Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


The above 2008 book caught my eye in a discount bookstore, so I bought it for a fiver [£5] purely for the cover picture of Julie, who has fascinated me ever since BILLY LIAR. Terrific picture - dreadful book, the epitome of a cut-and-paste job, by not one but two writers I had never heard of! Its 240 pages and by page 200 they are still on DON'T LOOK NOW - then the rest of her career and life from 1973 is rushed through in the remaining 40 pages telling us (or me, at any rate) nothing I did not know before. Everything about DARLING and its making is lifted verbatim from Dirk Bogarde's book SNAKES AND LADDERS! It is such a bland book that there is no mention of John Schlesinger being gay and Tony Forwood, Dirk Bogarde's partner, is referred to as his manager. How do books like this get commissioned in the first place? - I trust nobody paid full price for it! Julie though remains as enigmatic as ever and survives their intrusion.

Here is another picture of Julie which I like from the cover of the London National Film Theatre programme when they did a retrospective on her films back in 1989:

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Just a gigolo

I noticed AMERICAN GIGOLO was showing late in the tv schedules so I decided to record it and have another look. I have the dvd of course but I would never have got around to playing it. So I had another look - and I loved it all over again!

Sometimes one can love a movie too much - you can become obsessed about it, go back to see it several times [this is before video, let alone dvd...], one gets the poster, the soundtrack album, it becomes part of that period of your life. Then you get over it and never want to go back to it but it will always be there for you: EAST OF EDEN, THE MISFITS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, 2001, EL CID, CHARADE and THE PINK PANTHER, KLUTE for Jane Fonda's Bree Daniels, Isabelle Adjani stunning me in THE HISTORY OF ADELE H, Genevieve Bujold in OBSESSION, MODESTY BLAISE, BLOW-UP [ideal when I was 21], UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME, A BIGGER SPLASH, THE PASSENGER, CHINATOWN, TAXI DRIVER, BARRY LYNDON and AMERICAN GIGOLO for my early 30s. It caught that end of the 70s and into the 80s vibe exactly and made Los Angeles a dream city, Hockney-esque as Richard Gere drove around to Giorgio Moroder's score and Blondie's "Call Me".

That sequence is still perfection: Gere full of himself laying out his clothes in that apartment I wanted to live in, as Smokey Robinson sings that perfect song which the scene seems to be edited to: "We used to meet in romantic places .... the way you wrecked my life was just like sabotage ... the love I saw in you was just a mirage". Pity the song wasn't included on the soundtrack album, but I found it on a Smokey compilation! and then of course for the disco scene with all those macho guys dancing - how very 1980 - Cheryl Barnes' "Love and Passion".
By the mid 70s Paul Schrader was the guy to watch with his scripts for TAXI DRIVER and OBSESSION and being lionised by the likes of "Film Comment" - then his gritty early movies like BLUE COLLAR and HARDCORE emerging from his Calvinist upbringing. Then the glossy AMERICAN GIGOLO caught the moment perfectly and sealed Richard Gere's reputation after those roles in those key movies like DAYS OF HEAVEN, LOOKING FOR MR GOODBAR and Schlesinger's YANKS. Oddly enough I had no interest in him after that - I didn't want to see the big hit AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (which like TOP GUN became symbolic of the era) and seeing some of the BREATHLESS remake on television confirmed that he was now playing to his admirers.

But as Julian Kay, alone in his apartment with his weights and his clothes and learning Swedish for a new client he does not realise the enemies he is making by falling out with Nina Van Pallandt's madam who created him, or the pimp Leon - before he knows it he is framed for murder and has to turn on himself and wreck his apartment to find those hidden jewels. His clients and socialite friends desert him - but there is Lauren Hutton as the woman he is finding out how to love another person who stands by him. Hutton has hardly been accused of acting, but I love her here; she is perfectly in tune with the film and displays great vulnerability and layers of character. Gere too steps up to the mark with Schrader's exploration of his vulnerabilities and why he does what he does, including that nude scene. One could hardly picture John Travolta doing it. He is so central to the movie, like how Antonioni idealised David Hemmings in BLOW-UP.

This is a perfect summation by Jed Medina of its themes: "A slick Los Angeles callboy finds love and redemption in Paul Schrader's ultra-stylish drama. High-living prostitute Julian Kay has it all: the Mercedes, the clothes, access to Beverly Hills' swankiest establishments, and a stable of rich, older female clients. But it all falls apart after he does a favor for his former pimp (Bill Duke) and the trick turns up dead a short while later; Julian's actual client won't give him an alibi, and police detective Sunday (Hector Elizondo) doesn't believe the gigolo's denials. The one person who can help him is frustrated politician's wife (and sole non-paying bedmate) Michelle (Lauren Hutton), if only Julian could let down his defenses and accept her gesture of love. Mixing his admiration for European art cinema with a voyeuristic view of the seamier side of sex and affluence, Schrader renders Julian an inscrutable, emotionally disengaged purveyor of pleasure, decked out in Giorgio Armani clothes coordinated with Ferdinando Scarfiotti's meticulous production design.
With some audiences reportedly showing up for repeat viewings of Gere's seductive charms, it became a moderate hit, turning Gere into a star and Armani into the new fashion sensation. Whatever reservations one may have about the movie, it provided two indelible images of 1980s decadence to come: Gere's perusing his "artist's palette" of shirts, ties, and jackets, and cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in his convertible to the New Wave strains of Blondie's "Call Me"."

The other elements - the stylised apartment, Moroder's score, the set design of Ferdinando Scarfiotti (a victim of the 80s Aids crisis), the Armani clothes and Schrader's script and direction, all those serpentine camera movements - blend to create a perfect zeitgeist movie for its time, like Fosse and ALL THAT JAZZ. And of course those Robert Bresson influences, like that ending echoing PICKPOCKET as Julian finds redemption by finally accepting love. It all still works now. Nice to have seen it again and put it back for some other future time. Schrader went on to his intriguing remake of CAT PEOPLE and LIGHT SLEEPER and then after a dip while exploring his demons, returned the other year with THE WALKER, with its echoes of AMERICAN GIGOLO and another great central performance one would not expect from Woody Harrelson. Hopefully there will be more Schrader films to fascinate us. The older Gere is also turning out the occasional interesting movie as well as some very disposable ones!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Lee Remick day on TCM - here's my U.K. version...

Its the annual "Summer under the Stars" on American TCM, each day in August devoted to films of a particular star, so in recent days they had Elizabeth Taylor day, Paul Newman day etc, and today the 26th is Lee Remick day, with actually a good selection from across her career including ANATOMY OF A MURDER, A FACE IN THE CROWD and some rarities like LOOT, TELEFON and HENNESSY. We don't though get the US version of TCM here in the UK, TCM UK is a whole different kettle of fish!. So I have made up my own selection for Lee Remick day here, as I had several of her tele-films which I had not seen, so here we go!

Above are Lee and Dirk Bogarde in the 1987 BBC telefilm THE VISION which with that cast - also including Eileen Atkins and Helena Bonham Carter as Bogarde's wife and daughter - was only screened once! I did tape it though to vhs and I came across the cassette the other day. Its a bit low key but quite intriguing, Bogarde and Remick are a great team. He is a washed up media commentator hired by an American satellite network as front man for their British operation. It turns out to be a new right-wing evangelical television station with Remick as the head of operations. Lee seems to be channelling Mrs Thatcher here, and its fascinating to see it again at this remove.

HUSTLING is an engrossing telefilm from 1975, with that gritty shot on the streets of New York look (like TAXI DRIVER or DOG DAY AFTERNOON) as investigative journalist Lee starts to delve into the lives of prostitutes revealing the damaged women they are. Jill Clayburgh is terrific as hard-boiled Wanda and does not play for sympathy, but Lee's probing brings up all the things she had forgotten... and we soon discover just who is profiting from the hotels and pick-up joints used by the girls. Lee looks terrific here, the cast is good and as directed by Joseph Sargent its highly engrossing. A superior telefilm then...

THE LETTER - another superior telefilm, this '82 remake of Wyler's 1940 classic where Bette Davis delivered one of her major peformances as Leslie Crosbie who starts the film shooting her lover. It's Maugham's war-horse, first played by Jeanne Eagels in 1929 (I have now got a copy of that version to see too!). Lee steps into the role here and is convincing as usual as the duplicitious wife on trial for murder. Good solid cast too: Jack Thompson as the (very dense) husband, Ronald Pickup as as the barrister (who is also now an ex-lover of Leslie's), and Christopher Cazenove as the policeman, Ian McShane as the murdered lover and good old Wilfred Hyde-White as the judge. The ending is slightly changed too....its updated to Malaya 1939 and looks nicely period, and uses some of Max Steiner's original score, and is produced by Kip Gowans, Remick's husband. It certainly stands comparison with Wyler and Davis's version but this at least is freed from 1940's morality!

THE GIFT OF LOVE - A CHRISTMAS STORY. I should have kept this one for the holiday season! Its a 1983 glutinously sentimental story mainly in soft focus about a family facing hard times and the intervention perhaps of family ghosts... Lee is wonderfully attractive and fascinating as usual as the disillusioned wife whose mother Angela Lansbury dies after two scenes, but returns as Lee dreams most of the following with a visit to her old family home where mother and father and spinster aunt are all present. Its nicely resolved with her children and husband, and expertly put together by old hand Delbert Mann (MARTY, SEPARATE TABLES etc). Perhaps one would feel better disposed towards it at Christmastime... as one would towards Loretta Young's CHRISTMAS EVE, they are superior telemovies though.

THE MEDUSA TOUCH is intriguing to see now, this 1978 film by Jack Gold with a terrific cast. One thing about Sir Lew Grade's movies, they did put together fascinating international casts! Here we have Richard Burton, Lee Remick and French Lino Ventura heading, with reliables Harry Andrews, Alan Badel, Michael Hordern, Derek Jacobi and Gordon Jackson. Oddly, Burton who everyone talks about is hardly in the film, his few scenes could probably have been done in a day, whereas Remick and Ventura have the bigger roles. Burton is effective as the man who thinks he has a gift for making disasters happen, while his psychiatrist Remick and the French detective try to prevent his latest one - a cathedral collapsing with all the British establishment including The Queen inside! The special effects are a bit cheesy here as the cathedral collapses, but the plane crashing into a tower block is effectively done and has a new symbolism now. Its the kind of movie I did not bother with back then, but definitely worth seeing now!
I also finally obtained the original cast recording of the rare Sondheim musical ANYONE CAN WHISTLE which ran for 9 performances in 1964, where Lee and Angela Lansbury head the cast. It will be put in the ipod today, a few of the songs I am familiar with from other Sondheim compilations, but its certainly one for completists! Then of course there is also that Concert version of FOLLIES where Lee is part of that great ensemble including Barbara Cook and Elaine Stritch! My fuller appreciation on Lee is just a few posts down and includes my meeting her in 1970 and seeing her on the stage in 1976.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

A Dirk Bogarde double bill...

A movie I have loved for 44 years - and one I saw yesterday ...

Losey's MODESTY BLAISE is one of my key movies of 1966 and remains a very misunderstood movie. It has a cult following and passionate devotees - others cannot stand it or think it is rubbish! That's how cult movies get made folks! Back in 1966 Losey and Bogarde were the new flavour of the month after their critical (if not commercial at the time) successes with THE SERVANT and then KING AND COUNTRY, and the Bond movies were big box office and ripe for spoofing - hence the film of Peter O'Donnell's cult comic strip: the adventures of secret agent Modesty Blaise and her sidekick Willie Garvin as they try to outwit master criminal Gabriel. The movie as designed by Richard McDonald is an op art delight with that mediterranian hideway and Gabriel as super-camp silver-wigged mother-fixated arch-criminal with his dour Scottish accountant (Clive Revill) constantly poring over his ledgers and Mrs Fothergill (Rosella Falk) his sadistic assassin who we see dispatching those who have offended Gabriel.

There are so many choice moments in this riot of mid-'60s glamour and mod fashions: Gabriel unable to decide which lobster for dinner: "decisions, decisions" or enjoying agonising over listening to the conversation of the two pilots whose plane is he about to explode ... The plot is a farrago about a cargo of diamonds Gabriel is going to steal from a ship for which he needs the talents of Willie (Terence Stamp) and the trap they set for him - assisted by dependable regulars Harry Andrews and Michael Craig. After some detours via Amsterdam and some stylish violence the real fun begins as Gabriel traps Modesty in his op art cell and her multi-coloured changes of costume. [Vitti and Stamp are as iconically 60s here as Stamp and Julie Christie the following year in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD].

The casting of Monica Vitti as Modesty is a masterstroke - the art house goddess of the Antonioni films was an unknown quantity to the mass audience and she had that aura about her. Her comedy skills find a lot of humour in the role though her English sounds as if she learnt it phonetically! Its still a cult favourite after all these years. John Dankworth's score is also spot on and a terrific '60s thriller pastiche. Dirk has great fun as Garbriel - even staked out in the desert at the end crying for "champagne, champagne"! It fits nicely into the Losey canon, as he and Bogarde went on to Pinter's script for ACCIDENT next.

It was made in 1965 for early 1966 release; 20 year old me was among the crowd watching the stars arriving at the premiere in '66 - Vitti didn't show, but Dirk was there with Mrs Fothergill (Rosella Falk) in his arm!.
Rosella Falk and Scilla Gabel with Stamp, Vitti and Bogarde.
Terry and Monica in the recording studio [Photo: Eve Arnold].

Apart from the 'important' movies he was making throughout the '60s Bogarde still turned out routine programmers for the Rank Organisation - we didn't bother much with them at the time (THE PASSWORD IS COURAGE, HOT ENOUGH FOR JUNE, another Doctor film) but its fun catching up with them now, so it was interesting to finally see the 1964 adventure set in '50s war-torn Cyprus THE HIGH BRIGHT SUN yesteday - another of those Ralph Thomas-Betty Box productions that kept Dirk busy during the '50s. This is a routine efficient thriller with Bogarde as the military commander (a part he could play on autopilot but he brings some nice nuances to it) and Susan Strasberg is the American-Cypriot girl who gets into danger by seeing who the guest is of the family friends she is staying with. George Chakiris is the local rebel leader who decides she has to be silenced so she goes on the run and finally she and Bogarde are holed up in an apartment in town as the rebels attack. It plays out nicely with good roles for Denholm Elliott and the likes of Gregoire Aslan. Colin Campbell from THE LEATHER BOYS has a supporting role which you just know won't make it to the final reel ... its the sort of well-made entertainment people went to see at their local cinema on a weekly basis back then. Dirk went on to DARLING next. Bogarde with Vitti (they must have been shooting MODESTY at the time) and Julie Christie at the DARLING premiere, Sept. 1965

Thursday, 19 August 2010

1970-1972: when the stars came out to talk ...

Bogarde, Remick, Davis, De Havilland, Mason, Bergman on the days I saw them at the NFT.

The early '70s was an interesting period when those movie stars we grew up watching were still active, acting and also appearing in public to discuss their careers. The British Film Institute at London's National Film Theatre ran a series, sponsored by the tobacco company John Player, where all the leading lights of the time appeared. I was 24 then in 1970 and by the time I began going to their Sunday afternoon discussions, a lot of the main players had already appeared: Hitchcock, Wilder, Lillian Gish, Truffaut, Preminger etc. A friend and I went along though to the Olivia De Havilland discussion and it was terrific. A middle aged lady in a flowery chiffon dress was standing in the foyer smiling at us - it was Olivia! and I see from the programme she was in conversation with John Kobal. It was fascinating watching Olivia watching that scene where she and Erroll Flynn ride in the forest from ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and then she told us how hard it was for her to appear before us 34 years after that scene - well of course now more than 34 more years have passed and Olivia is still with us in her 90s!

Olivia's appearance was such a success that she must have told her friend Bette Davis about it, because 2 weeks later it was Bette's turn! This was not advertised in the monthly programme but word got out [in that pre-email and texting age] and there was a huge queue as we turned up - I remember it being a very good humoured queue with people having packed lunches etc as they expected a long wait. We got standing seats at the side but noticed 2 emtpy seats in one of the rows so we made a bee-line for them and got them, so had a great view of Bette, who brought the house down by entering from the back of the auditorium and she made her way to the stage with a fur coat slung over her shoulder trailing behind her on the floor! It was a perfect - as intended - Margo Channing moment. Bette (who must have been making MADAME SIN here) was in good humour and it was all such a success that she soon appeared at the London Palladium talking and answering questions and she toured the country with it!

Other appearances I liked were Dirk Bogarde's and Lee Remick's and it was great to hear them discussing their careers and scenes from their films and to talk to them and get their autographs on the programmes, (Bogarde was launching DEATH IN VENICE, the Remick programme is in the recent separate post on her). Then James Mason, Rex Harrison, Angela Lansbury (in conversation with Rex Reed), Charlton Heston, David Niven, Ingrid Bergman at a screening of CASABLANCA where she was very friendly as usual, and others including Mervyn LeRoy [that one began with the clip of the 3 strippers and "You Gotta Have A Gimmick" from GYPSY!], Terence Rattigan, John Huston (launching FAT CITY), John Boorman (LEO THE LAST), John Frankenheimer, Robert Redford in '73, Stephen Spielberg just as CLOSE ENCOUNTERS was about to open in '77, and critics like Dilys Powell and Alexander Walker, and the likes of Billie Whitelaw and Leonard Whiting in a discussion on actors and nudity (all the rage then!). We also had Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Joseph Losey (above, with critic Dilys Powell) discussing their collaborations at a different venue (as per my Losey/Bogarde post). What a terrific time - and all before the internet or video and dvd, so the only way to see old movies then was at the popular revival houses (or whatever turned up on television).

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

People We Like: Ingrid Thulin

Ingrid Thulin [1926-2004] is the glacial Nordic blonde of several of Ingmar Bergman’s most austere films, and is perhaps seen as his most 'intellectual' actress, the others being considered more earthy?. She also had a varied international career ending up in Italian films of varying quality as she spent her later years in Rome. Her striking looks and voice are unusual – though for some reason she was dubbed by Angela Lansbury in her first Hollywood movie! Like Jeanne Moreau she can look beautiful, plain, serene, intense or agonised at will.

The other Bergman muses also had international roles of varied quality: Harriet Andersson in THE DEADLY AFFAIR, Bibi Andersson in Huston’s THE KREMLIN LETTER and a lesser Altman, QUINTET with Paul Newman; Eva Dahlbeck in THE COUNTERFEIT TRAITOR, and, most popular of all, Liv Ullmann - though most of her English speaking films were odd choices to say the least: anyone for FORTY CARATS, POPE JOAN, THE ABDICATION or the toe-curling remake of THE LOST HORIZON ? She was better served with Jan Troell in THE EMIGRANTS and THE NEW LAND and a welcome return to form with both Bergmans in AUTUMN SONATA and later in Ingmar’s last film SARABAND, as well as her own writing and directing efforts. There is a brilliant Ingmar Bergman site: which contains a wealth of material on Bergman and his main players [including Thulin], with photos, comments etc.

Ingrid began in Swedish films in the late 40s. I first saw her in the 1956 thriller FOREIGN INTRIGUE when I was a child and she stayed in the memory as a mysterious blonde in this Robert Mitchum thriller, which also featured Genevieve Page. WILD STRAWBERRIES in 1957 is of course her breakthrough movie and one of Ingmar Bergman’s most fascinating works. I have just had another look at it and it is as mesmerising as ever. Thulin is Marianna, the daughter-in-law accompanying the ageing professor in this very moving symbolic tale of an old man's journey from emotional isolation to a kind of personal renaissance. One does watch this though with a whole different perspective when in one's early 60s than one did when in one's twenties !

I have not seen her following films with Bergman: BRINK OF LIFE or WINTER LIGHT in 1962 but their reputations suggest they will be worth eventually catching up with. THE MAGICIAN from 1958 was spell-binding when I saw it recently, as per my review. A detour to Hollywood followed in 1962 with Vincente Minnelli’s odd film the remake of THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALPYSE with Thulin as Glenn Ford’s romantic interest and, I only found out later, dubbed by Angela Lansbury.

As it happens one of the first films I saw when I moved to London aged 18 in 1964 was Bergman’s THE SILENCE, rather a notorious film at the time due to some implied lesbian content between the two sisters, but Thulin as the ill Ester is certainly emotionally wrenching in her isolation in a hotel in a strange city while her sultry sister Anna – Gunnel Lindblom, another Bergman regular – picks up a man and tells her sister about it afterwards while the little boy wanders around the hotel.

RETURN FROM THE ASHES is a brilliant thriller by ever-dependable J Lee Thompson in 1965 which had been out of circulation for a long time, so it was good to re-see it recently. Thulin scores as the woman returning from a concentration camp, it also features Maximilian Schell and Samantha Eggar, and there is a great bathroom scene … definitely one to watch out for. Two of Thulin’s from 1966 that I unaccountably missed are Resnais’s LE GUERRE EST FINIE (the War is Over) where she is Yves Montand’s mistress, and also Mai Zetterling’s directing debut NIGHT GAMES. Two more (unseen!) Bergmans followed: HOUR OF THE WOLF in 1968 and THE RITE in 1969.

Visconti’s THE DAMNED in 1969 was a major international hit, maybe for the wrong reasons, but we all flocked to this chunk of Italian-German decadence which had some striking sequences among the more sensational: Helmut Berger in drag for starters! Thulin is little more than a waxwork as his mother, particularly at her wedding to Dirk Bogarde as the nazi’s take over, Charlotte Rampling makes a vivid impression and its all still tremendously watchable.

An Italian giallo thriller SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS in 1971 is a fascinating example of the genre: Jean Sorel is found apparently dead in a Prague park and brought to the morgue, but he is still alive but paralysed as he tries to remember what happened to him and his missing girlfriend and that strange club where other girls go missing. Medics try to revive him but time is running out as he is wheeled to the autopsy room …. Thulin is under-used here as a fellow journalist and ex-lover of Sorel, but sports a chic line of headscarfes.

In 1972 came the searing experience that is Bergman’s CRIES AND WHISPERS, emotionally powerful at the time I have not seen it since but it remains one to re-see. Here, Harriet Andersson is the dying sister in turn of the century Sweden. Her two sisters try to care for her but she finds more solace with the devoted maid Anna. It is of course about pain, death, love, lust, hate, and self-loathing - Liv Ullmann the sensual sister and Thulin the icy control freak who cannot bear to be touched – even mutilating herself with glass to keep her husband away. Like Ingmar Bergman’s stage production of HEDDA GABLER (with Maggie Smith, which I saw in London in 1970) it is set in red rooms with people clad in black. A film of powerful images and emotions.

She was Miriam in MOSES THE LAWGIVER, a tv mini-series in 1974, with Burt Lancaster as Moses. SALON KITTY in 1976 is a Tinto Brass confection about the seedy goings-on at Madame Kitty's Berlin brothel during WWII, and was a film that movie buffs like me didn’t bother with at the time, but I may actually put it on my wanted list now, as it should at least provide some amusement, if the comments on imdb are any guide – ““Cabaret” on acid” being one comment!. Thulin of course is Kitty, with Helmut Berger again, though not playing her son this time!

THE CASSANDRA CROSSING also in 1976 was a lot of fun, one of the last of the 70s disaster movies this was set on a train going across Europe which some terrorists who have picked up plague germs from a botched robbery have boarded. The authorities led by ruthless officer Burt Lancaster have to keep the train moving and re-route it to an unsafe bridge in Poland…. It’s a great all star cast of the time headed by Sophia Loren and Richard Harris, with Ava Gardner having a choice time with toyboy Martin Sheen. Even O C Simpson and Lee Stransberg are on board, others like Alida Valli or John Philip Law are in little more than walk-ons. Ingrid thankfully is not on the doomed train but back in Geneva at World Health HQ as she argues with Burt about rescuing the passengers – they do manage to rescue a dog who does recover but Lancaster is determined there shall be no survivors …..

Thulin’s 9th and final Bergman film AFTER THE REHEARSAL was in 1984 for tv, again its an unseen item as are several more until her last credit in 1988. She died in 2004. She had been married to Harry Schein, head of the Swedish Film Institute.

Its an interesting international career, her Bergman films will be watched and re-watched as long as we watch movies.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

People We Like: Lilli Palmer

Few international stars were as sophisticated, elegant and popular as Lilli Palmer in a career that stretched from the ‘30s to the ‘80s, taking in periods of stardom in English, American and European films. Romy Schneider would be a comparable case in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Lilli in her later years found a comfortable niche in a variety of supporting roles as well as turning her hand to painting and writing novels, and a very interesting biography “Change Lobsters and Dance”. During the heyday of her marriage to Rex Harrison they were one of the main theatrical couples of the era, entertaining everybody from Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at their home in Portofino, Italy, and she was also involved in the Carole Landis scandal, and Rex’s marriage to the ailing Kay Kendall.

She was born in 1914 in Prussia, making her theatrical debut in 1932. Being Jewish the family fled to Paris as the Nazis came to power, and Lilli then moved to England. Early film roles included Hitchcock’s SECRET AGENT in 1936, A GIRL MUST LIVE and Will Hay’s GOOD MORNING, BOYS. THUNDER ROCK in 1942 is a good anti-war film of the time, by Roy Boulting, where Lilli is one of the ghosts from a shipwreck invading the mind of Michael Redgrave as a journalist who retreats to a lighthouse – the young James Mason is also effective here. Leslie Howard’s THE GENTLE SEX in 1943 finds her as the self-reliant European girl among newcomers (including Joan Greenwood and Rosamund John) doing their bit for the war effort. It’s a perfect period piece now.

She married Rex Harrison in 1943 and they co-starred in THE RAKE’S PROGRESS in 1945. Hollywood then beckoned and the Harrisons moved to California. Lilli found interesting roles in Fritz Lang’s CLOAK AND DAGGER with Gary Cooper and in Rossen’s BODY AND SOUL in 1947 with John Garfield.

Rex, ever the philanderer, was also busy but found time to romance Carole Landis which led to one of the more notorious scandals of the time, when Landis committed suicide and Rex had found her and left the scene. A dilemma for Lilli was what to wear at the funeral of one’s husband’s mistress? She settled for navy blue instead of black. The Harrisons though were now not welcome in Hollywood and moved to New York where several successes on the stage included “The Four Poster” (also filmed) and “Bell Book and Candle”.

Their next film was, frankly, a pot-boiler: THE LONG DARK HALL in 1951 where Rex is accused of the murder of his girlfriend, of which he is innocent, with Lilli as the understanding little wife waiting at home in the suburbs! However, as she relates in her memoir, it paid for their villa in Italy, in the then quiet village of Portofino. It would be their bolt-hole away from the theatre and cinema. THE FOUR POSTER followed in 1952. Television work kept her busy, including THE LILLI PALMER SHOW, until a German film in ’54 FEUERWERK (or OH MY PAPA from its hit song) a story about circus folk with the young Romy Schneider.

In 1958 was an interesting remake of the 1930s MADCHEN IN UNIFORM, this one co-starred Romy Schneider as the lonely orphan forming a forbidden attachement to Lilli’s attractive, sympatheic new teacher at a strict Prussian Girls Academy.

By this time though, Rex had become involved with madcap English actress Kay Kendall (who was in New York with him during the stage run of “My Fair Lady”). Both Rex and Lilli relate in their memoirs how Kay’s doctor called them in to advise that Kay had incurable leukaemia and if Rex was not able to look after her, she would have to be told. So they decided to divorce so Rex could marry Kay for her final years. Lilli had confided her problems to good friend Noel Coward who was horrified at the dilemma she was in. Lilli though had met Argentine actor Carlos Thompson and they married in 1957, the year Rex married Kay (who died two years later in 1959 after completing the delightful comedies LES GIRLS, THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE and ONCE MORE WITH FEELING for Cukor, Minnelli and Donen).

Hollywood came calling again in the shape of the production team of Perlberg and Seaton at Paramount with 3 films for Lilli, showing her at her most poised and elegant.

BUT NOT FOR ME in ’58 has her as Clark Gable’s ex wife, amusingly watching from the sidelines (before winning him back) as he romances ambitious young actress Carroll Baker. It’s a fascinating look at Broadway at the time with Gable as the producer and Lee J Cobb as a drunken playright. Ella sings that song over the credits as Gable’s car glides through the Manhattan of the 50s.

CONSPIRACY OF HEARTS from the Rank Organisation, was onhe we liked a lot in 1960,where Lilli is the very elegant Mother Superior of a convent in Italy where the nuns save Jewish children from the Germans. Add in young Sylvia Syms, Yvonne Mitchell as the crotchety nun, David Kossoff as a rabbi and Albert Lieven and Peter Arne as dastardly Germans. It’s a superior tear-jerker.

Back in Hollywood Lilli was Fred Astaire’s ex-wife now comfortably married to Gary Merrill in THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY as daughter Debbie Reynolds gets married to Tab Hunter. Enter Fred as the charming father and complications ensue in this pleasing film of the play.

She was also very effective in the 1962 Seaton film THE COUNTERFEIT TRAITOR as the love of agent William Holden. There is a harrowing execution scene by firing squad. She was also Maugham’s Julia in a French film with Charles Boyer ADORABLE JULIA which was fun to see recently, with Jean Sorel as the young man professing love to actress Julia but who has his own agenda. Lilli’s Julia is indeed adorable as she deftly handles every situation.

When I arrived in London as a teenager in the mid-60s, Lilli was on the stage (her final stage role here) in Coward's SUITE IN THREE KEYS with Coward himself and Irene Worth, but I had not yet started my theatre-going!

The mature Lilli now settled into some interesting supporting roles. OPERATION CROSSBOW in 1965 finds her as the Dutch hotelier looking after agents George Peppard and Tom Courtenay as engineers who are their way to the munitions factory which has to be destroyed. THE AMOROUS ADVENTURES OF MOLL FLANDERS was also amusing to see again recently, not quite a TOM JONES but a jolly period romp it features almost every English character actor of the period (1965). Kim Novak is Moll, but the quartet of Lilli, George Sanders, Angela Lansbury and Vittorio De Sica (as impoverished aristocrats!) make for enjoyable viewing.

More European roles followed and then in 1968: SEBASTIAN with Dirk Bogarde, a swinging 60s spy caper; another thriller NOBODY RUNS FOREVER, and as Jocasta in the arty OEDIPUS THE KING with Christopher Plummer and Orson Welles, and HARD CONTRACT in 1969, as well as DE SADE, a psychedelic period romp with Keir Dullea as De Sade and Lilli as an icy Madame de Montreuil. Cue lots of topless beauties as an endless “orgy” goes on and on …. More assorted tv roles followed until THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL in ’78, with Lilli as the sister of Laurence Oliver, an old friend.

Lilli was on the LOVE BOAT in 1984, and was Michael Caine’s mother in the dreary THE HOLCROFT COVENANT in 1985, and her final credit was the tv PETER THE GREAT in 1986. She had by now written a well-regarded novel “The Red Raven” and her autobiography. She died of cancer in 1986 aged 71. Her husband Carlos Thompson committed suicide 4 years later. When Rex Harrison died in 1990 part of his ashes were scattered on her grave at Forest Lawn.

It is always a pleasure catching up with Lilli as her charm and elegance is evident in even the most mundane role.