Why it’s important to remember a movie is not old if you’ve never seen it

Yesterday, film historian and TCM host Robert Osborne passed away. While some of you who read my blog may not be familiar with his name or even his face, his death is one of the “celebrity” deaths which has hit me the hardest. I’ve spoken about TCM a lot on this blog as well as the experiences I’ve had attending the TCM Film Festival the last seven years (omg how has that much time passed?!), but I haven’t said much about Osborne himself.

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My favorite quote…

To be fair, most people who meet me wouldn’t think I had much in common with Osborne. I grew up in the age of social media and smartphones. Many friends and acquaintances think my classic film obsession is strange…even though they don’t say it. They don’t quite understand it. Some of my favorites reactions…”They [classic films] just don’t hold my attention” or “they’re too slow” or “Ugh, they’re in black & white”or “the acting was not real enough.”

So, to put it mildly, I spend a good deal of time defending classic film. Nevertheless, I take pride in introducing my favorites to friends/random people I meet on the street. I feel that I’m one of the lucky ones. I was indoctrinated with a love for classic film through my dad. His encyclopedic knowledge and love of film had a huge impact on me. We would routinely spend nights together watching a movie on TCM and so, I got used to Mr. Osborne and his intros. He was a part of the family, in our living room, almost every night.

Osborne, who died at the age of 84 was the host of TCM was for over twenty years. But, he had had a career before that. He started as an actor in the fifties, knew all the greats, and was first and foremost, a film fan. There’s a reason he was so believable in his intros – he knew this stuff forward and back, and genuinely LOVED IT.

In college, I had to do a fake campaign about an issue I cared about. So, of course, what did I choose? Classic film. My campaign poster is below. This is really the crux of why I started this blog in the first place. The only way to keep these films alive is through new, young audiences. After reading an obit article about Robert yesterday, I realized that my brilliant marketing slogan was low-key stolen from Robert’s mouth.

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such good movies! 

I was lucky enough to meet Robert at the first TCM Festival when I was just seventeen years old. Though our interaction was brief, his kindness, openness, and passion was apparent. I think he really enjoyed that we’d attended the festival as a family, something that was rare the first year. My brothers routinely made fun of my dad’s adoration for Osborne, but it was all in good fun.

Though he may not have realized it, he was just as important as the people he interviewed. Literally, he would get a standing ovation at every TCM Festival event he hosted. People cared about him, they felt like they knew him. I felt like I knew him. The best way to honor him is to continuing to pass on the gift that is classic film. Keep introducing classic film to the next generation because really, when you think about it, is a movie old if you’ve never seen it?

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Ignore how truly awful I look in this photo. #Oy #Braces

RIP Robert Osborne. You’ll be missed.

Featured photo: Beauty and the Boss, pre-code movie

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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

 

“It happened one night”…a long, long time ago

When Claudette Colbert finished filming Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, she apparently told friends, “I’ve just finished the worst picture in the world!” Still, even given her hostility and disdain for the film, it has prevailed as an endearing classic and an archetype for the screwball comedy genre.

I first saw the film sometime when I was in my teens. I had, of course, heard of the film but had never gotten around to actually watching it. It was not much of a shocker that I loved it, considering it had all my favorite elements: witty dialogue, leads who have great chemistry, and the whole reporter-getting-close-to-a-girl-for-a-story-but-then-not-being-able- to-write-the-story-because-he-falls-in-love-with-her cliche.

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Okay, so we’ve covered that Capra’s amazing. Made in 1934, this film is truly one of his best. And even though according to Capra, the making of this film would have made a great screwball comedy in itself, it was not an easy film to make. Capra had to deal with two spoiled stars (Clark Cable and Claudette Colbert) who did not want to make the film. Nonetheless, it was the first film to sweep the Oscars, winning in all five major categories.

And if you’ve never heard of Claudette Colbert then I must tell you, no, she is unfortunately not related to Late night talk show host, Stephen Colbert. However, she’s just as awesome. She dominated the industry as a leading lady for two decades.

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In It Happened One Night, Colbert plays Ellie Andrews, a rich heiress who has run away from her father because he wants her to divorce her newlywed husband, King Westley. Clark Cable plays Peter is a down and out reporter who happens to meet Colbert on a bus. He figures out who she is and decides to help her and get a scoop that will catapult him to success. Basically, it’s the same premise as Roman Holiday, but you have to remember that film was made many years later. The script was written by Robert Riskin, adapted from a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams and it sizzles, both in dialogue and its risque situations (for the time).

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This film has some of the greatest one-liners and famous scenes, but really, the reason is stands the test of time, is the fabulous chemistry between Colbert and Gable. They set a high bar for all the romantic comedy couples that came after them.

Criterion Edition trailer below.

 

 

Whoops…I think that lady just vanished…

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

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

Alright. Let’s get to The Lady Vanishes.

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

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

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

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

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

Vintage trailer below.