Blogathons, British Cinema, Horror

The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon: Hands Of The Ripper (1971)

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When I saw that Gill from Realweegiemidgetreviews and Barry from Cinematic Catharsis were hosting this horror blogathon, I jumped at the chance to be able to take part because I do love me some Hammer Horror films. Be sure to visit both of their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

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Anna in murderous mode. Screenshot by me.

I have decided to write about a film that I consider to be one of the most underrated Hammer Horror films ever made, that film is Hands Of The Ripper.

On paper the plot of Hands Of The Ripper seems like it just shouldn’t work.

The plot frankly does sound quite ludicrous, but when you watch the film you find that it actually does work. This film is also one which really surprised me when I first saw it. I didn’t expect to end up watching a horror film that moved me just as much as it scared me.

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Dr. Pritchard gets a fright. Screenshot by me.

The film is also interesting because it is an interesting mix of slasher film and psychological thriller,and it is also a real character piece and a beautiful Edwardian costume drama to boot.

The film offers plenty of gore for horror fans who like slasher films, and it also offers a very creepy atmosphere and supernatural element for those of us who prefer that type of horror instead. 

I especially love the psychological angle to the film, as we see the main characters strange and frightening behaviour get studied and picked apart. 

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The innocent Anna. Screenshot by me.

The poignant lead performance by Angharad Rees is something else that makes this film more than your average horror flick. Angharad’s performance is one which lingers in the memory long after the film has finished.

She gives her character such vulnerability and innocence that you really feel for her and want her to be safe and happy. We even feel protective towards her character even after we have seen the horrible things of which she is capable. I like how she manages to convincingly convey Anna’s gentle nature and her transformation into a deranged killer. 

The film is directed by Peter Sasdy, who had directed several other films for Hammer before this. The film begins  in London, on a foggy night in 1888. Notorious serial killer Jack The Ripper has just claimed his latest victim. Jack was seen carrying out the foul deed and some locals are pursuing him. Jack evades the crowd and lets himself into a house on a street in the upper class part of the city. When he goes inside we then see that he is a married man with a young daughter who is called Anna. 

Jack murders his wife and this terrible act is witnessed by his very young daughter, as she sits in her playpen watching her parents. The film then moves forward several years later and we meet the now grown up Anna(Angharad Rees)who is being used by Mrs. Golding(Dora Bryan) as part of a fake medium scam, and the poor girl is also being pimped out to older men by this woman who is supposed to be looking after her!

We quickly learn that Anna is also a very troubled young woman who is possessed by the spirit of her dead father. Whenever she sees flashing lights or if she gets kissed, Anna goes into a trance, and her father’s spirit then takes over her and through her the ripper murders whoever is near Anna at the time.

The savagery in these attacks and the amount of physical strength required to carry them out makes it doubtful that a woman could have done this, but it seems like Anna alone has actually carried out these murders. After the murders Anna doesn’t remember anything and genuinely has no idea what she is supposed to have done. 

One night Mrs. Golding sets Anna up with a gentlemen client, Anna snaps and kills Mrs. Golding, impaling her body on a bedroom door. The client runs out into the street and claims that Anna committed this murder.  Dr. John Pritchard(Eric Porter), a middle aged psychologist goes inside and discovers the body and also Anna who is an almost catatonic state.

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Pritchard tries to help Anna remember her past. Screenshot by me.

Dr. Pritchard believes that Anna is the killer, but he doesn’t believe that she is consciously responsible for these murders.

He arranges for her to move into his home/medical practice and there he studies her and tries to unravel the mystery surrounding this young woman; a woman who is seemingly so sweet, gentle and innocent.

It also becomes pretty clear to us that he is falling in love with Anna as he spends more time with her.  Can he find a way to help Anna? Can Anna ever escape her murderous father’s influence? Watch and find out.

The film is quite graphic in its depiction of the various murders. The film also has a very sleazy undertone running through it. There are some very sexually suggestive scenes such as the situation in Mrs. Golding’s house, Pritchard standing watching Anna having a bath(shocking behaviour from an Edwardian gentleman), and the scene where Anna is seduced by a prostitute who is after some pleasure for herself on a night when business is slow on the streets. There’s also a memorable scene where Anna ends up in the Police cells, and she is surrounded by vicious prostitutes and tough women who treat her despicably and turn their rage and scorn upon her. 

I also really like how this film depicts that there were two very different ways of life at this time existing right alongside one another; one was the idyllic and beautiful life enjoyed by the upper classes, money was no object and comfortable, large homes and nice clothes were in unlimited supply. The other life was the poverty riddled one endured by the working classes; a life filled with endless hardship, misery and great pain. 

I love the characters in the film and I find Dr. Pritchard to be a very fascinating character. He shows such compassion and understanding towards those with psychological or mental issues, but he seems disgusted by the blindness of his son’s fiance, Laura (Jane Merrow).

I find his attitude towards Laura to be very interesting indeed, when she is near him he acts awkwardly and seems repulsed by her presence, does he feel her loss of sight makes her unsuitable for his son? Or does the fact that her disability is physical disturb him?  In the Victorian and Edwardian era physical and mental disability were very much taboo subjects and able bodied people wanted disabled people out of sight and mind. Maybe Pritchard’s attitudes towards Laura simply reflect the attitudes of his time, but that doesn’t explain why he is so sympathetic to the mentally afflicted and seems so awkward around Laura. Maybe I’m reading too much into it and he perhaps doesn’t like her due to her personality, but there is certainly an awkwardness in the way he acts around her. 

Pritchard also covers up some of Anna’s murders, thereby making himself complicit in those terrible acts. Why does he do this? If this were any other patient of his I doubt he would do such a thing. I think he falls for Anna and feels like he should protect her due to the failure of the other adults in her life to look after her. He risks a great deal for Anna. His relationship with Anna is also endlessly fascinating as it is a mix of fatherly affection and sexual desire. From a professional point of view its also very clear that he has gotten much to close to Anna and is getting much too personally invested in her case.

I highly recommend this film to Hammer fans and to anyone who likes their horror films a little different from the norm. Eric Porter and Angharad Rees both deliver excellent and poignant performances. This film also features much more character development than some of the other Hammer films. The music by Christopher Gunning is suitably atmospheric and is very beautiful and moving too. The murder sequences are still shocking and creepy in comparison with similar scenes found in modern horror films. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Anna and Pritchard talking with the genuine psychic. Laura meeting Anna. Pritchard helping Anna down the stairs after he finds her standing at the top covered in blood. Mrs. Golding’s murder. The scene at the wedding rehearsal where Pritchard asks Anna why she is crying. The tragic finale. 

What do you think of this film?

 

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Blogathons, Uncategorized

Announcing The Second Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon

Last year I held an Alfred Hitchcock blogathon, it was a huge success and featured so many terrific Hitchcock related reviews and articles.The event ran for three days and you can read day 1 entries here, day 2 entries here, and day 3 entries here.

I have decided to run this blogathon again this year. I do hope that you can all join me in celebrating Alfred Hitchcock’s films. You can write about any of Hitchcock’s films. You can write about his TV series. You can write about Hitchcock himself, or about the actors and characters featured in his films and series.

You can write more than one entry if you wish to do so. I will accept two duplicates per film title. Previously published reviews and articles are more than welcome.

The blogathon will be held for two days on the 6th and 7th of July, 2018. 

Just let me know what you would like to write about in the comments section below.Check the participation list to see who is writing about what. Take one of the banners from below and pop it on your site somewhere to help promote the event. Have fun writing!

Participation List

Maddylovesherclassicfilms: Rebecca and Vertigo

Silver Screen Classics: The 39 Steps

Down These Mean Streets: Notorious

The Humpo Show: Saboteur

Sat In Your Lap: The Wrong Man

Caftan Woman: Stage Fright

Wolffian Classics Movies Digest: Rear Window

Sparks From A Combustible Mind: The Trouble With Harry

Cracked Rear Viewer: Dial M For Murder

Realweegiemidgetreviews: Four O’Clock(episode of the TV series Suspicion)

dbmoviesblog: The Birds

Bonnywood Manor: Topaz

Vinnieh: Shadow Of A Doubt

Films On The Box: The Skin Game

Silver Screenings: Rope

Poppity: Marnie and North By Northwest

Retro Movie Buff: Foreign Correspondent 

The Wonderful World Of Cinema: Lifeboat

The Stop Button: Young And Innocent

Taking Up Room: Blackmail and The Man Who Knew Too Much(1934)

The Midnite Drive-In: Psycho and Hitchcock(biopic of Hitch starring Anthony Hopkins)

Cinema Essentials: Dial M For Murder

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood: Mr. and Mrs. Smith and North By Northwest

Cary Grant Won’t Eat You: Torn Curtain

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: Rebecca

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Hitchcock Blogathon 3

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David Lean 1I am also hosting another blogathon celebrating the film director David Lean. I’d love you to take part in that too. You can learn more and sign up here. 

Films I Love, Thriller

Rear Window(1954)

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Jeff watches his neighbours. Screenshot by me.

I consider Rear Window to be one of Alfred Hitchcock’s cleverest and most absorbing  films. Few films can claim to be perfect, but I think this is one of the few that can be considered such.

This is one of Hitchcock’s best films (and that is saying something)and his attention to even the smallest of details is very evident in every scene. The film is the perfect package and it contains something in it for everyone to enjoy.

The way Hitchcock directs this film makes his audience become voyeurs just like James Stewart’s character is. The more of the film we watch, the more it seems like we are right there in that apartment with him looking out at the neighbouring apartments and focusing on what is happening inside them. 

I always feel quite uncomfortable whenever I watch this one because it feels like I’m being nosy and am actually looking in on all these peoples lives. I felt like I have become James Stewart’s character in a way.

Rear Window is a very dark and thrilling film which tackles issues of obsession, curiosity, romance, murder and voyeurism. The film features glamourous clothes, black comedy, fascinating characters, plenty of suspense and one of the most realistic film sets in American film history. The film also shows that sometimes being nosy and suspicious isn’t a bad thing. 

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Jeff and Lisa can’t stop looking out the window. Screenshot by me.

I really like how we are not entirely sure whether to accept the suspicions of Jeff or not. Even though we see and hear the same things he does, we don’t really know what incidents are worth being concerned about. At some points we are not entirely clear about what we’ve actually just witnessed. 

Photographer L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart)is wheelchair bound at home during a heatwave after he breaks his leg.

Jeff lives in an apartment complex and he starts looking out of his window at his neighbours because he needs something to do to help him pass the time when he can’t sleep because of the heat. However what begins as a casual curiosity, soon develops into an obsession when he can’t stop looking at what’s going on in the neighbouring apartments. 

Jeff’s glamourous girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly)loves him dearly, but the two are complete opposites in background, life and society. Lisa begins to get concerned about Jeff’s obsession with the neighbours and she tries to get him to focus on her instead. Soon Lisa gets drawn into Jeff’s obsession. The pair begin to suspect neighbour Lars Thorwald (a menacing Raymond Burr)of having murdered his invalid wife and taken her body out of their apartment late at night.

Jeff and Lisa begin their own investigations into the possibility of foul play having been committed. They are helped in their investigations by Jeff’s nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and Jeff’s detective friend Doyle (Wendell Corey). Hitchcock keeps us guessing as to whether Thorwald is innocent or guilty right up to the end of the film. We even begin to wonder at points in the film whether Jeff is correct in his suspicions or not.

I love the apartment complex set because it looks so realistic. How it’s set up works for the story as Jeff’s window has a clear view of all of the other apartments opposite and around his own. All the apartment sets were also designed inside, with furniture etc added to the interiors which could be seen through the windows. I also love the excellent sound work heard during the apartment complex sequences where we hear conversations, music, and other sounds at various different levels, just as you would in reality. 

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The apartment complex. Screenshot by me.

The one thing about this set up that always makes me laugh is how everyone in all the apartments has their windows open with the lights on and nobody (apart from the newlyweds)ever has their curtains or blinds drawn. This seems to be a recurring thing in American, Swedish and Danish films and series; here in the UK, once it’s evening the curtains and blinds are firmly shut, we’d never dream of having the lights on so that everyone outside could see in. Do none of the characters in this film value their privacy? Do they not think that someone across the courtyard could be seeing everything they’re doing?

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Miss Loneleyheart. Screenshot by me.

Not only is the film suspenseful and thrilling, but it is also a terrific character piece with a great deal of character development occurring throughout. Even Jeff’s briefly glimpsed neighbours come across as very real people with all their various quirks and flaws.

I don’t know about you but the action taking place in the individual apartments is as intriguing to me as the main story of Jeff obsessing over Lars Thorwald. I’m most fascinated by the Miss Lonelyheart story. This woman is single and is depressed because she doesn’t have anyone in her life. This storyline is so well conveyed that I find myself really feeling for this woman and wanting to comfort her.

I also like seeing how Jeff slowly comes to see what a treasure he has in Lisa. As the film goes on he is more focused on what is going on in the other apartments to be able to properly focus on his own life. Lisa and Jeff genuinely do love each other, but they each have such different lives and interests that their relationship isn’t easy. Lisa also wants them to get married but Jeff doesn’t want that.  

By the end of the film though, Jeff realises that he does love Lisa very much. He finds that he can’t be without her, and he starts to see that she is a resourceful and brave woman. Grace Kelly is as glamorous and beautiful as ever but she gets to show there is more to her character than her physical appearance. Lisa ends up becoming one of the bravest characters in the film. Grace also shows us Lisa’s vulnerable side and her desperation for Jeff to fully accept her in his life.

James Stewart portrays Jeff as a man who is very set in his ways, but who slowly comes to realise that there is room for Lisa in his life after all. James does such a good job of conveying Jeff’s growing fascination and obsession with the mystery in the apartment opposite his. James again goes to some dark places for Hitch as he plays a character obsessed with murder and someone who seems to be at his happiest watching the lives of others. In this film he delivers one of his finest performances. 

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Thelma Ritter as Stella,  and James Stewart as Jeff. Screenshot by me.

Thelma Ritter provides comic support as the sassy and no-nonsense Stella. She also thinks Jeff needs to stop watching, but then she and Lisa begin to think he may be right after all. Thelma was one of the greatest character actresses and she steals every scene she is in here.

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Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald. Screenshot by me.

Raymond Burr is almost unrecognisable in this as Lars Thorwald. I love Raymond when he plays good guys like Ironside, but he was superb when playing dubious and evil characters. He really keeps you guessing about Thorwald right up to the final scene. 

This is a thrilling film that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It also makes you see just how easy it is to slip into obsession. Excellent performances throughout and skilled direction from Hitch make this a must see.

My favourite scenes are the following. Lisa sneaking into Thorwald’s apartment. Our first introduction to Lisa. Doyle seeing that Lisa is going to spend the night with Jeff. The opening sequence of the apartment complex. The entire final sequence involving the camera flash. 

What do you think of Rear Window?

 

Blogathons

Announcing The David Lean Blogathon

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You are all invited to take part in my latest blogathon. This one is being held to celebrate the career of the British film director David Lean.

He is a great favourite of mine, and I especially love his ability to make films which balanced intimate human drama and epic backdrops. I also like how much care and effort went into his films in order to achieve certain shots, or in recreating a bygone era. He was truly a master of his craft. 

The blogathon will be held for two days on July 20th and 21st, 2018. You can write about any of David Lean’s films and I will be accepting two duplicates per film. As well as writing about his films, you could also write posts about Lean as a director, about his entire career, your favourite actors in his films, or you could focus separately on his smaller films or on his epics. You can write more than one entry if you want to.

Check the participation list below to see who is writing about what.

Please take one of the banners from below and pop it on your site somewhere to help promote this event. More importantly have fun writing! 

Participation List

Maddylovesherclassicfilms:  Oliver Twist

Cinematic Scribblings: This Happy Breed

Silver Screen Classics: Doctor Zhivago 

Realweegiemidgetreviews: Trailer reviews of Bridge On The River Kwai and Doctor Zhivago

Caftan Woman: Great Expectations

Wolffian Classics Movies Digest: Brief Encounter

Poppity: Hobson’s Choice and Madeleine

Vinnieh: Doctor Zhivago

Retro Movie Buff: Blithe Spirit

The Wonderful World Of Cinema: Lawrence Of Arabia

The Stop Button: The Sound Barrier

MovieRob: Summertime and The Passionate Friends

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David Lean 1

David Lean 2

Drama, Japanese Cinema, Romance

Cruel Story Of Youth (1960)

I love Japanese cinema so much.My favourite Japanese film era is the 1940’s and 1950’s,and the great Kenji Mizoguchi is my favourite Japanese director. I have long wanted to check out some of the Japanese New Wave films(these films began to appear in the late 50’s and went on into the 70’s).

Of these New Wave films, Cruel Story Of Youth is one that I have been desperate to see for quite a while now. Last night I finally got to watch it and all I can say is wow! It wasn’t what I expected at all, and it has an ending that comes out of nowhere packing quite a punch in the process.

I’m so used to seeing the rather static cinematography present in classic era Japanese films, that I really wasn’t sure about how this film visually flicks between moments in the couples life very quickly; as the film went on though, I became much more used to this style and quite enjoyed it actually, even though I strongly feel that the use of static shots allows you to focus more intently on the actors during scenes.  

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The couple ride around on a motorbike. Screenshot by me.

The film has an almost documentary look about it which adds a great amount of realism to what we see unfolding on screen. The film was also shot in colour and on location. The impressive cinematography is by Takashi Kawamata. This film is also about as far away from the visual style of classic era Japanese directors as you can get. 

The director of Cruel Story Of Youth is Nagisa Oshima, he was one of the most revolutionary film directors in Japanese film history, and his films would often feature content that was guaranteed to shock audiences. He would later go on to make the sexually explicit In The Realm Of The Senses.  

Cruel Story Of Youth focuses on the rebellious teenagers of the swinging sixties who are going against the traditions, restrictions and sexual repression endured by their parents and grandparents. The Japan we see in Oshima’s film is a country where people are now very open about what they feel, think and desire. The film even depicts students protesting against the real life Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.  

The film is also very violent and it depicts gang violence and even violence in the relationship of the main couple. The film also shows us characters who are doing what they have to in order to get by in life, even if what they are doing is in actuality criminal and morally wrong. Everyone has it tough in some way in this film. Women get the roughest treatment in the film. Female characters are quite often shown being used by men and not being valued for who they are as individuals, or not having their feelings considered by men, these aspects of the film do make for difficult viewing. 

The film begins with teenage Makoto (Miyuki Kawano, an actress whose work I am now desperate to see more of)accepting a lift at night with a middle aged man. The driver takes them to a hotel, and when Makoto tries to run away from him he attempts to molest her. She is rescued by passing tough guy, Kiyoshi (Yusuke Kawazu)who beats the man up and takes her away from him.

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The couple at the beach. Screenshot by me.

Makoto and Kiyoshi meet up a few days later and it is clear to us that he fancies her, but that she is inexperienced sexually and just wants to be around him as a friend. The pair take a motorboat ride out on a river, and while resting on some floating logs tied together in a bay, their relationship becomes physical. I was quite taken aback by this shocking sequence because it quite is sadistic and because Kiyoshi forces himself on Makoto! Despite this scene though it is undeniable that there is undoubtedly some sort of connection between the two characters, and despite this incident they genuinely do fall for one another.

The pair move in together and the rest of the film depicts their relationship and how they try and get by on little money. To make some money they decide to reconstruct the way they first met, and Makoto will ask for lifts from older men and then Kiyoshi will beat them up and take their money. The pair also have to deal with a violent gang who Kiyoshi has got on the wrong side of. 

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The sisters have a talk. Screenshot by me.

Makoto and Kiyoshi’s relationship is both passionate and mutually destructive. It is painful and fascinating to watch their relationship change and develop as the film goes on. I quite like how we get to see that Makoto’s older (and less rebellious) sister, Yuki (Yoshiko Kuga)once went through what her sister is going through now, and how she wisely tells her this relationship is no good and won’t last.  The sisters sadly become estranged as Makoto falls more and more for Kiyoshi much to the dismay of Yuki. 

The film features material that was very risque for audiences of the time. The film contains sexual violence, abortion, sex outside of marriage, gang violence, extortion, robbery and murder. I found the content of this film to be very shocking even when compared with what we see on our screens today, so I can only imagine how much this must have stunned the audiences who saw this back in 1960. 

Yusuke and Miyuki are two of the most natural and expressive actors I’ve ever seen and they both do a terrific job of conveying the passion, the rage, the vulnerability and the awkwardness of their respective characters. 

Yusuke is so intense and he very skillfully conveys how Kiyoshi is an angry young man consumed with a great rage, who is rebelling against everything and looking after himself first. Yusuke does a brilliant job of getting us to see just how much Kiyoshi is completely thrown when Makoto comes into his life, and how he develops genuine feelings for her and doesn’t really know how to deal with those feelings or with her constant presence in his life. 

Miyuki conveys the innocence, the gentle nature and the naivety of her character so well. I also like how she conveys the great emotional change this woman is going through and how she becomes stronger, more confident and rebellious as the film goes on. She shows us that Makoto is in love not only with Kiyoshi, but also with how he represents a freedom from rules and restrictions. 

My favourite scenes are the following.  Makoto practicing standing by the window and practicing smoking. The couple relaxing at the beach on a sunny day. Kiyoshi saving Makoto from the gang at the bar. Makoto getting questioned by her sister and dad. The evening motorbike ride ending at the beach. The ending. 

This is a very powerful and important film which depicted a generation rebelling against the traditions of its past. I’d love to get your thoughts on this film.

Films I Love, Noir

The Narrow Margin (1952)

The Narrow Margin is a film that I never get tired of watching. It’s a very brisk film and it is one which manages to pack quite a punch in just 71 minutes. This is a film in which no scene or dialogue exchange feels like a waste of time. I also consider this film to be a prime example of how a low budget B movie can sometimes stand head and shoulders above any A film. 

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Brown and Forbes meet Mrs. Neall. Screenshot by me.

The Narrow Margin was an RKO studios film and it was directed by Richard Fleischer.

The film was shot in just twelve days. The screenplay for the film was written by Earl Felton and it was Oscar nominated.

 The film has no music (other than Mrs.Neall’s beloved records), instead the sound effects of the train wheels and ambient noise are all that we hear as the film goes on. I think those natural sounds add a great amount of realism to the film and I like that the scenes are undisturbed by intrusive or over dramatic music.  

This film has more twists and turns than a roller-coaster, and it also features some of the greatest lines ever uttered in Film Noir history.  The following are just a few of my favourite lines of dialogue from the film.  

Brown: ” She’s a sixty-cent special.Cheap, flashy, and strictly poison under the gravy.”

Brown: “Take it all, I can’t eat it!” Mrs. Neall: “That’s because you’ve been packin’ away steaks behind my back.”

Mrs. Neall: “Some protection they send me. An old man who walks right into it, and a weeper”.  

Brown: “You make me sick to my stomach.” Mrs. Neall: “Well use your own sink!, and let me know when the target practice starts!”

Brown: “My partners dead, and it’s my fault. He’s dead and you’re alive. Some exchange.” 

Mrs. Neall: “Not till I tell you something, you cheap badge-pusher! When we started on this safari, you made it clear I was just a job, and no joy in it, remember?”

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Brown. Screenshot by me.

Besides the fabulous dialogue, it is the complex and very fascinating characters who make this film what it is. Charles McGraw’s character is one of the hardest, toughest and cynical men that you’ll find in any film, let alone in any Noir film.

Marie Windsor steals every scene she is in as the tough-talking, strong willed dame who sprays quips and insults around as though they were bullets coming out of a gun. 

Police Detectives Walter Brown (Charles McGraw)and Gus Forbes(Don Beddoe)are assigned to protect Mrs.Neall(Marie Windsor)and escort her to court. Neall is a mobsters wife who has agreed to testify against her man in court. People associated with her husband are trying to kill her before she can talk to the law.

Brown is tough, cynical and he hates the fact that he and his partner are risking their lives for a no good gal like Mrs. Neall. Even though she is testifying, he doesn’t think she’s a good person at heart at all. As they escort her to the train they’ve booked tickets on, Forbes is gunned down by a hitman sent to take out Mrs. Neall.

Brown manages to get Mrs.Neall on the train and locks her in the empty compartment. A number of hired heavies board the train too, and there are now very few places on the train for Brown and Mrs. Neall to hide. Can Brown protect her or not? Brown also has to deal with the distraction of the lovely Mrs. Sinclair (Jacqueline White)who is travelling on the train with her young son. Brown and Mrs. Sinclair strike up a genuine bond and he becomes very fond of her. 

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Brown and Mrs. Neall have words. Screenshot by me.

This is a very tense film and the train setting gives it an extra level of suspense as there are very few places that Brown and Mrs. Neall can hide once they’re on board that train and it is hurtling down the tracks. The antagonistic relationship between Mrs.Neall and Brown is also very interesting to watch, the pair loath one another, have wild sexual tension going on, and their verbal sparring is a Noir lovers treat to listen to. 

There is a big twist in this film concerning a main character (which I’m not going to reveal because it’s best to go into this film not knowing who it is, this in order to retain the surprise and impact when the reveal does arrive) and when it is revealed, I think that it makes you see this person in a very different light than you did much earlier in the film. When this twist is revealed we also realise that there are two different Police operations being run, and each one is as important and dangerous as the other.  

If there is a downside to this film I would say that it lies with the way the sacrifice and murder of this character later on in the film is only referred to once afterwards. When you realise the risk this person was taking and how brave they were, I think that it’s a shame that more time isn’t devoted to acknowledging that sacrifice.That issue aside though this is one of the best Noir films and it is filled with superb performances and many memorable moments. 

McGraw gives one of his best performances as the tough as nails Detective who hates his current assignment, but despite his personal feelings he will work hard to protect Mrs.Neall no matter what. He may be mean, he may be rude and rough at times, but there is no doubt that he is a good guy underneath all that, and he is certainly someone you would want on your side in a fight.

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Mrs. Neall gets threatened. Screenshot by me.

 It’s a real shame that Marie Windsor appeared in so few Noir films because she is perfectly at home in the dark and seedy world of Noir. Marie comes across as being strong, sexy, and she is a real natural with that snappy dialogue.

Paul Maxey also turns in a very memorable performance as an overweight train passenger who keeps getting in the way of Brown.

My favourite scenes are the following. Brown fighting in the train compartment. Brown and Forbes meeting Mrs. Neall for the first time. Brown and Forbes discussing what Mrs. Neall is going to be like. Mrs. Neall and Brown arguing after he brings her a sandwich. The reveal/twist murder scene.  

Any other fans of this one?

Comedy, Films I Love, Romance

It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night is my all time favourite Screwball comedy film. When I’m in need of a film to make me laugh and put me in a good mood, then this is one I always turn to. My main reason for loving this one so much is the growing relationship between Ellie and Peter; I especially love watching them go from a bickering odd couple, to a couple who are very much in love with one another.

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Ellie and Peter’s first meeting. Screenshot by me.

I also love this film because it is extremely funny and features a perfect mix of slapstick comedy and verbal comedy. It also contains so many believable and likeable characters. This film always leaves me with a smile on my face because it’s such an uplifting, romantic and fun film.  

I also like how our perceptions of Ellie and Peter change as the film goes on. We start off enjoying seeing Ellie get brought down to reality with a bump, then we sympathise with her and start to like her because we see that she does have a heart, and that she is a sweet and compassionate woman who can’t help the life she was born into. Peter starts off as being a selfish guy, happy being on his own and interested only in using Ellie to get a story; as the film goes on though he changes to become a much warmer man who won’t use her to get a front page story. 

Seeing Ellie’s personal troubles splashed across the front page of papers, also reminds me that the rich may well be better off than most of us are, but they pay a heavy price in return for this as their private and difficult times are made into news on a regular basis.

The film is directed by Frank Capra. The film has a cracking screenplay by Robert Riskin, which is based on the short story Night Bus, written by Samuel Hopkins Adams.  Frank Capra is one of my favourite directors; I like his films because they focus on everyday characters and their struggles, hopes, and their dreams. There is also a note of hope in many of Capra’s films that I quite like. In Capra’s films we see wrongs righted and evil and greedy people fought and stood up to. It Happened One Night is one of my top five Capra flicks. The other four films in my list are The Bitter Tea of General Yen, It’s A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

I am a huge fan of films, books and series which focus on relationships between people who are complete opposites slowly starting to fall for one another. This film features a couple who are one of my all time favourite opposites attract couples. I love how Ellie and Peter start out at each others throats, and then as their relationship slowly develops, they both start to realise that they can’t do without one another. I also love this one because of how perfectly Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert work together as a screen team.

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Peter and Ellie get close. Screenshot by me.

Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert)is the daughter of a famous millionaire( Walter Connelly) . Ellie and her father are very famous. Following a bitter argument that they have about her relationship with her fiancé (who has the most awesome name ever), King Westley(Jameson Thomas), Ellie jumps from the family yacht and swims ashore. Running away with only a few dollars in her possession, Ellie is forced to experience life without access to her daddy’s limitless cheque book. 

Boarding a bus, Ellie finds herself literally thrown together with down on his luck newspaper reporter, Peter Warne(Clark Gable). Peter instantly recognises Ellie, and he sets his sights on getting the news scoop of the season. He calls his boss at the first opportunity he gets, tells him what’s going on and to stand by for more updates. However, as they spend more time together, Peter actually finds himself starting to fall for this pampered heiress, and she ends up developing feelings for him in return. When the bus has to stop due to a road closure Ellie, Peter and the other passengers spend the night at a motel; it is at this point that the pair actually start to realise that they are in love with one another. 

Clark Gable is terrific as the warm hearted Peter. He plays Peter as a guy with a tough and gruff exterior who is in reality a real sweetheart. I love how he conveys Peter’s annoyance and frustration with Ellie’s lack of understanding of how real life in depression era America works. Slowly though we see him become amused by her antics, and we then see that he is starting to become very fond of her.

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Clark Gable as Peter. Screenshot by me.

I especially love Clark in the scenes where Peter is starting to get really protective of Ellie, and he looks at her with such tenderness and affection on his face. I also like how he makes Peter come across as a man more than capable of defending himself both verbally and physically. He is also believable as a man who knows how to (and enjoys) push peoples buttons and wind them up.

Claudette Colbert is hysterical as the aloof, wealthy lady learning how everyone else lives. She shows us that Ellie has no clue as to how ridiculous some of the things she says sound, such as expecting the bus driver to wait for her long past departure time at a scheduled stop, simply because she is going to take longer to come back to the bus than the others. Claudette is radiant and bubbly in this film, she reminds me quite a bit of Clara Bow. I’m certain that if this film had been made in the 1920’s, then Clara would have been the perfect gal to play Ellie. 

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Claudette Colbert as Ellie. Screenshot by me.

Claudette makes you laugh, but she also makes you sympathise with Ellie because to be fair to her she has never had to fend for herself before in her life. She makes Ellie a tough gal, but also someone who is actually quite vulnerable, kind and almost childlike in a way.

I love how Claudette makes Ellie seem as though she is control of her situation even when she is far from it. Ellie also has a few surprises up her sleeve (such as the unforgettable leg reveal scene during the hitchhike sequence.)

Roscoe Karns is hysterical as an annoying and overly talkative bus passenger called Shapeley. Roscoe was always a scene stealer and he steals every scene he is in in this. He also gets to deliver my favourite line in the film: “when a cold mama gets hot, boy, how she sizzles!” 🙂 It cracks me up every time I hear him say it. 

                                         Roscoe Karns as Shapeley. Screenshot by me.

 Shapeley tries to chat Ellie up and has lots of fun at her expense, that is until Peter steps in and rescues her (what a knight in shining armour). Roscoe Karns has long been one of my favourite character actors and he is someone who sadly doesn’t get talked about much these days. I highly recommend you all check him out in some other films, such as Twentieth Century.

My favourite scenes are the following. Ellie and Peter’s first meeting where he falls into her lap. Peter carrying Ellie across the river. Ellie ordering a box of chocolates on the bus and getting angry when Peter cancels the order. Peter pretending to give his boss a real talking to over the phone.Peter and Ellie pretending to be an arguing married couple, I love the accent Ellie puts on in this scene.The bus singalong. Shapeley talking to Ellie on the bus. Ellie giving the little boy her money. The “take me to your island” scene. Ellie stopping traffic by showing her legs. Ellie going for a shower at the motel, only to find she has to queue up to get to the showers! Ellie running across the lawn in her wedding dress.

                                    Peter attempting to hitch a lift. Screenshot by me.

Most unforgettable scene in the film? I’m going to have to go with the hitchhike scene. This scene has become one of the most unforgettable moments in film history. Peter makes a big thing of bragging to Ellie about how easy it will be for him to hitch them a lift. He fails every single time he waves his thumb to passing motorists.  

Ellie grows tired of nobody stopping. She tells him to move over and watch how it’s done. She walks to the edge of the road, waits for a passing car, and then flashes her legs at the driver. A driver comes to a screeching halt when he gets a glimpse of leg. It cracks me up every time I see it.

   Ellie shows Peter how it’s done. Screenshot by me.

What makes the scene even funnier is the look that Clark has on his face in reaction to Ellie’s leg reveal; he makes us see that to Peter, Ellie’s action has come so completely out of the blue and he didn’t think she’d ever do anything like that.

It Happened One Night truly is one of the finest Screwball comedies ever made. The comic bickering between Ellie and Peter is first class. I also bet that depression era audiences got a real kick out of seeing a rich character forced to endure what everyday life was like for the majority of people at the time. This film is timeless, I think the story could still work set in any other era because of the class and life experience difference of the main characters. I also like that the rich characters are not depicted as being nasty or perfect, they have their troubles and flaws just like the rest of us. 

Below are some facts and a legend about the film.

  • Colbert didn’t enjoy making this film, but her performance here won her the Best Actress Oscar in 1935. She was very surprised when she actually won this award. 
  • The film also won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor(Clark Gable) and Best Screenplay. 
  • The scene where Clark Gable takes off his shirt to reveal he is bare chested, led to a large decline in the sale of men’s undershirts from this point on in America.

Are you also a fan of this film? Then please leave your thoughts below.


Never seen this before? Buy your bus ticket, head for the station and get on board. Prepare for laughter, tears and a trip that you won’t forget in a hurry.

 

 

Blogathons, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon

 

Ida banner 1This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ida Lupino. Ida was a hugely talented director, writer, actress and producer who worked during the classic film era in Hollywood.

I wanted to honour this very talented lady by holding a blogathon, so that we could all remember her and get together to discuss her work and legacy.

Twelve wonderful bloggers were kind enough to sign up to take part. I’m very happy to announce that the big day has finally arrived! Stop by throughout the day to read the articles being submitted about Ida. 

Message to none WordPress bloggers: For months now, I’ve not been able to leave any comments on none WordPress sites. So unless your comments sections are set up to accept anonymous comments, I’m afraid that I can’t leave you any comments. 😦  Please check back to this post where I will leave comments for the entries written by those of you not on WordPress. Sorry about this. Thanks for understanding.  

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The Entries

Down These Mean Streets discusses Ida’s sexy and sultry performance in Private Hell 36

 

Caftan Woman discusses the time Ida acted alongside Jean Gabin and Claude Rains in Moontide. 

Hi Paddy. How have I never seen this film before?! Your fine review has me desperate  to check this one out. Gabin, Lupino and Rains were masters of their craft, and I am interested to see how Ida got along performing alongside those two brilliant actors. From what you say she did just fine and was perfectly at home in this role. I like films that are a mix of genres, and this one sounds like a good example of one such film. Ida and the rest of the cast are ensuring that I’m going to try and track this down. Thanks so much for taking part and celebrating Ida. 

 

Realweegiemidgetreviews shares her views on Ida’s poignant performance in The Twilight Zone episode The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine.

 

MovieMovieBlogBlog tells us about the times that Ida went directing on Gilligan’s Island. 

 

The Midnite Drive-In takes a trip with Ida into The Twilight Zone.

Hi Quiggy. I loved your reviews of Ida’s two TZ episodes. The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine is such a poignant episode, and it has become a great favourite of mine. Such a shame it is often overlooked by some fans of the series. Glad to see you also picked up on the similarities between this episode and Sunset Blvd. Ida sure does a terrific job of conveying Barbara’s sadness, loneliness and desperate desire to be living again in her past, surrounded by friends she loved. We all at some point long to be back in our past, at least Barbara got the chance to return. The Masks is excellent. I love seeing those selfish and nasty people get what is coming to them. In real life shallow, and cruel people often hide behind a mask of being an upstanding person; the reality is usually very different, and in this episode such people are forced to wear their real faces. Ida did a brilliant job directing this.  

 

Old Hollywood Films discusses a film Ida directed, the funny and poignant The Trouble With Angels.

Hi Amanda.Your fine review of one of my favourite films has put me right in the mood to watch this again. Ida did a terrific job directing this one, and I really like the equal balance of comedy and poignancy she managed to achieve as the film goes on. When I watch this again, I will be sure to study Hayley’s performance to see if I detect any similarity to Ida herself as you have (very interesting observation). The Jerry Goldsmith score is beautiful and I never get tired of hearing it. Thanks so much for joining me to celebrate Ida.

 

Classic For A Reason discusses Ida’s role as a determined sister and surrogate mother in The Hard Way

 

PortraitsbyJenni tells us about an Ida Lupino film that made her a fan of classic era cinema. That film is Deep Valley.

 

Taking Up Room discusses Ida’s unforgettable performance in They Drive By Night. 

 

I share my thoughts on one of Ida’s finest directorial efforts The Hitch-Hiker.

 

 

Blogathons, Films I Love

The Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon: The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

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This is my entry for my Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon being held on the 12th of May. There is still time to join if you haven’t already. Click here to sign up and see who is writing about what.

I’m writing about The Hitch-Hiker. This is a film which I consider to be one of Ida Lupino’s finest directorial efforts. I will even go so far as to say I think it may well be the best film that she ever directed.

Ida Lupino was one of the finest actresses of the 1940’s. Ida excelled at playing tough and sexy dames on screen, and she was always a perfect fit in Noir films and thrillers.  By the end of that decade she also proved that she had a great amount of talent behind the camera as well. She branched out and became a producer and a writer.

In 1949 she sat in the directors chair for the first time, after she stepped in to replace the director Elmer Clifton on the film Not Wanted. Clifton had become ill and couldn’t continue working on the film. Ida finished off the film for him, but out of respect to him she didn’t take a directors screen credit. Her first official film as a director was Never Fear(1950). Between 1950 and 1953, Ida directed three films including Outrage; this is a very powerful drama about a woman dealing with the aftermath of being raped. 

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Gilbert and Roy before their nightmare begins. Screenshot by me.

In 1953, Ida turned her attention to true crime and made The Hitch-Hiker. The film is actually classed as a Noir, but I personally don’t consider it to be a Noir film. I’d class it instead as a crime thriller. I always end up on the edge of my seat whenever I watch this film. Ida made sure that this film was crammed with plenty of tension and suspense. It’s a gritty and suspenseful film featuring memorable performances from three of the finest American character actors of this era.

The film also has quite a timeless look about it. The film is mainly shot in a car, and is also shot on location out in the middle of nowhere. I think this helps to give the audience a sense that this event we’re witnessing could happen anywhere, at any time, and in any era. Show this film at the cinema today, and I am sure it would still work for younger viewers and deliver suspense and thrills. The film also serves as a warning to be very wary of who you pick up on the road. I also like how the film denotes the passing of the days by having the men grow stubble and look sweaty and weary.

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Myers. Screenshot by me.

The film is based upon the real life hitchhiker kill spree of Billy Cook(named Myers in the film). Between 1950 and 1951, Billy Cook murdered six people(including an entire family) between Missouri and California. He was eventually caught and received the death penalty for his crimes. The film was produced through Ida’s production company Filmmakers Inc, which she had set up with her ex-husband, the producer and writer, Collier Young.  As well as directing this film, Ida also co-wrote the screenplay along with Collier Young and Robert L. Joseph.   

Emmett Myers (William Talman)is a sadistic and dangerous man. He has been going around the country hitching rides and then killing the people who pick him up. He then steals their cars and possessions and heads across country. The film begins with us seeing him murder a young couple in their car. We only see his legs and the murders are not depicted graphically, and yet they come across as real and disturbing. We then see him hitch a lift with a lone man. Next we see that man’s dead body dragged to a roadside.

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No escape from Myers. Screenshot by me.

We then meet the heroes and victims of the film. Friends, Gilbert Bowman(Frank Lovejoy)and Roy Collins(Edmond O’Brien, a regular face in Ida’s films)are heading to Mexico for a fishing trip, and maybe a little fun time with ladies of the night. Picking up Myers after he pretends his car had broken down, the pair soon realise that they should have drove straight past him. Once he’s in the car, he pulls a gun on the pair and controls their every move from then on. 

The rest of the film focuses on Gilbert and Roy’s attempts to get away from Myers or try and overpower him and escape. The Police are on the look out for Myers and unbeknown to the three men in the car, the Police are succeeding in getting close to tracking them down. 

The story is a cracking one, but it is the performances from the three leads that linger most in the memory when the film is over.

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Talman. Screenshot by me.

Talman is so frightening as the psychotic Myers. He has a deranged and dead look in his eyes and makes you believe he is a seasoned killer with no remorse for the horrific crimes he commits.

There is a scene where he talks about what led him to be the way he is, and this scene shows us that people are not usually born this way; they become evil and hardhearted due to abuse and mistreatment in their childhood. Myers got a rough hand dealt to him growing up and he snapped and became the way we see him.

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Lovejoy. Screenshot by me.

Lovejoy is excellent as Gilbert. Watch his face because you can see he is conveying his character trying to think up ways to overpower Myers.

I love his reaction when he nearly gets shot in the head but is spared because the gun misfired; the mixed look of fear, relief and disbelief he shows on his face makes for a powerful moment.

 

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O’Brien. Screenshot by me.

O’Brien is equally good as Roy, and I like that he is a bit more openly afraid of what is going on than Gilbert (who it is mentioned had come out of the army, so perhaps his military experience allows him a better control of his fear) is at times. I love the scene where he is told to stand with the can while Myers shoots at him.

There is some interesting photography in this film too. Nicholas Musuraca was the man behind the camera, he did wonders with shadows and lighting in films including The Spiral Staircase and Cat People. Most of the scenes in The Hitch-Hiker take place in the car, with the three men shot in a mid shot (either seen from the front or from behind) throughout, this style of shooting makes these scenes come across as being very claustrophobic. In the scene where Myers forces Gilbert to shoot at Roy, there is also a terrific point of view shot looking down the barrel of a gun that I think looks awesome. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Myers explaining about his eye which never shuts(seriously creepy). The can shooting scene. The opening murders. The scene in the store between Gilbert and the little girl. Myers taking Gilbert and Roy hostage. Roy and Gilbert making a run for it at night.

The film received somewhat mixed reviews upon its release. Now it is rightly regarded as an effective thriller, and is recognised as being a real highpoint in Ida Lupino’s career. Despite all that though I don’t think it has still achieved the praise and fame it actually deserves.  

Ida would continue on as a director throughout the next three decades. She would mainly work in TV (and she became the only woman to direct an episode of The Twilight Zone, an episode called The Masks). She was a woman well ahead of her time and her hard work helped pave the way for future women directors. Such a shame that she didn’t get to direct more films in her career.  

Sadly as of 2018, there are still too few women sitting in the director’s chair on film sets. I can also think of none off the top of my head who multitask in the industry and work as actresses, writers, directors and producers like Ida did. She was a very multi-talented woman, and she proved that she could more than hold her own in a very male dominated industry. The Hitch-Hiker stands as a reminder of her varied skills behind the camera.

What are your thoughts on this film?

 

Blogathons, Silent Film, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon: Day One

The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon has finally arrived! Over the next two days, 11 wonderful bloggers will be submitting their articles celebrating the life and career of Lon Chaney Sr.

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Lon is one of my favourite actors. I have long wanted to do something to celebrate his life and films, but I wasn’t really sure what I should do to celebrate his work.I eventually decided that a blogathon was the way to go. I was delighted when Ruth at Silver Screenings agreed to join me and co-host this Chaney blogathon. 

I will be your blogathon hostess for today. The lovely Ruth will be your blogathon hostess at her site tomorrow. Please submit your articles to us over the next two days. I can’t wait to read your thoughts on Lon and his films.

                                                                    

                                                            Day 1 Entries

Critica Retro does an excellent job of reconstructing the lost Lon Chaney film: The Miracle Man.

Taking Up Room shares her thoughts after watching her first ever Chaney film: The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

Speakeasy reviews a Chaney horror film called The Monster.

Ruth gets to the heart of who Chaney is, with her review of the 2000 documentary: Man Of A Thousand Faces.

I take a look at Lon as a character actor and discuss his portrayal of disabled and disfigured characters

 

Blogathons, Silent Film, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon: The First Character Actor And His Portrayal Of Disabled And Disfigured Characters

Lon 3This is my entry for the blogathon being co-hosted by myself and Ruth at Silver Screenings. I have wanted to do something to honour the talents of Lon Chaney Sr for a while now. I was overjoyed when Ruth agreed to co-host this event with me to honour Lon. 

Lon Chaney Sr is one of my all time favourite actors. He was such an intense actor and his every move on the screen drew and kept your attention. Lon could also convey more to us with a single look than any line of dialogue could ever convey. I also strongly feel that his performances haven’t dated like some others from this era unfortunately have. His performances are very natural and are not theatrical. I consider Lon to have been the first real character actor to have ever appeared on film.

Lon always acted differently in each role, he played someone different each time he went before the camera. Lon also seemed to take great pleasure in becoming the characters who he was given to play. I actually consider him to be the greatest character actor there has ever been in films because he disappeared so completely into the characters who he played.   

I often get a bit bored with some actors after a while, because they always seem to just play variations of themselves on screen, with Lon however, each performance he gave was different. In so many of his films you can’t even recognise him. The ability to so convincingly disappear into a role is the mark of a good actor or actress in my opinion, if they can convince you of something and make you completely believe they are the characters they are playing then they’ve done a great job. Lon always convinced.

Lon Chaney Sr was known as “The Man Of A Thousand Faces”. He gained this name because he didn’t merely act, but because he was so convincing in the roles he took on that he disappeared into them. He was also quite often buried beneath layers of extraordinary makeup which he himself created and applied, even when he wasn’t made up, he remained one of those actors whose face never seemed the same from one role to another. He was also a very emotive actor and he really made audiences feel what his characters were going through on screen.

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Lon as Quasimodo. Screenshot by me.

I really love his makeup for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923). He did a terrific job of creating Quasimodo’s facial deformity. I especially love the swollen eye and the disfigurement on the lower lip.

Lon also put himself (yet again)through great physical discomfort to play this role. It is a very physical role too, and he does lots of climbing and scenes where he is jumping and swinging off of things, he also captures Quasimodo’s physical effort and discomfort when walking. 

I also quite like his makeup in the film Shadows (1922). In this film he made himself up to be a Chinese man called Yen Sin. I have to say that while I find such a casting decision to be very unfortunate (why not hire a real Chinese actor for the role?)unlike Mickey Rooney’s absolutely atrocious portrayal of a Chinese man in Breakfast At Tiffany’s,Chaney’s portrayal actually does come across as being quite believable. He does a terrific job through his body language of conveying this characters very humble nature. I also like the stoop and dragging walk that he gave to his character. Lon brought Yen Sin to life and he didn’t play the man as a caricature.  

Lon was also especially good at portraying characters who were disabled, disfigured, or who were unlucky in love. He played these people in such an empathic way that he made us feel their pain, their desires, their rage, and also their very deep sadness. He could convey so much to us about them through facial expressions or a single glance.

Although Lon also played many able bodied characters throughout his career, it is the disabled and disfigured characters he played that he is best remembered for by audiences today. He makes us connect with these characters, and he makes us feel for them and experience what they are going through.

I also admire him greatly for the tremendous effort that he went to in order to portray disabled and disfigured characters. Forget actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Marlon Brando going the extra mile for their roles, because they have nothing on what Lon put himself through when he took on a role!  

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Lon as Blizzard, a double amputee, in The Penalty. Screenshot by me.

For example, in The Penalty (1920) Lon had his legs lifted up behind his back in a special harness. He then inserted his knees into two leather stumps, this then created the effect of him being a double amputee with leg stumps.

Lon taught himself to walk on his knees in a way that appeared natural during his scenes. This was extremely painful for him to endure during filming. I think the pain and discomfort certainly paid off though because it looks like he is a real amputee when you watch this film. 

The Penalty is also an interesting film because of Lon’s character, Blizzard. He is a man who has been left as a double amputee after a surgical mistake. Blizzard has become a powerful criminal and he is (quite understandably)a very bitter man who tries to dominate those around him. Blizzard is interestingly never presented as being someone left helpless or dependent on others because of his disability though; he is instead shown as being very independent, self-sufficient, strong and determined. He is also depicted as sometimes getting violent with those who displease him. The film features one of Lon’s best ever performances in my opinion. 

Lon famously created and applied his own makeup for many of the film characters he played. He had his own makeup kit, which he carried around with him in a fold out leather case. With the help of his makeup, Lon could make himself look old, frail, scarred, rough, ugly or scary. His makeup, coupled with the physical way he used his body in roles, is what makes him unique as an actor in my opinion. He alone decided how his characters should look and act and he alone got to create and apply that look. 

One of the most famous of all his makeup achievements was for the 1925 film The Phantom Of The Opera. In this film Lon plays the hideous masked phantom of the opera. The most famous scene in that film is the scene where the phantom is unmasked. He looks so scary that even the camera goes out of focus slightly when he is unmasked, it’s almost as though the camera is afraid of him too. He really did a remarkable job with the makeup I think.

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Lon as The Phantom. Screenshot by me.

I love his makeup for this character because he looks so gaunt and scary. His eyes are sunken and he looks in some ways like a skeleton. His nose is also extremely disfigured and stretched. It is a startling sight when you look at it. I like that he also plays the phantom as being very graceful and athletic physically.

Lon makes for quite a commanding screen presence in this role. He is totally terrifying and his hideous makeup helps a great deal. I also like how Lon ensures that we both fear and pity the phantom at various points throughout the film because of how he plays the role.

Lon’s portrayal of the phantom also allows us to see how emotionally tortured this man is. Lon manages to convey to us just how angry and sad the phantom is because he can’t even show his own face in public. 

Lon Chaney Sr was born in Colorado, on April 1st, 1883. His birth name was Leonidas Frank Chaney. He was exposed to disability at an early age because his parents, Emma and Frank, were both deaf mutes. His parents had met and fallen in love at a deaf school that had been founded by Lon’s grandfather in 1874. That school was The Colorado Institute For Mutes. The school still exists today under its current name of The Colorado School For The Deaf And Blind.

Lon could hear and speak normally. He learnt from an early age how to speak to his parents using a combination of sign language, facial expressions and pantomime. These skills served him well later when he became an actor, as he really had the ability to get his characters emotions and intent across to his audience.  

I have no proof of this being the case, but I never the less firmly believe that Lon’s regular access to two disabled people ensured that he grew up to have a greater understanding of, and a great compassion for, people in real life who were disabled and disfigured. To him there was nothing odd or frightening about his parents disability, they were simply his parents who were two people who just happened to be deaf. I feel that in some way he felt he should do what he could to make disability more present in everyday life and to help make people see disabled people for who they are, instead of ignoring them or acting awkwardly around them. 

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Blizzard out and about in The Penalty. Screenshot by me.

When Lon portrayed disabled and disfigured people on screen he played them in a way that showed audiences that these people were just like everyone else.

Lon’s films also show us that the disabled and disfigured can work, create, fall in love, and most importantly can exist just fine along with able bodied people.

Lon also depicts the incredible courage of these people in not hiding away from the rest of society. The people he played are often shown as trying their best to get on with their life as normal.

Lon also showed us the unique abilities that some disabled people can have, such as using other limbs to compensate for the loss of hands for example, as seen in Lon’s performance as the armless Alonzo in The Unknown

It’s also important for us to remember that in the era that Lon played these characters, disability and disfigurement were very much seen as being taboo subjects for many in society. Mentally ill and disabled people were often sadly shut away in homes and put out of sight and mind.

After WW1 ended there were also thousands of veterans returning home from the trenches; these men were suffering from terrible disfigurements and wounds and other people in society were quite shocked and frightened by how they looked. The films of Lon Chaney Sr gave a national and international face to disability and disfigurement. 

Lon’s portrayals of the disfigured and disabled brought all these people and their issues right out into the open for everyone to see. I think that making films featuring characters living with these issues was something that was very daring and brave for Lon and the directors to do at the time.   

Another thing Lon Chaney Sr was able to do so brilliantly, was to be able to convey to us the desperate longing of a character who was unlucky in love. In The Unknown, Laugh Clown Laugh, Tell It To The Marines and He Who Gets Slapped, Lon is able to show us just how much these very different men love women who, for various reasons, they can’t have and how they all end up loving these women from afar.  Unrequited love is a difficult pain to bear. I think that Lon does a super job of conveying his characters longing for the love they so desire. Watch his face in these films because the longing and pain over love are written clearly all over his face. 

In 1926, Lon Chaney made a film called Tell It To The Marines. He called it his own personal favourite film from amongst those that he made. In recognition of his remarkable and totally convincing performance as a tough as nails Marine Sergeant, Lon would become the first actor to be made an honorary US Marine. I thought that was so lovely the first time I read about this as that is a great honour to be given indeed. His being awarded like that speaks volumes to me about how much his performance must have resonated with the men who served in the armed forces at the time.   

In The Unholy Three (1930), Lon appeared in what would sadly end up being his final screen role. This would also be his first and only sound film. At the time he made this film he was very ill, and he was diagnosed with the lung cancer which would sadly kill him just a few months later. In his final film he delivered not one, but five excellent vocal performances. 

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Lon’s final film scene in The Unholy Three. Screenshot by me.

Had Lon lived, then I think he would have done very well as an actor in sound films. I think he could have been quite good in the gangster films of the 1930’s. He had a tough and intense look that would have suited gangster and Noir films well. His voice was very deep and strong and I can see no reason why he couldn’t have easily fit into sound roles. He also demonstrated in his final film that he had plenty of vocal talent as well as his physical acting skills. I’m sure that he would have also done well in radio productions.  

I find his final scene in The Unholy Three to be very moving. As Lon’s character says goodbye to some fellow characters, he is in a way saying goodbye to his film audience too. His final line in the goodbye scene is “That’s all there is to life. Just a little laugh, a little tear”. This line sums up his career to me. Throughout his career Lon Chaney Sr made us cry, he made us laugh, and he also showed us what it was to be human (to experience joy, sorrow, pain, tragedy etc)and he made us feel his characters emotions right along with him. Lon showed us that everyone has feelings and that everyone will experience happy and sad times in life. In life you will laugh, you will cry, and sometimes you may even do both at the same time. Lon Chaney shows us that everybody hides a pain as they go through life.

Lon is one of my favourite actors and he is someone who I dearly wish I could have met. I find him to be a fascinating individual and also a man who was well ahead of his time. I think he would be quite touched to see how his performances and makeup achievements are still admired and beloved today, over one hundred years after his death.  Thanks for all you achieved, Lon. Thanks also for giving disabled and disfigured characters a presence in cinema.   

What are your thoughts on Lon Chaney Sr?

Join myself and Ruth on the 5th and 6th May. Over these two days we will have more posts for you celebrating the life and career of Lon Chaney Sr.