Thriller, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Third Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon: To Catch A Thief (1955)

Grace Kelly blogathon

Virginie over at The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting this blogathon about Grace Kelly. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Grace Kelly was many things in her life, and she has come to mean different things to different people. She has become a fashion and beauty icon over the years. She also famously went from being a fairly ordinary American woman to becoming a real life Princess in 1956, when she got married to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Many people have since come to know Grace through her work and life as a Princess.

Most of us have come to know Grace and are fans of her through her work as a film actress. Grace was a very good actress, and while I personally think that she perhaps wasn’t the best actress of her generation, she was without a doubt certainly a very good one. 

Besides being talented, Grace also had that magical star quality so necessary for a successful screen career. Grace shone when she was on screen, she has that effect which means you can’t take your eyes off her when she is on the screen.

I like how Grace often portrayed a vulnerability in many of her characters. Her characters would often put up a tough façade, but in reality they were women who could be easily hurt, or were women who felt things deeply. Grace portrayed all this so well through her eyes and expressions.

Alfred Hitchcock was the director who gave Grace the film roles which brought her great fame, and forever cemented her screen image in the minds of audiences. Hitchcock knew how to use Grace to best effect on screen. Through her collaboration with Hitch, Grace’s screen image changed from cool, demure, vulnerable and gentle love interest, to strong, sexy, elegant and confident leading lady.

Hitch also played around with Grace’s aloof and cool persona. He gave her roles that played up that image, but then showed us that underneath that perceived image she was very different, and she could be warm, feisty, sensual, sexy and very human too.

I’m writing about the third and final film that Grace made with Hitchcock. That film is To Catch A Thief. The film was made in 1955, and it was shot out on location in the South of France and in Monaco (soon to be Grace’s future home).

This film may lack the suspense of the majority of other Hitchcock films, but it certainly features some interesting characters, lots of innuendo (just how did some of this make it past the censors!)beautiful costumes (especially those worn by Grace)and the photography of the stunning locations is truly a pleasure to look at. 

This is a film that I love quite a bit. It isn’t a traditional Hitchcock film in terms of its content and visual style, but the sexual innuendo and the developing relationship between Grace and Cary Grant’s characters is classic Hitch for sure.

Grace looks truly stunning in this film. She is at the height of her beauty here, and she gets to wear some of the most beautiful and elegant gowns I’ve ever seen. I especially love the pale blue evening gown she wears in the hotel restaurant. Edith Head truly outdid herself with her costume designs for this film.

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I love how Grace plays her character Francie. This woman is in control of everything she does and she very well knows it. She is strong, sexy and really oozes confidence and determination. She can also be wild and uncontrollable which really gives her an air of danger at times.

I love the car chase sequence, where Francie’s fast driving really scares John as he ends up becoming a helpless passenger. Francie also plays with John(like a cat would with a mouse)but he gets wise to her games and he plays with her right back (cue some classic banter between the two).

A series of jewel robberies are taking place across the French Riviera. The robberies bear a strong resemblance to the work of a notorious jewel thief known as The Cat. This man is John Robie (Cary Grant)and he knows very well that he is not the current thief. Once he is alerted that someone else is thieving using his signature style, he sets out to catch the culprit himself and to clear his own name.

John soon begins to receive threats on his life. John also has to deal with the beautiful American heiress, Francie (Grace Kelly)and her mother Jessie (Jessie Royce Landis)who are on holiday in Cannes and befriend him. John and Francie have an instant attraction, but John grows suspicious of her when she asks too many questions about thieving, and especially when she claims to know he is the famous cat burglar.

John also has issues with some former friends/colleagues from the French Resistance. He also has to deal with Danielle (Brigitte Auber)who is a local girl he has known for years, who has a huge crush on him.

John enlists the help of an insurance man (John Williams)to set a trap for the thief. Together they create a list of the most wealthy jewel owners in the Riviera. Who can John trust? Just who is The Cat?

This film is less about its plot, and instead is more about the beautiful locations, and also the sexual tension and desire between Francie and John. Cary and Grace have incredible chemistry with one another, their innuendo laced dialogue is truly shocking in places, just how did some of those lines( especially the one about a week at Niagara Falls) even get past the censor?

I didn’t see the identity of the copycat thief coming until it was revealed. Having said that though this revelation just lacked a big shock for me. I think the film would have been more exciting if Francie had been revealed to be the burglar. It would have placed John in a predicament as to whether he should hand her in, or if he could attack her back if she attacked him.

When I first saw this film I was convinced that it would be Francie who would be revealed as the copycat thief.  Having said all that I think that reveal would have been too obvious given how Francie acts earlier in the film.

An enjoyable film that is beautiful to look at. In this film we get to see the wealthy and the beautiful having fun in a beautiful place. It makes us dream that we could have such a life too. Be sure to see this film on Blu-ray to see it looking clear and to see the colour photography at its most stunning.

Grace and Cary are both superb here and the rest of the cast all deliver solid performances too. Jessie Royce Landis is hysterical as Francie’s mother who develops a crush on John herself.

The beach sequences always make me want to visit the beach, and I envy Grace every single time I watch this because of the gorgeous outfits she gets to wear throughout the film.

This one is certainly worth a look for fans of Grace, Hitchcock and Cary. It’s not the best Hitchcock film, but it’s certainly not the worst either.

My favourite scenes are the following. John and Francie sharing a kiss at her hotel room door. The fireworks and jewels scene between John and Francie. Francie and Danielle’s rather catty conversation out on the sea float (I love Cary’s facial expressions during this scene, it is so funny).

Any other fans of this film? What are your thoughts on Grace’s performance here?

    Here are my five favourite Grace Kelly films.

1- High Society

2- To Catch A Thief

3- Rear Window

                                                                   4-The Country Girl

                                                                  5-The Swan

 

 

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Tributes To Classic Stars

Top Five Paul Newman Performances

 

Photo0156What can I say about Paul Newman? He has been a great favourite of mine since I first saw him in The Sting. He was such a natural and gifted actor. He was fascinating to watch as he was a very physical actor and his eyes always spoke volumes too.

Paul was also a very handsome man which meant that it was certainly not a chore to gaze at him on screen for hours on end.  🙂  Off screen he was down to earth, classy and an all round real nice guy. He did a great deal for charity too.

I have never heard any stories of him treating people badly or going around acting like he was better than others. Paul Newman seemed to be the genuine article, what you saw with him was what you got. I respect that enormously. His marriage to Joanne Woodward is one for the history books, they were so close and remained devoted to the end.

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Paul made so many films in his career, some excellent, some good, and some not so good, but he always delivered even if he was in a terrible film. He was someone whose work I would always check out. I miss him so much.

The following five films are the ones I consider to feature Paul’s best performances.

1- Hud. Paul is excellent as the cynical, ambitious, and embittered son of a rancher. Hud is idolised by his young nephew and despaired of by his father. Hud is one of those men who destroys everything he touches (not intentionally but it just happens). A strong lead performance from Paul makes this one a must see. Patricia Neal is also excellent here as the object of Hud’s desire.

2- The Verdict. This gripping courtroom drama features one of Paul’s best performances. He is deeply moving as Frank, an alcoholic lawyer taking on a medical malpractice case. He fights hard on the case and regains some self esteem along the way. He has his heart broken when he opens it to a much younger woman who is not all she seems. I think Paul is so vulnerable in this, he also really lets you see this character warts and all.

3- The Hustler. You can’t take your eyes off Paul here, as the young hot shot pool player “Fast Eddie” Felson. He makes you feel this guys hunger to win, his pain at a personal loss later in the film and his incapability to quit trying to win and beat other pool players. Piper Laurie, George C. Scott and Jackie Gleason all offer excellent support.

4- The Sting. Paul has a lot of fun here as the clever and funny con-man, Henry Gondorff. He teaches a younger man (Robert Redford)the art of the con. The two become good friends and go up against a ruthless crime boss (Robert Shaw). Paul steals every scene he is in here with just a look. His character has always got something waiting up his sleeve, and Paul does a good job of capturing his changing moods and mannerisms as he goes around fooling gangsters.  

5- Road To Perdition. Paul dominates the screen in every single scene he is in, as a mob boss facing a moral conundrum. He must kill his surrogate son who is a good guy. This is necessary due to the actions of his own son who is despicable. The scene where he confronts his own son and gives him a piece of his mind is powerful stuff indeed. His final scene in the rain is unforgettable.

My favourite Paul Newman films are the following: The Sting. Winning. Message In A Bottle. Absence Of Malice. Hud. The Hustler. The Color Of Money. Mr and Mrs. Bridge. Twilight. The Verdict. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Which films do you consider to be Paul’s best? What are your favourite Paul Newman films?

 

British Cinema, Tributes To Classic Stars

Your Favourite Vivien Leigh Film Performances?

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Vivien has long been a favourite of mine. Much more than simply being enchanting, delicate and beautiful; Vivien could make your heart break for her characters one moment and get you cheering for them in the next. On screen she could be fragile, gentle, strong and fearless, and whatever she appeared in she always stole each and every scene she was in.

Despite her incredible acting talent, Vivien actually only ever starred in 20 films. She also enjoyed huge success in the theatre, and she was one of the most acclaimed actresses of the British theatre. I only wish she had starred in more films.

Which of Vivien’s performances/films are your favourites? I love the following the most.

1- Waterloo Bridge (1940) This tale of love and tragedy is set in London during WW1. Vivien plays a young ballerina who falls in love with a British officer (Robert Taylor), only to descend into heartbreak and poverty when she receives tragic news. There is a twist that will have you sobbing. A beautiful and moving love story. Vivien makes your heart break for this woman, and we are all left wanting the best for her. I like how Vivien makes you feel how torn up is she is in her mind, wrestling with her conscience about the choice she has made.

2- Gone With The Wind (1939) This is the first film of Vivien’s that I ever saw. I have been a fan ever since I first saw her performance here as the defiant Southern belle. As the flirtatious and defiant Scarlett, Vivien is a force to be reckoned with. As she falls in love and lives through the American civil war, Scarlett earns our admiration for her courage and strength in the face of extremely trying times.

3- That Hamilton Woman (1941) Vivien is excellent here, as the real life Emma Hamilton, the outgoing mistress of the heroic Lord Nelson. This film focuses on their famous affair, and it sees Vivien acting alongside her husband Laurence Olivier.  This is one of my favourite romance films and it is one I wish had been longer (although I’m very happy with what we got.)

I think Vivien gave her best performance as the fragile, and quite delusional Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. I think she truly deserved her Oscar for that one.

I’d love to hear from you. What are your favourite Vivien Leigh films?

Tributes To Classic Stars

Farewell To Martin Landau

I’ve just heard the sad news that Martin has died. He was 89 years old.

A hugely talented actor who stole every scene he was in. Suave, dapper and the owner of one of the most distinctive voices in film and TV history; Martin really was every inch the star.

Surprisingly though he never became a leading man on the big screen, despite having the talent to have done so. He became a reliable character actor in films.

His biggest screen successes came on the small screen. His most famous (and my favourite among all of his performances)role was as Rollin Hand in Mission Impossible (1966-1973). Rollin was the teams master of disguise, a tough and suave badass who could be relied upon in tough situations. Martin was married to his co-star from that series, Barbara Bain, from 1957 until their divorce in 1993. The pair also starred together in the cult Sci-Fi series Space 1999.

In 1959, Martin sent shivers down the spines of many viewers, when he played the sadistic henchman in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. This is a perfect example of an actor making the most of a fairly small role. Martin steals every scene he is in and shows you this man is dangerous and loves violence and pain.

He won an Oscar in 1994, for his performance as horror legend Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

Martin was friends with James Dean, and also worked as an acting coach (Jack Nicholson is among the actors who were taught by Martin.)

He famously turned down the role of Commander Spock in the Star Trek TV series. Whilst I’ve always been intrigued imagining how he would have played the role, I’m very glad he declined and that Leonard Nimoy was cast, he was the right man for the role.

He continued working steadily in TV and film into the 90’s and beyond and was always a welcome presence.

My favourites among his later roles are The XFiles: Fight The Future (1998) , in which he played a scared informant of Agent Mulder. I also like him in The Aryan Couple (2004) in which he played a Jewish businessman caught up in WW2.

R.I.P Martin. All sympathies to his family and friends.

What are your thoughts on Martin and his career? Any favourite performances?

Blogathons, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Dean Martin Blogathon: Why I Love Dean.

Dean Martin Blogathon.pngSamantha, over at Musings Of A Classic Film Addict, is hosting this blogathon all about Dean Martin. Be sure to visit her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them myself.

This year marks the centenary of Dean’s birth. In honour of this occasion, I want to write a little piece about how much I love Dean.

Smooth, funny, private, cool, effortless, handsome, and warm hearted are all words that I would use to describe Dean Martin.I like how Dean seemed to be able to fit easily into whatever career path he took. From singer, to comic, to actor; Dean made it seem like he had always been working in that particular job forever. He just made everything he did seem effortless and natural.

Several of my friends know of my love for all things Dean Martin. I especially love his incredible singing voice. I am even envious of a friend who came across a Dean Martin slot machine whilst on holiday in Las Vegas! As random as that sounds, I know I would have got a real kick out of seeing that.  🙂

To me, Dean always comes across (in his many TV, film and stage appearances)as someone who it would be fun to hang out with; you just know you would have had some laughs with this man in real life. I also like how he has this aura of fun around him all the time. He was like the favourite uncle, someone who you looked forward to seeing and who would always make you smile.

I first became aware of Dean through his work as a singer. My parents like his singing, and as I was growing up I’d often hear his songs playing in our house. As I’ve grown older, I’ve sought out more of his music and become acquainted with his film and TV work too.

I especially enjoy watching his Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts (TV) episodes. These are guaranteed to have me crying with laughter. Some of the references I don’t get (not being American or being born long after the time these aired)but the majority of the material still works on me today.

Dean is the host and master of ceremonies for this series. Each episode a different group of celebrities(and some regulars like Dean and Don Rickles) ranging from actors to politicians, comically lambast a different guest. Dean instigates many mirth inducing scenes and cracks up a great deal himself at some of the things said about him. I love how this series makes you feel as though you are in that room with those guys, and that you’re there laughing with them.

I like that Dean always comes across as likeable and fun. I love his act of seeming to be drunk all the time (which really fooled some people into believing he was drunk for real.) We love him for being Dean and we wouldn’t have him any other way.

Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti in Ohio, in June, 1917. He went on to make a name for himself as a singer, comedian, and became a leading member of his friend Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack.

In 1945, Dean met a young comic called Jerry Lewis, at a club where they were both performing. From 1946 onwards they went on to become one of the most beloved duos in comic history. The pairs regular appearances on the TV series, The Colgate Comedy Hour  finally made them household names. Dean was the laid back straight man to Jerry’s hyperactive scene stealer. The pair also went on to make several films together.

I have never been a fan of Jerry Lewis but I do like the work he did with Dean, I feel that they brought out the best in each other on screen. The pair were close friends for many years. The natural warmth and affection between them shows on screen. They broke up in 1956 and sadly became estranged for twenty years. They enjoyed an emotional reunion at an event arranged by Frank Sinatra in 1976.

Following the breakup, Dean went on to enjoy success as a singer and actor. He performed regularly on stage and screen, with Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack – Sammy Davis Jr, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford.

Following the tragic death of his son in 1987, Dean appeared less and less in public. He passed away on Christmas Day in 1995. He was 78 years old.

My favourite Dean Martin films? – Five Card Stud, Airport, The Young Lions and The Sons of Katie Elder.

My favourite Dean Martin songs? –  I love them all, but the following hold a special place in my heart: Ain’t That A Kick In The Head, Volare, Luna Mezza Mare and Baby, It’s Cold Outside.

Thank you for reading. I’d also like to say a big thank you to Dean for giving me so many hours of laughter and recording all those fabulous songs.

 

 

 

Blogathons, Tributes To Classic Stars

The William Holden Blogathon: Holden As An Actor.

 

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Virginie over at The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting this blogathon about William Holden. Check out her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read all the other posts about Holden’s films and life.

Instead of just talking about one specific film or role, I’d like to discuss William as an actor and to talk about two of my favourite performances from him.

William Holden is one of my favourite actors, he is always watchable and I will always check out a film if I see he is in it. I love his earlier films, but I much prefer him in his later career.

As William’s film career went on you could see his acting talents grow and improve. I think it’s fair to say that in some of his early films he looked a little stiff, uncomfortable even on screen, but what I like is that you can see him grow in confidence as the years (and films) go on.

In a way this acting growth makes me like him even more. I can take a journey with him and witness his acting ability grow and improve simply by watching his films. I think he looks more comfortable on screen the older he got.

He could effortlessly switch between comic, romantic and dramatic roles. He could play emotionally reserved and devastatingly charming men and make you believe both types of performance.

In the late 1960’s, and into the 1970’s, Holden continued to act on screen often in more supporting roles than lead ones. I especially like his performances in two later dramatic films Network and Breezy. I think it is such a shame that we lost him when he did. I have no doubt he would have continued turning in fine performances for many more years. I think he could have easily settled into a very successful career of supporting/character actor in his later years.

Charming, handsome, smooth and having the gift of making everything he did appear effortless about sums up William Holden in a nutshell. Born on April 17th, 1918, in Illinois, he would go on to become one of the most popular stars of the 1950’s and beyond.

There was much more to Holden than good looks, and a warm smile though; he could give a real depth to his characters with just a small look or expression.

In 1939 he made a name for himself when he starred alongside Barbara Stanwyck in Golden Boy. This boxing classic sees a baby-faced Holden play Joe Bonaparte, a violinist turned boxer. Holden and Stanwyck became good friends, and he was forever grateful to her for persuading producers to take a chance on him. Holden put a lot of heart into this performance and it placed him on the path to stardom.

By the time he was cast in Sunset Blvd (1950), Holden had really honed his acting skills; his character in that Joe Gillis, is torn between his growing feelings for Norma(Gloria Swanson) and what she can offer him(fame, wealth, status)and his desire for a normal life/relationship. Holden does such a good job of letting us really feel what Joe is experiencing inside, and he also crucially doesn’t get overshadowed by the great Gloria Swanson as the deranged Norma.

At times Holden makes us dislike Joe for his treatment of Norma, he comes across as selfish and taking advantage of someone with obvious issues. At other times he makes you really feel for this Joe’s situation and we pity him as much as we do Norma. I’m not sure another actor could have portrayed all of that in quite the same way.

Many other hits followed for him after this: Stalag 17 (for which he won the Best Actor Oscar, and famously delivered one of the shortest ever Oscar speeches, simply saying “Thank You”.) Sabrina, Picnic and The Bridge on the River Kwai. He became one of Hollywood’s most popular actors.

Holden showed his funny side in 1955, when he appeared as himself in an episode of I, Love Lucy. He is clearly having a ball as he gets his own back on Lucy after she stares at him for ages, whilst he is trying to eat lunch in a restaurant.

Every time I watch this episode I crack up, I think he showed great comic skills in this and it’s a shame he didn’t get to tap into those skills more often on screen. As funny as the episode is, I think it really does a good job of making us aware how annoyed celebrities must be at being endlessly gawped at or approached when out in public.

Yes, of course you’ll be excited if you come across someone you’re a fan of, but I really don’t agree with approaching them other than at events like backstage signings or film premieres. They are people with lives just like us and they deserve their privacy and space too. This episode shows us how we’d feel if the tables were turned.

I’d like to talk now about two of my all time favourite William Holden performances.

                                                      Sabrina, 1954, directed by Billy Wilder.

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This was the first of his films that I ever saw. I not only fell in love with the film, but it made me an instant fan of William Holden. I didn’t find myself thinking I had to see more of his work before deciding if I liked him or not. I liked him right away and was determined to check out more of his films.

Audrey Hepburn plays Sabrina Fairchild, the daughter of the chauffer to the wealthy Larrabee family. Sabrina finds herself falling in love with the Larrabee brothers; the elder, serious, businessman, Lionel(Humphrey Bogart)and the handsome, fun loving, playboy youngest brother, David( Holden).

From the first time we see him Holden makes us aware that David is a man who women fall hard for, he doesn’t treat his women badly, but he doesn’t commit to them easily either. Holden makes David a fun and charming character and you like him(despite his seeming indifference to Sabrina earlier in the story.)

I love his reaction when he sees Sabrina(now elegant and wearing Paris fashions)at the train station; slamming on the breaks of his car, reversing and turning on the charm full volume he offers her assistance, all the while being oblivious to who she is. It’s a funny scene and he makes it so.

I love the scene where David tells Lionel some home truths and receives a punch on the nose. It is a powerful moment because David(and Holden)is deadly serious for the first time in the film. He is not joking, he knows the truth and we also see that he has been paying attention to his families business all these years too. I love the scene where he takes charge and we believe he knows what he is doing after all. Holden makes this character development believable and that helps the scene immensely.

I never get tired of watching this charming romantic film. I love all the cast and the story, but Holden’s performance is a big reason this became a favourite.

 

                                           Breezy, 1973, directed by Clint Eastwood.

The story sounds cliché, but the film ends up being anything but. Free spirited, young, Breezy(Kay Lenz)meets middle aged estate agent, Frank Harmon(Holden). The two slowly become friends and then both fall in love.

There is trouble and heartbreak ahead though, as Frank’s friends don’t accept his relationship, and Frank himself has doubts that this May-December romance can last. Breezy has no such doubts, she loves Frank and doesn’t care about their age gap.

Holden is so moving in this. Perfectly conveying his character tentatively allowing himself to fall in love and be vulnerable for the first time in years. Holden lets himself appear nervous, hesitant and vulnerable on screen. I love him in this role because he makes what Frank is going through believable, and you really feel his hesitation and conflicted emotions.

I think it is quite a brave role for him to have taken actually. He isn’t a movie star in this, he is just a regular guy undergoing a transforming event in his life. He really makes you feel what Frank is going through.Holden acts his age here, his character is not a dashing ladies man in control of this situation.

Holden also shows us just how much effort Frank is putting in to try and change his introverted nature.Holden and Lenz work very well together, and there is a real tenderness in their shared intimate moments(both the emotional and the physical scenes.)

This film shows us that love is worth the risk. Who cares what other people think? Enjoy the remaining years of life and have fun. I am always left feeling exactly this at the end of this film. Life may not end up being perfect for this couple, but they’re certainly going to try and have a good time together.

I love Holden in the beach scene where Breezy kisses him for the first time. He is taken aback, then you see something on his face that makes you realise he has fallen for her just as much as she has for him.

This is a film very much deserving of much more recognition. Two fantastic lead performances, an adorable dog with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen, and a poignant and funny story to tell. If you’ve never seen it before, I highly recommend watching it.

 

                                                 Maddy’s Five Favourite William Holden Films

1- Paris When It Sizzles

2- Breezy

3- Golden Boy

4- Sabrina

5- The World Of Suzie Wong

For all the joy Holden brought to his fans, his own life was sadly not filled with much happiness. He became an alcoholic, and he physically aged long before he should have done. He and Audrey Hepburn fell in love when they worked together on Sabrina; Hepburn ended their relationship when she discovered Holden had had a vasectomy, which meant she would not be able to have had children with him(something she wanted more than anything else in life.)He found some joy in the last years of his life though, as the partner of Hart To Hart actress Stephanie Powers.

Holden was a dedicated conservationist and set up the Mount Kenya Game ranch. Following his death, Powers founded The William Holden Wildlife Foundation which is still working today.

On November the 12th, 1981, Holden fell at home and died after hitting his head. His body wasn’t found until four days later.  A very sad end for one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.

Many thanks William for all the entertainment you have given me over the years. You are much missed. R.I.P.

Thanks to everyone for reading my post. Be sure to go and check out all the other entries over on Virginie’s site.

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Romance, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Bette Davis Blogathon: Mr. Skeffington (1944)

 

 

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Crystal, over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood, is hosting this blogathon all about Bette Davis. I’m looking forward to reading all the other posts by those taking part. This is the first time I have ever taken part in a Blogathon, so I’m very excited to be taking part in this.

I’ve decided to write about a great favourite of mine, the 1944 romantic drama, Mr. Skeffington.

Based on the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim; Mr. Skeffington focuses on the beautiful, young socialite, Fanny Trellis(Bette Davis). Fanny can twist men around her little finger, they dote on her, are entranced by her, and she both knows and loves it! From her first scene to her last, Bette makes Fanny the centre of attention as she floats around like a brightly coloured butterfly amongst all those love struck men drawn to her like bees to honey, moths to a…well, by now you should be getting the picture.

Bette was never better than when she was playing bad girls, and her performance here is another good example of this. What I find fascinating about this particular role though is that although Fanny is a selfish heartbreaker, I do find myself wondering if she is always consciously aware of the effect her actions will have?

Sometimes Fanny seems to be pretty naïve, there is a real girlish quality to her, yet at other times it seems she knows exactly what will happen after she says certain things, or goes out with a certain man and uses her apparent innocence as a cover/excuse for her behaviour.

This is precisely why I love Bette so much though, she can let you see the inner workings of her characters; she makes them more complex/human than they may have appeared on paper or possibly when played by another actress.

Fanny marries the kindly Job Skeffington(Claude Rains, delivering one of his most heartbreaking performances)after her brother Trippy(Richard Waring)embezzles money from him. Fanny hopes that her new marriage will allow her access to money which he can pass to her brother. When Trippy (who hates Job)learns what she has done, he leaves home in disgust and is killed in the First World War. Grief stricken by his death, Fanny withholds any affection she once had for Job from him.

Fanny devotes herself to parties and spending time with a number of other men. Job and their daughter rarely see her anymore. Throughout all of this Job’s love for Fanny has never wavered, and seeing him so hurt by her only makes us hate what she is doing. Fanny will come to learn(at great personal cost)that looks are not everything, it is the person inside who counts most. Love isn’t about the physical, it is really all about two souls connecting.

My favourite scenes are the following:

1- Job and Fanny on their honeymoon boat trip, the pair are on deck and see a passionate young couple get serenaded; Fanny is utterly convinced they too will be serenaded by this band who are rumoured to always be able to pick out newlyweds and play for them onboard. The band approach, Fanny looks expectant, satisfied even and then the band members look at one another, shake their heads and walk past leaving a perplexed Fanny in their wake; she didn’t realise(but Job did)that they are not acting like a couple in love.

2- Job sitting by Fanny’s bed when they learn she is pregnant. He is overjoyed and wants to be with her, she is distressed at the thought pregnancy may affect her appearance and she also doesn’t want to have the baby at home. Job is dismissed and we can see the heartbreak it causes.

3-Fanny visiting Job at his company. When news of The First World War being declared comes through, his office is swamped with employees asking what stocks they should buy up etc. For once Fanny is of interest to no one and it throws her somewhat. Bette is very good in this scene, going from in control and flirting, to being completely overwhelmed by something out of her control. I love how she ends up standing on a chair to get out of the way of people barging in and tries to regain Job’s attention.

4- Fanny drinking in a club with a man she is having an affair with. A drunk man keeps telling her she is gorgeous, he invites more drunks over to gaze at her, who all in turn say she is the most beautiful woman they’ve ever seen. Fanny is utterly delighted at this attention and has a right laugh at it all.

Bette is excellent in this film as the flirtatious, fun loving, seductive and enchanting Fanny. One moment she is all childlike innocence, vulnerability, and excitement and the next, she is despicable, cruel, vain and extremely selfish. Throughout all of this though, Bette keeps you interested in the character and even makes her sympathetic during certain scenes, she is not all bad and is more complicated than she may appear to be at first.

I always get the impression that Fanny needs attention and compliments because it makes her feel special; if she accepts her marriage with Job she will no longer feel as unique, desired as she does when she parades around with all the other men. That I can be so intrigued by Fanny is, I think, a real testament to Bette’s abilities as an actress, it is because of her performance and not the writing that makes me so fascinated. I can’t imagine another actress playing this role quite the way Bette does.

Without a doubt this is Bette’s film, but I’d also like to give a shout out to Claude Rains.He is superb here(endless shots of puppy dog eyes), and a sense his character harbours a quiet hope that one day something might change between him and Fanny. This film could so easily have ended up belonging to either of these brilliant actors at the cost of the other, but actually neither of them ends up overshadowing the other. Bette often said that Claude was her favourite co-star and I think they were a perfect screen fit. I really like them together in this, Deception and Now Voyager. I really wish they had made many more films together.

This is a real tearjerker and that ending gets me every time I see it.

Expertly directed by Vincent Sherman. Terrific performances all round, beautiful costumes courtesy of Orry-Kelly and some gorgeous set design courtesy of Fred M. MacLean.  On top of all that, we get Bette at the height of her fame and talent, always a treat to watch. Bette, thank you so much for so many fine performances over the years, you are greatly missed.

I highly recommend this if you haven’t seen it. If you have, please share your thoughts on the film and on Bette’s performance.

 

Tributes To Classic Stars

A Tribute To Jean Harlow

Tough talking, sassy, stands her ground, platinum blonde hair, gifted comedienne, and had one of the most distinctive voices in classic film history. Who are we talking about? The one and only Jean Harlow of course. Born on the 3rd of March, 1911, Jean would go on to become one of the greatest stars of American cinema. Tragically she only lived to 26, dying of kidney failure in June, 1937.

Known affectionately as Baby; Jean was adept at playing tough talking, fun loving dames and she owned every inch of screen she featured in. When she is on screen you don’t look at anyone else. I like how she makes her characters likeable and natural; she makes her characters seem like real people who you could imagine meeting in life. Jean also inspired Marilyn Monroe who was a big fan of her growing up.

My all time favourite Jean Harlow film is Red Headed Woman (1932); this terrific pre-code finds Harlow’s outrageous secretary going after the man she wants no matter what the cost. Jean is clearly having a lot of fun in this role, although her character would have been considered immoral at the time, Jean makes her likeable and you can’t help but admire her tenacity in continuing to go after what she wants. Her character is quite sexually forward for the time period, pre-codes were notoriously daring for the time, but Jean’s character must surely have raised plenty of eyebrows. I love her in the drunk scene, and the “do it again, I like it!” scene. When I first saw this I was pretty surprised by the ending, as this film is one of the few where a ‘bad’ character isn’t punished for their actions.

Red Dust (1932) is another favourite of mine. Her character Vantine is so much fun, and is clearly the perfect match for Clark Gable’s Carson. This film also features what is possibly her most memorable scene, taking an outdoor bath, while really in the nude on set; There is a story that she apparently stood up at the end of the scene and said “this is for the boys in the lab”, I’ve always wanted to believe that story as it sounds so like her, of course it could just be one of those legends that just gets repeated through the years.

My problem with this film (and the 1950’s remake also starring Clark Gable, Mogambo )is that it has always seemed highly unlikely that Gable’s character would ever choose the Mary Astor/ Grace Kelly character over Jean Harlow/Ava Gardner’s.

At the time of Jean’s death she and Thin Man actor William Powell were engaged, and he was devastated by her loss. I like to think that had she lived they would have married and been very happy.

There are many classic actors and actresses that I wish I could have met, Jean is one of them. She packed a lot into her short life, and her performances/characters were quite ahead of their time and therefore still feel relatable and modern today. I love watching her films, and I think I always will. Thank you Baby for all your performances.

I love Jean the most in the following films: Red Headed Woman, Red Dust, Dinner At Eight, Three Wise Girls and Libeled Lady.

Please share your thoughts on Jean. Which of her films do you love the most?

Actors Birthdays, Tributes To Classic Stars

Sidney Poitier At 90: In The Heat of the Night (1967)

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Tomorrow, February 20th, 2017, it will be the 90th birthday of American actor Sidney Poitier. Born in Miami, Florida on February 20th, 1927; Sidney would go on to become one of the finest actors of his generation. He would also become a major pioneer for future generations of African American actors.

Sidney’s characters were substantial roles (sadly, pretty much a first for African American performers at the time), often authority figures such as detectives or teachers. With his powerful, distinctive voice, and dramatic intensity, he is an actor who has your attention every second he is on the screen.

From a small, but key role in Blackboard Jungle, to lead roles in The Defiant Ones, A Patch of Blue, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, and To Sir With Love; Poitier quickly made a name for himself and became one of the best and most popular actors of his generation . He made history by winning the Best Actor Oscar in 1964, for his role in The Lilies of the Field.

In one of my all time favourite films, Sidney stars alongside Rod Steiger in 1967’s superb Detective drama In The Heat of the Night.

Set in the racist South of the 1960’s; Poitier plays Virgil Tibbs, a big city Detective brought into a small town Police Station on suspicion of murder, simply because he is a black man waiting to catch a train.

When it’s discovered he is not only innocent of the crime, but is also a Detective, he slowly gains the trust of the local officers. Gum chewing Police Chief Gillespie(Rod Steiger)begins to rethink his prejudice as he spends more time with Tibbs, the two slowly develop a bond of trust, and mutual respect and even friendship begins to develop between them. They must put aside their differences to try and solve the murder, before the killer escapes justice.

As they spend more time together Tibbs and Gillespie find themselves coming to respect and like each other. Their growing bond hopefully put some hope on the horizon that their relationship could soon be happening on a wide scale in real life.

I can’t even begin to imagine how groundbreaking Poitier’s character and performance were back in 67. The scene where he stands up to the racist plantation owner is incredibly powerful, and shows us that he will no longer stand for that hatred/treatment, times are changing.  A gripping story, featuring both Poitier and Steiger at their best.

My favourite scenes are the following. The “no pity, thank you” scene at Gillespie’s house. Tibbs and Gillespie’s first meeting the chief’s office. Tibbs, Gillespie and Wood in the café when they’re retracing officer Wood’s movements on the night of the murder. The slap scene. The scene between Tibbs and Mrs. Colbert when she is disgusted by the behaviour of his colleagues towards him.

Happy birthday, Sidney. Thank you for so many wonderful film performances. I hope you have a lovely day, and that you are in good health.