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 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’s pretty mind blowing stuff, and it 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. 

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Morbius. Screenshot by me.

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?

 

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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, 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 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 really don’t want her character to leave the film. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Captain Jackson. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Drama, Films I Love, Noir

Sunset Blvd (1950)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The famous opening swimming pool scene. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The loyal Max. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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Norma and DeMille reunite. Screenshot by me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on Sunset Blvd?

 

Drama, Films I Love, Japanese Cinema

Rashomon (1950)

I’m writing today about my second favourite Akira Kurosawa film. My all time favourite film from Kurosawa is Ikiru. Coming in a close second though is Rashomon. This is a film that I never get tired of watching.

Rashomon is a film that I think you can have a great deal of fun analysing and discussing. It is so expertly put together and it looks stunning from a visual perspective too. The cast are also all at their very best playing characters who are all very hard to forget. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This court sequence is also a memory (or fabrication)from the mind of the woodcutter, it is not presented to us in the typical way such a scene would have been had it been depicting a reality on the screen. Kurosawa is showing us from the beginning that we are to make up our own minds about what is going on here. 

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

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

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

The non linear style of the film and story was very new to audiences at the time. Some people found it (and still find it)infuriating that they didn’t get obvious and easy answers to what exactly happened in that forest. If done correctly (as in this case)such infuriating films can often end up being brilliant and thought provoking.  

This film was responsible for bringing Japanese cinema to the attention of Western audiences. The film won an award at The Venice Film Festival, and it also won an honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Kurosawa’s name was to become well known in the west once this film arrived there.

Soon the names of other directors like Mizoguchi and Ozu would be as well known and respected as Kurosawa’s outside of Japan. Western filmmakers would even travel to Japan to shoot films on location there.

The film is set in eleventh century Japan. The film begins with three men; one is a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura), one is a Priest (Minoru Chiaki), and the other is a commoner (Kichijiro Ueda). The men are taking shelter from a rainstorm under the decaying Rashomon Gate.

This structure was a real giant gate(more of a building than the type of gate we would know of today) to a walled city, which was built during the Heian Period.

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

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

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

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The bandit. Screenshot by me.

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

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The wife. Screenshot by me.

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

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The husband. Screenshot by me.

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

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

Mifune’s performance can certainly be seen as being quite theatrical in this. Mifune was often a very intense and physical actor, and he really used his body and gestures quite a bit during scenes. He steals every second of screen time in this film. Be it with his facial expressions, his body language, his laughter, or his constant swatting and squashing of flies.  

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

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

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

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

What do you think of this film?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

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. 

However, for his 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 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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Anne Baxter as 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 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. He 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 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 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 of 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. 

Some of the dialogue comes across as very cheesy and some of the performances are very over the top. I do think those aspects could have been toned down a bit. 

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. 

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Strange casting 1. Vincent Price. Screenshot by me.

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. 

 

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Strange casting 2. Edward G. Robinson. Screenshot by me.

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. 

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 film 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?

 

 

Films I Love, Horror

Maddy’s Five Favourite Horror Films

The following films are my five all time favourite Horror films. They will always get watched at Halloween, and these films always manage to scare and impress me each time I watch. I’d love to know your own favourite scary films to watch at this time of year.

 

Photo0078   1- The Innocents (1961)

The creepy story and spooky atmosphere seen here just can’t be bettered in my opinion. A superb adaptation of the classic story The Turn Of The Screw. There is an ambiguity throughout the film as to whether we are witnessing real possession and real ghosts, or whether the horror that occurs is all due to the breakdown of the main character (Deborah Kerr). 

Each of those scenarios is scary, and each works perfectly for the film, with evidence for each to be found within the film. Superb performances from all in the cast, especially Deborah Kerr as the tormented governess. Perfect viewing for a dark night, or for a stormy afternoon. This is my go to ghost film every single time. You can read my review of the film here.

 

 

 

Photo0144   2- The Fog (1980)

One of the creepiest horror films of all time for me. This is a much unfairly underappreciated gem from John Carpenter. It features one of the best, and one of the spookiest openings to any film; with the great John Houseman chilling you to the bone with his words alone.  The fog effects are eerie, the cast are all great, there is some stunning location work, and the film has one of Carpenter’s best scores. An American coastal town is terrorised by a group of dead sailors out for revenge. The dead sailors come ashore shrouded in a mysterious fog. Can they be stopped?

 

 

 

Photo0123   3- The Others (2001)

A ghost film that’s up there with The Innocents for me in terms of spooky atmosphere and scares. This film is both scary and moving. The ending to this acts as a punch to the stomach; the aftermath of the reveal at the end always makes me tear up a bit each time I watch. Nicole Kidman delivers one of her best ever performances as a terrified and grieving mother.  A family slowly begin to realise that they are being haunted. When three mysterious strangers show up at the house, the terror and mystery in the house increase.

 

 

Photo0169   4- Quatermass And The Pit (1967)

A Hammer production which perfectly blends Science Fiction and Horror into one terrifying film. This is the best remembered of the Quatermass films/stories, and is certainly the scariest. This was my first introduction to the character of Quatermass and he and this film have been favourites ever since. Up to a certain point in the film there is the possibility that all the strange events are due to the forces of evil.

When the real cause of the frightening events are revealed, it is still equally scary, and it also shows that what is not understood is often feared and put down to the supernatural. Barbara Shelley delivers one of her best performances as a young woman who becomes very affected by a centuries old, mysterious object found buried down in a London Underground station.

 

 

Photo0145   5- Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

I love the 1956 original very much, and I consider that a creepy film and a highpoint in 1950’s horror. I consider this remake to be that rare thing in that it surpasses the original. This tale of alien invasion is utterly terrifying. What could be more scary than being taken over by someone else? Seeing those you love killed? Imagine not knowing who to trust, not being able to control your own emotions to save yourself. This film tackles all those fears and is truly scary and disturbing. The pod people’s scream is also one of the most chilling and strange things I’ve ever heard, it chills me to the bone each time I hear it.

Aliens are taking over the people of earth. Humans are being killed and their bodies are replicated, but all the pod people lack emotion and they are intent on finding any real humans left alive. Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright and Jeff Goldblum are all superb, as the small group of friends who are forced to run for their lives from the alien invasion.

 

What are your thoughts on these five horror films? Please share your own favourites below.

 

 

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.

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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, Horror, Page To Screen

Jaws (1975)

This film has been a favourite since I first saw it in my early teens. I love the characters, the story, and the locations. I think John Williams chilling score is one of the best he has ever done, and it greatly adds to the film.

I love how the two parts of the film are so different from each other. The first half is pretty much a horror film, the characters are established and the unseen creature from the deep keeps the viewer terrified. The second is all about the growing bond between Quint, Brody and Hooper.

When I first saw this, I was 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.

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 speargun. This sight forces the Chief to return to where he just came from.

The trio are so different from each other and watching them overcome their differences to find common ground 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 come across as real people that 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 into a household name.

The film is based on 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, also there is a subplot between Hooper and Mrs. Brody that I’m glad wasn’t included in the film.

Ironically, Benchley spent the rest of his life trying to undo the bad reputation his novel(and the film)had given Great White Sharks. Benchley became a marine conservationist and wrote books about sharks and the sea, helping people to understand these creatures and their habitat.

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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 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. The woman is grabbed from beneath the waves by something unseen, she screams as she is pulled and dragged around, finally she is pulled beneath the waves.

The next day her 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)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 technology 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.

There are so many memorable moments in this film, here are some of my favourites. Quint’s Indianapolis story. The estuary attack. 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. The scene with the two fisherman who almost get attacked by the shark and the “Your going to need a bigger boat” scene.

Scheider, Shaw and Dreyfuss are all at their best in this film. Scheider is the hero of the film, he is an everyman thrown into an unusual situation made worse for him by his fear of the sea. As the film goes on we see him conquer that fear. 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 help in the second half of the film.

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 ok. It has its moments and some of the original cast return. Avoid 3 and 4, 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 right now and watch it.

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.

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.