Category Archives: Blogathons

The Wizard Of Oz (1939)

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1939 truly was Hollywood’s Golden Year. There were so many cinematic masterpieces released in America that year. Two films stood head and shoulders above all the other gems from this year though. One was a little picture called Gone With The Wind, and the other was a musical called The Wizard Of Oz. Both of these films were technical marvels at the time that they were made. Both films have also gone on to become beloved by generation after generation of film viewers.  

Wizard Of Oz Poster

I think that both films are actually quite similar in terms of their stories and overall themes. Both films have a strong and determined heroine, both films show the importance of love, family and home, and both films depict ordinary people being caught up in extraordinary events – the horrors of war in GWTW, and trying to survive in an unfamiliar land and fight evil in The Wizard Of Oz. 

The Wizard Of Oz is a film I love so much. As an Autistic person, I particularly  appreciate how the four main characters accept each other completely for who and what they are. There is no judgement between them, no awkwardness or unpleasantness because they each do things differently or have some problems. I also love how quickly the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion all start to care for Dorothy and try their best to help Dorothy and protect her. I also love how Dorothy stands up to bullies, cruelty and evil. Dorothy is someone who always fights against injustice and tries to do the right thing. The film shows us that ordinary people are capable of making a stand against evil and those with more power, you just have to find the courage within yourself to be able to do this.

This film absolutely blew my mind the first time I ever saw it. I first saw it back in the 1990’s and I remember that this was the first film to really open my eyes to what film was capable of presenting to us. This film also got me interested in learning about how films were made and what went on behind the camera.

                               Dorothy opens the door to Oz. Screenshot by me. 

I have never quite gotten over my shock at the truly jaw dropping moment when Dorothy opens the door of the house, and both she, and us in the audience, moves out of a sepia coloured world and into a stunning Technicolor one. It is a moment which still has the power to make audiences gasp in awe when they see it. I can only imagine how audiences of the 1930’s must have reacted when they saw that stunning scene for the first time. 

The film is based upon L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, which was published in 1900. The book would become one of the most popular and acclaimed children’s books in history. Baum would go on to write 13 sequels about Dorothy’s time in Oz. After Baum died in 1919, the author Ruth Plumly Thompson was tasked by Baum’s publishers to write more books set in the land of Oz. 

Baum’s original story was turned into a very successful stage musical in 1902. This ran in theatres until 1904. MGM Studios bought the rights to the book in 1938. Producer Mervyn LeRoy, who had been handpicked by Louis B. Mayer as the successor to the great Irving Thalberg, wanted to direct the studios musical film adaptation of the novel, but Mayer made him the producer of it instead. He worked alongside uncredited associate producer Arthur Freed, who would soon become best known for his work on all those fabulous musicals. The films score would be composed by Herbert Stothart, with music and lyrics for the songs by Edgar Harberg and Harold Arlen.

The film would end up winning two Academy Awards, one would go to Stothart for Best Original Score, and the other would go to Harberg and Arlen for Somewhere Over The Rainbow as Best Original Song. As happy as I am that the music and songs won awards, I do wish that the film had won for its special effects. The tornado sequence is remarkable and still looks real today. I also love the witch’s image ball and the scene where the ruby slippers burn the witch’s hands. 

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This film had some great special effects. Screenshot by me.

The big question was who to cast and who to get to direct the film? The world famous Shirley Temple was the first choice for the role of Dorothy Gale, but it was felt that Shirley’s singing voice wasn’t good enough for what was required in the film. So 16 year old Judy Garland was cast instead. I’m so glad Judy got cast because she is perfect in the role. I also doubt that the film’s hit song Somewhere Over The Rainbow would have made such an impact if she hadn’t been the one to sing it. The emotion and sense of yearning in her voice is what makes that song in my opinion. 

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Dorothy dreams of a happy place. Screenshot by me.

The glamorous Gale Sondergaard was initially cast as the wicked witch, and Gale made two screentests in costume and makeup. Originally the idea was to make the witch slinky and beautiful, like the evil queen seen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs the previous year, but then it was decided to make her look ugly instead. Gale Sondergaard was reluctant to make the film wearing the disfiguring makeup so she left the project. Character actress Margaret Hamilton was then cast in the role of the witch. I can imagine nobody other than Margaret in this role now. The witch is one of the most evil and memorable screen villains and Margaret plays the role to perfection. 

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Publicity photo for the film. Image source IMDb.

Actor and dancer Ray Bolger was originally cast as the Tin Man,  but eventually Ray got his long desired wish to play the Scarecrow instead. Actor and dancer Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Scarecrow, but then he ended up playing The Tin Man instead. Comedian and actor Burt Lahr was cast as The Cowardly Lion. Comic actress Billie Burke was cast as Glinda, the beautiful good witch who helps Dorothy and her friends. Character actor Frank Morgan was cast in the multiple roles of The Wizard, Professor Marvel, The coach driver at the Emerald City, The gatekeeper of the Emerald City and The Emerald City guard. Character actors Clara Blandick and Charlie Grapewin were cast as Dorthy’s loving Aunty Em and Uncle Henry. Over one hundred little people were cast to play The Munchkins, the adorable and fun loving people persecuted by the wicked witch. The costume department, under the direction of costume designer Adrian, designed individual costumes for each Munchkin actor to wear.

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Some of the Munchkin actors prepare to shoot a scene with Judy Garland. Image source IMDb.

In the directors chair was Richard Thorpe. He wouldn’t be sitting there for long though. Filming began in October 1938. Unfortunately so many problems quickly arose once filming was underway. Buddy Ebsen developed a near fatal reaction to the aluminium powder makeup he had to wear as part of the Tin Man costume. Margaret Hamilton suffered serious facial burns, after something went wrong during the sequence where the witch disappears into a cloud of smoke and flame after meeting Dorothy for the first time. Terry the dog was trodden on and suffered a broken paw. 

Buddy Ebsen as The Tin Man

Photo of Buddy Ebsen as The Tin Man. Image source IMDb.

Actor Jack Haley was brought in to replace the seriously ill Buddy Ebsen in the role of The Tin Man, and the silver makeup necessary for the costume was altered to aluminium paste, rather than the troublesome aluminium powder. Richard Thorpe was fired by Mervyn LeRoy after only two weeks on the job. It was felt that the footage shot so far by Thorpe didn’t have the right air of fantasy necessary for the story, and there were also concerns that the wig and makeup he’d had Judy wear made her look far older than the character should look. 

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Judy tries on that blonde wig. Image source IMDb.

The legendary George Cukor briefly stepped in to replace Richard Thorpe and thankfully got rid of the blonde wig and makeup. Cukor didn’t shoot any footage for the film, instead acting more as a creative advisor on set. Cukor left the shoot to go and work on Gone With The Wind. He was replaced by Victor Fleming, who would be the one to direct the vast majority of The Wizard Of OzIn February, 1939, Victor Fleming was told to go and replace George Cukor as director of Gone With The Wind. King Vidor was brought in to finish the filming on Oz. King refused to take a directing credit for his part in the film until after Victor Fleming had died. 

The Wizard Of Oz tells the story of Dorothy Gale(Judy Garland), a lonely Kansas farm girl who wishes for a happier tomorrow and for something more than she has. Dorothy is loved very much by her elderly uncle and aunt(Clara Blandick and Charlie Grapewin), but due to how hard they work on the farm, the pair sadly don’t have lots of time to focus on her.

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Dorothy and her friends share a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

Dorothy’s only friends are three men who help her aunt and uncle on the farm(also played by Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr), and her beloved dog, Toto(played by female terrier, Terry). Toto gets into the garden of Dorthy’s cruel neighbour, Miss Gulch(Margaret Hamilton), and accidentally bites her when she scares him. 

Miss Gulch wants the dog taken away and destroyed. Dorothy is distraught and runs away with Toto. While on their journey, Dorothy and Toto meet a travelling magician called Professor Marvel(Frank Morgan), this kind old man takes a liking to Dorothy and ends up encouraging her to return home to her family. On their way home a twister strikes Kansas. The Gales and the farmhands get to safety in their storm shelter, but Dorothy and Toto can’t get in and hide instead in the farmhouse. The twister rips out a window, which strikes Dorothy on the head and causes her to pass out. When she awakens, she and Toto find that their house has landed in a brightly coloured and unusual looking world. They soon discover that they are in a land called Oz.

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Dorothy meets The Scarecrow. Screenshot by me.

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Dorothy and the Scarecrow meet the Tin Man. Screenshot by me.

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The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Dorothy meet The Cowardly Lion. Screenshot by me.

Dorothy learns that to get home, she must seek out the mighty wizard of Oz who lives in The Emerald City. Along the way she is given a pair of ruby slippers by the good witch, Glinda(Billie Burke), which contain magical powers and are coveted by the Wicked Witch Of The West(Margaret Hamilton). Dorothy will also meet The Scarecrow(Ray Bolger), The Tin Man(Jack Haley)and The Cowardly Lion(Bert Lahr); three individuals who will become Dorothy’s dearest friends and protectors and who will help her to get home. The foursome will face great danger and heartbreak along the way, but they will find the courage to be brave and stand up to evil. 

                             Our heroes make it to the Emerald City. Screenshot by me. 

Over the years fans have had great fun debating whether Oz is supposed to be a real fantasy land which Dorothy visits, or if it is merely a very strange dream/nightmare experienced by Dorothy after being struck on the head.  The more I’ve watched the film, the more I’m convinced it is all a dream. So many of the characters represent and resemble people she knows and loves. The yellow brick road is shaped like the dirt roads going past her farm, even the hills and fields in Oz have the same shape/layout as those at her home. The swirling pattern of the beginning of the coloured roads represent the swirls of the twister. The witch’s image ball and Glenda’s ball of light represent Professor Marvel’s crystal ball. The Munchkins represent ordinary people powerless against those in positions of power who abuse and control them. The witch’s monkeys represent those who blindly follow orders from evil leaders, and don’t have the strength and courage to take a stand against them.

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Does Glenda represent Dorothy’s mother? Screenshot by me.

I’ve often wondered who Glenda is supposed to be to Dorothy. I think that she may be her mum. Glenda protects Dorothy and is a warm and loving person, which are all very motherly qualities. It is Glenda who tells Dorothy there is no place like home and helps her get home. Glenda is sending her back to family and love. Both Dorothy and Glenda have the same shade of red hair, Glenda looks the right age to be her mum, and I’ve always assumed that Dorothy is being raised by her aunt and uncle because her mum died when she was very young. Dorothy could have some vague memories of her mum or a photo, which could be why Glenda appears as she does to Dorothy. 

The whole cast deliver terrific performances. Margaret Hamilton’s duel performance as the wicked witch and Miss Gulch, has gone down as one of the greatest villains in film history. Both characters are so cruel and Margaret makes you loath them both. The witch is an interesting character though due to how Margaret plays her; you actually miss the witch when she’s not in a scene because she dominates everything, and Margaret’s wonderful performance makes the character such a strong presence. I love her green makeup too. 

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The wicked witch is one of the most memorable screen villains. Screenshot by me.

Jack Haley, Bert Lahr and Ray Bolger are all wonderful and steal all the scenes they are in. The three all have real chemistry with Judy and do a good job of balancing the humour and poignant moments/aspects of their characters. These three men were established actors when they made this, and yet they don’t overshadow Judy with their performances, rather they all appear to happily take a back seat and just be there to support her. Like every other actor in this film, I really cannot imagine anyone else playing these characters. Of the three, it is the charming Tin Man who has always been my favourite, and I absolutely love the way Jack Haley plays him. 

Judy gives one of her best performances. The amount of emotion she brings to the role is remarkable for one so young. She poured her heart and soul into this character and it shows. I always feel afraid for her and want to reach out and comfort her when she is held prisoner by the witch, she makes me so convinced of her desperation, grief and fear in those scenes.

                                Judy is phenomenal in this film. Screenshot by me. 

I also love the way Judy sings Somewhere Over The Rainbow. It’s so hard to believe that after the second preview of the film it was felt this song should be cut! Thankfully that stupid decision was prevented from going ahead. Can you imagine this film without that song and scene? Neither can I. 

The Wizard Of Oz is the perfect family film because it’s so joyous and has something in it for everyone to enjoy. It’s also a film all about family, friendship, being separated from those you love, adventure, courage and hopes and dreams. The film gives hope to anyone who is unhappy and lonely, with its message that love and acceptance can often be waiting for you just around the next bend in the road.

The film also tells us in effect to be careful what we wish for. Dorothy may well long to go somewhere over the rainbow and escape her real life, but how does she know that that far and away place she longs for will be better than where she is right now? As that final line says so well – “There’s no place like home.” What do you think of this beloved classic?

 

This is being posted early as part of the blogathon being hosted later this month by Rebecca from Taking Up Room.  When I saw that she was hosting a blogathon devoted entirely to the film The Wizard Of Oz, I just knew that I had to take part and finally get around to reviewing this classic. Be sure to visit Rebecca’s site from the 23rd of August to read all of entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

The Rita Hayworth Centenary Blogathon: My Tribute To Rita

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Michaela over at Love Letters To Old Hollywood is hosting this blogathon to mark the centenary of Rita Hayworth’s birth. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

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Rita in You Were Never Lovelier. Screenshot by me.

I was so happy when I saw Michaela announce this blogathon. I am such a huge fan of Rita Hayworth, and I was absolutely delighted to see her being honoured by a blogathon.

I am in awe at how talented Rita was. I think it’s great that she was able to get the opportunity to show off her acting and dancing skills in her films.  

Seeing Rita on screen makes me smile and feel happy. She has such a positive aura about her and you can detect it. She always seemed so bubbly, energetic and happy.    

I first became a fan of Rita when I saw her in the film Gilda. Her performance in that totally blew me away. She stole every single second of the film that she appeared in. I loved how she played the character and made her so much more than a mere object of male desire. Gilda is a complicated and multi-faceted woman and Rita conveys that personality so well to us. 

Rita was such a talented, vibrant, beautiful and funny woman. She was also someone who was full of life and that clearly shows on screen. When Rita comes on that screen she draws you in, this means that you can’t take your eyes off her for even a second when she is in a scene. Rita had that mystical and enchanting glow about her, the very same glow that the likes of Clara Bow, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Louise Brooks also all had. 

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Rita dancing with Fred in You’ll Never Get Rich. Screenshot by me.

Not only was Rita a very talented film actress, but she was also one of the most amazing dancers too.

In my opinion she is also the only female dance partner who was ever able to match the speed and dance ability of the great Fred Astaire on screen.

Fred worked alongside many talented female dancers throughout his career, but I firmly believe that in Rita Hayworth he found his perfect dancing partner. Rita would star alongside Fred in You’ll Never Get Rich, and in You Were Never Lovelier. I think it’s a real shame that the pair didn’t make more films together. 

I also feel a connection to Rita for a personal reason. Rita was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in the 1980’s, with the disease eventually taking her life in 1987. A few years ago my gran was diagnosed with mixed Dementia, which is a combination of Alzheimer’s and another type of Dementia. My gran has since died from this disease.  

This is very difficult and upsetting for me to talk about. I know only too well from my personal experience how scared and confused Rita would have been when she was sadly struck down by this evil disease. I also know how distressing and frightening it would have been for her family and friends to see her suffer with that horror. It breaks my heart to know how Rita’s life ended. Some good came of Rita’s terrible diagnosis though due to the huge level of publicity around her diagnosis. Rita’s high profile case drew a great deal of international attention to the disease, her case also led to a huge increase in funding for Alzheimer’s research. 

In 1985, Rita’s daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, set up The Rita Hayworth Gala, this is an Alzheimer’s benefit which is still held annually to this day. I like to think that Rita would have been very proud and moved to see how much good has been done in her name to try and help others suffering from this horrific disease.

Rita Hayworth was born in New York, on October 17th, 1918. Rita was of Spanish-American descent and she was the oldest of three children. Her birth name was Margarita Carmen Cansino. Her parents were the dancer Eduardo Cansino, and his wife, Volga Hayworth.

Rita’s parents had met when they were both working in the Ziegfeld Follies. Dancing and acting were in Rita’s blood, so it is really no surprise that she went right out and followed in her parents footsteps. Rita had equal amounts of talent as both an actress and a dancer, and she got to show us all just how talented she was in the many films that she made. 

I think that the best way to honour Rita on her centenary is for us to discuss and recommend her film performances. I’ve picked a few films which I think highlight Rita’s talents as an actress and dancer. The following films are also all great favourites of mine, and I highly recommend them to anyone who hasn’t seen Rita in a film before.

 

Gilda (1946)

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Rita in Gilda. Screenshot by me.

Once I had seen Rita in this film, I just knew that I would have to try and see as many of her other films as I possibly could.

From her first scene (where she does that famous hair flip)to her last, Rita steals every second of film that she appears in. I think that she is sorely missed when she isn’t in a scene in this film.

Rita makes Gilda sexy, confident, strong, vulnerable, passionate and tender. I cannot imagine another actress having been able to have played this character the way that Rita did. It isn’t hard to see why this one has become the iconic Rita Hayworth film and performance.

 

Down To Earth (1947)

This extremely underrated gem is my favourite Rita Hayworth film. This is such a fun and dazzling musical.  I also like this film because Rita looks like she having so much fun in it. Rita also gets to show off her dancing skills here.

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Rita in Down To Earth. Screenshot by me.

The film is a sequel to Here Comes Mr. JordanRita plays Terpsichore, the Greek Goddess of music and dance.

Terpsichore is appalled when she learns about a new stage musical depicting herself and the other Greek muses as man hungry women, who are all vying for the attention of two American pilots. 

Terpsichore gets the permission of heavenly messenger Mr. Jordan to go down to earth and sort out the musical. She works hard to make its depiction of the muses more accurate, and to also improve the song and dance routines. 

Rita seems ethereal in this film, so much so that you totally buy her as a goddess descended from the heavens. I also really love how energetic she is in her dance scenes in this. This is a lovely and entertaining film, of which Rita is the heart and soul. You can’t go wrong with this one if you are in the mood for an uplifting and entertaining film. It’s also great to see Rita filmed in colour for a change too.

 

The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

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Rita in Lady From Shanghai. Screenshot by me.

Playing against type(and with her famous red hair dyed blonde and cut short)Rita enters Film Noir territory. She is very much at home in this world of dark shadows, betrayal, and schemes.

Rita plays Elsa, a cold-hearted woman with a clever plan up her sleeve. Elsa’s mistake is believing that the man she uses for her own ends(played by Orson Welles) will love her no matter what she does. 

Her new image in this film makes her seem harder, cooler and sexier than she ever had been before on the screen. I don’t know about anyone else, but I get some serious Lana Turner and Claire Trevor vibes from Rita’s performance and look in this film. Her excellent performance here also makes me wonder why she was never again cast as a femme fatale like the one she plays here

 

Not all that familiar with Rita and her films? In that case then I highly recommend that you check her out in the following films: Lady From Shanghai, Miss Sadie Thompson, Down To Earth, Cover Girl, You Were Never Lovelier, Gilda, Affair In Trinidad, They Came To Cordura, Separate Tables and You’ll Never Get Rich.  

It is now one hundred years since Rita’s birth. This hugely talented woman is still bringing joy to classic film fans around the world. Rita was one of the brightest stars in the classic film night sky, and I think that her star still shines as brightly today as it did back in the classic film era.  

Happy 100th to you Rita. Thanks for sharing your talent with us. R.I.P.

Are you a fan of Rita Hayworth? Which of Rita’s films are your favourites?

 

 

The Joseph Cotten Blogathon: My Three Favourite Joseph Cotten Film Performances

Joseph 3This is my entry for the Joseph Cotten blogathon being co-hosted by myself and Crystal in a few days time. I can’t wait to read all of your entries. 

Joseph Cotten is a great favourite of mine. I like how he could easily switch between playing very likeable and easy going characters, and characters who were more darker and difficult to understand. 

Joseph was one of the most reliable and popular American classic era actors.  He was very good friends with Orson Welles, and it is Orson who we have to thank for Joseph becoming a film actor in the first place.It was also Orson Welles who gave Joseph his start in films. 

Joseph started out working alongside Orson in the Mercury Theatre. The Mercury Theatre was Orson’s independent theatre, radio, and film company, which he had co-founded with John Houseman in 1937. 

Joseph first appeared on screen when he starred in Too Much Johnson(1938), this was a film directed by Orson Wells. This was a film that was considered to be lost for decades, until it was discovered in 2013. Joseph’s next performance was as the best friend in Orson’s classic Citizen Kane. Then he went on to appear in The Magnificent Ambersons and Journey Into Fear. He would go on to become a popular and reliable actor in both film and television.

I’d like to share my three favourite Joseph Cotten film performances with you.

 

Since You Went Away (1944)

This WW2 drama is my first choice for a favourite Joseph Cotten performance. I love the film a great deal for its story and characters, but Joseph’s performance and the character he plays is what brings me back to this film again and again.

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Joseph as Tony. Screenshot by me.

Joseph plays the decent, fun loving, dependable, charming and loveable Tony Willet. He really steals every scene he is in. Joseph plays Tony in such a way that for me he becomes the life and soul of the film. 

Tony is the best friend of Anne Hilton(Claudette Colbert)and her husband, who is away fighting in the war.

Tony is in America waiting on his orders from the Navy, when he meets up with Anne and her family and makes it his mission to cheer them all up. 

It is clear to us that Tony is in love with Anne, and that she knows it but that neither will act on it. Their relationship could so easily have turned into an affair, but I think their relationship has much more meaning and poignancy precisely because it doesn’t develop into an affair.  

Joseph conveys Tony’s love and desire for Anne so well, but he also conveys his love for his friend(Anne’s husband)too and we know that he would never damage their marriage by starting an affair with Anne. We feel sorry for Tony because he can’t get the happy ending he desires in his heart, but we love him all the more for not breaking up his friends marriage. You know he would do anything for Anne and her family and he wouldn’t ask for anything in return. What a guy! What a performance from Joseph!

 

A Shadow Of A Doubt(1943)

This was the film that forever changed Joseph’s screen image. With this role he went from playing very likeable characters, to playing a cold, manipulative and very scary serial killer.

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Joseph as Uncle Charlie. Screenshot by me.

Joseph plays Charlie, a smooth and charming man visiting his family in a small American town. Charlie’s exterior is a mask hiding his dark true self.

He is actually a serial killer, and he is a cruel, cold and very dangerous man. When his young niece (Teresa Wright) discovers his secret, he plots to kill her too to protect his secret. 

Joseph is excellent as the dark and charming Charlie. I like how he effortlessly switches between likeable charmer and deranged and scary monster. His performance is all in his eyes and expressions and he does a terrific job. In my opinion this is Joseph Cotten’s best screen performance. 

 

I’ll Be Seeing You(1944) 

Another film set during WW2. I’ll Be Seeing You isn’t just your average romance story, this love story has some stings in the tale. In this film Joseph plays Zachary Morgan, a shell shocked soldier, who has just been released from a military hospital.

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Joseph as Zachary. Screenshot by me.

Zachary is having a tough time dealing with his symptoms and readjusting to life on the outside. All that changes when he meets the kind Mary (Ginger Rogers).

Zachary is unaware of Mary’s secret that she is a prisoner convicted of manslaughter. Mary has been allowed out of prison for a short time to spend time with her family. 

Joseph totally convinces as a traumatised soldier struggling with his symptoms and finding a small degree of peace with the woman he is falling for. Joseph’s performance in this film is both subtle and poignant.

I especially love how Joseph conveys to us Zachary’s anxiety and awkwardness being around people and loud noises. Joseph also really makes you believe that his character is suffering and trying so very hard to get some control over his condition. 

 

What are your views on Joseph’s performances in these three films? What are your favourite Joseph Cotten performances? 

 

 

The Fourth Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon: Anastasia (1956)

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Virginie over at The Wonderful World Of Cinema is hosting this fourth annual blogathon celebrating Ingrid Bergman and her films. Be sure to visit Virginie’s site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I’m writing about Ingrid’s performance as a woman who believes she is the daughter of the last Russian Tsar. Before discussing Ingrid’s performance in this film, I want to first take a look at the real people and events that inspired this film.   

In the early hours of the 17th of July, 1918, a brutal massacre took place in the basement of the Ipatiev House, which was located in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, the Empress Alexandra, were shot to death by the Bolshevik guards holding them prisoner at the house. 

Also murdered with Nicholas and Alexandra were their five children: compassionate Olga (aged 22), dutiful Tatiana (aged 21), gentle Maria (aged 19), fun-loving Anastasia (aged 17) and affectionate Alexei (aged 13).  

Four loyal members of the Romanov household staff were also murdered alongside the family that night: Anna Demidova (Alexandra’s maid), Eugene Botkin (the family doctor), Alexei Trupp (footman)and Ivan Kharitonov (cook).  Klementy Nagorny, who was the bodyguard of the hemophiliac Tsarevich Alexei, had been removed from the house a few days earlier and shot to death. The family and remaining staff were never told that Nagorny had been killed.  

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The Romanov Family. Standing left to right: Maria and Alexandra. Seated left to right: Olga, Nicholas, Anastasia, Alexei and Tatiana. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Nicholas, Alexandra and the three male members of staff all died fairly quickly. The children and Anna Demidova were unfortunately not so lucky, they all survived the initial round of shooting and were bayoneted and shot to death.

The bodies were removed from the house, placed in a truck, and they were then taken to be buried in a nearby forest. Most of the remains were discovered and exhumed in 1991. Two bodies were missing from the gravesite though, and it would not be until 2007 that the bodies of Alexei and one of his sisters (believed to be Maria) were discovered in a pit not that far from the main gravesite.  For most of the 20th century there were persistent rumours that one or more of the Romanov children had escaped the massacre that night. I believe that these rumours were inspired by reports from the executioners that one of the daughters suddenly moved and started screaming as the bodies were being put in the truck. She was killed when they realised she was still alive.

The name that kept coming up most often as a possible Romanov survivor was Anastasia.  

Grand Duchess Anastasia was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on the 18th of June, 1901. She was the youngest daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra. She was the wild child of the imperial family. Anastasia was an adventurous, fearless, stubborn and mischievous girl. She also had a natural gift for mimicry and comedy; her family, friends and the household staff couldn’t help but be amused by her antics. Anastasia was also a skilled photographer and she was always snapping pictures of her family and their activities.

While there were a few people over the years who claimed they were some of Anastasia’s siblings, it is the story of the Anastasia claims that became the most famous and captured the public imagination.  

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Anna Anderson. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

There were several women who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Of these imposters only Eugenia Smith and Anna Anderson ever gained large numbers of supporters.

Anna Anderson remains the most famous of all the Romanov imposters. It was also her case that inspired this 1956 film. Anna Anderson attempted suicide in 1920. She was taken to a mental hospital in Berlin. Anna told the staff working there that she was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II.

Anna’s story went public and led to some surviving members of the Romanov entourage, including the Romanov children’s beloved French tutor, Pierre Gilliard, coming to visit Anna in hospital. Anastasia’s aunt, Grand Duchess Olga, who was the youngest sister of Tsar Nicholas II, also visited Anna. 

Some people believed Anna’s story, but many who had actually known the real Grand Duchess and been in regular contact with her for much of her life, didn’t believe her claims at all. Never the less, without the dead bodies of the Romanov family to prove otherwise, and with Anna sticking to her story, there was always the possibility that her claims might well be true.

Anna died in 1984. Her DNA was later matched against samples taken from living royalty who were related to the Romanov family. The test results proved that Anna Anderson was not the Grand Duchess. Anna was really a Polish factory worker with a long history of mental illness. Her name wasn’t even Anna Anderson, it was actually Franziska Schanzkowska. Her story was a sad one.

Franziska worked in a munitions factory. Her fiance was killed during WW1. Not that long after her fiance had died, a grenade fell out of her hand at the factory, it exploded and killed the factory foreman in front of her. She was seriously injured in the explosion and was taken to a sanitarium. 

This stranger than fiction story proved too good for stage and screen writers to ignore. In 1952, French playwright Marcelle Maurette wrote a stage play based on the Anna Anderson story. The play became a big hit. 20th Century Fox bought the rights to the play and turned it into this film starring Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner and Helen Hayes. The film was directed by Anatole Litvak. 

The film would be a comeback for Ingrid Bergman, as it was the first film that she had made for Hollywood for some years. She had become a figure of scandal due to her divorce from her husband Petter Lindstrom, and her affair with the Italian film director Roberto Rossellini, who she married soon after her divorce. 

Ingrid’s very moving and powerful performance in Anastasia saw Hollywood welcoming her back with open arms. She was rewarded with a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in this film. 

This film is all about resurrection. I think that it is very appropriate that the film begins on a dark Easter night. The film opens in Paris, it is 1928, ten years after the Russian revolution and the murder of the Romanov family. Members of the Russian community, who now live in exile in France, are attending various church services being held in the city to mark the start of Easter.

An amnesic, physically ill, suicidal young woman, called Anna Koreff(Ingrid Bergman)is being followed through the city streets on this night. She is being followed by former Russian General, Bounine(Yul Brynner). 

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Anna and Bounine meet. Image source IMDb

Bounine has set up a scheme to pass off a woman as being the real Grand Duchess Anastasia, who according to circulating rumours, actually survived the massacre that killed the rest of her family. Bounine intends to convince the surviving members of the royal family and their staff of the validity of his claim. He then intends to get his hands on some of the ten million pound inheritance left by the Tsar for his daughter in a British bank.

As he studies Anna, he actually becomes convinced that she is the real Grand Duchess Anastasia. She is the same height as Anastasia, is the same age as she would be now, looks like her and has some of her characteristics. Anna also has a fear of cellars(the royal family were killed in a cellar)and bears injuries that could be bullet wounds. Anna also says things and has memories about the royal family that she could only know about if she had been with them at some point. We later learn that there is a strong possibility that Anna’s injuries were actually received in an explosion aboard a train that she was a passenger on.  

Bounine takes her in and helps her to regain her memory. He teaches her royal etiquette, royal traditions and facts about the royal family. Anna is confused, upset and frustrated because she has no clear memories of her past, she has been in and out of asylums for years(it is while she was in one asylum that she claimed to be the Grand Duchess, and this is how Bounine first heard of her) and she has horrible nightmares about death and violence.

Ingrid does such an excellent job of conveying to us just how vulnerable, traumatised and angry Anna is. It’s not hard to see why Ingrid won an Academy Award for her performance here. She is so convincing and moving as this damaged woman searching for answers.

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Is Anna really the Grand Duchess? Image source IMDb.

Ingrid plays Anna as childlike and vulnerable for much of the film, and she also gives us glimpses of this woman’s inner strength and passionate nature.Ingrid also does a wonderful job of convincing us that Anna is becoming emotionally stronger, more regal, more confident, and that she is regaining some happiness and control over herself and her life as the film goes on. 

Eventually Anna is ready to face some former royal staff and members of Russian society who knew the royal family. Bounine arranges a reception to introduce her to them, and many attending this event believe she is the Grand Duchess. The real test will now be to see if Anna can convince Anastasia’s grandmother(mother of Tsar Nicholas), the Dowager Empress Marie(Helen Hayes)of her identity. The reclusive Dowager Empress of Russia now lives in Denmark (her birth place). The Dowager refuses to see anyone claiming to be one of grandchildren, this is because she has seen some imposters before and been left devastated by their deception.

Bounine enlists the help of the Dowager’s flirtatious lady in waiting(a scene stealing Martita Hunt) to get them in to see the Empress. Eventually the Dowager agrees to meet with Anna.

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Helen Hayes and Ingrid Bergman. Image source IMDb.

Whenever I watch this film I always feel so sorry for the Dowager Empress. I can’t begin to imagine the pain that the real Dowager must have suffered. Not only did she lose Nicholas and her grandchildren, but she also lost her youngest son Michael too. Michael was also murdered during the revolution, he was killed along with his secretary, Nicholas Johnson. The only survivors of the immediate royal family were Marie and her two daughters, Xenia and Olga.

Will the Dowager accept this woman as her grandchild? Will we learn for certain if Anna is Anastasia or not? Watch the film and find out. Obviously if you watch this now you know full well that the Anastasia claims are complete fiction, but the film still manages to work very well despite the truth now being known.

I think the strength of the film is that it plays on the hope that one or more of the children could have survived that night. We want Ingrid’s character to be the real Anastasia, we want a happy ending and so we keep watching because of that. The film also works because it offers the viewer balanced amounts of evidence to both prove and disprove Anna’s claim to be Anastasia. We can make up our own minds as to the truth of her identity.  

As much as I love the film for the its story and performances, I have to say that my absolute favourite thing about this film is the slowly changing and developing relationship between Bounine and Anna.

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Bounine serenades Anna. Image source IMDb.

I love how Bounine begins to find himself falling in love with Anna, and how he also becomes more convinced that she is the real Grand Duchess after all. I like how Anna starts off not trusting him, feeling resentful for his pushing her in lessons, and yet she slowly begins to like and trust him. Bounine also undergoes a real character change and he becomes less stern, and turns more tender and gentle. Bounine also starts to care more about looking after Anna and helping her instead of using her to get money. 

Yul does such a good job of conveying that change and his growing bond with Anna. He also manages to convince as both commanding and strong military man, and as the softer and kinder man he becomes as the film goes on. Yul has lovely chemistry with Ingrid and I think it’s a real shame that they never worked together again. 

Ingrid delivers the standout performance of the film in my opinion. Her performance here is one of my favourites from out of all her screen work. She really manages to get across how confused and damaged Anna is, and also conveys to us just how desperate for happiness and answers she is. Ingrid glows in the scenes where Anna is having a good time, and she makes you want to put your arms around her whenever Anna is sad and scared.  

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Ingrid delivers one of her best performances. Image source IMDb.

Helen Hayes is excellent as the dignified and strong woman who is trying so hard to keep her grief in check, while she also tentatively dares to hope that Anna may well be her granddaughter. I think that Helen does a terrific job in the scenes where you can see the Dowager really struggling to hold back her tears. Helen and Ingrid work very well together too. 

The performances, costumes, sets and cinematography are all very good. I think that Alfred Newman’s beautiful score adds a great deal of emotion and atmosphere to the proceedings. I consider his score for this to be among his most underrated work. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Bounine questioning and studying Anna for the first time. Bounine serenading Anna. Anna looking across the theatre to try and see the Dowager. Anna waking up from a nightmare and Bounine trying to comfort her. Anna meeting the Dowager. Anna meeting a cousin of Anastasia’s at the theatre. Anna learning how to dance with Bounine. 

The 1997 animated film Anastasia borrowed much from this 1956 film, the two films have near identical plots and characters. The animated film is not remotely accurate in its depiction of the revolution or of the Anna Anderson story, but for all its flaws it might be a better one to watch with younger children. Do show older children the 1956 film though. 

The animated film was my introduction to the Anastasia legend and it was watching that film that also got me interested in the real Romanov family, so I will always have a soft spot for that film because of that. I then discovered the film Nicholas and Alexandra,then I came across this 1956 film. I am so happy that I found this film because it features Ingrid delivering one of her finest performances.

This is a very enjoyable and moving film inspired by a fascinating and sad true story. Highly recommended for fans of Ingrid Bergman. What are your thoughts on this film and Ingrid’s performance? 

 

 

 

The Fourth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon: A Bill Of Divorcement(1932)

John BarrymoreCrystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this fourth annual celebration of the Barrymore family. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

I am a big fan of the three Barrymore siblings Ethel, Lionel and John. I think these three are among the finest American actors to ever have appeared on screen.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to take part in any of the Barrymore blogathons until now. It was a tough choice for me to decide which of the siblings, and which of their many films I wanted to write about.  

I’ve decided to write about A Bill Of Divorcement because it contains one of my favourite film performances by John Barrymore, who was the youngest of the three Barrymore siblings. A Bill Of Divorcement was directed by George Cukor, it was based upon the 1921 play of the same name by Clemence Dane. A British silent film adaptation of the play had been made in 1922.

In addition to featuring one of John Barrymore’s best performances, the 1932 film is also notable for featuring the debut performance of Katharine Hepburn, who plays the daughter of John’s character.  

The film opens on Christmas Eve. A party is being held at the home of the Fairfield family. Everyone at the party is very happy and are in a festive mood. Very soon the mood changes and the Fairfield family will have to make some big and difficult decisions.

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John Barrymore as Hilary. Screenshot by me.

Hilary Fairfield(John Barrymore) has spent a number years in an asylum, this is due to him suffering from hereditary madness, the symptoms of which first manifested themselves soon after the First World War ended.

His family had him committed and they blamed his illness on shell shock from his time serving in the war.

Decades after he was put into an asylum, Hilary gets better, but he is not yet cleared for release by doctors. He escapes one night and returns home to his family, only to find that many things have changed in his absence.

He returns home to find he has a now grown up daughter Sydney(Katharine Hepburn), who is engaged to Kit(David Manners). Hilary also finds that his long suffering wife Margaret(Billie Burke)has divorced him and is now engaged to a man called Gray(Paul Meredith) .

Hilary has never stopped loving his wife, he has longed to be back with her for a very long time, she on the other hand cannot stand to be in the same room as Hilary anymore. He tries to win his wife back, but slowly comes to realise that she doesn’t want to be with him anymore. She still cares for him, but she can never go back to being his wife again.

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Hilary pleads with Margaret. Screenshot by me.

Hilary tries desperately to win his wife’s heart again. We also learn that Sydney may well have inherited her father’s madness.

Sydney has a very manic personality and begins to fear that if she has children with Kit, that there is a possibility that she could pass her madness on to them. Sydney must decide if she will go ahead and get married or not. 

This film rather movingly depicts the various difficulties involved when you are living with someone with mental health issues. I like that the film has a balanced approach to its subject matter and shows us things from the perspective of Hilary as the patient, and from the perspective of his family coping with him and his illness. 

The film gives us a sense of how a mentally ill patient often gets frightened and angry(quite understandably so) when they are taken from their home and placed in care, and also when people around them don’t understand or comprehend what they are going through.

John Barrymore does a terrific job of portraying a mentally ill man who has never lost his love for his family, and who wishes so desperately to be able to come home to them. I like how John conveys how hard Hilary is trying to fit back into his old life, and also how he is mortified to be the cause of pain and embarrassment for his family.

At the time this film was made there was still such a stigma around the mentally ill. I can well imagine that this film(showing a mentally ill person as an individual with feelings who is trying to get better)must have shocked some people who viewed the mentally ill as individuals to be avoided at all costs and to always be wary around.

I think the film also makes you think about whether it would be best to leave the mentally ill in their own homes where they at least feel safe and comfortable. I think that being locked away in a strange and frightening building would make someone more ill than they were on admittance there and would only add to their distress. Surely its better to medicate them(if necessary),and let them try to live their own lives, instead of locking them up and sedating them? 

The film also shows us how draining and upsetting living with a mentally ill person can be for their family. People can only cope with so much illness and care requirements before they reach their own breaking point and cannot stand it any longer.

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Billie Burke as Margaret. Screenshot by me.

The film makes us pity both Hilary and Margaret. We feel for Hilary because he was psychotic and unreachable for so long, yet he tried so hard to fight his symptoms and get back home. We feel for Margaret because she loved Hilary so much, but she really had no quality of life with him, so she was granted a divorce from him. She has just started to move on with her life when he comes back into hers.

We see how affected she was by her experiences of his illness, and also by how much she desperately wants to find some happiness and peace with her new fiance. The film makes you ask yourself is it fair to make a spouse stay married to someone like Hilary if they are severely ill/disturbed for so long? 

The only thing I don’t like about the film is that the ending gives the impression that it is thought best that those with mental illness should isolate themselves from other people. Most people with mental illness are able to live quite normal lives and can live at home. Sadly there are still some mentally ill people who have to be in a hospital or home, but many mental health conditions can now be managed through medication and therapy.

For a film that is quite fair and non- judgmental in its depiction of the difficulties surrounding mental illness, I think it is such a shame that the film ends the way that it does. Perhaps a modern adaption of the story would end on a more hopeful and positive note.

John Barrymore and Billie Burke are both excellent in this and each delivers a performance which ensures they have your sympathy at different times of the film. The scene where Hilary gets on his knees, breaks down in front of Margaret, and begs her to show him some kindness, gets me every single time. I consider it to be the most moving scene in the entire film.

It’s fair to say that John steals the film from everyone else in it. I consider this to be one of his best and most subtle performances. John could often be quite the scenery chewer on screen, but here he is the complete opposite and his performance is just as powerful as some of his more showy ones are.

John’s performance here is all in his expressions and eyes. You look at him and you see a vulnerable, gentle, desperate, decent, frightened and tender man seeking happiness and light at the end of the dark tunnel which he has been trapped in for so long. There are several moments in this where I want to reach through the screen and hug this broken man trying desperately to fit back into a so called normal existence again. I urge you see this film so you can see his very touching performance.

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Katharine Hepburn in her debut role. Screenshot by me.

The rest of the cast are all quite good, but at times some of the acting in this is very theatrical, but if you can overlook that aspect I think that you should enjoy this film quite a bit.

Katharine Hepburn delivers a really natural performance here and she doesn’t come across as being wooden and grating like she is (in my view)in most of her 1930’s performances(with Holiday and Bringing Up Baby being two exceptions). I happen to think that Katharine got better as an actress once the 1940’s came along. I was pleasantly surprised by her debut performance here. 

This is a must see film for fans of John Barrymore.What are your thoughts on the film and John’s performance?  

The Non English Language Blogathon: Sisters Of The Gion(1936)

cthd_languageblogathon2Catherine over at Thoughts All Sorts is hosting this blogathon about Foreign Language films. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I had to take part in this blogathon because I adore foreign language films. I love many of them not only for being excellent films, but also because they provide me with a glimpse into other cultures and different ways of living life. 

I think that anyone who only watches films and series from their native country is seriously missing out, there are so many film and TV gems to be found from around the world. My favourite country for foreign language films is Japan.

There are three great masters of Japanese cinema in my opinion. The first one is Akira Kurosawa. He made some truly epic masterpieces. He was also responsible for helping to bring Japanese films to the attention of Western audiences. 

The second one is Yasujiro Ozu. His films were all about characters and emotions, he told very human stories which appeal to audiences the world over. His films also gave us the enchanting Setsuko Hara, the actress who was Ozu’s screen muse. 

The third one is Kenji Mizoguchi. Kenji Mizoguchi’s films uniquely often focused upon the struggles and hardships that women faced in society at the time his films were made.   

For this blogathon I’ve decided to write about the 1936 Japanese film Sisters Of The Gion. This film is directed by one of my favourite film directors of all time, Kenji Mizoguchi. I love Kenji Mizoguchi’s work because his films are very realistic, gritty, and because they also focus much more on the characters rather than on the visuals and the mood of the film.

I also love Kenji’s films so much because they deal very frankly with subjects and issues that most other films of this period didn’t focus on all that much. I love that his films focus primarily on women and on the way they are treated. His films focus on the things that women have to do to survive, and they also show the strength and determination of women who are enduring tough and bad times in their life. 

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Umekichi and Omocha take a walk together. Screenshot by me.

Sisters Of The Gion is one of Kenji Mizoguchi’s finest films in my opinion. It is a real character piece and it feels very modern when viewed today because of the strong feminist attitudes present in the film.

The film tells the story of two very different sisters. There is the outgoing, modern and rebellious Omocha(Isuzu Yamada), and the older, much more traditional and submissive Umekichi(Yoko Umemura). 

The sisters both work as geishas in a district of Kyoto. They do the same job, but each woman holds  very different opinions about what they do and how they are viewed and treated. Omocha hates men and just views them as a means to get money and nice things. She feels that men use women (especially geishas)for their own desires and then abandon them when they are through. She is also better educated and far more wordly than her older sister is.

Omocha is also very modern in her views and she mostly wears modern Western clothes, instead of always wearing more traditional Japanese attire. Omocha also has no hesitation about playing with the feelings of her male clients in order to get something that she wants from them. The way she sees it, if the men can use the women, then why can’t the women play them at their own game?

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Omocha sweet-talks her patron. Screenshot by me.

Umekichi on the other hand is dutiful and passive, she also seems to genuinely enjoy her role as a companion and source of pleasure for male clients. She also feels that things are not as black and white as her younger sister makes them out to be.

Umekichi knows that there are some men who are not all bad and are not out to use the geishas and abandon them when they are finished with them.

Despite their many differences, the two sisters love each other very much and they always look out for each other no matter what. Umekichi is deeply in love with her patron Shimbei Furusawa (Benkei Shiganoya)and she offers him help when he goes bankrupt. Omocha plays with the hearts of two men in order to get gifts and money from them; the first man she toys with is a young store clerk who loves her, the second man is his much older boss who is persuaded to become her new patron.

I think that the two sisters represent the two different types of women who have always existed throughout history. One represents women who accept their lot in life, and who are accepting and uncomplaining when their man treats them badly. The other represents women who fight for equality, for protection from abuse and for the ability to be away from the control of men.

 I also like that the film shows how strong women can be in times of hardship and pain, the spirit of these women may break, they may be beaten and tossed aside, but they endure and struggle on and they never give up and wilt away.  Mizoguchi’s films often focus on women and show the appalling ways that many women of this time period were treated, but his films also clearly highlight the courage and internal strength of the women and looks at how they try and make the best of what life throws at them. The film also shows us that society often lets men get away with sleeping around, being abusive and using women for no other reason than that they are men. If a woman did the same things as men, then she would find herself being punished and judged for sleeping around. Double standards much?

In this film all the male characters we see have control over women, and they also have a controlling position in their own life in some way, such as their job or their wealth for example. It seems like the women in this time only have three options in life; the first choice is to marry and bear children, the second is to become a geisha or prostitute, the third is to try and live an independent life which will earn them disapproval and alienation from a very traditional society. 

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The two sisters represent two very different types of women. Screenshot by me.

If women of this time didn’t conform to traditions they suffered. If they did conform to traditions, many would suffer emotionally because they didn’t love the man they were married to, or because deep down they hated themselves for selling their bodies for money. 

By the end of this film, both Omocha and Umekichi will discover just how they are actually perceived and valued by men. The ending is quite bleak and I really like that it doesn’t sugar coat the life endured by many women the world over at this point in history. 

The performances are all very good and the film really draws you in. The only downsides to the film are that it is very short, it clocks in at just one hour and nine minutes long. I would also have liked more scenes between the two sisters. While the film gives us a good sense of their respective personalities and views, I don’t really get a good enough sense of what their sisterly relationship was like, a few more scenes of them interacting on a day to day basis would have been welcome.  

This is an early gem from Kenji Mizoguchi, and it is a film which feels very modern due to the feminist views found within it, and also because of its visual depiction and condemnation of the way women were treated by some men.

I highly recommend it. I think that this film could also serve as a good gateway film to Kenji Mizoguchi’s work and to Japanese cinema in general. If you haven’t ventured outside your country for films and series before, then I would say to you be brave, go and check some foreign language films out. Once you get accustomed to subtitles these films and series are very easy to get into.

What do you think of this film?

The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon: Top Hat (1935)

fred-and-gingerCrystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood, and Michaela over at Love Letters To Old Hollywood are co-hosting this blogathon about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

Top Hat is my favourite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. I also really love The Gay Divorcee, Carefree, Swing Time and The Story Of Vernon and Irene Castle. Despite my great love for the majority of the films that Fred and Ginger starred in together, it is Top Hat which has found a very special place in my heart. 

I love Top Hat so much and I never get tired of watching it. The film is one of my go to comfort films due to it always being able to leave me in such a good mood. The film is also special to me because it is the first Fred and Ginger film that I ever saw, and it is the film which ended up making me a fan of their work and led me to check out their other films. Top Hat is also the first black and white film that I ever saw. I’ve been a fan a black and white films ever since.

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Fred and Ginger hit the dancefloor for Top Hat’s joyous finale.Image source IMDb.

Top Hat is a joyous, uplifting and very romantic film. I think the film features Fred and Ginger at their very best, both in terms of their acting performances and their dancing. The film also has some of the best and most memorable dance routines in Fred and Ginger’s entire screen partnership. 

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Dale and Jerry having fun at a dinner party. Screenshot by me.

Top Hat was Fred and Ginger’s fourth film together. By this time they had developed a very good screen chemistry, and they both seemed very comfortable being in these films and working with one another. I think that Top Hat is the film which made audiences finally start to sit up and take some real notice of these two.

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Dale and Jerry take a boat ride and have a talk. Screenshot by me.

 Top Hat is also an incredibly funny film. The comic parts and the mistaken identity storyline ensure that the film has a timeless quality about it. The funny reactions, silly situations and funny romantic games really haven’t dated at all in my opinion.

The other fabulous thing about this film is the set design and costumes, both of which are stunning and beautiful.You can see the hours of hard work which had been put into designing, building, and making the sets and costumes in every single scene of the film.  The Venice set in particular is a truly spectacular sight to behold.

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Part of the stunning Venice set. Image source IMDb. 

The impressive Venice set was three levels high and consisted of a canal, bridges, terraces, and balconies. The Venice set was so big that it was spread across two adjoining sound stages. The art director for the film was Carroll Clark, he oversaw all of the magnificent set and furniture design which we see in the film. The art direction for the film was nominated for an Academy Award. It was a well deserved nomination in my opinion. As well as all the fabulous visuals to gaze at and Fred and Ginger to enjoy, we also get the wonderful supporting performances of Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore.

                 Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore.  Screenshot by me.

These four actors were among the greatest American character actors of the classic film era. They are all comedy gold in this film. They steal all the scenes they are all in, and the comic bickering between them all is priceless. I think that they all add so much to this film.  Top Hat became one of the most popular and profitable films of the 1930’s, and it has also since become the most successful and best remembered of all the Fred and Ginger films. 

The film is directed by Marc Sandrich, who was the director of several of the Fred and Ginger films. Acclaimed American tap dancer, Jerry Travers(Fred Astaire) has arrived in London to take the lead in a stage show that is being produced by his friend, Horace Hardwick(Edward Everett Horton).

                                  Jerry dancing and waking up Dale. Screenshot by me.

Jerry is demonstrating a tap routine to Horace in his hotel suite one night, when his loud tap dancing disturbs the sleep of Dale Tremont(Ginger Rogers), who is staying in the suite below. Dale complains about the noise and Jerry says sorry to her. It’s clear to us that there is an instant attraction developing between the two. Dale and Jerry fall in love but she has mistaken Jerry for Horace, as the film goes on this case of mistaken identity gets even funnier and more complicated. This mistaken identity also prevents Dale and Jerry from being able to get together as quickly as they should be able to.

When Dale discovers that Horace is married to her friend Madge(Helen Broderick), Dale is shocked that he is romancing her and attempting to begin an affair with her which would mean he would be cheating on Madge. Dale is even more shocked when Madge seems to not to mind, shows she has a very open mind about love and flirting, and seems very amused by Dale telling her that Horace got romantic with her.

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Horace, Jerry and Madge discuss Dale mistaking Jerry for Horace. Screenshot by me.

Dale goes on holiday to Venice with Madge. Dale is romanced there by dress designer Alberto Beddini(Erik Rhodes), things get complicated when both Jerry and Horace show up, along with Horace’s hysterical and meddling valet, Bates (a scene stealing Eric Blore). Can Dale and Jerry set things straight and get the happy romantic ending they deserve?

In addition to the characters and the romance story, there are also lots of dance sequences for us to enjoy. The highlight of the film for me is Fred and Ginger’s Cheek To Cheek dance sequence. The dance caused many problems at first, due to what happened with the feathers on Ginger’s ostrich feather gown. 

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The Cheek To Cheek sequence. Image source IMDb.

The feathers sewn onto the dress flew off in clouds whenever Ginger and Fred started dancing during early takes. Filming was stopped, the dress was altered slightly, and dancing resumed. Although feathers can still be seen falling off during the completed sequence, the shedding of feathers is not as noticeable as it had been initially. 

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The Cheek To Cheek sequence. Image source IMDb. 

The Cheek To Cheek sequence is so beautiful to watch. The dance is very graceful and expertly choreographed. This elegant, graceful and effortless sequence is the epitome to me of what Fred and Ginger were all about. 

The other standout dance sequence in the film is the Top Hat stage routine. This scene is part of Jerry’s stage show.Fred gets to do some terrific solo tapping in this sequence, and he gets superb support from a large group of backing dancers. The dancing, the stage design and that brilliant song and music by Irving Berlin all help to make this a stunning sequence.

The Top Hat sequence. Image source IMDb.

I think there is something here for everyone to enjoy in this film. You will also be sure to be tapping your toes right along with Fred and Ginger. I also love that for a film which is clearly all about fantasy and which is set in a very artificial world, the plot and characters somehow manage to feel very authentic and believable.

The film makes you care about Dale and Jerry and you want them to be together by the end. Top Hat is an uplifting and delightful fantasy that can cheer you up if you are feeling down. I always feel happy after spending some time watching this one. Fred is at his most charming and loveable in this film. Ginger is equally lovable and she also gets to prove to us how much comic talent she had too. I love Ginger’s shocked and bemused expressions during the scenes where she is telling Madge about Horace flirting with her. I also think she and Fred are so funny in the scene where she pretends to be someone else and acts as though they used to be lovers.

For a film made during the time of the infamous Production Code, I think that this film is also rather risque in its subject matter. Madge’s reaction to the news that Horace (we know it’s really Jerry that Dale is talking about but Madge doesn’t)has been flirting with Dale and wants to have a relationship with her, is not a response that you may expect to find in a 1930’s Code film.

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Madge and Dale talk about men. Screenshot by me.

Madge makes it very clear that she doesn’t care if he cheats on her or not. Madge’s response also seems to imply that the couple may well have an open relationship. I’m surprised the Code people passed this scene discussing affairs involving a married person, when they famously didn’t even allow characters who were married couples to be shown sleeping together in the same bed!

Madge is another reason why I love this film so much. She is a middle aged woman who you expect to be very reluctant to discuss her marriage and her husband’s fidelity, but Madge is just the opposite, she is very open and she comes across as being a very modern woman in her attitudes towards marriage, and she is also a very fun person too.

Madge is very open when she talks about Horace’s flirting and fooling around, she also tells Dale that you can never really stop men looking at other women and desiring them. The banter between Madge and Horace is hilarious, and I think that both Helen Broderick and Edward Everett Horton work together so well in this film.

My favourite scenes are the following. Jerry tap dancing to shock the boring old men at Horace’s club. The Cheek To Cheek dance. Dale trying to tell Madge about Horace being in love with her. The scene where Dale pranks Jerry and acts as though she thinks they had an affair in France years ago. The Piccolino dance finale. Jerry waking Dale up with his dancing. 

Anyone else here love Top Hat as much as I do?

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 ExpectationsGuy 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. These images of the storm and branches clearly 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 land upon things that remind him of their shared life together, items 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 of the film is that while Bill was a violent and nasty piece of work, he genuinely loved Nancy and she loved him in return. 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 film. I think it could also 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?

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. 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. 

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Mrs. Danvers pushes the second Mrs. DeWinter to the edge. Image source IMDb.

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 is one of Hitch’s most atmospheric and intriguing. The film was based upon the novel of the same name,which was written by the great Daphne Du Maurier in 1938. The novel is one of my favourites and I especially love how vivid and fascinating it is.

Rebecca is a book that really draws you in, and 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 actually becomes 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, and in this regard the film could easily be considered a ghost story, all be it one without the physical manifestation of a spirit on screen.

As the film goes on we also learn more about Rebecca’ s personality. We begin to see why the various main characters loved 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 the shy and fragile innocent and becomes a much stronger and dominant woman standing up to Mrs. Danvers and to the memory of Rebecca. The moment where she finally asserts her authority and makes a stand against the memory of Rebecca is unforgettable.

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. Her performance here should be used in an acting masterclass about how to steal a scene with through subtle performance.

I like how Mrs. Danvers is such 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. 

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Hitchcock sets up a scene between Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. Image source IMDb.

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?

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?

 

 

 

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.  

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.

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?

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!

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?

 

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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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. 

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 has become my favourite director. 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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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.

 

 

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 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?

 

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

 

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 ever appeared on film.

Lon always acted differently in each role, he played someone different each time he went before the camera. Lon also seemed to take great pleasure in becoming the characters who 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 who 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. In so 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, but because he was so convincing in the roles he took on that he disappeared into them. He was also quite often buried beneath layers of extraordinary makeup which he himself created and applied, 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.

Lon 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. I have to say that while I find such a casting decision to be very unfortunate (why not hire a real Chinese actor for the role?)unlike Mickey Rooney’s absolutely atrocious portrayal of a Chinese man in Breakfast At Tiffany’s,Chaney’s portrayal actually does come across as being quite believable. He 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 he didn’t play the man as a caricature.  

Lon was also especially good at portraying characters who were disabled, disfigured, or who were 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 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.

Lon 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 who tries to dominate 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 independent, self-sufficient, strong and determined. He is also depicted as sometimes getting violent with those who displease him. The film features one of Lon’s best ever performances in my opinion. 

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Lon and his famous makeup case. Image source IMDb.

Lon famously created and applied his own makeup for many of the film 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 in my opinion. He alone decided how his characters should look and act and he alone 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 in his Phantom Of The Opera makeup. Image source IMDb. 

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.  

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One of my favourite photos of Lon. Image source IMDb.

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 Lon there was nothing odd or frightening about his parents disability. His parents were simply 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. 

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. Lon’s films also show us that the disabled and disfigured can work, create, fall in love, and most importantly can exist just fine along with able bodied people. Lon also depicts the incredible courage of these people in not hiding away from the rest of society. 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 in society. Mentally ill and disabled people were often sadly shut away in homes and put out of sight and mind. After WW1 ended there were also thousands of 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. The films of Lon Chaney Sr gave a national and international face to disability and disfigurement. 

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 his final film he delivered not one, but five excellent vocal performances. 

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Lon’s final film 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 and Noir films well. 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 Chaney Sr 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 Chaney shows us that everybody hides a pain as they go through life.

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.

 

 

 

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 and loved her tender and powerful voice. My mum and dad both like her a lot too as a singer, and they have recommended many 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 Man Who Knew Too Much, is the second film of Doris’s that I ever saw. 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.

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, Hitch gave Grace Kelly roles in his films which allowed her to come across as cool and sexy, as opposed to the other types of characters she had played before working with him. Hitch also 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 so 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 LaceMy 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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 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?

 

 

 

Announcing The Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon 2018

Hi everyone. I think it’s high time we had another blogathon. This year would have been the 100th birthday of the actress, director, writer and producer, Ida Lupino. I’d like to invite you all to join me in celebrating her centenary. 

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Ida in The Bigamist. Screenshot by me.

Ida was born in London, in 1918, she went on to make quite a name for herself in Hollywood. She became an actress, producer, writer and a director too.

She was a tough and determined woman. She had equal amounts of talent both before and behind the camera. I admire her for being a groundbreaking woman in a very male dominated industry. She really helped to pave the way for future generations of female directors.

I am hosting this blogathon to mark Ida’s centenary. I do hope you will all be able to join me to celebrate her life and career. You can write about Ida as an actress, director, producer or as a writer. You can also write about her entire career if you would like to.

You can enter more than one post if you wish to do so. I am allowing duplicates for the films she directed, but no more than two duplicates please for films that she starred in. Previously published posts you’ve written about Ida will also be accepted for this blogathon. 

The blogathon will be held for one day only on the 12th of May, 2018.  

Simply let me know what you would like to write about and leave me a link to your blog. Take one of the banners below and put it on your site somewhere to help spread the word. You can view the list of who is writing about what below. 

Most importantly have fun writing! Let’s do Ida proud. Lets honour her talents and also the great contribution she made to the classic film era. 

 

Participation List

Maddylovesherclassicfilms :The Hitch-Hiker

Movie Movie Blog Blog  :Ida directing four episodes of Gilligan’s Island

Realweegiemidgetreviews :The Sixteen Millimetre Shrine (Twilight Zone episode)

Musings Of A Classic Film Addict :The Sea Wolf

Taking Up Room : They Drive By Night

Old Hollywood Films : The Trouble With Angels

Classic For A Reason : The Hard Way

Down These Mean Streets : Private Hell 36

In the Good Old Day’s Of Classic Hollywood : While The City Sleeps

The Midnite Drive-In: Ida and The Twilight Zone

Caftan Woman: Moontide

B Noir Detour: Outrage

     Portraitsbyjennie : Deep Valley

 

 

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The Marvellous Michael Caine Blogathon: My Five Favourite Michael Caine Performances

caine3Realweegiemidgetreviews is hosting this blogathon all about Michael Caine. Be sure to visit Gill’s site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

Michael Caine is one of my favourite actors. He is someone who I have grown up with, and he is someone whose work I always try and make time to watch. I first saw him in The Muppet Christmas Carol and I’ve loved him ever since.  

He is an actor who I think is always worth watching, sometimes he has appeared in some really terrible films (yes, I’m looking at you The Swarm and Jaws The Revenge)but he is usually always watchable. I think he has got even better as he gotten older to be honest. 

The following are my five favourite Caine performances. I’m not claiming that these are his best performances. These are simply all performances and films of his that I really love. 

 

1- Zulu (1964) 

This British war classic is the film which really made me a fan of Michael’s. This is not only a cracking film filled with terrific performances, but it is also the film that got Michael noticed by audiences and critics.

Michael has the difficult task in the film (which he manages so well)of making us both hate his character, and then start to like and respect him, until eventually he has become one of the characters we are really hoping survives. He goes from being arrogant and annoying,to being capable and calm under pressure, to being battle fatigued and desperate.  I love the growing bond between his character and Stanley Baker’s. Starting off as opposites and rivals these two men soon become very important to one another, and they see each other in a different light as their hostility towards one another melts. 

 

2- Miss Congeniality (2000)

This hilarious film sees Michael as a Henry Higgins type character. He plays the fussy make up artist who has to help a seriously unglamorous FBI agent (Sandra Bullock)become a pageant beauty for an undercover assignment. He has to turn her into a lady.

He is hysterical here filled with disdain and possesing an acid tongue one moment, and then turning kind and loveable the next. Michael looks like he is having great fun in this film too and that just helps to make it funnier I think. I love the restaurant scene where he is watching Sandra’s character eat,you can see how repulsed and fascinated by her he is. So funny.

 

3- Batman Begins (2005)

I think that Michael was perfectly cast as a tougher and more worldly screen version of Alfred Pennyworth. He captures Alfred’s great love and loyalty for his master, the caped crusader Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale).

Michael’s Alfred is a war veteran. I think you can believe that he was made Bruce’s legal guardian because he could protect him should the need to ever arise. Michael makes his Alfred tough, funny, sharp, loyal and resilient. I think this film is very good and that he stole all the scenes he was in. Whenever I watch this, I really enjoy the film, but I am always waiting for the scenes I know he appears in. 

 

4- Educating Rita (1983)

Michael is both funny and moving here as the teacher who has lost the will to teach. Into his life comes a young woman called Rita (Julie Walters). She is desperate to learn from him. Teaching her, and seeing her knowledge grow, really makes him very happy and he feels of use again. As they spend more time together he begins to fall in love with her and also grows to love life again and becomes a happier person.

Michael’s performance here is all in his expressions and eyes. It’s a complex character he is playing and he does a fantastic job of letting us see what this guy is feeling and going through. This is a film that I return to again and again, and each time I do, Michael’s performance never fails to have me laughing one minute and tearing up the next. 

 

5- The Ipcress File (1965) 

Michael plays a more realistic secret agent than James Bond. Michael is Harry Palmer, a spectacle wearing British agent who has to find out who is brainwashing some scientists. He is torn between knowing who to trust and gets caught up in something far beyond his control. Michael shows us here that brainy men can be just as sexy as men of action. 

Harry Palmer is the anti Bond and Michael plays the role so well. This guy lives modestly, and cooks his own food. His job is more about observation and being watchful, rather than shooting his way to the answers. Michael is so cool in this flick, and he oozes class and style. I never get tired of watching this film. 

 

What are you favourite Michael Caine films and performances? I’d love to hear what you think of the films I chose. 

 

 

   

Time Travel Blogathon: The Odyssey Of Flight 33 & Once Upon A Time

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Rich at Wide Screen World and Ruth at Silver Screenings are co-hosting this blogathon about time travel. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.   

I have long been fascinated by time travel. What would it be like to actually be able to go forward or backwards in time? What would you do, and where would go if time travel were a reality? Once you travelled through time, would you be able to return to your own time afterwards?

If you went backwards in time would you try to save loved ones from death? Would you try and stop things from happening that would cause misery and death to millions? Should you try and interfere in past events at all?(I don’t think you should, as you would end up changing the future and further negative things could occur because of what you did.) These are all big questions and that is why I love these types of stories so much because they really challenge you to think about what you would do if you were the character travelling through time. 

I’ve decided to write about two of my favourite time travel episodes from the TV series The Twilight Zone. Long time readers of my blog will know of my great love for this series. I love the blend of genres found within it. I love the famous actors who agreed to guest star in it, and I love how the series makes you really think. My favourite stories from this anthology series are the horror and time travel ones.   

The two time travel episodes I’d like to write about are The Odyssey Of Flight 33 and Once Upon A Time. Both take a very different approach to how they tell a story of time travel.

 

If you’ve not seen either of these episodes, then please don’t read on any further as there will be spoilers!

 

 

 

The Odyssey Of Flight 33 (Season 2, Episode 18)

 

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The flight crew notice something is amiss. Screenshot by me.

There are no easy answers in this episode and I think that is precisely why I love this episode so much. The anomaly which causes the plane to move through time is completely unexplainable.

The anomaly is simply one of those weird things that exists in our world (like the Bermuda Triangle for example)and if you get caught up in it, then you will be in for a very weird experience indeed.

If you went through what the passengers and crew of this flight are about to, then I think you would be very scared and would be left speechless about the whole experience.

The episode begins up in the air mid flight. A passenger plane is on its way to land in New York.

Towards the end of the flight the Captain begins to feel a very strange sensation, it feels to him as though the plane has drastically increased its speed.  He gets quite concerned about this weird sensation. At first the other crew members don’t feel it, but then they do and become convinced something isn’t right.

      The flight crew can’t believe their eyes. Screenshot by me. 

When the passengers and crew next look out of the windows they are not where they expect to be at all. The land they see down below is empty of all signs of human existence.

Then they see that a dinosaur is down there happily chomping on a tree. They all realise then that they have taken a very strange detour indeed.  

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They see this dinosaur on the ground. Screenshot by me.

Everyone panics. Some people refuse to accept what they are seeing. Then the plane speeds up again and everyone looks out and sees they are back in New York. The crew slowly begin to stop celebrating though when they can’t contact their destination airport on the radio. They also soon see down below them the 1939 World Fair. The plane has come home, but this is not their New York, it is the New York of over twenty years earlier.

They obviously can’t land here either. So, with fuel supplies running dangerously low, they keep on flying, desperately hoping to keep speeding up and hopefully finding themselves back in their own time period. 

This episode is in my top 10 favourites from the whole series. I love the setup for the story and how it has a realistic look about it. There have been many stories and reports of planes vanishing. Many stories of pilots reporting seeing strange things while flying, or experiencing strange events mid flight. I think that those stories make you accept that this story is perhaps not so far fetched as it might sound. 

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Captain Farver. Screenshot by me.

I think that the actors all do a terrific job here. The ones playing the cabin crew all convince as pilots, navigators and radio operators who are all veterans of their jobs. Rod Serling’s brother Robert actually wrote several books on aviation, and he helped Rod write the cockpit dialogue and make it sound realistic. 

John Anderson delivers my favourite performance as the calm and rational Captain Farver, who slowly begins to realise that he and his flight are trapped in something far beyond his control.

This episode always leaves me wondering what happened to the people on this flight. Will they ever make it back home? Or are they doomed to fly around the planet, moving between time for eternity? It’s almost like this plane could become an air version of the Flying Dutchman. Thought provoking and quite sad really.  

 

 

Once Upon A Time (Season 3, Episode 13)

 

We now move on to a very different type of episode. This one is much less serious and I think it has an uplifting and warm feeling about it. This one also tells a time travel story, but it tells it in a completely different way to The Odyssey Of Flight 33.  

The episode is basically there to grant Buster Keaton an opportunity to show us all that he still had his comic skills, and that he was still more than capable of performing stunts. The first time I saw this episode I was overjoyed to discover Buster was in it.  

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Woodrow arrives in 1960. Screenshot by me.

Buster plays Woodrow Mulligan, a grumpy caretaker who lives in 1890. A professor he knows has invented a helmet. This helmet has the ability to transport whoever wears it through time.

Trying on the helmet himself, Woodrow gets transported forward in time to the year 1960. He has no sooner arrived there when he quickly realises he wants to get back to his own time. He certainly marvels at what he sees in this new era, but he really misses his own time. 

Woodrow meets Rollo, who is also a scientist and who is fascinated by the possibility of time travel. When the helmet gets damaged, Rollo and Woodrow work together to try and get it fixed. Once that’s done Rollo returns with Woodrow to 1890. When he arrives he soon wishes to be back in his own time too. He realises that his time is more advanced and therefore can better accommodate the sort of work he needs to do. So Woodrow helps send Rollo back to his own time.

I find that this episode makes you value what you have in the present. You may wish to visit another time but never forget that there is no place like home. The episode also shows you that technology may advance and change, but some things such as human behaviour and the need for money seldom ever change for the better.

The episode is also very funny with Buster getting to perform stunts (love the scene where he gets lifted up to put on some trousers in mid air) and make us laugh with his grumpy deadpan routine. He had still got his comic gift right up to the end.

I also love Buster’s performance in the scene where Woodrow sees a TV for the first time. At first he thinks it is a window, then when he turns it on, he thinks that the TV presenter is speaking directly to him and that the TV is a window and the guy is actually there. Buster is so funny in this scene. 

                         Woodrow reacts to seeing a TV for the first time. Screenshot by me.

The 1890 sequences are filmed like a Silent movie, while the 1960 sequences are filmed in the normal sound era way. I really liked the decision to film the different time periods like that.  

These two episodes also both serve to show you just how different this series could be each week. One week a story could be scary and thought provoking, the next it could be funny or moving. This is another reason why I love this series so much. You just never know where the zone will take you next.

Here are my picks for the five best time travel episodes from this series. 

1- The Last Flight

2- The Odyssey Of Flight 33

3- Execution

4- No Time Like The Past

5-A Hundred Yards Over The Rim

If you have seen these episodes what did you think of them? What other time travel episodes of this series do you like? 

 

 

 

 

 

The Free For All Blogathon: This Happy Breed (1944)

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Theresa over at Cinemaven’sessaysfromthecouch is hosting this blogathon. We have all been allowed to write about any topic we want, just as long as it is film related.

Click on the link below to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

https://cinemavensessaysfromthecouch.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/the-free-for-all-blogathon/ 

I’ve decided to write about David Lean and Noel Coward’s film This Happy Breed. The film focuses on a working class/lower middle class British family. The film takes place between 1919 and the start of WW2. The film is based upon Noel Coward’s 1939 stage play of the same name.   

I think that this film really honours its stage bound beginnings. There are a large majority of the films scenes which take place indoors, and there is an almost claustrophobic feel about the film as the camera makes it seem as though we are in that house with this family.The film also has many external sequences too. This is also a film where the actors are allowed to carry the film and are our main focus. Personally this is the sort of filmmaking I prefer. Give me films like this any day,rather than those where effects carry the film and the story and characters are sidelined. 

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Ethel, Frank and Bob have a chat. Screenshot by me.

David Lean has become my favourite film director. I like him so much because he was one of the few directors who was able to make films which were both epic and intimate. Not every director can pull that off, but David Lean certainly had the knack. He really knew how to get the balance between the intimate and the epic just right in his films. I think that this particular film is one of the best examples of his ability to be able to meld those two things together. 

This Happy Breed is an extremely intimate character study set against an epic backdrop of the historical change in Britain during the first part of the twentieth century. This film is also notable for being Lean’s first solo outing as a director.

David Lean first got into the British film industry in the late 1920’s, and he worked as a film editor for many years. In 1942 he teamed up with Noel Coward to co-direct In Which We Serve. The pair would go on to work together again on three other films – This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit and Brief Encounter. With these films, the talents and abilities of David Lean became abundantly clear to audiences and critics alike. 

I really love This Happy Breed for several other reasons too. I love this film because when I watch it I always feel as though I am watching the life and experiences of a real family. It’s like I am there in that house with these people. Setting the film in a house also makes us in the audience the direct witnesses to the private life of this family. I think that in a way we in the audience become the walls of the house, (remember the old saying “if walls could talk”?) as we bear witness to what happens to this family as the years pass them by. The house also becomes another character in the film and the house set really comes across as though it is a real lived in home. 

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Robert Newton as the decent Frank Gibbons. Screenshot by me.

I also love the film because Robert Newton and Celia Johnson’s characters remind me so much of my grandparents.

Grandad was just like Robert Newton’s character is in the film, he was a quiet man who didn’t speak all that much. When he did speak it was because he had something very meaningful to say. He loved his family and his garden more than anything else. 

Grandad never spoke to us (not sure if he ever spoke to Gran about it either)about his war service (he served in WW2) but he regularly met up with Bill who was his best mate. He and Bill had served together and they would meet up pretty much every weekend.

Much like Stanley Holloway’s character does in this film, Bill would speak quite openly and regularly about what he and granddad had been through in the war. I actually learnt so much from him. His stories made me admire his and my granddad’s courage so much.

I wished then that I had fully understood the importance of what granddad had been a part of when he was alive. If I had known, I would have asked him so many questions (whether he would have answered me is of course another question) and told him thank you for what he did. 

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Celia Johnson as the strong willed Ethel. Screenshot by me.

My Gran was just like Celia Johnson’s character is in the film. She was house proud, strong, and she was also one of those people who you thought would always be there. She never wanted to appear weak, nor did she ever want to waste time.

She adored my granddad, and to him she was a queen whom he was extremely protective of. Their love for one another was very evident, he was always quick to tell her if he thought she was doing too much. I lost my gran over a year ago now.   

I am sure I can’t be the only one who watches this film and is reminded of people who they know or knew in real life. As well as making the characters come across as realistic, I also think that Lean’s film captures the determined and unyielding personalities of the generation who lived at that time. They had it tough, but they didn’t let it break them. Instead they used their experiences to make themselves stronger and made sure they cherished what they held most dear.  

The film begins in 1919. The pointless slaughter of the Great War has just ended. An entire generation of men have been wiped out. The scarred survivors of the trenches are coming home to their loved ones. These men just want a quiet, steady life with their loved ones and need time to readjust and live a normal life. This film follows the experiences of the Gibbons family.   

                          Ethel and Frank share a kiss and an afternoon in the park. Screenshots by me.

The film begins with the family moving into a new house in the suburbs of London. The family consists of the mild mannered Frank (Robert Newton), his steadfast wife Ethel (Celia Johnson), their three children – quiet and dependable Vi (Eileen Erskine), hugely dissatisfied Queenie(Kay Walsh) and the idealistic Reg(John Blythe).

Also moving in are Ethel’s mum (Amy Veness) and Frank’s hypochondriac sister, Sylvia(Alison Leggatt), these two squabble something fierce and provide the comedy of the film. The family also bring with them their tabby cat, Percy. Frank is delighted to find a friend living nearby, a former comrade from the trenches called Bob (Stanley Holloway).  

We follow this family and their friends through their good and bad times. We see them experience the turbulent events of the next twenty plus years. Events depicted in the background include – strikes, the rise of Hitler, changes in British government and monarchs, the depression, changing fashion and music, and the ever growing threat of another world war.

Stanley Holloway provides strong support as Frank’s loud and fun best friend Bob. John Mills is kind and dependable as Billy, the boy who loves Queenie with all his heart and soul. 

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Frank and Ethel receive some terrible news. Screenshot by me.

If I have any criticisms of this film it is that perhaps the family are shown to be a bit too happy with their lot, even when enduring times of great stress and pain. They rarely complain about what they are enduring. I know this depiction plays into the whole stiff upper lip thing, and that it gets across the strength of this generation. I am certain though that people in this time must have had plenty of bad days, where getting up and facing their tough times head on was a real struggle for them. I don’t think they were as uncomplaining and accepting as they are depicted as being here.   

I also really wish that some sequences had lasted longer- such as the family day out at the Great Exhibition and the wedding day sequence. I also wish there was a bit more focus upon the aftermath of Frank and Ethel receiving the news of the death of someone very dear to them.

I also wish that the film itself had a much longer running time. This is one of those films that I never want to end and am always disappointed when I rewatch this and it ends so quickly (it’s barely two hours long).

Kay Walsh and John Mills. Screenshots by me.

I also think that John Mills and Kay Walsh (although both delivering excellent and moving performances)were far too old for their respective roles. I do think that Kay was superb in her role of the young woman who feels trapped in her life and class. Kay really does make me feel Queenie’s desperation to escape her current situation and move on to something better.

Despite those minor complaints this film really is very good indeed. There are strong performances from all in the cast. I think Robert Newton delivers the standout performance in the film. If you are only familiar with Robert as the over the top Long John Silver, then you should really check him out in this flick. His performance is extremely subtle and quite touching. Watch his eyes and his face in this because they sure speak volumes. Robert brings Frank to life and makes him utterly believable.  

Fans of Lean’s work will have fun noticing Kay Walsh and Robert Newton play father and daughter here. Just four years later they would go on to play the ill fated lovers Bill and Nancy in one of Lean’s finest films, Oliver Twist

I also love the depiction of the marriage between Frank and Ethel. These two stay with each other through thick and thin. They clearly adore one another and Robert and Celia make us believe that they would be lost without one another. This couple accept each others flaws and they cherish every moment they have together. This is a marriage that is very rarely found nowadays. These days people are so often out the door at the first sign of any difficulty. I like that these two remind us that a good marriage is one that is worked at and is valued.  

I also really adore Queenie and Billy’s relationship. Queenie comes across as someone who is above her class, she wants to be something other than ordinary, and she can’t see a good thing (Billy)when it is right in front of her. I love how Billy waits for her to come to her senses and doesn’t judge her.  

My favourite scenes are the following. Frank and Ethel receiving some terrible news about Reg (this scene serves as a masterclass in how to convey shock and grief without going over the top. It also shows that quite often the best thing is for the camera to simply remain still and capture the actors performances, these performances will tell the audience all they need to know.) Frank saying he doesn’t care what happens to him as long as he has Ethel. Billy bringing Queenie back to her parents. The family arriving at their new home and starting to clean the place up and unpack. Frank and Reg talking about their opposing views about the General Strike. Frank, Vi and Sylvia talking about Chamberlain declaring “peace in our time”. Frank, Bob and Ethel saying goodbye. Queenie leaving a letter to her parents. Queenie dancing.

What do you think of this film? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958)

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Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Elizabeth Taylor. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

Elizabeth Taylor was someone famous who I always felt like I knew. I felt this way because I think that Elizabeth was so open about her life; her personal issues, her passions, and her tragedies were very well known to those of us who never actually knew her. Due to her openness, it often felt like you did know her in a way.

Her life was led very much in the public eye and pretty much everything she did was reported on. Elizabeth was one of the biggest film stars there has ever been, yet she didn’t become aloof or self centred, she was actually a very generous and kind person. Elizabeth also did so much for charity and she also helped to raise public awareness of AIDS and addiction.

People liked Elizabeth and they felt like they could relate to her in some way.  Despite the fact that I never met her, I certainly did feel that in a way I had lost someone special when she died in 2011. 

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Elizabeth as Maggie.Image source IMDb.

Elizabeth was also one of the most beautiful women of the 20th century. Sadly it was her looks which were often focused on more than her acting talents were. There was so much more to Elizabeth than just physical beauty. She was a very interesting person and was also a very good dramatic actress.

I’ve decided that I’m going to write about a film that I consider to feature one of her very best film performances. That film is Cat On A Hot Tin Roof1958 really was a key year in Elizabeth Taylor’s life. In March of that year her third husband Mike Todd was tragically killed in a plane crash. Elizabeth was left utterly devastated by his death.

At the time that Mike was killed, Elizabeth had been in the middle of filming Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. She had to then finish filming her scenes while she was still in the process of grieving for Mike. Elizabeth and Mike had planned for this to be her last film. Their plan was that she could have then retired from acting.I’ve no doubt that making Cat On A Hot Tin Roof must have been an extremely difficult experience for Elizabeth; however her performance in this film certainly helped to show audiences how much of a skilled dramatic actress she was capable of being.

Elizabeth had had some dramatic roles before this of course, but I think this was really the first film in which we saw just what dramatic heights she could actually reach.   Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is directed by Richard Brooks. The film is based upon the acclaimed play by Tennessee Williams.

The film tells the story of the wealthy Pollitt family. The film doesn’t fully manage to shake off its theatrical roots. Most of the action takes place in one room, and it’s one of those films where characters yell and shout a lot. If that doesn’t sound like it’s your thing, I’d say give it a try because the performances really make it worthwhile.

There is the handsome former football star Brick(Paul Newman). He is grieving the death of his best friend (who it is strongly suggested was also his lover). Brick is struggling with life and his biggest crutch is the regular doses of alcohol that he consumes.

Brick’s young and very beautiful wife Maggie(Elizabeth Taylor)is frustrated over his lack of physical passion for her. She loves him so much, but she cannot reach his heart, and she cannot help him with his grief. She won’t give up trying to reach him though. Brick’s long suffering elder brother Gooper(Jack Carson)and Gooper’s overbearing and shrill wife, Mae(Madeleine Sherwood), both make life hell for Brick and Maggie. Gooper and Mae are desperate to become the next owners of the family plantation. 

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Brick and Maggie. Image source IMDb. 

As the family gather together for the milestone birthday of their patriarch Big Daddy(Burl Ives), family frustrations and secrets are revealed; including the sad fact that Big Daddy is slowly dying of cancer. This painful revelation about his father forces Brick to step up and take charge of his responsibilities. 

There are three love stories in this Brick and Maggie, Brick and Big Daddy, and Brick’s love of the bottle(which is a form of healing and protection from real life for him).The most important of these is that between Brick and Big Daddy. By the end of the film both men have learnt something about the other, and both will develop mutual respect and understanding.  

I think that all of the cast shine here. Judith Anderson delivers solid support as the loving, loyal, but not particularly clever wife of Big Daddy, Anderson makes you really feel for her character.

Newman convinces as the brooding, pent up and reclusive Brick. He makes you want to yell at Brick, and he makes you want to tell him to snap out of his current state. For me though it is Burl Ives and Elizabeth Taylor who deliver the best and most memorable performances in this film.

Burl is excellent as the strong Big Daddy. He makes him a loud, sharp, clever and observant leader of the pack. He won’t show weakness, and he certainly won’t let people walk all over him.

Elizabeth superbly conveys the frustrations and desires of Maggie. She is all strength, anger, sensuality, desperation, sexiness, and passion. Maggie is not a woman who is content to sit at home knitting, she is clever, strong and fiercely independent. Her performance is all in her expressions and body language. I think this is one of the very best performances she ever gave.

As I said earlier, Elizabeth’s performance in this film also showed off what a superb dramatic actress she could be. I just think it’s a shame that she didn’t get more meaty dramatic material like this to work with in her career. This film along with Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and The Taming Of The Shrew are real highpoints in Elizabeth’s career I think.   

I think that in the way Elizabeth plays Maggie here, she makes her become the strongest person in that family. Maggie keeps a cool head, she knows what’s going on, and she doesn’t care one bit for custom or tradition, she will do what she decides to do. I also love how she stands by Brick, even if she doesn’t fully understand what ails him, she’ll stick by her man and won’t leave him alone.

I also love how Maggie doesn’t stand for the rubbish way Mae’s kids treat her. Those kids are rude and spoilt, and Maggie doesn’t stand for their bad behaviour.

The ice cream throwing scene is a great favourite of mine. Maggie can’t believe that this obnoxious kid has just ruined her outfit by throwing ice cream at her. Maggie soon takes matters into her own hands and dishes out some punishment. That brat was flat out asking for it and Maggie squished that ice cream right in her face! Haha! 🙂  My screenshots below show Maggie getting her ice cream revenge. 🙂

When you think of this film, I will bet that it is Elizabeth’s performance and character that comes instantly to their mind. Elizabeth makes Maggie such a strong, sexy, passionate, desperate and tender woman, who it is impossible to forget. I also like how Elizabeth shows us that despite feeling left out, lonely, and despairing; Maggie still has some hope that she and Brick can actually get back together again and find a lasting happiness.

Maggie is patient with Brick, she lets her presence be known to him, and she doesn’t let him push her away from him. She is willing to wait for him to come to her, she bides her time and waits. This situation may get her down, but she doesn’t accept that the situation can never change or get better. Maggie always has hope. Maggie is a survivor of this situation and family. In that respect I think she is quite similar to Elizabeth.  

This film is a real high point in Elizabeth’s career. She gave this role everything she had, and I really think that shows through in her performance. 

What do you think of this film? What are your thoughts on Elizabeth’s performance as Maggie?

The following are my favourite Elizabeth Taylor films.

1- Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

2- Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

3- Little Women

4- The Taming Of The Shrew

5- Cleopatra

6- The Sandpiper

7- Elephant Walk

 

 

 

The Small Screen Blogathon Begins

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About a month ago I announced this Small Screen Blogathon.

Seventeen lovely people were kind enough to sign up to take part. A range of series and TV films were selected by them to be discussed today.

So without any further ado, let us all gather together around the TV. The sofa and chairs are empty, the snacks and drinks are ready, and the remote control is standing by. What series shall we gather together to watch first? 

                                                                 The Entries 

MovieMovieBlogBlog invites us all to join him to watch the British comedy classic Coupling.

 

Wolfman’s Cult Film Club has a guest appearance that he’d like us to check out on the Science Fiction series The Invaders.

 

Join Thoughts All Sorts to watch the Sci-Fi buddy series Almost Human.

 

We head to Yorkshire with Cinema Essentials, and he shows us how to be a country vet in All Creatures Great and Small. 

 

Bonnywood Manor invites us to join a series dear to his heart called Pushing Daisies.

 

Moon In Gemini takes us to that mysterious island to review an episode of Lost called The Constant.

 

Mike’s Take On The Movies changes the channel and invites us to watch two George Kennedy TV films.

 

The Midnite Drive-In shows us the episode where Mr. Monk met Country legend Willie Nelson in the Monk episode, Mr. Monk Meets The Red-Headed Stranger.

 

The Humpo Show invites us all to binge watch the boxset of The Office. 

 

Caftan Woman introduces us all to two sleuthing sisters in the criminally little known series The Snoop Sisters. 

 

Vinnieh would love us all to join him to binge watch Season 1 of Victoria.

 

Reelweegiemidgetreviews takes us back to the 80’s with Dynasty: The Making Of A Guilty Pleasure & The Cartier Affair.

 

Sparks From A Combustible Mind would love us to join her in watching the adventures of the master of the little grey cells Poirot. 

 

The Wonderful World Of Cinema invites us to watch a Canadian series that is very dear to her heart Les Filles de Caleb.

 

Whimsically Classic asks us to join for a lot of laughs watching I Love Lucy.

 

dbmoviesblog invites us to the terrifying and thought provoking world depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale. 

 

I’d love you to grab some snacks and watch the life of an Edwardian cook who was known as The Duchess Of Duke Street.

 

 

 

Announcing The Lon Chaney Sr Blogathon

Good morning to you all. Guess what? You are all invited to participate in yet another blogathon.  🙂 

This year would have been the 135th birthday of the actor Lon Chaney Sr. To mark Lon’s 135th anniversary, myself and Ruth of Silver Screenings are inviting you all to join us in celebrating Lon’s remarkable life and career.  

Lon 4We will be holding the blogathon on the 5th & 6th of May, 2018. 

If you would like to take part, you are free to write about any of Lon’s films. We will accept no more than two duplicates for his film titles though.

You can also write about his famous makeup (which he created himself). You could also write about your favourite Lon Chaney film characters. You could even write about his entire career if you would like to. 

If you have never seen a Lon Chaney Sr film before, then maybe you could use this blogathon as an opportunity to finally do so.

If you feel like writing more than one post for this blogathon you can do.

Lon Chaney was a man of many talents. Known as the man of a thousand faces, he was famous for pushing himself to physical extremes to play disabled characters. He was also famous for creating his own makeup to play disfigured characters. Chaney was quite a humble man off screen and he kept himself to himself when he wasn’t working.

Keeping himself quite private may well have helped him as an actor I think. As he didn’t go around publicising Lon Chaney the man, I think that may have helped audiences forget about the actor and helped them buy more into the characters he was playing up on the screen.

If you would like to take part in our blogathon just leave a comment with me or with Ruth. Let us know what you are going to write about, and also please leave us the name and url of your blog.  

Ruth will be hosting on the 6th, and I will be hosting on the 5th. Pick which day you want to post your entry on and leave the entry with whichever of us is hosting that day. It is more than ok for you to post your entry a few days early if you wish.

Check the participation list below to see who is writing about what. Please take one of the awesome banners that Ruth has designed. Put it up on your blog somewhere to help publicise the event. 

Have fun writing. Let’s all join together to celebrate the talents of Lon and his special approach to his work. 

 

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Participation List

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: Lon as the first character actor, plus his portrayal of disabled and disfigured characters.

Silver Screenings  :Lon Chaney: The Man Of A Thousand Faces (2000 Documentary)

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood : The Unknown & Ace Of Hearts 

Taking Up Room : The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

Wide Screen World : Oliver Twist

An Ode To Dust : Chaney as the child of deaf parents

The Dream Book Blog :Outside The Law

Christina Wehner : He Who Gets Slapped

Silver Screen Classics : London After Midnight: The Holy Grail Of Silent Film

Caftan Woman : The Trap

Critica Retro  :The Miracle Man

Speakeasy : The Monster

 

 

 

 

 

The Fourth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon: Why I Love Buster

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Lea over at Silent-ology is hosting this blogathon all about Buster Keaton. Be sure to visit her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.  

When I saw that Lea was hosting this blogathon, I jumped at the chance to take part so that I could share my great love for this film legend. There are not enough words for me to use to be able to fully express my admiration and love for Buster.

Buster Keaton will have me laughing hysterically one moment. The next moment he will have me sitting on the edge of my seat in suspense and anticipation. He was a hugely talented man. I also think that he was someone who was equally at home both in front and behind the camera.

Whenever I am in need of something to prove that at one time dangerous and epic scenes were once filmed for real (hit the road CGI), then it is to Buster Keaton and his work that I turn. 

I’ve been a fan of Buster for a few years now. I first became a fan of Buster’s due to his audacious stunt work. Long before I loved him because he made me laugh, he had me open mouthed in disbelief at what I had just witnessed him doing in terms of stunt work. He made his stunt work look effortless. He also risked real injury to create that stunt work for our viewing pleasure.

I think that anyone can end up creating a scene or sequence that will make people laugh. Very few though would be able to create something that has people laughing, gasping in shock, or has you on the edge of your seat in suspense. Buster’s sequences often leave you doing all three of those things at once!   

The risks that Buster took on screen are really what has led me to like him so much. He pushed himself to such great extremes on screen. He showed us just what extreme physical stunts could be captured on camera. He never faked the gag, or the risky stunt work that it took to achieve it.

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Narrowly avoiding the train in Sherlock Jr. 

Whether he is risking life and limb around trains, running from boulders, or jumping off of things, Buster is always right there at the centre of the action and danger. Seeing him in those situations makes me admire him as an actor and director. He also had the gift of making what he was doing look like it was happening in the moment and was totally natural and effortless for him.

I love what Buster does because he shows us that nothing can ever replace seeing something happen for real. Today films are so often filled to the brim with CGI, the effects usually look fake and I often find myself rolling my eyes when such effects appear on the screen. Buster showed us that nothing wows audiences more than seeing something spectacular done on screen for real. This still remains the case today one hundred years later. I feel that his work is timeless because it has a wow factor.

Where many Silent stars and films have sadly long since been forgotten about, Buster on the other hand retains a large amount of fame and influence today. His work commands the respect and admiration of audiences and filmmakers today. I think that is because of his stunt work and those incredible sequences he created for us to marvel at. He is proof that you just can’t beat doing something on screen for real.  

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Buster endures an awkward dinner in The Goat.

I also love Buster because he was a jack of all trades. He was a skilled actor, a natural comedian, a gifted director, and he was also one of the best stunt men around. He could do it all, and he had a vision for what he wanted to achieve on screen and he stuck right to it.

There are not many in the film business who were as talented as he was, or who could take on such different film roles with ease like he could. 

Buster was a one of a kind, and I think that is why he has become such a favourite of mine. He was multi talented and always knew how to entertain and impress his audience. He also knew that nothing impresses more than something being done for real. 

I think it’s a real shame that the talents of Charles Chaplin have so overshadowed Buster’s over the last century. Mention Silent era comedians, and I bet you anything that it is Chaplin who most people speak of. Chaplin quite rightly has been so praised and admired, but I think that Buster was every bit as skilled, funny and as worthy of praise as Chaplin was. I think he deserves to be spoken of alongside Chaplin equally. They were both comedy masters and both had such different ways of going about their job. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love Chaplin very much and I think highly of his work; I just strongly feel that Buster’s name and career deserves all the praise that Chaplin’s has received over the years. Chaplin is a name that is known even to people who have never seen a Silent film My wish is that the same can be said for Buster Keaton. I hope that more young people come to discover his films and see him for the timeless genius that he was.   

I think it’s fair to say that few people have been able to be as much of a success behind, and in front of the camera, as Buster was able to be. He really was one of the greatest filmmakers. He worked so hard, was a perfectionist, and I like that he came up with an idea and then went and found a way to make that a reality. 

Although he was not as famous on screen in his later years as he had once been, I sincerely hope that deep down inside somewhere Buster continued to know how much he was loved and respected by audiences. I think he would be very moved if he could read our discussions and see that he and his work remain so respected and loved a century later. 

Now, if you will all kindly excuse me, I have a date with Mr. Buster Keaton. There will be laughter, there will be adventure, and there will certainly be one awestruck film viewer. 

Thanks for the laughs. Thanks for the stunts. Thanks for all of those unforgettable images and scenes. Buster, you really were the best! 🙂  

If you have never seen a Buster Keaton film before I have to ask what are you waiting for? Seek his work out, and when you do, prepare to laugh and to be in awe. 

 

The Duchess Of Duke Street (1976-1977)

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This is my own entry for my Small Screen blogathon being held on the 20th of this month.  If you would like to join the blogathon there is still time to do so. Find more details and sign up here.

I am writing about the British TV series The Duchess Of Duke Street

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Louisa hard at work in the kitchen. Screenshot by me.

This British series is based upon the life of a real Edwardian woman called Rosa Lewis(1867-1952). Rosa was a renowned cook and she also owned the Cavendish Hotel in London (which is still open today).

Rosa was famous throughout British society for her cooking, and also for the rumour that she and Prince Edward (later King Edward VII)were having an affair. It’s not difficult to see why her story inspired this series to be made. 

John Hawkesworth (the man who helped Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins turn Upstairs, Downstairs into the great success it became)produced The Duchess of Duke Street. Series that John were involved with were noted for their period detail, and a great many of them became huge successes.  

One of my favourite series that John was involved with is the Granada TV series The Adventures, Return and Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, which starred Jeremy Brett (in my opinion the best Sherlock Holmes ever captured on screen).

The Duchess Of Duke Street is another of John’s high quality series. I don’t simply love this one for its story and setting, I love this one because it depicts a woman trying out and succeeding in business at a time when women just didn’t do such things. Louisa Trotter is the main character of the series, and she becomes a successful cook and businesswoman. She doesn’t take no for an answer and she never gives up even when things are tough for her. 

Louisa works with men, she is in charge of men and she gains the respect and admiration of men. I find Louisa quite an inspirational character really, she is not content to stay a wife or a servant. Louisa wants more out of life, she wants to be seen as an equal to the men she works with and she achieves that. 

The series is set in London between 1900 and 1925. We follow the life of Louisa Trotter(Gemma Jones), a young cockney woman who wants to be a cook more than anything else. Working very hard she learns the art of making food. Her food is acknowledged as being superb and is very well liked by all who taste it.

As the years go on, Louisa becomes one of the best cooks in London and becomes the owner of the Bentinck Hotel. The Bentinck is more like an apartment building than a hotel, those who stay there love it and many consider it their home away from home. Louisa has a relationship with the Prince of Wales(later to become King Edward VII), throughout the series Louisa looks back on her relationship with him very fondly.

The real love of Lousia’s life though is the handsome and outgoing aristocrat Charlie Tyrrell(Christopher Cazenove). Their relationship is extremely complex, and it is their relationship that helped make this series become a real favourite of mine. Louisa and Charlie’s story really is the heart and soul of the series.

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Charlie. Screenshot by me.

Louisa and Charlie become the best of friends and later on become lovers. They both want their relationship to become something more, but they just never seem to be able to find the right moment to change the nature of the relationship.

They have a daughter together who they call Lottie(Lalla Ward). She is raised by tenants of Charlie’s on his country estate. Charlie helps Louisa run the Bentinck and also keeps a suite of rooms there. 

Louisa and Charlie are not the only focus of the series though. Louisa’s loyal staff at the hotel include the dutiful doorman Starr(John Cater),a former soldier who speaks his mind and whose best friend is his dog Fred. Merriman(John Welsh)the elderly head waiter who wouldn’t thank you for suggesting he retire. Bubbly Welsh maid Mary(Victoria Plunckett). The assistant cook, Mrs. Cochrane (Mary Healey), and the former soldier turned gambler, Major Smith-Barton(Richard Vernon). Louisa and her staff become like family and they share the good and bad times together.

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Mr. Merriman. Screenshot by me.

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Mr. Starr. Screenshot by me.

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Mary. Screenshot by me.

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The Major. Screenshot by me.

Besides the relationship between Charlie and Louisa, my favourite relationship in the series is the one between Louisa and the Major. He becomes a father figure to her and a very good friend. His confession to her at the end of the series regarding his feelings for her is one of my all time favourite scenes from the series.

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Louisa salutes Charlie as he leaves for the trenches. Screenshot by me.

The second half of the series focuses on the brutal and upsetting events of World War One and its aftermath. Louisa turns the hotel into a place for only British soldiers to be able stay. Charlie has to go off to fight in the war. Tragedy, pain and sorrow sadly lie in wait for our characters.

I also love how Gemma portrays Louisa’s unwillingness to show any sort of vulnerability, even when she’s alone with Charlie, she very seldom lets her guard down. It is like she always has to appear strong and tough. I think that she feels that way because she is afraid that to appear vulnerable would make her appear weak.

At times it has to be said that Gemma’s shrieking when things don’t go the way Louisa wants them to, does very easily grate on the viewer, but it is all a part of this character and I really like how Gemma shows us that Louisa has flaws and is not perfect. I also like that Louisa’s determination to never be vulnerable is also her weakness, because she makes life more difficult for herself due to her always hiding her inner self. Louisa is a very interesting character indeed. One of Gemma Jones’s best performances I’d say. Since this series aired, Gemma has gone on to become one of our most beloved actresses. 

Christopher Cazenove is so lovable as the fun loving and decent Charlie. I like how we see him transition from playboy, to the more mature Lord Charles, and finally to damaged soldier. Christopher is a great favourite of mine and I never understood why he never became a much bigger star. He was always a welcome presence on screen and this is one of best performances as far as I’m concerned. 

This series is a real character piece and it is filled with great characters, great performances and many memorable storylines. This series is one that really gets you caught up the characters lives and you feel for them. I love it because of that, but I also love it for its depiction of Edwardian life.

I also find the food preparation sequences fascinating. There were some dishes that Louisa prepared that I had never heard of before and they look delicious. I also love how much effort she put into making her meals. It’s also fascinating to me to see how much of an event evening meals were back then, they were almost ritualistic (different cutlery for different dishes, what can be served at what time)and I love the fancy table decorations and food presentations.

Watching series like this really lets you see just what has changed in life. I for one have never seen a dinner table like some of the ones we see in this. I’ve never seen food displayed in such beautiful ways either (even when going out to eat at restaurants) it goes to show that we may have progressed in some ways, but I think we’ve gone back a step or two in terms of food and food presentation. 

If you have seen this series what did you think of it?

Check back on Tuesday for news of the next blogathon I’m hosting. I know, I’m totally addicted to blogathons. 🙂

 

 

 

The Clark Gable Blogathon: San Francisco (1936)

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Michaela over at Love Letters To Old Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Clark Gable. Be sure to visit her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I think it’s fair to say that Clark Gable was the leading man in 1930’s Hollywood. Strong, handsome, and very charming; Clark could fit right into pretty much any film genre. He also had that whole rugged, tough guy on the outside, who is really just a total sweetheart on the inside act down perfectly as his screen persona. 

I think that Clark Gable’s appeal as an actor lay in the fact that he appealed equally to both men and women. Men wanted to be like Clark, while the women all wanted to be with him. If a film starring Clark was released there would be a lot of people turning up at cinemas to watch it.

Long before watching him in his most famous role, that of the dashing Captain Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, I first saw Clark in a much lesser known film. That film is the 1936 disaster drama, San Francisco. This film was one of the first from the classic era that I ever watched. I loved every single minute of it.  I found the songs to be moving and powerful, the romance to be sweet, and I felt that the friendship between Clark’s rogue and Spencer Tracy’s kindly priest came across as real and strong. I loved the beautiful gowns Jeanette got to wear. I was extremely impressed with the earthquake sequences. This one quickly became one of my favourite films. 

I think it’s a shame that hardly anyone seems to know this film nowadays. It is a terrific character piece, has some strong performances and features some memorable songs. It also shows us the San Francisco of the past, the one that was lost forever in the 1906 earthquake (that famous quake plays a key role in the film).

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Clark and Jeanette as Blackie and Mary. Image source IMDb.

I love Clark quite a bit in this film. I really like the mixed way of how he plays his character. At times his character, Blackie Norton, can be a mean and harsh man; yet at other times Blackie is gentle and loveable. Clark really shows us that although Blackie is certainly flawed, he certainly isn’t all bad and he really does have a great deal of good within him. Clark plays him in such a way that we can forgive him any bad he does, simply because Clark makes him so likeable.  

I also like how Clark conveys Blackie’s growing feelings for Mary to us with expressions alone. We feel his desire to be with this woman, but also that he is not able to change his ways to commit to her. We feel his distress when he doesn’t know if she has survived the quake, and we see how torn up he is thinking he may have lost her. Clark really goes through a wide range of emotions in this film and his performance really brings his character to life and gives him depth. I think this is one of the best performances he ever gave.

The film begins on the 31st of December, 1905. It’s New Year Eve and the party atmosphere is in full swing throughout the city. Aspiring singer Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald)arrives in the big city that very evening. Mary is desperate to find work. She is hired by nightclub owner Blackie Norton (Clark Gable)to be one of the singers at his club.

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Mary in one of her many costumes. Image source IMDb.

Although she can sing in the upbeat way that his club requires, it is clear that Mary’s voice is much better suited to the opera stage. Mary’s voice really is out of this world and it’s very clear that she has it in her to go far with her singing talent. Blackie and Mary fall in love, but it’s clear to us that Blackie doesn’t quite know how to handle his growing feelings. Blackie says and does things that push Mary away from him. Mary is a very pure and religious woman and she doesn’t want to be just a casual fling to Blackie. Mary also struggles in adjusting to her new life in San Francisco.

Blackie is a loveable rogue, and he is also quite the ladies man too. Blackie has a lot of casual relationships with women who work with him, and also with women he knows socially; he treats his women very well and they like him, but he never actually commits to any of them.  Blackie has a tough and somewhat selfish exterior. His best friend Father Tim Mullin(Spencer Tracy)knows the truth of the matter. He knows that Blackie is in actuality a really nice guy, a good guy, and that he is very decent. Blackie is not religious, but he always helps Tim out when the church needs money, and he will do anything for anyone in need. Tim and Blackie have been friends since childhood and know each other inside out. The pair lead different lives now but they are still a part of each others lives despite their major differences.

Mary becomes a star attraction at Blackie’s club and attracts the notice of  the wealthy Jack Burly (Jack Holt)who offers her the job of singer at the Tivoli Opera House in the city. Mary and Jack become involved which then leads to Blackie getting angry and leaves us wondering which man she will choose in the end.

In the early hours of the 18th of January, 1906, an earthquake strikes the city and then everything changes. Lives are lost, homes and businesses are destroyed, and the city itself is destroyed. In just one night an entire way of life is wiped out forever. Our characters are caught up in this and it has a huge impact on them. The earthquake also serves as a wake up call to Blackie, he learns that love and relationships are more important than work, or putting up a tough guy image as protection in life.

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Blackie, Mary and Tim. Image source IMDb.

The earthquake sequence is the highlight of the film and it is so realistic. It perfectly captures the horror, the confusion, the panic, and the terror of an earthquake. It’s a scary and distressing sequence and I think it stands up very well when viewed today. It’s a very impressive sequence and all the actors (both stars and extras)do a superb job of portraying their fear and confusion as they caught up in the quake. This sequence is that good, that it’s almost like someone filmed the real quake and what we see in the film is documentary footage. I’d say the film is worth watching for this section of the film alone.

The human drama is just as memorable as the quake sequence though, and the actors all do a good job of keeping our interest in their characters throughout. Clark is excellent in the role of Blackie, and he makes Blackie a very believable character who has strengths, weaknesses and also flaws. He isn’t perfect and he tries to change his ways. I really like how Clark shows Blackie as being more vulnerable as the film goes on. He is especially excellent towards the end of the film set during the earthquake.

If you are not a fan of Jeanette or her singing, then I think you might struggle to watch many of the scenes in the film. There are many scenes of her singing, but if you do like her and you like opera this will be a real treat. I’m not the biggest fan of Jeanette, but I do like her and I consider this to be one of her best films. I like how she lets us see this woman is really struggling against her growing feelings for Blackie, and also shows her struggling against her principles and morals in her love for him. Jeanette’s performance is also one that is all in the expressions, her face conveys to us what her character is going through.

Spencer Tracy is excellent in the role of the decent, loyal best friend and the kind and caring priest. Spencer oozes goodness and compassion in this film. He makes you wish that you had a friend like Father Tim in your life. This performance could also be seen as warm up for his famous performances as a kind priest, in Boy’s Town and Men Of Boy’s Town.

If there is a downside to the film, I’d say it perhaps lies in focusing too much on the singing career of Mary. If you’re not a fan of opera then these sequences will no doubt be difficult to get through. I would have liked to have seen a few more scenes between Tim and Blackie. I would also liked to have seen more of the aftermath of the quake to see what the survivors did next. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Father Tim ringing Blackie to thank him for the organ. Blackie and Mary’s first meeting and him letting her stay the night in his apartment. Blackie falling to his knees and praying (Clark’s performance in this moment never fails to me to tears). Blackie punching Tim. Mary singing with choir at the church. Father Tim’s conversation with Mary in the church. The entire earthquake sequence and final scenes of the film. Singin’ In The Rain fans need to listen out closely to Jeanette’s singing scenes, as at one point she can be heard singing the song Would You. This song  of course became famous for its use in that 1952 musical. The other memorable tune in this is the very catchy song San Francisco. This one has stayed with me since the first time I ever watched this. I just love the way that Jeanette sings it, and I think it is a bouncy and uplifting tune.

There are also many religious overtones to be found throughout this film. If you view the film from that perspective, I suppose that the earthquake at the end could be seen to almost serve as a force sent to wipe away the perceived decadence and possibly immoral lifestyle of the old San Francisco, and allowing for a new and fresh city and “better” life to be built in its place. Some viewers take issue with the end of the film where everyone, even people who don’t believe in god, are seen at the end to be praying to god. I myself find this to be something of a leap. I doubt a traumatic event like this would have any non believers turning religious. Having said that though, I do think that in a terrible event such as an earthquake, people who are not religious, and who do survive, will beg out for their loved ones lives to be spared also. They probably will say a thank you for surviving. They might not say these words to a god, they may just think them in their head, or they may say them out loud to no one in particular.  

In my opinion this is one of the best American films of the 1930’s. I think that it has a bit of everything in it for people to be able to enjoy. The film has some romance and drama, there are tears, good visual effects and also some very impressive stunts too. There are some stunning costumes in this too, I really envy Jeanette for having been able to wear such gorgeous dresses. 

Clark Gable really is at his best here and I think that he got to show us what dramatic acting heights he could reach. 

My five favourite Clark Gable films are the following.

1- It Happened One Night

2- San Francisco

3- Gone With The Wind

4- Teacher’s Pet

5- Red Dust

Any other fans of San Francisco? What do you think of Gable’s performance?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Robin Williams Blogathon: Dead Poets Society (1989)

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Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood, and Gill over at Realweegiemidget Reviews are co-hosting this blogathon all about Robin Williams. Be sure to visit their sites to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them myself.  

Robin Williams could always make me laugh. Whether I was watching him doing stand up routines on stage. Whether I was watching him in films like Good Morning Vietnam or Aladdin. Whatever he was doing, one thing was always for sure, I could always guarantee that I would be on the floor laughing at Robin’s antics. 

I love how sharp and quick he was as a comic, within seconds he could improvise something and literally go down a whole new route and he would have you laughing so hard that tears would fall. I miss him so much. Thankfully he left a legacy of comedy behind for us to enjoy forever. 

I also really enjoy seeing him get to show off his dramatic acting talents. In films like Good Will Hunting and One Hour Photo, Robin impresses me greatly, and he shows just what a good dramatic actor he could be. I want to talk about my favourite film role of Robin’s. That film is Dead Poets Society. The character he plays in this is called Mr. Keating. 

This is a film about conformity, individuality, and choice. It’s set in 1959. This was a time when girls were encouraged to get married instead of pursuing a career. Many boys were expected to follow in the footsteps of their father and grandfather and join whatever profession they worked in, whether they wanted to do this or not. There were literally generations of men not being able to connect to their kids because their dad hadn’t been able to connect with them, and they therefore didn’t know how to express their feelings to their own children very well.  This film looks at all of these things, and it also shows us how deeply unhappy so many young men at this time were because they were not usually allowed to follow their own paths. 

At school at this time the teachers disciplined the students in their care. They expected facts and figures to be learnt by heart, and the vast majority of these teachers didn’t inspire students. Nor did they really make their classes ones which were desired to be attended. Despite all of that though it has to be said that students were much better behaved back then, and there were also very high standards expected to be followed in schools and in the content of school work which was handed in. So there were good and bad parts to this rigid, and far more traditional era. I’m sure there were also some teachers who were well liked and didn’t teach in that same uninspiring way, but they were few and far between. 

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Robin Williams as Keating. Screenshot by me.

Mr. Keating is a man who breaks that teaching tradition. He becomes a friend to the pupils who he teaches. He treats them as individuals. He makes them want to come to his lessons because he makes them interesting and fun.

Keating teaches the boys to think for themselves. He also makes them realise that life itself is way more important than memorising mathematic equations, or remembering facts from history. Life is about living. If you go through life dead inside, trapped in a job or role you take no joy in, then you might as well be dead. 

Whilst Robin does get some funny moments in this film, I think that his performance and role here is much more serious than people were really used to at this point in his career. Robin does such a good job of conveying how passionate his character is about teaching, and also how much he wants to inspire his students to think bigger and to be themselves.  

Robin also conveys a sadness and a weariness to us about Keating. We see that Keating knows that the reality is many of these students may well just end up unhappy and unfulfilled despite his efforts. He feels for them deeply and we see his pity for them. Robin does such a good job of showing this on his face. Watch him closely and you will see such a lot going on behind his eyes throughout this film.    

While Keating and the message he conveys are largely positive, there are those in the school who see him as a danger and want him gone. Also just like in The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, Keating’s influence and inspiration ends up leading to tragedy and pain. He and the individuality that he represents are scapegoated and blamed for this.  

I don’t think this is fair or justified. In reality it is the father of the boy at the centre of the tragedy who is to blame for what happens. He wouldn’t listen to his son, he wouldn’t try to understand his desires, and he failed to see how desperate and unhappy he was. This boy had also shown signs of depression and despair long before he even met Keating. Keating’s words merely made him realise just how trapped he was in his life.

The boy does what he does in the end because he is taking control of his situation, and because he also knows that his father (and the traditional society he represents) will never stop trying to control him. He can’t stand that thought, and so he takes his own life to escape that continued unhappiness. Nobody wants to accept that fact though, and so the idealistic teacher is blamed.

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Keating tells his students to live life to the full. Screenshot by me.

We later see that Keating’s lessons will never be forgotten by the boys he has taught. We are left with a sense of hope that they will be able to find their own path in life and stick to it and be happy. Keating can carry that final sight in his heart and mind forever. He knows that he has reached these young men and they have taken his messages and teachings to heart.  

The film is directed by Peter Weir. He is one of my favourite directors and I really like how many of his films often focus on a group of people closed off from the world most of us know. He showed us a girls boarding school in Picnic At Hanging Rock. An Amish community in Witness. A boys boarding school in Dead Poets Society. A naval ship in Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World. 

I like Weir because he lets the actors and the characters tell his stories. He doesn’t rely on effects to keep your interest. He lets the time and place in which his film is set wash over you and draw you in. It’s like you are transported into the world he is showing you. This film is one of his very best. 

The film is set in America in 1959. Welton Academy is a prestigious boys school. It is seen as a great privilege to get a place there. Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke)is a new student here and is both nervous and uncertain about his future here. He is a shy and introverted boy and has the shadow of his accomplished older brother (a former pupil) hanging over him.

Todd is befriended by Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), a seemingly outgoing and fun boy who is Todd’s roommate. Neil actually harbours a deep sadness and pain. Neil helps Todd become a little less introverted. 

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One of Keating’s classes. Screenshot by me.

Mr.Keating (Robin Williams)is a former pupil of the school who has returned here to take up the position of English teacher.  His teaching methods soon attract the criticism of the headteacher, Mr. Nolan (Norman Lloyd).

The pupils meanwhile love his lessons and his fresh teaching style. Neil Perry takes Keating’s words about seizing the day very much to heart. Neil is ignored by his over bearing father and is being pressured into a career he has no wish to have. Neil longs to be an actor, but he sadly is all too aware that this just won’t be a possible career choice for him to pursue. 

Neil, Todd, Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen), Knox Overstreet(Josh Charles), Gerard Pitts(James Waterston), Steven Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero) and Richard Cameron(Dylan Kussman)are the group of friends who are influenced by Keaton the most. This group start up a secret club called The Dead Poets Society. This club was originally something Keating belonged to during his time as a student. In the club they can discuss poetry, tell stories, share laughter, and generally have a good time away from the restraints of the school. 

Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Josh Charles would go on to become pretty big names in film and TV. The other kids never seemed to reach the same level of fame sadly. Gale Hansen is the standout of the film for me. Hansen plays the rebellious class clown, Charlie Dalton; he is already something of a free thinker already but he really takes it to the next level once Keating enters his life. 

Norman Lloyd is excellent as the strict and cold headmaster (Norman is still with us now aged 103!).

Kurtwood Smith delivers a solid performance as Neil’s dad, he loves his son, but he doesn’t know how to talk to him and he won’t let him follow his dreams (more than likely because that is what happened between him and his own dad).

Robin Williams brings warmth and life to Keating and he makes him a teacher who we all long to have in our lives. 

I have to give a shoutout to the utterly gorgeous photography by John Seale. I also can’t praise the beautiful score by Maurice Jarre highly enough, it is atmospheric and haunting. I think this is one of his best ever scores, it stays in my mind long after the film has finished. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Charlie taking a phone call from God.Keating showing the students the photos of former students who are now long since dead. Keating finally getting Todd to be able to recite a poem. Neil and Keating talking about how Neil feels trapped. The students standing at the end for Keating. The scene between Todd and Neil discussing Todd’s birthday present. The first assembly of the new term . Todd out in the snow learning about Neil. All of the Dead Poet Society meetings in the cave. 

What do you think of this film and Robin’s performance?

 

 

 

 

Announcing The Small Screen Blogathon 20th February, 2018

I’d like to invite you all to join my latest blogathon. We all love films on these blogs. However, for this particular blogathon I’d love for us to celebrate the treasures found over on the small screen.

For this blogathon you can write about miniseries, long running series, soaps, classic TV, modern TV and TV films. You can write about your favourite episodes from a particular series, or write about the series as a whole. You can write about series from any country, genre, and era. You can write about more than one series if you wish to do so.

I will allow two duplicates per title, but as there are so many series out there I’m really hoping people don’t all go for obvious titles like The Twilight Zone or Friends. If the series you would like to discuss as a whole has been taken, you can still write about your favourite episode, or episodes from that particular series. 

I’m holding this one as a one day event. It will run on the 20th of February. Please leave me the links to your posts on that day or before. I will then link everyone’s posts together on the 20th. 

Take one of the banners below and pop it on your site somewhere.  Check the participation list below to see who is writing about what. Have fun! I can’t wait to read your entries.  

 

  Participation List

Maddylovesherclassicfilms – The Duchess Of Duke Street

The Humpo ShowThe Office (US version)

MovieMovieBlogBlogCoupling

SparksfromacombustiblemindPoirot & Miss Marple

Bonnywood ManorPushing Daisies

The Midnite Drive-InMr. Monk and the Red Headed Stranger (episode of Monk)

ThoughtsallsortsOnly Human

Whimsically ClassicI Love Lucy & The Brady Bunch

Vinnieh Victoria

Mike’sTakeOnTheMoviesA Cry In The Wilderness & Deliver Us From Evil (two George Kennedy TV films)

Caftan WomanThe Snoop Sisters 

Wolfman’sCultFilmClubThe Invaders

dbmoviesblogThe Handmaid’s Tale

RealweegiemidgetreviewsDynasty – the making of a guilty pleasure (2005, TV film) & The Cartier Affair (1984)

Moon In Gemini – The Constant (episode of the TV series Lost)

In The Good Old Days Of Classic HollywoodThe Victim (1972, TV film)

The Wonderful World Of CinemaLes Filles de Caleb 

Cinema EssentialsAll Creatures Great and Small

 

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The Bill & Myrna New Year’s Blogathon: Why I Adore This Couple

Bill and myrna blogathon

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and Emily at The Flapper Dame are hosting this blogathon all about William Powell and Myrna Loy. Be sure to visit their sites to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.  

I’ve decided to write a piece about why William Powell and Myrna Loy are my favourite screen couple. I’m also going to write about a few of my favourite scenes which feature them together in some of the films they made. 

Elegance, effortless, funny, and warm are just a few of the words that instantly spring into my mind whenever I hear the names Myrna Loy and William Powell.  Whether they are playing the loveable and elegant, Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man series, or whether they are playing very different characters in other films; William Powell and Myrna Loy always end up making the perfect on screen couple.

They bring life and a great deal of warmth to their characters. I think the qualities that they bring to their characters are really what makes me like them both so much. This screen duo are my favourite classic era screen couple. Why do I love them so much? Well, sit back, and let me tell you why. 

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William and Myrna in Libelled Lady. Image source IMDb.

My main reason for loving them both so much is because they had such incredible chemistry with one another. When Powell and Loy look into each others eyes, you can see the love, the affection, and the passion that their characters had going on for one another. They make you really believe that their characters are completely in love with one another, and also that they really cared deeply about one another.  Chemistry like that can’t be faked, you either have it or you don’t, it’s that simple. These two sure had chemistry.

I also really like how they don’t outshine one another on screen. They both get their chance to shine equally in the films they made together. They are a true screen team, and they work together perfectly. I can think of no one else in the roles of Nick and Nora in The Thin Man, other than these two. They are the perfect screen duo in those films, and they play these characters in a way that I just can’t imagine other actors having been able to do.

I also admire Powell and Loy because they had such perfect comic timing. They made everything they did on screen appear natural and effortless. They were also both very adept at both physical and verbal comedy. Their comedy skills certainly came in handy in their most famous film collaborations that of The Thin Man film series.

I also love them because seeing their double act always makes me smile. They are a film duo who I just can’t help but be cheered up by. I also consider them to be a huge source of comfort during times of illness or sadness. I say that because seeing them together in films always manages to get me to smile.

In the Thin Man films they brought their characters to life so well. They made us feel the incredibly strong bond of love and friendship that Nick and Nora had. I especially like how they convey this through their facial expressions, and also through the look in their eyes. They make us see that these two had such strong trust and belief in one another.

Powell and Loy made us realise that Nick and Nora would never cheat on one another, that they had a great deal of fun together, that they loved and desired one another, and most important of all that one could never live happily without the other. I also like how Nick and Nora are not just lovers, but they are also soulmates and friends. They have fun together and want to be a part of the others life. If only all romantic relationships could be like theirs.

                            Here are a few of my favourite Powell and Loy film scenes.

From The Thin Man (1934)

1- Where they both look at each other and wrinkle up their faces and noses. This scene is both funny and sweet because any other woman who walked in on her husband holding another woman would most likely freak out. These two on the other hand both know it’s totally harmless, and they have a bit of a joke about it. Love the way they both do the wrinkled face look. 🙂 Adorable and so very funny.

2- The very funny and sweet scene where they discuss their Christmas presents. Powell is hysterical in the way he plays Nick in this scene. I especially love the bit where he is playing target practice with the new gun Nora brought him.

I love how the look on Loy’s face when she looks over at Powell in this scene; it’s like Nora is looking at Nick with an expression that seems as though she is thinking “oh, here we go again. The boy just has to play with the toy”. Cracks me up every time.

I also love that Nora is really loving the fur coat that Nick bought her, and she refuses to take it off, even though their apartment is really warm. I love how they are both just living in the moment, and are very happy with one another, and really admiring their new presents. 

 

After The Thin Man (1936)

I love the scene where Nick finally realises that Nora is pregnant. I just love how Powell plays this scene. He goes from being happy and relieved that they are finally alone and together again. He says “I don’t need anything in the world except you. And a toothbrush.” Aww!Then he sees that little baby sock that Nora is knitting. He looks up at her beaming face and finally realises what’s going on.

The way they look at each then with such love and happiness, and then how they lean in and kiss gets me every time. I love how content and happy Loy makes Nora in this scene, she is positively beaming with joy and looks radiant. This is the most adorable scene ever!  🙂 They both melt my heart in this scene.  

 Libeled Lady (1936)

The scene in the garden where she asks him if he has been proposed to much. I love it because it is a role reversal with the woman asking the man to marry her. I also love it because of how sweet Powell and Loy are in this scene. I love how depressed and anxious she is at first, and he notices this and asks her what’s wrong. Then the mood soon changes, and it is so sweet and uplifting when they both look at each other and see how much they love one another. Love it when he accepts her and they lean in and kiss. 

Well, they were just a few of my favourite Powell and Loy moments. What are some of your favourites? Please share them below. 

To sum up then, Powell and Loy always come across to me on screen as being a real married couple. Their affection for one another was the real thing and I think that it really shows on screen. They were pure movie magic. I for one will never get tired of watching them. 

Happy New Year all. Please raise a glass of champagne with me, not only to see in 2018, but to also toast the talents of William Powell and Myrna Loy!

Thank you both for all the joy you have brought to so many classic film fans. Thank you for your perfect timing, and thanks for your beautiful chemistry. Thanks for the laughter and for the romance.

R.I.P to you both. You are both greatly missed.  x 

 

 

 

The Inspirational Hero Blogathon: To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Inspirational Heroes Blogathon 2

The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette’s Soliloquy are hosting this blogathon all about inspirational film heroes. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Heroes can come in many forms. They can be people who sacrifice themselves to save the lives of others. They can be people who make a stand against evil and injustice. Or they could be fantastic superheroes who make it their mission in life to help others.

I’m writing about a character who is simply an ordinary man who ends up becoming an everyday hero. Personally I think this type of hero is actually one of the greatest because they make small, day to day changes that can end up having a real lasting effect on others. This screen hero is someone who really inspires me. The character is Atticus Finch (shown in the banner image above) as played in the film by Gregory Peck.  

Atticus has shown me that it is those little day to day actions we do that can help to change the world. Those actions can also help to change the unpleasant attitudes seen around us. Be kind and decent to those you meet, help those in need, and above all else always have the courage to stay away from a mob mentality and just stay true to your moral principles every day.

Atticus is a moral man, a kind man, a gentle man, and he is also a single father just trying to raise his children right. Atticus makes a stand against the cruelty and absolute stupidity that is racism. He treats everyone as equal (no matter what the colour of their skin, or regardless of their station in life). He is someone with characteristics within him that I think we really should all aspire to have within ourselves.

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Atticus and his children. Image source IMDb.

Atticus doesn’t care if he gets attacked, he also doesn’t care if he loses his reputation in his community, he only cares about doing what is right. I think that is pretty inspirational. Given the time and the place this film is set in, Atticus’s actions really are extremely brave, he could have been hurt or killed for helping someone who wasn’t white.  Atticus is also a wonderful father and he is the sort of loving and decent person you hope everyone’s father would be. 

In 1960, Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird was published. The novel was inspired in part by Harper’s own childhood. The character of Atticus was based upon her own father, Amasa Coleman Lee who himself was a lawyer. The character of Dill was based upon Harper’s friend Truman Capote. The novel is one of my favourites and I love the characters and the story.

The novel strongly put across its message of treating others as they should be treated, with kindness, respect and dignity. The message found within it is to treat others as you want to be treated, and while you’re at it, try and imagine what someone else is enduring in their life by putting yourself in their shoes.  

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Harper Lee and Gregory Peck. Image source IMDb.

The book and its inspirational message translated very well I think onto the big screen. The film was made in 1962. Gregory Peck(or as I like to call him, the go to good guy of classic era Hollywood 🙂 ) was cast in the lead role of the morally decent Atticus. It was a perfect casting choice, as Peck was a very decent and good man in real life. Peck ended up winning an Oscar for his very memorable performance in this film.

The film is also a coming of age tale told entirely through the eyes of children. By showing everything from their point of view, I think that the lines between good and evil become glaringly obvious. We see how a cranky old man can seem like a scary old monster, how a supposed monster can be nothing of the sort, or how an ordinary father can end up being the greatest hero of all.

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Jem, Scout and Dell. Image source IMDb. 

The six year old daughter of Aticus Finch is Scout(Mary Badham)the story is mainly told through her eyes, and those of her older brother Jem(Phillip Alford) and their neighbour Dell(John Megna).Southern lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is a single parent. He is raising his two children alone following their mothers death. He raises them both to be kind and respectful of others. He is helped in his task by the loyal Calpurnia (Estelle Evans)who treats the children as her own. She and Atticus are respectful of one another and she isn’t afraid to discipline the children if they have been rude or bad.

Atticus is asked to defend a black farmer called Tom Robinson(Brock Peters)who is accused of raping Mayella Ewell(Collin Wilcox)a white woman. Atticus stands up for Tom against the angry town residents who all immediately think that he is guilty of the crime. Atticus risks his reputation in his community by defending Tom when the case goes to trial. In doing so he teaches his children about moral courage and strength, and he shows that some things are worth risking your own life and situation in life for.

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Brock Peters as Tom. Image source IMDb. 

Brock Peters is nothing less than breathtaking as Tom. His face conveys the multitude of emotions that Tom is going through during the trial. We feel his fear and his anger, and we also get to see his dignity and hope too. It is comforting that for a time he had Atticus on his side. Although (very sadly given the time and place it’s set in)the outcome of the trial is already a foregone conclusion in the minds of the all white jury; never the less, the sight of Atticus making his plea to the jury is one of the most powerful, moving and unforgettable scenes in film history. 

The way Atticus delivers that famous speech never fails to get me when I watch this. He makes such an effort to get through to every person in that courtroom with his words. Peck delivers his dialogue in that scene so passionately that he makes you feel Atticus’s powerful words.

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Atticus and Tom in court. Image source IMDb. 

I also always find it extremely moving how all the black people in the public gallery all stand in respect for Atticus at the end of the trial. Justice may not have been done, but these people respect and appreciate him for going above and beyond what was expected of him in order to try and defend Tom.

Atticus Finch fights for Tom with all of his heart, and in doing so, he reminds his community (and also us)that we are all equal. And that in everyday life, and in a court of law, we should all be treated equally and justly regardless of our skin colour, gender, or our social situation. We are all the same skeletons under our skin tones and we are all the same species.  

Gregory Peck is absolutely superb as the decent lawyer who always tries to do the right thing. His performance is all in the eyes and in his body language. This character screams decency and strength and Peck portrays these things so well on screen.

I especially love Peck in the scene where Mr. Ewell spits in Atticus’s face. When Ewell does this he flinches because it looks for a moment because he thinks that Atticus is about to hit him, but he doesn’t and in refraining from doing so actually gains the moral high ground over Ewell in that moment. Gregory Peck is excellent in that scene because you can see the anger and disgust building up on his face and you can see how hard he is restraining himself from striking out at Ewell, but he simply won’t permit himself to sink to his level. This scene is witnessed by Scout and Jem and it is a moment that won’t be easily forgotten.

Mary Badham and Philip Alford are excellent as the children, they have a genuine bond and Alford does a very good job of showing us this boy is having to grow up fast. I like how Jem is protective of his sister. Badham plays Scout as a tomboy and as someone who is all curiosity, delight, and who is fearless.

I like how the film is both a look at some serious adult and moral issues, but is also a children’s story. There is adventure, fun and joy to be enjoyed alongside the more serious plot line. I also like how the children don’t have the same attitudes as the adults, they are more open and honest and they don’t understand some of the things going on around them. 

There is fine support from Brock Peters as the ill fated Tom. Brock makes your heart break for the injustice his character is going through and you can feel his growing anger and terror.

Collin Wilcox is excellent as the accuser of Tom Robinson, her explosive outburst in court is intense. James Anderson is also very memorable as the despicable father of Mayella. A very young Robert Duvall has a memorable appearance towards the end of the film as the gentle (and much misunderstood)Boo Radley. John Megna is funny as the curious Dill. Estelle Evans is excellent as Calpurnia, I love her in the scene where she really lays into Scout for being rude to a guest because of how he eats.

The brilliant character actor Paul Fix also appears as the judge preceding over Tom’s trial. Much like Atticus it is suggested through Fix’s performance that the judge isn’t happy with the racism, nor with the direction that the trial and verdict take, but that he is powerless to do anything about it, despite being in a position of authority and law.

The title sequence to this film is very clever and is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It shows us a child drawing, and we see a collection of objects in a box. Over this sequence we hear a child humming, and then the beautiful lullaby like score by Elmer Bernstein kicks in. It is simple and beautiful, and also very moving (and we haven’t even started the story yet!). Bernstein’s score for this film is so unlike his Western scores, and I think it was one of the best pieces of music that he ever composed.

My favourite scenes are the following. The swing scene between Atticus and Scout. All the courtroom scenes. Scout asking Jem questions about their mum and Atticus being shown to have been listening in on the conversation. The children daring one another to near the Radley porch. Calpurnia telling Scout off for making fun of the way a guest at their house eats dinner. The children saving Atticus from the mob gathering outside the jail. Atticus’s reaction to being spat at. Scout and Atticus talking about her fighting, and about why he is defending Tom. Jem sitting in the car getting scared by Mr. Ewell. The scene where Boo comes to see Scout.

This is a film that I love a great deal. I think that it more than deserves all the praise and acclaim it has received over the years. This is a beautiful film that has an important message at its heart.  I hope that the character of Atticus continues to inspire people to be morally courageous, and also to stand up to hatred and injustice as he did. 

Given the sad state our world is in today, I think that all people should read Harper Lee’s novel and watch this film. The issues and themes present in this story are still very relevant in our society today. I think that it’s a crying shame that in 2017 humanity has progressed so much, in so many areas, yet it still has so far to go when it comes to treating everyone the same and putting aside silly prejudices such as skin colour or sexual orientation. 

What do you think of the film? Any comments about Gregory Peck’s performance?

 

 

 

The Greta Garbo Blogathon: Grand Hotel (1932)

Greta Garbo blogathon

Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Greta Garbo. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Greta Garbo, or just Garbo, as she was so often called, was quite simply one of the most intriguing and talented film actresses that there has ever been. Her face spoke volumes. Greta was also an actress who really never needed any dialogue because  she could convey what the audience needed to know through looks and emotions alone.

Greta Garbo was perfectly suited to the Silent era style of acting, her face and eyes were her words; yet Greta was also something of a rarity in that her style of acting fit the talkie era too.Where many of her fellow Silent stars failed to make the transition to the Sound era, Garbo not only succeeded to successfully make that major transition, but she also retained the same level of fame and acclaim that she had enjoyed in the Silent era. That is a pretty remarkable achievement when you think about just how many other stars from the Silent era were not so fortunate. 

Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo. Image source IMDb.

The only other actress I can think of who compares with Garbo for being able to make audiences so completely feel their emotion through the screen is Ingrid Bergman. Both let their faces and emotion speak for them. When you watch their films you do so to see those extraordinary faces in action.

A very private and shy woman in real life, the Swedish born Greta Garbo retired from acting and public life in 1941. Her screen persona (often a strong and independent woman)is still famous today. Greta Garbo was one of the all time greats and she continues to fascinate today. I first saw her in the tragic romantic drama, Camille, she broke my heart in that and I have been a fan of hers ever since.

For this blogathon I’m writing about Grand Hotel. It is in this film that Garbo utters that famous line which has since become her catchphrase – “I want to be alone”. That line may as well have come from Greta herself, as she also wanted to be left alone to live her own life as a private citizen.

Grand Hotel was directed by Edmund Golding, produced by Irving Thalberg, and it is based upon the 1929 novel by Vicki Baum. The novel was inspired by Vicki Baum’s own experiences working as a maid in a hotel.

grand hotel poster

When I first saw Grand Hotel,it led me to feel very differently about both Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. I thought that Greta overacted in her role, I also felt that there was something rather artificial about her performance. This reaction really surprised me because I had been so impressed with the other performances of Greta’s that I had seen up to this point. 

It took me a couple of more views to appreciate and actually understand Greta’s performance here. Her character in this film is a prima donna, her actions and gestures are completely exaggerated, everything that she does is done purely to attract the notice of others.  Greta captures that sort of personality perfectly in her performance here. Her performance is over the top, and it is so because that is exactly what her character is like. When you watch her performance with that in mind, I do think you really begin to appreciate just how good a performance it really is.   

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Joan Crawford and John Barrymore. Image source IMDb.

I also found myself really liking Joan Crawford in this film. That was surprising to me because she wasn’t an actress who I had liked all that much up to this point. This film made me appreciate and like her a great deal more as an actress and I’ve been a fan ever since. I think that Joan was at her best in films made during the 1930’s and 1940’s, and I think that she comes across to me as being much more natural in these early films than in many of her later ones. She was a brilliant actress. Joan steals the show in Grand Hotel. 

Grand Hotel was one of the first all star films. The actors who appeared in this were among the biggest names of 1930’s cinema. I can well imagine that audiences at the time must have been so excited to see all these big stars together in one film. Greta Garbo was probably the biggest star in the film, other big names in the cast include the Barrymore brothers (John and Lionel)and Joan Crawford.

Greta Garbo plays Grusinskaya, a shy and acclaimed ballerina who is staying at the hotel while she performs on stage in the city. John Barrymore plays Baron von Geigern, a kind and good man, who has unfortunately squandered his fortune and now has to resort to playing cards and being an occasional thief in order to support himself. The Baron is planning on stealing Grusinskaya’s jewels, but he doesn’t plan on falling in love with her, or for her to return his feelings. Their growing love has a tragic edge to it which makes it all the more poignant as we see it unfold.

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The Ballerina and the Baron. Image source IMDb.

Lionel Barrymore is Mr. Kringelein, a loveable, weary, gentle and sick man, who is looking after himself for a change. He befriends the Baron and (possibly for the first time in his life)has a lot of fun. Joan Crawford plays Miss. Flaemmchen, an outgoing and ambitious stenographer who has been hired to work for a guest in the hotel. She befriends the Baron and Mr. Kringelein, and she falls in love with the Baron. He has great affection for her, but his heart is with the ballerina. Mr. Kringelein also develops great affection for the young woman, and there is a possibility that he has fallen in love with her too.

Wallace Beery plays Director Preysing, a wealthy, tyrannical, and hard hearted industrialist, who hires Miss Flaemmchen to assist him as he closes an important deal at the hotel. He is also the employer of Mr. Kringelein. Lewis Stone plays the hotels doctor, Otternschlag, a dignified man who was terribly disfigured during WW1. Jean Hersholt plays the dedicated and overworked hotel manager, Senf. He is eagerly awaiting news of his wife, who is about to give birth to their child. Rafaela Ottiano plays Suzette, the devoted and demure ladies maid to Grusinskaya.

These characters will all interact with one another during their stay at the hotel. Hearts will be won, hearts will be broken and lives will be forever changed. This will be one hotel stay that will never be forgotten by any of our characters.

It is the characters that give this film its heart and soul. We are made to feel for them deeply as the film goes on. We want the best for them, and we come to care about some of them very much indeed. I like that they all come across as believable and very real people, they are filled with flaws, quirks, and shades of light and dark. It is the characters that draw me back time and again to this film.

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The Baron, Miss Flaemmchen, and Mr. Kringelein. Image source IMDb.

My favourite characters in this are the Baron, Miss Flaemmchen and Mr. Kringelein. I love the bond that slowly develops between their trio, and some of the funniest and most moving scenes in the whole film feature these three. They become like a surrogate family and each provide the others with the kindness and acceptance they have all missed out on up to now. I also have to say how much I love it when the Baron calls Flaemmchen “funny one”. The Barrymore brothers and Joan Crawford all do such a terrific job of making their characters affection for one another seem completely genuine. We completely believe and feel their emotional connection.

The Baron in particular is the films heart. He is the character who connects the most with all the others. He brings happiness and also a sense of security into the lives of Flaemmchen, Grusinskaya and Kringelein. What happens to him later in the film is shocking, disturbing and heartbreaking. John Barrymore is certainly at his best in this role, conveying a weary, decent and gentle soul forced to do something morally wrong in order to survive. This performance has become my favourite from among John Barrymore’s many films.

The characters I feel the most sorry for are Kringelein, the Baron and Grusinskaya, they are each a sad person in different ways, and they all suffer a great deal of pain and heartbreak as the film goes on.

My favourite scenes are the following. The Baron meeting Flaemmchen for the first time. The entire sequence in the bar. The scene between Flaemmchen and Mr. Kringelein where she says she will stay with him(this never fails to make me go teary). The Baron comforting a distraught Grusinskaya. The introduction sequence. The phone ringing in the Baron’s empty room and we see his dog waiting on the bed for him to return.  😦  Grusinskaya not being told the truth about the Baron at the end, but deep down inside herself we see that she appears to know something is very wrong.

This one is a real character piece and I think that the story gives all the actors their chance to shine at some stage of the film. The cast all deliver solid performances. I think that Joan Crawford, Barrymore brothers, Greta Garbo and Lewis Stone deliver the best performances in the film. Despite the good story, the memorable characters, and the many stars which appear within it, I do think it is fair to say that it is Greta Garbo who has become the best remembered part of this film. 

Greta’s role in this film is the one that has become the most famous out of all of her screen work I’d say. As the decades have passed us by, the name of Garbo, and the title Grand Hotel have become forever linked to one another.

           Some facts about the film.

  • Buster Keaton was the first choice for the role of Kringelein. I would love to have seen him get the chance to play this more serious and tragic role. While it is intriguing to imagine Keaton in the role, I do think that in the end the right casting choice was made with Lionel Barrymore.

 

  • The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It wasn’t nominated for, and nor did it win, any other awards in any of the other categories.

 

  •  John Barrymore and Greta Garbo were very nervous about working alongside one another in this film. When they eventually met they both ended up getting along really well. 

 

  • Buster Keaton wanted to make a parody of this film with himself playing Kringelein. It would have been set in a New York flophouse, and it would have starred a number of other comedians in the key roles. I would so love to have seen this.

 

Any other fans of Grand Hotel? Please leave your comments below. What do you think of Greta Garbo in this film?

 

 

The Horrorathon: Day 2

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It’s time to brave creaking floorboards, ghosts and strange noises, as we gather for the final day of our horror film discussion.

Yesterday gave us some fantastic entries, I can’t wait to read what today will bring.

Day 2 Entries

 

The Stop Button looks at the bizarre horror film Suspiria.

 

 

Bonnywood Manor looks at the creepy occurrences taking place in Venice in Don’t Look Now

 

 

Old School Evil joins up with The Monster Squad.

 

 

Sparksfromacombustiblemind takes a look at the John Carpenter classic Halloween.

 

 

dbmoviesblog looks at the French classic Les Diaboliques.

 

 

Critica Retro writes about Silent horror film A Page Of Madness.

 

 

Sat In Your Lap looks at the macabre comedy A Comedy Of Terrors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Horrorathon: Day 1

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The time has come for us to all gather together in a dark, cobweb filled, lonely old house. Why? It’s the best location in which to discuss those films that scare us silly.

Before we begin though, I  feel I must warn you about the coffin in the corner. A certain Count Dracula is sleeping in it at the moment, lets try not to disturb him, as things could turn ugly if he wakes!

Day 1 Entries

 

Bonnywood Manor warns us of the dangers of antique bath tubs and kitchens in The Haunting Of Julia.

 

Cinematic Scribblings braves a trip into the world of Edgar Allen Poe to review the horror anthology Spirits of the Dead.

 

Realweegiemidget mixes horror and comedy in this review of Kill Keith.

 

MoodyMoppet shares her verdict on Vincent Price’s 1963 film The Raven.

 

Vinnieh takes a look at the suggested horror of Val Lewton’s classic Cat People .

 

Sparksfromacombustiblemind writes about scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis.

 

I watch five horror stories in the classic horror anthology Dead Of Night.

The Horrorathon: Dead Of Night (1945)

Horrorathon 2

This is my entry for my horror blogathon. I can’t wait to be able to read all of your spooky film reviews.

I’m going to be writing about one of my all time favourite horror films. That film is Dead Of Night. As many of you already know I personally much prefer creepy and psychological horror stories instead of the violent and gory ones. This film is the perfect blend of the supernatural and scares for me. The film brings to mind the scary stories from books, you know the ones I mean, those creepy tales of terror which are best read by a blazing fire on a dark and stormy night.

A sequence near the end of the film does the best job I’ve ever seen of bringing to life nightmares. This sequence manages to capture the disorientation and outright terror you experience when you are having a nightmare. Images and faces are jumbled up, time has no meaning and there is no escape from what you’ve become part of.

At the time this film was released the horror genre was practically non existent in British cinema. America was churning out scary and spooky flicks on a regular basis, but we just were not doing the same.  Then Dead Of Night was released, and this film quickly showed the world that the UK could also produce films that were able to chill the blood.

Dead Of Night

I would have so loved to have been in the audience when this film was first released. Not only was the content and style of the film something new but this film came out of Ealing Studios. Why is that important you may ask?

The content of this film was about as far from Ealing’s regular output as it was possible to get. Ealing is best known for its comedies and picture postcard portrayals of British life, but during the 1940’s they did start to produce some grittier and darker films. This horror film was one of their darkest. The content of this film was so different that it must have come completely out of the blue for audiences at the time. Other films worth watching from the studios grittier and darker years include: Went The Day Well? Pink String and Sealing Wax and It Always Rains On Sunday.

Dead Of Night is not only a good horror film, but it is also a very unique and cleverly put together film. It has four of Britain’s finest directors at the helm. These directors each directed the different segments of the film. Basil Dearden directs the linking narrative, and also directs the hearse driver story. Alberto Cavalcanti directs both the Christmas party and the ventriloquist dummy stories. Robert Hamer directs the haunted mirror story. Charles Crichton directs the golfing story.

Although this wasn’t the first anthology horror film to be made (the earliest one that I’m aware of is Eerie Tales from 1919); Dead Of Night would however go on to become a film that was to become extremely influential on future horror anthology productions. The style of this film paved the way for films like The Amicus horror films, such as Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors and The Vault Of Horror.  The hearse driver story surely has to have inspired the films Final Destination and The Night My Number Came UpThe Twilight Zone season 2 episode called Twenty Two also has strong similarities to this story too.

Dead Of Night consists of five individual horror stories, with each one being connected via a clever linking story. Ghosts, Deja vu, recurring nightmares, premonitions, haunted objects and a creepy ventriloquists dummy all feature here. Unlike many other anthology films, the stories and the overall structure of the film combine together here to make a perfect whole. It’s not like there are only a couple of good parts and the rest is rubbish, each of these horror stories sucks you in. The horror stories are not the only high points of the film though; the linking story itself is also extremely chilling, and it is one that I always want to keep returning to as the film goes on.

I actually think that the film would have still worked and been creepy (although undoubtedly not as successful) if only the linking story was shown, and instead of us seeing the horror stories we just see the characters telling their respective stories.

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Walter Craig arrives. Screenshot by me.

The film begins with architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns)arriving at the country home of Elliot Foley (Roland Culver). Craig is there to consult on some renovations being undertaken in the house. Foley has some houseguests and Craig (despite never having met any of them before)knows them and claims he knows them due to seeing them in a recurring dream.

As the guests speak to him, Craig begins to start predicting things that they will do, and he becomes increasingly uneasy and is convinced something terrible will happen soon.

The other guests all try and convince Craig that there is no truth to his fears. As the day goes on the guests are inspired by Craig’s claims, and they start to share weird and scary stories of strange incidents they have witnessed themselves. We see these stories play out on screen.

The first story that we see is about a racing car driver (Anthony Baird)who is injured in a crash. As he recovers in hospital, he begins to have some frightening visions. He later comes to understand these were premonitions. This sequence is very unsettling indeed and it is one of my favourites from amongst the various stories. This sort of story is one that never gets old. It can be set in any situation really (public transport, meeting a dangerous person who will do you harm, an accident etc.)

    The racing driver opens the curtains and sees a nightmare.Screenshot by me.

The second story takes place at a Christmas party in an old country house. A young girl (Sally Ann Howes) goes exploring the rooms during a game of hide and seek. She comes across a lonely little boy dressed in old clothes. Chills are guaranteed when she later discovers who he is. This sequence is both creepy and touching. It is inspired by a real British murder case. The actor who plays the boy is uncredited, I find that very strange as he has quite a large role within the sequence.

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Sally makes a chilling discovery. Screenshot by me.

The third story concerns a couple who are plagued by a haunted antique mirror. The husband (Ralph Michael)sees a different room reflected back to him in the mirror, instead of the room in which he is standing. He soon becomes obsessed by this mirror and undergoes a personality change. His wife (Googie Withers)tries to help him and she soon comes to see that he is not going mad as she had first feared.  

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She was starting to wish she hadn’t brought this mirror. Screenshot by me.

The fourth story is comic in tone and seems a bit of an odd one to have been included really. Having said that though there are some creepy moments to be found here (the man walking into the lake to drown himself for example). There’s also some clever camera trickery too. The story is about two obsessed golfers (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne)who are in love with the same woman. One of the men ends up as a ghost and haunts the other . This one strikes me as just an excuse to show Wayne and Radford in a film; these two appear regularly throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s as the comic characters Charter’s and Caldicott, their characters in this film might just as well have been those characters.

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A Charters and Caldicott ghost story.

The fifth story is the one that is best remembered. A ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave)descends into incurable madness. What causes this? He is convinced that his dummy is actually alive. Is he correct, or is he just simply an ill man who is sadly losing his mind? Ventriloquist stories are always creepy and this is one of the most unforgettable and well made of these stories.  Michael Redgrave gives one of the best performances of his entire career here, you really do believe he is becoming tired, unbalanced and downright terrified.

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The deranged ventriloquist. Screenshot by me.

After the individual stories are over the horror continues on as we return to the linking story. I won’t reveal the ending in case people haven’t seen this, but if you have, then you will know the horror which awaits the viewer at the end of the film.

The film features many of Britain’s finest actors. Michael Redgrave and Googie Withers were two of the biggest British film stars of this era, and I’ve no doubt that their presence was a major reason for fans to check this film out. Mervyn Johns and Roland Culver were wonderful character actors and they are both excellent here. A very young Sally Ann Howes makes quite an impression in an early role.

The photography by Douglas Slocombe is incredible. The photography really helps to create an eerie mood which carries on from sequence to sequence. The film looks fantastic too. The music by Georges Auric is suitably chilling and it is the perfect accompaniment to the spooky visuals.

My favourites of the stories are the linking story, the hearse driver, and the ventriloquists dummy.

I think the best of the stories are the following. The linking story. The ventriloquists dummy. The haunted mirror. The hearse driver.

Be sure to see this one on Blu-Ray to see it looking at its best and to enjoy some interesting interviews about the film. Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below. If you’ve never seen this one, I highly recommend it to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joan Fontaine Centenary Blogathon: My Tribute To Joan

Joan Fontaine Blogathon

Virginie over at The Wonderful World of Cinema and Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood are co-hosting this blogathon about Joan Fontaine.

The blogathon is being held in honour of what would have been Joan’s 100th birthday. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I’m just so very happy that there is blogathon taking place all about Joan. She is an actress who I have long considered to be an extremely underrated one.  I think her own superb talents were often overshadowed by the equally superb talents of her sister, Olivia.

Joan is best remembered today for her unforgettable performances in two Alfred Hitchcock films – Suspicion and Rebecca. Joan made a great many other films too besides those though.

I like Joan because I think that she had a real gift for portraying certain types of people, and I think that Joan was one of the most expressive actresses in film history. I think that she really excelled at portraying fragile, gentle and vulnerable women.

Joan always makes me feel her characters pain, happiness, or their insecurity. Her eyes speak volumes and convey so much more than words ever could. When she smiled or laughed she seemed to glow and beam from within. A truly radiant person indeed.

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Joan Fontaine lighting up the screen in Rebecca. Screenshot by me.

Joan was an actress who I think really could do it all. She could break your heart one moment, and have you scared for her the next. I like how she makes you connect emotionally to the varied array of characters she portrayed.

Joan and her older sister Olivia De Havilland were both born in Japan. Joan was a year younger than her sister. Both sisters would go on to join the acting profession. They were two of the most talented film actresses of their generation. Olivia went on to receive somewhat greater fame and attention than her sister did, and I think that is a real shame, as Joan really was every bit as talented as her sister was.

Two of my favourite films starring Joan are September Affair and Suspicion and I’m going to write a bit about each of them now.

September Affair is one I like quite a bit, as it shows Joan in a very different role to the fragile or tormented characters that she so often portrayed on screen. I love this film because it is romantic and sad, it also focuses on a growing relationship following a chance encounter. We have all met someone while travelling who we wish we could have known better, this film shows us what could happen if we spent more time with such a person in such a situation.

 

September Affair is a lovely film about Marianne and David (Joan Fontaine and Joseph Cotten) , a couple who befriend one another whilst on a trip to Italy. As they spend more time together they begin to care about each other very much and fall in love. David is married (unhappily so)and he is desperate for a divorce.

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Publicity image of Joan and Joseph for September Affair. Image source IMDb.

When a plane Marianne and David were supposed to be on crashes, they are afforded an opportunity to start their lives afresh with each other, as they are both reported as being dead. The trouble is they are deliberately allowing those they have left behind to believe they are dead. Joan’s character must also come to terms with the fact that Cotten’s character will never give up his work, even for the sake of their new life together.

I love Joan and Joseph in this so much. Joan is excellent as an ordinary woman falling in love with this man, and also with a new life, in a new country. She lets you see her character falling hard for this man, but also shows us how keenly aware she is that he should go back to his family. If you’ve only seen Joan play fragile or nervous characters then this is a film you should check out. Joan is so natural and convincing in this role.

Joseph captures the desperation and desire of his character so well. He hates his old life, falls in love with this woman and wants her. But will she let them be together or not? Joan conveys so much with her expressions in this one. I love her in the early scenes where you can see her characters feelings for David grow and grow as she spends more time with him.

My second favourite Joan Fontaine film is Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion.  I think that Joan is at her very best here, as the innocent, love struck Lina. This girl falls in love with the seemingly perfect, and it must be said, very handsome Johnny (Cary Grant).

Not long after their marriage, Lina begins to suspect that Johnny is plotting to murder her. As her suspicions mount up, she becomes increasingly scared and anxious that he is trying to kill her. We in the audience believe her suspicions and fear for her. But is there any truth to her suspicions?

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Joan in Suspicion. Image source IMDb.

I like how Joan starts out in this performance as a fresh and innocent girl, and I like how she later transitions to a more worldly, paranoid and nervous woman. Truly this is a remarkable performance to watch. Joan deservedly won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance here (her win was to be the only acting Oscar ever given for a performance in a Hitchcock film.)

Joan Fontaine is an actress whose work I am very pleased to have been able to see. She sure was a talented actress and I only wish that she was as much an acclaimed actress today as her sister (quite rightly)is and was. R.I.P Joan. Happy 100th birthday to one of the best film actresses.

 

Here are my five favourite Joan Fontaine films.

1- September Affair

2- Suspicion

3- This Above All

4- Jane Eyre

5- Rebecca

Any other fans of the two films I’ve mentioned? What are your thoughts on Joan and on her skills as an actress?

 

 

The Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon : Adam’s Rib (1949)

Hepburn and Tracy

Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

What do I think when I hear the names Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn? Well, I’d say that the first word which comes to mind for me is magical. Why magical? Well, it is because I think they are film magic together; this couple were the sort of film partnership that was only dreamt of in the industry, such screen teams really didn’t come along very often, and when one did arrive it was unforgettable and often unmatchable. What you see on screen between Tracy and Hepburn was the real deal, be it sexual tension, affection, or passion. 

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Spencer and Katharine as Adam and Amanda in Adam’s Rib. Screenshot by me.

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn truly were one of the greatest couples in film history. They had genuine chemistry, perfect timing, and they fitted perfectly together on screen as a couple.

They also are able to make you feel the sexual tension and affection that their various characters feel for one another. This pair gave us some of the most romantic and sexy scenes in film history.

Both Spencer and Katharine were very successful film actors in the years leading up to their first screen pairing, in Woman Of The Year. Once that film came out, the names of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn would be forever after linked in the minds of film audiences. The couple made nine films together. Many of these are considered high points in the romance and comedy genres. 

The pair were in love in real life, and their off screen romance undoubtedly accounts for the warmth and intimacy that is so evident between them on screen. Unfortunately Spencer was married and he was also a Catholic, so despite his own unhappy marriage, there was just no way he was getting divorced. A shame really, he and Katharine were so meant to be together. Katharine helped him with his alcoholism and she also nursed him during his final years. They were the couple who should have been man and wife. Sadly they did not get a happy ending in real life.

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Adam and Amanda in court. Screenshot by me.

Their characters in the films they made together faired much better when it came to a happy ever after. I’m writing about my favourite film that the pair made together. That film is Adam’s Rib (1949). Why this one over the others? Well for starters it is a very, very funny film indeed. There’s lots of physical (especially during some of the courtroom sequences)and verbal comedy to get you laughing.

The comedy is only half of the reason I love it so much though. I really love it so much for the films portrayal of marital happiness and for the affection between Spencer and Katharine’s characters.

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The couple share a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

Their characters in this are a couple who are soulmates, best friends and lovers. The way they look at each other in this one just totally melts my heart. In many scenes in this they are so intimate with one another, that it’s like someone left the cameras rolling after a take, and that we are actually watching Spencer and Katharine in genuine private moments together.

The affectionate scenes between them both in this are my favourite moments out of all the films they made together. There is such warmth and obvious love between Spencer and Katharine in this one. It is beautiful to watch and really helps get across how their characters feel about one another.

I especially love them in the scene where they are cuddling up on the sofa after work one evening. Spencer’s character sees that Katharine’s is subdued and gently asks her if she is alright, and says he wouldn’t ever want to think of her not being alright. I think that might just well be my all time favourite Kate and Spence moment on screen (oh alright then, so maybe it’s a tie with their very sexy first meeting in Woman Of The Year.)  🙂

Adam’s Rib was written by husband and wife screenwriting team Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. Their inspiration for this story of married lawyers were William and Dorothy Whitney. The Whitney’s were a married couple who were both lawyers and they ended up getting divorced and marrying the clients they were each representing in a high profile case. 

This screenwriting couple saw great potential in two characters who were married lawyers and who had to appear on opposite sides of the court in the same case. Thus Adam and Amanda Bonner were created. 

Adam (Spencer Tracy)and Amanda (Katharine Hepburn)are two well respected and much sought after lawyers. They both love their job, and will both give a case their all. The pair also happen to be married to one another. In court they verbally spar, but then they come home to one another and leave all that outside. These two are such a devoted couple and adore each other.

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Adam and Amanda hug. Screenshot by me.

Across town, Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) follows her husband Warren. Doris is convinced that her husband is having an affair. She catches him with another woman (Jean Hagen) and fires a gun at them, the woman isn’t hurt, but Warren is injured.

The Bonner’s read about the case and each of them has a different opinion on the case and about the people involved. They find it difficult to leave the case alone when Amanda is hired to defend Doris and Adam finds out he is prosecuting the case. Cue arguments, verbal sparring, flirtation, and an extremely spectacular battle of the sexes in the courtroom. Can the pair stop this case from impacting on their personal life?

The talented (and quite often overlooked in comparison to other actresses of the time)Jean Hagen and Judy Holliday both steal all the scenes they are in as the two very different women in Mr. Attinger’s life.

David Wayne is both amusing and annoying as Kip, he is a song writer who fancies Amanda and flirts with her to wind Adam up (he succeeds!). I want to slap Kip so many times, he is just so nosy and annoying.

As for Spencer and Katharine they are both terrific here, and they also look like they are having a great deal of fun in this one.

My favourite scenes are the following. Adam and Amanda talking to each other under the table in court. All the scenes where they debate in court. Amanda putting her head on Adam’s knee when she sees he looks angry and uncomfortable during the scene where they watch home movies. The liquorice gun scene. The massage and slap scene. Adam asking Amanda if she is alright, and saying that he would never want to think of her not being alright. The female weightlifter lifting Adam above her head. The footage from the home movies.

This is a funny and romantic film featuring memorable performances from the entire cast. There’s also plenty of witty dialogue to be enjoyed, and of course there is that undeniable Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn screen magic to enjoy.

The Bonner’s await you in court. Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.

As a bonus here are the five films in which I think Katharine and Spencer each give their best performances.

 

Katharine Hepburn

1- Long Day’s Journey Into Night

2- Woman Of The Year

3- Summertime

4 – The Philadelphia Story

5- The Lion In Winter

 

Spencer Tracy

1- Bad Day At Black Rock

2- Adam’s Rib

3- Boys Town

4- Woman Of The Year

5- Inherit The Wind

 

          Here are my five all time favourite Tracy and Hepburn films.

     Spencer Tracy

        1- Woman Of The Year

2- San Francisco

3- Boys Town

4- Adam’s Rib

             5- Men Of Boys Town

 

        Katharine Hepburn

1- Summertime

2- Holiday

3- The Lion in Winter

4- Woman Of The Year

5- Adam’s Rib

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The June Allyson Blogathon: Little Women (1949)

june-banner-1Simoa over at Champagne For Lunch is hosting this blogathon about June Allyson. This year is the centenary of June’s birth, and I think it’s lovely to be marking this event with this blogathon. Be sure to visit Simoa’s site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read all the entries myself.

June Allyson was a very radiant actress. She had one of the brightest smiles of anyone that I’ve ever seen. June was also a very bright and bubbly person. She had a very distinctive voice and she is an actress who always makes me check out films if I see that she is in them. Although I don’t consider myself to be a major fan of June’s, I do like her very much and I greatly admire her acting talent.

My favourite of her film performances is as Jo March, in the 1949 film adaptation of the novel Little Women. This version and the one from 1994 are my favourite screen versions of this lovely coming of age story. These two versions capture the warmth and intimacy of the novel for me. I don’t like the 1933 film version, as I think the actors in it(especially Katharine Hepburn)overact their roles something fierce and this spoils watching that one (for me anyway). 

In the 1949 film, June brings the character of the tomboyish Jo to life so well. June completely becomes this frustrated, warmhearted, outgoing, adventurous and passionate young woman. She also captures Jo’s passion for writing and the joy that it brings her. As the film goes on, Jo matures and grows into quite the young lady, and June really captures that change so well (watch her body language, emotions and mannerisms.) Compare how she acts in the first half of the film to how she is in the second half of the film.

June shows us that as Jo gets older she finally becomes more comfortable with being a woman and acting as her sisters do (properly, as was expected for the time period). Jo also finally accepts that it is okay to actually want to fall in love and be a wife, and she doesn’t mind that change entering in to her own life as much as she did when she was younger.

Jo is still very much herself in the second half of the film, but she doesn’t seek to shock or raise eyebrows with her behaviour as before. Jo still speaks her mind, but she becomes more tactful and respectful of tradition/custom when doing so. June conveys all of this to us through emotion, body language and expressions alone. It truly is a remarkable performance and is one that I never get tired of watching. I firmly believe that she gives one of her best performances as Jo March.

The 1949 film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy. The film features strong performances from all the younger members of the main cast: June, Janet Leigh, Margaret O’Brien, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lawford and Richard Stapley. Rossano Brazzi, Mary Astor, Lucile Watson and C. Aubrey Smith all provide solid support as the various adults in the sisters lives.

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The March sisters. Left to right: Margaret O’Brien as Beth, Janet Leigh as Meg, June Allyson as Jo, and Elizabeth Taylor as Amy. Image source IMDb. 

The story follows the lives of four sisters, from their childhood to their adult years. The film is set in New England. The March family consists of four sisters; there’s the practical and beautiful Meg (Janet Leigh), the tomboyish and big hearted writer, Jo(June Allyson), the shy and gentle Beth (Margaret O’Brien) and the vain and funny Amy (Elizabeth Taylor).

The girls live with their mother (Mary Astor) and their loyal housekeeper Hannah (Elizabeth Patterson)while their father (Leon Aymes)is away fighting in the Civil War. Their only other relative is the wealthy and crotchety Aunt March (Lucile Watson).

The sisters are befriended by the lonely Laurie (Peter Lawford)their young neighbour who hates the restrictive life he leads with his grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith). Laurie becomes a great friend and source of comfort to the March family. As they grow up, Laurie falls in love with Jo, but she doesn’t return his feelings.

Jo is against change, she hates it with every fibre of her being and she just cannot see why things can’t stay as they are. Meg finds love with Laurie’s tutor, John Brooke (Richard Stapley) and the two get married. I love watching their relationship develop, they also go on to have a very loving marriage where they are equals (which was rare I think for the time period).

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Jo and Laurie discuss their feelings for one another. Image source IMDb. 

Jo’s refusal of Laurie’s proposal later in the film breaks his heart. Jo goes to work as a governess in New York. While she is there, she finds herself falling in love, but with someone totally unexpected, the much older Professor Bhaer (Rossano Brazzi). When Jo and the Professor fall in love, Jo realises that this change in her life is not as unpleasant as she thought it once would be. A personal tragedy leads Jo to write a novel about her life with her sisters. It is published to great acclaim and Jo’s hard work as an author finally pays off.

While Jo is undoubtedly the star role here, I think that the actresses playing the other March sisters all get their chance to shine throughout the film. To me Janet Leigh, June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O’Brien all feel like an ensemble, and I don’t think that they ever outshine one another too much.

Janet Leigh is terrific as the eldest sister, Meg. She makes you see that Meg would love to be pampered just once in her life. She has had to grow up before her time though in order to help her mother around the house.

Elizabeth Taylor is absolutely hysterical as Amy, the self centred, food lover of the family. Amy may be self centred but she loves her family deeply. She would do anything for her family and friends. Taylor steals every scene she is in.

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Beth and Jo. Image source IMDb. 

Margaret O’Brien (one of the best and most natural of the classic era child stars)is heartbreaking as the fragile Beth. She is the sister beloved by all who meet her. She may be young, but she is very wise too.

Peter Lawford is very good as Laurie. He shows us how Laurie comes to life through his friendship with the March family and becomes as outgoing as they are. Lawford is heartbreaking in the scene where be admits his feelings for Jo, only to have his hopes dashed.

Rossano Brazzi (swoon!)  🙂  is utterly loveable as the patient, gentle and kind Professor. Watching him slowly falling for Jo is so sweet. Brazzi lets us see how much this man cares for Jo and how he also respects her as a woman and as a writer.

Mary Astor is almost saintly as the loving mother of the sisters. Astor plays her as the mother everyone deserves to have. She is kind, honest and wants her girls to be true to  themselves above all else.

The great character actor C. Aubrey Smith steals every scene he is in, as Laurie’s gruff, old fashioned and stern grandfather. Mr. Lawrence is actually quite a softie underneath that hard exterior. The scene where Beth thanks him for giving her the piano moves me to tears every time I watch this. Smith died shortly after filming his role in this and this was to be his final film.

I love the set design in this film especially for the interiors of the March home; that house really has the look of a lived in space, filled with personal items and it has a very warm and cosy look about it. The costumes are also beautiful, especially the ladies gowns. I especially love the yellow dress Amy wears when she visits Jo in New York. The films music by Adolph Deutsch is the prefect accompaniment to the story we are watching.  

A lovely coming of age story, filled with strong and memorable performances. June is the films heart, and her performance in this is unforgettable.

My favourite scenes are the following. The girls buying Christmas gifts for themselves and then taking them back to exchange for gifts for their mum. The Professor singing in German and explaining the meaning of the words to Jo. Amy comforting Beth after they hear some horrible gossip about their family. Mr. March returning from the war and hugging each of his family. Laurie’s proposal to Jo. Mr. Brooke proposing to Meg. Beth thanking Mr. Laurence for his gift to her of a piano. Jo and Laurie dancing. Jo revealing she has cut her hair short and sold it. Amy letting Beth have her last cake. Meg telling Jo off for her improper behaviour in public. Amy and Aunt March visiting Jo in New York.

This is a beautiful film about family, love and about being true to yourself. This is a comfort film/story for me and it is one I return to again and again. In terms of personality I see myself as a mix of Jo and Beth, and I can certainly relate to some of the choices these two sisters make and to their respective personalities.

I’d love to get your thoughts on this film. What do you think of June’s performance as Jo? Please leave your comments below.

 

The Colours Blogathon: The Red Shoes (1948)

Colours Blogathon

Catherine over at Thoughts All Sorts is hosting this blogathon all about films that feature colours in their titles. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I’m writing about one of my all time favourite films. That film is the 1948 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger classic, The Red Shoes. This is one of the most visually stunning and beautiful films ever made in my opinion. Artistic, imaginative, romantic, absorbing, and quite moving; this film truly has something in it for everyone to enjoy.

 I would like to talk a little bit now about Powell and Pressburger themselves. The pair began working together in 1939, on the WW2 spy thriller, The Spy In Black.They founded their own production company called The Archers in 1943. Their distinctive film logo (an arrow being fired into an archery target)became as famous as the films it appeared at the beginning of.

The majority of Powell and Pressburger’s films were quite different from any other films being made at the time. Their films were visually imaginative and very impressive. These films were more like works of moving art than traditional films. The uniqueness and artistic look of their work is a major factor for me in liking their films so much. Powell and Pressburger were completely different from other filmmakers of the time, and they created films that really took you out of your own life (in a major way)for a few hours. Their films are beautiful to look at and really draw the audience in. 

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Powell and Pressburger. Image source IMDb.

From time to time though they could also make the sort of films that the public were more used to seeing; films such as The Small Back Room, The Spy In Black and 49th Parallel. Their collaboration came to an amicable end in 1957, and they remained friends for the rest of their lives. Their films were not instantly acclaimed as classics upon release and it took several decades for them to receive praise and appreciation.

Director Martin Scorsese is a big fan of their work and he has done so much to bring their films to the attention of audiences today. Powell was also married for the last few years of his life to Scorsese’s regular editor, Thelma Schoonmaker.

Powell and Pressburger became famous for the use of Technicolor in their films. In The Red Shoes they once again use Technicolor to its best possible effect. They, along with their regular cinematographer Jack Cardiff, created magic and moving art on screen. Their use of colour was a big part of the unique look of so many of their films. Their colour films are so rich and vibrant, and it is the look of this particular film that lingers in the mind long after it has finished. This filmmaking managed to use Technicolor in a way that had never been done before, nor has it been achieved in films since. This team prove what filmmakers are capable of achieving should they put their minds to it. Their films are pure art and they are rightly praised and admired by film fans and filmmakers today.

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Moving on to the film itself. In The Red Shoes (long before Black Swan) we are shown the sacrifices that have to be made by ballerinas for their art. They push themselves extremely hard, and for some there can be nothing else apart from the ballet in their life, they give all they are to their art. We also see that their dedication to their art can make them ill if they push themselves too hard either physically or mentally. 

The Red Shoes is based upon the fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson. It is all about a young girl who puts on a pair of red shoes. Once she does she soon finds that she cannot take them off. She also finds that they make her dance everywhere she goes. She cannot make herself even stop for a rest. In her despair she turns to a woodcutter for help, he chops off her feet to ease her suffering. As she lies in his arms,the shoes dance off still containing her feet within them. Off those shoes go, forever continuing their eternal dance around the land. Can you believe that was a children’s story? It made a big impact on me when I first read it. This story and the images it conjures up have stayed with me to this day. Some dark stuff for sure.

The film (thankfully)does not focus too much on that story. We instead focus on a young ballerina who must choose between her career with the ballet, or her own personal life and having love in that life.

Vicky Page (Moira Shearer)is a young ballet dancer who attracts the attention of Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). He is the head of world famous ballet company, The Ballet Lermontov. He sees great potential in Vicky. When his lead dancer, the adored Irina (Ludmilla Tcherina), leaves his company to get married, Lermontov gives Vicky Irina’s position in the company. Vicky finds lasting fame in the ballet community as the lead in a ballet written especially for her. That ballet is the Red Shoes, and it is based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson.

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Vicky and Boris. Image source IMDb.

As her success and talent grows, Boris falls in love with Vicky and he is determined to keep her with him at all costs. Vicky likes and respects him but she doesn’t return his feelings, instead she falls in love with young musician Julian Craster (Marius Goring). He offers her a life away from the pressures of the ballet. Lermontov becomes jealous of the young couple, and soon Vicky finds herself forced to choose between her career and her life with Julian. It is extremely difficult for her as she loves both equally and becomes emotionally torn between them. Soon she starts to become ill from all this pressure.

Four of the films leading actors were ballet dancers at the time of the films release. Moira Shearer (playing Vicky), Robert Helpmann (playing Ivan, the much respected lead dancer of the Lermontov ballet), Ludmilla Tcherina (playing Irina) and Leonide Massine (playing Grisha, the temperamental company choreographer). Each of these get their own chance to shine in various dance sequences throughout the film. 

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Vicky puts on the Red Shoes. Image source IMDb.

The standout sequence in the film is the ballet of the Red Shoes. The sequence in its entirety lasts around fifteen minutes of screen time. The sequence is one of the most artistic and absorbing sequences ever put on screen. I think it captures the beauty and artistry of ballet perfectly.

There are also several scenes in this sequence that feature bizarre and creepy images, which turn the sequence into a dark nightmare. I’m specifically thinking of the scene where begins Vicky hallucinating things from her own life during the performance (such as the shoemaker transforming into Lermontov and Julian), and of the shots of men turning into paper figures and slowly falling to the ground, as Vicky’s uncontrollable, red clad feet dance amongst their fallen, limp figures. I’ve often wondered if the fallen figures represent people in the fairytale who die, while the girl in the red shoes lives forever dancing on, and on, and on?

It’s a dazzling sequence for sure and is a perfect blend of the art of ballet and of the art of film. There is also some clever camera trickery at work in it for the moment Vicky jumps into the red shoes and they lace themselves up. This shot still impresses when viewed today.

Anton Walbrook gives the standout performance of the film for me. He is a man driven by his dedication to his work who finds himself falling unexpectedly in love. Then he starts hating himself for getting drawn away from his work by his desire for Vicky, and also for the desire for a personal life away from his work.

To Lermontov the ballet is a calling, and he despises any of his dancers who choose personal life over their ballet work. He starts to hate himself as much as he hates anyone in his company who gets distracted. Walbrook steals every scene he is in with just a look. In many scenes he can be seen seething with jealousy and a barely repressed desire for Vicky. He makes you both pity and despise Lermontov at the same time.

Moira Shearer is excellent as the young woman given the career opportunity of her life. Her initial excitement soon transitions to weariness and short temper when she is under pressure. She really brings home the struggle that Vicky is enduring concerning the choice between her private and professional life.

Marius Goring is energetic as the dedicated and outgoing composer who cannot understand Vicky and Lermontov’s obsession with the ballet. He can offer Vicky happiness, but is she willing or able to accept it? Goring was one of the best character actors in all of British cinema, here he gets quite a bit of screen time and gets a real chance to shine. It’s nice to see him in a more major role for a change.

My favourite scenes are the following. Vicky climbing the stairs to Lermontov’s villa (this sequence looks like something straight out of a fairytale, and Vicky is like a Princess in that outfit she wears and it looks like she is exploring the grounds of a deserted castle.) The ballet of The Red Shoes. Vicky and Lermontov meeting for the first time at the party and he asks her “why do you want to dance?”, she replies “why do you want to live?”  Julian and Vicky arguing during rehearsal about how she should dance during a particular music segment. The montage of Vicky and Ivan dancing in several ballet productions. Lermontov sitting in his apartment, alone, depressed and angry.

Like the fairytale upon which it’s based, this film has quite a dark edge to it and the ending is very bleak. Don’t let that put you off though, as it is truly worth watching. This film never fails to impress me and has become a real favourite over the years. It’s in my top five favourite Powell and Pressburger films too.

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

The Movie Scientist Blogathon: Dr. Emmett Brown

Movie scientist blogathonChristina Wehner and Ruth, over at Silver Screenings are hosting this blogathon all about movie scientists, be those scientists good, bad, or just plain crazy.  Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I’m discussing a scientist who is certainly one of the good guys. The scientific genius in question is none other than the eccentric, and extremely loveable, Dr. Emmett Brown from the Back To The Future film trilogy.

With his wild hair, wide eyes, and over excitable personality, Dr. Emmett Brown really is the epitome of the crazy film scientist. He is far from mad though, and he certainly isn’t an evil or dangerous man either. A loyal friend, and a curious and gentle soul are how I would best describe this man. 

Doc Brown’s claim to scientific fame is that he invents a device which actually makes time travel possible. He has a vehicle that he equips for time travel. Does he plan on travelling through time and space in a ship? A police phone box? (fans of Doctor Who will get that reference)Through a time portal? Nope. Doc Brown’s time travelling machine is none other than a DeLorean car.

The Doc sets the car up so that it becomes possible for the occupant to be able to key in a specific date in history/the future that they would like to visit. This date is typed into a panel on the dashboard. Once the car hits 88mph, it and its occupants, are sent back or forward (in a swirl of flames)in time. The catch is that the car runs on Plutonium, and unless you take a back up supply with you, returning to your own time once your visit is over will prove near on impossible to do.

In the first film of the trilogy we find ourselves in the American town of Hill Valley, in the year 1985. Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) steals some Plutonium from Libyan terrorists, who are now tracking him down to get it back. The Doc meets his best friend Marty (Michael J. Fox)in a shopping mall carpark in the early hours of the morning. Doc shows Marty the DeLorean time machine, and he asks Marty to film the moment Doc will make history by going back in time. Just at that moment the Libyans show up and shoot the Doc, and then they go after Marty.

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Doc and Marty. Image source IMDb.

Marty jumps in the car and tries to evade them, he speeds up to 88mph and finds himself back in Hill Valley in 1955! The Plutonium chamber is empty and he has no backup (the Doc was in the process of putting more in when he was shot. Marty must track down the younger Doc (still played by Christopher Lloyd)and get his help to go home.

Marty must ensure he does not interfere with history in any way, as that could have major repercussions on the future. This is made difficult for him when he meets his teenage mum, who quickly develops a major crush on him! Marty must help his parents realise they are meant to get together. Marty must also help them get rid of the local bully, Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Can the Doc help Marty and find a way to get him  back home?

Part 2 sees the Doc, Marty ,and Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer travel to the future Hill Valley. There they encounter flying cars, hover boards and 3D technology. They also encounter a terrifying alternate timeline; one in which the town of Hill Valley is now run by Biff, who is now a millionaire, who has killed Marty’s dad, and is now married to Marty’s mum!

Part 3 finds Marty and the Doc going back in time to the Wild West. They encounter ancestors of characters we’ve seen in the other two films. The Doc also finds love for the first time in his life with a schoolteacher (Mary Steenburgen). Can Marty and the Doc ever get home?

I love Christopher Lloyd in these films. He conveys so much about this character through expressions alone. He has always been a very physical and emotive actor (any fans of his role in Taxi?) and I think he is really at his best here as the Doc.

Christopher makes the Doc intelligent, hyperactive, gentle, funny, quirky and fearless. There is so much going on with this character and Christopher lets us see it all. Such a great performance. He captures the curiosity and joy of the scientist perfectly. Every little discovery or break through results in cries of delight from him. 

The Doc is someone who will try anything once. He has no fear of trying anything and everything to find ways of making his inventions work. He is a loyal friend and a gentle soul who struggles socially, but who will make an effort when and where he can.

I really love his friendship with Marty. Marty treats the Doc with respect and loves him too. Marty doesn’t treat the Doc as a weirdo, unlike many of the people who know him. The Doc is also the only person in Marty’s life (in the first film at least)who listens to Marty and is there for him equally in return. They have a strong bond and the Doc brings some excitement into Marty’s pretty dull/average life. Through his friendship with him, Marty lets Doc connect in a small way to normal life. They are one of my favourite film duos.

I think that the Doc represents the curiosity and passion that all scientists have about their work and research. The Doc is completely devoted to his work (sometimes at the expense of anything remotely resembling life as you and I know it)but all that hard work pays off in the end. This character lets us see that anything is possible if you only focus and put your mind to it. 

I think that Doc Brown may just be my favourite screen scientist.   🙂

Any other fans of this loveable, funny, and clever scientific genius? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

The Alan Ladd Blogathon: This Gun For Hire (1942)

Alan Ladd Blogathon YellowRachel, over at Hamlette’s Soliloquy is hosting this blogathon all about the actor Alan Ladd. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. I’m writing about Alan’s performance in the Noir film This Gun For Hire.

In 1942, Alan Ladd was cast in the lead role in a little Noir film which would catapult him to film stardom. For several years before this role came along Alan had been working very hard trying to get his big screen break. 

Since the early 1930’s Alan Ladd had been seen on screen in bit parts, including in a small role as a reporter in Citizen Kane. Try as he might though, he just wasn’t getting cast in any major film roles and it seemed like he was going nowhere mighty fast. Alan’s luck was about to change though, when he was offered the role of the contract killer Raven, in Frank Tuttle’s 1942 Noir film, This Gun For Hire.

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Alan as Raven. Screenshot by me.

Who knows what Ladd thought of his role as Raven, or indeed if he had any expectations at all as to audience reactions to his performance. Whatever he may have thought, he was in for a very pleasant surprise indeed. This film made him into a star.

Following his performance in this film Alan Ladd would go on to become one of the most beloved stars of the 40’s and 50’s. His career peaked with the 1953 Western film Shane. Alan sadly died in 1964 , aged just fifty years old. A sad loss indeed for the film industry.

This Gun For Hire is a very good film indeed, but I think it is Ladd who makes this film remain so memorable today. He is downright scary as the ice cold killer calmly killing to order. He steals every scene he is in with just a look. He really doesn’t need much dialogue in this one, his face tells us all we will ever need to know about this guy and what his motives are.   

                         The famous sequence with Raven getting mean with the woman who hurt the cat. Screenshots by me.

Right from the films opening scene Ladd has our attention with every little move he makes, and with every look which crosses his face. He gives us a very clear impression of Raven. We see that he is kind and tender towards his cat, and that he shows absolutely nothing but contempt and hatred towards the cleaning woman who hurts his cat. Raven gets rough with the cleaning woman and makes her leave his room. 

As the film goes on we see that Raven isn’t a people person, and he has no qualms whatsoever about killing other people to order. He will use his own judgement though at times and if something doesn’t seem right to him he will go against orders. He is also a very good judge of character too.

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Alan and Veronica as Raven and Ellen. Screenshot by me.

This film also saw the first pairing of one of cinemas greatest screen couples. Who are they? Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake of course. This couple worked together in four Noir films.

As far as I’m concerned this first film is one of their very best pairings. They are magical together and have real chemistry. Ladd’s baby faced, tough guy, and Lake’s cool, sensual blonde sure do make for a very memorable screen pairing.

The growing relationship between their characters is a major part of why I love this film so much. They slowly grow to trust and like each other, and Raven opens up to tell her about his past, which then explains so much to us about how he came to be the man he is.  

The interactions between their characters is the heart and soul of the film. Ladd and Lake (and their characters) are the reason (in my opinion)why this film stands up so well when viewed today. The film has a really cracking story, but it is the strong performances which linger most in your mind after viewing this one.

Raven (Alan Ladd)is a gun for hire, he is not a people person and much prefers the company of animals. Raven is hired by the peppermint chewing Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) to kill a blackmailer who has stolen a chemical formula from the Nitro Chemical company where Gates works. Raven (in a pretty brutal sequence for the era) kills the blackmailer and his girlfriend, and then leaves with the recovered formula.

Gates betrays Raven by paying him off with some marked money. Gates then reports Raven to the Police. Raven doesn’t trust Gates and he buys something from a shop to test if the money is being watched for. He sees that it is marked, and so Raven then goes after Gates for revenge.

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Ellen performs her act. Screenshot by me.

Gates also works as a nightclub manager and hires the talented singer/magic act entertainer Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) to work for him. What Gates doesn’t know is that she is the girlfriend of Detective Michael Crane (Robert Preston)who is on Raven’s tale. Ellen is also asked to spy on Gates by a Senator, who is himself being blackmailed by Gates.

It soon transpires that Nitro Chemicals, Gates, and his colleagues are under suspicion of being traitors to their country. Ellen risks her life to get dirt on Gates, and is soon also thrown together with Raven. The two get closer and closer to danger and to the truth.

My favourite scenes are the following. Ellen’s magic trick act for Gates(featuring a catchy song and some clever camera trickery and editing.) Raven evading the Police at his hotel. Raven telling Ellen about his childhood. Raven and Ellen meeting on the train. Gates discovering Raven is on the same train as him and getting very worried indeed.  

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A tense moment between Raven and Ellen. Screenshot by me.

This is a solid Noir/thriller about a brave gal, and about a morally dubious man, who in the end does show some redemptive qualities. Ladd steals every scene he is in here. It’s really not hard to see why this performance turned him into a star. This is one of my favourite films of his, and I think it would be a very good place to start to introduce someone to his film work.

Here are my five favourite Alan Ladd performances.

                                                                 1- This Gun For Hire

                                                                 2 – The Blue Dahlia

                                                                 3- Shane

                                                               4- Hell Below Zero

                                                               5  -The Proud Rebel

What are your thoughts on this film?  Any other fans? What do you think of Alan’s performance as Raven? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ingrid Bergman Blogathon: The Bells Of St. Mary’s (1945)

Ingrid bergman blogathonVirginie over at Thewonderfulworldofcinema is hosting this blogathon all about the actress Ingrid Bergman. Be sure to check out all the other entries on her site. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I am so happy that we are discussing Ingrid because she was such a gifted actress, and she is one of my great favourites from the classic film era.

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Ingrid is luminous as Sister Benedict. Screenshot by me.

Where do I begin with Ingrid Bergman? Well, to me she is one of the(if not the) most expressive actresses in all of film history. Ingrid’s eyes spoke volumes and often she really didn’t need dialogue in a scene, as her face told us all we ever needed to know about what her character was feeling.

When Ingrid Bergman smiled her whole face lit up, there was warmth and light in her eyes and she made you feel what she was feeling.

Ingrid appeared in many different genres over the years. I have always liked watching her act best in dramas though, I think that is the genre which suited her talents best.

Ingrid was an actress who I can never catch acting, by that I mean that she is always totally natural in her screen performances. Ingrid brought such great depth to the many characters she played throughout her career. I also think that Ingrid had a real knack for being able to convey emotion so convincingly that she makes you feel what her characters are experiencing at particular moments.

One of my favourite films of Ingrid’s is this lovely film from 1945, The Bells of St. Mary’s. This is the sequel to the very popular Bing Crosby film, Going My Way (1944). Bing reprises his role in this sequel as the kind, music loving, Catholic Priest, Father O’Malley.

These two films are feel good and they show us that there is goodness in humanity, even if you have to look more closely at times to find it. In these two films bad times can be made better by singing, or by sharing your troubles with others, and everything turns out well in the end. What’s not to like? 

Both of these films will be sure to leave you with a smile on your face. I like both films very much, but of the two, this sequel is my all time favourite. It is a comfort film for me, and it is one I turn to when I’m in need of some cheering up.

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Father O’Malley and Sister Benedict share a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

In this film we find Father O’Malley(Bing Crosby)taking up the position of priest at St. Mary’s convent/school. He soon finds himself at odds with the head nun, Sister Benedict(Ingrid Bergman) as they both have very different views on how the school should be run. As the months go by they grow to respect each other and gradually start to become friends. They both agree that the children need a bigger and more modern school building to work in.

The question of whether O’Malley can get their new building off the wealthy and selfish Horace P. Bogardus(Henry Travers) is the main storyline. A moving subplot sees O’Malley and Sister Benedict also both trying to help Patricia(Joan Carroll), a troubled teenager who has come to them because of family problems and who is very depressed. It’s nice seeing both Sister Benedict and Father O’Malley being there for Patricia and each trying to help her in different ways (essentially standing in as her parental figures.)

Sister Benedict falls ill and she won’t accept that her condition could be extremely serious. Father O’Malley tries and helps her see the truth of her situation, but finds it difficult as she often pushes him away.

Ingrid practically glows in this film, she radiates an inner light (and does in so many of her other film performances.) She captures the kindness and self sacrificial quality of Sister Benedict so well, there is a real naturalness about her in this performance that makes you totally believe in the character she is playing.

Ingrid makes Sister Benedict strong and determined, and she also makes her someone who can be easily moved and hurt. There are many times in this film when Ingrid makes your heart break for her character as she just looks so sad and vulnerable.

This is a film I would recommend to someone who had never seen Ingrid in a film before. I would recommend it because I think it lets her show how varied her acting skills were and would be a good introduction to her film work. It’s also one I’d recommend as being a good family film.

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Sister Benedict prays for guidance. Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes from the film are the following. The nuns laughing when Father O’Malley is introducing himself to them, only to realise he is being upstaged by a playful kitten on a shelf behind him. Sister Benedict watching Mr. Bogardus praying in church and noticing the stray dog sitting behind him, this scene is both touching and funny as the dog makes cute/random noises that are funny, this scene also shows us that Bogardus is not all bad.

The final scene between Sister Benedict and Father O’Malley (this moves me every time I watch it.) Patricia reading her report about senses out loud. Sister Benedict praying to God and crying as she begs to be able to understand the decision that has been made regarding her future. Patricia trying to look older and Father O’Malley being deeply amused by how she looks.

This is a beautiful and touching film about friendship, and about finding good where you least expect it. Ingrid is at her best in this film, and her performance is excellent.

Here are five Ingrid Bergman films that I really love.

1 – Notorious

2 – The Bells Of St. Mary’s

3 – For Whom The Bell Tolls

4 – Stromboli

5 –Anastasia

I also love Ingrid in Indiscreet, A Woman Called Golda, Intermezzo and Journey To Italy.

Any other fans of this film and of Ingrid’s performance in it? Please leave your comments below.

The Van Johnson Blogathon: 23 Paces To Baker Street (1956)

Va Johnson blogathon

Michaela over at Loveletterstooldhollywood is hosting this blogathon all about the actor Van Johnson. Be sure to visit her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. Today would also have been Van’s birthday, so happy birthday and R.I.P to him.

Van Johnson was a very popular film actor during the 40’s and 50’s. He was always reliable, and if I see his name in a films credits then I will be sure to give that film a look.

For this blogathon I’m writing about my all time favourite Van Johnson film performance. It’s my favourite for two reasons. Firstly because I really like how he plays his character. Secondly because he gets a chance here to really show off his dramatic acting ability. His role in this film is one which he can really sink his teeth into.

The film I’m writing about is Van’s 1956 thriller, 23 Paces To Baker Street. This is a cracking little mystery thriller, and it is a film that I really wish was much better known and discussed today. Not only is it a very good film, but it also features one of Johnson’s best film performances. The film is also quite unique for the time period in having a handicapped lead character.

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Hannon hears a worrying conversation. Screenshot by me.

I really like how the film shows Van’s character as being able to be independent and live a productive life, despite being blind, and despite his own personal reaction to his blindness and all the problems which that entails.

Van does a very good job here of playing a man eaten up with despair, anger and fear;  yet he also shows us that Hannon is also someone who won’t let his disability stop him from doing things. Van also lets us see as the film goes on, that Hannon is becoming obsessed with this case and will push himself harder and harder to solve it.

The plot device of a blind witness adds to the suspense of the story greatly as we are as much in the dark as Johnson’s character is. Hannon’s blindness also makes him very vulnerable when the villains end up turning their attentions on him.  I always think that this story (or at least the blind witness aspect of it)would have made terrific material for Hitchcock. 

23 Paces To Baker Street

The film is directed by Henry Hathaway, and it is set in London during the 1950’s. Phillip Hannon(Van Johnson)is a successful American playwright who is extremely bitter having recently become permanently blind. Hannon lives in London, in a Thames side apartment with his loyal manservant Bob(Cecil Parker). Hannon is angry at the world and is fast becoming an embittered soul. His current bad temper isn’t helped when his former fiancé Jean(Vera Miles)stops by to see him. Hannon doesn’t want her to feel sorry for him, but he cannot understand that she doesn’t pity him, nor does he understand that he can still have romance and be happy despite his loss of sight.

One night in a pub, Hannon overhears a conversation which troubles him very much, two people are talking about kidnapping a child. Reporting what he overheard to the police, he is annoyed when they say they don’t have enough evidence to do anything. Hannon, Bob and Jean do some investigating of their own. On the streets of a very foggy London, this trio try and find the couple from the pub and try and prevent the kidnapping from taking place. Soon the film becomes a tale of mistaken identity, murder and suspicion.

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Hannon and Jean. Screenshot by me.

I really love the relationship between Hannon and Jean. It’s obvious right from the first time they come back into each others lives that they still have feelings for one another.

Hannon deliberately pushes Jean away from him because he doesn’t want to seem vulnerable or pitiable to her. Jean would never see him like that, she just wants to be with him any way she can. Jean happily accepts the role of assistant to Richard Hannon just so that she can be near him and be in his life in some way. She will take anything she can get if it allows her to be with him.

Van and Vera both do a terrific job of conveying their characters complicated relationship. Often they convey us information about their feelings not through words, but through the way they look at each other, or by the way one responds to what the other says or does. Their relationship is poignant, frustrating and believable.

Van is the vital glue that makes this film work. I’m not sure anyone else could have played the role of Hannon quite the way he does. This is my favourite film that Van made and it is one which shows off his dramatic acting talents very well indeed.

Cecil Parker steals every scene he is in as the protective Bob. He wants to help Hannon, but will never force his help upon him. I also like how Parker becomes sort of like Dr. Watson to Johnson’s Holmes. Bob really enjoys becoming an amateur detective as the film goes on.

Vera is very good as Jean, she really makes you feel for her character, and we know Jean wants the best for Philip and that she still loves him.

My favourite scenes are the following. Hannon and Jean’s first meeting. Hannon and Bob on the riverboat, when they talk about describing what they are seeing around them. The sequence at the derelict house. Hannon and Jean interviewing the nurse maid. Hannon overhearing the conversation in the pub. Jean sitting at Hannon’s feet making him tea after the derelict house sequence. The end on the balcony.

I highly recommend this one to fans of Van Johnson and to anyone out there who likes a good mystery thriller. I’d love to read your thoughts on this film. Any other fans? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon 2017: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Hitchcock blogathon EvaEva over at Classicsandcraziness is hosting this blogathon all about Alfred Hitchcock. Be sure to visit her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I’ve recently just finished hosting my own Hitchcock blogathon, and when I saw that Eva was also hosting one, well I just couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to carry on writing about Hitch’s films.

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A few of the main characters. Screenshot by me.

I’m writing this time about The Lady Vanishes, which is one of Hitch’s British films, and was actually the last film that he made here in the UK until he returned here in the 1970’s to make Frenzy.  

The Lady Vanishes is a Hitch film that I love a great deal. It is an excellent mystery thriller, has a nice blend of genres within it, and has lots of humour thrown into the mix as well.

There’s also lots of fun to be had in watching a romantic relationship slowly develop between a couple who at first can’t stand each other one bit. This is also a film in which you should never take the characters at face value, more than a few of them will surprise you as the film goes on.I also really like how this film doesn’t waste a single moment, and it really manages to pack quite a bit into an hour and a half of running time.

Fans of the comic, cricket obsessed characters Charters and Caldicott are also in for a treat. The duo feature here in fairly major roles, in what was to be the first screen outing for them. These characters popped up in many British films throughout the 1940’s. 

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Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood as Gilbert and Iris. Screenshot by me.

The lead actors of the film are Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, they would both soon go on to become very popular stars in British cinema. Here though they are both in the very early stages of their respective careers, you’d never guess that this was only Michael’s first screen appearance, or that Margaret had only been acting on screen herself for only around five years. They are both excellent and come across very natural in their performances.

Iris (Margaret Lockwood)is on a walking holiday in Europe with two of her friends. Iris is returning home to the UK before her friends do. When she gets home she will soon be getting married. About to board her homebound train, Iris is hit on the head by a heavy plant pot that falls from a window above her. Iris has a very sore head but seems to be fine otherwise.

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Miss Froy. Screenshot by me.

Iris is befriended by Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), an elderly governess who is also returning home to the UK. During the journey Miss Froy looks after the injured Iris, who falls asleep and when she wakes up Miss Froy is missing. Fellow passengers and train staff claim she was never on the train!

Fellow passenger, Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas)is concerned that Iris’s head injury could be causing her to hallucinate, but Iris is adamant that she is telling the truth and that Miss Froy was no hallucination.

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Gilbert and Iris go searching on the train. Screenshot by me.

The only one who believes her is the witty musician, Gilbert (Michael Redgrave)who had met and annoyed Iris the night before at her hotel (he was playing music loudly and this disturbed her sleep.)

Can Gilbert and Iris stop bickering long enough to get to the bottom of what is going on? Just what has happened to the little old lady dressed all in tweed?

Margaret is excellent as the woman who is thrown into danger and adventure, but who won’t back down in her search for her friend. She makes you really feel her mounting confusion and desperation, particularly as it seems more and more likely that she imagined the missing old lady.

Michael steals every scene he is in as the dashing, heroic and witty Gilbert. I love how he conveys to us by the way he looks at Iris that he is falling hard for her. Michael looks at Margaret with such tenderness (I’m swooning just writing this 🙂 ) and you just know these two should get together. I’m really impressed by how good Michael is here considering this is his film debut. He acts like he has been in front of a camera for years before this.

Paul Lukas is excellent as the respectable surgeon who may or may not be hiding a secret. Paul has your attention in every scene he is in. Is his character one to be trusted?

Dame May Whitty is perfect casting as the little old lady, who as it later turns out has quite a few surprises up her sleeve.

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Charters and Caldicott. Screenshot by me.

Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford are hysterical as Charters and Caldicott, the friends to whom nothing else matters apart from getting home to watch a cricket match. They are a riot, and it’s not difficult to see why they went on to appear in many films over the next few years.

Cecil Parker and Linden Travers are also both excellent as a couple who are having an affair. They may have seen Miss Froy, but refuse to get involved as they don’t want to draw attention to themselves.

Googie Withers who(like Margaret Lockwood)would soon go on to become a popular leading lady of British cinema, has a small role in this as one of Iris’s friends.

My favourite scenes are the following. Gilbert and Iris’s first meeting at the hotel. Gilbert climbing out of the train window as another train comes by on the opposite track. Gilbert and Iris meeting again on the train. All the scenes featuring Charters and Caldicott. The shootout finale. Gilbert and Iris finding the magicians box in the luggage compartment. Gilbert getting all worried about Iris after she faints.

In this film, a whistled tune turns out to be of vital international importance, major head trauma is somehow avoided when a heavy plant pot falls on a human head, and a packet of tea proves to be a vital clue to the whereabouts of a missing woman. There’s romance, arguments, secrets and dangers galore. You really don’t want to avoid boarding this train!

Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.