Blogathons, British Cinema, Drama, Films I Love

The Free For All Blogathon: This Happy Breed (1944)

free-for-all-blogathon-banner

Theresa over at Cinemaven’sessaysfromthecouch is hosting this blogathon. We have all been allowed to write about any topic we want, just as long as it is film related.

Click on the link below to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

https://cinemavensessaysfromthecouch.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/the-free-for-all-blogathon/ 

I’ve decided to write about David Lean and Noel Coward’s film This Happy Breed. The film focuses on a working class/lower middle class British family. The film takes place between 1919 and the start of WW2. The film is based upon Noel Coward’s 1939 stage play of the same name.   

I think that this film really honours its stage bound beginnings. There are a large majority of the films scenes which take place indoors, and there is an almost claustrophobic feel about the film as the camera makes it seem as though we are in that house with this family.

The film also has many external sequences too. This is also a film where the actors are allowed to carry the film and are our main focus. Personally this is the sort of filmmaking I prefer. Give me films like this any day,rather than those where effects carry the film and the story and characters are sidelined. 

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The decent Frank. Screenshot by me.

David Lean is one of my favourite film directors. I like him so much because he was one of the few directors who was able to make films which were both epic and intimate. Not every director can pull that off, but Lean certainly had the knack. 

Lean knew how to get the balance between the intimate and the epic just right in his films. I think that this particular film is one of the best examples of his ability to be able to meld those two things together. 

This Happy Breed is an extremely intimate character study set against an epic backdrop of the historical change in Britain during the first part of the twentieth century. This film is also notable for being Lean’s first solo outing as a director.

David Lean first got into the British film industry in the late 1920’s, and he worked as a film editor for many years. In 1942 he teamed up with Noel Coward to co-direct In Which We Serve. The pair would go on to work together again on three other films – This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit and Brief Encounter. With these films, the talents and abilities of David Lean became abundantly clear to audiences and critics alike. 

I really love This Happy Breed for several other reasons too. I love this film because when I watch it I always feel as though I am watching the life and experiences of a real family. It’s like I am there in that house with these people. Setting the film in a house also makes us in the audience the direct witnesses to the private life of this family. I think that in a way we in the audience become the walls of the house, (remember the old saying “if walls could talk”?) as we bear witness to what happens to this family as the years pass them by. The house also becomes another character in the film and the house set really comes across as though it is a real lived in home. 

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Frank and Bob. Screenshot by me.

I also love the film because Robert Newton and Celia Johnson’s characters remind me so much of my grandparents. Grandad was just like Newton’s character is in the film, he was a quiet man who didn’t speak all that much. When he did speak it was because he had something very meaningful to say. He loved his family and his garden more than anything else. 

Grandad never spoke to us (not sure if he ever spoke to Gran about it either)about his war service (he served in WW2) but he regularly met up with Bill who was his best mate. He and Bill had served together and they would meet up pretty much every weekend.

Much like Stanley Holloway’s character does in this film, Bill would speak quite openly and regularly about what he and granddad had been through in the war. I actually learnt so much from him. His stories made me admire his and my granddad’s courage so much.

I wished then that I had fully understood the importance of what granddad had been a part of when he was alive. If I had known, I would have asked him so many questions (whether he would have answered me is of course another question) and told him thank you for what he did. 

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Celia Johnson as the strong willed Ethel. Screenshot by me.

My Gran was just like Celia Johnson’s character is in the film. She was house proud, strong, and she was also one of those people who you thought would always be there. She never wanted to appear weak, nor did she ever want to waste time.

She adored my granddad, and to him she was a queen whom he was extremely protective of. Their love for one another was very evident, he was always quick to tell her if he thought she was doing too much. I lost my gran over a year ago now.   

I am sure I can’t be the only one who watches this film and is reminded of people who they know or knew in real life. As well as making the characters come across as realistic, I also think that Lean’s film captures the determined and unyielding personalities of the generation who lived at that time. They had it tough, but they didn’t let it break them. Instead they used their experiences to make themselves stronger and made sure they cherished what they held most dear.  

The film begins in 1919. The pointless slaughter of the Great War has just ended. An entire generation of men have been wiped out. The scarred survivors of the trenches are coming home to their loved ones. These men just want a quiet, steady life with their loved ones and need time to readjust and live a normal life. This film follows the experiences of the Gibbons family.   

 

The film begins with the family moving into a new house in the suburbs of London. the mild mannered Frank (Robert Newton), his steadfast wife Ethel (Celia Johnson), their three children – quiet and dependable Vi (Eileen Erskine), hugely dissatisfied Queenie(Kay Walsh) and the idealistic Reg(John Blythe).

Also moving in are Ethel’s mum (Amy Veness) and Frank’s hypochondriac sister, Sylvia(Alison Leggatt), these two squabble something fierce and provide the comedy of the film. The family also bring with them their tabby cat, Percy. Frank is delighted to find a friend living nearby, a former comrade from the trenches called Bob (Stanley Holloway).  

We follow this family and their friends through their good and bad times. We see them experience the turbulent events of the next twenty plus years. Events depicted in the background include – strikes, the rise of Hitler, changes in British government and monarchs, the depression, changing fashion and music, and the ever growing threat of another world war.

Stanley Holloway provides strong support as Frank’s loud and fun best friend Bob. John Mills is kind and dependable as Billy, the boy who loves Queenie with all his heart and soul. 

If I have any criticisms of this film it is that perhaps the family are shown to be a bit too happy with their lot, even when enduring times of great stress and pain. They rarely complain about what they are enduring. I know this depiction plays into the whole stiff upper lip thing, and that it gets across the strength of this generation. I am certain though that people in this time must have had plenty of bad days, where getting up and facing their tough times head on was a real struggle for them. I don’t think they were as uncomplaining and accepting as they are depicted as being here.   

I also really wish that some sequences had lasted longer- such as the family day out at the Great Exhibition and the wedding day sequence. I also wish there was a bit more focus upon the aftermath of Frank and Ethel receiving the news of the death of someone very dear to them.

I also wish that the film itself had a much longer running time. This is one of those films that I never want to end and am always disappointed when I rewatch this and it ends so quickly (it’s barely two hours long).

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Queenie shows off her dancing skills. Screenshot by me.

I also think that John Mills and Kay Walsh (although both delivering excellent and moving performances)were far too old for their respective roles. I do think that Kay was superb in her role of the young woman who feels trapped in her life and class. Kay really does make me feel Queenie’s desperation to escape her current situation and move on to something better.

Despite those minor complaints this film really is very good indeed. There are strong performances from all in the cast. I think Robert Newton delivers the standout performance in the film.

If you are only familiar with Robert as the over the top Long John Silver, then you should really check him out in this flick. His performance is extremely subtle and quite touching. Watch his eyes and his face in this because they sure speak volumes. Robert brings Frank to life and makes him utterly believable.  

Fans of Lean’s work will have fun noticing Kay Walsh and Robert Newton play father and daughter here. Just four years later they would go on to play the ill fated lovers Bill and Nancy in one of Lean’s finest films, Oliver Twist

I also love the depiction of the marriage between Frank and Ethel. These two stay with each other through thick and thin. They clearly adore one another and Robert and Celia make us believe that they would be lost without one another. This couple accept each others flaws and they cherish every moment they have together. This is a marriage that is very rarely found nowadays. These days people are so often out the door at the first sign of any difficulty. I like that these two remind us that a good marriage is one that is worked at and is valued.  

I also really adore Queenie and Billy’s relationship. Queenie comes across as someone who is above her class, she wants to be something other than ordinary, and she can’t see a good thing (Billy)when it is right in front of her. I love how Billy waits for her to come to her senses and doesn’t judge her.  

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Billy arrives home. Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes are the following. Frank and Ethel receiving some terrible news about Reg (this scene serves as a masterclass in how to convey shock and grief without going over the top. It also shows that quite often the best thing is for the camera to simply remain still and capture the actors performances, these performances will tell the audience all they need to know.) Frank saying he doesn’t care what happens to him as long as he has Ethel. Billy bringing Queenie back to her parents. The family arriving at their new home and starting to clean the place up and unpack. Frank and Reg talking about their opposing views about the General Strike. Frank, Vi and Sylvia talking about Chamberlain declaring “peace in our time”. Frank, Bob and Ethel saying goodbye. Queenie leaving a letter to her parents. Queenie dancing.

What do you think of this film? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blogathons, Drama

The Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Elizabeth Taylor blogathon

Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Elizabeth Taylor. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

Elizabeth Taylor was someone famous who I always felt like I knew. I felt this way because I think that Elizabeth was so open about her life; her personal issues, her passions, and her tragedies were very well known to those of us who never actually knew her. Due to her openness, it often felt like you did know her in a way.

Her life was led very much in the public eye and pretty much everything she did was reported on. Elizabeth was one of the biggest film stars there has ever been, yet she didn’t become aloof or self centred, she was actually a very generous and kind person. Elizabeth also did so much for charity and she also helped to raise public awareness of AIDS and addiction.

People liked Elizabeth and they felt like they could relate to her in some way.  Despite the fact that I never met her, I certainly did feel that in a way I had lost someone special when she died in 2011. 

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Elizabeth as Maggie. Screenshot by me.

Elizabeth was also one of the most beautiful women of the 20th century. Sadly it was her looks which were often focused on more than her acting talents were. There was so much more to Elizabeth than just physical beauty. She was a very interesting person and was also a very good dramatic actress.

I’ve decided that I’m going to write about a film that I consider to feature one of her very best film performances. That film is Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

1958 really was a key year in Elizabeth Taylor’s life. In March of that year her third husband Mike Todd was tragically killed in a plane crash. Elizabeth was left utterly devastated by his death.

At the time that Mike was killed, Elizabeth had been in the middle of filming Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. She had to then finish filming her scenes while she was still in the process of grieving for Mike. Elizabeth and Mike had planned for this to be her last film. Their plan was that she could have then retired from acting.

I’ve no doubt that making Cat On A Hot Tin Roof must have been an extremely difficult experience for Elizabeth; however her performance in this film certainly helped to show audiences how much of a skilled dramatic actress she was capable of being.

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Maggie comforts her husband. Screenshot by me.

Elizabeth had had some dramatic roles before this of course, but I think this was really the first film in which we saw just what dramatic heights she could actually reach.     

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is directed by Richard Brooks. The film is based upon the acclaimed play by Tennessee Williams. The film tells the story of the wealthy Pollitt family. The film doesn’t fully manage to shake off its theatrical roots. Most of the action takes place in one room, and it’s one of those films where characters yell and shout a lot. If that doesn’t sound like it’s your thing, I’d say give it a try because the performances really make it worthwhile.

There is the handsome former football star Brick(Paul Newman). He is grieving the death of his best friend (who it is strongly suggested was also his lover). Brick is struggling with life and his biggest crutch is the regular doses of alcohol that he consumes.

Brick’s young and very beautiful wife Maggie(Elizabeth Taylor)is frustrated over his lack of physical passion for her. She loves him so much, but she cannot reach his heart, and she cannot help him with his grief. She won’t give up trying to reach him though

Brick’s long suffering elder brother Gooper(Jack Carson)and Gooper’s overbearing and shrill wife Mae(Madeleine Sherwood)make life hell for Brick and Maggie. Gooper and Mae are desperate to become the next owners of the family plantation. 

As the family gather together for the milestone birthday of their patriarch Big Daddy(Burl Ives), family frustrations and secrets are revealed; including the sad fact that Big Daddy is slowly dying of cancer. 

This painful revelation about his father forces Brick to step up and take charge of his responsibilities. 

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The tough Big Daddy. Screenshot by me.

There are three love stories in this Brick and Maggie, Brick and Big Daddy, and Brick’s love of the bottle(which is a form of healing and protection from real life for him).The most important of these is that between Brick and Big Daddy. By the end of the film both men have learnt something about the other, and both will develop mutual respect and understanding.  

I think that all of the cast shine here. Judith Anderson delivers solid support as the loving, loyal, but not particularly clever wife of Big Daddy, Anderson makes you really feel for her character.

Newman convinces as the brooding, pent up and reclusive Brick. He makes you want to yell at Brick, and he makes you want to tell him to snap out of his current state. For me though it is Burl Ives and Elizabeth Taylor who deliver the best and most memorable performances in this film.

Burl is excellent as the strong Big Daddy. He makes him a loud, sharp, clever and observant leader of the pack. He won’t show weakness, and he certainly won’t let people walk all over him.

Elizabeth superbly conveys the frustrations and desires of Maggie. She is all strength, anger, sensuality, desperation, sexiness, and passion. Maggie is not a woman who is content to sit at home knitting, she is clever, strong and fiercely independent. Her performance is all in her expressions and body language. I think this is one of the very best performances she ever gave.

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Maggie lets her feelings be known. Screenshot by me.

As I said earlier, Elizabeth’s performance in this film also showed off what a superb dramatic actress she could be. I just think it’s a shame that she didn’t get more meaty dramatic material like this to work with in her career. This film along with Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and The Taming Of The Shrew are real highpoints in Elizabeth’s career I think.   

I think that in the way Elizabeth plays Maggie here, she makes her become the strongest person in that family. Maggie keeps a cool head, she knows what’s going on, and she doesn’t care one bit for custom or tradition, she will do what she decides to do. I also love how she stands by Brick, even if she doesn’t fully understand what ails him, she’ll stick by her man and won’t leave him alone.

I also love how Maggie doesn’t stand for the rubbish way Mae’s kids treat her. Those kids are rude and spoilt, and Maggie doesn’t stand for their bad behaviour.

The ice cream throwing scene is a great favourite of mine. Maggie can’t believe that this obnoxious kid has just ruined her outfit by throwing ice cream at her. Maggie soon takes matters into her own hands and dishes out some punishment. That brat was flat out asking for it and Maggie squished that ice cream right in her face! Haha! 🙂  My screenshots below show Maggie getting her ice cream revenge. 🙂

When you think of this film, I will bet that it is Elizabeth’s performance and character that comes instantly to their mind. Elizabeth makes Maggie such a strong, sexy, passionate, desperate and tender woman, who it is impossible to forget. I also like how Elizabeth shows us that despite feeling left out, lonely, and despairing; Maggie still has some hope that she and Brick can actually get back together again and find a lasting happiness.

Maggie is patient with Brick, she lets her presence be known to him, and she doesn’t let him push her away from him. She is willing to wait for him to come to her, she bides her time and waits. This situation may get her down, but she doesn’t accept that the situation can never change or get better. Maggie always has hope. Maggie is a survivor of this situation and family. In that respect I think she is quite similar to Elizabeth.  

This film is a real high point in Elizabeth’s career. She gave this role everything she had, and I really think that shows through in her performance. 

What do you think of this film? What are your thoughts on Elizabeth’s performance as Maggie?

The following are my favourite Elizabeth Taylor films.

1- Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

2- Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

3- Little Women

4- The Taming Of The Shrew

5- Cleopatra

6- The Sandpiper

7- Elephant Walk

 

 

 

Blogathons

The Small Screen Blogathon Begins

Small screen blogathon 1

About a month ago I announced this Small Screen Blogathon.

Seventeen lovely people were kind enough to sign up to take part. A range of series and TV films were selected by them to be discussed today.

So without any further ado, let us all gather together around the TV. The sofa and chairs are empty, the snacks and drinks are ready, and the remote control is standing by. What series shall we gather together to watch first? 

                                                                 The Entries 

MovieMovieBlogBlog invites us all to join him to watch the British comedy classic Coupling.

 

Wolfman’s Cult Film Club has a guest appearance that he’d like us to check out on the Science Fiction series The Invaders.

 

Join Thoughts All Sorts to watch the Sci-Fi buddy series Almost Human.

 

We head to Yorkshire with Cinema Essentials, and he shows us how to be a country vet in All Creatures Great and Small. 

 

Bonnywood Manor invites us to join a series dear to his heart called Pushing Daisies.

 

Moon In Gemini takes us to that mysterious island to review an episode of Lost called The Constant.

 

Mike’s Take On The Movies changes the channel and invites us to watch two George Kennedy TV films.

 

The Midnite Drive-In shows us the episode where Mr. Monk met Country legend Willie Nelson in the Monk episode, Mr. Monk Meets The Red-Headed Stranger.

 

The Humpo Show invites us all to binge watch the boxset of The Office. 

 

Caftan Woman introduces us all to two sleuthing sisters in the criminally little known series The Snoop Sisters. 

 

Vinnieh would love us all to join him to binge watch Season 1 of Victoria.

 

Reelweegiemidgetreviews takes us back to the 80’s with Dynasty: The Making Of A Guilty Pleasure & The Cartier Affair.

 

Sparks From A Combustible Mind would love us to join her in watching the adventures of the master of the little grey cells Poirot. 

 

The Wonderful World Of Cinema invites us to watch a Canadian series that is very dear to her heart Les Filles de Caleb.

 

Whimsically Classic asks us to join for a lot of laughs watching I Love Lucy.

 

dbmoviesblog invites us to the terrifying and thought provoking world depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale. 

 

I’d love you to grab some snacks and watch the life of an Edwardian cook who was known as The Duchess Of Duke Street.

 

 

 

Personal

My Blog Turns One Year Old Today!

A year ago today I started this blog. I cannot believe that a whole year has gone by already. Believe me it does not seem that long ago that I started doing this. Seriously folks, where has all that time gone?

Thank YouI was very unsure about blogging when I started, but I’ve gained so much more confidence as time has gone on.

I want to thank each and every one of you for supporting me this year.

My thanks must also go again to Caftan Woman for encouraging me to give blogging a go in the first place.  

I am very well aware that there are many film blogs out there which are far better than mine could ever hope to be. It really means so much to me that you all keep stopping by my blog.  Your comments, encouragement, feedback, support and likes mean more to me than you can know. I am so touched by your friendship and constant support. Thank you! x 🙂 

I’ve been delighted to run into so many classic film fans through this blog. The passion I have long felt for classic era cinema no longer makes me feel as though I am in a minority. I am also happy to have been able to introduce some of you to classic films that you have never heard of before.  

I’ve had a very busy first year blogging. 

  • This year I have taken part in 26 blogathons! I have hosted 3 blogathons (and I have another being held tomorrow).You can view all my blogathon entries here
  • People from the following countries account for the largest numbers of visitors to my blog: UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil, India and Spain.
  • I have been accepted as a member of The Classic Movie Blog Association. Find out more about this group and get details of how to join here. 

I very much enjoyed writing the following posts this year. I’m also quite proud of these posts too. I’d love you to have a read of them all. 

Photo0627 Wings

 

Photo0324 Rashomon

 

 

Photo0424The Red Shoes

 

Sunset Blvd

 

 

Fahrenheit 451

 

 

The Apartment

 

Photo0541 Brighton Rock

 

Photo0551 The Big Heat

 

 

Photo0442 The Searchers

 

Dead Of Night

 

Grand Hotel

 

Photo0461 Ikiru

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

 

Photo0598Odds Against Tomorrow

 

Photo0623 Shooting Stars

 

The Nun’s Story

 

I invite you all to take a big slice of chocolate cake to celebrate the 1st anniversary of my blog. I’m having a great time running it. I do hope that you are all having a great time reading it.

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You are also all invited to take part in my next blogathon. This is being held to celebrate the actor Lon Chaney Sr. If you would like to take part, you can find further details and sign up here. 

 

Small screen blogathon 1

 

 

Join me tomorrow for The Small Screen Blogathon. 

 

Thank you all again for your support. 

Blogathons, Silent Film, Tributes To Classic Stars

Announcing The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon

Good morning to you all. Guess what? You are all invited to participate in yet another blogathon.  🙂 

This year would have been the 135th birthday of the actor Lon Chaney Sr. To mark Lon’s 135th anniversary, myself and Ruth of Silver Screenings are inviting you all to join us in celebrating Lon’s remarkable life and career.  

Lon 4We will be holding the blogathon on the 5th & 6th of May, 2018. 

If you would like to take part, you are free to write about any of Lon’s films. We will accept no more than two duplicates for his film titles though.

You can also write about his famous makeup (which he created himself). You could also write about your favourite Lon Chaney film characters. You could even write about his entire career if you would like to. 

If you have never seen a Lon Chaney Sr film before, then maybe you could use this blogathon as an opportunity to finally do so.

If you feel like writing more than one post for this blogathon you can do.

Lon Chaney was a man of many talents. Known as the man of a thousand faces, he was famous for pushing himself to physical extremes to play disabled characters. He was also famous for creating his own makeup to play disfigured characters. Chaney was quite a humble man off screen and he kept himself to himself when he wasn’t working.

Keeping himself quite private may well have helped him as an actor I think. As he didn’t go around publicising Lon Chaney the man, I think that may have helped audiences forget about the actor and helped them buy more into the characters he was playing up on the screen.

If you would like to take part in our blogathon just leave a comment with me or with Ruth. Let us know what you are going to write about, and also please leave us the name and url of your blog.  

Ruth will be hosting on the 6th, and I will be hosting on the 5th. Pick which day you want to post your entry on and leave the entry with whichever of us is hosting that day. It is more than ok for you to post your entry a few days early if you wish.

Check the participation list below to see who is writing about what. Please take one of the awesome banners that Ruth has designed. Put it up on your blog somewhere to help publicise the event. 

Have fun writing. Let’s all join together to celebrate the talents of Lon and his special approach to his work. 

 

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Lon 1

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Lon 4

 

Participation List

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: Lon as the first character actor, plus his portrayal of disabled and disfigured characters.

Silver Screenings  :Lon Chaney: The Man Of A Thousand Faces (2000 Documentary)

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood : The Unknown & Ace Of Hearts 

Taking Up Room : The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

Wide Screen World : Oliver Twist

An Ode To Dust : Chaney as the child of deaf parents

The Dream Book Blog :Outside The Law

Christina Wehner : He Who Gets Slapped

Silver Screen Classics : London After Midnight: The Holy Grail Of Silent Film

Caftan Woman : The Trap

Critica Retro  :The Miracle Man

Speakeasy : The Monster

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Silent Film, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Fourth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon: Why I Love Buster

busterthon-4-2

Lea over at Silent-ology is hosting this blogathon all about Buster Keaton. Be sure to visit her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.  

When I saw that Lea was hosting this blogathon, I jumped at the chance to take part so that I could share my great love for this film legend. There are not enough words for me to use to be able to fully express my admiration and love for Buster.

Buster Keaton will have me laughing hysterically one moment. The next moment he will have me sitting on the edge of my seat in suspense and anticipation. He was a hugely talented man. I also think that he was someone who was equally at home both in front and behind the camera.

Whenever I am in need of something to prove that at one time dangerous and epic scenes were once filmed for real (hit the road CGI), then it is to Buster Keaton and his work that I turn. 

I’ve been a fan of Buster for a few years now. I first became a fan of Buster’s due to his audacious stunt work. Long before I loved him because he made me laugh, he had me open mouthed in disbelief at what I had just witnessed him doing in terms of stunt work. He made his stunt work look effortless. He also risked real injury to create that stunt work for our viewing pleasure.

I think that anyone can end up creating a scene or sequence that will make people laugh. Very few though would be able to create something that has people laughing, gasping in shock, or has you on the edge of your seat in suspense. Buster’s sequences often leave you doing all three of those things at once!   

The risks that Buster took on screen are really what has led me to like him so much. He pushed himself to such great extremes on screen. He showed us just what extreme physical stunts could be captured on camera. He never faked the gag, or the risky stunt work that it took to achieve it.

Whether he is risking life and limb aboard a train, running from boulders, or jumping off of things, Buster is always right there at the centre of the action and danger. Seeing him in those situations makes me admire him as an actor and director. He also had the gift of making what he was doing look like it was happening in the moment and was totally natural and effortless for him.

I love what Buster does because he shows us that nothing can ever replace seeing something happen for real. Today films are so often filled to the brim with CGI, the effects usually look fake and I often find myself rolling my eyes when such effects appear on the screen. Buster showed us that nothing wows audiences more than seeing something spectacular done on screen for real. This still remains the case today one hundred years later. I feel that his work is timeless because it has a wow factor.

Where many Silent stars and films have sadly long since been forgotten about, Buster on the other hand retains a large amount of fame and influence today. His work commands the respect and admiration of audiences and filmmakers today. I think that is because of his stunt work and those incredible sequences he created for us to marvel at. He is proof that you just can’t beat doing something on screen for real.  

I also love Buster because he was a jack of all trades. He was a skilled actor, a natural comedian, a gifted director, and he was also one of the best stunt men around. He could do it all, and he had a vision for what he wanted to achieve on screen and he stuck right to it.

There are not many in the film business who were as talented as he was, or who could take on such different film roles with ease like he could.  Buster was a one of a kind and I think that is why he has become such a favourite of mine. He was multi talented and always knew how to entertain and impress his audience. He also knew that nothing impresses more than something being done for real. 

I think it’s a real shame that the talents of Charles Chaplin have so overshadowed Buster’s over the last century. Mention Silent era comedians, and I bet you anything that it is Chaplin who most people speak of. Chaplin quite rightly has been so praised and admired, but I think that Buster was every bit as skilled, funny and as worthy of praise as Chaplin was. I think he deserves to be spoken of alongside Chaplin equally. They were both comedy masters and both had such different ways of going about their job. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love Chaplin very much and I think highly of his work; I just strongly feel that Buster’s name and career deserves all the praise that Chaplin’s has received over the years. Chaplin is a name that is known even to people who have never seen a Silent film My wish is that the same can be said for Buster Keaton. I hope that more young people come to discover his films and see him for the timeless genius that he was.   

I think it’s fair to say that few people have been able to be as much of a success behind, and in front of the camera, as Buster was able to be. He really was one of the greatest filmmakers. He worked so hard, was a perfectionist, and I like that he came up with an idea and then went and found a way to make that a reality. 

Although he was not as famous on screen in his later years as he had once been, I sincerely hope that deep down inside somewhere Buster continued to know how much he was loved and respected by audiences. I think he would be very moved if he could read our discussions and see that he and his work remain so respected and loved a century later. 

Now, if you will all kindly excuse me, I have a date with Mr. Buster Keaton. There will be laughter, there will be adventure, and there will certainly be one awestruck film viewer. 

Thanks for the laughs. Thanks for the stunts. Thanks for all of those unforgettable images and scenes. Buster, you really were the best! 🙂  

If you have never seen a Buster Keaton film before I have to ask what are you waiting for? Seek his work out, and when you do, prepare to laugh and to be in awe. 

 

Blogathons, Classic TV, Drama, Romance, War

The Duchess Of Duke Street (1976-1977)

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This is my own entry for my Small Screen blogathon being held on the 20th of this month.  If you would like to join the blogathon there is still time to do so. Find more details and sign up here.

I am writing about the British TV series The Duchess Of Duke Street

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Louisa hard at work in the kitchen. Screenshot by me.

This British series is based upon the life of a real Edwardian woman called Rosa Lewis(1867-1952). Rosa was a renowned cook and she also owned the Cavendish Hotel in London (which is still open today).

Rosa was famous throughout British society for her cooking, and also for the rumour that she and Prince Edward (later King Edward V11)were having an affair. It’s not difficult to see why her story inspired this series to be made. 

John Hawkesworth (the man who helped Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins turn Upstairs, Downstairs into the great success it became)produced The Duchess of Duke Street. Series that John were involved with were noted for their period detail, and a great many of them became huge successes.  

One of my favourite series that John was involved with is the Granada TV series The Adventures, Return and Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, which starred Jeremy Brett (in my opinion the best Sherlock Holmes ever captured on screen).

The Duchess Of Duke Street is another of John’s high quality series. I don’t simply love this one for its story and setting, I love this one because it depicts a woman trying out and succeeding in business at a time when women just didn’t do such things. Louisa Trotter is the main character of the series, and she becomes a successful cook and businesswoman. She doesn’t take no for an answer and she never gives up even when things are tough for her. 

Louisa works with men, she is in charge of men and she gains the respect and admiration of men. I find Louisa quite an inspirational character really, she is not content to stay a wife or a servant. Louisa wants more out of life, she wants to be seen as an equal to the men she works with and she achieves that. 

The series is set in London between 1900 and 1925. We follow the life of Louisa Trotter(Gemma Jones), a young cockney woman who wants to be a cook more than anything else. Working very hard she learns the art of making food. Her food is acknowledged as being superb and is very well liked by all who taste it.

As the years go on, Louisa becomes one of the best cooks in London and becomes the owner of the Bentinck Hotel. The Bentinck is more like an apartment building than a hotel, those who stay there love it and many consider it their home away from home. Louisa has a relationship with the Prince of Wales(later to become King Edward VII), throughout the series Louisa looks back on her relationship with him very fondly.

The real love of Lousia’s life though is the handsome and outgoing aristocrat Charlie Tyrrell(Christopher Cazenove). Their relationship is extremely complex, and it is their relationship that helped make this series become a real favourite of mine. Louisa and Charlie’s story really is the heart and soul of the series.

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Charlie. Screenshot by me.

Louisa and Charlie become the best of friends and later on become lovers. They both want their relationship to become something more, but they just never seem to be able to find the right moment to change the nature of the relationship.

They have a daughter together who they call Lottie(Lalla Ward). She is raised by tenants of Charlie’s on his country estate. Charlie helps Louisa run the Bentinck and also keeps a suite of rooms there. 

Louisa and Charlie are not the only focus of the series though. Louisa’s loyal staff at the hotel include the dutiful doorman Starr(John Cater),a former soldier who speaks his mind and whose best friend is his dog Fred. Merriman(John Welsh)the elderly head waiter who wouldn’t thank you for suggesting he retire. Bubbly Welsh maid Mary(Victoria Plunckett). The assistant cook, Mrs. Cochrane (Mary Healey), and the former soldier turned gambler, Major Smith-Barton(Richard Vernon). Louisa and her staff become like family and they share the good and bad times together.

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Mr. Merriman. Screenshot by me.
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Mr. Starr. Screenshot by me.
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Mary. Screenshot by me.
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The Major. Screenshot by me.

Besides the relationship between Charlie and Louisa, my favourite relationship in the series is the one between Louisa and the Major. He becomes a father figure to her and a very good friend. His confession to her at the end of the series regarding his feelings for her is one of my all time favourite scenes from the series.

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Louisa salutes Charlie as he leaves for the trenches. Screenshot by me.

The second half of the series focuses on the brutal and upsetting events of World War One and its aftermath. Louisa turns the hotel into a place for only British soldiers to be able stay. Charlie has to go off to fight in the war. Tragedy, pain and sorrow sadly lie in wait for our characters.

I also love how Gemma portrays Louisa’s unwillingness to show any sort of vulnerability, even when she’s alone with Charlie, she very seldom lets her guard down. It is like she always has to appear strong and tough. I think that she feels that way because she is afraid that to appear vulnerable would make her appear weak.

At times it has to be said that Gemma’s shrieking when things don’t go the way Louisa wants them to, does very easily grate on the viewer, but it is all a part of this character and I really like how Gemma shows us that Louisa has flaws and is not perfect. I also like that Louisa’s determination to never be vulnerable is also her weakness, because she makes life more difficult for herself due to her always hiding her inner self. Louisa is a very interesting character indeed. One of Gemma Jones’s best performances I’d say. Since this series aired, Gemma has gone on to become one of our most beloved actresses. 

Christopher Cazenove is so lovable as the fun loving and decent Charlie. I like how we see him transition from playboy, to the more mature Lord Charles, and finally to damaged soldier. Christopher is a great favourite of mine and I never understood why he never became a much bigger star. He was always a welcome presence on screen and this is one of best performances as far as I’m concerned. 

This series is a real character piece and it is filled with great characters, great performances and many memorable storylines. This series is one that really gets you caught up the characters lives and you feel for them. I love it because of that, but I also love it for its depiction of Edwardian life.

I also find the food preparation sequences fascinating. There were some dishes that Louisa prepared that I had never heard of before and they look delicious. I also love how much effort she put into making her meals. It’s also fascinating to me to see how much of an event evening meals were back then, they were almost ritualistic (different cutlery for different dishes, what can be served at what time)and I love the fancy table decorations and food presentations.

Watching series like this really lets you see just what has changed in life. I for one have never seen a dinner table like some of the ones we see in this. I’ve never seen food displayed in such beautiful ways either (even when going out to eat at restaurants) it goes to show that we may have progressed in some ways, but I think we’ve gone back a step or two in terms of food and food presentation. 

If you have seen this series what did you think of it?

Check back on Tuesday for news of the next blogathon I’m hosting. I know, I’m totally addicted to blogathons. 🙂

 

 

 

Films I Love, Science Fiction

Forbidden Planet (1956)

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The ship lands on the planet. Screenshot by me.

This is one of the greatest Science Fiction films ever made. At the time it was made this film was about as far away from a typical Science Fiction film as you could get.

This film also makes you think and it has a nice blend of horror, action, and romance to enjoy. I love the set design and futuristic look of the film too. 

Forbidden Planet changed the look of Science Fiction films forever. It also showed filmmakers and audiences that Science Fiction could be more thought provoking than they may have previously imagined.

Before this film, many Science Fiction films of the time looked very much like cheap B Pictures (not saying that there is anything wrong with B Pictures)and it has to be said that the quality of the effects were usually not very good at all. This film changed all that. The effects and ship in this film looked more realistic.

I also love the sound effects in this film. There isn’t a traditional music score, instead we have the otherworldly electronic music score by Bebe and Louis Barron. Their sound work adds a great deal of atmosphere to the film. Their work makes the film unsettling at times and mystical and exciting at others.  Their sound effects are really quite unlike anything heard before or since. 

The film also features some of the most unforgettable images in the history of the genre. The special effects in this were extremely impressive for the 1950’s, and I firmly believe that they still impress audiences when viewed today. This is one that really makes you think about what should be feared more, unknown alien beings, ideas, and words? Or our own minds, and the terrible things that we’re capable of doing and creating with them?

The film entertains us certainly, but it also poses some very big questions to which there are no easy answers. Should our quest for improving ourselves and increasing our abilities be undertaken with extreme caution? In case we should ever grow beyond what we are now, and end up losing what makes us human(compassion, rational thought etc)in the process? Or should we move beyond ourselves no matter what the cost in doing so could be?

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Commander Adams. Screenshot by me.

Fred M. Wilcox directed the film. It was based on a screenplay by Cyril Hume. Some viewers have said that the plot of the film reminds them of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

Leslie Nielson plays the heroic, always ready for action, Commander Adams. Adams and his crew are sent out to the planet Altair-4 to investigate why there has been no contact with the human colonists who settled on this planet some years ago.

Once on the planet, Adams and his crew soon discover the only survivors from the colony – the highly intelligent scientist Dr. Morbius(Walter Pidgeon). Morbius’s equally intelligent, mini-dress clad daughter Altaira(Anne Francis), and their loveable companion Robby the robot – part butler, cook, bodyguard and friend.

Altaira becomes very fond of the crew, but Morbius is distrustful of them and he is openly hostile towards them. Morbius just wants himself and his daughter to be left alone in peace. Things get complicated when Altaira and Adams fall in love, and when the crew are attacked by the terrifying unseen creature responsible for the deaths of the other colonists.

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Morbius comforts his daughter. Screenshot by me.

I love this film so much. It is a groundbreaking film in the genre, and I think it would be fair to say that this must have strongly influenced the creator of another Science Fiction favourite of mine, the Star Trek TV series.

The device that the crew step into during the approach to the planet resemble the Star Trek transporters. I also think that Adams is a very similar character to Captain Kirk.

I also love how this one isn’t your typical alien monster film either. When you learn the identity of the monster, and where it actually comes from it is pretty mind blowing stuff.

That reveal  really adds another layer of complexity and wonderment to what you’ve been watching. This is a film I never get tired of watching, and it always impresses me no matter how many times I’ve seen it before.

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Altaira. Screenshot by me.

The only thing about this film I don’t really like that much is the romance between Adams and Altaira. She is basically a child in a woman’s body. She is very trusting and innocent and within a couple of days of meeting these two have supposedly fallen in love. If their growing romance had taken place over a longer period, then I think I would believe it more. It just comes across as being very rushed to me.

I also found it a bit creepy when Altaira meets the three crewmen for the first time and they flirt with her and stare at her like they’ve never seen a woman before. Considering she has never been to earth, or been around young men, it’s a bit unfair for them to be so sexual with her when she clearly has no idea what they are doing. If that had happened later in the film when she is getting curious about them and wanting to be with them I think that would have worked, having it happen right away though just comes off as lecherous. 

Walter Pidgeon is excellent as the tragic Morbius. A strong and clever man who is unrelenting, and who is also utterly powerless to resist what he has unleashed. Pidgeon was always a likeable actor and I love that here he gets to show he could play more complex and unlikeable characters too. I like how he conveys Morbius’s desire to keep his daughter with him at all costs. This man doesn’t like the idea of strangers taking her away from all she has ever known.
It’s also nice to see Leslie Nielson in a serious role as the heroic lead character. He makes Adams heroic, and also someone who is calm and rational under pressure. For more serious Nielson performances, check him out in a guest appearance in The Streets of San Francisco as a boozing detective, and in the 1958 Western, The Sheepman. Nielson is one of my favourite screen comics, but I have really enjoyed seeing him in serious roles, I wish he had played more dramatic roles.
Warren Stevens is terrific as Doc Ostrow, Adams close friend. Stevens is an actor who I haven’t seen in very many other things, but I really like him here and think he had it in him to become a big star. If you like him here check him out in an episode of One Step Beyond called The Riddle.

Anne Francis is superb as the ethereal Altaira. Anne perfectly conveys her characters innocent, pure and trusting nature, and also her growing desire to spend time with someone other than her father.

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Robby The Robot. Screenshot by me.

Robby the robot is one of the most instantly recognisable characters in film history. He’s a loveable individual who is probably the first thing that springs to mind when someone mentions this film. He has become one of the most recognisable characters and creations in Science Fiction history.

My favourite scenes are the ship landing on the planet. The whirl of dust crossing the horizon which signals the approach of Robby. Meeting Morbius. Adams protecting Altaira from a potential tiger attack. The attack on the ship. Altaira’s first meeting and flirting with Adams, Ostrow(Warren Stevens)and Farman(Jack Kelly).

What do you think of this film?

 

Films I Love, Page To Screen, Romance

The Ghost And Mrs. Muir (1947)

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The Captain advises Lucy. Screenshot by me.

This is one of my favourite romantic films. I always watch this if I’m in need of cheering up. This is a film that touches my heart like no other ever has. I love it because the characters are likeable, loneliness is cured, friendship and love are found, and there is the right mix between fantasy and reality to make it believable. 

I also love how the film shows Mrs.Muir and the Captain helping each other to change. He helps her become outgoing and strong. She helps him become gentler and more sociable.

The plot of the film is a sort of Beauty and The Beast story. I’m partial to stories of opposites attracting and personalities being changed for the better. This is one of my favourite such stories.

The film is based upon the 1945 novel written by R. A Dick. The film is directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. The film is set on the British coast (actually filmed in California) at the turn of the 20th century. Gene Tierney is at her most beautiful and regal here as the young widow, Mrs. Lucy Muir. Rex Harrison is intense and gruff as the ghostly Captain Gregg, the former owner of the haunted cottage that Mrs. Muir moves into.

There is an ambiguity here I think, about whether or not the Captain is actually a real manifestation, or if he is merely part of Mrs. Muir’s overactive imagination. When she moves in to her new home there is a portrait of the Captain hanging in a room, and  when she sees it she becomes intrigued by this sailor in the portrait. She begins to think of him and then he appears to her.

 

Now the Captain could just be nothing more than her imagination, and yet he could also be a physical representation of her beginning to start breaking free of her past restrictions. With the Captain around, Mrs. Muir becomes much more open, adventurous, and she has some much needed fun.

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A happy and confident Mrs. Muir. Screenshot by me.

She is no longer living a sheltered and pampered life. If you believe that then it’s also possible that she writes the book later in the film due to being inspired by her surroundings and the history of her home. 

However, I think that you can also view it that he is indeed a real ghost. Mrs. Muir’s daughter sees him too, as do the relations of Mrs. Muir’s dead husband(in a memorable scene the Captain evicts them from the premises). There is also the fact that hauntings were reported to be happening at the cottage long before Mrs. Muir ever arrived there, and the ending pretty much(for me at least)proves his existence.

Mrs Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney)is a widow. She and her daughter (Natalie Wood)move to their new home Gull Cottage on the British coast. The pair are joined by their loyal maid and friend, Martha(Edna Best). One night, Lucy is startled to meet the ghost of the former owner of her new home. This man is the rough and gruff Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison). The two do not get along at all at first. He soon warms to her presence though and allows her to stay. He won’t disturb her with haunting tricks (moving furniture etc). 

As they spend more time together, the Captain falls in love with Lucy, all the while knowing full well that nothing can ever come of their growing feelings and desire. She comes to care for him a great deal too. The pair settle for a close friendship and she agrees to write his memoirs about life as a sailor.

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Miles is one smooth operator. Screenshot by me.

They finish the book, and she takes it to a publisher. Whilst on a trip to the publishers, Lucy meets the charming (and obvious cad)Miles Fairley(George Sanders, at his most charming and oily), he (supposedly) falls in love with her.

The Captain can see straight through Miles’s charming façade. He knows full well that he is no good, but will Lucy ever see the truth about this elegant living man in her life? 

Harrison and Tierney make a beautiful screen couple. I think that they perfectly convey the shared heartache and desires of their characters. I love how their shared scenes become more tender and moving as the film goes on, and as their characters feelings for one another increase.

Harrison is an actor who I’ve never really been much of a fan of, but I really do like him here. Harrison makes the Captain harsh and gruff, and yet he also shows us that his outward appearance is nothing more than an act, he is really a gentle, tender, and very decent man underneath.

Gene Tierney delivers one of her very best performances here, as the rich young woman finally getting her first chance to do the things she wants to do. She starts off as a restrained woman who doesn’t express much. Through her friendship with the Captain she becomes more outgoing and open. Gene Tierney does a marvellous job of showing us that change in her character. She makes Mrs. Muir strong, determined, gentle and excitable.

Bernard Herrmann’s beautiful score for this is one of his very best, it’s atmospheric and for me always conjures up images of the sea. It’s a moving and passionate score, and goes so well with the images on screen.

The photography by Charles Lang is gorgeous. He was Oscar nominated for his work here. I particularly love his photography in the kitchen scene, it’s so dark and scary, and then when the candle is lit the room becomes very atmospheric casting shadows on the walls. 

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Just kiss already! Screenshot by me.

My all time favourite scene in this is the dream scene; in this scene we see the Captain realise that he must make quite a sacrifice to ensure Lucy’s future happiness. It is a heartbreaking moment.

I also really love the scene on the train where the Captain yells at an old man who wants to share Lucy’s compartment, and because the Captain is invisible to anyone except Lucy, the old man thinks she has yelled insults at him and his reaction to her is priceless.

Superb performances from the entire cast. This is a must watch for fans of classic era romance. Make sure you have some tissues with you though as it’s guaranteed to make you shed a few tears. There was a TV series of this made in the 1960’s. I’ve been lucky enough to find the episodes on YouTube, if you haven’t seen it and like the film, then do check it out. Hope Lange plays Mrs. Muir and Edward Mulhare plays Captain Gregg. I enjoyed this very much, it’s more of a comedy than a romantic drama, but there are many lovely scenes between the Captain and Mrs. Muir to enjoy too.

Nothing can top this film version for me though. The gorgeous score, the excellent performances, the poignant romance, and the interesting premise make this a timeless classic. It is a film I return to again and again. It never fails to make me laugh and cry. It provides the perfect viewing for times when I am ill or sad.

What do you think of the film?

British Cinema, Drama, Films I Love, Page To Screen, Romance

The Wicked Lady (1945)

There are not enough words for me to be able to use to describe how much I love this Gainsborough Studios melodrama. There is something in this film for everyone to enjoy – adventure, romance, passion, danger, suspense and an impressive recreation of Regency era home interiors and clothes.

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Margaret Lockwood as Barbara. Screenshot by me.

Plus the film has Margaret Lockwood. Margaret was the best bad girl in British cinema history.  I think Margaret really shone in the Gainsborough films of the 40’s and this particular film features one of her finest screen performances.

The way she played her roles in these films means that audiences love to hate her, and they also really don’t want her character to leave the film. 

Is it just me or does anyone else look at Margaret and think that someone blended Vivien Leigh and Hedy Lamar together to make one woman? It’s crazy how much Margaret looks like both of those women. 

As well as being a very enjoyable film, I also find it very interesting to watch. The character of Barbara and the choices she makes show her to be frustrated with her life, and also with the restrictions placed on her life because of her gender.  At the time the film is set, women were seen as nothing more than objects of pleasure for their husbands and were expected to bear children and run the family home.

Independence and going against tradition was heavily frowned upon where men were concerned. Where women were concerned it was unthinkable that they would even consider living a life outside of what was expected of them. 

Barbara wants so much more than to simply be a wife. She wants to do her own thing and to have adventure and excitement. I think that the life she turns to during the film offers her escape from the restrictions she faces as a woman. She can be free when she rides the highway and takes charge of the dangerous robberies she sets up.

I personally find her choice to take control of her life to be quite admirable really, she is an individual in an era riddled with conformity and control. There is nothing worse than being told to live a certain way when that way is not the truth of who you are.

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Barbara longs for an escape from her life. Screenshot by me.

Barbara is such a strong and fun character. The way Margaret plays her has you rooting for her even when she is doing pretty awful things. It’s true that she doesn’t repent the things she does, but then why should she? She is now living the life of a man in many respects, and you don’t see men of the time apologising for their actions.  After all Jackson continues to be liked and admired by many of the lower class locals, despite being a thief and a real rogue (they even like him when he is accused of killing someone).   

I also like how the film shows the double standard applied to women when it comes to sex outside of marriage. Men at the time were free to have affairs and nobody blinked an eyelash, but the second a woman took a lover she became a tainted whore who must be punished. Double standards much? 

The Wicked Lady is based on the novel by Magadalen King-Hall. The unmistakable attractions here are Margaret Lockwood, the beautiful Regency era gowns, and James Mason’s deadly and fascinating love interest. 

On a peaceful country estate in England all is going well for the kind Caroline(Patricia Roc).She is due to marry handsome landowner Sir Ralph Skelton(Griffith Jones). The pair adore one another. Ralph is a rare decent chap in an era when the upper classes were indifferent to the suffering and living conditions of the lower classes. Ralph is liked and respected by his tenants and he is a very kind man. 

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The gentle Caroline. The complete opposite of Barbara. Screenshot by me.

All is idyllic until Caroline invites her cousin. Barbara Worth(Margaret Lockwood)accepts her cousins invitation, but when she arrives she falls in love with Ralph and seduces him. The heartbroken Caroline(although believing his change of heart to have been all his idea)lets him marry Barbara instead. 

Soon though the restless Barbara becomes bored and completely fed up with her dull family and friends. She takes to the road one night disguised as a Highwayman and steals some jewels.

Going back to the same place again another night, she ends up meeting the notorious Highwayman, Captain Jackson(James Mason).Mistaking her for a man at first, Jackson warns her to stay away from his route. He soon discovers her secret and falls in love with her. Barbara is soon leading an exciting dual life which soon turns deadly after she kills a guard on a coach. 

Soon Barbara finds her exploits are catching up to her when one of her husband’s servants, Hogarth (Felix Aylmer)tells her he knows of her double life. Barbara must think of a way to silence this man and keep her secret safe.  Barbara also soon finds another man in her life, the dashing Kit (Michael Rennie)who longs to be her man.

This woman sure doesn’t lead a dull life! 😉

Margaret and James have great chemistry throughout the film. I think they do a terrific job of convincing us that they are two people addicted to the thrills and danger of highway robbery. They also revel in the passion and excitement of their physical relationship.  

I really like how James makes quite an impression despite having a fairly small amount of screen time. He makes Jackson sexy, rough, bold, cruel. He also makes you believe that if you cross him he will not be a man to take betrayal easily. 

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Captain Jackson. Screenshot by me.

Patrica Roc oozes decency as the gentle Caroline. She has an almost saintly quality about her. She serves as a stark contrast to the more earthy Barbara. I like how Patricia plays the role and keeps our sympathy for her. The characters of Barbara and Caroline remind me a bit of Scarlett and Melanie in Gone With The Wind

Felix Aylmer is terrific as the religious servant, Hogarth. Aylmer was always a real scene stealer and his performance here is no exception. 

Griffith Jones and Michael Rennie sadly don’t really get used to their full potential. Neither of their performances really linger in the memory as much as the other performances do. Both do convince as kind and decent men though.

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Ralph. Screenshot by me.
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Kit. Screenshot by me.

I love how risqué the film is too. Some of the dialogue and scenes between Barbara and Jackson make it very clear that they are lovers and that she loves it when they are together.

This film also caused the censors over in the states to have a fit because of the low-cut dresses of the women. Many scenes had to be reshot before the film could be shown there. How stupid is that?! These dresses were accurate for the time period for goodness sake. I’m not a fan of the film censor at the best of times, but that decision really takes the cake in my opinion. 

If all of the above were not enough for you to enjoy, there are also a number of old guys sporting some truly awesome wigs and moustaches to make you giggle.  🙂 

My favourite scenes are the following. Barbara and Jackson by the lake. Barbara and Kit on the bridge. Barbara locking her door and changing clothes looking totally excited to be able to sneak out to the highway. Caroline and Kit on the iced over Thames. 

The film is hugely enjoyable and tackles some interesting things too. This one is much more than simply a costume film. I wish it were better known today. 

If you haven’t seen this it comes highly recommended by me. What did you think of the film if you have seen it?

 

 

Drama, Films I Love, Noir

Sunset Blvd (1950)

“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!” These words are spoken by Norma Desmond, a former American screen queen who longs to be back in the Silent film era. Norma thinks longingly back to a time when actors used their faces and emotions to convey the plot. She also longs to be back in the era when dialogue and effects were not needed or relied upon on in films.

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Norma Desmond desperate to be back on screen. Screenshot by me.

Sunset Blvd is one of my favourite classic era films. It was one of the first classics that I ever saw and it really did make quite an impression on me.

I love Sunset Blvd’s blend of drama and Noir. I love the stunning photography by John F. Seitz. I love the performances and the sad and tragic tale that the film depicts. This film also opened my eyes to the darker side of the film industry, especially how the people working in this industry can be used and then discarded. 

This is also the film that made me aware of Silent films. I was in my mid teens when I first saw this film. Before I watched this film, I didn’t even know that there had once been Silent films. I’m well aware that may sound pretty dumb to some reading this, but before this film, I had had no reason to ever imagine that there had even been a time when films were Silent.  

I also love this film because it brought to my attention people like Cecil B. De Mille, Gloria Swanson, Billy Wilder and Buster Keaton. This film encouraged me to give Silent films a go, and I am forever thankful that I did, because I now love them to pieces. 🙂

Superbly directed by Billy Wilder, Sunset Blvd is a warts and all portrait of Hollywood. Wilder wrote the screenplay, along with Charles Brackett, the regular collaborator on so many of Wilder’s films, and D.M Marshman Jr.

Billy Wilder’s depiction of the darker side to the glamourous perceived image of the American film industry, wasn’t very well received by Hollywood upon its release. I guess some people didn’t like, or simply flat out refused to acknowledge and accept the truth that Billy Wilder so boldly served up to them with this film.

Wilder’s film showed the Hollywood community the unpleasant truth about itself. The film shows us the sad truth that once great stars get tossed aside like rubbish, that people think only of themselves at the expense of others, and that people use others in order to further their careers and get to the top.

The film also reminds us that fame and stardom rarely lasts all that long (no matter how much you believe otherwise when you are enjoying it). Wilder’s film is difficult to watch at times because it is so sad and dark. His film is spot on though and that is what makes it so worth watching. The film deals with ruined lives, damaged people and also looks at mental illness. 

Gloria Swanson steals the show as the damaged and deranged Norma. She cannot accept that her fame has gone, that she is all but forgotten about, and that everything she once held so dear has now vanished. Swanson was one of the biggest and most talented stars of the Silent era, she also had one of the most expressive faces and she uses that face to its full effect in this film.

The irony of her playing this role can not have been lost on Gloria because she had once been one of the biggest stars in American Silent films.  Unlike Norma though, Gloria Swanson (thankfully)found it easier to cope with no longer being as big a star as she once was. When she was cast in this film, Gloria was able to very successfully bring a blend of Silent and sound era acting techniques to her performance in this film. Gloria is phenomenal in this role and I consider it to be the best performance she ever gave.  Her performance is all in the eyes. Watch those eyes of hers because they really do speak volumes. 

William Holden is both likeable and not so likeable as the down on his luck Joe Gillis. Joe is a man who seizes on an opportunity with Norma and uses her to ensure he gets some money. Joe starts out eager, outgoing, and also with some degree of control over his own life. As the film goes on, William shows us Joe is becoming desperate, on edge and depressed.

Joe becomes a man with no control and no power. He is being used by Norma to bring her soul back to life (watch how she brightens up once he comes into her life)and even if he is unhappy he now can’t be allowed to leave this woman. We sympathise with him for much of the film, but my sympathies start to wane when he uses Norma and can’t see how he much he is hurting her.

It should also be noted that as much as we may pity Norma, we should never forget that she is using Joe just as much as he is using her. Norma uses his script expertise to her own advantage, and she uses her position of power over Joe (as his employer) to call the shots and keep him near her. She sees him as as opportunity to get back into the film industry, and she also sees him as a source of emotional (and it is strongly hinted)physical pleasure for her. In this film everyone is using someone else for something. 

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The body in the pool. Screenshot by me.

The film begins with a dead man floating in a swimming pool. The Police are gathered round the body trying to figure out what has happened.

This opening shot is one of the most impressive and memorable in film history. We see the body floating on the surface of the pool, then we cut to a shot seemingly from under the water looking up at it from underneath.

The dead man is Joe Gillis, and the film that we are about to watch will show us how he came to meet his watery death. Originally the film was to have opened in a morgue, with Gillis’s dead soul talking to the other dead people in the morgue, and explaining to them how he met his fate. This opening was scrapped in favour of the opening we see in the film.

Joe Gillis(William Holden) is a film scriptwriter who needs some money fast. By accident he meets former silent film star, Norma Desmond(Gloria Swanson). She has written the screenplay of a version of Salome, she wishes it to be directed by Cecil B. DeMille and to be her glorious return to the screen. Joe gets himself hired (to get some money)to work on her script for her. He works on it at Norma’s home(a fading luxury mansion, that I see as representing the luxury and excess of the 1920’s film star lifestyle.)

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Norma and Joe enjoy their private New Year’s Eve party. Screenshot by me.

As he spends more time with Norma, Joe soon realises that she is falling in love with him and also that she is completely detached from reality.

Things get complicated when Joe falls in love with Betty(Nancy Olsen), who is an outgoing young studio writer. Betty offers Joe an escape from the possessive nature of Norma.

Betty offers Joe love, fun, friendship, and above all some happiness. Joe’s desperation for a career opportunity and for money, means that he leaves Betty and returns to the wealth, glamour and supposed opportunity that Norma can offer him.

Joe becomes Norma’s kept man. In many ways he becomes no different than the beloved monkey she once had as a pet. Norma dotes on Joe, splashes out money on him, and he can’t stand it.

As he spends more time with Norma, Joe soon realises that she is falling in love with him and that she is also completely detached from reality. Things get complicated when Joe falls in love with Betty(Nancy Olsen), a young and outgoing studio writer. Betty offers Joe an escape from the possessive nature of Norma. Betty offers Joe love, fun, friendship, and above all some happiness.

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Joe and Betty fall for one another. Screenshot by me.

Joe’s desperation for a career opportunity and for money, means that he leaves Betty and returns to the wealth, glamour and supposed opportunity that Norma can offer him. He becomes her kept man, no different than the beloved monkey she once had as a pet.

Norma dotes on Joe, she splashes out money on him, and he can’t stand it at all. Norma becomes suspicious of Joe and Betty, and her anger and distress begins to steadily build up within her and will lead to one of the most tragic and unforgettable finales in film history.

The scenes between Norma and Joe play out like some sort of  horror film. Norma appears almost vampire like in certain scenes, and many of her hand gestures appear claw like and grotesque. Norma sucks Joe in with promises of fame and fortune, he gets caught up in her delusions, and he can’t escape her, no matter how much he might try to do so.Norma is also something of a grotesque character in as much as she is getting old, but she won’t accept it, and she still dresses and makes herself up to be young. Norma and her home(and it could also be said her acting style)are starting to fade away and crumble into non existence and irrelevance. 

Joe’s relationship with Norma becomes all consuming and changes who he is as a person. He becomes bound to Norma and cannot escape her, he may try to do so, but when he does he cannot find any peace or happiness because her shadow looms large over any joy he may find. 

I like how the film also shows us the two different acting styles of the silent era and the sound era. Holden and Swanson both deliver equally excellent performances showing us these opposite acting styles and techniques. Swanson and Holden get strong support from film director Eric Von Stroheim, who appears as Norma’s loyal butler Max.

Von Stroheim was one of the greatest Silent era directors and he famously made a film called Greed, which originally ran for nine or ten hours! His directorial career ended soon after he directed Gloria Swanson in Queen Kelly. That film is the film that Norma watches on her private cinema screen with Joe at her side.

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Max. Screenshot by me.

Max was once married to Norma and he now works for her and cares for her. He fakes thousands of fan letters which he delivers to Norma, so that she actually feels like she is still remembered and valued by fans.

I think Max is a very interesting character because he still loves Norma very much, and he will do anything to keep himself near her.

Max doesn’t care about his low status, nor does he care that Norma views him as a servant only. He is happy to just be in her presence on a daily basis, even if she has no feelings for him anymore. 

Max’ motivations for being in Norma’s life are selfish ones, but I don’t think that he would ever knowingly hurt or betray Norma. He is really the only one in her life who knows full well of her former high status in life, and he shares her view that she deserves to be back in the spotlight again. 

Von Stroheim is excellent as a proud man brought low. I think that Von Stroheim also cannot have missed the irony of his casting. He was once a man of power and influence and here he is now playing a former director, turned servant/carer working for one of his former stars.

Nancy Olsen is terrific as keen, pure, passionate and gentle Betty. She offers Joe an escape from Norma. Nancy’s character is a lifeline for Joe, and she lets us see that Betty is falling for Joe and that they would be good together. She isn’t on screen all that much, but when she is she sure makes a strong impression. Betty is an interesting character because she is seemingly the only truly decent character in the film. 

Silent era legends H.B Warner, Buster Keaton and Anna Q. Nilsson all have terrific cameos in the film playing “the Waxworks”. This group are some of Norma’s Silent era colleagues who drop in to see her. The irony of their appearance in this film cannot have been lost on any of these three actors. 

I also like how real people and films are mentioned and shown throughout this film. Greta Garbo is mentioned by Norma as being a current actress (Garbo had been retired for about a decade by this time, so this shows how out of touch Norma is with current events)who had the same face and acting style of the Silent era.

Interestingly Greta Garbo was one of the few Silent stars who successfully made the transition to the sound era, and she also retained the same level of fame from the Silent era to the sound era. Director Cecil B. DeMille (who appears as himself) is another Silent era individual who successfully transitioned and retained his fame and influence.

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Norma and DeMille reunite. Screenshot by me.

The scene between Norma and Cecil B. DeMille (appearing as himself) is one that I’m not ashamed to admit always makes me tear up a bit.

Norma is warmly welcomed back by former colleagues, crew and studio staff. She sees that there are some who still hold her in affection and high regard.

This scene is also important because De Mille could easily have ignored Norma, or sent his assistants to deal with her when she comes to the studios, but instead he greets her with tenderness and affection. He respects Norma and he treats her as she deserves to be treated.

De Mille also utters a line of dialogue here that I think is quite interesting. When asked by an assistant if it was true that Norma was difficult to work with, he replies “only towards the end. A dozen press agents working overtime can do terrible things to the human spirit”.

To me those words from De Mille indicate that something in Norma’s life had been seized on by the press and that stories were being run. Press intrusion is another dark aspect of Hollywood(both then and now), with careers and reputations being ruined and lost due to scandals and mere rumours and accusations being splashed over front pages and being believed as fact. Maybe this intrusion is what began Norma’s descent into madness?

Thanks to this film, we hopefully now have an understanding of how brutal Hollywood can be to its own, and how awful it must be when a big star falls from their pedestal and becomes yesterday’s news.

The final shot is one that stays in the mind long after the film has finished. In this scene the now truly deranged Norma gets the fame and attention she has been so long starved of. The trouble is it is the wrong kind of attention. We know that she now only has an institution to look forward to (unless Max can pull some strings and keep her at home being looked after there)and that she will certainly never be able to act again.  

Norma finally gets that close-up she’s been dreaming of. Screenshot by me. 

For one brief moment though, Norma shines again, and the cameras roll to capture her emotions and her every move. Her name will never be forgotten once this story makes the headlines. Is that a blessing or a curse though?

Norma will certainly get her fame back when this story breaks, but her illness and despair will be milked to sell papers, and she will most likely be ridiculed too. A sad end, and one that really makes you think about just what you are witnessing. In the end this is a film all about victims, and about how they are used and how they suffer. 

The film could almost be viewed as a warning about getting into the film industry. If you do get in you may get fame and fortune, but at what cost will these be achieved? Can you stand what happens once your star starts to fade? I think this is one of Wilder’s best films. Sunset Blvd is certainly the best film about Hollywood that I’ve ever seen.

My favourite scenes are the following. Norma’s charades performance for Joe. The New Year’s Eve party with Joe and Norma being the only guests. Joe discovering what Norma has done to herself in her despair. The “I’m ready for my close up” scene. Joe at the crowded party in the apartment. Joe and Norma’s first meeting. Norma returning to the film studios and being warmly welcomed and getting to sit on the set of De Mille’s latest film.

What are your thoughts on Sunset Blvd?

 

Drama, Films I Love, Japanese Cinema

Rashomon (1950)

I’m writing today about my second favourite Akira Kurosawa film. My all time favourite film from Kurosawa is Ikiru. Coming in a close second though is this film. Rashomon is a film that I think you can have a great deal of fun analysing and discussing. The film is so expertly put together and it looks stunning from a visual perspective too. The cast are also all at their very best playing characters who are all very hard to forget. 

Long before films like The Innocents, L’ Avventura, and Picnic At Hanging Rock left us to decide for ourselves the truth of what we had just watched; long before Tarantino played around with making films in a non linear style; long before this type of film was even appreciated by film audiences and critics, there was Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon

Kurosawa directed the film. He also wrote the screenplay with Shinobu Hashimoto. The film is based upon the short story, In A Grove,which was written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Several Japanese studios turned this film down. Eventually Kurosawa was allowed to make it at Daiei Studios.

Kurosawa chose the legendary cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa to work with him on the film. Miyagawa would go on to work on a lot of Kenji Mizoguchi’s films, and he would also work with Ozu, and would work again with Kurosawa on Yojimbo and Kagemusha. His work on Rashomon is among his very best work in my opinion.

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The light in the trees looks like a cross. Screenshot by me.

Anyone who watches this film will usually be full of praise afterwards for the photography. I especially love the photography in the sequence where the medium relays the dead husband’s version of events to the court.

My favourite piece of cinematography in the entire film is a shot of the wife sitting in the forest. In the trees behind her there is a patch of light shining through the leaves and it looks like a cross. This shot is so beautiful.    

This film tells the same event from the different perspectives of the three characters involved within it, and also from the perspective of a woodcutter who claims to have witnessed some of it.

We as the viewer are left to decide which of the depictions (if any of them are to believed at all)is actually the truth. I love the approach Kurosawa took with this film, it makes us think about whether or not we should take the characters memories to be facts.

The film also makes you wonder if you can trust what the camera is showing you. The film also makes you question everything you are seeing and hearing leaving you to makeup your own mind about the characters and their experiences.

I even wonder if there is actually any proof to show that the entire story we are following is actually real. After all, everything we see begins with a story uttered by the woodcutter, but is he just making the whole thing up? Or is he simply telling a folktale or ghost story to help himself and the other two men pass the time? Are the flashbacks a reality in the film, or nothing more than an intriguing fantasy or story?

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The three men ponder the different versions of events. Screenshot by me.

I also have a theory that the film is making us the judge and jury of the film. The courtroom sequence is like no court you’ve ever seen. The witnesses give their testimony directly to the camera (therefore directly to us). We serve as the judge, the lawyers, the members of the public in the gallery etc.

This court sequence is also a memory (or fabrication)from the mind of the woodcutter, it is not presented to us in the typical way such a scene would have been had it been depicting a reality on the screen.

Kurosawa is showing us right from the beginning that we are to make up our own minds about what is actually going on here. 

I like how the film also toys with our perceptions of the characters. For example if you believe the bandit raped the wife and killed the husband, then something in you must look at him and see him as a rough, despicable stereotype capable of that act to accept that story. If you believe that the woman was a victim, then you accept her story because you don’t believe her capable of lying about it. 

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The wife watches. Screenshot by me.

If you believe that the woman made the bandit kill the husband, then you believe that you shouldn’t take things at face value, instead you should look a little deeper at everyone involved and dig deeper into all the accounts of events.  The film clearly shows us that no two people will ever see the same event in exactly the same way, everyone has such different perceptions of something that they witness. 

It’s like the film is showing us that everyone is more complicated inside than they might appear on the outside. Life is full of good and bad occurences. Life is full of events that often happen without a reason. People can end up doing unexpected things. Life is shocking, weird and very frightening at times, yet there is always good around if you look for it.  

The non linear style of the film and story was very new to audiences at the time. Some people found it (and still find it)infuriating that they didn’t get obvious and easy answers to what exactly happened in that forest. If done correctly (as in this case)such infuriating films can often end up being brilliant and thought provoking.  

This film was also responsible for bringing Japanese cinema to the attention of Western audiences. The film won an award at The Venice Film Festival, and it also won an honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Kurosawa’s name was to become well known in the west once this film arrived there. Soon, the names of other Japanese directors like Mizoguchi and Ozu would be as well known and respected as Kurosawa’s outside of Japan. 

The film is set in eleventh century Japan. The film begins with three men; one is a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura), one is a Priest (Minoru Chiaki), and the other is a commoner (Kichijiro Ueda). The men are taking shelter from a rainstorm under the decaying Rashomon Gate, this gate actually existed, although it was more of a building than the type of gate we would know of today).

While they wait out the storm, the woodcutter tells the other two men the story of a murder. He claims to have found the body of a murdered man (Masayuki Mori)in the woods. A bandit was later captured and arrested for the crime. We then see in flashback the different versions of the events that led to the murder of the dead man.  

The first depicts the bandit (Toshiro Mifune)forcing himself upon the dead man’s wife (Machiko Kyo). At first she resists him, but then she gives herself to him, and then convinces him to kill her husband (who the bandit has tied up, thereby forcing him to watch what the bandit was doing to his wife).

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The bandit. Screenshot by me.

The second shows the wife get raped. After the attack her husband wants nothing to do with her. She passes out from the shock of what has happened. When she wakes up she discovers that her husband is dead. 

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The wife. Screenshot by me.

The third version is conveyed to us through a medium, who contacts the dead husband and allows him to speak through her. He claims that his wife was raped, but that she then asked the bandit to kill him. The man claims he felt great shame and took his own life in a ritual suicide.  

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The husband. Screenshot by me.

The woodcutter’s version of events has the wife being raped, but then the wife encourages the two men to fight one another. During this fight her husband is then killed. An event at the end of the film restores our faith in humanity. It also restores the faith of the woodcutter, the priest, and the commoner. 

Some people think the acting in this is a bit over the top. I think Japanese cinema is all about emotions and in making the viewer really feel those emotions. Sometimes some actors performances can come across as being heightened, but I don’t see that as necessarily being a bad thing. 

Mifune’s performance can certainly be seen as being quite theatrical in this. Mifune was always a very intense and physical actor, and he really used his body and gestures quite a bit during scenes in this. He steals every second of screen time in this film, be it with his facial expressions, his body language, his laughter, or his constant swatting and squashing of flies. You can’t take your eyes off of him.

Machiko Kyo is much more subtle and natural in her performance. Her performance is all in the eyes. When she is on screen she has your attention and she makes you feel what her character is going through. 

Masayuki Mori is also quite subtle in his performance. He conveys how watchful and alert his character is very well. I also really like how defeated, depressed, and beaten he becomes in his version of events where he walks off into the forest. 

The rest of the cast are all excellent. I find Japanese actors to be more emotional and expressive than many from other countries, I think that this emotional quality and intensity works well for the film to be honest. Mifune, Shimura and Kyo would all go on to become actors well known outside of Japan thanks to their performances in this film. 

My favourite scenes are the following. The sequence with the medium, where she gets in touch with the spirit of the husband. The wife giving her version of events at court. The bandit pushing through some branches to get to the wife. The opening sequence with the three men at the Rashomon gate. The wife watching her husband and the bandit duel. The woodcutter finding the body in the woods.

What do you think of this film?