‘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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Film that won Olivia De Havilland her first Academy Award

A few weeks back, I saw a new film in theaters which is surprising considering this has been such a bad year for movies. That film was called A Light Between Oceans. The film was not bad nor was it very good. But, it did make me think about a movie I saw a while back called To Each His Own, mostly because the plot was, like, ninety percent the same.

I’ve spoken about Olivia De Havilland twice before on this blog when I wrote about Gone With the Wind and The Heiress, which makes me laugh because I’ve only recently started watching the bulk of her films. I came across To Each His Own when TCM was honoring De Havilland for her 100th birthday. It’s not remembered as a standout classic film, but more just remembered as the film which won Olivia her first Oscar.

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Wasn’t she gorgeous? #FASHIONGOALS // Courtesy of Culturalist.com

I, however, really enjoyed it. If you’re not familiar, To Each His Own is a small character drama about a middle-aged woman named Jody Norris (De Havilland), who’s looking back on her youth when she lived in a small town and had a baby out of wedlock. Because the town is so small, she concocts a plan to keep the baby without anyone knowing it’s hers.

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The foolproof plan…#UMMM

However, the plan goes awry. The baby is adopted by a friend of hers (whose own baby just died). Jody plans to tell them everything and take her baby back, but her father stops her, telling her she’d ruin her baby’s life (really meaning his reputation). Later, after her father passes, she tries to get her baby back and does but the child doesn’t want her. He wants his “real parents.” Dejected, she sends the child back to live with the adoptive parents. DRAMMMMMMA.

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Some baby MAMA drama. #ImSoFunny

Here are just a few reasons you should check out To Each His Own:

The Cast

Obviously, this was the role than won Olivia De Havilland her first Oscar and her performance is certainly worthy. Not only does she convincingly play her character as a middle-aged woman and a young ingenue, but she also gives us the big emotional moments in a quiet, understated, authentic way. Director Mitchell Leisen was so convinced De Havilland would win an Oscar for her performance that at the end of shooting, he gave her a charm bracelet with a mini Oscar on it.

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If Oscars could be won for BEST HAIR…

Broadway actor John Lund had his theatrical debut with this film. He played Captain Bart Cosgrove, Olivia’s love interest, and also played their son whom she meets in her middle age. He’s quite remarkable because even though you can tell it’s the same actor playing both roles, his mannerisms are completely different.

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He’s singing to her here by the way…

The Direction

The script was by Olivia’s own admission, a “conventional soap opera (TCM Article).” She believed the only person who could make it more than that would be Director Mitchell Leisen, whom she had been directed by in the film which won her her first Oscar nom, Hold Back the Dawn. He was unenthusiastic about directing this particular film, but Olivia insisted and so, he worked to improve the script as much as possible and went all in.

As production went on, he apparently did become more enthusiastic and Olivia credits Leisen’s direction with her Oscar win. In reading about the film, what stands out about his direction is how detail-oriented he was. Whether it was about something out of place for the time period or a slight tweak to Olivia’s performance, he was a perfectionist. He didn’t want to be a hired hand; he was more than that.

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An example of the small moments Leisen captured…

The Story

This is really what it’s all about. Now, it’s true that this story has some soap-operatic elements. However, what I love is that the film is rich in character development and emotional moments. It’s not an original story – there are several variations on this concept including two of my favorite films, The Torch Singer and Bachelor Mother. 

Much of this film surrounds the drama between Jody and the family that is raising her child. It’s a contentious situation. The other family is not willing to give him up and Jody eventually blackmails them into getting him back only to come to the realization that her son doesn’t want to be with her.

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Her eyes are crazy THOUGH…#Amiright?

This is a theme which is shown again in the film I mentioned at the beginning of this article, The Light Between Oceans. That film is dramatically much darker, but it does also cover the heartbreak that occurs when the parent is reunited with their child, only to be ultimately rejected.

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Having to watch your child grow up without you…

To me, this story is really pondering the question, “What makes someone a parent?” Is it simply the biological component or is it being there for the child, as a parent would be? Obviously, in ideal situations it’s both. But, many aren’t that lucky. As a child, having a present adult in your life who loves you and cares about your well-being means more than what it biologically means to be a parent.

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HEART BREAKING…

That’s really what makes the tale so heartbreaking. In both films, it’s not the biological parent’s fault that their child grew up with another family. But, that doesn’t change the reality that the child doesn’t see their biological parent as their “real” one.

It’s a sincere and moving melodrama

In the hands of less talented people, this film could have been a sappy, annoying soap opera. But because of Leisen and De Havilland’s brilliant performance, the material is lifted into being a emotional and earnest story about the love between a mother and her child. I don’t want to ruin the film’s ending, but I will say it’s a beautiful one. Any mothers out there will probably tear up. Who am I kidding? I’m not a mother and I teared up. All of you will be tearing up…or maybe I’ll say, you should be.

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Olivia De Havilland is EVERYTHING. 

Below is a link to the full movie, on Youtube. Enjoy the feels. 😭

Main Photo and Gifs – Copyright of Paramount Pictures

 

Forgotten Gems: Max Ophuls’ ‘Caught’

Throughout my life, I’ve been told that it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is a poor man. No doubt an adage from a different time, I’m fairly sure it’s my mom’s ambition in life to marry me off to a rich man. Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit extreme. She also wants him to be nice and have good values and stuff. But, rich is up there…

Over this labor day weekend, I was introduced to a film that attempts to answer the question, “Does marrying rich equal happiness?” The film is Caught. Made in 1949, Caught marked the first film that James Mason made in America. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t want to see it when my dad first pitched it to me – I said “Another film noir?” I tend to get annoyed because the only thing my dad wants to watch is film noir, but this one is different and well worth the watch.

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Every girl’s dream…apparently. #FANTASY

If you’re unfamiliar, Caught follows Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes), a young, idealistic, poor girl. She wants to move up in life and so, decides to go to charm school where she’ll be given the tools she need to not just have the job she wants, but the husband she wants too. She gets lucky, marrying Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan), but she quickly finds out wealth is not enough alone to make her happy. Ohlrig, who treats her like his employee, tells her to take a trip. Instead, she decides to get a job as a receptionist in a doctor’s office. It’s there that she meets Dr. Larry Quinada (James Mason) who she develops an attraction to. Only one problem – she’s still married! Let’s just say DRAMA ENSUES.

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RICH!!! #MoneyFixesEverythingRight?

Here are just a few reasons you need to check out Caught ASAP:

The Cast

The cast is everything in Caught. Although the film was marketed using James Mason, its star was really Barbara Bel Geddes. Though most know her from the long running TV soap Dallas or her small role in Vertigo, Bel Geddes had quite an impressive early career. She starred in films made by George Stevens and Elia Kazan and played opposite stars like Henry Fonda and Irene Dunne. But, this film is really her shining moment. In watching her, it’s easy to see how naturally talented she was. As my dad put it, she was not a drop-dead gorgeous beauty like Ava Gardner; instead, she was a softer beauty, the “girl next door.” In essence, she looked like someone you could actually know.

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I’m sorry…why did everyone want mink coats again? #HAIRGOALS

As I already said, Caught was James Mason’s first film in America. At the time, he was already known across the pond in England. I had, of course, seen James Mason in many films before this, but I’d never thought of him as a romantic lead. This film changed my mind. He was around forty at the time he made Caught and probably at his most handsome. But, really what was so attractive about him in this film is the intelligence he exudes. He’s attractive, yes. But, he also seems like a real person. He’s believable and genuine and I’m gonna say it, sexy.

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Look at those dimples. #SWOON

Robert Ryan is also wonderful as Smith Ohlrig, the Howard Hughes-inspired millionaire Leonora marries. So easily this character could have been one note – the evil villain. But there are moments when he seems human too and that, I think, is thanks Ryan’s nuanced performance.

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What a “silly girl!” #DatingIsFun

The Script

The script was written by Arthur Laurents, who also wrote West Side Story, Rope and The Way We Were. Though the film was adapted from Libbie Block’s book Wild Calendar, much inspiration was taken from director Ophuls experience working for Howard Hughes.

I was surprised at how frank the film was, not just in regards to marriage but also in its recognition of a woman’s position in the late 1940’s. This is from a female point of view and it recognizes that a woman’s options during that time were limited. I love that Mason’s character tells her not to make decisions because of social conventions, i.e. how it’s going to look.

I was particularly fascinated by the lack of options Leonora had. She couldn’t just get divorced from her husband. Beyond how her reputation would have been ruined (which IMHO is bullshit), there was unequal power. Her husband had immense resources at his disposal and she had none. He could ruin her and would ruin her if she crossed him.

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James Mason doesn’t mess around. #RealTalk

The Romance

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know I’m obsessed with romance and Caught is no exception. Even though there are only a few romantic scenes in the film, I couldn’t help but ship James Mason and Barbara Bel Geddes’ affair. Their chemistry is real and understated. It kind of reminded me of the romance in Waitress or Suspicion. Get ready to swoon!

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My heart drops.
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That smile when he says OK….#ThoseSuspendersTHOUGH
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First comes love, then comes marriage…
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Something about black&white, amiright?

The Direction 

Max Ophuls, also known as Max Oppenheimer, made most of his films in France. He was only in the U.S. from 1941 to 1950. Most of the films he made were period romances. Max had been fired from Vendetta, a film which was produced by Howard Hughes. Caught is an amalgam of genres. It’s a melodrama and a thriller, but also, based on the stylistic choices and subject matter, a film noir. A famous, talented filmmaker in his own right, Jean Luc Godard called Caught,“Max’s best American film (Godard, TCM Article).”

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Uh oh….#WomanInPeril

The Cinematography

Though this was not an A-film, the production values were high. This is especially true in regards to the cinematography. Lee Garmes, who was famous for films like Scarface (the original 30’s film) and Duel in the Sun, shot the film with subtlety, letting moments unfold organically. He worked for producer David O. Selznick quite a bit and it is rumored that shot a large portion of Gone With the Wind.

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Those angles THOUGH.

It’s a thrilling, thought-provoking melodrama with incredible performances

The world has changed quite a bit since the late 1940’s, especially in regards to the way we define traditional male and female roles in society. However, this film is still relevant. It comments on society’s expectations and also criticizes them. It’s true that with wealth comes security, but that’s only in regards to financial matters. True security comes with accepting and loving both yourself and your partner. One without the other does not equal fulfillment.

It’s always a joy when I see a wonderful film which is not as well known as the major classics. It’s like uncovering treasure. Imagine this: this film was made almost seventy years ago and yet, there’s a lot to say.

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#REALTALK

I would put a link to the trailer below, but the whole movie happens to be on Youtube. So, happy watching!

 

#FeministClassics: ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’

I first saw this film as a teenager. I wasn’t super excited when my dad pitched this movie to me. I had seen Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and though I had liked both of them, I found them to be fairly male oriented films. The female characters seemed secondary. My dad countered, telling me that it wasn’t really Scorsese’s film. It was Actress Ellen Burstyn’s.

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Ellen Burstyn had just finished making a little picture called The Exorcist and after seeing dailies, Warner Brothers told Burstyn they wanted to make another picture with her. They sent her several scripts, but in each of them, the woman wasn’t the protagonist. Her agent found the script for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Burstyn ended up bringing everyone on board, from producers to Director Martin Scorsese.

If you’re not familiar, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore follows Alice (Ellen Burstyn), a woman in her mid-thirties whose semi-neglectful husband dies suddenly. This leaves Alice with no money and her eleven year-old smart ass son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter III), to take care of. She decides to get back to Monterey, California, where she grew up. But since she has very little money, she stops along the way to save up, meets a couple of men, makes a few mistakes, and in the process finds out who she is and what she wants.

Here are just a few reasons Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a feminist classic:

The Cast

As I mentioned, this film belongs to Ellen Burstyn. She really was the driving force behind getting it made and in watching her performance, you can see she put a lot of her personal experiences into it. Also, she won the Oscar that year, though she wasn’t there to accept the award. Since she was in a Broadway show at the time, Scorsese accepted the award on her behalf, thanking everyone she had to told him to thank, including himself.

Alfred Lutter III made his feature debut in this film playing Burstyn’s eleven year-old son, Tommy. I’ve talked about him once before in my post on The Bad News Bears. He was only in four films before he retired from acting at the age of fifteen. Still, Lutter made quite the impression, in this film especially. He seemed like a real kid and he could be both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.

Funny side story: On the drive to set one day, Martin Scorsese was riding with Alfred. Alfred told Marty a story over and over, asking if he understood. By the time they got to set, Marty was completely annoyed but also thought it was hilarious – so much so that he put it in the movie (seen in the gif below).

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Poor Ellen Burstyn. #IStillDontUnderstandThisStory

Kris Kristofferson was relatively new to film when he played David, Burstyn’s love interest. Scorsese tried to put him at ease, telling him to ignore the script and say the lines in the way that felt most natural to him. He was understated and (even with that crazy beard) incredibly sexy. You just can’t NOT like him.

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A man’s MAN if I ever saw one. #SWOON

Harvey Keitel wasn’t in much of the film, but he certainly made an impression during his few scenes. Keitel played a man Alice meets while working as a singer, but he reveals himself to be CRAY. When I first saw this film, he scared the shit out of me. He still kinda does…

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Keitel is TERRIFYING, amiright?

Diane Ladd was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Alice’s co-worker, Flo. When her character is first shown onscreen, she kind of seems like a bitch. The best part is that Flo and Alice’s relationship very organically becomes a friendship and their scenes together maybe mean more than Alice’s scenes with David.

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That hair THOUGH. #1970sStyle

Special mentions:

Two young, very talented actresses. The first is a twelve year-old Jodie Foster. She played Audrey, Tommy’s friend. As with Keitel, her part is not a big one, but she makes a major impression.

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Oh, the 70’s…#shorthairdontcare

The second is actress Laura Dern, who was just seven years-old. She, of course, is Diane Ladd’s daughter and so, was in a scene in the diner, eating an ice cream cone.

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Does your eye spy little Laura Dern?

The Script

The script was written by Robert Getchell, who also wrote Mommie Dearest and This Boy’s Life. This is where the feminist aspect comes in. Although, of course, Robert Getchell is a man, this story was told from a female point of view. It was making a statement about what it was like to be a woman at that time and exploring how we define our happiness as human beings.

There was a major controversy over how to end the film. Burstyn believed the film was about Alice standing on her own two feet without a man by her side. The studio wanted David and Alice to get married at the end. They needed to find a compromise. So, Kris said, “Jeez, if he loves this girl – if I did – I’d just say pack your fuckin’ bags. I’ll go with you” (Kristofferson, Second Chances Doc). I  actually really loved the ending because it wasn’t saying that you needed a man to make you happy. Alice stood up for the things she wanted and she ended up getting all of them, including David.

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Her face THOUGH. 

The Direction

Even though Scorsese was a hired hand on this film, he made it his own. He told Burstyn from the get-go that he didn’t know much about women, but that he was eager to learn. He was only 34 years old when he directed the film, but already he was experienced. He had already made Mean Streets, which is what got him the meeting with Burstyn in the first place and as my dad reminded me, he was an assistant director on Woodstock.

It was Scorsese’s idea to start the film with a semi-fantasy sequence which was shot on the old Colombia Pictures lot. It was weird and interesting and kind of gritty, much like the film itself. As a film buff himself, Scorsese saw the film as a Joan Crawford or Bette Davis vehicle. Without his direction, I believe the film would have been more of just a straight melodrama. He added humor, sensitivity and humanity to the story.

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Scorsese on set with Burstyn and Kristofferson

It’s funny, sad, and brilliant in its simplicity.

At its core, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is about human beings – all imperfect, all trying to figure out what’s going to make them happy. Beyond the style and music, the film hasn’t aged a day and I think that’s ultimately because it’s about human beings. It’s not a big story, but it hits on an emotional level. Burstyn’s contributions were major – she wanted to make sure this film was told through the eyes of a woman.

The film went on to be adapted to a very successful tv sitcom which ran from 1976-1985. With great performances and a legendary director, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is well worth the watch. IMHO, it’s a film which doesn’t get praised often enough, probably because Scorsese has gone on to direct so many classics.

My challenge to you: watch the film and try to tell the “Shoot the Dog” story to someone. I don’t know why. That just sounds fun.

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I feel so bad for Alice here…

Vintage trailer below:

‘Baby It’s You’: A Forgotten Classic

I’m gonna be honest. Ninety percent of why I’m writing this post is because of my dad. Since I’ve been highlighting forgotten films, my dad has been hardcore campaigning for me to write about this movie since it’s one of his favorites. Personally, it’s not one of mine so you won’t hear me “fangirling” in this one. However, even though it’s not my cup of tea, this film definitely fits in with the other films I’ve covered in this blog. It’s romance. It’s high school. It’s a period piece.

If you’re not familiar, Baby it’s you, written and directed by John Sayles, takes place in the 1960’s and follows Jill Rosen (Rosanna Arquette) and Albert ‘Sheik’ Capadilupo (Vincent Spano), a young, slightly unorthodox couple in high school. It’s not a new premise: they come from different worlds. She has money. He doesn’t. She’s popular. He’s an outcast. Their romance isn’t exactly an obvious match to the rest of the world. And with Jill’s transition to college, the relationship certainly has some growing pains! It’s DRAMATIC.

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DRAMAAAAAA. #IntenseAF

Here are just a few reasons you should watch Baby It’s You:

The Actors

When Rosanna Arquette was in Baby It’s You, she was just 24 years old. She had been in a few films before, but this was her first real starring role. And it shows in the best possible way! She’s natural, bubbly, and genuine as Jill.

Vincent Spano, funnily enough, was younger than Arquette. He was just 21 years old when he stepped in the Sheik’s shoes and similarly to Arquette, it showed. In essence, both of these young actors had something to prove and it’s easy to see, they put everything they had into this film.

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I just want to say I never had a fight like this in high school. The sixties were a bit MELODRAMATIC.

The Time Period

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for period pieces. Probably one reason my dad loves it. This is when he grew up and where he grew up: New Jersey, 1960s. I think because of that it scratches a specific itch he has, the nostalgia he has for his childhood. Certainly, Sayles knew that world well. He also grew up in that period, though he was in Schenectady, New York. The time and place are like a character in the film, the details are specific and all-encompassing.

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Do me a favor – play “Baby it’s You” by The Shirelles when you watch this. Makes ALL the difference. 

The Music

Sayles apparently had to work hard to get Paramount to let him score the film with classic rock songs. Luckily, it was one battle he ended up winning. To me, this is one of the film’s greatest strengths. I kind of feel like music-wise, I belong in the 60’s FO-REAL. Listen to this piece and bask in its awesomeness.

The Script

John Sayles wrote the script which was based on Producer Amy Robinson’s upbringing. Though there are other films of this kind which I think cover this ground (teenage romance) better than this one, there is a sincerity to the way this story is told that makes it stand out.

In relationships, there’s usually one person that holds on a little harder than the other. The Sheik is definitely that person. Whereas for Jill, he’s simply a high school boyfriend, the Sheik thinks their relationship has a future. Funnily enough, it’s not until they both face those facts that I think Jill really treats him like a person. By the end of the film, they’ve both matured and are able to treat each other with respect.

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The truth hurts. #RealTalk

The Direction

This was not an independent film. In fact, it was Sayles’ first studio film. He didn’t particularly like the loss of control, especially in regards to the ending. Sayles won the fight to keep the rather downtrodden ending that he wanted, but the studio retaliated by only half-heartedly publicizing the film.

Still, with all that going on behind the scenes, Sayles made a film that would now only be made as an indie. It’s quiet and reserved and thoughtful. He brought the best out of his young cast and made a film that wasn’t scared to have complex characters, who were more than a stereotype.

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#Maturity

It’s nostalgic and truthful

While I still wasn’t deeply affected by this film the second time around, I appreciate the fact that it was made by people that obviously cared. The actors cared, the producers cared and their director cared. It’s not my favorite film but it is one that deserves to be remembered and highlighted. There, dad. You happy?

Also, shout out to my Jew girls out there!

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Stereotypes, man. 

Vintage trailer below:

 

Why ‘The Story of Adele H’ is worth the subtitles

There’s a portion (okay, maybe most) of the film that’s in French, but don’t let that discourage you: The Story of Adele H is totally worth the subtitles.

I first saw this film in my early teens. I had seen a few other Truffaut films at the time – The 400 Blows, Antoine and Colette, Jules and Jim. The major reason I fell in love with The Story of Adele H was because it was about unrequited love…and I was in THAT phase – you know the one – where tragedy and loss of love you just can’t help but romanticize. Well, that was me.

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Ah, Adele, hate to break it to you, but he’s just not that into you…

Directed by the renowned French filmmaker Francois Truffaut, it’s based on the true story of Adele Hugo, the daughter of Les Miserables author Victor Hugo. The film follows Adele, who’s in love with an officer, and adores him so much that she gives up her life in France and follows him to Canada. Some light stalking occurs really…well, more than light.

If you’ve never seen the madness that is The Story of Adele H, here are just a few reasons I love it:

The Cast

The film is based on Adele Hugo’s diaries. In actuality, Adele was in her thirties when she went through everything. However, Truffaut decided to cast Isabelle Adjani who was just twenty. Still, whether it’s historically accurate or not, Adjani’s performance makes the film. She’s beautiful and vulnerable and relatable and heartbreaking. Also, she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance…which she totally deserved IMHO.

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Her costumes are EPIC.

Bruce Robinson plays Lt. Pinson, the man Adele gives up everything for. He’s aloof and handsome…everything Pinson needs to be.

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Pretty handsome guy. #youcankindofseewhyAdelewasobsessed

 

The Script

The very nuanced script was written by Truffaut and, of course, adapted from Adele’s journal. The script trails her delusions and complete descent into madness. It’s truly a heartbreaking film, partly because you know it’s based on a real person.

However, there is a truth in the film – we, as human beings, tend to pick a person and then put them on some imaginary pedestal whereby they are the only person we could possibly love. It almost doesn’t matter if they don’t like you back. They are secondary to the person we’ve imagined in our heads.

The film is about obsession. You can’t even blame Pinson completely. Think about it: If you were him, would you want to be with someone who was SO desperate to be with you? Although, I will say, Adjani is so beautiful that it stretches believability that anyone would refuse her. #OnlyInTheMovies

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The Real Adele Hugo

Some great lines too:

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#RelationshipGoals…maybe, maybe not?

The Direction

This may seem like somewhat of a repeat as I’m just going to sing Truffaut’s praises…again. But, directing is a different skill than writing, a different muscle. The film flows in a really interesting way. It’s quiet – it’s not an epic by any stretch of the imagination. However, his strength comes in eliciting Adjani’s strong performance. He once said of her, “She acts as though as her life depended on it” (Pop Matters Review).

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Isabelle Adjani and Truffaut on set

The Cinematography

Néstor Almendros shot Adele H and the results are stunning. There’s something about the colors. The film is dark and at the same time, almost pale, like Adele’s face at the end of the film, drained of color.

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Desperate much?
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But are you? #Delusions

The Creation of the Time Period

Usually, I wouldn’t mention this, but when you look at the artistry that went into creating 19th century Nova Scotia, it really is awe inspiring. The detail of the costumes and the setting is incredible.

Director Martin Scorsese once spoke about the costuming for his film, The Age of Innocence, saying that he specifically made sure the costumes weren’t perfect. In period pieces, the people almost tend to look like statues, not a hair or a button out of place.

I believe Truffaut’s Adele H follows Scorsese’s rule. The time period is believable precisely because it is not perfect.

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Just look at her hair …#GirlsIn19thCenturyHadHairProblemsToo

It’s Moody, Thought Provoking and Just Plain Fun

The film is moody. We are put so completely into Adele’s head that you almost feel like you are going mad yourself. Even though Adele lived in the 19th century and by all accounts, she was certifiably cray, she’s still intensely relatable – and not just if you’re a teenage girl in her romanticizing impossible love phase.

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Not completely out of line IMHO.

Most of the time, you just want to tell her, “Adele, he’s just not that into you.” But, alas, it’s hard to give advice to movie characters.

Vintage trailer below:

 

The Charm of ‘So Long at the Fair’

In one of my first posts for this blog, I talked about my love for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. When I was a teenager, I was shown a film which, in plot, is quite similar – So Long at the Fair.

When I first saw this film, my dad had recently stumbled upon it while watching TCM. He thought I’d enjoy it because of my love for The Lady Vanishes. It’s a small British film with two (at the time, obvi!) up and coming stars: Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde.

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A meet-cute if I ever saw one…

The film follows Vicky Barton (Jean Simmons) who travels with her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) to Paris in 1889 for the World’s Fair. Their first night in Paris, they’re having a grand old time…

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That background looks SO real…

The brother-sister relationship is one of the fun parts of the film. Jean Simmons is so delightfully sweet and genuine. You can’t help but feel for her.

That night, she bids her brother goodnight and one of the hotel managers grabs their room keys…

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17 and 19 for all you non-French speakers…

The next morning, something strange has occurred. When Vicky goes to wake her brother, his room has disappeared.

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Um, WHAT?

And thus, begins the premise of the film. Where is Vicky’s brother’s room and why is everyone insisting that he was never there at all?

There are so many reasons I love this film, but here are just a few:

Jean Simmons

This film was my introduction to Jean Simmons, not to be confused with Kiss’s lead singer. I hadn’t yet seen Guys and Dolls which is fitting considering she made So Long at the Fair first. She’s so genuine in every moment, you can’t help but be drawn into her grief.

Dirk Bogarde, her co-star, said of her, “Jean is about the sweetest girl you could wish to meet and all you read about her being natural and unsophisticated is absolutely true” (Jeff Stafford’s TCM article).

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19th century insults…amiright?

The Period

This would not usually be one I’d point out, but I so love the time period they recreate in So Long at the Fair. There is so much precision in the costumes and settings that you really believe that they’re in 19th century France. Of course, they do use some stock backgrounds, but that doesn’t bother me much.

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Just look at Jean’s hair alone! Classic…

The Romance

The film’s main plot can be more precisely classified as mystery or suspense. However, I really enjoy the romance in this film. Dirk Bogarde plays a British artist who learns about Jean’s predicament and decides to help her.

In interviews, Dirk seemed to assert that them being in the film together was a publicity stunt, meant to pair them together. Jean said in interviews that she was very much in love with Dirk during the making of the film. Whatever is true, Jean was with actor Stewart Granger by the end of the film and Dirk ended up being gay. But, no matter what the behind the scenes truth is, they did right in this film.

I remember telling my dad my biggest problem with the film the first time I saw it – Why don’t Jean and Dirk kiss or something? They needed to complete that storyline. 😉

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Dirk’s eyebrows, amiright?

The Premise

I don’t want to give away what happens, but I will say that it doesn’t go where you think it will. When I originally saw the film, I was genuinely surprised by its ending. The story is based on an urban legend that apparently took place during the Paris exposition. It has been the inspiration for several stories, including  Covered Tracks and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The film was based on a book by Anthony Thorne and was co-directed by Terence Fisher and Antony Darnborough. Fisher was an editor, but also a director known for his horror films The Mummy, The Curse of Frankenstein and The Curse of Dracula. 

It’s such a wonderful idea for a story, so simple and intriguing. What makes the premise so wonderful is that you’re always questioning if it is simply all in her head, which, to me, is scarier than anything else!

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Vicky when she finds out what happened to her brother…

It’s FUN

So Long at the Fair is a small film, not an epic. It will not be remembered in the same class as The Lady Vanishes, but for all its flaws, it’s fun nonetheless. I think it’s worth it just to see Jean Simmons in one of her first roles. She carries the film.

I assume, like most people, that you’ve never seen the film. It’s only about an hour and twenty minutes. And…it’s on youtube (aka perfect afternoon watch). I love sharing this film because it is forgotten. It may not have been a film that changed the world or furthered filmmaking technique, but it’s charming, accessible and truly suspenseful.

Sit back and enjoy the charms of So Long at the Fair. Please leave comments letting me know your thoughts!

Barry Levinson’s ‘Diner’: A Sleeper Classic

Back in 2008, a movie came out in theaters, the reviews of which cited the comeback of one Mickey Rourke. That movie was The Wrestler. I remember having a conversation with my dad about it, asking what career he was coming back to. What had this Mickey Rourke been in that was so great? He responded, “Diner.”

Diner, made in 1982, was directed and written by Barry Levinson, follows a group of friends trying to figure out their lives in 1959 Baltimore. Starring Ellen Barkin, Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Tim Daly, and Paul Reiser, the film easily made their careers.

When Levinson gave the script to his agent, they apparently didn’t know what to do with it. It didn’t fit into stereotypes or a conventional story arc. Really, the movie was essentially about nothing…the first of its kind really in that way. The film was about the in-between moments. Hitchcock is famous for saying, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” Well, that’s Diner – all the dull parts, except they’re not boring!

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A huge reason that the film worked was the casting. They were all young actors, fairly inexperienced. Guttenberg was 22, Barkin was 26. Reiser was 24, a young stand up comedian in New York, who wasn’t even trying to audition. Apparently, his improvisations were almost effortless. Levinson apparently would let the camera keep rolling when the scripted scene had ended, though it was sometimes by accident – he would forget to say cut!

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Recently, I wrote about Breaking Away, another sleeper classic, which starred Daniel Stern. Just as he stole scenes in that movie, Stern uses his limited plot in Diner and knocks it out of the park! One of his best scenes is between Barkin and Stern. Stern’s character is yelling at his wife for not putting his record back in the right place – it needs to be in alphabetical order and by genre. She can’t understand why he’s yelling at her. I just want to say I’ve heard the exact same conversation between my parents – except it’s about movies, not records.

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There’s also a scene where Guttenberg gives his fiance a football trivia quiz. If she doesn’t pass the test, the wedding is off. Most of the guys come to his house, keeping score outside the room. It’s pure hilarity.

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Rourke’s character, Boogie, is really the center story though. He’s a gambler and a smooth talker. He’s always trying to get the guys to take a bet – one involving getting a girl to grab his penis at the movie theater. He somehow accomplishes what he wants to and gets away with it. And yet, despite his character’s asshole-ish antics, he’s likable. When the going gets tough and Boogie’s about to do something horrible, he backs out.

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Kevin Bacon, in an early role, is probably at his best. He’s nuts and not too well drawn out, and yet, he’s real. As Fenwick, Bacon is almost manic, not yet having established his heart throb image.

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The film is obviously from a very male perspective. The only well drawn female character is Stern’s wife, played by Ellen Barkin. I have to acknowledge that. But, I would also say that, at its core, the film is about friendship and that theme is universal. It’s also about a life transition. These men may be great one day, but they’re still, in many ways, boys. Guttenberg still has his mother making him sandwiches, much to his chagrin.

Film critic Pauline Kael apparently reviewed the film before its release and gave it a rave review. According to Barkin, the studio didn’t want to release the film. They did so mostly cause they thought they would look like even bigger idiots if they didn’t release it.

A few years ago, it was announced that the film was being made into a musical – the music to be written by Sheryl Crow. I’m not sure what’s going on with it, but it did have some sort of a run…here’s a look below at what it was like.

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I go back to this film every once in a while because somehow, in its simplicity, it caught something special. Maybe it was the people or the script or the time it was made…I don’t really know. Without a doubt, it’s a special film where the stars just aligned – which is hilarious considered it was made for 5 million dollars and only made 15 million. In a documentary about the film, Levinson and one of the actors pointed out how specific these characters and this place was and how that makes it more timeless. I agree with that. There was something universal and let’s face it, just entertaining.

If you’ve never seen Diner, it’s well worth a watch. I guarantee you’ll relate to something in it.

Vintage trailer below: