Wednesday, October 28, 2020

DVD/150: SPELLBOUND (Alfred Hitchcock, 1945)

Again Hitchcock features a wary couple falling in love while on the run when one is accused of a crime.

Gender roles are reversed: Ingred Bergman drives the story - ultimately unmasking the killer - while Gregory Peck is the man-in-distress, swooning when memories overwhelm him.

Psychoanalyst Constance Peterson works at an institution whose director Dr Murchison is retiring after a nervous collapse.  The new director is Dr Anthony Edwardes and he and Constance, who wearies of the sexism of the male analysts, are immediately attracted.  

Slowly Constance realises that he is not Dr Edwardes but 'JB' an amnesiac impersonating the doctor to cover up his belief that he was responsible for the doctor's death.

'JB' flees to New York when discovered but Constance follows him, determined to reveal the truth of his identity.  Pursued by the police, Contance and her former mentor Dr Brulov piece together 'JB's shattered memory.

Shelf or charity shop?  A keeper in my DVD plastic storage box limbo. Made while Hitchcock was still under contract to David O. Selznick, they again clashed as with the filming of REBECCA which might explain why Hitch dismissed SPELLBOUND later in his career.  Selznick even edited out practically all of the highly-publicised dream sequence designed by Salvador DalĂ­.  But there is much in SPELLBOUND to enjoy - Hitchcock's masterly story-telling (despite the occasional pause to discuss what psychoanalysis is), Ingred Bergman's wonderfully sympathetic performance paired with Peck's haunted 'JB', the Academy Award-winning Miklos Rosza score and - as usual with Hitchcock films - supporting performances that really pop off the screen like Michael Chekhov's wise mentor, Bill Goodwin's hoodwinked hotel detective and, in just one scene, Rhonda Fleming as a seductive asylum inmate.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

DVD/150: WATERLOO BRIDGE (Mervyn LeRoy, 1940)

1939: Colonel Roy Cronin stands on Waterloo Bridge, remembering his lost love Myra... 

In her first film after GONE WITH THE WIND, Vivien Leigh was unhappy acting opposite Robert Taylor having wanted Olivier instead.  But his lightweight performance allows her to shine and they both later said it was their favourite film.

Roy and ballerina Myra meet sheltering from a WWI air-raid and he later sees her dance.  Despite the ballet mistress' orders, they meet after the performance and fall instantly in love.

Roy is ordered back to France before they can marry and a desolate Myra is sacked by the ballet mistress along with her friend Kitty for defending her.

Myra reads that Roy has been killed and, unemployed and depressed, joins Kitty in prostitution.

While working Waterloo Station, Myra meets Roy - still alive and still in love...

But, tragically, Myra is too honest to forget her shame...

Shelf or charity shop?  A definite shelf for my luminous Vivien.  Although not a success on Broadway, Robert E Sherwood's play was filmed in 1931 starring Mae Clarke and also a ropey remake in 1956 with Leslie Caron.  LeRoy's film is perfect Hollywood melodrama with marvellous photography and music and a fairly good representation of London.  Robert Taylor doesn't attempt the Scottish accent his character should have but he is inoffensive and leaves the way clear for Vivien's wonderful performance, it is amazing to think she was only 27.  There is fine support from Virginia Field as the ever-realistic Kitty, Maria Ouspenskaya as Madame Olga, Lucille Watson as Taylor's upper-class mother and, in one scene and a thimble-full of lines, Ethel Griffies is glorious as a harridan landlady - Griffies is now remembered as the sceptical ornithologist Mrs Bundy in Hitchcock's THE BIRDS.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

DVD/150: RYAN'S DAUGHTER (David Lean, 1970)

RYAN'S DAUGHTER's critical mauling so disenchanted David Lean that he took 14 years to make another feature film - surely time heals everything?

Not really.  I have seen worse, but RYAN'S DAUGHTER is a small love story stretched to breaking on Lean's over-sized canvas.

After DOCTOR ZHIVAGO's success, MGM happily financed screenwriter Robert Bolt's take on MADAME BOVARY - need an Irish coastal village?  Build one!  Irish weather drab?  Move filming to South Africa! 

What it needs are performances to match the glorious Oscar-winning cinematography by Freddie Young; sadly not with this cast.

Rosy Ryan, bored with village life in County Kerry, marries her former teacher Charles Shaughnessy expecting passion but he is emotionally unexciting.

She finds sexual awakening with a shell-shocked English Major from the local garrison.  But it's 1916 and the village supports the IRA.

When their affair is discovered. Rosy and Charles face the villager's fury...

Shelf or charity shop?  At the moment it's very touch and go - the unhappy filming seems to have seeped into every sprocket-hole.  Robert Mitchum gives a quietly impressive performance as Charles but offscreen he grew to hate Lean's willingness to let his cast sit around while he waited for perfect weather conditions. Sarah Miles - Mrs Robert Bolt at the time - gives a frustratingly thin performance as Rosy; you almost side with the villagers' dislike!  The main casting flaw is Christopher Jones as Major Randolph - hilariously, Lean cast him after seeing his previous film only to discover he had been dubbed.  Likewise his awful performance here was dubbed during the editing.  He and Miles detested each other which does not make for great screen chemistry.  The story goes that Jones refused to film the pivitol lovemaking scene with her so Mitchum secretly drugged him making him near-comatose on set.  John Mills' Oscar-winning turn as the mute village idiot is now embarrassing to watch with Lean's attempts to give him profundity particularly thick-eared.  His winning for Best Supporting Actor is all the more annoying given the excellent performances of Trevor Howard as the cantankerous Father Collins and Leo McKern as Rosie's double-agent father. Truth be told, the best performance in the whole film is the wonderful Irish actress Marie Kean as the spiteful town shop-keeper.  Despite the critical mauling, the film still made money. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

DVD/150: THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS (David Lean, 1949)

David Lean followed his vibrant OLIVER TWIST with the listless THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS; despite his affair with star Ann Todd, no passion transferred to the screen, she gives her usual glacial performance

Ronald Neame was to direct Eric Ambler's adaptation of HG Wells' novel but Lean disliked the script so co-wrote a new version, moved Neame to producer and became the director.

Former lovers Mary and Stephen meet again nine years after she rejected his marriage proposal to live independantly; she is now married to the banker Howard (or Haaaard as Todd says) for the security of his wealth.

They grow closer but Howard demands the relationship ends.

Nine years on, while waiting for Howard at a Swiss hotel, Mary meets Stephen by accident and they spend the afternoon together before he flies home.  Howard sees them however and starts divorce proceedings.

Desperately, Mary tries to resolve the situation...

Shelf or charity shop?  It's part of a David Lean box-set, if I ever break it up I suspect it will be the first to go.  Lean seems less interested in his performers than finding other ways to tell the story such as a double-flashback (which comes too early in the film) and a showy way of speeding up the action by tracking his camera along telephone poles and wires while we hear back-to-back phone calls on screen.  It's unsurprising that it failed at the box-office, Lean just cannot make you care for his characters.  Nice camera-work and a good sense of London locations however... There had been a previous silent version made in 1922.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

DVD/150: PINK FLAMINGOS (John Waters, 1972)

There are 1972 classics which are unmistakably from that time: THE GODFATHER, CABARET, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, WHAT'S UP DOC? but John Waters' anarchic, underground PINK FLAMINGOS feels oddly timeless!

PINK FLAMINGOS was Waters' third independant feature with a budget of $10,000 borrowed from his father.

Filmed around Baltimore, the action centres around a trailer-home which cost art director Vince Peranio $100 - half the production design budget!  Waters filmed during the winter - watch the cast's visible breath - using electricity provided by a cable from a nearby farmhouse!

PINK FLAMINGOS is still a hilarious, jaw-dropping experience!

Divine, the sickest person alive, is living as 'Babs Johnson' with her friend Cotton, her son Crackers and egg-loving mother Edie.

But Raymond and Connie Marble are disgusted they don't hold the title despite kidnapping girls to be inseminated then selling the babies to lesbians.

A filth war to the death is declared!

Shelf or charity shop?  PINK FLAMINGOS is squatting on the shelf with a dirty grin. A true original, John Waters' gloriously filthy film features his Dreamland ensemble, all acting IN INVERTED COMMAS.  Sadly most have died: Cookie Mueller, David Lochery, Danny Mills, Susan Walsh and the truly bizarre Edith Massey; but still with us are Mary Vivian Pearce, Channing Wilroy and the amazing Mink Stole, giving a performance that reminded me of her inferior, Cate Blanchett.  But of course the film belongs to Divine who is part Diana Dors, part Jayne Mansfield, and all Divine.  Watch this and never hear "The Girl Can't Help It", "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window" or "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" the same way again.