Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)

August 31, 2009

One of the things I hate about being a classic film fan is that everything I like is locked in time. If two people did not make a movie together, they never will. If their filmography includes 3 films (eh-hem, James Dean) that's all it will ever include. We're stuck with what we have, we can't wish for a collaborative match made in heaven. For instance (and I'm just grabbing this one out of thin air, of course) Alfred Hitchcock will never make a movie starring Dirk Bogarde.

This is one collaboration that I really wish I could go back in time to arrange.

In Hitchcock films, the male lead usually falls into one of two categories: innocent, average man gets caught up in a crime or conspiracy (i.e. North by Northwest and The Man Who Knew Too Much) or a suave, debonair charmer is actually a psychopathic killer (i.e. Stage Fright and Shadow of a Doubt)

In Cast a Dark Shadow, Dirk Bogarde plays Teddy Bare, a young bluebeard married to a much older, much wealthier woman. The film puts on no pretenses: Teddy is a murderer. By learning this so early in the film the tone is changed completely. Instead of wondering "did he kill her?" or "who killed her?," questions which dominate typical mysteries, this film asks "will he get caught?" and "will he kill again?" But what really makes this film oh-so-Hitchcock is the character of Teddy Bare -- a suave, debonair charmer who is also a psychopathic killer.

Like most Hitchcock characters in this mold, Dirk Bogarde is one heck of a sweet talker. Since you already know what a cad he is, you're amused, not repulsed by the sticky-sweet manner he puts on when trying to impress. Okay, maybe this is just me, and I have some kind of psychological problem, but I always end up rooting for these guys. When he is wooing Margaret Lockwood, a brash rich widow, you KNOW the whole time that he had just killed his previous wife for her money. You KNOW that he is a fortune-hunting heel! You KNOW that he will probably kill Margaret Lockwood. But who are you rooting for? Dirk Bogarde.

I've always loved this trick in Hitchcock films. The killer is so alluring, so fascinating that you can't help but be charmed yourself! Dirk Bogarde played this type of role so well, I sped over to imdb as soon as I was finished watching it to see if he and Sir Alfred had ever made a movie together. It's such a shame that they didn't, because I could easily see Dirk Bogarde being a Hithcock regular. Now if only I could figure out how to go back in time...

The Sleeping Tiger (1954)

August 29, 2009

The Sleeping Tiger is about the repressed wife of a renowned psychologist who reluctantly agrees to let her husband take in a criminal as their house guest, in an effort to rehabilitate him. The DVD I purchased is one of those crummy Alpha movies, always a really bad copy with a jumpy screen. But what I love most about them is the way they describe the films, hoping to grab people who might not normally buy a classic movie:

a devoted wife...
untamed passions...
a deadly web of sin!!!

One word of warning about this particular copy, though: DO NOT look at the back of the DVD case before watching the film. They have a still image of the last scene in the movie which is a dead giveaway to how it ends. Stupid, stupid stupid...

Anyway! On to the film! I really enjoyed this one. Alexis Smith, who plays the buttoned-up housewife, always excels at these "cool on the outside, boiling on the inside" kind of roles. Her stony facial features and icy blonde hair convey a rigidity that works so well for characters like this one. The only downside was that she had the awful 50's haircut that old ladies still sport today. For some reason it was sort of distracting..

Alexander Knox plays the husband. In every film I've seen him in so far, he plays this type of character - calm, highly intelligent and usually a little oblivious. I have to add, one of the things that I've enjoyed most about watching these Dirk Bogarde films is rediscovering a lot of my favorite British character actors. Hugh Griffith (who plays Audrey Hepburn's father in my favorite caper, How to Steal a Million) plays an Inspector who is determined to prove that Dirk Bogarde belongs in jail.

On the surface this movie might seem like a typical b-budget psychological drama. It has all the parts that such a picture would require: love triangle, crime, sleazy nightclubs, psychology and lust. But (oh, you probably knew I'd say this, didn't you?) Dirk Bogarde really elevates the film to a new level. If you read the part of his character in the screenplay, chances are you would imagine a very heavy-handed, melodramatic performance. In one scene (in the beginning, don't worry!) he grabs the maid's wrist and knocks a tray full of dishes out of her hand after she refuses to bring him a cup of coffee. In other hands, this would have looked petty and overly dramatized. But the way that Dirk Bogarde brings the scene to life is realistic. Instead of a demented criminal who terrorizes the maid you can begin to see hints of the tortured soul that was driven to crime because of an awful childhood.

Childhood trauma is what lies at the heart of this film. A lot of movies have dealt with the subject (one of my favorites is Hitchcock's Spellbound) but this one was very different. I might have trouble explaining this, but here goes... In most films with this subject matter, you have two parts: a psychiatrist and a criminal. Throughout the film, the criminal keeps acting mean and brooding while the psychiatrist slowly picks apart his brain to figure out what caused him to do whatever he did.

Now in this film, I think you can see how childhood trauma affects what the criminal is doing before any insight into his past is ever actually uncovered. It's as if Dirk Bogarde really lived his character's life, had those childhood memories and was storing them inside while acting. His movements and decisions betray his steely, hard exterior and show us a scared little boy.

Interestingly, Bogarde's character isn't the only one with a bad-childhood problem. Turns out the Mrs. is also the product of a broken home. This little tidbit, relvealed in the beginning of the film quite in passing, is worth remembering as you watch. While Dirk Bogarde is slowly being cured from his mental anguish by the psychiatrist, the sleeping tiger (all those childhood memories stored inside) are awakening in Alexis Smith.

The Spanish Gardener (1956)

August 28, 2009

I had every intention of watching "A Tale of Two Cities" last night, but after getting cozy in bed with some grapefruit juice, turning off the lights and pressing "play" I realized that Netflix had replaced my damaged "A Tale of Two Cities" DVD with.... ANOTHER damaged DVD!! I tried watching the first twenty minutes, regardless of the screen freezing every few minutes, but I just couldn't watch a movie this way. I'm sending it back again and hopefully the next disc will finally work!

So I dragged myself out of bed and got my laptop to watch "The Spanish Gardener" on YouTube. (Link)

The film is about a stiff British foreign diplomat (Michael Hordern) who has basically secluded his son (Jon Whiteley) from contact with other people, in a selfish move to keep him to himself. He doesn't go to school or play with other kids, and since his mother doesn't live with them, his only adult role model is his stuffed-shirt father. All this changes when they move into a Spanish villa and take on a gardener, played wonderfully by Dirk Bogarde.

I wasn't as impressed with this film as I was with the other three Dirk Bogarde films I've watched so far, but this had nothing to do with his performance. There were just a couple little things that bothered me. First, the film is about the "Spanish" gardener, but he's actually British. In fact, everyone in Spain is British. They are slightly tanned, but speak with perfect upper crust British accents. When a director decides that he is not going to make all of his actors speak with accents, I think he should also decide to relocate the setting of the film. This could have easily taken place on the English countryside. Just a few tweaks in the plot about the father's profession and it would have worked ship-shape. But anyway, this didn't bother me THAT much, just a little bit at the beginning (and gave me a chance to voice my stupid pet peeve about fake accents in film)

Something else, however, DID bother me a lot. I feel so awful saying this, but it seems like I really don't like child actors from the 1950's that much. There's just something about them that irks me, especially when they are like 8 or 9 year olds, the toddlers are a little easier to take.

It just so happens that the main character in this movie is not Dirk Bogarde or Michael Hordern, but Jon Whiteley. He's actually the same kid who was in Hunted, the Dirk Bogarde film I watched two nights ago. But this movie was made about 4 years later, giving Jon ample time to grow into that awkward child-actor phase that seems to get on my nerves.

In so many ways, this movie reminded me of Shane. First of all, they both center around a young boy's idolatry of a hired man. Also, they both have child actors that kind of get on my nerves, AND they both feature said child actor cooing the hired man's name over and over and over. "Shaaane, come back Shaaaane" or "Jose! Jose! Come back Jose!" Okay, I get it- their names are Shane and Jose! Sheesh.

I really like the kids in 1930's and 40's films, like Jackie Cooper, Margaret O'Brien, Natalie Wood, Scotty Beckett and Virginia Wiedler. But when the 50's came in, they started hiring kids that have too much of a pretense of wide-eyed innocence and not enough character. All of the kids I mentioned, from the 30's and 40's, had personalities and some
chutzpah. I guess it fits in the bigger picture of 1950's life, with suburbia, Leave it to Beaver, pearls, a new conservatism and Spam.

A little disclaimer before I continue: Yes, there are some really good 1950's child actors so please excuse my generalization. Also, I think that Jon Whiteley's performance in Hunted was stellar, I just wasn't fond of him in this film.

Despite my overwhelming wish throughout the film that the boy would just magically disappear, I actually enjoyed the movie. Michael Hordern gave an excellent performance as the boy's stodgy and emotionally stunted father. I kept trying to place him throughout the first 30 minutes or so before I realized that he is Jacob Marley in the 1951 "A Christmas Carol"! I've never seen him in anything else, and I was pleasantly surprised to see him here.

Dirk Bogarde's role as the Spanish gardener Jose worked really well, regardless of his accent. He played the part with a very even temper and self-assuredness that fit him like a glove. In a particularly melodramatic part of the film (I won't give any more details because it is near the end) Dirk Bogarde overcomes the heavy-handed direction and stirring music, being very understated and calm.

One of the most interesting contrasts throughout the film is between Jose and the father. Whenever even-keeled, relaxed, tanned and athletic Jose is standing next to the father - pale, ancy, agitated and jealous - you can see who has the upper hand, regardless of wealth, social stature or position. This poor gardener is more of a man, and has more love for life than the rich aristocrat.

Elizabeth's Two Sisters Tag!

August 27, 2009

Elizabeth just started a new tag, the Two Sisters tag -- here are my responses!

1. Do you like Greta Garbo?

Definitely! I actually like her talkies better than her silents, though.
2. In Buster Keaton's MGM films, do his gestures and his plots resemble those of Harry Langdon?
I haven't actually seen enough Harry Langdon films to answer, sorry!
3. Who is your favorite director of silent dramas?
King Vidor
4. Do Harold Llyod's movies (movies, not shorts) drag along?
I actually think they do a bit... (sorry Elizabeth!!)
5. Who made better silent shorts, Mack Sennett or Hal Roach?
Hal Roach!
6. Is Al. St. John a genuine heavy, or a baby heavy? (This is based on the idea of the "Baby Vamp" which was the character of the girl who was vampish, but not a vamp.)
I'll say yes.
7. Do you like 1920's musicals?
I do, though I wish I could see more of them. TCM doesn't play them very often :(
8. Do you like Al Jolson's movies?
Yes, but I like his music more -- my mom thinks I'm crazy for liking him and thinks he can't sing!
9. Who is your favorite animal star?
I like Asta, but my favorite role of his is in The Awful Truth, not The Thin Man :)

I tag:
Hala Pickford

Hunted (1952)

I continued my discovery of Dirk Bogarde last night with "Hunted" (1952) (available on YouTube here) Ten years ago when I first started liking classic film, I kept a little diary where I would write down the names of my favorite stars. If I saw them in one film and found them impressive, I'd scribble their name down in the book, with one tally mark representing how many films of theirs I had seen. Only when it reached three tally marks (three films) could that person be an "official" favorite. (I was 13, okay?!) It may seem really silly now, but I wanted to make sure that the one performance wasn't a fluke-- this person was really good!

Well "Hunted" is now my third Dirk Bogarde film. While I don't keep to that same rigid formula for choosing my favorite actors anymore, there's still a part of me that thought, after watching this film last night, that Dirk Bogarde is now an "official" favorite.

The film starts off with a little boy (Jon Whiteley) running away from a burning house. He runs into an abandonded basement and finds Dirk Bogarde standing next to a dead body. Dirk Bogarde abducts the boy and sets out on the lamb.

The film is very dark and definitely has that distinct British post-war cynicysim. But it's also incredibly touching. The little boy is an orphan, abused by his adoptive father. Dirk is a sailor with an unfaithful wife and a family that cares more about keeping up appearances than his own well being. Both neglected and hurt, the two forge an unlikely bond throughout the course of the film. I really love movies that show the human side of people who commit crimes. Too often a murderer or thief is portrayed in a completely evil light, with no reason, conscience or feeling. In this film, we see how Dirk Bogarde's character was led to commit his crime because of circumstances and environment, because of pride and honor. At heart, he is really a softy who just wanted a fairy-tale sort of life with the woman he loved.

The most touching scene in the film takes place about 30 minutes in. Dirk Bogarde and the kid are getting ready to go to sleep and the kid asks for a bedtime story. Reluctantly, Dirk Bogarde starts off telling a silly fairy tale. But once he brings up the princess, in his eyes you can see that he's thinking about his wife. The fictional story slowly turns into his own biography; about his wife's betrayal and the events leading up to the murder. It's heartwrenching to watch him, as his face slowly gets twisted from thinking about his crime.

I read an excerpt this week from Bogarde's book "Snakes and Ladders" about his approach to acting and the camera. He said:

‘It’s what the cinema is all about ... you depend on the thought for the lens ... that is the thing that takes the back of your head right off; and if you’ve got nothing in there, sweetie, it’s going to show that you’ve got nothing in there. You can do anything you like with your face - turn it left, right, twitch, lift your eyebrow, but it’s not going to work because nothing’s really pulled it up. It’s not a question of technical tricks; something has to be happening inside.’
I don't see this too often in movies, but Dirk Bogarde really mastered the technique of thinking on film. It's almost all in the eyes, too. If you watch the film on youtube, look out for the scenes when he's listening for footsteps, or trying to hide without being seen. In these scenes especially you can see his thought processes in his eyes - you can see the fear etched in his face. It's incredible!

Up next on my Dirk Bogarde agenda is The Spanish Gardner (also on YouTube) assuming that my Tale of Two Cities DVD doesn't arrive first -- I had intended to watch it two days ago but the Netflix disc was damaged :(

Hope you guys don't mind me documenting my Dirk Bogarde adventures, I'm just so excited about discovering his films that I feel almost compelled to write about each one!

Movie posters from Darling

August 26, 2009

After SP asked in the comments of my last post if I owned the poster pictured (and I reluctantly answered "no") I got to wondering if the poster was actually for sale anywhere. So I went to my favorite movie posters sites and found these charming posters, all for around $15 each (It doesn't say if they are originals or not) -- personally I want the first one!

Darling (1965)

On a quest to watch every Dirk Bogarde film at my disposal, I realized that I had recorded the film "Darling" in Februrary during 31 Days of Oscar. I'm a fan of Julie Christie, and she won the Oscar as best actress of 1965 for her performance in this film, the same year that she starred as Lara in one of my favorite epics, Doctor Zhivago.

As further evidence of my complete ignorance as to who Dirk Bogarde was, I chose Laurence Harvey as the co-star when scribbling down the stars of the film on my DVD. I am not a big Laurence Harvey fan (I am dreadfully sorry if anyone is a fan! Please don't hate me!) but I apparently thought he was more important than Dirk.

I can't really put into words just how much I liked Dirk Bogarde in So Long at the Fair -- there was really something about him that said "Kate, I am going to be one of your favorite actors in about a week's time. Really, I am!" I just knew from watching that one picture that I would enjoy anything with the name Dirk Bogarde above the title. Yesterday I spent (some would say wasted..) the better part of my day searching for Dirk Bogarde movies on Amazon, Ebay and YouTube. If you're as interested as I am in Dirk, you'll want to check out this great link that I received in an email about my previous Dirk Bogarde post -- Click here to visit the official Dick Bogarde site, which contains so much information you won't know what to do with yourself! The audio from an album he recorded in the 60's, illustrations and watercolors (he was a great artist!) anecdotes about his films and loads of fun stuff to sift through.

I capped off my day (albeit at 2:30AM!!!) with Darling. Robert Osborne introduced the film by saying that it portrayed the characters with such detail you'd almost think this was a documentary, not a fictional story. And he was completely right. Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde gave such depth to their characters, I was actually starting to believe that they were real.

The film is about a young married woman (Diana, or "Darling") who falls in love with a slightly older married man. (Dirk Bogarde as Robert) Diana is superficial, young and slightly kooky while Robert is fun, intellectual and painfully handsome. (Sorry, I had to say it again.) Also, I was literally turning green with envy over how many books he had. I'm a sucker for a big library.

All of the advertisements and reviews I read before seeing the film seemed to indicate that this was a film very similar to Barbara Stanwyck's Baby Face. An unscrupulous woman who will bed any man if it gets her more fame or more money. But I think this is a really shallow interpretation of the film -- Julie Christie's character was actually a lot deeper than you would think. Her jumps from man to man aren't rooted in an insatiable hunger for power but in an insatiable hunger for happiness. Her quest for serenity with life takes her through two marriages and two beaus. One of those beaus, unfortunately, is Laurence Harvey.

All of the scenes with Harvey were a little too much for me, and seemed kind of out of place. At first he seems like a narcissistic cad with a relatively boring, square life. The next thing you know he's taking Julie Christie to a strange 1960's style party in Paris where really, really bizarre things happen. I don't even know how to describe them! I'm not opposed to swingin' 60's scenes in the movies, but up until this point the film had seemed to me to be a very deep character study, with amazing insight into human behavior and love.

Or maybe I was just upset that Dirk Bogarde wasn't onscreen as much at this point....

Anyway, despite the little segue into the psychedelic Paris of the sixties, I ended up enjoying the film immensely. In fact, I think it's one of my favorite movies now. I swear, Dirk Bogarde's character will just break your heart in pieces. And, despite what any of the reviews may lead you to believe, your heart will ache for Julie Christie's character, too.

There were just too many things about this film that I loved to list them all. The film also dealt brilliantly with the hypocrisies of the idle rich, the definition of what true happiness really is, sacrifice, and the public misconceptions about celebrity.

I highly recommend seeing it -- I do think it's on DVD (hint hint!) As for me, I'm going to go add some Dirk Bogarde movies to my Amazon cart and hope they get here very quickly. Move over grapefruit juice, I've got a new obsession!

Wait... YOU are Dirk Bogarde?!

August 24, 2009

I don't know about you, but there is a certain type of actor that I don't like. For you it might be any actor who played in 1940's swashbucklers, or 1960's spy movies. For me, it's any actor who played in a B-movie crime film from the 1950's. They are typically heavy-set, sweaty men with slicked-back hair and oversize shoulder pads.

So two weeks ago when I saw that Dirk Bogarde was going to be the star of the day during TCM's Summer Under the Stars, I realized I'd have to find an alternative channel to watch... Dirk Bogarde was just another 1950's American B-movie crime film star. Big shoulderpads and lousy acting was not what I was in the mood for.

Whoa! Hold the phone!! THIS is Dirk Bogarde?!?!?!

What the heck was I thinking?!

Dirk Bogarde is NOT the greasy shoulderpad type. In fact, he's the complete opposite. Dashing, handsome and oh-so-British. Unfortunately, I avoided TCM almost all day before I finally consented to watch "So Long at the Fair" around 6pm. Imagine my surprise when Dirk Bogarde finally showed up onscreen! Oh, what I had missed all day!!

As you can probably already tell by my devotion to John Mills, Trevor Howard and Alastair Sim, I have quite a soft spot in my heart for British actors. Now please add Dirk Bogarde to this list, and move him to the top, pronto!

Since I missed out on Dirk Bogarde day, I've added his movies to my Netflix queue (a pitiful amount are on DVD in America, by the way) and signed up for TCM reminders for the few films of his they are showing in the next four months.

I can't really go into a depth about how great of an actor Dirk Bogarde is, because as of yet I've only seen him in one film. But what I CAN say is that any time you have a preconceived notion about an actor or actress, give them a shot before you rule out their films for good. It may just turn out that the sweaty, greasy lug is actually quite the debonair bloke!

Seeing New York City through a classic film lens, two John Mills movies on the big screen, and a possible Hayley Mills sighting!!

August 21, 2009

I've been to New York City dozens of times now, but I'm always there for some kind of art-related event. Whether it's an outdoor art show where I have to spend all day standing at my booth or an award ceremony where I have to be at a gallery at a certain time, and back on the train as soon as it's done -- it seems so silly that I've been there so many times and never actually "seen the city."

So I saved up some money and treated my family to a day On the Town. My version of one day in NYC wasn't exactly the same experience that Frank, Gene and Jules had in the 40's sailor flick. No nightclubs, no dates and no dancing (though there was some singing when I was on 42nd street. Come and meet those dancing feeeeet....) While I'd always hoped that a trip to the city would feel like a movie, I found myself looking at everything as it relates to movies instead.

The first thing we did was walk to The Empire State Building. Of course, I warned my family to watch their steps and look both ways before crossing the street. That building is big, and chances are you might be staring at the top when a car comes zooming down the street...

Walking into the building actually gave me goosebumps. THIS building is movie history.

You have to round a corner and really search for it, but there it was: a display case dedicated to King Kong. With memorabilia and movie stills, it was a movie lovers dream come true. Here I was IN the Empire State Building, looking at King Kong memorabilia. Bliss.

As if this display wasn't enough to make my heart content...

They had this touching display dedicated to the lovely Fay Wray. There are pictures ranging from when she was 3 years old to the year she died, and I think she looked just as beautiful when she was in her 90's as when she was gripped in Kong's grasp in the 1930's.

For the first time ever, we took a NYC bus! I've always had an aversion to the subway (well, it's more of an aversion to giant rats) so we usually take taxis everywhere we have to go. If you know me, you know that a NYC bus plays a very important role in one of my favorite films. Naturally, this was on my mind the entire ride..

Unfortunately, there was no Rod Taylor on this bus :(
However, it was so bumpy I can completely understand how Jane Fonda ended up falling into Rod Taylor when the bus started to move!

Our original plan was to go to The Cloisters, a medieval European art museum (I don't really know how to describe it but I've always thought it sounds really nice and relaxing) but once we were in the city we found out that it would be a TWO HOUR bus ride to the museum!!
So instead we decided to go to the Titanic exhibit off of Times Square. We didn't actually go into the exhibit because it was about $26 per ticket (sorry, I'm cheap!) but we DID go to the gift shop. I didn't buy anything (sorry, I'm cheap!) but I did see that they were running the 1990s film on a loop in the shop. Eh-hem, are they not familiar with the Barbara Stanwyck version?

Now, the highlight of my trip!! And the real reason I wanted to go to New York City on a Wednesday to begin with... The Film Forum's Brit Noir series. It's been going on all month, but only this Wednesday and Thursday were they showing a John Mills double feature!
In retrospect I wish I could have also seen the Dirk Bogarde films (only discovered him on his Summer Under the Stars day last week -- more on this discovery later!) but that would have required more than one trip into the city which, alas, I couldn't afford..

The first film they showed was The October Man. I've seen this one on TCM before, and it's one of my favorite British Films (heck, it's one of my favorite films!) John Mills stars as a man who is haunted by a traumatic accident that killed a young child. Even though I've seen it before, I was still on the edge of my seat during the suspenseful scenes.
I really believe John Mills was one of the best actors to ever make a film. He has so much range and emotion, and delivers a line like he thought it himself.

My mom and I spent the ten minutes or so before the film started discussing whether or not the woman three rows in front of us was actually Hayley Mills. She looked EXACTLY like her. We both agreed that it was probably her, especially since the film we were watching starred her father. We're probably wrong, and it was probably just a blonde lady who likes classic British films. But believing I saw Hayley Mills is like a kid believing in Santa -- you don't want to know if it's true or not, you just want to believe!

The second film in the double feature was a 1937 film called "The Green Cockatoo." Billed as a "gritty" "sleazy" crime noir, I expected something really rough and tough. Reading the reviews, I had a hard time imagining sweet, proper John Mills as a gangster! But then the film started..
I am SO torn about the genre of this film. I wish so badly that it was on DVD so I could ask all of you to go rent it and help me figure it out! I believe with all my heart that this was actually a gangster spoof, and that all the critics who have reviewed it thus far have been overlooking a real comedic gem.
When it first started, I kept turning to my dad and asking "do you think it's supposed to be funny?" -- I was so afraid that I was laughing at a film that was intended to be serious. I would hate to do that -- I think it's insulting. But it just had to be a spoof. It had to.
It opens with a young woman from a small town on a train to London. A police officer is trying to figure out if a missing suitcase belongs to the young woman. "What's in the suitcase?" he asks. "Some clothes and a photograph." He opens it up and finds some clothes and a photograph -- "What's the photo of?" "My brother standing in front of a tree." "What kind of tree?" "Elm."
After that matter is settled, she gets into a strange conversation with a "philosopher" who warns her that London is just full of gangsters, dangerous men and loose women. His performance is so over the top and outrageous, it just couldn't have been played straight. You can almost see it in his eyes while he's acting -- he knows it's a joke.
Naturally the first person she meets in London is a gambler who just got in a knife fight.
John Mills is the gambler's good brother (good, but he still doesn't like those coppers) Mills is a song and dance man in a sleazy nightclub called The Green Cockatoo. Seriously, he's a song and dance man. Mills was actually quite the hoofer! You should see him tap dance!
One of the plot twists involves the police looking for the innocent young girl from the small town. Without knowing a thing about her, Mills decides to help her trick the police by passing her off as his new singing partner. But she can't sing. That's not my opinion-- it's John Mills'. Throughout the film he insists "you can do anything you want.. just don't sing" or "I don't care what you did, as long as you never sing again"

Along the way they come across a drunken cabbie who drives wildly around the streets of London, two cockney's discussing how awful a street vendor's coffee is (after John Mills had just remarked how great it was), a night club called "The Ham and Eggs Club" and a poetic butler in pajamas. At one point, the young woman offers a recitation of poetry and John Mills tries to top it with an old sailor limerick!
Mills stares at the girl and says "you've got blue eyes. I like blue eyes. And brown hair. You look like you're about 5' 2", 70 [form of weight measurement I forget] Yeah, you've got brown hair. I don't like any of those dizzy blonde dames"
Now let me explain why I'm positive this was a spoof, besides all plot elements that seem to prove my point.

John Mills was a fantastic actor. Even in his tiny early roles, like in Goodbye Mr. Chips, there is evidence of an enormous talent. I do not believe he would give this performance (it's really a bad Cagney impersonation) unless he meant it as a comedic role. The Brits have a different sense of humor than Americans. Americans like humor spelled out for them, not in the form of a vague spoof. I think this accounts for most American reviewers thinking of this film as a straight crime drama, and not a spoof. They just don't see the intentional humor. (Ham and Eggs Club?! Come on!) There were so many times in this film when the actors looked at each other like "did you really just say that?!" it just had to be done on purpose.
If you ever get a chance to see this (or if you have already seen it!) please e-mail me or post in the comments. I'd love to hear other opinions about this movie! My mom, dad and brother all thought independently while watching this that it was a spoof. But all reviews online seem to indicate otherwise.
If I'm right, and this really was a spoof, it is one of the best films ever made. I had so much fun watching this that I really hope with all my heart that I'm right!

Well, that was my trip to New York! I'll have my Dirk Bogarde discovery post up this weekend :)

The importance of Audrey Hepburn

August 07, 2009

Yesterday I was reading a post on Liebemarlene Vintage about Greta Garbo -- Rhiannon wrote:

...I think I'd rather procrastinate a bit and write a blog post about Greta Garbo. I don't think I've written a thing about her here, which is sort of strange considering that she was one of the first classic Hollywood stars I got obessed with. I mean, after Audrey Hepburn--she was the first star I loved, but I bet she's the first star most girls love, so I'm not sure if she really counts.
I know many of the girl bloggers (including me) first fell for classic films by watching an Audrey Hepburn film. Reading this on Rhiannon's blog, I couldn't help but wonder how many people out there have been sucked into the world of classic film because of Audrey.

I was only 13 years old when I saw my first Audrey Hepburn film (How to Steal a Million) -- at this point I had seen other classic films with my parents, but I wouldn't seek one out on my own. I know I've told this story a few times on my blog, but for this post it bears repeating (I can't believe I'm quoting myself, but it's easier than trying to rewrite this using different words!)

Audrey Hepburn is the one who got me started on classic films, and so her and her movies hold a very special place in my heart. I had just turned 13 when I first saw "How to Steal a Million"- it was in December and I was starting my winter break from school. I had my dad take me to Hollywood Video (a local sort of Blockbuster chain that has since been Netflixed out of existence) and I rented about six of her movies to watch over my break. I went to the library and took out her biography, and her life story inspired me to volunteer for UNICEF. Practically overnight I was a different person. I discovered Frank Sinatra music and ditched my Britney Spears CDs the following February and ever since then it has been nothing but old music and old movies for me.
Audrey Hepburn is an icon, instantly recognizable all across the world. But unlike some other iconic stars, she may also have an importance that is detached from her iconography. For every girl who sees an Audrey Hepburn film and translates their love for Audrey into a love for classic film in general, Audrey Hepburn is more than just an actress or icon. She's the catalyst for a lifelong devotion to movies from the golden age of cinema.

Did Audrey Hepburn spark your love of classic cinema? If not, who did? I'd also be interested to know who ensnares the men into loving classic movies-- John Wayne? Humphrey Bogart?

Louise Brooks

August 05, 2009

Watching Pandora's Box, and I think it may be my favorite silent movie ever. I've always liked Louise Brooks' style and considered her a fashion icon but I hadn't seen her on film until Pandora's Box. Now I'm going to go on Neftlix and add every film of hers I can find to my queue.

Ruthelma Stevens {Starlet Dreams}

August 01, 2009

After reading about Ruthelma Stevens on my blog, a kind reader e-mailed me about two weeks ago to tell me about Ruthelma's outstanding performance in "The Scarlet Empress" (1934). I was so excited!! I had never even thought to look on Netflix to see if any of her other movies were available!! I added this to the top of my queue, and waited anxiously for it to arrive in the mail.

Though it was filmed in 1934, the movie seems to have been filmed like a silent movie. There was some dialogue, but it was very sparse. There were dozens of title cards explaining the story, but the actors themselves weren't very talkative. Marlene Dietrich's role as Catherine the Great required her to look either doe eyed and innocent or alluring and self assured. Her acting abilities were not utilized at all, unless you think that holding a veil over your face while you stare lustfully at the camera is cause for an Oscar... Sam Jaffe had the same problem as Marlene. (no, he wasn't supposed to look alluring!) His contribution to the film is a series of crazed smiles and bug-eyed stares, both of which are sufficient enough to tell us that his character, Peter, was the result of hundreds of years of inbreeding.

What initially impressed me about Ruthelma Stevens in "The Circus Queen Murder" was her ability to whip out fast paced dialogue and hold her own with a Hollywood pro, Adolphe Menjou. So what really fascinated me about her performance in "The Scarlet Empress" was how great she did, even with such a startling lack of dialogue. Ruthelma acted with her eyes just as good as Marlene Dietrich and Sam Jaffe did. Her menacing stare and furrowed brow sent shivers up my spine! Here was a cold, hard, calculating Countess -- you could see her jealousy of Marlene's Catherine sizzling in her gaze.

And, luckily, because imagery was so important in this film, Ruthelma had quite a few close-ups. And in these scenes, you can finally see how really beautiful she was. I could easily imagine her playing Cleopatra -- just take a gander at some of these screenshots-- she has that exotic, dark look that worked so well for Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh and Sophia Loren.

Please take a look at the other Ruthelma posts on my blog!
And if you have any screenshots of her, photos or biographical
information, please let me know in the comments! Let's
work to preserve her legacy and give her the immortality
she deserves.