Saturday, April 30, 2011

Four's a Crowd (1938)

“You people don’t want to get married you want to get divorced”

            Four’s a Crowd is one of many fun and enjoyable screwball comedies to come out of the 1930s. The cast is not what you could consider your usual comedy actors with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland who are known for their period films together as the main actors. Rosalind Russell plays newspaper woman Jean Christy. Her whole life is the newspaper and almost falls to pieces when she hears the paper may be shutting down. She runs into her boss’s office asking what is going on. Pat really seems to not care and on top of everything he is late for a date.
            Jean runs to Bob Lansford (Flynn) who is a public relations manager. Bob is very charming and very sly and handsome. That night they crash Pat’s date with a girl named Lorri Dillingwell. (de Havilland). Bob is not on good terms with Lorri’s grandfather who was a client of his; he told Bob if he were to ever see him again he would send his dogs after him. Bob charms the pants off of Lorri even stealing her away and taking her home. Mr. Dillingwell was not kidding around when he said that he would send his dogs after him! Bob gets to the gate and closes it before the dogs could get him. One of the dogs has his tail sticking out of the gate which Bob takes and bites it! Jean pulls up in a cab at this point and all she can do is laugh.
            As a way of getting back at Dillingwell, Bob picks a small article out about the man that does not show the business man in a good light so he takes the small article and blows it out of proportion. Dillingwell is not one of the most hated men in America. The paper the slanted story came from was the one that Jean and Pat work for.
            Bob also sees the smear campaign as a good way to work with Dillingwell to get him good publicity.
            After this I found the plot to be a little complicated and cannot find a way to properly explain the rest.
            The film was not that popular when it was released because the audience wanted to see Errol Flynn with a sword in his hand and de Havilland as his leading lady that was seldom seen. I have been reading a good book called The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger and she explains how because the public only knew both actors together in their period costumes the film did not do so well. They were playing against type. All the studios used to cast their actors in as many roles as possible to see which type of film fit their stars better and just cast them in those roles forever. In today’s Hollywood sometimes actors and actresses are praised for going outside their comfort zone but the audience and critics pretty much have the same attitude on occasion with a star going against type.
            I liked seeing Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland play these different characters. Flynn was so handsome and so good playing comedy. He had that smooth but quick wit and soft touch which is often seen in old comedies. One of Flynn’s scenes I found to be really funny was when he was on two different phones talking to Lorri and Jean. He held one phone away from him so the one woman would not hear the conversation while he talked to the other. The back and forth between the phones and both women was so good. At the end of the conversations Bob looked so flustered. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I loved Olivia de Havilland in this film. She was twenty-one at this time and so damn adorable! She is so girlie and silly as Lorri. The first time I had ever watched de Havilland in a film was Gone with the Wind where she was all serious and in period costume. Since she is always in period costume it is nice to see de Havilland act in a modern setting.  Here she was marvelously silly. A good scene for both de Havilland and Flynn is when Bob stays at Lorri’s house for the night. He goes down to the kitchen with a nightlight and two guards outside think he is a robber. He quickly has to hide so the guards will not arrest him so he ducks into Lorri’s room. He knocks over a table waking Lorri up and she screams and her little dog starts barking. Bob pretty much dive tackles Lorri off her bed onto the floor to tell her to keep quiet. He lies to her telling her he is in her room because he loves her and that quiets her. Between her screams and the dog’s bark the guards and her maid come to her door. Lorri flitters around the room telling everyone she had a nightmare and that is why she was screaming. The part I cracked up with was when Lorri explaining to her maid that she had a nightmare and that was all and she pretends to fall back to sleep as she talks. I enjoyed seeing Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland going against type and playing comedic roles. It is a shame they did not get to do something like this again in their careers.
            Jean Christy is a prelude to Hildy Johnson from His Girl Friday who is perhaps Rosalind Russell’s most famous and well known film character. As soon as Russell said she was a reporter all I could think of was Hildy. Even as Jean, Russell was very feisty and quick and confident. Her scenes with Errol Flynn were fantastic. They were both the charming, over confident characters that were clearly made for each other. Their best scene to me was when Jean grabs Bob’s hair and he takes her hand and bites it.
            Unfortunately I do not know too much about Patric Knowles who played Pat. I did not really find him to be a good character. The film would have been better off if it were called Three’s a Crowd. Apparently Warner Bros. had Knowles under contract as their Errol Flynn replacement. The two actors even look alike at certain times.
            Michael Curtiz directed Four’s a Crowd. The more I find out what Curtiz directed during his career the more I find him very talented and versatile. To me he will always be the director of Casablanca which he did to perfection but his other films that I have seen have impressed me.
            Four’s a Crowd is a very cute and funny film. Unfortunately because it was not well received when it was first released it is not widely known about today. The plot and the script is truly a mess and if it had not been for the cast it would not be remotely known at all.  If you really think about you can see that Four’s a Crowd is a Warner Bros. rip off of Libeled Lady with William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow. Even the beginning credits are exactly the same. The only advantage Four's a Crowd has is that the ending is nicely tied up where as in Libeled Lady it feels like the writers did not know how to end it.
            As of right now Four’s a Crowd is available to view on youtbe and it is available on DVD.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

“The next time you're going to do anything or say anything or buy anything, think it over very carefully.”

            My mom constantly has HGTV on whenever she gets a chance to have the living room TV and five minutes to sit down. To me the channel runs the same kinds of programs over and over again just with a slight different twist. The one type of show I feel I am constantly seeing are the ones where a couple want a room of their house redone but do not know how to go about doing so. A crew of designers, carpenters plumbers and whoever else have you comes in and completely remodels the whole room. Sometimes the room comes out to be like over $18,000 which to me is nuts. Then there are the other shows that have a couple looking for a new house with a certain budget and these designers give them ideas about how to remodel the house with whatever little money is left over. I seriously cannot tell you enough how I hate these shows and the people who host them and the couples shown.
            Had I never watched the shows aired on HGTV I may have liked the film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. The film is about the Blandings- Jim and Muriel and their two daughters- and how they live in a small cramped New York City apartment with barely enough room to breathe for the four of them. The film is obviously told from the point of view of Jim, he is the grumpiest out of the family about their living situation.
            One day Jim sees an advertisement in the paper about a house in Connecticut which is really cheap. He and Muriel take a ride and really like the house the only problem is the house is falling apart. They buy the house and the land for what seems like a steal but as they soon find out among many other things they paid too much for the house and the land because the seller knew they were from out of town and did not know anything about buying property.
            Building inspectors begin coming to the house and they all say the same thing that the house just needs to be torn down it is so structurally unsound. And so begins the chaos and what feels like I am watching the 1947 version of an HGTV program.
            Jim and Muriel agree to tear down the house and build a new one. At first they make a really nice big house but then they have to cut down because of the cost. Problems arise during the construction like a well bursting and flooding the basement section of the house. The cost of building begins to pile up and Jim seriously considers selling the house and the land to cut his losses.
            Before the house is fully complete the family moves in because the owner of their apartment wants them out. The house still has no windows and the door to Jim’s closet keeps getting stuck and he cannot get out. Jim finds he is still cramped in the bathroom while trying to get ready for bed the same time Muriel is. Muriel goes to town decorating the new house telling the painters the colors of paint she wants on the walls in each room in great detail and all they pretty much hear is blah blah blah white blah blah blah blue blah blah blah.
            Once everything is settled and they adjust to their new routines and lifestyles the Blandings find their new home satisfactory.
            Cary Grant and Myrna Loy were very good as Jim and Muriel but I just could not get into their characters. Both actors had such good chemistry… but on the other hand when did they ever not have good chemistry with other actors especially Grant? I really could not get into the whole film most likely because I have not been in their situation yet in my life. Grant played Jim with a touch of his old screwball-ness coming through. You can clearly see the frustration on his face and even though you want to feel bad for him you just have to laugh. Myrna Loy… I do not even know what to say. At this point in her career she was getting older and started to play mother characters. This was the first time I had ever watched her in anything but The Thin Man series or her roles in the 1930s when she was the independent and feisty female lead. She was as always fabulous she did a very good job but there was just something about her here… I cannot even exactly say what it was. I think it felt like she was held back and mostly she was the Myrna Loy I am not used to seeing. Yes she was older but she was still gorgeous and still a very good actress but at this point she started to play the obedient housewife who did nothing but think of decorating the house and letting the men do all the talking. Damn the late forties/early fifties ideal of the housewife and what a woman should be!!! (ok my modern semi-feminist views are coming through I apologize but I feel this put a great limit on Loy’s and many other actresses’ talents). I will say I had to laugh and love the angry looks she gave Grant in one scene her facial expressions were so good. I was so happy to hear Loy make what to me was a witty line; she, Grant, and their characters’ friend Bill get stuck in a closet. Jim breaks the window and the door opens to which she replies in an almost Nora Charles wise crack “In case of emergency break glass.”  
            When Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House was released critics felt that Cary Grant and Myrna Loy were too old to be the naïve new homeowners… if they could only see couples buying homes today not much has changed in sixty-four years everyone can relate to Jim and Muriel Blandings. These people were city dwellers most likely their whole lives I know people who are older than the Blandings buying their first home away from a large city and they have or had no clue what is/was going on. This is a film that even today people can relate to. The prices of housing have gone way up (the Blandings had an $18,000 mortgage which today is the lowest cost of possibly getting a bathroom remodeled) but the situation has definitely not.
            While I was not too crazy about the film it is not one I would tell people not to watch. It is worth at least one viewing for Cary Grant and Myrna loy.
            Side note: A while ago I told my great-grandmother I watched this film and she just raved about it. She is 94 years old and nothing gets her hormones going like talking about Cary Grant! (She has professed that she is “94 years old and if he told me to do a handstand right now I would!”) We had a bit of a battle going on because she cannot stand Myrna Loy which I think it is because she got to work with Cary Grant and my great-grandma pretty much does not like any of the actresses who worked with him (do not even get her started on Ingrid Bergman working with Cary Grant she thinks Bergman slept with him!! to which I properly tell her Bergman probably wanted to but did not).  Great- Grandma said that Mr. Blandings is one of her favorite movies she remembers going to see this in theaters.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Dark Mirror (1946)

Like many films during and after World War WII the plot of The Dark Mirror deals with psychology and how the mind drives someone to snap and do something with great consequences.
            A doctor is found murdered in his apartment. Witnesses who saw the doctor leave that night tell detective Lt. Stevenson that he left with a woman named Ruth Collins. Lt. Stevenson has these witnesses go to the office building and identify Ruth who works behind a newspaper counter. Each witness identifies her as the woman who left with the doctor. When Ruth is told the doctor died the previous night she cannot believe what she hears and faints.
            Lt. Stevenson takes Ruth home and discovers she has a twin named Terry. Each twin has an alibi for the night before which are later confirmed and solid. The case does not go to court because it would be made a mockery with no solid evidence against either woman. Lt. Stevenson is convinced that one of the twins is guilty of the murder. He talks to a psychologist he knows, Dr. Scott Elliot, who specializes in the study of twins.
            As Dr. Elliot conducts his tests of ink blots, word association, and more we can see the mind frame of each twin: Ruth is sweet and nervous and light; Terry is cool and disturbed.  Dr. Elliot begins to fall in love with Ruth. Terry knows what is going on between them and becomes very jealous. The doctor begins to see that Terry is jealous of Ruth and has always been from stories each sister has told him of their childhood. At one of their sessions Dr. Elliot gives Terry a lie detector test. Whenever he asks Terry about Ruth and she says her sister’s name her blood pressure rises creating a spike on the detector.
            Terry starts to slowly torment her sister telling Ruth she has been having bad nightmares and yelling out in her sleep and that she should be take more sleeping pills so she can sleep restfully. Quite possibly the cruelest mind tease Terry pulls is flashing a light in Ruth’s direction for many nights waking her up in a paranoid panic. Terry tells her sister there was no light she must be going crazy.
            Dr. Elliot reports to Lt. Stevenson that Ruth is in real danger of Terry driving her to insanity or worse murdering her.
            The psychological aspect of this film is very interesting. Many films during this time period dealt with the issues of psychology and what can make someone a murderer or make them go insane. The psychological differences between Ruth and Terry added a good touch of suspense and interest. We waited to see what mean, calculating move Terry would pull to fool everyone around her. We want Ruth to get away from her manipulative sister before she goes out of her mind and be saved before it is too late. The evilness of one woman and the paranoia of the other creates the suspense and the drama. 

            For the first few scenes where Olivia de Havilland is both twins in the same scene all you can think of is “how on earth did they pull this off in 1946?” I had a good time picking out her stand-in when the camera was filming de Havilland from the front and the other twin from behind. A few scenes when Ruth and Terry are talking to each other and the one is filmed in the mirror and the other is filmed talking to the other in front of the mirror, that was a really cool effect (for some reason I like mirror shots though).

            Olivia de Havilland was excellent playing the twins and creating their opposite personalities. For each character she changed her voice: for Terry her tone was harder and for Ruth her tone was gentler. Even in body language de Havilland used subtle but very good actions: Terry had a coldness to her you can see her coolness in her facial expressions and she smoked; Ruth had a softness with a bit of a tense nervousness that showed in her eyes and the way she carried herself. Before watching The Dark Mirror I was a bit on the fence on how I felt about de Havilland’s acting since I had only seen her in period films like Gone with the Wind and My Cousin Rachel I can now say I like her as an actress after seeing her fantastic range as Terry and Ruth and in a modern setting. It is hard not to think of the possibility that de Havilland playing Terry might have been thinking of her real sister Joan Fontaine and all the jealousy and hate between them (the two sisters apparently have not talked to each other since the '70s)

            I had never seen Lew Ayres in a film before. He was not bad as Dr. Scott Elliot, I found him to be a good actor I would not mind seeing him in another film. He had the look of a doctor. This was actually his second film back after serving as a medic during World War II and in both films he was a doctor.
            Robert Siodmak is a fabulous director. He captured every tick each character had and all their essential emotions.
            The Dark Mirror is a very good Noir. Once you get a sense for who the twins are as characters you can guess which one could have committed the murder and is the disturbed one. The mystery is simple and is tied up nicely like all films had to be back then. What makes The Dark Mirror a top notch Noir is the acting by Olivia de Havilland and Siodmak’s direction.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Crystal Ball (1943)

“You’ve been turned down by a man.”
“Just one man? How about nine?”

            The Crystal Ball starring Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland  offers a different spin to the old story of a woman, who upon first sight, gains a huge crush on a man and will do anything to pursue him and win his love.
            Toni Gerard (Goddard) has come to New York from Texas to try out for a beauty contest but lost: “… if you saw the blonde she bombed from a low altitude.” Now she is in NYC with no job and thirty-eight cents to her name. Toni goes to a psychic named Madame Zenobia. The gracious psychic after hearing how well Toni can shoot offers her a place to stay and a job next door at a shooting game booth next door where she will be a decoy to get people to come and play.
            While at the stand one day Toni sees a handsome man with a woman friend get out of a nice car. The woman, Jo Ainsley, has come to Madame Zenobia at the suggestion of her maid (who so happens to be friends with Zenobia) to help her locate an emerald ring. All Toni can do is stand and stare with a goofy grin on her face at the man. To make the man more appealing he can shoot really well. His name is Brad Cavanaugh and he is Mrs. Ainsley’s attorney.
            Madame Zenobia falls and hurts her back. The following night she is supposed give readings at a party but she cannot go so she has Toni be the psychic. Zenobia has Toni find out about the people who will be there and go to interview them so she can tell their “fortunes” at the party.  Toni finds out from Brad’s chauffer and friend Biff that his employer has a heart shaped buck shot scar. At the party she covers her face with the veil of her costume and puts on an Indian (Native American) accent and gives her name as “Big Injun”. She gives each person their fortunes according to what she was able to find out. Brad does not believe in psychics but decides to receive his fortune and is astonished when Toni tells him about his scar.  Zenobia has Toni tell Brad about a parcel of land in which the government is planning to build a defense plant on. Zenobia is looking to make money off of Jo by telling her this but will later get everyone into trouble.
            Toni has her own fortune for Brad: he will eventually meet a red headed woman eating an apple.
            The next day Brad gets a call from a restaurant saying they are having an issue with a woman who claims to have found something in her soup and is threatening to sue the place and wants his help. The woman turns out to be Toni and the red headed woman who is eating an apple.
            Brad and Toni get along fantastically and begin to fall in love. Many comical scenes abound as the two become clumsy in love. Their relationship is threatened when the government investigates Brad for buying the land and Toni sees that Madame Zenobia is not the woman she thought she was.
            I cannot begin to say how much I adored Paulette Goddard in this film. From beginning to end she was just fabulous. I cracked up at the beginning when Toni says to Madame Zenobia “I entered a beauty contest…” and then flashes this hysterical phony smile. I can’t even tell you why I found that part so hilarious but I did and laugh just thinking about it. What I adore so much about Goddard is that she could be funny or she could be serious and not over act. Her comedy throughout The Crystal Ball was never over the top it was just perfect it was subtle and light. In the films I have seen Goddard in she just always seemed to enjoy being silly and it shows.
            Before this film I had only ever seen Ray Milland as the villain (if that is the correct term) in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder and I really did not think anything of him to me he was alright. I found myself enjoying Milland in this film. He was also very good comically.
            William Bendix as Biff and Cecil Kellaway as Pop the owner of the shooting game booth also offer up some comedic gems.
            I have to comment on the clothes Toni wore throughout the film: she was supposed to not have that much money yet she had a fantastic wardrobe! Edith Head and Adrian provided the costume for the film. If you follow movie costume designers you can tell right away in the suits Paulette Goddard wore that they were designed by Edith Head.
            The Crystal Ball is a very funny film. This was one of four films Paramount paired Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland. They were very good together here you can see they had  good screen chemistry.
            TCM recently aired The Crystal Ball and as of right now this is the only way I was able to view it. If TCM airs the film again I highly suggest seeing it for some good laughs and fabulous acting.  

Monday, April 11, 2011

Frenchman's Creek (1944)

“People who often travel are fugitives”

            Frenchman’s Creek is another film adaptation of one of many novels written by British Gothic novelist Daphne Du Maurier.
            In this Du Maurier tale an English lady during the Restoration Period named Dona St. Columb (Joan Fontaine) needs to escape her high society life. She is tired of advances from her husband’s friend Lord Rockingham (Basil Rathbone) and tired of her stuffy life in London. She decides to head for her husband’s country home Navron on the Cornish coast with her two young children.
            Dona loves being free and out in the fresh air by the sea. The only thing she has to really care for are her children but other than them she only cares about herself and being free. At Navron there is a new servant named William. He was not there the last time Dona and her husband Harry had been there years before. Dona takes to William they share a nice rapport and understanding with each other.
            In her room the night she arrives at Navron, Dona finds a jar of tobacco and a book with a seagull drawn on the front page. These things do not belong to Harry. When she questions William she finds that the servant had let his master stay in the house while it was empty. Dona is angry but not too angry at the same time once William tells her that she and his master would get along very well since they are both escaping.
            One afternoon Dona decides to take a walk through a path in the woods. She comes upon a pirate ship in a small creek. She has heard of pirates in the area from a friend who lives in town. The friend told her that the pirates have been coming on land and creating a great amount of havoc and must be stopped. While looking at the ship a man comes up behind Dona covering her face and takes her aboard the ship. On the ship she meets the captain a Frenchman named Jean Benoit Aubrey. He is a nice handsome man and the two hit it off right away. The pirate and the lady begin to meet every afternoon.
            The Frenchman tells Dona he is planning a raid on the coast in the coming days. Dona desperately wants to go with him and his crew for some excitement. He hesitates telling her she will be sick but she says she will not. He can see the excitement on her face and agrees for her to go. Dona tells William to let everyone know that she is very ill with a fever and to not let anyone in her room for the few days she is away with the pirates.
            Dona has the time of her life being on the high seas. She wants to be part of the raid. At first she hesitates but once she puts on a pair of man’s clothing she has no hesitation whatsoever all her fear has disappeared. The raid is a success the crew gets away with a ship that has been stolen by an English man from a French port.
            When she arrives back at Navron Harry and Rockingham have come to the house. They are there to find the Frenchman and his crew to hang them. Dona is fearful for the Frenchman she does not want to see a man she now loves with all her heart to be captured and killed. She now sees herself in a fight for his life as well as saving William.
            Frenchman’s Creek was so spot on along with the novel. Of course there were some changes but they were minor and did not affect the story. Many of the lines come straight out of the novel. As I read the novel I thought of Joan Fontaine as Dona St. Columb I could picture her being Dona but to me she will always be the frightened, paranoid Second Mrs. DeWinter from Rebecca. Let me tell you she was anything but that frightened character in her first Du Maurier adaptation. I enjoyed Fontaine so much in this film she was fantastic. It was nice to see her as this confident, adventurous person after watching her time and again in Rebecca and Suspicion as those weak, paranoid women. Basil Rathbone was wonderfully wicked as the jealous Lord Rockingham. Nigel Bruce is always a bumbling panic in any film he is in and was as Lord Godolphin Dona’s neighbor at Navron.
Frenchman's Creek - 1944
            Frenchman’s Creek is a very entertaining film. It was filmed in Technicolor which is really cool to see all the bright colors of the water and the clothing. The color makes the theme of escape and love all the more exciting. Let me just leave off with saying that the ending of the film is exactly how the book ends.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Rains Came (1939)

“No one stays in Ranchipur during the monsoon”
“No? Only about five million people.”

            The Rains Came is an adaptation of a book by the same title by Louis Bromfield. Bromfield stated that in the book he dealt "with characters and the interplay of characters against a background or environment which in itself plays a definite part in their motivation and the molding of their thoughts and actions. For me characters must not be imposed upon a plot but rather the story must grow out of the characters, their environment and background." Indeed the story does grow out of the characters, their environment and background. This course in storytelling gives the film a different feel from what we are used to seeing. There are two love stories happening throughout the film but they are not the main focus the main focus is the natural disaster that strikes and makes these people better.
            At the beginning the focus of the story is rich people of the British Empire coming to spend their time in India in a town called Ranchipur. Tom Ransome has been living in India for a number of years. He does not really have a job he just does what he feels he needs to do and he has a reputation for drinking. Lady Edwina Esketh and her husband Lord Esketh have come to India to look into horses… or rather her husband has come to look at horses particularly the maharajah’s. Lord Esketh is much older than Edwina she finds him quite boring. Because of this she apparently has taken several lovers with Tom having been one of them years ago.
            Major Rama Safti has returned home to India after studying medicine in America. He is held in high esteem by the maharajah and his wife. He is young and handsome.
            The maharajah holds a gathering at his palace with Tom, Rama, and the Eskeths having been invited. As soon as Tom and Edwina lay eyes on each there is a sense of the familiar, they knew each other very well some time ago. Tom takes Edwina on a tour of the castle to be alone with her. They walk into a room when it begins the rain. The lights go out all that can be seen are their silhouettes.
            Upon their return to the party after the lights come back on, Rama has arrived. Edwina takes one look at him and she is completely taken. The next day Rama takes Edwina horseback riding. It begins to rain once they come back to town and they seek refuge in a music school. They listen to an old ceremonial hymn which Rama translates with a line “In my heart your love had found a home and it can never die.” Edwina has fallen in love with Rama but he seems not to either see it or feel the same until later.

            Lord Esketh has been ill for a few days so Tom takes Edwina to a party held at a friend’s house. It begins to rain and thunder and lightning and then there is a powerful earthquake which splits the house in two. The earthquake is so powerful it breaks the wall of a damn bringing great destruction with a powerful flood. Tom and Edwina are stranded at the house until a young girl (who has a great love for Tom) named Fern comes with a boat. Tom brings Edwina to the palace where she will be safe and returns for Fern. Everything in the town is destroyed including the hotel where Edwina and Lord Esketh were staying. The maharajah died leaving the town without a leader. To make the situation much worse the water has been contaminated bringing about an epidemic of the plague.

            After the flood is where all the characters redeem themselves in certain ways and become more than they thought they could be. Edwina feeling she must do something helps at the hospital by doing the dirtiest work but she does not care she feels she is being helpful. Tom falls in love with Fern and takes care of her. He also helps to hand out supplies and food. Rama has stepped up to help many people and to eventually eradicate the plague from the town. In the end is chosen to be the new ruler of Ranchipur.
            The entire cast gives a great performance. When Edwina first comes in it felt like we are not really supposed to like her. She’s bored with her husband and just seems very spoiled and ungrateful. But of course we are left liking her and feeling bad for her in the end. Myrna Loy was great as the cool but in some ways harsh Lady Edwina Esketh. Loy had a way of showing that she at one time had feelings for Tom and was truly in love with Rama without it being all over the place and in our face. With Tom she was cool and a bit standoffish and with Rama she was willing to do whatever he wanted and hung on to his every word. Loy was loaned out to Paramount and given top billing showing just how popular she was and the audience pull she had. George Brent was very good. I enjoyed seeing him act with Myrna Loy again and this time he was not a goofy American head over heels in love with a German spy. He did very well with Tom being sort of a playboy and a drunk then turning into a noble caring man in the end. Many reviews I have read praise Tyrone Power for this film. I found him to be alright his role and acting were nothing special to me. He did have that great exotic look when he was all dressed in traditional Indian clothing and a turban.

            My favorite part of the film was when Tom takes Edwina on a little tour of the palace and they come to one room. From the way Tom is pointing things out he is not so much interested at giving a tour as he is with getting Edwina alone somewhere private. They enter a room and talk. She sits seductively on the couch seeming to wait for him to come over. The lights go out as the heavy rains of the monsoon season begin and all we can see are their silhouettes. When they come back to the party the maharajah’s wife comes over to Tom and fixes his ties.

            The Rains Came is one of the hundreds of great films to come out during 1939. It is not a film where the country and society defines who these characters are it is their courage and their changes stemming from disaster in a country that defines who they become. Every character steps up and changes for the better. Everything about The Rains Came is excellent. The film would win an Academy Award for Special Effects which it rightly deserved because for there being no CGI the flood scenes were done amazingly. The only issue I have with the film is how Edwina had to pay for her sins aka for going around with men that were not her husband but apparently she pays in the book as well. I am saying this not just because I adore Myrna Loy but because it is a shame how she was trying to change and really loved Rama.
            The Rains Came is a wonderful film. The story is very moving and very well written, directed, and acted.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Waterloo Bridge (1940)

“I loved you, I've never loved anyone else. I never shall, that's the truth Roy, I never shall.”

            The plot to Waterloo Bridge sounds like a typical love story told through a flashback: a soldier falls for a girl he just happens to meet by chance and is totally taken with her at first sight. He is on forty-eight hours leave and asks the girl to marry him. She says yes but before they can marry the next day he is called away to the front. One day she sees his name in the paper as one of the fallen. Believing he is dead her life reaches a low point and she must do what she needs to be done in order to survive. A few months later she finds the soldier is not dead the whole thing is a mistake. They agree to marry again and he takes her back to his family home where they are all distinguished. The family likes her even though she is a ballet dancer. All the time what she has done during the War is in the back of her mind she cannot tell the soldier what she has done she feels as if she were to stay with him she would ruin his reputation. She leaves the family home never to see the solider again. The soldier goes looking for her along with a friend. The friend tells him what the love of his life has done but it does not matter to him he understands.
            Ugh, if I had to sit through a film with this plot like so many films of the Golden Age of Hollywood were written I would have been so bored out of my mind. The plot is pretty much what I have explained but there is much more to Waterloo Bridge it is more than your typical love story. The film was released in 1940 before America entered WWII but it is about a British soldier played by Robert Taylor named Roy Cronin who, standing on Waterloo Bridge, reminisces about the time he met the love of his life Myra Lester (Vivien Leigh) as the Second World War breaks out around him. From almost the beginning the story is a bit heartbreaking… that is all you are getting out of me about the rest of the film!

            Vivien Leigh was amazing she was such a great actress. Before Waterloo Bridge I had only seen her as the feisty and courageous Scarlett O’Hara and of course she was incredible in that role. In this role Leigh proved she could be more than Scarlett O’Hara. She is even better than Scarlett in certain moments. Even in Gone with the Wind Leigh was able to portray more than words could just with her facial expressions; you can clearly see how in love and taken away Myra was with Roy and then you can perfectly see how tormented and guilty she felt. This was Leigh’s first film after Gone with the Wind. I cannot even imagine how difficult it must have been to pick a film after such a gigantic success but as I said Leigh was wonderful and it showed just how great of an actress she was to go from playing someone who was so head strong and independent to someone who was caring and completely in love and tormented.
            Robert Taylor was also excellent. This was my first time watching a film with Taylor as the star. He and Leigh had a great chemistry you can believe their characters loved each other very much and that Roy was willing to do anything for Myra. I look forward to viewing more films starring Taylor.
            Waterloo Bridge is a film I highly recommend seeing. Everything about it is perfection. The acting is just incredible all the actors not just Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. The cinematography is beautiful and was rightly nominated for an Academy Award. The score is beautiful and moving and was also nominated for an Academy Award. The story is gorgeous and heartbreaking. I enjoyed seeing a film where the characters and ending were not predictable and was still able to create such a strong impact.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Cousin Rachel (1952)

"She had done for me at last. Rachel, my torment"

My Cousin Rachel is one of the many novels British author Daphne Du Maurier wrote which was then turned into a film.
            Philip Ashley is a young Englishman living in 1700s England. He has been raised by his cousin Ambrose all his life and loves and adores the man. One summer Ambrose travels to Italy to get out of the cold, wet English winters. While in Italy he meets a very distant relative named Rachel Sangalletti and he marries her. For two years Ambrose does not return to England he lives with Rachel in her Italian villa in Florence. After a while Philip begins to receive letters from Ambrose how he believes Rachel is out to kill him and takes his money. In his last letter home he urges Philip to come out to Italy as quickly as he can. Unfortunately by the time Philip gets to Italy his beloved cousin is dead apparently of a long illness of fever brought on by a brain tumor. Philip cannot believe his cousin who was a strong healthy man died of a brain tumor but unfortunately Ambrose’s father died of a brain tumor and everyone believes the tumor was hereditary.  
            A few weeks after his return to England, Rachel comes to see Ambrose’s home. She is not the wicked, ugly woman Philip had in his mind all these months but a sweet and beautiful woman. Rachel only intended to stay for a few weeks but on Philip’s insistence she stays for a few months. He has fallen for the woman even going to so far as to give her money since Ambrose left her none in his will and even some of the family’s jewels and going so far as to ask her to marry him.
            The letters from Ambrose are always in the back of Philip’s mind. He suddenly becomes very sick. He is in his bed for many weeks. When he has recovered he finds poisonous pods from a tree outside his house in an envelope in Rachel’s drawer. Now he is convinced Rachel has never been any good that she probably killed Ambrose with special herbs she knows how to use and is most likely doing the same thing to him.
            Now of course all I wanted to do the whole time I was reading the novel was to watch the film and compare the two. I was hoping that the film would be adapted well since Rebecca was so well done. Unfortunately the film cannot hold up to the book. I cannot help but compare the book and the film as well as comparing My Cousin Rachel to Rebecca in film form. In the book we are left wondering if Rachel could have killed Ambrose and made Philip sick. The film shows that as well but it does not keep the intensity and suspense of the book at all. I found it really hard to believe Philip was in love with Rachel because of the way Richard Burton was playing the character. He did not seem to be in love with the woman until after a certain point.
            It is unfair that I should compare My Cousin Rachel and Rebecca in film form. Rebecca was made by Hitchcock who is one of the best directors ever and written by Ben Hecht who was one of the best screenwriters ever. Nunally Johnson adapted the novel and produced the film as well. He seemed more concerned with telling the love story then actually holding down the suspense. Du Maurier’s novels no matter what kind they are have suspense there is no getting around it but this adaptation of the story seems to have managed to get around the suspense.
            Now I perfectly understand many things gets lost in an adaptation from book to screen but I felt there were important things taken out of the book. Some of the things were well changed from book to film but other things were taken out. One important change that I felt was not good was in the book there was a second will leaving everything to Rachel. Philip takes the will, has it rewritten along with some clauses and gives the will to Rachel. In the film the will is destroyed but still Philip gives everything to Rachel. The will is important and it was not played upon. What the film did hold very well was the did-she or didn’t- she aspect. Like the book we do not know how far Rachel’s involvement in Ambrose death and Philip’s sickness went, we are never told if she is truly good or bad. It reminded me of the story Trifles where we have to make our own accusations and come up with our own verdict if Rachel is guilty or not based on what evidence we are given.
            I guess because I am so used to seeing how fantastic Hitchcock made Rebecca I was waiting to see a really good adaptation of My Cousin Rachel. Even if I had never read the book before I watched the film I would not really have liked it. The acting was fine Olivia de Havilland is a very good actress she was perfect because you can believe looking at her that she could have killed her husband and could be the kind of woman who is impulsive but at the same time she looks like she would do none of what she did. You can see something underneath the character through De Havilland. Richard Burton was alright I felt he made Philip too grumpy. Apparently the actors did not get along at all and knowing this you can see that they did not get along it showed in many of their scenes… but then again Rachel and Philip do not really have that much chemistry in the book. I cannot help but to compare book and film that will always happen to anyone. In book form the story is very good I enjoyed the book very much Du Maurier was a wonderful author. In film form My Cousin Rachel falls flat. It could have fallen flat because I liked the book and had high expectations.
            I would not completely write this film off. The film is hard to find I’m not even sure it is on DVD. If it is ever on TCM try to catch it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stamboul Quest (1934)

“You just don’t get love mixed up in your love affairs.”

            Have I ever mentioned how much I love any kind of movie or TV show that deals with spying? I am a DIE HARD Alias fanatic (all thanks to my grandparents) I do not even think I can come up with enough words to describe my obsession. Sydney Bristow is my hero. I have seen just about all the James Bond movies (thanks to my brother). I have seen a bunch more spy movies and read a lot of spy novels (I even read Casino Royal by Ian Fleming which was really cool)
            So like the old aviation films I have to ask what could be better than a spy film then one starring my favorite classic actress Myrna Loy (oh goodness how sick you must be of her if you really read my blog! I apologize but I just adore her). Stamboul Quest has Loy playing an infamous German spy known as Fraulein Doktor during World War I with a very well known reputation throughout the world of espionage.  Her real name is Annemarie. She works for a top German spy a man named Von Sturm. She comes back to Germany to Von Sturm’s office reporting that Mata Hari has fallen in love with a man in Paris and that she is quite possibly falling for him to the point where she is telling him secrets.
            A spy working for Von Sturm undercover as a dentist has been found out to be a traitor. The office where he works has been taken over by some thugs working for Von Sturm. Caught in the middle of the siege is an American medical student named Douglas Beall. Von Sturm receives information about Beall and has Annemarie get his attention and pretend to fall for him to see if he has any connection to the traitor spy (which he does not he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time).
            Annemarie along with a fellow spy, go to a restaurant where Beall is that night. They pretend to fight in front of him so that Beall will follow Annemarie out of the restaurant. The plan goes well and both spy and student return to his place. Beall falls madly in love with Annemarie who is posing as Helena Bohlen. She starts to fall for Beall who is nothing but kind and head over heels for her but she reminds herself that this is part of a mission she cannot fall in love like Mata Hari did. Annemarie leaves quickly slipping out of the room without Beall knowing.
            A few days later Annemarie is sent to Turkey on a mission. Beall shows up before she boards the train and he winds up following her all the way to Turkey. She sees he is totally in love with her and she likes it she sees no harm in letting him come with her.
            The mission goes smoothly for a while until Annemarie is forced to improvise and things turn for the worse. Von Sturm becomes concerned that she is falling for the American and is starting to make mistakes. To convince the Turkish general who is part of the mission and Von Sturm that she does not have any feelings or ties to Beall she calls the Turkish police telling them Beall is in the country illegally and to arrest him. Of course there is a plan to get Beall out of the whole mess and the whole mission is cleared with no problem. But Von Sturm not wanting to lose his best spy to love and emotion tells Annemarie that Beall has been killed. Unfortunately Annemarie cannot handle the news and she is sent to a convent where she waits for Beall to come for her.
            The plot is more interesting than I have explained. I cannot tell you everything it would give away too much and the plot of spy/counter spy is too much fun. I will admit I got a little confused at certain points but hey I was a loyal Alias viewer for years and confusion is part of the territory when watching a spy story, to me if you are not confused the story is not good for you will know what is coming next and that is never any fun.
            Without Myrna Loy being in the film Stamboul Quest would not have worked at all. The character of Annemarie/Fraulein Doktor was cool and sophisticated and one who could not show too much emotion. Loy was perfect because she never over acted in any of her roles she was always composed and sophisticated. You can easily see her as this awesome spy but at the same time you can see that she is a woman who can get emotional over love (hell, how many times did Sydney Bristow lose her control when it came to someone she loved? Even James Bond had some love interests he got attached to; he was even married in one of the films). Her acting here is nothing that stands out but she was good as always. Left in the hands of another actress Annemarie/Fraulein Doktor would have been totally unbelievable and too much.
            George Brent as Douglas Beall was adorable. I loved seeing the way he followed Annemarie around like a little puppy dog. He added some needed comedic moments when he was pretending to be Annemarie’s servant and he just acts like a typical clumsy, in your face American.
            Lionel Atwill as Von Sturm was excellent. I love the way he always plays a sinister character he was so good at it that it never got old with him. If you are a film buff you may recognize Leo G. Carroll as the dentist. This was his first film. He would go on to be in Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Spellbound in the ‘40s.
            Stamboul Quest is a good film. I like watching old spy films and then watching a new one and seeing how far technology and espionage has come. Of course I know the espionage told in movies and books comes from fiction and it all romanticized but it is so much fun. Hey, isn’t fantasy so much better than reality at times? Stamboul Quest is not available on DVD or youtube. TCM ran the film a few weeks ago. If TCM ever runs the film again definitely watch it. The plot and the bit of suspense are very good.