Archive for the ‘drama’ Tag

The Great Lie (1941): I Ain’t Gonna Lie on Maggie’s Farm No More   2 comments

 

Rich country girl, Maggie (Bette Davis) loves Peter (George Brent). Peter loves Maggie, but he can’t commit. In a weak and drunken moment, he marries Sandra (Mary Astor), a globe-trotting concert pianist. She’s sort of awful though so when a paperwork glitch nullifies their marriage, Peter marries Maggie.


“You’ll do.”

All is happiness and light until Sandra drops a bombshell—she’s pregnant. When Peter’s plane is lost during a mapping expedition to the Amazon, Maggie has an idea. She’ll take Sandra to a secluded cabin where she’ll have her baby privately, then Maggie will claim the child as her own so the kid has a dad, at least on paper. The two women travel to Arizona, where Maggie takes care of the difficult Sandra during her pregnancy. When Maggie returns, she has a new baby with Peter’s name.


“No, I don’t have any eights!”

Despite her heartbreak at the loss of her husband, Maggie soldiers on and focuses on raising her son, who she names Peter, after his father. Maggie is a wonderful mother and young Pete thrives with the help of Maggie and maid superwoman, Violet (Hattie McDaniel). Things proceed swimmingly until Peter returns from the dead and eats the rest of the cast. I’m kidding, but that would be an interesting plot twist, wouldn’t it?


“This is a human child, right?”

Peter comes back to Maggie and is overjoyed to see her and to meet his son. He’s a loving and dedicated husband and father and he, Maggie, Young Pete, and Violet live happily ever after. Not so fast, bub. Sandra finds out Peter is back from the jungle and she wants him AND her baby. During a tense visit to Maggie’s farm, Maggie has a head full of ideas that are drivin’ her insane. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


“Don’t trust her, Pete.”

Anyway, Sandra threatens to tell Peter that Young Pete is hers, claiming Peter will leave Maggie since the baby is the only thing holding their marriage together. This is a film made in 1941 in which a boozy career woman has a child out of wedlock, so you can guess who wins.


“Dammit.”

The Great Lie is a terrific melodrama with great performances by all the leads. Bette Davis is lovely as the good girl with confidence issues. In the beginning of the film, Maggie’s idea of domestic bliss is a little too dull for Peter. He’s not ready to settle down. Brent plays Peter as a bit of a playboy, but overall, he’s a decent guy. When he finds out his marriage to Sandra isn’t legal, he offers to remarry her. Of course, he wants her to give up a gig to do it. You could call that dirty pool, but she wants him to give up his job to follow her around while she plays concerts too. It’s more like the two alpha personalities just don’t mesh. I like how he handles the news about Young Pete, too.


“I double dog dare ya!”

Davis and Brent are good together. She always said Brent was her favorite leading man and the two were close on and off the set. They had a passionate affair, but stayed friends even after it ended, making eleven films together.


“Race ya!”

Brent is more talented than he gets credit for because he makes it look easy. He excels at playing the cad with a heart of gold. Clark Gable does that too, but I’ve always preferred Brent. He’s smoother and doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. Keeping his thoughts and feelings closer to the vest makes him more mysterious and more appealing.


“It’s sweet of you to wait four years for me to commit, then watch me marry and impregnate someone else. Is supper ready?”

Mary Astor, as Sandra, is fantastic! She’s a demanding prima donna with genuine talent who wants everything done yesterday. She’s accustomed to getting her own way and is put out when anyone challenges her. She’s not evil though. Astor could easily have played this as a one note character, but she gives Sandra depth. Maybe the marriage wouldn’t have lasted, but not because Sandra doesn’t love Peter. When Sandra sees Maggie, Peter, and Young Pete living so happily together, she wonders if she’s made the right choice. The forties were not exactly the ‘have it all’ decade. Sandra has chosen a career and perhaps she has moments in hotel rooms in Sydney or Budapest when she regrets not having a family. The audience sees flashes of these thoughts as Sandra holds her baby.


“TA DA!”

The Great Lie is fleshed out by a cadre of veteran character actors. Lucile Watson, Jerome Cowen, Grant Mitchell, Russell Hicks, and the charismatic, Hattie McDaniel lend their enormous talents to the film. Warner Brother had an impressive well of talent to draw from and that’s obvious when watching any film they made, especially in the 1940s.


“You’re paying me scale?”

Edmund Goulding directed The Great Lie and two other Davis/Brent vehicles, Dark Victory and The Old Maid, along with a gang of other films, including the amazing, and completely different, Nightmare Alley and The Razor’s Edge. This is a low-key melodrama with sympathetic characters who act like normal, flawed human beings. There are some noble moments, but overall, the story, written by Lenore Coffee from Polan Banks’ novel, is realistic. Sure, everyone is rich and no one has to go to the bathroom, but it’s a movie. The film also looks and sounds great thanks to Orry-Kelly’s gowns and Max Steiner’s music.

I was thinking this plot could have taken an entirely different path. What if Maggie brought Sandra out to Arizona to steal her baby, kill her, and bury her under a cactus? Then, Peter comes back to Maggie after fighting off piranha and anacondas and junk and finds out he has a baby. He’s thrilled until detectives come calling at the farm asking where Maggie was for nine months a while back. Oh, and why were she and Sandra going to Arizona anyway? When a thirsty man, stranded in the desert, cuts open a saguaro to survive, he notices a woman’s shoe poking out of the dry ground. After he makes it back to civilization, he tells the story to a doctor with ties to law enforcement. His friend, a local deputy with political aspirations, digs up he body, connects the dots, and bingo! Maggie’s doin’ hard time and Peter’s looking for wife #3.


“These new taffeta jail duds are stunning.”

I digress. The Great Lie is an entertaining story made by a talented director, a veteran cast of lead and character actors, and produced at the height of Warner Brothers’ powers.

This is a good one.

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So Long at the Fair (1950)   2 comments

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Vicky Barton (Jean Simmons) and her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) arrive in Paris on the eve of the 1889 World’s Fair. They’re traveling through, but Vicky, excited about her first trip to Paris, convinces Johnny to spend the next day in the city and take her to the fair. That night, the siblings dine in Montmartre and see a show at the Moulin Rouge.

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“I’m having so much fun! I hope I don’t disappear.”

The next morning, Vicky waits for her brother to pick her up for breakfast. When he’s late, Vicky visits the hotel desk to get Johnny’s room key and check on him. Not only do they not have his key, but the proprietor tells Vicky no such room exists and Johnny was never there.

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“I’m looking for my oh hello.”

Frantic, Vicky searches for Johnny and tries desperately to prove he was with her. The more she insists her story is true, the more people think she’s crazy. With no money, no friends, and no proof, how will Vicky find her brother?

So Long at the Fair follows the main ideas originated in Anselma Heine’s story “Die Erscheinung” (“The Apparition”), in the Richard Oswald-directed silent anthology film Eerie Tales (1919). The concept appears again in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes in 1938. Based on Ethel Lina White’s 1936 story, “The Wheel Spins”, The Lady Vanishes adds Fascists and spies to the already tense tale of a young woman who meets the elderly Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) on a train and then can’t prove she was ever there. In that film, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) finally convinces Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) she’s not a nut and the two fight fear, indifference, and bad guys to find their friend. Hitchcock recycled the story again for his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series in 1955 in the episode Into Thin Air starring his daughter Patricia. That show involves a daughter searching for her missing mother and gives Alexander Woollcott story credit. The stories mostly feature young women in the lead roles who spend the majority of the stories trying to prove to pretty much everyone that they’re not insane and “Oh, could you please look for my brother/friend/mom?”

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“Have you met Dad?”

So Long at the Fair differs from the other manifestations of this idea in its presentation. The Jean Simmons version was a Gainsborough Pictures production which means lavish sets, period costumes, and pearl-clutching drama. Costume drama is not usually my favorite film genre, but So Long at the Fair is a good film with some genuinely tense moments. That probably has a lot to do with the cast and director.

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This means no vampires.

Jean Simmons carries the film well. She’s a sweet, innocent girl in peril, but she’s smart and strong enough to stand up for herself and find her brother. She could easily have gone all limp and useless, but the story and the actress are stronger and that makes it more fun to watch. Along with Simmons, the cast includes a few other up-and-coming British actors who acquit themselves well and look lovely too. Honor Blackman has a small part as does the wonderful Andre Morel and the gorgeous Dirk Bogarde. Bogarde has a nice supporting role as a well-heeled artist living in Paris who helps Simmons in her brother quest. Bogarde is young and handsome and terrifically appealing in this film. He and Simmons look good together. Did I mention Dirk Bogarde is incredibly attractive? Oh all right. I’ll stop. He is though.

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See?

Another reason So Long at the Fair works as more than a vehicle for young stars is the direction by the talented Terence Fisher. Fisher directed a boatload of noir, thriller, and horror films for Hammer Film Productions from the 1950s through the 1970s and his ability in those genres transforms So Long at the Fair from the usual Gainsborough melodrama to a more thrilling mystery and makes the heroine’s situation that much more frightening.

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When in doubt, ask some nuns.

Unlike Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) and other Gaslight-type films, we know Vicky’s brother exists. We’ve seen him. The question is will Vicky ever see him again?

I wrote this piece for the British Invaders Blogathon presented by Terence Towles Canote and his site A Shroud of Thoughts

Thanks for the inspiration, Terence!

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Elephant Walk vs. The Naked Jungle: Who’d Win in a Bar Fight?   4 comments

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Paramount released ELEPHANT WALK and THE NAKED JUNGLE within a month of one another in 1954.  They often appeared in theatres on a double bill.  If you see them both, you might think you’ve seen the same film twice.  Both center around a rich plantation owner living in a foreign country with a beautiful wife and major psychological issues.  Both leads have flawed marriages.  Both battle wild animals on rampages.  In ELEPHANT WALK, the creatures in questions are, you guessed it, groundhogs.  OK.  I can’t get anything past you.  They’re elephants.  In THE NAKED JUNGLE, the enemies are ants.  Naked ants.  They’re referred to as the Marabunta, which, as you know, mean friendsh…no.  It means naked army ant.  Paramount made both films partially on location.  ELEPHANT WALK takes place in British Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.  They filmed in both Ceylon and Hollywood.  THE NAKED JUNGLE is set in Brazil, but Florida served as a stand-in for the Amazon jungle.  Even the structures of the two films are similar.

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Edith Head did herself proud in both films.

In ELEPHANT WALK, John Wiley (Peter Finch) runs a sprawling tea plantation in British Ceylon.  The plantation, Elephant Walk, got its name because John’s father, Tom, built it on the elephants’ traditional path to the river.  After a whirlwind romance in England, John marries Ruth (Elizabeth Taylor) and brings her back to the family bungalow to begin her duties as the lady of the house.  In THE NAKED JUNGLE, Christopher Leiningen (Charlton Heston) writes long, lonely letters from Brazil to his brother in New Orleans.  His brother meets Joanna (Eleanor Parker) and introduces Christopher and Joanna by mail.  The two correspond and eventually marry by proxy.  Joanna travels to the jungle to be Christopher’s wife and run his home.

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Soon after taking up residence at Elephant Walk, Ruth notices subtle changes in her new husband.  Charming and loving in England and on their honeymoon, John becomes distant, gruff, and even brutal in Ceylon.  The oppressive atmosphere of Elephant Walk, along with the influence of John’s long dead father, old Tom Wiley, turn John iron-fisted and cruel.  In THE NAKED JUNGLE, immediately after her arrival in Brazil, Joanna sees differences between Christopher’s letters and his demeanor.  Intelligent and gentle during their correspondence, Christopher becomes insulting and downright nasty in person.

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This is what John Wiley does instead of hanging out with Liz Taylor.

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Leiningen’s sort of an ass.

John Wiley’s main issue is the Governor.  John’s father and the builder of Elephant Walk has been dead for years, but still manages to run the show.  His rules, attitudes, and methods for running the plantation and his house haven’t changed despite his death.  They still celebrate his birthday each year with a big party. They even present gifts to the guests around Tom Wiley’s elaborate, marble crypt, conveniently located on the lawn just steps from the house.  Handy.  The combination of the ever present Tom Wiley, her husband’s hostility, and the middle-aged frat boy mentality of most of the plantation workers drives Ruth away.  She plans to leave with the sympathetic and cultured Dick Carver (Dana Andrews), John’s foreman.

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“I hope she picks me.”

Christopher Leiningen’s problem in THE NAKED JUNGLE is sex and his need to be the first to sleep with his new wife.  Joanna, a widow, fulfills all Christopher’s requirements.  She has manners, refinement, and beauty.  She even plays the piano.  The fact of her first marriage, however, drives him crazy.  You see, Christopher has no sexual experience and he can’t stand the thought that his wife does.  He won’t touch her and plans to send her back to the states.

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“I’m sending you back.”

Naturally, Ruth can’t leave Elephant Walk.  On her way to the boat for England, everyone gets cholera.  Ruth has to stay to boil linens and burn things.  The cholera epidemic strikes at the same time as a major drought so besides the stacks of dead bodies and the quarantine and all, they’re also running out of water and the elephants get antsy.  Get it?  Antsy?  Anyway, thirsty and fed up, the elephants stampede and John races to save Ruth.

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“I’m coming, Ruth!”

Meanwhile, in Brazil, the Marabunta start crawling their way through the jungle toward Christopher’s ranch and civilization in general.  You see, every twenty-seven years, army ants charge through the Amazon eating everything they see.  So the calendar strikes 27 and the ants come-a-runnin’.  Christopher and Joanna have to curtail their trip to the boat to take her back to New Orleans to fight them some ants.

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“Hold it right there, you damned, dirty ants!”

Will John Wiley rescue Ruth from elephants?  Will he see the error of his ways and start his marriage again without his dead dad’s interference?  Will he return the ugly elephant necklace he makes Ruth wear?

Will Christopher beat the ants?  Will he decide to love Joanna despite her horrid promiscuity?  Will William Conrad stop speaking with that ridiculous mystery accent?

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“I’m not sure where I’m from.”

I’ll never tell.

ELEPHANT WALK did better at the box office than THE NAKED JUNGLE and it’s a better film in general.  Peter Finch does a terrific job as the anguished John Wiley, who embraces his imperious father’s memory even as he fights its hold over him.  He’s great when he’s angry and truly contrite while asking for forgiveness.  Elizabeth Taylor’s Ruth looks spectacular in the gorgeous Edith Head gowns and dresses she wears.  She’s a beautiful and sympathetic character who’s torn between her love for her husband and her fear for him and herself in this unhealthy atmosphere.  Dana Andrews is convincing as John’s overseer who falls for Ruth and tries to help her escape.  Abraham Sofaer plays Appuhamy, the efficient head servant at Elephant Walk whose loyalty to the old master tries Ruth’s patience.  His restraint gives the character integrity and allows us to see the change in him as he finally accepts Ruth.  Direction by William Dieterle along with the Franz Waxman score and the actual location shooting gives this film polish and the A-list actors deliver fine performances.

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Abraham Sofaer as Appuhamy

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Abraham Sofaer (in back) as Incacha.

THE NAKED JUNGLE is a less solid film than ELEPHANT WALK.  Heston does a decent job as the immature Christopher.  Deep down he’s a poet who hides his soft side and thinks he HAS to object to his wife’s non-virgin status.  As I said, Heston does a decent job, but he lacks the subtlety his character needs.  Eleanor Parker wears the Edith Head costumes brilliantly and plays the put upon wife well, but she’s far too melodramatic.  She’s more subtle than Lana Turner, but that doesn’t take much.  William Conrad plays his part well, but they saddled him with a goofy accent which detracts from his performance.  Conrad played the Heston role in the radio version of the Carl Stephenson story.  I guess they wanted to throw him a bone.  Guess who plays the faithful servant/overseer?  Yup.  Abraham Sofaer.  This time he’s Brazilian.  Ernest Laszlo and George Pal did the photography and production and Byron Haskin directed.

 

All in all, ELEPHANT WALK and the NAKED JUNGLE will both fulfill your animals running amok needs.  There’s great footage of elephants stampeding throughout ELEPHANT WALK and the scene where they wreck Wiley’s mansion is spectacular.  If you’re into that disease thing, the film also has cholera!

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George Pal produced THE NAKED JUNGLE and the ant effects are decent.  Scenes with ants overtaking grown men are pretty cool even if they’re unbelievable.

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“So many ants.”

Where THE NAKED JUNGLE fails is that ants keep killing people you don’t particularly care about.  A disaster film has to allow us to learn something about its victims before flinging them off cliffs.  If it doesn’t, it’s just some random SyFy film like ANTOPUS VS LOBSTELEPHANT.  To sum up, ELEPHANT WALK is a terrific film with realistic performances that looks wonderful.  THE NAKED JUNGLE is a pretty good film with lots of ants, which is a plus, and a so-so story.  Watch them both and tell me what you think.

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I wrote this piece for the Nature’s Fury Blogathon hosted by the always fascinating Barry of Cinematic Catharsis  He’s a nice guy who runs a terrific film blog.  Please check it out.

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Absence of Malice (1981)   2 comments

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Elliot Rosen (Bob Balaban) has a problem. A year into his strike force’s investigation into the disappearance and probable murder of Joey Diaz, a popular Miami union leader, Rosen has no leads. To shake things up, he decides to pressure local liquor wholesaler Michael Colin Gallagher (Paul Newman) into telling the feds what he knows. The trouble is, Gallagher doesn’t know anything. Gallagher’s deceased bootlegger father and his uncle, Malderone (Luther Adler) have mob ties, but not Gallagher. He’s an honest businessman. That doesn’t stop Rosen from leaking a story naming Gallagher as a suspect in the Diaz case to Megan Carter (Sally Field). Carter, a reporter for the Miami Standard newspaper, writes the story and her paper publishes it on page one.

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Then, it begins. The accusation slowly begins to destroy Gallagher’s life. His workers strike. His customers cancel their accounts. The IRS dissects his finances. His business falters.

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“Why no Ziggy this week?”

Gallagher asks Carter where she got her information, but she won’t reveal her source. The newspaper staff stonewalls him and he gets no answers from the feds. Frustrated, he continues to dig into the matter and keep his business afloat until a tragedy forces him to act. When the controversy hurts his close friend Teresa (Melinda Dillon), Gallagher gets angry. He’s a smart man so he exacts a thinking man’s revenge.

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Director, Sydney Pollack and writer Kurt Luedtke get the plot humming along nicely, then it stalls. You’re sucked in from the beginning and then Sally Field shows up and puts the brakes on. In this strong ensemble, she’s miscast. I can’t buy her hard-boiled reporter any more than I can buy her romance with Paul Newman.

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“You say the nun FLEW?”

They have no chemistry and her jaded journalist has no credibility. I wonder if their romance was an afterthought added by producers to appeal to a wider audience. Anyway, the rest of the cast works a treat. Newman does a fine job as a gruff good guy who gets screwed and fights back. We like him. We’re outraged when he’s attacked and cheer him on when he reacts. Melinda Dillon is absolutely brilliant. Her voice, carriage, and even the way she holds a cigarette tell her story.

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It’s a beautiful and poignant performance. She deserves her Oscar nomination. Then there’s Bob Balaban. He does weasely like no one else. Rosen, his self-righteous, arrogant federal prosecutor, worms his way onto your bad side and his quirky elastic band wringing is inspired.

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“It’s my ball and if I can’t pitch I’m going home.”

I can’t think of this film without picturing Rosen’s odd little habit. Luther Adler as Gallagher’s mobster uncle is a lot of fun too. He clearly enjoys his role. I saved the best for last. Wilford Brimley as Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Wells makes this movie. He has about eight minutes of screen time, but commands your attention for every second of it. His straightforward and logical approach to the case along with his homespun manner and way of speaking renew your faith in the justice system. Wells doesn’t listen to any excuses or rationalizations. In this world of half-truths and shades of gray, he’s a black and white breath of fresh air.

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“Dammit. This courthouse has no Quaker Oats.”

The idea that a federal agency can rip an honest man’s life apart on a whim is scary. Add in a little sloppy journalism and it’s a nightmare. Absence of Malice exposes the ‘ends justify the means’ mentality in our judicial system. It also shows the press’ desire to get to print first despite little proof a story even exists. Absence of Malice, by the way, refers to the public figure doctrine in law. To win a libel suit, the plaintiff must prove the defendant knows the statement is false, but prints it anyway with reckless disregard to the truth. Without that proof, the plaintiff is powerless.

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The fine acting, relevant topic, and fleshed-out characters make Absence of Malice an entertaining and thoughtful film. I recommend it.

Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) (1987)   Leave a comment

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“Why is life worth living? It’s a very good question.  Um…well, there are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile.  Uh…like what?  Okay…um…For me, uh…ooh…I would say…what?  Groucho Marx, to name one thing…uh…um…and Willie Mays…and um…the 2nd movement of the Jupiter Symphony…and um…Louis Armstrong, recording of Potato Head Blues…um…Swedish movies, naturally…Sentimental Education by Flaubert…uh…Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra…um…those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne…uh…the crabs at Sam Wo’s…uh…Tracy’s face…”
Woody Allen in MANHATTAN (1979)

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Damiel (Bruno Ganz) spends his days watching, listening.  He hears people’s biggest fears and greatest failures.  When they are at their lowest, he is at his best.  He soothes them without words or caresses, but with kind thoughts and spiritual clarity.  Damiel is an angel.  Sent to West Berlin to observe the people there, Damiel discovers something about himself.  Listening to stories of love and heartbreak isn’t enough.  He’s dissatisfied with his voyeuristic role and longs to be human.  In his words, “…it would be nice to come home after a long day and feed the cat like Philip Marlowe.”  That simple wish becomes fervent desire after Damiel sees Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a lonely and beautiful trapeze artist working at a ramshackle traveling circus.  He empathizes with the lovely woman and longs to be with her.  Soon, he can think of little else.

See how she leans her cheek upon her hand.
O, that I were a glove upon that hand
That I might touch that cheek!
  Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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Despite the apparent simplicity of the plot, WINGS OF DESIRE touches on issues director Wim Wenders could only guess about in 1987.  Issues like isolation, longing, and empathy mean something entirely different today because of the technological advances we’ve made since 1987.  In a way, we have the power to be angels or devils as we watch and compliment or insult or simply acknowledge the work or opinions of others.  We fly anonymously from one country to another in an instant and hear the thoughts and hopes and prayers of scores of people in the course of a day.  Like Damiel, we hear a cacophony of voices in our heads.  It’s exhausting.

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Perhaps it’s feeling the weight of so many regrets and so much sadness that makes Damiel want to chuck the wings, join the human race, and hear just one voice echoing in his head, his own.  Maybe he wants to taste streusel or kiss a baby or pet a dog.  The fact that he wants to give up his wings at all based on what he hears speaks volumes about his capacity for hope and his desire to, as he puts it, “for once just to guess instead of always knowing.”

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Maybe he’s pushed over the edge by his friend, his compañero, Peter Falk.  Falk plays himself, an actor in Berlin to shoot a WWII movie.  Falk feels the presence of Damiel and his angel friend, Cassiel (Otto Sander).  That’s odd because as a rule, the only ones who see the pair are children.  Falk even encourages Damiel to become human when he says, “There’s so many good things.”  He describes some simple pleasures.  “To smoke and have coffee – and if you do it together, it’s fantastic.”

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Just one more thing…

Wim Wenders’ bleak vision of life without contact, surprise, or change is made real by the grays of Henri Alekan’s cinematography interspersed with stark WWII footage and by the hangdog expressions of most of the people Damiel and Cassiel encounter.  In fact, the only people who appear to enjoy themselves are children and Marion’s circus-performer friends.   Later, color explodes onto the screen, WIZARD OF OZ-like.  Music plays a big part in WINGS OF DESIRE as well.  Early in the film, the music is spare.  We hear strings and short bursts of an angelic choir.  As the film progresses, we’re treated to a song by Crime & the City Solution and nightclub performances by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

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Nick Cave and Cassiel.

Now I’ll wax poetic about Bruno Ganz.  I watched WINGS OF DESIRE in German with English subtitles so I know I missed some nuances of language, but I didn’t miss a single emotion because Ganz communicates so well with his eyes.  I could feel his yearning to touch Marion; to be a part of her life.  I could feel his childlike glee as he sat with the little ones and watched the circus.  I could feel how much he wanted to feed Philip Marlowe’s cat.  Otto Sander as Cassiel was all restraint and pent up emotions and the entire cast was full of faces.  They weren’t shined up for filming.  They were expressive and real.

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Those eyes

In many ways, Damiel’s need to be human rings a bell.  Like Damiel, we long for simple things; a crisp fall day, a good meal, a friend’s smile.  Instead we get a close-up picture of a leaf on Instagram, a website full of recipes, and a former classmate’s wedding photo on facebook.  Are we angels?  Hardly.  We do a lot more observing than joining in though so maybe making a list of things that make life worth living isn’t a bad idea.  I’ll start.  Hugging my daughter, scratching my dog’s head, eating a Macoun apple, singing a song, picking up rocks at the beach, drawing a picture…all do it for me.  I smiled just making the list.

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This piece appears in slightly different form on the Brattle Theatre’s blog.  Here’s the link.  BRATTLE

Undercurrent (1946)   6 comments

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Spinster Ann Hamilton (Katharine Hepburn) lives with her scientist father, Dink (Edmund Gwenn) in the country.  She busies herself helping with her father’s experiments and keeping house for him.  She’s a practical woman who harbors no fantasies about romance and marriage and is content to live her quiet, country life.  Then she meets Alan Garroway (Robert Taylor).  The millionaire industrialist visits the Hamiltons to buy Dink’s explosive formula and start production.  Charming, handsome, and confident, Alan sweeps Ann off her feet and after a whirlwind romance, the two marry.  The End.  Cut!  Print!  Teehee, just kidding.

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Wrong film, bub.

Alan takes Ann out of her comfortable domestic life and thrusts her into his jet-setting, sophisticated one.  The newlyweds arrive at their Washington, D.C. digs where Alan has arranged a party to welcome Ann.  It’s a black tie affair and Ann has only her traveling dress to wear.  She’s frumpy and nervous and clearly out of place in a room full of professional party-goers.  Determined to avoid another embarrassing scene and to make Alan proud of her, Ann buys a new wardrobe and tries to be the good Washington hostess.  Under Alan’s tasteful supervision, Ann learns how to charm the witty urbanites in Alan’s circle.  The couple appear to be well on the way to a long, happy marriage when Ann hears, for the first time, that Alan has a brother.  Ann asks about the mystery brother only to find that he ran off with no forwarding address and a large part of the company’s funds.  When Ann tries to question him further, Alan lashes out at her.  Realizing her husband is in pain, Ann relents and decides to try her best to comfort Alan and make him forget his heartbreak.

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Next, the couple go to the Garroway family home in tony, equestrian Middleburg, Virginia.  As Ann begins to acclimate herself to her new surroundings, she senses unease.  People talk around the issue which centers around Alan’s wayward brother, Michael.  No one will answer Ann’s questions and Alan’s hair trigger temper makes Ann increasingly concerned about the stability of her husband.  She catches him in a series of lies, but Alan explains it away.  This assuages Ann’s fears and on a trip to San Francisco Alan is called away.  Ann takes the opportunity to explore his brother Michael’s old ranch north of the city to learn more about him.  As she tours the house and grounds, which look as if they were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, she gets a picture of Michael which differs significantly from the one Alan described to her.  Alan reacts violently to Ann’s visit to the ranch.  After a guitar-tossing outburst, Alan finally calms down and brings her, coldly back to Washington.

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Yeah, not this film either.

Alan and Ann overhear a conversation which convinces Ann that to Alan she’s less of a wife and more of a project.  She realizes her transformation from frumpy to fabulous was no accident.  “You knew I wouldn’t look smart.  You could have waited for me to meet your friends.  The truth is if no one saw the before, you wouldn’t get credit for the after.”  In that one statement, Ann says what she’s been fearing almost from the beginning.  Now Ann doubts her husband and her marriage.  As long as she keeps that doubt to herself, she’ll have time to figure things out, but like the big innocent goof that she is, Ann tells Alan everything.  Immediately things go from curious to downright scary as Ann discovers the true nature of her husband.

wedding

Ann, run!

Directed by Vincent Minnelli with great, moody cinematography by Karl Freund, UNDERCURRENT boasts an impressive cast of lead and character actors including Marjorie Main, Jayne Meadows, and Robert Mitchum in a small, but pivotal role.  Based on a magazine story “You Were There” by Thelma Strabel, UNDERCURRENT did well at the box office.  It was Robert Taylor’s first screen role after returning from WWII and filmgoers came out in droves to see him and the rest of the stellar cast.  I’ve always liked this film.  Katharine Hepburn plays an unusually pliable woman in UNDERCURRENT and watching her transform from strong, but naïve to intimidated to self-assured to terrified keeps you guessing.  Robert Taylor does sociopathic well, and Robert Mitchum…  Well, Robert Mitchum can do anything he wants on screen (and probably off) and it works a treat.  I recommend UNDERCURRENT for trying something a little different with its stars.  It’s a fun noir/drama/love story/thriller.  It can also be used to propel a small, sea-going vessel.  Well, maybe not.

khep

I wrote this for #TheGreatKHBlogathon for Margaret Perry of margaretperry.org

Thank you for hosting!!!

The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)   Leave a comment

telegraph poster

Victoria Kowelska (Valentina Cortese) loses her husband in the war and the Nazis send her to Belsen. She befriends a sick woman in the concentration camp and tries to help her regain her strength. When the woman, Karin Dernakova dies just before the allies liberate the camp, Victoria assumes Karin’s identity. Neither woman had relatives left alive in Poland, but Karin has family, including a young son in the United States so New Karin travels to the US to care for her friend’s son. No one there has seen Karin so they believe her story. Once in New York, Karin meets the handsome and charming Alan Spender (Richard Basehart), executor of Karin’s rich aunt’s will and guardian to her son.

oj
Did you say iocaine powder?

Alan sweeps her off her feet and after a whirlwind romance, they marry and move to the family mansion in San Francisco’s toney Telegraph Hill section. Almost immediately, Karin senses tension in the household. The housekeeper, Margaret (Fay Baker) resents her presence and seems too attached to both Alan and her son, Christopher (Gordon Gebert).

margaret
Margaret’s domain.

Karin perseveres because of her increasing attachment to the boy, but her worries increase as a series of accidents plagues the household. She also meets and falls for attorney Major Marc Bennett (William Lundigan) who happens to have helped Karin at the refugee camp in Poland. Karin begins to suspect her new husband, but are her fears rational or is guilt about her own lies making her paranoid?

scary rich
Hi honey!

Directed by the talented and eclectic Robert Wise (The Haunting, The Day the Earth Stood Still), The House on Telegraph Hill is a thriller with a crime/noir feel that keeps you guessing. The death of her friend paves the way for Karin to start a new life in America. Is survivor’s guilt making that life impossible or are Karin and the child really in danger? Richard Basehart can play naïve innocence or cunning evil equally well and he leads a decent cast of actors in this little gem of a picture. Fay Baker channels Rebecca’s Mrs. Danvers at times and Valentina Cortese was convincing as the beleaguered concentration camp survivor. Gordon Gebert as the little boy does a nice job too.

margaret1
Hands off! He’s mine!

I’ve always liked this film. The small cast and relatively simple story line give the characters room to develop and their acting chops carry off the mystery and deception well. The locations in and around the Telegraph Hill section of San Francisco are lovely even without Lucien Ballard’s cinematography and the sets and costumes also help set the mood. If you like crime films with a bit of old school flair, you’ll like The House on Telegraph Hill.

house

Psst: Richard Basehart and Valentine Cortese married in 1951…

…and divorced in 1960.

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