#FeministClassics: ‘The Heiress’

Olivia de Havilland, who you might know as Melanie from Gone with the Wind, recently celebrated her 100th birthday. The occasion reminded me of a movie I saw a few years back at The TCM Classic Film Festival – William Wyler’s 1949 classic The Heiress. 

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Black & White + Rain + Love Scene = Perfection

Turner Classic Movies, celebrating Olivia as their star of the month this July, had the film on their digital counterpart, available to stream. I expected to be able to get other things done while the movie was on, but that proved impossible. I was too caught up in the drama and the emotions.

If you’re unfamiliar with the film, The Heiress follows Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland), a young, introverted heiress lacking proper social skills by 19th century societal standards. At a party, she meets Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), a poor, but handsome man who woos Catherine with great tenacity. Catherine falls for him easily, having not been paid attention to very often, if at all. Catherine’s father (Ralph Richardson) disapproves of the union because he believes Morris’s intentions dishonorable. Simply put, her father believes Morris only wants her for her money. Catherine wishes to give up her inheritance if it means Morris and her can be together. So I don’t ruin its ending, let’s just say, drama ensues!

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Catherine, I feel you! #AwkwardGirlProblems

A little background on the film itself – the film was adapted from a stage play which was adapted from a Henry James novel called Washington Square. De Havilland saw the play and knew she had to play Catherine in a film adaptation. She approached director William Wyler and then sought the film rights.

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De Havilland and Clift on set with Director William Wyler

Clift was originally not wanted for the role of Morris as it was thought that he would appear too modern to be a 19th century gentleman. Clift and de Havilland apparently didn’t see eye to eye on their acting techniques either. Clift believed Olivia came to set knowing her lines and nothing else. He believed she put everything into the direction she was given which he didn’t believe to be “real acting.” Olivia respected Clift, but thought that everything he did acting-wise was for himself. Still, she said it helped her give the best possible performance as Catherine is supposed to feel isolated.

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Montgomery Clift, DON’T COME ANY CLOSER!

I remember seeing this film at the festival at the end of a very long day. I was ready for bed and honestly thought I might fall asleep in it. As it turned out though, the film was so mesmerizing I was overcome by a second wind. Much of that was due to Olivia’s performance – she was so incredibly understated and nuanced. A less talented actress could have made Catherine seem wooden or boring. Olivia makes you feel for her – you can see the thoughts behind her expressive face. The scenes between Clift and De Havilland at the party are some of my favorites because they so remind me of how I feel at parties.

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I would’ve probably kicked him a few times too. #AwkwardGirlProblems

Taking place in the late 19th century, it’s fascinating to examine the gender roles. This film almost feels like the anti-Pride and Prejudice. In Pride and Prejudice, you have a poor, but intelligent woman rejecting the concept of marriage without love, even if it means security. Whereas, in The Heiress, you have a wealthy, but naive girl rejecting the idea of a life without love, even if the person doesn’t necessarily want her for her.

The most gut-wrenching bit of the film for me is when Catherine’s father and aunt tell her they believe Morris only wants her for her money. Moreover, her father tells her she has nothing else that anyone could love her for. I was so angry on Catherine’s behalf. Just because a girl is introverted and slightly awkward and can’t play the piano, she’s not worthy of love? Absolutely ridiculous! But the idea that the two people Catherine is closest to see her as nothing is emotionally terrifying. It made me think about how much of our sense of self is built on the validation of the people around us.

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Catherine’s father = Father of the Year #NOT

The film is absolutely beautiful – the cinematography, the music, the costumes. However, at its core, the film is a classic because it is still relevant. It questions societal norms, especially in regards to an unmarried woman. Olivia’s performance is stunning and by the end, unsettling. She won her second Academy Award for the role. Her speech captures her essence – it doesn’t seem that Gone with the Wind‘s ‘Melanie’ is far from who the real Olivia is.

Also, small BTS story – When Catherine climbs the stairs, dejected in the second half of the movie, Wyler began to get frustrated. Olivia, who was known for her professionalism, ended up throwing the suitcase she had been carrying at Wyler. Wyler, seeing it was empty, told the crew to fill it up so that when she walked up the stairs, she’d feel the full weight of Catherine’s despair. And I’ve got to say, it kind of worked!

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Just an independent woman doing her thing!

The film was apparently going to be remade in 1993 by Director Mike Nichols and Tom Cruise. However, after screening the film, they didn’t believe it could be improved upon. A remake was finally made in 1997 with Jennifer Jason Leigh, though, of course, it didn’t surpass the success and critical acclaim of the original.

The vintage trailer for The Heiress is below.

WARNING: do not plan to get anything done while watching this film. IT WON’T HAPPEN.

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‘The Bad News Bears’ at 40

I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw The Bad News Bears. It was just one of those movies that was ingrained in my psyche. I do remember specifically wanting to emulate Amanda, Tatum O’Neal’s character. I even took her dialogue and made it into a monologue for any theater auditions I had cause I loved it THAT MUCH.

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An insult that I believed was the height of sophistication…

If you’re not familiar, The Bad News Bears, made in 1976, follows a little league baseball team managed by an unenthusiastic, alcoholic coach,  played by Walter Matthau. The team is made up of the “losers,” the ones no other team wanted. They are the ultimate underdogs.

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You know it’s a top team if they’re sponsored by “Chico’s Bail Bonds”

In April, the film celebrated its 40th anniversary. The NY Daily News wrote a great piece about the film in which the author spoke with prolific producer Stanley Jaffe, as well as actors Tatum O’Neal, Jackie Earle Haley, Charlie Matthau, Erin Blunt, and David Pollock. It was eye opening to hear the actors speak about the making of the film.

Here are a just a few reasons you should give the Bears a try!

THE CAST

The movie really only works with Walter Matthau. Matthau had already won an academy award and was well established; yet, he was the third choice to play Morris Buttermaker. In front of him were actors Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty. Both turned down the part and thus the part went to Matthau, who apparently took to the kids right away and knew how to have fun on set. His effortless humor and curmudgeon aura were perfect for Buttermaker, or as Amanda calls him, Boilermaker.

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SO MANY THINGS WRONG HERE.

Tatum O’Neal was fresh off her Academy Award win for Paper Moon which she made with her father, Ryan O’Neal and Director Peter Bogdonavich. She spoke in the article about her fear in making The Bad News Bears. What she loved most about the experience was working with Walter Matthau. I, of course, wanted to be Amanda. She was tough and feminine and so sophisticated! I mean, she got to sell star maps on the street BY HERSELF.

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The height of pre-teen sophistication…

Jackie Earle Haley, who I discussed in my post on Breaking Away, is also notable as Kelly Leak. He was only 14 when he made the film, but he seemed like the essence of cool. He was also the bad boy, but he had a good heart in the end. In the Daily News article, Haley said he still gets approached by fans because of his part. He also spoke about what it was like to be around Matthau…

“There were actually some times where he’d[Matthau] pop a can of Olympia beer open, like mid-day, and if I was sitting next to him, he’d go, ‘Here, you want a sip?'” says Haley, who was 14 when the movie was filmed. “Just like at the end of the movie. It was hilarious “(Jackie Earle Haley).

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The Coolest Kid in Town

THE DIALOGUE

Unlike many of today’s comedies, this film was fully scripted. Penned by Bill Lancaster, the son of famous actor Burt Lancaster, there were some wonderful zingers! Some of my favorite lines:

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Quite possibly the best retort for those   arrogant Yankees.
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ONE WORD: SIR.

THE THEMES

The film didn’t always end the way it does now. They actually filmed an alternate ending with a different outcome to their last game. Stanley Jaffe put it best when he said, “It’s not about winning. It’s about trying. One person wins. But everybody can try and that’s what this picture is to me – everybody trying (Jaffe).”

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TRUE WINNERS.

There’s also a great scene between Matthau and O’Neal where she’s basically trying to get him to hang out with her and he tells her essentially that if he wanted her company, he would’ve looked her up years ago. The scene is completely understated and that only makes it more powerful – that tear going down Buttermaker’s cheek always gets me.

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Aw, Buttermaker…

THE FILM CELEBRATES OUR DIFFERENCES

That’s what I think I related to the most as a kid. All of the players on the team had their own quirks that made them different. They were the underdogs and you couldn’t help rooting for them. This is still a lesson that needs to be taught, especially to young people.

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Maybe they shouldn’t of been drinking though…haha

RANDOM TIDBITS

Doesn’t Charlie Matthau look EXACTLY like his father now??

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Charlie Matthau photographed at little league fields in Palisades Park. Charlie played for the A’s in the film. Portraits of actors in the film The Bad News Bears. This year is the 40th Anniversary, the movie came out in 1976. Palisades Park, CA. March 22, 2016. (Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News)

One of the other supporting actors, who played Ogilvie, was also known for his roles in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Woody Allen’s Love and Death. He has since stopped acting, but if you know those other films, you know he was talented!

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The film was a major critical and box office success and it’s one of my personal favorites. It certainly shaped who I was as a young person. Now, as an adult, I think I love it even more – the messages, the characters, the humor! If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat – and I swear, you don’t even have to like baseball!

Vintage trailer below:

 

 

 

The Genius of James Cagney and ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’

I was not enthusiastic when my dad suggested we see Michael Curtiz’s Yankee Doodle Dandy. We were at the TCM Film Festival and I was pushing to see something else. I was finally convinced when my dad mentioned that actor Malcolm McDowell would be introducing the film.

I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I know McDowell spoke a lot about the genius of James Cagney. In a 2011 interview with The Guardian, McDowell discussed Cagney’s influence on his life and career.

“He influences me all the time. If you love somebody that much, if you admire somebody that much, it’s sort of woven into your DNA. I don’t really have to think about it. Cagney’s just there” (McDowell).

Cagney was known for his roles as tough criminals and all around jerks.

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James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931)

That’s why Yankee Doodle Dandy was such a revelation. It was a completely different part for him. If you’re not familiar, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) follows the life of George M. Cohan, the composer, actor and producer known for patriotic songs such as “Over There” and “You’re a Grand, Old Flag.” Cohan’s family was a famous vaudeville act during the late 1800’s and early 20th century. They were called The Four Cohans. The film follows them behind the scenes in the theatre.

Here are just a few reasons watching Yankee Doodle Dandy should be on your fourth of july to-do list.

JAMES CAGNEY

The first, and most important reason to watch this film is James Cagney’s performance. He’s energetic, sincere and absolutely brilliant. As much as I love Fred Astaire (who was also offered the role), Cagney was the only man for the part. He shined, in both the dramatic moments and the musical numbers.

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THE SUPPORTING CAST

In addition to Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy is filled with wonderful character actors including Joan Leslie as Mary (George’s sweetheart), Walter Huston as Jerry Cohan (George’s father) and Jeanne Cagney as Josie Cohan (George’s sister). Of course, Jeanne was actually James’s sister.

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The Four Cohans: Rosemarie DeCamp, Cagney’s IRL sister Jeanne Cagney and Walter Huston

THE SONGS

The music, written by George M. Cohan is incredible. Featuring songs like “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Mary’s A Grand Old Name,” and “Over There,” you can’t help but tap your foot and sing along. George M. Cohan received the Gongressional Gold Medal by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his composition of patriotic songs.

Here’s one of my favorite numbers, a song Cohan wrote for his wife, Mary:

THE ROMANCE

The film definitely shouldn’t be categorized as a romance, but the scenes between Cagney and Joan Leslie are particularly fun. My favorite scene might be the scene when Cohan first meets Mary. Mary thinks he’s an old man (since he’s dressed like one) and he’s going along with it. To watch the scene: Being Eighteen is Very Wise

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#SWOON

IT WON SOME OSCARS

I say it’s great, but don’t take my word for it. It also won three Oscars, including Best Score and Best Actor for James Cagney. In 1974, Cagney was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. His speech is pretty great.

IT’S IDEALISTIC AND PATRIOTIC

This is why it’s perfect viewing for Independence Day. It promotes patriotic values and is really, at its heart, about the love of a family. The scene where Cagney is at his father’s death bed is said to have been so powerful that director Michael Curtiz started balling and ruined a take.

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Also, Cagney improvised one of the best moments of the film where he comes down the stairs at the White House dancing.

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I’m telling you this is a good one. It’s pure fun and will make you sing the lyrics to Yankee Doodle Dandy even if you don’t want to. It’s that powerful.

Vintage trailer below:

 

Zeffirelli’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’…AKA the one with Zac Efron’s Doppelganger

As a teenager, I was, of course, forced to watch Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet in my English class. I remember it quite well because I had already seen the movie several times and as such, was personally annoyed each time a boy in class snickered. I may have given one of them a lecture on the subject…though of course, I can’t quite*cough* remember.

I first saw the film when I was thirteen. In fact, I’m fairly sure it was around the same time I first watched Titanic – which is fitting considering the stories are quite similar. On a story level, there is no new ground covered in this film. There have been countless Romeo and Juliet adaptations, another notable one being made in 1936 with Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard. Let’s just say, at the ages of 43 and 34, respectively, they weren’t exactly teenagers.

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Zeffirelli’s version of the film is an undisputed classic. It tells the story in an artful, beautiful way and a major part of that is because of its young stars: Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. Olivia was only 15 when she shot the film, which is coincidentally, the age that Juliet is actually supposed to be. Whiting was 17, just a few years older. He also now can’t not be compared to actor Zac Efron. He’s basically the British Zac Efron, at least in look.

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I mean, that’s Zac Efron, right??

Since 1968, the story has been adapted in film several more times. Most recently, there was a film version made in 2013 starring Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld and helmed by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. While there was nothing wrong with the adaptation, there was nothing that really set it apart. Conversely, many people fell in love with the 1996 adaptation which starred Leo Dicaprio and Claire Danes. Despite loving its two leads, I was not a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s take on the story; though, I do give him credit for doing something different.

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1996 Adaptation

To me, the 1968 version of the film is best classic adaptation. It tells the story very simply, but it’s fresh and fun and accessible. Here are just a few reasons you should watch even if you don’t have an English teacher forcing you to…

THE MUSIC

I know, I know. I mention music in all my posts. Well, what can I say? Music is a huge part of a movie experience. Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is no exception. The score by Nino Rota is absolutely beautiful. My favorite song below: “What is a youth?”

THE CAST

So, I’ve already spoken a bit about Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. They were spectacular in their roles, especially Olivia. She comes off extremely genuine and I think a huge part of that was that she was brand new. Whiting was equally unpolished and real. The film also has some great character actors in supporting roles. The most notable include Michael York’s performance as Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, Pat Heywood as The Nurse, and John McEnery as Mercutio.

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THE LANGUAGE

I know this film didn’t create the words. Shakespeare did, but just like Aaron Sorkin, his words were written to be performed and they are performed so well in this film. It just makes me sad…can we please go back to talking this eloquently?

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RANDOM TIDBITS

Funny story. So, apparently, many young people were not allowed to see the film due to the one scene of brief nudity – Olivia’s breasts flash on screen for quite literally a second. She apparently wasn’t allowed to go to the premiere either because of it. I mean, I could see how detrimental it would be to see YOUR OWN BREASTS onscreen. Ha. Oh, the drama!

Also, director Franco Zeffirelli had already directed one of Shakespeare’s other plays for the big screen. He made Taming of the Shrew with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor just a year earlier.

Oh, and SUPER RANDOM TIDBIT, Olivia Hussey’s daughter is now an actress as well. Her name is India Eisley.  Her most notable role was in ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager as Shailene Woodley’s rebellious younger sister. Suffice it to say, India has a lot of her mom’s chutzpah!

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Olivia Hussey and her daughter, India Eisley

IT WAS A CRITICAL AND CULTURAL SUCCESS

The film was well received by both the critics and audiences around the world.

“…it has the passion, the sweat, the violence, the poetry, the love and the tragedy in the most immediate terms I can imagine. It is a deeply moving piece of entertainment, and that is possibly what Shakespeare would have preferred” (Roger Ebert).

But, more than that, the film has stayed alive through new young audiences. Olivia Hussey described this at a 40th anniversary screening of the film where she said she still gets letters from young teenagers who have just seen this film and it’s inspiring.

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I was lucky enough to see this movie as a young adolescent and it stayed with me. While I’ve grown up and realized maybe it’s not as romantic as I initially thought (I mean, they both die!), I still love the film and feel that it never gets old.

To all those boys who snickered in my English class: Well first of all, you’re jerks. And secondly, I hope you’ve grown into men who can appreciate this classic film. 😉

Also, how cute are they?

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Vintage trailer below: