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Interview With Carol Drinkwater

I recently reached out to the actress Carol Drinkwater to ask if she would care to speak with me for my blog. To my great delight she agreed! Carol is a household name here in the UK for playing Mrs. Helen Herriot in the TV series All Creatures Great And Small. Carol has worked on stage and appeared in many films and series. Carol is also a published author.

My thanks must once again go to Carol for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you all enjoy reading what she shared with me.  

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Carol Drinkwater, Image Source Wikimedia Commons.

1 – Did you always want to be an actress when you were growing up?

I come from a theatrical family on my father’s side so from about the age of four I knew I wanted to “go on the stage”

2 – You worked at The National Theatre under the leadership of Sir Laurence Olivier. Did you ever meet the man himself, or get to act alongside him in any productions? 

Yes, of course, I met him regularly. He was one of a large panel who auditioned me. He took me under his wing and mentored me and really encouraged me. Somewhere, I still have letters from him. I loved his company. He was very charming and astute.

3 – How did you prepare for the role of Helen in All Creatures Great And Small? Did you and the others in the main cast meet the real life counterparts of your characters? 

I didn’t really prepare for the role except by reading the Herriot books over and over, spending time with Joan Wight, the real Helen. Plus all the months, years, we spent in the Dales where I became friends with many farmers’ wives and local people.

4 – The British public have really taken this series to their hearts over the years. What is it about this series that you think has made it become so beloved?

I think it has several ingredients. The material is very warm-hearted and positive. The main actors really worked well together. We were an immensely happy cast and crew. The cameo actors were warmly welcomed and not looked down upon as I have come across elsewhere. As the success of the series grew so did our pleasure and confidence in our work.

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Carol as Helen Herriot. Image source IMDb.

5- One of the things I love most about this series is the genuine warmth, affection and chemistry between yourself, Peter Davison, Christopher Timothy and the late Robert Hardy. Did you guys become friends and keep in touch over the years?

We all remained friends up till Tim’s(Robert Hardy’s nickname) death and we three continue to stay in contact and care for one another.

6 – You left the series after the 3rd season, and the role of Helen was played from then on by the late Lynda Bellingham. Why did you decide to leave the series? 

I felt that there was little more I could give to the role. The BBC wanted to keep Helen in her place and I felt she needed to be more feisty. I needed them to give more meat to her scenes.

7 – I can imagine that there must have been many funny and chaotic moments on set/location due to the antics of the animals. Are there any such moments that have stayed in your mind over the years? 

Many. I still smile and giggle when I think back to occasions such as Chris driving the car into a barn wall which was not a real wall but built for the scene and it crumbled all around him. A cow that pee’d all over me and my dress which I had to wear all day because we had no back up wardrobe …

8- You played a nurse in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. What are your memories of working with him and making the film?

It was such a tiny role but I stayed in contact with Stanley for years. He was a master of his craft and a considerate director who respected my point of view.

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9- That film famously sparked quite an outcry and public backlash upon release. Kubrick received threats and the film ended up being withdrawn from distribution. What did you make of the reaction to the film at the time?

 I didn’t think about it. I was busy doing other work, building my career. Stanley chose to withdraw the film from circulation in the UK. Elsewhere, it continued to play.

10 – A film of yours which I’d really like to see is Father(1990). You play the daughter of a man suspected of being a Nazi war criminal. From the couple of clips I’ve seen of the film, it looks like you and co-star Max Von Sydow were really put through the wringer emotionally in this film. What was it like making this? What are your memories of working with Max?

Max and I had a very rich three and so months working together. We were in almost every scene so we lived in the same hotel in adjoining rooms in Melbourne, worked on Saturdays together on the next week’s scenes and then went to the movies and out to dinner together. I respect him deeply. He is a very generous actor to work with.

11 – Which of your own performances(can be screen or stage)are you most proud of and why? 

I don’t have one. Each has given me something different, new lessons, joys, laughter, new friends.

12 – You are also a writer of Fiction and Non-Fiction. What led you to decide to become an author? 

I have always written but when I met my husband in Sydney in 1984 he began to encourage me to give the writing more attention. As a career it took off very quickly.

13 – Your latest novel is The House On The Edge Of The Cliff. Tell us a bit about this story. 

Well it is the story of an actress- not me! An imagined character who went to Paris in her teens and got involved in the Student Riots there. Escaping the police she goes south with a young Englishman she connects with in Paris. They go to stay at his aunt’s amazing house overlooking the sea near Marseilles. The House on the Edge of the Cliff. Here the young actress meets another young man and falls in love or so she thinks. A terrible accident ensues which haunts her for decades. Years later she finds herself living in that House and a stranger walks into her life and threatens her with the secret from her past.

14 – What does Carol Drinkwater’s writing routine look like? Do you have a specific area you like to write in? Set time of day to write that seems to work best for you etc? 

I prefer to work in the mornings through to early afternoon but like today, for example, I have so much on that I am writing far longer hours. I prefer to write at our Olive Farm in the South of France but I will find myself a quiet space anywhere if needs must.

15 – Tell us a bit about your Olive Farm memoirs series. 

In my quartet of books known collectively as The Olive Farm Series, I wrote about our discovery of a crumbling cream villa in the South of France encircled by acres of centuries-old olive trees growing wild.

The Olive Farm recounts many of the trials and tribulations of setting up home in a foreign country, taking on another language, embracing twin, thirteen-year-old stepdaughters whose mother tongue was not my own and who adamantly refused to engage with me in English. I revealed the heartache of losing my own child, the grief that followed the miscarriage and the revelation that I would never carry a child to full-term.

These books are about the joys and sorrows and funny times of falling love with a man, taking on his family and living in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

16 – As an author, do you find you prefer to write Fiction or Non-Fiction books? Do you find one easier or more difficult to write than the other? 

To me, they are both about storytelling, taking the reader on a thrilling journey with a thoroughly addictive story.

17 – Are you working on another book right now? If so, can you give us a taste of what it’s about? 

I am working on two books. Both set in France. One modern, one Second World War.

18 – Any advice you would give to aspiring actors and authors?

Work very very hard, don’t accept defeat, believe in yourself and your material. Keep an open mind. Read nonstop.

Thank you so much again to Carol.  You can keep up to date with all of Carol’s news and work at her website – http://www.caroldrinkwater.com/ 

Follow her on Twitter – @Carol4OliveFarm

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What A Character Blogathon 2019: Henry Daniell

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Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club, Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, and Kellee at Outspoken And Freckled, are bringing back the What A Character Blogathon for it’s 8th year! This blogathon is devoted to the character actors of film. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. This time I’ve decided to shine the spotlight on the actor Henry Daniell.

When I see Henry’s name appear in the opening credits of a film, I always know that I’m about to be in for a real treat performance wise. That’s because Henry Daniell was one of those rare actors whose performances never disappointed. He was a master of his craft and he is always wonderful to watch. 

Although he played many different characters throughout his career, he was especially  adept at playing villains and authority figures. He could sneer and play cold or disdainful to perfection. He makes such a convincing villain that he makes you want to reach through the screen and slap him.  

Henry is best remembered today for his excellent performance as the sneering, hardhearted, and very cruel headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, in Jane Eyre (1943). The character is utterly monstrous on paper, but in Henry’s hands, Brocklehurst becomes even crueller and more hateful than the man we may imagine when we read the book. Henry makes this man so odious and cold that you wonder if he is even human at all. 

       Henry in Jane Eyre. Screenshots by me. 

Henry could dominate and steal even the smallest scene that he appeared in. He always brought his A game to every single performance. He was also one of those actors like George Sanders, Richard Burton, or Claude Rains, who had been blessed with a truly magnificent and distinctive voice.  That voice was always used to great effect. 

Henry Daniell was born in Barnes, London, on the 5th of March 1894. He made his UK stage debut in 1913. The following year he joined up to fight in WW1. Henry joined the 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment in 1914, and he fought with them until he was invalided out in 1915 after being severely wounded. 

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Henry and his co-star Ina Claire in the original lost version of The Awful Truth. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Henry made his Broadway stage debut in 1921, playing Prince Charles in Clair De Lune. He worked on stage throughout the 1920’s. Henry made his film debut in the 1929 version of The Awful Truth. In this film Henry plays Norman Warriner, the role which would later turn Cary Grant into a star in the 1937 remake. Sadly Henry’s version of this romantic comedy classic is now lost. I don’t know about anyone else, but I for one would have loved to have seen how he approached this role. 

Over the next decade he appeared in many more films, most notably as the sleazy cad, Baron de Varville, in Camille(1936). This was the first film that I ever saw him in, and it is his performance in this film which made me want to see much more of his work.  

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Henry and Charles Laughton in The Suspect. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout the 1940’s he was in high demand as a villain, appearing in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, The Sea Hawk, Jane Eyre,The Suspect, The Body Snatcher, and three of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, in one of which he played Professor Moriarty. He was also in The Philadelphia Story as Sidney Kidd, the publisher of the magazine that Mike and Liz work for. 

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Henry (seated centre)in The Body Snatcher. Image source IMDb.

               Here’s Henry in action opposite Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk(1940).

Throughout the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, Henry appeared often on television in guest roles. Some notable films and performances from the later part of his career include Witness For The Prosecution, in which he worked again with his co-star in The Suspect, Charles Laughton, Mister Cory(the film that he called one of his favourites from his own work), Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, and The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit

His final film role was as the British Ambassador, in George Cukor’s 1964 film adaptation of My Fair Lady. His scenes alongside Audrey Hepburn at the Embassy Ball would sadly be the last he would ever shoot. Henry Daniell died of a sudden heart attack  on October 31st, 1964.  He was 69 years old. 

He left behind him an incredible film legacy. He is one of my favourite character actors. I also consider him to have been one of the best character actors in the business. I hope he would be touched by how much love and respect there still is for his performances and films today. Never seen a Henry Daniell film? A cinematic treasure trove awaits your discovery, and I hope you enjoy exploring his screen work. 

Any other Henry Daniell fans here? 

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Luso World Cinema blogathon: Lena Horne

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Beth at Spellbound By Movies and Le from Critica Retro are co-hosting this Blogathon dedicated to members of the film community with Lusophone heritage. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

I’m writing about the singer, actress, and civil rights activist, Lena Horne. I’ve been a big fan of Lena’s for many years now.She was a brave,strong, fearless and very talented woman, who just went right ahead and did her own thing. Lena Horne didn’t live or behave as some people thought she should do.

It is only because of this Blogathon that I’ve learnt something new about this great lady. I’ve learnt that Lena was of Lusophone heritage. Many thanks to Beth and Le for enabling me to learn something new about Lena.

I greatly admire Lena for having had the courage and strength to stand up for the rights of black people through her civil rights activism. She and the other activists quite rightly didn’t see why one group of people should be oppressed, killed, tormented and treated differently because of the colour of their skin, and they tried to do something to right those great wrongs. In addition to the other civil rights activities she was involved with, Lena also attended the famous March On Washington, in August 1963. 

As well as admiring Lena as a person, I also utterly adore her as a singer. I love her very soft, yet strong singing voice.I especially love her versions of When I Fall In Love and Someone To Watch Over Me. Her version of The Lady Is A Tramp is cracking too. 

Lena Horne was an American by birth. She arrived in this world on June 30th, 1917. Lena was born and raised in Brooklyn,New York, by her parents, Edwin Fletcher Horne Jr, and Edna Louise Scottron. Lena’s grandfather was the African American inventor Samuel R. Scottron. Lena was raised for several years by her grandmother, Cora Calhoun Horne, who was a campaigner for black rights and was also a suffragette. Lena had Lusophone heritage on both sides of her family, this was due to her ancestors being a mix of Native American, African American and European American people.

Lena’s rise to fame began in the 1930’s when she joined the chorus line of the New York Cotton Club in 1933. In 1934 Lena joined up with the African American Jazz composer/band leader Noble Sissle and his orchestra. Lena toured with Noble and his orchestra and also recorded her first records with them, these records were then released by Decca Records.

Lena married Louis Jordan Jones in 1937. The couple had two children, Edwin, who sadly died of kidney disease in 1970, and Gail, who would go on to marry the film director Sidney Lumet. Gail and Sidney’s daughter Jenny works as a screenwriter and actress. Lena and Louis divorced in 1944. 

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A lovely shot of a very glamorous Lena. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Lena moved on to work in the film industry in the late 1930’s. In 1938 she made her screen debut in a film called The Duke Is Tops. Lena plays Ethel, a popular singer who refuses to go and seek out the big time out of loyalty to the man who gave her her first career break. Even at this early stage of her career Lena oozed star quality. She’s got that magic glow and special something about her in this film.

Roger Edens, who was part of the Arthur Freed unit at MGM, spotted Lena performing at a nightclub and arranged for her to get a screen test. In 1942 she was signed to MGM for a seven year contract. Lena refused to play the stereotypical character types so often provided for black performers by the film industry, and that unfortunately caused some problems for her in the long run. Some black actors even took issue with her because the parts she objected to were ones which although not ideal, at least ensured they were able to get employment in the film industry. 

Because Lena had a lighter shade of black skin, the studio tried to get her to pass herself off as a Latina, but Lena refused and embraced the fact that she was a black woman. It seems that nobody in the film industry really knew what to do with Lena, and I think that her film career reflects that, as her films/roles are really all over the place. But in defence of the studio for a minute, it can’t be denied that they did sign her for a long term contract, gave her some financial security for a time, and they also gave her the best costumes, cameramen, directors, hairstylists etc to work with when she did appear on screen. If only they could have been braver and helped make her into a star actress.  

 Lena’s first film for MGM was the musical Panama Hattie, which was made in 1942.The following year Lena’s real big break came when she was cast as the seductive and outgoing Georgia, in the all black cast film Cabin In The Sky. On the strength of her performance in this film I get so mad on her behalf that she didn’t receive more dramatic roles after her work in this one. She’s absolutely brilliant in this film and steals all the scenes she appears in. This film should have made her into a major film star. Her performance here reminds me somewhat of Dorothy Dandridge’s in Carmen Jones

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Lena with some fellow cast members of Cabin In The Sky. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Also in 1943 Lena starred in the 20th Century Fox musical Stormy Weather. This film was a thinly veiled biopic of the great Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who also starred alongside Lena in the film. Most of Lena’s film roles after these two films consisted of nothing else but her performing in stand alone song routines. Sadly due to the disgusting, ridiculous and incredibly infuriating racial laws around at the time, Lena’s musical sequences were often cut out when the films were shown down south. Crazy and shocking or what?!

In 1947 Lena upset the apple cart again (go on girl!) when she married Lennie Hayton, a white musical director at MGM. The couple were married until Lennie’s death in 1971.

Lena lobbied hard for the role of Julie LaVerne in the MGM film adaptation of the musical Show Boat. Lena had played the role of Julie in a musical sequence in the film Till The Clouds Roll By. She would have been perfect in the film, but she unfortunately lost out on the role to her friend Ava Gardner.

This casting choice perfectly sums up the idiocy of the times. A character who is a mixed race woman was played by a white woman, rather than give a black or mixed race actress the role. Lena stated that Ava was told to study Lena’s song recordings for the role, something which upset both women, and ultimately that came to nothing anyway because Ava’s singing voice ended up being dubbed by Annette Warren. Ava did record versions of some of the songs herself, but these were never used in the film, you can find those recordings online. 

Here’s Lena’s beautiful and quite moving version of Can’t Help Loving That Man.This clip gives us a taste of what she could have been like in the film Show Boat

Lena went on tour with the U.S.O to entertain American troops during WW2. She was appalled that seating for these shows was either segregated by the Army, or that seating arrangements placed German POWs in front of black US Army personnel. Lena staged her shows for mixed audiences. She often walked off stage to where the black servicemen were seated, and then sang directly to them with her back to the white audience members. 

By the 1950’s Lena had become disenchanted with Hollywood and she chose to focus instead on her nightclub career. She would appear regularly on TV from the late 1950’s through to 1970’s, performing in many variety shows and TV specials. She was blacklisted during the Communist Witch Hunts, this was because of her activism and her friendship with actor and singer Paul Robeson, who actually did have Communist sympathies and was himself blacklisted. 

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Lena pictured 3rd from left meeting President Kennedy. This photo was taken two days before he was murdered in Dallas. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

In 1981 Lena was the star of a Broadway musical revue created specially for her – Lena Horne: The Lady And Her Music, which ran for 333 performances from May 12th 1981, to June 30th(Lena’s Birthday)1982. Lena also toured with the show abroad. Lena won several awards because of her performance in the show, including a Tony and a Grammy, Quincy Jones who produced the cast album for the show also received a Grammy. 

In 1969, Lena once again took a dramatic role in a film, this time playing the girlfriend of Richard Widmark’s sherriff, in Death Of A Gunfighter. In 1978 she played Glinda in The Wiz, an all black cast version of The Wizard Of Oz. 

Lena Horne died in 2010, aged 92. This incredible woman left behind one hell of a musical and film legacy for us to enjoy. She also helped break barriers for future generations of black actors and singers. She is a fascinating woman who stood up for what was right, and who was fiercely proud of who she was and of her heritage. Do yourself a favour and listen to her songs, watch her films, and read about her life. You won’t regret spending time in the company of the remarkable Miss Lena Horne. 

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The 5th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon: Five Grace Kelly Films You Should Watch

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If she was still here with us, classic film actress and real life Princess, Grace Kelly, would be celebrating her 90th Birthday this year. To mark this special occasion, Ginnie at The Wonderful World Of Cinema, Emily at The Flapper Dame, and Samantha at Musings Of A Classic Film Addict, are co-hosting the 5th Grace Kelly Blogathon. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.  

As this blogathon is the fifth one devoted to Grace and her work, I’ve decided to highlight five Grace Kelly films that I think everyone should see. Some of these films helped to make her into a cinematic icon, while others contain some of her best work as an actress. I feel that these five films also show her range as an actress. 

To Catch A Thief (1955)

In her third and final collaboration with director Alfred Hitchcock, Grace plays a cool and adventurous heiress called Francie Stevens. This character is clever, observant and fearless. She is also very sexually forward. Francie knows what she wants and she goes right after it. Grace keeps us intrigued by her character and keeps us guessing about what her motives are. This is one of Grace’s most interesting screen performances in my opinion. 

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Grace in To Catch A Thief. Image source IMDb.

Francie has her suspicions that a former thief called John Robie(Cary Grant) is behind a series of recent thefts. She may be right or wrong, but she seems to enjoy the possibility of putting herself in danger and playing games with him.

Not only does Grace deliver a great performance, but she is also at her most beautiful and elegant in this film. She looks truly stunning wearing many gorgeous outfits designed by Edith Head. Those blue and white chiffon evening gowns are my favourite outfits that she ever wore on screen. You can read my full review of this film here. 

 

High Noon (1952)

The film which started it all for Grace. While this wasn’t her debut role for either film or television, it was however the film which gave her the first really significant role of her career. High Noon was also the performance which made people really sit up and take notice of her. 

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Grace with Gary Cooper in High Noon. Image source IMDb.

Grace is excellent as Amy, the young and innocent Quaker bride of Gary Cooper’s brave town Marshal, Will Kane. I like how Grace conveys to us how much she is struggling to comprehend the world of violence with her pacifist beliefs. She starts off delivering a very quiet performance, but then later she becomes so passionate and emotional and lets us see how determined and strong she is capable of being. Grace famously didn’t think very highly of her own performance in this, but I think she was much better than she obviously seemed to think she was.

 

Rear Window (1954)

This is the film which really showed audiences just what Grace could do as an actress. Hitchcock had a real knack for changing an actors perceived screen image when they worked with him, and he changed Grace’s screen image from restrained good girl, to that of a sexy, strong and interesting woman of many talents.

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Grace with James Stewart in Rear Window. Screenshot by me.

Just as Jeff’s opinion and perceived image of Lisa changes as he finally sees the real woman beneath the beauty and glamour, so too do the audiences perception of Grace  change. Her performance as Lisa Fremont has become Grace’s most famous role. This film is also the one which, in my opinion at least, turned Grace into a star and an icon of film and fashion.  You can read my full review here. 

 

The Country Girl(1954)

Many of Grace’s fans consider this film to feature her best performance. She won her only Oscar here for her portrayal of Georgie, the long suffering wife of Bing Crosby’s alcoholic singer, Frank Elgin. The Elgin’s formally happy life has been shattered by the death of their son. Frank has taken to the bottle to deal with his pain, while Georgie is left to deal with a double grief. 

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Grace in The Country Girl. Image source IMDb.

Grace brings a lot of heart and depth to her character. She truly makes us feel this woman’s grief and pain, while also getting us to admire her for her inner strength. Grace convinces us she is weary,desperate and at the end of her tether. She’s very moving in this and it’s hard to forget her performance once you’ve seen the film. This one is tough to watch but well worth it for the great performances. 

 

High Society(1956)

This was Grace’s final film before she left America to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. This one is my favourite Grace Kelly film. In this film she gets to play a character who is complicated and mixed up emotionally, and this means she gets to show her range as an actress all in the one performance. Grace’s character Tracy Lord is vulnerable, seductive, vivacious, funny, mean, sweet, often all in one scene!

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Grace as Tracy. Screenshot by me.

On the strength of her performance in this film alone, I find it a crying shame that Grace never made another film again. In the few years that she had been in the spotlight, Grace Kelly had really grown as an actress. If you watch her films in chronological order, I think you can see her ability and confidence as a performer increase/improve with every performance.

High Society is the perfect swan song to Grace’s all too brief career. She delivers one of her best performances as Tracy Lord, a wealthy heiress struggling to decide which of the men in her life she really loves and wants to be with. I often wonder if Grace saw any parallels between herself and Tracy. For example both are women admired more for their external beauty and status than for the woman beneath – in Grace’s case her talents as an actress were often overlooked in favour of her beauty and fashion style. You can read my full review here

I hope you will all join me in remembering a lovely lady, who was also a far better actress than many give her credit for. Happy Birthday, Grace. Thank you for leaving us with so many magical movie moments to enjoy. You and your work are still very much loved. 

Are you a Grace Kelly fan? Leave your thoughts on her and her work below. 

 

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Noirvember: Taking A Walk Through The Dark Alleys Of Film Noir

Yes it’s that time of year again, it’s the time to celebrate all things Film Noir. Put on your trench coats and hats, pour yourself a glass of bourbon, and sit back and revel in a cinematic world of shadows, thrills, Femme and Homme Fatales and plenty of darkness and danger.  

If pressed to choose just one film genre as my all time favourite, I would certainly have to go with Film Noir. Why is this genre(yes I consider it a genre rather than a style) such a favourite of mine? Because it’s so awesome. These films pushed against the restraints and restrictions of Joseph L. Breen’s rather prudish Production Code, and in the process provided audiences with the only truly adult film content that they had had since the Pre-Code era. Noir film directors quickly mastered the art of innuendo, double entendre and inference. The result was a set of films which were extremely violent and brutal, without wallowing in blood and showing graphic violence; extremely sexy and daring, without showing nudity or sex scenes. The films also featured some very psychologically complex and fascinating characters of both genders.

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Phyllis and Walter get cosy in Double Indemnity. Image source IMDb.

I also love these films because they reflect the truth of humanity back to those of us sitting in the audience. We all have good and bad within us, we are all complicated in some way, and we all do what we have to do to survive and get by in life. Noir films reflect this reality back at us. Noir also features some of the most interesting and complex characters in film history. Following on from the horrors of WW2, 1940’s film audiences began to be bombarded with films which reflected the reality of the life they were living at the time. Not since the 1930’s gangster flicks had films been so gritty or violent. Noir films dished out a slice of real life for many viewers, and they captured the cynical and bleak mood of the times. People now were much more aware of the dark side of humanity, and everyone in some way had been affected by the darkness of the war. Noir films picked up on the mood of the times.

The Noir villains were ice cold and very nasty pieces of work, the women were independent, strong, and even manipulative; even the heroes themselves were not clear cut good guys. The public lapped these films up and they continued being made throughout the 1940’s and 50’s. Where 1940’s Noir was all about cynicism and the dark side of man, the Noir films of the 1950’s focused on the paranoia and fear surrounding things like communism and Nuclear weapons. There are also several Noirs which fall under the category of Documentary Noir – these true crime stories are often inspired by the heroic actions of Police and Government Agencies and include films such as T-Men and Call Northside 777.

Noir films weren’t all crime thrillers set in the big city either, there were also a small series of films which have become known as Western Noir. These films at first glance were your typical Western, but on closer inspection you can see that they have characters and plots which fit the established tropes found in regular Noir films. These films have femme fatales, outright bad guys who revel in violence, and the good guys who are more gray than white. My favourites of these are Ramrod(featuring Veronica Lake giving one of her best performances), The Furies(featuring Noir Queen Barbara Stanwyck) and Station West(featuring Dick Powell and Jane Greer).

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Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea in Ramrod. Image source IMDb.

It was the French film critics who first came up with a name for these dark crime films that we now know as Film Noir. The word they chose was Noir(meaning black or dark.) The French themselves also made many excellent Noir films; films such as Le Jour Se Leve and Rififi for example. These moody and atmospheric films are among the very best in the genre. My favourite French Noir is Le Jour Se Leve, featuring an unforgettable lead performance by the great Jean Gabin.

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Noir films are often very interesting visually. The black and white photography captures long, dark shadows,and creates an atmosphere unlike anything else, with the exception of the German expressionist films of the 1920’s. Darkness is everywhere in Noir films, it clings to all the characters like a suffocating fog. The photography and lighting are such important parts of these films, with so much of that Noir atmosphere and look down to the skill of the camera and lighting crews.

Another major and memorable part to a Noir film is the femme fatale. As a woman I love that these films offered such juicy roles for women to play. The Noir era was really the first time since the 1920’s, and pre-code 1930’s, that actresses had been offered such strong, complex and obvious bad girl roles. The femme fatales are overtly sexual, independent and sexually aggressive women. These gals know what they want and they go after it. Anyone today who says actresses didn’t start getting good roles until now, really need to go back and watch Noir, Pre-Code and Silent films to see that just isn’t the case at all. 

Noir women are not content to stay at home cooking in the kitchen and looking nice for their men. They do their own thing. Some use men and then toss them aside without a second thought. My favourites amongst these women are Kathie (Jane Greer)in Out Of The Past, Vera(Ann Savage) in Detour,Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck)in Double Indemnity, Cora(Lana Turner) in The Postman Always Rings Twice and Elsa(Rita Hayworth) in The Lady From Shangahi, Peggy Cummins as Laurie(truly one of the most sexual and strong Noir women)in Gun Crazy. 

                             A few femme fatales of Film Noir. Screenshots by me. 

 I think it must have been a lot of fun for the actresses to be able to play these women in this way. When you look at the roles of Noir actresses film credits, you’ll often find that their Noir characters are the most memorable and interesting roles of their career.

Mention Stanwyck, Bacall, Marie Windsor, Peggy Cummins or Lana Turner and what is the first film of theirs that usually gets mentioned? Nine times out of ten it is their Noir films such as Double IndemnityThe Big Sleep, The Narrow Margin, Gun Crazy and The Postman Always Rings Twice respectively. These strong female roles remain as memorable and impressive today as they were when these films were first released. 

As well as the bad girls, Noir also features many memorable good girls too. These are also strong and independent gals, who will happily get mixed up in danger and who prove to the cynical men in their lives that not all women are femme fatales. These gals don’t get their kicks in using and hurting men. My favourites of these characters are Kathleen (Lucille Ball)in Dark Corner(1946). Kathleen is the loyal secretary to Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens)a tough Private Investigator who is being set up. Kathleen happily puts herself at risk to help him uncover the bad guys, and proves herself to be a woman worthy of his heart.

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Jean Peters as Candy. Screenshot by me.

My other favourite is Candy (Jean Peters)in Pickup On South Street. Candy is a tough gal who puts up a I can take care of myself front, when in reality she can be easily hurt. Candy puts herself in great danger helping Skip (Richard Widmark)uncover a communist gang.

The men in Noir films (both good and bad)are usually cynical and world weary chaps. They are tough and comfortable with dishing out (and being around) violence. Some are bad guys with no redeeming features, while others have tough exteriors in order to survive this world, but underneath that toughness they are actually total sweethearts. Sometimes a decent guy (like Walter Neff for example)gets caught up in a web weaved by a femme fatale,becomes caught up in murder and crime, and soon finds that they have no way out and will end up dead or in jail. 

A few of the Noir guys. Images on left screenshots by me. Right image from IMDb. 

Actors like Humphrey Bogart, Richard Widmark, Dick Powell and Robert Mitchum played some of the best remembered Noir male characters. These performances remain powerful when viewed today. My favourites from the Noir guys are Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell)in Farewell My Lovely, Raven(Alan Ladd) from This Gun For Hire, Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens)in The Dark Corner, Jim(Robert Ryan) in On Dangerous Ground, Sam(Van Heflin) in The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers, Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) in The Narrow Margin, Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) in The Big Heat, Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) in Pickup On South Street and Frank Chambers (John Garfield) in The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Despite being made in an era when films were heavily censored, Noir films contain images and dialogue that make me sit up and go “did I really just see or hear that?” These films are often very violent without graphically depicting violent acts, as most of what we see is implied, but the violence still packs a punch for the viewer. These films also contain dialogue or shared glances between characters that leave you in no doubt as to the meaning, be that implied meaning sexual or violent. These films were about as risque and daring as you could get in mainstream cinema at the time. The fact that they retain their shock value and impact is a credit to all involved in putting these films together. 

When you mention Noir, I will bet that most people automatically associate that word with American cinema, and while it’s true that the majority of Noir films were predominantly American, there were also many fantastic Noir films made outside of the USA as well. I’ve already mentioned that the French made many fantastic Noir flicks. Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese Noir Stray Dog (1949) is one of the best in the genre. The first screen adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice was the brilliant Italian Noir Ossessione(1943).  

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John Mills and Eva Bergh in British Noir The Long Memory. Image source IMDb.

There are also many Noir treasures to be found in British cinema. Films including: The Long Memory, The October Man, Night And The City, Odd Man Out, Cast A Dark Shadow and Brighton Rock. My favourite of these is The Long Memory, which sees John Mills playing against type as a tough, embittered man wrongly accused of murder. I also love DaybreakPool Of LondonIt Always Rains On Sunday and Hell Is A City.

Noir slowly began to wind down towards the end of the 1950’s. But it enjoyed a revival in the 1980’s, with the release of the much more sexually explicit Noir film Body Heat. In this film, Kathleen Turner plays Mattie, the sultry femme fatale leading the lovestruck William Hurt into her trap. Sex is Mattie’s weapon and she is in complete control of her situation. I consider this to be the best Noir film made outside of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Kathleen is up there with Lana, Barbara, Jane and Rita for me. 

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Kathleen Turner was a Femme Fatale for the 1980’s in Body Heat. Image source IMDb.

In more recent years Noir films such as Basic Instinct, The Last Seduction, Femme Fatale,Sin City: A Dame To Kill For and LA Confidential have come along. Hopefully people who like these particular flicks, characters, and the look of these films, will now go and check out Noir titles from the 1940’s and 1950’s. It would be a real shame if they didn’t, because they will be missing out on so many superb films and performances.

10 of my favourite Noir films are: Murder, My Sweet (Dick Powell version),Phantom Lady, Double Indemnity, Pickup On South Street, Le Jour Se Leve,  The Big Heat, The Narrow Margin, Detour, Kiss Me Deadly and The Long Memory.

My favourite decade for Noir? Without a doubt it has to be the 1940’s. When I hear the word Noir, I immediately think of black and white images, of smoke filled rooms where the light catches the shadows on the blinds, which in turn cast long dark shadows. This decade has so many films that I think are amongst the best of the genre. For me just the word Noir is enough to conjure up images of world weary detectives, cynical people trying to make it from one day to the next, and of women whose greatest weapon is themselves. The 1940’s Noir films capture all of this to a tee. 

My favourite Noir actor? It’s got to be Dick Powell. I think he suited these films perfectly. His appearance in these films also ensured he got a nice career change. 

My favourite Noir actress? A tie between Jean Peters and Barbara Stanwyck. They were both perfect as tough and sultry dames. I also love Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice

Do you love Noir too? Please share your thoughts below. What are your favourite Noir films? Who are your favourite Noir characters?

Happy Noirvember! 🕵️‍♀️