over at Realweegiemidget Reviews are co-hosting this blogathon all about Robin Williams. Be sure to visit their sites to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them myself.  

Robin Williams could always make me laugh. Whether I was watching him doing stand up routines on stage. Whether I was watching him in films like Good Morning Vietnam or Aladdin. Whatever he was doing, one thing was always for sure, I could always guarantee that I would be on the floor laughing at Robin’s antics. 

I love how sharp and quick he was as a comic, within seconds he could improvise something and literally go down a whole new route and he would have you laughing so hard that tears would fall. I miss him so much. Thankfully he left a legacy of comedy behind for us to enjoy forever. 

I also really enjoy seeing him get to show off his dramatic acting talents. In films like Good Will Hunting and One Hour Photo, Robin impresses me greatly, and he shows just what a good dramatic actor he could be. I want to talk about my favourite film role of Robin’s. That film is Dead Poets Society. The character he plays in this is called Mr. Keating. 

This is a film about conformity, individuality, and choice. It’s set in 1959. This was a time when girls were encouraged to get married instead of pursuing a career. Many boys were expected to follow in the footsteps of their father and grandfather and join whatever profession they worked in, whether they wanted to do this or not. There were literally generations of men not being able to connect to their kids because their dad hadn’t been able to connect with them, and they therefore didn’t know how to express their feelings to their own children very well.

This film looks at all of these things, and it also shows us how deeply unhappy so many young men at this time were because they were not usually allowed to follow their own paths. 

At school at this time the teachers disciplined the students in their care. They expected facts and figures to be learnt by heart, and the vast majority of these teachers didn’t inspire students. Nor did they really make their classes ones which were desired to be attended. Despite all of that though it has to be said that students were much better behaved back then, and there were also very high standards expected to be followed in schools and in the content of school work which was handed in. So there were good and bad parts to this rigid, and far more traditional era. I’m sure there were also some teachers who were well liked and didn’t teach in that same uninspiring way, but they were few and far between. 

Mr. Keating is a man who breaks that teaching tradition. He becomes a friend to the pupils who he teaches. He treats them as individuals. He makes them want to come to his lessons because he makes them interesting and fun. He teaches the boys to think for themselves. He also makes them realise that life itself is way more important than memorising mathematic equations, or remembering facts from history. Life is about living. If you go through life dead inside, trapped in a job or role you take no joy in, then you might as well be dead. 

Whilst Robin does get some funny moments in this film, I think that his performance and role here is much more serious than people were really used to at this point in his career. Robin does such a good job of conveying how passionate his character is about teaching, and also how much he wants to inspire his students to think bigger and to be themselves.  

Robin also conveys a sadness and a weariness to us about Keating. We see that Keating knows that the reality is many of these students may well just end up unhappy and unfulfilled despite his efforts. He feels for them deeply and we see his pity for them. Robin does such a good job of showing this on his face. Watch him closely and you will see such a lot going on behind his eyes throughout this film.    

 

 

While Keating and the message he conveys are largely positive, there are those in the school who see him as a danger and want him gone. Also just like in The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, Keating’s influence and inspiration ends up leading to tragedy and pain. He and the individuality that he represents are scapegoated and blamed for this.  

I don’t think this is fair or justified. In reality it is the father of the boy at the centre of the tragedy who is to blame for what happens. He wouldn’t listen to his son, he wouldn’t try to understand his desires, and he failed to see how desperate and unhappy he was. This boy had also shown signs of depression and despair long before he even met Keating. Keating’s words merely made him realise just how trapped he was in his life.

The boy does what he does in the end because he is taking control of his situation, and because he also knows that his father (and the traditional society he represents) will never stop trying to control him. He can’t stand that thought, and so he takes his own life to escape that continued unhappiness. Nobody wants to accept that fact though, and so the idealistic teacher is blamed.

We later see that Keating’s lessons will never be forgotten by the boys he has taught. We are left with a sense of hope that they will be able to find their own path in life and stick to it and be happy. Keating can carry that final sight in his heart and mind forever. He knows that he has reached these young men and they have taken his messages and teachings to heart.  

The film is directed by Peter Weir. He is one of my favourite directors and I really like how many of his films often focus on a group of people closed off from the world most of us know. He showed us a girls boarding school in Picnic At Hanging Rock. An Amish community in Witness. A boys boarding school in Dead Poets Society. A naval ship in Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World. 

I like Weir because he lets the actors and the characters tell his stories. He doesn’t rely on effects to keep your interest. He lets the time and place in which his film is set wash over you and draw you in. It’s like you are transported into the world he is showing you. This film is one of his very best. 

The film is set in America in 1959. Welton Academy is a prestigious boys school. It is seen as a great privilege to get a place there. Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke)is a new student here and is both nervous and uncertain about his future here. He is a shy and introverted boy and has the shadow of his accomplished older brother (a former pupil) hanging over him.

Todd is befriended by Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), a seemingly outgoing and fun boy who is Todd’s roommate. Neil actually harbours a deep sadness and pain. Neil helps Todd become a little less introverted. 

Mr.Keating (Robin Williams)is a former pupil of the school who has returned here to take up the position of English teacher.  His teaching methods soon attract the criticism of the headteacher, Mr. Nolan (Norman Lloyd). The pupils meanwhile love his lessons and his fresh teaching style. Neil Perry takes Keating’s words about seizing the day very much to heart. Neil is ignored by his over bearing father and is being pressured into a career he has no wish to have. Neil longs to be an actor, but he sadly is all too aware that this just won’t be a possible career choice for him to pursue. 

Neil, Todd, Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen), Knox Overstreet(Josh Charles), Gerard Pitts(James Waterston), Steven Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero) and Richard Cameron(Dylan Kussman)are the group of friends who are influenced by Keaton the most. This group start up a secret club called The Dead Poets Society. This club was originally something Keating belonged to during his time as a student. In the club they can discuss poetry, tell stories, share laughter, and generally have a good time away from the restraints of the school. 

Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Josh Charles would go on to become pretty big names in film and TV. The other kids never seemed to reach the same level of fame sadly. Gale Hansen is the standout of the film for me. Hansen plays the rebellious class clown, Charlie Dalton; he is already something of a free thinker already but he really takes it to the next level once Keating enters his life. 

Norman Lloyd is excellent as the strict and cold headmaster (Norman is still with us now aged 103!).

Kurtwood Smith delivers a solid performance as Neil’s dad, he loves his son, but he doesn’t know how to talk to him and he won’t let him follow his dreams (more than likely because that is what happened between him and his own dad).

Robin Williams brings warmth and life to Keating and he makes him a teacher who we all long to have in our lives. 

I have to give a shoutout to the utterly gorgeous photography by John Seale. I also can’t praise the beautiful score by Maurice Jarre highly enough, it is atmospheric and haunting. I think this is one of his best ever scores, it stays in my mind long after the film has finished. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Charlie taking a phone call from God.Keating showing the students the photos of former students who are now long since dead. Keating finally getting Todd to be able to recite a poem. Neil and Keating talking about how Neil feels trapped. The students standing at the end for Keating. The scene between Todd and Neil discussing Todd’s birthday present. The first assembly of the new term . Todd out in the snow learning about Neil. All of the Dead Poet Society meetings in the cave. 

What do you think of this film and Robin’s performance?

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Classic TV

Announcing The Small Screen Blogathon 20th February, 2018

I’d like to invite you all to join my latest blogathon. We all love films on these blogs. However, for this particular blogathon I’d love for us to celebrate the treasures found over on the small screen.

For this blogathon you can write about miniseries, long running series, soaps, classic TV, modern TV and TV films. You can write about your favourite episodes from a particular series, or write about the series as a whole. You can write about series from any country, genre, and era. You can write about more than one series if you wish to do so.

I will allow two duplicates per title, but as there are so many series out there I’m really hoping people don’t all go for obvious titles like The Twilight Zone or Friends. If the series you would like to discuss as a whole has been taken, you can still write about your favourite episode, or episodes from that particular series. 

I’m holding this one as a one day event. It will run on the 20th of February. Please leave me the links to your posts on that day or before. I will then link everyone’s posts together on the 20th. 

Take one of the banners below and pop it on your site somewhere.  Check the participation list below to see who is writing about what. Have fun! I can’t wait to read your entries.  

 

  Participation List

Maddylovesherclassicfilms – The Duchess Of Duke Street

The Humpo ShowThe Office (US version)

MovieMovieBlogBlogCoupling

SparksfromacombustiblemindPoirot & Miss Marple

Bonnywood ManorPushing Daisies

The Midnite Drive-InMr. Monk and the Red Headed Stranger (episode of Monk)

ThoughtsallsortsOnly Human

Whimsically ClassicI Love Lucy & The Brady Bunch

Vinnieh Victoria

Mike’sTakeOnTheMoviesA Cry In The Wilderness & Deliver Us From Evil (two George Kennedy TV films)

Caftan WomanThe Snoop Sisters 

Wolfman’sCultFilmClubThe Invaders

dbmoviesblogThe Handmaid’s Tale

RealweegiemidgetreviewsDynasty – the making of a guilty pleasure (2005, TV film) & The Cartier Affair (1984)

Moon In Gemini – The Constant (episode of the TV series Lost)

In The Good Old Days Of Classic HollywoodThe Victim (1972, TV film)

The Wonderful World Of CinemaLes Filles de Caleb 

Cinema EssentialsAll Creatures Great and Small

 

Small screen blogathon 1

Small screen 2

 

 

Animated Films, Drama, Romance

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996) The Darkest & Most Complex Disney Film?

In my opinion this is easily the darkest film that Disney has ever made. Judge Frollo is surely the most evil and complex villain ever seen in any Disney film. Sure, there have been many other scary Disney villains throughout the years, but unlike so many of them, Frollo seemed more real. For me he is therefore much scarier because of his realistic qualities. We will sadly come across plenty of people like Frollo in real life.

The film contains murder, race hatred, lust, religious hypocrisy, and the ridicule and torment of a disfigured and disabled man. All of this in an animated family film. 

The film is based upon Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel of the same name. The film is quite different to the novel. The novel is even more depressing and Frollo interestingly doesn’t start out as a villain, but he gradually becomes one as the story goes on. 

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Frollo threatens Esmeralda. Screenshot by me.

I think I was around ten years old when I first saw this film. Even at that age I picked up on the fact that this was as far from your typical Disney flick as it was possible to get.

Disney had gone dark and tackled some difficult issues before of course – The transformation into a donkey in Pinocchio. Emotional abuse and cruelty in Cinderella. Making children aware of death and loss in Bambi. Scaring us all silly with the old hag in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Race hatred and blood lust in Pocahontas. The murder of the father in The Lion King. Despite all that came before this though, Disney had never put anything quite like this film on the screen before.    

Although it is a dark film, I really enjoy the film because it has several strong and likeable characters. I love the strong, kind and feisty Esmeralda. I love the gentle Quasimodo, who despite enduring cruelty every day, remains a very kind and decent person. I love the funny gargoyles who were the only friends to Quasimodo(although in reality of course he is talking to inanimate objects and believing them to speak back because he is so lonely). I love the handsome and courageous Captain Phoebus who becomes a friend to both Esmeralda and Quasimodo.  

I loathe Judge Frollo. I didn’t pick up on just how twisted Frollo was though until I watched the film again when I was older. I was floored at just how dark and messed up this guy actually is.

Let me tell you a few things about Frollo. This man murders a gyspy woman on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral, he then takes her baby from her arms. When he sees that the baby is disfigured, he attempts to kill it by dropping it in a well. He is stopped from doing this by the Arch Deacon of the Cathedral, who tells him he must now claim the child as his own and raise him. Frollo does this. He locks the boy away in the bell tower, and fills his head with nonsense about how Gypsy’s are evil people. He also tells him lies about his own mother. 

Frollo then falls for the beautiful Esmeralda. He loves her and he loathes her. She is a gypsy, and therefore she is one of the people he loathes with a passion and has made it his mission in life to destroy. He can’t accept the fact that he has some genuine feelings for her, so he twists his feelings and makes them out to be something impure.

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Frollo ties Esmeralda to the stake. Screenshot by me.

Wait, it gets much worse! He then blames Esmeralda for the fact that he desires her! Yes, you read that right, it’s apparently her fault that he feels something for her. He then decides that if she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings and comes to him to be his woman he will burn her to death at the stake! Hey, Frollo. The psych ward just called. There is a room there with your name on the door, dude.   

Frollo gets the best remembered song from the film, a catchy little number called Hellfire. In this song he goes on about how he is a religious and devout man, and how Esmeralda is a temptress sent to torment him from hell. After singing this Frollo goes on a killing spree across Paris in order to find Esmeralda.   

Frollo is voiced superbly by the great Tony Jay. Jay’s vocal skills are at their very best in this film and he really nails this character. Frollo is a cold, cunning, and very manipulative man. He is also a huge religious hypocrite, having committed murder multiple times, yet he goes around claiming to be a good religious man. He also treats people with cruelty and contempt, instead of with the compassion and equality they all deserve.   

Yet Frollo would have you believe (and he believes it himself)that he is an upstanding religious man who is actually doing the right thing. I’d say this belief he has is what makes him so dangerous and deranged because he cannot see that he is actually anything but a decent and righteous man. Complex and scary character? Without a doubt he certainly is.  

Demi Moore delivers a fine vocal performance as Esmeralda. She conveys the kind and gentle nature of this woman. The animators also did a good job of giving Esmeralda some of Demi’s facial features. I love Esmeralda singing God Help The Outcasts while she prays to the Virgin Mary. This sequence is so moving and beautiful.  

I also like the prayer sequence because in it Esmeralda is shown to be such a selfless character. She prays not for herself, but instead for the safety and freedom of her people. We see other people praying for selfish reasons (asking for beauty and wealth etc)and she asks for help for equality. This is one of the most touching and perfectly constructed sequences in any Disney film. People out there who treat certain people badly should pay attention to these words of the song ” I thought we all were the children of God.” These words serve as a reminder that we should all be treated equally and receive compassion.  

Esmeralda is my favourite female Disney character. She is independent, strong, kind hearted, warm, fun, resourceful and so compassionate and tender. I love how she befriends Quasimodo and sees the man behind the physical which scares many people. I only regret that she was put together romantically with Phoebus instead of with Quasimodo. 

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The gentle Quasimodo. Screenshot by me.

Quasimodo is the hero and heart of the film. Tom Hulce does such a good job of portraying this characters pureness, innocence, longing, apprehension and sadness.

It’s sadly rare for films to have a disabled or disfigured person as their lead character, and in this film Quasimodo is one such person.

He finds an inner strength and courage to enable him to do the right thing nearer the end of the film. He also never loses his kindness and sweetness, despite having been treated so badly by many people for so long.

Quasimodo comes to love Esmeralda, and it really annoys me so much that the makers of this film couldn’t have been braver and had them get together at the end. This would have helped show that disabled and disfigured people can love and be in relationships just like anyone else can. 

Kevin Kline does a good job as the brave and charming Phoebus. Kline conveys that this man starts out on Frollo’s side and then gets his eyes opened to the truth about the monster he serves. He risks his life to save the woman he loves and also the innocent man he has befriended. 

This film bravely included and tackled some difficult and complex themes and issues. I have yet to see another film from this studio that is quite like this was. The vocal performances are all excellent, and there are so many unforgettable characters and songs to enjoy.  

Children will enjoy it for its humorous moments, for its positive messages of treating people equally and kindly, and for good fighting and triumphing over evil. Adults will pick up on the darker aspects of the story and read more into certain characters and scenes. This film has something for everyone. The animation is also beautiful. Watching this again recently has made me really miss this old style Disney animation. 

The film is also notable for featuring the final performance of the actress Mary Wickes. She voices one of the gargoyles who befriends Quasimodo. 

I’d love to hear your opinion of this film. Is this the darkest Disney film out there? 

 

 

 

 

 

British Cinema, Noir

Brighton Rock (1947)

In 1947, two films were made on opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean. One film starred Richard Widmark, and the other one starred Richard Attenborough. The performances of these two men in these films would set both of them onto the path to stardom.

Widmark and Attenborough’s performances in these films also showed us the full extent of their acting talents. They both played characters who were equally scary, evil and real nasty pieces of work. Widmark’s film was Kiss Of Death (this was also his film debut). Attenborough’s was an adaptation of a 1938 novel by Graham Greene. The film was called Brighton Rock. It has since become regarded as one of the best British films of the era. It is also a cracking British Noir.

The realism of the actors performances coupled with the fact that Brighton Rock was shot on location in Brighton, all helps to give this film an extremely authentic look I think. I also love the grimy and gritty look that the film has about it.

America was leading the way in Film Noir at the time this film was made, and some would say the US was leading the way in film making in general in the 1940’s. Over here in Britain we were also making some films that could easily rival, and in some cases surpass, those films coming out of Hollywood. This is one such film.

Unlike the American filmmakers who were hampered by the Breen Office and the Production Code, British filmmakers of the time tended to be able to get away with showing more violence, or alluding to things like sex and violence in more detail on screen. This film is one which is greatly aided by being able to show and insinuate more than American films featuring a similar story would probably have been able to.

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Pinkie. Screenshot by me.

Growing up in the 1990’s, I was so used to seeing Attenborough as the kindly grandfather figure on screen that I found it to be quite a surprise to catch him in this film and see him playing such a violent, heartless, wannabe gangster. I think his performance in this film is right up there with his terrifying performance in 10 Rillington Place. It really is one of his very best performances.

As the violent Pinkie, Attenborough is edgy and he conveys a barely repressed rage that is just waiting to be unleashed. He steals every scene he is with his expressions alone. His youthful appearance works to the films advantage I think, as it makes Pinkie’s acts of violence seem all the more shocking when they occur. 

The film was produced by the Boulting brothers. The film was co-written by Graham Green and Terence Rattigan. John Boulting directed the film. The Boulting brothers were identical twins who worked on a number of British films including: Thunder Rock, The Magic Box, The Family Way and Seven Days To Noon.

The body of a man called William Kite is discovered in a gravel pit. Kite was the leader of a local gang. The Police believe he was killed by a rival gang after speaking to a newspaper reporter called Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley). Hale wrote a crime expose piece which led to Kite’s name being published.  

Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough), the baby faced and youngest member of the gang assumes Kite’s position as leader of their gang. Pinkie is aided by the ice cold and loyal Dallow (William Hartnell), the ageing but loyal Spicer (Wylie Watson), and the giggling  Cubitt(Nigel Stock).

Pinkie and his men go after Hale to kill him for what happened to Kite. They catch up to him aboard a horror train ride on Brighton Pier. This stunning sequence is a highpoint in the film and is truly unforgettable. The horror imagery in the ride is very scary and the lighting is superb and used to great effect.

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Ida. Screenshot by me.

Hale’s death is ruled a suicide. Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley) doesn’t believe that for one moment. Ida knew Fred and she was with him just before he got on that ride. She isn’t afraid to put herself at risk to find out the truth. Ida sets out on her own to do some investigating to get to the truth.

With Ida sniffing around, rival gangs causing trouble, and the Police keeping an eye on what’s going, Pinkie becomes more and more paranoid and violent. He also soon becomes as big a threat to his friends as he is to his sworn enemies. 

Naïve young waitress, Rose (Carol Marsh)is a potential witness to Pinkie’s crime. To shut her up and keep an eye on her, he woos her and then marries her. She is a very innocent and fragile woman, and as the film goes on she seems to be heading ever closer to a breakdown. Pinkie treats her like rubbish. He makes a mistake in not heeding the warning he gets from Dallow about not mistreating Rose. 

The performances in this are excellent. Attenborough goes full psycho and is utterly chilling as Pinkie. If you have never seen Richard Attenborough play evil before, then you really need to watch this film. He makes us see that his character wants to be number one, and he wants this at the expense of all else. He craves power and he enjoys violence. He also doesn’t seem to care who is on the receiving end of his violent outbursts. This man is a cold hearted thug.

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Dallow. Screenshot by me.

William Hartnell (the first Doctor Who)steals all the scenes he is in as Dallow. Hartnell often played heavies in British films, his performance here is one of his very best I think. He more than convinces as a hard man who has a moral code when it comes to treating women. He too is a nasty piece of work, but he takes no pleasure from what he does, he does it because it’s a job and it’s what he is good at. Deep down he is actually not all bad.

Hermione Baddeley was one of the greates character actresses of the classic era. In this film I think she may well have been given her best role. I think it’s a real shame she didn’t get more substantial roles.

As Ida, she is loud, outgoing, funny, strong and very determined. I like how she is really the hero of the film. I think it’s nice to see an older woman get such a strong role in a film too.  

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Hale. Screenshot by me.

Alan Wheatley is memorable as the terrified Hale fleeing for his life. He more than convinces as the terrified and desperate man on edge, running away from Pinkie’s gang with all the speed that his legs can muster. Wheatley had the sharp and thin features that I think would have made him the perfect choice to play Sherlock Holmes. He was a fine character actor and is terrific in this film.

Carol Marsh makes you want to yell at her character, to shake her out of her wide eyed adoration of the vile Pinkie. She is so naïve and very easily led. Marsh does a superb job of playing this girl who refuses to accept that Pinkie is all bad. She is something of a doormat, but you can’t help but feel sorry for her anyway. There is a childlike innocence about her. 

The book (which I’ve yet to read)apparently had more religious overtones than the film and was full of Catholic guilt. The film doesn’t focus so much on that, but there are a couple of moments where this can be picked up on if you’re looking for it. Religion also rather heavily features in the unforgettable ending scene. 

This is a thrilling, engrossing and a gritty flick that is a real character piece. Everyone in the cast gets their chance to shine.  

My favourite scenes are the following. Ida questioning Rose at the café. Dallow warning Pinkie not to touch Rose. The finale on the pier. Hale meeting a terrifying end on the ghost train ride. Ida and Hale meeting in the bar. Pinkie making a recording of his voice to Rose and in it telling her just what he thinks of her. Dallow telling Rose that she should ask Pinkie for some new clothes. The final scene with the message on the record.

The film was remade in 2010. The remake sadly pales in comparison to this one. Why oh why do people keep insisting on remaking classic films? Most of the time the original is way better than the remake, so why bother doing it? I recommend you stick with this version and enjoy a cracking example of British cinema at its very best. 

What are your thoughts on this film?