Gabriela at Pale Writeris hosting this blogathon in honour of actress Mia Farrow. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. See No Evil is a Horror/Thriller which features Mia Farrow at her very best playing a vulnerable,but determined, blind woman who is being stalked by a killer. The blind person in peril plotline certainly wasn’t new by the time it was used in this film, but few of the other films with similar stories to See No Evil are as creepy or suspenseful as it is.
Two key earlier films featuring a blind person in great danger are 23 Paces To Baker Street(1956), in which Van Johnson’s blind playwrite overhears a murder plot and becomes the target of a killer. The other one is Wait Until Dark(1967), a thrilling home invasion film, in which Audrey Hepburn’s blind character is terrorised by a gang of thieves.
See No Evil is directed by Richard Fleischer and is written by Brian Clemens(The Avengers, And Soon The Darkness). The film not only has some extremely suspenseful moments, but it also does a great twist on the murder discovery scene having Mia’s character unaware that she is walking into a murder scene, while we keep catching glimpses of dead bodies and disturbed furniture etc as she moves through the house.
Director Richard Fleischer was no stranger to films about murderers, having directed 10 Rillington Place, Compulsion and The Boston Strangler. I’ve always appreciated that these particular films don’t wallow in the horror of the site of murders/murder victims, but rather briefly show a shot which is enough to sicken and shock audiences without shoving their faces into protracted and unpleasant sequences of gore. Such is the case with this film. While this film certainly plays out more like a slasher film than the gritty docudrama style of the three other films I mention, Richard Fleischer still shoots the murder discovery sequence in a way which makes this one very similar to those other films.
Part of the opening sequence. Screenshots by me.
See No Evil plunges the audience straight into darkness the second it begins. The opening title sequence(accompanied by a cracking score by Elmer Bernstein) shows us just how violent and warped society and entertainment have become – the man who will later be revealed as the killer is seen leaving a cinema which is showing the double bill of The Convent Murders and Rapist Cult. We see only the killers legs and feet(clad in cowboy boots)as he walks out of the cinema and walks off through town.As the killer walks through town, we see toy guns and soldiers in a shop window, a sight which emphasises the fact that many boys are encouraged to play with such things, and that they could very well come to think that guns must be “cool” because playing at shootouts and soldiers is weirdly considered to be a healthy and perfectly normal thing for kids to do.
We then see a newspaper stand which displays violent and brutal headlines. We see a TV store where the TV sets in the window are playing the 1967 film Torture Garden, and we see a scene from that film where Burgess Meredith is getting brutally attacked. Both of these things serve to show how society is constantly surrounded by violence. The killer then stops to light a cigarette, and he is splashed by a passing car. He gets confrontational and the driver leans out and apologises and the killer decides to walk away.
I think the title sequence shows just how desensitised we’ve become to violence and how normal it’s become, and it also highlights that violent scenes often feature in our entertainment and people don’t see a problem with watching such content. As violence happens so often in daily life it unfortunately rather loses its shock value, something which has always troubled me. It’s not hard to see how an already twisted mind could become further warped by seeing constant violent and unpleasant news reports, films and television. The final shot of the film comes back to this idea, by showing a group of ordinary people pressed up to the gates of the house fascinated by the grisly events that have taken place within. Many people have a morbid curiosity with killers and murders, rather than being disgusted and not wanting to know any more about a murder/murderer past the basic facts.
Mia Farrow as Sarah. Screenshots by me.
The film takes place in England during the 1970’s. Sarah(Mia Farrow)is coming to stay with her aunt, uncle, and cousin(Robin Bailey, Dorothy Alison,Diane Grayson) at their home, after recovering from a very bad riding accident which caused her to fall and left her blind. She is still fiercely independent and is just starting to get used to her disability. Her uncle is the driver who splashed the killer at the beginning of the film.
One day she goes out with her ex-boyfriend, Steve(Norman Eshley)and returns to find the house strangely quiet. As she walks through the house we start to see that something is very wrong. Things look like they’ve been disturbed, the gardeners lawnmower has been abandoned, a pair of legs can be glimpsed by a chair, a shotgun cartridge is blowing around on the ground outside. As night turns into morning we see more and more of the horror that Sarah unknowingly finds herself surrounded by. Her family have been murdered and their bodies discarded around the house. Two of the most upsetting scenes are where Sarah discovers her dead cousin in their shared bedroom, and finds her uncle shot in the face and lying in the bath. It’s grim stuff. Unbeknown to Sarah, the killer has lost his bracelet and is on his way back to the house to reclaim it. And soon Sarah finds herself the next target of this lunatic.
This is a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat and keep you guessing about the identity of the killer. One of the things I like most about the film is that it really isn’t possible to guess who the killer is until he’s actually revealed at the end of the film.
Mia is fantastic as Sarah. She really captures her strength and determination to be independent and continue to make a life for herself despite her blindness. As the film goes on she also captures Sarah’s vulnerability and fear, and she does it so well that you want to leap through the screen and comfort her. I consider this to be one of Mia’s best performances.
Deborah Kerr gave so many excellent performances throughout her film career, but one of her very best performances can be found in the British film The End Of The Affair. This film is notable for showing the same event from two different perspectives, and it is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Graham Greene, which was published in 1951. The novel is partly based on Greene’s own love affair with Catherine Walston, and the novel is dedicated to her.
The film is directed by one of my favourite Noir directors Edward Dmytryk, and you could say that the film bears a resemblance to Noir in some scenes thanks to the lighting and use of shadows. The film is very well written by Lenore Coffee(Footsteps In The Fog). At first glance the film appears to unfold as a pretty standard romantic drama, but you soon realise there is so much more going on in this film than just passion and a love affair. This isn’t your average love story. The film tackles the deep and complex issues of having faith, atheism,the none existence or existence of God, guilt, jealousy and loss. The film is also pretty daring for the time in how it pushes as far as it can against the film Production Code of the time. A good example of this is the scene where Maurice and Sarah star kissing after leaving a restaurant. This scene leaves little to the imagination as to what is about to happen between the two next. Gazing at each with great desire, Miles huskily whispers to Sarah ” I can’t take you home yet”. “No” she replies. Miles hails a taxi and tells the driver to take them to a hotel. You know what they are going to go and do. I get goosebumps during that scene due to the sexual tension flying between the two.
Many consider the earlier British film Brief Encounter as the definitive love affair film, but this one is certainly up there with it too. This film has all the emotion and complexity of the relationship depicted in David Lean’s film,but The End Of The Affair goes further by showing the couple actually giving into their love and desire and allowing themselves to become sexually involved. We also quickly realise that they are in love and that their relationship is not just one of sex and lust. They want to be together and be happy, and we want them to be happy too.
The End Of The Affair is set in London at the height of the Blitz of WW2. Lonely American writer Maurice Bendrix(Van Johnson)is living in London. He has been discharged from the army after being injured in the leg. Maurice is considering writing a book about a civil servant, so he makes the acquaintance of a civil servant by the name of Henry Miles(Peter Cushing) in order to do research for the book.
Maurice falls in love with Henry’s wife, Sarah(Deborah Kerr)and the two embark upon a passionate affair. Their attraction may start off as one of sexual desire, but it quickly becomes clear that there is also a real emotional attachment there too. Maurice finally feels complete and wanted when he is with Sarah. She feels brought to life in a way she hasn’t been before. Neither can bear to let the other go. During an evening when Maurice and Sarah are together, Maurice goes downstairs and is injured in a bomb attack which nearly kills him. Maurice is distressed when Sarah puts an end to their relationship and cuts off all ties with him on the same night. He becomes convinced that she didn’t really love him and that she may even have taken up with someone else. When the film later shows us this same event from Sarah’s perspective, we quickly learn how wrong Maurice is in his assumptions.
After Maurice was caught up in the explosion, he was trapped beneath a door, and when Sarah goes down to check on him she’s convinced he was dead. In her despair she offers up a prayer to the God who she doesn’t even believe in to spare the man she loves, but the catch is she says that if he is spared she will no longer see him. A few minutes after that prayer/promise has been uttered, Maurice regains consciousness and comes upstairs to Sarah, who is shocked and devastated to say the least. What confuses her even more is when he says he feels as if he has just been pulled back from a long trip he can’t remember. Does this mean he really did die for a few minutes and was brought back by God? Or is it a coincidence and he was just unconscious and just feels weird when he regains consciousness? Sarah cleans Maurice up and then leaves.
This is where the film gets really interesting. Sarah is then crippled by guilt and despair about what she has done to Maurice, but she is also struggling with whether or not she believes in God after all. She is in crisis and becomes deeply shaken and confused. The morning after the explosion she comes across a Catholic Priest(the excellent Stephen Murray) helping people in a bombed out street not too far from his church. She follows him back to his church and seeks his help and guidance.
Deborah is excellent in the church scene. She utterly convinces as the numb, confused, exhausted and distressed woman grappling with something far beyond her understanding. Your heart goes out to her because of how tormented she is. She uttered her prayer/wish because she loves Maurice, but now she feels bound to honour her promise to give him up if he lived. That’s enough to tear anyone apart and mess them up.The Priest can see how troubled Sarah is and one of the things he says to her is “I don’t see that you have any problem. If you made a vow to someone you don’t believe in”. He’s quite right and the truth of his words certainly give her an out. The trouble is she is being drawn more and more to feeling that she believes there is a God and therefore she fears breaking her word.
Next she seeks out Richard Smythe(the very underrated Michael Goodliffe), a known atheist who regularly speaks in public in the city about God. Smythe tells her “You mean above all the bombing and cries of men in battle, some supreme being heard your little cry of help?” That line always hits home because it raises the issue of if such a being does exist, why doesn’t it help everyone? Why does it demand that we love it unconditionally? Why does it allow so much suffering, hate and misery? Why doesn’t it show itself to everyone so there is proof it exists? Why does it demand people follow its rules or risk eternal punishment for not doing so? Why must some people face life long unhappiness and even be at risk of death because they endure hate and exclusion by certain religious groups because of what sexuality or gender they happen to be?
The atheist views of Smythe also make me think of all the people in the world who have given up or fought against something they want, something which brings them great happiness and joy, all because in the Bible it says that thing is a sin, or that it isn’t deemed acceptable. How many unhappy and abused wives have been forced over the centuries to stay with a cruel husband because the marriage vows were deemed sacred and unbreakable? While Sarah isn’t abused, she is in a loveless marriage and she finds a brief escape with the man she has an affair with before Maurice. In the form of Maurice however, Sarah finds more than physical pleasure, she finds the first man she is truly in love with, and he is in love with her in return. Don’t they deserve to be happy together? Isn’t it more dishonest for her to stay with Henry and make out she loves him for the rest of her life when she doesn’t? True he is a decent man and cares for her, but they are not in love and he is rather distant.
I like how the film also shows that one can become religious at any point in life, even if for most of your life you haven’t been a person of faith. The only thing that I don’t think is fair, is the inference that Smythe(representing the atheists amongst us)only holds the views he does because he is a bitter and damaged man who has suffered because of the terrible birthmark on his face. It makes out that an atheist can only possibly be an atheist because they’ve been hurt, asked/prayed for help, and found no help came to them so they don’t believe in God out of spite. I don’t think that’s true or fair at all, and quite frankly that seems like a way to just dismiss the opinions of those who don’t believe what the religious masses choose to believe. I’m an agnostic. It is a fact that the truth of the matter is none of us will know whether there is or isn’t life after death until the second we actually die.Either we will go into a sleep from which we never wake, or something else will happen and we will go to another place. Quite how people can claim that they know for a fact there is or isn’t an afterlife or a God has always made me laugh. None of us will know until we take that one way trip which we are all destined to take at some point. Just try and be a nice and decent person throughout your life. The character of Henry seems to be of a similar way of thinking on this to myself. When asked by Sarah what he believes in, he says “It’s all quite simple really. One just does one’s best”. What more can you do?
Deborah is excellent as Sarah and really does some of her very best work in this film. She steals every scene with just a look. I’m always impressed the most by her physical transformation from an elegant, happy, outgoing young woman, to a troubled and ill looking woman who is ironically now living a hellish existence because of her new found belief in God. She looks beaten down and worn out. Remarkable acting by Deborah.
Van Johnson is equally good and it’s a credit to him that he doesn’t seem pushed aside on screen once the focus turns to Sarah’s internal struggles. Maurice undergoes almost as much change as Sarah does. Van is tender and passionate one minute, jealous and angry the next, confused and devastated the next. The scene where he reads Sarah’s journal and finally understands her story and what she has been going through, absolutely destroys me. Van’s acting in that scene is all in the eyes, and he absolutely nails how heartbroken and moved Maurice is at what he is reading. Van and Deborah make a great pair and I wish they had worked together again after this.
Peter Cushing isn’t in the film very much, but he is terrific when he does show up. He makes Henry come across as a nice man who finds it really difficult to open up and really share how he is feeling. You can see why Sarah likes him but isn’t in love with him.
John Mills is good as the private detective hired by Maurice to trail Sarah. His presence and personality certainly lighten the film up a bit when he appears. It’s always struck me as a bit odd that he was cast in this role though. John was a major star at this point and the role wasn’t very big, so one wonders why he was cast.
Both Stephen Murrary and Michael Goodliffe are excellent in their small, but very key roles. Both me are two of the finest character actors our country has ever produced. I’m always most struck by Stephen’s subtle performance.
This is a film that I love a great deal. Not only is it a touching love story, but it’s also far more thought provoking and interesting than a lot of other films have managed to be.I also like that it offers viewers with different views on God scenes which will speak to them and them alone. Highly recommended to fans of anyone in the cast, but especially to fans of Deborah and Van.
This is my entry for my second Deborah Kerr Blogathon being held today here.
The big day is finally here. I decided to honour the lovely Deborah Kerr for a second time with a Blogathon, and was delighted when so many of you signed up to talk about her films. Thank you. Keep checking this page to read all of the entries.
Happy New Year everyone. Hope everyone is well. What better way to begin 2020 than with a Blogathon. 😁 Over the next 2 days be sure to check back to this post to read all of the reviews and articles about Anna Neagle and her work.
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.
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.
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.
Sixty Glorious Years, the so called sequel to the first film, is actually nothing of the sort. Although it differs to the first 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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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 were shot in as few a number of cuts as possible.
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.
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 her 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 which was 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.
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.
Roberta. Image source IMDb
Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle. Image source IMDb
Shall We Dance. Image source IMDb
Follow The Fleet. Image source IMDb
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 do indeed 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.
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).
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 LeJour 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.
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 Indemnity, The 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.
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).
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 Daybreak, Pool Of London, It 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.
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?
The clocks have gone back, the nights are getting darker earlier, and Autumn has officially arrived. In a few days time it will officially be Halloween. The time to switch the lights off and watch many horror films has arrived. Here are five classic era British horror films that I highly recommend for your Halloween viewing.
Night Of The Demon (1957)
This chilling British horror takes a look at demons and a Satanic cult which lurk in the English countryside. It is directed by the great Jacques Tourneur, and is based upon the novel Casting The Runes by horror maestro, M.R. James. For the most part this one plays out as a psychological and supernatural horror flick, but you could also class it as a monster movie because of the demon.
Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins and Niall MacGinnis all deliver superb performances. The atmosphere is so creepy and eerie. This makes for perfect viewing on a dark night or stormy afternoon.
The Innocents (1961)
In my opinion this is the greatest ghost/haunted house film ever made. Based on Henry James’s novel The Turn Of The Screw, the film focuses on a governess who may or may not be seeing ghosts in the new home in which she has been employed.
This one works equally well as a ghost story, and also as a chilling descent into madness. Deborah Kerr delivers what may well be her best performance as the tormented and terrified governess. You can read my full review here.
The Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971)
This disturbing and creepy British folk horror looks at the mass outbreak of hysteria and murder which occurs in a quiet 18th century village. Is it the work of the Devil?
There is a realism to this film which ensures this one packs quite an punch and really freaks the viewer out. It’s a very disturbing film. I like how it cleverly mixes psychological and spooky horror with more explicit gory horror too.
Dead Of Night (1945)
Dead Of Night is one of the most influential, creepy and memorable horror films ever made. It is an anthology film focusing on a group of people who are invited to a country house. There they all share frightening incidents that have happened to them. We see these incidents play out as mini horror films.
Featuring Michael Redgrave delivering one of his best film performances as the deranged ventriloquist. You can read my full review here.
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Christopher Lee plays the kickass hero in this Hammer classic. The film is set in 1920’s England. A Satanic cult are planning on calling up the Devil and they must be stopped at all costs. Enter the badass, and very dashing, Du De Richleau(Christopher Lee),an expert on all things Satanic and possessing knowledge/power that can hopefully be used against them.
Who can forget the protective circle sequence where all manner of horrible things try and attack the Duc and his friends? Or the eerie scene where the Devil is called up in the woods? Great performances and some real scares ensure this one makes for perfect Halloween viewing. You can read my full review of this one here.
This is my second post for Gabriela’s Gothic Horror Blogathon. Be sure to stop by her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
The more I’ve watched it, the more I have fallen in love with director Guillermo Del Toro’s film Crimson Peak. What I love most about this film is how it plays out like a meticulously crafted love letter to the gothic genre and to classic era horror cinema. There are not only homages to TheInnocents(the scene where Edith explores the house with her candlestick holder), The Changeling(the wheelchair and the ball scene) and Jane Eyre(Edith and Thomas’s relationship and the scene where Thomas says their hearts are linked) to be found in the film, but the film also features all of the established Gothic tropes but presents them to us in new and interesting ways. There’s also homages to Hitchcock’s Notorious to spot too(the poisoning, the importance of keys etc).
Although primarily described by many as being a horror film, you will find that there is so much more going on in Crimson Peak than jump scares, gore and ghosts.Perhaps this explains why the film unfortunately did so poorly at the box office upon release. It was marketed as a traditional horror film, when in actuality it really isn’t a horror film at all. In fact I view this as more of a Gothic mystery/romance with moments of horror, rather than an outright horror flick.
I also like how the horror elements in the film are a mix of supernatural scares, slasher horror and Giallo horror. When violent and shocking moments occur in this film they don’t half impact the viewer, much more so than such scenes might if similar scenes were occurring throughout the film every few minutes.
I’ve seen people describe this film as being boring, too talky, or just not scary enough. Their loss I say. This is a very rewarding and deep film if you give yourself over to it and it is even more so if you are a lover of all things Gothic. Crimson Peak is a beautifully crafted, dark, and eerie Gothic masterpiece. Aside from the darker aspects of the plot, this is also a film about the strength and determination of women, and of the past passing into a more technological future. It is also a film which cautions us about making assumptions about someone based on their appearance(someone seemingly delicate and fragile may not be so for example), or of underestimating someone because of their background or gender. It also shows us the dark and light sides of humanity.
The two strongest and most intriguing characters in this film are women. Edith and Lucille are polar opposites of one another, and yet they are perhaps more alike than either one of them would care to acknowledge. Each woman serves to show the different paths a woman’s life can take. Both women are strong willed and determined, and neither one conforms fully to societies rules and expectations. Both prefer to live on their own terms and do what makes them happy. Edith for example would much prefer to attempt to get the stories she writes published, rather than getting married or being praised for wearing the latest fashionable gown. Both women have known pain and sorrow in their lives. Neither one is weak or helpless. Where they part ways is that Lucille is a child of the dark, whereas Edith is a child of the light. Edith enjoyed a warm and loving home/upbringing, whereas Lucille’s childhood was one of cruelty and horror.
Butterflies and moths feature heavily in the film and both serve as a symbolic link to Edith and Lucille, especially in the park scene where Lucille and Edith discuss butterflies, moths and the cruelty of nature. Lucille describes moths as being “formidable creatures to be sure, but they lack beauty. They thrive on the cold and the dark”. Edith asks her “what do they feed on?”and Lucille replies “Butterflies, I’m afraid”. In that exchange it is clear Lucille is describing herself as being like a moth and that Edith is like a butterfly who is her prey. Symbolism for these two is everywhere throughout the film.
Even the costumes of both women are symbolic, with Edith’s gowns being brightly coloured with floral designs showing her to be a giver of life, someone who is blooming like a flower.Lucille’s dresses on the other hand are black or darkly coloured and have a similar design to the walls and ceilings of her Gothic style home, these costumes show Lucille to be cold and gloomy. It’s also worth noting that Edith’s bright clothes make her look out of place in Thomas and Lucille’s world, while Thomas and Lucille’s darker clothes make them the odd ones out in Edith’s world.
I also love how for most of the film Lucille’s clothes give us the impression that she is closed up and restrained like a chrysalis, but at the end of the film, as all the secrets are slowly revealed to us, her clothing becomes looser and more revealing as the real Lucille is at last set free and the secrets within her home are brought out into the open.
The film opens in Buffalo, New York, during the 1800’s. A young girl is visited by the ghost of her mother, who warns her to beware of something called Crimson Peak. Skipping forward to the 1880’s, we find Mia Wasikowska playing the now grown up girl, the aspiring novelist Edith Cushing(surely a nod to novelist Edith Wharton and actor Peter Cushing). Edith falls in love with the mysterious engineer/inventor Thomas Sharpe(Tom Hiddleston), but her father Carter(Jim Beaver) suspects something is not quite right with Thomas and his sister Lady Lucille(Jessica Chastain), and he tasks a private detective to investigate Thomas. The detective uncovers information about Thomas(which we don’t see)which confirms he is not to be trusted. Mr. Cushing pays Thomas to break off his relationship with Edith and to leave Buffalo.
Before Thomas can leave town, Mr. Cushing is brutally murdered, and in her grief, Edith turns to Thomas for comfort. The pair eventually get married and she travels to England to live with him at the Sharpe family home of Allerdale Hall. The hall is falling apart and the red clay on which it is built seeps out of the ground like blood.
Major spoilers ahead about plot and characters!!!!
Edith soon falls ill at the hall. On top of her mysterious illness, she also has to deal with the dominating and stern Lucille. Edith is also plagued by visitations from several deformed ghosts(played by Del Toro’s regular collaborator Doug Jones, with some CGI added). Edith soon stumbles upon the same truth her late father did, but she learns the full horror of that truth(something that he did not). Edith’s only chance of rescue from the hell she finds herself in, lies in the form of Dr. McMichael(Charlie Hunnam), an old friend of her and her father. I like that Edith rescues herself to a great extent, rather than relying entirely on McMichael’s aid.
Edith discovers that Thomas has been married to three women before her and that all three of them were murdered. The ghosts are these murdered ladies and they are trying to warn Edith that she too is in danger. Thomas married all of these women to get their fortunes signed over to him. Thomas and Lucille’s father squandered the Sharpe fortune and he and Lucille are nearly penniless.
Thomas and Lucille have been in an incestuous relationship since their early teens and Lucille murdered all the other wives, and Edith’s father, after he learnt of the other marriages, and she now has the same plans for Edith. We also learn that Lucille killed her own mother. Thomas knew of the fate of his previous wives, but he did not kill them and what happened did not sit well with him at all. He didn’t love the other women, but he has now developed genuine feelings for Edith and is torn between his sister and his wife.
Thomas may well be weak in comparison to his sister, but we soon learn that unlike her he is also quite childlike and innocent. Thomas Sharpe has only been consumed by so much of the darkness, he has not become a part of it entirely. We do admire him for later eventually finding the courage to confront Lucille and try and put a stop to what they are doing. Edith has opened his eyes to a new kind of love, and she has also shown him that he can be a different person if he wants to be. I love the relationship between Thomas and Edith, because they are so tender and gentle with one another, and each finds great delight in just being near the other. Their love allows them to blot out their pain and worries for a time.
In many ways Edith is like the traditional male white knight figure who rescues the Princess in peril in fairytales. Edith becomes Thomas’s saviour. She is the pure and fresh woman who Thomas can love both emotionally and physically, without constantly being reminded of a terrible and dark past. Edith’s actions end up putting a stop to the terrible existence he has come to loathe, all be it not in the traditional happy ending some may expect when they watch the film.
I also love how Edith has her eyes opened wide to the realities of life for those who aren’t surrounded by love and lovely things, and in the process she becomes wise to the darker sides of life. She wasn’t completely naive of such things to begin with, but she could never have imagined people could endure and be a part of such awful things until she marries Thomas. At the end of the film she has a become a more worldly woman, one whom now also knows her limits of endurance and how emotionally/psychologically strong she can be. Symbolism also kicks in again at the end of the film, with Edith vanquishing darkness and the possibility of becoming twisted and evil herself. Edith’s survival reminds us that not everyone who has suffered at the hands of others will turn out to be cruel and evil themselves.
We also learn that the Sharpe children suffered a terrible childhood of abuse and pain. Their father left the family and his reckless behaviour destroyed their wealth. Their mother was cruel and abused both her children. Lucille as the eldest child tried to protect Thomas from the worst of their mother’s attacks. As they grew older they found that their only source of love and joy was to be found in each other. Their bond grew so strong that it turned into incest. Now when we learn this, it is of course sickening and disturbing, but you can understand why it happened given their situation and relationship.
I find the character of Lucille to be the most fascinating and complex of the whole film. She is very clever, dominant, strong and powerful. It is she, rather than her brother, who does the planning and the killing. She has taken the pain of her past and grown strong and untouchable because of it, she cannot be cowed or frightened any longer. She is fiercely protective of Thomas, almost to the point of being perceived as a lioness protecting her cub. She is clearly insane and dangerous too, all of which makes her quite a memorable and formidable villain.
Yet for all her darkness, and for all the pain and destruction she is responsible for, Lucille is also a victim too. She was turned into a figure of cruelty and darkness by what was done to her as a child. She also does what she does out of love for her brother. Her love and the terrible past she endure makes her more human, and I think it’s very easy to sympathise with her to some extent and to feel pity for her. Lucille also makes a very human mistake when she underestimates Edith’s abilities, seeing her as nothing more than a fragile and weak creature, rather than as her equal in strength and determination.
Crimson Peak may well be a dark film, but it is also a stunning and gorgeous feast for the eyes and ears too – from the cinematography and lighting, to the beautiful costumes, impressive set design and gorgeous and atmospheric score. I also like how the symbolism for Edith and Lucille carries over into the homes they live in. Edith’s home has plush, cosy, warm and bright interiors, with soft and expensive furnishings. Lucille and Thomas meanwhile live in a dark and crumbling mansion, a home which is a shadow of its former self. I also like how Allerdale Hall brings to mind the enchanted and mysterious castles in fairytales, with the snow and leaves falling in, the clay seeping into the house like blood, and the moths fluttering around. The attention to detail in this film is remarkable and you can see the love, time and effort all involved put into this one.
The performances are superb from the whole cast. It was nice to see the great Jonathan Hyde appear in a cameo as an arrogant book publisher. I think that Mia, Jessica, Tom and Jim Beaver deliver the best performances in the film. Mia’s performance in particular is incredible, she has to convey so much with her eyes alone and she really makes you feel what Edith is experiencing.
In my opinion this is Del Toro’s masterpiece. The film can also be seen as not only a Gothic homage, but also a homage to his own work and the themes of death, grief, fantasy, courage and horror found within his other films. This is easily one of the greatest Gothic films out there. Highly recommended to all my fellow Gothic fans.
This is my first entry for my friend Gabriela’s latest blogathon, which is dedicated to all things Gothic Horror. Be sure to visit her site later this month to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
The history of Gothic Horror and Gothic Romance stretches all the way back to 1764, the year in which author Horace Walpole had his novel The Castle Of Otranto published, this novel is generally considered to be the first Gothic novel ever written. Many authors including Ann Radcliffe, Edgar Allen Poe, Matthew Lewis, Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Shelley, Clara Reeve, Emily and Charlotte Bronte all followed in Warpole’s footsteps penning dark and chilling Gothic tales over the coming centuries.
The main tropes usually present in Gothic literature and films are mansions or castles which have dark secrets and mysteries waiting to be uncovered within their walls; a Byronic male love interest who is not what he seems, or who harbours dark or tragic secrets; and a curious and strong willed heroine who seeks to uncover the secrets and to help her troubled man. Many of the greatest Gothic stories seem to work best when their setting is the 1700’s or 1800’s, but there are later stories and films, such as Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, which work just as well with a more modern setting.
The Tomb Of Ligeia is one of my favourite Gothic Horror films. While it is certainly a creepy horror film, it is at heart a beautiful and tragic love story. I especially love how this film manages to capture the eerie atmosphere, darkness, tragedy and beauty of Edgar Allen Poe’s work, while also being a very touching love story. This has become my favourite film from the Poe cycle of films directed by Roger Corman.
In 1964, the American horror director Roger Corman was here in the UK to begin work on what would be his eighth and final screen adaptation of a story by Edgar Allen Poe. The film was The Tomb Of Ligeia, which was based upon Poe’s 1838 short story Ligeia. This story may well have been written and published before Poe’s far more famous other literary works came along, but it remains one of his darkest and most tragic tales.
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Vincent as Verden Fell. Screenshot by me.
Roger would once again be reunited with Vincent Price on this film. Vincent had become Roger’s regular leading man in the previous Poe films he had made. Although much older than the character in Poe’s story, Vincent never the less suits the role of Verden Fell perfectly, and it is very difficult to imagine anyone else other than him in the role. It was very nearly the case though that Vincent wasn’t cast in the lead role.
Both Roger Corman and screenwriter Robert Towne(later to find fame as the writer of Chinatown)were actually against Vincent taking the role due to his age. Roger Corman wanted Richard Chamberlain to take the role instead. Vincent’s casting ended up becoming a condition of the films production company AIP(American-International Pictures) in investing in the film, and so he was cast as the lead. Vincent was of course such a big name at the time, and he had become so linked to the horror genre and to these Poe films, that he was massive draw for audiences when these films were released. He also fit this material perfectly and had done so ever since he was cast in the 1946 Gothic drama Dragonwyck. He brings an emotional depth to the role of Verden Fell that I don’t think would have been there if another actor had been cast.
British actress Elizabeth Shepherd was cast alongside Vincent, in the duel role of the bright and passionate Rowena, and the sinister and dark Ligeia. Elizabeth absolutely steals the film with her brilliant performance. The film was made on location in Britain, with a large portion of it being shot at the Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk. This film feels and looks quite different from so many of the other Corman/Poe adaptations and the location work is a big reason why in my opinion. So many of the other films in the Poe cycle were very studio bound, whereas this one gains a realism due to the location work. The film also looks different due to a great many scenes taking place outside in daylight and sunshine, but its content is no less dark and strange because of it.
“She will not rest, because she is not dead….to me. And she will not die because she willed not to die.” Verden Fell
The film tells the tragic love story of the vivacious and fearless Lady Rowena(Elizabeth Shepherd)and the brooding and mysterious Verden Fell(Vincent Price). The pair meet after Rowena breaks away from a local hunt and rides into the ruins of the abbey where Verden lives. She comes across a graveyard in the ruins, and there she finds the grave of the Lady Ligeia(also played by Elizabeth), who was Verden’s wife.
Rowena and Verden first set eyes on each other. Screenshot by me.
Ligeia’s grave is guarded by her pet black cat, who lashes out at Elizabeth startling her horse and causing her to fall off and hurt herself. Verden(clad all in black and rocking a pair of sunglasses which look like the ones from the 1933 Invisible Man film) then suddenly appears and tends to the injured Rowena. We can see that as soon as they meet one another they are each drawn to the other. Rowena bears a uncanny resemblance to Ligeia, which is an added attraction for Verden.
Verden seems absolutely grief stricken by the death of his wife. At first he reminds me somewhat of Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights with how he cannot let his wife leave his side to go to the land of the dead. Verden is constantly at Ligeia’s graveside and is convinced that she will come back to life and be with him again. As the film progresses we learn that there is a dark and terrible reason why he is acting like that, and it isn’t because of grief and love either. Sometimes Verden seems to hate Rowena and becomes afraid of her presence one minute, and then becomes deeply remorseful for his behaviour and becomes gentle and kind to her the next.
That time Vincent Price borrowed The Invisible Man’s shades. Screenshot by me.
As the film goes on, Verden and Rowena fall in love and get married. Rowena soon discovers that in Verden’s home the dead do not stay dead, and that due to some strange supernatural power, the Lady Ligeia is exerting her will on Verden from beyond the grave. Rowena must find the strength to save her husband and herself, while also trying to fight against forces which are beyond both her understanding and her control.
Rowena is one of the strongest Gothic heroines in my opinion. Interestingly the film version of Rowena is very different to the character in Poe’s story, in which she really has no personality and is merely there as a plot device. In the film however, Rowena is brave, strong, self-sufficient, and she has a very strong will indeed. When describing Rowena to Christopher(John Westbrook), a young man of her own class who wants to marry her, Rowena’s father(Derek Francis) says this of her: “Wilful little b***h, ain’t she? Hell to be married to I should think. Her mother certainly was… God rest her soul”.
Rowena doesn’t conform to the docile female persona that men of the time felt their women should have. Rowena knows what she wants and goes after it. She likes to make her own decisions and she isn’t afraid of darkness and danger. She also has no interest in marrying for money or in marrying the safe and approved type of men she is so often thrown together with. Rowena sees that Verden is brooding, broken and even a little dangerous and frightening, and yet she wants to be with him because she loves him. He in turn genuinely falls in love with her too, and even though he cannot get Ligeia out of his mind, he does try his best with his new wife.
Vincent is excellent as Verden. The character is at first glance the typical Byronic leading man of a Gothic tale, a man of mystery. I love how Vincent draws us in with his performance and makes us at first think he is a heartbroken and damaged man, somewhat akin to Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, a man longing to meet a fresher, purer woman to be his great love. While some of that description is true, the more we see of Verden, the more that Vincent alters how he plays the character. Vincent’s performance gets much darker and stranger, and he lets us see that there is something more going on here than the typical Gothic character trope we first imagine and assume. Verden also interestingly turns out to be the real victim of the piece rather than Rowena. He is also a victim twice over; once due to what we learn has been happening to him, and secondly because of what happens to him at the end of the film. I really like Verden and Rowena and I’m always sad that they don’t get the happiness they deserve, but then it wouldn’t really be a Gothic Horror if that were to happen. 😁
In addition to its intriguing and eerie story, excellent lead and supporting performances, and beautiful costume design, I also want to praise the lovely and suitably atmospheric score by Kenneth V. Jones. The gorgeous cinematography by Hammer regular Arthur Grant is also terrific.
I’m of the opinion that The Tomb Of Ligeia is one of the best Gothic Horror/Gothic Romances ever put on screen. It’s also a great deal of spooky fun and a real character piece. You could do much worse than spend an hour and a half with Vincent, Elizabeth and company.
The Classic Movie Blog Association turns ten years old this year. In celebration of this anniversary, our groups latest blogathon is one which celebrates films, or particular years in film history, which are also celebrating a significant anniversary in 2019. Be sure to drop by the CMBA site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
I’ve decided to celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the year 1939. Why the focus on this year and not another you may well ask? I picked this year because it is such a remarkable and impressive year for film. 1939 is a year considered by many film fans and film critics to be “Hollywood’s greatest year”, this is due to the large amount of magnificent films released in America that year, many of which have become some of the most beloved, impressive and acclaimed classics of all time.
Left to right: The Wizard Of Oz, Gone With The Wind and Only Angels Have Wings. Screenshots by me.
I don’t know about other film fans, but I know that I return again and again to so many of the films which were made in 1939. There’s just something about these films which makes them special, plus they are all such high quality films. Think also of all the beloved film characters this year’s films provided us with – Dorothy Gale, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, The Wicked Witch Of The West, Rhett Butler, Scarlett O’Hara, Mamie, Melanie Wilkes,Cathy and Heathcliff,Judith Traherne etc. While it’s certainly true that every year and decade in film history contains some real gems and classics, 1939 in particular saw the release of such a staggering amount of high quality films which have ended up becoming classics.
To have had these films appear throughout one or two decades would have been incredible enough, but the fact that all of these films came out in one year is truly mind blowing! If 1939 had only been the year of say Gone With The Wind(one of the all time great epics), The Wizard Of Oz, Stagecoach, or Only Angels Have Wings, then I have no doubt that it would have most certainly have gone down as a great film year, but this year had all of those films and so many more besides.
Just a few of the remarkable films released during this year include: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington( a film which remains incredibly relevant and affecting, given how many governments/politicians around the world are self serving or corrupt, and who don’t seem to be on the side of the ordinary people at all), WutheringHeights(moody and moving in equal measure), Goodbye Mr. Chips(possibly the saddest and most poignant film ever made), The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle, Golden Boy, The Women(this hilarious film sees some of the best actresses of the day fight it out on screen),Dark Victory, Ninotchka, Of Mice And Men, The Saint Strikes Back(the first time that George Sanders played the role of Simon Templar)Dodge City, The Hound Of The Baskervilles.
Outside of Hollywood, 1939 also saw the release of many excellent films from around the world as well. The brilliant French Noir Le Jour Se Leve, the powerful Japanese drama The Story Of The Last Chrysanthemums, the French satire The Rules Of The Game, and the early Powell and Pressburger spy drama The Spy In Black, were just four classics made outside of America during this very significant year.
1939 also saw Technicolor used to its most stunning and impressive effect in many films, including The Wizard Of Oz, Dodge City, Gone With The Wind, Drums Along The Mohawk. There had been some nice looking colour films around since the Silent film era, but nothing that compared to the beautiful use of colour seen in many of the films released in 1939. I think that films featuring Technicolor, outside of the Powell and Pressburger 1940’s films, have never before or since looked as stunning and striking as these 1939 Technicolor films do.
1939 was also a very good year for actors. Many of the films in this year featured very strong roles for women and had very female centric stories. Many of the 1939 films also provided actresses with some of the best screen roles they would ever have.
Some fellow British ladies would find that this year would end up changing their fortunes for the better. Vivien Leigh moved from being an up and coming British stage and screen actress, to become an acclaimed international star following her work in Gone With The Wind.Greer Garson enchanted audiences in her screen debut in Goodbye Mr. Chips, and she quickly went on to become one of the most popular actresses of the entire classic film era.
The American actress Jean Arthur would star in Only Angels Have Wings and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,two films which would help cement her screen persona of tough, sassy and fiercely loyal female sidekick.
It wasn’t just the ladies who were enjoying great acting success in this year either. James Stewart proved he could do much more than comedy and sweet romantic roles, thanks to his excellent dramatic performance in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Jean Gabin and Robert Donat all delivered some of the best performances of their entire careers in this year. Cary Grant would also prove that he could do more than comedy, with his great performance as the cynical, tough and complicated pilot, Geoff Carter, in Howard Hawk’s Only Angels Have Wings. A young lad called John Wayne would find that his performance in Stagecoach would end up becoming his breakthrough role, and over the next few years he would go on to become one of the most famous and iconic actors in the world.
1939 was also a glorious year for film composers and their scores. A few of my favourites from this year are Max Steiner’s sweeping score for Gone With The Wind; Eric Korngold’s rousing theme to Elizabeth And Essex; Alfred Newman’s beautiful and moving score for Wuthering Heights; Alfred Newman’s score for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. The music and songs in The Wizard Of Oz also have a very special place in my heart.
It seems to me that every aspect of filmmaking was the very best that it possibly could be during this year. From acting and cinematography, to costumes, music, scripts and direction. This year highlights the quality and magic of the classic film era for me.
We are sadly living in an era now where Western film audiences seem to be being bombarded by nothing but an endless stream of remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels. We’ve got an overwhelming amount of CGI filled superhero films and computer animated films out there too. It seems that if you want originality, quality, good human drama and characterisation, then you need to be checking out Foreign Language films, Indie films, or turning to television.
Watching classic era films reminds us that there once was a time when there were seemingly endless amounts of fresh and original film ideas, and that there was a strong focus on the characters and the actors to tell the story, rather than letting special effects dominate proceedings and overwhelming every other aspect of the film. These classic films, especially many of those from 1939, serve to show the current generation the quality that filmmakers can achieve if they put their minds to it. There’s a reason these classic era films have stood the test of time and stand head and shoulders above so many other films.
I hope that you will all join me in raising a glass in honour of this very special year in film history. The greatest year in film history? While I find it hard to narrow so much great cinema down to one single year and call that year the best ever,I would however have to say that I think 1939 has more claim than most to hold that particular title. It truly was a golden year for film.
I’d also like to raise a glass to the CMBA in honour of its own special anniversary. I’m still so touched to have been accepted as a member of this group and to have found myself amongst some truly great classic film bloggers. This group is so supportive and encouraging, and I think my fellow CMBA bloggers are all doing a wonderful job of spreading the word about classic films far and wide. Happy 10th Anniversary to this wonderful group. Special thanks to Rick at Classic Film And TV Cafe who founded our group.
I’d love to hear what you think of 1939. Share your thoughts on this great year below.
Last year I hosted a blogathon dedicated to the lovely Deborah Kerr. The blogathon went really well, and there were so many wonderful articles received about this great actress and her work. At the request of Gill from Realweegiemidgetreviews, I have decided to bring the blogathon back for a second year.
For this blogathon you can write about any of Deborah’s films or TV appearances. You can write tributes to her. You can write about her career and life. You can write about her screen partnership with Robert Mitchum. You can focus on specific performances. I will accept two duplicates per screen title and a maximum of 3 posts per person.
The Blogathon will be held on the 10th of January, 2020. Please have your posts ready on or before that date. Check the list below to see who is writing about what. Take one of the banners from below and put it on your site somewhere to help promote the event. Have fun writing about Deborah and watching her work!
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: The End Of The Affair
Pale Writer: The Innocents & Dream Wife
Poppity Talks Classic Film: Young Bess
Cinematic Scribblings: Black Narcissus
Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: Deborah Kerr and Fashion
Critica Retro: The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp
Dubsism: The Sundowners
The Classic Movie Muse: The King And I
18 Cinema Lane: Marriage On The Rocks
Diary Of A Movie Maniac: Edward My Son
I’d also love for some more of you to join myAnna Neagle Blogathon being held on the 1st and 2nd of January, 2020 too.
As we start to approach the end of 2019, I would like to invite you all to join my next blogathon.
This one will be held in the New Year and it is going to be dedicated to the great British actress, Dame Anna Neagle. Anna was one of the most talented British actresses working during the classic film era. She is best remembered today for the many films in which she portrayed well known historical figures, including Edith Cavell and Queen Victoria. She married director and producer Herbert Wilcox, and the pair made many films together. Anna was also a producer herself.
For this blogathon you can write about any of Anna’s films. You can write tributes to Anna. You can write about her partnership with her husband. You can write about her entire career. If you’re not familiar with Anna and her work, why not take this as the perfect opportunity to rectify that and seek out her films? I will allow 2 duplicates per screen title, and a maximum of 3 posts per person.
The blogathon will be held on the 1st and 2nd of January, 2020. Please have your entries ready on or before those dates. Check the entry list below to see who is writing about what. Take one of the banners below and put them on your site to help promote the event. Have fun writing about Anna and her work!
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: A Comparison Of Victoria The Great & Sixty Glorious Years
Two of my favourite bloggers, Erica at Poppity Talks Classic Film, and Gill at Realweegiemidgetreviews, are co-hosting this blogathon in honour of the actress Shelley Winters. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
Shelley Winters was a strong woman, and she was a real force of nature too. On screen she was a chameleon actress. She could play strong, tough, or mean one minute, and then play timid and gentle the next. She was one of those actresses who I always believe as whatever character she happens to be playing on screen.
Shelley is also an actress whose performances have never really left me disappointed. While Shelley has never become a great favourite of mine, I have however always liked her and admired her acting ability. She was a very talented lady indeed. Instead of focusing on one particular film or performance for this blogathon, I want to highlight four Shelley Winters performances that I think everyone should see. These four performances/films also highlight what range she had as an actress.
The Night Of The Hunter(1955)
While it’s true that her character isn’t in the film for very long, Shelley never the less makes the most of her supporting role in this classic. Shelley utterly convinces here as the meek and naive Willa, the abused wife of the stone cold and manipulative preacher(Robert Mitchum).
If you’ve only seen Shelley play strong women on screen, then you’re sure to be in for quite a surprise, due to her character being the complete opposite . Shelley’s performance here is one which is all in the eyes, body language and small gestures.
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
Shelley shines alongside Robert Ryan, playing Lorry, the much younger girlfriend of his character, Earl. Despite their age gap, Lorry and Earl really do love each other very much.
Earl sometimes says hurtful things to Lorry because he is afraid that she will either leave him, or cheat on him, because she is much younger than him. Shelley makes us see how much Lorry loves this man and wants to help him.
The scenes between Shelley and Robert are very tender, and I only wish there had been more of them. I also love how Shelley convinces us that Lorry is someone who can stand up for herself, and that she can knock some sense into Earl through her reactions to his outbursts. Shelley does a great job of making Lorry come across as a very real, working class gal, who is trying to do the best she can in life and in love.
Shelley is both hilarious and moving as the loud and awkward Charlotte Haze, the slinky and lovestruck mother of the title character of this Kubrick classic.
We can’t help laughing at Charlotte because she is such a ridiculous and over the top character. We’re not laughing all the time though, because Shelley also makes us sympathise and cringe for her character.
Charlotte is so awkward and desperate and doesn’t realise that people around her merely put up with her company, rather than actually be around her because they truly enjoy her company. Charlotte is a very tragic figure really, because she genuinely loves Humbert(James Mason) and she tries so hard to get him to love her in return, despite the fact that he is not remotely interested in her sexually or romantically. Shelley absolutely gets the different aspects of this woman and inhabits the role so well. I can imagine no one else playing Charlotte the way Shelley did.
A Patch Of Blue (1965)
Shelley is both despicable and ferocious as the abusive and racist mother of Elizabeth Hartman’s kind and dominated Selina.
Shelley’s character, Rose-Ann, is one of the most horrible screen mothers I’ve ever seen. She treats her daughter like crap and only ever thinks of herself. This dame has a razor sharp tongue and spews hatred and harsh words every time she opens her mouth.
Shelley dominates every scene she is appears in in this one. Through Shelley’s excellent performance, we can see that Rose-Ann is a survivor, one whose tough persona ensures that she doesn’t become one of life’s victim. Shelley’s performance is so powerful that it is one of those which lingers on in the mind long after the film is over. Shelley is a real nasty piece of work in this flick.
I would love to know your thoughts on Shelley’s performances in these films.
Can I say a massive thank you to everyone who contributed to the WW2 blogathon. Jay and I were impressed by how many of you took part! You all wrote wonderful articles and reviews. Thank you for joining us to mark this important anniversary.
My apologies for not having been around much and not having commented on all your posts yet. As some of you already know, I have an ongoing health issue, and unfortunately I was really struggling with symptoms in the run up to this blogathon and still am now. I hope you’ll bear with me while I try and catch up on posts I’ve not been able to read yet. I’ve not forgotten you!
The big event has finally arrived. Over the next three days, myself and Jay from Cinema Essentials, will be accepting your reviews and articles on films, series and people connected to WW2. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the start of WW2, and we both thought that hosting a blogathon on this subject would be a fitting way to mark this important anniversary.
I will be your hostess for today only. Please submit posts going live on Monday and Tuesday to Jay. Thank you so much for joining us.
Any person who serves in the armed forces has my utmost respect, gratitude and admiration. It takes a brave person indeed to deliberately risk injury and death fighting to save and help other people. People who serve in Bomb Disposal Units have a bravery which is on a whole other level entirely. It takes nerves of complete steel to deliberately stand next to a live bomb and attempt to diffuse it or check if it is live or not.
In 1979, a British television series called Danger UXB was created. The series would focus upon a Bomb Disposal team working in London during the Second World War.
As the German Luftwaffe carry out their seemingly unending bombing raids across Britain, we would follow this brave disposal team tasked with diffusing and destroying the thousands of bombs that had been dropped from German aircraft, but which had failed to detonate on impact. The series would follow the team from the start of the war, right up until the war ended in September of 1945.
The completed series would become one of the most realistic, suspenseful, authentic and gripping TV series ever made. The series was created by writer/producer John Hawkesworth(the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series, Upstairs, Downstairs)and John Whitney. John Hawkesworth took the series idea to producers Verity Lambert(then head of Drama at Thames Television) and Johnny Goodman. The pair were on the lookout for a new series and they both loved his idea. The series was inspired by the book Unexploded Bomb – The Story Of Bomb Disposal, which had been written by Major A.B Hartley.
The series would also help to change the face of British television forever. Up to this point, British television series/episodes had been shot on tape and were mostly filmed in the studio, with just a few brief scenes sometimes shot out on location. Danger UXB however was filmed entirely on location. The quality of the stories, coupled with the visual quality of the episodes, meant that in effect this series looked like a collection of thirteen films. This series proved what it was possible to do when making a TV series. It begs the question as to whether or not we would have got all those glorious 1980’s miniseries shot on location, without this one having paved the way first?
Another new and unusual aspect of the series was that the writers were unafraid to kill off main/significant characters. Long before series such as The Bill or Game Of Thrones broke audiences hearts with shock character deaths, Danger UXB was doing just that. In doing so, I think it helped to bring home the brutal realities of life as a Bomb Disposal officer to audiences. Death or life changing injuries could claim these men at any second. This decision also ensured that all the bomb disposal sequences in the series became doubly tense, due to audiences knowing full well that main characters weren’t free of harm and that anything could happen to them. What made it all the more powerful was the knowledge that although the characters are fictional, real men had actually gone through what these characters were enduring. It gave the series a reality and a great deal of emotional weight.
The series was filmed in 1978. It would be broadcast on ITV between the 8th of January, 1979, and the 2nd of April the same year. The series follows new Royal Engineering Officer, Brian Ash(Anthony Andrews), as he takes command of a Bomb Disposal unit in London, after the current commander has been killed while attempting to diffuse a bomb. Brian is nervous at first, but he soon settles into the role and gains confidence as a commander. The men soon grow to respect him and they form a good team.
Brian’s ever dependable right hand man, is the steady Sergeant James(Maurice Roeves), who is the father figure to the team and really does his best to keep an eye on how everyone is coping emotionally and psychologically. The main members of the team are Sapper Wilkins(George Innes), who is the joker of the team, a chainsmoker, and also a petty thief; Lance Corporal Salt(Kenneth Cranham), a married man who is always terrified for the safety of his wife and children and who later becomes haunted by events in the series; Sapper Powell(Robert Pugh),who is sometimes loud and a bit of a bully, but who has our sympathy when he becomes truly terrified and traumatised on a couple of occasions due to bombings.
The team are up against the five different types of German bombs which were usually encountered in Britain during the war. All of the bombs vary in size and damage capability. As the series goes on, Brian and his colleagues discover that German engineers are booby trapping bombs or altering the way in which they can be diffused, this of course makes diffusing even more dangerous than before. Butterfly Winter, the 10th episode of the series, introduces the team to a new type of bomb – the unusual and extremely nasty Butterfly Bomb – a device which was very small and didn’t look like a bomb at all. Whoever designed this device was especially wicked.
In addition to following the team on their job, the series also focuses on civilians and shows us what life was like on the homefront. Brian lodges with a middle aged woman and befriends her outgoing and sexy daughter, Norma(former Doctor Who companion Deborah Watling). Brian also falls in love with Susan Mount(Judy Geeson), who is the gentle daughter of scientist Doctor Gillespie(the terrific Ian Cuthbertson), who is helping the government find new ways to defeat German bomb fuses.
Brian and Susan love each other so much and each one brings the other to life in a way neither have been before. This relationship is complicated though by the facts that Susan is married – unhappily so it has to be said, but she is still married none the less – and that her husband is slowly cracking up while working as a codebreaker. Brian and Susan’s relationship also means that Brian has to steel his nerves even more when he goes out on a job because he doesn’t want to be killed and leave her all alone.
I love this series so much because it has something in it for everyone. I also love that despite mainly being focused on the war and upon male characters, we do also get some strong and interesting female characters and we see how they got through the war.Susan in particular is interesting because she is a very intelligent and determined woman, one who gets involved with her father’s scientific work and isn’t content to merely stay at home and be the dutiful little wife. I also love watching how she blooms in Brian’s company and begins to feel properly loved and fulfilled romantically and sexually for the first time in her life.
Norma and Susan. Screenshots by me.
The character of Norma is also shown to be different to the expected female norm. She is a rulebreaker, a woman who loves to have sex, despite not being married(oh, the scandal!😉). We see through these two women that the old way of life for women of this time was changing. Women worked during the war in jobs which had always been done before by men, and they quickly realised they loved to work and were just as capable as their men were. Women were realising that they could be so much more than just wives and mothers, that they could do what they wanted to, not what society and tradition forced them to do. These characters and their actions make for just as much interesting viewing as the lads do.
I also like how the series shows us the psychological impact that this job had on the men who were a part of it. Their horrific and frightening experiences can’t just be forgotten and swept under the carpet, they will always carry the disturbing images and feelings of fear with them. We see the brave faces they put on in public, but we also see how much what they must do affects them.
All of the episodes are excellent, but I think it’s fair to say that Butterfly Winter, The Pier, Digging Out and Cast Iron Killer are the best of the best. The Pier and Butterfly Winter in particular are two of the most shocking and suspenseful episodes of the whole lot. I also like how The Pier shows us that there was great danger to be faced from British explosives – as well as from the German ones – as the team are ordered near the end of the war to help dismantle British mines lining the coast. Beaches had been mined by our troops as a last line of defence should the Germans have ever attempted to invade the mainland.
The whole cast deliver absolutely superb performances, but it is Ian Cuthbertson, Anthony Andrews, Maurice Roeves, Kenneth Cranham, Robert Pugh and George Innes who all standout the most for me. A large number of soon to be famous faces appear throughout the series and it’s a real treat to see them. Anthony Andrews, Judy Geeson, Robert Pugh and Kenneth Cranham would go on to become very well known actors over the years that followed. Anthony would become a household name after his performance in another classic British series, Brideshead Revisited, just two years after he appeared in this. Anthony’s performance in Danger UXB is one of the best he’s ever given.
Danger UXB is not only a brilliant television series, but watching it makes me respect and admire my grandparents and their generation even more than I already do. The amount of horror and difficult choices that generation had to face during WW2 was just staggering. I think this series does a very good job of helping those of us from younger generations connect with that time and with the emotional and physical impact of the war.
This is undoubtedly one of the best series about WW2 ever made. If you enjoy series which let characters, events and stories unfold slowly, which don’t have annoyingly fast editing every few seconds, and which don’t insult the intelligence or attention span of the audience, then this is most certainly the series for you.
This is my entry for the WW2 blogathon being hosted by myself and Jay in a few days time. I can’t wait to read all of your entries.
When I saw that Lady Eve’s Reel Life and Silver Screen Modes were hosting a blogathon about French cinema, I just knew that I had to sign up and take part. Make sure you visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
I love French cinema. I especially love classic era French films. I think that what I love most about the films from this particular era, is the fact that they often tended to be far more realistic and gritty in comparison with the glamour of many of the classic era Hollywood films. I also adore the incredible cinematography and atmosphere found in the French films from this era.
Here are five classic era French films that I think every film fan should see at least once in their life. The films are listed here in order of the year in which they were released. Not only do I consider these five films to be among some of the finest films ever made in France, but I also picked these because they represent different decades and styles of French cinema.
This Silent avant-garde film is one of the most moving and visually interesting films I’ve ever seen. Clocking in at just under 38 minutes long, this is a film which packs quite the emotional punch. It’s hard to forget this one once you’ve seen it. Right from its very first shot- depicting the brutal and frenzied axe murder of a couple – this film dares to be different. The film is directed by experimental filmmaker Dimitri Kirsanoff. The film has no subtitles, and while some viewers may find that to be an issue, I personally don’t because you can follow what’s going on and who the characters are and what they’re doing.
The film follows two sisters who are the children of the murdered couple. The rest of the film focuses on their plight. This is a film which draws you in and makes you connect emotionally with the characters. It has a documentary look about it and was filmed on location in Menilmontant. Best remembered for the very moving scene where an old man shares his bread with one of the sisters(played by Kirsanoff’s wife Nadia Sibirskaia) who is starving. This scene could all too easily have become sentimental or cliched, but it is a testament to all involved that it doesn’t play like that and manages to be both realistic and touching.
Le Jour Se Leve (1939)
This gripping film focuses on a working class man who is barricaded in an apartment surrounded by police. He has killed someone and the police are trying to move in to arrest him. As he waits for the police to make their move, we begin to see in flashback the events which led him to be in this predicament.
This early Noir film was famously banned by the Vichy government in 1940. The film stands as a powerful allegory for the individual and the few standing up to the many. Not hard to see why the scum in charge during the war took issue with it. Jean Gabin delivers one of his finest performances as Francois. Arletty and Jacqueline Laurent provide solid support as the two very different women who Francois becomes romantically involved with. Featuring some stunning cinematography and wonderful use of shadow and light. Many people consider director Marcel Carne’s later film Children Of Paradise to be his best, but I think there is a strong case to be made for Le Jour Se Leve to hold that title. This is an absolutely cracking flick.
La Belle Et La Bete(1946)
Watching this film is like stepping into a vivid dream. In my opinion no other screen adaptation of the novel Beauty And The Beast even comes remotely close to this one. Director Jean Cocteau’s second film is poetic, haunting, romantic, and truly stunning to behold. Who can forget the living candelabra on the walls of the beast’s enchanted castle? Who can forget the magic mirror? Who can forget the beast carrying Belle to her bed?
This beautiful film is perhaps the ultimate love story. The enchanted, cruel beast undergoes a personality change as he falls for the gentle and kind Belle. In this film love is so strong that it can destroy curses and darkness. Josette Day is excellent as Belle and gives the character great strength and heart, but she and everyone else in the film are eclipsed by Jean Maris as the Beast. Despite being hidden beneath great amounts of makeup, Jean manages to convey so much emotion to us and steals every scene he is in. Truly one of all time great film performances. This is a film that every film fan and film student should watch. It makes for truly magical viewing.
Forbidden Games is one of the best coming of age films ever made. The film depicts the horrors of war and a loss of innocence seen through the eyes of two young children. Director Rene Clement’s haunting, beautiful, and deeply moving coming of age story captures the period of idyllic childhood innocence perfectly.
This film captures this time of childhood innocence being shattered. It does a good job of depicting a moment – one which unfortunately must come to us all at some point – in which children lose their innocence and finally become aware of and enter into the adult world. The film reminds me quite a bit of Whistle Down The Wind, and I think that if you enjoyed that film, then you’ll enjoy this one too. Forbidden Games memorably features two of the most natural and remarkable child performances in film history. You can read my review of this moving and powerful film here.
Few films shock as much as this one does. Famous for misleading audiences right up to its truly shocking and unexpected twist ending. This one is a perfect mix of horror and psychological suspense. The film was a big influence on Hitchcock when he made Psycho, and I also believe Les Diaboliques must surely have influenced the makers of the Hammer classic Scream Of Fear too.
Based upon a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Les Diaboliques tells the story of the wife and the mistress of a sadistic headmaster. The two women plot to murder this cruel man and dump his body in a swimming pool, but when the pool is drained the body is not there. The film features three superb performances from Vera Clouzot, Simone Signoret and Paul Meurisse. Who can forget that eerie and shocking bathtub scene? One of the best films ever made in this genre. In my view this is director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterpiece.
I’d love to know what you think of these films if you’ve seen them. I highly recommend them all if you’ve yet to see them.
1939 truly was Hollywood’s Golden Year. There were so many cinematic masterpieces released in America that year. Two films stood head and shoulders above all the other gems from this year though. One was a little picture called Gone With The Wind, and the other was a musical called The Wizard Of Oz. Both of these films were technical marvels at the time that they were made. Both films have also gone on to become beloved by generation after generation of film viewers.
I think that both films are actually quite similar in terms of their stories and overall themes. Both films have a strong and determined heroine, both films show the importance of love, family and home, and both films depict ordinary people being caught up in extraordinary events – the horrors of war in GWTW, and trying to survive in an unfamiliar land and fight evil in The Wizard Of Oz.
The Wizard Of Oz is a film I love so much. As an Autistic person, I particularly appreciate how the four main characters accept each other completely for who and what they are. There is no judgement between them, no awkwardness or unpleasantness because they each do things differently or have some problems. I also love how quickly the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion all start to care for Dorothy and try their best to help Dorothy and protect her. I also love how Dorothy stands up to bullies, cruelty and evil. Dorothy is someone who always fights against injustice and tries to do the right thing. The film shows us that ordinary people are capable of making a stand against evil and those with more power, you just have to find the courage within yourself to be able to do this.
This film absolutely blew my mind the first time I ever saw it. I first saw it back in the 1990’s and I remember that this was the first film to really open my eyes to what film was capable of presenting to us. This film also got me interested in learning about how films were made and what went on behind the camera.
Dorothy opens the door to Oz. Screenshot by me.
I have never quite gotten over my shock at the truly jaw dropping moment when Dorothy opens the door of the house, and both she, and us in the audience, moves out of a sepia coloured world and into a stunning Technicolor one. It is a moment which still has the power to make audiences gasp in awe when they see it. I can only imagine how audiences of the 1930’s must have reacted when they saw that stunning scene for the first time.
The film is based upon L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, which was published in 1900. The book would become one of the most popular and acclaimed children’s books in history. Baum would go on to write 13 sequels about Dorothy’s time in Oz. After Baum died in 1919, the author Ruth Plumly Thompson was tasked by Baum’s publishers to write more books set in the land of Oz.
Baum’s original story was turned into a very successful stage musical in 1902. This ran in theatres until 1904. MGM Studios bought the rights to the book in 1938. Producer Mervyn LeRoy, who had been handpicked by Louis B. Mayer as the successor to the great Irving Thalberg, wanted to direct the studios musical film adaptation of the novel, but Mayer made him the producer of it instead. He worked alongside uncredited associate producer Arthur Freed, who would soon become best known for his work on all those fabulous musicals. The films score would be composed by Herbert Stothart, with music and lyrics for the songs by Edgar Harberg and Harold Arlen.
The film would end up winning two Academy Awards, one would go to Stothart for Best Original Score, and the other would go to Harberg and Arlen for Somewhere Over The Rainbow as Best Original Song. As happy as I am that the music and songs won awards, I do wish that the film had won for its special effects. The tornado sequence is remarkable and still looks real today. I also love the witch’s image ball and the scene where the ruby slippers burn the witch’s hands.
The big question was who to cast and who to get to direct the film? The world famous Shirley Temple was the first choice for the role of Dorothy Gale, but it was felt that Shirley’s singing voice wasn’t good enough for what was required in the film. So 16 year old Judy Garland was cast instead. I’m so glad Judy got cast because she is perfect in the role. I also doubt that the film’s hit song Somewhere Over The Rainbow would have made such an impact if she hadn’t been the one to sing it. The emotion and sense of yearning in her voice is what makes that song in my opinion.
The glamorous Gale Sondergaard was initially cast as the wicked witch, and Gale made two screentests in costume and makeup. Originally the idea was to make the witch slinky and beautiful, like the evil queen seen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs the previous year, but then it was decided to make her look ugly instead. Gale Sondergaard was reluctant to make the film wearing the disfiguring makeup so she left the project. Character actress Margaret Hamilton was then cast in the role of the witch. I can imagine nobody other than Margaret in this role now. The witch is one of the most evil and memorable screen villains and Margaret plays the role to perfection.
Actor and dancer Ray Bolger was originally cast as the Tin Man, but eventually Ray got his long desired wish to play the Scarecrow instead. Actor and dancer Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Scarecrow, but then he ended up playing The Tin Man instead. Comedian and actor Burt Lahr was cast as The Cowardly Lion. Comic actress Billie Burke was cast as Glinda, the beautiful good witch who helps Dorothy and her friends. Character actor Frank Morgan was cast in the multiple roles of The Wizard, Professor Marvel, The coach driver at the Emerald City, The gatekeeper of the Emerald City and The Emerald City guard. Character actors Clara Blandick and Charlie Grapewin were cast as Dorthy’s loving Aunty Em and Uncle Henry. Over one hundred little people were cast to play The Munchkins, the adorable and fun loving people persecuted by the wicked witch. The costume department, under the direction of costume designer Adrian, designed individual costumes for each Munchkin actor to wear.
In the directors chair was Richard Thorpe. He wouldn’t be sitting there for long though. Filming began in October 1938. Unfortunately so many problems quickly arose once filming was underway. Buddy Ebsen developed a near fatal reaction to the aluminium powder makeup he had to wear as part of the Tin Man costume. Margaret Hamilton suffered serious facial burns, after something went wrong during the sequence where the witch disappears into a cloud of smoke and flame after meeting Dorothy for the first time. Terry the dog was trodden on and suffered a broken paw.
Actor Jack Haley was brought in to replace the seriously ill Buddy Ebsen in the role of The Tin Man, and the silver makeup necessary for the costume was altered to aluminium paste, rather than the troublesome aluminium powder. Richard Thorpe was fired by Mervyn LeRoy after only two weeks on the job. It was felt that the footage shot so far by Thorpe didn’t have the right air of fantasy necessary for the story, and there were also concerns that the wig and makeup he’d had Judy wear made her look far older than the character should look.
The legendary George Cukor briefly stepped in to replace Richard Thorpe and thankfully got rid of the blonde wig and makeup. Cukor didn’t shoot any footage for the film, instead acting more as a creative advisor on set. Cukor left the shoot to go and work on Gone With The Wind. He was replaced by Victor Fleming, who would be the one to direct the vast majority of The Wizard Of Oz. In February, 1939, Victor Fleming was told to go and replace George Cukor as director of Gone With The Wind. King Vidor was brought in to finish the filming on Oz. King refused to take a directing credit for his part in the film until after Victor Fleming had died.
The Wizard Of Oz tells the story of Dorothy Gale(Judy Garland), a lonely Kansas farm girl who wishes for a happier tomorrow and for something more than she has. Dorothy is loved very much by her elderly uncle and aunt(Clara Blandick and Charlie Grapewin), but due to how hard they work on the farm, the pair sadly don’t have lots of time to focus on her.
Dorothy’s only friends are three men who help her aunt and uncle on the farm(also played by Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr), and her beloved dog, Toto(played by female terrier, Terry). Toto gets into the garden of Dorthy’s cruel neighbour, Miss Gulch(Margaret Hamilton), and accidentally bites her when she scares him.
Miss Gulch wants the dog taken away and destroyed. Dorothy is distraught and runs away with Toto. While on their journey, Dorothy and Toto meet a travelling magician called Professor Marvel(Frank Morgan), this kind old man takes a liking to Dorothy and ends up encouraging her to return home to her family. On their way home a twister strikes Kansas. The Gales and the farmhands get to safety in their storm shelter, but Dorothy and Toto can’t get in and hide instead in the farmhouse. The twister rips out a window, which strikes Dorothy on the head and causes her to pass out. When she awakens, she and Toto find that their house has landed in a brightly coloured and unusual looking world. They soon discover that they are in a land called Oz.
Dorothy learns that to get home, she must seek out the mighty wizard of Oz who lives in The Emerald City. Along the way she is given a pair of ruby slippers by the good witch, Glinda(Billie Burke), which contain magical powers and are coveted by the Wicked Witch Of The West(Margaret Hamilton). Dorothy will also meet The Scarecrow(Ray Bolger), The Tin Man(Jack Haley)and The Cowardly Lion(Bert Lahr); three individuals who will become Dorothy’s dearest friends and protectors and who will help her to get home. The foursome will face great danger and heartbreak along the way, but they will find the courage to be brave and stand up to evil.
Our heroes make it to the Emerald City. Screenshot by me.
Over the years fans have had great fun debating whether Oz is supposed to be a real fantasy land which Dorothy visits, or if it is merely a very strange dream/nightmare experienced by Dorothy after being struck on the head. The more I’ve watched the film, the more I’m convinced it is all a dream. So many of the characters represent and resemble people she knows and loves. The yellow brick road is shaped like the dirt roads going past her farm, even the hills and fields in Oz have the same shape/layout as those at her home. The swirling pattern of the beginning of the coloured roads represent the swirls of the twister. The witch’s image ball and Glenda’s ball of light represent Professor Marvel’s crystal ball. The Munchkins represent ordinary people powerless against those in positions of power who abuse and control them. The witch’s monkeys represent those who blindly follow orders from evil leaders, and don’t have the strength and courage to take a stand against them.
I’ve often wondered who Glenda is supposed to be to Dorothy. I think that she may be her mum. Glenda protects Dorothy and is a warm and loving person, which are all very motherly qualities. It is Glenda who tells Dorothy there is no place like home and helps her get home. Glenda is sending her back to family and love. Both Dorothy and Glenda have the same shade of red hair, Glenda looks the right age to be her mum, and I’ve always assumed that Dorothy is being raised by her aunt and uncle because her mum died when she was very young. Dorothy could have some vague memories of her mum or a photo, which could be why Glenda appears as she does to Dorothy.
The whole cast deliver terrific performances. Margaret Hamilton’s duel performance as the wicked witch and Miss Gulch, has gone down as one of the greatest villains in film history. Both characters are so cruel and Margaret makes you loath them both. The witch is an interesting character though due to how Margaret plays her; you actually miss the witch when she’s not in a scene because she dominates everything, and Margaret’s wonderful performance makes the character such a strong presence. I love her green makeup too.
Jack Haley, Bert Lahr and Ray Bolger are all wonderful and steal all the scenes they are in. The three all have real chemistry with Judy and do a good job of balancing the humour and poignant moments/aspects of their characters. These three men were established actors when they made this, and yet they don’t overshadow Judy with their performances, rather they all appear to happily take a back seat and just be there to support her. Like every other actor in this film, I really cannot imagine anyone else playing these characters. Of the three, it is the charming Tin Man who has always been my favourite, and I absolutely love the way Jack Haley plays him.
Judy gives one of her best performances. The amount of emotion she brings to the role is remarkable for one so young. She poured her heart and soul into this character and it shows. I always feel afraid for her and want to reach out and comfort her when she is held prisoner by the witch, she makes me so convinced of her desperation, grief and fear in those scenes.
Judy is phenomenal in this film. Screenshot by me.
I also love the way Judy sings Somewhere Over The Rainbow. It’s so hard to believe that after the second preview of the film it was felt this song should be cut! Thankfully that stupid decision was prevented from going ahead. Can you imagine this film without that song and scene? Neither can I.
The Wizard Of Oz is the perfect family film because it’s so joyous and has something in it for everyone to enjoy. It’s also a film all about family, friendship, being separated from those you love, adventure, courage and hopes and dreams. The film gives hope to anyone who is unhappy and lonely, with its message that love and acceptance can often be waiting for you just around the next bend in the road.
The film also tells us in effect to be careful what we wish for. Dorothy may well long to go somewhere over the rainbow and escape her real life, but how does she know that that far and away place she longs for will be better than where she is right now? As that final line says so well – “There’s no place like home.” What do you think of this beloved classic?
This is being posted early as part of the blogathon being hosted later this month by Rebecca from Taking Up Room. When I saw that she was hosting a blogathon devoted entirely to the film The Wizard Of Oz, I just knew that I had to take part and finally get around to reviewing this classic. Be sure to visit Rebecca’s site from the 23rd of August to read all of entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
Anyone who has ever endured the horrors and embarrassment of being a bullying victim, will be able to relate to the tragic and vulnerable Carrie White. I was badly bullied during my high school years and have never forgotten how frightened and alone those tormentors made me feel. I’ve also never forgotten the hate and disgust I felt towards those individuals who loved to bully me.
Poor Carrie feels all that too. The trouble is that she is so scared, shy and awkward that she can’t speak out about what she is enduring, instead she turns her pain and victimisation inwards. She keeps how she is feeling bottled up inside and wishes she could be invisible at school.
Anyone who says that bullying isn’t an issue and doesn’t do harm, or that victims can easily forget and move on from their experiences, is an absolute idiot and is a big part of the problem. The memories of bullying stay with the victims for life. It’s the bully who forgets and moves on because they don’t care about others and don’t see that they have done wrong. The victim is emotionally scarred for life.
Carrie has it doubly worse than most bullying victims though. She has no happy and loving home to go home to, nor does she have kind and loving parents/guardians/ family to comfort her as she tells them about the bullying. You see, poor Carrie also suffers abuse and cruelty from her mother as well. Margaret White is one of the scariest screen characters I’ve ever seen. She is a religious nutter who seems to embody more evil than anything she may read about in the religious texts that she holds so dear.
Mrs. White sees her own daughter as an abomination. She tells Carrie all the time that she is evil. She hits Carrie, locks her in a cupboard if she (in her mother’s opinion)does something supposedly sinful, neglects to tell her about the natural changes a woman’s body goes through during puberty(getting their periods etc), and shows her daughter no love whatsoever.
The tragic thing is that Carrie actually does have love in her heart for her mum, and she desperately wants her mum to love her in return. Mrs. White on the other hand does untold psychological damage to her daughter, and worse still, she does it all in the guise of supposedly being a decent follower of God/Jesus. Carrie is not only tormented and hurt at school, but she is also abused and scared in the one place that she should be safe and happy all the time. Carrie has no safe space or supporters to help her endure what’s happening to her.
Religious symbolism at Carrie’s home. Screenshot by me.
Interestingly I noticed how religiously symbolic Carrie’s home is. The interior of the White’s home is almost church like in its design. There are doorways and shelves inside that look like church windows. The walls are strewn with religious icons, and there’s even a roadmarking in the shape of a cross which be seen on the road outside their home. The fate of Carrie’s mum also mirrors the Crucifixion of Jesus, with her body at the end of the film bearing a striking resemblance to his body.
Carrie may well be a supernatural horror film, but it is also so much more than that. This is a very human story. It is a film about how cruel and despicable humans are capable of becoming, but also shows us that we have the capacity for kindness and change. It is a film about bullying, parental abuse, human cruelty, peer pressure and human fragility. It is also a tragedy. I think that due to all of these themes, rather than just the supernatural horror content, this film has become the classic that it is today. This film feels very real, way too real for those of us who have been bullying victims.
The film is also rather unusual for the horror genre in that it was one of the few horror films to be nominated for Academy Awards. Sissy and Piper were both nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. It’s nice that the Academy could overcome their random snobbery towards horror films and acknowledge one. Shame they don’t do that more often. Some of the most emotive and powerful screen performances can be found in horror films.
Carrie’s bullying is actually so bad that I think if her story were a reality happening today and nobody helped her, then it would end in one of two ways. Either Carrie would take her own life because she couldn’t stand what was happening at school and home, or she would become one of those teenagers who takes a gun or a knife into school and causes a massacre because they have snapped. In so many ways Carrie’s story plays out as the ultimate anti-bullying campaign. We are shown the psychological damage that bullying causes, and we are also shown what can happen when a victim snaps and retaliates against the bullies.
Carrie is based upon the 1974 Stephen King novel of the same name. Stephen’s creepy tale of a bullied teenager who wreaks a fiery, supernatural revenge upon her tormentors, has become one of King’s most popular novels. As good as the novel is, I personally find it much harder to sympathise with Carrie and other characters in the book the way I do in the film. This film is one of the rare exceptions where its content improves upon the source material. Director Brian De Palma cleverly mixed horror, tragedy, comedy and social commentary into the film. Brian’s more vulnerable and sympathetic take on the character of Carrie White also ensured that the audience was in sympathy with her throughout, and because of that we feel morally conflicted by the time that horrific prom-night fire occurs.
Sissy Spacek deserves so much credit for helping to bring about that reaction from audiences. Through her remarkable performance, she makes Carrie so sweet, scared, innocent, pure, vulnerable and awkward. She makes our hearts go out to her and makes us want to protect her. When she transforms and uses her telekinetic powers later in the film, Sissy’s Carrie becomes utterly terrifying.
The way Sissy widens her eyes, does that cold, dead stare, and changes her body posture in the later part of the film, is so disturbing to witness. She turns into a monster before our eyes, and yet we can’t help but feel sympathy for her still. Sissy wasn’t the directors first choice for the role, but she won him over by turning up to her audition with Vaseline in her hair, and looking as dishevelled and unkempt as Carrie is supposed to.
Carrie White(Sissy Spacek)is a teenager who is badly bullied at school, and also at her home by her religious mother, Margaret(Piper Laurie). While showering after a school gym class one day, Carrie suddenly sees blood running from between her legs. Terrified by this, she runs to her schoolmates in the changing rooms screaming for help. They laugh at her, frighten her and all stand around throwing tampons and pads at her.
Gym teacher Miss Collins(Betty Buckley)intervenes and gets the girls to stop. Miss Collins punishes the girls involved in the changing room incident with a series of harsh detentions on the sports pitch, at which she takes great delight in pushing them to their physical limits in gruelling exercise routines. Miss Collins is the only person who seems to care about Carrie, and the way Betty plays the role it’s hinted that she may have been a bullying victim herself and sees something of herself in Carrie.
The leader of the bullies are Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen), one of those girls who thinks they are the be all and end all wherever they go, and the giggling Norma( P.J. Soles).When Chris gets confrontational with Miss Collins, the teacher expels her, and also bans her from attending the upcoming prom which she had been so looking forward to.
Sue Snell(Amy Irving)is another of the bullies, but she seems to become genuinely sorry for what she and the others have done to Carrie. She asks her boyfriend, Tommy Ross(William Katt), to take Carrie to the prom instead of her. At first Tommy, who is one of the most popular and cool lads in school, is aghast at this idea, but as he spends time with Carrie he genuinely starts to like her.
Tommy and Carrie gradually develop a connection. Unbeknown to Sue and Tommy, Chris and some of the others are plotting revenge on Carrie for Chris being expelled. The vote for prom king and queen will be rigged, with Tommy and Carrie being named the winners. When the pair come on stage, a huge bucket of pigs blood will be dropped on them; this will then cause Carrie to be humiliated in front of her fellow students and the staff.
What nobody apart from Carrie knows, is that once she got her period, she has been developing telekinesis. We see her unable to control this power and we see that it causes weird things to happen to objects and people around her if she gets angry or scared. On the night of the prom, Carrie’s power will lead the damaged girl to wreak a fiery revenge on those who pull the cruellest of pranks.
The ending of Carrie is both horrific and shocking. Carrie snaps and unleashes her power to kill everyone at the prom.Carrie doesn’t even seem to be in control of herself anymore, her power takes over and she mentally removes herself from what is going on around her. People that Carrie didn’t even really know are killed too, along with the bullies who made her life hell. The tragedy is that she thinks everyone there was laughing at her after the blood drops. Only Norma and one other person are shown laughing amongst the crowd, everybody else there actually looks horrified and sad. Carrie latches onto the laughter and then in her mind thinks everyone(even her beloved Miss Collins)is laughing at her. She traps everyone in the gym where the prom is being held and seals them in to burn. It’s difficult to watch, yet at the same time we remember that many who die were utter scum to this poor girl before this event, so our hearts don’t exactly break for them.
Sissy and Piper deliver the standout performances of the film. Piper is utterly convincing as a deranged and devout woman who not only hates her own child, but who also hates herself for having enjoyed the sex which resulted in Carrie being born.
The rest of the cast are all superb too. Nancy Allen plays Chris as a real super bitch, someone so mean that you can’t help but cheer when she gets what’s coming to her. Betty Buckley is excellent as the kind Miss Collins, her performance is subtle but affecting. Betty also dubbed the voice of the kid on the bike who taunts Carrie, only to be thrown off his bike by her power. Amy Irving is good as Sue, and she makes us wonder about her motivation and how much regret she feels about her actions towards Carrie. William Katt does a great job of the cool heartthrob who is at first unsure about getting together with Carrie, but then genuinely starts to like her and likes not having to have his guard up around her all the time. Through William’s excellent performance, we also see that he doesn’t have it easy at school either. Look out for a young John Travolta, in an early role as Chris’s booze and sex obsessed boyfriend.
The music by Pino Donaggio is absolutely beautiful. His music adds so much to the overall tone and atmosphere of the film. Moving from emotional and dreamlike, to suspenseful and eerie. The gorgeous cinematography and use of colours by Mario Tosi is also worthy of much praise too. The film looks beautiful.
I have to mention the infamous period scene. The scene is very difficult to watch and yet also very interesting due to what it has to say about women’s bodies. Periods are certainly messy and unpleasant, and your first one can certainly be alarming when it arrives, as shown in Carrie’s reaction in the film. But having a period is a natural process and shouldn’t be feared. I like the moment where Miss Collins gently tells Carrie to calm down and that she will tell her all about what has just happened to her. I always laugh at the scene where Miss Collins then goes to speak to the deputy head of the school about the period incident, he gets visibly uncomfortable with the subject matter being discussed, and becomes even more so when he sees blood on Miss Collins clothing from where Carrie grabbed her. The deputy head seems revolted by this natural bodily function.
Sadly even today there is still quite a stigma attached to the female menstrual cycle where men are concerned. Men, and even bizarrely some women, get incredibly awkward speaking about periods. It’s also been discovered that many women/girls are living in period poverty, and don’t have access to pads or tampons, something which is absolutely shocking. We should be much more open as a society about periods and ensure that all women get access to sanitary products. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of periods. We must also make sure that girls are properly informed about periods when they’re younger so they know that they will happen to them.
Interestingly it is the onset of her period which also sees the start of Carrie’s powers developing. Is this coincidence? Has becoming a woman set this all off, or was the power always there but the stress of this traumatic event set it off in her? Carrie’s mum very worryingly sees her daughter getting her first period as being a sinful occurrence. In her warped view she sees her daughter as no longer being innocent or the same because her periods have started. Blood and the colour red play a key role in the film and feature heavily throughout. I think this could well be the most period centric film I’ve ever seen in my life.
The film was very successful at the box office, taking in $33.8 million dollars. Over the years the film has become one of the most popular and famous horror films of all time. Its famous shock ending/dream sequence inspired multiple similar sequences in both film and television. Cool bit of trivia is that the hand in that sequence actually belonged to Sissy Spacek, who was buried for real beneath that dirt in order to perform in that sequence. This film has lost none of its power to shock, move or scare audiences. A 2013 remake lacked the emotion and horror of the original, although I did like the way that film showed social media and mobile phones being used in Carrie’s bullying.
The time has come for all us guys and dames who love Film Noir to assemble here at Maddy’s Club. Over the next three days, a large number of Noir fans will share their reviews and articles on all things Film Noir. Keep checking back to this post over the next three days to read all the entries.
Massive thanks to those of you who are taking part. I can’t wait to read all those entries.
Dark Passage is one of the most underrated and interesting of all of the 1940’s Noir films. Quite why this one isn’t discussed more often is beyond me. It’s a very different looking Noir film to most, and it is also one which provides us with a glimpse of a far more vulnerable and tender side to Noir tough guy/hero Humphrey Bogart.
The Humphrey Bogart we see in this film is far removed from the smooth and tough screen hero we’re used to seeing, that man who can get himself out of any scrape and not be phased by what happens to him. His character in this film however is a desperate, awkward and very frightened man, a man who has no control over his situation. It’s rare to see Bogie in such a role. Personally I would have liked to have seen him play more similar characters because this one shows what a great range he had as an actor. Bogie’s romantic and affectionate scenes with his co-star and wife Lauren Bacall, are amongst some of the most tender I’ve ever seen the couple perform on screen. Dark Passage would mark the third time that Bogie and Bacall had worked together in a film. Their final screen pairing would come the following year with Key Largo.
Director Delmar Daves shot a large amount of Dark Passage with a subjective camera technique. This technique shows the film unfold before us entirely from the point of view of Humphrey Bogart’s character. For most of the film we don’t see his characters face at all, but we do hear his voice. When we finally do see his face, it is his heavily bandaged face. The film is one hour and 41 minutes long, but it takes about an hour before Bogie’s face actually appears on screen. This visual style more than anything else about the film is what makes it such an unusual one.
The point of view photography was pretty risky when you think about it. Bogie was one of the biggest film stars on the planet at the time this film was made. Not showing his face for such a large part of the film was a gamble. Bogie was the draw for a large amount of the audience and they could very easily have walked out of screenings thinking they weren’t going to get to see the man himself.
Interestingly, Dark Passage is actually not alone in the Noir genre for its use of this camera technique.Actor Robert Montgomery had caused quite a stir when he had directed and starred in another Noir film, Lady In The Lake, which had been released earlier in 1947. That film had been shot almost entirely from the point of view of the character Philip Marlowe, who Montgomery played, and the film became quite the talking point because of the way it was shot.
Delmer Daves also shot much of his film on location in San Francisco and this, coupled with the point of view sequences, ensured that there was quite a realistic and different feel about this film. The film is based upon the 1946 novel of the same name written by David Goodis. Delmer Daves wrote the screenplay in addition to sitting in the directors chair.
The film tells the story of Vincent Parry(Humphrey Bogart), a man who is imprisoned for the murder of his wife, a crime that he insists he didn’t commit. Vince escapes from prison and is pursued by the law. Vince is picked up by a guy who agrees to give him a lift.
A news report comes on the car radio describing this man’s passenger. Vince beats the driver up, drags him into some bushes by the roadside and takes his shoes. Suddenly another car pulls up, and out gets a young artist called Irene Jansen(Lauren Bacall). Vince doesn’t know her, but she seems to know him(this is all explained later in the film). She tells him to come with her and she will help him. Irene drives him to San Francisco.
The roadblock sequence. Screenshot by me.
Vince and Irene encounter a roadblock on the Golden Gate Bridge, which leads to a very suspenseful sequence where Irene has to act casual to throw off the suspicions of the policeman who stops her car. Vince hides underneath a large covered pile of her art supplies and narrowly avoids being discovered. Once in the city, Vince gets help from a back-street doctor (Housley Stevenson)who performs plastic surgery on him to give him a new face.
The scene where Vince prepares for surgery is a standout, and it is made so by the dubious character of the doctor and his fabulous dialogue and laughter as he prepares his patient for surgery – “Ever seen a botched plastic job? If a man like me didn’t like a fella, he could surely fix him up for life. Make him look like a bulldog or a monkey!”. I doubt a man would want to get a shave off this dude, let alone willingly sit back and let him perform facial surgery on them. As the anaesthetic takes effect on Vince, he enters a bizarre nightmare, one where images and conversations he’s had get all mixed up as he goes under.
Vince emerges with a new face and recovers from the surgery at Irene’s apartment. She nurses him. Once recovered, Vince changes his name and sets about trying to investigate his wife’s murder. His investigation is difficult and dangerous.His only ally in all of this is Irene. The person who knows the truth about his innocence or guilt is Madge Rapf(a scene stealing Agnes Moorehead), the woman whose evidence in court was crucial in getting him put away.
Agnes delivers one of her best performances here. She’s a real nasty piece of work in this film. Madge is the sort of dame who sucks people in, charms them and then discards them like trash. She’s a whole lot of mean encased in one beautiful and glamorous exterior. I hope that Agnes had a lot of fun with this role because it sure looks like she relished playing the part. Such a shame that she didn’t get to play more bad girls in more Noir films.
Bogie and Bacall are both absolutely terrific here. They convince as a couple thrown together in unusual circumstances who begin to fall in love. Bogie does a good job of playing a more vulnerable and wounded character than he usually played. Much of his performance here comes via his voice and by the look in his eyes, it’s a more subtle performance than many of his others. He also makes us root for Vince and admire his determination to risk himself in order to find out the truth. Lauren delivers one of her best performances in my opinion. I love her as the determined, confident and fearless Irene. I also find her character so interesting because she is actually quite symbolic.
Irene removes Vince’s bandages. Screenshot by me.
Irene is the traditional white knight figure(a role usually played by men)to Bogie’s man in distress. She appears to him out of nowhere and saves him several times. She nurses him, supports him and stands by him. She is his guardian angel. She is his safe port in the hellish storm he finds himself caught up in. You could also say that Irene serves as a symbolic mother too, due to her being the one to bring the new Vince into the world so to speak. Vince doesn’t remove his bandages, it is Irene who does that, and in the process reveals his new self to him. Irene is also the one who chooses a new name(identity)for Vince, so if you look at it one way, it is she who brings this new man to life. Farewell, Vincent Parry. Hello to Alan.
The entire supporting cast all deliver solid performances. The film is an interesting mystery and contains a lot of suspense and thrills. Some of the plot certainly does come across as being extremely far fetched, but somehow the film still manages to work despite that. It is a film that deserves to be much more widely discussed and appreciated today. I highly recommend this one to fellow Noir fans.
Have you seen this? Leave your thoughts below. This is my final entry for my Noir Blogathon being held this weekend.
Cry Of The City is a Film Noir which plays out like a 1940’s Greek tragedy. It is a poignant and powerful tale of injustice, love, the desire for a second chance and the inability to avoid the hand dealt to us by fate. This film not only makes us fully support and sympathise with the supposed villain of the piece, but it also gets us to sympathise with the detective who is tasked with pursuing him.
Candella and Martin have much in common. Screenshots by me.
The hero and villain both developing a mutual respect or realising that they are both more alike than they’d care to admit, is undoubtedly one of the oldest of the storytelling tropes, and I think that this trope is put to very effective use indeed in Cry Of The City. This film takes that trope one step further than most, by revealing to us that the two main characters, Martin Rome and Lt. Vitorrio Candella, had both grown up in the same crime infested slum and were friends as children. Both men went down very different paths in life. They both see the other as the living embodiment of the type of person they could easily have become had things turned out differently for them.
In some ways I consider Cry Of The City to be quite similar to Michael Mann’s Heat(1995). Both films have the criminal and the cop beginning to respect, understand and even like each other the more they interact with one another. Both films also go far beneath the surface of their lead characters to show us the souls of both men, and in doing so both films allow us to see that their characters are more similar than they are dissimilar.
Cry Of The City is directed by Robert Siodmak(The Spiral Staircase, The Killers). Siodmak was loaned out from Universal Studios in order to make this film for Twentieth Century Fox. The film is based upon the 1947 novel The Chair For Martin Rome by Henry Edward Helseth. Twentieth Century Fox purchased the rights to the novel not too long after it was published and they adapted it for the screen very quickly. The film was shot on location on the streets of New York. This one joins the ranks of those other Noir flicks whose location work lends an almost documentary look to the finished film.
Martin doesn’t like what Niles has to say. Screenshots by me.
Hardened criminal Martin Rome(Richard Conte), kills a police officer in a shootout and is himself injured and taken to hospital under guard. He is visited there by shady lawyer, Niles(Berry Kroeger),who tries to get Martin to confess to a robbery and murder which were actually committed by another client of his, a fellow criminal called Whitey Leggatt, and a female accomplice called Rose(a scene stealing Hope Emerson, playing a masseuse who you really wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of).
Martin quite rightly refuses to take the rap for something he didn’t do, but this then leads Niles to threaten Martin’s gentle and innocent fiance, Teena(Debra Paget, in her debut film role). Martin attacks him and is transferred to a prison hospital.
The injured Martin breaks out of prison(a sequence which is one of my favourite in any Noir film)and goes on the run. Martin must now protect his girl, find out who really committed the murder and theft Niles has tried to pin on him, and also try and evade Lt. Candella(Victor Mature), the detective who is trying to capture him. Martin has help in the form of his ex-girlfriend, Brenda(Shelley Winters) in tracking down the female accomplice in the murder and theft. While all of this is going on Martin is gradually succumbing more and more to his injury.
“There won’t be any shooting in this house as long as Mama’s here!”
While the two main characters in the film are male, there are also many memorable female characters. The women of Cry Of The City not only represent the different types of women found in life, but they also serve to show us what women must contend with in the world of crime, death and darkness that is Film Noir.
Teena ,Brenda, Mama and Rose. Screenshots by me.
Teena is naive to the dark realities of the life her beloved Martin is a part of. Teena doesn’t care what he has done, she only cares that they love each other and she believes they will get a happy ending. Brenda is a more worldly gal, one who is wise to the realities and goes along with it all. Brenda has a heart of gold and will do anything for anyone. Rose knows the realities of this world all too well. Rose is a strong woman who plays men at their own game and also rather interestingly lives a life of complete independence running her own massage business. Mama Rome represents the woman who is the heart of the home and has an inner strength which helps her survive the bad times in life. Mama is also someone who never stops loving their children, even if those children take a wrong step along the path of life.
The film also focuses very heavily on the importance of family and on the personal life of the criminal. When Rome is in the home of his elderly mother(Mimi Aguglia), he leaves his dodgy activities outside the door, and it is she, rather than him, who is the boss of that home. She is everything to him. She knows what he does and isn’t afraid to call him out on what he does.
In a very poignant scene she confesses that she should have put a stop to him getting into a bad life when he was younger, but he sent her money and she needed it and accepted it without asking questions. Their relationship is the heart of the film and their relationship is tinged with sadness. She also worries for his fiance because she knows that their relationship will most likely end in heartbreak(she ain’t wrong).
Richard Conte delivers one of his best performances in this film. His performance as Martin Rome has become my favourite from his work. He is a regular face in Film Noir and remains best known to fans for his chilling and sadistic performance in The Big Combo.
This film offers him a very different type of role. Martin Rome is certainly a bad guy, but he isn’t sadistic, mean or unhinged. Martin wants to get married and escape his criminal life. He has done bad things in the past but he longs for a clean slate and a second chance. I love the nuance that Richard brings to this character. Richard is tough with a don’t mess with me attitude one moment, and then the next he is vulnerable and shows us the man beneath the protective macho mask. He has you on his side completely and makes you long for a happy ending for him, all the while knowing full well that such endings are rare beasts indeed in Noir.
Victor Mature really surprised me the first time I saw this film. I have never really thought much of him as an actor(I mean no disrespect when I say that)but he blew me away in this. He steals every scene he is in and his performance is often quite subtle. Watch his eyes and body language in this because he conveys so much with both. He more than convinces as the tough and capable cop who will do what must be done.
In some ways Victor has the more interesting character of the two to portray because there is alot going on emotionally/psychologically with him. Candella doesn’t just see Martin as a criminal who he must bring to justice. Candella knows the childhood Martin endured and remembers what it was like, but Candella had the sense and strength to say no to crime and walk away, whereas Martin got sucked into that life. He sympathises with Martin in many ways, but he never pities him because at the end of the day he could have turned his back on that life and didn’t. Candella also loves and respects Mama Rome and has known her since he was a kid. He knows that whatever he does to Martin will hurt her and we know that he feels awful because of that fact.
Candella won’t give Martin a free ride because of their shared history, he will pursue him because he is on the side of the law. I also love how Candella realises he can’t save Martin, but he can try to save Martin’s kid brother Tony from following his brother into a life of crime.
This subplot is very moving and you are on Candella’s side in his endeavour, even though your heart goes out to Tony for his loyalty to his older brother who he idolises. This is a good example of the power of this film, it has you rooting for the heroes and the criminals, often at the same time. It is a film which packs quite an emotional wallop.
Hope Emerson steals all her scenes as the deadly Rose. She literally towers over other cast members due to her size and is a very imposing and dominating figure.
The character of Rose is fascinating. Who can forget that moment when you see what she is capable of doing with her hands to defend herself? While Rose isn’t in that many scenes, she becomes possibly the most memorable character in the film. She is certainly one of the most unforgettable women in Film Noir in general.
The supporting cast all deliver solid performances. Debra Paget’s performance in particular is very moving and exceptional for a screen debut. I can’t recommend this one highly enough to Noir fans. If you like a gritty, suspenseful, moving and bleak film, then this is certainly one for you.
Have you seen this film? What do you think of it?
This is my second entry for my Noir blogathon being held at the end of this month.
From cinematic classics, to goofy guilty pleasures, and everything in between, join me as I review the best and worst of Hollywood. Grab a slice of pizza, pour some wine, and meet me in the living room: We have movies to discuss.