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A fond childhood memory
Though I've seen it since (and still enjoy it thoroughly), it was back in 1968 when I first saw this magical musical in the theatre. I was eight years old and completely captivated: came out of the State imitating Oliver Twist, while my friend was likened to the Artful Dodger! Truly one of the last great musicals, it takes the viewer back to an atmospheric London of the early nineteenth century where the most colourful characters imaginable are fascinations to watch. The entire cast is sterling: Mark Lester makes a sensitive, very appealing Oliver while Ron Moody is perfect as Fagin. The rascally Artful Dodger is synonymous with Jack Wild, Bill Sikes is suitably boorish as played by Oliver Reed & Shani Wallis is a very vivacious as Nancy. The dance choreographer, Onna White did a great job with the musical numbers, and although the musical score isn't spectacular, it's certainly well sung. Particularly memorably beautiful is the scene in Mayfair where Oliver is seen looking out of his bedroom window while the various street peddlars inquire hauntingly WHO WILL BUY? Deservedly the BP AA winner of 1968, its a timeless delight full of thrills, laughter and tears.
Wuthering Heights (1939)
A Goldwyn-Wyler-Bronte Masterpiece
One of the finest romantic films ever filmed, this 1939 Samuel Goldwyn production rates with many - including myself - as being the most beloved version of Emily Bronte's haunting novel. Although it stops at chapter seventeen and the ending is seen as a bit trite by some, it's a brilliantly enacted, finely mounted production with beautiful photography and authentic period detail set-wise. Merle Oberon is well-cast as the selfish, vain and rather shallow Cathy. What makes her character so intriguing and interesting is that no matter what happens to her materially, she has an undying love for the gypsy-blooded heathen named Heathcliff. Laurence Olivier, never a great success in films prior to this, gives a brutally honest account of everything Bronte's Heathcliff should be: proud, bold, vengeful & darkly brooding -a tortured soul in general. Wyler's guiding hand is patent throughout: it was Olivier himself who gave credit to the meticulous director in teaching him the particular ropes of screen acting: it shows! Lady-like Isabella is well-played by the Irish Geraldine Page, while Ellen, the long-suffering servant is played sympathetically by the fine character actress Flora Robson. David Niven, ideally cast as the milquetoasty Edgar Linton, actually had a clause in his contract which freed him from having to do crying scenes! A timeless masterpiece of the "haunting" love story genre, this was Goldwyn's personal favourite of all his films.
A camp field day for a macabre Bette Davis
This undisputed camp classic of the thriller genre will no doubt please generations to come. Even given the fact that it's in many ways a "cheap-jack" film, it merits countless viewings due to the one-and-only legendary teaming of the two greatest movie divas Hollywood ever knew: Bette Davis & Joan Crawford. The film deserves its cult status. As the demented alcoholic slattern Baby Jane Hudson, Davis frankly shocked the public and critics alike with her fearless portrayal of a grotesque misfit who can't forget that she was once a child star in Vaudeville. It's fitting, by the way, to show Blanche as the older sister in the prologue: Davis was a full four years younger than her screen rival in real life. The film goes on and on in a light dimmer than necessary, and the cop-out ending isn't exactly Hitchcock, but the performances are indeed striking. The wig Davis wore for her interpretation of the title role was an old bleached-out wig reputedly once worn by Crawford in either a twenties silent or in the 1939 fiasco ICE FOLLIES OF 1939: no one seems to know for sure. As the wheelchair-bound crippled Blanche, Crawford wisely underplays Davis, and her performance is admirably restrained - if a mite deceiving: she's not all sugar and spice, it turns out! During the filming, director Robert Aldrich had to contend with each actress individually griping about the other: somehow he drew two nicely contrasted performances instead of totally letting the two icons chew each other up & spit each other out. The house in which the film was shot still stands in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. Maidie Norman and Victor Buono are terrific in their roles of Elvira the maid & Edwin Flagg respectively. Anna Lee has a cameo as the nosey neighbour, Mrs. Bates - whose daughter is played by Davis's fourteen year-old daughter B.D. Indeed, talent must skip a generation...
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Leisurely paced & beautifully enacted
Based on Harper Lee's sole 196O Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, this film is a special favourite for many who relish it as a reminder of their own rural childhoods: I'm one such viewer. A beautifully haunting movie, it casts a strange, almost poetically wistful spell over the viewer coupled with some genuinely chilling & emotionally affecting moments. Gregory Peck is wholly believable and suitable personality -wise in his portrayal of Atticus Finch the forty-something widower of two children, Jean Louise, better known as Scout, and Jeremy, whose nick-name is Jem. The magnificent black-and-white photography makes the painstaking 3O's ambience seem genuinely realised and Elmer Bernstein's wisfully haunting score is recognised as a classic composition. Mary Badham's playing of Scout is so natural-like that she can be likened to actually being the character she plays. As Jem, Philip Alford isn't far behind & together they are wholly believable as siblings. Dill Harris was described as a towhead in Lee's novel, but he is generally accepted by fans who associate John Megna's somewhat bizarre interpretation of the lad who was based on Harper Lee's childhood friend, Truman Capote. Colin Wilcox as Violet Ewell is an inspired piece of casting: she brings real conviction to her role as the pathethically desperate white trash daughter of an illiterate drunk. Alice Ghostley is briefly seen as the funny Miss Stephanie and Estelle Evans plays Calpurnia with warmth: she is the children's surrogate mother. A long, nostalgic journey into 1932 Alabama, this film is both funny and sad, scary and tearjerking.
DuMaurier & Hitchcock Classic
A big, prestigious production from 194O. This movie had a lot going for it: a great gothic mystery best-seller by Daphne DuMaurier for its foundation, David O. Selznick as its producer, British director Alfred Hitchcock making his American directorial debut and actors perfectly suited to their roles: it really couldn't miss. And it didn't. Joan Fontaine was a most inspired choice for the shy, awkward, almost gauche young woman whose employer is a repulsive old society matron (played to the hilt by Florence Bates): she makes her mousey character charming and believable. As Max DeWinter, Olivier is sometimes surprisingly a bit wooden at times, but overall, he gives an effective portrayal as the tortured master of Manderley, the beautiful Cornish manor which is psychologically haunted by the memory of his first wife, Rebecca. A good example of the type of picture Hollywood seemingly can't make anymore, it is a masterpiece of the romantic mystery genre. In the supporting cast, Judith Anderson stands out most notably as the very intimidating Mrs. Danvers, while George Sanders, Gladys Cooper and Nigel Bruce are fine in their varied roles. It is known that Olivier was displeased that his exquisite wife, Vivien Leigh didn't quite fit the role Fontaine coveted & he was unhappy during filming. The film won the AA for Best Picture of 194O: I feel that Joan Fontaine should have won for her effectively restrained portrayal of Mrs. DeWinter. Ginger Rogers won the AA for her badly dated portrayal of KITTY FOYLE instead. Pity.
All About Eve (1950)
A Magnificent Film Classic
What more can be said about this greatly cherished account of backstage life in the world of theatre? A brilliantly acted film with a superlative screenplay, ingeniously cast with fine direction & a memorable music score, this movie really couldn't miss - and it didn't. It is very doubtful that there will ever be another film which will equal (or even rival) this incisively cynical & sophisticated comedy/drama masterpiece from 195O. Bette Davis - as a replacement for the assigned Claudette Colbert who hurt her back - gives what many believe to be her finest, flashiest performance as Margo Channing, the insecure 4O year-old diva of the theatre. Davis plays her role with such assured relish that it's practically unthinkable that another actress could be more effective in the part. During the production, Davis strained her vocal chords, which gave Margo that distinctive husky voice a'la Tallulah Bankhead: it was an ironically lucky stroke of timing! So much has been written about this film, so I will try to shed some rarer light on it. It was noted that Claudette Colbert deeply resented Davis due to the fact that felt helplessly "robbed" of this prime dream role: she alternately envied and despised Davis for taking Margo away from her and playing her with such brilliance. George Sanders was perfection personified as poison pen critic Addison DeWitt: he won the Best Supporting Actor AA. Months later, at a cocktail party, Sanders recalled that Davis spat at him after he remarked "What's wrong, Bette? Sour grapes"?. Davis intimidated Marilyn Monroe, bluntly stating that her "baby talk" voice was atrociously ridiculous. When Celeste Holm would appear on the set and spread a cheery "Good morning", Davis would disgustedly respond "Oh, these TER-RI-BLE good mannahs!" Holm was cool to "the Queen Bee of Warners" as she referred to Davis ever after. Most fans know that Davis coveted the New York Film Critics Award for her playing of Margo and that she and Gary Merrill fell into a rather lusty love affair during production. As Margo's loyal companion, Birdie Coonan, Thelma Ritter is tops & Celeste Holm is perfect as the kindly humble Karen: she and Margo have a most interesting contrast in personalities, which is best showcased in the classic scene in the car while Lloyd is out fetching some emergency gasoline. For years, the film held the record for being nominated for the most Academy Awards: 14. If you want to see this gem in all its glory, invest in the DVD version: it's crisp, sharp & clear. My favourite goof? Look at the clock on Margo's bedside table: time stands still!
An Vastly Underrated Film
*MILD SPOILER*For years, I have thought that this is one of the great films nobody ever talks about: a harrowing, beautifully enacted account of one woman's descent into Prison hell. Although I haven't viewed this film in many years, I remember being quite impressed with the memorably gritty and realistic performances from a great many of the performers. Eleanor Parker was great as the young girl, a semi-innocent type who was in bad company & in the wrong place at the wrong time: her metamorphasis into a hardened inmate is wholly believable. Hope Emerson is unforgettable as the brutally cruel and sadistic amazonian matron: her comeuppance is probably the film's most memorable scene. Agnes Moorehead is dignified as the kind superintendent who tries to help Parker to no avail while Lee Patrick & Betty Garde do great jobs in their roles as fellow female inmates. A memorable scene is when Parker is talking to an older woman who states "now I'm a lifer". Not an upbeat film by any means, but probably the finest, most effective film about women in prison ever made.
Stage Door (1937)
Fascinating comedy/drama with a personality-plus cast
A rare treat for fans of vintage films, this one is special for the frankly eclectic cast, a good story & a snappy script. Katharine Hepburn plays the aristocratic Terry Randall, a young lady not too unlike her real self: she wants to prove to her dad that she can cut the mustard as an actress. The Footlights Club is the roominghouse in which she stays with the likes of wise-cracking Eve Arden, cheeky Lucille Ball, cold & cynical Gail Patrick, fun Ginger Rogers, sensitive Andrea Leeds & lanky Ann Miller. Adolphe Menjou is fine as Anthony Powell, the producer who lures various young hopeful actresses into his apartment via pretexes while Constance Collier is regally funny as the matronly Shakespearean actress who sees great potential in Miss Randall. Ginger Rogers is flippant and earthy as Jean Maitland: wish she played in more comedies! As the gangly Stringbean, Ann Miller was incredibly only fourteen years of age (!): she's cute and competent. Lucille Ball gives a rather uneven performance as Judy Canfield: it is obvious she was still finding her niche in films. Eve Arden, as Eve is just as cynically wise-cracking as she was in her later film roles: Arden, unlike Ball, found her niche earlier in her career - Ball would ultimately became a legendary icon via television, whereas Arden was cherished for her more manicured deliveries a'la Connie Brooks in that medium. Hepburn's career - somewhat in trouble by 1937 - was boosted a bit by her honest, fresh and zesty performance as Terry who quotes the immortal line "The calla lillies are in bloom again..." As Kaye Hamilton, Andrea Leeds delivers a decent performance, although one can't help to think of her as being a poor man's version of Olivia de Havilland: her career never really took off in the movies, somehow. All in all, spontaneously amusing - albeit a bit dated - this movie is a treasure trove of various giants of Hollywood talent, both in their prime and infancy of fame. Personal favourite line: Jean (Ginger) is speaking to a pal on the phone when the witchy Linda (Gail Patrick) comes into view. Jeans says confidentally "Hold on. Gangrene just set in!"
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Campy Southern Gothic Chiller
Whatever flaws this film may have, it is an undeniably entertaining viewing experience for fans of fun chiller dillers! Bette Davis, as the reclusive aged Charlotte Hollis, a faded Southern Belle, gives a typically bravura performance. Many people in the sixties actually relished the sight of Miss Charlotte acting like a crazed animal, chewing the scenery and being unmercifully slapped by her conniving cousin, Miriam Deering. The root of the plot concerns a macabre murder which took place back in 1927. There are many over-the-top scenes, such as a head rolling down a staircase (which Davis herself thought a "bit much") but the film certainly keeps the viewer's attention. As the witchy harridan housekeeper Velma Cruther, Agnes Moorehead is marvelously hammy. Olivia de Havilland gives an effective performance as the sly Miriam, who even surprises the morally debauched Drew (an egotistically wooden Joseph Cotten performance). Mary Astor is really good as the "stoney broke" & dying Jewel Mayhew, as is Cecil Kellaway in his role as the old man she confides in. Originally, Joan Crawford was to have played the role of Miriam, but there was so much friction during production (between she and Davis) that she psyched herself ill: although fans will never know just how effectively Crawford's playing against Davis in their second round would measure up, Olivia was an excellent replacement.
Garbo's Best Performance
In my opinion, Garbo deserved an AA for her playing of the doomed courtesan Marguerite Gautier in this 1936 masterpiece which was brilliantly directed by George Cukor. Few "classic" films can hold up to their reputation after 65+ years: this one does. The period detail is nigh flawless, Cukor's direction is carefully inspired and Garbo gives a magically eloquent performance which is only rivalled by her playing of QUEEN CHRISTINA. 25 year-old Robert Taylor plays the ridiculously handsome & naive Armand with surprising restraint: certainly his portrayal isn't guilty of callowness. As Marguerite's fair weather friend, the greedy, well-dressed bawd Prudence Duvernoy, Laura Hope Crews is amusing, while the rarely-seen-in-films stage star Lenore Ulric, playing the rather eclectic role of Olympe, comes off brilliantly. Henry Danielle is sauve perfection as the wealthy but cynical & middle-aged Baron de Varville. Unfortunately, Lionel Barrymore is somewhat miscast as Monsieur Duvall: too histrionically American. No matter. CAMILLE is a timeless romantic film of the highest order, the final reel containing some of the most unforgettable scenes in the history of film, solely due to Garbo's magnetic and believable performance as the tragic "Lady of the Camellias".