It’s “a matter of life and death” that you watch this movie ASAP!

As a movie snob, it can sometimes feel like I’ve seen all the good movies out there. A ridiculous notion, I know. Still, when I do randomly come upon a spectacular film that I had yet to see, I can’t help but feel like I’ve uncovered treasure.

One of the reasons I started this blog in the first place was to introduce classic films to a new generation; to appeal to my peers and give them a reason to give a movie made before 2000 a second look. The movie I want to discuss today is one that I feel should be required viewing for anyone who says they’re interested in film.

A Matter of Life and Death, also known by the name Stairway to Heaven , was made in 1946 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. I’ve discussed another Powell/Pressburger film on this blog, one of my favorites, The Red Shoes. Strangely, I had yet to see many of their others films.

The film follows Peter D. Carter (David Niven), a British wartime aviator who we meet as he’s hurling towards the earth. Knowing he’s going to die, he spends what he believes to be his last minutes talking to June (Kim Hunter), an American radio operator. He wakes up on a beach and happens upon June, who’s cycling home. You could call it love at first sight – it doesn’t matter how it happens, they fall in love. The only problem is Conductor 71 (Marius Goring), a French – like, of the French revolution – angel who tells Peter he was meant to die. In love, Peter fights him on it, asking for an appeal before the celestial court…and he gets one!

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I love Technicolor SO MUCH

Here’s why you need to watch A Matter of Life and Death ASAP!

The Cast

Guys, David Niven. Can we just talk about how amazing he truly is?! The plot in this movie is truly bonkers, but somehow, David Niven sells it. He makes you feel every emotion.

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Am I the only one in love with this guy?!

Kim Hunter, who’s most famous for her role as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, is completely relatable in this film. She makes June special enough that you understand why Peter would do anything to stay with her, even after only knowing her for, like, 20 hours.

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Lipstick ON POINT

Marius Goring was so multi-talented. He’s wonderful in The Red Shoes, but his comedic chops are on display in this movie and he delivers! Agh, he was just fantastic.

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when your friend can’t make up their mind…

And Raymond Massey adds some much fun humor as Abraham Farlan, the prosecutor for…heaven, I guess.

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Boy. This guy would be depressed to see the stats today.

The Cinematography

Jack Cardiff. Jack Cardiff. Jack Cardiff. ❤️ 💛 💚

I mean, technicolor was on his side, but man, have you ever seen cinematography this gorgeous?

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Creepily mesmerizing…
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The feeling of being lost in a dream…
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so creepy

The Story

Many films have danced around the afterlife, or heaven, or as in the case of A Matter of Life and Death, the next world. It’s a fantastical imagining of what might happen when your time comes. In this movie, heaven is black & white and its angels have some real interesting personalities.

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Also, young Richard Attenborough

Powell and Pressburger were clearly trying to comment on the time period they were living in as well as the relations between countries. This movie came out in 1946 when tensions in the world were high.

In the court scenes, the prosecutor for heaven tries to prejudice the jury against Peter for being British. The prosecutor’s American. Peter’s lawyer, Dr. Frank Reeves (Roger Livesey) makes a case stating that the jury then should be made up of Americans – he still thinks the jury will find in favor of Peter!

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Good point, counselor. 

It’s a comical scene but there’s real sentiment behind it. When you put relations between governments and different nationalities into the context of an afterlife, it makes you realize how ridiculous our differences are, a lesson we still could take a page from today.

The Romance

If you’ve followed my blog, you know I’m a fan of the romance. Like Mindy Kaling, I don’t know where this obsession of watching people fall in love came from, but nevertheless, it’s there. And this movie delivers on the romance front by showing just how simple it can be.

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SWOON 💚 💙 💜

They’re both put on trial by the celestial court and asked to prove their love for the other. How do you prove love? Peter says, “Well give me time, sir. Fifty years.” They’re asked if they would die for the other. Indeed, is there any other question that matters.

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Truer words were never spoken.

Also, they’re played by David Niven and Kim Hunter – that helps…obviously!

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literal meet-cute

It’s a beautiful, original, thought-provoking, fantastical love story!

It’s rare to see a movie so willing to take chances, to tell a story in a non-conventional way. Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s personal editor, was married to Michael Powell in his later years. In a feaurette of the film, Schoonmaker said this was Powell’s favorite movie that he made because he just got to play, like in the silent days.

I was taken by this quote from Roger Ebert’s 1995 review of the film, “Today’s movies are infatuated with special effects, but often they’re used to create the sight of things we can easily imagine: crashes, explosions, battles in space. The special effects in “Stairway to Heaven” show a universe that never existed until this movie was made, and the vision is breathtaking in its originality.”

A Matter of life and Death is an example of what makes the art of movie-making so special. It makes you feel through images and dares to imagine a world that does not exist. I was blown away watching it a few days ago. It became an instant favorite. Just…watch it and I swear you’ll understand!

Trailer below:

 

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‘Finishing School’: A Female Narrative in 1934

Whenever I talk about classic movies, I tend to hear from women that they’re not interested because there are no female-told, female-driven stories. And it’s true, that after sound came in, women were no longer prominent behind the camera. Female writers and directors were scarce. Only a small handful were really successful and even then, many of them were remain uncredited on films they wrote or directed.

Finishing School, made in 1934, is astoundingly a female-driven, female-written, and female co-directed studio film. There are only two prominent male parts and they’re supporting roles!

The pre-code film follows Virginia (Frances Dee), a teenager untainted by all the bad things teenagers get involved with, starts at a finishing school for girls called Crocket Hall. There, she meets Pony (Ginger Rogers) and quickly begins to do all the bad-girl things, drinking, smoking, lying, and *gasp* having premarital sex. On a girl’s outing to New York city, Virginia meets Mac (Bruce Cabot), a hospital intern who moonlights at a hotel to make ends meet. But, of course, her wealthy parents couldn’t possibly approve and the school, which pretends to be helping young women is more like a prison, keeping the girls they deem insubordinate hostage.

Here are just a few reasons why you need to add Finishing School to your watchlist!

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I love the lettering – I know that’s beside the point

You get to see an early, pre-partnership with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers

Ginger was just 23 in Finishing School and hadn’t quite perfected what would become her signature schtick. But the sass we all love and expect from Ginger was there and it’s fascinating to see her when she was that young and green.

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Her pal! Can you believe Ginger wasn’t the star??

Frances Dee Shines as Virginia!

Frances Dee may not be a familiar name to you. It certainly wasn’t to me before this film. She was extremely popular during the early 1930’s, but now she’s best known for having been Joel McCrea’s wife. She was also 23 at the time she made this and is very appealing. It’s fun to watch her journey from sweet and sheltered to tough and assertive.

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I love that she’s called “the girl.” LOL.

Billie Burke and John Halliday are cliche, but hilarious as Virginia’s uber wealthy parents.

Finishing School’s tropes are by no means new and many modern moviegoers will watch this film and recognize the cliches, especially when it comes to Bille Burke and John Halliday. Burke played the absentee rich mother who disapproves in Virginia’s choice of beau – he’s just a lowly waiter/doctor-in-training.

Meanwhile, Halliday plays the sympathetic father who actually listens to his daughter and maybe thinks his wife is crazy and kind of annoying.

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SNOBBISH, BUT STYLISH
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LOOK AT THOSE SYMPATHETIC FATHER EYES. AND THE MUSTACHE, OF COURSE

And, of course, Virginia’s confident beau, Mac, played by Bruce Cabot. Best known for his role in the original King Kong, Cabot is all but forgotten at this point. He has great charisma in this film and it makes you wonder why he didn’t became a popular romantic lead.

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Love the bow tie. Why his hair is slicked back though eludes me.

Finishing School was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency

The fact that this film was set for release in May 1934 is important as the code was not actually enforced until June 1934. Thus, this film with its condemnation of the rich, its depiction of drinking and smoking (aka un-ladylike behavior), and it’s thinly veiled almost abortion would not have passed the censors if it had been released one month later.

The pre-code films are always interesting for this reason. They got away with a lot more and it’s sort of seemed like a tiny form of rebellion. Film was still (and still is) a young medium and the rules were still being written. It’s kind of comforting to know that these issues that still plague our society today, people cared about then. It’s just that after June 1934, they were no longer allowed to make a film about it.

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Pony telling Virginia how to deal with boys.

It’s a female-driven, female-written and female-directed miracle

Okay, perhaps I’m being bombastic but I think, that in 1934 it’s pretty incredible that a woman wrote and directed a film ABOUT WOMEN. What a concept. The sadness is this is Wanda Tuchock’s only directing credit apart from a TV credit in the 50s. She contributed to many films over the years including Little Women, Frances Marion’s The Champ, and Little Orphan Annie.

Although Tuchock continued to write after the pre-code era, it’s clear that her opportunities diminished after that as they did for many women behind the camera. Finishing School is by no means a perfect film, but in an industry currently going through a feminist revolution, it’s important to remember the all-but-forgotten women who paved the way.

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Wanda Tuchock, Circa 1930s
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The wit!

The film is available through the WB archive collection.

Gifs and photos property of Warner Bros.

Carole Lombard and the Vitality of “Nothing Sacred”

This past week, I got a summer cold; one of those sneezing, wheezing head-achy colds where you basically can’t do anything except watch movies. Though I do not enjoy being sick, I do enjoy any excuse to binge watch movies. I don’t know about you but when I’m sick, I go for comfort food, both in terms of actual food (Hail Matzos Ball Soup!) and in terms of the movies I watch. Screwball comedies are the best medicine.

One such screwball comedy I revisited was 1937’s Nothing Sacred starring Frederic March and the luminous and truly hilarious Carole Lombard. If you’re unfamiliar, the film features Frederic March as Wally Cook, a reporter who’s just lost credibility on a story and thus, been designated to writing obituaries. In an attempt to win back his editor, Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly), Cook travels to Warsaw, Virginia to track down Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a girl who’s dying of radium poisoning. Only one problem; just before they meet, Flagg is given a clean bill of health, but wanting a free trip out of Warsaw, keeps up the charade. As always, DRAMA ENSUES.

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500 emotions by Carole Lombard

Here are some reasons you should put Nothing Sacred on your summer watchlist!

The Cast

I’ve discussed Frederic March once before on this blog when I wrote about I Married a Witch!, another screwball favorite. Unlike that film, in which he and his co-star, Veronica Lake despised one another, the experience of filming Nothing Sacred was apparently filled with pranks and lots of laughter. March and Lombard got along very well, something that’s apparent in watching them together.

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Always so serious…

Lombard was in her late twenties and was at the top of her game. She had already made Twentieth Century and My Man Godfrey, two other wonderful screwball comedies you should all watch. Like when I was introduced to Judy Holliday, I couldn’t stop thinking of Lucille Ball when watching Lombard. She was so expressive and zany and just free. You can’t help but fall in love with her excitement, whether it’s justified or not.

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This is me when someone takes my picture.

As with many screwball comedies, the film had an impressive supporting cast of character actors which included Charles Winniger, Walter Connolly, and one strange, but very funny scene featuring Margaret Hamilton, aka the Wicked Witch of the West.

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Shaving cream everywhere!

The Script

Ben Hecht was hired by David O. Selznick to write a comedy vehicle for Lombard, but as was his style, Ben made it a bit darker than Selznick wanted and his version didn’t include a happy ending. Additionally, Hecht meant for the doctor part to go to his friend, John Barrymore, but by that time, Barrymore was a known alcoholic and Selznick wouldn’t allow it. Hecht ended up walking off the picture and the script was handed over to new writers who would punch up the dialogue and deliver a “happy ending.”

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Her “suicide note.” Love that she’s gonna face the end like an elephant.

Despite what went on behind the scenes, the script is a great balance of screwball antics and smart satire. It seems Hecht was covering the same ground as It Should Happen to You, the Judy Holliday film I discussed a while back. Both films comment on celebrity; how we define the criteria for celebrities and also, how we, as a society react to them. New York City obsesses over Hazel Flagg’s tragedy. It makes them feel better about themselves to be paying tribute to a dying girl.

At first, Hazel enjoys the attention and the benefits of her newfound celebrity, but soon, her conscience weighs on her, especially because she knows that when she comes out as a fake, her beloved reporter will be blamed. March yells at his editor at one point, accusing him of not really caring about Miss Flagg at all, only the headlines her death will bring. When March finds out that Hazel’s been lying about her ailment, he’s elated because he’s in love with her, but everyone else is actually angry that a girl who was supposed to die isn’t going to die after all. Kinda messed up, isn’t it?

The Romance

Okay, you all know I’m a sucker for anything romantic, even if it’s not technically the point of the movie. This film is no exception. Carole Lombard has great chemistry with Frederic March and now I’m going to show you a series of gifs which prove just that.

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How cute are they? 

Their Famous Fight

So, not to give everything away but towards the end of the film, Lombard and March have a physical fight…which is IMHO hilarious. I, of course, do not condone this kind of fighting, but it’s more Marx bros. slapstick than straight-up abuse. Lombard grew up with boys and knew how to box, so she was excited when she got the chance to throw punches. Apparently, the day after they shot the scene, Lombard had to take a day off to deal with her bruises. I mean, it looks to me like she actually got punched!

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According to an article in The Guardian, March did try to seduce Lombard off-set and Carole dealt with it much like one of her characters might. She called March to her dressing room and lifted her skirt to reveal that she was wearing a large dildo. Suffice it to say, March didn’t bother her again.

Because it’s a great showcase of Lombard’s talent and it’s just plain entertaining!

Carole Lombard died in a plane crash at the age of 33. Like Judy Holliday, Lombard’s talent was enormous and her life was also cut tragically short. But, because of film, we can still watch Lombard and experience her zany charm forever. This was apparently one of her favorites of her films and it’s one of my favorites as well, next to the genius that is My Man Godfrey of course.

Usually, I post a link to the trailer but this film is in the public domain, so if you have the time, simply press play on the link below.

“13 Reasons Why,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” and the Agony of Loneliness

A few months back, I was with my dad at a small Los Angeles cafe. My dad suddenly had a wide grin on his face. He recognized someone. I looked over at an older man holding his laptop. My dad said to him, “Excuse me, but are you Chuck McCann?” He smiled and replied, “I used to be.” We had a lovely twenty-minute conversation with him and afterwards I asked my dad, “Who is Chuck McCann?”

As a result of this unexpected interaction, my dad showed me a small, independent sixties film called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. McCann has a small, but important role in the film. This was one of those times, just like with Caught, where I felt that click when you discover a forgotten film, when you’re genuinely moved and completely absorbed in the story that’s being told.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, based on the novel of the same name by Carson McCullers follows John Singer (Alan Arkin), a deaf and mute silverware engraver. He lives a pretty quiet existence. His only real friend is a mentally challenged man named Spiros (Chuck McCann). When Spiros is put in a mental institution a few towns over, Singer uproots his life and moves into a family’s home where he befriends their sixteen year-old daughter, Mick (Sondra Locke). As usual, drama ensues…but this is slightly quieter drama.

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So polite and nice calligraphy, RIGHT?

Here are just a few reasons why you need to see The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

The Cast

Alan Arkin carries this film. At the time he made this, he was just starting out, having just made the film which made him: The Russians are Coming, the Russians are coming! He was an interesting choice for the part as we usually think of Arkin in a comic and verbal context…or maybe that’s just cause I know him best from Little Miss Sunshine. Either way, Arkin delivers possibly his greatest performance without uttering one word. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in the film, but lost to Cliff Robertson.

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His expression is EVERYTHING

Sondra Locke is also a revelation in this film. At 21 years old, Locke gave Mick a vulnerability and toughness that I daresay, most actresses today don’t have. She was the perfect counterpart to Arkin. They complimented each other. Though she didn’t go on to be a movie star, she’s continued to work in the film industry as an actor and producer. Locke was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but lost to Ruth Gordon.

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One of my favorite scenes in the film

Chuck McCann’s screen time may be a short, but he certainly makes his mark in the film. He was known for most of his career as a comic actor, but this film showcases his dramatic range. He is also famous for having a relationship with Stan Laurel. He apparently just found his number in the phone book and called him up. Fascinating…

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All Chuck McCann’s character wants to do this in this film is eat and I totally get it. 

Percy Rodrigues, Cicely Tyson, and Stacy Keach also give great supporting performances.

The Story

I had not read McCullers book when I saw the film, but feel compelled now to do so. Similarly to To Kill a Mockingbird, McCullers book discusses the South as well as racism and other social issues. To me, the film is ultimately about what it feels like to be lonely. It’s less about the plot and more how these significantly different people deal with their loneliness.

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No overacting. Arkin, man. He’s great.

In this way, the film reminds me of Netflix’s recent adaptation of the YA bestseller 13 Reasons Why. Everything Arkin’s Singer does is to bring people closer together. Even though ultimately, he’ll never feel that closeness with the people around him, he tries to help people where he can, even when he’s met with derision and anger. In 13 Reasons Why, the real message to take away is that our actions matter, both in positive and negative ways. We never know what anguish and pain the people around us are going through, but in our small way, we can do our part to make their lives a little brighter.

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“We have to do better.” – Clay

The Direction

In true indie style, you’ve probably never heard of the director of this film. I hadn’t. His name was Robert Ellis Miller and he actually passed away in January of this year. He directed the film very much like a play. He let moments play out organically. You never felt like you were being manipulated. It all felt genuine and real.

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So sweet

Carson McCullers

I think it’s amazing that Carson McCullers got this published at the age of 22. Her life was filled with pain. She attempted suicide, but was not successful. Carson had a tumultuous childhood and a rough adulthood, which was cut short when she died of a brain hemorrhage, just before filming began for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

As such, I think there’s a melancholy nature to all her works, but especially this novel. She took her pain and turned it into something meaningful, art that serves as a reminder that we all experience loneliness and that feeling that way is part of the human experience.

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She’s also famous for “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.”

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a poignant portrait of what it’s like to feel lonely.

It’s completely forgotten, but I don’t find its themes any less relevant than those expressed in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. We all get lonely to different degrees and we truly can all do our part to reach out and connect with the people around us. In this strange age we’re in, I think this film’s message is of the utmost importance.

 

Gifs and photos property of Warner Bros.

 

The insanity of Kirk Douglas in “Detective Story”

As most of you know, I don’t think of myself as someone who loves film noir. I’m generally turned off by the words as I associate them with films about angry men and murder. There are great movies often put in the category of film noir which subvert these stereotypes. And don’t get me wrong, I know I’m being unfair – some of those gangster, angry men films about murder are really good!

All this to say, I wasn’t over-the-moon excited to see Detective Story at this year’s TCM Film Festival. However, this was on my dad’s must list, so it was required viewing for me, just like Bye Bye Birdie was required viewing for him. Surprisingly, I was so mesmerized by Detective Story and Kirk Douglas’s insane performance that I ended up counting it as one of my favorite experiences from this year’s festival.

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He’s a little nutty.

If you’ve never seen Detective Story, (which, y’know, no judgement), it follows Detective Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas), a hardworking guy in love with his beautiful wife, Mary (Eleanor Parker). We see a day in his life at the police station, where he fights for justice. However, when one of his cases ends up connecting to Mary and a secret in her past, James is not exactly levelheaded. Also at the station that day are a cast of crazy characters including a shoplifter (Lee Grant) and 

Here are just a few reasons you should give Detective Story a watch:

The Cast

Kirk Douglas has been crazy in many of his performances, but Detective Story was when he graduated to straight up CRAY. He also made Billy Wilder’s acclaimed satire, Ace in the Hole, the same year. I almost feel like Kirk’s acting style was ahead of his time. Although the film is basically a filmed play, Kirk’s intense performance makes you feel like he was really trying to “live” his role. He apparently did follow around New York City police detectives to prepare for the role.

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TBH he seems a little more than annoyed…

At the festival, Actress Lee Grant was interviewed about her experience working on the film and how she dealt with being on the Hollywood blacklist for more than a decade. She really is quite the revelation in this film. Lee plays the “shoplifter,” a part she desperately wanted. She was originally offered the part of the ingenue in the stage play, but thought it was a boring part and so fought for this one. She was 24 at the time and just after she was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar, Grant was blacklisted for speaking at a known Communist’s funeral. She lost several years of her film career, but filled her time working on the stage. Now, she’s an accomplished writer and director who aims to represent the people who can’t speak for themselves.

Lee is so incredibly funny in Detective Story and she literally steals every scene she’s in.

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A totally natural way to leave a police station. Gotta say goodbye. Just good manners…

Eleanor Parker is also wonderful as Kirk’s wife with a secret past. She’s feminist and speaks truth to stupid. #TheFutureIsFemale

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Don’t you love old trailers? SO EPIC.

The supporting players are also wonderful – William Bendix, Cathy O’Donnell, George MacReady, and Horace McHanon.

The Script

Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Sidney Knight wrote the stage play of Detective Story, which was adapted for the screen by Robert Wyler. I love plays so to me, it’s no shocker why this film hit with me. It’s, in my mom’s coined phrase, “talky, talky, shit, shit, shit.” I love it though because it’s all about the character development, about the small moments. Also, as heavy as the film can be, there’s a lot of humor which I always appreciate.

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Seriously, WTF does this even mean? DUMP THIS GUY!

The Direction

William Wyler was no stranger to adapting stage plays for the screen. In fact, one such adaptation, The Heiress, I’ve already discussed on this blog and it’s one of my favorite films. Wyler was wonderful with actors and in a film so dependent on performances, he certainly deserves credit.

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Intense, NO?

The Cinematography

Lee Garmes of Scarface and Duel in the Sun took a filmed play and added new dimensions, using deep focus. He makes it feel cinematic.

The Production Code

This film was obviously made while the production code was in effect and the Breen office had several problems with Kingsley’s play as it was. Most specifically, they took issue with the play having an abortionist character. In the film, the dialogue is vague, but looking at it today, it’s pretty easy to see that’s what they’re talking about. Additionally, they had a problem with any law enforcement officer being killed, but they made an exception for this film.

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My favorite line in the film. Look at his eyes. LOL.

It’s a thought-provoking, emotional, hilarious crime drama

And it’s one-hundred percent worth your time, mostly for the outstanding performances by Kirk Douglas and a very young Lee Grant. Times have changed and there are moments of this film that feel very outdated, but that to me, is the magic of film. It’s a snapshot of a time and a place and specifically, in this film, how the country addressed difficult issues such as abortion.

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CC: my mother

Vintage trailer below:

Photos and Gifs property of Paramount Pictures.

Why ‘Somewhere in Time’ is a severely underrated period romance

It’s difficult for me to remember exactly when I first saw Somewhere in Time. Funnily enough, it was made the year after another time travel favorite of mine, Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time. However, this one is very different. It’s an old school romance with an intriguing premise that you can’t help but get swept up in (or, at least, I can’t!).

If you’re unfamiliar, Somewhere in Time follows Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve), a playwright suffering from writer’s block. He decides to get out of town for a bit, visiting his old college town and staying at a historic hotel. He sees a photo of an actress, Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour) in the hotel’s hall of history and falls in love with the girl. Only one problem: she’s dead. His obsession turns dramatic. He talks to an old professor, asking if it’s possible to travel through time. He essentially tricks his mind into believing he is back in 1912 (Don’t think too hard about the time travel logistics. It makes no sense obvi). Once back in time, he begins his steamy affair with Elise, much to the dismay of her manager, William Fawcett Robinson (Christopher Plummer). Will it be Robinson who tears them apart or time?? You have to watch the movie to find out!

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I’m OBSESSED with the early 20th century fashion. I WANT A FAN!

Here are just a few reasons Somewhere in Time is SEVERELY underrated:

The Cast

Christopher Reeve was HOT (both physically and in the industry), having already starred in his most popular role of Superman! He turned down several movies around this time, looking for something specific. There’s something about his sincerity that makes this character and this film work. Is it the plot convoluted and nuts? Um, yes. But, for some reason, you look into Mr. Reeve’s eyes and you’re like, Okay, sure. He’s sweet and romantic and very swoon worthy!

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He’s a bit self-assured. I think the message is, time traveling gives you confidence…

Jane Seymour was in her late twenties at the time she made this and was (and still is) absolutely drop dead gorgeous! Seriously, though, she belongs on the cover of romance novels which is probably one reason why she got the part. Additionally, she has the acting chops to back it up – she is tough, but also naive and vulnerable and you fall in love with her (just as Richard does) instantly!

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In the early 20th century, taking your down = SEDUCTION. 

Christopher Plummer is also wonderful as Elise’s manager. He was, of course, known at the time for his role as Baron von Trapp in The Sound of Music. He’s deliciously wicked as the Mr. Robinson, but you sense that there’s more to him than that, a compliment to his nuanced performance!

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What is he really thinking? 

The Score, the score, the SCOREEE!

I’m sorry, did I say the score one too many times? Well, if you had heard even one minute of John Barry’s score, I think you’d probably be screaming too. It’s difficult for me to parcel out how much of my love for this film is related to the score. I believe it elevates every aspect of the film. Apparently, or at least according to the TCM article, Jane Seymour was the one responsible for getting John Barry on board. I can’t imagine this film without this music. They belong to one another. Seriously, just give it a listen:

The Story/Script

Alright, so I know it’s far fetched. And yes, I know it’s cheesy, but for some reason, it really does work. Trust me. Writer Richard Matheson, who wrote both the novel and the screenplay got the idea when he came across photos of a young actress from the early 20th century, Maude Adams. Her biggest claim to fame: she was the first actress to play Peter Pan.

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Quite beautiful, no?

What I love about Matheson’s time travel concept is that it’s all about the mind. It’s a form of hypnosis, not a machine. As a kid, I remember REALLY buying into it. I was like, Sure, you can time travel just by shoving everything modern into a closet and dressing in old timey clothes!

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As a child, this scene both scared me to death and intrigued me beyond belief.

The romance is that Romeo and Juliet, love-at-first-sight type of deal. But, again, somehow, through the performances, you buy it and you root for them!

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A BIT dramatic…but I LOVE IT! ❤ ❤ ❤

The Gorgeous Early 20th Century Costumes

For real, I think I am one of those girls seduced by costume dramas and the thing is, the costumes in this are so pretty, you can’t NOT be obsessed with them!

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So refined and gorgeous. THAT HAT THOUGH!

The beautiful cinematography!

There are many ways to illustrate that the time period has changed. What cinematographer Isidore Mankovsky did was use a sepia-toned filter for all the the 1912 scenes. Mind you, modern audiences apparently didn’t take too well to that. But, I think it was a wonderful choice, almost like being in a picture, in a dream!

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GORGEOUS!!

The Major Flaw: THE WATCH

Alright, so full disclosure, this film does have one major flaw. In the beginning of the film, Christopher Reeve is given a watch by old Elise in the 1970’s. He takes it with him back in time, and (spoiler alert!) leaves it there with Elise. So, the big question is, where does the watch start? Like, seriously, where the fuck did this pocketwatch come from? That seems to be one thing we’ll never know!

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This watch is magical I guess?

It’s a sweeping, underrated, moody period romance! 

Despite its convoluted premise, Somewhere in Time is a severely underrated gem. It was actually a flop when it was originally released and then found its cult audience through repeated cable viewings. Now, there’s actually an annual event at the Grand Hotel honoring the film and you can bet that’s on my list of things to do (once I become a millionaire of course! LOL).

Is it utterly ludicrous? Yes. But, I think that’s where its magic comes from. It epitomizes what I believe all storytelling should set out to do: capture the imagination.

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LOL this scene. 

Vintage trailer below:

Photos and gifs property of Universal Pictures.

 

The Relevance of Judy Holliday and ‘It Should Happen to You’

It’s fortuitous that just last week I was introduced to this 1954 film. Many people turned to A Face in the Crowd, the 1957 drama starring Andy Griffith in the face of Trump’s inauguration. The film I want to discuss today was made a few years earlier and is considerably less dark, but deals with similar subject matter. It questions what fame is and why society values it, all while Judy Holliday cracks us up.

It Should Happen to You follows Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday), a young woman who’s close to broke and living in the big apple. On a walk, she meets a young photographer, Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon) and they start a’courtin’. Later, on her walk, she notices an empty billboard and decides to take what little funds she has to rent it. What, you may ask, does she advertise? Herself, of course! Enter a mega advertising firm and Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford), who will do anything to get the billboard away from her, including leasing several other billboards to Gladys. Pretty soon, Gladys’s name is everywhere and people think, Well, she must be someone if she has her name on a billboard. Her fame soon rises and she secures endorsementsall while Pete just wants to marry her. But, of course, Gladys is oblivious. Obvi, drama ensues because OF COURSE IT DOES.

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THAT LAWFORD THO.

Here are just a few reasons why It Should Happen to You is still relevant:

IMHO, the Casting!

For real, guys. Casting counts for so much, but especially in this film. I’d seen a few of Judy Holliday’s other films, like Born Yesterday and Bells are Ringing!, but I don’t think I really appreciated her until I saw her in this. While she can easily be discounted as a ditzy blonde in the vain of Marilyn Monroe, Holliday was really special. For one, she looked like a real person, which especially in this day and age, I appreciate. Our present movie stars all look like models and as such, there’s sometimes a difficulty in really relating to them.

She had real talent too, in singing and dancing. She was, after all, a broadway star. In this film though, I felt like she really had a chance to shine as an actress. The film is first and foremost a comedy, but she switches from comedy to drama easily, and makes the heavier moments lighter with her ditzy, hilarious charm.

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I wish people still wore hats. I think I have FOMO about the 50’s…

Jack Lemmon was just 29 in this film and it marked his film debut. And let me just say, he was dreamy even then…maybe I should say, especially then! His Lemmon schtick wasn’t completely set in stone yet. You can tell he’s still figuring it out…but he is so appealing, so effortlessly funny, you can’t but fall in love with him. It would be six years till he starred in one of my favorite films of all time, The Apartment.

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I love that eyebrow lift! ❤ ❤ ❤

Although Holliday had just given birth to her son a few months before shooting the film, it’s well known that she and Peter Lawford had an affair on the film. Their love scenes certainly do have a certain chemistry, but I have to say, I’ll aways be team Lemmon!

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Easy on the eyes though, no?

The Script Tho…

Garson Kanin penned the script and looking at his filmography, it almost looks like he was Miss Holliday’s personal screenwriter. He also wrote the screenplay for The Marrying Kind and Born Yesterday. He was also big in the Tracy-Hepburn films. Suffice it to say, he knew how to write a great screwball comedy.

The subject matter for this story wasn’t based on anything or anyone specific, but focuses on something even more relevant today than it was then: celebrity. We all grow up, putting people who are in the public eye on a pedestal. They’re famous, so they must be special, right? That’s what Gladys thinks too. Her yearning for fame has less to do with what fame actually is and more with a longing to be special, to belong. She learns in her journey that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In the TCM article for the film, Jeff Stafford, quotes the director of this film, George Cukor as saying:

“The idea of becoming a great celebrity without being able to do anything is a very important notion,” Cukor stated in an interview with author Gavin Lambert. “Publicity can really do it, too. Today it makes Presidents. It’s really the name of the game.”

It’s difficult to read that statement and realize that that has never been more true. Jack Lemmon’s character routinely tells Gladys that fame is nothing if the real person behind it stands for nothing. I’ll just let that sit with you for a moment. *Cough* Trump *Cough*

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We’ve all had that dream…though hopefully we’ve grown out of it.

The Director

I mean, George Cukor is just a legend. He directed too many classics to name, but my favorites are My Fair Lady, Gone with the Wind (where he was one of many directors) and The Philadelphia Story. He knew a thing or two about romance and comedy…

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Case in point: THIS SCENE.

The gowns ❤ ❤ ❤

Jean Louis was a PROLIFIC costume designer and his gowns in this film are the epitome of 1950’s style! Incidentally, costume design was the only category the film received an Oscar nomination for.

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I NEED this outfit. 

The SNAP of the Dialogue

As a writer, I obvi appreciate wit and this one delivers the wit tenfold. Judy Holliday delivers them zingers well!

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GOLD. 

It’s hilarious, romantic, and most importantly, thought provoking!

Celebrity is a huge currency in our society, especially now that the internet has given rise to social media influencers. Last week, the U.S. inaugurated a president who’s famous because of his money. He hasn’t done anything worthy of our recognition. He’s rude and uncouth. His qualifications to be president are zilch.

In a way, we as a society, gave ourselves Trump because we view celebrities as special and worthy of our attention. We give celebrity status to people who shouldn’t have it. This film may not be profound, but it’s a nice reminder that fame for the sake of fame, to quote Jack Lemmon’s character, Pete, means nothing.

Vintage trailer below:

Gifs and photos property of Columbia Pictures/Sony.

 

‘A Little Romance’ aka ‘Before Sunrise’ for the Junior Set

I didn’t see Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy until I was well into college, so when I originally saw A Little Romance I didn’t see just how similar the films were. I was maybe around twelve or thirteen when I was introduced to this film. There is definitely a fantasy element, that preteen, wouldn’t-it-be-wonderful-if-this-happened-to-me kind of thing. But, there is also a realism, a maturity, a sensitivity to the way the film treats its young protagonists.

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Aren’t they adorable? 

If you’re not familiar, A Little Romance follows Lauren (Diane Lane), an young American girl living with her mother (Sally Kellerman) and stepfather (Richard Hill) in France. She meets young Daniel (Thelonious Bernard) on the film set of her mother’s current paramour and they establish an instant connection. When Lauren finds out her stepfather is going to be transferred back to the states, she decides to go on one last jaunt with Daniel to Venice with the help of an old, charming pickpocket, Julius (Laurence Olivier). As always with my reviews, drama ensues!

Here are just a few reasons you should put A Little Romance on your watchlist:

The Cast

Diane Lane made her feature film debut with this film. She was just fourteen years old. It’s amazing to see her as a young actress. Even then, she had a maturity and intelligence that made you want to listen to what she was saying. Her co-star, Laurence Olivier envisioned Lane as the next Grace Kelly.

Thelonious Bernard also made his debut with this film, but unlike Lane, he only went on to make one more film after. He retired from acting and became a dentist in France. It’s always fascinating to see a child actor who only gave one or two performances. Bernard certainly had something in this film. He was goofy and sweet and charming. You could see why Lauren falls for him.

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#HAIRGOALS, amiright?

Laurence Olivier was at the tail end of his career and during the making of this film, was recovering from pneumonia and thrombosis, but he insisted on doing his own stunts. It’s especially fun to see him as a bumbling, kind, criminal.

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The DRAMA starts here!

The Screenplay

The film was adapted from Claude Klotz’s novel, E=MC2 Mon Amour. Allan Burns, who adapted the novel, spent most of his writing career as a television writer, working on acclaimed shows like The Munsters and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

At the time this film was released, many criticized the film’s dialogue for being too sophisticated and cute, the underlying meaning being, thirteen year-olds don’t say this stuff. It doesn’t bother me. I think that their intelligence is the main reason they’re drawn to one another. Their friends don’t understand life on the same level as them.

Also, I think there’s a little bit of a 400 Blows-type feel to this film, especially Daniel’s home life. Before Sunrise was made nearly two decades after this film but it owes it a great debt. Like Sunrise, A Little Romance is almost entirely based around Lauren and Daniel’s relationship and their conversations.

It’s also similar in that both films end realistically. Daniel and Lauren’s love affair is pure. I believe they only kiss twice. Their connection is based on more than physical attraction and the film is instead commenting on what it’s like to fall in love at that age, while not demeaning it.

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Okay? Okay. 

The Direction

Director George Roy Hill is most famous for his films Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, both of which get a little cameo in A Little Romance. Daniel is obsessed with American film and regularly goes to the see movies, parroting what he hears.

The biggest thing I can say of the direction in this film is that there’s a sweetness to it. The film doesn’t claim to be treading new territory, but it tells its story in a quiet, charming way that delivers laughs and tears.

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GO DANIEL!!

The Score

Georges Delerue is most famous for scoring Platoon, Silkwood and The Conformist. However, the only Oscar he won was for his original score of A Little Romance. It’s very seventies, but also very classical and sweet just like the film itself.

It’s a sweet and pure tale of first love.

Is it a perfect film? No. But, it certainly deserves to be remembered if for no other reason than to see a young Diane Lane. The film takes its young protagonists and their problems seriously and because of that, it can’t help but tug on your heartstrings…unless you’re heartless or something. I can’t help you there!

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Just like Bogie and Bacall, huh?

Vintage trailer below:

Photos and Gifs property of Orion Pictures.

 

Before Robby Benson was the Beast, he was a nerdy Jewish boy in “Jeremy”

Okay, show of hands – who knows who Robby Benson is? Though his name is far from being outrageously famous, I’m sure some cinephiles automatically go, “Oh, yeah. Wasn’t he the voice of the Beast?” And, yes, he was…but he also had a career long before that.

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ICYMI…that’s Robby Benson.

At the start of his career, he was actually most known for playing the romantic lead in Ice Castles, a cliched but fun love story with figure skating. And it had that overplayed, but still great Melissa Manchester song.

If you’re not familiar (which is most likely), Jeremy, made in 1973, follows Jeremy Jones (Robby Benson), a teenage Cellist with a crush on the new girl, Susan Rollins (Glynnis O’Connor). They have an awkward and sweet chemistry and fall quickly for each other only to have the fates intervene and tear them apart.

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BEST MOMENT EVER.

Here are just a few reasons you should watch Jeremy:

The Cast

For me, the cast is the major reason to watch this film. Every other element wouldn’t work without Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor. At the time, they were just fifteen years old, creating controversy over a very tasteful love scene.

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His voice breaks at the end of the sentence. 
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No, he doesn’t understand, Glynnis!

Both were fairly new to the business – this was Glynnis’s debut – and that showed in the best way possible. They weren’t trying to act. They were natural. They were believable. Their on-screen chemistry sparked an off-screen romance that lasted a couple of years. They even made another romantic drama together, Ode to Billy Joe.

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So quiet and sweet.

The Direction/Writing

Writer/director Arthur Barron was a screenwriting professor at the time. He adapted his friend, John Minahan’s novel and got Elliot Kastner (who produced The Long Goodbye) and George Pappas on board as producers.

These coming of age romance films have become a dime, a dozen. I, of course, am still watching them, but most are cliched and tired, having covered the same ground a million times over. This film came a few years after the success of Love Story. But while that film went glossy, Jeremy felt real. There’s real awkwardness in the way these teenagers talk to each other and they don’t sound like adults (Hello Dawson’s Creek!).

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This scene always gets me. It’s so honest.

Beyond the style, I loved the ending. I don’t want to give too much away but I will say it doesn’t end happily. I think I have a tendency to love impossible love stories (see: Brief Encounter).

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His surprise is great…

The Music

This was a major element of the film which I made fun of as a kid. “The Blue Balloon Song” which is sung by Robby Benson, is very seventies (my dad rolls his eyes). But, it’s sweet and awkward just like the film’s couple. It’s fun to listen to next to Robby singing as the beast and be like, “Wow, that’s the same guy.”

It’s genuine, unpolished, and awkward. 

Jeremy is far from being a perfect film. As a young person, my brothers and I used to make fun of it and my dad’s affection for it. But, looking at it as an older person, it has something that too many films lack today: sincerity.

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Oh, the awkwardness…

I know it meant a lot to my dad. He was a nerdy Jewish teenager at the time this came out.

In lieu of the trailer, here’s the whole film:

Beauty and the Beast Gif property of Disney.

Jeremy photos and gifs property of United Artists.

An eerie masterpiece: Jack Clayton’s ‘The Innocents’

As I’ve said before, I don’t consider myself a horror movie aficionado. However, over the last few years, I’ve found that my real issue is with the definition of horror itself. When I hear the word, my mind automatically jumps to slasher films and gross out humor. But, those assumptions are unfair to the horror genre which encapsulates so many others. There are fantastic classic horror films and Jack Clayton’s 1961 film The Innocents is one of them.

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Creeped out yet?

I was first introduced to this film at a movie night for a production company I read scripts for. I had never heard of it before and was amazed at the artistry behind the film. It was so detailed and oh-so creepy. I was reminded of it when I recently attended a screening of the upcoming film A Monster Calls at the Cinefamily theater. After the film, J.A. Bayona (the director) talked about the debt he owed to Jack Clayton, how much he was inspired by Clayton’s stylistic choices in The Innocents.

If you’re not familiar, The Innocents takes place in Victorian England and follows Miss Gibbons (Deborah Kerr), a governess who takes a post taking care of two little children in the country. She’s told by the orphans’ uncle (Michael Redgrave) not to bother him with any problems. In her first days with the children, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin), appear angelic. However, Miss Gibbons starts seeing people who, to everyone else, aren’t there and we start to wonder: is everyone else crazy or is Miss Gibbons? Of course, drama and creepiness ensues…

Here are just a few reasons The Innocents needs to be added to your Halloween movie marathon:

The Cast

Deborah Kerr is most associated with her roles in the movie-musical, The King and I as well as the classic war drama, From Here To Eternity. She had made by both those films by the time The Innocents came along and it was an entirely different role for her. Kerr said of her her role:

“I played it as if she were perfectly sane – whatever Jack wanted was fine; in my own mind, and following Henry James’ writing in the original story, she was completely sane, but, because in my case the woman was younger and physically attractive – Flora Robson had played her wonderfully on the stage – it was quite possible that she was deeply frustrated, and it added another dimension that the whole thing could have been nurtured in her own imagination.” – Kerr, TCM Article

Kerr carries the film with grace, purity and determination which is exactly why it’s so terrifying. We believe in her so completely.

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Just watch her eyes! The subtlety in her performance is EVERYTHING.

The children are incredible but honestly, my big thought is what parent would let their child make this film?? I mean really – this is dealing with some pretty mature themes, to say the least.

Martin Stephens was just twelve years old, but had already been in quite a few films, including another horror classic, The Village of the Damned. He had also already been in a film with Deborah Kerr a few years earlier, Count Your Blessings. His performance as Miles is chilling and quite disturbing. He gave up acting in 1966 and ended up becoming an architect, but in the cult film community, he’s still beloved!

Pamela Franklin was eleven (and she could easily have played Eleven in Stranger Things). Unlike Stephens, The Innocents marked Franklin’s feature film debut. She went on to star in other films, most notably The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and another Jack Clayton film, Our Mother’s House. Her glee is what’s most unsettling in The Innocents. While weird shit goes down, she’s jovial! Like Stephens, Franklin ended up retiring from acting in the early 1980’s to have a family.

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Angels? Eh…

Megs Jenkins, a fantastic character actress, is also wonderful as Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper who sort of, maybe believes Miss Gibbons.

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She wears this confused expression for much of the film…

Also a funny cameo: Michael Redgrave of The Lady Vanishes makes an appearance as the children’s cold uncle. Redgrave only has one scene but he makes an impression and let me just say, he’s a far cry from the charming romantic Gilbert.

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To be fair, he’s a few years older than he was in The Lady Vanishes…

The Script

The Innocents was based on an 1898 novella by Henry James called The Turn of the Screw. It’s been adapted several times over the years. It was adapted for the stage in 1950 by William Archibald and Truman Capote wrote the screenplay for The Innocents. Of the project, Capote said:

“When it was offered to me to do it as a film, I said yes instantly, without rereading it…Then I let several weeks go by before I reread it and then I got the shock of my life. Because Henry James had pulled a fantastic trick in this book: it doesn’t stand up anywhere. It has no plot! He’s just pretending this and this and that. It was like the little Dutch boy with his fingers trying to keep the water from flooding out – I kept building up more plot, more characters, more scenes. In the entire book there were only two scenes performable.” – Capote, TCM Article

I think it’s fascinating that a good portion of the plot was made up by Capote. To me, what makes the story so compelling is the ambiguity. By the end of the film, you’re still not sure what’s true and I love that! It’s really, at its heart, a psychological thriller. Story wise, it actually reminded me of films like The Lady Vanishes and So Long at the Fair. Both have our protagonists facing a situation that makes them question their reality and this one, being supernatural, is even more troublesome…

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This shot haunts me.

The Direction

At the time Jack Clayton made The Innocents, he had only just made his feature directorial debut, Room at the Top. So much of what makes this film a masterpiece is due to Clayton’s direction because the true stars of this film are the performances. The strength of Franklin and Stephens performances had to be the product of great direction.

Additionally, Clayton’s use of sound in this film is worth marveling at! The sounds, at times, seem more important than the visuals – a door slamming shut, the awful cries of a ghost, the children’s laughs…these are the things that kept my heart racing.

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That icy stare though…

The Cinematography

The visuals cannot be understated in this film. Freddie Francis served as the film’s DP. If you don’t know his name, you’ve certainly seen his work in films like The Elephant Man, Cape Fear and The Man in the Moon. Francis had already worked with Clayton on Room at the Top. Francis said of his work in the film:

“…I had quite a lot of freedom, and I was able to influence the style of The Innocents. We worked out all sorts of things before the picture started, including special filters. I still think it was the best photography I’ve ever done – as much as I like Sons and Lovers [1960] I think The Innocents was better, but you rarely get an Academy Award for a film that isn’t successful no matter how good your work on it.” – Francis, TCM Article

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These hallways are terrifying!

The Music

Georges Auric wrote the score of the film, including the original song “O Willow Waly” and it is a huge reason why the film works. Auric also wrote the scores for Roman Holiday, the French version of Beauty and the Beast and The Wages of Fear. It’s fantastically creepy!

It’s unsettling, thought-provoking, and filled with artistry!

This film was not very well received by critics when it was released in 1961. But, as with a lot of films, time has proved it a classic. When you look at the time this film was made and the themes it explored, it’s quite scandalous. Even now, the whole kissing scene between Kerr and Stephens is out there!

What I love about this film is that it keeps you on the edge of your seat and doesn’t give you all the answers. The Innocents is very much left up to the imagination. It engenders discussion and makes you feel something. In the end, what else is cinema’s purpose?

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Seems like she’s experiencing some genuine terror…

Vintage trailer below:

Feature photo and gifs property of Twentieth Century Fox.