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Farewell, Sean. Remembering Sean Connery (1930-2020)

The sad news came through this afternoon that Sean Connery had died in his sleep last night at his home in the Bahamas. He was 90 years old and had been in ill health for some time. To say I am heartbroken is an understatement. I have grown up with his films and magnificent performances and have been a fan for many years now. He was someone who was always there and could always be relied upon to turn in a good and entertaining performance, even in films which weren’t really that good.

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Sean Connery. Image source IMDb.

My first introduction to Sean came when I watched The Hunt For Red October, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and the Alfred Hitchcock film, Marnie. In all three of these films I was struck most by how he commanded the screen in every scene, even when he wasn’t saying anything or really doing much. I was impressed and wanted to see more. I was next introduced to the Bond series and thereafter was a fan for life.

I love how he never masked his Scottish accent and that it became such a beloved part of his screen presence, and that no matter who he played – Irish policeman, Russian submarine Captain – that accent somehow still sounded right.

I am a huge fan of the James Bond books and film series. His performance as James Bond is brilliant. He gives the character a ruthlessness and edge, something which leaves the viewer in no doubt that he can take care of himself and isn’t someone to be messed with. His charisma and sex appeal helped not only to endear him, but also the character of Bond, to both men and women.

Sean Connery as James Bond. Image sources IMDb.

While there were many other actors considered for the role of Bond – Stanley Baker, Cary Grant, James Mason etc- it’s hard now to imagine anyone other than Sean as the first official screen Bond. Sean was a huge part of the reason why the early Bond films became so successful and such a big deal. So much was riding on Sean’s casting in the role, but from that famous first Bond intro scene in Dr. No, any worries anyone may have had regarding his capability and suitability for the role quickly subsided. A new screen hero and icon had arrived on the scene.

Sean’s story is a classic rags to riches one. He was born Thomas Sean Connery, on the 25th of August, 1930, in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh. His mum, Euphemia, worked as a cleaner, while his dad, Joseph, was a lorry driver and factory worker. Sean had a younger brother, Neil, who was born in 1938 and later followed his older brother into the acting profession.

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Sylvia Trench(Eunice Gayson)is introduced to “Bond. James Bond.” Image source IMDb.

The young Sean’s first job was as a milkman. He then joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16. He was discharged at the age of 19 on medical grounds. After returning home he took on several jobs including a laborer, lorry driver and lifeguard. He also got into bodybuilding, and during a bodybuilding competition in 1953, a fellow competitor mentioned auditions were being held in London for the stage production of South Pacific. Sean went and auditioned and was offered a small role as one of the chorus boys. He later moved up to play the role of Cpl Steeves.

During a 1954 party for the show, Sean met Michael Caine for the first time. The pair would become lifelong friends and would later work together in the film The Man Who Would Be King. Sean would also become close friends with Roger Moore, who later succeeded Sean in his most famous screen role.

As the 1950’s rolled on, Sean’s fame grew as he started to get more significant roles in TV and films such as Hell Drivers, Requiem For A Heavyweight, Darby O’Gill And The Little People, and Another Time, Another Place,in which he co-starred alongside one of the biggest stars in the world, Lana Turner.

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Sean with Bond creator Ian Fleming. Image source IMDb.

In 1962, Sean was offered the role of British secret agent, Commander James Bond, in Dr. No. The film was to be the first serious screen adaptation of Ian Fleming’s hit book series. At first Sean was reluctant to sign a deal to play the character in multiple films, but soon changed his mind. Between 1962 and 1983 he played Bond in seven films – six official films for Eon productions, and the seventh and unofficial Bond film, Never Say Never Again.

Outside of Bond he impressed in such varied films as The Hill, The Offence(featuring one of his best performances as a detective reaching his breaking point), Marnie, The Untouchables(for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar),The Name Of The Rose, Robin And Marion(in which he and Audrey Hepburn deliver poignant performances as the older Robin Hood and Maid Marion),The Hunt For Red October, Highlander, The Rock and bizarre cult classic Zardoz.

Sean in Marnie, Robin And Marion and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. Image source IMDb.

One of my favourites from his later screen work is Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, in which he plays Professor Henry Jones, the bookworm dad of Indiana Jones. He was perfect casting playing against type as a mild mannered,studious,eccentric and very gentle man. Henry abhors fighting and has a difficult relationship with his more adventurous son. He and Harrison Ford have a lovely chemistry together and Sean gets to prove he had a gift for comedy as well as drama too.

My heart goes out to Sean’s family and friends. R.I.P, Sean. Thank you for so many great performances and unforgettable characters. While I am heartbroken at the loss of this legend, I take great comfort in the cinematic legacy he has left behind him for us to enjoy. This year has been a tough one already for Bond fans with the deaths announced of Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Margaret Nolan, but the loss of Sean makes it even more difficult for fans to bear.

The Eleanor Parker Blogathon Begins

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The big day has finally arrived! Check back to this post today and tomorrow to read all of the reviews and articles discussing Eleanor and her screen work. Thank you again for helping me celebrate the fabulous Eleanor Parker.

Gill gets the blogathon started with her review of Home For The Holidays.

Ruth discusses Baroness Schrader’s breakup technique.

I head down river to take a look at The Naked Jungle.

Kristen discusses The Man With The Golden Arm.

I write about the misunderstood Baroness Schrader.

Virginie discusses one of Eleanor’s best performances in Caged.

Sally shares her thoughts on a first time viewing of Interrupted Melody.

Paddy takes a trip Between Two Worlds.

Tiffany tells us about the time Eleanor starred with Errol Flynn in Never Say Goodbye.

Andrew takes a look at all the films of Eleanor’s which are available on DVD. Andrew is also holding a very special Eleanor Parker related giveaway. Please visit his site for more information.

Rebecca writes about Eleanor’s performance in The Man With The Golden Arm.

Mike tells us all about The Mysterious Doctor.

Kayla discusses The Very Thought Of You and makes a plea.

Erica takes a look at Eleanor’s lighter side in A Millionaire For Christy.

Dubsism discusses The Pride Of The Marines.

Kayla returns to share her thoughts on Never Say Goodbye.

Rebecca begins her new blog by sharing her thoughts on The Voice Of The Turtle.

Gabriela discusses Eleanor’s performance in The Sound Of Music.

The Eleanor Parker Blogathon: Baroness Schrader Is Misunderstood

It would be all too easy to watch The Sound Of Music(1965) and to simply perceive Baroness Elsa Schrader(Eleanor Parker)as a wicked stepmother and the villainess of the piece. But if you pay closer attention to her, you will find she is actually anything but a villainess. I have long considered Baroness Elsa Schrader to be a very misunderstood character.

At first glance the Baroness does bring to mind the stereotype of the wicked stepmother as presented to us in films such as Snow White(1937),Cinderella(1950), and The Parent Trap(1961 and 1998) – women who are elegant and beautiful on the outside, but who conceal the fact that inwardly they are self-centred and harbour cold hearts riddled with callousness and cruelty.

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Eleanor Parker as Baroness Elsa Schrader. Screenshot by me.

That description actually couldn’t be further from the truth in regards to Baroness Elsa.She is actually a kind and decent lady. She is also quite lonely and wants to find lasting love. She is someone who always puts on a brave face in public and comes across as being happy and outgoing all of the time, only very rarely does she allow someone to see the vulnerability she hides.

When I first watched The Sound Of Music I was a very young girl, but despite being so young, even I could see at that age that Elsa wasn’t really a horrible person. She may well struggle to connect with the Von Trapp children, but I’ve always thought that to be because they are distant with her and she’s unsure how best to win them over. She does try to connect with them though.

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The Baroness and Gretl. Screenshot by me.

She also seems genuinely moved and happy when Gretl presents her with some flowers and she gives her a cuddle. I know that she jokes with Max about sending the children to boarding school, but I’ve always considered that to be just a passing joke when he remarks that he doesn’t see her as a mother to that many children. Does any of this make her a wicked stepmother? No.

Elsa is also genuinely in love with Captain Georg Von Trapp and she has been his saviour and safe harbour for several years. He loves her in return.The Captain shunned the world for a long time after the tragic death of his wife. It was Elsa who rescued him from his despair.

As they take a stroll in his beautiful back garden, the Captain gazes tenderly at Elsa and tells her what she means to him. “Charming,witty,graceful. The perfect hostess. And, uh- You’re going to hate me for this – in a way, saviour. I would be an ungrateful wretch if I didn’t tell you at least once that it was you who brought some meaning back into my life.”

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The Baroness and Captain Von Trapp. Image source IMDb.

The Captain does indeed love Elsa, but as the film goes on he listens to his heart and realises he is actually in love with Maria. If Elsa does a bad thing in the film, it is when she conspires to break up Maria and the Captain by pressuring Maria to leave her job as governess at the Von Trapp home.

Although my heart breaks for Maria at this moment it also breaks for Elsa. You see it is Elsa who picks up on the love developing between Maria and Georg, and she not only picks up on it, but she does so even before Georg and Maria themselves really understand what they’re starting to feel for one another.

Elsa is understandably confused and hurt by this development. She does what any woman would do when she detects something developing between her man and another woman – she does everything in her power to nip it in the bud before it has a chance to fully bloom. Is she unkind and harsh forcing Maria to believe the Captain’s attentions are a mere passing interest and meaningless? Absolutely. Does this make her a villainess? Not at all, she is simply a scared woman trying to keep her man.

I love the ball scene where she sees the Captain and Maria dancing. As the dance comes to end, Elsa walks over to the couple – who are being watched by all the children, who are absolutely delighted to see these two falling for one another – and says “That was beautifully done. What a lovely couple you make.” As she says that, Liesl and Friedrich, the two eldest Von Trapp children,share a knowing look with one another. They know that she knows what’s going on.

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Bit chilly out tonight, isn’t it? Screenshot by me.

I always get a good giggle out of the wonderfully bitchy exchange between Elsa and Georg which follows that scene. As they walk back into the party, Elsa says “all that needless worrying, Georg. You thought you wouldn’t find a friend at the party.” To which he replies “Bit chilly out tonight, isn’t it?” Elsa then replies “Oh, I don’t know. Seemed rather warm to me.” ūü§£ūüĎć

If you still doubt she isn’t a villainess, then you need look no further than the scene where she willingly gives up her beloved Georg to Maria. She spares him from having to break up with her. She also makes it clear that she knows where his heart truly lies and that she has accepted that. Their farewell scene on the balcony is so touching and beautiful.

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Elsa bids farewell to the man she loves. Screenshot by me.

The way Eleanor performs in that final scene is just heartbreaking. Elsa gives up the man she loves because it is the right thing to do morally. She also retains her dignity and self respect through the classy way she ends the relationship. I hope she found herself a good man who loved her very much and treated her like a queen for the rest of her life.

I think we have Eleanor to thank for being able to convey all of this subtext and character depth to us, often through expressions and body language alone. In the enjoyable and extremely underrated The Trapp Family(1956), an earlier German film telling the same story, the Captain’s girlfriend is very much an obvious and unlikable villainess. It is a credit to Eleanor that her portrayal of Elsa made the character much more complex, relatable and very human.

The Sound Of Music was the film which first introduced me to Eleanor Parker. I became a fan of hers instantly, something which was confirmed for certain when I watched Scaramouche(1952) next. She was such a superb actress. She had that rare gift to be able to elevate even a small and not well developed character into someone we don’t forget. She gave a lot of depth to the characters she played. Baroness Elsa Schrader remains one of Eleanor’s finest screen moments.

The Eleanor Parker Blogathon: The Naked Jungle(1954)

The Naked Jungle poster

The Naked Jungle is one wild film. There’s a vast amount of sexual tension crackling away between Eleanor Parker and Charlton Heston, something which leads to their shared scenes and dialogue delivery being so sexually suggestive that you really do have to wonder quite how those moments got approved by the infamously prudish and sharp eyed censors. Throw some oppressive jungle heat,killer ants(known as the Marabunta)and deadly native rituals into the mix, and you’ve got yourself quite the exciting and fun flick.

The Naked Jungle is directed by Byron Haskin and is based upon the short story Leiningen Versus The Ants, which was written by Carl Stephenson and published in the December 1938 issue of Esquire magazine. The story was adapted for the screen by Philip Yordan and Ranald MacDougal. The original story is more about man struggling against the elements than anything else, and while that remains the case here, the main focus of the film is really on the relationship between Leiningen and his bride, Joanna.

Joanna arrives and is greeted by Incacha and then her new husband. Screenshots by me.

The year is 1901. Joanna Leiningen(Eleanor Parker)travels from New Orleans into the sweltering heat of South America to join her husband, Christopher Leiningen(Charlton Heston) on his plantation.She is a strong willed, intelligent and cultured lady, who isn’t afraid of a challenge. She is met off the boat by Incacha(Abraham Sofaer), her husband’s right hand man. Her husband however has not come to meet her.

We very quickly learn that she and her husband have never even met before now! She is a friend of his brother and he picked her to become Christopher’s wife. Joanna married Christopher by proxy(something which I never even knew existed before seeing this film), with Christopher’s brother standing in for her husband to be at the ceremony back home.

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Eleanor Parker as Joanna. Screenshot by me.

Now, I’m pretty sure that most of my male readers would be overjoyed and punching the air upon getting Eleanor Parker as their missus, but not so Christopher Leiningen. When Joanna arrives, this dude stands around being all moody,constantly clenching his granite jaw, and trying to find fault with his lady at every opportunity. He has no desire to hold her hand, much less to move things into the bedroom. It’s clear that she likes him and admires what he has achieved and built through years of incredible hard work, although considering his attitude towards her when she first arrives it’s a bit difficult to see why she likes him.

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The piano scene. Screenshot by me.

When Christopher learns that Joanna was once married before(cue some truly epic dramatic music courtesy of Daniele Amfitheatrof)he has a meltdown because it means she isn’t untouched and ‘pure’ any longer, so he goes on a rant about all the things in his home being pristine and new because that’s how he wants them. He says “Madam, this piano you’re sitting at was never played by anyone before it came here.” This leads to Joanna delivering one of the best and most sexually suggestive lines ever written,”If you knew more about music, you’d realise that a good piano is better when it’s played”. You tell him, girl!ūü§£

We soon learn that Christopher has no experience whatsoever with women, and that it is Joanna who is actually the sexually experienced and more worldly of the two; this role reversal being something which is quite daring and unusual for the time the film was made. You’d struggle today to find a situation like this in a film, much less find such intimate subject matter in a flick from the classic film era.

With this development, Christopher becomes the most interesting character in the film. He left home when he was still in his teens and against the odds built up the plantation from nothing and made money. He denied himself female companionship for years,choosing instead to wait on finding a wife until he could support her and had plenty of free time to focus on his personal life.

Now that he finally has a wife, he has to come to terms with the fact that she is not inexperienced and nervous like him, but instead she knows more about love and sex than he could ever dream of. You can understand how all of this could mess the guy up a bit. It also becomes apparent that his gruffness and bad temper is a facade to hide his insecurities and worries behind, he’s really not an unpleasant person.

Who knew that applying insect repellent oil could be this sexy? Screenshot by me.

It soon becomes obvious that Christopher can’t deny his growing feelings for Joanna and he softens and opens up more to her. But will they ever get around to acting on their desire for one another? Things are further complicated by the arrival of the Marabunta, a ferocious colony of army ants. Unlike most other ants these do not build stationery nests and instead remain constantly on the move. The ants start destroying the land and nearing ever closer to the Leiningen plantation. Can they be stopped?

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Elizabeth Taylor and Dana Andrews in Elephant Walk. Image source IMDb.

The film and characters remind me very much of another film which was made just the year before, Elephant Walk. Both films feature a young woman leaving her previous life behind her to join her husband on his distant plantation; the husbands in both films are consumed by their lifelong work on their plantations and are distant from their wives, yet at the same time they love their women deeply but don’t quite know how to show it;and both films have animals and nature proving they can be stronger and more damaging than man at times. Both films also star Abraham Sofaer as the trusted long-term employee to both Charlton Heston and Peter Finch’s characters.

The difference between these two films lies in the behaviour and reactions of the female characters – Eleanor Parker’s sticks with her man throughout and puts up with a lot, whereas Elizabeth Taylor’s struggles more and finds solace and love in the arms of another man(Dana Andrews), while never losing her love for her husband(Peter Finch).

Charlton’s performance is good enough and it’s interesting seeing him play a different type of character than we’re used to seeing him portray, but it is Eleanor who single handily steals the film. I love how bold and strong she is in this. This is one of my favourite performances of hers. I love how Joanna stands up to Christopher, isn’t easily afraid, and how she won’t back down without a fight. Joanna is feisty, kind and determined. Eleanor and Charlton are terrific together and it’s difficult to imagine other actors in those roles, much less two different actors being blessed with the same chemistry shared by Eleanor and Charlton.

Sadly the rest of the characters, especially the native people, are not well developed at all which is disappointing, but everyone in the cast does their best with the material they have. The film is a lot of fun with something in it for everyone and you sure won’t forget the scenes between Charlton and Eleanor in a hurry. The film ends much too abruptly for my tastes though.

This is one of my entries for my Eleanor Parker blogathon next weekend.

Farewell, Diana. Remembering Diana Rigg(1938-2020)

The sad news came through on September the 10th, that the actress Dame Diana Rigg had passed away that day from cancer. She was 82. My heart broke at the news. She has been a favourite of mine for many years now and I have grown up admiring so many of the strong and kickass characters she played, proving yet again that there were actually many great roles for women in the past, despite what some people today seem to think.

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Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Image source IMDb.

I also liked how Diana always came across as down to earth and didn’t take it all too seriously. She was made a CBE in 1988 and a Dame in 1994.In 1982 she wrote No Turn Unstoned, a book featuring a collection of the worst theatrical reviews in history.

Diana Rigg was born on the 20th of July, 1938, in Doncaster. Her dad Louis was a Railway Engineer, and from the age of two months until she was eight, Diana lived in Bikaner, India, where her dad was employed as a railway executive. Diana spoke fluent Hindi and it was her second language for some years. She was sent back to England to attend the Fulneck Girls School, in Pudsey, Yorkshire. Diana hated her time there, but she felt that her character was shaped more by her time in Yorkshire than it was in India.

Diana attended Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art from 1955 to 1957, and she made her professional acting debut in The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the York festival in 1957. She had a varied stage career during the 1950’s and 60’s, including time spent performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, it would be due to two performances on the screen that she would go on to become a household name.

In 1965, Diana auditioned for the role of the new partner of Patrick Macnee’s suave spy, John Steed, in the British hit TV series The Avengers. The character of Emma Peel was the replacement to Honor Blackman’s tough Cathy Gale. Honor Blackman, Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg would all go on to be involved with the James Bond series, with Diana and Honor playing two of the toughest and most beloved Bond girls.

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Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee in The Avengers. Image source IMDb.

Diana had never watched the series before she auditioned for the role. She replaced the actress Elizabeth Shepherd, who had originally been cast as Emma but had left the series after filming just two episodes. It’s hard to imagine this series now without Diana.Emma Peel is the role that most people remember Diana for. As much as I love the other seasons and the various partners, it is Steed and Peel who first spring to my mind whenever I think of this series. For me John Steed and Emma Peel are the heart and soul of The Avengers. They are without a doubt one of best screen partnerships.

Patrick and Diana had a magical chemistry on screen. There is such a warmth and playfulness between them, as well as a sexual tension which works wonderfully for the characters. This sexual tension created quite the talking point amongst fans, something which continues today, as to just what the exact nature of Steed and Peel’s relationship actually was.

Emma Peel is such a great character because she’s intelligent, independent, and strong, and she’s also highly skilled in martial arts and firearms. She can take care of herself and is every bit Steed’s equal. You wouldn’t want to mess with her. If this character has inspired me as a little girl growing up in the 1990’s and 2000’s, then I can’t begin to imagine how much of an impact she had on girls and women watching the series during the very male dominated society of the 1960’s.

Diana played Emma for three years between 1965 and 1967. While she and Patrick became good friends, she was however left unhappy with her treatment by the series producers, particularly around the issue of how little she was being paid in comparison with the rest of the cast and crew. She demanded and eventually received a pay rise. A ballsy move for the time,and one which showed she wasn’t content to be treated secondary to her male colleagues. All respect to her. Diana also felt uncomfortable that she had become a sex symbol because of the series.

In 1969, Diana would play the second character with whom she would forever afterwards be associated with. That character was Countess Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo in the sixth Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

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Mr and Mrs. James Bond. Image source IMDb.

In comparison with so many of the other women in Bond’s life, Tracy actually claims the heart of the tough spy and the pair genuinely fall in love, rather than just enjoying a brief fling and some fun. Tracy also has a very interesting character arc as she transitions from suicidal playgirl, to a happy woman with a newfound desire for living life; something which makes her characters shocking fate all the more tragic to witness.Diana is incredible in this role and brings a lot of depth to the character. 

OHMSS saw George Lazenby taking over the role of 007 after Sean Connery’s departure from the role. Despite the unfair criticism he has received over the years for his performance, George does a very good job and is believable as the tough and calm under pressure spy. He’s very good in the fight sequences and very good in the tender and more poignant scenes between Bond and Tracy. He and Diana work very well together and have a lovely chemistry. There were rumours that the two actors didn’t get on, something which they both denied.

Outside of The Avengers and James Bond, Diana worked steadily in theatre, TV and film right up until her death.Her last role was as Mrs. Pumphrey in the new remake of the TV series All Creatures Great And Small, and that series is currently still in the middle of airing here in the UK. 

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Diana and George C. Scott in The Hospital. Image source IMDb.

Just two years after OHMSS, Diana was cast as Barbara Drummond in Arthur Hill’s 1971 satirical film, The Hospital. Diana delivers a performance here which sees her match  the mighty George C. Scott. George was an actor who dominated every scene he appeared in, even if he wasn’t really doing anything, so I’ve always been impressed by what Diana managed to do in this one. 

I love Diana in the short lived TV series The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries – almost a forerunner to the series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries –  playing Adela Bradley, a stylish upper class widow who isn’t content to be what society dictates, who rocks 1920’s flapper fashion, and solves crimes with the aid of her dishy friend(with the potential to be something more) and chauffer, George Moody(Neil Dudgeon). I think it’s a real shame this series didn’t last longer because it’s a lot of fun and she and Neil have a lovely chemistry. 

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Diana and Emilia Fox in the series Rebecca. Image source IMDb.

Diana was chilling and unsettling as Mrs. Danvers in the 1997 TV adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca. Her co-stars in the series were Charles Dance as Maxim and Emilia Fox as the second Mrs. DeWinter. Charles and Diana were reunited just a few years ago, when the pair co-starred on the hit series, Game Of Thrones

Diana gained a new generation of fans around the world thanks to her performance as the cunning and fearless, Queen Of Thorns, in the TV series Game Of Thrones. This characters mind and words are her swords and poison, and they are quite capable of bringing her enemies low. The Queen Of Thorns is just as badass as Emma Peel.

If I saw Diana’s name on the cast list of a film or series, then I would always watch it. She always impressed and I was always left wanting to see more from her. I will miss her presence on our screens, but I take comfort in the vast body of work she has left behind for us to enjoy. R.I.P, Diana. All sympathies to her family and friends. She is survived by her daughter Rachel Stirling, who has followed in her mum’s footsteps and become a great actress herself. 

Thanks for all the great work and wonderful memories, Diana. 

Announcing The Eleanor Parker Blogathon

I was pondering over who or what the subject of my next blogathon should be. I’ve finally decided that it’s high time I shone the spotlight on Eleanor Parker. She’s one of my favourite classic era actresses, and she sadly seems to have become a very underrated and little discussed actress, something which I think we need to rectify.

I was first introduced to Eleanor as a little girl when I watched The Sound Of Music for the first time. As I’ve grown older I’ve sought out more of her work. One of my favourite Eleanor Parker performances is as the feisty Lenore in Scaramouche.¬†

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Eleanor Parker. Image source IMDb.

For this blogathon you can write about any of Eleanor’s films and performances. Tributes and articles are also very welcome. I will allow just two duplicates per film title, but no limit on favourite or best of lists. You can write more than one post if you wish to do so.¬†

The Blogathon will take place on the 10th and 11th of October, 2020. Please have your posts ready on or before those dates. I’d appreciate it if you could let me know as soon as possible if you’re going to be late submitting your entry, or if something happens and you can no longer take part.¬†

Check the participation list below to see who is writing about what. Please take one of the banners and place it on your site to help promote the event. Finally, I hope you enjoy spending some time with Eleanor and her films.

Films Now Claimed Twice – The Man With The Golden Arm, The Sound Of Music,Never Say Goodbye,Caged

Participation List

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films – The Naked Jungle & My thoughts on the Baroness from The Sound Of Music

Poppity Talks Classic Film РA Millionaire For Christy 

KN Winiarski Writes – The Man With The Golden Arm

Pale Writer- The Sound Of Music 

Dubsism РThe Pride Of The Marines 

Caftan Woman – Between Two Worlds

Realweegiemidgetreviews – Home For The Holidays

The Wonderful World Of Cinema РCaged 

18 Cinema Lane РInterrupted Melody 

Taking Up Room – The Man With The Golden Arm

Silver Screenings РThe Sound Of Music 

BaronessAndBeyond РEleanor Parker On DVD 

Whimsically Classic РNever Say Goodbye & The Very Thought Of You 

Travel Through Screen – Voice Of The Turtle

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society – Never Say Goodbye

Mike’s Take On The Movies – The Mysterious Doctor

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood РCaged 

Eleanor Parker Blogathon

Eleanor Parker Blogathon 1

Eleanor Parker Blogathon 2

The 4th Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon Begins

Hitch Blogathon 2020 2Welcome, friends. The 4th Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon has arrived! Maxim De Winter has very kindly allowed us to spend the weekend at Manderley to watch and discuss the work of Mr. Hitchcock.

Mr. De Winter has left instructions that we are free to go anywhere in the house and grounds, apart from the west wing and a certain stretch of the beach. Ah, I see that Mrs. Danvers is beckoning us all into the screening room. The Hitchcock films are about to start. Please check back to this post over the next two days to read all of the Hitchcock related posts. 

Erica kicks things off by discussing the underrated Hitch film I,Confess.

Ruth shares her thoughts on Rebecca. 

I take a look at Rope. 

Gill discusses Hitchcock’s last film Family Plot.¬†

Rick takes a look at Hitch’s glamorous thriller North By Northwest.

Sally shares her thoughts on Marnie. 

Christian looks at the symbolism in Vertigo. 

Rich takes a look at some episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock TV series. 

Patty discusses the Hitchcock villains. 

Matt shares his thoughts on Shadow Of A Doubt.

Le discusses Stage Fright.

Rebecca goes back to the Silent era to take a look at Champagne. 

Claudia writes about Torn Curtain. 

Paddy shares her thoughts on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode Banquo’s Chair.

Jess heads to the Riveria to take a look at To Catch A Thief.

Dubsism discusses Foreign Correspondent. 

Meredith heads to Manderley to uncover the mystery of Rebecca.

Kayla tells us all about The Lady Vanishes.

Paul compares The Twilight Zone to Alfred Hitchcock Presents. 

Tiffany shares her thoughts on To Catch A Thief. 

Gabriela writes about Frenzy. 

Paul joins Jimmy Stewart to take a peek at Rear Window. 

The 4th Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon: Rope(1948)

Rope 1Rope is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most daring and macabre films. It is best remembered today as the experimental film seemingly shot all in one take.

It wasn’t well received upon release and is considered by many fans and critics to be a weaker Hitchcock film, a view I’ve never gone along with. Although I do concede that many of the actors deliver very theatrical performances, and it does feel as though you’re watching a live stage play at times rather than a film.¬†

I consider Rope to be one of Hitch’s darkest and most interesting films, as well as being a brilliant character study. The film is also a great example of how to slowly build suspense and tension. I also love the hilarious nods to other Hitchcock actors and films in the scene where Mrs. Atwater, Janet and Rupert, discuss films and actors they adore but can’t remember the names of.¬†

The film is based upon the 1929 British play of the same name(renamed Rope’s End when the play was performed over in America), which was written by Patrick Hamilton. Actor and writer Hume Cronyn was invited by Hitch to work with him on putting together the treatment for a screen adaptation of Hamilton’s play. Once the treatment was complete, playwright Arthur Laurents was then hired to write the screenplay.¬†¬†

Rope was a film of firsts. It was produced by Hitch and Sidney Bernstein and was the first feature film to come from their newly formed production company Transatlantic Pictures. Rope would also become the first of Hitch’s films to be shot in colour¬†

Making the film was a complicated process. Rope was shot in real time with a very small number of edits done in a way¬† to make the film seem as if it was actually shot in one continuous take. Hitch shot the film a reel at a time, which gave him 10 minute segments of film shot all in one take, which he could then edit together with other reels later to give the impression that all the footage was uninterrupted. Of course it’s more apparent to audiences today where the edits are, but I don’t think it takes anything away from the film that we notice those zooms into peoples backs or objects. It was an interesting experiment and the unbroken takes are impressive.¬†

During filming parts of the set, along with bits of furniture and props, were moved around during takes in order to make room for the massive Technicolor cameras to be able to move around following the actors, and they were then put back in the correct position when required to be back in shot again. In addition to having to get used to the unbroken takes required on the film, my hat goes off to the actors who also had to stay in character and manage to ignore all of what was going on around them as they performed their scenes. 

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Filming gets underway on the set of Rope. Image source IMDb.

The film mostly takes place in one room of an apartment set. There is a cyclorama of the New York skyline outside the apartment window. This skyline is a highlight of the film, and we see it begin to slowly change as the afternoon light grows dimmer and begins to transition into the darkness of evening. As night falls, many of the windows in the other buildings begin to light up, and the skyline eventually becomes ablaze with neon light. It’s really remarkable to look at, even if the clouds do look rather fake.¬†

One of the most interesting things about this film is how it strongly implies that Brandon and Philip are a couple.It’s also hinted that Rupert Cadell may have possibly once been in a relationship with Brandon. This element of the film caused the film censors to clutch their pearls and demand that parts of the dialogue be omitted because it made it abundantly clear that Philip and Brandon were gay. Despite the changes to the script it is obvious that these men are a couple.¬†

                                           Philip and Brandon. Screenshots by me.

It is a credit to both John and Farley that the relationship between their characters is so strongly evident, despite us never seeing them share a kiss, or verbally declare their desire for one another. Interestingly Farley was himself gay and had had a relationship with the film’s screenwriter, Arthur Laurents.¬†

It’s strange to me how what is in the film as it stands got past the censor at all, because the characters sexuality is staring us right in the face. For example, notice Brandon and Philip’s sexually charged behaviour and body language after they kill David and then share a cigarette and a drink. I also always get a good laugh at the very suggestive way in which Brandon and Philip handle that bottle of champagne as well.

Both the play and the film are inspired by the real life Leopold and Loeb case, which saw nineteen year old Nathan Leopold and eighteen year old Richard Loeb, murder fourteen year old Bobby Franks in 1924. They murdered the boy in order to prove their supposed superior intellects and get away with murder. The film Compulsion(1959) is directly based upon this case. 

Rope begins with a close up of David Kentley(Dick Hogan)being strangled to death by his friends Brandon Shaw(John Dall)and Phillip Morgan(Farley Granger). The murder takes place in Brandon and Philip’s apartment. We later learn the pair have planned and committed this murder in order to prove their supposed superior intellects by committing the “perfect murder” of someone they consider to be a lesser being.¬†

The sunny opening of the film soon gives way to darkness and horror. Screenshots by me. 

This opening scene of murder is not only shocking and very much in your face, but it also brings to mind this Joseph Cotton speech from Shadow Of A Doubt: “The world is a foul sty. Do you know if you ripped the fronts off houses, you’d find swine?” The opening titles of Rope run over footage of a sunny and idyllic looking residential street where everything seems normal and pleasant. Then the camera slowly pans up the side of a building and into the window of an apartment. Unbeknown to everyone else in the street something horrific is taking place in there.

After killing David, Brandon and Philip then place his body in a big antique chest. A few hours after the murder they go ahead and host a prearranged party at their shared apartment, a party to which David’s father(Cedric Hardwicke); David’s fiance, Janet(Joan Chandler); David’s aunt, Mrs. Atwater(Constance Collier); and mutual friend Kenneth Lawrence(Douglas Dick) have all been invited.David was supposed to attend the party too, so when he doesn’t arrive the others start to worry.

Brandon and Philip lay out a delicious buffet on top of the very same chest in which David’s body lies. This is a sick joke dreamt up by Brandon to ensure the loved ones of the dead man will in effect be collecting food off of his corpse.Also invited to the party is Brandon and Philip’s friend/mentor/former teacher, Rupert Cadell(James Stewart).

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Hitch talks to his cast on the main apartment set. Image source IMDb.

Rupert knows the pair very well and can read them like books. As the night wears on and there is no sign of David, Rupert starts to become convinced that something is not right.Rupert becomes more convinced of this after Philip grows more and more on edge and nervous as the night goes on. When the other guests leave to go and be with David’s mother and wait for news of him, Rupert sets about uncovering the dark secret his friends are hiding.¬†

Philip is freaking out because some part of him feels remorse for what he has been a part of. He is also afraid of getting found out and is shocked at how callous and casual Brandon is behaving. What’s worth noting is that it was Philip who actually strangled David, while Brandon held David in place and had the overall plan for his murder and for the disposal of his body. Philip is easily controlled and dominated by Brandon and Philip’s resentment of this fact also plays into his emotional unravelling at the party. It is Philip’s emotional state that really indicates to Rupert that something is going on.

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Rupert discovers what Brandon and Philip have done. Image source IMDb.

Later in the film Rupert seems disgusted when he learns how his own words have so influenced Brandon, and he fully disowns what he has said before and is appalled at what Brandon and Philip have done. Some viewers have said they don’t buy that complete change of attitude and heart and that it seems out of character for him to disown what he said he was serious about, but they obviously think Rupert was always as serious as Brandon was about murder whereas I think it’s clear that just isn’t the case at all.

Earlier at the party Rupert greatly amused David’s aunt, Janet and Kenneth, with his funny musings about using murder to solve problems such as getting theatre tickets or booking tables at top restaurants. The conversation quickly takes a darker turn and Mr. Kentley grows distressed by this flippant conservation and has a go at Brandon who seems to really approve of the idea of casual murder whenever someone feels like it. When Mr. Kentley asks him “who decides who is inferior, and therefore a suitable victim for murder?”, Brandon coldly replies “the few who are privileged to commit murder. The few are those men of such intellectual and cultural superiority that they are above the traditional moral concepts.” It’s chilling to listen to.

Although Rupert claims to be serious in what he’s saying when questioned by some of the guests, his tone and the ridiculous scenarios he describes clearly prove that the opposite is true. I think he came up with those views simply as an amusing talking point. If he was truly a psychopath with no regard for human life, like Brandon is, wouldn’t his described scenarios be darker? Wouldn’t he go out and commit murder to put his thoughts into practice? Wouldn’t he help Brandon and Philip get away with their crime rather than turning them in?

It seems to me that Brandon was born with a twisted mind and read too much into what Rupert said and went and built his life around those words and saw himself as being more important than others. Of course Rupert was appalled by that and shocked that his words and silliness clearly had such an impact on Brandon’s psyche. All of this just goes to show the power that words can have, sometimes without the speaker or writer even realising it.¬†

                                    A few shots from the film. Screenshots by me.

Farley Granger and John Dall are both superb. Farley captures Philip’s easily led personality and his growing distress and rage perfectly. John is calm and collected and perfectly captures Brandon’s coldness and smugness.I think John Dall steals the film and he makes Brandon one of the most effective and memorable of the Hitchcock villains. I especially love how he subtly conveys Brandon becoming over excited,almost like a child desperate for praise from a parent, once Rupert arrives at the party.¬†

Constance Collier is hilarious as Mrs. Atwater and steals all the scenes she’s in. Cedric Hardwicke is heartbreaking as the worried father desperate to find out where his son is. Edith Evanson is great as Philip and Brandon’s long suffering housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, I especially love her scenes with James Stewart.

I don’t think that Joan Chandler and Douglas Dick really have as much to do as the rest of the cast, but they try their best with the smaller roles they have and make an impression. I do like their subplot of being brought together again by Brandon’s machinations.¬†

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Kenneth and Janet are reunited. Screenshot by me.

Some think James Stewart is miscast as Rupert. While someone like James Mason or Claude Rains would perhaps have been more suited to the role, I think there would be a real danger of them playing Rupert with an air of malevolence which would have made the character too much of a villain. I like that James Stewart makes the character naive in that he doesn’t think what others could read into what he says. While it’s not one of his best performances I do like him in the role.

While the film does have its weak spots, it really is so much better than the reputation it has received over the years. I also disagree that us knowing Brandon and Philip are killers and seeing what they do with their victims body, takes away any suspense in the film. The suspense lies not in whether or not the pair have killed, but whether or not they will give themselves away to Rupert through their behaviour, or if the body will be found if their housekeeper opens the chest when clearing away the buffet. I love how the tension and suspense builds very slowly in this one. 

Rope is an underrated gem from the master of suspense and the macabre. Don’t forget to RSVP your invitations to Brandon and Philip’s party. See you at the Hitchcock blogathon next weekend.¬†

Farewell, Olivia. Remembering Olivia De Havilland(1916 -2020)

The classic film community has been dealt a very painful blow today. The actress Olivia De Havilland has died at her home in France, at the age of 104. While that is certainly a remarkable age to live to, it in no way lessens the pain I feel right now at her loss. She is one of my favourite actresses and delivered some truly remarkable performances during her fifty year film career.

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Olivia as outwardly fragile but internally strong Melanie Wilkes. Image source IMDb.

I was first introduced to her as the outwardly gentle and fragile, yet internally strong, Melanie Wilkes in Gone With The Wind.

That film was not only one of the first to get me interested in classic era films, but it also instantly made me a fan of a Olivia and led me to seek out more of her work. 

Olivia was not only a great actress, but she was also quite the badass in real life. She took Warner Brothers Studios to court in 1943, to challenge their handling of actors contracts.

Olivia’s friend Bette Davis was also unhappy about the studios behaviour regarding contracts, and had launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against Warner Brothers in the 1930’s trying to get out of her contract.

At the time the film studios had the habit of extending actors contracts past the amount of time that had been agreed when the contract was initially drawn up and signed, by suspending actors who turned down any roles that they were told to take,and also by adding on any days not worked, such as weekends or holiday periods.

In 1943, Olivia discovered her own contract with Warner Brothers was going to be extended by an extra year. Olivia’s court case rested on an existing section of the California Labor Code which forbade employers from enforcing employee contracts for longer than seven years from the date of first performance. In June 1943, the Superior court agreed with Olivia and ruled in her favour.

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Olivia De Havilland 1916-2020. Image source IMDb.

The studio appealed the courts decision, but a year later the appeal court also sided with Olivia. The ruling became known as The De Havilland Law. This landmark court case loosened some of the power the studios had over their actors and earned Olivia the respect of her colleagues in the industry. Unfortunately Olivia was in effect blacklisted for her actions by the studios and couldn’t work for the next two years.¬†

In 2017, Olivia sued FX Networks due to the way she was portrayed in the miniseries Feud. She alleged she was wrongly portrayed as a hypocrite and a gossip. She also objected to a scene where the Olivia in the series referred to her sister Joan as a “bitch”.Olivia claimed she had never referred to her sister like that. Unfortunately Olivia didn’t win this one, but the case was very interesting and was closely followed by many of us in the classic film community.¬†

Olivia was born on the 1st of July, 1916, in Japan. Her mother, Lillian, was an actress and singer. Her father, Walter, was a professor of English at the Imperial University in Tokyo. Olivia and her younger sister, Joan Fontaine, would both go on to become two of the most acclaimed and popular American actresses of the classic film era. The sisters famously had an up and down relationship from the time they were children, and sadly disputes and differences continued throughout their lives which eventually led to estrangement. Joan died in 2013. 

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Olivia and her sister Joan.  Image source IMDb.

When people hear the name Olivia De Havilland, most will instantly think of her impressive performances in The Snake Pit, Gone With The Wind, The Adventures Of Robin Hood, The Heiress, but Olivia is also superb in somewhat less well known/less discussed gems such as The Dark Mirror(in which she plays twin sisters with very different personalities), Dodge City, Captain Blood, The Strawberry Blonde, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, My Cousin Rachel.¬†

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Olivia and Errol in Dodge City. Image source IMDb.

Olivia first appeared on screen in 1935. This year was key for her because not only did it see her get her start in the film industry, but she was also paired with Errol Flynn for the first time, in the swashbuckling classic, Captain Blood. Errol and Olivia would become one of the most beloved screen teams of the classic era and made eight films together. My favourite of these films are Dodge City, Captain Blood and The Adventures Of Robin Hood.

Olivia and Errol are one of those special couples who have that magical chemistry which is clearly evident on screen. Over the years there has been a great deal of gossip about Errol and Olivia’s relationship in real life. There’s been much speculation that the pair were lovers, but Olivia later said that while they both fell in love with one another, they never acted on their feelings.¬†

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Olivia and Errol share a happy moment. Image source IMDb.

Over the years Olivia would take home two Oscars, one for her portrayal of the damaged Catherine Sloper in The Heiress, and the other for her portrayal of Josephine Norris in To Each His Own. Quite how she didn’t receive a third Oscar for her harrowing performance as the mentally ill, Virginia Cunningham, in The Snake Pit¬†is beyond me. That film features what may well be her best performance.¬†

My top five Olivia De Havilland films? The Snake Pit, The Dark Mirror, The Heiress, Gone With The Wind, Dodge City. She is at her best in these five films as far as I’m concerned. Not only do I love these films for their stories, characters and her performances, but because these films also highlight her great versatility as an actress.¬†

The word legend is often bandied about, but it is perfectly apt in Olivia’s case. She was one of our last links to Hollywood’s Golden era. While my heart is heavy, I take comfort in the vast film legacy she has left behind her. My hope is that future generations will seek out her work and discover her great talent. R.I.P, Olivia. Thank you for so many remarkable performances and memorable characters.¬†

 

The Robert Donat Blogathon: The Winslow Boy (1948)

Not only was Robert Donat one of the finest screen actors of his generation, but I’ll go so far as to say he was also one of the best actors in film history.He does some of his greatest work playing Sir Robert Morton in The Winslow Boy. If you want to see Robert’s subtle scene stealing ability at its peak, then you should look no further than his masterful performance in this gem.¬† ¬†

The Winslow Boy is directed by Anthony Asquith(The Browning Version, Carrington V.C.) and produced by Anatole de Grunwald. The film is based upon the 1946 stage play of the same name by Terence Rattigan(Separate Tables, The Browning Version). Anatole de Grunwald and Terence Rattigan co-wrote the screenplay.

The winslow boy

Both the film and the play are based upon a real life incident from 1908, which concerned a boy called George Archer- Shee and a stolen postal order. The incident and the subsequent trial became front page news and caused a sensation here in Britain. 

George Archer-Shee was a young British Naval cadet from a wealthy Roman Catholic family. He was training at the Royal Naval College at Osborne House on the Isle Of Wight.On the 7th of October, 1908, another cadet called Terence Back received a postal order from a relative costing five shillings. That same afternoon, George Archer-Shee received permission to leave the Naval college grounds and go to a local post office to buy a postal order and a stamp so that he could buy a model train costing 15 shillings and sixpence.

When he returned to the college, Archer-Shee learnt that Terence Back had reported that his postal order had been stolen.The postmistress produced Terence Back’s cashed postal order. She reported only two cadets visited that afternoon and claimed that the cadet who had brought the postal order for 15 shillings and 6 pence was the same one who cashed the five shilling postal order.

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The real life Winslow Boy. George Archer-Shee. Image source Wikimedia Commons.

George Archer-Shee strongly protested his innocence but the college found him guilty of theft. When the college wrote to his father informing him of the situation and that his son would be expelled, his father refused to believe his son guilty of the crime.  

George’s elder brother, Martin Archer-Shee, obtained the services of Sir Edward Carson, who was not only one of the best barristers in the country, but was also an MP and the former Solicitor General.

Before he agreed to take on the case, Sir Edward exhaustively questioned George Archer-Shee until he was satisfied that the boy was indeed innocent.

Upon taking on the boy’s defence, it quickly became apparent to Sir Edward that this would not be a straightforward case. Because the boy was a Naval cadet he was excluded from the jurisdiction of the Civil Court. As he was not enlisted in the Royal Navy he was not eligible to face a Court Martial. Sir Edward brought a petition of right against the Crown in order to get the case before the courts. The Archer-Shee case eventually came before the courts on the 26th of July, 1910.¬†

“A boy 13 years old has been labelled and ticketed for all his future life as a thief and a forger. Gentlemen, I protest against the injustice to a child, without communication with his parents, without his case ever being put, or an opportunity of its ever being put forward by those on his behalf. That little boy from the day that he was first charged, up to this moment, whether in the ordeal of being called in before his Commander and his Captain, or whether under the softer influences of the persuasion of his own loving parents, has never faltered in the statement that he is innocent.” Sir Edward Carson’s opening remarks to the court concerning the Archer-Shee case.¬†

Sir Edward proved that the grounds on which George Archer-Shee was dismissed from Osborne were unsubstantiated. The postmistress admitted she may have been mistaken in what she had said at the time. She was also unable to identify George Archer-Shee from among the other cadets. On the fourth day of the trial the Solicitor General accepted that the boy was innocent of the crime. The Archer-Shee family received several thousand pounds in compensation from the British Admiralty the following year. While the case had a happy ending tragedy lurked just around the corner. George Archer-Shee served as a lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment during WW1. He was killed at the Battle Of Ypres in 1914. He was just 19 years old. 

The Winslow Boy is a powerful and touching tale of standing up for what is right and just, even if doing so costs you personally. The film is also one of the most moving tales of the unshakable love of a parent for their child. At the heart of the film is the issue of the right of every person to be able to defend themselves and receive a fair trial in a court of law when accused of a crime. In addition to all of this, the film is also a very touching drama about a family risking not only their standing in society, but also their fortune, in order to help their young relative get justice.

The film sticks very close to the facts of the Archer-Shee case but changes several things, such as Ronnie Winslow cashing his postal order to buy an air pistol rather than a model train, as well as changing the names of the key figures involved in the real case and setting the events in 1912, rather than having events take place between 1908 and 1911.

                                           A few screenshots from the film. 

The film also makes the Winslow family much less wealthier than their real life counterparts were. Unlike the play and the 1999 film remake, this film adaptation also takes us inside the courtroom to witness the trial unfolding, a decision which allows us to bear witness to Morton’s great skill as a barrister.

The film presents Ronnie’s elder brother as being more interested in music and having a good time, rather than taking life seriously, when in reality the elder brother wasn’t like that at all. Both the play and the film also present Ronnie Winslow’s elder sister Catherine as being a suffragette and early feminist, and someone to whom Sir Robert Morton takes quite a fancy, when in reality the sister was very different and no hint of romance existed between her and Sir Edward Carson. While these changes may seem strange, they do work wonderfully well for the film, especially the money worries experienced by the family and Catherine’s determination to gain equal footing in life with men.

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Ronnie Winslow. Screenshot by me.

Ronnie Winslow(Neil North)is a Naval Cadet at Osborne on the Isle Of Wight. Accused of stealing and cashing the postal order of a fellow cadet, he is found guilty by his commanding officer and expelled from the college. He never relents in protesting his innocence.

Ronnie’s father, Arthur Winslow(Cedric Hardwicke), is riddled with Arthritis and has had to retire from his job as a bank manager. Mr. Winslow doesn’t for one second believe his son to be guilty of the crime he has been accused of, and despite his bad health, he pushes himself to the limit supporting his son and trying to arrange legal help for him.¬†

He eventually obtains the services of distinguished barrister and MP, Sir Robert Morton(Robert Donat), who agrees to meet Ronnie before deciding whether or not he will take on his case. After subjecting the boy to intense and prolonged questioning, Sir Robert is convinced of his innocence and agrees to defend him. 

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Sir Robert and Catherine have a talk. Screenshot by me.

During meetings with the Winslow family an attraction develops between Sir Robert Morton and Ronnie’s elder sister, Catherine(Margaret Leighton).

Sparks fly between the pair and the more they discuss things, the more it becomes clear that they think along similar lines about so much in life.

Some of the best scenes in the film are those between Robert Donat and Margaret Leighton. Both actors are clearly having fun with the verbal sparring that their characters engage in and both do a wonderful job through looks, gestures, vocal tones etc of conveying the unspoken feelings that the pair are starting to develop for one another. 

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Sir Robert would much rather read than listen to speeches by the opposition. Screenshot by me.

While the whole cast are all superb, it is Robert Donat who single-handedly steals the show. Although he doesn’t appear in the film for 43 minutes, once he is a part of the film you miss him when he leaves a scene and he has your undivided attention whenever he is on screen.

Whether he’s subtly scene stealing through glances and body language alone, or delivering powerful speeches, Robert Donat utterly commands the screen in this film.

I love how well he captures the soft spoken Robert Morton’s languid, seemingly disinterested and cool exterior, while at the same time showing us the impassioned and decent soul beneath that exterior. I especially love his performance during the scene in Parliament, where another MP says the following while debating the case of the Winslow Boy:¬†

“Chief criticism against the admiralty appears to centre on the purely legal question of the petition of right brought by Mr. Arthur Winslow and the admiralty’s demurrer thereto. There is no doubt whatever in my mind that in certain cases, private rights may have to be sacrificed for the public good. And moreover His Majesty’s government cannot be and will not be expected to yield to threats and grandiloquent gestures from any source whatsoever.”¬†

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The book scene.Screenshot by me.

All through that speech, Sir Robert is casually sitting on the opposition bench reading a book and seemingly acting disinterested. When the other MP says that rights may have to be sacrificed, Sir Robert looks disgusted, loudly slams shut his book and shoots a withering look at the man speaking and storms out of the House.

I love how Robert Donat acts out that moment and how he makes Sir Robert’s actions so effective. Sir Robert is a man who does everything for a reason and chooses his moments to fight very carefully. A little later on in the film, Sir Robert shows us just what he is made of when he delivers a powerful rebuttal speech in Parliament. Part of that speech is as follows:

” And I believe, with all my heart, that this House will accept my view that there is only one course left open to the government. Namely this. Let them not rest till the attorney general has endorsed Mr. Winslow’s petition with the time honoured phrase, the phrase that has always stirred an Englishman and I hope always will stir him, wherever he may be – in his castle, in his backyard…or in the humblest little public house at the corner of the humblest little street: Let right be done”.¬†

Let right be done are the four words that this whole film rests upon. Sometimes it can be difficult and costly to do the right thing, but choosing the right way over the wrong or easy way should always be the way we go. Robert Morton incurs the wrath of government for standing up for what is right and refusing to stop supporting Ronnie Winslow.

The Winslow family also sacrifice and suffer a great deal due to protesting Ronnie’s innocence – the elder brother, Dickie(Jack Watling), loses out on his place at Oxford,while Catherine loses her marriage settlement and has her engagement broken off because her fiances father wants nothing to do with her family. Gossip runs rampant as the case is discussed and tried in the court of public opinion, but right is done and the boy receives justice in the end. It was a difficult process but it was all necessary and worth the effort and pain.¬†

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Cedric Hardwicke as Mr. Winslow. Screenshot by me.

Cedric Hardwicke is heartbreaking as Ronnie’s ill father who thinks only of getting justice for his boy. He does such a terrific job of conveying Arthur’s incredible inner strength and also his failing physical health. He and Margaret Leighton have a lovely chemistry together. Margaret is equally superb and I love how she conveys Catherine’s iron will, an inner strength to rival her father’s, as well as her compassionate and gentle nature.¬†

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Father and daughter. Screenshot by me.

Although Arthur is happily married, his relationship with his wife(Marie Lohr) is not really one of true companionship. His only true companion is his daughter. The pair seem to only be able to bear their souls and confide all to each other, rather than to anyone else. They have that kind of special relationship where each can tell instantly when something is wrong with the other. 

Mrs. Winslow, Violet and Dickie Winslow. Screenshots by me. 

Marie Lohr is terrific as the loving and protective Mrs. Winslow. Kathleen Harrison(who had been in the play) is lovable and hilarious as the Winslow’s maid, Violet. Jack Watling does a fine job as Dickie, the eldest Winslow son. Neil North is great as young Ronnie, especially in the scene where he is questioned by Sir Robert and starts to cry. Neil North plays the First Lord Of The Admiralty in the very good 1999 remake, starring Jeremy Northam as Sir Robert.¬†

The Winslow Boy is not only one of the best screen adaptations of a Terence Rattigan play, but it is also one of the best films of the 1940’s. The film remains extremely relevant for modern audiences given its subject matter. Highly recommended for fans of Robert Donat and Terence Rattigan.¬†

The Robert Donat Blogathon Begins

The time to honour the great Robert Donat has arrived. Check back to this post over the next three days to read all of the reviews and articles on Robert and his films. Thanks to everyone who is taking part.

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Ruth gets the blogathon started by telling us all about that time Robert took on a duel role in The Ghost Goes West. 

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society discuss the heartbreaking Goodbye Mr. Chips. 

Dubsism takes a look at Captain Boycott. 

Paddy tells us about Robert Donat and The 39 Steps. 

Sister Celluloid tells us all about the sparks flying between Robert and Marlene Dietrich in Knight Without Armour. 

18 Cinema Lane takes a look at the tearjerker Goodbye Mr. Chips. 

RobertDonat.com discusses Robert’s final film The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness.¬†

I write about one of Robert’s best performances in The Winslow Boy.¬†

Taking Up Room tells us about The Adventures Of Tartu.

Critica Retro discusses Knight Without Amour. 

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society returns to discuss The count Of Monte Cristo. 

Silver Screen Classics takes a look at when Robert played a doctor in The Citadel. 

Poppity Talks Classic Films discusses Perfect Strangers. 

Announcing The 4th Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon

Hi everyone. I hope you are all well and safe. It’s been well over a year since I last held my yearly blogathon dedicated to all things Hitch. Without further ado you are all invited to take part in the 4th Hitchcock Blogathon. I do hope that you can all join me in¬† celebrating the Master Of Suspense.¬†

                          Two very different Hitchcock couples. Image source IMDb. 

You can write about any of his films or TV episodes for this blogathon. You can write about Hitch himself. You can write about his whole career. You can write about his TV series. You can write about the themes present in his work. You can write about the different types of couples in his films. I’ll take anything as long as it’s respectful. Articles, reviews and tributes are all very welcome.

If you’ve written about specific Hitchcock films or topics before, can you please pick a film or topic which you haven’t previously written about. I will only be accepting two duplicate reviews per screen title. No limit though on tributes and articles.¬† You can submit up to three posts each.

The blogathon will be held on the 8th and 9th of August, 2020.Please have your entries ready on or before those dates.If you can no longer take part, or you are going to be late, please do let me know as soon as possible. If you would like to take part, simply leave me a comment below telling me what you will be writing about, along with the name of your blog if I don’t already know it.

Take one of the banners from below and pop it somewhere on your site to help promote the event. Check below to see who is writing about what. Happy viewing and writing!

                                         Films now claimed twice: Rebecca

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Maddy Loves Her Classic Films РRope 

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The Basil Rathbone Blogathon: A Tribute To Basil

Gabriela at Pale Writer is hosting this blogathon dedicated to the actor Basil Rathbone. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.¬†

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Basil Rathbone was one of the greatest character actors of the classic film era. During the 1930’s and 40’s he gained worldwide fame and appreciation, not only for his superb portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, but also for all of those memorable screen villains that he played.¬†

There are not enough words for me to be able to use to tell you how much I love Basil Rathbone. He was such a brilliant actor. I’ve always admired how he made everything he did on screen appear completely effortless.

I will never understand how Basil didn’t end up as a romantic leading man and star in the vein of actors such as John Barrymore or Fredric March. He more than had the acting talent and the sex appeal to have been star material as far as I’m concerned. Not only do I love him as an actor, but I also admire him so much for what he went through in WW1, and how he somehow managed to continue on in life after suffering great personal loss and tragedy. I also like that he appeared to be a humble and sensitive man in real life.¬†

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Basil as that most dashing of villains, Sir Guy Of Gisbourne. Screenshot by me.

My introduction to Basil came about in the early 2000’s, when I first watched The Adventures Of Robin Hood(1938), in which Basil plays the dastardly and extremely dashing, Sir Guy Of Gisbourne. What presence he has in that film!

I was left both impressed and intrigued by Basil after seeing this film, and I set about checking out as many of his other films as I could find from then on. I’ve been a fan of his ever since.¬†

As much as I love The Adventures Of Robin Hood for the exciting story and Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland as Robin and Marion, what I love most about it is how Basil, along with co-star Claude Rains, effortlessly steals the film from everyone else in the cast. Whether he’s duelling with Errol Fynn’s heroic Robin, or shooting a withering glance at someone, Basil has your attention throughout that film and commands your attention even when he’s actually doing very little.

The nail-biting and thrilling duel at the end between Robin and Sir Guy, is a moment that you don’t forget in a hurry. If, after watching that suspenseful duelling sequence, you are left with the impression that Basil handles a sword pretty well, then you’d be right. Our boy Basil was twice the British Army fencing champion and was a natural at swordfighting. While Sir Guy loses his duel with Robin, I would put good money on Basil having been the winner if that had been an off-screen duel being fought for real.¬†

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Basil and Errol prepare to duel. Image source IMDb.

Ironically given his skill as a swordsman he only ever got to win 2 onscreen duels, the first against John Barrymore in Romeo And Juliet(1936), and the second against Eugene Pallette in The Mark Of Zorro(1940). 

Basil Rathbone was born Philip St. John Basil Rathbone, in Johannesburg, South Africa, on the 13th of June, 1892. His parents, Edgar and Anna Barbara, were British. Anna Barbara was a violinist. Edgar was a mining engineer and a member of the Liverpool Rathbone family, who were merchants and shipowners famous for their philanthropic work. 

Basil was the third of five children. He had two older half-brothers, Harold and Horace, and two younger siblings, Beatrice and John.Basil was very close with his younger brother and sister. The Rathbone’s fled South Africa when Basil was three years old, after Edgar was accused by the Boers of being a British spy.

Back in England, Basil attended the Repton School in Derbyshire from 1906 to 1910. After leaving school he briefly worked as an insurance clerk. Basil first trod the boards in April, 1911, at the Theatre Royal in Ipswitch. The play was The Taming Of The Shrew and Basil played the role of Hortensio. Between 1912 and 1915, Basil played various Shakespearean characters on stage.

When the First World War broke out Basil wouldn’t join up until 1916. Basil joined the British army London Scottish Regiment, a regiment which also included amongst its ranks three more future acting legends, Claude Rains, Ronald Colman and Herbert Marshall. Basil was awarded a commission as a Second Lieutenant.

Basil’s younger brother John was also caught up in the war, serving in the 3rd Battalion, the Dorset Regiment. John had left school in 1915 and had volunteered to join up that same year. In February, 1917, the Rathbone brothers were reunited in London where they convalesced together. Basil was recovering from the measles and John was recovering from chest wounds sustained in the Battle Of The Somme.¬†

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One of my favourite photos of Basil. Image source IMDb.

As soon as Basil was well enough he rejoined his unit and was sent out to the trenches. John would not be well enough to return to the front until 1918. That year John’s regiment ended up being stationed close to Basil’s out in France, and the two brothers were once again reunited.

Basil remembered their reunion in his memoir. ‚ÄúJohn and I spent a glorious day together. He had an infectious sense of humor and a personality that made friends for him wherever he went. In our mess on that night he made himself as well-liked as in his own regiment. We retired late, full of good food and Scotch whiskey. We shared my bed and were soon sound asleep. It was still dark when I awakened from a nightmare. I had just seen John killed. I lit the candle beside my bed and held it to my brother‚Äôs face‚ÄĒfor some moments I could not persuade myself that he was not indeed dead. At last I heard his regular gentle breathing. I kissed him and blew out the candle and lay back on my pillow again. But further sleep was impossible. A tremulous premonition haunted me – a premonition which even the dawn failed to dispel.‚Ä̬†

A few weeks later Basil had another premonition, one which came to pass with eerie accuracy. ‚ÄúAt one o‚Äôclock on June 4, 1918, I was sitting in my dugout in the front line. Suddenly I thought of John, and for some inexplicable reason I wanted to cry, and did. In due course I received the news of his death in action at exactly one o‚Äôclock on June the fourth.‚ÄĚ Basil was absolutely distraught by his brother’s death, and in addition to dealing with that huge loss, he was also mourning his mum, who had sadly died the previous year.

In this extract from a letter that Basil wrote to his dad, it’s very clear not only how broken he was by John’s death, but also that he may have become convinced that he himself might die soon. I have all of Johnny‚Äôs letters parcelled up together and I will either bring them home on my next leave or arrange for someone to deliver them in person. I would send them as you asked but I would be afraid of them being lost. The communication trenches can take a beating and nothing can be relied on. If I can‚Äôt bring them myself for any reason there is a good sort here, another Lieutenant in our company who is under oath to deliver them, and who I have never known to shirk or break his word. So, you will get them, come what may. I‚Äôm sorry not to have written much the past weeks. It was unfair and you are very kind not to be angry. You ask how I have been since we heard, well, if I am honest with you, and I may as well be, I have been seething. I was so certain it would be me first of either of us. I‚Äôm even sure it was supposed to be me and he somehow contrived in his wretched Johnny-fashion to get in my way just as he always would when he was small. I want to tell him to mind his place. I think of his ridiculous belief that everything would always be well, his ever-hopeful smile, and I want to cuff him for a little fool. He had no business to let it happen and it maddens me that I shall never be able to tell him so, or change it or bring him back. I can‚Äôt think of him without being consumed with anger at him for being dead and beyond anything I can do to him.

Basil was the intelligence officer for his battalion and had been leading night patrols into No Man’s Land for some time in order to gather info on the German’s. Basil persuaded his commanding officer to allow day patrols too, as it would be easier to gather vital information in the day than at night. These missions were extremely dangerous, and from how I see it, it’s really not hard to view Basil’s actions as possibly being some sort of death wish in response to John’s death. One of these daytime patrols saw Basil and his men disguise themselves as trees.Here’s a clip I came across from a 1957 interview, in which Basil describes that mission. The image jumps a bit I’m afraid.

Although he makes light of what he did and acts like it was no biggie, the reality was that it was extremely dangerous work for him to undertake. In recognition of the daylight patrols he undertook, Basil was awarded the Military Cross for bravery.¬†After the war ended, Basil returned to acting on the stage in the UK. His marriage to his wife Marion sadly broke down and the pair separated in 1919, although they didn’t divorce and Basil still financially supported both his wife, and his young son, Rodion.¬†

In 1923, Basil travelled to America, where he starred in the play The Swan at the Cort Theatre in New York. That same year he met scriptwriter Ouida Bergere, and the pair fell in love. Basil obtained a divorce from Marion and he and Ouida married on the 18th of April,1926. 

Ouida and Basil sadly suffered the loss of their baby in 1928, and in 1939 the pair adopted a baby girl, who they named Cynthia. Cynthia sadly died in 1969 aged just 30.¬† Unfortunately Ouida had a weak spot for throwing lavish Hollywood parties and she spent Basil’s money like it was going out of style. Sadly this led to Basil taking on screen work far beneath his talents in later years in order to pay off the huge bills piling up.¬† Despite her issues with money, it seems that Basil never stopped loving his wife and was utterly devoted to her.

Basil’s son, Rodion moved to America and lived with his dad and stepmother for a time, and he even acted in a couple of his dad’s films. In 1938, Ouida organised a lavish wedding reception for Rodion and his bride Caroline Fisher. It all got out of hand with press and celebrities turning up. Poor Rodion and Caroline felt as though Ouida took over and that their special day wasn’t their day any longer. This unfortunately led to words being exchanged between the couple and Ouida. Basil sided with his wife and from that moment on father and son became estranged. Very sad indeed.¬†

In 1926, Basil and the rest of the cast of the play The Captive were famously arrested for offending public morals -although these charges were later dropped- and the play was permanently closed down. The play sees the wife of Basil’s character fall in love with another woman. Feathers were ruffled and many pearls clutched due to the subject matter. Basil was furious at this censorship, as he and the rest of the cast felt the subject matter was something which was important to talk about in the open.

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Basil as Detective Vance. Image source IMDb.

Basil had transitioned into film work in the Silent era, appearing in his first film¬†in 1921. I think it’s fair to say that it wasn’t until the 1930’s rolled around that he really hit his stride on screen. In 1929 he played Detective Philo Vance in The Bishop Murder Case(released in 1930). While the acting isn’t that great on the whole, it’s nice to see Basil in the lead role. The film amusingly contains a scene where a character refers to Basil’s Philo Vance and his companion as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. Ten years later of course Basil would famously don that deerstalker hat and play Conan Doyle’s master detective.¬†

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Basil takes a seat on the beach in Captain Blood. Image source IMDb.

During the 1930’s Basil impressed in a wide variety of films including Anna Karenina(1935), David Copperfield(1935), Romeo & Juliet(1936), Make A Wish(1937), A Tale Of Two Cities( in which he plays a real swine, 1935), The Adventures Of Robin Hood(1938), If I Were King(1938), Son Of Frankenstein(1939).

One of my favourite performances from him during the 30’s is as the dashing pirate, Levasseur, in Captain Blood(1935), a film which saw him co-star with Errol Flynn for the first time. I love Basil’s performance in this film. He’s full of so much energy and plays a great rogue with a deadly edge to him. The gritty beach fight between Basil and Errol is edge of your seat stuff.

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Basil and Errol in The Dawn Patrol. Image source IMDb.

In 1938, Basil starred in The Dawn Patrol,a film which I think features one of his best performances. Basil plays Major Brand, a Royal Flying Corps squadron commander during WW1, who is edging ever closer to a nervous breakdown following the loss of so many of his men. You can see the heartache and weariness of this character written all over Basil’s face.

It’s a very poignant performance and I’m certain that Basil reached deep into his own traumatic memories of WW1 to help him capture Brand’s emotional state. The film would see him work with Errol Flynn for the third and final time, and I think Errol also does some of his best work here.¬†

The year 1939 was an important one for Basil. WW2 began and Basil wanted to serve in the war, but he was turned down from active service due to his age. He helped the war effort as best he could though through fundraising, entertaining troops and volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen. 

Apparently author Margaret Mitchell’s preferred choice to play Captain Rhett Butler in the 1939 film adaptation of her novel Gone With The Wind was Basil Rathbone. I like Clark Gable as Rhett, but I have to admit to wondering many a time how Basil would have played that character. I for one think he would have been brilliant as Rhett. 1939 was to become the key year in Basil’s film career. It was the year in which he first played the character with whom he has become forever linked, a chap by the name of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

                                   Basil dons the Deerstalker. Image source IMDb.

With his thin facial features and uncanny resemblance to the Sidney Paget illustrations of Holmes in the Strand Magazine, it’s little wonder that Basil was cast in the role of Sherlock Holmes. For many he has become the ultimate screen Holmes and it’s really not hard to see why so many feel that way. He perfectly captured the intellect and many facets of Sherlock Holmes. Personally I think that Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke are the greatest screen Holmes and Watson, but coming in a close second for me is Basil Rathbone’s superb portrayal.¬†¬†

If Basil’s films had been more authentic adaptations of the stories, and if his Watson had been more like the character in the stories, then I think his 14 film run would be able to be called the best with no contest. As much as I love his film series, what stops them from being the ultimate Holmes screen adaptations in my opinion, is that most of the plots bear little resemblance to any of Doyle’s stories. The other issue for me is dear Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson. Basil and Nigel were good friends and Basil sent the following message to Nigel when he was offered the role of Holmes, “Willie dear, do play Dr. Watson to my Sherlock Holmes, we’ll have such fun.”¬†

Nigel accepted the role and thus a beloved screen team was born. On screen Basil and Nigel’s real life affection for one another is evident and this helps us buy into the friendship and bond between Holmes and Watson. Unfortunately the way in which Watson is portrayed in these films is frankly just awful.

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Holmes and Watson. Image source IMDb.

While Nigel’s Watson is certainly lovable and tries hard, he is also extremely slow minded and bumbling. He is more of a source of comedy than anything else. This portrayal is at odds with the intelligent and capable medical man and army veteran that Watson is in the books. Frankly this screen portrayal of Watson grates on me, even though I do adore the old dude for his love and loyalty to Holmes and his desperate desire to do all he can to help out where he can.¬†

Basil and Nigel first took up residence at 221B Baker Street in an adaptation of the most famous Holmes story of them all – The Hound Of The Baskervilles. It’s one of the best adaptations of the story and has a brilliant gothic atmosphere. Weirdly though Basil is listed second on the cast list beneath Richard Greene as Sir Henry Baskerville. The success of this film quickly led Twentieth Century Fox studios to make a second film entitled The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, which was released later the same year. In the sequel the great Ida Lupino joins the lads as Ann Brandon, a young woman who finds herself in desperate need of Holmes’s help.

These two films would be the only ones of the Rathbone/Bruce films to be set in the Victorian era and they would also be the last films of the series to be made at Fox. Alongside the films, Basil and Nigel also played Holmes and Watson in the radio series The New Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, which began airing in 1939. Basil remained on the radio series until 1946 when he was replaced by Tom Conway. Nigel continued to play Watson until 1947.

                             Holmes is on the case. Image source IMDb. 

The other 12 films in the Rathbone/Bruce series would be made at Universal Studios between 1941 and 1944. These later films were interestingly set in the modern day(1940’s), and this of course all long before the Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller modern day set Holmes series came along with their supposedly new spin on the character. The remaining 12 films also have a lot of WW2 propaganda in them. My favourites of the 14 films are The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, Terror By Night, The Hound Of The Baskervilles, The Scarlet Claw, The Pearl Of Death, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, The House Of Fear.¬†

While Basil was at first very enthusiastic about playing Holmes, the enthusiasm quickly wore off and he gave up the role. The role was something of a double edged sword for Basil. On the one hand it brought worldwide fame and popularity, but on the other it led to him being typecast and forever after associated with Holmes. It’s easy to understand his frustration at the situation he found himself in.¬†

Basil refused to renew his film and radio contracts in 1946,¬† and he returned instead to working in the theatre. I get the impression that the theatre was always his first love and that it was on the stage where he felt most comfortable. In 1947 he played the odious Dr. Sloper in the stage production of The Heiress(a performance which saw him rewarded with a Tony Award). When the film adaptation of The Heiress was made in 1949, Ralph Richardson was cast as Dr. Sloper. Once again, as much as I enjoy Ralph Richardson’s performance, I do find myself imagining what Basil would have been like in that screen role instead.

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Basil crosses swords with Tyrone Power in a great film from 1940 called Mark Of Zorro. Image source IMDb.

Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, Basil was sadly appearing in some real rubbish on screen, and he appeared on screen less and less. I think his last great film role was as Sir Ravenhurst in The Court Jester(1955).

In the 1960’s Basil went on tour with his one man show entitled In And Out Of Character(also the name of his memoir). In these shows he spoke about his life and career, as well as reciting Shakespeare and poetry.¬†

Basil died suddenly after suffering a heart attack in his study at home, on the 21st July,1967. He was 75 years old.

Basil’s death was a huge loss for the theatre and film industry. I’d like to think that he would be touched by how much love and respect there is for him today, both as an actor, and also for the real man behind the suave screen image.¬†

As he lived and died long before I was even born, it is a great regret of mine that I never had the chance to see him act on stage. I adore his films and think he left quite the impressive legacy behind him for future generations to enjoy. Basil Rathbone truly was one of the best. A few films that I really love Basil in are the Sherlock Holmes series, Captain Blood, The Dawn Patrol, The Adventures Of Robin Hood, Make A Wish, Sin Takes A Holiday. 

Here’s some interesting trivia to end with. Basil’s distant cousin was Henry Rathbone, who was sitting next to President and Mrs. Lincoln the night that Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s theatre in Washington. Rathbone tried to stop the assassin John Wilkes Booth and was stabbed by him. He would never get over not being able to prevent Lincoln’s murder and tragically went insane.¬†¬†

Are you a Basil Rathbone fan? I’d love to hear from you.¬†

 

The Classics For Comfort Blogathon

The Classic Movie Blog Association is hosting this blogathon about classic era films which bring us comfort. We have been asked to share 5 of our favourite comforting classics. Be sure to visit the CMBA site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.¬† Classics For Comfort blogathonWe all have those special films and TV series that we reach for on the shelves when we’re going through upsetting or difficult times. While there are many lovely films to be found in all decades of cinema, the classic film era has an abundance of feelgood and gentle films.

Watching a black and white romantic drama,or a dazzling Technicolor musical, can often be just what the doctor ordered during tough times. There’s also nothing better than spending time with all those acting legends and memorable characters either. Watching classic era films is like spending time with old friends as far as I’m concerned.¬†

           Just a few of the many classics that provide comfort for me. Image source IMDb. 

In the terrifying and uncertain times which we’re living in at the moment, I think that classic era films are more important for our emotional wellbeing than they’ve ever been before. Here are five of my favourite comfort classics. I highly recommend them all to anyone who is struggling.

                                                     Paris When It Sizzles(1964)

William Holden and Audrey Hepburn reunite for the second and final time on screen to play Hollywood scriptwriter Richard Benson, and his secretary Gabrielle, who are trying to come up with potential storylines and characters for a new film. Along the way the pair fall in love. I often turn to this one when times are tough because it’s just so much fun. It’s also very romantic and is pure escapism. I love how it pokes fun at the film industry and at all those film cliches we’ve all become so familiar with.¬†

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Audrey and William. Image source IMDb.

My favourite part of the film is seeing Audrey and William also playing the various characters and acting out the potential storylines of Richard’s script – from a rich girl being wined and dined by a vampire, to a young woman who gets caught up with a smooth spy.¬† Audrey and William have amazing chemistry and the way the pair look at each other just melts my heart. This one never fails to leave me smiling after I’ve watched it. You can’t fail to be charmed by this delightful film. You can read my full review here.¬†

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Singin’ In The Rain (1952)

One of the most joyous films ever made. If there is anyone out there who dislikes this or isn’t left feeling happy after watching it, then I for one don’t ever want to know them. I fell in love with this from the first time I ever saw it. This film is so much more than just a musical and has something in it for everyone to enjoy. I particularly love the film within a film, the songs and elaborate dance routines, the beautiful costumes, and the stunning use of Technicolor. Most of all I love the characters and the comedy.

Singin' In The Rain

Gene and Debbie dress for the weather. Image source IMDb.

The whole cast are sensational, with special praise going to Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen(who steals the show as far as I’m concerned), Donald O’Connor. Cyd Charisse proves once again that she’s one of the best dancers of all time and gets one of the most unforgettable screen entrances of all time. Singin’ In The Rain not only leaves me with a big smile on my face every time I watch it, but it also makes me feel like things will get better and my days will get brighter.

                                            The Ghost And Mrs. Muir (1947)

A lonely and underappreciated widow melts the gruff and grumpy heart of a former sea Captain, and he in return gives her the love and companionship she has never received. Sure it sounds like one of those really well known and predictable romantic story plotlines, but this is a love story with a difference due to the Captain being a ghost. The growing bond and attraction between Captain Gregg and Mrs. Lucy Muir is my main reason for loving this one so much. 

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Captain Gregg and Mrs. Muir. Image source IMDb.

Bernard Herrmann’s beautiful and atmospheric score is the perfect accompaniment to the film. Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison are both terrific, and there’s the added bonus of my boy George Sanders in full charming cad mode. You can read my full review here.¬†

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†It’s Great To Be Young (1956)

I first came across this little gem while flicking through the channels on TV sometime in the early 2000’s. I had missed the beginning and had no idea what the title was or what it was about, but despite that I got so caught up in the film and absolutely loved the characters and story. The film stayed with me and it was only a few years ago that I finally discovered the title.

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Mr. Dingle and some of his students. Screenshot by me.

This is one of my favourite inspirational teacher films and a large part of why that is, is due to John Mills’s fantastic performance as History and Music teacher Mr. Dingle.

He is so passionate about teaching music and about nurturing and encouraging the students in his care. He cares about his students and takes the time to hear their troubles and try and help them. They love him and admire him greatly in return. I think Mr. Dingle is the sort of teacher all children deserve. The film is one of the earliest British teen musicals and was one of the most popular films at the British box office in 1956. It’s Great To Be Young is so much fun and always leaves me feeling as though all is right in the world, as well as putting a spring in my step.

                                                            Random Harvest(1942)

Some may think that this weepie won’t make for the most comforting of films but they would be wrong. Random Harvest is so much more than a tearjerker, it’s a film about lovely and kind people, true love, and about the lengths we will go to in order to help a loved one. It’s also one of the greatest romantic dramas of all time. I find this one comforting due to all the lovely characters, especially Paula and Smithy(Greer Garson and Roland Colman).¬†

Random Harvest

Greer and Ronald. Image source IMDb.

Paula reaches out to the shell shocked and amnesic Smithy, and in doing so shows him there is still kindness and gentleness in the world. She sees past the trauma and damage to the lonely and hurting soul beneath. She helps him to heal. He in turn is the most loving and gentle man she could ever hope to have as either a friend or a lover. Random Harvest is a film about compassion and enduring love, healing, hope and second chances. While it causes many tears to be shed, it also leaves you with a feeling of hope Рhope that the lonely and ill can find love and acceptance, and that somewhere out there is the soulmate we are meant to walk through life with. 

National Classic Movie Day Blogathon: 6 Favourites From The 1960’s

Rick over at the Classic Film And TV Cafe is once again hosting his annual National Classic Movie Day Blogathon. This year the focus is on classic films from the grooviest decade in history. Be sure to stop by his site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.¬†

60's blogathon

Here are six of my favourite films from the 1960’s.

Charulata(1964)

This deeply moving story of a woman who is frustrated by her lonely life, made quite the impact on me when I first saw it, and I have loved it ever since. The central love triangle in the film reminds me of the one in David Lean’s The Passionate Friends. The performance by lead actress Madhabi Mukherjee is one of the greatest in all cinema.¬†

Charulata

Charu. Image source IMDb.

Set in Nineteenth Century Calcutta, Charulata(The Lonely Wife) tells the story of Charu(Madhabi Mukherjee),who is the neglected wife of newspaper publisher, Bhupati(Sailen Mukherjee). She and her husband love one another, but are living a life now where they are more friends than man and wife. Charu falls in love with her husband’s cousin, Amal(Soumitra Chatterjee), but does he return her feelings?

This love story is one of tentative gestures and small moments which speak volumes. It unfolds slowly and packs quite an emotional punch. Such a touching and beautiful film, and one which I return to again and again.  You can read my full review here. 

How To Steal A Million(1966)

The film that not only made me develop a huge crush on Peter O’Toole, but which also manages to make being trapped in a cupboard for hours on end not remotely as awful as you would imagine it to be. Sparks fly between Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, there’s more Givenchy fashion than you can shake a stick at, and there are laughs and fun aplenty. What’s not to love?¬†

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Peter O’Toole as Simon.‚̧¬†Image source IMDb.

Simon Dermott(Peter O’Toole)is a suave thief hired by Nicole Bonnet(Audrey Hepburn), who is the daughter of art forger Charles Bonnet(Hugh Griffith), to steal one of her father’s pieces before it can be discovered as a fake while on display at a major art exhibition. An attraction develops between Nicole and Simon and many secrets are uncovered as well. Great performances by Peter and Audrey and fine support from Eli Wallach and Hugh Griffith. John William’s music is fab and is one of his most underrated scores.

Anne Of The Thousand Days (1969)

I love history and have always been particularly fascinated by the Tudor era. This film is right up there with the miniseries Elizabeth R and The Six Wives Of Henry VIII as the most accurate screen portrayal of Tudor England that we will ever see. Genevieve Bujold steals every second of film she appears in in this, as the passionate and strong-willed Queen Anne Boleyn, the doomed second wife of King Henry VIII. Genevieve fully deserved her Oscar Nomination for Best Actress for her performance here. Special praise to Margaret Furse for her beautiful costumes. 

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Anne surveys her kingdom. Image source IMDb.

King Henry(Richard Burton)seeks divorce from his wife Queen Cathrine(Irene Papas), an event which not only tears apart his kingdom, but which causes international outrage as well. He wants the divorce in order to marry the much younger Lady Anne Boleyn(Genevieve Bujold). Anne is certain she can bear a son for Henry, but she will sadly find herself unable to do so, a realisation which will later make her as expendable to her husband as his first wife was. 

The performances are all superb and the film makes us admire Anne’s character and her inner strength. The scene where Henry visits Anne in the Tower Of London and she delivers a powerful speech which serves as a slap in the face to him, is a moment that I have never been able to forget since the first time I watched the film.¬†

The Sound Of Music(1965)

I was absolutely addicted to this film when I was a little girl, I knew all the songs by heart and fell in love with the story and characters. I still love the film to pieces today. I think what I’ve always loved most about this is the father reconnecting with his children and with himself. I also love that the film shows us that women who don’t have the good fortune to look as beautiful as someone like Ava Gardner, can never the less find love and be desired. As this film proves, love isn’t just about sex and physical attraction – real love is about souls connecting and emotions being shared.¬†

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Maria and her Captain. Image source IMDb.

Young postulant Maria(Julie Andrews)moves into the home of widowed Naval Captain Von Trapp(Christopher Plummer)to become governess to his seven children. At first meeting with opposition from the children, Maria gains their love and respect. Gradually Maria helps this family heal, and in the process finds herself falling in love with the Captain. Complications arise in the form of the glamorous Baroness(Eleanor Parker)who has her heart set on marrying the Captain. 

To Kill A Mockingbird(1962)

I love this film so much. Not only is this film one of the best coming of age stories you will ever see, but it is also one of the best films out there about standing up to evil and injustice. Based on the beloved novel of the same name by Harper Lee, the story is partially based upon the life of Harper herself and her father Amasa Coleman Lee, upon whom the character of Atticus Finch is based.¬† The entire cast are absolutely superb and the characters and story unforgettable. Elmer Bernstein’s score is one of the best he ever did. I love how the opening theme goes from a childlike lullaby,and then transitions into something far more sweeping and deeper.¬†

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Gregory Peck and Brock Peters as Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson. Image source IMDb.

Southern lawyer Atticus Finch(Gregory Peck)is a widower raising his children Jem and Scout(Philip Alford and Mary Badham) in the 1930’s. Atticus shakes up his town when he defends Tom Robinson(Brock Peters), a local black farmer accused of raping a white woman(Collin Wilcox). Given the racist times the film is set in, the trial verdict is sadly already a foregone conclusion, but Atticus puts his heart and soul into defending Tom and standing up for him. This is one I return to again and again and never cease to be moved and drawn in by the characters and their stories. To Kill A Mockingbird serves as a reminder that there are many good and decent people out there – people who will stand up to bullies, teach children right from wrong and fight evil to their last breath – a fact that is comforting to know. You can read my full review here.¬†

The Innocents (1961)

This is my all time favourite horror film. I’ll even go as far to say I also consider it to be the best haunted house/ghost film ever made. It’s a masterpiece. The 1960’s was really the decade when ghosts and the supernatural finally became scary on screen, following decades of ghosts being used solely for comic effect or very brief scares.¬†

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Don’t turn around, Miss Giddens. Image source IMDb.

Deborah Kerr delivers one of her best performances as Miss Giddens, the governess slowly unravelling after being convinced the children in her care(Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens) are possessed by the malevolent spirits of former servants(Peter Wyngarde and Clytie Jessop).  You can read my full review here. 

The Love Goes On Blogathon: Truly, Madly, Deeply(1990)

Steve at MovieMovieBlogBlogII is hosting this blogathon about contiuing to love someone after they die. Be sure to visit his site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Love goes on blogathon bannerSteve has been inspired to host this blogathon after the death of his wife. Once again I pass on my condolences and love to Steve and his family as they try and come to terms with their loss. 

Grief is a strange thing. It is something which affects us all in so many different ways. Some cry a lot after they suffer a bereavement. Others retreat from life around them and become numb, unable to carry on after the death of someone so close to them. Others appear to be carrying on as normal, but inside they are bottling up their grief and despair, which at some point will all burst out in a great torrent of anguish. 

After we lose someone we love we want them back with us, and we would do anything to make that possible. We want to talk and laugh with our loved ones again and watch favourite TV series and films together.We want to hold them and be held by them in return. We want to confide our worries and fears to them. We want to hear their stories and views on current situations in the world.  We are reminded of the deceased wherever we turn in our homes and memories, and therefore they are always there with us in some way like ghosts, all be it ghosts of the human memory rather than physical manifestations. 

Some part of us knows that our loved one wouldn’t want us to be weighed down by grief and be in great distress, but unfortunately we cannot help our totally normal response to loss, and it is not possible for a long time to move past our loss and try to rebuild our lives.

All of the above is depicted in Anthony Minghella’s debut feature film Truly, Madly, Deeply. Minghella not only directed the film, but he also wrote the screenplay too. The film title comes from a game played by the main couple in the film, in which the pair repeat and add words to describe how much they are in love with one another.

Minghella wrote the film specifically for actress Juliet Stevenson in order to showcase her acting abilities. I’m glad he did, because I can imagine no one other than Juliet in this film. Nobody does crying scenes quite the way Juliet does, and boy does she convince you that she is deeply grieving in this film.¬†

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Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson as the couple separated by death. Image source IMDb.

Truly,Madly,Deeply has often been compared to the American film Ghost, which has a somewhat similar storyline. Many viewers feel this British film offers a far more grown up and affecting look at grief. While I do like both films very much, I would agree that Truly,Madly, Deeply provides the better experience of grief and of trying to reconnect with life after bereavement.

The film was made for the BBC’s Screen Two anthology series and came about after TV writer and theatre director Anthony Minghella was offered the chance to direct a BBC film. The film bypassed being shown on TV and received a cinema release instead. At the time of receiving the film offer, Minghella was also considering an offer to direct an episode of the hit TV series Inspector Morse, for which he would write several episodes, including the pilot. The series was one of the biggest things in the UK at the time and it would have been a huge career boost for him, but he chose to make the film after being worried that if he had accepted the TV job and got the Morse episode wrong,then he would never hear the end of it.¬†

Truly,Madly,Deeply tells the story of Nina(Juliet Stevenson), an interpreter who is trying to cope with the sudden death of her musician boyfriend,Jamie(Alan Rickman). Nina is seeing a therapist who provides her with a cosy office in which she can vent her grief and rage.

Nina is managing to go out to work,where she is teaching the pregnant Maura(Stella Maris)to learn how to speak English. However Nina is pushing people away who try and get to close and express concern about how she is doing- such as her kind boss, Sandy(the great Bill Paterson)and lovestruck plumber, Titus(Christopher Rozycki)- and on top of that she just can’t let the memory of Jamie go.

Nina feels like Jamie is with her and this gives her some small amount of comfort. One day, Jamie’s ghost actually appears to her, and in a very emotional scene the tearful couple are reunited. They quickly pick up where they left off before his death – discussing things, having fun together, sharing a bed, cuddles and kisses, the occasional row. Nina really perks up and all seems right again in the world.

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Jamie and some ghostly pals. Image source IMDb.

What Nina doesn’t know is that Jamie has come back not only to comfort her, but also to annoy her so she will want him to leave. He knows she has to get on with her life. So to get his plan underway, he subtly starts to do things that get on her nerves. Jamie also gets some fellow ghost pals to move into Nina’s, where they all sit watching and discussing classic films(an absolutely hilarious scene).

Things are complicated because neither Jamie or Nina wants to leave the other again, and they are further complicated when Nina meets the fun-loving, Mark(Michael Maloney), who falls in love with her. Nina likes Mark very much, but can she let go of Jamie and take the big step of moving on with her life?

What I love most about this film is how it turns our traditional expectations and understanding of ghosts and their depictions on screen right on their head. Jamie can be seen, heard and felt, as opposed to being seen but not touched or properly communicated with. Jamie also feels the temperature and can even catch a cold. In this film ghosts play music, complain about politics, and hang out together watching¬† classic films late into the night(love the bit where they watch Brief Encounter). It really is quite unlike anything else and that’s why I love it so.¬†

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Will she choose life or death? Nina, Jamie and Mark. Image source IMDb.

I especially love the key role music plays in this film – from the classical music Jamie plays on his cello, to Nina and Jamie’s hilarious and joyous rendition of The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. Often it is a song or piece of music that can most quickly trigger memories of moments spent with our lost loved ones. Hearing those special tunes can either bring forth smiles, or bring forth floods of tears, and so it goes in Truly, Madly, Deeply.¬†

The entire cast are superb with special praise going to Juliet and Alan. This is one of Alan’s most subtle performances, it’s all there in the face and the little expressions.I love all the scenes between him and Juliet and think they make a great pair. When you watch the film now it takes on an extra level of poignancy due to the role Alan plays, and the fact that both he and Anthony Minghella have now sadly died.

While Alan is terrific and scene stealing as Jamie, the film undoubtedly belongs to Juliet. You can’t take your eyes off her. She breaks your heart one minute and is being passionate and hilarious the next.She’s so good in the part that you want to reach through the screen and give her a hug.¬†

Truly,Madly,Deeply was the little film that became a surprise hit,both here in the UK, and over in America. It was a critical success and was nominated for several awards, and would win a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay. The film catapulted Anthony Minghella to international fame and he would go on to direct The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley, which were two of the biggest films of the 90’s.¬†

This film is one of the best films about love and the agony and unpredictability of grief that I’ve ever seen. It’s so much more than a story about love and grief though. It’s not all tears and depression, there is a lot of humour and so many touching and romantic moments to enjoy. There’s also a great scene in a cafe which contains a dig directed towards those in our society who are rude and unpleasant to immigrants, with this vile attitude and treatment being countered with the warm and welcoming attitudes of Nina and her colleagues, as they happily support these new additions to Britain.¬†

Truly, Madly,Deeply reminds us of the joys of sharing our lives with someone, but also of the unbearable pain we feel when we lose them. The film proves that it is possible for us to slowly emerge from the fog of grief and tentatively rejoin the world going on around us. We will always love the one we’ve lost, but it is possible to rebuild our own lives and have fun again, without ever having to give up the memory of our loved one and our happy times together.¬†

A trip to Nina and Jamie’s is highly recommended.¬†

Farewell, Honor. Remembering Honor Blackman(1925-2020)

The sad news came through on the 5th of April that another classic film legend had left us. Honor Blackman had passed away at the age of 94. This honey-voiced, tough and stylish lady was known around the world thanks to her unforgettable performance as the no- nonsense Bond girl Pussy Galore, in the 1964 Bond film Goldfinger.

I liked Honor because she told it like it was and came across as a lovely and funny lady. She was also very vocal about the lack of decent roles for older women in the film industry, as opposed to their older male colleagues still receiving great roles in their later years. 

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Honor Blackman. Image source IMDb.

Honor was also a household name here in the UK for playing another tough and iconic screen heroine – Cathy Gale, the first female partner of Patrick Macnee’s suave John Steed in The Avengers TV series. Cathy was highly skilled in Judo, witty and clad all in leather. You didn’t want to mess with either Miss Gale or Miss Galore. Honor and her co-star Patrick Macnee recorded the song Kinky Boots together in 1964, the song would later become a surprise hit in the 1990’s.¬†

I first became aware of Honor after seeing the film A Night To Remember, in which she played a first class passenger who must board a lifeboat with her children and leave her husband behind on the sinking Titanic. I loved her performance in that and checked out more of her work after. 

Honor was born in Plaistow, Essex, on the 22nd of August, 1925. She trained at the Guildhall School Of Music And Drama beginning there in 1940. During WW2 she studied her craft part time while working as a motorcycle dispatch rider and holding a clerical job at the Home Office. After her graduation from the Guildhall in 1947, she went on to become an understudy in the play The Guinea Pig.¬†Her first film role was a non speaking part in the 1947 film Fame Is The Spur. Over the years she would star in many more films including: Diamond City, Quartet, So Long At The Fair, Life At The Top, Jason And The Argonauts and Bridget Jones’s Diary. She also delivered a memorable performance in the Columbo TV episode Dagger Of The Mind.

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Honor in a publicity photo for Goldfinger. Image source IMDb.

Honor’s performance as pilot Pussy Galore in Goldfinger is what really made her a star and a screen icon. At 38 Honor was the oldest actress to play a Bond girl. Honor was cast in the role due to her performance as Cathy Gale in The Avengers. Where a great many of the Bond girls have been tough and a real match for Bond, Pussy was even more so. She oozes confidence and really stands up to Bond. She can also take care of herself and isn’t intimidated by anyone. She’s also very independent and doesn’t need a man’s protection in life. Honor captures and conveys this woman’s nature so well, that it’s hard to imagine anyone else other than her in that role.¬†

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Honor and Sean Connery. Image source IMDb.

R.I.P, Honor. All sympathies to her family and friends. Share your thoughts and memories about Honor below.

The 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1945)

Literature blogathonPaul at Silver Screen Classics is hosting his first ever blogathon(congratulations my friend), and he has chosen to focus on film adaptations of classic literature. Be sure to visit his site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.¬†

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a deeply moving coming of age story, one in which a child comes to view the adults in her life in different ways to how she has perceived them previously. It is also a tale in which the cruelness of reality encroaches upon the dreams and aspirations of individuals and crushes them in the process.

The title not only refers to the tree which grows in the courtyard of the tenement building which most of the film takes place in, but also refers to young Francie, the girl around whom the story is centred. The tree of the title metaphorically refers to Francie’s desire to get a good education and grow beyond her working class/poverty stricken roots, in much the same way trees grow until they tower above us out of reach of their ground roots.

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Francie and her latest Library book. Screenshot by me.

Francie is hungry for knowledge and wants a better life than the one she has. She is an avid reader and goes crazy for library books the way other children of her age go crazy for sweets. Her ever loving papa does everything he can to support and encourage her dreams and wishes, but his battle with the bottle and inability to get a well paying regular job mean the family remains poor and Francie’s situation remains the same it has been up to now.¬†

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Francie and her dad. Screenshot by me.

This film is one which holds a very special place in my heart. The characters come across as being so real and you can’t help but be caught up in the story of their lives and share their sorrows and joy. The film serves to remind us that those of my generation(child of the 90’s here) and younger are so lucky to have been born in the modern era, as we have opportunities and options that just weren’t on the table for the working class youth of the previous centuries. When you watch the Nolan’s story, I think it hits home so much because it shows us what our ancestors went through in real life. Think how many children didn’t get an education in the past, or had to give up school in order to start work at an early age to help their families get money. Think how many millions of people had their aspirations and dreams crushed by the reality of their lives.¬†

                        Francie with the Librarian and with her Teacher. Screenshots by me. 

I also love how positively Librarians and Teachers are portrayed in this film. When Francie announces she is working her way through the library books in alphabetical order and takes out a book with heavy content more easily understood by adults, the Librarian is bemused but never the less lets her take the book, despite knowing its content will most likely go way over her head. The Librarian also selects a purely escapist novel for Francie to take home to enjoy too, in order for her to have a backup book should she struggle with the other one as the Librarian suspects she will. Library staff are gatekeepers of knowledge and should never put up barriers to someone wanting to borrow and explore the books in their care, so that scene always makes me smile. I also love the scene where Francie’s teacher is extremely kind and non-judgemental of her when she asks to take a pie home from school to ease her families hunger. There is no judgement or interference on the teacher’s part, instead she responds to Francie gently and doesn’t make her feel awkward. Many who work in education will sadly have had experience of youngsters who rely on their educational establishment to provide them with their sole access to food, and this scene hits home because it is sadly still something of a reality for many in modern society. It’s just heartbreaking to know that sadly some things haven’t changed.¬†

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is an adaptation of the semi-autobiographical debut novel of the same name, which was written by Betty Smith(born Elisabeth Lillian Wehner), and was published in 1943. The novel focuses on the life of Francie Nolan,a poor girl living with her family in the New York tenements during the early part of the 20th century. The novel is split into five sections, with each section focusing on a different period of the characters lives.The novel was hugely successful upon release selling over 300,000 copies in its first six weeks alone. It was a particular hit with soldiers serving in the Second World War and the book was even released in a special Armed Services Edition, which meant that books shipped out to Armed Forces personal were specially designed to fit into the pockets of Armed Forces uniforms.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn poster

With its extremely moving story of family and the desire for better options in life, it’s little wonder that the film studios were quick to get their hands on the book rights. The bidding war for the rights began even before the novel was actually published, with 20th Century Fox successfully acquiring the rights for $55,000. The film would focus on a specific period in the Nolan’s lives, this in contrast to the book which covers several years. The screenplay for the film adaptation was written by married couple Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis, whose efforts on the script would be rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay.

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Elia Kazan. Image source IMDb.

The film would mark the feature film directorial debut of Elia Kazan, who up to this point in time had mainly worked as a stage actor and theatre director, he had also co-directed the 1937 documentary People Of The Cumberland. Kazan is of course now very famous for founding the Actors Studio workshop and for the cinematic realism he strived for and achieved in so many of his films.

On A Tree Grows In Brooklyn he did several things to ensure he had a lot of realism present in the performances, including encouraging Peggy Ann Garner and James Dunn to bond so that they developed a genuine emotional attachment to one another – the result of which is one of the most touching father/daughter relationships ever depicted on screen. The director also used Peggy Ann’s fears and worries about her dad – who was serving in the Second World War at the time Peggy made the film – to make her become genuinely upset when shooting a scene.

The film would not only introduce a new film director to the world, but it would also resurrect the career of the actor James Dunn, whose fame had sadly waned over the years due to his ongoing battle with the bottle.James was cast as the tragic Johnny, the patriarch of the Nolan family, and he would win his only Oscar for his heartbreaking and utterly convincing performance here. James knew better than most what this character was going through and who he was. 

Twelve year old Peggy Ann Garner was cast in the lead role of Francie. Initially the studio had wanted an older actress to play Francie, but Elia Kazan held firm and insisted a child was cast. It was the right call. I think Peggy Ann’s performance as Francie is possibly her finest hour on screen, and she was rewarded for her work in the film with a special juvenile Oscar.

                 Top left to right:Dorothy McGuire as Katie, Ted Donaldson as Neeley, Joan Blondell as Sissy.  Bottom left to right: James Dunn as Johnny and Lloyd Nolan as McShane. Screenshots by me. 

The studio originally wanted Alice Faye to play Francie’s mother Katie, but Alice was unavailable, so the search was on to find another actress for the role. Gene Tierney was brought in to do a screentest for the role of Katie, but in the end Dorothy McGuire was cast. Dorothy is superb as the long suffering wife and mother, who isn’t as really tough and harsh as she makes out. Joan Blondell shines in the role of Katie’s outgoing sister, Sissy. Ted Donaldson was cast as Francie’s younger brother, Neeley and he steals every scene he’s in. Lloyd Nolan was cast as police officer McShane, the local beat cop who falls hard for Katie and helps the Nolan family when he can.

The film was shot on the 20th Century Fox lot, with a full stage being taken up by a four story replica of a tenement building. At the time it was constructed this set was one of the most elaborate to be assembled. Veteran Cinematographer Leon Shamroy worked on the film and provides us with some beautiful photography and use of light. 

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Francie takes care of her dad when he is drunk. Screenshot by me.

The film begins during summer. Francie Nolan(Peggy Ann Garner)is a thirteen year old girl who lives with her mum, Kate(Dorothy MacGuire); her food obsessed younger brother, Neeley(Ted Donaldson); and their kind but alcoholic father, Johnny(James Dunn). They are a poor family and rely on the money Johnny brings in from any work he can get as a musician. Unfortunately Johnny is an alcoholic and sometimes squanders the small wages and tips he makes on booze instead. Katie and Johnny are desperately in love, but Katie is becoming weary of what he does. Katie can sometimes be harsher to her kids than she means to be, while Johnny in contrast is always gentle and fun.

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Francie and Aunt Sissy. Image source IMDb.

Katie’s younger and more fun loving sister, Sissy(Joan Blondell)and has been married several times, something which has caused quite the scandal(oh, the horror!). Sissy drops in when she can to brighten Neeley and Francie’s days. Sissy is the healer in this story. She supports her sister, brother in-law, and her niece and nephew, and she tries to ease upset and tension.¬†¬†

Francie is a bright child who loves reading and desperately wants to become a writer. She encourages her father to write a letter to the headteacher of a better school in their area to request a transfer for Francie. To Francie’s delight the request is accepted and Francie is enrolled.¬†

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The Nolan family. Screenshot by me.

When Christmas comes around Katie finds herself pregnant again. The little money they have is getting tighter, so she arranges for the family to move into a cheaper and even smaller apartment than they were in before. She suggests that Francie drops out of school and gets a job to help out. Knowing how shattered his baby will be if she has to give up her dreams, Johnny goes out in the cold and snow to look for any type of work he can get. Tragically he falls ill in the process and dies.

Upon his death the family receive such kindness and hear from so many local people how beloved and special Johnny was. Johnny always tried to help people and cheer them up. Francie and Neeley get after school jobs to help out and Katie prepares to bring her third child into the world. Since her father’s death Francie has retreated into herself and hasn’t grieved properly. She blames her mum for her dads’s death and doesn’t think Katie loves her as much as she loves Neeley. This isn’t true of course. And soon Francie will see her mum differently. She will also come to accept that her beloved papa wasn’t this perfect figure she so believed him to be(interestingly something which Neeley had already come to realise while their dad was still alive). At her graduation ceremony, Francie will discover just how much her dad believed in her ability to make her dreams come true and succeed. If you don’t cry at this moment there is something wrong with you.¬†

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Francie in a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

The film reminds us that yes we have to face reality, but there is nothing wrong with us being imaginative and having dreams and aspirations at the same time. Never let anyone or anything stop you from following your heart. I think the film also serves to remind parents that their situation in life should never stop them from actively encouraging their children to follow the path THEY want to in life. Don’t force your children to take the job or profession that YOU think they should be doing, instead listen to what your child is telling you about the profession they want to go into and support their choice.¬†

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a beautiful and heartwarming tale of family, love, hope and overcoming the odds in life. 

Farewell, Max. Remembering Max Von Sydow (1929-2020)

Yesterday was another truly sad day for classic film fans, with the news breaking of the death of the actor Max von Sydow. He was 90 years old and passed away at his home in Provence,France. He is one of my favourite actors and I am devastated by the news of his death. 

His career spanned seven decades and saw him appear in over one hundred films. His final film, which is currently in post-production, will be Echoes Of The Past.¬†The words legend and icon are often bandied around rather frivolously today, but in Max’s case both of those words apply fully, not only to Max as an actor, but also to his films and the impact that they’ve had on cinema. Can you imagine an alternative history of film where his performances in the likes of The Passion Of Anna; Three Days Of The Condor; Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close(a film in which he doesn’t speak); The Virgin Spring; Hour Of The Wolf; The Greatest Story Ever Told; Flash Gordon; The Seventh Seal; Needful Things and¬†The Exorcist etc don’t exist? I can’t.

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Max von Sydow. Image source IMDb.

Max von Sydow was actually born as Carl Adolf von Sydow, in Lund,Sweden, on the 10th of April 1929. He became interested in acting while he was at school,where he founded his own amateur dramatic group with some friends. The legend goes that during his two year stint in the Swedish Quartermaster Corps, he took up the name Max because it was the name of a star actor who he saw performing in a flea circus. 

Like many film fans, my first introduction to Max was watching him play Father Merrin in The Exorcist(1973). Dick Smith’s incredible make-up, coupled with Max’s physical performance, had me convinced for years that he was an elderly actor at the time he made that film. Imagine my surprise after I became a fan and checked out more of his work, and then discovered that he had actually only been forty-four years old when he took on this role! He had me fooled.

With his hooded eyes and sharp facial features, Max von Sydow fit perfectly into the haunting and brooding screen world conjured up by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. The pair first met in 1955, when they began working together at the Municipal Theatre in Malmo. Von Sydow starred in several of Bergman’s plays at the theatre during the 1950’s. Also working with the pair at the same theatre were Bibi Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom, a group of actors who, along with Max von Sydow, would become Bergman’s stock company of screen actors.

Max appeared in many of Bergman’s films including Wild Strawberries; Shame; Winter Light; Hour Of The Wolf; Through A Glass Darkly;Brink Of Life and The Passion Of Anna. He is great in all of those films, but his performances in three Bergman films in particular stand out to me.

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One of the most iconic shots in films history. Max’s crusade soldier plays chess with Death. Image source IMDb.

The Seventh Seal(1957) was the film which first brought him to the attention of audiences around the world. He is absolutely brilliant as the weary and disenchanted crusader who does all he can to evade death, who actually appears to him in human form(played by Bengt Ekerot). A remarkable performance from a young actor.

The second film is The Virgin Spring(1960), in which he plays the devastated and enraged father of a girl who has been raped. The father unleashes a terrible wrath to avenge his baby. I think this could possibly be his greatest performance. His face is a kaleidoscope of emotion. 

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The Virgin Spring. Image source IMDb.

The third film is the extremely underrated The Magician(1958), in which he plays a mysterious magician whose travelling show is apparently supernatural in origin. His performances in these three films are among his very best. The roles and his approach to them are so different in each of these three films, that it’s almost like you are watching the performances of three different actors. He’s that good.¬†

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The Magician. Image source IMDb.

Hollywood soon beckoned, and in 1965 Max played Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told, this was Max’s first English language film. Over the years he would continue to work in the American film industry and also ventured into TV too, even playing the all powerful Three Eyed Raven in the hit series Game Of Thrones.¬†

One of my favourite Max von Sydow performances is in Sydney Pollack’s thriller Three Days Of The Condor(1975).Max plays a professional hitman who develops respect and sympathy for the next man he is sent to kill(Robert Redford). He doesn’t have much dialogue and he doesn’t need it either, because he steals that film with looks and body language alone. He manages to make his character both frightening and cold, but also somebody who we respect and even weirdly grow to like.¬†

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As the assassin in Three Days Of The Condor. Image source IMDb.

Another great role for him is as the dastardly Ming The Merciless in Flash Gordon(1980). Max absolutely owns that film. He plays it totally straight and oozes malevolence and madness.He absolutely rocks those fab costumes too. 

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All Hail, Ming. Image source IMDb.

I will miss seeing Max on screen, but I take comfort in the fact that I know I will be able to keep dipping into the cinematic treasure trove he has left behind as his legacy. R.I.P,Max. All sympathies to his family and friends. He was truly one of the greats. 

What are your thoughts on the great man and his films?

The O Canada Blogathon: The Changeling(1980)

Canada blogathon

Ruth at Silver Screenings and Kristina at Speakeasy are co-hosting this blogathon devoted to all things Canadian. 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 1980 horror/Psychological Thriller film The Changeling, a large part of which was shot on location in Canada. Not only is the film a chilling ghost story, but it also plays around with genre tropes and audience expectations in ways which make it very different to your average haunted house film.

Ghost stories have been around for that long, that none of us alive today know what the first ever spooky tale to be told was. Despite the many changes and advancements human society has undergone over the centuries, two things about us have remained constant – our fascination with death and the supernatural, and also our desire to be told a spooky tale which will send a shiver down our spines.

The Horror genre has long been popular and successful in both literature and film. The first ever Horror film to be made was the 1896 film The House Of The Devil. The success of the Universal Monster movies of the 1930’s and 1940’s, and all those spooky Val Lewton productions, proved that film audiences had a taste for all things frightening. While screen monsters and killers were depicted as being as scary and grotesque as possible, ghosts on the other hand were often just used to bring about very brief scares, or were used as sources of comedy for much of the classic film era – think of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit,or of the Topper films for example.

                                                            Image sources IMDb.

Once the 1960’s rolled around, the screen ghost story drastically changed to become far scarier, darker and deeper, both psychologically and emotionally. Ghosts were no longer there merely to provide brief shocks or laughs. Films such as The Innocents and The Haunting remain the ultimate ghost/haunted house films for many fans of the genre.

Horror films of the 1970’s, with the exception of a few titles such as The Legend Of Hell House and The Amityville Horror, were more about slasher horror rather than supernatural scares. Slasher horror seemed to be what most filmmakers and fans of the genre were digging at the time, and for the most part it has to be said that not much seems to have changed if today’s horror flicks are anything to go by. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great slasher flicks out there,and on occasion I don’t mind watching them, but for me nothing beats a good supernatural or psychological horror film.¬†

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John Russell’s new home is haunted. Screenshot by me.

In 1980 a film came along which I consider to be one of the last truly great ghost/haunted house films.

The unsettling Canadian film The Changeling is the film which famously turned a bouncing ball into one of the most frightening objects that you will ever see.

The Changeling was shot on location in various parts of Canada and America, including New York(location work at the Lincoln Centre), Seattle and Vancouver. The majority of location filming took place in British Columbia.

The film was written by Diana Maddox and William Gray. The script is based upon playwright Russell Hunter’s(his first name becomes the surname of the main character in the film) claims of the supposedly true supernatural events that he experienced while living in the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in Cheesman Park,Denver,Colorado, in 1968. The film is directed by Peter Medak(The Ruling Class, The Krays)and produced by Joel B. Michaels and Garth Drabinsky. The eerie score is by Canadian composer Rick Wilkins. The film’s title is inspired by the word changeling, which in folklore is the name given to a human-like fairy child left in place of a stolen human one.¬†

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George C. Scott as John Russell. Screenshot by me.

John Russell(George C. Scott)is a composer who is trying to reassemble the pieces of his life following the tragic deaths of his wife Joanna(Jean Marsh)and their daughter Kathy(Michelle Martin)in an horrific traffic accident that occurs while the family are on holiday. This man has been witness to one of the worst moments of horror anyone could possibly experience. 

Now lonely and wracked with grief, John Russell moves out of his home, and at the gentle urging of some friends, rents a Victorian house in Seattle, Washington, which is under the care of the local Historical Society. Claire Norman(Trish Van Devere) an agent of the Preservation Society shares the history of the house with him and he agrees to rent. John and Claire become friends and John takes on some musical work. A little while after moving in, John begins to be plagued by weird noises and frightening occurrences in the house. He and Claire research the history of the house and unearth an horrific discovery.

After a medium is invited to the house to determine whether or not the disturbances are caused by spirits, things take a very interesting turn indeed. Not only does John become convinced that the supernatural is very real, but it is also at this point that The Changeling becomes a film which plays around with audience expectation and with traditional haunted house tropes. The film does a sharp left turn and not only turns into an intriguing mystery thriller, all be it one which also includes more than a few moments of horror, but also turns into a moving tale of obtaining justice from beyond the grave. 

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John and Claire do some research on the haunted house. Screenshot by me.

John and Claire discover that the house is haunted by the angry and distressed spirit of a boy called Joseph Carmichael. He was the heir of the original owners of the house, but was murdered by his father because he was a very sickly child. The father then told staff/associates etc that he was sending his son abroad in the hopes of improving his condition.

The murder was kept hidden, and even worse than that, Mr. Carmichael replaced his son with an orphan boy of the same age and similar appearance, and it is he who is sent abroad as the Carmichael heir. When he returns years later all grown up and healthy, nobody is any the wiser that this is not the real Joseph whose health has improved over the years. Joseph seeks revenge on his replacement, who is now an American Senator(Melvyn Douglas), from beyond the grave. The supernatural events Joseph is responsible for in the house are his way of trying to get John Russell to help him uncover the injustice done to him. 

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John Russell decides to stay and help rather than run in fear. Screenshot by me.

What I like most about this film is the character of John Russell. He is not a man who is scared easily. It could be said that he reacts perhaps too calmly to sharing a house with a ghost, but considering that he has just been through something so horrendous, it could be that everything else rather pales in comparison to seeing the loves of his life killed before his eyes.He’s not so phased any more, even by something that most people normally would be.¬†

When the supernatural events do begin, John isn’t instantly quaking in his shoes convinced they must be supernatural in origin. Nor does he run away in blind terror when it becomes obvious that Joseph’s ghost is real. He also isn’t on the phone to the local priest begging him to come round and douse the gaffe in holy water. In fact he actually becomes the ghosts defender, and in a strange way a sort of a protector, and he doesn’t rest until he’s uncovered the truth about Joseph’s murder. This, coupled with the fact that the horror elements present in the film aren’t predictable and familiar, is something which helps makes us feel this film is bringing something different and fresh to the genre. It’s also worth bearing in mind that considering that Joseph’s ghost is revealed to be real, does that then mean that John’s wife and daughter are also ghosts who are stranded at their place of death, seeing as how they were killed so suddenly and brutally?¬†

I also think that casting George C. Scott for this role was a stroke of genius. He more than earned his $1 million paycheck for this film. George was not only a tough guy in real life, but the former US Marine was also well known for being a hard man on screen. In this film however he gets to show us a much softer side than we are used to seeing. In one heartbreaking scene he breaks down crying thinking of his lost family, it’s a very touching moment and Scott is extremely vulnerable in it. He also plays John as being a very levelheaded man, something which lends a realism to his eventual shift into believing what is going on is being caused by a ghost.¬†

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He’d just got rid of that ball. Screenshot by me.

Another aspect of the film which makes it a bit different, is that in addition to the scares, of which there are plenty, there is also a great deal of emotion present in this film.

¬†The Changeling is really a film about grief, death,loss, loneliness and rage. Loss and pain are ever present in the film – from John losing his family and struggling to cope, to Joseph losing his life before he’s even had the chance to really start living it.¬†It’s also a film about how the family unit isn’t always the loving and safe space for some that it always should be. The film also shows us that those in positions of power can get away with even the most horrendous acts being covered up and going unchallenged. Sound familiar? It all hits home because it’s so real. The horror in this film isn’t of the demonic type, it is horror perpetrated by humans against fellow humans, even against their own flesh and blood.¬† Sadly we know that such horror occurs in real life far more often than we’d all care to admit.¬†¬†

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Claire and John. Screenshot by me.

I also love how the film switches from outright horror and creepiness halfway through to become a gripping mystery. This could have easily hurt the film, but instead it feels like the right move and ensures you’re still on the edge of your seat, all be it while peeking through your fingers.

I also love the growing bond developing between John and Claire, something which is helped of course by the fact that George and Trish were married in real life. There’s more than a hint of the possibility that this tender friendship will develop into a romance at some point in the future.¬†

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Melvyn Douglas as the changeling of the title. Screenshot by me.

While George is great and undoubtedly the star of the film, I personally think Trish delivers the best performance in the film. She is especially good in the scene at the bottom of the stairs, where she goes from crying to becoming rooted to the spot in fear,as she catches sight of something horrendous. Just a brilliant performance. 

George and Trish receive fine support from the rest of the cast, several of whom were Canadian. Notable actors who are also in the film include John Colicos, Madeleine Sherwood and Barry Morse. Veteran American actor Melvyn Douglas brings gravitas to the role of Senator Carmichael. It is never fully clear exactly how much the replacement knew about what Joseph’s father did to his son, but it’s clear he knew something, or at least had some suspicions. Melvyn keeps it ambiguous in his performance.¬†

The film is something of a hidden gem. It wasn’t really that well received upon release and had something of a slow burn rise to acclaim, but over the last few decades its reputation has grown and it has now found its fanbase. The film did receive some love upon release in Canada however. Founded in 1980, the new Canadian film awards The Genie Awards handed out 8 Genie Awards to the cast and crew of The Changeling – including awards for Best Picture,Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction/Production Design for Trevor Williams. George and Trish took home the best Foreign actor and actress awards.¬†¬†

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George C. Scott stands in front of one of the most convincing looking facades in film history. Image source IMDb.

The Production/Art design win in particular was well deserved. Trevor and his team did wonders on this film. For starters the house which features in the film looks like a real house, but it was actually a designed facade placed over the front of an existing smaller property. I was blown away when I learnt it wasn’t a real property, it looks so real that I just assumed it was an old abandoned house they’d found. The stunning interiors of John’s home were also built for the film, and they were shot on interconnected sets at Panorama Film Studios,West Vancouver,British Columbia.¬†

If you’re looking for a¬† good horror film which deviates from the norm somewhat, then this is the film for you. Would love to hear from you if you’re a fan of this one.¬†

Announcing The Robert Donat Blogathon

Robert Donat is one of my favourite actors. I also consider him to be one of the greatest actors of the classic film era. He was one of those actors who could say so much with merely a glance or a gesture.He is sadly not very often discussed today, even among those of us in the classic film community. I think it’s high time that Robert had a blogathon held in his honour.¬†

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Robert and Madeleine Carroll in The 39 Steps. Image source IMDb.

For this Blogathon you can write about any of his films, any of his performances, and you can also write about Robert himself. Tribute posts are welcome. Favourite films/performances/characters lists and articles are very welcome too. 

I will only be allowing 2 duplicates per film title,and a maximum of two posts each. The Blogathon will be held on the 3rd,4th and 5th of July,2020. Please have your entries ready on or before those dates. If something happens and you know you’re going to be late publishing,or you won’t be able to take part at all, please do let me know as soon as you can.

Take one of the banners from below and pop it on your site somewhere to promote the event.Let me know what you want to write about. Check the list below to see who is writing about what. Let’s honour this lovely man and great actor. Happy writing and Robert Donat film watching!

Participation List

Films now claimed twice – The Winslow Boy, Knight Without Armour, Goodbye, Mr. Chips

MaddyLovesHerClassicFilms – The Winslow Boy

RobertDonat.com – The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness

Pale Writer – The Winslow Boy

              FilmsOnTheBox- The Private Life Of Henry VIII

 Silver Screenings РThe Ghost Goes West

SilverScreenClassics – The Citadel

The Poppity – Vacation From Marriage

Sister Celluloid – Knight Without Armour

                                                Dubsism РCaptain Boycott

                                              Caftan Woman РThe 39 Steps

                                           18 Cinema Lane РGoodbye, Mr.Chips

                                  The Midnite Drive РIn РThe Adventures Of Tartu

                                            Taking Up Room РThe Adventures Of Tartu

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Phyllis Loves Classic Movies –¬† The Count Of Monte Cristo

                                          Critic Retro РKnight Without Armour 

                            Pure Entertainment Preservation Society РGoodbye Mr. Chips 

Robert Donat banner 2

Robert Donat banner 1

Jaws (1975)

Jaws posterThere are some films which come along and hook you right away. There are also films which make such an impression on you, that you can never shake off your first experience of watching them. Jaws is a film which affects me in both of these ways.

Jaws quickly shook things up when it was released on the 20th of June,1975. For starters it became the world’s first ever Summer Blockbuster. It also grossed over $100 million dollars at the box office, which at the time made it the highest grossing film ever made. Jaws would hold this title until the release of Star Wars in 1977.

Jaws made audiences around the world afraid to even dip their toes into the ocean,let alone dive in and go swimming. The film would also bring a young director by the name of Steven Spielberg to the attention of audiences around the world. 

This film had a huge impact on me the first time I saw it. It was sometime around 1999 or 2000 when I went into my local Library one day to borrow some books and take out a couple of films. While browsing the film shelves, I spotted the video of Jaws. The cover art interested me and I was immediately freaked out by the photo of Chrissie on the back, in that traumatising shot of her screaming as the sea around her turns red with her blood. Fascinated, and very eager to check it out, I borrowed this film and watched it when I got home.  It completely terrified me and had me on the edge of my seat throughout. It has been a favourite ever since that first time I saw it.

I love the characters and the story a great deal. I especially love how the film is a mix of the horror, thriller, adventure and comedy genres. I also love the location work. John Williams chilling and suitably atmospheric score is one of the very best he has ever composed, and his music greatly adds to the film. Can you imagine this flick without that score? The editing of Verna “Mother Cutter” Fields is also excellent and really helps build tension and excitement.

I also love how the two halves of the film are so different from each other as well. The first half is pretty much a horror film featuring some very disturbing sequences. The characters are all established in the first half and the unseen creature from the deep keeps the viewer on edge.

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Our trio take to the sea to find the killer shark. Image source IMDb.

The second half of the film is all about the growing bond between Quint, Brody and Hooper. The second half also becomes quite the thriller and has a lot of action in it. When I first saw this film I was also very surprised by just how much humour is to be found in the second half, such as Quint‚Äôs outrageous sea songs and the rivalry between him and Hooper. This is in stark contrast to the grim, tense and extremely frightening atmosphere of the first half. A scene that always cracks me up in the second half is Brody‚Äôs reaction to Hooper, when he asks him to go right out to edge of the boat so he can get Brody in the foreground for scale as he snaps a picture of the shark. Brody refuses to do so. He looks at Hooper as if he is crazy, and climbs down to side of the boat(to go back up to the bridge)only to be met with the sight of Quint coming towards him carrying a spear gun. This sight forces the Chief to return to where he just came from. ūüôā

The trio of Brody, Quint and Hooper are so different from each other and yet they find a way to overcome their differences, find some common ground, and most important of all work together to survive. The development of their relationship is as fascinating for me to watch now as it was when I first watched it. All the characters(but especially the main trio)are so well written and come across as being very real people who you can connect to.

The film is based upon the 1974 novel of the same name written by Peter Benchley.The author was inspired to write the book after reading about fisherman Frank Mundus, who caught a Great White shark off the coast of Long Island, New York, in 1964. Benchley imagined what would happen if such a shark started attacking bathers regularly in one location and wouldn’t go away.After coming up with various titles for his book including Stillness In The Water and Leviathan Rising, Benchley eventually decided on the title of Jaws. Upon release Jaws was a best seller. The film rights were bought by Universal Studios producers David Brown and Richard D.Zanuck, and the book would become a screen sensation when the pair produced the screen adaptation the following year. Benchley himself would go on to appear in the film as the reporter on the beach.¬†

Peter Benchley

The author pops up in the film as the reporter. Image source IMDb.

The film sticks pretty close to the book but there are some differences to be found. The most notable difference is that Hooper survives in the film. I don‚Äôt find the characters to be as likeable in the book as I do on screen, I think that the bond between the main trio is part of the films success and I didn’t feel that growing friendship in the book. I was also very glad that the subplot of the affair between Hooper and Mrs. Brody wasn‚Äôt included in the film. One of my favourite aspects of the film is the happy family life that Chief Brody enjoys, if the affair subplot had been included then that happy atmosphere would have been destroyed. I also think the subplot would have made it really difficult to like Hooper. I also think the film manages to be more scary and thrilling overall than the novel is.

Peter Benchley would ironically spend the rest of his life trying to undo the bad reputation his novel and the film had given to Great White Sharks. Benchley became a marine conservationist and wrote books about sharks and the sea, helping people to understand these creatures and their natural habitat.Shark attacks certainly are horrific when they happen, but they are thankfully extremely rare events. Yet, thanks to the novel and this film, people are sadly now overly wary of the sea, and are also very afraid of the fascinating and beautiful creatures that live there.

Brown and Zanuck chose Steven Spielberg to be the one responsible for bringing Peter Benchley’s story to the big screen. Spielberg had been working steadily in television as a director since 1970. He had directed the Columbo episode Murder By The Book, and had also directed the pilot episode of The Night Gallery. He had also directed two very good TV films – Duel (1971)a film about a man pursued by a killer truck, and Something Evil(1972)a horror film about a family terrorised by an evil spirit. At the time of being brought onto Jaws, he had made his first feature film Sugerland Express(1974), which focuses on a couple on the run from the law. He was attracted to the Jaws project because in some way the shark pursuing its victims reminded him of the truck pursuing the man in his film Duel.¬†

There were several writers who worked on the screenplay for the film. Peter Benchley himself wrote a screenplay for the film. Then Howard Sackler did an uncredited rewrite of Benchley’s script. Finally Carl Gottlieb(who also appears in the film as Meadows)was brought on by his friend Steven Spielberg to redraft the script. Spielberg himself wrote a script, from which came the terrifying pier sequence. Spielberg also came up with a great scene in which to introduce Quint.

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Steven Spielberg relaxes on location with the mechanical shark. Image source IMDb.

In Spielberg’s script, Quint would be introduced watching Moby Dick(1956)in a cinema and laughing loudly and hysterically at what was on screen.His laughter would drive out many people sitting around him in the cinema. Spielberg approached Gregory Peck, the star of that film and the controller of the rights to it, to see if he could use the footage. Peck wasn’t against the footage being used in the context Spielberg had in mind, but he preferred that it wasn’t used because he wasn’t very proud of the film. While I do like the sound of that intro, I have to say that I much prefer the chalkboard scraping intro we got in the finished film.¬†

Jaws would make Spielberg a household name. He really proved with this film just what he was able to accomplish as a director. I think this is one of the best films he has ever made (and that is saying something). If I had to pick just one of his films to keep, then I know that I would pick this one without hesitation. I especially like how Spielberg conveys so much horror and suspense without even showing the shark for such a large portion of the film. When he does show the shark, he does so sparingly, and therefore its appearances have a far greater impact than they would if he had constantly shown it all the way through the film.

The making of the film is quite the story itself. It was shot on location on Martha’s Vineyard and many of the locals appear in the film as extras, with local fisherman Craig Kingsbury being cast as the gruff and doomed Ben Gardner.Robert Shaw based his performance as Quint largely on Kingsbury, and some of Kingsbury’s own sayings were added to the script as dialogue for both Quint and Gardner. The land shoot wasn’t that bad, but cast and crew quickly encountered problems once filming moved out to sea.¬† The sea conditions and the weather changed so quickly, often within a matter of minutes, meaning scenes often had to be scrapped and started again from scratch.

There were also issues with shots being set up, only to have to be stopped due to boats coming into the area and appearing on camera. Cast and crew came down with seasickness. The mechanical shark nicknamed Bruce Рwhich had been created by Robert A. Mattey, the man who had built the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea(1954) Рmalfunctioned and this led to delays. At one point Shaw, Scheider, Dreyfuss and some crew members even had to be rescued by safety boats, after the boat serving as The Orca began to sink. 

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Despite the pressure and problems Robert Shaw, Steven Spielberg and Roy Scheider find time for a laugh on location. Image source IMDb.

Husband and wife team Ron and Valerie Taylor were hired to shoot real footage of Great White sharks down in South Australia.The couple were known for their work on the shark documentary Blue Water White Death. Carl Rizzo,a little man who was a stuntman/child double, was sent out to Australia to work with the couple. The idea was for Carl(doubling as Hooper)to be placed in a small cage underwater near to real Great Whites, in order to make the real sharks swimming past seem like they were on a much bigger scale.

One day a curious Great White shark got its nose caught on a bridle attached to the cage(empty at the time) which in turn was attached to the Taylor’s boat. The shark went wild and its thrashing badly damaged the cage. Both cage and shark hurtled down towards the seabed until the shark managed to break free and swim away. Ron, who had been below the surface at the time, caught the whole incident on camera. The footage was so amazing that in order to use it, the script was rewritten to keep Hooper alive and show him escaping the cage as the shark begins to attack it.

Towards the end of filming some footage was shot in a tank(for clearer visibility for underwater photography) featuring stuntman Richard Warlock doubling as Richard Dreyfuss for the close up sequences of Hooper being attacked in the cage. A third man called Frank Sparks doubled as Dreyfuss for the extreme closeup of Hooper’s terrified face. The final edited footage of this sequence consisted of shots cut together from the Taylor/Rizzo shoot, the Warlock shoot, and the Sparks shoot. Spielberg also re-shot the scene where Hooper and Brody discover Ben Gardner’s boat, to include Ben’s head popping out of the side of the boat and scaring Hooper. This sequence, which has become one of the most effective and memorable jump scares in film history, was shot in the swimming pool of editor Verna Fields.¬†

Jaws is set in the American coastal town of Amity. The film opens with a young woman called Chrissie Watkins(stuntwoman Susan Backlinie) going for a moonlight swim in the ocean. What starts off as quite a beautiful scene quickly turns horrific. Poor Chrissie is grabbed from beneath the waves by something unseen. She screams in agony as she is dragged around, and finally she is pulled beneath the waves and all we can hear is the splashing of the waves.

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Chrissie is attacked.This is the image I saw on the back of the video I rented. Image source IMDb.

If I was putting together a list of best film openings, then this one would feature very high up on the list indeed. The opening attack sequence bears many similarities to the sequence in The Creature From The Black Lagoon(1954), where Julie Adams takes a dip in the black lagoon of the title, and is watched and pursued by the Gill Man monster living beneath the lake.

The next day Chrissie’s remains are found washed up on the beach and the police are alerted. Chief Martin Brody(Roy Scheider)discovers her death was due to a shark attack. He has to try and persuade mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton)to close the beaches to prevent any further attacks. Vaughn refuses and a young boy is killed very close to the beach in a truly disturbing scene. As the shark attacks mount up, and become more disturbing and graphic each time we see them on screen, Brody and Vaughn hire experienced local fisherman Quint(Robert Shaw)to hunt and kill the shark.

Brody and Quint set out aboard Quint’s ship, The Orca, to search for the shark. They are joined by young shark expert Matt Hooper(Richard Dreyfuss)who comes equipped with specialist technology and equipment to help them find the shark. Quint and Hooper rub each other the wrong way right from their first meeting, this leads to many funny scenes as they argue and try and outdo one another. The trio soon find the shark they seek(or rather the shark finds them)leading to a terrifying finale.

There are so many memorable moments in this film and the following are some of my favourites. Quint‚Äôs Indianapolis story. The estuary attack(this is the first time we see the shark and it is so disturbing). Quint scraping the chalkboard in the meeting to get some attention. Hooper and Quint‚Äôs tattoo stories(love the way Dreyfuss laughs in this scene, it cracks me up every time).Hooper and Brody discovering Ben Gardner‚Äôs boat. Hooper‚Äôs argument with the mayor and his shocked reaction to what the mayor says back to him. The scene with the two fisherman on the pier who almost get attacked by the shark. The ‚ÄúYou’re going to need a bigger boat‚ÄĚ scene.

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Roy Scheider as Chief Brody. Image source IMDb.

Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss are all at their very best in this film. Roy Scheider’s Brody is not only the hero of the film, but he also represents us in the audience. His character is an everyman who is thrown into an unusual situation made worse for him by his fear of drowning. As the film goes on we see Brody having to conquer that fear in order to be able to survive. Brody is my favourite character in this and I love the way that Roy plays him. Brody is a good man and a quiet hero. Roy does such a good job of portraying him working hard to overcome his fear to be of great help in the second half of the film. Roy also improvised that famous line of “You’re going to need a bigger boat”.

Robert Shaw steals every scene he‚Äôs in, as the hot tempered and fearless, Quint. Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden were the first choices for role of Quint, but I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role like Robert Shaw did. He provides many of the films biggest laughs, but he also gets to deliver the most moving and powerful scene in the film, the famous Indianapolis speech. Robert’s performance in that scene should be used in an acting master class. The way he delivers those lines, coupled with the look on his face, is what makes that moment so powerful to the viewer.Quint’s vivid descriptions of what he and his crewmates faced conjures up some very chilling images indeed.

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Robert Shaw as Quint. Image source IMDb.

This famous scene was in Howard Sackler’s version of the film script, but it was much shorter than the scene we know now. Spielberg then asked director and screenwriter John Millius to expand on Sackler’s scene. Eventually Robert Shaw(who was also a writer) took a crack at rewriting it, and it is Shaw’s rewrite of Sackler and Millius’s contributions which appears in the film.¬†

Quint is the most fascinating character in the whole film for me. He has made it his life’s mission to kill the creatures that killed so many of his crewmates during the Indianapolis sinking. Most days he goes out to sea and faces his deepest fear. His fate is rather fitting as he meets the same end is friends did. As sad as his death is, you also know that it is some ways a blessing, as he will no longer suffer by having to live a life haunted by the memories of that incident.¬†

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Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper. Image source IMDb.

Richard Dreyfuss is essentially the comic relief role in this film, his laugh always cracks me up because it’s so infectious. There is more to Matt Hooper than comedy though, he is also a dedicated shark expert and really knows his stuff. He loves these creatures and is fascinated by them, but he knows what they are capable of and doesn’t underestimate them. He and Quint both know what sharks can do and both know much about them and their habitat,in the end this shared knowledge and experience lead them to respect and like each other after a somewhat rocky start. I also like that Hooper is quite a young man who is an expert in his field and absolutely owns that fact. Hooper is unafraid to stand up to older authority figures(Mayor Vaughn for example)and call them out and challenge them.

There’s fine support from Lorraine Gary as the fun and loving Mrs.Brody, and Murray Hamilton as the unwise and arrogant Mayor Vaughn. Even the extras and bit part players stand out and are memorable in this.¬† Who could forget Alfred Wilde as “Bad Hat Harry”? ūüėĀūüėā The film proves that less is more when it comes to making monster movies,and I think that there is no way this film would be as good with a CGI shark.¬†

Inevitably the idea of sequels surfaced and the studios saw money. These ideas should have remained submerged. The film has had three sequels, none of which match the quality of the original. Jaws 2 is just about passable, it has its moments and some of the original cast return which is nice to see. Avoid 3 and 4 though, as they are in the so bad they are laughable category(joining the likes of Exorcist 2 and The Swarm on the ‚Äúwhat were they thinking when they made this?‚ÄĚ shelf). 3 has some bad special effects that look they were lifted straight from a 1980‚Äôs computer game. 4 features sharks that can roar, target specific humans, and do all this for the purposes of revenge(I‚Äôm not making this up.) Stick with the original is my advice.

The Butlers And Maids Blogathon: If You Could Only Cook(1935)

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Two of my favourite bloggers, Paddy at Caftan Woman, and Rich at Wide Screen World, are teaming up to co-host this blogathon dedicated to screen butlers and maids. Be sure to visit their sites to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.¬†

If You Could Only Cook is a little gem which holds a very special place in my heart. Not only is it a lovely and little known film filled with humour and great characters, but it is also the film which first introduced me to the actors Jean Arthur and Herbert Marshall.While I know that my opinion of some films could well change over the years, I know that this one will always remain beloved by yours truly. 

Jean Arthur and Herbert Marshall both shine here and their performances in this have become favourites of mine. Herbert is all charm and world weariness as the wealthy man turned servant, while Jean is bubbly and determined as a down on her luck woman who will keep trying to better herself in spite of her current circumstances. This was Herbert’s twenty-first film. Unlike many other actors, it hadn’t really taken Herbert very long to become a popular star, with roles in films such as Blonde Venus and Trouble In Paradise earning him leading man status.

                                              Jean and Herbert. Image source IMDb.

Jean Arthur had been working in films since 1923, but until 1935 hadn’t really given a performance that would change things for her. In this year however she shone, not only in this film, but also in The Whole Town’s Talking. The following year came Mr. Deeds Came To Town. She would quickly become forever immortalised on screen as the no nonsense, tough, and bubbly girl next door type.¬†

If You Could Only Cook is directed by William A. Seiter, who is unfortunately a rather unknown and seldom discussed director these days. He worked steadily all throughout the classic film era, from the Silent era right up until 1954. If he’s remembered at all today then it’s for directing the Astaire and Rogers musical Roberta(1935), and the Shirley Temple version of The Little Princess(1939).

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Publicity photo for the film featuring Herbert Marshall, Jean Arthur and Leo Carillo. Image source IMDb.

If You Could Only Cook contains many characters who would be right at home in a Frank Capra film, and that is interesting due to how this film was released here in the UK by Columbia Pictures. Capra films were very popular here and it was felt his name would be a box office draw for audiences, so the film was marketed as being a Frank Capra production. Frank Capra however had nothing at all to do with the film and he was furious when he found out what was going on. Capra sued Columbia Studios, and a bitter dispute developed between him and Columbia studio head Harry Cohen. The following year, Frank Capra made his classic Mr. Deeds Goes To Town.His leading lady in that film? Ironically it was none other than Jean Arthur. 

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Jim and Joan meet in the park and look for work. Screenshot by me.

If You Could Only Cook is set against the backdrop of the American Depression. Jim Buchanan(Herbert Marshall)is the wealthy head of a large Automobile Company. He is deeply frustrated when his board of directors refuse to accept his latest designs for a new type of car to be built and sold. Leaving his office after an angry meeting with the board which resulted in him deciding to take time off work, Jim takes himself off to the local park.

At the park Jim finds himself sharing a bench with out of work Joan(Jean Arthur), who is looking through job adverts in the paper. Assuming that Jim is also an ordinary person out of work, Joan passes him the job ads. They get talking and Joan persuades him into applying for a Butler and Cook job open to married couples only. Jim plays along with her, agrees to her proposal, and the pair decide to pretend to be married and apply for the vacancy.

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Preparing a dish as part of the interview. Screenshot by me.

The employer is a Mr. Rossini(an hilarious Leo Carrillo)who unbeknown to the couple is the head of a bootlegging gang. Rossini loves his¬† food, and is desperate to hire a cook who knows their job. In a very amusing scene he dismisses a potential applicant because of how she prepares the sauce he asks her to – “Not in my house you don’t put the garlic in the sauce!” To his great delight when it comes to Joan’s interview/test, Joan prepares the sauce the correct way, by wafting the garlic six inches above the surface of the sauce. Joan and Jim are hired. Jim sneaks out at night to take some side lessons on how to pass as a butler from his own butler, Jennings(Romaine Callender, reminding me very much of Eric Blore). Jim is a quick study and makes a very good butler indeed.

So begins a lot of funny moments as Joan and Jim begin work around the house. As they spend more time together it’s clear they are starting to like one another quite a bit. When they get hired they are placed in a double room over the garage, which of course poses problems as regards to the sleeping arrangements. They move a sofa out onto the balcony to serve as a second bed. This aspect of the film reminds me somewhat of the “Walls of Jericho” part of It Happened One Night(1934).¬†

                 Joan and Jim get to work around the house and get cosy later. Screenshot by me.

While it’s fair to say the film is no masterpiece and only clocks in at 1 hour 11 minutes long, it is however one of the most enjoyable and fun films from the classic era for me. It’s become a comfort film and it’s one I love to return to again and again. I also like that none of the characters are perfect. For all their faults, and for the fact that many lies are told by some of them, you can’t really hate any of the main characters in this. Even after it’s revealed what Rossini does for a living, and even after he comes onto Joan at one point, you still like the guy. The character of Jim serves to show that the rich don’t have happy and perfect lives just because they are rolling in money. Joan serves to show that the unemployed are looking for work and want to work, rather than receive handouts and not gain employment. Rossini serves to remind us that sometimes even someone who does great wrong, can weirdly be a very nice person at the same time.

While Jean and Herbert are undeniably the main attraction of this film, they have fine support from the rest of the cast, Len Carillo stands out as the tough and loud Rossini, who is a real sweetheart, despite the fact he is a thug and orders killings for a living. I love the affection that develops between Rossini and Joan later in the film and how he brings about Joan and Jim’s eventual happy ending.

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Lionel Stander. Screenshot by me.

A young Lionel Stander is absolutely hilarious as Rossini’s baffled pal,Flash. He steals all the scenes he’s in. Years later of course Lionel would get to show off some butler skills of his own, when he was cast as Max in the TV series Hart To Hart.¬†

Let’s hear it for If You Could Only Cook!

The Magnificent Mia Farrow Blogathon: See No Evil (1971)

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Gabriela at Pale Writeris hosting this blogathon in honour of actress Mia Farrow. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. See No Evil is a Horror/Thriller which features Mia Farrow at her very best playing a vulnerable,but determined, blind woman who is being stalked by a killer. The blind person in peril plotline certainly wasn’t new by the time it was used in this film, but few of the other films with similar stories to See No Evil are as creepy or suspenseful as it is.

Two key earlier films featuring a blind person in great danger are 23 Paces To Baker Street(1956), in which Van Johnson’s blind playwrite overhears a murder plot and becomes the target of a killer. The other one is Wait Until Dark(1967), a thrilling home invasion film, in which Audrey Hepburn’s blind character is terrorised by a gang of thieves.

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See No Evil is directed by Richard Fleischer and is written by Brian Clemens(The Avengers, And Soon The Darkness). The film not only has some extremely suspenseful moments, but it also does a great twist on the murder discovery scene having Mia’s character unaware that she is walking into a murder scene, while we keep catching glimpses of dead bodies and disturbed furniture etc as she moves through the house.

Director Richard Fleischer was no stranger to films about murderers, having directed 10 Rillington Place, Compulsion and The Boston Strangler. I’ve always appreciated that these particular films don’t wallow in the horror of the site of murders/murder victims, but rather briefly show a shot which is enough to sicken and shock audiences without shoving their faces into protracted and unpleasant sequences of gore. Such is the case with this film. While this film certainly plays out more like a slasher film than the gritty docudrama style of the three other films I mention, Richard Fleischer still shoots the murder discovery sequence in a way which makes this one very similar to those other films.¬†

                                Part of the opening sequence. Screenshots by me.

See No Evil plunges the audience straight into darkness the second it begins. The opening title sequence(accompanied by a cracking score by Elmer Bernstein) shows us just how violent and warped society and entertainment have become – the man who will later be revealed as the killer is seen leaving a cinema which is showing the double bill of The Convent Murders and Rapist Cult. We see only the killers legs and feet(clad in cowboy boots)as he walks out of the cinema and walks off through town.As the killer walks through town we see toy guns and soldiers in a shop window, a sight which emphasises the fact that many boys are encouraged to play with such things, and that they could very well come to think that guns must be “cool” because playing at shootouts and soldiers is weirdly considered to be a healthy and perfectly normal thing for kids to do.

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The boots of the killer. Screenshot by me.

We then see a newspaper stand which displays violent and brutal headlines. We see a TV store where the TV sets in the window are playing the 1967 film Torture Garden, and we see a scene from that film where Burgess Meredith is getting brutally attacked. Both of these things serve to show how society is constantly surrounded by violence. The killer then stops to light a cigarette, and he is splashed by a passing car. He gets confrontational and the driver leans out and apologises and the killer decides to walk away. 

I think the title sequence shows just how desensitised we’ve become to violence and how normal it’s become, and it also highlights that violent scenes often feature in our entertainment and people don’t see a problem with watching such content. As violence happens so often in daily life it unfortunately rather loses its shock value, something which has always troubled me. It’s not hard to see how an already twisted mind could become further warped by seeing constant violent and unpleasant news reports, films and television. The final shot of the film comes back to this idea, by showing a group of ordinary people pressed up to the gates of the house fascinated by the grisly events that have taken place within. Many people have a morbid curiosity with killers and murders, rather than being disgusted and not wanting to know any more about a murder/murderer past the basic facts.

                                      Mia Farrow as Sarah. Screenshots by me. 

The film takes place in England during the 1970’s. Sarah(Mia Farrow)is coming to stay with her aunt, uncle, and cousin(Robin Bailey, Dorothy Alison,Diane Grayson) at their home, after recovering from a very bad riding accident which caused her to fall and left her blind. She is still fiercely independent and is just starting to get used to her disability. Her uncle is the driver who splashed the killer at the beginning of the film.

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Sarah is horrified by what has happened to her family. Screenshot by me.

One day she goes out with her ex-boyfriend, Steve(Norman Eshley)and returns to find the house strangely quiet. As she walks through the house we start to see that something is very wrong. Things look like they’ve been disturbed, the gardeners lawnmower has been abandoned, a pair of legs can be glimpsed by a chair, a shotgun cartridge is blowing around on the ground outside. As night turns into morning we see more and more of the horror that Sarah unknowingly finds herself surrounded by. Her family have been murdered and their bodies discarded around the house. Two of the most upsetting scenes are where Sarah discovers her dead cousin in their shared bedroom, and finds her uncle shot in the face and lying in the bath. It’s grim stuff. Unbeknown to Sarah, the killer has lost his bracelet and is on his way back to the house to reclaim it. And soon Sarah finds herself the next target of this lunatic.¬†¬†

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Sarah hides from the killer. Screenshot by me.

This is a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat and keep you guessing about the identity of the killer. One of the things I like most about the film is that it really isn’t possible to guess who the killer is until he’s actually revealed at the end of the film.¬†

Mia is fantastic as Sarah. She really captures her strength and determination to be independent and continue to make a life for herself despite her blindness. As the film goes on she also captures Sarah’s vulnerability and fear, and she does it so well that you want to leap through the screen and comfort her. I consider this to be one of Mia’s best performances.¬†

The Second Deborah Kerr Blogathon: The End Of The Affair(1955)

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Deborah Kerr gave so many excellent performances throughout her long film career.One of her very best performances can be found in the British film The End Of The Affair. This film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by Graham Greene, which was published in 1951. The novel is partly based on Greene’s own love affair with Catherine Walston, and the novel is dedicated to her.¬†¬†

The film is directed by one of my favourite Noir directors Edward Dmytryk. You could say that the film itself has Noir elements, given that it actually looks like a Film Noir in several scenes due to the lighting and use of shadows. The novel is adapted for the screen by Lenore Coffee(Footsteps In The Fog).

At first glance the film appears to unfold as a pretty standard romantic drama, but you quickly come to realise that there is so much more going on in this film than just a love affair. This isn’t your average love story at all. The film tackles the deep and complex issues of faith, atheism, guilt, desire, jealousy and loss.

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Sarah and Miles. Screenshot by me.

The film is also pretty daring for the time in how it pushes as far as it can against the film Production Code. A good example of this is the scene where Maurice and Sarah start kissing after leaving a restaurant. This scene leaves little to the imagination as to what is about to happen between the two next. Gazing at each with great desire, Miles huskily whispers to Sarah ” I can’t take you home yet”. “No” she softly replies. Miles hails a taxi and tells the driver to take them to a hotel. You know what they are going to go and do now. I get goosebumps during that scene due to the sexual tension flying between the two.

Many consider the earlier British film Brief Encounter as the greatest film about a love affair, but this one is certainly up there with it too. This film has all the emotion and complexity of the relationship depicted in David Lean’s film,but The End Of The Affair goes further by showing the couple actually giving into their love and desire and allowing themselves to become sexually involved as well. We also quickly realise that the pair are genuinely in love with one another and that their relationship is not just one based on physical pleasure and lust. They want to be together and be happy, and we want them to be happy too.¬†

The End Of The Affair is set in London during the Second World War. The Blitz is at its height and ordinary life has been turned on its head. Lonely American writer Maurice Bendrix(Van Johnson)is living in London. He has been discharged from the army after being injured in the leg. Maurice is considering writing a book about a civil servant, so he makes the acquaintance of a civil servant by the name of Henry Miles(Peter Cushing) in order to do research for the book.

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Maurice and Sarah kiss. Screenshot by me.

As he spends more time with Mr. Miles, Maurice also begins to fall in love with Henry’s wife, Sarah(Deborah Kerr),and the two embark upon a passionate affair. Their relationship may well start off because of sexual desire, but it quickly becomes clear that there is also a genuine emotional attachment developing between them too.

Maurice finally feels complete and wanted when he is with Sarah. She feels brought to life in a way she hasn’t been before. Neither can bear to let the other go. During an evening when Maurice and Sarah are together, Maurice goes downstairs and is injured in a bomb attack which nearly kills him. Maurice is distressed that when he recovers Sarah puts an end to their relationship and cuts off all ties with him on the same night. He becomes convinced that she didn’t really love him at all and that she may even have taken up with someone else. When the film later shows us this same event from Sarah’s perspective, we quickly learn how wrong Maurice is in his assumptions.¬†

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Sarah says farewell to Maurice. Screenshot by me.

After Maurice was caught up in the explosion he was trapped beneath a door, and when Sarah went down to check on him he appeared dead. In her despair she offered up a prayer to the God who she doesn’t even believe in to spare the man she loves, but the catch is she says that if he is spared she will no longer see him. A few minutes after that prayer/promise has been uttered, Maurice regains consciousness and comes upstairs to Sarah, who is shocked and devastated to say the least. What confuses her even more is when he says he feels as if he has just been pulled back from a long trip he can’t remember. Does this mean he really did die for a few minutes and was brought back by God? Or is it a coincidence and he was just unconscious and just felt weird when he regained consciousness? Sarah cleans Maurice up and then leaves.

This is where the film gets really interesting. Sarah is then crippled by guilt and despair about what she has done to Maurice, but she is also struggling with whether or not she believes in God after all. She is in crisis and becomes deeply shaken and confused. The morning after the explosion she comes across a Catholic Priest(the excellent Stephen Murray) who is helping people in a bombed out street not too far from his church. She follows him back to the church and seeks his help and guidance. 

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Sarah seeks the counsel of a Catholic priest. Screenshot by me.

Deborah is excellent in the church scene. She utterly convinces as a numb, confused, exhausted and distressed woman, who is grappling with something far beyond her understanding. Your heart goes out to her because of how tormented she is. She uttered her prayer/wish because she loves Maurice, but now she feels bound to honour her promise to give him up if he lived. That’s enough to tear anyone apart and mess them up.

The Priest can see how troubled Sarah is and one of the things he says to her is “I don’t see that you have any problem. If you made a vow to someone you don’t believe in”. He’s quite right and the truth of his words certainly give her an out. The trouble is she is being drawn more and more to feeling that she believes there is a God and therefore she fears breaking her word.

Next she seeks out Richard Smythe(the very underrated Michael Goodliffe), a known atheist who regularly speaks in public in the city about God and religion. Smythe tells her “You mean above all the bombing and cries of men in battle, some supreme being heard your little cry of help?” That line always hits home because it raises the issue of if such a being does exist, why doesn’t it help everyone? Why does it demand that we love it unconditionally? Why does it allow so much suffering, hate and misery? Why doesn’t it show itself to everyone so there is proof it exists? Why does it demand people follow its rules or risk eternal punishment for not doing so? Why must some people face life long unhappiness and even a risk of death because they endure hate,oppression and exclusion by certain religious groups because of what sexuality or gender they happen to be?

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Smythe and Sarah have a talk. Screenshot by me.

The atheist views of Smythe also make me think of all the people in the world who have given up or fought against something they want, something which brings them great happiness and joy, all because in the Bible it says that thing is a sin. How many unhappy and abused wives have been forced over the centuries to stay with a cruel husband because the marriage vows were deemed sacred and unbreakable?¬† While Sarah isn’t abused, she is in a loveless marriage and she finds a brief escape with the man she has an affair with before Maurice. In the form of Maurice however, Sarah finds more than physical pleasure, she finds the first man she is truly in love with, and he is in love with her in return. Don’t they deserve to be happy together? Isn’t it more dishonest for her to stay with Henry and make out she loves him for the rest of her life when she doesn’t? True he is a decent man and cares for her, but they are not in love and he is rather distant.¬†

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Faith is tearing them apart. Screenshot by me.

I like how the film also shows that one can become religious at any point in life, even if for most of your life you haven’t been a person of faith. The only thing that I don’t think is fair is the inference that Smythe(representing the atheists amongst us)only holds the views he does because he is a bitter and damaged man who has suffered because of the terrible birthmark on his face. It makes out that an atheist can only possibly be an atheist because they’ve been hurt in some way and have asked/prayed for help, and found no help came to them,and so because of that they don’t believe in God out of spite. I don’t think that’s true or fair at all, and quite frankly that seems like a way to just dismiss the opinions of those who don’t believe what the religious masses choose to believe.

I’m an agnostic. It is a fact that the truth of the matter is none of us will know whether there is or isn’t life after death until the second we actually die.Either we will go into a sleep from which we never wake, or something else will happen and we will go to another place. Quite how people can claim that they know for a fact there is or isn’t an afterlife or a God has always made me laugh. None of us will know until we take that one way trip which we are all destined to take at some point. Just try and be a nice and decent person throughout your life. The character of Henry seems to be of a similar way of thinking on this to myself. When asked by Sarah what he believes in, he says “It’s all quite simple really. One just does one’s best”. What more can you do?

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Deborah shines in this film. Screenshot by me.

Deborah is excellent as Sarah and really does some of her very best work in this film. She steals every scene with just a look. I’m always impressed the most by her physical transformation from an elegant, happy, outgoing young woman, to a troubled and ill looking woman who is ironically now living a hellish existence because of her new found belief in God. She looks beaten down and worn out. Remarkable acting by Deborah.¬†

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Van Johnson. Screenshot by me.

Van Johnson is equally good and it’s a credit to him that he doesn’t seem pushed aside on screen once the focus turns to Sarah’s internal struggles. Maurice undergoes almost as much change as Sarah does. Van is tender and passionate one minute, jealous and angry the next, confused and devastated the next. The scene where he reads Sarah’s journal and finally understands her story and what she has been going through, absolutely destroys me. Van’s acting in that scene is all in the eyes, and he absolutely nails how heartbroken and moved Maurice is at what he is reading. Van and Deborah make a great pair and I wish they had worked together again after this.¬†

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Peter Cushing. Screenshot by me.

Peter Cushing isn’t in the film very much, but he is terrific when he does show up. He makes Henry come across as a nice man who finds it really difficult to open up and really share how he is feeling. You can see why Sarah likes him but isn’t in love with him.¬†

John Mills is good as the private detective hired by Maurice to trail Sarah. His presence and personality certainly lighten the film up a bit when he appears. It’s always struck me as a bit odd that he was cast in this role though. John was a major star at this point and the role isn’t very big at all, so one wonders why he was cast and why he took the role.

Both Stephen Murrary and Michael Goodliffe are excellent in their small, but very key roles. Both of these men are two of the finest character actors our country has ever produced. I’m most struck by Stephen’s subtle performance.

This is a film that I love a great deal. Not only is it a very touching love story, but it’s also far more thought provoking and interesting than a lot of other films have managed to be.I also like that it offers viewers with different opinions on God and faith scenes which will speak to them and them alone. Highly recommended to fans of anyone in the cast, but especially to fans of Deborah and Van.

This is my entry for my second Deborah Kerr Blogathon being held today. Read all the entries here.

The 2nd Deborah Kerr Blogathon Begins

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The big day is finally here. I decided to honour the lovely Deborah Kerr for a second time with a Blogathon, and was delighted when so many of you signed up to talk about her films. Thank you. Keep checking this page to read all of the entries.  

Entries

The Classic Movie Muse takes a look at The King And I

Le at Critica Retro tells us about the time Deborah played three roles in The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp. 

Sally at 18 Cinema Lane writes about Marriage On The Rocks.

Eric at Diary Of A Movie Maniac discusses Edward My Son. 

Gabriela gets the blogathon started with her review of Dream Wife. 

Dubsism discusses The Sundowners, which is the second film Deborah made with her friend Robert Mitchum. 

I talk about The End Of The Affair. 

The Anna Neagle Blogathon Is Here!

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Happy New Year everyone. Hope everyone is well. What better way to begin 2020 than with a Blogathon. ūüėĀ Over the next 2 days be sure to check back to this post to read all of the reviews and articles about Anna Neagle and her work.¬†¬†

 

                                                             Entries

Le at Critica Retro explores Anna’s work as a film producer.¬†

I talk about Victoria The Great & Sixty Glorious Years, in which Anna portrayed Queen Victoria. 

The Anna Neagle Blogathon: Victoria The Great(1937) & Sixty Glorious Years(1938)

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Anna Neagle was one of Britain’s greatest and most popular film stars. She is best remembered today for her screen collaborations with her husband – the director and producer Herbert Wilcox – and for her portrayals of several historical figures including actress Nell Gwyn and pilot Amy Johnson.¬†

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Victoria prepares to be crowned Queen in Victoria The Great. Screenshot by me.

In 1937 and 1938, Anna starred in two films in which she would take on what has become her most famous screen role. She played Queen Victoria. The first film was Victoria The Great(released in the UK on the 16th of September, 1937), and the second was Sixty Glorious Years(released in the UK on the 14th of October, 1938). Both films were directed by Anna’s future husband Herbert Wilcox.

Both films were written by Miles Malleson and Charles de Grandcourt, with the then Permanent Under-Secretary Of State For Foreign Affairs Robert Vansittart, contributing dialogue for the second film. 

Victoria The Great wasn’t the first film about Queen Victoria which had been approved by the Crown – the first was the 1913 Silent film Sixty Years A Queen directed by Bert Haldane. However during the inter-war years screen depictions of this monarch were banned by her grandson King George V. In 1937(the 100th anniversary of Victoria’s ascension to the throne)that ban was overturned.¬†

At the time of the first film going into production the British Monarchy was in crisis. In December 1936, King Edward VIII had chosen love over crown and duty, and had abdicated from the throne in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Victoria The Great can therefore be seen as a brilliant piece of PR to try and help secure the image of the British royal family as devoted individuals living only for their duties to the people and nation, as well as also celebrating the life of the then longest-reigning British Monarch. 

                     Screenshots from Victoria The Great and Sixty Glorious Years by me.

When I first heard about these two films I assumed that the first would focus on Victoria’s childhood and the early years of her reign, while the second would focus on her marriage and the rest of her reign. What’s weird about these films is that that isn’t the case at all.¬†

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A happy moment for the Queen and her husband Prince Albert. Screenshot by me.

Victoria The Great follows the eighteen year old Victoria from the moment she is told she is now the new ruler of England. We see her coronation, her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert(wonderfully played by Anton Walbrook), and see many key events from her personal life and reign. The film is shot in black and white, but features a stunning Technicolor finale depicting the celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.¬†

Although both films do focus on Victoria’s royal duties and her public life, it’s fair to say that the main focus is on the relationship between Victoria and Prince Albert. The pair were deeply in love and Victoria was extremely dependent on her husband and always looked to him for advice. Albert in turn did what he could to ease his wife’s burdens and try and allow her to be a wife and mother as much as a Queen. Both Anna and Anton do a superb job of capturing the passion these two had for each other. Anna and Anton have real chemistry and are so tender with one another.¬† There are some lovely moments between the two in this first film. I especially love the scene where they are both sitting under a tree on the palace grounds. I also love the scene where Albert comforts his wife following the assassination attempt on her life.¬†

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Victoria in Technicolor in Sixty Glorious Years. Screenshot by me.

Sixty Glorious Years differs to the first film by being shot entirely in Technicolor and filmed on location at various royal palaces. The second film has an almost identical structure to the first. Sixty Glorious Years plays out to me like a collection of extended or deleted scenes from the first film. To make two films so similar to each other in the space of a year is a strange decision to say the least. I can’t understand why Herbert Wilcox didn’t just make one film of between say three and a half to four hours long which covered Victoria’s whole life and reign. He could have shot it all in Technicolor too in order to create a real spectacle for audiences.¬†

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Victoria and Albert watch the Highland Games. Screenshot by me.

I do like that there is more focus on Victoria and Albert’s relationship and their children in the second film than in the first though. It’s also nice to see so many scenes in the second being filmed in and around the real royal palaces and gardens. It’s also nice to be able to see all of Tom Heslewood and Doris Zinkeisen’s beautiful costumes in colour too.¬†

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Discussing the building of the Crystal Palace exhibition. Screenshot by me.

While both films are very good and enjoyable, they each have too much of an episodic format for my taste. Instead of focusing deeply on Victoria’s life and reign we are presented instead with the highlights. The films also never really scratch the surface of Victoria to enable us to learn more about the real woman. Queen Victoria has always struck me as being extremely interesting from a psychological perspective. She had a deeply unhappy and restrictive childhood under the thumb of her mother and Sir John Conroy; then she had a few brief years where she and she alone held all the power in her life and she became a stronger and more confident woman for it; then she married and bore nine children, something which left her unable to be as independent as she had just started to become. When you read about her attitudes to her children, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that the Queen suffered from postnatal depression following her children’s births. Both films also only show us the briefest glimpse of how tempestuous Victoria and Albert’s relationship could be – they loved each other very much indeed but things were not always easy between them at all.¬†

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Anna Neagle shines as Victoria. Screenshot by me.

Anna shines in both films. She does a great job of portraying the strong-willed Queen from vivacious and beautiful young woman, to the more severe and grief stricken woman we all immediately think of her as being.

Anna dominates each scene she appears in and you can’t take your eyes off her.She is suitably regal and strong willed as the Queen, while also capturing her girlish innocence and her vulnerable side too.¬†

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Anton Walbrook as Albert. Screenshot by me.

Anton Walbrook is excellent as the loyal and hardworking Prince Albert. He makes Albert gentle, astute, tender and determined. Anton was always a subtle actor who could steal a scene with a mere look alone, and his talents for that are on full display here.

I also like how Anton managed to capture how weary and overworked Albert became in his role as Prince Consort. I also like how the films show his refusal to shut himself away and have no public life because so many at the time considered him to be nothing more than a foreigner interfering in the British government. 

I highly recommend both films to fans of Anna Neagle and Anton Walbrook. If you’re after a deeper exploration of the life and reign of Victoria, then you best check out the many biographies out there about her.¬†

This is my entry for my Anna Neagle Blogathon being held on the 1st and 2nd of January, 2020. 

The Second Fred Astaire And Ginger Rogers Blogathon: A Tribute To Fred And Ginger

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Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood, and Crystal at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood, are co-hosting their second blogathon devoted to all things Fred and Ginger. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.¬†¬†

Laurel and Hardy, Bogie and Bacall, Morecambe and Wise, Hope and Crosby, Pryor and Wilder, Tracy and Hepburn; there are some people who are just meant to be together and try as you might you cannot imagine them apart. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are another one of these special screen duos. I cannot imagine a world where these two had never been paired together and made all those wonderful musicals.

Fred and Ginger fit together perfectly and are quite rightly considered to be one of the most beloved and iconic film duos of all time. I especially like how their screen partnership was equal, with neither one of them outshining the other in any way, or doing anything which could lead one of them to be considered as the better star of the two.  

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Fred and Ginger in Top Hat. Image source IMDb.

Whenever I hear the names Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the first words that immediately come into my mind are elegance, effortlessness, perfect timing, fun and style. Fred and Ginger had all of those things in spades. I especially love how they made everything they did on screen appear natural and effortless, even though you know full well that they rehearsed and practiced constantly to get their dance routines to look so spontaneous and effortless.

I also love how Fred and Ginger always make you completely believe that their characters are falling for one another. I think their pairing works so well because of the way they both usually play their characters – Fred is all charm, playfulness and silliness, while Ginger is a fiercely independent type of gal, one who takes life far more seriously before she eventually falls for Fred’s charms and laid back attitude towards life.

Fred and Ginger’s films have become comfort films for me. If I’m not well or am going through a tough time, I know that putting on a Fred and Ginger film will always make me smile. I adore all ten of their films, but my favourites are Top Hat, the best of their films in my opinion;¬†The Gay Divorcee,featuring the very romantic Night and Day sequence;¬†The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle,which tells the moving story of the real life husband and wife dance team Vernon and Irene Castle; Carefree,featuring a lovely fantasy dance sequence on a giant Lillie pad;¬†and Swing Time,which features some of the best dancing ever put on film.¬†

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Fred and Ginger having fun in Carefree. Image source IMDb.

I think Fred and Ginger’s films are the perfect blend of romance, comedy, drama and spectacle. Their films are also enchanting slices of pure escapism which offer us some truly wonderful sights to behold. They are also all films which the whole family can watch regardless of how young or old they may be. Everyone can find something to enjoy in a Fred and Ginger film.

The heart and soul of these films are Fred and Ginger themselves. They are such an amazing team and you can totally see them bringing out the best in one another as each and every scene unfolds. Not only are they a great match as dancers, but I think they work wonderfully well together in the dramatic scenes as well. It also helped that they had the type of chemistry that just can’t be faked.¬†

My first introduction to Fred and Ginger came when I was around the age of 8 or 9, when I watched the musical documentary That’s Dancing. Some clips of the pair dancing together in The Gay Divorcee and Swing Time are included in the documentary and I absolutely loved what I saw of them in those clips. I knew that I wanted to see Fred and Ginger’s full films and see more from them after this.¬†

So you can imagine how over the moon I was when not long after this my parents bought me the video of Top Hat. I loved every minute of the film and it has gone on to become my favourite of all the Fred and Ginger films. You can read my Top Hat review here. 

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Fred and his sister Adele. Image source IMDb.

We have the marriage of Fred’s sister Adele to thank for Fred and Ginger ending up being paired together as screen partners. Fred Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz on the 10th of May, 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska. His elder sister Adele, born on the 10th of September, 1896, had shown a talent for dance from an early age and her parents enrolled her at a local dance school to improve her skills. Fred was sent there too in the hopes that dancing might help build up his strength, as he was quite a frail child. It soon became clear that Fred also had the makings of a dancer.

Fred, Adele and their mother, Ann, moved to New York, where Fred and Adele were enrolled at the Alviene Master School Of The Theatre And Academy Of Cultural Arts. The siblings and their mother adopted the more American sounding surname of Astaire. In late 1905, the siblings dance instructor Charles Alvienne helped Adele and Fred develop a professional vaudeville act. Over the next 27 years Adele and Fred would work the vaudeville circuit, perform on Broadway, and would also travel over here to the UK to perform in London.

Fred and Adele’s fame and popularity grew throughout the 1920’s, and while it may seem a bit surprising to us today given how legendary Fred is, it was actually Adele who became the bigger star of the two when they were working together. Adele was charming and had great comic timing, she was also a far more outgoing person than her shy and workaholic brother was. Adele affectionately nicknamed Fred “Moaning Minnie” due to how worried he would get over everything.¬†

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Brother and sister hit the dance floor. Image source IMDb.

In 1932, Adele officially retired from the stage. She had met Lord Charles Cavendish, the second son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, in 1927 and the pair had fallen in love. Adele had broken with tradition and proposed marriage to him! The couple married in May 1932, at the Cavendish family estate of Chatsworth. Sadly their marriage would become an unhappy one. Charles was an alcoholic who would sadly die in 1944 aged just 38.

Adele became pregnant three times, but all of her pregnancies ended tragically. She gave birth to a premature daughter who didn’t survive; then came twin boys who were stillborn; while her third and final pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Adele married for a second time in 1947, this time to Colonel Kingman Douglass, the American chief of US Air Force Intelligence. The couple were married until his death in 1971. Adele remained close to her brother throughout their lives, until her own death in 1981.¬†

After Adele left their act, Fred went on to achieve great success on his own on stage in both London and America, starring in Cole Porter’s play Gay Divorce.Fred then travelled to Hollywood in 1933 to make a screen test for RKO, the baby of the Hollywood Studios, which had been founded in 1928. Fred was signed to RKO by producer David O’ Selznick.

The legend goes that on the basis of Fred’s test someone in Hollywood is supposed to have remarked “Can’t act; slightly bald; can dance a little”. This quote has always made me laugh given how ridiculous and untrue it is. If the quote really was said, then I hope that whoever uttered those words quickly regretted it once Fred and Ginger took Hollywood by storm and proved that opinion so wrong. Fred was a VERY multi-talented man indeed. Not only was he a fantastic dancer, singer and actor, but he had a real eye for choreography and he revolutionised the way dance was filmed. Fred made sure that the camera held dancers in full view at all times and that filmed dance sequences had as few a number of editing cuts in them as possible.¬†

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Fred and Ginger dance together for the first time in Flying Down To Rio. Image source IMDb.

Fred’s first film role saw him loaned out to MGM by Selznick, not to play someone fictional, but to play himself alongside Joan Crawford in Dancing Lady(1933). Fred’s second film would be the one that changed everything, and not only for him, but also for a young actress called Ginger Rogers.

“I loved Fred so, and I mean that in the nicest, warmest way. I had such affection for him artistically. I think that experience with Fred was a divine blessing.”¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Ginger Rogers talking about Fred Astaire.

Fred was cast next in Flying Down To Rio to play one half of a dance act featured in the film. His partner was played by Ginger Rogers, who was replacing Dorothy Jordan in the role after Dorothy got married to the famed director/producer/screenwriter, Merian C. Cooper. Ginger was a Hollywood veteran compared to Fred, with around 20 films under her belt at the time they began work on this film.

Flying Down To Rio would also bring Fred,Ginger, and the choreographer and dancer Hermes Pan together for the first time. Hermes would go on to work on many of Fred’s musicals and all of the future Fred and Ginger films.He would be nominated for Academy Awards for his work on Top Hat and Swing Time. Hermes and Fred would not only become professional collaborators, but would also become lifelong friends too.

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Hermes Pan and Ginger Rogers. Image source IMDb.

¬†Hermes would become rehearsal partner and teacher to Ginger whenever her and Fred’s schedules conflicted. After Fred and Ginger’s taps ceased being recorded live following completion of their third film Roberta, Fred re-recorded all of his taps in post production, while Hermes Pan re-recorded Ginger’s taps.¬†

“I just want to pay tribute to Ginger,because we did so many pictures together and believe me it was a value to have that gal. Woo, she had it. She was just great.”¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Fred Astaire talking about Ginger Rogers.

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One of my favourite photos of Ginger. Image source IMDb.

Ginger Rogers was born on the 16th of July, 1911, in Missouri. Her birth name was Virginia Katherine McMath. Ginger was an only child and had quite an unsettling childhood to say the least. Her parents separated shortly after she was born, and her dad kidnapped her twice. Ginger was very close to her mum(who later starred alongside her daughter in the film The Major And The Minor)and her grandparents.

Winning a Charleston dance competition was Ginger’s first step on the road to fame. Her marriage to vaudevillian and singer Jack Pepper in 1929, saw the pair set up a vaudeville act of their own called Ginger and Pepper. The couple divorced in 1931.

Being selected by George and Ira Gershwin to play Molly in the 1930 stage musical Girl Crazy, was what really turned Ginger into a star. She signed a contract with Paramount Pictures the same year.

Over the next few years Ginger made films for various studios before moving over to RKO and eventually being cast in Flying Down To Rio. Like Fred, Ginger was also a very multi-talented performer, with a knack for comedy, drama and dance. She would become one of the most popular of the classic era actresses. Ginger would also go on to become an Oscar winner in 1941 for her performance in Kitty Foyle.

Fred and Ginger dance the Carioca. Image source IMDb. 

Ginger and Fred’s roles were small in Flying Down To Rio and they were billed fourth and fifth respectively in the credits, with Ginger’s name appearing above Fred’s. The film was really a vehicle for actress Dolores Del Rio and her co-star Gene Raymond.

When the film was released audiences went wild for Fred and Ginger dancing the Carioca. In the film Fred and Ginger’s characters decide to hit the dancefloor to perform the Carioca, and as they leave their table, a very excited Ginger utters these immortal words “We’ll show ’em a thing or three”, how right she was. The dance is energetic and Fred and Ginger already seem at ease with one another and in complete sync. Audiences didn’t realise it, but they were witnessing the birth of something truly special in this moment.¬†

RKO could see that they had something in this dance partnership so they paired Ginger and Fred up again, this time in a screen adaptation of Fred’s last Broadway musical Gay Divorce(1932), which was renamed The Gay Divorcee(1934) for its transfer to the big screen. Fred had enjoyed working with Ginger and said he wouldn’t mind making another film with her, but he was initially very reluctant to begin working in a long term dance partnership again, but he soon changed his mind and the rest as they say is history.¬†

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The Night and Day sequence from The Gay Divorcee. Look at that dress! Image source IMDb.

I consider The Gay¬†Divorcee to be the most important film of the ten which Fred and Ginger made together. It is the first film in which Fred and Ginger’s names receive star billing. It is also the film which really sets in stone the outline of the rest of their future films. The film has the mistaken identity subplot; dance used as a form of wooing and to convey the growing romantic attraction and desire between the two; and it’s also the first to have the comic relief provided by the double act of Eric Blore and Edward Everett Horton, two gentlemen who both contributed massively to the Fred and Ginger films they appeared in. The film is also one of the best looking of the ten.

The Gay Divorcee was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, and it took home one for Best Song. Ginger was always lucky and got some beautiful clothes to wear in the films she made with Fred, but I really envy her for the extremely gorgeous dress she gets to wear in this film during the Night and Day sequence.

Between 1934 and 1949, Fred and Ginger would go on to make eight more films together – Roberta(1935); Top Hat(1935); Follow The Fleet(1936); Swing Time(1936); Shall We Dance?(1937) Carefree(1938); The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle(1939); The Barkleys Of Broadway(1949). Their final film, The Barkley’s Of Broadway, was made at MGM rather than at RKO, and it was also the only colour film in the series. Fred and Ginger hadn’t worked together for ten years at this point and Ginger was cast as a replacement for original leading lady Judy Garland after Judy became ill.¬†

Left to right from top: Roberta, Swing Time, The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle, Shall We Dance?, Follow The Fleet and The Barkleys Of Broadway. Image source IMDb.

Fred and Ginger’s ten films together would be extremely profitable for the most part and were very popular indeed with audiences. It’s not hard to see the much needed escapism that Fred, Ginger, and their glamorous and fun films,offered to people who were living through the Great Depression. Who wouldn’t want to escape their misery and stress for a couple of hours by watching Fred and Ginger?¬†

Both stars wanted to move onto other things after they had made The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle in 1939, and so one of the most beloved screen partnerships came to an amicable end. Ginger would take on a lot more dramatic roles from then on, while Fred mainly stuck with musicals. Fred also proved his talents as a dramatic actor when he played scientist Julian Osborn in the 1959 film On The Beach. I think that film features some of his best work as an actor, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it before.¬†

I think that Ginger and Fred contributed so much to the Golden era of Hollywood in their individual careers, but nothing they did ever quite came close to their special film partnership. There is something so beautiful about their partnership and the ten films they made together. The quality of these films and the level of talent that Fred and Ginger bring to them is unsurpassed in my opinion. There has never been a partnership or film series quite like theirs. The Fred and Ginger film series is a real high point, not only of the Classic Film era, but in all of cinema. 

While I think it’s fair to say that the two never became the best of friends, Fred and Ginger did enjoy working together and they always spoke fondly and respectfully of each other until the end of their lives. Ginger presented Fred with a special Oscar in 1950, and the two co-presented together at the 1967 Oscar ceremony. Fred died on the 22nd of June, 1987, and Ginger died on the 25th of April, 1995. They left behind them an incredible legacy.¬†

Are you a fan of Fred and Ginger? Share your thoughts on this couple and their films. 

The Al Pacino Blogathon: Frankie And Johnny(1991)

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Gabriela over at Pale Writer is hosting this blogathon dedicated to the actor Al Pacino. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. I’m writing about the romantic drama Frankie And Johnny, a film which saw Al reunited on screen with his Scarface co-star Michelle Pfeiffer.¬†¬†

The film is based on the 1987 off-Broadway stage play Frankie And Johnny In The Claire de Lune. This play originally starred Kathy Bates as Frankie and F.Murray Abraham as Johnny. The play closed in 1989, but it was revived in 2002, this time on Broadway. The revival starred Stanley Tucci as Johnny and Edie Falco as Frankie. The play focused entirely on Frankie and Johnny and was set in one apartment. The film however takes most of the action outside of the apartment, and also focuses on other people, just as much as it focuses on Frankie and Johnny and their developing relationship. 

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Johnny presents Frankie with the potato rose. Image source IMDb.

Frankie and Johnny is set in New York. We follow Johnny(Al Pacino), a reformed ex-con who gets a job as a cook at a small restaurant run by the kindly Nick(played by Garry Marshall film regular, Hector Elizondo). Johnny falls for Frankie(Michelle Pfeiffer)who is one of the waitresses there. The pair like each other and develop a real connection, but as time goes on Johnny can see that Frankie is keeping him at a distance for some reason. She slowly opens up to him and tells him about the past trauma of an abusive relationship which has made her so afraid of being intimate with men. While we know it won’t be easy going for this couple due to Frankie’s issues, we are never the less left feeling hopeful that there will be a future in store for this couple.¬†

The film is surprising in many ways because it goes against the predictable formula of these types of films. It’s a slow burn film, and it also has a much more serious and emotional edge to it than many other romantic dramas or romantic comedies do. The thing about this film that always stays with me most after I’ve watched it, is that the story and all of the characters within it play out as being very real. You feel like you are watching real people who are just trying their best to get through a difficult life and find whatever happiness and satisfaction they can.¬† This is also one of those films where you are able to see past the actors and just completely see them as the characters they are playing.

This is a story that I think many people will be able to feel a personal connection to when they watch it, as it’s a film about loneliness, love, pain, hesitation, friendship and about accepting change. Mostly it’s about our need and yearning for human connection and love – be that connection coming about through friendship, sex, hugs, or merely talking to someone else and spending time with them.

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A plate of food and a side order of flirtation. Image source IMDb.

I especially love the sequence where we see all of the main characters in their homes one night. We see how lonely most of them are and we catch a glimpse of what they do at home after work to not feel so alone. I’m always touched in this sequence by the shots of Nedda(Jane Morris) and Helen(Goldie McLaughlin), who are two older waitresses who have no family or lovers to come home to. All that keeps Helen going is her friendship with the girls at work. All that keeps Nedda going is her pets, her TV, and her friendship with the girls at work. This sequence shows that not all of us have someone to cuddle up in bed with, and that for some people their job and their team are lifelines as they’re all they have. We’re all lonely and we’re all waiting to get lucky and find someone who we can share our lives with.

This is one of my favourite films of all time. I first saw it when I borrowed the video. I went into the film completely cold not having heard of it before or knowing anything about it. I only knew Al, Michelle,Hector and the director, Garry Marshall. After I watched it, I absolutely fell in love with the film and the characters.  I adore the friendship and banter between Frankie and her friends/colleagues at the restaurant. I also love the slowly developing relationship between Frankie and Johnny. I love the little glances shared between the two, the talks and the flirtation, and eventually how they give in and act on their growing feelings. 

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Frankie and Johnny share a kiss. Image source IMDb.

Al and Michelle give two of the best performances of their respective careers here. They each completely convince as their characters and make us fall for each of them as much as Frankie and Johnny start falling for each other. They both perfectly capture the mixed up emotions of their characters, while also convincing us of their growing desire to be intimate with one another and begin a long term relationship, even if they know it’s not going to be an easy step for them to take. I don’t get how Al and Michelle were never paired together again more often after this.

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Al Pacino as Johnny. He’ll make you swoon! Image source IMDb.

Al’s performance as the optimistic and lovely Johnny is one of my favourites from amongst his work. He makes Johnny tender, sexy, gentle, and so much fun. Johnny is a total sweetheart and it’s nice to see him romancing Frankie for the emotional connection, rather than merely just to get her into his bed. Al makes the guy completely sincere too. Watching this makes you wonder where all the men like Johnny are at these days.

If you’re used to seeing Al being larger than life on screen, then I think you will be pleasantly surprised by his far more restrained and subtle performance here. I also like how at ease Al looks doing the food preparation scenes. I’m no expert but he sure looks like he knows his way around a kitchen and has some serious cookery skills. He’s great in the whole film, but I especially love his acting in the bowling alley scene. In this scene he makes us see how hurt and confused Johnny is that Frankie is hiding something from him and keeps trying to push him away.¬†

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Michelle as Frankie. Image source IMDb.

I think Michelle’s performance as the damaged Frankie is easily one of the best performances she’s ever given. From her posture to her expressions, Michelle utterly convinces as a weary woman who has been badly hurt, who is desperate for love, but who is so afraid of being intimate with someone because of her past trauma. I love how raw her performance is in the scene where Frankie breaks down and tells all to an appalled and comforting Johnny. When Michelle was initially cast in the role there were some who felt she was wrong for the role as she was too good looking for the character. Well Michelle proved all the doubters and haters wrong with her superb performance here. She’s always been one of the best actresses of her generation, but here she outdoes herself.¬†

The only part of the film that strikes a false note for me is the subplot about the woman who Frankie witnesses being abused in an apartment opposite hers. Frankie doesn’t call the police over what she has witnessed, and then she conveniently happens to run into this woman at a supermarket,in which they both happen to be at the same time on the same day, and persuades her to leave the man she is with.¬†

Although it’s fair to say Al and Michelle are the highlights of the film, the rest of the cast all turn in terrific performances. Nathan Lane is great as the supportive Tim, a gay friend and neighbour of Frankie. Kate Nelligan is hilarious as the outgoing and sexually forward Cora, another waitress at the restaurant, who is also Frankie’s best friend. The passionate Cora beds Johnny during an awkward one night stand very early on in the film. In this absolutely hilarious scene, she is clearly having the time of her life in bed, while poor Johnny on the other hand just looks scared! Al’s face during that whole sequence is hilarious.ūü§£

This is a lovely and touching film which keeps it real, while also offering us a spark of hope that happiness and a soulmate could be out there waiting for you. My favourite scenes are the following. Johnny making Frankie a rose out of a potato(aww!). Frankie and Johnny’s night of passion. The entire bowling alley scene. The kiss in front of the flowers. Frankie telling Johnny what happened to her. The phone call to the radio station. Cora and Johnny’s one night stand. The cake machine going crazy.¬†

Highly recommended to fans of Al and Michelle. 

Top Five Screen Performances: Katharine Hepburn

This is the first post in a new blog series that I’m starting. I’ll be picking film actors and actresses and selecting what I consider to be their top five performances on film. The top five films will be picked solely for the quality of the individuals acting performances in those particular films.¬†

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Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) Image Source IMDb.

To kick things off let’s start with Katharine Hepburn. This lady is one of the most talented actresses of the entire classic film era. As of this date she still holds the record of being the only leading lady to win four Academy Awards. She had a long and varied film career. She’s best remembered for the films she made with Spencer Tracy. Let’s take a look at her top five performances. Beginning with number 5.¬†

Summertime (1955)

Katharine plays a very vulnerable and shy woman in this touching romantic drama from director David Lean. Set in Venice(and filmed on location)the story focuses on American tourist, Jane Hudson(Hepburn)as she visits Italy for the first time. She falls in love with the beauty and history of Venice, and also finds romance with Renato(Rossano Brazzi),the charming owner of a local glass store. 

Summertime

Katharine and Rossano. Image source IMDb.

Katharine was famous for playing sassy, confident and strong characters, but here she plays the exact opposite. Jane is awkward, shy, inexperienced in love, and very vulnerable. Katharine tells us so much about this woman through the smallest gestures, her posture, or by the look in her eyes. Through Katharine’s performance, we can feel both Jane’s loneliness, and also her joy and excitement at her romantic awakening. This film is pretty underrated and it’s a shame that Katharine’s superb performance in this doesn’t get discussed more often.¬†

Woman Of The Year (1942)

Katharine shines as the confident and capable journalist and feminist Tess Harding. Right away we see through Katharine’s performance that Tess is strong, independent and very feisty.¬†

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Katharine and Spencer. Image source IMDb.

Not only does this film feature Katharine Hepburn at her very best, but it is also an important film as it marked the first collaboration between her and Spencer Tracy. The sparks fly between her and Spencer, especially during their first meeting in the office, which is one of the hottest scenes on film. Talk about instant attraction!ūüĒ• Katharine is clearly having fun with this role and it shows in her performance. She’s so at ease as Tess and inhabits the character beautifully.¬†

The Lion In Winter (1968)

Katharine and Peter O’Toole tear strips off each other, both verbally and emotionally, in this gripping royal domestic drama. Katharine steals every scene she is in as the strong and fearless Queen Eleanor.

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Katharine and Peter O’Toole. Image source IMDb.

What I like most about her performance in this one is that not only is she very funny and moving in many scenes, but she also allows us a peek beneath the mask to see the hidden woman behind the Queen’s iron facade. One of the best performances she ever gave. Her efforts on this film were rewarded with an Oscar.¬†

 

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

The film that saved and resurrected Katharine Hepburn’s film career. Katharine’s performance here is pitch perfect. Her screen image completely changed with this film. As Tracy Lord she is sassy, glamorous, sexy, confident and easily hurt too. She gets quite a few speeches in the film and she handles those beautifully. When she’s not on screen you miss her because she dominates every second of film she appears in.¬†

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Katharine and James Stewart. Image source IMDb.

Katharine is excellent as the wealthy society heiress who longs to be valued for her personality, rather than for her beauty and status in society. Tracy is a flawed and somewhat difficult person, but she means well and longs for some happiness, and you can’t help but admire her. Katharine really makes us feel for Tracy and admire her strength. Katharine is supported wonderfully by James Stewart(who took home an Oscar for his performance) and Cary Grant. Katharine was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle.¬†

 

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962)

Katharine’s performance as the drug addicted Mary Tyrone absolutely blew me away when I first saw it. She’s otherworldly and girl like one minute, then out of control and tragic the next.¬†

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Katharine with Jason Robards. Image source IMDb.

Her performance here is all in the eyes, in the tone and level of her voice, and in her body language. You feel the emotional pain and get a good sense of how troubled and damaged this woman is. Katharine gives a remarkable performance here. Her work was Oscar nominated, but she lost to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker. 

Maddy’s Four Favourite Christmas Films

Christmas will soon be here before we know it. The Christmas songs have already started to play non stop on the radio, decorations and lights can now be found in many homes and public spaces, and if we’re lucky some of us may even get some snow this year!

Every Christmas I always try and set aside time to watch my four favourite Christmas films. These four are not only lovely films, but they also really get me in the mood for Christmas. It will come as no surprise to you that all but one of these films is from the classic film era. I highly recommend all of these if you’ve never seen them before.¬†

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

This heartwarming story is the perfect blend of comedy and poignancy. Bishop Henry Brougham(David Niven) is extremely stressed and his personal life is suffering as a result. He is struggling to get funding for a new Cathedral and prays to heaven for some help. Help arrives in the form of the suave and kind angel, Dudley(Cary Grant). Dudley tries his best to help Henry during this difficult time, and he also tries to get Henry to reconnect with his family.

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Cary Grant as Dudley and David Niven as the Bishop. Image source IMDb.

Dudley unexpectedly finds himself falling in love with Henry’s loving wife, Julia(Loretta Young). He (and us)know that there’s no way they can ever be together, so this makes their growing bond deeply moving to watch unfold.

Cary Grant was initially set to play the Bishop and David Niven was going to play Dudley the angel, but that was changed and instead we got Cary as the angel and David as the long suffering Bishop. It’s hard to imagine David and Cary in the opposite roles now. They are perfectly cast.¬† This is such a lovely and uplifting film and makes for perfect Christmas viewing. I love the skating scene and the scene where Henry is stuck to a chair.ūü§£

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

I adore Frank Capra’s beautiful and deeply moving tale of second chances, love and heartbreak. James Stewart delivers one of the best performances of his entire career as George Bailey. We see this man brought to the darkest and lowest point that any of us can reach, and in his utter despair he attempts to kill himself. Saved by the loveable angel, Clarence(Henry Travers), George wishes he had never been born. Clarence shows him what would happen to those he loves, and to the town he grew up in, if he had never lived. What George sees sure ain’t pretty!

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James Stewart, Donna Reed, and their screen children, in that famous finale of It’s A Wonderful Life. Image source IMDb.

¬†Now this certainly is pretty bleak content, and anyone who has never seen this before could well be forgiven for thinking that it doesn’t exactly sound like the lovely Christmas film they’ve heard so much about. Think again. This film is uplifting, romantic and extremely touching. The film shows us that we have each had some sort of impact on someone in life. It’s A Wonderful Life is one of the most moving and powerful films of all time. My heart melts every time at the beautiful telephone scene, in which George and Mary realise they are in love. James Stewart proved with his performance in this what a strong dramatic actor he was capable of being, and his career went from strength to strength after this.¬†

                                              The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Brian Henson’s take on Charles Dickens tale of redemption and Christmas makes perfect Christmas viewing for adults and children alike. This was actually my introduction to Charles Dickens and to A Christmas Carol. This film holds a special place in my heart because of that.¬†

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Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit as Bob. Image source IMDb.

Michael Caine gives one of his best performances as the grouchy Scrooge. The Muppet gang play most of the other characters. Kermit and Miss Piggy are adorable and funny as Bob and Emily Cratchit. What I love most about this film, is that it has all the emotion and darkness of the novel, while also being very accessible and fun for the little ones watching. It has a great soundtrack and many catchy songs. I especially love the first scene where we meet Scrooge and all the Muppets sing about him as he passes by. 

                                                             White Christmas (1954)

This is my favourite Christmas film. I love the slowly developing relationships between the four main characters, and I love the dance sequences, songs and stunning costumes. This is a feast for the eyes and ears. The Mandy dance sequence is absolutely spectacular and showcases the dance skills of Vera-Ellen. I love The Sisters performance(those blue dresses are gorgeous)and it’s hilarious when Bing and Danny do their own version of that song later. Bing crooning White Christmas to homesick and traumatised soldiers is a very touching moment.¬†

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This heartwarming tale sees WW2 entertainers Bob(Bing Crosby)and Phil(Danny Kaye) putting on a show at a cosy inn in Vermont. The show is being put on to raise money for their formal commanding officer, General Waverley(Dean Jagger), who is having financial problems. The lads are aided by dancing and singing sisters, Judy(Vera-Ellen)and Betty(Rosemary Clooney). As they work to bring some Christmas magic into the General’s life, Bob falls for Betty, and Judy and Phil fall deeply in love. Poignant, uplifting and so much fun. This lovely film is the perfect way to begin Christmas. The great Mary Wickes steals all the scenes she’s in, as the General’s no-nonsense and loyal housekeeper, Emma.¬†

I just want to take this opportunity to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. I hope you have a lovely time. My heart goes out to anyone whose Christmas table will be missing someone this year x. I am very grateful for all of you and want to say thanks for your support and friendship. x ūüéĄūüéÖ Merry Christmas!

Do you love these films? Share your own favourite Christmas films below. 

 

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.  

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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‚Äôs side so from about the age of four I knew I wanted to ‚Äúgo on the stage‚ÄĚ

2 РYou 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 РHow 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.

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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‚Äôs(Robert Hardy’s nickname) death and we three continue to stay in contact and care for one another.

6 РYou 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 РI 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‚Äôd 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 РWhich 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 РYou 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 РYour 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 РTell 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 РAs 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

What A Character Blogathon 2019: Henry Daniell

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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. 

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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.  

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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.¬†

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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? 

Luso World Cinema blogathon: Lena Horne

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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.¬†

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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.¬†

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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.¬†

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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.¬†

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

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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.¬†

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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.¬†

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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.

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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.¬†

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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!

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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. 

 

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

Yes it’s that time of year again, time to once again celebrate all things Film Noir. Put on your trench coats and hats, pour yourself 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.¬†¬†

My first time venturing into the dark alleys of Film Noir happened when I watched The Big Sleep(1946). I loved Bogie’s performance and the complex plot. What I loved most of all about the film was the daring dialogue and use of innuendo, especially in scenes between Bogie and Bacall and between Bogie and Dorothy Malone in the bookstore scene. I knew after seeing this that I had to check out more Film Noir.

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Dorothy Malone and Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. Image source IMDb.

Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon and Murder, My Sweet(1944) quickly followed. I’ve been a fan ever since. I’ve had great fun heading off down the side streets of Film Noir and discovering less famous/somewhat less discussed gems such as The Narrow Margin(1952), They Made Me A Fugitive(1947),The Phantom Lady(1944).¬†

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(yes, I do indeed consider it a genre rather than a style) such a favourite of mine? Because it’s so awesome. These films pushed against the restraints and restrictions of Joseph L. Breen’s ridiculous and prudish Production Code, and in the process provided audiences with the only truly adult film content on offer since the Pre-Code era.

Noir film directors quickly mastered the art of innuendo and double entendre. The result was a set of films which were extremely violent and brutal without wallowing in blood and graphic violence, and which were also sexy and daring, all without showing nudity or sex scenes. The films also featured some very psychologically complex and fascinating characters of both genders.

I also love these films because they reflect the truth of humanity back to those of us sitting in the audience. 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. 

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Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum in Out Of The Past. 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 gritty or violent. Noir films dished out a slice of real life for many viewers and 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, nasty pieces of work, while the women were independent, strong, and even manipulative in some cases. Even the heroes themselves were not always clear cut good guys. The public lapped these films up and they continued being made throughout the 1940’s and 50’s.

Where 1940’s Film Noir was all about cynicism and the dark side of man, the Noir films of the 1950’s focused more on the paranoia and fear surrounding things like communism and Nuclear weapons. There are also several Noirs which fall under the category of Documentary Noir – these true crime stories are often inspired by the heroic actions of Police and Government Agencies and include films such as T-Men and Call Northside 777.

Noir films weren’t 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 are your typical Western, but on closer inspection you can see that they have characters and plots which fit the established tropes found in traditional Noir films. 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,which features Noir Queen Barbara Stanwyck in one of her most memorable roles; and Station West,starring Noir favourites Dick Powell and Jane Greer.

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

It was the French film critics who first came up with the name for these dark crime films that we now know as Film Noir. The word they chose was Noir(literally meaning black or dark.) The French themselves have also made many excellent Noir films Рfilms 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. The atmosphere, lighting and performances in this film are some of the best in the whole genre.

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 found in film, 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. An early Noir that makes great use of shadow and lighting is The Stranger On The Third Floor(1940). This film also has the added bonus of Peter Lorre lurking in the shadows. 

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‚Äôs and pre-code 1930‚Äôs 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, and 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 careers.

Mention Stanwyck, Bacall, Jane Greer, 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 Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Out Of The Past, 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.

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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.

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Gloria Grahame as Debby. Image source IMDb.

I also love Debby Marsh(Gloria Grahame)in The Big Heat. Debby is the sweet and slightly naive girlfriend of Lee Marvin’s gangster. When he permanently scars her in a fit of rage, Debby hardens and turns to Glenn Ford’s Detective Bannion to help take her man down.

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 are actually total sweethearts. Sometimes a decent guy (like Walter Neff for example)gets caught up in a web weaved by a femme fatale, or an old pal who they should have steered well clear of,and becomes caught up in murder and crime and has 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 Murder, My Sweet; Raven(Alan Ladd) from This Gun For Hire; Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens)in The Dark Corner; Jim(Robert Ryan) in On Dangerous Ground; Mark McPherson(Dana Andrews) in Laura; 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; Martin Rome(Richard Conte) in Cry Of The City; 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 ‚Äúdid I really just see or hear that?‚ÄĚ 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 are predominantly American, there are also many fantastic Noir films which were made outside of the USA as well. I‚Äôve 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, while the first screen adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice was the brilliant Italian Noir Ossessione(1943).¬†¬†

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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, They Made Me A Fugitive, 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. Some other good ones are Daybreak and It Always Rains On Sunday.

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 Noir film 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. 

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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, The Last Seduction, Femme Fatale, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For¬†and¬†LA Confidential have come along. It’s clear filmmakers and audiences still have a taste for Film Noir. Hopefully people who like these modern Noir flicks, characters, and the overall look of these films, will now go and check out Noir films from the 1940‚Äôs and 1950‚Äôs. It would be a real shame if they don’t, as 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),Cry Of The City, Double Indemnity, Pickup On South Street, Le Jour Se Leve, They Made Me A Fugitive, The Narrow Margin, The Big Heat, Kiss Me Deadly(the darkest and wildest Noir flick as far as I’m concerned) and¬†The Long Memory.

My favourite decade for Noir? Without a doubt it has to be the 1940‚Äôs. 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 as he moved away from musicals and proved his dramatic acting ability. As much as I adore Bogie as Philip Marlowe, it is Dick Powell who I consider to be the best screen version of Raymond Chandler’s most famous private detective. Both the film Murder, My Sweet(1944) and Dick Powell’s performance in it are so underrated. I also love Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Charles McGraw, Dana Andrews.

My favourite Noir actress?  Jean Peters, Marie Windsor and Barbara Stanwyck. They were perfect as tough and sultry dames. I also love Lana Turner,Jane Greer, Gene Tierney and Rita Hayworth.

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

Happy Noirvember! ūüēĶÔłŹ‚Äć‚ôÄÔłŹ

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. 

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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.

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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? 

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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. 

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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.¬†

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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!

The Gothic Horror Blogathon: Crimson Peak (2015)

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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.

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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.

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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.¬†¬†

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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.¬†

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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.¬†

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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.¬†

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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.

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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.¬†

 

 

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

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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.¬†

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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 the Poe films, that he was a 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.¬†

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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.¬†

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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 Rowena 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.¬†

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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. ūüėĀ

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? 

CMBA Anniversary Blogathon: 1939 Turns Eighty

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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 gone on to 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 for one return again and again to so many of the films from 1939. There’s just something about these films which makes them special. Think also of all the beloved film characters this year’s films provided us with – Sherlock Holmes, 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 sprinkled 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¬† 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(one of the saddest and most poignant films 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.

1939 also saw many excellent films released outside of Hollywood. 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, are just four of the classics made outside of America during this 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 lovely and impressive looking colour films around since the Silent film era, but nothing that compared to the spectacular 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 f