Uncategorized

Interview With Carol Drinkwater

I recently reached out to the actress Carol Drinkwater to ask if she would care to speak with me for my blog. To my great delight she agreed! Carol is a household name here in the UK for playing Mrs. Helen Herriot in the TV series All Creatures Great And Small. Carol has worked on stage and appeared in many films and series. Carol is also a published author.

My thanks must once again go to Carol for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you all enjoy reading what she shared with me.  

Carol_Drinkwater
Carol Drinkwater, Image Source Wikimedia Commons.

1 – Did you always want to be an actress when you were growing up?

I come from a theatrical family on my father’s side so from about the age of four I knew I wanted to “go on the stage”

2 – You worked at The National Theatre under the leadership of Sir Laurence Olivier. Did you ever meet the man himself, or get to act alongside him in any productions? 

Yes, of course, I met him regularly. He was one of a large panel who auditioned me. He took me under his wing and mentored me and really encouraged me. Somewhere, I still have letters from him. I loved his company. He was very charming and astute.

3 – How did you prepare for the role of Helen in All Creatures Great And Small? Did you and the others in the main cast meet the real life counterparts of your characters? 

I didn’t really prepare for the role except by reading the Herriot books over and over, spending time with Joan Wight, the real Helen. Plus all the months, years, we spent in the Dales where I became friends with many farmers’ wives and local people.

4 – The British public have really taken this series to their hearts over the years. What is it about this series that you think has made it become so beloved?

I think it has several ingredients. The material is very warm-hearted and positive. The main actors really worked well together. We were an immensely happy cast and crew. The cameo actors were warmly welcomed and not looked down upon as I have come across elsewhere. As the success of the series grew so did our pleasure and confidence in our work.

Carol Drinkwater
Carol as Helen Herriot. Image source IMDb.

5- One of the things I love most about this series is the genuine warmth, affection and chemistry between yourself, Peter Davison, Christopher Timothy and the late Robert Hardy. Did you guys become friends and keep in touch over the years?

We all remained friends up till Tim’s(Robert Hardy’s nickname) death and we three continue to stay in contact and care for one another.

6 – You left the series after the 3rd season, and the role of Helen was played from then on by the late Lynda Bellingham. Why did you decide to leave the series? 

I felt that there was little more I could give to the role. The BBC wanted to keep Helen in her place and I felt she needed to be more feisty. I needed them to give more meat to her scenes.

7 – I can imagine that there must have been many funny and chaotic moments on set/location due to the antics of the animals. Are there any such moments that have stayed in your mind over the years? 

Many. I still smile and giggle when I think back to occasions such as Chris driving the car into a barn wall which was not a real wall but built for the scene and it crumbled all around him. A cow that pee’d all over me and my dress which I had to wear all day because we had no back up wardrobe …

8- You played a nurse in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. What are your memories of working with him and making the film?

It was such a tiny role but I stayed in contact with Stanley for years. He was a master of his craft and a considerate director who respected my point of view.

Clockwork orange

9- That film famously sparked quite an outcry and public backlash upon release. Kubrick received threats and the film ended up being withdrawn from distribution. What did you make of the reaction to the film at the time?

 I didn’t think about it. I was busy doing other work, building my career. Stanley chose to withdraw the film from circulation in the UK. Elsewhere, it continued to play.

10 – A film of yours which I’d really like to see is Father(1990). You play the daughter of a man suspected of being a Nazi war criminal. From the couple of clips I’ve seen of the film, it looks like you and co-star Max Von Sydow were really put through the wringer emotionally in this film. What was it like making this? What are your memories of working with Max?

Max and I had a very rich three and so months working together. We were in almost every scene so we lived in the same hotel in adjoining rooms in Melbourne, worked on Saturdays together on the next week’s scenes and then went to the movies and out to dinner together. I respect him deeply. He is a very generous actor to work with.

11 – Which of your own performances(can be screen or stage)are you most proud of and why? 

I don’t have one. Each has given me something different, new lessons, joys, laughter, new friends.

12 – You are also a writer of Fiction and Non-Fiction. What led you to decide to become an author? 

I have always written but when I met my husband in Sydney in 1984 he began to encourage me to give the writing more attention. As a career it took off very quickly.

13 – Your latest novel is The House On The Edge Of The Cliff. Tell us a bit about this story. 

Well it is the story of an actress- not me! An imagined character who went to Paris in her teens and got involved in the Student Riots there. Escaping the police she goes south with a young Englishman she connects with in Paris. They go to stay at his aunt’s amazing house overlooking the sea near Marseilles. The House on the Edge of the Cliff. Here the young actress meets another young man and falls in love or so she thinks. A terrible accident ensues which haunts her for decades. Years later she finds herself living in that House and a stranger walks into her life and threatens her with the secret from her past.

14 – What does Carol Drinkwater’s writing routine look like? Do you have a specific area you like to write in? Set time of day to write that seems to work best for you etc? 

I prefer to work in the mornings through to early afternoon but like today, for example, I have so much on that I am writing far longer hours. I prefer to write at our Olive Farm in the South of France but I will find myself a quiet space anywhere if needs must.

15 – Tell us a bit about your Olive Farm memoirs series. 

In my quartet of books known collectively as The Olive Farm Series, I wrote about our discovery of a crumbling cream villa in the South of France encircled by acres of centuries-old olive trees growing wild.

The Olive Farm recounts many of the trials and tribulations of setting up home in a foreign country, taking on another language, embracing twin, thirteen-year-old stepdaughters whose mother tongue was not my own and who adamantly refused to engage with me in English. I revealed the heartache of losing my own child, the grief that followed the miscarriage and the revelation that I would never carry a child to full-term.

These books are about the joys and sorrows and funny times of falling love with a man, taking on his family and living in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

16 – As an author, do you find you prefer to write Fiction or Non-Fiction books? Do you find one easier or more difficult to write than the other? 

To me, they are both about storytelling, taking the reader on a thrilling journey with a thoroughly addictive story.

17 – Are you working on another book right now? If so, can you give us a taste of what it’s about? 

I am working on two books. Both set in France. One modern, one Second World War.

18 – Any advice you would give to aspiring actors and authors?

Work very very hard, don’t accept defeat, believe in yourself and your material. Keep an open mind. Read nonstop.

Thank you so much again to Carol.  You can keep up to date with all of Carol’s news and work at her website – http://www.caroldrinkwater.com/ 

Follow her on Twitter – @Carol4OliveFarm

Uncategorized

What A Character Blogathon 2019: Henry Daniell

What a character blogathon banner

Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club, Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, and Kellee at Outspoken And Freckled, are bringing back the What A Character Blogathon for it’s 8th year! This blogathon is devoted to the character actors of film. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. This time I’ve decided to shine the spotlight on the actor Henry Daniell.

When I see Henry’s name appear in the opening credits of a film, I always know that I’m about to be in for a real treat performance wise. That’s because Henry Daniell was one of those rare actors whose performances never disappointed. He was a master of his craft and he is always wonderful to watch. 

Although he played many different characters throughout his career, he was especially  adept at playing villains and authority figures. He could sneer and play cold or disdainful to perfection. He makes such a convincing villain that he makes you want to reach through the screen and slap him.  

Henry is best remembered today for his excellent performance as the sneering, hardhearted, and very cruel headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, in Jane Eyre (1943). The character is utterly monstrous on paper, but in Henry’s hands, Brocklehurst becomes even crueller and more hateful than the man we may imagine when we read the book. Henry makes this man so odious and cold that you wonder if he is even human at all. 

       Henry in Jane Eyre. Screenshots by me. 

Henry could dominate and steal even the smallest scene that he appeared in. He always brought his A game to every single performance. He was also one of those actors like George Sanders, Richard Burton, or Claude Rains, who had been blessed with a truly magnificent and distinctive voice.  That voice was always used to great effect. 

Henry Daniell was born in Barnes, London, on the 5th of March 1894. He made his UK stage debut in 1913. The following year he joined up to fight in WW1. Henry joined the 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment in 1914, and he fought with them until he was invalided out in 1915 after being severely wounded. 

Henry Daniell The Awful Truth
Henry and his co-star Ina Claire in the original lost version of The Awful Truth. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Henry made his Broadway stage debut in 1921, playing Prince Charles in Clair De Lune. He worked on stage throughout the 1920’s. Henry made his film debut in the 1929 version of The Awful Truth. In this film Henry plays Norman Warriner, the role which would later turn Cary Grant into a star in the 1937 remake. Sadly Henry’s version of this romantic comedy classic is now lost. I don’t know about anyone else, but I for one would have loved to have seen how he approached this role. 

Over the next decade he appeared in many more films, most notably as the sleazy cad, Baron de Varville, in Camille(1936). This was the first film that I ever saw him in, and it is his performance in this film which made me want to see much more of his work.  

Henry Daniell 2
Henry and Charles Laughton in The Suspect. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout the 1940’s he was in high demand as a villain, appearing in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, The Sea Hawk, Jane Eyre,The Suspect, The Body Snatcher, and three of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, in one of which he played Professor Moriarty. He was also in The Philadelphia Story as Sidney Kidd, the publisher of the magazine that Mike and Liz work for. 

Henry Daniell 1
Henry (seated centre)in The Body Snatcher. Image source IMDb.

               Here’s Henry in action opposite Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk(1940).

Throughout the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, Henry appeared often on television in guest roles. Some notable films and performances from the later part of his career include Witness For The Prosecution, in which he worked again with his co-star in The Suspect, Charles Laughton, Mister Cory(the film that he called one of his favourites from his own work), Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, and The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit

His final film role was as the British Ambassador, in George Cukor’s 1964 film adaptation of My Fair Lady. His scenes alongside Audrey Hepburn at the Embassy Ball would sadly be the last he would ever shoot. Henry Daniell died of a sudden heart attack  on October 31st, 1964.  He was 69 years old. 

He left behind him an incredible film legacy. He is one of my favourite character actors. I also consider him to have been one of the best character actors in the business. I hope he would be touched by how much love and respect there still is for his performances and films today. Never seen a Henry Daniell film? A cinematic treasure trove awaits your discovery, and I hope you enjoy exploring his screen work. 

Any other Henry Daniell fans here? 

Uncategorized

Luso World Cinema blogathon: Lena Horne

Lena-Horne-Luso-World-Cinema-Blogathon banner

Beth at Spellbound By Movies and Le from Critica Retro are co-hosting this Blogathon dedicated to members of the film community with Lusophone heritage. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

I’m writing about the singer, actress, and civil rights activist, Lena Horne. I’ve been a big fan of Lena’s for many years now.She was a brave,strong, fearless and very talented woman, who just went right ahead and did her own thing. Lena Horne didn’t live or behave as some people thought she should do.

It is only because of this Blogathon that I’ve learnt something new about this great lady. I’ve learnt that Lena was of Lusophone heritage. Many thanks to Beth and Le for enabling me to learn something new about Lena.

I greatly admire Lena for having had the courage and strength to stand up for the rights of black people through her civil rights activism. She and the other activists quite rightly didn’t see why one group of people should be oppressed, killed, tormented and treated differently because of the colour of their skin, and they tried to do something to right those great wrongs. In addition to the other civil rights activities she was involved with, Lena also attended the famous March On Washington, in August 1963. 

As well as admiring Lena as a person, I also utterly adore her as a singer. I love her very soft, yet strong singing voice.I especially love her versions of When I Fall In Love and Someone To Watch Over Me. Her version of The Lady Is A Tramp is cracking too. 

Lena Horne was an American by birth. She arrived in this world on June 30th, 1917. Lena was born and raised in Brooklyn,New York, by her parents, Edwin Fletcher Horne Jr, and Edna Louise Scottron. Lena’s grandfather was the African American inventor Samuel R. Scottron. Lena was raised for several years by her grandmother, Cora Calhoun Horne, who was a campaigner for black rights and was also a suffragette. Lena had Lusophone heritage on both sides of her family, this was due to her ancestors being a mix of Native American, African American and European American people.

Lena’s rise to fame began in the 1930’s when she joined the chorus line of the New York Cotton Club in 1933. In 1934 Lena joined up with the African American Jazz composer/band leader Noble Sissle and his orchestra. Lena toured with Noble and his orchestra and also recorded her first records with them, these records were then released by Decca Records.

Lena married Louis Jordan Jones in 1937. The couple had two children, Edwin, who sadly died of kidney disease in 1970, and Gail, who would go on to marry the film director Sidney Lumet. Gail and Sidney’s daughter Jenny works as a screenwriter and actress. Lena and Louis divorced in 1944. 

Lena Horne
A lovely shot of a very glamorous Lena. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Lena moved on to work in the film industry in the late 1930’s. In 1938 she made her screen debut in a film called The Duke Is Tops. Lena plays Ethel, a popular singer who refuses to go and seek out the big time out of loyalty to the man who gave her her first career break. Even at this early stage of her career Lena oozed star quality. She’s got that magic glow and special something about her in this film.

Roger Edens, who was part of the Arthur Freed unit at MGM, spotted Lena performing at a nightclub and arranged for her to get a screen test. In 1942 she was signed to MGM for a seven year contract. Lena refused to play the stereotypical character types so often provided for black performers by the film industry, and that unfortunately caused some problems for her in the long run. Some black actors even took issue with her because the parts she objected to were ones which although not ideal, at least ensured they were able to get employment in the film industry. 

Because Lena had a lighter shade of black skin, the studio tried to get her to pass herself off as a Latina, but Lena refused and embraced the fact that she was a black woman. It seems that nobody in the film industry really knew what to do with Lena, and I think that her film career reflects that, as her films/roles are really all over the place. But in defence of the studio for a minute, it can’t be denied that they did sign her for a long term contract, gave her some financial security for a time, and they also gave her the best costumes, cameramen, directors, hairstylists etc to work with when she did appear on screen. If only they could have been braver and helped make her into a star actress.  

 Lena’s first film for MGM was the musical Panama Hattie, which was made in 1942.The following year Lena’s real big break came when she was cast as the seductive and outgoing Georgia, in the all black cast film Cabin In The Sky. On the strength of her performance in this film I get so mad on her behalf that she didn’t receive more dramatic roles after her work in this one. She’s absolutely brilliant in this film and steals all the scenes she appears in. This film should have made her into a major film star. Her performance here reminds me somewhat of Dorothy Dandridge’s in Carmen Jones

Lena Horne cabin in the sky
Lena with some fellow cast members of Cabin In The Sky. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Also in 1943 Lena starred in the 20th Century Fox musical Stormy Weather. This film was a thinly veiled biopic of the great Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who also starred alongside Lena in the film. Most of Lena’s film roles after these two films consisted of nothing else but her performing in stand alone song routines. Sadly due to the disgusting, ridiculous and incredibly infuriating racial laws around at the time, Lena’s musical sequences were often cut out when the films were shown down south. Crazy and shocking or what?!

In 1947 Lena upset the apple cart again (go on girl!) when she married Lennie Hayton, a white musical director at MGM. The couple were married until Lennie’s death in 1971.

Lena lobbied hard for the role of Julie LaVerne in the MGM film adaptation of the musical Show Boat. Lena had played the role of Julie in a musical sequence in the film Till The Clouds Roll By. She would have been perfect in the film, but she unfortunately lost out on the role to her friend Ava Gardner.

This casting choice perfectly sums up the idiocy of the times. A character who is a mixed race woman was played by a white woman, rather than give a black or mixed race actress the role. Lena stated that Ava was told to study Lena’s song recordings for the role, something which upset both women, and ultimately that came to nothing anyway because Ava’s singing voice ended up being dubbed by Annette Warren. Ava did record versions of some of the songs herself, but these were never used in the film, you can find those recordings online. 

Here’s Lena’s beautiful and quite moving version of Can’t Help Loving That Man.This clip gives us a taste of what she could have been like in the film Show Boat

Lena went on tour with the U.S.O to entertain American troops during WW2. She was appalled that seating for these shows was either segregated by the Army, or that seating arrangements placed German POWs in front of black US Army personnel. Lena staged her shows for mixed audiences. She often walked off stage to where the black servicemen were seated, and then sang directly to them with her back to the white audience members. 

By the 1950’s Lena had become disenchanted with Hollywood and she chose to focus instead on her nightclub career. She would appear regularly on TV from the late 1950’s through to 1970’s, performing in many variety shows and TV specials. She was blacklisted during the Communist Witch Hunts, this was because of her activism and her friendship with actor and singer Paul Robeson, who actually did have Communist sympathies and was himself blacklisted. 

Lena Horne 1
Lena pictured 3rd from left meeting President Kennedy. This photo was taken two days before he was murdered in Dallas. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

In 1981 Lena was the star of a Broadway musical revue created specially for her – Lena Horne: The Lady And Her Music, which ran for 333 performances from May 12th 1981, to June 30th(Lena’s Birthday)1982. Lena also toured with the show abroad. Lena won several awards because of her performance in the show, including a Tony and a Grammy, Quincy Jones who produced the cast album for the show also received a Grammy. 

In 1969, Lena once again took a dramatic role in a film, this time playing the girlfriend of Richard Widmark’s sherriff, in Death Of A Gunfighter. In 1978 she played Glinda in The Wiz, an all black cast version of The Wizard Of Oz. 

Lena Horne died in 2010, aged 92. This incredible woman left behind one hell of a musical and film legacy for us to enjoy. She also helped break barriers for future generations of black actors and singers. She is a fascinating woman who stood up for what was right, and who was fiercely proud of who she was and of her heritage. Do yourself a favour and listen to her songs, watch her films, and read about her life. You won’t regret spending time in the company of the remarkable Miss Lena Horne. 

Uncategorized

The 5th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon: Five Grace Kelly Films You Should Watch

Grace Kelly banner

If she was still here with us, classic film actress and real life Princess, Grace Kelly, would be celebrating her 90th Birthday this year. To mark this special occasion, Ginnie at The Wonderful World Of Cinema, Emily at The Flapper Dame, and Samantha at Musings Of A Classic Film Addict, are co-hosting the 5th Grace Kelly Blogathon. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.  

As this blogathon is the fifth one devoted to Grace and her work, I’ve decided to highlight five Grace Kelly films that I think everyone should see. Some of these films helped to make her into a cinematic icon, while others contain some of her best work as an actress. I feel that these five films also show her range as an actress. 

To Catch A Thief (1955)

In her third and final collaboration with director Alfred Hitchcock, Grace plays a cool and adventurous heiress called Francie Stevens. This character is clever, observant and fearless. She is also very sexually forward. Francie knows what she wants and she goes right after it. Grace keeps us intrigued by her character and keeps us guessing about what her motives are. This is one of Grace’s most interesting screen performances in my opinion. 

to catch a thief 3
Grace in To Catch A Thief. Image source IMDb.

Francie has her suspicions that a former thief called John Robie(Cary Grant) is behind a series of recent thefts. She may be right or wrong, but she seems to enjoy the possibility of putting herself in danger and playing games with him.

Not only does Grace deliver a great performance, but she is also at her most beautiful and elegant in this film. She looks truly stunning wearing many gorgeous outfits designed by Edith Head. Those blue and white chiffon evening gowns are my favourite outfits that she ever wore on screen. You can read my full review of this film here. 

 

High Noon (1952)

The film which started it all for Grace. While this wasn’t her debut role for either film or television, it was however the film which gave her the first really significant role of her career. High Noon was also the performance which made people really sit up and take notice of her. 

High Noon
Grace with Gary Cooper in High Noon. Image source IMDb.

Grace is excellent as Amy, the young and innocent Quaker bride of Gary Cooper’s brave town Marshal, Will Kane. I like how Grace conveys to us how much she is struggling to comprehend the world of violence with her pacifist beliefs. She starts off delivering a very quiet performance, but then later she becomes so passionate and emotional and lets us see how determined and strong she is capable of being. Grace famously didn’t think very highly of her own performance in this, but I think she was much better than she obviously seemed to think she was.

 

Rear Window (1954)

This is the film which really showed audiences just what Grace could do as an actress. Hitchcock had a real knack for changing an actors perceived screen image when they worked with him, and he changed Grace’s screen image from restrained good girl, to that of a sexy, strong and interesting woman of many talents.

Photo1074
Grace with James Stewart in Rear Window. Screenshot by me.

Just as Jeff’s opinion and perceived image of Lisa changes as he finally sees the real woman beneath the beauty and glamour, so too do the audiences perception of Grace  change. Her performance as Lisa Fremont has become Grace’s most famous role. This film is also the one which, in my opinion at least, turned Grace into a star and an icon of film and fashion.  You can read my full review here. 

 

The Country Girl(1954)

Many of Grace’s fans consider this film to feature her best performance. She won her only Oscar here for her portrayal of Georgie, the long suffering wife of Bing Crosby’s alcoholic singer, Frank Elgin. The Elgin’s formally happy life has been shattered by the death of their son. Frank has taken to the bottle to deal with his pain, while Georgie is left to deal with a double grief. 

The Country Girl
Grace in The Country Girl. Image source IMDb.

Grace brings a lot of heart and depth to her character. She truly makes us feel this woman’s grief and pain, while also getting us to admire her for her inner strength. Grace convinces us she is weary,desperate and at the end of her tether. She’s very moving in this and it’s hard to forget her performance once you’ve seen the film. This one is tough to watch but well worth it for the great performances. 

 

High Society(1956)

This was Grace’s final film before she left America to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. This one is my favourite Grace Kelly film. In this film she gets to play a character who is complicated and mixed up emotionally, and this means she gets to show her range as an actress all in the one performance. Grace’s character Tracy Lord is vulnerable, seductive, vivacious, funny, mean, sweet, often all in one scene!

Photo1412
Grace as Tracy. Screenshot by me.

On the strength of her performance in this film alone, I find it a crying shame that Grace never made another film again. In the few years that she had been in the spotlight, Grace Kelly had really grown as an actress. If you watch her films in chronological order, I think you can see her ability and confidence as a performer increase/improve with every performance.

High Society is the perfect swan song to Grace’s all too brief career. She delivers one of her best performances as Tracy Lord, a wealthy heiress struggling to decide which of the men in her life she really loves and wants to be with. I often wonder if Grace saw any parallels between herself and Tracy. For example both are women admired more for their external beauty and status than for the woman beneath – in Grace’s case her talents as an actress were often overlooked in favour of her beauty and fashion style. You can read my full review here

I hope you will all join me in remembering a lovely lady, who was also a far better actress than many give her credit for. Happy Birthday, Grace. Thank you for leaving us with so many magical movie moments to enjoy. You and your work are still very much loved. 

Are you a Grace Kelly fan? Leave your thoughts on her and her work below. 

 

Uncategorized

Noirvember: Taking A Walk Through The Dark Alleys Of Film Noir

Yes it’s that time of year again, it’s the time to celebrate all things Film Noir. Put on your trench coats and hats, pour a glass of bourbon, and sit back and revel in a cinematic world of shadows, thrills, Femme and Homme Fatales, and plenty of darkness and danger.  

If pressed to choose just one film genre as my all time favourite, I would certainly have to go with Film Noir. Why is this genre such a favourite of mine? Because it’s so awesome. These films pushed against the restraints of the film censors and were extremely daring for the time in which they were made.

I also love these films because they reflect the truth of humanity. We all have good and bad within us, we are all complicated in some way, and we all do what we have to do to survive and get by in life. Noir films reflect this reality back at us. Noir also features some of the most interesting and complex characters in film history. 

Double indemnity
Phyllis and Walter get cosy in Double Indemnity. Image source IMDb.

Following on from the horrors of WW2, 1940’s film audiences began to be bombarded with films which reflected the reality of the life they were living at the time. Not since the 1930’s gangster flicks had films been so violent. These films dished out a slice of real life for many viewers, and they captured the cynical and bleak mood of the times. People now were much more aware of the dark side of humanity, and everyone in some way had been affected by the darkness of the war. Noir films picked up on the mood of the times.

The Noir villains were ice cold and very nasty pieces of work, the women were independent, strong, and even manipulative; even the heroes themselves were not clear cut good guys. The public lapped these films up and they continued being made throughout the 1940’s and 50’s.

Noir films weren’t just all crime thrillers set in the big city either, there were also a small series of films which have become known as Western Noir. These films at first glance were your typical Western, but on closer inspection you can see that they have characters and plots which fit the established tropes found in regular Noir. These films have femme fatales, outright bad guys who revel in violence, and the good guys who are more gray than white. My favourites of these are Ramrod(featuring Veronica Lake giving one of her best performances), The Furies(featuring Noir Queen Barbara Stanwyck) and Station West(featuring Dick Powell and Jane Greer).

Ramrod
Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea in Ramrod. Image source IMDb.

It was the French film critics who first came up with a name for these dark crime films that we now know as Film Noir. The word they chose was Noir(meaning black or dark.) This word was their way to best describe these films being made in the States. The French themselves though also made many excellent Noir films; films such as Le Jour Se Leve and Rififi for example. These moody and atmospheric films are among the very best in the genre. My favourite French Noir is Le Jour Se Leve, featuring an unforgettable lead performance by the great Jean Gabin.

Le Jour Se Leve

Noir films are often very interesting visually. The black and white photography captures long, dark shadows,and creates an atmosphere unlike anything else, with the exception of the German expressionist films of the 1920’s. Darkness is everywhere in Noir films, it clings to all the characters like a suffocating fog. The photography and lighting are such important parts of these films, with so much of that Noir atmosphere and look down to the skill of the camera and lighting crews.

Another major and memorable part to a Noir film is the femme fatale. As a woman I love that these films offered such juicy roles for women to play. The Noir era was really the first time since the 1920’s, and pre-code 1930’s, that actresses had been offered such strong, complex and obvious bad girl roles. The femme fatales are overtly sexual, independent and sexually aggressive women. These gals know what they want and they go after it. Anyone today who says actresses didn’t start getting good roles until now, really need to go back and watch Noir, Pre-Code and Silent films to see that just isn’t the case at all. 

Noir women are not content to stay at home cooking in the kitchen and looking nice for their men. They do their own thing. Some use men and then toss them aside without a second thought. My favourites amongst these women are Kathie (Jane Greer)in Out Of The Past, Vera(Ann Savage) in Detour,Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck)in Double Indemnity, Cora(Lana Turner) in The Postman Always Rings Twice and Elsa(Rita Hayworth) in The Lady From Shangahi, Peggy Cummins as Laurie(truly one of the most sexual and strong Noir women)in Gun Crazy. 

A few femme fatales of Film Noir. Screenshots by me. 

 I think it must have been a lot of fun for the actresses to be able to play these women in this way. When you look at the roles of Noir actresses film credits, you’ll often find that their Noir characters are the most memorable and interesting roles of their career.

Mention Stanwyck, Bacall, Marie Windsor, Peggy Cummins or Lana Turner and what is the first film of theirs that usually gets mentioned? Nine times out of ten it is their Noir films such as Double IndemnityThe Big Sleep, The Narrow Margin, Gun Crazy and The Postman Always Rings Twice respectively. These strong female roles remain as memorable and impressive today as they were when these films were first released. 

As well as the bad girls, Noir also features many memorable good girls too. These are also strong and independent gals, who will happily get mixed up in danger and who prove to the cynical men in their lives that not all women are femme fatales. These gals don’t get their kicks in using and hurting men. My favourites of these characters are Kathleen (Lucille Ball)in Dark Corner(1946). Kathleen is the loyal secretary to Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens)a tough Private Investigator who is being set up. Kathleen happily puts herself at risk to help him uncover the bad guys, and proves herself to be a woman worthy of his heart.

Photo1392
Jean Peters as Candy. Screenshot by me.

My other favourite is Candy (Jean Peters)in Pickup On South Street. Candy is a tough gal who puts up a I can take care of myself front, when in reality she can be easily hurt. Candy puts herself in great danger helping Skip (Richard Widmark)uncover a communist gang.

The men in Noir films (both good and bad)are usually cynical and world weary chaps. They are tough and comfortable with dishing out (and being around) violence. Some are bad guys with no redeeming features, while others have tough exteriors in order to survive this world, but underneath that toughness they are actually total sweethearts. Sometimes a decent guy (like Walter Neff for example)gets caught up in a web weaved by a femme fatale,becomes caught up in murder and crime, and soon finds that they have no way out and will end up dead or in jail. 

A few of the Noir guys. Images on left screenshots by me. Right image from IMDb. 

Actors like Humphrey Bogart, Richard Widmark, Dick Powell and Robert Mitchum played some of the best remembered Noir male characters. These performances remain powerful when viewed today. My favourites from the Noir guys are Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell)in Farewell My Lovely, Raven(Alan Ladd) from This Gun For Hire, Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens)in The Dark Corner, Jim(Robert Ryan) in On Dangerous Ground, Sam(Van Heflin) in The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers, Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) in The Narrow Margin, Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) in The Big Heat, Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) in Pickup On South Street and Frank Chambers (John Garfield) in The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Despite being made in an era when films were heavily censored, Noir films contain images and dialogue that make me sit up and go “did I really just see or hear that?” These films are often very violent without graphically depicting violent acts, as most of what we see is implied, but the violence still packs a punch for the viewer. These films also contain dialogue or shared glances between characters that leave you in no doubt as to the meaning, be that implied meaning sexual or violent. These films were about as risque and daring as you could get in mainstream cinema at the time. The fact that they retain their shock value and impact is a credit to all involved in putting these films together. 

When you mention Noir, I will bet that most people automatically associate that word with American cinema, and while it’s true that the majority of Noir films were predominantly American, there were also many fantastic Noir films made outside of the USA as well. I’ve already mentioned that the French made many fantastic Noir flicks. Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese Noir Stray Dog (1949) is one of the best in the genre. The first screen adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice was the brilliant Italian Noir Ossessione(1943).  

The Long Memory 1
John Mills and Eva Bergh in British Noir The Long Memory. Image source IMDb.

There are also many Noir treasures to be found in British cinema. Films including: The Long Memory, Pool Of London, Hell Is A City, The October Man, Night And The City, Odd Man Out, Cast A Dark Shadow and Brighton Rock. My favourite of these is The Long Memory, which sees John Mills playing against type as a tough, embittered man wrongly accused of murder. I also love DaybreakPool Of London, Pink String and Sealing WaxIt Always Rains On Sunday, and Hell Is A City.

Noir slowly began to wind down towards the end of the 1950’s. But it enjoyed a revival in the 1980’s, with the release of the much more sexually explicit Body Heat. In this film, Kathleen Turner plays Mattie, the sultry femme fatale leading the lovestruck William Hurt into her trap. Sex is Mattie’s weapon, and she is in complete control of her situation. I consider this to be the best Noir film made outside of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Kathleen is up there with Lana, Barbara, Jane and Rita for me. 

Body Heat
Kathleen Turner was a Femme Fatale for the 1980’s in Body Heat. Image source IMDb.

In more recent years Noir films such as Basic Instinct, Femme Fatale,Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, and LA Confidential have come along. Hopefully people who like these flicks, characters, and the look of these films, will now go and check out Noir titles from the 1940’s and 1950’s. It would be a real shame if they didn’t, because they will be missing out on so many superb films and performances.

10 of my favourite Noir films are: Murder, My Sweet (Dick Powell version),Double Indemnity, Pickup On South Street, Le Jour Se Leve, The Dark Corner, The Big Heat, The Narrow Margin, Detour, Kiss Me Deadly and The Long Memory.

My favourite decade for Noir? Without a doubt it has to be the 1940’s. When I hear the word Noir, I immediately think of black and white images, of smoke filled rooms where the light catches the shadows on the blinds, which in turn cast long dark shadows. This decade has so many films that I think are amongst the best of the genre. For me just the word Noir is enough to conjure up images of world weary detectives, cynical people trying to make it from one day to the next, and of women whose greatest weapon is themselves. The 1940’s Noir films capture all of this to a tee. 

My favourite Noir actor? It’s got to be Dick Powell. I think he suited these films perfectly. His appearance in these films also ensured he got a nice career change. 

My favourite Noir actress? A tie between Jean Peters and Barbara Stanwyck. They were both perfect as tough and sultry dames. I also love Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice

Do you love Noir too? Please share your thoughts below. What are your favourite Noir films? Who are your favourite Noir characters?

Happy Noirvember! 🕵️‍♀️

 

Uncategorized

Five British Horror Classics For Halloween

The clocks have gone back, the nights are getting darker earlier, and Autumn has officially arrived. In a few days time it will officially be Halloween. The time to switch the lights off and watch many horror films has arrived. Here are five classic era British horror films that I highly recommend for your Halloween viewing. 

Night Of The Demon(1957)

This chilling British horror takes a look at demons and a Satanic cult which lurk in the English countryside. It is directed by the great Jacques Tourneur, and is based upon the novel Casting The Runes by horror maestro, M.R. James. For the most part this one plays out as a psychological and supernatural horror flick, but you could also class it as a monster movie because of the demon. 

night of the demon
Peggy Cummins and Dana Andrews publicity photo for Night Of The Demon. Image source IMDb.

Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins and Niall MacGinnis all deliver superb performances. The atmosphere is so creepy and eerie. This makes for perfect viewing on a dark night or stormy afternoon.

 

The Innocents(1961)

In my opinion this is the greatest ghost/haunted house film ever made. Based on Henry James’s novel The Turn Of The Screw, the film focuses on a governess who may or may not be seeing ghosts in the new home in which she has been employed.

The innocents 1961
Don’t turn around! Image source IMDb.

This one works equally well as a ghost story, and also as a chilling descent into madness. Deborah Kerr delivers what may well be her best performance as the tormented and terrified governess. You can read my full review here

 

The Blood On Satan’s Claw(1971)

This disturbing and creepy British folk horror looks at the mass outbreak of hysteria and murder which occurs in a quiet 18th century village. Is it the work of the Devil? 

Blood on satan's claw image
The judge is determined to find out what is happening in his village. Image source IMDb.

There is a realism to this film which ensures this one packs quite an punch and really freaks the viewer out. It’s a very disturbing film. I like how it cleverly mixes psychological and spooky horror with more explicit gory horror too.  

 

Dead Of Night(1945)

Dead Of Night is one of the most influential, creepy and memorable horror films ever made. It is an anthology film focusing on a group of people who are invited to a country house. There they all share frightening incidents that have happened to them. We see these incidents play out as mini horror films. 

Dead Of Night 1945
Michael Redgrave and friend. Image source IMDb.

Featuring Michael Redgrave delivering one of his best film performances as the deranged ventriloquist. You can read my full review here. 

 

The Devil Rides Out(1968)

Christopher Lee plays the kickass hero in this Hammer classic. The film is set in 1920’s England. A Satanic cult are planning on calling up the Devil and they must be stopped at all costs. Enter the badass, and very dashing, Du De Richleau(Christopher Lee),an expert on all things Satanic and possessing knowledge/power that can hopefully be used against them. 

the devil rides out
He wasn’t going to let the dark forces come into the protective circle. Image source IMDb.

Who can forget the protective circle sequence where all manner of horrible things try and attack the Duc and his friends? Or the eerie scene where the Devil is called up in the woods? Great performances and some real scares ensure this one makes for perfect Halloween viewing. You can read my full review of this one here

Enjoy! And try not to get too afraid!

Uncategorized

The Gothic Horror Blogathon: Crimson Peak (2015)

gothic-horror-banner-2

This is my second post for Gabriela’s Gothic Horror Blogathon. Be sure to stop by her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.

The more I’ve watched it, the more I have fallen in love with director Guillermo Del Toro’s film Crimson Peak. What I love most about this film is how it plays out like a meticulously crafted love letter to the gothic genre and to classic era horror cinema. There are not only homages to The Innocents(the scene where Edith explores the house with her candlestick holder), The Changeling(the wheelchair and the ball scene) and Jane Eyre(Edith and Thomas’s relationship and the scene where Thomas says their hearts are linked) to be found in the film, but the film also features all of the established Gothic tropes but presents them to us in new and interesting ways. There’s also homages to Hitchcock’s Notorious to spot too(the poisoning, the importance of keys etc). 

Although primarily described by many as being a horror film, you will find that there is so much more going on in Crimson Peak than jump scares, gore and ghosts.Perhaps this explains why the film unfortunately did so poorly at the box office upon release. It was marketed as a traditional horror film, when in actuality it really isn’t a horror film at all. In fact I view this as more of a Gothic mystery/romance with moments of horror, rather than an outright horror flick.

Crimson peak 1
Edith exploring the house with her candle stick holder is reminiscent of Deborah Kerr in The Innocents. Image source IMDb.

I also like how the horror elements in the film are a mix of supernatural scares, slasher horror and Giallo horror. When violent and shocking moments occur in this film they don’t half impact the viewer, much more so than such scenes might if similar scenes were occurring throughout the film every few minutes. 

I’ve seen people describe this film as being boring, too talky, or just not scary enough. Their loss I say. This is a very rewarding and deep film if you give yourself over to it and it is even more so if you are a lover of all things Gothic. Crimson Peak is a beautifully crafted, dark, and eerie Gothic masterpiece. Aside from the darker aspects of the plot, this is also a film about the strength and determination of women, and of the past passing into a more technological future. It is also a film which cautions us about making assumptions about someone based on their appearance(someone seemingly delicate and fragile may not be so for example), or of underestimating someone because of their background or gender.  It also shows us the dark and light sides of humanity. 

The two strongest and most intriguing characters in this film are women. Edith and Lucille are polar opposites of one another, and yet they are perhaps more alike than either one of them would care to acknowledge. Each woman serves to show the different paths a woman’s life can take. Both women are strong willed and determined, and neither one conforms fully to societies rules and expectations. Both prefer to live on their own terms and do what makes them happy. Edith for example would much prefer to attempt to get the stories she writes published, rather than getting married or being praised for wearing the latest fashionable gown. Both women have known pain and sorrow in their lives. Neither one is weak or helpless. Where they part ways is that Lucille is a child of the dark, whereas Edith is a child of the light. Edith enjoyed a warm and loving home/upbringing, whereas Lucille’s childhood was one of cruelty and horror.

Crimson peak 3
Lucille. Image source IMDb.

Butterflies and moths feature heavily in the film and both serve as a symbolic link to Edith and Lucille, especially in the park scene where Lucille and Edith discuss butterflies, moths and the cruelty of nature. Lucille describes moths as being “formidable creatures to be sure, but they lack beauty. They thrive on the cold and the dark”. Edith asks her “what do they feed on?”and Lucille replies “Butterflies, I’m afraid”. In that exchange it is clear Lucille is describing herself as being like a moth and that Edith is like a butterfly who is her prey. Symbolism for these two is everywhere throughout the film.

Even the costumes of both women are symbolic, with Edith’s gowns being brightly coloured with floral designs showing her to be a giver of life, someone who is blooming like a flower.Lucille’s dresses on the other hand are black or darkly coloured and have a similar design to the walls and ceilings of her Gothic style home, these costumes show Lucille to be cold and gloomy.  It’s also worth noting that Edith’s bright clothes make her look out of place in Thomas and Lucille’s world, while Thomas and Lucille’s darker clothes make them the odd ones out in Edith’s world.

I also love how for most of the film Lucille’s clothes give us the impression that she is closed up and restrained like a chrysalis, but at the end of the film, as all the secrets are slowly revealed to us, her clothing becomes looser and more revealing as the real Lucille is at last set free and the secrets within her home are brought out into the open.  

Crimson Peak 2
Edith.Image source IMDb.

The film opens in Buffalo, New York, during the 1800’s. A young girl is visited by the ghost of her mother, who warns her to beware of something called Crimson Peak. Skipping forward to the 1880’s, we find Mia Wasikowska playing the now grown up girl, the aspiring novelist Edith Cushing(surely a nod to novelist Edith Wharton and actor Peter Cushing). Edith falls in love with the mysterious engineer/inventor Thomas Sharpe(Tom Hiddleston), but her father Carter(Jim Beaver) suspects something is not quite right with Thomas and his sister Lady Lucille(Jessica Chastain), and he tasks a private detective to investigate Thomas. The detective uncovers information about Thomas(which we don’t see)which confirms he is not to be trusted. Mr. Cushing pays Thomas to break off his relationship with Edith and to leave Buffalo. 

Crimson Peak 4
Thomas. Image source IMDb.

Before Thomas can leave town, Mr. Cushing is brutally murdered, and in her grief, Edith turns to Thomas for comfort. The pair eventually get married and she travels to England to live with him at the Sharpe family home of Allerdale Hall. The hall is falling apart and the red clay on which it is built seeps out of the ground like blood.

Major spoilers ahead about plot and characters!!!!

Edith soon falls ill at the hall. On top of her mysterious illness, she also has to deal with the dominating and stern Lucille. Edith is also plagued by visitations from several deformed ghosts(played by Del Toro’s regular collaborator Doug Jones, with some CGI added). Edith soon stumbles upon the same truth her late father did, but she learns the full horror of that truth(something that he did not). Edith’s only chance of rescue from the hell she finds herself in, lies in the form of Dr. McMichael(Charlie Hunnam), an old friend of her and her father. I like that Edith rescues herself to a great extent, rather than relying entirely on McMichael’s aid. 

Edith discovers that Thomas has been married to three women before her and that all three of them were murdered. The ghosts are these murdered ladies and they are trying to warn Edith that she too is in danger. Thomas married all of these women to get their fortunes signed over to him. Thomas and Lucille’s father squandered the Sharpe fortune and he and Lucille are nearly penniless.

Thomas and Lucille have been in an incestuous relationship since their early teens and Lucille murdered all the other wives, and Edith’s father, after he learnt of the other marriages, and she now has the same plans for Edith. We also learn that Lucille killed her own mother. Thomas knew of the fate of his previous wives, but he did not kill them and what happened did not sit well with him at all. He didn’t love the other women, but he has now developed genuine feelings for Edith and is torn between his sister and his wife. 

Crimson peak 8
The Sharpe siblings. Image source IMDb.

Thomas may well be weak in comparison to his sister, but we soon learn that unlike her he is also quite childlike and innocent. Thomas Sharpe has only been consumed by so much of the darkness, he has not become a part of it entirely. We do admire him for later eventually finding the courage to confront Lucille and try and put a stop to what they are doing. Edith has opened his eyes to a new kind of love, and she has also shown him that he can be a different person if he wants to be. I love the relationship between Thomas and Edith, because they are so tender and gentle with one another, and each finds great delight in just being near the other. Their love allows them to blot out their pain and worries for a time.

In many ways Edith is like the traditional male white knight figure who rescues the Princess in peril in fairytales. Edith becomes Thomas’s saviour. She is the pure and fresh woman who Thomas can love both emotionally and physically, without constantly being reminded of a terrible and dark past. Edith’s actions end up putting a stop to the terrible existence he has come to loathe, all be it not in the traditional happy ending some may expect when they watch the film.

I also love how Edith has her eyes opened wide to the realities of life for those who aren’t surrounded by love and lovely things, and in the process she becomes wise to the darker sides of life. She wasn’t completely naive of such things to begin with, but she could never have imagined people could endure and be a part of such awful things until she marries Thomas. At the end of the film she has a become a more worldly woman, one whom now also knows her limits of endurance and how emotionally/psychologically strong she can be. Symbolism also kicks in again at the end of the film, with Edith vanquishing darkness and the possibility of becoming twisted and evil herself. Edith’s survival reminds us that not everyone who has suffered at the hands of others will turn out to be cruel and evil themselves. 

We also learn that the Sharpe children suffered a terrible childhood of abuse and pain. Their father left the family and his reckless behaviour destroyed their wealth. Their mother was cruel and abused both her children. Lucille as the eldest child tried to protect Thomas from the worst of their mother’s attacks. As they grew older they found that their only source of love and joy was to be found in each other. Their bond grew so strong that it turned into incest. Now when we learn this, it is of course sickening and disturbing, but you can understand why it happened given their situation and relationship. 

Crimson peak 7
Lucille is a formidable villain. Image source IMDb.

I find the character of Lucille to be the most fascinating and complex of the whole film. She is very clever, dominant, strong and powerful. It is she, rather than her brother, who does the planning and the killing. She has taken the pain of her past and grown strong and untouchable because of it, she cannot be cowed or frightened any longer. She is fiercely protective of Thomas, almost to the point of being perceived as a lioness protecting her cub. She is clearly insane and dangerous too, all of which makes her quite a memorable and formidable villain.

Yet for all her darkness, and for all the pain and destruction she is responsible for, Lucille is also a victim too. She was turned into a figure of cruelty and darkness by what was done to her as a child. She also does what she does out of love for her brother. Her love and the terrible past she endure makes her more human, and I think it’s very easy to sympathise with her to some extent and to feel pity for her. Lucille also makes a very human mistake when she underestimates Edith’s abilities, seeing her as nothing more than a fragile and weak creature, rather than as her equal in strength and determination.

Crimson Peak 5
The stunning foyer of the Sharpe home. Image source IMDb.

Crimson Peak may well be a dark film, but it is also a stunning and gorgeous feast for the eyes and ears too – from the cinematography and lighting, to the beautiful costumes, impressive set design and gorgeous and atmospheric score. I also like how the symbolism for Edith and Lucille carries over into the homes they live in. Edith’s home has plush, cosy, warm and bright interiors, with soft and expensive furnishings. Lucille and Thomas meanwhile live in a dark and crumbling mansion, a home which is a shadow of its former self. I also like how Allerdale Hall brings to mind the enchanted and mysterious castles in fairytales, with the snow and leaves falling in, the clay seeping into the house like blood, and the moths fluttering around.  The attention to detail in this film is remarkable and you can see the love, time and effort all involved put into this one. 

The performances are superb from the whole cast. It was nice to see the great Jonathan Hyde appear in a cameo as an arrogant book publisher. I think that Mia, Jessica, Tom and Jim Beaver deliver the best performances in the film. Mia’s performance in particular is incredible, she has to convey so much with her eyes alone and she really makes you feel what Edith is experiencing.  

In my opinion this is Del Toro’s masterpiece. The film can also be seen as not only a Gothic homage, but also a homage to his own work and the themes of death, grief, fantasy, courage and horror found within his other films. This is easily one of the greatest Gothic films out there. Highly recommended to all my fellow Gothic fans. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Crimson Peak

 

 

Uncategorized

The Gothic Horror Blogathon: The Tomb Of Ligeia(1964)

gothic-horror-banner-5

This is my first entry for my friend Gabriela’s latest blogathon, which is dedicated to all things Gothic Horror. Be sure to visit her site later this month to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

The history of Gothic Horror and Gothic Romance stretches all the way back to 1764, the year in which author Horace Walpole had his novel The Castle Of Otranto published, this novel is generally considered to be the first Gothic novel ever written. Many authors including Ann Radcliffe, Edgar Allen Poe, Matthew Lewis, Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Shelley, Clara Reeve, Emily and Charlotte Bronte all followed in Warpole’s footsteps penning dark and chilling Gothic tales over the coming centuries. 

The main tropes usually present in Gothic literature and films are mansions or castles which have dark secrets and mysteries waiting to be uncovered within their walls; a Byronic male love interest who is not what he seems, or who harbours dark or tragic secrets; and a curious and strong willed heroine who seeks to uncover the secrets and to help her troubled man. Many of the greatest Gothic stories seem to work best when their setting is the 1700’s or 1800’s, but there are later stories and films, such as Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, which work just as well with a more modern setting. 

Tomb Of Ligeia

The Tomb Of Ligeia is one of my favourite Gothic Horror films. While it is certainly a creepy horror film, it is at heart a beautiful and tragic love story. I especially love how this film manages to capture the eerie atmosphere, darkness, tragedy and beauty of Edgar Allen Poe’s work, while also being a very touching love story. This has become my favourite film from the Poe cycle of films directed by Roger Corman. 

Photo1897
Beware the cat guarding the grave. Screenshot by me.

In 1964, the American horror director Roger Corman was here in the UK to begin work on what would be his eighth and final screen adaptation of a story by Edgar Allen Poe. The film was The Tomb Of Ligeia, which was based upon Poe’s 1838 short story Ligeia. This story may well have been written and published before Poe’s far more famous other literary works came along, but it remains one of his darkest and most tragic tales.

           It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Vincent as Verden Fell. Screenshot by me. 

Roger would once again be reunited with Vincent Price on this film. Vincent had become Roger’s regular leading man in the previous Poe films he had made. Although much older than the character in Poe’s story, Vincent never the less suits the role of Verden Fell perfectly, and it is very difficult to imagine anyone else other than him in the role. It was very nearly the case though that Vincent wasn’t cast in the lead role. 

Both Roger Corman and screenwriter Robert Towne(later to find fame as the writer of Chinatown)were actually against Vincent taking the role due to his age. Roger Corman wanted Richard Chamberlain to take the role instead. Vincent’s casting ended up becoming a condition of the films production company AIP(American-International Pictures) in investing in the film, and so he was cast as the lead. Vincent was of course such a big name at the time, and he had become so linked to the horror genre and to these Poe films, that he was massive draw for audiences when these films were released. He also fit this material perfectly and had done so ever since he was cast in the 1946 Gothic drama Dragonwyck. He brings an emotional depth to the role of Verden Fell that I don’t think would have been there if another actor had been cast. 

Photo1898
Rowena discovers Ligeia’s grave. Screenshot by me. 

British actress Elizabeth Shepherd was cast alongside Vincent, in the duel role of the bright and passionate Rowena, and the sinister and dark Ligeia. Elizabeth absolutely steals the film with her brilliant performance. The film was made on location in Britain, with a large portion of it being shot at the Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk. This film feels and looks quite different from so many of the other Corman/Poe adaptations and the location work is a big reason why in my opinion. So many of the other films in the Poe cycle were very studio bound, whereas this one gains a realism due to the location work. The film also looks different due to a great many scenes taking place outside in daylight and sunshine, but its content is no less dark and strange because of it.

“She will not rest, because she is not dead….to me. And she will not die because she willed not to die.” Verden Fell

The film tells the tragic love story of the vivacious and fearless Lady Rowena(Elizabeth Shepherd)and the brooding and mysterious Verden Fell(Vincent Price). The pair meet after Rowena breaks away from a local hunt and rides into the ruins of the abbey where Verden lives. She comes across a graveyard in the ruins, and there she finds the grave of the Lady Ligeia(also played by Elizabeth), who was Verden’s wife. 

                      Rowena and Verden first set eyes on each other. Screenshot by me.

Ligeia’s grave is guarded by her pet black cat, who lashes out at Elizabeth startling her horse and causing her to fall off and hurt herself. Verden(clad all in black and rocking a pair of sunglasses which look like the ones from the 1933 Invisible Man film) then suddenly appears and tends to the injured Rowena. We can see that as soon as they meet one another they are each drawn to the other. Rowena bears a uncanny resemblance to Ligeia, which is an added attraction for Verden. 

Verden seems absolutely grief stricken by the death of his wife. At first he reminds me somewhat of Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights with how he cannot let his wife leave his side to go to the land of the dead. Verden is constantly at Ligeia’s graveside and is convinced that she will come back to life and be with him again. As the film progresses we learn that there is a dark and terrible reason why he is acting like that, and it isn’t because of grief and love either. Sometimes Verden seems to hate Rowena and becomes afraid of her presence one minute, and then becomes deeply remorseful for his behaviour and becomes gentle and kind to her the next. 

              That time Vincent Price borrowed The Invisible Man’s shades. Screenshot by me. 

As the film goes on, Verden and Rowena fall in love and get married. Rowena soon discovers that in Verden’s home the dead do not stay dead, and that due to some strange supernatural power, the Lady Ligeia is exerting her will on Verden from beyond the grave. Rowena must find the strength to save her husband and herself, while also trying to fight against forces which are beyond both her understanding and her control. 

Photo1905
Lady Rowena is one of the great heroines of Gothic cinema. Screenshot by me.

Rowena is one of the strongest Gothic heroines in my opinion. Interestingly the film version of Rowena is very different to the character in Poe’s story, in which she really has no personality and is merely there as a plot device. In the film however, Rowena is brave, strong, self-sufficient, and she has a very strong will indeed. When describing Rowena to Christopher(John Westbrook), a young man of her own class who wants to marry her, Rowena’s father(Derek Francis) says this of her: “Wilful little b***h, ain’t she? Hell to be married to I should think. Her mother certainly was… God rest her soul”. 

Rowena doesn’t conform to the docile female persona that men of the time felt their women should have. Rowena knows what she wants and goes after it. She likes to make her own decisions and she isn’t afraid of darkness and danger. She also has no interest in marrying for money or in marrying the safe and approved type of men she is so often thrown together with. Rowena sees that Verden is brooding, broken and even a little dangerous and frightening, and yet she wants to be with him because she loves him. He in turn genuinely falls in love with her too, and even though he cannot get Ligeia out of his mind, he does try his best with his new wife. 

Photo1904
What is the truth about Verden? Screenshot by me.

Vincent is excellent as Verden. The character is at first glance the typical Byronic leading man of a Gothic tale, a man of mystery. I love how Vincent draws us in with his performance and makes us at first think he is a heartbroken and damaged man, somewhat akin to Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, a man longing to meet a fresher, purer woman to be his great love. While some of that description is true, the more we see of Verden, the more that Vincent alters how he plays the character. Vincent’s performance gets much darker and stranger, and he lets us see that there is something more going on here than the typical Gothic character trope we first imagine and assume. Verden also interestingly turns out to be the real victim of the piece rather than Rowena.  He is also a victim twice over; once due to what we learn has been happening to him, and secondly because of what happens to him at the end of the film. I really like Verden and Rowena and I’m always sad that they don’t get the happiness they deserve, but then it wouldn’t really be a Gothic Horror if that were to happen. 😁

In addition to its intriguing and eerie story, excellent lead and supporting performances, and beautiful costume design, I also want to praise the lovely and suitably atmospheric score by Kenneth V. Jones. The gorgeous cinematography by Hammer regular Arthur Grant is also terrific. 

I’m of the opinion that The Tomb Of Ligeia is one of the best Gothic Horror/Gothic Romances ever put on screen. It’s also a great deal of spooky fun and a real character piece. You could do much worse than spend an hour and a half with Vincent, Elizabeth and company. 

What are your thoughts on the film? 

Uncategorized

CMBA Anniversary Blogathon: 1939 Turns Eighty

CMBA banner

The Classic Movie Blog Association turns ten years old this year. In celebration of this anniversary, our groups latest blogathon is one which celebrates films, or particular years in film history, which are also celebrating a significant anniversary in 2019. Be sure to drop by the CMBA site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I’ve decided to celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the year 1939. Why the focus on this year and not another you may well ask? I picked this year because it is such a remarkable and impressive year for film. 1939 is a year considered by many film fans and film critics to be “Hollywood’s greatest year”, this is due to the large amount of magnificent films released in America that year, many of which have become some of the most beloved, impressive and acclaimed classics of all time.  

             Left to right: The Wizard Of Oz, Gone With The Wind and Only Angels Have Wings. Screenshots by me. 

I don’t know about other film fans, but I know that I return again and again to so many of the films which were made in 1939. There’s just something about these films which makes them special, plus they are all such high quality films. Think also of all the beloved film characters this year’s films provided us with – Dorothy Gale, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, The Wicked Witch Of The West, Rhett Butler, Scarlett O’Hara, Mamie, Melanie Wilkes,Cathy and Heathcliff,Judith Traherne etc. While it’s certainly true that every year and decade in film history contains some real gems and classics, 1939 in particular saw the release of such a staggering amount of high quality films which have ended up becoming classics.

Hunchback of notre dame

To have had these films appear throughout one or two decades would have been incredible enough, but the fact that all of these films came out in one year is truly mind blowing! If 1939 had only been the year of say Gone With The Wind(one of the all time great epics), The Wizard Of Oz, Stagecoach, or Only Angels Have Wings, then I have no doubt that it would have most certainly have gone down as a great film year, but this year had all of those films and so many more besides.Wuthering Heights

Just a few of the remarkable films released during this year include: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington( a film which remains incredibly relevant and affecting, given how many governments/politicians around the world are self serving or corrupt, and who don’t seem to be on the side of the ordinary people at all), Wuthering Heights(moody and moving in equal measure), Goodbye Mr. Chips(possibly the saddest and most poignant film ever made), The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle, Golden Boy, The Women(this hilarious film sees some of the best actresses of the day fight it out on screen), Dark Victory, Ninotchka, Of Mice And Men, The Saint Strikes Back(the first time that George Sanders played the role of Simon Templar)Dodge City, The Hound Of The Baskervilles.

Outside of Hollywood, 1939 also saw the release of many excellent films from around the world as well. The brilliant French Noir Le Jour Se Leve, the powerful Japanese drama The Story Of The Last Chrysanthemums, the French satire The Rules Of The Game, and the early Powell and Pressburger spy drama The Spy In Black, were just four classics made outside of America during this very significant year. 

Le Jour Se Leve

1939 also saw Technicolor used to its most stunning and impressive effect in many films, including The Wizard Of Oz, Dodge City, Gone With The Wind, Drums Along The Mohawk. There had been some nice looking colour films around since the Silent film era, but nothing that compared to the beautiful use of colour seen in many of the films released in 1939. I think that films featuring Technicolor, outside of the Powell and Pressburger 1940’s films, have never before or since looked as stunning and striking as these 1939 Technicolor films do.

1939 was also a very good year for actors. Many of the films in this year featured very strong roles for women and had very female centric stories. Many of the 1939 films also provided actresses with some of the best screen roles they would ever have.

Some fellow British ladies would find that this year would end up changing their fortunes for the better. Vivien Leigh moved from being an up and coming British stage and screen actress, to become an acclaimed international star following her work in Gone With The Wind.Greer Garson enchanted audiences in her screen debut in Goodbye Mr. Chips, and she quickly went on to become one of the most popular actresses of the entire classic film era.

Goodbye Mr. Chips
1939 saw the film debut of Greer Garson. Seen here with co-star Robert Donat in a publicity photo for Goodbye Mr. Chips. Image source IMDb.

 The American actress Jean Arthur would star in Only Angels Have Wings and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,two films which would help cement her screen persona of tough, sassy and fiercely loyal female sidekick. 

It wasn’t just the ladies who were enjoying great acting success in this year either. James Stewart proved he could do much more than comedy and sweet romantic roles, thanks to his excellent dramatic performance in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Jean Gabin and Robert Donat all delivered some of the best performances of their entire careers in this year. Cary Grant would also prove that he could do more than comedy, with his great performance as the cynical, tough and complicated pilot, Geoff Carter, in Howard Hawk’s Only Angels Have Wings. A young lad called John Wayne would find that his performance in Stagecoach would end up becoming his breakthrough role, and over the next few years he would go on to become one of the most famous and iconic actors in the world. 

1939 was also a glorious year for film composers and their scores. A few of my favourites from this year are Max Steiner’s sweeping score for Gone With The Wind; Eric Korngold’s rousing theme to Elizabeth And Essex; Alfred Newman’s beautiful and moving score for Wuthering Heights; Alfred Newman’s score for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. The music and songs in The Wizard Of Oz also have a very special place in my heart.

It seems to me that every aspect of filmmaking was the very best that it possibly could be during this year. From acting and cinematography, to costumes, music, scripts and direction. This year highlights the quality and magic of the classic film era for me. 

We are sadly living in an era now where Western film audiences seem to be being bombarded by nothing but an endless stream of remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels. We’ve got an overwhelming amount of CGI filled superhero films and computer animated films out there too. It seems that if you want originality, quality, good human drama and characterisation, then you need to be checking out Foreign Language films, Indie films, or turning to television. 

Watching classic era films reminds us that there once was a time when there were seemingly endless amounts of fresh and original film ideas, and that there was a strong focus on the characters and the actors to tell the story, rather than letting special effects dominate proceedings and overwhelming every other aspect of the film. These classic films, especially many of those from 1939, serve to show the current generation the quality that filmmakers can achieve if they put their minds to it. There’s a reason these classic era films have stood the test of time and stand head and shoulders above so many other films.

Story Of Vernon and Irene Castle

I hope that you will all join me in raising a glass in honour of this very special year in film history. The greatest year in film history? While I find it hard to narrow so much great cinema down to one single year and call that year the best ever,I would however have to say that I think 1939 has more claim than most to hold that particular title. It truly was a golden year for film.  

I’d also like to raise a glass to the CMBA in honour of its own special anniversary. I’m still so touched to have been accepted as a member of this group and to have found myself amongst some truly great classic film bloggers. This group is so supportive and encouraging, and I think my fellow CMBA bloggers are all doing a wonderful job of spreading the word about classic films far and wide. Happy 10th Anniversary to this wonderful group. Special thanks to Rick at Classic Film And TV Cafe who founded our group. 

I’d love to hear what you think of 1939. Share your thoughts on this great year below. 

 

Uncategorized

Announcing The 2nd Deborah Kerr Blogathon

Last year I hosted a blogathon dedicated to the lovely Deborah Kerr. The blogathon went really well, and there were so many wonderful articles received about this great actress and her work. At the request of Gill from Realweegiemidgetreviews, I have decided to bring the blogathon back for a second year. 

Deborah 1
Deborah in The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp. Screenshot by me.

For this blogathon you can write about any of Deborah’s films or TV appearances. You can write tributes to her. You can write about her career and life. You can write about her screen partnership with Robert Mitchum. You can focus on specific performances. I will accept two duplicates per screen title and a maximum of 3 posts per person. 

The Blogathon will be held on the 10th of January, 2020. Please have your posts ready on or before that date. Check the list below to see who is writing about what. Take one of the banners from below and put it on your site somewhere to help promote the event. Have fun writing about Deborah and watching her work! 

Participation List

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: The End Of The Affair

Pale Writer: The Innocents & Dream Wife

Champagne For Lunch: Please Believe Me

Realweegiemidgetreviews: The Arrangement

Poppity Talks Classic Film: Young Bess

Cinematic Scribblings: I See A Dark Stranger

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: Deborah Kerr and Fashion

Critica Retro: The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp

Dubsism: The Sundowners

The Classic Movie Muse: The King And I

18 Cinema Lane: Black Narcissus 

Deborah Kerr banner 2

Deborah Banner 3

deborah Kerr banner 3

I’d also love for some more of you to join my Anna Neagle Blogathon being held on the 1st and 2nd of January, 2020 too. 

Uncategorized

Announcing The Anna Neagle Blogathon

Photo1883
Anna in Spring In Park Lane. Screenshot by me.

As we start to approach the end of 2019, I would like to invite you all to join my next blogathon. 

This one will be held in the New Year and it is going to be dedicated to the great British actress, Dame Anna Neagle. Anna was one of the most talented British actresses working during the classic film era. She is best remembered today for the many films in which she portrayed well known historical figures, including Edith Cavell and Queen Victoria.  She married director and producer Herbert Wilcox, and the pair made many films together. Anna was also a producer herself.

For this blogathon you can write about any of Anna’s films. You can write tributes to Anna. You can write about her partnership with her husband. You can write about her entire career. If you’re not familiar with Anna and her work, why not take this as the perfect opportunity to rectify that and seek out her films? I will allow 2 duplicates per screen title, and a maximum of 3 posts per person. 

The blogathon will be held on the 1st and 2nd of January, 2020. Please have your entries ready on or before those dates. Check the entry list below to see who is writing about what. Take one of the banners below and put them on your site to help promote the event. Have fun writing about Anna and her work!

Participation List

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: Odette, A Comparison Of Victoria The Great & Sixty Glorious Years

Pale Writer: Maytime In Mayfair

Poppity Talks Classic Film: Irene

Critica Retro: Anna’s Work As A Producer

Screendreams: Nell Gwynn

Anna Neagle Blogathon banner 2

Anna Neagle banner 3

Anna Neagle Banner 1

Uncategorized

The Shelley Winters Blogathon: 4 Shelley Winters Performances You Should See

Shelley Winters blogathon bannerTwo of my favourite bloggers, Erica at Poppity Talks Classic Film, and Gill at Realweegiemidgetreviews, are co-hosting this blogathon in honour of the actress Shelley Winters. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.  

Shelley Winters was a strong woman, and she was a real force of nature too. On screen she was a chameleon actress. She could play strong, tough, or mean one minute, and then play timid and gentle the next. She was one of those actresses who I always believe as whatever character she happens to be playing on screen.

Shelley is also an actress whose performances have never really left me disappointed. While Shelley has never become a great favourite of mine, I have however always liked her and admired her acting ability. She was a very talented lady indeed. Instead of focusing on one particular film or performance for this blogathon, I want to highlight four Shelley Winters performances that I think everyone should see. These four performances/films also highlight what range she had as an actress. 

The Night Of The Hunter(1955)

Photo1865
Shelley as Willa. Screenshot by me.

While it’s true that her character isn’t in the film for very long, Shelley never the less makes the most of her supporting role in this classic. Shelley utterly convinces here as the meek and naive Willa, the abused wife of the stone cold and manipulative preacher(Robert Mitchum).

If you’ve only seen Shelley play strong women on screen, then you’re sure to be in for quite a surprise, due to her character being the complete opposite . Shelley’s performance here is one which is all in the eyes, body language and small gestures. 

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Photo1867
Shelley as Lorry. Screenshot by me.

Shelley shines alongside Robert Ryan, playing Lorry, the much younger girlfriend of his character, Earl. Despite their age gap, Lorry and Earl really do love each other very much.

Earl sometimes says hurtful things to Lorry because he is afraid that she will either leave him, or cheat on him, because she is much younger than him. Shelley makes us see how much Lorry loves this man and wants to help him.

The scenes between Shelley and Robert are very tender, and I only wish there had been more of them. I also love how Shelley convinces us that Lorry is someone who can stand up for herself, and that she can knock some sense into Earl through her reactions to his outbursts. Shelley does a great job of making Lorry come across as a very real, working class gal, who is trying to do the best she can in life and in love. 

Lolita (1962)

Photo1866
Shelley as Charlotte. Screenshot by me.

Shelley is both hilarious and moving as the loud and awkward Charlotte Haze, the slinky and lovestruck mother of the title character of this Kubrick classic.

We can’t help laughing at Charlotte because she is such a ridiculous and over the top character. We’re not laughing all the time though, because Shelley also makes us sympathise and cringe for her character.

Charlotte is so awkward and desperate and doesn’t realise that people around her merely put up with her company, rather than actually be around her because they truly enjoy her company. Charlotte is a very tragic figure really, because she genuinely loves Humbert(James Mason) and she tries so hard to get him to love her in return, despite the fact that he is not remotely interested in her sexually or romantically. Shelley absolutely gets the different aspects of this woman and inhabits the role so well. I can imagine no one else playing Charlotte the way Shelley did. 

                                                   A Patch Of Blue (1965)

Shelley Winters Patch Of Blue
Shelley as Rose-Ann. Image source IMDB.

Shelley is both despicable and ferocious as the abusive and racist mother of Elizabeth Hartman’s kind and dominated Selina. 

Shelley’s character, Rose-Ann, is one of the most horrible screen mothers I’ve ever seen. She treats her daughter like crap and only ever thinks of herself. This dame has a razor sharp tongue and spews hatred and harsh words every time she opens her mouth.

Shelley dominates every scene she is appears in in this one. Through Shelley’s excellent performance, we can see that Rose-Ann is a survivor, one whose tough persona ensures that she doesn’t become one of life’s victim. Shelley’s performance is so powerful that it is one of those which lingers on in the mind long after the film is over. Shelley is a real nasty piece of work in this flick.

I would love to know your thoughts on Shelley’s performances in these films. 

 

Uncategorized

Thank you for joining the WW2 Blogathon

WW24Can I say a massive thank you to everyone who contributed to the WW2 blogathon. Jay and I were impressed by how many of you took part! You all wrote wonderful articles and reviews. Thank you for joining us to mark this important anniversary.  

My apologies for not having been around much and not having commented on all your posts yet. As some of you already know, I have an ongoing health issue, and unfortunately I was really struggling with symptoms in the run up to this blogathon and still am now. I hope you’ll bear with me while I try and catch up on posts I’ve not been able to read yet. I’ve not forgotten you!

Maddy x ❤

Uncategorized

The World War II Blogathon: Day 1

WW25

The big event has finally arrived. Over the next three days, myself and Jay from Cinema Essentials, will be accepting your reviews and articles on films, series and people connected to WW2. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the start of WW2, and we both thought that hosting a blogathon on this subject would be a fitting way to mark this important anniversary.

I will be your hostess for today only. Please submit posts going live on Monday and Tuesday to Jay.  Thank you so much for joining us. 

Day 1 entries

Love Letters To Old Hollywood writes about the deeply moving The Best Years Of Our Lives.

Ruth at Silver Screenings discusses Tora!Tora!Tora, which depicts the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Dubsism finds the sports analogies hidden in Fighter Squadron.

Gill from Realweegiemidgetreviews tells us about the time Burton and Eastwood went Where Eagles Dare.

Quiggy at the Midnite Drive-In boards Von Ryan’s Express.

Mikey at Wolfman’s Cult Film Club shares his thoughts on The Way Ahead.

Andrew from The Stop Button shares his views on The Big Red One.

Just A Cineast discusses the British gem Millions Like Us.

Debbie at Moon In Gemini shares her thoughts on The Mortal Storm.

Vinnieh discusses Carve Her Name With Pride.

Clarissa from Stars And Letters shares a poignant letter from a soldier to Donna Reed.

MovieMovieBlogBlogII writes about the harrowing Schindler’s List.

Critica Retro shares her thoughts on The Seventh Cross.

I discuss the British TV series Danger UXB

Jay discuses  Hurricane and The Eagle Has Landed.

Uncategorized

The World War II Blogathon: Danger UXB (1979)

WW24

Any person who serves in the armed forces has my utmost respect, gratitude and admiration. It takes a brave person indeed to deliberately risk injury and death fighting to save and help other people. People who serve in Bomb Disposal Units have a bravery which is on a whole other level entirely. It takes nerves of complete steel to deliberately stand next to a live bomb and attempt to diffuse it or check if it is live or not. 

Photo1851
An attempted diffusion ends in tragedy. Screenshot by me.

In 1979, a British television series called Danger UXB was created. The series would focus upon a Bomb Disposal team working in London during the Second World War.

As the German Luftwaffe carry out their seemingly unending bombing raids across Britain, we would follow this brave disposal team tasked with diffusing and destroying the thousands of bombs that had been dropped from German aircraft, but which had failed to detonate on impact. The series would follow the team from the start of the war, right up until the war ended in September of 1945.

The completed series would become one of the most realistic, suspenseful, authentic and gripping TV series ever made. The series was created by writer/producer John Hawkesworth(the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series, Upstairs, Downstairs)and John Whitney. John Hawkesworth took the series idea to producers Verity Lambert(then head of Drama at Thames Television) and Johnny Goodman. The pair were on the lookout for a new series and they both loved his idea. The series was inspired by the book Unexploded Bomb – The Story Of Bomb Disposal, which had been written by Major A.B Hartley. 

The series would also help to change the face of British television forever. Up to this point, British television series/episodes had been shot on tape and were mostly filmed in the studio, with just a few brief scenes sometimes shot out on location. Danger UXB however was filmed entirely on location. The quality of the stories, coupled with the visual quality of the episodes, meant that in effect this series looked like a collection of thirteen films. This series proved what it was possible to do when making a TV series. It begs the question as to whether or not we would have got all those glorious 1980’s miniseries shot on location, without this one having paved the way first?  

Photo1855
Brian Ash attempts to diffuse a bomb which has become embedded in the side of a building. Screenshot by me.

Another new and unusual aspect of the series was that the writers were unafraid to kill off main/significant characters. Long before series such as The Bill or Game Of Thrones broke audiences hearts with shock character deaths, Danger UXB was doing just that. In doing so, I think it helped to bring home the brutal realities of life as a Bomb Disposal officer to audiences. Death or life changing injuries could claim these men at any second.  This decision also ensured that all the bomb disposal sequences in the series became doubly tense, due to audiences knowing full well that main characters weren’t free of harm and that anything could happen to them. What made it all the more powerful was the knowledge that although the characters are fictional, real men had actually gone through what these characters were enduring. It gave the series a reality and a great deal of emotional weight. 

Photo1852
Anthony Andrews as Brian Ash. Screenshot by me.

The series was filmed in 1978. It would be broadcast on ITV between the 8th of January, 1979, and the 2nd of April the same year. The series follows new Royal Engineering Officer, Brian Ash(Anthony Andrews), as he takes command of a Bomb Disposal unit in London, after the current commander has been killed while attempting to diffuse a bomb. Brian is nervous at first, but he soon settles into the role and gains confidence as a commander. The men soon grow to respect him and they form a good team.

Photo1859
Maurice Roeves as Sergeant James. Screenshot by me.

Brian’s ever dependable right hand man, is the steady Sergeant James(Maurice Roeves), who is the father figure to the team and really does his best to keep an eye on how everyone is coping emotionally and psychologically. The main members of the team are Sapper Wilkins(George Innes), who is the joker of the team, a chainsmoker, and also a petty thief; Lance Corporal Salt(Kenneth Cranham), a married man who is always terrified for the safety of his wife and children and who later becomes haunted by events in the series; Sapper Powell(Robert Pugh),who is sometimes loud and a bit of a bully, but who has our sympathy when he becomes truly terrified and traumatised on a couple of occasions due to bombings.

Photo1856
The aftermath of an explosion. Screenshot by me.

The team are up against the five different types of German bombs which were usually encountered in Britain during the war. All of the bombs vary in size and damage capability. As the series goes on, Brian and his colleagues discover that German engineers are booby trapping bombs or altering the way in which they can be diffused, this of course makes diffusing even more dangerous than before. Butterfly Winter, the 10th episode of the series, introduces the team to a new type of bomb – the unusual and extremely nasty Butterfly Bomb –  a device which was very small and didn’t look like a bomb at all. Whoever designed this device was especially wicked. 

Photo1857
Brian and Susan meet for the first time. Screenshot by me.

In addition to following the team on their job, the series also focuses on civilians and shows us what life was like on the homefront. Brian lodges with a middle aged woman and befriends her outgoing and sexy daughter, Norma(former Doctor Who companion Deborah Watling). Brian also falls in love with Susan Mount(Judy Geeson), who is the gentle daughter of scientist Doctor Gillespie(the terrific Ian Cuthbertson), who is helping the government find new ways to defeat German bomb fuses. 

Brian and Susan love each other so much and each one brings the other to life in a way neither have been before. This relationship is complicated though by the facts that Susan is married – unhappily so it has to be said, but she is still married none the less – and that her husband is slowly cracking up while working as a codebreaker. Brian and Susan’s relationship also means that Brian has to steel his nerves even more when he goes out on a job because he doesn’t want to be killed and leave her all alone. 

Photo1863
A happy moment for Susan and Brian. Screenshot by me.

I love this series so much because it has something in it for everyone. I also love that despite mainly being focused on the war and upon male characters, we do also get some strong and interesting female characters and we see how they got through the war.Susan in particular is interesting because she is a very intelligent and determined woman, one who gets involved with her father’s scientific work and isn’t content to merely stay at home and be the dutiful little wife. I also love watching how she blooms in Brian’s company and begins to feel properly loved and fulfilled romantically and sexually for the first time in her life.

        Norma and Susan. Screenshots by me. 

The character of Norma is also shown to be different to the expected female norm. She is a rulebreaker, a woman who loves to have sex, despite not being married(oh, the scandal!😉). We see through these two women that the old way of life for women of this time was changing. Women worked during the war in jobs which had always been done before by men, and they quickly realised they loved to work and were just as capable as their men were. Women were realising that they could be so much more than just wives and mothers, that they could do what they wanted to, not what society and tradition forced them to do. These characters and their actions make for just as much interesting viewing as the lads do. 

Photo1858
Some of the team are caught up in an explosion. Screenshot by me.

I also like how the series shows us the psychological impact that this job had on the men who were a part of it. Their horrific and frightening experiences can’t just be forgotten and swept under the carpet, they will always carry the disturbing images and feelings of fear with them. We see the brave faces they put on in public, but we also see how much what they must do affects them. 

All of the episodes are excellent, but I think it’s fair to say that Butterfly Winter, The Pier, Digging Out and Cast Iron Killer are the best of the best. The Pier and Butterfly Winter in particular are two of the most shocking and suspenseful episodes of the whole lot. I also like how The Pier shows us that there was great danger to be faced from British explosives – as well as from the German ones – as the team are ordered near the end of the war to help dismantle British mines lining the coast. Beaches had been mined by our troops as a last line of defence should the Germans have ever attempted to invade the mainland. 

Photo1861
Some of the team attend the funeral of a fallen friend. Screenshot by me.

The whole cast deliver absolutely superb performances, but it is Ian Cuthbertson, Anthony Andrews, Maurice Roeves, Kenneth Cranham, Robert Pugh and George Innes who all standout the most for me. A large number of soon to be famous faces appear throughout the series and it’s a real treat to see them. Anthony Andrews, Judy Geeson, Robert Pugh and Kenneth Cranham would go on to become very well known actors over the years that followed. Anthony would become a household name after his performance in another classic British series, Brideshead Revisited, just two years after he appeared in this. Anthony’s performance in Danger UXB is one of the best he’s ever given. 

Danger UXB is not only a brilliant television series, but watching it makes me respect and admire my grandparents and their generation even more than I already do. The amount of horror and difficult choices that generation had to face during WW2 was just staggering. I think this series does a very good job of helping those of us from younger generations connect with that time and with the emotional and physical impact of the war.

This is undoubtedly one of the best series about WW2 ever made. If you enjoy series which let characters, events and stories unfold slowly, which don’t have annoyingly fast editing every few seconds, and which don’t insult the intelligence or attention span of the audience, then this is most certainly the series for you. 

This is my entry for the WW2 blogathon being hosted by myself and Jay in a few days time. I can’t wait to read all of your entries. 

Uncategorized

Vive La France Blogathon: Five French Classics You Should See

France Blogathon

When I saw that Lady Eve’s Reel Life and Silver Screen Modes were hosting a blogathon about French cinema, I just knew that I had to sign up and take part. Make sure you visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

I love French cinema. I especially love classic era French films. I think that what I love most about the films from this particular era, is the fact that they often tended to be far more realistic and gritty in comparison with the glamour of many of the classic era Hollywood films. I also adore the incredible cinematography and atmosphere found in the French films from this era. 

Here are five classic era French films that I think every film fan should see at least once in their life.  The films are listed here in order of the year in which they were released. Not only do I consider these five films to be among some of the finest films ever made in France, but I also picked these because they represent different decades and styles of French cinema. 

Menilmontant (1926)

This Silent avant-garde film is one of the most moving and visually interesting films I’ve ever seen. Clocking in at just under 38 minutes long, this is a film which packs quite the emotional punch. It’s hard to forget this one once you’ve seen it. Right from its very first shot- depicting the brutal and frenzied axe murder of a couple – this film dares to be different. The film is directed by experimental filmmaker Dimitri Kirsanoff. The film has no subtitles, and while some viewers may find that to be an issue, I personally don’t because you can follow what’s going on and who the characters are and what they’re doing. 

Menilmontant

The film follows two sisters who are the children of the murdered couple. The rest of the film focuses on their plight. This is a film which draws you in and makes you connect emotionally with the characters. It has a documentary look about it and was filmed on location in Menilmontant. Best remembered for the very moving scene where an old man shares his bread with one of the sisters(played by Kirsanoff’s wife Nadia Sibirskaia) who is starving. This scene could all too easily have become sentimental or cliched, but it is a testament to all involved that it doesn’t play like that and manages to be both realistic and touching. 

Le Jour Se Leve (1939)

This gripping film focuses on a working class man who is barricaded in an apartment surrounded by police. He has killed someone and the police are trying to move in to arrest him.  As he waits for the police to make their move, we begin to see in flashback the events which led him to be in this predicament.Le Jour Se Leve

This early Noir film was famously banned by the Vichy government in 1940. The film stands as a powerful allegory for the individual and the few standing up to the many. Not hard to see why the scum in charge during the war took issue with it. Jean Gabin delivers one of his finest performances as Francois. Arletty and Jacqueline Laurent provide solid support as the two very different women who Francois becomes romantically involved with. Featuring some stunning cinematography and wonderful use of shadow and light. Many people consider director Marcel Carne’s later film Children Of Paradise to be his best, but I think there is a strong case to be made for Le Jour Se Leve to hold that title. This is an absolutely cracking flick. 

La Belle Et La Bete(1946)

Watching this film is like stepping into a vivid dream. In my opinion no other screen adaptation of the novel Beauty And The Beast even comes remotely close to this one. Director Jean Cocteau’s second film is poetic, haunting, romantic, and truly stunning to behold. Who can forget the living candelabra on the walls of the beast’s enchanted castle? Who can forget the magic mirror? Who can forget the beast carrying Belle to her bed?

Photo1451
Beauty and her Beast. Screenshot by me.

This beautiful film is perhaps the ultimate love story. The enchanted, cruel beast undergoes a personality change as he falls for the gentle and kind Belle. In this film love is so strong that it can destroy curses and darkness. Josette Day is excellent as Belle and gives the character great strength and heart, but she and everyone else in the film are eclipsed by Jean Maris as the Beast. Despite being hidden beneath great amounts of makeup, Jean manages to convey so much emotion to us and steals every scene he is in. Truly one of all time great film performances. This is a film that every film fan and film student should watch. It makes for truly magical viewing. 

Forbidden Games(1952)

Forbidden Games is one of the best coming of age films ever made. The film depicts the horrors of war and a loss of innocence seen through the eyes of two young children. Director Rene Clement’s haunting, beautiful, and deeply moving coming of age story captures the period of idyllic childhood innocence perfectly.

Forbidden Games
The children get their first glimpse of death. Screenshot by me.

This film captures this time of childhood innocence being shattered. It does a good job of depicting a moment – one which unfortunately must come to us all at some point – in which children lose their innocence and finally become aware of and enter into the adult world. The film reminds me quite a bit of Whistle Down The Wind, and I think that if you enjoyed that film, then you’ll enjoy this one too. Forbidden Games memorably features two of the most natural and remarkable child performances in film history. You can read my review of this moving and powerful film here. 

Les Diaboliques(1955)

Few films shock as much as this one does. Famous for misleading audiences right up to its truly shocking and unexpected twist ending. This one is a perfect mix of horror and psychological suspense. The film was a big influence on Hitchcock when he made Psycho, and I also believe Les Diaboliques must surely have influenced the makers of the Hammer classic Scream Of Fear too.  

Photo1849
She couldn’t believe what was in the tub. Screenshot by me.

Based upon a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Les Diaboliques tells the story of the wife and the mistress of a sadistic headmaster. The two women plot to murder this cruel man and dump his body in a swimming pool, but when the pool is drained the body is not there. The film features three superb performances from Vera Clouzot, Simone Signoret and Paul Meurisse. Who can forget that eerie and shocking bathtub scene? One of the best films ever made in this genre. In my view this is director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterpiece. 

I’d love to know what you think of these films if you’ve seen them. I highly recommend them all if you’ve yet to see them.  

Uncategorized

Carrie (1976)

Carrie

Anyone who has ever endured the horrors and embarrassment of being a bullying victim, will be able to relate to the tragic and vulnerable Carrie White.  I was badly bullied during my high school years and have never forgotten how frightened and alone those tormentors made me feel. I’ve also never forgotten the hate and disgust I felt towards those individuals who loved to bully me. 

Photo1801
The tragic Carrie. Screenshot by me.

Poor Carrie feels all that too. The trouble is that she is so scared, shy and awkward that she can’t speak out about what she is enduring, instead she turns her pain and victimisation inwards. She keeps how she is feeling bottled up inside and wishes she could be invisible at school.

Anyone who says that bullying isn’t an issue and doesn’t do harm, or that victims can easily forget and move on from their experiences, is an absolute idiot and is a big part of the problem. The memories of bullying stay with the victims for life. It’s the bully who forgets and moves on because they don’t care about others and don’t see that they have done wrong. The victim is emotionally scarred for life. 

Carrie has it doubly worse than most bullying victims though. She has no happy and loving home to go home to, nor does she have kind and loving parents/guardians/ family to comfort her as she tells them about the bullying. You see, poor Carrie also suffers abuse and cruelty from her mother as well. Margaret White is one of the scariest screen characters I’ve ever seen. She is a religious nutter who seems to embody more evil than anything she may read about in the religious texts that she holds so dear. 

Photo1804
Piper Laurie as Mrs. White. Screenshot by me.

Mrs. White sees her own daughter as an abomination. She tells Carrie all the time that she is evil. She hits Carrie, locks her in a cupboard if she (in her mother’s opinion)does something supposedly sinful, neglects to tell her about the natural changes a woman’s body goes through during puberty(getting their periods etc), and shows her daughter no love whatsoever.

The tragic thing is that Carrie actually does have love in her heart for her mum, and she desperately wants her mum to love her in return. Mrs. White on the other hand does untold psychological damage to her daughter, and worse still, she does it all in the guise of supposedly being a decent follower of God/Jesus. Carrie is not only tormented and hurt at school, but she is also abused and scared in the one place that she should be safe and happy all the time. Carrie has no safe space or supporters to help her endure what’s happening to her. 

                               Religious symbolism at Carrie’s home. Screenshot by me. 

Interestingly I noticed how religiously symbolic Carrie’s home is. The interior of the White’s home is almost church like in its design. There are doorways and shelves inside that look like church windows. The walls are strewn with religious icons, and there’s even a roadmarking in the shape of a cross which be seen on the road outside their home. The fate of Carrie’s mum also mirrors the Crucifixion of Jesus, with her body at the end of the film bearing a striking resemblance to his body. 

Carrie may well be a supernatural horror film, but it is also so much more than that. This is a very human story. It is a film about how cruel and despicable humans are capable of becoming, but also shows us that we have the capacity for kindness and change. It is a film about bullying, parental abuse, human cruelty, peer pressure and human fragility. It is also a tragedy. I think that due to all of these themes, rather than just the supernatural horror content, this film has become the classic that it is today.  This film feels very real, way too real for those of us who have been bullying victims. 

The film is also rather unusual for the horror genre in that it was one of the few horror films to be nominated for Academy Awards. Sissy and Piper were both nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. It’s nice that the Academy could overcome their random snobbery towards horror films and acknowledge one. Shame they don’t do that more often. Some of the most emotive and powerful screen performances can be found in horror films. 

Carrie’s bullying is actually so bad that I think if her story were a reality happening today and nobody helped her, then it would end in one of two ways. Either Carrie would take her own life because she couldn’t stand what was happening at school and home, or she would become one of those teenagers who takes a gun or a knife into school and causes a massacre because they have snapped. In so many ways Carrie’s story plays out as the ultimate anti-bullying campaign. We are shown the psychological damage that bullying causes, and we are also shown what can happen when a victim snaps and retaliates against the bullies. 

Carrie is based upon the 1974 Stephen King novel of the same name. Stephen’s creepy tale of a bullied teenager who wreaks a fiery, supernatural revenge upon her tormentors, has become one of King’s most popular novels. As good as the novel is, I personally find it much harder to sympathise with Carrie and other characters in the book the way I do in the film. This film is one of the rare exceptions where its content improves upon the source material. Director Brian De Palma cleverly mixed horror, tragedy, comedy and social commentary into the film. Brian’s more vulnerable and sympathetic take on the character of Carrie White also ensured that the audience was in sympathy with her throughout, and because of that we feel morally conflicted by the time that horrific prom-night fire occurs.

Photo1814
Sissy Spacek as Carrie. Screenshot by me.

Sissy Spacek deserves so much credit for helping to bring about that reaction from audiences. Through her remarkable performance, she makes Carrie so sweet, scared, innocent, pure, vulnerable and awkward. She makes our hearts go out to her and makes us want to protect her. When she transforms and uses her telekinetic powers later in the film, Sissy’s Carrie becomes utterly terrifying.

The way Sissy widens her eyes, does that cold, dead stare, and changes her body posture in the later part of the film, is so disturbing to witness. She turns into a monster before our eyes, and yet we can’t help but feel sympathy for her still. Sissy wasn’t the directors first choice for the role, but she won him over by turning up to her audition with Vaseline in her hair, and looking as dishevelled and unkempt as Carrie is supposed to.  

Carrie White(Sissy Spacek)is a teenager who is badly bullied at school, and also at her home by her religious mother, Margaret(Piper Laurie). While showering after a school gym class one day, Carrie suddenly sees blood running from between her legs. Terrified by this, she runs to her schoolmates in the changing rooms screaming for help. They laugh at her, frighten her and all stand around throwing tampons and pads at her.

Photo1802
Miss Collins tries to cheer Carrie up. Screenshot by me.

Gym teacher Miss Collins(Betty Buckley)intervenes and gets the girls to stop. Miss Collins punishes the girls involved in the changing room incident with a series of harsh detentions on the sports pitch, at which she takes great delight in pushing them to their physical limits in gruelling exercise routines. Miss Collins is the only person who seems to care about Carrie, and the way Betty plays the role it’s hinted that she may have been a bullying victim herself and sees something of herself in Carrie. 

Photo1820
Chris and Norma. Screenshot by me.

The leader of the bullies are Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen), one of those girls who thinks they are the be all and end all wherever they go, and the giggling Norma( P.J. Soles).When Chris gets confrontational with Miss Collins, the teacher expels her, and also bans her from attending the upcoming prom which she had been so looking forward to. 

Photo1819
Amy Irving as Sue Snell. Screenshot by me.

Sue Snell(Amy Irving)is another of the bullies, but she seems to become genuinely sorry for what she and the others have done to Carrie. She asks her boyfriend, Tommy Ross(William Katt), to take Carrie to the prom instead of her. At first Tommy, who is one of the most popular and cool lads in school, is aghast at this idea, but as he spends time with Carrie he genuinely starts to like her.

Tommy and Carrie gradually develop a connection. Unbeknown to Sue and Tommy, Chris and some of the others are plotting revenge on Carrie for Chris being expelled. The vote for prom king and queen will be rigged, with Tommy and Carrie being named the winners. When the pair come on stage, a huge bucket of pigs blood will be dropped on them; this will then cause Carrie to be humiliated in front of her fellow students and the staff.

What nobody apart from Carrie knows, is that once she got her period, she has been developing telekinesis. We see her unable to control this power and we see that it causes weird things to happen to objects and people around her if she gets angry or scared. On the night of the prom, Carrie’s power will lead the damaged girl to wreak a fiery revenge on those who pull the cruellest of pranks.

Photo1816
Carrie leaves her classmates to burn. Screenshot by me.

The ending of Carrie is both horrific and shocking. Carrie snaps and unleashes her power to kill everyone at the prom.Carrie doesn’t even seem to be in control of herself anymore, her power takes over and she mentally removes herself from what is going on around her. People that Carrie didn’t even really know are killed too, along with the bullies who made her life hell. The tragedy is that she thinks everyone there was laughing at her after the blood drops. Only Norma and one other person are shown laughing amongst the crowd, everybody else there actually looks horrified and sad. Carrie latches onto the laughter and then in her mind thinks everyone(even her beloved Miss Collins)is laughing at her. She traps everyone in the gym where the prom is being held and seals them in to burn. It’s difficult to watch, yet at the same time we remember that many who die were utter scum to this poor girl before this event, so our hearts don’t exactly break for them. 

Sissy and Piper deliver the standout performances of the film. Piper is utterly convincing as a deranged and devout woman who not only hates her own child, but who also hates herself for having enjoyed the sex which resulted in Carrie being born.

The rest of the cast are all superb too. Nancy Allen plays Chris as a real super bitch, someone so mean that you can’t help but cheer when she gets what’s coming to her. Betty Buckley is excellent as the kind Miss Collins, her performance is subtle but affecting. Betty also dubbed the voice of the kid on the bike who taunts Carrie, only to be thrown off his bike by her power. Amy Irving is good as Sue, and she makes us wonder about her motivation and how much regret she feels about her actions towards Carrie. William Katt does a great job of the cool heartthrob who is at first unsure about getting together with Carrie, but then genuinely starts to like her and likes not having to have his guard up around her all the time. Through William’s excellent performance, we also see that he doesn’t have it easy at school either. Look out for a young John Travolta, in an early role as Chris’s booze and sex obsessed boyfriend. 

The music by Pino Donaggio is absolutely beautiful. His music adds so much to the overall tone and atmosphere of the film. Moving from emotional and dreamlike, to suspenseful and eerie. The gorgeous cinematography and use of colours by Mario Tosi is also worthy of much praise too. The film looks beautiful.

I have to mention the infamous period scene. The scene is very difficult to watch and yet also very interesting due to what it has to say about women’s bodies. Periods are certainly messy and unpleasant, and your first one can certainly be alarming when it arrives, as shown in Carrie’s reaction in the film. But having a period is a natural process and shouldn’t be feared. I like the moment where Miss Collins gently tells Carrie to calm down and that she will tell her all about what has just happened to her. I always laugh at the scene where Miss Collins then goes to speak to the deputy head of the school about the period incident, he gets visibly uncomfortable with the subject matter being discussed, and becomes even more so when he sees blood on Miss Collins clothing from where Carrie grabbed her. The deputy head seems revolted by this natural bodily function.

Sadly even today there is still quite a stigma attached to the female menstrual cycle where men are concerned. Men, and even bizarrely some women, get incredibly awkward speaking about periods. It’s also been discovered that many women/girls are living in period poverty, and don’t have access to pads or tampons, something which is absolutely shocking. We should be much more open as a society about periods and ensure that all women get access to sanitary products. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of periods. We must also make sure that girls are properly informed about periods when they’re younger so they know that they will happen to them. 

Interestingly it is the onset of her period which also sees the start of Carrie’s powers developing. Is this coincidence? Has becoming a woman set this all off, or was the power always there but the stress of this traumatic event set it off in her? Carrie’s mum very worryingly sees her daughter getting her first period as being a sinful occurrence. In her warped view she sees her daughter as no longer being innocent or the same because her periods have started. Blood and the colour red play a key role in the film and feature heavily throughout. I think this could well be the most period centric film I’ve ever seen in my life. 

The film was very successful at the box office, taking in $33.8 million dollars. Over the years the film has become one of the most popular and famous horror films of all time. Its famous shock ending/dream sequence inspired multiple similar sequences in both film and television. Cool bit of trivia is that the hand in that sequence actually belonged to Sissy Spacek, who was buried for real beneath that dirt in order to perform in that sequence. This film has lost none of its power to shock, move or scare audiences. A 2013 remake lacked the emotion and horror of the original, although I did like the way that film showed social media and mobile phones being used in Carrie’s bullying. 

What do you think of this film? 

Uncategorized

The Noirathon Begins

Noir blogathon banner 1

The time has come for all us guys and dames who love Film Noir to assemble here at Maddy’s Club. Over the next three days, a large number of Noir fans will share their reviews and articles on all things Film Noir. Keep checking back to this post over the next three days to read all the entries.  

Massive thanks to those of you who are taking part. I can’t wait to read all those entries. 

Day 3 Entries

Gabriela from Pale Writer returns with a second entry, this time discussing the pairing of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in Noir films.

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society discusses The Dark Mirror

Ruth from Silver Screenings discusses the villain in Kansas City Confidential. 

Movie Night’s Group Guide To Classic Films writes about The Blue Gardenia.

Movie Rob takes a look at The Woman In The Window.

Gabriela from Pale Writer brings Lizabeth Scott to the Noir party, with her article on Dead Reckoning.

Mike from Films On The Box shares his thoughts on Fear In The Night, a 1940’s Noir starring DeForest Kelley.

Erica from Poppity Talks Classic Film, discusses the Noir classic They live By Night.

Movie Rob talks about about Scene Of The Crime, a Noir starring Van Johnson.

Noir banner 3

Day 2 Entries

Quiggy at the Midnite Drive-In tells us all about Abbot And Costello parodying Film Noir

The Lonely Critic brings some Japanese Noir to the party, as he discusses High And Low. 

Movie Rob discusses the Barbara Stanwyck classic Sorry, Wrong Number

Le from Critica Retro discusses Tension, a Noir from 1949. 

Clarissa from Stars And Letters shares letters from famous fans of The Killers.

Realweegiemidget joins us a second time to discuss John Wick: Chapter 3 .

John V’s Eclectic Avenue shares his thoughts on The Chase.

Noir banner 2

Day 1 Entries

Carol from The Old Hollywood Garden discusses friendships in Film Noir.

Portraits From Jenni writes about one of the best Noir’s of the 1950’s, the gripping Pickup On South Street

Noirish discusses The True Story Of Lynn Stuart, a lesser known Noir film from 1958.

Paddy from Caftan Woman joins all the Noir fun, by sharing her thoughts on Thieves Highway. 

Andrew from The Stop Button shares his thoughts on In A Lonely Place, one of the most famous of all Noir films. 

Gill from Realweegiemidgetreviews brings Keanu Reeves to the Noir party. She discusses John Wick: Chapter 2, which is a modern Noir. 

Erin from Cinematic Scribblings invites us to take a trip to the British seaside, for her review of the brilliant British Noir Brighton Rock

Steve from Movie Movie Blog Blog II joins us to discuss Laura, truly one of the great classics of the genre. 

I write about Murder, My SweetCry Of The City and Dark Passage.

Uncategorized

The Noirathon: Dark Passage(1947)

Noir banner 3

Dark Passage is one of the most underrated and interesting of all of the 1940’s Noir films. Quite why this one isn’t discussed more often is beyond me. It’s a very different looking Noir film to most, and it is also one which provides us with a glimpse of a far more vulnerable and tender side to Noir tough guy/hero Humphrey Bogart.

The Humphrey Bogart we see in this film is far removed from the smooth and tough screen hero we’re used to seeing, that man who can get himself out of any scrape and not be phased by what happens to him. His character in this film however is a desperate, awkward and very frightened man, a man who has no control over his situation. It’s rare to see Bogie in such a role. Personally I would have liked to have seen him play more similar characters because this one shows what a great range he had as an actor.Dark Passage poster Bogie’s romantic and affectionate scenes with his co-star and wife Lauren Bacall, are amongst some of the most tender I’ve ever seen the couple perform on screen. Dark Passage would mark the third time that Bogie and Bacall had worked together in a film. Their final screen pairing would come the following year with Key Largo.

Photo1794
Bogie and Bacall get intimate as Vince and Irene. Screenshot by me.

Director Delmar Daves shot a large amount of Dark Passage with a subjective camera technique. This technique shows the film unfold before us entirely from the point of view of Humphrey Bogart’s character. For most of the film we don’t see his characters face at all, but we do hear his voice. When we finally do see his face, it is his heavily bandaged face. The film is one hour and 41 minutes long, but it takes about an hour before Bogie’s face actually appears on screen. This visual style more than anything else about the film is what makes it such an unusual one.

Photo1791
The bandaged Vince. Those eyes sure do look familiar. Screenshot by me.

The point of view photography was pretty risky when you think about it. Bogie was one of the biggest film stars on the planet at the time this film was made. Not showing his face for such a large part of the film was a gamble.  Bogie was the draw for a large amount of the audience and they could very easily have walked out of screenings thinking they weren’t going to get to see the man himself. 

Photo1781
We see what Vince is looking at for much of the film. Screenshot by me.

Interestingly, Dark Passage is actually not alone in the Noir genre for its use of this camera technique.Actor Robert Montgomery had caused quite a stir when he had directed and starred in another Noir film, Lady In The Lake, which had been released earlier in 1947. That film had been shot almost entirely from the point of view of the character Philip Marlowe, who Montgomery played, and the film became quite the talking point because of the way it was shot.

Delmer Daves also shot much of his film on location in San Francisco and this, coupled with the point of view sequences, ensured that there was quite a realistic and different feel about this film. The film is based upon the 1946 novel of the same name written by David Goodis. Delmer Daves wrote the screenplay in addition to sitting in the directors chair.

Photo1782
Irene appears to help Vince. Screenshot by me.

The film tells the story of Vincent Parry(Humphrey Bogart), a man who is imprisoned for the murder of his wife, a crime that he insists he didn’t commit. Vince escapes from prison and is pursued by the law. Vince is picked up by a guy who agrees to give him a lift.

A news report comes on the car radio describing this man’s passenger. Vince beats the driver up, drags him into some bushes by the roadside and takes his shoes. Suddenly another car pulls up, and out gets a young artist called Irene Jansen(Lauren Bacall). Vince doesn’t know her, but she seems to know him(this is all explained later in the film). She tells him to come with her and she will help him. Irene drives him to San Francisco.

                               The roadblock sequence. Screenshot by me. 

Vince and Irene encounter a roadblock on the Golden Gate Bridge, which leads to a very suspenseful sequence where Irene has to act casual to throw off the suspicions of the policeman who stops her car. Vince hides underneath a large covered pile of her art supplies and narrowly avoids being discovered. Once in the city, Vince gets help from a back-street doctor (Housley Stevenson)who performs plastic surgery on him to give him a new face. 

Photo1787
Who’s in the mood for some plastic surgery? Screenshot by me.

The scene where Vince prepares for surgery is a standout, and it is made so by the dubious character of the doctor and his fabulous dialogue and laughter as he prepares his patient for surgery – “Ever seen a botched plastic job? If a man like me didn’t like a fella, he could surely fix him up for life. Make him look like a bulldog or a monkey!”. I doubt a man would want to get a shave off this dude, let alone willingly sit back and let him perform facial surgery on them. As the anaesthetic takes effect on Vince, he enters a bizarre nightmare, one where images and conversations he’s had get all mixed up as he goes under.  

Photo1788
Part of the nightmare Vince has. Screenshot by me.

Vince emerges with a new face and recovers from the surgery at Irene’s apartment. She nurses him. Once recovered, Vince changes his name and sets about trying to investigate his wife’s murder. His investigation is difficult and dangerous.His only ally in all of this is Irene. The person who knows the truth about his innocence or guilt is Madge Rapf(a scene stealing Agnes Moorehead), the woman whose evidence in court was crucial in getting him put away.

Photo1796
Agnes Moorehead as Madge. Screenshot by me.

Agnes delivers one of her best performances here. She’s a real nasty piece of work in this film. Madge is the sort of dame who sucks people in, charms them and then discards them like trash. She’s a whole lot of mean encased in one beautiful and glamorous exterior. I hope that Agnes had a lot of fun with this role because it sure looks like she relished playing the part. Such a shame that she didn’t get to play more bad girls in more Noir films. 

Bogie and Bacall are both absolutely terrific here. They convince as a couple thrown together in unusual circumstances who begin to fall in love.  Bogie does a good job of playing a more vulnerable and wounded character than he usually played. Much of his performance here comes via his voice and by the look in his eyes, it’s a more subtle performance than many of his others. He also makes us root for Vince and admire his determination to risk himself in order to find out the truth. Lauren delivers one of her best performances in my opinion. I love her as the determined, confident and fearless Irene. I also find her character so interesting because she is actually quite symbolic. 

                               Irene removes Vince’s bandages. Screenshot by me. 

Irene is the traditional white knight figure(a role usually played by men)to Bogie’s man in distress. She appears to him out of nowhere and saves him several times. She nurses him, supports him and stands by him. She is his guardian angel. She is his safe port in the hellish storm he finds himself caught up in. You could also say that Irene serves as a symbolic mother too, due to her being the one to bring the new Vince into the world so to speak. Vince doesn’t remove his bandages, it is Irene who does that, and in the process reveals his new self to him. Irene is also the one who chooses a new name(identity)for Vince, so if you look at it one way, it is she who brings this new man to life. Farewell, Vincent Parry. Hello to Alan. 

The entire supporting cast all deliver solid performances. The film is an interesting mystery and contains a lot of suspense and thrills. Some of the plot certainly does come across as being extremely far fetched, but somehow the film still manages to work despite that. It is a film that deserves to be much more widely discussed and appreciated today. I highly recommend this one to fellow Noir fans. 

Have you seen this? Leave your thoughts below. This is my final entry for my Noir Blogathon being held this weekend. 

Uncategorized

The Noirathon: Cry Of The City(1948)

Noir banner 2

Cry Of The City is a Film Noir which plays out like a 1940’s Greek tragedy. It is a poignant and powerful tale of injustice, love, the desire for a second chance and the inability to avoid the hand dealt to us by fate. This film not only makes us fully support and sympathise with the supposed villain of the piece, but it also gets us to sympathise with the detective who is tasked with pursuing him.

                            Candella and Martin have much in common. Screenshots by me. 

The hero and villain both developing a mutual respect or realising that they are both more alike than they’d care to admit, is undoubtedly one of the oldest of the storytelling tropes, and I think that this trope is put to very effective use indeed in Cry Of The City. This film takes that trope one step further than most, by revealing to us that the two main characters, Martin Rome and Lt. Vitorrio Candella, had both grown up in the same crime infested slum and were friends as children. Both men went down very different paths in life. They both see the other as the living embodiment of the type of person they could easily have become had things turned out differently for them. 

Cry of the city poster

In some ways I consider Cry Of The City to be quite similar to Michael Mann’s Heat(1995). Both films have the criminal and the cop beginning to respect, understand and even like each other the more they interact with one another. Both films also go far beneath the surface of their lead characters to show us the souls of both men, and in doing so both films allow us to see that their characters are more similar than they are dissimilar. 

Cry Of The City is directed by Robert Siodmak(The Spiral Staircase, The Killers). Siodmak was loaned out from Universal Studios in order to make this film for Twentieth Century Fox. The film is based upon the 1947 novel The Chair For Martin Rome by Henry Edward Helseth. Twentieth Century Fox purchased the rights to the novel not too long after it was published and they adapted it for the screen very quickly. The film was shot on location on the streets of New York. This one joins the ranks of those other Noir flicks whose location work lends an almost documentary look to the finished film.  

                          Martin doesn’t like what Niles has to say. Screenshots by me. 

Hardened criminal Martin Rome(Richard Conte), kills a police officer in a shootout and is himself injured and taken to hospital under guard. He is visited there by shady lawyer, Niles(Berry Kroeger),who tries to get Martin to confess to a robbery and murder which were actually committed by another client of his, a fellow criminal called Whitey Leggatt, and a female accomplice called Rose(a scene stealing Hope Emerson, playing a masseuse who you really wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of).

Photo1772
Martin sets out to put things right. Screenshot by me.

Martin quite rightly refuses to take the rap for something he didn’t do, but this then leads Niles to threaten Martin’s gentle and innocent fiance, Teena(Debra Paget, in her debut film role). Martin attacks him and is transferred to a prison hospital. 

The injured Martin breaks out of prison(a sequence which is one of my favourite in any Noir film)and goes on the run. Martin must now protect his girl, find out who really committed the murder and theft Niles has tried to pin on him, and also try and evade Lt. Candella(Victor Mature), the detective who is trying to capture him.  Martin has help in the form of his ex-girlfriend, Brenda(Shelley Winters) in tracking down the female accomplice in the murder and theft. While all of this is going on Martin is gradually succumbing more and more to his injury. 

“There won’t be any shooting in this house as long as Mama’s here!”

While the two main characters in the film are male, there are also many memorable female characters. The women of Cry Of The City not only represent the different types of women found in life, but they also serve to show us what women must contend with in the world of crime, death and darkness that is Film Noir.

Teena ,Brenda, Mama and Rose. Screenshots by me. 

Teena is naive to the dark realities of the life her beloved Martin is a part of. Teena doesn’t care what he has done, she only cares that they love each other and she believes they will get a happy ending. Brenda is a more worldly gal, one who is wise to the realities and goes along with it all. Brenda has a heart of gold and will do anything for anyone. Rose knows the realities of this world all too well. Rose is a strong woman who plays men at their own game and also rather interestingly lives a life of complete independence running her own massage business. Mama Rome represents the woman who is the heart of the home and has an inner strength which helps her survive the bad times in life. Mama is also someone who never stops loving their children, even if those children take a wrong step along the path of life. 

Photo1773
Martin and his Mama. Screenshot by me.

The film also focuses very heavily on the importance of family and on the personal life of the criminal. When Rome is in the home of his elderly mother(Mimi Aguglia), he leaves his dodgy activities outside the door, and it is she, rather than him, who is the boss of that home. She is everything to him. She knows what he does and isn’t afraid to call him out on what he does.

In a very poignant scene she confesses that she should have put a stop to him getting into a bad life when he was younger, but he sent her money and she needed it and accepted it without asking questions. Their relationship is the heart of the film and their relationship is tinged with sadness. She also worries for his fiance because she knows that their relationship will most likely end in heartbreak(she ain’t wrong). 

Photo1780
Richard Conte is at his best in this film. Screenshot by me.

Richard Conte delivers one of his best performances in this film. His performance as Martin Rome has become my favourite from his work. He is a regular face in Film Noir and remains best known to fans for his chilling and sadistic performance in The Big Combo.

This film offers him a very different type of role. Martin Rome is certainly a bad guy, but he isn’t sadistic, mean or unhinged. Martin wants to get married and escape his criminal life. He has done bad things in the past but he longs for a clean slate and a second chance. I love the nuance that Richard brings to this character. Richard is tough with a don’t mess with me attitude one moment, and then the next he is vulnerable and shows us the man beneath the protective macho mask.  He has you on his side completely and makes you long for a happy ending for him, all the while knowing full well that such endings are rare beasts indeed in Noir. 

Photo1766
Victor Mature as Candella. Screenshot by me.

Victor Mature really surprised me the first time I saw this film. I have never really thought much of him as an actor(I mean no disrespect when I say that)but he blew me away in this. He steals every scene he is in and his performance is often quite subtle. Watch his eyes and body language in this because he conveys so much with both. He more than convinces as the tough and capable cop who will do what must be done.

In some ways Victor has the more interesting character of the two to portray because there is alot going on emotionally/psychologically with him. Candella doesn’t just see Martin as a criminal who he must bring to justice. Candella knows the childhood Martin endured and remembers what it was like, but Candella had the sense and strength to say no to crime and walk away, whereas Martin got sucked into that life. He sympathises with Martin in many ways, but he never pities him because at the end of the day he could have turned his back on that life and didn’t. Candella also loves and respects Mama Rome and has known her since he was a kid. He knows that whatever he does to Martin will hurt her and we know that he feels awful because of that fact. 

Photo1770
Candella and Mama Rome. Screenshot by me.

Candella won’t give Martin a free ride because of their shared history, he will pursue him because he is on the side of the law. I also love how Candella realises he can’t save Martin, but he can try to save Martin’s kid brother Tony from following his brother into a life of crime.

This subplot is very moving and you are on Candella’s side in his endeavour, even though your heart goes out to Tony for his loyalty to his older brother who he idolises. This is a good example of the power of this film, it has you rooting for the heroes and the criminals, often at the same time. It is a film which packs quite an emotional wallop.

Hope Emerson steals all her scenes as the deadly Rose. She literally towers over other cast members due to her size and is a very imposing and dominating figure.

Photo1779
Hope Emerson as Rose speaks with Martin. Screenshot by me.

The character of Rose is fascinating. Who can forget that moment when you see what she is capable of doing with her hands to defend herself? While Rose isn’t in that many scenes, she becomes possibly the most memorable character in the film. She is certainly one of the most unforgettable women in Film Noir in general. 

The supporting cast all deliver solid performances. Debra Paget’s performance in particular is very moving and exceptional for a screen debut. I can’t recommend this one highly enough to Noir fans. If you like a gritty, suspenseful, moving and bleak film, then this is certainly one for you. 

Have you seen this film? What do you think of it?

This is my second entry for my Noir blogathon being held at the end of this month. 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

The Noirathon: Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Noir blogathon banner 1When I hear or read the words Film Noir, Murder, My Sweet is always the first film which springs into my mind. Every single part of this flick screams Film Noir. There’s the moody and foreboding atmosphere, the voiceover, the cunning femme fatale, stunning cinematography(by Harry J. Wild) and lighting, intriguing characters and twisty story, and all of that fabulous Noir dialogue – “The joint looked like trouble, but that didn’t bother me. Nothing bothered me, the two twenties felt nice and snug against my appendix.” “A black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom.”

Photo1755
Marlowe sees his latest client reflected in the window of his office. Screenshot by me.

For this Noir fan, Murder, My Sweet is the film which perfectly encapsulates what Film Noir is all about. Not only is it my favourite Noir film, but I consider it to be the ultimate Noir flick.

In this film we also get prime examples of the types of men and women who roam the dark alleys of Film Noir. There are the ruthless and the evil, the desperate and the damaged, the cynical and the hopeful, the victims and the victors. In the form of Dick Powell’s Philip Marlowe, the film also gives us one of the best depictions of the cynical and witty Noir veteran, someone who has seen and done it all and is no longer phased by the darker sides of humanity when they encounter them going through life.

Murder my sweet poster

Murder, My Sweet is directed by Edward Dmytryk and is based upon Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely. This novel was the second book to feature the character of private detective Philip Marlowe. The first novel to feature Marlowe was The Big Sleep, but it was this second novel which would end up being the first to be adapted for the screen.

The rights to Chandler’s novel were bought by RKO Studios and it wouldn’t be long before the studio made a film adaptation of Chandler’s work. In 1942, the plot of Farewell, My Lovely formed the basis of the third film in the popular Falcon series, The Falcon Takes Over. While George Sander’s charming gentlemen sleuth, Gay Lawrence replaced Marlowe as the hero of that film, the rest of its story and characters are essentially the same as those found in Chandler’s novel. 

falcon takes over

Just a couple of years after making The Falcon Takes Over, RKO would go on to make this much more faithful screen adaptation of the story. The film title would be changed from Farewell, My Lovely, to Murder, My Sweet, in the hopes that audiences wouldn’t mistake it for one of the musicals leading man Dick Powell usually made. 

Photo1758
Dick Powell changed his screen image when he played Marlowe. Screenshot by me.

For the role of the cynical and tough private detective Philip Marlowe, baby-faced screen crooner Dick Powell was cast. At this point in his career Dick Powell was best known as the screen partner of tap dancing sensation Ruby Keeler in a series of popular film musicals. 

Dick however was getting tired of his current career and was trying to get more meaty roles.He had desperately wanted to play the role of Walter Neff in 1944’s other Noir classic, Double IndemnityCharles Koerner, the head of RKO Studios, was the person ultimately responsible for Dick being able to go and create a new screen image for himself. Koerner made a screentest with Dick for the role of Marlowe and signed him for the role after seeing that test. 

Dick’s performance in Murder, My Sweet more than proved what a good dramatic actor he could be. He went on to appear in many more Noir and dramatic roles after this. His casting in this film was a big gamble, but he turned out to be well worth the risk and is considered by many fans(myself included) to be the best screen Marlowe. I can’t get enough of Dick Powell in this film and in his other serious roles.I also love his anthology TV series The Dick Powell Show and Four Star Playhouse too. 

Photo1761
Philip Marlowe. Screenshot by me.

I love how Dick manages to capture and convey the perfect balance between Marlowe’s toughness and cynicism, his humour/laid back attitude and his almost childlike curiosity and delight at some of the things he does and encounters.

Over the years many actors have played Marlowe on the big and small screen. Raymond Chandler preferred Humphrey Bogart’s performance as Marlowe, but I think Dick Powell is the best actor to have ever taken on this role. As much as I like Bogie as Marlowe, I feel that Dick Powell understood the character a bit better and captured both sides of his personality. I consider Dick’s Marlowe to be the character from the books, while Bogie’s Marlowe never feels like the complete guy to me.

The film begins with a blindfolded Philip Marlowe(Dick Powell)being interrogated by the police. In flashback we learn about the events which led him to come to be in this room. Murder, My Sweet tells a story filled with a great many twists and turns. Marlowe is hired by a tall ex-con by the name of Moose Malloy(Mike Mazurki), to try and find his missing girlfriend, Velma Valento.

Photo1395
Marlowe and Mrs. Grayle have an instant attraction. Screenshot by me.

When Marlowe and Malloy start looking for the missing dame it seems that nobody knows anything about her.

While working for Malloy, Marlowe is also hired by Lindsay Marriott to accompany him to a meeting to get back a stolen jade necklace.  Marlowe goes with him to the meet, only for Marlowe to be knocked unconscious and Marriott to be killed.

Marlowe soon discovers the jade belongs to Mrs. Helen Grayle, the knockout and much younger wife of old Judge Grayle. Marlowe is intrigued by Helen and there is an instant attraction between the two. Marlowe is also quite taken by Helen’s feisty and angry stepdaughter, Ann(Anne Shirley in her final film role)who absolutely hates Helen. Gradually Marlowe’s two cases converge and he realises that all is not as it may seem. 

The standout sequence in the film is Marlowe’s disturbing nightmare brought on by the drugs pumped into him by his captors. It’s a visually impressive, trippy and weird sequence. It captures the weirdness of nightmares and the horror of not being in control once drugs get hold of the poor sap whose system they’ve crept into. It’s an impressive and memorable sequence which must have blown audiences away back in 1944.

Dick Powell is superb as the much put upon Marlowe and delivers one of the best performances in the entire Noir genre. He makes us like him and root for him. He effortlessly delivers all of that hilarious and laid back dialogue. He also leaves us in no doubt that he can take care of himself and be tough. He is also someone who you can relax around and have a laugh with. Marlowe is an everyman. I also love that we see he doesn’t get much in return for risking his neck all the while. Marlowe lives in a small apartment and certainly doesn’t live the high life. 

Photo1764
Marlowe begins to feel the effects of the drugs. Screenshot by me.

Marlowe is really put through the wringer in this film. What I dig most about Marlowe in this film is that he looks rough after his double dose of imprisonment and forced drug injections.This dude looks worn out, tired, ill and battered several times in this film, and that lends a great amount of realism to what we’re seeing. There’s no James Bond glamour or a quick dusting off and getting right back to it to be found here. Marlowe really suffers in this film. Dick more than convinces us of the pain and distress Marlowe is undergoing throughout this film. I also like that Marlowe doesn’t let his experiences change him into a hard and cold man. He may well be cynical and tough, but he always remains likeable and on the side of good in spite of what he himself has endured. 

Photo1760
Claire Trevor. Screenshot by me.

Claire Trevor is excellent as the bad to the bone Mrs. Grayle. While she soon realises her charms don’t work on Marlowe, she never the less doesn’t stop trying to get him under her thumb. Claire leaves us in no doubt that her character is a strong and controlling woman who won’t rest until she has what she wants. 

Photo1759
Anne Shirley. Screenshot by me.

Anne Shirley is fiery, gentle and innocent all at once as the heroine of the piece. Ann is a gentle girl driven to distraction by her poisonous stepmother but never loses her humanity or kindness. I think it’s a great shame Anne never made another film after this. 

Photo1762
Mike Mazurki. Screenshot by me.

Mike Mazurki is tragic, funny and loveable all at once as the gentle giant, Moose Malloy. Moose is slow witted and ends up becoming the real victim of the film. Marlowe is his only genuine ally. 

  Esther Howard as Jessie. Screenshots by me. 

Esther Howard nearly steals the show with her appearance as the booze riddled Jessie Florian. Jessie’s dead husband owned the bar where Velma used to work and Marlowe thinks she may be able to help him. Esther delivers one of the best drunk impressions in all of cinema. She cuts a funny and tragic figure too. 

The rest of the cast are all solid and everyone, even those in small roles, get their chance to shine in this film. If I could only recommend one film to a Noir newbie to watch it would be this one. Murder, My Sweet is one of the best in the entire genre. It’s one I return to again and again and always enjoy.  Close the blinds, turn out the lights, pour a bourbon and settle down to watch this Noir classic. You won’t regret the time spent in the company of Mr. Philip Marlowe. 

What do you think of this film? Let me know in the comments below. 

This is my first entry for the Noir blogathon I’m hosting later this month.

Uncategorized

The Daphne Du Maurier Blogathon: My Favourite Author

DuMaurier blogathon.png

Gabriela from Pale Writer is hosting this blogathon honouring the author Daphne Du Maurier. Be sure to visit Gabriela’s site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

When I saw the announcement for this blogathon, I just knew that I had to take part. Daphne Du Maurier is my favourite author. I am so happy that both she and her work are being honoured with this blogathon.

Dpahne Du Maurier
The star of our Blogathon. Daphne Du Maurier. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

I have been a fan of Daphne Du Maurier since my early teens.I have always been an avid reader. Most weekends would find me going into my local library and borrowing a big pile of books.

Whilst browsing the library shelves one day, I came across their Daphne Du Maurier section, and I decided that I would pick a couple of her novels to try.

I knew the name Daphne Du Maurier at this point because I had already seen Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Rebecca, but I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t familiar with Daphne or her work beyond that.

After reading and thoroughly enjoying both Rebecca and Jamaica Inn I became hooked. I knew that I wanted to immerse myself in more of Daphne’s books.

What drew me most to her work was her strong female characters, and also her focus on the more complex side of life and humanity. Her novels also often deal with some very unusual subject matter. Many of her novels are set in her beloved Cornwall and I love how she writes about this place that she knew so well.

I also loved and appreciated how complicated and different her characters were to those found in so many of the other novels I’d been reading up until I discovered her work. I made sure that I got my hands on as many of her books as I could from that point on. I have been a fan ever since. 

Photo1747
My treasured Daphne Du Maurier collection.

When I read Daphne’s novels, I’m always struck most by how her words and descriptions manage to paint such vivid images for me. This is the main reason that she has become my favourite author.  

The characters, situations, landscapes, furnishings, clothes etc all spring so clearly into my mind when I read her descriptions of them. No other author conjures up such clear images for me when I read their work. Daphne had that rare gift to be able to drag you into the times, places and situations that she was writing about, and she could make them all come alive so vividly for her readers. I also love how well developed and real her characters are. 

I especially love her strong heroines; ladies like Mary Yellan in Jamaica Inn; Lady Dona in Frenchman’s Creek; the nameless second Mrs. DeWinter and the dead Rebecca in Rebecca. Mary and Dona in particular are very interesting female characters because they don’t conform to the gender norms of their respective time periods.

Mary Yellan isn’t meek, and nor is she content to just sit quietly in the corner sewing. Mary is brave and fearless, and she also puts up with unhappiness and violence to stay with her timid and bullied Aunt Patience. Mary endures much, but she doesn’t allow herself to be broken by cruelty and darkness. She also has no illusions that love and relationships are always all sweetness and light either. Mary takes the rough with the smooth and isn’t cowed by anyone or anything.

Photo1752Lady Dona is a headstrong and passionate woman who is trapped in a loveless marriage. Dona longs for adventure and she finds that in the form of a dashing pirate. Dona leaves her life as a wife, mother and secondary citizen of her own country, to take charge of her own life. She becomes liberated to do the things that she wants to do, not the things that society and her husband think she should be doing and enjoying. 

The second Mrs. DeWinter starts off as shy and fragile, and as someone who is at first completely eclipsed by the memory of the dead Rebecca. She gradually comes out of her shell and becomes a strong woman, one who takes control of her home, embraces her power as mistress of that home, and ultimately becomes much more confident and worldly. 

Then there is the dead Rebecca, a woman whose past deeds, sexuality, much admired beauty and indomitable spirit, continue to impact the lives of the living long after she herself has departed the earth. Rebecca was controlled and dominated by nobody. She was also a strong and determined woman. Rebecca may have been cruel and done things that we don’t agree with, but it’s hard not to admire her for doing her own thing and being so strong in the time period that the novel is set in. It’s hard to forget the women in Daphne’s novels because they are so strong and full of life. I love how Daphne gave us female characters who could not only be strong like men, but who could also have just as much adventure and excitement as any man. 

Daphne’s work has often been adapted for the big and small screen several times over the years, but no director apart from Alfred Hitchcock has ever been able to truly capture the atmosphere and power of her novels in my opinion. I find that other screen adaptations of her either omit or alter far too much of Daphne’s source material.

Jamaica inn 1
Jamaica Inn(1939). Image source IMDb.
Frenchman's creek
Video cover for Frenchman’s Creek(1998). Image source IMDb.

 I have enjoyed the various screen adaptations on their own merits, but I think that none of them, apart from Hitchcock’s adaptation of Rebecca, have been as good as the novels upon which they are based. Hungry Hill is a perfect example of this. The film is certainly an enjoyable enough period drama, but it is also an appalling adaptation of Daphne’s novel because it rushes and truncates a 500 plus page novel which is set over several generations. The film version of Hungry Hill has lost so much of the detail from the novel, that I for one never feel as if I’ve connected with these characters, or endured their struggles and tragedies with them the way that I do when reading the novel. 

hungry hill
Poster for Hungry Hill(1948). Image source IMDb.
Rebecca
Rebecca(1940). Image source IMDb.

 Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Rebecca, while slightly altering the circumstances in which Rebecca met her death, is a near perfect adaptation of Daphne’s novel. Hitchcock captured the atmosphere and power of the novel so well. It’s therefore baffling to me that Hitchcock could give us that masterpiece, and yet he also gave us the terrible screen adaptation of Jamaica Inn, a film which shifts the focus off of our heroine Mary Yellan and instead makes Charles Laughton’s Sir Humphrey the primary character and focus. This is one of Daphne’s most exciting and detailed novels, but I feel that the film sadly lacks the grittiness, the adventure and the mystery which are all so strongly present in the novel.

Hitchcock also adapted Daphne’s short story The Birds, and while that film also bears little resemblance to her book, at least The Birds is a very good and scary film. Jamaica Inn on the other hand just leaves me shaking my head wondering what the heck went wrong there. 😒It seems to me that Daphne’s novels are so detailed that they prove difficult for screenwriters and directors to adapt properly for the screen. Indeed many of her stories have never been adapted at all.

I for one would love to see screen adaptations of The House On The Strand, Julius or The Loving Spirit, but I think they would present many challenges for whoever took on that task due to the length and depth of the novels.  I can well appreciate how difficult it is to adapt novels for film and television. The trouble is that by cutting or rushing the source material for the transition to the screen, the story and overall film/series suffers because too much of what made the source novel so powerful and affecting to begin with is lost in the process. 

Some screen adaptations of her work that I do think are pretty good are Rebecca (1940), Rebecca (1979, British miniseries starring Joanna David and Jeremy Brett), Jamaica Inn (2014, although even this miniseries pales in comparison to the novel for me). 

I’d like to mention three of Daphne’s novels that I think everybody should read. If you have read any of these before, then I would love to know what you think of them. 

Photo1749Daphne’s third novel, Julius, which was published in 1933, is her most ambitious and absorbing novel in my opinion. The novel focuses on one of the most complex, cold, cruel and fascinating characters ever written.

The main character is Julius Levy, a man who puts business and his own self interest before emotion, family and the people caught up in his life.

The only person he cares about his daughter, Gabriel, and their relationship with one another is very strange having an almost incestuous overtone to it.

Julius adores his daughter and his obsessed with her, I would say that he is clearly in love with her and desires her. The irony is that she has inherited his emotional distance, and his despicable attitude to other people, so that no matter how me may love her,he in return means nothing to her. The way that this relationship ends is shocking and tragic. I love how Daphne makes us become equally fascinated and appalled by Julius and his actions. We may loath him and be frustrated by him, but this book is impossible to put down because it is such a gripping and enthralling tale which sucks you in. 

Photo1751Hungry Hill is one of my most favourite Du Maurier novels. It is an interesting and tragic tale focusing on several generations of the same family. ‘Copper’ John Broderick is the builder of a mine in 1820’s Ireland. The mine is inherited by his son and passed down to future generations.

A curse is placed on that mine on the hill by John’s sworn enemy, Morty Donovan. The mine is beset by many difficulties and future generations of John’s male heirs suffer early deaths, tragedy and despair. Is it the curse or just a bizarre twist of fate?

I find the novel interesting because it makes us bear witness to an entire families life, desires, tragedies, loves, secrets and legacy across the generations. We are made to understand and sympathise with why certain characters have become who they are. I also like how the Broderick home of Clonmere becomes a key character itself. I also like how Daphne shows us that it can be difficult for the next generation to live up to reputation and deeds of their ancestors, especially when they are expected to take up their mantle. Interestingly, Daphne claimed that the Brodericks were based upon ancestors of her friend Christopher Puxley. 

Photo1750Rebecca was Daphne’s fifth novel, and it is the one which has become the most popular and famous of her work, and it has earned that honour for very good reason.

This atmospheric novel is a beautiful love story, something much akin to Jane Eyre, and like that earlier classic, it is one which manages to mix romance and joy with mystery, secrets, psychological thrills and a sense of darkness and doom. 

A nameless young woman falls in love with the middle aged Maxim De Winter. Maxim is a man seemingly haunted by the death of his beautiful and vibrant wife, Rebecca. His new wife brings Maxim the peace and joy he has long searched for, and he provides his new wife with the love and kindness she has so longed for. The memory of the former Mrs. De Winter sadly begins to overpower their relationship, and very soon dark secrets become uncovered and everything changes.  

This is the novel that made me a fan of Daphne’s. I think this is her most vivid novel and it is the one which I can read again and again and never get tired of. There is so much going on in this novel, far more than may at first be realised by reading a very brief plot description.  I especially love how dominant Rebecca is. This character who we never meet becomes key to this whole story, and we are made to feel as though we do know her and we can picture her in our minds(I always picture her as a blend of Vivien Leigh and Margaret Lockwood). Rebecca is a force of nature and it isn’t difficult to see why her memory casts such a shadow on those who knew her. This novel is a classic for a reason. Give it a go, you won’t be disappointed!

I consider The Parasites and Mary Anne(a fictionalised novel of the life of Daphne’s  great-grandmother, Mary Anne Clarke)to be her most underrated novels. My favourite Daphne Du Maurier novels are Hungry Hill, Jamaica Inn, Rebecca,  The House On The Strand, Frenchman’s Creek. I still need to read The Glass Blowers and Rule Britannia. 

Thanks to Gabriela for presenting me with an opportunity to write about the work of my favourite author. I’d love to hear from all of you. What are your favourite Daphne Du Maurier novels? 

Uncategorized

Remembering Edward Woodward. 1930-2009

Photo1725
Edward Woodward in Callan. Screenshot by me.

If the actor Edward Woodward was still with us, he would be celebrating his 89th birthday today.   

Edward Woodward was born in Croydon, London, on the 1st of June, 1930. He would go on to become one of the most beloved British actors. 

Unfortunately you don’t see very much discussion of him today. That’s such a great shame in my opinion. I wanted to write this post in the hope that I can introduce him to some new fans.

Edward Woodward began his acting career by working in theatre and television. He first gained recognition with his performance as Guy Crouchback, in the 1967 BBC television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s trilogy, Sword Of Honour.

He would became a household name here in the UK in the late 1960’s, when he starred in a gritty spy series called Callan. I wrote in depth about this series and Edward’s performance here.  The tough and troubled spy, David Callan, is the role with which Edward is still most identified with today here in the UK.

In the 1980’s he also became a household name over in the US, thanks to another hit series about a spy, this one called The Equalizer. In this series he plays Robert McCall, a retired American agent who is now known as The Equalizer. He sets up a helpline for people in desperate need of help in situations where the Police haven’t been able to help them or solve a case. Robert McCall goes after scumbags and dishes out a dose of their own medicine to them. Edward makes Robert McCall into a classy badass, and someone who you really wouldn’t want to mess with at all. It is very difficult to imagine any other actor having played that role in the series.   

Edward also gained recognition for his superb performances in the horror film The Wicker Man and also in the powerful Boer War set drama, Breaker Morant; a film based on a true story, in which Edward played the lead role of a British officer accused of war crimes. 

Photo1753
Edward alongside Bryan Brown in Breaker Morant. Screenshot by me.

Edward has become one of my favourite actors. I love him so much because he was so very adept at the subtle style of acting. The majority of his performances work as well as they do because of the little looks, gestures and mannerisms that he displays/conveys. With this man a brief flash of emotion in the eyes can speak volumes. He was also terrific at doing scenes where his characters unleash pent up rage or despair. He had the knack to be able to make audiences really feel and believe what he was going through on stage or screen. I also like him because by all accounts he was a genuinely lovely and down to earth man in real life. I like it when actors don’t give themselves airs and graces.  

One of my favourite Edward Woodward performances can be found in the little known miniseries, The Bass Player And The Blonde. Here Edward gets to show off his ability to play both comic and serious characters. He plays cynical bass player, George Mangham, who is both in heavy debt and despair. He meets the much younger Theresa(Jane Wymark) and the pair fall in love.

I love how Edward shows George gaining a newfound enthusiasm for life once he falls in love. The series shows us the difficulties inherent in a May/December relationship, and also shows us that the course of true love rarely runs smooth. Edward has you laughing one moment and feeling deeply for him the next in this. I love this series because it just sits back and lets the actors do their thing. I also love it due to the mix of comic and poignant moments. 

Edward Woodward photo
Edward in his later years. Image source IMDb.

In addition to being a very fine actor, Edward Woodward was also a marvellous singer. His tenor voice is such a joy to listen to. He recorded a series of albums over the years. I think it’s such a shame that his singing career doesn’t seem to get as much appreciation as his acting career. I especially adore his beautiful cover of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. You can still buy his albums, and several of his songs are also available on YouTube. 

Edward would continue to work steadily in TV, Film and Theatre for decades. His last major film role was his hilarious performance in the film, Hot Fuzz.

Edward suffered a massive heart attack while he was making The Equalizer series and he suffered another in 1994. He underwent triple bypass surgery in 1996. In 2003 he announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Edward passed away on the 16th of November, 2009. He had been suffering from pneumonia. 

He had four children: Tim, Sarah, Peter and Emily. All of his children followed in their dad’s footsteps and became actors. Edward was married twice. His first wife was Venetia Barrett, to whom he was married from 1952- 1986. His second wife was Michele Dotrice, to whom he was married from 1987 until his death. 

He left behind such a wonderful body of work for us to enjoy. I urge anyone who isn’t familiar with him to start checking out some of his films and series. I highly recommend watching Callan(TV), 1990(TV), Breaker Morant(Film), The Equalizer(TV), A Christmas Carol(Film, 1984), The Wicker Man(Film), The Bass Player And The Blonde(TV), The House Of Angelo(Film), Common As Muck(TV), Champions(Film).

Happy Birthday and R.I.P to a screen legend. Thanks for all your fine work, Edward. You are missed. 

Are you a fan of Edward Woodward? Please share your thoughts below. 

Uncategorized

Farewell, Doris. Remembering Doris Day, 1922-2019.

Like so many classic film fans from around the world, my heart was broken on the 13th of May, 2019. The sad news broke in the afternoon of that day. Doris Day had died. She was 97 years old and had reportedly been suffering from pneumonia. To say that I was crushed to hear this awful news would be an understatement.  

Doris Day
Doris Day. Image source IMDb.

I never met or corresponded with Doris, but never the less, she meant a great deal to me. She came across as being a very kind, compassionate and down to earth woman in real life. I liked that. Doris also did so much to help animals, and she gave a great deal of joy to film and music fans around the world.

I first became a fan of Doris when I was a very young girl. My mum and dad both loved her as a singer and her songs would often be heard playing in our house. When I was a teenager I saw her in Calamity Jane. This was the first of her films that I ever saw. I enjoyed the film very much and really loved Doris’s performance. 

Photo0730
Doris in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Screenshot by me.

I didn’t become a fan of her as an actress until I saw The Man Who Knew Too Much(1956). I thought that she did such a marvellous job of playing the worried mother of a missing boy. She was so convincing in that role and really made me feel this woman’s fear and pain. After seeing this film, I then made sure that I saw as many of her films as I possibly could.

Young At Heart and The Man Who Knew Too Much became instant favourites of mine, and both films have a special place in my heart. I think that Doris and Frank Sinatra have such a lovely and tender chemistry in Young At Heart, and I love watching the relationship develop and change between their characters. This is such a lovely film, and in my opinion, Doris Day is the main reason this film works as well as it does.

As I sought out more of her films, I particularly enjoyed seeing her screen image change with the arrival of Pillow Talk(1959). With this film, Doris was no longer the bubbly girl next door, but instead she was reborn as an independent and sexy career woman. She and co-star Rock Hudson would become one of the most beloved romantic screen teams and would make three films together. She and Rock were very good friends and they have such lovely chemistry together on screen. Doris also made two films with Rod Taylor and I really love their chemistry too. I think it’s a shame that the films she made with Rod are vastly underrated compared to those she made with Rock. 

Doris Day had a smile as bright as the sun. Her laugh was one of the most infectious that I’ve ever heard. She had an extraordinary singing voice. Although best known for her singing and her musical/romantic comedy film roles, Doris was also a very good dramatic actress too. I think it’s a shame that she never really got enough credit for her serious roles and acting. 

Doris and Frank
Doris and Frank Sinatra in Young At Heart. Image source IMDb.

It is impossible not to be cheered up by the presence of Doris Day in a film. Her screen personality is so bubbly and warm.

I love her the most in The Man Who Knew Too Much, Young At Heart, Pillow Talk, The Glass Bottomed Boat, Love Me Or Leave Me, Teacher’s Pet, Calamity Jane, With Six You Get Eggroll, Midnight Lace, Do Not Disturb, Move Over, Darling. 

It is so sad knowing that Doris is no longer with us, but I think we should take comfort in the fact that she has left behind such a wonderful body of work for us to enjoy. We have her songs and films to enjoy forever.

I hope that Doris knew just how much she was loved by fans of her films and songs. She will forever be in the heart of this classic film fan. R.I.P, Doris. Thank you for all those great performances and songs. We will miss you. x 

Uncategorized

Five Favourite Films Of The 1950’s Blogathon

50's Blogathon

Rick over at the Classic Film & TV Cafe is hosting this blogathon dedicated to our favourite 1950’s films. This blogathon is being held to mark National Classic Movie Day. Be sure to visit his site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

I have so many favourite films from each decade of cinema, so it has been very difficult trying to pick just five films to focus on for this particular blogathon. The five films I’ve chosen are ones that I return to again and again. I love these films so much.

 

5. Ice Cold In Alex (1958)

Photo0518
The four main characters in Ice Cold In Alex. Screenshot by me.

This is a tense, gritty and suspenseful drama, set during the Western Desert Campaign of WW2. The film focuses on a group of British soldiers, and two British nurses, who are travelling together in an ambulance heading for Alexandria. They must evade German patrols, while also trying to cope with the intense desert heat.

I love this film for its character focus and for the superb performances. I love the bond that develops between the characters and how they work together to survive. 

The film sucks you in and makes you feel as though you are right there struggling alongside these people. The film is also quite groundbreaking in showing John Mills’s character struggling with PTSD and alcoholism. Read my full review here. 

 

4. North By Northwest (1959)

Photo0867
Cary Grant as Roger. Screenshot by me.

This Alfred Hitchcock classic never fails to have me on the edge of my seat in suspense one minute, and then laughing my head off the next. This stylish thriller is one of Hitch’s best and most enjoyable films. 

Cary Grant is at his most suave and loveable as Roger Thornhill, a man wrongly identified as someone else. This mistaken identity has him running for his life across America.

Roger gets mixed up with spies, gets chased by crop dusters, falls in love with a mysterious blonde, and dangles from the edge of Mount Rushmore. 

A great cast, interesting characters, and plenty of suspense and thrills. There is so much going on in this film. I can’t get enough of it. Shout out to Cary Grant for doing one of the funniest drunk impressions I’ve ever seen. Read my full review here. 

 

3. Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

Photo1343
Sister Angela and Corporal Allison. Screenshot by me.

Words cannot fully express how much I actually love this one. This is such a lovely and poignant film.

American Marine, Corporal Allison (Robert Mitchum), and Catholic Nun, Sister Angela(Deborah Kerr) are trapped together on a pacific island.

WW2 rages all around them and they are in danger from the Japanese forces. As they spend more time together, Corporal Allison falls in love with Sister Angela. She likes him very much too, but she will not break her vows in order to be with him romantically. When Japanese forces land on the island, Allison must do all that he can to prevent the pair being discovered. The film is a mixture of drama, romance, war, action and comedy. 

Deborah and Robert have such wonderful chemistry, they make you really care for their characters and for the difficult emotional situation they find themselves in. Robert and Deborah would go on to make three more films together and would also become good friends. The film is another wonderful character piece and does such a wonderful job of making us connect with Sister Angela and Corporal Allison. Read my full review here. 

 

2. A Night To Remember (1958)

Photo0899
The Titanic sinks. Screenshot by me.

This is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s such a moving film. Hands down this is also the best film out there about the Titanic disaster. The sinking sequences are stunning and look so realistic. I think that the sequences impress just as much today as they did back in 1958.  

This film is based on Walter Lord’s non-fiction book of the same name, in which he spoke to Titanic survivors and wrote down their accounts of what happened. There is an almost documentary feel to this film. It sticks to the facts of what happened that night and how people behaved. We follow the ship from her launch, to when she struck the iceberg, and finally when she sank in the Atlantic. 

The entire cast are excellent. It’s fun to see so many familiar faces in among the cast. Kenneth More and Michael Goodliffe deliver the standout performances of the film for me. Kenneth is the Titanic’s second officer, Charles Lightoller, and Michael is the devastated shipbuilder, Thomas Andrews. Many of the scenes featuring these two are the ones that linger in my mind the most. I think that Michael in particular delivers one of the best(possibly the best)performance of his career. I have never forgotten the scene where Andrews is standing in the lounge preparing to meet his death. In that scene, Michael’s expression conveys to us that Andrews has emotionally/mentally long since left the present, and we can see that he is no longer really aware of what is going on around him. 

I never fail to cry at the scene on the stern as the ship sinks. In this scene, an old steward tries to comfort the little boy he has rescued, and the other passengers and crew try and prepare themselves for what is to come. Some people pray (a moving moment where prayers are heard being uttered in different languages)and others are struck dumb with terror and disbelief. It is one of the most powerful and unforgettable scenes in film history. Read my full review here. 

And now I am pleased to reveal my most favourite film of the 1950’s…. 

 

 

 

  1. Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
Photo1381
Cyd and Gene’s famous dance. Screenshot by me.

I have no doubt that this one will be appearing on many lists today. This is one of the most(if not the most)joyous films ever made. I don’t see how it’s possible to not love this film.

Singin’ In The Rain is funny, romantic, beautiful to look at, and it features some of the best song and dance sequences ever filmed. It is also a love letter to the beauty and spectacle of Technicolor.

The film focuses on the arrival of sound at the end of the Silent era. We follow a film studio’s attempt to make a feature film as a ‘Talkie’. We also follow the beloved film actor, Don Lockwood(Gene Kelly), as he falls in love with chorus girl, Kathy Selden(Debbie Reynolds), much to the annoyance of his besotted co-star, Lina Lamont(a scene stealing Jean Hagen). Chaos ensues as a result of this relationship. 

The cast are all terrific, with Jean Hagen delivering the standout performance as the shrill Lina. It’s easy to paint Lina as the villain of the film(and to be fair she is quite mean), but I view her as a victim too. Everybody either makes fun of Lina, or controls what she can say and to whom, and she reaches a point where she has enough of that and asserts her authority as a screen Queen. I find it interesting to see Lina become stronger and more dominant as the film goes along. 

One of my favourite scenes in this film, is the rather risque dance between Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. It’s impossible to forget this sequence once you have watched the film. It is without a doubt one of the sexiest scenes ever put on film. 

Singin’ In The Rain is a film I turn to whenever I need some cheering up. The film never fails to do the trick. I also love the film because it encapsulates all that was good and unrivalled about the Golden Age of Hollywood filmmaking. They don’t make films like this anymore, and that is a real shame.

Please let me know your thoughts on the five films I’ve chosen. I can’t wait to take a peek at everyone else’s film selections. 

 

Uncategorized

Joan Crawford: Queen Of The Silver Screen Blogathon: Sudden Fear(1952)

Joan Crawford blogathon

My friends Gabriela from Pale Writer, and Erica from Poppity Talks Classic Film, are teaming up together to host their first ever blogathon! They are honouring the life and career of Joan Crawford. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.    

Photo1706
Joan as Myra Hudson. Screenshot by me.

I’m writing about Sudden Fear. It took me a while to get around to watching this film. Part of the reason it took so long to finally watch this, is that I have always much preferred Joan’s 1930’s and 1940’s films and performances to her later work. 

I have always felt that Joan’s performances in her earlier films are far more natural than her performances in many of her later films. I’ve also always found the characters she plays in her earlier work to be much more interesting than many in her later work. 

When I finally sat down and watched Sudden Fear, I didn’t know what to expect from either the story or from Joan. I was completely blown away by Joan’s performance as Myra Hudson. Joan effortlessly moves between playing a character who is a sweet and lovestruck woman, to one who is devastated, shocked and vengeful. Without a doubt Joan delivers one of her best performances in this film. Her performance here has ended up becoming one of my favourites from amongst her work.

I also like how Joan conveys to us exactly how lonely Myra is. Through her performance we see that despite being a successful, popular and wealthy woman, Myra is lonely and yearns for romantic companionship and happiness. It’s doubly cruel that she finds this long desired happiness, only for it to be snatched away in the most hideous and unexpected of ways. Joan more than deserved her third(and ultimately final)Oscar nomination for her phenomenal performance in this film. 

Sudden Fear is directed by David Miller(Midnight Lace, Lonely Are The Brave). The film is based on the 1948 novel of the same name, which was written by Edna Sherry. The screenplay is by Lenore Coffee(who would go on to write the screenplay for the gothic suspense film, Footsteps In The Fog, just a few years later) and Robert Smith. The film would be Joan’s first job for RKO Studios, this was after she had asked to be released from her Warner Bros contract earlier in the year.  

Photo1716
Lester and Myra. Screenshot by me.

This film really surprised me with how it does an about face halfway through and becomes a completely different type of film. 

Sudden Fear starts off as a romantic drama and then it veers off into Noir territory. I love how the film switches genres and plays with our expectations of how the story is going to continue. 

Myra Hudson is a Broadway playwright who is watching rehearsals for her new plays. She rejects actor Lester Blaine(Jack Palance) for the lead role in the play after watching him rehearse. Lester is very hurt by her decision.

Some time later, Myra and Lester meet up again and find that they are drawn to one another. They get closer and end up marrying. Seemingly their marriage is idyllic and he has long since forgotten about the unpleasant way they first met. 

Photo1708
Irene and Lester. Screenshot by me.

Unbeknown to Myra, Lester and his girlfriend, Irene(Gloria Grahame) are planning her murder so that they can get the money left in her will. Myra discovers their horrible plans, after the pair are accidentally recorded on one of the records Myra uses to record her script ideas on.

Myra is horrified, scared and devastated by what she hears them saying. She accidentally ends up breaking the record with the recording on it, and therefore she loses her proof that this plot against her is a reality. In order to protect herself from this point onwards, Myra begins to plan a murder plot of her own against Lester and Irene. Myra has great doubts about what she is planning to do though. It is uncertain who will strike first. 

Once we see the moment where Myra learns of the murder plot against her, Joan really makes us fear for Myra’s safety as much as Myra fears for it herself. Joan looks terrified, desperate, shocked, vulnerable and confused all at once. The discovery scene contains some of the best acting of Joan Crawford’s entire career in my opinion.

                                  Myra overhears the murder plot. Screenshots by me. 

In the space of just a few minutes, Joan Crawford convinces us that Myra’s world has come crashing down around her. The person closest to her has deceived her and doesn’t actually have a single shred of love or affection for her. Imagine how you would feel if you learnt this about someone you love. Myra loses her bearings upon hearing what Lester plans. Myra is completely adrift and alone at this moment. Myra doesn’t know what to do. She stumbles around the room, jumps at the slightest noise and looks as though she is about to suffer a breakdown. I love how Joan goes from displaying expressions of shock and confusion, to showing pain, grief, terror and fear. Joan really makes us feel the emotional impact of what this woman has just learnt. This scene is a real highlight of the film. 

Photo1717
A shot from the sequence where Myra imagines her revenge. Screenshot by me

The other highlight of the film is the unforgettable sequence where Myra imagines her own murder plot becoming a reality.

This sequence is nightmarish and is filled with some very interesting imagery. The sequence reminds me quite a bit of Marlowe’s drug fuelled hallucinations in Murder, My Sweet (1944). 

I also love how we see Myra become more and more conflicted about what she is planning to do, but that we in the audience feel that we won’t blame her if she does go through with it. In a way her plot is a form of self-defence. The way this all plays out is very interesting and it doesn’t end the way you think it might. 

Photo1707
Jack Palance. Too obvious a villain? Screenshot by me.

If there is a weak point to be found in the film, then I feel that it lies with the casting of Jack Palance. Please don’t get me wrong, he is a good actor and I can’t fault his performance here. It’s just that he is so well known for playing villains, that I for one have trouble accepting and trusting him as a supposedly decent guy.

This was actually only the second film he had ever appeared in, so at this point in his career he was pretty much still an unknown. I have no doubt that audiences at the time didn’t suspect him to be up to no good. If you are watching this now after being very familiar with his career as a villain, then it is much more likely that you too will consider him shifty from the beginning. 

I think that the role of Lester Blaine really required an actor who was very well known for playing good guys. If they had cast such an actor in the role, then I’ve no doubt that we would be just as shocked and confused as Myra is when she discovers the truth about him. As it is, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Lester was revealed as the villain of the piece. Jack just seems super shifty from the beginning, which I’m sure isn’t what was intended by either the writer or director.

Photo1715
Myra in fear for her life. Screenshot by me.

That casting issue aside, Sudden Fear is an excellent film, and is one which is filled with terrific performances. Joan Crawford steals all the scenes and is undoubtedly the main attraction. I can imagine no other actress playing Myra. I love how Joan captures how gentle, innocent and vulnerable Myra is. This role is very different from the many strong and confident women she had played before, and this role really highlights what a versatile actress Joan was. Gloria Grahame is also very good as Irene.

If you’re after a thrilling Noir film, then I highly recommend that you check this one out. It’s a film full of surprises and plenty of suspense. Have you seen the film? What did you think of Joan’s performance?

 

Uncategorized

The Salute To Audrey Hepburn Blogathon: What Audrey Means To Me

hepburn-blogathon-banner-1Janet over at Sister Celluloid is hosting this blogathon in memory of Audrey Hepburn. If she was still with us, Audrey Hepburn would be celebrating her 90th birthday today. 

Be sure to visit Janet’s site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. Instead of writing about one of Audrey’s films, I’ve decided instead to write about what Audrey Hepburn means to me. 

When I was growing up in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, I was something of a major outcast at school. I loved watching classic films and reading, and I much preferred to be doing either of those two things than to be involved with any of the latest trends or mass interests. That singled me out.   

I was also different from others due to disability. I’m Autistic and I suffered quite a lot of bullying during my high school years due to this. School was a very lonely and upsetting place for much of the time. My parents told me to just ignore the idiots picking on me, and believe me when I say that I tried very hard to do just that. But it’s very difficult sometimes when you have to be around bullies five days a week! You’re probably thinking, what on earth has all this got to do with our birthday girl, Audrey Hepburn. Well, I’ll tell you. 

Photo1697
Audrey as Holly Golightly. Screenshot by me.

One day(somewhere around 2000 or 2001) I saw a film whose lead character, and the actress playing the lead character, really took my interest and had a big impact on me.

The film was Breakfast At Tiffany’s. The actress was Audrey Hepburn. The character was Holly Golightly. Here was a character who was quirky and unique; someone who went against social norms and expectations and just did her own thing. 

Holly is also someone who puts on a brave and happy face to hide inner pain.I could relate to her so much. I loved the film because it was about a misfit. I saw something of myself in Holly. This was the first time that I had ever had such a reaction to a film character. This is going to sound really weird, but I didn’t feel so alone being who I was after seeing this film.  

I was also left feeling very intrigued by Audrey Hepburn herself. At this point in my life(my early teens) I had already been a classic film fan for some years. I was already familiar with Audrey, having seen her in My Fair Lady, but it wasn’t until seeing Breakfast At Tiffany’s that I found myself wanting to see more of her work and to learn more about her as a person.

                      Two of my favourite shots of Audrey in this film. Screenshots by me.

I loved the way that Audrey played Holly. I especially loved the vulnerability and the humour that she brought to that character. Audrey made me emotionally connect with Holly in a way that I hadn’t really done before with any other character on screen. I became a fan of Audrey Hepburn, not only because she was a terrific actress, but also because she was a genuine and decent human being off screen. Audrey was a kind and compassionate soul. She did so much for charity and she treated everyone(ordinary and famous people alike)with equal amounts of kindness and politeness. 

Audrey also went against trends and what was expected of her by society at large. Audrey dressed in her own way and just did whatever was comfortable to her. Audrey also ended up becoming a style icon for her unique looks and dress sense. Ironically she never actually thought very highly of her own looks(girl, you were gorgeous!) and often said she felt that her feet were way too big. She was someone who I could identify with because she was a unique individual who didn’t try to be like other people. I love that Audrey stayed true to herself throughout her entire life.

After seeing Breakfast At Tiffany’s, I then sought out more of Audrey’s work. She soon became one of my favourite actresses. She glowed on screen and stole every scene she appeared in. When Audrey is on screen it’s impossible to focus that much on the other actors. She is such a good actress and I love how natural and effortless her performances seem.

I love her transformation from unhappy Princess to happy and independent woman in Roman Holiday. I love her performance as the troubled young Nun in The Nun’s Story(I think she delivers her best performance in this film). I love her sweetness and elegance in the romantic classic Sabrina. I love her hilarious multiple performances in the underrated filmmaking spoof Paris When It Sizzles. I love her comic performance opposite Cary Grant in Charade(why did these two never get paired together again?). 

                      Faces of Audrey. Screenshots by me of Audrey in Sabrina, My Fair Lady, The Nun’s Story and Roman Holiday. 

My favourite Audrey Hepburn films are Roman Holiday, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, The Nun’s Story, Sabrina, Paris When It Sizzles, How To Steal A Million, Two For The Road, Charade, My Fair Lady.

I love how Audrey oozed decency, humility and kindness. She brought so much joy to so many people over the years. For someone who gave joy to so many, Audrey herself sadly endured much pain and sorrow in her personal life. She had difficulties having children and tragically suffered a number of miscarriages over the years, before finally being able to give birth to her two sons, Sean and Luca. Audrey also had quite a sad and difficult childhood. Audrey’s father left her family in 1935. Young Audrey also suffered from malnutrition during WW2 and saw many traumatic things linked to the war. Audrey also bravely helped the Dutch resistance by carrying and delivering messages, and also by performing dance routines to raise money for them. Audrey’s personal experiences go to show that you never know what pain and difficult life experiences are hiding behind a smiling face. 

Audrey Hepburn was one of the best actress of the classic film era. I love how she really makes you feel what her characters are going through emotionally. She was a very emotive actress who brought a great deal of depth to her characters,and did so in a way that not all actors can manage to do. Audrey Hepburn continues to bring joy to classic film fans around the world. Her film performances and her fashion style remain timeless. She also remains beloved for who she was as a person off screen too. 

I like to think that Audrey would be touched by how much love there still is for her today. She is someone I would dearly have loved to have met. Audrey never knew it, but her uniqueness has helped me to find the strength to be myself. I thank her for that. She will always have a special place in my heart. 

Are you a fan of Audrey and her films? Please share your thoughts on this great lady.

Uncategorized

Announcing the WW2 Blogathon

This year is the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. To mark this important anniversary, myself and my friend, Jay from Cinema Essentials, are teaming up together to host a WW2 themed blogathon.    

ww2 2For this blogathon you can write about any film or TV series set during WW2. You can also write about any WW2 documentaries. You can also write about the experiences of actors or filmmakers who served during the war. You can write more than one entry if you wish to do so.

We are not going to allow any duplicates. However, if a film or series has already been claimed for a full review, there is nothing to stop someone else writing briefly about it in a list/article of favourite/best WW2 films or series. 

The blogathon will run between the 1st and the 3rd of September, 2019. I will be your hostess on the 1st. Jay will be your host on the 2nd and 3rd. Please have your posts ready on or before those dates. 

Please take one of Jay’s awesome banners from below to put on your site to help advertise the event. Check the participation list to see who is writing about what. 

Participation List

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: Danger UXB (TV series) 

Cinema Essentials: The Eagle Has Landed, Hurricane, Bridge On The River Kwai

Palewriter: Mrs. Miniver and O.S.S

Vinnieh: Carve Her Name With Pride

Thoughts All Sorts: Kelly’s Heroes

Back Story Classic: Demi-Paradise

The Stop Button: The Big Red One

Poppity Talks Classic Film: La Grande Vadrouille

MovieMovieBlogII: Schindler’s List

Realweegiemidgetreviews: Where Eagles Dare

Cinematic Scribblings: Army Of Shadows

Down These Mean Streets: Hangmen Also Die

Back To Golden Days: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Great Escape

dbmoviesblog: Letters From Iwo Jima

Make Mine Film Noir: Cornered

Caftan Woman: Corvette K-225

Silver Screenings: Tora Tora Tora!

Critica Retro: The Seventh Cross 

The Midnite Drive-In: Patton, Von Ryan’s Express & Five Came Back: A Story Of Hollywood And The Second World War

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood: Without Love

Mike’s Take On The Movies: Counterpoint

Dubsism: Fighter Squadron

Pop Culture Reverie: The Dirty Dozen

Taking Up Room: So Proudly We Hail, In Which We Serve & Wake Island

Overturebooksandfilms: The Hollywood Canteen

Love Letters To Old Hollywood: The Best Years Of Our Lives

Silver Screen Classics: Stalag 17

RetroMovieBuff: A Canterbury Tale

Just A Cineast: Millions Like Us

Moon In Gemini: The Mortal Storm

The lonely Critic: The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp

Wolfman’s Cult Film Club: The Way Ahead

18 Cinema Lane: In Love And War

Sean Munger: Downfall

Movie Rob: The Sea Wolves and Anne Frank Remembered

Oscars And I: 49th Parallel 

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: Destination Tokyo 

Stars And Letters: A letter about WW2 

Diary Of A Movie Maniac: The Secret Of Santa Vittoria

WW24

ww2 2

WW2 1

WW25

WW2 3

 

Uncategorized

Callan (1967-1972)

I’ve decided it is high time to write about Callan. Despite it having been made twenty years before I was born, this excellent British TV series has ended up becoming a firm favourite of mine. I love it so much. It is a groundbreaking series in so many ways and is one which packs quite a punch.  

Photo1725
Edward Woodward as David Callan. Screenshot by me.

The series is a gritty, serious, violent, bleak and extremely moody spy drama. The series plays out like a blend of the spy worlds created by John le Carre and Len Deighton. 

The characters in Callan are some of the most complex and interesting that you will find in any TV series or film. Aside from the characters of Liz and Lonely, nobody in this series is completely all hero or villain. The main character/hero of the series is the most complex character of the whole lot. This character complexity is just one of the many things that set this series apart from others made at the time.

Callan is a dark and grim series focusing on things that were never really seen on screen all that often at the time the series was made. We see the main character becoming traumatised and losing his nerve for a time after being shot. We also see another main character reach his emotional breaking point, after his actions leave a young woman permanently brain damaged. That is some heavy stuff right there! And those examples provide only a small taste of the overall dark content and tone of the series. This series seems quite ahead of its time to me. People didn’t really talk about issues like trauma or stress back then, so for this series to actually show us tough men struggling and cracking was really quite daring in my view. 

Callan may well have been created after the films The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and The Ipcress File had been made, but it aired on TV over a decade before the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy miniseries became the last word in gritty and realistic spy stories on screen. Callan became one of the most popular and beloved British series. It provided audiences of the 1960’s and 70’s with the most realistic portrayal of espionage ever seen on the small screen at that point in time. The realism of this series is a far cry from the glamorous missions of James Bond and the quirky and stylish adventures of John Steed and Emma Peel in The Avengers.

Callan was created for television by British teacher turned author, James Mitchell. Mitchell had written several gritty crime and spy novels under various pseudonyms, including James Munro. He also wrote for several Television series too.

Callan first began life as a pilot episode written by James Mitchell, called The War Game. The pilot episode was originally intended to be made as part of the popular BBC series Detective. When this fell through, James Mitchell then sold the episode on to ABC for their Armchair Theatre anthology series. The pilot episode first aired as part of that series in February, 1967. The pilot episode was given the new title of A Magnum For Schneider.

                          David Callan was a new type of TV hero. Screenshot by me. 

Before the pilot episode had even been aired, Armchair Theatre producer Leonard White, and the story editor Terence Feely, both strongly felt that this story had the potential to be developed into a full series. The pilot episode introduced viewers to a new type of TV hero. The main character was a far cry from the many suave and morally upright TV heroes of the day. The hero of this series was the deadly and tough, yet troubled and introspective British agent, David Callan(Edward Woodward). 

David Callan is the top agent of “The Section”, a department within British Intelligence permitted to use the most ruthless methods against individuals who are considered to be threatening the internal security of the UK. The department is seen to be run by various chief agents over the years, each one known to us only by the codename of “Hunter”.

Photo1733
Callan out on a mission. Screenshot by me.

The section regularly orders its agents to spy on, kill, blackmail, torture and intimidate people who are deemed a threat. Suspects names are placed into colour coded files. Blue Files contain the names of individuals who belong to or support the ‘wrong’ political party. Yellow Files contain the names of people who are currently under surveillance. White Files contain the names of people who are to be put out of action by placing them in mental homes, the divorce courts, bankruptcy or prison. Red Files contain the names of people considered to be extremely dangerous/marked for death. Callan is often assigned to deal with suspects in Red Files. 

Photo1732
Callan is trapped in a job he hates. Screenshot by me.

Callan is a highly skilled agent who is excellent at his job. The trouble is that Callan also happens to loath his job. He also happens to be trapped in the job. It may be an unpleasant job, but it’s a job that he is undeniably good at. 

No matter how much Callan may long for a normal life, he can never make himself walk out and leave his life as a spy behind him. It doesn’t help that he knows he could possibly end up in a Red File himself should he ever try to leave his job. 

Callan frequently challenges his bosses on why many of the dirty jobs he’s assigned must be done in the first place. The more jobs he does, the more Callan starts to wonder about the people he follows and threatens. Do some of them even deserve what is being done to them? Callan also feels aggrieved that he and his fellow agents are the ones getting their hands dirty, while Hunter and other senior intelligence figures don’t end up partaking in the grim tasks they order. The higher ranking agents don’t have to try and live with the unpleasant memories associated with these unpleasant assignments, unlike the agents assigned to carry out these duties. 

Photo1722
Callan threatens the first Hunter. Screenshot by me.

What makes Callan such a likeable and fascinating character, is that although he is a tough and professional killer, he is also a very moral man with a conscience and a heart. He hates what he has to do and while he knows that many of the jobs he does are necessary, there are others that he really isn’t sure about.

We may hate some of the things that Callan has to do, but we can’t help but like and admire him as a person. Callan may well kill, but he certainly doesn’t kill without reason in cold blood. He doesn’t take any pleasure in what he has to do. He also stands up to his bosses, even memorably threatening the first Hunter: Don’t you push me too far will you? Because I might just let myself be killed. Only you won’t be there to see it, because, mate, I’ll get you first. And I can do it, believe me I can do it. You ought to know. Because after all, you did train me“. David Callan’s threat to the first Hunter.

I can’t really think of any other series(old or current)which have characters standing up to their bosses and being as openly hostile to them in the way that Callan is to his.It’s also quite remarkable for the time to see Callan, who is a working class man, challenging the authority of his superiors, many of whom are from the British upper classes. 

There have been few series which feature such complex and grey characters as the ones seen in Callan. Edward Woodward described the grey nature of Callan best, in this quote of his from a 1987 audio interview, which can be heard in This Man Alone (a documentary about the making of Callan): “I was very much looking for that kind of character to play. I was tired of playing either crooks or heroes. This man went right down the middle. You couldn’t make up your mind what he was and nor could he. He had such a chip on his shoulder, was sort of an anti-hero. And was a hero with feet of clay”.

I can imagine no actor other than Edward Woodward in the role of Callan. He does some of his best work in this series. Edward was an up and coming stage and TV actor when he accepted the role of David Callan. He was due to be going on holiday with his family when he received the script for A Magnum For Schneider. After reading the script, Edward knew that he had to take on this role. Alas, the Woodward family holiday had to be cancelled so that he could get right to work, but I’m sure that personal sacrifice was considered to have been well worth it in the end. This series made him a star.

          Edward Woodward does some of his best work in Callan. Screenshots by me. 

He brings such depth to the character of Callan. He totally makes you believe he is this cold and hard professional, but that he is also a very gentle and weary soul. I also love how Edward does this thing where he very briefly shows little flickers of emotion behind Callan’s hard mask. His eyes will briefly look haunted, tender, angry or amused, and then it is as if the shutters are slammed shut, and in a matter of seconds he quickly switches his expressions back to being the cold and detached professional once again. The only other actor who I think could do acting like that was Jeremy Brett(see his Sherlock Holmes series to see what I mean). Edward is also excellent in the scenes where Callan loses his temper or is intimidating someone. The series made Edward a household name here in the UK and he would become one of our most beloved actors. 

Photo1724
Anthony Valentine as Meres. Screenshot by me.

Although Callan is the main character of the series, there are many other regular characters who we get to know as well.

Seasons 1 and 2 see Callan often paired with the sadistic Toby Meres(Anthony Valentine). Meres was first introduced in the pilot episode, in which he was played by Peter Bowles. Mears seems to relish the violence of his job. He is also quite a  scary, yet charming and suave man.

Anthony brings a real edge to the character and makes him so chilling. Meres is the living embodiment of what Callan would be like if he didn’t have a conscience. It has to be said that Meres is a very good agent who is working on behalf of his country, but he acts almost like a psychopath and loves dishing out violence. He and Callan develop a grudging professional respect as time goes on, but neither man likes the other. Due to the gap between filming seasons 2 and 3, Anthony wasn’t able to return to the series due to other commitments. He would not be seen again until season 4. 

Photo1741
Patrick Mower as James Cross. Screenshot by me.

Callan also works with the arrogant and hot tempered James Cross(Patrick Mower). The character of James Cross was written to replace the gap left by Anthony Valentine not being available for season 3. 

James Cross is less scary and cruel than Meres, but he is quite thuggish. He wants to rise up the ranks of the Section and take Callan’s place as the top agent.

Cross is an excellent agent, but he really annoys Callan, who knows full well that Cross covets his job. A genuine respect and affection does gradually develop between them and they make a good team when out on assignments. Patrick steals all the scenes he is in,often with just a look or an angry expression. He also works very well with Edward Woodward and there is a real intensity in their shared scenes, particularly when the characters argue or needle each other. 

                           The four faces of Hunter. Top left to right: Ronald Radd, Michael Goodliffe, Derek Bond. Bottom: William Squire. 

Over the course of the series there are four actors who play the chief agents known as “Hunter”. The first was played by Ronald Radd. The first Hunter is the one that I consider to be the most interesting of the four. Ronald’s Hunter was a real tough nut. He was ruthless and you just know that his word is the absolute law in that department. The second Hunter was played by the great screen actor Michael Goodliffe. The second Hunter is more intellectual and seemingly not as hard as the first one was, but you never doubt his authority for a second. Michael left the series after only a few episodes of season 2, apparently he didn’t like the violent nature of the series. The third Hunter was played by Derek Bond. The third Hunter knows Callan personally and seems more friendly and approachable than the others. We last see the third Hunter in season 2. The fourth Hunter is the one who has become the most popular. Played by William Squire, the fourth Hunter is a mix of toughness and warmth. The fourth Hunter also encourages Callan to give him lip and argue with him, understanding that this is what keeps Callan sane and helps him blow off steam. The fourth Hunter really sees Callan as a major asset. William is terrific in the role and often steals all the scenes he is in with just a look or by the tone in which he delivers a line. Edward Woodward himself would also briefly take on the role of Hunter in season 4, when Callan is promoted to the top position in the Section for a time. 

Photo1739
Russell Hunter as Lonely. Screenshot by me.

The second most important character in the series is the adorable Lonely (Russell Hunter). Russell delivers one of the best performances in the series and makes it impossible not to like this character.

Lonely is all wide eyes, exaggerated shock and childlike innocence. Lonely is a local thief who has terrible personal hygiene

Lonely is able to get Callan items he needs at quite short notice. He also assists him on some jobs, such as helping him to break into properties. At first Lonely is scared stiff of Callan, who early on in the series often threatens him with violence if he ever tells anyone about what they get up to. He needn’t worry though, dear Lonely would never betray him. Gradually the threats fade away and are replaced by banter. Lonely later comes to the correct conclusion that Callan is a spy. When he tells Callan that he knows what he is, this leads to the interesting development for Lonely, which is put in place by Callan much later in the series. 

Photo1729
Lonely and Callan. Screenshot by me.

It quickly becomes very clear that Callan and Lonely have a genuine emotional connection. They each become the only friend that the other has. Callan provides Lonely with the only bits of warmth and kindness he gets in his life, and he also makes him feel needed and valued.

Lonely allows Callan to relax and briefly let his guard down. When they are together their relationship offers Callan the only bit of a normal life he’ll ever get to have.

The way that Russell plays the role of Lonely, it seems to me that Lonely is supposed to also be mentally challenged in some way. Lonely is quite slow and vulnerable, and he is easily taken advantage of, this makes Callan very protective of him. Woe betide anyone who threatens or hurts Lonely, because Callan will give them a big dose of their own medicine in return. Their comical and poignant relationship is the highlight of the series for me. Their banter also provides the only source of relief from the overall grimness of the series. 

Other regular characters include the reliable and loyal Liz(Lisa Langdon),who is the secretary to each Hunter. Callan and the fourth Hunter are both very fond of her. She and Cross have a brief affair, which is brought to an end by Callan in order to save both of their careers(Section colleagues are not supposed to become romantically involved). Another regular character is Dr. Snell (Clifford Rose). Snell is the cold and scary medical officer for the Section.

The first season of the full series of Callan entered production at ABC in April, 1967. The episodes were transmitted over July and August that same year. Producer Terence Feely would leave the series after this first season to take up a role at Paramount(UK). He was replaced in season 2 by Reginald Collin, who would stay on in the role of producer for the rest of the series. John Kershaw was brought on as the story editor, but he would leave after season 2 to go and work on Armchair Theatre. John Kershaw was replaced by George Markstein, who would remain until the end of the series. James Mitchell would write the majority of the episodes, but there were also other writers working on the series too.

Photo1735
Callan and Lonely watch and wait. Screenshot by me.

The first two seasons of the series were shot in black and white and recorded on videotape. Standard practice at the time was to reuse the tape once its original content had been broadcast a few times, this practice sadly led to several episodes of the early seasons being permanently wiped. All of the episodes for seasons 3 and 4 survive. 

The picture quality of some of the early episodes is sadly not as good as on the colour episodes of season 3 and 4, but that is simply due to how things were filmed at the time. As good as the series is in colour, it really can’t be denied that the black and white photography suits the grim tone and dark atmosphere of the series perfectly.

Adding to the bleak atmosphere of the series is that unforgettable title sequence. The title sequence is simple and very effective. It features a swinging lightbulb casting light and shade across Callan’s face to the strains of the now iconic theme tune. The theme music was called Girl In The Dark, which was a piece of stock library music composed by Jack Tromby. In 1970, Edward Woodward(who was not only a good actor, but was also a very fine singer) would record a vocal version of this tune entitled This Man Alone, to coincide with the production of season 3 of the series. 

In mid 1968, ABC underwent an enforced merger with Associated Rediffusion to become Thames Television. The second season of Callan would be broadcast in 1969.The incredible public reaction to the cliffhanger finale of season 2, which saw a brainwashed Callan kill Hunter and then get shot himself by Meres, ensured that the series would continue to be made by the newly created Thames Television. Everyone wanted to know Callan’s fate after that episode aired. 

Photo1742
Callan and Cross out on a mission. Screenshot by me.

Season 3 was broadcast in 1970. The first episode saw a wounded and traumatised Callan trying to recover from the events in the season 2 finale. The transmission of this season would be disrupted due to live football matches being aired, and also due to coverage of the 1970 General Election. As the seasons past, the popularity of Callan grew and grew with the viewers. The series moved from being a cult favourite to one of the most popular series on the air at that time.

Season 4 of the series wouldn’t air until 1972. From 1970 onwards, James Mitchell would write a number of short Callan stories, which were then published in the Sunday Express newspaper. These written adventures ensured that the public demand for David Callan continued to be met in one way or another. James Mitchell also wrote and published several Callan novels. 

The series would come to an end in 1972. The final episode was suitably bleak and moving and concluded a three episode storyline. I like that the series ended on a high note and didn’t drag on, unlike some series which end up really outstaying their welcome after a while.

There would be two Callan films made (both starring Edward Woodward), one in 1974 and the other in 1981. Unfortunately neither film is as good as the series is. The 1974 film in particular seems like such a wasted opportunity to me. Instead of making a fresh story, or maybe even carrying on directly where the final episode left off, the film is instead a big screen version of the pilot episode A Magnum For Schneider

Apart from the poor picture quality of some of the early episodes, I think that this series hasn’t really dated at all. The strength of this series is that it is a series which sits back and lets the actors and scriptwriters do all the work. There is no fast and annoying editing every few seconds, nor is there any intrusive music or special effects. The strong scripts, interesting characters, character interactions and all those superb performances are what keeps you glued to the screen. Callan is good television. It is a real testament to all the cast and crew that this series still works so well today. 

The complete series is available to buy on DVD. The series has recently been rerun on the Talking Pictures TV channel here in the UK. I’ve really enjoyed reading the many positive comments from people seeing this series for the first time thanks to this rerun. The positive response proves to me that this series has lost none of its impact all these years later. 

I really need to get around to checking out the Callan novels at some point. Has anyone read them? If so, do they need to read in order of publication or not? I wonder if any of the short stories James Mitchell wrote for the paper are available anywhere? It would be great to read those as well.

 Have you seen this series? What do you think about it?

Uncategorized

The Fourth Golden Boy Blogathon: My Five Favourite William Holden Films

William HoldenFor the fourth year running, Virginie at The Wonderful World Of Cinema is honouring the actor William Holden. She is joined this year by co-hosts Emily at The Flapper Dame, and Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

I LOVE William Holden. He is one of my favourite American actors from the classic film era. He’s such a likeable actor and makes his acting look effortless. He is also someone who I will watch in any kind of film. I like how he could so easily switch between dramatic and comic roles and convince in those varied roles. He could be suave, smooth and funny in one film, and then in the next he could become someone much darker and far more complex. 

I’m going to talk about my five favourite William Holden films. Not only do I love these films and his performances in them so much, but I also think that these five films highlight his range as an actor. 

5 – Sunset Blvd (1950)

Photo1679
William Holden in Sunset Blvd. Screenshot by me.

This masterpiece is really where William’s career took off big time in my opinion. He is superb as Joe Gillis, the struggling screenwriter desperate for money. I love how he conveys to us how conflicted and desperate Joe is.

William makes sure that Joe has our sympathy for much of the film, but when Joe becomes just another user of the damaged Norma, he loses much of my sympathy.

All of the characters in this film are complex and fascinating. Joe Gillis is one of the most fascinating characters of them all. Does he feel something for Norma? Is he filled with some self loathing at what he is doing to her? Does he hate the profession through which he earns his living? These are the questions that William makes us ponder as we watch him in this film. He more than holds his own against the mighty Gloria Swanson, who it is fair to say is the real highlight of the film as the deranged and damaged Norma Desmond. William delivers one of his best performances in this film.

4- Sabrina (1954) 

Photo1700
William as the charming David in Sabrina. Screenshot by me.

This is the film that made me a fan of William Holden’s for life. He is perfect as the suave and dashing David Larrabee, the charming playboy who is the object of Sabrina’s affections.

I like how David starts off as this fun figure, but then later in the film becomes much more mature. This change allows us see that there is so much more to him than first meets the eye. 

William makes David quite an irresistible character. It is not hard to see why so many women fall for this guy. He is charming, he is classy, he is fun, and he has that ability to make each of the women he dates feel special and as though they are the only woman in his life. We may not approve of how he moves on from woman to woman, but we can’t hate him because he is not a callous or cruel man. I’m sure that is the way David was written to be, but William makes it very clear to us that David is a nice guy despite his faults and flaws. I can’t imagine anyone other than him in this role.

3 – Breezy (1973)

Photo1374
William as Frank Harmon. Screenshot by me.

I think that William shows a vulnerability here that audiences had never seen in him before. He is terrific as the middle aged Frank Harmon, a man very much set in his ways, who learns to love life and be more chilled out.

The reason for his transformation is Breezy, an older teenager who falls in love with him. Despite their age gap, the pair develop genuine romantic and emotional feelings for each other. Frank struggles with what other people will think of their relationship, while Breezy doesn’t care and doesn’t understand why there has to be such a fuss made about age in relationships. I agree with her; if a relationship is consensual on both sides and the couple are happy, then why should anyone else care if there is an age gap between a couple?

William plays Frank as being quite tentative and not the one in control during the course of the developing relationship. This tentative and vulnerable quality is the complete opposite of many of the romantic characters William had played before this; men who were charming ladies men and who knew just what they were doing, both romantically and also sexually. I think it was quite a brave role for him to take really, because he’s showing us an inner vulnerability and really changing his screen image quite a bit in the process. 

2 – Stalag 17 (1953)

Photo1373
William as J.J Sefton. Screenshot by me.

In the film that won him his first and only Acdemy Award, William Holden delivers one of his very best performances. He is terrific as the cynical and watchful J.J. Sefton. You can’t take your eyes off him when he is in a scene. He has your attention even when he is doing nothing more than lying down or looking at someone.

Set in a German POW camp during WW2, Sefton is an American prisoner who barters openly with the guards for things like food. His fellow prisoners are suspicious of him,  and become even more suspicious when they believe he told the guards there was an escape attempt being carried out, an attempt which resulted in the murder of the two escapees. Sefton however certainly isn’t the traitor and he has no love for the Germans. I love how William plays this role. His performance is subtle(watch his eyes when he’s watching other people)and it’s interesting to see him playing a much tougher and colder character than he had ever played before. 

1 – Paris When It Sizzles (1963)

Photo1704
William and Audrey in Paris When It Sizzles. Screenshot by me.

We finally come to my favourite William Holden performance. In this hilarious, and seriously underrated spoof about making films, William gets to play quite a wide variety of different characters. 

William plays a weary and cynical screenwriter, a spy, a criminal and even a vampire! He gets to be romantic, tender, serious, a man of action, cynical, weary, funny and very mysterious too.

I think it’s great to see him get the chance to show so much acting range, and to do so all in one film too! I love that this film allows him to show how funny he could be. I think it’s a shame that he didn’t get offered more comic roles. 

I also like that there is an added poignancy in the scenes where his main character, Richard Benson, longs for Audrey Hepburn’s character. William and Audrey had an affair when they made the film Sabrina. Bill never stopped loving her. It must have been agony for him to be around her again during this film. I believe that his sorrowful and tender expressions/gestures in their romantic scenes are his real feelings for her showing through to us. 

What are your favourite William Holden performances?