Amsterdam, Tolerance, and George Stevens’ ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’

In September, I spent a month traveling Europe with my best friend. I’d never been to Europe. Heck, I’d never even been on a plane. Thus, this trip was a little frightening but also terribly, terribly exciting.

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My bestie and I in Dublin, Ireland

I thought that since it’s been a while since I’ve posted, it’d be fun to cover one movie for each of the places I visited. So, of course, I’m starting with the most depressing.

The first is Amsterdam. I was lucky enough a few years back to attend a screening of this film at the TCM Film Fest. Its stars Diane Baker and Millie Perkins were even in attendance to discuss the film afterwards. It’s a film which is not easy to forget. It was only made twenty years after and so, the events were still fresh. The film’s director, Mr. George Stevens, had seen the consequences of the holocaust firsthand.

I, myself, read the book when I was in middle school. I remember the overwhelming nature of the story – I was still in my phase of always wanting a happy ending. I knew before I read it that it did not end happily, but reading it was still a more emotional experience than I expected it to be. I was 13, just as Anne was at the beginning of her diary and it was hard for me to grasp that this wasn’t just a story, that this had really happened, that a girl not dissimilar from me had been murdered.

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Anne in the first class of Jewish Secondary school, 1941

I saw the movie afterwards and remember liking it, though when I saw it on the big screen at the TCM Fest, I was absorbed in a completely different way. The claustrophobia and anxiety was palpable and I was a mess (even through my mother constantly leaning over to ask me how much was left – she’s not good in long movies).

When I sat down to write, this was the first movie which popped into my head, mostly because with recent events like what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, I have been thinking about Anne’s diary and George Steven’s adaptation a lot. I think, more than ever before, this film and Anne’s outlook on the world is of the utmost importance.

Believe it or not, the actress that director George Stevens first had in mind to play Anne was not an unknown. Instead, it was a little actress by the name of Audrey Hepburn. At the time, Hepburn was twenty-eight, not to mention the fact that she was not Jewish. Hepburn had, however lived through that period in Amsterdam and witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust.

Still, either because of scheduling conflicts or mixed feelings, Hepburn turned down the part and Stevens was forced to do a large casting call where he finally found Millie Perkins, a model from Passaic, New Jersey. Perkins was twenty at the time and completely green, which I think ultimately, made her the perfect actress to play Anne. She was unassuming and tenacious, just like Anne, and she hit every dramatic beat perfectly.

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Love the B&W cinematography

Diane Baker was also a newcomer, playing Anne’s older sister, Margot. She brought a vulnerability and sweetness to the part and obviously, went on to do great things in movies like The Silence of the Lambs and many others.

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The main cast crowded into one photo

Shelley Winters was totally committed to her role of Mrs. Van Daan. She was asked by George Stevens to gain twenty-five pounds for the role. She said she’d gain fifty if necessary. She and Stevens had collaborated once before on A Place in the Sun and she had the utmost respect and confidence for him.

Someone who doesn’t get his due is Richard Beymer, who plays Anne’s love interest, Peter. Though Beymer maybe shouldn’t have been cast as Tony in West Side Story, his charm can’t be discarded. You can totally see why Anne falls for him.

My Amsterdam Experience (Visiting the Anne Frank House)

Amsterdam was my favorite place. I’m not sure if it was the great food, or the friendly people, or the gorgeous canals. Regardless, it was beautiful and fascinating city, even if they do make you press a button to get off the train at your stop (TBH the transportation was so confusing).

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The canals were gorgeous!

Having grown up hearing stories about the Holocaust in Hebrew school as well as reading the diary itself, I thought I was fairly knowledgable about the subject. Still, when the tour guide started taking us through the history, the gravity of the situation hit me. At many points leading up to the Holocaust, many people, including the Franks thought it impossible. No one could imagine such horror would actually take place, that people would give in to hatred and bigotry.

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Anne and Otto Frank

Walking through the Anne Frank house itself was different than what I expected. It was a lot smaller than I imagined it to be, especially Anne and Margot’s room. There was newspaper clippings, all over the walls, movie stars they liked. Funnily enough, there were quite a few photos of Deanna Durbin.

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This, for some reason, got me the most. 

It was an emotional experience, but an important one. Whether or not Anne’s diary was given some help by her father after his death or not, the feelings behind it, what her diary represented is what matters. In such a cynical time, Anne’s optimistic view of humanity is vital.

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The first page of Anne’s diary

Living in a country where we, the people elected Donald Trump doesn’t feel a step in the direction of tolerance. Still, I can either be cynical and rant about how it feels like the world is ending or I can do my part: pay attention, speak out against injustices, promote tolerance, and try my hardest to see the good in people.

This film may not be cheerful, but it’s poignancy can’t be denied. George Stevens was known for his comedic sensibility. He directed Swing Time, the best Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film IMHO, and a string of great screwball comedies like Woman of the Year and The More the Merrier. However, when after he came back from being part of a film unit which documented the war, he didn’t make comedies anymore. Instead, he chose to direct important dramas like A Place in the Sun and Giant.

While there have been other adaptations of Anne’s diary, Stevens’ is IMHO the best. I’ve spoken before on this blog about our inability to grasp events that happened before we were born. It’s one of the reasons film is such a powerful medium. We can watch The Diary of Anne Frank and gain a new perspective; understand that these events did take place and that we all need to do our part to make sure they never happen again.

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I love this quote. Words matter. 

Photos property of Twentieth Century Fox.

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“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.

 

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.

 

Why Gillian Armstrong’s ‘Little Women’ Adaptation Reigns Supreme

As a child of the 90’s, there are certain biases I have. When I was in elementary school, I became obsessed with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. As such, I watched every adaptation of the book, of which there have been many, seven to be exact. The earliest was made in 1933 and the latest was made in 1994.

Gillian Armstrong’s Little Women was always my favorite. Why, you may well ask? Well, for a number of reasons. Winona Ryder (nuff said). Christian Bale before he was Christian Bale. Claire Danes. Kirsten Dunst. It’s just the greatest, nostalgia and feminism all wrapped up in one big 90’s package.

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The eternal question: Are you a Marmee or an Amy?

If you’re not familiar, Little Women follows the March family: Jo March, the headstrong writer (Winona Ryder), Meg March, the quiet beauty (Trini Alvarado), Beth March, the awkward, sweet one (Claire Danes) and Amy March, the precocious, slightly vapid one (Kirsten Dunst). It’s the story of their coming of age in the time after the Civil War. Be aware: coming of age drama ensues.

Here are a few reasons you need to watch Little Women ASAP:

The Cast

As I’ve discussed before, Winona Ryder is my 90’s spirit animal. She really is such a powerhouse actress and she’s never given a bad performance. As Jo, Ryder really shines. She so easily fits into this world and this character. This was Ryder in her early 20’s prime. She made Reality Bites this same year.

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This was her giving eyes to a young Christian Bale…

Trini Alvarado is also great as Meg. The role of Meg is semi-similar to Jane in Pride and Prejudice. She’s sweet and a bit bland. But, she’s a contrast to the colorful main character. Trini hasn’t done much as of late, but I really enjoyed her in this.

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How gorgeous is she??

Like Ryder, I’m a MAJOR fan of Claire Danes. This film was made the same year she made the one, seminal season of the best teen show ever made (yes, I know. BIG STATEMENT), My So-Called Life. At the time, Claire was just fourteen years old. Funnily enough, she actually beat out Alicia Silverstone for the part of Beth. She also competed against Silverstone for the role of Angela in My So-Called Life.

Lovely and heartbreaking, she plays Beth with poise and vulnerability. I can’t not cry watching her in this.

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I’M NOT CRYING. YOU’RE CRYING. #RealTalk

Ah, and then there’s little Kirsten Dunst. Watching her in this really makes you remember how old you are. She was twelve years old during the filming of this and she’s absolutely wonderful. She’s precocious and sweet and has SO much personality.

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Look at those little ringlets!!

The Christian Bale of the Batman series is not my favorite. But, THIS Christian Bale I can get on board with. He was just twenty when he was in this and there was something very unpolished about him. He had a pronounced lisp in this film that’s just plain adorable.

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Just the HAIR. That is all.

In my research, I found that Olivia Hussey (aka Juliet) expressed interest in playing Marmee. Producers believed she looked too much like Trini Alvarado and so, Susan Sarandon ended up getting the part. And I have to say, all do respect to Olivia Hussey, but Sarandon was meant to play this part. She was everything the character needed to be. Feminist, sweet, tough…Sarandon!

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Aw, the March family…

Gabriel Byrne is also great as the Friedrich, the man who eventually steals Jo’s heart.

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SO CUTE, even though he’s like twenty years older than her…

Oh, and yes, that is Eric Stoltz from Some Kind of Wonderful playing Meg’s love interest, John Brooke.

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I think the beard is what gets me the most. It’s just….eh.

The Script

Robin Swicord penned the adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel and somehow, did so while giving the film a modern feel. It’s in the past and we feel that, but it’s also accessible, timeless. Swicord also wrote Matilda and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

What’s so wonderful about Alcott’s story is that she paints complex women. They are not one thing, they are many. And that’s specifically true with Jo who feels like a modern woman. The women are not there just for the “male” story. This is their story!

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#GirlPower

The Direction

Gillian Armstrong has mostly directed documentaries and I feel that some of her directorial choices mirror that. The film has a “fly on the wall” perspective at times. We feel like we’re apart of the March girl’s lives.

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Beth!!! 😦

Its themes are ON POINT. 

I learned so much from Little Women as a young girl. It deals with loss and love and friendship and independence. But, what I mostly took away was a line that Marmee says to Jo and Meg:

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Time erodes all such beauty. You tell ’em Marmee!

It’s the only adaptation helmed by an all-female creative team!

This film is from the female perspective. It’s adapted from a book by a woman by a woman. It’s directed by a woman. It’s produced by a woman. This doesn’t negate the value in previous adaptations, but there is something to be said about women telling stories about women. During the studio era, many “women’s films” were directed and written by men. Again, not saying that makes them bad, but it does make them different.

Women still have a hard time getting green-lit as directors.

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This film celebrates women in all aspects!

It’s inspiring, genuine and all kinds of nostalgic.

This is one of my favorite films to watch during the holiday season. It captures so much about growing up and has some wonderful performances. I’m pretty sure I wanted to be a writer because of Jo March (lol, I know I’m not the only one).

If you’ve never seen it, put it on your list. A true modern classic.

 

Pictures and Gifs property of Columbia Pictures.

Girls Gif property of HBO.

The major momma drama of ‘Mildred Pierce’

One of my biggest pet peeves in talking to my peers about classic film is when they tell me, “How can you like movies without complex female characters?” I’m not sure where this assumption started, but a lot of people believe that there is a lack of strong female characters in classic cinema.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially in the pre-code era, complex women were everywhere! If you don’t believe me, just look up Baby Face or The Divorcee. The movie I want to discuss today, Mildred Pierce, is ALL about complicated women.

I first saw this movie back in high school. I didn’t know anything about it and so, each melodramatic twist hit me hard! What surprised me the most was that the film didn’t shy away from making the characters unlikable. Even the titular Mildred is far from being a perfect person!

If you’re not familiar, Mildred Pierce, made in 1945, follows Mildred (Joan Crawford), a mother blinded by the love for her two daughters, Veda (Ann Blyth) and Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe). When she splits with her husband, Bert (Bruce Bennett), Mildred works to give her daughters the life she believes they deserve. She becomes a successful businesswoman and even finds a new man, Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott), but is it enough to win her daughters’ respect and love? Let’s just say, lots of momma drama ensues!

Here are just a few reasons you need to watch Mildred Pierce NOW:

The Cast

Joan Crawford won an Oscar for her career-defining performance as Mildred, but she was not the original choice for the role. In fact, they offered the role to three other actresses including Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck before finally offering it to Joan. Michael Curtiz, the film’s director thought Stanwyck a has-been and apparently really didn’t like her shoulder pads. She surprised them all by giving a truly Oscar-worthy, nuanced performance as Mildred.

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And her fashion is on point too, no?

I had the pleasure of seeing this film at the TCM Film Festival a few years back with Ann Blyth in attendance for a Q&A afterwards. Blyth was just seventeen years old when she played Veda, Mildred’s vapid, beautiful daughter. She’s deliciously evil and obnoxious. Apparently, the Academy thought so as well since they gave her an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress.

Of working with Crawford, Blyth “…remembered her as “the kindest, most helpful human being I’ve ever worked with. We remained friends for many years after the film. I never knew that other Joan Crawford that people wrote about (Blyth, TCM Article).”

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THAT FAMOUS SLAP.

Also, this is a fascinating piece TCM put together a few years ago. Lots of interesting tidbits! Ann talks about THE SLAP. It’s great.

Eve Arden is also wonderful as Ida, Mildred’s business party and best friend. She takes snark to a whole new level.

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Mildred doesn’t look too happy about this toast.

Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Bruce Bennett, and Jo Ann Marlowe also give great performances.

The Script

The script was based on a James M. Cain novel. He also wrote Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Mildred Pierce wasn’t one of his bestselling novels, but nevertheless, it caught the attention of producer Jerry Wald, who took charge of the project.

There’s much debate about whether the film is really a film noir or a women’s melodrama. Certainly, the subject matter seems more female oriented than most film noirs. But, still, the main plot surrounds a murder (very film noir). Certainly, this film is more a character drama than anything else. Mildred is fascinating. She’s not a bad person. But, she does do bad things for her daughter. She has blinders on, only seeing the goal of trying to provide for her daughter.

Blyth’s Veda is similarly complex. We wonder how she became this way, this self centered, money hungry young girl. She will, like Mildred, go to any lengths to achieve her goal, even if that means spurning her mother. But, there are moments when she seems human and child-like, and that makes her difficult to hate completely.

To me, the film feels like it’s partially about not seeing what’s really there. To an extent, we see what we want to see, in our family members especially. When Mildred really does see Veda, it’s devastating.

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Just a mother trying to provide for her daughter…

The Direction

Michael Curtiz’s name is not as well known as it should be. After all, he directed such classics as Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy. He apparently did not see eye to eye with Crawford, “…referring to her as “Phony Joanie” and “the rotten bitch,” laying into her mercilessly in front of cast and crew (Rob Nixon and Stephanie Thames, TCM Article).” They apparently did build a respect as the film went on, but Jerry Wald often acted as referee between them. Despite the feeling behind the scenes, the film Curtiz made is nuanced and masterfully directed. Given the fact that it was so female-oriented, I thought he did a great job portraying their struggles without belittling them.

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Bills, bills, bills. I feel you, Mildred.

The Score

Max Steiner is most well known for scoring Gone with the Wind, which makes complete sense when you listen to Mildred Pierce‘s score. It has an epic quality to it. There are moments of the film which may have benefited from a lack of score, but still, Steiner’s score is pretty hard to hate. It lends a dramatic quality to literally every line.

The Cinematography

Like the score, Mildred Pierce also borrowed Gone with the Wind DP Ernest Haller. Haller also shot Rebel Without a Cause and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane in his long career. Film noir, despite the way it’s discussed now, is really a style. Haller helps create that style, the shadowy darkness. The black and white is gorgeous and haunting.

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Just look at the water…HAUNTING, amiright?

It’s a bombastic, affecting, female-driven film noir.

You watch this movie now and you can’t not be amazed – that they got the story and dialogue past the censors, that Crawford and Blyth are SO good, and that it is completely female driven. It was a true game-changer. It revitalized Crawford’s career and started Blyth’s. Is it melodramatic? Yes, of course. But, that’s the fun of it.

The book was remade into a miniseries by HBO in 2011 and although I love Kate Winslet and Evan Rachel Wood, the movie still reigns supreme. If you’ve never seen Mildred Pierce, you’re in for a treat and some really fun momma drama!

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Is it wrong that I’m distracted by how cute her dress is?

Vintage trailer below:

BONUS: I came across this wonderful parody of Mildred Pierce, which was done on the Carol Burnett show in the 1970’s. Carol as Joan is ON POINT. 

Images and gifs property of Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Charms and Flaws of ‘Tuck Everlasting’

One day in the 4th grade, while in my elementary school discovery club (which is really just a fancy word for day care), I found a worn out copy of Tuck Everlasting on their book shelf. At nine years old, I had already become a bit of a reader. But, Tuck Everlasting, written by Natalie Babbitt, was the book that me fall in love with reading.

For those not in the know, Tuck Everlasting, which takes place in the late 19th century (in the film the early 20th), follows Winifred (Winnie) Foster, a ten-year old girl who upon running away meets a family that is immortal. Her life is so rigid that she can’t help but fall in love with the slower way the Tucks live their lives. At its heart though, the book is about death and the fear we all have surrounding the idea.

In fact, Natalie Babbitt recently discussed what influenced her to write the novel, saying “One day she [her daughter] had trouble sleeping, woke up crying from a nap. And we looked into it together, as well as you can with a 4-year-old, and she was very scared with the idea of dying. And it seemed to me that that was the kind of thing you could be scared of for the rest of your life. And so I wanted to make sure that she would understand what it was more. And it seemed to me that I could write a story about how it’s something that everybody has to do and it’s not a bad thing” (Babbitt, NPR). To listen to her full interview, click here.

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The Original 1975 Cover

Since the book was just adapted into a Broadway musical, I thought this would be the perfect time to re-examine the film adaptation from 2002. The film meant a lot to me at the time. I was just about ten years old when the film was released. Looking bad on it, the film is not without flaws, but despite its imperfections, I still love it.

Here are just a few reasons Tuck Everlasting is worth a watch:

The Cast

Truly, this is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Alexis Bledel was still at the beginning of her years playing her most famous role: Rory Gilmore on the WB dramedy, Gilmore Girls. She was twenty-one when she stepped into the role of Winnie Foster. The late Edward Herrmann who played the patriarch of the Gilmore family said of Alexis: “[She’s] like Audrey Hepburn. The camera absolutely adores [her]. [She] can’t say anything wrong, [she] can’t do anything wrong. It’s a gift” (Herrmann, AV Club Interview).

She was perfect for the role because she had an intrinsic childlike innocence. Obviously, Winnie was ten in the book, but for the purposes of the film, they made her fifteen and added a love story.

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Those flower crown things are still modern, no?

Jonathan Jackson, who’s now known as Avery Barkley on ABC’s Nashville was cast opposite Alexis as Jesse Tuck. He was about twenty and not very well-known. As Jesse, he’s charming and energetic. You can’t help but fall for him just as Winnie does.

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If there was a deer that close to me, I’d probably be screaming.

The real weight of the cast is in its strong supporting cast. William Hurt and Sissy Spacek play Angus and Mae Tuck with strength and sensitivity. They both, of course, had already had massively successful film careers. Thus, they took a back seat in this film and let the story shine.

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Love this scene…

Ben Kingsley played the villain of the tale, The Man in the Yellow Suit. I remember some of my first impressions after my first viewing of the film and one of them was pure terror of Ben Kingsley’s character. There’s a scene where he’s talking to a Priest in a graveyard that still sends a chill down my spine.

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TUCK EVERLASTING, Ben Kingsley, Victor Garber, Amy Irving, 2002, (c) Walt Disney

Additionally, Amy Irving and Victor Garber are wonderful as Winnie’s parents. Irving especially affected me when I first saw the film. When her own mother is dying and she climbs into bed with her, I can’t help but tear up.

The Story

The material is what makes this film worthwhile. While the film is a bit Disney-fied in retrospect, the story is told in a restrained, yet sensitive way. At the age I first read the book and saw the movie,  I had a lot of fear surrounding the idea of death. I remember having nightmares about it and while I’m still not comfortable with it (who is??), this story did comfort me and help me come to terms with the concept of death.

Obviously, the film, for commercial reasons, added a teenage love story. While I understand the filmmakers and studio’s thought process, that may be the major flaw of the film. The original story was not meant to be a teen romance. It was a small tale which posed the question: Does it pay to live forever if you’re not really living?

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#RealTalk

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been exposed to many more films and obviously, learned a lot about the history of film. When re-examining this film, I couldn’t help but think of Producer Irving Thalberg. He famously became the head of Universal at the age of twenty and was nicknamed “the boy wonder.” Irving was born with a heart condition and was told he would not live past the age of thirty. Thus, there was an urgency in his life. He knew he would not live a long time and was determined to make the most of it.

This is a theme that always fascinates me: how people react in knowing that their deaths are imminent. Some films that come to mind are Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach and Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go, two films which I’m sure to cover sometime in the future.

The Romance

Even though this didn’t exist in the book really, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. It’s a bit saccharine, yes, but it’s also charming. I like romance. Sue me.

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Remember when he laughed at her thinking she might drown? #Jerk
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I would have been telling him to slow down…
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Overdramatic? A bit. #IStillLoveIt

 

The Score

Maybe it’s because music is so attached to our memories, but I can’t help but melt at Tuck Everlasting’s score composed by William Ross. It evokes a little Titanic magic, which makes sense, considering Ross was an arranger for the film.

It’s universal and thought-provoking.

So much of the time, children’s films condescend. They usually don’t dare to discuss real issues, although the recent Pixar film Inside Out did an excellent job in talking about depression.

Tuck Everlasting was not a bomb by any means, but it also wasn’t a big box office success. So, now, it seems the film has been relegated to almost obscurity. For all its flaws, it’s a film which attempts to explain death to children with sensitivity and charm. For me, it will always hold a nostalgia factor so I know I’m biased. However, even if this is not something you would usually watch, I urge you to give it a chance, if only to hear Natalie Babbitt’s beautiful words.

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Vintage trailer below:

P.S. – Here’s a song from the Broadway show which just closed on Broadway. For the purposes of the show, they went to the story’s roots and let Winnie be a ten year-old girl. Young Sarah Charles Lewis is pretty talented, no?