Monthly Archives: December 2019

The Anna Neagle Blogathon: Victoria The Great(1937) & Sixty Glorious Years(1938)

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Anna Neagle was one of Britain’s greatest and most popular film stars. She is best remembered today for her screen collaborations with her husband – the director and producer Herbert Wilcox – and for her portrayals of several historical figures including actress Nell Gwyn and pilot Amy Johnson. 

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Victoria prepares to be crowned Queen in Victoria The Great. Screenshot by me.

In 1937 and 1938, Anna starred in two films in which she would take on what has become her most famous screen role. She played Queen Victoria. The first film was Victoria The Great(released in the UK on the 16th of September, 1937), and the second was Sixty Glorious Years(released in the UK on the 14th of October, 1938). Both films were directed by Anna’s future husband Herbert Wilcox.

Both films were written by Miles Malleson and Charles de Grandcourt, with the then Permanent Under-Secretary Of State For Foreign Affairs Robert Vansittart, contributing dialogue for the second film. 

Victoria The Great wasn’t the first film about Queen Victoria which had been approved by the Crown – the first was the 1913 Silent film Sixty Years A Queen directed by Bert Haldane. However during the inter-war years screen depictions of this monarch were banned by her grandson King George V. In 1937(the 100th anniversary of Victoria’s ascension to the throne)that ban was overturned. 

At the time of the first film going into production the British Monarchy was in crisis. In December 1936, King Edward VIII had chosen love over crown and duty, and had abdicated from the throne in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Victoria The Great can therefore be seen as a brilliant piece of PR to try and help secure the image of the British royal family as devoted individuals living only for their duties to the people and nation, as well as also celebrating the life of the then longest-reigning British Monarch. 

                     Screenshots from Victoria The Great and Sixty Glorious Years by me.

When I first heard about these two films I assumed that the first would focus on Victoria’s childhood and the early years of her reign, while the second would focus on her marriage and the rest of her reign. What’s weird about these films is that that isn’t the case at all. 

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A happy moment for the Queen and her husband Prince Albert. Screenshot by me.

Victoria The Great follows the eighteen year old Victoria from the moment she is told she is now the new ruler of England. We see her coronation, her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert(wonderfully played by Anton Walbrook), and see many key events from her personal life and reign. The film is shot in black and white, but features a stunning Technicolor finale depicting the celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. 

Although both films do focus on Victoria’s royal duties and her public life, it’s fair to say that the main focus is on the relationship between Victoria and Prince Albert. The pair were deeply in love and Victoria was extremely dependent on her husband and always looked to him for advice. Albert in turn did what he could to ease his wife’s burdens and try and allow her to be a wife and mother as much as a Queen. Both Anna and Anton do a superb job of capturing the passion these two had for each other. Anna and Anton have real chemistry and are so tender with one another.  There are some lovely moments between the two in this first film. I especially love the scene where they are both sitting under a tree on the palace grounds. I also love the scene where Albert comforts his wife following the assassination attempt on her life. 

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Victoria in Technicolor in Sixty Glorious Years. Screenshot by me.

Sixty Glorious Years differs to the first film by being shot entirely in Technicolor and filmed on location at various royal palaces. The second film has an almost identical structure to the first. Sixty Glorious Years plays out to me like a collection of extended or deleted scenes from the first film. To make two films so similar to each other in the space of a year is a strange decision to say the least. I can’t understand why Herbert Wilcox didn’t just make one film of between say three and a half to four hours long which covered Victoria’s whole life and reign. He could have shot it all in Technicolor too in order to create a real spectacle for audiences. 

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Victoria and Albert watch the Highland Games. Screenshot by me.

I do like that there is more focus on Victoria and Albert’s relationship and their children in the second film than in the first though. It’s also nice to see so many scenes in the second being filmed in and around the real royal palaces and gardens. It’s also nice to be able to see all of Tom Heslewood and Doris Zinkeisen’s beautiful costumes in colour too. 

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Discussing the building of the Crystal Palace exhibition. Screenshot by me.

While both films are very good and enjoyable, they each have too much of an episodic format for my taste. Instead of focusing deeply on Victoria’s life and reign we are presented instead with the highlights. The films also never really scratch the surface of Victoria to enable us to learn more about the real woman. Queen Victoria has always struck me as being extremely interesting from a psychological perspective. She had a deeply unhappy and restrictive childhood under the thumb of her mother and Sir John Conroy; then she had a few brief years where she and she alone held all the power in her life and she became a stronger and more confident woman for it; then she married and bore nine children, something which left her unable to be as independent as she had just started to become. When you read about her attitudes to her children, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that the Queen suffered from postnatal depression following her children’s births. Both films also only show us the briefest glimpse of how tempestuous Victoria and Albert’s relationship could be – they loved each other very much indeed but things were not always easy between them at all. 

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Anna Neagle shines as Victoria. Screenshot by me.

Anna shines in both films. She does a great job of portraying the strong-willed Queen from vivacious and beautiful young woman, to the more severe and grief stricken woman we all immediately think of her as being.

Anna dominates each scene she appears in and you can’t take your eyes off her.She is suitably regal and strong willed as the Queen, while also capturing her girlish innocence and her vulnerable side too. 

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Anton Walbrook as Albert. Screenshot by me.

Anton Walbrook is excellent as the loyal and hardworking Prince Albert. He makes Albert gentle, astute, tender and determined. Anton was always a subtle actor who could steal a scene with a mere look alone, and his talents for that are on full display here.

I also like how Anton managed to capture how weary and overworked Albert became in his role as Prince Consort. I also like how the films show his refusal to shut himself away and have no public life because so many at the time considered him to be nothing more than a foreigner interfering in the British government. 

I highly recommend both films to fans of Anna Neagle and Anton Walbrook. If you’re after a deeper exploration of the life and reign of Victoria, then you best check out the many biographies out there about her. 

This is my entry for my Anna Neagle Blogathon being held on the 1st and 2nd of January, 2020. 

The Second Fred Astaire And Ginger Rogers Blogathon: A Tribute To Fred And Ginger

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Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood, and Crystal at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood, are co-hosting their second blogathon devoted to all things Fred and Ginger. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.  

Laurel and Hardy; Bogie and Bacall; Morecambe and Wise; Hope and Crosby; Pryor and Wilder; Tracy and Hepburn. There are some people who are just meant to be together. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are another one of these special screen duos. I cannot imagine a world where these two had never been paired together and made all those wonderful musicals together. Fred and Ginger fit together perfectly and are quite rightly considered to be one of the most beloved and iconic film duos of all time. I also like how their screen partnership was equal, with neither one of them outshining the other in any way, or doing anything which could lead one of them to be considered as the “better” star of the two. 

Whenever I hear the names Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the first words that immediately come into my mind are elegance, effortlessness, perfect timing, fun and style. Fred and Ginger had all of those things in spades. I especially love how they made everything they did on screen appear natural and effortless, even though you know full well that they rehearsed and practiced constantly to get their dance routines to look so spontaneous and effortless.

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Fred and Ginger in Top Hat. Image source IMDb.

I also love how Fred and Ginger always make you completely believe that their characters are falling for one another. I think their pairing works so well because of the way they both usually play their characters – Fred is all charm, playfulness and silliness, while Ginger is a fiercely independent type of gal who is more serious before she eventually falls for Fred’s charms.

Fred and Ginger’s films have become comfort films for me. If I’m not well or am going through a tough time, I know that putting on a Fred and Ginger film will always make me smile. I adore all ten of their films, but my favourites are Top Hat(the best of their films in my opinion), The Gay Divorcee(featuring the very romantic Night and Day sequence), The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle(telling the moving story of the real life husband and wife dance team Vernon and Irene Castle), Carefree(featuring a lovely fantasy dance sequence on a giant Lillie pad) and Swing Time(featuring some of the best dancing ever put on film.) 

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Fred and Ginger having fun in Carefree. Image source IMDb.

I think Fred and Ginger’s films are the perfect blend of romance, comedy, drama and spectacle. Their films are also enchanting slices of pure escapism which offer us some truly wonderful sights to behold. They are also all films which the whole family can watch regardless of how young or old they may be. Everyone can find something to enjoy in a Fred and Ginger film. The heart and soul of these films are Fred and Ginger themselves. They are such an amazing team and you can totally see them bringing out the best in one another in each and every scene. Not only are they a great match as dancers, but I think they work wonderfully well together in the dramatic scenes as well. It also helped that they had the type of chemistry that just can’t be faked. 

My first introduction to Fred and Ginger came when I was around the age of 8 or 9, when I watched the musical documentary That’s Dancing. Some clips of the pair dancing together in The Gay Divorcee and Swing Time are included in the documentary and I absolutely loved what I saw of them in those clips. I knew that I wanted to see Fred and Ginger’s films and see more from them after this.  So you can imagine how over the moon I was when not long after this my parents bought me the video of Top Hat. I loved every minute of the film and it has gone on to become my favourite of all the Fred and Ginger films. You can read my Top Hat review here. 

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Fred and his sister Adele. Image source IMDb.

We have the marriage of Fred’s sister Adele to thank for Fred and Ginger ending up being paired together as screen partners. Fred Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz on the 10th of May, 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska. His elder sister Adele, born on the 10th of September, 1896, showed a talent for dance from an early age and her parents enrolled her at local dance school to improve her skills. Fred was sent there too, in the hopes that dancing might help build up his strength, as he was quite a frail child. It soon became clear that Fred had the makings of a dancer too.

Fred, Adele, and their mother, Ann, moved to New York, where Fred and Adele were enrolled at the Alviene Master School Of The Theatre And Academy Of Cultural Arts. The siblings and their mother adopted the more American sounding surname of Astaire. In late 1905, the siblings dance instructor Charles Alvienne helped Adele and Fred develop a professional vaudeville act. Over the next 27 years Adele and Fred would work the vaudeville circuit, perform on Broadway, and would also travel over here to the UK to perform in London. The siblings fame and popularity grew throughout the 1920’s, and while it may seem a bit surprising to us today given how legendary Fred is, it was actually Adele who became the bigger star of the two when they were working together. Adele was charming and had great comic timing, she was also a far more outgoing person than her shy and workaholic brother was. Adele affectionately nicknamed Fred “Moaning Minnie” due to how worried he would get over everything. 

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Brother and sister hit the dance floor. Image source IMDb.

In 1932, Adele officially retired from the stage. She had met Lord Charles Cavendish, the second son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, in 1927 and the pair had fallen in love. Adele had broken with tradition and proposed marriage to him! The couple married in May 1932, at the Cavendish family estate of Chatsworth. Sadly their marriage would become an unhappy one. Charles was an alcoholic who would sadly die in 1944 aged just 38. Adele became pregnant three times, but all of her pregnancies ended tragically. She gave birth to a premature daughter, who didn’t survive; then came twin boys who were stillborn; while her third and final pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Adele married for a second time in 1947, this time to Colonel Kingman Douglass, the American chief of US Air Force Intelligence. The couple were married until his death in 1971. Adele remained close to her brother throughout their lives until her death in 1981. 

After Adele left their act, Fred went on to achieve great success on his own on stage in both London and America, in Cole Porter’s play The Gay Divorcee(which Fred would also later go on to star in the film version of). He then travelled to Hollywood in 1933 to make a screen test for the newest of the Hollywood Studios, RKO Studios, which had been founded in 1928. Fred was signed to RKO by David O’ Selznick.

The legend goes that on the basis of Fred’s test someone in Hollywood is supposed to have remarked “Can’t act; slightly bald; can dance a little”. This quote has always made me laugh given how ridiculous and untrue it is. If the quote really was said, then I hope that whoever uttered those words quickly regretted it once Fred and Ginger took Hollywood by storm and proved those words so wrong. Fred was a VERY multi-talented man indeed. Not only was he a fantastic dancer, singer and actor, but he had a real eye for choreography and he revolutionised the way dance was filmed. Fred made sure that the camera held dancers in full view at all times, and that dance sequences had as few a number of cuts as possible. 

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Fred and Ginger dance together for the first time in Flying Down To Rio. Image source IMDb.

Fred’s first film role saw him loaned out to MGM by Selznick, not to play someone fictional, but to play himself alongside Joan Crawford in Dancing Lady(1933). Fred’s second film would be the one that changed everything, and not only for him, but also for a young actress, singer and dancer called Ginger Rogers.

“I loved Fred so, and I mean that in the nicest, warmest way. I had such affection for him artistically. I think that experience with Fred was a divine blessing.”                                                          Ginger Rogers talking about Fred Astaire.

Fred was cast next in Flying Down To Rio to play one half of a dance act featured in the film. His partner was played by Ginger Rogers, who was replacing Dorothy Jordan in the role after Dorothy got married to famed director/producer/screenwriter, Merian C. Cooper. Ginger was a Hollywood veteran compared to Fred, with around 20 films under her belt at the time of starting work on this film. The film would also bring Fred and Choreographer/dancer Hermes Pan together for the first time. The pair would go on to work together on many of Fred’s musicals and all of the future Fred and Ginger films. Hermes and Fred would not only become professional collaborators, but would also become good friends too.

“I just want to pay tribute to Ginger,because we did so many pictures together and believe me it was a value to have that gal. Woo, she had it. She was just great.”                                                         Fred Astaire talking about Ginger Rogers.

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A lovely photo of Ginger. Image source IMDb.

Ginger Rogers was born on the 16th of July, 1911, in Missouri. Her birth name was Virginia Katherine McMath. Ginger was an only child and had quite an unsettling childhood to say the least. Her parents separated shortly after she was born, and her dad kidnapped her twice. Ginger was very close to her mum(who later starred alongside her daughter in the film The Major And The Minor)and her grandparents.

Winning a Charleston dance competition was Ginger’s first step on the road to fame. Her marriage to vaudevillian and singer Jack Pepper in 1929, saw the pair set up a vaudeville act of their own called Ginger and Pepper. The couple divorced in 1931. Being selected by George and Ira Gershwin to play Molly in the 1930 stage musical Girl Crazy, was what really turned Ginger into a star. She signed a contract with Paramount Pictures the same year.

Over the next few years Ginger made films for various studios before moving over to RKO Studios and eventually being cast in Flying Down To Rio. Like Fred, Ginger was also a very multi-talented performer, with a knack for comedy, drama and dance. She would become one of the most popular of the classic era actresses. Ginger would also go on to become an Oscar winner in 1941 for her performance in Kitty Foyle

Ginger and Fred’s roles were small in Flying Down To Rio and they were billed fourth and fifth respectively in the credits, with Ginger’s name appearing above Fred’s. The film was really a vehicle for actress Dolores Del Rio and her co-star Gene Raymond. When the film was released audiences went wild for Fred and Ginger dancing the Carioca. RKO could see that they had something in this dance partnership so they paired Ginger and Fred up again, this time in a screen version of Fred’s hit play The Gay Divorcee(1934). Fred had enjoyed working with Ginger and said he wouldn’t mind making another film with her, but he was initially very reluctant to begin working in a long term dance partnership again, but he soon changed his mind and the rest as they say is history. 

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The Night and Day sequence from The Gay Divorcee. Look at that dress! Image source IMDb.

I consider The Gay Divorcee to be the most important film of the ten which Fred and Ginger made together. It is the first film in which Fred and Ginger’s names receive star billing. It is also the film which really sets in stone the outline of so many of their future films. The film has the mistaken identity subplot; dance used as a form of wooing and to convey the growing romantic attraction and desire between the two; and it’s also the first to have the comic relief provided by the double act of Eric Blore and Edward Everett Horton, two gentlemen who both contributed massively to the Fred and Ginger films they appeared in. The film is also one of the best looking of the ten. The Gay Divorcee was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, and it took home one for Best Song. Ginger was always lucky and got some beautiful clothes to wear in their films, but I really envy her for the extremely gorgeous dress she gets to wear in this film during the Night and Day sequence.

Between 1934 and 1949, Fred and Ginger would go on to make eight more films together – Roberta, Top Hat, Follow The Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance?, Carefree, The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle, The Barkleys Of Broadway(this final film was made at MGM rather than at RKO, and it was also the only colour film in the series. Fred and Ginger hadn’t worked together for ten years at this point and Ginger was only cast as a replacement for Judy Garland.) Fred and Ginger’s ten films together would be extremely profitable for the most part and were very popular indeed with audiences.

Left to right from top: Roberta, Swing Time, The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle, Shall We Dance?, Follow The Fleet and The Barkleys Of Broadway. Image source IMDb.

Both stars wanted to move onto other things after they had made The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle in 1939, and so the partnership came to an amicable end. Ginger would take on a lot more dramatic roles from then on, while Fred mainly stuck with musicals and became known as one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century. Fred also proved his talents as a dramatic actor when he played scientist Julian Osborn in the 1959 film On The Beach. I think that film features some of his best work as an actor, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it before. 

I think that Ginger and Fred contributed so much to the Golden era of Hollywood in their individual careers, but nothing they did ever quite came close to their special film partnership. There is something so beautiful about their partnership and the ten films they made together. The quality of these films and the level of talent that Fred and Ginger bring to them is unsurpassed in my opinion. There has never been a partnership or film series quite like theirs. The Fred and Ginger film series is a real high point, not only of the Classic Film era, but of all cinema. 

While I think it’s fair to say that the two never became the best of friends, Fred and Ginger did enjoy working together and they always spoke fondly and respectfully of each other until the end of their lives. Ginger presented Fred with a special Oscar in 1950, and the two co-presented together at the 1967 Oscar ceremony. Fred died on the 22nd of June, 1987, and Ginger died on the 25th of April, 1995. They left behind them an incredible legacy. 

Are you a fan of Fred and Ginger? Share your thoughts on this couple and their films. 

 

The Al Pacino Blogathon: Frankie And Johnny(1991)

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Gabriela over at Pale Writer is hosting this blogathon dedicated to the actor Al Pacino. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. I’m writing about the romantic drama Frankie And Johnny, a film which saw Al reunited on screen with his Scarface co-star Michelle Pfeiffer.  

The film is based on the 1987 off-Broadway stage play Frankie And Johnny In The Claire de Lune. This play originally starred Kathy Bates as Frankie and F.Murray Abraham as Johnny. The play closed in 1989, but it was revived in 2002, this time on Broadway. The revival starred Stanley Tucci as Johnny and Edie Falco as Frankie. The play focused entirely on Frankie and Johnny and was set in one apartment. The film however takes most of the action outside of the apartment, and also focuses on other people, just as much as it focuses on Frankie and Johnny and their developing relationship. 

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Johnny presents Frankie with the potato rose. Image source IMDb.

Frankie and Johnny is set in New York. We follow Johnny(Al Pacino), a reformed ex-con who gets a job as a cook at a small restaurant run by the kindly Nick(played by Garry Marshall film regular, Hector Elizondo). Johnny falls for Frankie(Michelle Pfeiffer)who is one of the waitresses there. The pair like each other and develop a real connection, but as time goes on Johnny can see that Frankie is keeping him at a distance for some reason. She slowly opens up to him and tells him about the past trauma of an abusive relationship which has made her so afraid of being intimate with men. While we know it won’t be easy going for this couple due to Frankie’s issues, we are never the less left feeling hopeful that there will be a future in store for this couple. 

The film is surprising in many ways because it goes against the predictable formula of these types of films. It’s a slow burn film, and it also has a much more serious and emotional edge to it than many other romantic dramas or romantic comedies do. The thing about this film that always stays with me most after I’ve watched it, is that the story and all of the characters within it play out as being very real. You feel like you are watching real people who are just trying their best to get through a difficult life and find whatever happiness and satisfaction they can.  This is also one of those films where you are able to see past the actors and just completely see them as the characters they are playing.

This is a story that I think many people will be able to feel a personal connection to when they watch it, as it’s a film about loneliness, love, pain, hesitation, friendship and about accepting change. Mostly it’s about our need and yearning for human connection and love – be that connection coming about through friendship, sex, hugs, or merely talking to someone else and spending time with them.

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A plate of food and a side order of flirtation. Image source IMDb.

I especially love the sequence where we see all of the main characters in their homes one night. We see how lonely most of them are and we catch a glimpse of what they do at home after work to not feel so alone. I’m always touched in this sequence by the shots of Nedda(Jane Morris) and Helen(Goldie McLaughlin), who are two older waitresses who have no family or lovers to come home to. All that keeps Helen going is her friendship with the girls at work. All that keeps Nedda going is her pets, her TV, and her friendship with the girls at work. This sequence shows that not all of us have someone to cuddle up in bed with, and that for some people their job and their team are lifelines as they’re all they have. We’re all lonely and we’re all waiting to get lucky and find someone who we can share our lives with.

This is one of my favourite films of all time. I first saw it when I borrowed the video. I went into the film completely cold not having heard of it before or knowing anything about it. I only knew Al, Michelle,Hector and the director, Garry Marshall. After I watched it, I absolutely fell in love with the film and the characters.  I adore the friendship and banter between Frankie and her friends/colleagues at the restaurant. I also love the slowly developing relationship between Frankie and Johnny. I love the little glances shared between the two, the talks and the flirtation, and eventually how they give in and act on their growing feelings. 

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Frankie and Johnny share a kiss. Image source IMDb.

Al and Michelle give two of the best performances of their respective careers here. They each completely convince as their characters and make us fall for each of them as much as Frankie and Johnny start falling for each other. They both perfectly capture the mixed up emotions of their characters, while also convincing us of their growing desire to be intimate with one another and begin a long term relationship, even if they know it’s not going to be an easy step for them to take. I don’t get how Al and Michelle were never paired together again more often after this.

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Al Pacino as Johnny. He’ll make you swoon! Image source IMDb.

Al’s performance as the optimistic and lovely Johnny is one of my favourites from amongst his work. He makes Johnny tender, sexy, gentle, and so much fun. Johnny is a total sweetheart and it’s nice to see him romancing Frankie for the emotional connection, rather than merely just to get her into his bed. Al makes the guy completely sincere too. Watching this makes you wonder where all the men like Johnny are at these days.

If you’re used to seeing Al being larger than life on screen, then I think you will be pleasantly surprised by his far more restrained and subtle performance here. I also like how at ease Al looks doing the food preparation scenes. I’m no expert but he sure looks like he knows his way around a kitchen and has some serious cookery skills. He’s great in the whole film, but I especially love his acting in the bowling alley scene. In this scene he makes us see how hurt and confused Johnny is that Frankie is hiding something from him and keeps trying to push him away. 

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Michelle as Frankie. Image source IMDb.

I think Michelle’s performance as the damaged Frankie is easily one of the best performances she’s ever given. From her posture to her expressions, Michelle utterly convinces as a weary woman who has been badly hurt, who is desperate for love, but who is so afraid of being intimate with someone because of her past trauma. I love how raw her performance is in the scene where Frankie breaks down and tells all to an appalled and comforting Johnny. When Michelle was initially cast in the role there were some who felt she was wrong for the role as she was too good looking for the character. Well Michelle proved all the doubters and haters wrong with her superb performance here. She’s always been one of the best actresses of her generation, but here she outdoes herself. 

The only part of the film that strikes a false note for me is the subplot about the woman who Frankie witnesses being abused in an apartment opposite hers. Frankie doesn’t call the police over what she has witnessed, and then she conveniently happens to run into this woman at a supermarket,in which they both happen to be at the same time on the same day, and persuades her to leave the man she is with. 

Although it’s fair to say Al and Michelle are the highlights of the film, the rest of the cast all turn in terrific performances. Nathan Lane is great as the supportive Tim, a gay friend and neighbour of Frankie. Kate Nelligan is hilarious as the outgoing and sexually forward Cora, another waitress at the restaurant, who is also Frankie’s best friend. The passionate Cora beds Johnny during an awkward one night stand very early on in the film. In this absolutely hilarious scene, she is clearly having the time of her life in bed, while poor Johnny on the other hand just looks scared! Al’s face during that whole sequence is hilarious.🤣

This is a lovely and touching film which keeps it real, while also offering us a spark of hope that happiness and a soulmate could be out there waiting for you. My favourite scenes are the following. Johnny making Frankie a rose out of a potato(aww!). Frankie and Johnny’s night of passion. The entire bowling alley scene. The kiss in front of the flowers. Frankie telling Johnny what happened to her. The phone call to the radio station. Cora and Johnny’s one night stand. The cake machine going crazy. 

Highly recommended to fans of Al and Michelle. 

Top Five Screen Performances: Katharine Hepburn

This is the first post in a new blog series that I’m starting. I’ll be picking film actors and actresses and selecting what I consider to be their top five performances on film. The top five films will be picked solely for the quality of the individuals acting performances in those particular films. 

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Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) Image Source IMDb.

To kick things off let’s start with Katharine Hepburn. This lady is one of the most talented actresses of the entire classic film era. As of this date she still holds the record of being the only leading lady to win four Academy Awards. She had a long and varied film career. She’s best remembered for the films she made with Spencer Tracy. Let’s take a look at her top five performances. Beginning with number 5. 

Summertime (1955)

Katharine plays a very vulnerable and shy woman in this touching romantic drama from director David Lean. Set in Venice(and filmed on location)the story focuses on American tourist, Jane Hudson(Hepburn)as she visits Italy for the first time. She falls in love with the beauty and history of Venice, and also finds romance with Renato(Rossano Brazzi),the charming owner of a local glass store. 

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Katharine and Rossano. Image source IMDb.

Katharine was famous for playing sassy, confident and strong characters, but here she plays the exact opposite. Jane is awkward, shy, inexperienced in love, and very vulnerable. Katharine tells us so much about this woman through the smallest gestures, her posture, or by the look in her eyes. Through Katharine’s performance, we can feel both Jane’s loneliness, and also her joy and excitement at her romantic awakening. This film is pretty underrated and it’s a shame that Katharine’s superb performance in this doesn’t get discussed more often. 

Woman Of The Year (1942)

Katharine shines as the confident and capable journalist and feminist Tess Harding. Right away we see through Katharine’s performance that Tess is strong, independent and very feisty. 

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Katharine and Spencer. Image source IMDb.

Not only does this film feature Katharine Hepburn at her very best, but it is also an important film as it marked the first collaboration between her and Spencer Tracy. The sparks fly between her and Spencer, especially during their first meeting in the office, which is one of the hottest scenes on film. Talk about instant attraction!🔥 Katharine is clearly having fun with this role and it shows in her performance. She’s so at ease as Tess and inhabits the character beautifully. 

The Lion In Winter (1968)

Katharine and Peter O’Toole tear strips off each other, both verbally and emotionally, in this gripping royal domestic drama. Katharine steals every scene she is in as the strong and fearless Queen Eleanor.

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Katharine and Peter O’Toole. Image source IMDb.

What I like most about her performance in this one is that not only is she very funny and moving in many scenes, but she also allows us a peek beneath the mask to see the hidden woman behind the Queen’s iron facade. One of the best performances she ever gave. Her efforts on this film were rewarded with an Oscar. 

 

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

The film that saved and resurrected Katharine Hepburn’s film career. Katharine’s performance here is pitch perfect. Her screen image completely changed with this film. As Tracy Lord she is sassy, glamorous, sexy, confident and easily hurt too. She gets quite a few speeches in the film and she handles those beautifully. When she’s not on screen you miss her because she dominates every second of film she appears in. 

The Philadelphia Story

Katharine and James Stewart. Image source IMDb.

Katharine is excellent as the wealthy society heiress who longs to be valued for her personality, rather than for her beauty and status in society. Tracy is a flawed and somewhat difficult person, but she means well and longs for some happiness, and you can’t help but admire her. Katharine really makes us feel for Tracy and admire her strength. Katharine is supported wonderfully by James Stewart(who took home an Oscar for his performance) and Cary Grant. Katharine was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle

 

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962)

Katharine’s performance as the drug addicted Mary Tyrone absolutely blew me away when I first saw it. She’s otherworldly and girl like one minute, then out of control and tragic the next. 

Long Days Journey Into Night

Katharine with Jason Robards. Image source IMDb.

Her performance here is all in the eyes, in the tone and level of her voice, and in her body language. You feel the emotional pain and get a good sense of how troubled and damaged this woman is. Katharine gives a remarkable performance here. Her work was Oscar nominated, but she lost to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker

Maddy’s Four Favourite Christmas Films

Christmas will soon be here before we know it. The Christmas songs have already started to play non stop on the radio, decorations and lights can now be found in many homes and public spaces, and if we’re lucky some of us may even get some snow this year!

Every Christmas I always try and set aside time to watch my four favourite Christmas films. These four are not only lovely films, but they also really get me in the mood for Christmas. It will come as no surprise to you that all but one of these films is from the classic film era. I highly recommend all of these if you’ve never seen them before. 

                                                       The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

This heartwarming story is the perfect blend of comedy and poignancy. Bishop Henry Brougham(David Niven) is extremely stressed and his personal life is suffering as a result. He is struggling to get funding for a new Cathedral and prays to heaven for some help. Help arrives in the form of the suave and kind angel, Dudley(Cary Grant). Dudley tries his best to help Henry during this difficult time, and he also tries to get Henry to reconnect with his family.

The Bishop's wife 1

Cary Grant as Dudley and David Niven as the Bishop. Image source IMDb.

Dudley unexpectedly finds himself falling in love with Henry’s loving wife, Julia(Loretta Young). He (and us)know that there’s no way they can ever be together, so this makes their growing bond deeply moving to watch unfold.

Cary Grant was initially set to play the Bishop and David Niven was going to play Dudley the angel, but that was changed and instead we got Cary as the angel and David as the long suffering Bishop. It’s hard to imagine David and Cary in the opposite roles now. They are perfectly cast.  This is such a lovely and uplifting film and makes for perfect Christmas viewing. I love the skating scene and the scene where Henry is stuck to a chair.🤣

                                                    It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

I adore Frank Capra’s beautiful and deeply moving tale of second chances, love and heartbreak. James Stewart delivers one of the best performances of his entire career as George Bailey. We see this man brought to the darkest and lowest point that any of us can reach, and in his utter despair he attempts to kill himself. Saved by the loveable angel, Clarence(Henry Travers), George wishes he had never been born. Clarence shows him what would happen to those he loves, and to the town he grew up in, if he had never lived. What George sees sure ain’t pretty!

It's a wonderful life 1

James Stewart, Donna Reed, and their screen children, in that famous finale of It’s A Wonderful Life. Image source IMDb.

 Now this certainly is pretty bleak content, and anyone who has never seen this before could well be forgiven for thinking that it doesn’t exactly sound like the lovely Christmas film they’ve heard so much about. Think again. This film is uplifting, romantic and extremely touching. The film shows us that we have each had some sort of impact on someone in life. It’s A Wonderful Life is one of the most moving and powerful films of all time. My heart melts every time at the beautiful telephone scene, in which George and Mary realise they are in love. James Stewart proved with his performance in this what a strong dramatic actor he was capable of being, and his career went from strength to strength after this. 

                                              The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Brian Henson’s take on Charles Dickens tale of redemption and Christmas makes perfect Christmas viewing for adults and children alike. This was actually my introduction to Charles Dickens and to A Christmas Carol. This film holds a special place in my heart because of that. 

Muppet Christmas Carol

Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit as Bob. Image source IMDb.

Michael Caine gives one of his best performances as the grouchy Scrooge. The Muppet gang play most of the other characters. Kermit and Miss Piggy are adorable and funny as Bob and Emily Cratchit. What I love most about this film, is that it has all the emotion and darkness of the novel, while also being very accessible and fun for the little ones watching. It has a great soundtrack and many catchy songs. I especially love the first scene where we meet Scrooge and all the Muppets sing about him as he passes by. 

                                                             White Christmas (1954)

This is my favourite Christmas film. I love the slowly developing relationships between the four main characters, and I love the dance sequences, songs and stunning costumes. This is a feast for the eyes and ears. The Mandy dance sequence is absolutely spectacular and showcases the dance skills of Vera-Ellen. I love The Sisters performance(those blue dresses are gorgeous)and it’s hilarious when Bing and Danny do their own version of that song later. Bing crooning White Christmas to homesick and traumatised soldiers is a very touching moment. 

White christmas 1

This heartwarming tale sees WW2 entertainers Bob(Bing Crosby)and Phil(Danny Kaye) putting on a show at a cosy inn in Vermont. The show is being put on to raise money for their formal commanding officer, General Waverley(Dean Jagger), who is having financial problems. The lads are aided by dancing and singing sisters, Judy(Vera-Ellen)and Betty(Rosemary Clooney). As they work to bring some Christmas magic into the General’s life, Bob falls for Betty, and Judy and Phil fall deeply in love. Poignant, uplifting and so much fun. This lovely film is the perfect way to begin Christmas. The great Mary Wickes steals all the scenes she’s in, as the General’s no-nonsense and loyal housekeeper, Emma. 

I just want to take this opportunity to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. I hope you have a lovely time. My heart goes out to anyone whose Christmas table will be missing someone this year x. I am very grateful for all of you and want to say thanks for your support and friendship. x 🎄🎅 Merry Christmas!

Do you love these films? Share your own favourite Christmas films below.