This year is the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. To mark this important anniversary, myself and my friend, Jay from Cinema Essentials, are teaming up together to host a WW2 themed blogathon.
For this blogathon you can write about any film or TV series set during WW2. You can also write about any WW2 documentaries. You can also write about the experiences of actors or filmmakers who served during the war. You can write more than one entry if you wish to do so.
We are not going to allow any duplicates. However, if a film or series has already been claimed for a full review, there is nothing to stop someone else writing briefly about it in a list/article of favourite/best WW2 films or series.
The blogathon will run between the 1st and the 3rd of September, 2019. I will be your hostess on the 1st. Jay will be your host on the 2nd and 3rd. Please have your posts ready on or before those dates.
Please take one of Jay’s awesome banners from below to put on your site to help advertise the event. Check the participation list to see who is writing about what.
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: Danger UXB (TV series)
Cinema Essentials: The Eagle Has Landed, Hurricane,Bridge On The River Kwai
Palewriter: Mrs. Miniver and O.S.S
Vinnieh: Carve Her Name With Pride
Thoughts All Sorts: Kelly’s Heroes
Back Story Classic: Demi-Paradise
The Stop Button: The Big Red One
Poppity Talks Classic Film: La Grande Vadrouille
MovieMovieBlogII: Schindler’s List
Realweegiemidgetreviews: Where Eagles Dare
Cinematic Scribblings: Army Of Shadows
Down These Mean Streets: Hangmen Also Die
Back To Golden Days: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Great Escape
dbmoviesblog: Letters From Iwo Jima
Make Mine Film Noir: Cornered
Caftan Woman: Corvette K-225
Silver Screenings: Tora Tora Tora!
Critica Retro: The Seventh Cross
The Midnite Drive-In: Patton, Von Ryan’s Express & Five Came Back: A Story Of Hollywood And The Second World War
In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood: Without Love
Mike’s Take On The Movies: Counterpoint
Dubsism: Fighter Squadron
Pop Culture Reverie: The Dirty Dozen
Taking Up Room: So Proudly We Hail, In Which We Serve & Wake Island
Overturebooksandfilms: The Hollywood Canteen
Love Letters To Old Hollywood: The Best Years Of Our Lives
Silver Screen Classics: Stalag 17
RetroMovieBuff: A Canterbury Tale
Just A Cineast: Millions Like Us
Moon In Gemini: The Mortal Storm
The lonely Critic: The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp
Wolfman’s Cult Film Club: The Way Ahead
18 Cinema Lane: In Love And War
Sean Munger: Downfall
Movie Rob: The Sea Wolves and Anne Frank Remembered
Oscars And I: 49th Parallel
Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: Destination Tokyo
Stars And Letters: A letter about WW2
Diary Of A Movie Maniac: The Secret Of Santa Vittoria
I’ve decided it is high time to write about Callan. Despite it having been made twenty years before I was born, this excellent British TV series has ended up becoming a firm favourite of mine. I love it so much. It is a groundbreaking series in so many ways and packs quite a punch.
The series is a gritty, serious, violent, bleak and extremely moody spy drama. The series plays out like a blend of the spy worlds created by John le Carre and Len Deighton.
The characters in Callan are some of the most complex and interesting that you will find in any TV series or film.
Aside from the characters of Liz and Lonely, nobody in this series is completely all hero or villain. The main character/hero of the series is the most complex character of the whole lot. This character complexity is just one of the many things that set this series apart from others made at the time.
Callan is a dark and grim series focusing on things that were never really seen on screen at the time the series was made. We see the main character becoming traumatised and losing his nerve for a time after being shot. We also see another main character reach his emotional breaking point, after his actions leave a young woman permanently brain damaged. That is some heavy stuff right there! And those examples provide only a small taste of the overall dark content and tone of the series. This series seems quite ahead of its time to me. People didn’t really talk about issues like trauma or stress back then, so for this series to actually show us tough men struggling and cracking was really quite daring in my view.
Callan may well have been created after the films The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and The Ipcress File had been made, but it aired on TV over a decade before the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy miniseries became the last word in gritty and realistic spy stories on screen. Callan became one of the most popular and beloved British series. It provided audiences of the 1960’s and 70’s with the most realistic portrayal of espionage ever seen on the small screen at that point in time. The realism of this series is a far cry from the glamorous missions of James Bond and the quirky and stylish adventures of John Steed and Emma Peel in The Avengers.
Callan was created for television by British teacher turned author, James Mitchell. Mitchell had written several gritty crime and spy novels under various pseudonyms, including James Munro. He also wrote for several Television series too.
Callan first began life as a pilot episode written by James Mitchell, called The War Game. The pilot episode was originally intended to be made as part of the popular BBC series Detective. When this fell through, James Mitchell then sold the episode on to ABC for their Armchair Theatre anthology series. The pilot episode first aired as part of that series in February, 1967. The pilot episode was given the new title of A Magnum For Schneider.
Before the pilot episode had even been aired, Armchair Theatre producer Leonard White, and the story editor Terence Feely, both strongly felt that this story had the potential to be developed into a full series.
David Callan was a new type of TV hero. Screenshot by me.
The pilot episode introduced viewers to a new type of TV hero. The main character was a far cry from the many suave and morally upright TV heroes of the day. The hero of this series was the deadly and tough, yet troubled and introspective British agent, David Callan(Edward Woodward).
David Callan is the top agent of “The Section”, a department within British Intelligence permitted to use the most ruthless methods against individuals who are considered to be threatening the internal security of the UK. The department is seen to be run by various chief agents over the years, each one known to us only by the codename of “Hunter”.
The section regularly orders its agents to spy on, kill, blackmail, torture and intimidate people who are deemed a threat. Suspects names are placed into colour coded files. Blue Files contain the names of individuals who belong to or support the ‘wrong’ political party. Yellow Files contain the names of people who are currently under surveillance. White Files contain the names of people who are to be put out of action by placing them in mental homes, the divorce courts, bankruptcy or prison. Red Files contain the names of people considered to be extremely dangerous/marked for death. Callan is often assigned to deal with suspects in Red Files.
Callan is a highly skilled agent who is excellent at his job. The trouble is that Callan also happens to loath his job. He also happens to be trapped in the job. It may be an unpleasant job, but it’s a job that he is undeniably good at.
No matter how much Callan may long for a normal life, he can never make himself walk out and leave his life as a spy behind him. It doesn’t help that he knows he could possibly end up in a Red File himself should he ever try to leave his job.
Callan frequently challenges his bosses on why many of the dirty jobs he’s assigned must be done in the first place. The more jobs he does, the more Callan starts to wonder about the people he follows and threatens. Do some of them even deserve what is being done to them?
Callan also feels aggrieved that he and his fellow agents are the ones getting their hands dirty, while Hunter and other senior intelligence figures don’t end up partaking in the grim tasks they order. The higher ranking agents don’t have to try and live with the unpleasant memories associated with these unpleasant assignments, unlike the agents assigned to carry out these duties.
What makes Callan such a likeable and fascinating character, is that although he is a tough and professional killer, he is also a very moral man with a conscience and a heart. He hates what he has to do and while he knows that many of the jobs he does are necessary, there are others that he really isn’t sure about.
We may hate some of the things that Callan has to do, but we can’t help but like and admire him as a person. Callan may well kill, but he certainly doesn’t kill without reason in cold blood. He doesn’t take any pleasure in what he has to do. He also stands up to his bosses, even memorably threatening the first Hunter: “Don’t you push me too far will you? Because I might just let myself be killed. Only you won’t be there to see it, because, mate, I’ll get you first. And I can do it, believe me I can do it. You ought to know. Because after all, you did train me“. David Callan’s threat to the first Hunter.
I can’t really think of any other series(old or current)which have characters standing up to their bosses and being as openly hostile to them in the way that Callan is to his.It’s also quite remarkable for the time to see Callan, who is a working class man, challenging the authority of his superiors, many of whom are from the British upper classes.
There have been few series which feature such complex and grey characters as the ones seen in Callan. Edward Woodward described the grey nature of Callan best, in this quote of his from a 1987 audio interview, which can be heard in This Man Alone (a documentary about the making of Callan): “I was very much looking for that kind of character to play. I was tired of playing either crooks or heroes. This man went right down the middle. You couldn’t make up your mind what he was and nor could he. He had such a chip on his shoulder, was sort of an anti-hero. And was a hero with feet of clay”.
I can imagine no actor other than Edward Woodward in the role of Callan. He does some of his best work in this series. Edward was an up and coming stage and TV actor when he accepted the role of David Callan. He was due to be going on holiday with his family when he received the script for A Magnum For Schneider. After reading the script, Edward knew that he had to take on this role. Alas, the Woodward family holiday had to be cancelled so that he could get right to work, but I’m sure that personal sacrifice was considered to have been well worth it in the end. This series made him a star.
Edward Woodward does some of his best work in Callan. Screenshots by me.
He brings such depth to the character of Callan. He totally makes you believe he is this cold and hard professional, but that he is also a very gentle and weary soul. I also love how Edward does this thing where he very briefly shows little flickers of emotion behind Callan’s hard mask. His eyes will briefly look haunted, tender, angry or amused, and then it is as if the shutters are slammed shut, and in a matter of seconds he quickly switches his expressions back to being the cold and detached professional once again. The only other actor who I think could do acting like that was Jeremy Brett(see his Sherlock Holmes series to see what I mean). Edward is also excellent in the scenes where Callan loses his temper or is intimidating someone. The series made Edward a household name here in the UK and he would become one of our most beloved actors.
Although Callan is the main character of the series, there are many other regular characters who we get to know as well.
Seasons 1 and 2 see Callan often paired with the sadistic Toby Meres(Anthony Valentine). Meres was first introduced in the pilot episode, in which he was played by Peter Bowles. Mears seems to relish the violence of his job. He is also quite a scary, yet charming and suave man.
Anthony brings a real edge to the character and makes him so chilling. Meres is the living embodiment of what Callan would be like if he didn’t have a conscience. It has to be said that Meres is a very good agent who is working on behalf of his country, but he acts almost like a psychopath and loves dishing out violence. He and Callan develop a grudging professional respect as time goes on, but neither man likes the other. Due to the gap between filming seasons 2 and 3, Anthony wasn’t able to return to the series due to other commitments. He would not be seen again until season 4.
Callan also works with the arrogant and hot tempered James Cross(Patrick Mower). The character of James Cross was written to replace the gap left by Anthony Valentine not being available for season 3.
James Cross is less scary and cruel than Meres, but he is quite thuggish. He wants to rise up the ranks of the Section and take Callan’s place as the top agent.
Cross is an excellent agent, but he really annoys Callan, who knows full well that Cross covets his job. A genuine respect and affection does gradually develop between them and they make a good team when out on assignments. Patrick steals all the scenes he is in,often with just a look or an angry expression. He also works very well with Edward Woodward and there is a real intensity in their shared scenes, particularly when the characters argue or needle each other.
The four faces of Hunter. Top left to right: Ronald Radd, Michael Goodliffe, Derek Bond. Bottom: William Squire.
Over the course of the series there are four actors who play the chief agents known as “Hunter”. The first was played by Ronald Radd. The first Hunter is the one that I consider to be the most interesting of the four. Ronald’s Hunter was a real tough nut. He was ruthless and you just know that his word is the absolute law in that department. The second Hunter was played by the great screen actor Michael Goodliffe. The second Hunter is more intellectual and seemingly not as hard as the first one was, but you never doubt his authority for a second. Michael left the series after only a few episodes of season 2, apparently he didn’t like the violent nature of the series. The third Hunter was played by Derek Bond. The third Hunter knows Callan personally and seems more friendly and approachable than the others. We last see the third Hunter in season 2. The fourth Hunter is the one who has become the most popular. Played by William Squire, the fourth Hunter is a mix of toughness and warmth. The fourth Hunter also encourages Callan to give him lip and argue with him, understanding that this is what keeps Callan sane and helps him blow off steam. The fourth Hunter really sees Callan as a major asset. William is terrific in the role and often steals all the scenes he is in with just a look or by the tone in which he delivers a line. Edward Woodward himself would also briefly take on the role of Hunter in season 4, when Callan is promoted to the top position in the Section for a time.
The second most important character in the series is the adorable Lonely (Russell Hunter). Russell delivers one of the best performances in the series and makes it impossible not to like this character.
Lonely is all wide eyes, exaggerated shock and childlike innocence. Lonely is a local thief who has terrible personal hygiene.
Lonely is able to get Callan items he needs at quite short notice. He also assists him on some jobs, such as helping him to break into properties. At first Lonely is scared stiff of Callan, who early on in the series often threatens him with violence if he ever tells anyone about what they get up to. He needn’t worry though, dear Lonely would never betray him. Gradually the threats fade away and are replaced by banter. Lonely later comes to the correct conclusion that Callan is a spy. When he tells Callan that he knows what he is, this leads to the interesting development for Lonely, which is put in place by Callan much later in the series.
It quickly becomes very clear that Callan and Lonely have a genuine emotional connection. They each become the only friend that the other has. Callan provides Lonely with the only bits of warmth and kindness he gets in his life, and he also makes him feel needed and valued.
Lonely allows Callan to relax and briefly let his guard down. When they are together their relationship offers Callan the only bit of a normal life he’ll ever get to have.
The way that Russell plays the role of Lonely, it seems to me that Lonely is supposed to also be mentally challenged in some way. Lonely is quite slow and vulnerable, and he is easily taken advantage of, this makes Callan very protective of him. Woe betide anyone who threatens or hurts Lonely, because Callan will give them a big dose of their own medicine in return. Their comical and poignant relationship is the highlight of the series for me. Their banter also provides the only source of relief from the overall grimness of the series.
Other regular characters include the reliable and loyal Liz(Lisa Langdon),who is the secretary to each Hunter. Callan and the fourth Hunter are both very fond of her. She and Cross have a brief affair, which is brought to an end by Callan in order to save both of their careers(Section colleagues are not supposed to become romantically involved). Another regular character is Dr. Snell (Clifford Rose). Snell is the cold and scary medical officer for the Section.
The first season of the full series of Callan entered production at ABC in April, 1967. The episodes were transmitted over July and August that same year. Producer Terence Feely would leave the series after this first season to take up a role at Paramount(UK). He was replaced in season 2 by Reginald Collin, who would stay on in the role of producer for the rest of the series. John Kershaw was brought on as the story editor, but he would leave after season 2 to go and work on Armchair Theatre. John Kershaw was replaced by George Markstein, who would remain until the end of the series. James Mitchell would write the majority of the episodes, but there were also other writers working on the series too.
The first two seasons of the series were shot in black and white and recorded on videotape. Standard practice at the time was to reuse the tape once its original content had been broadcast a few times, this practice sadly led to several episodes of the early seasons being permanently wiped. All of the episodes for seasons 3 and 4 survive.
The picture quality of some of the early episodes is sadly not as good as on the colour episodes of season 3 and 4, but that is simply due to how things were filmed at the time. As good as the series is in colour, it really can’t be denied that the black and white photography suits the grim tone and dark atmosphere of the series perfectly.
Adding to the bleak atmosphere of the series is that unforgettable title sequence. The title sequence is simple and very effective. It features a swinging lightbulb casting light and shade across Callan’s face to the strains of the now iconic theme tune. The theme music was called Girl In The Dark, which was a piece of stock library music composed by Jack Tromby. In 1970, Edward Woodward(who was not only a good actor, but was also a very fine singer) would record a vocal version of this tune entitled This Man Alone, to coincide with the production of season 3 of the series.
In mid 1968, ABC underwent an enforced merger with Associated Rediffusion to become Thames Television. The second season of Callan would be broadcast in 1969.The incredible public reaction to the cliffhanger finale of season 2, which saw a brainwashed Callan kill Hunter and then get shot himself by Meres, ensured that the series would continue to be made by the newly created Thames Television. Everyone wanted to know Callan’s fate after that episode aired.
Season 3 was broadcast in 1970. The first episode saw a wounded and traumatised Callan trying to recover from the events in the season 2 finale. The transmission of this season would be disrupted due to live football matches being aired, and also due to coverage of the 1970 General Election. As the seasons past, the popularity of Callan grew and grew with the viewers. The series moved from being a cult favourite to one of the most popular series on the air at that time.
Season 4 of the series wouldn’t air until 1972. From 1970 onwards, James Mitchell would write a number of short Callan stories, which were then published in the Sunday Express newspaper. These written adventures ensured that the public demand for David Callan continued to be met in one way or another. James Mitchell also wrote and published several Callan novels.
The series would come to an end in 1972. The final episode was suitably bleak and moving and concluded a three episode storyline. I like that the series ended on a high note and didn’t drag on, unlike some series which end up really outstaying their welcome after a while.
There would be two Callan films made (both starring Edward Woodward), one in 1974 and the other in 1981. Unfortunately neither film is as good as the series is. The 1974 film in particular seems like such a wasted opportunity to me. Instead of making a fresh story, or maybe even carrying on directly where the final episode left off, the film is instead a big screen version of the pilot episode A Magnum For Schneider.
Apart from the poor picture quality of some of the early episodes, I think that this series hasn’t really dated at all. The strength of this series is that it is a series which sits back and lets the actors and scriptwriters do all the work. There is no fast and annoying editing every few seconds, nor is there any intrusive music or special effects. The strong scripts, interesting characters, character interactions and all those superb performances are what keeps you glued to the screen. Callan is good television. It is a real testament to all the cast and crew that this series still works so well today.
The complete series is available to buy on DVD. The series has recently been rerun on the Talking Pictures TV channel here in the UK. I’ve really enjoyed reading the many positive comments from people seeing this series for the first time thanks to this rerun. The positive response proves to me that this series has lost none of its impact all these years later.
I really need to get around to checking out the Callan novels at some point. Has anyone read them? If so, do they need to read in order of publication or not? I wonder if any of the short stories James Mitchell wrote for the paper are available anywhere? It would be great to read those as well.
Have you seen this series? What do you think about it?
I LOVE William Holden. He is one of my favourite American actors from the classic film era. He’s such a likeable actor and makes his acting look effortless. He is also someone who I will watch in any kind of film. I like how he could so easily switch between dramatic and comic roles and convince in those varied roles. He could be suave, smooth and funny in one film, and then in the next he could become someone much darker and far more complex.
I’m going to talk about my five favourite William Holden films. Not only do I love these films and his performances in them so much, but I also think that these five films highlight his range as an actor.
5 – Sunset Blvd (1950)
This masterpiece is really where William’s career took off big time in my opinion. He is superb as Joe Gillis, the struggling screenwriter desperate for money. I love how he conveys to us how conflicted and desperate Joe is.
William makes sure that Joe has our sympathy for much of the film, but when Joe becomes just another user of the damaged Norma, he loses much of my sympathy.
All of the characters in this film are complex and fascinating. Joe Gillis is one of the most fascinating characters of them all. Does he feel something for Norma? Is he filled with some self loathing at what he is doing to her? Does he hate the profession through which he earns his living? These are the questions that William makes us ponder as we watch him in this film. He more than holds his own against the mighty Gloria Swanson, who it is fair to say is the real highlight of the film as the deranged and damaged Norma Desmond. William delivers one of his best performances in this film.
4- Sabrina (1954)
This is the film that made me a fan of William Holden’s for life. He is perfect as the suave and dashing David Larrabee, the charming playboy who is the object of Sabrina’s affections.
I like how David starts off as this fun figure, but then later in the film becomes much more mature. This change allows us see that there is so much more to him than first meets the eye.
William makes David quite an irresistible character. It is not hard to see why so many women fall for this guy. He is charming, he is classy, he is fun, and he has that ability to make each of the women he dates feel special and as though they are the only woman in his life. We may not approve of how he moves on from woman to woman, but we can’t hate him because he is not a callous or cruel man. I’m sure that is the way David was written to be, but William makes it very clear to us that David is a nice guy despite his faults and flaws. I can’t imagine anyone other than him in this role.
3 – Breezy (1973)
I think that William shows a vulnerability here that audiences had never seen in him before. He is terrific as the middle aged Frank Harmon, a man very much set in his ways, who learns to love life and be more chilled out.
The reason for his transformation is Breezy, an older teenager who falls in love with him. Despite their age gap, the pair develop genuine romantic and emotional feelings for each other. Frank struggles with what other people will think of their relationship, while Breezy doesn’t care and doesn’t understand why there has to be such a fuss made about age in relationships. I agree with her; if a relationship is consensual on both sides and the couple are happy, then why should anyone else care if there is an age gap between a couple?
William plays Frank as being quite tentative and not the one in control during the course of the developing relationship. This tentative and vulnerable quality is the complete opposite of many of the romantic characters William had played before this; men who were charming ladies men and who knew just what they were doing, both romantically and also sexually. I think it was quite a brave role for him to take really, because he’s showing us an inner vulnerability and really changing his screen image quite a bit in the process.
2 – Stalag 17 (1953)
In the film that won him his first and only Acdemy Award, William Holden delivers one of his very best performances. He is terrific as the cynical and watchful J.J. Sefton. You can’t take your eyes off him when he is in a scene. He has your attention even when he is doing nothing more than lying down or looking at someone.
Set in a German POW camp during WW2, Sefton is an American prisoner who barters openly with the guards for things like food. His fellow prisoners are suspicious of him, and become even more suspicious when they believe he told the guards there was an escape attempt being carried out, an attempt which resulted in the murder of the two escapees. Sefton however certainly isn’t the traitor and he has no love for the Germans. I love how William plays this role. His performance is subtle(watch his eyes when he’s watching other people)and it’s interesting to see him playing a much tougher and colder character than he had ever played before.
1 – Paris When It Sizzles (1963)
We finally come to my favourite William Holden performance. In this hilarious, and seriously underrated spoof about making films, William gets to play quite a wide variety of different characters.
William plays a weary and cynical screenwriter, a spy, a criminal and even a vampire! He gets to be romantic, tender, serious, a man of action, cynical, weary, funny and very mysterious too.
I think it’s great to see him get the chance to show so much acting range, and to do so all in one film too! I love that this film allows him to show how funny he could be. I think it’s a shame that he didn’t get offered more comic roles.
I also like that there is an added poignancy in the scenes where his main character, Richard Benson, longs for Audrey Hepburn’s character. William and Audrey had an affair when they made the film Sabrina. Bill never stopped loving her. It must have been agony for him to be around her again during this film. I believe that his sorrowful and tender expressions/gestures in their romantic scenes are his real feelings for her showing through to us.
What are your favourite William Holden performances?
The Classic Movie Blog Association is hosting this blogathon all about Femme and Homme Fatales in Film Noir. Be sure to visit the CMBA site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. I’ve decided to write about Elsa Bannister from The Lady From Shanghai. There are spoilers ahead about what happens to this character.
I am such a big fan of Film Noir. I think I would even go so far as to call myself a Noir addict. Noir films are absolutely amazing!One of my favourite things about Noir films is the strong and memorable roles that these films offered to actresses during the classic film era. Many actresses did some of their best work in Noir films.
Few characters are more memorable in Noir films than the Femme Fatales. Femme Fatales are very clever and strong women. They are also dangerous, dominating, intriguing, sexy, and most important of all, they are very alluring. Femme Fatales are women who draw men to them like flames draw moths.
One of my favourite Femme Fatales is Elsa Bannister(Rita Hayworth)in The Lady From Shanghai. Elsa is a very interesting Femme Fatale, because while she is certainly a ruthless and clever manipulator, she also ends up destroying herself and leading herself to her own fate.
One look at Elsa Bannister and you have no difficulty understanding why Michael(Orson Welles)falls under her spell. Elsa is a prime example of a woman who men should stay well away from. Elsa is one of the most unforgettable Femme Fatales in the history of Noir films. She has the ability to make herself seem vulnerable and unhappy one moment, and then she becomes a cold and calculating b***h the next moment. Elsa is a good actress and knows exactly how to get and keep her audiences (in this case Michael)attention.
Rita Hayworth’s trademark thick red hair was cropped and dyed blonde for this role. This was done on the instruction of director Orson Welles(also Rita’s husband at the time of filming), this decision angered the Columbia studio head, Harry Cohen. In my view Mr. Cohen should have chilled out. Orson Welles was right to transform Rita for this role. Rita’s new look works wonders for the character.
Rita’s new screen image. Screenshots by me.
The effect of her new image makes Rita look like Deborah Kerr’s Karen in From Here To Eternity. Much as it did for Deborah Kerr in that film, Rita’s new screen image as Elsa makes her look sexier, harder and cooler than she had ever done before. Rita oozes sex and seduction whenever you see her on screen in this film.
This role was quite a change for Rita. She usually played quite bubbly characters who were basically good girls.Even her iconic character in Gilda is really a good and decent woman. The role of Elsa enabled Rita to play a darker and crueller character than audiences were used to seeing her play.
When Michael first meets Elsa he can’t keep his distance from her. It really isn’t difficult to see why he is so drawn to her. He wants her, he thinks endlessly about her, and he is wrongly led to believe that she needs him and likes him.
Elsa (just like all Femme Fatales) is like one of those deadly sirens from the old Greek legends. She is an irresistible and alluring being who leads men to a most unpleasant doom indeed.
Elsa Bannister may well be beautiful and desirable on the outside, but inside she is cold, selfish and heartless. We may at first feel some pity for her at having such an unhappy marriage, but we soon learn that Elsa doesn’t really deserve our sympathy at all. Elsa may well want to break free from her marriage prison, but setting up Michael and leading him on isn’t the way to break free to happiness.
Elsa is clever, but she is also a poor judge of character and is way too sure of herself. When she lures Michael into her web she is also inadvertently sealing her own fate. When he learns that she planned to set him up for murder, Michael is quickly done with her forever. Michael walks away from her after she is shot in the fun house finale. Michael will never be able to forget her though. He will also never lose his genuine feelings for her, but he is at least now free to live in the light and try and have some sort of a happy life.
When Michael gets wise to Elsa, she learns(all too late)the cost of using people and treating them like dirt.
Elsa is still so sure till the last moment of her life that she is irresistible to Michael. She is still so sure that things will go her way.
She soon realises that she isn’t as irresistible as she thinks. The irony is that Michael genuinely cared about her. Michael could have made her happy if she had gone away with him and not used him. Unfortunately the only person Elsa has ever loved is herself.
Elsa Bannister dies alone, crying and screaming for help. While her fate may sound rather cold and cruel, her death is actually the fate that she deserved. As deserved as it is, it certainly can’t be denied that Elsa’s death is a lonely and harsh one. Her death sees her lying on the floor of the dark hall of mirrors, discarded like a piece of rubbish that has been dropped on the floor.
Elsa’s behaviour and fate stand as a warning to all the characters who we see throughout Film Noir. Getting too wrapped up in revenge, temptation, lust, murder, and hate can only end in unhappiness and death. You can only use and push people so far before they push back. You can only step so far into the darkness before you are consumed entirely by it.
I find it very difficult to imagine any other actress in the role of Elsa Bannister. Rita inhabits and plays the role of Elsa Bannister to perfection. Rita’s performance is seductive and mesmerising. It’s one of Rita’s best performances in my opinion. With Rita playing Elsa, the character could also be viewed as showing us what could have happened to Rita’s other famous character in Gilda. Imagine what Gilda would have been like if she had lost her warmth and instead become soulless and cold? I think we have the answer to that in the form of Elsa Bannister.
Elsa Bannister leaves a lasting impression on anyone who watches Lady From Shanghai. She has become one of the most iconic of the Noir Femme Fatales. What are your thoughts on Elsa?
Do you love Film Noir? If you do, I would love to invite you to join my Noirathon.
This is my own entry for my Stewart Granger blogathon. I can’t wait to read all of your entries in a few days time.
I’m writing about Caravan, which is one of my favourite Stewart Granger films. Caravan is another fabulous romantic melodrama from British film studio Gainsborough Pictures.
Stewart’s performances in the Gainsborough films of the 1940’s were what first made him a star here in the UK. He is wonderful to watch in these films as the romantic hero. He also has the added benefit of having a bearing and face that makes him look like he is someone who lived in the 18th or 19th century. He never looks out of place in these period films.
I have always liked Stewart Granger. I became a fan of his from the first time that I ever saw him in a film. My introduction to him was the film King Solomon’s Mines.I like Stewart because he has an intensity and a charm about him. He also has that ability to dominate a scene when he is in it. I especially love how effortlessly he was able to switch between playing the romantic leading man and playing more roguish and tough characters.
Stewart convinces as the sweet romantic hero and as a far tougher and darker man too. Screenshots by me.
Caravan provides him with a character who is a perfect blend of both of those character types. His character Richard Darrell is certainly a sweet natured man most of the time, but he is also incredibly tough, and can become violent when necessary. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Richard if you could help it, and he is someone who you would certainly want as a friend.
What is very noticeable about the Gainsborough films is that they were usually very female focused. These films offered extremely strong roles for the actresses of the classic film era. Caravan slightly departs from this tradition of female focus by focusing more upon on Stewart’s character, but the film still gives us two very memorable lead female characters to enjoy as well.
Jean Kent delivers the standout female performance in my opinion. She steals every scene she appears in as the feisty and fiercely loyal Gypsy dancer, Rosal.
Jean and Stewart have lovely chemistry and sparks clearly fly between them when they share a scene.
Jean makes it clear to us how independent and passionate Rosalis, we can’t help but like her as much as Richard does. Rosal is a strong willed, kind and fearless lady.
Anne Crawford (a much underrated actress, whose life was cut tragically short when she died of Leukaemia, aged just 35)has the seemingly somewhat dull role of the heartbroken woman who pines for her man.
Anne however manages to make the character very sympathetic and far more fleshed out than she at first seems to be. Anne’s character Oriana is really the heart of the film. She is so gentle and kind that you can’t help but like her.
I also like watching Oriana discover an inner strength as the film goes on. Oriana is such a lovely person, and because of that, I for one always feel torn about which lady Richard should end up with at the end of the film.
Caravan is at heart a film about a love triangle. The thing is though that we cannot take sides in this triangle, because we like all three of the people caught up in it. The fact that both ladies genuinely love Richard, and that he genuinely loves them both in return, makes it very difficult to prefer one couple over the other when you watch this one. Well it does for me anyway.
Richard with the two loves of his life. Screenshots by me.
The film is directed by Arthur Crabtree, who had worked as the cinematographer on several Gainsborough films, and who would also direct Madonna Of The Seven Moons, another one starring Stewart Granger. The film is based on the 1943 novel of the same name by Lady Eleanor Smith. Lady Smith had also written The Man In Grey, which had also been adapted for the screen by Gainsborough in 1943 and had become one of their most successful and famous films. The screenplay for Caravan was by Roland Pertwee(The Spy In Black,Pimpernel Smith), who was the father of Jon Pertwee and the grandfather of Sean Pertwee.
The film begins in late 19th century London. An elderly gentleman is attacked and robbed in the street. He is rescued by the passing Richard Darrell(Stewart Granger).
After Richard helps this man back to his home, he accidentally leaves the manuscript for his novel behind at the man’s home. He returns for it the next day and is encouraged by the gentleman to talk about himself. The gentleman also says he will help publish the novel for Richard.
We learn in flashback that Richard has long been in love with his childhood friend Oriana(Ann Crawford). The pair are now engaged and are planning to marry, much to the anger and jealousy of the slimy Francis (Dennis Price), who has long hated Richard, and long desired Oriana. Francis is the sort of bully who would dissolve into tears if you gave them a dose of their own medicine in return.
Francis is a cruel and vengeful man and he arranges for Richard to be killed while he is travelling in Spain on business. Francis orders Wycroft (a scene stealing Robert Helpmann)to follow Richard and kill him. This leads to an hilarious scene on the boat trip to Spain where nothing goes right for Wycroft in his attempts to be rid of Richard.
Rosal’s dance. Screenshots by me.
On arrival in Spain, Richard catches the eye of local gypsy dancer, Rosal(Jean Kent), while she performs her dance act at a local tavern. Richard is later brutally assaulted by a group of men under Wycroft’s command and left for dead due to the horrendous nature of his injuries.
Rosal saves him and slowly nurses him back to health. When he wakes he is suffering from amnesia. He and Rosal fall in love. Very slowly his memory of the past starts to return to him.
Back in England Oriana has been told by Francis that Richard has been killed. In a deep despair over the loss of Richard, and also the recent death of her father, she reluctantly agrees to marry Francis for financial security. Francis treats her abominably and she never forgets Richard.
Will Richard get justice for what has happened to him? Will he remember Oriana? Which lady will he end up with? You will have to watch and find out.
All the actors do a terrific job here. The costumes and sets are all very beautiful too. I especially love Anne Crawford’s dresses, and I envy her for getting to wear such lovely outfits.
The two romances at the heart of the film are both very different; one is a relationship based on passion and shared experiences; the other is the love of soulmates. I love that both of the romantic relationships are equally affecting.This isn’t just a romance film though, there is also quite a bit of action and many dark and violent moments in this too. The finale in the swamp is very violent and brutal.
The awful marriage between Francis and Oriana isn’t sugar coated for us either. Francis is clearly mentally and physically abusive towards his wife and she is often powerless against him. There is a scene where Francis forcibly carries her up to their room and forces himself upon her, and this brings to my mind the scene of Rhett carrying Scarlett in Gone With The Wind. We are left in no doubt as to how unpleasant this marriage is.
The plot is highly melodramatic and it does involve more than a few coincidences occurring to make certain things happen, but the film is so much fun that most viewers should be able to forgive that and just enjoy the film. If you love a good costume drama and are a fan of Stewart Granger, then this is one that I highly recommend to you.