When I hear or read the words Film Noir, Murder, My Sweet is always the first film which springs into my mind. Every single part of this flick screams Film Noir. There’s the moody and foreboding atmosphere, the voiceover, the cunning femme fatale, stunning cinematography(by Harry J. Wild) and lighting, intriguing characters and twisty story, and all of that fabulous Noir dialogue – “The joint looked like trouble, but that didn’t bother me. Nothing bothered me, the two twenties felt nice and snug against my appendix.” “A black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom.”
For this Noir fan, Murder, My Sweet is the film which perfectly encapsulates what Film Noir is all about. Not only is it my favourite Noir film, but I consider it to be the ultimate Noir flick.
In this film we also get prime examples of the types of men and women who roam the dark alleys of Film Noir. There are the ruthless and the evil, the desperate and the damaged, the cynical and the hopeful, the victims and the victors. In the form of Dick Powell’s Philip Marlowe, the film also gives us one of the best depictions of the cynical and witty Noir veteran, someone who has seen and done it all and is no longer phased by the darker sides of humanity when they encounter them going through life.
Murder, My Sweet is directed by Edward Dmytryk and is based upon Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely. This novel was the second book to feature the character of private detective Philip Marlowe. The first novel to feature Marlowe was The Big Sleep, but it was this second novel which would end up being the first to be adapted for the screen.
The rights to Chandler’s novel were bought by RKO Studios and it wouldn’t be long before the studio made a film adaptation of Chandler’s work. In 1942, the plot of Farewell, My Lovely formed the basis of the third film in the popular Falcon series, The Falcon Takes Over. While George Sander’s charming gentlemen sleuth, Gay Lawrence replaced Marlowe as the hero of that film, the rest of its story and characters are essentially the same as those found in Chandler’s novel.
Just a couple of years after making The Falcon Takes Over, RKO would go on to make this much more faithful screen adaptation of the story. The film title would be changed from Farewell, My Lovely, to Murder, My Sweet, in the hopes that audiences wouldn’t mistake it for one of the musicals leading man Dick Powell usually made.
For the role of the cynical and tough private detective Philip Marlowe, baby-faced screen crooner Dick Powell was cast. At this point in his career Dick Powell was best known as the screen partner of tap dancing sensation Ruby Keeler in a series of popular film musicals.
Dick however was getting tired of his current career and was trying to get more meaty roles.He had desperately wanted to play the role of Walter Neff in 1944’s other Noir classic, Double Indemnity. Charles Koerner, the head of RKO Studios, was the person ultimately responsible for Dick being able to go and create a new screen image for himself. Koerner made a screentest with Dick for the role of Marlowe and signed him for the role after seeing that test.
Dick’s performance in Murder, My Sweet more than proved what a good dramatic actor he could be. He went on to appear in many more Noir and dramatic roles after this. His casting in this film was a big gamble, but he turned out to be well worth the risk and is considered by many fans(myself included) to be the best screen Marlowe. I can’t get enough of Dick Powell in this film and in his other serious roles.I also love his anthology TV series The Dick Powell Show and Four Star Playhouse too.
I love how Dick manages to capture and convey the perfect balance between Marlowe’s toughness and cynicism, his humour/laid back attitude and his almost childlike curiosity and delight at some of the things he does and encounters.
Over the years many actors have played Marlowe on the big and small screen. Raymond Chandler preferred Humphrey Bogart’s performance as Marlowe, but I think Dick Powell is the best actor to have ever taken on this role. As much as I like Bogie as Marlowe, I feel that Dick Powell understood the character a bit better and captured both sides of his personality. I consider Dick’s Marlowe to be the character from the books, while Bogie’s Marlowe never feels like the complete guy to me.
The film begins with a blindfolded Philip Marlowe(Dick Powell)being interrogated by the police. In flashback we learn about the events which led him to come to be in this room. Murder, My Sweet tells a story filled with a great many twists and turns. Marlowe is hired by a tall ex-con by the name of Moose Malloy(Mike Mazurki), to try and find his missing girlfriend, Velma Valento.
When Marlowe and Malloy start looking for the missing dame it seems that nobody knows anything about her.
While working for Malloy, Marlowe is also hired by Lindsay Marriott to accompany him to a meeting to get back a stolen jade necklace. Marlowe goes with him to the meet, only for Marlowe to be knocked unconscious and Marriott to be killed.
Marlowe soon discovers the jade belongs to Mrs. Helen Grayle, the knockout and much younger wife of old Judge Grayle. Marlowe is intrigued by Helen and there is an instant attraction between the two. Marlowe is also quite taken by Helen’s feisty and angry stepdaughter, Ann(Anne Shirley in her final film role)who absolutely hates Helen. Gradually Marlowe’s two cases converge and he realises that all is not as it may seem.
The standout sequence in the film is Marlowe’s disturbing nightmare brought on by the drugs pumped into him by his captors. It’s a visually impressive, trippy and weird sequence. It captures the weirdness of nightmares and the horror of not being in control once drugs get hold of the poor sap whose system they’ve crept into. It’s an impressive and memorable sequence which must have blown audiences away back in 1944.
Dick Powell is superb as the much put upon Marlowe and delivers one of the best performances in the entire Noir genre. He makes us like him and root for him. He effortlessly delivers all of that hilarious and laid back dialogue. He also leaves us in no doubt that he can take care of himself and be tough. He is also someone who you can relax around and have a laugh with. Marlowe is an everyman. I also love that we see he doesn’t get much in return for risking his neck all the while. Marlowe lives in a small apartment and certainly doesn’t live the high life.
Marlowe is really put through the wringer in this film. What I dig most about Marlowe in this film is that he looks rough after his double dose of imprisonment and forced drug injections.This dude looks worn out, tired, ill and battered several times in this film, and that lends a great amount of realism to what we’re seeing. There’s no James Bond glamour or a quick dusting off and getting right back to it to be found here. Marlowe really suffers in this film. Dick more than convinces us of the pain and distress Marlowe is undergoing throughout this film. I also like that Marlowe doesn’t let his experiences change him into a hard and cold man. He may well be cynical and tough, but he always remains likeable and on the side of good in spite of what he himself has endured.
Claire Trevor is excellent as the bad to the bone Mrs. Grayle. While she soon realises her charms don’t work on Marlowe, she never the less doesn’t stop trying to get him under her thumb. Claire leaves us in no doubt that her character is a strong and controlling woman who won’t rest until she has what she wants.
Anne Shirley is fiery, gentle and innocent all at once as the heroine of the piece. Ann is a gentle girl driven to distraction by her poisonous stepmother but never loses her humanity or kindness. I think it’s a great shame Anne never made another film after this.
Mike Mazurki is tragic, funny and loveable all at once as the gentle giant, Moose Malloy. Moose is slow witted and ends up becoming the real victim of the film. Marlowe is his only genuine ally.
Esther Howard as Jessie. Screenshots by me.
Esther Howard nearly steals the show with her appearance as the booze riddled Jessie Florian. Jessie’s dead husband owned the bar where Velma used to work and Marlowe thinks she may be able to help him. Esther delivers one of the best drunk impressions in all of cinema. She cuts a funny and tragic figure too.
The rest of the cast are all solid and everyone, even those in small roles, get their chance to shine in this film. If I could only recommend one film to a Noir newbie to watch it would be this one. Murder, My Sweet is one of the best in the entire genre. It’s one I return to again and again and always enjoy. Close the blinds, turn out the lights, pour a bourbon and settle down to watch this Noir classic. You won’t regret the time spent in the company of Mr. Philip Marlowe.
What do you think of this film? Let me know in the comments below.
This is my first entry for the Noir blogathon I’m hosting later this month.
Gabriela from Pale Writer is hosting this blogathon honouring the author Daphne Du Maurier. Be sure to visit Gabriela’s site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
When I saw the announcement for this blogathon, I just knew that I had to take part. Daphne Du Maurier is my favourite author. I am so happy that both she and her work are being honoured with this blogathon.
I have been a fan of Daphne Du Maurier since my early teens.I have always been an avid reader. Most weekends would find me going into my local library and borrowing a big pile of books.
Whilst browsing the library shelves one day, I came across their Daphne Du Maurier section, and I decided that I would pick a couple of her novels to try.
I knew the name Daphne Du Maurier at this point because I had already seen Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Rebecca, but I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t familiar with Daphne or her work beyond that.
After reading and thoroughly enjoying both Rebecca and Jamaica Inn I became hooked. I knew that I wanted to immerse myself in more of Daphne’s books.
What drew me most to her work was her strong female characters, and also her focus on the more complex side of life and humanity. Her novels also often deal with some very unusual subject matter. Many of her novels are set in her beloved Cornwall and I love how she writes about this place that she knew so well.
I also loved and appreciated how complicated and different her characters were to those found in so many of the other novels I’d been reading up until I discovered her work. I made sure that I got my hands on as many of her books as I could from that point on. I have been a fan ever since.
When I read Daphne’s novels, I’m always struck most by how her words and descriptions manage to paint such vivid images for me. This is the main reason that she has become my favourite author.
The characters, situations, landscapes, furnishings, clothes etc all spring so clearly into my mind when I read her descriptions of them. No other author conjures up such clear images for me when I read their work. Daphne had that rare gift to be able to drag you into the times, places and situations that she was writing about, and she could make them all come alive so vividly for her readers. I also love how well developed and real her characters are.
I especially love her strong heroines; ladies like Mary Yellan in Jamaica Inn; Lady Dona in Frenchman’s Creek; the nameless second Mrs. DeWinter and the dead Rebecca in Rebecca.Mary and Dona in particular are very interesting female characters because they don’t conform to the gender norms of their respective time periods.
Mary Yellan isn’t meek, and nor is she content to just sit quietly in the corner sewing. Mary is brave and fearless, and she also puts up with unhappiness and violence to stay with her timid and bullied Aunt Patience. Mary endures much, but she doesn’t allow herself to be broken by cruelty and darkness. She also has no illusions that love and relationships are always all sweetness and light either. Mary takes the rough with the smooth and isn’t cowed by anyone or anything.
Lady Dona is a headstrong and passionate woman who is trapped in a loveless marriage. Dona longs for adventure and she finds that in the form of a dashing pirate. Dona leaves her life as a wife, mother and secondary citizen of her own country, to take charge of her own life. She becomes liberated to do the things that she wants to do, not the things that society and her husband think she should be doing and enjoying.
The second Mrs. DeWinter starts off as shy and fragile, and as someone who is at first completely eclipsed by the memory of the dead Rebecca. She gradually comes out of her shell and becomes a strong woman, one who takes control of her home, embraces her power as mistress of that home, and ultimately becomes much more confident and worldly.
Then there is the dead Rebecca, a woman whose past deeds, sexuality, much admired beauty and indomitable spirit, continue to impact the lives of the living long after she herself has departed the earth. Rebecca was controlled and dominated by nobody. She was also a strong and determined woman. Rebecca may have been cruel and done things that we don’t agree with, but it’s hard not to admire her for doing her own thing and being so strong in the time period that the novel is set in. It’s hard to forget the women in Daphne’s novels because they are so strong and full of life. I love how Daphne gave us female characters who could not only be strong like men, but who could also have just as much adventure and excitement as any man.
Daphne’s work has often been adapted for the big and small screen several times over the years, but no director apart from Alfred Hitchcock has ever been able to truly capture the atmosphere and power of her novels in my opinion. I find that other screen adaptations of her either omit or alter far too much of Daphne’s source material.
I have enjoyed the various screen adaptations on their own merits, but I think that none of them, apart from Hitchcock’s adaptation of Rebecca, have been as good as the novels upon which they are based. Hungry Hill is a perfect example of this. The film is certainly an enjoyable enough period drama, but it is also an appalling adaptation of Daphne’s novel because it rushes and truncates a 500 plus page novel which is set over several generations. The film version of Hungry Hill has lost so much of the detail from the novel, that I for one never feel as if I’ve connected with these characters, or endured their struggles and tragedies with them the way that I do when reading the novel.
Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Rebecca, while slightly altering the circumstances in which Rebecca met her death, is a near perfect adaptation of Daphne’s novel. Hitchcock captured the atmosphere and power of the novel so well. It’s therefore baffling to me that Hitchcock could give us that masterpiece, and yet he also gave us the terrible screen adaptation of Jamaica Inn, a film which shifts the focus off of our heroine Mary Yellan and instead makes Charles Laughton’s Sir Humphrey the primary character and focus. This is one of Daphne’s most exciting and detailed novels, but I feel that the film sadly lacks the grittiness, the adventure and the mystery which are all so strongly present in the novel.
Hitchcock also adapted Daphne’s short story The Birds, and while that film also bears little resemblance to her book, at least The Birds is a very good and scary film. Jamaica Inn on the other hand just leaves me shaking my head wondering what the heck went wrong there. 😒It seems to me that Daphne’s novels are so detailed that they prove difficult for screenwriters and directors to adapt properly for the screen. Indeed many of her stories have never been adapted at all.
I for one would love to see screen adaptations of The House On The Strand,Julius or The Loving Spirit, but I think they would present many challenges for whoever took on that task due to the length and depth of the novels. I can well appreciate how difficult it is to adapt novels for film and television. The trouble is that by cutting or rushing the source material for the transition to the screen, the story and overall film/series suffers because too much of what made the source novel so powerful and affecting to begin with is lost in the process.
Some screen adaptations of her work that I do think are pretty good are Rebecca (1940), Rebecca (1979, British miniseries starring Joanna David and Jeremy Brett), Jamaica Inn (2014, although even this miniseries pales in comparison to the novel for me).
I’d like to mention three of Daphne’s novels that I think everybody should read. If you have read any of these before, then I would love to know what you think of them.
Daphne’s third novel, Julius, which was published in 1933, is her most ambitious and absorbing novel in my opinion. The novel focuses on one of the most complex, cold, cruel and fascinating characters ever written.
The main character is Julius Levy, a man who puts business and his own self interest before emotion, family and the people caught up in his life.
The only person he cares about his daughter, Gabriel, and their relationship with one another is very strange having an almost incestuous overtone to it.
Julius adores his daughter and his obsessed with her, I would say that he is clearly in love with her and desires her. The irony is that she has inherited his emotional distance, and his despicable attitude to other people, so that no matter how me may love her,he in return means nothing to her. The way that this relationship ends is shocking and tragic. I love how Daphne makes us become equally fascinated and appalled by Julius and his actions. We may loath him and be frustrated by him, but this book is impossible to put down because it is such a gripping and enthralling tale which sucks you in.
Hungry Hill is one of my most favourite Du Maurier novels. It is an interesting and tragic tale focusing on several generations of the same family. ‘Copper’ John Broderick is the builder of a mine in 1820’s Ireland. The mine is inherited by his son and passed down to future generations.
A curse is placed on that mine on the hill by John’s sworn enemy, Morty Donovan. The mine is beset by many difficulties and future generations of John’s male heirs suffer early deaths, tragedy and despair. Is it the curse or just a bizarre twist of fate?
I find the novel interesting because it makes us bear witness to an entire families life, desires, tragedies, loves, secrets and legacy across the generations. We are made to understand and sympathise with why certain characters have become who they are. I also like how the Broderick home of Clonmere becomes a key character itself. I also like how Daphne shows us that it can be difficult for the next generation to live up to reputation and deeds of their ancestors, especially when they are expected to take up their mantle. Interestingly, Daphne claimed that the Brodericks were based upon ancestors of her friend Christopher Puxley.
Rebecca was Daphne’s fifth novel, and it is the one which has become the most popular and famous of her work, and it has earned that honour for very good reason.
This atmospheric novel is a beautiful love story, something much akin to Jane Eyre, and like that earlier classic, it is one which manages to mix romance and joy with mystery, secrets, psychological thrills and a sense of darkness and doom.
A nameless young woman falls in love with the middle aged Maxim De Winter. Maxim is a man seemingly haunted by the death of his beautiful and vibrant wife, Rebecca. His new wife brings Maxim the peace and joy he has long searched for, and he provides his new wife with the love and kindness she has so longed for. The memory of the former Mrs. De Winter sadly begins to overpower their relationship, and very soon dark secrets become uncovered and everything changes.
This is the novel that made me a fan of Daphne’s. I think this is her most vivid novel and it is the one which I can read again and again and never get tired of. There is so much going on in this novel, far more than may at first be realised by reading a very brief plot description. I especially love how dominant Rebecca is. This character who we never meet becomes key to this whole story, and we are made to feel as though we do know her and we can picture her in our minds(I always picture her as a blend of Vivien Leigh and Margaret Lockwood). Rebecca is a force of nature and it isn’t difficult to see why her memory casts such a shadow on those who knew her. This novel is a classic for a reason. Give it a go, you won’t be disappointed!
I consider The Parasites and Mary Anne(a fictionalised novel of the life of Daphne’s great-grandmother, Mary Anne Clarke)to be her most underrated novels. My favourite Daphne Du Maurier novels are Hungry Hill, Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, The House On The Strand, Frenchman’s Creek. I still need to read The Glass Blowers and Rule Britannia.
Thanks to Gabriela for presenting me with an opportunity to write about the work of my favourite author. I’d love to hear from all of you. What are your favourite Daphne Du Maurier novels?
If the actor Edward Woodward was still with us, he would be celebrating his 89th birthday today.
Edward Woodward was born in Croydon, London, on the 1st of June, 1930. He would go on to become one of the most beloved British actors.
Unfortunately you don’t see very much discussion of him today. That’s such a great shame in my opinion. I wanted to write this post in the hope that I can introduce him to some new fans.
Edward Woodward began his acting career by working in theatre and television. He first gained recognition with his performance as Guy Crouchback, in the 1967 BBC television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s trilogy, Sword Of Honour.
He would became a household name here in the UK in the late 1960’s, when he starred in a gritty spy series called Callan. I wrote in depth about this series and Edward’s performance here. The tough and troubled spy, David Callan, is the role with which Edward is still most identified with today here in the UK.
In the 1980’s he also became a household name over in the US, thanks to another hit series about a spy, this one called The Equalizer. In this series he plays Robert McCall, a retired American agent who is now known as The Equalizer. He sets up a helpline for people in desperate need of help in situations where the Police haven’t been able to help them or solve a case. Robert McCall goes after scumbags and dishes out a dose of their own medicine to them. Edward makes Robert McCall into a classy badass, and someone who you really wouldn’t want to mess with at all. It is very difficult to imagine any other actor having played that role in the series.
Edward also gained recognition for his superb performances in the horror film The Wicker Man and also in the powerful Boer War set drama, Breaker Morant; a film based on a true story, in which Edward played the lead role of a British officer accused of war crimes.
Edward has become one of my favourite actors. I love him so much because he was so very adept at the subtle style of acting. The majority of his performances work as well as they do because of the little looks, gestures and mannerisms that he displays/conveys. With this man a brief flash of emotion in the eyes can speak volumes. He was also terrific at doing scenes where his characters unleash pent up rage or despair. He had the knack to be able to make audiences really feel and believe what he was going through on stage or screen. I also like him because by all accounts he was a genuinely lovely and down to earth man in real life. I like it when actors don’t give themselves airs and graces.
One of my favourite Edward Woodward performances can be found in the little known miniseries, The Bass Player And The Blonde. Here Edward gets to show off his ability to play both comic and serious characters. He plays cynical bass player, George Mangham, who is both in heavy debt and despair. He meets the much younger Theresa(Jane Wymark) and the pair fall in love.
I love how Edward shows George gaining a newfound enthusiasm for life once he falls in love. The series shows us the difficulties inherent in a May/December relationship, and also shows us that the course of true love rarely runs smooth. Edward has you laughing one moment and feeling deeply for him the next in this. I love this series because it just sits back and lets the actors do their thing. I also love it due to the mix of comic and poignant moments.
In addition to being a very fine actor, Edward Woodward was also a marvellous singer. His tenor voice is such a joy to listen to. He recorded a series of albums over the years. I think it’s such a shame that his singing career doesn’t seem to get as much appreciation as his acting career. I especially adore his beautiful cover of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. You can still buy his albums, and several of his songs are also available on YouTube.
Edward would continue to work steadily in TV, Film and Theatre for decades. His last major film role was his hilarious performance in the film, Hot Fuzz.
Edward suffered a massive heart attack while he was making The Equalizer series and he suffered another in 1994. He underwent triple bypass surgery in 1996. In 2003 he announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Edward passed away on the 16th of November, 2009. He had been suffering from pneumonia.
He had four children: Tim, Sarah, Peter and Emily. All of his children followed in their dad’s footsteps and became actors. Edward was married twice. His first wife was Venetia Barrett, to whom he was married from 1952- 1986. His second wife was Michele Dotrice, to whom he was married from 1987 until his death.
He left behind such a wonderful body of work for us to enjoy. I urge anyone who isn’t familiar with him to start checking out some of his films and series. I highly recommend watching Callan(TV), 1990(TV), Breaker Morant(Film), The Equalizer(TV), A Christmas Carol(Film, 1984), The Wicker Man(Film), The Bass Player And The Blonde(TV), The House Of Angelo(Film), Common As Muck(TV), Champions(Film).
Happy Birthday and R.I.P to a screen legend. Thanks for all your fine work, Edward. You are missed.
Are you a fan of Edward Woodward? Please share your thoughts below.
Like so many classic film fans from around the world, my heart was broken on the 13th of May, 2019. The sad news broke in the afternoon of that day. Doris Day had died. She was 97 years old and had reportedly been suffering from pneumonia. To say that I was crushed to hear this awful news would be an understatement.
I never met or corresponded with Doris, but never the less, she meant a great deal to me. She came across as being a very kind, compassionate and down to earth woman in real life. I liked that. Doris also did so much to help animals, and she gave a great deal of joy to film and music fans around the world.
I first became a fan of Doris when I was a very young girl. My mum and dad both loved her as a singer and her songs would often be heard playing in our house. When I was a teenager I saw her in Calamity Jane. This was the first of her films that I ever saw. I enjoyed the film very much and really loved Doris’s performance.
I didn’t become a fan of her as an actress until I saw The Man Who Knew Too Much(1956). I thought that she did such a marvellous job of playing the worried mother of a missing boy. She was so convincing in that role and really made me feel this woman’s fear and pain. After seeing this film, I then made sure that I saw as many of her films as I possibly could.
Young At Heart and The Man Who Knew Too Much became instant favourites of mine, and both films have a special place in my heart. I think that Doris and Frank Sinatra have such a lovely and tender chemistry in Young At Heart, and I love watching the relationship develop and change between their characters. This is such a lovely film, and in my opinion, Doris Day is the main reason this film works as well as it does.
As I sought out more of her films, I particularly enjoyed seeing her screen image change with the arrival of Pillow Talk(1959). With this film, Doris was no longer the bubbly girl next door, but instead she was reborn as an independent and sexy career woman. She and co-star Rock Hudson would become one of the most beloved romantic screen teams and would make three films together. She and Rock were very good friends and they have such lovely chemistry together on screen. Doris also made two films with Rod Taylor and I really love their chemistry too. I think it’s a shame that the films she made with Rod are vastly underrated compared to those she made with Rock.
Doris Day had a smile as bright as the sun. Her laugh was one of the most infectious that I’ve ever heard. She had an extraordinary singing voice. Although best known for her singing and her musical/romantic comedy film roles, Doris was also a very good dramatic actress too. I think it’s a shame that she never really got enough credit for her serious roles and acting.
It is impossible not to be cheered up by the presence of Doris Day in a film. Her screen personality is so bubbly and warm.
I love her the most in The Man Who Knew Too Much, Young At Heart, Pillow Talk, The Glass Bottomed Boat, Love Me Or Leave Me, Teacher’s Pet,Calamity Jane, With Six You Get Eggroll, Midnight Lace, Do Not Disturb, Move Over, Darling.
It is so sad knowing that Doris is no longer with us, but I think we should take comfort in the fact that she has left behind such a wonderful body of work for us to enjoy. We have her songs and films to enjoy forever.
I hope that Doris knew just how much she was loved by fans of her films and songs. She will forever be in the heart of this classic film fan. R.I.P, Doris. Thank you for all those great performances and songs. We will miss you. x
Rick over at the Classic Film & TV Cafe is hosting this blogathon dedicated to our favourite 1950’s films. This blogathon is being held to mark National Classic Movie Day. Be sure to visit his site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
I have so many favourite films from each decade of cinema, so it has been very difficult trying to pick just five films to focus on for this particular blogathon. The five films I’ve chosen are ones that I return to again and again. I love these films so much.
5. Ice Cold In Alex (1958)
This is a tense, gritty and suspenseful drama, set during the Western Desert Campaign of WW2. The film focuses on a group of British soldiers, and two British nurses, who are travelling together in an ambulance heading for Alexandria. They must evade German patrols, while also trying to cope with the intense desert heat.
I love this film for its character focus and for the superb performances. I love the bond that develops between the characters and how they work together to survive.
The film sucks you in and makes you feel as though you are right there struggling alongside these people. The film is also quite groundbreaking in showing John Mills’s character struggling with PTSD and alcoholism. Read my full review here.
4. North By Northwest (1959)
This Alfred Hitchcock classic never fails to have me on the edge of my seat in suspense one minute, and then laughing my head off the next. This stylish thriller is one of Hitch’s best and most enjoyable films.
Cary Grant is at his most suave and loveable as Roger Thornhill, a man wrongly identified as someone else. This mistaken identity has him running for his life across America.
Roger gets mixed up with spies, gets chased by crop dusters, falls in love with a mysterious blonde, and dangles from the edge of Mount Rushmore.
A great cast, interesting characters, and plenty of suspense and thrills. There is so much going on in this film. I can’t get enough of it. Shout out to Cary Grant for doing one of the funniest drunk impressions I’ve ever seen. Read my full review here.
3. Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)
Words cannot fully express how much I actually love this one. This is such a lovely and poignant film.
American Marine, Corporal Allison (Robert Mitchum), and Catholic Nun, Sister Angela(Deborah Kerr) are trapped together on a pacific island.
WW2 rages all around them and they are in danger from the Japanese forces. As they spend more time together, Corporal Allison falls in love with Sister Angela. She likes him very much too, but she will not break her vows in order to be with him romantically. When Japanese forces land on the island, Allison must do all that he can to prevent the pair being discovered. The film is a mixture of drama, romance, war, action and comedy.
Deborah and Robert have such wonderful chemistry, they make you really care for their characters and for the difficult emotional situation they find themselves in. Robert and Deborah would go on to make three more films together and would also become good friends. The film is another wonderful character piece and does such a wonderful job of making us connect with Sister Angela and Corporal Allison. Read my full review here.
2. A Night To Remember (1958)
This is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s such a moving film. Hands down this is also the best film out there about the Titanic disaster. The sinking sequences are stunning and look so realistic. I think that the sequences impress just as much today as they did back in 1958.
This film is based on Walter Lord’s non-fiction book of the same name, in which he spoke to Titanic survivors and wrote down their accounts of what happened. There is an almost documentary feel to this film. It sticks to the facts of what happened that night and how people behaved. We follow the ship from her launch, to when she struck the iceberg, and finally when she sank in the Atlantic.
The entire cast are excellent. It’s fun to see so many familiar faces in among the cast. Kenneth More and Michael Goodliffe deliver the standout performances of the film for me. Kenneth is the Titanic’s second officer, Charles Lightoller, and Michael is the devastated shipbuilder, Thomas Andrews. Many of the scenes featuring these two are the ones that linger in my mind the most. I think that Michael in particular delivers one of the best(possibly the best)performance of his career. I have never forgotten the scene where Andrews is standing in the lounge preparing to meet his death. In that scene, Michael’s expression conveys to us that Andrews has emotionally/mentally long since left the present, and we can see that he is no longer really aware of what is going on around him.
I never fail to cry at the scene on the stern as the ship sinks. In this scene, an old steward tries to comfort the little boy he has rescued, and the other passengers and crew try and prepare themselves for what is to come. Some people pray (a moving moment where prayers are heard being uttered in different languages)and others are struck dumb with terror and disbelief. It is one of the most powerful and unforgettable scenes in film history. Read my full review here.
And now I am pleased to reveal my most favourite film of the 1950’s….
Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
I have no doubt that this one will be appearing on many lists today. This is one of the most(if not the most)joyous films ever made. I don’t see how it’s possible to not love this film.
Singin’ In The Rain is funny, romantic, beautiful to look at, and it features some of the best song and dance sequences ever filmed. It is also a love letter to the beauty and spectacle of Technicolor.
The film focuses on the arrival of sound at the end of the Silent era. We follow a film studio’s attempt to make a feature film as a ‘Talkie’. We also follow the beloved film actor, Don Lockwood(Gene Kelly), as he falls in love with chorus girl, Kathy Selden(Debbie Reynolds), much to the annoyance of his besotted co-star, Lina Lamont(a scene stealing Jean Hagen). Chaos ensues as a result of this relationship.
The cast are all terrific, with Jean Hagen delivering the standout performance as the shrill Lina. It’s easy to paint Lina as the villain of the film(and to be fair she is quite mean), but I view her as a victim too. Everybody either makes fun of Lina, or controls what she can say and to whom, and she reaches a point where she has enough of that and asserts her authority as a screen Queen. I find it interesting to see Lina become stronger and more dominant as the film goes along.
One of my favourite scenes in this film, is the rather risque dance between Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. It’s impossible to forget this sequence once you have watched the film. It is without a doubt one of the sexiest scenes ever put on film.
Singin’ In The Rain is a film I turn to whenever I need some cheering up. The film never fails to do the trick. I also love the film because it encapsulates all that was good and unrivalled about the Golden Age of Hollywood filmmaking. They don’t make films like this anymore, and that is a real shame.
Please let me know your thoughts on the five films I’ve chosen. I can’t wait to take a peek at everyone else’s film selections.
My friends Gabriela from Pale Writer, and Erica from Poppity Talks Classic Film, are teaming up together to host their first ever blogathon! They are honouring the life and career of Joan Crawford. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
I’m writing about Sudden Fear. It took me a while to get around to watching this film. Part of the reason it took so long to finally watch this, is that I have always much preferred Joan’s 1930’s and 1940’s films and performances to her later work.
I have always felt that Joan’s performances in her earlier films are far more natural than her performances in many of her later films. I’ve also always found the characters she plays in her earlier work to be much more interesting than many in her later work.
When I finally sat down and watched Sudden Fear, I didn’t know what to expect from either the story or from Joan. I was completely blown away by Joan’s performance as Myra Hudson. Joan effortlessly moves between playing a character who is a sweet and lovestruck woman, to one who is devastated, shocked and vengeful. Without a doubt Joan delivers one of her best performances in this film. Her performance here has ended up becoming one of my favourites from amongst her work.
I also like how Joan conveys to us exactly how lonely Myra is. Through her performance we see that despite being a successful, popular and wealthy woman, Myra is lonely and yearns for romantic companionship and happiness. It’s doubly cruel that she finds this long desired happiness, only for it to be snatched away in the most hideous and unexpected of ways. Joan more than deserved her third(and ultimately final)Oscar nomination for her phenomenal performance in this film.
Sudden Fear is directed by David Miller(Midnight Lace, Lonely Are The Brave). The film is based on the 1948 novel of the same name, which was written by Edna Sherry. The screenplay is by Lenore Coffee(who would go on to write the screenplay for the gothic suspense film, Footsteps In The Fog, just a few years later) and Robert Smith. The film would be Joan’s first job for RKO Studios, this was after she had asked to be released from her Warner Bros contract earlier in the year.
This film really surprised me with how it does an about face halfway through and becomes a completely different type of film.
Sudden Fear starts off as a romantic drama and then it veers off into Noir territory. I love how the film switches genres and plays with our expectations of how the story is going to continue.
Myra Hudson is a Broadway playwright who is watching rehearsals for her new plays. She rejects actor Lester Blaine(Jack Palance) for the lead role in the play after watching him rehearse. Lester is very hurt by her decision.
Some time later, Myra and Lester meet up again and find that they are drawn to one another. They get closer and end up marrying. Seemingly their marriage is idyllic and he has long since forgotten about the unpleasant way they first met.
Unbeknown to Myra, Lester and his girlfriend, Irene(Gloria Grahame) are planning her murder so that they can get the money left in her will. Myra discovers their horrible plans, after the pair are accidentally recorded on one of the records Myra uses to record her script ideas on.
Myra is horrified, scared and devastated by what she hears them saying. She accidentally ends up breaking the record with the recording on it, and therefore she loses her proof that this plot against her is a reality. In order to protect herself from this point onwards, Myra begins to plan a murder plot of her own against Lester and Irene. Myra has great doubts about what she is planning to do though. It is uncertain who will strike first.
Once we see the moment where Myra learns of the murder plot against her, Joan really makes us fear for Myra’s safety as much as Myra fears for it herself. Joan looks terrified, desperate, shocked, vulnerable and confused all at once. The discovery scene contains some of the best acting of Joan Crawford’s entire career in my opinion.
Myra overhears the murder plot. Screenshots by me.
In the space of just a few minutes, Joan Crawford convinces us that Myra’s world has come crashing down around her. The person closest to her has deceived her and doesn’t actually have a single shred of love or affection for her. Imagine how you would feel if you learnt this about someone you love. Myra loses her bearings upon hearing what Lester plans. Myra is completely adrift and alone at this moment. Myra doesn’t know what to do. She stumbles around the room, jumps at the slightest noise and looks as though she is about to suffer a breakdown. I love how Joan goes from displaying expressions of shock and confusion, to showing pain, grief, terror and fear. Joan really makes us feel the emotional impact of what this woman has just learnt. This scene is a real highlight of the film.
The other highlight of the film is the unforgettable sequence where Myra imagines her own murder plot becoming a reality.
This sequence is nightmarish and is filled with some very interesting imagery. The sequence reminds me quite a bit of Marlowe’s drug fuelled hallucinations in Murder, My Sweet (1944).
I also love how we see Myra become more and more conflicted about what she is planning to do, but that we in the audience feel that we won’t blame her if she does go through with it. In a way her plot is a form of self-defence. The way this all plays out is very interesting and it doesn’t end the way you think it might.
If there is a weak point to be found in the film, then I feel that it lies with the casting of Jack Palance. Please don’t get me wrong, he is a good actor and I can’t fault his performance here. It’s just that he is so well known for playing villains, that I for one have trouble accepting and trusting him as a supposedly decent guy.
This was actually only the second film he had ever appeared in, so at this point in his career he was pretty much still an unknown. I have no doubt that audiences at the time didn’t suspect him to be up to no good. If you are watching this now after being very familiar with his career as a villain, then it is much more likely that you too will consider him shifty from the beginning.
I think that the role of Lester Blaine really required an actor who was very well known for playing good guys. If they had cast such an actor in the role, then I’ve no doubt that we would be just as shocked and confused as Myra is when she discovers the truth about him. As it is, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Lester was revealed as the villain of the piece. Jack just seems super shifty from the beginning, which I’m sure isn’t what was intended by either the writer or director.
That casting issue aside, Sudden Fear is an excellent film, and is one which is filled with terrific performances. Joan Crawford steals all the scenes and is undoubtedly the main attraction. I can imagine no other actress playing Myra. I love how Joan captures how gentle, innocent and vulnerable Myra is. This role is very different from the many strong and confident women she had played before, and this role really highlights what a versatile actress Joan was. Gloria Grahame is also very good as Irene.
If you’re after a thrilling Noir film, then I highly recommend that you check this one out. It’s a film full of surprises and plenty of suspense. Have you seen the film? What did you think of Joan’s performance?
Janet over at Sister Celluloid is hosting this blogathon in memory of Audrey Hepburn. If she was still with us, Audrey Hepburn would be celebrating her 90th birthday today.
Be sure to visit Janet’s site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. Instead of writing about one of Audrey’s films, I’ve decided instead to write about what Audrey Hepburn means to me.
When I was growing up in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, I was something of a major outcast at school. I loved watching classic films and reading. I much preferred to be doing either of those two things than being involved with any of the latest trends or mass interests. That singled me out.
I was also different from others due to disability. I’m Autistic and I suffered quite a lot of bullying during my high school years due to this. School was a very lonely and upsetting place for much of the time. My parents told me to just ignore the idiots picking on me, and believe me when I say that I tried very hard to do just that. But it’s very difficult sometimes when you have to be around bullies five days a week! You’re probably thinking, what on earth has all this got to do with our birthday girl, Audrey Hepburn. Well, I’ll tell you.
One day(somewhere around 2000 or 2001) I saw a film whose lead character, and the actress playing the lead character, really took my interest and had a big impact on me.
The film was Breakfast At Tiffany’s. The actress was Audrey Hepburn. The character was Holly Golightly. Here was a character who was quirky and unique; someone who went against social norms and expectations and just did her own thing.
Holly is also someone who puts on a brave and happy face to hide inner pain.I could relate to her so much. I loved the film because it was about a misfit. I saw something of myself in Holly. This was the first time that I had ever had such a reaction to a film character. This is going to sound really weird, but I didn’t feel so alone being who I was after seeing this film.
I was also left feeling very intrigued by Audrey Hepburn herself. At this point in my life(my early teens) I had already been a classic film fan for some years. I was familiar with Audrey having already seen her in My Fair Lady, but it wasn’t until seeing Breakfast At Tiffany’s that I found myself wanting to see more of her work and to learn more about her as a person.
Two of my favourite shots of Audrey in this film. Screenshots by me.
I loved the way that Audrey played Holly. I especially loved the vulnerability and the humour that she brought to that character. Audrey made me emotionally connect with Holly in a way that I hadn’t really done before with any other character on screen. I became a fan of Audrey Hepburn, not only because she was a terrific actress, but also because she was a genuine and decent human being off screen. Audrey was a kind and compassionate soul. She did so much for charity and she treated everyone(ordinary and famous people alike)with equal amounts of kindness and politeness.
Audrey also went against trends and what was expected of her by society at large. Audrey dressed in her own way and just did whatever was comfortable to her. Audrey also ended up becoming a style icon for her unique looks and dress sense. Ironically she never actually thought very highly of her own looks(girl, you were gorgeous!) and often said she felt that her feet were way too big. She was someone who I could identify with because she was a unique individual who didn’t try to be like other people. I love that Audrey stayed true to herself throughout her entire life.
After seeing Breakfast At Tiffany’s, I then sought out more of Audrey’s work. She soon became one of my favourite actresses. She glowed on screen and stole every scene she appeared in. When Audrey is on screen it’s impossible to focus that much on the other actors. She is such a good actress and I love how natural and effortless her performances seem.
I love her transformation from unhappy Princess to happy and independent woman in Roman Holiday. I love her performance as the troubled young Nun in The Nun’s Story(I think she delivers her best performance in this film). I love her sweetness and elegance in the romantic classic Sabrina. I love her hilarious multiple performances in the underrated filmmaking spoof Paris When It Sizzles. I love her comic performance opposite Cary Grant in Charade(why did these two never get paired together again?).
Faces of Audrey. Screenshots by me of Audrey in Sabrina, My Fair Lady, The Nun’s Story and Roman Holiday.
My favourite Audrey Hepburn films are Roman Holiday, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, The Nun’s Story, Sabrina, Paris When It Sizzles, How To Steal A Million, Two For The Road, Charade, My Fair Lady.
I love how Audrey oozed decency, humility and kindness. She brought so much joy to so many people over the years. For someone who gave joy to so many, Audrey herself sadly endured much pain and sorrow in her personal life. She had difficulties having children and tragically suffered a number of miscarriages over the years, before finally being able to give birth to her two sons, Sean and Luca. Audrey also had quite a sad and difficult childhood. Audrey’s father left her family in 1935. Young Audrey also suffered from malnutrition during WW2 and saw many traumatic things linked to the war. Audrey also bravely helped the Dutch resistance by carrying and delivering messages, and also by performing dance routines to raise money for them. Audrey’s personal experiences go to show that you never know what pain and difficult life experiences are hiding behind a smiling face.
Audrey Hepburn was one of the best actress of the classic film era. I love how she really makes you feel what her characters are going through emotionally. She was a very emotive actress who brought a great deal of depth to her characters,and did so in a way that not all actors can manage to do. Audrey Hepburn continues to bring joy to classic film fans around the world. Her film performances and her fashion style remain timeless. She also remains beloved for who she was as a person off screen too.
I like to think that Audrey would be touched by how much love there still is for her today. She is someone I would dearly have loved to have met. Audrey never knew it, but her uniqueness has helped me to find the strength to be myself. I thank her for that. She will always have a special place in my heart.
Are you a fan of Audrey and her films? Please share your thoughts on this great lady.
This year is the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. To mark this important anniversary, myself and my friend, Jay from Cinema Essentials, are teaming up together to host a WW2 themed blogathon.
For this blogathon you can write about any film or TV series set during WW2. You can also write about any WW2 documentaries. You can also write about the experiences of actors or filmmakers who served during the war. You can write more than one entry if you wish to do so.
We are not going to allow any duplicates. However, if a film or series has already been claimed for a full review, there is nothing to stop someone writing briefly about it in a list/article of favourite/best WW2 films or series.
The blogathon will run between the 1st and the 3rd of September, 2019. I will be your hostess on the 1st. Jay will be your host on the 2nd and 3rd. Please have your posts ready on or before those dates.
Please take one of Jay’s awesome banners from below to put on your site to help advertise the event. Check the participation list to see who is writing about what.
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: Danger UXB (TV series) and Battle Of Britain
Cinema Essentials: The Eagle Has Landed and Bridge On The River Kwai
Palewriter: Mrs. Miniver and O.S.S
Vinnieh: Carve Her Name With Pride
Thoughts All Sorts: Kelly’s Heroes
Back Story Classic: Demi-Paradise
The Stop Button: The Big Red One
Poppity Talks Classic Film: La Grande Vadrouille
MovieMovieBlogII: Schindler’s List
Realweegiemidgetreviews: A Bridge Too Far
Cinematic Scribblings: Army Of Shadows
Down These Mean Streets: Hangmen Also Die
Back To Golden Days: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Great Escape
dbmoviesblog: Letters From Iwo Jima
Make Mine Film Noir: Cornered
Caftan Woman: Corvette K-225
Silver Screenings: Tora Tora Tora!
Critica Retro: The Seventh Cross
The Midnite Drive-In: Patton, Von Ryan’s Express & Five Came Back: A Story Of Hollywood And The Second World War
In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood: From Here To Eternity
Mike’s Take On The Movies: Sahara
Dubsism: Fighter Squadron
Pop Culture Reverie: The Dirty Dozen
Taking Up Room: So Proudly We Hail
Overturebooksandfilms: The Hollywood Canteen
Love Letters To Old Hollywood: The Best Years Of Our Lives
I’ve decided it is high time to write about Callan. Despite it having been made twenty years before I was born, this excellent British TV series has ended up becoming a firm favourite of mine. I love it so much. It is a groundbreaking series in so many ways and packs quite a punch.
The series is a gritty, serious, violent, bleak and extremely moody spy drama. The series plays out like a blend of the spy worlds created by John le Carre and Len Deighton.
The characters in Callan are some of the most complex and interesting that you will find in any TV series or film.
Aside from the characters of Liz and Lonely, nobody in this series is completely all hero or villain. The main character/hero of the series is the most complex character of the whole lot. This character complexity is just one of the many things that set this series apart from others made at the time.
Callan is a dark and grim series focusing on things that were never really seen on screen at the time the series was made. We see the main character becoming traumatised and losing his nerve for a time after being shot. We also see another main character reach his emotional breaking point, after his actions leave a young woman permanently brain damaged. That is some heavy stuff right there! And those examples provide only a small taste of the overall dark content and tone of the series. This series seems quite ahead of its time to me. People didn’t really talk about issues like trauma or stress back then, so for this series to actually show us tough men struggling and cracking was really quite daring in my view.
Callan may well have been created after the films The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and The Ipcress File had been made, but it aired on TV over a decade before the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy miniseries became the last word in gritty and realistic spy stories on screen. Callan became one of the most popular and beloved British series. It provided audiences of the 1960’s and 70’s with the most realistic portrayal of espionage ever seen on the small screen at that point in time. The realism of this series is a far cry from the glamorous missions of James Bond and the quirky and stylish adventures of John Steed and Emma Peel in The Avengers.
Callan was created for television by British teacher turned author, James Mitchell. Mitchell had written several gritty crime and spy novels under various pseudonyms, including James Munro. He also wrote for several Television series too.
Callan first began life as a pilot episode written by James Mitchell, called The War Game. The pilot episode was originally intended to be made as part of the popular BBC series Detective. When this fell through, James Mitchell then sold the episode on to ABC for their Armchair Theatre anthology series. The pilot episode first aired as part of that series in February, 1967. The pilot episode was given the new title of A Magnum For Schneider.
Before the pilot episode had even been aired, Armchair Theatre producer Leonard White, and the story editor Terence Feely, both strongly felt that this story had the potential to be developed into a full series.
David Callan was a new type of TV hero. Screenshot by me.
The pilot episode introduced viewers to a new type of TV hero. The main character was a far cry from the many suave and morally upright TV heroes of the day. The hero of this series was the deadly and tough, yet troubled and introspective British agent, David Callan(Edward Woodward).
David Callan is the top agent of “The Section”, a department within British Intelligence permitted to use the most ruthless methods against individuals who are considered to be threatening the internal security of the UK. The department is seen to be run by various chief agents over the years, each one known to us only by the codename of “Hunter”.
The section regularly orders its agents to spy on, kill, blackmail, torture and intimidate people who are deemed a threat. Suspects names are placed into colour coded files. Blue Files contain the names of individuals who belong to or support the ‘wrong’ political party. Yellow Files contain the names of people who are currently under surveillance. White Files contain the names of people who are to be put out of action by placing them in mental homes, the divorce courts, bankruptcy or prison. Red Files contain the names of people considered to be extremely dangerous/marked for death. Callan is often assigned to deal with suspects in Red Files.
Callan is a highly skilled agent who is excellent at his job. The trouble is that Callan also happens to loath his job. He also happens to be trapped in the job. It may be an unpleasant job, but it’s a job that he is undeniably good at.
No matter how much Callan may long for a normal life, he can never make himself walk out and leave his life as a spy behind him. It doesn’t help that he knows he could possibly end up in a Red File himself should he ever try to leave his job.
Callan frequently challenges his bosses on why many of the dirty jobs he’s assigned must be done in the first place. The more jobs he does, the more Callan starts to wonder about the people he follows and threatens. Do some of them even deserve what is being done to them?
Callan also feels aggrieved that he and his fellow agents are the ones getting their hands dirty, while Hunter and other senior intelligence figures don’t end up partaking in the grim tasks they order. The higher ranking agents don’t have to try and live with the unpleasant memories associated with these unpleasant assignments, unlike the agents assigned to carry out these duties.
What makes Callan such a likeable and fascinating character, is that although he is a tough and professional killer, he is also a very moral man with a conscience and a heart. He hates what he has to do and while he knows that many of the jobs he does are necessary, there are others that he really isn’t sure about.
We may hate some of the things that Callan has to do, but we can’t help but like and admire him as a person. Callan may well kill, but he certainly doesn’t kill without reason in cold blood. He doesn’t take any pleasure in what he has to do. He also stands up to his bosses, even memorably threatening the first Hunter: “Don’t you push me too far will you? Because I might just let myself be killed. Only you won’t be there to see it, because, mate, I’ll get you first. And I can do it, believe me I can do it. You ought to know. Because after all, you did train me“. David Callan’s threat to the first Hunter.
I can’t really think of any other series(old or current)which have characters standing up to their bosses and being as openly hostile to them in the way that Callan is to his.It’s also quite remarkable for the time to see Callan, who is a working class man, challenging the authority of his superiors, many of whom are from the British upper classes.
There have been few series which feature such complex and grey characters as the ones seen in Callan. Edward Woodward described the grey nature of Callan best, in this quote of his from a 1987 audio interview, which can be heard in This Man Alone (a documentary about the making of Callan): “I was very much looking for that kind of character to play. I was tired of playing either crooks or heroes. This man went right down the middle. You couldn’t make up your mind what he was and nor could he. He had such a chip on his shoulder, was sort of an anti-hero. And was a hero with feet of clay”.
I can imagine no actor other than Edward Woodward in the role of Callan. He does some of his best work in this series. Edward was an up and coming stage and TV actor when he accepted the role of David Callan. He was due to be going on holiday with his family when he received the script for A Magnum For Schneider. After reading the script, Edward knew that he had to take on this role. Alas, the Woodward family holiday had to be cancelled so that he could get right to work, but I’m sure that personal sacrifice was considered to have been well worth it in the end. This series made him a star.
Edward Woodward does some of his best work in Callan. Screenshots by me.
He brings such depth to the character of Callan. He totally makes you believe he is this cold and hard professional, but that he is also a very gentle and weary soul. I also love how Edward does this thing where he very briefly shows little flickers of emotion behind Callan’s hard mask. His eyes will briefly look haunted, tender, angry or amused, and then it is as if the shutters are slammed shut, and in a matter of seconds he quickly switches his expressions back to being the cold and detached professional once again. The only other actor who I think could do acting like that was Jeremy Brett(see his Sherlock Holmes series to see what I mean). Edward is also excellent in the scenes where Callan loses his temper or is intimidating someone. The series made Edward a household name here in the UK and he would become one of our most beloved actors.
Although Callan is the main character of the series, there are many other regular characters who we get to know as well.
Seasons 1 and 2 see Callan often paired with the sadistic Toby Meres(Anthony Valentine). Meres was first introduced in the pilot episode, in which he was played by Peter Bowles. Mears seems to relish the violence of his job. He is also quite a scary, yet charming and suave man.
Anthony brings a real edge to the character and makes him so chilling. Meres is the living embodiment of what Callan would be like if he didn’t have a conscience. It has to be said that Meres is a very good agent who is working on behalf of his country, but he acts almost like a psychopath and loves dishing out violence. He and Callan develop a grudging professional respect as time goes on, but neither man likes the other. Due to the gap between filming seasons 2 and 3, Anthony wasn’t able to return to the series due to other commitments. He would not be seen again until season 4.
Callan also works with the arrogant and hot tempered James Cross(Patrick Mower). The character of James Cross was written to replace the gap left by Anthony Valentine not being available for season 3.
James Cross is less scary and cruel than Meres, but he is quite thuggish. He wants to rise up the ranks of the Section and take Callan’s place as the top agent.
Cross is an excellent agent, but he really annoys Callan, who knows full well that Cross covets his job. A genuine respect and affection does gradually develop between them and they make a good team when out on assignments. Patrick steals all the scenes he is in,often with just a look or an angry expression. He also works very well with Edward Woodward and there is a real intensity in their shared scenes, particularly when the characters argue or needle each other.
The four faces of Hunter. Top left to right: Ronald Radd, Michael Goodliffe, Derek Bond. Bottom: William Squire.
Over the course of the series there are four actors who play the chief agents known as “Hunter”. The first was played by Ronald Radd. The first Hunter is the one that I consider to be the most interesting of the four. Ronald’s Hunter was a real tough nut. He was ruthless and you just know that his word is the absolute law in that department. The second Hunter was played by the great screen actor Michael Goodliffe. The second Hunter is more intellectual and seemingly not as hard as the first one was, but you never doubt his authority for a second. Michael left the series after only a few episodes of season 2, apparently he didn’t like the violent nature of the series. The third Hunter was played by Derek Bond. The third Hunter knows Callan personally and seems more friendly and approachable than the others. We last see the third Hunter in season 2. The fourth Hunter is the one who has become the most popular. Played by William Squire, the fourth Hunter is a mix of toughness and warmth. The fourth Hunter also encourages Callan to give him lip and argue with him, understanding that this is what keeps Callan sane and helps him blow off steam. The fourth Hunter really sees Callan as a major asset. William is terrific in the role and often steals all the scenes he is in with just a look or by the tone in which he delivers a line. Edward Woodward himself would also briefly take on the role of Hunter in season 4, when Callan is promoted to the top position in the Section for a time.
The second most important character in the series is the adorable Lonely (Russell Hunter). Russell delivers one of the best performances in the series and makes it impossible not to like this character.
Lonely is all wide eyes, exaggerated shock and childlike innocence. Lonely is a local thief who has terrible personal hygiene.
Lonely is able to get Callan items he needs at quite short notice. He also assists him on some jobs, such as helping him to break into properties. At first Lonely is scared stiff of Callan, who early on in the series often threatens him with violence if he ever tells anyone about what they get up to. He needn’t worry though, dear Lonely would never betray him. Gradually the threats fade away and are replaced by banter. Lonely later comes to the correct conclusion that Callan is a spy. When he tells Callan that he knows what he is, this leads to the interesting development for Lonely, which is put in place by Callan much later in the series.
It quickly becomes very clear that Callan and Lonely have a genuine emotional connection. They each become the only friend that the other has. Callan provides Lonely with the only bits of warmth and kindness he gets in his life, and he also makes him feel needed and valued.
Lonely allows Callan to relax and briefly let his guard down. When they are together their relationship offers Callan the only bit of a normal life he’ll ever get to have.
The way that Russell plays the role of Lonely, it seems to me that Lonely is supposed to also be mentally challenged in some way. Lonely is quite slow and vulnerable, and he is easily taken advantage of, this makes Callan very protective of him. Woe betide anyone who threatens or hurts Lonely, because Callan will give them a big dose of their own medicine in return. Their comical and poignant relationship is the highlight of the series for me. Their banter also provides the only source of relief from the overall grimness of the series.
Other regular characters include the reliable and loyal Liz(Lisa Langdon),who is the secretary to each Hunter. Callan and the fourth Hunter are both very fond of her. She and Cross have a brief affair, which is brought to an end by Callan in order to save both of their careers(Section colleagues are not supposed to become romantically involved). Another regular character is Dr. Snell (Clifford Rose). Snell is the cold and scary medical officer for the Section.
The first season of the full series of Callan entered production at ABC in April, 1967. The episodes were transmitted over July and August that same year. Producer Terence Feely would leave the series after this first season to take up a role at Paramount(UK). He was replaced in season 2 by Reginald Collin, who would stay on in the role of producer for the rest of the series. John Kershaw was brought on as the story editor, but he would leave after season 2 to go and work on Armchair Theatre. John Kershaw was replaced by George Markstein, who would remain until the end of the series. James Mitchell would write the majority of the episodes, but there were also other writers working on the series too.
The first two seasons of the series were shot in black and white and recorded on videotape. Standard practice at the time was to reuse the tape once its original content had been broadcast a few times, this practice sadly led to several episodes of the early seasons being permanently wiped. All of the episodes for seasons 3 and 4 survive.
The picture quality of some of the early episodes is sadly not as good as on the colour episodes of season 3 and 4, but that is simply due to how things were filmed at the time. As good as the series is in colour, it really can’t be denied that the black and white photography suits the grim tone and dark atmosphere of the series perfectly.
Adding to the bleak atmosphere of the series is that unforgettable title sequence. The title sequence is simple and very effective. It features a swinging lightbulb casting light and shade across Callan’s face to the strains of the now iconic theme tune. The theme music was called Girl In The Dark, which was a piece of stock library music composed by Jack Tromby. In 1970, Edward Woodward(who was not only a good actor, but was also a very fine singer) would record a vocal version of this tune entitled This Man Alone, to coincide with the production of season 3 of the series.
In mid 1968, ABC underwent an enforced merger with Associated Rediffusion to become Thames Television. The second season of Callan would be broadcast in 1969.The incredible public reaction to the cliffhanger finale of season 2, which saw a brainwashed Callan kill Hunter and then get shot himself by Meres, ensured that the series would continue to be made by the newly created Thames Television. Everyone wanted to know Callan’s fate after that episode aired.
Season 3 was broadcast in 1970. The first episode saw a wounded and traumatised Callan trying to recover from the events in the season 2 finale. The transmission of this season would be disrupted due to live football matches being aired, and also due to coverage of the 1970 General Election. As the seasons past, the popularity of Callan grew and grew with the viewers. The series moved from being a cult favourite to one of the most popular series on the air at that time.
Season 4 of the series wouldn’t air until 1972. From 1970 onwards, James Mitchell would write a number of short Callan stories, which were then published in the Sunday Express newspaper. These written adventures ensured that the public demand for David Callan continued to be met in one way or another. James Mitchell also wrote and published several Callan novels.
The series would come to an end in 1972. The final episode was suitably bleak and moving and concluded a three episode storyline. I like that the series ended on a high note and didn’t drag on, unlike some series which end up really outstaying their welcome after a while.
There would be two Callan films made (both starring Edward Woodward), one in 1974 and the other in 1981. Unfortunately neither film is as good as the series is. The 1974 film in particular seems like such a wasted opportunity to me. Instead of making a fresh story, or maybe even carrying on directly where the final episode left off, the film is instead a big screen version of the pilot episode A Magnum For Schneider.
Apart from the poor picture quality of some of the early episodes, I think that this series hasn’t really dated at all. The strength of this series is that it is a series which sits back and lets the actors and scriptwriters do all the work. There is no fast and annoying editing every few seconds, nor is there any intrusive music or special effects. The strong scripts, interesting characters, character interactions and all those superb performances are what keeps you glued to the screen. Callan is good television. It is a real testament to all the cast and crew that this series still works so well today.
The complete series is available to buy on DVD. The series has recently been rerun on the Talking Pictures TV channel here in the UK. I’ve really enjoyed reading the many positive comments from people seeing this series for the first time thanks to this rerun. The positive response proves to me that this series has lost none of its impact all these years later.
I really need to get around to checking out the Callan novels at some point. Has anyone read them? If so, do they need to read in order of publication or not? I wonder if any of the short stories James Mitchell wrote for the paper are available anywhere? It would be great to read those as well.
Have you seen this series? What do you think about it?
I LOVE William Holden. He is one of my favourite American actors from the classic film era. He’s such a likeable actor and makes his acting look effortless. He is also someone who I will watch in any kind of film. I like how he could so easily switch between dramatic and comic roles and convince in those varied roles. He could be suave, smooth and funny in one film, and then in the next he could become someone much darker and far more complex.
I’m going to talk about my five favourite William Holden films. Not only do I love these films and his performances in them so much, but I also think that these five films highlight his range as an actor.
5 – Sunset Blvd (1950)
This masterpiece is really where William’s career took off big time in my opinion. He is superb as Joe Gillis, the struggling screenwriter desperate for money. I love how he conveys to us how conflicted and desperate Joe is.
William makes sure that Joe has our sympathy for much of the film, but when Joe becomes just another user of the damaged Norma, he loses much of my sympathy.
All of the characters in this film are complex and fascinating. Joe Gillis is one of the most fascinating characters of them all. Does he feel something for Norma? Is he filled with some self loathing at what he is doing to her? Does he hate the profession through which he earns his living? These are the questions that William makes us ponder as we watch him in this film. He more than holds his own against the mighty Gloria Swanson, who it is fair to say is the real highlight of the film as the deranged and damaged Norma Desmond. William delivers one of his best performances in this film.
4- Sabrina (1954)
This is the film that made me a fan of William Holden’s for life. He is perfect as the suave and dashing David Larrabee, the charming playboy who is the object of Sabrina’s affections.
I like how David starts off as this fun figure, but then later in the film becomes much more mature. This change allows us see that there is so much more to him than first meets the eye.
William makes David quite an irresistible character. It is not hard to see why so many women fall for this guy. He is charming, he is classy, he is fun, and he has that ability to make each of the women he dates feel special and as though they are the only woman in his life. We may not approve of how he moves on from woman to woman, but we can’t hate him because he is not a callous or cruel man. I’m sure that is the way David was written to be, but William makes it very clear to us that David is a nice guy despite his faults and flaws. I can’t imagine anyone other than him in this role.
3 – Breezy (1973)
I think that William shows a vulnerability here that audiences had never seen in him before. He is terrific as the middle aged Frank Harmon, a man very much set in his ways, who learns to love life and be more chilled out.
The reason for his transformation is Breezy, an older teenager who falls in love with him. Despite their age gap, the pair develop genuine romantic and emotional feelings for each other. Frank struggles with what other people will think of their relationship, while Breezy doesn’t care and doesn’t understand why there has to be such a fuss made about age in relationships. I agree with her; if a relationship is consensual on both sides and the couple are happy, then why should anyone else care if there is an age gap between a couple?
William plays Frank as being quite tentative and not the one in control during the course of the developing relationship. This tentative and vulnerable quality is the complete opposite of many of the romantic characters William had played before this; men who were charming ladies men and who knew just what they were doing, both romantically and also sexually. I think it was quite a brave role for him to take really, because he’s showing us an inner vulnerability and really changing his screen image quite a bit in the process.
2 – Stalag 17 (1953)
In the film that won him his first and only Acdemy Award, William Holden delivers one of his very best performances. He is terrific as the cynical and watchful J.J. Sefton. You can’t take your eyes off him when he is in a scene. He has your attention even when he is doing nothing more than lying down or looking at someone.
Set in a German POW camp during WW2, Sefton is an American prisoner who barters openly with the guards for things like food. His fellow prisoners are suspicious of him, and become even more suspicious when they believe he told the guards there was an escape attempt being carried out, an attempt which resulted in the murder of the two escapees. Sefton however certainly isn’t the traitor and he has no love for the Germans. I love how William plays this role. His performance is subtle(watch his eyes when he’s watching other people)and it’s interesting to see him playing a much tougher and colder character than he had ever played before.
1 – Paris When It Sizzles (1963)
We finally come to my favourite William Holden performance. In this hilarious, and seriously underrated spoof about making films, William gets to play quite a wide variety of different characters.
William plays a weary and cynical screenwriter, a spy, a criminal and even a vampire! He gets to be romantic, tender, serious, a man of action, cynical, weary, funny and very mysterious too.
I think it’s great to see him get the chance to show so much acting range, and to do so all in one film too! I love that this film allows him to show how funny he could be. I think it’s a shame that he didn’t get offered more comic roles.
I also like that there is an added poignancy in the scenes where his main character, Richard Benson, longs for Audrey Hepburn’s character. William and Audrey had an affair when they made the film Sabrina. Bill never stopped loving her. It must have been agony for him to be around her again during this film. I believe that his sorrowful and tender expressions/gestures in their romantic scenes are his real feelings for her showing through to us.
What are your favourite William Holden performances?
The Classic Movie Blog Association is hosting this blogathon all about Femme and Homme Fatales in Film Noir. Be sure to visit the CMBA site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. I’ve decided to write about Elsa Bannister from The Lady From Shanghai. There are spoilers ahead about what happens to this character.
I am such a big fan of Film Noir. I think I would even go so far as to call myself a Noir addict. Noir films are absolutely amazing!One of my favourite things about Noir films is the strong and memorable roles that these films offered to actresses during the classic film era. Many actresses did some of their best work in Noir films.
Few characters are more memorable in Noir films than the Femme Fatales. Femme Fatales are very clever and strong women. They are also dangerous, dominating, intriguing, sexy, and most important of all, they are very alluring. Femme Fatales are women who draw men to them like flames draw moths.
One of my favourite Femme Fatales is Elsa Bannister(Rita Hayworth)in The Lady From Shanghai. Elsa is a very interesting Femme Fatale, because while she is certainly a ruthless and clever manipulator, she also ends up destroying herself and leading herself to her own fate.
One look at Elsa Bannister and you have no difficulty understanding why Michael(Orson Welles)falls under her spell. Elsa is a prime example of a woman who men should stay well away from. Elsa is one of the most unforgettable Femme Fatales in the history of Noir films. She has the ability to make herself seem vulnerable and unhappy one moment, and then she becomes a cold and calculating b***h the next moment. Elsa is a good actress and knows exactly how to get and keep her audiences (in this case Michael)attention.
Rita Hayworth’s trademark thick red hair was cropped and dyed blonde for this role. This was done on the instruction of director Orson Welles(also Rita’s husband at the time of filming), this decision angered the Columbia studio head, Harry Cohen. In my view Mr. Cohen should have chilled out. Orson Welles was right to transform Rita for this role. Rita’s new look works wonders for the character.
Rita’s new screen image. Screenshots by me.
The effect of her new image makes Rita look like Deborah Kerr’s Karen in From Here To Eternity. Much as it did for Deborah Kerr in that film, Rita’s new screen image as Elsa makes her look sexier, harder and cooler than she had ever done before. Rita oozes sex and seduction whenever you see her on screen in this film.
This role was quite a change for Rita. She usually played quite bubbly characters who were basically good girls.Even her iconic character in Gilda is really a good and decent woman. The role of Elsa enabled Rita to play a darker and crueller character than audiences were used to seeing her play.
When Michael first meets Elsa he can’t keep his distance from her. It really isn’t difficult to see why he is so drawn to her. He wants her, he thinks endlessly about her, and he is wrongly led to believe that she needs him and likes him.
Elsa (just like all Femme Fatales) is like one of those deadly sirens from the old Greek legends. She is an irresistible and alluring being who leads men to a most unpleasant doom indeed.
Elsa Bannister may well be beautiful and desirable on the outside, but inside she is cold, selfish and heartless. We may at first feel some pity for her at having such an unhappy marriage, but we soon learn that Elsa doesn’t really deserve our sympathy at all. Elsa may well want to break free from her marriage prison, but setting up Michael and leading him on isn’t the way to break free to happiness.
Elsa is clever, but she is also a poor judge of character and is way too sure of herself. When she lures Michael into her web she is also inadvertently sealing her own fate. When he learns that she planned to set him up for murder, Michael is quickly done with her forever. Michael walks away from her after she is shot in the fun house finale. Michael will never be able to forget her though. He will also never lose his genuine feelings for her, but he is at least now free to live in the light and try and have some sort of a happy life.
When Michael gets wise to Elsa, she learns(all too late)the cost of using people and treating them like dirt.
Elsa is still so sure till the last moment of her life that she is irresistible to Michael. She is still so sure that things will go her way.
She soon realises that she isn’t as irresistible as she thinks. The irony is that Michael genuinely cared about her. Michael could have made her happy if she had gone away with him and not used him. Unfortunately the only person Elsa has ever loved is herself.
Elsa Bannister dies alone, crying and screaming for help. While her fate may sound rather cold and cruel, her death is actually the fate that she deserved. As deserved as it is, it certainly can’t be denied that Elsa’s death is a lonely and harsh one. Her death sees her lying on the floor of the dark hall of mirrors, discarded like a piece of rubbish that has been dropped on the floor.
Elsa’s behaviour and fate stand as a warning to all the characters who we see throughout Film Noir. Getting too wrapped up in revenge, temptation, lust, murder, and hate can only end in unhappiness and death. You can only use and push people so far before they push back. You can only step so far into the darkness before you are consumed entirely by it.
I find it very difficult to imagine any other actress in the role of Elsa Bannister. Rita inhabits and plays the role of Elsa Bannister to perfection. Rita’s performance is seductive and mesmerising. It’s one of Rita’s best performances in my opinion. With Rita playing Elsa, the character could also be viewed as showing us what could have happened to Rita’s other famous character in Gilda. Imagine what Gilda would have been like if she had lost her warmth and instead become soulless and cold? I think we have the answer to that in the form of Elsa Bannister.
Elsa Bannister leaves a lasting impression on anyone who watches Lady From Shanghai. She has become one of the most iconic of the Noir Femme Fatales. What are your thoughts on Elsa?
Do you love Film Noir? If you do, I would love to invite you to join my Noirathon.
This is my own entry for my Stewart Granger blogathon. I can’t wait to read all of your entries in a few days time.
I’m writing about Caravan, which is one of my favourite Stewart Granger films. Caravan is another fabulous romantic melodrama from British film studio Gainsborough Pictures.
Stewart’s performances in the Gainsborough films of the 1940’s were what first made him a star here in the UK. He is wonderful to watch in these films as the romantic hero. He also has the added benefit of having a bearing and face that makes him look like he is someone who lived in the 18th or 19th century. He never looks out of place in these period films.
I have always liked Stewart Granger. I became a fan of his from the first time that I ever saw him in a film. My introduction to him was the film King Solomon’s Mines.I like Stewart because he has an intensity and a charm about him. He also has that ability to dominate a scene when he is in it. I especially love how effortlessly he was able to switch between playing the romantic leading man and playing more roguish and tough characters.
Stewart convinces as the sweet romantic hero and as a far tougher and darker man too. Screenshots by me.
Caravan provides him with a character who is a perfect blend of both of those character types. His character Richard Darrell is certainly a sweet natured man most of the time, but he is also incredibly tough, and can become violent when necessary. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Richard if you could help it, and he is someone who you would certainly want as a friend.
What is very noticeable about the Gainsborough films is that they were usually very female focused. These films offered extremely strong roles for the actresses of the classic film era. Caravan slightly departs from this tradition of female focus by focusing more upon on Stewart’s character, but the film still gives us two very memorable lead female characters to enjoy as well.
Jean Kent delivers the standout female performance in my opinion. She steals every scene she appears in as the feisty and fiercely loyal Gypsy dancer, Rosal.
Jean and Stewart have lovely chemistry and sparks clearly fly between them when they share a scene.
Jean makes it clear to us how independent and passionate Rosalis, we can’t help but like her as much as Richard does. Rosal is a strong willed, kind and fearless lady.
Anne Crawford (a much underrated actress, whose life was cut tragically short when she died of Leukaemia, aged just 35)has the seemingly somewhat dull role of the heartbroken woman who pines for her man.
Anne however manages to make the character very sympathetic and far more fleshed out than she at first seems to be. Anne’s character Oriana is really the heart of the film. She is so gentle and kind that you can’t help but like her.
I also like watching Oriana discover an inner strength as the film goes on. Oriana is such a lovely person, and because of that, I for one always feel torn about which lady Richard should end up with at the end of the film.
Caravan is at heart a film about a love triangle. The thing is though that we cannot take sides in this triangle, because we like all three of the people caught up in it. The fact that both ladies genuinely love Richard, and that he genuinely loves them both in return, makes it very difficult to prefer one couple over the other when you watch this one. Well it does for me anyway.
Richard with the two loves of his life. Screenshots by me.
The film is directed by Arthur Crabtree, who had worked as the cinematographer on several Gainsborough films, and who would also direct Madonna Of The Seven Moons, another one starring Stewart Granger. The film is based on the 1943 novel of the same name by Lady Eleanor Smith. Lady Smith had also written The Man In Grey, which had also been adapted for the screen by Gainsborough in 1943 and had become one of their most successful and famous films. The screenplay for Caravan was by Roland Pertwee(The Spy In Black,Pimpernel Smith), who was the father of Jon Pertwee and the grandfather of Sean Pertwee.
The film begins in late 19th century London. An elderly gentleman is attacked and robbed in the street. He is rescued by the passing Richard Darrell(Stewart Granger).
After Richard helps this man back to his home, he accidentally leaves the manuscript for his novel behind at the man’s home. He returns for it the next day and is encouraged by the gentleman to talk about himself. The gentleman also says he will help publish the novel for Richard.
We learn in flashback that Richard has long been in love with his childhood friend Oriana(Ann Crawford). The pair are now engaged and are planning to marry, much to the anger and jealousy of the slimy Francis (Dennis Price), who has long hated Richard, and long desired Oriana. Francis is the sort of bully who would dissolve into tears if you gave them a dose of their own medicine in return.
Francis is a cruel and vengeful man and he arranges for Richard to be killed while he is travelling in Spain on business. Francis orders Wycroft (a scene stealing Robert Helpmann)to follow Richard and kill him. This leads to an hilarious scene on the boat trip to Spain where nothing goes right for Wycroft in his attempts to be rid of Richard.
Rosal’s dance. Screenshots by me.
On arrival in Spain, Richard catches the eye of local gypsy dancer, Rosal(Jean Kent), while she performs her dance act at a local tavern. Richard is later brutally assaulted by a group of men under Wycroft’s command and left for dead due to the horrendous nature of his injuries.
Rosal saves him and slowly nurses him back to health. When he wakes he is suffering from amnesia. He and Rosal fall in love. Very slowly his memory of the past starts to return to him.
Back in England Oriana has been told by Francis that Richard has been killed. In a deep despair over the loss of Richard, and also the recent death of her father, she reluctantly agrees to marry Francis for financial security. Francis treats her abominably and she never forgets Richard.
Will Richard get justice for what has happened to him? Will he remember Oriana? Which lady will he end up with? You will have to watch and find out.
All the actors do a terrific job here. The costumes and sets are all very beautiful too. I especially love Anne Crawford’s dresses, and I envy her for getting to wear such lovely outfits.
The two romances at the heart of the film are both very different; one is a relationship based on passion and shared experiences; the other is the love of soulmates. I love that both of the romantic relationships are equally affecting.This isn’t just a romance film though, there is also quite a bit of action and many dark and violent moments in this too. The finale in the swamp is very violent and brutal.
The awful marriage between Francis and Oriana isn’t sugar coated for us either. Francis is clearly mentally and physically abusive towards his wife and she is often powerless against him. There is a scene where Francis forcibly carries her up to their room and forces himself upon her, and this brings to my mind the scene of Rhett carrying Scarlett in Gone With The Wind. We are left in no doubt as to how unpleasant this marriage is.
The plot is highly melodramatic and it does involve more than a few coincidences occurring to make certain things happen, but the film is so much fun that most viewers should be able to forgive that and just enjoy the film. If you love a good costume drama and are a fan of Stewart Granger, then this is one that I highly recommend to you.
Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is holding this blogathon to honour the legendary Bette Davis. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
For this blogathon I’ve decided to write about Bette’s most iconic film, the 1942 classic Now, Voyager. Her remarkable performance in this film would go on to earn Bette her sixth nomination for the Best Actress Oscar.
Bette starts off totally convincing us that her character, Charlotte Vale, is a deeply damaged and introverted woman. Bette makes us feel great sympathy towards Charlotte. She makes us want to stand up to Charlotte’s mother on her behalf and tell her to leave her daughter alone. Bette looks so vulnerable, so on edge, so worn out, and so worn down at the start of this film. We feel for this character because of how well Bette conveys her pain to us.
In the next half of the film, Bette slowly begins to change before our very eyes into a far more strong and confident woman. She makes us believe that Charlotte is now comfortable being herself, and that she is also finally breaking free of her mother’s control. We know that Charlotte is going to be okay as her life goes on. Bette put a lot of effort into this performance and it shows. Bette also worked quite closely with the makeup artist and costume designer to decide what Charlotte should look like in the first half of the film.
The two faces of Charlotte Vale. Screenshots by me.
The film is described as a romantic drama and is best remembered today for the love story at the very heart of its plot. This film is so much more than just a love story though. It is quite an unusual and bold film in many ways, and that is a major reason why I love this one so much. The film focuses upon the rights of the individual; on mental illness; on mental health; and upon dominating and abusive parents. The ending of the film is also about as far away from the typical romantic ending as it is possible to get. The film is really about Charlotte learning to love herself, as well as being about her realising that not every human being out there is cruel and bad.
I especially love how this film depicts mental illness. In an era when mental health had a great stigma attached to it, this film and its attitudes towards mental health come across as being quite enlightened and modern in my opinion. Mentally ill people are all too often depicted as being incurable and frightening individuals who have to be thrown into asylums to keep them away from the rest of society. So many mental health patients have been treated appallingly in asylums and hospitals throughout the centuries. Is it any wonder then that mental illness became something frightening that people hated to admit they were suffering from?
Now, Voyager shows us that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of; it’s just that sometimes our minds need a little rest and some help.
Receiving help with your mental health doesn’t mean you are weak or dangerous. The film also shows us that there are kind and compassionate staff out there supporting those who are mentally ill.
Charlotte isn’t locked away and subjected to shock therapy or drugs. Charlotte is placed into a relaxing and quiet environment, an environment where she isn’t treated like a leper by those looking after her.
Just a few years after this film came out The Snake Pit was released. This later film has become one of the most famous films about mental illness, but it is also a film which once again depicts mental illness as a terrifying and alarming thing. The lead character in The Snake Pit is treated very distressingly. If you were struggling with your mental health and saw that film, then I doubt it would make you very eager to go and seek help for what you were going through. It’s a far cry from the more enlightened treatments and attitudes we see in Now, Voyager. Thankfully attitudes toward mental illness have become much more positive. Treatments for mental illness have become much more humane too.
Now, Voyager is based upon the 1941 novel of the same name, which was written by the American author Olive Higgins Prouty. Now, Voyager is the third in a series of five novels written by Prouty, all of which focus upon the Vale family. The events of the third novel are inspired by Prouty’s experiences of therapy following her own breakdown. The film adaptation of the novel was originally going to be directed by Edmund Goulding(Dark Victory, Nightmare Alley). Goulding had the actress Irene Dunne in mind for the role of Charlotte Vale, but unfortunately Goulding fell ill and had to withdraw from the project.
Michael Curtiz(The Adventures Of Robin Hood, Mildred Pierce) was then assigned to the film as the new director. Curtiz considered both Norma Shearer and Ginger Rogers for the role of Charlotte Vale. Bette Davis really wanted the role, and she managed to persuade producer Hal B. Wallis that she should be the one to play Charlotte. Bette was eventually given the role. Michael Curtiz and Bette sadly didn’t get along that well, and so he soon left the project. Michael Curtiz was out of the directors chair and Irving Rapper(Deception, Marjorie Morningstar) was quickly sitting in his place as the new (and final) director of the film.
Joining Bette in the cast were the Austrian born Paul Henreid (absolutely superb in his first major Hollywood film role) as Jerry; the ever brilliant Claude Rains as Jaquith(accepting the role after the part had been rewritten); Gladys Cooper(ice cold and despicable) as Mrs. Vale, the ultimate mother from Hell.
Now, Voyager is all about Charlotte Vale(Bette Davis), a repressed, overweight and deeply unhappy heiress who is emotionally abused and dominated by her cold mother(Gladys Cooper). Her mother’s bullying and excessive control leads Charlotte to edge ever closer to a nervous breakdown.
Charlotte is teased and neglected by all her family, all except her kind sister-in-law Lisa( Ilka Chase).Lisa is really worried about Charlotte and can see that she is becoming quite ill. Lisa asks her psychiatrist friend Dr. Jaquith(Claude Rains)to come and see Charlotte and make a judgement about her state of mental health.
Jaquith meets with Charlotte and is very worried about her. He tells Mrs.Vale that her daughter is having a nervous breakdown. We also see that Jaquith is appalled by Mrs. Vales treatment of her daughter. I love the scene where he has a go at Mrs. Vale for her terrible treatment of Charlotte. I find that scene to be very unusual for the time, because Jaquith is calling out and acknowledging parental abuse/excessive control. In a time when parents word was law, here is Jaquith telling audiences that children shouldn’t be controlled because they have rights and are individuals. Jaquith makes it very clear that Charlotte has been damaged so much by her mother’s treatment of her. Jaquith arranges for Charlotte to come and stay at his sanitarium called Cascade. Under his care, and away from her mother, Charlotte slowly gets well and begins to come out of her shell and gain new confidence.
When she is well enough to leave Cascade, Charlotte goes off on a cruise. She is still a little fragile, but Jaquith and Lisa both hope that Charlotte can enjoy her independence on the cruise and that her confidence will increase while she travels.
When we next see Charlotte Vale, she is emerging from a doorway on the cruise ship. Charlotte looks beautiful and glamorous. Thanks to her new found self confidence, and a significant makeover, Charlotte looks like a completely different woman when we see her on the ship.
Charlotte has a lovely time on the cruise. She makes loads of friends on board the ship. Charlotte is still quite shy and hesitant at times, but she slowly comes out of her shell even more than she has done before. Charlotte enjoys a passionate love affair with the charming architect, Jerry Durrance(Paul Henreid), a fellow passenger who she befriends when they go ashore on a day trip together.
Jerry is a very kind man who is genuinely interested in Charlotte. The pair emotionally connect and quickly develop a strong romantic desire for one another too. I love how Paul Henreid plays the role of Jerry. He makes the character so gentle, so fun, so attentive and kind. Paul also lets us see that Jerry is slowly starting to fall in love with Charlotte due to the way he is looking at her when they are together; it’s clear to me that he falls for Charlotte before she falls for him. Paul and Bette have a lovely chemistry together and really make me believe in their growing bond. Off the screen, Paul would soon join co-star Claude Rains in becoming one of Bette’s closest male friends.
I like how the character of Jerry starts off being this sort of fantasy romantic figure, someone who (to me anyway)seems slightly too good to be true at first. But the more we get to know him, the more we see that he genuinely does care for Charlotte, and that he is what he seems to be. I especially love how Jerry still wants to be with her after she has told him about her illness and past.
The pair are very happy together. Jerry gives her the romantic love and kindness that she has so longed for all her life. She finally feels wanted and happy. Charlotte and Jerry’s happiness is short lived though once Charlotte discovers he is married. Jerry explains that he has an unhappy marriage.
Jerry also tells Charlotte that his youngest daughter Tina is a very troubled child. When Jerry shows Charlotte a photo of his daughter Tina, she can see something of herself in that depressed and awkward looking little girl. The pair decide not to meet again when they leave the ship at the end of the cruise, but neither can stop loving the other or forget about their happy times on the ship.
Charlotte returns home to see her family and Dr. Jaquith. Her mother is visibly shocked and appalled when she sees her daughter is now strong and can stand up for herself. Charlotte takes charge at home and stands up to her mother, while never stooping to her mother’s low level of cruelty or maliciousness, something which irks her mother a great deal.
After her mother dies of a heart attack(something of an irony as she never appears to possess a heart), Charlotte returns to Cascade feeling that her mother’s death is her fault. While she is staying there she discovers that Jerry has sent his daughter Tina there as a patient. Charlotte befriends Tina; once she does so, she soon finds that looking after this little girl takes her mind off her own issues. Charlotte finally feels a sense of purpose.
Jerry is so grateful to Charlotte for all the help she has given his daughter. He still loves Charlotte very much, but is romance what Charlotte still wants though? She still cares about Jerry, but at the end of the film she wants to leave things the way they are between them. “Jerry, don’t lets ask for the moon. We have the stars”.
I have always felt this ending is similar to the one in The Apartment; both films end with their romantic couples not getting together in the typical romantic ending of a kiss and a fade out. Charlotte is happy with the way things are between them at present. Charlotte and Jerry may well get back together romantically at some point, but for now she wants them to enjoy what they have and not to try and change anything. Even if they don’t get back together as a romantic couple, they will always remain friends who have an incredibly strong emotional bond. By the end of the film Charlotte has finally found her purpose in life; her purpose is to help others who have gone through the traumas that she has endured. For now she is enjoying her newfound independence and desire to help and be useful. That’s how I read this famous film ending.
As much as I love this film, I do however have quite a big issue with it. My issue concerns what happens to Charlotte after her makeover. With that makeover the film basically tells us that physical beauty bring happiness and grant our deepest wishes. It’s like we’re being told that we won’t find happiness, friendship, or love, unless we look gorgeous and are stick thin. In a time when so many struggle with low self esteem and pressure to look a certain way, this film sends out a very bad message in my opinion.
Charlotte doesn’t have any friends until she sets foot on that cruise ship after her makeover. All of sudden her wish to be loved and accepted comes true. People want to know her because she suddenly fits in and looks lovely. Her other family members who teased her before suddenly decide to treat her nicely, what does that say about all of these people? Would any of Charlotte’s new friends have looked twice at her if they had met her before? Would Jerry have wanted to be her lover if he had met her before? Sadly we all know that the answer to those two questions is no.
Our first glimpse of Charlotte after her makeover. Screenshots by me.
Charlotte’s new found happiness after the makeover gives the impression that beauty and glamour are what you need to be accepted and happy. It’s just not true. You can find friends and love no matter what you look like on the outside. Sadly we are still so very obsessed with looks and body image today. Young girls especially feel the pressure to look a certain way. Why should it matter what we look like on the outside? It’s what is on the inside that counts. Plenty of beautiful people are ugly on the inside, and plenty of people who are deemed ugly are the most beautiful souls you could ever wish to meet.
There’s another thing that bothers me about this film. As much as I love Jerry and Charlotte’s relationship, I have to confess to having never quite cared about their relationship as much as the one between Charlotte and Jaquith. I have always felt that Charlotte and Jaquith should have got together romantically. I really dig them as friends and think it’s great to see a close, non sexual, male and female screen pairing. But I can’t help it, I ship them so much. 🙂 Also Jaquith is the one who sees her at her most low and it doesn’t phase him. He is the first person to be truly kind and helpful to her. He treats her as an equal, and they both care about each other so much.
I thought I was really odd in wanting Charlotte and Jaquith to get together, that is until I saw that Bette herself had thought the same way! Bette said in a TV interview with Dick Cavett that she thought those two characters ended up together, and that Charlotte went on to work with Jaquith. If Bette ships it, then I ship it proudly too! 🙂
Who cares if a relationship between them would most likely break the rules of what can and can’t happen between patient and doctor? The way that Claude plays Jaquith, it becomes very clear to us that he cares about Charlotte and considers her to be more than a patient once she leaves Cascade for the first time. He is overjoyed to receive letters from her and lights up when he is around her. She lights up around him and cares about him very much too. I love the playful banter and conversations between them. I only wish there were more scenes between Charlotte and Jaquith in the film!
Bette Davis is without a doubt the star of this film. Her performance is extraordinary and remains one of her best and most iconic. Bette has fine support from Paul Henreid, Gladys Cooper, Claude Rains, Mary Wickes(hilarious and scene stealing as ever) and the rest of the cast. For me it is Gladys Cooper who stands out the most from the rest of the cast. Gladys makes Mrs. Vale so hateful and cruel, that you want to reach the screen and slap her. I think this is one of the best performances Gladys ever gave on screen.
Four years after making this film, Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, and director Irving Rapper, would all reunite together to make Deception. This later film has Claude and Paul as two very different men, who each have one thing in common, their love and desire for Bette’s character.
For years after this film was released, Paul Henreid would constantly be asked by his fans to light two cigarettes at once for them. This was because in this film he famously lights two cigarettes in his mouth at once and hands one to Bette. The photo on the cover of Paul’s autobiography even features him with two cigarettes in his mouth. Those famous cigarette scenes have become unforgettable to anyone who has ever watched this film.
Now, Voyager is every inch a classic. Its characters, issues and themes are still extremely relevant and affecting today. Charlotte Vale is a character who I think offers hope and comfort to people who are going through tough times. Charlotte’s transformation into a happier person shows us that dark times can pass by, that we can find happiness and the freedom to be ourselves.
Regular readers of this blog know that I LOVE Film Noir. I’ve decided it’s high time I held a blogathon celebrating all things Noir.
I invite you all to join me to walk through the dark alleys of Film Noir. For this blogathon you can write about any Noir film. You can write about your favourite characters and couples in Film Noir. You can write about the look and style of Noir films. You can write about the history of Film Noir and the impact these films had on cinema.
You can write more than one post for this if you wish to do so. I’m asking that there be No duplicate posts of films for this particular blogathon. There are so many Noir films out there that we shouldn’t need to all write about the same ones. That having been said though, if someone writes a full post about Double Indemnity, it is fine for someone else to write a bit about that film in a list/article which discusses various Noir films. It’s also fine to write about a remake of a Noir film of the same title.
The blogathon will be held from the 27th – 29th of July, 2019. Please try to have your posts ready on or before those dates. Take one of the banners from below to put on your sites to help advertise this event. Check below to see who is writing about what.
Have fun writing! Enjoy watching those Noir films!
The Participation List
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films: Cry Of The City, Dark Passage & Murder, My Sweet(1944)
Pale Writer: Dead Reckoning,Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake
Screen Dreams: Barbara Stanwyck’s Noir Films
Films On The Box: Fear In The Night
Movie Movie Blog Blog II: Laura
Cinematic Scribblings: Brighton Rock(1948)
Caftan Woman: Thieves Highway
Poppity Talks Classic Film: They Live By Night
Realweegiemidgetreviews: Body Heat
Overture Books And Film: The Killing
Silver Screen Classics: The Asphalt Jungle
In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood: Joan Bennett And Film Noir
The Stop Button: In A Lonely Place
Portraits By Jenni: Pickup On South Street
The Old Hollywood Garden: Friendships In Film Noir
Critica Retro: Tension
Silver Screenings: Kansas City Confidential
Pop Culture Reverie: Somewhere In The Night
The Midnite Drive -In: Noir Elements in Abbott And Costello
Stars And Letters: A Letter About The Killers
Realweegiemidgetreviews: John Wick 2 and 3
dbmoviesblog: Out Of The Past
Thoughts All Sorts: Sin City
Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: The Dark Mirror
Shadowsandsatin: Try And Get Me
The Lonely Critic: High And Low
MovieRob: Scene Of The Crime, Sorry Wrong Number, Woman In The Window
Regular readers of this blog will know that I love me some Silent films. I’m very sad to have to confess to you all though, that it was not always the case with me. I saw my very first Silent film when I was in my mid teens, it was shown in a film class when I was studying at college. The film shown was Metropolis. I was intrigued to see the film because it was directed by the great Fritz Lang.
Lang was a director who was already well known to me because I was a fan of Film Noir. He directed such classic Noir films as The Big Heat and Scarlet Street. I liked his work, but I had yet to venture into his expressionistic Silent films. Little did I know that the German Expressionism found in some Silent films, was also a major influence on the Noir films that I was loving so much. The use of shadows and lighting in Noir is straight out of those early films, and I was so amazed when I first learnt about that. All Noir fans out there should show some love to those German Silents; without their direct influence, the look of Film Noir would have most likely turned out very differently indeed.
Before seeing Metropolis, I was already a huge fan of classic era films. I had never before had the slightest interest in seeing a Silent film though. I thought they would be boring and weird to watch. When this film started playing, there I was, still stubbornly convinced that there was no way this was going to be for me.
Then something happened that I can’t really describe. I just became fascinated by the images I was seeing on the screen. I was also extremely impressed with the scale of the sets, the overall look of the film and by Lang’s unforgettable depiction of the future. Before I knew what was happening, there I was, actually sitting there and enjoying a Silent film.
I have to say that while Metropolis has never become a favourite of mine to the extent that I regularly watch it, I do love and admire it a great deal. The image of the future that it presents to us is an image which is impossible to get out of your head. It’s one of the greatest films that Fritz Lang ever made. Metropolis will always have a special place in my heart for being the film that made me a fan of Silent cinema.
From that point on I started to watch more Silent films.Then I started to laugh at myself for having held such stupid views about Silent films in the first place. Why had I been so hesitant about checking these out sooner? I think it mainly had to do with the actors not speaking. It was such an alien concept to me after being raised on sound films. I think the lack of speech is still the main problem for people who are hesitant to watch these films today.
While hearing audiences may have difficulty with these films, I would imagine (would love to see some studies done on this)that Silent films can perhaps appeal more to deaf audiences. So often today the subtitles are not always that good on DVD releases, and this can make it difficult for deaf viewers to follow the dialogue. Some TV channels and programmes do not always offer subtitles either, which sadly means that deaf audiences are excluded from some content. Silent films don’t have those problems. In Silent films you often don’t really need dialogue in many scenes, the actors convey all we need to know. I think it’s also very easy to follow what people are saying in Silent films because we have the title cards popping up displaying the dialogue. Personally I think that Silent films provide quite an inclusive experience to viewers who have hearing difficulties, or who perhaps don’t speak any languages other than their mother tongue and want to watch films from other countries(yes, I know DVDs of sound films have language dubbing :-)).
Now I am happy to say that I’m a huge fan of Silent cinema. I think that Silent films are incredible. It’s hard to dislike films where all the stunts are done for real; where all the special effects were done by hand or by using practical effects(no CGI to see here, folks), and where even the editing was done by hand. Making these films was a real labour of love and it shows. I also think that many of these films are like paintings brought to life due to a combination of beautiful costumes, colour tinting, uniquely designed title cards, lavish sets etc. You really don’t see films so visually beautiful anymore. I am a huge fan of tinting and especially love the use of blue in the Silent documentary The Epic Of Everest (1924). The blue tinting in that documentary makes me feel the cold of the location somehow.
When you see these films today and know that what you see was all done by hand, it just blows you away. The stunning, jaw dropping visuals in these films, are leaps and bounds beyond anything that CGI gives us today.The directors and film crew working at this time were so innovative, and I find their fearlessness in exploring new and exciting ways of making films and creating film effects quite admirable.
Without these films we would most likely not even have films today. Film fans should be watching these films because it is where the medium began. We owe these films, and the filmmakers of this era, a massive debt of gratitude. I think it is vital that we get younger generations interested in these films. We need to preserve and honour these magnificent films.
The more Silent films I watch, the more that I come to love and appreciate the different acting style. Some of the acting when viewed by us today looks quite theatrical, and I concede that this can be strange to get used to if you’re new to it. Having said that though, it’s important to note that so many performances in Silent films come across as very modern and fresh when viewed today.
I think that the acting in these films is all about the actors conveying emotions to us, and in doing so they really make us feel their pain or joy. These actors do not need dialogue because they have the ability to convey to us what’s going on through expression alone. In my opinion no actor of the era was better at conveying emotion than Lon Chaney Sr. Lon was a very unique actor. He created and applied his own make-up to play disfigured characters. I really can’t recommend his films highly enough. I write about him and his career in detail here. He was such a fascinating man.
Another thing I love about Silent films is the music. Music is very important in these films. You see despite there being no audible dialogue, these films are not actually totally silent(another myth busted). There is music playing throughout these films, and the music is very important for helping to establish and convey the mood and emotions of characters. I would love to go to one of those silent screenings which have a live orchestra accompanying the film. Has anyone ever attended one of these? What was it like? Silent films also have title cards, which appear at various points in the film, to display to us the dialogue being spoken by the characters.
New To Silent Cinema?
Have you yet to dip your toe into the ocean of Silent cinema? What are you waiting for? There are dramas, historical epics, experimental films, short and long films, romances, comedies, horror,documentary, crime etc. Forget the damsel in distress cliche as well, because the Silent films provided very strong roles for women. They also had many women working behind the cameras as directors, producers, editors and writers in the Silent era.
Please don’t be afraid of these films. Pick one to watch and give this different film style a chance. Don’t simply dismiss these films as being old, outdated, or weird when you have never actually watched one.
If you don’t try these films, then not only will you miss out on some stunning visuals, powerful stories and memorable characters, but you’ll also miss out on some truly remarkable actors. People like Lon Chaney Sr, Douglas Fairbanks Sr, Lillian Gish, Louise Brooks, Ruan Lingyu, Rudolph Valentino, Buster Keaton, Clara Bow and so many others.You’ll also miss out on directors like F.W Murnau, Charles Chaplin, Fritz Lang, Buster Keaton, Cecil B. De Mille.
Where To Begin With Silent Cinema?
You are going to watch your first Silent film, but you don’t know which film you should watch first. I would say forget all those famous titles; just go right ahead and pick a Silent film that is from your favourite genre. Don’t immediately try one of the very long feature films like Metropolis for example. You may get lucky as I did and end up really enjoying your first Silent, even if it is a long feature, but on the other hand you may well end up getting bored if your first film turns out to be a drag. So I’d say that you should maybe try something that appeals to your tastes before checking out the acclaimed epics.
A good place to start is to try and watch a comedy short.If you’re going to do that, then I would heartily recommend the films of the legend that is Buster Keaton. This comic genius made both comedy film shorts and feature films.
Buster was the master of physical comedy, and he had such perfect timing. He also performed some of the most jaw dropping film stunts ever captured on film.If you like comedy you can’t go wrong with Buster’s work.Charles Chaplin, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd’s films also come highly recommended by me.
If you are interested in seeing the famous stunning visuals, epic running time and visual trickery of Silent films, then these films are ones that I would highly recommend that you watch for various reasons: The Phantom Carriage (1921), Battleship Potemkin (1925), Der Mude Tode(1921), Intolerance (1916), The Thief Of Bagdad(1924), Orphans Of The Storm (1921),Ghosts Before Breakfast (1928), A Trip To The Moon (1902), The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920), Metropolis (1927),The General (1926),Nosferatu(1922) , Sherlock Jr (1924) , The Epic Of Everest (documentary from 1924), The Man With The Movie Camera (documentary from 1929).
A Silent Film That I Would Recommend To A Newbie?
1- Shooting Stars (1928) This British Silent is a behind the scenes look at filmmaking. It follows three actors who are caught up in a love triangle. The film is funny, suspenseful and very moving. It looks at the fleeting nature of fame and how we should never take what we have for granted.
This film was one of the first(possibly the first)films to show audiences what goes on behind the scenes of films, and of how shots are achieved in film. We see how the screen fiction is achieved and made believable to an audience who buys into the illusion of film. You can read my full review of this film here.
I would also recommend The Artist(2011). This charming film is a homage to the Silent era.It also brings to mind sound films such as Singin’ In The Rain and A Star Is Born. It also features the cutest and most scene stealing dog you’ll ever see.
I could go on and on about Silent cinema, but I don’t want to bore you all. 🙂 I hope that I have piqued your interest in these films if you have yet to check out any Silent films. Let me know how you get on if you do decide to check out Silent films for the first time.
If you are already a fan I would love to hear from you. How did you become a fan? What are your favourite Silent films? Did you put off seeing them for ages?(like me).I sometimes feel like an oddity because I’m 30 and don’t know anyone else my age (outside of people online) who loves these wonderful films.
May I also suggest you head on over and see Fritzi at Movies Silently. Fritzi knows all there is to know about Silent cinema.
Virginie at The Wonderful World Of Cinema and Samantha at Musings Of A Classic Film Addict are teaming up! They are co-hosting this blogathon dedicated to the actress Jean Harlow. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries. I’m so happy that Virginie and Samantha are honouring Jean with this blogathon.
What do you think is the first thing that comes to mind when most people hear the name of Jean Harlow? I bet that many immediately think of her as being the original blonde bombshell, a beautiful woman with hair so blonde that it almost looked white. When I hear or see the name Jean Harlow, I think first of how funny she was, and of how much her screen antics have caused me to laugh or to cheer on her characters.
I love Jean Harlow so much. I love her badass and sassy screen persona. I love her style and her looks. I love how funny she was. She was so vibrant and full of life, and it is such a great shame that she died so young.
What draws me to Jean Harlow the most is that mixture of vulnerability, innocence, and toughness that she had about her. I also love how she embodied the go-getting attitude of so many women during the 1930’s.Her characters are often clever, tough- talking, feisty and independent. I’m sure that many a young woman living in the 1930’s could relate to Jean and the attitudes of her characters. Her performances and many of her characters seem quite modern when we watch her films today.
I first became a fan of Jean’s after seeing her in the comedy Dinner At Eight. At this point in my life I had heard of Jean Harlow. I knew what she looked like, and I was aware that she had sadly died at a young age, but I had never seen one of her films before.
I thought she was absolutely hilarious in Dinner At Eight. I was very taken by how her character was a woman who just did her own thing. I also loved how her character stood up to her rather brutish husband(Wallace Beery).
Jean was one of the first actors I came across who had the ability to make you unable to really focus on anyone other than them when they are on screen. This is especially true of her performance in Dinner At Eight.
I don’t think anyone has become a fan of anyone as fast I became a fan of Jean Harlow. I loved everything about her in that film, and I also knew that I really wanted to see more of her work after seeing this film. I checked out Red Dust next. That film left me in no doubt that I was a Jean Harlow fan.In this film she co-stars with her friend Clark Gable. Jean and Clark would go on to make six films together in total. The pair have such incredible chemistry in this film.
When Jean and Clark are on screen together you believe they are a couple, and you can see a genuine affection and warmth between them. Their chemistry in Red Dust is wild! Jean steals every scene in the film. She makes you miss her fun and feisty character Vantine so much when she isn’t in a scene.
Jean also makes Vantine so full of life and so likeable, that you sit there shaking your head in disbelief when it seems like Clark’s character will choose Mary Astor’s rather dull character over Vantine.
There is a funny story about the making of Red Dust that I always get a good laugh from. At the end of the scene where Vantine takes an outdoor bath, a topless Jean is supposed to have stood up and faced the camera while it was still running. She cheekily called out to the crew members on the set “This is one for the boys back at the lab”. If that story is true, then it certainly shows that Jean had a great sense of humour and that she was no prude. 🙂
Red Headed-Woman, Reckless, Platinum Blonde, Wife vs. Secretary, Libeled Lady are just a few of the films which have made audiences fall in love with Jean Harlow over the years. Jean’s film career first began back in 1930, when she was cast in Howard Hughes WW1 aviation epic, Hell’s Angels. While her performance in that film isn’t one of her best in my opinion, it is certainly a very memorable film debut for her. What is also clear from that film, is that she had that special star quality about her right from the very beginning of her career. It would take a few more years for Jean’s popularity to increase, but when it did so she would become one of the most beloved stars of the classic film era.
Jean Harlow (known affectionately as Baby) worked steadily in films over the next two years. Her fame and popularity gradually began to increase. In Red Dust and Red Headed-Woman, both released in 1932, she found her two most iconic film roles. Her characters in both of these films are fun-loving, tough-talking, forward, and strong willed gals who know exactly what they want and won’t stop till they have it. Jean would become forever linked with these two films and characters. I love both of these films very much. I consider Red Headed-Woman to be one of Jean’s best film performances.
As the 1930’s continued, Jean Harlow quickly became one of the most popular and beloved American stars of the era. Audiences and colleagues adored her. She was talented, bubbly, outgoing, and she knew just how to make people laugh. She shines on screen in those 1930’s films and really gives life to all of her characters.
I always wonder about what roles she would have received had she lived into the 1940’s and beyond. I can totally see Jean in Noir films. I would have loved to have seen her as a Femme Fatale or as a Noir heroine in films like The Dark Corner or Lured. I also think that she would have been good in some more serious roles too. She excelled in comic roles, but she was a very good dramatic actress too. I for one would have loved to have seen her in more dramatic leading roles.
On the 7th of June, 1937, a shining light left this world. Jean Harlow died. She was just 26 years old. She had been suffering from kidney failure.
She had fallen ill with flu the previous month, and at first it was suspected that her ill health during the making of her final film Saratoga was linked to that illness.
Tragically by the time that the exact nature of her illness was realised, it was far too late to treat and save her.Her death left her loved ones and fans equally shocked and upset. Her fiance, the actor William Powell, was left completely devastated by her death.
Jean’s funeral became an extravaganza of grief. MGM studios closed on the day of her funeral. William Powell paid for her crypt, at a cost of $25,000. Her funeral was attended by a multitude of actors. Clark Gable served as one of her pallbearers. A personal note from William Powell was placed with Jean in her coffin. The Blues singer Leadbelly eulogised Jean in his song Jean Harlow. The inscription on Jean’s crypt in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, simply reads ” Our Baby”.
I feel sorry for Jean because she was robbed of life at such a young age. As a film fan I also feel sad that we never got more performances from her. Decades after her death, Jean Harlow is still one of the most famous, iconic, fascinating, and beloved actresses of all time. Her performances come across as very modern when they are viewed today.
I mourn for the performances we could have had from Jean, while cherishing the ones she left us with. Jean is still making audiences laugh and cheer in 2019. I like to think that she would be touched to know she has not been forgotten.
Thanks Jean for all the joy you have given to this classic film fan.
I have just seen that it is the second anniversary of my blog. It feels like only yesterday that I started this blog as a place to write down my thoughts on classic films. I never expected any followers if I am honest, but somehow you all found me.
I am so happy (and more than a little surprised)that so many of you have stuck with me over the last two years. Words cannot express how grateful I am to everyone who reads and comments on my posts. Your support and encouragement means a great deal to me. THANK YOU! x
To mark the two year anniversary, here are some screenshots of some of my favourite couples in classic romance films. Screenshots by me.
In the last two years I have connected with some amazing classic film fans. I am so happy to have found you all. I now also no longer feel like an oddity being a young person with a great love of classic era films. Through the blog I have found many fellow classic film fans who are in my age group or younger. I also feel that my confidence as a writer has grown a great deal over the last two years.
Thanks for taking part in my classic film blogathons as I try and celebrate the actors and directors of the classic era, without your fine articles and reviews these blogathons would be meaningless. I hope you all have as much fun taking part in the blogathons as I do reading all your posts for them.
Without your support this blog would just be a collection of my thoughts on films. I love how your comments can generate some good discussions about the film or actor in question, and I love reading your thoughts and views on the films that I write about.
You’re all invited to join me in a big slice of chocolate cake to celebrate this anniversary. 🙂
Thanks for sticking with this classic film obsessed gal. Maddy x
For the fifth year running, Lea at Silent-ology is hosting her annual blogathon dedicated to our beloved stone-faced comedian, Buster Keaton. 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 Sherlock Jr, which is one of Buster Keaton’s greatest film achievements, as both an actor, and also as a film director. The film only lasts for 45 minutes, and yet it somehow manages to be more stunning, more inventive, and much more memorable than many other films which last hours longer than this one does.
Sherlock Jr is a film that shows just what can be achieved on screen by those who make films. It contains sequences and camera tricks that had audiences and fellow filmmakers of the time eager to know how those things were achieved. Watching this film in 2019 has me feeling the exact same way. I like to think that Buster would be proud to know that his stunts, camera tricks, and comedy are still wowing audiences all these decades later.
A memorable moment where Sherlock Jr opens a safe and it opens into a street. Screenshot by me.
This film contains some of Buster’s funniest moments on screen. I especially love the banana gag, which sees Buster setting a banana gag up to make the projectionist’s rival slip, but then Buster falls victim to it himself instead. This slipping gag never fails to make me giggle, and I really love how the gag plays with our expectations about who will slip. I also love the scene where our hero crashes through a window, slides along a table on his back, and kicks the guy sitting at the end of the table straight out the other side of the wooden building. 🙂 The looking for a dollar sequence is hilarious too.
There’s also a wide range of very impressive stunts in this film. The sequence where he is on his runaway motorbike is a real highlight. I also love the scene in the sinking car. Another sequence,where Buster is hit by a large amount of water on the train tracks, resulted in Buster falling and unknowingly fracturing his neck. He didn’t find out about the injury until many years later when he was examined by a doctor who then discovered the injury.
Buster and his runaway motorbike narrowly avoid a train. Screenshots by me.
The film also features some truly amazing camera trickery and shots. There are several stunts/camera tricks in this that are so remarkable and flawlessly put together, that I am still scratching my head trying to figure out exactly how they were so seamlessly achieved and put together on film.
There is one trick in particular in this that had me rewinding the DVD several times when I first saw it trying to work out how it was even possible. The scene I’m referring to is the one where Buster leaps into a suitcase held by another person and disappears. This shot was achieved by using an old vaudeville trick which Buster’s dad, Joe Keaton, had apparently invented during his days on stage. There was a trap door behind the suitcase and the actor holding the case lay horizontally with some long clothes hiding the fact that there is no body there. It is such an amazing trick and the scene never fails to have me open mouthed and pointing at the TV trying to figure out how such a thing is even possible.
The film first began life in 1923, under the working title of The Misfit. The title was later changed to Sherlock Jr, and the film was released in April of 1924. Buster had initially hired his close friend Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle to help him co- direct the film. Roscoe had been Buster’s friend and co-star for many years, and the pair had made a number of short films together.
Roscoe had been falsely accused of the rape and manslaughter of the actress Virginia Rappe in 1921. After three trials Roscoe was exonerated of the crime, but sadly by that time he had become something of a broken man. Buster stood by his friend throughout the scandal and trials, and he also tried to offer him work on his films. Apparently Roscoe was very difficult on the set of Sherlock Jr, which then led Buster to completely take over directing duties. It is unclear which footage(if any)in the film is the work of Roscoe Arbuckle. Roscoe would finally get to direct some films again under the name of William Goodrich, he died in 1933.
Upon its release Sherlock Jr would unfortunately become one of the least popular films that Buster had made so far. The film also did very poorly at the box office. It may not have been widely appreciated and loved at the time it was released, but in recent decades it has become one of the most beloved and admired of any of Buster’s films.
I think the film works as well as it does not only because of the stunt work and visuals, but also because it is at heart a film about an unlucky, ordinary guy, who we in the audience just want to be happy.
Buster’s performance in this film is also a huge part of its charm in my opinion. Buster’s performance in this is one that I love a great deal. Buster makes his character a really sweet, shy and down on his luck guy; we root for him, we like him, and we feel sorry for him as he suffers injustice and heartbreak. When Buster becomes the detective later in the film his performance changes. I really like how Buster becomes a suave man of confidence when he is in the film within the film.
Buster Keaton plays a gentle and shy cinema projectionist/cinema cleaner. He is in love with a girl(Kathryn McGuire)who is from a well off family. He also yearns to be a professional detective. The projectionist has a serious rival (Ward Crane)for the heart of his one true love.
The rival steals the watch of the girl’s father(played by Buster’s dad, Joe Keaton) pawns it at a local shop, and then plants evidence on our poor hero to make out that he is the thief. The father banishes our hero, but the girl doesn’t believe his guilt and she sets out to prove his innocence.
The leaving the body scene. Screenshot by me.
One night, while running a mystery film at the cinema, our hero falls asleep. We next see his soul come out of his body (a remarkable sequence achieved by using double exposure) and walk off into the big screen to become a part of the film. In his dreams our hero now transforms into the confident and famous detective Sherlock Jr. The actors playing the girlfriend and the rival replace the actors of the film our hero has entered.
What I love about the dream/film within a film scene is how random and mixed up it all, just as dreams are while we are experiencing them. Once Buster’s film dream gets underway we then have a series of stunts and sight gags to enjoy. Buster somehow controls a runaway motorbike by sitting on the handlebars and driving through heavy traffic. Buster jumps through things, off of things, and into things. Buster also narrowly avoids getting hit by a train in a scene that was apparently shot in reverse, but which doesn’t look like it to me. The film is non-stop action once Buster enters the film within the film.
I also love that the happy ending of the film basically shows us the projectionist gaining tips from the movies on how to be romantic. The ending also shows us that some things can’t be learnt from films, instead they must be discovered for ourselves off screen in reality. The projectionist has adventures and happiness of his own waiting just around the corner in reality.
The film is so much fun. I do wish that it had been a bit longer though. I also wanted some more scenes at the beginning between the projectionist and his girlfriend. What is present in the film is very good though.
This is a film which lets us all just sit back and marvel at what we are watching. In my opinion this film stands as a tribute to film making. It also stands as a tribute to the magic of the cinema, and to the timeless appeal of Buster Keaton. I highly recommend this film to anyone who hasn’t seen it.
Gill over at Realweegiemidgetreviews is hosting this blogathon celebrating Angela Lansbury. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
I’m a huge fan of Angela Lansbury. I’m delighted that Gill is holding this blogathon in honour of this classic film legend. Angela is an actress who I love a great deal. She was a big part of my childhood when I was growing up. I enjoyed watching reruns of Murder She Wrote, and I absolutely adored Beauty And The Beast, in which Angela provides the voice of the enchanted teapot.
This blogathon has given me the encouragement to finally get round to reviewingmy favourite film starring Angela Lansbury. That film is the Disney classic Bedknobs And Broomsticks.
The film is based upon two children’s novels, The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires And Broomsticks, which were both written by Mary Norton(most famous for writing The Borrowers books).
The film was directed by Robert Stevenson, who had directed Mary Poppins just a few years earlier.
The film features songs written by the legendary Sherman Brothers, Richard and Robert. The stunning visual work and effects seen in the film were rewarded with an Oscar. I especially love the special effects in the grand finale, where suits of armour, ancient military outfits etc are brought to life by magic. The mix of live action and beautiful Disney animation is also terrific.
The film was cut quite a bit upon release, with several songs and scenes cut or trimmed down significantly. These scenes can now be seen on the Blu-ray. I was delighted when I finally got to see these scenes. One scene featuring Mr Browne and Charlie going to the post office should be put back into the film in my opinion, although the actors voices were all re-dubbed in the scene which is a shame because you can tell the difference in voices.
I was absolutely obsessed with this film when I was growing up. I about wore the tape out due to the amount of times I watched it. It’s such a fun film and I have never lost my love for it as I’ve grown up. I love the film for many reasons, chief among them being its message that anyone can be a hero. In this film it is those you least expect it to be who become the heroes.
In this film the weak and awkward find strength and courage, and these people become heroes and leaders. I also love the film because of how quirky Angela’s character Miss Price is. I love how she does her own thing. I also love how she never gives up, even when things are difficult and not going her way. This was the performance of Angela’s that really made me a fan, I just love the way she plays Miss Price.
I also love the mix of live action and animation in the film. I love the songs and always sing along with them when I watch the film. I also love how the lonely find love and companionship in this film, I love the characters, and most of all I love the performances of Angela Lansbury and the lovely David Tomlinson.
It is the lovely relationship which develops between Angela and David’s characters that has become the highlight of the film for me as I’ve grown older.
Here are two lonely people. Miss Price is serious and bookish, whereas Mr Browne is goofy and far more laid back. They don’t hit it off right away, but when they do they certainly make a lovely pair. Angela and David have such a lovely and natural chemistry in this. I really wish that the pair of them had worked together again.
The film is set in Britain during WW2. Chaos and destruction abounds in the cities due to the horrors of The Blitz. Three young siblings, Carrie(Cindy O’Callaghan) Charlie(Ian Weighill), and Paul(Roy Snart), are evacuated to a quiet village on the English coast.
They are sent to live with Miss Eglantine Price(Angela Lansbury), a quirky woman whose only companion is her cat, Cosmic Creepers(best pet name ever!)and who isn’t best pleased to have the children dumped with her.
Miss Price has even more reason not to want three strangers in her house, she is actually an apprentice witch and is very worried that the children will discover her secret. The children do discover that she is a witch and this discovery leads to lots of adventures, fun, and many unexpected developments.
Teaming up with the failed magician Professor Emelius Browne(David Tomlinson), Miss Price and the children search for a mysterious book which contains ancient spells, one of which Miss Price desperately wants to learn so she can use it to try and help defeat the Nazis if they try and invade England.
Throw in some dastardly Nazis, toe tapping songs, spectacular combinations of live action and animation, and a slowly developing relationship between Miss Price and Mr Browne, and you have yourself a very enjoyable film indeed. I also love how our main characters slowly start to become a surrogate family and don’t want to be parted.
Although Angela and David are the undoubted stars of this film, the three children are all superb too.
Ian, Carrie and Roy deliver exceptional child performances. Roy is as innocent and fun loving as his character is. Carrie does well as the girl who has had to grow up before her time and become a mother figure to her brothers. Ian is the best of the lot as the angry and cynical Charlie.
The film also features small appearances by Roddy McDowall (as the local priest who gets a shock when he visits Miss Price’s home), Sam Jaffe as the bookman, and a very young Bruce Forsyth(long before his “Brucie Bonus” days) as the heavy who works for the bookman.
I have to mention my favourite song and set piece in the whole film now. The Portobello Road sequence is absolutely fabulous. Not only is the song terrific, but I love the picture of London that it offers to us. We see that the London community isn’t solely comprised of white Londoners. We see Black, Sikh, Indian and Scottish people in the Portobello market place too.
Some of the Portobello Road sequence. Screenshots by me.
I especially love the moment where the Caribbean group start singing and dancing and really liven the place up. It’s such a fun sequence and just shows ordinary people just trying the make the best of what they have. I always get a right laugh when a man grabs Miss Price and makes her start dancing, when all she really wants to do is sit reading through the books for sale in the market! 🙂
This a film I highly recommend showing to your little ones. It’s funny, it’s uplifting, it’s got lots of action and adventure, and I’m sure they’ll get a kick out of the mix of live action and animation too. I hope your children will enjoy this one as much as I did, and still do for that matter. I also highly recommend this for anyone out there who hasn’t seen an Angela Lansbury film before, she’s so funny in this film and does wonders with the character.
This will always be my favourite film of Angela’s. Never seen this one? What are you waiting for? Any other fans of this one?
I never met Albert Finney. I never corresponded with him either. Yet he is someone who I have always felt connected to, and he is someone I respect a great deal, despite not actually knowing him. I think part of that is because although he was someone who became rich and famous, he never once gave himself airs when he hit the big time. He always came across as down to earth and natural in interviews. He was simply a working class lad who made good and never forgot where he came from. I like that.
Albert Finney was one of the best actors of all time. His films have been a big part of my life as I have grown up over the past thirty years. I developed the biggest crush on him in Two For The Road and Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. I adore him in Erin Brockovich and Annie.
I cheer at how badass he is in Miller’s Crossing.I cheered loudly the first time I saw him appear in Skyfall, as the shotgun toting gamekeeper and friend of Bond’s. I feel great pity and affection for him in A Man Of No Importance and the remake of The Browning Version.
He was one of those actors who convinced in whatever role they took. He was always good at playing tough guys. He had a don’t mess with me attitude about him always. He always delivered an excellent performance.
He has been a favourite of mine for years. I first saw him in Erin Brockovich, and I instantly became a fan and wanted to check out more of his work. I have been a fan ever since. My heart is broken right now. Sending sympathies to his family and friends.
Farewell, Albert. R.I.P. Thank you for so many wonderful film performances.
Here are some films and series of his that you should watch. Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, Miller’s Crossing, The Dresser, Two For The Road, The Green Man(TV), The Gathering Storm(TV), A Man Of No Importance, Erin Brockovich, Scrooge, Gumshoe, Under The Volcano, The Playboys, Shoot The Moon, Loophole, The Browning Version, Murder On The Orient Express.
The big day is finally here! Over the next two days a large number of truly wonderful bloggers will be writing about all things Alfred Hitchcock. I want to welcome back those of you who’ve joined me before, and offer a warm welcome to the new bloggers joining us.
Please join me for a buffet laid out on top of Mount Rushmore. Beware of low flying crop dusters and flocks of birds that you may see approaching us. Bernard Herrmann will be providing a suitable score for our Hitchcock themed event.
Day 2 Entries
Silver Screen Classics takes a look at the dark love story Vertigo
This is my entry for my Alfred Hitchcock blogathon being held in a few days. Instead of reviewing one of Hitch’s films this year, I have decided instead to write about my favourite couples in his films.
When we think of the films of Alfred Hitchcock our minds usually spring to images of suspense and danger. I do think of those things, but I also think of the many unforgettable romantic couples in his films.
Who can forget John and Francie in To Catch A Thief, Lisa and Jeff in Rear Window, Maxim and his second wife in Rebecca, or Gilbert and Iris in The Lady Vanishes? I love so many of the couples seen in his films. Four couples in particular have become great favourites of mine. It is those four couples that I want to talk about.
First up are Mitch and Melanie in The Birds. These two are my absolute favourite couple out of all of Hitch’s films. I just can’t get enough of them.
I love them so much because their relationship is both playful and sexy. The sexual tension between them is evident in so many of their scenes. You can tell how much they love one another simply by the way they look at one another.
Mitch and Melanie’s relationship starts off quite badly because they annoy and frustrate one another. As time goes on neither one can deny that they are falling for the other.
The way that Mitch(Rod Taylor)looks at Melanie(Tippi Hedren)melts my heart. He looks at her with such warmth, affection and desire. You can see the spark passing between them as they look into each others eyes. I always long for their scenes to appear when I’m watching the film. Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren have such amazing chemistry.
The restaurant scene. Screenshots by me.
I especially love the scene between them in the restaurant, after Melanie has been attacked by the gull and Mitch takes her there to clean her head wound. I really love their flirting in that scene, I also love how we can see in the way they look at one another that they are developing feelings for each other. I always get annoyed when Lydia enters the restaurant and puts an end to that particular moment! LOL. 😦
Next up are Alicia(Ingrid Bergman) and Devlin(Cary Grant) in Notorious. These two love each other very much, but their path to everlasting happiness does not run smooth. Their relationship is such a complicated one. If ever a couple needed their heads banging together it’s these two. Watching Alicia and Devlin sure does make for fun viewing though.
These two also don’t get off to the best start. Very soon though sexual tension and sparks are flying between them. They are mutually passionate and drawn to one another. They give into their feelings, and for a time they are both very happy. Then Alicia is set to work as a spy, and their mutual happiness and affection quickly dissolves into a mess of jealousy and cynicism riddled banter.
Devlin becomes jealous and petty. He puts up a tough and cynical facade, pretending not to care about Alicia, when the reality is he still loves her desperately and is worried about her safety. Alicia can’t change the type of person she is and her devil may care attitude worries Devlin. She loves him as much as he loves her, but neither can actually express their feelings and forgive past arguments until Alicia becomes endangered by her spy work.
Cary and Ingrid are terrific together in this. Both actors make you feel the tensions and tenderness present in this relationship. I love how Devlin and Alicia both struggle against the emotional and sexual desires being stirred up between them. I love how happy and adorable they are when they give in and start their relationship. I love the banter and verbal sparring they exchange. I never get tired of watching this couple and wishing them every happiness.
Finally we get to Vertigo. The two relationships in this are sadly not happy ones, but they are fascinating to me. Scottie (James Stewart)has two women who love him. The first is Madeleine/Judy(Kim Novak), and the other one is Midge(Barbara Bel Geddes). I wrote a piece last year about Vertigo and discussed these relationships and the overall tragedy of the film in detail. You can read that here.
Scottie and Madeleine/Judy’s relationship is both moving and disturbing. The relationship starts off based upon lies and deception, and it is rekindled by grief and obsession. What makes this relationship a favourite of mine is that it is so tragic. These two genuinely love each other and don’t want to hurt one another.
Fate sadly conspires against this couple and makes their love painful and difficult. It breaks my heart how much Madeleine/Judy doesn’t want to hurt Scotty and feels guilt about what happened. It breaks my heart even more how much Scotty loves her, seeing him so broken apart by grief and obsession by the death and deception punches me in the gut every time I watch.
Then we move on to the slightly (not by much)happier relationship. Scotty and Midge are the best of friends, she adores him, he adores her and can just be himself around her. She helps him with his vertigo and breakdown. She has seen him at his lowest and most vulnerable, seeing him this low only makes her love him even more than she did before. Midge is kind, funny and can read Scottie like a book. She is the woman for him.
My heart breaks for Midge throughout this film, as it’s very clear to us, and certainly to her, that she and Scottie should be together romantically. She never leaves him though and never gives up hope that he will find his way home to her. We too can hold out hope that he slowly forgets Madeleine/Judy and goes to Midge. In the (rather unnecessary in my opinion) alternate ending to the film we do see Scottie go back with Midge. I like to imagine that they get together and both find some happiness with each other.
James Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes are all excellent as these tragic lovers. Each actor really makes you feel for their character and their plight. I find it hard to imagine any other actors in these roles as they all play their parts perfectly.
What are your thoughts on these couples? Who are your favourite Hitchcock couples?
I’m writing about Footsteps In the Fog. This is quite an underrated film and contains one of my favourite Jean Simmons performances. This is the film that actually ended up making me a fan of Jean Simmons. I love the film very much. I hope that this post will encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it yet to check it out.
The film is based upon the short story The Interruption by William Wymark Jacobs, which was published in 1925. The story focuses on a cook, who blackmails her master after she discovers that he has killed his wife.
The film was directed by Arthur Lubin(best known as an Abbott and Costello director and as director of the Francis The Talking Mule films).
The film initially had a screenplay by Arthur Pierson, which was then rewritten by Lenore Coffee (a noted screenwriter who was twice nominated for an Academy Award) and Dorothy Reid(screenwriter,director and actress. Dorothy had also been the wife of the actor Wallace Reid, who had died in 1923 after becoming addicted to the morphine prescribed to him when he was injured in a train accident).
The final film script stays quite close to Jacobs story. New storylines added for the film include a second murder, the romantic element between Lily and Stephen, a second love triangle which involves Stephen, Elizabeth and David, and much more emphasis on Lily’s character. Originally titled Deadlock and then later on Rebound, the film would finally receive the title of Footsteps In The Fog.
Footsteps In the Fog is an absolutely fascinating film for so many different reasons. For starters it was one of the last of the Gothic drama films to be made, and it was released at at time when these sorts of films were no longer really in fashion.
It is also notable for having been filmed in Technicolor, rather than Black and White, as was usually the case with films of this genre.I personally think that Black and White photography works best for Gothic films. I think that Black and White photography heightens the atmosphere,and that it somehow makes you feel the eerie and oppressive atmosphere present in so many of these Gothic films. I have to say though that the colour photography works very well for this film. I for one love being able to actually see the colours of the period furnishings and clothes featured in the film.
The film is also notable and unusual due to the behaviour of Lily, who is played superbly by Jean Simmons.
In other Gothic films the female characters are often the ones in peril and become victims, or they become emotionally manipulated and tricked by men.
In this film the female lead is no victim. It is actually Lily who manipulates and controls her situation. Lily is a very strong and determined character, and she also seems to get a weird thrill in staying with the man who wants her dead.
The film is also interesting because of the complicated characters played by Jean and Stewart Granger. Stephen and Lily are both extremely complex and intriguing people. Both characters have two very different sides to their respective personalities, and both do some very surprising things as the film goes on. Many scenes between Stephen and Lily are quite sexually charged, the pair hate each other with a passion, but they also greatly desire one another too. Lily in particular seems to thrive on this twisted relationship, as well as on the risk that comes along with it.
We see that Stephen is a cold and callous killer, and yet he also has our pity at certain moments of the film. Stephen can also be tender,warm,devoted and he is capable of great remorse. Our impressions and opinions of this man change several times throughout the film.
At the start of the film we see that Lily is a shy, innocent, vulnerable and bullied young woman. Lily dreams of becoming more than just a maid and kitchen assistant.
When Lily discovers Stephen’s dark secret she chooses not to run to the Police and report it, but instead to use that secret to her advantage. Lily blackmails Stephen and in return for her silence gets something she wants from him.
As the film goes on Lily becomes strong and dominant, she gains a position of authority, and she also gains power over Stephen. Lily is a tragic figure though because she starts to develop genuine romantic feelings for this killer. Jean does such a good job of conveying Lily’s changing emotional state and her feelings and desires.
The film is set in Edwardian London. The story focuses on Lily(Jean Simmons)a young maid and kitchen assistant working in the home of Stephen Lowry(Stewart Granger).
Stephen’s wife tragically dies from Gastroenteritis, or at least that’s what the doctor believed when he gave a cause of death.
Lily however knows that her mistress didn’t die of natural causes.Mrs. Lowry was actually poisoned by her husband. Lily saw Stephen do the deed and hide the bottle of poison he used. Lily goes to Stephen and tells him that she knows what he did.
In return for her silence, Lily tells Stephen to make her housekeeper and to allow her to keep Mrs Lowry’s jewels. Stephen agrees to her demands, but starts to form a plan of his own to kill Lily.
Lily meanwhile is actually starting to fall in love with Stephen, in some scenes it seems to us as though he may be starting to care for her too, but the reality is that he wants her dead so that he can pursue Elizabeth(Belinda Lee)the daughter of his friend. Stephen’s plans to kill Lily go terribly wrong during a suspenseful sequence set outside in the thick, creeping fog that is drifting through the London streets. I’m afraid that I can’t say any more about the plot without spoiling the twists and turns that the plot takes from this scene on.
Jean and Stewart both deliver terrific performances and have a good chemistry. Their shared scenes are exciting and suspenseful. I like how some moments between them are played quite tenderly as the characters begin to develop some genuine affection for one another at times.
Left to right: Belinda Lee and Bill Travers as Elizabeth and David. Belinda Lee as Eizabeth and Stewart Granger as Stephen.
Both Jean and Stewart are lent solid support by Marjorie Rhodes as the bullying cook. William Hartnell as Lily’s brother in-law. Bill Travers as the solicitor, David, who is also in love with Elizabeth. Belinda Lee(an up and coming British actress, who would tragically be killed in a car crash in 1961, aged just 25 years old)as the beautiful and gentle Elizabeth who is the real object of Stephen’s affections.
The costumes and sets are all beautiful, the cinematography is stunning, and the atmosphere and tone of the film are suitably dark.
In a decade when Gothic drama wasn’t really the sort of film drawing in the big crowds, Footsteps In The Fog may well have seemed like something of an odd film to release. This film proved that such films had lost none of their power to shock and grip audiences.
I think this film is one of the best films in the entire Gothic film genre. It is atmospheric and very suspenseful. The sequence at night in the fog is very hard to forget because it is done so well, it makes you feel as though you are right there with Stephen on those dark, fog filled streets. The film brings to my mind the likes of The Man In The Attic, The Spiral Staircase, The Lodger and Gaslight(1940).
I highly recommend this film to any fan of Jean Simmons, Stewart Granger and Gothic films. Have you seen this film? What did you think of the film and Jean’s performance?
The big day has finally arrived! Over the next three days, a large number of truly wonderful bloggers will be writing about Barbara and her films. I will be your hostess today. Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood will be your hostess on Monday and Tuesday.
We are so looking forward to reading all of the entries. Thank you for joining us to celebrate this remarkable actress.
I will update this page as often as I can today as the entries come in.