Blogathons, Classic TV, Drama, Romance, War

The Duchess Of Duke Street (1976-1977)

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This is my own entry for my Small Screen blogathon being held on the 20th of this month.  If you would like to join the blogathon there is still time to do so. Find more details and sign up here.

I am writing about the series The Duchess Of Duke Street

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Louisa hard at work in the kitchen. Screenshot by me.

This British series is based upon the life of a real Edwardian woman called Rosa Lewis(1867-1952). Rosa was a renowned cook and she also owned the Cavendish Hotel in London (which is still open today). Rosa was famous throughout British society for her cooking, and also for the rumour that she and Prince Edward (later King Edward V11)were having an affair. It’s not difficult to see why her story inspired this series to be made. 

John Hawkesworth (the man who helped Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins turn Upstairs, Downstairs into the great success it became)produced The Duchess of Duke Street. Series that John were involved with were noted for their period detail, and a great many of them became huge successes.  

One of my favourite series that John was involved with is the Granada TV series The Adventures, Return and Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, which starred Jeremy Brett (in my opinion the best Sherlock Holmes ever captured on screen).

The Duchess Of Duke Street is another of John’s high quality series. I don’t simply love this one for its story and setting, I love this one because it depicts a woman trying out and succeeding in business at a time when women just didn’t do such things. Louisa Trotter is the main character of the series, and she becomes a successful cook and businesswoman. She doesn’t take no for an answer and she never gives up even when things are tough for her. 

Louisa works with men, she is in charge of men and she gains the respect and admiration of men. I find Louisa quite an inspirational character really, she is not content to stay a wife or a servant. Louisa wants more out of life, she wants to be seen as an equal to the men she works with and she achieves that. 

The series is set in London between 1900 and 1925. We follow the life of Louisa Trotter(Gemma Jones), a young cockney woman who wants to be a cook more than anything else. Working very hard she learns the art of making food. Her food is acknowledged as being superb and is very well liked by all who taste it.

As the years go on, Louisa becomes one of the best cooks in London and becomes the owner of the Bentinck Hotel. The Bentinck is more like an apartment building than a hotel, those who stay there love it and many consider it their home away from home. Louisa has a relationship with the Prince of Wales(later to become King Edward VII), throughout the series Louisa looks back on her relationship with him very fondly.

The real love of Lousia’s life though is the handsome and outgoing aristocrat Charlie Tyrrell(Christopher Cazenove). Their relationship is extremely complex, and it is their relationship that helped make this series become a real favourite of mine. Louisa and Charlie’s story really is the heart and soul of the series.

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Charlie. Screenshot by me.

Louisa and Charlie become the best of friends and later on become lovers. They both want their relationship to become something more, but they just never seem to be able to find the right moment to change the nature of the relationship.

They have a daughter together who they call Lottie(Lalla Ward). She is raised by tenants of Charlie’s on his country estate. Charlie helps Louisa run the Bentinck and also keeps a suite of rooms there. 

Louisa and Charlie are not the only focus of the series though. Louisa’s loyal staff at the hotel include the dutiful doorman Starr(John Cater),a former soldier who speaks his mind and whose best friend is his dog Fred. Merriman(John Welsh)the elderly head waiter who wouldn’t thank you for suggesting he retire. Bubbly Welsh maid Mary(Victoria Plunckett). The assistant cook, Mrs. Cochrane (Mary Healey), and the former soldier turned gambler, Major Smith-Barton(Richard Vernon). Louisa and her staff become like family and they share the good and bad times together.

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Mr. Merriman. Screenshot by me.
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Mr. Starr. Screenshot by me.
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Mary. Screenshot by me.
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The Major. Screenshot by me.

Besides the relationship between Charlie and Louisa, my favourite relationship in the series is the one between Louisa and the Major. He becomes a father figure to her and a very good friend. His confession to her at the end of the series regarding his feelings for her is one of my all time favourite scenes from the series.

 

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Louisa salutes Charlie as he leaves for the trenches. Screenshot by me.

The second half of the series focuses on the brutal and upsetting events of World War One and its aftermath. Louisa turns the hotel into a place for only British soldiers to be able stay. Charlie has to go off to fight in the war. Tragedy, pain and sorrow sadly lie in wait for our characters.

 

I also love how Gemma portrays Louisa’s unwillingness to show any sort of vulnerability, even when she’s alone with Charlie, she very seldom lets her guard down. It is like she always has to appear strong and tough. I think that she feels that way because she is afraid that to appear vulnerable would make her appear weak.

At times it has to be said that Gemma’s shrieking when things don’t go the way Louisa wants them to, does very easily grate on the viewer, but it is all a part of this character and I really like how Gemma shows us that Louisa has flaws and is not perfect. I also like that Louisa’s determination to never be vulnerable is also her weakness, because she makes life more difficult for herself due to her always hiding her inner self. Louisa is a very interesting character indeed. One of Gemma Jones’s best performances I’d say. Since this series aired, Gemma has gone on to become one of our most beloved actresses. 

Christopher Cazenove is so lovable as the fun loving and decent Charlie. I like how we see him transition from playboy, to the more mature Lord Charles, and finally to damaged soldier. Christopher is a great favourite of mine and I never understood why he never became a much bigger star. He was always a welcome presence on screen and this is one of best performances as far as I’m concerned. 

This series is a real character piece and it is filled with great characters, great performances and many memorable storylines. This series is one that really gets you caught up the characters lives and you feel for them. I love it because of that, but I also love it for its depiction of Edwardian life.

I also find the food preparation sequences fascinating. There were some dishes that Louisa prepared that I had never heard of before and they look delicious. I also love how much effort she put into making her meals. It’s also fascinating to me to see how much of an event evening meals were back then, they were almost ritualistic (different cutlery for different dishes, what can be served at what time)and I love the fancy table decorations and food presentations.

Watching series like this really lets you see just what has changed in life. I for one have never seen a dinner table like some of the ones we see in this. I’ve never seen food displayed in such beautiful ways either (even when going out to eat at restaurants) it goes to show that we may have progressed in some ways, but I think we’ve gone back a step or two in terms of food and food presentation. 

If you have seen this series what did you think of it?

Check back on Tuesday for news of the next blogathon I’m hosting. I know, I’m totally addicted to blogathons. 🙂

 

 

 

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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?

 

 

Blogathons, Disaster, Drama, Romance

The Clark Gable Blogathon: San Francisco (1936)

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Michaela over at Love Letters To Old Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Clark Gable. Be sure to visit her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I think it’s fair to say that Clark Gable was the leading man in 1930’s Hollywood. Strong, handsome, and very charming; Clark could fit right into pretty much any film genre. He also had that whole rugged, tough guy on the outside, who is really just a total sweetheart on the inside act down perfectly as his screen persona. 

I think that Clark Gable’s appeal as an actor lay in the fact that he appealed equally to both men and women. Men wanted to be like Clark, while the women all wanted to be with him. If a film starring Clark was released there would be a lot of people turning up at cinemas to watch it.

Long before watching him in his most famous role, that of the dashing Captain Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, I first saw Clark in a much lesser known film. That film is the 1936 disaster drama, San Francisco.    

This film was one of the first from the classic era that I ever watched. I loved every single minute of it.  I found the songs to be moving and powerful, the romance to be sweet, and I felt that the friendship between Clark’s rogue and Spencer Tracy’s kindly priest came across as real and strong. I loved the beautiful gowns Jeanette got to wear. I was extremely impressed with the earthquake sequences. This one quickly became one of my favourite films. 

I think it’s a shame that hardly anyone seems to know this film nowadays. It is a terrific character piece, has some strong performances and features some memorable songs. It also shows us the San Francisco of the past, the one that was lost forever in the 1906 earthquake (that famous quake plays a key role in the film).

I love Clark quite a bit in this film. I really like the mixed way of how he plays his character. At times his character, Blackie Norton, can be a mean and harsh man; yet at other times Blackie is gentle and loveable. Clark really shows us that although Blackie is certainly flawed, he certainly isn’t all bad and he really does have a great deal of good within him. Clark plays him in such a way that we can forgive him any bad he does, simply because Clark makes him so likeable.  

I also like how Clark conveys Blackie’s growing feelings for Mary to us with expressions alone. We feel his desire to be with this woman, but also that he is not able to change his ways to commit to her. We feel his distress when he doesn’t know if she has survived the quake, and we see how torn up he is thinking he may have lost her. Clark really goes through a wide range of emotions in this film and his performance really brings his character to life and gives him depth. I think this is one of the best performances he ever gave.

The film begins on the 31st of December, 1905. It’s New Year Eve and the party atmosphere is in full swing throughout the city. Aspiring singer Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald)arrives in the big city that very evening. Mary is desperate to find work. She is hired by nightclub owner Blackie Norton (Clark Gable)to be one of the singers at his club.

Although she can sing in the upbeat way that his club requires, it is clear that Mary’s voice is much better suited to the opera stage. Mary’s voice really is out of this world and it’s very clear that she has it in her to go far with her singing talent. 

Blackie and Mary fall in love, but it’s clear to us that Blackie doesn’t quite know how to handle his growing feelings. Blackie says and does things that push Mary away from him. Mary is a very pure and religious woman and she doesn’t want to be just a casual fling to Blackie. Mary also struggles in adjusting to her new life in San Francisco.

Blackie is a loveable rogue, and he is also quite the ladies man too. Blackie has a lot of casual relationships with women who work with him, and also with women he knows socially; he treats his women very well and they like him, but he never actually commits to any of them. 

Blackie has a tough and somewhat selfish exterior. His best friend Father Tim Mullin(Spencer Tracy)knows the truth of the matter. He knows that Blackie is in actuality a really nice guy, a good guy, and that he is very decent. Blackie is not religious, but he always helps Tim out when the church needs money, and he will do anything for anyone in need. Tim and Blackie have been friends since childhood and know each other inside out. The pair lead different lives now but they are still a part of each others lives despite their major differences. 

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Mary becomes a star attraction at Blackie’s club and attracts the notice of  the wealthy Jack Burly (Jack Holt)who offers her the job of singer at the Tivoli Opera House in the city. Mary and Jack become involved which then leads to Blackie getting angry and leaves us wondering which man she will choose in the end. 

In the early hours of the 18th of January, 1906, an earthquake strikes the city and then everything changes. Lives are lost, homes and businesses are destroyed, and the city itself is destroyed. In just one night an entire way of life is wiped out forever. Our characters are caught up in this and it has a huge impact on them. The earthquake also serves as a wake up call to Blackie, he learns that love and relationships are more important than work, or putting up a tough guy image as protection in life.

The earthquake sequence is the highlight of the film and it is so realistic. It perfectly captures the horror, the confusion, the panic, and the terror of an earthquake. It’s a scary and distressing sequence and I think it stands up very well when viewed today. It’s a very impressive sequence and all the actors (both stars and extras)do a superb job of portraying their fear and confusion. This sequence is that good, that it’s almost like someone filmed the real quake and what we see in the film is documentary footage. I’d say the film is worth watching for this sequence alone.

The human drama is just as memorable as the quake sequence and the actors all do a good job of keeping our interest throughout. Clark is excellent in the role of Blackie, and he makes Blackie a very believable character who has strengths, weaknesses and also flaws. He isn’t perfect and he tries to change his ways. I really like how Clark shows Blackie as being more vulnerable as the film goes on. He is especially excellent towards the end of the film set during the earthquake.

If you are not a fan of Jeanette or her singing, then I think you might struggle to watch many of the scenes in the film. There are many scenes of her singing, but if you do like her and you like opera this will be a real treat.

I’m not the biggest fan of Jeanette, but I do like her and I consider this to be one of her best films. I like how she lets us see this woman is really struggling against her growing feelings for Blackie, and also shows her struggling against her principles and morals in her love for him. Jeanette’s performance is also one that is all in the expressions, her face conveys to us what her character is going through.

Spencer Tracy is excellent in the role of the decent, loyal best friend and the kind and caring priest. Spencer oozes goodness and compassion in this film. He makes you wish that you had a friend like Father Tim in your life. This performance could also be seen as warm up for his famous performances as a kind priest, in Boy’s Town and Men Of Boy’s Town.

If there is a downside to the film, I’d say it perhaps lies in focusing too much on the singing career of Mary. If you’re not a fan of opera then these sequences will no doubt be difficult to get through. I would have liked to have seen a few more scenes between Tim and Blackie. I would also liked to have seen more of the aftermath of the quake to see what the survivors did next. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Father Tim ringing Blackie to thank him for the organ. Blackie and Mary’s first meeting and him letting her stay the night in his apartment. Blackie falling to his knees and praying (Clark’s performance in this moment never fails to me to tears). Blackie punching Tim. Mary singing with choir at the church. Father Tim’s conversation with Mary in the church. The entire earthquake sequence and final scenes of the film.

Singin’ In The Rain fans need to listen out closely to Jeanette’s singing scenes, as at one point she can be heard singing the song Would You. This song  of course became famous for its use in that 1952 musical.

The other memorable tune in this is the very catchy song San Francisco. This one has stayed with me since the first time I ever watched this. I just love the way that Jeanette sings it, and I think it is a bouncy and uplifting tune.

There are also many religious overtones to be found throughout this film. If you view the film from that perspective, I suppose that the earthquake at the end could be seen to almost serve as a force sent to wipe away the perceived decadence and possibly immoral lifestyle of one San Francisco, and allowing for a new and fresh city and better life to be built in its place.

Some viewers take issue with the end of the film where everyone, even people who don’t believe in god, are seen at the end to be praying to god. I myself find this to be something of a leap. I doubt a traumatic event like this would have any non believers turning religious.

Having said that though, I do think that in a terrible event such as an earthquake, people who are not religious, and who do survive, will beg out for their loved ones lives to be spared also. They probably will say a thank you for surviving. They might not say these words to a god, they may just think them in their head, or they may say them out loud to no one in particular.  

In my opinion this is one of the best American films of the 1930’s. I think that it has a bit of everything in it for people to be able to enjoy. The film has some romance and drama, there are tears, good visual effects and also some very impressive stunts too. There are some stunning costumes in this too, I really envy Jeanette for having been able to wear such gorgeous dresses. 

Clark Gable really is at his best here and I think that he got to show us what dramatic acting heights he could reach. 

My five favourite Clark Gable films are the following.

1- It Happened One Night

2- San Francisco

3- Gone With The Wind

4- Teacher’s Pet

5- Red Dust

Any other fans of San Francisco? What do you think of Gable’s performance?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Animated Films, Drama, Romance

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

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

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

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

I think I was around ten years old when I first saw this film. Even at that age I picked up on the fact that this was as far from your typical Disney flick as it was possible to get. Disney had gone dark and tackled some difficult issues before of course: The transformation into a donkey in Pinocchio. Emotional abuse and cruelty in Cinderella. Making children aware of death and loss in Bambi. Scaring us all silly with the old hag in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Race hatred and blood lust in Pocahontas. The murder of the father in The Lion King. Despite all that came before this, Disney had never put anything quite like what we see in this one on the screen before.    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quasimodo is the films hero. Tom Hulce does a good job of portraying this characters pureness, innocence, longing, apprehension, and sadness. It’s rare (sadly)for films to have a disabled or disfigured person as their lead character, and in this film Quasimodo is one such person. He finds an inner strength and courage to enable him to do the right thing nearer the end of the film. He also never loses his kindness and sweetness despite being treated so badly by people for so long.

Quasimodo comes to love Esmeralda, and it annoys me so much that the makers of this film couldn’t have been braver and had them get together at the end. This would have shown that Esmeralda saw no barrier between them. It would also show that disabled and disfigured people can love and be in relationships just like anyone else can. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Drama, Oscars, Page To Screen, Romance

The Greta Garbo Blogathon: Grand Hotel (1932)

Greta Garbo blogathon

Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Greta Garbo. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Greta Garbo, or just Garbo, as she was so often referred to as, was quite simply one of the most intriguing and talented film actresses that there has ever been. Her face spoke volumes. Greta was also an actress who really never needed any dialogue because  she could convey what the audience needed to know through looks and emotions alone.

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Greta as the ballerina. Screenshot by me.

Greta Garbo was perfectly suited to the Silent era style of acting, her face and eyes were her words; yet Greta was also something of a rarity in that her style of acting fit the talkie era too.

Where many of her fellow Silent stars failed to make the transition to the Sound era, Garbo not only succeeded to successfully make that major transition, but she also retained the same level of fame and acclaim that she had enjoyed in the Silent era. That is a pretty remarkable achievement when you think about just how many stars from the Silent era saw their careers destroyed by the coming of the sound era.

The only other actress I can think of who compares with Garbo for being able to make audiences so completely feel their emotion through the screen is Ingrid Bergman. Both let their faces and emotion speak for them. When you watch their films you do so to see those extraordinary faces in action.

A very private and shy woman in real life, the Swedish born Greta Garbo retired from acting and public life in 1941. Her screen persona (often a strong and independent woman)is still famous today. Greta Garbo was one of the all time greats and she continues to fascinate today. I first saw her in the tragic romantic drama, Camille, she broke my heart in that and I have been a fan of hers ever since.

For this blogathon I’m writing about Grand Hotel. It is in this film that Garbo utters that famous line which has since become her catchphrase – “I want to be alone”. That line may as well have come from Greta herself, as she also wanted to be left alone to live her own life as a private citizen.

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

When I first saw Grand Hotel,it led me to feel very differently about both Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. I thought that Greta overacted in her role, I also felt that there was something rather artificial about her performance. This reaction really surprised me. I had been so impressed with the other performances of Greta’s that I had seen up to this point. 

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The Ballerina and the Baron meet. Screenshot by me.

It took me a couple of more views to appreciate and actually understand Greta’s performance here. Her character in this film is a prima donna, her actions and gestures are completely exaggerated, everything that she does is done purely to attract the notice of others.  Greta captures that sort of personality perfectly in her performance here. Her performance is over the top because that is exactly what her character is like. When you watch her with that in mind, I do think you really begin to appreciate just how good a performance it really is.   

I also found myself really liking Joan Crawford in this film. That was surprising to me because she wasn’t an actress who I had liked very much up to this point. This film made me appreciate her a great deal more as an actress, and while I still can’t say she is a favourite of mine; I have certainly developed a great deal of respect for her as an actress. I think she was at her best in films made during the 1930’s, and I think that she comes across to me as being much more natural in these early films.

Grand Hotel was one of the first all star films. The actors who appeared in this were among the biggest names of 1930’s cinema. I can well imagine that audiences at the time must have been so excited to see all these big stars together in one film. Greta Garbo was probably the biggest star in the film, other big names in the cast include the Barrymore brothers (John and Lionel)and Joan Crawford.

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

Greta Garbo plays Grusinskaya, a shy and acclaimed ballerina who is staying at the hotel while she performs on stage in the city.

John Barrymore plays Baron von Geigern, a kind and good man, who has unfortunately squandered his fortune and now has to resort to playing cards and being an occasional thief in order to support himself. The Baron is planning on stealing Grusinskaya’s jewels, but he doesn’t plan on falling in love with her, or for her to return his feelings.

Lionel Barrymore is Mr. Kringelein, a loveable, weary, gentle and sick man, who is looking after himself for a change. He befriends the Baron and (possibly for the first time in his life)has a lot of fun.

Joan Crawford plays Miss. Flaemmchen, an outgoing and ambitious stenographer who has been hired to work for a guest in the hotel. She befriends the Baron and Mr. Kringelein, and she falls in love with the Baron. He has great affection for her, but his heart is with the ballerina. Mr. Kringelein also develops great affection for the young woman, and there is a possibility that he has fallen in love with her too.

Wallace Beery plays Director Preysing, a wealthy, tyrannical, and hard hearted industrialist, who hires Miss Flaemmchen to assist him as he closes an important deal at the hotel. He is also the employer of Mr. Kringelein.

Lewis Stone plays the hotels doctor, Otternschlag, a dignified man who was terribly disfigured during WW1.

Jean Hersholt plays the dedicated and overworked hotel manager, Senf. He is eagerly awaiting news of his wife, who is about to give birth to their child.

Rafaela Ottiano plays Suzette, the devoted and demure ladies maid to Grusinskaya.

These characters will all interact with one another during their stay at the hotel. Hearts will be won, hearts will be broken and lives will be forever changed. This will be one hotel stay that will never be forgotten by any of our characters.

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

It is the characters that give this film its heart and soul. We are made to feel for them deeply as the film goes on. We want the best for them, and we come to care about some of them very much indeed. I like that they all come across as believable and very real people, they are filled with flaws, quirks, and shades of light and dark. It is the characters that draw me back time and again to this film.

My favourite characters in this are the Baron, Miss Flaemmchen and Mr. Kringelein. I love the bond that slowly develops between their trio, and some of the funniest and most moving scenes in the whole film feature these three. 

I also have to say how much I love it when the Baron calls Flaemmchen “funny one”. The Barrymore brothers and Crawford all do such a terrific job of making their characters affection for one another seem completely genuine. We completely believe and feel their emotional connection.

The Baron in particular is the films heart. He is the character who connects the most with all the others. He brings happiness and also a sense of security into the lives of Flaemmchen, Grusinskaya and Kringelein. What happens to him later in the film is shocking, disturbing and heartbreaking.

John Barrymore is certainly at his best in this role, conveying a weary, decent and gentle soul forced to do something morally wrong in order to survive. This performance has become my favourite from among John Barrymore’s many films.

The characters I feel the most sorry for are Kringelein, the Baron and Grusinskaya, they are each a sad person in different ways, and they all suffer a great deal of pain and heartbreak as the film goes on.

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The loveable Kringelein. Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes are the following. The Baron meeting Flaemmchen for the first time. The entire sequence in the bar. The scene between Flaemmchen and Mr. Kringelein where she says she will stay with him(this never fails to make me go teary). The Baron comforting a distraught Grusinskaya. The introduction sequence. The phone ringing in the Baron’s empty room and we see his dog waiting on the bed for him to return.  😦  Grusinskaya not being told the truth about the Baron at the end, but deep down inside herself we see that she appears to know something is very wrong.

This one is a real character piece and I think that the story gives all the actors their chance to shine at some stage of the film. The cast all deliver solid performances. I think the Barrymore brothers, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford deliver the best performances in the film.

Despite the good story, the memorable characters, and the many stars which appear within it; I do think it is fair to say that it is Greta Garbo who has become the best remembered part of this film. 

Greta’s role in this film is the one that has become the most famous out of all of her screen work I’d say. As the decades have passed us by, the name of Garbo, and the title Grand Hotel have become forever linked to one another.

           Some facts about the film.

  • Buster Keaton was the first choice for the role of Kringelein. I would love to have seen him get the chance to play this more serious and tragic role. While it is intriguing to imagine Keaton in the role, I do think that in the end the right casting choice was made with Lionel Barrymore.

 

  • The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It wasn’t nominated for, and nor did it win, any other awards in any of the other categories.

 

  •  John Barrymore and Greta Garbo were very nervous about working alongside one another in this film. When they eventually met they both ended up getting along really well. 

 

  • Buster Keaton wanted to make a parody of this film with himself playing Kringelein. It would have been set in a New York flophouse, and it would have starred a number of other comedians in the key roles. I would so love to have seen this.

 

Any other fans of Grand Hotel? Please leave your comments below. What do you think of Greta Garbo in this film?

 

 

Blogathons, Comedy, Romance

The Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon : Adam’s Rib (1949)

Hepburn and Tracy

Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

What do I think when I hear the names Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn? Well, I’d say that the first word which comes to mind for me is magical. Why magical? Well, it is because I think they are film magic together; this couple were the sort of film partnership that was only dreamt of in the industry, such screen teams really didn’t come along very often, and when one did arrive it was unforgettable and often unmatchable. What you see on screen between Tracy and Hepburn was the real deal, be it sexual tension, affection, or passion. 

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn truly were one of the greatest couples in film history. They had genuine chemistry, perfect timing, and they fitted perfectly together on screen as a couple. They make you feel the sexual tension and affection that their various characters feel for one another. This pair gave us some of the most romantic and sexy scenes in film history.

Both Spencer and Katharine were very successful film actors in the years leading up to their first screen pairing, in Woman Of The Year. Once that film came out, the names of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn would be forever after linked in the minds of film audiences. The couple made nine films together. Many of these are considered high points in the romance and comedy genres. 

The pair were in love in real life, and their off screen romance undoubtedly accounts for the warmth and intimacy that is so evident between them on screen. Unfortunately Spencer was married and he was also a Catholic, so despite his own unhappy marriage, there was just no way he was getting divorced. A shame really, he and Katharine were so meant to be together. Katharine helped him with his alcoholism and she also nursed him during his final years. They were the couple who should have been man and wife. Sadly they did not get a happy ending in real life.

Their characters in the films they made together faired much better when it came to a happy ever after. I’m writing about my favourite film that the pair made together. That film is Adam’s Rib (1949).

Why this one over the others? Well for starters it is a very, very funny film indeed. There’s lots of physical (especially during some of the courtroom sequences)and verbal comedy to get you laughing. The comedy is only half of the reason I love it so much though. I really love it so much for the films portrayal of marital happiness and for the affection between Spencer and Katharine’s characters.

Their characters in this are a couple who are soulmates, best friends and lovers. The way they look at each other in this one just totally melts my heart. In many scenes they are so intimate with one another, that it’s like someone left the cameras rolling after a take, and that we are actually watching Spencer and Katharine in a genuine private moment together.

The affectionate scenes between them both in this are my favourite moments out of all the films they made together. There is such warmth and obvious love between Spencer and Katharine in this one. It is beautiful to watch and really helps get across how their characters feel about one another.

I especially love them in the scene where they are cuddling up on the sofa after work one evening. Spencer’s character sees that Katharine’s is subdued and gently asks her if she is alright, and says he wouldn’t ever want to think of her not being alright. I think that might just well be my all time favourite Kate and Spence moment on screen (oh alright then, so maybe it’s a tie with their very sexy first meeting in Woman Of The Year.)  🙂

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Adam’s Rib was written by husband and wife screenwriting team Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. Their inspiration for this story of married lawyers were William and   Dorothy Whitney. The Whitney’s were a married couple who were both lawyers, they ended up getting divorced and marrying the clients they were each representing in a high profile case. The screenwriting couple saw great potential in two characters who were married lawyers and who had to appear on opposite sides of the court in the same case. Thus Adam and Amanda Bonner were created.

Adam (Spencer Tracy)and Amanda (Katharine Hepburn)are two well respected and much sought after lawyers. They both love their job, and will both give a case their all. The pair also happen to be married to one another. In court they verbally spar, but then they come home to one another and leave all that outside. These two are such a devoted couple and adore each other.

Across town, Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) follows her husband Warren. Doris is convinced that her husband is having an affair. She catches him with another woman (Jean Hagen) and fires a gun at them, the woman isn’t hurt, but Warren is injured.

The Bonner’s read about the case, and each of them has a different opinion on the case and about the people involved. They find it difficult to leave the case alone when Amanda is hired to defend Doris and Adam finds out he is prosecuting the case. Cue arguments, verbal sparring, flirtation, and an extremely spectacular battle of the sexes in the courtroom. Can the pair stop this case from impacting on their personal life?

The talented (and quite often overlooked in comparison to other actresses of the time)Jean Hagen and Judy Holliday both steal all the scenes they are in as the two very different women in Mr. Attinger’s life.

David Wayne is both amusing and annoying as Kip, he is a song writer who fancies Amanda and flirts with her to wind Adam up (he succeeds!). I want to slap Kip so many times, he is just so nosy and annoying.

As for Spencer and Katharine they are both terrific here, and they also look like they are having a great deal of fun in this one.

My favourite scenes are the following. Adam and Amanda talking to each other under the table in court. All the scenes where they debate in court. Amanda putting her head on Adam’s knee when she sees he looks angry and uncomfortable during the scene where they watch home movies. The liquorice gun scene. The massage and slap scene. Adam asking Amanda if she is alright, and saying that he would never want to think of her not being alright. The female weightlifter lifting Adam above her head. The footage from the home movies.

This is a funny and romantic film featuring memorable performances from the entire cast. There’s also plenty of witty dialogue to be enjoyed, and of course there is that undeniable Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn screen magic to enjoy.

The Bonner’s await you in court. Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.

As a bonus here are the five films in which I think Katharine and Spencer each give their best performances.

 

Katharine Hepburn

1- Long Day’s Journey Into Night

2- Woman Of The Year

3- Summertime

4 – The Philadelphia Story

5- The Lion In Winter

 

Spencer Tracy

1- Bad Day At Black Rock

2- Adam’s Rib

3- Boys Town

4- Woman Of The Year

5- Inherit The Wind

 

          Here are my five all time favourite Tracy and Hepburn films.

     Spencer Tracy

        1- Woman Of The Year

2- San Francisco

3- Boys Town

4- Adam’s Rib

             5- Men Of Boys Town

 

        Katharine Hepburn

1- Summertime

2- Holiday

3- The Lion in Winter

4- Woman Of The Year

5- Adam’s Rib

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 all the entries myself.

June Allyson was a very radiant actress. She had one of the brightest smiles of anyone that 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.

 

Drama, Romance, Silent Film, War

Wings (1927)

 

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

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

 

I don’t know about anyone else, but I think it is pretty remarkable just how well Wings stands up when it is viewed today. 90 years after its original release, this film still remains a gripping and realistic depiction of war and also of aerial combat. The film also manages to be a touching portrayal of friendship, and takes a look at the pain of unrequited love.

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

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

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

 

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

This film was the first ever Best Picture Oscar winner (and until The Artist won in 2011, it was the only Silent film to win the award) and it’s not difficult to see why there was so much love for this one. WW1 would have been fresh in the minds of audiences watching this for the first time; they no doubt would have been able to really connect with the experiences of the lead trio, and have been able to relate to the characters wartime experiences. The film does a good job of capturing the horror of war, and also of the fact that death will come and claim anyone at any time.

 

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

 

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The planes head into battle. Screenshot by me.

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

 

One of my reasons for loving Silent films so much is that I love how visually beautiful and unique so many of them look. I also have a real fondness for tinting in Silent films. Many Silent films were tinted in various different colours and there is some glorious screen tinting to be enjoyed in this one. I especially love the golden tint which features heavily throughout. I also think that the intertitle cards look very nice too.

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

 

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Jack and David. Screenshot by me.

In a small town in America life is idyllic. The youth are out enjoying life to the full. Best friends Jack (Charles “Buddy” Rogers)and David (Richard Arlen)compete for the affections of the beautiful and wealthy Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston). Jack is pretty slow (seriously, how on earth could he miss her signals!)to see that his neighbour, Mary (Clara Bow) is in love with him. She shares his adventurous nature and is clearly the gal for him.

 

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

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

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

 

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Gary Cooper as Cadet White. Screenshot by me.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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Clara Bow as Mary. Screenshot by me.

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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 way 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, even though this version is rushed too, it captures the atmosphere of the novel. It is also a very good film unlike the other two I mentioned. 

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. This version stars 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 absolutely 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 desperately yearning to break free. In the later part of the series when she flees Thornfield Hall, Zelah makes Jane so vulnerable and devastated that 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 Timothy really is the best actor to have been able to so perfectly capture the personality and torment of the man he plays.

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.