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This film was inexplicably made in England, and though there is some
staginess - noticably in the yelling of some of the actors - director Henry
Cornelius provides some clever imagery eg the decadence of the Berlin
nightclub by a piglet and two smashing beerglasses, and Christopher standing
at a window in the past bringing out us out of the narrative flashback. It
also features a remarkable hotel party setpiece.
The infamous role of Sally Bowles is written as a pretentious innocent, and the knowledge that Isherwood was gay feeds into the notion of Sally as a coded drag queen, or at least, an effeminate gay man. The screenplay is full of gay subtext eg Christopher's narcissism demonstrated in his lotions and weights and boufant hairstyle, Sally's descriptions of male musculature, the repeated use of sausages, Sally telling Christopher he doesn't "understand" women, his describing her sex appeal as "inadequate", the rectal thermometer, his massage, his confession that he is "not the marrying type", and fear of being "embroiled" with her. The major difference between this treatment and that of Bob Fosse's Cabaret is the Clive Mortimer character, who here is heterosexual, but would be later turned into the bisexual Max.
Julie Harris performed the role of Sally Bowles on Broadway, and one's opinion of her performance cannot help but be influenced by Liza Minnelli (as is one's opinion of the film as a piece). Harris works against her basic miscasting (she doesn't even use an English accent when we are told Sally is English) because Sally is such an artificial creation. She is like an Actors Studio version of a junior Auntie Mame, and even when her antics become tiresome, she is still far more likeable than Laurence Harvey's starched and basically asexual Christopher. Harris may not have Minnelli's street urchin vulnerability, but she has some inspired moments - posing in front of a mirror wearing a mink coat, her drunken giggling, looking behind a silk scarf, or licking milk with a wild tongue.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Much reviled when it first appeared, (inspiring the famous review 'Me No Leica'), this precursor of "Cabaret" can now be looked at in comparison and it's not half bad. It's certainly no classic but it has its own wayward charm, (the film version of "Cabaret" follows this plot whereas the stage version changed the plot somewhat). One should, of course, resist the temptation to snicker when Laurence Harvey's Christopher Isherwood, (it keeps the original author's real name; God Knows what Isherwood thought of it), describes himself as 'a confirmed bachelor' and while Harvey is an utterly inadequate 'hero', (he's virtually asexual), and Shelly Winters woefully miscast as Fraulien Landauer, (the part Marisa Berenson played in "Cabaret"), Julie Harris is a perfectly marvellous Sally, (it's a lovely piece of comic acting), and Anton Diffring is first-rate as Fritz, the German-Jew in love with Shelly's character. Of course, if "Cabaret" had never come along you might ask yourself would this ever have seen the light of day again. That it has been revived may not quite be cause for celebration but it's perfectly acceptable all the same.
Lots of history behind this story of Sally Bowles, party-girl in 1930s Berlin who befriends a stolid English gent amidst the Nazi uprising. Curious, rather indifferent drama isn't helped by Julie Harris as Bowles; Harris tries hard, but she's too intelligent a presence to be convincing as a flake and her big moments don't come off. Non-flashy adaptation of both Christopher Isherwood's "Berlin Stories" and John Van Druten's subsequent play, it is sure to interest fans of Bob Fosse's "Cabaret" as a great deal of the dialogue mirrors passages in "Cabaret" almost verbatim. Those who stumble upon it unawares will probably find the movie stilted and dull. It's little more than a footnote now in this chain of literature and cinematic events. ** from ****
In this film Julie Harris reprises her Tony award-winning performance as Sally Bowles bumming in 1920s Berlin. I loved Julie and envied Sally and her carefree ways, but I was young then. While the film may not be "important," it does tell us something about life and culture based upon Christopher Isherwood's evocation of fun-loving pre-Hitler Berlin. It's about a world and time long vanished & highly lamented by aging romantics such as I. So temper your critical faculties and just enjoy a stunning performance by Julie Harris who has won more Tony Awards (5) than any other actress.
In Isherwood's preface to his "Berlin Stories" he talks about meeting
Harris backstage during "Camera's" Broadway run, and seeing her as the
quintessential Sally Bowles. Maybe he was being gracious, but we couldn't
have agreed more. Filled with witty dialogue, this film moved at a brisk
pace, and yet when it was over, we felt as if we had seen an in depth
of the demimonde life in pre-war Berlin. Harris was simply fascinating -
what a beautiful smile! Highly recommended (if you can find it) for those
who find this time and place irresistible.
Nice details too, including quick shots of Berlin "boot-girls" (dominatrix ladies of the night) and the El Dorado, one of the city's most colorful transvestite bars (even the murals inside are spot on!)
I have just seen this delightful classic again after many years, the next to last film directed by Henry Cornelius, who died three years later at the age of only 45 (the same age at which the film's male star Larry Harvey was also to die in 1973). Three future directors were in the crew: Jack Clayton (Associate Producer), Guy Green (cinematographer), and Clive Donner (editor). This film is based upon the autobiographical story 'Goodbye to Berlin' by the well-known British author Christopher Isherwood, which was first turned into a play by John van Druten, then made into this film, then turned into a musical, 'Cabaret', and finally filmed as 'Cabaret', which brought the amazing Liza Minelli to world attention, with her voice which can shatter a glass at the distance of a mile. Isherwood appears as a character in the film under his own name. He was gay, but in those days that was illegal and could land him in prison, so he disguises his proclivities under the description of being what he calls 'a confirmed bachelor'. This is the key to his Platonic relationship with the wildly eccentric, wacky, promiscuous, ever-cheerful and thoroughly unique character whom he calls Sally Bowles. The portrait of Sally Bowles in this film is a tour-de-force by the young Julie Harris, who sweeps every scene into a magical and captivating web of sparkling personal charm. What a vehicle for an actress with plenty of charm of her own! It is one of the great cinematic performances of the 1950s. Isherwood is played to perfection by the young Lawrence Harvey, in a finely-judged performance which never allows the comedy to go over the edge, and even the moments of farce bordering on slapstick remain somehow 'almost believable'. Larry is so funny at portraying a wimpish hypochondriac. What an irony, considering the total lack of hypochondria shown by his bravery and stoicism in the last year of his life as he died from terminal stomach cancer and behaved with such dignity and lack of complaint. I knew him well in the last three years or so, and he was a generous, warm, and modest person. He adored his little girl Domino, now alas also tragically dead.This film was his finest early performance, to be followed by his spectacular work in 'Room at the Top' (1959), 'Summer and Smoke' (1961) and 'The Manchurian Candidate' (1962). Larry was often undervalued in his lifetime because he was too handsome, was often cast as a cad, and glamour boys are not always accepted as good actors, but many of the finest actresses played opposite him, and they were in no doubt of his abilities, and he was a strong lead in many of the most important films of his time. If he had lived beyond middle age, he would have gone from strength to strength and become a 'grand old man' of the screen. Sitting in his house in Hampstead one day, he gave me a glass of his usual white wine from a huge barrel which he had brought from some foreign cellar. I said he always gave me such delicious wine, what was it? He proudly answered that it was a Sancerre which he had chosen himself at the vineyard in France and had shipped over specially. He then added with extreme wistfulness: 'You know, I've been waiting for four years for someone to comment on it and ask me what it is, and you are the first person who has ever done so.' What mattered to him was to be recognised for having taste in wine,and his more glamorous friends had denied him that satisfaction. In this film, Anton Diffring gives a touching early performance as an earnest young man (later he was to have to play Nazi officers far too much, poor fellow), and the young Shelley Winters plays a rich German Jewish girl, in her usual noisy but effective manner, but it was not too difficult, as she was a noisy Jewish girl herself anyway. This film has such an air of joie de vivre about it, that it is pure delight.
I only watched this film because I was determined to spot Patrick
McGoohan in an early film role. I watched Laurence Harvey as the
aimless, charming character he plays, thinking of his breakthrough role
as the surly grasping man at the top. Good old Anton Diffring flashing
his gnashers in all their gap-toothed glory. Shelley Winters as an
innocent rather than a Vamp. It was all jolly good stuff. I kept
wondering where I'd seen the Sally Bowles character before.
My McGoohan moment came and went, he went through a gamut of emotion, exercising his foreign accent in his entrance, quite keen, then looking thoroughly bemused as his part became slapstick, not to say fed up by the last you saw of him. I almost packed the film up at that point, but decided I might as well see the end. It had become a little surreal by then so I was curious to see how they would wrap it up.
In what I would guess would have been the theatrical Third Act, it all became clear. The affable nonsense of the earlier scenes was all thrown into focus by the stark, grim realisation that evil was about to take over the world. The characters each found their own ways to escape or avoid it and I was pleased for all of them. It was in these final scenes that it suddenly dawned on me who Sally Bowles was. She was the timid, tragic victim in one of my favourite ever films: 'The Haunting'. The actress I was always confusing in my mind with Deborah Kerr, as a fragile feminine beauty.
Some readers may now be remarking 'What a dork! It says Julie Harris on the cover!' But I didn't remember this person as Julie Harris. The name meant nothing. I remembered her as poor Eleanor and Eleanor has haunted me for years. I prefer to believe that, rather than me being an unobservant dork, it is a tribute to the talent of Ms Harris that for most of this movie I simply didn't recognise her.
Anyhow, the point is that, but for my compulsion to watch a movie just to see an early bit-part of one favourite, I would never have seen a starring role of another. I find a certain peace in the discovery.
Sally Bowles, the glittering, swaggering, sexually adventurous
nightclub chanteuse at the centre of Cabaret is one of the most
memorable figures in 70s cinema. Liza Minnelli, who played her in Bob
Fosse's critically acclaimed 1972 musical, won an Oscar in the part
that seemed tailor-made for her from the black bowler hat to those
It may be hard to believe now, but in the mid-50s, Julie Harris was Sally Bowles. She played her on stage in John Van Druten's play I Am a Camera winning a Tony award and reprised the role in Henry Cornelius's 1955 film. Both works were based on Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, but their portrayals of Berlin in the early 30s could scarcely be more different. To appreciate Harris's take on Sally you really have to banish memories of the Kit Kat Club, Joel Grey's louche MC and those fabulous songs.
"The more worthless the book the more they need noise and alcohol to launch it." Middle-aged writer Christopher Isherwood (Laurence Harvey) begins this semi-autobiographical tale of his youthful adventures in pre-Second World War Germany with the discovery that sex sells. The irrepressible Sally Bowles has turned author, with the provocatively entitled The Lady Goes on Hoping. Some things never change.
After this Bloomsbury-set opening sequence, I Am a Camera flashes back to Berlin on New Year's Eve 1931. Isherwood, narrates the story of his life as a struggling author, living in a boarding house run by the long-suffering Fräulein Schneider. So far, it seems that his one moment of inspiration has been to come up with that title: "I am a camera, with its shutter open, just watching it, quite detached." Isherwood's professional detachment is tested when he accompanies his friend Fritz (Anton Diffring) to a club, where Sally is performing. In what we soon learn is a familiar pattern, she is soon left high a dry by her latest beau. Feeling sorry for this "naive" girl, our hero gallantly offers her a room for the night, though the platonic terms of their relationship are made clear from the outset.
It's not long before the totally out-of-his depth novelist realises that his new friend's modus operandi is to shock people. Asked why she wears green nail polish, Sally cheerfully explains "To attract men!" As their life together descends into penury and bickering, he alternates between fascination at Sally's lack of morals and self-pity at his inability to make progress with his work.
Harvey went on to play the social-climbing Joe Lampton in Room at the Top and the brainwashed assassin Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate. I find him more convincing as an embittered cynic than as a suave leading man, so he's well-suited to the role of the permanently exasperated Isherwood. When his one clumsy attempt to seduce Sally is repelled, his sardonic response is to ask "A puritan all of a sudden, or just where I'm concerned?" With her throaty laugh, theatrical mannerisms and fine comedic timing, Harris's Sally is an enthralling and infuriating companion. In the film's most enjoyable sequences, she drags the hard-up Isherwood into a bar, where she downs a succession of champagne cocktails. The arrival of filthy rich American Clive (Ron Randell) leads to a wild party complete with a hydro-therapist played by Patrick McGoohan.
Of course the sexual dynamics would have looked very different if this film hadn't been made in the mid-50s. There's no hint here that the writer might be gay, or even bisexual as Michael York's Brian is in Cabaret. Instead, the would-be novelist is just celibate, waspish and openly disapproving of Sally's promiscuity. In the film of Isherwood's later novel, A Single Man, George (Colin Firth) and his best friend Charley (Julianne Moore) have once been on intimate terms, but she reluctantly has to accept his homosexuality.
John Collier's screenplay is at its sharpest and most assured in the scenes of domestic cut and thrust between the flat-mates. But attempts to bring the social and political unrest of pre-war Berlin into the mix are less successful. Though Berlin was on the cusp of seismic events you get little sense here of the growing unease on the streets, while the nightclub scenes are more dreary than decadent. There is an awkward romantic subplot involving Fritz and the wealthy Natalia (a miscast Shelley Winters) that tries to address the dilemma facing Jewish citizens. Isherwood makes a belated attempt to reclaim his independence by brawling with some Nazis in the street, and rebukes Fräulein Schneider for an anti-Semitic remark.
Cornelius, who directed only five films, had to work within the censorship restrictions of the time. This movie may have been an X-certificate in its day, but the Sally of 1955 doesn't get to be as wanton or show as much leg as the Sally of Cabaret. As a portrait of the artist as a young man, I Am a Camera is funny and charming and the two leads have good chemistry. But if you want to know why money still makes the world go round, the Kit Kat Club is the place to go.
This British film version of the stage play I AM A CAMERA is based on
Christopher Isherwood's "Berlin Stories." This is the source material
for the famous musical CABARET.
Julie Harris, a major stage actress of her day, reprises her 1951 Tony Award winning role as Sally Bowles. She's a far cry from the Liza Minnelli character but the basic "Sally" is all here despite the various film codes that would have blocked this story from being filmed in Hollywood. Harris is perhaps stagy but she's also quite good as the madcap and maddening Sally. Her singing number is obviously dubbed (by Marlene Dietrich no less) although Harris apparently sings for herself in other moments.
Laurence Harvey (with the very ugly hair) plays Isherwood with zero charm and can't even make the character interesting. Shelley Winters does little with the role of Natalia (Marian Winters won a supporting Tony for the play), and Anton Diffring is OK as Fritz. Ron Randell plays the caddish Clive but seems a tad loud. Lee Seidl is funny as the landlady.
Yet despite the overall staginess and cheap look, Harris takes center stage and she is amazing. This film was released the same year as EAST OF EDEN in which Harris gives a glowing performance as Abra. Comparing the two performances gives a good look at the talent Miss Harris possesses. These two characters couldn't be more unalike. Harris' Sally preens and prances about and growls out a very lascivious laugh. She also acts circles around the boring Harvey.
Without the music and with a familiar storyline, many viewers may find little here to recommend this film, but it's a great chance to see the great Julie Harris repeating what was probably a very shocking role in 1951.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SYNOPSIS: English tutor living but not loving in Berlin in the early
1930s, platonic-ally befriends an English lass of uncertain virtue
and little brains.
NOTES: Van Druten's stage adaptation opened on Broadway at the Empire on 28 November 1951 and ran a quite successful 262 performances. Winning the 1951 New York Drama Critics Circle award certainly helped. The stars were Julie Harris and William Prince, with Marian Winters, Olga Fabian, Martin Brooks, Edward Andrews and Catherine Willard. Van Druten himself directed. In 1966 the play was turned into a musical called "Cabaret", starring Jill Haworth, Bert Convy, Joel Grey, Lotte Lenya and Jack Gilford.
The film was re-made as "Cabaret" (1972) with Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem and Joel Grey, directed by Bob Fosse. In both America and England, this film failed to echo the success of the stage play. In Australia, however, the movie was one of the biggest box-office hits of the year.
COMMENT: Features a luminous performance by Julie Harris, who creates enormous sympathy for a character that is on paper little more than a superficial, scatterbrained kook. Such is the vividness of her portrait that she emerges as a far more likable personality than the intense, convicted Isherwood who is played by Laurence Harvey with all the sparkle of a wet blanket.
Anton Diffring does better than one might expect with a sympathetic part (his usual forte was nasty SS lieutenants) but Shelley Winters plays her department store heiress like a drab, colorless shop-girl.
The only player who can match Julie Harris is Ron Randell who gives a delightfully larger-than-life account of a lavish-spending American playboy.
Most of the action still takes place in the one set, though there are frequent excursions outside, but Henry Genevieve Cornelius is not a sufficiently skilled or imaginative director to disguise the film's stage origins completely. Perhaps he didn't wish to. In any event, his direction could best be described as unobtrusive.
Other credits are likewise serviceable without being in any way distinguished or memorable, though the film has obviously been realized on a fair-sized but by no means lavish budget.
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