Blogathons

The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon: Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)

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This is my third and final entry for my Hitchcock Blogathon. This time I’m writing about the film that Hitch called his personal favourite from amongst his own films.  It’s really not hard to see why he loved this one so much.

Long before David Lynch showed us that small towns hid secrets, and that all was not well behind closed doors; Hitch gave us all of that in just one film. That film is Shadow Of A Doubt, and it is a nightmare depiction of discovering someone you love is not who you thought them to be. This film also shows innocence being lost, and horror and disruption landing in a small American town.

There is also some terrific Hitchcock black humour to be found in this film. Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn play two best friends who meet regularly to discuss (in minute detail) ways in which they could kill one another and not get detected. These bizarre conversations appear throughout the film, at one point even carrying on at the dinner table!

The film is set (and filmed out on location)in Santa Rosa, California. We are shown the positive sides of small town life in this film. You (usually)get good and supportive neighbours, have a strong sense of community, and you feel that your town is the safest place you could be.

Hitch also shows us that living in a place like this shelters the inhabitants from the violence etc that you will be (unfortunately)almost certain to encounter in the big city. The trouble with being sheltered from it is that you never believe anything bad will ever happen to you, or to those living in your community.

This film sees the eyes of the small town community being opened to evil. This evil comes in the form of Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten).  Known to all as Charlie, he is a smooth talking, charming and elegant man. He is also a serial killer, who targets wealthy widows and is dubbed by the Police and media as ‘The Merry Widow Killer’. Charlie’s identity is as yet unknown, but the Police have gathered many leads and are beginning to suspect him.

Charlie gets on a train and travels to Santa Rosa. He goes to stay with his beloved elder sister, Emma (Patricia Collinge), and her husband Joseph ( Henry Travers). Charlie is happy to see them, and they are happy to see him. Charlie is overjoyed to be reunited with his teenage nice (and namesake)Charlie (Teresa Wright). These two have a fascinating relationship. They have an almost telepathic bond with each other and can read each other like a book. Young Charlie looks up to her uncle and sees him as a breath of fresh air in her life.

When Detective Jack Graham (MacDonald Carey) speaks to young Charlie about her uncle, she soon begins to suspect that her Uncle may well be hiding a dark secret. As she begins to investigate him he become suspicious and soon their relationship becomes one of cat and mouse.

When I first saw this film I was in my mid teens, and I picked up then a strong hint of something that almost seems like sexual tension to me between the two Charlie’s. The more I’ve watched this as I’ve grown older, I can still detect this weird tension between them. The way young Charlie behaves around Uncle Charlie, it is almost like she has a strong crush on him. 

There are also several scenes where they seem to act out things like a couple who’ve had a spat would (such as her acting weird around him, or running off and him chasing her and taking her to the bar.) Am I alone in noticing this tension? I find it hard to believe that something like this would be in this by accident. Everything Hitch included (even the smallest things)were included intentionally.

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Joseph Cotten is excellent here as a man with a very dark secret indeed, who presents a likeable front to the world.  This role showed what a good dramatic actor Cotten could be, it’s a shame he never again got a role quite like this. His famous speech about pulling back the fronts of houses to find swine is unforgettable. That speech (although chilling)is correct because behind closed doors many unpleasant things go on all the time that we are never privy too. In most cases neighbours, friends, family etc wouldn’t believe or accept those things as true if they were told, as the people involved come across as nice when they are out and about in public.

The film also focuses on the dual nature of Charlie and on why he is the way he is. It is revealed later that after a childhood head injury his personality changed. That to me suggests that his actions as an adult are down to his personality change caused by this injury. In regards to this I think Hitch was quite ahead of his time looking at psychology and other issues causing someone to do something unpleasant. He goes through life with two faces and personalities and switches between them as when it becomes neccesary.

Duality as a theme continues in the film with the nature of Charlie and young Charlie. She represents the innocence and joy he had as a child. He represents the reality of adulthood, innocence dies, and with pressures and responsibilities there is less joy to be had when you are grown, than when you are younger. Their characters are also almost like twins, and although they are separate they have this connection and outlook that makes them almost like one person.

Teresa Wright is excellent as the young woman who loses her innocence and sheltered nature quicker than she should have done. She captures the horror and disbelief of discovering an unpleasant truth about someone you love. Teresa is a very expressive actress, and in many scenes in this she doesn’t need dialogue as everything we need to know can be seen in her face.

Patricia Collinge is very moving as the devoted elder sister to Uncle Charlie. Emma clearly adores him and worships the ground he walks on, almost to the point of self delusion. You almost don’t want him to get caught for her sake. You know she would break when told the horrific truth.

An excellent film that is one of Hitch’s best in my opinion. It is also a good one to watch if you are after strong performances.

My favourite scenes are the following. The finale on the train. Uncle Charlie chasing Charlie into town and taking her to the bar. Young Charlie trying to get in the Library at closing time.

What are your thoughts on this film? Please share your comments below.

 

Blogathons

The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon: Marnie (1964)

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This is my second entry for my Hitchcock blogathon. This time I’m writing about Marnie. This is one of Hitch’s later films, and it is one which I think really deserves to be better known and appreciated by audiences today.

This one hasn’t been as well received by audiences as the vast majority of Hitch’s other films were. I think that was because this isn’t really your typical Hitchcock film. Marnie explores problems of the mind, and it’s far from the usual suspense/thriller films audiences had come to expect. 

This is the second and final Hitchcock film to star Tippi Hedren. She was excellent in The Birds, but I really think she outdoes herself in Marnie. Tippi lets us see that this woman is truly messed up (both emotionally and psychologically)she really makes you feel and believe that Marnie has some major issues in her life that have left her emotionally scarred. In the scenes where Marnie is scared of something, Tippi looks truly petrified and traumatised.

This is an interesting film as most of the suspense lies in unlocking the secrets hidden within Marnie herself. There are some other suspenseful moments (such as the shoe dropping on the floor etc)but it is mainly Marnie’s psychological issues which keep us on the edge of our seats throughout.

This film has become famous for the scene where it is strongly implied that Mark rapes Marnie on their wedding night onboard the passenger ship. This sequence caused friction between Hitch and the original scriptwriter Evan Hunter . When Hunter left the project, the script was written again, and this time around by a woman! Jay Presson Allen, who had no trouble in writing that scene, or in writing it the way Hitch wanted it to be.

The sequence as it stands is shocking, but we don’t actually see the act of rape take place, so to be fair we don’t actually know for sure if that is what happens to her as we don’t see anything. The way it’s cut together though does strongly suggest that was what took place. I’ll come back to this sequence later.

Margaret “Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren)is a compulsive thief who is on the run after robbing her employer of $10,000. Getting another job as a secretary at Rutland’s Publishing Company, Marnie attracts the attention of its widower owner Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). Unbeknown to Marnie, Mark saw her at the previous company she just robbed and keeps a close eye on her.

Marnie robs Mark’s firm. This time though she is caught by him. Mark blackmails her into marrying him in return for his silence. Marnie agrees and Mark tries to unlock the many mysteries that surround this woman.

Marnie hates being touched, is repulsed by the idea of sex, has panic attacks when she sees the colour red, and freaks out during thunderstorms. Mark slowly begins to uncover the horrific events in Marnie’s past that have caused her to become the woman she is now.

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Sean plays a pretty unique character for a Hitchcock film, in that he appears to be pretty much unlikable. At first glance there is an air about him that makes it appear that he is studying Marnie, and at times it looks like he gets a kick out of forcing her to work on her issues. Marnie herself says to him “I’m just something you’ve caught!”

Having said that though, I’ve often wondered if he appears like that to us because we see him from Marnie’s point of view? Her perception of him may well be warped by her issues and how she is so wary of men and sees them all as things to be avoided and not trusted. Going back and viewing the film with that possibility in mind makes it more interesting I think.

It even makes you go back and think again about that suggested rape sequence, should that sequence actually be taken at face value? Was Mark actually doing nothing more than being a husband making love to his new wife, but due to how damaged she is, to her the act of making love seemed like rape to her? It also makes you think if he was a genuinely horrible person, why is he even trying to help Marnie at all with her issues? If he was so bad why would he care about her at all? Towards the end we see that he does care about her and she comes to trust him and values his help.

Mark also seems to care more for animals than he does people, and he talks about slowly gaining an animals trust. Throughout the film he uses the same techniques with Marnie, he is patient with her and allows her to come to him over time.

Tippi and Sean are both excellent.  There’s strong support from Diane Baker as Mark’s trouble making sister in law, Lil. She openly flirts with Mark, and it’s obvious she is jealous of Marnie when Mark brings her home.

Louise Latham plays Marnie’s mother. At first she is a typical Hitch mother, cold, distant, seemingly responsible for messing up her child etc. As the film goes on though we see her in a very different light. Louise is excellent particularly in the scenes when the truth about what happened to Marnie is revealed.  

Mariette Hartley plays Susan, a fellow secretary at Rutland’s who befriends Marnie. She is only in a few scenes but steals each one she is in. I love her amusement over her boss constantly forgetting the safe combination.

There’s also a small appearance by Bruce Dern, as a violent sailor who causes problems for Marnie and her mother.

Those watching this and expecting a typical Hitch film will be surprised. This film is quite unlike his others. I think the negative response to this one is a real shame, as the film is very good and has many memorable moments. The performances from the entire cast are also solid throughout.

My favourite scenes are the following. Marnie and Mark playing the word association game. Marnie dropping the shoe. Marnie freaking out over the red ink. Marnie and Lil meeting for the first time over tea. Mark telling Marnie he trained Sophie (a wild animal)to trust him. Marnie trying to get the gun off Mark. The final sequence when we learn all about what happened to Marnie.

What are your thoughts on this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

Blogathons

The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon: Sabotage (1936)

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This is my first entry for my Hitchcock blogathon which begins this Friday.

In this first post I’m writing about one of Hitchcock’s early British films. That film is his 1936 espionage thriller Sabotage.The film is based on the novel The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad.

Hitch always liked to ensure he kept his audiences squirming in their seats in suspense and fear. This film features a sequence aboard a bus that has us doing both of those things, and it also has us getting very angry at Hitch.

The infamous bus sequence of which I speak is rivalled only (for me) by the Statue of Liberty sequence in Saboteur, and by the shocking shower murder in Psycho. The Sabotage bus sequence is also note worthy for being very realistic, it is utterly shocking, horrific and brutal when viewed today; so I can only imagine how audiences in the thirties must have responded to witnessing this sequence upon the films original release.

The sequence of which I speak sees a boy board a bus in London. He is unknowingly carrying a bomb, which is hidden inside a package he has been asked to deliver. We know the time it will detonate. As the boy carries it around town, the clock is counting down to the time of detonation. It makes us feel angry at Hitch because there’s no happy end to that bus sequence and also because a child is killed and was powerless to escape their horrific end.

The film is set in London in the 1930’s. Many scenes take place in a family flat above a cinema. The family who live there are the Verloc’s, and they both own and run this popular cinema. The Verloc family consists of Karl Verloc(Oscar Homolka), his much younger wife (Sylvia Sidney)and her younger brother, Stevie (Desmond Tester).

Unbeknown to his wife, Karl is a member of a group of saboteurs. The group have already done several things to cause problems (such as shutting down the electricity to the city.) They now want to go a step further and create sheer terror, they want to set off a bomb in central London.

Scotland Yard’s investigations have led them to the Verloc’s cinema and they put an undercover officer to work in the shop next door to keep an eye on what’s going on. That officer is Ted Spencer (John Loder) and he befriends Mrs. Verloc and her brother. His feelings for them are genuine, but he tries to keep in mind that Mrs. Verloc could also be a part of the group too.

Karl has to collect a bomb and he is tasked with setting it off. The race is on to try and gather proof against him and to stop him before he does fatal damage.

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This is a very bleak and serious film and there is precious little Hitchcock humour to be found here. The subject matter of this film is even more relevant today, given the world we are currently living in. I think that our own experiences with these horrors make us realise that this film is sadly far from being just a frightening fiction. There are plenty of Verloc’s roaming around our communities today, and that is truly a chilling thought indeed.

Mr. Karl Verloc is one of Hitch’s coldest and nastiest villains. Homolka does a very good job in portraying this horrible man. Right from the start it’s pretty clear to us that he is a chap to steer clear of, there is no soul to be found within him. His personality did make me wonder why his wife stayed with for so long? There must have been something about him that made her want to be with him, or maybe she just couldn’t accept the unpleasant truth staring her in the face and denied his true nature to herself? As the film goes on Verloc becomes more and more loathsome. What happens to him in the end is more than justified I’d say. If ever anyone had that end coming to them it was certainly him.

This film also does a good job of capturing a loved ones inability to accept that a family member could be capable of murder or of a serious criminal act. Mrs. Verloc (who as it turns out is not involved with the saboteurs in any way) won’t accept the truth about her husband until his actions cause her to lose someone very dear to her.

Sidney is excellent as the woman who has her whole life destroyed. Her perceived image of her husband is shattered and her innocence comes to an end too. Your heart goes out to this woman and you pity her for the terrible situation she finds herself in.

My favourite scenes are the following. Mrs. Verloc struggling against her desire to pick up the knife and use it to hurt her husband. Mr. Verloc meeting a fellow saboteur at the London zoo aquarium. Stevie showing Ted behind the back of the cinema screen and the window into the flat where Ted can spy on the saboteurs meeting there. The bus explosion. Mrs. Verloc watching an animated film and laughing, her uncontrollable laughter soon turns to tears.

Good performances all round, a tense and shocking story and many memorable sequences help to make this one of Hitch’s best films. I like how many scenes in this could almost be from a Silent film; the famous sequence with the knife for example plays out with no dialogue, the power of it comes from Homolka and Sidney’s expressions in that moment. Hitch knew full well the power of actors faces in key moments, this film is very much an actors film and he uses them to full effect.

What are your thoughts on this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

Drama, Modern TV

Mad Men (2007-2015) Chronicling The Decade Of Change

Photo0137I love this series! It is a great favourite and it is a series that I never wanted to end when it was on. This series sucks you in and doesn’t let you go. I never wanted to be let go! This is one I will never get tired of watching again, again and again. It has so much to offer and is one of the best written and acted series in TV history.

This is one of the classiest looking series that has ever been made. Exquisite period detail,  beautiful costumes and sets manage to recreate a bygone era. You can practically smell the fresh flowers on the dining room and restaurant tables, taste the alcohol and smell the cigarette smoke.

It has well written and well developed characters whose lives we witness being changed and affected by the decade of change. We share these peoples good times and bad. We laugh and cry with them, are shocked and traumatised with them, and by the end feel like we know these people and have gone through their change with them.

For seven seasons this series let us witness the huge amount of change that America (and in many cases)that the world saw during the 1960’s.  The series starts in 1960, and ends in the early 70’s. We begin with men and women living a certain way, and doing certain things only because that’s what their parents did before them and it is expected that they follow in mum and dads footsteps. What the people growing up in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s wanted was irrelevant, they did what was expected by their elders and by society at large. 

As Mad Men goes on we see unhappy people stuck in jobs that grind them down, we see people wearing public masks to hide their mounting unhappiness with their lives, and when the 60’s arrive we see all this begin to change. We see racism thankfully start to become a thing of the past thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, and we see black people finally get to become equal to white people. We see the characters react to real life events unfolding on the news, such as the horrific assassinations that shocked the country (and indeed the world)of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. We see the changing fashions and music. We see peoples attitudes to sex and marriage change. We see the peace and hippie movement begin. We see women finally being equal to men and not being expected to be stuck in the kitchen or having babies.

I’ve always found it interesting to see how advertisers come up with the ideas for their various ad campaigns. This series lets us follow these characters and shows us how that creative process works, and it’s one of my favourite parts of the series watching the ideas unfold on screen.

I also like how in a way the series is itself one big advertisement for different ways of life. It presents to us the seemingly perfect and idyllic early 1960’s, where although there is racism, sexism and other unpleasantness, everything is the best it could be, from service in restaurants, to the quality of products, to peoples manners, to the care people took in their jobs and in maintaining their homes, and how everyone was supposedly happy and content. It also shows us the later part of the decade when the shackles came off and people started living for themselves, life wasn’t as restrictive, men and women (of all colours)were treated as equals and it seemed that anything was possible for a time.

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We see our characters begin to change and grow as individuals. Some start off as likeable and then become less so, for some the opposite is true. For most of the series Don always gave off the impression that advertising was his life, as the series went on he became less enthusiastic about it and started to care more about his personal life and in just living. Joan and Peggy both shatter the glass ceiling and rise through the ranks of their company, both these women also find happiness in being career women. Roger learns to take life slow and appreciate every moment, he also embraces the hippie/free love movement and gets what these kids are all about. Betty finally starts to follow her heart and focus on what she wants to do. Pete starts off as arrogant and quite unpleasant, and by the series end is one of the most likeable characters, he has grown, matured and changed his ways.

Mad Men was created by Matthew Weiner. The series title is a phrase that advertisers used to describe themselves during the 50’s. The series follows a group of Madison Avenue advertisers from the fictional firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is the Creative Director for the firm and one of the firms partners. He is a successful, handsome, smooth man who always makes you think he is control. He could sell ice to Eskimos and cigarettes to non smokers. His whole life is a façade though, as we later learn he is not who we think he is at all. He is a womaniser despite being married and having a perfect family. He sleeps with many women and cares about them all.

Don is married to the beautiful Betty (January Jones), Betty is a former model and looks like Grace Kelly. As the series goes on we see that Betty is a woman wearing a happy mask to the rest of the world, she is deeply unhappy and wants more than just being a mum and wife.

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is an ambitious woman desperate to prove herself equal to her male colleagues. Peggy first joins the company as Don’s secretary, but soon joins the creative team and later rises higher through the ranks. She and Don become very close friends and the deep bond between them isn’t really definable. At times you think they might get together romantically, at other times they are like brother and sister. I would call them soulmates. Scenes between them are my favourites from the whole series.

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)is a young account man who has lots of ambition and lots of resentment and rage bubbling up inside of him. As the series goes on I think he is the character who undergoes the most change and he becomes one of the most likeable characters from the whole series. Pete has a crush on Peggy which is complicated when he gets married.

Sal Romano(Bryan Batt)is the art director for the firm. Like Don, Sal is hiding a big secret. Sal is homosexual and cannot for one second afford to let that secret slip. This brings him much heartbreak and pain as the series goes on.

Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks)is the firms office manager and later becomes a partner. A former secretary, Joan knows how to keep the office running like clockwork, she has a knack for resolving disputes and unpleasantness. Joan is not a gal to get on the wrong side of. Joan is a very beautiful and sexy woman who is clever too, many men focus only her physical qualities and underestimate her mind (I assure you they regret that).

Roger Serling (John Slattery)is one of two senior partners of the firm. He is a witty man who has some of the funniest lines of the entire series. Roger is a WW2 Navy veteran who drinks and smokes to excess. He also cheats on his wife. Roger doesn’t just treat his women as one night stands though, he really does care for them and offers help and friendship even when they are no longer involved. He has been in a long term affair with Joan, and she is the woman he should be with, they just can’t seem to make that commitment.

Lane Pryce( Jared Harris, the son of Richard Harris) is possibly the most tragic character in the entire series. A Brit who becomes a partner at the firm when it’s taken over by the company he worked with. Lane comes to love his colleagues and warms to American life.

Lane develops a crush on Joan and he always tries to look after her. Living in America affords him the personal freedom he was denied in the UK. He has a controlling and cruel father (seen in a chilling guest appearance played by W. Morgan Sheppard)and is slowly breaking free of control to be his own man.  When he gets into debt in season 5, tragedy and heartbreak lie around the corner for him and for us.

Megan Draper (Jessica Pare)is a secretary who is an aspiring actress. Megan becomes Don’s second wife after he and Betty divorce. Megan is outgoing, stylish and a very modern woman. Megan loves Don but won’t be the stay at home wife that Betty was to him.

Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) is the head of the firms media and TV department. He was ahead of his colleagues in recognising how big TV was going to become. He starts off as a very likeable character, but by the end was one who I disliked very much.  He became full of himself and selfish.

Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton)is a likeable character throughout the entire series. Ken is a good guy and is respectful of people, he doesn’t really join in that much with the office banter and opinions of many of his male colleagues. Ken is an aspiring author and it’s later revealed that he has had some short stories published.

Stan Rizzo (J.R Ferguson) is the art director in the later part of the series. He is a very relaxed and fun loving guy. He is in love with Peggy.

Bert Cooper (Robert Morse)is the head of the firm. He is best friends with Roger and has a thing about people having to be in his office in bare feet. He is eccentric but takes a keen interest in the day to day running of his firm. When he makes rare appearances at meetings or shares feedback it is time to pay attention.

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Other characters include Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis)an opinionated liberal who can be both likeable and unlikeable.

Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka)is Don and Betty’s eldest child, she is forever at odds with her mum, but as the series goes on finds newfound respect for her.

Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley)is a political adviser who later marries Betty, he is a good man and loves her very much.

Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray)is a copywriter who is struggling against his alcoholism, as the series goes on he is fired from the company but has regular appearances throughout the series. Freddy is close friends with Peggy and Don.

Glen Bishop ( Martin Weiner, the son of the series creator) a seriously weird kid who has a major crush on Betty and Sally. He is quite freaky, but in season 7 he has changed to someone quite different.

Duck Phillips (Mark Moses)is a recovering alcoholic who clashes with Don, falls for Peggy and is not someone to be trusted.

Michael Ginsberg ( Ben Feldman)is a copywriter who struggles socially and is later shown to be suffering from severe psychotic problems, if you go back and watch the series you will pick up little hints in Feldman’s performance that show us all is not quite right with Ginsberg.

Photo0140I love the whole series, but my favourite seasons are 4,1,3 and 5. My favourite characters are Joan, Don, Roger, Peggy, Lane, Betty, Sal, Megan and Pete.

My favourite of Don’s women? Rachel Menken(Maggie Siff)they love each other so much and she is so lonely, such a shame how their time together ended. I also love Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton)she is really the only one who knew the real Don, and she accepted him completely.

My favourite moments? Roger’s LSD trip. Peggy comforting Don in The Suitcase. The famous carousel photo pitch delivered by Don. Betty and Don’s date night when in Rome for the Hilton hotel campaign. Joan’s speech about Vietnam to the man who was sexually harassing her in the office. Betty in her nightgown casually shooting at pigeons. Don and Joan’s conversation at the bar in the episode Christmas Waltz. Megan and Don’s argument at the Howard Johnson restaurant which leads to her running away. Betty and Don’s final phone call.

The following ten episodes are my favourites from the entire series.

The Suitcase. The Wheel. The Milk and Honey Route. The Grown-Ups. Hands and Knees. Christmas Waltz. At The Codfish Ball. Souvenir. Commissions and Fees. Far Away Places.

A series with so much to offer, featuring powerful performances and well developed characters. This also has a fantastic soundtrack comprising of classic 60’s songs and instrumentals. Never seen this before? Make a dinner reservation with Don Draper immediately.

Be sure to buy the Blu-ray boxset to see the series looking its best on screen. There are many interesting extras in that set to enjoy too.

I’d love to get your thoughts on this series and its characters. Please leave your comments below.

 

Blogathons

The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon Will Soon Be Here

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Just a reminder that we will be discussing all things Alfred Hitchcock next week. Beginning on Friday the 4th of August and continuing until the 6th. You can post your entry on any of those three days. I will be putting up a new Hitchcock Blogathon post on each of the three days. I can’t wait to read what everyone has written.

If you would like to join in with this there is still time. Click here to sign up and learn more about the Blogathon.

 

Fantasy, Romance

The Princess Bride (1987)

There are some films that you automatically grab from the DVD shelf when you’re sick, or when you are feeling sad and are in desperate need of something comforting to turn to. The Princess Bride is one such film for me. This film never fails to leave me with a smile on my face. In this film wrongs are made right, love conquers all and good triumphs over evil.

Rob Reiner directs this film which is based on the 1973 novel (which I’ve yet to read)by William Goldman. The film presents us with a fairytale filled with romance, action, adventure, courage, revenge, giants, pirates, fun and magic. It is also a very clever parody of the various genres contained within it. The film has you laughing at lines and scenes that are clearly sending up these sorts of stories. Children will love this for the story, adults will also love it for that, but can pick up the parody side of the film and find even more to laugh at.The film also brings to mind the swashbuckling films of the 30’s and 40’s.  This and Stand By Me are my favourite films from Rob Reiner.

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The film begins in the bedroom of a young boy (Fred Savage)who is sick in bed. His granddad (Peter Falk)comes over to read him a story. That story is The Princess Bride. The first few lines make the boy think this is a romance story, and he is far from interested in it. As the story continues he starts to enjoy it and he (and us too)are soon completely hooked by the story. We see the story he is being read unfold before us on screen.

The Princess Bride tells the story of the beautiful Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright in her film debut). Buttercup has been chosen to marry the handsome, vain and cold Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), but she does not love him. Years ago, Buttercup was in love with the gentle farmboy, Westley (Cary Elwes)who has long been believed to be dead after a ship he was on was attacked at sea.

When Westley returns to her (now in the guise of  a mysterious man dressed all in black)their love cannot be denied. When Buttercup is kidnapped by Vizzini( Wallace Shawn)an intelligent, criminal mastermind who is desperate to start a war with Prince Humperdinck, Westley sets out to rescue her. Vizzini is helped in his kidnap plot by gentle giant, Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and the athletic, and super skilled swordsman, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). Inigo is also searching for a six fingered man who murdered his father. Inigo has perfected his sword skills, not for fame or for glory, but so he can be good enough to fight and kill his fathers killer.

Cary plays Westley as a mix of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, athletic, suave, cool in the face of danger and certain death, throwing witty lines around all over the place. He  steals every scene he is in and gets you wanting to know more about his character. Westley is heroic, intelligent, perceptive and brave. All he does, he does for love.

Robin is enchanting as the young woman desperate to be with her true love. For a film debut, Robin gives an amazing performance. You would not guess this was her first time in a film. Her performance is all in her eyes, and she steals many a scene with just a look. Buttercup is a strong woman and is true to her only love throughout the film, wealth and status mean nothing to her, only her one true love means anything.

Mandy Patinkin gives my favourite performance in the film, as the man desperate to avenge his fathers murder. Mandy has your heart breaking for his character one moment, and then has us all cheering when he fights and stands up to injustice the next. I love the way he delivers that famous line throughout the film “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father. Prepare to die!” He says it differently throughout, but each time he delivers it, the line packs an emotional punch and is truly one of the great lines in cinema history. Apparently Mandy pictured the six fingered man as the cancer that killed his own father, so when he says that line it’s like he is seeking revenge on that vile disease.

Chris Sarandon plays Humperdinck as a villain who you love to hate. He is vain and pompous, and yet he is also intelligent, a skilled fighter and tracker, and is not someone you want to cross. He steals every scene he is in. I love the way he says this line “Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan. I’ve got my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped.” Cracks me up every time.

Chrisopher Guest is perfectly cast as the Princes right hand man, Tyrone. A skilled torturer and swordsman, he takes immense pleasure in killing and inflicting pain. Christopher plays the character so well that you want to boo and hiss each time he makes an appearance on screen.

Andre The Giant is loveable as Fezzik. He makes him brave and strong, but has Fezzik has slow reactions so isn’t much use in a fist fight, but he tries hard! It is a credit to Andre that he doesn’t let you see how much pain he was in. He was suffering back pain and was in agony throughout the shoot, but you would never know it to watch him. Andre died in 1993.

Wallace Shawn is hysterical as the cunning man of great intellect whose wit and words are his greatest weapons. I love the way he says “inconceivable!” all the time. He’s always been one of the great character actors and this is one of his greatest performances.

Peter Falk is perfect as the granddad who you wish was your own. This man knows the power of a good story and he knows the boy will soon be drawn into this tale. Falk acts as the narrator and guide in the film and is a welcome presence throughout.

Small appearances by Mel Smith , Peter Cook and Billy Crystal add to the comedy in the film, with Crystal  coming up with much of his own dialogue.

Fred Savage does a good job as the young boy who starts to see that books are magical, and reading is just as good (if not better in many cases)than watching TV or playing video games. I love the bit where he’s disgusted by the fact that this could be a kissing book. 🙂

The film was made on location here in the UK. I think that was a good choice as the landscape brings to mind a fairytale/medieval land. I recently visited Haddon Hall, in Derbyshire which was used as the location for Humperdinck’s castle. That was quite an experience, and I urge you to visit not only because it was in the film, but as it is one of the few remaining medieval castles. This was also featured in Jane Eyre (2006)and The Priory School(an episode of the Return of Sherlock Holmes TV series.)

A beautiful score by Mark Knopfler adds greatly to the film. This is such a fun film and is one that can be enjoyed over and over again and never gets old.  Isn’t this true of all fairytales? I also really like how the film captures how you see a story in your head when reading a book.

My favourite scenes are the following. Inigo in the forest asking his father’s spirit to guide his sword. Westley and Buttercup’s conversation on top of the hill where he says “life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The sequence in the fire swamp. Westley and Inigo’s swordfight (both Cary and Mandy practiced for months and became very skilled with swords, and that really is them both for the whole of that exciting sequence.) Vizzini and Westley matching wits over the poisoned cups. Buttercup in the eel lake. Inigo finally getting to face the six fingered man.

I also think that if the events of this film had been a reality that the ending would have been considerably different. Towards the end of the film you get a sharp slap from reality as characters start dying or getting seriously injured. In reality I think Inigo and Westley would have died from what happened to them, Buttercup would have gone through with her threat and Humperdinck would no doubt have passed himself off as the big hero. I’d say the ending we get in the film is much better, even if it is only a crowd pleasing fantasy. Hey, aren’t dreams always thus?

Writing all of this has made me eager to watch this again. “As you wish”, my DVD player says to me. Alright then, I will. 🙂

What are your thoughts on this film?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

British Cinema, Tributes To Classic Stars

Your Favourite Vivien Leigh Film Performances?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comedy, Drama, Romance

The Apartment (1960)

This review contains spoilers. So if you haven’t watched this film, please don’t read on any further.

 

I love this film. I love the performances, the story, the characters, and most of all, I love the bittersweet blend of laughter, cynicism and tragedy that the film depicts. This is Billy Wilder at his best. What’s not to love?

There is a great story out there about just what it was that inspired Billy Wilder to make this film.

The story goes that he was intrigued by the man in Brief Encounter who lets his friend Alec (Trevor Howard)use his apartment to bring Laura (Celia Johnson) back to. Billy was completely fascinated by this man giving his home out so this couple could basically get together for sex. He wanted to know more about that man, and more about what would make someone do that. Thus The Apartment was born in Billy’s mind.

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A perfect mix of cynicism, comedy, tragedy and romance; The Apartment focuses on the best and worst of humanity. The film is all about men and women using others and being used, and in some cases continuing to allow themselves to be used. It looks at why people use others, and why some let themselves be walked over (they have no choice, they like the control their actions give them, they want the outcome their actions will deliver etc).

At the time this film was set, stories like this one(maybe not loaning out your home)were commonplace. Bosses slept with their secretaries, women were judged on their looks, and some men thought women were only around so that they could have sex with them. Drinking, lying and cheating were as common as drawing breath. Billy’s film captures all of that perfectly, he holds up a reflection of life to us that would have been very familiar to many in the audience of the 1960’s.

The film also shows us that there is goodness in such a world, even if you sometimes have to dig a little deeper to find it.

C.C Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a clerk at an insurance company in New York. Baxter wishes more than anything to climb that corporate ladder, and he will do whatever it takes to get up it quick. Baxter lends his apartment out to senior male staff at his company so they that they can go there and be with their mistresses. Due to his seedy service, Baxter is soon promoted in the company and is feeling very pleased with life indeed.

When Baxter lends the apartment to the boss of the company, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray)it suddenly dawns on him just what he has been doing and he hates himself for it. Why the change of heart? Because Sheldrake’s mistress is the fragile elevator girl,  Fran Kubelik(Shirley MacLaine). Baxter likes Fran very much, and when he sees how badly Sheldrake uses her something inside of him snaps.

When Fran attempts suicide in his apartment, Baxter must choose between his career and own selfishness, or looking after Fran and being a good guy.

There are two key sequences in the film which signal Baxter’s self revulsion and see him begin to become a decent guy. The first is the famous mirror sequence. He sees Fran’s broken hand mirror, and when he tells her it’s broken, she says ” I know. I like it like that. It makes me look the way I feel.”

When she says those words, the look on Baxter’s face speaks volumes, he looks like he’s just been punched in the stomach. He sees the pain he is helping to inflict by allowing these men to take the secretaries and other women to his apartment to use for sex. Baxter has never thought about what happens to these women afterwards, but when he sees Fran’s state of mind it dawns on him what the reality is. Straight after those words the phone rings and it’s Sheldrake asking him if he’s remembered to stock up some food and drink in the apartment. When Baxter answers him it is with a tone of revulsion and hatred. Slowly he is beginning to change to a decent man.

The second is when Baxter comes home to find Fran unconscious after taking an overdose. She has finally figured out that Sheldrake won’t leave his wife for her. At that moment we see he is torn apart with worry and fear. With the help of his neighbour Doctor Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen), Baxter helps save Fran’s life and nurse her back to health.

Jack Lemmon is at his best here as the selfish man, always happy to oblige his bosses who suddenly develops a conscience. If anyone other than Jack had played this role, I’m really not sure how well the film would have turned out. One moment we hate Baxter with a passion, the next we’re laughing at or with him, the next he’s breaking our hearts and ours are breaking for him. That is all because of how Jack plays the role, the looks on his face (particularly the scenes of self loathing later in the film when what he’s been doing finally reaches home to him.) As the film goes on Jack conveys to us how his experiences and realisations are making him more aware and less self centred.

Shirley MacLaine makes your heart break as the mistreated Fran. Shirley lets us see the inner pain this woman carries around with her, but which she doesn’t show to the world (until the famous mirror sequence.) From the way Shirley plays the character, I believe Fran knows the men she goes with are heels, but for some reason she can’t stop herself from going with them. Fran loves Sheldrake and it really damages her when she realises she is just the latest in a long line of meaningless conquests to him. Shirley’s performance is all in her eyes, we see how weary and depressed she is, and we see the brave face she puts on each day pretending all is well in her life.

Fred MacMurray is cast wonderfully well against type here, as the sleazy, hardhearted boss who treats women as objects for his pleasure only. He doesn’t care about their feelings, but he can make them believe he does. MacMurray is loathsome here and it is only the second time in his entire career he was cast in such a role.  The first against type performance was also for Billy Wilder, in the Noir classic, Double Indemnity. On the strength of his performance in both films it is very strange to me that he never again got roles like this. He proves what a talented dramatic actor he was. There was much more to MacMurray than comic performances. He conveys to us that his character is selfish and will never change. Remorse? That’s a word this guy doesn’t even know exists.

Jack Kruschen is hysterical as the bemused neighbour of Baxter’s who thinks his neighbour is some sort of playboy. Why does he think that? Because of the different women coming in and out of his apartment all the time. Kruschen knows that this man is a good guy really (a Mensch)and his belief in this is proved right at the end. Jack is very good in the scenes where he is treating Fran, making you believe he knows what he is doing as a Doctor.

Edie Adams steals every scene she is in as Sheldrake’s secretary, Miss Olsen. She tells Fran that Sheldrake won’t care about her and is just using her. Miss Olsen used to be his lady and has never gotten over her time with him. Edie shows us this woman’s pain and depression and her despair at seeing what she went through happening to someone else. Like Shirley’s performance, Edie’s is another that is all in the eyes. Keep an eye on her when she is in a scene.

I like how the film shows how messy relationships are, and that heartbreak and disappointment is sadly more commonplace than lasting happiness. The film shows us that happiness is possible though. Live in the moment, value every shared moment of joy, don’t hurt one another, be there for each other through the good and bad, and really work at building trust and a bond, then you will know happiness. At the end of the film we see Baxter redeemed, and are left feeling more positive having seen some good people and good actions in this world.

I have to mention the famous ending to the film. Many take the ending to be a romantic one. I actually have a different view. It is clear that these two love each other very much, and Baxter admits as much in the final lines. I actually think that these two are soulmates and are that special person that the other needs in their life. I don’t think romance is on the cards for them though.

I think they are and will remain the best of friends. They will always be there for one another and will support and help each other. A bond of friendship is love too, and I believe friendships are as meaningful and deep as any romance can be. When Fran says “shut up and deal”, I think she is saying lets just take things as they are. Maybe we will progress to romance, maybe we will just stay as friends, but for now lets just stay as we are and enjoy this moment. Somewhat similar to the ending of Now Voyager “don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”  Basically, they have everything they want and need right there, they don’t need to be romantic in order to love each other. So what that they don’t kiss? They are happy, and we know they will always be there for each other. That’s a happy ending if ever I saw one. It always leaves me with a smile on my face.

The film won five Oscars, including one for best picture. Sadly no awards were given to any of the actors.

My favourite scenes are the following. Baxter trying to watch Grand Hotel, only to grow more and more annoyed by the adverts that keep playing on the TV (if he watched TV today he’d throw the set away I’m sure.) 🙂  The mirror discussion. The sequence involving the woman who looks like Marilyn Monroe. The entire final part of the film. Miss Olsen speaking to Fran.

I have to say as well, that I always get a real laugh from the scenes where Baxter is waiting outside his own building! Because his apartment is in use! How much of a pushover do you have to be to actually stop yourself from being able to go into your own home?

What are your thoughts on this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

Blogathons

The 007 Blogathon: It’s A Wrap!

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I want to thank each and every one of you for taking part in this. There have been so many terrific reviews and articles submitted, and they have all been a real pleasure to read.

Truth be told I was very nervous about doing this, as it has been my first time hosting a blogathon; I needn’t have worried though as you’ve been so supportive. Great to meet so many fellow Bond fans too!

I invite you all (I know some of you are already signed up)to take part in my Hitchcock blogathon in August. Details of which can be found here.

Thank you so much again.

Maddy x

 

Blogathons

The 007 Blogathon Begins

Bond Blogathon 3

Check back to this post over the next three days to read all the entries for each day. I will update this page each day adding the new entries as I get them sent in.

The time has now come for us to discuss Britain’s most famous secret agent. If you will all take a seat (and collect a dry martini from the waiter)we will begin…

007 Blogathon Entries: Day 3

Lifesdailylessonsblog shares her great love for Timothy Dalton and – The Living Daylights.

Crackedrearviewer shares his love for Sean Connery as Bond and discusses- Goldfinger.

The Humpo Show writes about his – Least favourite Bond film.

Realweegiemidget looks at five actors who – could be Bond.

Cinemaessentials takes a look at – The Spy Who Loved Me.

Bond Blogathon 2

007 Blogathon Entries: Day 2

Hamlette’s Soliloquy shares her love for – Goldeneye.

Old School Evil introduces us all to – James Bond Jr .

The Spac Hole looks at actresses who – should have been Bond Girls.

Bond Blogathon 1

007 Blogathon Entries: Day 1

Thoughts All Sorts shares her love for – Casino Royale. Plus Daniel Craig in swimming trunks. 🙂

RealweegiemidgetReviews takes a look at – Spectre.

Vinnieh takes us through a history of the Bond girls – The evolution of the Bond girls.

I share with you – My ten favourite Bond films.