When a humorous script-reader in her New York apartment sees an ad in the Saturday Review of Literature for a bookstore in London that does mail order, she begins a very special correspondence and friendship with Frank Doel, the bookseller who works at Marks & Co., 84 Charing Cross Road. Written by
The words and action in the live shot of Helene's arrest are different from that of the version she watches later on TV. See more »
Businessman on plane:
Your first trip to London?
Businessman on plane:
You want a word of advice? Don't trust the cab drivers; they'll take you five miles to go three blocks... and, uh, don't waste your time looking at a street map. Nobody can find their way around London - not even Londoners.
Maybe I should go to Baltimore instead.
Businessman on plane:
No; you'll enjoy it. London's a great place. What kind of trip is it - business or pleasure?
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The production teams in New York and London were almost completely separate, and the closing credits reflect this: in front of a split screen showing Helene in New York and Frank in London, the crews for the two cities scroll side by side. In most cases the same jobs are shown in both columns, and the job titles are then shown in the center. See more »
Luscious, Intelligent, Delicate Epistolary Love Story
"84 Charring Cross Road" is a luscious, intelligent, delicate, epistolary love story.
It isn't for everybody. Viewers who require movies to shovel piping hot, sex-and-violence-drenched plot down their gullets won't get this movie; it will pass right over their heads.
If you are the kind of observant, sensitive person who can see someone sitting on a park bench and intuit their biography from the way they wear their scarf, hold their bodies, and read their newspaper, you will *hear* all that this movie is saying, and it will move you to tears.
Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft), is a single New Yorker, of mixed Jewish and Christian family. She is a no-nonsense lover of life, cigarettes, hard liquor, and books. She is the kind of reader that every writer dreams of writing for -- she is like a sponge, soaking up every word; she is like a bell; when an author's words strike her, she rings. She is like the very best of interlocutors. Writers dream of having a reader like this to interact in dialogue with their works.
When Hanff can't find a book she needs locally (and that she can't find a book she needs locally tells you something about her expansive tastes -- she lives in Manhattan, after all, not a shabby place to book shop), Hanff begins writing to a London book shop, Marks and Cohen, staffed by one Frank Doel. Doel meets her needs. That's in 1949. Their exchange of letters lasts decades into the future.
The film lovingly and deftly chronicles the decades' changes in fashion, not just in clothing, but also in architecture. Both Helene and Frank are living in distinctly 1949 dwellings when their exchange begins, and are living in more modern dwellings toward the end of the story. Hair styles, current events, the sound of rock music heard from a passing radio, act like clocks to remind the viewer of the passage of time in this relationship.
That chronicling, via visual cues, of the passage of time is just one of the many ways this movie communicates that may be too subtle for many viewers. What the film is saying in these details is this: these two people and their acquaintances and colleagues who participate in this correspondence, are investing time in each other in a drastically changing world. As the world spins precariously around them, from the post-WW II rationing in Britain to the introduction of the miniskirt, Helene and Frank continue to be there for each other.
There are so many other ways in which this movie tells a wondrous, rich tale that have nothing to do with conventional ways that films communicate. There are no conventional "love" scenes, or fight scenes. What there are are scenes that, in painstakingly crafted detail by painstakingly crafted detail, build up a story as rich as full fat cream.
By the end of this movie, the observant viewer will *know* Helene and Frank in a way that very few movies allow viewers to know their characters. The observant viewer will have participated in these people's real lives in a way that feels almost like watching a home movie.
Watch Frank react to being asked to participate in a conga line. Watch the joie de vivre that Helene brings to ordering gifts from a Danish catalogue. Listen to Helene talk about books. Watch Frank as he goes about the business of meeting his customer's needs.
The two "loudest" scenes in the movie are the scene in which Helene goes to a movie theater and watches "Brief Encounter," a classic film about a brief, extra-marital affair. While watching this movie, Helene fantasizes about finally visiting London. That scene, and that choice of movie, tells you much about how Helene feels about Frank. Similarly, carefully watch a scene in which Frank reads, aloud, a Yeats poem which ends, "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." There are so many movies about people who are nuts about sports. Movies about people who love guns, or war, or cars.
"84 Charring Cross Road" is the best movie I know about unbridled passion for books, for words, and the kind of intimacy that can take place when one person who loves words makes contact with another who shares, or at least appreciates, that passion.
If you don't get this movie, I really think you can become a better, more sensitive, more aware person by watching it again, and trying to "hear" all it says. To the person who really listens, "84 Charring Cross Road" is one of the richest movies I know.
PS: the film is perfectly cast, and every performance is spot on. Anthony Hopkins has never been more sympathetic. Anne Bancroft was born to play Helene Hanff. Judi Dench, Mercedes Ruehl, Oscar winners all around -- how can you go wrong?
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