Horror, Page To Screen

The Exorcist (1973)

Where to begin with this film? For decades The Exorcist has been called the scariest film of all time. It’s not hard to see why it has earned that title. It is a very disturbing and shocking film. It was banned here in the UK for years when it came time to release it on video.  

Upon its release at cinemas people threw up, ran out of the cinema, and broke down in tears because they simply couldn’t handle the horror that they were being subjected to with this film. Nothing like this film had ever been seen before and some people just couldn’t handle what they were seeing up there on that screen. Of course all of these reaction stories gained the film more publicity and audience attendance figures went through the roof.

Why does this film affect people so much? I think part of it is due to the fact that the possessed character is a child. It would be one thing to watch an adult go through what we see in this film, but seeing a child undergoing  such things is very disturbing. At the beginning of the film we also get to see this child as a pure, bubbly, sweet and happy girl, and then when the transformation comes we are shocked because we’ve gotten to know her personality and how she is later is such a shocking change to how she was at the beginning. The transformation is also depicted as happening in a gradual way, I think that makes us more scared of what we are seeing because it is happening in stages and we are not sure quite what we are witnessing or what the final result will be. 

I also think that whether or not you are a religious person, it can’t be denied that the concept of the devil is something that strikes fear into most people. In this film the thing taking over the child claims to be the devil himself and that is very frightening because you think there is no way she can be saved or he stopped. I also have to say that I find it odd that many religious people have been so opposed to this film over the years. The film shows the Catholic church in a positive light and has them as the heroes of the story. The Exorcist certainly is dark, frightening and even disgusting at some points; but it is also without a doubt one of the best good versus evil films that has ever been made.  

Photo0953
Chris is terrified. Screenshot by me.

Today some younger viewers more accustomed to gory films, say that they find this film to be laughable. The film has been terrifically parodied in the Scary Movie films, which sadly means that people who have seen those films first may laugh at the actual film when they see it. Personally though I don’t see anything in The Exorcist to laugh about. It is a scary film and it messes with the audience in a psychological way quite unlike any other horror film ever has. 

I first saw this film on video with my parents when I was 18 or 19. Me and my dad had never seen this before. My mum had seen it at the cinema upon its original release. Mum said she saw it with her friend who was a Catholic, the film disturbed my mum, but she said it really messed her friend up more and that she was very upset by it. They both left the cinema trying to process what they had seen, and they were freaking out because they now had to walk home in the dark afterwards!  We all found this scary when we watched it together and my dad has refused to watch this again ever since. I’ve managed to watch it again a few times but it is a film that really unsettles me and I don’t know why. Do you know that feeling you get where you’re aware that someone is standing behind you, but you can’t see them? Well, that’s the feeling I get if I watch this on my own. I never feel like this when I watch any other horror film. This film really unsettles me like no other ever has.

Photo0958
Father Karras. Screenshot by me.

What I like about this film is that it really gets you thinking and it also affects you emotionally. I really feel for the mother and how she reaches her wits end trying to help her daughter; I feel her fear and pain, because we in the audience have been just as distressed by what we’ve witnessed as she has. I also like how it addresses the crisis of faith that Father Karras is undergoing. I imagine this issue must have disturbed some Catholic viewers who didn’t like to accept that even their devout Priests could find their faith being so severely tested at times.

This film also makes you question why do bad things like this happen to good and innocent people? As Father Merrin says (in my favourite scene from the directors cut)”I think that the point is to make us despair. To reject the possibility that God could love us.” This dialogue comes from a scene that William Peter Blatty (the screenwriter, and author of the novel the film is based on)was desperate to be included in the theatrical release. It was a scene with Merrin and Karras taking a break from the exorcism and Karras asks Merrin “Why this girl?”. You see both men are really shook up by what they’ve just seen in the room, and you can see that even the older man is shocked to his core. The director William Friedkin refused to keep the staircase scene in, and it was taken out, along with the ending featuring the detective and the other Priest. This cut final scene shows us that there are still nice things happening in the world, as well as all the bad things. Years later Friedkin put both of these scenes back in as part of the directors cut.

Photo0959
Father Merrin arrives. Screenshot by me.

The film is based upon the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty. The novel was inspired by a real exorcism case that Blatty heard about. The real exorcism happened to a little boy in America in 1949. In the film version the possessed individual was changed to a twelve year old girl.

Director William Friedkin knew what he was doing when he made this film. He builds up the horror and suspense slowly as the film goes on. He does such a terrific job of focusing equally on the performances, the character development and the horror. He shoots the horror scenes in such a way that you are drawn to the screen, even when you really want to just look away in fear.  I also like that music is used sparingly in this film. All too often in horror films music accompanies the scary moments and sometimes that can take me out of the horror I’m watching, but the lack of music in most scenes in this film makes what is happening on screen seem more real in a way. 

Georgetown, Washington DC. Film actress, Chris MacNeil(Ellen Burstyn)is distraught when her twelve year old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair)begins exhibiting strange and frightening behaviour. Regan says vile and disturbing things, she does unusual things and has no memory of doing them, and her bed (with her on it)keeps violently shaking. Numerous tests and scans are carried out but no medical cause for her behaviour can be found. Regan deteriorates further and further and then she begins to transform physically into something monstrous. Things take an even more terrifying turn when Regan claims she is the devil himself.

Photo0967
Regan fully transformed. Screenshot by me.

Chris (who isn’t religious)finds herself turning to the church for help. She meets with Jesuit Priest, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller),and she explains the situation to him and begs him to help her. Father Karras agrees to help as he can see how distressed she is. Karras visits Regan, talks with her and also studies her to see if she could be mentally ill. I like this section because in reality it is rare for an exorcism to actually be performed. Mental illness and conditions such as brain tumors or emotional trauma have to be ruled out by doctors and priests before they’ll even contemplate performing an exorcism. If no explanation can be found for the behaviour that is when a priest will step in.

Once Karras becomes convinced nothing but possession could be causing her behaviour, he asks for permission from church superiors to go ahead and perform an exorcism. Enter Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), he is a much older priest who has performed several exorcisms around the world. His last encounter took quite a toll on him and weakened his heart considerably. Merrin prepares Karras for what they will be encountering and tries to warn him not to listen to anything the possessed girl says to him. This is easier said than done and Karras will struggle greatly as the two men battle evil for the soul of Regan.

Photo0960
Father Merrin speaks to Chris. Screenshot by me.

When I first saw this film, I was convinced Sydow was actually an elderly actor. I hadn’t seen him in anything before this and I was astonished to learn later that he was only in his thirties when he played Merrin. The convincing age makeup and his body language and weary expressions really do make you believe he is an old man. Sydow has since become one of my favourite actors and I love his performance in this film a great deal. He gives his character an aura of worldliness, kindness and wisdom; he is certainly distressed by what he sees, but he knows how to keep a lid on his reactions of disgust and distress. Merrin is experienced in these matters and knows how to not let himself become affected by what he hears and sees. He tries to keep an eye on Karras and help him not feel so alone during the exorcism. Sydow’s performance lingers in the mind long after the film has finished. I love how reassuring Merrin is and how he makes Chris (and us) feel reassured and safe when he walks into the MacNeil home.

Jason Miller is moving as the doubt riddled young priest. He conveys that Karras is kind and approachable and tries to do his best, but how he despairs at the horror and violence he sees around him daily. I wish Miller had made more films after this because he is very good here.  

Ellen Burstyn is excellent as the mother who can’t believe what is happening to her daughter. Burstyn lets you feel her fear and sadness. You pity her and admire her for staying with her daughter in spite of what is happening to her. Ellen suffered a bad back injury during a stunt in this film. A stuntman pulled too tightly on a back harness she was wearing for the scene where Regan slaps her and the force of the slap sends her across the room.

Linda Blair gives an impressive performance for one so young. She excels at the creepy facial expressions and terrifying outbursts of her character. She also does such a good job of conveying the innocence and sweetness of Regan in the beginning of the film, this allows us to then become utterly terrified by her personality change later in the film once she gets possessed. Regan’s possession dialogue (which features some vile language and disturbing screams) were dubbed over for Linda by the older actress Mercedes McCambridge(Johnny Guitar and Giant.) Mercedes vocal performance is chilling.  
Lee J. Cobb provides solid support as Lt. Kinderman, a detective whose investigations into a suspicious death leads him to investigate Regan. He becomes convinced Regan is responsible for the case he is investigating.

Dick Smith’s pioneering makeup work on the film is to be applauded. The makeup for Regan’s transformation is horrifying and very effective indeed. Smith did more than just apply makeup though, he mixed makeup with practical effects (such as making welts on Regan rise up on the skin)which made the makeup very realistic indeed.  

My favourite scenes are the following. Chris meeting Karras in the park and begging him for help. Merrin and Karras staircase talk. The shadow of Regan walking past her bedroom window(when she is supposed to be tied to the bed). Merrin arriving at the house and speaking to Chris, I love how gentle and comforting he is with her when they speak. The entire exorcism sequence. The head spinning scenes. Chris going into the attic and getting scared. Cracks appearing on Regan’s bedroom door.

The Exorcist remains a disturbing and scary film decades after its original release. I can think of no other horror film past or present that has ever had an impact on the audience the way this film has. I prefer the theatrical version of the film, but I recommend the directors cut for the staircase scene between Merrin and Karras and for the ending. The directors cut also includes the infamous spider walk sequence.

There are two sequels to this film. Exorcist II: The Heretic is truly one of the worst films ever made. This sequel will have you screaming with laughter though because it is so bad and is not remotely scary. I think I would have been so disappointed if I went to see this at the time it was released thinking I was going to get what the first film gave us. Exorcist III however is as disturbing and thought provoking as the original. George C. Scott portrays Lt. Kinderman this time around and the third film focuses on him investigating some brutal murders which may be being carried out under demonic influence. It also focuses on Kinderman’s friendship with a priest who featured in the original film.

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

Advertisements
Romance, Thriller

King Kong (1933)

This year is the 85th anniversary of the release of the film King Kong. The film was a huge success when it was released, it made a great deal of money at the box office, and its success saved RKO Studios from falling into bankruptcy.

Besides the spectacular Stop Motion effects that the film features, King Kong is probably best remembered for Fay Wray ripping her lungs out screaming in terror, as she is kidnapped by the giant ape of the title. The film is a great deal of fun. I really like the film but I do have some issues with it which I’ll get to in a bit.

Photo0937
The name is Kong. King Kong. Screenshot by me.

King Kong really is a milestone in the history of Stop Motion Photography. The very clever process had been around for some years previously, but the way it was used in this film far eclipsed anything that had come before. Next to the work of Ray Harryhausen, I would say that this film is one of most significant and important stop motion films ever made.

Stop Motion Animator Willis O’Brien and his team of miniaturists, technicians and painters all worked marvels on this film. Their work made it seem like King Kong was a real giant ape. I love how they made it seem like Kong was far larger than his natural surroundings, and how he was also larger than any people he comes across and therefore he seems quite intimidating and frightening to them.

I especially love how Willis and his team managed to achieve medium shots of Kong in front of surroundings (be it jungles, cliffs or New York City)and made it look like he was bigger than everything around him. I also liked the shots where they also managed to make it look like he had Fay Wray (looking tiny in comparison to him) trapped in one of his hands. It’s incredible what they managed to achieve on this film in regards to the technical side of making the film.

I also love how they managed to make Kong’s face express a wide range of emotions. Kong is shown as being curious, sad, angry and scared at various points in the film. The emotions of Kong are what make me marvel at this film so much; Kong is made so much more than a mere wow factor special effect, his emotions mean that we connect with him and consider him to be real; therefore we also feel for him as the film goes on adnhe becomes hunted and harmed.

Kong wasn’t the only Stop Motion character in the film either. There are dinosaurs on Kong’s island and they too are made to come alive through the magic of Stop Motion. The scene where Kong fights a flying dinosaur on a cliff edge is one of my favourite scenes. I also like the scene where a man is attacked up a tree by a dinosaur and gets eaten in the process. The dinosaur sequences are just as impressive as the solo Kong shots. The scene where Kong and dinosaur fight in the swamp is a highlight of the film.

King Kong was directed by Merian C. Cooper (who also created the character of Kong)and Ernest B. Schoedsack.  Film director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong)has charted a ship under the command of Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher). The ship will take him and his film crew to the unexplored Skull Island. Denham wants to shoot his new film there. 

 Along for the ride is Denham’s leading lady, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray)a young woman left hungry and desperate due to the Depression. Denham sees potential in this gal and he intends to make her a star. On the trip to the island Ann falls for the  ships First Mate, the rugged and gruff Jack Driscoll(Bruce Cabot).  I love the scenes between them, but I dearly wish we could have had more scenes where we get to witness their relationship developing.

Photo0919
Ann and Jack share a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

When the ship reaches the island the crew go ashore. There they find a tribe of natives who live in a village near a massive wall and gate built along the side of the jungle which lies beyond. They leave in a hurry when the natives spot them and head towards them. A few hours later some natives come out to the ship and kidnap Ann. She is taken ashore and tied up on the other side of the wall. She is prepared as an offering to the giant ape Kong, who lives in the jungle and is worshipped as some sort of god by the natives. Jack and the others head back to the island to try and rescue her. 

           Ann sees Kong. Screenshot by me.

Kong takes Ann through the jungle (fighting off dinosaurs along the way)to his clifftop home. When they are alone he becomes very curious about her and studies her, prods her with his fingers and handles her so gently. I love the scenes where he studies her because he is so fascinated by her. I also like how he is so gentle with her after we have just seen him kill and destroy in the previous scenes. There is something about Ann that draws him to her, and even though she is terrified of him, he can’t bear to part with her. Is it love on his part? Who knows, but there is certainly something that makes him desperate to keep her with him from now on.

Photo0927
Ann in Kong’s hand. Screenshot by me.

Jack finds Ann and together they manage to escape from Kong by climbing down a vine. Kong goes crazy and chases them. He breaks through the wall and gate, destroys the native village, kills (in pretty graphic detail)many natives as they flee, and gets closer and closer to Ann and Jack. Down on the beach, the ships crew manage to stun Kong and they sedate him and put on the ship. Kong is then taken back to New York and exhibited as the Eighth Wonder Of The World. Kong breaks loose from the stage of the theatre where he is being held and stumbles around the streets of the big city looking for Ann.

Climbing up the outside of a building he peeks through a window and sees a woman, thinking it is Ann he reaches in and grabs her; this lady isn’t Ann and she is terrified, he throws her and she falls screaming to her death. Kong continues his climb and finds Ann on another floor, he reaches in and grabs her. Then he roams the streets again trying to escape the noise of the city. He also attacks an elevated train and kills several people.  

Then he climbs the Empire State Building and gazes down on the city below. A group of fighter planes are dispatched to shoot him. He places Ann down on the roof of the tower and stands to his full height and tries to grab the passing planes, but he cannot prevent himself from getting shot down and he falls to his death. The Empire State Building sequence is the real highpoint of the film and it has become one of the most famous scenes in film history. There is so much suspense in this scene and the whole thing looks truly epic. 

                                    The Empire State Building finale. Screenshot by me.

On the ground people gather around the giant body of Kong. Denham utters the famous last lines of the film: “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast”. This line sums up the film really, it is one of the best takes on the beauty and the beast story out there. Kong loves Ann in some way, and when he is with her he is gentle and protective instead of ferocious and cruel. He never hurts her either. Kong is the real victim of the film, instead of Ann because he is used and persecuted. Also his affection for Ann wasn’t returned by her (unlike in the Jackson remake, Fay Wray’s Ann is utterly terrified of Kong throughout the film)at any time, so even the person he likes doesn’t return the same feelings he does. Poor old Kong, my heart goes out to him so much as the film goes on.

As a viewer I am always torn about just how I want the famous final scene of this film to go down. On one hand I really pity Kong and I want him to escape and be able to somehow live happily. I always wish that those bullets will miss him as they are fired. On the other hand he has killed many people in the city and done so much damage that at this point he is a major danger, menace, and he has become quite scary too, so part of me does accept and understand why he has to be stopped. This scene still packs quite an emotional punch today I think. The scene is so well put together and paced and it delivers a thrilling and suspenseful finale to the thrill ride we’ve been on. 

As much as I enjoy the film, I also have a number of issues with it too. I really like the effects but I think the characters are very underdeveloped which is a real shame. I think a few more scenes on the boat would have been good to allow us more character development. I also think that the acting is pretty bad, some of the actors yell their dialogue, and some talk in quite a rushed way too. Reicher and Cabot deliver two of the better performances in my opinion, but even they are not as good as they could have been. Fay Wray spends more time screaming than she does delivering lines of dialogue! The cliché depiction of Ann as a helpless damsel in distress really gets on my nerves. All these things really annoy me because I don’t care about any of these characters at all, and I often cringe at most of the scenes featuring humans only. Kong delivers the best performances in the film in my opinion.

There are many films of this decade featuring far better acting and character development than what we see here. I worry that if any young viewers see this as their first foray into classic era film that they may (quite understandably )be put off. This may mean they won’t check out other classic films because they think the acting will be like this in all films from this decade in particular (we know that isn’t the case), and they may take one look at this film and never return to the classic film era again. I think it’s such a shame that the human side of this story got lost along the way somehow. 

A few more scenes with Kong and Ann would have been beneficial too I think so there could have been more interaction between them. I think more scenes between them would have given us a chance to see Kong’s affection for her develop even more. 

I do love how dark and graphic this film is. There are many scenes of Kong and the dinosaurs killing people and eating them. During the code era many of these scenes had to be cut from the film on re-release due to them being deemed to graphic. The scene where Kong takes off some of Ann’s clothes and examines them was also cut because it was sexually suggestive. I’d hate to have seen this butchered version because all those scenes are among the best in the film! The violence of Kong also serves to show how differently he behaves when Ann is around. 

The depiction of the natives of Kong’s Island is also pretty bad. The native characters are even less developed than the main characters are. The natives are also dressed in the cliché native style of grass skirts and bangles. A few scenes that allowed us to get to know them and their culture better couldn’t have hurt. 

85 years on from its release, and I think that King Kong still astounds viewers and has held up pretty well as a very enjoyable adventure film. I will take stop motion and practical effects over fake looking CGI any day of the week because they look so much better. I wish I could have been in the first audiences for this film to have seen how everyone reacted to Kong. 

What are your thoughts on the film?

 

Drama, Films I Love, Noir

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Odds Against Tomorrow is directed by Robert Wise. The film was one of two films to be produced by its star Harry Belafonte’s own production company – HarBel Productions. This is a film that I love very much. I recently treated myself and bought it on Blu-ray. I highly recommend that you purchase it in that format as it looks fantastic, there are some great extras on it to also enjoy.

This is a taut, atmospheric and extremely gritty film all about desperate people doing desperate things in order to survive. The film also takes a hard-hitting look at the issue of racism too. The final shot shows the stupidity of racism(and other prejudices) because we are all the same; we are all humans who are trying to live, and when we die it doesn’t matter what skin colour, sexual orientation, gender etc we are, as we are all equally dead and are the same in death. So what the hell are we wasting time fighting and hating one another for when we are alive? As the film goes along we also see that Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan’s characters are more similar than they are dissimilar, both in terms of their struggles and prejudices, and also in their mutual run of bad luck.

The film was shot out on location in New York and for me this helps to give the film a very realistic feel. In terms of its atmosphere and look this film reminds me quite a bit of Sweet Smell Of Success. The realistic look of this film coupled with the performances and the characters stories, make this one give off an almost documentary vibe. This story manages to have an impact because it comes across as being so real and true to life. 

Photo0597
The robbery in progress. Screenshot by me.

Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan both deliver two of the best performances of their respective acting careers. They are both excellent as the two tightly wound men edging ever closer to their respective breaking points.

Both Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan make us care about their characters and convey to us how frustrated they are with their respective situations. Both tell us much about their characters simply by an expression, or by the way they respond to something someone says to them. 

This film was quite daring for the time it was made in because it showed black and white people as being the same. In this film Johnny and Earle are both depicted as having good times and bad, they each have difficulties where their romantic relationships are concerned and they both need money.

Despite their mutual hatred for one another, Earle and Johnny are actually very similar men. We can tell these are just two broken, lonely and essentially decent guys just trying to survive and get by doing what they have to. Both men love their wives very much and are trying to make a better life for their families. The film shows us that we are all people and if we look beyond our petty prejudices we will find more similarities with one another than we will find differences.

Dave Burke (Ed Begley)is a bitter ex detective who is living a pretty crummy life. He has planned what sounds like a perfect bank robbery. He just needs two people to help him do the job. He enlists embittered, WW2 veteran and ruthless killer, Earle Slater (Robert Ryan)and heavily in debt, gambling singer Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) to help him. Each man stands to get $50,000 for their part in the robbery. 

The robbery should be pretty simple but Johnny and Earle’s mutual hatred of each other causes tension and chaos. Earle is openly racist and Johnny is not one to stand by and just take that foul rubbish lying down, he returns the hatred, and Earle doesn’t like it one bit. It all leads to a tense and violent finale. 

The main trio of Ryan, Belafonte and Begley are all excellent. Begley is another actor in this who tells you much with just an expression or glance. I believe from the way he reacts to racist comments that his character is not a racist, and that is quite an interesting angle to the film. His character Dave is also shown to be friends with Johnny and they have known each other for years. Dave doesn’t like Earle’s attitude and he is shown to be openly disgusted by Earle’s horrible words and attitudes. I also find Dave an interesting character because he started out on the right side of the law and has now joined the wrong side.

Photo0594
Johnny puts his anger into his singing. Screenshot by me.

Harry Belafonte plays Johnny as a tightly wound man who has got where he has in the world due to his own skill and determination and nothing else. There are times when he wants to strike out at the  people giving him racial abuse, but he stops himself knowing there will be trouble if he does.

I love the nightclub sequence where his eyes show the undisguised hatred he feels for the gangster he is heavily in debt to. Watch Harry’s eyes throughout the film, those eyes convey so much about what Johnny is feeling and going through.

I also love how the way that Harry sings in this film, he shows us that singing is a way for Johnny to be able to release all that rage and distress building up inside of him; Johnny may not be able to take his rage out on the people hurting him, but he sure can take it out on the microphone. 

Photo0596
Earle. Screenshot by me.

Robert Ryan plays Earle like a ticking time bomb. This man has a temper which is on a real short fuse. He feels less of a man due to his dire situation and thinks money will make him something more.

Keep your eye on Robert throughout and you will see him convey how on edge Earle is, this guy is just waiting to unleash his pent up anger on anyone who happens to be around.

In real life Robert was the exact opposite of the racist Earle, he was a very liberal man and was involved in Civil Rights; the fact that he so convinces as such a despicable character as Earle shows what a gifted actor he was.

Shelley Winters, Kim Hamilton and Gloria Grahame play the dames in the lives of Earle and Johnny. Kim is Ruth, Johnny’s ex wife and the mother of his adored daughter. Ruth loves him but she cannot take his lifestyle, nor can she stand his hatred of white people. Ruth will always love him, but she can’t be with him anymore. Kim is excellent and conveys so much by her facial expressions alone.

Shelley is Earle’s much younger wife Lorry, she loves him dearly and with her he can be vulnerable and himself. It is in scenes with her that we see his tender and gentle nature come out into the open.

Photo0595
Earle and Lorry share a moment. Screenshot by me.

Gloria Grahame is Helen, a friend of Lorry’s who lives in the flat above theirs. She wants to be taken out of herself and treated as a woman (an escape from the drudgery of her life)she fancies Earle and he knows it.

Earle has never cheated on Lorry, but one night he and Helen are talking and it’s obvious to them (and certainly to us)that they are going to have sex. The tension between them is electric in this sequence. Sadly the actresses don’t have as much to do on screen as the men do, but they are all excellent and make an impression when they are on screen.

Keep an eye out for Richard Bright (best known for playing Michael’s loyal bodyguard Neri, in The Godfather)as a homosexual henchman of the gangster that Johnny is in debt to. Wayne Rogers (of MASH fame)also has a small role as a soldier who gets on the wrong side of Earle.

I’m always left feeling sorry for those who love and are waiting for these men to return from their date with crime. There’s Earle and Johnny’s wives, and David’s beloved pet dog, the one thing on earth who appears to love him and who is loved in return. They all have my symapthy and I’m always left wondering what happened to them all following the events that end this film.

My favourite scenes are the following. Johnny taking his daughter to the park. Lorry telling Earle he can borrow money from her. Johnny’s funny exchange with the elevator operator. Earle punching the soldier in the bar. The entire final 30 minutes of the film.

This story comes across as just one example of thousands more like it. We are all (whether we are men or women) trying to escape from some pain or perceived weakness, we all want a better life and we are all trying to get by. This film captures the lonelieness and problems of humanity well. It also shows us that racism is so stupid as we are all the same, can’t we make some effort to get along while we are living on this planet?

This film is a real highpoint in the careers of all in the cast and of the director Robert Wise. I’d love to know what you think of this film? Please leave your comments below.

Films I Love, Unsung Classics

George Sanders As Simon Templar

In 1928, the author Leslie Charteris introduced readers to a man named Simon Templar. Simon was known to the Police and to criminals as The Saint.

Simon Templar was a suave and very charming gentleman thief; he was also something of a Robin Hood type figure who stood up to injustice and remained one step ahead of the Police (and of any bad guys) when they pursued him.

He was always on the side of good though and he would sometimes team up with the Police to help them stop bad and dangerous criminals. My favourite aspect of the novels (and the TV series adaptation)is Simon’s love/hate relationship with Inspector Teale of Scotland Yard; their banter is hysterical and I love how deep down they really like and respect one another. This friendship is found in the George Sanders films between Simon and Inspector Fernack.

Simon ended up becoming a very popular character with readers. Simon would leave a hand drawn stick figure man with a halo over his head as his signature mark on messages he had penned, or at the site of his own crime scenes. The stick man would feature in the opening of the RKO films starring George Sanders.

Simon first appeared in the novel Meet The Tiger (1928). This first novel also sees the introduction of the character Patricia Holm. Patricia becomes a frequent partner and girlfriend of Simon’s, she pops up in many of the novels but she doesn’t appear in the film adaptions. Charteris carried on writing the Saint novels until 1963. 

Photo0907
Screenshot by me.

There have been several screen adaptations of The Saint made over the years, for both film and also for television.

There was also a 1940’s radio series adaption starring Vincent Price as Simon. Arguably though the most famous screen adaptation of Charteris’s work was the 1960’s British TV series starring Roger Moore as Simon.

I totally dig that TV series(thanks dad for introducing me to Simon Templar and also to a pre-Bond Roger Moore), but I much prefer the 1930’s and 1940’s film series starring George Sanders as The Saint.  

George took over the role of Simon Templar from Louis Hayward, who had played Simon in The Saint In New York (1938).The suave George Sanders was basically the go to actor in Hollywood at this time if you wanted someone to play a cad or villain in your film. As Simon, George got to show that he was actually just as adept at playing good guys and heroes as he was playing villains and heartbreakers. I also like how he plays Simon as a ladies man, but not in any way as a man who breaks the hearts of the women he dates or treats them badly (unlike the many cad characters George so often played in other films).

I was so excited when I first found out that George had played Simon in this film series. When I started to watch these films I became quite angry.

 I was so angry because I started to think about how the studios didn’t let George play the hero more often on screen. What a wasted opportunity!

When I read any of the Saint novels now it is George’s face that I see when I’m picturing Simon, he really is the perfect screen version of this character and is every inch the hero.

I quite like George’s other (relatively small number) good guy performances in films like Foreign Correspondent, Lured, The Lodger and The Falcon film series. His performance in the Saint series is a highlight in his career in my opinion. George Sanders perfectly captures Simon Templar’s wit, intellect, charm and (when necessary)his physical toughness. Through his portrayal I always get the sense that his Simon Templar is someone you would love to have as a friend and he would make you feel safe, but you certainly wouldn’t want him as your enemy.

Photo0912
Simon and Inspector Fernack look for a clue. Screenshot by me.

I really love how George delivers his lines in these films, he shows us that words are Simon’s weapons and he throws them around like knives. George is clearly having a lot of fun during scenes where he fires off quips and insults at people he loathes.

I also really love the look George has on his face when he’s playing scenes where Simon sees through another characters lies. I also don’t think you’re ever in doubt that his Simon can more than take care of himself in a fight. He’s also got no hesitation in dishing out a bit of violence to villains who deserve a taste of their own medicine.

George Sanders played Simon Templar between 1939 and 1941. That all ended when RKO studios offered him the role of Gay Laurence in the 1941 film, The Gay Falcon. The Falcon series so closely resembled The Saint series, that Leslie Charteris actually ended up suing RKO Studios for plagiarism. I consider it to be a great shame that George didn’t get to star in any more Saint films.

I think he was perfectly suited to the role of Simon and I consider him to be the best Simon Templar ever seen on screen. Given how much The Falcon resembled The Saint, you can watch those films and consider them a continuation of Simon’s adventures. Sanders tired of playing Laurence after only three films, his own brother Tom Conway went on to become that series lead playing Laurence’s brother. The Saint film series later continued on with two more films starring Hugh Sinclair as Simon.

Photo0915
Simon and some lady friends hit the tennis courts. Screenshot by me.

I love George’s performance the most in The Saint Takes Over, The Saint Strikes Back, and The Saint in Palm Springs. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching any of his Saint films, but these three films in particular have become great favourites. In addition to George’s terrific performance throughout the series, I also want to give a shout out to the terrific supporting cast joining him.

Photo0914
Jonathan Hale as Inspector Fernack. Screenshot by me.

Jonathan Hale plays Inspector Henry Fernack, friend and frequent professional thorn in Templar’s side. Fernack essentially replaces Simon’s friend, British Inspector Teale, once Templar moves across the pond to the US.

 

Hale is excellent and I think that he and George Sanders work very well together in these films. They are both terrific in comic moments involving the pair of them. I really love Hale in the scene where Fernack has an allergic reaction to some seafood in The Saint Strikes Back. 

Photo0913
Paul Guilfoyle as Clarence. Screenshot by me.

 

Paul Guilfoyle adds a great deal of comedy to the films as another of Simon’s pals, Clarence ‘Pearly’ Gates. He steals all the scenes he is in. I always look forward to him appearing in scenes, especially if he has scenes with George Sanders.

 

 

Photo0909
Wendy Barrie. Screenshot by me.

Wendy Barrie pops up in most of Sanders Saint and Falcon films. She isn’t an actress who I’ve ever really been a fan of, but I think she is actually very good in these films. I like her in scenes with Sanders, and I think that they play off one another very well. She usually plays Simon’s love interest.

 

 

The role of Simon Templar could well have been written especially for George Sanders, he fits the role just like a glove. I love his performance and I like the elegant, suave and tough way he plays Simon. His performance as The Saint has become a great favourite of mine. I really enjoy returning to these films to watch his portrayal of Simon. 

These films are great fun and are very enjoyable and quality B pictures. You could do far worse than spend an hour watching one of these films. If you’re a fan of George Sanders then I highly recommend that you check him out in these films. 

Please share your thoughts on Sanders portrayal of Simon Templar. Which of these films are your favourites? I’ll be happy to receive comments about the books too.

Disaster, Films I Love

A Night To Remember (1958)

On April 10th, 1912, the White Star Line passenger ship, R.M.S Titanic set out on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. There were more than two thousand people travelling aboard the ship. The Titanic hit an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic on the evening of the 14th of April. Just a couple of hours later this luxurious ship had sunk to the bottom of the sea.

1523 passengers and crew perished in the freezing sea that night. There were only 705 survivors. In the years following this disaster, there have been many other shipping disasters around the world, some have involved even greater numbers of casualties, yet more than 100 years later, the Titanic still remains the most famous shipping disaster of them all. There is also still a tremendous amount of interest in this disaster and in the ship itself. Why is that?

I think the Titanic disaster continues to fascinate for several reasons. The ship was on her maiden voyage when she sank. The Titanic had also been marketed as being an unsinkable ship, and it was the biggest and most luxurious ship afloat at the time. This disaster was unthinkable really because of all of that.

I think the Titanic disaster also lingers in the mind because so many of the men aboard bravely went to their deaths after giving women their place aboard the lifeboats. The steerage passengers were also forcibly kept from getting to the boat deck until the lifeboats were nearly all launched.

There were also several moving stories such as the band playing as the ship sank from under them, trying desperately to calm frightened passengers with some soothing music. Mr and Mrs Strauss choosing to die together rather than be parted etc. There were also too few lifeboats aboard to save everyone travelling on that voyage; the lifeboats that were onboard were not filled up to their full passenger capacity, this (along with how the steerage passengers were treated) is one of the most shocking parts of the whole disaster for me.

Photo0898
Ismay can’t bear to watch the ship sink behind him. Screenshot by me.

Director Roy Ward Baker and producer William MacQuitty (who actually saw the Titanic launched when he was a boy) made this film in 1958.

Their film is based upon Walter Lord’s non-fiction book about the sinking. Lord researched the disaster and he spoke to the Titanic survivors at length. He then published their accounts of what happened that night in his 1955 book called A Night To Remember.

Baker’s film wasn’t the first film to be made about the Titanic. There had been some earlier films made about this disaster. The first Titanic film was Saved From The Titanic (1912), this film starred Dorothy Gibson who was a real life Titanic survivor. The second was Night and Ice (1912)a German film all about the sinking. The third was Titanic (1953), this features Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck as an estranged married couple travelling on the doomed ship.  I think that Baker’s film is the best screen depiction out there of this disaster. 

Baker’s film accurately captures the behaviour of people on the night and I think it also does a superb job of depicting in great detail the horrors of the sinking. James Cameron’s 1997 film was pretty accurate in terms of recreating the ships opulent interiors more so than this film was, but it is Baker’s film which makes me feel like I am actually there with these people on that cold April night. The real Fourth Officer of the Titanic, Joseph Boxhall, served as the technical advisor for the film throughout the shoot.  

Photo0896
Passengers try to escape from the sea as it floods the decks. Screenshot by me.

Baker’s film also does a great job of capturing how frightening and chaotic the sinking was. I like how his film focuses on a variety of different characters from across all three of the class divisions found onboard the ship and shows how they react to the sinking.

I also like how the stories of many of the real passengers and crew are focused upon, instead of the film primarily focusing on fictional characters (although the second class couple and the Irish steerage group are fictional characters) like Cameron’s film mainly did. 

I also think that Baker’s film is shot in a way that gives it an almost documentary look. It’s like we’ve somehow dropped in on the real events as they are unfolding and have become helpless onlookers to the disaster. This effect coupled with the superb performances and period recreation, gives the film a realism which Cameron’s version lacks I think.   

Interestingly Baker’s film also depicts the ship as going down in one piece during the sinking. Several witnesses claimed this was what happened, but others claimed it broke apart before going down. When Robert Ballard found the Titanic wreck in 1985, the ship was on the seabed in two pieces. We’ll never know for sure if it broke above the surface, or did so when it hit the seabed, we only know that is in two pieces now. For anyone who believes it broke apart above the surface, try and remember that this film was made before the wreck was discovered and it was based upon the witness testimony recorded at the time.

A Night To Remember focuses on the experiences of several passengers and crew travelling on the ship. We follow the Titanic from her launch in Southampton and out to France and Ireland to pick up more passengers. We then see the ship move out into the Atlantic travelling on to New York. When the ship hits an iceberg panic and chaos reign as the passengers and crew try escape the sinking ship. The Titanic bridge crew try to signal a ship that is very close to them (The Californian) for help, but they get no response from that ship. The Titanic wireless message for help is picked up by The Carpathia, but that ship is some hours away from them, but despite their distance they make their way to them as quickly as they can. Once the Titanic sinks, a new hell arrives as the survivors not in lifeboats try to survive in the freezing ocean. 

The character we follow the most in this film is Second Officer Charles Lightoller(Kenneth More). This is one of my favourite films featuring Kenneth More, I think that he is excellent as the proud and heroic officer trying to save lives and keep panic from spreading as the boats are lowered. For the first half of the film Kenneth is really just in a supporting role, but as the film goes on though he ends up becoming the main focal point.

Photo0880
Kenneth More as Lightoller. Screenshot by me.

There is an incredible cast of British talent in this. Standout performances for me are Kenneth More (as Lightoller, the highest ranking Titanic officer to survive the sinking). Michael Goodliffe(as Thomas Andrews, the designer and builder of the Titanic). Anthony Bushell (as Captain Rostron, the Captain of the rescue ship Carpathia).Ralph Michael(as Mr. Yates, a gambler). Kenneth Griffith (as John Phillips, one of the Titanic’s wireless operators)and Laurence Naismith(as the Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith).A young David McCallum has a supporting role playing wireless operator Harold Bride. James Bond fans should keep their eyes peeled for Desmond Llewelyn(Q)as a steward in the steerage section.

I think Michael Goodliffe gives the best performance in the film as the devastated Mr. Andrews. In the scene where Andrews calmly awaits his fate, Goodliffe has this haunting look on his face that makes you realise that Andrews has mentally and emotionally removed himself from the current situation(he is there in body, but in his mind he has long since gone.)

                                       Andrews prepares for his death. Screenshot by me.

Anyone else catch that Andrews is staring at a painting entitled Approach To The New World? In his situation that title could be seen to refer to the possibility that an afterlife may await him next. Goodliffe is a much underrated actor and I think that A Night To Remember could well be his finest screen hour.                

Several scenes in this always make me cry every time I watch them. The passengers at the stern who start praying in different languages. The old steward finding the little boy and realising they are most likely going to die(as the ship sinks, he hugs the boy and he says to him”we’ll find mummy, we’ll soon find her”). Mr. Andrews persuading the young honeymoon couple to get into a lifeboat or jump overboard. The band playing on as the ship sinks. Mr. Andrews pleading with a young stewardess to put on a lifejacket. Mrs Strauss refusing to leave her husband and get into a boat.

Photo0900
The steward and the boy. Screenshot by me.

One of the saddest scenes focuses on a first class couple (Honor Blackman and John Merivale)saying goodbye. As the wife gets into a lifeboat with the couples children, the father who has had the truth of the situation from Mr. Andrews, knows full well that he is more than likely never going to see his beloved family ever again.

                             Saying goodbye to his wife and children. Screenshot by me.

I love the look on Merivale’s face as he plays that scene, he shows how scared and brokenhearted this man is and how he is trying to keep a brave face for the sake of his family. It makes me think about the many families that night who had to go through such a parting in reality. 

This film is a powerful depiction of courage and of tragedy. This film is my favourite of all the films out there about this disaster and it has many moments in it that I have found extremely hard to forget. Scenes such as the young couple being killed by the falling funnel. Wailing and screaming beginning to be heard coming from people in the sea after the ship sinks. Andrews preparing himself to die. Ismay(Frank Lawton) breaking down in the lifeboat as he sees the ship sinking. The woman slipping as she gets into a lifeboat and is left hanging between the ship and the lifeboat(terrifying moment). The ship hitting the iceberg and First Officer Murdoch (Richard Leech) desperately trying to change their course. The baker getting drunk to try and protect himself from the effects of the cold water. The passengers and crew at the stern praying and screaming. This is a film that gets under your skin and I find it very difficult to forget about this one once I’ve watched it.

The scale model of the ship and the sinking sequences are the highlight of the film for me. There is no CGI here, all the sinking scenes were done using practical effects and I think the scenes look all the better for that realism. The model and sinking sequences are extremely impressive when viewed today. I think that younger viewers who haven’t seen this film before would be very impressed with how these scenes look.

Photo0895
The sinking ship. Awesome model work. Screenshot by me.

A real ship called R.M.S Asturias was also used for part of the filming. The ship was in the process of being scrapped at the time. Only one side of the ship remained intact, so MacQuitty got art students to paint that side just how the Titanic had been painted.

Once filming was completed the Asturias was then scrapped. Scenes where lifeboats and people were supposed to be in the sea were shot on location in Ruislip Lido, London. 

My favourite scenes are the following. The steerage passengers playing football with the chunks of ice from the iceberg than landed on deck. Ismay in the dining room demonstrating how steady and secure the ship is, only for a woman to knock the table and shake everything. Lightoller trying to persuade the gambler to join him on top of the collapsible boat, only for him to swim off. Andrews speech to the young honeymoon couple. Molly Brown (Tucker McGuire) in the lifeboat saying “you get fresh with me son, and I’ll throw you overboard!”. The Titanic leaving Southampton. The passengers praying on the stern. Mr.Yates passing a young woman getting into a lifeboat a goodbye letter from him for her to mail to his sister. Murdoch’s accusatory look at Ismay when Murdoch finds him sitting in a lifeboat being made ready to lower.

This is an excellent film filled with many powerful performances that have a real emotional impact. I also like how this film shows us the experiences of the engine and boiler room crew on the Titanic. Many of the men in those departments got trapped below deck and were killed as the sea swept through the lower decks. These crewmembers are shown as being among the first to realise the severity of the incident as it unfolds around them. The scenes showing these men trapped below deck are claustrophobic and scary.

I also like that the Californian and Carpathia and what their crews did are included in the film too. In other films and TV adaptations of this disaster these two ships are often not included at all or only feature very briefly. 

I also like how the film depicts the disbelief amongst most passengers and crew that they were in any real danger, even as a notable list starts to be noticed some don’t think anything of it. Slowly people start noticing liquid in glasses tilting to one side and realise that maybe they should heed the warnings to get to the boats. In reality many passengers were very slow to take the incident seriously and get quickly into the lifeboats.  I highly recommend seeing the Blu-ray version of this, the picture is so clear that it looks as though it had been made today. I think it’s a testament to Roy Ward Baker that his film about this disaster is the one that I return to again and again. I do like Cameron’s film, but it was Baker’s version which first got me interested in the real disaster itself and I think his version has a more realistic look to it. I highly recommend seeing both films though.

If you are interested in reading about the real disaster, then I would highly recommend Walter Lord’s book. I’d also recommend reading Titanic: An Illustrated History by Don Lynch.

What are your thoughts on this film?

Films I Love, Romance, Thriller

North By Northwest (1959)

 

Photo0852
Roger Thornhill tries to hide while on the run. Screenshot by me.

For many people, North By Northwest is considered to be Alfred Hitchcock’s best film. It isn’t hard to see why this one is so beloved and highly regarded by fans and critics alike.

This film contains all of the essential elements of Hitchcock’s films; suspense, thrills, a case of mistaken identity, an innocent person wrongly accused, comedy, and a cool and beautiful blonde woman. In short, I think that this film really is the perfect Alfred Hitchcock package.

I love this film so much. This is a film in which something is always happening and I find it interesting that in this film the characters are always on the move. From the opening titles, designed by Saul Bass (and accompanied by one of Bernard Herrmann’s best scores) the characters are continuously seen being on the move, they never really stop moving until the final scene onboard the train. The film is an exhilarating thrill ride and is a great deal of fun to watch. I also love the photography by Robert Burks. I especially love the overhead shots he does during the scenes where Vandamm questions Roger, and also in the scenes at Vandamm’s mountain house.

I also like how stylish and elegant the film looks overall. The characters are so well dressed and the film transports us back to a bygone era of class, style and elegance. Part of why I love classic films so much is because they show me how past generations dressed and lived. I love the 1950’s glamour and elegance captured by Hitch and featured in this film.

There are also so many interesting and intriguing characters in this film and their presence makes this film one that I like to return to again and again.There’s plenty of twists and turns and you’re never sure who to trust or take at face value. I also love the way these characters all interact with one another throughout the film. Characters perceptions of one another also change as the film goes along and our perception of them changes too.

I like seeing Roger Thornhill start out as being in control and as being a bit self absorbed. As the film goes along he changes when he realises he’s not as in control as he once thought he was. We see him turn into a man who comes to care about someone else, we also see him realise there is more outside of the life he had been leading up to this point in time.

I also like how Roger becomes braver and more heroic as the film goes on. He is scared and confused by what is happening to him at first, but then he takes it in his stride and we see him become less and less like the self absorbed man at the start of the film. I also like how he later willingly puts himself in danger as he rescues the woman he loves from certain death. 

The scenes between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are very playful. Their scenes are filled with sexual tension and a great deal of warmth, fun and affection too. I especially love their dinner chat and flirting on the train. These characters and their relationship with one another are the heart of the film for me.

                                   Roger and Eve flirt over dinner. Screenshot by me.

The growing relationship between Cary and Eva’s characters is fun to watch and I find myself coming to care very much for them both. The scenes between Cary and Eva are a real highlight of the film for me. Their scenes on the train are erotic, tender, interesting and very funny. 

Photo0857
Roger and Eve get intimate. Screenshot by me.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant)is a Madison Avenue advertising man. He has a very good life, a life that he believes he is in complete control of. His ordered life is turned on its head when he is mistaken for a C.I.A agent, called George Kaplan. Suave spy, Phillip Vandamm (a sinister James Mason) has been aware of Kaplan following him and his group for some time. He wants Kaplan dead. Thornhill can’t persuade him that this is a genuine case of mistaken identity and that he is not the man that Vandamm thinks he is.

So begins a non stop chase across the country. Thornhill tries to avoid Vandamm’s men and also tries to avoid getting arrested by the authorities, after Vandamm frames him for murder. Thornhill also tries to get someone else to believe him that Vandamm is the real villain and is trying to kill him.

Enter the resourceful, mysterious and cool blonde, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Eve helps Thornhill when he gets into difficulty aboard a train that she is travelling on. A genuine bond develops between the two and they begin to fall in love, but can Thornhill trust her or not? I consider Eve to be one of the strongest and most interesting of all of Hitchcock’s leading ladies. 

A C.I.A official, known only as the professor (Leo G. Carroll), finds out about Roger Thornhill’s situation and tries to help him. The professor is also on the Vandamm case and he also has an agent of his own working right under Vandamm’s nose. Who is this agent?

I love how many things in this film actually defy logic when you think about them long enough. Somehow though you actually never seem to realise the illogic when you are watching these moments in the film. It’s only afterwards when you suddenly stop and think about some of the things you’ve just watched. I’m thinking mainly of the scene where Thornhill is forcibly made drunk in order to be got rid of. If Vandamm wants him dead so bad, why not just shoot him to make sure he is dead?

Photo0872
Roger is about to be forced to drink all of this. Screenshot by me.

The same goes for the famous crop duster sequence, why not just get Roger Thornhill out to that road and shoot him and bury him somewhere, instead of chasing him with a plane? Yet the illogic of these moments actually work when you watch the film. This is a testament to Hitch I think, in that he can make you so invested in the story that certain things don’t strike you as odd until much later. I have to say that I actually think the scene where Thornhill watches that glass of booze getting poured out is quite chilling. Thornhill is going to be forced to drink such large amounts and he has no way of being able to fight back against this. That’s pretty grim when you stop to think about it for a moment.

There’s so much to enjoy about this film. From the great performances throughout, the exciting Bernard Herrmann score, and two of the most famous of all Hitchcock sequences. The crop duster chase and that suspenseful finale up on Mount Rushmore, have both gone on to become two of the most famous scenes in cinema history.

Photo0859
Roger is sent to the middle of nowhere and is about to encounter a crop duster. Screenshot by me.

The crop duster sequence really builds up suspense and tension. The sequence is perfectly edited together and it is exciting, suspenseful and dramatic throughout. I like that it starts off slow and that Hitch gradually builds up the mystery and suspense. Is Roger Thornhill going to meet someone? Is he going to get attacked or killed? How will that happen if so?

The beginning of the crop duster sequence plays out almost like a silent film with Thornhill out in the middle of nowhere and us seeing what unfolds through his eyes. There is no need for any dialogue in this sequence. Then the crop duster plane is spotted and it slowly turns then it speeds towards him and begins shooting at him. That moment where it swoops towards him and he runs has become one of the most iconic scenes in film history. 

Photo0869
Roger and Eve in a literal cliffhanger moment. Screenshot by me.

The Mount Rushmore sequence has me on the edge of my seat throughout because it is so suspenseful. I don’t like heights at all, and so the scenes where Roger Thornhill and Eve Kendall slip or nearly fall from that famous mountain really do make me squirm in discomfort and cry out “be careful!”. This sequence is a tie for me with the Statue Of Liberty sequence in Saboteur for the title of most suspenseful Hitchcock scene.

Photo0871
Eve and Roger climb down the mountain. Screenshot by me.

The scenes in the Mount Rushmore sequence are perfectly matched to Herrmann’s score. I think that the music definitely adds even more tension and an air of danger to that which we already feel watching these moments.

Photo0870
Eve falls down the mountain. Screenshot by me.

The scene where Eve’s shoe heel snaps and she falls down really makes me watch through my fingers, I really can’t stand that scene. It also makes me laugh that Eve doesn’t seem to have thought that it might be a good idea to take off those high heels before trying to climb down the mountain. LOL. Ah, only in the movies. 😉

The film also has two big twists concerning the identity of two main characters, and that really keeps you trying to figure out just who you can trust, or who you can even take at face value as the film goes on.The film is also very funny in places. I especially love the hysterical auction distraction scene “three thousand, I bid three thousand!”. Cary really gets to show off his comedy skills in this film. Cary reels off many comic lines and he also does one of the funniest and best drunk impressions I’ve ever seen on film. I love the scene where Roger is at the Police station and rings his mum. When he is on the phone to her, he tells her they forcibly made him drunk, then he delivers this sidesplitting line in response to a question from her – “No, they didn’t give me a chaser!” LOL. 🙂 

Photo0850
The unsupportive Mrs Thornhill. Screenshot by me.

Jessie Royce Landis is absolutely hysterical as Roger’s mother. Mrs. Thornhill doesn’t believe her son’s story of being framed and hunted down and she has quite a few laughs at his expense.

I love the way she silently laughs at him and jokes about his stories. Some supportive mother he has!  Jessie and Cary were actually quite close in age, yet you somehow believe she is his mother in this film. 

 

Photo0848
Vandamm. Screenshot by me.

James Mason is chilling, smooth and menacing throughout. He plays a character who won’t get his own hands dirty, but who has no qualms about ordering someone to be killed.

You know that he is a nasty piece of work. This is one of James’s greatest villain roles in my opinion. I like how he plays a man of great intelligence who is not to be trusted or underestimated. 

Photo0865
Leonard. Screenshot by me.

Martin Landau provides solid support as Vandamm’s loyal henchman, Leonard. He lurks in the background of many scenes and you can see him desperate to start hurting Thornhill and other characters. Landau plays this guy as a real sadist.

My favourite scenes are the following. Thornhill and Vandamm’s first meeting, I love where they circle around each other sizing each other up. The Mount Rushmore finale. The entire section aboard the train. Roger and Eve’s dinner talk. The auction scene where Roger does some random bidding so he will get arrested, which then means he can get away from Vandamm. The drunk scene at the police station. Thornhill trying to rescue Eve. Eve and Roger’s goodbye at the train station. The crop duster attack. The scene in the Mount Rushmore restaurant. 

I can happily watch pretty much all of Hitch’s films again and again, but this one in particular is one that I can enjoy over and over again. It is such a good film and so seamlessly put together. It looks amazing too, from the photography, to the elegant clothes and to the use of Technicolor. Be sure to see this one on Blu-ray to see it looking crystal clear and looking its very best.
Are you a fan of this film? Please share your thoughts on the film. 

Disaster, Drama, Page To Screen

On The Beach (1959)

What would you do if you knew that the world was coming to an end? How would you react to such news? How would you cope with having this new fact in your life?Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film, On The Beach, tackles all these questions and many more as well. It is a powerful, moving and very unsettling film experience. You will also never be able to hear the tune Waltzing Matilda without remembering moments from this film once you’ve seen this. That tune is used as the theme of the film. 

The film is filled with haunting scenes that are hard to shake off once you’ve finished watching the film. Scenes such as Peter and Mary having a conversation about suicide pills. The sailor leaving the submarine and going ashore to the radiation filled mainland of America, so that he can die at home in surroundings he knows and loves. That same crewman’s description of finding his parents dead. Chilling stuff for sure.

Photo0826
Dwight and Moira comfort one another. Screenshot by me.

On The Beach is an adaptation of the 1957 novel of the same name, which was written by Nevil Shute. At the time of the films release there was great public fear of Atomic and Nuclear weapons. I’m sure this film chilled many viewers to the bone at the time, particularly due to its unflinching look at the aftermath of one of these weapons being used. The film is scary and thought provoking. Almost sixty years later and this film still remains a frightening and powerful film experience. Sadly the film still remains relevant as mankind is still intent on having these weapons around.

I like how the film captures how many different reactions various people have to the news of the end of mankind. Some can’t handle it and escape into a bottle of booze, some go to extremes to feel and experience life while it still exists, and some simply refuse to accept that there is no hope of survival whatsoever. It always makes me think how I would react in such a situation.

The film is set in Australia. The entire population(apart from people in Australia)have died due to radiation sickness following a Nuclear war. The radiation is being spread on the winds, and it is estimated to arrive in Australia in around five months time. The citizens there are trying to come to terms with the war, and with the fact of their own impending fate.

An American submarine, the U.S.S. Sawfish, surfaces in Australia. It was submerged when the war began and therefore the crew haven’t been exposed to the radiation. The submarine has been travelling around the globe and surfacing at various countries, only to find no sign of life. Captain Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck)and his crew dock in Australia and come ashore. Despite Dwight’s wife and children having been killed in the war, he just cannot accept that painful fact and still acts as though they are living. 

While the crew are ashore, Dwight befriends the guilt ridden scientist Julian Osborn (Fred Astaire) and the outgoing and boozy Moira (Ava Gardner). Dwight and Moira slowly fall in love with one another. Dwight however cannot permit himself to act on his feelings though because he still considers himself married.

Dwight and his crew are joined by Julian and Lt. Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins)after a Morse signal is picked up coming from America. The crew must travel there and try and find out if anyone has somehow managed to survive. While all this is going on, the countdown to human extinction has begun and the clock is ticking fast.

Photo0830
Peter and Mary have a difficult discussion about the suicide pills. Screenshot by me.

This is an extremely bleak film and I don’t find it to be an easy watch at all. The performances of the cast make it a must see though. I find it to be extremely moving and I think that it captures so well the horror and tragedy such an event would bring about in reality. I find the human stories to be the main reason to return to this one again and again. It’s both fascinating and moving watching the different characters and how they react to their approaching deaths.

Photo0827
Gregory Peck as Dwight. Screenshot by me.

Gregory Peck is completely heartbreaking as a man trying to appear to be in control of his emotions. Inside though Dwight is anything but in control of his emotions. Dwight is consumed with a grief that he cannot display publically. Gregory shows us his tough façade cracking a few times though.

Thanks to Gregory’s superb performance we see Dwight really struggling to stay in control and we also see him wrestling with his conscience in regards to his developing and undeniable feelings for Moira. 

Photo0838
Fred Astaire as Julian. Screenshot by me.

Fred Astaire is best remembered today for his incredible dancing skills, but he was also a very fine dramatic actor. His performance here as Julian Osborn is one of the best he ever gave in my opinion. Julian was a Nuclear scientist and he feels tremendous guilt that something he helped to build is now ending up destroying humanity.  

Fred steals every scene he is in with just a look. In many scenes he is in the background but you keep your focus on him to see how he is reacting at certain moments. I also like the look on his face in scenes where Julian watches Dwight and Moira, he seems to know before they do that they are falling in love. I think Julian knows that their time together will be very bittersweet and he pities them because of that. I think that Fred is especially excellent in the scene where the Sawfish crew ask Julian to try and explain how the war started in the first place. 

Photo0832
Ava Gardner as Moira. Screenshot by me.

Ava Gardner touches my heart as Moira. She conveys the sadness and fear that Moira is struggling with perfectly. Moira is such a tragic figure because she has so much love to give, and she wants to spend her final days being happy with Dwight.

Ava perfectly conveys this woman’s inner turmoil, as she struggles to blot out the pain of the present by consuming booze and how at the same time she finds in Dwight a reason to stay alive and sober to savour every moment they have left. I think Ava delivers one of her most underrated performances in this film. She makes you want to hug Moira because she is so vulnerable and loveable. 

Photo0821
Anthony Perkins as Peter. Screenshot by me.

Anthony Perkins is excellent as the young Lt. Peter Holmes. I’ve never been much of a fan of Perkins, but I really do like him in this film. Peter and his wife have recently had a baby, and his wife is really struggling to accept the truth of what is about to happen to everyone. Anthony perfectly captures the emotional and moral distress Peter is in.

When Peter has to decide if he and his young family will take the government issued suicide pills or not, Anthony really lets you see how much of a difficult decision that is for Peter. It is the kind of decision that nobody should ever have to make, but the film forces you to think what you would do in his place. Would you accept the slow, painful and deeply unpleasant death caused by radiation? Or would you have one last beautiful day surrounded by those you love, still being healthy and in control of your life, and then take the pill and peacefully slip away? 

Photo0842
Donna Anderson as Mary. Screenshot by me.

Donna Anderson breaks my heart every time I watch this. Donna plays Peter’s wife, Mary. This woman is terrified of the truth about the end of the world but she won’t accept it or even talk about it. She too must decide how to meet her end.

I think many people would react like Mary, still holding out for hope even when faced with the opposite reality. Donna portrays Mary’s hysteria and terror very well indeed. 

John Tate is Admiral Bridie. John only appears in a few scenes but he is excellent when he does show up. I really like how he subtly conveys his love for his much younger secretary, Lt. Hosgood (Lola Brooks). Those feelings are there in the way he looks at her. The way Hosgood looks back at the Admiral also gives me the impression that they both felt the same way. Watch them carefully in their scenes together.

Photo0846
Bridie and Hosgood share a drink. Screenshot by me.

I especially love their final scene together where they share a drink. That scene moves me each time I watch it. The scene is beautifully played by both actors. I also love the weight of what is inferred between them but how it is never said, it makes for a very powerful and touching moment.

If you are among the few people on the planet who actually believe we should have Nuclear weapons; then I would seriously hope that this film (particularly the final ten minutes, and the famous final shot)would make you change your opinion. I would also recommend you watch the film Fail-Safe and the TV miniseries Threads and The Day After

Just having one of these terrible weapons in the world is one too many. These films and series show what will happen to us if we ever use them. It annoys me so much that some members of our species are intent on creating ways of bringing about our destruction. We should learn to love each other, because at the end of the day we are all the same, we are all human and will all die one day. Why can’t our time on earth be filled with happiness instead of war and hate?

As bleak as this film is, it also does have some happy moments and it also focuses on the many good points about humanity. We see characters give and receive love. We see compassion, friendship and kindness. It makes you think that you should really value your life because you could lose it at any time. I also like that the film ends on a plea that could be seen as being directed straight at us in the audience. That plea is “There is still time… Brother”. Nuclear destruction is not Science Fiction, it is a terrifying real life possibility, but we do have it within our power to stop it from becoming an horrific reality.

Photo0844
The plea aimed directly at us. Don’t let our world end like this. Screenshot by me.

I’m sure that audiences back in 1959 cannot have found the final shot of the plea to make for comfortable viewing. After all this final shot would have reminded them that the horror they’ve just seen wasn’t fiction. At the height of the cold war this film cannot have been an easy one to watch. Given the state of our world right now, I’m afraid that this  film sadly remains very relevant and chilling for us to watch today. Will we ever come to our senses and get rid of these weapons and our hate? I hope we will get rid of them.

My favourite scenes are the following. Julian and Peter’s conversation on the submarine. Dwight trying to explain to Moira at the train station how he feels about his dead family. The young sailor leaving the submarine and going ashore in San Francisco, he chooses to die there (his home city)but he will do so alone. Julian trying to explain how the Nuclear war started. Bridie and Hosgood sharing a drink and an important conversation. The scene during the boat race between Dwight and Moira. Moira watching the submarine submerge. Moira and Julian’s conversation in his garage. The final scene.

This is a powerful film and is one with an equally powerful message to deliver. Strong performances from all the cast and a beautiful score to enjoy . Be sure to see this one on Blu-ray to see it looking its best. I highly recommend the novel too. It goes into more detail about how the war started. It also graphically describes the symptoms of radiation sickness, while the film only hints at those horrors.
Any other fans of this one? Please leave your thoughts below.

Blogathons, Drama, Films I Love

The Doris Day Blogathon: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Doris Day BannerMichaela over at Love Letters To Old Hollywood is hosting this blogathon in celebration of the actress and singer Doris Day. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. When I saw that Michaela was hosting this blogathon, I knew that I just had to sign up to take part right away. I am a big fan of Doris Day. I first became aware of her through her singing. I often heard her songs on the radio growing up. My mum and dad both like her a lot too and they have recommended more of her songs to me over the years. I didn’t see any of Doris’s films though until I was in my late teens. 

Photo0730
Doris as Jo McKenna. Screenshot by

The first film of Doris’s that I ever saw is the one that I’ve chosen to write about for this blogathon. Her performance in this film is what made me a fan of her work. I’m only sorry that she didn’t get to star in many more serious films during her long career. I’m writing about her performance in the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Man Who Knew Too Much. 

This 1956 thriller is a remake of Hitchcock’s earlier film The Man Who Knew Too Much(1934). Hitchcock much preferred his remake to his earlier version of the film. The remake is also quite popular with many of Hitchcock’s fans too.  

I personally much prefer this remake to his earlier version. I think that this remake is much more exciting and suspenseful than the original is. I also think that it makes you really care for the characters and what they are going through. I’ve chosen this particular film, not only because it is a film which I love a great deal, but also because it offered Doris a rare opportunity to star in a much more serious and darker film than she usually would have appeared in at this time. Her performance in this film highlighted the fact that she was a very good dramatic actress and that she could more than handle darker screen material.  

Doris Day was mostly known at this point in her career for her bubbly, energetic and bright screen persona. She usually acted in romantic comedies and those films are still what she really remains most well known for today (besides her singing of course). Doris Day’s smile and laugh were infectious, and her warm and powerful singing voice ensured she also found her way into the hearts of music fans around the world.

In 1956, Doris Day starred alongside James Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much. This film is a thriller about a married couple who must try and find their son after he is kidnapped. You may think that this material doesn’t sound like the right fit for Doris Day to appear in. But you see there in lies the genius of the director Alfred Hitchcock.  

Alfred Hitchcock had a real knack for picking actors to work with him and for giving these actors roles which changed the way they would be perceived by audiences and critics alike. For example, Hitchcock gave Grace Kelly roles in his films which allowed her to come across as cool and sexy, as opposed to the other film characters she had played before working with him. He gave James Stewart, Cary Grant and Joseph Cotton much darker roles than they had ever had before in their careers. 

Hitchcock gave Doris a much more serious role than she’d really had before. The material he gave her to work with really lets her show off her dramatic acting skills. In this film she goes from a happy and outgoing woman to a desperate, worried, worn out, and very scared woman. She plays a woman whose grief about her boy being taken from her is tearing her apart inside. I think it is one of the best performances that Doris has ever given on screen. 

Photo0743
Jo singing. Screenshot by me.

Doris also gets to sing in this film. The song she sings would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Song. The song has become the song that she is best known for. The song is Que Sera, Sera.

The song first appears during a cute duet scene between Jo and Hank, this version she sings in a fun and happy way. The second time that this song is sung, Doris sings it in a very different way indeed. She sings as though her life depended on it and she fills the words with real emotion and strength. The later use of the song is an attempt by Jo to try and let Hank know that she and his dad have found him where he is being held hostage.    

Dr. Ben McKenna(James Stewart), his wife Jo( Doris Day)who is a retired world renowned singer, and their young son, Hank (Christopher Olsen) are on holiday in Morocco. The family are having a lovely time and they are enjoying seeing a different culture to what they know back in the States.

The family are befriended by the charming Frenchman, Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin). Ben likes him right away, but Jo is suspicious of him because he asks them a lot of questions and is obviously prying into their lives for some reason.

The following day Louis Bernard is stabbed and he dies in Ben’s arms in the market place. Before he dies, Louis tells Ben about an assassination being arranged in order to kill a politician in London. Ben later learns that Louis was a French Intelligence Agent and that he was tailing a couple involved in the plot. Hank is then kidnapped by the middle aged couple who Louis initially mistook the McKenna’s to be. Hank is kidnapped to ensure the McKenna’s silence about the plot. Jo and Ben must race against time to get their son back and try and stop the assassination attempt.  

Photo0722
Ben and Jo share a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

I really like that the heart of the film is the relationship between Ben and Jo. They clearly adore one another and there are lots of scenes where we see their playful banter. They are a fun and happy couple. These two are simply an ordinary couple who are thrown into an extraordinary situation.  

I like seeing how they try and help each other deal with their fears, shock and grief over Hank being taken from them.  You can see them struggling with their worry in every scene, yet you can also see them trying to restrain their feelings in order to stay focused on finding him. I also quite like watching them trying to track their boy down in London. Investigating is something totally alien to this couple. I really like how despite that, they really waste no time in turning private eyes to look for Hank.  

I think that Doris and James totally convince as a married couple. They both convey a genuine love and affection for one another. I really wish that they had acted together again playing a couple. I think that both Doris and James also both do a terrific job of conveying their desperation and fear following their Hank’s kidnapping. The scene in this film that always stays with me is when Ben has to break the news to Jo that their boy has been kidnapped. 

Photo0726
Ben delivers some bad news to Jo. Screenshot by me.

Ben gives Jo two sedatives before he will tell her the news about the kidnapping. He does this to stop her from getting overly hysterical and trying to run out after he tells her. I always find that scene very moving. I also think that James is very good in this scene because he lets you see how upset Ben is and how he is struggling to hide his emotions before Jo takes the pills. 

I also find this scene a bit weird if I’m being honest. I mean who actually takes two pills just because their spouse or partner says they think it would be a good idea if they did in exchange for some news? Anyway, when Ben tells Jo the news, Doris just breaks my heart with her emotional reaction. It is one of the most powerful scenes in the entire film.  

The most memorable sequence in the entire film is the Albert Hall assassination attempt. I strongly believe that this sequence inspired the makers of the film Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation for their concert hall set sequence of suspense. 

                                      Ben and Jo see the assassin. Screenshot by me.

In the Albert Hall sequence, Jo and Ben discover that the politician who is going to be killed is attending a concert at the hall. The pair, along with the Police ,try and find the assassin and save the politicians life. The assassin plans to fire his kill shot at the exact moment that the cymbals crash near the end of the concert. Can Ben and Jo stop him before he takes aim? It is a real tense sequence and is edited together perfectly. 

During the Albert Hall sequence, Bernard Herrmann, the regular composer for many of  Hitchcock’s films, conducts (he is seen on screen in person)the choir and the orchestra performing the Storm Clouds Cantata. This choral piece had been written by composer Arthur Benjamin and it had been written specifically to be used in the 1934 version of this film. The music really sets the mood and adds a great deal to an already dramatic, suspenseful and epic sequence. It is one of my favourite sequences in any Hitchcock film.

This is a very thrilling film. It will have you on the edge of your seat for sure. It’s filled with excellent performances, some memorable locations and a likeable lead couple. I consider this to be one of Hitchcock’s best films. Both James and Doris deliver performances here that rank among their best screen work in my opinion.  

Doris more than proves here what a good actress she was. I think it is a real shame that she ended up receiving so few serious and dramatic roles in her career. As much as I enjoy the fun films she made, I for one would really have liked to have seen her in more serious films like this one. 

What are your thoughts on this film?  What do you think of Doris Day’s performance?

If you’re after more serious performances from Doris Day, then do check out the following films: Love Me Or Leave Me. Storm Warning. Midnight Lace

My favourite Doris Day films are the following: Pillow Talk. The Man Who Knew Too Much. Young At Heart. Teacher’s Pet. Love Me Or Leave Me.

Doris is celebrating her 96th birthday on Tuesday. Happy Birthday Doris. Have a lovely day.