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 gets desperate. Screenshot by me.
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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.

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The troubled Brick. Screenshot by me.

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.  

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The long suffering Big Mama. Screenshot by me.

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

 

 

 

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Blogathons, Classic TV, Drama, Romance, War

The Duchess Of Duke Street (1976-1977)

Small screen 2

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 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 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.  

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Jackson and Barbara share an intimate moment by the lake. Screenshot by me.

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.

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The loyal Max. Screenshot by me.

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 every move. Her name will never be forgotten once this story makes the headlines. Is that a blessing or a curse? She will 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)

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. It 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 on the film. Miyagawa would go on to work on a lot of Kenji Mizoguchi’s films. He would also work with Ozu, and would work again with Kurosawa on Yojimbo and Kagemusha. His work on this film is among his very best.

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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 though in this 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 from the beginning that we are to make up our own minds about what is going on here. 

The film also toys with our perceptions of people. 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 directors like Mizoguchi and Ozu would be as well known and respected as Kurosawa’s outside of Japan. Western filmmakers would even travel to Japan to shoot films on location there.

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.

This structure 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, and 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 studios 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 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, 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 being a bad thing. 

Mifune’s performance can certainly be seen as being quite theatrical in this. Mifune was often a very intense and physical actor, and he really used his body and gestures quite a bit during scenes. 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.  

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 bgo 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)

Robin blogathon

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.    

 

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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?

 

 

 

 

Drama, True Story

Feud (2017, TV Series)

I recently finished binge-watching this miniseries. I loved every minute of it. I think it is one of best series in recent years. It’s one of those series where you can see in each shot exactly where the money has gone (costumes, sets, locations etc).

The series focuses on the legendary feud between classic actresses Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange). We follow them as they make What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? for director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina). 

Aldrich is desperate to make this film a big hit and further his career. He is told by the studio head Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci)to play both actresses off against one another. So he begins to fuel their mutual dislike to ensure that their performances convey a real hatred that can be seen on screen. This approach works for the film but it intensifies their hatred off screen. 

Davis and Crawford famously didn’t get along at all and they were very different women. Davis was brutally honest, down to earth, and she would take any role (film, TV, stage) because she wanted to work. I also don’t think Davis cared about her looks all that much, she has always struck me as someone who had a what you see is what you get attitude and persona. 

Crawford was glamourous and always comes across to me as being less down to earth than Bette Davis was. Crawford was more like a queen and acted like a star. She was deeply hurt by how she was treated as she got older.  I get the impression that she found it very difficult to hide her feelings and her desires. She longed for the days when she was praised and desired. I can’t blame her for feeling that, but if she had pushed hard to keep getting more roles (like Bette did)then things may have been a bit different for her.  

Yet for all their differences, they actually had more in common with each other than either woman would have cared to admit (trouble getting the roles they deserved once they got older, difficulty with their children and their marriages, both being strong and determined women.)

This series had me laughing one moment and then tearing up the next. It also shows you that sadly not much has changed for women in the film industry. Women are still judged on their looks. Actresses are still relegated to mum and granny roles once they hit a certain age.

Male actors on the other hand still seem to be getting the same type of roles they got in their heyday. For goodness sake, why can’t the studios look beyond the physical appearance of ALL these performers and just see their acting talent? Give them the roles that their talents deserve. 

The series made me feel so much for these two actresses. Once the biggest stars of their day, they are now forced to work in films and series that are far beneath their level of acting talent. I was also very moved by the realisation that if these two women had been able to be friends they would have made one hell of a formidable team. Think how they could have taken on their bosses together. They were both strong women who wanted things to change and I think that they could have made quite an impact in this regard if they had worked together. 

The series works hard to make you sympathise with Joan more so than with Bette. Joan is portrayed very much as a victim here(I have to say that I consider part of her downfall to be entirely her own fault though, due to her terrible behaviour on Hush… Hush,Sweet Charlotte)and Lange does an incredible job of portraying her as a proud woman falling into despair and distress.

I like how this series tries to look beyond the Joan who has become so well known to us from her daughters book and accusations. Joan comes across as being a very flawed woman, but this series does make her a bit more human than she has been portrayed as before. 

While Lange doesn’t really look much like Crawford. Despite that she certainly brings her to life for us and makes us share her pain, her joy, and also her desperation to be a screen queen once again. This woman demands respect and she feels that it is time she gets what she deserves (the respect and admiration of her colleagues).

Bette is portrayed as feeling the slights just as deeply as Joan does, but she is able to hide how much she is hurt by the industries treatment of her better than Joan is able to. Bette takes it all in her stride and just gets on with it. I think Sarandon acts and looks like Bette quite a bit and manages to capture her toughness and matter of fact attitude very well. 

Alfred Molina is excellent as the weary director trying to handle two difficult women while trying to focus on his own career too. 

Judy Davis steals all the scenes as Hedda Hopper, the terrifying gossip columnist who made and broke careers at the drop of a hat. 

Jackie Hoffman is excellent as Joan’s loyal and long suffering housekeeper, Mamacita. She doesn’t treat Joan as an actress, she treats her as a real person and tries to keep her grounded when she gets full of herself. 

Kiernan Shipka (little Sally Draper from Mad Men)is very good as Bette’s rebellious daughter. 

Stanley Tucci is the main villain of the series. He oozes unpleasantness, control and disdain as Warner. This guy casually destroys the hopes and ambitions of those working for him. 

I also like how the series shows that basically everyone in the film industry will get treated badly at some point (be they male or female). Aldrich is treated pretty badly despite having more power and opportunity than any of the women he works with do! Aldrich is still far from where he wants to be, and he has to put up with unpleasant treatment just like everybody else does. 

The series also shows just how fast status can change in this industry. You could go from being a praised and beloved star one day, to being a forgotten has been the next. This series shows how much that change hurts those affected by it. This industry is very cruel. It does have it’s blessings though because we can continue to see Joan and Bette in their heyday starring in quality films.

Thanks to the magic of film, these two women can remain forever young, remain forever beautiful, and remain forever talented. As fans we can choose to honour them by watching Rain, All About Eve, Grand Hotel, Mr. Skeffington etc, instead of by watching rubbish like Trog. 

If you love classic era cinema then I think you should watch Feud. Sarandon and Lange both deliver powerful and unforgettable performances. They bring these two women to life and give us a glimpse of what Davis and Crawford were like off screen. 

I really want Sarandon and Lange to act together again real soon, they are utterly incredible together in this. I think their respective performances here are amongst their best work. 

Have you seen this series? What did you think?

 

 

 

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 seen in any Disney film. Sure, there were many other scary Disney villains throughout the years, but unlike so many of them, Frollo seemed more real and to me he is therefore much scarier. 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 on 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 becomes one as the story goes on. 

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, Disney had never put anything quite like what we see in this one on the screen before.    

Although it is a dark film, I really enjoy the film because it has such 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 kind soul. 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 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 about Frollo. This man murders a gyspy woman on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral. He takes her baby from her arms, and when he sees that it is disfigured he attempts to kill it. He is stopped 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 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 actually be something impure.

Wait, it gets much worse! He then blames Esmeralda for the fact that he desires her! Yep, 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.   

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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. 

Quasimodo is the films hero. Tom Hulce does a good job of portraying this characters pureness, innocence, longing, apprehension, and sadness. It’s rare (sadly)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 being treated so badly by people for so long.

Quasimodo comes to love Esmeralda, and it 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 shown that Esmeralda saw no barrier between them. It would also 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 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.

 

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Atticus comforts Scout. Screenshot by me.

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?