Drama, Japanese Cinema, Romance

Cruel Story Of Youth (1960)

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

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Makoto and Kiyoshi. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The couple at the beach. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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The sisters have a talk. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Yusuke. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Miyuki. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Drama, Films I Love, Noir

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

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

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

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

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The robbery in progress. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Earle. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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Earle and Lorry share a moment. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disaster, Drama, Page To Screen

On The Beach (1959)

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

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

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Dwight and Moira comfort one another. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gregory Peck as Dwight. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Fred Astaire as Julian. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Ava Gardner as Moira. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Anthony Perkins as Peter. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Donna Anderson as Mary. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Bridie and Hosgood share a drink. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogathons, Drama, Films I Love

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

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

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Doris as Jo McKenna. Screenshot by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jo singing. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                      Ben and Jo see the assassin. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drama, Films I Love, Horror

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo At 60

This year is the 60th anniversary of the release of an Alfred Hitchcock film called Vertigo. This dark and powerful film wasn’t all that well received upon its release back in 1958, but over the following decades it has been reassessed and it is now considered to be one of Hitchcock’s greatest film achievements.

The film has since been showered with many accolades. It has even been called the greatest film ever made by some film critics. It is a film that I have come to love a great deal. I was entranced by its story of mystery, sadness, love, horror and tragedy the first time that I saw it. It has since become a firm favourite. 

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Scottie and Madeleine kiss. Screenshot by me.

This film is really several types of film all rolled into one, it is part Film Noir, part horror, part mystery, part romance and part tragedy. It is a film about obsession, mystery, death, love, longing, desire, fear and guilt.

I consider this film to be Hitchcock’s most fascinating, haunting and unforgettable film. I think it’s also his most moving and romantic film. I also find this one to be the Hitchcock film which lingers the longest in my mind after I’ve finished watching it. It is a film that really gets under my skin.

The film was shot out on location in San Francisco and the history and beauty of that city ended up being the perfect backdrop for the film. The city almost becomes another character in the film, with the city streets and iconic locations featuring heavily in the vast majority of scenes. 

Vertigo is certainly a dark and hypnotic film, but it is also a very beautiful and moving film too. At its heart is the growing bond between Scottie (James Stewart)and the mysterious and troubled Madeleine (Kim Novak).

Scottie is a former Police Detective who has quit the force after developing vertigo and acrophobia. He develops these conditions after nearly falling from a building during a police chase. Scottie also blames himself after a colleague died while trying to save Scottie from falling from the roof. He is wracked with guilt and fear following this incident.  

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Midge comforts Scottie. Screenshot by me.

Scottie is aided in his recovery from this incident by his friend and former fiancé, Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes). Midge is the woman for him, she is a real woman and she adores him and is there for him no matter what. Scottie ends up ignoring her though in his pursuit of a femme fatale (typical Noir guy there then 😉 ).

Scottie is hired by an old friend, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore)to work as a private detective to keep an eye on Elster’s wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak).Elster tells Scottie that he is very worried about his wife, he fears that she may be possessed by the spirit of a dead ancestor. She is acting very strangely and he fears she may also be suicidal.

Scottie follows Madeleine, he soon becomes convinced that something is not right with her at all. He also comes to accept that as odd as it may seem, Elster may well be correct when he suspects that Madeleine could be possessed.

                        Madeleine wears her hair like her dead ancestor. Screenshot by me.

Scottie ends up falling in love with this mysterious woman. He is left wracked with guilt and despair after he fails to prevent her from jumping to her death. Some time after her death, Scottie meets Judy (Kim Novak), a young woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the dead Madeleine. Scottie soon learns that all may not have been as it had initially seemed to him. So he sets out to do some investigating. 

Scottie and Madeleine are two troubled and sad souls clinging to one another, they remind me of the way a drowning person clings to a lifebelt or piece of wood to try and stay afloat. Scottie feels protective of Madeleine, he is drawn to this gentle and shy woman of mystery.  

Scottie can’t see that all may not be as it seems with Madeleine’s situation at all. He is so blinkered by love and desire that he ignores reality. He is the typical Noir detective slowly being drawn to his doom by the femme fatale that he desires above all else in his life.

The irony is that the woman he loves isn’t real in any sense of the word. The woman that Scottie sees before him isn’t even the real Madeleine. Her actions and personality are not even those of the real woman pretending to be Madeleine.

Scottie is basically in love with a woman who doesn’t exist. The woman he loves and longs to have is nothing more than a phantom. Madeleine is the ultimate Noir femme fatale, she leads Scottie on and is forever unattainable. 

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Scottie and Madeleine in a rare happy moment. Screenshot by me.

Madeleine likes Scottie very much and she can’t deny her feelings for him in return, but she never lets him too close to her. She feels safe with him and yet she runs from him, never allowing herself to stay with him for long periods of time.

Madeleine always runs away from Scottie or pushes him away from her. They want to be together but can’t. We in the audience want a happy ending for them but we know that it is highly improbable they will get one.  This is Noir and Horror territory that we are in after all. 

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James Stewart as a traumatised Scottie. Screenshot by me.

James Stewart and Kim Novak deliver career best performances here. James in particular goes places we have never seen him go before.

This is one of the darkest roles that James ever had in his entire career, and I think he does a superb job in playing this very troubled character. He really makes us feel Scottie’s obsession, lust, love, grief and longing.

I think that James also does a superb job of conveying the crippling fear when Scottie has an attack of vertigo and is left helpless and paralysed in terror, shaking and sweating and desperate to get away from wherever he may be at the time. 

                                 Kim Novak as both Madeleine and Judy. Screenshot by me.

Kim is superb in the dual role of the ethereal, glacial, refined and regal Madeleine, and the fun loving, independent and sexy Judy. She does a terrific job of conveying Madeleine’s fear and vulnerability. 

Kim also excels at conveying Judy’s longing and fear much later in the film. Kim’s role was originally going to have been performed by Vera Miles, she unfortunately had to give up the role after becoming pregnant. I really wish we could have seen how Vera would have played this dual role, but I’m convinced that she wouldn’t have been able to match what Kim did with these two roles. 

Hitchcock made three films in his career that I think can be considered to be horror films, Psycho, The Birds and Frenzy. Vertigo is the closest he ever came though to making a ghost story. The first half of the film plays out like a ghost story. It appears that Madeleine is possessed by the spirit of a dead ancestor who went mad and committed suicide aged 26.   

Kim gives Madeleine an otherworldly and ethereal air in these sequences, she really makes you believe that this woman is torn between the realm of the dead and the world of the living. There is a far and away look in Kim’s eyes during the scenes where Madeleine is possessed.

When I watch the character in these scenes I believe that she is someone else and is a deeply troubled woman. Some of the scenes in the first half are very eerie. Look at the sequence in the forest for example, that scene is very eerie and would not be out of place in a horror film. Don’t forget the scenes where she visits the graveyard and the old hotel too. Seeing these scenes makes me wish that Hitchcock had tried his hand at making a ghost film.

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Madeleine visits a grave. Screenshot by me.

Madeleine throws herself to her death from the roof of a bell tower. Scottie tries to save her from jumping but he is prevented from doing so by a vertigo attack.

In the second half of the film we see Scottie haunted by the memory of the dead Madeleine. He has a breakdown brought on by his guilt at being unable to save her, and his deep grief and pain at losing her.

When Scottie recovers from his breakdown he wanders the city streets and constantly runs into women and places who remind him of Madeleine and their time together. Scottie then meets Judy (Kim Novak) and we see another type of horror as a living woman is remoulded into the image of a dead one, and we see a dead woman resurrected.

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Judy becomes Madeleine. Screenshot by me.

This second section of the film plays out to me like My Fair Lady meets Frankenstein. I find this part even more disturbing and sad than the first half to be honest.

In this half of the film Scottie changes Judy into Madeleine, and thus he permanently erases Judy from his life so that he can be with Madeleine again.

This final half also plays out to me like a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. There is no happiness to be found in this film from this point on.

We see Scottie learn that his breakdown, guilt and grief were all for nothing because the woman he loved wasn’t even the woman who died. We also see him destroy Judy (the real woman he loved, he just didn’t realise that at the time)and recreate her in the image of the dead fantasy he so desired. We also see Scottie inadvertently cause the death (once and for all, no bringing her back from the dead now)of Judy/Madeleine by taking her back to the scene of the crime at the end of the film.  It’s dark, disturbing and bleak stuff for sure, but also incredibly sad too. 

I also like how the film gets us to change who we sympathise with and also why we sympathise with them as the film goes along. At first we sympathise with Scottie and Madeleine for being troubled and lonely souls who want to be together. We then sympathise with Scottie when he loses the woman he loves and blames himself for it. We then sympathise with him when we learn he was used, manipulated and lied to. We then sympathise with Judy when we see how Scottie treats her and uses her. We then hate Judy when we learn what she did and what she agreed to be a part of. We still feel sorry for though because she was used by Elster and is being used by Scottie to get what he wants. We then sympathise with Scottie again during that tragic ending.

There are no black and white characters in this (apart from Elster who is villain, and Midge who is the good girl left on the sidelines by the man she loves)only grey characters. Personalities change through out the film, and we like and loathe certain characters at certain times during the film. Nothing about this film is simple and uncomplicated. This is precisely why I love this film so much.

I have to praise the photography by Robert Burks. His work makes the film look so vibrant and beautiful. I think that he deserves high praise indeed for what he managed to achieve here. I love the lighting in the film and I’ve also noted the recurring use of green clothes and green lighting when Madeleine/Judy are around.

We have Madeleine wearing the green and black evening dress, driving a green car, being surrounded often by green trees, lawns and plants. We have Judy wearing a green dress, green skirts and green jackets. We also see her being bathed in an eerie green light (shining through her window from the neon light outside). Green symbolises jealously and life. So perhaps this colour was used to show that Scottie is jealous that Madeleine is Elster’s and she isn’t free to be his?

                           A few shots featuring the key colour of green. Screenshot by me.

Perhaps green was also used to show Madeleine and Judy as offering Scottie life and freshness, and an escape from his troubled life? Perhaps it represents Madeleine/Judy as being the object most desired by Scottie, yet also ending up being the one thing that he can never end up having? What do you think about the use of green in the film? 

The music is very important in the film. Bernard Herrmann’s score for this could well be his best work. It is beautiful, romantic, sweeping, spooky, sinister and thrilling. At times the music also sounds like it is swirling; I really like that because it represents Scottie’s feeling of vertigo. The music adds so much atmosphere to the film. 

This is a film where Scottie and Judy deserved a happy ending. Of course if they had got a happy ending I highly doubt we would be talking about this one so much sixty years on. Plus a happy ending isn’t what Noir and tragedy are all about. There was an alternative  happy ending that Hitchcock was made to film to keep the production code people happy.

This alternative ending is included as an extra on many DVD and Blu-ray releases, it shows Scottie and Midge back together again and a radio report indicating that Elster has been brought to justice for his crimes.  The trouble is that this ending just lacks the shock and emotional impact of the bell tower finale.

The bleak ending also implies that Elster has completely got away with his crimes, and this to me makes that ending all the more dark and disturbing than it already is thanks to that final shot.This is a film that offers plenty for audiences to discuss and ponder over once the film has finished. I think that is why I love this one so much. This film makes you think and feel and draws us in, just like Madeleine and her problems draw Scottie in. 

The only issues I have with the film are the following points. I don’t find it plausible that Elster would have left Judy alive, she knew what they had done and she could have gone to the Police or blackmailed him. If Elster wanted no trace left back to him of the crime,  why leave Judy alive afterwards?

I also don’t get why Judy didn’t just run away once Scottie found her and invited her out for dinner. I also don’t get why the reveal to what had happened in the bell tower was shown so early in the film. I think it would have been more impactful if the truth had been learnt by us and Scottie jointly during the scene where Judy puts on the necklace. 

I’d like to say happy 60th birthday to one of Hitchcock’s greatest achievements. Well done to James Stewart and Kim Novak for so perfectly conveying tragedy, love, desire, pain, fear and obsession to us. Thanks to all the cast and crew for their hard work to help make this film. 

What do you think of this film? Please share your thoughts and views below. 

 

Blogathons, British Cinema, Drama, Films I Love

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

free-for-all-blogathon-banner

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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The decent Frank. Screenshot by me.

David Lean is one of my favourite film directors. 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 Lean certainly had the knack. 

Lean 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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Frank and Bob. 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 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.   

 

The film begins with the family moving into a new house in the suburbs of London. 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. 

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).

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Queenie shows off her dancing skills. Screenshot 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.  

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Billy arrives home. Screenshot by me.

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? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Drama

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

Elizabeth Taylor blogathon

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. Screenshot by me.

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 Roof.

1958 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.

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Maggie comforts her husband. Screenshot by me.

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)make life hell for Brick and Maggie. Gooper and Mae are desperate to become the next owners of the family plantation. 

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. 

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The tough Big Daddy. Screenshot by me.

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.

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Maggie lets her feelings be known. Screenshot by me.

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

 

 

 

Blogathons, Classic TV, Drama, Romance, War

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 V11)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. 🙂

 

 

 

British Cinema, Drama, Films I Love, Page To Screen, Romance

The Wicked Lady (1945)

There are not enough words for me to be able to use to describe how much I love this Gainsborough Studios melodrama. There is something in this film for everyone to enjoy – adventure, romance, passion, danger, suspense and an impressive recreation of Regency era home interiors and clothes.

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Margaret Lockwood as Barbara. Screenshot by me.

Plus the film has Margaret Lockwood. Margaret was the best bad girl in British cinema history.  I think Margaret really shone in the Gainsborough films of the 40’s and this particular film features one of her finest screen performances.

The way she played her roles in these films means that audiences love to hate her, and they also really don’t want her character to leave the film. 

Is it just me or does anyone else look at Margaret and think that someone blended Vivien Leigh and Hedy Lamar together to make one woman? It’s crazy how much Margaret looks like both of those women. 

As well as being a very enjoyable film, I also find it very interesting to watch. The character of Barbara and the choices she makes show her to be frustrated with her life, and also with the restrictions placed on her life because of her gender.  At the time the film is set, women were seen as nothing more than objects of pleasure for their husbands and were expected to bear children and run the family home.

Independence and going against tradition was heavily frowned upon where men were concerned. Where women were concerned it was unthinkable that they would even consider living a life outside of what was expected of them. 

Barbara wants so much more than to simply be a wife. She wants to do her own thing and to have adventure and excitement. I think that the life she turns to during the film offers her escape from the restrictions she faces as a woman. She can be free when she rides the highway and takes charge of the dangerous robberies she sets up.

I personally find her choice to take control of her life to be quite admirable really, she is an individual in an era riddled with conformity and control. There is nothing worse than being told to live a certain way when that way is not the truth of who you are.

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Barbara longs for an escape from her life. Screenshot by me.

Barbara is such a strong and fun character. The way Margaret plays her has you rooting for her even when she is doing pretty awful things. It’s true that she doesn’t repent the things she does, but then why should she? She is now living the life of a man in many respects, and you don’t see men of the time apologising for their actions.  After all Jackson continues to be liked and admired by many of the lower class locals, despite being a thief and a real rogue (they even like him when he is accused of killing someone).   

I also like how the film shows the double standard applied to women when it comes to sex outside of marriage. Men at the time were free to have affairs and nobody blinked an eyelash, but the second a woman took a lover she became a tainted whore who must be punished. Double standards much? 

The Wicked Lady is based on the novel by Magadalen King-Hall. The unmistakable attractions here are Margaret Lockwood, the beautiful Regency era gowns, and James Mason’s deadly and fascinating love interest. 

On a peaceful country estate in England all is going well for the kind Caroline(Patricia Roc).She is due to marry handsome landowner Sir Ralph Skelton(Griffith Jones). The pair adore one another. Ralph is a rare decent chap in an era when the upper classes were indifferent to the suffering and living conditions of the lower classes. Ralph is liked and respected by his tenants and he is a very kind man. 

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The gentle Caroline. The complete opposite of Barbara. Screenshot by me.

All is idyllic until Caroline invites her cousin. Barbara Worth(Margaret Lockwood)accepts her cousins invitation, but when she arrives she falls in love with Ralph and seduces him. The heartbroken Caroline(although believing his change of heart to have been all his idea)lets him marry Barbara instead. 

Soon though the restless Barbara becomes bored and completely fed up with her dull family and friends. She takes to the road one night disguised as a Highwayman and steals some jewels.

Going back to the same place again another night, she ends up meeting the notorious Highwayman, Captain Jackson(James Mason).Mistaking her for a man at first, Jackson warns her to stay away from his route. He soon discovers her secret and falls in love with her. Barbara is soon leading an exciting dual life which soon turns deadly after she kills a guard on a coach. 

Soon Barbara finds her exploits are catching up to her when one of her husband’s servants, Hogarth (Felix Aylmer)tells her he knows of her double life. Barbara must think of a way to silence this man and keep her secret safe.  Barbara also soon finds another man in her life, the dashing Kit (Michael Rennie)who longs to be her man.

This woman sure doesn’t lead a dull life! 😉

Margaret and James have great chemistry throughout the film. I think they do a terrific job of convincing us that they are two people addicted to the thrills and danger of highway robbery. They also revel in the passion and excitement of their physical relationship.  

I really like how James makes quite an impression despite having a fairly small amount of screen time. He makes Jackson sexy, rough, bold, cruel. He also makes you believe that if you cross him he will not be a man to take betrayal easily. 

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Captain Jackson. Screenshot by me.

Patrica Roc oozes decency as the gentle Caroline. She has an almost saintly quality about her. She serves as a stark contrast to the more earthy Barbara. I like how Patricia plays the role and keeps our sympathy for her. The characters of Barbara and Caroline remind me a bit of Scarlett and Melanie in Gone With The Wind

Felix Aylmer is terrific as the religious servant, Hogarth. Aylmer was always a real scene stealer and his performance here is no exception. 

Griffith Jones and Michael Rennie sadly don’t really get used to their full potential. Neither of their performances really linger in the memory as much as the other performances do. Both do convince as kind and decent men though.

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Ralph. Screenshot by me.
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Kit. Screenshot by me.

I love how risqué the film is too. Some of the dialogue and scenes between Barbara and Jackson make it very clear that they are lovers and that she loves it when they are together.

This film also caused the censors over in the states to have a fit because of the low-cut dresses of the women. Many scenes had to be reshot before the film could be shown there. How stupid is that?! These dresses were accurate for the time period for goodness sake. I’m not a fan of the film censor at the best of times, but that decision really takes the cake in my opinion. 

If all of the above were not enough for you to enjoy, there are also a number of old guys sporting some truly awesome wigs and moustaches to make you giggle.  🙂 

My favourite scenes are the following. Barbara and Jackson by the lake. Barbara and Kit on the bridge. Barbara locking her door and changing clothes looking totally excited to be able to sneak out to the highway. Caroline and Kit on the iced over Thames. 

The film is hugely enjoyable and tackles some interesting things too. This one is much more than simply a costume film. I wish it were better known today. 

If you haven’t seen this it comes highly recommended by me. What did you think of the film if you have seen it?

 

 

Drama, Films I Love, Noir

Sunset Blvd (1950)

“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!” These words are spoken by Norma Desmond, a former American screen queen who longs to be back in the era of Silent films.

Norma thinks longingly of a time when actors used their faces and emotions to convey the plot and the directors intent for a scene. She also longs to be back in the era when dialogue and effects were not needed or relied upon on screen.

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Norma Desmond desperate to be back on screen. Screenshot by me.

Silent films were big in every way, from how they looked, and also the scope of the stories that they told. Once sound came in there were still many superb films being made, but I think films lost that epic and mesmerising look and style that the Silent films had. There were also so many films being made, and so many stories being recycled, that you could argue that films no longer became the special events that they had been in the Silent era; instead films ended up becoming very run of the mill things. 

Sunset Blvd is one of my favourite classic era films. It was one of the first classics that I ever saw and it made quite an impression on me. I love the blend of drama and Noir, the stunning photography by John F. Seitz, and for the sad and tragic tale it depicts.

This is the film that made me aware of Silent films. I was quite young when I first saw this film,and before seeing this I didn’t even know that there had once been Silent films, I’m well aware that sounds pretty dumb LOL. Before this film I had no reason to imagine there had ever been a time when films were Silent.  I also love this film because it brought to my attention people like De Mille, Swanson, Wilder and Keaton.

Superbly directed by Billy Wilder, Sunset Blvd is a warts and all portrait of Hollywood. Wilder wrote the screenplay along with Charles Brackett(regular collaborator on so many of Wilder’s films)and D.M Marshman Jr.

The films depiction of the darker and sadder side to the glamourous perceived image of the American film industry wasn’t very well received by Hollywood upon release. I guess some people didn’t like, or simply flat out refused to see the truth that Billy so boldly served up to them with this film.

Wilder’s film showed the Hollywood community the unpleasant truth about itself; the sad truth that once great stars get tossed aside like rubbish. That people think only of themselves at the expense of others. That people use others in order to further their careers and get to the top. That fame and stardom rarely lasts all that long (no matter how much you believe otherwise when you are enjoying it).

Wilder’s film is a sad film and is difficult to watch at times. His film is spot on though and that is what makes it so worth watching; the film deals with ruined lives, damaged people and also looks at mental illness.

This film is also a very good Noir film. Holden’s character is mistaken for someone else, this then brings him into contact with Norma, and he then gets sucked deeper and deeper into her world that he reaches a point where he is a doomed man incapable of getting out of this situation. Holden also narrates the film, I’m not a big fan of voiceover work but it fits this film and doesn’t occur too often.

The film features Gloria Swanson and William Holden delivering two of the finest performances in film history. I really like that their performances also highlight the different acting styles of both the Silent and Sound eras. 

Gloria Swanson steals the show as the damaged and deranged Norma. She cannot accept that her fame has gone, that she is all but forgotten about, and that everything she once held so dear has now vanished. Swanson was one of the biggest and most talented stars of the Silent era, she had one of the most expressive faces and uses that face to its full effect in this film.

The irony of her playing this role can not have been lost on Swanson. Gloria had once been one of the biggest stars in American Silent films. Gloria’s career was over at this point, and she certainly no longer enjoyed the fame of her glory days. Unlike Norma though, Swanson (thankfully)found her change of situation easier to cope with. She was able to very successfully bring a blend of Silent and Sound acting techniques to her performance in this film. Gloria is phenomenal in this role and I consider it to be the best performance she ever gave.  Her performance is all in the eyes. Watch those eyes of hers because they speak volumes. She manages to be creepy, pathetic, pitiful, strong and fun.

Holden is both likeable and not so likeable as the down on his luck Joe Gillis, a man who seizes on an opportunity with Norma and uses her to get it. He starts out eager, outgoing, and also with some control over his life. As the film goes on Holden shows us Joe becoming desperate, on edge, depressed, a man with no control and no power. He is being used by Norma to bring her soul back to life (watch how she brightens up once he comes into her life)and even if he is unhappy he now can’t be allowed to leave this woman.

The famous opening swimming pool scene. Screenshot by me.

The film begins with a dead man floating in a swimming pool. The Police are gathered round the body trying to figure out what has happened. This opening shot is one of the most impressive and memorable in film history. We see the body from under the water looking up at it. The dead man is Joe Gillis, and the film that we are about to watch will show us how he came to meet his watery death.  Originally the film was to have opened in a morgue, with Gillis’s soul talking to other dead bodies, this was scrapped in favour of the opening we have now.

Joe Gillis(William Holden) is a film scriptwriter who needs some money fast. By accident he meets former silent film star, Norma Desmond(Gloria Swanson). She has written the screenplay of a version of Salome, she wishes it to be directed by Cecil B. DeMille and to be her glorious return to the screen. Joe gets himself hired (to get some money)to work on her script for her. He works on it at Norma’s home(a fading luxury mansion, that I see as representing the luxury and excess of the 1920’s.)

As he spends more time with Norma, Joe soon realises that she is falling in love with him and also that she is completely detached from reality. Things get complicated when Joe falls in love with Betty(Nancy Olsen)an outgoing young studio writer. Betty offers Joe an escape from the possessive nature of Norma. Betty offers Joe love, fun, friendship, and above all some happiness. Joe’s desperation for a career opportunity and for money, means that he leaves Betty and returns to the wealth, glamour and supposed opportunity that Norma can offer him. He becomes her kept man, no different than the beloved monkey she once had as a pet. Norma dotes on him, splashes out money on him, and he can’t stand it.

As he spends more time with Norma, Joe soon realises that she is falling in love with him and that she is also completely detached from reality. Things get complicated when Joe falls in love with Betty(Nancy Olsen), a young and outgoing studio writer. Betty offers Joe an escape from the possessive nature of Norma. Betty offers Joe love, fun, friendship, and above all some happiness.

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Joe and Betty fall for one another. Screenshot by me.

Joe’s desperation for a career opportunity and for money, means that he leaves Betty and returns to the wealth, glamour and supposed opportunity that Norma can offer him. He becomes her kept man, no different than the beloved monkey she once had as a pet. Norma dotes on him, splashes out money on him, and he can’t stand it. Norma becomes suspicious of Joe and Betty and her anger and distress begins to steadily build up within her leading to one of the most tragic and unforgettable finales in film history.

The scenes between Norma and Joe play out like some sort of  horror film. Norma appears almost vampire like in certain scenes, and many of her hand gestures appear claw like and grotesque. Norma sucks Joe in with promises of fame and fortune, he gets caught up in her delusions and he can’t escape her, no matter how much he might try to do so.

Joe’s relationship with Norma becomes all consuming and it changes who he is as a person. He becomes bound to her and cannot escape her, he may try to, but when he does he cannot find any peace or happiness because her shadow looms large over any joy he may find.

Norma is also grotesque in as much as she is getting old, but she won’t accept it and still dresses and makes herself up to be young. Norma and her home(and it could also be said her acting style)are starting to fade away and crumble into non existence and relevance. It’s also a look at two different acting styles the silent era(telling the story through expressions, emotion and gestures)and the sound era. Holden and Swanson both give great performances showing us these opposite acting styles and techniques.

Swanson and Holden get strong support from film director Eric Von Stronheim, who appears as Norma’s loyal butler Max.

Max was once married to Norma and he now works for her and cares for her. He fakes thousands of fan letters which he delivers to Norma so that she actually feels like she is still remembered and valued by fans. Stroheim is excellent as a proud man brought low, he too cannot have missed the irony of his casting. He was once a man of power and influence and was now playing a former director, turned servant/carer working for one of his former stars.

Von Stronheim was once of the greatest Silent era directors and famously made a film called Greed, which originally ran for nine or ten hours! His directorial career ended soon after he directed Gloria Swanson in Queen Kelly. That film is the film that Norma watches on her private cinema screen with Joe at her side.

Nancy Olsen is terrific as keen, pure, passionate and gentle Betty. She offers Joe an escape from Norma. Nancy’s character is a lifeline for Joe, and she lets us see that Betty is falling for Joe and that they would be good together. She isn’t on screen all that much, but when she is she sure makes a strong impression.

The film also includes some terrific cameos from other famous Silent film figures: Buster Keaton, Cecil. B DeMille, H.B.Warner and Anna Q Nilsson. This film is an inside look at the glamour, pain, excess and madness of Hollywood and it also gives us glimpses of the different people involved in the film making process the writers, directors, actors, designers etc. 

I also like how real people and films are mentioned and shown throughout the film. Greta Garbo is mentioned by Norma as being a current actress (Garbo had been retired for about a decade by this time, so this shows how out of touch Norma is with current events)who had the same face and acting style of the Silent era. Interestingly Garbo was one of the few Silent stars who successfully made the transition to the sound era and retained the same level of fame from one era to the next. Director Cecil B. DeMille (who appears as himself) is another who successfully transitioned and retained fame and influence.

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Norma and DeMille reunite. Screenshot by me.

The scene between Norma and Cecil B. DeMille (appearing as himself) is one that I’m not ashamed to admit always makes me tear up a bit. Norma is warmly welcomed back by former colleagues, crew and studio staff. She sees that there are some who still hold her in affection and high regard.

This scene is also important because De Mille could easily have ignored Norma but he greets her with such tenderness and affection. He respects her and treats her as she deserves to be treated.

De Mille also utters a line of dialogue here that I think is quite interesting. When asked by an assistant if it was true that Norma was difficult to work with, he replies “only towards the end. A dozen press agents working overtime can do terrible things to the human spirit”.

To me those words from De Mille indicate that something in Norma’s life had been seized on by the press and stories were being run. Press intrusion is another dark aspect of Hollywood, with careers and reputations being ruined and lost due to scandals and rumours being splashed over front pages. Maybe this intrusion is what began her descent into madness?

My favourite scenes are the following. Norma’s charades performance for Joe. The New Year’s Eve party with Joe and Norma being the only guests. Joe discovering what Norma has done to herself in her despair. The “I’m ready for my close up” scene. Joe at the crowded party in the apartment. Joe and Norma’s first meeting. Norma returning to the film studios and being warmly welcomed and getting to sit on the set of De Mille’s latest film.

Thanks to this film we hopefully come to understand how brutal Hollywood can be to its own, and how awful it must be when a big star falls from their pedestal and becomes yesterdays news.

The final shot is one that stays in the mind long after the film has finished. In this scene the now truly deranged Norma gets the fame and attention she has been so long starved of. The trouble is it is the wrong kind of attention. We know that she now only has an institution to look forward to (unless Max can pull some strings and keep her at home being looked after there)and that she will certainly never be able to act again.  

Norma finally gets that close-up she’s been dreaming of. Screenshot by me. 

For one brief moment though, Norma shines again, and the cameras roll to capture her emotions and her every move. Her name will never be forgotten once this story makes the headlines. Is that a blessing or a curse though? She will certainly get her fame back, but her illness and despair will be milked to sell papers, and she will most likely be ridiculed too. A sad end and one that really makes you think. In the end this is a film all about victims, and about how they are used and how they suffer. 

The film could almost be viewed as a warning about getting into the film industry. If you do you may get fame and fortune, but at what cost will these be achieved? Can you stand what happens once your star starts to fade?

I think this is one of Wilder’s best films and it’s certainly the best film about Hollywood I’ve ever seen.

What are your thoughts on Sunset Blvd?

 

Drama, Films I Love, Japanese Cinema

Rashomon (1950)

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The wife watches. Screenshot by me.

I’m writing today about my second favourite Akira Kurosawa film. My all time favourite film from Kurosawa is Ikiru. Coming in a close second though is Rashomon.

This is a film that I never get tired of watching. Rashomon is a film that I think you can have a great deal of fun analysing and discussing.

The film is so expertly put together and it looks stunning from a visual perspective too. The cast are also all at their very best playing characters who are all very hard to forget. 

Long before films like The Innocents,  L’ Avventura, and Picnic At Hanging Rock left us to decide for ourselves the truth of what we had just watched. Long before Quentin Tarantino played around with making films in a non linear style.

Long before this type of filmmaking was even appreciated by film audiences and critics, there was Akira Kurosawa’s RashomonKurosawa directed the film. He also wrote the screenplay with Shinobu Hashimoto. The film is based upon the short story, In A Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

Several Japanese studios turned this film down. Eventually Kurosawa was allowed to make it at Daiei Studios. He chose the legendary cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa, to work with him on the film. Miyagawa would go on to work on a lot of Kenji Mizoguchi’s films, and he would also work with Ozu, and would work again with Kurosawa on Yojimbo and Kagemusha. His work on Rashomon is among his very best work in my opinion.

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The light in the trees looks like a cross. Screenshot by me.

Anyone who watches this film will usually be full of praise afterwards for the photography. I especially love the photography in the sequence with the medium.

My favourite piece of cinematography in the entire film is a shot of the wife sitting in the forest. In the trees behind her there is a patch of light shining through that makes the trees behind her look like a cross. This shot looks so beautiful.    

This film tells the same event from the different perspectives of the three characters involved within it, and also from the perspective of a woodcutter who claims to have witnessed some of it.

We as the viewer are left to decide which of the depictions (if any of them are to believed at all)is actually the truth. I love the approach Kurosawa took with this film. It makes us think about whether or not we should take the characters memories to be facts. It makes you even wonder if you can trust what the camera is showing you. The film also makes you question everything you are seeing and hearing and leaves you to makeup your own mind about the characters and their experiences.

I even wonder if there is actually any proof to show that the entire story we are following is actually real. After all, everything we see begins with a story uttered by the woodcutter, but is he just making the whole thing up? Or is he simply telling a folktale or ghost story to help himself and the other two men pass the time? Are the flashbacks a reality in the film, or nothing more than an intriguing fantasy or story?

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The three men ponder the different versions of events. Screenshot by me.

I also have a theory that the film is making us the judge and jury of the film. The courtroom sequence is like no court you’ve ever seen. The witnesses give their testimony directly to the camera (therefore directly to us). We serve as the judge, the lawyers, the members of the public in the gallery etc.

This court sequence is also a memory (or fabrication)from the mind of the woodcutter, it is not presented to us in the typical way such a scene would have been had it been depicting a reality on the screen.

Kurosawa is showing us right from the beginning that we are to make up our own minds about what is actually going on here. 

I like how the film also toys with our perceptions of the characters. For example if you believe the bandit raped the wife and killed the husband, then something in you must look at him and see him as a rough, despicable stereotype capable of that act to accept that story. If you believe that the woman was a victim, then you accept her story because you don’t believe her capable of lying about it. 

If you believe that the woman made the bandit kill the husband, then you believe that you shouldn’t take things at face value, instead you should look a little deeper at everyone involved.  The film is also showing us that no two people will ever see the same event in exactly the same way, everyone has such different perceptions of something they witness. 

It’s like the film is showing us that everyone is more complicated inside than they might appear on the outside. Life is full of good and bad. Life is full of events that often happen without a reason. People can end up doing unexpected things. Life is shocking, weird and very frightening at times, yet there is always good around if you look for it.  

The non linear style of the film and story was very new to audiences at the time. Some people found it (and still find it)infuriating that they didn’t get obvious and easy answers to what exactly happened in that forest. If done correctly (as in this case)such infuriating films can often end up being brilliant and thought provoking.  This film was responsible for bringing Japanese cinema to the attention of Western audiences. The film won an award at The Venice Film Festival, and it also won an honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Kurosawa’s name was to become well known in the west once this film arrived there. Soon, the names of other Japanese directors like Mizoguchi and Ozu would be as well known and respected as Kurosawa’s outside of Japan. 

The film is set in eleventh century Japan. The film begins with three men; one is a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura), one is a Priest (Minoru Chiaki), and the other is a commoner (Kichijiro Ueda). The men are taking shelter from a rainstorm under the decaying Rashomon Gate. The gate was a real giant gate(more of a building than the type of gate we would know of today) to a walled city, which was built during the Heian Period.

By the 12th century this gate had fallen into ruin, and it had become a place for people to leave corpses, unwanted babies, or for thieves to use as a hideout. Nothing remains of the gate today, apart from a marker commemorating it on the site where the gate once stood.  When the film was being made the gate had long since gone, so Kurosawa had a full scale replica built on the studio outdoor set.  

While they wait out the storm, the woodcutter tells the other two men the story of a murder. He claims to have found the body of a murdered man (Masayuki Mori)in the woods. A bandit was later captured and arrested for the crime. We then see in flashback the different versions of the events that led to the murder of the dead man.  

The first depicts the bandit (Toshiro Mifune)forcing himself upon the dead man’s wife (Machiko Kyo). At first she resists him, but then she gives herself to him, and then convinces him to kill her husband (who the bandit has tied up, thereby forcing him to watch what the bandit was doing to his wife).

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The bandit. Screenshot by me.

The second shows the wife get raped. After the attack her husband wants nothing to do with her. She passes out from the shock of what has happened. When she wakes up she discovers that her husband is dead. 

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The wife. Screenshot by me.

The third version is conveyed to us through a medium who contacts the dead man. He claims that his wife was raped, but that she then asked the bandit to kill him. The man claims he felt great shame and took his own life in a ritual suicide. 

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The husband. Screenshot by me.

The woodcutter’s version of events has the wife being raped, but then the wife encourages the two men to fight one another. During this fight her husband is then killed. An event at the end of the film restores our faith in humanity. It also restores the faith of the woodcutter, the priest, and the commoner. 

Some people think the acting in this is a bit over the top. I think Japanese cinema is all about emotions and in making the viewer really feel those emotions. Sometimes some actors performances can come across as being heightened, but I don’t see that as necessarily being a bad thing. 

Mifune’s performance can certainly be seen as being quite theatrical in this. Mifune was always a very intense and physical actor, and he really used his body and gestures quite a bit during scenes in this. He steals every second of screen time in this film, be it with his facial expressions, his body language, his laughter, or his constant swatting and squashing of flies. You can’t take your eyes off of him.

Machiko Kyo is much more subtle and natural in her performance. Her performance is all in the eyes. When she is on screen she has your attention and she makes you feel what her character is going through. 

Masayuki Mori is also quite subtle in his performance. He conveys how watchful and alert his character is very well. I also really like how defeated, depressed, and beaten he becomes in his version of events where he walks off into the forest. 

The rest of the cast are all solid. I find Japanese actors to be more emotional and expressive than many from other countries. I think that this emotional quality and intensity works well for the film to be honest. Mifune, Shimura and Kyo would all go on to become actors well known outside of Japan thanks to their performances in this film. 

My favourite scenes are the following. The sequence with the medium, where she gets in touch with the spirt of the husband. The wife giving her version of events at court. The bandit pushing through some branches to get to the wife. The opening sequence with the three men at the Rashomon gate. The wife watching her husband and the bandit duel. The woodcutter finding the body in the woods.

What do you think of this film?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Disaster, Drama, Romance

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).

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.

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. 

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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.

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. 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 sequence alone.

The human drama is just as memorable as the quake sequence and the actors all do a good job of keeping our interest 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 one 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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Coming Of Age, Drama

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. 

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. He 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.

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. 

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?

 

 

 

 

Animated Films, Drama, Romance

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996) The Darkest & Most Complex Disney Film?

In my opinion this is easily the darkest film that Disney has ever made. Judge Frollo is surely the most evil and complex villain ever seen in any Disney film. Sure, there have been many other scary Disney villains throughout the years, but unlike so many of them, Frollo seemed more real. For me he is therefore much scarier because of his realistic qualities. We will sadly come across plenty of people like Frollo in real life.

The film contains murder, race hatred, lust, religious hypocrisy, and the ridicule and torment of a disfigured and disabled man. All of this in an animated family film. 

The film is based upon Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel of the same name. The film is quite different to the novel. The novel is even more depressing and Frollo interestingly doesn’t start out as a villain, but he gradually becomes one as the story goes on. 

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Frollo threatens Esmeralda. Screenshot by me.

I think I was around ten years old when I first saw this film. Even at that age I picked up on the fact that this was as far from your typical Disney flick as it was possible to get.

Disney had gone dark and tackled some difficult issues before of course – The transformation into a donkey in Pinocchio. Emotional abuse and cruelty in Cinderella. Making children aware of death and loss in Bambi. Scaring us all silly with the old hag in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Race hatred and blood lust in Pocahontas. The murder of the father in The Lion King. Despite all that came before this though, Disney had never put anything quite like this film on the screen before.    

Although it is a dark film, I really enjoy the film because it has several strong and likeable characters. I love the strong, kind and feisty Esmeralda. I love the gentle Quasimodo, who despite enduring cruelty every day, remains a very kind and decent person. I love the funny gargoyles who were the only friends to Quasimodo(although in reality of course he is talking to inanimate objects and believing them to speak back because he is so lonely). I love the handsome and courageous Captain Phoebus who becomes a friend to both Esmeralda and Quasimodo.  

I loathe Judge Frollo. I didn’t pick up on just how twisted Frollo was though until I watched the film again when I was older. I was floored at just how dark and messed up this guy actually is.

Let me tell you a few things about Frollo. This man murders a gyspy woman on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral, he then takes her baby from her arms. When he sees that the baby is disfigured, he attempts to kill it by dropping it in a well. He is stopped from doing this by the Arch Deacon of the Cathedral, who tells him he must now claim the child as his own and raise him. Frollo does this. He locks the boy away in the bell tower, and fills his head with nonsense about how Gypsy’s are evil people. He also tells him lies about his own mother. 

Frollo then falls for the beautiful Esmeralda. He loves her and he loathes her. She is a gypsy, and therefore she is one of the people he loathes with a passion and has made it his mission in life to destroy. He can’t accept the fact that he has some genuine feelings for her, so he twists his feelings and makes them out to be something impure.

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Frollo ties Esmeralda to the stake. Screenshot by me.

Wait, it gets much worse! He then blames Esmeralda for the fact that he desires her! Yes, you read that right, it’s apparently her fault that he feels something for her. He then decides that if she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings and comes to him to be his woman he will burn her to death at the stake! Hey, Frollo. The psych ward just called. There is a room there with your name on the door, dude.   

Frollo gets the best remembered song from the film, a catchy little number called Hellfire. In this song he goes on about how he is a religious and devout man, and how Esmeralda is a temptress sent to torment him from hell. After singing this Frollo goes on a killing spree across Paris in order to find Esmeralda.   

Frollo is voiced superbly by the great Tony Jay. Jay’s vocal skills are at their very best in this film and he really nails this character. Frollo is a cold, cunning, and very manipulative man. He is also a huge religious hypocrite, having committed murder multiple times, yet he goes around claiming to be a good religious man. He also treats people with cruelty and contempt, instead of with the compassion and equality they all deserve.   

Yet Frollo would have you believe (and he believes it himself)that he is an upstanding religious man who is actually doing the right thing. I’d say this belief he has is what makes him so dangerous and deranged because he cannot see that he is actually anything but a decent and righteous man. Complex and scary character? Without a doubt he certainly is.  

Demi Moore delivers a fine vocal performance as Esmeralda. She conveys the kind and gentle nature of this woman. The animators also did a good job of giving Esmeralda some of Demi’s facial features. I love Esmeralda singing God Help The Outcasts while she prays to the Virgin Mary. This sequence is so moving and beautiful.  

I also like the prayer sequence because in it Esmeralda is shown to be such a selfless character. She prays not for herself, but instead for the safety and freedom of her people. We see other people praying for selfish reasons (asking for beauty and wealth etc)and she asks for help for equality. This is one of the most touching and perfectly constructed sequences in any Disney film. People out there who treat certain people badly should pay attention to these words of the song ” I thought we all were the children of God.” These words serve as a reminder that we should all be treated equally and receive compassion.  

Esmeralda is my favourite female Disney character. She is independent, strong, kind hearted, warm, fun, resourceful and so compassionate and tender. I love how she befriends Quasimodo and sees the man behind the physical which scares many people. I only regret that she was put together romantically with Phoebus instead of with Quasimodo. 

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The gentle Quasimodo. Screenshot by me.

Quasimodo is the hero and heart of the film. Tom Hulce does such a good job of portraying this characters pureness, innocence, longing, apprehension and sadness.

It’s sadly rare for films to have a disabled or disfigured person as their lead character, and in this film Quasimodo is one such person.

He finds an inner strength and courage to enable him to do the right thing nearer the end of the film. He also never loses his kindness and sweetness, despite having been treated so badly by many people for so long.

Quasimodo comes to love Esmeralda, and it really annoys me so much that the makers of this film couldn’t have been braver and had them get together at the end. This would have helped show that disabled and disfigured people can love and be in relationships just like anyone else can. 

Kevin Kline does a good job as the brave and charming Phoebus. Kline conveys that this man starts out on Frollo’s side and then gets his eyes opened to the truth about the monster he serves. He risks his life to save the woman he loves and also the innocent man he has befriended. 

This film bravely included and tackled some difficult and complex themes and issues. I have yet to see another film from this studio that is quite like this was. The vocal performances are all excellent, and there are so many unforgettable characters and songs to enjoy.  

Children will enjoy it for its humorous moments, for its positive messages of treating people equally and kindly, and for good fighting and triumphing over evil. Adults will pick up on the darker aspects of the story and read more into certain characters and scenes. This film has something for everyone. The animation is also beautiful. Watching this again recently has made me really miss this old style Disney animation. 

The film is also notable for featuring the final performance of the actress Mary Wickes. She voices one of the gargoyles who befriends Quasimodo. 

I’d love to hear your opinion of this film. Is this the darkest Disney film out there? 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Coming Of Age, Drama, Page To Screen

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.

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Atticus. Screenshot by me.

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.

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.  

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.  

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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Scout. Screenshot by me.

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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Tom. Screenshot by me.

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.

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. In a court of law we should all be treated equally and justly regardless of our skin colour, gender, or our social situation. 

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.

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.

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Jem. Screenshot by me.

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?

 

 

 

Blogathons, Drama, Oscars, Page To Screen, Romance

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 referred to as, 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.

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Greta as the ballerina. Screenshot by me.

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 stars from the Silent era saw their careers destroyed by the coming of the sound era.

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.

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

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. 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 because that is exactly what her character is like. When you watch her with that in mind, I do think you really begin to appreciate just how good a performance it really is.   

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Miss. Flaemmchen and the Baron. Screenshot by me.

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 very much up to this point. This film made me appreciate her a great deal more as an actress, and while I still can’t say she is a favourite of mine; I have certainly developed a great deal of respect for her as an actress.

I think that Joan was at her best in films made during the 1930’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.

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.

Berlin, in the 1930’s. If you are after a swell place to stay when you’re in the city, you need look no further than The Grand Hotel. It’s luxurious, modern, and is a very popular establishment. You never know just who you will run into while you’re staying here.

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.

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.

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The Baron and the ballerina share an intimate moment. Screenshot by me.

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.

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. 

I also have to say how much I love it when the Baron calls Flaemmchen “funny one”. The Barrymore brothers and 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.

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The loveable Kringelein. Screenshot by me.

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 the Barrymore brothers, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford 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?

 

 

British Cinema, Drama, Noir

It Always Rains On Sunday (1947)

This film is one of the best screen portrayals of everyday life in post World War Two London that there has ever been.  We see the grime, the claustrophobia, the boredom, the frayed tempers and the nosy neighbors. Part Noir thriller, and part superb character study, this  flick came out of Ealing Studios during their grittier and darker period in the 1940’s.

The film is interesting visually because photographer Douglas Slocombe shot it out on location in and around the streets of London. This choice certainly gives the film a great deal of realism, and it really helps to add atmosphere to the film. We see the cramped and busy city streets, and the somewhat calmer residential streets. It’s like being there with the characters. 

Rose Sandigate is a London housewife whose dull Sunday morning is turned on its head by the arrival of her former sweetheart Tommy Swann(John McCallum). Tommy has been in prison for years and has escaped; he is now on the run and is being searched for by the police in a manhunt led by the highly experienced, observant, pipe smoking Detective Fothergill (Jack Warner).

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Rose and Tommy have a talk. Screenshot by me.

Rose hates Tommy for having left her, but she won’t turn him over to the cops, and she will try and offer him what little help she can (shelter, food and money). The trouble is Rose is now married to George (Edward Chapman)and is the mother to her own son, and to her two stepdaughters, Vi and Doris. Her family are in and out of the house and she must try and hide Tommy from them, her neighbours, and from the police.

The escape of Tommy isn’t the only story of the film though. There are several other stories being told, and the paths of some of the other characters in those stories end up connecting with Tommy Swann later in the film. There’s the three criminals who are trying to flog stolen rollerskates, the reporter who is also trying to find Tommy, and the crime boss who Doris’s boyfriend wrongly assumes fancies her.

We also follow Rose’s two stepdaughters Vi (Susan Shaw)and Doris (Patricia Plunkett) and their love lives. We also see the antagonism they (more so Vi)have towards Rose. Interestingly Vi and Rose are both quite similar in that they are strong and determined women, and they both fall for a guy who breaks their heart; in Vi’s case it is the suave, married musician and music store owner Morry (Sydney Tafler). Vi and Rose have more in common with one another than they’d like to realise.

This film is thrilling, suspenseful, funny and quite realistic. There are strong characters and performances to enjoy throughout.

The standout performance is Googie Withers as Rose. She perfectly captures this woman’s boredom and her unleashed excitement when the situation with Tommy makes this Sunday one she’ll never forget. Rose is on edge throughout the film, struggling to control her temper when she argues with Vi, struggling to ignore her feelings for Tommy, and struggling to endure the dullness of her life as a housewife.

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Vi. Screenshot by me.

I think that Susan Shaw makes quite an impression in the film. She is excellent as the glamourous Vi. Shaw shows us that this woman is tough and also easily hurt. Shaw had a tragic life, she married the popular actor Bonar Colleano, and became an alcoholic after he was killed in a car crash in 1958. A sad life and end for a very promising actress.

Sydney Tafler is excellent as Morry. He steals every scene he is in as the man who cheats on his wife, but who wrongly assumes she doesn’t know when she actually does. This leads to him rather amusingly finding out he is wrong in that. He breaks a lot of hearts, and doesn’t give it a second thought. What a cad!

I like how the film shows how the family have frayed tempers because they live in such a cramped environment and have little privacy from one another. This would have been the reality in many homes at the time. The film also reflects the dullness of everyday living and the excitement that beckons from living in the city, or from living your life outside of the norm.

The film also shows us the two sides of criminal life. There’s the money and nice times when the criminal succeeds, and there is also the imprisonment and heartbreak when they fail and are caught and punished. This is reflected in the exploits of the gang trying to flog their stolen skates, and in Tommy, who literally embodies what happens to a criminal when they are caught and punished. In the film Tommy is shown to have been severely flogged while in prison. He has come out a scared, broken and desperate man. Hopefully his situation may have served as a wakeup call to anyone in the audience who thought crime pays.

I think this film also highlights that it is women who so often are left to pick up the pieces, and to suffer great emotional pain when their men go and do something stupid (be it crime or cheating). The women take that pain and use it to make themselves stronger, as that is the only way they can go on after what has happened.

The film also makes Rose an interesting character, she is shown as a married woman who still has feelings for her ex, and there is a scene where it is pretty strongly hinted that they have sex in her bed! Also the rather shocking decision she makes near the very end of the film is also interesting; I think that it must surely have shocked quite a few people morally at the time of release.

This choice Rose makes adds even more darkness and despair to a film already swimming in both of those things. Interestingly though Rose does get some happiness at the end, which goes against what usually happened to characters like her, especially if they made the decision she did at the end.

Interestingly the rain itself becomes almost like a character in the film, and one part of the music by Georges Auric sounds just like the patter of raindrops as they fall, which I think is very clever and adds so much to the film.

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Googie Withers as Rose. Screenshot by me.

This was one of Googie Withers best film roles, and sadly it was to be the last film that Googie would make for Ealing Studios. 

She continued to make films elsewhere though. She and John McCallum fell in love while they made this film and they got married the following year. They moved to Australia in the 1950’s and they stayed married until John died in 2010. Googie died the following year.

This is one of the best British films, and I think it does such a good job of portraying the post war life. It has become a great favourite of mine, and when I’m in the mood for a well acted British Noir this is one I turn to.

I like how many of the characters actions, gestures and words give the film a strong dose of authenticity and realism. One of my favourite examples of this is the scene with Hermione Baddeley as a landlady interviewed by the police; she is so disdainful and walks away from them yawning and scratching her bum. It’s the little moments like this that bring characters to life and make a film or series more realistic.

I also like how the people in this film are relatable and ordinary, they are not rich or doing things that most people at this time would never have been able to afford to do.

My favourite scenes are the following. Rose and Vi’s argument and fight about the bedroom door and the mirror. The entire sequence at the railway yard. The inspector speaking to the three men in the pub. The opening scene where Doris has to make breakfast, and the family all start to get up and get ready. Tommy and Rose’s first meeting in the air raid shelter. The flashback sequences showing us Tommy and Rose’s romance.  The two boys blackmailing Morry in return for their silence about seeing him with Vi. The ending.

Any other fans of this one?

 

British Cinema, Drama

The Chalk Garden (1964)

This is a film that I never get tired of seeing, it is filled with excellent performances from everyone in the cast, and features some very memorable characters. This film is all about human emotions,  damaged people and the secrets we harbour. This is one to check out if you enjoy watching fine acting.

It was a few years ago when I first saw this film, I was completely blown away at the time by the performance of Hayley Mills. She still impresses me each time I watch this one.

 

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Laurel. Screenshot by me.

Hayley at this point in her career had been acting for several years, and she had always been very natural on screen. I think she truly outdid herself in this film though. Hayley perfectly captured just how emotionally messed up and defensive her character, Laurel is. Hayley steals every scene she is in, often with just a look or by her body language in scenes. Laurel explodes with long contained pain and anger several times during the film, and Hayley makes you feel every tear shed, every scream and every angry word.

 

Hayley lets us see that deep down though Laurel is just a little girl desperate to be loved. Laurel puts up a defensive front to protect herself. I’m also fascinated by the behaviour of her character, and how this girl finds weakness in others and hurts others so that she can feel like she is in control of some aspect of her life.

The Chalk Garden tells the story of Laurel (Hayley Mills), who is a deeply troubled teenager. Laurel has scared away a succession of governesses, after she drove them to their wits end. Laurel does things to shock and scare people, she also makes up stories (sometimes half truths)and has a nasty habit of prying into the lives of those around her.

 

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Miss Madrigal. Screenshot by me.

The latest governess to take charge of Laurel is Miss Madrigal (Deborah Kerr) she is an enigmatic, no nonsense woman, and she sees straight through Laurel’s troubled exterior to the damaged girl beneath. Laurel’s father is dead, and she is estranged from her mother (Elizabeth Sellars)who she blames for her fathers death. Laurel lives with her elderly grandmother (Edith Evans) and the loyal and compassionate family butler, Maitland (John Mills).

 

Maitland cares for Laurel and her grandmother very much, and he can also see straight through Laurel’s actions and behaviour to the fragile girl inside. Laurel’s bad behaviour and needling don’t affect Maitland anymore as he has grown used to her. He offers Miss Madrigal support and guidance in how to deal with Laurel.

Miss Madrigal also takes charge of the garden of the home (the chalk garden of the title)to see if she can bring it to life (much the same as she must do with Laurel).

Laurel begins to suspect Miss Madrigal is not all she seems. Soon a damaging revelation will emerge which makes Laurel see the consequences of her own actions and behaviour.

I love watching the slowly developing bond and trust grow between Hayley and Deborah’s characters, the growth and change in their relationship is beautifully portrayed by both actresses. At first Laurel is openly hostile towards her, then she begins to like her, then she becomes fascinated by her. Madrigal knows the only way to reach Laurel is to be honest with her, and she knows better than to try and forcibly change the girl.

 

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Maitland. Screenshot by me.

I also love the growing bond between Maitland and Madrigal. It is inferred that he admires and likes her, and that he is possibly falling in love with her. Madrigal certainly likes him but it’s not clear if she would ever open her heart to him. I love all the scenes between John and Deborah and I think they worked very well together.

 

My favourite pairing in the film is Laurel and Maitland. Hayley and her father John Mills made several films together in which they co-starred alongside one another, this is my favourite of their screen pairings. I love the bickering between Maitland and Laurel. I also like how Maitland knows Laurel’s secret. What is her secret? She is just a lonely and sad little girl, she acts older than her years, and she acts mean and tough, but she is really anything but. Maitland knows this fact long before others do and he sticks with the girl and supports her as he can.

I love the scene where Maitland catches Laurel talking to her doll. She is so disgusted that he sees her in a (in her view)vulnerable and weak moment; Maitland knows all too well that she thinks that, you can tell by the way he looks at her throughout this scene. It is a touching moment when you see Laurel (for the first time)as just a lonely child.

While it is Hayley who steals all the scenes, the adults in the cast are equally brilliant too.

Deborah gives one of her best performances here, as a woman harbouring great pain and troubles of her own. Deborah’s performance is all in the eyes and in what is not said aloud, as much as in what is said. She makes Madrigal strong and really piques your interest about this woman and her secrets.

Edith Evans is very good as the strong woman who is at odds with her own daughter  and granddaughter. In Madrigal she finds someone who challenges her and tells her a few home truths.

John Mills is marvellous as the quiet and wise Maitland. No fool and no pushover, this guy doesn’t take Laurel’s mean temper lightly, but he lets her get at him because he knows she needs to vent and take things out on someone. He puts up with what she does to him, but he won’t stand idly by and see her do the same to Madrigal.

Elizabeth Sellars doesn’t have much to do as Laurel’s elegant, absentee mother, but she lets you feel her characters frustration and anger with her own mother in a key scene.

The great Felix Aylmer appears briefly as a man who knows the truth about Madrigal. Aylmer was one of the great British character actors and it really is a treat to see him here.

My favourite scenes are the following. The doll scene. Laurel and Madrigal painting up on the cliffs. Maitland and Madrigal’s talk in the Library. Laurel breaking down on the beach. All the scenes between Maitland and  Laurel. Madrigal and Laurel playing tennis and playing the question and answer game. Laurel stuck in the tree. Maitland buying Madrigal a bolt for the door. The revelation about Madrigal.

I consider this to be one of the best British films, and it’s certainly a real gem in the careers of  all of the cast members. Any other fans of this one? I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.

 

Drama, Romance, Silent Film, War

Wings (1927)

 

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The camera puts us right in the middle of the air fight sequences. Screenshot by me.

It’s been a while since I did a Silent film review. I’d like to talk about one of my favourites from this era. It is set during World War One, and it is one of the all time great war films. It is also one of the best of the big screen epics. The film is Wings.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I think it is pretty remarkable just how well Wings stands up when it is viewed today. 90 years after its original release, this film still remains a gripping and realistic depiction of war and also of aerial combat. 

The film also manages to be a touching portrayal of friendship, and it also takes a look at the pain of unrequited love.

The performances in this film really come across to me as being very natural. Arlen and Rogers are both equally excellent. I think they both do a very good job of conveying their characters transitions from wide eyed, eager and very apprehensive newbies in the air force; to becoming seasoned and traumatised veterans, all while still being at such a young age.

Clara Bow delivers the real standout performance for me; she is effervescent and lumious one moment, and then broken hearted and vulnerable the next. This is one of her best performances from the Silent era I think.

Henry B. Walthall and Julia Swayne Gordon are both very moving as David’s mum and dad. The scene where they say goodbye to him as he leaves for the war has me welling up. Henry plays the dad as doing that stiff upper lip thing, he won’t allow himself to break down or hug his son because if he did he’d never let him go. Julia makes the mother more emotional, but she still restrains her full emotions from showing.

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One of my favourite shots in the whole film. Screenshot by me.

This film was the first ever Best Picture Oscar winner (and until The Artist won in 2011, it was the only Silent film to win the award) and it’s not difficult to see why there was so much love for this one.

WW1 would have been fresh in the minds of audiences watching this for the first time; they no doubt would have been able to really connect with the experiences of the lead trio, and have been able to relate to the characters wartime experiences. The film does a good job of capturing the horror of war, and also of the fact that death will come and claim anyone at any time.

The performances and characters keep my interest throughout, but it is hard to deny the real stars of this one are the aerial sequences. Real planes and hundreds of pilots feature in the film. The aerial sequences were shot on location at Kelly Field Air Force Annex, in San Antonio, Texas.

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The planes head into battle. Screenshot by me.

The aerial scenes really keep you on the edge of your seat and add a great deal of realism to the film. I think these sequences take you deeper into the experiences of Jack and David. These sequences also have a documentary look about them.

One of my reasons for loving Silent films so much is that I love how visually beautiful and unique so many of them look. I also have a real fondness for tinting in Silent films. 

Many Silent films were tinted in various different colours and there is some glorious screen tinting to be enjoyed in this one. I especially love the golden tint which features heavily throughout. I also think that the intertitle cards look very nice too.

Wings is a film that manages to be an intimate human drama, while also being set against an epic backdrop of global warfare.

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Jack and David. Screenshot by me.

In a small town in America life is idyllic. The youth are out enjoying life to the full. Best friends Jack (Charles “Buddy” Rogers)and David (Richard Arlen)compete for the affections of the beautiful and wealthy Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston).

Jack is pretty slow (seriously, how on earth could he miss her signals!)to see that his neighbour, Mary (Clara Bow) is in love with him. She shares his adventurous nature and is clearly the gal for him.

America soon becomes embroiled in the First World War and Jack and David sign up to join the Air Corps. Headed overseas they are soon fighting against the Germans.  Mary also joins the fight, by signing up as a nurse and ambulance driver. Heartbreak, joy and a tragic twist of fate lie in store for our trio.

The film is notable for several reasons. Firstly of course there are all those spectacular aerial sequences. I like how we also see the pilots in the cockpit and that really makes us a part of the scene as we see the personal effect of these impressive air battles.

The film also features some very striking photography and camerawork. The way the camera zooms across the tables of a nightclub until we find Jack is very memorable. There is also the scene where Jack drinks champagne and we see the bubbles float up out of his glass. When he later gets quite drunk he sees giant bubbles everywhere.

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Gary Cooper as Cadet White. Screenshot by me.

The film also features a very young Gary Cooper in a small role. Coop makes quite an impression as Cadet White, an ill fated fellow pilot who meets Jack and David.

It Happened One Night fans should also keep an eye out for Roscoe Karns who appears here in a small role.

The film also features a famous kiss between Jack and David, many people see it as a gay moment. I can see why they might think that, but is not supposed to be seen as a romantic kiss though, it is simply deep affection and love between best friends. Remember the reason why the kiss is taking place also and see it in that context. I can see why this moment made quite an impact though, and nothing like that would be seen on screen again for decades after this. 

The film also contains a few scenes of nudity. There’s the scene in the examination room when the lads go to sign up with the airforce. Clara is also shown nude in the scene where Mary is caught getting undressed in the hotel.

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Clara Bow as Mary. Screenshot by me.

My only issue with the film is its treatment of Mary. I wish we had been given a few more scenes showing her experiences during the war in more detail. It wasn’t only David and Jack who were taking part in the war, she was there too working as a nurse.

I wanted more of her story instead of her simply being the love interest. I also hate the double standard of how she is punished when she is found in Jack’s hotel room. compared to what happens to him. They were both breaking the rules, so they both should have been disciplined equally!

My favourite scenes are the following. Mary helping Jack with his car. The plane crashing into the house which has rows of freshly dug war graves right next door to it. David and Jack meeting Cadet White, sharing his chocolate, getting to know him and then hearing tragic news about him. All the scenes featuring the patriotic Herman Schwimpf. David saying goodbye to his family. David and Jack looking through Cadet White’s personal belongings. Mary thinking she has hurt a soldier when she crashes her ambulance. Jack visting David’s parents. The older woman helping Mary choose a dress to wear when she is with Jack. Mary finding Jack in the nightclub, the look she gives the other woman he is with is priceless(if looks could kill, then that gal would be flat on the floor). All the scenes featuring the planes. I also love the intertitle saying the film is dedicated to the dead airman”To those young warriors of the sky, whose wings are folded about them forever, this picture is reverently dedicated.”

This is a film that I never get tired of watching. It moves and impresses in equal measure. It is one of the very best films to be made during the Silent era. Any other fans of this one? If you’ve never seen it I highly recommend you buy the Blu-Ray disc, the film looks stunning in that format and there are some good extras too.

 

 

 

Drama, Modern TV

Mad Men (2007-2015) Chronicling The Decade Of Change

I love this series! It is a great favourite and it is a series that I never wanted to end when it was on. This series sucks you in and doesn’t let you go. I never wanted to be let go! This is one I will never get tired of watching again, again and again. It has so much to offer and is one of the best written and acted series in TV history.

This is one of the classiest looking series that has ever been made. Exquisite period detail,  beautiful costumes and sets manage to recreate a bygone era. You can practically smell the fresh flowers on the dining room and restaurant tables, taste the alcohol and smell the cigarette smoke.

It has well written and well developed characters whose lives we witness being changed and affected by the decade of change. We share these peoples good times and bad. We laugh and cry with them, are shocked and traumatised with them, and by the end feel like we know these people and have gone through their change with them.

For seven seasons this series let us witness the huge amount of change that America (and in many cases)that the world saw during the 1960’s.  The series starts in 1960, and ends in the early 70’s. We begin with men and women living a certain way, and doing certain things only because that’s what their parents did before them and it is expected that they follow in mum and dads footsteps. What the people growing up in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s wanted was irrelevant, they did what was expected by their elders and by society at large. 

As Mad Men goes on, we see extremely unhappy people stuck in jobs that grind them down. We see people wearing public masks to hide their mounting unhappiness with their lives, and when the 60’s arrive, we see all this begin to change. We see racism thankfully start to become a thing of the past thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, and we see black people finally get to become equal to white people. We see the characters react to real life events unfolding on the news, such as the horrific assassinations that shocked the country (and indeed the world)of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. We see the changing fashions and music. We see peoples attitudes to sex and marriage change. We see the peace and hippie movement begin. We see women finally being equal to men and not being expected to be stuck in the kitchen or having babies.

I’ve always found it interesting to see how advertisers come up with the ideas for their various ad campaigns. This series lets us follow these characters and shows us how that creative process works, and it’s one of my favourite parts of the series watching the ideas unfold on screen.

I also like how in a way the series is itself one big advertisement for different ways of life. It presents to us the seemingly perfect and idyllic early 1960’s, where although there is racism, sexism and other unpleasantness, everything is the best it could be, from service in restaurants, to the quality of products, to peoples manners, to the care people took in their jobs and in maintaining their homes, and how everyone was supposedly happy and content. It also shows us the later part of the decade when the shackles came off and people started living for themselves, life wasn’t as restrictive, men and women (of all colours)were treated as equals and it seemed that anything was possible for a time.

 

We see our characters begin to change and grow as individuals. Some start off as likeable and then become less so, for some the opposite is true. For most of the series Don always gave off the impression that advertising was his life, as the series went on he became less enthusiastic about it and started to care more about his personal life and in just living. Joan and Peggy both shatter the glass ceiling and rise through the ranks of their company, both these women also find happiness in being career women. Roger learns to take life slow and appreciate every moment, he also embraces the hippie/free love movement and gets what these kids are all about. Betty finally starts to follow her heart and focus on what she wants to do. Pete starts off as arrogant and quite unpleasant, and by the series end is one of the most likeable characters, he has grown, matured and changed his ways.

Mad Men was created by Matthew Weiner. The series title is a phrase that advertisers used to describe themselves during the 50’s. The series follows a group of Madison Avenue advertisers from the fictional firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is the Creative Director for the firm and one of the firms partners. He is a successful, handsome, smooth man who always makes you think he is control. He could sell ice to Eskimos and cigarettes to non smokers. His whole life is a façade though, as we later learn he is not who we think he is at all. He is a womaniser despite being married and having a perfect family. He sleeps with many women and cares about them all. Don literally represents the changing decade. He starts off seemingly content and is a bridge between the 50’s and the 60’s. As the series goes on he becomes disenchanted with his job and his life, he starts off a very distant character, and something of a mystery; by the end of the series he is embracing the freedom of the changing decade. Don becomes uninterested in his work and living by a set of rules, he becomes more focused on himself and in just living life. The Sixties was all about rigid former ways of life being got rid of and a more open and less restrictive life replacing it.

Don is married to the beautiful Betty (January Jones), Betty is a former model and looks like Grace Kelly. As the series goes on we see that Betty is a woman wearing a happy mask to the rest of the world, she is deeply unhappy and wants more than just being a mum and wife.

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is an ambitious woman desperate to prove herself equal to her male colleagues. Peggy first joins the company as Don’s secretary, but soon joins the creative team and later rises higher through the ranks. She and Don become very close friends and the deep bond between them isn’t really definable. At times you think they might get together romantically, at other times they are like brother and sister. I would call them soulmates. Scenes between them are my favourites from the whole series.

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)is a young account man who has lots of ambition and lots of resentment and rage bubbling up inside of him. As the series goes on I think he is the character who undergoes the most change and he becomes one of the most likeable characters from the whole series. Pete has a crush on Peggy which is complicated when he gets married.

Sal Romano(Bryan Batt)is the art director for the firm. Like Don, Sal is hiding a big secret. Sal is homosexual and cannot for one second afford to let that secret slip. This brings him much heartbreak and pain as the series goes on.

Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks)is the firms office manager and later becomes a partner. A former secretary, Joan knows how to keep the office running like clockwork, she has a knack for resolving disputes and unpleasantness. Joan is not a gal to get on the wrong side of. Joan is a very beautiful and sexy woman who is clever too, many men focus only her physical qualities and underestimate her mind (I assure you they regret that).

Roger Serling (John Slattery)is one of two senior partners of the firm. He is a witty man who has some of the funniest lines of the entire series. Roger is a WW2 Navy veteran who drinks and smokes to excess. He also cheats on his wife. Roger doesn’t just treat his women as one night stands though, he really does care for them and offers help and friendship even when they are no longer involved. He has been in a long term affair with Joan, and she is the woman he should be with, they just can’t seem to make that commitment.

Lane Pryce( Jared Harris, the son of Richard Harris) is possibly the most tragic character in the entire series. A Brit who becomes a partner at the firm when it’s taken over by the company he worked with. Lane comes to love his colleagues and warms to American life.

Lane develops a crush on Joan and he always tries to look after her. Living in America affords him the personal freedom he was denied in the UK. He has a controlling and cruel father (seen in a chilling guest appearance played by W. Morgan Sheppard)and is slowly breaking free of control to be his own man.  When he gets into debt in season 5, tragedy and heartbreak lie around the corner for him and for us.

Megan Draper (Jessica Pare)is a secretary who is an aspiring actress. Megan becomes Don’s second wife after he and Betty divorce. Megan is outgoing, stylish and a very modern woman. Megan loves Don but won’t be the stay at home wife that Betty was to him.

Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) is the head of the firms media and TV department. He was ahead of his colleagues in recognising how big TV was going to become. He starts off as a very likeable character, but by the end was one who I disliked very much.  He became full of himself and selfish.

Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton)is a likeable character throughout the entire series. Ken is a good guy and is respectful of people, he doesn’t really join in that much with the office banter and opinions of many of his male colleagues. Ken is an aspiring author and it’s later revealed that he has had some short stories published.

Stan Rizzo (J.R Ferguson) is the art director in the later part of the series. He is a very relaxed and fun loving guy. He is in love with Peggy.

Bert Cooper (Robert Morse)is the head of the firm. He is best friends with Roger and has a thing about people having to be in his office in bare feet. He is eccentric but takes a keen interest in the day to day running of his firm. When he makes rare appearances at meetings or shares feedback it is time to pay attention.

 

Other characters include Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis)an opinionated liberal who can be both likeable and unlikeable.

Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka)is Don and Betty’s eldest child, she is forever at odds with her mum, but as the series goes on finds newfound respect for her.

Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley)is a political adviser who later marries Betty, he is a good man and loves her very much.

Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray)is a copywriter who is struggling against his alcoholism, as the series goes on he is fired from the company but has regular appearances throughout the series. Freddy is close friends with Peggy and Don.

Glen Bishop ( Martin Weiner, the son of the series creator) a seriously weird kid who has a major crush on Betty and Sally. He is quite freaky, but in season 7 he has changed to someone quite different.

Duck Phillips (Mark Moses)is a recovering alcoholic who clashes with Don, falls for Peggy and is not someone to be trusted.

Michael Ginsberg ( Ben Feldman)is a copywriter who struggles socially and is later shown to be suffering from severe psychotic problems, if you go back and watch the series you will pick up little hints in Feldman’s performance that show us all is not quite right with Ginsberg.

I love the whole series, but my favourite seasons are 4,1,3 and 5. My favourite characters are Joan, Don, Roger, Peggy, Lane, Betty, Sal, Megan and Pete.

My favourite of Don’s women? Rachel Menken(Maggie Siff)they love each other so much and she is so lonely, such a shame how their time together ended. I also love Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton)she is really the only one who knew the real Don, and she accepted him completely.

My favourite moments? Roger’s LSD trip. Peggy comforting Don in The Suitcase. The famous carousel photo pitch delivered by Don. Betty and Don’s date night when in Rome for the Hilton hotel campaign. Joan’s speech about Vietnam to the man who was sexually harassing her in the office. Betty in her nightgown casually shooting at pigeons. Don and Joan’s conversation at the bar in the episode Christmas Waltz. Megan and Don’s argument at the Howard Johnson restaurant which leads to her running away. Betty and Don’s final phone call.

The following ten episodes are my favourites from the entire series.

The Suitcase. The Wheel. The Milk and Honey Route. The Grown-Ups. Hands and Knees. Christmas Waltz. At The Codfish Ball. Souvenir. Commissions and Fees. Far Away Places.

A series with so much to offer, featuring powerful performances and well developed characters. This also has a fantastic soundtrack comprising of classic 60’s songs and instrumentals. Never seen this before? Make a dinner reservation with Don Draper immediately.

Be sure to buy the Blu-ray boxset to see the series looking its best on screen. There are many interesting extras in that set to enjoy too.

I’d love to get your thoughts on this series and its characters. Please leave your comments below.

 

Comedy, Drama, Romance

The Apartment (1960)

I love this film. I love the performances, the story, the characters, and most of all I love the bittersweet blend of laughter, cynicism, and tragedy that the film depicts. This is Billy Wilder at his best. What’s not to love?

There is a great story out there about just what it was that inspired Billy Wilder to make this film in the first place.

The story goes that he was quite intrigued by the man in Brief Encounter who lets his friend Alec (Trevor Howard)use his apartment to bring Laura (Celia Johnson) back to. Billy was completely fascinated by this man loaning his home out, so that this couple could basically get together to meet there for sex. He wanted to know more about that man, and more about what would make someone do that. Thus The Apartment was born in Billy’s mind.

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Baxter. Screenshot by me.

The Apartment is a perfect mix of cynicism, comedy, tragedy and romance. The film focuses on the best and worst of humanity. The film is all about men and women using others and being used, and in some cases continuing to allow themselves to be used.

The film looks at why some people use others, and why some let themselves be walked over (they have no choice, they like the control their actions give them, they want the outcome their actions will deliver etc).

At the time this film was set, stories like this one(hopefully not loaning out your home for passionate rendezvous)were commonplace. Bosses slept with their secretaries, women were judged on their looks, and some men thought that women were only around so that they could have sex with them. Drinking, lying and cheating were as common as drawing breath. Billy’s film captures all of that perfectly, he holds up a reflection of life to us that would have been very familiar to many in the audience of the 1960’s.

The film also shows us that there is goodness to be found in such a world, even if you sometimes have to dig a little deeper in order to discover it.

C.C Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a clerk at an insurance company in New York. Baxter wishes more than anything to climb that corporate ladder, and he will do whatever it takes to get up it quick. Baxter lends his apartment out to senior male staff at his company so they that they can go there and be with their mistresses. Due to his seedy service Baxter is soon promoted in the company, and he is feeling very pleased with life indeed.

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 Sheldrake. Screenshot by me.

When Baxter lends his apartment to the boss of the company, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray),it suddenly dawns on him just what he has been doing. Very soon he starts to hate himself for his actions. Why the change of heart? Because Sheldrake’s mistress is the fragile elevator girl, Fran Kubelik(Shirley MacLaine). Baxter likes Fran very much, and when he sees how badly Sheldrake uses her something inside of him snaps.

When Fran attempts suicide in his apartment, Baxter must choose between his career, or looking after Fran and being a good guy.

There are two key sequences in the film which I think signal Baxter’s self revulsion. In these scenes we see him slowly begin to change and become a decent guy. The first is the famous mirror sequence. He sees Fran’s broken hand mirror, and when he tells her it’s broken, she says ” I know, I like it like that. It makes me look the way I feel.”

          The famous mirror scene. Screenshot by me. 

When Fran says those words, the look on Baxter’s face speaks volumes, he looks like he’s just been punched in the stomach. He sees the pain he is helping to inflict by allowing these men to take the secretaries and other women to his apartment to use for sex. Baxter has never thought about what happens to these women afterwards, but when he sees Fran’s state of mind it dawns on him what the reality is. Straight after those words the phone rings and it’s Sheldrake asking him if he’s remembered to stock up on some food and drink in the apartment. When Baxter answers him it is with a tone of revulsion and hatred. Slowly he is beginning to change to a decent man.

The second is when Baxter comes home to find Fran unconscious after taking an overdose. She has finally figured out that Sheldrake won’t leave his wife for her. At that moment we see he is torn apart with worry and fear. With the help of his neighbour Doctor Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen), Baxter helps save Fran’s life and nurses her back to health.

Jack Lemmon is at his best here as the selfish man, always happy to oblige his bosses who suddenly develops a conscience. If anyone other than Jack had played this role, I’m really not sure how well the film would have turned out. One moment we hate Baxter with a passion, the next we’re laughing at or with him, the next he’s breaking our hearts and ours are breaking for him. That is all because of how Jack plays the role, the looks on his face (particularly the scenes of self loathing later in the film when what he’s been doing finally reaches home to him.) As the film goes on Jack conveys to us how his experiences and realisations are making him more aware and less self centred.

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Fran. Screenshot by me.

Shirley MacLaine makes your heart break as the mistreated Fran. Shirley lets us see the inner pain this woman carries around with her, but which she doesn’t show to the world (until the famous mirror sequence.) From the way Shirley plays the character, I believe Fran knows the men she goes with are heels, but for some reason she can’t stop herself from going with them.

Fran loves Sheldrake and it really damages her when she realises she is just the latest in a long line of meaningless conquests to him. Shirley’s performance is all in her eyes, we see how weary and depressed she is, and we see the brave face she puts on each day pretending all is well in her life.

Fred MacMurray is cast wonderfully well against type here, as the sleazy, hardhearted boss who treats women as objects for his pleasure only. He doesn’t care about their feelings, but he can make them believe he does. MacMurray is loathsome here and it is only the second time in his entire career he was cast in such a role.  The first against type performance was also for Billy Wilder, in the Noir classic, Double Indemnity. On the strength of his performance in both films it is very strange to me that he never again got roles like this. He proves what a talented dramatic actor he was. There was much more to MacMurray than comic performances. He conveys to us that his character is selfish and will never change. Remorse? That’s a word this guy doesn’t even know exists.

Jack Kruschen is hysterical as the bemused neighbour of Baxter’s who thinks his neighbour is some sort of playboy. Why does he think that? Because of the different women coming in and out of his apartment all the time. Kruschen knows that this man is a good guy really (a Mensch)and his belief in this is proved right at the end. Jack is very good in the scenes where he is treating Fran, making you believe he knows what he is doing as a Doctor.

Edie Adams steals every scene she is in as Sheldrake’s secretary, Miss Olsen. She tells Fran that Sheldrake won’t care about her and is just using her. Miss Olsen used to be his lady and has never gotten over her time with him. Edie shows us this woman’s pain and depression and her despair at seeing what she went through happening to someone else. Like Shirley’s performance, Edie’s is another that is all in the eyes. Keep an eye on her when she is in a scene.

I like how the film shows how messy relationships are, and that heartbreak and disappointment is sadly more commonplace than lasting happiness. The film shows us that happiness is possible though. Live in the moment, value every shared moment of joy, don’t hurt one another, be there for each other through the good and bad, and really work at building trust and a bond, then you will know happiness. At the end of the film we see Baxter redeemed, and are left feeling more positive having seen some good people and good actions in this world.

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“Shut up and deal”. Screenshot by me.

I have to mention the famous ending to the film. Many take the ending to be a romantic one. I actually have a different view. It is clear that these two love each other very much, and Baxter admits as much in the final lines. I actually think that these two are soulmates and are that special person that the other needs in their life. I don’t think romance is on the cards for them though.

I think they are and will always remain the best of friends. They will always be there for one another and will support and help each other. A bond of friendship is love too, and I believe friendships are as meaningful and deep as any romance can be. When Fran says “shut up and deal”, I think she is saying lets just take things as they are. Maybe we will progress to romance, maybe we will just stay as friends, but for now lets just stay as we are and enjoy this moment. Somewhat similar to the ending of Now Voyager “don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”  Basically, they have everything they want and need right there, they don’t need to be romantic in order to love each other. So what that they don’t kiss? They are happy, and we know they will always be there for each other. That’s a happy ending if ever I saw one. It always leaves me with a smile on my face.

The film won five Oscars, including one for best picture. Sadly no awards were given to any of the actors.

My favourite scenes are the following. Baxter trying to watch Grand Hotel, only to grow more and more annoyed by the adverts that keep playing on the TV (if he watched TV today, he’d throw the set away I’m sure.) 🙂  The mirror discussion. The sequence involving the woman who looks like Marilyn Monroe. The entire final part of the film. Miss Olsen speaking to Fran.

I have to say as well, that I always get a real laugh from the scenes where Baxter is waiting outside his own building! Because his apartment is in use! How much of a pushover do you have to be to actually agree to something which stops you from being able to go into your own home? Baxter got wise in the end though, so I’ll forgive him for his stupidity.

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