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

The David Lean Blogathon: Oliver Twist(1948)

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

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

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

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

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Oliver asks for more food. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of the opening scene. Screenshot by me. 

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

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

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

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Oliver meets Dodger. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The fearless Nancy. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Robert Newton as Bill Sykes. Screenshot by me.

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

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Alec Guinness as Fagin. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

What do you think of the film?

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Blogathons, Films I Love, Romance

The Second Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon: Rebecca (1940)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rebecca’s monogrammed stationery. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Rebecca’s monogrammed pillowcase. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Jack drops by and causes trouble. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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Joan Fontaine. Screenshot by me.

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

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Laurence Olivier. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Judith Anderson. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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Exploring Rebecca’s beautiful bedroom. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on this Hitchcock film?

Blogathons, Films I Love, Musicals, Romance

The Broadway Bound Blogathon: My Fair Lady (1964)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rex as Higgins. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Audrey as Eliza. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eliza and Pickering arrive at Ascot. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Freddy and Eliza. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Eliza and Higgins in speech class. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think of this film?

Films I Love, Thriller

Rear Window(1954)

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Jeff watches his neighbours. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mr and Mrs. Thorwald. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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The apartment complex. Screenshot by me.

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

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Miss Loneleyheart. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

What do you think of Rear Window?

 

Films I Love, Noir

The Narrow Margin (1952)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brown. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mrs. Neall gets threatened. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

Any other fans of this one?

Comedy, Films I Love, Romance

It Happened One Night (1934)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter and Ellie get close. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Clark Gable as Peter. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Claudette Colbert as Ellie. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

                                         Roscoe Karns as Shapeley. Screenshot by me.

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

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

                                    Peter attempting to hitch a lift. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

Below are some facts and a legend about the film.

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

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


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

 

 

Blogathons, Films I Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Myers. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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No escape from Myers. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Talman. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Lovejoy. Screenshot by me.

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

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

 

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O’Brien. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on this film?

 

Drama, Films I Love, Noir

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

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

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

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

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The robbery in progress. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Earle. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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Earle and Lorry share a moment. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Films I Love, Unsung Classics

George Sanders As Simon Templar

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The Saint’s signature stickman. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jonathan Hale as Inspector Fernack. Screenshot by me.

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

 

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

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Paul Guilfoyle as Clarence. Screenshot by me.

 

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

 

 

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Wendy Barrie. Screenshot by me.

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

 

 

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

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

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

Disaster, Films I Love

A Night To Remember (1958)

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

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

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

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

                                  First Officer Murdoch sees the iceberg. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Titanic sinks. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Kenneth More as Lightoller. Screenshot by me.

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

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

                                       Andrews prepares for his death. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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The steward and the boy. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on this film?

Films I Love, Romance, Thriller

North By Northwest (1959)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                   Roger and Eve flirt over dinner. Screenshot by me.

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

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Roger and Eve get intimate. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eve falls down the mountain. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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The unsupportive Mrs Thornhill. Screenshot by me.

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

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

 

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Vandamm. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Leonard. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

Blogathons, Drama, Films I Love

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

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

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Doris as Jo McKenna. Screenshot by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jo singing. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                      Ben and Jo see the assassin. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Disaster, Films I Love

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

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

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

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

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The comet hits our planet. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The comet enters our atmosphere. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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Jennie hears some bad news. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did you think of Deep Impact?

 

 

 

Films I Love, Page To Screen, Science Fiction

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

In 1968, a film was released which blew the minds of all the people who saw it. That film was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fifty years after its original release, Kubrick’s film remains something which has the power to fascinate, to stun,and to leave people scratching their heads in confusion. This film also has the ability to leave the viewer open mouthed in awe at what they have just witnessed.

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The space station. Screenshot by me.

There are so many memorable moments in the film. Who can forget the space station swirling in space to the strains of The Blue Danube Waltz? The gravity defying walking scenes inside ships and shuttles? The trippy stargate sequence, which surely must have inspired the makers of Star Trek: The Motion Picture? Many people even went to the cinema to see 2001 back in the 60’s and 70’s and dropped acid during the stargate sequence, they called the film the ultimate trip.   

This is very much a film that will divide audiences. Some will love every second of it and will hear no word against it. Others will find it slow, incomprehensible and even boring. I remember when I first saw this film. It was on VHS and I had no idea what I should expect from the film. It was a film I was coming to completely blind. I had only been told it was a film I should watch because I was starting to really get into classic era cinema around this time. When the film finished, I just sat in a stunned silence for quite a while. I remember being both very impressed and VERY confused by what I just seen. I also thought (and still do) that the dawn of man sequence didn’t need to be as long as it is. A couple of days later I watched it again, and that is when I came to appreciate it much more.  

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Kubrick as a director though. I admired his skill but found his approach to filmmaking to be quite cold and detached. Over the years he has ended up becoming a favourite of mine. His films have a unique look to them and are very visual and immersive, they are not traditional films in any way. His films are powerful and so well made, and the majority of them have an impact now just as they did upon their original release. He may well be the best director of all time due to his preparation, his directorial eye, and because of the themes and issues which his films tackle.  

I think that on a first viewing this film is actually quite an overwhelming experience. It makes you think and then what you’re thinking about just blows your mind (I’ll come to my interpretation of some things in the film a little later on).  Kubrick also bombards you with images, music and sound effects to the extent that the film becomes more of a sensory experience than an ordinary film viewing. I think this is what makes Stanley Kubrick such a master of his craft, his films were events and they were special. If you watch just one film of Stanley’s to get a sense of what he could achieve, then I would recommend that this is the one you choose to watch. 

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Bowman prepares to leave the ship. Screenshot by me.

I also like how Stanley brings a reality to this film. Nothing in 2001 seems like it couldn’t happen, or that it couldn’t ever be invented. I also like how he moves away from the incorrect depiction of there being sound out in space. In the scenes where Bowman and Poole go outside The Discovery, all we hear is them breathing in the oxygen being pumped through their suits. In reality this is what it is like when taking a space walk. Apart from the inclusion of Pan American spaceflights and 1960’s fashion, there isn’t really anything that dates this film when we watch it now. 

This is a film which inspired many future filmmakers including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. This film changed the visual look of Science Fiction films forever. The effects look real and spectacular today. When the film was first released, the effects completely blew peoples minds because nothing like these visuals had been seen in films before. The effects in this film still look realistic when they are viewed today. I think that there is nothing in this film which screams out to you ” I am a special effect”, apart from the stargate and space baby scene at the end.

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A stewardess walking upside down. One of many shots that makes you wonder how they achieved it. Screenshot by me.

Some people consider present day special effects to be amazing, but personally I find current special effects to be very fake looking and way too overused. When it comes to effects, nothing that we see today even comes close to what we see in 2001: A Space Odyssey.   

I also think that this film feels fresh and relevant when viewed today. It makes us think about human evolution and where we rank in the universe. It looks at the positives and negatives of artificial intelligence. It shows us how human beings are always striving for something more, and are always up for adventure and exploration. How humanity is always trying to be something more than it is. The film also shows young filmmakers just what they could achieve if they put their minds to it and put in the effort and focus.

Interestingly this film also predicted technology that we have now as a part of our everyday life. The videophone that Floyd uses is obviously the precursor to technology like Skype, webcams and FaceTime.  

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Floyd calls home using video technology. Screenshot by me.

We now have artificial intelligence that we interact with. Although these are not as advanced as HAL is, they never the less do exist and they are quite remarkable achievements. Lots of manual jobs are now done by automation.

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HAL. Screenshot by me.

We see devices that look like big Ipads being used by Bowman and Poole. The two astronauts are also seen enjoying a TV dinner long before that really became the norm of an evening for most people. In this scene they are both sitting next to one another, and both of them has their own device and they are watching the same programme! This is now sadly a norm in many homes as people sit next to one another on their mobiles and Ipads instead of sitting talking to each other. 

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Bowman and Poole each looking at an Ipad type device, watching TV while eating dinner. Screenshot by me.

We also have an international space station now (much smaller than that we see in the film of course)and have gone to moon (although we have no bases there).  

Kubrick was a very visual director and he always had a crystal clear image in his head of how all his scenes should look. He was a perfectionist and would work extremely hard until he got the shots he wanted. I think that this film is possibly his greatest achievement behind the camera. The film plays out like a Silent film in many parts, and it falls to the images in the film to draw us in for a large portion of the film. This is also a film where pretty much every shot is memorable. I think that you could walk away from this film for twenty minutes, come back and you would walk back in as another impressive scene/shot was getting underway. Most films only have a handful of standout moments, but with this film, pretty much every scene standouts and remains in your mind after viewing. 

The film was based upon a 1948 short story called The Sentinal. This was written by the British author, Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke would later expand on that story and publish it as a novel called 2001: A Space Odyssey. He would write several sequels to this story over the coming years. Clarke co-wrote the screenplay of the film along with Stanley Kubrick.

Clarke explains in the novel what the star baby is, but in the film it is left unexplained. I actually prefer the ending of the film because it is the moment that audiences always talk about the most after watching the film. You can really draw your own conclusions about the end of the film. If you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend that you read Clarke’s novel and the other novels in his 2001 series. 

The film is split into three sections. The first section focuses on apemen (played by actors in very convincing ape costumes, mimicking ape behaviour) and how they are merely a part of the land around them. One day a smooth rectangular black monolith appears on the ground. The apemen are wary of this object, but then curiosity becomes too much for them and they all touch it. Shortly after this one of them picks up the bone of a dead animal. He realises that he can wield this bone and use it as a tool to harm and kill others. This shot also shows the exact moment that man started to move away from being an animal and started to become aware of things beyond itself; human beings minds from this moment on are opened to  bigger thoughts and ideas. The ape throws the bone into the air and we cut from the past to the future. The shot of the bone cuts to a shot of an orbiting space satellite. This is what this one spark of realisation by the apeman has led to.

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The apemen encounter the Monolith. Screenshot by me.

The second section shows us the great achievements that man of the future has made. Man has created technological wonders and moved off the earth and ventured out into space. Man has become civilised and sentient. If these men were to be seen by the apemen, then I think they would be perceived by them as god like figures. 

Dr. Heywood Floyd(William Sylvester)is a scientist who is flying out to an American base on the moon. Floyd spends some time on the international space station before travelling over to the moon. He is there to look at what has been discovered on the surface of the moon. A monolith identical to the one the apemen saw has been found. Tests indicate it has been buried there for millions of years and was deliberately buried. 

When the science team walk up to the monolith they are overwhelmed by a piercing high pitched sound emanating from the monolith. The film then jumps forward again in time. 

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Overwhelmed by the Monolith signal. Screenshot by me.

The third section finds us eighteen months on from the moon incident. Astronauts David Bowman (Keir Dullea)and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood)are onboard the new deep space vessel, Discovery One. The ship is the first manned mission to Jupiter. Also aboard in suspended animation are three scientists who will be awakened upon arrival at the planet. Bowman and Poole have lots of work to do onboard, but the overall running of the ship is done by HAL 9000. HAL is an advanced artificial intelligence (spookily voiced by Douglas Rain). HAL is supposed to be incapable of harming or endangering human life.

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The Discovery. Screenshot by me.

As the months go on, HAL becomes concerned about the mission and behaves erratically. He kills Poole and the three scientists, and then attempts to kill Bowman who manages to survive and disconnects HAL’s circuits. After this Bowman discovers a prerecorded message from Dr. Floyd explaining the real reason for the Jupiter mission. The signal from the moon was detected as being sent out to Jupiter. The crew were going to be instructed to investigate for signs of life on the planet.

Bowman leaves the ship and comes into contact with a monolith. He travels through some sort of stargate or star tunnel. This experience is beyond his comprehension. We next see him in a strange room, and he ages and is transformed into a star child. The film ends with the star child orbiting earth.

I interpret the film as telling us that mankind is small and child like in comparison with the vastness of the universe, and also in comparison with the awesome power and inexplicability of the circle of life. We have learnt much, we have created some remarkable things which would have been considered impossible centuries ago; and yet we still have so much to learn and comprehend. We act as though we are in control of all we do, when actually we are not and our lives are short and fragile. We know we will all die, and yet we still react with surprise and horror at death when it arrives.  I also like that the humans are very much secondary characters in the film in comparison with the mystery of the monolith and of all the scenes showing the vastness of space. We are so small in comparison with the universe as a whole and the film shows us this fact. 

The film makes me think about some very big things. I believe that none of us will ever know for certain if there is a god or not until we die. I also have a theory that god is simply the name that mankind has come up with in order to explain the unknowable force that is the circle of life. When we don’t understand something, we have a tendency as as species to have to try to explain it. Isn’t it far easier for us to say that some all powerful being created us and gave us life by magic? than to admit that we don’t know how we came to be, and that we have no idea why we are here or how and why we evolved how we did? The life cycle is something to revere though in the way that people worship god, because it is the life cycle which brought us into being. Life sustains us, it ends our lives, and it is something far beyond our comprehension.   

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Perhaps the Monolith represents all that we still have yet to learn and understand? Screenshot by me.

There are so many big questions still unanswered in life. Why is our planet set up to sustain our life? Why is there gravity? Why are our bodies and organs set up the way they are? Why do most animals have shorter lives than humans? How come everything on the planet exists for a specific reason? How come we have so far been unable to find other lifeforms of equal or advanced intellect elsewhere in the universe? Why do we seem to be the only species on the planet who seem to be aware of our own mortality and ask big questions about who we are and where we came from? Why do we insist on wasting time killing and hurting each other instead of working together to cherish our planet and help increase our understanding and knowledge? This film makes me think of these things and ask all these questions.

I think the mysterious monolith represents all that we have yet to learn (be it about life, or the universe etc)and all that we don’t yet understand. I think it also represents man’s evolution and our ability to change and to grow. The monolith appears in the film at key points in mankind’s evolution. I think the space baby represents us as being as a child in comparison with the size of the universe and with the power of creation and life. At each point in human existence we think we are all powerful and are in control of what goes on around us, this film shows us that is not the case at all and we are not as invincible or powerful as we like to think we are. 

I have to mention HAL now. He is actually the most developed and interesting character in the entire film. The human characters are not all that well developed and they are secondary to the story and the visuals. Perhaps this was done to emphasise their lack of importance in the face of what they get caught up in and discover?

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Bowman and Poole speak with HAL. Screenshot by me.

I also think that the scene where Bowman disconnects HAL is very disturbing to watch. We hear and see this entity slowly lose his mind as Bowman pulls out his computer chips. We are seeing Bowman literally kill HAL in order to save his own life. As scary and dangerous as HAL has been up to this point, we have never the less been able to connect with him in some way and we consider him as much of a real being as Bowman and Poole are. The disconnection scene makes for very difficult and uncomfortable viewing. 

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Bowman disconnects HAL. This kills HAL. Screenshot by me.

The inclusion of HAL in the film also poses the question about whether or not artificial intelligence is capable of thinking beyond its programming. Can it feel emotions or not? Should it be considered as much a lifeform as we are? HAL also makes us see that technology can sometimes be promised as being perfect and safe, and yet can often break or malfunction. This is an issue we are experiencing right now as greater advancements are being made in the creation of artificial intelligence. 

Fifty years on, and there are still no definitive answers to any of the questions and issues found in this film. We still have so much to learn and to do. For all our intellect, for all our ability to create and change, mankind is still sadly very primitive. We are still governed by animalistic instincts and urges (to procreate, to survive, to kill)to the extent that we hinder any meaningful progress because we’re hating each other over things like racism and religion. If only we could all come together to ponder the bigger questions in life. If only we could come together to work as the one species we are (there is no race, we are ALL human beings)and work towards a world where we live as one and share the planets resources equally. 

Stanley Kubrick’s film was a game changer in film history. His film made Science Fiction a genre to be taken seriously. It pushed the boundaries of what could be made possible on screen. Planets, ships and stars all look like they are the real thing in this film. Scenes such as that featuring the stewardess walking upside down as she moved around the ship were really unlike anything seen before.  This film also inspired the realistic look found in later Science Fiction films such as Star Wars and Alien.

This film also highlights the power of film to transport you to another place and how it sucks you in completely. I would say to someone who hasn’t seen this before to prepare to surrender themselves to the film. 2001: A Space Odyssey isn’t merely a film, it’s an immersive experience and it will make you ponder some VERY big and deep issues and questions. If you’re after films that cater to short attention spans, then this really isn’t the film for you. If you don’t like long films, then again, this isn’t the film for you. If you appreciate a well made film by a master of his craft, then this is one to check out.

My thanks go to Stanley Kubrick and all his crew and cast for their hard work in creating this film. That it looks new, and feels relevant fifty years on, is really a testament to the skill and genius of Stanley Kubrick. 

If you want more of the story, then do check out the sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact. I think this sequel (starring Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren and Kier Dullea)is highly underrated. While the sequel isn’t in the same league as 2001, it is a very good film and people who didn’t get on well with the first film may like this one better. 

Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough I think. What do you think of this film? What do you make of the ending of the film?

 

 

 

 

 

Drama, Films I Love, Horror

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo At 60

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

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

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Scottie and Madeleine kiss. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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Midge comforts Scottie. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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James Stewart as a traumatised Scottie. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Madeleine visits a grave. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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Judy becomes Madeleine. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Films I Love, Horror, Thriller

Jaws (1975)

This film had a huge impact on me the first time I saw it. It completely terrified me and had me on the edge of my seat throughout. It has been a favourite since I first saw it in my early teens.

I love the characters and the story a great deal. I love how the film is a mix of genres – horror, thriller, adventure and comedy. I love the locations. I also think that John Williams chilling and suitably atmospheric score is one of the very best he has ever composed, his music greatly adds to the film.

I also love how the two parts of the film are so different from each other as well. The first half is pretty much a horror film featuring some very disturbing sequences. The characters are all established in the first half and the unseen creature from the deep keeps the viewer terrified. The second is all about the growing bond between Quint, Brody and Hooper. The second half also becomes quite the thriller and has a lot of action in it. When I first saw this film I was also very surprised by just how much humour is to be found in the second half – Quint’s outrageous sea songs for example, plus Quint and Hooper’s banter and constantly trying to outdo one another. This is in stark contrast to the grim and frightening atmosphere of the first half.

A scene that always cracks me up in this is Brody’s reaction to Hooper, when he asks him to go right out to edge of the boat so he can get Brody in the foreground for scale as he snaps a picture of the shark. Brody refuses to do so. He looks at Hooper as if he is crazy, and climbs down to side of the boat(to go back up to the bridge)only to be met with the sight of Quint coming towards him carrying a spear gun. This sight forces the Chief to return to where he just came from. 🙂

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The shark attacks The Orca. Screenshot by me.

The trio are so different from each other and I really like watching them overcome their differences to find some common ground and work together to survive. The development of their relationship is as fascinating for me to watch now as it was when I first watched it years ago. All the characters(but particularly the main trio)are so well written and they come across as being very real people who you can connect to.

Jaws was the film that really started Steven Spielberg on the road to film success. He had impressed with his debut film, Duel, but it was Jaws that made him a household name. He really proved with this film just what he was able to accomplish as a director. I think this is one of the best films he has ever made (and that is saying something). If I had to pick just one of his films to keep I would pick this one without hesitation. I really like how Spielberg conveys so much horror and suspense without even showing the shark for a larger portion of the film. When he does show the shark, he does so sparingly and its appearances have a far greater impact than they would if he had shown it all the way through the film.

The film is based upon the novel by Peter Benchley. The film sticks pretty close to the book but there are some differences to be found. I don’t find the characters as likeable in the book as I do on screen. I think that bond between the characters is part of the films success and I didn’t feel the growing friendship in the book. 

I was also very glad that the subplot of an affair between Hooper and Mrs. Brody wasn’t included in the film. One of my favourite aspects of the film is the happy family life that Chief Brody enjoys, if this subplot had been included then that happy atmosphere would have been killed. I also think the subplot would have made it really difficult to like Hooper.

Benchley would ironically spend the rest of his life trying to undo the bad reputation his novel and the film had given to Great White Sharks. Benchley became a marine conservationist and he wrote books about sharks and the sea, helping people to understand these creatures and their habitat.Shark attacks certainly are horrific, but they are thankfully extremely rare events. Yet, thanks to the novel and this film, people are sadly wary of the sea, and also of the fascinating and beautiful creatures that live there.

The film is set in the American coastal town of Amity. The film opens with a young woman called Chrissie, going for a moonlight swim in the ocean. What starts off as a beautiful scene(I love the moonlight shining on the water and how peaceful that moment looks)soon turns horrific. Poor Chrissie is grabbed from beneath the waves by something unseen. She screams in agony as she is pulled and dragged around, finally she is pulled beneath the waves and all we can hear is the splashing of the waves. 

                                           Chrissie gets attacked. Screenshot by me.

The next day Chrissie’s remains are washed up on the beach and the police are alerted. Chief Martin Brody(Roy Scheider)discovers her death was due to a shark attack. He has to try and persuade the mayor(Murray Hamilton)to close the beaches to prevent any further attacks. Vaughn refuses and a young boy is killed very close to the beach in a truly disturbing scene. As the shark attacks mount up, and become more disturbing and graphic each time we see them on screen, Brody and Vaughn hire experienced local fisherman Quint(Robert Shaw)to hunt and kill the shark.

Brody and Quint set out aboard Quint’s ship, The Orca, to search for the shark. They are joined by young shark expert Matt Hooper(Richard Dreyfuss)who comes equipped with specialist technology and equipment to help them find the shark. Quint and Hooper rub each other the wrong way right from their first meeting, this leads to many funny scenes as they argue and try and outdo one another. The trio soon find the shark they seek(or rather the shark finds them)leading to a terrifying finale.

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Brody and Hooper make a frightening discovery. Screenshot by me.

There are so many memorable moments in this film and the following are some of my favourites. Quint’s Indianapolis story. The estuary attack(this is the first time we see the shark and it looks terrifying). Quint scraping the chalkboard in the meeting to get some attention. Hooper and Quint’s tattoo stories(love the way Dreyfuss laughs in this scene, it cracks me up every time).Hooper and Brody discovering Ben Gardner’s boat. Hooper’s argument with the mayor and his shocked reaction to what the mayor says back to him. The scene with the two fisherman who almost get attacked by the shark and the “You’re going to need a bigger boat” scene.

Scheider, Shaw, and Dreyfuss are all at their very best in this film. Scheider is the hero of the film, his character is an everyman who is thrown into an unusual situation made worse for him by his fear of the sea. As the film goes on we see Brody having to conquer that fear in order to be able to survive. Brody is my favourite character in this and I love the way Scheider plays him. He is a quiet hero and Scheider does such a good job of portraying him working hard to overcome his fear to be of great help in the second half of the film.

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The chief takes aim. Screenshot by me.

Shaw steals every scene he’s in as the hot tempered Quint. He provides many of the films biggest laughs, but he also gets to deliver the most moving and powerful scene in the film, the famous Indianapolis speech. Shaw’s performance in that scene should be used in an acting master class, the way he delivers those lines, the look on his face and in his eyes is what makes that moment so powerful to the viewer.

I also like how it is the laughing Hooper who first gets his laughter under control and realises the significance of the story Quint is about to tell, and after this you can see he has a newfound respect for Quint. It’s also interesting to note that the second half of the film almost plays out like a version of Moby Dick, with Quint in the role of Captain Ahab.
Dreyfuss is essentially the comic relief role in this film, his laugh always cracks me up because it’s so infectious. There is more to Matt Hooper than comedy though, he is also a dedicated shark expert, he loves these creatures and is fascinated by them, but he knows what they are capable of and doesn’t underestimate them. He and Quint both know what sharks can do and both know much about them and their habitat.

The film has three sequels. Jaws 2 is just about ok. It has its moments and some of the original cast return. Avoid 3 and 4 though, they are in the so bad they are laughable category(joining Exorcist 2 and The Swarm on the “what were they thinking when they made this?” shelf). 3 has some special effects that look they were lifted straight from an 80’s computer game. 4 features sharks that can roar, target specific humans and do so for revenge(I’m not making this up.)Going back to the original film – I’m curious to know if this is just me, or if anyone else has ever noticed this? The opening scene to me has many similarities to Creature From The Black Lagoon(1954). Particularly the shot filmed from under the water as the women in both films swim across the surface. Could this film have had an influence on Spielberg and that shot was put in as a homage?

I’d love to get your thoughts on this film. Never seen it? Get the DVD and watch it.  

Blogathons, British Cinema, Films I Love, True Story, War

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

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

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

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

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

 

1- Zulu (1964) 

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

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

 

2- Miss Congeniality (2000)

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

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

 

3- Batman Begins (2005)

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

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

 

4- Educating Rita (1983)

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

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

 

5- The Ipcress File (1965) 

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

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

 

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

 

 

   

Films I Love, Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 9: King Solomon’s Mines (1950)

It’s time to take a look at another unsung classic film. This is one that I love a great deal. It really annoys me that so few people ever discuss, or even seem to know about this one today. It has a perfect blend of adventure, action, romance and mystery. It was mostly filmed on location. It also features two of the classic film eras biggest stars – Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. There is plenty to enjoy in this film.

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Allan protects Elizabeth and John. Screenshot by me.

I will never forget the first time that I saw this film. I was in High School and in history class we were studying the Suffragettes. We had an exam coming up, and our teacher said that if any of us wanted to do so, we could borrow a tape from her to take home for a night to watch.

On the tape there was a documentary about the Suffragette movement. The documentary would help us as a part of our exam revision. I was one of those who borrowed the tape.

I finished watching the documentary and I was about to turn the tape off, when the tape cut back to what had originally been recorded on it. It cut to this film. The film was a few minutes in, starting at the scene where Elizabeth first meets Allan at his house. Seeing Deborah Kerr was in it, I carried right on watching. I was very glad that I did. I loved this film. As I had missed the title, I then spent some time checking out Deborah’s film information until I found that the film I had just seen was King Solomon’s Mines.  

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Stewart Granger as Allan Quatermain. Screenshot by me.

I couldn’t tell you a thing about that documentary now, but I can tell you that I was very happy indeed to have found this film on that tape. I wasn’t familiar with Stewart Granger at this time and he certainly made quite an impression on me in this film. I have been a fan of his ever since, and this is one of my favourite films that he ever made.

I love Stewart’s performance in this as the fearless, experienced, and smouldering adventurer, Allan Quatermain. It was a role he was well suited to playing I think. He’s got the tough guy of very few words persona down perfectly in this. It also doesn’t hurt that Stewart is one of the manliest and sexiest men who ever did live.  🙂 

Deborah Kerr does a fantastic job of playing a woman unaccustomed to the struggle and danger of going on their expedition. Allan is convinced that Elizabeth will not last long and will beg him to turn back. She finds the journey difficult to endure, but she stubbornly refuses to give in and put an end to her misery and exhaustion.

Deborah does her best with a role that is essentially a damsel in distress, she really tries to put across her characters determination and emotional distress. I think she succeeds quite well at this.

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Deborah Kerr as Elizabeth. Screenshot by me.

For a large part of the film Deborah sadly doesn’t get much to do apart from scream as animals scare her or try to attack her. These sequences lead to lots of moments of Allan rescuing Elizabeth, and at the moment of rescue the pair gaze into each others eyes and their growing bond and desire is ever more evident to us.

Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr have some incredible chemistry going on in this film. The sexual tension between them is the thing I remember the most about this film. It is so evident and adds something extra to the film.

From the way Stewart and Deborah both look at each other (swoon)to their body language, they very clearly convey to us their characters growing feelings for one another.   

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Richard Carlson as John. Screenshot by me.

Richard Carlson (who I love in The Creature From The Black Lagoon)lends good support as Elizabeth’s brother. He can see before his sister can, that she and Allan are falling in love. He also knows the real reason (which we don’t learn until later on)why she is pushing herself so hard to find her husband. Carlson is an actor who I think given the right material could have become a much bigger star, sadly that wasn’t to be. 

The film is directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton. It is based upon the 1885 novel of the same name written by H. Rider Haggard.

This was not the first adaptation of the novel, it had been filmed before in 1937. That earlier adaptation starred Cedric Hardwicke as Quatermain. Several other adaptions would follow over the decades.

The 1950 film is not an accurate adaption of the novel. In the novel Deborah Kerr’s character doesn’t exist, and the missing man being searched for is the brother of a man in Quatermain’s expedition party.  

Personally I think that adding the character of Elizabeth helped the film as the growing relationship between Elizabeth and Allen is possibly the most memorable part of the film. I also liked seeing how Elizabeth coped in a hostile environment and how she doesn’t want to be seen as weak or helpless by Quatermain and the others. 

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Elizabeth and Allan share a moment. Screnshot by me.

Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr)and her brother, John (Richard Carlson)hire  the experienced hunter and guide, Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger). They hire him to take them in search of Elizabeth’s missing husband. Mr. Curtis was searching for the legendary King Solomon’s Mines and he hasn’t been seen since setting out on his adventure.

Allan accepts the job, but he warns them that it will be dangerous, difficult and it will be unlikely that they will find him. The trio set out, along with a number of native guides and bearers. Along the way they are joined by the exiled (and very tall)native king Umbopa(Siriaque).

The group encounter danger from tribesmen, from oppressive heatwaves and from some wildlife. Allan and Elizabeth start off disliking each other, but over the weeks that follow they both realise they are developing feelings for one another. 

The film also features one of the best examples of an only in the movies moment that I can think of. Elizabeth’s long hair proves to be a real bother to her during the trek, so she takes the scissors to it and cuts it off. After a quick wash in a rock pool by a waterfall, she emerges to sunbathe on the rocks. The next time we see her, she now has a perfectly styled (and blow dried) new hairdo. See my screenshots below to enjoy this transformation. Ah, the magic of film. 😉

The film is great fun and I highly recommend it. My only issue is that there are several scenes where animals are killed for no reason other than they scared Elizabeth. I can’t stand to see animals killed or hurt, and I really hate people who hunt animals. To see these animals killed (even though the animals were probably not harmed for real)really annoys me.

Also the whole thing with Elizabeth screaming every single time she comes across an animal is very annoying. Does she not know that she in these creatures natural habitats and so of course she will be very likely to encounter them at some point?

Anyway, I hope I’ve convinced you to give this film a watch if you’ve never seen it before. If you watch it for no other reason, then at least watch it to see Stewart and Deborah’s chemistry. 

 

Are there any other fans of this one out there? Somebody please tell me I am not alone in my love for this film!

Blogathons, British Cinema, Drama, Films I Love

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

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

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

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

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

I think that this film really honours its stage bound beginnings. There are a large majority of the films scenes which take place indoors, and there is an almost claustrophobic feel about the film as the camera makes it seem as though we are in that house with this family.

The film also has many external sequences too. This is also a film where the actors are allowed to carry the film and are our main focus. Personally this is the sort of filmmaking I prefer. Give me films like this any day,rather than those where effects carry the film and the story and characters are sidelined. 

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The decent Frank. Screenshot by me.

David Lean is one of my favourite film directors. I like him so much because he was one of the few directors who was able to make films which were both epic and intimate. Not every director can pull that off, but Lean certainly had the knack. 

Lean knew how to get the balance between the intimate and the epic just right in his films. I think that this particular film is one of the best examples of his ability to be able to meld those two things together. 

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

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

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

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Frank and Bob. Screenshot by me.

I also love the film because Robert Newton and Celia Johnson’s characters remind me so much of my grandparents. Grandad was just like Newton’s character is in the film, he was a quiet man who didn’t speak all that much. When he did speak it was because he had something very meaningful to say. He loved his family and his garden more than anything else. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Queenie shows off her dancing skills. Screenshot by me.

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

Despite those minor complaints this film really is very good indeed. There are strong performances from all in the cast. I think Robert Newton delivers the standout performance in the film.

If you are only familiar with Robert as the over the top Long John Silver, then you should really check him out in this flick. His performance is extremely subtle and quite touching. Watch his eyes and his face in this because they sure speak volumes. Robert brings Frank to life and makes him utterly believable.  

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

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

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

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Billy arrives home. Screenshot by me.

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

What do you think of this film? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Films I Love, Science Fiction

Forbidden Planet (1956)

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The ship lands on the planet. Screenshot by me.

This is one of the greatest Science Fiction films ever made. At the time it was made this film was about as far away from a typical Science Fiction film as you could get.

This film also makes you think and it has a nice blend of horror, action, and romance to enjoy. I love the set design and futuristic look of the film too. 

Forbidden Planet changed the look of Science Fiction films forever. It also showed filmmakers and audiences that Science Fiction could be more thought provoking than they may have previously imagined.

Before this film, many Science Fiction films of the time looked very much like cheap B Pictures (not saying that there is anything wrong with B Pictures)and it has to be said that the quality of the effects were usually not very good at all. This film changed all that. The effects and ship in this film looked more realistic.

I also love the sound effects in this film. There isn’t a traditional music score, instead we have the otherworldly electronic music score by Bebe and Louis Barron. Their sound work adds a great deal of atmosphere to the film. Their work makes the film unsettling at times and mystical and exciting at others.  Their sound effects are really quite unlike anything heard before or since. 

The film also features some of the most unforgettable images in the history of the genre. The special effects in this were extremely impressive for the 1950’s, and I firmly believe that they still impress audiences when viewed today. This is one that really makes you think about what should be feared more, unknown alien beings, ideas, and words? Or our own minds, and the terrible things that we’re capable of doing and creating with them?

The film entertains us certainly, but it also poses some very big questions to which there are no easy answers. Should our quest for improving ourselves and increasing our abilities be undertaken with extreme caution? In case we should ever grow beyond what we are now, and end up losing what makes us human(compassion, rational thought etc)in the process? Or should we move beyond ourselves no matter what the cost in doing so could be?

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Commander Adams. Screenshot by me.

Fred M. Wilcox directed the film. It was based on a screenplay by Cyril Hume. Some viewers have said that the plot of the film reminds them of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

Leslie Nielson plays the heroic, always ready for action, Commander Adams. Adams and his crew are sent out to the planet Altair-4 to investigate why there has been no contact with the human colonists who settled on this planet some years ago.

Once on the planet, Adams and his crew soon discover the only survivors from the colony – the highly intelligent scientist Dr. Morbius(Walter Pidgeon). Morbius’s equally intelligent, mini-dress clad daughter Altaira(Anne Francis), and their loveable companion Robby the robot – part butler, cook, bodyguard and friend.

Altaira becomes very fond of the crew, but Morbius is distrustful of them and he is openly hostile towards them. Morbius just wants himself and his daughter to be left alone in peace. Things get complicated when Altaira and Adams fall in love, and when the crew are attacked by the terrifying unseen creature responsible for the deaths of the other colonists.

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Morbius comforts his daughter. Screenshot by me.

I love this film so much. It is a groundbreaking film in the genre, and I think it would be fair to say that this must have strongly influenced the creator of another Science Fiction favourite of mine, the Star Trek TV series.

The device that the crew step into during the approach to the planet resemble the Star Trek transporters. I also think that Adams is a very similar character to Captain Kirk.

I also love how this one isn’t your typical alien monster film either. When you learn the identity of the monster, and where it actually comes from it is pretty mind blowing stuff.

That reveal  really adds another layer of complexity and wonderment to what you’ve been watching. This is a film I never get tired of watching, and it always impresses me no matter how many times I’ve seen it before.

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Altaira. Screenshot by me.

The only thing about this film I don’t really like that much is the romance between Adams and Altaira. She is basically a child in a woman’s body. She is very trusting and innocent and within a couple of days of meeting these two have supposedly fallen in love. If their growing romance had taken place over a longer period, then I think I would believe it more. It just comes across as being very rushed to me.

I also found it a bit creepy when Altaira meets the three crewmen for the first time and they flirt with her and stare at her like they’ve never seen a woman before. Considering she has never been to earth, or been around young men, it’s a bit unfair for them to be so sexual with her when she clearly has no idea what they are doing. If that had happened later in the film when she is getting curious about them and wanting to be with them I think that would have worked, having it happen right away though just comes off as lecherous. 

Walter Pidgeon is excellent as the tragic Morbius. A strong and clever man who is unrelenting, and who is also utterly powerless to resist what he has unleashed. Pidgeon was always a likeable actor and I love that here he gets to show he could play more complex and unlikeable characters too. I like how he conveys Morbius’s desire to keep his daughter with him at all costs. This man doesn’t like the idea of strangers taking her away from all she has ever known.
It’s also nice to see Leslie Nielson in a serious role as the heroic lead character. He makes Adams heroic, and also someone who is calm and rational under pressure. For more serious Nielson performances, check him out in a guest appearance in The Streets of San Francisco as a boozing detective, and in the 1958 Western, The Sheepman. Nielson is one of my favourite screen comics, but I have really enjoyed seeing him in serious roles, I wish he had played more dramatic roles.
Warren Stevens is terrific as Doc Ostrow, Adams close friend. Stevens is an actor who I haven’t seen in very many other things, but I really like him here and think he had it in him to become a big star. If you like him here check him out in an episode of One Step Beyond called The Riddle.

Anne Francis is superb as the ethereal Altaira. Anne perfectly conveys her characters innocent, pure and trusting nature, and also her growing desire to spend time with someone other than her father.

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Robby The Robot. Screenshot by me.

Robby the robot is one of the most instantly recognisable characters in film history. He’s a loveable individual who is probably the first thing that springs to mind when someone mentions this film. He has become one of the most recognisable characters and creations in Science Fiction history.

My favourite scenes are the ship landing on the planet. The whirl of dust crossing the horizon which signals the approach of Robby. Meeting Morbius. Adams protecting Altaira from a potential tiger attack. The attack on the ship. Altaira’s first meeting and flirting with Adams, Ostrow(Warren Stevens)and Farman(Jack Kelly).

What do you think of this film?

 

Films I Love, Page To Screen, Romance

The Ghost And Mrs. Muir (1947)

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The Captain advises Lucy. Screenshot by me.

This is one of my favourite romantic films. I always watch this if I’m in need of cheering up. This is a film that touches my heart like no other ever has. I love it because the characters are likeable, loneliness is cured, friendship and love are found, and there is the right mix between fantasy and reality to make it believable. 

I also love how the film shows Mrs.Muir and the Captain helping each other to change. He helps her become outgoing and strong. She helps him become gentler and more sociable. It’s a sort of Beauty and The Beast story. I’m partial to stories of opposites attracting and personalities being changed for the better. This is one of my favourite such stories.

The film is based upon the 1945 novel written by R. A Dick. The film is directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. The film is set on the British coast (actually filmed in California) at the turn of the 20th century. Gene Tierney is at her most beautiful and regal here as the young widow, Mrs. Lucy Muir. Rex Harrison is intense and gruff as the ghostly Captain Gregg, the former owner of the haunted cottage that Mrs. Muir moves into.

There is an ambiguity here I think, about whether or not the Captain is actually a real manifestation, or if he is merely part of Mrs. Muir’s overactive imagination. When she moves in to her new home there is a portrait of the Captain hanging in a room, and  when she sees it she becomes intrigued by this sailor in the portrait. She begins to think of him and then he appears to her.

Now the Captain could just be nothing more than her imagination, and yet he could also be a physical representation of her beginning to start breaking free of her past restrictions. With the Captain around she becomes much more open, adventurous, and has some much needed fun. She is no longer living a sheltered and pampered life. If you believe that then it’s also possible that she writes the book later in the film due to being inspired by her surroundings and the history of her home. 

However, I think that you can also view it that he is indeed a real ghost. Mrs. Muir’s daughter sees him too, as do the relations of Mrs. Muir’s dead husband(in a memorable scene the Captain evicts them from the premises). There is also the fact that hauntings were reported to be happening at the cottage long before Mrs. Muir ever arrived there, and the ending pretty much(for me at least)proves his existence.

Mrs Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney)is a widow. She and her daughter (Natalie Wood)move to their new home Gull Cottage on the British coast. The pair are joined by their loyal maid and friend, Martha(Edna Best). One night, Lucy is startled to meet the ghost of the former owner of her new home. This man is the rough and gruff Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison). The two do not get along at all at first. He soon warms to her presence though and allows her to stay. He won’t disturb her with haunting tricks (moving furniture etc). 

As they spend more time together, the Captain falls in love with Lucy, all the while knowing full well that nothing can ever come of their growing feelings and desire. She comes to care for him a great deal too. The pair settle for a close friendship and she agrees to write his memoirs about life as a sailor.

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Miles is one smooth operator. Screenshot by me.

They finish the book, and she takes it to a publisher. Whilst on a trip to the publishers, Lucy meets the charming (and obvious cad)Miles Fairley(George Sanders, at his most charming and oily), he (supposedly) falls in love with her.

The Captain can see straight through Miles’s charming façade. He knows full well that he is no good, but will Lucy ever see the truth about this elegant living man in her life? 

Harrison and Tierney make a beautiful screen couple. I think that they perfectly convey the shared heartache and desires of their characters. I love how their shared scenes become more tender and moving as the film goes on, and as their characters feelings for one another increase.

Harrison is an actor who I’ve never really been much of a fan of, but I really do like him here. Harrison makes the Captain harsh and gruff, and yet he also shows us that his outward appearance is nothing more than an act, he is really a gentle, tender, and very decent man underneath.

Gene Tierney delivers one of her very best performances here, as the rich young woman finally getting her first chance to do the things she wants to do. She starts off as a restrained woman who doesn’t express much. Through her friendship with the Captain she becomes more outgoing and open. Gene Tierney does a marvellous job of showing us that change in her character. She makes Mrs. Muir strong, determined, gentle and excitable.

Bernard Herrmann’s beautiful score for this is one of his very best, it’s atmospheric and for me always conjures up images of the sea. It’s a moving and passionate score, and goes so well with the images on screen.

The photography by Charles Lang is gorgeous. He was Oscar nominated for his work here. I particularly love his photography in the kitchen scene, it’s so dark and scary, and then when the candle is lit the room becomes very atmospheric casting shadows on the walls. 

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Just kiss already! Screenshot by me.

My all time favourite scene in this is the dream scene; in this scene we see the Captain realise that he must make quite a sacrifice to ensure Lucy’s future happiness. It is a heartbreaking moment.

I also really love the scene on the train where the Captain yells at an old man who wants to share Lucy’s compartment, and because the Captain is invisible to anyone except Lucy, the old man thinks she has yelled insults at him and his reaction to her is priceless.

Superb performances from the entire cast. This is a must watch for fans of classic era romance. Make sure you have some tissues with you though as it’s guaranteed to make you shed a few tears.
There was a TV series of this made in the 1960’s. I’ve been lucky enough to find the episodes on YouTube, if you haven’t seen it and like the film, then do check it out. Hope Lange plays Mrs. Muir and Edward Mulhare plays Captain Gregg. I enjoyed this very much, it’s more of a comedy than a romantic drama, but there are many lovely scenes between the Captain and Mrs. Muir to enjoy too.

Nothing can top this film version for me though. The gorgeous score, the excellent performances, the poignant romance, and the interesting premise make this a timeless classic. It is a film I return to again and again. It never fails to make me laugh and cry. It provides the perfect viewing for times when I am ill or sad.

What do you think of the film?

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

The Wicked Lady (1945)

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

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Margaret Lockwood as Barbara. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Captain Jackson. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Drama, Films I Love, Noir

Sunset Blvd (1950)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The famous opening swimming pool scene. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Norma and DeMille reunite. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on Sunset Blvd?

 

Drama, Films I Love, Japanese Cinema

Rashomon (1950)

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The wife watches. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The bandit. Screenshot by me.

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

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The wife. Screenshot by me.

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

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The husband. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think of this film?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Films I Love

The Ten Commandments (1956)

Cecil B. De Mille sure knew how to put on a show. He really was the master of the big screen epic. When DeMille released a new film, audiences of the time knew full well what they were in for: large scale sets, a truly epic story, larger than life characters, and so many memorable moments. His films were what going to the cinema was supposed to be all about. You went to the cinema to be entertained and wowed. DeMille put a great deal of work into ensuring that his audiences got plenty of wow factor and entertainment. 

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The Red Sea parts. Screenshot by me.

De Mille’s films were big events, and many of them went on to become classics that are still discussed today, several decades after DeMille’s death. I think that The Ten Commandments (which would sadly be his last film) is one of the very best films that he ever made.

I also think that this particular film is a good place to begin if you are trying to get into DeMille’s work. This film shows you just what he was all about as a filmmaker. I really think he managed to perfectly blend together an intimate human story against a truly epic and stunning visual backdrop.  

De Mille’s final film has also become the film for which he has become best remembered for. The film is a partial remake of his own 1923 film of the same name. The Silent version told two stories. The first is a depiction of the biblical events, including the famous parting of the Red Sea. The second is a story set in more modern times and it concerns two brothers and their respective views on the commandments. 

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Charlton Heston as Moses. Screenshot by me.

However, for his later remake, DeMille decided to focus entirely upon the Biblical story. He shot on location out in Egypt (employing hundreds of extras to star in the mass crowd sequences)and on soundstages. His film recreates Ancient Egypt for us in great detail.  

I also love how he shows us the great contrast between the rich and the poor of the time in the film. We see the gruelling life of the slaves, toiling under the boiling sun for hours on end covered in mud and sand.

We also get to see the luxury and beauty of the royal household. The royals living there are indifferent to the plight of their slaves. To them these people are not people at all, they are simply strong backs and hands to do their bidding. 

The special effects by John P. Fulton are extraordinary and they have stood the test of time well. I especially love the creepy shot of the plague drifting through the streets. The parting of the Red Sea is also a truly masterful achievement.

The film tells the life of Moses. The newborn baby Moses (played by Charton Heston’s newborn son, Fraser) is placed in a basket by his mother (Martha Scott) and floats off down the River Nile in order to escape the murderous soldiers of the Pharaoh. 

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Princess Bithiah finds baby Moses. Screenshot by me.

The soldiers are killing all first born sons in an effort to stop a prophecy about a deliverer for the Jewish slaves. The basket drifts into the water gardens of the royal palace and is discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter Princess Bithiah(Nina Foch). The Princess is childless, so she keeps baby Moses and passes him off as her own child. 

Years later we see the now grown Prince Moses (Charlton Heston)as a strong and beloved warrior. He is the favourite of the current Pharaoh, who is his uncle, Sethi(Cedric Hardwicke).  This favouritism annoys Sethi’s son Rameses (Yul Brynner)and he hates Moses.

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Princess Nefreteri. Screenshot by me.

These two men become rivals for the crown of Egypt and also for the hand in marriage of Princess Nefreteri (Anne Baxter). The Princess is a beautiful, scheming, and very vain woman, but she genuinely loves Moses and doesn’t want to be married to Rameses. I really love how Anne plays this role, she chews the scenery up and ends up stealing all the scenes she is in. Anne also gets the most beautiful dresses to wear throughout the film.

Everything soon changes when Moses learns the truth about his heritage. He is banished by Sethi(a decision that breaks the older mans heart)and is sent by Rameses out into the desert. Instead of dying he survives his trek and meets a tribesman and his daughters.

Moses is taken in by them and he later marries the oldest daughter, Sephora (Yvonne De Carlo). Years pass and the couple have a son. One day Moses sees a strange light on top of the mountain next to where he lives.

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Sephora, the girl who won the heart of Moses. Screenshot by me.

Climbing the slopes of the mountain he discovers God, who appears to him as a burning bush and speaks with the voice of Moses’s long dead father (Charlton Heston’s voice deepened). When Moses comes down from the mountain he is a very changed man. He now looks much older and has the appearance of one who is in some way removed from the life around him. 

Moses must now travel to the capital of Egypt and show the power of God to Rameses who has now succeeded his father as Pharaoh. Rameses is now married to Nefreteri and they have a son. Rameses refuses to accept what Moses is telling him. He thinks that things like making snakes appear or turning water to blood are nothing more than magic tricks. When the plagues arrive in Egypt and his son dies he sets out with his armies to destroy Moses. 

This leads to the famous exodus sequence and the parting of the Red Sea. These two sequences remain extremely impressive when viewed today. I own this film on Blu-ray and the effects and the sharp picture quality really do look fantastic. There are a few scenes where the effects don’t look so good(you can see the lines between the imposed backdrop and the actors for example,) but these two sequences have stood the test of time really well. 

I am not a religious person, but I really do enjoy watching this film and its depiction of slaves being set free and given a good life. I have no idea whether the events depicted here are accurate or not according to Bible, but I do find the film to be hugely enjoyable and impressive regardless of whether or not it really happened. 

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Joshua and Lilia. Screenshot by me.

A few complaints coming up. I wish that the storyline focusing on the heroic stone cutter Joshua (John Derek)and the gentle and humble water girl Lilia (Debra Paget)had been given a greater focus. If only there had been a few more scenes before she is taken away from him so that we could really feel a greater connection to them and their relationship. Derek and Paget make the most of their roles, but I just wish they had been given larger roles. 

I also think that many of the supporting cast sadly don’t really get much substance to their roles. The actors all shine in their scenes, but many characters are not as developed as they should be.

I feel that Moses and Sephora’s relationship is also very rushed, I think there should have been many more scenes between them depicting their growing feelings for one another. 

The film also features two very bizarre casting choices. Vincent Price as the master builder, Baka. Price certainly oozes malevolence but he just comes across as being out of place in this film for some reason. I am a huge fan of Price but I am quite bemused by him appearing in this. 

Moving from Price onto the second piece of strange casting in the film. Just who was responsible for putting my boy Eddie G in this film as Dathan? He was one of the finest actors of his generation, and he is a great favourite of mine, but this was not a role or film genre that he was suited to at all. His casting leaves me scratching my head. 

Quibbles aside this is a very enjoyable film. It is one I would dearly love to see on the big screen as it was intended to be seen. Have any of you seen it at the cinema? If so, please share your experiences of what that was like. 

Upon release the film quickly became one of the most financially successful films at the box office. I hope that made DeMille happy because you can see on screen how much work went into this film. De Mille suffered a massive heart attack during filming but like the pro he was, he was back on set not long after suffering it to continue working. He would suffer from problems with his heart for the rest of his life. De Mille died in 1959. 

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Rameses. Screenshot by me.

My favourite performances in the film come from Yul Brynner (sexy and strong as the crown prince). Nina Foch as the loving Bithia. Martha Scott as Yochabel, the real mother to Moses. Anne Baxter as the beautiful Nefretri. Cedric Hardwicke as the stern but fair Sethi. Debra Paget as Lilia. Yvonne De Carlo as the humble and kind Sephora. I also enjoy seeing De Mille himself in the opening introducing the film. 

I also really like Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses. Heston has never been an actor I’ve liked very much. This film and The Big Country are really the only films I have ever actually liked him in. I love how he conveys through his body language and expressions his transformation from Egyptian prince, to thoughtful and other worldly messenger of God. There is an authority and strength about him in the scene where Moses comes down from the mountain, and you more than believe then that he has undergone a real change. A very impressive performance. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Rameses kissing Nefretiri and telling her she will be his wife. Moses seeing God and coming back down from the mountain. Sephora telling Moses that all that her (poor)family have he is more than welcome to. Moses’s staff becoming a cobra. Bithiah finding Moses in the basket. Nefretiri arriving at the mudpits to find Moses. The exodus and parting of the Red Sea. Rameses and Nefretiri’s reactions after the death of their son. Sethi’s deathbed scene. The plague drifting through the streets. Moses’s adoptive and birth mother pleading with one another over his future.

I also have to praise the music by Elmer Bernstein. He replaced Victor Young as composer after Young became ill. I love the score because it’s larger than life, just like the film is. It is a dramatic, sweeping and memorable score.

You will have noticed that I have added screenshots to this post. I have always been a little unsure about whether or not I should be including screenshots and photos in my posts, but seeing that so many other bloggers do it, I thought I’d have a go myself. Let me know if you think the quality is ok or not. If you think I captured them ok, I may well go back through my archives and add some to past posts.  I hope you like them. 

One more thing before I go. If you are buying this film I can’t recommend the Blu-ray edition highly enough. The film looks beautiful and stunning in this format. The picture quality looks so clear, the colours are so bright and vibrant, and the film has been cleaned up very well indeed. 

What are your thoughts on this film?

 

 

Fantasy, Films I Love, Romance

The Princess Bride (1987)

There are some films that you automatically grab from the DVD shelf when you’re sick, or when you are feeling sad and are in desperate need of something comforting to turn to. The Princess Bride is one such film for me. This film never fails to leave me with a smile on my face. In this film wrongs are made right, love conquers all and good triumphs over evil.

Rob Reiner directs this film which is based on the 1973 novel (which I’ve yet to read)by William Goldman. The film presents us with a fairytale filled with romance, action, adventure, courage, revenge, giants, pirates, fun and magic. It is also a very clever parody of the various genres contained within it. The film has you laughing at lines and scenes that are clearly sending up these sorts of stories. Children will love this for the story, adults will also love it for that, but can pick up the parody side of the film and find even more to laugh at.The film also brings to mind the swashbuckling films of the 30’s and 40’s.  This and Stand By Me are my favourite films from Rob Reiner.

 

The film begins in the bedroom of a young boy (Fred Savage)who is sick in bed. His granddad (Peter Falk)comes over to read him a story. That story is The Princess Bride. The first few lines make the boy think this is a romance story, and he is far from interested in it. As the story continues he starts to enjoy it and he (and us too)are soon completely hooked by the story. We see the story he is being read unfold before us on screen.

The Princess Bride tells the story of the beautiful Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright in her film debut). Buttercup has been chosen to marry the handsome, vain and cold Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), but she does not love him. Years ago, Buttercup was in love with the gentle farmboy, Westley (Cary Elwes)who has long been believed to be dead after a ship he was on was attacked at sea.

When Westley returns to her (now in the guise of  a mysterious man dressed all in black)their love cannot be denied. When Buttercup is kidnapped by Vizzini( Wallace Shawn)an intelligent, criminal mastermind who is desperate to start a war with Prince Humperdinck, Westley sets out to rescue her. Vizzini is helped in his kidnap plot by gentle giant, Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and the athletic, and super skilled swordsman, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). Inigo is also searching for a six fingered man who murdered his father. Inigo has perfected his sword skills, not for fame or for glory, but so he can be good enough to fight and kill his fathers killer.

Cary plays Westley as a mix of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, athletic, suave, cool in the face of danger and certain death, throwing witty lines around all over the place. He  steals every scene he is in and gets you wanting to know more about his character. Westley is heroic, intelligent, perceptive and brave. All he does, he does for love.

Robin is enchanting as the young woman desperate to be with her true love. For a film debut, Robin gives an amazing performance. You would not guess this was her first time in a film. Her performance is all in her eyes, and she steals many a scene with just a look. Buttercup is a strong woman and is true to her only love throughout the film, wealth and status mean nothing to her, only her one true love means anything.

Mandy Patinkin gives my favourite performance in the film, as the man desperate to avenge his fathers murder. Mandy has your heart breaking for his character one moment, and then has us all cheering when he fights and stands up to injustice the next. I love the way he delivers that famous line throughout the film “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father. Prepare to die!” He says it differently throughout, but each time he delivers it, the line packs an emotional punch and is truly one of the great lines in cinema history. Apparently Mandy pictured the six fingered man as the cancer that killed his own father, so when he says that line it’s like he is seeking revenge on that vile disease.

Chris Sarandon plays Humperdinck as a villain who you love to hate. He is vain and pompous, and yet he is also intelligent, a skilled fighter and tracker, and is not someone you want to cross. He steals every scene he is in. I love the way he says this line “Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan. I’ve got my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped.” Cracks me up every time.

Chrisopher Guest is perfectly cast as the Princes right hand man, Tyrone. A skilled torturer and swordsman, he takes immense pleasure in killing and inflicting pain. Christopher plays the character so well that you want to boo and hiss each time he makes an appearance on screen.

Andre The Giant is loveable as Fezzik. He makes him brave and strong, but has Fezzik has slow reactions so isn’t much use in a fist fight, but he tries hard! It is a credit to Andre that he doesn’t let you see how much pain he was in. He was suffering back pain and was in agony throughout the shoot, but you would never know it to watch him. Andre died in 1993.

Wallace Shawn is hysterical as the cunning man of great intellect whose wit and words are his greatest weapons. I love the way he says “inconceivable!” all the time. He’s always been one of the great character actors and this is one of his greatest performances.

Peter Falk is perfect as the granddad who you wish was your own. This man knows the power of a good story and he knows the boy will soon be drawn into this tale. Falk acts as the narrator and guide in the film and is a welcome presence throughout.

Small appearances by Mel Smith , Peter Cook and Billy Crystal add to the comedy in the film, with Crystal  coming up with much of his own dialogue.

Fred Savage does a good job as the young boy who starts to see that books are magical, and reading is just as good (if not better in many cases)than watching TV or playing video games. I love the bit where he’s disgusted by the fact that this could be a kissing book. 🙂

The film was made on location here in the UK. I think that was a good choice as the landscape brings to mind a fairytale/medieval land. I recently visited Haddon Hall, in Derbyshire which was used as the location for Humperdinck’s castle. That was quite an experience, and I urge you to visit not only because it was in the film, but as it is one of the few remaining medieval castles. This was also featured in Jane Eyre (2006)and The Priory School(an episode of the Return of Sherlock Holmes TV series.)

A beautiful score by Mark Knopfler adds greatly to the film. This is such a fun film and is one that can be enjoyed over and over again and never gets old.  Isn’t this true of all fairytales? I also really like how the film captures how you see a story in your head when reading a book.

My favourite scenes are the following. Inigo in the forest asking his father’s spirit to guide his sword. Westley and Buttercup’s conversation on top of the hill where he says “life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The sequence in the fire swamp. Westley and Inigo’s swordfight (both Cary and Mandy practiced for months and became very skilled with swords, and that really is them both for the whole of that exciting sequence.) Vizzini and Westley matching wits over the poisoned cups. Buttercup in the eel lake. Inigo finally getting to face the six fingered man.

I also think that if the events of this film had been a reality that the ending would have been considerably different. Towards the end of the film you get a sharp slap from reality as characters start dying or getting seriously injured. In reality I think Inigo and Westley would have died from what happened to them, Buttercup would have gone through with her threat and Humperdinck would no doubt have passed himself off as the big hero. I’d say the ending we get in the film is much better, even if it is only a crowd pleasing fantasy. Hey, aren’t dreams always thus though?

Writing all of this has made me eager to watch this again. “As you wish”, my DVD player says to me. Alright then, I will.  🙂

What are your thoughts on this film?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Films I Love, Japanese Cinema

Ikiru(1952)

 

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The famous swing scene. Screenshot by me.

Akira Kurosawa is one of my favourite film directors. I admire his films quite a bit. I have several favourites from amongst his work, but it is Ikiru that I consider to be my all time favourite Kurosawa film. It is a film that really impacts  the viewer on an emotional and spiritual level.

This film makes me stop and think about life every time I watch it. This film helps you realise that we should all stop and take in what is around us(the sky, the animals, the flowers etc), work is certainly necessary to pay the bills, but there is more to life than your job.

Treasure life with all your heart. There will come a time when one day you will no longer be here to appreciate life. Afraid that no one will remember you after you have left this earth? Then do something positive to help others while you’re living, that will make sure your name and deeds are remembered after death.

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Watanabe hears the worse news a person can receive. Screenshot by me.

Takashi Shimura gives a performance that really moves me, he makes you feel his characters pain, anguish, and also his eventual peace with his tragic and frightening situation.

Shimura is one of the most expressive actors in film history and I think that his performance here should be used in an acting masterclass. Every look, every expression speaks volumes and affects the viewer as we see the loneliness, pain, joy and fear of this man.

Kanji Watanabe(Takashi Shimura)is an office worker whose greatest pride in life is his work and his work record. He begins to suffer from terrible stomach pains and is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This news really hits him and he is adrift in life.

Watanabe’s work no longer brings him any joy, and he is desperate to find out the secret to enjoying life, he will learn that there is no such secret. He begs a young office worker(Miki Odagiri)to help him understand how to live, she is frightened by him and doesn’t understand what is driving him.

Watanabe doesn’t realise until later that enjoying life doesn’t mean laughing and going out partying; it can simply be nothing more than appreciating a sunset or sunrise, admiring the beauty of flowers, sitting and watching  what’s going on around you etc.

Life is the very world around us, the air we breathe, the snow, the rain etc. He also learns that he can leave something in this world that says he was here, he sets out to build a park for the local children. In one of the most iconic images in film history we see Watanabe sitting quietly on a swing as the snow falls around him, he is sitting quietly in that moment.

My favourite scenes are the following. Watanabe singing the song with tears in his eyes. When he discovers(before the doctors can tell him)that he is suffering from cancer, the fear and realisation in his eyes really gets to me. All the scenes between Watanabe and the young office girl. The ending showing the park being used as intended.

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Watanabe finds some joy. Screenshot by me.

Ikiru is one of the most moving films there has ever been. This film is so real to me(by that I mean I find myself connecting with Watanabe throughout)his pain and emotional journey don’t even seem like a film plot, they seem like a real experience that has been captured on film.

Shimura’s performance here is his very best in my opinion. He really was a one of a kind actor; his face is a kaleidoscope of emotion, and he really lets you see and share his characters grief, fear, and happiness. He makes me want to reach through the screen and hug his character. 

This story should be one that anyone from any country and background can enjoy, as the story is one that is so universal. This film is a human story and makes you realise how precious life is. 

Any other fans? If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it.

Films I Love, Indian Cinema, Romance

Charulata(1964)

Charulata is one of my favourite classic era Indian films. I love it because it is a real character piece, and also because it is a poignant and unforgettable story of love, emotional connection and loneliness.

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Madhabi Mukherjee as Charu. Screenshot by me.

The main reason I love this film so much is due to the heartbreaking and powerful lead performance of Madhabi Mukherjee.

She is one of my favourite actresses from all of Indian cinema, she is such an expressive actress and she always manages to convey so much with her eyes alone.

In this film her expressions convey everything that her lonely character is feeling.

The film itself a masterful portrayal of a slowly crumbling marriage, of loneliness, friendship, desire and passion. It is a film about the emotions and desires that we may all have, but that some of us may have to keep hidden away due to the circumstances we find ourselves in at the time these feelings arise.

Directed and written by Satyajit Ray, Charulata(the lonely wife)is set in the scorching heat of Victorian era Calcutta. Bhupati(Sailen Mukherjee)is a newspaper journalist, his long work hours and dedication to his job means that he ends up neglecting his young wife, Charu(Madhabi Mukherjee). The pair still love each other very much, but they have become more like best friends sharing a house, rather than a loving man and wife.

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Charu and Amal talking in the garden. Screenshot by me.

Charu is lonely, she wants more in her life than organising her household, and reading the books and magazines in her home library.

Sensing her loneliness, Bhupati invites his sister and outgoing brother-in-law, Amal(Soumitra Chatterjee)to keep Charu company. Amal shares Charu’s passion for literature and of discussing reading.

As the two spend time discussing literature and writing, they become very close and enjoy spending time together. Charu finds herself falling in love with Amal. Does he return her feelings? Will anything come of this growing love?A heartbreaking story of love that at first appears to be unrequited(truly one of the most difficult things to deal with in life), regret and enjoying life.

This is a film which is a slow build, it really takes its time developing the characters and their situations. This is the type of storytelling I like best. We end up feeling like we are there with the characters sharing their lives. If you like films focusing on the characters, and films which let the actors carry the film, then this will be one for you.

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Charu and Bhupati. Screenshot by me.

Madhabi is superb in the scenes where we see that Charu is falling for Amal, but that he is blind to her growing feelings for him. We see her visibly brighten when he enters a room, or when they read and write in the garden.

Her disappointment and longing is evident on her face and in her body language.

Both Amal and Bhupati notice Charu’s change of behaviour but neither tries to find out what is bothering her. My heart goes out to Charu so much.

My favourite scenes are the following. Amal pushing Charu on the garden swing. Bhupati crying in the carriage when he realises what has happened and that he is partly to blame. Amal writing the letter to Charu. Amal trying to explain his story to Bhupati. Charu and Bhupati on the beach. Amal’s reaction to reading Charu’s story. Charu reading Amal’s letter to her and the storm rushing through the house signalling the arrival of Amal(and symbolising the chaos his stay will cause in this house.)

Strong performances from the lead trio, a moving story, and characters that you can feel for all combine to make this a must see. I also like how Bhupati is not presented as the villain of the piece, you feel for him and like him, just as you do with Amal and Charu. In this respect this film reminds me somewhat of David Lean’s The Passionate Friends.

This one is in my top five Ray films. The other four being The Big City, Nayak: The Hero, The Music Room and The Stranger.

Any other fans of this one? If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it.

Detective, Films I Love, Japanese Cinema

Stray Dog(1949)

If you thought that Akira Kurosawa’s films were all historical epics, featuring swordfights and Samurai warriors, then you really need to think again. Kurosawa also made several dramas and thrillers set in the present day of his time(40’s and 50’s Japan.)

Two of my favourites amongst these particular set of films are Ikiru and The Quiet Duel. 

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Murakami gets desperate. Screenshot by me.

Stray Dog is another great favourite of mine. It is a type of film that I dearly wish Kurosawa had made more of.

I really do love Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai films, but I find that his lesser known drama films have become even more special to me than the samurai films. It is to these more intimate drama films that I keep returning again and again.

The film is set in Japan and takes place during a rather oppressive heatwave. This Noir Thriller features Kurosawa’s regular lead actor Toshiro Mifune. Mifune delivers one of the best performances of his career in this film.

Mifune is excellent as the sweat soaked, keen, rookie detective Murakami. When his police gun is stolen from him he doesn’t stop trying to track it down. As time goes on, Murakami finds that his gun has moved on from the pickpocket who snatched it and into the criminal underworld.

Murakami becomes guilt ridden when the gun becomes linked to crimes. It is at this point that he has to ask for help in his search for the gun(and in a way his own redemption). Murakami is helped by veteran detective Sato(Takashi Shimura at his best here, perfectly conveying wisdom and world weariness).

This is such a good film. It is exciting, moving and very thrilling too. There is some striking photography by Asaichi Nakai, and some strong performances from pretty much everyone in the cast. Even people who feature for a small amount of screen time make a real impression.

The film is shot on location and that really adds a great deal of authenticity to the story we are watching. The film also shows us the good and bad sides of life in that country. The film also shows us a side of Japanese life which we don’t see too often on screen, that of nightclubs and dancehalls.

The film rarely lets up on its edge the seat thrills, but there are some quieter moments to be found too. A scene that always stays with me after viewing, shows the grief stricken husband of a woman killed by Murakami’s stolen gun sobbing in his wife’s garden; we see (as does Murakami)the terrible impact such a crime has on the victims loved ones.

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The wise Sato. Screenshot by me.

Interestingly Sato seems quite distant in that scene, which to me shows that he has seen so many similar things in his career. Due to his experience at dealing with such crimes he has in a way become used to and hardened against such things.

Sato tries to teach Murakami that he can’t get personally involved in every case, if he did the emotions would break him apart; but the older detective also knows he can’t teach that, it is something that has to be learnt by bitter experience. Sato and Murakami’s odd couple relationship also predates the buddy cop plots which are so common in films and series today.

The finale in the field is tense and deeply moving, as we find ourselves feeling some pity for someone who we should actually hate. If the film tells us anything, it is that crime is a destroyer and waster all round, there are only losers in such a life. The lives of both the victims and perpetrators of crime are ruined and forever altered by criminal activity of one sort or another.

Strangely enough Kurosawa himself never actually regarded this film very highly for some reason. I’d love to know why that was, as this really is one of his very best films.

A great one to watch over the weekend. If you’re not really into Japanese cinema this would serve as a great introduction I think, give it a go and share your thoughts.

If, like me, you are already a fan of this flick then please share your thoughts.