Drama, True Story

Feud (2017, TV Series)

I recently finished binge-watching this miniseries. I loved every minute of it. I think it is one of best series in recent years. It’s one of those series where you can see in each shot exactly where the money has gone (costumes, sets, locations etc).

The series focuses on the legendary feud between classic actresses Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange). We follow them as they make What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? for director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina). 

Aldrich is desperate to make this film a big hit and further his career. He is told by the studio head Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci)to play both actresses off against one another. So he begins to fuel their mutual dislike to ensure that their performances convey a real hatred that can be seen on screen. This approach works for the film but it intensifies their hatred off screen. 

Davis and Crawford famously didn’t get along at all and they were very different women. Davis was brutally honest, down to earth, and she would take any role (film, TV, stage) because she wanted to work. I also don’t think Davis cared about her looks all that much, she has always struck me as someone who had a what you see is what you get attitude and persona. 

Crawford was glamourous and always comes across to me as being less down to earth than Bette Davis was. Crawford was more like a queen and acted like a star. She was deeply hurt by how she was treated as she got older.  I get the impression that she found it very difficult to hide her feelings and her desires. She longed for the days when she was praised and desired. I can’t blame her for feeling that, but if she had pushed hard to keep getting more roles (like Bette did)then things may have been a bit different for her.  

Yet for all their differences, they actually had more in common with each other than either woman would have cared to admit (trouble getting the roles they deserved once they got older, difficulty with their children and their marriages, both being strong and determined women.)

This series had me laughing one moment and then tearing up the next. It also shows you that sadly not much has changed for women in the film industry. Women are still judged on their looks. Actresses are still relegated to mum and granny roles once they hit a certain age.

Male actors on the other hand still seem to be getting the same type of roles they got in their heyday. For goodness sake, why can’t the studios look beyond the physical appearance of ALL these performers and just see their acting talent? Give them the roles that their talents deserve. 

The series made me feel so much for these two actresses. Once the biggest stars of their day, they are now forced to work in films and series that are far beneath their level of acting talent. I was also very moved by the realisation that if these two women had been able to be friends they would have made one hell of a formidable team. Think how they could have taken on their bosses together. They were both strong women who wanted things to change and I think that they could have made quite an impact in this regard if they had worked together. 

The series works hard to make you sympathise with Joan more so than with Bette. Joan is portrayed very much as a victim here(I have to say that I consider part of her downfall to be entirely her own fault though, due to her terrible behaviour on Hush… Hush,Sweet Charlotte)and Lange does an incredible job of portraying her as a proud woman falling into despair and distress.

I like how this series tries to look beyond the Joan who has become so well known to us from her daughters book and accusations. Joan comes across as being a very flawed woman, but this series does make her a bit more human than she has been portrayed as before. 

While Lange doesn’t really look much like Crawford. Despite that she certainly brings her to life for us and makes us share her pain, her joy, and also her desperation to be a screen queen once again. This woman demands respect and she feels that it is time she gets what she deserves (the respect and admiration of her colleagues).

Bette is portrayed as feeling the slights just as deeply as Joan does, but she is able to hide how much she is hurt by the industries treatment of her better than Joan is able to. Bette takes it all in her stride and just gets on with it. I think Sarandon acts and looks like Bette quite a bit and manages to capture her toughness and matter of fact attitude very well. 

Alfred Molina is excellent as the weary director trying to handle two difficult women while trying to focus on his own career too. 

Judy Davis steals all the scenes as Hedda Hopper, the terrifying gossip columnist who made and broke careers at the drop of a hat. 

Jackie Hoffman is excellent as Joan’s loyal and long suffering housekeeper, Mamacita. She doesn’t treat Joan as an actress, she treats her as a real person and tries to keep her grounded when she gets full of herself. 

Kiernan Shipka (little Sally Draper from Mad Men)is very good as Bette’s rebellious daughter. 

Stanley Tucci is the main villain of the series. He oozes unpleasantness, control and disdain as Warner. This guy casually destroys the hopes and ambitions of those working for him. 

I also like how the series shows that basically everyone in the film industry will get treated badly at some point (be they male or female). Aldrich is treated pretty badly despite having more power and opportunity than any of the women he works with do! Aldrich is still far from where he wants to be, and he has to put up with unpleasant treatment just like everybody else does. 

The series also shows just how fast status can change in this industry. You could go from being a praised and beloved star one day, to being a forgotten has been the next. This series shows how much that change hurts those affected by it. This industry is very cruel. It does have it’s blessings though because we can continue to see Joan and Bette in their heyday starring in quality films.

Thanks to the magic of film, these two women can remain forever young, remain forever beautiful, and remain forever talented. As fans we can choose to honour them by watching Rain, All About Eve, Grand Hotel, Mr. Skeffington etc, instead of by watching rubbish like Trog. 

If you love classic era cinema then I think you should watch Feud. Sarandon and Lange both deliver powerful and unforgettable performances. They bring these two women to life and give us a glimpse of what Davis and Crawford were like off screen. 

I really want Sarandon and Lange to act together again real soon, they are utterly incredible together in this. I think their respective performances here are amongst their best work. 

Have you seen this series? What did you think?

 

 

 

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Second World War, Thriller, True Story

Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

On the 27th of May, 1942, the high ranking Nazi General, Reinhard Heydrich was severely injured during an assassination attempt on his life by members of the Czech resistance in Prague. Heydrich died from his wounds on the 4th of June that same year.

His death saw brutal reprisals brought against the Czech population; with thousands of people being killed, or being deported to camps where they would later die. Details of what happened to the brave resistance members who were responsible for his death can be found by searching for Operation Anthropoid on the internet(I must warn you that it does not make for easy reading).I admire their bravery, and I was very shocked at how brutal their end was.

I have only recently become aware of this vile man and his assassination thanks to the recent film, Operation Anthropoid(the code name given to Heydrich’s assassination plot). Reading up about this event, I have been really surprised that I had never been aware of any of this before. Heydrich was one of the main architects of the Holocaust and he was an all round real nasty piece of work. Some of his nicknames included ‘The Butcher’ and ‘The Hangman’.  

The year after Heydrich’s assassination, the German director Fritz Lang (who became an American citizen in 1939) made a film about this event and its brutal aftermath. I only became aware of Lang’s film recently, and when I saw that it was being released on Blu-ray, I jumped at the chance of being able to watch this film. It arrived a few days ago, and I have to say that I am so impressed with the film, and also with the visual quality of the Blu-ray release.  

For a film made in the 1940’s, Hangmen Also Die! is a surprisingly violent, gritty, and very dark film. There are several scenes in this that I’m really surprised got past the censors; scenes such as the taxi driver who commits suicide before he can be taken for torture, the execution sequence near the end, the badly beaten man being dragged through Gestapo headquarters, and the murder of a main character near the end of the film. Of course it’s good these were included because they help to bring home the terrible reality of life under Nazi rule.

This film is also one of the best films about a resistance movement that I have ever seen. I love how the resistance live right under the noses of those who seek them, yet they move around freely in the city invisible to those who seek them. Their group seems to exist separately from everyone else; they communicate by looks and gestures in public that only they can understand. So under everyone’s noses these people are planning and carrying out operations without being noticed. They are like a ghost community living and working alongside the community that everyone sees and experiences every day.

 Lang’s film is suspenseful, tense, moving, and downright scary at times. It also captures mans inhumanity to man, and Lang also does a good job of showing us how much courage it takes to stand up to oppression and cruelty.

In this film we see that members of the resistance are not only those who belong to a resistance group and carry weapons and carry out operations. Resistance members can include anyone who goes against the rules of the oppressors; this could be remaining friendly with people who everyone has been told not to associate with, or in refusing to name somebody to the authorities.

The film is a rather fictionalised version of the real events, but it certainly succeeds in capturing the horror, the violence, and the bravery that surrounded those events.  Lang lets the actors do the work in this film, they bring these characters to life (both the heroes and the villains)and they all get their chance to shine (even actors in very small roles)and they all succeed in conveying to us how the courage of ordinary people making a stand can have an impact. This story is a human story and Lang shows us the best and worst of humanity.

The film was written by Lang and the celebrated German playwright and screenwriter, Bertolt Brecht. This film would end up being Brecht’s only successful Hollywood film.

The cinematographer working on this film was the legendary James Wong Howe, and he uses his camera to create a mood and atmosphere that is reminiscent of Lang’s German expressionism films of the 1920’s. This film also serves as a good example of a film that is a mix of German Expressionism and American Film Noir.

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The film focuses on the search for Heydrich’s assassins, and also for the people who are hiding them from the Gestapo. Interestingly the assassination itself is not shown in the film. I think this was a good choice because it shifts attention away from Heydrich and focuses instead on the men and women who stood up against him, and against what he stood for and represented.

Dr. Svoboda (Brian Donlevy)is the assassin of Heydrich, he flees the scene of the crime and goes on the run. He is seen going into a building to hide by Masha Novotny (Anna Lee). Masha deliberately misleads the pursuing Nazi soldiers as to where he is. He remembers this kindness.

The Gestapo’s investigation into the assassination eventually lead them to Masha’s door. When hundreds of hostages, including Masha’s father, Professor Novotny (Walter Brennan) are taken prisoner by the Nazis and sentenced to death, Svoboda must wrestle with his conscience to decide if he turns himself in to spare the others, or lets them die.

Gestapo investigations are being run by the cunning Inspector Gruber (Alexander Granach)and he is fast closing in on Svoboda. He also has help in locating the Czech resistance, thanks to his double crossing informant Emil Czaka (Gene Lockhart).

The film becomes a cat and mouse game between the resistance and the Gestapo. Time is running out for the hostages, people are being murdered, tortured, and betrayed, and these horrible events show no sign of stopping. The resistance have a cunning plan up their sleeve, it is one that will paint someone else as being the assassin, rather than Svoboda.

If there is a downside to this superb film, I would say it lies with some of the casting. The casting is a somewhat mixed bag for sure. I think this film would have been better had they cast German or Czech actors in the lead roles, it would have added a great deal more authenticity for sure. Brecht had hoped that they would cast German speaking actors, but in the end it was decided they would go with a mix of American and German actors.

Brian Donlevy strikes me as an odd casting decision. He has never been an actor I’ve liked, and he often strikes me as being rather wooden in many of his roles. He isn’t too bad here, but he does come across as quite unemotional and calm, which I doubt would be the case for his character when he was on the run in fear of his life. As the film goes on I think his performance improves somewhat, but during the first part of the film he isn’t all that great.

Anna Lee also starts out as not being that impressive, but then she gets much better as the film goes on. She is very convincing as the frightened young woman who finds an inner strength, and the courage which enables her to do her bit in standing up against oppression.

When I saw Walter Brennan’s name on the opening credits, I thought to myself what a very strange casting choice for this film. Brennan is a very good actor, but his screen persona didn’t really strike me as one that was really going to fit this story. How wrong I was! He is excellent as the professor and I was pleasantly surprised to see him deliver one of the best performances in the film. His very famous voice sounds quite different here to how it usually sounded. He is excellent as the quiet, gentle, and dignified man who accepts whatever the Nazis do to him because he knows it will show them up as the monsters they are.

Lionel Stander has a small role and I’m afraid to say that his distinctive voice will take you right out of the film, he just sounds so bizarre and out of place here.

Jonathan Hale is excellent as Dedic, the highly experienced leader of the resistance movement. He steals all the scenes he is in. Hale makes his character strong, calm under pressure, and also someone who is a reassuring and strong presence.

Reinhold Schunzel is creepy, sadistic and completely over the top as the Gestapo chief who enjoys his job a little too much. He sits there playing with the people he is about to torture, cracking his knuckles and giggling, while adeptly tripping people up in their stories and catching them out in lies.

Hans Heinrich von Twardowski is very memorable in his small appearance as Heydrich. He conveys the power and arrogance of this man perfectly, and he makes us see why he was so hated and feared.

Dennis O’Keefe is very good as Jan, who is Masha’s boyfriend. He plays his character as someone we are never really sure about, can he be trusted, will he turn on his girl to save himself? This character is also quite heroic and likeable.

Gene Lockhart delivers a standout performance as Czaka, the man who pretends to be one thing and who is actually another.

Alexander Granach delivers the performance of the film for me. He steals every scene he is in as the watchful and tough inspector. He guzzles down beer after beer with seemingly few side effects. I think his haircut would not have looked out of place in 1980’s punk Britain.

My favourite scenes are the following. Masha and her father saying goodbye in the cell. The people in the cinema rebelling against the Nazi soldier. The hostages reading and memorising a poem about resisting. Masha cradling the beaten old woman in the torture cell, in silhouette we then see a Gestapo officer walk into the cell carrying a whip, we don’t need to see more to know what is about to happen to these two women. The betrayed resistance members giving their betrayer a piece of their mind. The lipstick mark scene and the fight that follows on from that. Svoboda and Masha acting out a conversation for the Gestapo bug hidden in the apartment.  Svoboda deliberately spilling red wine to cover up a bloodstain.

This is a cracking film. I think it is one that really does deserve to be much better known by classic film fans today. I’d say that this is one of Lang’s best films. He manages to capture the best and worst of humanity in this film, and he creates a dark and gloomy atmosphere that stays in the mind long after the film is over. This one is also very remarkable given the fact that it was made so soon after the real events, it is also very frank for the time in its depiction of the violence and horror of the Nazi regime.

It is a somewhat depressing film, but there is certainly a glimmer of hope and happiness at the end; I think that this ending was included to boost the morale of people watching this. This would hopefully have served as a lesson to ordinary people in how they could fight these monsters who were invading their homes, and who were trying to destroy cultures as they moved around Europe.

I’d recommend seeing this on Blu-ray, it’s been restored and looks so clear and sharp. There’s also an interesting commentary, plus there is a documentary about the real events and about Heydrich.

Anyone else seen this?

 

Modern TV, True Story

The Crown (TV Series, 2016 Onwards)

It’s taken me a few months, but I’ve finally gotten around to watching the first season of Netflix’s lavish series about Queen Elizabeth II. It is one of the best TV series I have seen in a long while. It only took me two days to watch the whole first season as it had me completely hooked. I loved every minute of it.

The series was created and written by Peter Morgan, the man who gave us The Queen (2006)and Frost/Nixon (2008).The series will look at the Queen’s reign and will be set from 1947 to the present day. Different actors will be taking over from Claire and Matt after season 2.

The acting, the costumes and the out of this world music were the best parts of this season for me. This is one of those series where the actors are allowed to act, and real time is taken with characters and their situations. This series is not all about visuals and effects (I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to just be able to enjoy some fine acting for a change).

This has been Netflix’s most expensive production to date, and it is not hard to see why. You can see the money in every shot. It’s clear money was well spent on getting the locations, costumes, sets etc just right. The series also succeeds in creating an epic scale for this drama about a woman who has gained worldwide fame and significance.

Claire Foy is superb as Queen Elizabeth. She captures her body language and mannerisms perfectly. I think she looks a lot like her and sounds like her too. I like how she manages to convey how Elizabeth changes from a happy young woman, who is carefree, into a more serious, distant and strong woman who is struggling to become the symbol she is expected to become.  Whilst Claire delivers the standout performance of the series, there are many other terrific performances to enjoy here.

John Lithgow steals every scene he is in as the elderly Churchill. He is like a lion, still ferocious and strong, yet struggling to stay like that and trying to hide that fact. His performance here won John Lithgow the Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award.

My favourite actors in this are Jared Harris (son of Richard Harris), Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, Jeremy Northam and Alex Jennings.

Matt Smith is excellent as Prince Phillip. I was sceptical about his casting at first, but he looks like him and really captures his personality very well indeed.

Jared Harris is particularly superb as the shy King George; a gentle and very ill man who hid the severity of his cancer from those closest to him, as he couldn’t afford to be seen as weak, or to cause his family pain. He captures the deep sadness of this man and really makes you feel for him. The King was well liked by the public and by those who knew him. By all accounts he was a gentle and humble man who tried so hard in this role.

Eileen Atkins is also excellent as the stern and strong Queen Mary. Elizabeth’s grandmother was a formidable woman, and Eileen captures her personality and regal nature perfectly.

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Season 1 begins in 1947 and finishes in the late 1950’s. It focuses upon Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy)as she becomes Queen of England at the age of 25. Elizabeth takes up this position due to the sudden death of her father, King George IV (Jared Harris). This throws her personal life into chaos, as she now can no longer think of herself or her family before thinking of the crown and the royal system and traditions. From now on duty and public relations are everything.

In addition to us seeing what is going on in the royal household, we also see what is going on at 10 Downing Street. Elizabeth is supported by Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow). He is very set in his ways and he expects her to follow tradition.

He understands though(and is sympathetic) to the difficulties the Queen’s new role brings her, and he is also sympathetic to her frustrations. Churchill is facing problems of his own that he must attend to. His health is failing him, and there are calls within cabinet and the Conservative party for him to resign. It is hoped he will let Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam)take over as Prime Minister. Eden waits in the wings for his moment of fame and glory. Ironically he is soon beset with his own health issues, which will lead him to be in much the same situation as Churchill in the future.

Elizabeth’s husband Prince Phillip(Matt Smith)is also struggling. He is finding it difficult to adjust to the change in his families circumstances, especially with him now being one step behind his wife, and also with the change in personality that her new role brings about in her.

Philip becomes frustrated with their new position and the royal marriage becomes strained. He does his best to stand by his wife, to protect her and to help her, but he cannot stand the restrictive, gilded cage that their life has become. The Prince rebels and this causes problems.

The Queen must also deal with her glamourous younger sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby). Margaret falls in love with the dashing RAF pilot, Group Captain Peter Townsend (Ben Miles)and their relationship brings about the scandal of the decade. Elizabeth must choose between her duty and responsibility as Queen, and her position as a sister as to whether she allows this young couple to marry or not.

Margaret’s situation bears some resemblance to the abdication crisis of 1936, when King Edward VIII (Alex Jennings)abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson. The abdication meant Edward’s younger brother George VI had to become King, and the strains of his new position is widely believed to have contributed to his ill health and early death. Edward couldn’t stand not being allow to marry the woman of his choice, so he had to give up his royal rights in order to have her.

This series shows that life as a Royal is not all luxury and good times. Whether you like the monarchy or not, it can’t be denied that the royals endure intense and never ending press intrusion and are under constant scrutiny by the public. This series shows what it is like for them to deal with that on a daily basis. It also shows how they sometimes struggle to endure the attention.

We are also shown the intricate labyrinth of Royal protocol. As we see in this (and I’m sure it’s the case in reality)even the royals themselves hate this and are frustrated by it. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. This series certainly shows us that saying is true. Anyone out there who thinks being monarch is an easy or desirable job should certainly think again.

I have a couple of issues with the series. If there are criticisms to be made I’d say it’s that there are only ten episodes. There should have been an extra long episode which served as the pilot episode. If they had done a two hour plus episode detailing Elizabeth and Philip falling in love, and dealing with the objections to him as her match that would have been good. It would also have been good to see more of King George performing his duty and having more scenes of him with his family, so we can feel their bond even more.

I would also have liked the sequence set after the wedding ceremony to have been longer. The births of Prince Charles and Princess Anne were also rather glossed over, which is strange as they were key events in Elizabeth’s life.

I also think that Victoria Hamilton wasn’t the best choice to play the Queen Mother. She does a good job of portraying a woman left adrift and depressed following her husbands death, but she just doesn’t convince me as the Queen Mum.

Much of what is depicted here is very well known to those of us who were born and raised in the UK, but there were some things featured that I wasn’t familiar with. These things include The Great Smog Of London, which occurred during 1952 and which led to thousands of people dying because they were breathing in the toxic air. 

I also wasn’t aware of the plane crash which killed Princess Cecilie, who was Philip’s favourite sister. She was killed along with her husband, their two sons, and the planes crew when the plane crashed into a factory chimney. She was heavily pregnant at the time, and when rescuers got to the plane they found she had given birth and her baby was found dead next to her. It is believed she went into labour during the flight and the pilot was trying to make an emergency landing because of that.

I also learnt a great deal about Anthony Eden, I didn’t know for example that he was seriously ill and dependent on medication before and during his time as PM. Seeing these things included here has made me go off and do some research, and to speak to my mum and dad to see what they remembered and I now feel much better informed. So I’m grateful to this series in that regard.

My favourite episodes are Pride and Joy. Assassins. Wolverton Splash. Hyde Park Corner. Act Of God. Smoke and Mirrors.

My favourite piece of music is the track entitled Duck Shoot. I like how this really becomes the theme of the series. It plays during several key moments including the King’s death, the foreshadowing of the King’s death (him coughing severely as Elizabeth takes a moment to think about her future as the next monarch) and during Churchill’s farewell dinner.

It was recently announced that Olivia Colman will replace Claire in the role of the Queen in seasons 3 and 4. I’m not sure what to think about this to be honest. I don’t know why they can’t just keep Claire and Matt and just use age makeup and different hairstyles. Olivia is a good actress but I don’t really see her as Elizabeth II.

A lavish and gripping series that sucks you in. Any other fans?

British Cinema, Detective, Thriller, True Story

Robbery (1967)

In August, 1963, the British public could talk about only one thing over their bacon, eggs,toast and orange juice. The topic of the day was a robbery. Not just any robbery though. Oh no, this robbery was considered to be the robbery to end all robberies.

Early in the morning of the 8th of August, 1963, sixteen men had held up a Royal Mail train on its way down from Glasgow to London. They boarded the train while it was stopped on a bridge. They severely injured the trains driver, Jack Mills by hitting him with a metal bar, and then they made off with all the cash on board. The grand total they got away with? £2.6 million. At the time this was the largest money robbery in British history.

Several of the gang were eventually caught and a trial was held in 1964. Two of the gang, Ronnie Biggs and Charlie Wilson, escaped prison in daring prison breaks, and they and many others in the gang lived abroad for decades. The case is well known here in the UK, but if you’re not familiar with it you can find more about the case, trial, and the gang members themselves online.

The robbery and what happened afterwards sounds like it’s a plot straight out of a film. Fact can be stranger than fiction though, and that is certainly true in this particular case.

It proved too much of an opportunity to pass up on, and so in 1967, production began in the UK on a film based upon the robbery. It was a rather fictionalised account and peoples names were changed etc, and it didn’t end quite how the real life event did either.

The film was directed by Peter Yates (who would go on to great fame as the director of Bullitt), and it was produced by Stanley Baker and Michael Deeley. Baker would also star as the leader of the gang aiming to rob the Royal Mail train of its cash. The films electrifying score was by Johnny Keating, and his music adds so much atmosphere to the film.

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Robbery is a tense, gripping and gritty flick. It has you on the edge of your seat throughout and I think it has a very realistic look to it. I also like how the Police are not shown as idiots or the enemy here as is so often the case in films mainly focusing on the criminals. Also we don’t really (well I didn’t anyway)feel like we should be fully on the side of either the cops, or of the criminals, the depiction of what both sides did and went through is well balanced I think.  We can envy at the audacity of the plan, and the fact that it works, but we don’t forget these are criminals, nor that the Police have to (and should) do their job to get them.

The first fifteen minutes are some of the most tense I’ve ever seen in a film. The film opens with four criminals setting up a robbery in broad daylight. They set up a gas canister in the car of a man who has a briefcase handcuffed to him. The gas is set to go off at a certain time, it does so knocking out the driver and the man with the case, and causes the car to crash. Three of the gang in a stolen ambulance take the two men out of the car and drive off. In the ambulance they remove the case and some diamonds.

They abandon the ambulance and get into a getaway vehicle, they are spotted by coppers in a passing car who are on the look out for the stolen ambulance, thus begins one of the best car chases in film history. The Police pursue the robbers car at high speed, as the gang try and evade capture. Filmed out on location in and around London streets, this chase had me on the edge of my seat, peeking through my fingers. In some ways this can easily be seen as the warm up for Yates film Bullitt(which features another brilliant car chase.) The bit where the gang get nearer to a London school crossing is edge of your seat stuff.

The film sees Paul Clifton(Stanley Baker)get a crew together to help him rob a Royal Mail train. Clifton has thought every possibility through, and is leaving nothing to chance. He doesn’t bet on the determined Scotland Yard Detective George Langdon (James Booth). Langdon gets to hear interesting info from some of his informers which alerts him to the fact that a big job is about to go down. Langdon and fellow colleagues set about trying to uncover what the job is, and do their best to capture the criminals.  

Solid performances can be found throughout by some of the best character actors in British film history.

Stanley Baker is excellent as the tough criminal mastermind who you wouldn’t want to mess with. James Booth (Baker’s co-star in the classic war flick Zulu)steals every scene he is in, as the copper determined to get the gang. Barry Foster, Clinton Greyn, Frank Finlay, George Sewell and William Marlowe all impress as members of Clifton’s crew. Joanna Pettet has a small role as Clifton’s stylish wife, she doesn’t get much to do here, but she does make an impression when she is on the screen.

My favourite scenes are the following. The opening car chase. Frank Finlay’s character being rescued from the prison yard. The line up, where the schoolteacher identifies the man who was driving the speeding car. Clifton’s wife asking him why he has a gun. The train robbery sequence. The discussion at the football match. I also really love the opening title sequence, where the names and credits go backwards, giving us the impression that the train is passing them by.

This is a realistic and thrilling crime film inspired by a incredible true story. I’d also like to say that fans of vintage British cars will be in for a real treat, this film is full of old cars that are sure to bring back happy memories for car lovers.

I highly recommend you see this one on Blu-Ray to see it looking at its best. The Network Blu-Ray release also has lots of very good extras to enjoy, including an interesting interview with Stanley Baker.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons, Page To Screen, True Story

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

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

 

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Sister Luke. Screenshot by me.

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

 

 

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

I have always had an interest in how medical services are provided out in less developed countries or in remote areas. This film gives you a good idea of what the reality of that provision is. As this film shows us, there are a limited number of doctors and nurses available in such places; they will often encounter a language barrier, and this will obviously cause problems when trying to give and get information from patients. In many cases there is also no access to clean water or medicines. The medical staff working in such conditions do the best they can and they have to endure a great deal of hardship and danger themselves in order to help those in need.

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

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

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

 

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Sister Luke assists Dr. Fortunati in an operation. Screenshot by me.

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

 

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

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

 

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Fortunati tries to comfort the distressed Sister Luke.

The scenes between Sister Luke and Doctor Fortunati are my favourites in the entire film. I especially love the scene where she breaks down after accidentally breaking a beaker in the medical supply room; Fortunati finds her crying and tries to comfort her, but has to keep his distance from her (despite her distress)because it wouldn’t be considered proper for him to hold her.

 

Hepburn and Finch give excellent performances throughout, but they are exceptional in their shared scenes together. I also love how Finch conveys to us with just a look how much he is beginning to care for Sister Luke and wants to keep her in his life.

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

 

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Fortunati checks Sister Luke for signs of TB. Screenshot by me.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Blogathons, Romance, True Story

The “No, You’re Crying Blogathon”: Shadowlands (1993)

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Debbie, over at Moon in Gemini, is hosting this blogathon all about films that make us cry. Be sure to check out her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I want to write about Richard Attenborough’s 1993 film, Shadowlands. This is a film that I find to be extremely moving. It is shot in a way that makes me feel as though I have stumbled across a deeply private moment and am watching it unfold before me. This film shows us how precious and painful love can be, and how cruel and unpredictable life can sometimes end up being.

The loss of a loved one is something we will all unfortunately have to face at some time in our lives. When we lose someone we love, we often rage, asking why this had to happen; we demand to know why did it have to happen a particular way or at a certain time. Loss can make you question the point of life itself, and question why we even allow ourselves to love, if the pain of losing a loved one is so great. Richard Attenborough’s film tackles this pain head on. Shadowlands makes me cry every time I watch it. Hopkins in particular is so moving as the man opening himself up emotionally; the trouble is by doing that he is leaving himself vulnerable to the upcoming pain of grief and loss.

The scene where Lewis is talking to a friend who is a vicar, and breaks down in the church and confesses his love for Joy moves me so much; it moves me because Hopkins makes you feel the agony and helplessness that Lewis is experiencing at that moment. This scene always seems to me like I’ve intruded on a real and very private moment.

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Shadowlands tells the true story of British author C.S Lewis(Anthony Hopkins), best known for creating that magical land of Narnia(please access through your nearest wardrobe.)Lewis was an Oxford lecturer and theologian, he suffered great grief in his early years when his mother died when he was just ten years old. Lewis became an atheist for many years, but later ended up returning to his Christian faith.

Oxford, in the mid 1950’s, the somewhat repressed author and Oxford lecturer, C.S.Lewis(Hopkins) lives with his brother Warnie (Edward Hardwicke).  Lewis is content with his well ordered life, that is until he meets a woman who will change his life forever.

Lewis meets the outgoing American poet Joy Gresham(Debra Winger). The pair became good friends, soon that friendship turned into something more and they are married. Tragedy lies just around the corner though when Joy is diagnosed with cancer. The film shows Lewis allowing himself to fall in love far too late; by the time he admits and acts upon his feelings, Joy is doomed to be taken away from him.
Hopkins is heartbreaking in the role of Lewis. He really lets you feel how much Lewis is being ripped apart inside and I think this is one of the best performances he has ever given on screen. Lewis can’t bear to lose Joy, wishes he had fallen in love with her sooner, and is helpless in the face of her pain. The crying scene between him and Joy’s young son Douglas(Joe Mazzello)is one that I will never forget and it makes me cry every time I watch this film.
Debra Winger is excellent as the funny, bubbly, outgoing woman who allows Lewis to open himself up to the joy of love. Winger makes you feel that you would like to have known Joy, that she would have been fun to be around. When we learn of Joy’s illness it’s even more cruel because she is someone who is so full of life and knows that she is slipping away. Debra is so convincing in the scenes where Joy is really in pain, that it is difficult to watch her as it’s like you are witnessing real suffering.
There is a great line in this spoken by Joy: ”the pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.” Knowing we will one day lose the person/people we love certainly makes us value the time we spend together. Personally the fear of the pain from that inevitable loss makes the rest somewhat difficult for me; I guess it all comes down to are you willing to accept such pain in your life? It’s worth it for the happy times but can you take what happens next?

This film raises and tackles these questions so well. It’s moving, romantic and most important of all, you remember that this couple really went through all of this.
Superb performances, a beautiful score by George Fenton, and some beautiful location work(Oxford, the countryside)all make this a must see. Keep the tissues handy though, you will need them. For me this is one of Richard Attenborough’s greatest film achievements.

I find the following scenes to be very moving. The famous “the pain now is part of the happiness then” scene. Lewis admitting his love for Joy, the look on Hopkins face during that scene really moves me, he shows so much love and tenderness for her. The attic scene between Lewis and Douglas. Joy saying goodbye to Douglas. The final scene between Lewis and Joy. The “you look at me properly now” hospital scene.

If this film moved you, then I highly recommend you also check out the 1985 version starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom.

Please share your thoughts on the film below.

Musicals, Romance, True Story

The Sound Of Music(1965)

This film is one of the most beloved musicals ever made. It’s a film that is loved by people form all around the world. The film is filled with likeable characters, gorgeous scenery,  beautiful costumes and unforgettable songs. This is one I never get tired of watching and doubt that I ever will. It’s funny, moving, romantic and contains so much energy and joy(much like Maria herself).

The film is based on the true story of the Austrian Von Trapp family. The widowed naval captain who fell in love with his children’s governess, Maria. The governess was a Nun who brought joy back into his life(and the lives of his children.) Fleeing the Nazi rule during the Second World War, the family moved to Vermont in America and became famous for their singing.

Robert Wise directed The Sound Of Music. It was filmed out on location in Austria.

Maria(Julie Andrews)is a free spirited young woman, she is happiest walking through the mountains and enjoying life. After joining a convent she finds it difficult to conform to the rules of the disciplined life there. Maria is sent by the Reverend Mother(Peggy Mount)to be the governess to the seven children of widowed naval hero, Captain Georg Von Trapp(Christopher Plummer).

The Captain and Maria don’t get on when they first meet, she is appalled by the rules and strictness of his household, and at how his children don’t have fun. The Captain is annoyed at how she doesn’t obey his instructions. As time goes on he finds himself falling in love with her, and with the way she treats his children and approaches life.

Maria falls in love with the Captain too, but she is confused by her feelings(having never been in a relationship before.) Matters are complicated by the arrival of the elegant and beautiful Baroness (Eleanor Parker)who is also in love with the Captain.

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This film is so much fun. It’s one of those where you join in with all the songs, and you’ve watched it so many times you more than likely know all the dialogue too.

Julie Andrews is effervescent on screen, she makes Maria’s positive outlook on life infectious. She is also very good in the scenes where she is confused by her growing feelings for the Captain. You can feel her awkwardness, her embarrassment and the internal agony she is enduring every time she is near him. There is a vulnerability and innocence about her that perfectly fits the role.

Christopher Plummer famously didn’t enjoy making this film, but that certainly doesn’t show in his performance. He convinces you of his character developing from strict and controlling Captain, to gentle and fun loving father. The scene where he sings with his children for the first time in years is one of my favourite scenes in the film. After the song has finished he hugs them all, and it is like he is finally seeing his children for the first time in years. I also have to admit to the Captain being my first ever film crush when I was growing up, he is truly one gorgeous man.  🙂

The romantic scenes between Maria and Georg are so tender. My favourite is their dance where they look at each other and both know(whether Maria wants to admit it or not is another matter)that they have fallen in love with each other. It is so well done and convincing, it is almost like we as the viewer have stumbled across a private moment and are intruding upon it. I also love the gazebo scene.

Eleanor Parker has the hard task of essentially playing a wicked stepmother, yet also making you sympathise with her character at times. The Baroness genuinely loves Georg, she is awkward around the children but loves him. Parker steals every scene she is in and gets to wear some of the most beautiful and glamorous gowns in the entire film. I want that gold and white evening dress she wears so much.

Richard Haydn provides comic relief as Max Detweiler. Max is one of the Captain’s closest friends and is referred to by the children as “uncle Max”. It is Max who sees the potential and talent this gifted family has for singing. Although at times he is self centred he redeems himself by helping the family escape. We never learn his fate, but I’m sure it wasn’t good.

The seven child actors were mostly unknown apart from Angela Cartwright (who had starred in the TV series Make Room For Daddy and Lost In Space.) They all work very well together and are funny and adorable in equal measure. My favourites are Charmian Carr(who we sadly lost earlier this year)as Liesl, the eldest of the Von Trapp children. I also love Kim Karath as Gretl, who is the youngest child.

My favourite scenes are the following. A soaking Liesel being discovered climbing into the house at night by Maria. The entire party sequence, especially the scene where Georg makes a verbal stand against the Nazi’s and Maria and Georg dance. Liesl and Rolfe(Daniel Truhitte)dancing in the gazebo. The nuns removing parts from the Nazi’s cars to prevent them from chasing the Von Trapp’s, and confessing this theft to their Reverend Mother. Maria and Georg arguing by the lake about the children. Georg’s reaction to seeing Maria has returned from the convent. The Nuns singing about Maria and how confusing she is to them. Maria and the Reverend Mother discussing Maria’s feelings for the Captain. Maria taking the children out into the town and hills. Liesl and Georg’s duet. The wedding scene.

The Sound of Music is a film that has long held a place in my heart. It’s uplifting, it gives hope that the right romantic partner is out there somewhere for you, and (like in Jane Eyre)proves that true love isn’t about the physical appearance, but about two souls and hearts connecting.

Writing all of this has made me want to go out and dance in my garden, then get some jam and bread, and then settle down and watch this again.

Do you love this one as much as I do? As ever, share your thoughts below.

 

British Cinema, Disaster, True Story

A Night To Remember (1958)

On this day, in April 1912, the White Star Line passenger ship R.M.S Titanic hit an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic. In just a couple of hours this luxurious ship on her maiden voyage had sunk. 1523 passengers and crew perished in the freezing sea that night. There were only 705 survivors.

In the years following this disaster there have been many other shipping disasters, but even now, over 100 years later, the Titanic disaster is still the most famous of them all. Why is that?

I would say it’s due to several things. The ship was on her maiden voyage. The Titanic had also been marketed as being unsinkable, and it was the biggest and most luxurious ship afloat at the time. This disaster was unthinkable really because of all of that.

So many of the men aboard bravely went to their deaths after giving women their place aboard the lifeboats. There were also several moving stories such as the band playing as the ship sank from under them, trying desperately to calm frightened passengers with music. Mr and Mrs Strauss choosing to die together rather than be parted etc.

There were too few lifeboats aboard to save everyone. The ones that were aboard were not filled to capacity. This is one of the most shocking parts of the whole disaster for me.

Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 film is based on Walter Lord’s non-fiction novel about the sinking. Lord spoke to Titanic survivors at length, and he published their accounts in his 1955 novel A Night To Remember.

For me Baker’s film is the best screen depiction out there about this disaster. It accurately captures the behaviour of people on the night, and does a superb job of depicting in detail the horrors of the sinking.

James Cameron’s 1997 film was pretty accurate in terms of recreating the ships opulent interiors more so than this film was, but it is Baker’s film which makes us feel like we are there on that cold April night. It does a great job of capturing how frightening and chaotic the sinking was.

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

A Night To Remember focuses on the experiences of several passengers and crew. We follow the ship from her launch in Southampton, out to France and Ireland, and then out into the Atlantic on to New York.

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

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There is an incredible cast of British talent in this. Standout performances for me are Kenneth More, Michael Goodliffe(as ships builder Thomas Andrews) , Anthony Bushell (as Captain Rostron, the Captain of the rescue ship The Carpathia),Ralph Michael(as Mr. Yates, a gambler) , Kenneth Griffith (as wireless operator John Phillips)and Laurence Naismith(as Captain Smith).

A young David McCallum has a supporting role playing wireless operator Harold Bride. James Bond fans should keep their eyes peeled for Desmond Llewelyn(Q)as a steward in the steerage section.

I think Goodliffe gives the best performance as the devastated Mr. Andrews. In the scene where Andrews calmly awaits his fate, Goodliffe has this haunting look on his face that makes you realise that Andrews has mentally removed himself from the current situation(he is there in body, but in mind he has long gone.)Anyone else catch that he is staring at a painting entitled Approach To The New World? In his situation that title could be seen to refer to the possibility that an afterlife may await him next.  Goodliffe is a much underrated actor, and I think A Night To Remember is his finest screen hour.

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

One of the saddest scenes focuses on a first class couple (Honor Blackman and John Merivale)saying goodbye as she gets into a lifeboat with their children; the father (having had the truth of the situation from Mr. Andrews)knows he is more than likely never going to see his beloved family ever again. I love the look on Merivale’s face as he plays that scene, you know he is scared and brokenhearted.

A powerful depiction of courage and tragedy. This film is my favourite of all the films out there about this disaster, and it has many moments that I have found extremely hard to forget. Scenes such as the young couple killed by the falling funnel.  Andrews preparing himself to die. Ismay(Frank Lawton) breaking down in the lifeboat after the ship has sunk. The baker getting drunk to try and protect himself from the effects of the cold water. The passengers and crew at the stern praying and screaming.

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

An excellent film filled with many performances that have a real emotional impact on the viewer. I highly recommend seeing the Blu-ray version of this, the picture is so clear that it looks as though it had been made today.

I think it’s a testament to Roy Ward Baker that his film about this disaster is the one that I return to again and again. I do like Cameron’s film, but it was Baker’s version which got me interested in the real disaster itself and I think his version has a more realistic look to it. I highly recommend seeing both films though.

R.I.P to all the Titanic victims.

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