Blogathons, Coming Of Age, Page To Screen, Romance

The June Allyson Blogathon: Little Women (1949)

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

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

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

In the 1949 film, June brings the character of the tomboyish Jo to life so well. June completely becomes this frustrated, warmhearted, outgoing, adventurous and passionate young woman. She also captures Jo’s passion for writing and the joy that it brings her.

As the film goes on, Jo matures and grows into quite the young lady, and June really captures that change so well (watch her body language, emotions and mannerisms.) Compare how she acts in the first half of the film to how she is in the second half of the film.

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

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

The 1949 film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy. The film features strong performances from all the younger members of the main cast: June, Janet Leigh, Margaret O’Brien, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lawford and Richard Stapley.

Rossano Brazzi, Mary Astor, Lucile Watson and C. Aubrey Smith all provide solid support as the various adults in the sisters lives.

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

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

The sisters are befriended by the lonely Laurie (Peter Lawford)their young neighbour who hates the restrictive life he leads with his grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith). Laurie becomes a great friend and source of comfort to the March family. As they grow up, Laurie falls in love with Jo, but she doesn’t return his feelings. Jo is against change, she hates it with every fibre of her being and she just cannot see why things can’t stay as they are. Meg finds love with Laurie’s tutor, John Brooke (Richard Stapley) and the two get married. I love watching their relationship develop, they also go on to have a very loving marriage where they are equals (which was rare I think for the time period).

Jo’s refusal of Laurie’s proposal later in the film breaks his heart. Jo goes to work as a governess in New York. While she is there she finds herself falling in love, but with someone totally unexpected, the much older Professor Bhaer (Rossano Brazzi). When Jo and the Professor fall in love, Jo realises that this change in her life is not as unpleasant as she thought it once would be.

A personal tragedy leads Jo to write a novel about her life with her sisters. It is published to great acclaim and Jo’s hard work as an author finally pays off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Classic TV, Page To Screen, Romance

Jane Eyre Discussion Part 2: My Favourite Screen Adaptation

With the novel Jane Eyre being so beloved, it is not hard to see why so many screen adaptations for this one exist. There have been many big and small screen adaptations made over the years. I like many of them, and despise a good many more of them.

My biggest complaint by far about this story on screen, is that most of the adaptations cut far too much of the novel out. The development of Jane and Rochester’s romance is often rushed, and there is too much cut out from the rest of the story. Much of the beautiful original language of the novel is also missing, making the dialogue more akin to modern language.

I think that the worst adaptations are the 1934 and 2011 film versions. I think the best of the big screen versions is the 1943 film starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.

I also have a real soft spot for the much underrated 1970 TV film, starring George C. Scott and Susannah York; this version still cuts much out, but Scott is the actor who is pretty much like the Rochester of the novel in terms of looks and mood.

My favourite screen adaptation however will always be the 1983 miniseries, starring Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke.  This one has held a special place in my heart since I borrowed the video boxset from my local Library. This was made by the BBC and directed by Julian Amyes. It was adapted for the screen by Alexander Baron. Why do I love this adaptation so much? How much time do you have? 

I think the performances by Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke are superb. They both make you care for their characters of Rochester and Jane. Zelah captures Jane’s quiet and gentle nature, and also her inner self yearning to break free. In the later part of the series when she flees Thornfield, Zelah makes Jane so vulnerable and devastated you just want to wrap her up in your arms. Timothy captures the enigmatic nature, despair, tenderness and frustration of Rochester perfectly. I also think the height difference between Timothy and Zelah works for the series because they just look so adorable together.

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The series is also pretty much word for word like the book. It even contains the vast majority of the original language that other adaptations change. It also features the gypsy fortune teller sequence. It also focuses heavily on Jane’s childhood, and upon her time later with Rivers and his sisters, something which other adaptations barely focus upon. The series lets the actors act, and lets them bring these characters to life. The series isn’t rushed in any way.

This is also the only adaptation where I as a viewer feel what Jane and Rochester are going through. The proposal sequence is a good example of this, Zelah makes your heart break when she delivers the famous speech about Jane having heart. The way she and Timothy look at each other in this is incredible. I can’t find the words to describe what those looks convey, they just have such strong chemistry and make you believe the emotional bond between the characters. You believe that they really are falling in love before you.

This adaptation also focuses on the fact that Jane and Rochester each serve as a rescuer for the other. Jane saves Rochester from depression and horror, and he saves her from cruelty and a life of blending into the background, instead of standing out in the crowd. Zelah and Timothy convey all that perfectly, particularly in the scene where Rochester tells Jane he has found the pure and innocent being he wishes to be with in life.

This series features strong performances from the entire cast, and it really is the adaptation which is the closest to the book. There are many adaptations out there, but it is to this one that I return again, and again and again.

The series itself is also a good example of the sort of series that we in Britain used to excel at producing. Series that took their time and were not rushed. Series that allow the actors to convey all we need (no need for fancy editing, or for intrusive music in every scene).

My favourite scenes are the following. The “so, you’ve come out at last” scene where Jane becomes ill and faints. The proposal scene. The scene on the stairs where Rochester says he thinks Jane looks depressed. Young Jane standing up to Mrs. Reed. All the scenes with Grace Poole. Jane saving Rochester from the fire, and their conversation afterwards. Jane asking for permission to go and visit her aunt. Rochester looking at Jane’s paintings. The aftermath of Mason getting attacked by Bertha. The gypsy fortune scene. All the scenes where Jane is staying with the Rivers siblings. The “is this my mustard seed?” scene. Rochester greeting Jane in the grounds when she returns from her aunts house. Rochester begging Jane to stay with him. The final scenes.

If there is a downside to the series I would say it lies in the casting of Zelah. Whilst she is superb as Jane, she looks much older than Jane’s eighteen years. This seems to always be a problem in all of the adaptations. Timothy is also more handsome than the Rochester of the novel (who to my mind resembles how George C. Scott looked in the 1970 film)but he really is the best actor to capture the personality and torment of the man.

Beautiful costumes and music all add something to the series. My favourites from amongst the supporting cast are Mary Tamm, as the beautiful and self centred Blanche. Robert James, as the cold and cruel Mr. Brocklehurst. Jean Harvey as the loveable and loyal Mrs. Fairfax.

I’d love to hear from you what you think of this series? What are your favourite screen adaptations of this story? Leave your comments below.

 

 

 

Dystopian, Page To Screen, Science Fiction

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film is an excellent adaptation of the acclaimed 1953 novel of the same name, by American Sci-Fi author, Ray Bradbury. The book and the film highlight that the desire to open ones self up to new ideas will never (hopefully not)die. Books give us access to new cultures, worlds, ideas, perspectives. Both the film and the novel also highlight that when something is forbidden, that ban only increases curiosity about, and a strong desire to seek out the banned thing.

Fictional novels also allow us to relax and to take a break from reality. How is that break different to watching a drama on TV? Reading fiction exercises your imagination, you see in your head the characters, the locations, the clothes etc. Reading is an experience unlike any other as your mind brings the words to life. Written words are some of the most powerful things to be found on this earth, some people don’t like that fact, and they want to silence some of those words and control access to them.

This is a film that made a very strong impression on me when I first watched it a few years ago. As a book lover it makes me so mad to see books being destroyed in this film. It makes me even more angry to see the gaining of knowledge, and the use of ones own imagination being denied and controlled by the state. The film also depicts people addicted to drugs, and when they run out, more drugs are given by the state. Many people have to take stimulants (most likely to stave off the frustration and dullness of what the reality of this life is.) 

It is not hard to see the eerie similarities in the film to the notorious book burnings in Nazi Germany. That state also controlled what was taught, what people did and didn’t do. It also ensured that all citizens followed a strict and controlled life. As we know, if anyone didn’t conform, or anyone took a stand against the Nazi’s they were killed or imprisoned.

The film is also very interesting to look at from a visual perspective. The futuristic buildings look sleek and very Art Deco, yet they also look cold, and there is nothing unique about them (reflecting the confirmative society the film is set in.) The suspended monorail on which people travel to and from work is also very interesting visually. I think that reflects the futuristic leaps made in engineering/transport. This sequence was filmed at the SAFEGE monorail test track in France.

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When I watch this film it makes me think of what books mean to me. Books are a vital part of life for me, just like breathing in the air is vital for me to survive. I simply cannot imagine being without books. It sickens and scares me when access to books is denied, or when they are destroyed. I’m not a fan of E-books, or of Kindles either, they hurt my eyes, and I find them very impersonal. While this technology may encourage some people to read (which is a fantastic thing)I do not want them to ever replace real books.As far as I’m concerned nothing will ever be able to replace the special feeling of holding a book, or of borrowing a book from a Library, knowing that many readers before me have turned these same pages.  

Francois Truffaut’s superb film is set in a future where books (and the reading of them)are banned by law. Some citizens still read in secret though, if they are discovered they are reported to the authorities. Firemen are then sent after these people. The firemen seek out and burn the books in their possession.

With public libraries being closed all around us (or threatened with closure), with younger people being hooked on their phones, TVs, and computers instead of reading physical books or engaging face to face with other people; I would say that this film is terrifyingly relevant for todays society. Too many people are nowadays content to sit back and binge on the rubbish being churned out online or on TV.

Many in society are now just like the zombie like, TV addicted people who are depicted in this film. Many young people now don’t read at all, and have zero interest in ever doing so! Their loss I say, but doesn’t it worry anyone else how dumbed down things are becoming in society at large? How fewer and fewer people are avid readers, and how technology is taking over our lives. If this is the future, then it is not one I’m looking forward to being a part of it.

In the future society seen in the film, books and the reading of them are banned. The state controls the lives of its citizens, and all are expected to watch TV for all (or for most of the )day. Some people still read books in secret, if they are discovered the authorities send firemen after them. These men, clad all in black, search for books, and when they find them they burn them. The title of the book and film refers to the temperature at which book paper burns at.

Montag (Oskar Werner) is one of the firemen, he is a yes man (like the majority of his society)and sees nothing wrong in destroying books. When he meets schoolteacher Clarissa (Julie Christie)he starts to question his entire way of life. He himself becomes a hunted fugitive after he is caught reading. Montag must also make a choice between the two women in his life. Should he make a new life with Clarissa, or remain with his TV addicted, glamorous, drug dependent wife, Linda (also played by Julie Christie. ) This man must make a choice between living a restrictive life, or living in seclusion and being allowed to have intellectual freedom.

Oskar is superb as the man who slowly begins to have his eyes opened to the cruelty and evil being committed daily around him. He starts of as a very closed off character emotionally, and then turns passionate, angry and horrified. His performance is all in the eyes, keep watching him closely throughout.  This is one of my favourite performances by him.

Julie shines in a duel performance. She is a vibrant, passionate, outgoing free spirit as Clarissa. As Montag’s wife Linda, she is self centred, brainwashed, chic, and so dull.

Cyril Cusack is marvellous as the loathsome and cruel Captain who is Montag’s superior officer. This man takes sadistic pleasure out of burning books, and in causing great distress to the people who read them. Cusack is excellent and he steals every scene he is in.

Bernard Herrmann composed the music for the film and it adds greatly to the film. It is a mystical, beautiful and very ominous soundtrack, and its presence is a big part of the overall film experience.

Excellent performances, and striking images abound in this terrifying vision of a possible future for mankind. This is my favourite Truffaut film, and it is one that contains a story that will impact viewers very strongly. The way in which Montag discovers books can be shared without getting caught is very powerful as yet (thankfully)nobody can read your thoughts, they can’t eradicate your memories or emotions.

My favourite scenes are the following. The first time we see the firemen. The opening title sequence (this shows us that this is a TV controlled and conformist society.)Montag reading his first ever book. The old woman burning herself alive so she can die with her books. Clarissa asking Montag if it was true that firemen used to put out fires, instead of starting fires. The finale in the woods. Clarissa and Montag’s discussion in the cafe. Montag being pursued by the flying policemen. Montag’s wife participating in the nationwide TV programme. The Captain getting what he deserves.

Interestingly the film also depicts something that has become a reality for us today. TV is now such a major part of life, and many are sadly glued to a screen more than they take part in real life. As in the film, many people now have flat screen TVs. Many also now have multiple TVs in their home (one isn’t enough obviously)and some even watch tiny TVs (now phones)at times too. Knowing all of this was predicted by Bradbury and depicted by Truffaut decades before it came true is spooky.

Be sure to catch this one on Blu-Ray to see it looking at its best. There’s some good extras on the Blu-Ray too, including an interview with Ray Bradbury.

Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

Blogathons, Page To Screen, True Story

Medicine in the Movies Blogathon: The Nun’s Story (1959)

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Charlene, over at Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews, is hosting this blogathon  about all things medical and how they are depicted on screen. Be sure to check out all the other entries over on her site. I can’t wait to read them myself.

I’ve chosen to write about The Nun’s Story for this blogathon. The film is directed by Fred Zinnemann and it is based on the life of a real nun called Sister Marie Louise Habets. In 1956, Kathryn Hulme wrote the novel The Nun’s Story based on the life of Habets, who she was friends with. The book was adapted for the screen by Robert Anderson, in 1959.

After I’d chosen to write about this film, I knew that I simply had to have Charlene’s banner (seen above) because it features a shot from this very film.

I love this film very much. It is a powerful and touching story focusing on a woman facing the biggest decision of her life. It has interesting characters. It shows the difficulties facing medical staff in remote areas/less developed countries. The film also features what I consider to be Audrey Hepburn’s best ever screen performance.

I have always had an interest in how medical services are provided out in less developed countries or in remote areas. This film gives you a good idea of what the reality of that provision is.

As this film shows us, there are a limited number of doctors and nurses available in such places; they will often encounter a language barrier, and this will obviously cause problems when trying to give and get information from patients. In many cases there is also no access to clean water or medicines. The medical staff working in such conditions do the best they can and they have to endure a great deal of hardship and danger themselves in order to help those in need.

Belgium, in the 1930’s; Gabrielle (Audrey Hepburn)is the daughter of the famous Doctor Van Der Mal (Dean Jagger). Gabrielle shares her fathers love for all things medical. Since she was young she has also felt drawn to the medical profession just like her father. She is conflicted though because she is deeply religious and also feels drawn to life as a nun. 

Gabrielle enters a Catholic convent and is given the name Sister Luke. She can’t wait to be able to start doing medical work as a nursing sister, but it is with a heavy heart that she accepts she will only be able to go out nursing when instructed to do so by her Mother Superior (Edith Evans). The majority of Sister Luke’s days are filled by prayer, practicing self denial and learning to cut all emotional ties to the life she led before entering the convent. It is soon clear to us that she is greatly struggling with this new way of life.

Sister Luke is eventually able to work in a local hospital and a mental asylum as a nurse helping patients. Although happy to be able to be doing this, she longs to be getting even more medically involved.

Sister Luke is later transferred out to a convent in the Congo. Under the supervision of Mother Mathilde(Peggy Ashcroft), Sister Luke begins work in a small hospital serving the local remote villages. Sister Luke becomes the surgical assistant to the cynical, headstrong, atheist surgeon, Dr. Fortunati(Peter Finch).

Fortunati and Sister Luke soon develop a strong bond and grow very fond of each other. It soon becomes clear to the doctor how unsuited Sister Luke is to being a nun; he recognises that her heart truly lies in her medical work and that she has the necessary skills for this career.

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Fortunati grows increasingly worried about her as she gets more and more worn out by the long hours spent in the hospital, and on top of that having to do work in the convent, attend regular prayers (day and night)and take communion. When she develops Tuberculosis, Sister Luke has no choice but to finally rest, as she does so she begins thinking about just where her future lies. 

I love when Fortunati tells Sister Luke, ” I’m going to tell you something about yourself, Sister. I’ve never worked with any other kind of nurse except nuns since I began. You’re not in the mould, Sister, you never will be. You’re what’s called a worldly nun, ideal for the public and ideal for the patients. You see things your own way, you’ll never be the kind of nun that your convent expects you to be.” He sees right away what her internal conflict is and tries to help her with it. Sister Luke is stubborn and refuses to admit she might not be cut out for this way of life.

The scenes between Sister Luke and Doctor Fortunati are my favourites in the entire film. I especially love the scene where she breaks down after accidentally breaking a beaker in the medical supply room; Fortunati finds her crying and tries to comfort her, but has to keep his distance from her (despite her distress)because it wouldn’t be considered proper for him to hold her. Hepburn and Finch give excellent performances throughout, but they are exceptional in their shared scenes together. I also love how Finch conveys to us with just a look how much he is beginning to care for Sister Luke and wants to keep her in his life.

It seems to me that this film shows us that the medical and religious way of life are quite similar in a way. Both require those in that life/career to help those in need and those who are less fortunate than themselves. The role of a doctor, a nun or priest is a lifelong commitment and you pledge yourself to it for life. Both lives are often difficult and emotionally demanding due to what has to be dealt with and experienced, but those living that life/career continue on to try and make a difference and have a positive impact. This film shows us this and it certainly made me realise how tough life as a doctor or nurse is out in places like the Congo.

Not all doctors operate from the safety of a well stocked hospital or doctors surgery. Many work in countries with limited resources. They risk contracting disease, being killed or injured while trying to help the injured or sick and face long hours due to limited staff. In this film we see Fortunati and Sister Luke pushed to their limits due to the long and draining hours they spend operating; they barely get any sleep and they know they have to be up early the next day to operate all over again. This is not an easy life, but it certainly is a worthwhile one.

My favourite scenes are the following. Sister Luke and her fellow novices being given their new names and having their hair cut. Fortunati diagnosing Sister Luke’s Tuberculosis. Fortunati’s speech where we see he knows exactly what her internal struggle is. Sister Luke reading a distressing letter concerning her father. Sister Luke speaking to a native woman and saying that she doesn’t understand the language, but is confident that by speaking to them daily she’ll pick it up. Fortunati kicking a medical instrument away from a native assistant who was going to hand it to him after dropping it on the floor(obviously this was now unsterile, but the assistant didn’t understand about instrument hygiene so hands it over anyway). Sister Luke crying after dropping the beaker.

The film makes us admire Sister Luke’s strength and determination. We may know long before she does that she is not suited for life in a convent; but watching her come to that realisation herself makes for very powerful viewing. She is a woman who doesn’t want to fail, she is deeply conflicted between two callings that she has and wants to try hard to succeed at both ways of life.

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won none of them. Quite how Simone Signoret won the best actress award over Audrey is incomprehensible to me. Signoret was good, but Audrey’s performance is so raw and genuine. She makes you believe she really is tired, conflicted and ill. Audrey says so much emotionally with just expressions in this. I think this is the best performance of her career and it’s a shame it wasn’t recognised. Audrey did win the BAFTA award for best actress for her performance as Sister Luke, so that’s something at least.

This film makes me thankful that we have people who are willing to sacrifice their own happiness and lives in order to save and help others.

Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts on the film below. Never seen it? Then I highly recommend it to you.

 

 

Coming Of Age, Page To Screen

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 6: Stand By Me (1986)

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This is one of the best films out there about friendship. It is also a fantastic coming of age story. The film shows us how precious and sometimes how fleeting friendship can be. People come in and out of our lives over the years, some find a permanent place in our hearts and lives, while some sadly become nothing more than a memory.

When I watch this I’m always reminded of my own childhood. During the primary school years, and into my early teens; I was part of a trio of friends who were so close that we were just like sisters. When the High School and College years approached we sadly drifted apart and hardly saw each other. As the years passed we saw even less of each other, until eventually we were no longer in each others lives. I will never forget either of them, nor will I forget the many happy times we spent together.

I love Geordie’s final line in the film about never having had friends like the ones he had when he was twelve , because that is just so true;  your childhood friendships will always be special due to the fun you had and the innocent period of your lives this took place in. Friends will come in and out of your life, but those childhood friends will always be in your heart.

Stand By Me is directed by Rob Reiner, and is based on the book The Body by Stephen King. It is set in the small town of Castle Rock, Oregon during the 1950’s. A young boy goes out to pick berries and fails to return home. A search fails to find him and he is presumed dead.

A group of friends – gentle and recently bereaved Geordie(Wil Wheaton), excitable and adventurous Teddy(Corey Feldman), wise and tough Chris(River Phoenix)and nervous and talkative Vern(Jerry O’Connell)- decide to go looking for him, thinking they might get an award(or at least some publicity)if they find him. Over a two day hike the boys are forced to quickly come of age and face up to the harsh realities of life. Their bond grows stronger and they have an adventure they will never forget.

I love this film so much because the characters and what they are going through are so relatable. We all had something happen to us when we were young that made us realise what life is really like, it sadly can’t all be fun and innocence for ever.

During the film each of these boys becomes stronger in some way and goes through a life changing event.  The performances from Wheaton, Phoenix, O’Connell and Feldman are extraordinary, given how young (and relatively inexperienced)they were as actors at the time. They are so natural and come across as a group who really could be friends. They look like they are having loads of fun in the scenes like the water spitting, walking the train tracks and their comic arguments and discussions.

Phoenix in particular is excellent as he plays the father figure in the group, and he is someone who has already grew up in many ways unlike the others. I love how protective he is of the others and how he has to act responsibly all the time. The scene where he breaks down and reveals his sadness is so moving and Phoenix makes your heart break for him.

Feldman makes Teddy’s anger totally believable. You really believe this is a troubled kid, he still loves his dad despite what he did to him. He is strong but of them all, he is probably the most vulnerable, although he’d never admit it.

O’Connell is the films comic relief, as the talkative and to the point Vern. I love how proud he is because he has brought a comb with him, so they can look good for the cameras. Vern is the one who says or does what most of us would do in some of these situations we see in the film.

Wheaton is the shy, sensitive and underappreciated kid who finds an inner strength he didn’t even know he had.  He undergoes the most change in the film, and Wheaton portrays it so well.

Kiefer Sutherland is menacing as Ace Merrill, the local bully and fearless/unbalanced leader of the gang called The Cobras.  Ace and his gang are also on their way to look for the boys body. Ace and his gang are the terrifying possible future that awaits Geordie and his friends; young men whose innocence is long gone, hardened due to life experiences and bad behaviour.

John Cusack is Geordie’s older brother, Denny. I love their relationship as it is one of the sweetest and most moving I’ve ever seen.  Denny is a football star and is popular in the neighborhood, he is the apple of his parents eye.

When the film opens, Denny has been dead for a few months. His death was unexpected and destroyed his parents. Geordie is grief stricken too, but doesn’t know how to deal with his grief, he hasn’t even cried for his brother yet. Denny’s death is made even sadder when we learn that he and Geordie were so close, and that Denny made their parents pay attention to Geordie instead of focusing on him all of the time. With Denny gone, Geordie is barely noticed at home and only has his friends to turn to for support and to talk to.

Richard Dreyfuss plays the elder Geordie, looking back on his bittersweet childhood memories. He also serves as the films narrator.

My favourite scenes are the following. The water spitting scene, especially the bit where Teddy spits his at Vern(it’s one of those moments that you can see coming and can’t help laughing at.) Chris saving Teddy from his suicidal train dodge. Geordie seeing the deer. Geordie’s story about the pie eating contest. Chris telling Geordie to take the college classes. The boys running from the train. All the flashback scenes between Geordie and Denny. Ace holding his nerve driving straight at an on coming truck. Vern debating with Teddy about whether a cartoon character could beat up Superman. Chris telling Geordie about the milk money.  The end where we learn what happened between the boys.

A moving and funny film about friendship, love, adventure and children coming of age. There is some gorgeous scenery in this and the on location work really adds to the authenticity of the story. There’s also a cracking soundtrack, featuring the title song by Ben E. King.

I always feel like I’ve walked the tracks with these boys and that I’ve experienced some sort of life changing event myself whilst watching. This is a great favourite and one of the best pieces of work from both Reiner and King.

Please share your thoughts on the film below.

Detective, Horror, Page To Screen

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

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Odds are that even if you’ve never see this one, you’ll almost certainly be aware of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Agent Clarice Starling. These two characters are what set this film apart from all the other serial killer films out there.

A film focusing just on the conversations between these two characters would be just as good as this film; their exchanges are so fascinating to watch, from the way lines are delivered, to witnessing the undeniable growing bond of trust between these two polar opposites.

The film is a favourite of mine not just because of the story, but because of the well written characters of Starling and Lecter. Foster and Hopkins give unforgettable performances(both won an Oscar for their performances in this film)that stay with you long after the film has finished.

Gene Hackman and Michelle Pfeiffer were originally going to play Lecter and Starling, but both ended up turning down these roles. As much as I would have loved to have seen how they would approached these roles, I am very glad that we got Hopkins and Foster in the end.

Hopkins plays Lecter as seemingly unthreatening, he is polite and charming and speaks calmly and quietly. However, characters soon learn not to let their guard down around him as his mind, words and observation skills are his weapons, and he uses them to devastating effect. He is like a snake, just waiting to strike out and when he does his attack will be swift and deadly.

The first meeting between him and Starling shows us how much information(both concerning what the FBI want from him, and personal details about Starling)he has got from her without her even being aware she has given him this. He is a manipulator and will only tell someone what he want’s to, you can’t force anything out of him.

Foster is the young FBI trainee, keen, dedicated and more than capable of coping fine in a very male dominated profession. Clarice Starling joins Ellen Ripley as one of my favourite tough female characters. Starling is a tough, strong and capable woman, who is admirable and brave enough to face horror and evil head on.

Starling finds herself drawn to Lecter and can’t deny that a genuine bond has developed between them despite what he has done and is capable of. Day after day this woman puts herself through hell to try and get vital information to help save a new victim of the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill.

The horror and violence she sees on this case affects her deeply, but she doesn’t shrink away from it because she needs to face it in order to defeat it. I have always considered Starling to be brave because of this, there were times when she could (and we might say should)have just quit and moved onto a less emotionally destructive case, but she didn’t and to do that takes courage.

Behavioural Science Unit Chief, Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) assigns Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Lector is a cannibalistic serial killer, who is one of the most high profile killers behind bars.

Crawford believes Lecter can help the FBI build a profile of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a terrifying killer who is murdering and skinning women. Lecter slowly agrees to share his observations and knowledge with Clarice, but only if she in return tells him deeply personal things about her childhood. Clarice must make a choice between saving Bill’s current victim, Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith)and letting Lecter inside her head. Clarice must also deal with the interference of the smarmy Dr. Chilton(Anthony Heald), the head of the secure prison/hospital where Lecter is imprisoned.

This is a suspenseful film that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It plays with the audience because at times we find ourselves liking Lecter, in spite of what we know him to be and to be capable of doing. Clarice is also in many ways acting as our eyes throughout as we are thrown headfirst into a rabbit hole of horror, manipulation and fear.

I love the scene in the hospital/prison when Clarice first visits. There is a terrific point of view shot when she walks into the guards office leading to the cells of the most dangerous inmates. We are seeing this new environment for the first time as she sees it.

The film is directed by Jonathan Demme, and he does such a good job of bringing the horror and realism of the novel by Thomas Harris to life. The film sticks very closely to the book and I believe the book and film were the first to look inside the mind of a killer, instead of just portraying them as monsters, this story gives us reasons why some people do such horrendous and disturbing things.

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Harris wrote four novels featuring Lecter. The first of these was Red Dragon, which is the prequel to Silence of the Lambs and features the psychologically tortured Agent Will Graham forced to confront Lecter. I love Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs the most. Hannibal is a good story but I didn’t like what happened to Clarice at the end, I much prefer the ending scene in Ridley Scott’s film adaptation.

Back to the film. I loved Howard Shore’s atmospheric score. I love the performances of Hopkins, Foster, Smith and Levine. I love the realistic look to the film and how it shows us what Police and agents have to see and go through to find killers and investigate their horrendous crimes.

I wish the film had included more of Crawford though. In the book he is very much a key character, and has a subplot involving his terminally ill wife. Glenn is very good as the driven unit leader, who has seen so much of this horror that he has learnt to be more unaffected by what he sees in comparison to Starling. On the Blu-ray there are some good deleted scenes involving Crawford that I wish had been kept in.

I like how we also see what is going on with Catherine (the latest victim) and how despite her fear she tries to stay strong and tries to get control of her situation when she can.

My favourite scenes are the following. All the scenes between Lecter and Clarice, but especially the one where he gives her a towel. Crawford putting a protective and comforting arm around an injured Starling. Catherine trying to get control of her situation by capturing Bill’s dog. The FBI training montages featuring Starling. The finale in the basement. Lecter speaking with Senator Martin (Diane Baker)and telling her “love ya suit”. Clarice telling Lecter about the lambs.

Most unforgettable scenes? The cage breakout and the officers being killed in the process. The cleverly edited doorbell scenes, where we are not sure whether Crawford or Starling have found Bill’s house. Starling cocking her gun when she starts to realise a man she is talking to is more than likely Bill. The finale in the basement where Starling is trying to find her way around in the dark.

Quite a disturbing film in places, but one that is a must see. Strong performances, fascinating characters and a gripping and scary story.

I’d love to get your thoughts on the film and the characters. Any other fans of the novels? Please leave comments about the novels too.

 

Horror, Page To Screen

Jaws (1975)

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This film has been a favourite since I first saw it in my early teens. I love the characters, the story and the locations. John Williams chilling score 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, Quint and Hooper’s banter and constantly trying to outdo one another, etc. A scene that always cracks me up 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, 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 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 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.

Shark attacks are horrific, but they are  extremely rare events. Yet, thanks to the novel and the film, people are sadly wary of the sea and of the 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.

Book Chat, Page To Screen

Make This A Miniseries: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Novels by Laurie R. King

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I love these books so much. If you have never read them before here is a brief description of what they’re all about.

Mary Russell, is a teenage orphan who meets the retired Sherlock Holmes in Sussex,  during the First World War. Holmes makes her his apprentice and they investigate and solve cases. As the years pass and Mary grows up, the pair realise they are falling in love and eventually marry.

As a massive Sherlock Holmes fan, I was initially sceptical when I read that Holmes marries in these stories. Holmes had no time for romance and I was left wondering how on earth this would be made believable.  I needn’t have worried though,  for believable it is.

The books are very detailed and have interesting plots; as much as I enjoy the stories I confess to mainly reading for the scenes between Holmes and Mary, I love their slow build relationship and how due to his feelings for her, we (occasionally)get a glimpse of the emotional and vulnerable side of the great detective.

This series and the relationship between Mary and Holmes serves as the ultimate fan fiction for those of us who would have loved to have been a friend to Holmes, share his adventures, and have our lives be that bit more interesting due to his presence in it.

I have long thought this would make a perfect miniseries. I would cast Patrick Malahide as Holmes. I always picture Carey Mulligan as Mary when I read the books, but I think she is a bit too old now for the role.

I have always wanted Malahide to play Holmes, he has the look and I think he would be fantastic in the role. I was first struck by his Holmes similarity in his series The Alleyn Mysteries (1990-1994)and I have been hoping ever since that he would don that famous deerstalker. Please, someone out there make this happen!

Any other fans of these novels here? Do you want it to receive the miniseries treatment? If so, who would you cast as Holmes and Russell? What are your favourite novels from this series?

I love A Monstrous Regiment Of Women, The Beekeepers Apprentice and Locked Rooms the most.

I’m pretty chuffed that I have recently made a work friend a fan of these stories, she tells me she is now hooked.

Page To Screen, Western

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 4: True Grit(1969)

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Hope everyone is enjoying the weekend so far. Today, I want us to saddle up for adventure, action, tears and laughter with this 1969 Western.

The film is based on the 1968 novel by Charles Portis. True Grit is directed by Henry Hathaway, featuring music by Elmer Bernstein.

The film stars John Wayne as the tough, cantankerous, one eyed Marshal, Rooster Cogburn. The Marshal is hired by Mattie Ross(Kim Darby)to track down Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey)her fathers murderer.

The pair are joined by Texas Ranger, La Boeuf(Glenn Campbell) who is also after Chaney for killing a Senator. This trio are all different from each other and disagree more than they agree. As they spend time together they form a bond, with Mattie in particular finding a place in Cogburn’s heart.

At first you think the title refers to Cogburn, but as the film goes on we realise it is Mattie who is full of grit and determination.

Robert Duvall, Jeff Corey, Strother Martin and a young Dennis Hopper, all provide solid support and make quite an impression in their respective roles.

Wayne won his only Oscar for his performance here. At the awards ceremony he joked that he should have put on an eye patch sooner. It’s easy to just say he won this as compensation for never having won an award before, but I really think his performance here actually deserved it.

Wayne makes Rooster a force to be reckoned with, tough and unrelenting. You know you don’t want to cross this man. He gives him heart, and we catch fleeting glimpses of compassion and tenderness beneath that tough exterior.

My favourite scenes are the following. Mattie in her hotel room holding her fathers watch and crying, Rooster telling Mattie about his life as they sit on top of the hill in the dark, all the comic scenes between Mattie and the horse dealer(Strother Martin, stealing every scene he is in) Mattie’s river crossing, the snake pit rescue, and the reins between the teeth shootout.

The music stays in your head, as do several scenes such as the final shootout, Mattie finding Chaney by the river, the shootout inside the hut and the snake pit scene. There is some stunning scenery to behold too.

I like the remake quite a bit, but this one will always be my favourite version. I also think this version makes the characters realistic, people look dirty, tired, edgy, and the film also shows how dark and violent this time period was. The film is dark, but has some very tender scenes too, such as the funeral parlour scene, Mattie and Rooster’s heart to heart conversation, how Rooster gently tends to an injured Mattie, and her distress at what happens to her beloved horse.

Darby is perhaps too old to be playing a teenager, but she gives Mattie so much strength, courage and heart that you believe her in the role. I also think she conveys the reality that young people back then had no choice but to grow up quick, they became adults before their time.

I don’t think Campbell is as bad in his role as some people have made out over the years. I think he’s quite funny in places too.

Any other fans of this? If you’ve never seen it, I hope you check it out sometime.

Page To Screen, Western

The Searchers (1956)

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I consider this to be the greatest film John Ford ever directed, and that is saying something because he made so many fine films during his long career.

The visuals in this are stunning, from that opening shot of the door in monument valley, to the burning home(surely an inspiration for George Lucas when he made Star Wars? I’m thinking of the scene where Luke returns home to see his aunt and uncles home ablaze),to that close up of Wayne’s face looking in horror/disgust at a group of emotionally damaged white women rescued from American Indians.

The film is based on the 1954 novel by Alan Le May, which I’ve yet to read; apparently the ending of the novel is much bleaker than what we get in the film.

Ethan Edwards(John Wayne)returns home to Texas, after fighting in the civil war. He goes to his brother Aaron’s house(Walter Coy)and we pick up instantly(without any dialogue to tell us)that Ethan and his sister in law Martha(Dorothy Jordan)are in love, and they have been for some time.

Whilst Ethan is away one day with some neighbours, a Comanche raiding party led by Chief Scar(Henry Brandon)attacks the Edwards home, burn it to ground, kill Aaron, Martha and their son, and kidnap their two daughters, Lucy(Pippa Scott)and Debbie(Lana Wood). Ethan sets out to find his nieces with the help of part Indian Martin Pawley(Jeffrey Hunter)who was raised by Aaron and Martha as their son. Also along for the trek are the loveable Mose Harper(Hank Worden),fearless Reverend Clayton(Ward Bond)and Lucy’s boyfriend, Brad(Harry Carey Jr). Will they find the girls?

Many viewers call Ethan racist because of his attitude towards the Native American Indians he encounters, while it may seem so to us today, I do think it’s a bit more complicated than that. During the scene where Martha tells Debbie to hide in the family graveyard during the raid, make sure you pause the DVD just before she sits in front of a headstone; these graves are her grandparents(Ethan and Aaron’s parents)and under the name, birth/death dates etc it says that they were killed by Comanche’s. It took me a few viewings to pick up on this detail, but that now makes me think that is why Ethan hates them, he doesn’t hate them for who they are but for what they did; I think he would be just as hateful towards anyone who had done that to his family. It adds another layer to this film and to his character.

I have also always thought that Ethan and Scar may have had dealings before, the way they look at one another when they meet, and how Ethan’s hatred seems to lift after his confrontation with him; have always led me to believe Ethan hated him for what he had done to his family and perhaps for something else he had done(listen to what he tells Martin about the woman’s hair in his tent, how could Ethan know that unless he had been present?)

I love how so much of the violence and horror in this is suggested. The horror Ethan finds at his destroyed home, and the state of his families bodies don’t need to be seen because we can imagine all too well what has been done to them, and the reaction of Wayne and Hunter in this scene shows us how horrible the situation is. When we find out what happened to Lucy, again we don’t need to see that and the way Wayne describes what he found, and his haunted look tell us everything, two very powerful examples of how suggestion can be even more disturbing and effective as showing us in graphic detail.

The heart of the film lies in the desperate attempts to find Debbie(played as an adult by Natalie Wood) Martin fears for her, as he is starting to believe Ethan may kill her if he finds her because she will be so changed. But Ethan is unpredictable and perhaps Martin need not worry so much.

The entire cast are superb, Vera Miles provides good support as a strong daughter of the west who loves Martin. Wayne delivers a fine performance as a complex, bitter man who is needed to confront violence with violence, but has no place in the civilised world/society that remain after such acts have been finished, hence that famous final shot of the door closing on him.)

My favourite scenes are the following. The river shootout. Laurie puring water all over Martin. Ethan being asked what he had found back in the canyon, we see he is traumatised and we can guess what he found. The raid on the ranch. Ethan coming back to find the ranch ablaze. Ethan chasing Debbie.

A thrilling psychological Western, featuring stunning visuals and a magnificent score by Max Steiner.

I’d love to know what you think of this film. Please leave your comments below.