A Classic Movie Halloween!

September 30, 2009

Halloween is just around the corner, and I don't know about you, but I'm looking past all the ghoulish costumes and seeing this as an opportunity to dress up like a favorite movie star! Sorry, as much as I love them, Audrey and Marilyn are not on this list. I don't think my help is required to figure out how to steal their looks :)

I'll actually be wearing clothes I already own, but I put together nine ensembles that I wish I was wearing, instead! After hours (and hours.. and hours..) of work, here they are! Nine classic movie star-inspired Halloween outfits assembled by yours truly! Happy early Halloween!

Edited 3/16 to add: I had to come back and edit this post because the images were all missing and the code was wonky. All of the items I had originally linked to are no longer available, so I removed the links.

Esther Waters (1948)

September 27, 2009

Esther Waters (1948) is a film in the tradition of Madame X, The Secret of Madame Blanche and The Sin of Madelon Claudet. Like these other films, the heroine of the story is a proper young woman who finds herself in a very improper situation. Stories about fallen women are often really fun to watch, especially when the woman becomes really spunky and witty to compensate for her misfortune. Unfortunately, in this film Esther continues to play the part of a deer-in-the-headlights innocent through all of her troubles, and her righteousness and piety began to wear on my nerves a little by the end of the movie.

In this story, Esther Waters (Kathleen Ryan) is a very religious maid embarking on work in a new household. Quickly she learns that the horses in the stables are being bred for racing (betting!! the horror!!), and the maids she has to associate with like to read salacious literature aloud in their spare time. Disgusted by the sinful activities around her, she befriends her employer's wife, who is also deeply religious and advises Esther to accept the sins of others as long as she remains good herself.

She also befriends stable groom William Latch (Dirk Bogarde in one of his first film roles) an ambitious young man whose family used to own the land he now works on before his father gambled away their capital. Despite the misfortune that had befallen his family before, Latch believes he is very lucky. He plans to win enough money betting on the horses to eventually buy a pub, become a bookie and earn back his family's land.

After returning from a very successful day at the races, the employers throw a massive party to celebrate. William Latch takes Esther as his date, and the moonlight, fireworks and romantic canoe ride on the lake all swell to make Esther completely forget what a rigid moralist she is.

I think you know where this is going by now. Our heroine Esther is now with child, but every time she tries to tell Latch, something gets in the way. Have you ever noticed how often this happens in movies?

Jane: "Tom, I have to tell you something. It's very important."
Tom: "Yes, Jane, what is it?"
Jane: "You might not be very happy about it."
Tom: "What is it?"

Tom: "I don't think you'd like the real me."
Jane: "What do you mean, the real me?"
Tom: "Well, I'm not who you think I am. I'm.."

Jane: "Can I come over? I have to tell you something."
Tom: "Can you just tell me over the phone?"
Jane: "No. I have to tell you in person. It's important."

Anyway, back to the movie... Latch runs off with another woman because he doesn't know that poor Esther is in a family way. This leaves her all alone in the world with their child. She is now faced with the consequences of being a poverty stricken unwed mother.

I won't spoil the rest of the movie, except to say that Dirk Bogarde shows up again after about six years have passed. To show that a great length of time has passed, this film utilizes another annoying plot trick. Despite the fact that Esther looks exactly the same as she did the last time they met, Mr. Latch has really grown up! I mean, he has a mustache!

I can't even begin to count how many films there are in which men grow mustaches to show that time has passed! I think a simple "six years later" title card would suffice -- and that would have left Dirk Bogarde's face looking ridiculously handsome instead of ridiculous. His angular, boyish features just don't mesh well with a bushy mustache.

Ruthelma Stevens programming alert!

September 25, 2009

The movie that first got me interested in Ruthelma Stevens, The Circus Queen Murder, will be on TCM today at 9:45AM EST! Watch and you'll finally see why I'm so upset that she never "made it" as a star! More on Ruthelma here--

A Kim Novak double feature

September 23, 2009

My first introduction to Kim Novak came courtesy of Hayley Mills in The Trouble with Angels. I was probably about 6 or 7 years old when I first saw the movie, in which Hayley plays a teenaged brat sent off to Catholic school for reforming. On the bus to the school, she befriends Rachel Deverey, played by June Harding, who quickly becomes her awkward lackey. Their introduction goes something like this:

June: What's your name? 
Hayley: Kim Novak. 
June: I like it! 
Hayley: So do I, but I'm stuck with Mary Clancy.

She then proceeds to try to trick the Sisters and Reverend Mother into thinking that her name is, in fact, Kim Novak-- and Rachel's name is really Fleur De Lis. It's the very first in a series of wild hare-brained schemes (or scathingly brilliant ideas) that make the movie so much fun. And until I started watching classic films in my teens, I thought that Kim Novak was simply a fictional name in one of my favorite Hayley Mills movies.

Now, of course, I know that she was a fantastic actress and a popular sex symbol in the 1950's and 60's. Looking over her relatively small filmography, I noticed that I've seen almost all of her movies already. Scrolling down the list, I kept saying, "oh! I loved that one!" and "oh! I forgot how much I like that one!" -- there is hardly one dud in the whole list. Two of these films I watched for the first time this week. And they are my new favorites of all her work.

First I watched Strangers When We Meet (1960) which really knocked me for a loop. It was an intense film about two married lovers -- falling for each other in an escape from their troubled suburban lives. The movie exemplified my feelings about suburban life, the entrapment, triviality and humdrum-ness of it all. I believe this one clip sums up the whole suburban experience, and perfectly shows how Kirk Douglas feels about the friviolous little things that he (and every suburban man) is supposed to care about.

In every single Kim Novak film, her beauty is constantly referenced over and over again. Someone is always telling her how beautiful she is, women are always gossiping about how they wish they were just as drop dead gorgeous. From the outside, she is always viewed as an object. But in each of these films, her outer beauty betrays a lonesome, damaged girl hiding underneath. This film was no exception-- despite her reputation as the prettiest wife on the block, she is really lonely and repressed. I'm not sure that any other actress of her era conveyed this confliction as well as Kim Novak did.

One thing I found very interesting about this film was its connection of the love affair to a house being built. Kirk Douglas plays a daring architect-- constantly struggling to create something unique and offbeat. He gets his chance to design such a house when writer Ernie Kovaks commissions him to build his new home. Kirk & Kim's first outing together takes place on the lot where the house will be built. As their love affair grows, the house takes shape. By the end, the house is completely built and their love for each other is cemented.

Another theme in the movie was familiarity. Who is a stranger, and who do we actually know? Your next-door neighbor that you have over for dinner parties could actually be an attacker. A fellow PTA member could be dating your husband. A stranger that you meet in the grocery store could turn out to be the love of your life. Even your own spouse could be a complete stranger.

The next film I watched was Middle of the Night. I think that Strangers When We Meet belonged to Kim Novak, but Middle of the Night was definitely Fredric March's movie. I know I say this a lot, but his character will totally break your heart in pieces. (I'm a little peeved that Fredric March was not nominated for an Oscar for this role. He really, really deserved it.)

If you're a fan of Marty (and really, who isn't?) you'll love this film. It has the same director (Delbert Mann) the same screenwriter (Paddy Chayefsky) and the same feel. Fredric March plays a 56 year old widower, surrounded by men who seem to always be talking of death and sickness or sex and young floozies. He's lonely, depressed, and tired of always spending his nights visiting his daughter or hanging out with his spinster sister.

Desperate, he reaches out to a woman in her 40's who turned down his marriage proposal a few months earlier. The scene is set up in his empty bedroom. He sits on the side of the bed, and calls her on the phone. He looks hesitant, yet eager. "How about we go out for dinner, maybe see a show?" -- then he realizes that she doesn't seem very friendly. He asks why. She's married. The hurt on his face is heart wrenching.

Later that night, he goes to pick up some papers from his secretary (Kim Novak) at the apartment that she shares with her mother. Her husband just divorced her, and she's a complete wreck. Fredric March stays for a while, listens to her problems and cheers her up. The next time he sees her at work, he realizes he's developed a bit of a crush on her -- but he's torn between asking her out or leaving her alone because he is more than twice her age, and she's younger than his own daughter!

This movie just would not have worked if the boss had been played by someone like Cary Grant -- Fredric March was not a dashing older man. He has wrinkles, a belly, a receding hairline, and a strange habit of gnashing his teeth that really made him seem 70, not 56. It's not a fairy tale May-December romance. March plays a real life older man, warts and all.

So when March finally gets up the nerve (pacing back and forth beforehand, you can practically SEE the butterflies in his stomach) to ask Kim out on a date, you can understand why she doesn't look especially thrilled. As they go out on more dates, March turns into an exuberant little boy. He is genuinely giddy everytime he's with Kim Novak.

In the end, the movie is about the definition of love. What is love? Is it two people falling head over heels for each other? Yes -- but it can also be an older man finding happiness and a second youth with a disconsolate love-starved woman. It can be two people feeling comfortable together, and helping each other get through the quiet lonliness in the middle of the night.

Painting is by me, prints available here.

The Wicked Lady (1945)

September 20, 2009

The Wicked Lady (1945) stars Margaret Lockwood as Barbara Worth -- an adventurous young woman in 17th Century England. The movie opens with Barbara's cousin, Caroline (Patricia Roc) getting engaged to Sir Ralph Skelton (Griffith Jones). Caroline invites Barbara to be her Maid of Honor. Though the two haven't seen each other in nearly five years, Caroline remembers how fun and exciting her cousin was, and can't wait to see her.

The angelic (TOO angelic if you ask me) Caroline

When Barbara arrives, Sir Ralph is immediately taken by her striking beauty and... well, now would be a good time to relay a little information I got from Robert Osborne. Though this film was a gigantic success in England, there was a little delay in bringing it across the pond. The censors weren't too keen on the risque storyline but they were even less keen on Margaret Lockwood's wardrobe. I trust you'll know what I'm talking about when I say her cup surely runneth over. They actually had to re-shoot scenes with a more modest wardrobe for American audiences. The version I saw, though, is definitely the British one.

See what I mean?

So anyway, Sir Ralph was immediately taken by her.. eh-hem.. striking beauty. Naturally, this does not bode well for Caroline. Especially after Sir Ralph had just told her earlier that while he didn't actually love her, per se, he was definitely fond of her. Nice thing to tell your fiance, right?

So a little switcheroo is in order. Barbara marries Sir Ralph, and Caroline is her Maid of Honor. But at the wedding, Barbara meets a dashing young architect (Michael Rennie) who gives her a long, passionate kiss before sending her off to meet her new husband in their bridal chambers. Wow.

Soon Barbara becomes bored with the whole setup. She's cooped up in a country house, with a stuffy, dull husband. She's forced to meet with relatives she can't stand, and then to top it all off, she loses a precious, sentimental piece of jewelry to one of those relatives in a card game. But our heroine is not going to take this lying down. She disguises herself as the notorious Captain Jackson, a highwayman (17th Century masked man who rides on the highway at night, assaulting women in their carriages and stealing their jewelry) to steal back her prized brooch. The thrill of the robbery is so great that Barbara soon turns into a highwaylady herself.

I'm beginning to wonder if I have some kind of problem, because once again I was rooting for the person who's supposed to be evil. Throughout the course of this film, Barbara is a robber, murderer and adulteress. But I wanted her to get away with it all! When she plans on killing people, I hoped they'd die. And for crying out loud, her goody-two-shoes cousin Caroline just drove me up the wall. Does anyone else feel like this when they watch movies? I get so darned upset when the production code (or whatever they had in Britain) swoops in and makes the bad guys pay, the good guys happy and the moralists in the audience squeal with joy.

As you can probably gather from my description, Barbara is REALLY wicked. The title suits, and Margaret Lockwood was superb in the role. James Mason and Michael Rennie co-star in the film (two heavyweights in their own right) but you barely notice them because Margaret Lockwood's acting is just so powerful. That, and the fact that they didn't get too much screen time anyway-- the male lead of Sir Ralph was played by Griffith Jones, who was perfect for this part because he was so unnoticeable, small and boring compared to Margaret Lockwood.

Lucky that I caught this on TCM this month because it seems to only be available on DVD in Region2. Lucky for you-- I decided to put it on YouTube :) You can view it here.

ps. It's bizarre how James Mason is made out to be the star of the picture in the poster I found, since he's barely in it! I just thought that was peculiar.

The Goose and the Gander - 1935 (or "Wow! A movie that doesn't star Dirk Bogarde!")

September 17, 2009

Two nights ago I watched The Goose and The Gander which starred Kay Francis, George Brent and Genevieve Tobin (NOT Dirk Bogarde! I know, shocking!)

This movie is really easy to follow but trying to explain it is like trying to explain War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov. I feel like I need an elaborate family tree at the beginning to help me out..

RALPH SUMMERS (Ralph Forbes)
(Kay Francis) .........................(Genevieve Tobin)
First Wife ............................ Second Wife
I..............................IBOB MCNEAR (George Brent)
Betty Summers' Lover
Also has eyes for Georgiana

(John Eldredge and Claire Dodd)
Thieves who steal jewels from Georgiana
and then try to pose as Ralph & Betty Summers

(Helen Lowell)
Comic relief

Here's my best attempt at describing the plot!

GEORGIANA overhears BETTY and BOB planning a weekend getaway.
GEORGIANA still wants RALPH back.
GEORGIANA bribes a gas station attendant to tell BETTY and BOB that their weekend getaway spot is quarantined for smallpox, and drain their gas tank so that they simply have to stay at GEORGIANA's lodge, which is only a half mile away.
RALPH is planning to stop at the lodge in the morning.
BOB lies to GEORGIANA and says that BETTY is Mrs. BOB MCNEER.
The gas station attendant accidentally also directs a pair of jewel thieves, LAWRENCE AND CONNIE, to the lodge.
LAWRENCE and CONNIE arrive at the lodge and say they are Betty and Ralph Summers.
BETTY is passing herself off as Mrs. BOB MCNEER so she doesn't contest their identities.
HILARITY ensues.

Gosh, as hard as I tried I think this still doesn't make any sense! Too bad it isn't on DVD so you could just watch it for yourself...


That's right -- I just spent about three hours copying the movie to my computer and uploading it to YouTube!! So can just see for yourself how funny this movie is, regardless of how complicated I just made the plot sound!

The Singer Not the Song (1961)

September 16, 2009

eh-hem. John Mills AND Dirk Bogarde in one film. JACKPOT!!

In The Singer not the Song, John Mills plays a Catholic priest who arrives in a small Mexican village to take over for the retiring priest. The village is controlled by Anacleto, the town's bad boy played by a leather-clad Dirk Bogarde.

Dirk Bogarde is well known for acting in daring movies, such as Victim - another movie he made the same year as this one, which dealt with homosexuality and actually paved the way for archaic homophobic laws in England to be repealed. This movie deals with perhaps an even touchier subject: atheism. I can't actually recall ever seeing a movie which dealt with this subject before. It's a very taboo topic, even now. While we have quite a few openly gay politicians, there is only one openly atheist politician in the whole country. So for Dirk Bogarde and John Mills to star in a film that dealt frankly with athiesm is, to me at least, as daring as it was for Dirk to star in Victim.

The film is groundbreaking, but it's not entirely without convention. John Mills, as the priest, is still the good man. Dirk Bogarde, as the atheist, is still the bad man. But both actors gave performances that made the one dimensional good vs. evil characters more nuanced. The priest has to fight with his inner demons to remain a chaste, pure man. The atheist who cannot trust anyone places his trust in a man of the cloth.

I think that whether you are an atheist or a devout Christian, you will see your own beliefs reinforced in this film. The film doesn't condemn atheism (this actually took me completely by surprise. I was expecting Anacleto to fall down on his knees, repent, and become a monk by the end of the movie -- something that would be typical in most films from this era) but it also doesn't comdemn Christianity. It forces nothing down your throat, just leaves the matter up in the air for you to decide.

In all honesty, I doubt this film would be released in America today, despite the fact that its message about religion is one of ambiguity not condemnation. I read recently that American theaters won't be distributing a new movie about the life of Charles Darwin for fear of protests. Certainly if a film about evolution (a subject that is discussed in science classrooms across the country) can't make it into theathers, I highly doubt a movie about atheism would!

The one funny thing about the film is that, like in The Spanish Gardener, almost all of the Mexican characters are British. This didn't bother me so much, though, as the fact that the one girl in the story (whose parents are both British and who grew up in Mexico) speaks with a French accent! Where did that come from?!

Well if I didn't scare you away from watching the movie, you can view it on YouTube here. Really, I highly recommend it -- if only to see Dirk Bogarde looking so dashing in his villanous bandit costumes :)

Oh! One more thing... yesterday I found that one of the movies I reviewed recently, Cast a Dark Shadow, is available in full on YouTube! It was a really great film, but not available on DVD. So if you have some free time you should definitely watch it!

The Woman in Question (1950)

September 14, 2009

You have to go out of your way a little to see this film -- it's available on VHS here and on DVD here. But it's well worth it, trust me!

The Woman in Question begins with a little boy finding a dead body in an apartment. This triggers a series of interviews and flashbacks in which each of the suspects in the murder are interviewed and give their own account of what REALLY happened. It reminded me a lot of Rashomon, which also came out in 1950.

But this movie was so darn clever, I think it even out-does Rashomon. In each flashback, the deceased woman, Jean Kent, is portrayed in whatever light the suspect saw her. Subsequently, this film has her playing a darling devoted wife with an upper crust British accent, a loose, scruffy fortune teller with a heavy cockney accent, and the most lovely, beautiful, gentle woman in the universe. All seen through the eyes of the people who might have killed her.

SUSPECT #1: Mrs. Finch (Hermione Baddeley)

Relation to the deceased: House maid and mother of the little boy who finds the body
Opinion of the deceased: Glamorous, giving and kind
Motive: I'm not actually sure she has one. Though they sort of treat her as a suspect in the film, I think her purpose is more to advance the story.
I LOVED this character. Hermione Baddeley has to be one of the best British character actors ever. In the beginning, the police are trying to question her son, who found the body. She's hilarious as a doting mother who answers every question before her son gets the chance. She's also a typical busybody who has an opinion about everything and everyone.

SUSPECT #2: Catherine Taylor (Susan Shaw)

Relation to the deceased: Sister, and potentially the lover of the dead woman's husband!
Opinion of the deceased: a wench with no respect for her sick husband
Motive: Her sister has tried to prevent her marriage to Bob Baker (aka. Suspect #3!)
Susan Shaw had two characters to play: the catty, overly-made-up slutty sister in Mrs. Finch's account, and the beautiful, delicate lady in Bob Baker's account.

SUSPECT #3: Bob Baker (Dirk Bogarde)

Relation to the deceased: Possibly a former flame, definitely a former vaudeville partner and Catherine's fiance
Opinion of the deceased: Nice at first, but then she becomes a meddling horror!
Motive: The deceased was trying to prevent his marriage to Catherine.
When Dirk Bogarde first entered the film (quite a way in, unfortunately) he had the strangest accent... I couldn't actually tell what he was trying to do until someone mentioned that he was an American! (Hence that all-American name Bob Baker, right?) It must be a hard accent to master because poor Dirk definitely didn't sound American. He'd get a word right every once in a while but the British accent just kept slipping back in. I'm not sure if this was just written into the script to account for his trouble with our dialect, but he confesses to his fiance that he was actually born in Liverpool and just made up the whole American thing for his stage act.

Despite my initial confusion about his accent, he played the part brilliantly as always. His character shows up in four of the different accounts and so he also had to play four different versions of one character. My favorite was Mrs. Finch's account, in which he is a cowboy-hat-wearing American (ha!) cad.

SUSPECT #4: Albert Pollard (Charles Victor)

Relation to the deceased: A friend who owns the pet shop where she gets her parrot and fixes up anything that needs fixing around the house.
Opinion of the deceased: The most lovely, beautiful creature that ever walked on this earth.
Motive: Perhaps she didn't love him back...
Mr. Pollard was such a sweet little man. In one scene, Mrs. Finch gets flustered when Catherine and Bob angrily come busting into the house to see Jean Kent. She runs over to Mr. Pollard to get him to kick them out, and he just stands there, sheepishly, until they leave. No courage at all. But! In Mr. Pollards account, he storms into the house and demands that Catherine and Bob leave PRONTO! It was so cute.

SUSPECT #5: Michael Murray (John McCallum)

Relation to the deceased: Boyfriend/Fiance
Opinion of the deceased: a loving, devoted fiance... until he finds her with another man!!
Motive: He found her with another man!!
This is the only character that is one dimensional -- he is portrayed only in his own recollections, nobody elses. He does a splendid job, though, and is cute as a burly Irish sailor.


The Deceased Woman

Jean Kent is brilliant in this film. She plays five different versions of one single woman, each of them completely unique. It's amazing how she played the same character from five totally different perspectives- and each incredibly convincing. The most amazing thing about this is that her appearance changes in each flashback as well.

in Mrs. Finch's account, as the saintly tenant

in Catherine's account, as the scummy wench

in Bob Baker's account, as the seductive business partner

in Mr. Pollard's account, a vision of loveliness

in Michael Murray's account, perhaps the most
normal, down-to-earth version of the bunch.

The Servant (1963)

September 10, 2009

Last night I watched "The Servant" (1963) starring Dirk Bogarde and Sarah Miles. This is one of those films that leaves you staring at your television, mouth agape, wondering what the heck you just saw. It is eerie, uncomfortable, unsettling, disturbing and FANTASTIC.

The movie begins with an unconventional job interview -- Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) arrives to find his potential employer (James Fox) passed out drunk on the floor. Now, Barrett is quite the interesting fellow -- he is at once reserved, shy and deferential and cocky, domineering and forward. The character is so incredibly complicated it's no wonder that Dirk Bogarde won the BAFTA film award as best actor for his performance.

The film is really presented in two parts. The first half is sort of coy -- you get an idea of what's going on in the plot, but it isn't entirely clear, and it isn't especially sinister. Then the second half just hits you like a ton of bricks! It's dark, heavy and definitely not coy.

One of my favorite things about the movie was the use of reflections -- I didn't take screenshots of all of them (there were too many!) but my favorites included this fish-eye mirror in the drawing room. It was the perfect way to depict the twisted, fun-house kind of shennanigans going on inside this house.

This wasn't my favorite Dirk Bogarde film (that honor still belongs to Darling, though this came very close) but I think it was my favorite performance. His character doesn't evolve in the film, it is revealed. In the beginning, Barrett is a devoted manservant, eager to cook meals and carry trays. But little by little he becomes a bit bossy. The walls should have red and fushia wallpaper. The master shouldn't have fresh flowers in his bedroom. He doesn't approve of new cushions for the couch. And you know, he really could use a maid to help him out around the house -- and his sister is just the girl for the job.

As the film progresses, Barrett gets stronger and stronger while James Fox's character gets wearker and weaker. By the end of the film, Barrett has shown his real character, a far cry from the meek, eager servant we met at the beginning. Really, the transition is stunning. Furthermore, it is amazing that Dirk Bogarde really does not have that much dialogue or screentime at the beginning of the film. Yet whether he is physically on camera, or simply lingering in the thoughts of the other characters onscreen, his character is a constant presence in the movie.

Last year I saw an interview with Harold Pinter on Charlie Rose (re-aired after he passed away) and was very enchanted with him -- I've wanted to watch one of his plays or films ever since, and I'm very happy that this was the first one I got to see. He wrote the adapted screenplay for the film, and if this is any indication of his style I am just itching to see more! Pinter also wrote Accident (which, like The Servant, also stars Dirk Bogarde and was directed by Joseph Losey) so I can't wait to see that now!

A lot of movies can make you cry, laugh or smile gleefully at the end. But it takes a really special film to leave you staring at your television, mouth agape, wondering what the heck just happened.

Can I just say, I want to BE Sarah Miles. Really.