Blogathons, British Cinema, Films I Love, Page To Screen

The David Lean Blogathon: Oliver Twist(1948)

David Lean 1This is my entry for my David Lean blogathon being held next Friday and Saturday. I can’t wait to read all of your entries. There is still time to sign up and join the fun if you haven’t already done so.

For this blogathon I have decided to write about Oliver Twist. This is a film that I consider to be David Lean’s best directorial effort after Lawrence Of Arabia. Everything about this film is stunning. You can really see David Lean’s attention to the smallest of details in every single shot in this film.

I don’t use the word masterpiece very often, but I think that this film undoubtedly qualifies as being one. The film is very dark and bleak and Lean sensibly doesn’t shy away from showing us just how brutal and terrible the time period the film is set in was.

Despite its immense level of bleakness, there are however some wonderful moments of humour to be found in this film. There are also some terrific Dickensian character names to enjoy. 

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Oliver asks for more food. Screenshot by me.

David Lean is my favourite British film director. He was a master of his craft and I like that he put such care and attention into even the smallest details and scenes appearing in his films. If I ever had to list a handful of directors who I consider to be the greatest to have ever worked, then David Lean would be right near the top. 

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One of many stunning shots seen in the film. Screenshot by me.

I like David Lean so much because he was able to perfectly balance intimate human stories, against epic and visually stunning backdrops. In Lean’s films the characters always come first and he doesn’t rely on effects or use intrusive editing. 

David Lean made many fine films in his career. Some of his best work was completed in the 1940’s. In this decade he made two films which were adaptations of Charles Dickens novels; the first film was Great Expectations(1946), and the other was Oliver Twist(1948). Lean was able to recreate the Victorian era so well in both of these films. 

I love how in Oliver Twist, Lean manages to capture the great hardships faced by the poor and working classes in Victorian era Britain. This film perfectly captures the grime, the poverty and the outright misery of the time. It also conveys to us the gaping class divide of the time; with the poor starving and living in utter squalor, while the rich ignore their plight and gorge themselves on delicious food and live in luxury. 

                          Hungry boys watch the workhouse staff eating. Screenshot by me.

This gaping divide and lifestyle of the different classes is perfectly captured in a scene at the workhouse. Some of the boys are watching the staff of the workhouse tuck into a huge roast dinner. Those who live in the workhouse only get a small bowl of gruel and a piece of bread each day.

If the poor steal to enable them to get food they are severely punished and looked down upon by the rich and by the law. No matter what they did, the poor living in this era just couldn’t get a break. Dickens novel and this film give a face to poverty, to suffering and to injustice. 

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Oliver giving a face to the nameless children living in poverty. Screenshot by me.

I think it was a genius idea for Dickens to make Oliver a child.

Even though the story is set in a time when children tended to grow up psychologically more quickly than they do now, the amount of horrible and unjust things Oliver endures make the reader and viewer angry about these things happening to Oliver.

As readers, Dickens makes us fear for Oliver and become protective of him as the story goes along. In turn this then makes us think about the real children who lived this life during the Victorian era.  Oliver may well be a fictional character, but he represents all the real children of this time who lived in poverty, who were forced into child labour, and who often died long before their time of disease or injury. David Lean’s film manages to have the same effect on the viewer in my opinion.

I consider this film to be the best adaptation of Oliver Twist that has ever been made. It is so good precisely because it makes you feel that you are there in that miserable time period suffering right alongside Oliver.

David Lean also makes sure his film sticks very closely to the book, and while it doesn’t manage to capture everything found in the book, it certainly does a better job of it than most other adaptations have managed to do. My only big issue with this film is that I don’t think that the character of Nancy is given as much screen time as in other adaptations, but Kay Walsh who plays her does her best to make Nancy’s appearances memorable. Kay also conveys Nancy’s strength and determination quite well. 

I also love this film so much because it contains some of the most striking and unforgettable images in film history. Many of David Lean’s films contain such moments, but in this film, almost every single shot is like a work of art and so many of the scenes are hard to forget. The cinematography in this film is by Guy Green, who had won an Oscar for his work in Lean’s Great Expectations.

Guy would later go on to become a film director himself; two of the most notable films that he directed are A Patch Of Blue and The Angry SilenceGuy worked wonders on the cinematography side of things on Oliver Twist.  

The opening scene of this film is a total work of art. Oliver’s heavily pregnant mother is struggling across the rain swept moors at night to get to a workhouse. During her journey she goes into labour. Right away this scene shows us how difficult and harsh this time period is. 

Each time she gets a contraction the pain coincides with a flash of lighting, or with a thorny branch swaying and shaking in the fierce wind. I think that these images of the storm and branches symbolise the agony of her labour pains.

Part of the opening scene. Screenshot by me. 

The lighting in this sequence is incredible throughout. The sequence ends with this woman collapsing at the workhouse gate and being brought inside to give birth. The camera then cuts outside to show us later that night, a time when clearly the storm has ended but it is still dark outside.

A cloud slowly moves across the sky and splits in two. When it does this it looks to me like a pair of open legs; the moon then slowly emerges from between the split cloud, and when it does so, we hear the cries of the woman’s baby as he emerges into the world. I love this moment so much because of how the cloud imagery symbolises Oliver’s birth. 

Oliver Twist (John Howard Davies)is the baby who is born that night. His mother dies not long after she gives birth. Oliver is raised in the workhouse and endures a miserable life under the control of the pompous Mr. Bumble(played by a scene stealing Francis L. Sullivan), and the short tempered Matron (Mary Clare).

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Oliver meets Dodger. Screenshot by me.

One day, after having had the cheek to ask for more food, Oliver is sold to a local undertaker to work in his shop.

After being treated appallingly there, young Oliver decides he has had enough of this life and so he runs away to London. 

When he gets to London, he meets the skilled young pickpocket, The Artful Dodger (Anthony Newley). Dodger takes him to Fagin (Alec Guinness), an old thief who trains young boys in the art of theft, and gets them to bring him things they have stolen in return for a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Soon Oliver feels welcome and happy with this group. He quickly settles in and is accepted as one of the gang. On his first time out on a pickpocket job with Dodger, Oliver is wrongly accused of stealing a wallet. The wallet is actually taken by Dodger who manages to run away and not get caught. 

The owner of the wallet is the kindly, wealthy gentleman, Mr. Brownlow(Henry Stephenson). He takes pity on Oliver and after a witness to the theft clears Oliver of any wrongdoing, Brownlow takes Oliver home and looks after him. For the first time in his life Oliver knows real love and kindness.

I’m sure most of you reading have seen this film or read the book, but if you haven’t done so, please turn back now because there are some major spoilers ahead!

Sadly Oliver’s new found happiness doesn’t last and he is kidnapped by Fagin’s dangerous associate, Bill Sykes(Robert Newton)and Bill’s kind-hearted, prostitute girlfriend, Nancy(Kay Walsh, who was married to David Lean at the time this film was made)due to them and Fagin being anxious that Oliver will give them all up to the Police.

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The fearless Nancy. Screenshot by me.

Nancy is wracked with guilt over bringing Oliver back, and she bravely risks her own life to try and set Oliver free from this life of misery and crime. Nancy tries to get Oliver back to Mr. Brownlow and she pays for this with her life when she is discovered by Bill and he murders her. 

The murder of Nancy is one of most powerful scenes in the whole film, and it manages to be horrific and chilling without us ever seeing the murder graphically depicted. The yelping and shaking dog trying frantically to escape the room as Nancy is murdered is unforgettable. The dogs noises are mixed together with Nancy’s screams, and combined together those noises make for a sound that chills you to the bone.

                               The aftermath of Nancy’s murder. Screenshot by me.

I like that Lean shows us Bill’s slowly dawning realisation to what he has just done. His eyes dart around the room when he realises he has killed Nancy. Bill’s eyes focus on Nancy’s possessions, and they land upon things that remind him of their shared life together; such as their double bed and her dressing table. As he looks around the room, we see that Bill is absolutely horrified at what he has gone and destroyed.

The great tragedy is that Bill certainly was a violent and nasty piece of work but he genuinely loved Nancy and she loved him. When Bill kills her he also murders any possibility of himself ever being able to be redeemed. He instantly regrets his actions and he realises that he can’t alter what he has done. This sends him mad with grief and remorse. 

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The kind Mr.Brownlow and Oliver. Screenshot by me.

Despite how bleak the film is there are some kind and decent characters to be found in it.  Mr. Brownlow shows us that not everyone in the upper classes was indifferent to the suffering of the poor, and he is a genuinely kind and gentle man.

Nancy retains her sense of morality despite living among thieves and criminals, and despite having done some bad things herself. Nancy can’t stand to see the innocent Oliver get drawn into this life, and so she tries to save him from having to live this way.

The old woman at the workhouse who stole Oliver’s mum’s necklace has a conscience, and she tries to make things right before she dies(only to be betrayed afterwards by the matron).  The film also shows us that some people get drawn into a life of theft because they have no other choice. When someone is homeless, jobless and starving, if nobody will help them when they ask for help politely, what choice is left to that person other than to steal to get some money for food etc?

The actors all deliver solid performances. I like that even the actors who appear very briefly get their chance to really shine.  There are also many standout performances from the main cast.

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Robert Newton as Bill Sykes. Screenshot by me.

Robert Newton delivers one of his finest performances as the terrifying master thief, Bill Sykes. I’m always torn between Robert and Oliver Reed when it comes to considering who played the best Bill Sykes on film. I think Oliver plays the scariest and most sinister, but Robert managed to be scary and still convey how sharp and observant Bill was, and he also convinces us that his Bill genuinely loves Nancy.

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Alec Guinness as Fagin. Screenshot by me.

Lean regular Alec Guinness pulls a Lon Chaney Sr and is unrecognisable beneath heavy makeup as Fagin. Alec’s portrayal is not as fun and loveable as Ron Moody’s in the musical Oliver. Alec makes Fagin sordid and cunning. There was some controversy over Alec’s performance and over the Fagin makeup (especially the large nose) because some people thought the portrayal of this character was anti-semitic. 

John Howard Davies is all sad eyes and innocence as Oliver Twist. John delivers an excellent debut performance here and he would continue acting during the 1940’s and 50’s. He later became a producer and was the man behind the British TV comedy hits Fawlty Towers and The Good Life.

Oliver Twist is one of Lean’s finest films, and I think it could serve as a perfect example to young filmmakers on how to balance story, characters, performances, and visuals to create a film which will stand the test of time and wow audiences from any era.

What do you think of the film?

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Check Out#CleanMovieMonth Over At Pure Entertainment Preservation Society

Check out this classic film event being held over at Pure Entertainment Preservation Society blog. Pop over and check out this very informative site, which is a must read if you are interested in the Hollywood Production Code. 

 

 

Announcing #CleanMovieMonth! PEPS is officially announcing that July is #CleanMovieMonth! Many months are dedicated to celebrating history or bringing awareness. #CleanMovieMonth is dedicated to both. It’s a month-long celebration of Code films, specifically cinema sealed during the Breen era (1934-1954). Frequent PEPS readers know that PEPS is always dedicated to Breen era films. However, during […]

via July is #CleanMovieMonth! — pure entertainment preservation society

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The Greatest Audrey Hepburn Performances

I am a big fan of Audrey Hepburn. I have often thought about which of Audrey’s film performances should be considered to be her best work. After thinking about this for quite some time, I have finally chosen a few performances that I think are her best.

I would love to get your views on Audrey’s performances in these films. 

 

The Nun’s Story (1959)

Audrey stars as a nun called Sister Luke. This film is a biopic of a real life woman who became a nun and worked out in the Congo. Audrey is beyond amazing in this film. There are scenes in this where you really do believe that she is on the point of having a breakdown. You really feel that Audrey’s character is struggling emotionally and that she has conflicted feelings about the life she has chosen to lead.

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Audrey as Sister Luke. Screenshot by me.

She perfectly conveys the emotional and physical struggle this woman endures as she overworks herself, becomes physically ill and tries to adhere to the strict rules of convent life.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Academy Awards, but I think that Audrey deserved an award for her performance in this. You can read my full review of this film here.

This is a film that doesn’t get discussed often enough, and it really should be much better known because Audrey is phenomenal in it. 

 

 

 Roman Holiday (1953)

Audrey delivers one of the most natural and remarkable debut lead film performances in film history. She totally convinces as the reserved and unhappy Princess. She also convinces as the carefree, happy, curious and adorable woman enjoying a welcome taste of real life. 

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Audrey as Princess Ann. Screenshot by me.

I love how she easily switches between innocence, intense happiness, deep sadness and being torn between her duties and her desires. It really is a poignant and powerful performance. It is easy to see how she managed to capture the public’s hearts when this one was released. 

 

 

Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)

Audrey wasn’t the actress who was initially the first choice for the role of Holly but defying expectations, she more than proved that she was indeed the right choice for the role. Audrey perfectly captures the various emotions and quirks of Holly so well. One moment she is happy and quirky, the next she is vulnerable and melancholy, and the next she is daring, sexy, passionate, mean and strong. 

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Audrey as Holly. Screenshot by me.

I like how Audrey makes you feel for Holly and enjoy spending time with her. Holly is such a unique character and Audrey captures her many different facets so well. You can tell when you watch this that Audrey put so much effort into this role. It is so difficult to imagine any other actress in this role now other than Audrey. It isn’t difficult to see why this has become her iconic role and film.

 

My Fair Lady (1964)

Although she doesn’t really convince as a cockney flower girl living in poverty, Audrey certainly does convince as an awkward and nervous woman who transforms into a society lady.

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Audrey as Eliza. Screenshot by me.

Audrey always had a natural class and dignity about her that aided her in her performance here. She also does such a good job of conveying Eliza’s despair, frustration and anger over her dismissal by Higgins after the ball. She makes you feel how much hard work and effort Eliza has put in, and also feel how hurt and used she feels by Higgins dismissal of her success. 

Overlooked at the time by the Academy, her performance speaks for itself and it remains moving and memorable today. You can read my full review of the film here. 

Some other fine performances include Wait Until Dark, Sabrina, CharadeThe Children’s Hour, Two For The Road and Robin and Marian. 

Which performances do you consider to be Audrey’s greatest screen work?

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The Second Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon Concludes

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Sadly our time spent with the master of suspense has drawn to a close. I want to say a huge thank you to you all for taking part. Your articles and reviews were all interesting and a lot of fun to read. I really appreciate so many people taking part. It has been so much fun.

My apologies to those of you with none WordPress blogs, I have been having trouble for a long time now leaving comments on none WordPress sites. If these sites have their comments section set to accept name and URL I have found I can comment, but I have trouble commenting when signed in directly from WordPress. I have replied to your messages letting me know you’ve posted, and I have shared my thoughts on your entries that way. 

You can find all of the terrific entries right here

If things are well with me next year, I will certainly try my best to host this for a third year running. I do hope you will all be able to join me again for another celebration of all things Hitch. 

You are all invited to take part in my next blogathon(I know, I’m addicted to blogathons 🙂 )being held in two weeks time. It is a celebration of the films of director David Lean. You can learn more and sign up here

Thanks again.

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The Second Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon Begins

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The Second Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon has finally arrived!

Over the next two days, a large number of truly wonderful bloggers will be submitting their articles on all things Hitch.  Check back to this post today and tomorrow, I will be updating it as regularly as I can linking to all of the entries.

I can’t wait to read all of your posts. Thank you so much for taking part.

The Second Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon participants gather together in the hotel lounge. The strains of Bernard Herrmann’s music can be heard floating through the air.

Someone informs us that lunch is now ready. We tuck into a delicious buffet, this is laid out for us all on top of a suspicious looking chest belonging to some guy called Brandon.

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Day 2 Entries

The Wonderful World Of Cinema goes out to sea in order to discuss Hitchcock’s ocean set thriller Lifeboat

 

Poppity flees from crop dusters as she reviews the Hitchcock classic North By Northwest.

 

Silver Screen Classics goes on a journey with Richard Hannay to uncover the mystery of The 39 Steps.

 

Vinnieh tells us what happened when Uncle Charlie came to town in Shadow Of A Doubt.

 

Taking Up Room discusses an early film which would later become the only Hitch film that the director ever remade The Man Who Knew Too Much

 

Cracked Rear Viewer discusses the suspenseful 3D Hitchcock film Dial M For Murder.

 

Sat In Your Lap discusses the powerful Hitchcock film The Wrong Man

 

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society discusses the haunting and suspenseful film Rebecca

 

Retro Movie Buff encounters spies and windmills in her review of Foreign Correspondent.

 

 

Day 1 Entries

Down These Mean Streets spent some time with Devlin, Alicia and Alexander, and she writes about that experience in her review of Notorious

 

Cinema Essentials discusses Hitchcock’s suspenseful 3D film Dial M For Murder.

 

The Midnite-Drive In discusses the terrifying 60’s shocker Psycho and also the biopic Hitchcock. 

 

Wolffian Classics Movies Digest joins Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly to look out at the Rear Window

 

Realweegiemidgetreviews discusses Four O’ Clock, a Hitchcock directed episode of the TV series Suspicion.

 

Silver Screenings joins a party hiding a grisly secret in Rope.   

 

Bonnywood Manor gets caught up in the thrilling spy story Topaz.

 

Caftan Woman invites us all to join her at the theatre to discuss Stage Fright.

 

The Stop Button takes a look at one of Hitchcock’s early British films Young And Innocent.

 

dbmoviesblog takes a trip to Bodega Bay and witnesses nature striking back in The Birds.

 

Taking Up Room tells us all about Hitchcock’s first ever sound film Blackmail.

 

Cary Grant Won’t Eat You talks about the disappointing Hitchcock film Torn Curtain.

 

Sparks From A Combustible Mind discusses the time when Hitchcock went comic in The Trouble With Harry.

 

I take a trip to Manderley to meet Rebecca.  I also write about the 60th anniversary of the release of  Vertigo

Blogathons, Films I Love, Romance

The Second Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon: Rebecca (1940)

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This is my entry for my Alfred Hitchcock blogathon being held in a few days time. I can’t wait to read all of your entries. If you would like to join in there is still plenty of time for you to do so. Learn more and sign up here. See you all on the 6th and 7th of July. 

There are not enough words available for me to be able to use to accurately describe how much I love the film RebeccaI consider it to be one of the best Gothic films ever made, and I consider it to also be one of the most engrossing and visually interesting Alfred Hitchcock films. 

Rebecca is a haunting, gripping, suspenseful and creepy film. It is also a film that lingers on in the memory long after you’ve finished watching it.   

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Mrs. Danvers upsets the new bride. Screenshot by me.

The film features Joan Fontaine delivering one of her best screen performances, that of the shy, tormented and emotionally fragile young woman who attempts to take the dead Rebecca’s place as mistress of the Manderley estate(based on Daphne Du Maurier’s house in Cornwall, which was called Menabilly). Judith Anderson delivers the other standout performance in the film as the sinister and obsessed housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. 

Rebecca was Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, and it was also his first film made under contract to the producer David O’ Selznick. The film was based upon the novel of the same name written by the great Daphne Du Maurier in 1938. The novel is one of my favourites and I especially love how vivid and intriguing it is.

Rebecca is a book that really draws you in. I think that Hitchcock’s film does the same thing. He also did a terrific job of capturing the eerie atmosphere of the novel. He makes us actually feel the oppressive presence of the dead Rebecca de Winter, and he does so without ever showing us her face.

We don’t need to see Rebecca in flashbacks or photos to know what she was like, instead we learn what we need to know about her just as the new Mrs. de Winter learns it. We  also only become aware of Rebecca’s lingering presence and influence just as the new wife becomes aware when she takes up residence in Manderley.   

Besides being extremely atmospheric and intriguing, this film is also a real character piece. It is the unseen Rebecca who is the most memorable of all the characters in the film. The memory of Rebecca haunts most of the main characters who we follow throughout the film.

We also learn more about Rebecca’ s personality as we see why the various main characters loved her or hated her. We also learn that while she may have beautiful on the outside, on the inside she was anything but, and she also did a great deal of damage to people.

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Rebecca is always present in some way. Screenshot by me.

The second Mrs. de Winter is shown constantly comparing herself to Rebecca. She fears that she can never become the type of woman that Rebecca was, a woman who is beautiful, accomplished, fearless, confident and strong. She is intimidated by Rebecca and by the beautiful, large and well run home which Rebecca organised and arranged.

The second wife isn’t alone in being unable to escape Rebecca. Other people who knew her cannot escape her either. Maxim is unable to stop experiencing his mixed feelings for Rebecca(he both loathed and loved her)and he is also haunted by what happened in her final moments of life. Maxim has become a tortured soul desperately seeking peace and salvation(which he finds in the form of his new wife).

Mrs. Danvers is devastated by the loss of Rebecca, and she is haunted by the memory of this young woman who was so full of life and whom Mrs. Danvers loved, adored and doted upon. Jack Favell is haunted by the memory of the passionate and vibrant Rebecca; a woman who shared his temperament and tastes, and with whom he had a long running love affair. 

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Maxim and his new wife talk about Rebecca. Screenshot by me.

Rebecca may well be dead, but she lives on in the memories of all who knew her. The memory of her reaches out from beyond the grave to crush the happiness of those left alive. The living may find some amount of happiness, but try as they might, they can never truly escape the memory of this woman,they also cannot forget the things she said and did while she lived. 

We don’t need to see a photo or portrait of Rebecca to be able to form a picture of her in our minds as we watch the film. We know she was beautiful, we know she was a woman who commanded and received constant attention and admiration by all who knew her, and we know that she was a teasing and manipulative woman too. When I read the book or watch the film, I always picture Rebecca as looking like a cross between the actresses Vivien Leigh and Margaret Lockwood. 

Interestingly Vivien Leigh desperately wanted to play the second Mrs. de Winter in this film, alongside her husband Laurence Olivier as Maxim. Vivien even made a screentest for the part. I have to say that having seen the screentest I’m afraid that she is all wrong for the character.

Vivien displays none of the shyness, the fragility, or the naive quality that the second Mrs. de Winter needed to have about her. I think that Joan Fontaine was undoubtedly the right woman for this particular role. Had they gone down the flashback route with the film, then I think Vivien would have been perfect for the role of Rebecca.

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A rare happy moment for the couple.Screenshot by me.

The film begins in Monte Carlo. The brooding, middle aged, wealthy widower, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier)is about to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff. Maxim is stopped from jumping by a young woman(Joan Fontaine, playing a character who is never named in the book or film)who sees him and is concerned about what he is about to do. 

He later discovers that she is staying at the same hotel that he is. He finds that she is working as a paid companion to the odious Mrs. Van Hopper (a scene stealing Florence Bates). Maxim and this young woman gradually begin to befriend one another and fall in love. 

She loves him because he is kind to her and genuinely takes an interest in her, and because he allows her an escape from her current life and social station. He loves her because she is pure, fresh, kind and innocent; with those personality traits she is the polar opposite of his dead first wife, a woman who haunts his memories.

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The couple arrive home to be greeted by all the staff. Screenshot by me.

They marry and return to England, to stay in Maxim’s family estate of Manderley. Once in her new home, the second Mrs. de Winter must try and fit in with her husband’s upper class lifestyle, and also try and compete with the lingering memory of his dead first wife, Rebecca. The first Mrs.de Winter drowned in the sea, but there is actually much more to her death than we first believe.

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Rebecca’s monogrammed stationery. Screenshot by me.

Traces of Rebecca linger in every part of the house. Rebecca’s bedroom is kept exactly as it was when she lived. Her clothes are still hanging in the wardrobe, the furnishings, menus and the flower arrangements in the house are all still hers.

The study is still filled with her monogrammed stationery and address books. Staff and friends also talk about Rebecca quite often, and their words remind the second Mrs. de Winter of the great differences between herself and Rebecca.

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Rebecca’s monogrammed pillowcase. Screenshot by me.

The housekeeper of Manderley is Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) and she is a sinister, creepy and highly manipulative woman who is obsessed with Rebecca, and she feels very threatened by the presence of the new Mrs. de Winter.

The young woman is scared of the housekeeper and she also becomes more and more nervous as her worries and feelings of inadequacy grow. She keeps comparing herself to Rebecca and she starts to think she is no good for Maxim. At one point Mrs. Danvers even tries to take advantage of the young woman’s fragile state of mind by attempting to persuade her to commit suicide.

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Jack drops by and causes trouble. Screenshot by me.

A visit to Manderley by the suave and smarmy Jack Favell(George Sanders), who was Rebecca’s cousin and lover, makes it very clear to us that Rebecca had some major secrets. These secrets piques the interest of the second Mrs. de Winter. As the film goes on, hearts get broken, dark secrets are revealed, and nothing will ever be the same again. 

Joan Fontaine is superb as the fragile and tragic young woman trying so hard to stay strong, but who feels her control of her life slipping away.

I love how she also manages to convincingly convey the massive change that her character goes through, as she gradually transitions from shy and fragile to becoming a much stronger and dominant woman standing up to Mrs. Danvers and to the memory of Rebecca.

Joan really makes you feel for this woman and she is totally convincing as a woman on the verge of a breakdown. Joan was Oscar nominated for her work here but she lost out to Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle.

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Joan Fontaine. Screenshot by me.

Joan would take home the award the following year for her performance in another Hitchcock film, Suspicion; in that film Joan plays a similar character to Mrs. de Winter with both characters being in great emotional distress, both of them are also fragile and consumed by fear and worry. Rebecca would go on to become the only Hitchcock film to win the director a Best Picture Oscar. 

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Laurence Olivier. Screenshot by me.

Laurence Olivier is excellent as the tormented Maxim. He convincingly conveys this man’s changing nature, being relaxed and happy with his new bride one moment, and becoming short tempered, distant and sad when he is made to think of Rebecca.

I quite like Laurence and I think that he is a good actor, but he’s never been a favourite of mine. I have also never understood all the hype surrounding his acting skills. I think he is very good in this role though and he subtly conveys so much to us with his eyes and expressions. 

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Judith Anderson. Screenshot by me.

Judith Anderson steals every scene she is in as Mrs. Danvers. Watch her eyes and her body language, she says so much without uttering dialogue. This is one of her best performances for sure.

I like how Mrs. Danvers is a complex villain. She may well be scary and cruel, but she was made that way after becoming unhinged by the grief of losing Rebecca. Grief can do strange things to people, and it has really damaged this woman. 

George Sanders also steals all the scenes he is in. He also provides a tiny bit of comic relief as the sarcastic and interfering Jack Favell. This was the first film that I ever saw George in and I became an instant fan of his.  He plays Jack as a man for whom words are weapons. He has great fun in the role and gets to deliver some brilliant lines. 

The film is shot in black and white and this really adds to the gothic atmosphere. The cinematography by George Barnes is beautiful and memorable. I especially love the cinematography in the scene where we see Rebecca’s bedroom for the first time, and also the scene where Mrs. Danvers tries to make Mrs. de Winter jump to her death.

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Exploring Rebecca’s beautiful bedroom. Screenshot by me.

The film also features some stunning lighting and some interesting camera movement. There are scenes where the camera pulls back from Joan Fontaine and I think that was done to make it seem like Rebecca is in the same room with her, watching her, moving around her and sharing her space. Joan Fontaine is also filmed in a way that makes her appear small in comparison to her surroundings and other characters.

I also love the score by Franz Waxman. I think that the score captures the romance, the dread, the mystery and the eerie aspects of the story perfectly. 

If there is one thing about both the novel and the film that really annoys me, it is that the second wife is never named. I get why this was done (to make her seem insignificant in comparison to Rebecca), but I really think that could have still been achieved if the character had been given a name. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Maxim and the second Mrs. de Winter meeting for the first time on the clifftop. The “I am Mrs. de Winter now!”scene.  Maxim’s marriage proposal. The scene where the second Mrs. de Winter goes downstairs wearing the same dress that Rebecca once wore. The scene where Maxim and the second Mrs. de Winter watch their honeymoon video. Chasing Jasper on the beach and finding the cottage. The confession scene. Exploring Rebecca’s bedroom. Jack trying to blackmail Maxim in the car. 

It has often been noted that the story of Rebecca bears many similarities to Jane Eyre. I think this is true. Maxim and his second wife are so similar to Jane Eyre and Rochester. Maxim is desperate to escape a hellish past and find peace and happiness with a pure and decent woman (just as Rochester is). The second Mrs de Winter is quiet and shy, and she has been bullied and used by many people, in Maxim she finds someone who loves her and will be kind to her (just like Jane). Both the second Mrs de Winter and Jane also become very strong and determined women as their stories go on. It’s fun to study the film and spot the similarities and to compare characters and situations. 

This is one of my favourite Hitchcock films. It is also a film that I never get tired of watching. If you enjoyed this film and the book, then I would also recommend an excellent miniseries adaptation of Rebecca. The series is from 1979, and it stars the great Jeremy Brett as Maxim and Joanna David as the second wife. The series is very close to the book and is allowed more time to develop the characters. I also quite like the 1997 miniseries starring Charles Dance as Maxim. 

What are your thoughts on this Hitchcock film?

Uncategorized

Announcing The Joseph Cotten Blogathon

Crystal from In the Good Old Days Of Classic Movies has asked me to co-host this blogathon with her. I was delighted to accept her invitation to be co-host. I really hope that you will all be able to join us both as we celebrate the life and career of the hugely talented classic film era actor, Joseph Cotten.

For this blogathon you can write about any of Joseph’s films. You can write about him as an actor. You can write about your favourite Joseph Cotten performances and screen characters. You can write more than one entry if you want to.

We will be accepting two duplicates per screen title, but no more than this as he made so many films, so there is lots for you to choose from.

The blogathon will be held on the  5th, 6th and 7th of September, 2018. There will also be a wrap up post held on the 8th. We picked these dates because September 5th marks the 77th anniversary of the release of Citizen Kane, which is one of Joseph’s most famous films.

I will be hosting on the 5th, and Crystal will be hosting on the 6th and 7th. Let one or both of us know what you would like to write about. 

Please check the particiaption list below to see who is writing about what. Please take one of the banners and pop it on your site somewhere to help to promote the event.

Participation List

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood: Portrait Of Jennie

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: My three favourite Joseph Cotten performances

Lifesdailylessonsblog: The Killer Is Loose

Love Letters To Old Hollywood: Love Letters

Cinematic Scribblings: Lo Scopone Scientifico 

Caftan Woman: Walk Softly Stranger

Are You Thrilled: Niagara

Realweegiemidgetreviews:  The Case Is Closed (episode of The Rockford Files)

The Wonderful World Of Cinema: An ABC Of Joseph Cotten

Musings Of A Classic Film Addict: Lydia

Down These Mean Streets: The Third Man

Taking Up Room: Citizen Kane and Joseph and the Mercury Theatre

Anybody Got A Match?: Shadow Of A Doubt

The Midnite Drive-In: The Hearse

The Dream Book Blog: A Delicate Balance

Popcorn and Flickers: Too Much Johnson

Dubism: Tora, Tora, Tora: The Attack On Pearl Harbor

The Stop Button: Gaslight

Karavansara: Journey Into Fear

Wide Screen World: The Farmer’s Daughter

I Found It At The Movies: Topic to be decided

A Shroud Of Thoughts: Shadow Of A Doubt

MovieRobBlueprint For Murder, The Oscar and Soylent Green

Mike’s Take On The Movies: Two Flags West

Back To Golden Days: Since You Went Away

Critica Retro: I’ll Be Seeing You

Old Hollywood Films: Duel In The Sun

Moon In Gemini: The Steel Trap

Blogie and Bacall: Joseph Cotten as an actor

Poppity: Under Capricorn

 

Joseph 2

Joseph 3

Joseph 3

 

Uncategorized

My Small Personal Connection To Classic Films

Something a little different today. I have a small personal link to classic film that I’d like to share with you all. It’s kind of a six degrees of separation thing.

I have a very dear friend called Mike. He knows of and shares my great love for all things classic film related. He recently spoke to me about his own family link to classic era films. I thought I’d share with you all what he told me, because I think that it happens to be pretty awesome. 🙂

Mike’s dad’s cousin was married to Tony Sforzini. Now you may well be asking yourselves right now, who on earth is Tony Sforzini?  Allow me to tell you who he was. Tony was a make-up artist and was also a make-up supervisor, and he worked on a large number of British classic era films. He worked on films from the early 1940’s until the mid 1970’s.

Tony worked quite often on the British films of the actor and director Laurence Olivier. Mike doesn’t know if they were friends or just colleagues, but what is certain is that Tony did work on a large number of Olivier’s films over the years including Hamlet, Henry V, The Prince and the Showgirl and The Entertainer

I know that some actors and directors like to work with the same crew a lot, so maybe Laurence Olivier loved his work and kept on requesting that Tony work with him.

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A photo that Mike sent to me. This shows Tony applying some make-up to the actor Michael Redgrave. This could be for the film Shake Hands With The Devil, in which Michael Redgrave starred.

When he was younger, Mike visited Tony at work over in Ireland, this visit was to the set of the film Shake Hands With The Devil (1959). On the set Mike watched Tony work his make-up magic, and if that wasn’t exciting enough, Mike also got to meet James Cagney! (you can imagine how envious I was when he told me this) James was there because he was the main star of this film. 

Mike was aware of who James Cagney was, but he wasn’t really aware at that age of just how big a star this man actually was. Mike told me that James spoke to him and that he was very friendly. Mike said that if he had been a bit older at the time he met James then he would have most likely asked him lots of questions, and he would have tried to talk to him for a bit longer than he actually did.   

Mike shared with me the following recollections of his visit to the set. 

“The film was Shake Hands with the Devil and on the day that I was there, apart from James Cagney, there was a scene being filmed with Christopher Rhodes questioning Don Murray who was supposed to be lying on a prison bed (it was actually a camera man rolling around as he was being punched).
 
The only ‘stars’ I saw apart from James Cagney who did a scene where he breaks into the prison to rescue Don Murray, were Don Murray and Donal Donnelly.
 
They were talking as Don Murray was being made up to look as though his character had been beaten up by the British. There may have been other actors in the studio on the day, but I didn’t recognise them. The only other thing I remember is that co-star Glynis Johns dressing room was full of Teddy Bears.”

So that is my small link to classic films. I just wanted to share this with you. Hopefully this post will also help to raise awareness of Tony Sforzini. Keep an eye out for his name in the credits the next time you watch a classic era British film!

Do you have a personal connection to classic film? Share your story. 

Uncategorized

Announcing The World War One On Film Blogathon

This year is the centenary of the end of WW1. The horror and immense slaughter of the trenches has been the focus of many films and TV series over the years. I wanted to mark the real life anniversary of the end of this war by getting us all to write about the many depictions of WW1 found on screen. 

For this blogathon you can write about any feature film, TV film, TV episode, or documentary which focuses on WW1. Films, series and documentaries from any era are very welcome.

You can write about films or series set on the battlefield. You can write about films and series focusing on soldiers,sailors, pilots and medics. You can write about films and series focusing on soldiers coming home from the war and dealing with their injuries and shell shock. You can write about films and series taking place on the homefront during this time.

The blogathon will be held on the 10th and 11th of November, 2018. Please post your entries on either of those two days. You are very welcome to post your entries early too. I will accept two duplicate posts per screen title.

You can write more than one post if you want to. Previously published articles and reviews are welcome too.

Please check the participation list below to see who is writing about what. Please take the banner below and pop it on your site somewhere to help advertise the event.

Participation List

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: King and Country and All Quiet On The Western Front(1930)

Lifesdailylessonsblog: Gallipoli

Realweegiemidgetreviews: My Boy Jack

Cinematic Scribblings: The Spy In Black and The Green Room

Down These Mean Streets: Waterloo Bridge(1940)

Movie Movie Blog Blog: Block-Heads

Caftan Woman: Broken Lullaby

The Stop Button: The Life and Death Of Colonel Blimp

Silver Screen Classics: Gallipoli

Dubism: Sergeant York and  Paths Of Glory

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood: Wings

The Wonderful World Of Cinema: Au revoir la-haut

Silver Screenings: The Grand Illusion 

The Midnite-Drive In: The Christmas Truce Of 1914(documentary) and Joyeux Noel(film)

Thoughts All Sorts: Der Rote Baron

Movierob: The Blue Max and The Fighting 69th

Movie Crash Course: The Big Parade

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Noir, Uncategorized

Blade Runner Reimagined as a Classic Era Noir Film

I really love Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Science Fiction Noir film Blade Runner. I watched the film again recently, and I found myself wondering what this film would have been like if it had been made as a Noir film in the 1940’s or 1950’s.

So I sat and had a long think about who to direct and who to cast in this classic Noir version of the film.

The Director

I would have had Fritz Lang and Edward Dmytryk co-direct this film. I thought of Fritz Lang because of his stellar work in creating a futuristic city and society in his film Metropolis. That expertise would have been much needed to create the futuristic looking city the film is set in.

Lang also directed one of the darkest and most brutal Noir films, The Big Heat, so I’m pretty sure that he would have had no trouble bringing a Sci-Fi Noir film to the screen. 

I thought of Edward Dmytryk because he directed the best Noir film (in my opinion)Murder My Sweet(1944); this is a film which oozes Noir from every single frame. He would have done wonders with the characters, the lighting, and with the overall look and mood of the film I think. 

The Cast

I thought of Charles McGraw for the role of Detective Rick Deckard.

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Charles McGraw. Screenshot by me.

I think that Charles could give Deckard the tough quality he needs as a replicant hunter(known as Blade Runners). I also think that he could show the softer side of the man when necessary in certain scenes.

 

I thought of Gene Tierney for the role of Rachel, a woman who may or may not be a replicant. Gene always did a good job of playing haughty, reserved women with a hint of mystery about them.

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Gene Tierney. Screenshot by me.

I also think that she could easily capture the unreadable and troubled aspects of the character, while also being able to make her vulnerable and innocent during certain scenes.

 

I thought of Robert Ryan for the role of Roy Batty, the intelligent and violent leader of the escaped replicants.

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Robert Ryan. Screenshot by me.

I think that he could easily convey the intensity, the strength and the rage of Roy, yet also perfectly capture his emotional struggle and also convey his gentle and tender side too. 

 

I thought of Clifton Webb for the role of Dr. Tyrell, the intellectual and scientific genius who created the replicants.

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Clifton Webb. Screenshot by me.

Clifton always convinced as intelligent characters who were self assured, dignified, smug and confident. I think he would be perfect in this role. 

 

I thought of Gloria Grahame for the role of Pris, who is one of the escaped replicants. I think Gloria would be a good choice because she always had a mix of childlike innocence about her and conveyed intelligence and sultriness at the same time.

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Gloria Grahame. Screenshot by me.

Pris is a character who looks innocent, is curious, is childlike at times, and is also a very smart and manipulative woman. I think Gloria would have been awesome in this role.

 

I thought of Marie Windsor for the role of Zhora, another of the escaped replicants who won’t give up without a fight. Marie always had a toughness about her that I think would make her perfect for this role.

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Marie Windsor. Screenshot by me.

I also think that Marie would have been great in the club scenes. I think she would have been terrific in the scene in the dressing room where Zhora shows no inhibitions around Deckard. 

 

I thought of Edward G. Robinson for the role of J.F Sebastian, the genetic designer who works alongside Dr. Tyrell. Sebastian is kind to Roy and Pris and he takes them to see Tyrell.

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Edward G. Robinson. Screenshot by me.

I thought of Eddie G because he had a knack for playing kind and well meaning characters who get themselves in a situation that they can’t easily get back out of. I think he would been able to convey the intelligence of his character, also his good nature, and also his fear of Roy. 

 

Would you have watched this film? What do you think of the cast I selected? I’d love to know who you would cast as directors or actors in this. Who would you cast if it had been made outside of America?

Are there any other films which you can imagine as a classic era film? Start a post and share it with us.

Blogathons, Favourite Film Characters

Reel Infatuation Blogathon: Mr. Knightley

RI Banner 2018Silver Screenings and Font and Frock are co-hosting this blogathon celebrating our screen crushes. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I have a great many screen crushes, but one character who I really adore is a Jane Austen man. Forget a certain chap called Mr. Darcy, I want you all to put him right out of your minds now.

Say hello instead to a gentleman called Mr. Knightley.  He is the dashing leading man featured in Jane Austen’s 1815 comedy romance novel, Emma. 

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Knightley at a party. Screenshot by me.

Knightley is a playful, gentle, teasing, smouldering, kind, tender and all round adorable and decent guy.

As played by the talented Jeremy Northam in Emma(1996), Knightley is also one of the sexiest and hottest men ever seen on the screen. Be still my beating heart! 😉 

Why do I like Knightley so much? Well for starters because he is the kind of guy who mates for life. He loves Emma with all of his heart, and you just know that he will never hurt or betray her.

Knightley also loves Emma for her personality, rather than desiring her for the extremely shallow reason of mere physical attractiveness alone.

He is also not afraid to be brutally honest with Emma and he will tell her if she has done something nasty or morally wrong. I think that part of true love means being able to be completely honest and open with one another, and also to be able to point out and question unforgivable behaviour that one or both of you may exhibit. Knightley does just this when he tells Emma off for her cruel words to Miss Bates at the picnic and points out why those words were so horrible for her to say.

Knightley is the type of man that we all long to have in our lives (if we’re being honest with ourselves), someone who is a friend, a soulmate, a lover, and someone who accepts you for who you are warts and all.  

Northam’s Knightley also gets to deliver the most romantic and touching proposal speech I’ve ever heard. The proposal scene itself is gorgeous to watch. Knightley and Emma are in a wood and they are both bathed in sunlight. The words that Knightley utters to Emma in this moment are sincere, romantic, and they really touch my heart.

Knightley: “Marry me. Marry me, my wonderful, darling friend.”

                                          Part of the proposal scene. Screenshot by me.

Aww!  I’m telling you that this scene is the stuff that dreams are made of. 🙂 

If the beautiful proposal speech were not enough to get you wishing that he was your man, then the way Knightley looks at Emma in this scene should certainly do it. He looks at her with such tenderness and with a warm smile which will melt your heart. You can see how much he loves her and how much she loves him.

You can also see how desperately Knightely wants Emma to accept his proposal. Emma gazes back at him with an expression of equal love and desire on her face. It’s a beautiful moment and Jeremy Northam does such a fantastic job with his portrayal of Knightley. Quite how Jeremy has not become a bigger star over the years is beyond me.

Emma is one lucky lady. I hope she truly realises what a gem of a man she has in Knightley. Right then, I’m off to rewatch Emma (again)and spend some time in the company of the gorgeous Mr. K.  

Any other Knightley fans here?

 

 

 

Favourite Film Characters

Hawksian Women

Howard Hawks is one of my favourite classic era American film directors. I love how the main focus of his films is always on the characters. He really lets us see his characters personalities, and he lets us get a good sense of what they are enduring as the film goes along.

Howard shows us his characters strengths, their flaws, and their quirks; he makes his characters come across to us as real people who we can connect to in some way. I really like that in his films men and women are depicted as being equals, this is refreshing to see.

His films also show us that men can have moments where they are vulnerable, and more importantly that it is perfectly fine for them to be vulnerable. Howard Hawks shows us that men don’t have to be tough guys every second of every day. He also shows us that women are not delicate and fragile beings to be protected, they can be as tough, daring, and capable as any man can be. 

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Ann Sheridan in I Married A Male War Bride. Screenshot by me.

I especially love the female characters found in Howard Hawks films. Known as Hawksian Women, these female characters can match the male characters every step of the way. Howards’s female characters are strong, tough, witty, determined, sexy and opinionated gals.

They can verbally spar with men with great ease. They are confident and they can easily become one of the boys. 

I also like that the Hawksian women retain their femininity and that they do not become overly masculine, unlike some of the female characters found in James Cameron’s films for example; women such as Vasquez in Aliens or Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.

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Jean Arthur in Only Angels Have Wings. Screenshot by me.

Hawksian women carry both female and male qualities within them, but they never have to grow big muscles and act all macho to prove that they can be one of the boys. 

These characters also gave some of the finest actresses of the day a chance to deliver performances which rank amongst their greatest and most unforgettable film work. 

Although there were many other tough, smart, and strong female characters to be found in other films in the classic era, such female characters were always a regular feature in Howard Hawks films.

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Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. Screenshot by me.

Who can forget Jean Arthur being one of the lads in Only Angels Have Wings? Lauren Bacall as the tough and vulnerable Slim in To Have and Have Not? Rosalind Russell as the fast talking newspaper reporter in His Girl Friday? Charlene Holt and Michele Carey as two very different women in terms of how they dress and make a living, but both being Hawksian women in El Dorado? Barbara Stanwyck as the saucy and wisecracking dancer in Ball Of Fire? Ann Sheridan as the wisecracking Army Lieutenant in I Was A Male War Bride?

I love that in Howard’s films even very minor female characters make quite an impact. Two of of my favourite minor Hawksian women can be found in The Big Sleep(1946).

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Dorothy Malone in The Big Sleep. Screenshot by me.

The first is Dorothy Malone as the woman who works in the bookshop.

She steals every second of the scene she is in with Bogie.We see right away that she is intelligent, observant, focused, sexy, and that she is more than up for something to break up the ordinary rhythm of her working day.

The banter between her and Bogie is first rate and also very risque, and that coupled with the way they eye each other up and down makes you wonder how this scene ever made it past the censors.

I also love how Bogie calls her pal. In so many cases the Hawksian woman is accepted as a friend by men, she becomes one of the gang, and there is usually an emotional connection developed long before a relationship turns sexual. I think Hawksian women represent what marriage and relationships are ideally meant to be all about; friendship, equality and sexual desire. 

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Joy Barlow and Bogie in the Taxi driver scene in The Big Sleep. Screenshot by me.

My other favourite minor character in this film is the taxi driver played by Joy Barlow who helps Marlowe tale a guy who he is after. I love the way she delivers her lines in the back and forth banter between her character and Marlowe.

The taxi driver also stands out because she is a woman doing a job traditionally done by a man. I think that she represents the millions of women who found their independence during WW2 and wouldn’t give up working after the men came home. 

Undoubtedly the quintessential Hawksian woman is Lauren Bacall. Lauren was discovered by Howard’s second wife, Nancy “Slim” Keith, who saw Lauren’s photo in a magazine and showed it to Howard. He then cast Lauren alongside Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not.

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Lauren Bacall as Slim in To Have and Have Not. Screenshot by me.

Lauren’s character in this is called Slim, and Bogie’s is called Steve. In real life those names were the nicknames that Howard and Nancy called one another by. Nancy was the Hawksian woman for Howard in real life, and Lauren was the perfect Hawksian woman in his films. 

Lauren conveys all of the necessary Hawksian qualities in her performances as Slim in To Have and Have Not and as Vivian in The Big Sleep. It is really hard for me to imagine any other actress playing those characters in way that Lauren did. 

Sadly the appearance of the Hawksian Woman on screen declined in the late 50’s and early 60’s. In the 80’s and 90’s some film and TV characters appeared who had all of those Hawksian qualities. Characters like Marion Ravenwood in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Melanie in One Fine Day, Laura Holt in Remington Steele(TV series) and Jennifer Hart in Hart To Hart(TV series). Going further back in time, I would also class Nora Charles in The Thin Man films and Tess Harding in Woman Of The Year to be Hawksian Women.  

I love watching Howard Hawks films and seeing all of those smart, strong, inspirational, sexy, funny and fiercely independent women. So many of these characters could serve as role models as they are women who go after what they want and won’t be held back, who can work alongside men and fit in with them without sacrificing their femininity in the process, and who are smart and determined.  

My favourite Hawksian women are the following. 

Bonnie Lee in Only Angels Have Wings. I love how fun loving and bubbly she is. I also love how she overcomes her shock and anger at how the men in this film deal with grief. It isn’t easy for her to change to their way of dealing with grief and loss, but she gives it a go and she becomes a valued and beloved member of the group of pilots and ground crew.

Slim in To Have and Have Not. I love how she is a survivor, she has been on her own for so long and hasn’t had the best life but she takes care of herself. She is tough but she is also deeply vulnerable and can be easily hurt. When she meets Steve she can let her guard down, he knows she is tough, smart and tough talking, but he also sees what is beneath all that and knows what she has been through and tries to help her see she isn’t alone any more. 

The bookshop lady in The Big Sleep. Smart, observant, and sexy. As a glasses wearer myself, I also really love that she is a character who wears glasses, as there are so few female characters I’ve come across in films of this time who wear them. I always get so mad when things get physical between them and Bogie makes her take them off! LOL

What are your thoughts on Hawksian Women? Who are your favourite female characters in Howard Hawks films?

Blogathons, Films I Love, Musicals, Romance

The Broadway Bound Blogathon: My Fair Lady (1964)

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Rebecca over at Taking Up Room is hosting her first ever blogathon! She has decided to host a blogathon all about Broadway shows. Be sure to visit Rebecca’s site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

I have decided to write about a musical that I love a great deal. It is a story which started out as a stage play, then it became a Broadway musical, and then it was made into an Oscar winning film in 1964. The musical is My Fair Lady.   

My Fair Lady wasn’t always known by this particular title. The musical began its life as a stage play called Pygmalion,which was written in 1912 by George Bernard Shaw. 

The title of Shaw’s play came from the Greek legend of a sculptor called Pygmalion who fell in love with a statue that he had made.

The play was first performed on the stage in 1913.  Shaw always remained adamant that Eliza and Higgins should not become romantically involved, and he fought against any attempts to perform the play with an added romantic happy ending with Higgins and Eliza getting together.

A none musical film version of the story was co-directed by Leslie Howard and Anthony Asquith in 1938. This earlier British screen version is well worth a look for fans of the 1964 film. Leslie Howard plays Higgins and Wendy Hiller plays Eliza.   

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe adapted Shaw’s play and turned it into a very successful stage musical under the new title of My Fair Lady. This musical version made its Broadway debut in New York, on the 15th of March, 1956. The two original stars of this stage version were Rex Harrison in the role of Professor Higgins and Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle.    

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Rex as Higgins. Screenshot by me.

Rex Harrison reprised his role in director George Cukor’s 1964 film adaptation. Try as I might, it is very hard for me to imagine anyone else having played the role of Higgins the way that Rex Harrison did.

I really like Leslie Howard’s portrayal in the 1938 film, but it is Rex’s portrayal of the arrogant, pompous, self-centered, selfish and energetic Higgins that lingers most in my mind. Rex really does a terrific job in the role. I especially love his subtle facial acting where he conveys to us that he is coming to genuinely care about Eliza.

Audrey Hepburn was chosen to play Eliza in Cukor’s film. The still somewhat unknown Julie Andrews was controversially not chosen to reprise her stage role in the film version, despite the fact that she was a brilliant singer and had proved to be a talented actress in the stage play. Ironically, Julie would star in her first film this same year, another musical called Mary Poppins. Not only did she find a place in film audiences hearts with that film, but she also took home the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the magical nanny.

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Audrey as Eliza. Screenshot by me.

Audrey Hepburn does a good job in this film and she really tries her best, but she is stuck playing a character who I think is always a difficult one for actresses to play.

In every version of this story I’ve seen the actress playing Eliza always struggles with the cockney flower girl scenes and excels at playing the transformed and elegant lady. So it is with Audrey.

Audrey certainly manages to convey Eliza’s sweet nature and her desperate desire to please Higgins by transforming into a refined lady, and she also convinces as the classy society lady. I think that her performance in the first half of the film is very over the top though and I think she also struggles with the cockney accent.

I think that Audrey is at her best in the second half of the film, especially in the slippers scene after the ball, she really makes you feel Eliza’s distress, frustration, and also her overwhelming despair in that particular scene. Audrey also did her own singing but she was then later dubbed over by Marni Nixon.  

I also like how Audrey manages to convey Eliza’s fiercely independent nature and her staunch refusal to change who she is inside. I love Audrey in scenes where Eliza and Higgins are arguing, she really puts so much energy into these shouting scenes and shows us that Eliza won’t back down and give in to Higgins bullying and rudeness. I love her the most when she ferociously gives him a piece of her mind singing the song Without You.  

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Eliza gives Higgins a piece of her mind. Screenshot by me.

Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) is a flower girl working in Edwardian era London. She becomes the subject of a bet between two phonetics experts, Professor Henry Higgins(Rex Harrison)and Colonel Pickering(Wilfred Hyde-White), when Higgins claims that he can teach her to speak properly and can pass her off as a genuine society lady at a society ball. 

Higgins works very hard teaching and supporting Eliza in her transformation, and despite the pair not having the easiest of relationships both start to care for one another and enjoy being around one another. Higgins teaches Eliza how to speak in a different way and he also gifts her with new clothes.

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Eliza and Pickering arrive at Ascot. Screenshot by me.

Eliza’s first test in public is a trip to the Ascot racecourse. Eliza charms and dazzles the assorted society folk attending the race, but the things she says are quite odd and many there are bemused by her. The dashing Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett)falls for her and he is very amused at the things she says. Sadly it all goes wrong when Eliza loudly swears and yells at a very slow horse running in the race. The uproar caused by her outburst mortifies her but it greatly amuses Higgins who isn’t a fan of the snobbish upper classes. 

Eventually the time comes for Eliza to go to the Embassy Ball to dance and speak with royalty and upper class society. Eliza charms all there and she is even mistaken for a princess! Higgins has a great laugh about this and pats himself on the back for winning his bet. He fails to congratulate Eliza for her hard work and for getting through the evening successfully, Eliza loses her temper at this and becomes very distressed. Higgins calms her down and then says now she is a lady she should get married.

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The trio arrive at the Embassy Ball. Screenshot by me.

Eliza says that all he and his transformation of her has left her fit for now is to sell herself. As a flower girl she may have lived in poverty, but at least she could go out and earn some money and do what she wanted, but as a society lady it would now be unthinkable for her to work, and so all that is left for her to do is to get married and rely on a man for support. Eliza leaves Higgins and her departure makes him realise just how much she has come to mean to him. He tries to track her down and get her to come back to him. When he finds her will she come back and stay with him?

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Eliza is upset and angry after the ball. Screenshot by me.

Filled with some truly unforgettable songs and some gorgeous costumes (designed by Cecil Beaton), My Fair Lady is a real treat for fans of musicals. It has become one of the most beloved musical films of all time and it is one which always leaves me with a smile on my face. The film won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor. Audrey wasn’t even nominated and I’m sure that it must have been a bit upsetting for her when the film won so many awards and she didn’t get anything.

Audrey presented Rex with his Academy Award for Best Actor, and in the footage from that presentation she looks genuinely thrilled for him to have won. They hug and he looks at her with such affection and kindly says about the Oscar ” I feel in a way that I should split it in half between us”. He puts his arm around Audrey and keeps her at his side throughout his entire acceptance speech. I think this was a lovely thing for him to do because in a way it was like Audrey was up there winning an award too. He also says at the end “deep love to two fair ladies”, which I think was his way of throwing some love out there to both Julie Andrews (who was in the audience and would win the Best Actress Oscar that same night) and Audrey.  

The songs in this film are irresistible and whenever I watch the film I always end up singing along with them. My favourite songs are Show Me,I Could Have Danced All Night, Servants Chorus, An Ordinary Man, Just You Wait, Without You and With A Little Bit Of Luck. 

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Freddy and Eliza. Screenshot by me.

Rex and Audrey are both terrific and they receive strong support from the rest of the cast. Stanley Holloway delivers an hysterical performance as Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle. Mona Washbourne is excellent as Higgins long suffering housekeeper, Mrs. Pierce. Gladys Cooper steals every scene she is in as Higgins mother. Wilfred Hyde-White is sweet as Colonel Pickering. Jeremy Brett is charming and adorable as Freddy (even if this character does come across as a being a right stalker, not to mention a guy who won’t take no for an answer!).

My main reason for loving this film so much is because I find the relationship between Eliza and Higgins to be endlessly fascinating. I love how Higgins views her merely as an experiment, then as he spends more time with her, he really can’t help himself and he actually ends up beginning to like her very much.

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Eliza and Higgins in speech class. Screenshot by me.

Eliza dislikes him intensely and then she grows to like him but she still can’t stand his attitude and behaviour, and she is also well aware that he won’t ever change his behaviour.

The pair keep being drawn back to one another no matter how many times they say or do something to hurt the other. They can’t live together, but they can’t live without one another either.  

Many see the final scene between them as being romantic but I don’t actually see it as being so. I think they have certainly connected emotionally and that they care for one another, but they don’t seem to do anything to take their relationship to the next level, and in the final scene of the film they never even kiss one another. Maybe in the future they will become romantically and sexually involved, but I seriously don’t see that as being on the cards in the final scene as it’s shown to us in the film. I think they will just take things one day at a time and see how it goes.

The ending reminds me of the “shut up and deal” ending to The Apartment and I have the same view of the relationship between those characters at the end as I do of Eliza and Higgins. It should be noted that Eliza actually marries Freddy at the end in Shaw’s original play.  I am often left wondering if the film and Eliza even need a romantic ending? Eliza will always be grateful to Higgins for his help in her transformation, but does she need to become his wife or Freddy’s? I think she has more than enough strength, courage, determination and focus to be able to go on and live a very happy independent life without needing a man in it. I would have been very happy had the film ended after the Without You sequence and Eliza had gone off to stand on her two feet and make her own way in society. I’d love to know what your views are on the ending and on their relationship.

My favourite scenes are the following. Eliza going back to Covent Garden Market and remembering her former life there. The entire Embassy Ball sequence, especially the scenes where Eliza and Higgins dance and where Eliza speaks to the Queen. The Without You scene. Higgins putting marbles in Eliza’s mouth. Higgins and Eliza both having headaches. Alfred coming to visit Higgins when he learns Eliza is there. The argument between Eliza and Higgins after the ball. Alfred telling Eliza what has happened to him. Eliza having her first bath. The Rain In Spain scene.

What do you think of this film?

Blogathons, British Cinema, Horror

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

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

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Anna in murderous mode. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Dr. Pritchard gets a fright. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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The innocent Anna. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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Pritchard finds Anna after an attack. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think of this film?

 

Blogathons, Uncategorized

Announcing The Second Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon

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

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

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

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

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

Participation List

Maddylovesherclassicfilms: Rebecca and Vertigo

Silver Screen Classics: The 39 Steps

Down These Mean Streets: Notorious

The Humpo Show: Saboteur

Sat In Your Lap: The Wrong Man

Caftan Woman: Stage Fright

Wolffian Classics Movies Digest: Rear Window

Sparks From A Combustible Mind: The Trouble With Harry

Cracked Rear Viewer: Dial M For Murder

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

dbmoviesblog: The Birds

Bonnywood Manor: Topaz

Vinnieh: Shadow Of A Doubt

Films On The Box: The Skin Game

Silver Screenings: Rope

Poppity: Marnie and North By Northwest

Retro Movie Buff: Foreign Correspondent 

The Wonderful World Of Cinema: Lifeboat

The Stop Button: Young And Innocent

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

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

Cinema Essentials: Dial M For Murder

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

Cary Grant Won’t Eat You: Torn Curtain

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: Rebecca

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Hitchcock Blogathon 3

Hitchcock blogathon 5

Hitchcock blogathon 2018 1

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

Films I Love, Thriller

Rear Window(1954)

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Jeff watches his neighbours. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff’s glamourous girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly)loves him dearly, but the two are complete opposites in background, life and society. Lisa begins to get concerned about Jeff’s obsession with the neighbours and she tries to get him to focus on her instead.

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Mr and Mrs. Thorwald. Screenshot by me.

Soon Lisa gets drawn into his obsession when the pair begin to suspect neighbour Lars Thorwald (a menacing Raymond Burr)of having murdered his invalid wife and taken her body out of their apartment late at night.

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

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

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The apartment complex. Screenshot by me.

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

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Miss Loneleyheart. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

What do you think of Rear Window?

 

Blogathons

Announcing The David Lean Blogathon

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

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

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

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

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

Participation List

Maddylovesherclassicfilms:  Oliver Twist

Cinematic Scribblings: This Happy Breed

Silver Screen Classics: Doctor Zhivago 

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

Caftan Woman: Great Expectations

Wolffian Classics Movies Digest: Brief Encounter

Poppity: Hobson’s Choice and Madeleine

Vinnieh: Doctor Zhivago

Retro Movie Buff: Blithe Spirit

The Wonderful World Of Cinema: Lawrence Of Arabia

The Stop Button: The Sound Barrier

MovieRob: Summertime and The Passionate Friends

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David Lean 1

David Lean 2

Drama, Japanese Cinema, Romance

Cruel Story Of Youth (1960)

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

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Makoto and Kiyoshi. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The couple at the beach. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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The sisters have a talk. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Yusuke. Screenshot by me.

Yusuke is so intense and he very skillfully conveys how Kiyoshi is an angry young man consumed with a great rage, who is rebelling against everything and looking after himself first.

Yusuke does a brilliant job of getting us to see just how much Kiyoshi is completely thrown when Makoto comes into his life, and how he develops genuine feelings for her and doesn’t really know how to deal with those feelings or with her constant presence in his life. 

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Miyuki. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

Films I Love, Noir

The Narrow Margin (1952)

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

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

The Narrow Margin was an RKO studios film and it was directed by Richard Fleischer. It was shot in just twelve days. The screenplay for the film was written by Earl Felton and it was Oscar nominated. The film has no music other than Mrs.Neall’s beloved records. Instead the sound effects of the train wheels and ambient noise are all that we hear as the film goes on. I think those natural sounds add a great amount of realism to the film and I like that the scenes are undisturbed by intrusive or over dramatic music.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brown. Screenshot by me.

Besides the fabulous dialogue, it is the complex and very fascinating characters who make this film what it is. Charles McGraw’s character is one of the hardest, toughest and cynical men that you’ll find in any film, let alone in any Noir film. Marie Windsor steals every scene she is in as the tough-talking, strong willed dame who sprays quips and insults around as though they were bullets coming out of a gun. 

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

Brown is tough, cynical and he hates the fact that he and his partner are risking their lives for a no good gal like Mrs. Neall. Even though she is testifying, he doesn’t think she’s a good person at heart at all. As they escort her to the train they’ve booked tickets on, Forbes is gunned down by a hitman sent to take out Mrs. Neall. Brown manages to get Mrs.Neall on the train and locks her in the empty compartment. A number of hired heavies board the train too, and there are now very few places on the train for Brown and Mrs. Neall to hide. Can Brown protect her or not? Brown also has to deal with the distraction of the lovely Mrs. Sinclair (Jacqueline White)who is travelling on the train with her young son. Brown and Mrs. Sinclair strike up a genuine bond and he becomes very fond of her. 

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

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

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

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

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

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Mrs. Neall gets threatened. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

Any other fans of this one?

Comedy, Films I Love, Romance

It Happened One Night (1934)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter and Ellie get close. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Clark Gable as Peter. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Claudette Colbert as Ellie. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

                                         Roscoe Karns as Shapeley. Screenshot by me.

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

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

                                    Peter attempting to hitch a lift. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

Below are some facts and a legend about the film.

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

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


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

 

 

Blogathons, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon

 

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

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

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

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

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The Entries

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Blogathons, Films I Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Myers. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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No escape from Myers. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Talman. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Lovejoy. Screenshot by me.

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

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

 

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O’Brien. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on this film?

 

Blogathons, Silent Film, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon: Day One

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

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

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

                                                                    

                                                            Day 1 Entries

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

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

Speakeasy reviews a Chaney horror film called The Monster.

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

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

 

Blogathons, Silent Film, Tributes To Classic Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lon as Quasimodo. Screenshot by me.

I really love his makeup for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923). He did a terrific job of creating Quasimodo’s facial deformity. I especially love the swollen eye and the disfigurement on the lower lip.He also put himself (yet again)through great physical discomfort to play this role. It is a very physical role too, and he does lots of climbing and scenes where he is jumping and swinging off of things, he also captures Quasimodo’s physical effort and discomfort when walking. 

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

Lon was especially good at portraying characters who were disabled, disfigured or unlucky in love. He played these people in such an empathic way that he made us feel their pain, their desires, their rage, and also their very deep sadness. He could convey so much to us about them through facial expressions or a single glance. Although Lon also played many able bodied characters throughout his career, it is the disabled and disfigured characters he played that he is best remembered for by audiences today. He makes us connect with these characters, and he makes us feel for them and experience what they are going through.

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

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

For example, in The Penalty (1920) Lon had his legs lifted up behind his back in a special harness. He then inserted his knees into two leather stumps, this then created the effect of him being a double amputee with leg stumps. He taught himself to walk on his knees in a way that appeared natural during his scenes. This was extremely painful for him to endure during filming. I think the pain and discomfort certainly paid off though because it looks like he is a real amputee when you watch this film. 

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

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

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

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Lon as The Phantom. Screenshot by me.

I love his makeup for this character because he looks so gaunt and scary. His eyes are sunken and he looks in some ways like a skeleton. His nose is also extremely disfigured and stretched. It is a startling sight when you look at it. I like that he also plays the phantom as being very graceful and athletic physically. Lon makes for quite a commanding screen presence in this role. He is totally terrifying and his hideous makeup helps a great deal. I also like how Lon ensures that we both fear and pity the phantom at various points throughout the film because of how he plays the role.

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

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

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

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

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

When Lon portrayed disabled and disfigured people on screen he played them in a way that showed audiences that these people were just like everyone else. His films also show that the disabled and disfigured can work, create, fall in love, and most importantly can exist along with able bodied people. He also showed the incredible courage of these people in not hiding away. The people he played are often shown as trying their best to get on with their life as normal. Lon also showed us the unique abilities that some disabled people can have, such as using other limbs to compensate for the loss of hands for example, as seen in Lon’s performance as the armless Alonzo in The Unknown

It’s also important for us to remember that in the era that Lon played these characters, disability and disfigurement were very much seen as being taboo subjects for many people. Mentally ill and disabled people were often sadly shut away in homes and were put out of sight and mind. At this time there were also thousands of WW1 veterans returning home from the trenches; these men were suffering from terrible disfigurements and wounds and other people in society were quite shocked and frightened by how they looked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on Lon Chaney Sr?

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

 

 

 

Horror, Page To Screen

The Exorcist (1973)

Where to begin with this film? For decades The Exorcist has been called the scariest film of all time. It’s not hard to see why it has earned that title. It is a very disturbing and shocking film. It was banned here in the UK for years when it came time to release it on video.  

Upon its release at cinemas people threw up, ran out of the cinema, and broke down in tears because they simply couldn’t handle the horror that they were being subjected to with this film. Nothing like this film had ever been seen before and some people just couldn’t handle what they were seeing up there on that screen. Of course all of these reaction stories gained the film more publicity and audience attendance figures went through the roof.

Why does this film affect people so much? I think part of it is due to the fact that the possessed character is a child. It would be one thing to watch an adult go through what we see in this film, but seeing a child undergoing  such things is very disturbing. At the beginning of the film we also get to see this child as a pure, bubbly, sweet and happy girl, and then when the transformation comes we are shocked because we’ve gotten to know her personality and how she is later is such a shocking change to how she was at the beginning. The transformation is also depicted as happening in a gradual way, I think that makes us more scared of what we are seeing because it is happening in stages and we are not sure quite what we are witnessing or what the final result will be. 

I also think that whether or not you are a religious person, it can’t be denied that the concept of the devil is something that strikes fear into most people. In this film the thing taking over the child claims to be the devil himself and that is very frightening because you think there is no way she can be saved or he stopped. I also have to say that I find it odd that many religious people have been so opposed to this film over the years. The film shows the Catholic church in a positive light and has them as the heroes of the story. The Exorcist certainly is dark, frightening and even disgusting at some points; but it is also without a doubt one of the best good versus evil films that has ever been made.  

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Chris is terrified. Screenshot by me.

Today some younger viewers more accustomed to gory films, say that they find this film to be laughable. The film has been terrifically parodied in the Scary Movie films, which sadly means that people who have seen those films first may laugh at the actual film when they see it. Personally though I don’t see anything in The Exorcist to laugh about. It is a scary film and it messes with the audience in a psychological way quite unlike any other horror film ever has. 

I first saw this film on video with my parents when I was 18 or 19. Me and my dad had never seen this before. My mum had seen it at the cinema upon its original release. Mum said she saw it with her friend who was a Catholic, the film disturbed my mum, but she said it really messed her friend up more and that she was very upset by it. They both left the cinema trying to process what they had seen, and they were freaking out because they now had to walk home in the dark afterwards!  We all found this scary when we watched it together and my dad has refused to watch this again ever since. I’ve managed to watch it again a few times but it is a film that really unsettles me and I don’t know why. Do you know that feeling you get where you’re aware that someone is standing behind you, but you can’t see them? Well, that’s the feeling I get if I watch this on my own. I never feel like this when I watch any other horror film. This film really unsettles me like no other ever has.

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Father Karras. Screenshot by me.

What I like about this film is that it really gets you thinking and it also affects you emotionally. I really feel for the mother and how she reaches her wits end trying to help her daughter; I feel her fear and pain, because we in the audience have been just as distressed by what we’ve witnessed as she has. I also like how it addresses the crisis of faith that Father Karras is undergoing. I imagine this issue must have disturbed some Catholic viewers who didn’t like to accept that even their devout Priests could find their faith being so severely tested at times.

This film also makes you question why do bad things like this happen to good and innocent people? As Father Merrin says (in my favourite scene from the directors cut)”I think that the point is to make us despair. To reject the possibility that God could love us.” This dialogue comes from a scene that William Peter Blatty (the screenwriter, and author of the novel the film is based on)was desperate to be included in the theatrical release. It was a scene with Merrin and Karras taking a break from the exorcism and Karras asks Merrin “Why this girl?”. You see both men are really shook up by what they’ve just seen in the room, and you can see that even the older man is shocked to his core. The director William Friedkin refused to keep the staircase scene in, and it was taken out, along with the ending featuring the detective and the other Priest. This cut final scene shows us that there are still nice things happening in the world, as well as all the bad things. Years later Friedkin put both of these scenes back in as part of the directors cut.

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Father Merrin arrives. Screenshot by me.

The film is based upon the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty. The novel was inspired by a real exorcism case that Blatty heard about. The real exorcism happened to a little boy in America in 1949. In the film version the possessed individual was changed to a twelve year old girl.

Director William Friedkin knew what he was doing when he made this film. He builds up the horror and suspense slowly as the film goes on. He does such a terrific job of focusing equally on the performances, the character development and the horror. He shoots the horror scenes in such a way that you are drawn to the screen, even when you really want to just look away in fear.  I also like that music is used sparingly in this film. All too often in horror films music accompanies the scary moments and sometimes that can take me out of the horror I’m watching, but the lack of music in most scenes in this film makes what is happening on screen seem more real in a way. 

Georgetown, Washington DC. Film actress, Chris MacNeil(Ellen Burstyn)is distraught when her twelve year old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair)begins exhibiting strange and frightening behaviour. Regan says vile and disturbing things, she does unusual things and has no memory of doing them, and her bed (with her on it)keeps violently shaking. Numerous tests and scans are carried out but no medical cause for her behaviour can be found. Regan deteriorates further and further and then she begins to transform physically into something monstrous. Things take an even more terrifying turn when Regan claims she is the devil himself.

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Regan fully transformed. Screenshot by me.

Chris (who isn’t religious)finds herself turning to the church for help. She meets with Jesuit Priest, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller),and she explains the situation to him and begs him to help her. Father Karras agrees to help as he can see how distressed she is. Karras visits Regan, talks with her and also studies her to see if she could be mentally ill. I like this section because in reality it is rare for an exorcism to actually be performed. Mental illness and conditions such as brain tumors or emotional trauma have to be ruled out by doctors and priests before they’ll even contemplate performing an exorcism. If no explanation can be found for the behaviour that is when a priest will step in.

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Regan levitates. Screenshot by me.

Once Karras becomes convinced nothing but possession could be causing her behaviour, he asks for permission from church superiors to go ahead and perform an exorcism. Enter Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), he is a much older priest who has performed several exorcisms around the world. His last encounter took quite a toll on him and weakened his heart considerably. Merrin prepares Karras for what they will be encountering and tries to warn him not to listen to anything the possessed girl says to him. This is easier said than done and Karras will struggle greatly as the two men battle evil for the soul of Regan.

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Father Merrin speaks to Chris. Screenshot by me.

When I first saw this film, I was convinced Sydow was actually an elderly actor. I hadn’t seen him in anything before this and I was astonished to learn later that he was only in his thirties when he played Merrin. The convincing age makeup and his body language and weary expressions really do make you believe he is an old man. Sydow has since become one of my favourite actors and I love his performance in this film a great deal. He gives his character an aura of worldliness, kindness and wisdom; he is certainly distressed by what he sees, but he knows how to keep a lid on his reactions of disgust and distress. Merrin is experienced in these matters and knows how to not let himself become affected by what he hears and sees. He tries to keep an eye on Karras and help him not feel so alone during the exorcism. Sydow’s performance lingers in the mind long after the film has finished. I love how reassuring Merrin is and how he makes Chris (and us) feel reassured and safe when he walks into the MacNeil home.

Jason Miller is moving as the doubt riddled young priest. He conveys that Karras is kind and approachable and tries to do his best, but how he despairs at the horror and violence he sees around him daily. I wish Miller had made more films after this because he is very good here.  

Ellen Burstyn is excellent as the mother who can’t believe what is happening to her daughter. Burstyn lets you feel her fear and sadness. You pity her and admire her for staying with her daughter in spite of what is happening to her. Ellen suffered a bad back injury during a stunt in this film. A stuntman pulled too tightly on a back harness she was wearing for the scene where Regan slaps her and the force of the slap sends her across the room.

Linda Blair gives an impressive performance for one so young. She excels at the creepy facial expressions and terrifying outbursts of her character. She also does such a good job of conveying the innocence and sweetness of Regan in the beginning of the film, this allows us to then become utterly terrified by her personality change later in the film once she gets possessed. Regan’s possession dialogue (which features some vile language and disturbing screams) were dubbed over for Linda by the older actress Mercedes McCambridge(Johnny Guitar and Giant.) Mercedes vocal performance is chilling.  
Lee J. Cobb provides solid support as Lt. Kinderman, a detective whose investigations into a suspicious death leads him to investigate Regan. He becomes convinced Regan is responsible for the case he is investigating.

Dick Smith’s pioneering makeup work on the film is to be applauded. The makeup for Regan’s transformation is horrifying and very effective indeed. Smith did more than just apply makeup though, he mixed makeup with practical effects (such as making welts on Regan rise up on the skin)which made the makeup very realistic indeed.  

My favourite scenes are the following. Chris meeting Karras in the park and begging him for help. Merrin and Karras staircase talk. The shadow of Regan walking past her bedroom window(when she is supposed to be tied to the bed). Merrin arriving at the house and speaking to Chris, I love how gentle and comforting he is with her when they speak. The entire exorcism sequence. The head spinning scenes. Chris going into the attic and getting scared. Cracks appearing on Regan’s bedroom door.

The Exorcist remains a disturbing and scary film decades after its original release. I can think of no other horror film past or present that has ever had an impact on the audience the way this film has. I prefer the theatrical version of the film, but I recommend the directors cut for the staircase scene between Merrin and Karras and for the ending. The directors cut also includes the infamous spider walk sequence.

There are two sequels to this film. Exorcist II: The Heretic is truly one of the worst films ever made. This sequel will have you screaming with laughter though because it is so bad and is not remotely scary. I think I would have been so disappointed if I went to see this at the time it was released thinking I was going to get what the first film gave us. Exorcist III however is as disturbing and thought provoking as the original. George C. Scott portrays Lt. Kinderman this time around and the third film focuses on him investigating some brutal murders which may be being carried out under demonic influence. It also focuses on Kinderman’s friendship with a priest who featured in the original film.

What are your thoughts on this film? Please leave your comments below.

Romance, Thriller

King Kong (1933)

This year is the 85th anniversary of the release of the film King Kong. The film was a huge success when it was released, it made a great deal of money at the box office, and its success saved RKO Studios from falling into bankruptcy.

Besides the spectacular Stop Motion effects that the film features, King Kong is probably best remembered for Fay Wray ripping her lungs out screaming in terror, as she is kidnapped by the giant ape of the title. The film is a great deal of fun. I really like the film but I do have some issues with it which I’ll get to in a bit.

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The name is Kong. King Kong. Screenshot by me.

King Kong really is a milestone in the history of Stop Motion Photography. The very clever process had been around for some years previously, but the way it was used in this film far eclipsed anything that had come before. Next to the work of Ray Harryhausen, I would say that this film is one of most significant and important stop motion films ever made.

Stop Motion Animator Willis O’Brien and his team of miniaturists, technicians and painters all worked marvels on this film. Their work made it seem like King Kong was a real giant ape. I love how they made it seem like Kong was far larger than his natural surroundings, and how he was also larger than any people he comes across and therefore he seems quite intimidating and frightening to them.

I especially love how Willis and his team managed to achieve medium shots of Kong in front of surroundings (be it jungles, cliffs or New York City)and made it look like he was bigger than everything around him. I also liked the shots where they also managed to make it look like he had Fay Wray (looking tiny in comparison to him) trapped in one of his hands. It’s incredible what they managed to achieve on this film in regards to the technical side of making the film.

I also love how they managed to make Kong’s face express a wide range of emotions. Kong is shown as being curious, sad, angry and scared at various points in the film. The emotions of Kong are what make me marvel at this film so much; Kong is made so much more than a mere wow factor special effect, his emotions mean that we connect with him and consider him to be real; therefore we also feel for him as the film goes on adnhe becomes hunted and harmed.

Kong wasn’t the only Stop Motion character in the film either. There are dinosaurs on Kong’s island and they too are made to come alive through the magic of Stop Motion. The scene where Kong fights a flying dinosaur on a cliff edge is one of my favourite scenes. I also like the scene where a man is attacked up a tree by a dinosaur and gets eaten in the process. The dinosaur sequences are just as impressive as the solo Kong shots. The scene where Kong and dinosaur fight in the swamp is a highlight of the film.

King Kong was directed by Merian C. Cooper (who also created the character of Kong)and Ernest B. Schoedsack.  Film director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong)has charted a ship under the command of Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher). The ship will take him and his film crew to the unexplored Skull Island. Denham wants to shoot his new film there. 

 Along for the ride is Denham’s leading lady, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray)a young woman left hungry and desperate due to the Depression. Denham sees potential in this gal and he intends to make her a star. On the trip to the island Ann falls for the  ships First Mate, the rugged and gruff Jack Driscoll(Bruce Cabot).  I love the scenes between them, but I dearly wish we could have had more scenes where we get to witness their relationship developing.

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Ann and Jack share a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

When the ship reaches the island the crew go ashore. There they find a tribe of natives who live in a village near a massive wall and gate built along the side of the jungle which lies beyond. They leave in a hurry when the natives spot them and head towards them. A few hours later some natives come out to the ship and kidnap Ann. She is taken ashore and tied up on the other side of the wall. She is prepared as an offering to the giant ape Kong, who lives in the jungle and is worshipped as some sort of god by the natives. Jack and the others head back to the island to try and rescue her. 

           Ann sees Kong. Screenshot by me.

Kong takes Ann through the jungle (fighting off dinosaurs along the way)to his clifftop home. When they are alone he becomes very curious about her and studies her, prods her with his fingers and handles her so gently. I love the scenes where he studies her because he is so fascinated by her. I also like how he is so gentle with her after we have just seen him kill and destroy in the previous scenes. There is something about Ann that draws him to her, and even though she is terrified of him, he can’t bear to part with her. Is it love on his part? Who knows, but there is certainly something that makes him desperate to keep her with him from now on.

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Ann in Kong’s hand. Screenshot by me.

Jack finds Ann and together they manage to escape from Kong by climbing down a vine. Kong goes crazy and chases them. He breaks through the wall and gate, destroys the native village, kills (in pretty graphic detail)many natives as they flee, and gets closer and closer to Ann and Jack. Down on the beach, the ships crew manage to stun Kong and they sedate him and put on the ship. Kong is then taken back to New York and exhibited as the Eighth Wonder Of The World. Kong breaks loose from the stage of the theatre where he is being held and stumbles around the streets of the big city looking for Ann.

Climbing up the outside of a building he peeks through a window and sees a woman, thinking it is Ann he reaches in and grabs her; this lady isn’t Ann and she is terrified, he throws her and she falls screaming to her death. Kong continues his climb and finds Ann on another floor, he reaches in and grabs her. Then he roams the streets again trying to escape the noise of the city. He also attacks an elevated train and kills several people.  

Then he climbs the Empire State Building and gazes down on the city below. A group of fighter planes are dispatched to shoot him. He places Ann down on the roof of the tower and stands to his full height and tries to grab the passing planes, but he cannot prevent himself from getting shot down and he falls to his death. The Empire State Building sequence is the real highpoint of the film and it has become one of the most famous scenes in film history. There is so much suspense in this scene and the whole thing looks truly epic. 

                                    The Empire State Building finale. Screenshot by me.

On the ground people gather around the giant body of Kong. Denham utters the famous last lines of the film: “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast”. This line sums up the film really, it is one of the best takes on the beauty and the beast story out there. Kong loves Ann in some way, and when he is with her he is gentle and protective instead of ferocious and cruel. He never hurts her either. Kong is the real victim of the film, instead of Ann because he is used and persecuted. Also his affection for Ann wasn’t returned by her (unlike in the Jackson remake, Fay Wray’s Ann is utterly terrified of Kong throughout the film)at any time, so even the person he likes doesn’t return the same feelings he does. Poor old Kong, my heart goes out to him so much as the film goes on.

As a viewer I am always torn about just how I want the famous final scene of this film to go down. On one hand I really pity Kong and I want him to escape and be able to somehow live happily. I always wish that those bullets will miss him as they are fired. On the other hand he has killed many people in the city and done so much damage that at this point he is a major danger, menace, and he has become quite scary too, so part of me does accept and understand why he has to be stopped. This scene still packs quite an emotional punch today I think. The scene is so well put together and paced and it delivers a thrilling and suspenseful finale to the thrill ride we’ve been on. 

As much as I enjoy the film, I also have a number of issues with it too. I really like the effects but I think the characters are very underdeveloped which is a real shame. I think a few more scenes on the boat would have been good to allow us more character development. I also think that the acting is pretty bad, some of the actors yell their dialogue, and some talk in quite a rushed way too. Reicher and Cabot deliver two of the better performances in my opinion, but even they are not as good as they could have been. Fay Wray spends more time screaming than she does delivering lines of dialogue! The cliché depiction of Ann as a helpless damsel in distress really gets on my nerves. All these things really annoy me because I don’t care about any of these characters at all, and I often cringe at most of the scenes featuring humans only. Kong delivers the best performances in the film in my opinion.

There are many films of this decade featuring far better acting and character development than what we see here. I worry that if any young viewers see this as their first foray into classic era film that they may (quite understandably )be put off. This may mean they won’t check out other classic films because they think the acting will be like this in all films from this decade in particular (we know that isn’t the case), and they may take one look at this film and never return to the classic film era again. I think it’s such a shame that the human side of this story got lost along the way somehow. 

A few more scenes with Kong and Ann would have been beneficial too I think so there could have been more interaction between them. I think more scenes between them would have given us a chance to see Kong’s affection for her develop even more. 

I do love how dark and graphic this film is. There are many scenes of Kong and the dinosaurs killing people and eating them. During the code era many of these scenes had to be cut from the film on re-release due to them being deemed to graphic. The scene where Kong takes off some of Ann’s clothes and examines them was also cut because it was sexually suggestive. I’d hate to have seen this butchered version because all those scenes are among the best in the film! The violence of Kong also serves to show how differently he behaves when Ann is around. 

The depiction of the natives of Kong’s Island is also pretty bad. The native characters are even less developed than the main characters are. The natives are also dressed in the cliché native style of grass skirts and bangles. A few scenes that allowed us to get to know them and their culture better couldn’t have hurt. 

85 years on from its release, and I think that King Kong still astounds viewers and has held up pretty well as a very enjoyable adventure film. I will take stop motion and practical effects over fake looking CGI any day of the week because they look so much better. I wish I could have been in the first audiences for this film to have seen how everyone reacted to Kong. 

What are your thoughts on the film?

 

Drama, Films I Love, Noir

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Odds Against Tomorrow is directed by Robert Wise. The film was one of two films to be produced by its star Harry Belafonte’s own production company – HarBel Productions. This is a film that I love very much. I recently treated myself and bought it on Blu-ray. I highly recommend that you purchase it in that format as it looks fantastic, there are some great extras on it to also enjoy.

This is a taut, atmospheric and extremely gritty film all about desperate people doing desperate things in order to survive. The film also takes a hard-hitting look at the issue of racism too. The final shot shows the stupidity of racism(and other prejudices) because we are all the same; we are all humans who are trying to live, and when we die it doesn’t matter what skin colour, sexual orientation, gender etc we are, as we are all equally dead and are the same in death. So what the hell are we wasting time fighting and hating one another for when we are alive? As the film goes along we also see that Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan’s characters are more similar than they are dissimilar, both in terms of their struggles and prejudices, and also in their mutual run of bad luck.

The film was shot out on location in New York and for me this helps to give the film a very realistic feel. In terms of its atmosphere and look this film reminds me quite a bit of Sweet Smell Of Success. The realistic look of this film coupled with the performances and the characters stories, make this one give off an almost documentary vibe. This story manages to have an impact because it comes across as being so real and true to life. 

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The robbery in progress. Screenshot by me.

Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan both deliver two of the best performances of their respective acting careers. They are both excellent as the two tightly wound men edging ever closer to their respective breaking points.

Both Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan make us care about their characters and convey to us how frustrated they are with their respective situations. Both tell us much about their characters simply by an expression, or by the way they respond to something someone says to them. 

This film was quite daring for the time it was made in because it showed black and white people as being the same. In this film Johnny and Earle are both depicted as having good times and bad, they each have difficulties where their romantic relationships are concerned and they both need money.

Despite their mutual hatred for one another, Earle and Johnny are actually very similar men. We can tell these are just two broken, lonely and essentially decent guys just trying to survive and get by doing what they have to. Both men love their wives very much and are trying to make a better life for their families. The film shows us that we are all people and if we look beyond our petty prejudices we will find more similarities with one another than we will find differences.

Dave Burke (Ed Begley)is a bitter ex detective who is living a pretty crummy life. He has planned what sounds like a perfect bank robbery. He just needs two people to help him do the job. He enlists embittered, WW2 veteran and ruthless killer, Earle Slater (Robert Ryan)and heavily in debt, gambling singer Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) to help him. Each man stands to get $50,000 for their part in the robbery. 

The robbery should be pretty simple but Johnny and Earle’s mutual hatred of each other causes tension and chaos. Earle is openly racist and Johnny is not one to stand by and just take that foul rubbish lying down, he returns the hatred, and Earle doesn’t like it one bit. It all leads to a tense and violent finale. 

The main trio of Ryan, Belafonte and Begley are all excellent. Begley is another actor in this who tells you much with just an expression or glance. I believe from the way he reacts to racist comments that his character is not a racist, and that is quite an interesting angle to the film. His character Dave is also shown to be friends with Johnny and they have known each other for years. Dave doesn’t like Earle’s attitude and he is shown to be openly disgusted by Earle’s horrible words and attitudes. I also find Dave an interesting character because he started out on the right side of the law and has now joined the wrong side.

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Johnny puts his anger into his singing. Screenshot by me.

Harry Belafonte plays Johnny as a tightly wound man who has got where he has in the world due to his own skill and determination and nothing else. There are times when he wants to strike out at the  people giving him racial abuse, but he stops himself knowing there will be trouble if he does.

I love the nightclub sequence where his eyes show the undisguised hatred he feels for the gangster he is heavily in debt to. Watch Harry’s eyes throughout the film, those eyes convey so much about what Johnny is feeling and going through.

I also love how the way that Harry sings in this film, he shows us that singing is a way for Johnny to be able to release all that rage and distress building up inside of him; Johnny may not be able to take his rage out on the people hurting him, but he sure can take it out on the microphone. 

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Earle. Screenshot by me.

Robert Ryan plays Earle like a ticking time bomb. This man has a temper which is on a real short fuse. He feels less of a man due to his dire situation and thinks money will make him something more.

Keep your eye on Robert throughout and you will see him convey how on edge Earle is, this guy is just waiting to unleash his pent up anger on anyone who happens to be around.

In real life Robert was the exact opposite of the racist Earle, he was a very liberal man and was involved in Civil Rights; the fact that he so convinces as such a despicable character as Earle shows what a gifted actor he was.

Shelley Winters, Kim Hamilton and Gloria Grahame play the dames in the lives of Earle and Johnny. Kim is Ruth, Johnny’s ex wife and the mother of his adored daughter. Ruth loves him but she cannot take his lifestyle, nor can she stand his hatred of white people. Ruth will always love him, but she can’t be with him anymore. Kim is excellent and conveys so much by her facial expressions alone.

Shelley is Earle’s much younger wife Lorry, she loves him dearly and with her he can be vulnerable and himself. It is in scenes with her that we see his tender and gentle nature come out into the open.

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Earle and Lorry share a moment. Screenshot by me.

Gloria Grahame is Helen, a friend of Lorry’s who lives in the flat above theirs. She wants to be taken out of herself and treated as a woman (an escape from the drudgery of her life)she fancies Earle and he knows it.

Earle has never cheated on Lorry, but one night he and Helen are talking and it’s obvious to them (and certainly to us)that they are going to have sex. The tension between them is electric in this sequence. Sadly the actresses don’t have as much to do on screen as the men do, but they are all excellent and make an impression when they are on screen.

Keep an eye out for Richard Bright (best known for playing Michael’s loyal bodyguard Neri, in The Godfather)as a homosexual henchman of the gangster that Johnny is in debt to. Wayne Rogers (of MASH fame)also has a small role as a soldier who gets on the wrong side of Earle.

I’m always left feeling sorry for those who love and are waiting for these men to return from their date with crime. There’s Earle and Johnny’s wives, and David’s beloved pet dog, the one thing on earth who appears to love him and who is loved in return. They all have my symapthy and I’m always left wondering what happened to them all following the events that end this film.

My favourite scenes are the following. Johnny taking his daughter to the park. Lorry telling Earle he can borrow money from her. Johnny’s funny exchange with the elevator operator. Earle punching the soldier in the bar. The entire final 30 minutes of the film.

This story comes across as just one example of thousands more like it. We are all (whether we are men or women) trying to escape from some pain or perceived weakness, we all want a better life and we are all trying to get by. This film captures the lonelieness and problems of humanity well. It also shows us that racism is so stupid as we are all the same, can’t we make some effort to get along while we are living on this planet?

This film is a real highpoint in the careers of all in the cast and of the director Robert Wise. I’d love to know what you think of this film? Please leave your comments below.

Films I Love, Unsung Classics

George Sanders As Simon Templar

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The Saint’s signature stickman. Screenshot by me.

In 1928, the author Leslie Charteris introduced readers to a man named Simon Templar. Simon was known to the Police and to criminals as The Saint.

Simon Templar was a suave and very charming gentleman thief; he was also something of a Robin Hood type figure who stood up to injustice and remained one step ahead of the Police (and of any bad guys) when they pursued him.

He was always on the side of good though and he would sometimes team up with the Police to help them stop bad and dangerous criminals. My favourite aspect of the novels (and the TV series adaptation)is Simon’s love/hate relationship with Inspector Teale of Scotland Yard; their banter is hysterical and I love how deep down they really like and respect one another. This friendship is found in the George Sanders films between Simon and Inspector Fernack.

Simon ended up becoming a very popular character with readers. Simon would leave a hand drawn stick figure man with a halo over his head as his signature mark on messages he had penned, or at the site of his own crime scenes. The stick man would feature in the opening of the RKO films starring George Sanders.

Simon first appeared in the novel Meet The Tiger (1928). This first novel also sees the introduction of the character Patricia Holm. Patricia becomes a frequent partner and girlfriend of Simon’s, she pops up in many of the novels but she doesn’t appear in the film adaptions. Charteris carried on writing the Saint novels until 1963. 

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Screenshot by me.

There have been several screen adaptations of The Saint made over the years, for both film and also for television.

There was also a 1940’s radio series adaption starring Vincent Price as Simon. Arguably though the most famous screen adaptation of Charteris’s work was the 1960’s British TV series starring Roger Moore as Simon.

I totally dig that TV series(thanks dad for introducing me to Simon Templar and also to a pre-Bond Roger Moore), but I much prefer the 1930’s and 1940’s film series starring George Sanders as The Saint.  

George took over the role of Simon Templar from Louis Hayward, who had played Simon in The Saint In New York (1938).The suave George Sanders was basically the go to actor in Hollywood at this time if you wanted someone to play a cad or villain in your film. As Simon, George got to show that he was actually just as adept at playing good guys and heroes as he was playing villains and heartbreakers. I also like how he plays Simon as a ladies man, but not in any way as a man who breaks the hearts of the women he dates or treats them badly (unlike the many cad characters George so often played in other films).

I was so excited when I first found out that George had played Simon in this film series. When I started to watch these films I became quite angry; I was so angry when I thought about how the studios didn’t let George play the hero more often on screen. What a wasted opportunity! When I read any of the Saint novels now it is George’s face that I see when I’m picturing Simon, he really is the perfect screen version of this character and is every inch the hero.

I quite like George’s other (relatively small number) good guy performances in films like Foreign Correspondent, Lured, The Lodger and The Falcon film series. His performance in the Saint series is a highlight in his career in my opinion. George Sanders perfectly captures Simon Templar’s wit, intellect, charm and (when necessary)his physical toughness. Through his portrayal I always get the sense that his Simon Templar is someone you would love to have as a friend and he would make you feel safe, but you certainly wouldn’t want him as your enemy.

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Simon and Inspector Fernack look for a clue. Screenshot by me.

I really love how George delivers his lines in these films, he shows us that words are Simon’s weapons and he throws them around like knives. George is clearly having a lot of fun during scenes where he fires off quips and insults at people he loathes.

I also really love the look George has on his face when he’s playing scenes where Simon sees through another characters lies. I also don’t think you’re ever in doubt that his Simon can more than take care of himself in a fight. He’s also got no hesitation in dishing out a bit of violence to villains who deserve a taste of their own medicine.

George Sanders played Simon Templar between 1939 and 1941. That all ended when RKO studios offered him the role of Gay Laurence in the 1941 film, The Gay Falcon. The Falcon series so closely resembled The Saint series, that Leslie Charteris actually ended up suing RKO Studios for plagiarism. I consider it to be a great shame that George didn’t get to star in any more Saint films. I think he was perfectly suited to the role of Simon and I consider him to be the best Simon Templar ever seen on screen. Given how much The Falcon resembled The Saint, you can watch those films and consider them a continuation of Simon’s adventures. Sanders tired of playing Laurence after only three films, his own brother Tom Conway went on to become that series lead playing Laurence’s brother. The Saint film series later continued on with two more films starring Hugh Sinclair as Simon.

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Simon and some lady friends hit the tennis courts. Screenshot by me.

I love George’s performance the most in The Saint Takes Over, The Saint Strikes Back, and The Saint in Palm Springs. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching any of his Saint films, but these three films in particular have become great favourites. In addition to George’s terrific performance throughout the series, I also want to give a shout out to the terrific supporting cast joining him.

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Jonathan Hale as Inspector Fernack. Screenshot by me.

Jonathan Hale plays Inspector Henry Fernack, friend and frequent professional thorn in Templar’s side. Fernack essentially replaces Simon’s friend, British Inspector Teale, once Templar moves across the pond to the US.

 

Hale is excellent and I think that he and George Sanders work very well together in these films. They are both terrific in comic moments involving the pair of them. I really love Hale in the scene where he has an allergic reaction to some seafood in The Saint Strikes Back. 

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Paul Guilfoyle as Clarence. Screenshot by me.

 

Paul Guilfoyle adds a great deal of comedy to the films as another of Simon’s pals, Clarence ‘Pearly’ Gates. He steals all the scenes he is in. I always look forward to him appearing in scenes, especially if he has scenes with George Sanders.

 

 

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Wendy Barrie. Screenshot by me.

Wendy Barrie pops up in most of Sanders Saint and Falcon films. She isn’t an actress who I’ve ever really been a fan of, but I think she is actually very good in these films. I like her in scenes with Sanders, and I think that they play off one another very well. She usually plays Simon’s love interest.

 

 

The role of Simon Templar could well have been written especially for George Sanders, he fits the role just like a glove. I love his performance and I like the elegant, suave and tough way he plays Simon. His performance as The Saint has become a great favourite of mine. I really enjoy returning to these films to watch his portrayal of Simon. 

These films are great fun and are very enjoyable and quality B pictures. You could do far worse than spend an hour watching one of these films. If you’re a fan of George Sanders then I highly recommend that you check him out in these films. 

Please share your thoughts on Sanders portrayal of Simon Templar. Which of these films are your favourites? I’ll be happy to receive comments about the books too.

Disaster, Films I Love

A Night To Remember (1958)

On April 10th, 1912, the White Star Line passenger ship, R.M.S Titanic set out on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. There were more than two thousand people travelling aboard the ship.

The Titanic hit an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic on the evening of the 14th of April. Just a couple of hours later this luxurious ship had sunk to the bottom of the sea. 1523 passengers and crew perished in the freezing sea that night. There were only 705 survivors.  

In the years following this disaster, there have been many other shipping disasters around the world, some have involved even greater numbers of casualties, but even now over 100 years later the Titanic sinking remains the most famous of them all.

There is also still a tremendous amount of interest in this disaster and in the ship itself. Why is that? Well, I would say it’s due to several things. The ship was on her maiden voyage when she sank. The Titanic had also been marketed as being an unsinkable ship, and was the biggest and most luxurious ship afloat at the time. This disaster was unthinkable really because of all of that.

                                  First Officer Murdoch sees the iceberg. Screenshot by me.

I think the Titanic disaster also lingers in the mind because so many of the men aboard bravely went to their deaths after giving women their place aboard the lifeboats. The steerage passengers were also forcibly kept from getting to the boat deck until the lifeboats were nearly all launched.

There were also several moving stories such as the band playing as the ship sank from under them, trying desperately to calm frightened passengers with some soothing music. Mr and Mrs Strauss choosing to die together rather than be parted etc. There were also too few lifeboats aboard to save everyone travelling on that voyage; the lifeboats that were onboard were not filled up to their full passenger capacity, this (along with how the steerage passengers were treated) is one of the most shocking parts of the whole disaster for me.

Director Roy Ward Baker and producer William MacQuitty (who actually saw the Titanic launched when he was a boy) made this film in 1958. Their film is based upon Walter Lord’s non-fiction book about the sinking. Lord researched the disaster and he spoke to the Titanic survivors at length. He then published their accounts of what happened that night in his 1955 book called A Night To Remember.

Baker’s film wasn’t the first film to be made about the Titanic. There had been some earlier films made about this disaster. The first Titanic film was Saved From The Titanic (1912), this film starred Dorothy Gibson who was a real life Titanic survivor. The second was Night and Ice (1912)a German film all about the sinking. The third was Titanic (1953), this features Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck as an estranged married couple travelling on the doomed ship.  I think that Baker’s film is the best screen depiction out there of this disaster. 

Baker’s film accurately captures the behaviour of people on the night and I think it also does a superb job of depicting in great detail the horrors of the sinking. James Cameron’s 1997 film was pretty accurate in terms of recreating the ships opulent interiors more so than this film was, but it is Baker’s film which makes me feel like I am actually there with these people on that cold April night. The real Fourth Officer of the Titanic, Joseph Boxhall, served as the technical advisor for the film throughout the shoot.  

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Passengers try to escape from the sea. Screenshot by me.

Baker’s film also does a great job of capturing how frightening and chaotic the sinking was. I like how his film focuses on a variety of different characters from across all three of the class divisions found onboard the ship and shows how they react to the sinking. I also like how the stories of many of the real passengers and crew are focused upon, instead of the film primarily focusing on fictional characters (although the second class couple and the Irish steerage group are fictional characters) like Cameron’s film mainly did. 

I also think that Baker’s film is shot in a way that gives it an almost documentary look. It’s like we’ve somehow dropped in on the real events as they are unfolding and have become helpless onlookers to the disaster. This effect coupled with the superb performances and period recreation, gives the film a realism which Cameron’s version lacks I think.   

Interestingly Baker’s film also depicts the ship as going down in one piece during the sinking. Several witnesses claimed this was what happened, but others claimed it broke apart before going down. When Robert Ballard found the Titanic wreck in 1985, the ship was on the seabed in two pieces. We’ll never know for sure if it broke above the surface, or did so when it hit the seabed, we only know that is in two pieces now. For anyone who believes it broke apart above the surface, try and remember that this film was made before the wreck was discovered and it was based upon the witness testimony recorded at the time.

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The Titanic sinks. Screenshot by me.

A Night To Remember focuses on the experiences of several passengers and crew travelling on the ship. We follow the Titanic from her launch in Southampton and out to France and Ireland to pick up more passengers. We then see the ship move out into the Atlantic travelling on to New York. When the ship hits an iceberg panic and chaos reign as the passengers and crew try escape the sinking ship.

The Titanic bridge crew try to signal a ship that is very close to them (The Californian) for help, but they get no response from that ship. The Titanic wireless message for help is picked up by The Carpathia, but that ship is some hours away from them, but despite their distance they make their way to them as quickly as they can. Once the Titanic sinks, a new hell arrives as the survivors not in lifeboats try to survive in the freezing ocean. 

The character we follow the most in this film is Second Officer Charles Lightoller(Kenneth More). This is one of my favourite films featuring Kenneth More, I think that he is excellent as the proud and heroic officer trying to save lives and keep panic from spreading as the boats are lowered. For the first half of the film Kenneth is really just in a supporting role, but as the film goes on though he ends up becoming the main focal point.

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Kenneth More as Lightoller. Screenshot by me.

There is an incredible cast of British talent in this. Standout performances for me are Kenneth More (as Lightoller, the highest ranking Titanic officer to survive the sinking). Michael Goodliffe(as Thomas Andrews, the designer and builder of the Titanic). Anthony Bushell (as Captain Rostron, the Captain of the rescue ship Carpathia).Ralph Michael(as Mr. Yates, a gambler). Kenneth Griffith (as John Phillips, one of the Titanic’s wireless operators)and Laurence Naismith(as the Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith).A young David McCallum has a supporting role playing wireless operator Harold Bride. James Bond fans should keep their eyes peeled for Desmond Llewelyn(Q)as a steward in the steerage section.

I think Michael Goodliffe gives the best performance in the film as the devastated Mr. Andrews. In the scene where Andrews calmly awaits his fate, Goodliffe has this haunting look on his face that makes you realise that Andrews has mentally and emotionally removed himself from the current situation(he is there in body, but in his mind he has long since gone.)

                                       Andrews prepares for his death. Screenshot by me.

Anyone else catch that Andrews is staring at a painting entitled Approach To The New World? In his situation that title could be seen to refer to the possibility that an afterlife may await him next. Goodliffe is a much underrated actor and I think that A Night To Remember could well be his finest screen hour.                

Several scenes in this always make me cry every time I watch them. The passengers at the stern who start praying in different languages. The old steward finding the little boy and realising they are most likely going to die(as the ship sinks, he hugs the boy and he says to him”we’ll find mummy, we’ll soon find her”). Mr. Andrews persuading the young honeymoon couple to get into a lifeboat or jump overboard. The band playing on as the ship sinks. Mr. Andrews pleading with a young stewardess to put on a lifejacket. Mrs Strauss refusing to leave her husband and get into a boat.

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The steward and the boy. Screenshot by me.

One of the saddest scenes focuses on a first class couple (Honor Blackman and John Merivale)saying goodbye. As the wife gets into a lifeboat with the couples children, the father who has had the truth of the situation from Mr. Andrews, knows full well that he is more than likely never going to see his beloved family ever again.

                             Saying goodbye to his wife and children. Screenshot by me.

I love the look on Merivale’s face as he plays that scene, he shows how scared and brokenhearted this man is and how he is trying to keep a brave face for the sake of his family. It makes me think about the many families that night who had to go through such a parting in reality. 

This film is a powerful depiction of courage and of tragedy. This film is my favourite of all the films out there about this disaster and it has many moments in it that I have found extremely hard to forget. Scenes such as the young couple being killed by the falling funnel. Wailing and screaming beginning to be heard coming from people in the sea after the ship sinks. Andrews preparing himself to die. Ismay(Frank Lawton) breaking down in the lifeboat as he sees the ship sinking. The woman slipping as she gets into a lifeboat and is left hanging between the ship and the lifeboat(terrifying moment). The ship hitting the iceberg and First Officer Murdoch (Richard Leech) desperately trying to change their course. The baker getting drunk to try and protect himself from the effects of the cold water. The passengers and crew at the stern praying and screaming. This is a film that gets under your skin and I find it very difficult to forget about this one once I’ve watched it.

The scale model of the ship and the sinking sequences are the highlight of the film for me. There is no CGI here, all the sinking scenes were done using practical effects and I think the scenes look all the better for that realism. The model and sinking sequences are extremely impressive when viewed today. I think that younger viewers who haven’t seen this film before would be very impressed with how these scenes look.

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The sinking ship. Awesome model work. Screenshot by me.

A real ship called R.M.S Asturias was also used for part of the filming. The ship was in the process of being scrapped at the time. Only one side of the ship remained intact, so MacQuitty got art students to paint that side just how the Titanic had been painted. Mirrors were then used to aid in the filming of scenes supposed to take place on the other side of the ship. Once filming was completed the Asturias was then scrapped. Scenes where lifeboats and people were supposed to be in the sea were shot on location in Ruislip Lido, London. 

My favourite scenes are the following. The steerage passengers playing football with the chunks of ice from the iceberg than landed on deck. Ismay in the dining room demonstrating how steady and secure the ship is, only for a woman to knock the table and shake everything. Lightoller trying to persuade the gambler to join him on top of the collapsible boat, only for him to swim off. Andrews speech to the young honeymoon couple. Molly Brown (Tucker McGuire) in the lifeboat saying “you get fresh with me son, and I’ll throw you overboard!”. The Titanic leaving Southampton. The passengers praying on the stern. Mr.Yates passing a young woman getting into a lifeboat a goodbye letter from him for her to mail to his sister. Murdoch’s accusatory look at Ismay when Murdoch finds him sitting in a lifeboat being made ready to lower.

This is an excellent film filled with many powerful performances that have a real emotional impact. I also like how this film shows us the experiences of the engine and boiler room crew on the Titanic. Many of the men in those departments got trapped below deck and were killed as the sea swept through the lower decks. These crewmembers are shown as being among the first to realise the severity of the incident as it unfolds around them. The scenes showing these men trapped below deck are claustrophobic and scary.

I also like that the Californian and Carpathia and what their crews did are included in the film too. In other films and TV adaptations of this disaster these two ships are often not included at all or only feature very briefly. 

I also like how the film depicts the disbelief amongst most passengers and crew that they were in any real danger, even as a notable list starts to be noticed some don’t think anything of it. Slowly people start noticing liquid in glasses tilting to one side and realise that maybe they should heed the warnings to get to the boats. In reality many passengers were very slow to take the incident seriously and get quickly into the lifeboats.  I highly recommend seeing the Blu-ray version of this, the picture is so clear that it looks as though it had been made today. I think it’s a testament to Roy Ward Baker that his film about this disaster is the one that I return to again and again. I do like Cameron’s film, but it was Baker’s version which first got me interested in the real disaster itself and I think his version has a more realistic look to it. I highly recommend seeing both films though.

If you are interested in reading about the real disaster, then I would highly recommend Walter Lord’s book. I’d also recommend reading Titanic: An Illustrated History by Don Lynch.

What are your thoughts on this film?

Films I Love, Romance, Thriller

North By Northwest (1959)

 

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Roger Thornhill tries to hide while on the run. Screenshot by me.

For many people, North By Northwest is considered to be Alfred Hitchcock’s best film. It isn’t hard to see why this one is so beloved and highly regarded by fans and critics alike.

This film contains all of the essential elements of Hitchcock’s films; suspense, thrills, a case of mistaken identity, an innocent person wrongly accused, comedy, and a cool and beautiful blonde woman. In short, I think that this film really is the perfect Alfred Hitchcock package.

I love this film so much. This is a film in which something is always happening and I find it interesting that in this film the characters are always on the move. From the opening titles, designed by Saul Bass (and accompanied by one of Bernard Herrmann’s best scores) the characters are continuously seen being on the move, they never really stop moving until the final scene onboard the train. The film is an exhilarating thrill ride and is a great deal of fun to watch. I also love the photography by Robert Burks. I especially love the overhead shots he does during the scenes where Vandamm questions Roger, and also in the scenes at Vandamm’s mountain house.

I also like how stylish and elegant the film looks overall. The characters are so well dressed and the film transports us back to a bygone era of class, style and elegance. Part of why I love classic films so much is because they show me how past generations dressed and lived. I love the 1950’s glamour and elegance captured by Hitch and featured in this film.

There are also so many interesting and intriguing characters in this film and their presence makes this film one that I like to return to again and again.There’s plenty of twists and turns and you’re never sure who to trust or take at face value. I also love the way these characters all interact with one another throughout the film. Characters perceptions of one another also change as the film goes along and our perception of them changes too.

I like seeing Roger Thornhill start out as being in control and as being a bit self absorbed. As the film goes along he changes when he realises he’s not as in control as he once thought he was. We see him turn into a man who comes to care about someone else, we also see him realise there is more outside of the life he had been leading up to this point in time.

I also like how Roger becomes braver and more heroic as the film goes on. He is scared and confused by what is happening to him at first, but then he takes it in his stride and we see him become less and less like the self absorbed man at the start of the film. I also like how he later willingly puts himself in danger as he rescues the woman he loves from certain death. 

The scenes between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are very playful. Their scenes are filled with sexual tension and a great deal of warmth, fun and affection too. I especially love their dinner chat and flirting on the train. These characters and their relationship with one another are the heart of the film for me.

                                   Roger and Eve flirt over dinner. Screenshot by me.

The growing relationship between Cary and Eva’s characters is fun to watch and I find myself coming to care very much for them both. The scenes between Cary and Eva are a real highlight of the film for me. Their scenes on the train are erotic, tender, interesting and very funny. 

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Roger and Eve get intimate. Screenshot by me.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant)is a Madison Avenue advertising man. He has a very good life, a life that he believes he is in complete control of. His ordered life is turned on its head when he is mistaken for a C.I.A agent, called George Kaplan. Suave spy, Phillip Vandamm (a sinister James Mason) has been aware of Kaplan following him and his group for some time. He wants Kaplan dead. Thornhill can’t persuade him that this is a genuine case of mistaken identity and that he is not the man that Vandamm thinks he is.

So begins a non stop chase across the country. Thornhill tries to avoid Vandamm’s men and also tries to avoid getting arrested by the authorities, after Vandamm frames him for murder. Thornhill also tries to get someone else to believe him that Vandamm is the real villain and is trying to kill him.

Enter the resourceful, mysterious and cool blonde, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Eve helps Thornhill when he gets into difficulty aboard a train that she is travelling on. A genuine bond develops between the two and they begin to fall in love, but can Thornhill trust her or not? I consider Eve to be one of the strongest and most interesting of all of Hitchcock’s leading ladies. 

A C.I.A official, known only as the professor (Leo G. Carroll), finds out about Roger Thornhill’s situation and tries to help him. The professor is also on the Vandamm case and he also has an agent of his own working right under Vandamm’s nose. Who is this agent?

I love how many things in this film actually defy logic when you think about them long enough. Somehow though you actually never seem to realise the illogic when you are watching these moments in the film. It’s only afterwards when you suddenly stop and think about some of the things you’ve just watched. I’m thinking mainly of the scene where Thornhill is forcibly made drunk in order to be got rid of. If Vandamm wants him dead so bad, why not just shoot him to make sure he is dead?

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Roger is about to be forced to drink all of this. Screenshot by me.

The same goes for the famous crop duster sequence, why not just get Roger Thornhill out to that road and shoot him and bury him somewhere, instead of chasing him with a plane? Yet the illogic of these moments actually work when you watch the film. This is a testament to Hitch I think, in that he can make you so invested in the story that certain things don’t strike you as odd until much later. I have to say that I actually think the scene where Thornhill watches that glass of booze getting poured out is quite chilling. Thornhill is going to be forced to drink such large amounts and he has no way of being able to fight back against this. That’s pretty grim when you stop to think about it for a moment.

There’s so much to enjoy about this film. From the great performances throughout, the exciting Bernard Herrmann score, and two of the most famous of all Hitchcock sequences. The crop duster chase and that suspenseful finale up on Mount Rushmore, have both gone on to become two of the most famous scenes in cinema history.

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Roger is sent to the middle of nowhere and is about to encounter a crop duster. Screenshot by me.

The crop duster sequence really builds up suspense and tension. The sequence is perfectly edited together and it is exciting, suspenseful and dramatic throughout. I like that it starts off slow and that Hitch gradually builds up the mystery and suspense. Is Roger Thornhill going to meet someone? Is he going to get attacked or killed? How will that happen if so?

The beginning of the crop duster sequence plays out almost like a silent film with Thornhill out in the middle of nowhere and us seeing what unfolds through his eyes. There is no need for any dialogue in this sequence. Then the crop duster plane is spotted and it slowly turns then it speeds towards him and begins shooting at him. That moment where it swoops towards him and he runs has become one of the most iconic scenes in film history. 

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Roger and Eve in a literal cliffhanger moment. Screenshot by me.

The Mount Rushmore sequence has me on the edge of my seat throughout because it is so suspenseful. I don’t like heights at all, and so the scenes where Roger Thornhill and Eve Kendall slip or nearly fall from that famous mountain really do make me squirm in discomfort and cry out “be careful!”. This sequence is a tie for me with the Statue Of Liberty sequence in Saboteur for the title of most suspenseful Hitchcock scene.

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Eve and Roger climb down the mountain. Screenshot by me.

The scenes in the Mount Rushmore sequence are perfectly matched to Herrmann’s score. I think that the music definitely adds even more tension and an air of danger to that which we already feel watching these moments.

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Eve falls down the mountain. Screenshot by me.

The scene where Eve’s shoe heel snaps and she falls down really makes me watch through my fingers, I really can’t stand that scene. It also makes me laugh that Eve doesn’t seem to have thought that it might be a good idea to take off those high heels before trying to climb down the mountain. LOL. Ah, only in the movies. 😉

The film also has two big twists concerning the identity of two main characters, and that really keeps you trying to figure out just who you can trust, or who you can even take at face value as the film goes on.The film is also very funny in places. I especially love the hysterical auction distraction scene “three thousand, I bid three thousand!”. Cary really gets to show off his comedy skills in this film. Cary reels off many comic lines and he also does one of the funniest and best drunk impressions I’ve ever seen on film. I love the scene where Roger is at the Police station and rings his mum. When he is on the phone to her, he tells her they forcibly made him drunk, then he delivers this sidesplitting line in response to a question from her – “No, they didn’t give me a chaser!” LOL. 🙂 

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The unsupportive Mrs Thornhill. Screenshot by me.

Jessie Royce Landis is absolutely hysterical as Roger’s mother. Mrs. Thornhill doesn’t believe her son’s story of being framed and hunted down and she has quite a few laughs at his expense.

I love the way she silently laughs at him and jokes about his stories. Some supportive mother he has!  Jessie and Cary were actually quite close in age, yet you somehow believe she is his mother in this film. 

 

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Vandamm. Screenshot by me.

James Mason is chilling, smooth and menacing throughout. He plays a character who won’t get his own hands dirty, but who has no qualms about ordering someone to be killed.

You know that he is a nasty piece of work. This is one of James’s greatest villain roles in my opinion. I like how he plays a man of great intelligence who is not to be trusted or underestimated. 

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Leonard. Screenshot by me.

Martin Landau provides solid support as Vandamm’s loyal henchman, Leonard. He lurks in the background of many scenes and you can see him desperate to start hurting Thornhill and other characters. Landau plays this guy as a real sadist.

My favourite scenes are the following. Thornhill and Vandamm’s first meeting, I love where they circle around each other sizing each other up. The Mount Rushmore finale. The entire section aboard the train. Roger and Eve’s dinner talk. The auction scene where Roger does some random bidding so he will get arrested, which then means he can get away from Vandamm. The drunk scene at the police station. Thornhill trying to rescue Eve. Eve and Roger’s goodbye at the train station. The crop duster attack. The scene in the Mount Rushmore restaurant. 

I can happily watch pretty much all of Hitch’s films again and again, but this one in particular is one that I can enjoy over and over again. It is such a good film and so seamlessly put together. It looks amazing too, from the photography, to the elegant clothes and to the use of Technicolor. Be sure to see this one on Blu-ray to see it looking crystal clear and looking its very best.
Are you a fan of this film? Please share your thoughts on the film. 

Disaster, Drama, Page To Screen

On The Beach (1959)

What would you do if you knew that the world was coming to an end? How would you react to such news? How would you cope with having this new fact in your life?Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film, On The Beach, tackles all these questions and many more as well. It is a powerful, moving and very unsettling film experience. You will also never be able to hear the tune Waltzing Matilda without remembering moments from this film once you’ve seen this. That tune is used as the theme of the film. 

The film is filled with haunting scenes that are hard to shake off once you’ve finished watching the film. Scenes such as Peter and Mary having a conversation about suicide pills. The sailor leaving the submarine and going ashore to the radiation filled mainland of America, so that he can die at home in surroundings he knows and loves. That same crewman’s description of finding his parents dead. Chilling stuff for sure.

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Dwight and Moira comfort one another. Screenshot by me.

On The Beach is an adaptation of the 1957 novel of the same name, which was written by Nevil Shute. At the time of the films release there was great public fear of Atomic and Nuclear weapons. I’m sure this film chilled many viewers to the bone at the time, particularly due to its unflinching look at the aftermath of one of these weapons being used. The film is scary and thought provoking. Almost sixty years later and this film still remains a frightening and powerful film experience. Sadly the film still remains relevant as mankind is still intent on having these weapons around.

I like how the film captures how many different reactions various people have to the news of the end of mankind. Some can’t handle it and escape into a bottle of booze, some go to extremes to feel and experience life while it still exists, and some simply refuse to accept that there is no hope of survival whatsoever. It always makes me think how I would react in such a situation.

The film is set in Australia. The entire population(apart from people in Australia)have died due to radiation sickness following a Nuclear war. The radiation is being spread on the winds, and it is estimated to arrive in Australia in around five months time. The citizens there are trying to come to terms with the war, and with the fact of their own impending fate.

An American submarine, the U.S.S. Sawfish, surfaces in Australia. It was submerged when the war began and therefore the crew haven’t been exposed to the radiation. The submarine has been travelling around the globe and surfacing at various countries, only to find no sign of life. Captain Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck)and his crew dock in Australia and come ashore. Despite Dwight’s wife and children having been killed in the war, he just cannot accept that painful fact and still acts as though they are living. 

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A rare happy moment for Dwight and Moira. Screenshot by me.

While the crew are ashore, Dwight befriends the guilt ridden scientist Julian Osborn (Fred Astaire) and the outgoing and boozy Moira (Ava Gardner). Dwight and Moira slowly fall in love with one another. Dwight however cannot permit himself to act on his feelings though because he still considers himself married.

Dwight and his crew are joined by Julian and Lt. Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins)after a Morse signal is picked up coming from America. The crew must travel there and try and find out if anyone has somehow managed to survive. While all this is going on, the countdown to human extinction has begun and the clock is ticking fast.

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Peter and Mary have a difficult discussion about the suicide pills. Screenshot by me.

This is an extremely bleak film and I don’t find it to be an easy watch at all. The performances of the cast make it a must see though. I find it to be extremely moving and I think that it captures so well the horror and tragedy such an event would bring about in reality. I find the human stories to be the main reason to return to this one again and again. It’s both fascinating and moving watching the different characters and how they react to their approaching deaths.

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Gregory Peck as Dwight. Screenshot by me.

Gregory Peck is completely heartbreaking as a man trying to appear to be in control of his emotions. Inside though Dwight is anything but in control of his emotions. Dwight is consumed with a grief that he cannot display publically. Gregory shows us his tough façade cracking a few times though.

Thanks to Gregory’s superb performance we see Dwight really struggling to stay in control and we also see him wrestling with his conscience in regards to his developing and undeniable feelings for Moira. 

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Fred Astaire as Julian. Screenshot by me.

Fred Astaire is best remembered today for his incredible dancing skills, but he was also a very fine dramatic actor. His performance here as Julian Osborn is one of the best he ever gave in my opinion. Julian was a Nuclear scientist and he feels tremendous guilt that something he helped to build is now ending up destroying humanity.  

Fred steals every scene he is in with just a look. In many scenes he is in the background but you keep your focus on him to see how he is reacting at certain moments. I also like the look on his face in scenes where Julian watches Dwight and Moira, he seems to know before they do that they are falling in love. I think Julian knows that their time together will be very bittersweet and he pities them because of that. I think that Fred is especially excellent in the scene where the Sawfish crew ask Julian to try and explain how the war started in the first place. 

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Ava Gardner as Moira. Screenshot by me.

Ava Gardner touches my heart as Moira. She conveys the sadness and fear that Moira is struggling with perfectly. Moira is such a tragic figure because she has so much love to give, and she wants to spend her final days being happy with Dwight.

Ava perfectly conveys this woman’s inner turmoil, as she struggles to blot out the pain of the present by consuming booze and how at the same time she finds in Dwight a reason to stay alive and sober to savour every moment they have left. I think Ava delivers one of her most underrated performances in this film. She makes you want to hug Moira because she is so vulnerable and loveable. 

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Anthony Perkins as Peter. Screenshot by me.

Anthony Perkins is excellent as the young Lt. Peter Holmes. I’ve never been much of a fan of Perkins, but I really do like him in this film. Peter and his wife have recently had a baby, and his wife is really struggling to accept the truth of what is about to happen to everyone. Anthony perfectly captures the emotional and moral distress Peter is in.

When Peter has to decide if he and his young family will take the government issued suicide pills or not, Anthony really lets you see how much of a difficult decision that is for Peter. It is the kind of decision that nobody should ever have to make, but the film forces you to think what you would do in his place. Would you accept the slow, painful and deeply unpleasant death caused by radiation? Or would you have one last beautiful day surrounded by those you love, still being healthy and in control of your life, and then take the pill and peacefully slip away? 

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Donna Anderson as Mary. Screenshot by me.

Donna Anderson breaks my heart every time I watch this. Donna plays Peter’s wife, Mary. This woman is terrified of the truth about the end of the world but she won’t accept it or even talk about it. She too must decide how to meet her end.

I think many people would react like Mary, still holding out for hope even when faced with the opposite reality. Donna portrays Mary’s hysteria and terror very well indeed. 

John Tate is Admiral Bridie. John only appears in a few scenes but he is excellent when he does show up. I really like how he subtly conveys his love for his much younger secretary, Lt. Hosgood (Lola Brooks). Those feelings are there in the way he looks at her. The way Hosgood looks back at the Admiral also gives me the impression that they both felt the same way. Watch them carefully in their scenes together.

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Bridie and Hosgood share a drink. Screenshot by me.

I especially love their final scene together where they share a drink. That scene moves me each time I watch it. The scene is beautifully played by both actors. I also love the weight of what is inferred between them but how it is never said, it makes for a very powerful and touching moment.

If you are among the few people on the planet who actually believe we should have Nuclear weapons; then I would seriously hope that this film (particularly the final ten minutes, and the famous final shot)would make you change your opinion. I would also recommend you watch the film Fail-Safe and the TV miniseries Threads and The Day After

Just having one of these terrible weapons in the world is one too many. These films and series show what will happen to us if we ever use them. It annoys me so much that some members of our species are intent on creating ways of bringing about our destruction. We should learn to love each other, because at the end of the day we are all the same, we are all human and will all die one day. Why can’t our time on earth be filled with happiness instead of war and hate?

As bleak as this film is, it also does have some happy moments and it also focuses on the many good points about humanity. We see characters give and receive love. We see compassion, friendship and kindness. It makes you think that you should really value your life because you could lose it at any time. I also like that the film ends on a plea that could be seen as being directed straight at us in the audience. That plea is “There is still time… Brother”. Nuclear destruction is not Science Fiction, it is a terrifying real life possibility, but we do have it within our power to stop it from becoming an horrific reality.

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The plea aimed directly at us. Don’t let our world end like this. Screenshot by me.

I’m sure that audiences back in 1959 cannot have found the final shot of the plea to make for comfortable viewing. After all this final shot would have reminded them that the horror they’ve just seen wasn’t fiction. At the height of the cold war this film cannot have been an easy one to watch. Given the state of our world right now, I’m afraid that this  film sadly remains very relevant and chilling for us to watch today. Will we ever come to our senses and get rid of these weapons and our hate? I hope we will get rid of them.

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An emotional moment between Moira and Julian. Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes are the following. Julian and Peter’s conversation on the submarine. Dwight trying to explain to Moira at the train station how he feels about his dead family. The young sailor leaving the submarine and going ashore in San Francisco, he chooses to die there (his home city)but he will do so alone. Julian trying to explain how the Nuclear war started. Bridie and Hosgood sharing a drink and an important conversation. The scene during the boat race between Dwight and Moira. Moira watching the submarine submerge. Moira and Julian’s conversation in his garage. The final scene.

This is a powerful film and is one with an equally powerful message to deliver. Strong performances from all the cast and a beautiful score to enjoy . Be sure to see this one on Blu-ray to see it looking its best. I highly recommend the novel too. It goes into more detail about how the war started. It also graphically describes the symptoms of radiation sickness, while the film only hints at those horrors.
Any other fans of this one? Please leave your thoughts below.

Blogathons, Drama, Films I Love

The Doris Day Blogathon: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Doris Day BannerMichaela over at Love Letters To Old Hollywood is hosting this blogathon in celebration of the actress and singer Doris Day. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. When I saw that Michaela was hosting this blogathon, I knew that I just had to sign up to take part right away. I am a big fan of Doris Day. I first became aware of her through her singing. I often heard her songs on the radio growing up. My mum and dad both like her a lot too and they have recommended more of her songs to me over the years. I didn’t see any of Doris’s films though until I was in my late teens. 

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Doris as Jo McKenna. Screenshot by

The first film of Doris’s that I ever saw is the one that I’ve chosen to write about for this blogathon. Her performance in this film is what made me a fan of her work. I’m only sorry that she didn’t get to star in many more serious films during her long career. I’m writing about her performance in the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Man Who Knew Too Much. 

This 1956 thriller is a remake of Hitchcock’s earlier film The Man Who Knew Too Much(1934). Hitchcock much preferred his remake to his earlier version of the film. The remake is also quite popular with many of Hitchcock’s fans too.  

I personally much prefer this remake to his earlier version. I think that this remake is much more exciting and suspenseful than the original is. I also think that it makes you really care for the characters and what they are going through. I’ve chosen this particular film, not only because it is a film which I love a great deal, but also because it offered Doris a rare opportunity to star in a much more serious and darker film than she usually would have appeared in at this time. Her performance in this film highlighted the fact that she was a very good dramatic actress and that she could more than handle darker screen material.  

Doris Day was mostly known at this point in her career for her bubbly, energetic and bright screen persona. She usually acted in romantic comedies and those films are still what she really remains most well known for today (besides her singing of course). Doris Day’s smile and laugh were infectious, and her warm and powerful singing voice ensured she also found her way into the hearts of music fans around the world.

In 1956, Doris Day starred alongside James Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much. This film is a thriller about a married couple who must try and find their son after he is kidnapped. You may think that this material doesn’t sound like the right fit for Doris Day to appear in. But you see there in lies the genius of the director Alfred Hitchcock.  

Alfred Hitchcock had a real knack for picking actors to work with him and for giving these actors roles which changed the way they would be perceived by audiences and critics alike. For example, Hitchcock gave Grace Kelly roles in his films which allowed her to come across as cool and sexy, as opposed to the other film characters she had played before working with him. He gave James Stewart, Cary Grant and Joseph Cotton much darker roles than they had ever had before in their careers. 

Hitchcock gave Doris a much more serious role than she’d really had before. The material he gave her to work with really lets her show off her dramatic acting skills. In this film she goes from a happy and outgoing woman to a desperate, worried, worn out, and very scared woman. She plays a woman whose grief about her boy being taken from her is tearing her apart inside. I think it is one of the best performances that Doris has ever given on screen. 

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Jo singing. Screenshot by me.

Doris also gets to sing in this film. The song she sings would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Song. The song has become the song that she is best known for. The song is Que Sera, Sera.

The song first appears during a cute duet scene between Jo and Hank, this version she sings in a fun and happy way. The second time that this song is sung, Doris sings it in a very different way indeed. She sings as though her life depended on it and she fills the words with real emotion and strength. The later use of the song is an attempt by Jo to try and let Hank know that she and his dad have found him where he is being held hostage.    

Dr. Ben McKenna(James Stewart), his wife Jo( Doris Day)who is a retired world renowned singer, and their young son, Hank (Christopher Olsen) are on holiday in Morocco. The family are having a lovely time and they are enjoying seeing a different culture to what they know back in the States.

The family are befriended by the charming Frenchman, Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin). Ben likes him right away, but Jo is suspicious of him because he asks them a lot of questions and is obviously prying into their lives for some reason.

The following day Louis Bernard is stabbed and he dies in Ben’s arms in the market place. Before he dies, Louis tells Ben about an assassination being arranged in order to kill a politician in London. Ben later learns that Louis was a French Intelligence Agent and that he was tailing a couple involved in the plot. Hank is then kidnapped by the middle aged couple who Louis initially mistook the McKenna’s to be. Hank is kidnapped to ensure the McKenna’s silence about the plot. Jo and Ben must race against time to get their son back and try and stop the assassination attempt.  

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Ben and Jo share a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

I really like that the heart of the film is the relationship between Ben and Jo. They clearly adore one another and there are lots of scenes where we see their playful banter. They are a fun and happy couple. These two are simply an ordinary couple who are thrown into an extraordinary situation.  

I like seeing how they try and help each other deal with their fears, shock and grief over Hank being taken from them.  You can see them struggling with their worry in every scene, yet you can also see them trying to restrain their feelings in order to stay focused on finding him. I also quite like watching them trying to track their boy down in London. Investigating is something totally alien to this couple. I really like how despite that, they really waste no time in turning private eyes to look for Hank.  

I think that Doris and James totally convince as a married couple. They both convey a genuine love and affection for one another. I really wish that they had acted together again playing a couple. I think that both Doris and James also both do a terrific job of conveying their desperation and fear following their Hank’s kidnapping. The scene in this film that always stays with me is when Ben has to break the news to Jo that their boy has been kidnapped. 

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Ben delivers some bad news to Jo. Screenshot by me.

Ben gives Jo two sedatives before he will tell her the news about the kidnapping. He does this to stop her from getting overly hysterical and trying to run out after he tells her. I always find that scene very moving. I also think that James is very good in this scene because he lets you see how upset Ben is and how he is struggling to hide his emotions before Jo takes the pills. 

I also find this scene a bit weird if I’m being honest. I mean who actually takes two pills just because their spouse or partner says they think it would be a good idea if they did in exchange for some news? Anyway, when Ben tells Jo the news, Doris just breaks my heart with her emotional reaction. It is one of the most powerful scenes in the entire film.  

The most memorable sequence in the entire film is the Albert Hall assassination attempt. I strongly believe that this sequence inspired the makers of the film Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation for their concert hall set sequence of suspense. 

                                      Ben and Jo see the assassin. Screenshot by me.

In the Albert Hall sequence, Jo and Ben discover that the politician who is going to be killed is attending a concert at the hall. The pair, along with the Police ,try and find the assassin and save the politicians life. The assassin plans to fire his kill shot at the exact moment that the cymbals crash near the end of the concert. Can Ben and Jo stop him before he takes aim? It is a real tense sequence and is edited together perfectly. 

During the Albert Hall sequence, Bernard Herrmann, the regular composer for many of  Hitchcock’s films, conducts (he is seen on screen in person)the choir and the orchestra performing the Storm Clouds Cantata. This choral piece had been written by composer Arthur Benjamin and it had been written specifically to be used in the 1934 version of this film. The music really sets the mood and adds a great deal to an already dramatic, suspenseful and epic sequence. It is one of my favourite sequences in any Hitchcock film.

This is a very thrilling film. It will have you on the edge of your seat for sure. It’s filled with excellent performances, some memorable locations and a likeable lead couple. I consider this to be one of Hitchcock’s best films. Both James and Doris deliver performances here that rank among their best screen work in my opinion.  

Doris more than proves here what a good actress she was. I think it is a real shame that she ended up receiving so few serious and dramatic roles in her career. As much as I enjoy the fun films she made, I for one would really have liked to have seen her in more serious films like this one. 

What are your thoughts on this film?  What do you think of Doris Day’s performance?

If you’re after more serious performances from Doris Day, then do check out the following films: Love Me Or Leave Me. Storm Warning. Midnight Lace

My favourite Doris Day films are the following: Pillow Talk. The Man Who Knew Too Much. Young At Heart. Teacher’s Pet. Love Me Or Leave Me.

Doris is celebrating her 96th birthday on Tuesday. Happy Birthday Doris. Have a lovely day. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Disaster, Films I Love

The End Of The World Blogathon: Deep Impact (1998)

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MovieMovieBlogBlog and The Midnite Drive-In are co-hosting this blogathon about films depicting the end of the world. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

In 1998, two films were released which had almost identical storylines. Both films focused on the potential destruction of Earth by a comet which is heading straight for us. If these comets hit the planet it will cause an extinction level event.The first film to be released was Armageddon. That film is a pure popcorn flick and it is great fun. That film has Bruce Willis and his team of oil drillers heading up to the comet and destroying it. It has ended up becoming the more popular of the two films. I do like Armageddon, but I think it is more intent on focusing on the special effects and action, than on the characters and getting you emotionally invested in what is going on. It is also so over the top. The music and photography are awesome though.  

My favourite of the two films is Deep Impact. I love this one because it really makes you think about how you would feel, and what you would do, if the events depicted in the film were to actually come true. It also takes a more realistic approach to the subject matter than the other film does. It also makes you care about the characters and builds up the tension, the fear, and the despair about what will happen once the comet hits. It also ends on a much bleaker note than the other film does.

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The comet hits our planet. Screenshot by me.

I’m also not ashamed to say that this film makes me cry quite a few times – the address about the national lottery and learning who won’t be picked for it. The astronauts final messages. A couple of the president’s addresses to the nation. Jennie giving up her place on the helicopter to her colleague and her baby.   

This film also has some incredible actors appearing in it. There’s Morgan Freeman (dignified and reassuring) as the first black president of the US. Vanessa Redgrave, Robert Duvall, James Cromwell and Maximilian Schell. I just wish that the ending had been a bit longer (so we could have seen even more of the destruction and the immediate aftermath)and that we had seen the experiences of people outside of America.  

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President Beck has to make a difficult address to the nation. Screenshot by me.

A comet is detected heading directly towards Earth. From its size and width it is evident to scientists that if this hits us, then it will be an extinction level event. Governments around the world know of this impending threat and all keep silent until an agreed later time when the news will be revealed publically.

A sharp eyed American news reporter, Jennie Lerner (Tea Leoni)stumbles accidentally onto the story about the comet when she is investigating the resignation of The Secretary Of The Treasury (James Cromwell). Jennie thinks he has resigned due to having an affair, she soon learns this could not be further from the truth and that he resigned to spend more time with his family because of the comet. 

Jennie is persuaded by President Beck (Morgan Freeman)not to break the story. He will announce it in a couple of weeks any way. If she holds off he will allow her to ask the first questions at the comet briefing. She agrees to this. The President announces the news and panic and fear descend.

There is hope though in the form of a shuttle crew led by NASA veteran astronaut, Captain Tanner (Robert Duvall). The crew launch, travel to the comet, and set nuclear weapons on its surface. The world watches anxiously for news, hoping for success. Sadly only bad news comes through. The weapons detonated, but instead of destroying the comet, the detonation actually ended up splitting it in half.

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The comet enters our atmosphere. Screenshot by me.

This means that there are now two separate comets heading straight for the planet. One astronaut was killed setting the weapons, the rest survived and the shuttle is still being tracked by Houston, but Mission Control have lost voice contact with the crew. 

President Beck then announces the back up plan, this is the national lottery plan. This will see citizens get selected at random, those selected will be escorted to some deep caves, to live along with a selection of animals. Nobody over the age of 50 (unless already preselected for their expertise in a necessary field of study such as medicine)will be picked at all. This news is met with a very mixed reaction indeed. Those who are not picked must make tough decisions about what they will do next (commit suicide, try and hide underground somewhere, or live on the surface as normal right up to the last second).

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Jennie hears some bad news. Screenshot by me.

As the comets get closer and closer, the surviving astronauts work together and make a brave decision. They can’t stop the first piece of comet from hitting the earth, but they can try and stop the bigger piece.

The crew agree to fly a suicide mission into the bigger comet and detonate the remaining weapons they have on board. This is what they do and they manage to destroy the comet. I really love how they put their own desires to get home aside in order to save their planet.  

The first piece of the comet sadly still hits the earth, and the impact from it kills millions of people. The comet also destroys all the land and cities in its path. Some of the main characters are killed in this sequence. So the film gets quite a bittersweet ending. I personally think that the film becomes all the more moving because of that ending.      

Elijah Wood is good as Leo, a teenage boy who must grow up fast because of what is happening. Leelee Sobieski doesn’t really get much to do as Leo’s girlfriend Sarah, but she does a good job in the scenes she is in. Also, does anyone else think that Leelee looks exactly like Helen Hunt in this film? Vanessa Redgrave is moving as Jennie’s mum. Morgan Freeman oozes decency, strength and kindness as President Beck. Robert Duvall is excellent as the wise space veteran, who ends up becoming a father figure to his new crew. Maximilian Schell is good as Jennie’s estranged father. 

I think that both Freeman and Duvall deliver the best performances in the film. Both convince as decent men of experience who know what they are doing during this crisis.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Tea Leoni, but I really like her in this and thought she did a good job conveying the horror she feels in scenes such as where she has to read out the national lottery details.

Star Trek fans will be happy to see Denise Crosby (Lt Tasha Yar in The Next Generation)as the mum of Sarah. The scene where Denise’s character says goodbye to her children for the last time gets me sobbing every single time I see it.  

James Horner provides a beautiful and emotional score which I think really adds a great deal to the film.  

I just wish that the film had some scenes in it showing how people outside of the US reacted to the comet coming towards them. Other countries and how they are preparing for the end are mentioned a few times in the film, but I’d have really loved the film to be a bit like The Day After Tomorrow and have followed various characters in different locations around the world as the comet gets closer to the planet.

My favourite scenes are the following. The national lottery news broadcast. The astronauts farewell messages. The buses and helicopters arriving at the caves. President Beck patting the arm of an elderly colleague as he leaves the White House for the last time. Jennie and her dad on the beach. The husband and wife gazing lovingly at each other as the comet hits. The wedding scene. Tanner reading Moby Dick to another astronaut after he has been injured. Jennie giving up her place on the helicopter to her colleague and her little girl. 

Hopefully we won’t ever have to face the end of the world. If we do, I think that the way people are depicted in this film trying to survive and how they react to the news won’t be far from the truth of how that experience would go in reality.  

What did you think of Deep Impact?