Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Heiress (1949)

Spanish film poster.

Director: William Wyler
USA 1949
115 min

See it on YouTube here.

The Heiress is a story about the troubles of being wealthy, and not knowing if you're wanted for love or for a thicker wallet.

It's New York in the middle of the 19th century, and Catherine Sloper (De Havilland) lives with her dominating father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Richardson). Catherine is a kind-hearted woman, but shy and clumsy - and her father doesn't encourage her more by constantly comparing her to her deceased mother. It is obvious that Dr. Sloper has altered the memory of his wife into something of a goddess, so no matter how hard Catherine tries she will never fulfill his expectations.

One day Catherine meets a debonair, but poor, gentleman at a ball - Morris Townsend (Clift). Townsend put a lot of effort in courting Catherine, and soon they are engaged. Even though Catherine's aunt Lavinia (Hopkins) is head over heels happy for the couple, Dr. Sloper is resentful. He is convinced that Townsend is nothing else but a gold digger, and he tells Catherine so in the most brutal way: [paraphrasing] "What do you think he loves about you? Your looks? Your charms and your wit?" In other words, he's a complete jackass.

For once Catherine stands up against her father, and decides to get married to Townsend anyway. He is pleased to hear that she wants to get married right away, but when he hears about her quarrel with her dad he gets concerned. She responds happily that she doesn't care for inheritance - they can manage without it.
They decide that he will pick her up later at her house, so they can run away and get married. He does not show up.

Scene: This will give you a good idea of the film - just hear that horrible Dr. Sloper's go on about his worthless daughter. We also see Montgomery Clift make an entrance.

Now to the actors:

Olivia De Havilland never stops to amaze me as an actress. Few actresses can express so much by doing so little. In The Heiress De Havilland makes two major transformations of her character through the movie. First the shy and insecure Catherine (blank face, melting in with the background). Then to the madly in love Catherine (glittering eyes, lively face), and then over to the jilted Catherine (hardened features, vengeful eyes). It's amazing.

Miriam Hopkins is completely lovable as the rather unintelligent and hopelessly romantic aunt. Hopkins is another one of those actresses we seldom see in Hollywood today - those who, as they age, choose parts according to their own age.

Montgomery Clift is perfect for the part of the young gentleman who is careless with money, but very careful in the search for resources. Unfortunately I read that Clift often sneered at De Havilland and the way she acted, and that makes me sour. Luckily I didn't care much for him anyway. But he's a good actor, nonetheless.

Ralph Richardson is a talented actor, and he plays his part well enough. But after having read Basil Rathbone's own statement that he had played the part of Dr. Sloper on Broadway, and was really depressed not getting the part in the film adaption, I can't help but seeing him in the role. And I know that he would have made the part unforgettable. Perhaps he would have stolen the scenes from De Havilland, but that is something Richardson deliberately did with his improvisations.

Now I start to gossip Hedda Hopper style. Enough with that, I will summarize for you:
  • De Havilland and Hopkins are irreproachable. De Havilland won her 2nd Oscar.
  • I don't care much for Clift or Richardson, even though they did a good job.
  • William Wyler is one heck of a director.
  • The script is clever and well written.
  • The Oscar-winning musical score is grand.
  • The b/w photography and the playfulness with lighting and shadows are a feast for the eyes.
  • Basil Rathbone should have played Dr. Sloper.

Some funny trivia for you: Ginger Rogers was presumably offered this part, but declined. Just as the other De Havilland roles in The Snake Pit [post] and To Each His Own.
And here's a colorized publicity photo by moi, and some more amazing film posters:

Danish poster.

Italian poster.

French poster.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Happy birthday, Brigitte!

"I have always adored beautiful young men. Just because I grow older, my taste doesn't change. So if I can still have them, why not?"

The French bombshell Brigitte Bardot celebrates her 75th birthday today.

She was born 28 September, 1934 in Paris, France. At the age of 15 Brigitte had made it to the fashion magazine Vogue as a model. In 1952 she made her film debut as Javotte Lemoine in Le trou normand (US title: Crazy for Love. Directly translated: "The Norman Hole", referring to the family owned hotel in the movie). Her American film debut came in the form of Un acte d'amour (1953), a film starring Kirk Douglas. Her most famous film appearances are probably in the Jean-Luc Godard film Le mépris (1963) and the Sean Connery western Shalako (1968).

From Le mépris (1963).

Brigitte Bardot's beauty and sexuality took America with storm, calling her "sex kitten". The enormous hype surrounding Brigitte wherever she went caused her to leave Hollywood at the age of 39. Aside from her modeling and Hollywood career she recorded a lot of popular songs in the 1950's and 1960's, among those a version of the sex oozing "Je t'aime... moi non plus".

Today she is most famous as an animal rights activist, and to having been married and divorced four times.

A cute little French 1960's song, "Moi je joue".

And then a couple of sexy ones with Alain Delon:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tower of London on YouTube!

Swedish film poster (transl. "The Blood-Stained Castle")

(Oh my lord and savior... I seem to be either too tired or too deep down in my wine glass to handle English tonight. I named the post "Tower of London på YouTube", Swenglish so it hurts. Sorry for possibly many more typos.)

There were some of my dear readers who, when I wrote a review of Tower of London (1939) [post], expressed some sad feelings about not having been able to see it, and that it's not broad casted on TV often enough.

Well, I've fixed it for you! I split the movie into 10 parts and uploaded it on YouTube. The link to the playlist is here. Bookmark it and watch it as soon as you can - I don't own the rights to the film, and sometimes people can be a little obstinate in those matters!

More bushy eyebrows to the people!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Which classic actor/actress are you?

I just took a quiz, consisting of 20 questions resulting in a description of what kind of classic hero/heroine you are. Quite funny actually, you can find it here! If you are a man, you can always check out what kind of a classic leading man you are here.
Report back to me if you take the tests! It's essential.

I am, according to the test, the Myrna Loy type. The description of my character follows:

You are loaded with a quirky kind of class that people find irresistable. Men turn and look at you admiringly as you walk down the street, and even your rivals have a grudging respect for you. You usually know the right thing to say, do and, of course, wear. You can take charge of a situation when things get out of hand, and you do it with great poise and chic. Your wit and sense of fun endear you to your partner and every other man in the room. Your screen partners include William Powell and Cary Grant. You're quite a catch...if you want to be caught.

I especially like the last sentence! Watch out for me, boys and girls! Ha ha. Doing the manly test, I became Cary Grant - charming, smooth and debonair!

Now to my readers' results!

Myrna Loy

Katharine Hepburn

Carole Lombard

Barbara Stanwyck

William Powell


Humphrey Bogart

James Stewart


The Terminator (1984)

Poster from Pakistan. Notice the typos!

Director: James Cameron
USA 1984
108 min

This post will probably be more popular among my male readers than the females. But I've said it before, and I say it again - "a classic" is a diffuse expression, and I do want to include classic movies from all different genres and eras in this blog. The Terminator sure is a typical example of a "modern classic". Well, it's a quarter of a century old... But it's anyway just four years older than I am - so if I'm considered young and fresh (I certainly hope so), so should The Terminator be in classic movie terms (and relatively speaking, of course).
So here it is: 1980's science fiction!

It was ages ago since I saw this movie, and I remember it as being totally ridiculous. However, my opinion has completely changed. I don't know if I perhaps never saw the entire movie then, but only about the last third of it. In that case I can't blame myself for thinking that half a robot crawling around on the floor seemed laughable. But maybe I just wasn't mature enough to appreciate The Terminator's cinematic strengths.

So, what are the strengths of the film? For one thing, we almost immediately get to see Schwarzenegger's naked butt. It's really cute. But it doesn't really look proportional in comparison to his Belgian Blue upper body. (Just a trifle.) Luckily enough, the movie is filmed in widescreen, so all his muscles fit on the screen. Phuh.

More seriously, though:
  • The film is obviously well planned - the more you analyze the facts and try to figure out the time travelling and the other technical stuff, the more they makes sense. You get the feeling that there lies a lot of hard work behind the script.
  • The camera work is great. The most impressive angles and compositions are interestingly enough often of the more unimportant details - like the aerial view of a little barking dog, or an iguana climbing around on kitchen shelves. In short, I felt pleased with the cinematography - and that is quite admirable when we consider the fact that this is one of those dark, dirty 1980's action movies.
  • The actors are convincing, even when delivering embarrassing clichés. If they at all were clichés back then, it's possible that the actors didn't need to force themselves to keep from laughter.
  • Even Scharzenegger is immaculate. This is that kind of a role that fits him like a glove. How the hell can he look so blank, so... without any facial expression at all? And his Austrian accent is awesome. But I do wonder: If Ricardo Cortez could arrive to Hollywood from Austria and eliminate his foreign accent, why couldn't Scharzenegger? Does it need mental efforts, perhaps? (Oh, that was just low. Sorry.)

Well, I can at least offer a quick explanation about the plot (even though it's probably not necessary):

In the future, 2029, the world is ruled by machines who want to eliminate the human race. (Anyone making a connection to the Holocaust? Anyone..?) The humans do however start to fight back, lead and inspired by a man with the name of John Connor.

The Terminator (Schwarzenegger) arrives in present time, 1984, with the mission to kill Sarah Connor (Hamilton), who will become the mother of the future leader of the human revolt. If she dies before giving birth to him, he will never exist. Like that last sentence was necessary.
Also going back to 1984 from the future is Kyle Reese (Biehn), who belongs to the revolutionists. He needs to save Sarah Connor from the Terminator.

The comic relief is brought in the form of the cynical, tired but substantial Lieutenant Ed Traxler (Winfield), the head of the investigation of several murder victims by the name of Sarah Connor. Oh, and that horrible psychiatrist Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen), who must be the most unsympathetic jackass of a doctor I've seen since The Snake Pit (1948) [post]! Was the psychiatric ward that unprofessional still, in the 1980's? He makes me want to strangle someone. Slowly.

Linda Hamilton with director James Cameron.

All in all, this is a really decent action and science fiction. It's far from mindless and idiotic (which many movies in this genre tend to be), and I have few things to complain about. We even have a damn cool heroine, who doesn't whine and bitch like the typical 1980's female leads. And she's not overdoing the I-can-manage-myself-thing neither, like Hilary Swank does. (Yuck.)

Another interesting thing is that I, for once, felt like this movie would do good with a sequel. I want to know more about the fate of the Connors, not to mention how the future will turn out. (Parallel dimensions and all that jazz.) And this opinion comes from one of the most skeptical persons there is when talking about sequels and, God help me, re-makes.

So, what did I not like about The Terminator?
  • Some of the special effects. I know it isn't fair to judge a 25 year old film too harsh on that point, but that is actually one of the very few things about the film that hasn't aged well. When the Terminator fixes himself up after getting smashed up in a car crash, they should have just faked his eye with make up. That rubber head looks ridiculous. But I did like the stop motion in the climax scene - old-fashioned and timeless.
  • That f*cking 1980's pop music! Gaah!
  • And of course, the rest of the over-all horrible taste of that decade.

So that's about it. One thought that struck me while watching one of the future sequences though:
Did anyone else feel like the whole thing with Reese falling in love with a photograph of Sarah Connor was a tribute to Laura (1944)? He gets almost obsessed by the idea of a perfect, admirable woman in a picture - change the photograph to a painting, and there you have it. Tinkling piano music included.

Since I have mostly male friends, I will soon see the rest of The Terminator series. (That's why I saw this one today, by the way.) I will probably not write about them, though. I have high expectations on re-watching T2 (1991), but very low (if even existing) expectations on the other two.
In any case - I'll be back! (Blame my lame sense of humor on me not going to bed early enough...)

Now, a Polish film poster! What would the world do without Poland?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tower of London (1939)

Director: Rowland V. Lee
USA 1939
92 min

Tower of London is an interesting film for several reasons. A) It's a good compilation of London's royal history and (mostly) myths, B) There are a heck of a lot of great actors, and C) The story is wildly entertaining, the action caught by a professional camera man. The fact that there are a lot of real life characters and historical facts (take that as you like - old myths and rumors are a kind of history too) is another great aspect of the film.

Sure, it's not perfect. As good as all actors are slightly overacting: rubbing their hands while making evil plans, villainous laughter in empty rooms and a young couple in love saying cheesy things like "Oh, my love! If only the King would allow us to get married!". But in a film like this, that only adds to the entertainment value. Except for Barbara O'Neil as King Richard IV's spouse, Queen Elizabeth Woodville. She is just terrible - repeatedly wide-open eyes staring in terror into the camera. Yuck. And I can't understand how Henry Tudor after several hours of torture still looks so clean? I need to know what kind of conditioner he uses.

As is the general opinion of the world, London has a filthy and bloody history behind its royal throne. Tower of London picks one of the most treacherous and evil parts of its history, where everyone in the game are able to commit any crime to be the ruler of England.

Our main character, and the one who's side you're probably on, is Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Rathbone with a most laughable fringe). He is the brother and right hand of King Edward IV (unibrow Ian Hunter), but his most faithful companion is the clubfoot Mord (Karloff) who is in command of the torture chamber. (Quite ironically, "mord" is the Swedish word for "murder".) Richard's goal is, of course, to become the King of England. But unfortunately there are persons ahead of him in succession of the throne, and must therefore be eliminated.

I won't reveal too much of the storyline (don't skip history classes), but it's a mish-mash of plotting, marrying, killing and even more plotting. The main theme is The Duke of Gloucester's plan to get to the throne - and after each murder he destroys a miniature doll of the victim he keeps in a little doll house. See film clip below.

Scene: Early in the film we witness an execution, something the filthy Londoners of course think of as everyday entertainment. The victim is Lord Devere, and who plays him? Basil Rathbone's own son, Rodion Rathbone (credited as John Rodion)! He had come to America in the late 1930's to improve his relationship with his father, and obviously jumped on the occasion to be in one of his father's movies. (He only appeared in two motion pictures.) With these facts in mind, it makes it even more bizarre to watch The Duke of Gloucester's pleased smile while seeing his son's head roll, don't you think?
And how lovely isn't the sentimental scene with Rathbone and Karloff?

Scene: I also cut out a short scene that entertained me a lot. The three brothers discuss private matters in a little room: King Edward IV (Hunter), George, Duke of Clarence (Price) and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Rathbone). They are all excellent actors, especially Ian Hunter, in my opinion. We see a 28 year old Vincent Price in his third screen appearance ever, a very flattering role.

All in all, this is that kind of a movie you wish you grew up with. I always love to see a Basil Rathbone film I haven't seen before, and I was far away from disappointment - my favorite naughty parts of the British history were here - the disappearance of the two boy princes, and a fatal amount of wine in a barrel. I need to have this film on DVD, that's for sure.

No to some irrelevant stuff:
I usually find it entertaining when watching movies with real life characters in them, to look up how alike the actors are the original persons. I often get surprised at the effort put into their appearances, because the similarities are often obvious. I give you some examples below, and tell me what you think! (Unfortunately Mord was a made-up character. The only thing about the film that I'm disappointed with.)

Basil Rathbone vs. Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III of England:

Ian Hunter vs. Edward IV of England:

Vincent Price vs. Duke of Clarence:

Barbara O'Neil vs. Queen Elizabeth Woodville:

Ralph Forbes vs. Henry Tudor, later Henry VII of England:

And finally, Princes Edward and Richard aka "Princes in the Tower":

To finish this off, I will include a drooling Vincent Price from one of my favorite scenes - the drinking to death game between Duke of Clarence and Duke of Gloucester.