Brief Encounter, the best romance film you’ve never heard of

Alright, so maybe I’m being glib or pompous to say that you’ve never heard of this film. However, in my experience, unless you’re a film historian or classic film junkie, you haven’t. First things first; the title of this 1945 film is Brief Encounter, not to be confused with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I don’t know why I find myself correcting people on that so often, but just to be clear; they are two very different films.

I first became introduced to this film in my late teens. My dad told me that when he first saw it, in his early 20s, he didn’t appreciate it. However, he thought that given that I was female (how sexist can you get?) that I might be different. So, we watched it and thus began one of the most powerful movie watching experiences I’ve ever had. The movie was so well done and so poignant (even today!) that I found myself thinking about the movie long after it was over.

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The film stars Celia Johnson as a British housewife and mother who happens to have a chance meeting with a Doctor played by Trevor Howard while at a train station one day.

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Both of them have spouses who are not at all evil. They have children. They have lives. And yet, they can’t help their feelings for one another. Celia Johnson’s voiceover lets us in to her private thoughts and feelings. In film, when there is an affair, there tends to be stereotypes. The people cheating are often vilified. This film sets to explore the reasons behind their actions in an adult way.

The film was directed by David Lean, whose credits include such epics as Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia. Brief Encounter is not an epic, but he makes it feel like one. It’s a small story about two people. The film is quiet, but powerful. Much of that comes from the script which was adapted from Noel Coward’s one act play, Still Life.

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I love this movie so much because it’s understated, intimate and sincere. You feel like you’re going through everything with them. The score of the film, Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, along with the beautiful, haunting black & white cinematography lift this film to epic status.

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This is not a happy movie. In fact, it’s particularly depressing. But, it feels real and takes you on an emotional journey. Also, it gave us some of the best lines in film…ever (IMHO).

Also, little known fact: Billy Wilder, the famed writer and director, saw the film and got caught up thinking about the guy who owns the apartment, so caught up that he made a film about it with Jack Lemmon called The Apartment.

Vintage trailer below.

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Mr. Smith (aka) Jimmy Stewart is my MCM

 

Aw, Jimmy Stewart. Hard to believe that director Frank Capra was going to cast Gary Cooper. If you’ve never heard of Capra, (well, I’ll try not to judge you), but you are in for a major treat. As anyone who knows me knows, it’s one of my favorite things to introduce people to my favorite movies and this is most definitely one of them.

But, before we get to the movie itself, let me first set the scene. It was 1939, at the tail end of the great depression. That year is known to be a golden year for movies. It was a year of many classics: Gone With the Wind, Wizard of Oz, The Women, Midnight and of course Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In a year with so many great movies, Mr. Smith was definitely a little lost in the shuffle. More than that, it was actually heavily criticized for its depiction of government and senate corruption.

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If you’ve ever heard the term Capra-esque, but didn’t know what that meant, Mr. Smith is the best explanation.

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It is the epitome of the Capra mindset: the idealism, the patriotism, the romance. Contemporary writer Aaron Sorkin was very influenced by Capra’s films – not just in the style of the dialogue he writes (which is in itself a throwback), but in the themes he uses. Sorkin wrote The American President, The West Wing, The Newsroom — films and television shows which are in essence a love letter to Capra’s films, following his tradition of honoring American ideals and depicting characters who are inherently good.

Now, to get to the movie itself. The film follows Jefferson Smith played by the wonderful Jimmy Stewart. If you’re not familiar, my guess is you’ve at least heard his voice somewhere. Jefferson Smith is the head of a youth program: The Boy Rangers. He’s a true American, an idealistic boy at heart. A new senator must be appointed to the Senate and a few senators plot to find a puppet, someone they can control easily. Thus, Jefferson Smith goes to Washington. Once he finds out that people are trying to control him, he rallies a filibuster. There’s also a little bit of a romance thing going on with Jean Arthur, who starts out cynical – a still modern female character.

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All in all, this movie is must see viewing. I saw it when I was in elementary school and it did a great deal in shaping the person I became, both in my ideals and in my movie taste. If you’re not in love with Jimmy Stewart by the end…well, you may have some sort of a medical condition. I would get that checked out if I were you.

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Instead of the vintage trailer, here’s one of my favorite scenes.

Whoops…I think that lady just vanished…

Okay, let’s get real. Hitchcock is legendary. But, if I were to ask an average person on the street to name a Hitchcock film, my guess is that most people would probably say Psycho which, although a great movie, makes me sad because Hitchcock has so much more to offer than a skeleton turning around in a chair.

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Before we get to The Lady Vanishes, let’s do a little Hitchcock recap. Hitchcock started in the early 20th century, directing silent films in England. There, he learned how to tell a story visually, without sound. He made several films during that time and some of his British movies are actually my favorites.

Alright. Let’s get to The Lady Vanishes.

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This film was made in 1938 and was Hitchcock’s last British film. Hitchcock (because he was a genius!) chose leads that were about to become huge British stars: Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgraves. The premise is simple. Margaret Lockwood is taking the train, on her way to get married. An old woman sits next to her on the train. And when Margaret Lockwood wakes up, the old woman is gone and everyone insists that she was never there to begin with. With the help of Michael Redgraves, Margaret tries to figure out what’s really going on.

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This movie is one of my favorites for many reasons. One, it takes place on a train. I know it sounds weird, but a lot of my favorite movies have taken place on trains. I’ve never been on a plane so maybe I just have some weird attachment to trains. I don’t know. But, regardless, the train is a great stage for the drama to unfold – maybe because it’s an enclosed space.

Also, I would be lying to you if I said the romance wasn’t a huge selling point. I love the dynamic between the two leads – the witty banter and the fact that they hate each other for most of the film. Well, she hates him.

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The other great thing is the humor. Now, it’s British humor so it can be a little dry – not really a problem for me, but I know some people who can’t take it. Hitchcock knew that the suspenseful moments hit harder if there was light and the movie has some very humorous moments.

I’ve shown this movie to maybe 10 people and it’s never once disappointed. Even my friends who are not into classic film appreciated it. Hopefully, you’ll fall in love with it like I did. Just don’t be surprised if you have a dream that night about it. I had the strangest dream right after I watched..I was on a train and there was an old man next to me..and you know what, never mind. You don’t care. Just watch the movie.

Vintage trailer below.

Let me introduce you to Nick Charles…

Okay. Let’s talk William Powell. Actor. Drinker. God.

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I first became introduced to The Thin Man series when I was in my early teens. I saw a movie called Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Yeah, the movie was not great, but I did happen to read an article where the authors of the book were talking about their inspiration and they mentioned that their leads were named for the married couple in The Thin Man series. So, of course, I ran to my dad and asked the inevitable question, “Ever heard of The Thin Man?” My dad looked at me as if I’d grown another head. Yes, he replied.

Thus began my William Powell obsession. He was older when he started gaining fame, in his 40s and he had one of those villain mustaches – even though he wasn’t known for playing villains. I was 13 at the time, so I mean, TOTALLY NORMAL that I’d become obsessed with him. The Thin Man became a gateway drug for me to more screwball comedies with William Powell – Libeled Lady and My Man Godfrey are my favorites.

To set the stage for this film, The Thin Man was made in 1934, at the height of the great depression. There was a definite trend at this time for extravagance in cinema. People didn’t want to see themselves, poor and working to make ends meet. They wanted light, happy entertainment. The Thin Man definitely delivered on that count, featuring Myrna Loy and William Powell as a happily married couple. Powell plays Nick Charles, a retired detective while Myrna plays his wife, Norah Charles, an wealthy socialite looking for excitement. Nick is lured back into detective work and spends most of the series trying to keep Norah out of it, much to her chagrin.

I love this movie for so many reasons. But, really what it comes down to is the chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy. Both characters are witty, sarcastic and let’s face it, downright alcoholics. Seriously, if they had been real people, they would have died from liver failure at 40. But, for the purposes of the movie, make a martini (in my case, soda with a splash of alcohol), sit back, and enjoy the, (in my opinion) best married couple to ever grace the silver screen.

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Vintage trailer below.

P.S. – The movie’s available for 2.99 on youtube. Just saying…

Well, hello, blogosphere!

Hello interweb. Welcome to THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. My name is Lindsay Grossman and I’m 23 years old. That’s right, everyone. I’m a millennial.

You could say I had a very rough childhood. From a very young age, I was repeatedly sat down on a couch and forced to…..watch classic movies. Okay, so maybe it’s not the definition of torture, but because of it, I have all this knowledge of classic movies: when they were made, who directed them, who were the stars….also known as useless information to…pretty much everyone in the world. So, what happened to me? What effect did this have on my life?

Well, I grew up and now have a constant need to show others the classic films that were forced upon me. I’m serious. My friends…they don’t want to hear about it anymore. That’s why I started this blog, so that I can finally use all this “useless info” and have an outlet for it, because god knows, if I don’t, I may just start a classic film fan club. Cringe.

I love meeting people who have never seen a black & white movie because I can show them what they’re missing. If you’re coming to this site and you’re a classic film newbie, don’t be afraid or turned off by the lack of color or shoddy sound. Your classic film journey is about to begin and your life will be richer for it, I promise.

Here, you can read my weekly reviews of my favorite classic films and occasionally some, well, fangirling about current pop culture. Just so you know where I’m coming from (sensibility-wise), I love musicals, romances, dramas, and comedies. Wow, that’s general. Let’s get a little more specific. I love 30’s films, particularly ones of the pre-code persuasion. I love Abbott and Costello and The Marx Brothers. I love screwball comedies, particularly ones with Cary Grant or William Powell. My movie taste is varied and vast. Although, what I would emphasize is that the movies I love, I feel that modern movie connoisseurs would not have trouble loving either.

In my opinion, the best films are the timeless ones, the ones that feel fresh because they’re ultimately about human beings, relationships: aka things that never go out of style…STAY TUNED.

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